Wednesday, July 23, 2014

TMFW 46 - "Vanilla," Indeed.

 
Today is a (Possibly) TMFW, in that the "F" is not a "fact" per se but instead a persistent and fun rumor (or "rumour," as we are dealing with Brit Pop). 
 
1997 was not a great year for British pop music. The Spice Girls had three number one songs - none of which are the one that you know (or even the two other ones that you know if you are a Spice Girls fan from back in the day) - Elton John's dreadful "Candle in the Wind"/Princess Diana song was the biggest hit of the year, and the Teletubbies had a #1 song for two weeks in December. 
 
Against that backdrop, the Brit Pop girl band Vanilla is less of a shock.  But it is no less terrible. The band - four women, all in their late teens/early 20s, with a blond, a brunette, and even a big-haired quasi-readhead - were a pretty blatant attempt at a Spice Girls knockoff.  (And in that respect, even the name Vanilla seems derivative.)  But cheap knockoffs of popular trends are as old as music.  What makes Vanilla interesting is that they were allegedly created out of a cynical bet: two British music veterans at the time are said to have wagered over whether they could create a group and a song that were objectively terrible, yet still score a hit record.  One of the two alleged bettors was none other than Simon Cowell, whose father was an executive at EMI (the label that released Vanilla) and who at the time was in A&R with another major label in Britain.
 
The end result was Vanilla's track "No Way No Way," an adaptation of the "Mah Na Mah Na" song that was made famous by the Muppets.  The song is barely-sung - in large part, it is recited rather than sung - and repetitive, and features lyrics like "if you tempt with your charms (ah) you can hold me in your arms (ah) but if you force yourself on me (ah) things are gonna get nasty."  The video (at the link above) is the women in bathing suits, seemingly with mirrors reflecting the sun right into their faces, working through awkward choreography and mugging for the camera.  The cover for the record looks to have been quickly made in MS Paint.
 
Amazingly, though, the two A&R guys were right.  They could turn garbage into a hit.  "No Way No Way" spent 8 weeks on the charts in Britain and made it all the way to 14.  
 
++++++++++++
 
BONUS FACT:  The original "Mah Nà Mah Nà" was not done by the Muppets.  Far from it.  The song was written by the film composer Piero Umiliani for the 1968 Italian softcore film Sweden: Heaven and Hell.  Here is an excerpt from the song's appearance in the film; it is from YouTube and is safe for work (but your cube-mate might give you some looks). 
 
BONUS FACT 2:  Vanilla's follow-up, "True to Us," spent only two weeks on the charts and hit only 36.  It's about a million times better than "No Way No Way," but is still pretty brutal.  After that second single, the band broke up.

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