Icehouse: Electric Blue
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
What do I know about Icehouse? Not much. Icehouse are Australian. Icehouse have a pretty good name. Icehouse appear to at one point have been associated with synth-pop, but more or less ditched the sound before they got huge, which makes me assume that there are probably some college grads in their 30s right now that viewed them as huge sell-outs. Icehouse have a self-titled song, which automatically makes them at least slightly cool, since the only three artists I can think of off the top of my head to have a self-titled song are Bo Diddley, Black Sabbath and Talk Talk (wanna say some punk band did it too, but can’t remember which). Icehouse co-wrote “Electric Blue.”
John Oates is not a man afforded much critical respect. In fact, John Oates is a close third to Art Garfunkel and Andrew Ridgeley when it comes to Ultimate Second Bananas in Rock and Roll History Now Only Referenced as Joke Punchlines. John Oates had a haircut and moustache to make Gabe Kaplan look like Sean Connery in comparison. John Oates’s most noteworthy contribution to Hall & Oates appears to be that he blinked in time with the handclaps in the video for “Private Eyes.” John Oates released an album called Phunk Shui. John Oates also co-wrote “Electric Blue.”
“Electric Blue” is a better song than anything Hall & Oates ever did. For some people, this not might not mean much, but to a select few of us, this is akin to saying that “____ is a better album than anything The Beatles ever released,” “_____ is a better movie than anything Hitchcock ever directed” or “_____ is a better infomercial than any Matthew Lesko ever appeared in.” It puts it in a class with, at most, 20 other songs ever created by anyone. It’s not a distinction that one gives lightly. But it’s one that “Electric Blue” deserves.
“Electric Blue” has two entirely negligible verses. As far as verses go, they’re not quite Chinese whitebait but they’re too short and purposeless to make much of an impression. Even if the lyrics were any good, singer Iva Davies sings them in a half-hearted mumble, as if he was saving all his passion and energy for the chorus. He is.
The chorus to “Electric Blue” is in a league only with New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” in terms of sheer maximization of the possibilities of the form. Listening to it, it becomes immediately apparent that the verses to “Electric Blue” only exist because, by definition, a song must have verses to have a chorus. So monumental is the chorus to “Electric Blue” that it needs a lead-in, a teaser to help gear audiences up for it. That preview, the line “are you hiding somewhere behind those eyes?” sends chills down my spine not only because it’s a fucking fantastic phrase of a question and a remarkably acute pinpointing of a totally intangible sensation, but because of that to which it will inextricably lead.
The chorus to “Electric Blue” soars instantly; Davies’ vocals race up and down the octave in perfect harmony with the accompanying synth-bells and chugging guitar riff. “I just freeze every time you see through me / And it’s all over you”—and he keeps you in suspense a split second before delivering the title phrase. And what a title phrase it is. Like the titles to most of pop music’s truly great songs—“Hey Jealousy,” “Train in Vain,” “How Soon is Now?,” “Brass in Pocket,” even the previously mentioned “Bizarre Love Triangle”—it means absolutely nothing, allowing you to ascribe your own importance to it. And like all of those titles (well, except “Brass in Pocket”), it just sounds damn good, rolling fluently off the tongue and instantly conjuring a vague (but specifically vague) mental image in the heads of all who hear it.
The first chorus to “Electric Blue,” however, turns out to just be a warm-up. The second chorus doubles the length of the first to four lines and makes the structure even more brilliant. Each line is preceded by high-pitched backing vocals that introduce the line thematically, a cheat sheet for those of us singing along to notify us as to which line of the chorus is approaching (which can, at times, be pretty confusing), and always concludes with the title phrase. What’s more, each phrase seems to up the ante, building up to the final plea: “On my knees / Help me, baby.” In the first chorus, Davies sings the line with the same melody as the rest of the chorus, but in the second and in each following chorus, he reaches far higher, sounding as if he’s straining his soul to reach it. It’s that moment, that heartfelt, climactic moment, which seals the deal on the chorus, as well as the rest of “Electric Blue.”
Even though the song isn’t even half over by this point, it’s as far as it needs to develop, and the band knows it, essentially repeating the chorus for the next two minutes and thirty seconds, minus about a half-minute for a sax solo (which still contains “help me, baby” refrains). And it still isn’t enough—it’s worth searching out the 12” version of the song, if for no other reason that because it’s just more of THAT chorus. If history remembers nothing else positive of Icehouse or John Oates than these four lines, it’ll still be enough to ensure them, or at least merit them, musical immortality.