Wave your hands in the air like you don't care
November 27, 2016 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Word Up! by Cameo was a hit single in 12 countries in 1986-87. The funk and R&B song, which sampled the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, was written by band members Larry Blackmon and Tomi Jenkins. The video featured LeVar Burton from Roots and ST:TNG, and a codpiece designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. Also available as GIFs. Word Up! has been covered across a range of genre by artists including Gun, Mel B, Korn, Little Mix and Willis. Lyrics below the fold...

Yo, pretty ladies around the world
Got a weird thing to show you so tell all the boys and girls
Tell your brother, your sister and your mama too
'Cause we're about to throw down and you'll know just what to do

Wave your hands in the air like you don't care
Glide by the people as they start to look and stare
Do your dance, do your dance, do your dance quick, mama
Come on, baby, tell me what's the word

Word up (Up, up), everybody say
When you hear the call you've got to get it underway
Word up (Up, up), it's the code word
No matter where you say it you'll know that you'll be heard

Now all you sucker DJ's who think you're fly
There's got to be a reason and we know the reason why
You try to put on those airs and act real cool
But you've got to realize that you're acting like fools

Give us music, we can use it, we need to dance
We don't have the time for psychological romance
No romance, no romance, no romance for me, mama
Come on, baby, tell me what's the word

Word up (Up, up), everybody say
When you hear the call you've got to get it underway, ow

Ow, dial L for love

Ah, hey, hey
Ah, hey, hey
Now just come on, all you people say

W-O-R-D up, W-O-R-D up, Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah
W-O-R-D up, W-O-R-D up, Oooh!
W-O-R-D up, Hey, hey
W-O-R-D up, He-hey

Hey, hey, hey, yeah
Hey, hey, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
Yeah, oooh, oooh, oooh, woh
Tell me like that, like that

Say it like that, now, now, yeah
That's the word, everybody's got to know the word
Like that, come on

Ow, take me real low
posted by Wordshore (62 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am going to have this lodged in my head for the next week. How do you live with yourself?
posted by dilettante at 2:02 PM on November 27, 2016 [24 favorites]


man the sucker DJs verse is great. this song is great. I love it unironically. Thank you for this post.
posted by dismas at 2:06 PM on November 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


I have a very fulfilling life.
posted by rewil at 2:10 PM on November 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ask the risk of being pedantic, I think the whistle came from a keyboard patch not a sampler.

Also, at the time I thought "put on those airs" was "put on your Vuaers" which was some sort of hip slang for Vuarnet sunglasses.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:26 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


A brief internet search yielded not much, please someone if there is a write up about the making of the video - I must read about it.

Incidentally, Larry Blackmon's iconic "Ow" from "Word Up!" was sampled for the 1990 dance hit from Black Box, "Everybody Everybody."
posted by jbenben at 2:26 PM on November 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


Wow, before now I would have proclaimed with utmost confidence that this song came out a few years before 1986. I've always thought this cut had one of the more unique and compelling vocal deliveries in top 40.
posted by rhizome at 2:27 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I heard about 15 seconds of this recently for the first time in I don't know how long and I've been singing it ever sense. I'm pretty sure I even had this on cassingle! Word up!
posted by Room 641-A at 2:40 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I love this song.

Also, every time I buy Cameo apples at the grocery store, this song gets lodged in my head.

Also also, Cameo apples are delicious. You should try them.
posted by spacewaitress at 2:44 PM on November 27, 2016 [18 favorites]


Eponysterical.
but I'll bet wordshore is happy just to get a break from political megathreads...

But you neglected one very important credit from LeVar's resume: Reading Rainbow, which he had been hosting for two years when this video was made.

And has it been THIRTY YEARS? Word Up to me was either the Apex of Funk or the Shark Jump , before Hip Hop as we know it really began its dominance of American Black Pop. (And this aging white boy for one always preferred Funk)
Ow.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:50 PM on November 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


The funk and R&B song, which sampled the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I don't hear this, but I was listening to more Cameo and it's at the start of Single Life. Am I missing it in Word Up?

