Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Good Songs XVI

Over the Hills and Far Away – Led Zeppelin
D’Yer Mak’er – Led Zeppelin
Mistadobalina – Del the Funkee Homosapien
Crumbs on the Table – D-Nice
Call Me D-Nice – D-Nice
Steady Mobbin – Ice Cube
Misty Mountain Hop – Led Zeppelin
Mama Said Knock You Out – LL Cool J
The Jingling Baby – LL Cool J
Jet City Woman – Queensryche
Empire – Queensryche
Silent Lucidity – Queensryche
Bring the Noise – Public Enemy and Anthrax

When I was in high school, one of my best friends, Jamie, drove a  beat upHonda CR-X. At the time, he was the only one of my friends who could drive and we’d pack as many kids into this two-seat death trap as we could. If his girlfriend was along with us that day, the front seat was thus occupied, so it was in the back you went. Since there was no real back seat—it was essentially a hatch back—you considered yourself lucky if you could snag a piece of real estate near the back of the front seats. If you squatted there, there was only a slight chance of getting scoliosis. If you were stuck in the way back, you had a side dish of claustrophobia with your spine curvature.

I created this mix tape in the winter of 1993 but it has a real high school flavor to it. Specifically, the fall of 1990 which was a turning point in my life. My friend had his license, so I kinda had wheels. I was an upper classman, which was fun. Our soccer team finally won a game after literally 75 tries, that was a bonus. The weather seemed unusually warm that year, there seemed to be more parties and I was slightly less invisible to girls. It was a good time to be alive. One of the bigger life changes was being introduced to the music of Led Zeppelin for the first time*.

* Let me amend this statement, I had heard Led Zeppelin before 1990. But I only knew them as the group that sang the song [“Stairway to Heaven”] that closed out every junior high and high school dance. Also at the time, their boxset was constantly being advertised on MTV so I knew snippets of songs, but I was never really into them. 

Jamie’s car had a tape player, which at the time was the height of both wealth and technology and he played  “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “D’yer Mak’er” over and over and over and over again every day on our way to soccer practice. Every single day. I don’t know why, but I never really got sick of either of those songs, though I probably should have. The good thing about the way those two songs were situated on “Houses of the Holy” was that as soon as one song ended, you could flip the tape and hear the other. And Jamie’s stereo was so advanced that you didn’t even have to take the tape out to flip it, you just pressed a button. WHAT A WORLD!

To this day, OtHaFA is my favorite Led Zeppelin song and it’s probably because it reminds me of the fun that I had as a 16-year-old when the sun was always shining, the girls were pretty, the open road was new and my life was ahead of me. And I can guarantee that’s the reason why I lead this mix tape (which I made my freshman year in college) with that particular song.

Today “D’yer Mak’er” probably wouldn’t make my top 50 favorite Zep songs, but like Over the Hills, if I close my eyes and scrunch up into a ball (just for old times sake), I can still recall what it feels like to be 16 again.

There’s no two ways about it, “Mistadobalina” is a tremendous song. Written and rapped by Ice Cube’s cousin*, Del the Funkee Homosapien, it’s one of those tunes that nearly everyone who grew up in this era recalls, but doesn’t know much else about.

* If I was being clever, I would have put “Steady Mobbin’” after this cut. Or if I was being really clever, I would have included Ice Cube’s “Turn Off the Radio” which featured a snippet of Del “calling into” to a radio show to express his displeasure with commercial radio. Del was a member of Ice Cube’s band: Da Lench Mob – which had to change their name from the Lynch Mob because Dokken’s ex-guitarist, George Lynch, was touring with a band with the same name. Del to Dokken, so easy.

The interesting thing about the song’s hook, “Mr. Dobalina, Mr. Bob Dobalina” is from Peter Tork. You may remember him from as the goofy guitarist from the Monkees. One day, near the end of their run of thier TV series, the Monkees and Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson) decided to drop a crap load of acid, go out to the desert and write a movie that ended up being titled “Head”*. That script was completely bonkers (the first scene had the Monkees escaping the crush of their fans by committing suicide and jumping off a bridge) and didn’t do very well at box office. The first scene alienated their pre-teen fans who didn’t have access to the hard drugs needed to properly see the movie. This was the death knell for the Monkees.

* The Monkees were hoping that “Head” would be so successful that they’d be able to film a sequel. The tagline was already written too: “From the group that gave you ‘Head’!” I bet Mickey Dolenz came up with that, he seemed very bawdy. Or maybe Mike Nesmith wrote it, but not Davy Jones. Even though he’s English, that doesn’t seem to be cheeky enough to create this type of pun.

In one scene Peter Tork just aimlessly walks around reciting the Mr. Dobalina line. Apparently, Del thought that this was just weird enough to loop into a single. And it worked. At least it worked for me, looking at Wikipedia, “Mistadobalina” didn’t chart in the US, but it seemed to kick some serious ass in Scandinavia and central Europe—it was a top ten hit.

If things went different, Del the Funkee Homosapien may have been a hit with the Third Reich.

Queensyrche wasn’t your typical metal band. For one thing, they hailed from Seattle before that was a thing. And for another thing, it seems that most of their albums were concept albums. With the iTunes and downloading music, the flow of an album doesn’t matter much any more. Most folks only buy singles and the days of songs being placed on albums so one seamlessly leads to another is a lost art. That spelled the end of the concept album*, which always seemed to me as a way for a band to show their fans and critics (mostly critics) that they were “smart” and “serious”.

