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Mar 15

MADISON AVENUE – “Don’t Call Me Baby”

Popular47 comments • 3,092 views

#859, 20th May 2000

madison avenue For all my hyperbole, and for all that 2000 was the zenith of the Cheiron sound, it didn’t have the charts to itself. The glut of number ones in 2000 is matched by an extravagance of pop styles – Max and his imitators, futurist R&B, UK garage, pop-trance… joined now by one of pop’s periodic disco revivals. Disco had been an undercurrent through the 1990s, used as a sound both party-ready and family-friendly. Take That and Steps covered the Bee Gees as helpful pop forebears, a good time straight out of the box. The rash of disco-inflected number ones in the early 00s are a little different – more invested in the sound and style of disco, not just its songs. From Melbourne to Paris, a question was being asked: what could modern dance music learn from disco?

“Don’t Call Me Baby” is part of this flush of responses, and not the best. But it’s striking. To play stereotypes, house music aims at the communal – losing yourself in a beat and becoming part of a gestalt crowd, comrades in music. Disco is sometimes about the party, but just as often about the self and how to stand out in that crowd – hustling, mating, showing off. With the stereotypical attitudes come stereotypical drugs, and if you look at the British Crime Survey, reported cocaine use among young people spikes massively at the tail-end of the 90s, doubling or trebling its Britpop-era level.

I’m not saying that a public taste for gak was necessary to get Madison Avenue to Number One – “Don’t Call Me Baby” is a hard, lean, ultra-confident strut of a song, but it’s more about punctured egos than inflated ones. Songwriter Cheyne Coates recorded her vocal line as a guide but the band kept it – in fact they morphed into a ‘band’ because of it. You can see why – her flinty phrasing gives the song its charge. “Don’t underestimate me boy I’ll make you sorry you were born”: just that flash of pure contempt on “boy” elevates “Don’t Call Me Baby” from a pleasant, rather monotonous bumper into something to be reckoned with.

Disco’s emphasis on the self in the crowd makes it a sharply emotional music, rarely introspective but still perfect for capturing the intense sensations and dramas of a night out. “Don’t Call Me Baby” is as incisive and frosty about casual encounters as any number one since “Fastlove” – funnier, too, in its total lack of patience for fanciable idiots: “Behind my smile is my IQ / I must admit this does not sit with the likes of you”. I wish I liked the backing a little more, but this is smart, bracing pop.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    JLucas on 6 Mar 2015 #

    It’s a strange complaint in this era of six month chart runs, but the main problem with Dancing In The Moonlight for me (aside from his horrible braying voice) was the fact that it just refused to go away. First it was a long-running hit, then Jamie Oliver revived it and it got into the charts again! It was utterly infuriating.

    I also file it alongside Build Me Up Buttercup and Young At Heart on my list of ‘Wedding Dance songs from Hell’.

  2. 27
    Rory on 6 Mar 2015 #

    #24: Ouch. I’m 1.47 in, and already hesitant to go on… but I’ve got to see this glass of water.

    Okay, that was bad. I was strangely hypnotized by the way the glass of water lit up to the beat, though.

  3. 28
    Phil on 6 Mar 2015 #

    That’s it, I’m never reading these comments again. I just had DCMB nicely earworming away (I’ll give it 8 btw) and then some, some… person (sorry, there’s no other word) goes and mentions D*nc*ng *n th* s*dd*ng bl**dy M**nl*ght, which I’ve always hated & now cannot get out of my head. H’mph. Cross now.

    Ah, that’s better – found DCMB on YouTube. What a stupid beat. I love that stupid beat. Syndrums – surely the last ever sighting of syndrums at #1? And that squashed, yowling vocal – isn’t there something about the way it’s compressed that fits into the post-Believe narrative we had going just now? I’m not going to 9, but it’s a rock-solid 8.

  4. 29
    JoeWiz on 6 Mar 2015 #

    That YouTube clip is amazing. Love how the host sticks to the script and makes no reference to the horror he has just witnessed.

  5. 30
    thefatgit on 6 Mar 2015 #

    I have a lot of time for this. Sassy disco stompers with chunks of z-snap attitude will always feature whatever year it may be. It’s just a shame Popular doesn’t get to meet very many of them. All the focus is on Ms. Coates as she lays down the law. The subtle organ stabs act merely as punctuation until the next round of loops kick in. It bumbles along in the background as the beat and the bass make a beeline for the hips. Where it fails, is although it’s only 3:50 in length, it feels longer. There’s little else to do once the message has been delivered, and there’s not enough going on to keep the listener engaged. Maybe a decent breakdown would elevate this. I reckon a 6 or 7 is about right.

  6. 31
    Mark M on 7 Mar 2015 #

    Re21onwards: There was a bit of a discussion on, I think, the Fragma thread, about the use of the word ‘cheeky’ – and Toploader to me just evoke hordes of posh blokes drawling ‘I’ll just roll a cheeky spliff…’

    I know there must be loads of people who derive joy from the song, but for me, Dancing In The Moonlight is as loathsome as music gets. Part of that is it just feels unbelievably smug, a total self-satisfaction in their utter mediocrity and their aggressive dullness.

