If you spent a significant portion of the 90s smoking things and listening to trip-hop, there’s a good chance you remember the name Sneaker Pimps. If you don’t recognize the name, or if you smoked so many things that you’ve forgotten, allow me to re-introduce you.
Formed in England just as fellow Brits Portishead were gaining popularity, Sneaker Pimps released their debut, “Becoming X”, in 1994. They made it into the clubs with the driving single “Spin Spin Sugar”, and onto radio with the eerie “6 Underground”. (Which, as a side note, took its main samples from the music in the movie Goldfinger when the girl is discovered dead, covered in gold paint. Take a listen just after the 1-minute mark in this video.)
Having ridden the wave of British trip-hop to success, they decided to dump their mousy lead vocalist, Kelli Drayton, after touring their first album. She left, and their success left with her. Although they released two more albums without her, they never matched the success of “Becoming X”.
This song is a cover of “Willow’s Song” from the creepy 1973 film The Wicker Man. I have to say that I think I prefer this version to the original; it’s more dreamy and ethereal, and has fewer naked women banging frantically on doors. The Sneaker Pimps’ version was never released as a single, but it was always one of my favourites from that first album. It must have been one of the lead singer’s favourites as well, because she covered it once again on her own solo effort ten years later.
What makes this a beautiful song:
1. The opening sample. It’s a clip from The Wicker Man, and it’s neat that there’s so little dialogue. The listener is left instead to ponder the crickets, the cheering in the background, and the mystery of who the “sergeant” might be.
2. The percussion. Beginning with the simple “thump” on each downbeat, it builds to include some nice soft brushes at about 1:20.
3. Kelli Drayton. The vocal line in this song is perfectly suited to her tiny, almost Alvin-and-the-Chimpmunk-ish voice. And I love that she just hums the line at 2:42, as if the words aren’t even important. Or maybe she just forgot them. It was the 90s, after all.
Recommended listening activity:
Walking to the corner store to pick up a midnight snack.