* Kanye West is the only artist today that I could envision creating a concept album. And that’s because he’s nuts and he wants people to think that he’s a smart and talented dude with something to say.

The concept album usually ended up in a mangled mess. Themes that were introduced at the beginning of the album were forgotten by the fifth track. Story lines and plot were nebulous at best. And by the last track, the entire band seemed frustrated, bored and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. It seemed to me that a concept album is like putting together a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle only you have a dozen people trying to tell you where each piece goes.

If you want to experience a terrible concept album created by a band who desperately wanted people to take them seriously, listen to KISS’ “Music from the Elder”. It’s awful and stupid. And to make matters worse, the title is confusing because it insinuates that the Elder was also a movie. In a textbook example of putting the cart before the horse, KISS (as only KISS could do) thought that this album was going to be so big, and people were going to be so blown away by their songwriting abilities, they titled the album because they thought that a film was inevitable. It was not. And their hubris almost completely destroyed the band.

Interestingly enough, Queensryche seemed to have the discipline to decently do a concept album. “Operation: Mindcrime” and “Empire” both were pretty good. And they were able to pull off the trick of releasing good sounding singles that were also integral to the story of the album. The funny thing is that though they were able to do concept albums well, they never reached the popularity or career longevity of KISS.

I guess that begs the question: would you rather be smart and good at your job but severely lacking in the popularity (and money) department or would you rather be dumb and shitty but popular and rich? I guess only Geoff Tate and the rest of Queensyrche knows for sure*.

* I just looked something up on Wikipedia and former Queensryche guitarist Mike Stone was also a member of a band called Criss. That band was helmed by former KISS drummer Peter Criss. 19 Thoughts is all about coming full circle, kids!

I was never a big Queensryche guy. I understood that they were a notch above the musical evolutionary scale of say Motely Crue or Poison, but their fans always seemed a bit too intense for me. They had long hair, were in a band, also were obsessed with the band Dream Theater and spent a lot of time arguing about what each song meant and how it fit into that particular album and Queensryche’s oeuvre as a whole. And yes, they would use the word “oeuvre”. A lot.

They may not have been book smart, but man, they knew their music inside and out. In short, they were a bit intimidating.

Speaking of popularity and the crossroads bands sometime find themselves at, when Public Enemy and Anthrax released “Bring the Noise”, I thought that PE was going to explode. MTV played the hell out of that video in the late summer of 1991. This song along with the PE shirt that Edward Furlong (young John Connor) wore through out the entirety of “Terminator 2” signaled to me that Public Enemy was going to be one of the biggest bands of the 90s.

For a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen. Public Enemy was certainly extremely popular and has legions of fans, but I thought that they’d be everywhere, which would instantly validate my fandom of the band*. What I didn’t understand was that Public Enemy was never going to be that type of band. And I don’t think that they ever wanted to be, mainly because you’d have to change your stance on a lot of politics (soften it up) to appeal to the masses.

* For some reason, I was obsessed with my choices being validated and proven “right”. Whether it was music, TV, movies or sports whatever I was in to, I wanted it to be the most popular, most coolest thing around. It didn’t occur to me, until much later, that when niche things start getting really popular, they lose a lot of their shine. Once I learned that being happy with something and not caring about what anyone else thinks is the right way to consume media. Haters gonna hate.

Chuck D and Public Enemy weren’t going to do that, so they just kept soldiering on. Still famous, but also under the radar.

This song also made me think that the rap/rock crossover was going to start a new music revolution where it didn’t matter if you played hip hop or rock, music was music. That didn’t really happen either, it did for awhile I guess, but then Limp Bizkit showed up and brought with them a bunch of really, really crappy groups. That sent rock into a deep tailspin and splintering music into a million different genres.

Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Good Songs XV

Enter Sandman – Metallica
Pass the Mic – Beastie Boys
So Whatcha Want – Beastie Boys
Jump Around – House of Pain
Milky Cereal – LL Cool J
Scenario – A Tribe Called Quest
Humpin’ – College Boyz
Panama – Van Halen
Deep Cover – Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dog
Always Inta Something – NWA
It Ain’t Over (Till It’s Over) – Lenny Kravitz
Baby Got Back – Sir Mix A Lot
Back in Black – AC/DC
Cold Blood – Kix

This was a fun mix to listen to this morning as there were a lot of high-energy, bouncy songs that took me back to when I was in college.

Aside from “One” which was one of the first tracks on Good Songs I, I didn’t put too many Metallica songs on the Good Songs. It’s not that I didn’t like them, but they ubiquitous in the 1990s. They were all over the radio, on MTV, popping up on award shows and late night talkshows, their faces on every music magazine on the newstands. For as anonymous and mysterious* as they were in the 1980s, Metallica was the exact opposite for the last decade of the millennium (or Willennium, as Will Smith once called it).

In other words, I didn’t need new places to listen to Metallica. In fact, I was probably trying to escape them at this point in my life.

* Metallica’s self-titled Black album was released in August of 1991 and “Enter Sandman” was a monster single. It was still a big deal when Metallica released a video (I believe that this was their second video ever) and it was in heavy rotation. Anyway about a month or so later, I was at a high school dance when the DJ played this particular song (don’t ask, it’s typical Amesbury High School) and I was talking to a friend of mine. He said, “I love that Metallica got some kid to say some Satan stuff in the middle of this song. That’s so awesome!” He was referring to the “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” prayer that bisects the song. My friend may have been an idiot or Metallica was so mysterious that no matter what they said, it was considered “dark and spooky”. Maybe this was what it was like to be a Led Zeppelin fan in the 1970s.

