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Archive for January, 2007

OMGWTFLOL: Custom – “Hey Mister” (2001)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 31, 2007

From the Vengaboys to the final season of Roseanne, OMGWTFLOL covers some of the most bizarre and inexplicable moments in Pop Culture history.

I don’t know how I missed this one. Recently brough to my attention by a friend of mine (who apparently heard a bunch of people reminiscing about it and was as clueless as I was), Custom’s “Hey Mister” is the heartwarming tale of some jackass (pictured above–could he really have looked any different?) informing a girl’s father that she is, in the words of AMG scribe Brian O’Neil “being schtupped by the sinning singer.”

Now, as far as I can see, there are two ways to play a song like this–with naive sweetness and (seemingly) total sincerity, like “Stacy’s Mom,” or with maximum rancor and obnoxiousness, like “Wait (The Whisper Song)”. But Custom, a.k.a. Duane Lavold, goes for that risky middle ground, with a sunny, sensitive-sounding melody (AMG says the accompanying album Fast sounds like Beck if he liked Judas Priest unironically but if this song is any indication, it sounds more like if Maroon 5 liked the movie Porky’s unironically) and the innocuous lead-off lyric “I really like your daughter,” while just about every other part of the song played for the ultimate shock value. Some of the more charming examples:

“When I’m horny like thirsty / She’s a bottle of water”

“You raised her so well / Now she’s calling me dad”

“God gave her the perfect body / Now I’m all up in it”

“Your daughter’s a freak / your daughters’s a pro / When I’m done with her she’ll do one of your bros”

And my personal favorite, from the chorus:

“It’s not she’s a tramp / It’s not she’s not pure / She just likes getting her fuck on / and it’s a good one at that I’m sure”

And that’s not even mentioning lyrics from the song’s super-ridiculous bridge. Throughout the song, it’s unclear why Duane is telling his girl’s father all the lurid details of their relationship–whether he’s trying to justify the relationship, get the father’s approval, or just to brag for no particular reason, and the bridge cements the latter as the song’s modus operandi. Apparently Duane has something of a general vendetta out for the girl’s father, drinking all his booze, wrecking all his cars, stealing all his credit cards, even putting boogers in his peanut butter (???) The song concludes with Lavold concluding “I hope I never have a daughter,” while, of course, a child choir sings in the background. Nice.

Maybe it’d been too long since the last hit song to brag about pedophilia, or maybe in a post-9/11 world, “Hey Mister” struck a chord with the inner asshole in all of us, but somehow, “Hey Mister” was actually a minor hit, reaching #20 on the Modern Rock charts, the first and last Custom song to make a dent. What’s more, apparently the song’s video was deemed too risque for MTV (though given the song, it probably could’ve been a whole lot worse), causing enough controversy to get written about in Rolling Stone. In the article, Lavold tries to justify the song and video:

“They completely misunderstood my intent. I wrote the song after I had watched my sister get hit on in a bar. I realized that I’m not thrilled with the idea of my sister having sex, but I can’t deny her that pleasure. It’s her right. Some fans have reacted to that, too, like the song’s a feminist anthem…”

Yes, Duane, I’m sure that the teenage females of America were thrilled that they finally had a song that represented their desire to date sleazy older dudes who like to brag about their sexual escapades to their parents. Meanwhile, I’m sure your sister doesn’t mind at all that she was namechecked as the inspiration behind one of the dirtiest, most despicable hit songs in history, I’m sure no one made fun of her for it in high school or anything (and Sister Christian thought she had it rough).

If anyone ever wondered why people seem to hate fratboys so much, this song is why.

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Posted in OMGWTFLOL | 4 Comments »

That Guy Salute: The Coach in Teen Wolf (1985)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 30, 2007

The That Guy Salute pays tribute to those nameless and occasionally faceless supporting characters that nonetheless provide the broth for the rich stew of Pop Culture.

I wasn’t alive in 1985, but I still feel resolutely confident that if someone were to time capsule a movie to encapsulate what the 80s felt like, Teen Wolf must be the best choice available. Obviously, this is because its a paradigmatic 80s teen movies by just about any standards–the voluptuous blonde with a ’50s-style name and hairdo, the asshole principal with a personal vendetta, the platonic-but-could-be-more-best-friend-with-a-goofy-name at the center, and most importantly, the humongous, ridiculously elaborate house parties that the entire school seems to attend, all essential elements of any High School flick of the time. But more importantly, it’s the attitude of the movie that makes it utterly impossible to transfer to any other decade of the 20th century–the idea that this teenager could unexpectedly “come out” as a werewolf, and not only would he not be whisked away by the government for years of torturous studies in an underground bunker somewhere, but that the entire school would get set up in Wolfmania and make him the most popular kid in school (and seduction target for previously mentioned 50s babe)–is gloriously reflective of the “Go with it” attitude that was so pervasive in the 80s, or at least as it was portrayed in teenaged film.