Also wow, the speakers on the iPhone 7+ are really great.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:55 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am going to have this lodged in my head for the next week. How do you live with yourself?

It's a redemption post. After doing a post about The 2016 Song yesterday, thought this morning y'know that was angry and cathartic, but how about a song that's straight-out positive, fun, easily memorable, and you can dance awkwardly to. Was chatting to a friend later on Messenger about her social life and she said "Nah I'm just busy and don't have time for romance" and a distant memory bell went off in my head and here we are...
posted by Wordshore at 2:55 PM on November 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


she said "Nah I'm just busy and don't have time for romance" and a distant memory bell went off in my head and here we are...

You mean you were re-infected with the earworm. I was in junior high in 9th grade when this came out and it was inescapable, I'm probably about as likely to forget the alphabet song.
posted by dilettante at 3:03 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Did the song actually sample Ennio Morricone or just transpose the whistle melody?
posted by infinitewindow at 3:25 PM on November 27, 2016


I get this song lodged in my head on a semi regular basis because there is a bar I walk by several times a week that is the nightly drinking hole of many colorful characters including one dude who has been rocking the same amazing hi-top fade for literal decades. My friend (who used to actually drink there every now and then, about twenty years ago) refers to that guy as Word Up!, and seeing him on my way home is a guaranteed earworm for the rest of the night.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:07 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I love this song unironically, but for some reason had never seen the actual lyrics before.

I must say I think my version of the first line is much better: "You cold-blooded ladies around the world..."
posted by GrammarMoses at 4:13 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


No one can sing "We don't have the time for psychological romance" like Larry Blackmon.
posted by blucevalo at 4:31 PM on November 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


Haha! I've got the mid-'90s Gun single on CD somewhere. Had an equally competent/iffy cover of Killing In The Name on the b-side as I recall.
posted by comealongpole at 4:36 PM on November 27, 2016


But what were the drum machine and synths used?
posted by acb at 4:39 PM on November 27, 2016


And how, exactly, did hand-waving come to signify apathy?
posted by Grangousier at 4:43 PM on November 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've always taken that line taken in conjunction with the rest of that stanza to mean "like you don't care" about what anyone thinks. Dance like nobody is watching even though they all are.
posted by hippybear at 4:48 PM on November 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the sucker DJs verse is the best. I genuinely love this song. I first came across it via the Gun version on this compilation which I got (somewhat randomly) along with my first CD player for Christmas 1993.
posted by corvine at 4:57 PM on November 27, 2016


Got next year's halloween costume figured out. Or Christmas outfit.

Both.
posted by jpe at 5:02 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's still time to make it this year's Christmas outfit.
posted by rhizome at 5:05 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]




I used to play guitar in a funk/soul cover band in Albuquerque in the late '00s, as one is wont to do, and this was on our set list. So fun.
posted by gottabefunky at 5:48 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hippybear FTW
posted by DJZouke at 6:19 PM on November 27, 2016


I used to tear up the middle school dance floor to this when I was a gawky 14 year old. Actually, I probably was an embarrassment. Now it's 30 years later and I have my own house where nobody can watch me dance and ... I just dropped $1.29 on iTunes.

(applies Aqua Net, pulls socks up over jeans)
posted by kimberussell at 7:13 PM on November 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


Saw REM at the Shoreline in 89, they covered Word Up as the encore. It was an unironic, fantastic performance.

Wish I could find a copy.
posted by drfu at 7:24 PM on November 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's worth pointing out that this song is #100 on the greatest top 100 list of all time: "100 Greatest Songs Of All Time If You Spent Your Childhood Moving Around the US Without Anything To Guide You Except For The Radio," by Scott Creney.
posted by koeselitz at 7:30 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


(I highly recommend giving that playlist a spin, particularly if the title even remotely describes you, because it is amazing.)
posted by koeselitz at 7:30 PM on November 27, 2016


I've always thought this cut had one of the more unique and compelling vocal deliveries in top 40.

