Saturday, October 25, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


Ten years ago. Where has the time gone?

For me, 1998 was a bittersweet year since it was the year my dad died, but also the year my twin sons were born.

The Denver Broncos finally win the Super Bowl and Bill Clinton was caught with his pants down. Dale Earnhardt finally wins the Daytona 500 after 20 tries, “Titanic” is the big winner in the Oscars and George Michael comes out of the closet after his arrest in a Beverly Hills bathroom.

This was the year that India went nuclear, the Catholic priest scandal hits the fan, Tony Blair becomes Britain’s Prime Minister and Jesse “the Body” Ventura becomes Governor of Minnesota. But perhaps 1998 will forever be remembered for two men – Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) Green Day

Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong wrote this when his girlfriend moved to Ecuador. He tried to be levelheaded about it and wrote this song when they were producing Dookie, but to show his anger, he named the song "Good Riddance" and made "Time Of Your Life" the subtitle. The song shows us about life, how we are not to question it and keep moving on. The album version begins with guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong playing a wrong note. He begins again, repeats the wrong note, and proclaims "f--k!". Then the actual song begins. Radio versions, of course, omit this.

Zoot Suit Riot Cherry Poppin' Daddies

Although the band has experimented with many genres throughout their career, mostly rock, swing, funk, and ska, they are best known for their contributions to the swing revival movement in the late 1990s, namely their multi-platinum album Zoot Suit Riot and its title track, their first (and only) hit single. They are also known for their Oregon-based cult following and lively stage shows. The Daddies almost immediately gained considerable notoriety in their hometown of Eugene, due in part to their uniquely wild, over-the-top stage shows, often featuring frontman Steve Perry (no relation to the former lead singer of Journey) and the other band members dressing in drag or wild costumes, dancing with a giant phallic pickle statue, gyrating with scantily-clad female dancers, and other such lewd acts. This stirred some controversy in the band's community, resulting in hate mail, threats, and even protests outside of their concerts. The group eventually gave into community pressure and temporarily performed under a number of names in the Eugene area, including "The Daddies" and "The Bad Daddies"

Uninvited Alanis Morisette

Released off of the soundtrack from “City of Angels” (starring Nicolas Cage), this was the first song Alanis released since her 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, which sold over 16 million copies. The wait created a lot of anticipation for this song, which was leaked to radio stations a few weeks before it was officially released. “Uninvited" was nominated for three 1999 Grammy Awards: "Best Female Rock Vocal Performance", "Best Rock Song" and "Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television". It won in the former two categories, and it also won an ASCAP Film and Television Music Award for "Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures". It received a Golden Globe nomination for "Best Original Song - Motion Picture".

The Way – Fastball

This song is based on the true story of Lela and Raymond Howard, an elderly couple from Salado, Texas who drove to a nearby family reunion and kept going. She had Alzheimer's disease and he was recovering from brain surgery. When they disappeared, a reporter from the Austin American-Statesman wrote a series of articles about the missing couple. Fastball bassist Tony Scalzo came up with the idea for the song after reading the articles (the band is from Austin). He says, "It's a romanticized take on what happened" - he "pictured them taking off to have fun, like they did when they first met." However, he found out after writing the song that the couple had died. They were found at the bottom of a canyon in Arkansas about a 3-day drive from their destination. At the beginning of the song, it plays a radio scanning through the FM stations, and one of the songs is Jewel's 1997 song "Foolish Games," another is Madonna's 1990 song "Vogue."

Brick Ben Folds Five

On Ben Folds Live, Folds explained: "People ask me what this song's about... I was asked about it a lot, and I didn't really wanna make a big hairy deal out of it, because I just wanted the song to speak for itself. But the song is about when I was in high school, me and my girlfriend had to get an abortion, and it was a very sad thing. And, I didn't really want to write this song from any kind of political standpoint, or make a statement. I just wanted to reflect what it feels like. So, anyone who's gone through that before, then you'll know what the song's about." This was not released as a single in the US. It got it's chart position due to airplay.

Flagpole Sitta – Harvey Danger

This song is about how our society can drive people crazy and the effects of what happens when you are driven crazy. It's also said to be about masturbation. Harvey Danger began in 1992 with University of Washington classmates Lin and Huffman deciding "it might be fun to start a band." Taking their name from a phrase graffitied onto the wall of the UW student newspaper office, the duo played house parties and bars as they were until the following year, when they invited Evan Sult to be their drummer. Despite his complete lack of drumming experience, Sult agreed, bringing along his own similarly-inexperienced classmate Sean Nelson. This song was featured in the movie “American Pie” but the song was not listed on the movie’s soundtrack. The band still performs together and their last studio release was 2005’s Little by Little…

How's It Going To Be – Third Eye Blind

Formed in the early 90’s, Third-Eye Blind rode the wave of popularity generated by alternative bands, like Nirvana, Green Day and he Gin Blossoms. After hitting the big time with the mega hit “Semi-Charmed Life,” they continued to reap success of their eponymous album with this follow up single, which (like “Semi-Charmed Life”) reached the top 10. According to vocalist Stephan Jenkins, the song deals with the trauma of the ending of a relationship and how the transition from friends to acquaintances is a brutal one. It is one of the few songs by the band to feature an autoharp. The follow up single, “Jumper” also reached #4 and was their last top 10 hit. The band also still performs together and their latest studio release is Ursa Major – due out in February 2009.

