Pop songs that become hits and move millions of people are a miracle, even for singer as talented as Mariah Carey. It’s even more miraculous when a pop song that has had its way with the earholes of millions (and their money) not only makes it onto the playlist of a recovering jazzaholic like me, but then gets repeatment treatment. Mariah Carey has had an edge (curves, actually) in gaining access to both of my earholes since I was twelve years old, and saw her posing wearing a black mini dress all over Tower Records in Manhattan. So I have always hoped to hear a song good enough to justify getting that 12″ vinyl full of those pictures, or even just to sit through one of her videos with audio not muted.
Ultimately, it finally took a cover by a Japanese artist to take her music seriously. There’s nothing sexy about row of guys at a local bar complaining about their (ex)wives, so I was easily distracted from the conversation when I heard a girl sing, “Touch My Body/Throw me on the floor.” Of course, I found the original first, and eventually paid crApple $2.50 for the single. Now I am not a man who can rest if he suspects that he’s just been the victim of a ear-fuck, so I started to use my musical training to speculate about how this song put me under its spell. Latent preteen lust for MC? Nah, bro…
Besides the lyrics which are impossible to ignore, I like the chord changes/voicings (G/E-A-Bm7-F#m7-Bm7). I like the space between the kick drum’s pulse and finger snaps and hand-claps instead of the usual snare sound. I like the simple chimes and strings ornamenting the arrangement. I like the clean and intimate production. The melodic and harmonic content is so simple that it seems like a children’s song for adults, but that’s a particular asset in a pop song. The whole track is so accessible, and does nothing to distract from MC’s vocal technique and the sexuality she clearly articulates.
So I became curious about who could make such a minimalist masterpiece, and found a surprising amount of information and misinformation (chord changes) on Wikipedia about such a short and simple song. Writer credits show that it took no less than FOUR people to compose! My first guess was that each of them wrote a part for each octave in MC’s range, but after accepting that that joke was neither funny nor accurate, I started to draw a picture in my mind of what writer’s credit really means in a recording environment. Wrote the chorus? Credit. Wrote a verse, or changed one word? Credit. Programmed the beat? Credit. Played keyboard parts critical to completing the arrangement? CREDIT, MUTHAFUCKA.
The old model of copywriting a song’s melody has been inadequate since sheet music stopped being the best medium for popular songs to reach the population. (That’s why we have now have bebop.) The people at the very highest levels of the music industry working with artists like Mariah Carey got where they are today at least partly due to big ambitions that include business savvy. So they must have realized now that ANYONE can be included in a writing credit, and are smart enough to demand it, even if they didn’t contribute to writing the melody. Hell, the melody is barely more than two notes.
No one in at that level of the music industry is getting screwed out of royalties for contributing some small but crucial element of a song that makes it a hit. Drummer Ginger Baker, singer Clare Tory or arranger Johny Pate are just a few of the skilled artists who later had to sue in order to get their slice of cheddar from the hits they were literally instrumental in creating. The real content (and work) of the Touch My Body is the lyrics, the production and especially the singer’s improvising. I would like this song if almost any female vocalist had done it, but I probably wouldn’t have obsessed over it without MC’s riffing at the end.
After listening to the tune for fuckteenth time, I realized that have I always liked her singing on tunes like Dream Weaver, Emotions, All I Want for Christmas is You, and others. Not the track. Not the high notes. It’s the riffing (or melisma if you ain’t got soul.) That’s the same kind of shit I love to do with my own limited vocal and guitar skills to give it flavor. I believe that singing like that is a model for me to aspire, which in turn helps me to connect with people like the drunken old hipster, sweet Irishman, and curious 9-year old girl in Topper’s bar last night through music.