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Friday, January 21, 2005
ROCK 'N' ROLL BON MOTS #027
In Prince's "U Got the Look," for the entire length of the song, there is a kick drum on the 1st and 3rd beats, and a snare on the 2nd and 4th. The entire way. It does not stop, even for a bar. And yet, there are changes in the song, shifts and variations and distinct sections, while nevertheless having the same basic beat the entire way through.
Now, on a certain level this is not uncommon--many things have the same beat the entire way through. But what's fascinating is what Prince does with it to evince variation. For instance, in dance music, generally there will be the same arrangement for four bars, and then a shift; either that, or a slow build by one or more elements over a number of bars that's divisible by 4. But what Prince does here is take this very basic kick-snare pattern and just surround it with small bursts of almost random percussion that don't follow any discernable pattern aside from the rise and fall within microsections of the song. So while there's this kick-snare going on, at any given moment there will be rototoms, or a free-jazzish out-of-time burst of high hat, or a timbales freakout. It's amazing, another formal test that maybe no one noticed but Prince--but he sure did. It's a very simple song, with the only constant being the bassline, which follows basically a blues progression; at the end, the processed guitar starts to play some more focused lines, but until then, it's pretty noodley in a restrained and sporadic way. But the song holds together, and it is in fact a great pop song, not despite, but because of this.