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Archive for March, 2007

That Guy Salute: The Creepy Kid from Every Movie of the Last Three Years

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 16, 2007

Paying tribute to those nameless and occasionally faceless supporting characters that nonetheless provide the broth for the rich stew of Pop Culture.

It might come from my own deep-seated fears and insecurities, but nothing is more unsettling to me than a pale eight-year-old kid. In general, I fear young kids the same way i fear large animals, lifesize wax statues and the henchman with the sunglasses at the end of Scarface–anything that looks like it’s capable of talking but never does, I gotta assume that it must be plotting my own demise (or that at least, in the words of David Byrne, it’s gonna laugh at me). Sure, I guess there are like two or three OK ones–Lisa Simpson and the “YOUUU’RE GOOONNA LOOOOSE!!” kid from A League of Their Own come to mind–but the great majority of them are evil, horrific little bastards, not to be trusted under any circumstances.

The latest crystallization of my paranoia comes courtesy of recent kid star Cameron Bright. Cameron’s already 14, but he doesn’t look a day over nine, and part of me doubts that he ever will. Now when I say “kid star,” it’s really something of a misnomer–Ricky Schroder was a kid star, Patrick Renna of The Sandlot was a kid star, Cameron Bright is one of a rare breed–the kid actor. This is partly because of the seriously shocking number of mainstream movies he’s been in–The Butterfly Effect, Birth, Running Scared, Ultraviolet, Thank You For Smoking, X-Men: The Last Stand, among others–not a single one is really even slightly kid-focused in nature. Despite Bright’s large roles in each, these are all adult (or at the least, adolescent) focused movies, and he isn’t really a star in any. Which is why, even though you’ve undoubtedly seen him in at least two or three of these movies, you have no idea what his name is (and you’ll instantly forget it when you’re done reading this entry).

His face, though–if you’ve seen it once, believe me, you ain’t never gonna forget it. Now, the creepy kid has been a horror movie staple ever since Linda Blair stabbed herself in the crotch back in 1973, and over the years, it’s only gotten stronger–Damian, the twins from The Shining and the Children of the Corn, up to those kids in The Ring, The Grudge and Identity. These kids are all a million times more frightening than Freddy or Jason, and I think it’s for the same reasons I mentioned at the beginning–little kids are supposed to be mostly sweet and innocent, but I think everyone secretly distrusts them at least a little bit, so when they turn out to be genuinely evil, it confrims a lot of deep seated fears.

In 33 years’ worth of creepy kids, however, I don’t think there’s ever been one as creepy as Bright. And the weird thing is that none of the movies he’s been in have been straight horror movies–in fact, with the possible exception of The Butterfly Effect, he hasn’t even been an antagonist in any of them. But that face–those sallow, pale blue eyes, that even paler white skin, those unnaturally high cheek bones, that bulging forehead–he looks like a kid all right, but the most demonic little prick to ever set fire to his third grade art project. He barely ever talks, and he never fucking smiles.

And even though they’re not horror movies, his projects still reflect and emphasize that disturbing edge–except for X3, these are really not the sort of movies that young kids should be appearing in. Running Scared and The Butterfly Effect, two of the grittiest, most world-weary mainstream movies of the last few years (and don’t scoff at The Butterfly Effect until you see it, really), wouldn’t be half as unsettling if it wasn’t for Bright’s pivotal roles in each. Just taking a look at this kid, you know something’s not right–maybe he’s this instigator and maybe he’s the victim, but you know there’s some serious fucking troubel afoot. He’s not going to be appearing in MVP 4: Most Verisimilitudinous Primate any time soon.

It’ll be interesting to see if Bright can graduate from Creepy Kid to Creepy Adolescent (and perhaps even the rarely-attained Creepy College Kid) status–Robert “A.J.” Iler was able to do it, sorta, but it’s a lot easier to make the transition when you’re playing the same role once a week for almost ten years. But even if he’s not gonna be appearing on VH1 kid specials in any time soon, it’s good to see a kid actor carve a niche for himself without having to resort to snappy catchphrases or precocious transcontinental adventures. For that, anyway, he’d probably have to smile at least once.

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Posted in That Guy Salute | 1 Comment »

Charts on Fire: 03-15-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 15, 2007

Fergie and Luda take over the #1 with the surprisingly satisfactory “Glamorous”–the second #1 for Fergie, the fourth for Luda (her 2nd as a guest), and the second by Polow Da Don, quickly on his way to being the producer of the year. Mims slides back to #2 and Akon to #3 (crisis averted once more), with Gwen and HOT ONE “Cupid’s Chokehold” rounding out the top five. Regrettably, fellow HOT ONE “Girlfriend” slips 5-9, but Avril will rise again.

