Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Decade of Compilations

To properly summarize the decade, many music-loving individuals and organizations create lists of favorite albums. I considered doing that, and then realized that all the information is already available. It's right here.

For me, songs tell the real story of my musical decade. The just-completed Top 100 of the 2000's list are songs that my friends and I feel both define and transcend the Aughts, but they aren't necessarily my personal favorites. So what about those?

In the last couple of years I've posted the tracklists for my annual compilations (here's 2007 and 2008; scroll to the bottom), but my compilations from 2000 to 2006 (I didn't start officially making them until 2003, the first three are retroactive) haven't been revealed on the blog.

Let's fix that.

2000

1) The Strokes: Hard To Explain, 2) Ghostface Killah: Saturday Nite, 3) Supergrass: Mary, 4) Lloyd Cole: Past Imperfect, 5) Aimee Mann: Ghost World, 6) Ultimate Fakebook: Tell Me What You Want, 7) Barenaked Ladies: Pinch Me, 8) Eels: Mr. E's Beautiful Blues, 9) Robbie Williams: Kids, 10) The Anniversary: Perfectly, 11) Jimmy Eat World: No Sensitivity, 12) The Wallflowers: Sleepwalker, 13) The Jayhawks: I'm Gonna Make You Love Me, 14) Teenage Fanclub: I Need Direction, 15) Sun Sawed In Half: Shining Knight, 16) Vince Gill: Feels Like Love, 17) David Gray: Babylon, 18) Everclear: Learning How To Smile

2001

1) Ryan Adams: New York, New York, 2) Jimmy Eat World: A Praise Chorus, 3) Cake: Never There, 4) Ben Folds: Not the Same, 5) Eels: Fresh Feeling, 6) Kings of Convenience: Singing Softly To Me, 7) Old 97s: Buick City Complex, 8) Rufus Wainwright: California, 9) The Orange Peels: Mystery Lawn, 10) Semisonic: Follow, 11) Shawn Colvin: A Whole New You, 12) Jay-Z: Heart of the City (Ain't No Love), 13) Sloan: Dreaming Of You, 14) They Might Be Giants: Man It's So Loud In Here, 15) Weezer: Don't Let Go, 16) No Doubt: Don't Let Me Down, 17) David Byrne: Like Humans Do, 18) Stuart Davis: Savoring Samsara, 19) The Dismemberment Plan: Ellen and Ben, 20) De La Soul: Trying People

2002

1) Rhett Miller: This Is What I Do, 2) Kylie Minogue: Love At First Sight, 3) Phantom Planet: Always On My Mind, 4) Ok Go: You're So Damn Hot, 5) Supergrass: Grace, 6) Jay-Z, feat. Beyonce: '03 Bonnie and Clyde, 7) Justin Timberlake: Rock Your Body, 8) X-Press 2, feat. David Byrne: Lazy, 9) Get Up Kids: Overdue, 10) Joseph Arthur: Honey and the Moon, 11) Neil Finn: Anytime, 12) Brendan Benson: Tiny Spark, 13) Jurassic Five: Break, 14) Counting Crows: Hard Candy, 15) Storyhill: What Was Wrong, 16) Vermont: Ballad of Larry Bird, 17) Vicious Vicious: Shake Your Ass On the Dancefloor, 18) Tori Amos: A Sorta Fairytale, 19) The Wallflowers: If You Never Got Sick, 20) Foo Fighters: All My Life

2003

1) Outkast: Hey Ya!, 2) Pernice Brothers: Weakest Shade of Blue, 3) Mark Bacino: Rockin' Mood, 4) The Exploding Hearts: Sleeping Aides and Razor Blades, 5) The Rosebuds: Kicks In the Schoolyard, 6) Barnaked Ladies: Take It Outside, 7) Teitur: You're the Ocean, 8) John Mayer: Home Life, 9) My Morning Jacket: Golden, 10) Zwan: Honestly, 11) Mandy Moore: Can We Still Be Friends, 12) Kathleen Edwards: Six O'Clock News, 13) Nada Surf: The Way You Wear Your Head, 14) Death Cab For Cutie: The Sound of Settling, 15) The Postal Service: Nothing Better, 16) Kenna: Freetime, 17) Junior Senior: Move Your Feet, 18) Pharrell, feat. Jay-Z: Frontin', 19) Black Eyed Peas: Hands Up, 20) Eels: Saturday Morning, 21) Rufus Wainwright: I Don't Know What It Is, 22) The Dandy Warhols: The Last High

2004a

1) The Shins: We Will Become Silhouettes, 2) Scisssor Sisters: Take Your Mama, 3) Modest Mouse: Float On, 4) The Get-Up Kids: How Long Is Too Long?, 5) The Killers: Somebody Told Me, 6) The Rosenbergs: Department Store Girl, 7) Hanson: Penny & Me, 8) Duran Duran: Want You More!, 9) Supergrass: Kiss Of Life, 10) Danger Mouse: Change Clothes, 11) The Roots: Somebody's Gotta Do It, 12) Dogs Die In Hot Cars: I Love You 'Cause I Have To, 13) R.E.M. feat. Q-Tip: The Outsiders, 14) Kanye West: Jesus Walks, 15) Delays: Nearer Than Heaven, 16) The Honeydogs: 10,000 Years, 17) Rilo Kiley: Love and War (11/11/46), 18) Olympic Hopefuls: Shy, 19) Prince: Call My Name, 20) Sloan: Live On, 21) Jimmy Eat World: Work, 22) Beastie Boys: That's It That's All



2004b

1) Carbon Leaf: What About Everything?, 2) Collective Soul: Better Now, 3) Futureheads: Meantime, 4) Alva Star: Tornado Girl, 5) Melissa Auf Der Maur: Would If I Could, 6) Tears For Fears: Call Me Mellow, 7) Arcade Fire: Wake Up, 8) Kylie Minogue: I Believe In You, 9) Bright Eyes: Take It Easy (Love Nothing), 10) Chomsky: Light, 11) Old 97s: Won't Be Home, 12) KT Tunstall: Other Side of the World, 13) Hem: An Easy One, 14) The Hold Steady: The Swish, 15) Green Day: She's A Rebel, 16) Annie: Heartbeat, 17) Kelly Clarkson: Walk Away, 18) Talib Kweli: We Got the Beat, 19) Kings of Convenience: I'd Rather Dance With You, 20) Lisa Loeb: Fools Like Me, 21) Candy Butchers: Nice To Know You, 22) Iron and Wine: Such Great Heights

