Ah, ringtones: The 21st-century equivalent of particularly withered lumps of coal.
With the rise of the mobile phone came the rise of ways to make a cheap buck off peoples’ ever-encroaching attachments to their technology. Enter the ringtone, a way for music fans to pay an inflated premium for a snippet of a song so as to “identify” themselves to crowded rooms as suckers. This mid-decade mania was as quick to fall off as it was to take off–remember when pundits straight-facedly said that mobile music was going to lead the industry back to profitability?–but during its heyday it spawned Crazy Frog, a scat-happy digitally animated amphibian who came complete with controversies about exposed genitalia and his parent company lightly defrauding frog-craving children via TV ads.
The first two Crazy Frog singles followed a pretty ingenious formula: First, take a popular instrumental track of yore; second, digitize it up; third, add some of the titular frog’s “ring-ding-ding”ing; fourth, profit. The frog’s 2005 cover of “Axel F” went to No. 1 in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, although reception Stateside was a bit cooler — it only peaked at No. 50 on the Hot 100. (Of course, at the time, the U.S. was suffering through its own annoying novelty acts.) This was followed by a cover of Gershon Kingsley’s peppy synth piece “Popcorn” that actually sorta worked sonically, thanks to the two songs being birds of a digitally rendered feather.
Eventually, Crazy Frog’s minders deicded to join the pantheon of non-humans–Bob the Builder, Mr. Blobby, the Robbie Williams-assisted Nicole Kidman–who had reached the top spot on the British singles charts during Christmas week. In 2005, the first shot was fired: a double-A-sided single with “Jingle Bells” and “U Can’t Touch This.” But it only peaked at No. 5 on the UK pop chart, so the next year, the Frog’s producers decided to bring out the big guns: a cover of Wham!’s recently minted holiday perennial “Last Christmas.”
Of course, what with the original possessing lyrics, the Frog’s formula had to be tweaked a bit. Would a version of “Last Christmas” where all of George Michael’s lyrics about love gone wrong were replaced by computer-generated “ring-ding-ding”- and “bing-bing”-ing have been amazing as a pure expression of the mania of the era? Perhaps. Unfortunately that’s not what we get here; instead the Frog is accompanied by an anonymous female vocalist who might even be a slightly pitched-up version of George Michael, so creepily do her vocal tics match those on laid down by the singer some 22 years earlier. The end result isn’t highly annoying like “Axel F” or surprisingly not-terrible like “Popcorn”; it’s just really, well, boring, totally lacking any of the Craziness promised by the Frog’s name and making anyone within earshot wonder where their old cassettes of Music From The Edge Of Heaven had gone.
Special mention should go to the version of “Last Christmas” that was subsequently recorded by Cascada, dance-pop’s equivalent of the cover-happy wedding band. Something tells me that their cover of the track wouldn’t have existed without the Frog and his princess’ Christmas crass-in from a year prior, what with the two versions being pretty much identical save the frantic, phone-speaker-ready Frog-scat.