Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #55. [Ringtone]

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 18, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

There once was a place for instrumental dance music in American pop culture. In the 70s, the charts were filled with funk instrumentals from the likes of Billy Preston and Dennis Coffey, and then with voxless disco smashes from Herb Alpert, Walter Murphy and countless others. Even in the 80s, Jan Hammer still got a #1 hit out of his pulsating theme to Miami Vice. By the 90s, though, as club music became more and more foreign to mainstream America, it all but died out completely. I’m still not really sure why–yeah, Americans like words to sing along to, but do we really have no room in our hearts for dance remixes of TV themes anymore, or tranceified classical themes, or anything of the sort?

I wonder if America’s brief and tumultuous affair with rave culture in the 90s had something to do with it. In the UK the rave moment was a musical movement as much as anything, but in the US it was a relationship that had surprisingly little to do with popular music–bandwagon American ravers seemed to be content with just about anything with high-pitched synths and a pulsating beat, concerning themselves more with the ecstasy and goofy outfits and glow sticks and whatnot. Maybe the rest of America started to see all of dance music as being synonymous with the anonymous trance that came to define this period (or maybe they just prefered the way Moby’s Play sounded, I don’t know). But the last gasp of it all seemed to be Darude’s “Sandstorm,” the final trance-centered hit to make a genuine impression on US pop culture.

“Sandstorm” did have two things going for it, at least–Dance Dance Revolution and cell phone ringtones. Around the turn of the millennium, DDR brought strobe-lit, hi-NRG dance into the houses of suburban thirteen-year-olds like nothing else ever had before, likely hooking an entire generation of nerds and fitness freaks on songs instrumental-oriented songs amped to 140 bpm and higher. And while the customized ringtone didn’t really get popular until a couple years into the decade, no song was better-designed for the format than “Sandstorm,” a song which already sounded like the loudest, most purposefully attention-grabbing telephone ring humanly possible. Pop radio was always going to be cold to an artist like Darude–“Sandstorm” only made it to #83 on the charts–but the song was big enough on these terms to make an impression anyway.

And really, who could forget that hook? It’s hard to know what really differentiates “Sandstorm” from the legions of relative soundalikes that uh, will not be making this list, especially since the song makes absolutely no effort to buck any of the genre’s bigest cliches–the syncopated rhythms, the cheesy echo effects, the build-and-fall structure that 95% of the genre’s songs followed to the letter. But when I think of trance-pop now, my mind immediately goes to that blaring hook, part clarion call, part car alarm, entirely attention-demanding. It just sounds so huge, the same way that songs like “Anarchy in the UK” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or other songs that belied genuine revolutions did–like “Sandstorm” was part of something big and unifying and important, even though it was just a random club hit made by some anonymous Finnish dude that was never heard from again. Just like you hear “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and you wanna pump your fist, or you hear “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and you wanna climb a mountain and wave a white flag around, you hear “Sandstorm” and you wanna do that imaginary-crystal-ball motion with your hands-it’s powerful enough to inspire that kind of reflexive physical reaction.

There’s not really too much else to be said here–once you hear a minute of “Sandstorm” you’ve basically heard the whole thing, and there’s not a whole lot going on besides the ringing hook. Meanwhile, the video was kind of boring, the dude himself was predictably anonymous, and if there was a follow-up of any merit, I certainly never heard it (though according to Wikipedia, he had another UK hit called “Feel the Beat,” and did some recent collaborations with American Idol runner-up Blake Lewis). But that hook continues to echo throughout the Naughty Oughties, possibly the very last time that a dance instrumental (or any non-hott-blonde chick from Northern Europe) will be allowed anywhere near our pop charts. Should be fun to hear this playing in club scenes of future 00s-retro movies (American Psycho 2000?) as well.

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday

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