Having one of your songs used in a hit film or TV show can do wonders for an artist’s profile - just ask Kate Bush - and the latest to reap the benefits of syndication is Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Her 2001 hit Murder On The Dancefloor has reached a new audience and landed back in the UK Top 10 thanks to its inclusion in Saltburn, Emerald Fennell’s darkly comic and meme-friendly social satire.
The song was co-written with Gregg Alexander, a dominant presence on the early ‘00s pop scene. Having made his mark with New Radicals (You Get What You Give, Someday We’ll Know) in the late ‘90s, Alexander went on to write or co-write hits for the likes of Santana (The Game Of Love), Ronan Keating (Life Is a Rollercoaster) and, of course, Ellis-Bextor.
Speaking to Music Week in 2019 about the first time she heard Alexander’s early demo of Murder On The Dancefloor, Ellis-Bextor recalled: “He recorded it into a cassette player and it was really loose. The verses weren’t really there, it was just him singing nonsense lyrics. But he had the chorus.
“I remember being in quite a high-tech studio and being played his cassette of this really rough recording. So I nurtured it and finished the lyrics - it was pretty easy and fun. It started us collaborating on quite a few things together after that.”
Ellis-Bextor reveals that Alexander first came up with Murder On The Dancefloor not in a studio but in his car. He’d been planning on heading out to a club but the car wouldn’t start, so he just sat on the drive with his guitar and set to work. A curious decision, you might think, but in keeping with what Ellis-Bextor describes as Alexander’s “quirky” character, which revealed itself when he called her after she’d finished the lyrics and he’d heard her singing the song.
“He’s lovely and very talented but he literally didn’t even say hello, he just went, ‘Sophie, you’d better not steal the moves, Sophie.’
“I couldn’t tell if he was really annoyed with me or not. Luckily, it turned out he was happy.”
So he should have been - Murder On The Dancefloor would reach number 2 in the UK charts and was also a big hit elsewhere - but, as Ellis-Bextor points out, the arrangement is actually less conventional than many other pop records.
“It’s actually a weird song because it sort of has two verses and an A chorus and a B chorus,” she points out. “It’s quite an odd little structure.”
There’s a crucial musical element to consider, too: what Ellis-Bextor describes as a “really brilliant bassline. This was played by legendary British bassist Guy Pratt, who’s also recorded with the likes of Madonna (Like A Prayer), Pink Floyd (The Division Bell) and Michael Jackson (HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I)
“He’s got such flair for bringing melody to a bassline,” Ellis-Bextor says of Pratt. “With disco, if you haven’t got the rhythm section doing what they need to do, then it isn’t disco.”
Ellis-Bextor’s career has been about far more than Murder On The Dancefloor, of course. Having started her musical life in indie band Theaudience, she scored success with Spiller in 2000 with Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love), which helped to kickstart her career as a pop/artist. Her popularity soared again during The COVID-19 lockdown, when she and her family entertained fans with their weekly ‘Kitchen Disco’ livestreams on Instagram.
Even before its Saltburn-led resurgence, though, Murder On The Dancefloor was one of Ellis-Bextor’s most fondly-remembered hits, and Ellis-Bextor has always been grateful for its success.
“It’s just amazing really,” she says. “There are songs where you don’t know when you sing them that they’re going to be the songs you end up singing for 20 years. It’s very exciting when a song has a life outside of you.
“Murder On The Dancefloor took me all around the world. Once my album came out, I toured in South America, Australia, South East Asia, all over the place and it was brilliant.”
Speaking to the Official Charts company recently, Ellis-Bextor said that “what’s happening at the moment is kind of magical, actually,” and thanked both old and new fans for streaming the song.
“I’m so proud of Murder on the Dancefloor, but I also share it with everybody who has love for it,” she explained. “I’m just having so much fun. Thank you!”