First and foremost, Talkhouse Contributing Writer Liam Wilson is a good vibe technician. He’s known to moonlight as an avid psychonaut and enjoys occasional visits with his worldly possessions in Philadelphia. He spends most of his time wandering Earth in an endless pursuit of a clearer understanding of all things bass-frequency related with his band the Dillinger Escape Plan. Follow him on: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Every summer, there’s that song. The song that’s everywhere, that defines those sunny days and balmy nights, the one you’ll always associate with a specific time and place. This week, Talkhouse writers talk their song of the summer of 2013.
— the editors of the Talkhouse
Do I even need to try to convince anyone that “Get Lucky” is the summer song of 2013? Like it or not, it was the song of summer halfway into the spring. This song is bigger than the sum of its already larger-than-life parts, and we can easily quantify its chart successes and quiet the discussion there, but the song sings for itself, on deservedly deeper levels. Like avoiding your serving of vegetables, I suspect if you aren’t moved by this gospel according to the patron saints of pop, it’s clearly an issue with you, not the music or its makers.
“Get Lucky” is not a song “about” summer the way the DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” is, nor is it as lightweight, but I suspect it will change all summers from now on by solidifying itself into the popular music lexicon like fossilized limestone. I can’t seem to go anywhere right now without hearing this song. Usually, after this amount of repeated exposure, the common side effect would be an almost allergic reaction to it, but in this case I don’t change the station, I turn it up. The minor chord progression leaves me feeling subliminally unresolved, so I play it again. I’ve caught myself, and those around me, casually humming something only to realize it’s these French-kissed melodies giving us some tongue and nibbling at our ears.
I was at a hot and sweaty outdoor wedding a few weeks ago, near the end of a protracted and fading reception, when the DJ sprung this song on us. I witnessed a whole cadre of old folks and their unvaccinated grandkids get up and dance as if infected by the beat of this relatively unfamiliar song. They freaked to “Get Lucky” as if it were the new “Electric Slide” — but that’s not to suggest the song is that cheesy, only that the unsolicited reactions to it are that viral; its osmotic instructions are that instinctual: “Hey you, we’re here to have fun! Get Lucky!” That wedding scene is just one of the random memories I’m forever going to associate with this song, which reveals another piece of the puzzle: the ability of great songs to instantly beam you back to happy times in happy places faster than smell can. I predict this will be the common side effect of repeated listens to this and the rest of Random Access Memories. Floating like atomic particles existing about 40 years in the past and the future simultaneously, the tempered pulse of “Get Lucky” is undeniably primal, and palatable to anyone with a pulse — which suggests not so much its musical merits as the depths of its grooves, grooves the likes of which I haven’t heard since MJ’s Off the Wall and scorching jams like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” (or every Earth, Wind & Fire hit).
I’m guessing everyone who’s heard the song knows within a few syllables that it’s Pharrell handling the vocal duties, and I’m sure everyone under 40 who wasn’t already in the know has Googled Nile Rodgers by now. That caliber of personnel tells you this is not music made by amateurs who stumbled on a hit; this is the calculated work of musicians who understand the rewards of achieving commercial success without sacrificing artistic merit. As far as the rest of the mix is concerned, even the most jaded and uninitiated listeners alike know on a meta-level that these are not the kind of canned sounds you get from the factory presets on your trial version of GarageBand. These are the clandestine recipes of modern alchemists who have spent most of their lives tweaking knobs to achieve a level of production we’ve never before been capable of capturing, and will take most of us aficionados light years to digest. These robots aren’t faking the funk; this is the funk! They didn’t try to make someone else ape Nile Rodgers or Pharrell, they just got both of them.
Regardless of how outspoken Pharrell has been about the spontaneous way his lyrics and performance came about — to the point where he didn’t remember what he did until he heard the final product — for me, that only reinforces the theory that great songs like this aren’t made so much as they’re the product of some sort of divine possession: sacred artifacts captured out of thin air, channeled through some cosmic funnel, carved out by teeth cut by years of rumination on a single act of servitude. That’s the essence of the lyrics, and the quintessential vibe of this song at its core: we’ve worked hard to get here — now lose yourself, suspend your disbelief and celebrate all the potential we’ve cultivated as a species. Let us steep in these frequencies that connect us to the people, places and things that make up your respective “now.”
I might be too scientific or analytic in my enjoyment of most popular music. I often look back on my own decision to pursue music as being as profound an event as the bite out of Eden’s apple, or a sip from Alice’s ticket to Wonderland. I yearned to be reborn at the crossroads; but ever since, I’ve practically lost my ability to hear music for the sake of sound. I’m too busy listening for something: some new texture, or trick. I’m performing a living autopsy in real time with my third ear. I’m pulling away the layers; reverse-engineering the genius behind every component — and there are so many in “Get Lucky.”
I’ve spent some time playing along to this song with my bass like a scalpel, carving into it, and the rest of the songs on Random Access Memories. Consequently, I was curious who played bass on the track. My first guess was Nathan Watts, best known for his work with Stevie Wonder, but ironically it’s Nathan East, another powerhouse name in the music business, and the man who literally wrote the book on the business of bass. “Get Lucky” is engaging on what I like to call the “insect dentistry” level, and I suspect it is for other musicians and producers alike. Yet just as easily as I get sucked in, with the right set and setting, I can beam myself back out and enjoy its superficial charms without my mind getting all tangled up in it.
Like the best parts of the disco era they’re poaching from, “Get Lucky” and indeed all of Random Access Memories is dance music made primarily by human hands playing real instruments — but those same gatekeepers aren’t afraid to get dirty mixing in the futuristic electronic elements Daft Punk has already made their mark with. That degree of retro-restraint has left room for the song to be remixed even further into the future by numerous disciples. It wouldn’t surprise me if I eventually catch live bands covering it with their own “old-school” brand of analog remixing. That’s one of the truest marks of a great song: its elasticity, its translatability. For a song to be truly timeless, it needs a lifespan of its own which often outlives its makers and molds. Otherwise, it’s just a track, a manufactured consumable to be lost and forgotten.
Daft Punk raised the bar by light-years with “Get Lucky” and it’ll take generations simply to catch up to it. Fortunately, it’s sexy enough to contribute to the conception of said generations with a feverishness hot enough to melt ice caps. So let’s pour another ladle on the rocks and keep this party burning… or cremate ourselves trying!
Feeling lucky? I am, actually.