Rihanna hasn’t had the best run of publicity lately, what with the airborne fiasco. Still, none of that can pierce her unimpeachable run of singles. The latest of which, ‘Stay’, is riding up the chart. An uncharacteristically intimate piano ballad penned by fast-rising alternapop wonderboy Mikky Ekko, it’s perhaps her most tender cut to date.
‘Stay’ certainly builds on the shrouded theme of ‘Unapologetic’, her apparent reunion with Chris Brown. But unlike that duet ‘Nobody’s Business’, it speaks of a more vulnerable side to the situation – of a desperate and doomed attempt to resist the pull of love. And in her mouth, Ekko’s words do put forward something of a riposte to the backlash her actions have provoked: “funny, you’re the broken one, but I’m the only one that needed saving”.
You might’ve seen the video circulating yesterday that apparently proves ‘baby’ is the most-used word in pop music. Well, it’s got stiff competition with ‘Stay’. Just like songs about DJs and dancefloors, songs called ‘Stay’ rarely fail. More than any other, that word encapsulates the space of longing between despair and bliss that the greatest love songs inhabit. In celebration of RiRi having pulled it out of the bag once again, we’ve put together a playlist of our ten favourites (with apologies to Pink Floyd whose track, like Rihanna’s, is not on Spotify).
In South Carolina 1953, a 15-year-old Williams tries in vain to convince his date to stick around past her 10pm curfew. But years later, the memory would trigger the genesis of this doo-wop classic, immortalised for later generations on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. It provides the most innocent cut on our list, the furtive stealing away of teenage moments. The girl may have lived to regret her haste given the song went on to sell 8 million copies. At just 1:37 it remains the shortest ever number one single in the US.
Any song from Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood is not going to be as wholesome. They want much the same as Maurice did, but the night of amour comes with the condition of no strings – an insistence on an older form of machismo in tune with the straightforward masculine rock’n’roll at a time when prog was looming. “In the morning, don’t say you love me, cos I’ll only kick you out of the door,” Rod croaks at the red-lipsticked Rita, having been sure to check he at least knows her name. It could be worse – it’s often so easy to forget to ask the name in these situations, isn’t it readers?
Beloved of slackers everywhere owing to its inclusion on the soundtrack of the ultimate slacker movie Reality Bites. Notwithstanding reflected awesomeness via proximity to Winona Ryder, it’s the most touching song on our list. The song started life with some nine verses, which would suggest a blessed relief because there’s only so much glucose-drenched longing a person can take without their teeth falling out.
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History-rewriting poptimists who say the UK can’t do R&B have clearly never heard this debut single from the band who were so much more than an Asda TLC. The song’s effortless New Jack Swing shuffle puts it easily as nose-to-nose with the US heavyweights of the era, and it begs the question in the most euphoric pure-pop way imaginable. Even with Louise Nurding on it.
‘Stay’: David Bowie (1976)
An artist who after ten years in obscurity could really do big things in 2013, it’s a little-known fact that ‘David Bowie’ has a whole treasure trove of demos from way-back-when, just waiting on discovery. A sleek, white-hot funk cut from ‘Station To Station’, the move toward motorik that informed the Berlin trilogy everyone’s getting so excited about. Yet coming from the mouthpiece of the album’s icy, amoral protagonist The Thin White Duke, a Stay song seems an odd fit. Bowie biographer David Buckley reckoned it riffed on “the uncertainty of sexual conquest.”
‘Stay’: Hurts (2010)
Everything Hurts do takes place in a silvery world of hyper-real romantic desperation, so it fits that their most powerful song takes its name from the word all that was invented for. It’s also responsible for what Emily Mackay and I have termed the ‘triple clutch’, a codified version of the classic power ballad move, as perfected by Theo Hutchcraft, a flourishing clutch inwards of three key joints: the fist inwards, the shoulder upwards, and then the elbow, dramatically down. Try it yourself.
Bono is never better than when the pretentiousness is turned up to 12, and it was rarely more so than here. The music was a homage to Sinatra, but lyrically it was written for Wim Wenders movie Faraway, So Close, about something to do with angels battling for physical form. And while deliberately vague, written to exist halfway into the realm of fantasy, its real-world story is the most tragic on our list, of an abused woman who finds she has nowhere to go but home.
US indie siren Tanya Donelly made her masterpiece with the debut from her short-lived outfit Belly. A gorgeous, spectral, reverb-drenched fairytale, its magic came from setting the prettiness in an ultraviolent Brothers Grimm dreamscape. And if the record was a fairytale then this song is the lullaby at the end, the potency of the word overshadowing whatever it was spooky Solomon had been up to before Tanya nodded off.
Nasir Jones returned to startling form with last year’s ‘Life Is Good’, which abandoned materialism to turn his lens on his inner life, following his split with Kelis. But as the ‘Seven Steps To Nowhere’ samples writes under him, Nas considers the tangled complexity between allies and enemies; realising that the grass may just be greener if he stays put.
‘Stay’: Shakespeare’s Sister (1992)
The greatest Stay song of them all, this also deals with the highest stakes of the word: death itself. A formidable pop-goth fantasy in its own right, it would be less than its ultimate majesty without the video. An homage to 1953 B-movie Catwomen Of The Moon, Marcella Detroit cradles her comatose lover a little too erotically for pre-watershed TOTP only for Siobhan Fahey to clamber in as the Angel Of Death, resulting in an epic battle between good and evil. And why not?