For a tape so heavy on hip-hop, this was an interesting song to open with. I know that many “true” Metallica fans malign this CD, but it’s still excellent. And there are certain parts in this song that still hit like a truck smashing a little boy’s bed. That’s not too bad for a tune that will be celebrating its 24th anniversary in August.

There are some songs you can remember exactly where you were when you first heard them. One of those songs for me was “Jump Around” by House of Pain. The August before I left for college, my mom and dad decided that the whole family needed a day out. For one reason or another, we rarely did this. I’m not sure whether it was because my brother and I were involved with sports or what, but the last trip that I could remember the entire family going on was our disastrous trek to Cape Cod in 1987. So this particular day stood out.

It was a really burning hot day and my folks decided to take us to Fanuiel Hall in Boston. We hadn’t been there in awhile and the thought was that we’d have a good time. My brother and I were sullen teenagers – and in truth we were probably very nervous about our new schools (he: AHS and me: Merrimack College) – so Jay and I broke off from our parents for a couple of minutes to check out the record store. We nosed around our favorite sections when I heard it, the now familiar “BAH! Bah, bah, bahhhhhhh!” followed by a bunch of squealing horns. I looked around and a bunch of the city kids just started pogoing—or jumping around.

Jay looked at me, I looked at him and we just shrugged. My brother walked out of there with a copy of House of Pain’s CD, which we listened to. A lot.

I can’t blame those kids for dancing, the beat is infectious. It makes you want to get out of your seat and jump around. And it wasn’t just Boston city kids doing it, this was one of THE songs of 1992/93. Like the four faces of Metallica, it was everywhere that year. It was played at house parties, bars, dances; anywhere drunk kids were, that song wasn’t far from being loaded into a CD player. The song was good then and it’s still good now.

I wonder if Everlast still talks to Ice-T and asks him if there are any parts for him on Law and Order? Everlast was a member of Ice-T's crew, "The Rhyme Syndicate". I wonder if any of Ice-T's old crew asks that question? I probably would. 

One last thing about House of Pain, the group combined with Bart's nerdy friend has given me the only name I use in fantasy sports: Millhouse of Pain. Thank you Everlast, I appreciate the set up of a good pun.  

Speaking of great, fun songs; “Panama” is the only Van Halen song on any Good Songs tapes. And that’s okay because this is prime Van Halen. The guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen, the harmonies of Michael Anthony and the boozy, over confident vocals of David Lee Roth make it (for my money) the best VH song around*.  

* Alex Van Halen’s drumming is pretty good too, but it doesn’t shine here like it does in other songs.

Whether you like the band or not, “Panama” is one of those tunes that captures your attention every time it comes on the radio. Even if you’ve heard the opening riff a thousand times, you’re still intrigued to see where it’s going to take you. And by the time DLR yells, “JUMP BACK! What’s that sound?” you’re hooked. This song makes me want to line up a bunch of glass bottles on an old fence, pull out a .44 and start firing away. It makes me want to steal a Camaro and drive it through Fotomat (even though those things don’t exist any more). Basically the crap that Seth Rogan, Bill Hader and McLovin did in the movie “Superbad” is the stuff that I want to do when I hear this song.

And I wanted to do that stuff while I listened to this song BEFORE I saw the movie. That’s the mark of a great song.

If you’ve been reading the Good Songs entries of “19 Thoughts”, you know that I kinda like NWA. To me, Dr. Dre was the bassist of the group in that his beats and samples were the backbone of the group, yet he didn’t say too much. Every once in awhile, you’d hear him rap but I felt that the rest of the group was throwing him a bone like the way The Who or Led Zeppelin would let John Entwistle or John Paul Jones do something on an album that didn’t involve plucking bass strings*.

* When I was younger, my understanding of what these two guys did for their bands was feeble at best.

So when I heard that Dre was going to providing the lyrics for a song off the “Deep Cover” soundtrack, I was intrigued. Back then, depending on how you felt about MC Ren, Dre was probably the fourth most interesting member of the group. I had higher expectations for Ren’s new CD (“Kiss My Black Azz” – I love that title) because he rapped way more than Dre and had a better flow.

But then I heard this smoky, dark, foreboding song and I was shocked. This is Dr. Dre? Where the hell was he on “Efil4zaggin” when NWA needed help to offset the loss of Ice Cube? And who was this raspy-voiced, lithe dude? Snoop Doggy Dog? He’s named after Snoopy? I know that Charlie Brown was a dude from Leaders of the New School, but this was something way different.

Turns out that Dre wasn’t that bad of a rapper and Snoop Dog was even better. This was their first song and it was a harbinger of things to come. Dre and Snoop ruled over mid and late 90s hip hop and influenced not only a generation of MCs, but also a generation of DJs. Listening to this track now is like finding YouTube clips of Pedro Martinez striking out 82 batters in 77 innings for the Single-A Great Falls Dodgers.

Watching those clips now, you know Pedro was going to be great but you didn’t know how high his star would ascend. And that’s the same thing you get when you listen to the “Deep Cover” cut now. It’s a great tune but Dre and Snoop would eclipse it many times over in the coming years.

