Phantom Songs: Katrina & The Waves – “Walking On Sunshine”

Phantom Songs is an ongoing series of musical pieces that you can’t quite put your finger on. You have most definitely heard the song before, but are most likely not able to pinpoint who made it, when it was released, and/or what the song is really about.

This Phantom Song bends the rules of what a Phantom Song should be. Undoubtedly, it is one that most people will recognize and identify. On the same hand, some may even claim to know the words to the verses [and then go off on a mumble-fest with very few clearly stated words]. Hell, some people even scoff at the notion of calling it “unidentifiable”. The aspect of this song that makes it so special is the way that it has been presented to us ad nauseam. The song literally can and has been used to sell any product.

Here’s one example:

[Skip to 1:34 and enjoy]

Other examples include: Toilet paper, tampons, antidepressants, vacation getaways, coffee, condoms, cold medicine, breakfast cereal, power tools, hurricane relief, antihistamines, potato chips, lobster fests, moving trucks, cruises, toothpaste, drain cleaner, pork, paint, shoes, summer camp and gelatinous gum-based beverages.

To put it lightly, this song has been used so many times that one would believe that it’s royalty-free. Filmmakers have even used it in different ways to convey the same concept. Here’s two starkly different takes on a man succeeding in business.

In this montage, our character is literally walking on sunshine. The whole world is smiling at him as he walks with a certain confidence and rhythm. Everybody in the room wants to give the motherfucker a high five. He will probably get laid twice tonight, and then be forced to turn down numerous propositions. After all, he has a job to do. He can’t go around giving women as much sex as they desire. That’s just not his style. Plus, he’s actually in love with a financial adviser, and most of his seducers are distant relatives. Go figs.

Now, let’s look at a different approach to the same exact situation:

This is a man that has already made it and he can hardly contain his excitement. His strut is less on the casual but more on the business side. He is determined to talk as little as possible on the way to his office where he will do as little as possible. People fear and respect him, although they have no reason to do so. He will probably get laid twice tonight, with both of them leaving his loft with multiple bruises and cuts on their bodies. But that’s just the way he rolls. Afterward, he will pour a glass a Lurisa and watch the videotape of said sex.

The cover art was done by a 5 year old, trying to pose as a 3 year old.

I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that “Walking On Sunshine” is a multi-purpose song. Although it has been covered multiple times over the years, it was originally written and performed by fledgling EuroPop cover band, Katrina and the Waves. The song was originally recorded in 1983, and after some shopping around, they failed to get the album picked up by a major label. Instead, they settled on Attic Records, a hole in the wall operation in Canada. They released two albums under Attic, “Walking On Sunshine” and “Katrina and the Waves 2”. To their disdain, they did extensive Canadian touring and promotion. Although they were English natives, all of their fans were based in Canada, because only Canadians had access to their music. They did numerous promotions for used car dealerships and eyeglass megacomplexes. Their happy-go-lucky attitude was just what the Canadians needed to lift them out of their early-80’s depression. Hell, one of their songs were even covered by The Bangles, which surprisingly was a big deal at the time. Eventually, they caught the attention of Capitol records, as they are morally obligated to save at least two Canuck bands per fiscal year.

So when 1985 rolled around, Katrina & The Waves were in desperate need of new material. They obviously couldn’t mess up such a golden opportunity, so they played the safest route possible. Instead of rolling the dice on new songs, like any ambitious group would do, they rerecorded their best songs from the previous two albums. It was lumped onto a 10-track, self-titled, Grammy-nominated opus. So let’s back up the fun bus real quick. A band that nobody has heard of released a greatest hits album. Also, the title of the album is inconsistent in chronology, as its “sequel” was released a year before. Despite this, they were successful. Makes sense, right?

There are many different ways to interpret the meaning of this song, as its lyrics are painstakingly generic. It is obviously about a girl that’s in love with a boy that loves her back and she’s walking on sunshine and feels good and can’t wait to see him and etc and shit. But for the fun of it, let’s look at the different ways that this song can be wrongfully interpreted.

Ow ! Umm Yeah !

