Ninety 90’s Songs

Ninety 90’s Songs: It Still Ain’t Over, Lenny.

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Kids today have this image of Lenny Kravitz being this glamorous figure, a make up artist who makes Jennifer Lawrence look pretty in The Hunger Games. His role as Cinna is pretty good, but for me I still remember a different Lenny. This was a neo-funk be-dreadlocked Lenny who crooned and rocked his way through the 90’s.

#53 “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over” by Lenny Kravitz. Released in 1991 on his second album “Mama Said”, this track is Lenny’s highest charting hit, reaching the #2 spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. While another famous 90’s crooner blocked his way to the top spot, I find this track to be more memorable.

Featuring the horn line from Earth, Wind & Fire (no Oxford comma?), the Phenix Horns, this song hearkens back to the classic sounds of the Soul genre. After much New Wave and electronic music from the 80’s, and with Hair Metal and House Music still dominating the music scene, “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over” is a striking change to the prevailing tastes of the day, and obviously a satisfying one.

The video reminds me of those vintage live performances on Soul Train. Lenny is decked out in his Motown-esque attire. Seeing the section of strings whipping away with their bows really brings the song’s string arrangement alive in its sweeping, nostalgic glory. It’s a simple video, no cuts to black and white, just straight forward lipsynching and faux instrument-playing.

Lenny Kravitz continued to have several other hits, including “Are You Gonna Go My Way” from 1993, a hard-rocking electric guitar experience that has few rivals in its time. Even in decades beyond he’s remained a consistent figure in the music scene, even if he isn’t an overpowering superstar. Instead, he burns his creative flame steadily and consistently.

Like a Prince of the 90’s, Lenny ventured down many musical genres in his career, but unlike Prince, he’s never seemed to get too full of himself and burn out like a flash in the pan. Whatever else he may credit to his success, his eclecticism is also what makes him consistent, and this song is a hallmark of the timelessness his music embodies.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Someday, That Sugar Ray…

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There’s something weirdly “meta” about music that occurs sometimes. Listening to something, you can’t help but feel a premonition of the nostalgia that a song will trigger many years down the line. It’s like you’re listening to a glimpse of the future, which, when listening to that song in that future, becomes a link to the past. It’s like that moment you know will be a memory, or that instance when the most mundane thing becomes memorable, remains forever like a two-way mirror. You always remember that there’s another side, even though you can only look through one direction at a time.

#54 “Someday” by Sugar Ray. Sugar Ray began as an Alternative band with a couple of albums devoted to a harder sound. ’97’s “Floored” was the pinnacle of that sound, but ironically their unique-sounding (on that record), reggae-inspired “Fly” was their biggest hit. It became popular across several formats aside from Alternative and Modern Rock, and many claimed that Sugar Ray could never do such a thing again. Their next album “14:59” (which hints at their “15 minutes of fame”) came along 1999 with more hits, including “Someday” among others like “Every Morning”.

“Someday” is a slower track, featuring some then-common synth organ accompaniment. It’s a sad sounding song, remorseful, and hints at some kind of regret or nostalgia. It was this sense, as well as a line in the lyrics, “I hear a song from another time and fade away”, that stuck with me. Even back in ’99 I knew that I would hear this in the future and that it would become the self-same song from another time. The video features a bar in some kind of Key West-ish retirement community or something. The whole thing is in black and white (oh, 90’s…) as if to evoke that effect of time passing. Overall, it’s a pretty good tune, and the kind of softer ditty that Sugar Ray would continue to put out.

You see, at the time of “14:59″s release, Sugar Ray was accused of selling out. They had already established themselves as a pretty decent Alternative act throughout the early and mid 90’s, but this attempt to garner more top-of-the-charts kind of acclaim led them to begin producing a more pop-oriented sound. Whether or not you agree with their apparent selling out and throwing their alternative sound under the bus, it was a successful move for them. Throughout the next decade they had become a pop staple, and left behind nary a trace of their alternative roots.