Some quickies:

Milky Cereal – LL Cool J has a well deserved reputation for being a ladies man and being the first “romantic” hip hop artist, but the guy could also be funny and turn a phrase. This was never more evident than in “Milky Cereal” where he talks about women, sexing women and fighting off their pissed-off parents as part of a balanced and nutritious breakfast. We all grew up watching cereal commercials on Saturday, and LL was just singing about the next thing.

Humpin – It took me awhile to find this song because it’s a forgettable jam by a forgettable band. But I guess that when I taped this mix, I really liked it. Listening to it now, it’s actually pretty graphic. I’m not offended but for a New Jack Swing type of group that the College Boyz (seem) to be, this was new ground. Like most NJS groups, it didn’t get them very far. Also the line, “College Boyz here to hump you!” might literally be the worst opening line ever.

Baby Got Back – I’m not made of stone. This Sir Mix A Lot tune was everywhere in 1992, why shouldn’t it be on a Good Songs mix? The other day I happened to be watching a Saturday Night Live marathon on VH1 Classic with a skit from the early 90s called “Delta, Delta, Delta” that starred Melanie Hutsell, Siobhan Fallon and Beth Cahill that made fun of sorority girls. Since I watched SNL religiously back in the day, I vaguely remember it but I don’t remember it being huge. I think Sir Mix A Lot is trying to glom on to the “popularity” of this sketch with the two girls at the beginning of this song. Or maybe he’s making fun of how white people talk. I have no idea. In any event, it’s pretty cool no matter what was going through his head.

And that’s why he was knighted by the Queen of England and you weren’t. 

Cold Blood – Ugh. Kix. What was I thinking?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Good Songs XIV

Kashmir – Led Zeppelin
Crazy – Seal
Down Boys – Warrant
Love Song – Tesla
Gonna Make You Sweat – C+C Music Factory
Photograph – Def Leppard
Scared – Dangerous Toys
Fuck Tha Police – NWA
Boys of Summer – Don Henley
3AM Eternal – The KLF
Never Enough – LA Guns
Fly to the Angels – Slaughter
Jackin’ for Beats – Ice Cube

Hoo boy. This is a weird one to listen to again.

What I mean by that is, for a tape that was crafted (ha, crafted – so pretentious) in 1993, this has a feeling of a cassette that was made three years prior. As I was listening to it earlier today, I was trying to figure out exactly what message I was trying to convey.

And I think that message was simple, “I wish I was back in high school.” And this is a strange message because I was very happy with Merrimack College and while I enjoyed my time at Amesbury High School, I didn’t want to go back at all. So maybe that wasn’t it. Perhaps I just wanted a tape of all the crappy music I enjoyed when my primary address was my parents’ house.

In either case, I couldn’t have picked better songs to elicit tones of home.

Seal’s “Crazy” is still a terrific tune. When it came out, I remember being absolutely blown away. It was psychedelic and creepy with lyrics suggesting something bigger was going on behind the scenes. It was as if Seal was taking the listener on a chill, yet paranoid acid trip wondering who are the gun-toting “yellow people that walk through his head”?

Like many of the descriptors that I use to explain my fascination with certain songs, it all begins with that hypnotic beat that lures the listener into this weird audial world. It’s dreamy and ethereal and things seem to flow along those lines until the drum hits and it begins to pick up speed. It reminds me of the boat ride in the original “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” where the kids think that they’re in for a nice float down a chocolate river, but ends up being a psychedelic hell ride of chickens without heads and giant visages of Slugworth.

Seal doesn’t quite go that far, but the dreamy world of the song’s beginning runs in sharp contrast as to the pointed nightmares that make up the remainder of the tune. I had high hopes for Seal after this song as I thought that he was going to release weird, trippy songs for the rest of his career* but he ended up cutting off his dreads, releasing adult-oriented pop, getting married to Heidi Klum and becoming insanely rich. I guess him not making weird songs kind of worked for him.

* After he release “Let Love Rule”, I also had the same thoughts about Lenny Kravitz too. But he didn’t do it either. In fact, he cut off his dreads, made (less-than-original) adult-oriented pop, married Lisa Bonet and became insanely rich. I somehow dislike Kravitz more than Seal though I’m not sure exactly why. There’s a lot of Kravitz coming up soon, I’m sure I’ll get into it more.

There are times when you add a song to a mix because you want to set the mood. If you’re lifting weights, you add Rage Against the Machine or Dangerous Toys. If you’re trying to woo a young lady, first off you don’t say you’re “Wooing her” and second, you add a little Jeff Buckley or Tesla to the mix. I don’t know what the hell I was trying to do when I added C+C Music Factory*.

* Or if you’re into puns and from Amesbury, MA: C+C Pizza Factory. God, I hate myself sometimes.

There is no excuse for this song anytime, anywhere. And I apologize for introducing this earworm to your brain right now. It wasn’t cool and I deeply regret it.

Like most dance tracks, this song is forgettable. The one thing that I remember is the CONTOVERSY! that this video created when it was aired regularly on MTV. Much like Velvet Underground, C+C Music Factory had a supermodel who hung around with them and “sang” with them. Her name was Zelma Davis and because she was draw-droppingly attractive, she had a lot of face time in the video.

Also around this time, it was found that Milli Vanilli did not sing any of their vocals on their record. For some reason this was a big deal back then. I mean, a really, Really, REALLY big deal. Milli Vanilli were pariahs and never worked again, then one of them killed himself. Like I said, people went a bit bonkers about this at the time. During the same time, it came out that Zelma Davis did not really sing. Most of the hooks were sung by former WeatherGirl (who sang “It’s Raining Men”*) and big-boned female Martha Wash.

