Archive for October, 2008

WHY DIDN’T THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMIN’?

Posted in The Popular with tags , , , , , on October 30, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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SOME bands have one song in them, say a “Macarena” or a “Turning Japanese,” and little else to justify their existence.

But what about the one-hit wonders who had more ammo in the gun and never again hit the target? Here are some artists who reached the Top 40 once but couldn’t make a return trip, even though they had plenty more solid pop songs to offer. For each artist, I’ve listed a Shouldabeen Hit, a pop song I would have pushed if I ran the record label.

(Keep in mind, a lot of these acts had — or are still having — successful careers. Hell, nearly all of them have released “greatest hits” collections. We’re just talking about their puzzling lack of repeat pop-chart success here. The numbers represent the highest position on Billboard’s singles chart. Source: allmusic.com. This is the first half of my list. Look for the rest next week.)

Inexplicable One-Hit Wonders (Part I)

Better Than Ezra: “Good” (#30, 1995). They’d go on to release many better songs but never hit the Top 40 again (though they did become regulars on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart.) Shouldabeen Hit: “I Do”

LISTEN: I Do

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Big Audio Dynamite: “Rush” (#32, 1991). Ex-Clash member Mick Jones’ band had a few other deserving songs, like “The Globe,” which was built around a sample of his former group’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.” Shouldabeen Hit: “Contact”

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Bourgeois Tagg: “I Don’t Mind At All” (#38, 1987). The Todd Rundgren-produced ballad became a minor hit, but I liked their relatively obscure first single, “Mutual Surrender (What A Wonderful World),” a lot better (it stalled at No. 62.) Shouldabeen Hit: “Waiting For The Worm To Turn,” which rivals XTC in pop goodness.

LISTEN: Waiting For The Worm To Turn

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Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians: “What I Am” (#7, 1988). The hippie-dippie novelty of the song worked against the band, but Brickell produced some more fine music and snagged Paul Simon in the process, and her solo retro-soul track “Good Times” still sounds fresh 14 years later. Shouldabeen Hit: “Nothing,” another catchy tune from the band’s debut (this song about “nothing” beat “Seinfeld” by a year.)

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Rosanne Cash: “Seven Year Ache” (#22, 1981). The country star and Man in Black offspring crossed over to the pop side with this hit, a feat she never duplicated, despite releasing several memorable albums over the next 15 years. Shouldabeen Hit: “Never Be You,” a #1 country hit co-written by Tom Petty.

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Bruce Cockburn: “Wondering Where The Lions Are” (#21, 1980). Great but too-little-known Canadian singer-songwriter. Even his Christmas album is worth owning. Shouldabeen Hit: “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”

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Cock Robin: “When Your Heart Is Weak” (#35, 1985). Better-than-average ’80s pop, with sweeping melodies and male-female harmonies. Their first two albums had about eight more hits in waiting, but this Cock never got big. Shouldabeen Hit: “El Norte”

SEE: El Norte on YouTube

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Marshall Crenshaw: “Someday, Someway” (#36, 1982). Is this guy underappreciated or what? Shouldabeen Hit: Every frickin’ song on “Field Day,” his sophomore LP. (I’ll never understand why “Whenever You’re On My Mind” wasn’t one of the biggest hits of 1983 — it never even made the Hot 100!)

LISTEN: Whenever You’re On My Mind

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Devo: “Whip It” (#14, 1980). “Whip It” was kinda like every other Devo song, so why did this one connect? S&M fetishes, perhaps? And why couldn’t the way-poppier “That’s Good” and “Beautiful World” make a dent on the chart? Shouldabeen Hit: “Freedom Of Choice”

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Thomas Dolby: “She Blinded Me With Science” (#5, 1983). Dolby produced some of the best ’80s pop (for himself and Prefab Sprout), and his songs could be crazy hilarious (“Airhead,” the single entendre of “Hot Sauce”). Oh, and his theme song was the best part of “Howard the Duck.” Shouldabeen Hit: With a remix/edit, “The Flat Earth” coulda been huge.