Elsewhere in the top 40, Diddy moves 23-17 on his way to having his biggest hit since “Bad Boy for Life,” Young Jeezy moves 29-24, HOT ONE “Throw Some D’s” is up 32-27 (hopefully soon to be joined by excellent new single “Boy Looka Here“), Baby Boy da Prince and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus both slide up five to #29 and #30, respectively, and we some rebounding from John Mayer (33-26) and Carrie Underwood (37-28). We also get some new ons to the top 40 from Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman” (47-31) and Pink’s “U + Ur Hand” (is this song about what I think it’s about? Probably not, 52-36).

Debuts to the top 50 include R. Kelly or Bow Wow’s “I’m a Flirt” (really–it’s attribtued to R. Kelly or Bow Wow, never seen that one before, 72-41), Unk’s “2 Step” (now the Dem Franchize Boyz of ’07, 63-43), Carrie Underwood’s “Wasted” (girl’s been hanging out with Gretchen Wilson apparently, 67-45) and T-Pain’s “Buy U a Drank (Shorty Snappin’)” (what a niche this guy has carved, 59-46). Debuts to the bottom half of the list come from Billy Currington’s “Good Directions” (#91), Taylor Swift’s “Teardrops on My Guitar” (#93) and Tank’s “Please Don’t Go” (#95).

The Arcade Fire don’t quite make it to #2 on the album charts, held off by seven thousand extra copies sold of the Notorious B.I.G.’s new greatest hits album. Bummer.

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Something’s Always Wrong: There is At Least One Good Episode of Friends

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 14, 2007

The Good Dr. understands that his opinions, while always correct, are not always correct, and he recognizes the need to rescind certain statements

I have been known to make a series of inflammatory anti-Friends remarks over the years, and I stand by most of them. Largely though, it’s a personality thing–Friends used to remind me of too many annoying people in my life, and just about no one I know whose opinion I respect watches it. But as the years go by, and I’m forced to spend time with less Friendsian people and I get a little bit older (or maybe a little lower in my TV standards), the show gets more bearable, to the point where I can almost enjoy watching it. Almost. There’s still the show’s unfortunate focus around the show’s two least interesting characters (and most grating actors), as well as the largely uninspired plotlines and lack of truly memorable quotes or episodes.

Except for one. I’ve probably only seen under a dozen Friends episodes in my life, but one of them I’ve seen multiple times–“The One With the Embryos,” which was on last night. and remains the only transcendent Friends moment I’ve ever witnessed. The main plot of this episode features Lisa Kudrow trying to get impregnated with her brother and his wife / ex-home ec teacher’s baby, played by Giovanni Ribisi and Kitty from That 70s Show. It’s a relatively boring main plot but does demonstrate one impressive thing about this show, which is how they manage to take the most wholly ridiculous, implausible plots and make them seem like normal occurences.

However, the main draw of this episode is what everyone else is doing that episode, a trivia contest that the Friends play about themselves, moderated by Ross and featuring Rachel and Monica facing off against Chandler and Joey to see which pair knows more about the others. I didn’t realize it until watching it the second time, but almost every Friends trivia question comes directly from this episode, and I was actually doing some WSOPC prep by taking some Friends quizzes online last night when this episode came on, officially marking the most meta episode I’ve ever been involved with.

Anyway, I’d call this the first good Friends episode I’ve ever seen, largley because it’s actually funny–Chandler and Joey knowing that Rachel lying about Dangerous Liasons being her favorite movie when it’s actually Weekend at Bernie’s, and Rachel and Monica being able to get everything about Chandler except the age at which he first touched a breast (19) and what he actually does for a living (not mentioned, but Rachel’s best guess is “transponster”). It does a great job of inadvertently celebrating the cult of Friends by demonstrating that hey, at least the cast share and appreciate the kind of obsessive knowledge that the fans have about their favorite characters (as well as celebrating the huge rush of a good trivia contest–the Friends characters are on the edge of their seat throughout the whole deal, and so probably is the audience).

