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May 13

REDNEX – “Cotton Eye Joe”

Popular59 comments • 4,958 views

#715, 14th January 1995

A few years ago I returned from a trip to Spain with a somewhat disreputable CD – Rice And Curry, by Dr Bombay, AKA Swedish Eurodance chameleon Jonny Jakobsen. Browned-up for this project, and singing songs like “SOS (The Tiger Took My Family)”, Dr Bombay is the most eyebrow-raising example of how older traditions of ethnic and cultural comedy took root in Eurodance – Jakobsen has gone on to perform as Scottish stereotype Dr.Macdoo (LP title: Under The Kilt) and ‘comedy’ Mexican Carlito. And Rednex are in very much the same game.

It’s a feature of eurodance that comes out of European disco – just as anything could be discofied, from film themes to classical music to rock, so anything is fair game for novelty Eurodance treatment, and if it made people laugh too, so much the better. The genre existed in the same amoral, self-serving zone stand-up comedy sometimes claims for itself: the effect on the audience (partying, laughter) is all that matters, and anything goes to get there.

I’m not saying this because I’m personally offended by Rednex’ appropriation of hillbilly culture, it’s just a fascinating and overlooked part of Eurodance aesthetics. I doubt any rock band in 1995 could have got away with the rat-eating, drooling hick-play of the “Cotton Eye Joe” video, but if nobody’s taking the music seriously anyhow, it’s never going to get that level of scrutiny. Or to put it less kindly, there were plenty of other reasons to hate Rednex in 1995.

But does “Cotton Eye Joe” work on that basic, energetic, ass-moving level? Yeah, pretty much. It’s repetitive, but it’s based on something very repetitive – the traditional “Cotton Eyed Joe” line dance, itself rooted in old ballads. (The male vocals on Rednex sound like they might simply be sampled from an older record, in fact.) The hollering diva interludes actually change things up a little, though that decades-old hook is solid enough to stand on its own. Like most European novelties across any age of pop, you can easily imagine why it got so big. And like many, a little of it goes a very long way.

(You might reasonably ask why I like Doop and get annoyed by Rednex? Any answer would be post-rationalisation, but I think it’s the vocals – dumb instrumental hooks seem happy to work on me while they’re playing and not swirl unbidden round my head. And Rednex’ vocals are particularly shrill and penetrating – the folksy charm of the twangy country voice is quite lost when looped and backed by pounding Eurobosh beats.)

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Comments

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  1. 26
    DietMondrian on 9 May 2013 #

    #8 #12

    Did Frankie goes to Hollywood set the template for banging first two singles followed by a ballad? Is it a common practice? I can think of a couple of bunnied examples.

  2. 27
    Chelovek na lune on 9 May 2013 #

    @26 Frankie certainly got rich on it, but surely weren’t the first. (As Vanilla Ice did so later, they certainly weren’t the worst, either). It seems (at least now) like such an obvious formula: give the kids something they like, then give them some more, then show they aren’t a one trick pony.

    Someone with more instant recall of 70s or 60s pop music could give a quicker response, but from pre-Frankie 80s – and at entirely the opposite end of the quality, charisma and creativity spectrum from Rednex, let alone Vanilla Ice, in the realm of pop genius in fact, I nominate the Associates. Not that “18 Carat Love Affair” is exactly a conventional ballad (although their take on “Love Hangover” on the AA side could more or less qualify – as well as raising the “cover version as 3rd single” convention), but it certainly considerably less banging than the two breathlessly brilliant singles that preceded it.

  3. 28
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 May 2013 #

    Just now reading a mid-90s interview with Cliff Richard, and this kids-kids-multipony move was pretty much what he did, too, with his first releases — Living Doll being his fifth rather than his third…

  4. 29
    Chelovek na lune on 9 May 2013 #

    …although of course they were only the Associates’ first hit singles, not their debut releases…

  5. 30
    swanstep on 10 May 2013 #

    @26, DietMondrian. The ‘couple of bangers followed by a slowie’ release formula was used for many of Michael and Janet Jackson’s big albums with Off The Wall being an especially pure (and possibly the foundational) example:

    Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, Rock With You, Off The Wall
    followed by
    She’s Out Of My Life

    I certainly remember picking up Janet’s Control and Rhythm Nation records pretty early and really digging ‘Let’s Wait Awhile’ and ‘Come Back To Me’ respectively, and explicitly thinking, ‘that’s the clean-up, 3rd or 4th or 5th single’ (which exactly would depend upon exactly how big the album got). A year or more later when those slowie songs were released as near-chart-topping singles it felt like watching a very well-planned invasion (each following OTW’s family/corporate playbook).