LISTEN: The Flat Earth

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Electronic: “Getting Away With It” (#38, 1990). I would’ve expected more than one hit from a supergroup with members of New Order and The Smiths and occasional vocals from the Pet Shop Boys’ singer. Shouldabeen Hit: “Feel Every Beat”

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Everything But The Girl: “Missing” (#2, 1995). Two, two bands in one. After Todd Terry remixed this song and gave them a huge hit, they traded coffeehouse music for house music. Either way, they’re pretty good and Tracey Thorn’s voice is one of the best in pop. Shouldabeen Hit: “Protection,” Thorn’s chilled-out collabo with Massive Attack.

To be continued …

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ONE AND DONE

Posted in The Popular with tags , , , , on October 28, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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THE mystery song I wrote about last week is by a band many consider a one-hit wonder, which is unfair, because they did have another hit and they’re still international stars today, almost 25 years after their breakthrough song.

It’s really not fair to lump so many acts together under the heading “one-hit wonders.” Some one-hit wonders, like Right Said Fred, probably knew they’d shot their creative load with their one gimmicky, attention-grabbing song. They practically sold their souls to the devil (or at least Casey Kasem) for that can’t-miss hit, knowing full well that they could never duplicate its success. For them, one disposable hit was better than obscurity.

But other one-hit wonders — the ones with actual talent — are probably still scratching their heads, trying to figure out why their just-as-good follow-up songs never connected with listeners the way their big hit did, why they were relevant one minute and discarded the next even though they had lots more to offer.

So here are some one-hit wonders from the past 30 years who got exactly what they deserved and nothing more. (And later this week I’ll list some other wonders who unfairly got the shaft for reasons we may never understand.)

One-Hit Wonders Who Shot Their Loads

Primitive Radio Gods, “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand”: That’s probably where this guy is today — but without the money part.

Toni Basil, “Mickey”: Hey Toni! Choreographers should be happy to get one hit.

Taco, “Puttin’ On The Ritz”: OK, so you’re gonna take a 50-year-old Irving Berlin song and add synths, robotic drums and lethargic, off-key vocals. We’ll let you get away with it once.

t.A.T.u., “All The Things She Said”: Two young Russian lesbians get one hit. And after they reveal they’re not really lesbians? No hits.

Paul Hardcastle, “19”: A dance song about young soldiers, the Vietnam war and post-traumatic stress disorder. Where do you go from there? Funkytown?

Buckner & Garcia, “Pac Man Fever”: They actually had the balls to dip into the well a second time, but follow-up single “Do The Donkey Kong” didn’t score. Jesus, was “Kiss My Asteroids” that far behind?

Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”: They never did get back up again.

Len, “Steal My Sunshine”: After sampling the Andrea True Connection, there was no more, more, more.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood, “Relax”: They came, they came and they went.

Nena, “99 Luftballons”: Pop!

Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”: He should be happy no one’s strangled him. And he should probably be worried.

Baltimora, “Tarzan Boy”: A Tarzan yell for the chorus? This guy was actually out of ideas before his first song.

Musical Youth, “Pass the Dutchie”: Not a gateway hit.

Crash Test Dummies, “Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm”: Umm, who were these guys?

Big Country, “In a Big Country”; Living in a Box, “Living in a Box”: If you don’t even have enough ideas for song titles …

The Divinyls, “I Touch Myself”: We got excited by them for a while, then lost interest and nodded off.

OMC, “How Bizarre”: You know what would be bizarre? If this guy’s not busing tables today.

Snow, “Informer”; Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby”: Before Eminem, solo white rappers got one chance to suck.

Alien Ant Farm, “Smooth Criminal”: Steal a Jacko song, punk it up for the kids, score a hit, and … and then what?