2005

1) The Perceptionists: People 4 Prez, 2) Atmosphere: Watch Out, 3) Gorillaz: Feel Good Inc., 4) Halloween, Alaska: I Can't Live Without My Radio, 5) Vicious Vicious: Here Come the Police, 6) Melodious Owl: Boom Bam, 7) Nada Surf: Blankest Year, 8) Motion City Soundtrack: When "You're" Around, 9) The New Pornographers: Use It, 10) Erasure: Here I Go Impossible Again, 11) Ivy: Keep Moving, 12) Death Cab For Cutie: Soul Meets Body, 13) Alkaline Trio: Dethbed, 14) The Hold Steady: Cattle and the Creeping Things, 15) Spoon: I Summon You, 16) Kathleen Edwards: Back To You, 17) Joanna James: Waiting So Long, 18) Jack Johnson: Better Together, 19) The Rosebuds: Hold Hands and Fight, 20) Glen Phillips: Easier, 21) Ben Taylor: Nothing I Can Do, 22) Ok Go: Here It Goes Again, 23) The Wallflowers: All Things New Again


2006 (so far)

1) The Strokes: Razorblade, 2) Morningwood: Nth Degree, 3) Belle and Sebastian: The Blues Are Still Blue, 4) Rhett Miller: Help Me, Suzanne, 5) Neko Case: Hold On, Hold On, 6) Morrissey: You Have Killed Me, 7) Prince: Black Sweat, 8) Hanz Erik and the Hims: Girl Up In My Mind, 9) Donald Fagen: What I Do, 10) Secret Machines: Lightning Blue Eyes, 11) Teddy Thompson: That's Enough Out Of You, 12) Red Hot Chili Peppers: Make You Feel Better, 13) The Raconteurs: Steady As She Goes, 14) Gnarls Barkley: Crazy, 15) Rock Kills Kid: Midnight, 16) Snow Patrol: Shut Your Eyes, 17) The Concretes: Song For the Songs, 18) Dixie Chicks: So Hard, 19) Damone: You're the One, 20) Slow Runner: You're In Luck



(the rest of) 2006

1) David Mead: Hallelujah, I Was Wrong, 2) The Wreckers: Leave the Pieces, 3) Camera Obscura: Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken, 4) Ronnie Milsap: Every Fire, 5) Mary J. Blige & U2: One, 6) Soul Asylum: All Is Well, 7) Leroy Smokes: Kill the DJ, 8) Corinne Bailey Rae: Trouble Sleeping, 9) Elton John: Just Like Noah's Ark, 10) Beyonce, feat. Jay-Z: Deja Vu, 11) Christina Aguilara: Ain't No Other Man, 12) The Roots: Clock With No Hands, 13) What Made Milwaukee Famous: Hellodrama, 14) The Honeydogs: Too Close To The Sun, 15) John Mayer: Slow Dancing In A Burning Room, 16) Scissor Sisters: Lights, 17) Teitur: Louis Louis, 18) Regina Spektor: On the Radio, 19) The Hold Steady: Stuck Between Stations

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top 100 of the '00s: By the Numbers

Songs 10 through 1 of the Top 100 of the '00s are now posted, completing the countdown. I'll wait while you go check it out.

Thanks for coming back. I thought it might be interesting to share some information about the list itself, so here goes.

The Song Selection Process
I thought very hard about the 2000s and spent a lot of time looking through my iTunes as sorted by year. From there I created a four-part ballot for my voters.

Part one: A list of 30 songs. Voters were asked to pick their top 15.
Part two: Either/or options (eg. The Killers' Mr. Brightside or Somebody Told Me?).
Part three: A list of artists for whom I couldn't settle on a single song. Voters were asked to fill in the blank.
Part four: Open nominations.

The hope of all of this was to see some consensus among voters. For the most part, that happened. Because I limited the list to one-song-per-artist, it created some interesting conundrums. For example, Coldplay's Clocks and Viva La Vida both received three votes apiece. My solution was to write both song names on a scrap of paper, conceal one in each hand, and have my wife choose left or right. It was very scientific.

Yes, this is a very biased way to do things seeing as how I picked all of the initial songs and artists, but don't forget part four, where voters wrote in nominations. In fact many of the songs that made the list came from this section. ALSO, some of the songs and artists that I initially provided ended up not making the list because interest just wasn't there.

Every song that got at least two votes made the list. That accounted for 80 of the 100. For the final 20, I chose from a list of about 50 nominees, mostly considering diversity (in both race of the artist and style) and cultural impact on the Aughts (which is an admittedly subjective criteria). I tried to spread out the final 20 evenly among the voters, but somehow I ended up with a few more than everyone else (hey, it's MY blog).

The Ranking
Easy enough. The more votes a song got the higher it was ranked. For songs that received the same number of votes, I had no interest in trying to determine a hierarchy, so I just ranked them alphabetically. This holds true through the whole list except for in the top five where I did some slight juggling (Get Ur Freak On at number 2 felt too high).

The Omissions
As you peruse the list you may be thinking more about what's missing than what's actually there. For example, country music is woefully underrepresented. Nothing against country, but this is a pop blog primarily, and unlike the '80s (Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers) and '90s (Garth Brooks, Shania Twain), the '00s did not feature country stars who crossed over into the pop mainstream, at least not until this year. Sorry Miley and Taylor, you were a little bit late to be fully considered.

Also, you might ask about the absence of critical favorites like Beck, Wilco, and Radiohead. I initially intended to include them because they did such fine work in the '00s. I was even set with a song from each of them (Girl, You Never Know, and Idioteque, if you were wondering) when I realized that all three artists were more significant in the '90s than the '00s. These artists' '00s work was solid, for sure, but they didn't do anything to equal or surpass earlier achievements. And that was the kicker. So even though Idioteque is probably (though not definitely) a better song than Bleeding Love, the latter is the summit for Leona Lewis, but the former is not the apex for Radiohead. The few pre-'00s established artists who did make the list (such as U2, Green Day, Loretta Lynn, "Weird Al") all had to pass this test.

Statistical Breakdowns
I've become more and more statistics-minded lately. Not sure why that is, but it's kind of fun to look at how the numbers played out in various categories and see what we can learn from that.

Genre: We mentioned the dearth of country, but how did other styles fair? Well, I didn't care to break rock down into its sub categories (hard, metal, emo, indie, etc) so that ends up consuming 50% of the songs on the list. The other half broke down as follows: 20% pop and 30% hip hop/R & B. Though the latter was less than a third of the list, it dominated the top 10, taking 7 of the top 10 spots (including the TOP FOUR!).

Race: Unfortunately, much like whites dominate every other aspect of American culture, they also dominated this list. Only 23% of the artists on the list were people of color. Then again, 80% of my voters were white, proving once again that I need less white friends.

Gender: Despite being 50.7% of the U.S. population, women are responsible for only 33% of the list. If only Hillary had gotten the nomination...

