12 March 2017, No. 244, M, ‘Pop Muzik’

I’ve always thought of this as a silly one-off studio project, and in some ways it was, but the guy behind the M, Robin Scott, had been writing songs since the sixties and owned a record label before he hit it big with No. 244, M’s “Pop Muzik.” Given Scott’s history, his sardonic delivery of the song’s hook makes sense; he’d earned his jadedness by 1979.

The album Scott wrote to carry “Pop Muzik” was recorded in Montreux in a studio owned by the band Queen. David Bowie lived in Montreux at the time and stopped by the studio to contribute some hand claps here and there. The album also featured the drumming of Phil Gould, a member of Level 42, which band we featured last time at No. 243.

Listeners astute and non-, provided they’re of a certain age, may recognize the bassline from Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” over which Huey Lewis and the News sued for copyright infringement given the similarity to “I Want a New Drug.” Both owe a debt to “Pop Muzik,” and if I felt like belaboring the point, I’d make a little mashup to demonstrate. But I don’t, so I won’t.

The inclusion of Munich in the lyrics is strange. New York, London, and Paris being bastions of music and fashion, one expects Berlin if a German city at all, but that screws up the rhyme scheme, making Munich an inevitability, I suppose. I once fell asleep in a train car en route to Berlin from Rome, but the car I chose was near the back of the train, and it got left behind in Munich while the cars in the front carried on to Berlin. Waking up to the calls of frustrated German train clearers—“München,” seemed to be all they could or would say—was confusing and disheartening. Waiting for the next train would have been totally miserable too except there were veggie burgers at German Burger King, a real novelty to a Midwestern teenager in 1999.

Before I go back to living in my disco, there are some timbres we should cover here, starting with Brigit Novik’s voice in the backup vocals. I’m sure the folks responsible for VH1’s Pop Up Video theme music had her in mind when recording their little jingle. Then there’s that guitar with what sounds like phaser, maybe, and a touch of tremolo. Maybe just the tremolo. It reminds me of cowboy sounds, The Reverend Horton Heat, riding horses on a mesa, and the cover of Invisible Man’s Band Really Wanna See You LP. The organ-like synth sound in the intro is enormous and lush, but it’s not in time with the rest of the song, so it doesn’t mix on the beat, which is a disappointment but can’t detract from the sonority of the synth.

Anyway, radio video, boogie with a suitcase. Mix me a Molotov, forget about the rat race.