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Take Five: One-Hit Wonders Behaving Badly

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 27, 2010

Pop music is all about knowing your place. Legacy can most easily be defined as intentions divided by results, with the return being better the closer the two quantities are. If you foisted just one song on the general public over the course of your career, and you didn’t try particularly hard after that, chances are you will be looked favorably upon in history–assuming the song was at least half-decent and didn’t stick around too long past its sell by date. But try to stretch that one hit into four or five lesser numbers, refusing to go quietly into that good night, and the image starts to corrode, as we begin to wonder why we ever even let you hang around in the first place. Not everyone gets to be Madonna or Michael Jackson, and frankly, if you ask me, it’s a lot easier and not particularly less noble to shoot for Stacey Q or Rockwell instead. Learn it, live with it.

This could have been one of the great eras for one-hit wonders in popular music. The last three or four years have featured an impressive stream of quirky pop hits by largely disposable pop artists–as most chart-watchers will tell you, this is a good thing, a trend that should be both celebrated and protected. Yet a couple troublemakers in this class of up-and-comers-and-then-goers simply refuse to be team players, attempting to stretch their fifteen minutes into half-hours and longer with lesser follow-ups and uninspired reinventions. They pollute our airwaves and cause irreperable damage to their lingering memory. Of these recent fugitives from pop justice, here are the five most wanted subjects. Read the rest of this entry »

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Take Five: Delineating the Qualifications for “M! V! P!” Chant Recipients

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 25, 2010

You know the scene. A star player on a home team gets fouled, and as he goes to the free-throw line to take his compensatory shots, the crowd serenades him with the salutatory chant: “M! V! P!…M! V! P!” The implication, of course, is that the crowd is endorsing their franchise player as a worthy selection for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.  But while these chants may have been more practical in nature once upon a time–it’s hard to say exactly when, where, why or for whom they started, and they might even have their roots in other sports–these days, the award is handed down by adoring crowds with precious little discretion. For instance, during a recent playoff contest between the Bulls and Cavaliers in Chicago, I noticed that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose being the recipient of such a chant. Now, Rose is indeed a fine player, one who has played particularly well this post-season, and one who one day very well may find himself in post-season-award contention. But the kid is just a second-year player who was ineffective and/or injured for half the season and has yet to even make the All-Star Team (whoops, he actually made the ASG this year, though I’m not entirely sure how). In any event, MVP, he is most certainly not.

Now, truth be told, I absolutely love this custom of NBA culture. During the right situation, with the right crowd and the right player, these chants can be absolutely electrifying, the most vocal, emotional and appropriate way for a fanbase to show their true appreciation for their beloved star. But I would like to install some sort of system to ensure that the players receiving these accolades are indeed worthy of such honors. If we keep letting the bar slip lower and lower like this, soon enough they’re gonna be yelling “M! V! P!” at Andray Blatche during Wizards home games. Amusing as that would be, it would cheapen the credibility of the chant far more than I’m comfortable with.

So I have a short list of player categories that, in my opinion, qualify him for the fan-MVP designation. If your guy does not fall into any of these categories, please find a more appropriate three-syllable chant to proffer during his next appearance at the charity stripe.

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Take Five: Looking on the Bright Side With the Blake Griffin Injury

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 14, 2010

As an NBA fan, this was really one of the last things you wanted to see happen this season. It was bad enough when Blake Griffin, the #1 pick of the 2009 draft, had to sit out the first three months of this season with knee injuries, but reports came recently that Griffin, just a week away from his tentatively-scheduled debut with the Los Angeles Clippers, would be undergoing further surgery, now lost for the entire season. It sucks for many reasons, mostly because unlike many recent high draftees (Oden, Rose, Durant to an extent), where we were cautioned that it would take time for star potential to develop into star performance, Griffin looked for all the world like he could come in and be the best player on a playoff team right away. Everything about his game and his makeup screamed “NBA-Ready,” and the Clippers were starting to heat up just in time, playing their best ball of the season in anticipation of his arrival. Everyone wanted to see the kid, and everyone wanted to see the kid succeed. Now…well, balls.

There’s a whole, whole lot of additional negative to focus on with this injury–the destructive impact it’ll have on the petulant drive of Clippers point guard Baron Davis, the bad lineage it now puts Griffin in with regards to the history of big men with early-career health issues, even the further perpetuation of the so-called “Clipper Curse” that it represents. But there’ll be plenty of people who are going to be happy to tell you all about those. I’m more interested in focusing on the positives–few in number and poor in consolation that they may be–that seem possible to arise from Blake’s unfortunate, if not exactly unpredictable, circumstances. Here’s five potential benefits to the injury woes you might not have contemplated. (Unless of course, you saw me Tweet about them earlier, in which case, apologies for the double dip):

1. Gets a Legitimate Chance at Rookie of the Year Honors. Early on, some pundits were wondering if, in this year’s supposed weak rookie class, Griffin could swoop in at the beginning of 2010 and play well enough to merit Rookie of the Year honors, even with missing the first two months of the season. Unexpected breakthroughs from rookie PGs Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans, however, dwindled the likelihood of that down to nil. Now Blake gets a full season to make his case, and for a rook as hyped as he, it seems only fair. Besides, with the presumed NBA debut of current Kentucky point John Wall (a prospect currently causing NBA scouts to speak in tongues) coming in the same season, it could set up a nifty little “Griffin vs. Wall” debate that could make for the most exciting ROY debate since LeBron vs. Darko. OK, bad example, but…you know.

