Did Daft Punk "Get Lucky" with Pharrell, or vice versa? Examining Pharrell's ten greatest misses
Before it was even released, "Get Lucky," the first single from Daft Punk's forthcoming album "Random Access Memories," set the world on fire. From the fan edits of the track to the sixty second commercial from Saturday Night Live to the album teaser from Coachella, "Get Lucky" generated more than ten million impressions before being released last week and immediately topping the charts. No one was probably more thrilled about this than Pharrell Williams.
Williams hasn't had a hit record in almost ten years. "Hollaback Girl" was the last home run from Pharrell as an artist or producer. People have asserted that his mojo is gone, that he's no longer "relevant" in an industry that leaps onto the next big hit maker like switching a ringtone. On paper, the naysayers look absolutely right.
Daft Punk's perennial popularity aside, the whole notion of this record sort of defies convention: I mean, what A&R exec in his right mind would green light a straight-ahead disco record featuring a sixty-year-old disco icon, and a guy who's last hit was two years before Obama said "Yes We Can." Nonetheless Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" exists in a magical place where redemption is a ridiculously catchy refrain, a little vocoder action and a lot of that famous French attention to detail.
The success of "Get Lucky" aside, though, you have to wonder where Pharrell went wrong. Before joining forces with Daft Punk, his best days appeared to be behind him. Why? Well, it's literally a toss-up. At worst, his music is polarizing. At best, he's turned in some of the most singularly brilliant production of the last twenty years.
Keep reading for a look at Pharrell's ten greatest misses
10. "Diddy" - P. Diddy, produced by and feat. Pharrell Williams
The second single from what was supposed to be P. Diddy's victory lap album, The Saga Continues..., this song sputtered and stalled just like the sales of the album. Maybe it was because Napster was at the heights of file trading. Maybe P. Diddy hadn't transformed his image quickly enough after his assault trial to foster good will. Whatever the case, a certified banger track interpolating BDP's "Jimmy" arrived still born and failed to chart.
9. "Young, Fresh and New" - Kelis, produced by the Neptunes
Believe it or not, the song "Milkshake" was plan B for the former Mrs. Nas. Her sophomore album, produced and written entirely by her Svengali Pharrell Williams, was composed entirely of genre defining future jams like this lead single, "Young, Fresh & New." The record alienated so many fans, Virgin killed the single, shelved the album in America and only released it in Europe and Japan. Thanks to illegal file sharing, American audiences were able to elevate this song to cult status, but it still never even charted in the U.S.
8. "Wanna Love You Girl" - Robin Thicke produced by and feat. Pharrell Williams
Blue eyed soul singer Robin Thicke had already washed out once in the record business. As one of the first signees to Andre Harrell's Nu America records, he learned quickly that creating incredible music has absolutely nothing to do with sales. (The only person proven to have listened to his Nu America debut is one Lil' Wayne who covered his "Oh Shooter" record on The Carter II.) It was a no-brainer to match Thicke up with Pharrell who was still smoldering from his blue eyed soul collabos with Gwen Stefani and Justin Timberlake, right? Wrong. "Wanna Love You Girl" is the kind of futuristic minimalist funk that you would have expected Prince to have made. Not even a Hype Williams directed video or a rap from "Skateboard P" (Pharrell's "keep it real" nom de plume) could muster enough downloads and radio play to get this record some love. In fact, if Oprah Winfrey hadn't fallen in love with a promotional copy of the album and decided to feature him on her show (sans Skateboard P), Robin Thicke would be lost to the online message boards and cutout bins at your local music shop.
7. "Work it Out" - Beyoncé produced by and feat. the Neptunes
Remember that time Pharrell almost killed the career of America's biggest pop star? "Work It Out," Beyoncé's first solo recording, was supposed to straddle the line between new millennium cool and '70s funk and soul. For the most part, it did exactly that, except Pharrell and his Neptunes cohort Chad decided that mimicking James Brown meant skimping on the big horn arrangements that made those kinetic '70s-era JB records classics. Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley are replaced by a cheap ass Casio synth and some real basic drums from Pharrell. Watching the video, the woman singing the song doesn't seem like the Beyoncé we have come to know and love, she looks like one of those Taiwanese CGI reenactments.
6. "I Decided" - Solange produced by Pharrell Williams
After Amy Winehouse shocked the world with her retro masterpiece "Back in Black," Beyoncé's little sister just had to have that album's producer Mark Ronson for her sophomore solo project. After Ronson refused to take her seriously, Pharrell Williams stepped in and delivered a beautiful pop record that not even Ronson could have pulled off. It was retro in sound and miles ahead in aesthetic, but it was too far ahead. Solange lost her fan base, and her record deal, behind production that many considered "Ronson Lite." Ironically, the album won her scores of fans amongst bands like Of Montreal, Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor turning Solange into the indie darling of R&B. Thank Pharrell's special brand of "Never gonna play this on the radio" sauce.
5. "Maybe" - N.E.R.D. produced, written and performed by Pharrell Williams
The aughts were a strange time for R&B: Every Usher and their brother was trying to secure a Lil' Jon feature or a Kanye West track to climb the charts. For a guy like Pharrell Williams, it was time to get ?uestlove and Lenny Kravitz and make the R&B record that George Harrison always meant to make. "Maybe" offended a lot of people who saw it as a bad take on a Beatles record. Worst of all, if you weren't offended, you just didn't care. It's hard to understand why this record didn't work as Gnarls Barkley was climbing the charts at the exact same time. In fact the only human who seemed to care about this record soon became the next victim of Pharrell's poisonous production, Lupe Fiasco.
4. "I Gotcha" - Lupe Fiasco produced by Pharrell Williams
Desperate to distinguish himself, Lupe Fiasco chose to create a mixtape song called "...And He Gets the Girl" from the instrumental ashes of the failed "Maybe" single. To this day, it is Lupe's best song. The same cannot be said about "I Gotcha," which has to be the biggest throwaway track ever to see a proper release. It literally sounds like someone trying to ape the trademark Neptunes sound with their first keyboard. While teenage Lupe was more than happy to jump on the track, adult Lupe hasn't been in the studio with Pharrell since.
3. "Allure" - Jay-Z, produced and feat. Pharrell Williams
The link above is a great scene from the 2005 Jay-Z documentary Fade to Black, featuring Pharrell selling Jay-Z on the beat that would become "Allure" on "The Black Album." It is commonly referred to as "the song you skip over every single time on 'The Black Album'"
2. "Glow" Mac Miller produced and feat. Pharrell Williams
By the fall of 2012, Pharrell could not give his music away. Mac Miller jumped in the studio with Pharrell to record and release two free songs, "Onaroll" and "Glow." The reaction from fans and (mostly) haters was swift and furious. People hated the music and took this as Pharrell's last dying gasp. In reality, both records are above average Mac Miller productions that deserve a replay.
1. "Live Your Life" - Yuna produced by Pharrell Williams
"Live Your Life" is the kind of record that would have destroyed radio in the '90s. Yuna is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter who should have been sitting on top of the charts after this song's release. Production wise, the song is flawlessly constructed; it frames Yuna's quirky vocal perfectly and begs repeated listening. It's a throwback to records like "You Gotta Be" by Des'Ree and "Stay" by Lisa Loeb. In 1997, a slam dunk. In 2012? Instead, this one was relegated to the dustbin of Pharrell's greatest misses.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.