Hanni El Khatib: Singing Along To A Murderous Threat
To the list of pop music's great expressions of menace — a skin-crawling tradition that includes songs as various as Howlin' Wolf's "Who's Been Talking" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Run Through the Jungle," among others — it's now necessary to add Hanni El Khatib's cover of "You Rascal You." El Khatib has stripped the jaunty big-band veneer from Louis Armstrong's original, leaving little to obscure the dire implications of its words. The result is a rare occasion: a murderous threat suitable for singing along.
The song's instrumentation is spare and heavy: While a loop of handclaps sets the tempo, El Khatib's guitar playing provides a steady chop beneath the verses. The marriage of sound and lyric is absolutely direct. First, the singer recounts the scoundrel's crimes: "You asked my wife to wash your clothes / You rascal you / You asked my wife to wash your clothes / and something else, I suppose." Then, El Khatib wishes him death: "I'll be glad when you're dead / "You rascal you." Finally, he uses his guitar to back up his point, and while the particulars aren't clear, all that reverb doesn't bode well for a rascal's health.
Rock fans may recognize something of The White Stripes in the form, but the absence of anything resembling a wink makes for a key difference in content. There's a steely quality to El Khatib's delivery: You never doubt that he's speaking in earnest, and if that's a little scary — honestly, it is — it's also fun. Who hasn't fantasized about a little payback now and again? In "You Rascal You," Hanni El Khatib shows that revenge is a dish best served with the volume turned up to full blast.
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