‘Vogue’ (By Madonna)
"Vogueing" was a dance craze popular in the gay community where dancers used elaborate hand gestures and frequently stopped to pose. This song brought the dance style to the mainstream and solidified Madonna's standing as an icon in the gay community.
Madonna's best friend Debi Mazar first noticed the Vogue craze while they were out clubbing. She was fascinated by the way these men would "Strike a pose" while holding their bodies in strange positions. Madonna took the idea to the New York producer Shep Pettibone, who she had recently begun working with, and they wrote the song together. Pettibone was a DJ at Sound Factory, which is the club where Madonna saw the dancing.
This song was originally written as the B-side to "Keep It Together," a single release in America only. However, when Shep Pettibone played "Vogue" to the record company executives at Sire, they decided that the song was too good to waste on a B-side.
Madonna mentions many glamorous actors and actresses in the lyrics, including Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire and Jean Harlow. Some of the mentions are a little forced: "They had style, they had grace, Rita Hayworth gave good face."
Lauren Bacall was the last surviving legendary actor or actress mentioned in this song. She passed away after a stroke on August 12, 2014. Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joe DiMaggio (the only non actor mentioned), Marlon Brando, Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, and Lana Turner all previously departed before the husky-voiced Hollywood icon.
The video featured the "House Of Extravaganza," a group of New York City dancers who "Vogued" along with Madonna. Before fading into obscurity, they performed on talk shows as America became interested in the Vogue phenomenon.
The video was directed by David Fincher, who directed Alien 3. He went on to direct Seven (1995), Fight Club (1999) and Zodiac (2007). Fincher also directed Madonna's "Express Yourself," "Oh, Father" and "Bad Girl."
This was included on Madonna's album I'm Breathless, which was "inspired by" the movie Dick Tracy. Madonna starred in the movie with Warren Beatty, and they became a couple. Speaking about this song in the October 29, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone, Madonna said, "I wrote it when I was making Dick Tracy. After we shot the movie, Warren Beatty asked me if I could write a song that would fit my character's point of view, that she could have conjured up. She was obsessed with speakeasies and movie stars and things like that. The idea for the lyrics came through that request."
One of the dancer's striking a pose in the video was Belgian dancer Salim "Slam" Gauwloos, who went on to choreograph and create ballets. He recalled to Q magazine June 2009: "I first auditioned for her tour with 2000 other hopefuls. People turned up with flowers and gifts for Madonna, which was weird to me - I just danced." He added: "Shooting a video in two days, 16 hours a day, required a lot of focus. David Fincher told me to stand and hit different poses with my body and face. I was ambitious and became frustrated I wasn't dancing that much and thought, 'Great - no one's going to see me.' So I was really surprised I got so much focus in the video."
Madonna was the subject of a lawsuit in 2012 claiming that portions of the song borrowed the horns and strings heard in Salsoul Orchestra's 1983 dance tune, "Ooh, I Love It (Love Break)." Music Bosses at American record company VMG Salsoul only discovered the apparent sample thanks to new technology designed to identify specific sounds. VMG claimed that Pettibone had access to "Love Break," because he had been hired by them to remix the song before beginning work on "Vogue."
The suit was resolved in November 2013 with a ruling in favor of Madonna and Pettibone. A District Court judge out of California ruled on summary judgment that the sampling of the horns and strings was "trivial," in that they could not be recognized.
The word vogue was very fashionable in 1990. Not only did this song top the charts, but the magazine Vogue was enjoying a resurgence under the guidance of Anna Wintour, and the group En Vogue emerged with their first hit, "Hold On."
‘Supermodel (you better work)’ (by Rupaul)
Before this song made him the most famous drag queen of his time, Rupaul (born Rupaul Andre Charles), was hustling work in Atlanta as an actor, model and dancer. Born in San Diego, Rupaul moved there with his sister in the early '80s, and one day auditioned for a stage show called The Shaggy Dog Animation. He brought with him a sign reading "Rupaul is Starrbooty," which got the attention of the composer Jimmy Harry, who was working on the show. Rupaul got a role in the production and started a working relationship with Harry.
After Rupaul moved to New York and became a star of the Drag scene, he got a record deal with the Tommy Boy label. For his first single on the label, Rupaul and Harry joined the producer Larry Tee to write "Supermodel," a song about "working it" on the runway. A natural extension of Rupaul's Drag act and model persona, he exuded confidence on the track, as if he was a master instructor drilling his charges. (This came full-circle in 2009 when Rupaul's reality/competition show RuPaul's Drag Race debuted on the Logo network.)
The song was a huge hit in dance clubs, going to #1 on the Dance charts. It also did surprisingly well on the Pop charts, making #45 in America and #39 in the UK despite garnering very little airplay.