More importantly, it accentuates the most appealing thing about these characters in general–that regardless of whether you like the characters or not, they really are one of the greatest and most believable group of friends in TV history. Superior show though it is, it’s impossible to imagine the cast of Seinfeld engaging in a contest like this–Jerry would constantly be making belittling comments to George, Elaine would be furious at having been teamed with Kramer, and George would’ve stormed off at his first wrong answer, screaming about the contest being rigged. The Friends cast can make it work because they seem so legitimately close, it seems totally reasonable that they’d know all this stuff about each other and be willing to stake significant ante on them knowing the most–Rachel and Monica eventually lose their apartment to Chandler and Joey, who kick them out unceremoniously and unapolagetically–fair is fair, and they deserve what they have coming to them.

It’s not enough to make me want to re-evaluate the show much more, but it does validate the show’s existence at least a little bit. Almost enough to make up for Joey.

Posted in Something's Always Wrong | 2 Comments »

It’s All About Me: Prepping for the World Series of Pop Culture, Pt. 1

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 13, 2007

The Good Dr. does not exactly lead the glamorous life–however, every once in a while, something happens to him that is worth telling people besides his parents about.

So yeah, that VH1 show I’m sure you’ve all heard so much about is filming in about a week–nine days, to be exact–so crunch time has officially begun. Now, I’ve been prepping for this thing since I first heard we were approved for audition. I live in a highly-concentrated world of pop culture regardless, but I’ve definitely stepped it up since–me and the two teammates have been sending each other quizzes, freebasing Wikipedia entries and gorging on IMDB news every day since that fateful e-mail.

However, this is the week that we (or I, at least, and they better be doing fucking likewise) go into pop culture overdrive. And the timing actually worked out perfectly for it, since I’m home on spring break this week–unlike the great majority of my friends, almost all of which are either off next week or going somewhere else, leaving my alone in my basement with my big-ass TV and at least 300 channels of digital cable. And needless to say, I’m making the most of it.

Now, there are generally three categories covered in the World Series–music, movies and TV. Music is the one I’m focusing on the least, as it’s the one I already pretty much have the most down, and for some reason it’s also the subject VH1 asks the least about (whatever happened to Video Hits First, guys?). But it’s open season on movies and TV, and I’ve been scouring the cable 24 hours a day trying to get exposure to shitty “classic” comedies and/or action movies that I was never desperate enough to watch, as well as shitty “classic” TV shows whose existence I never would never even have humored 12 months ago.

The consequences (and implications) of this are interesting. I find myself flipping to channels I had no idea were even there, corners of the TV universe that I had somehow managed to avoid up until now, and making realtively, uh, uncharacteristic statements like “Aw, why isn’t The Jerk on this week?” or “Hey, two episodes in a row of Growing Pains on IGO!” (????) In the past 24 hours, I have watched:

  1. The first hour of Domino (Tony Scott, rock on)
  2. Two episodes of Home Improvement (show suuuuuuuuucks)
  3. Most of an episode of NewsRadio (Not nearly as funny as the cult would have you believe, though maybe I caught it on an off episode)
  4. An episode of Family Ties (Justine Bateman is actually even hotter now than she was 20 years ago, though the seeds are definitely there. Also, Michael J. Fox is short–like, really short)
  5. Half an episode of Spin City (Cameron Frye, Connie Britton and Larry David’s faux-cousin, rock on)
  6. An episode of The Brady Bunch (Were all episodes this Christopher Knight-centric?)
  7. About three minutes of Saved By the Bell: The College Years (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, thy beauty is timeless)
  8. The entirety of Caddyshack (What the hell would the 80s have done without Kenny Loggins?)
  9. An episode of Good Times (Jimmie Walker looks almost exactly like Dave Chappelle. Seriously, check the mouth, it’s eerie)
  10. Twenty minutes and counting of Hanging With Mr. Cooper (I’m pretty sure it’s the pilot ep–Alan Thicke even shows up at the beginning of the episode to pass the torch)
  11. And all of A Scanner Darkly, though that was just for me.

Through this process, two things have become abundantly clear to me. The first: Prior to the premiere of Seinfeld, non-animated comedy that was actually funny simply did not exist on American television. Sure, there are interesting lessons to learned from most of these shows, about overcoming sibling rivalry, taking personal responsibility, and waiting at least three seconds after each marginally funny joke to make sure it really lands properly, among other things. But there are no laughs to be had in these shows. Not one. In fact, the only show to even make me chuckle was Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, which, uncoincidentally, debuted the same year as Seinfeld–not the funniest of shows, but I figure that every year post-Seinfeld premiering, the median TV sitcom increased slightly in funniness, taking Mr. Cooper from 0 to about 3-5% worth of laughs.

