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Dec 14

EIFFEL 65 – “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”

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#836, 25th September 1999

eiffel65 “Blue” is the crest of the late 90s Europop wave – extravagantly successful not just on the continent but worldwide. Including – most startling of all – the US, where it picked up a Grammy, made the Billboard Top 10, and sent the Eiffel 65 album double platinum. You could draw comparisons with another parochial 90s movement that was big business Stateside for a moment or two: “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” is Europop’s “Wonderwall”.

Could the comparison run any further? Pushing it might cast an interesting light on what gets to be called a movement, or a genre – what gets written into history, and what survives as fleeting moments on clip shows. It seems unlikely the BBC will be commissioning retrospectives a few years from now on the 20th anniversary of Aquarium, Europop and The Party Album but considered from a distance the late 90s feels like a time of successive waves of pop fashion – Britpop, post-Spice tweenpop, and then party-friendly Eurodance.

Britpop is remembered most because of the drama, the stories, and the material immediacy of it all – the way the bands were gigging and drinking near you. But as a pop style people bought and loved, the distinction in importance is less clear cut. “Blue” feels like a novelty hit, for sure – but it reached massive success at a time when there was an awful lot of Eurodance about. Once you have half a dozen novelty hits in a similar style happening at a similar time, you have to admit that they probably aren’t novelties. Novelties are joyful nose-thumbs to pop’s current order: “Blue” is a huge success because “Blue”, in 1999, is that order. This is what pop in 1999 is.

Only more so: the thing that stands out about “Blue”, returning to it, is how skull-bashingly committed it is to its peculiar aesthetic. Which is? Ultra-treated vocals – surely the most brutally full-on use of Autotune on any number one, bending words into enticing or repellent robot croons and caws. Stentorian piano melodies – the old ABBA trick of big, romantic keyboards up front. Lyrics that ramble and half-scan, giving the song an improvised, spontaneous feel that helps take some of the edge off the inhuman and maximalist parts. And that mocking, looping, endless, infuriating chorus. But this is not a record that gives half a shit about whether it’s annoying.

The result sounds demented but also – if you’ve paid any attention to what else has been selling this year – the most surefire hit imaginable. “Blue” is the magnificent and awful culmination of what Lou Bega, Aqua, the Vengaboys and the pop-trance contingent have been doing for a while: it couldn’t but be massive. Fortunately it’s also, behind the bluster, an oddly touching little record. Blue was simply a random choice of colour, claimed the band, but you don’t get to invoke blue in pop without the blues coming to mind. And while “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” is in no useful musical sense a blues track, sorrow is timeless, and its sketch of a sad blue world and a small life has a power anyhow. It’s a piece of simple, effective storytelling, like a nursery rhyme or a Mister Men book. And, in my experience, even its most brainstem-aggravating qualities resonate with the circular inward momentum of melancholy: “Blue”’s chorus feels like a thought you just can’t leave well alone.

“Blue”’s specific qualities still leave a broader question – if the Euro-wave was a commercial movement, why it and why then? Particularly dumb luck, perhaps, but it’s also worth remembering people were gearing up for an especially huge party season, with a certain amount of overwrought concern about whether the world would come out of it alright. Forced jollity and global sing-alongs were on the agenda. If it’s a stretch to claim “Blue” and its fellows as artefacts of pre-millennial jitters, it’s also true that the Europop trend turned to vapour soon after the century ended. The need people had for them faded, and Eiffel 65 and their ilk are remembered for the hangover more than the party. Inevitable, but still unfair.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    punctum on 2 Dec 2014 #