  7. 32
    lmm on 7 Mar 2015 #

    I’ll stand up as someone who appreciates Dancing in the Moonlight. We covered Pure Shores a week or two ago and I think of it in similar terms – a song that isn’t really saying a lot, but evokes a particular pleasant mood and corresponding memories – in my case the rooftop-barbecue-parties of my student days and first job. A more dramatic song would actually serve less well – the parties themselves, after all, were fun but ultimately frivolous.

    It’s got some nice touches too – we like our fun and we never fight / you can’t dance and stay uptight – of course neither of those things is quite true, but drinking under the stars, you’d say them and believe them, at least for a moment. And the opening notes are still like nothing else you hear.

  8. 33
    Billy Hicks on 7 Mar 2015 #

    The Sainsbury’s advert with DITM seemed to be on every bloody ad-break for about three months in the early part of 2001 – the opening ad line of “Never again!” sends chills down my spine whenever I think of it, and during its last few days on air would usually be followed by me immediately changing the channel. It probably contributed to that song getting old in the public’s imagination very quickly.

    …but yeah, as #32 says, it takes you back to its specific era (Year 7 for me) nicely.

  9. 34
    Shiny Dave on 7 Mar 2015 #

    DITM had a heck of a singalong chorus. You can make a decent case for saying that’s all it had, but I’d never take that away from it, and I’d presume its popularity at the time was mostly driven by that. If I went to uni at the start of the 2000s rather than the end, I don’t doubt that I’d have heard this as a constant karaoke feature.

    DCMB… sounded wonderfully just-out-of-place on the trance-heavy dance music compilations I definitely recall this appearing on (Billy, do you have similar memories?), and as #24 points out, it’s a rare-for-the-era dance track that’s built to fit a 3:xx length – trance tracks usually ran nearer ten minutes than four in their original guise, and in that guise almost work as synth-orchestral pieces to the point where it’s bizarrely appropriate that “trance and progressive” became a description!

    I didn’t realise for some years how troublingly misogynistic too much of the clubbing scene was – this was a time where I was very confused about my sexuality and yet didn’t have any confidence that I might be somewhere on the LGBT+ umbrella, for a start, and I was also just plain conservative at this point because as a constantly bullied academic achiever I clung hard to the ideal of a disciplinarian meritocracy – and the snarky feminism of DCMB did not register with me in the slightest. I think it was the Winwood-sampling bunny that was a difference-maker (especially as it came a little while after my politics shifted, but that’s for a 2003 bunny).

    Like it more than I did then. Can’t go above a 7 because it is that bit repetitive, but there’s plenty to like – I’d actually say this is what “Bag It Up” wishes it could be.

  10. 35
    thefatgit on 7 Mar 2015 #

    There’s another aspect to DITM and other upbeat Dadrock tracks from around this time, and that was the kind of lifestyle Jamie Oliver was selling. He pretty much set the ball rolling for what would become the Hoxton hipster Nathan Barleyite aspirational, but informal dining experience we pay a King’s ransom for today. Jamie serving up paella to his mates in his “bachelor flat”, to the sound of Toploader. Thanks a bunch, Jamie.

  11. 36
    ace inhibitor on 7 Mar 2015 #

    Shiny Dave@34, that singalong chorus responsible for the funniest and saddest moment in 4 Lions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d23TGmzAw3A

    Ed@17, I was hoping DCMB would be some kind of version of Don’t Call Me Darling, Brix Smith’s finest moment with the Fall..

  12. 37
    wichitalineman on 8 Mar 2015 #

    I always felt DCMB sounded cold – and square, too. This chimes with the coke comments up thread. It kinda mystified me how it got to number one then and it still sounds very dull to me. It makes me think of estate agents.

    DITM is much more enjoyable in its original incarnation by King Harvest. Not that different production-wise but the 1971/72 studio air gives it a much lighter bubblegum feel. And it’s not smug at all.

  13. 38
    Mark G on 8 Mar 2015 #

    Yeah, was going to say..

    I got the King $harvest orig in a boot sale a couple years ago, I don’t recall it from 1st time around which is odd cause its the sort of thing that’d get load of Luxembourg plays.

    I did think, poor song, what did they do to you..

  14. 39
    Tommy Mack on 8 Mar 2015 #

    Who’d have thought this would be the song to invoke the ‘this music goes with this drug’ debate!

    I always hear this in a mash up with DC’s Say My Name. No link other than justified objection to being called baby. If I was Emma Bunton, I would definitely make this my karaoke song.

