Archive for music

A SINGLE REGRET

Posted in Life, The Popular with tags , , , , on December 2, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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I CAN’T imagine that kids today will even remember, say 30 years from now, the first single they ever downloaded. It’s jspindleust not the same as when I was a kid, when I’d head to Caldor or to Cutler’s in New Haven and hope, hope, hope they’d have copies of that great song I’d just heard on the radio.

I’d scan the singles chart, find the the number of the song I wanted, and peek at the corresponding record slot — would it be filled or empty? It was strangely exhilarating — or maybe I was just a really boring kid. Either way, I loved music, and there was something about this physical hunt for songs that thrilled me. Not to sound like a nostalgic old fart, but it was way better than hitting the search button at iTunes.

So today’s blog entry is the request of a friend and fellow music lover who still collects 45s today (as a former DJ, I know the importance of taking requests.) He suggested a post on the first 45 I ever bought. I think he suggested it at my expense, because he knows it’s a bit embarrassing. But here goes.

First, context: I loved (and still do love) pop music. Second, I grew up in a house with no Beatles albums (although my older sister had “The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles Hits” LP — for years, when I heard actual Beatles songs, I thought they were playing at the wrong speed…) Third, music kinda sucked in the early ’70s, so my choices were limited. Fourth, I was probably 8 years old at the time — long before I learned the difference between cool and uncool music.

OK, enough stalling. orlandoThe way I remember it, the first 45 I ever bought (the first of hundreds and hundreds I would buy over the next decade) was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando & Dawn. (For bonus embarrassment points: I even watched their variety show in the ’70s.)

In my defense, it was the top-selling single in 1973 — someone in my house had to buy it. That May, it sold 3 million copies in just three weeks! And it’s a song that wouldn’t die (its resurgence in later years totally ruined the Iranian hostage crisis and the first Gulf War for me…)

So there ya go. Sad, I know. But c’mon, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” is still a cooler first single than a download of “Ooops!… I Did It Again,” right? Right?

(Don’t leave me hanging here. Share your story — especially if your first 45 was crappier than mine, like “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” or “Shannon.”)

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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.

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 …