Week 33: “His Majesty King Raam” by Lemon Jelly

And now, a brief story about why I like sample-based music.

Many years ago, I worked in the kitchen at a major pizza chain. Apart from helping to pay for my education, one minimum-wage hour at a time, it also exposed me to lots of music I would not have otherwise heard. This is because management had decided to invest in the latest technological wonder: satellite radio.

You could always tell which assistant manager was on duty based on which satellite radio station we were listening to. Gary, nearing retirement and friendly, preferred “ballads of the 60s”. The younger manager, Mike, was more of a “top 40” man, while Randy, one of the pioneers of the barbed-wire tattoo, seemed to have successfully found the “all-Nickleback-all-the-time” station.

But it was while listening to Gary’s “ballads of the 60s” station that it happened. It was near closing on a fairly slow evening, and I was puttering around in the kitchen, mindlessly re-filling the toppings, throwing pepperoni slices into the air and seeing if I could catch them in my mouth. And then all of a sudden, in mid-pepperoni throw, my brain had a flash of recognition. Why did I know this song?

It was Henry Mancini’s “Two For The Road”, an awful, syrupy smooth slow-jam from 1967. And I knew it because it had been sampled by the British electronic duo Lemon Jelly in their wonderful song “His Majesty King Raam”. And as I stood there grinning, a forgotten piece of pepperoni on my head, I realized why I loved sample-based music, especially by geniuses like Lemon Jelly: they take forgotten garbage from years ago and give it new life. And then one day you hear the original, and you feel a sudden, unsuspected connection to the past.

Sample-based music is the ultimate 21st-century art form; in a world overwhelmed by constantly changing popular culture, musicians like Lemon Jelly use the past to make art in the present.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The lullaby-esque beginning. Just makes you want to bury yourself in a sea of fluffy pillows.

2. Tongue-in-cheek British humour. From an opening that makes you want to fall asleep, we’re treated to another staple of Lemon Jelly: bizarre and ironic non-sequiturs, this time in the form of some British man describing the positive personality traits of King Raam.

3. The e-piano at 4:30. Slowly, the song begins to fade, and seems like it’s ending. But the e-piano doesn’t fade out. It keeps going, its perfect, buttery tone complemented by the chorus of “ooh-ooh” that follows.

Recommended listening activity:

Looking through old photos of your parents as kids, and realizing that you’re not so different.

Buy it here.