Unfortunately, Ms. Wash did not have the aesthetics that a group as serious as C+C Music Factory was going for, so they had her sing the songs and told the world that that was Zelma Davis’ pipes. Not wanting to become a running joke like Milli Vanilli or deprive the world of music inspired by the Arsenio Hall bits, C+C came out and admitted to what happened.

* Everytime I hear “It’s Raining Men” (which is A LOT!) I am reminded of that classic Simpsons scene where Moe kicks Homer out of the bar and removes his favorite song from the jukebox.

Home: “It’s Raining Men”?
Moe: Not no more it ain’t!

Of course it lands in Smithers’ car.
Remember when MTV ran videos and in the bottom left-hand corner was that box that told you all the information you need? Band name, song name, album name, label name and the name of the video director. C+C Music Factory’s information looked as if it was written by Dostoyevsky. I’m trying to do this by memory but I remember it reading “Artist name: C+C Music Factory, vocals by Marth Wash, visualized by Zelma Davis”.

Now that I look at it, the name doesn’t seem long, but trust me it looked like a lot of words when you 16, drunk and staring at a TV for hours.

Speaking of videos, the video for the KLF’s “3 AM Eternal” was bizarre. It was a bunch of people in blue robes in a post-apocalyptical world jamming to something called “Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” and singing into hilariously outdated cell phones. I loved it. I loved every damn thing about that song – mostly because I knew nothing about that group (this was pre-Wikipedia and the internet) so my ideas of who these people were, what they were signing about and what they were attempting to do were Seal-level crazy.

For some reason I thought that they were from the Netherlands (actually from England) and I thought that they were singing about something really big. They were not. They were just a band with a prefab mythology that was meant to be mysterious. But I didn’t know that yet.

I was such a naïve kid, I am surprised that I never joined a cult.

Don Henley. Ugh, I hate Don Henley. But almost everyone hates Don Henley, so it’s not like I’m in some special club. But I don’t hate “Boys of Summer”. If you’ve never heard it before, it has nothing to do with the 1955 Brooklyn Dodogers or the Donald Kahn’s book about the 1955 Dodgers.

It’s about a baby-boomer reflecting on his days as a kid. And while baby boomers and their love of their own selves and generation are ranked just a tick below my feelings for Don Henley, nostalgia is nostalgia. And I’m a suck for that crap. Especially when you’re as self-absorbed as I am. Oh no. I am Don Henley, I’ve become what I’ve hated the most. But in some ways, aren’t we all a bit like Don Henley? By hating Don Henley, we really hate ourselves!

Or maybe Don Henley is a pretentious douche who thinks that he’s a little better than everyone, when in reality he’s the third most talented member of a thoroughly mediocre and absolutely boring rock band.

Yeah. That’s more like it.

I’ve mentioned it before, but if there’s one thing that I really like (aside from the untimely death of Don Henley) it’s team-ups and cross-overs. Whether it’s in the movies, or on TV, or in comics; if you stick a character that I like in another medium that I like, I’m there.

Ice Cube’s “Jackin’ for Beats” is the perfect audio team-up, except Cube is a bit of a dick about it. He takes a bunch of beats that have been made popular by other artists of the day (Public Enemy, Digital Underground, D-Nice, among others) and brags about how he’s taking their beats and making them his own.

I’ve never rapped nor do I run in hip hop circles, but I think that taking a beat that is completely identifiable with another rapper or group is like taking that person’s property*. I remember hearing that song for the first time and being shocked that Ice Cube was so brazen in his theft.

* Which is strange because, let’s face it, rappers grab beats that were identified with other musicians and make those songs their own. I’m not going to get into a debate about whether it’s right or wrong, as Bill Belichick is fond of saying, “It is what it is” but do you associate the funk of “Superfreak” with Rick James or MC Hammer?

Brazen or not, it’s a lot of fun to hear Ice Cube rap over these beats and that’s what makes it a great song, even now. And the little shot at the end against NWA? Ice Cube really knows how to twist that knife, doesn’t he.

Speaking of NWA, I really liked “Fuck tha Police” a lot, didn’t I? It’s on just about every Good Songs tape. Enough already, 1993 Byron. You’ve made your point.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Good Songs XIII

Round and Round – Ratt
Lay it Down – Ratt
You’re in Love – Ratt
Suck My Kiss – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
Wait – White Lion
Informer – Snow
That’s a Lie – Too Much Joy
Who’s Gonna Drive Your Wild Horses – U2
Drive – REM
Somebody to Shove – Soul Asylum
Rusty Cage – Soundgarden
Outshined – Soundgarden
Synchronicity II – The Police
Born to Be Wild – Steppenwolf
Magic Carpet Ride – Steppenwolf
The Hitman – AB Logic
Summer of ’69 – Brian Adams
Fool in the Rain – Led Zeppelin
Yesterdays – Guns N Roses
The Choice is Yours – Black Sheep

Much like freshman year at college, this latest Good Songs tape is a bit confusing. It has a few classic college-y artists (REM, U2, Soul Asylum), it has a few retreads from high school (Ratt, White Lion) and a few that make me scratch my head (Brian Adams, AB Logic – seriously 1993 Byron, what were you thinking?).

