Every so often, one of those gratingly contagious songs comes out of nowhere and becomes nearly everyone’s guilty pleasure. A few years ago, it was Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” In 1999, a good candidate is “Squeeze Toy” by the Boomtang Boys.
Tony Grace, one-third of the Toronto-based dance trio, is fully aware that “Squeeze Toy,” with perky vocals by guest Kim Esty, isn’t for everyone. But it definitely has its place in the pop sun.
“It’s the kind of song that you either love it or you hate it,” Grace said recently. “And, the same with Canada, once it got past the listening boards on every Tuesday afternoon with the programmers, whenever they let it go and said ‘Okay, let’s run with this thing,’ then it would do well. If you play it on the radio, I think people are going to get the double entendre and the fun aspect of the song. It is what it is: an unabashedly pop song.
“I think it’ll do well (in the United States). Americans like comedy; they like a little fun in their music. In a world, especially with alternative and rock where everything’s so bloody serious, why not a light, fluffy pop song? There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Squeeze Toy” was a bona-fide smash in Canada, where in May the trio became the first Canadian group ever to debut at No. 1. It stayed there for four weeks and sold more than 20,000 copies. A subsequent album, the tongue-in-cheek titled “Greatest Hits: Volume One” (Virgin), recently went gold, topping the 50,000-sales mark.
Grace hopes he, brother Paul and Rob DeBoer can lighten things up in the United States, where the album was released Oct. 12.
“We wanted to do a nice pop record that celebrates the pop song,” Grace said. “It’s not trying to say anything deep or anything; it’s about having a good time, getting up there and dancing, which is the reason I got into this business in the first place. I love dance music for that very reason, you know the ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ theory, people getting together and having a good time.”
“Greatest Hits” is chock-full of ’80s-inspired dance-pop. The trio isn’t afraid to tackle covers of Yaz’s “Only You,” Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” They go back even farther, with reworkings of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” and the Popcorn instrumental “Hot Butter.”
“A lot of our album is covers of songs from the ’80s, which I thought was a great period for music,” Grace said. “In making this music, we revisited a lot of eras in music. Right off the top of my head, some of the dance artists in the ’80s that influenced us were Erasure, Thomas Dolby and Simple Minds. You have to love what you do and get inspiration from different sources, and a lot of that came from the dance bands in the ’80s.”
The Grace brothers have collaborated since the late 1980s when they turned their apartment into a makeshift studio, remixed some songs and created demos. They hooked up with DeBoer in 1991 and together they churned out remixes for such artists as Corey Hart, Econoline Crush, France Joli, Amanda Marshall, Bif Naked and Ashley MacIsaac.
Then “Squeeze Toy” changed it all, landing them a worldwide deal with Virgin.
“Everybody seemed to accept the song for what it was,” Grace said. “I can remember reading the Billboard review and it said ‘Nothing deep here to report, but it’s a nice little pop song.’ The guy said in a market where a lot of people are taking themselves too seriously, it’s refreshing to see a song like this. I couldn’t agree more.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “I think it was a Elton John 45. I don’t remember what the A-side was, but I bought it because I liked the B-side, ‘I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford).’ “
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Yes … in 1976. I had to fight tooth and nail with my folks to see it. It was the beginning of laser technology at concerts, and it was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It was a long show, about four hours.”
BWF (before we forget): Catch up with the Boomtang Boys on the Web @ www.boomtangboys.net.
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc