While everyone was freaking out about Taylor Swift being voted into triple j’s Hottest 100, another song slid gracefully into the countdown at number six. ‘Uptown Funk’, featuring vocalist Bruno Mars, is the first single from musician and producer Mark Ronson’s fourth album Uptown Special.
The boyish Brit has been making music since the early 2000s, but ‘Uptown Funk’ is his first hit. Released last November, it shimmied to the top of the charts in Australia and 10 other countries; and it was streamed a record 2.56 million times in a single week.
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Ronson, 39, has been a famous DJ, producer and musician since the late 1990s and is credited with launching the career of Amy Winehouse. He also hails from a blue blood British family and can thank his mother’s second marriage to Foreigner founder, music legend Mick Jones, for his rich music pedigree.
Ronson’s style sees him blend familiar sounds into something effortlessly fresh and effervescent. He transforms Bruno Mars’ sweet croon in ‘Uptown Funk’ into something edgier and Michael Jackson-esque, with a boasting chorus borrowed from 2012 rap song ‘All Gold Everything’ by Trinidad James.
The underlying groove recalls classic funk songs including the the Gap Band’s ‘Oops Up Side Your Head’ (1979), ‘Cutie Pie’ (1982) by One Way, and Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘Getaway’ (1976). He even quotes the “Say whaaat?” made famous in ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by the Sugarhill Gang.
It works because he’s so damn smooth. And plenty of other performers – include Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker – have basked in his trademark insouciance. Don’t believe me? Just watch!
1. He turned thug life into a jolly night out
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Full of spangly disco strings and bongos, ‘Ooh Wee’ was Ronson’s breakout song, from his 2003 debut album Here Comes the Fuzz. G-Funk prince Nate Dogg croons amid profane boasts by guest rappers including the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. It’s testament to Ronson’s smoothness that the overall effect is playful, rather than completely try-hard.
2. He made Amy Winehouse a superstar
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Winehouse was known as a jazz singer before Back to Black, her second and final studio album, reshaped her sound as 1960s girl-group soul. Ronson was her shiny-suited, skinny-tied Svengali, bringing in New York soul band the Dap-Kings and reimagining Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ production style. The album won five Grammy Awards and has now sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
3. He reinvigorated the cover song
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Version (2007), Ronson’s second album, applied his nu-Motown sound to a playful cover song anthology, creating inspired, offbeat pairings of song and performer. A highlight is Wu-Tang member Ol’ Dirty Bastard rapping on Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’, while Winehouse’s cover of the Zutons’ ‘Valerie’ is now better known than the original.
4. He founded an ’80s Euro-electro/hip-hop supergroup
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For his third album Record Collection (2010), Ronson left behind his 1960s soul look for a 1980s European style and a band called ‘The Business Intl’. Phantom Planet singer Alex Greenwald co-wrote most of the slick songs, which feature a diverse trans-Atlantic selection of guests from Wiley to Spank Rock. Lead single ‘Bang Bang Bang’, which riffs on the French children’s song ‘Alouette’, features electronica chanteuse Amanda ‘MNDR’ Warner.
5. He made faded stars cool again
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Ronson has always respected and worked with older artists: among others, he produced Duran Duran’s 2011 album All You Need Is Now, and the title track on Paul McCartney’s 2013 album New. ‘Somebody To Love Me’, from Record Collection, brilliantly bottles Boy George’s melancholy, referencing the singer’s 1980s Culture Club glory days.
Mel Campbell is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist, cultural critic and author of the book Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit (Affirm Press, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @incrediblemelk