SICK AND (RE)TIRED

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

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I’M announcing to you all right now that I’m retiring from blogging so I can concentrate on keeping track of young celebrities who announce their retirements.

Take Joaquin Phoenix. Please. phoenixTo rehab, preferably. Late last month, the 34-year-old Oscar-nominated actor formerly known as Leaf announced (well, mumbled and slurred, actually) that he was leaving acting to focus on his music. I don’t think Phoenix even had the reporter in focus when he announced his decision. (There’s a “Walk The Line” joke in there somewhere.)

A week ago, on a red carpet, he made sure dyslexics got his message too, with “Bye! Good” written on his fists.

Don’t worry, Joaquin fans — this Phoenix will rise again. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that young celebrities who announce their retirements are usually back to work before we can even start missing them.

Like superstar rapper Jay-Z. He made huge news in 2003 when he announced he was retiring from recording at the age of 33. Wonder whatever happened to that guy.

Daniel Day Lewis announced he was leaving acting in the late ’90s (he did qualify his retirement with a “semi-“) to focus on woodworking and shoemaking in Italy. Midlife crisis much?

How ’bout M.I.A.? The Sri Lankan rapper announced at this year’s Bonnaroo that she was pulling the plug on her career of being splooged over by music critics and making albums that no one else heard. Turned out she was just pregnant, and then a song of hers got popular because of the “Pineapple Express” trailer and voila — she was back on the job! M.I.A., my ass.

Four years ago, Hugh Grant said in a charmingly befuddled way that he was retiring because, for him, film acting is a “miserable experience.” Try it from our end, Hugh.

Eminem announced in 2005 that he would be taking a break from performing to focus on producing, and that his “Encore” disc was “certainly the cap on this part of his career,” as his manager put it. But would he retire? Slim chance, Slim Shady. Look for his new CD, “Relapse,” under your Christmas tree.

Sean Penn announced his retirement from acting in the early ’90s and was never seen again — except for “Carlito’s Way,”  “Dead Man Walking” and the 20 or so other movies he’s been in since. And who retires from acting and then does a couple episodes of “Friends”?

Everyone should take a cue from Clint Eastwood. The guy cut back on acting years ago to focus on directing, and he hasn’t acted for any other director in more than 15 years. But did he ever feel the need to tell the world? No. There were no announcements, no photo ops, no messages scrawled on his hands. He just kinda slid over into directing without calling much attention to himself — he did it so quietly and confidently that few people even noticed he wasn’t acting that much anymore.

So, Joaquin: Act, don’t act. Work, don’t work. Stay, go away. But show us, don’t tell us. Let your work speak for itself. And if it’s good, we’ll pay attention.

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THE YESTERDAYS OF OUR LIVES

Posted in The News with tags , , , , on November 6, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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YESTERDAY, for one day at least, everybody had to have a copy of their newspaper. People waited in long lines to buy them, newsstands ran out of copies early in the morning, and subscribers had their papers stolen from their doorsteps. Everybody had to have a memento from this historic election — proof that it indeed happened, proof that they were there when it happened.

Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post )

Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post )

It was a reminder to me of what newspapers mean to people, and of what they really do best — document in words and pictures the history of our world, the history of what happened the day before. They are a daily souvenir of our life. And when our favorite team wins a championship, when the nation is attacked by terrorists, when voters elect their first nonwhite president, we want the hard evidence in the form of a newspaper. DVR’d newscasts and Web printouts won’t do.

Newspapers are the greatest medium for recording this incremental history as it happens, day by day. But, for some reason, the executives running newspapers decided a while back that people already know what happened yesterday and don’t need to read all about it, and that they would rather have a daily crystal ball that tells them what’s gonna happen next. (I’ve written about this upsetting trend before.)

At The Hartford Courant, where I worked for nearly 10 years, we couldn’t write headlines or stories that told people what actually happened. We had to be “forward-looking” and stir up emotions with overblown, melodramatic and preferably alliterative headlines. The argument was that “readers already know what happened by the time the paper comes out, so you have to tell them something new.”

Therefore, “8 Die In Mall Shooting” is an unacceptable headline, but “Mall Massacre” is great, as is “Could It Happen At Your Mall?” I remember the day of the Madrid train bombing in 2004 — another historic day. I wasn’t allowed to write the headline “191 Killed In Train Bombings.” The front-page banner headline we used was “Al-Qaida Or ETA?” Huh? ETA? What did the train’s arrival time have to do with anything? Oh, ETA was a terrorist group suspected in the bombings. So, we went with a screaming question head that told readers little, even if they knew what ETA was. I asked then and I ask now: What is wrong with documenting, for history’s sake, exactly what happened yesterday?

