Saturday, January 17, 2009

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


The year started off on a bad note for skater Nancy Kerrigan, as she was clubbed in the right leg by an assailant, under orders from figure skating rival Tonya Harding's ex-husband, in the first week of January. A month later, Kerrigan won the silver medal in the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. Two weeks after that, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake shook the town of Northridge in the San Fernando Valley, killing 72 and leaving 26,029 homeless. Two days later, Record cold temperatures hit the eastern United States. The coldest temperature ever measured in Indiana state history, -36°F, is recorded in New Whiteland, Indiana . Don't tell Al Gore.

In other sports news, the Dallas Cowboys became the fifth team in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowls as they defeated the hapless Buffalo Bills 30-13, in Super Bowl XXVIII. The loss by the Bills was their record fourth consecutive Super Bowl defeat.

A lone terrorist kills Ari Halberstam during an attack on 14 Jewish students on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Although many believe it was in response to the killing of 29 Muslim worshippers in a shooting rampage by Israeli Boruch Goldstein, a few weeks earlier, senseless killings of Jews have been a continued threat by Arabs and their sympathizers for years. This is followed by a terrorist attack In Buenos Aires that destroys a building housing several Jewish organizations, killing 85 and injuring many more.

In April, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira die when a missile shoots down their jet near Kigali, Rwanda. This is taken as a pretext to begin the Rwandan Genocide. But the in the big story of the year (because no one cares about earthquakes, dead Jews and genocide), NFL star O.J. Simpson and his friend Al Cowlings flee from police in his white Ford Bronco. The low-speed chase ends at Simpson's Brentwood, Los Angeles, California mansion, where he surrenders.

Return To Innocence – Enigma

Enigma is a German electronic musical project founded by Michael Cretu, David Fairstein and Frank Peterson in 1990. Cretu, who based his recording studio A.R.T. Studios in Ibiza, Spain in the early 1990s, is both the composer and the producer of the project. His former wife Sandra often provided vocals on Enigma tracks From the late 1970s onward, Cretu already had his own music career on his hands and apart from some collaboration efforts with several other musicians; he also produced his wife's albums. In December 1990, after eight months of preparation, Cretu released Enigma's debut album, the groundbreaking MCMXC a.D., which received over 60 platinum-level sales awards worldwide. The album was Cretu's first commercial success through the single "Sadeness (Part I)," which juxtaposed Gregorian chants and sexual overtones over a dance beat that was highly peculiar to the ears of the public at that time. Cretu explained that the album was about unsolved crimes and philosophical themes such as life after death, hence the name Enigma. He had previously used a Gregorian-type chant on the opening seconds of Sandra's 1987 single "Everlasting Love," without integrating them into other parts of the song. "Sadeness" quickly rose to the top of the charts in Germany and France ; it went on to become an almost-worldwide hit. Later Cretu would claim that the now signature Enigma sound was inspired after falling asleep on the London Underground. For their next album, The Cross of Changes, Cretu used more rock-infused sounds and the Gregorian chants from the previous album were replaced with ethnic-style world chants. The Ami (Native Taiwanese) chants featured in "Return to Innocence" are often wrongly identified as Native American.

Basket Case - Green Day

A basket case is slang for an emotionally unstable, dysfunctional or completely useless person. Originally, the word referred to an amputee, especially a soldier, who had lost all 4 limbs; it was coined during World War I. This is about anxiety attacks and a feeling that you are going crazy. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong suffered from various panic disorders while he was growing up. This song stereotypes the whole condition of paranoia and compares it to being stoned. By the time this came out, Green Day had already released 2 albums on an independent label. They had a small following, but when this was released as a single, they became huge. This was all over the radio, getting play on Rock, Top-40, and Alternative formats. The name of the album is a reference to the band members often suffering from diarrhea, which they referred to as "liquid dookie", as a result of eating spoiled food whilst on tour. Initially the band were to name the album "Liquid Dookie", however this was deemed "too gross", and so they settled on the name Dookie.

