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Archive for June, 2007

“Summer of ‘69″ vs. “Night Moves”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 29, 2007

Copying & pasting an article I wrote that got published on Stylus today–apologies for laziness, promise not to make a habit of it

The Match-Up: Bob Seger, the post-garage rock and pre-Cybotron pride of Detroit, released “Night Moves,” a song about Seger’s first sexual experiences back in the early ‘60s, as the first single off his similarly-named album back in 1976. It became his national breakout single, hit the top five and was named Single of the Year by Rolling Stone. Eight years later, Canuck Bryan Adams released “Summer of ’69,” a song about Adams’ teenage exploits, quoted by Adams as being a response to “Night Moves,” one of his favorite songs. “Summer of ‘69” had a similarly galvanizing effect on Adams’ career, hitting #5 and essentially turning Adams into the American ambassador for Canadian culture.

Why They Deserve to Be Compared: When it comes to nostalgia-drenched summer songs describing the glorious follies of youth, no other song comes close to comparing to these two. Classic rock standards by now, both indulge in joyous, even rapturous recollections of youth firsts—playing in a band, starting shit with friends, and of course, getting laid. And both are so hopelessly enamored with the past that in the end, they actually come off as kind of depressing, since it’s abundantly clear that neither Seger nor Adams ever experienced such unbridled joy again. Consequently, if you’re the sort of person who romanticizes the past (which, needless to say, I can be more than a little guilty of), the emotions wrought in both songs are pretty extreme.

THE BATTLE

Intro
This battle speaks to the general differing in attitude and methodology between the two songs. “Night Moves” starts with the gentle, breezy acoustic guitar riff anchoring the song, along with Seger’s incomprehensible lyrics, setting up the story of budding sexuality present in the next couple verses (really, the song’s lyrics don’t get that memorable until the first lines of the second verse). From there, the song builds and builds in intensity, until it hits a near-gospel pitch somewhere in between the second chorus and bridge.“Summer of ‘69” starts with the same guitar-and-vocals only intro, but forgoes the slow build of “Night Moves” for a blast-out-the-gate intro. One drum crash, some electrified and electrifying two-chord riffing, and four lines that just about anyone currently between the ages of 18 and 48 could recite better than the Pledge of Allegiance. “I got my first real six string / Over at the five and dime / Played it till my fingers bled / It was the Summer of ’69!” Adams lets the whole cat out of the bag in the song’s first fifteen seconds, and though it ends up hurting him a little bit later in the song, he wins this battle easier than Screech doing “Celebrity Boxing.”Winner: “Summer of ‘69”


Description of First Love/Sex
Instead of most wistful songs about high school petting, “Night Moves” neither brags about a series of conquests or longs for one specific romance, but finds a strangely touching middle ground between the two, specifically recalling his first (or at least most memorable) lustful encounter, even stating that they “weren’t in love, no far from it […] just young and restless and bored.” He remembers their steamy “backroom, alley and trusty woods” trysts with the kind of reverence normally reserved for relationships with at least the pretense of love, remembering how just as memorable early romance-free sexual revelations can be. The concluding lines—“I used her, she used me, but neither of us cared / we were getting our share”—are stunning in their simplicity and truthfulness.Adams, hopeless romantic that he is, goes for more of the sweet sixteen ideal—“Standing on your Mama’s porch / You told me that you’d wait forever / Ooh, and when you held my hand / I knew that it was now or never”. It’s touching stuff, of course, but Bobby wins for originality (and phrasing) on this one.Winner: “Night Moves”


Less Troubling Factual Innacuracies
Seger’s story in “Night Moves” mostly checks out, aside from the song’s somewhat dubious opening lines—“I was a little too tall / Could’ve used a few pounds.” Now, I don’t know what the Seeg’s measurements were back in ’62, but from the mid-70s onwards, the dude was practically half the size of the Motor City itself, and that’s definitely his lasting image. Claims that he could’ve “used a few pounds” make about as much sense today as if Dolly Parton had claimed to be jealous of Jolene’s rack.Still, he probably wins this one due to the far more glaring misinformation presented at the very core of “Summer of ’69,” which is of course that in the actual Summer of ’69, Adams had yet to even enter his teens, and unless he was a particularly macking nine-year-old, the song’s chronology is probably a little bit off. Needless to say, “Summer of ‘78” probably doesn’t sound as good, and it would definitely mean Adams couldn’t spend the outro yelling “Me and you in-a ’69!” (LOL!), and YES, I’m aware that complaining about this anachronism is about as fresh as complaining that the situations in “Ironic” aren’t actually ironic at all! But hey, I don’t make the rules.Winner: “Night Moves”


