The Grammy Award for Record of the Year went to "Uptown Funk," which appeared on Mark Ronson's album, "Uptown Special." The award goes to the song's producers, which included Ronson, Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence and Jeff Bhasker, who also was named Producer of the Year.
Ronson appeared on The Frame last year. Here's our original post from that interview:
If you're a living, breathing human being, odds are good that you've heard "Uptown Funk." One of the grooviest earworms of recent memory, it sat atop the Billboard charts for 14 weeks and, as of this month, has sold over 5 million copies.
And while Bruno Mars might be the recognizable face of the song, it's Mark Ronson, the man behind the song, who's experiencing a huge boost in popularity.
Bruno Mars isn't the only famous name on Ronson's most recent album, "Uptown Special." It also features Stevie Wonder, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala and lyrics by author Michael Chabon.
When Ronson dropped by The Frame, we talked about the convenience of streaming services, getting Stevie Wonder to play harmonica on the album and learning how to tell bestselling acclaimed author Michael Chabon to rewrite his lyrics.
The first song from the album, "Uptown's First Finale," features Stevie Wonder. How did that collaboration come about?
That song's really from the genesis of the record. I really loved this producer/songwriter Jeff Bhasker, a Berklee jazz student who's this prodigious piano player, and we started to write some music that let me know that maybe the lyrics on this album were calling for something a little bit deeper than the average thing.
Long story short, I wrote an email to Michael Chabon and I just said, "It's my dream to make the kind of record that shows that you can have weird narratives and interesting stories over groove-based music." He was into the idea and he sent me a sheet of lyrics, like, "Here's the first thing I've dreamed up," and they were wild, amazing lyrics that were so expressive. I could picture the whole scene, but they were quite hard to put to music.
But as I started to read it, the next passage of the song became a melody in my head, or it informed me in its own way what its melody was, which was so bizarre. I've never had that experience before.
That melody ended up being the melody that Stevie Wonder plays on the harmonica, and every time we'd put the lyrics to it or somebody would try to sing the words, it just sounded wrong. I became obsessed, like This can only be Stevie Wonder's harmonica playing this melody, that's all it can be.
That's really strange. So Michael Chabon writes this lyric that suggests this melody that suggests Stevie Wonder to your mind. In terms of creative inspiration, it's just mind-blowing.
It's pretty crazy, and what's really insane is that Michael inspired something and then removed his own inspiration and that's what we have. Going into this album at the beginning, if somebody had said, "Hey, you should ask Stevie Wonder to play on your record," I would have been like, "What's wrong with you? Why would that ever happen?" But because that melody actually inspired it, it was like, Well I have to ask, because this is what this song is telling me to do.
But Michael's an incredibly talented writer — he's worked on screenplays, children's literature and novels — although songs are a totally different medium. What were the conversations you had with him about collaborating as musicians?
In the beginning, I thought that he might just give us a plot or narrative, or maybe he'd give us a couple interesting ideas. It started with sending lyrics over the Internet, and then his first trip down to Venice, California at Jeff Bhasker's studio was the first time we sat in a room together.
I had the melody to the song "Summer Breaking," and we started to write something for that, and he wrote these really great lyrics but the story was kind of dark and weird and I couldn't really express it. The lyrics were great and they matched the melody I'd written, but it wasn't gelling, it just felt like the sentiment of the two were different.
We rewrote those lyrics three times, and I remember the first time he went out of the room I turned to Jeff and said, "Is it OK to tell Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon that we're going to rewrite this whole thing because it's not happening?"
Luckily, part of the reason that Jeff's written an abnormal amount of hit records is because he believes in these rules of songwriting — structure, where the repetition comes, which consonant or vowel sounds to end lines on, things like that. It was amazing, because Michael was willingly taking on these insane instructions, so he'd write that was really great and Jeff would be like, "No, man, it has to end in a long 'A' sound, that's no good." And he'd just take it and fire back another great lyric.
In the U.S. alone, "Uptown Funk" has been streamed tens of millions of times. By contrast, the album "Uptown Special" has sold slightly more than 300,000 copies. That's a huge gulf between the number of people streaming the song and the number of people buying the album, so what does that say about where the music industry is going?
I think Spotify and other streaming services have allowed people to hear what they want, when they want, and that's kind of it. So where you used to put your CD in and hit repeat on that one song, there's something that can now tally how many times you've repeated it. I don't know if it's so much changed how many times people enjoy listening to the same song, I just think there's a pie chart for it.
Pop music evolved out of a singles culture, and it wasn't until people like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Beatles came along that people wanted to make albums. It's a bit of a cyclical thing, and to be honest, I don't mind. I don't think any of my other albums have sold more than 20,000 or 40,000 copies, so 300,000 sounds like 5 billion to me.
Are you worried about how people consume music today?
I'm not on the level of Taylor Swift where I can pull my music off Spotify. I deal with it in the way that I do. So you find other ways, whether it's you going out and DJing or touring, or you license your music or those kinds of things. It's not even a defeatist thing. It's just that's how people are going to enjoy music, that's how it's going to be done and we'll all find a way still to eat, unless, even if it is a way that's slightly less than before. It's obviously something that was the inspiration behind Tidal. Although I've never seen a PR conference flubbed up so royally. To me it's just...
You're talking about Madonna's diving over the table?
Just the whole attitude of it. It's like extremely wealthy multimillionaires toasting champagne saying, 'The world changes tomorrow.' And it's like, if you want to do that commercial, what you do is you show the young kid on Ableton in his bedroom making music saying, 'This dude might not be able to eat unless we change the way the game is.' Not like, whoever isn't going to be able to gold coat their Rolls-Royce unless we really change the way things are going.