Stardust’s classic house track sounds better with this brilliant video, one of the best ever

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Music Sounds Better With You, one of the all-time great house tunes, is a simple but compelling looped affair featuring a powerful bass line beneath a sample of the guitar on Chaka Khan’s 1981 disco classic Fate.

Stardust were producers Thomas Bangalter (half of Daft Punk) and Alan Braxe, with singer Benjamin Diamond. The track was recorded at Daft House in Paris. Their only single, it was released in July 1998 and became an international hit, topping the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart and reaching No 1 in the Spanish charts and No 2 in the UK and Canada. In 2013, Mixmag readers voted it the sixth greatest dance track of all time (a list topped by Daft Punk). It’s been widely sampled, and featured in Grand Theft Auto V. There are various formats and mixes; this is the 6:49 12-inch version.

Listen to that, or better still dance to it, and (assuming you have ears and a pulse) you won’t deny it’s a great record – as one reviewer said, “irresistible and sublime”.

But there is something missing. Michel Gondry’s video takes the song, literally, on to a whole new plane.

We’re in Smallsville, Texas. A young boy escapes from his squabbling parents into his own world after they buy him a toy glider kit. As he begins work on the plane, the “Top 5 Hits” appear on the TV screen behind him. At No 5 Stardust, looking very cool in metallic suits and shades, standing on a cloud, a rainbow behind them, performing a song called Music Sounds Better With You; at No 4 it’s Samanthra (sic), with Luv on the Beach; No 3 is Dave Stavroz, with a song called Hotlipz; Monstarr Band are No 2 with Step On It; and at No 1 are Boogee Brotherz, performing Inferio. The boy is so absorbed in his task that he takes no notice of the show, or his parents’ continued bickering.

The next day, Tuesday 6th, there have been changes to the chart. Stardust are up to No 4, swapping places with Samanthra; the Monstarrs and Brotherz are down one, so presumably (although we don’t see it) Dave Stavroz is at No 1. For the first time, the boy takes a brief interest in the show.

It’s Wednesday 7th. Stavroz is down to No 3, his video a parody of Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love (Sexist? Or as Nigel puts it in This is Spinal Tap, “what’s wrong with being sexy?”).

Stardust, meanwhile, have reached No 2. The boy is now into the music, nodding away to that insistent beat. The plane is nearly finished.

The big day dawns. Friday 9th. At No 2, Keni, with Lust in My Head. And topping the charts: Stardust! As they reach No 1, the boy attaches a number 1 to the wings of the aircraft. Then it’s bedtime, when dreams take flight.

Next day, up early. The boy launches the magnificent orange glider. It soars, dips, soars again, effortlessly spanning the hillside. He gives chase. It’s hard to keep up as it flies so far, so fast. The plane lands on a cloud. It’s the same cloud Stardust were playing on in the video. And here they are. They seem to recognise the aircraft. After a brief consultation, they relaunch it. It flies back to the boy. A member of Stardust gives him a wave. He waves back.

This four-minute film, blurring the boundaries between factual and fictional, touches on strong, emotional themes. Loneliness and escapism. Flight and freedom. The power of music, and the people who make it, to take you to a different place. Witty and bittersweet, it is ultimately uplifting – as uplifting as a plane that glides ever higher, up and into the clouds.

Music Sounds Better With You is a great record. And it sounds even better with this wonderful video.

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‘Kathy, don’t! Debbie doesn’t! Mary won’t!’ How we chose our name, by The Contractions

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A three-piece power trio who considered calling themselves The Three-piece Power Trio, San Francisco’s The Contractions – Mary Kelley, Kathy Peck and Debbie Hopkins – were a terrific band who burned briefly but brightly at the beginning of the 1980s, with a great stage show that ranged from punk to poetry. Bart Bull, in his book Battle of the Band Names, calls them “astonishing and amazing and adventurous”.

Annette Jarvie, their manager, said: “Had they been easy to categorise, less edgy and more straight-ahead pop, they probably would’ve had a more commercial career like girl-bands The Go-Gos or The Bangles. But they wouldn’t have been The Contractions.” One reviewer called their act “unpredictable and therefore dangerous … always amazing”. This live performance from 1981 will give you an idea.

They have a cool website, where you can download a few songs. It contains one of my favourite descriptions (by Mary) of the at times accidental and chaotic way people decide what to call themselves.

How we got the name

We practised frequently. We had a storage space at the studio, so Debbie kept her drums, I kept my amp (another autobiography: “I, My Amp”), and Kathy her bass rig, a largish thing, an Acoustic, some name like that, maybe an Ampeg.

Well, in the heat of our loud, loud, loud rehearsals, Kathy would turn to her amp, to sip her tea, or dig in her purse puddled upon the amp, and that hollow body Hofner would start to feedback, building from a low hmmm, building building HMMMM building HHHMMMMMWHOOOOEEEEEEE whereupon Debbie and I would yell “Kathy! Don’t!”

