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May 14

THE TAMPERER featuring MAYA – “Feel It”

Popular47 comments • 2,339 views

#791, 30th May 1998

tamperer An Italian chop-shop job, lashing together riffs and a bassline from The Jacksons’ bombastic “Can You Feel It?”, verses from an obscure club track (“Drop A House” by Urban Discharge), bludgeoning 4/4 beats, and even a bit of crude speed garage style vocal stretching. None of which it’s at all famous for: “Feel It” is remembered mainly, if not only, for Maya’s iron-voiced question on the chorus: “WHAT she gonna look like with a CHIMNEY ON HER?”

It may only be a black eye, but from the force Maya gives it I’m seeing entire smokestacks toppled in vengeance upon this man-stealing hussy. (You certainly feel the fella in question has got away remarkably lightly). That image of destructive wrath is fully backed by the fantastic time-stretched segment, where Maya’s voice hulks out in distorted electronic rage.

The whole thing is remarkably crass – and the formula would topple into total cheapness a record later, with the Madonna-biting, amusingly-titled “If You Buy This Record Your Life Will Be Better” (I did! It wasn’t!). But for this moment, it worked – “Feel It” appeared, shot to the top for a glorious and arbitrary instant, and then vanished before I could get sick of it. Its main weakness is that Maya’s vocals on the borrowed verses are sometimes a lot flatter than the chorus, but that aside it’s fine gonzo fun, the model of a one-week wonder.

Still, it’s not the first money-minded house respray we’ve bumped into in 1998, so I’ll try and answer the question: what makes this better than Jason Nevins, whose remixing was even more brutally straightforward? More imagination – not just the chimney, but working out how good the brisk anger of “Drop A House” would sound welded onto a pop song.

But it’s also the right pop song. “Can You Feel It?” is a gorgeous record, one I like more than “It’s Like That”, but its triumphalist utopian disco suits a full-on hard-house makeover a lot more than the cavernous noise of early rap. The rhythms match better, and the decadent pomp of the Jacksons’ song – released in the overripe autumn of the disco boom – can be turned towards violence surprisingly well. The Tamperer also borrows the right bits – the massed fanfares of “Can You Feel It”’s chorus, and the bassline (here oddly rubberised). Things that fit alongside a beat, in other words, rather than get smothered by it. Though on this showing, even the hardest beat seems unlikely to get in Maya’s way.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    MarkH on 14 May 2014 #

    But what was the ‘chimney’ in the lyric? I thought at the time it might be a tombstone. Is it slang for a black eye?

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 14 May 2014 #

    for me, the lyric always evokes the witch crushed beneath Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of OZ – it’s a wonderfully over the top expression of anger that Maya snarls with righteous contempt. The vocal variations also help to enliven the repeated backing samples

  3. 3
    Tom on 14 May 2014 #

    It may or may not be a black eye. That was the “word on the street” at the time, and I see it’s repeated in Urban Dictionary, but whether Maya or the Tamperer would have known it I have no idea. I’m a bit suspicious – and besides, far more entertaining if it’s literal.

    #2 Weirdly it takes the verse lyrics from “Drop A House” but not the chorus, inventing the chimney line out of whole cloth. Since they seem to have dodged giving songwriting royalties to Urban Discharge I wonder if avoiding quoting the chorus is how…

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 14 May 2014 #

    Is this the first Handbag #1? It has all the hallmarks: disco backing, battle-ready female singer, thumping 4/4 beat. The “chimney” just adds a little bit of surreality to the whole thing. I’m sure it must be slang for a black eye, but you could imagine a woman’s vengeance strong enough to bring down a whole roof (chimney-stack an’ all) upon her love rival. (8)

  5. 5
    Tom on 14 May 2014 #

    It’s a bit past handbag’s prime – it’s definitely in that ballpark though. ISTR making a tenuous handbag link a few Popular years ago, god knows what to.