Every now and then, this song still plays on Adult Contemporary stations and I take a moment to reminisce. I remember musing that this song would stick around on the radio while sitting in the bathtub, my broken wrist hanging dryly off the side in a cast, and that I would always think about that someday in the past when I took the chance to deeply listen to the song, and that someday in the unknown future when I’d hear it again.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Please Don’t Go… On and on and on.

Some things die. Well all things, really, but that’s a bit darker than I’d like to explore today. What I really mean is that time passes and leaves things in history. Sometimes those things are found and brought back. When it’s a treasure that’s found, we call it an archaeological discovery. When it’s trash, we call it recycling. When it’s someone that comes back from the dead, we call it a zombie. In music, there are plenty of zombies. In the music biz, it’s called a cover, and it’s not always a good thing.
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#55 “Please Don’t Go” by Double You. Originally “Please Don’t Go” was a late Disco ballad by KC and the Sunshine Band, and a really decent song for the time. It was released in 1979 and wound up becoming the first number one hit of the 1980’s. Then disco died, and KC got stuck doing renditions of his disco hits for the rest of his life. Flash forward to 1992, when Italian duo Double You rediscovered this hit (or maybe it just took that long for the Italian music scene to get around to disco) and made it their own as a Eurodance track.

Like other Eurodance tracks, this one features repetitive, repetitive, repetitive beats and lyrics. It’s quite repetitive. If you listen you’ll notice the repetitive repetition. Repeatedly.  Several times and over and over again.

Obviously, this translates well to the dance floor when it doesn’t matter what the song is as long as you can continue convulsing to the bass line while trying pick up hook ups, but for casual listening this song can be… repetitive.  Okay, I’m done. But seriously, the song was originally a slower ballad, and you didn’t need as many lyrics to fill up a three-minute time slot. But when you speed up the rhythm, you’ll need an awful lot of “please don’t go”s because by the sixth time you sing it, people will be ready to go.

Still, the song did quite well and was just one single among many that featured Double You’s cover versions of songs. To this day, Double You still chugs along, releasing and re-releasing their own hits and this hits of others that they have likely rearranged in the creative way that only they can do (i.e. enough to sell records). I was surprised to find that there actually exists a video which features all the standard tropes of early 90’s dance music. Pretty girls who aren’t doing anything other than flipping around their hair and lithe limbs, frenetic camera work that could induce seizures, and of course the infamous transition to monotone colors and black and white film. Oh, you 90’s…

Sadly, the video features the extended version of the song. This is sad because it means there’s an awful lot of… repetition. Please don’t go and play it, unless you can handle it.

Ninety 90’s Songs: What A Good Boy… Yes, you are! Yes, you are!!!

I had a room mate for about a year who was also a very good friend of mine. She was in between relationships, and we both could have used a a year to share some costs and pay off some debts. I’m not sure how successful that part of the venture was, but we did spend a good amount of time together, which included many nights of living room karaoke via Youtube.  Among the songs she sang was one that I was vaguely familiar with, but became enamored with when she sang it. To this day I still curse her any time this song gets stuck in my head.

#57 “What A Good Boy” by Barenaked Ladies. Shocked I was when I discovered several months ago that this songs hails from way back in 1992 from the group’s album “Gordon”.  As big as they made it later with several hits like “One Week” and the theme song to TV’s wildly popular “Big Bang Theory”, poor little me was oblivious to music when I was a child and I never really knew how long the boys in Barenaked Ladies (none of them ladies, mind you) had been kicking it.

Their album “Gordon” was actually produced in part with monetary winnings from a local radio station in Canada. Now that is some good old fashioned enterprise.  Their style has always been on the eclectic side, and this song shows it.

“What A Good Boy” is a charming little ballad that showcases the funny group’s softer side. They still have their signature quickly sung verses and wordplay, but they keep things moderately paced and sweet with some stylish acoustics and the invitation to “be with me tonight” is hard to resist.

