THE FT TOP 100 SONGS
86. Janet Kay – “Silly Games”
What Humans Hear:
Ah, that’s a nice and gentle little bit of reggae. Oh and what a sweet voice. A bit high but – oh – she’s not happy. What a wistful way with words she has. Who is this? I quite like it. Steel drums, I remember them from Blue Peter. What a great song about how crap men are, really. Shows that she is determined, unbeatable and not going mess about –
Fuck me that’s high.
Fuck me, that’s even higher.
Silly Games is one of those remarkable songs which is wonderful on three levels. Firstly it really is a genuinely sweet piece of music. The almost lazy skank behind Janet sucks you in, as does her voice. Sure its all a bit high but that is nice. Put it on the jukebox in any pub and nobody (except maybe the pub dog) will complain. But listen to the words and it is clear that the second level is as a leading contender in the genre of “for fuck sake ask me out” songs. Perhaps it is not feminist enough to do the right thing and go and ask him out herself, but Janet has no more time for stupid flirting. And she makes it very clear that she has no time by being so very, very high.
Silly Games is also a novelty single. The astronomical pitch Janet reaches cannot help but make it so. Again, take that pub jukebox (the place I hear Silly Games the most, and mainly because I put it on). No-one is going to complain about Silly Games coming on the jukebox, but they sure as hell are going to notice it. A number of things that can “build” in songs: volume, tempo, number of distinguishable instruments. Pitch clearly can, and classical music often does chase up the octaves for effect, but in pop it is rarely used. The key change is a simple example of how dramatic a shift in pitch can be, but only Janet Kay, Jimmy Somerville and perhaps ELO have ever struck me as using pitch for emphasis. And you do not get more emphatic that Janet Kay. Cartoon wine glasses burst whenever I hear it.
What Dogs Hear:
All the secrets of the universe being shouted at them by the doggie version of Lemmy from Motorhead.