The Number Ones

September 29, 2012

The Number Ones: Maroon 5’s “One More Night”

Stayed at #1:

9 Weeks

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present. Book Bonus Beat: The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music.

By the time they finished their Overexposed album cycle, Maroon 5 were no longer a five-piece band. In 2012, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael took a leave of absence, citing a desire to “pursue more full time studies in music and the healing arts.” The group brought in PJ Morton, a New Orleans R&B musician who’d released a couple of unsuccessful solo albums, to replace Carmichael on keyboards and backing vocals. In 2014, Carmichael, apparently satisfied that he’d completed his studies in music and the healing arts, returned to Maroon 5. Morton stayed in the band, which meant that Maroon 5 now had six members. Their name was simply no longer accurate. For that matter, none of those guys ever looked especially maroon, either.

At this point, the Maroon 5 name is even more out of date, since there are now seven people in the group. But nobody really noticed or cared about Maroon 5’s membership fluctuations, since the band had essentially stopped functioning as a band. Hands All Over, the 2011 album that the group recorded with veteran mega-producer Mutt Lange, was a resounding flop until Adam Levine took a couple of important steps to turn things around. Levine became a coach on The Voice, the hugely successful singing-competition show, and then he released “Moves Like Jagger,” the biggest hit of Maroon 5’s career to that point. I say that he released it because the rest of the group really had nothing to do with it.

Adam Levine recorded “Moves Like Jagger” with big-deal pop producers Benny Blanco and Shellback and with his fellow Voice coach Christina Aguilera. It seems unlikely that the other Maroon 5 members even played on the song. Instead, this was a singer-and-producers record, like virtually every other big pop hit of the early ’00s. “Moves Like Jagger” was the tipping point. From this point forward, most Maroon 5 songs would be Maroon 5 songs in the same way that “Call Me” was a Blondie song despite just being Debbie Harry and Giorgio Moroder. Adam Levine was the only Maroon who mattered.

Maroon 5 went into the quick-turnaround zone on their next album, 2012’s Overexposed. (Please note: When your album title is a self-aware joke about your own oppressive omnipresence, it doesn’t make that omnipresence any less annoying. It’s just you doing some cleverly clever Deadpool shit.) This time around, the band enlisted a different historically important mega-producer, but this one was a little more attuned to the times. The producer was Max Martin, and being attuned to the times meant making a bunch of forgettable, frictionless pop songs that basically served as Adam Levine solo records in all but name. One of those records was “One More Night,” an example of the kind of hit that that comes along, dominates the Hot 100 for an excessively long period of time, and then vanishes from the cultural memory like an evanescent daydream.

To clarify: The various non-Adam Levine Maroon 5 members actually did play on “One More Night.” You just can’t really tell. The song is an almost completely electronic creation, and you can hear the separation in the stems that make up its twitchy robo-skank groove. The one thing that anyone remembers from the track is a stuttery, annoying whoo-oo-oo on the intro, and it’s not like Levine was delivering those staccato stop-starts live in the studio.

Max Martin and his protege Shellback also play a bunch of the instruments on the track. Between the two of them, they take care of the guitars, drums, keyboards, and programming. The different Maroon 5 guys share some of those credits, but my guess is that they just played along with whatever Martin and Shellback whipped up in whatever program they used to make the beat. Maybe bassist Mickey Madden came up with the nifty descending bassline that you can hear once or twice, deep in the mix, but I’m really reaching for any sign of live-band involvement.

Now: None of this matters. Great pop music is great pop music, and the people responsible for the songwriting and production decisions are often different from those with their names on the cover. Adam Levine wasn’t fooling the public by pretending that “One More Night” was a full-band song. I’m just reaching for anything remotely interesting about a song that simply does not compel me. Sometimes, that’s what this column is.

Credit where it’s due: Adam Levine made the right choice by calling up Max Martin. Once he decided that he was fine with Maroon 5 just becoming his dance-pop project, that decision probably got a whole lot easier. It wasn’t exactly a leftfield choice to get Max Martin involved in the record. If anything, it was a demonstration of Levine’s commercial clout. He brought Martin in as a full collaborator, making him executive producer of the Overexposed album. Levine also brought in tons of other big-name pop-industry types. Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder, and at least one member of 3OH!3 all have their names in the album’s credits. Maroon 5 guys James Valentine and Mickey Madden co-write one song, and Phantom Planet bassist Sam Farrar, who would later become the seventh Maroon, co-produces a few tracks. But for the most part, the record is what happens when Adam Levine goes into the lab with the biggest pop names that he can round up.

