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Sep 11

SNAP – “Rhythm Is A Dancer”

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#679, 8th August 1992

If you were to make a Eurodance drinking game, “Rhythm Is A Dancer” would have you under the table in one track. There’s Turbo B making a ninny of himself, of course, but also the wordless chanting, the house piano break, the echoed disco drums, the garbled english on the chorus, the vague mysticism, and most of all the general stateliness and spaciousness of it. Some dance music – the following Number One, for instance – sounded congested, like a party you’re having to shoulder your way through. But Eurodance always carried a sense of enormous vaulting spaces, the club as cathedral. That was the case in the Italo era – where the sparsity and echo in the track were often the source of cosmic or sci-fi metaphors – and it carried over into the lusher likes of Robert Miles. House music was just another ripple in that continuum of kitschy vastness.

The upshot is that “Rhythm” isn’t nearly as vulgar as I remember it – it’s higher minded, more spiritual, and being honest rather duller than I hoped it was. A lot of the memory of brashness comes from Turbo B and the – now notorious – “serious as cancer” lyric. It’s not a good line (according to a passing Steve M he nicked it off a US rapper anyway) but it’s certainly not helped by B’s delivery, hammering down the emphasis on “CAN-cer” as he’s running out of breath and room for the line. Terrible Euro-rap doesn’t always hurt a track – it can easily amp up the energy levels and make a song far more endearing – but Turbo B is too severe for that here. Even if he had hit on a good metaphor, serious is the last thing this record needs more of.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    MarkG on 13 Sep 2011 #

    I don’t think there’s ever been a vibe-killing line like “I’m serious as Cancer when I say Rhythm is a Dancer”. Suddenly the good-time audience are thinking of departed relatives….

  2. 2
    Jimmy the Swede on 13 Sep 2011 #

    And the good time Rafa Nadal must also be feeling like he’s caught something terminal having been demolished by Novak Djokovic again, this time in the US Open final..

    Sorry, but as Popular’s tennis correspondent I had to slip that in somewhere. What an astonishing year Djokovic has had (3 Slams out 4) even if he STILL has a head like a f’king lavatory brush.

  3. 3
    Kat but logged out innit on 13 Sep 2011 #

    I loved this record at the time. So did our music teacher, a young bespectacled lass with short hair who would come and see us on Monday mornings and attempt to teach thirty Year 6 kids about crotchets and quavers. We didn’t mind her as she was much less strict than our normal teacher, but it was pretty dull stuff. One day, Miss came in looking a bit dishevelled, but smiling. “I’ve got a treat for you all! We’re going to listen to something from the charts!” 30 pleased-but-baffled faces watched her put the tape on the stereo, grinning and clapping along to it. “That’s a 4/4 beat! And listen to the lyrics – he’s talking about rhythm, and that’s what a 4/4 beat is! Do you see? Isn’t it great? The beat is so strong!” It was totally lost on us, as was the fact that she’d clearly been out ‘aving it at the weekend.

  4. 4
    Steve Mannion on 13 Sep 2011 #

    To clarify, the “serious as cancer” reference does appear in the rap on the 1991 single “My Love” by Collapse (an Italo-house collective including Gianfranco Bortolotti of Cappella fame) but I don’t know who performs that vocal (as ever they at least sound American). For all I know Turbob (as I now call him by his name) did write it and was gazumped by another opportunistic rent-a-mic.

    As with ‘The Power’ I expected a much higher score. This is Snap’s finest package with the piano melody in the unexpected middle eight preceding Turbo’s serviceable rap as much a factor as the industrious synths and Penny Ford. If Eurodance was ever a definitive genre I happily consider this a high watermark.

  5. 5
    Steve Mannion on 13 Sep 2011 #

    I’ve already changed my mind and prefer ‘The Power’ again… At least Chris De Burgh never covered this (“subtle joek”).

  6. 6
    Pete on 13 Sep 2011 #

    The real problem with the cancer line is not so much the presence of cancer, its that he then has to say Dancer like he is not a US accented Euro-rapper but a Mancunian to make it rhyme.

  7. 7
    Steve Mannion on 13 Sep 2011 #

    He doesn’t really tho does he? It sounds like “cayrncer” and “dayrncer” to me ie still American-y. Mancunian would be more abrupt (“dan-sa”).

  8. 8
    Tom on 13 Sep 2011 #

    I was too harsh on The Power for sure but this is just a lot slower and feebler than I remember it.

  9. 9
    coda on 13 Sep 2011 #

    It’s Eric B & Rakim – I Ain’t No Joke. “I got a question, it’s serious as cancer/Who can keep the average dancer/Hyper as a heart attack.”

    Two fatal maladies for the price of one.

  10. 10
    Matt DC on 13 Sep 2011 #

    I’m pretty sure this is the first time I actually cared what was at #1 in the charts. From the following week that cemented me as a regular follower for… all of two years.