There’s a lot to say about this tape so I’m going to break it down, artist-by-artist. But the overarching feeling I have from listening to this playlist again (after 22 years – I’m pretty sure I made this on a snow day in February of 1993) is that I must’ve played this tape constantly. The reason is because as soon as one song was over, my brain had mentally queued up the next cut.

It was like listening to a really old bike. How’s that for a mixed, yet apt, metaphor?

Ratt – In either the first Good Songs entry, I wrote about how I really wanted to like Ratt when I was in high school but I never got around to getting their good album. I settled for the awful “Reach for the Sky” and never got into the group. The guy who lived next door to me had a ton of tapes and one of the them was Ratt’s “Out of the Cellar” where all three of these songs came from. I borrowed it and added it to the mix.

Even though Ratt wasn’t even ironically cool in 1993, I did not regret this decision. Especially “Round and Round”, that’s a really solid song.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – I didn’t discover them in college, I went to a party when I was in high school and the person who owned the house played “Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic” for three straight hours. And their single, “The Bridge” was literally everywhere that summer. Plus, when I was a freshman in high school, I almost bought “Mother’s Milk” but when I went downtown to the tape store, the store had gone out of business.* So I was aware of Flea and the gang.

* I lived in Amesbury, MA and in the late 80s/early 90s, the downtown area was extremely strange. Stores popped up and went out of business seemingly over night—within 15 months in the early 1990s, there were four different baseball card stores (not all the same time). There would be a big opening, everyone would hang out there for a few weeks and then they’d close. Other downtown shops sold one item one day, would sell completely different things the next. The only types of stores that held any staying power were places that had been in business since the turn of the century. One such store was this record shop that I would walk by. The prices were insanely high, and it took me a long time to save the cash for a tape. I finally scraped the money together to buy “Mother’s Milk” and I rode my bike to the store, only it was completely gone like a dream. It was the Brigadoon of record stores. The moral is: I never got “Mother’s Milk”.

Anyway RHCP pretty much blew up after this record, they were no longer the weird dudes from Southern California who wore socks on strange body parts. They became a well-oiled, music-making machine. And like “The Bridge”, they were everywhere. From 1992 until a few years ago, you couldn’t go two minutes without hearing a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. I really began to hate their music, a lot. That hatred is still there (even though I do sorta like this song).

Van Morrsion – He’s made a lot of songs better than this. But this is probably his most famous tune because it’s the quintessential high school/college song. I bet that Van Morrison hates this song, but it has probably made him more money than any other song he’s ever performed. Draw your own conclusions from that.

White Lion – Look, I know that this is a bad song. It’s cheesy, it’s vapid, it’s of it’s time (which wasn’t very good) but of all those really bad, hair metal songs this is one of my favorites. I can’t explain why only, the ear wants what it wants.

My top five really bad hair metal songs that I really like are as follows:

1.     Wait – White Lion
2.     I’ll Never Let You Go – Steelheart
3.     Burning Like a Flame – Dokken
4.     Fly to the Angels – Slaughter
5.     Girls School (video only) – Britny Fox

Don’t let me get drunk and near my iTunes, because you’re going to hear some combination of the above. Man, I have awful taste in music.

Snow –At the end of 1992, Snow burst on the music scene with this infectious reggae song. No one really knew what he was saying, but it seems as if he came from Toronto to sing about a guy who ratted on him, which landed him in the clink. The first three hundred times you heard this song, you couldn’t understand a damn thing this kooky Canadian was saying – MTV actually scrolled the words under the song when they aired this video – but the beat was pretty catchy and for weeks it was stuck in your head. It stuck in the head of so many people that it landed at number one on the Billboard pop charts.

Aside from the beat, I really enjoyed this song because it was a puzzle to figure out what he was saying. MC Shan gives you the most clues when he raps about his pal, but you really had to listen to it over and over and over again to get what Snow was singing about.

The other thing I'm not sure about was why the record company named the album "12 Inches of Snow". Snow is Canadian so he doesn't use inches as a form of measurement, he'd probably use centimeters. "30.48cm of Snow" doesn't sound very good, I guess. "304.8mm of Snow" doesn't sound very good either. And if he went with meters, "0.304m of Snow" sounds downright puny.

Take that metric freaks!

Too Much Joy – In the late summer of 1990 I’d return home after soccer practice and watch “Dial MTV”, which was a show that counted down the top 10 song requests that MTV got that particular day. For what seemed to be about three weeks straight, the same three songs were stuck together: “Falling to Pieces” by Faith No More, “Fly to the Angels” by Slaughter and “That’s a Lie” by Too Much Joy. They always showed the same three songs back-to-back-to-back, always. So much so, I couldn’t hear one without thinking of the other two.

I owned the first two songs, but I had no idea where to even find TMJ’s tape. It wasn’t at Tape World or Sam Goody or Strawberries or maybe it was and I was too dumb to find it. I went a long time with that song in my head, but no conduit to remove it. Enter my freshman roommate Scott Mooney. Scott worked at tape store in the mall called The Wall and because of this he had hundreds and hundreds of tapes and CDs. All of which he brought to college.

When I found Too Much Joy’s “Son of Sam I Am”, I almost kissed him. Finally, I found this song. I am shocked as hell that I didn’t put FNM or Slaughter around it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: we’re running a bit long, so I’m going to speed this up a bit.

