Apr 14

AQUA – “Doctor Jones”

Popular86 comments • 6,515 views

#783, 7th February 1998

doctorjones Delightful as “Doctor Jones” is, probably the most interesting thing about this record is that I’m covering it at all. “Barbie Girl” – smart as it was – was also obviously a novelty record: for Aqua to return not once but twice shows that Europop enjoyed more commercial clout in Britain than it had in years.

The classic form of Europop is the holiday smash, which sets some ground rules for the genre: it has to be catchy enough for anyone to recognise it on a minimum of encounters, and it should be essentially a-lingual – simple and nonsensical enough to make the idea of a language barrier a mockery. Pop that the polyglot audiences of Europe could embrace, when brought together in a sangria haze. With European Union – and the rise of pan-European cable channels – big cross-continental audiences weren’t just for holidays any more, and the 90s were a boom decade for Europop.

In the UK, meanwhile, Europop appealed to the new audiences being brought in by supermarkets and Woolworths. Kids liked it, casual record buyers liked it, students and post-students liked it, and it’s the sort of thing dedicated record shops tended to hold at arms’ length.

This feels a good entry to drop some broad Europop analysis in, because “Doctor Jones” is as straightforward as “Barbie Girl” was layered. It’s notionally about Indiana Jones, but there’s no sense of that in the song – only in the video, and then only as a game of dress-up (including, as Wikipedia helpfully warns us, a “stereotypical voodoo tribe”, perhaps in homage to the Indy films’ nuanced and well-researched portrayals of other cultures).

In fact, as a song “Doctor Jones” is “Barbie Girl” played absolutely deadpan: a cartoon romance two-hander – no song with Rene Dif on it is going to not be a cartoon. He sounds less slavering as he makes the transition from plastic action figure to cardboard pulp hero: Lene Nystrom sounds slightly more winsome switching from doll to damsel in distress.

What Aqua have also done, though, is absolutely stuff this song with hooks. “Barbie Girl” had two – the chorus and “let’s go party” – and they were both deliberately annoying. “Doctor Jones” bounces with them: a really pretty verse melody, “Baby I am missing you!”, the yippee-i-yoos, and a chorus just as catchy as “Barbie” but a bit less irksome. It turns out the formula works even when you strip out the satire. “Doctor Jones” is pure froth, a lot less interesting and dense than its predecessor but ultimately rather more likeable.



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  1. 1
    Rory on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Looking at the lyrics I was surprised to see how little the medical theme appeared in them – just that “please, please cure me”. If it was about Indiana Jones that would explain it, although curare rather than cures would have been more Indy’s style.

    This was my favourite Aqua song, an irrepressible tune that stands in for me for any number of Europop also-rans. 8.

  2. 2
    Garry on 23 Apr 2014 #

    So a summery Europop tune reminiscing about a Summertime love gets to number 1 in the depths of winter. Was it a particularly bad winter in 1998?

    In Australia Doctor Jones entered the charts a week before the Christmas of 1997 and got to number 1 for seven weeks over New Years. It replaced Tubthumping, which had itself replaced Barbie Girl.

    I was in the not very summery Cooma – max 25 degrees – working at the Snowy Hydro Scheme in my uni break. So bereft of my friends, my possessions, my music collection – and definitely not the place for the mythical summer romance – I can’t say this resonated with me past, “Oh, they are at it again” type disposable fun.

  3. 3
    wichitalineman on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Like the Sugarcubes, but more fully realised.

    Doctor Jones is very pretty, perfect for a sunny spring day, and Lene sings it sweetly without ever threatening to sound cloying. I’d only knock points off for an off-the-peg backing track which could do with at least one little twist or counter melody.

  4. 4
    JLucas on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I think what this song confirmed was that Aqua hadn’t just struck lucky with Barbie Girl, but were actually really talented pop songsmiths. The Aquarium album wasn’t exactly ‘Voulez Vous’, but it was absolutely bursting with hooks. It was sort of a Europop ‘Bad’, spawning seven hit singles around Europe (five in the UK).

    The notion of this kind of pop as having any kind of artistic merit is always the subject of intense debate. I absolutely think it does though. Dolly Parton’s famous line is ‘It takes a lot of money to look this cheap’. By the same token, I think it’s very easy to make a really bad pop record, but deceptively difficult to make a good one. Doctor Jones is another charming example of how well Aqua understood the distinction.