Chorus
This is sort of a fallacy, since strictly speaking, neither of these songs really have a chorus—they both have repeating blocks of similar lyrics set to the same melody, but both are always shifting, aside from one consistent line—“Working on our night moves,” and “Those were the BEST days of my life!” Much credit to both for creativity on this one, though it means I basically have to judge based on just the one line for each. On those grounds, “Summer of ‘69” takes pretty easily, if only for the unmistakable enthusiasm Adams puts into the word “best”—he means it, y’know.Winner: “Summer of ‘69”
Music Video
This might seem like a win-by-default for “Summer of ’69,” given the pre-MTV release of “Night Moves,” but not only did “Night Moves” have an after-the-fact video (helmed in ’94 by video-director-to-the-stars Wayne Isham), it’s one of the most underrated videos of the 90s. You would have had to have been watching MTV pretty religiously in the mid-90s (or at least caught the Pop-Up Video episode where I first saw it) to catch it, but it’s a fantastically shot piece of early-60s nostalgia, set (where else?) at the drive-in theater, where boys and girls steam up backseat windows, fumble to unbutton each others’ shirts, and so on. Best of all is the concession stand scene, between those paragons of mid-90s television, Matt LeBlanc and Daphne Zuniga, which might even trump Courtney Cox’s “Dancing in the Dark” sashaying for my all-time favorite “Friends” video cameo.That’s not to say that the “Summer of ‘69” video is much of a slouch, though. From the unforgettable black & white first shot of Adams busting out of his (van? Trailer home?) and leaping the fence with his first real six-string, through shots of him and his buds hassling shopkeeps (watch out for those slippery apples, coppers!) and, once again, making out with his girl at the drive-in, the video’s as romantic a testament to the glory of teenagedom as any (outside of the Pumpkins’ “1979,” anyway). Still, the lame switch to color halfway through—and that weird scene where after sharing a tender moment with his girl, Adams randomly walks away and starts lip synching the chorus, leaving her character probably extremely confused—clinches this for the Seeg.Winner: “Night Moves”


Bigger Place in Pop Culture History
Sadly, this one isn’t nearly as close as it deserves to be. “Night Moves,” despite its well-deserved eternal safety on classic rock radio, really isn’t as much of a widely-accepted pop culture touchstone as it merits, and few people under the age of 30 could probably sing more than the chorus. “Summer of ’69,” however, has proven to be unflinchingly preserving in the public consciousness, much to the chagrin of Ryan Adams and lots of other boring assholes out there. It’s a universally accepted synonym for nostalgia and youthful immortality, it’s covered by a new pop-punk band every six months, and it was even name-checked by The Bravery in their new tale of nostalgia-envy and regretful woe, “Time Won’t Let Me Go.” I still love ya, Bobby, but the Youth of America (and probably of that other big country up there) have spoken on this one.Winner: “Summer of ‘69”
Outro
Adams’ over-reliance on his intro as a selling point comes back to haunt him. As you probably could’ve been guessed by the song’s relatively ho-hum intro, Seger saves most of his really good stuff for the song’s minute-and-a-half outro. Over the song’s insistent two-chord strumming, and some appropriately soulful back-up singers yelping “NIGHT! MOVES!,” the Seeg lets loose his inner lonely, horny preacher, crying “LOOOOOORD I REMEMBER!! LOOOOOOOOOOOORD I REMEMBER!” and doing a damn good job of spreading the “Night Moves” gospel. It’s exactly what the song’s climax should sound like, and it doesn’t even use strings. Pretty impressive.The 45-sec outro to “Summer of ’69,” meanwhile, doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t heard before. Aside from the cheesy yelps of “Me and you in-a ’69!” mentioned earlier in the article, there’s not much to distinguish this part of the song from all the other post-chorus sections of the song. Not that it really needs it—the song’s already more than made its point and has more than earned the right to just fade away at the end. That’s not doing it any favors in this battle, though.Winner: “Night Moves”


More Potent Nostalgia
This might be the hardest battle of all to decide, since this is basically the point of both songs. Seeger’s yearning for the past is palpable in every second, in every guitar strum and every backing coo, and by the time of the “LORD I REMEMBER!” outro, it’s reached a fever pitch. Even when I was listening to the song back in my first years of high school, it made me feel like my best days were behind me, or at least that I better start living real good real quick, lest I not have anything to sing about with such passion when I reach my 30s.But “Summer of ‘69” wins this for me, because its sense of nostalgia is more well-rounded (and for me at least) more relatable. I didn’t do too much drive-in backseat steaming (regrettably), but I know the youthful power of music, of friends, of having that one summer where you feel so alive that you can’t conceive of ever having to grow old and die. “Summer of ‘69” manages to make room for those of us who didn’t get laid as much as Bob Seger apparently did, and I do appreciate that, Bryan.Winner: “Summer of ‘69”


Better “Now” Section
But just as important as the nostalgia component for these songs is the comparison to present times—without that, there’s no context for the nostalgia, and what’s the point? Bryan’s Summer of ’69 sure was great, but now it sounds like his life is pretty crappy—it sounds like all he does is wonder about what happened to him and his band, him and his old girlfriend (who failed to wait forever, apparently), and why nothing lasts forever. It’s actually surprisingly bitter when you listen to the song’s third verse (which I always forget about for some reason—naïve idealism, I guess), and it adds a nice edge and undercurrent of sadness to an otherwise extremely wistful song.But it’s Seger’s “now” that I prefer, and which in fact is probably my favorite section in either song. As the song’s backup bass, drums and backup singers all cut out, Bob slows everything down, even reducing the steady guitar line to a mere single strum, and he sings plaintively: “I woke last night to the sound of thunder / How far off I sat and wondered / Started humming a song from 1962 / Ain’t it funny how the night moves.” That’s the framing of real nostalgia to me, or at least the kind I prefer—not the “oh noes, where did my life go??” despairing kind, but the unexpected and spontaneous kind, where something like the sound of thunder can instantly send flooding back a whole host of memories—some pleasant, some not so, but all emotional and all real. Lord, I remember.Winner: “Night Moves”