U2, REM, Soul Asylum and Soundgarden – these were my “college” songs. I had heard of U2 and REM prior to going to Merrimack College, but I didn’t pay attention to them. I had no idea who Soul Asylum or Soundgarden were at all.  When I got to college, I realized pretty quickly that I needed to pay attention because “Achtung Baby”,  “Automatic for the People”, “Badmotorfinger” and “Grave Dancer’s Union” were four CDs that pretty much everyone owned. The others were Pearl Jam’s “Ten”, Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and the Beastie Boy’s “Check Your Head”.

U2 has pretty much become the Irish version of RHCP, in that I want them to go far away and never return. REM burned really brightly for awhile (they were always considered “the thinking person’s band”) but they faded away.  Soul Asylum’s lead singer David Pirner went out with Winona Ryder for a bit, which seemed to surprise everyone – including him, but they never really did anything after GDU. And Soundgarden just kept making the right choices album after album after album. They broke up, got back together and seem to be in a decent spot right now.

Whenever I hear a song from one of these albums, no matter what I think of the particular band presently, it always rockets me back to 1992/93; sitting in a tiny room with a bunch of people, drinking and listening to these CDs. It’s a nice memory.

The Police and Steppenwolf – Other than this song is really awesome, I’m not sure why I have “Synchronicity II” on this tape. I’ve always admired the Police, but I’ve never been a huge fan. Sting really outdoes himself with the writing and imagery on this track. It may have been one of the reasons why I became an English major – no, that’s not really true.

The reason why I have “Born to Be Wild” on this tape is because that’s what the Merrimack hockey team used to come out to before every game. When you were a freshman at Merrimack back in the early 90s, there wasn’t much to do. Even though the hockey team was terrible, it was fun to go to the games because they played in the best college conference in the nation: Hockey East. Schools like Boston University, University of Maine (who had the best college club I’ve ever seen with Paul Kariya, Garth Snow [no relation to the Informer], Mike Dunham and the rest) would roll through North Andover, slap the Warriors around for 60 minutes then move on.

Every once in awhile, MC would pull an upset and we’d all leave the building happy. But more often than not, they’d get waxed, we’d get drunk and if it was a Friday we’d all do the same thing the following night.

AB Logic and Brian Adams – I have no idea what I was thinking about with these two songs. AB Logic’s “The Hitman” might be the worst song I’ve ever included on a Good Songs tape. Ever. And Brian Adams? I don’t know why I chose this one either. It’s an alright song, but it’s nothing that I ever really listened to.  Strange choices.

Led Zeppelin – Bold choice by me to pick this song as the first Zep song to be on a Good Songs tape. Of all the Zeppelin hits, this might be one of my least favorites. The wheels are completely coming off the tape at this point.

Guns N’ Roses – I think that this is a very underrated Guns N’ Roses song mainly because it was part of the mess that was “Use Your Illusions I and II”. Plus the video was incredibly stripped down, especially compared to the multi-million dollar intertwined videos/Axel Rose madness for “Don’t Cry”, “November Rain” and “Estranged”.  At some point, people got sick of GNR and this song slid under the radar. Which is too bad because, it’s a good song.

At this point in their career, Guns N' Roses was completely falling apart. If they had any sort of self-awareness (and I know this is 20/20 hindsight) but they should have put up a "Guns N' Roses 1987 - 1993" at the end of the video. That would have been a nice touch. 

Black Sheep – This is the only real rap song that I included on this tape. I guess I had outgrown my hip hop phase. But this song is terrific. The hook, the lyrics, the flow; it really is a classic. After the AB Logic/Brian Adams/ Led Zeppelin car crash, I guess I righted the ship a bit. Good for you, 1993 Byron. Good for you.   

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Good Songs XII

Jump – Kriss Kross
What it Takes – Aerosmith
Poison – Bell Biv DeVoe
It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday – Boyz II Men
Motownphilly – Boyz II Men
Into the Fire – Dokken
Burning Like a Flame – Dokken
Heroin – Velvet Underground
We Want Eazy – Eazy-E
Radio – Eazy-E
Epic – Faith No More
Falling to Pieces – Faith No More
100 Miles and Runnin’ – NWA

I hate Halloween. I don’t like dressing up. I don’t like the cold in the air as I’m walking around outside--it reminds me that summer is done. I don’t like begging for candy. Even when I wasn’t trick or treating, I still hated Halloween*. For a few years in the mid-90s, Kriss Kross made Halloween bearable for me.

The best and easiest Halloween costume I ever came up with was a Kriss-Kross inspired outfit. I wore a pinstriped Chicago Bulls Starter jersey backwards (before it was a Halloween costume, I loved this shirt unconditionally), a backwards baseball cap and a pair of Z. Cavaricci’s also backwards. It was a good conversation starter, it treaded very slightly on the nostalgia trail and it allowed me to live my fantasy as the Daddy Mack (or Mack Daddy). The only problem was peeing. With the fly in the rear, that was difficult.

* When I got in my 20s, my stance on Halloween softened a bit; mainly because every party I went to was filled with women wearing “sexy blah, blah, blah” costumes. Sexy nurses, sexy Josie and the Pussycats, sexy nuclear technicians, it was a good time. Now that I’m a father of two daughters, karma is going to come back to me two-fold. Therefore, even though I'm no longer dressing up, Halloween still sucks.

I haven’t listened to “Jump” in awhile, but when I was checking it out today, I noticed that there is a lot bravado for a couple of prepubescents. The first line (“Don’t compare us to another Bad Little Fad”) is a shot across the bow to the East Coast Family’s younger members: Another Bad Creation. Coming from a pair whose entire career was built on wearing clothes backwards, that’s a bit aggressive and tone deaf.