As far as the video is concerned, I’m not really sure what is going on. There are some shots and montages of a boy and some teen-aged kids doing some stuff, but I think those images are merely there to provide a minimum of context to what the song is about. Aside from looking younger, they look pretty much like they do later in the decade, and you could fool me into believing that this song is a more recent release. The highlights of the video are the band members with their various instruments and, for some odd reason, one of them dressed like a Mountie.

Oh yeah. They’re Canadian. I guess they just wanted to remind you.

Overall, it’s a melancholic song, a serenade from one lonely person to another, possibly in  dive bar somewhere. Maybe it’s about when times were better, like when we were children. Or maybe it’s like when my friend sang it in our living room, as an ode to old lovers who didn’t stay but you wish that they’d return for just one more night. It’s hard to poke fun at a song or even a group that pokes so much fun at everything, but this is a side of Barenaked Ladies that gives you an earnest glimpse into their tender and artsy qualities. Behind the humor and wit is some love. Or something.

Or maybe someone was just really depressed when he wrote this.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Jump Around, Hump Around, Rump Around

I went to an *ahem* urban middle school. I was a minority within a majority of minorities. I feel I’m better for the experience. I learned to mind my own business, stay out of fights, avoid gang association, and I learned some life-saving fashion advice: never wear a red and blue shirt in territory where Crips and Bloods are having a turf war. What I didn’t learn, however, is that Hip Hop has some white people involved, too. So like me, House of Pain is a minority within a majority of minorities.

#58 “Jump Around” by House of Pain. Not to be confused with “Jump” by Kriss Kross (like I’ve done), “Jump Around” became a hit in the US in ’92 before being re-released in the UK where it is still a club anthem. As famous as this single became, it is more infamous for it’s heavy use of sampling from a few different songs, and that terrible saxophone squeal at the beginning of every bar that could be used effectively to start a riot or to induce labor.

Squeeeeeeal. Squeeeeeeal. Squeeeeeeal. Squeeeeal. Jump. Jump. Jump. Jump. Jump. Jump.

Ugh.

And that basically what the songs is about.

And guess what people do when they hear this. Go on. Guess. And now pat yourself on the back because, if you guessed anything else besides “jump”, you are probably like me and tried to stab your ears with the nearest anything just to stop the madness. Still, this song proves the decade’s uncanny ability to produce unforgettable tracks that live forever.

Aside from releasing such an annoying single, House of Pain is also well know for giving Everlast to the world. Later in the 90’s he went solo sans the rest of his household of pain, and did quite well, and you might not even believe he was a member of this group due to the musical range he explores.

Now that I have a headache, I leave you with the video that includes lyrics in case you forget the words. And if you don’t stir the slightest bit to even tap your foot or bounce your knee when the song begins, even despite yourself, then I’d advise you to check with your doctor.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Sheryl Crow Tells It To You Straight

Imagine if some of the 90’s top female musicians were in the same room. Of course Madonna would be their shooting dour glares and trying to convince everyone that she’s relevant. Mariah Carey would be showing off by conversing in octaves only audible to canines. Alanis Morissette would be hanging around too, but she’d probably be spaced out on jagged little pills. Then there would be Sheryl Crow, sipping beer right from the bottle and offering to pass around a “cigarette” (It’s cool, she promises). She’d be the life of the party, because she’d make it a party.

#59 “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow.  This hit from the 93-94 era debut album “Tuesday Night Music Club” put Sheryl on the map. Her easy-going, laid back style is her trademark that propelled her musical career into all directions and many genres. If you don’t like country, honky tonk, blues, jazz, then you will after hearing this song. It’s infectious to the point that you’ll need to be vaccinated against day drinking because you’ll want that early morning beer buzz whenever you see a bar, and empty floor space will become potential arenas for beer bottle spinning.

And you won’t bat an eyelash at all.

