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How “Orinoco Flow” Went From a Hit to a Punch Line to a Pop Culture Anthem


Tim Greiving at theringer.com has written a wonderful essay called “Sail Away: How Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” Went From a Hit to a Punch Line to a Pop Culture Anthem”, celebrating that it is now 30 years since the song’s release. 

It starts like this:

“There I was, minding my own business, catching up on Season 4 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Jake (Andy Samberg) and Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) were awaiting the fateful hearing in a trial for a crime they didn’t commit; the outlook was grim, and so, sitting in a parked car about to leave for the courthouse, a gloomy Jake makes a special request: “Just put on anything by Enya.” He corrects himself: “No, not anything—‘Orinoco Flow.’ On repeat.” Then, a witness suddenly appears and offers to testify and save the day. Cut to a full courtroom, and the judge impatiently asking where detective Peralta is … when Jake theatrically bursts into court. His entrance music? Naturally, that ethereal chorus: “Sail away, sail away, sail away!”

Enya sailed into the culture’s consciousness on October 15, 1988, when “Orinoco Flow” first crested British airwaves. (It was the lead single off her proper debut album, Watermark, which dropped a few weeks earlier.) The song became a no. 1 hit in the U.K., and a few months later it charted in the U.S. for 17 weeks (where it rose to no. 24). MTV played the music video on rotation, both the single and video were nominated for Grammys, and the song became a bona fide phenomenon.

But after the initial wave of unironic popularity, it mostly stuck—at least in pop culture terms—as a punch line. From a Season 1 South Park parody (“It’s cheesy, but lame and eerily soothing at the same time!”), to Steve Coogan singing it in a 2002 episode of I’m Alan Partridge, to Shrek Forever After’s cheeky deployment under Rumpelstiltskin’s call for a mob to bring him Shrek, to the scene in David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo where Stellan Skarsgård turns on a reel-to-reel tape of it as he begins to torture a bound, mid-asphyxiation Daniel Craig … it’s nearly always called upon for a laugh.”

Read the complete article here. Highly recommended!