First, go to Illegal Art and download “All Day.” Even if you don’t typically like mash-ups. Even if you don’t like pop music. You cannot consider yourself an informed connoisseur of pop culture if you haven’t listened to this album at least once through.
(And it’s not even Girl Talk’s best album – it lacks the high energy of “Feed the Animals.” Still, it’s a treat)
Listen to it. The whole way through. Meet me back here in an hour. I will not tolerate delay!
The genius of Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) lies not just in his gift for matching beats, sampling hooks and digging deep into the history of pop. It comes from the way he takes a song’s multiple levels of meaning – lyrics, beat, tone, genre – and weaves them together with another song’s multiple levels to produce a totally new creation.
Anyone can mash Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” vs. Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” (and someone did). But only Girl Talk would mash “I Wish” with T’Pau’s “Heart and Soul,” turning a shallow goof about adolescence into a heartfelt plea for attention.
Other DJs have already examined the mashes on “All Day” (check out NYU Local). But you rely on Overthinking It to give you the deep textual analysis you won’t get anywhere else. Plus, I was busy writing about The Walking Dead and couldn’t get to this until now.
So crank that iPod and follow along. Here’s Part One of the ten best mashups on “All Day” and a few thousand words explaining why.
(You may find this mashup breakdown of “All Day” useful. All timestamp references, however, are to the entire unabridged track)
1. “War Pigs” (Black Sabbath) vs. “Move Bitch” (Ludacris) (00:16)
A thousand years from now, historians who study music might be surprised at the breakdown between hard rock and other genres. Considering music from a purely scholastic perspective, you might think that hard rock – with its emphasis on power, volume and anger – would be the genre that glorified war. Yet aside from folk or reggae, you’ll find more anti-war songs in hard rock than in any other genre, from Guns ‘n Roses (“Civil War”) to Metallica (“One”) to Iron Maiden (“2 Minutes to Midnight”) to Megadeth (“Symphony of Destruction”) to … the list goes on.
And it all started with “War Pigs.” “War Pigs” gets special credit not for being the first anti-Vietnam song (it wasn’t by a long stretch) but for being one of the first heavy metal hits. Black Sabbath was one of the forefathers of heavy metal as a genre. Kicking the genre off by decrying the death and destruction of war set a powerful standard.
“War Pigs” is long on invective but short on policy. It laments the relationship between the State and the soldiers it conscripts. But it doesn’t propose how to end this scenario. Instead, Osbourne fantasizes about an era when the world stops turning and “no more war pigs have the power.” Sounds great. How do we get to that point?
Ah. Right. By moving the warmongers. By getting them out of the way.
If “War Pigs” is all intention with no action – war is bad; repeat x4 – “Move Bitch” is all action with no intention. Ludacris never specifies who is in his way. The track starts with a fight breaking out, but we never learn if Luda instigated it or is responding. Doesn’t matter. Luda declares how dangerous an opponent he is and the various harms he’ll inflict on anyone who gets in his way.
Mashing “War Pigs” vs “Move Bitch” doesn’t just cross up the (oddly similar) genres of heavy metal and hip hop. It blends strategy and tactics into a statement of policy. It’s very stylized policy, of course: no think tank will suggest busting Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s grill any time this decade. But it’s greater than the sum of its parts.
2. “Tenderness” (General Public) vs. “Can I Get A …” (Jay-Z) (05:49)
Everyone recognizes the chorus of Jay-Z’s “Can I Get A …”, a 1998 chart-climber that put the young MC on the map. Friendly pop crowds can sing along to the radio-edit (“Can I get a WHAT WHAT”), while white people trying to prove how edgy they are can sing the unexpurgated lyrics:
Can I get a ‘F### You’ to these bitches from all of my niggas
Who don’t love hoes; they get no dough
Can I get a WOOP WOOP to these niggas from all of my bitches
Who don’t got love for niggas without dubs
But Girl Talk doesn’t start quoting “Can I Get A …” from the easily recognized chorus. He starts earlier, at the first verse. And the verses aren’t nearly well as known as the chorus. Wander into any frat party in America (or most of Europe), yell out, “Can I get a WHAT WHAT” and you’ll get a response. But try the following:
Can I hit in the morning
Without givin you half of my dough
And even worse if I was broke would you want me?
