MSN Music Blog - Reverb

Hit & Myth: Summer's biggest hits, Thicke and Daft Punk, echo the past

Preserving the endangered art forms of falsetto and disco

By Ken Barnes Aug 13, 2013 11:09AM

Blurred vision: Robin Thicke needs shades after straining his eyes trying to count the record radio plays for "Blurred Lines," the consensus song of the summer -- especially when you add streams, downloads and YouTube views for that video.


I'm fascinated by hits. It's a great time for that – the age of  the album is pretty much over, as people predominantly listen to and accumulate music as individual songs. And there have never been more ways for hits to appear; the traditional conduit – radio – no longer rules unchallenged.


Yet there's still no shortage of consensus hits. I crave hearing some of them, I can't stand others, and I'm indifferent toward many more. But most of all I want to understand how and why they become hits.



There are no simple answers. The cream doesn't always rise to the top; it's not a meritocracy out there. You could name a dozen songs off the top of your head that you think deserved to be massive, universally acclaimed hits, but somehow failed to do so. But it's not a Sturgeon's Law situation either – the late SF author contended that the public had incurably bad taste and 90% of everything was crap. In reality, the percentage of truly crappy hits has never been anywhere near that low*, and nowadays, whether you're talking pop, country, hip-hop, maybe even rock, there's a lot of great stuff all over the charts.


* (It should go without saying – but won't – that my definition of "crappy" will inevitably differ from yours, and percentages will accordingly vary as well.)


Also on Reverb: Colbert lashes out at Pitchfork after Daft Punk's no-show


I mentioned "the charts," and there's a lot more to say about those musical report cards, but to kick off this Hit & Myth series, I thought it would be logical to look at two undeniable hits – the two biggest hits of the summer, as decreed not only by everyone from Billboard to your elderly, stone-deaf aunt, but officially sealed and delivered by that supreme arbiter of cultural relevance, The Colbert Report, in a memorable episode last week. 


Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" is an obvious hit. You could tell when he premiered it on "The Voice" this spring. Combine its relentless catchiness with a controversial video and its rise was inevitable.


Lyrically it represents the most in-depth discussion of what constitutes a "good girl" since the Knack's female protagonist declared, "Good girls don't … but I do."


Musically it fits reasonably comfortably into the retro-soul trend, which Justin Timberlake gets credit for jump-starting with "Suit and Tie" (not nearly as big or brilliant a hit as "Lines") but was probably launched by Bruno Mars with his James Brown revue-styled performances. (Cee Lo Green deserves a shout-out here, too, and it may all date back to OutKast's "Hey Ya," one of the few 21st-century blockbusters as ubiquitous as the Thicke hit.)


Bing: What are the best "Blurred Lines" parodies?


But I'm fond of "Blurred Lines" for perpetuating – if sparingly -- an illustrious pop tradition: the falsetto. In the early '60s, falsettos ruled the airwaves like so many high-pitched dinosaurs. (Closely related to birds, the feathered reptiles were probably good for a cheap trill or two in their epoch.) Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons sound unearthly, and they merely topped a long list that included Del Shannon, the great Lou Christie, the Miracles and shriekers supreme the Newbeats and Dick & Dee Dee. The Bee Gees kept the helium pumping in the '70s, but the last raging falsetto hit in this tradition that I can recall is A-Ha's 1985"Take on Me." (Feel free to upbraid me  with a later example I've forgotten.)


Thicke's sporadic deployment of falsetto falls in the more-subtle style of Curtis Mayfield and Prince, where the falsetto isn't a freak-show display but a more organic part of the whole -- no less a true false proposition. Good to see it surviving.


My liking for the other Summer 2013 Super-Smash, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," can be more succinctly put. I was immediately attracted to the irresistible guitar textures weaving constantly through the enigmatic French duo's single-entendre hit – it reminded me of the unfairly maligned disco age's best act, the thoroughly brilliant Chic. (As I eventually learned, there was a good reason for that – Chic's Nile Rodgers was weaving the "Get Lucky" guitar textures.) There's a case to be made that Rodgers was his era's Jimi Hendrix – his blend of R&B and rock styles was that potent. Bringing him back was definitely a deft move.


