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10 Years, 100 Songs: #19. “Power, Music, Electric Revival”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 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.

I don’t want to sound too negative in a series that should be mostly if not entirely about love, but I have to get it out of the way first and foremost: OutKast were probably the biggest disappointment of the Naughty Oughties. There was greatness there, no doubt–maybe too much of it, too soon. The frenzy surrounding the release of Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, hot off the juggernaut success of lead single “Hey Ya!,” was like nothing I can remember before. OutKast seemed prepared–destined, even–to become the first musical act since Nirvana (possibly Eminem) to assume the status of being both the most popular and critically beloved artist in the world, a feat only a handful of outfits have done in all of pop history. They seemed a perfect fit for the position–a roots-grounded, forward-thinking rap duo with grand aspirations who could appeal to just about all markets. The world was theirs for the taking. And they just couldn’t seal the deal.

We’ll get back to exactly what went wrong later, since of course, it’s more important to primarily focus on what went right. And perhaps the most impressive feat on OutKast’s resume to this day was how over the course of their first four albums, they improved in just about every possible respect. They broadened their sound, they wrote better songs, they increased their fanbase exponentially. The path from “Players’ Ball” to “Elevators” to “Rosa Parks” to “Mrs. Jackson” was a fascinating and not entirely linear one, but it spoke to an artistic growth that only the true greats are usually capable of pulling off. (Some people insist that their early stuff is still the best, but…eh.) These were two very talented, very different guys whose sensibilities meshed like a hip-hop Lennon/McCartney, and it was clear (or at least I assume it was–truth told, OutKast wasn’t even on my radar so much until the 00s) that great things were on the horizon. Even with all that in mind, though, I can say with relative confidence that nothing–nothing–could have prepared audiences for “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad).”

To say that “B.O.B.” was the weirdest hit of the decade is inaccurate for a couple reasons. The first is that, in actuality, it wasn’t really that much of a hit–barely managing to scrape the hip-hop charts and missing out on the Hot 100 altogether. And really, think back–do you remember hearing it on the radio all that much this decade? (Well, you probably didn’t hear it at all after the next September, for obvious reasons, but I mean even before that). Still, it was a song that everyone seemed to know about, if for no other reason than the fact that you only needed to hear it once to remember for the rest of your life. And the second is that…well, it’s just weird to compare it to other pop songs this decade, because there’s really none that could be considered in any way to be in this song’s peer group. With the release of “Bombs Over Baghdad,” OutKast, as my critic friend might say, now existed in their very own paradigm.

Is it really that crazy a song? Well, it’s sort of hard to say from listening now–give anything a couple of years a couple hundred listens and it’s shocking how quickly it became normative. But I can definitely say that from about 2000 to 2003 or so, no song took my head for a trip like this one. It was like a simmering cauldron of 40 years of funky, pissed-off black culture, from Sly & the Family Stone to P-Funk to Prince to N.W.A. You didn’t put “B.O.B.” on in the background–you just couldn’t, since no matter what you were doing, it was huge and powerful enough that it quickly pushed its way to the forefront. In fact, after a while, I specifically remember that I would hear that twinkling intro and the beginning of Andre 3000’s whispered “One…two...” and race to change the station or the CD track, since I knew that if I got to ‘Dre’s “YEAH!” and the song kicked in before I could stop it, I would have no choice but to spend the next five minutes in dutiful headbanging silence.

And the weirdness only has a little to do with it. Yeah, it didn’t sound like everything else, and that was cool, but more importantly, it also sounded better than everything else. “B.O.B.” was easily one of the five most purely exciting songs released in my lifetime, a song that instantly raises your blood pressure, that makes you reflexively press down on the gas pedal when driving. Once that beat took off–that alien, whirring, drum-and-bass-but-not-nearly-so-dated beat–I was officially in the red, and with Dre and Big Boi putting Busta Rhymes to shame on the verses, the song never let up. Even the chorus chant, which by ‘Dre’s own admission was entirely meaningless, just sounded so fucking cool and violent and visceral that nary a beat was lost. For my money, though, the best part of the song was the breakdown section leading up to the outro, where the beat skitters at near double-time and just about everything that can be thrown in–guitar solos, synths, context-less scratching noises–just get thrown in why not. It was the sound of that simmering cauldron starting to boil.

