Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ooh La La

If you took a poll among aficionados on John Cale's worst songs, you can bet that "Ooh La La" would rank high. Honestly, I don't think that's fair. Here's why.

In the song, Cale plays an older lech who hypnotizes the fair Continental ladies and leads them into sin, only to have his misdeeds catch up with him. If you haven't heard it, give a listen:

That's the version that was released on John Cale Comes Alive and as a single in 1984. Cale really hams it up, chewing scenery in the studio as seldom before or since.

There's another version of the song that was released on Seducing Down the Door and possibly Comes Alive in some regions. Despite a different mix, it's mostly the same instrumentally. It adds a cool atonal middle-eight and features completely different vocals. Cale plays it straight, with a barely-sung part drowning in self-regard. Meanwhile, his guitarist Dave Young takes over the hamming in a shouted word part, putting on various accents and trying to get Mr. Cale's attention.

OK, so the sequenced drums are tacky. It's all tacky! It's supposed to be! I mean, for God's sake: "Zoe had a crush on Castro; and Camilla, she loved Bob Hope. But after staring into my clear blue eyes, they both went looking for the Pope!" "I try to hide behind my smile, but they seem to know me... by my stare!" The whole song is as much a comic pisstake as Chickenshit or Hey Ray and should be approached accordingly.

If Cale had made a career of the dirty old man schtick after this, I would hold it against him. (In fact, I hold exactly that against Nick Cave.) But he didn't, so I enjoy this as dumb comedy. And as parody it isn't unwarranted - God knows there are a lot of European films of the late 20th century that take this subject very seriously.

It did pretty much suck live, though. I'm glad he didn't perform it beyond the tour.


Jack Feerick said...

It's an odd fit with most of Cale's output, isn't it; he's often witty, but rarely tries to be out-and-out funny. But he manages it, I think.

Of course it doesn't hurt that the whole Englishman-abroad bit, playing on the simultaneous horror and fascination that the British have for Continental Europe, is such a classic trope, and a rich mine of British comedy, high and low.

I'm most fond of the Seducing version -- the deadpan vocals make it much funnier, I think.

g said...

ooh la la was quite a fierce song played live with a band. He also played a menacing slowed down version solo in Rotterdam in 1984. The single's picture sleeve was edited to remove the line of white powder next to the glass. Cale has always done silly songs, he has a big sense of humour/irony