Monday, 3 January 2011

Teena Marie - Behind The Groove (1980/ No. 6/ 10 weeks/ Motown)

Behind the groove is behind the looking glass, a portal through which the listener is taken to a hyperreal state, where the fantastic things that are promised in songs appear to actually occur;

"Beee-hiiiind the groove!
There is another side inside of yoouuu...
Beee-hiiiind the groove!
We can make your wildest dreeeeams come true..."

This wonderland can be entered by uncertain mortals such as you and I, "Romance is just a glance away" if "we can put away our masquerade".

This being a song written and produced by Rick 'Superfreak' James these fantastic things are generally sexual... There's an element of James acting as a pimp in the fabulous records that he created for his female protegees, perhaps most blatantly in the Mary Jane Girls' stupendous 'All Night Long' album, with its sleeve of the foursome as a troupe of prostitutes on a backstreet corner (or possibly Marie's 'I'm Just A Sucker For Your Love', come to think of it) - even before you know the stories about him. This could (and perhaps even should) be construed as offensive, but the redeeming factor is just how extraordinary these records are, creating a freaky pornotopian landscape where both singer and listener are reconfigured as ideal sexual beings - "Another me and another you", in fact.

James manages to create this Ovid-like impression of magical transformation through the massive accretion of hooks, making you feel as though your listening to a dozen great records at once. Amongst the myriad aural pleasures that are crammed into these four minutes;

Some brassy stabs, a magician's shimmering percussion effect, the sound of glass shattering, a rhythm guitar riff that spirals away, a phat synth line that goes WUUUNNNG!, a referee's whistle, one amazing scat line from Teena - Shoob be do do! Shoob be do be bop!, handclaps, multitracked Teenas making happy party ad libs creating a party of dozens of Teenas, the most almighty bass arpeggio, the command to to "shakeyorbody - Shakeyorbody - SHAKEYORBODY! SHAKE!!" that would be the chorus in any other song, a WOO! WOO! siren, sexy Teena huh!huh!huh!huh! panting...

There are yet more. It's no wonder that Tina fades out with the most ecstatic "La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la! La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!" that you ever did hear.

You enter into a whole new world in this song, where things are done differently. A hall of mirrors where gorgeous hook upon glorious hook seems to refract back into infinity.

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