Adia – Sarah McLachlan

Generally vague about the specific meaning, McLachlan did admit in an interview that one of several inspirations behind this song is her relationship with her best friend. Their relationship was rocky for a period of time after Sarah started seeing her current husband, who her best friend had dated in the past. In another interview, Sarah describes this as being about "My problems in dealing with feeling responsible for everyone else." In a radio interview, she stated that it was inspired by the way her father always felt responsible for making sure everyone was happy. This was nominated for the 1999 Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. In a 1999 interview on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, McLachlan explained that this song was originally called "Emily," but she picked another name because of the Simon & Garfunkel song "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her."

You Get What You Give – New Radicals

Singer/Songwriter Gregg Alexander wrote this about people who aspire to be famous, and his cynicism toward the world of "celebrity." He's saying that people should just be themselves instead of aspiring to be someone else. The closing lyrics of this song caused controversy as they accused Marilyn Monroe, Beck, Courtney Love and Hanson of being fakes and that the New Radicals will "kick their ass in." Apparently not all of these artist held a grudge: Hanson collaborated with Gregg Alexander on their song "Lost Without Each Other" on the Underneath CD. The video was shot at a shopping mall in New York because Gregg Alexander said it epitomized society's fake culture of encouraging people to spend. Since disbanding the group in summer 1999, Alexander has written songs for the likes of Sophie Ellis Bextor, Ronan Keating, Mel C and Enrique Iglesias. His most well known composition is probably "The Game Of Love" by Santana and Michelle Branch, which earned a Grammy in 2003. In the September 25, 2006 edition of Time magazine, U2 guitarist The Edge said that this is the song he is most jealous of.

Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve

Lead singer Richard Ashcroft wrote the lyrics, which are a somber look at the ennui of everyday life: "You're a slave to money, then you die. This samples an obscure orchestral version of "The Last Time," a 1965 song by the Rolling Stones. This was recorded before they got permission from the Stones to use the riff, so the Verve had to sign away most of the royalties from this in order to release it. The publishing rights to this went to Allen Klein, The Rolling Stones' former manager. The Stones signed a very lopsided contract with Klein early in their career, and had to make huge concessions in order to get out of it. Part of the deal gave Klein the publishing rights to all of the Stones' songs through 1969. He made, and continues to make, far more money than anyone else from this song. This was the only hit for The Verve, who never released another album. Their previous albums were A Northern Soul, which was released in 1995 and featured a darker side; A Storm In Heaven, released in 1993 was a psychedelic rocker; and No Come Down is a collection of the B-sides from A Storm in Heaven. After Urban Hymns, Their lead singer, Richard Ashcroft, launched a successful solo career.

Bonus Track

The Couch – Alanis Morisette

Completely knocked off my feel by Jagged Little Pill, I was more hesitant to feign interest in her follow up CD, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. After only listening to the song “Thank U”, which I enjoyed very much, I simply placed the CD back into my case and left it alone for a spell. In a moment of inspiration, I finally took it back out (maybe a month or two later) and decided to give it a listen to. What I heard was brilliance. From beginning to end, this double-album did not disappoint, and in fact was very inspiring in it’s own right. The one track that completely blew me away was “The Couch.” This song means different things to different people, but everyone I know who’s listened to it agrees that it is a true classic, and perhaps the most ambitious lyrical masterpiece of her career. I generally only put one song per artist in each of these lists, but I decided to add this track as a bonus. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Sher said...

Shayne, great post. I guess i knew more about the 90's tunes than I thought. Loved the whole swing revival thing since that's some of the stuff we grew up on. Which may be the only cool thing about having parents as old as Methusela. I did think there was something rather Mickey Dolenz about the Harvey Danger piece. Very reminiscent of the back of the album pieces the Monkees did. Dolenz always ended up singing those which, as a kid, always kind of creeped me out since I never really understood what he was really talking about.

milan said...

I love how you love The Couch! Me too :)

readingjunkie said...

Another great selection of music picks! Has it really been 10 years since Zoot Suit Riot hit the charts? Gosh, where does time go?