    Twenty-two years after Bowie mused on a nullified future of “blue, blue, electric blue” existence masquerading as life – and 39 years since Joe Meek’s Blue Men heard a new world – here was the soundtrack for those clammy, agonistic boxes, or at least it should have been; “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” cycles morosely over its Autotune-warped chorus and wintry piano figure as though even Air can’t be breathed. There is the hint of something momentous in the (probably accidental) atonality of the fourth bar of each verse, and a final wriggling out of anything approaching existence, as though the blue of Bobby Vinton’s “Blue On Blue” could only have led to “Sound And Vision.” Unfortunately the alienating promise is let down by a ludicrous and misconceived sub-Beastie Boy frat rap sequence – Eiffel 65 were Italian – which (a) destroys the record’s slowly numbing ambience entirely; (b) seems to be laughing at the plight of the wretched blue outsider and (c) contradicts its own lyric – “he ain’t got nobody to listen” they claim, and yet later we get the moderately creepy information that “I have a girlfriend – and she is so blue.” Still, no doubt that sequence helped sell the song to America, where it became one of the very few Eurodance tracks to hit big (#6 on Billboard in early 2000). If only they’d let the Autotune do all the work.

  2. 2
    Patrick Mexico on 2 Dec 2014 #

    I always heard this as “Irn Bru, in Aberdeen I will die.” Beyond sinister.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 2 Dec 2014 #

    I have no memory of this, which is surprising given that it seems designed to be an ear worm. I like the music and production but, as has been noted, the verses/rap are a drag. Presumably there are instrumental remixes out there and I can imagine them being repurposed by other artist for something richer and more stimulating.

  4. 4
    anto on 2 Dec 2014 #

    With 15 years additional wisdom I find this is one track where my irritation is not re-awakened – It’s absurd but also quite sparky and unabashed. I never disclose my marks out of 10 but this one I scored slightly higher than I thought I would.

  5. 5
    tribeca on 2 Dec 2014 #

    I remember spending hours listening to the song BLUE when I was adolescent. Crazy song!

  6. 6
    Chelovek na lune on 2 Dec 2014 #

    Unrelenting. irritating, and curiously dated. Would be better at half the length, or with half the verses, or simply half the words. The music is hardly earth shatteringly original or brilliant, either. 4

  7. 7
    iconoclast on 2 Dec 2014 #

    A single half-decent idea stretched lazily and annoyingly out to nearly four minutes. FOUR.

  8. 8
    mapman132 on 2 Dec 2014 #

    Tom, your review really nailed it this time. There was something in the air that was simultaneously exciting and vaguely disturbing as the end of 1999 approached (my own experience colored by a personal breakdown which I won’t expand on here). This song seemed to capture the vibe perfectly with its futuristic sound combined with ridiculous lyrics and mechanical delivery. I was surprised when it hit big in America as the Eurodance sound really wasn’t common here at the time, but maybe others were feeling the same vibe I was. Just 8 hits to go before the end of the world millennium. 7/10.

  9. 9
    Pete on 2 Dec 2014 #

    Used perfectly to identify time and place at the start of Iron Man 3, the ridiculous intro about the blue man particularly poignant.

  10. 10
    enitharmon on 2 Dec 2014 #

    This isn’t a programming language specification then? Oh, sorry, that would be Eiffel 86. This meant nothing to me so I went to YouTube to check if it wasn’t one of those tracks whose title and performer are unfamiliar but which has entered my consciousness through cultural osmosis. It wasn’t, but it was, I found, bloody awful! I mean, I’m happy to accept that electronic dance music really isn’t my kind of thing and others may appreciate but this was terribly cutesy-squirmy-naff, wasn’t it?

    On the date it hit the top I was ensconced in an attic apartment in Brussels recovering from major abdominal surgery (don’t ask!) and hooked up to the portable CD player that seemed such a good idea at the time, with old, comforting stuff that I quickly tired of. Oh, and with hindsight I’d have given my right arm for a well-stocked Kindle. The big box of local chocolates more than made up for that though.

  11. 11
    Ronnie on 2 Dec 2014 #

    This is a truly stupid and annoying run of #1s.

