Number Ones - Gym Class Heroes 'Ass Back Home'
Who's saying what
Gym Class Heroes
(Warner Music Group)
This week's new number one single in Australia is ‘Ass Back Home’ by the Gym Class Heroes featuring Neon Hitch.
It probably hasn't hurt their chances of getting to #1 that they're currently touring Australia, playing Brisbane's Future Music Festival. 'Ass Back Home' replaces ‘Wild Ones’ by Flo Rida and Sia, which spent six weeks in the top spot. Gym Class Heroes had a top 10 single last year with ‘Stereo Hearts’ (which also featured Maroon 5’s Adam Levine), and had two top 20 singles in 2007, with ‘Cupid’s Chokehold’ (the one that sampled ‘Breakfast In America’ by Supertramp) and ‘Clothes Off!!!’. Additionally, the frontman of the Gym Class Heroes, Travie McCoy, also had a top 10 single with ‘Billionaire’ in 2010, his collaboration with Bruno Mars. Neon Hitch, the British female vocalist who sings most of the hooks, is new to the charts despite having previously co-written songs such as ‘Blah Blah Blah’ for Ke$ha.
It's not surprising then that ‘Ass Back Home’, one could argue, has a bit of the ‘too many cooks’ about it, with a whopping eight co-writers (including all four band members, two producers and two mysterious otherwise unrelated songwriters). The song was produced by Dr Luke offsider Benny Blanco (who has credits on ‘Tik Tok’, ‘California Gurls’, ‘Dynamite’, and ‘Moves Like Jagger’) and RoboPop (who has credits on ‘Stereo Hearts’ and, oddly, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’).
‘Ass Back Home’ lives in the well-worn grooves of the road song. The song (and video) depict Neon Hitch and Travie McCoy as lovers separated by the distance inherent in touring, but are nonetheless in a strong, committed relationship – "we put the us in trust", he sings. The road song is one of the oldest clichés in the book of rock’n’roll, of course, up there with the ‘mmm, teenage girls are hot’ song, or the ‘yay, sex and drugs and rock and roll!’ song. Which are often on the same album as the the also-very-much-a-cliché ‘fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be’ song.
Of course, the reason that the road song is a cliché is that the cliché is very much representative of the successful rock musician’s reality. After all, you don’t have to even be a famous musician to experience the sheer mind-numbing tedium of being on the road. And musicians are concerned with authenticity, feeling that they should write about their emotions. Considering that musicians probably have strong feelings about being on the road for so long, it’s no surprise that the subject is a cliché. It’s enough of a cliché, in fact, that a recent typically pop-culture-referencing Fountains of Wayne song called ‘A Road Song’ has the lyrics: ‘I’ve been writing you a road song/ It’s a cliché but hey/ That doesn’t make it so wrong/ And in between the stops at the Cracker Barrel/ And forty movies with Will Ferrell/ I need some way to occupy my time/ So I’m writing you a road song’.
Of course, from a distance, the rock and roll lifestyle barely seems like work -- there’s no 9-5 drudgery, punching in at work for another dreary day. Instead, it probably seems to many people that a rock musician plays for a couple of hours every so often, and afterwards lies in bed with a number of groupies checking their bank account. Mark Knopfler satirized this attitude towards rock and rollers in Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’: ‘You play the guitar on the MTV/ That ain’t working’, he sings, ‘that’s the way you do it/ Money for nothin’ and yer chicks for free’.
But the claustrophobia of the tour bus, the tedium of company you may not necessarily like, the drudgery of show after show, rarely being able to take time off or have time to themselves, is something a lot of musicians struggle with. This, some argue, is a lot of the reason why musicians infamously self-medicate with drugs -- it’s easier to cope with another night in Shitsville, USA, if you spend it in a self-induced haze. As the writer Touré argues, being a musician in this day and age is hard work, and he notes sadly that after Whitney Houston’s death, his musician friends mostly seem to be thinking, “Who’s next?”, rather than “That was odd”.
Not everyone hates the road, of course; Willie Nelson’s song ‘On The Road Again’ is all about how he "just can’t wait to get on the road again". And Bob Dylan has long mythologised the life of the rambler, of the restless soul who didn’t want to put down roots (see, e.g., 'Tangled Up In Blue'). Not coincidentally, while his peers spend most of their time with their feet up these days, Dylan has virtually been on tour nonstop since 1988. But it’s fair to say that a lot of musicians struggle with the necessities of touring. David Gilmour has suggested, for example, that the reason that his 2006 solo album On An Island wasn’t a new Pink Floyd album was that, if it had've been, the publicity machine and touring machine that would be unleashed would simply be too gigantic for him to cope with. But with a solo album, the tour didn’t have to be as big; didn’t have to be as soul-destroying.
Adele, too, struggles with the touring life, if a recent Vogue interview is any indication: she’s pretty bummed that she’s missing out on friends’ weddings, that she has to cope with the struggles of trying to hold down a relationship while on tour. And of course, Radiohead’s film of their worldwide tour supporting OK Computer, Meeting People Is Easy, features quite a lot of Thom Yorke demonstrating how much he hated touring, publicity, etc.; it’s fair to say that, if he found he liked endless touring and radio interviews (etc), then Kid A would have been a much more populist album; more Coldplay than Aphex Twin.
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