And the second thing I’ve gleaned is that I don’t like losing. I really, really have a distaste for it. I’ve understood this for some time, of course, but it hadn’t hit me for a while, until I recently lost a Super Smash Brothers. in about 9th or 10th place. It was still fun, and it wasn’t a bad or humiliating loss, but the only thing I could think of on the way home was man, that was all right, but it really would’ve been so much more fun if I had won. The difference between winning and losing–it’s remarkable. And the fear of it is more than enough for me to devote this week, at the very least, to watching some of the most uninspiring programming ever unleashed on the American TV-watching public.

Not that I really would be doing anything more inspiring if I didn’t have this hanging over me. In fact, this seems like pretty much the optimal way to spend possibly my last virtually responsibility-free Spring Break. Still, I can’t help but wonder what knowledge about actually worthwhile pieces of art and entertainment I’m pushing out with all this new knowledge–by the next time you see me, I might have forgotten how “Sister Ray” goes, but I guarantee you I’ll be able to name all four Keaton kids as well as who play them. Did you know the youngest one was also the star of Blank Check? Classic movie.

Posted in It's All About Me | 6 Comments »

Listeria: The Ten Best Dialogue Exchanges from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 12, 2007

Life is more interesting in list form

Between this and Brick, ’06 was officially the best year for film noir in at least 60 years. Written and directed by Shane Black, who became the first screenwriter to sell a script for a million bucks with the at least two-mil-worthy The Last Boy Scout, the movie has maybe the least sensical and maybe the funniest action-based script since The Big Lebowski. The high points:

10. Perry: “Do you have to smoke?”
Harry: “Want me to put it out when we get near the…?”
Perry: “Yeah. As soon as you find a large brown clump of shrubs just throw it in there.”

9. Haromny: “Well, for starters, she’s been fucked more times than she’s had a hot meal.”
Harry: “Yeah, I heard about that. It was neck-and-neck, and then she skipped lunch.”

8. Perry (pointing a gun at the thug): “I want you to picture a bullet inside your head.”
Thug: “Fuck you. And besides, that’s ambiguous.”

7. Partygoer: “So what do you do?”
Perry: “I’m retired, I invented dice. What do you do?”

6. Harry: “I peed on the corpse.”
Perry: “I’m sorry, you peed on..?”
Harry: “On the corpse. My question is–”
Perry: “No no, my question. I get to go first. Why in pluperfect hell would you pee on a corpse?”

5. Harry: “Um, clearly I’m interupting. I feel badly. Let me…”
Harmony: “Bad.”
Harry: “Bad? Sorry..? Feel…?”
Harmony: “You feel bad.”
Harry: “Bad?”
Haromny: “Badly is an adverb. So to say you feel badly would be saying the mechanism that allows you to feel is broken…”

4. Perry: “Go. Sleep badly. Any questions, hesitate to call.”
Harry: “Bad.”
Perry: “Excuse me?”
Harry: “Sleep bad. Otherwise it seems like the mechanism that allows you to sleep…”
Perry: “What, fuckhead? Badly’s an adverb. Who taught you grammar??”

3. Intimidating Thug #1: “Well now, here we are, Ike, Mike and Mustard.”
Harry: “What the hell does that mean?”
Intimidating Thug #2: “You know, I’m with him on this one. That was pretty fucking obscure.”
Intimidating Thug #1: “Horseshit, I hear that all the time.”
Intimidating Thug #2: “You do? Where, at the 1942 club?”

2. [Harry puts one bullet in a gun, spins the chamber russian roulette-style, and unexpectedly shoots a thug on his first attempt]
Perry: “What did you just do?”
Harry: “I just put in one bullet, didn’t I?”
Perry: “You put a live round in a gun!”
Harry: “Yeah, well there was like an 8% chance.”
Perry: “EIGHT? WHO TAUGHT YOU MATH?!?

1. Perry: “Look up idiot in the dictionary. You know what you’ll find?”
Harry: “A picture of me?”
Perry: “No! The definition of idiot. Which you fucking are!”

Posted in Listeria | 2 Comments »

For the Love of God: No More Using That Rogue Wave Song on TV / What Garden State Hath Wrought

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 11, 2007

Some matters require divine intervention

Just Friends, I think, is well on its way to becoming one of the great 00s cult comedies. Upon its release a few years ago, I, like I’m sure everyone else with a remote claim to intelligence did, dismissed the movie as one of a disturbingly increasing number of Guy/Girl in a Fat Suit comedies, and more or less swore that I would never see it. I retained this skepticism when my brother told me it was maybe the funniest movie he had ever seen, and though I didn’t find that to be anywhere close to the case with me, it was definitely a surprisingly hilarious (and occasionally touching) movie–broad, sure, but laugh-worthy nonetheless. More and more, I think, people are coming around to this movie–everyone I know who’s seen it shares my reaction–“yeah, the ads looked awful, but I was surprised with how funny it was.” So yeah, get ahead of the trend maybe and check it out.

