The Brilliant Stupidity of Robert Palmer’s 1986 No. 1 Hit, ‘Addicted to Love’
Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love", which was number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 35 years ago, is best known for his brilliantly idiotic video in which the singer appears in front of five breathtaking mannequin-like models with vapid facial expressions and musical instruments in hand that they don't even pretend they're miming convincingly. Nor can they dance and only occasionally move to the rhythm of the song. It's utterly ridiculous (Palmer's face throughout the video shows that he knows it too) and utterly iconic at the same time.
There's no question that the visual catchy tune (eye catcher?) Directed by Terence Donovan played a key role in getting the song - originally released six months earlier on Palmer's "Riptide" album - to # 1 on the May 3rd chart 1986 and threw Prince and the "kiss" of the revolution off the top for exactly one week before giving way to the "West End Girls" of the Pet Shop Boys. Oddly enough, the video is memorable, spawning tons of imitations and everything considered memes in the mid-1980s - so much so that it overshadowed the song, which is in a league of brilliant stupidity.
Any songwriter worth his or her money will tell you that a certain level of simplicity is half the battle - what's the use of art that nobody wants to see or hear? And of course, the brilliant musicians that producer Bernard Edwards put together for “Addicted to Love” - a song of Neanderthal simplicity - understood that.
The song is based on a chunky A-G-D-A chord progression that you can play on two guitar strings, and like the video, it's still impossible to get out of your head. And although the musicians managed to do a few clever licks, in the parlance of the era they checked their ego at the door and served the song.
The key beat is held by the Chic rhythm section, Edwards on bass and Tony Thompson on drums - the same people who accidentally laid the foundation for hip-hop when the 1979 rhythm track of Chic's "Good Times" was recorded in Sugarhill Gang became the hit "Rapper's Delight," the first widely distributed rap song. Thompson (who also worked with Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers on David Bowie's "Let's Dance" album) plays a tough four-on-the-floor rhythm - and shows himself with an open hi-hat flourish on the three, that give the song an off its key hook - cranked to a booming volume like only 80s drums can, and makes it even harder when you play as far behind the beat as possible. Edwards makes this slow and very stomping song dance with a simple but amazingly funky bass line that anchors the riff while also making it elastic (his bass line dances exponentially better than the models in the video).
That crunching guitar riff is of course the center of the song. While Duran Duran's Andy Taylor adds a snappy, impressively stupid solo at the end, the main riff comes from Eddie Martinez, who played the screaming guitars on Run-DMC's groundbreaking rap metal anthem "Rock Box" from 1984. Keyboardist Wally Badarou (who not only worked with Grace Jones and Herbie Hancock, but also played the breathtaking synthesizer solos in Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" and "This Must Be the Place") brings this rousing keyboard Hooks and the subtle, skittering sequencer with that underpins the rhythm of the song.
Finally, there is Palmer himself, the only known author of the song, who was one of the best British R&B singers of his generation, but keeps him relatively cautious here and delivers a polite and soulful voice that he practically makes one in the choir Percussion instrument ("Ah-dick-tid-to-love"). Even his outfit in the video conveys restraint: he wears a starched white shirt, a black tie and high-waisted black trousers and looks like a businessman whose idea of casual is to take off his jacket.
Yet Palmer didn't intend to sing alone: "Addicted to Love" was recorded as a duet with R&B icon Chaka Khan - but her voice was dropped before the song was released.
Palmer himself was not particularly pleased with this development. "Politics intervened," the "seething" singer told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. "Your people said it was a conflict of interest." She would have three singles at the same time. “She did get credit for the vocal arrangement, however.” She threw in parts and helped develop the song, "said Palmer." I couldn't use her vocals, but she deserves credit for what she put into the arrangement. "Although several Palmer-Khan duets can be found on YouTube," Addicted to Love "is unfortunately not one of them. If anyone has a version she sings on, please post it here. Even so, the monumentally talented Khan is not exactly stupid Without hearing the song, it's hard to tell how much she got into the joke.
While Palmer had worked with a wide variety of musicians over the course of his career - from Meters to Little Feat - this unusual combination was probably the best the Kraftwerk had to offer, the hideous "supergroup" of Palmer, Edwards, Thompson, Taylor and his Duran Duran bandmate John Taylor, who got his name from the famous New York studio and released an absolutely terrible but commercially successful album in 1985, led by a bilious cover of T. Rex's "Bang a Gong (Get It On). “These musicians had planned to work with a variety of singers but got along so well with Palmer that they did the entire hastily recorded album with him. However, he declined to take an equally hastily organized tour and appearance on Live Aid to work on "Riptide," but most of the musicians got back together for the song. Interestingly, they show none of the reluctance to "The Power Station" that they do to "Addicted" - Thompson show boats on the entire album.
Unfortunately, the key people involved in the song can't talk about any of it: Edwards and Donovan died in 1996; Palmer and Thompson died within two months in 2003.
However, the song, video, and influence remain - it was even featured in a Britney Spears Pepsi commercial 10 years ago - and for musicians, it's living proof of the importance of serving the song. "Addicted to Love" is so effective because it is performed by high profile musicians who don't overthink it and only give the song what it needs. Like so many AC / DC songs, it sounds simple, but it isn't at all.
Is it brilliantly idiotic or idiotic brilliant? Of course it's both: In fact, no less a connoisseur of brilliant idiocy than Slade frontman Noddy Holder - the man responsible for classics like "Cum on Feel the Noize" and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" - to Soundchecks Music Review: “The only main song I would have liked to have written and recorded is 'Addicted to Love' by Robert Palmer. For me this is a perfect pop song. "
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more brilliant example of the oft-cited line of another iconic work of art from the period: "This Is Spinal Tap": "There is such a fine line between stupid and clever."
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American bass player and record producer
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