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10 Years, 100 Songs: #36. “Don’t Leave Me Locked in Your Heart…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 23, 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.

You don’t see career arcs like Kylie Minogue’s anymore. I don’t even know if you ever did, really, but you certainly don’t these days. Australian one-hit wonder (two to be generous) from the late 80s disappears from American soil for a decade and a half, and then comes back to be more popular than ever? Think of it this way–how many people do you think are holding out for comebacks from Natalie Imbruglia or Merril Bainbridge come next decade? OK, that might be slightly unfair, since Kylie at least maintained her popularity and relevancy the whole time overseas, but for those stateside who knew her just from her cover of “The Loco-Motion” in 1988, her re-emergence must’ve been about as shocking as it would have been if Charles in Charge was brought back for a comeback season. Then again, after hearing the song that re-catapulted Kylie to the national spotlight, I imagine most of those people just shrugged and said “all right, fair enough.”

Honestly, who doesn’t like “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”? I can’t remember ever hearing a bad word about it, and if I had, I have no idea what that bad word was, or could be. I can usually tell if a pop song is really special by whether or not my brother–a devout metalhead that probably hasn’t optionally listened to the radio since the 90s–is willing to begrudgingly accept its quality, and I think even he was a fan. Hell, back in 2002, I was pretty virulently anti-pop myself, and I found the song to be totally undeniable. As far as I can tell, the only decent argument to be made against “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” was that its title would turn out to be all too prophetic–one listen to the song, and you could be mentally beseiged by that off-beat hook for the rest of the month.

The rhythmic symbiosis of the many elements in “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” was one of the greatest joys to behold in all the Naughty Oughties. You had that synth hook, creating that off-kilter tension by hitting on the down beat where the overwhelming majority of hooks of its ilk would be hitting on the up. Then, under that was that ticking meter, filling in the spaces in between and creating a more traditional rhythm with its alternating boom-BAP emphasis. Then there was Kylie’s own syncopated “La-la-la”s, almost splitting the difference between the two rhythmically and blending musically with the synth hook almost the point of straight harmonizing. Add to that the nice percolating flourish over the intro–as if the song’s cork had been popped and the whole thing had started to bubble over–and even before you get to the main vocal, you’re powerless against the song’s hypnotic lure.

But oh man is that chorus something. It’s not all that much to speak of lyrically–“I just can’t get you out of my head / Boy your loving is all I think about / I just can’t get you out of my head / Boy it’s more than I dare to dream about”–but the pacing and melody of it couldn’t be much more immaculate. Every single syllable sounds measured–like literally measured, with a ruler and a protractor–to the perfect length for maximum captivation, Kylie’s voice sounding so precise that it almost just feels like another instrumental hook. The melody also feels like it was cooked up in a lab, twisting around the same minor root notes and always ending up where it started, giving the chorus a near-mantra-ish feel. It’s robotic, but not in a sterile way–Kylie couldn’t really be sterile if she tried–it just felt like the next level of pop song, like as with Daft Punk’s previously discussed Discovery, what pop music should sound like going forward into the 21st century. (The future-chic concept was reinforced more than a little with the song’s video, which admittedly has aged rather poorly).

Interestingly, there’s no real verses to be had in “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” It’s all chorus and bridge, as if the song’s writers–one of which, by the way, was 90s pop star Cathy Dennis, who had some OK jams in her day as well–contemplated the idea of verses and (rightly) thought to themselves, “why put a verse in here when we can just play the chorus one more time”? It’s not like they were lazy, though, as the song’s bridge is nearly as key to the appeal, temporarily breaking from the near-monolithic hook for a moment of darkness and mystery before Kylie’s climactic purrs of “won’t you stayyyyyy???” and “set meee freeeeeee!!!” set things back on the right track, and we’re treated to more of the same old chorus. And more. And more.

You could argue that there was nothing all that original or complicated about the song’s main “and 1 and 2″ hook, that it was just a simple three-note pattern that house and trance producers had worked with in different forms for decades. But not too long after its release, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” was paid just about the ultimate compliment for a dance-pop song, getting mashed up with New Order’s uber-classic “Blue Monday” in a seamless way that drew out not just the musical similarities but the sort of spiritual kinship between the two songs–both songs that wove together a number of simple but striking hooks and rhythmic patterns until they formed into something damn near epic. Kylie obviously thought that the mix (christened as “Can’t Get Blue Monday of My Head”) was flattering, as she performed a version of it live at the Brit Awards one year, one of the relatively rare (and pretty damn cool) instances of an artist covering a mashup of their own song.

“Can’t Get You Out of My Head” gave Kylie a second life in the US, as follow-up disco throwback “Love at First Sight” also hit the top 40 and became something of a Dance Dance Revolution classic (and continues to spark a debate among my friends of which of the two is the better song, though for me it’s not even that close a call). Parent album Fever even became something of an unlikely critical darling, appearing down-ballot on a lot of year-end lists where aging pop idols generally feared to tread. Unfortunately, Kylie never really built on that momentum–I still love follow-up effort Body Language‘s lead single “Slow,” but it was a little restrained for American audiences, especially those now used to the full-on release of CGYOOMH–and her second career stateside was about as brief as her first. Still, she’s hanging around, a hit machine in just about every other part of the world, and I wouldn’t be too shocked if we heard from somtime in the 2010s–all she needs is another song as good as “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” Couldn’t be that tough, could it?

(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
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”

3 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #36. “Don’t Leave Me Locked in Your Heart…””

  1. Dan said

    This should be higher

  2. Brent said

    “In Your Eyes” is quite under rated as well, forgotten by virtue being the single between this and “Love at First Sight” but it’s got a much smokier quality to it.

    I used to love this one pretty unreservedly but I think overexposure killed it – I still hear it at least twice a day at work and it’s gotten to the ‘enough, already!’ point now.

  3. ZD said

    I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone’s career work quite like this. The closest sort of trajectory I can think of is the occasional big hit from an album that’s been out already for a few years. I recall Technotronic hitting it relatively big with Move This in 1992 despite the album being released in 1988.

    Sorry, it’s all I’ve got here.

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