Monday, December 7, 2020

Musical Monday - The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The week of October 1, 1983.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

The Safety Dance is a song that people think is about something really deep and meaningful, but is in fact about something completely different. The persistent rumor surrounding this song is that it is an allegory about nuclear war, or rather the fear of nuclear war and a protest against the same. I have had this confidently asserted to me on multiple occasions by several different people. The writer and singer of the song, however, says it is about dancing. Literally. Or rather it is about doing the 'wrong" kind of dancing as an anti-establishment protest. Or something.

My takeaway here is that people want the music they love to have a significance it often does not have. If the lyrics to a song are even a little bit ambiguous, and you attach it to a weird and nigh-incomprehensible music video with a dwarf and Morris dancers and a mildly confusing coda of images and people will fill in their own interpretations. This song is about what it says it is about. For years, people have tried to make it be about something more, because they want the art in their life to have depth and meaning.

The real question here is does the intent of the creator definitively settle these sorts of issues? Is the song just about getting thrown out of a dance club for pogoing, or does the cultural zeitgeist that it is about more than that carry weight? Does it matter if people want to give a song significance that was not originally intended?

Previous Musical Monday: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
Subsequent Musical Monday: Islands in the Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Puttin' On the Ritz by Taco
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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