For lead single “Payphone,” Levine got together with his “Moves Like Jagger” collaborators Benny Blanco and Shellback, as well as a producer called Robopop — cool name — and Wiz Khalifa, the rapper who’s already been in this column once and who will eventually be back. “Payphone,” the resulting track, is a sleek and anonymous piece of professional sentimentality. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the “Payphone” hook, but it never once stuck in my head. It would take the Wiz verse for me to even register that a song was playing. Maybe that’s a blessing. The bank-robbery video is full of sound-effects that sometimes drown out the song. Nevertheless, the song went all the way to #2, its ascent stopped only by the “Call Me Maybe” tsunami. (It’s a 3.)

Like most Maroon 5 hits, “Payphone” and “One More Night” were driven by radio play, not by some sudden flood of downloads from fans. “Payphone” came out in April 2012, really as “Moves Like Jagger” was just finally falling out of rotation, and it took its time in climbing the Hot 100. The same thing happened with second single “One More Night,” which came out around the same time that the album dropped in June. Adam Levine co-wrote “One More Night” with Max Martin, Shellback, and Savan Kotecha, the American songwriter who came up in the Swedish system and who’s already been in this column for co-writing Carrie Underwood’s “Inside Your Heaven.” Kotecha had also worked on hits from Usher and One Direction, and we’ll see his work in this column again.

For “One More Night,” Max Martin went back to the dinky, clanking Swedish quasi-reggae sound that basically brought him into the game. Martin got his start as the understudy of Denniz Pop, the Swedish producer who founded the Cheiron production house and gave past Number Ones artists Ace Of Base the groove that they needed to briefly become a pop colossus. Martin did some of his earliest work with Ace Of Base, and I have a lot of affection for that kind of ’90s cheese-reggae and for the built-in contrasts of its Scandinavian precision and Jamaican expansiveness. Honestly, I’d like “One More Night” a lot better if it sounded more like Ace Of Base, but at least it tries.

The main thing holding “One More Night” back from Ace Of Base levels of cheese-pop glory is Adam Levine, a singer who is simply not cheesy enough. Levine’s voice is recognizable, and it works well enough to convey a few things — romantic confidence, the kind of mild anguish that you might feel if you misuse your romantic confidence too many times. But he doesn’t show a whole lot of personality beyond that, and I generally find his whole nasal-honk delivery to be severely off-putting. That’s a big issue with “One More Night” even once you get past the whoo-oo-oo thing, which runs all through the track just like the whistling on “Moves Like Jagger.”

“One More Night” is a song about an unfortunate romantic entanglement. Levine’s narrator is one half of a couple so damn dysfunctional that they stopped keeping score. They go hard at each other like they’re going to war. They go rough; they keep on throwing things and slamming the door. Levine keeps trying to leave, but then he gets drawn back in because she’s stuck on his body, on his body like a tattoo. I can’t tell if that tortured-ass simile is an example of Max Martin’s melodic math scrambling all sense of English-language meaning or if it’s just Levine once again hoping to remind people that he has tattoos. Maybe it’s both! Either way, it’s just not a good lyric. There was some speculation that “One More Night” was Levine addressing his breakup with the Russian model Anne Vyalitsyna, but I truly do not care about that. Adam Levine’s romantic life only crosses my transom when his extremely funny sexting habits become public knowledge.

With a song like this, lyrics are less important than hooks, and “One More Night” has hooks. Given the cast of characters responsible for writing and producing the track, this is not a surprise. Max Martin and Shellback were really riding the wave in 2012; “One More Night” replaced another of their tracks, Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” at #1. That run has never really ended. Last week, Martin notched his 24th #1 hit as producer. That means he’s broken a record previously held by late Beatles producer George Martin (no relation), and he’s got more #1 hits than any other producer in history.

You can hear Max Martin and Shellback’s fingerprints on tons of sticky little melodic moments on “One More Night.” It’s a classically structured pop song, with verses and pre-choruses and choruses, but it sometimes feels like one long hook. There’s real satisfaction when the melody comes back around and resolves. Levine clamps down on the “we go hard” line, which is really the most important part of the track. He sounds like he’s trying to sing like Rihanna, which is not a terrible idea.

The song really isn’t bad, but it leaves no residue. It’s just one more piece of ambient fluff that fills up airtime on pop stations, which is probably why it got so much play. Even if you didn’t like Maroon 5, you might not switch stations when “One More Night” came on because you might not even notice that the song had changed. In the streaming era, it’s harder to reach #1 by disappearing into the background. You have to find some way to get listeners to engage more directly, even if it’s just a 15-second clip that works in a TikTok video. But “One More Night” came along just before the big shift.

