Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Pum Pum: A Quick Formal Breakdown

A friend of mine, Mark Corrin, posted the new video by Lee "Scratch" Perry on Facebook a few weeks ago. I've had the song on repeat ever since, and I'm still not bored by it. If you don't like it at first, be aware that it's better than you think. And if you do like it to begin with, it's still better than you think.

In case you don't already know, Lee Perry is one of the original icons of Reggae and Dub music. He was born in 1936 in Kendal, Jamaica and now lives in Zurich.

I'll just make a string of points about this video:
  • I never thought a man in his 70s would look so cool with silver, sparkling eyeliner
  • The beat is so rocksteady. The bass drum matches the "P" in Pum Pum, so they accentuate one another
  • I'm haunted by the image of Perry wiggling his fingers with all his gold rings at the camera
  • Listen out for all the intricate little sound effects layered into the song. Lots of orgasmic groans, ambient humms, gunshots...
  • He only starts singing about 2mins in. Before that he kind-of speaks the lyrics. I think it's called 'toasting'
  • It's a call and response song that goes through a series of rounds that can be interchanged. There is a beautiful clarity to it. One of them, which subtly plays with expectations goes:
Good vibration (good vibration)
for the good sensation (good vibration)
good vibration, good vibration, good vibration: I say!
  • another round that has a weird, asymmetrical structure goes 8-8-8-5. It seems silly, but there is a cleanliness, and a simple clarity which doesn't come easily to most:
Find a pum pum for my tittie
find a pum pum for my tittie
find a pum pum for my tittie
In New York City
  • Or he will say "look inna Pum Pum", to which a backing singer replies either "sweet Pum Pum, sexy Pum Pum" or "gimme more, gimme more".
  • Later, he picks up on the "gimme more" round, and voices layer on top of one another saying it in different ways
  • At the end, the various rounds inter cut one another
  • It takes a special kind-of guy to invoke a love of Jesus with a love of excess and the erotic so seamlessly
  • The beat cuts out at one point, and a phasing sound comes in on his voice. Today, it's a common trope but Perry was one of the pioneers to do stuff like this with Dub in the 70s
  • After Jesus is mentioned, an 'orchestra hit' enters the song - thus aligning his presence with that sound for the rest of the piece
OK. If nothing else, I hope I've demonstrated that if you think the song is simplistic or formally trite, you're mistaken. Enjoy!


LDMA said...

You could also view it as a pervy old man who seems a little too obsessed with young ladies bottoms.

Paul Taberham said...

ah yes, I can see that angle now you mention it...