Racking Up Plays: “Tell Me What I Did” by Ben Folds Five
These are the posts where I gush about some song that I’ve got a huge crush on at the moment, and you put up with it and listen because you’re a good friend.
“Tell Me What I Did,” Ben Folds Five
I like most of Ben Folds‘ solo work. His debut solo outing, Rockin’ the Suburbs, remains one of my favorite albums of the ’00s. But no matter how capable Ben is at playing all the instruments himself or how accomplished the backing musicians he recruits, it lacks the palpable chemistry he had with Darren Jesse and Robert Sledge. I’ve missed the way their voices blended in three-part harmony and how Sledge could make that distorted bass sound simultaneously nimble and reckless.
So imagine my overenthusiastic joy when I heard that the trio—everybody knows that, in spite of its name, Ben Folds Five was a trio, right?—had reunited to record three new tracks for Folds’ career-spanning compilation album, The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective. Each member has his songwriting talents showcased, and while Folds and Jesse’s contributions are melancholy and self-reflective, Sledge’s song is a frenetic dose of the juvenile piano-punk with which the band made its name in its early years. (In fact, the song dates from the scuttled album Ben Folds Five started working on after The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.) Written from the perspective of a schoolyard bully, “Tell Me What I Did” culminates with the other students taking their revenge as the narrator cries out song’s title—which is such an funny phrase, but it’s totally something that kids say. I’m positive there was at least one occasion when I told a grade-school friend that he was mean and I was going home, and he responded with, “Tell me what I did!”
There’s more good news for Ben Folds Five megafans: Now that Folds is done with his Sing-Off duties, he’s reportedly getting back together with Jesse and Sledge to record a full reunion album. Hooray!
Here’s the song:
And here’s Ben talking about its origins:
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