FINAL SCORE: “Night Moves” 5 – “Summer of ‘69” 4

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For the Love of God: Get the Movies Out So We Don’t Have to Watch Your Damn Trailers Anymore

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 28, 2007

World Series promos, on the other hand


I can’t remember the last time I had two movies whose release I was so looking forward to. Within the next month, we have the release of two likely soon-to-be-huge summer comedies–License to Wed, out July 3rd, starring Robin Williams as a preacher who refuses to marry John Krasinski and Mandy Moore unless they pass his two-week marriage course or something, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, out July 17th, starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James as two dudes who fake a gay marriage for financial reasons. I’m counting the days till these movies get released–not because I want to see them or anything, but because I don’t want my beloved television to be innundated with their ungodly previews anymore.

License to Wed is, improbably, actually the lesser of the two evils. That said, it still features Robin Williams, the most annoying man alive, in what looks to be his most annoying role since at least the last one. In the previews, he does his Robin Williams schtick–wacky physical comedy and MC Hammer references that he seems to think are edgy, or at the very least not obviously being done by someone in his 50s, neither of which is even close to the case (though maybe they are to 50-somethings–sorry, I’m really not as ageist in real life as I probably seem on this blog).

Even worse, he’s suckered two of my favorite young-ish actors into his web of lies and unfunny impersonations–John Krasinski, better known to NBC fans as The Office‘s Jim Halpert, and Mandy More, better known as, depending on your age, the “Candy” pop tart, the Zack Braff-dating singer/songwriter and Scrubs guest star, or the Walk to Remember starlet that broke Vinny Chase’s heart on Entourage. I fear for the careers and credibility of both actors after they are forced to spend two teeth-pulling hours playing second and third fiddles to Sir Robin’s shitstorm–Michael Vartan’s career still hasn’t rebounded from his turn in One Hour Photo.

But the ads for this movie look like they’re for fucking Annie Hall compared to the ones for I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Looking more socially regressive than Nickelback dueting with Hinder at a Carlos Mencia benefit, Chuck and Larry seems sure to be a trot through 140 minutes (!!!!) of devestatingly humorless gay jokes and less offensive but equally cringeworthy sight gags (Kevin James! He falls down a ladder! And he hits his head on every rung!), with its only real draw seeming to be a half-minute’s worth of a sopping wet Jessica Beal stripping down to bra & panties–not bad, but like she could go a movie without doing that at least once anyways.

I’d expect no less from the likes of Kevin James–the King of Queens never looked like he was capable of much more anyway–but from Adam Sandler (and director Dennis Dugan), it’s pretty disappointing. C’mon guys, what happened to Happy Gilmore? When did the hard-headed, foul-mouthed, sexually ambiguous, manchild rebel of Sandler’s early movies become such a middle-of-the-road crowd pleaser? When did he start hanging out with Kevin fucking James? I mean, it was criminal when the Academy snubbed him for Punch Drunk Love, but did he have to go so far in the other direction? Tragic.

Robin Williams and the 21st century equivalent of blackface, that’s what we have to look forward to for laughter next month. And thanks to these omnipresent ads, I’m reminded of it every 15 minutes. Just get it over with already.

(Oh, and CoF fans, Rihanna’s up to five weeks on top now, with the only change in the top five being Plain White T’s moving up one to #4. Exhilerating shit.)

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Commercial Break: Kids Text the Darndest Things

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 27, 2007

Cheesy cell phone commercials, that’s what’s SNF

I was at a bar trivia dealie the other night, and when they announced the team names and scores, I had a good chuckle at the fact that one of the teams was named “IDK, my BFF Jill?” The team I was playing with, a group of women in their 30s (my regular team wasn’t there, and since I had to be at the bar anyway, I decided to freelance), looked at me very confusedly. I tried to explain why I was laughing, but I think it just confused them further (“Oh.”) Talk about a generation gap.

Anyway, if you’ve been watching and of the same TV channels I do at all during the last few months, you’ve no doubt seen the Cingular commercial in question, in which an angry (and similarly confused) mother confronts her daughter about her high cell phone bill. The twist, of course, is that the daughter talks–as kids are wont to do these days–in a dialect based almost entirely around text message-based acronyming (her main response being “OMG, INBD,” which the subtitles helpfully spell out for the 30+ crowd as “Oh My God, It’s No Big Deal”). The mother is miffed at her daughter’s flippancy, but is ultimately powerless against distinctly 21st century powers of vocabulary.

It’s all part of a memorable, but slightly despicable (and extremely obvious) trend in cell-phone advertising, one where cell phone companies make very self-conscious attempts to assimilate their products and gimmicks into youth culture. Previously the best example of this was T-Mobile’s “Who’s in Your Five?” commercials, the ones that created annoying would-be maxims like “You don’t give another man’s girlfriend a foot massage, and you definitely don’t put her in your FIVE!!” and generally made it seem like worrying about who to put in your five (and who was putting you in their five, or your significant other, etc.) was just something that all young people did. It was like these commercials were specifically created to be talked about ten years from now on I Love the 00s–a pathetic attempt to break into pop culture that (I pray, anyway) failed miserably.

