It’s a while since a line from a song prompted me to write one of these occasional pieces about lyrics. It has happened again this month, with a performance by Rudimental on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2.
Zoe Ball took over the morning slot from Chris Evans at the start of the year, as you may know. He left the station to join Virgin Radio. She has continued the Friday morning tradition of a studio full of guests for the last hour of the show, “Friends Round Friday” as she calls it. It’s more like a chat show than the regular broadcasts from Monday to Thursday. This morning’s guests included Martin Clunes and Catherine Ryan. Live music came from Christine and the Queens. The “Pause for thought” slot from Reverend Kate Bottley brought us the very sad news that Reverend Ruth Scott died earlier this week. Ruth Scott was a regular on the show, going back to the late Terry Wogan’s time as the most-listened-to breakfast host in the UK.
Over the years the Friday show has usually ended with the day’s live act playing a cover version. I have fond memories of Dexy’s Midnight Runners performing “You to me are everything” and Elbow’s version of “What a wonderful world”. I must have heard scores of these covers over the last decade or so, but only a handful of others come to mind: “YMCA” (Blondie), “Sign of the times” (the Harry Styles #1 from 2017, covered by Midge Ure), “Havana” (Squeeze’s take on the Camila Cabello song). Two weeks ago Rudimental closed the show with a great version of a great song, Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)”. For the next 15 days you can hear it, along with the rest of the show, here. Forward to 2:54:23 for the intro. There’s a video clip here as well, but it works better for me as audio. There’s something about this performance that brings tears to my eyes, even after a dozen listens. Not sure why.
The song’s chorus has been on my mind for the last 20 years (“Girls, you know you better watch out / Some guys, some guys are only about / That thing, that thing, that thing”). No other song evokes the late 1990s, and my first visits to New York City, so powerfully. Many lines from the verses jump out at me too (“Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem”, “Hair weaves like Europeans / Fake nails done by Koreans”) but the strongest line of all is the question from verse two. It’s so good she asks it three times: “How you gonna win when you ain’t right within? / How you gonna win when you ain’t right within? / How you gonna win when you ain’t right within?” It always reminds me of someone I used to hang out with 20 years ago, when I first heard the song. It seemed appropriate for him even then. He wasn’t right within. We don’t hang out any more. As far as I know he hasn’t changed. And he still isn’t winning.
In 16 days’ time the links to Rudimental’s version of “Doo Wop (That Thing)” might no longer work, so here’s the official video for Lauryn Hill’s original release. Another treat, and this link should be available for a whole lot longer.