“I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” — Artic Monkeys

Autumn must be here because Strictly (Dancing With The Stars outside the UK) is back on TV. Forgive the pun…it’s time to see who looks good on the dancefloor…

Strictly is an odd phenomenon. A relic of times gone by in many ways. An old-fashioned sort of Saturday night entertainment where there is no bad language, people only speak positively about one another, and no tantrums are allowed.

The BBC go to great lengths to make this the most family-friendly of programmes…and somehow succeed, despite the skimpy costumes, steamy dance routines and fairly regular romantic relationships between celebrity contestants and their dance partners.

The arrival of the Artic Monkeys on the British music scene was a bit more of a shock to the system than a new series of Strictly, though.

They were the first UK band who had really harnessed the power of the internet, even though it was their fans who did most of that, rather than the band itself. MySpace…remember that?…and file sharing sites were agog with the Artic Monkeys’ early songs as the band clawed its way up the greasy showbiz pole.

In a few short years, the Artic Monkeys went from playing in near-deserted Sheffield pubs to headlining Glastonbury.

Even now, when you listen to their breakthrough hit “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, it’s a shockingly powerful song.

There’s a definite punk motif running through “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”…the energy and intensity of punk is there in spades…but it’s also a more lyrical song than you might immediately think from the rapid-fire drums and incessantly-driving guitars.

I certainly can’t remember any songs from the hey-day of punk which wove in references to the Montagues and the Capulets, the two families at the heart of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”.

Mid-70s punk was all about destroying the established order of things.

In “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, Artic Monkeys’ front-man Alex Turner gives us instead the acutely-observed story of a guy having his advances spurned in a nightclub somewhere. Alex Turner is an observer, not an activist in the way the way the early punks were.

Now, I’m a bloke, so I’ve never been on the receiving end of an approach like this. And I don’t spend time in nightclubs as a rule…never did when I was younger either. After all, I could stay at home and be ignored all night too.

But even with my very limited experience of how this tends to work, the Artic Monkeys’ tale of a guy who’s probably had a bit too much to drink, but who is trying hard to get the attention of an attractive girl somewhat out of his league, certainly has the ring of truth about it.

Of course, by this time of night, our male protagonist has already talked himself into believing he’s worthy of this lady’s attention…

Stop making the eyes at me
I’ll stop making the eyes at you
What it is that surprises me
Is that I don’t really want you to

It can’t be easy being a woman. One glance across the room to see if your friend has got to the bar for another round of drinks yet, and some boozed-up guy thinks you’re making eyes at him.

One thing about boozed-up guys is that they tend not to read body language terribly well. I’m not an expert in the subject myself, but personally I wouldn’t take someone holding themselves in a stiffly formal pose when they noticed my gaze as a terribly positive sign…

And your shoulders are frozen (cold as the night)
Oh, but you’re an explosion (you’re dynamite)
Your name isn’t Rio, but I don’t care for sand
And lighting the fuse might result in a bang, bang, oh

As a general rule, when someone’s glad to see you, their posture loosens up. When it does the opposite, you’re not welcome. A frozen stance means “I hope to goodness that creep isn’t going to come across to make a pass at me”. It means “I hope I blend into the background here, like part of the furniture, and he takes his attention elsewhere”.

I’m not sure this bloke takes the hint, but at least he restricts himself to imagining what it might be like if the girl he spotted across the bar agreed to have a dance with him instead of trying to make his case…

I bet that you look good on the dancefloor
I don’t know if you’re looking for romance or
I don’t know what you’re looking for
I said, I bet that you look good on the dancefloor
Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984
Well, from 1984

All so far, so good…well, in a fashion. “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” is a fairly standard tale of “boy sees girl, girl rebuffs boy”. Then we take a rather unexpected turn.

While I don’t have the personal experience to draw on, after one drink too many late at night in a club somewhere, I very much doubt many boozed-up young guys switch into Shakespeare as a way of conveying their feelings.

But that’s where Alex Turner takes the Artic Monkeys…

Oh, there ain’t no love, no Montagues and Capulets
Just banging tunes and DJ sets, and
Dirty dancefloors and dreams of naughtiness

The interesting thing here is that Alex Turner could have written “Romeo and Juliet”…which has exactly he same number of syllables as “Montagues and Capulets”, and would have been a much more obvious cultural reference.

First time I heard “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, while I recognised Montagues and Capulets as something from Shakespeare, I didn’t know without looking it up that those were the family names in “Romeo and Juliet”. (Don’t blame me, we only did “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar” at school…the last thing the teachers wanted in an all-boys school was anything that might get us thinking about girls, as “Romeo and Juliet” would almost certainly have done…)

So those Shakespearean family names being casually tossed into the Artic Monkeys’ song about down-at-heel night clubs after people have had more to drink than is probably good for them makes “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” stand out in my mind.

I did enjoy punk back in the day, but I was just being young and rebellious, as far as I was able…which is to say, in light of my subsequent accounting career, not terribly rebellious…

However one thing the punks did exceptionally well was making records which thundered along at breakneck speed, full of energy, driving guitars, pounding drums and snarling, shouted lyrics.

Although the Artic Monkeys bring us a much more sophisticated take on that musical style, there’s more than enough of a homage to the teenage years of the world’s ageing punk rock fans in “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” to spontaneously fire off plenty of positive memories of our youth.

“I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” set the Artic Monkeys’ career alight in the UK.

Probably not since the Beatles did a group’s career go from playing seedy dives to stardom quite so quickly. “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” was released towards the end of October 2005 and by the summer of 2007…less than two years later…they were headlining at Glastonbury, one of the world’s premier music festivals.

Although the Artic Monkeys shot out the barrel at a million miles an hour in the UK, their reception elsewhere in the world was a bit more muted. They achieved a decent level of success outside the UK without getting anyone else too hot under the collar.

The Artic Monkeys’ debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”, for which “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” was the launch track, became the best-selling album in British chart history at the time, shifting over 350,000 copies in the week of its release.

“Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” outsold, on its own, all the other entries in the Top 20 of the UK albums chart that week and would go on to become 6x Platinum in the UK alone, winning just about every UK music award going.

It was a different matter in the US. “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” was only a Top 30 album there. Although the Artic Monkeys were a popular live band, record sales didn’t match up with the Artic Monkeys’ concert attendances across the pond.

In the UK, though, the Artic Monkeys were that rarest of groups — a success with the critics and a commercial success at the same time.

I particularly like that Artic Monkeys songs have more depth to them than a superficial listening would lead you to believe at first. That’s always a fine thing for a song to do in my book.

And a rare thing to find buried in a rousing guitar-based, punk-influenced, full-speed-ahead piece of music like “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”.

Whether or not your name’s down for Strictly this year, here are the Artic Monkeys…

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/3DQVgcqaP3iSMbaKsd57l5

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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