'Vanilla,' Indeed
December 19, 2017 3:27 PM   Subscribe

The 1997 British pop music charts saw four Spice Girls songs reach number one (and not even the one or two that you know). Elton John's dreadful "Candle in the Wind"/Princess Diana song was the biggest hit of the year (it's the #2 selling single of all time), and *the Teletubbies* had a #1 song for two weeks in December. That silliness (allegedly, though likely apocryphally) led two British music veterans - one of whom went on to bigger things - to make a cynical bet over whether they could create a group and score a hit with an objectively bad song. Spoiler alert: they could.

The aptly-named Vanilla - four women, all in their late teens/early 20s, with a blond, a brunette, and even a big-haired quasi-readhead - were a pretty blatant attempt at a Spice Girls knockoff. Their song was "No Way No Way," an adaptation of the "Mah Na Mah Na" song that originated in a Swedish softcore film (SFW, for the most part) and was made famous by the Muppets.

The song is mostly recited rather than sung, and features lyrics like "if you tempt with your charms (ah) you can hold me in your arms (ah) but if you force yourself on me (ah) things are gonna get nasty." (In that sense it feels quite modern.) The video is the women in bathing suits, seemingly with mirrors reflecting the sun right into their faces, working through awkward choreography and mugging for the camera. The cover for the record looks to have been quickly made in MS Paint.

But it was good enough for 1997. "No Way No Way" spent 8 weeks on the charts in Britain and made it all the way to 14. Former member Alida Swart remembers it fondly: “People still tell me today that they remember this song...It’s been nominated as the worst song of the 90s quite a few times, but at least it’s remembered.”

Vanilla's follow-up "True to Us" spent only two weeks on the charts and hit only 36. The band was dropped by the label soon after.
posted by AgentRocket (71 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow, how did I never hear this?

Anyway, the perils of having a hit novelty single.
posted by GuyZero at 3:34 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


it's quite possible that AgentRocker invested more thought and effort into writing this post than was put into the entire musical endeavor being discussed
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:37 PM on December 19, 2017 [57 favorites]


It's refreshing to listen to bad pop music from the era before auto tune.
posted by idiopath at 3:38 PM on December 19, 2017 [10 favorites]


All this just before the 'Popstars' era of exploitation. What a world!
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 3:45 PM on December 19, 2017


So basically, situation normal on the music charts?
posted by happyroach at 3:45 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


This song is awesome.
posted by Slinga at 3:47 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Didn't remember this from the write-up, hunted for the right video link, clicked on it and the minute the hard to transcribe "nah way, nah wayy" hit I couldn't find Close Tab quick enough. Yes I remember this now, God I wish I didn't.

If someone else could write a better, perhaps appreciative comment invoking KLF and The Manual and how most pop should be disposable, I'll be over in the corner shivering and comfort eating mince pies. Thanks!
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 3:54 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


led two British music veterans - one of whom went on to bigger things - to make a cynical bet over whether they could create a group and score a hit with an objectively bad song. Spoiler alert: they could.

Brit Pop in its final nutshell.
posted by philip-random at 4:03 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


TRIGGER WARNING: 70s Novelty Records...
I was professionally employed in the Radio Biz when "Kung Fu Fighting" came out as part of a frightening flurry of painful novelty songs that all went to #1 on the Billboard charts for two weeks each... Ray Stevens' "The Streak" (he'd done several funnier novelties before, but none nearly as popular), C.W. McCall's "Convoy" (which paled next to his underappreciated country-rap-runaway-truck epic "Wolf Creek Pass") and Rick Dees' "Disco Duck" (which earned the Memphis DJ a gig in L.A. leading to television and other questionable rewards). It's worth noting that all the 'novelty songs' of that era had some current trend/fad as a subject (Kung Fu, Streaking, CB Radio and, yes, Disco), which incredibly kept "Muskrat Love" from being included in that category... still, Weird Al Yankovic learned a lot from them.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:08 PM on December 19, 2017 [23 favorites]


C.W. McCall's "Convoy"

Lemme stop you right there and tell you that the "B" side of that record was "It's a Long Lonely Road in the Lifetime of a Trucker". I have no idea if that's its official title. But there is something wrong with the universe that I sometimes forget to, you know, pay my bills, but I can actually remember that the next line of that execrable song is "but me and this big old rig, we're going to make it." Or something damn close.

And with that, I will follow Poffin's lead from another thread, lie face down on the floor and await the sweet release of death.
posted by maxwelton at 4:18 PM on December 19, 2017 [23 favorites]


I love novelty music (duh) and wow, this is a doozy. It’s barely even a song. Crazy Frog is more song-like. It’s great.