  5. 5
    Mark G on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Not much to add, but will give it 7 also.

  6. 6
    anto on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything apart from those platform shoes.

  7. 7
    Cumbrian on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Judging by the initial comments here, there’s likely a lot of people will disagree with this but I think this is pretty poor, especially by comparison with Barbie Girl.

    Plus points are Lene’s vocals, the chorus and the “yippee-i-yoo” hook. But the last minute is just pounding these two hooks over and over again. Remarkably for a single at 3:30, it could stand to be half a minute shorter I think. I don’t think the verses are anything special – I don’t find that they’re particularly pretty, they just seem like placeholders until Rene comes in and gurns like the human cartoon he is. Still, I do like Lene’s voice and the major hooks are catchy. In short, it just about works, even though I don’t like it much.

    #2 watch – this kept Backstreet Boys’ “All I Have To Give” at #2. I don’t remember this at all.

  8. 8
    Kinitawowi on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I wasn’t particularly impressed with this either. If 17-year-old me thought that Barbie Girl was a bad joke to begin with, then Doctor Jones was the exact same joke played out until it was even less funny. There are flavours of Europop I like (it’s nigh impossible to listen to Saint Etienne or the Divine Comedy without at least some acknowledgement of the art involved), but this is not one of them.


  9. 9
    Chelovek na lune on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I too prefer Barbie Girl. This is hooky, catchy to the point of being annoying, brightly coloured, good quality pop: but: it is a bit more generic and less clever and less well constructed than its predecessor. The Indiana Jones references require the video for them to be obvious or close to obvious. 5

  10. 10
    swanstep on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Woo hoo, 140 bpm, the highest on a #1 since ‘Firestarter’ (and before that ‘No Limit’). That together with the girl/boy vocal feels like a basic formula for pop/party success that hasn’t been explored enough (the B-52s built their career on it, 2 Unlimited to some extent, but who else?).

    Anyhow, watching vids on youtube of Aqua massacring DJ live has renewed my appreciation of the backing track here. The electronic clickiness of the drums really works, as does the 1/16 notes-before-the-beat-ness of the bass-part (when the bass is pulled back to 1/8 notes live the track falls apart I reckon), and the fizzy daffiness of the vocals flies by (putting dramatic pauses into the song as Aqua are wont to do live is death). DJ did nothing in the US so I’m fairly sure I didn’t hear this until a few years later… when it struck me as delightful. That initial bubble-gum hit has long-since faded for me now (and hearing it 10 times in a row just now in various forms has driven me round the twist), but the hooks are well-worked enough to make fun to hear occasionally (and the bpm means it always pops on a mixtape):

  11. 11
    iconoclast on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Sadly, next to “Barbie Girl”, this exemplifies virtually everything I heartily dislike about this genre of music. The only part of any value is the vocals in the first two verses; otherwise the rest is almost as annoying as “Firestarter”. THREE.

  12. 12
    James BC on 23 Apr 2014 #

    #10 Re girl/boy party pop, the obvious modern-day successors are Alphabeat. They had a huge hit with Fascination and then tailed off a bit, though it’s by no means their only good song.

    As for Doctor Jones, I can appreciate it as an effective pop song but I wouldn’t say I actively like it. I’d give it a 5, or maybe a 6 when taken in combination with the video.

  13. 13
    lonepilgrim on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I prefer ‘Barbie Girl’ because of the ambiguity of the lyrics. This is more straightforward and less interesting. 5 from me

  14. 14
    hectorthebat on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I’ll just leave this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZb6q2B3QB8

  15. 15
    AMZ1981 on 23 Apr 2014 #

    It is – for me – Barbie Girl without the edge. However BG had one hit wonder written all over it so for this to take and hold number one felt quite an achievement. A glance at Wikipedia (1998 in music) shows it actually increased its sales second week as opposed to simply carrying over into a quiet sales week and if the record we get to next had its release delayed a week we’d be talking three weeks.

    Bunnying now but even more impressively they weren’t done yet. Maybe this belongs in the discussion to come but Dr Jones is a rather obvious attempt to repeat a winning formula and whether their third single would have taken off so strongly had it been released in January 98 is something we’ll never know.

