Every once and a while there are certain songs that come along that, because of the song’s notoriety or its uniqueness, have a story to tell beyond the music itself. In other words, the circumstances under how the song was written, recorded, or conceived, are a story all on their own apart from the underlying track. Well, for the worldwide smash hit Uptown Funk, which was released on November 10, 2014, this is the case.
As the story goes, the scene was the area around London’s King’s Cross station. This is where Uptown started to come together. Says Mark Ronson, a performer, co-writer and co-producer on the track,
“Bruno [Mars] was on drums, Jeff [Baskher] was on keys, I was on bass, and we just kept playing it until we locked into a groove. It really wasn’t that different from how you would make a record in the Sixties or Seventies.”
Released in November 2014 (Sony) Uptown spent 14 weeks at number one in the US, seven weeks at the top in the UK, and, it sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Oh, one more thing; it is the most streamed track of 2015 so far. To say that the song was a success is an understatement. In fact, this track is so strong in popularity that it is the longest running number one hit of the decade according to Forbes magazine. The song also won Ronson the Brit Award for British Best Single of The Year.
So, back to the story. After the London sessions there were further ones in Los Angeles, Memphis and New York and indeed months were spent adding and subtracting elements to the track. Ronson was clearly searching for something different. Says Ronson, “having spent 20 years of my life DJing, it is sometimes hard to shut off the spinning disco ball in my head.” Indeed, the recording process itself was an ordeal with Ronson constantly have to follow Mars around while he was on tour. Additionally, Ronson worked very hard to get the right guitar rift. He relates the story about tracking his guitar parts like this:
“The plan was for me to record my guitar part by lunch. Lunchtime comes around and I still haven’t nailed the part. We go out and in the stress of finishing this song I fainted in the restaurant. I threw up three times. Jeff [Bhasker, producer] had to carry me back to the studio.”
In the end, they got it – on take 82.
Eventually, Uptown Funk became the first single from Uptown Special (Ronson’s album), but interestingly, the track featured vocals and co-writing credits by Bruno Mars and producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Drake, Alicia Keys) and between the three of them (Ronson, Mars, and Bhasker), they had previously collaborated on Mars’ hit Locked Out Of Heaven. Subsequent to its release, Mars and Ronson performed this song for the first time when they were musical guests on the November 22, 2014 episode of Saturday Night Live.
A video was then shot for the track and it was done by Cameron Duddy. The clip was shot in New York and stars Ronson, Mars and the Hawaiian singer’s backing band, The Hooligans. Why NYC? Says Ronson:
“There’s a lot of ‘uptowns’ all across America. Obviously and famously in New York, but there’s also New Orleans, Oakland and Minneapolis. But Bruno has family from the Bronx and I grew up on 90th and Riverside [the Upper West Side]. I guess that’s why we choose that uptown. It was the one that was in our heads when we were writing the song.”
There is also another thing about Uptown. The lyrical references. There are many of them and it is an interesting weave of street references, funky sayings, and tributes to famous people. For example, there’s a reference to “White Gold.” “White gold” is slang for cocaine.
In the end the success of Uptown was overwhelming. In fact, Ronson himself was pleased with the track. He said this:
“It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done. And I know that it’s one of Bruno’s favorite things that he’s ever done, as well.”
So, how did Ronson react to its success? Ronson recalls walking down a London street when he got a text from his manager saying Uptown was the new number one single in the United States. Says Ronson:
“I called Bruno, we talked for a minute, and I said, ‘I’m going to let out a primal scream right now, if that’s OK.’ I cupped the phone to protect his golden ears, and that’s what I did.”
That’s quite a story. So, maybe it’s time we check out the finished product. . . . .shall we? It’s time to go Uptown and get funked up.