The late 90s really were a dismal time for pop, though. I’m not sure I can think of anything really enduring, in the US at least, from that era. Maybe Baby One More Time and a Backstreet Boys song or two?
posted by uncleozzy at 4:19 PM on December 19, 2017


Elton John's dreadful "Candle in the Wind"/Princess Diana song was the biggest hit of the year

I'm finding that the death of Baby Diego has affected me more than I realized......
posted by thelonius at 4:24 PM on December 19, 2017 [10 favorites]


Great post. Awful song. I wish I hadn’t watched.
posted by greermahoney at 4:28 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


I listened to No Way No Way on You Tube, and it is truly awful, but the recommendation list showed a video for a group called Daphne & Celeste. After listening to bits of two of their songs, I can say with absolute certainty that Vanilla is far from the worst pop band. God help us.

Now, I'm off to unironically listen to some Meghan Trainor.

Cheers!

: )
posted by Beholder at 4:30 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


A decade earlier, there was How To Have a #1 The Easy Way.

Hint: You must be skint and on the dole.
posted by chrchr at 4:32 PM on December 19, 2017 [6 favorites]


Daphne and Celeste at Reading festival.
posted by ambrosen at 4:33 PM on December 19, 2017 [6 favorites]


You know how some things are so bad they're good? This song is not one of those things.
posted by OHenryPacey at 4:38 PM on December 19, 2017 [12 favorites]


I feel like they put their thumbs on the scale a bit by building their pop hit around a melody as catchy as "Mah Na Mah Na".
posted by tobascodagama at 5:08 PM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


C.W. McCall's "Convoy"

I was of college age in the early 2000s, when lots of people were listening to their music on Winamp. I snuck this song into my friend's library as a prank, and his roommate absolutely loved it. He played it whenever he got high. Dude was from Ghana, and pretty much only listened to dancehall reggae otherwise.
posted by TrialByMedia at 5:17 PM on December 19, 2017 [31 favorites]


As someone who has been in more joke bands than real ones, I respect the craft.
posted by Beardman at 5:33 PM on December 19, 2017 [7 favorites]


Not to be that guy but... that "Swedish softcore film" mentioned in the post is actually an Italian mondo film called Svezia inferno e paradiso. It just happens to be about "Swedes" and their supposed liberated promiscuity.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:37 PM on December 19, 2017 [12 favorites]


In terms of lyricism, "No Way No Way" immediately brought to mind the Tammy single "Dance" (from Kids in the Hall).

Just a random "well, that interesting" from the list of best-selling singles from the Wikipedia link in the FPP: Royal Scots Dragoon Guards sold 7 million copies of "Amazing Grace" in 1972. That's the same number as "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Le Freak." Huh.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:41 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


omgosh that accordion/harmonica synth sound gave me a disease
posted by outfielder at 5:42 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


C.W. McCall's "Convoy"

I am researching a project about one-hit wonders and let me tell you, if you were a pre-teen weaned on AM radio in the seventies, you might suddenly realize four decades later that Convoy and The Devil Went Down to Georgia are as close to one another as say, Puttin' on the Ritz and Istanbul (Not Constantinople).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:55 PM on December 19, 2017 [15 favorites]




Sorry wrong thread. I thought this were the new machine learning thread.
posted by runcifex at 6:03 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Check out the Convoy sequel, "Round The World With The Rubber Duck", if you never have. They just keep driving, across the ocean, and go through Europe and farther. It has a weirdly prog-rock feel to some parts in the verses. Hell, watch the movie. They still make ridiculous movies based on fads, but in the 70's, they based them on novelty songs sometimes.
posted by thelonius at 6:05 PM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


Candle in the Wind is not “dreadful” unless you are an emotionless cyborg, above all the rest of us lowly humans.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:06 PM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


Grandad - 1970
posted by unliteral at 6:07 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ideefixe, this is the mawkish global forced sentimentality 1997 version of Candle in the Wind they're talking about, not the thoughtful 1973 tribute to the costs of fame.
posted by ambrosen at 6:11 PM on December 19, 2017 [15 favorites]


Daphne and Celeste at Reading festival.

That was incredible. The crowd hated them so much and were so violent towards them, but they smiled and did their set all the way through. That was probably one of the greatest Fuck You sets ever performed.
posted by NoMich at 6:21 PM on December 19, 2017 [11 favorites]


C.W. McCall's "Convoy"

produced by Mannheim Steamroller, so weird, and then a Peckinpah movie? I think Ursula Le Guin sent a CB radio quip in one of her novels around the time that anyone with an AMC Gremlin & a Radio Shack catalog could chat via new technology with a hidden subculture, with awkward results.
posted by ovvl at 6:26 PM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: about "Swedes" and their supposed liberated promiscuity.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:27 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


That was probably one of the greatest Fuck You sets ever performed.

