In certain areas of life, you’re better off not seeing how the sausage is made. Unfortunately, pop music can be one of those areas. It’s not on the same level as legislation, or ya know, actual sausage, but what you find when you pull back the curtain and learn about how your favorite top-40 songs were made can be stomach-turning nonetheless. The corrective recording technology. The lists of songwriters that would reach the floor if published in scroll format. The contradictions between artists’ public personas and personal lives. It can get ugly. I’m not proud to admit it, but there are times I’d rather not know who was singing that radio hit I’ve grown attached to for fear it’ll turn out to be a star whose fame has crossed over into infamy. It’s judgy, I know, but who is doing the singing and how something is created matters. It just does.
The word “pop” can be tricky, and I tend to have a hard time knowing when to use it, but you could make a strong case for it here. The description of “Bird Of Prey” on Spacebomb’s website starts with “Pop is not a thing to be feared,” and goes on to use language like “hits fierce and fast,” “hook” and “addictive.” The song is bright and agile, and the chorus certainly gets stuck in your head, that’s for sure. Still don’t believe the pop shoe fits? Look to the single’s B-side, an A+++ cover of Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place.” (Quick note to the Spacebomb folks: I need that B-side pressed to vinyl. Neeeed it.)
If “Bird Of Prey” is indeed pop, the video above is evidence of how righteous crafting pop music can be. The live strings, the charts, recording to tape — what comes through the screen is careful consideration. Love for the process. For people who care about the ingredients that go into their music — and especially for 1960’s Southern soul junkies like me — getting to peer into the inner workings of the Spacebomb operation is like touring Willy Wonka’s factory (without the whole forcing-yourself-to-burp-and-fart-so-you-don’t-get-chopped-up-by-a-deadly-exhaust-fan thing). It’s a world that Gene Wilder would have crooned rhapsodically about. A place where you can bite into anything you see (or, in this case, hear) and marvel at how sweet and thoughtfully prepared it is.
Before it starts to sound like the song’s success hinges on its backing musicians, let me present one more video — a live performance of “Bird Of Prey” recorded at Balliceaux back in 2011.
Stripped down to nothing but voice and guitar — single notes, in some places — the song retains so much of what makes it compelling. The intensity, the wonderful tension created by the lyrics’ central metaphor, Prass’ athletic, true-toned delivery — they’re all there, as are the spaces (the bars that come after the second chorus, and the ones that bring the song to a close) that would eventually be adorned with strings and horns. With the benefit of having heard the final version, it’s easy to see that Prass’ vision for the song went way beyond verses and hooks, and the Spacebomb graphics flashing in the background foreshadow just how wonderfully realized that vision would become. Seeing the evolution of a song like this is revealing, and the picture I see coming into focus here is an impressive one, where all the players involved show real dedication to the craft that goes into making pop music worth being proud of.
I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album, and I can’t reiterate enough how badly I need this single on 45. Anyone know if you can Foo Fighters (yes, it’s a verb now) a record pressing?