This commercial’s a little bit better, because it is actually memorable in its own right, and has made a genuine impression on pop culture–YouTube is crawling with self-made videos parodies of the commercial, almost all titled “IDK, My BFF Jill?” (including this bizarro Pirates of the Carribean parody, set to Linkin Park’s ‘What I’ve Done”). It’s hard to say why this one’s so much better exactly, but I think it’s just a little better acted than the Five commercials. The little head turn and glare combination thing the daughter does when saying the now-classic line is crushingly spot on for teenage snottiness, and the way the mother can unflinchingly comrpehend and respond to her daughter’s newfangled textspeak is sort of clever. It’s not to say that the commercial isn’t annoying–it’s very annoying, of course–but at least it doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard.

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Flim New York: Knocked Up

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 26, 2007

“It’s a girl. Buy some pink shit.”

Yeah, so this movie happened, and I saw it. Generally speaking, I couldn’t have been less surprised with my reaction to it–it was exactly as good as I expected it to be, which is to say, it was consistently enjoyable, made me laugh out loud a couple times, and should have been at least 20 minutes shorter (has there ever been a romantic comedy that needed to be over two hours long? Save some for the DVD, guys). This is one of those times that pretty much everyone was right–the people who said it was one of the freshest and most original comedies in years, the people who said it was going to be huge and going to make a star out of Seth Rogan, even the people who said it was overrated (‘coz it was, a little bit–inevitable). So while I don’t have much new stuff to say about it, I thought a couple points were sort of worth making:

  1. I found it sort of fascinating how totally apolitical this movie is. And I don’t just mean in terms of the subject matter, but in terms of what this movie says about its target audience–which is absolutely nothing, because the target audience of Knocked Up is everyone. Going to this movie says absolutely nothing about yourself–it implies not gender, party affiliation, sexuality, social standing, religion, favorite color, not even whether you prefer the original Law & Order or SVU. It’s completely neutral, and I don’t think I know a single person (all right, I’ll be fair–not a single person under the age of 50) about whom I could say “That person would definitely not like Knocked Up“.
  2. The movie’s attempt to resurrect, however briefly, the legacy of Haircut 100’s “Love Plus One” does not go unappreciated. What a cool, totally inexplicable, semi-lost classic.
  3. Katherine Heigl’s solid, if not particularly remarkable or committed, performance in the movie sort of makes me curious about what her return to the cast of Grey’s Anatomy must have been like afterwards. It’s sort of like the pretty, popular girl going back to hanging out with all her jock and cheerleader friends after spending a few months hanging out at the stoners’ lunch table, no? Do you think she started making fart jokes and and instigating water balloon fights once she got back, eliciting stern, disapproving glares from Ellen Pompeo and T.R. “That’s not funny!” Knight? Or was she too relieved to have finally gotten back to the land of attractive, adult human beings? It’ll be very interesting to see where her career goes from here.
  4. Paul Rudd = unlikeliest The Man ever. But, here we are.
  5. The scariest thing about Knocked Up was probably the Ryan Seacrest cameo, the semi-metaness of which comes dangerously close to implying that the American Idol host is aware of–and even possibly in control of–how much he sucks. Ryan Seacrest being self-aware would be sort of like Nickelback saying “Yeah, we know our new album is fucking ass, but buy it anyway ‘coz we like making money.” I just don’t know if I could handle it.
  6. This movie has two big, huge unanswered questions behind its central premise, only one of which is interesting. The boring one is the easily ignorable one–why didn’t Heigl just get an abortion, or at least explain her reasons for not getting one? Whatever, she didn’t, who cares. The really troubling one to me–how the hell do five post-grads afford a house together in LA, limitless amounts of weed and ridiculous quantities of useless juvenile paraphernalia (I want one of those ping-pong officiating chairs so fucking bad) when its clear that none of them have anything resembling steady employment? I don’t ask this because the lack of realism bothers me, but rather because I fear that this Utopian set-up will validate a generation of college students’ ridiculous fantasies about the realities of what post-grad life is like, including my own. Why get a job when you can just stay at home with your friends all day getting high, giving each other pink eye and dancing to Ol’ Dirty Bastard? Movie should be rated NC-17, at least.

Posted in Flim New York | 2 Comments »

Hitting the TV Jackpot: VH1’s 40 Most Softsational Soft Rock Songs

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 25, 2007

“Ted, if I ever catch you producing anything but smooth music, I’ll quit singing forever”

It was only a matter of time, I suppose. I’m just thankful that VH1 finally shed the lame “Awesomely Bad” tag for this countdown, meaning that instead of ten irritating talking heads clammering about how hilariously ridiculous! it is to use the phrase “Wang Chung” as a verb, the commentators on VH1’s 40 Most Softsastional Soft Rock Songs actually displays a great deal of reverence for its subject–guarded and slightly sarcastic reverence, but reverence nonetheless. And given the recent critical validation of the genre, thanks in no small part to the hilarious Yacht Rock shorts produced by Channel 101 a few years back (whose creator, J.D. Ryznar, and fictionalized host, Hollywood Steve, both appear as commentators on the VH1 show), clearly the stars were in allignment for the genre’s classics to receive some much-deserved canonziation.

