Yesterday, a female colleague came back from an especially exasperating meeting with a co-worker and said “she’s as mad as a box of frogs, that one!”.
That’s a slightly old-fashioned expression which you don’t often hear any more, but I’ve always loved its visual imagery…dozens of tiny creatures bouncing up and down to get out the box, bumping into one another, scrambling over their fellow amphibians to find a flat surface from which they launch themselves upwards in their own, ultimately fruitless, escape attempt.
To be fair, for the co-worker concerned, my exasperated colleague’s description is a fairly accurate portrait of most people’s experience of dealing with her.
So it brought to mind the group I always think of in the “mad as a box of frogs” category.
Now, I’ve never met the fine people who collectively form the band Deee-Lite.
My judgement of them as “mad as a box of frogs” might be entirely my over-active imagination at work. But somehow I don’t think they spend their time off-stage working together on complicated spreadsheets or puzzling over the appropriate discount rate to be applied to a long-term capital investment.
But, whether or not you’re familiar with Deee-Lite, you can form your own opinion after watching the video I’ve linked to below.
I’ve always loved “Groove Is In The Heart”.
Back in the early 90s, before multi-channel TV took hold, Channel 4 had a music show at lunchtime on a Saturday which I nearly always watched. At the time…in fact I’d argue this is still the case today, having just watched it back…Deee-Lite’s video for “Groove Is In The Heart” was one of the oddest videos to flicker across my TV screen while I was enjoying my Saturday morning routine of a late breakfast and a music show on TV.
The song is infectious, it’s one of those songs which gets inside your head and refuses to leave.
I’m not going to claim “Groove Is In The Heart” has the best lyrics ever written. In fact, I don’t even think the writers would claim that. Here’s just a sample…
The chills that you spill up my back
Keeps me filled with satisfaction when we’re done
Satisfaction of what’s to come
That’s not too bad, but see if you can make sense of this…
Your groove, I do deeply dig
No walls, only the bridge, my supper dish
My succotash wish
Nope, me neither…
But that doesn’t stop me loving “Groove Is In The Heart”.
Deee-Lite comprised Lady Miss Kier, on lead vocals, along with DJ Dmitry and Towa Tei.
The had some pretty illustrious help on “Groove Is In The Heart” though.
Legendary rap artist Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest contributed a nicely lyrical verse…
Feelin’ kinda high like a Hendrix haze
Music makes motion, moves like a maze
All inside of me
Help of the rhythm where I wanna be
Flowin’ glowin’ with electric eyes
You dip to the dive, you’ll realise
Baby, you’ll see the funky side of me
Baby, you’ll see that rhythm is the key
I’m not surprised Q-Tip made a reference to the funky side of himself, because “Groove Is In The Heart” is a phenomenally funky tune. It’s usually classified as a dance record, but that’s to trivialise the amount of old-style funk infused, in a variety of different ways, throughout the song.
The funk heritage is no surprise, though, as Deee-Lite…goodness knows how…managed to get legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins interested in their project.
Deee-Lite had been a bit of an underground hit in New York clubs for a while before “Groove Is In The Heart” hit the big time, so they’d earned their spurs in a tough business with their…at the time…revolutionary new sampling style where they made up new records out of fragments of records other people had made years before. (Can you imagine a time when that wasn’t how everybody made records…?)
Bootsy Collins came from entirely the other end of the music spectrum, though, which is why having him pop up on Deee-Lite’s record was something of a surprise.
Bootsy had been a member of James Brown’s band in the days when James Brown was widely acknowledged to have the best touring band in the business. As a legendarily hard task-master, and someone without the patience to indulge fools or journeyman players, there was no bigger endorsement of your talents than getting a slot in James Brown’s band.
After James Brown, Bootsy Collins teamed up with the equally-legendary…if you like funk…albeit somewhat more chaotic…George Clinton on his Parliament/Funkadelic project.
Bass players of the calibre of Bootsy Collins…especially phenomenal live performers as he was…tend not to turn up on debut singles from underground acts as a rule.
And he brought a couple of fellow James Brown Band alumni with him…also Parliament/Funkadelic contributors… to help — Maceo Parker on sax and Fred Wesley on trombone.
That’s quite a line-up already.
Deee-Lite weren’t just passengers in the final version of “Groove Is In The Heart” though.
They’d tracked down some great material from the likes of Herbie Hancock, and early jazz-funk pioneer himself…the bassline on “Groove Is In The Heart” is from his “”Bring Down The Birds” record…and Billy Preston, part of whose record “Uptight” provides the backdrop to Q-Tip’s rap.
This is a superstar cast for what became a very idiosyncratic record…which I think is the polite way to say “mad as a box of frogs”.
Despite the madness, “Groove Is In The Heart” is a great record. Yes, it comes across as a little chaotic, but it’s almost like one of those legendary jam sessions when, thankfully, the recording engineer forgot to switch off the tape machine and caught some musical gold, largely by accident, to preserve for posterity.
I’m fairly sure that’s not exactly how “Groove Is In The Heart” came to life at all, as I think they really were aiming for the anarchic and eclectic performance you hear on the record.
But I love that dimension to the song. In an over-scripted, over-rehearsed, over-engineered world, Deee-Lite brought some much needed spontaneity to the recording industry…whether they meant to or not.
“Groove Is In The Heart” is now a stalwart of those “best dance records of all time” and “best songs of the 1990s” listings. Rightly so.
I don’t think any record in the history of modern music has made less sense than “Groove Is In The Heart”. But at the same time, there aren’t many songs in the history of modern music which have made music sound like so much fun.
From…gulp…nearly 30 years ago, here is the phenomenal Deee-Lite, and a host of very famous helpers, with one of the most distinctive records of the 1990s… “Groove Is In The Heart”…
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/2UVLuddklEVak5PXgC7baA