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Mar 15

MADISON AVENUE – “Don’t Call Me Baby”

Popular51 comments • 5,151 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. 1
    flahr on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Ooh, this is proper wonderful, this. Confident smack-down phrasing from vocalist Madison A. [subs check this], an irresistible descending hook, a good proto-(proto-?)feminist message*. I reckon I can go as high as [8] for this.

    *not that I think we should grade songs based on how much we agree with them, given the fervour of my distaste for didacticism – but as Tom points out “Don’t Call Me Baby” has the decency to be funny with it

    (Did the review get cut off? It seems to end a bit suddenly.)

  2. 2
    Matt DC on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Oh wow, I thought this would be higher, loved this one at the time and still have a lot of affection for it.

    The song is going through something of a dancefloor revival at the moment courtesy of a bizarrely timed garage remix – DJ Q has been playing it a lot in his sets, so for some reason it feels much closer to ‘now’ than any 15-year record strictly should.

  3. 3
    Tom on 6 Mar 2015 #

    #1 I have listened to my public and added a ‘concludey bit’.

  4. 4
    Rory on 6 Mar 2015 #

    That’s a pretty oblique mention of their Aussie origins, Tom. Yep, Madison Avenue were Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi, and sound like a fair bit of stuff Triple J was playing at the time (1999, when this was released in Australia). But this track did stand out. A shame, then, that their less-memorable follow-up, “Who the Hell Are You”, was what hit the top back home.

    Seven from me.

  5. 5
    Tom on 6 Mar 2015 #

    #3 Oddly enough I was expecting to dislike this, then I heard it at your wedding and thought “Oh OK, this is better than I thought”. I am guessing that in general I like the disco-house sound of summer 2000 in a lot less than others – it was the year’s most boring kind of pop.

  6. 6
    James BC on 6 Mar 2015 #

    This is nowhere near as good as the French-type, Stardust-influenced blissful disco house that was around at the same time. Until I read the review I would have never put the two down as being in the same genre. This is too sassy, and it feels claustrophobic where, say, Music Sounds Better With You feels like a journey into space.

  7. 7
    Steve Mannion on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Initially a minor hit the previous year so I was pretty bored with it by the time it stormed back into the charts at #1.

    Disco-sampling was probably at a constant rate since it begat House but there seemed to be a particular thirst for it at the turn of the millennium – or at least more of the singles were able to go straight in at #1 (half a dozen more like this over the next eighteen months but interestingly pretty much all one-hit wonders as opposed to those acts selling more albums than singles through it – Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, Groove Armada and so on).

  8. 8
    mapman132 on 6 Mar 2015 #

    The fourth biggest Hot 100 hit we’ve encountered so far on Popular in 2000. It blazed its way up the chart to…..#88. I don’t remember hearing it at the time, but somehow it’s become familiar to me since then. I think it’s been used in TV commercials. About halfway through my listen I was expecting to go 7/10, but it seemed to just be repeating itself by the end, so 6/10 it is.

  9. 9
    Cumbrian on 6 Mar 2015 #

    I quite like this – but that opinion rests entirely on the vocal delivery and lyrics. Whereas OIDIA is more like, “I don’t really care about you” as justification for treating whichever poor sap as a bit of a punching bag (even if they might deserve it), this seems to be much more “I might be interested, but don’t be a dick, as I can change my mind and that right soon”, which is something I can get on board with more than I can “ha-ha, this schlub is bending over backwards to please me”.

    There’s also a mash up with Song 2 that does nothing much necessarily for the song per se but I found enormous fun when I first heard it – with the Song 2 chorus and the DCMB chorus hitting at exactly the right time together, giving it a bit of a rush that this might otherwise lack.

  10. 10
    lmm on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Disco may be family-friendly but that’s not how I think of this. The very harshness calls forward a hookup culture that teenage me was only just beginning to conceptualise. This is very much not a song about love – but it’s perceptibly a song about sex, especially when you consider the way they danced, even on that bastion of family viewing that was Top of the Pops.

    Or so it seemed at the time. I’m sure it will all be very tame if I dig it up today.