  6. 6

    it’s rhyming slang: chimney = fred dibnah –> stick a chib in har

  7. 7
    JLucas on 14 May 2014 #

    Love this. Featherweight but great fun – and yes, it’s all about Maya’s scarily committed vocals.

    Fun fact: After sampling Madonna herself on the hilariously shameless ‘If You Buy This Record…’, their third and final UK hit ‘Hammer To The Heart’ originally beat her to the ABBA Gimme Gimme sample – although the sample was blocked so the radio version is a rather inferior, rockier version of the song.

  8. 8
    swanstep on 14 May 2014 #

    Amazingly, ‘Feel It’ manages to be a minute longer than ‘Can you Feel It’ but to have only a third of the vocals: only about 60s total! No matter how fun the ‘Chimney’ line is, it’s spread far too thin for this record to work. As a result FI sounds like an early demo to me; just not finished. One thinks fondly by comparison of the ‘No Limit’ crew dutifully writing raps to bulk out and ‘finish’ their beat-foregrounding and lyrics-light record, to make it hit-worthy, and not *just* a big beat:
    4

    @Lonepilgrim, 2. I too have always free associated from the ‘chimney’ line to The Wizard of Oz scene you mention!

  9. 9
    Matt McConkey on 14 May 2014 #

    I seem to remember Maya in full Dorothy drag on the Christmas TOTP, so the Wizard Of Oz connection is probably on the mark.

  10. 10
    Kinitawowi on 14 May 2014 #

    Shite. It was total cheapness right now; If You Buy This Record hit number 3, the Abba-robbing Hammer To The Heart was number 6. The joke hit the top once and never again, because people realised it wasn’t funny.

    The latter records only make this one worse, because it establishes the formula of “take another, superior, more famous song entirely and shout crap over it”, the exact same problem I had with I’ll Be Missing You. And at least IBMY’s heart was in the right place. I honestly can’t imagine anybody whose life would be better for buying a record by this mob.

    1.

  11. 11
    thefatgit on 14 May 2014 #

    #10, Oh dear, we have a lot of examples of the sort of thing you describe in Popular’s future, emerging post-Miami Winter Music Conference and hitting the top of the charts come early-spring, sort of from now onwards.

  12. 12
    mapman132 on 14 May 2014 #

    Not quite feeling it. 4/10.

    Now if “If You Buy This Record Your Life Will Be Better” had hit #1, that would’ve been funny. The most self-referential record of all time? BTW, I’d never heard “Feel It” until last night, but IYBTRYLWBB did appear on my US radio once or twice back in the day.

  13. 13
    Tommy Mack on 14 May 2014 #

    Like Jason Nevins, this record means one thing to me: you are seventeen, you are dancing in a shit provincial nightclub and you are not going to pull any girls because there is no way of a seventeen year old boy dancing to this without looking like Inbetweeners’ Will trying to ape his mate Neil’s moves.

  14. 14
    anto on 14 May 2014 #

    I couldn’t remember whether this got to number 1 or not so it’s sprung a surprise on me here just as it did when it suddenly pounced out of nowhere in 1998.
    I still kinda like it – sheer unabashed camp that gleefully inverts the one-world vibes of ‘Can You Feel It’ with silly studio gimmicks, an absurdist non-sequitor as it’s second hook and the raunchy charisma of Maya. Exceptional.

  15. 15
    Kinitawowi on 14 May 2014 #

    #11: I am painfully aware of that. :-p And their wildly variable quality, natch.

  16. 16
    Chelovek na lune on 14 May 2014 #

    Stunning bit of entertainment. Brash, ballsy, in your face, and intensely enjoyable. Quite, quite, fabulous. 9.

  17. 17
    wichitalineman on 14 May 2014 #

    So who was The Tamperer? I remember being in a writing session set up with him by our publisher, in a Maida Vale flat. He was a nice chap. In my memory he looked like the artist Rodney Graham and was, I’d guess, in his 40s. The only other thing I remember about the session is that his way of writing a melody was to hum it under his breath, barely audible, but looking quite intense. Needless to say, no Popular entries were written that day.

