Once upon a time, the producers behind the scenes of hit songs were exactly that … the producers behind the scenes, out of sight and out of mind. If you were a superfan of a particular artist, you might have at the most read the name of the person at the production helm of a given song or album. But for the majority of casual music listeners, names like Robert John "Mutt" Lange (who produced AC/DC, Def Leppard, Shania Twain), Nile Rodgers (Madonna, David Bowie), Brian Eno (U2, Coldplay), George Martin (The Beatles, Jeff Beck) and Rick Rubin (just about everybody else) were little more than the answers to Behind the Music-style Trivial Pursuit questions.
Increasingly, though, those dark-corner producer types are stepping out into the limelight. No longer content to anonymously craft hits for others, it's their own names that are starting to pop up on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Take British DJ, singer, guitarist and producer Mark Ronson, for instance. Until very recently, this stepson of Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones was "just" the brains behind the voices of Adele, Amy Winehouse and Christina Aguilera (among many others). Now he's got one of the world's biggest hits all to himself. Well, not all to himself. But never mind, will you, that Bruno Mars does all the singing!
Ronson and Mars' hooky, horns-and-synths-filled shout-out to funk has drawn more than a few comparisons (as well as copycat allegations) to the Morris Day and the Time song "Jungle Love" (featured in Prince's 1984 movie Purple Rain). This thing is truly a blast from the past, fusing early-'80s funkadelics with oh-so-slightly naughty lyrics that wouldn't have been out of place on an old-school James Brown jam.
There's plenty of verbal free association going on from the get-go. After a whole bunch of doo-woppy "doh, doh, dohs," Mars croons, "This hit/That ice cold." OK, I have stop the flow already. Because in interviews Ronson himself says that first line is actually "This s---." It won't necessarily sound that way to most listeners, but there it is, nonetheless. Bruno continues, "Michelle Pfeiffer/That white gold/This one for them 'hood girls/Straight masterpieces/Stylin' while livin' it up in the city." Then the focus comes back to the Mars man's own sense of personal awesomeness: "Got Chucks on with Saint Laurent/Gotta kiss myself, I'm so pretty."
The lengthy chorus alternates between Bruno's red-hot vibe and those uptown girls who like it. "I'm too hot (hot d--n)/Called a police and a fireman/I'm too hot (hot d--n)/Make a dragon wanna retire, man." When the ladies show up, Bruno goes gospel-y (and gets a bit suggestive) with, "Girls hit you, hallelujah (wooo)/Girls hit you, hallelujah (wooo)/ … 'Cause uptown funk gon' give it to you."
Alcohol creeps into the mix as Mars instructs, "Fill my cup, put some liquor in it." That's followed by a limousine-chauffeured, look-at-me-I'm-a-celebrity night on the town. And so given all that dancin', prancin', preenin', blingin' and drinkin', it's hardly a surprise when things veer in a more sexual direction by song's end. "Come on, dance!/Jump on it/If you sexy, then flaunt it/If you freaky, then own it/Don't brag about it, come show me."
We hear a blurt-out of "b--ch" as Bruno builds himself up by tearing his admirers down. Then, as the song closes, lyrics flirt repeatedly with the f-word as Bruno and his backups repeatedly proclaim, "Uptown funk you up, uptown funk you up."
In the video, Mars and those male backup singers/dancers do their best 21st-century Michael Jackson imitation. They strut and groove through various New York neighborhoods before eventually ending up on stage in a club. Early scenes find them leering at a couple of scantily clad women who walk by.
Throughout, Mark Ronson himself turns up in various ways, though never as part of Bruno's crew and sometimes seemingly as a nerdy foil to Bruno's embodiment of cool. Is that brave of him? Silly not to shine more brightly when he had the chance? Just the right balance between the worlds he's straddling? There's too much trouble on this track for me to wind up caring all that much.