That said, it’s still a sorty of tricky subject to handle, since a lot of the songs on this list really aren’t that good. In fact, the top three–Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” Styx’s “Babe” and Christopher Cross’s “Sailing”–are all songs that would have me reaching for the dial if they came on the radio. But I can’t really find fault with their placement on this list, since even if there is no technical dictionary definition for the term “Softsational Soft Rock,” it’s hard to imagine any way of explaining the word that didn’t use those three songs–even if there’s absolutely no question in my mind that The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” (#8) and Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” (#5) are infinitely superior pieces of music. Like I said, it’s tricky.

To their credit, VH1 do a pretty good job of keeping the terms consistent–even if their definition of soft rock is a little broader than I probably would’ve stretched it (once you’re into Olivia Newton-John and Roberta Flack territory, I think you can pretty much forget about the Rock part and just call it Soft Music). Every song on the list is the kind that reflexively relaxes you into such a state that you don’t even realize it when you start singing along. Even some of the songs I normally wouldn’t have the time of day for had me smiling when put in a context like this.

My one main issue with the list, outside of some petty selection grievances (“A Horse With No Name” instead of “Sister Golden Hair,” “Mandy” instead of “Weekend in New England,” and a whole list of exclusions that I’ll get to later) is that it doesn’t quite have the balls to match the Softsational sounds of today against the classics of yesteryear. The most recent song on the list is Extreme’s “More Than Words,” from 1991, but what about future Soft Rock standards like Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” Five for Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” or Evan and Jaron’s “Crazy for This Girl”? The legacy of smooth lives on, and I feel like it would’ve been some hot shit to have seen Dido and John Mayer rubbing elbows with Anne Murray and Cat Stevens on the list.

Of course, 40 already isn’t nearly enough songs to really give any genre its proper due, and Soft Rock is no exception–here’s another 40 songs, using the same standards and timeframe as VH1, I was miffed that they left out (bold = particularly egregious exclusion):

  1. Bryan Adams – “Heaven”
  2. Ambrosia – “How Much I Feel”
  3. The Bee Gees – “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”
  4. Lindsey Buckingham – “Trouble”
  5. Eric Carmen – “All By Myself” (only about 200000000000 times better than every Barry Manilow song)
  6. Cheap Trick – “The Flame”
  7. Climax Blues Band – “Couldn’t Get it Right”
  8. Paul Davis – “I Go Crazy”
  9. Double – “The Captain of Her Heart”
  10. The Eagles – “I Can’t Tell You Why”
  11. Walter Egan – “Magnet and Steel”
  12. England Dan & John Ford Coley – “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”
  13. The Fifth Dimension – “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep At All”
  14. Foreigner – “Waiting for a Girl Like You” (or c’mon, at least “I Want to Know What Love Is”)
  15. Bruce Hornsby – “The Way It Is”
  16. Michael Jackson – “Human Nature”
  17. Bob James – “Angela”
  18. Jefferson Starship – “Miracles”
  19. KC & the Sunshine Band – “Please Don’t Go”
  20. Gordon Lightfoot – “If You Could Read My Mind”
  21. Little River Band – “Reminiscing”
  22. Maria Muldaur – “Midnight At the Oasis”
  23. Frank Mills – “Music Box Dancer”
  24. Mr. Big – “To Be With You” (having “More Than Words” and not this just feels wrong)
  25. Nilsson – “Without You”
  26. Alan Parsons Project – “Time”
  27. Player – “Baby Come Back”
  28. Gerry Rafferty – “Right Down the Line” (“Baker Street” rocks a little too hard)
  29. Roxette – “It Must’ve Been Love”
  30. Todd Rundgren – “Hello It’s Me”
  31. Joey Scarbury – “Theme from ‘Greatest American Hero'”
  32. Smokey Robinson – “Being With You”
  33. Spandau Ballet – “True”
  34. Starbuck – “Moonlight Feels Right”
  35. Steely Dan – “Hey Nineteen” (too credible? Bullshit)
  36. Al Stewart – “Time Passages”
  37. Bonnie Tyler – “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
  38. Wham! – “Careless Whisper”
  39. Wilson Philips – “Hold On”
  40. Gary Wright – “Really Want to Know You” (or “Dream Weaver” if we’re going populist)

Now with soft rock and metal taken care of, I’m just hoping VH1’ll start doing some top 40s for genres in between. Altastic Alt-Rock, anyone?