For the “One More Night” video, Adam Levine worked with Peter Berg, the Friday Night Lights/Battleship auteur who’s only ever made a few music videos. (A year later, Berg and former Number Ones artist Mark Wahlberg would make the war movie Lone Survivor, which led to a whole string of moderately successful gritty real-life-adjacent tales from those two.) The “One More Night” lyrics at least imply infidelity; that’s my read on Levine’s line about waking up feeling satisfied but guilty as hell. In the video, though, he’s a struggling boxer who doesn’t even notice his relationship coming apart. If Levine’s character has any reason to feel guilty as hell, the video doesn’t show us.

Male pop stars love boxing-themed videos for the same reasons that male movie stars love boxing-themed movies. They allow for the chance to play tough and vulnerable at the same time, and they also give an opportunity to get really buff and take your shirt off. For Levine, a boxing video meant an opportunity to toughen up his image and show off his tattoos, a strategy that Ed Sheeran would later employ in the video for a song that’ll eventually appear in this column.

For “One More Night,” Levine and his wife and baby are living together in a cramped and dumpy apartment. Minka Kelly, so great on the Friday Night Lights TV show, plays the wife. (Other Adam Levine love interests from Overexposure videos: Bregje Heinen, Emily Ratajkowski. That guy was really on his Enrique Iglesias bullshit.) We know that Minka Kelly is unsatisfied with the relationship because she keeps shooting concerned looks at Levine while cooking him steak. When he goes off to fight, she stays home, packs her stuff, and leaves without telling him. She even packs up boxes of books, which is not something that you want to do if you and an infant are trying to move apartments without help. They’re too heavy! Just get out of there! At the end of the clip, Levine comes home and finds the place empty. There’s no happy ending, and this bleak vision might mean something if I was even remotely invested in the Adam Levine narrative experience.

By sheer statistics, “One More Night” was a huge success, a true zeitgeist song, but I barely remember the track existing. Still, somebody liked the thing. “One More Night” went platinum six times over, and the video now has a billion views. The Overexposure album went platinum once, but Maroon 5 were basically a singles act by that point. The album had a couple more hits, too. “Daylight,” another Max Martin collab, made it to #7, and the Ryan Tedder joint “Love Somebody” reached #10. (They’re both 4s, and they both have music videos so full of schticky business that they’re practically unwatchable.)

Maroon 5 kept working with big-deal songwriters — Dr. Luke, Mike Posner, Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder — on their next album, 2014’s V. Once again, nobody much cared about the album, but all the individual singles did well, though none of them quite conquered the Hot 100 the way that “One More Night” did. In fact, each of those singles did successively better on the Hot 100 than the previous one. Lead single “Maps,” which has nothing to do with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, topped out at #6. Follow-up track “Animals” went as high as #3. And then there was “Sugar,” which had a cute wedding-crashing video and which reached #2. (Those three songs? I don’t want to overthink this. Let’s just say that they’re all 4s and keep it moving.)

The existence of all these tracks meant absolutely nothing to me. They came and went. I was probably a little bit annoyed whenever I heard them, and then I stopped hearing them and never thought about them again. This was the Maroon 5 way. The group — or Adam Levine, anyway — was clearly very important, or at least somewhat appealing, to some segment of the American population. I have vague memories of walking into Kmart and seeing a line of Adam Levine menswear or underwear or something — wondering if anyone actually ever bought that stuff. Someone must’ve bought it, right? Or maybe the Kmart people just liked being in the Adam Levine business. In any case, Levine stayed on The Voice for a long time, and Maroon 5’s interchangeable tracks kept impacting the Hot 100. We’ll see Maroon 5 in this column again.

GRADE: 5/10

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BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from a 2014 Girls episode where Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet sing along to “One More Night” and Adam Driver reacts in a way that’s both extreme and understandable:

THE NUMBER TWOS: If “One More Night” ever comes up in pop discussions today, it’s mostly as a point of trivia. There’s truly very little that’s notable about “One More Night” itself. Instead, what’s notable is the song that it blocked from #1. Psy’s heedless goofball dance-rap novelty “Gangnam Style” became a global YouTube phenomenon out of absolutely nowhere. In quick fashion, “Gangnam Style” became the most-watched video in YouTube history, and it kept that title for years. The song became the first real K-pop crossover hit in the US, and its long tail will have implications for this column. “Gangnam Style” had much more cultural presence than “One More Night,” and all those YouTube views led to enough downloads and radio play that the song reached #2 behind the Maroon 5 track. But Billboard wasn’t yet counting YouTube views when figuring out the Hot 100. That started in 2013, largely as a response to the success of “Gangnam Style.” In any case, ayyyyyy sexy layday, “Gangnam Style” is an 8.

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now on paperback via Hachette Books. I know I’ve said it a million times, but buy the book here.

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