Still, it’s not The Wolf, platonic-but-could-be-more-best-friend-with-a- goofy-name, asshole principal or even 50s babe that emerge as the most memorable and definitive characters of Teen Wolf. That would belong to the characters played by two That Guys of Legend, Jerry Levine and Jay Tarses. Levine plays Stiles, Fox’s party-crazy, entrepreneurial best friend–the kind of guy that teen movies would like you to believe existed in yours and everyone’s High School, but probably didn’t–who sees the emergence of The Wolf as a get-rich-quick opportunity, selling Wolf merchandise (hats, t-shirts) to underclassmen, because of course it is socially acceptable and totally normal for dorks to wear clothing advertising the school’s cool kids. Today, though, we’re focusing on Coach Bobby Finstock, played by Jay Tarses.

Unlike the great majority of Teen Wolf characters, Coach Finstock is something of a rarity in 80s teen movies–the adult authority figure who seeks neither to inspire or oppress the youth under his command. He is not motivated by a desire to teach, nor is he looking to project the failures of his own adolescence unto the kids he’s teaching. In fact, Coach Finstock doesn’t seem motivated by much of anything–he even seems fairly uninterested in whether the team wins or not, which as a Teen Movie coach, should really be his only concern. When Fox goes wolven on him in the middle of the game and ends up going on a three-minute scoring montage, he seems only slightly impressed, later, when Fox reveals that he wants to play the climactic game against the Evil School as a human, he seems only slightly miffed. “It doesn’t matter how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose. And even that doesn’t make all that much difference” is the closest thing to an inspirational speech he can give the team.
Really, Coach Finstock doesn’t even seem to understand that his storyline is not in any way central to the movie, as he frequently offers asides that have little to do with anything and have absolutely no bearing on the rest of the movie. When noticing pre-Wolf Scott Howard is going through some troubles, he offers him this pearl:

“Look Scotty, I know what you’re going through. Couple years back, a kid came to me much the same way you’re coming to me now, saying the same thing that you’re saying. He wanted to drop off the team. His mother was a widow, all crippled up. She was scrubbing floors. She had this pin in her hip. So he wanted to drop basketball and get a job. Now these were poor people with real problems. Understand what I’m saying?”

“What happened to the kid?”

“I don’t know. He quit. He was a third stringer, I didn’t need him.”

This is the second closest Coach Finstock comes to giving Scott the heart-to-heart he so desperately wants. The closest comes when at one point in the movie, a post-Wolf Scott, who has just won a big game with his ball-hogging and showing off, makes the mistake of asking the Coach why his teammates are giving him the cold shoulder. The Coach offers Scott these words of wisdom, which I would consider to arguably be the greatest quote in all of film history:

“Listen, Scott, there are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese. ”

Turns out that Jay Tarses actually had a fairly diverse illustrious career in TV before and after landing his definitive role. Aside from guesting in high-profile shows like St. Elsewhere’s and Teen Wolf, Tarses was a producer and writer for shows like The Bob Newhart Show, Buffalo Bill and the highly classy Black Tie Affair (a.k.a. Smoldering Lust). Perhaps this gave him enough of a rep to get cast as the totally extraneous Teen Wolf coach, though it was the only movie he ever acted in.

Our loss, I suppose. At least we have this one definitive 80s bit role to remember him by.

Posted in That Guy Salute | 4 Comments »

Take Five: Unorthodox Sample Sources

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 29, 2007

A representative sample of the latest wonders rocking The Good Dr.’s world.

I was listening to Herb Alpert’s 1979 classic disco instrumental “Rise” with a friend of mine recently and when it got to the song’s bass-heavy break, a disappointing revelation dawned on him. “Oh, this is the beat from ‘Hypnotize!’ That’s too bad…I thought they came up with that on their own.” Such reactions are not uncommon to hearing the sample sources of popular hip-hop or dance beats, especially from people who are mostly rock fans, and still hold some stock in notions of artistic originality.

And it’s not an unreasonable position to take, especially for songs that borrow indiscrimately from the hooks to previous hits and don’t do much to make their new beats distinct form the original. But people from all schools of thought have to recognize that there’s a world of difference in Kanye West taking the unforgettable horn hook from Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” a hook just about every soul fan or commercial TV watcher is intimately familiar with, and snip it pretty much wholesale and unaltered for the hook to a similarly-themed new single, and Kanye West taking a vocal snatch from the very end of Luther Vandross’s draggy and largely forgotten “A House is Not a Home” and creating the highly-tailored beat for a fantastic #1 single that simultaneously pays tribute to the song it samples. And it’s the samples from the latter school of thought that mostly interest me.

With that in mind, I’ve been on a huge kick lately of downloading the sample sources of songs I know and love, a sort of reverse-cratedigging procedure. Sample source sites like The Great Samples Database and The Breaks are largely incomplete, but are still thoroughly invaluable for such research. Here are five of the more interesting examples I’ve recently come across (and be sure to expect more posts on this in the upcoming weeks. as I’ve only scratched the surface thusfar).

Supertramp – “Crime of the Century: Just Blaze is really the king when it comes to twisting obscure, non-obvious sample sources into breathtaking hip-hop beats. He shows off here by taking the piano outro to a pre-Breakfast in America Supertramp album title cut, which seems too slow and unfocused to work as any sort of beat foundation, and cutting it up to the point where only the tone of the original is recognizable, using it as the basis for the hook to Fabolous’s 2004 top ten hit “Breathe,” a song so good it almost gave possibly the least talented man in hip-hop street cred.