  6. 31
    Patrick Mexico on 12 May 2013 #

    This is insane. The nineties’ answer to the mad old small-town drunk who stumbles into any given pub and makes up fictional war stories. Quite oddly endearing in that way.

    There’s something of outrageous sacrilege in an act from (allegedly) liberal, progressive Sweden dressing up as unreconstructed sugar-rush Dingles by way of the Confederacy, thinking of Ace of Base’s own struggles with heritages of hate, but if they’d sell their soul for a tacky song like the ones they hear on the radio (!), best to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. Charmingly shameless. I don’t think anyone has ever listened to this more than five times in a row and not been permanently sectioned, mind.

    6.

  7. 33
    DanH on 12 May 2013 #

    Yeah I remember hearing this quite often in the States that year, despite it not charting that high. Maybe my ear was in a different ground at age 11, but I remember “Scatman” (don’t worry, no bunny here) distinctly, even though it charted even lower.

    Nowadays it seems to have mutated into a “Jock Jam” and I hear it quite often at sporting events. But despite all that, I loved it in 1995, and cannot bring myself to hate it now.

  8. 34
    Patrick Mexico on 12 May 2013 #

    Ah, Jock Jams.. That truth that speaks to a certain strata of American life who may have been (or more likely bullied at school) many future bunnies! We’re a while off most of that, though. As much as I’d have an Anderson/Frischmann/Albarn axis-esque shuddering over anything as brashly “This is NFL, F*** off Limeys!”, the stab-in-the-ears synths and the “HEY! HEY! HE! HE-EY!” Give it a kind of winning brash Americana (albeit Scandinavians pretending to be the connoisseur’s least favourite American subculture, but given the dubious Curry and Chips-isms of The Tiger Took My Family (great hook for a troll song!), if white people are allowed to join in the fun of being culturally mocked by other white people maybe it redresses the PC balance. Obviously, with this year’s most vital bunny, any talk of right-on indie credentials in pop will soon be blown out of the water also by a video with haybales and busty milkmaids.. MUCH more on that later, let’s not dangle the carrot.)

    IIRC 2 Unlimited’s Get Ready For This was the quintessential (is there a more British adjective) jock jam, but them being unrecognisable in the US otherwise? Shame really as the jabbing-rave-synths yet relaxed ska-pretensioned “No One” was a great swansong of the original line up that would have made a great worldwide hit.

  9. 35
    DanH on 12 May 2013 #

    Patrick Mexico, seconded on “Get Ready for This”….for a while that was the most ubiquitous of the Jock Jams. I can’t imagine it without the sampled “let’s get ready to rumbllllllllle” in the beginning. Although, I did hear “No Limit” often at those events…that’s also 2 Unlimited I believe?

  10. 36
    glue_factory on 13 May 2013 #

    If Jock Jams include what gets played at NHL games, then there’s a weird crossover from that haybale number one to Song#2. But again, I’m probably getting ahead of myself.

  11. 37
    Alan Connor on 13 May 2013 #

    Dunno about reverence, but there’s nothing quite like the experience of listening to this and Terry Callier’s version back to back.

  12. 38
    swanstep on 13 May 2013 #

    @37, Alan. Thanks for that link; Callier’s new to me, and that’s pretty great. (Memo to self: explore further.)

  13. 39
    swanstep on 14 May 2013 #

    I assume that Twitter will be blowing up on this, but just in case someone hasn’t heard, Daft Punk’s whole new album (not individual tracks) is streaming on the iTunes store. 3 tracks in and it’s very slick and fun (I’ve been lukewarm on ‘Get Lucky’ but it appears that it’s going to be improved by the clever album concept).

  14. 40
    wichita lineman on 14 May 2013 #

    Re 37: I was surprised to hear Nina Simone’s version recently:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VYJ7L-eTds

    The main difference between CEJ and Doop or Swamp Thing is that (I’m guessing) it was made, intentionally,as a pre teen ear worm. Doop is witty, Swamp Thing I can take or leave, but this just drives me round the twist.