Just Friends is also the first place that I heard Rogue Wave’s “Eyes” be used over an emotionally-wraught montage sequence. I think it was when one of the many scenes in which Ryan Reynolds is deliberating whether to go back to his life as a LA hotshot or go back home and try to win over ex-flame Amy Smart just one more time. It was a pretty effective soundtrack choice–the song definitely has a hometown-y, wistful feel to it, and the whole contemplatively romantic lyric thing going. It’s a song that seems like it was expressly invented for the purposes of soundtracking emotionally-wraught montage sequences. Maybe it was.

Apparently, though, at least a couple TV producers were big Just Friends fans too (or maybe they actually listened to Rogue Wave’s most excellent 2005 LP Descended Like Vultures, but I find that harder to believe), because “Eyes” has been popping up all over the place now. I recently heard it in an HBO upcoming movies ad, about a month ago it was used in an episode of Friday Night Lights, and earlier this season, it won the TV equivalent of the Martin Scorsese Award for Repetitive Soundtracking when it was used in two different episodes of Heroes (and I could swear that in one of those episodes, it was used twice). It’s a good song, mind you, perhaps even bordering on a great one, but enough already.

The market for wimpy, weepy indie-pop songs has never been higher, and the blame for this can be placed squarely on Garden State. This is the movie, of course, that unleashed possibly the two biggest wimpy, weepy indie-pop songs to ever be expressly invented for the purposes of soundtracking emotionally-wraught montage sequences–The Shins’ “New Slang” and Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights.” The O.C. definitely helped push it along, but honestly, who even remembers what kind of songs directors used to use for such scenes before Zach Braff came along? Now anything else would be almost unthinkable.

And that’s cool–wimpy, weepy indie-pop songs have as much of a right to our TV airspace as any other type of music, I suppose. But let’s give this particular one a rest for a while, huh? Give Devin Davis some love or something.

Posted in For the Love of God, What ____ Hath Wrought | 1 Comment »

100 Years, 100 Songs: #98. Donna Lewis – “I Love You Always Forever”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 10, 2007

“Feels like I’m standing in a timeless dream…”

I have to believe that the reason so few people seem to care about, or even remember “I Love You Always Forever” is because of the Maccarena. While Donna Lewis’s 1996 gem was marooned at #2 on the pop charts for over two months, the omnipresent Los Del Rio tune was spending 14 weeks on top, denying ILYAF its rightful place in pop immortality. Of course, this proposition is completely ridiculous, since maybe two dozen people in the entire country know or care what chart position Donna Lewis’s one hit tapped out at. Maybe it’s just that the Maccarena was so ubiquitous that it’s the only thing people can remember about the summer of ’96, that seems more likely.

It’s gotta be that, since I can’t fathom another reason why one of the best pop love songs of all-time seems to only linger on in the memory of 90s pop obsessives like myself. I’ve talked about this somewhat at length in other venues before, but to me, “I Love You Always Forever” is the apotheosis of a certain love song subset, that of the smothering, all-encompassing, almost womb-like pop song–the kind of love song that lyrically and musically attempts to totally envelop you in its spell. Other songs I place in this category are Sophie B. Hawkins’ “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover,” Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession” and the mother of them all, Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” (Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” was arguably the song that invented this type of love song, unfortunately it pretty much sucks), all of which I would’ve loved to have included if the number 100 was, say, 500 larger. Lulling, hypnotic, and extremely moving stuff.

“I Love You Always Forever” probably comes out on top among these stellar peers because Lewis’s voice is so well fit for this sort of song–her voice is almost childlike; high-pitched, whispery and very emotionaly affected, like Joanna Newsom if she graduated from Kindergarten to 4th or 5th grade. It works well for a song whose lyrics could really only be described as childlike–a rare love song that seems almost completely pure in its intentions. It’s as if sung from someone who didn’t have enough experience with love to know that occasionally, yeah, there are some not-perfect things about it–or, as I’d probably like to think, from someone who was currently experiencing a love so immaculate that it erases all unpleasant memories and sensations to ever be associated with the feeling.

