One interesting (to me) thing I’ve noticed the more I write about different songs is that I have a lot more specific memories tied to the songs of my youth. I think this is because music was a much more ubiquitous thing in my life all those years ago. Like, when I heard “Suffragette City” (#10) for the first time, it was because my art teacher had the radio on in her classroom. For many years, most of the songs I loved were also songs I played on my radio shows. As I’ve gotten older, most of the new songs I hear are songs I’ve sought out because I’ve read about them or songs friends share on social media. It’s very unusual for me to hear a new song that piques my interest in the wild.
Furthermore, most of the time when I’m listening to music these days is when I’m walking or jogging. I’ve noticed that (for short periods of time), I will associate a song with where I was on a hike or walk the last time I heard it (“Shady Love,” the first song below, played as I was walking up a section of Makiki Loop Trails that we refer to as “Nature’s Stairmaster”). Thus, I don’t really have a big variety of experiences associated with more recent (i.e. post-1995) music. I think maybe this is true for a lot of people and, perhaps, is one of the reasons the music of youth seems so much better to many people than equally excellent new music. Who knows?
There’s at least one song on this list, however, that I associate with a major life event. Amazing! Let’s get it on.
10. Shady Love
Promo single from Magic Hour (2012), released as a single in 2012
“Shady Love” features uncredited vocals from Azealia Banks. If you’re familiar with her vocals, you’ll recognize her right away. If not, she is the female lead voice for most of this song (Genius specifies when she’s singing or rapping). This is a fairly atypical song for the Scissors Sisters – it bends further towards hip-hop than towards their dance-pop-rock with jaunty-piano sound. The lyrics are decidedly not safe for work (Shears details at least one hook up with some PG-13 rated detail) as is the overall subject of the song – which seems to me to be about getting a little sneaky action on the side. That all said, I am pleasantly surprised both by how effective the track is overall and by how the band retains their sense of fun in a very different musical genre.
What I Like: Mmm-hmmm. Mmm-hmmm.
9. She’s My Man
Third Single from Ta-Dah (2006), released as a single in 2007
The video for this song is one of their classics and it came out at a time when videos for the Japanese game show Kasou Taishou were all over the internet (the “Matrix Ping-Pong” video was probably the most famous). Wikipedia points out that there are some similarities between this tune and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” The peanut gallery at Genius offers some thoughts on the meaning of the song but misses the fact that the song is a tribute to folklore heroine Annie Christmas.
What I Like: The chorus is catchy as all get out.
8. Swerlk (with MNDR)
Stand-alone single released in 2017
After a five-year absence from the proverbial airwaves, the Scissors Sisters got together with MNDR last year to record this benefit single for the survivors of the Pulse Shooting. The lyrics make it clear that “to swerlk” means to:
Pull out your mommy’s old roller skates
Put one of ’em on and like flamingo the other leg
Swirl it and twirl it (swerlk)
And twerk it and swerve
And you know like do all of that
So there you go, in case you’re unclear. Do all that. If you don’t feel like figuring out your own way of doing all that, there is at least one helpful video online about How to Swerlk. Get to it. You owe it to yourself to swerlk. This is musically more EDM (which is appropriate for MNDR) and less pop but the lyrical content is so Scissors Sisters (it’s especially a perfect match for Ana Matronic, though obviously the whole band sounds great).
What I Like: Catchy chorus, impossible dance (for somebody like me) and the beat is infectious.
7. Let’s Have a Kiki
Third single from Magic Hour (2012), released as a single in 2012
So, let me just start out by acknowledging that this song is problematic. They borrow heavily from black and Latino gay culture and don’t acknowledge that at all. I mean, Madonna pulls this too but at least she acknowledges it (#4). That doesn’t necessarily make it all right and, as I wrote when I wrote about “Vogue,” other wiser people have written more intelligent things on this topic than I could, so I’m just going to leave this here. (they may have responded to this controversy but I haven’t found the response if they did)
The song itself is lots of bitchy fun. Ana Matronic is featured on the vocal here and she takes us through the basics of having a kiki. If you’re curious, Jake Shears himself will help walk you through the slang over at Genius. Basically, in context of this song, a kiki is a spontaneous party where you get together with some friends (?) to dish gossip and trade barbs (ideally done while looking fabulous).
What I Love: The drums on the dance breaks. Yes. Also, the chorus is terrific. Scissors Sisters nail the choruses.
Fifth single from Scissors Sisters (2004), released as a single in 2005
OK, so the cover images for this single is totally NSFW. The Scissors Sisters haven’t had a lot of chart success in the USA but they were pretty huge for a few years in the UK – this was the fifth single from their début album and it managed to peak at #5 (their highest chart position up to that point). Jake Shears’ falsetto once again sounds fantastic (I’m in awe – how does he support that?). “Filthy Gorgeous” is one of the harder rocking songs on their début album and every member of the band shines.
