At some point or another I was going to write a review about 'Safety Dance' by Men Without Hats. It's Canadian, it's 80s, and it's iconic.
When I first heard the song, I didn't expect it to have come from here. In fact, the first time I can recall hearing it is in an episode of That 70s Show when I was a kid, where Eric Foreman has a dream where some sort of guardian angel gives him what his life would be had he not made a move on his girlfriend Donna. In one big scene, the angel says, "we're going into...the 80s..." and that song starts playing. I remember my mother laughing because the song had a funny nature about it.
At the time I assumed it was American, though some time later I would hear from someone or somewhere that it wasn't and was actually British or Australian. I believed this until I actually looked it up, which was a pleasant surprise, because the singer did kind of sound at least slightly accented or differently toned in his voice. That or I just decided his voice was foreign-sounding due to my immediate acceptance of that wrong information.
Only recently have I really been listening to the song more often. It's very simple in terms of its music. It stays in C most of the time, and does the same procession as most popular songs do. C-A#-F. Though this reverses this procession and ends up on G, so it kind of plays with it, which again, most popular songs do. I'm not going to talk much about the music as its the lyrics that get my interest more. It's a keyboard-sounding song. No obvious guitars, just drums, bass, and keyboard. Probably keyboard bass really.
To give a brief history of the band up to that point, the central figure was always Ivan Doroschuk, the vocalist. He started the band with his brother Stefan, and other figures circulated in and out of the outfit over the next few years, including musicians that would perform in other bands, particularly a couple members of The Box. They were affluent kids from Montreal (the same city The Box and Gino Vanelli, among others, came from). They had this hit with 'Safety Dance' among a few others which I haven't listened to, and they produced a later album that had a song called 'Pop Goes the World' which I have heard many times on Boom FM and don't particularly like.
As for the origin of 'Safety Dance,' it came along after Ivan was asked to leave a club when he attempted to pogo dance - basically stand still and fling your limbs about around you, from what I've read, thrash about on your own, and it's a milder, less violent or contacting dance than moshing (which is basically throwing your weight around into the people around you, literally). Annoyed that the bouncers wouldn't let him or others pogo to the New Wave music just coming along, he came up with the lyrics.
It's quite a quirky, silly, but fun lyric, especially on his vocal delivery of some of them. I'm sure most people remember the 'we can leave your friends behind' bit at the beginning, or the random 'everybody look at your hands' line though there's a lot more to it that just amplifies the absurdity of it. Perhaps referring to bouncers prohibiting pogoing, there's a line that goes "We can act if we want to/if we don't nobody will/and you can act real rude and totally removed and I can act like an imbecile."
The thing about lyrics is that if they're well-written and well-delivered, they work perfectly. In a sort of dry, monotone manner, Doroschuk sings, "Everything's out of control." Perhaps being both sarcastic and literally understating as much as possible. It sort of eludes you if you don't listen for it because he sounds so matter-of-fact about it. "As long as we abuse it, never gonna lose it, everything'll work out right." Kind like the opposite of treating a privilege with respect, and stating that the opposite will never lose it. There's a few obvious backwards ironies in there, mixed with dry sarcasm, that his deliveries end up understated, absurd, and maybe even satirical. It's well-worded and advantageous. You notice he doesn't reuse the "we can leave your friends behind" line over and over, he uses it twice - at the beginning and near the end. He's creative and keeps adding different lines to start the verses. "Say, we can go where we want to, the night is young and so am I." "We can dance if we want to, we've got all your life and mine..." etc.
The music is catchy but not over-worked or too complicated, and the lyrics are bouncy, fun, understated and satirical. All you need now is an engaging music video, and he did an okay job there too - setting it in a village green in England, with a dwarf character to bounce around him and a female companion. There's a silly scene where it freezes while they've got their arms in an unusual shape, while the dwarf man sort of kneels at Doroschuk. It concludes with the village dancing together, carefree and happy.
There's one more thing that I wonder. The way he begins half his lines with "Say..." it reminds me of French teachers in elementary school, or the music they'd play, where the word 'say' beginning a sentence wasn't unusual. I wonder if it's a French-Canadian thing. They do come from Montreal...their later album credits a "Bonhomme" character which is a French Canadian Snowman mascot originating in Quebec City. It appears in the 'Pop Goes the World' music video, which was weird altogether.