Album: A Girl Like Me
Okay, let's get this out of the way. I'll forgive you for not liking this song if you can forgive me for liking it. It's important that we can rely on each other this way.
There are plenty of reasons not to like "SOS." Overexposure? Check. Ridiculous in-your-face overproduction and mastering? Check. Excessive length for a single that has basically one two-bar chord progression repeated a million times? Check. Repulsive backbeat with handclaps? Check. Those Star Wars laser-cannon sounds? Well....maybe not those—they're kinda fun.
But there are actually just as many reasons to dig it. Although I'm not a fan of the reediness in Rihanna's voice, it's more palatable in this upbeat context (i.e. limited emoting) and she certainly has impressive technical skill. At 1:39, she even pulls off some clever phrasing and the nightclub swing succeeds at getting your toes tapping.
But the real treat is the construction (I hesitate to say composition) of the song itself, especially in the way it incorporates and embraces "Tainted Love" as performed by English synth-duo Soft Cell. Most obviously, we hear a sample of the bass line and heart-monitor synth from the 1981 hit. But less obvious and delightful (at least to me) is the incorporation of the lyric you got me tossin' and turnin' and can't sleep at night, a line paraphrased from the first verse of "Tainted Love." For good measure, the final verse cleverly name-drops an additional bunch of songs from the 1980s:
Take on me (uh huh) you know inside you feel it right [A-Ha]
Take me on, I could just die up in your arms tonight. [Cutting Crew]
I'm out with you, you got me head over heels [Go-Gos]
Boy you keep me hanging on the way you make me feel [Kim Wilde]
These are details worth celebrating even if you can't stand the song (...anymore—admit it, in 2006 you were all over this).