Posted in Hitting the TV Jackpot | 2 Comments »

Say Anything: The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” (1986)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 24, 2007

Way oh

Recently, IITS’s brother-in-arms Victor Lee wrote about the ’86 Mets anthem “Let’s Go Mets,” the so-called “second greatest sports team song of all-time,” over at his excellent, if extremely lazy blog Victor Sells Out. Talking about the song’s video, he compares it to the fairly famous clip for The Bangles’ 1986 #1 hit “Walk Like an Egyptian,” claiming that the same New York extras were in each (without the Mets uniforms in the Bangles vid) and speculates that “there was just a period in the mid-80s where you couldn’t walk down a street in New York without being filmed for a music video.” It got me thinking about the song and video, which I find to be among the most interesting of their time period. Some thoughts:

  • A frequent topic of debate in pop culture spheres is about which 80s all-girl band was cuter, The Go-Gos or The Bangles. To me, the clip for “Walk Like an Egyptian” makes this answer extremely obvious–I mean yeah, Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin were both cute in their own sort of paradigms (chipmunky spunk and cool-for-her-age mystery, respectively), but Susanna Hoffs’ shifty-eyed wonder neutralizes all competition (plus, even well into middle age, she’s still surprisingly hot). I bet the eye thing drives ball-and-chain / Austin Powers auteur Jay Roach wild.
  • Whistle breakdowns–every 80s hit should have at least one.
  • How many other rock hits use the different-singer-on-each-verse method? Sure, Boyz II Men used to do it all the time, but you never heard John, Paul and George trading off lead on any one Beatles song. Though very cool, it’s sort of hard to understand why they just didn’t give the whole song to Hoffs, who clearly gets the song better than Vicki Peterson or Michael Steele (who particularly fails to properly sell the chorus chant). While we’re on the subject, who the hell names their daughter Michael?
  • The song’s lyrical content–particularly Hoffs’ verse–hasn’t dated particularly well. “All the Japanese with their Yen / The party boys call the Kremlin / The Chinese know / They walk along like Egyptians.” Most distressing of all, however, is her assertion that “If you want to find all the cops / They’re hanging out in the donut shop.” C’mon guys, plenty of our boys in blue prefer danishes.
  • Though it’s hardly surprising, I was a little bit disappointed to find out that there’s no historical basis whatsoever for the popular conception of Walking Like an Egyptian. What else would be the point of living in Ancient Egypt?
  • A large percentage of the New York extras in the video clearly fail to grasp the general concept behind the Walk. I mean, really, this isn’t the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies or whatever–how hard is it to rotate your wrists and move them back and forth a little bit? Even the Statue of Liberty totally fucks it up, and don’t get me started on that old woman towards the end–she just sorta glides down the street. Must’ve been Steele’s grandmother or something.
  • The song’s groove is ridiculously underrated–surprisingly funky for a bunch of ex-Paisley Undergrounders. A little tambourine really goes a long way.
  • “Walk Like an Egyptian” was apprently one of the dozens of songs Deemed Inappropriate After 9/11, presumably because Americans were not yet ready to be reminded that other countries still existed. Tragic, though not quite astragic as the banning of Everclear’s “Santa Monica” and Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525” (?????)
  • The Bangles wore some big fucking earrings.

Hope you’re enjoying your Costa Rica trip / Home Improvement pilgrimage, Victor. Write more shit when you get back.

Posted in Say Anything | 1 Comment »

100 Years, 100 Songs: #85. Ween – “Birthday Boy”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 23, 2007

“You’re no longer a teenager, you’re a full-grown 20…”

All right, so full disclosure: this isn’t actually the 85th best song of all-time. My original list had it pegged at #77, which still seems about right to me. But fuck it, I turn 21 today, and I don’t really feel like writing about paranoid southern rap, so that’s gonna have to wait until next week. And of course, apologies to Gene and Dean for the eight-place insult–know that the moral victory is yours after the next eight classics, at least.

Birthday Boy” is by far my favorite birthday song of all-time. Which is sort of strange, I suppose, because a) superficially at least, the song is only tangentially about birthdays, and b) it’s actually kind of a downer. If I really felt like celebrating today, which I do, I should probably be writing about Neil Sedaka’s “Happy Birthday Sweet 16,” or that super-enthusiastic Stevie Wonder “Happy Birthday,” or at the very least, The Sugarcubes’ bittersweet”Birthday” (whcih, truth told, I am sort of bummed there isn’t room for on this list). But despite the undeniable joy and general celebratory vibes of those songs, they don’t get what a birthday’s really about for me. And “Birthday Boy” sort of does.

Ween’s not a band whose songs are generally associated with great displays of emotion. The number of love songs in their catalogue probably just outnumbers the number of songs about pot or tacos, and generally the songs about pot or tacos are better anyway. But if you insist to one of their fans that Ween are just a joke band, they’ll probably slice your throat before you get the last word out, and that’s because of songs like “Birthday Boy,” which is one of the most powerful, sincere indie love songs I’ve ever heard. It’s still a Ween song, for certain–the half-dozen false starts, the ridiculously lo-fi production, the outro courtesy of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” (the point of which I’m still unclear on, which is probably the point to begin with)–but even on an album full of lunacy as inspired as 1990’s GodWeenSatan, “Birthday Boy” is a hell of a blindsider.