What I Love: Besides everything, I love the deep backing vocal that periodically adds an extra “fiiilthy.”
5. Fire with Fire
First single from Night Work (2010), released as a single in 2010
When I listen to “Fire with Fire,” I hear a song of triumph. The build is slow, but by the time you reach the last chorus, both the lyrics and music speak of a kind of victory – perhaps the ability to take control of your own fate. The first single from their third album Night Work, “Fire with Fire” is both a break from the sound of their previous two albums and also lyrically much more (shall we say) family friendly than some of the other songs on its parent album. Jake Shears’ voice is powerful and he has a pretty impressive range but he deliberately reins it in on this song which allows that final punch to land hard. Really a fantastic tune.
What I Love: I love the last minute so much. It’s a great “reaching the top of a hill that was hard to climb” tune.
First single from Scissors Sisters (2004), released as a single in 2003
Listening to this song in the car the other day, my wife remarked that the Scissors Sisters can sure be bitchy when they want to. Yes. Yes they can. I think the line “This will be the last time/I ever do your hair” (in context) is a delightful piece of passive/aggressive bitchiness. One thing I love about the UK music charts is that sometimes a song can hit multiple times in a year – the first release of this single (October, 2003) didn’t go top ten but the second release (June, 2004) reached #12. Meanwhile, in the United States, crickets chirped upon the release of this song. Sometimes I get why UK hit songs don’t chart here (like I’m more confused about why “Come on Eileen” – #22 – was a US hit than that the rest of their oeuvre didn’t chart here) but the Scissors Sisters sound like the kind of band that should have broken through. I’m just going to assume homophobia.
What I Like: The piano, the starts and stops, the little oboe (?) tune.
3. Kiss You Off
Fourth single from Ta-Dah (2006), released as a single in 2007
“Kiss You Off” is, in the words of singer Ana Matronic, “…not a love song, it’s a falling-out-of-love song.” Its a glorious kiss off to a bad match – a don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out song. Musically, it sounds like something I’d have listened to in high school (though the lyrics might have been just a tad too strong for 80’s radio, what with the use of the word “pissed”). Ana Matronic typically takes lead on a couple of songs on each Scissors Sisters album (and Jake Shears provides backing vocals here) and this is my favorite of her songs.
What I Like: I love the flow of the chorus building into that last “…I’m kissing you off.” I also love Babydaddy’s guitar line after each chorus.
2. Take Your Mama
Third Single from Scissors Sisters (2004), released as a single in 2004
I am certain I read about “Take Your Mama” in Spin or Rolling Stone and then sought the band out. I may have ordered the CD from Amazon on the strength of that review. The first time I heard the song might have been when I popped that CD into my player. I was just sort of starting to figure out how accessible music was on the Internet in the early 2000’s. I think I was still making, for example, mix CDs for friends. Burning CDs to my computer seemed like a wild, futuristic thing to be doing. I didn’t get my first MP3 player until around 2006 or so (a gift my brother). Anyhow, the point is, when this song came out, I had to read about new music before I heard new music. A rollicking song influenced by 70’s pop about how you should come out to your mother by getting her drunk and taking her out to the club? Oh, yes, that sounds like exactly what I needed in 2004. The Scissors Sisters lyrics frequently focus on the gay experience and the songs can be enjoyed and celebrated by everyone. The song was a reasonably big hit in the UK and if you want to see a moment of pure joy, watch this performance on the BRIT awards featuring some amazing puppets.
What I love: That piano! The vocals (both lead and backing) on the chorus! The joy!
1. I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’
First single from Ta-Dah (2006), released as a single in 2006
Elton John co-wrote and play piano on this song. You’ll know that as soon as you hear it.
This was the band’s biggest hit in the UK (And Belgium, Australia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden) but it wasn’t even a club hit in the US because we’re insane. Indeed, “Filthy Gorgeous” was a #1 club hit in the US. Why not this song? What is wrong with you people?
This song would be my favorite Scissors Sisters song anyways (I think) but what makes this song special to me is that it’s the one Sharon and I danced to at our wedding. Specifically, we took turns refusing to dance while the other one danced and then we danced together at the end. The key to the whole song – lyrically at least – is that wonderful little bridge where he sings about how he doesn’t want to dance but he loves watching you dance. That’s the thing Sharon and I were really drawn to, I think. We both have some silly dance moves when we want them (I swear I did a knee slide at one point) and enjoy watching each other do them. That is love, yes?
What I Love: Elton John’s piano inspired the band and sounds right at home; the lyrics are great; Jake Shears sounds fantastic. Really, this deserved its success – it fulfilled the promise of the band.
Coming Soon: Pavement