Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #49. “I Try But You See, My Heart is Saying No”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 27, 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.

I still love mashups. Just as much as I ever did, really. Few things about the Naughty Oughties disappointed me as much as the apparent death of the mashup, at least in terms of buzz or relevancy. Yeah, yeah, you can tell me all about how the mashup’s actually been around forever and continues to survive in DJ culture, where it’s just not as cute or gimmicky. Fair enough, but I still miss the days when these things circulated like e-mail forwards, when they actually caught the attention of critics and radio programmers and made the whole world (or at least certain pockets of the internet) smile just a little bit wider for four minutes at a time. And I don’t buy that they were fleeting flights of fancy, either, that they were novel for a couple listens but rarely after–the bad, awkward ones, sure, but the best of ’em will certainly age just as well, if not better, than any number of other ephemeral 00s musical subgenres.

Whether or not Freelance Hellraiser’s “A Stroke of Genius” (sometimes called “A Stroke of Genie-us,” which seems a bit unnecessary to me) was the best mash-up ever crafted is certainly up for debate, and I can think of a number off the top of my head (Girls on Top’s “I Wanna Dance With Numbers,” Go Home Productions’ “Shannon Stone,” Nathan Chase’s “The Ghost That Feeds”) that definitely give it a run for its money. But there’s little doubt that it’s come to be known as the definitive mashup, the song that many will automatically think of when reminiscing about the mashup craze of the early decade. The reason for it are numerous: It was one of the first songs of its kind to create a real underground buzz, it hit on the winning, all-inclusive formula of mixing a pop megahit (Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle”) with a respected alternative rock semi-anthem (The Strokes’ “Hard to Explain”), and it even attracted some mainstream attention by courting a lawsuit from RCA over the unauthorized use of the two artists’ music, still at the height of file-sharing copyright paranoia.

But the main reason why everyone has such vivid memories of “A Stroke of Genius” is a simple one–it was perhaps the purest example of a mashup taking two great songs, and coming up with a combination of them that was better than either of them. And lest we forget, this was no small feat–these really were two great, iconic songs, Aguilera’s breakthrough hit a much more insidious and sonically adventurous number than you probably remember, and The Strokes’ rave-up the towering centerpiece of their classic Is This It? album. That Freelance Hellraiser (and really, even that name is about as perfect as you can get for a mashup artist) was able to mix them in such a way that not only didn’t make you just want to go back and listen to the originals of both songs (as an unfortunately high percentage of mashups were still wont to do), but could occasionally even make you forget that you were listening to a mashup at all…it just about made “A Stroke of Genius” not only one of the most important singles of the 21st century, but one of the definitive documents of post-modernity in general.

It was clear that something special was going on in this song from the second that Aguilera’s voice entered over the Strokes riff. Those opening lines, “I feel like I’ve been locked up tight / for a century of lonely nights,” they sounded slithery and seductive enough in the original “Genie,” but over the Strokes’ righteous chug, they sound positively ecstatic, the nerves melting away as Xtina purrs with the glow of someone enjoying a long stretch after an interminably long car ride. The pre-chorus is even better, her cooing “Ohhh-ohhh“s twisting themselves around the suddenly aggressive Strokes chorus riff like Aguilera would eventually twist herself around a guitar in an infamously nekkid Rolling Stone cover. And then rather than go for the kill with a super-released, near-orgasmic chorus, Hellraiser instead gives you a surprisingly tense one based around a minor-sounding section of the Strokes song, before letting you back off the hook with the sweet sounds of the verse.

The best mashups, it should come as no surprise, sounded the least like mashups. It’s like any form of editing, really–the less cracks shown, the better. Which is why the most novel types of mashups–the ones pairing two comically disparate artists in an effort to bring the LOLs to Metallica fans who would never listen to Britney Spears (or vice versa)–were often among the worst, square pegs getting jammed into round holes at all costs. They were the ones that ended up giving the mashup a bad name among real dance and hip-hop fans, and not entirely without reason. But Freelance Hellraiser was like the Thelma Schoonmaker of mashup DJs here, blending the two songs so seamlessly that, beyond a couple samples of Christina getting delayed and scratched-up a bit at the end of the chorus, you could probably have had no trouble convincing some pop-clueless indie kid at the time that this was actually the Strokes trying out things with a new female vocalist for kicks. Shame on MTV for never getting these guys together to perform the song live at the Video Music Awards–shit could’ve been epic.

I suppose the burnout was inevitable. The Jay-Z mashup phenomenon probably killed a whole lot of people on the entire genre, especially considering that The Grey Album wasn’t even all that great, and some of the more obnoxious popular mash-ups (namely just about everything by Party Ben) certainly started to grate after a while. I guess once Girl Talk, with his super-micro-mashing full-length albums hit, the genre had reached its logical conclusion, polarizing audiences to the greatest degree possible and making the rest of the genre seem trivial by comparison. I’m holding out hope for a revival of the classic, song meets song mashup format though–all it takes is two great tunes and one enterprising soul creative enough to figure out the ways they can make each other better. It’s too perfect a concept to lie dormant forever.

(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
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius”

5 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #49. “I Try But You See, My Heart is Saying No””

  1. MBI said

    It’s good, but it’s no Viva La Pop.

  2. Tom L said

    Did you hear “Fall Out Gloria” in the last year or so?

  3. Erick said

    Good writeup. Loving this series.

    Did I ever rec this to you at some point? Lenlow – “Last Night.” Strokes/Traveling Wilburys/Kid & Play.

    hxxp://www.sendspace.com/file/caxyop

  4. You’ve heard DJ Lance Lockarm (indier) and DJ Earworm (and not just the “United States of Pop” stuff), right?

  5. Doug said

    I was always a fan of “Bootystition”.

    The tension in the pre-chorus here is so weird. The best mashup moment I’ve ever witnessed.

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