Celeste(?)'s "Who The F**K Is Eminem?" t-shirt is amazing.

Top YouTube comment: "Turning up at the reading festival and singing pop like that and being bottled your whole set and still singing and smiling to piss the audience off is actually quite punk rock in attitude."
posted by tobascodagama at 6:29 PM on December 19, 2017 [16 favorites]


It has a weirdly prog-rock feel to some parts in the verses

Not so weird, check out his "Night Rider" from the aforementioned Wolf Creek Pass. I'm dying to know the backstory on these songs.
posted by rhizome at 6:42 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


one of whom went on to bigger things

The usual form of the cliché is "went on to bigger and better things," but in this case the omission is entirely merited.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:49 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


It’s been nominated as the worst song of the 90s

Checks release date for "My Humps." 2005.

Okay. Carry on, then.
posted by Naberius at 6:55 PM on December 19, 2017 [16 favorites]


David Bowie's Earthling came out in 1997.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' The Boatman's Call came out in 1997.
The Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death came out in 1997.
The Crystal Method's Vegas came out in 1997.
Gary Numan's Exile came out in 1997.

Why would you do this to me?
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 6:55 PM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


Not to be that guy but... that "Swedish softcore film" mentioned in the post is actually an Italian mondo film called Svezia inferno e paradiso. It just happens to be about "Swedes" and their supposed liberated promiscuity.

Aw crud. AgentRocket regrets the error.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:08 PM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


this was painful

and offensive how they massacred my beautiful "mahna mahna". they were no space cows!
posted by jb at 8:05 PM on December 19, 2017


Thus ended the empire.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:36 PM on December 19, 2017


"2 Become 1" is absolutely one of the two Spice Girls songs I know.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:36 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you haven’t seen it on your Facebook feed, you should definitely see this brilliant version of Mah Na Mah Na
posted by TheShadowKnows at 8:40 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Grandad - 1970

Thought that was another Guardian/Grauniad name typo for a moment.

And now I learn, thanks to that particular (two-century-old?) meme, that I can't spell "Guardian" correctly without great mental difficulty whilst my fingers are frozen on the keyboard.

Anyway, I am imagining whoever shot that video going down to their local afterwards and sighing over a too-long series of pints, remembering their failed filmic dreams of youth and making a mental note to get the shiny backdrop returned to their uncle's photography studio in the morning.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:43 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Watching all the videos on this thread of novelty songs is my new happy place. Vanilla, not so much. But the rest, I am here for.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:44 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm dying to know the backstory on these songs.

I think C.W. McCall was a pseudonym of an advertising guy, but I don't know how he came to a point in his life where he would redefine the truck song genre
posted by thelonius at 8:58 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Why would you do this to me?"
Good point! Do you really wonder, really wonder you?

"Watching all the videos on this thread of novelty songs is my new happy place."
Novelty song dump? Uh-oh, we're in trouble. No-one's ever seen what I mean so salt water wells in my eyes.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 9:14 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Daphne and Celeste previously
posted by mbrubeck at 9:49 PM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


How has there been a thread about novelty songs and no one has mentioned The Wurzels (ooh arr ooh arr)?

(Is there a focus on ridiculous Christmas singles here? Because Britain can do a novelty song like nowhere else, no matter the time of year. Even inadvertently. Also Crimbo singles aren't necessarily anything to do with Christmas - example: 1979's Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2. Bless.)

P.S. I feel the need to mention that until Candle in the Wind 1997 was released, Robson and Jerome's cover of Unchained Melody was the best-selling single of the 1990s.

(You may remember Jerome from such sellswords as Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, who is renowned for singing Westerosi hits such as The Dornishman's Wife and The Rains of Castamere [which he learned from drunk Lannisters].)
posted by elsietheeel at 9:58 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't think this was even released in the U.S. I never heard of it until a couple of months ago.

I love stupid pop songs. I used to say that Americans need their pop to pretend to be somewhat serious, which often makes it more ridiculous to me.

Anyone who doesn't love Kung Fu Fighting is wrong, and anyone who does needs the Kung Fu fighting remix album. 16 fabulous remixes of a classic. The Kid Loco, Pole, Don Letts Dub Cartel, and Karl Mostl versions are especially recommended.
posted by bongo_x at 10:01 PM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


I love that there was probably at least one parent out there who watched the Muppet Show with their kids when the "Mahna Mahna" bit first aired, and said to the other: "Hey honey their doing that song from that Italian film...you know the one about the Swedish Lesbians!"
posted by Greasy Eyed Gristle Man at 11:09 PM on December 19, 2017 [8 favorites]


After falling down a clickhole that began with the theme song from Ice Castles (not linking, earworm poison) and discovering last month that there was indeed a movie based on the song Convoy, then watching the trailer and opening on youtube, I felt compelled to order it on bluray. Because I need to see Sam Peckinpah's sincere and deliberate attempt to create a popular movie. Kind of like Altman's Popeye.

