Ben Novak is the singer-songwriter who had the curious fortune of writing the song “Turn Your Car Around” which scored well on a hit-determining computer algorithm, and later became a bona fide hit for ex Blue singer Lee Ryan. The algorithm also said that “Love Breakdown” would be a hit, but without a former boyband member matched with it, it’s just up to Ben Novak on his own.
The video takes inspiration from the opening line, “Today I heard a love break down in a supermarket line”. It uses footage from the 1950s (circa series one Mad Men), showing housewives and the fellows in their lives tackling supermarkets and domestic life. It’s like a first-year film student’s editing exercise.
Cut with that is Ben Novak performing with a band, complete with an anachronistic female bass player. Ben is not the most charismatic performer and comes across like a really bored Robert Palmer, so the video spends most of the time exploring the bright shiny world of the 1950s. It’s a strange situation when vintage film footage outshines the video’s star.
Best bit: cars with engines in the boot, leading to the curious sight of groceries being loaded into the space under the bonnet.
This is a good, weird music video, but it’s not the most interesting thing about the curious history of “Turn Your Car Around”.
There’s a company called Platinum Blue Music Intelligence that has software that analyses songs to determine what makes a hit song a hit. Ben Novak heard about it and submitted his song “Turn Your Car Around”. It came back with a high score (and rightly so – it is a really good song), the company put him in contact with some music industry people and the song ended up being covered by Lee Ryan (of boyband Blue), where it charted at #12 in the UK (and #2 in Austria and Italy). But, as the Guardian notes, with Sony BMG behind the song, it’s impossible to know whether it did well because it was inherently “hardwired to be a hit”, or because the record company put a lot of promo behind it.
The Sunday programme did a profile on Ben Novak and “Turn Your Car Around” (part one, part two). He comes across as a quiet, geeky guy who is obsessed with music. There’s a great moment where he has a somewhat awkward phone conversation with pop doofus Lee Ryan. It shows the difference between this subdued New Zealand songwriter and the gobby British popstar and partly explains why the song was a hit for Lee Ryan in the UK but didn’t chart for Ben Novak in New Zealand.
But anyway. Let’s go back to Ben Novak’s original video for “Turn Your Car Around”, produced a year before Lee Ryan was hooning around with horses.
The video takes a different type of inspiration from the lyrics – it follows a day in the life of a crash-test dummy. It wakes up and gets ready for its day at work, which doesn’t consist of much, considering it has no need for food, clothes or toothbrushing, then heads off to work.
He works at a desk in an ordinary open-plan office, but soon heads off to the lab where he is joined by a lady dummy and a baby dummy. They get into the car, which then proceeds to crash into a sharp corner shape. We see it from four glorious angles, all smashed glass, warped metal and inflated airbags.
The male and female dummies emerge from the munted car a bit wobbly on their feed, before going their separate ways. The dummy returns home, and we leave him sitting along on the edge of his bed.
And it’s that same position that Ben Novak has been making his brief appearances in the video. Five brief shots of only a few seconds each. Maybe he’s just really shy.
The YouTube uploader describes the video as “weird and wonderful” and I think that’s it in a nutshell. It doesn’t have the epic landscape or wild stallion of Lee Ryan’s video. Instead it’s a subdued, unusual video with a car crash. And I hope that’s not a metaphor for Ben Novak’s music career.