Month: August 2013

Ninety 90’s Songs: Save the Vanessa for Last

There once was a song about a woman who watched her male friend date other women like a person with allergies uses Kleenex.  This woman had a thing for this man, yet she said nothing. He didn’t see her as more than a friend. All she wanted to be was this man’s one and only Kleenex. Once his romantic allergies subsided he used her finally, and being the last tissue in the box he was stuck with her.

#64 “Save the Best for Last” by Vanessa Williams. The above paragraph summarizes, with a modicum of liberty, the story of this 1992 single. Interestingly, the song’s true to life journey mirrors its lyrics. Vanessa Williams was, in fact, the last singer that this song “dated” in a long line of offerings since the song was written back in ’89. Save the best for last indeed.

Known now as Vanessa’s signature song, it’s far from her career peak. She has spanned everything from Miss America, Penthouse pinup, to a hot seat of controversy (and hot something else according to the nude model posing with Miss W), to singer, actress, Disney Princess (singing voice, anyway), and Desperate Housewife. The song even garner’s its own fame in “The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” where it is featured in the closing credits along with a drag queen.

It’s a campy song, and while that is a quality that may tarnish a song so obviously from a specific time period, in this case it serves as a protective veneer. Like a pair of shiny dentures on a senior citizen, it provides an everlasting sparkle to its smile that makes up for its other aging features. The only thing about the song that doesn’t age is Vanessa herself. Yay, plastic surgery.

All jokes aside, it’s a sweet early-90’s song that more than survives its days and is a classic product from a classic lady. Whether you get caught up in the snowy/monochrome video (not again, silly early 90’s tastes in cinematography) or reminisce the memories of queens in the desert, like the sticky pages of a back issue of Penthouse, this song isn’t going anywhere for a while.

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Ninety 90’s Songs: Do You Have “Yo La Tengo”?

In mass media, which came first: the next big star, or producers trying to make the next big star? Did Elvis become an international sex symbol by himself? Buddy Holly? Frank Sinatra never needed Twitter or a dirty sexting scandal to puff up his image, and ELO made great music without being a band of fashion models before “street cred” was a commodity.  So what happens to those bands and musicians, those artists whose skill in their craft exceeds their charisma, who don’t have the elusive “it” quality, and for whom the life of a cult figure is just dandy?

#65 “Sugarcube” by Yo La Tengo.  By the mid 90’s Yo La Tengo was already an established act from the 80’s with several record releases in their repertoire (including an eerily prophetic album named “Fakebook”). The band was always a critical darling, and their eclectic and experimental styles garnered them much acclaim, but unfortunately most Americans don’t like what they don’t understand, especially in music, so they never reached broad appeal.

In 1997, on their album “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One” they released a single, “Sugarcube” along with a video. Perhaps the years had toughened them up, because their evolved sense of humor created one of the cleverest, funniest, and most thoughtful parodies inspired by their lot in the music biz.

With help from David Cross and his “Mr. Show” crew, the members of Yo La Tengo venture through a rocking educational adventure fraught with references to past rock bands, nefarious clarineting in the bathroom, vandalism, flirty glam rock teachers, burned out KISS fans stuck in the rut of teaching rock ethics, and story time with Rush lyrics in the park. I’m not kidding.

The Shakespearean lyrics to “Sugarcube” echo the theme throughout when not occluded by the talky-talk of the video, which is not a bad thing since everything plays out like the trailer for a film never released. Quirky and eclectic, two qualities Yo La Tengo has in great supply, and also features of a great song from the 90’s that seems like it’s from yesterday.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Like The Desert’s Mystery

So I had a hard time understanding lyrics as a child. My parents made such an effort to enunciate to me clearly so that I would learn to speak correctly that I understood the sound of well spoken English. Throw in the fact that I learned to speak in a country where English was not the spoken language and you could say that I grew up with a naive ear. Skip ahead a few years and you’ll discover me enjoying a hot mid-90’s song with some chick singing about the desert’s mystery. Skip ahead several more years and see my frustration give way to realization when I discovered I had the lyrics in my head all wrong for many years…

#66 “Missing” by Everything But the Girl. EBTG was a solid UK act that had been sailing along on the smooth seas of smooth jazz.  Then in ’94 the duo released a single from their newest album, “Amplified Heart”, and from that point “Missing” began to circulate the world’s charts. Eventually, in remixed form, the single arrived in the States and spent record-breaking amounts of time on the charts. While it lagged in 2nd on the Hot 100 behind a rather titanic 90’s hit, it did make the top spot of the Top 40. 

So what is it about this little track that could? They weren’t particularly well known. America was under the deluge of R&B and emerging hip hop trends that eclipsed the growing tide of Euro-style music. So how does a smooth jazz group write a house music track that sweeps the world? 

It should be said that EBTG was no one hit wonder act. They were experienced at the time of “Missing”‘s release and they managed to chart other singles later on, too. Perhaps they are a just an example of makers of good music, who had a good thing, knew it, and made the best of it. Their blend of elements really plays out well in this track, from the suspenseful moodiness to the ethereal harmonies and driving disco backbeat. 

While it may be a “desert’s mystery” as to how this clever little track rocked the world, it’s rather clear that people nowadays (a.k.a myself) miss gorgeous tracks like these, “like the deserts miss the rain”.