James Keogh is an Australian singer-songwriter who records under the name of Vance Joy. He took his stage moniker from the storyteller character in the Peter Carey book Bliss.
This ukulele-led song is a track from his his debut EP God Loves You When You're Dancing, which was released in March 2013 through Mushroom Group label Liberation Music. It peaked at #7 on the ARIA singles Chart and was the best selling song of 2013 in his home country by an Australian.
This was inspired by an encounter with a girl. Joy recalled to 3Links Music: "Around the time I wrote the song I met this girl. I asked her what she did and she was like 'I'm a magician's assistant.' I didn't really know where to go from there. I bet she never gets tired of laying that line on people."
The song's melody came to Joy on his way back from his local store to buy some food for dinner and he found himself humming the chorus.
The song earned Joy a five-album deal with Atlantic Records after a talent scout at the label got to hear the tune. "I did have a good feeling about the song, an intuition. I knew it was special. It's got a certain spark to it, it connects with people," Joy told News.com.au: "I'm really grateful for it. It's such a valuable thing for me to have written that song. I can't believe it came out of me. I was lucky to channel it, I feel like I snagged this fish out of the ocean."
The song featured in a GoPro TV advertising campaign in the US.
A rip tide (also known as rip current or undertow) is a strong sea current that pushes away from the shore as a strong storm is near. They are a source of danger for dragging swimmers away from the beach and can cause death by drowning following exhaustion while fighting the current. Although a rare event, rip tides cause more than 100 deaths annually in the United States.
The song title not only refers to the ocean but also to a motel Vance Joy used to stay in during his younger days. He explained to American Songwriter magazine: "I think at first you write these words without really thinking if they make sense or not. In my mind it's the ocean, but my whole awareness of that word existing is staying at a motel called Riptide. That's why it was in my head since it's not the most commonly used expression. And for that reason, the word has a special significance and a special memory for me."
This topped the Australian radio network Triple J's 2014 Hottest 100 poll, which is an institution Down Under. Billed as the largest music poll in the world, it's become the unofficial soundbed to the annual January 26th "Australia Day" national celebrations.
"Riptide" sounds like it could be the title of a surf-rock hit from the '60s, but until Joy's release, so song with that name ever hit the Hot 100. Robert Palmer released a song called "Riptide" in 1985 that he used as the title track to his album - the one with "Addicted To Love
Vance Joy started the song in 2008. He recalled to American Songwriter: "One day I just picked up the guitar and started playing the chords for the verse. I had the first two lines but really didn't think much about it. I kind of shelved them. At that point I only uncovered a small portion of the song, so it wasn't clear to me where it was going to go."
"Four years later in 2012, I was living with a friend and I would spend a lot of the afternoons writing while he went to work," he continued. "One day, I tried working on it, then stepped away we went to the shops to buy some stuff for dinner, and when I came back I started playing this melody on the ukulele. That melody wound up becoming the instrumental bridge, and that led me to write the melody for the chorus. Once I had that charted out, the words came easily, kind of like a stream of consciousness. All the words I needed were at my fingertips, and from that point I put the song together in a couple of days."
The music video was directed by Dimitri Basil and Laura Gorun. Basil is a Colombian-born director who went to film school in Australia before relocating to London, where he worked on videos with various collaborators. Gorun, who appears in the clip as a singer, is one of those collaborators. She is a Romanian-born director/actress who previously teamed up with Basil on the video for "Foreign Language" by Flight Facilities.
The video interprets many of the shots literally, so when Vance sings about being scared of dentists, we see a girl with a mouthful of dental gear; for "my friends are turning green" we see American dollar bills.
"Most people are trying to be very arty and avoid being literal at all," Basil said in a video commentary. "So I thought, 'Let's do the complete opposite and be as literal as possible. I think it worked because the lyrics are so absurd." In some places, the lyrics are subtitled on the screen... incorrectly. This was done on purpose.
At one point in the song, Joy sings that the girl is the "closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you've ever seen." Pfeiffer, who was born in 1958, is a little old for Vance, but he was smitten with the actress when he was a kid, especially when she played Catwoman in the 1992 film Batman Returns
Perhaps Bruno Mars had this song floating in his subconscious when he came up with the first line of his 2014 Mark Ronson collaboration "Uptown Funk
": "This s--t, that ice cold. Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold."
The song established a new record for the most weeks in the Top 100 of Australia's singles chart, overtaking the 106-week run of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face
." It peaked at #6 on Vance Joy's home country chart on February 3, 2014 and spent five weeks in the Top 10 and 45 weeks in the Top 50.
This won the coveted Song of the Year at the 2014 Australian APRA awards.