100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #76: “Pink Lemonade” by James Bay

The song at #76 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Pink Lemonade” by British singer-songwriter and guitarist James Bay. He broke onto the music scene in 2014 with his wonderful hit single “Hold Back the River”, which I liked a lot, though I didn’t really follow him or his music very much. But with his earnest, low-key style of folk rock, combined with a casual look consisting of his signature hat and long hair, Bay quickly built a huge following.

On March 7, 2018 he released “Pink Lemonade”, and a few days later, appeared on Saturday Night Live, revealing a major change in both his look and sound. When I watched his performance on SNL, I nearly fell out of my chair! Bay had ditched the hat, cut his hair and replaced his casual clothing style with a hot pink sequined shirt and black leather pants, and he looked hot! I developed a major man crush on him right then and there. As my friend Anthea commented – “who knew all that beautiful bone structure lay hidden beneath the hat and long hair!

Not only that, I loved the song’s exuberant rock’n’roll vibe, with scratchy guitars and a soulful and sexy bass-driven groove that reminded me of some of the great songs of the 60s. The song actually has a rather rough, gravelly production sound, which some felt detracted from its overall quality. My feelings are mixed about it, and perhaps James wanted a more rugged sound. In any case, many seemed to prefer his mellower folk ballads to this edgier, heavier rock sound (not to mention his casual look with long hair, to which he has since returned), so “Pink Lemonade” was not as successful as his other singles. Oh well, their loss, as I love it and couldn’t hear it enough. The song spent five weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 30.

The lyrics touch on escape and not wanting to commit to a relationship. The official video for the song is cleverly done, showing scenes of James dressed in a sparkling top and performing the song with his back-up band, alternating with scenes of him dressed in a silver spacesuit and sneaking into the garage while his parents are asleep to live out his childhood dream of building his own spaceship. He told People magazine: “The inspiration behind the video comes from the theme of escape that runs through the song. I was reminded of a time when I was about 4 years old and I told my parents I’d had enough of living with them and would be leaving home.”

Here’s his riveting and charismatic SNL performance, where he seems to channel John Mayer with a hint of early Elvis Presley swagger.

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