Before I go ahead with today's installment of the Sunday Jukebox, I should probably offer up a little bit of a warning to you.
Today's music spotlight features a music video that is quite...um...macabre and gory. You might not expect it to be a gory music video, given that the song itself is happy, lightweight, and has a great beat that you can dance to (forgive my “American Bandstand” throwback there), but some of the scenes aren't exactly suitable for young children. In fact, this video garnered a lot of controversy and was actually edited or banned in some countries.
For all of you reading this though, I managed to track down the unedited video. You're welcome.
So, here's the funny thing about this song. It was a massive #1 hit in the United Kingdom, and was a Top 30 hit in my home base of Canada...but it never charted in the United States (well, unless you count the club charts to be of some importance – in which case, the song stalled at #24).
In fact, I probably wouldn't have even known this song had ever existed had fate not played a role.
We're going back to the year 2000 for this story. It all began when I was an optimistic nineteen year old college student who happily worked for his school newspaper in hopes that the words he wrote would eventually get him noticed by a high profile media firm and that he would be making a living doing what he loved.
Well...I suppose that I am still writing...even though it's more of a hobby than a career right now.
Anyway, as part of my volunteer work with the student newspaper, I had to do a series of articles on a variety of subjects. I would sometimes do human interest stories, write opinion pieces, and a couple of times, I even had a front page article or two (I happened to attend school during a possible faculty strike – which thankfully was averted). But I have to admit that my favourite pieces to write about were within the entertainment pages. As a pop culture buff, writing articles about CD's, films, and other forms of entertainment was right up my alley. Heck, I've already written almost 900 articles on pop culture right here in this blog alone! But, of course, there was another incentive to writing articles for the school newspaper entertainment section.
Yeah, unbeknownst to me, when I started writing for the school newspaper, I wasn't aware that all of the compact discs that I reviewed for the paper were free to keep! I also managed to get free movie tickets so I could review films for the newspaper. I tell you, that job may have been voluntary, but the perks were definitely a bonus.
If only the organization that ran the newspaper didn't burn me by making me promises that they had no intention of keeping...oh well...I've already told that story. I've moved on from those dark days and am now seeing the experience at that newspaper as a mostly positive experience. And, for what it's worth, I still have the vast majority of the CD's I reviewed for the newspaper (even though many of my favourite songs have already been downloaded onto the iPod by now).
One of those CD's was the 2000 disc “Sing While You're Winning” by British born crooner Robbie Williams. And, I'll admit that when I agreed to review the album, I didn't really know that much about him. As someone who watched MuchMusic quite a bit in my teenage years, I knew that he had a couple of hit singles in 1999 with “Millennium” and “Angels”.
And, I also vaguely knew that he was one of the five original members of the British boy band “Take That”, known for the singles “Pray”, “Back For Good”, and their cover of Tavares hit “It Only Takes A Minute”. So when I put the disc into my CD Player and listened to it, I was going into it with an open mind.
Fortunately, the entire album was a winner, and I gave it a glowing review. In fact, I still happen to have the review that I wrote all the way back in November 2000!
I just wish I remembered where I put the scrapbook that I kept all of them in. I have it in a box stashed in my closet, but I can't remember which box, and I don't have the motivation (or the spare time) to go searching for it today. I have a Skylanders display to set up at work early this morning that simply can't wait.
Some of my favourite songs from the disc were “Let Love Be Your Energy”, “Better Man”, “Knutsford City Limits”, and “Kids” (the last song being a duet that he did with Australian songbird Kylie Minogue). Really, the album may be thirteen years old, but I'd still recommend it. And, yeah, I know Robbie Williams has a somewhat questionable reputation in his native UK. It doesn't take away from the fact that when push comes to shove, he can churn out a wonderful song.
As it so happens, today's song selection comes from the “Sing When You're Winning” album. And, at first, it sounds like a rather decent club hit.
It's only when you watch the video that you understand why I've featured this video as part of the Halloween spotlight. Last warning, all.
ARTIST: Robbie Williams
SONG: Rock DJ
ALBUM: Sing When You're Winning
DATE RELEASED: July 31, 2000
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: N/A
PEAK POSITION ON THE UK CHARTS: #1
Okay, so I'll give you a moment to take that in, get your jaws off the floor and finish throwing up in the bathroom if you feel disgusted. Believe me, I gave you several chances to turn back and not click the video and you should have heeded those warnings if you have a sensitive stomach.
Feeling better? Good. We'll continue.
So, as you can see, Robbie Williams does the ultimate strip tease. He takes off his shirt, pants, underpants, skin, muscles, blood vessels, and internal organs to become the waifest bloke in the entire club. All to impress some gal who pays him no attention. I mean, the cover of the CD single of the song provides a little taste of what you can expect to see in the video itself.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Never remove any part of your body in order to impress a girl. It's painful and it's messy. Trust me on this one.
(Not that I have any experience in severing off random body parts. I've just seen enough episodes of CSI to know that it appears to be painful and messy.)
But at least it's nice to know that “No Robbies were harmed in the making of this video”.
But let's take a look at the positives of this music video. The video did win the 2001 MTV Video Music Award for Best Special Effects. Regardless of how macabre the video appears, the make-up artists and CGI gurus did a fantastic job with the special effects. And, in 2006, the video was voted by viewers of MTV as the seventh most groundbreaking music video ever created.
But as a result of the graphic imagery of the video, it was edited in a few countries. Many European nations heavily censored the video. Some versions cut out the scenes where Robbie is removing his skin tissue and organs and replaced it with other footage. Some stations would air the edited version during the day and after midnight they would air the more gory version. Some stations would completely ignore the gory video and instead play a version which just has Williams singing in a recording studio. You can watch the second version with just the click of a mouse below this paragraph if you wish.
Perhaps the most extreme form of censorship regarding this particular song came from The Dominican Republic, where the video was banned because people felt that it encouraged Satanism.
Yeah, I can maybe see how Robbie Williams tearing his whole body apart piece by piece to impress random roller skating ice queens by showering them with his own blood could be seen as rather devilish behaviour. But then again, how many times are you ever going to go to a roller disco and see a man throw pieces of his own epidermis at you while you skate around to music that predates even you? Not very often, I bet.
Of course despite all of the controversy the song brought when it was released, it appeared as though Robbie Williams ended up with the last laugh and sang while he won the battle. The single became his third #1 UK solo single since departing “Take That” in the mid-1990s, and as of 2013 has sold a total of nearly seven hundred thousand copies worldwide. In 2000, the song was named “Best Song” at the MTV Europe Music Awards and in 2001, the single won the BRIT Awards for Best Single and Best Music Video.
You know, I think back of all the controversial music videos that I've seen over the past twenty-five years. I think the earliest music video that I recall getting pulled from music video television was Madonna's “Justify My Love”. Shortly after, a video by French-Canadian chanteuse Mitsou was yanked. In both cases, the videos were deemed too sexually provocative to air on television.
Robbie Williams' video for “Rock DJ” took on a different approach, and his video ended up getting banned for extreme gore and accusations that he advocated Satanic rituals. But ultimately it didn't harm Williams' career any. As of 2013, he is still making music and his latest album, “Swings Both Ways” is scheduled to be released on November 18.