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"Bust A Move"

You may have heard Young MC's hit "Bust A Move" in a recent Verizon commercial. (I like watching the little Android dude do his little boogie.) Or perhaps you saw it performed in a Season 1 episode of "Glee." Or maybe you have seen it in one of the, to quote Wikipedia, "countless" appearances in music, television, and movies since the song was first released in 1989.

This mega-hit song was ubiquitous from day 1. And yet, it only topped the charts at #7 at the time. Maybe everyone was so sick of hearing it on the radio, they didn't even bother buying it. Back in the days when you only listened to the local radio stations, this overexposure was a real risk.

It's hard sometimes to remember what life was like before 24/7 free streaming internet radio, and the iTunes store, and YouTube, and Pandora, and every other way to get music into your head. Back in the 1980s, you were basically stuck with your own CD collection (and CDs cost a fortune), the cassette tapes you had copied from your friends (if you were lucky enough to own a two-cassette player), and the stuff you saw on television. (Like MTV, which used to show music videos. It's true!)

"Bust A Move" is a quintessentially late 80s/early 90s song. In its bland commercialism, its kicky beat, and its use of samples, it represented the pinnacle of MC Hammer and parachute pants. "Bust A Move" was the kind of harmless, bouncy, hip-hop inflected song even your parents were happy to nod their heads to. Is there anything more lame than that? Even at the time, "Bust A Move" was destined to be endlessly recycled in pop culture. And here we are, 22 years later, and it's being used unironically in a cell phone commercial.

This song relies heavily on the sampling tradition of hip hop, but in the least edgy way possible. Throughout the song, human voices saying "aww" or "yeah" are used as rhythmic elements. Then we have a pretty nice bass line, and a thoroughly synthetic drum track. Mash all this together and you have something practically custom designed for parents to play for their toddlers at dance time.

Over this, Young MC starts rapping. And I use that term in the Will Smith/"Parents Just Don't Understand" sense. In a lot of ways, "Bust A Move" is like someone mashed some mid-list mass market rap over 1987's smash club hit "Pump Up The Volume."

By the late 1980s, rap had split into two very divergent camps. On one side you had the cheerful, harmless stuff like "Bust A Move." On the other side you had N.W.A., whose album "Straight Outta Compton" featuring the song "F*** Tha Police" was released in 1989 as well.

Guess which kind this was.

Young MC's lyrics commiserate with the listener, about how difficult it is to get the attention of women if you're not very handsome, physically fit, or well-dressed. Luckily, you have an option: impress them with dance. Impress your friends! Wow your enemies! Bust a move!

Photo credit: Flickr/jeroen020