It’s the kind of song that you’d give your left arm to be the inspiration behind, and then your right arm to be the recipient of. Even the best love songs are often too selfish, but “I Love You Always Forever” strikes the perfect balance between “I can’t beleive how much in love I am” and “I can’t believe how much in love you are making me feel.” It even verges on being too selfless (“You’ve got the most unbelievable blue eyes I’ve ever seen / You’ve got me almost melting away”), but then the bridge kicks in, and suddenly and unexpectedly Lewis demands validation and reciprication of her feelings (“Say you love, love me forever, never stop, never whenever”), which seems fair enough, since she’s already made more than done her part.

The appeal of the song has as much to do with the production as it does Lewis herself. Lewis’s hushed cooing is presented so pristinely that you can hear the nuances of her every breath, and she’s supported by a bed of the dreamiest synths since “Bette Davis Eyes,” undulating guitar and a metronomic drumbeat that sounds uncoincidentally like a heartbeat. It’s like the Cocteau Twins if Liz Frasier ever sang intelligibly, or could write a better hook than “Carolyn’s Fingers“–soothing, sensual and totally lush beyond imagination. This feeling is more than accentuated by the song’s video, which features Lewis cavorting in peach-colored, overexposed rooms, often surrounded by frilly things and constantly contending with a wind machine blowing her hair back. Lewis is the sole focal point in every one of the video’s shots, which is appropriate–like the song, the video’s main purpose is to convince you that Donna Lewis does, in fact, love you always forever, and she’s not gonna let anything distract you from this focus sentence.

I’m not sure why Lewis’s success was so flash-in-the-pan. Her second, um, hit “Without Love” (a whopping #41), is actually pretty good–at least as good as Sophie B. Hawkins’ second hit, which was significantly more successful–but the public apparently had its fill with Donna, and the one-hit remains her legacy. But even if it isn’t much of a legacy in the public consciousness, it’s more than enough to earn her a spot on my list and in my heart–near and far and always, and everyhwere, and in between. I want a girl to sing this song to me on my wedding night someday.

Posted in 100 Years 100 Songs | 2 Comments »

Take Five: In the Year 2000

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 9, 2007

A representative sample of the latest wonders rocking The Good Dr.’s world and plaguing his mind.

One of my favorite ways to listen to music is to listen to my mp3s on random from a certain year–for some reason I find that a particularly tasty way to digest music, since it’s coherent while still being completely jumbled from one song to the next. The problem is that because of this, I can’t really do it while my roommates (or anyone else for that matter) are around, since it’s too difficult to have to explain why I’m transitioning from At the Drive-In to Marc Anthony to “Spaced Invader” without getting some seriously weird looks. However, my roommates are out for the weekend, so since last night I’ve been taking advantage of this by cranking the ’00 tunes without having to look over my shoulder. Also, by drinking beer and dancing in my underwear. Spring break is a beautiful thing. Here’s five random ones in a row:

Darude vs. Robert Miles – “Children of the Sandstorm: Oh man, what a thing. The only two instrumental dance songs in the last 12 years that the American public gave half a crap about, blended together (actually somewhat seamlessly) into one seven-minute ravegasm (well, US rave anyway). Actually, though, I’m not sure how this could possibly be from 2000, since mashups didn’t really start to get popular until at least 2001 (and neither did “Sandstorm” if I remember correctly) but hey, the “Jock Jams Megamix” was ’97, and SWV’s “Right Here / Human Nature” was all the way back in ’92, so I’m gonna trust my past self on this one.

Underworld – “Rez / Cowgirl (Live): Sorta cheating here, since technically these two songs are from ’92 and ’93, respectively, but this blend, courtesy of Underworld’s mindblowingly blissful 2000 live album Everything Everything is more or less unique to 2000, so I’m counting it. “Rez” and “Cowgirl” are, respectively, two of the greatest dance songs of the 90s (or probably even of all-time), and I’ve written about the inextricable connection between the two at length before, and this mix of the two just emphasizes the strengths of both while seamlessly weaving in out of each other. It’s about the greatest high that dance music has the potential to produce, which is REALLY saying something.

Everclear – “A.M. Radio: Everclear took the lead from late-90s faux-SoCalers LEN and Bran Van 3000 with this extremely out of character ’00 hit. Laid back, nostalgic and sun-kissed for once instead of draggy, self-loathing and cynical, if it wasn’t for the unfortunate “We like rock, we like soul, we like soul but we NEVER LIKED DISCO” outro, this could’ve been one of the band’s classics, up there with “Santa Monica” and “Everything to Everyone.” As such, it just stands as a fascinating and mostly successful one-time change of skin. Either way, props to the boys for the Jean Knight sample–her kids ain’t gonna put themselves through college, after all.