Year: Here are the number of songs from each year of the decade. 2000 (4), 2001 (10), 2002 (8), 2003 (18), 2004 (15), 2005 (14), 2006 (8), 2007 (10), 2008 (10), 2009 (2). If we're going by these numbers, it's obvious that the decade peaked from 2003 - 2005. Four of our top 10 come from those years, including numbers one and two. So, yeah, I think it's safe to say that the middle of the decade ruled.

Dominance of the '00s
Finally, we look at who, despite the one-song-per-artist rule, managed to assert themselves.

Justin Timberlake is the '00s king. He had 2 songs in serious contention, Cry Me a River and SexyBack (each had three votes the latter won the "pick-a-hand" contest) and two other deserving choices (Rock Your Body and Like I Love You), PLUS his appearances in Dick In a Box (#71), Where Is the Love (#28), and Bye Bye Bye (#5). Jay-Z was right behind him with 99 Problems (#60) plus guest appearances on Umbrella (#69) and Crazy In Love (#6). Jack White (#s 89 and 78) and Ben Gibbard (#s 30 and 13) both snuck in two songs as well.

What about writers and producers? They had no limit on their appearances on the list, and four strong entities emerged as the preeminent hitmakers and trendsetters of the '00s.

First, the Swedes. Max Martin and Cheiron Studios gave us lots of late-'90s hits by the likes of Britney, Backstreet Boys, and *NSYNC, and he continued that into the '00s. Martin co-wrote two list songs, Kelly Clarkson's Since U Been Gone (#8) and Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl (#21), and his colleague Andreas Carlsson was partly responsible for Bye Bye Bye (#5).

Next, there's Dr.Dre, a '90s force who quietly stayed on our minds with hits like Mary J. Blige's Family Affair (#29) and 50 Cent's In Da Club (#48), not to mention his non-list (but still very influential) work with Eminem in the early part of the decade.

Then we have Timbaland, who gives us two list songs, SexyBack (where his distinctive repeated "Yeah!" makes the song) and Get Ur Freak On (#3). Besides his great work with Justin Timberlake (he also did Cry Me a River) and Missy Elliot, Tim also gave us some great Aaliyah songs (Try Again), Jay-Z's Dirt Off Your Shoulders, Nelly Furtado's Promiscuous and Say It Right, to name a few.

And let's consider the Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) who gave us two list songs (Hollaback Girl at #42 and Hot In Herrre at #6), made their mark performing as N*E*R*D , and wrote/produced a murderer's row of hits. Here are some of them: Britney's I'm a Slave 4 U, Kelis' Milkshake, Snoop's Beautiful, Common's Universal Mind Control, No Doubt's Hella Good, *NSYNC's Girlfriend, Usher's U Don't Have 2 Call, Fabolous' Young'un (Holla Back), Pharrell's Frontin', the aforementioned JT hits Rock Your Body and Like I Love You, and Mystikal's Shake Ya Ass. They also introduced us to Clipse and Kenna, and recruited Minneapolis' Spymob as their backing band. I give them an A+ for the decade, and the award for Most Influential of the Aughts.

And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the huge factor TV and movies played in our music listening. The '00s were more like the '80s in that respect. Songs from movies became close to our hearts (Garden State, Slumdog Millionaire), TV shows created pop superstars (Leona Lewis. Kelly Clarkson), and commercials became an acceptable method of getting your music to a very very wide audience (Ting Tings, Phoenix, Feist). TV and movies are the new radio.

* * *

That's it for my expert analysis. I hope you enjoyed reading the list as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I'll see you in 10 years.

Monday, December 21, 2009

2009: Thirteen Albums I'm Glad I Bought

Change is in the air. It's actually been there awhile, but I've been trying to ignore it.

Please allow me a slightly awkward extended metaphor. Let's say instead of a music blogger/obsessive I was a professional sports star. Instead of ERA, rebounds, or touchdowns, my statistical categories are CDs bought, CDs reviewed, and number of times posted on the blog.

In my early career I was a phenom, putting up gaudy numbers. Witness:

2003 - 2006
I posted on the blog 155 times, at an average of 4.1 posts per month.
I wrote 135 reviews, 115 of which were of new (at the time) CDs. That's 85%.
87% of my posts were album reviews.
I bought between 80 and 100 new release CDs PER YEAR.

Big numbers, right? That's a stat line anyone can be proud of. But let's look at what happened in the last three years. It's a slightly smaller sample, but only by 2 months (In 2003 I only wrote in November and December).

2007 - 2009
I posted on the blog 167 times, at an average of 4.6 posts per month.
I wrote 112 reviews, 40 of which were of new (at the time) CDs. That's 36%.
70% of my posts were album reviews.
I bought between 30 - 50 new release CDs per year.

Inevitably sports stars' skills erode. As their physical gifts fade they rely more on their experience and knowledge of the game. They become less about overpowering you and more about outsmarting you. This can lead to the illusion that they're still performing at a high level (often they even fool themselves). As you can see from the numbers that's what happened to me. I kept up my output, even increased it, but that hid the fact that my grasp of new music had loosened considerably.

This was a subtle shift, but in retrospect, not a surprising one. In 2007 I moved in with my future wife. In 2008 we got married and bought a house. In 2009 we discovered that Baby Boy Allen is due on his way (February 2010). In other words, my life changed. A lot. In yet other words, my music obsession suddenly had very strong competitor. My love for music didn't diminish, but the time I was willing and able to devote to seeking out new music did.

I tried to ignore this, to write it off as a lull. I didn't even know fully what was happening. In 2007 I wrote about how it was a down year for music and about feeling uninspired. In 2008 I rededicated myself to the blog. I wrote more than ever, but that key stat above, that 64% of reviews being of older albums, really came into play. And along with the notion that the way I consumed music had changed dramatically, I even had the revelation that songs have become more important to me than albums.

Going into this year, I half expected a renaissance, a return to my old ways, to get my finger back on the pulse of the pop world. It didn't happen. I continued to move the blog toward an oldies format. Don't get me wrong. I'm proud of all of my work this year, and especially of my non-review pieces (like the interview with Hot Action Cop singer/songwriter Rob Werthner, a statistical analysis of radio station Cities 97, and the very tongue-in-cheek So You Wanna Be a Rock 'N Roll Critic series), but it's very clear to me know that things aren't like they used to be, and they won't be in the forseeable future. And maybe that's okay. I have no plans to walk away from the game, but I may need to switch to the senior's tour.

So as I sat down to make my annual top ten list I realized three things. 1) I actually had a top thirteen, 2) I had no interest in ranking them, and 3) Since I've started caring more about individual songs, five standout songs on an album seems to be my gold standard. So rather than waxing poetic about the albums themselves, I'm listing my favorite songs.