  11. 11
    Alan on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Love this, and in my (muddled) head it’s a sister to Sub Sub “Ain’t No Love”

  12. 12
    Tom on 6 Mar 2015 #

    #10 That’s me making a hash of the review, I think – my point was to contrast the family-friendly versions of disco Take That and Steps were doing with the rather more sophisticated stuff you get in 2000, but I didn’t make it explicit.

    There’s always been that tension in disco – it’s both one of the most elitist musics (strict door policies, uptown clubs) and one of the most broad-bottomed in popularity.

  13. 13
    Richard B on 6 Mar 2015 #

    According to possibly-unreliable lyrics translation sites, the italo-disco song heavily sampled for this – Pino D’Angio’s ‘Ma Quale Idea’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gwc45CiqK68 – tells the story of some bloke’s attempts to take sexual advantage of a woman by getting her blind drunk. (Or perhaps dead – there’s an alarming reference to ‘five litres of whisky’.)

    ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’ works rather well as an answer record from that woman’s perspective – enough to make me wonder if that was Madison Avenue’s intention. That said, ‘Ma Quale Idea’ is so extreme in its attitudes and so sleazeball in its delivery that it might perhaps have been be a knowing parody to begin with. I’d like to think so.

  14. 14
    will on 6 Mar 2015 #

    One of those records that I quickly grew off. I liked it, bought the 12 inch and played it a few times before it palled.

  15. 15
    weej on 6 Mar 2015 #

    AFAIWC funky house was “the enemy” in 2000, and it still brings back faint flashes of panic, nights out at overlit wine bars with nowhere to sit, rammed full of hairgel and designer shirts, every fibre of my being feeling out of place and awkward. It didn’t sound like “music for people who don’t like music” – more like “music set to an emotional temperature that I cannot understand.” A girl I worked with once told me it was her favourite genre (of course I silently judged her on this, sorry) and later I talked to her about a friend who was “a bit of a bitch” or something because she sometimes ignored her or wasn’t openly friendly. From her description the friend was just shy and bad at social interaction, and when I told her this she said it had genuinely never occurred to her before. That was her life, that was what her group of friends were like – confident, easy, didn’t worry about things too much.

    That’s what I get from funky house – nothing bad, but also none of that human anxiety or neurosis that seems to touch most of the music I like, and no sex either.

    It’s a bit mean to tar Madison Avenue with this brush – the vocals are of a much higher standard than most of this sort of stuff and the backing would be quite pleasant if it went somewhere (not always needed, but the lack of build sort of kills it here.) It sounds like it’s stuck in a loop and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing – it certainly makes sure it gets stuck in your head. As far as sultry disco-house goes, we’ll be getting a much better example in an upcoming bunny, so I can’t go above a 5.

  16. 16
    lonepilgrim on 6 Mar 2015 #

    the bass line seemed naggingly familiar to me so it was a relief to discover that it was based on/lifted from ‘Ain’t no stopping us now’ via ‘Ma Quale Idea’
    I’m a sucker for disco’s syncopated intermeshing of percussion, bass, guitar and vocals and the sharp-tongued vocals are the icing on the cake.

  17. 17
    Ed on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Was I the only one who was disappointed to discover this isn’t a Voice of the Beehive cover?

  18. 18
    chelovek na lune on 6 Mar 2015 #

    #17 No, when I saw the title I hoped as much; although frankly, based on this evidence, were it to be that, it would have been an atrocious doing over of a rather fine song, with all sweetness and decency and humanity ripped out of it, and left bleeding, too, probably.

    This is kind of a nasty song (not even embracably nasty or actively evil – just mean-spirited and emotionally cold), and musically indifferent and repetitive. (Yes, I hear echoes of Sub-Sub too). Dull and unpleasant. Kind of mystified that sufficient quantities of people bought it to make it number one, to be frank, as there were better examples of this genre doing the rounds then. Maybe it was the Charlie then.

    Feels mean to give it a 3, substantially under half what VOTB would have earned, but I see no reason to go higher.

