Monday, January 25, 2016

Shaque d'Amour

I've always tended to ignore this song or overlook it when I think of fun childhood-related songs. It's really a major staple. The "love getaway," as in the Love Shack.

The song can be considered a defining single by the B-52's just as 'Losing my Religion' was for R.E.M. That and 'Roam' are their signature songs, and both were released on the same album (Cosmic Thing). I find it kind of interesting that both bands come from Athens, Georgia, both stray from the norm in their musical style/direction, and both had their biggest hits around the same time - 'Love Shack' in 1989 and 'Losing my Religion' in 1991. Both developed their quirky style around a more cult-based following throughout the 1980s before hitting mainstream with those hits, and afterwards both kind of left the pop culture mainstay just as quickly - R.E.M. had smaller follow-up singles with 'Man on the Moon' and 'Everybody Hurts' in the early '90s, and the B-52's appeared in the live-action Flintstones film singing the show's theme song, but that was it, even though both bands continued right up to this decade in album releases and touring. Their similar trajectories are almost uncanny.

I got acquainted with 'Love Shack' from an early age thanks to my mother's VHS tape of music videos recorded off of MuchMusic between the late 80s and mid-90s. I probably got more out of the video than of the song, and I know I likely found Fred Schneider's campy persona entertaining. I remember getting the impression that he jauntily and easily led the two girls behind him onwards in the song, in total control, and I also remember wondering who he was thanks to that.

When I looked over it again on the tape as I got older, I decided that some of the visual elements of the video - the huge pale green hood of the Chrysler, the brass players at the window sill, Schneider's persona and the short shots of the sunflower, trees, and falling wig (and goat) were iconic things in their place in pop culture. They all looked like they belonged in that way in some sort of consciousness, as if that's what you remember when you think of that video or videos from that time. I always got pleasure and excitement at that idea when I watched, so I appreciated those visual aspects. I'm sure I've tried to describe this sort of thing in other reviews I've written here in the past, except I did a much poorer job articulating what I meant.


If I were to talk critically of the video for a moment, it's a great visual art piece. The house, which in reality was a pottery studio, was done up as colourfully as possible - a "tin" roof that resembles giant kitchen tiles, a colourful floor...it looks like the entire room was coloured in crayons. I like how the drummer was placed centrally in an opening into the room with people dancing outside, and the rural-looking scenery outside. The carefree nature of camera movement during the scenes of them in the Chrysler - swiping over the hood, looking up at the sky - was also nice. I wonder if the two men working outside the window in the bathtub scene were the real owners of the property. RuPaul cameos in the video, dancing in drag, showing up intermittently throughout. On the downside, the lip-syncing looks awkward and feeble in certain scenes. Both women look rather more distracted while singing a couple of times. Fred Schneider nails all his lines perfectly. There's also three instances where the band change their wardrobe between scenes, although for some reason I don't find any issue with that; it seems quite normal to me that the group, especially the girls, would immediately re-change their clothes upon entrance to the place, as part of their general quirky ways.

Now the music. I've really come to enjoy several aspects of the song in recent times - the female vocals, the bass line, and most of all, the guitar.

It's a simple composition in C minor. The bass will start on C and then make its way up to G from E, with variation, throughout the song, creating a sort of 1-5 progression that includes a 7 when you consider the guitar's use of A sharp. Keith Strickland put the music together on the guitar, and its sound is what I like the most. It has a bright rock sound that's also light and easy-going, not hard. I think I've heard the term 'surf guitar' to describe their sound, and that sounds about right. It's largely yellow to me, yellow and white in forms that move to the notes played in their style. It translates into a redhead from my past, where the context is a party and I envision her entertainment and enjoyment. I don't really know why she and that context comes to mind through the guitar; that's just how it looks and feels to me. As a result I really like the guitar notes played during the line "people lining up outside just to get down." Keith Strickland manages to get very creative and diverse in his largely note-playing throughout this song. Mostly he revolves around C, G and A sharp, but he deviates with enough diversity to make it constantly interesting.

The song was written and recorded as a party. There's a backing track of the band talking and laughing and acting as if they were partying together, and the drums sound live. Pioneering drummer Charley Drayton played them and appears to show up in the video as well. The bass line has a groovy rhythm to it and has a place in the song where it shines as all the other instruments fade out for the 'bang on the door' bridge.

Finally, there's the female vocal section, which has its highlights. I particularly like the harmonizing "love getaway" refrain at the start of the song; both women put great emphasis on 'love' in the lyric, making them sound excited and happy. The voices give me a colour similar to the hood of the car in the video, with more aqua blue, and the form is like a smooth but bumpy surface, the bumps being the point of vocal inflection and emphasis. The whole thing translates into a point of adventure, to go somewhere. When I was younger, the latter half of the phrase "...is a little ol' place where we can get together" sounded like two teenage girls trying to entice a crush to come with them. It gives me the same context now - two thirteen-year-old girls enticing an eleven-year-old boy to go under the tree with them. The persuasion in their voices sounds young and sweet. At the end of the song, Kate Pierson gives off a nice little shriek that makes for an appropriate conclusion.

The song was recorded in New York (the state) and put together in two takes after a power failure interrupted the first half of the jam session; the session itself came from a demo idea the band had but weren't intending on trying out. Their producer, Don Was, encouraged them to showcase it. By happy coincidence, the rhythm section (drums and bass) of both sessions happened to match up perfectly, so they glued both together and laid the rest down. Later, Cindy Wilson decided to improvise "tin roof rusted" while Strickland was playing over the track, so they included it as a funny little break in the song.

From what I've read and seen, the lyrics and party atmosphere of the song are a mixture of personal memories of the band's early days when Andy Wilson was still alive and playing with them, and of memories of a real cabin in rural Georgia. Kate Pierson lived there in the 1970s and it survived until sometime in the past decade, when it burned down. The band had a close working relationship; all of them shared a house for years and no doubt they all considered each other family, and Andy's passing shattered them. 'Love Shack' is a quirky, fun, lighthearted celebration of the band's past. I think it's totally appropriate in style and lyrics, which are warm and fuzzy in some ways. Schneider and the two girls did a great job writing the lyrics to Strickland's music - and all in all, the band made a great comeback with Cosmic Thing when it came out. I want to give most credit to Keith Strickland for apparently enticing the rest of the band back (from what I've read, he had composed some new stuff during their time apart and had asked them back) but credit is due to everyone who came back and took the risk of trying to put themselves out there again after several years off the grid. The result was colossal - 'Love Shack' is definitely an iconic song with its pastel-coloured music video and fun lyrics, and I'll always enjoy it.

Music: A-
Lyrics: B+
Video: A

Red Cloud
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