Speaking of aggressive, the entire song is full of bitter machismo, striking out at any and all comers. “When they ask if Kriss Kross rocks? You say ‘Believe that’.” I’m not sure exactly why this struck me as odd—in reality it doesn’t, it’s early 90s rap. Aside from PM Dawn there weren't a lot of soft crooners—but maybe it’s because I remember them as two cute little kids rapping that I expected something less pointed.

I owned Another Bad Creation’s “Coolin’ at the Playground, Ya Know!” and they are not represented at all on any Good Songs tape. I liked “Iesha”, I liked “Playground”* so I’m not sure why I didn’t include any of those songs on any of these tapes. I was probably extremely embarrassed to admit owning the tape--I didn't even buy it at the store, I got it through the mail via Columbia House. And if one of those songs ended up on a Good Songs mix, I’d have a lot of explaining to do.

* I know that most people give Snoop Dogg all the credit for popularizing the –izzle speak, which is adding izzle to the end of words. But there is a verse in the ABC song “Playground” that goes “It’s the Miz-ark (the kids’ name was Mark) chillin’ in the piz-ark, I got a break because my momma said to be home by diz-ark.” The question I want is answered is: “Did Snoop Dogg steal from ABC?” because that’s pretty damn whack if true.

I’m pretty sure that I created this tape in the late spring of 1992 because the first two songs have a very AHS-baseball flair to them. What I mean by that is that I borrowed “Totally Krossed Out” from a teammate and another teammate spent the better part of that season singing “What It Takes” at the top of his lungs, at all times. I pretty much despised Aerosmith by this point in my life (a dislike that continues to this very day!) and I was not regularly listening to “Pump” at all. I think that the reason why I included this song is due to my teammate getting this song jammed into my noggin for three months.

In retrospect, it’s probably the best late-career Aerosmith song around. If that’s not damning with faint praise, I don’t know what is.

Looking at the rest of this song list, I was perplexed by the song choices and then it hit me as I was listening to them in order: these were all songs that I used to listen to when I was holed up in my brother’s room playing Nintendo. My brother got a CD player really early and was buying discs with every penny he saved. And since the Nintendo was in his room, I’d end up listening to whatever was in his disc player as I was playing “RBI Baseball” or “Ninja Kid” or “Nintendo Ice Hockey”.

So much so that, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” doesn’t make me wistfully remember a friend who has passed away. It makes me wistfully recall when the computer had the pitcher hit a bomb off me in the bottom of the ninth to ruin a perfect game in RBI. Damn you, computerized Brett Saberhagen! Damn you straight to Nintendo Hell!

Boyz II Men was an interesting group, they were part of Michael Bivens’ East Coast Family with Bell Biv DeVoe, ABC and the all-white, all-absent Sudden Impact. They were easily the most talented of the quartet of groups (and I’m making the wild-ass assumption that SI sucked, since we only caught a quick glimpse of them in the “Motownphilly” video pointing and acting “cool”) but I’m not sure if that is like being the valedictorian of summer school. At the very least, they could really sing. In subsequent years, they had a run of number one songs “I’ll Make Love to You” and “On Bended Knee” but then they just disappeared. They show up every once in awhile but usually in that “Remember how wacky the 90s were” type of cameo.

I wonder why they never made it last?

Out of all the songs included on that list, there is one that sticks out like a sore thumb. A good sore thumb, but a sore thumb nonetheless. And that’s the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”. One of the truths that I have been forced to face during this exercise is that I wasn’t as progressive of a music listener as I once thought. Most of the stuff I really enjoyed were spoon-fed to me by either MTV or the radio. If I did make a foray into something that wasn’t in heavy rotation, it was something in medium rotation*.

* MTV had a show on Sunday nights, called 120 Minutes which played two hours of alternative (before this was a dirty word) music. Stuff like the Pixies, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Cure, maybe Nirvana before “Nevermind”. And we could listen to WFNX beaming from Boston. In thinking back to my high school days, I don’t think that anyone was into that scene at all and I wonder why? The music is really good, certainly better than the tripe that was on the radio and MTV, but I didn’t know anyone who liked that stuff until I went to college. I wonder how different my life would be if I got into that music while in high school?

So I’d love to write about how I found a Velvet Underground and Nico tape in some cutout bin at some mall tape store and that I took it home and my whole world view was magically transformed. Like I was some male version of Janie from VU’s  song “Rock N Roll”. But that’s not the truth. My brother bought the soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” and this song was on that CD.

I guess that there are worse ways of being introduced to a new band. But I remember playing this over and over and over and over again and really liking the tempo and the feeling that song imparted. I have never done heroin, but this song sounded what heroin felt like. The dreamy, slow opening with the drum, the manic, noisy middle of the screeching guitars and a giddy Lou Reed talking about death, to the crashing fade out of ultimately not knowing.

Though I found it on a soundtrack of a movie, it was way more mind-expanding than any other song on this tape (aside from “Falling to Pieces”, I suppose). The old joke is that only 15,000 people bought Velvet Underground’s first album and all 15,000 started rock bands. The humor being that just about every band says their influence is VU. I can’t claim that I’ve been influenced by VU, I’ve listened to a bunch of their stuff and “Heroin” is still my favorite song, but including it on the last Good Songs of high school is a nice departing point for college.