Teenage Fanclub – “Dumb Dumb Dumb: I’m not really even sure why I have this mp3, since I was pretty sure I didn’t much care for post-Bandwagonesque Teenage Fanclub. Still, even at their worst, the Fannies still provide imminently listenable power and/or jangle-pop, and this song is no exception. Doubt I’ll remember a thing about it by the next time I come across it, though.

Moose – “Can’t Get Enough of You: Wow, NO idea where I got this one from. Still, pretty good stuff–Moose were a perpetually underrated 90s outfit, and though I’m shocked they stuck around for long enough to create a 2000 song that I for some reason deemed worthy of downloading, this is a pretty great pop song right here. I ought to get an album of these guys one of these days, or at least a best of (though whether I could allow myself to buy a CD titled The Best of Moose is still uncertain).

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Charts on Fire: 03-08-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 8, 2007

Hey! (HEY!) YOU! (YOU!)

Given my historically poor performance in guessing the future when it comes to pop music (some of my better ones for 2006 include claiming Nelly Furtado to be the “first completely washed up relic of the 00s” and laughing at people who thought “Crazy” would ever spread beyond the internet in popularity) I dared not jinx the chances of GDB-sponsored HOT ONE Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” by predicting it to be one of the biggest hits of 2007, even though I knew in my heart of hearts that it was gonna be a big one. And lo and behold, I was right for once, as “Girlfriend” becomes Avril’s biggest hit since “I’m With You” by debuting at #5 on the Hot 100 this week. And now there’s a video for it–not exactly a winner, but very Avril in scope, and she looks hotter than she has since the “Don’t Tell Me” video. 2007 is gonna be a good year.

At the top, Mims sticks for his 2nd week at #1, with Akon jammed behind him at #2. JT and Gwen Stefani swap #3 and #4, “This Ain’t a Scene” advances 8-6, and Fergie’s “Glamorous” (now available once more on iTunes) rebounds 55-8. HOT ONES “Cupid’s Chokehold” and “Icebox” both slip two this week. Big gainers this week are a rebounding “Not Ready to Make Nice” (28-19), Diddy’s “Last Night” (29-23), other Avril single “Keep Holding On” (take that Eragorn soundtrack, 39-26), and most importantly, #1 HOT ONE of 2007 “Throw Some D’s” (45-32), finally hitting the top 40 after languishing in the 40-50 range for almost a month.

New to the top half of the countdown this week are Christina Aguilera’s awful 40s tribute “Candyman” (64-47) and Three Days Grace’s far more awful 2001 tribute “Pain.” New to the bottom half are third-place AI finalist Elliot Yamin’s “Movin’ On” (#61), new Dixie Chicks single “The Neighbor” (no idea where this is from and can’t find it on soulseek, #74), Bow Wow’s “Outta My System” (seems like this guy has a new one every five weeks, #76), Ciara’s “Like a Boy” (provocative, #81), Daughtry’s “Home” (thought this guy’s niche died out a decade ago, go figure, #83), Ne-Yo’s “Because of You” (enough already, #84), and, thus becoming a higher charter than the original version, KoRn f/ Amy Lee’s “Freak on a Leash (Unplugged)” (as blogged about here, #89).

Daughtry is back at #1 this week. Can the Arcade Fire perform a Nevermind-style coup with the release of Neon Bible next week? Stay tuned.

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100 Years, 100 Songs: #99. George Harrison – “My Sweet Lord”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 7, 2007

“I really wanna see you / I really wanna be with you / I really wanna see you lord, but it takes so long…”

“He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace.” So read the oft-quoted eulogy for George Harrison, issued by his family upon his death in 2003. As if to prove this, his signature solo tune, “My Sweet Lord,” was re-issued to the UK market, and it easily topped the charts, just as it had on both sides of the pond when it was originally released in 1970. It was as fitting a eulogy as could possibly have been written for the ex-Beatle.

Although far from the group’s most acclaimed or popular member during their reign of supremacy of the 60s, it was Harrison who was the most primed for a successful solo career after the Beatles’ dissolution at the turn of the decade. His Beatles songs, previously sequestered to obscured album spots and single b-sides (with the notable exception of Revolver opener “Taxman“), had become far more high-profile by the time of the group’s end, and he even got half the double-A side to one of the group’s last #1 singles with “Something” (famously referred to by Frank Sinatra as “one of his favorite Lennon/McCartney songs”). The time for the Quiet Beatle to step out of the group’s shadow was surely soon to come.