Loser – Beck

Beck got the idea for this from his friend who always called him "Loser." Beck decided to write it into a chorus of a song as a joke. He didn't think anything would ever come of it. He recorded this in 1993 after the owner of Bongload Records spotted him in Los Angeles and offered him some studio time. Beck was broke at the time and playing local coffeehouses to make a living. Alternative and college radio stations in the Los Angeles area started playing this, which prompted Geffen Records to sign Beck. They rerecorded it in 1994 and released it as his first single on the label. The chorus of "Soy un perdedor" is Spanish for "I'm a loser." In February 2008, Beck stated in an interview with Rolling Stone that he had been working on a new album. The new album Modern Guilt was released on Interscope in North America and on XL Records in the rest of the world.

Mary Jane's Last Dance - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Petty has not said what this song is about, but there are 2 common interpretations. It could be about Petty's divorce from his wife Jane, which happened a year before this was recorded. Another possibility is that it is about marijuana, as "Mary Jane" is slang for pot and the lyrics refer to killing the pain, which the drug is known for. Campbell offered this explanation: "My take on it is it can be whatever you want it to be. A lot of people think it's a drug reference, and if that's what you want to think, it very well could be, but it could also just be a goodbye love song.” Petty made some strange videos and this was no exception. Tom played a mortician who takes home a corpse played by Kim Basinger. When he gets her home, he puts her in a wedding dress and dances with her. Then he puts her in a pickup truck and throws her into the ocean, and she opens her eyes as she sinks. It won Best Male Video at the MTV Video Music Awards. However, Basinger was not the first choice for the video. Petty wanted Sharon Stone, but she didn't answer his request.

Stay (I Missed You) - Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories

Long before this song became a hit, Loeb performed it at her shows, where it got a great response and was one of her most requested songs. Says Loeb: "I usually write songs that are more fictional, and for some reason when I sat down to write that song, I let myself write more about how I was feeling at that moment. And that's something I think about a lot as I continue to write music, that the songs that I write that are more personal and without as much editing, are the ones that people connect to more.” Regarding the lyrics, "I turned the radio on, I turned the radio up, and this woman was singing my song," Lisa explains: "That was when you hear somebody telling your exact story. It's funny, because it wasn't until later, after a couple of major breakups, that I realized when you're depressed and you're going through these breakups, the breakup was supposed to happen. If you're going through difficult times, it's hilarious how you turn on the radio and even the most cliché things perfectly capture how you're feeling. And then you realize why people wrote those songs. When you're not going through some of those things, sometimes as a songwriter you think, "Oh, that's so straightforward and cliché," but you know what? That's how it feels. In a way I think I wrote that into the song because I was relating my story to the effect that everybody goes through this. I'm not so special. You know, this isn't such a special situation that I'm going through, but it still means something to me. And it might not be as depressing as my friend who's suicidal, but it's still really hard. Hopefully, as a listener, you get a feeling like when you just can't get away from your problems. You leave your house, you're driving down the road, you're going to do something different, and all of a sudden you hear, Oh, here's my story on the radio. It's like the last thing I need to hear right now."

Black Hole Sun - Soundgarden

Like "Soundgarden," "Black Hole Sun" is the name of a sculpture found in Seattle . It's in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill. It looks kind of like a huge, black doughnut and it's aimed so you can see the Space Needle through the middle of it. The lyrics don't have any particular meaning. This got a lot of radio play because the alternative, "grunge" sound was popular at the time and Top-40 radio stations were playing a lot of songs by artists like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and The Stone Temple Pilots. Fontman Chris Cornell (the same Chis Cornell who re-tooled Michael Jackson's “Billy Jean” made famous by David Cook in last year's American Idol competition) stated, "It's just sort of a surreal dreamscape, a weird, play-with-the-title kind of song." He also said that "lyrically it's probably the closest to me just playing with words for words' sake, of anything I've written. I guess it worked for a lot of people who heard it, but I have no idea how you'd begin to take that one literally."

Linger – Cranberries

This song of regret was written by lead singer Dolores O'Riordan about a soldier she once fell in love with. This was the first song O'Riordan ever wrote. She wrote it just after her successful audition for the band. The Cranberries rose to international fame in the 1990s with their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?, which became a high commercial success and sold over five million copies in the United States. The group was one of the most successful rock acts of the '90s and sold over 14.5 million albums in the United States alone. The band has achieved four top 20 albums on the Billboard 200 chart (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?, No Need To Argue, To the Faithful Departed and Bury the Hatchet) and eight top 20 singles on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart ("Linger", "Dreams", "Zombie", " Ode to My Family ", "Ridiculous Thoughts, "Salvation", "Free To Decide" and "Promises"). In April 2007, Dolores O'Riordan said that a reunion of the band is possible, but not yet, as she is enjoying her solo career at the moment.

