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10 Years, 100 Songs: #4. “SHAKE DOWWWWWWWWWN”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 26, 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.

One thing I can absolutely say about “House of Jealous Lovers”–for no other song this decade did I spend more time and airspace writing about. By far. I’m not even sure what the #2 is, but it’s no contest. In fact, when I recently submitted a singles list for an upcoming Stylus reunion decade-end countdown (that’s right, call your friends/newspaper/congressman, we’re getting the band back together), the only request I made when the editors were handing out blurb assignemnts was “Not ‘House of Jealous Lovers’.” After approaching the song from just about every angle possible, in short blurs and extended essays, there just really wasn’t anything more for me to say about the song that I hadn’t already said. Yet, here we are: The #4 single of the decade, when I have a nice little streak of 1500+-word essays going. Gotta say something, right? So, here goes nothing.

Let me start here, then: This is my favorite song of the decade. When I submitted that list to Stylus, “House of Jealous Lovers” was at the very top, and I didn’t even have to think about it that much. Now, if you’re reading that last sentence to yourself and thinking “Well, if that’s your favorite single of the decade, why is it only at #4?” And if so, I have to say, I’m a little disappointed in you for not paying attention. Read the disclaimer at the top of the screen, browse over the mission statement for this entire project, and understand that although I certainly at least like (and in most cases, love) every song on this list, there are about 300 songs from the last ten years that I technically like more than the Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha.” My personal preference is only one of the many intangible factors that went into the process of constructing this list, and I wouldn’t subject you (most of you, anyway) to any tomes about Broken Social Scene’s “Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl” or Mum’s “K/Half Noise” just for my own gratification. But yes, if we narrowed the confines of this Top 100 to nothing but the songs that brought me the most enjoyment over the course of the decade, “House of Jealous Lovers” would almost certainly be the #1.

Discopunk. It sucks that we never really found a better word for it than that, because it sounded a little ridiculous to say back then, and it sounds downright embarrassing now. But yeah, I guess that’s what it was–a hybrid of punk’s nervy energy and garage-band rawness with disco’s dance-floor propulsiveness and general lack of particularly pressing subject matter. And back in 2003, when it was really starting to take off as an underground genre, that was exactly–really, exactly–what I needed in my musical life. I loved dance music, and I loved dancing, but I still felt fairly rooted in indie rock. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle the real thing with pure disco, but to combine it with so many of the things I loved about 00s modern rock, and to congeal with a bunch of different bands (and one particular record label) as something close to a scene or movement–goddamn, it just felt so exciting. It felt like this was going to be the music of my time, the music that we looked back on as defining the underground youth culture of the early-mid 00s.

A lot of this excitement came as a result of “House of Jealous Lovers.” It was an inordinately simple song–only three lines in the entire thing (minus the count-off part), adorned by a three-chord guitar echo, a bubbling bass line, a disco drum beat and a metric ton of cowbell. But holy shit, dit it feel like it was blowing the roof off of something. The key to the song becoming the lycnhpin of the discopunk era, I still believe, is that it was able to define the genre by splitting down the absolute middle of its two core genres. This isn’t a punk song with a couple patronizing disco tropes thrown in, or a disco song that just happens to be sung by a guy with a screechy voice. This is a discopunk song–add up the song’s elements in each of the two columns, and t’s a perfect 50/50 split between the two. Culture blends don’t come any more seamless than this.

What’s more, The Rapture seemed to be students enough the absolute power contained in both genres. From their punk learnings, they knew that writing a dance song based entirely (well, almost entirely–more on that in a mintue) around the four basic rock instruments (vocals, guitar, bass, drums) could still sound as massive as one filled with synths and laser noises and all sorts of other elaborate production gambits. They knew how cool an entirely shambolic and discordant guitar solo could sound in such an unexpected context. And they knew that having the main hook be shouted out in a grating caterwaul (“HOUSE OFFFFF!! JEALOUS LAH-VAHHHHS!!!“) and the secondary hook belted in an almost unlistenable yelp (“SHAKE DOWWWWWWWWWWN!!!!!!!“) would be the perfect lyrical accompaniment for the general catharsis of the dance-rock audience experience.

And from their disco learnings, they learned the might of the cowbell. For several decades, the cowbell was close to persona non grata, a denoter of general cheesiness and a a seasoning instrument at best. It took a much-overplayed SNL skit to remind audiences that for a period in the 1970s, many of the greatest rock songs were powered by the cowbell like its player actually thought the instrument was an electrical generator. But even in most of those MOR rock classics–“We’re an American Band,” “Hair of the Dog,” and of course, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”–the cowbell has a distinctive and sort of low-key pop sound to it. Only in disco does the cowbell truly clang. And in “House of Jealous Lovers,” the cowbell positively screams, a lead isntrument from beginnign to end, with each successive hit upping the song’s physical ante.

The song’s culmination is in the previously mentioned count-off section, where the lyrics cut out besides singer Luke Jenner cointing to eight, and it’s just the drum break, abbreviated guitar and bass, and the cowbell. I’ve already written an entire article about that section alone, so I’m not gonna go too far into the ins and outs, but suffice to say, that minute or so of pop music was about as exciting as anything released in my lifetime. Just thinking about it, any time and anywhere, makes me feel like someone just dimmed the lights, hung up a disco ball and flicked on the strobe. If that stretch in the song doesn’t make you understand completely why, for a brief spell, The Rapture seemed like they were the future of…well, something anyway, than nothing will. (And sorry if you’ve read this far in the article and still have no clue what I’m talking about with any of this–be glad you spent most of the previous decade off internet music criticism sites and message boards, I guess.)