  12. 12
    Hofmeister Bear on 2 Dec 2014 #

    There really isn’t anything redeeming about this song at all. That was the case 15 years and it remains so today. It is quite frankly complete shit.

    I remember this run of #1’s vividly and Ronnie’s assessment is on the money.

  13. 13
    thefatgit on 3 Dec 2014 #

    What intrigues me is how this song just ends. Rap, chorus, verse, chorus, repeated verse, chorus…and switch it all off, fellas. The limoncellos are on me. No fade, no extended instrumental. Odd enough to make it interesting. What precedes it is pretty odd too. I like the bass and the piano chords. The autotuned vocal is so ubiquitous now, it seems ordinary to these ears. (5)

  14. 14
    Billy Hicks on 3 Dec 2014 #

    It’s almost become a cliché to mention your personal misheard lyrics of the chorus of this, but in my case it was “I’m a leader for Di” and I wondered if there was some connection there to the late princess.

    The actual so-called ‘Ice Pop Radio Edit’ of this as heard on both the CD single and Now 44 is a whopping, and too overlong 4 minutes and 45 seconds, the ‘video edit’ (a much more tolerable 3:40) is quite rare in comparison as most compilations feature the longer mix. I’ve always loved both the start and the synth work throughout, but the main issue I have with this one is that drum beat. I never gave it much attention until I rediscovered it about a decade ago and it just sounds a bit wrong, the hi-hat too compressed and the beat not fitting right and sounding like an amateurish remix instead of the real thing.

    I’ve made my love of 1999’s #1s all too clear by now but for me this is a rare miss and an early indication of what happens far too much in 2000, the ‘wrong’ songs getting to number 1 when there’s much better examples of a similar sound that should have got there instead. The big pop-Ibiza #1 of 1999 deserved to be Alice Deejay’s Better Off Alone, not this, similarly in the next twelve months the likes of Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ and Delerium’s ‘Silence’ are instant 10s that we unfairly won’t be seeing on Popular in favour of inferior tracks.

    A disappointing 5.

  15. 15
    AMZ1981 on 3 Dec 2014 #

    This record got an extremely hostile reception from some quarters at the time; largely due to the `da ba dee` lyric which, while hardly Like A Rolling Stone, was considerably less inane than `Boom boom boom boom, I want you in my room`. In this respect Blue deserves better. Maybe it is a meaningless lyric, maybe it is about something or maybe it’s deliberately ambigous.

    I’ve personally always heard the chorus as `I believe I will die` (a common interpretation and a slightly meaningless one in isolation). It could well be a song about depression and #1 raises an interesting point about which side the narrator is on, something I’d never considered before. I suppose it could be seen in the way that the cool kids can be sympathetic to the loners who struggle with shyness but are ultimately unable to empathise with them. Which may or not be what Blue is about – ultimately its a pop song and one people are free to hook into however they choose. It’s a song that sounds best in a club and how many people on dancefloors are there out of loneliness?

    Whatever, the fact remains that enough people bought the song to make it the second three week runner of the year and the second biggest selling single overall. It blocked two strong records on its second week; S Club 7’s S Club Party (good fun with more punch than their debut) and Shania Twain’s storming Man I Feel Like A Woman. Collectively these three songs a) gave us the first static top three since April 1998* and b) humiliated Mel C with her first solo single proper, (a hilariously desperate attempt at reinventing herself as an indie superstar) – despite the fact that it wouldn’t have sold more than ten copies had anyone else released it the fact that it `only` made number four and dropped to eighteen seven days later appeared to kill her solo career. Appeared …

    *It’s Like That, My Heart Will Go On and Sash’s La Primavera should anyone besides myself be sad enough to wonder.