I haven’t seen yesterday’s Courant (I still haven’t looked at a Courant since its redesign), but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a headline like “2012 Campaign Gets Underway” or “Is America Now Ready For A Latino President?”

I remember finding old, yellowed newspapers in a bedroom closet when I was a little boy. I vaguely remember them, but I think they were about Kennedy’s election or his assassination. In any case, they were historical records of historic days, saved by my parents for posterity.

That is what newspapers are to people. Unfortunately for newspaper publishers, every day isn’t as monumental as this Tuesday was. But that’s the cool thing about documenting history — you never know when the next monumental day is coming. Newspapers have to be ready, with the best writers and editors and photographers on hand, because history can happen at any time. And what happened yesterday can really matter to people.

CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT THEY BELIEVE?!!!

Posted in The News on November 5, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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TODAY, the Real Americans are probably still wondering why so many people have blind faith that one person can miraculously change the world.

They’re probably wondering why so many people believe that this guy with Middle Eastern ties holds the key to their future, and can lead them to a promised land.

The Real Americans are probably wondering why so many people believe in a guy who has befriended sinners and folks of questionable character.

They’re probably wondering why so many people believe he will help care for the sick, and that he will put a spotlight on those left behind.

The Real Americans are probably wondering why so many people believe that this man, often persecuted because he is “different,” will try to bring more peace to the world.

Seriously, who would believe crazy shit like this?

LOVE ME TWO TIMES

Posted in The Popular on November 4, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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ENOUGH already with the one-hit wonders. I’ve written way too much on the subject. So let’s move on to two-hit wonders, OK?

These are the people who got lucky twice. There was Men Without Hats (“The Safety Dance” and “Pop Goes The World”), Paula Cole (“I Don’t Want To Wait” and “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone”) and the Tubes (“She’s A Beauty” and “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore.”)

But click HERE to see the most inexplicable two-hit wonder ever.

WHY DIDN’T THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMIN’? (Part II)

Posted in The Popular with tags , , , , , on November 3, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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HERE’S the second half of my list of those bands and singers who had tons of pop smarts but, for some strange reason, only one pop hit. But before we get to them, here are a few of the surprising things I learned while researching this list.

Beck, a guy I thought had a handful of Top 40 hits, is technically a one-hit wonder, while Del Amitri, the Scottish band I remembered as a one-hit wonder, actually had three Top 40 hits. Go figure. Missing Persons never had a Top 40 hit, not even with “Words.” Elvis Costello had two. Was (Not Was) — remember “Walk The Dinosaur”? — actually had another Top 20 hit. Los Lobos had another Top 40 hit I’d forgotten about. And Rickie Lee Jones’ follow-up single after “Chuck E.’s In Love” reached #40, so she missed being a one-hit wonder by thismuch.

On that note, here are some more artists who deserved another moment in the pop spotlight. For each, I’ve singled out a Shouldabeen Hit that I would have promoted if I were in charge of the record company.

Inexplicable One-Hit Wonders (Part II)

Bryan Ferry, “Kiss and Tell” (#31, 1988). The suave Roxy Music frontman took what worked on the band’s excellent “Avalon” LP and ran with it, producing lots of sophisticated, seductive music as a solo artist. “Kiss and Tell” got a boost from its use in the “Bright Lights, Big City” soundtrack, so why didn’t “9 1/2 Weeks” do the same for “Slave To Love,” a Shouldabeen Hit? And while we’re on the subject, Roxy Music had only one Top 40 hit, “Love Is The Drug” (#30, 1976). Why did it take a revamped, Natalie Merchant-less 10,000 Maniacs to make “More Than This” a pop chart success?

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Fountains of Wayne, “Stacy’s Mom” (#21, 2004). A MILFtastic, Cars-cribbin’ song that couldn’t be denied a place in the Top 40 (it has handclaps, for cryin’ out loud.) But the band had already released two albums of perfect power pop before “Stacy’s Mom” caught everyone’s attention. Shouldabeen Hit: “Troubled Times,” a midtempo beauty from their 1999 sophomore album.