It’s understandable if “House of Jealous Lovers” worked people into enough of a frenzy that they weren’t able to think rationally afterwards, but man, did Pitchfork kind of blow it with this one. The Rapture’s full-length album Echoes came out in the states about a year after the HOJL hype peaked, and as great as parts of it were (the stretch from “I Need Your Love” to “Sister Saviour” is generally unfuckwithable) and as much as we all wanted to love the album, it was a huge mess structurally and had a handful of genuinely terrible songs. (“Heaven.” Shudder.) Undaunted, Pitchfork gave it a 9.0 and in a review written by head honcho Ryan Schreiber, took the entire movement significantly too far by offering the following soon-to-be-infamous declaration: “We have buried irony and pissed on its ashes […] You people at shows who don’t dance, who don’t know a good time, who can’t have fun, who sneer and scoff at the supposed inferior– it’s you this music strikes a blow against. We hope you die bored.” Before Pitchfork became too popular to let themselves screw up, it was maybe the last genuinely stupid move the site ever made.

That said, Ryan did kind of nail it in his write-up of the album ast Pitchfork’s #1 album on their year-end countdown. “When this era enjoys its renaissance in fifteen years, we will remember this album: nothing says 2003 more.” I agree with the statement, although perhaps not the intention–the primary reason nothing says 2003 more than this album is because by 2004, nobody in their right mind gave a shit about The Rapture. Their next album was tepid dance-rock and lacked any songs in the same stratosphere as “House,” and if they’ve done anything at all since then it’s news to me. Meanwhile, the whole discopunk movement quickly died out as the bands whose singles defined it (!!!, LCD Soundsystem, even early Liars) moved on to other styles, faded in relevance or both, and as its signature label, The DFA, became big enough in its own right to no longer be tied to the genre’s trappings. If you started reading Pitchfork in 2005, you had probably never even heard of Echoes before they put it on their Top 200 Albums of the Decade list–all the way down at #57, tellingly.

But it still defines 2003 to me, not just because of how much I loved “House of Jealous Lovers” then, but how it shaped so much of my music listening back then. Not only was I searching out all the bands, albums, songs and remixes that were supposed to sound like it (or supposed to have influenced it), but it got me started on a whole vinyl kick–even though I didn’t DJ, didn’t care about audio warmth or whatever benefits records supposedly had over CDs, and didn’t even own a record player aside from the one my parents had in the den. (For the couple times I had impromptu dance parties with my high school friends in the den, it was well worth the pointless expenditure of funds.) And as I’ve bragged about to just about everyone who’d care, I also succesfully bribed the DJ at my high school prom (second entry in a row–weird for an event I haven’t really thought about in years) to play the song in between Crunk n’ B jams and Jessica Simpson ballads, instantly clearing the dance floor except for a fascination cross-section of the school’s Weird contingent, who went absolutely nuts. You can’t ask for better memories with a pop song than that.

And that’s it. I’m never writing about this song again. I’m not even going to proof-read this article, so I’m sorry if it has typos and uneven paragraphs and weird gaps in logic or whatnot. I’m done. From now until the 2100s, the only interaction I’m going to have with “House of Jealous Lovers” is losing my shit, controting my body in unimaginable ways and air-cowbelling to 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
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)
18. Interpol – “PDA
17. Justin Timberlake – “Rock Your Body
16. Vanessa Carlton – “A Thousand Miles
15. The Clipse – “Grindin‘”
14. Cam’Ron f/ Juelz Santana & Freekey Zeke – “Hey Ma
13. LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge
12. Soulja Boy – “Crank Dat Soulja Boy
11. StainD f/ Fred Dusrt – “Outside
10. Rihanna f/ Jay-Z – “Umbrella
9. Sum 41- “Fat Lip
8. R. Kelly – “Ignition (Remix)
7. Eminem f/ Dido – “Stan
6. Avril Lavigne – “Sk8er Boi
5. Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz f/ The Ying Yang Twins – “Get Low
4. The Rapture – “House of Jealous Lovers”

6 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #4. “SHAKE DOWWWWWWWWWN””

  1. Garret said

    That last paragraph had me thinking, “He did pretty well, actually. I read every word of this and not a single typo jumped out at me.”

    And then… “losing my shit, CONTROTING my body”

    A+

  2. Garret said

    Was really hoping the #4 entry would reveal what one of the three non-“House of Jealous Lovers” songs could possibly be, btw (=w=)

  3. MBI said

    Does not even come CLOSE to holding a candle to “Danger! High Voltage.”

  4. Garret said

    Wow.

  5. MKA said

    Yay: For a Stylus reunion. I miss their reviews.
    And yay: For a reminder of stupid Pitchfork moves. I wish they would make more. It’d be more fun to read.

  6. Ken said

    “In fact, when I recently submitted a singles list for an upcoming Stylus reunion decade-end countdown (that’s right, call your friends/newspaper/congressman, we’re getting the band back together)”

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Fuck yes, that’s awesome.

    This song’s great too of course😉

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