Monday, March 05, 2012

Rhythm-Based School Invasions of 1980s Europe

Awkward. Improbable. Dated. Carbon-dated. These are terms that a thinking individual could put toward the music video for “Happy Song,” the 1984 “hit” by the West German eurodisco-reggae group Boney M. I, for one, can’t take my eyes off it, what with its earnest efforts to sell something that no one wants, needs or even know existed until they watched this video. And I think I can do it the most justice with a summary of what I believe to be its plot. And here goes:
A demonic force travels through an elementary school, lingering for a moment on an apparent portrait of Adolf Hitler (it’s at the 0:26 mark) and inspiring the children to rebel against their teachers. The demonic force assumes the form of two black men who dance into the classroom and, with promises of afterschool dancing and ice cream parties, steal the children, Pied Piper-style. At the same time, a separate presence — some sort of cackling blond devil infant to whom the camera occasionally cuts away — seems to have possessed the one female student, causing her to speak in a baby voice. It’s unclear whether these presences are working together or against each other, but regardless the children end up taking a bus to an ice cream party that’s inexplicably attended by the very teachers they fled. The teachers remove their academic robes and begin dancing. The female student continues to talk in a baby voice.
Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable with that. Honestly, that may be the second-best summary I’ve ever provided, the first being this one. Please, now, watch the video for yourself:


Now, with all that in mind, think about this: Its lack of any reggae sounds makes “Happy Song” an outlier in the Boney M discography, and that’s probably because “Happy Song” is a cover — and, believe it or not, an improvement — of a song released in 1983 by the Italian group Baby’s Gang, which also had this song “Challenger.” I’m posting it below twice, because YouTube has two difference versions — a full version in black and white and then a colorized version that cuts away to what looks like Power Point effects of text scrolling across the screen in ways that are never impressive. It’s… weird.


But I make a point of writing about all this because the “Challenger” video is remarkably similar to the “Happy Song” one: Singing, dancing people manage to steal an entire school’s worth of youths. It even features a woman speaking in an inexplicable baby voice. Isn’t that kind of weird, as far as a narrative for related music videos to have: School invasions in which the children all get kidnapped by singing, dancing people and also there’s a woman who talks in a baby’s voice? Is that baby-talking girl the titular Baby who owns the gang? Was this an 80s trend that I just didn’t know about until now? Was I lucky to be spared this by having been educated in the U.S.? And finally, what do you think they did with kids once they took them away? Do you think they went all Pied Piper on them?

And finally, there’s the question that I’m most reluctant to ask: How embarrassed should I feel if I’m kind of into these songs, their flaming lameness notwithstanding? Is it the expert synthesizer at work? Yeah, it’s that. It must be that.

Drew overthinks bad music:

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