Request Line: “Annie’s Song,” “I’m Your Man,” “Water’s Edge,” “The Mighty KC”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 23, 2010
Friend of the Blog Leslie writes:
Hello, Andrew. It’s your #1 fan here. I’ve been thinking long and hard about my request line choices. I’ve tried to make them diverse and interesting while leaving plenty for you to mock, and I think I’ve done a good job, if I do say so myself, and I do. Here they are in semi-random order:
John Denver, “Annie’s Song”
Wham!, “I’m Your Man”
Seven Mary Three, “Water’s Edge”
For Squirrels, “The Mighty K.C.”
Thank you! I have a birthday coming up….
Had to come out of my recent semi-retirement for a birthday request. Here goes.
I’m tempted to make some sort of call for (or at least make the suggestion of) some sort of critical re-evaluation of John Denver. Admittedly I only know the most famous of his songs, but it’s hard to think of too many other popular artists who so thoroughly succeed at what they set out to do. When you listen to a John Denver song, you feel the Rockies–the chilly breeze, the crisp, thin air, the general awe-inspiring beauty of nature. In fact, it’s entirely possible that that’s not even what the Rockies feel like at all–I’ve never been, and neither have many of his acolytes I imagine–but Denver’s music is so evocative of all that that it’s basically supplanted whatever the actual reality is in the public consciousness. If you read that any other artist’s biggest hit was written during a ten-minute wait on a ski lift, it’d seem ridiculous, with Denver, it just adds a weird sort of authenticity to the song.
Still, I’m sympathetic to the John Denver haters, because for me to insist that he’s far better than the monster that history and Charlie Rich have made him out to be would probably be somewhat disrespectful to the people who actually had to live through his reign on top. I find his voice to be generally light and refreshing the handful of times a year I come across it, but if I had to spend the entire 1974 calendar year listening to his nasal bray, my experience with JD would no doubt be a more complicated one. It’s the same deal as with Creed, really–looking back now, it’s hard not to feel a little affection for them due to just how un-self conscious they were, and how thoroughly pop music has gone away from them since. Try telling that to someone back at the beginning of the decade, though, when “With Arms Wide Open” was #1 and it seemed like they might be the biggest band of the 21st century, and they wouldn’t be particularly understanding. It’s hard to argue with.
Anyway, “Annie’s Song” isn’t my favorite of his–”Rocky Mountain High” is the only one I know more than the chorus to–but it’s pleasant enough. I do find it a little weird that it’s become such a wedding standard, though–the whole “You fill up my senses” lyrical conceit is kind of a weird one for a classic love song, especially because it really sounds like Denver’s way more in love with nature and animal life and weather and shit than he is with Annie herself. According to Wikipedia the song has become such an eternal-love classic “due to its grand imagery and the fact it could apply to anyone (Annie is not mentioned by name in any part of the song).” Fair enough, but in my book, the really great love songs have at least a certain amount of specificity to them, because nothing so impersonal can ever truly be that relateable. I want to hear at least a little more about Annie than the sleepy blue ocean or whatever. (And yeah, no love song should ever contain the line “Come fill me again”–doesn’t even make sense within the context of the extended simile.)
I do find it interesting that the song has apparently been adapted for about a million different English soccer chants. I guess you could interpret popular culture using “Annie’s Song” as a kind of all-purpose mad lib as either a statement about the power and adaptability of the song’s lyrical and musical core, or about the weakness of its details. Answer’s probably somewhere in the middle.
True now as it ever was–there was no fucking with George Michael when he was doing Motown. White British people were responsible for a good deal of the best soul singles of the 80s, and “I’m Your Man” was certainly one of Wham!’s finest contributions on that front. Its cool that it’s one of the few Ridgeley-era songs that Michael will still play live solo–though “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is certainly the more effervescent of their upbeat soul smashes, its unfiltered poppiness makes it downright cartoonish at times. “I’m Your Man” lacks the cultural cachet of “Go-Go” for a number of reasons, but it’s probably the stronger of the two songs–just a simple lyrical sentiment, a driving beat and some great chorus harmonies. (No lines about objects of affection “mak[ing] the sun shine brighter than Doris Day” in this one, either.) Not as memorable or as musically sophisticated as “Careless Whisper” or “Everything She Wants,” but you could certainly do a lot worse than having “I’m Your Man” as the best song in your second tier of hits.