The song’s story, as told in the first two verses and chorus, is a relatively simple and classic one–guy lets girl go, thinks he’s glad to do so, but then realizes how much he misses her, and how lonely he is without her. It’s devestating, though–partly because of the poignancy of the lyrics (“When the wind blows, and there’s a chill in the air / I hope that someone is taking care of you”), but mostly because of the song’s presentation–a simple guitar & vocal affair, but rather than play it for a cheap acoustic ballad, Ween turn the amps up to 17 and play one of the most heartfelt guitar lines you’ve ever heard as if it was something off of Raw Power. It’s almost as if they wanted to ensure that no college sophmore assholes would cheapen their masterpiece by using it to get laid (luckily for them, Extreme’s “More Than Words” was released one year later and the issue became a moot point).

But the section that seals the deal for “Birthday Boy” is after the second chorus, when two answering machine messages that Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman got on his birthday are played (don’t know if they were for real or not, but it doesn’t really matter). Broadcast while the super-melancholy riff is still playing, it makes me feel like just about every birthday has since I got out of High School–not so much a time for unmitigated joy and partying, but more of a time for serious reflection, for thinking about the things your life is lacking and the things that you should probably try to fix over the next year. And even though it seems unrelated to the rest of the song, it’s exactly the conclusion that “Birthday Boy” needs, because it’s getting answering machine messages like that that probably would prompt Gene to write this song.

So salut, Gene and Dean. I’ll see if they have Meddle on the jukebox at the bar tonight.

Posted in 100 Years 100 Songs | 6 Comments »

Time of the Season: S2 of How I Met Your Mother (’06-’07)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 22, 2007

“That’s two”

Now this is exciting. I’m not sure how the creators of How I Met Your Mother somehow managed to view all my (still only a few) criticisms of Season One and somehow retroactively correct Season Two so that most of them no longer applied at all, but I sure as hell salute them for doing it. S2 of HIMYM not only ensures my viewership for season three (even though I’ll probably have to Torrent everything), but gets it put on my Must-Pimp short list for anyone unfortunate enough to enter into a conversation about the state of contemporary television with me.

The most immediate thing about season two is that they sorta de-wussified Ted, meaning the show is no longer burdened with APS (Annoying Protagonist Syndrome–learn it by heart, ‘coz it’s the last time I’m spelling it out for you fly-by-night IITS readers). Since he’s together with Robin for the whole season, we no longer have to worry about a perpetually lovelorn Ted waxing poetic about the nature of love and being single and other such bullshit, or garnering enough courage to really tell the girl how he feels, for the 115th time. Sure, he and Robin still get into fights a couple times over the course of the season, but it’s relatively low-key and surprisingly unrepetitive stuff, so we can let it pass (and Robin, who previously threatened to be the show’s weak link character, has stepped up her game enough to no longer be a worry).

Even the moralizing and lesson stuff doesn’t really stand in the way too much this time around. Most of the actual narrative arc of the second season is featured around Marshall and Lily (who having called off their wedding at the end of the first season for Lily to find herself in San Fransisco, are temporarily broken up, though obviously it’s only a matter of time before they get back together again), and they tend to be much less heavy-handed with this business than Ted and Robin. More than any TV couple since Kirsten and Sandy Cohen, I actually want the success of their relationship to be uninterrupted from here on out–the new contenders for primetime’s dream couple.

But the real reason this season is so head-and-shoulders above the last is that it’s just a lot funnier, most of which can still be chalked up to the man with the plan himself, Neil Patrick Harris. NPH is largely behind the two funniest episodes of the season–“Slap Bet” and “Showdown,” two episodes so hilarious that they elevate HIMYM to the highest strata of 00s sitcoms, putting it in contention with Scrubs, The Office and Arrested Development for best of the decade. I won’t ruin the delights they contain within for those of you out there still uninitiated, but suffice to say, if you see no other episodes of the show, see these two–you’ll have no choice but to see the rest afterwards anyway.

There is still one doubt that lingers with me, even though it hasn’t been a problem so far–the limited cast. S2 of HIMYM featured virtually no other characters in strong roles this season except the main five (with the possible exception of Barney’s gay brother, played by Wayne Brady, but that was just a one-ep cameo), and now that Lily and Marshall are together for good, and Robin and Ted are broken up for good, there’s really nowhere else for the show to go unless it gets some new blood in it real quick.

But taking a lead from the show, we’ll let future-How I Met Your Mother deal with that problem. Right now, the show is so good that it’s hard to believe it’s still struggling so much in the ratings–how is this not the Friends of the 00s yet, except actually funny? Or does that answer my question right there? Once again, way to go, country.

Posted in Time of the Season | 2 Comments »

Charts on Fire: 06-21-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 21, 2007

“Umbrella” takes week #4 at the top spot–somehow managing to be the longest-running #1 of the year so far (besides “Irreplaceable,” which started its run in ’06). Rest of the top ten is pretty boring (Shop Boyz, Fergie, T-Pain, Plain White T’s, Maroon 5, Avril Lavigne, Justin Timberlake, Amy Winehouse and Lil’ Mama, respectively), with the Lil’ one being the only new entry to the top strata (12-10). I suppose, yes, “Umbrella” has officially made its claim for Summer Jam status, but has a mediocre UK indie band done a semi-ironic cover of it yet, though? Because it can’t be a summer jam until a mediocre UK indie band sucks the life out of it at least once.