Seals & CroftsSweet Green Fields: I don’t know what’s more impressive, that producers Buddha and Shamello recognized that the bongo (?) drum intro to this Seals & Crofts album track would make for a good hip-hop beat, or that they must have actually listened to a Seals & Crofts album to have gleaned this. That’s dedication to your craft. Anyway, luckily for us, they did, and out of it came Busta Rhymes’ bizarro 1997 hip-hop classic “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See“. Also worth noting–the amelodic, proto-electronic and not particularly good Galt MacDermot instrumental “Space,” which some enterprising soul thought to twist into another one of Busta’s biggest hits.

Randy Weston – “In Memory Of: The propulsvie breakbeat and throbbing one-note bass line of this Randy Weston (who apparently was some great African jazz musician, I’d never heard of him before, but this song is definitely all right) tune was brilliantly restructured by Prodigy mastermind Maxim (I assume, anyway) for the equally pulsating and energetic beat to the group’s infamous 1998 club killer “Smack My Bitch Up“. Also worth noting: the group’s ingenious pilfering of the distorted flute hook to Johnny Pate’s “You’re Starting Too Fast” for their underrated (in this country, anyway) ’94 anthem “Voodoo People

The Undisputed Truth – “(I Know) I’m Losing You“: The sample here is less elemental than on the other songs, but almost as integral–The Undisputed Truth (known essentially for two things, their 1972 R&B hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and their mention in Kill Bill, Vol. 2) have the throwaway opening ad-libs from their Temptations cover sampled by Dr. Dre for the chilling “I CAN FEEL IT!” which opens his and Snoop Dogg’s “Deep Cover.” It’s not used for the song’s hook, but it sets the entire mood for the song, and its sparing use makes Dre’s sample spot all the more impressive.

Chicago – “Street Player: Yes, that Chicago. Seemingly the least-sampleable band in history, apparently Chicago, like everyone else, released a much-forgotten about disco album in 1979, led off by the surprisingly bangin’ horn-laden “Street Player.” Apparently DJ Kenny “Dope” Gonzales is a big enough Cetera nut to have heard this non-hit, and formed his 1995 dance classic “The Bomb (These Sounds Flow Into My Mind)” around it under alias The Bucketheads. And still, The Beach Boys’ disco re-recording of “Here Come the Night” languishes in obscurity. Where’s the justice?

Posted in Take Five | 3 Comments »

Popcorn Love: Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction (1994)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 28, 2007

And when you smile for the camera, I know I love you better

I caught the first half-hour or so of The Last Seduction on IFC last night and I was reminded of what a modern classic it is. It’s a neo-noir, sure–stolen drug money, private detectives, immoral get-rich-quick schemes, murder, betrayal, lots of cigarettes, etc. However, the movie stands apart from other great neos like L.A. Confidential or even The Ice Harvest or Brick through one quality–the simultaneous protagonist and antagonist Bridget Gregory (a.k.a. Wendy Kroy), played with malevolent gusto by the fiery Linda Fiorentino.

Reductive film archetyping would tend to label Bridget as a femme fatale, and fatale she most certainly is, dispassionately setting up and then disposing of the men in her life like she was checking off items at a grocery list. However, to put Bridget in a class with Brigid O’Shaugnessy and Evelyn Mulwray would probably be something she’d find incredibly insulting–those femmes were often a step ahead and occasionally even on the whole brighter than the men in their life, but the male protagonists always caught up eventually, and when they did, it was curtains for the dame. In The Last Seduction, not only is Bridget smarter than the men, she’s faster, deadlier, and really just all-around better than them–even when ex-husband Clay (Bill Pullman) and new beau, homme timide Mike (Peter Berg) manage to put two and two together and figure out what Bridget is up to, it just forces her to alter her plan and improvise a little, unfazed and still utterly in control of the situation. From the moment Bridget casually steals 700k from her husband while he’s taking a shower, you know that no one ever has a chance of putting this woman in her place.

And Fiorentino–YEOWCH. Anyone my age wondering how that random chick in her 30s somehow got cast as the female lead of Men in Black or Dogma just needs to watch one scene of this movie, and they’ll probably be sold enough to go back and watch MIB again to see if they had missed something. With her husky voice, unimpressed disposition and sophisticated demeanor, clearly this was the part Fiorentino was born to play, and she nails it with stunning precision. Watch her unthinkingly put out a cigarette in Mike’s leftover pie (right next to a loving note from Grandma), or slam the roof of his car during sex and responding to his comment about trying to determine whether or not she’s a total bitch by exclaiming “I AM A TOTAL…FUCKING…BITCH!!” She’s a complete rock star, the missing link between Barbara Stanwyck and Shannon Doherty, and she makes you wonder just how hot and awesome Rita Hayworth could’ve been were she allowed to curse and fuck (and get away with murder) on screen. It’s the perfect synergy of actress and character, and Fiorentino would never be nearly this hot again.

(Also great–the always reliable J.T. Walsh as Frank, Bridget’s equally unscrupulous lawyer friend. His regular banters with her provide some of the high points of the movie)

Posted in Popcorn Love | 5 Comments »

In a Perfect World: Disco Inferno’s “The Last Dance”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 27, 2007

What if you woke up tomorrow and everything was perfect?

In a perfect world, Disco Inferno’s “The Last Dance” would be as beloved and well-remembered as Oasis’s “Live Forever.”