  16. 16
    Jonathan on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I (really) know how dreadful caviling over scores can be, but I think the progression in the charts marks one difference between Tom and I: this example of the Euro-pop formula working for a 7 vs. last week’s “on-trend … R&B” scraping a 6. It might just be one point, but give me Usher’s spare abrasion over (enjoyable!) Danish pantomime any day.

  17. 17
    Tom on 23 Apr 2014 #

    It’s more like – in terms of my shilly-shallying over the mark – an enthusiastic 6 and a scraped 7, but point taken.

    (The wider picture is that I’ve come to dislike doing the marks a bit, and I think it’s partly because it’s getting near the present day. I probably don’t listen to as much R&B as Jonathan, but I listen to quite a lot, so I’m mentally comparing a decent Usher song against a lot of brilliant other records from the last 15 years. Whereas I don’t listen to nearly as much Europop, so there isn’t that comparison for Aqua: I’m not thinking, “if only it was Cartoons” say. It means the marks get distorted to an extent they haven’t since the early-mid 80s, where there was a huge childhood filter in place.)

  18. 18
    punctum on 23 Apr 2014 #

    The least valuable of the Aqua Popular trilogy, “Doctor Jones” is essentially more of the same minus dollhood subversion. A pretty standard Eurovariant on the farewell-my-summer-love meme – the video makes it clear that Doctor Jones is of the Indiana variety – we find Lene craving his cure with her unfeasibly boisterous semi-yodel of “Ah-yippie-yi-yu/Ah-yippie-yi-yeah,” and the track’s slender reserves of humour are supplied, and the song’s central theme undermined as a result, by René’s doltish gorilla response (“BAYBEE OI YAM MISSIN YEW!”). The song is another to be framed by dreams of chirping birds (“Wake up now”), but there isn’t much to connect the heart to here; 5000 Volts’ “Dr Kiss Kiss” translated and watered down for the Disney Channel generation.

  19. 19
    Andrew Farrell on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I’ll be the first to suggest that this has exactly as much satire as Barbie Girl IE it had none either and you all lost your minds on that thread.

  20. 20
    thefatgit on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I responded positively to this mostly because of the NRG (in the Hard House sense) beat. Dial in some phat bass and honking synths and you’re not a million miles from Scooter. Needless to say, beyond the BPM rate, it’s frothy Europop. “Doctor Jones” most probably reached the top on the strength of the residual goodwill towards “Barbie Girl”.

    Right, that’s the received wisdom out of the way. A bit of me wants to monster the video for not imitating Indiana Jones enough. Yes, it’s obvious with the plane leaving a red line on the map and the snakes and insects and tribesmen, but the narrative is superficially closer to Heart Of Darkness, with Rene Dif as Kurtz. Aqua missed a trick here. Pop doesn’t always have to hammer home a message, but it would have been great if Aqua had been a tad braver with a critique on colonialism. Nevertheless, “Doctor Jones” is a fun bit of escapism and worth a 7.

  21. 21
    flahr on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Aqua continue their upward trajectory with some bright, sunny, not-sonic-but-other-medium-theft-except-a-bit-vague-merchanting [7]

  22. 22
    Tommy Mack on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I bet if you were a teacher called Dr Jones, you heard a lot of this song in the playground during its chart run…especially if you were prone to nodding off on a Friday afternoon.

  23. 23
    Billy Hicks on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Whereas Barbie Girl I had taken an instant childhood dislike to because it was about icky girls and Barbie (the concept of satire I had yet to understand) I think I first heard this on something like Live & Kicking and forgave them instantly for their past crimes. This I loved, perhaps even more so as the word ‘Doctor’ made me think of a show I had massively started getting into called Doctor Who, virtually unknown to any of my 1998 school chums but one I had been buying videos of and fascinated by. If only it were on TV now, I used to think. Walking around the playground shouting “EXTERMINATE” wasn’t very fun when no one knew what the hell you were doing.
    Still a lovely nostalgic listen today and 7 is a perfect score – one of the very few I can think of where I absolutely agree with the Popular majority.

