Breakfast Blend: 80s Caucasian Soul Horns

There’s a new Taylor Swift single out called Shake It Off. The song will be a hit, it has the insistent beat of Pharrell’s Happy and the marketing might of Taylor Swift herself and all that’s at stake stoking her machine (her record label is called Big Machine), but the song it reminds me of most is Elvis Costello’s most unhitish soul foray on his 1983 album Punch the Clock, Let Them All Talk. The obvious tie in is the insistent soul horns, which would fit in well on a Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s song, but in typical Costello fashion they’re played for pure signifying noise rather than simple if numbing pleasure.

This clip is from an extended dance mix, which I’m not sure adds a lot of danceability to the track, but does open it up sonically.

Taylor Swift’s new album is called 1989 and I have no idea if that is a reference to the music of the 80s, but this video captured me from the git go. The mix of dancing and subtle jokes is totally winning. And while we can be certain Taylor wasn’t channeling Let Them All Talk, it is curious that her tune hits those same bleating horns hard, and is similarly self referential (though she never talks about the soul cliches).

Some will enjoy this, some will slit their wrists or puncture their eardrums, but I offer it up for its curious echoes…

By the way, on some plays the video is preceded by a clip of Taylor selling style for JC Penny’s, and watching her shill I don’t like her at all. But this video is really great. It elevates the song beyond beyond. I’m not going to stop watching, and probably won’t be able to, at least for a while.

11 thoughts on “Breakfast Blend: 80s Caucasian Soul Horns

  1. OK, so I got through half of it. The choreographed dancing is done with humor sometimes, so I’d give it a 1 instead of zero.

    If anything, it reminds me of Britney Spears with horns and all substituting for heavy electronics.

    I always wonder how much a superstar like Taylor Swift actually writes her own songs anymore. My guess is a few simple, clever ditties (and perfect looks, of course) got her in the door and now it’s Taylor and a plethora of seasoned professional songwriters in a conference room. She comes in with a skeleton of an idea and they “embellish.” The end result gets stamped “written by Taylor Swift.” Hooray!

  2. I’ve probably heard and/or seen Taylor Swift before without knowing it, but as far as I know this is a first for me. To me she was just a name, and she’s been around a while hasn’t she? I listened to the whole song but only watched a minute or so of the video. First of all, she’s better than Billy Joel because pandering is better than contempt. Second, she’s not that pretty. Third, she sticks her two-dimensional covered ass in my face. Wow I’m so turned on. I hate to be MISOGYNISTIC but can I smack it if I add that her mother should too? The music is incidental to the pimping – shilling for JC Penny is actually more honest than shilling your own ass to the mass, when you have no intention of delivering it – but the music is not half bad. Although too cute it’s really not as cute as the Elvis Costello song. Elvis has Too Cute Disease especially in his long later years. Too clever is probably a better way to put it. I think that should be a Commandment: the song can’t be too clever musically. Clever lyrics are cool, if they are actually clever.

    Some soul horns, and much more:

    • Gene, I think you’re reading this wrong. Swift is lampooning the ass pandering.

      Of course, she’s also featuring her fit bod, but the overall point is that (while Taylor Swift is incredibly skinny and fit) and everybody who is in an elite clique (like cheerleaders, fly girls, b-boys, beatchicks, gagahead, and the one with big Sontag glasses (intelectuals?)) wants to show off their specialness, we’re all special and we should stand up for ourself and shake off the haters. And throughout the video she holds herself up to (mild) ridicule, not exaltation, though at the same time she’s kind of perfect (even if her prettiness is kind of pinched).

      Totally agree about Costello being too cute here, as he often is. But this counts as early Costello at this point, 1983, and is really part of his first slough. His problem once he got past the first rush of great songs was that he tried manufacturing worthy songs, and the concepts ended up a bit removed and the music was overproduced. That’s what’s happening here, and even more so on the album cut, which is less dubby and sonically tighter

      The Wilson Pickett cut is great. The attempt at giving us some Rascals failed. Wrong clip. Or rather, same Pickett clip, which we can’t get enough of.

      But the challenge is finding 80s white soul horns that swing. I’m sure they’re out there, but I think much of these arrangements were keyed to unyielding disco tempos, and the horns lost their punch (even if the album was called Punch the Clock) in the meantime.

  3. I very much doubt that Taylor’s target audience, pubescent girls, regards this as lampooning. I guess that’s the beauty of post-modernism – nothing need actually mean anything, but keep those kiddies spending. Here is the Rascals video:

    • Perhaps my favorite song from one of my favorite bands. Working so hard to seem live, until the horns come in.

      As for Shake It Off: The theme of this song, that people are going to talk but I’m going to ignore them because music is what matters to me, is a straight line from all of Swift’s self-referential songs about her sad love life and failed relationships as well as that time she won the video music award and Kanye West leaped up on stage and berated her and the VMA people because she didn’t deserve it, Beyonce did. Her girly fans are well aware of all this, and like her for being so strong and looking so good in clothes (and feeling kind of awkward, too).

      And her girly fans know well that she’s setting herself up here as the anti-Miley with the twerking bit, and the anti-Gaga with the space suit bit. They probably know the other antis, too, though I don’t.

      Does this add up to real meaning? Nah, it’s a pop song and a merchandising blitz, a buffing of the whole wholesome brand.

  4. Just read this morning that the Taylor Swift video is catching flak for racial stereotyping. Anything negative for this piece of stink makes me happy.

  5. The Rascals are playing. This is TV, the amps and horns are offstage. The singing is too idiosyncratic to be lip-synched, Gene has a chord and in the beginning is mixed a little loud which they bring down, and no one can ape what Dino is doing. Possibly they recorded the music except for the drums and are miming that, but no question they are really singing and Dino is really playing. I was too young to ever see them live but they made their rep as a live band, unlike so many at that time.

    • Yes, to their rep as a live band, and I only ever saw them on TV. What Dino is doing is incredible, astounding really. And maybe you’re right about the vocals, but if they had a wall or brass (or even a few horns) live, they’d be on stage. TV directors love that shininess and the swaying. Just like Swift’s video director plays to them. Of course, I don’t really know, except I also know that TV producer’s hate live performance because so much can go wrong. Which is why so much is lip synched.

      When Saturday Night Live insisted on live performances it was revolutionary. And many of those performances were terrible. No one was ready for the intersection of live performance in chunks and bad sound.

      One of the great innovations of the David Letterman show was the insistence that the band play live and rehearse with Paul Schafer and some of the other “cbs orchestra” members playing too.

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