Without any further ado (there's been too much already), here are twelve albums I'm glad I bought this year (they're listed alphabetically to dispel any notions of hierarchy).


Flight of the Conchords: I Told You I Was Freaky

Check out:
Hurt Feelings, Too Many Dicks (On the Dancefloor), Sugalumps, We're Both In Love With a Sexy Lady, I Told You I Was Freaky, Carol Brown








Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown

Read the review.

Check out:
Last Night On Earth, Peacemaker, Murder City, Horseshoes and Handgrenades, The Static Age, 21 Guns, American Eulogy







Harlem Shakes: Technicolor Health

Check out:
Nothing But Change Part II, Strictly Game, Unhurried Hearts (Prosaic Pastoral), Natural Man, Technicolor Health








The Hopefuls: Now Playing at the One-Seat Theatre

Read the review.

Check out:
Edge of Medicine, Idaho, Red Stain, Miss You, One-Seat Theatre, Virgin Wood, Stacey, Hold Your Own






Kings of Convenience: Declaration of Dependence

Check out:
24-25, Mrs.Cold, Me In You, Boat Behind, Rule My World, Riot on an Empty Street









Owl City: Ocean Eyes

Read the review.

Check out:
Cave In, Fireflies, The Saltwater Room, The Tip of the Iceberg, Tidal Wave, Umbrella Beach







Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Check out:
Lisztomania, Lasso, 1901, Girlfriend, Fences









P.O.S.: Never Better

Check out: Let It Rattle, Savion Glover, Graves (We Wrote the Book), Goodbye, Low Light Low Life, Optimist (We Are Not For Them)









Tinted Windows: Tinted Windows

Read the review.

Check out:
Kind of a Girl, Nothing To Me, We Got Something, Cha Cha, New Cassette







Weezer: Raditude

Read the review.

Check out:
If You're Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To), Can't Stop Partying, Girl Got Hot, I'm Your Daddy, Put Me Back Together, Don't Wanna Let You Go






Wilco: Wilco (the Album)

Read the review.

Check out:
Wilco (the Song), You Never Know, You and I, One Wing, Sonny Feeling







Robbie Williams: Reality Killed the Video Star

Check out:
Morning Sun, You Know Me, Bodies, The Last Days of Disco, Do You Mind, Difficult For Weirdos, Won't Do That, Arizona

Thursday, December 17, 2009

247. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Off the Deep End (1992)

In my review of the UHF soundtrack, I forgot to mention that I didn't buy it when it came out. I saw the movie, but I didn't even think about the fact that it might have an accompanying soundtrack. 12-year-old Paul was not so quick on the uptake.

So in 1992 when I discovered there was a new "Weird Al" album, I couldn't have been more excited. It had been four years since Even Worse (the last new Al album as far as I knew), and a long four years at that. It was the difference between me being in 5th grade and me being a freshman in high school! Despite that, my love for Al was undiminished. In fact, "Weird Al" Yankovic on the Off the Deep End tour was the first concert I went to of my own volition.

But what about the album itself? Let's dive in.

Parodies
Smells Like Nirvana is Al's take on what would become the most influential song of the decade, Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit (Off the Deep End's Cover also parodies Nirvana's Nevermind album, but thankfully Al spared us a dick shot). The point of the song is that Al is listening to Nirvana and can't understand the mumbly lyrics. It's nothing spectacular, and Al's off-kilter singing on the chorus shows that for all his musical talent, he wouldn't have made it in grunge.

I Can't Watch This finds Al going negative about his former flame: TV. Set to MC Hammer's I Can't Touch This, the song rails against the likes of Judge Wapner on People's Court ("You gotta be Rain Man to like this guy"), America's Funniest Home Videos, and cable ("just brainless blood and guts and mindless T & A"). It's clever enough.

The White Stuff, however, is not. I wrote earlier about how 99% of the time a parody of a bad song is going to also be a bad song, and this is proof. I'm not anti-New Kids on the Block by any means, but The Right Stuff was a frighteningly thin song to start with. Al makes it about Oreos, though his title leaves too much room for a dirty imagination. All in all, a low point. At least until we get to Taco Grande (after Gerardo's Rico Suave), an impressive bit of lyrical and vocal dexterity, but a bad song nonetheless. Cheech Marin makes a guest appearance as a Telemundo announcer.

Finally, there's The Plumbing Song, which may be Al's most bizarre parody ever. A mash-up (before that word proliferated) of Milli Vanilli's Baby, Don't Forget My Number and Blame It On the Rain, The Plumbing Song comes off as minimalist and oddly constructed, almost avant garde. Also strange is the fact that the band had confessed to being musical frauds at this point, and that Al didn't find it in him to at least put one lip synching joke in the lyrics. I guess he found his plumber jokes way funnier (I don't).

Overall, for me, not a great showing on the parodies, though I loved them all back in the day.

Style Parodies
Things start off with Trigger Happy, one of Al's best all-time style parodies. He takes the sweet harmonies of the Beach Boys and marries them to gun nut lyrics like, "there's no feeling any greater / than to shoot first and ask questions later." This could have gotten A LOT more political than it did, but his point is still clear.

I Was Only Kidding is a sort of new wave punk tune with funny lyrics about a man who has made grand romantic promises in jest. Though not a parody in the strictest sense, the song owes a very big structural debt to Tonio K.'s 1978 song H.A.T.R.E.D. (I didn't suss this out on my own. I saw it on Wikipedia and verified it for myself via YouTube. What did we do before the Interweb?).

Another indebted tune is When I Was Your Age, a Crazy List song that finds an old timer exaggerating his hardships (he had to eat dirt, swim in the septic tank, cut the lawn with his teeth, etc.). The inspiration here is solo Don Henley, specifically the tune If Dirt Were Dollars (Again, I needed help to figure that out.)

That leaves Airline Amy and You Don't Love Me Anymore as the only truly original originals. The former is sort of a Kinksish country rock tune. Lyrically it could be the blueprint for 80% of Fountains of Wayne's songs, concerning a fella mistakes a stewardess' professional attention for genuine affection. I appreciate it much more now than I did as a teenager. You Don't Love Me Anymore is a power ballad Crazy List song, naming the awful things the narrator's beloved has done to him (she disconnected his brakes, put piranhas in his bathtub, poisoned his coffee, etc.). The chorus is the punchline, and it's a pretty good one at that.

