Saturday, May 14, 2005

If you're happy and you know it. I have been really into clap tracks recently. I was extremely excited recently to read YGWIN's discourse on clap tracks. And idiotically, my fingers turned Japanese and did a search for "crap tracks" on her blog while trying to find the post. But perhaps that just reveals more about how much I type the word "crap". I think the concept of 'finger memory' deserves a post to itself. No, you monster; I won't be reminiscing. Although I was slightly disturbed to find that in the last couple of days, not one but two people searched for "Mel fingers herself sms". Other recent searches include "pink academics tracksuits" (do you think there's a market for those?), "girls wrap around skirts blowing in the wind" (way to justify my wardrobe malfunction paranoia!) and "good night wanking material" (welcome, welcome. Take a seat. The sorbolene's to your left).

Here I was going to list a few of my favourite clapping moments, but they are all such daggy songs that I am a little too embarrassed. One of the dorkiest clap tracks ever is "Little L" by Jamiroquai. But the hipsters still love "Hey Ya!"'s triple-clap. I think that's one of the most delicious things about clapping - it precariously straddles the line between super-cool and super-dorky. They're a little like non-verbal vocalisations that way. I guess I could write an academic paper about clap tracks using the framework I posited in my Michael Jackson article.

Off the top of my head, you could trace a vague musicological genealogy of the contemporary clap track encompassing field holler body percussion, cheerleading, flamenco, gospel choirs and disco, although I am always wary of such random teleological endeavours. I don't know where it comes from, but the "soul clap" keeps coming up in funk, disco and hip-hop - in 1969, Michael Jackson told an audience to give him a soul clap; and Grand Wizard Theodore and the Fantastic 5 released "Can I Get A Soul Clap" in 1980.

The wonderful thing about clap tracks is the way they forge an instant community of dancers. I had a wonderful moment at karaoke recently - when Leigh and I were dancing to "Blue Monday" by New Order we instinctively did the claps, and then broke into huge grins at each other. But that's just one side of it. I think the key to clapping is that it's so tightly interwoven with dancing and body signifying. Have you noticed how it's become de rigueur in medium-tempo hip-hop and R&B to have a crunchy clapping beat on every second beat (usually beats 2 and 4)? A wonderful example is "Tipsy" by J-Kwon. This gives the song a highly danceable structure - it reminds you to rock your body on the crunchy beats (my rebellious fingers just typed "crunky" - well done, fingers!) because you learned when you were a small child that clapping is a cue for your body to move.

I didn't get why Shane liked "Switch" by Will Smith so much, until I saw the video. The dancers "switch" by jumping on beat 1 to face the other direction, all the while clapping on beats 2 and 4. It's that wonderful communal dancing, combined with the actual clapping. It reminded me of the way you clap to Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances" in the part that goes "nah, na-na na-nahhh, na-na-na nah na-na nahhh na-na nahhh". It seems much more soul-influenced.

It has nothing to do with clapping, but I would also like to mount a case for Ciara's "1,2 Step" being really "old-school". It has that swoopy percussion effect that you hear on Miami bass (eg "Whoomp, There It Is"). Dammit, words can't really describe this effect. The idea of the one-two step is also really disco, like one of those line dances, the hustle or the grapevine or something. And Missy Elliott's guest rap is really disappointing, considering the lyrical and rhythmic sophistication she's capable of, but I like the way it, too, sounds old-school. Lines like "I eat filet mignon and I'm nice and young, best believe I'm number one" sound like early hip-hop: in the nonsensical rhymes, the boasting/toasting tone (Missy's only role in the song's narrative appears to be to big-up herself) and the rhythmic pattern, which is exactly the same as in "Rapper's Delight".

It has nothing to do with "1,2 Step", but it bothers me that Ciara's name is pronounced "Sierra". It should be pronounced "Keira". But people are such tards. They hear these Celtic names being pronounced and make up the spelling. Or they give the kid the right spelling and then nobody can say it properly.

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