  19. 19
    JoeWiz on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Love this. Smart, tightly produced disco pop that doesn’t overdo the sass. Quite surprised it got to number one though.
    I remember the follow up vaguely, scraping the top ten, but what happened then?

  20. 20
    Tom on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Is it mean-spirited? It seems pretty straightforward: Ms Avenue is in the club, she sees a hot guy, he turns out to be a condescending dick, she snaps at him. Sucks to be him, I guess, but I’m betting a lot of the listeners could relate.

  21. 21
    katstevens on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Can confirm that this along with Fragma and at least 3 other upcoming danceable bunnies = omnipresent during our week of post-exams decadence in Tenerife. However the true horror was going into an otherwise decent looking night spot offering 4 drinks for £3 and being greeted with Dancing In The Chuffing Moonlight D: D: D:

  22. 22
    Rory on 6 Mar 2015 #

    #19: Album The Polyester Embassy in October 2000 (no. 4 in Australia), accompanying third single “Everything You Need” reached no. 6 in Oz; 2001 non-album single, “Reminiscing”, a cover of a Little River Band song, reached no. 9 in Oz; broke up in 2003. Cheyne Coates released a solo album and two singles in 2004. Andy Van has recorded since 2004 as Vandalism (who went on to remix “Toca’s Miracle 2008”, clearly revealing some sort of Tenerife-based conspiracy per Kat).

  23. 23
    Inanimate Carbon God on 6 Mar 2015 #

    @21 Ahahaha! I actually logged in to post a comment about Dancing in the Moonlight before I even saw you bring this up! Toploader on the brain. :-/

    The question I put to you all is: why do so many people hate Dancing in the Moonlight so much? I’m no fan but there are hundreds of twee, retro-sounding indie – pop hits that don’t attract the same hatred.

  24. 24
    JLucas on 6 Mar 2015 #

    Having never been a club kid, a lot of dance music alienates me a bit because – usually being shortened or smoothed out to fit the demands of daytime radio – it rarely feels fully formed as a 3-4 minute pop song. Many dance songs then and now sound to me like a floorfilling hook propped up by half-hearted decoration, or simply repeated ad nauseum.

    I enjoy Don’t Call Me Baby because it works really well as a straightforward pop song. As Tom picks up on, Cheyne Coates half-bored, imperious vocal is a perfect sell for the acidic lyrics. She totally nails the image of an intelligent, aloof girl in the club who has no time for self-aggrandising losers. You can practically hear her eyes rolling in every line.

    Also, the verses are as good as the chorus, which is a rarity. Again, this mostly comes down to Coates delivery and the fact that she’s given some nicely barbed lines to work with.

    Who The Hell Are You was fun but more of the same and swiftly forgotten. The third single ‘Everything You Need’ was a total flop but had a weird afterlife in the bars I was going to at the time. I think there was a remix that was quite popular, I heard it out far more than the preceding singles for a time.

    Madison Avenue’s performance at Australia’s ARIA awards is a somewhat notorious train-wreck that pretty much destroyed any chance of them having a long-term career. It’s a truly surreal watch – Cheyne’s vocals are flat as a pancake, she seems to be quite panicked and disoriented, and halfway through she calls a lackey onstage to give her a glass of water, which she drinks and proceeds to awkwardly dance around for the remainder of the performance. Painful.

    http://youtu.be/QAUbvPO6OBQ

    Whatever she must have been going through at the time, I hope she sorted herself out. That is not the performance of a sober and confident professional.

  25. 25
    Tom on 6 Mar 2015 #

    #23 Dancing In The Moonlight – in the kind light of hindsight it wasn’t as heinous as I imagined, I think the problem was that it escaped its natural audience (Radio 2 listeners, the woolier end of indie) and became something you’d hear EVERYWHERE. It felt like the Cast or Ocean Colour Scene zombie, thought dead but risen. But yeah, it acquired a reputation beyond its actual dreadfulness.

    Though having just listened to it again – the things I do for Popular! – there is something particularly annoying about his twangy voice, and the song doesn’t actually groove nearly as much as the video seems desperate to convince us it does (people breakdancing to it? come on lads)

  26. 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’.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

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