    Feel It, though, is marvelous and one of the most off the wall (soz) Popular entries to date. Crucially, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and that time-stretch-terror breakdown makes it just when you think its twin Jackson/chimney* tricks might run out of steam. Surreal, and a genuine novelty.

    *to me, the “chimney on her” line sounds like dynamited masonry crushing a love rival, rather than a mere black eye.

  18. 18
    wichitalineman on 14 May 2014 #

    (sorry, repeated myself there).

  19. 19
    daveworkman on 14 May 2014 #

    I think this was genuinely the first song I considered to be my ‘favourite of all time’ (we’re looking at about a year’s worth of No.1s being the other contenders), so its always had a soft spot for me. Again, like All Saints, I wasn’t aware of the original, but heard bits about it being something to do with Michael Jackson.
    And yes, I just like to think it is about Maya hauling a piece of masonry onto her cheating other half’s mistress.
    And I seem to remember the video having a ‘twist’ ending, but wondered whether that was at all controversial at the time, even for the late 90s?

  20. 20
    bounder on 14 May 2014 #

    Birmingham City did, and maybe still do, run out onto the pitch to an instrumental mix of this. I have idea what this means for the record or the football team.

  21. 21
    nixon on 14 May 2014 #

    Jog my memory – in my head, this didn’t go straight in at number one but rather a week or two later, with everyone I knew (including me) apparently suddenly realising “hey, this record is actually great fun” when it was already in the charts, buying it, enjoying it for what it was/is, and then moving on again en masse. But it’s possible literally none of that happened.

  22. 22
    swanstep on 14 May 2014 #

    For those who really like FI, isn’t the fact that it contains only 1 minute of vocals and then 4 minutes of pure, not especially distinguished backing track any sort of problem?

  23. 23
    Tom on 14 May 2014 #

    #22 I suspect they/we are reacting to the radio version, which was either 3 or 3-and-a-half minutes according to Wikipedia (I assume 3-and-a-half as we got the “European” not the “French” CD single). Certainly the 5 minute original was never played on the radio (purely for the clubs, I assume). That makes the ratio rather more vocal-friendly.

  24. 24
    23 Daves on 14 May 2014 #

    I actually started listening to this one again around the end of last year, while desperately scrabbling around in my iTunes library for some good songs to exercise to (a tricky balance to strike and a tedious project which normally revolves around me loosely thinking about bpms). Luckily for me, it forced me to remember how ace it is.

    It possibly seems as if it has no right to be. Even I’ve always pegged it as being one of the most basic cut-and-paste jobs in dance music, a lucky match between tracks which just happens to work. But sometimes pop music’s like that – The Trashmen came up with “Surfin’ Bird” in almost the length of time it took to record it, and “Feel It” also has a sense of brilliant (and bizarre) effortlessness about it.

    This also brings back fond memories for me. A good friend of mine would frequently encourage us all to do aggressive, furious dancing to this track (in the privacy of our own houses after pub hours, not in the local discotheque – in-jokes never work well there). The visual joke can’t be replicated here and probably doesn’t translate at all well outside our social group, but I’ll always have that association of giddy drunkenness with it, as I’m sure other people will for slightly different reasons.

  25. 25
    Cumbrian on 14 May 2014 #

    Can I feel it? Yes.

    I probably like this more than the Jacksons’ song that provides the main hook. I don’t quite know what it is – maybe it’s the slightly more bouncy feel to the bassline Tom identifies – but I just find it that little bit more danceable. Mya’s vocal sells it too – not someone I’d want to mess with on this evidence, lest the masonry start falling on me. An odd match of aggression and fun that the right thinking part of my brain thinks shouldn’t work but the rest just goes with.

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