2. Avoids Friction with Marcus Camby in the Frontcourt. Camby, the Clippers’ 14th-year power forward, is clearly the past, while Griffin, who plays the same position, is undoubtedly the future. But the Camby Man has played fairly well this year, and despite his cringeworthy shooting touch and near-non-existing mobility, he can still be dominant enough on defense and on the boards to rightly demand playing time. With center Chris Kaman elevating his play to a near-All-Star level, something’s gotta give, and if Griffin did struggle early, he’d have Camby breathing down his neck and possibly subbing for him in late-game situations, potentially hurting the future star’s confidence. With Camby a free agent at year’s end, however, and the Clips unlikely to re-sign him, Grififn can enter next year unquestioned as the team’s starting power forward. And we’d all avoid a bunch of annoying blog debates about how to split up the trio’s PT in the process.

3. Misses the Ricky Davis Era in Los Angeles Completely. With Stephon Marbury on the outs with the NBA, Zach Randolph and Ron Artest having rehabbed their images, and Vince Carter playing (if not exactly thriving) on a decent team for once, the shortlist is now down to Tim Thomas and Ricky Davis for the proud honors of being the NBA’s most infamous cancer. To be fair, neither is really getting enough playing time to perpetuate any real on-court malaise, but lord only knows what goes on behind closed doors in those locker rooms. With Davis’s contract expiring at the end of the year, it seems likely that Blake will never actually have to share the floor with him. And while Davis’s presence wouldn’t necessarily guarantee draft bust status–that guy the Cavs took with the #1 in ’03 turned out OK–you don’t really want to take any chances with this shit, do you? Especially not a karmically-challenged squad like the Clippers.

4. (Possibly) Gets a New Draft Pick and New Coach to Work With. It’s far from guaranteed, but envision the not-too-far-fetched scenario: With Griffin out for the year and the post-season starting to fade beyond the horizon, Baron Davis goes into Operation Shutdown mode, undercutting his recent inspired play by packing on another 20 pounds and reverting to chucking up five threes a game. Kaman and Gordon miss time with their recurring injuries, and suddenly the team is giving key minutes to Steve Novak and Brian Skinner. Losses pile on and the team slips into the Western Conference cellar. But, there’s a silver lining: With the bad vibes mounting to a new high around the Clippers franchise, Donald Sterling finally offers the fanbase an olive branch by firing much-detested coach Mike Dunleavy, luring Avery Johnson or Jeff Van Gundy back from ESPN’s clutches to take his place. Now Griffin has a decent coach, and in all probability, a high lottery pick–maybe a defensive-minded swingman, or a better backup point for Baron Davis than Sebastian Telfair–to start his career with next season. Wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

5. Has Plenty of Time to Hone His NBA Sense of Humor. Don’t underestimate the importance of this one. From all indications, not only is Griffin a phenomenal athlete, a commendable teammate and a tireless worker, but the seeds of him having one of the better senses of humor in the league are definitely there as well. I remember a quote from an ESPN The Magazine profile where after Clips sharp-shooter Steve Novak missed a three or something in practice, Blake went over to him and with a straight face–so much that Novak wasn’t even sure he was kidding–offered to work on him with his shooting if he needed. It’s not so much the joke, which is only mildly funny at best, as the fact that he did it with a straight face. Do you have any idea how few players in the NBA can pull off a straight face? I seriously doubt you need a second hand to count them–most are so comedically clumsy, and so in love with the idea of themselves actually trying to make a joke, that the straight face (which in many ways is the key to being funny) is basically impossible. Plus, his response to a question about L.A. being big enough for both him and Kobe (“I don’t know if it’s even big enough for Kobe himself”) shows an awareness, and a knack for off-the-cuff repartee, that is similarly rare among the NBA greats. He’s got the raw potential, and we need funny dudes in the NBA even more than we need quality big men. So in between rehabbing stints, I hope Blake’s concentrating on what’s important, and doing plenty of fucking around on YouTube, maybe filming a SportsCenter spot or two for ESPN.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, Take Five | 2 Comments »

Take Five: 00s TV Couples Improved By Ditching the Boring One for the Jerk

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 18, 2009

After missing the second half of the first and the first half of the second season of True Blood (more due to a lack of HBO than anything), I picked up watching again with some friends of mine recently. I was glad to see that they seemed to have expanded the show to a wider cast of characters, themes, and freaky supernatural phenomena (Shape-shifters! Demons of self-indulgence! Frank Sobotka from The Wire!), while leaving some of the groanworthier plots from S1 in the dust. Still, having Bill and Sookie (Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin) at the center of it all was proving to be something of a hinderance–with all the excitement around them, the two were proving to be little more than wet blankets with irritating vocal tics. If the love story between the two was really supposed to be the driving force of the show, that could’ve been a major roadblock to True Blood‘s long-term success.