I've been keeping it for a special occasion. Tonight may be the night.

But Vanilla. Oh dear. So blandly bad. Daphne and Celeste, amazing and punk AF.
posted by monopas at 2:30 AM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


In the mid-60s (I think) I was in a rock band that played at a teen high school dance. We were so godawful that the teens "pennied" us, that is, threw pennies at us to show their displeasure with our playing. Without planning or forethought, we immediately commenced to play a 45 minute rendition of The Nashville Teens' immortal "Tobacco Road". Badly.

From the distant past to the somewhat less distant past, I salute Daphne and Celeste.
Ave, filiae!
posted by Chitownfats at 3:21 AM on December 20, 2017 [9 favorites]


In the 90s I had a thick book called "British Hit Singles" that listed all the number one hits in the UK since the 50s I think, and how long they were at the top. I think it also gave a breakdown by artists of all the charting songs they had, how high each song got and how long etc.

16 year old me took great pleasure in the fact that John Lennon's Imagine was at number one when I was born, but my friend Gordon who was born a few weeks earlier will forever have St Winifred's School Choir with There's No-one Quite Like Grandma as his birth number one. That is some saccharine shit right there.
posted by trif at 3:41 AM on December 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up was at number one for 5 weeks. Does the way it has been co-opted into a meme make it retroactively a novelty hit?
posted by trif at 3:54 AM on December 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up was at number one for 5 weeks. Does the way it has been co-opted into a meme make it retroactively a novelty hit?

A good question for the scholars at the Chipmunks Foundation
posted by thelonius at 4:19 AM on December 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


Also while we're on the Spice Girls, I'd like to throw in a vote for Spice World as a heck of a good time. The bus-jumping-the-gap scene is wonderful (unfortunately I can't find a clip of it because of pedal-pumping fetishists because of course that's a thing).
posted by uncleozzy at 4:41 AM on December 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


I mean, Baby Diego — come on. That guy was a wanker.
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:19 AM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


The original Muppets were cool because they didn't have to write (or jokily alter) original music that was silly, they were able to play songs straight and still get results like "Mahna Mahna" or The Windmills of Your Mind
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:08 AM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


C.W. McCall's "Convoy"

There was a British version of this that was just infinitely times worse. Just horrific. Oh and to make it worse the singer is Hairy Cornflake 'wandering hands' DLT himself.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:08 AM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'd like to throw in a vote for Spice World as a heck of a good time.

Seconded.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:11 AM on December 20, 2017


Kill Your Friends is a terrible film (I've not read the book) but I think it has some insight into the UK music industry in the 90s where getting money and getting one over on your rivals (and 'friends' and colleges) was far more important than finding and nurturing actual musical talent.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:17 AM on December 20, 2017


So that song was pretty bad but honestly it seemed about the same as lots of hit pop songs that are not considered bad. I don't think I'd have known it was a parody without the thread .
posted by freecellwizard at 8:25 AM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Uncleozzy, this gif's for you: Hold Onto Your Knickers, Girls!

signed, a formerly crazed Spice Girls fan who finally sold some of her crazier memorabilia, but still has one pair of Emma Bunton's shoes.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:35 AM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


I totally popped into my local art gallery earlier this year to see a pair of Geri's Union Jack boots that were part of an exhibition (smaller than expected)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:49 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ctrl-f "I Eat Cannibals"
1982
I am confused.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:11 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Don't get fresh with me
posted by JenThePro at 11:04 AM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Anyway, here's Wonderwall.
posted by maxwelton at 2:26 PM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the Chipmunks, Ross Bagdararian's experimental jazz that was released on B-sides of the early Chipmunk novelty songs are actually pretty good, and I think if he hadn't fallen into a hole of electronic voice manipulation covers of popular music, with a huge pile of money at the bottom to soften the landing, the musical landscape we know today might have been quite different.
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:00 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Novelty Christmas Number Ones you say?
posted by MattWPBS at 2:13 PM on December 22, 2017


I finally watched the movie Convoy a few days ago.

Mind. Blown.

It was amazing. I find is difficult to imagine that any other novelty song has inspired such a masterpiece of filmmaking. It is a clear and elegant reflective window into the recent past and the layers of society and American culture, while still adhering to the framework of the initiating narrative of the song. And shoving your face into the ridiculous idea of doing just that. It was ugly and funny and sad and hard and unflinching, and somehow pure.
posted by monopas at 12:49 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


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