Disco Inferno hold a very odd place in rock history. They never had a hit single, probably never had an album that sold more than a few thousand copies, have few if any existing photographs, never get namechecked by flavor-of-the-month artists, and rarely get even a passing mention in most music publications, mainstream, indie or otherwise. Yet, among certain critical communities, you will not be able to find a band more unanimously and unreservedly praised–Disco Inferno have emerged as something of a secret handshake for critics, bloggers and the like, the kind of band that barely anyone has heard of, but for whom everyone who has can’t stop raving about them. Or, at least, the band is distinctive and divisive enough that those who don’t care for it simply discard it instantly–you’ll never hear anyone complaining that DI are overrated, because so few people bother to rate them at all.

Part of the reason for this obscurity is the fact that not only were the band’s full-length albums out of print up until very recently, but because the work considered by most of the band’s fans to be their definitive document technically doesn’t even exist. The Five EPs, a one-disc compilation of the five non-album singles & EPs the group released between the years of 1992 and 1994, was assembled by All Music Guide scribe and I Love Music regular Ned Raggett some years ago, and dutifully distributed by Ned to anyone who showed interest. The distribution quickly snowballed, until The Five EPs came to rightly be regarded as the band’s masterwork, far more diverse, fascinating and all-around mindblowing than any of their one-note full-lengths.

The centerpiece of this compilation is undoubtedly the Last Dance EP, released in 1993, just as Britpop was starting to gain steam with Suede’s first album, Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish, Select’s famous “Yanks Go Home!” cover and the beginnings of Oasis. Disco Inferno were in the right place at the right time with apparently the wrong sound; “The Last Dance”ended up going where every previous DI release had and every future DI release would go–absolutely nowhere.

It’s hard to say why Disco Inferno never quite caught on with “The Last Dance.” Unlike most DI efforts, the song was far from inaccessible–truth told, it practically sounds dated in its lush, chiming wistfulness, like a cross between the far more successful 90s relics James and Toad the Wet Sprocket. The structure is simple enough, the tune is unremittingly catchy and heatfelt, and the production is as crisp as on a Collective Soul single. DI often promised to go pop (including on the single’s equally enthralling and significantly less accessible b-side, but that’s for another entry), but “The Last Dance” was the only time they actually did, unhesitatingly and unapolagetically.

Meanwhile the lyrics, if anyone had bothered to listen to them, make up a generational anthem as powerful as any I’ve ever heard, including the aforementioned “Live Forever.” “The Last Dance” might not ever go quite as big as Oasis did on their legendary single, but it’s a surprisingly straightforward lyric for a band as traditionally enigmatic as DI (whose lead singer and lyricist, Ian Krause, is surely one of the most underrated singer/songwriters of the last 20 years). Krause sings of the anxiety and pressures brought on by memories of the past (“Every step that we tread / the dead are behind us”) and the oppression and pointlessness of the present (“No oceans left to cross / No mountains left to climb / ‘Cause that’s what I’ve been told”), while dreading the possibilities of the future (“And a fear of the future is so deep within our hearts / they will all but destroy ourselves”). Like the Gallaghers, however, Krause finds joy and hope in living in the moment (“Was there ever a time like this?”) and in walking on unafraid (“But now my eyes point ahead / from the ghosts of the dead”). Just as relatable as “I think you’re the same as me / we see things they’ll never see,” and utlimately far more poignant.

Still, it’s “Live Forever” that caught the nation’s imagination, which continues to place towards the top of every major UK song poll, which is universally beloved by all audiences, even American ones who couldn’t spot Jarvis Cocker or Brett Anderson out of a lineup of insurance salesmen, while “The Last Dance” seemingly lives on only through blogs like this one, never to make a dent in the real world. Maybe it was bad PR, lack of a real image, lack of a real live show, disappointment over the song having nothing to do with disco (c’mon, band/song title combo?), who knows.

More likely, though, it’s because even though the tune is so sweet and the lyrics so anthemic, there’s still a quality about “The Last Dance” which makes it not only stand out from all other pop songs of its day, but perfectly fit in with the rest of DI’s decidedly outsider catalogue. It’s the brilliant clock ticking sounds that run throughout the song, it’s the breathtakingly imagistic lyrics like “Books burning, barrels turning / A billion wasted futures light up the night sky,” it’s the perfect synth wurbles which close out the song and it’s the lack of an immediately idenitifable chorus, or in fact, any chorus at all–things that you just don’t hear on hit records. Whenever I write about Disco Inferno, I always feel like I ultimately come up short in doing them justice–probably the sign of a truly great and unique band (or of a truly subpar writer, whatever). And it’s probably that quality that ensured that they would never break the top 40, and would ultimately miss out on soundtracking one of the great moments in UK popular music.

Still, in a perfect world, this is the song that hundreds of thousands of screaming fans hold up their lighters to as it’s played at Knebworth for the second straight night.

Posted in In a Perfect World | 2 Comments »

What ______ Hath Wrought: Deal or No Deal

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 26, 2007

The Good Dr. is not an expert when it comes to analyzing social patterns and determining culturual cuase and effect, however, occasionally a phenomenon comes along whose power is so great, its influence is impossible to deny.

