The FT Top 100 Tracks Of All Time: 22, Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart, and 21, Scooter – Ramp! (The Logical Song)
There’s a song on the radio, a catchy ear-worm of a song, and it’s been on the radio a lot now that you mention it. It drags you in, “now listen to my words” it commands. How might you react?
Reaction A “No colours anymore, I want them to turn black”
Ian Curtis, so the story goes, heard the song “Love Will Keep Us Together” sung by Captain and Tenille and was revolted. Somehow this Neil Sedaka-penned song (highest UK chart position: 32), an unrelentingly jaunty paean to the enduring and constructive power of love, grated with the adulterous misanthrope. So when the boys in the band came up with one of their really great hooky (HA HA) melodies, out came the notebooks with his very own misery memoir. Result:
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Highest UK chart position: 13)
OK, so misanthrope is overstating it – he was a joy to drink with. It was only the constant skim reading of the ‘off-beat’ yet actually fashionable literature of pain and suffering, Ballard Hesse Gogol, and his own emotional insecurity that led him to vandalism – to take a watercolour chocolate-box confection and piss all over it. BLACK IT’S ALL BLACK. SO COLD, ALWAYS SO FUTILE!
Curtis, we know, was not to allow himself to mature as a writer, to progress beyond imitating the authors he worshipped and alluding to books, like Atrocity Exhibition, that he would never get around to reading. Not that any of this makes LWTUA less enjoyable on its own terms. Musically it’s paralysingly lovely, much like its antecedent though along a different axis of appreciation. Lyrically it’s a list song for Goths, “We Didn’t Start The Fire… But We Could Easily Have Done So And Maybe You Should Consider That When Your Loved Ones Are Sleeping”. But it is a more direct and honest sounding lyric — a step above a lot of his work that comes off like the internal narration of Batman, all brooding hurt, ‘the city is full of filth’ and fist-shaking at the injustice of the world.
Reaction B “Take a sad song and make it better”
Here’s another song now jumping from hook to hook, and then a soaring strangled vocal: “Please tell me who I am. Who I am!? Who I aaaaam?! WHO I AAAAAM!!!!???!11”. Yer basic existential angst right there. If only they were 18 or 19, we’d understand, but in time-honoured “And that was just the teachers” fashion, The Logical Song (highest UK chart position: 5) was written and performed by a 30-year-old man. (Incidentally in the same year as LWTUA. Was the terrific run of number 1s that year putting people off?) Scooter with their sample robbery, hook burglary aesthetic couldn’t resist the bait on these hooks but the ho-hum alienation of the lyric would have to go. Result:
Scooter – Ramp! (The Logical Song) (Highest UK chart position: 2)
They accentuated the positive “When i was young…beautiful magical” first half of the verse both by helium-voice ‘chipmunking’ of the vocal to kick things off distinctively and by literally eliminating the negative second half of amateur-emo in favour of bellowed motivational sound-bites. “GOOD MORNING!… are you ready…Peace, Love and Unity” and so on like Sportacus’s novelty alarm-clock stuck on ‘pumped’.
Many people dislike the enforced jollity of an aerobics instructor — the constant Up rubs the wrong way against their hard-earned Down. “A-and it’s all chemically enhanced and fake, right?” Such people are miserable, or idiots, or both. The joy here is as enforced as Joy Division’s misery, and is as genuinely felt. Scooter really do want you to have a good time all the time. It’s just the constant Joker’s grin that makes the sceptic presume idiocy. But The Joker’s grin hides an unhinged and eclectic intelligence bent on thievery on a grand scale.
Compared to Scooter, the Brinks-Mat job was a second-rater. Their appetite for mainstream and arcane music casts them as the stock villain who robs the world’s most famous museums of their priceless works of arts for the love of it. The Thieving Magpie with ADHD, they blur the distinction between cover, sample and homage, taking from folks songs and rock operas about dragons and lifting riffs and lyrics from films (the 60s Miss Marple films), rap (Talib Kweli), indie (Blur) and techno (Kraftwerk, RMB). Most head-spinning of all, they have based TWO of their songs on one track by UK 80s indie band Stump:
Seriously. Stump. Dude. Most often of all they swipe work from established master thieves The K, The L, The F and the -ology — a none-more appropriate appropriation used in this track. Scooter are the stick-up boys, the Omar Littles of pop, taking from the dope-hook pushers and working by their own paradoxical code of honour. In Ramp! they took a sad song and made it Harder Better Faster Stronger.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better…
— TS Eliot