Fabolous is the big jumper in the top 40 this week, up 61 spots this week with his new Ne-Yo guesting single “Make Me Better” (boring even by Fabbo standards, yikes, #13), joining Sean Kingston’s very near hot one “Beautiful Girls” (#37) and Timbaland’s gramatically superior “The Way I Are” (probably one of the better Shock Value tracks, #40) as the three new ons to the top 40 this week. New to the bottom strata of the top 50 are Boys Like Girls’ “The Great Escape” (sorta non-descript emo pop/rock, but hey, I guess it’s summer or something, #44) and Eve’s hott-at-first-but-now-just-kinda-whatever “Tambourine” (#50).

My Chemical Romance have the top debut to the top 100 this week with the surprisingly swaggering “Teenagers” (I guess every decent semi-androgynous rock band has to ape T. Rex at least once, #87). Joining them in the bottom half of the list for the first time are Jack Johnson, whose “Imagine” cover (presumably for that John Lennon tribute album that debtued in the top 20 this week) is at #93, and Plies f/ T-Pain’s “Shawty,” which seems like a pretty lame excuse to get T-Pain on yet another hit single, at #94. Yawn.

Big Dog Daddy Toby Keith has the #1 album this week, yee-haw. And KoRn has the new Worst Song Ever in the Modern Rock top 20 this week. Nice one, country.

Posted in Charts on Fire | 1 Comment »

Time of the Season: S1-S3 of Homicide: Life on the Street (’93-’95)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 20, 2007

“Virtue isn’t virtue unless it slams up against vice. So consequently, your virtue’s not real virtue. Until it’s been tested… tempted.”

For some reason, I expected Homicide: Life on the Street to pretty much be exactly like The Wire, except more dated and less intense. Well, the reasons were actually pretty obvious–both are set in Baltimore, both are about the city’s crime and brutality, both are based off of work by David Simon, and they even share a couple cast members (so far I’ve spotted Larry Gilliard Jr., The Wire‘s D’Angelo Barksdale, and Al Brown, The Wire‘s Stan Valchek). Not to mention that most people above the age of 30 who I’ve talked to or who have seen my posting about The Wire immediately followed with Homicide raves. And I just couldn’t see how the show could possibly measure up to the scope, the excitement or the realism of The Wire.

It didn’t really occur to me that Homicide would have different goals altogether. It’s a much, much smaller show than The Wire–focusing on about a dozen recurring characters rather than the hundreds in the Wireverse, concentrating pretty much solely on the law instead of playing both sides of the fence, and showing much more interest in character and dialogue than in labyrinthine plots and multi-leveled story arcs. It’s really almost impossible to compare the two in any coherent manner, which is probably a very good thing.

Anyway, enough about The WireHomicide is just a damn good show. The acting is spot on across the board–I had no idea how much of the cast I already knew, besides Andre Braugher (who is arguably the show’s lead, even winning a Best Actor Emmy for it some seasons later), there’s Ned Beatty, Yaphet Kotto, Kyle Secor (Jake Kane in Veronica Mars), Richard Belzer (originating his much span-off John Munch role), Jon Polito (the fat, bald Coen Bros. regular), even Daniel Baldwin in a totally non-embarrassing role. There’s not a weak actor or character in the bunch, and it’s really a perfectly balanced ensemble, so much so that an episode could pair any two of the detectives at random for an hour and it’d be compelling no matter who they chose.

And the writing must be some of the best I’ve ever seen on broadcast TV. It’s probably not as realistic a depiction of Homicide banter as the lazy, crude Wire speak, but it’s rich enoguh that it’s hard to really care–each of the characters is a philosophizer in their own right, and it quickly becomes apparent that the show is as much about existential angst and the crumminess of human nature as it is a bunch of cops solving crimes. The first season’s two best episodes–“Night of the Dead Living” and “Three Men and Adena,” both of which will surely rank in this blog’s inevitable 100 Years, 100 TV Episodes list–play more like great absurdist one-acts than TV shows.

This changed somewhat by the time of the third season, in which network brass, wary of the low ratings Homicide was pulling in, forced the show to open up a bit. The show went through several very obvious transitions, including the canning of the highly unphotogenic Jon Polito (which leads me to wonder, what exactly is the nicest way to tell someone “You’re fired because your ugly ass is costing us viewers”?), the beginning of several occasionally ridiculous romantic subplots (my personal favorite being Secor’s dalliances with an Asian fetishist in her coffin-shaped bed), and more gimmicky hooks to bring in audiences (crossovers with Law & Order, a Christmas episode, cliffhanger endings, a finale taken from the criminals’ point of view). The show also started pulling in all sorts of guest stars, from Robin Williams to Steve Buscemi to even a ridiculous pre-credit appearance from John Waters.

It makes for some good, solid conventional television–I especially liked the subplot with Belzer, Secor and Clark Johnosn opening up their own bar, and the myriads of problems they run into–but ultimately, it’s a shame that they had to stray from the minimalism and no-frills grittiness that made the first two seasons (or really, first season and a half–S2 runs a whopping four episodes) feel so unique. But the characters are still great, the writing is still top-notch, and the credit sequence (which I wasn’t sure about at first, but has definitely hooked me since) reels me in every time. I wonder if NYPD Blue holds up this well.

Posted in Time of the Season | 1 Comment »