You wouldn’t think such a high-concept show could be so easily imitated, but sure enough, after about six months of being The Only Game Show That Matters, the surreally popular Deal or No Deal has proven to have the same galvanizing effect on the world of Game Shows as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire did seven years ago. NBC is clearly hoping that the “Wall of Models/Panelists meets Arrogant, Greedy Contestants and Endlessly Repeated Catchphrase” gimmick that made Deal or No Deal so unexpectdly huge is easily transmutable to other formats. Here are the examples noticed thusfar:

Show Me the Money: The first Deal knock-off to appear. Hosted by William Shatner, contestants had the same “pick a random, anonymous, vaguely hot chick to decide your monetary fate” tasks as Deal, but with a trivia aspect, in which contestants had to answer one of three questions, all of which started with the same word or phrase. If the contestant didn’t like the first question, they could pass to the next one, or to the third if they didn’t like that. The questions ranged from the ridiculously easy to the impossibly difficult (if I can’t name who the first actor to win the Best Actor Academy Award, chances are your average, non-Oscar obsessive doesn’t have a prayer at it). About as mind-numbing as Deal or No Deal, but at least with a trivia element to make you feel like the contestants are doing something for their money. But apparently even that’s too much, as SMTM was cancelled only a month in. Maybe they should’ve gotten Cuba Gooding Jr. to host (what, like he has anything better to do with his time these days?)

1 vs. 100: More trivia, more wall-of-panelists, but this time, the panelists do something to–the idea is, you wanna get the trivia questions right while as many of the panelists get it wrong as possible, since you get more money for each one who does. The non-steady set of panelists means that occasionally you get smart celebrity guest stars like Ken Jennings and first-time Millionaire winner John Carpenter to show up, and low-maintenance Game Show vet host Bob Saget is the MC. This is probably the most enjoyable of Deal and its progeny, with the right mix of non-intelligence insulting trivia and fun flashy lights and big scoreboards and such, making it perfect pre-going out Friday Night watching.

Gold Case: Possibly to prove that NBC had a sense of humor about their creativity and intelligence-barren set of game show spawn, thursday night comedy 30 Rock recently featured a fairly hilarious send-up of the craze in last week’s episode, “The Head and the Hair”. In it, NBC page Kenneth Potsdown options the John McEnroe-hosted game show Gold Case, described as “Deal or No Deal meets Millionaire,” in which contestants have to pick one of ten models, each of whom is holding a case, one of which is full of gold. However, the show is short-lived, as contestants have no trouble figuring out which case holds the gold when the model’s knees start to buckle from the weight (causing Kenneth to remark “Oh, that’s right, gold’s real heavy, isn’t it?”) Perhaps because NBC people should know better than anyone, Gold Case hits the mark perfectly on the ridiculously simple, monotonous nature of these shows (as well as their utterly thoughtless titles), and provides 30 Rock with one of it’s biggest laughs to date.

Posted in What ____ Hath Wrought | Leave a Comment »

Charts on Fire: 01-25-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 25, 2007

Charts on Fire is a weekly look into the seedy underbelly of pop music as respresented by the Billboard charts, released on an unsuspecting public every Thursday.

Week #8 on top for Beyonce, making it the longest-running #1 since Kayne West’s “Gold Digger” in 2005. The real story of the week, of course, is the #2 debut of Fall Out Boy’s “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” by far the highest debut of the year thusfar and FOB’s biggest charter to date. Whether they have any chance of breaking the Nickeback curse and becoming the first band since late 2001 to top the pop charts remains to be seen, though I think it’s pretty likely it’s as high as it’s getting, and it sounds way more like a #2 single anyway (well, actually, it sounds like a #73 single to me, but apparently times are changing).

Elsewhere, Nelly Furtado and Jim Jones each climb one, and Daughtry (who has the #1 album of the week, somehow), crashes into the top ten, landing at #6. Also debuting this week in the top 20 is Corbin Bleu’s “Push it to the Limit” (no, not that “Push it to the Limit,” unfortuantely) from Disney’s Jump In!, at #14. Big climbers in the top 40 include Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape” (31-19), KT Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See” (35-23), HOT ONE Omarion’s “Icebox” (30-27) and Hellogoodbye’s “Here (In Your Arms)” (38-32). Also at #38 this week is Rodney Atkins’ “Watching You,” current #1 country song in the nation and possible frontrunner for worst song of the year. New to the top 50 are the pretty good if I remember correctly “Face Down” by the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (52-46), Gym Class Heroes’ “Cupid’s Chokehold” (which must have been around for at least a year already–how long does it take for a Supertramp sample to catch on with people, anyway?) (83-49), and Nickelback’s latest deathtrap, “If Everyone Cared,” which debuts at #50.

Not so much going on in the albums chart–as previously mentioned, Daughtry somehow grabs a hold of the top spot, but amidst little competition, as the highest charting debut this week is Diana Ross’s I Love You, which reaches an inspirational #32. Bravo to my boys in America, however, who chart their highest album since 1981 with the Adam Schlesinger-produced Here & Now, which bows at #52. And to think, I was a half-point away from winning that album at bar trivia last monday.

Elsewhere on the charts, the horrendously mediocre “Snow (Hey Oh)” is still #1 on the Modern Rock charts, but Modest Mouse continue to be a big mover, up seven to number ten this week, and new to the top 20 is the fairly good new Killers single, “Read My Mind,” which hits #18 this week. The biggest mover on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts is Mims’ fairly above average and refreshingly reverential and referential “This is Why I’m Hot.” On the country charts, we’ve got some action from Trace Adkins’ latest Honky Tonk Badonkadonker, the respectable enough “Ladies Love Country Boys.”

