In the mid-2000s Christina Aguilera started channelling old-time Hollywood icons. The result was the delicious “Ain’t No Other Man”.
Of course, I get it. I’m sure for all the glamour and adulation, life as a teen pop sensation must tire after a while.
Christina Aguilera burst onto the music scene in 1999 with her platinum-selling UK and US Number One, “Genie In a Bottle”. But within a few years, she grew tired of having to play a perfect pop princess. Her 2002 single “Dirrty” was a pretty comprehensive attempt to dispel the pop princess image for good (and is a tremendous song it its own right).
Having got that out her system, Christina Aguilera went in a different, altogether more sophisticated, direction with the “Back To Basics” album a couple of years later.
Now she’d got the suppressed anger out her system and broken decisively with the past, “Back To Basics” took her career firmly in the direction of classic jazz, soul and funk.
This area of music always brings me great joy. So I was halfway sold before I even heard a single track from the album…although I’ll admit to being slightly concerned in case “Back To Basics” had turned into something dreadful if it had been placed in the hands of a “paint by numbers” songwriting and production team.
Under normal circumstances, being told that an album influenced by classic jazz, funk and soul was being “updated with hard-hitting beats” would have me running for the exits.
I needn’t have worried. This wasn’t an album full of stale covers of the songs of yesteryear…or painfully-embarrassing modern-day attempts to write songs in the style of those old-time classics, but without even 5% of the soul, style and talent.
“Back To Basics” is actually very good…and no doubt came as a great surprise to those people who, just a few years earlier, had thought Christina Aguilera was only a pretty face for a songwriting factory.
“Ain’t No Other Man” uses Christina Aguilera’s vocal chops to their full potential, the brass section is sublime and the production peerless.
The song itself is a love song, which doesn’t cover a vastly different subject-matter from the millions of other love songs released since the dawn of time.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s nicely done. But expressing undying love for another human being is a well-worn path in the world of popular music…
I could feel it from the start
Couldn’t stand to be apart
Something ‘bout you caught my eye
Something moved me deep inside
Christina Aguilera has a co-writing and a co-production credit on “Ain’t No Other Man” and…whilst I’m only speculating…she seems to have revelled in the fun element of the song. That’s one of the elements which elevate it from standard pop fare into a great track.
I always chuckle when I hear the lines…
Don’t know what you did, boy, but you had it
And I’ve been hooked ever since
Told my mother, my brother, my sisters and my friends
Told the others, my lovers, both past and present tense
That every time I see you everything starts making sense
You might say those lines aren’t terribly funny, and in themselves they’re not. But I chuckle because I know that section is mirrored later in the song, when the lyrics are switched to…
Tell your mother, your brother, your sisters and your friends
Tell the others, your lovers, better not be present tense
It’s a bit cheeky and lighthearted, but I liked the idea of Christina Aguilera laying down the rules that it was OK for her to have some “present tense” lovers, but not for him. That’s a complete 180 from the submissive pop princess image foisted on her just a few years previously. Every time I hear “Ain’t No Other Man” I always think “good on you, Christina”.
That’s not to say it’s all sunshine and roses. She’s aware of her own faults too…even beyond those “present tense” lovers…and knows there are times when she can be quite a handful…
You are there when I’m a mess
Talk me down from every ledge
Give me strength…boy you’re the best!
You’re the only one who’s ever passed every test
Having someone to stick by you in thick and thin…love you enough to make you feel better on your darkest days…handle all the times you’ve been completely unreasonable and still comes back the next day for more after you’ve had a chance to think things through more calmly overnight.
Well, that’s one special guy. And if he’s not worth writing a song about, who is, frankly?
No wonder Christina Aguilera tells us…
You’re the kinda guy a girl finds in a blue moon
There’s one other element I absolutely love about “Ain’t No Other Man” and that’s almost certainly the work of producer DJ Premier, although I haven’t been able to find a source to confirm that one way or the other.
And that’s the vinyl-like sound of the record.
Of course, “Ain’t No Other Man” was recorded in a modern, high-spec studio in the mid-2000s and sold on a CD, so there was no reason for the sound not to be perfect.
But the sound was deliberately degraded to make “Ain’t No Other Man” sound like it was recorded with the sort of microphone singers had to work with in the 1940s, on a bed that sounded like the crackling noise you’d get from an old vinyl record when the needle got to the end of the track.
You can hear it in the background during the quieter passages of “Ain’t No Other Man”.
It was entirely consistent with Christina Aguilera’s old-style movie star/ cabaret singer vibe, but the production team put so much effort into a tiny bit of detail which most people would never hear and would never have noticed if they hadn’t bothered.
Whenever I see a little detail like that, where so much evident care has been taken over something which would have been easier to leave out, I know the people involved are artists of the highest order. I absolutely love this element of the track.
So we end up with a top-notch vocal performance, deliciously funky brass, lyrics that are cheeky but knowing and self-aware at the same time, and production skills of the highest order.
And the record-buying public seemed to agree. “Ain’t No Other Man” was another platinum-seller for Christina Aguilera and she also picked up the Grammy for Best Female Pop Performance on the back of it.
Please enjoy one of my very favourite tracks of the mid-2000s…it’s Christina Aguilera with “Ain’t No Other Man”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/7huo2wvrCgRucUsjdSDLQV