  16. 16
    swanstep on 3 Dec 2014 #

    I just listened to the only other Eiffel 65 track that ever gets mentioned, ‘Move Your Body’, and it confirms that they’re talentless chancers. Oh well, they got big-time lucky with ‘Blue’ – good for them. I don’t find B at all catchy myself so it’s never come up for me as something to detest (and there was so much good music around in 1999 from 69 Love Songs to Midnite Vultures – at least 60 tracks better than B between them! – you were certifiable if you paid more than glancing attention to the kindergarten at the top of the charts), and I never hear it these days so it hasn’t stuck around to irritate either.

    I hear a little bit of ‘One Night In Bangkok’ and The Tamperer’s ‘Feel It’ in the vocal delivery, and of course the big vocoder/vocaloid hook is, as I remember someone anticipating back then, the charmless cousin of ‘Sweet Like Chocolate”s. Only a 3 or a 4 from me for B’s basic dance-floor functionality.

  17. 17
    weej on 3 Dec 2014 #

    In September 1999 I moved into the first of many shared houses with my university friends and signed up for my first and only MTV-containing cable subscription. This video was on every half hour. Our reaction was “Is this supposed to be a joke?” – especially to the “rap” intro, and we wrote it off as the sort of crap that for some reason gets play on MTV Europe, but which wouldn’t have a hope of passing the (admittedly minimal) quality barrier to the UK market. We were wrong.

    A fresh listen reveals no improvement over time, only the knowlege that it was the crest of the wave rather than the start of an innundation. I still don’t hear “oddly touching” though I do hear a preset keyboard setting for “mawk” partially-buried under the crap beats and stupid autotuned vocals. A generous 2.

  18. 18
    wichitalineman on 3 Dec 2014 #

    There’s another way of reading this glut of Eurodance number ones – one of my favourite pet theories, the overripe pop genre. It’s best years are behind it, but it’s still solidly commercially viable, so destroys itself with what sound like self-parody and novelties.

    The point of the record confused me then and confuses me now. It sounded like someone’s idea of irony (the weirdly new wave vocal) and hit when Shoreditch/Hoxton Nathan Barleyism was peaking (the smarter characters had already moved up the largely deserted Kingsland Road). Possibly Australian? No, it turned out to be Italian. We’re a long way from Daniele Davoli’s Italian love of nonsense; there’s something sneery about Blue, and I’d say it’s well aware of its own irritant value.

    Re 2: “Iron Bru. In Aberdeen I will die” – that greatly improves it. My misheard lyric on Man I Feel Like A Woman was “combing my hair, doing a dare”, which sounded like a lot of fun, and rather out of character for Shania.

    Re 1: Blue, as in blue men, as in aliens, as in immigrants (the patronising “little guy”). Quite possible isn’t it? Holds more water than the Stargazers’ Close The Door.

    Re 15: Of course I wondered. Thank you.

  19. 19
    Tom on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Eiffel 65 were also one of the earlier groups to sing about the Internet in the somewhat twee “Hyperlink (Deep Down)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAu_PkcUNM – “a newsgroup one on one”

  20. 20
    Tom on 3 Dec 2014 #

    #18 I think it’s aware of its irritant value, but it doesn’t give a monkeys, i.e. it’s well aware that the path to whatever aesthetic and commercial effects its going for runs through irritation, not around it.

    “Little guy” is what put me in mind of the Mister Men! Or Morph, perhaps – the entire song happening at plasticene scale in a blue plasticine world.

    Re. the run of #1s – I had, I admit, pretty much given up on the charts – I got pulled back in fairly early in 2000. This was when I was busy writing my Top 100 singles of the 90s series, which has some crossover with Popular but is a lot better reflection of where I was at emotionally than Lou Bega or Eiffel 65 could have been.

  21. 21
    JoeWiz on 3 Dec 2014 #

    I always thought ‘Blue’ was a connection to the Italian football shirts. There wasn’t a World Cup that year, so I was clearly just clutching at straws. This remains an awful, if fascinating record. Who’d host an evening of programmes on BBC 4 celebrating late 90’s pop? Tina Cousins?