Ultimately not too much going on this week, but Godspeed to Fall Out Boy on their chart-topping potential–if any band deserved to break the Nickelback curse, it’s them. Or not.

Posted in Charts on Fire | 2 Comments »

Original Run: New Edition

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 24, 2007

Neil Tennant once said that all great pop groups at one point have an “Imperial Phase,” where they are on top and can seemingly do no wrong. Original Run looks at some of the more impressive examples of this phenomenon.

Few pop groups are more unanimously adored, by critics and popular audiences alike, than the Jackson Five–songs like “I Want You Back” and “ABC” have achieved that extremely rare position of being Songs That Everyone Knows and No One Dislikes; Expressing distaste for them would be like saying you dislike The Beatles or The Simpsons–maybe you’re sick of them, maybe you think they’re overrated, maybe you never want to come in contact with them again, but you still don’t dislike them. Iit just wouldn’t be possible.

New Edition, considered by many to be the Jackson Five of the 80s (if not the more family-oriented but mediocre and historically utterly forgotten Debarge), have a long, long way to go before reaching that same rarified status. Possibly because it’s a generational thing, possibly because the songs weren’t quite so culturally ubiquitous (the first four J5 singles all went to #1, New Edition didn’t get above #4 until the mid-90s), possibly because memories of NE’s heavily derided successors, New Kids on the Block, are still too fresh in people’s minds.

Still, I would hold New Edition’s first run of singles–from 1983’s “Candy Girl” to 1989’s “N.E. Heartbreak” (and their 1991 coda)–against the Jacksons’ early years any day. Their early pop singles were bubblier, their ballads were richer, and their later material was more mature–and unlike The Jacksons, who essentially started at the top and slipped a little bit with each successive release, New Edition stayed consistently popular and consistently with the times, fitting as naturally into their early electro-pop singles as into their later New Jack Swing hits.

So here’s a look at that first single run, with Sendspace links of course provided. Singles particularly recommended are in bold.

Candy Girl(#46 Pop / #1 R&B, 1983): New Edition’s debut effort, and possibly their best-remembered song today (despite charting at a paltry #46 at the time). Clearly modeled after the Jacksons’ second single, “ABC” (check the vocal line on the chorus–practically identical), the song stands out as more than a rip off through the song’s sheer exuberance, which manages to outdo even their predecessors. The song’s breakdown section is a classic (much like “ABC”‘s famous “sit down, girl, I think I love you!” break), and introduces Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike by name before the group would do so more memorably a few singles later.

Popcorn Love / “Jealous Girl” (#25 R&B, 1983): A perfect follow-up single, using every trick in the book–an originally coined title, squeaked “they say we’re too young” vocals, and even a “popcorn” acrostic breakdown (“P is for her Personality, O is for Originality…”). Just as bright and sweet as “Candy Girl,” and arguably the better all-around song. Meanwhile, the b-side, “Jealous Girl,” shows New Edition really bringing out their Doo-Wop roots for the first time, a genre they would often return to later in their career (and check out that mid-song monologue break–Boyz II Men, anyone?)

Is This the End?” (#98 Pop / #8 R&B, 1983): If “Candy Girl” was the group’s “ABC,” then clearly “Is This the End?” would be their “I’ll Be There”–the chords are even practically soundalikes. The song is kept from being mere pastiche, of course, by Ralph Tresvant’s heart-rending lead vocal, sounding very much his age (or even younger–he was actually 15 at the time), but sounding far more pained and honest for it.

Cool It Now” (#4 Pop / #1 R&B, 1984): And, of course, the group’s “The Love You Save”. The biggest hit of the group’s early years, it continues along the “Candy Girl” and “Popcorn Love” formula, though it does contain the group’s first competent-sounding rap break, as well as the famous “Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky & Mike” line, which would be instrumental in helping fans actually remember the first names of Bell Biv Devoe years down the line.

Mr. Telephone Man (#12 Pop / #1 R&B, 1984): Another one of the group’s most well-loved singles, featuring the most memorably self-deluded chorus since John Waite’s “Missng You” (“Mr. Telephone Man / there’s something wrong with my line / when I dial my baby’s number / I hear a click every time”). Written by Ray Parker, Jr. (of “Ghostbusters” and Raydio fame), the song was the group’s most sophisticated to date, and remains one of their all-time classics, even getting performed by the group (recently reunited with Bobby Brown) at a 2005 BET 25th Anniversary concert.

My Secret (Didja Get it Yet?)” (#27 R&B, 1985): The third single off their self-titled second album, another effervescent pop tune with a great chorus and synth-solo (remember those?) Also memorable for having the group’s first truly salacious breakdown (“c’mon girl–you only got three guesses, and you’re not even close…ooh, now you’re getting warmer…oooh, now you’re HAWT!!“) “Do Me!” was only a half-decade away.

Lost in Love” (#35 Pop / #6 R&B, 1985): The group’s first real clunker, a ballad too dippy and airy by half which goes on for far too long (and not even an Air Supply cover!) Still, for the fourth single off the second album, you can’t really expect too much.