    Weej @ 1: I’ve always found funky house fun to dance to but only for about half an hour until the monotonous pace and lack of dynamic start to drag. And yes, it’s always played in charmless expensive bar/club nightspots populated by glamorous but oddly sexless people (suggesting Tom’s cocaine hunch may be right)

  15. 40
    Kinitawowi on 8 Mar 2015 #

    Number 7 watch: Tell Me Why (The Riddle), by Paul Van Dyk and Saint Etienne; tragically the highest the Ets have ever managed.

    While bilge like this tops the chart. 3. (Pretty sure my sister loved it, so it loses at least a whole mark for that alone.)

    I couldn’t bring myself to hate Dancing In The Moonlight (there was a wank remix though), but it was never as good as Achilles Heel. Saw Toploader live a few times (the roadies’ t-shirts said “toploading” on the back, haw haw), and they undeniably suffered from their front man being stuck behind a keyboard for the whole gig, although liberating him from those confines and that creativity resulted in the very naff Magic Hotel album…

  16. 41
    23 Daves on 8 Mar 2015 #

    “Dancing In The Moonlight” sounded slightly different before King Harvest got their mitts on it too – the original by Boffalongo has a much edgier feel (http://youtu.be/r6dFjDQx_BQ).

    The version by High Broom (aka assorted ex-members of psychedelic band Jason Crest) is the one that picked up a lot of Radio Luxembourg play, and I wrote a tiny bit about it over here – http://left-and-to-the-back.blogspot.it/2015/01/high-broom-dancing-in-moonlight-percys.html Not that I want to plug my own blog or anything like that, but it saves me from having to type all the facts up all over again while I’m supposed to be doing other things on holiday.

    I’ll come back to Madison Avenue at a convenient moment, I think.

  17. 42
    Inanimate Carbon God on 12 Mar 2015 #

    I’ll comment on the actual song later. Sorry I’ve fallen behind with comments this week, my sound isn’t working.

    But I just wanted to say I can’t help looking at the sleeve and thinking it was a duet of Preston (the Ordinary Boys one, not the town famous for butter pie) and Sofie Gråbøl. Now that’s what I call a curveball for the hipsters.

  18. 43
    Mark M on 12 Mar 2015 #

    Re41: That’s interesting. I’m not sure I’d stretch as far as saying I like it, but it’s absolutely not obnoxious, unlike the Toploader version. I’m not sure I can identify why – it’s partly about the vocals in general, maybe partly about the phrasing of the chorus.

  19. 44
    23 Daves on 13 Mar 2015 #

    #43 – “Dancing In The Moonlight” is fascinating as an example of a song whose mood, arrangement and feel appeared to gradually morph from cover version to cover version. It starts life as a gruff, growling piece of rock, then eventually becomes Toploader’s piece of overblown jollity. The merry little chiming hook doesn’t even make an appearance until King Harvest’s version, the third in total.

    Actually though, I find Toploader’s version a lot more tolerable than most Popular commenters, I suspect. I don’t own a copy, but I wouldn’t flee the room if it came on at a party. “Four Lions” has also added an unintended new layer of meaning to the track as well, so when I hear it now I tend to imagine a bunch of radical Muslims singing along before they head off to blow up the London Marathon rather than Jamie Oliver tootling along on his scooter with a smug expression on his face.

  20. 45
    Tom on 13 Mar 2015 #

    There does seem to be an unassailable law though that no band with a woman in it shalt ever cover Dancin In The Moonlight.

  21. 46
    23 Daves on 13 Mar 2015 #

    #45 Straight after you said that, I thought “There’s bound to be a lady doing a slow acoustic cover version of it on YouTube, with LOADS of hits”, and lo and behold: https://youtu.be/jhJ_fLcBAbw Mind you, such is the trend for these things at the moment that I probably could have looked up “Can I Play With Madness” and got the same result.

    Bonnie Tyler would have been a shoe-in for a largely unaltered cover of the original in the seventies, I think. Your point stands, though, it’s weird how blokey an anthem it is.

  22. 47
    ciaran on 24 Apr 2015 #

    As well as this, you had Moloko going strong at this time and Goldfrapp about to get started.It looked like the female front/male in the background pulling the strings duo was going to be as big as the synth equivalent of the 80s at one point.

    DCMB was given a helping hand by a lot of radio airplay and I couldn’t complain about it at all. It felt a bit necessary for Australia in a way as it showed there was more to them than ‘pretty soap stars you know’.Absolutely Everybody by Vanessa Amarossi was huge later in the year too which is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine and of course the Avalanches defining moment to follow.

    The disco comparisons are valid certainly but I can hear a bit of Prince in this for some strange reason.

    It was harmed a bit I’d imagine by the scenario of girls trying to play it cool in nightclubs eyeing up a man they liked and dancing along to this in front of them as a sign of interest. There’s another huge bunny from 2005 that echoes this scenario too (but that one comes through relatively unscathed for me!)

    Who The Hell are you was a big disappointment and the antipodean attention after this was on Kylie but I still get great pleasure out of DCMB. 7

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