In last week’s episode, though, a wrench was put into the works–Eric (played by Alexander Skarsgard, son of Lars Von Trier favorite Stellan) tricked Sookie into sucking his blood, forming a bond with her, which in the ceaselessly libidinous True Blood universe means that Sookie is now unconsciously drawn to Eric as well. We saw this in action as Sookie had a fantasy dream about Eric–one which stunned me and my friends watching it, as it contained more passion, chemistry and just general hotness than all of Sookie and Bill’s scenes had combined through the first season and a half. Skarsgard is certainly a better looking guy than Moyer, but without all the brow-furrowed seriousness that had come to define Bill and Sookie’s relationship, Paquin looked cuter and just more red-blooded than she had since the show started as well. It’s an interesting dilemma for the show, but an even more interesting one for the audience, who now I’m sure has no idea if they want Bill’s true love to win out over the con game of the rogue-ish Eric, or if they think maybe Sookie’s better off this way after all.

The more I thought about this situation, the more I realized that this was really not an uncommon phenomenon in TV in general this decade–in fact, it’s close to becoming damn near formulaic. It’s nothing new, of course–everyone loves the bad boy/girl, right?–but you’d be shocked at the number of shows in recent years that were improved by giving a main character a switch from a boring, super-serious love interest to a sleazier, more caustic one. Consider the following…

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Posted in Take Five, TV O.D. | 5 Comments »

Schadenfraude / Take Five: Pun Disses of “Year One”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 19, 2009

Year One

  • “Talk about a disaster of biblical proportions!” –Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News
  • “So simple even a caveman will appreciate it. Correction: Make that only a caveman.” –Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post
  • “And the studio did open “Year One.” And the people did see it. And then the wailing and gnashing of teeth did truly begin, and the people did rend their garments once more, even those cute white capris that they just got at such a sale you wouldn’t believe.”-Stephen Whitty, New Jersey Star Ledger
  • “Its script isn’t worth the papyrus it’s printed on” / “THOU SHALT NOT SEE IT”-Kyle Smith, New York Post
  • Sets prehistoric comedy back at least 20 years.” –Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

Posted in Schadenfreude, Take Five | 1 Comment »

Take Five: The Core of a Historically Bad Fantasy Baseball Team

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 6, 2009


I participated in my first ever live auction baseball draft–an NL-only league set up by friends of friends–before the start of the baseball season, and boy, was it a thing of beauty. I’d done internet roto drafts before, but being a junkie for true geekdom, this was like going straight from passing around a joint to freebasing heroin–those suspenseful moments where you think you might be getting a steal on a backup corner infielder being essentially what I live for. This was also my first time in a fantasy league where real money was involved, so I didn’t want to take it lightly–I did my requisite reading, I created my tier systems, I learned about what prospects were on the ascent, and when draft day finally came, I felt I put together a pretty decent roster. I made a couple rookie mistakes, sure–I lowballed on a couple bargain players too early and ended up having a ridiculous amount of money left to spend all on Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez–but I thought it was a lineup that would stay competitive throughout the year.

Well, as the saying goes, you can’t win fantasy championships in your first month, but you sure can lose them. How bad are my boys, the Ontario Obscelences, doing a month into the season? Well, the league leader currently has 67.5 points, based on his high rankings in various offensive categories, and most of the other teams are lagging behind them in the 50s and 40s. I currently sit at 9th with a galling 20.5–a full 24 points behind the 8th place team, which is farther behind him than he is behind the first place team. I’m talking Detroit Lions bad, Los Angeles Clippers bad, Dallas Academy bad. It’s so dispiriting that I can’t even pretend to monitor the waiver wire in the hopes of catching untapped talent, or try to deal my players to other teams, without just laughing at myself for even trying to make a project out of these losers. I am officially the Isiah Thomas of Fantasy GMs.

How did it get this bad? Well, part of it is totally my fault, as I ended up getting stuck wtih snakebit players that I made low bids on and ended up getting stuck with–Josh Willingham (.143 BA, 1 HR), Juan Pierre (only one steal so far for my speed demon) and Chan Ho Park (8.57 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 0 wins) all among them. But some of it I refuse to take full credit for, as a disturbingly high number of my upside guys just disappeared altogether–vanishing acts that even their biggest doubters couldn’t have predicted. And so, the five guys who can take primary credit for my team hitting the golf courses early this season:

  1. Geovany Soto (C), Cubs (.167 BA, 0 HR, 4 RBI) Getting two good catchers was important to me for my team, so I picked up Geo early on in the draft, and got Jesus Flores as a respectable backup some rounds later. Flores has done his part, putting up a decent .288 with 2 HRs and 11 RBI. Soto, however, got injured early on, and has limped his way to a sub-Mendoza batting average and not a single longball since. Last year’s rookie of the year hit .285 with 23 dingers and 86 RBI, excellent numbers for a backstop–so much so that Soto even got enough MVP votes to finish 13th in that race. This year, it’s starting to look like even among Cubbie catchers, career backup Koyie Hill might have been a wiser–and much, much cheeper–investment.
  2. Troy Tulowitzki (SS), Rockies (.213 BA, 3 HR, 7 RBI) I was positive that I got two incredible bargains out of the Rockies lineup when I landed Todd Helton for $2 and Troy Tulowitzki for $12, convinced both were due for huge bounceback years. After a slow start, Helton is making me look smart enough by hitting in the .330s, but after hitting three home runs in the first week or so, Tulo has disappeared for the second straight season, slinking lower and lower in the Colorado lineup and losing more and more playing time to Clint Barmes and Ian Stewart. Two seasons ago, this guy was drawing comparisons to Cal Ripken Jr. and leading the Rockies to the World Series as a rookie–what the fuck happened, Troy?? On the plus side, Tulo has swiped a pair of bases so far–which, disturbingly enough, currently makes him the steals leader on my lead-footed lineup.
  3. Edwin Encarnacion (3B), Reds (.127 BA, 1 HR, 6 RBI) Part of a more or less around-the-horn underwhelming Reds lineup thusfar, Encarnacion was the last of the semi-decent third-baseman available when I nabbed him for $11 with the 121st pick. I didn’t expect huge numbers, but I expected something a little bit more in line with the 26 HRs and 68 RBI that he put up last season than with these minimalist numbers. Luckily, Edwin put me out of misery by going on the DL early, allowing me to slot in homeboy Pedro Feliz in his place, who–like everyone on the Phils outside of Jimmy Rollins and our backup catchers–is putting up offensive numbers that are positively silly. Hard to imagine the double E supplanting him anytime soon.
  4. Lastings Milledge (OF), Nationals (.167 BA, 0 HR, 1 SB) Yeah, OK, so I was obviously taking a chance going for a troubled, raw youngster like The Edge, but hey, even Elijah Dukes is hitting .300-ish with four home runs, and those are steroid numbers compared to what Lastings has given me this season. Forget this being a breakout year, Milledge will be lucky if he can even break his way into the Nats’ starting lineup, what with their glut of outfielders and their increasing impatience with shenanigans. He’s currently toiling away at triple A, hopefully in time to at elast give me one player at the end of the year with double-digit steals–so pathetic is my team’s baserunning that I think Carl Crawford has swiped more bags in his last two games than my ENTIRE 14-MAN OFFENSIVE ROSTER has all season. I don’t even understand how that’s humanly possible.
  5. Milton Bradley (OF), Cubs (.130 BA, 2 HR, 2 RBI) I saved the worst for last here, of course. The knock on Milt has always been that he’s as offensively brilliant a player as there is in the game when he’s on the field, but he can never stay on the field for a whole season at a time. Well, at this point, him going down for the season might actually be a good thing for my team. He sucked for the first few weeks, went out for a while with a strained something or another, came back, and has sucked even more. And what’s really insulting is that Kosuke Fukudome–last year’s titanic disappointment, who wasn’t even supposed to be in the starting lineup this year–has looked to be one of the steals of the draft thusfar at $2, hitting .315 with four homers, 18 RBI and a few swipes. Next year, I think I’m just staying away from this fucking team altogether. I don’t even like ’em that much.

If I ever see any of you guys on the street, you owe me a pretzel or something.

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Take Five More: Second Hits of VH1’s Top 100 One-Hit Wonders of the 80s

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 6, 2009


As is all too rarely the case on this blog, I actually had more to say about the two-hit wonders shoehorned into VH1’s Top 100 One-Hit Wonders of the 80s list than I could fit into last night’s post. So here are five more classics (and, uh, near-classics) that VH1 is conspiring to have written out of the history of pop music:

  • Will to Power – “I’m Not in Love” (#7, 1991). Everything about Will to Power screams one-hit wonder. “Baby I Love Your Way / Free Bird (medley)” (#97 on VH1’s list) was one of the more ridiculous #1 hits of the late 80s, a relatively purposeless cramming of two AOR radio staples into a pillowy soft-rock medley groove, and the band itself set off all sorts of OHW red flags–named after a Nietzschean philosophical concept, masterminded by a biker-looking guy with a ridiculous moustache, etc. But remarkably enough, there was a second top ten hit to come out of the whole mess–“I’m Not in Love,” a cover of 10cc’s gorgeous, singular 70s anti-love song. You could argue that it kind of nullifies what was so amazing and unique about the original version, but in a way, that just makes me respect 10cc’s version more, because “I’m Not in Love” still works beautifully given the Will to Power treatment as a wispy, MOR-ish torch song. It even hit in 1991, meaning Will to Power can claim to being an integral part of two decades of adult contemporary music!
  • Patrice Rushen – “Haven’t You Heard?” (#42, 1980). Patrice is known to most sane people as the chick who did the song that Will Smith sampled for the “Men in Black” theme (which, looking back on it now, might have been the very last truly ridiculous smash hit to be inextricably tied to the movie it comes from–can you imagine Transformers or Pirates of the Carribean having a mega-hit theme song like that?), and some might also know that “Forget Me Nots” (#86 on the VH1 list) is a pretty good song in its own right. Props to ex-Stylus co-writer Tal Rosenberg, however, for hipping me to “Haven’t You Heard?,” Patrice’s older hit from the tail end of the disco era. It’s one of the most burstingly exuberant songs I’ve ever heard, and the piano hook–that simple, little two-note tease that runs throughout the song–is one of the most inexplicably infectious hooks of an era absolutely packed with ’em.
  • The Outfield – “Since You’ve Been Gone” (#31, 1987). One-hit wonder? Uh, try five top 40 hits between 1986 and 1990. Of course, none of them were as unforgettably soaring as “Your Love” (#59 on the VH1 list), and consequently that was the only one remembered. But I definitely dig “Since You’ve Been Gone” (which I first heard, strangely enough, as the representative choice for The Outfield on the otherwise front-running Like, Omigod!: The 80s Pop Culture Box (Totally)) almost as much–it’s another immaculately produced, anthemic love song that sounds like a power-pop / arena-rock hybrid (or, in other words, a combination of the best things about the mainstream rock from the first half of the decade). Coming during the time of Girls, Girls, Girls and Looked What the Cat Dragged In, however, it’s not too hard to see why it slipped through the sands of time.
  • John Waite – “Change” (#16 Mainstream Rock, 1982). Actually, John Waite did have two other top 40 hits–“Tears” (#37, 1984) and “Every Step of the Way” (#25, 1985)–but his second best-remembered song is probably this adrenaline-pumper from two years before his #1 “Missing You” (#33 on VH1’s list)–which, for the record, is still one of the greatest love songs to ever top the charts. Written by Holly Knight (who wrote or co-wrote similarly invigorating 80s classics like Animotion’s “Obsession,” Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” and Scandal’s “The Warrior”), “Change” never hit the pop charts, but was a deserved rotation staple in MTV’s early days, and even became part of that rarified canon of cheesy 80s soundtrack montaging due to its use in Vision Quest a few years later. Oh yeah, and Waite also had about a half-dozen other hits during his years with The Babys and Bad English. “Missing You” wouldn’t be a bad legacy to leave on pop music, but truly, it is but a mere chapter in the epic John Waite story.
  • Dead or Alive – “Brand New Lover” (#15, 1987). Not that “You Spind Me ‘Round (Like a Record)” (#19 on VH1’s list) isn’t about as much Dead or Alive as one could possibly need for a lifetime (and given its recent regurgitation in Flo Rida’s largely unbearable “Right Round,” that in itself might already be too much). But growing up, I remember hearing “Brand New Lover” on 80s radio and archival VH1 stuff about as often as I heard “You Spin Me ‘Round,” and assumed that the two were about on equal footing cutlurally. And really, the two songs are about equal in their virtues and faults, so if you wanted to swap one’s place in history out for the other;s, I doubt anyone would mind terribly. But nevertheless, an interchangable two-hit wonder is still not the same thing as a one-hit wonder. Take note before the 90s list, VH1—you can’t just pretend that songs like “Real, Real, Real” and “Wifey” don’t exist.

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Take Five: Second Hits from VH1’s Top 100 Hit Wonders of the 80s

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 6, 2009


VH1 recently made my week by trotting out their list of the Top 100 Hit Wonders of the 80s over the course of five nights, hosted by the irrepressible Judah Friedlander. “Now hold on a minute,” you’re undoubtedly thinking to yourself. “Hasn’t VH1 already done this countdown, like, a dozen times already?” Or so you’d think. But while they’ve indeed put forth their selections for the Top 100 Songs of the 80s, and the Top 100 Hit Wonders of All-Time, this is the first time to date that they’ve combined the two for a list. And while the selections towards the top–Toni Basil, Soft Cell, Dexy’s Midnight Runners (who grabbed the #1 with “Come on Eileen”)–were predictably predictable, it was fun to see some of the more forgotten one-offs that just scraped their way onto the list. I mean, when was the last time you heard Nik Kershaw, Paul Lekakis or Robbie Dupree discussed by anyone, let alone Amanda Diva and Hollywood Steve? A guaranteed recipe for quality television in my book, now and always.

But as with all discussions on the topic of one-hit-wonderdom, there were issues to be had with the question of eligibility. Naturally, there were artists who had critically successful careers that belied their one-hit-wonderdom–Midnight Oil, The Church, XTC (and how big of a hit was “Dear God,” really?) But the choices that really irked me were the ones where the artists really did have legitimate second pop hits–just ones that weren’t as well remembered, for whatever reason, as their first. In some cases, these songs were pretty fucking good, too, so it sucks to see them completely written out of history like this. Here are some of the more egregious examples:

  • Club Nouveau – “Why You Treat Me So Bad?” (#39, 1987). Club Nouveau are, no doubt, best remembered for their reggae-fied #1 hit cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (#94 on Vh1’s list)–a cover which, to be perfectly honest, makes me far happier than the original. But their most lasting contribution to pop culture might actually be its follow-up, the tortured “Why You Treat Me So Bad”? The song in itself is a little awkward, but its main hook–that eerie, hypnotic keyboard part–would be a recurring theme over the next two decades of hit pop music, appearing as the basis of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It,” Puff Daddy and R. Kelly’s “Satisfy You” and Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Gonna Be Alright.” The song’s bizarro intro was even copied by Ashanti for the beginning to her underrated “Only U.” Wiki entry even claims that the song was the inspiration for Gwen Stefani’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (for, I suppose, better or worse). Not bad for a second hit.
  • Tommy Tutone – “Angel Say No” (#40, 1980) A highly respectable slice of early-80s power pop–perhaps lacking the unforgettable sort of hook that would eventually propel them to OHW infamy, but catchy and youthful and all those good things as well. More interestingly to me, it’s actually the band’s first hit, coming a full two years before “867-5309 / Jenny” (#4 on VH1’s list). That means for two whole years, Tommy Tutone were known to the public as “That ‘Angel Say No'” band, and people likely assumed that that was all they would ever be known for. There would be worse fates, anyway, but I’m sure it’s a better sell on the nostalgia circuit to list your peers as Bow Wow Wow and Thomas Dolby than Bram Tchaikovsky and The Records.
  • Neneh Cherry – “Kisses on the Wind” (#8, 1989) The success of Neneh Cherry seems like such a period fluke in retrospect–a beneficiary of that weird era in dance music between freestyle and diva house, maybe–that it seems only logical that Neneh Cherry would be a one-hit wonder. But indeed, the effervescent “Buffalo Stance” (#50 on the VH1 list) was just one or two of the top ten hits that Miss Cherry produced, the second being “Kisses on the Wind,” a similarly irrepressible dance number (about reaching puberty, of all things). Both songs are kind of obnoxious, but decently catchy, and certainly fascinating for their time–I have a feeling people will say similar things about M.I.A. 20 years or so down the road. (Regrettably, brother Eagle-Eye Cherry did in fact have just the one hit).
  • Rob Base & DJ EZ-Rock – “Joy and Pain” (#58, 1988) OK, so #58 isn’t very high, but in reality, “It Takes Two” (#18 on VH1’s list) wasn’t that huge a chart hit either, peaking at #36 in the era when Tone-Loc was the only rapper hitting the top ten. And “Joy and Pain” is a pretty well-remembered Golden Age party jam, which you still hear fairly frequently on old school nights on hip-hop stations and classic dance stations and the like. It’s clearly not as good as “It Takes Two”–not many things are–but it’s a more-than-worthy follow up. I can’t get enough Rob’s ceaseless shouting (“PUMP IT UP! PUMP IT UP! HERE WE GO! HERE WE GO! WHAT ELSE?? WHAT ELSE??”) over what could have otherwise been a rather unremarkable chorus hook–rap songs just don’t talk to themselves like that anymore.
  • A Flock of Seagulls – “Space Age Love Song,” “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” (#30 and #26). I find the placing of “I Ran (So Far Away)” (#2) particularly insulting, especially given that it finished just one out of the top spot. Not just because the band had two other top 40 hits, both of which still get play on 80s weekends and the like (though obviously nowhere near the levelof “I Ran”), but because both of those songs are actually considerably better than “I Ran.” Don’t believe me? OK, it might be an over-exposure thing–maybe. But check those other two songs out first, becuase they’re fucking dynamite–shimmering, soaring, absolutely glorious synth-pop anthems, part Soft Cell, part Big Country, all 80s. And people wonder why I like Angels and Airwaves so much–watch the videos for “Wishing” and “The Adventure” back-to-back and tell me Tom DeLonge wasn’t a megafan as well.

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Take Five: Videos Worthy of Shot-for-Shot Remakes

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 15, 2009

I found this shot-for-shot remake of the classic video for Journey’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” in the always-informative Sports Guy’s Mailbag, and it got me thinking a little. The video itself was not necessarily any more compelling than the Gus Van Sant Psycho, but the thing that interested me about this imitative retelling was that it got me thinking how I would have gone about doing it if I had to refilm this video with my friends. What exactly is the easiest way to mount a keyboard on a wall? How hard is it to get four guys in a line singing in unison? Is a two-second montage of eight different shots really worth all the trouble? Even with the sound off, this remake would’ve been immediately recognizable as the “Separate Ways” video, but how many videos could that really be done for? So many of the best either have important, hard to reproduce special effects (like, say, A-Ha’s “Take on Me”), are filmed in too-exotic locations (any Duran Duran video), have a cast too wide (Guns n Roses’ “November Rain”) or, uh, camera shots that somehow look cost-consuming (Busta Rhymes’ “Woo-Hah! Got You All in Check!”) Rather, you just need a video that you and six or so of your closest friends could reproduce in a day or two of filming with a hundred-dollar budget, a handheld camera and basic video editing software.