Count Me Out” (#51 Pop / #2 R&B, 1985): The first single off third album All for Love, and a fairly flagrant re-write of the previous album’s lead single, “Cool it Now”–the music is essentially the exact same, and is complemented by more “the fellas say I’m going too fast, but whatever, I dig the girl” lyrics. Still, when the music is this sweet, it’s hard to really complain.

A Little Bit of Love (Is All it Takes)” (#38 Pop / #3 R&B, 1986): The group’s first real mid-tempo single, foreshadowing the mellower but still propulsive New Jack Swing sound they would soon develop. Also the group’s first sinlge to not be extremely obviously coming from kids–any number of acts in their 20-somethings could have done this song, and New Edition were soon to join them as peers.

With You All the Way” (#51 Pop / #7 R&B, 1986): Another ballad in the style of “Lost in Love,” helped by the group’s expressive voices (Tresvant is at his most MJ here) but hurt by the dated period production. Better than “Lost in Love,” but they would soon prove they were capable of ballads much stronger than this.

Earth Angel” (#21 / #3 R&B, 1986): Following fading commercial fortunes and the group’s forced removal of Bobby Brown, the group bought some time by releasing the all-covers album Under the Blue Moon, featuring their cover of the Penguins’ doo-wop classic “Earth Angel”. The move succeeded, temporarily at least, as it gave the group their biggest hit since “Mr. Telephone Man,” and though musically it was a step backwards for the group, it’s hard to deny that it was a good match.

Once in a Lifetime Groove” (#10 R&B / #9 Dance, 1986), “Helplessly in Love” (#20 R&B, 1987): The group tested some new waters with a pair of soundtrack contributions, for Running Scared and Dragnet. The former is a surprisingly successful attempt at a gritty (well, relatively gritty) 80s dance sound, featuring MJ-styled “YEOOOWWW”s and an urgent, synth-heavy beat. The latter goes in the complete opposite direction, attempting lush, beat-less balladry in the style of the Force M.D.’s classic “Tender Love” (making you wonder exactly where in Dragnet this song was featured). The group would (probably wisely) end up following neither direction on their next album, but these were interesting one-off experiments in the mean time.

If It Isn’t Love” (#7 Pop / #2 R&B, 1988): And with that, the group’s career was back on track. With a helping hand from legendary R&B producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (of Janet Jackson, Human League and the aforementioned “Tender Love” fame) and a new vocal low end courtesy of new member Johnny Gill, the group developed an entirely new New Jack Swing sound on their 1988 album Heart Break, and with ledad single “If It Isn’t Love,” had one of their best and biggest hits in almost a half-decade. The ingeniously crafter chorus can get stuck in your head for days, and the “I really love her!” / “You love her…WHAT??” break marks a return to the unforgettable bridges of past NE classics. A great way to start the (unfortunately short-lived) second phase of the group’s career.

Can You Stand the Rain?” (#44 Pop / #1 R&B, 1988/89): Two classics in a row from the group. Based around what must be one of the best song titles of the 80s (as in “Sunny days / everybody loves them / but tell me baby, can you stand the rain?”) and a fantastic dual lead from Tresvant and Gill, the song was by far the group’s most mature and heartfelt to date, and stands as one of the great R&B ballads of the era. By the time the rain starts actually falling for real in the song, you’ve been feeling it for ages.

Crucial” (#4 R&B, 1989): Another Jam/Lewis produced club banger. Not nearly as unforgettable as the group’s previous two hits, but still an enjoyable up-tempo NJS number.

N.E. Heartbreak” (#13 R&B, 1989): New Edition get meta. Nowadays “perils of fame” songs are almost expected of huge pop groups, but I feel that lyrics like “It’s off to another city / where everybody knows my name / But when I meet that perfect honey / is it me she wants, or is it the fame?” were probably a bit more unexpected in the late 80s. What’s more, it’s a self-awareness and maturity that would probably have been unthinkable for New Edition just a few years earlier. Shame about that stupid beatboxed ending.

Boys to Men” (did not chart, 1991): The last single released from the group’s first run, three years after Heart Break came out, presumably due to the rising popularity of Boyz II Men, the group the song gave its name to. In reality, though, there could be no capper to the group’s career finer than this–not just because it’s the perfect summation of the group’s career to that point, but because it shows just how far the group had come since “Candy Girl”. Featuring the only solo lead vocal Johnny Gill would lay down for the group before their seven-year hiatus, the song is a wistful and extremely moving testament to growing up, and shows just what an amazingly powerful singer Gill was, leading to many unanswered questions about what kind of potential the group could have had if it had continued on.

Not to say the group was never heard from again–their 1996 comeback effort, Home Again, was a hit, and spawned at least one fairly memorable single (“Hit Me Off,” technically the group’s biggest hit, though one no one is likely to remember the group by), and in the seven years in between each of the members had great success outside the group: Brown with the monster album Don’t Be Cruel and the accompanying #1 hit “My Prerogative,” Tresvant and Gill with the respective solo top five hits “Sensitivity” and “Rub You the Right Way,” and of course, Ronnie, Ricky & Mike with the NJS classics “Poison” and “Do Me!” as Bell Biv Devoe. Still, nothing can match their seven-year run at the top together, where they actually managed to rival the teenage supermacy of the J5, something no other R&B act has managed to do since.