About that -- I've always wondered what Larry Scott Blackmon's sort-of, I dunno, drawl on this song comes from? Does anyone know if it's a regional accent, a hipster accent, or just a personal style thing he made up as a vocalist?
posted by msalt at 7:39 PM on November 27, 2016


The amount of Male Objectification can be measured not by the red latex speedo, but by the very handsome police detective who lifts up his hat to reveal a NICE HAIRCUT. Compared to its polar opposite being objectified as a male is nice and fun.

Word up!
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:06 PM on November 27, 2016


I hated this song when it was new and I cannot find any reason why my younger self was not a total idiot for that stance.

I love that all the covers pick up on that distinctive horny tomcat yowl quality in the original vocals. Even the ultra-laid-back and mellow Willis one.
posted by egypturnash at 8:17 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Jesus for a second, I was scared AF that Larry Blackmon and his codpiece were also victims of 2016. DO NOT DO THAT TO ME.
posted by symbioid at 9:25 PM on November 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I sang this while dressed as a Orangutang with a Vampire at a Karaoke street party.
posted by boilermonster at 9:31 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Serious question. Is this song the actual origin of "Wave your hands in the air like you don't care"?

I cannot believe it has been 30 years.
posted by great_radio at 10:45 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love how all the back-up gangsters are trying to look super tough while also wearing spandex leggings like the singer. And then, right after Gangster Leggings, the singer confronts Depressed Punk Hair Guy, who just stands there. He's tough, because he has a biker jacket on, but he's also got a sad face, because the Cure and Culture Club are also very popular. What on earth is the narrative here? Ah, the 80s.

Although really, with Madonna finding new and creative ways to be increasingly pornographic in her music career during the same time period, a red Gaultier codpiece wouldn't even have made a blip.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:49 PM on November 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Just listened to the Korn cover. I have to say that I would never have put those two musical acts together in a million years, but Jonathan Davis's vocals are actually perfect for that song. The world is a strange place.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:17 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Word Up! 1987: Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong: Patpong, Bangkok; Itaewon, Seoul.
posted by Mister Bijou at 12:15 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Two years later, Cameo were running in some fast company, featuring Miles Davis & Kenny Garrett.

Nice post, Wordshore; thanks.
posted by On the Corner at 12:54 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


And then, right after Gangster Leggings, the singer confronts Depressed Punk Hair Guy, who just stands there. He's tough, because he has a biker jacket on, but he's also got a sad face, because the Cure and Culture Club are also very popular. What on earth is the narrative here? Ah, the 80s.

Oh I LOLed so hard when Larry does the bit with Flock of Seagulls dude in the video. Mr Disappointed is a New Romantic, the genre which involved spraying your hair with an entire can of hair product to make it stick in various angles, and raiding your pirate grandfather's wardrobe for clothing. The over-the-top nature was turned up to volume 11 with the look of these bands and their followers, even though some of the music they made was pretty good [1][2][3].

So when Larry sings "No romance, no romance, no romance for me, mama" in his face and Mr Scarecrow Hair drops his head in a dejected and rejected manner, Larry becomes one of my favorite singers. Along with the DJ verse, the middle part of the video can be interpreted as a rejection of the pretentious look in the music scene in favor of a direct "Give us music, we can use it, we need to dance". Amplified by being delivered by a man wearing and thrusting a red codpiece which practically shouts "Music is sex, sex is music, sex is not spending three hours spraying your hair".
posted by Wordshore at 1:06 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


That 1 Guy does a nifty version as well.
posted by bink at 1:07 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


How do you know it samples the Ennio Morricone?

I can hear why you might think that - since there is a very Morricone-like flourish at the beginning of Word Up. Flourish 22s into the video linked above but it doesn't actually sound sampled: The Morricone is more like an actual acoustic whistle.

Whereas the part in Word Up sounds more like a synthesizer wiggling the pitch bend. Its a similar sequence of intervals but does not sound sampled.
posted by mary8nne at 1:39 AM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh Wikipedia makes the same claim:
"Like the band's previous single "Single Life", "Word Up!" features a sample of the opening notes of Ennio Morricone's theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

However, again if you listen to Single Life that is also clearly not an actual "sample", although it is a homage to Morricone, the same notes replayed on a synthesizer.