So what videos what I remake with my friends would I reproduce with my friends, given the option? Here are the leading candidates:

  • The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony”. Easy enough–all you really need is one guy who doesn’t mind bumping into people for four minutes, and a bunch of other guys to join up at the end as the rest of the band. The other roles–the incidental people that Richard Ashcroft bumps into on the street–can all basically be replaced by real-life, unwilling participant extras, except for the one chick who gets supermad and probably should be cast in a role herself. The hardest part I guess would be maintaining the video’s grainy, blue-ish hue–I dunno what kind of filter you have to buy for your camera to achieve that, or maybe you can just work it out in post. Interesting, the video itself is basically a non-shot-for-shot remake of Massive Attack’s slightly less iconic but equally classic “Unfinished Sympathy.”
  • George Michael – “Freedom ’90. Somehow, I imagine this video becomes a lot more affordable when you don’t have to pay five of the most famous women in the world to appear in it. (Of course, you still do have to find five women to appear in such a project, and as the “Separate Ways” remake makes clear, sometimes finding even one can present something of a challenge). Nevertheless, all you really need once you get the girls signed on are a tea kettle, an abandoned apartment, and a bunch of really, really big sweaters–easy enough. The exploding jukebox might present something of a challenge, but I suppose you could always cut to stock footage–no proof that George Michael actually took the time to blow one up on his set either.
  • Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories – “Stay (I Missed You)”: Technically the easiest video on this list to reproduce, as it is a mere one-shot (in fact any number of one-shot videos could conceivably work for this project, with the extremely notable exception of Kylie Minogue’s “Come Into My World“) with no extras needed to support the performance of its star actress. But naturally, the success of the project would depend entirely on the performance of said leading lady, as a “Stay” remake sinks or swims depending on how closely she could emulate the myriad emotions that Loeb manages to project throughout the video (and, yes, the song). Oh, and I guess you probably need a cat too. And those glasses. Might be slightly trickier than you think, but at least the rest of the faux-Nine Stories still get to chill off-screen.
  • Smashing Pumpkins – “Today: Maybe a litlte high-budget for our purposes, since you need an ice cream truck (or at least a truck with the words “ice cream” on it), a whole lot of paint, and a relatively low-maintenance gas station willing to support your tomfoolery for about half an hour. That said, it’s certainly easier than trying to emulate the rest of the Pumpkins’ videography, whether the stop-motion of “Tonight, Tonight” the ridiculous makeup of “Ava Adore” or that super-cool camera-in-a-rolling-tire angle from “1979”. And besides, you get to persuade one of your friends to lounge around in a sundress for a few hours, or do it yourself if you’re so inclined. (Speaking of which–did you know that James Iha and Taylor Hanson are going to be in a band together? Two of the hottest chick-dudes in rock history, in the same band? With eternally hideous Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos? History in the making, my friends).
  • The Replacements – “Bastards of Young In fact, I’m sure this video has been accidentally remade shot-for-shot dozens of times as burgeoning rock bands put their equipment down for a cigarette break during their shoots and simply forget to turn the camera off. Except for the kicking-in-the-speaker part at the end. Or maybe not.

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Take Five: Adventures With DV-R

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 13, 2009


For many years, I had resisted the urge to pursue any sort of TiVo or DV-R type cable recording device. This would likely surprise many, considering that someone who watches as much TV as I would no doubt find the perks of such a service to be gargantuanly advantageous. But I felt my reasons for not acquiescing were good ones:

  1. It would make me less disciplined as a TV watcher.
  2. It would cut into too much money I could otherwise be spending on Chinese delivery and Rock Band downloads.
  3. It would result in me watching even more TV than I already do.

So for all of college and my first year out, I made do with a cheap VC-R borrowed from my cousins (which I used only in the gravest of TV emergencies) and a very active internet connection. But it got to the point where even my parents were ribbing me for not having one of these, and it made me reconsider if the negatives were really that negative:

  1. Being a “disciplined” TV watcher resulted in a lot of late nights of deciding in between watching Family Guy reruns for the 30th time or hoping that new anchors would make watching the same SportsCenter I watched two hours before somehow fresh.
  2. The cost of DV-R was really not that considerable, and would likely only result in one less order of dumplings and hot & sour soup and maybe a pass on downloading another Disturbed song on Rock Band a month.
  3. I was already watching as much TV as a human being could possibly watch without resulting in physical entropy.

Consequently, I made the plunge about a month ago by picking up a DV-R, and have of course yet to look back. It hasn’t changed the quantity of TV I’ve watched–the TV’s on whenever I’m home, pretty much no matter what–but the quality has drastically improved. No more midday malaise resorting to O.C. or Sopranos reruns the millionth time, no tricky 6:00 hour in between Pardon the Interruption and Jeopardy, and no more miserable late nights. The only problem now is recording things faster then I can watch them, which all things considered, is a pretty decent problem to haave.

The most obvious and immediate benefits are the ease with which I can record Sixers games when I’m at work and LOST episodes when I’m at home watching Sixers games. But far more exciting are the opportunities the service affords me to watch things that I would likely never watch before–either because I’m not at home when they’re on, watching something else when they’re on, or simply don’t think to flip past the channel when they would be on. It means I can see a preview for a show like Life on Mars or Burn Notice, think “hm, never seen that before,” and take a flier on it. I’m not interested enough in them to torrent their episodes or catch ’em on Hulu, but if I can have it on in the background while I’m falling asleep, waking up or writing to you lovely people, why not give it a shot? It’s given me a new sense of purpose in my TV watching–whereas most people would likely view spending two+ hours watching Kerry Wood’s 1998 20-K game against the Astros as a complete waste of time, it makes me feel oddly productive.