A girl is excitedly walking down the beach and she gets pinched by a crab. She is now hesitant to enjoy her beach adventure, but eventually decides to walk it off and have some fun.

I used to think maybe you loved me, now baby I’m sure
And I just can’t wait till the day when you knock on my door

She is hopelessly obsessed with a man that doesn’t know she exists. Although she is “sure” that he is in love with her, she still is willing to wait days, maybe even weeks, for him to come around. If she has to wait that long, he is obviously not into the loony chick. Either way, the song is in her perspective, so we are forced to see through her deranged eyes.

Now everytime I go for the mailbox, gotta hold myself down
Cause I just can’t wait till you write me you’re comin’ around

She is an obsessed Wayne Newton fan. She is a gold-star member of the Wayne Newton Fan Club [WNFC] and is anxiously waiting for the Wayne Newton Fan Club Bi-Monthly Newsletter Source [WNFCBMNS]. This edition of the WNFCBMNS is allegedly going to announce the dates to his tour of the midwest. Or at least that’s what the preview in the December/January issue claimed. Our protagonist is crossing her fingers that Wayne will visit somewhere in the greater-Gary, Indiana region.

Now I’m walking on sunshine (whoa oh)
I’m walking on sunshine (whoa oh)
I’m walking on sunshine (whoa oh)
And don’t it feel good
Hey! All right now
And don’t it feel good
Hey! Yeah!

She’s tripping on acid. Plain and simple.

I used to think maybe you loved me, now I know that it’s true
And I don’t wanna spend my whole life just a waitin’ for you
Now don’t want you back for the weekend, not back for a day (na no no)
I said baby I just want you back and I want you to stay

She is a failing part-time mother. After losing her children due to a stove-related accident, she is hoping that their love of her will cause them to run away from their father’s home and into her troubled arms. She has nothing left to do but wait for them. Mothering was her life, and one act of carelessness took that away from her. She gets supervised visits for one weekend a month, but she is fighting to get more. The children are indifferent towards her, as Dad lets them stay up after midnight. After every visit, she asks for extra hugs, but they simply shrug their shoulders and walk away, leaving her crying helplessly. She just wants them to stay. But burns don’t heal, so nor will she.

The chorus could also be interpreted to be in the perspective of somebody about to be burned up alive while walking on the surface of the sun. The sensation is brief, but life-defining. The song can be used in very literal and satirical ways. That’s the beauty of a vaguely worded 80’s pop song. It could really mean anything, but probably mean nothing at all to the person that wrote it.

The music video is a sub-par fare. It’s your stereotypical EuroPop fare, which is trying to be uplifting and fun in a gloomy setting. It starts out with “Katrina” pretending a little too hard to be happy in an abandoned building. “The Waves” stand beneath her, looking mopey as fuck. This goes on for most of the video, with the mopey band following her in a poorly-acted flaunt. The thing that I don’t understand is that the song is about walking on sunshine, but 90% of the exterior shots are overcast. If you’re going to make a music video about sunshine, you should at least have sunshine in it! Did somebody steal their sunshine? Was it Len? The only authenticity I see in this video is the virtuosic acting by the ducks in the pond. They seemed to be generally ecstatic to be eating white bread.

After the mindfuckingly huge success of this single, Katrina and The Waves fell flat on their collective face trying to make a follow-up. They went on to make two more albums, one a miserable failure, and one that made such small waves that it doesn’t even have a wikipedia page. They were dropped from two different labels in 3 years. During the Clinton administration, they recorded a few more albums, with not a single soul listening. They made a brief comeback in 1997, when they produced a hit called “Love Shine A Light”.

Somehow, this song won 226-12 in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest. Not known very well to Yankees, the contest is open to every nation in the European Broadcasting Union, in which they nominate a song to compete against other nations. Simply put, this song was arguably the best song produced in Europe in 1997. Which is somewhat sad, but uplifting to know that laziness sells. After the immense success of the single, Katrina & the Waves failed to have any better ideas. They broke up less than a year later.

And of course, they rejoined forces in September of 2005 and took New Orleans by storm. But that, my friends, is a different story.

Originally posted 5/12/11