2010: Why The-Dream’s Yamaha is the best song of the year

The-Dream's track is a work of dazzlingly imagination, humanity and clarity with a chorus fit for a million first dances.


Words by: Charlie Jones

It’s dumb
It’s grin-like-an-idot with pure love dumb. It’s about a guy (and, like all The-Dream’s tracks, it’s very much about something – as a lyricist, he’s as close to Cole Porter as he is to the Prince he’s so often compared to) in love with a girl he calls Yamaha because he can’t remember her name. It’s nothing that new (Prince, Little Red Corvette, thanks for noticing), but like all love songs, and all loves, it’s down to delivery, not originality. And the bended-knee abandon of his delivery of “Wouldn’t last a day … in your world” at the top and “Me and you, they never saw us coming …” is more than cheesy, but it’s also heartbreaking.

It’s rich
Like many kids of a certain age and disposition, I grew up reading the NME and listening to music of a lower fidelity, and presumed, somehow, that rudimentary was better than accomplished. But listening to Yamaha, the thing that strikes me is how rich it sounds, and how perfect it is for that. The-Dream, it should be noted, is very, very rich – he wrote two of the biggest hits of the decade, Single Ladies and Umbrella, and is vice-president of his label, Island Def-Jam and his personal wealth is estimated at $60 million. But the inspiring thing is the way that this fabulously wealthy man has spent his money – the synth chords collapsing down just so, so deep, so rounded, so rich, mastered so well, so meticulously that they run up and down the spine, mastered until they shine and gleam. Rumor has it that Yamaha built The_Dream synths to make the tune that bares their name, and whether this (probably apocryphal) is true, I want to believe it – I want to believe that every note was wrought from the finest MIDI on earth, that new machines of fabulous expense and technical intricacy were handmade, like the telescopes of 18th century royalty. The track is crowded with sounds, chords, tweaks, pings, drum rolls, constantly shifting throughout the track, digital smoke, signaling everything, held down by nothing. It’s a track that glitters and glows. So what does a personal wealth of $60 million buy you? If the rumours are true, a village of well-wishers and charity cases. But it also buys you a record of extraordinary purity, boundless immagination, and a baroque mercilessness about its treatment of the prone listener. 

It’s very simple
The-Dream’s genius was taking classic ideas and textures and taking them sky-high rather than turning them inside out, and this song’s a great example of that. The fascinating thing about The-Dream is that he never has to rely on out-odding the competition – it’s enough to out-imagine them. He can simply take the oldest elements in the book – in this case, swooping eighties chords and a story about love-machine-money – and perfect them, elevate them, render them big, Dubai-big, Great Plains-big, human heart-big.

In a year that’s seen producers from Becoming Real to Balam Acab to Bangledesh outdo each other in radicalism, there’s something strikingly classic about Yamaha, and its most striking details are how well it performs as a pop song in the classic style. It’s a work of fantasy, for universal consumption. It’s a song that demands arenas, Super-Bowl sponsership, first-dances by the million. Because those chords (those chords!) are that good. 

He is anything but
There’s a set story with The-Dream’s solowork, that it’s something of an avant garde sideproject – that the man capable of writing Single Ladies is incapable of a hit of his own and so settles for critical acclaim over sales. But that, for me, is only part of the story – the production on, say, Take Care Of Me, is easily up there with his best, and the chorus of Yamaha is – well, it just, is. For my money, it’s got something to do with who he is, what he is willing to do, and how he is willing to allow himself to be perceived. I found something very disarming about the manner in which he quit Twitter after recieving abuse from Ciara fans. After suggesting that her album would be undersold by the record company (very rightly, in my humble opinion), he seemed genuinely hurt by the accusations and rather than ego-it-out or repent, he simply bowed out of the fray. Perhaps, in a nicely old-fashioned manner, a very successful musician relised he could simply decline the hassle. 

He is, unintentionally perhaps, a reclusive multi-millionaire – someone dazzling rich and important, but too smart, too human, too honest to dumb down to our level. As a producer, he has never dealt in easy packages – Electik Red, Single Ladies and Umbrella – have all been incredibly complex excusions in submission, control, confidence and pain, and he dulls none of this glittering nuance for his solo stuff. Just as Yamaha is full of gleams and shards entirely contained in some synth wonderland, and that seems to get to the heart of him – shifting, restless, and relentlessly human in its ability to imagine, fantasise and wander.

If Balam Acab sounds, as Tamara argued, earthy and grounded, substantial, this is the opposite – Yamaha is all shimmer and smoke, light and mirrors. Even the subject crosses this boundary. Yamaha is a daydream about a daydream, essentially. But in committing himself so fully to this dream, he gets pop, or at least something fundamental about it, and life, and love, and it’s the reason that I love listening to this song more than any produced this year – that dreams aren’t as unreal as they seem.

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