Released on 27 April 1998, Massive Attack‘s Teardrop was the second single from the Bristol group’s iconic album Mezzanine – and completes one of the best three-track opening progressions (Angel, Risingson, Teardrop) of any album before or since, in our book.
Much has been written about Teardrop over the years – including suggestions that the iconic video positions it as an ‘anti-abortion’ song – and it continues to be one of the most-played tracks live by the group (a total of 389 times over the years, in fact).
909originals explores five things you may not have known about Massive Attack’s Teardrop.
1 – The foetus in the video was a life-size puppet
The video for Teardrop is undoubtedly one of the stand-out clips of the late 90s, featuring a baby, still in the womb, mouthing the lyrics – indeed, director Walter Stern (who also worked with The Prodigy) won a MTV Europe Music Video Award for his efforts.
As for the baby itself? According to massiveattack.ie, the ‘singing foetus’ was a latex, life-size animatronic puppet, which took some six weeks to construct.
As Massive Attack told Undercover Magazine in May 1998, “It’s more or less a celebration of life. We didn’t know whether to go with it or not, because it looks a bit dodgy but it actually turned out to look quite nice. The idea for the video came well after the song was recorded.”
2 – Massive Attack member Mushroom wanted Madonna to sing the lyrics
Teardrop’s haunting vocals are sung by former Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser, giving the track its ethereal feeling – although it almost wasn’t that way, with band member Mushroom approaching Madonna to sing on the track.
According to producer Neil Davidge, in an interview with Headliner Magazine, the pop princess actually got back to the band saying that she “loved” the track.
As he explained, “So her manager called Massive Attack’s manager, and I was working on a Sunday when I got the call from Mark (the manager) saying, ‘I’ve spoken to Madonna’s manager, and he’s got this track called Teardrop, and he wants to know whether it’s for real’. This was the first I or any of the other members of the band had heard about it.”
The fact that other band members 3D and Daddy G vetoed Mushroom’s suggestion for the Like A Virgin star to appear on the track, helped sow the seeds for the latter’s departure, Davidge suggested.
“How it might’ve sounded with Madonna instead of Liz Fraser on vocals remains one of ’90s pop’s great what-ifs,” as Billboard Magazine put it recently.
3 – Massive Attack objected to it being used in American Beauty
The producers behind the 1999 Academy Award-winning film American Beauty had intended to use Teardrop as the main musical theme to accompany the film. However, Massive Attack, having read a brief synopsis of what it was about, reportedly objected to its use.
After seeing the finished film, 3D would later comment on how it was a mistake to deny American Beauty the use of Teardrop.
4 – The track borrows from a 1972 track by jazz musician Les McCann
What links Massive Attack with Kentucky-born jazz pianist Les McCann? The track Sometimes I Cry, aka the opening track on the latter’s 1972 album Layers.
While the iconic harpsichord riff was very much a Massive Attack creation, the low-key drum salvo that persists throughout appears to be lifted from McCann’s jazz-fusion piece. Which of course, begs the question – did Les McCann invent trip hop?
Listen for yourself here.
5 – Elizabeth Fraser has said that the song is ‘kind of’ about Jeff Buckley
“Love, love is a verb…” The lyrics for Teardrop contain just 42 different words, and were penned by Elizabeth Fraser shortly after the death of fellow singer Jeff Buckley, who she had dated during the mid 90s.
Speculation is rife that the lyrics were inspired by Buckley’s tragic death in a drowning accident – in fact, the news about Buckley’s death trickled through while Fraser was in the studio with the band.
“I’d got letters out and I was thinking about him. That song’s kind of about him – that’s how it feels to me anyway,” she told The Guardian in 2009.