So with that in mind, here are five of the better dice rolls I’ve made since acquiring the Black Box:

  • American Idol (Early Episodes). I hadn’t watched American Idol with any regularity since my roommate got me into the Bo Bice / Carrie Underwood season my freshman year–liked parts, but too much filler, too many boring contestants, too much Seacrest. And I’m not sure if I’ll stick with it into the teeth of the competition. But man, those early episodes. They’re not pretty, and they take some cheap shots, but IITS friend Victor put it best in his on point analysis of the appeal of Paul Blart: Mall Cop–sometimes, you just wanna see a fat guy fall down. My favorite moment was undoubtedly a college kid from I think the Utah week, who performed an extremely timid version of “Walking on Sunshine” after telling Simon that where he saw himself in ten years was (roughly) “In a house…hopefully with some wooden floors…” (his exit, fairly pre-determined, was oddly self-aware for a spectacular Idol failure, leading me to wonder why no stunt journalist had ever taken on an AI audition). Plus, the advent of the Fast Forward button–less filler, less boring contestants, much less Seacrest.
  • NBA All-Star Games. It’s funny, because I don’t even remember being too interested in the 2008 All-Star Game while I was watching it last year–I had no real rooting interest, and the players didn’t seem to have one either, so I wasn’t sure why I should care. Now I see the point–as an NBA cultural snapshot, the All-Star Game has no peer. NBA TV has been replaying all of the All-Star Games of the last 30 years or so–though I only really started taping within the last decade–and the marvel-worthy moments n those I’ve watched so far are plentiful. Allen Iverson affectionately asking for coach Larry Brown after winning the game MVP, the emotional peak of a soon-to-be extremely tumultuous relationship. Kobe Bryant putting on a clinic in Philly but getting booed anyway, an early lesson for Kobe that you can’t go home again (especially after breaking their heart in the finals the year before). Steve Francis, Wally Sczcerbiak and Stephon Marbury performing the parts of successful, well-liked NBA players. And if that’s not all compelling enough, you also get Jason Kidd hitting half-court buzzer beaters and Tracy McGrady throwing alley-oops off the backboard to himself. Fantastic stuff–I’ll be catching ’em all next year for certain.
  • Demetri Martin. I never watch The Daily Show, and I had no idea who Demetri Martin was, minus the fact that he was in an episode of Flight of the Conchords, and I could’t even tell you which one. But I read a comeplling article about him, a couple of my friends are in love with him, and the previews for Important Things, his new Comedy Central show, looked OK. So I took a look at the series premiere, as well as an old CC special of his that aired the night before, and I think I can now count myself among the ranks of my smitten friends. Important Things was pretty hit-or-miss–so much so that I don’t think you can find a review of it that doesn’t use the phrase “hit-or-miss” in some capacity–but when he was on, he was absolutely Chappelle-worthy. The comedy special was even better–I actually remember seeing commercials for it two or three years ago and being struck with the hilarity of the “Cuteness of Girl vs. How Interested I Am in Hearing About How Intuitive Their Cat Is” graph, but I had no memory of Martin being behind it. In any event, his stuff should be on my DV-R radar for some time to come.
  • Gossip Girl. I’d always meant to be more up on Gossip Girl than I had been–I liked it pretty well, and felt that it was somehow important, but would never be emotionally invested enough in a show filled with such largely unsympathetic characters to download it or get the DVDs. I only watched it when I was home and nothing better was on, resulting in me seeing about four episodes total, with about a half-season in between each. Now, though, I certainly have 40 minutes a week to spare for some pretty, snobby 17-year-olds (played by pretty, slightly less snobby 24-year-olds) and their narcissistic ways, and I’m glad to have the show in my life. It appears I picked a good time to reinsert myself as well, as we appear to have moved into the “Sex With Teacher Scandal” subplot phase of the show’s career–a must for any epoch-making teen drama worth its salt, and one which GG has possibly already gotten to three or four times without my knowledge. Don’t tell me what happened last week, though–I could only tape two things at a time, and my conscience made me prioritize the Presidential Address over GG last time out. Mistake, no doubt.
  • GAC’s Top 50 Videos of the Year. My stance on Mainstream Country is, somewhat regrettably, a fairly common one of northern popwatchers–I recognize its right to exist, but I’m not going to voluntarily interact with it all that often. As should be no surprise to readers of this blog, though, I’ll watch anything in countdown form, and that certainly includes country videos. Besides the fact that it’s important to remember that in certain corners of the world, “How Great Thou Art” is an acceptable cover choice, Andy Griffith is an enviable music-video cameo and Trace Adkins may as well be a Jonas Brother, it was just kind of fun to see this musical canon with whom I had such limited interactions–a learning experience that confirmed that most of these songs weren’t for me, but that I was sort of glad that they were out there anyway. Bravo to GAC, too, for doing a full top 50 countdown, one rerun after New Years eve, and one that even had a reputable host in crossover megasuccess Taylor Swift. And a couple of the songs–Keith Urban’s “You Look Good in My Shirt,” Billy Currington’s “Don’t,” Plant & Krauss’s “Gone, Gone, Gone”–actually inspired me to fire up SoulSeek. Might have to check back on the weekly Top 20s every once in a while.

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