If I couldn’t get you finer things, like all of them diamond rings
Bitches kill for, would you still roll?
… and you’ll be met with blank stares.
Jay-Z isn’t just evoking an attitude. He’s quizzing a prospective girl on a variety of intimate behaviors. He’s not letting these behaviors arise from fondness or the spur of the moment. He’s not getting with this girl unless he knows ahead of time that he can hit it in the mornin’. One imagines a job interview, Jay-Z in his usual sharp suit, quizzing applicants on whether they’ll put their two lips on his wood.
That’s a rather mercenary attitude to take toward romance, Jay-Z. Where is the tenderness? Where is it?
And here we get the added perspective. By layering in the chorus of General Public’s “Tenderness” like a call and response, the verse goes from two dimensions (Jay-Z wants girls) to three (Jay-Z wants girls, but he does not want intimacy). There’s a new level of introspection. Before, we just see the face of a player. Now, we see his consideration: perhaps something’s missing.
Also to note: “Can I Get A …” came to prominence on the soundtrack to the 1998 film Rush Hour. In an early scene, Jackie Chan is chastised for switching the station in Chris Tucker’s car. “Don’t you ever touch a black man’s radio!” Tucker warns. He then switches the station back and promptly grooves out to “Can I Get A …” The two of them overcome their cultural differences by the last act of the movie, teaming up to deliver justice.
General Public, authors of “Tenderness,” are a similar story of multi-racial harmony. General Public was comprised of former members of The English Beat, including the (white) Dave Wakeling and the (black) Ranking Roger. Multi-ethnic groups weren’t weird in the 80s, but they were far from common. And a white man and a black man harmonizing about tenderness in Britain in the 80s, when National Front rhetoric was still prominent, tell a story similar to that of Chan and Tucker.
3. “I Wish” (Skee-Lo) vs. “Heart and Soul” (T’Pau) [19:04]
Pop quiz, hotshots – name another song by Skee-Lo besides “I Wish” without using Google.
No shame in failing. I couldn’t. Skee-Lo was a one-hit wonder from the mid-90s. He put out a novelty rap that had a catchy hook, good production values and spoke to a difficulty with which we can all empathize. If only we had that one achievement – athletic skills, a nice car, better physical stature – we would have total happiness.
Of course, Skee-Lo is being ironic. You can tell this by the style of the video. You can tell this by the lyrics to the song, delivered with a talented quick flow. You can tell this by the chorus, where Skee-Lo goes from wishing for common things to wishing for improbable things: a rabbit, a hat, a bat, etc. Skee-Lo’s lampooning the human tendency to sit on the sidelines and wish, rather than taking concrete steps to achieve or being satisfied with what you have.
If you talked to Skee-Lo today, however, he might wish he had more than one hit single.
Like Skee-Lo, British band T’Pau only had one hit in the U.S., the synth-ballad “Heart and Soul.” The song doesn’t break ground in its lyrical content: it’s about a woman who’s tired of shallow men and wants a genuine connection with someone. But the keyboard gives it an airy, dreamlike quality, and Carol Decker raps the lyrics with modest skill. So “Heart and Soul” was a hit. It had a catchy hook, good production values, and spoke to a difficulty with which we can all emphasize.
Hey, wait a second.
Skee-Lo raps about his troubles ironically. He refuses to engage them in a serious manner. The one thing missing from his approach is heart and soul: a passionate striving for something beyond the ordinary. The things Skee-Lo raps about aren’t comical things. We’ve all felt loneliness. We’ve all felt helpless as we watched rewards get showered on others. Skee-Lo approaches this subject with the distance allowed by comedy and makes a funny song as a result. Girl Talk re-imagines the song – what if Skee-Lo had been serious? – by mashing it with another one-hit wonder.