Polka Medley
Polka Your Eyes Out highlights how musically weird and interesting the late '80s / early '90s really were. Hip-hop and R & B were making their move, hair metal was sticking around, and some '80s artists had improbably big hits. Here are the songs Al polkafies: Cradle of Love (Billy Idol), Tom's Diner (Suzanne Vega), Love Shack (B-52s), Pump Up the Jam (Technotronic), Losing My Religion (R.E.M.), Unbelievable (E.M.F.), Do Me (Bel Biv Devoe), Enter Sandman (Metallica), The Humpty Dance (Digital Underground), Cherry Pie (Warrant), Miss You Much (Janet Jackson), I Touch Myself (The DiVinyls), Dr. Feelgood (Motley Crue), and Ice Ice Baby (Vanilla Ice).

References to food: 3
References to TV: 1
Grade: C+
Fave Song: Airline Amy

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No More No More Songs About

A couple of weeks ago I introduced what I intended to be a new ongoing feature for 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds. No More Songs About... was to be a forum for me to complain about the proliferation of songs on certain topics. The first entry concerned California.

After some reflection, I've decided not to continue the feature. Here's why: As I've been working on subsequent entries, I'm finding they're all ending up the same: a list of songs on the topic, the conclusion that there are already too many of them, and a plea for songwriters to write about something else. There's not much to that pattern that's worth my time or yours. Plus, I feel like kind of a prick telling songwriters what they should and shouldn't be writing about. It seems vaguely Communist.

However, I still think we could put a moratorium on the following: songs about satellites, New York, and flying; faithful cover songs; and, yes Virginia, new versions of old Christmas standards. Anything you'd like to add?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2009b

Things have been a little quiet around here as I focus my energies on the Top 100 of the 2000's list, but I have do have a couple of annual 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds traditions coming up. One is my end-of-the-year top 10, which I plan to post sometime in the next couple of weeks. The other is the second half of my annual mix CD (see the first here).

The tracklist is as follows:

1. Weezer - (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To

2. Flight of the Conchords – (Too Many Dicks) On the Dancefloor

3. Robbie Williams - Bodies

4. Phoenix - Lisztomania

5. Wilco - You Never Know

6. Jay-Z - Off That

7. Mos Def - Priority

8. Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks

9. Temper Trap - Sweet Disposition

10. The Hopefuls - Idaho

11. Brendan Benson - A Whole Lot Better

12. Owl City - Tip of the Iceberg

13. P.O.S. - Goodbye

Saturday, December 05, 2009

246. "Weird Al" Yankovic: UHF (1989)

With four hit albums under his belt and a proven ability to make entertaining music videos, Al got the chance to write and star in his own movie in 1989. The result was the not-spectacular-but-very-watchable UHF (you can read my extended thoughts on it here), about a man who takes over his uncle's TV station.

Of course it came with an album too, but the strange part is that despite being called an "Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" only about half the songs actually appear in the film.

Let's tune in:

Song Parodies
Money For Nothing / Beverly Hillbillies is just what it advertises, the Clampett clan's TV theme song put to the tune of Dire Straits' 1985 hit. Reportedly, using the Hillbillies theme was an old idea of Al's. He'd previously done it to the tune of The Rolling Stones' Miss You, and tried to create a version based off Prince's Let's Go Crazy (Prince declined to authorize it, unsurprisingly). Speaking of authorization, Dire Straits maestro Mark Knopfler only agreed to let Al parody his song if Knopfler himself was allowed to play guitar on it. And so it went. The song had a blocky, computer-animated video, and actually appears in the film as a dream sequence.

On that same theme is Isle Thing, a take-off on Tone Loc's Wild Thing. Despite the fact that the song continues Al's obsession with marrying TV shows and pop music, it's actually one of his least conceptually obvious parodies. The lyrics concern a gravelly voiced young man who meets a fine young lady who loves to watch Gilligan's Island. Also of note: The song is Al's second foray into rap in as many albums.

And we're back into painfully obvious territory with She Drives Like Crazy, a rote take on Fine Young Cannibals' original (She Drives Me Crazy). It's the tale of a girl who's such a bad driver that she, "got her license from Cracker Jacks." Al does an admirable job approximating FYC singer Roland Gift on the verses, but on the chorus he sounds like a Muppet.

Finally, there's Spam, after R.E.M.s Stand. Though Al has said he had a great time deconstructing R.E.M.'s layered sound, he should have spent a little more time on the lyrics, which are about the joys of canned, processed meat (made in Austin, Minnesota). There's really not much of a joke there, at least not one that rewards repeat listens. This song would be more interesting if Al redid the lyrics and made them about e-mail spam.

Style Parodies
Generic Blues is one of Al's patented Crazy List songs, this time put to a typical blues backing. The formats compliment each other well as we learn that the singer was "born in a paper sack", had a father who was a waitress, and his hated by all of his brothers and sisters because he was an only child, among many other misfortunes. My favorite part is when Al urges his guitarist to "make it talk" and then tells him to "make it shut up" as the solo drones on.

The Biggest Ball of Twine In Minnesota is one of my very favorite Al songs, an epic story about a family's vacation to see the titular object. The song goes on for nearly 7 minutes without a chorus to speak of, but never gets tiring. Musically, it owes a huge debt to Harry Chapin, specifically 30,000 Pounds of Bananas, of which it is just shy of being a rip-off.

UHF, long one of my favorite Al originals also owes a dubious musical debt (this time to the guitar bit in The Jacksons' 1984 hit State of Shock, which Al did in polka form on Dare To Be Stupid). Despite that fact, it's a rousing, joyful ode to the power of television.

Film Clips
UHF requires a new, temporary category because it includes four bits take from the film in audio form. Ghandi II and Spatula City are a film trailer and commercial (respectively) that appear on the film's TV station and they work fairly well sans visuals. Fun Zone is an instrumental theme for a children's show on the station, and it really does sound like it could have been the intro to any number of '80s sitcoms/game shows/cartoons. Finally, Let Me Be Your Hog is a nonsense takeoff on The Stooges Let Me Be Your Dog.

Polka Medley
After an album off, the polka medley makes a return. But rather than take on the songs of the day, Hot Rocks Polka tackles the hits of The Rolling Stones (the name Hot Rocks comes from a title of one of their compilations). Here are the songs: It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (But I Like It), Brown Sugar, You Can't Always Get What You Want, Honkey Tonk Woman, Under My Thumb, Ruby Tuesday, Miss You, Sympathy For the Devil, Get Off Of My Cloud, Shattered, Let's Spend the Night Together, and (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.

What The?!
Attack of the Radioactive Hamsters From a Planet Near Mars is a standard "wacky" track that follows in the footsteps of Nature Trail To Hell and Slime Creatures From Outer Space, and it does honestly sound like it could be the theme song to a weird B movie you come across on USA at 2 AM. But it falls in the "What The?!" category because it seems tailor-made for the film, and yet it's not in there. What the?!

