Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Everything He Needs” Features an Interpolation of a Harry Nilsson Song From the Popeye Soundtrack
We’re more than used to modern pop stars borrowing recognizable melodies or cadences from pre-existing hits. (Indeed, you could trace that practice back to the beginning of the 20th century, when many recording artists incorporated snippets of folk standards into their “original” compositions, into the era of copycat recordings in ’40s and ’50s, into the egregious blues ripoffs of the rock era and beyond, but that’s another blog.) Top 40 stars’ modern inclination to explicitly borrow and recast has its most immediate roots in hip-hop but, in our age of hyper-nostalgia and decreasing attention spans, the technique seems to be seeping over into every corner of popular music.
Sometimes the combinations can be pretty weird—say, Flo Rida remaking Dead or Alive, Beyoncé paying tribute to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Taylor Swift speak-singing like Right Said Fred, Portugal the Man aping the chorus of “Please Mr. Postman,” or DJ Khaled, Rihanna, and Bryson Tiller remaking a Santana hit from the turn of the millennium. But it’s rare you come across a pairing as unlikely as the bizarro special of this New Music Friday: Carly Rae Jepsen interpolating a Harry Nilsson song from the soundtrack to Popeye, Robert Altman’s 1980 live-action musical adaptation of the comic strip starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall.
Perhaps Harry Nilsson is in the air these days—that is, thanks to the Netflix series Russian Doll, in which the singer-songwriter’s Nilsson Schmilsson opener “Gotta Get Up” plays an important structural role. But a track from Popeye—a thoroughly strange soundtrack album from an even stranger film, and an LP that is not even a favorite of most Nilsson fanatics—is about as unexpected a piece of source material for a slick snippet of contemporary dance-pop as one can imagine.
In the film and on the album, Olive Oyl (played by Duvall) sings “He Needs Me” as a bittersweet song of devotion to Popeye. “For once, for once in life I’ve finally felt/That someone needed me,” she sings. “And if it turns out real/Then love can turn the wheel.” On the expanded reissue of the record, there’s a very pleasant and scrappy demo of Nilsson singing the song you can enjoy. P.T. Anderson heads might also remember the song from the filmmaker’s underrated 2002 Adam Sandler vehicle Punch-Drunk Love, in which the backing orchestral arrangement was beefed up and warped by Jon Brion.
One of the highlights of her new album Dedicated, Jepsen’s lounge-pop track “Everything He Needs” evens Nilsson’s melody rhythmically to fit the light, clubby groove, which comes courtesy of producers C.J. Baran and Jordan Palmer. (Originally, it’s set in waltz time, over a lurching oom-pah-pah pit orchestra accompaniment arranged by Van Dyke Parks.) Just like Olive Oyl, Carly Rae repeats ad infinitum: “He needs me, he needs me, he needs me…”. It’s only a passing vocoded response (“I got everything he needs”) that gives the song an excuse to be called something other than “He Needs Me.” Nilsson has a co-writing credit on the track.
Listen to the different songs featuring the “He Needs Me” chorus below.