Right Said Fred: “I’m Too Sexy”: But not too talented.

Tag Team, “Whoomp! There It Is”: Turns out there was no there there.

Baha Men, “Who Let The Dogs Out”: Who let these guys near a recording studio?

Lou Bega, “Mambo No. 5”: A little bit of Bega went a long way.

The Dream Academy, “Life In A Northern Town”: Ah-hey ma ma ma, hey-dee-da-na-ya … then all of the work shut down … (OK, I actually like this song. And they did have a second Top 40 hit in the U.S., but not even the band remembers it.)

And while compiling this list, I was depressed to learn that a few other shoulda-been-one-hit wonders actually squeezed out additional Top 40 turds: Aqua (“Barbie Girl”), Gerardo (“Rico Suave”) and Men Without Hats (“The Safety Dance”) all managed to fool us a second time. Go figure …

HATE THE BAND, DON’T HATE WHAT THEY’RE PLAYIN’ …

Posted in The Popular with tags , , , , , , on October 23, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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SOMETIMES prejudice keeps us from hearing good music. Even if they recorded a killer comeback song, there’s no way we’d ever hear new stuff from Hanson or the Cardigans or, God forbid, Kajagoogoo — these bands are at best uncool, at worst a joke. They’ve had their hits, we’ve sobered up and regret it now, and we’d like them to just go away.

But some bands persist against their better judgment, long past their 15 minutes, and sometimes they even create a song worth hearing.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about “Disappearing” by the Sinceros, a hit that shoulda been. Here’s another catchy pop-rock song that shoulda been big a few years ago. Only one thing held it back: the band.

I’m not gonna tell you who it is (the more Web-savvy of you can figure it out) but the band’s kind of a joke. I think the song would’ve reached more ears, and maybe even been a hit, if it was by Coldplay or Snow Patrol or some other band that was cool back in 2006. Instead, the song wasn’t even released in America (though it was a Top 10 hit in the U.K.) because the label probably knew no one would look past the band’s name and its undeserved status as one of the all-time one-hit wonders. They knew no one would give it a chance.

Anyway, open your ears and your mind and check it out. And can you guess who it’s by?

LISTEN: Mystery Song

CHOPPED, FRIED N SKREWED

Posted in The Popular with tags , , , , on October 20, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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OK, pop quiz! Actually, it’s not pop — it’s Country Or Hip-Hop!

Let’s see if you can tell the difference: Below are the titles of 20 current hits on either the country music or hip-hop/R&B charts by artists such as Blake Shelton and Mike Jones (seen thinking below). Can you sort them out? The answers are at the bottom of the post.

Country Or Hip-Hop?

  1. “Roll With Me”
  2. “Swagga Like Us”
  3. “Please Excuse My Hands”
  4. “Miss Independent”
  5. “Troubadour”
  6. “Mrs. Officer”
  7. “Feel That Fire”
  8. “Lookin’ For A Good Time”
  9. “All I Ever Wanted”
  10. “What Them Girls Like”
  11. “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven”
  12. “Somebody Said A Prayer”
  13. “When It Hurts”
  14. “Chicken Fried”
  15. “Chopped N Skrewed”
  16. “Cuddy Buddy”
  17. “Muddy Water”
  18. “Bust Your Windows”
  19. “She Wouldn’t Be Gone”
  20. “Did You Wrong”

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Country songs: 1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19
Hip-hop songs: 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20

PLAYIN’ PLAIN

Posted in The Popular on October 16, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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WITH the possible exception of Paul Giamatti, Hollywood actors don’t look like you and me. They have a special beauty that apparently blesses them with the ability to read lines in a more convincing manner.

But every once in a while, a script comes along and poses a problem: the main character is someone who is — the horror — average looking! There are probably thousands of beauty-challenged yet talented actors out there who would be perfect for these Plain Jane or Everyman roles, but who needs those losers? Especially when Russell Crowe is willing to pack on the pounds or Nicole Kidman is willing to put on a fake nose.