Aug 19, 2013 1:16AM
Wow, LOL! I can't believe that we in America allow the American dream to become such "Smut" that a man needs to advertise through what he "thinks" is music, his penis is large! Get a life, no one wants or cares if your "junk" is big! It's a "huge"  insecurity when you bring yourself to that level of "low " advertising. What's even more sad is our youth thinks this is cool, funny and a sign of the times......obviously a big need for some psychiatric help. And Girls...let me tell ya, parading on that video does not make you look sexy or cute! More like slutty, tasteless, and "good Lord" LEARN to Dance! You look like an idiot version of Gangnam style and that song is pretty stupid itself...
As far as the music....(rara4747)...the "up-beat' you like so much is nothing more than the usual 4/4 count crap used for God knows how many decades! No brain work there.... and yes, I'm from the Disco days when there were still songs without the smut. Songs don't need the fowl language, obscene talk or other "Crap" to make their point. Take a look at your history in music folks..."Imagine" by John Lennon still rates as the All time #1 pop hit. Even "Over The Rainbow" by Judy Garland is still #4!
Thanks Mike, I agree with you on the msn issue. They should be ashamed to take money for that kind of business....guess money does bring out the worst!  Think People! Use your brains for something that helps society come back to what's real and not stupidity and selfishness. Robin is sitting there laughing his way to the bank because you "buy-in" to this crap!


Leave it to Microsoft (msn) to praise a song about rape culture.  Is anyone sick of Microsoft yet?  Remember, they cooperate with the NSA to spy on us too.

Aug 18, 2013 8:34PM
If you think this is the song of the summer I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you . Just another example of the media hype of a talentless wanna be, and as anyone who still listens to "commercial" radio , You are the sheep the record companies count on to be force fed this trash
Aug 18, 2013 4:50PM
Aug 18, 2013 3:43PM

I love Robin Thicke's song "Blurred Lines," some of the lyrics don't thrill me, but I love the upbeat sound of this hit.  I've only heard Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" once, when Stephen Colbert danced to the song on his show, and it's OK, I just don't love it like "Blurred Lines."  I'm a huge fan of disco music, always have been, this music gets me up and moving, whether it's dancing or exercising.  The only problem that I have with some of today's music are the lyrics, I don't understand why recording artists can't keep it clean, it bothers me that pre-teens and teens are listening to all this smut while memorizing every word.  Good music can be enjoyed without being dirty! 

Aug 18, 2013 3:32PM
if you haven't heard of robin thicke you must live in outer space. if I wasn't almost 79 he would hear of me.  he is too fine.
Aug 13, 2013 5:24PM

Where is the reference to Marvin Gaye when discussing influences on Thicke's "Blurred Lines"?

Listen to Gaye's "Got to Give it Up" and you know exactly where "Blurred Lines" comes from!

No thanks, I don't like any of this fluff. I'll stick with my own Summer music list. Ken Barnes, you're just another number in that heap of folks with incurable bad musical taste if you truly believe there's all this great music out now.
Aug 13, 2013 4:30PM

i can't say i agree with this article. i have heard "get lucky" and can't stand it. i can't listen to it long enough to even have heard the "irresistible guitar textures weaving constantly through". i hear one beat of the song and can't change the station fast enough. i have heard of robin thicke, i believe he's alan thicke's son. i'm sure i've heard a song by him,  though i can't say i know what the writer is talking about. so i'm gonna have to say these songs aren't summer's biggest hits. to be fair, i avoid op 40 songs like the plague though, so there's a reason i don't know any robin thicke songs. that's the great thing about music though, it creates so many tastes and opinions.

Aug 13, 2013 3:03PM
It seems I've done a much better than usual job of hiding from mainstream pop. I have no idea who Robin Thicke is.
Aug 13, 2013 2:13PM
His music sucks, how can any one listen to that stupid shnit

Aug 13, 2013 1:44PM
No, it's pretty clear that Sturgeon's law is alive and well, over 90% of popular stuff is crap. People generally go along with the crowd, which is mass marketed to by people who have not picked up a guitar in their lives. The general population is too intimidated to go looking for good music, so they listen to what's put out there for them. Look at rap music, the cream of the crop is stuff that will never be played on the radio, so we have Jay-Z dominating the airwaves with his hollow materialistic weak flow.  
Blurred Lines has a strong appeal to rapey college frat boys, post college tool bags, and women who have no independent thought (the type of people who make up the lower end of the middle class). A perfect case of Sturgeon's Law appealing to those who let others make up their tastes.  
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