Whoever wrote the Wikipedia just does not understand the difference between sampling and replaying. In both the Cameo songs - there is a replaying of the same notes in Homage / Reference to Morricone but neither sound like samples of the actual OST. And there is a world of difference between sampling and replaying when it comes to Copyright.
posted by mary8nne at 1:46 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, sample is probably the wrong word. On this entertaining review of the video they write:

...and a keyboard line that echoed part of Italian composer Ennio Morricone's famed theme to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Returns to eating breakfast of beans on toast and rewatching Cameo video
posted by Wordshore at 2:00 AM on November 28, 2016


the Cure and Culture Club

Were “The Cure and Culture Club” actually seen as one phenomenon in the 1980s US?
posted by acb at 2:17 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Serious question. Is this song the actual origin of "Wave your hands in the air like you don't care"?

Good question.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:52 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


I first heard the Willis cover at a friend's wedding reception years ago and played the hell out of it. It never has replaced the original in my head (you can't easily overtake something that distinctive), but it's a pretty damn good groove. Only pet peeve is that Willis has it "super DJs", not "sucka DJs".
posted by middleclasstool at 5:38 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


that distinctive horny tomcat yowl quality...

Yes! And the same quality is why I love Steve Tyler from Aerosmith and Snoop. Sigh.

Edited to add... I used to call it, "the sleeze factor."
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:40 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have always imagined this song blasting from speakers all over town the day after the revolution. It is pure, unbridled "fuck the haters, be yourself" celebratory goodness.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:33 AM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Like if you hear that horn bridge on top of the "yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!!!" at 3:40 and don't want to leap onto your desk and start dancing you're just not human.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


Were “The Cure and Culture Club” actually seen as one phenomenon in the 1980s US?

No. I just picked a couple bands that had both the musical and visual characteristics that someone more accurately pinpointed as "New Romantic".
posted by Autumnheart at 8:46 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Don't forget that the "Word up is Cherry Coke"! I can't hear the song without singing the Cherry Coke part.
posted by Mid at 8:46 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


mary8nne: “Whoever wrote the Wikipedia just does not understand the difference between sampling and replaying. In both the Cameo songs - there is a replaying of the same notes in Homage / Reference to Morricone but neither sound like samples of the actual OST. And there is a world of difference between sampling and replaying when it comes to Copyright.”

I edited the Wikipedia page for "Word Up!" a little - changed the phrase "sample of" to "reference to." So that's fixed.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 AM on November 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


In my mind, Larry Blackmon gets confused with Harry Blackmun, and hilarity ensues.
posted by The World Famous at 12:30 PM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Here's a bunch of German dudes doing a country version. I love it, and I desire to share.
posted by JulesER at 1:16 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Here's a bunch of German dudes doing a country version vimeo . I love it, and I desire to share.

Thats the Boss Hoss they do a epic cover of "Everything counts in large amounts" and "Hey Ya".
posted by boilermonster at 11:37 PM on December 1, 2016


In the same way that the "No Romance" line + the sad hair guy seems to be a dig at the New Romantics, is the "Sucker DJs" bit a dig at Run-D.M.C.? The dudes who think they're fly in the video kind of are pulling this look.
posted by dismas at 7:43 AM on December 2, 2016


(note that the cameo song precedes the Run DMC album with "Sucker DJs" as the opening track by five years)
posted by dismas at 8:37 AM on December 2, 2016


Last night I started watching the latest episode of People of Earth and I fell asleep until Word Up started playing. I opened my eyes to Wyatt Cenac and Oscar Nunez jamming to the song and it just made me so damn happy!
posted by Room 641-A at 8:50 AM on December 2, 2016


"Word Up" has been popping up in the back of my head a few times every day since this post reminded me it exists. I am not entirely sure if I want to thank Wordshore or curse them for doing this.

Remembering that codpiece sure is a nice distraction from the morning news, though.
posted by egypturnash at 11:36 AM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


I learned from the radio yesterday that Cameo's "Single Life" also uses the "Good, Bad, Ugly" whistle melody.
posted by rhizome at 1:19 PM on December 5, 2016


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