Sep 232011

The single stiffed, but…

Every once in a while I get to thinking about songs that everyone knows–or, at least that have achieved huge popularity and recognition–that were not hit singles. My case in point is The Romantics‘ “What I Like About You.” Everybody knows that song. It didn’t make the Top 40, though.

There are various reasons why such a song might take off later rather than sooner: maybe it had poor distribution or bad PR in the first place, maybe later it gets used in a commercial or movie or (now) videogame.

I have a few criteria in mind.

  1. I am talking about songs that were released as singles only–so no “Stairway to Heaven” and what have you. No album tracks. That’s a separate category.
  2. By “not a hit single” I mean it didn’t make the Top 40. I know that the invocation of Top 40 skews the discussion away from modern times when the Top 40 as we knew it has ceased to have any meaning whatsoever. Special pleading is welcome.
  3. Most subjective is “everyone knows it.” Use your judgement. Polling data are not required. A once-obscure song that is later used in a movie or commercial does not necessarily translate into a song that everyone knows. The 13th Floor Elevators‘ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” is known by a lot more people because of its use in High Fidelity, but most people don’t know it. We’re looking for major penetration into people’s brains here.
Sep 232011

Relevant or just plain good?

Now try this:

Irrelevant or just plain shitty?

Although I certainly agree with the general gist of Machinery’s REM thread, and would, myself, add at least 10 years to his over-generous assessment of REM’s breakup being “15 years too late,” I think that framing such a discussion around  “relevance” is a mistake. No performer is going to remain relevant forever. Some great performers do not attain relevance while they are active, even. Relevance is largely irrelevant. What matters is the quality of the work. REM’s work after, let’s be generous here, Document may be more relevant than what came before, or it may be less relevant. I have no idea. Perhaps many people find “Everybody Poops”–er, “Hurts”–to be far more relevant than “Radio Free Europe.” I suppose there is nothing preventing a mawkish, bathetic, and dull-as-dirt song from being relevant to people.

Since of course the Stones have been mentioned, the problem with their post-Tattoo You (say) records is not irrelevance, it is shittiness. You might say that the two are related, but in all fairness, the best Stones record ever was not going to make them relevant in 1990.

Let’s try this exercise again:

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Jul 272011

This morning as I was making coffee a car drove by with the windows down and the stereo turned way up—nothing unusual about that.   The song blaring out was, sadly, quickly recognizable as the ghastly ’80s duet ballad “Almost Paradise,” by one of the Heart sisters and the Loverboy guy with the headband, Mike Reno. I knew it was from some crappy movie but couldn’t remember which one. (It was Footloose.)

So what’s the weirdest song you’ve heard coming from a car lately?

Jul 152011

Rob Grill: He was a Great Man...

Earlier this week I saw the obit for the main singer for perhaps my favorite B-level ’60s-early ’70s band, Rob Grill of The Grass Roots. I don’t think The Grass Roots get a lot of respect in rock snob circles: they were a semi-manufactured outfit (Sloan and Barri), they were a little too conspicuously handsome, they didn’t write their big hits, in short, they were not Serious Rock. All true enough. They are, for my money, a great argument for the Greatest Hits collection, and the only Grass Roots albums I own are a greatest hits lp (Golden Grass) and the better still Best of the Grass Roots CD. Not a box set; not a double cd. Just 12 songs, all top 40 hits between 1966 and 1971. That is sufficient. As Top 40 pop of the era, for my money it’s hard to beat “Let’s Live for Today,” “Midnight Confessions,” “Wait a Million Years,” “Temptation Eyes,” etc. Rob Grill, we salute you!

And from Playboy After Dark.

Jul 122011

I’ve always been a big Small Faces fan and an even bigger Faces fan. I mean, how great must Steve Marriott have been?  It took Ron Wood and Rod Stewart, both years away from anything like sucking, to replace him. So what happened? Humble Pie leaves me cold.  Really cold. More than that, actually: I think they’re terrible, and the problem isn’t the band, it’s Marriott. I submit in evidence what appear to be the two sides of Humble Pie: the sweaty, bombastic, screechy side (above) and the pseudo-soulful and rootsy side (below). (Note young Peter Frampton in the second clip.) I’d like to hear from any Pieheads who can explain to me what I am missing.

Jun 202011
Mighty Awful or Mighty Underrated? You Make the Call!

Mighty Awful or Mighty Underrated? You Make the Call!

This year marks the 20th anniversary of EC’s Mighty Like a Rose. I haven’t listened to it in, oh, I don’t know, 10 years or more. Maybe Mod, with his new-found respect for Mitchell Froom, will find it a heretofore neglected masterpiece. Maybe it will have more than the one song I remember thinking was any good. (Couldn’t Call It Unexpected.)  Let us rethink Mighty Like a Rose, and revisit Bearded Elvis of the summer of 1991. (I saw him twice–twice!–on that tour, with the Replacements opening.)

How To Be Dumb?

What was it about this record? The dodgy production? The ugly cover? The beard? The overwrought arrangements? The unwelcome presence of Marc Ribot? The undercooked songwriting? I mean, for instance, did it really take Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney to come up with “So Like Candy”? Let the critical reassessment/feeding frenzy begin!



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