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and the moon and stars were the gifts you gave
June 4, 2012 5:19 AM   Subscribe

The long and rather surprising history of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, penned in 1957 by British singer/songwriter Ewan MacColl, has just taken another bold and dramatic turn with Erykah Badu and the Flaming Lips' starkly powerful cover of the song. Oh, and in the accompanying video, they've most certainly upped the ante as far as edgy eroticism in pop music goes, with Badu's sister Nayrok pushing the envelope into the stratosphere. Nota bene: explicit nudity. [NSFW]
posted by flapjax at midnite (82 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, man. She's gonna be finding glitter for weeks. and uh, dried jam? Please let that be jam.
posted by misfish at 5:32 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought the same thing about the glitter. I hope there isn't a piece of carpet for 100 yards in any direction.
posted by jquinby at 5:33 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mmmm. Royal icing.
posted by misfish at 5:34 AM on June 4, 2012


Yeah, that gives me the shivers. My nipper lightly sprinkled an industrial sized tub of glitter all over every room of my house about a year ago, and I still occasionally find bits of it attached to me.
posted by bifter at 5:41 AM on June 4, 2012


"Western Esotericism"?

Also, flashed back to Ann-Margaret rolling around in baked beans in Tommy.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:43 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


It used to be such a tender, romantic gesture, but they're using bukakke to sell everything these days.
posted by Flashman at 5:48 AM on June 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


How could you write the line "the first time ever I saw your face I thought the sun rose in your eyes" and then complain that someone sang it in a histrionic manner?
posted by misfish at 5:53 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are numerous covers on youtube by people like Roberta Flack, Johnny Cash, and Celine Dion, but most lack the bukkake reference.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:10 AM on June 4, 2012


Jesus. That sucked.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:12 AM on June 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


For TV-viewing Americans of a certain demographic, this song is forever ruined by Oil of Olay commercials.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:16 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Profoundly influenced by Interior Semiotics, I think.

I bet it was a bitch to get that glitter out of all her folds and crevices.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:19 AM on June 4, 2012


gra·tu·i·tous/grəˈt(y)o͞oitəs/
Adjective:
Uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted.
Given or done free of charge.
posted by spicynuts at 6:41 AM on June 4, 2012


I was also reminded of the sex scene in Man Who Fell to Earth. But not in a good way.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:42 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I fear for the pop singers of tomorrow - who will need to do anal or bestiality to get a rise out of anyone.
posted by Trurl at 6:43 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I bet she'll be getting a lot of Flack for this.
posted by hal9k at 6:43 AM on June 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


I thought that was quite amazing.
posted by svenni at 6:45 AM on June 4, 2012


I'm quite fond of that song, for all that it's shmaltzy, and we're big Ewan MacColl fans in our house (or at least my husband is) but I had no idea MacColl had written it.
posted by immlass at 6:46 AM on June 4, 2012


I had no idea MacColl had written it.

That's what I'm here for, immlass. At your service.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:47 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was absolute shite.
posted by damnitkage at 6:52 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I much prefer Way Out West's take on the original.
posted by empath at 7:17 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess this means we'll be seeing her in a porno next. I mean really...how much of the envelope is there left to push now?
posted by Quasimike at 7:18 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I much prefer Way Out West's take on the original.
posted by empath at 7:17 AM on June 4 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


You and me both!
posted by tantrumthecat at 7:27 AM on June 4, 2012


Ewan MacColl's daughter was the late, great Kirsty.
posted by Man-Thing at 7:27 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I fear for the pop singers of tomorrow - who will need to do anal or bestiality to get a rise out of anyone.

As someone who just watched the first two episodes of Black Mirror I find this comment speaks to me.
posted by Mezentian at 7:30 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not so erotic...

She had man hands.
posted by Samizdata at 7:34 AM on June 4, 2012


I prefer Cintytalk's version.
posted by the bricabrac man at 7:35 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gordon has such a fantastic voice.
posted by Mezentian at 7:37 AM on June 4, 2012


I'd really like to head off the conversation in which everyone starts criticizing her body parts.
posted by hermitosis at 7:38 AM on June 4, 2012 [14 favorites]


Glitter? Check.
Fake blood? Check.
Naked lady? Check.
Girl in a bathtub? Check.

All par for the course as far as the Flaming Lips go. The only surprising thing in this video is the fake semen. I wonder if Wayne will start covering himself with that onstage?
posted by buriednexttoyou at 7:39 AM on June 4, 2012


How about that Rammstein video where it pretty much /was/ a porno. Pussy, I believe it was called...
posted by owlrigh at 7:41 AM on June 4, 2012


I'm pretty sure that the woman and the substances/colors in the video are meant to indicate the four classical alchemical stages: nigredo (blackness), citrinitas (yellowing), rubedo (redness), and albedo (whiteness).
posted by hermitosis at 7:45 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that the woman and the substances/colors in the video are meant to indicate the four classical alchemical stages: nigredo (blackness), citrinitas (yellowing), rubedo (redness), and albedo (whiteness).