Seriously, it’s Crow’s smooth delivery that suggests that all these things are okay, and that she’s not an enabler, she just wants you to stay cool.

But seriously, over the years Sheryl Crow has proved to be a consistently top-notch musician. For the rest of the nineties she put out hot single after hot single until she herself wasn’t a hot single anymore and started shacking up with Lance Armstrong. She eventually ditched him and moved on to other heroic things like battling breast cancer.

And winning.

This ain’t no Charlie Sheen winning. This ain’t no joke either. This is winning for real. She, thankfully, fought back from her cancer and still makes music to this day among other things, like television, and activism, and being all kinds of MILFy. Forever more when you hear those opening chords and that groovy guitar riff, it doesn’t matter where you are, even if you actually are at a disco in downtown L.A., you’re in Sheryl Crow’s house and you’re going to have some fun.

Ninety 90’s Songs: The Not-MTV Real World

There’s a term called post-grunge which details several bands that arose after the prominence, and subsequent absence, of Nirvana. The first wave immediately following Nirvana adhered closely to that style of music, but eventually post-grunge came to include later bands that may (or may not) have diluted what grunge was supposed to be with a much more WASP-friendly pop sound. Even today there are some post-grunge acts still lingering around, but you’d need to take a chisel to their shiny pop music complexions to find it cowering within (ahem, Nickelback).

#60 “Real World” by Matchbox 20 (or Twenty, whatever…) Hailing from Florida, of all places, Matchbox 20 (Twenty) hit the music scene with an alternative/post-grunge sound with just enough Florida in it to appeal to the masses. Just like fellow Floridian KC and his Sunshine Band brought disco to the white people en masse in the 70’s, so did the boys in the matchbox bring this sound to the pop charts.

While “Real World” was released in ’98 as a single, it was recorded with their first album “Yourself or Someone Like You” in ’96. The first couple of singles released from the album had a harder edge, with single “Push” gaining some notoriety for seemingly romanticizing physical abuse. Maybe that’s why they chose the bright cheeriness of “Real World” to put out next, that and the MTV reality show progenitor “The Real World: And some poor city” was airing quite popularly.

This lighter fare gave Matchbox Twenty (20) some great airplay, especially on the Top 40 and the, at the time, new Adult Top 40 charts. They failed to break into the tens on the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts, though, and so Matchbox 20/20 was forever destined or doomed to become more of a pop act.

Even now Matchbox Twenty20 is still kicking whenever front man Rob Thomas isn’t going solo and singing along with Carlos Santana, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Whether they chose to or it was providence, riding the wave of pop helped their careers since Rock and Grunge were already beginning to fade by the mid-90’s. It’s better that Matchbox Twenty (20?) didn’t pound that last nail into the Rock coffin. Nickelback was wanting to do that for themselves.

Ninety 90’s Songs: You Gotta Be… Another Monochrome Video

Unless you are reading these blog entries in numerical order, then you know that I’ve remarked on the prevalence of black and white music videos. To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with that trend and it continues to this day, but it just seems that the early and mid-90’s have more than a fair share of the style.

#61 “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree.  It’s unfair to call Des’ree a one hit wonder since this popular ’94 hit led to her contributing a single to the revisioned “Romeo + Juliet” (and just for your information Romeo + Juliet = Tragic Love). “You Gotta Be” is like the little sister to the oh-so-feel-good “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips. Once those first few piano notes play, you know you’re in for 4 minutes of clean fun and affirmations.