Posted in Original Run | 4 Comments »

Commercial Break: Above The Influence’s Silent, Third-Grade Animated Ads

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 23, 2007

So maybe you’ve seen one of these five ads recently on TV–a silent, exceedingly crudely animated scene between a man and his girlfriend, or more commonly, his dog. The anti-pot morality tale plays out in a surreal and (semi-ironically, but possibly intentionally) druggy way, soundtracked by a variety of inappropriate-sounding instrumental pieces, and at the end, one of the commercial’s characters raises a flag, referred to on abovetheinfluence.com as their “flag of independence.”

Here’s how the five break down:

“Walk Yourself”: Indie rock plays in the background. A man smoking a joint asks his dog “can’t you just walk yourself?” The dog replies “you disappoint me,” walks out of the room, and raises his flag of independence.

“Try Football”: Bleepy accoustic rock plays in the background. A man walking his dog talks to a guy who says that he “smokes pot to impress girls.” The man replies, “try football.” He and his dog raise their flag of independence.

“Not Again”: Soft piano music plays in the background. A man lights up a joint, causing his girlfriend to remark, “not again”. An alien spaceship lands, and an alien gets out. The man offers him a hit, but the alien declines, saying “no thanks”. This impresses the girlfriend, who leaves the man to fly away in the alien spaceship, where she and the alien raise their flag of independence.

“Stop Looking At Me”: Atonal ambient music plays in the background. A man smoking a joint tells his dog to “stop looking at me…I can quit any time I want to.” The dog challenges him, “OK, how about now?” The man weakly responds “next week is better.” The dog echoes his “you disappoint me” sentiment from “Walk Yourself,” and leaves the room to raise his flag of independence.

“I Feel Bad“: Bouncy folk music plays in the background. A man smoking a joint tells his dog that he feels bad about smoking, but would feel less bad if the dog smoked with him (?) The dog turns and leaves, prompting the man to call out “don’t walk away–I need you.” The dog raises his flag of independence.

Needless to say, it’s hard to know exactly what the ATI people are going for here. Draw your own conclusions on this one.

Posted in Commercial Break | 22 Comments »

I Sez: Keep Burke on Grey’s

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 23, 2007

The Good Dr. occasionally has opinions on things. Important things.

In late 2006. reports started to trickle out that there had been some on-set altercation between Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepard (Patrick Dempsey) and Dr. Preston Xavier Burke (Isaiah Washington) on the set of current primetime hospital blockbuster Grey’s Anatomy. Just what the fight consisted of, or the impetus behind it, were and remain fairly unclear. However, it has more or less been confirmed that it had something to do with a comment made by Washington about co-star T.R. Knight (who plays the sensitive sadsack George O’Malley), something to the tune of “I’m not your little f*****, like T.R.” Washington by then had allegedly grabbed Dempsey by the throat.

Needless to say, this was something of a mistake. The controversy over the comment was great, especially after it essentially forced the previously in-the-closet T.R. to publicly come out (making slightly more waves than Neil Patrick Harris, but significantly less than Lance Bass). Still, it most likely would’ve blown over in time, had Washington not made the PR miscalculation of expressing at the Golden Globes recently that he “never called T.R. a f*****”–and yes, he did use that word again. The uproar was twice as loud as it was the first time around–not just because T.R. and at least one of his co-stars contends that he did in fact use that word, but because he made the bright move to say it in public a second time. Now Washington has fired his publicist, co-star Katherine Hegl (Izzy Stevens on Grey’s) has proclaimed that Washington “needs to just not speak in public. Period” (and when even Katherine Hegl is calling you stupid, you know you done fucked up), Washington has been whisked off to sensitivity training with leaders of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defemation–Michael Richards, anyone?), and a petition of over 18,000 signatures began to circulate to get Washington fired from Grey’s. Whoops.

All right, so the first comment was probably inexcusable (though the incident is still fairly shrouded in mystery and “he said, she said” mumbojumbo), and forcing Knight out of the closet before he was prepared to come out on his own is pretty fucked up. Still, I don’t know if some throwaway comment made on the set means that Washington should have to lose his job, and the second time he said it could legitimately be explained as an honest mistake. Meanwhile, the controversy is hurting the show more than any possible fallout could–the greater the public furor about Washington’s ignorant callousness, the harder it is to take Burke seriously as a sensitive intellectual, and the more Knight continues to take this to heart (and get stuck up for by Big Sis Hegl), the wussier his character continues to seem–a problem plaguing George’s character ever since he got rejected by Meredith–not to mention how this is destroying the whole Family Enviornment of the show, always one of Grey‘s strongest assets.

One thing I will say to be good about this whole deal is that it seems like calling someone “f*****” is now starting to be deemed as publicly offensive as using the N-word, and that’s the way it should be. I can’t remember which book he said it in, but I remember reading a Chuck Klosterman quote about the generation before his will be the last one to not understand why you can’t say “f******,” and it will seem as second-nature to anyone afterwards to not call someone that as it will be not to use the N-word as a descriptor.Here’s hoping for the continued shunning of the second-ugliest word in the english language.

And as for how to resolve this situation, most likely, Washington needs to just own up and apologize to Knight–and then, as Hegl wisely suggested, just stop speaking in public. Period.

Posted in I Sez | 3 Comments »