Archive for pop music

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

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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 …

HEARING ‘DISAPPEARING’

Posted in Life, The Popular with tags , , , , on October 8, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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I’VE never understood why it’s so unpopular to admit you like popular music.

I loved pop music when I was growing up — I guess all kids do. But I never grew out of it. I’m 43 and I still love the high I can get from a pop song. Not the Britney and the Miley shit (or practically all of the top 100 songs on iTunes at any given moment, for that matter), but well-crafted pop by artists like Fountains of Wayne, The Changes, Robyn, New Found Glory, The Format, Jimmy Eat World, Butch Walker and Lily Allen. The three-and-a-half-minute songs with chiming choruses that can actually bring a smile to your face the first time you hear them. The perfect melodies that make you wonder why no one ever strung those notes and chords together before.

While my classmates in high school were listening to the Doors (whose resurgence in the early ’80s completely confounded me), Zep and Halen, I was lovin’ the poppier, more modern sounds of the Cars and Flock of Seagulls and the Police and Talking Heads and the Pretenders and Marshall Crenshaw and XTC and Missing Persons and the Clash. The Doors were dead to me, and my music was the sound of happier days to come.

Then in 1981, I heard it — the perfect pop song. Some programming director must have accidentally let it slip through, because I don’t remember it getting much radio airplay. But it was love at first sound.

It was “Disappearing,” by some group called the Sinceros. I bought the 45. I bought the album, “Pet Rock.” The Sinceros were British (like most of the bands I liked back then), they wrote great new-wavey power pop, and they brought in Elton John’s producer, Gus Dudgeon, to sweeten the pot that was “Pet Rock,” their second LP.

I’ll never understand why “Disappearing” wasn’t a hit and “Keep On Loving You” was. Over the years, I’ve searched high and low for the album, or even the song, on CD. They’re just not there. The too-appropriately-named “Disappearing” isn’t on any ’80s compilation CD (though the band’s minor minor hit “Take Me To Your Leader,” from their debut album, is on a couple.) And “Pet Rock” has never been released on CD, which is a crime, as it’s one of the best power pop/rock albums ever recorded.

Recently, I found a fellow fan online, at a blog called VINYL GOLDMINE. The guy’s written a love letter to “Pet Rock” and the Sinceros: The Sinceros: More of the Best Power Pop You’ve (Probably) Never Heard. He’s uploaded the LP on his site, and I stole “Disappearing” from him. I’m posting it below so you can hear it, probably for the first time, almost three decades after I did.

There’s no way you’ll love the song as much as I did, as a geeky high school sophomore who never got into “Free Bird” or “Stairway to Heaven,” a boy whose family was disintegrating around him, a kid who kinda wanted to disappear himself. Just know that it made me happier then, and it still does.

LISTEN TO “Disappearing” by The Sinceros