References to food: 3
References to TV: 3
Grade: B-
Fave Song: UHF / Biggest Ball of Twine In Minnesota

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Top 100 Songs of the '00s

Looks like we made it to the end. Yes, the '00s are shutting down, and that means it's time to look back at them and become instantly nostalgic.

So, just like I did for the '70s, '80s, and '90s, I've enlisted some help to create a list of the best songs of the decade. Now, of course "best" is a subjective term, and I realize that the list will not please everyone, nor will it include every single song you think it should. It's not a list of the most popular songs of the decade (you can go to Billboard online for that), nor is it a list of my favorite songs of the decade (that's too self-indulgent, even for me). And the song list pretty much sticks to the hip hop and pop mainstream, with a few detours into the indie world. That mostly means that there are quite a few sub-genres not represented.

Along with my pickers and choosers, I tried to select songs that meant something to the '00s, were memorable, and that will stand the test of time (or at have least some combination of the three). The songs will be listed in somewhat random order, though songs near the top of the list received more mentions than those at the bottom.

I'll be posting the list 5 at a time every two days, leading us boldly into the new year. The first 10 are up now at Top 100 of the '00s. Please check it out!

Monday, November 30, 2009

No More Songs About...California

Yes, that's right, here comes another new feature on 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds. Following in the footsteps of 12 By... and Rock Bottom, I'm proud to introduce No More Songs About.

This one is just like its title sounds. Each time, I'll pick a topic about which I believe there are already too many songs written. I'll look at some of the best songs, some of the worst, and the ones that broke the camel's back.

My first target is the 31st state in the union, California.

Before I get into it, here's my disclaimer. I have nothing against California. I've visited twice (L.A. and San Diego) and loved it both times. I have friends who live there. Inspired by the pioneering visions of Romantic novelists, I really really wanted to move there after I graduated college. And the Beach Boys have a permanent place in my Top 5 Artists of All Time.

But I don't want to hear any more songs about it.

We've gotta start with what should probably be the state anthem, California Love by 2Pac. Over a bomb beat from Dre we learn several things, including that Englewood is up to no good. It's state pride at its best. Classics like California Dreaming, California Girls, and Wilco's California Stars also fit into this category. The excellent California by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sings the praises of the state, but does it with a little bit of humor, as Petty hopes "it don't fall into the sea."

But hearing how great a place is gets old after awhile. Thankfully there are some songs that are more ambiguous about the the Golden State.

Californication
by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Hotel California by the Eagles both imagine the state vaguely sinister place that will lure you in and trap you. California by Rufus Wainwright finds our author unimpressed: "California / You're such a wonder / That I think I'll stay in bed." A clear musical nod to the Beach Boys pervades Losing California by Sloan, who feel similarly bitter about the state's self-image. "And everybody loves it," they sing, "But nobody knows what it stands for."

In every case where a topic comes up in this particular feature, the main case against it is that there are already enough songs. Consider that the word "California" shows up in 20 titles on my iTunes alone. That's not including songs that are about the state but don't use the title (like Death Cab For Cutie's Grapevine Fires), or are about specific places in the state (like The Thrills' Big Sur, Chris Isaak's San Fransisco Days, Randy Newman's I Hate L.A., or Billy Joel's Say Goodbye to Hollywood). But there are also always specific songs that show things have gone too far.

California, by Phantom Planet, is one such song. The once-and-future O.C. theme song is not so much a bad song (or that The O.C.'s quality dropped off so shockingly fast), as it is annoyingly difficult to get out of your head. Everytime you hear someone say "Caifornia," you are then obliged to sing it in a drawn-out nasally voice. Semisonic's California is also clear evidence that things have gone too far. If you have to mispronounce the name of the state (singer Dan Wilson says it like "Cal-i-forn-eye-ah") to make your song stand out then maybe you should just write a song about something else.

You hear that musicians? I don't care how much you love your home state, or how much you've been inspired by your visits there. There's nothing new you can say about California.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Baby, I'm A Star

In July of 2004 I created a sister blog called Baby, I'm A Star. It took its name from song on/in Prince's Purple Rain album/film. The mission of the blog was always intended to be a limited one. I would watch 30 pop music movies from across various categories (biopics, fictional films, documentaries, concerts, etc.) and write a recap/review of each.

Somewhere in 2005 I lost steam and left the project unfinished.

I picked it back up this past July, 5 years later. Since then I've watched 17 additional films, bringing the grand total to 37. Having surpassed the original goal, I now bring the project to a close. It's a bittersweet feeling, and truthfully, I could have gone on forever. As it is, I missed several key films, like Gimmie Shelter, A Hard Day's Night (though I think Help! is better), and Get Rich or Die Tryin'.

From now on the results of this project can be found in the "Related Content" sidebar at the right of your screen, and you can peruse it at your leisure. The final write-up, posted today, tackles the compulsively watchable documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

Monday, November 23, 2009

245. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Even Worse (1988)

Here it is, the one that started it all for me. If I gave the impression that I experienced any of the first 4 "Weird Al" albums upon their initial release (well, besides that 45 of Eat It), I'm sorry. That wasn't the case. Even Worse was my first Al album.

I don't remember what attracted me to the Even Worse tape at Kohl's (back when they actually had a music department), but it probably had something to do with the cover. I was a Michael Jackson kid and the proud owner of the Bad album, the cover of which is parodied on Even Worse. No matter, I bought it, and that was that.

But how does it hold up against the odometer of time and with a whole career perspective? Let's find out.

Song Parodies:
There's an interesting pattern in the song's Al chose to parody on Even Worse. I'll see if you can figure it out before I get to the end of this section.

First up is Fat, a take on Michael Jackson's Bad. Al admitted that he formulated the idea for this song with the visuals in mind, and to that end the video and stage performances always feature Al doing the song in a fat suit. The lyrics are pretty funny, if not always clever. The one exception is "I've got more chins than Chinatown," which I just got for the first time. The song was what Al needed after the dismal performance of Polka Party. Piggybacking on Michael's success just like he did with Eat It, Even Worse was Al's best-selling album yet. By the way, Fat is the only song that doesn't fit the pattern I mentioned above.

Next, Al tackles George Harrison's cover of James Ray's 1962 tune (I've Got My Mind) Set On You, turning it into a meta-song called (This Song's Just) Six Words Long. In it, the narrator gives a play-by-play on his songwriting process ("I gotta fill time / 3 minutes worth of time / I'll throw in a solo, a solo, a solo, a solo, a solo here.") Nevermind that the original is actually seven words long; that wouldn't have worked syllabically.

One of Al's best parodies is I Think I'm a Clone Now, a reworking of the Tiffany-popularized Tommy James tune I Think We're Alone Now. The lyrics work perfectly throughout, as the singer tells the tale of his laboratory birth ("they took a donor's body cell and fertilized a human egg") and the benefits of being a clone ("I can send myself for pizza").