LISTEN: Troubled Times

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Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle” (#5, 2002). For 15 years, they’ve played consistently great emo-pop-alternative-rock or whatever the hell you wanna call it. Every album has had at least two or songs crying out for radio play, like “Always Be” (which never was). Shouldabeen Hit: “Here It Goes.” It’s catchy, it’s danceable — Christ, it has “hey heys” and “ooh oohs!” What more do these guys have to do for another hit?

LISTEN: Here It Goes

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Garbage, “Stupid Girl” (#24, 1996). The Top 40 chart treated them like, well, you know. With Butch Vig’s production knowhow, Shirley Manson’s awesome voice, and some of the best melodies in rock, the band deserved another chart hit or five. Shouldabeen Hit: 2007’s “Tell Me Where It Hurts,” an epic, post-hiatus track that sounds like Chrissy Hynde fronting a modern-day Ronettes.

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Haircut 100, “Love Plus One” (#37, 1982). Don’t laugh. Seriously, stop laughing. There was more catchy pop where this ditty came from. Even after lead singer Nick Heyward left, the band went on to make a worthy follow-up album, “Paint and Paint.” Too bad just about no one in the world ever heard it. Shouldabeen Hit: “40-40 Home,” a horny (not that way) song about a children’s game … or something.

LISTEN: 40-40 Home

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Luscious Jackson, “Naked Eye” (#36, 1997). Auto-Tune? Not these girls — they were often off-key, totally offbeat and awful good when they wanted to be. It’s obvious what the Beastie Boys saw in them. (Member Jill Cunniff put out a solo disc last year with a Shouldabeen Hit called “Lazy Girls,” a phrase that kinda describes Luscious Jackson’s laid-back sound.) Shouldabeen Hit: “Ladyfingers”

SEE: Ladyfingers on YouTube

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New Radicals, “You Get What You Give” (#36, 1998) A Rundgrenesque song that had the country singing along. But a fatigued Gregg Alexander didn’t feel like singing along anymore, so he broke up his “band” before the second single was even released. I was anything but fatigued, and still think “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too” is one of the best pop CDs of the ’90s. Shouldabeen Hit: “Flowers”

LISTEN: Flowers

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Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (#1, 1990) It’s kind of a crime (or the work of the Vatican) that her only Top 40 hit was actually a Prince song. Or it could all be her fault — she is kinda loopy. But when her passion and her talent are working in tandem, the results can be powerful. Shouldabeen Hit: “Jealous”

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Liz Phair, “Why Can’t I” (#32, 2004). Phair-weather fans of the indie rock goddess freaked when she announced she was working with the Matrix (Avril Lavigne’s poppeteers) to co-write and produce tracks on her fourth album, in hot pursuit of her first Top 40 hit. Her desperation paid off — but only once. She stayed the course, though, and her 2005 follow-up album was just as radio-friendly (even if radio wasn’t friendly back.) Shouldabeen Hit: If “What Makes You Happy” had been a hit 10 years ago, she wouldn’t have had to call up the Matrix.

LISTEN: What Makes You Happy

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Semisonic, “Closing Time” (1998). I’m bendin’ the rules for this one — this inescapable song apparently never charted on the Hot 100, but it did hit #11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Airplay chart and #1 on the Modern Rock chart and #4 on the Adult Top 40 chart and #13 on the Left-Handed Twentysomethings Mainstream Rock chart. Confused? Anyway, there’s no denying this was the band’s one hit. And they deserved more. That’s what I was getting at. Shouldabeen Hit: “Chemistry,” which sounds like “Private Eyes”-era Hall & Oates, and I mean that as a compliment.

LISTEN: Chemistry

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Talk Talk, “It’s My Life” (#31, 1984) Brainy and beautiful music that soared above the synth-pop competition in the ’80s. They started out ordinary and rather bland, but got weirder and starker with each successive album — were the Guys Who Would Be Radiohead taking notes back then? Shouldabeen Hit: “I Believe In You.” OK, there’s no way in hell this would ever be a hit, but it’s an amazing song (and the most uptempo one on the band’s “Spirit Of Eden” LP, if you can believe that.)

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Utopia, “Set Me Free” (#27, 1980). Todd Rundgren’s side project, a band that started off prog-rockin’ but progressed to really just making more Todd Rundgren music. But that was a good thing. Shouldabeen Hit: “Bad Little Actress,” or, depending on my mood, one of a half-dozen other tracks off their self-titled 1982 album.

LISTEN: Bad Little Actress

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 …

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 …