Single Stories: Air, KELLY WATCH THE STARS

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

In the late 1990s, Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin were a pair of French musicians hoping to make an impact in the burgeoning Parisian music scene.

"Daft Punk were down the street from us in Paris and we could almost hear the music they were making when we opened the window during band sessions," Dunckel remembered back in 2019. "It was the late 1990s, and Paris suddenly had this incredible electronic music scene: all these clubs were opening up. I didn’t get to go to all the parties, though, because I was generally at home with my wife taking care of Solal, our baby. We were poor. It was the tail end of Britpop, and people were wanting something else. We came along with this alien, psychedelic, loungecore music you’d listen to on a Sunday morning after you’d been out clubbing the night before. And one month after (debut album) Moon Safari came out, we were huge."

"Playing guitars loud through amps is great fun when you’re 15 and full of hormones, but French people are better at being chefs or fashion designers," added Godin. "Rock music is not really in our culture. But electronic music is different. When we discovered it, suddenly we had an outlet."

Among the numbers found on Moon Safari was the album's second single, "Kelly Watch the Stars." The dreamy, synth-powered track featuring Vocoder-treated vocals was a hit in England, peaking at #18 on the UK Singles chart. The tune still stands as Air's second-highest charting song on the chart.

"It’s a silly song. But you need silly songs to make good records," explained Godin about "Kelly Watch the Stars." "It’s about Jaclyn Smith, Kelly from Charlie’s Angels. Me and JB are really in love with her. It was our first sexual shock when we were kids. I remember talking about who we thought was the most beautiful woman in the world. For me, it was Kelly, so we wrote 'Kelly Watch the Stars' about her."

Moon Safari and its subsequent singles garnered Air plenty of critical acclaim, with the album landing on multiple "Best Albums of the Year" lists around the world for 1998. The LP has gone on to be considered a classic, cited in such books as 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.

"Ever since I was a child, I’d dreamed of making a classic album – and I actually did," Godin said. "The night we did 'Sexy Boy,' I knew my life would change. Before Daft Punk and us, French pop was synonymous with Sacha Distel. I hated it. But electronic music meant you could make cool music without being a rocker. In France, we’re not considered a great band. The French still have very bad taste in music."