Side two opens with Richie Valens' La Bamba, which had been redone by Los Lobos in 1987, reimagined as Lasagna. The lyrics are an impressive feat of rhyming, and the song features the prominent return of Al's accordion-playing (which had been relegated exclusively to the polka medleys on previous albums). Nevermind the fact that a song with Latin origins was being used to celebrate the virtues of Italian cuisine.

The final parody on the album is Alimony, which is based of Billy Idol's remake of Tommy James' Mony Mony. Al's version is about a divorcee's financial woes, and does a good job of replicating the fake live sound of the original. I also like the back and forth with the background singers on the "I'm in debt" portion.

Did you figure out the pattern? Four of the album's five parodies are based on remakes (and two of Tommy James tunes nonetheless) That says something about what was popular in the late '80s, but I'm also guessing a music-savvy person like Al knew full well what he was doing when he made his choices.

Style Parodies:
Stuck In a Closet With Vanna White kicks off the style parodies, and though it doesn't take on a single artist, it's securely in the hair band genre, most closely resembling Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, and Def Leppard. The lyrics are another example of Al's increasing proclivity toward Crazy List songs (if you remember there were two of them on Polka Party!), wherein Al rattles off a litany of improbable events.

You Make Me is a clear homage to the clanging rhythms of Oingo Boingo. It's a love song, but also a Crazy List song, with Al listing off all of the things his beloved makes him want to do, such as, "when I'm with you I don't know whether I should study neurosurgery or go to see The Care Bears Movie." Velvet Elvis is also pretty clear about its source material, bringing The Police to mind immediately. It's curious that Al would do a Police tribute 5 years after their break-up and after already taking on King of Pain (King of Suede on In 3-D).

Twister is significant in that it marks Al's first foray into hip-hop. It's basically the lyrics to the ad jingle for the Twister game over a Rick Rubin-style rock-rap backing. Al raps the song with in a clear Beastie Boys imitation (his Ad-Rock is spot-on).

What The?!
Melanie is one of Al's best original songs ever, about a stalker who can't understand why the titular girl doesn't love him. If it sounds more grim than funny, that's because it pretty much is. In fact, it ends with the narrator committing suicide (begging the question: Is he singing this song from the afterlife?). Musically, the song is the opposite of its sentiment, gentle, melodic, sweet, and harmonic, bringing to mind the '60s revivalism of Marshall Crenshaw (and ripping off at least part of the melody of Crenshaw's You're My Favorite Waste of Time, as well).

Of a piece with Melanie is album closer Good Old Days. The narrator is a complete psychopath who details torturing animals, kidnapping high school girls, and assaulting elderly shopkeepers. This would be bad enough if it weren't all done in the style of a James Taylor song. Though I admire the spot-on imitation of Taylor's gentle style and the jarring juxtaposition of subject matter and tone, it just still feels so wrong given how much I loved Taylor's music as a child.

So how does Even Worse hold up? It's no longer my favorite Al album, but it's definitely up in the top tier of his work. The parodies are funny beyond their titles and the style parodies are diverse and plentiful. The only thing that might have improved the album is a polka medley of then-current hits, though I don't blame Al for putting that gimmick on hold to make us miss it.

References to food: 4
References to TV: 2
Grade: B+
Fave Song: Melanie

Friday, November 20, 2009

244. Weezer: Raditude (2009)

Two questions:

1) Can an artist who made his name on being an awkward outsider become a everyman populist?
2) Is it possible to write a review of a new Weezer album without negatively comparing it to their first two records?

Surprisingly, the answer to both is yes.

Raditude, Weezer's new album, comes hot on the heels of last year's disappointing Red Album, and it continues (one might even say it cements) the band's curious transformation from intelligent geek rockers to block-headed geek rockers. Weezer's early appeal was frontman Rivers Cuomo's kooky outsider personality, but since the band's return to active duty in 2001, he's been steadily moving away from that. His lyrics have gotten more and more simplistic and generic, even if the sentiment behind the songs was genuine.

Now it seems the opposite has happened. Many of the songs on Ratitude contain that attention to oddly specific detail that distinguished the band's debut and Pinkerton, but what they're saying is completely different. There are odes to living a decadent lifestyle (Can't Stop Partyin' and Let It All Hang Out), randy come-ons (I'm Your Daddy and Girl Got Hot), and regressive teen anthems (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To and Trippin' Down the Freeway). Instead of hanging out In the Garage, you can now find Weezer In the Mall. This is surprise #1.

Surprise #2 is the fact that the band brought in outside songwriters. Cuomo, who writes songs with the effort it takes most people to blink, has rarely been lacking for inspiration. And handing over composing reigns for two tunes to bandmates Patrick Wilson and Brian Bell on the Red Album didn't exactly work out (they were two of the album's worst tracks). And look who he brought in! Jermaine Dupri (Mariah Carey and Usher), Butch Walker (Avril Lavigne), Nick Wheeler & Tyson Ritter (All-American Rejects), and Dr. Luke (Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry).

Some might cry sellout, but think about that for a moment. This is a band that had former Cars singer/songwriter Ric Ocasek produce their first album. You don't hire a man who has sold more than 17 million records in the hopes of appealing to the indie underground.

But Ratitude's biggest surprise (#3 if you're counting) is that it's a pretty good album.

Laboriously-titled opener (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To (co-written by Cuomo and Walker) is the band's best single in 8 years. It's a joyous love song, mostly, about a vegetarian boy who falls for a girl in a Slayer t-shirt. My favorite part are the barbershop harmonies that lead into the bridge. I'm Your Daddy, despite the cringe-inducing title, is actually quite infectious and likable. But what else would you expect from the co-writer of Since U Been Gone, I Kissed a Girl, and Party In the U.S.A.? I love the synth breakdown where Rivers goes all, yes, Ric Ocasek. Girl Got Hot has a shouty, marchy appeal.

Can't Stop Partying is likely to be the most divisive track. The Jermaine Dupri-assisted lyrics are pure hip hop ("I got the real big posse with me/yeah I'm deep/And if you're lookin' for me I'm in V.I.P./Just follow the smoke/they're bringin' bottles of the Goose/And all of the girls in the corner gettin' loose") and there's even a guest rap from L'il Wayne. What makes it intriguing is the minor key delivery that lends an oddly depressive air to the song, as if the partying is actually a joyless compulsion.

Completing the album's rock solid first half is Put Me Back Together, which brings us back to more familiar Weezer territory. It seems like Wheeler and Ritter (whose band is not a far cry from Weezer) took it on themselves to play the Matt Sharp role, because the synth bits on the chorus are totally reminiscent his songwriting with The Rentals.