Then she could have made her point by wearing some lovely frocks in those colors, hermitosis:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:58 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why, what's wrong with being naked?

Anyhow, that wouldn't have been very "Holy Mountain," would it?
posted by hermitosis at 8:02 AM on June 4, 2012


Video aside, the sound of this cover was pretty disappointing. Zero subtlety, stripping away the intimacy and emotion of the song for me.
posted by tunewell at 8:06 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


she could have made her point by wearing some lovely frocks in those colors

Get yer frocks off.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:07 AM on June 4, 2012


Zero subtlety, stripping away the intimacy and emotion of the song for me.

The iconic version with which everyone is so familiar (Roberta Flack's of course) is, as far as pop music goes, the essence of subtlety. It'd be pretty hard to top that, in the subtlety department. So I can see where the Lips would want to do, yeah, something else.

Otherwise, generally speaking, *subtlety* is not exactly the currency of pop music, is it?

Just saying.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:14 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was odd. I guess, sonically, that was a little too spare for me.

There went my hipster credentials.
posted by epilnivek at 8:29 AM on June 4, 2012


This song will forever be Roberta Flack's, sorry.

Empath - thanks for the link to the Way Out West remix. Being members of the half-century club, I don't get into many lounges, but I love a good trippy track. Great music to write code by.

Musically, this version from Erykah Badu and the Flaming Lips seems to strip away the lyricism and simplicity of the song. It sounds mostly like some amateurish studio experiments, though the sound builds to these pretty interesting "cascades".

Video... interesting, a little disturbing and not a little gratuitious. I don't think many will get or appreciate the "four classical alchemical stages" if that truly was the inspiration. To me, the video has little connection with the moments expressed in the song.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:34 AM on June 4, 2012


youtube link? i can't do vimeo. it pains me.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:59 AM on June 4, 2012


How could you write the line "the first time ever I saw your face I thought the sun rose in your eyes" and then complain that someone sang it in a histrionic manner?

I guess the point would be that the line is dramatic enough without trying to oversell it.
posted by yoink at 9:06 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't believe that I call myself a Ewan McColl fan, without ever knowing that a) he wrote "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and b) he wrote it for Peggy Seeger while he was still married to Jean. Well, damn.
posted by bakerina at 9:23 AM on June 4, 2012


It's hard to take this video seriously. It reads (visually, and, arguably, musically) pretty much like a parody. But, then, the Flaming Lips do not really want to be taken seriously. Except when they do ("Do You Realize" ..."that everyone you know - someday - will die.")
posted by kozad at 9:24 AM on June 4, 2012


Get yer frocks off.

Phwoar!
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:33 AM on June 4, 2012


I’m pretty surprised and slightly confused at the allusions to porn, including anal sex and bestiality, about a video featuring nothing more shocking than a naked woman. There are many places on the internet I would expect that kind of comment, this is not generally one of them.
posted by bongo_x at 9:34 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


nothing more shocking than a naked woman

Perhaps you missed the blood and cum?
posted by tigrefacile at 9:36 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The most important thing for any music video to have is visual motion that compliments and augments the rhythm and sonic motion of the song. In that regard, this video is very successful.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:39 AM on June 4, 2012


I thought the Erykah Badu version (and the video) was pretty good, and interesting since I haven’t cared for the song before.
posted by bongo_x at 9:42 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dear heavens, she's beautiful.
posted by ersatzkat at 10:09 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


All par for the course as far as the Flaming Lips go. The only surprising thing in this video is the fake semen.

I think semen is the next step up after Wayne directed the "Round & Round" video for Ariel Pink that includes a tub of "the breast milk of 30 women." Man loves his bodily fluids.
posted by naju at 10:18 AM on June 4, 2012


I kept waiting for something more to happen than naked woman in bathtub covered in crap, then they repeated it.-in another color! Then some grey beard came on with a cigarette in his mouth.

Was there something profound here I missed?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:44 AM on June 4, 2012


The most shocking thing for me was the cigarette. People smoke without shame?
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:08 AM on June 4, 2012


Then some grey beard came on with a cigarette in his mouth.