    It may be a very poor single, but Old Pop In An Oak has one of the greatest song titles ever. I think of a record that only gets fully appreciated decades after it was made, an oak-aged pop record.

  15. 41
    swanstep on 14 May 2013 #

    OK, first time through Random Access Memories is fun and interesting, but overall feels just a little wrapped up in its own sonic perfectionism (RAM *sounds* beautiful – really smooth and uncompressed compared to most dance music these days) at the expense of making the best conceivable pop music (Off The Wall is an obvious point of reference for RAM, but OTW was just over 40 mins whereas RAM is over 70…). Nothing drags exactly, but some of the noodling smacks of audio-phile/studio-nerdiness, about which it’s hard to have unmixed feelings I find.

    Anyone else got any first impressions to share?

  16. 42
    Tom on 14 May 2013 #

    Listening to it now, and enjoying it: the clue is in the title, it feels like remembering dancing, not like dancing. There’s a place for that in my life, certainly.

  17. 43
    swanstep on 14 May 2013 #

    @42, Tom. There are a lot of dismissive, corruscating initial responses (including avowals of disinclination to give a second listen, etc.) being posted at The Guardian, suggesting that a lot of fans may have set their expectations a little high. 2013 is turning out to be quite the year for returning musical heroes (MBV, Bowie, DP, PSBs) to alternately thrill and/or perturb their bases!

  18. 44
    Tom on 14 May 2013 #

    I joked on Twitter I might not give it a second listen, conceptually simply having it as a memory would seem neat!

    I think if you like the idea of them at all, and had heard “Get Lucky”, you wouldn’t be surprised by this record? Maybe I’m expecting too much of listeners. I can understand people disliking it but not really being disappointed exactly – anyway, there are some delightful parts and some parts which go on too long, which is the case on every other Daft Punk record.

  19. 45
    James BC on 14 May 2013 #

    I love Daft Punk but I always thought the last track on Discovery was a perfect manifesto song for them. It lasts ten minutes and its title is “Too Long”.

  20. 46
    Mark G on 14 May 2013 #

    #43 I keep saying ‘and Wire’, but hey.

  21. 47
    swanstep on 15 May 2013 #

    @46, Mark. How is that new Wire album anyway? I recall a very positive Guardian review of a gig that sounded quite proggy (30 guitarists?) that they did back in March to support the album, but haven’t heard/seen anything since then.

    Other 2013 returning heroes? How about McCartney playing with remnants of Nirvana (I liked it). Still hear murmurs about The Sundays maybe releasing something later this year…

  22. 48
    Mark G on 17 May 2013 #

    I think it’s my favourite album this year, ahead of even the mbv one, and it was actually longer in gestation than that one!

  23. 49
    swanstep on 18 May 2013 #

    @48, MarkG. Nice, I look forward to hearing it. I must say that I haven’t found myself listening to mbv’s album much. Maybe I overdid it listening to it almost constantly that first week? My most recent purchase is Vampire Weekend’s new album… and it’s not really doing much for me. I dug a lot of the new songs when I watched the live stream of VW from Coachella, hence my purchase, but the versions on the record seem underdone (and not in a good way) by comparison. Caitlin Rose’s record (see #23 above) and, ahem, Foals’ Holy Fire are the recent things I’ve most enjoyed and continue to play lots.

  24. 50
    Kylie W on 18 May 2013 #

    A 7 year-old me loved this song, I think it might’ve been my first memory of TOTP but I may be wrong.

    Useless trivia alert: Rednex actually tried to enter Eurovision by competing in the 2006 edition of Melodifestivalen (the Swedish selection show) with a rubbish song. They came 6th, so nowhere close to winning you’ll be glad to hear!

  25. 51
    MBI on 27 May 2013 #

    Oh, man, I wish someone had showed me to their followup “Old Pop in an Oak” earlier. It is exactly the same and yet a billion times more dreadful. And I don’t think it’s based on a folk song either, I think it’s just a nonsense title chosen because it sort of rhymed with “Cotton Eye Joe.”

