My initial plan for this week's installment came a cropper when I realised one of the songs I was going to use was a cover version! One of those covers that's probably more famous than the original, but still, I decided to shelve it until I had a chance to re-evaluate my own rules and decide if it's fair game. In the meantime, let's get a bit physical, extend our hands and arms outward and/or upward, and use our muscles to exert pressure.
Push It by Salt-N-Pepa
The emergence of American rap in the 1980s took so long to trickle down to my Australian white girl ears, it was the 1990s by the time it got there. And it was radio-friendly rap too. I don’t pretend to know what the letters in N.W.A. stand for, but by jingo I can give you a good karaoke rendition of Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-Lot.
My first introduction to the first female rap supergroup Salt-N-Pepa was 1991’s educational masterpiece Let’s Talk About Sex (and I’ve got a whole other blog post to write about how glad I am that was a song of my youth). My favourite song of theirs is 1994’s saucy yet chic Shoop. But there’s no doubt the song that made their name was 1988’s Push It.
The version of the song that we know and love was a remix of a B-side released a year earlier, written by Hurby Azor. Its famous riff is instantly recognisable, as is the breathy refrain “Ahh, push it” and brassy “Push it real good!” rejoinder. And you can’t resist yelling along to that bridge: “BOY you really got me going/You got me SO/I don’t know what I’m doing”. No dance floor or aerobics class is complete without Push It.
Lyrically, it’s a pretty simple message. “Can’t you hear the music’s pumping hard like I wish you would?” It wasn’t the first, nor the last song to compare vertical dancing to its horizontal cousin, but it sure it one of the most memorable. That’s helped by the classic 80s recorded live performance video clip – with the girls resplendent in matching black unitards, big boots and custom letterman jackets. Salt and Pepa work the floor, dancing awkwardly around their microphone cords, while DJ Spinderella spins the wheels of steel, and occasionally claps off-beat. It’s brash, it’s bold, it’s unapologetic, it’s female, and it’s fun.
Push It by Garbage
A favourite band of mine, I once got to meet Shirley Manson backstage at an ill-fated stadium rock festival held by a radio station I once worked for. I remember she was a slight thing, with very bold features, a lovely accent, and a good sense of humour. It was a great finish to a day that also involved meeting comedian Frank Woodley and seeing the lead singer of Nickelback slightly out of punching distance. But enough of me name dropping.
Push It was the first single of Garbage’s second album, Version 2.0. It was the late 1990s, and everything was getting versioned. Remember Windows 98? Me neither. But I remember Manson’s distinctive, grungy voice, kept low most of the time, but released to full epic range in some of the band’s trickier bridges and choruses.
The song’s dreamy verses evoke desire and possibly a hint of regret about those desires. There’s the languid reassurance of “Don’t worry baby/Don’t be uptight”, before the song snaps back to reality (“This is the noise that keeps me awake/My head explodes and my body aches”) and fires a rocket into the chorus of “Push it/Make the beats go harder”.
There’s some lovely aural play at work in this song. I just wish I knew what the instruments were so I could be more erudite. I’m guessing guitar, keyboards and some tricky electronica whizz-bangery, which helps keep the song pulsing and winding up to those fantastic choruses.
The video clip is bizarre and fantastical; playing on surrealist art, religious imagery and horror movie themes. The conjoined twin alien girls make me think Lady Gaga would have watched this clip when she was in her early teens… and remembered it. I’m not sure definitively what it’s all about, but anything that starts in a supermarket and ends in a graveyard is generally good value.
Interesting factoid: Garbage officially credited The Beach Boys for the “Don’t worry baby” refrain, as well as Hurby Azor for the almost-whispered “Push it” line, concerned it could be seen as a copy of the aforementioned Salt-N-Pepa song!
Verdict: Another tough one for me. I enjoy both of these songs, but they’re not my absolute favourites by either band. I love the dance-a-bility of Salt-N-Pepa, but Garbage does make you feel like a supervillain or an otherworldly entity or something. So I think the 90s alternate grunge just edges out the 80s rap this time. But if anyone else ever does a song called Baby Got Back, you’re gonna lose.