Although I initially embarked upon the One Random Single challenge in an attempt to broaden my tastes with some new and interesting music, today’s song makes the case that sometimes writing about familiar songs can be just as pleasing, if not more. Specifically, this is a song that I’ve certainly heard at least a handful of times throughout my life, whether it be at parties or in movies or maybe just electronically generated playlists. I just never really knew the name of the song nor the artist, nor did I feel compelled to go searching for either – partially because the song never really interested me much and partially because I wouldn’t have known exactly where to start in looking up the lyrics!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Laid Back are a Danish electronic duo, composed of John Guldberg and Tim Stahl, who formed the group in 1979 in Copenhagen. Their first album garnered them a couple of number-one singles in their own country, but didn’t grant them much success outside of European countries. The B-side for their hit single “Sunshine Reggae”, however, would eventually prove to be the only hit for which they are known in the US. This song – “White Horse” – was eventually given an A-side release of its own and hit number-one for three weeks on the American dance charts. As mentioned, though, they would quickly claim their one-hit wonder status as no other subsequent release was nearly as commercially successful. They are still together to this day, performing and recording to relatively little fanfare, except from their home country.
It’s pretty easy to see how this would’ve struck a chord in listeners of electronic music in the 80s – perhaps the same breed of listeners who were fans of Depeche Mode. It certainly possesses the same kind of dark-but-still-danceable atmosphere of which Depeche Mode made an entire (much more thriving) career. Yet even though these comparisons to the English group seem promising, it is much more simpler than this, both sonically and lyrically. The recording is driven by a prominent, repetitive bassline that is catchy as all hell, especially when accompanied by the number of other synth riffs that pop in and out throughout the song. But even with these layers, it still remains pretty simplistic and minimal sonically, especially compared to other danceable electronic acts of the days.
Most would probably be drawn to this song through its peculiar lyrics, though. The title of the song comes from its opening verse: “If you want to ride, don’t ride the white horse”. “White horse” is, of course, slang for heroin, which would lead one to automatically assume that this is yet another anti-drug song in the tradition of Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines”. However, this automatically contradicts itself with its third and final verse: “If you want to ride, ride the white pony”. “White pony” is code for cocaine, which simplifies the message down to “Don’t partake in this illegal, addictive substance – try this one instead!”. I’m assuming that cocaine is more of an accessible party drug than heroin (at least that’s what its media representations tell me), but it still seems a bit of a strange message overall. And if these verses sound daft and uncomplicated, I’ll have you know that the middle verse isn’t any more complex: “If you want to be rich, you’ve got to be a bitch”. I’m not sure how this connects the two other verses, nor how it remains relevant to the song as a whole but from a superficial standpoint, it’s probably the most appealing verse in the whole song, at least to me.
And no, I didn’t mistype “verse” instead of “line” throughout that previous paragraph – those are the complete lyrics to the whole song! It really is a weird one. It sounds like as if Kraftwerk were to replace their fascination for technology and modernization with a hedonistic party lifestyle. That’s not to say that Kraftwerk never made any songs that were fun to dance to (the entire Mensch-Maschine album is exactly that), but their work – as well as the work of the previously-connected Depeche Mode – also served as technical achievements in production and composition. Songs like “White Horse” are what haters of modern pop music point to as a sign that music is dying. Such noncomplex, vacant music has existed since the advent of recorded music and possibly before, and I don’t ask too much from party music in the first place except to make each listen worthwhile. “White Horse” is just too ordinary to not disappear into the fold of all the other 80s electronic music. I’d gladly put it on any such playlist, but it’ll always be just background music at the end of the day.