Rupaul's career took off - he got a radio show, an endorsement deal with MAC cosmetics, and a number of TV and movie appearances. The song also launched the career of Jimmy Harry, who became a top songwriter/producer. His writing credits include "Low" by Kelly Clarkson, "True" by Ryan Cabrera, and "Funhouse" by Pink.
Rupaul is not a gifted vocalist in any traditional sense, but he can add flavor to a Dance production and provide striking visuals to support it. His music is a corollary to his performance art, which proved very popular within his niche. Following the release of this song, Rupaul had several more encounters with the Hot 100. "Back To My Roots" bubbled under at #106 in 1993, and the following year his duet with Elton John on "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" made #92. In 1996, he reached #95 with "Snapshot."
This song was first released as a "maxi-single" with four different mixes on the first side:
Ready To Wear Mix
La Wanda In Your Face
The B-side contained three mixes of a song called "House of Love." When the single took off, Tommy Boy commissioned a full album, which was released in 1993 as Supermodel of the World.
The song tapped into America's fascination with Supermodels, which was the new crop of models whose reach extended far beyond the pages of magazines. Madonna and George Michael had each brought modeling into the musical realm, with Madonna's "Vogue" channeling model culture and Michael's "Freedom '90" featuring five of the most famous supermodels: Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz.
The Randy Barbato-directed music video has RuPaul strutting around New York City on various fashion shoots and selling perfume in a mock commercial. The scene with him splashing through a fountain was inspired by the 1975 Diana Ross film Mahogany.
‘Dance Hall Days’ (by Wang Chung)
Jack Hues of Wang Chung told Eric Greenberg on the Just My Show podcast: "It begins quite innocent: 'take your baby by the hand,' and then the last verse with 'take your baby by the wrists, and in her mouth an amethyst,' it's all a bit more hallucinogenic in a way, how things that start off simple get complex.
My dad was a musician, and he had a band that played in an old-fashioned dance hall. I used to play with him in that band, so maybe there's sort of the nostalgia that's in the track. It's all quite real, actually, as far as experiences that I had when I was first starting out playing, and playing in public.
Musically, it's that sort of rhythm and that kind of shuffly beat. Technically it's sort of like 3 against 2 (laughs), but we're not gonna talk about all that. It's a particular feel that was sort of unusual at the time, I suppose. It was partly inspired by one of the Adam and the Ants tracks, and that's part of the thinking of using Chris Hughes, who produced Adam's Kings of The Wild Frontier album. I think the record company were keen that we sort of met up with him, and Chris and I have been friends ever since that time - Chris works with me on my jazz records that I've made in the last couple of years. It's been one of the most important friendships of my life."
Even though they are British, this was Wang Chung's only hit in the UK. After it proved to be a bigger hit in the US and was featured in the film To Live And Die In LA, they decided to ignore the UK market and concentrate on the US. This proved an astute decision as they recorded two more American top 10 hits, "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" (#2 in 1986) and "Let's Go!" (#9 in 1987), whilst not even recording a minor chart placing in the UK.
Hues explained on Just My Show: "I think it has perhaps created a slight air of unreality around it. Because Wang Chung in Britain is sort of obscure '80s band. I think 'Dance Hall Days' was a fairly substantial hit over here, although it didn't chart high, it was in the charts for a long time. It took a long time going up, and a long time going down, like a proper record should do. And we did Top of the Pops a couple of times, which was a big BBC show where promising bands - or not so promising bands - got their exposure. But I think the divide between the US and the UK for me probably worked, in that I'm quite a private person, and at the time of 'Dance Hall Days' I had three children, and I wasn't married at the time, but my family life is very important to me. Being able to come home and be low key was great. I could leave all of the craziness behind in the States and just be myself, as it were, when I got back here."
This was featured in the 1997 movie Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.
Wang Chung frontman Jack Hues' real name is Jeremy Ryder. He took the stage name as a persona, which British musicians like Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten were doing at the time. He is the biological father of British actor Jack Ryder, who played Jaime in the British Soap Opera Eastenders.
When this song was on the charts, Wang Chung was touring in America as the opening act for The Cars, who were supporting their album Heartbeat City.
‘Dancing Queen’ (by Abba)
This was written by ABBA members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. According to ABBA's official site, it was conceived as a dance song with the working title "Boogaloo." They drew inspiration from the 1974 George McCrae disco hit "Rock Your Baby," and from the drumming on the 1972 album Gumbo by Dr. John. Their manager Stig Anderson came up with the title "Dancing Queen," and after several months working on the track, ABBA came up with arguably the world's first europop disco hit.
ABBA recorded this about a year before it was released. It was written and recorded around the same time as "Fernando," which was chosen as the single. They knew "Dancing Queen" would also be a hit, so they held it until the album was released before issuing it as a single.
