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?

No comments: