Gangnam Style & Other Non-English One Hit Wonders

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th September 2012.

Unless you’ve been under a rock, or at least a rock without an internet connection, it’s been pretty hard to avoid a kooky music video from South Korean pop star, PSY. His high energy performance, along with its irresistible horse riding dance, has made the video to “Gangnam Style” a viral hit on YouTube with over 251 million views to date. The song is currently sitting at the top of the Australian iTunes downloads charts and has hit the top spot in 30 other countries. Start the clock. PSY’s fifteen minutes starts now.

In celebration of K-Pop (Korean pop music) hitting number one for the first (and most likely last) time in Australia, here are my five favourite one hit wonders that were (mostly) not sung in English.

5. 99 Luftballoons – Nena Ok, this one is a bit of a cheat. Originally recorded in German, 99 Luftballoons was a 1983 hit in Germany, which prompted an English language version a year later entitled 99 Red Balloons. It was this single which topped the Aussie and UK charts. Apparently the song is about children releasing a bunch of balloons (99 in fact) which float into the air and trigger a military scramble which results in nuclear annihilation. That must be why parents tie helium balloons to their kids at the Easter Show. It only takes a couple of kiddies to let go of their balloons and we’re all doomed.

4. The Ketchup Song (Aserejé) – Las Ketchup This ditty, sung in spanglish, topped the charts in 2002 and sold over 7 million copies worldwide. That’s an awful lot of CD singles in landfill. The four members of the group were all daughters of a famous Spanish flamenco guitarist known as The Tomato. Only three of them appeared in the music video because the fourth one was pregnant at the time. Insert your own tomato related joke here. The group followed up their hit single with a Christmas version of The Ketchup Song. What did we learn from this? Adding sleigh bells to an annoying song does not make it less annoying.

3. Macarena – Los Del Río Speaking of flogging a dead horse, this worldwide smash in 1995/96 was also followed up with a pointless Christmas version. Los Del Rio were essentially a Spanish lounge act who accidentally sold 11 million copies of their horrible song with its associated horrible dance. Fortunately the group broke up in 2007 before there could be any further accidents. Let’s not speak of this ever again.

2. La Bamba – Los Lobos East LA group Los Lobos topped the charts in the UK, US and Australia with their 1987 hit from the soundtrack to the Ritchie Valens biopic, La Bamba. Unlike Valen’s career, which lasted all of 8 months before his unfortunate death by gravity in 1959, Los Lobos are still recording but have not been a threat to the charts since La Bamba. Perhaps they should have considered a Christmas version?

1. Ça plane pour moi – Plastic Bertand Everything’s going well for me. Everything’s going well for me. Repeat this in French ad nauseam and you have yourself a hit single. In 1977, this punk rock novelty, with its bouncy music video, graced charts worldwide. It was recently revealed that Belgian Plastic Bertrand did not actually supply the vocals for this song. Producer Lou Deprijck was responsible but was deemed too unattractive to front the record. I guess everything wasn’t going so well for him.

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Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 01:45  Comments (1)  
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Nonsensical Pop Songs

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th June 2012.

I love a good pop song. Always have. Probably always will. As a kid, I’d hang out at the newsagency near my bus stop every weekday morning. Each fortnight, the latest issue of Smash Hits would hit the newsstands and I’d usually have it read by the time I got to school.

My favourite part of the magazine was the song words pages. At the time, there was no quick and easy method, such as the internet, to look up the lyrics to the latest pop songs. If you were lucky, a cassette sleeve might have the lyrics, but most of the time it came down to Smash Hits magazine or just listening to the song repeatedly until I worked out the words. Or at least thought I had worked out the words.

I still come across songs that I’ve been enjoying for decades and realise that I’ve been singing the wrong lyrics. How on earth did I think that Starship built this city on logs and coal? And it turns out that their pony doesn’t play the mamba…

Occasionally, I come across a pop gem that on scrutiny of the lyrics, appears to make absolutely no sense. The song probably has some meaning to the writer but every now and then, I’m certain that it’s all a conspiracy to make millions of people around the world sing ridiculous lyrics. Here are my top five prime offenders.

5. MMMBop – Hanson Cute as three cloned buttons, the Hanson brothers peaked at number one in 1997 with this ditty about well, nothing. The chorus is phonetic soup. On closer lyrical inspection, I think that an mmmbop is a unit of time. So in that case, it is safe to say that Hansonmania lasted about an mmmbop.

4. I Am the Walrus – The Beatles I know it’s hard to believe but there are actually bad Beatles songs. For every Hey Jude, there’s an Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Walrus sits somewhere in the middle. It’s almost as if the lyrics are simply a method of delivering a melody to your ears in the same way that corn chips are simply a method of delivering salsa. Is it homage to Lewis Carroll or a salad recipe? You decide.

3. Blue (Da Ba Dee) – Eiffel 65 Apparently Italian dance group Eiffel 65 wrote the tune first with the lyrics coming later. No kidding. This 1999 hit is about a man who lives in a blue world. A lot of his stuff is blue too. How interesting. As you can see by the title, those looking for further explanation need go no further than the clarification of the title in brackets. The Teletubbies really need to stop writing songs.

2. We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel Yes, I know. It’s a list of historical events. The problem is that the chorus doesn’t really give the verses any perspective. You don’t believe me? Try replacing the lyrics from the verses with your shopping list. It’s pretty much as meaningful as the original.

1. Africa – Toto Surely this ditty must have some deep spiritual meaning? It mentions rain in Africa, doesn’t it? Sing along with me. “It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take some time to do the things we never have.” Nope, I have no idea either.