ABBA performed this song on June 18, 1976 at a televised tribute to Queen Silvia and King Gustaf XVI of Sweden, who were married the next day.
This was the only one of ABBA's 14 US Top 40 hits to make it to #1.
Regarding the lyrics, "Night is young and the music's high," many listeners interpret this as a statement that the music makes you feel high. In ABBA's part of the world, however, it simply means that the music is loud.
Along with many other ABBA songs, this was featured in Muriel's Wedding, a hit Australian movie starring Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths.
According to the BBC Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans, when this song was played at a Windsor Castle event Queen Elizabeth said: "I always try to dance when this song comes on because I am the Queen and I like to dance."
This song also reached #1 in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Rhodesia, South Africa, Sweden and West Germany.
When Benny first played Frida the song's backing track, she burst into tears. "And that was before me and Agnetha had even sung on it!" she smiled to The Guardian. "I knew it was absolutely the best song Abba had ever done."
This came top of a 2014 poll conducted by Blinkbox concerning the most commonly misheard lyrics in Pop. 22% of the people polled admitted they had mistaken the lyric "See that girl, watch that scene, diggin' the dancing queen" for, "See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen."
Chris Stein of Blondie says that his group's 1979 hit "Dreaming" is "pretty much a cop" of "Dancing Queen."
U2 covered this during the band's Zoo TV tour in 1992, and were joined onstage by Bjorn and Benny when the show hit Stockholm. "ABBA have a purer joy to their music," Bono explains in the documentary ABBA: The Winner Takes It All, "and that's what makes them extraordinary."
The American disco singer Carol Douglas covered this song in 1977, taking it to #110 in America. The other two covers to chart are by ABBA clones A*Teens (#95 in 2000) and the Glee Cast (#74, 2011).
‘I want to break free’ (by Queen)
Queen bass player John Deacon wrote this from the male perspective of the women's liberation movement.
This song became an anthem for the ANC in South Africa in the late-'80s when Nelson Mandela was still in jail and the white government's apartheid policies were still in place.
The video for this song parodies a popular British television soap, Coronation Street. The opening sequence features all the band members in drag (Mercury as a housewife, Deacon as grandmother, Taylor as a schoolgirl, and May as a housewife). This confused many people who didn't catch the reference. Brian May was asked in an interview with Q magazine March 2011 whether each band member's character in the video was an accurate reflection of their personalities? He replied: "Of Course! Everybody thinks that was Freddie's idea because it looks like something that he would love to do but it actually came from Roger's girlfriend at the time, strangely enough. It was her idea to pastiche the Coronation Street women."
Singles are often edited down from the album version of songs, but this was the opposite, as the version on The Works is about 30 seconds shorter - the single has a longer synthesizer intro and a longer solo.
Lisa Stansfield sang this at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. She came on the Wembley Stadium stage wearing hair curlers and pushing a vacuum cleaner in tribute to the song's video.
Sadly, for some the Coronation Street pastiche video didn't go over so well, and it was actually banned on MTV, meaning the single died in America. Fred Mandel, who played the synths and signature solo on the track, explained in the Days of our Lives documentary: "It's a very British kind of humor, and I don't think it went over too well in the States. I'm Canadian, so I get it!"
Roger Taylor seemed visibly annoyed: "In those days on MTV, it was Whitesnake, and f--king Whitesnake, and then another Whitesnake track! They must've thought men dressing up in drag wasn't 'rock' enough, I suppose." Brian May added, "I think at that point we lost America, which is a shame, as it means there's a whole chunk of Queen songs which never got played or heard there."
Many people assume the solo is played on guitar. Actually it's not - it's a synth solo by talented keyboardist Fred Mandel. "John did NOT want a guitar solo" notes Roger Taylor. "So he got Fred, who's a very brilliant keyboard player, to improvise something around the main tune, and Fred did this brilliant take."
Brian May didn't seem to initially agree with it: "I didn't exactly agree with it at the time, but I gave it my blessing... that's the deal." Mandel himself joked about how it clashed with Queen's previous no-synthesizers policy on their early 1970s records: "All the old records used to say prominently "no synthesizers"... then I come in like another schmuck and put synthesizers on everything!"
Freddie Mercury was all set to shave off his trademark mustache for his turn as a woman in the video, but director David Mallet put a stop to it. He told the documentary series Video Killed the Radio Star: "I said, 'No, the one thing you musn't do, the funny thing is that your mustache is there and you're in drag!' To this day, when he comes around the corner with that hoover I laugh." Mercury did ditch the 'stache for a later segment in the video, where he is surrounded by the Royal Ballet in a nod to the French ballet L'Après-midi d'un faune and its clean-shaven Russian star Vaslav Nijinsky.
Mallet, who directed several other Queen videos like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Radio Ga Ga," said he had the most fun with this clip.