  26. 52
    Patrick Mexico on 29 May 2013 #

    Old Pop in an Oak does sound exactly the same – albeit a joke that’s worn very thin. (Remember watching this with my sister – aged 9 and 8 respectively – on Live and Kicking and even then chortling at the unapologetic similarity.) See also, TLC’s Creep, #6 hit this month, stolen cloak-and-dagger for Texas’ 1999 hit In Our Lifetime – now I believe I was kinda wrong sticking up for the latter band in the face of critical ridicule.. will still defend Summer Son as “just good pop” as militantly as I defend post-Dog Man Star Suede, Sleeper’s Sale of the Century and the Boo Radleys’ Wake Up Boo (if I was being extremely cruel and postmodern, I’d say two decades on, the latter’s sunny, middle-England composure now sounds like the work of a vile 2010 bunny. Baden-Powell has a lot to answer for.)

    I felt I was somewhat generous giving Cotton Eye Joe a 6.. definitely the “shrill and penetrating vocals” which it falls down on the wrong side of.. though mark inflation’s not due to much childhood fondness but subconsciously from my love of the pissed-up, folk-punk viscerality of the Pogues and Gogol Bordello. I guess, to quote yet another band who bizarrely don’t make Popular – and selling millions in the mid-nineties from similarly sacrilegious decisions to Rednex – it’s a matter of “do you have the time, to listen to them whine, about nothing and everything all at once?”

  27. 53
    Mark G on 29 May 2013 #

    Thanks to wikip: “the central theme seems to be that the father (Pop) climbed up an oak tree to get away from his wife whose pet skunk he cooked on a grill.”

  28. 54
    Patrick Mexico on 31 May 2013 #

    Re 53: I’m not buying that!!!

    Old Pop In An Oak isn’t actually that bad, it has an infectious chorus. Need to move along from this Europop rut though – looking forward to this year’s double whammy of sophisticated Chicago house. Ahem..

  29. 55
    Billy Hicks on 31 May 2013 #

    52 – ‘Creep’ only got to #22 in January 1995. It was a Jan ’96 re-issue (on the back of ‘Waterfalls’ success) that got it up to #6, and then followed it up with two more top 10 hits in 1999. You’re right, though, very In A Lifetime – somewhat amazing I’d never noticed that before.

    See also ‘I’ll Stand By You’ by The Pretenders with Bonnie Tyler’s ‘It’s a Heartache’, and the similarities between the choruses of Whitney Houston’s ‘My Love Is Your Love’ and, erm, TLC again with ‘Unpretty’…

  30. 56
    Erithian on 4 Jun 2013 #

    Take away the “hollering diva interludes” and there’s not a lot going on here, in fact I reckon it’s blown its two main ideas after the first 22 seconds. There’s another (bunnied) track I can immediately think of that does that, although for hillbillies substitute babes in gym kit – yes that one. I could understand people dancing to this if they were drunk enough, but not for very long!

  31. 57
    Patrick Mexico on 2 Sep 2013 #

    I’d say the current number two, from a fellow Swede, channels the spirit of Cotton Eye Joe. Sometimes two wrongs can just about make a right – like CEJ I can take or leave it as jaunty, goofy, summery Europop. Despite the Kermit the Frog vocals, stage-school Chelsea tractor/Chelsea Dagger verse structure, and M&S Christmas ad jangling – on their own, they’re elements of modern chart pop worse than Nick Griffin.

  32. 58
    Tommy Mack on 10 Feb 2016 #

    “I would rather watch this than any number of banal, vacuous middlebrow* films that are churned out of the system each week” – The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw on Human Centipede 3.

    This is how I feel about this record.

    *I am as guilty of this as anyone but let’s be honest, middlebrow is the easiest critical insult to chuck around: most of the stuff that we absorb is neither highbrow nor properly low-brow and it’s not like being either low or high -brow is a virtue in and of itself.

  33. 59
    Patrick Mexico on 10 Feb 2016 #

    @57: Now a huge bunny. I’ll try not to discuss such number ones till Popular gets to them, but like Cotton Eye Joe it’s a track I’ve always found a lot of charm in, even when it was inescapable, but aesthetically and musically, it’s a shoe-in for infamous uber-pop culture anger Facebook/Twitter page, Get in the Sea.

    Who is behind that website? It’s one of you, isn’t it. Odds-on it’s our number one album dissectin’, midnight oil-burnin’ overlord, who rhymes with Move Over Darlin’.

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