As in the world of fashion, so in music we see recurring elements in the evolution of styles. The 2010s saw a renaissance of the synthpop genre popular in the 70s and 80s. Filtered through the lens of the 21st century, the sound of this era is reflected in many great modern works. One such example is ‘A Real Hero’.
Why is the original song so special:
Electric Youth is a Canadian group featuring Bronwyn Griffin (lyrics, vocals) and Austin Garrick (lyrics, synth, drums). The two youngsters have been a couple since they were in high school and began exploring the world of music together. Their music is full of the magic of youth, freedom and teenage pathfinding. At the same time, their music is nostalgic, with a slightly melancholic mood, because of the constant flashback to the 80s.
Their song ‘A Real Hero’, co-written with David Grellier, aka College, brought them widespread recognition in 2011 and became the theme song of the blockbuster film Drive, released that year. Although the song’s musical world is powerful enough on its own, it reached new heights when it was combined with the movie starring Ryan Gosling. The imagery and story of the film reinforces the melancholic nature of the song, with the drama of ‘there is no tomorrow’ leaving a mark on the viewer and listener.
A story behind the lyrics:
Austin Garrick and David Grellier drew inspiration for the song from different sources.
In 2009, Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549, made an emergency landing in the Hudson River after a collision with birds rendered the plane inoperable. Thanks to his presence of mind and professionalism, the plane landed safely on the water, with all 155 passengers surviving the landing. Sullenberger’s rescue mission is still regarded as the most successful water landing in the history of aviation, for which the pilot and the entire crew were awarded a medal. After the incident, Austin Garrick’s grandfather praised Sullenberger as “a real human being and a real hero”, a sentiment that had such a powerful effect on Garrick that it became the chorus of his song.
According to Grellier, the main inspiration for the song was the character of Max Rockatansky, the protagonist of the Mad Max film. He wanted to pay tribute to the lonely heroes who willingly take it upon themselves to save the lives of others.
Thus, looking at the lyrics, the first half of the song is strongly influenced by Mad Max, while the second half is clearly a tribute to Sullenberger, who prevented the plane crash.
College & Electric Youth:
Band: College & Electric Youth
Song: A Real Hero
Album: Innerworld (2014)
Smallpools: A Real Hero
The Smallpools are an American indie pop band from Los Angeles. In 2013, their debut single Dreaming made it to the top of the charts on the music blog The Hype Machine. This brought them exposure, getting them on the playlists of alternative radio stations and opening for several major bands such as Twenty One Pilots, Walk the Moon and Two Door Cinema Club. In 2015, they released their cover of ‘A Real Hero’ as a single.
Common points and differences – The reboot
The lyrics and melody of the original work have not changed, but it has been substantially reworked by being performed in a completely different musical style to the Electric Youth version. The appearance of instruments, guitars and drums add a new soul to a song that was born to be electronic. The highlight of the arrangement is a lingering guitar solo, which is only further enhanced by the cathartic intensification of the vocals.
Pros and Cons
I wonder what a song rewritten in a new style has to offer, and what is lost in the process?
College & Electric Youth’s version is an anthem for the children of the night, the youth running free in the pulsing neon lights of the urban night, looking for their heroes to find something to draw from in the great game called life.
Smallpools, by contrast, is a reworking of life itself. From the uncertainty of the night, the song has been transported into the world of the vibrant Los Angeles sunsets. The machine music has been replaced by instrumental music, making it much more personal. Here, youth has found its heroes to celebrate with its music. Music of joy, imbued with kisses, love, hugs and sunshine.
I think Smallpools did a really good job with the adaption, but it’s undeniable that it’s not possible to surpass the emblematic original version. Although perhaps it doesn’t need to be.
Genre: Indie Pop
Song: A Real Hero
Album: A Real Hero (2015)
By: Rega & Wolfy