Adult Contemporary in the 90’s gained a cult-like status, by which I mean most of it was meant to indoctrinate you into some flash in the pan cult. Perhaps that’s taking it too far, but this song definitely fits that bill. The lyrics remind me of chants I had to sing in church and the repetition is meant to drown out your daily woes and troubles with a mish mash of musical motivation. Yay repression…

The video supports this theory. Filmed in black and white (curse you 90’s!), the white background juxtaposes against your high priestess. Garbed in new-age tunic and trousers, she begins by accompanying her lyrics with some faux-sign language, which makes sense since the 90’s were full of other things like faux-fur, faux-French, faux-leather, and a proliferation of faux-breasts.  Soon she reveals herself to be one of five aspects (eat that Jesus!).  If you think that’s scary, just wait until later in the video when she inverts her colors and goes crazy like Galadriel from Lord of the Rings,  beautiful and terrible as the dawn.

All will love Des’ree and despair.

 

Ninety 90’s Songs: Whatever Happens When Alanis Is In The Street…

There’s always that one person at a party who says, “Oh, no. Don’t let me have tequila. I go crazy on tequila.” Someone else says, “Rum makes me violent!” or , “After having whiskey I can’t remember a thing.” Those people are usually expressing a healthy level of caution towards potential substance abuse problems. But if you ever heard someone say, “Put me in the street and I will throw pies, kiss random boys, and get all naked and sing!” you’d probably consider having her committed.

#62 “Thank U” by Alanis Morissette. In the mid-90’s Alanis Morissette emerged with vivid lyrics and raucous energy. The be-dreaded Canadian prescribed us jagged-little pills and educated us on how to use irony.  She was an inspiration to awkward young women who didn’t fit in and the music charts alike, lighting up both and ushering in a wave of female singer-songwriters in a way that Tracy Chapman could only dream about.

“Thank U” from 1998’s “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie” doesn’t one-up Alanis’ previous efforts from “Jagged Little Pill” but it does stand up quite well to them. This single is her most successful in her post-Pill career, and her highest highlight (Besides dating Ryan Reynolds, but who hasn’t done that?). Once again, almost a sequel to her video for “You Learn”, Alanis takes to the streets bearing her soul, and her soles, by stripping completely naked like the Eve of LA.

Her antics are tame despite her nudity. Instead of flailing around in dreads (Please don’t flail, since your hair hanging so precariously this time around) performing random acts of chaos, she instead stands rather solemnly and in slow motion at various locations. Occasionally creepers will reach out from the hyperspeed world to touch Alanis’ bare flesh. As usual, Morissette’s stunts goose you, and then her meaningful lyrics and Siren-esque voice lull you into emotional transcendence.

 

Ninety 90’s Songs: Len-cest

I’m an only child who also happens to be (mostly) an introvert. I can interact quite well with people despite this condition, as long as those interactions remain within certain boundaries. There are a few things I can try to handle that come from the extroverted types, but some things cross the line. Excessive touching between strangers may be odd, but to me there’s a line that even family can cross.

#63 “Steal My Sunshine” by Len.  Want to know what the late 90’s were like? This video pretty much sums it up. Bug-eye sunglasses. Tank tops (a.k.a wife beaters in tribal looter speak). MTV-like beach fun. “Steal My Sunshine” was a big hit during the summer of ’99, the last summer not only of the decade or the century, but of the millennium. Hence the decadence.

The song is cheery and the rhythm, featuring a sample from Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More”, is monotonous without being grating so it blends in with your summer-partying-drinking haze. The song focuses on a flirty back-and-forth between the two singers and the video slices and dices your perspective with retro-esque squared off cutaways and party-wide camera panning. Eventually all the crew gather around the flirty duo while the male lead rubs his underarm funk all over his friends.

What is most striking about the video isn’t learning that the romantic late afternoon/early evening footage was a product of most of the video budget being spent on their nightly alcoholic binges and subsequent morning hangover recoveries. It’s from learning that the leading couple are in fact related, but not by marriage. Yes, the Romeo and Juliet in this video are from the same family, not feuding ones. Perhaps we can chalk up their lax boundaries to late 90’s hedonism.

Regardless, Len managed to resurrect a disco hit to inflate their one hit wonder with a lot of life. It’s good to know we knew how to party like it was 1999 in 1999, even if we had to do it with our siblings.