Thursday, August 13, 2009
"Groove is in the Heart" by Deee-Lite (1990)
In deciding to make this list, I had originally toyed with the idea of itemising the 500 best songs ever, or something like that. I soon realised that that was a pretty bad idea, since it would involve major planning and organisation, and in the end, who cares if a song is 172nd best or 173rd best, right? So I decided not to list them in order.
Having said that, though, for this, my inaugural entry, I am including what I believe to be, without hyperbole, the best song ever. In any case, I’ve come to realise it’s my favourite song. And, at the end of the day, those are synonymous, right? I mean, you can’t really consider art and entertainment ‘objectively’ (try as you might). Roger Ebert may be able to justify his decisions till he’s blue in the face, but in the end a ‘thumbs up’ really just means that he liked the movie.
I like this song. Very, very much. For me, I think what is most wonderful about the song ‘Groove is in the Heart’ is its very generosity. There was something very giving and genuine about this song; not just the message of its lyrics but the ‘message’ of its music, its ‘feel’. The song, the band, the video… everything just seemed so completely accepting and open-minded. So much music, particularly ‘cool’ music, is filled with sneering and exclusion. With Deee-Lite, it really seemed like ‘coolness’ was being redefined to be as inclusive as possible. To cite a cliché, it was a party and everyone was invited.
And literally everyone… The band themselves were a slightly geeky Japanese-American, a slightly geeky Ukrainian-American and a glamorous American-born American. At a time when both Japan and the decaying Soviet Union were being cast by many Americans in the most xenophobic fashion possible, the simple image of these three people mixing it up together, not political in the ivory-tower sense but completely political in the personal-is-political sense. Special guests at their party included Q-Tip, leading light of the positivity style of hip-hop at the time and Bootsy Collins, funk bassist and over-the-top dresser extraordinaire. Special guest appearance, of course, by Herbie Hancock on exquisitely-utilised sample.
Except among true club kids and devotees, Deee-Lite were, for all intents and purposes, one-hit wonders. It’s amazing to shine this brightly this briefly. But perhaps it’s to be expected: they truly did throw everything they had into a single track. What remained to be said after this?
Defiantly optimistic, defiantly open-minded, defiantly sincere and defiantly ‘progressive’, I don’t think it’s possible to listen to this song and not feel uplifted. It’s 18 years later now, and the future they appeared to embody… well, it doesn’t really seem to have arrived yet. Still, though, listening to this song or watching the video gives you the sense – or perhaps merely the dream – that the better world they seem to represent is still coming. Sooner or later. One day…