Things falter a bit in the record's second half. Trippin' Down the Freeway is a fine enough song, but the title phrase has no relevance to the rest of the song and ends up being somewhat distracting. Love Is the Answer finds the band experimenting with Indian singers and instrumentation (Slumdog Millionaire piggybacking?). It's also a bit jarring to hear Cuomo be so heartfelt and simplistic while singing the title phrase, but he's also kinda right. Strangely, the song appears in a non-Indian version on Sugar Ray's latest album. Let It All Hang Out is another collaboration with Dupri, and it's clearly the lesser of the two, though it'd probably be fun to hear live.

The album's worst song is the Patrick Wilson-penned In the Mall. It's not awful, just pointless faux-hairband drivel. Yeah, it's fun to hang out at the mall when you're a teenager. We get it.

Closer Don't Want To Let You Go brings things around a little bit. It's a slow starter, but eventually builds into an appealing Beach Boys homage (a sure way to win my heart).

Don't get me wrong, Ratitude should not be called a comeback. Those who are still clinging to hopes of a resurrection of Weezer past are going to be disappointed, maybe even disgusted. But those whose expectations of the band have been worn down to a nub (like me), will find several simple pleasures. That's a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Grade: B-
Fave Song: (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To

Monday, November 09, 2009

243. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Polka Party! (1986)

Into the life of every musician a little commercial and critical failure must fall, and so it was with Polka Party! It's not Al's Rock Bottom (we'll get to that eventually), but it is definitely ranks with his worst. Tellingly, he didn't even tour behind the album (though he did do a string of dates opening for the reunited Monkees). What happened? The inevitable letdown? Lack of inspiration? Burnout? (It was his fourth album in as many years).
Let's see what we can learn.

Song Parodies
The album opens with Living With a Hernia, a parody of James Brown's Rocky IV song, Living In America (in the film Brown performs it before Apollo Creed comes out and gets beaten to death by Ivan Drago). It's a spirited tune, and Al's actual research into hernias is so impressive that the song could probably be used by medical students to study for their exams (Check out the song's bridge: "
You may not be familiar with the common types of hernias that you could get /So just settle down, let me clue you in / There's incomplete, Epigastric, Bladder, Strangulated, Lumbar hernia, Richter's hernia, Obstructed, Inguinal, and Direct.") But my favorite part is when instead of Brown's famous "I feel good!" Al exclaims, "I feel bad!"

Here's Johnny takes on the theme to Short Circuit, El DeBarge's Who's Johnny. Instead of going the Shining route, Al fashions a tribute to Mr. Ed McMahon, replete with references to American Family Publishers, Clydesdales (he was a Budweiser pitchman), and Johnny Carson. A McMahon imitator even comes in and throws in a few trademark laughs and "Hi-O!"s. It's all around a good time.

Things go downhill, however with the other two parodies. A take on Mick Jagger's Ruthless People has the double handicap of being not that clever (the title, Toothless People, is about all of the joke you really need) and being based on a bad song (since it was composed by Jagger, Daryl Hall and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, it should have been much better; at least the movie was pretty good). Word is that this the first time Al asked permission to parody a song before it was even released. It might have been the last as well.

The other stinker is a take 0ff of Robert Palmer's 1985 Addicted To Love. Al plays a poor soul who loves potatoes so much that he is, yes, Addicted to Spuds. Despite a clever line here and there ("Potato bug has gotten me too"), the song is rote. It reminds me of the only fan letter I've ever written. In 1988 I wrote to "Weird Al" and told him that I thought he should turn Palmer's then-new hit Simply Irresistible into the potentially hilarious Simply Indigestible. Shame he didn't listen to me, though I should have at least taken a crack at doing it myself for a school project or something.

Style Parodies
The best of the style parodies is Dog Eat Dog, a combination of Office Space and Talking Heads. Coming THIS close to ripping off Once In a Lifetime and And She Was, Al tells the daily drama of being a cubicle dweller.

Also up there on the quality scale is Good Enough For Now, a straight-up foray into country and western. The narrator is a non-particular feller who is willing to settle for second best: "You're the woman I've always dreamed of / Well, not really, but you're good enough for now." It reminds me a bit of another Al, namely Al Green and his nonchalant Let's Get Married (basically the song's narrator is bored and proposes to his girl; "Might as well," he says.)

Less easy to pin down is Just One of Those Days, an early example of a specific type of tune Al would later rely on way too often: the crazy list song. This one reels off a litany of absurd and terrible things that happen to the narrator in the course of a day, including getting a Coke bottle stuck on his tongue, being covered in ants by Nazis, and having nothing but tater tots for dinner (obviously this isn't the same narrator as Addicted to Spuds). Though it doesn't succeed for me overall, there is sort of a satisfying absurdity to the final line: "Just before bed / The world blows up and everyone's dead." I'm also always in favor of providing perspective to people who always have something to complain about. Musically it's a generic blues-based rocker, and is very reminiscent of In 3-D's Midnight Star (though it's nowhere near as good).

Don't Wear Those Shoes is another list song with no specific genre, though it's kind of in that Rick Springfield rock wheelhouse. This one is just kind of pointless, with the singer detailing the crazy things a person can do besides wear the titular shoes. It makes one yearn for the early Al songs that actually dabbled in real social commentary.

Polka Medley
Al was three-for-three in this genre with the title track. Here he polkas up Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel), Sussudio (Phil Collins, notice the Genesis connection here at the beginning?), Party All the Time (Eddie Murphy), Say You, Say Me (Lionel Richie), Freeway of Love (Aretha Franklin), What You Need (INXS), Harlem Shuffle (Rolling Stones), Venus (Bananrama), Nasty (Janet Jackson), Rock Me Amadeus (Falco), Shout (Tears For Fears), and Papa Don't Preach (Madonna).

What The?!
I wasn't sure I'd be able to sustain this category, but so far Al has come through every time. On Polka Party, the honor goes to Christmas at Ground Zero. Sonically replicating classic '60s Christmas recordings, this gruesome ditty finds humankind celebrating Jesus' birth in the aftermath of nuclear destruction. Summing up the fear caused by Reagen having his finger on the button, Al sings lines like, "If the weather's okay / I'll go out with you and see all the new mutations on New Year's Day." The added air raid siren effects are just the bow and ribbon on the present.

Conclusion
So what's wrong with Polka Party? Taken as individual songs, the album only has a few true clunkers. And there are a couple of truly impressive tracks. But the majority of its tunes are just sort of there, mediocre and going through the motions. And if nothing else is true in this world, this is: A parodist who isn't having fun is not worth listening to.

References to TV: 3
References to food: 3
Grade: C
Fave Song: Christmas At Ground Zero