“To lose one Number 1 to a no-name producer, M’sieu Bangalter, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two seems like carelessness.” “Call On Me” shares an origin with Spacedust’s workout-based “Gym & Tonic” – a canny musician shaping a hit out of Thomas Bangalter’s leftover ideas – and thanks to its video it shares a theme too. “Call On Me” is indelibly, notoriously, the sexy aerobics track, whose promo clip was so brazen it drew comment from the Prime Minister (“I almost fell off my rowing machine”)

Unlike fly-by-nights Spacedust, Eric Prydz has built a solid career on the back of “Call On Me”. He’s reportedly lukewarm about his biggest hit now, though I don’t know if that’s because he’s moved on from the filter disco sound or the relentless crotch shots. It might even be that he’s a bit embarrassed by the other shameless thing about “Call On Me”, which is how much it owes to Bangalter & DJ Falcon’s Together project without actually crediting the French duo.

Together only released two singles, but they DJed extensively in the early 00s, and “Call On Me” borrows from an unreleased mix from their DJ sets. That used a Steve Winwood sample, and I’d guess used it very much in the way Prydz does here, turning it into a slice of yearning and looping it to repeatedly build the track. It’s a good trick – creating dynamics by keeping the beat steady and letting the sample gradually phase in, increasing in volume and clarity like it’s materialising with you in the room. It gives you the relentlessness of repetition with the illusion of change.

It’s also the trick Together used on their masterpiece, the 10-minute “So Much Love To Give”, which pushed the filter-house sound to an exhausting, ecstatic limit, looping the title phrase to create a track that’s perpetually peaking, endless waves of synapse-tickling desire. “So Much Love” is a divisive track – some people find it unbearable, and listening to it at home feels a little perverse, though for me it’s a glorious experience, like a dopamine-drenched take on early Steve Reich.

And while I quite enjoy the same ideas when they show up on “Call On Me”, they also feel annoyingly half-hearted. It’s the only way you can do this stuff and have a proper hit with it – a somewhat pointless edit of “So Much Love To Give” charted a while after this – but at three minutes “Call On Me” barely gets going, and the inclusion of the resolving Winwood line – “same boy I used to be”, feels like a bathetic concession to structure. “So Much Love” is a tantric climax; “Call On Me” is a shabby wank.

And speaking of which –

The “Call On Me” video is not particularly explicit – even the “night verson” is only a slapped bum away from the one they played in Tony Blair’s gym. And it’s not the first dance video to solve the “faceless techno” problem by getting a bit sexy. Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” in 2002 matched its machine-speech electro-house with a soft-porn video of oiled-up women hammering nails and drilling. 3 Of A Kind’s “Baby Cakes” comes with a video of sexy bakers squirting cream all over big buns. So why was it “Call On Me” that became notorious, the punchline to any joke about tacky dance music videos – and the inspiration for a heap more of them?

I’d offer a couple of ideas here. First is that the Prydz directors understood exactly where the line was for daytime play – the banned videos of the 80s and 90s became famous because people couldn’t see them; “Call On Me” because famous because people could. Second, “Baby Cakes” (and even “Satisfaction” to an extent) are playing sex for laughs – you might watch it and think “this is hot” but you’re also being invited to watch it and think “this is ridiculous”. “Call On Me” drops that fig leaf: there’s no dimensionality to it beyond an obvious pitch to lad mag readers.

It’s worth stressing that the fig leaf of irony was exactly that. “Call On Me” is a product of a moment when the first generation of lad mags – Loaded et al – were giving way to the second – Nuts and Zoo. That transition prompted a certain amount of sighing and hand-wringing about declining standards – how the witty, blokey masculinity of Loaded was being edged out by this crasser version. But whatever its founders’ dreams (music! film! articles about lions!), Loaded had long felt like a simple wrapper for photoshoots of hot women; Nuts and Zoo, its offspring, simply dropped the pretence. The marketing strategy changed; the objectification didn’t.

What strikes me looking at the Eric Prydz video now is what struck me looking at a copy of FHM then: the sheer narrowness of the range of ‘hotness’ acceptable to videographers and editors. Current reckonings with the 00s – often by women who were young then and living with the consequences of relentless body policing – stress this, a vast fear of variety, of the other, of the strangeness of desire. And one part of this wider cultural failure is that the look and feel of house music – a music built first on the motion of Black, queer bodies and second on a dream of inclusivity – became so entwined with this mechanised, cramped, copy-and-paste idea of sex. “Call On Me”‘s video isn’t solely to blame for that – it was part of a much wider process – but it epitomised that shift, and there’s nothing strong or open enough in its music to balance that legacy out.

Score: 3

[Logged in users can award their own score]