Top 100 singles of all time: 84 – OutKast – Hey Ya!

This actually surprises me, looking back at my list a year and a half later. Then I recall how I made the list, jotting down off the top of my head all the songs I really, really love and then deciding whether I liked them more or less than the one above or below it, and shifting them round accordingly. Hey Ya! Isn’t a song I think of very often, but it’s usually somewhere on my MP3 player. It’s the big squelching bass and crisp percussion, and those Cameo-style vocals. R&B pop was at the time characterised by melodically weak songs – all hook, no substance – and OutKast came in with very catchy, strong songs that evoked the best of 60s Motown and 70s funk.

Hey Ya! was written and produced by André 3000 for his half of The Love Below/Speakerboxxx – the other disc was Big Boi’s. The song went top five in most territories, won a Grammy, and was named the 20th most successful song of the noughties by the Billboard Hot 100. André started writing it the previous year (2002) on an acoustic guitar, inspired by the Ramones, Buzzcocks and Smiths. After tinkering with it a while, he brought in session musician Kevin Hendricks to create the synth bass. When he finally came to record it, André improvised the lyrics based on a screenplay he’d written.

Integral to the song’s popularity was the video, which featured André as eight different versions of himself (like Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets), riffing on the Beatles’ 1964 Ed Sullivan Show appearance. The decision to release Hey Ya! was last minute, so they didn’t have time to choreograph the parts: his somewhat distinctive dancing is improvised.

The most bizarre legacy of the song (other than Will Young’s cover) was the revitalisation of the Polaroid brand following the lyric “shake it like a Polaroid picture”. The camera company, who had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001, blamed their failure to anticipate digital photography for their woes. The brand struggled through the noughties, but with Lady Gaga as its “face” has reinvented itself with a range of instant printers for digital cameras.

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I love this one, too. Just not as much as the other one.

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