We were, at that time, looking for a name, using the age-old practice of anything that came to mind. For example: The Three-piece Power Trio, The Ass Kickers, the Drip Coffee Cones, the Loofas, the Car Keys, the Left Turn Indicators, the I Can’t Park Here It’s Illegal I’ll Get A Ticket Oh Fuckit I’m Immortals, etcetera, the Etceteras. Etcetera. “Etcetera” a Celtic Metal band. Lots of dry ice …

It was maddening.

“Kathy! Don’t!”

“The Contractions?”

Lots of laughter. “Kathy, Don’t, Debbie Doesn’t, Mary Won’t!” Haw, haw, haw. Tee hee. Giggle. Giggle.

At that very moment, another musician opened the door to our room, and said: “You guys sound good, what’s your name?”

We looked at each other, and answered: “The Contractions.”

Tada.

Kathy Peck, who suffered tinnitus and hearing loss as a result of playing live, later formed a non-profit organisation called H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), with initial funding from fellow sufferer Pete Townshend of The Who.

Note: there has never been a band, so far as And And! And: the Ultimate Guide to Band Names is aware, called The Loofas. There is, however, another band called The Contractions, a group of “hard-rocking economists” from Madison, Wisconsin. They describe themselves as “Madison’s worst band”.

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Boogie Nights to Thriller: Rod Temperton, the soul genius most fans have never heard of

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Along with the unbearably sad deaths of David Bowie, Prince and George Michael in 2016, we also lost a musician and composer whose songs have almost certainly been heard by even more people than those much-missed stars – yet most of them would not even recognise his name.

I’m talking about Rod Temperton, who composed the title track of the biggest-selling album of all time: Michael Jackson’s Thriller (an estimated 65 million sales worldwide). He also wrote Baby Be Mine and The Lady in My Life for that album, and three songs on its predecessor, Rock With You, Burn This Disco Out and the title track, Off the Wall.

He may have kept a low profile, but Rod’s success brought him homes in Los Angeles, the south of France, Switzerland and Fiji, a long way from his origins in Cleethorpes, an unglamorous seaside town in Lincolnshire, where he was born in 1949. After leaving school (where he had played drums in his first group) he worked at a frozen fish factory in nearby Grimsby before moving to Germany in the 1970s to work as a touring keyboard player, forming a soul covers band, Soul Carousel, with guitarist Bernd Springer.

Then in 1974 he replied to an ad placed in Melody Maker by Johnnie Wilder Jr, a former US serviceman. The resulting disco-funk outfit, Chicago’s Heatwave, soon simply Heatwave, released their first album in 1977 and Rod’s superb Boogie Nights reached No 2 on both sides of the Atlantic. (He’s the skinny white bloke on the right.)

The follow-up, Always and Forever, was another big hit and a fine second album, Central Heating (featuring The Groove Line and the sublime The Star of a Story), followed. After that Rod left Heatwave, though continuing to write for them, to join ace producer Quincy Jones’s team working on Off the Wall. Engineer Bruce Swedien called Temperton “the most disciplined pop music composer I’ve ever met – when he comes to the studio, every musical detail is written down or accounted for in Rod’s mind“.

The soul for getting down: Rod Temperton with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson

It was time for the next album. Rod recalled in a 2006 interview (entitled “The Invisible Man”) with BBC Radio 2: “Quincy said, ‘Well, you came up with the title of the last album, see what you can do for this album.’ I went back to the hotel. I wrote two or three hundred titles for this song.” One option was Midnight Man, another Starlight. Then Thriller came to him. “Something in my head just said ‘this is the title’. You could visualise it at the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as Thriller. I wrote all the words very quickly, then went to the studio and we did it.”

It was Temperton’s idea to use a horror film star to do the spoken word section at the end of the song. Jones’s wife was a friend of Vincent Price, who got the job (for a flat fee of $20,000, a decision he may later have come to regret). Rod wrote the words in a cab on his way to the recording session in Los Angeles, at which he and Greg Phillinganes created the song’s compelling bassline by playing two Minimoogs in unison. The album, of course, was a sensational success.

As well as his work with Jackson there were big Temperton-composed hits for artists ranging from George Benson, with Give Me the Night (1980), and Patti Austin and James Ingram, with Baby, Come to Me (1981), along with many others. Temperton received two Oscar nominations in 1986 for contributions to The Color Purple. He also won a Grammy in 1991.

It seems almost incredible that a white working-class English boy should develop such a feel for disco, soul and funk that he was able to work so successfully with some of the all-time greats of black music like Jackson, Jones and Benson. It’s a unique career trajectory. Bruce Swedien said of his first listen to a Heatwave album: “Holy cow! I simply loved Rod’s musical feeling. Everything about it – Rod’s arrangements, his tunes, his songs – was exceedingly hip.”

It wasn’t Thriller that made Michael Jackson a star, but it was Thriller that made him perhaps the biggest star on the planet. Certainly it’s impossible to imagine the album, the video, and Jackson’s subsequent career having such an impact without its title track and best-known song. But while Thriller may have been Rod Temperton’s biggest success, I think his best song is Rock With You. Sheer, coruscating, brilliance, complemented by the perfect lyric (and epitaph) … and when the groove is dead and gone, you know that love survives, so we can rock for ever.

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