Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jonathan Coulton - Baby Got Back

In 1992 there was an epidemic of people not appreciating women with large posteriors. Championing this cause was rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot with his accidental huge hit “Baby Got Back.” Since that time night clubs and karaoke bars have celebrated the value of female secondary sex characteristics by playing, and subsequently over playing, “Baby Got Back.”

Well done Sir Mix-A-Lot your joke song has undoubtedly given many larger women some well deserved confidence in their appearance and enriched the sex lives of many others; I am sure.

I think I like “Baby Got Back.” I am not a hip hop guy and I do not dance so this kind of music is often wasted on me. Furthermore “Baby Got Back” suffers from being obnoxiously over played. Lastly this is the sort of song that I would typically dismiss as the bad comedy that it is, however “Baby Got Back” is the best kind of bad comedy, and like any good joke there is a gem of truth wrapped somewhere within. As a straight man I can definitely relate to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s campaign for I too like women with curves, or perhaps to put things into perspective, I am drawn to all things female, and pronounced buttocks is a characteristic associate with the female gender. Gentlemen, all of you may not be aware of this, but you too like big butts, assuming of course you are a heterosexual, in fact it is quite telling if you truly don’t. So that’s all fun, but with all due respect to Sir Mix-A-Lot for giving us this song, I find my sense of humour and musical taste more in line with Jonathan Coulton.

The original by Sir Mix-A-Lot
Jonathan Coulton is a singer songwriter on the Internet. I do not know if he started his career by sharing his wacky songs online or if that is simply the popular means his fans have taken to share his music, but everything about Jonathan Coulton screams “internet.” Everything about Coulton appears to make him a great candidate to champion nerd culture, especially songs like “Still Alive” the closing theme to the video game Portal.

Jonny C. Also did a cover of “Baby Got Back.”

The two most important qualities of any cover song are A) respecting the original concept and message, and B) making the song your own. First Coulton has kept the same original spirit of the song, as quirky as such a notion may be; respect is certainly given to the serious message of appreciating large butts. Second he has made the song his own, and in a big way, whereas Sir Mix-A-Lot’s original version is a hip hop song Coulton’s cover is done in a folk style ballad. This folk/light rock stylization alone does so much to bring a new light to “Baby Got Back.” There is a certain intensity in Sir Mix-A-Lot’s original that makes his message and intention clearly one of celebrated lust, which is fine; however there is something incredibly charming about Coulton’s version with everything slowed down and sang passionately. Coulton has made “Baby Got Back” a more emotional song than it ever had any right to be, he sings it sweetly and softly and it now feels like an earnest love song for woman with large buttocks, and that, that is funny.

I have known about Jonathan Coulton for a while now, mostly because of songs like “The First of May,” “Re: Your Brains” and “Still Alive” (there is a version where Sara Quin sings “Still Alive” with Coulton, and you know I love her) but it was not until recently I was introduced to his delightful cover of “Baby Got Back.” There was a three week period there where I could not stop listening to it; it is just such a charming song. Coulton’s version of “Baby Got Back” is a fantastic example of how to completely rework a song and give it a whole new level of meaning, while also being a finely structured soothing song. Everything about this cover is perfect.

I do not watch Glee. I do not know anything about Glee beyond that it is a show about the music club, the school choir, or whatever they call it; a glee club maybe? I honestly don’t know. I also know they cover a great many songs because people like hearing songs they already know and also writing songs is hard, even harder when you have to write multiple songs per episode. So to be fair I should reserve judgement on the show, I do not know if it is good or bad or what. However it has recently been brought to my attention that they have covered Jonathan Coulton’s cover of “Baby Got Back” and apparently there is a lot of controversy surrounding this.

So let’s put things into focus here.... Glee covered Coulton’s cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Okay makes sense.

Here is the thing, Glee did not cover Coulton’s version of “Baby Got Back” so much as they completely mimicked it. There is no difference, at all, between the Glee version and Coulton’s version, and this is very noticeable since the difference between Coulton’s version and Mix-A-Lot’s version is drastic. Glee uses the exact same chords and tempo as Coulton, which were nothing like the original. They were so lazy ripping off Coulton they did not even have the wherewithal to change the name “Johnny C” during the line;

“I want 'em real thick and juicy,
So find that juicy double,
Johnny C's in trouble,
Begging for a piece of that bubble.”

Did they think that “Johnny C” was just a generic name that could refer to anyone? Would they have said, “Mix-A-Lot’s in trouble” if they were simply covering him? This is laughably idiotic. In response to Glee’s cover of his song Coulton has released his cover of Glee’s “Baby Got Back” for sale on ITunes, which of course is just his version. But clearly the joke is this;

The rip off version by Glee:

Jonathan Coulton has released his cover, of Glee’s cover, of Jonathan Coulton’s cover, of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Makes sense.

There are many people upset by this fraud, and I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it. Credit should be given to Jonathan Coulton since it is painfully obvious his version was the one they were copying chord per chord, and word per word, and the man deserves credit, which of course he is not getting. That is the only real problem I see here. The writers and producers of Glee being lazy and unimaginative, at least in this example, is hardly worth getting upset about, people cover songs without imagination, or talent, or effort, or thought, all the time. This uninspired rip off’s existence is not the problem, the problem is that depriving Coulton of his much deserved credit will result in a whole bunch of people not knowing better. Some people will now think Glee created something special when they should be listening to Jonathan Coulton, and Jonathan Coulton will likely remain a relatively unknown. But you, my friends, will not be one of them. You will know that this charming rendition of “Baby Got Back” was the work of the quirky and talented Jonathan Coulton.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

Colin Kelly


Coulton was not even the first person to do an ironic cover of “Baby Got Back,” Richard Cheese did a cover of “Baby Got Back” along with about a hundred other songs all in the style of Frank Sinatra, however everything about Cheese’s lounge style covers has failed to amuse me. There are other covers that are cringe worthy; I hesitated to listen to the chipmunks cover... I mean really? Why? Why any of that? It just goes to show that most people fail to appreciate the level of vulgar male heterosexuality celebrated in this song, and yeah, maybe children’s icons shouldn’t be singing it with such pomp, or people who like the skinniest of white girls.

Just saying.

Richard Cheese's version:

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