Worst Songs Ever: General Public’s ‘I’ll Take You There’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

General Public – “I’ll Take You There”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #22 in May 1994

When The English Beat broke up in the early eighties, no one expected the newly constituted Fine Young Cannibals to score one of 1989’s biggest chart coups, or for General Public to score a 1994 comedy in which Stephen Baldwin is the object of male and female desire. Hooking up with singer Roland Gift, David Cox and Andy Steele recorded The Raw and the Cooked, a miscellany of state of the art electropop assembled from several years of outtakes and soundtrack sessions, three of which hit the American top fifteen (“She Drives Me Crazy, “Good Thing,” and my favorite, “Don’t Look Back”). The Beat’s singers Ranking Roger and David Wakeling formed General Public with Dexyx Midnight Runners’ keyboardist and a little help from The Clash’s Mick Jones; their debut boasted “Tenderness,” a sweet, lilting thing that has outlived any memory of The Staples Singers’ classic that General Public covered and took to a higher American chart position.

A marvel of buoyancy, the original Stax single relies on one of the most beautiful bass lines ever recorded – how could it not when David Hood of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section plays it and Roger Hawkins is on drums (thanks to the similarities in percussive style I thought for years that mate Al Jackson, Jr. did)? Only a churl would expect General Public to mimic them (for the record: the Beat’s Steele and Everett Morton made for one of the decade’s lithest rhythm sections). Choosing a light dousing of house was not unusual in 1993-1994 when La Bouche, Corona, Crystal Waters, and CeCe Peniston still did well; but why did Roger and Wakeling choose the thinnest of Ramada Inn presets? Why that organ sound? When Roger wasn’t toasting, he and Wakeling were often indistinguishable in the Beat; few gestures spoke to their band’s cross-cultural synthesis than figuring out who sang “Stand Down Margaret,” “Cheated,” and “Save It For Later” (maybe other friends could; when the question is about Ben Orr vs Ric Ocasek the positions are reversed). Because nothing is at stake in “I’ll Take You There,” the blank plaintiveness of the falsettos adducess the cover song’s scrubbing of color. Where Mavis Staples uses gospel chops to link eros and agape – Saturday night and Sunday morning – General Public is a joyless come-on: a joyless come on. Don’t let its okay chart position fool you: for most of the summer of 2004, “I’ll Take You There” had a shelf life longer than its host film.

Ah, the film. Set in a college environment as committed to verisimilitude as Melrose Place was to L.A. apartment life, Threesome forces the audience to regard the ugliest and least talented Baldwin bro as the fuck monkey whom Josh Charles, acting as if he’s starring in Truffaut, longs to bone. A sour Lara Flynn Boyle can’t hide her discomfort. Everyone involved knows they’re too old for this bullshit. But Threesome‘s cowardly fan dance — dangling the possibility of homosex and yanking it back, or, worse, forcing several shots of a bare-assed Stephen Baldwin — was the perfect sign of the times in Bill Clinton’s DADT America. I saw it by myself because I lacked the courage to ask friends. I was treated to the sound of a dude who kept murmuring, “Oh shit, oh shit” to his girlfriend when it looked like Charles and Baldwin might kiss. Threesome’s stunted idea of polymorphous sexuality matched what General Public did to “I’ll Take You There.” History has repudiated both.

The Threesome soundtrack served its purpose, though: in the days before Napster, it was the only place to find Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough,” the love theme for another screen fantasy called Legend.

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