Found Out About You – Gin Blossoms

The song is based on a compilation of episodes with several of guitarist Doug Hopkins' girlfriends:"I heard about nights out in the school yard. I found out about you." - This has a double meaning. He found out about a girlfriend meeting another guy in a schoolyard and it is also where he and another girl swung on the swings and talked finding out about each other. "Street lights blink on through the car window. I get the time too often on A.M. radio." - The group members hung around together and this particular line refers to a night when the girl from the swings was with Doug and Robin was driving. They were doing a lot of partying and were listening to the radio when the announcer said the time. For more on the Gin Blossoms, see my 1993 list .

Something's Always Wrong - Toad The Wet Sproket

Toad the Wet Sprocket was formed in 1986 at San Marcos High School just outside of Santa Barbara, California, when singer/songwriter Glen Phillips was only 14 and a freshman; the other members were 17 and juniors. The band drew its name from the Eric Idle monologue "Rock Notes" on Monty Python's Contractual Obligation album from 1980, although the name is featured in a parody of The Old Grey Whistle Test on Rutland Weekend Television in 1975. The band's first public appearance was at an open-mic talent contest in September 1986. The band lost the competition. The band finally achieved fame with their third album, Fear . The album was released in 1991, and saw the singles, "All I Want" and "Walk on the Ocean" reaching the top twenty of the Billboard Hot 100. The album became the band's first RIAA-certified platinum album. In 1994, after years of heavy touring, the band released their follow-up to Fear, Dulcinea. This album spawned the hit singles "Fall Down," which reached #1 on the US Modern Rock charts, as well as #5 on the Mainstream Rock chart, and "Something's Always Wrong," which also charted. Like Fear , this album was certified platinum by the RIAA. Toad the Wet Sprocket formally broke up in July 1998, citing creative differences.

Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm - Crash Test Dummies

The song tells the story of three children whose strange experiences seem normal to them. The theme is the strength of the family unit. The Crash Test Dummies are Canadian. They began as a cover group while lead singer Brad Roberts studied to be a professor in English literature. Roberts played guitar in the group but did not sing because he thought his voice was too deep. A vocal coach convinced him that he had a good, distinctive voice, and Roberts' deep baritone made this stand out on the radio. Even today, very few people sing as low as he does on rock records. Between the title and the unconventional vocals, disc jockeys made lots of jokes about this when they played it. Some said it sounded like "Sylvester Stallone on Quaaludes." As a result of this song, The Crash Test Dummies were nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy in 1994, even though they formed in the late '80s and released their first album in 1991. In 2000, Roberts was nearly killed in a car accident, but escaped with a broken arm before his car exploded. The band is named after the devices used to test the effects of car accidents on humans. They once toured with Alanis Morissette, who might consider this ironic.

Bonus Track

Headline News (Parody of Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm) – Weird Al Yankovic

I don't generally place parody songs in these lists, but I just couldn't resist this one time. I have always been a fan of “Weird Al” and I think this was his best one. Just like the original song, this tells the stories of 3 people, but unlike the original, which tells the stories of 3 children and their misfortunes, Yankovic's parody depicts 3 people who were involved in big news stories of the early 1990s (in the post 9/11 era, don't these stories seem even less important than they did then?). The 3 people depicted in this song are Michael Fay, who was caned in Singapore for vandalizing cars, Tonya Harding, who hired a man to injure fellow Olympic figure-skater Nancy Kerrigan, thus eliminating some of her competition, and John Wayne Bobbit, whose wife cut off his penis. The Crash Test Dummies once played at the MuchMusic awards singing Weird Al's parody with Yankovic. They both played the music and Brad Roberts sang in his low, low voice. The Weird Al version calls for the sound of kazoos right at the end. Al wasn't expecting to have this feature live on stage when singing with Roberts, but was pleasantly surprised when all the Crash Test Dummies suddenly whipped out kazoos and started "quacking" through the end of the song.

1 comment:

readingjunkie said...

1994 may have not have been a favorite year of music for me but Stay (I Missed You)is definitely a favorite song for me. Thanks for great walk down music memories each week - I enjoy and look forward to them.