10 Years, 100 Songs: #98. “Girl, It’s Me and You Like Sid and Nancy”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 3, 2009
Growing up in the late 90s, all my favorite music came from Southern California. Well, not really, but a whole lot of it was, or at least sounded like it was–this kind of good-timey, super-lackadaisical rock that packed all sorts of goofy, loveable hooks and made it sound like all people did on the west coast was get high with their friends and scratch their records to shit (usually with their shirts off). Sublime and 311 kicked it off (with minor assists from Beck and No Doubt), Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth carried the torch, and the one-hit wonders poured out shortly thereafter–OPM’s “Heaven is a Halfpipe,” Sprung Monkey’s “Get ‘Em Outta Here,” Forest for the Trees’ “Dream,” and any number of other ridiculous sun-soaked pieces of So-Cal ephemera. Soon acts from all over were getting in the act, from Canada (LEN’s “Steal My Sunshine,” Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in LA”) to the UK (Space Monkeys’ “Sugar Kane,” the Freestylers’ “Here We Go”), arguably doing a better job than the natives themselves. It was a glorious time for pop music–one I documented exhaustively, but lovingly, in my slightly younger days.
All of it led up, somewhat inexorably, to Crazy Town. These guys were So-Cal through and through, with the skater/stoner/surfer look and the musical blend of punk, funk and hip-hop that the city had been mixing for over a decade. Indeed, so inbued was their cultural lineage that they even sampled the sound’s spiritual godfathers, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for their big hit. It was no surprise, then, that “Butterfly” served as something of a Jump The Shark moment for the style. Not that the song was bad–though undoubtedly there are many that still shudder at the sound of the name “Shifty Shellshock” who will tell you that it was–but rather, that it was so good that it became undeniable to pop radio in a way that few, if any other songs from the period had before, climbing all the way to #1 in March of 2001, a full two years after being released. Eventually it all just became too much, as the song’s inescapability eventually had to wear down even its most ardent supporters, ruining the fun for all who would follow.
Still, for at least a little while, it was pretty glorious. You gotta start first and foremost with the RHCP sample, which even the biggest enemies of the ‘Town would have to give the band credit for–picking a couple seconds from a relatively obscure instrumental and building a beat around it in a style that would make Just Blaze proud. Many of the best RHCP hits had that kind of airy, ethereal quality to the guitar lines, and with the “Pretty Little Ditty” guitar part soaring on top of its merrily meandering bass line, you’re already halfway there towards writing an irresistibly dreamy love song. Sampling the Peppers certainly wasn’t much of a stretch for Crazy Town, especially considering that they were on tour with them at the time of parent album The Gift of Game‘s release, but sometimes the most obvious sample source is still the best one, and that was certainly the case here. (And a little chart trivia for fellow nerds out there–“Butterfly” remains the only #1 hit for Kiedis and company to ever have their names attatched to, never getting closer than the #2 peak of “Under the Bridge” themselves).
The rapping, split between Shifty and Epic in fairly interchangeable verses, isn’t exactly of LL Cool J (or even Mike Shinoda) caliber as far as rap love songs go, and certain cringeworthy lines like the “Sid and Nancy” one will make it a permanent fixture on VH1’s Awesomely Bad countdowns, but it effectively kills the necessary amount of time before getting back to the chorus. “Come my lady / come, come my lady / you’re my butterfly / sugar, baby”–none too flowery, but it gets the point across, using simple buzzwords that invoke a variety of classic love songs of years past, and rapped with the rhythmic panache of legitimate MCs. The key, though, is definitely the echoed, whispered backing vocals at the end of each line (“sugar, baby,” “you make me go CRAZY“). Aside from just sounding kind of cool and adding to “Butterfly”s hazy vibe, they give the song that hint of intimacy, certainly nowhere to be found in the rest of the lyrics, which just about every quality love song needs in some respect. If you’ve ever rapped (well…) along to the chorus, I guarantee you switched to the whisper-vocals when they came up, whether or not you even realized it.
“Butterfly” also got a gigantic boon from its video, back in the waning days of when music videos were still highly relevant to the way a band and song were perceived. It gave a very easily identifiable and (for better or worse) highly memorable look to go with a previously nationally unknown band (and possibly kicked off the trend of ironically wearing D.A.R.E. t-shirts, though I’d have to ask my junior-year roommate about that to be sure), but moreover, it gave the song exactly the visual accompaniment it was crying out for. All the roughly synonymous words I’ve been using so far to describe the song–ethereal, dreamy, hazy–for all I know, it’s all because of the video, which created a surreal, shape-shifting, megachromatic landscape for which the band to pal around with exotic beauties and the titular insects in blissed-out springtime–succeding where What Dreams May Come failed. Ten years from now, it’ll probably look as dated as Virtuosity, but at the very least, it achieves the primary directive of the music video format in general–see it once, and it simply is not possible to ever hear the song again without visualising it.
It would be unfair to say that the enormous success of “Butterfly” made the public completely averse to the sweet sounds of Los Angeles pop/rock, as some of the city’s leading lights would continue to pump out hits well into the decade–a couple of which might even be coming up later on this list. But “Butterfly” kind of salted the earth for new So-Cal bands with turntables and tattoos to get their fifteen minutes, not to mention that it proved completely impossible for Crazy Town to follow up, as the band would never even chart another song on the Hot 100, becoming one of the decade’s truest one-hit wonders (although Shellshock did appear on Paul Oakenfold’s minorly successful and similarly wispy “Starry-Eyed Surprise,” best known as That Fucking Song in That Fucking Diet Coke Commercial). Hey, it was fun while it lasted, but eventually, someone had to tell the kids to lay off the weed and put some damn clothes on.