Norman Cook a.k.a. Fatboy Slim a.k.a. Pizzaman a.k.a The Brighton Port Authority a.k.a. at least 15 other aliases has in the past described himself as “A big silly guy who makes big silly records.” This description is no more evident than in one of his most timeless and revered productions, 1999’s Praise You.
Best-known under his Fatboy Slim guise, when Cook dropped this onto the world it truly was something unlike what had ever been heard before. Not a house track per se, this sample-heavy gem (very sample-heavy as we shall see below) is considered to be one of the best tunes of the 90’s and a defining staple of the “Big Beat” genre that was enjoying huge success at the time thanks to Slim’s album “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” (whose title is a direct reference to the single) and the funky break-beat centered efforts of Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, and Daft Punk.
Norman Cook has been producing some of the biggest tracks around since 1985 when he joined The Housemartins with friend Paul Heaton. He followed this up with a string of successful solo and collaborative releases and enjoyed some chart success under his Pizzaman alias with Trippin’ On Sunshine, Sex On The Streets, and Happiness, the latter being notably featured in a UK fruit juice commercial for the Del Monte Foods Corporation.
In 1996, Cook adopted the new pseudonym Fatboy Slim under which he has achieved his biggest success. His first LP under this guise “Better Living Through Chemistry” contained the UK Top-40 hit Everybody Needs a 303 and set the tone for his sophomore album, which received critical and commercial acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. The second album continued to focus on sample-heavy, breakbeat-oriented production and contained one of Cook’s other best-known productions, The Rockafeller Skank. Cook has stated that in order to clear the samples to release this track, he has had to release 100% of the track royalties to the sampled artists, meaning Cook receives no royalties himself, but the exposure he received must certainly be considered a worthwhile trade-off.
And speaking of samples, Praise You contains no less than six as identified through sample credits and sample spotters. The main vocal hook came courtesy of the intro to Take Yo’ Praise from 70’s soul singer Camille Yarbrough and yes, that is indeed part of the theme to “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” running through the song’s bridge. Throw in at least four other samples from the likes of the Steve Miller Band, a test LP called Sessions from JBL, and even a funky guitar lick from “Mickey Mouse Disco” (yes, you read that right, I even had a copy back in the day!), and Cook’s signature beats, editing and acid lines and you’ve got a cornacopia of sounds that come together to form one of the funkiest and most unique sounding tunes ever made. You can check out the full list of sampled tunes (that we know of) on this page on www.whosampled.com to see how the track was composed.
Of course, every great track needs a great video. Enter acclaimed director, producer and actor Spike Jonze, whose resume includes music videos for the likes of Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, Weezer and Beastie Boys (may you rest in peace, MCA), the Academy Award winning films “Being John Malkovich“, “Adaptation” and “Where the Wild Things Are“, and serving as the co-creator and producer of MTV’s Jackass.
Jonze took a guerilla-style approach to filming involving a choreographed dance routine outside of a movie theatre in Westwood, California. Jonze himself stars as the leader of the fictitious Torrance Community Dance Troupe and even features a cameo from Cook himself, notably at the end of the clip. I don’t believe words can really do the clip justice, so I invite you to check out the video posted above. You won’t be sorry. The clip went on to win three awards at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards including Breakthrough Video, Best Direction and Best Choreography. Filmed for approximately $800.00, the video is a great early example of the “flash mob” phenomenon currently sweeping YouTube before the term was even coined and is heralded to this day as one of the best and most unique music videos ever made.
Combine the genius of Cook’s ability to layer all of the diverse samples together to create a funky, feel-good tune and the genius of Jonze’s vision for the video and you have one of the most enduring representations of the avant-garde approach that typified the Big Beat sound of the time and a video that has influenced dozens of directors through to this day. I pulled this one out at a private party I did just last week and smiles instantly appeared on most of the faces of the people in attendance.
To Mr. Cook and Mr. Jonze: please continue to take yo’ praise right through to this day. You deserve it like you should.