Only in Hollywood would this guy get hired to play this guy:

Jared Leto put on 65 or so pounds and some ’80s-rific glasses to portray John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, in the new-to-DVD “Chapter 27.” So how come he looks more like Elton John? And you mean to tell me there weren’t any average-looking actors in all of America who could nail the role without having to gorge on hamburgers and Häagen-Dazs for three months? The gimmick didn’t work, either — all the publicity of Leto’s physical (and unhealthy) transformation couldn’t turn “Chapter 27” into a hit.

Another Beautiful Person, Charlize Theron, got to play another ugly killer, in “Monster” (I think it took the folks at Industrial Light & Magic and a team of SFX experts to make her look like someone you might see while walking down the street) and then went on to play a mine worker in “North Country.” A mine worker? I have the feeling there aren’t too many people who look like Charlize Theron toiling below the Earth’s surface.

The Beautiful People love these roles the same way they love to play retarded or physically disabled characters — to them, plain looks are just another handicap, and these roles are another way to prove they are “serious” actors and not just pretty faces. And Oscar voters usually fall for it.

I’m tired of these glamorous actors who want to “stretch,” to slum it as average-looking people. I especially hated it when critics said Kidman’s performance in “The Hours” was brave because, to portray Virginia Woolf, she made herself look plain. How is it daring for a gorgeous actress to look like an average person for two hours? All she did was look like the majority of the people in the movie theater.

So why can’t Hollywood be brave and hire more average-looking actors? You know the industry is all fucked up when this is their idea of an “Ugly Betty”:

Here’s another rare exception to the rule: Remember all the hubbub when “character actress” (translation: she’s not pretty) Kathy Bates first caught our attention in “Misery” almost 20 years ago? She was playing an ugly character, a homicidal maniac in fact, but she didn’t have to put on 60 pounds or a prosthetic nose for the part. She wasn’t exactly easy on the eyes in real life, yet somehow, despite the curse of not being born beautiful, she got into acting and was good at it. Now that’s brave.

There are probably tens of thousands of other struggling Kathy Bateses out there — great actors held back by their average looks, actors who could easily pass for coal miners or crazed fans or everyday people just like us. Actors who would be perfect in these roles if someone would give them a chance. Now that would be a stretch.

THE OVER/UNDER

Posted in The Popular with tags , , , on October 14, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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Overrated: J.J. Abrams Underrated: Jimmie “JJ” Walker

Overrated: the Dow Underrated: the now

Overrated: “Tropic Thunder” Underrated: the Lightning Seeds

Overrated: gravitas Underrated: gravy fries

Overrated: “House” Underrated: “Hoss”

Overrated: “unrated extended” Underrated: 90-minute runtime

Overrated: “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” Underrated: the devil you don’t know

Overrated: Robert Downey Jr. Underrated: Junior Brown

TOTO RECALL

Posted in Life, The Popular with tags , , , , , on October 10, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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WRITING about the music I listened to as a kid (see previous post) got me thinking — cringing, actually — about my first rock concert.

PAINFUL TRUTH ALERT: It was Toto. In 1979, I think. Before you laugh at how monumentally uncool that is, hear me out.

In my defense:

  1. The concert was at Kings Dominion, and the admission ticket got you into all the rides and attractions, so it’s not like I went out of my way or paid good money to see Toto, OK?
  2. This was their more rockin’ “Hold the Line” era, before they went totally MOR and got creamed on all over by those Christopher Cross-loving Grammy voters.
  3. The band did have some great studio musicians in it, musicians who played on some of the most popular albums of the ’70s and ’80s, including “Thriller.” Yeah, man, “Thriller!” Suck on that, haters!
  4. Plus, the band never — ahhh, fuck it. It was Toto. Who am I kidding here.

So, who was your first concert? Post a comment and show me how much cooler you were than me…