Dude has man hands.
posted by mazola at 11:22 AM on June 4, 2012


I (smugly) did know Ewan wrote it; always liked his other love ballad, Sweet Thames, Flow Softly (Planxty's version linked) too.
posted by Abiezer at 11:24 AM on June 4, 2012


I hate this song. It would play every morning while I was having breakfast before going to school. This and "Will You Marry Me, Bill?" meant another day of misery in PS 179.
posted by Splunge at 11:49 AM on June 4, 2012


I'm waiting for their cover of this.
posted by mr vino at 12:09 PM on June 4, 2012


Then some grey beard came on with a cigarette in his mouth.

And he didn't even point me towards a word of power.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:19 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought it was beautiful, though I could give a care about the song itself. For me, it worked: Getting lost in the spectacle of this beautiful body covered in glitter, then reacting to the quasi-blood (but still seeing the beautiful body beneath), and then grossed out in another way by the quasi-semen (degrading the beautiful body beneath it?).

They're playing with the bukkake thing in a way that maybe I"m making too much of -- the huge smile while covered with fake semen -- it's sort of a subversion of the usual strained grimace the woman is making while she's trying to keep cum out of her eyes.

But then, maybe I'm overthinking it.
posted by angrycat at 12:52 PM on June 4, 2012


This version is giving me shades of Minnie Riperton.
posted by hermitosis at 1:06 PM on June 4, 2012


I kept waiting for something more to happen than naked woman in bathtub covered in crap, then they repeated it.-in another color! Then some grey beard came on with a cigarette in his mouth.

Was there something profound here I missed?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 6:44 PM on June 4 [+] [!]


What's the opposite of Eponysterical again?
posted by Grangousier at 1:19 PM on June 4, 2012


My thoughts as I watched it:

* Glitter? Christ, she's going to be in the shower in two years and still be seeing flakes of it, and dreading to think where it might have been hiding.
* Red...syrup? Ketchup? That looks like ketchup. Is there something that's red and goopy I wouldn't get the heaves being coated in? No. Props.
* White...looks like icing. Does icing stay that liquidy at anything other than really hot temperatures? Ow. I like icing...would I want to ever see it again if I was covered in it? Probably not. Wait, is this a semen allusion? That's a lot of semen, at least the quantity emitted nightly by the sophomore class at an average-sized high school. Wow.

All that said, I didn't find it very erotic. I love looking at beautiful women in the altogether, but it just didn't seem very sexual to me.

Divorced from the video, I'm not sure the cover did anything for me. Not awful, but I don't think it really brought anything to the party.
posted by maxwelton at 1:32 PM on June 4, 2012


While appreciating the beauty of Roberta Flack's voice, I always feel that her interpretation is just too pretty for what are, frankly, quite creepy lyrics. TFTEISYF is the anthem of a psychopathic stalker drifting between reality and fantasy (you're doubting this, aren't you? Just go and reread the lyrics) and there needs to be some reflection of that in the vocals or production.

This cover manages that quite well, but it doesn't approach what you hear at about 38:30 of Coldcut's (sublime) Journeys by DJ, where Joanna Law's already haunting acapella is mixed with some Luke Slater to create the perfect soundtrack to be sung over your sleeping form by your deranged lover as s/he holds aloft a kitchen knife.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:50 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Red...syrup? Ketchup? That looks like ketchup. Is there something that's red and goopy I wouldn't get the heaves being coated in? No. Props.

I'm guessing it might be corn syrup with red food coloring, which I read somewhere can be used in movies as fake blood. It certainly seems to have the consistency of corn syrup.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:44 PM on June 4, 2012


Dude flashes a Casio VL-Tone in the video. But I didn't hear that: "Dee-DootDoot-DootDoot-Dooot-DeeDee..."
posted by ovvl at 5:06 PM on June 4, 2012


Dude flashes a Casio VL-Tone in the video. But I didn't hear that: "Dee-DootDoot-DootDoot-Dooot-DeeDee..."

It's actually a (sexy, sexy) OP-1. The aesthetics of it are heavily inspired by the VL-Tone, though!
posted by naju at 5:13 PM on June 4, 2012


It was covered by the Smothers Brothers!!
posted by unliteral at 5:28 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks naju. Does that mean that I want one now?
posted by ovvl at 5:29 PM on June 4, 2012


Hmmm.... Never liked Roberta Flack's version. Never even knew who Ewan MacColl was, though now that I hear he's some celtic folky dude, I guess I don't really care. Not a huge fan of The Flaming Lips, though they have had their moments. AND not really a follower of Erykah Badu. Having said all of that I rather liked this version of the song. Droney-stoner goodness. I think I could do without the reference to blood in the video though.
posted by evilDoug at 9:17 PM on June 4, 2012


[Derailing comment/responses deleted. Guys, if you would all flag instead of responding, the "I don't care about this" comment could be gone, and discussion could carry on about the actual post topic.]
posted by taz at 11:06 PM on June 4, 2012