Then there was the actual outro. I’ve always loved songs that start to sound kind of evil at the end, even if it’s for no reason in particular. I’m still not quite sure where that transformation in the song comes from, but then again nothing else in the song had really made sense in a conventional sense either, so I guess it was fair play. And that chant–“Power, music, electric revival.” Of course I didn’t know what it was for years, and I almost kind of preferred it that way–not knowing what the chant was actually saying made it sound kind of like an incantation, which probably would have explained a lot about the song in the first place. Now that I know what it means, though, it’s just about the perfect four-word summation of the song’s awesome force, or at least the awesome force it was for those four years. Just don’t ask me to explain why.

“B.O.B.” established beyond a doubt that OutKast were a fucking musical force to be fucking reckoned with, and “Mrs. Jackson” (their first-ever #1 hit) proved they could put up pop numbers with the big boys as well. Parent album Stankonia topped the Pazz & Jop poll (an asssemblage of year-end lists from various critics around the world, for those of you that don’t spend your lives on the internet) and sold four million copies. Then “Hey Ya!” dropped, and the world was briefly sent into free-fall. A combination of 60s bubblegum pop hooks, modern hip-hop production and more catchphrases than an episode of How I Met Your Mother,  “Hey Ya!” took little time in becoming the consensus Most Beloved Song of the 00s, topping the charts for nine weeks, winning just about every conceivable kind of award, and even revitalizing the Polaroid Corporation, despite being, in its own less-intimidating way, about as unusual a song as “B.O.B.”

Stock in OutKast could not have been higher for the release of Speakerboxx / The Love Below, the double album featuring one disc each by both of the group’s members. I remember when the thing leaked online, it only came out a song at a time, and every single new song caused people to go into rapture. This was going to be one of the great albums of our time, the collection that cemented OutKast’s status as the Band/Artist/Whoever of the 00s. Slight hold-up, though: The album kind of sucked. OK, not really–Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx disc was impressively solid, and moments on Dre’s The Love Below were predictably inspired. In time, most people would come to agree that if the two discs had been merged into one best-of, it could have been something close to a great album. But try as they might to convince themselves that the album was everything they were hoping for–lord knows I spent a good deal of time doing just that–almost everyone had to admit, in time, that the album fell well short of expectations.

The solo split between the two was more harmful than expected. Some songs on Dre’s disc were alarmingly bad–cloying, cheesy, or just plain strange and off-putting songs that had no place on the kind of five-star classic we were expecting. They brought out aspects of his personality which had always been there and always been kind of annoying, but had always been tempered by Big Boi’s reality check. Meanwhile, though there were plenty of good songs on the Big Boi disc, there weren’t too many great ones, as without Dre there to push him, Big Boi started to sound like a fairly above-average ATL rapper, little different from Killer Mike or Cool Breeze. It was almost kind of touching to see the obvious ways that the two rappers needed each other to reach their own full potential, and tellingly, after the initial smashes of Dre’s “Hey Ya!” and Big Boi’s “The Way You Move,” S/TLB struggled to spin off more hits–besides the deplorable “Roses,” which I’ve done my best to block from memory. But it was still sad to see such obvious potential starting to go to waste.

It only got worse. I don’t know what the fuck happened with Idlewild–I never saw the actual movie–but the singles from its soundtrack were virtually unlistenable,  the thing flopped in just about every way possible, and outside of a few guest appearances, we haven’t heard from OutKast since. Ultimately, what went wrong with OutKast was the very opposite of what I previously talked about going wrong with Fall Out Boy–whereas Pete Wentz was determined to control his band’s fate and did everything in his power to make them as popular and beloved as possible, OutKast (and Dre specifically) went in the other direction, becoming insular and pretentious and throwing caution (and commercial success) to the wind, unconcerned with the consequences. Maybe like Lennon and McCartney they were too different to stay together forever, maybe like Prince they were too essentially weird to stay continuously popular forever. OutKast’s demise defies easy explanation, but it continues to be a humongous shame, especially considering how when the two can actually get their act together long enough–as on the excellent “Royal Flush,” supposedly due on an eventual Big Boi solo disc–they can still make magic.