  11. 11
    Tom on 13 Sep 2011 #

    Awesome none-more-1992 sleeve on this one.

  12. 12
    lonepilgrim on 13 Sep 2011 #

    according to wiki Turbo D was unhappy about the cancer line but was over ruled.
    I prefer the spacious feel of the production on this to that for ‘The Power’ but it still feels a bit generic and the video is reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation.

  13. 13
    23 Daves on 13 Sep 2011 #

    Back when I was a self-conscious teenager who was desperate to do and say the right things, this single was actually a guilty pleasure of mine. What I loved about it was the shifts in tempo and the spaciousness Tom refers to, and the throbbing, doomy bass synth lines which in places actually sound very early eighties (akin, in fact, to a lot of Depeche Mode’s early work). It seemed to nod towards retro stylings before anyone was seriously attempting retro electronic music – so it felt like there was a lot going on to get your teeth into, a complexity to it that most Euro-house wasn’t coming remotely close to.

    The last week this was number one I was finally outed whilst drunk around a friend’s house and watching MTV (a sign I hadn’t tired of it despite its constant radio and TV presence). “This is really good, isn’t it?” I said, and one by one everyone in the room agreed with me, to both my shock and my relief. I do need to go back and listen to it again – I’m at work at the moment, so I can’t – as I’m interested to hear how well it’s stood up to my original view of it.

    It’s also interesting to note that Turbo B appeared on the KLF’s unofficial website (klf.de) six or seven years ago talking about how he regarded them as his “peers”, or the only band of the era who could compare with Snap’s output. This is probably the only single of theirs which really comes close to the scope of the KLF’s work in my view, but he may have other ideas of his own.

  14. 14
    Cumbrian on 13 Sep 2011 #

    Maybe it’s just me (it probably IS just me) but I think the “serious as cancer” line, whilst notorious, is a pretty great simile. If rap music in some contexts is about hyperbole and inflation of the self, this tells you how serious the rapper is (and given my family’s experiences with cancer, I’m aware that he’s pretty serious indeed), which only adds to my impression of the rapper as someone who is not to be taken lightly.

    Whether Turbo D uses it well, or whether it works in this context, is another matter. I can see it being a decent line coming from Eric B and Rakim for instance (so I should probably check that track @ 9 out, as I don’t remember having heard it – though I may well have done).

    Otherwise this is alright if hardly shattering. Mind you, it filled the floor at the wedding I was at on the weekend (as did a bunnyable #1 by a Dutch duo), so at least it works (worked?) on that level. Was definitely a bit weird hearing the cancer line at a wedding though, I must admit.

  15. 15
    LondonLee on 13 Sep 2011 #

    I have very fond memories of this, heard it a lot on holiday in Cyprus that summer (my last one in England before I left the country) so maybe I’m looking at it through rosy glasses but I think it’s worth well more than 5. Being too old to seriously get into the heavier end of Rave music I loved this more poppy/commercial take on that spacey and trippy vibe (along with ‘Everybody’s Free’ and ‘Barefoot In The Head’).

    The rap is a bit ropey though, I agree.

  16. 16
    thefatgit on 13 Sep 2011 #

    There’s a lot going for RIAD, maybe more so than “The Power”, and “serious as cancer” is really only a buzzkill if you allow it to be.My only problem with the rap is it’s pretty unnecessary, but when you have a rapper in your group, you might as well give him something to do. However, in shoehorning the rap into the song, the change of tempo threatens the balance and vibe, moving away from spacey euphoria into something more Earthbound and concrete. If the dancer is floating above us, Turbo B is determined to anchor the poor thing to the ground…and stifle it. Putting the genie back in the bottle, if you like.

  17. 17
    23 Daves on 13 Sep 2011 #

    Listened again, and this is a 6 for me, and would have been a 7 were it not for the rap. I stand by my original assessment.

    For some reason, though, Depeche Mode’s obscure early B-side “Ice Machine” came into my head whilst thinking about this record (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aN21BT4Li4) but I’m too tired to think of any reasons why my brain would regard them as similar. For as respected as Depeche were on the continent, I highly doubt Turbo B lifted any ideas from them at all.

  18. 18
    anto on 13 Sep 2011 #

    No attachment to this whatsoever. Although it does prove that one act can fluke number one twice.

  19. 19
    chelovek na lune on 13 Sep 2011 #

    #17 My God, “Ice Machine” is fantastic. Never heard that before, I love DM, but usually more so post-Vince Clarke’s departure.

    The key thing about “Rhythm Is A Dancer” is surely how the sound was imitated, if not blatantly ripped off, by so many other artists: this track essentially provided a template, much imitated, rarely equalled (certainly not by one number one in 1993 that we’ll discuss in due course) for Eurodisco- and when that bunnied act had previously been more credible and, well, scary, with “Der Erdbeermund” – or, anything by erm, Corona, for starters. Even later on, the likes of La Bouche or the Real McCoy were surely nodding in this direction.