  22. 22
    James BC on 3 Dec 2014 #

    We are in a bit of a doldrum score-wise. The ten number 1s up to the Vengaboys had an average score of 4.0, the lowest since the dark times of Jive Bunny.

    I don’t think this is very good, though I do own it on the mainly excellent Clubland 90s compilation. Mysteriously it’s credited there to “Bloom 06” but it sounds the same to me.

  23. 23
    Rory on 3 Dec 2014 #

    #18, “possibly Australian”? Crikey. Sounds as alien to me as the blue guy in the video, though I see now that it spent nine weeks at the top of our charts, from 14 November through the first week of 2000. So why can’t I remember it at all? Must have to do with being distracted by that other thing preoccupying anybody who worked in an IT-related area at the end of 1999.

    Without the associations that lift the Vengaboys and “Mambo No. 5” for me, I can’t find much here to enjoy; those lyrics are ridiculous. The in- and outside of his little blue Corvette! The blue window! No wonder your girlfriend looks so blue. My brother once did something similar to his bedroom by asking Mum to make him red curtains – it was like walking into an oven. 4.

  24. 24
    will on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Sorry but I love this. I bought it at the time – on 12 inch – and if I remember rightly played on NYE at a house party in Bristol. It was greeted by widespread groaning and cries of ‘get it off’. 7

  25. 25
    Tommy Mack on 3 Dec 2014 #

    I’ll make a case for the opening rap: it’s so hamfisted, it goes some way to conveying an unfiltered outpouring of discontent, like Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson at his most sketchy and unrehearsed – actually, it sounds like a child making up a story as he’s going along: ‘and then…and then…and then’, as though the Blue is so all-pervading it’s clouding his very thoughts and preventing even a coherent reading of the blue world.

    Still don’t like it or Blue very much: not fun but not really blue sounding either, it’s quite a dreary, ploddy sounding record, failing to really convey the angst of the blue world but not really getting the party started either – although obviously plenty thought otherwise and I imagine it got plenty of dancefloor action over the run-up to the big NYE.

    4

  26. 26
    Mark G on 3 Dec 2014 #

    #18, yes you have a precurser there to the follow-on: “The Wayyyy over-ripe and now rotten-spoiled category of pop hit”, it worked once (or more times, maybe), many people jumped on and next time round the wheels fell off.

    1) The alternative to the X-Factor Xmas number one. This had been attempted a couple of times, oops I just remembered I can’t continue this one. Soz mr Bunny.

    2) The England Football Team support hit. For years, the team might do an all-together singalong, then bands got involved andthe notion of “Coolness” added some perceived value. Then, one year, everyone from Wreckless Eric to various opera stars and of course Keith Allen and let’s not forget Frank Sidebottom, pause for breath, had a go. I think this year the highest charted one was Rik Mayall’s and that was for ‘other reasons’

  27. 27
    glue_factory on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Re: 22, wikipedia has the full details of who Bloom 06 (basically, Eiffel 65 – 1), along with the rather alarming news that Eiffel 65 also recorded some “mellowed rock”

  28. 28
    wichitalineman on 3 Dec 2014 #

    I want to hear Eiffel 65’s mellowed rock.

  29. 29
    PI on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Yeah, I also love this. It’s a definite 8 for me. I understand why most people find it annoying, but I find it rather lovable and sweet. Maybe it’s a gene I was born with, like rolling your tongue.

    What really sells it — apart from the fact that it’s one of the all-time greatest stupid songs to be drunk and dance to — is the (perhaps unintentional) air of melancholy, that still gives me shivers – or maybe that’s just me, remembering my younger self dancing to this at a terrible club in a warehouse district of High Wycombe – the sort of place that gets destroyed in a Simon Pegg movie.

  30. 30
    flahr on 3 Dec 2014 #

    “I’m blue, if I was green I would die” was my own take on the matter, a sort of essence-precedes-existence kneejerk anti-Sartreism (I was six at the time and so did not phrase it like that).

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