I can’t even listen to “Hey Ya!” anymore, since it only reminds me of what could have been, and only makes me think of how irritating Dre has become since. For me, their greatest legacy will always be “B.O.B.,” a song which almost ten years later, still stands monolithic, a song that no one would ever even think of attempting to match. Listen to it and join me in the hope that one day, they’ll return to the tenets of “Power, Music, Electric Revival” once more.

(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
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli
25. Shaggy f/ Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent – “It Wasn’t Me
24. The Strokes  – “Last Night
23. Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
22. Radiohead – “Idioteque
21. Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down
20. The All-American Rejects – “Move Along
19. OutKast – “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)”

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.

6 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #19. “Power, Music, Electric Revival””

  1. This seems overly harsh towards OutKast in general and Dre in particular, but I understand.

    I was really indoctrinated into hip-hop with S/TLB; my brother and I played and needed both discs so much that we had to buy two copies. (This was before iPods, obviously.) To this day, I will argue that Speakerboxxx is really an excellent album — “Flip Flop Rock,” despite somehow not melting the world with Jay, Dre, and Antwan on the same track, remains one of my favorite songs; I suspect it has something to do with not knowing exactly how high the Atliens’ ceiling was.

    I bought Stankonia for myself later, with the express purpose of getting the CD with “B.O.B.” on it; it was pre-YouTube and I wasn’t net-savvy enough to find MP3s, so buying the CD was about the only way to get the song, which I expected great things from thanks to all prior notices. And it didn’t disappoint: It’s a hurricane propelled by funk, soul, and two of the densest, most brilliant post-2000 verses recorded.

    And, for me, it’s enough. I guess I could be really disappointed by the soggy Idlewild, and frustrated by Dre’s inability to release anything but staccato bursts of genius since some of the greatest stuff on TLB (“Behold a Lady” is still great, and I like the trip of the album, though there are definitely skips on it.) But I’m not.

    I can’t ask more of the people that gave us this song and so much more.

  2. Garret said

    I can’t listen to “Hey Ya!” either.

  3. ZD said

    I recall some British rock poll that put Definitely Maybe as the greatest album ever. As I like to say, it’s not even the greatest Oasis album ever.

    Anyhow, when Pitchfork put B.O.B. as the best song of the 2000’s, I felt similarly. B.O.B. may be some masterstroke of flow with all the power and energy and WPM and whatnot, but Hey Ya! invites everyone to the party — like just about nothing I’ve ever heard before. Both songs are great, and both songs make my karaoke wish-list, and maybe HY! didn’t make the cut with the ‘Fork (and doesn’t make the cut here) because it’s so easily taken for granted or was overplayed or something, but I think B.O.B. is (I daresay) too focused to beat out their mega-super-duper-smash.

    Also, given the feel of what’s going on during the particular part, I always thought (hoped?) that the line was “Gospel music, electric revival”.

  4. Garret said

    I dunno… “Hey Ya!” just has this something-for-everybody-even-the-square-honkies vibe to it that seemed cool at one time and you’d think that it would be easier to enjoy when removed from the initial ’03-’04 cultural explosion but trying to evaluate it outside of that context has done more bad than good, at least w/r/t how I process the track these days.

    Just kind of sounds like a forced attempt at cranking out a “I Want To Hold Your Hand”-ish simplistic pop classic. Except it’s like four minutes long for some reason. And it’s just the same chord progression over and over w/ Andre switching it up occasionally by going “AWRIGHTAWRIGHTAWIRGHTAWIGHT” or doing the “Ice cold!” shoutouts or whatever that aren’t really that amusing, anyway.

    Song is just a fucking chore, more than any truly classic pop song should be. Ultimately, “Hey Ya!” boils down to a decent vocal melody and some handclaps that are so engrained in my mind that hearing more than the first minute or any of the song at all is downright unnecessary. Whereas “B.O.B.” just does everything that it aims to do so perfectly. Everything there is essential and the experience of listening to the song from start to finish isn’t anything less than thrilling. Really just quite fantastic.

  5. stephen said

    while it is surprisingly difficult, still, to listen to “hey ya!” on the radio, my laptop, etc. i have found it to be a genuine joy when in combination w/ its music video. just a lot of fun, imo. that said, the “b.o.b.” music video is even better. kinda surprised it’s not mentioned in the above post.

  6. Daniel said

    i don’t know, Roses is/was my favourite song of the 00s

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