Scene 1: Glitter - not that bad
Scene 2: Blood - eww
Scene 3: **gag**
posted by swooz at 8:11 PM on June 5, 2012


What the what was that monster hand the guy was beating on? That part was a bit more surreal to me than some naked lady enjoying her various unguents.
posted by pomegranate at 3:27 AM on June 6, 2012


This afternoon, Wayne Coyne issued a kind of apology. Here's a highlight ...
The video link that was erroneously posted on Pitchfork by the Flaming Lips of the Music Video ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’, which features Erykah Badu, is unedited and unapproved.. Sorry!!
And now, Ms Erykah Badu is crying foul ... and calling Wayne Coyne an ass. The whole screed is damning and awesome, but it goes a bit like this ...
I never would have approved that tasteless, meaningless, shock motivated video .
Our art is a reflection of who we are . I have no connection to those images shot in their raw version. I was interested in seeing an amazing edit that would perhaps change or alter my thoughts . Never happened
[...]
Consequently, brother, As a human I am disgusted with your what appears to be desperation and poor execution. And disregard for others . As a director I am unimpressed . As a sociologist I understand your type. As your fellow artist I am uninspired. As a woman I feel violated and underestimated.
Hope it works out for ya ,Wayne.
Damn.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:55 PM on June 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Whoa!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:10 PM on June 6, 2012


Blimey! What a stuff up.
posted by unliteral at 7:47 PM on June 6, 2012


I’d be taking her side, but just trying to read that message makes me think she must be wrong about something, anything. Don’t write "b4" unless your name is Prince and it’s the 80’s. It makes it really hard to have any respect for the message when it’s written like that. (and I don’t care if it was chiseled in stone and sent by faxtrola)
posted by bongo_x at 9:15 PM on June 6, 2012


That video was shot near my house. Should've stopped in.

Badu doesn't exactly have a reputation around these parts as someone who is easy to work with, well-grounded, or even very likable. Should Coyne have released the video without her consent? No, probably not. Should Badu and her sister have shot a video where a nude woman is covered in a cum-like substance, then publicly moan about artistic merit when her fanbase starts complaining? I'm seeing an awesome Judge Judy episode here.
posted by item at 9:50 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


And yeah, the spelling and grammar in that message are embarrassing.
posted by item at 9:51 PM on June 6, 2012


Don’t write "b4" unless your name is Prince and it’s the 80’s.

... the spelling and grammar in that message are embarrassing.


Shut up 'n let Wayne Coynes play his guitar while you and yer sister get nekkid.


And then say it was not cool to release the video of you and yer sister nekkid.


but, hey, maybe Badu's statement is just the natural behavior of someone who knows how to make two publicity stunts out of one!

posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:25 PM on June 6, 2012


Editing is a very powerful thing. The fake trailers that turn the Shining into a family comedy and Mary Poppins into a horror movie make that clear - and they're working with the final shots, not the raw footage as was the case here. According to Badu, Coyne promised that there would be backgrounds chromakeyed in, which could hugely change the mood from the porny asthetic we saw. So I don't think there's any inherent contradiction in getting naked in a video and then complaining about the sexual vibe of the result.

Her account (once you get through the painful writing style) is a plausible report of a bait & switch and Coyne comes across pretty badly, despite his apology, written in standard English. What does confuse me is the tweets reported by okayplayer, which, if they're correct about the timeline, seem to indicate that she didn't have a problem at first. That doesn't quite mesh with the rest of her story and suggest there's aspects she left out.

Oh, and when she says "I told u from jump that I believed your concept to be disturbing.", I assume she means something like 'from the outset'. Am I right? It's the first time I've come across that usage.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:18 AM on June 7, 2012


Yeah, Busy Old Fool, "from jump" is definitely "from the outset". I think it started as "from jump street" and now the "street" bit is just left off. See also: "from the get go".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:30 AM on June 7, 2012


Thanks! I get such joy from encountering new language in the wild. It's like being a kid and turning over a rock to find a cool beetle.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:05 AM on June 7, 2012


Well, respectfully to Ms Badu, who I believe is a national treasure, the time to say "I don't want my naked sister covered in fluids in a music video" is before the cameras roll. If she had a problem with the concept, don't get naked in the bathtub in first place.

Also, I didn't think it was very porn-y, as much as it was sending up porn-y videos. I found it to be in much better taste than the billions of hip hop videos with hoes put alongside cars and boats as possessions.

Having said that, if I were the Lips, I would pull the video from Vimeo and issue takedowns for unauthorized hosting.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:16 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did you read the statement, vibrotronica? That wasn't what she was objecting to at all.
posted by hermitosis at 11:07 AM on June 7, 2012


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