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.

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