And that’s exactly what happened with the release of George Harrison’s solo debut, the triple-album All Things Must Pass, in 1970. An amazingly consistent selection of Phil Spector-produced introspective pop songs (with the notable and somewhat infamous exception of the disc’s bluesy third LP, which is nonetheless easily ignored), All Things has since gone 6x platinum, the best selling (and arguably best, period) album ever released by a solo Beatle.

Still, even amidst songs as strong as “What Is Life,” “Isn’t It a Pity” and the title track, “My Sweet Lord” is the album’s clear standout, and is immediately apparent as Harrison’s definitive work, with or without the group that made him famous. The song is an exceedingly simple one–built on just two chords (the selection of which would eventually land Harrison in some very hot water, but more on that later), extremely repetitive lyrics and Phil Spector’s lush without being ornate production, the song has the feel of a pop/rock hymnal, which is almost undoubtedly what Harrison was going for.

“My Sweet Lord” of course refers to God, a lyrical pre-occupation of Harrison’s since The Beatles discovered spirituality in the mid-60s. The thing that always struck me about Harrison’s spiritual songs were how innocent and enthusiastic they seemed without ever crossing the line into preachiness or didacticism. It’s faith stripped down to its simplest and most understandable feelings–“I really wanna see you / I really wanna be with you / I really wanna see you lord, but it takes so long, my lord.” Keeping it vague and devoid of specific religious references, Harrison creates a spiritual song as easily relatable as any of the best love songs.

This wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t for the song’s musical sweep, surely one of the most gorgeous productions Harrison or Spector had ever been involved with. Spector’s wall of sound approach to Harrison’s guitar playing makes the exceedingly basic and stately guitar line sound gigantic, and complemented perfectly by the spare use of slide guitar on the song’s instrumental sections, and of course, Harrison’s impassioned vocal, the song finds the appropriate balance between hypnotic chant and rousing spiritual. And the subtle transformation of the backing vocal from “Hallelujah” to “Hare Krishna” at the end is a brilliant last-minute injection ofpersonal feeling into a universal anthem, making the song all the richer for it.

Of course, not everyone found the song so inspiring. The Chiffons, the 60s girl group responsible for, among other genre classics, the 1963 #1 hit “He’s So Fine,” seemed to think that Harrison’s song borrowed more than a little bit from their biggest hit, and hit him with a lawsuit, eventually claiming all of the song’s royalties. To be fair, the Chiffons were basically right–the song more or less lifts wholesale the chords and vocal line from “He’s So Fine” (replace the “hallelujah”s with “doo-lang, doo-lang, doo-lang”s and you’ve essentially got the same song–it even modulates at the same point). Today, however, it might be considered more of a clever homage than a rip-off, and I believe Harrison’s claim that the lift was subconscious (Harrison says he was more inspired by the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day,” which makes sense too).

The punchline to this story, of course, is that The Chiffons, whose commercial fortunes were fading to say the least by the turn of the decade, tried their hand at a novelty hit by actually releasing a cover version of “My Sweet Lord” as a single. Interesting idea, if more than a little hypocritical, but alas, the song flopped, and the Chiffons were never really heard from again (in fact, Harrison would eventually buy the rights to “He’s So Fine,” showing the group that it’s not wise to come in between a man and his maker). It’s a pretty fascinating cover, though, re-imagining “My Sweet Lord”as a lounge ballad (sounding, somewhat predictably, more like a love song than a spiritual now).

The first song by an ex-Beatle to go to #1, “My Sweet Lord,” along with Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” would set the stage for the christian-oriented rock boom that would spin off a shocking number of hits in the first half of the 70s, including Brewer and Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line,” The Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus is Just Alright” and the inordinately successful soundtracks to religious rock musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, among many others. Unfortunately, most of these songs were awful, and none were nearly as powerful as “My Sweet Lord.” In fact, I think the only worthy successor to “My Sweet Lord” that the early 70s produced was Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train,” which isn’t even about religion, but inspires the same kind of feeling in its simple, communal, sweetly naive and undeniably emotional delivery.

Indeed, even George himself would find difficulty in reproducing the artistic and commercial success of “My Sweet Lord”–he would hit #1 again with the similarly-themed but far less enduring “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” and had a handful of nice, if largely forgettable, retro-themed hits throughout the 80s. But clearly, it is “My Sweet Lord” that proves to be Harrison’s solo legacy, the fruition of his talent, and probably the best of the Beatle solo singles. 37 years after its initial release, it continues to help us all feel a little more conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace.

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