    I can’t help thinking that Snap! hung around far longer than they ought to – they never seemed to be off the airwaves for a time when I was a sixth former (1991-93) – yet looking through their list of hits, well there’s a lot of …well dross would be too harsh…(the worst? hmm maybe Mary Had A Little Boy, but Oops Up must also be in the running) but unremarkable stuff there. A producer’s project that overstayed its welcome. And I never even liked “The Power”.

    Here, though, yes, it all came together well. It certainly would have been better if that line hadn’t been in the rap. But damnit it’s good.

  20. 20
    Erithian on 13 Sep 2011 #

    This is truly mediocre, isn’t it? I had plenty of time for “The Power” but this one trades on a couple of ideas that aren’t as good as the ones they had earlier and goes nowhere with them. I did find the rap a bit more interesting, in particular the way Turbob starts each line with the word that finishes the sentence – but that’s not saying a great deal.

    Oh, and the vast majority of similes in rap I find HUGELY unimpressive. The Message and White Lines being honourable exceptions.

  21. 21
    Jonathan Bogart on 13 Sep 2011 #

    Surprised to learn that “I Ain’t No Joke” is so relatively unknown here — I’d thought it was an acknowledged classic.

  22. 22
    Tom on 13 Sep 2011 #

    #19 not that you’d know it from this review, but Eurodance is one of my favourite pop styles – I think an awful lot of what came after RITD is much better than it (including the bunnyable song in question? wait and see – but definitely including Corona’s “Rhythm Of The Night”, which has a much more earthly vigour and ache than this)

  23. 23
    hardtogethits on 14 Sep 2011 #

    I’m conflicted about this one.

    A great deal of the crowd’s memory is of the “serious as cancer” remark. To me, the greatest issue with focussing on the one line (or couplet) is that it draws one’s attention to the fact that the record has a lyric, and yet moves away from the awful lyrical gibberish in every other line. I don’t mean to be pithy, but the “serious as cancer” line is the song’s most direct line.

    However, the record’s vibe, its appeal, was surely never going to be down to its lyric, was it? I can’t imagine the song does well on Karaoke nights, and nor should it have to.

    If it moves people’s feet, creates some positive feeling, and it feels like generally, genuinely it means something musically, then we can forget about what’s being sung. Consider it a wailing, whirling, meaningless sequence of buzzwords that have found a natural home, and you’re laughing. 7.

  24. 24
    swanstep on 14 Sep 2011 #

    Depeche’s early Leave In Silence had a cancer lyric and its 12″ version is kind of a knockout.

    Anyhow, I too find RIAD less fun now than I remember it as being. The vid helps fill up the track’s space a bit I find but listened to by itself I get bored. Good intro which I’ve never forgotten (so it must have something), but falls a bit flat after that. Could probably use a little more Turbo B (I guess I’m asking for The Power aren’t I?!):
    4 or 5

  25. 25
    AndyPandy on 14 Sep 2011 #

    re 18: “fluke number 1”? I believe this was number 1 for a few weeks and although I’m not that keen (much prefer ‘The Power’) if anything both of Snap’s chart-toppers were ‘genuine’ number 1s of he kind that from about here get steadily less common ie everyone knew then, were pretty inescapable anywhere you went.

  26. 26
    swanstep on 14 Sep 2011 #

    @25, andypandy. According to chartstats, RIAD had 6 weeks at #1 (and was #2 for 2 weeks before that run), so it was indeed a massive summer hit.

  27. 27
    MarkG on 14 Sep 2011 #

    A fluke inasmuch as they made a record that people liked.

    I’d forgotten “Mary had a little boy” and so on, I thought that pretty good too…

  28. 28
    Tim Byron on 14 Sep 2011 #

    I totally agree with #19 that this is a song that is more influential than good on its own – it really did seem to set the template for dance pop after this (I spent a night a few months ago trying to figure out what the earliest pop-song-with-a-rap-in-the-middle was, and while there are earlier ones, this song really did seem to be the template that was used later.)

    It was a #3 single in Australia, and I paid relatively uncritical attention to the charts in ’92, but I don’t think this one ever really got into my brain in any big way – it was only having friends in the early 2000s with an absurdist taste for this kind of cheese that alerted me to this song’s existence.

  29. 29
    ace inhibitor on 14 Sep 2011 #

    hardto@23 – I like the phrase ‘I don’t mean to get pithy’ (a much better line than ‘serious as cancer’)

  30. 30
    MarkG on 14 Sep 2011 #

    #28, I believe we worked out the first ‘rap’ number one was “Candy Girl”, that’s a song with a rap middle.

    I take it Elvis’ “Are you lonesome tonight” is too ‘old-school’ a rap style?

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