Sometimes what may seem merely a pleasant but mostly forgettable ditty when it arrives can surprise you as more like a masterful pop concoction upon a revisiting (the opposite, of course, can also sadly be true). That’s how ‘Put Your Records On,’ the unexpected 2006 hit by then-27-year-old British unknown Corinne Bailey Rae, struck me after I heard it recently for the first time in many years (it was linked by my crossword puzzling hero Rex Parker). Her sweet as caramel voice and some artful chord changes play a big part. But so, too, does the flavorful instrumentation and especially some subtle production choices.
Let’s take a quick review (and to do so I’ll put the record on…here, so you can listen along while reading).
As it opens, the guitar and bass parts through the first verse and pre-chorus seem almost insultingly simplistic. The trite lyric “The more things seem to change / The more they stay the same,” while applicable to the song, did little to encourage me. Though the doe-eyed delicateness of her delivery was oddly engaging, I was ready to switch it off, likely forever.
Then the first hook-laden chorus jumped out at me and, well, I was hooked. The production pops and soars, but still gently, with Bailey Rae’s voice finding fresh potency and an entirely different personality.
“Girl, put your records on / Tell me your favorite song”
…and then, reaching an unexpected new octave..
“You go ahead, let your hair down”
Even once the song returns again to the comparatively smooth, peaceful verse, I remained sold for good.
As the second chorus nears I’m now anxiously awaiting it, and notice for the first time how it’s ushered in with the short snap of a snare drum fill and the gathering swell of horns and backing voices present to colorfully fill out the sound.
While the tune moves to a pretty, extended bridge, I could barely wait for one more chorus. And the third one delivers even more, beginning with an enticing two-beat mini breakdown, followed by the lovely reward of Bailey Rae’s multi-tracked vocal improvisations extending and ascending over the now fully enlivened mix.
When, finally, over chimes and tickled keyboard, she whispers the closing line – “Ooh, you’re gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow” – I’ve gotta say, I truly believed her.
So, fellow music lovers, cast your worries aside; it seems clear the simple lesson here is that life is better spent with your hair (at least figuratively) down, and just listening to records. Oh, and that you could be in for a nice surprise if you go back and replay pleasant pop songs again every decade or two.
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A subsequent re-listen to ‘Like A Star,’ from that same 2006 eponymous debut album, was possibly even more gratifying. An uncomplicated yet impeccable song. Gorgeous.