    Also re 2 – it may only have been February but it got bloody hot that late winter, temperatures reaching a balmy 19 degrees around the time this was number 1 which I think is still an all-time UK February record.

  24. 24
    mapman132 on 23 Apr 2014 #

    This was skipped in favor of “Lollipop (Candyman)” in the US for reasons unknown, but its refrain is still familiar to me somehow (a commercial maybe?) even if the entire song is not. Not quite as catchy as “Barbie Girl” but still worth a 6/10 from me.

  25. 25
    Auntie Beryl on 23 Apr 2014 #

    A poor, galloping, undeserved number one. Very much the weakest they managed: I’m not even sure the first one should have made it but this is awful, heard nowhere now, and with very good reason. A low 3.

  26. 26
    Ed on 24 Apr 2014 #

    @16 This is probably my favourite Julian Cope thing ever, on the perils of numerical reviews:

    “Four years ago, I had dinner with a very successful journalist who told me that he’d had to review Love’s “Forever Changes” for Q Magazine now that it was available on CD. Wow, I shouted. You lucky fucker! Yes, he said. But I know it so well I couldn’t summon up any real energy, so I just gave it 8/10. “Forever Changes” is a dark achievement. Were it an ancient text or a document it would be hidden from view and spoken of in obscure circles, But because it operates through the medium of Pop Music, it gets tarts like said Journalist giving it 8/10. This is a classic case of a man sleepwalking through life.”

    Not that I’m saying giving a 6 to ‘You Make Me Wanna’ is exactly the same as that….

  27. 27
    nixon on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I have a Motown themed project on Popular lines, and when I started adding marks (retrospectively for the first 200-odd records), both the number of comments and the number of hits doubled instantly. Take that, Cope.

    Anyway, Aqua. I had and have a great deal of respect for this as frothy pop – if you’d asked me, I’d have been certain it hit the top in summer, as it seems that would be its natural habitat – and I agree with #4 that this proves Barbie Girl was no fluke on the earworm front. I’m also surprised it got to number one at all – neither this one nor the preceding Usher really feel like records you’d tip for the top. But both welcome all the same. 7.

  28. 28
    Mark M on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Re 26: I know that Cope lives in a world high above fact-checking, but Q reviews use a one to five star system. The basic point stands.

    I’ve got my issues with marks out of whatever, but they work for the punters. It would lovely to think that everyone is willing to wade through long Bangsian screeds and get to the end and then work out for themselves whether that was a recommendation or not, but mostly they’re not. I do have a slight bias towards systems that give as much room for nuance as possible, while admitting that (for instance) marks out of a hundred gives you a bogus sense of scientific rigour.

    (I don’t give marks on my blog, but as I’m not getting paid, my gaff, my rules).

  29. 29
    punctum on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I’ll say what I always say in such circumstances; if you have a star system, all records should be given either zero or five. Either they’re worth spending time and money on or they’re not.

    I don’t write for “punters” which is probably why comparatively very few people read my blog. But quality over quantity innit.

  30. 30
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Obviously I’ve had the marks since the beginning, so I’ve no idea of the boost they give to the readership – as with any blogging project, the thing that builds and keeps an audience is posting regularity, which, let’s face it, I’ve often been bad at. (Popular’s views are at an all time high at the moment, which can’t be down to the wayward marking). They certainly offer a handle for discussion – an opportunity for people to agree or disagree which seems to liberate them to offer comments. But there are similar blogs which reject the idea of marks and get an awful lot of comments, so that can’t quite be it.

    My method at the moment is to write the review, then play the song and mark on a hunch according to how much I enjoyed listening to it. This has all sorts of bad effects – it means marks cluster in the centre of the scale, it brings in the comparison problem I mentioned upthread, and it disconnects the mark from the write-up even more (though I quite like that). It does mean I’m less tempted to mark for “importance”, which is best left to the write-up and comments, I think. And it stops me spending too much time thinking about the scores!

    ANYWAY all this and I realised Jonathan misread my review anyway – I’m not saying Aqua are formula europop, I’m saying they showed their OWN formula (the Sugarcubes-style two-hander europop song) worked away from “Barbie Girl”. They are the Timbaland of Europop, if you like. We will meet some actually formulaic Europop in time, it may well score less than Usher.

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