Video inspires the same question that I have with any number of live-performance vids for 80s hits, though, and especially one that became a public embarrassment as quickly as Wham! did–how do the other people in the band mentally file this one away? Does the dreadlocked bass player try to hide this video from friends and prospective business partners? Does that weird dude sashaying with the bongo strapped to his waist deem this as his greatest accomplishment in the music business? Were all the male fans singing along in the video’s audience even vaguely aware of the implications of their actions? These are questions that need to be answered.
Extended 12″ version is pretty quality, as well. “See, baby, this is a magic car…” Oh, you kids.
Seven Mary Three were an ultimate End of the Road band. When a previously underground genre such as grunge bursts into the mainstream, with all its pretensions to artistic credibility, eventually the product will become diluted to the point that only the surface signifiers remain, the actual character and detail photocopied past the point of visibility. (Those who have seen the movie Multiplicity no doubt understand this “Clone of a clone of a clone” phenomenon.) Plenty of people could have perceived one-and-only Top 40 hit “Cumbersome” as being some sort of thinly-veiled satire on the entire post-Seattle boom, with its chunky chords, super-heavy-handed lyrical imagery (“There is a balance between two worlds / One with an arrow and a cross”), and quintessentially Vedderian “WAUUUUUGGGHHH“-type wailings. Luckily for us, Seven Mary Three couldn’t have been more straight-faced, allowing “Cumbersome” to reach its potential as the pinnacle of unintentional 90s alt-rock comedy, and the unmistakable death-knell for an entire era of rock music.
Truth told, I had not heard follow-up single “Water’s Edge” until writing this article, and I’m pretty shocked to find that it even has its own Wikipedia page. Can’t say it changes my perception of them terribly much–it’s a cute little attempt for 7M3 to write their own “In the Air Tonight,” but no amount of quick-cuts of woodsy imagery in the song’s video can make the song even a fraction as creepy as the Collins masterwork. Still, I definitely enjoy the song, especially on the verses. The riff is subtly reminiscent of my much-beloved Whitesnake’s “Is This Love?,” and the fact that the band went with an insistent, pushing tempo instead of the more predictable Temple of the Dog-style lighter-waving is a pleasant surprise. And the chorues, while stilted in comparison, still packs sufficient punch: “I can’t go to the water’s edge / I didn’t do it / I saw who did.” Bonus credits for (maybe) being about the classic End-of-the-World 80s teen drama River’s Edge, although if it was, it certainly fudged some of the plot points. Also, how difficult would it have been just to call it “River’s Edge” instead? Doubt Crispin Glover would have sued.
Done by a band like the Afghan Whigs, or some band that could better resist their WAUUUUUGH-ing tendencies, it might could have been a straight-up classic. As is, it’ll have to suffice for being the underrated follow-up to one of the ten dumbest songs of the 90s. And hey, Wiki says it was a regular cover choice back in the early days of future tour-mates Three Doors Down, so we have them to thank for that, I guess. (And I would’ve loved to go to one of those shows–hope they came out together as a Seven Mary Three Doors Down supergroup at one point. Bringing generations of mediocre sludge-ballad fans together!)
Heard this song about a half-dozen times before writing this article and another handful after and it’s still borderline-impossible for me to remember how it goes. Not that it’s bad or anything, but there’s no one quality to it that ever really stuck in my craw in any significant way. It’s a tribute to Kurt Cobain I guess, but without the title I doubt I would have ever even guessed at that, and I bet that just about every portentous-sounding rock hit from ’94 to ’95 sounded like a Cobain tribute in some form or another. I do like the little instrumental breakdowns in between the chorus and verses, I guess, and maybe I’d feel differently if I ever saw the song used in some pivotal scene in a Cameron Crowe movie or My So-Called Life episode or something, but the chorus is pretty boring and on the whole, there’s just not enough for me to really latch onto here. It’s not like my life is particularly lacking for one more great lost 90s alternative one-hit wonder, anyway.
But hey, apparently For Squirrels opened for Creed on tour during their later days. I guess that just about brings everything full circle here. Go listen to “Higher” again, it’s way more fun than this song. Sounds kind of like an optimistic Seven Mary Three, actually.