Saturday, February 21, 2009

10 Great Songs from One Great Year

1996

Suicide bombings become all the rage in Israel as the latest attempts to appease the Arabs fails once again. This leads to the Israeli government launch of Operation Grapes of Wrath, consisting of massive attacks on Lebanon, in retaliation for prior terrorist attacks, and sparking off a violent series of retaliations. Massacres of Hutus by Tutsis in Burundi take place, with more than 450 killed in a few days. This was considered to be an act of revenge against the Hutus for the genocide in Rwanda two years earlier.

In Los Angeles, Lyle and Erik Menendez are found guilty of first-degree murder for the shotgun killing of their parents. This comes on the heels of the O.J. Simpson car-chase which mesmerized the media the year before. After takeoff from Miami, Florida, a fire started by improperly-handled oxygen canisters in the cargo hold of Atlanta-bound ValuJet Flight 592, causes the Douglas DC-9 to crash in the Florida Everglades, killing all 110 on board. This led to many people questioning the value of low-fare airlines and to ValueJet's eventual re-branding as AirTran.

In sports, the Dallas Cowboys win their 3rd championship in 4 years by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers (finally) 27-17, in Super Bowl XXX. In basketball, the Chicago Bulls, led by the great Michael Jordan, win their fourth title by outlasting the Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder), 4 games to 2.

During the Olympic Games, held in Atlanta, one person was killed and 111 injured when a pipe bomb exploded in the town square. Security guard Richard Jewell was initially targeted as the prime suspect, but Eric Robert Rudolph, former explosives expert for the United States Army, was eventually fingered. He is currently serving life in prison.

Wonderwall – Oasis

The general consensus is that this song is about Noel Gallagher's then girlfriend Meg Matthews, who is compared with a schoolboy's wall to which posters of footballers and Pop stars are attached. Noel later married then divorced Meg Matthews. However, according to Q magazines 1001 Best Songs Ever, this was not about Matthews. Noel is quoted as saying, "The meaning of that song was taken away from me by the media who jumped on it. And how do you tell your Mrs. it's not about her once she's read it is? It's about an imaginary friend who's going to come and save you from yourself.” The music is based on Wonderwall Music, an instrumental album George Harrison wrote for the movie Wonderwall - from Psychedelia to Surrealism, starring Jane Birkin. She lives next door to a man who becomes fascinated with her, so he slowly makes holes in his wall so he can watch her through it. The album is the second-best selling in British history. The best selling album in UK history is Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles.

One Headlight – Wallflowers

Lead by lead singer and guitarist Jakob Dylan, the youngest son of the legendary singer Bob Dylan, the Wallflowers took almost 4 years to hit it big out of Los Angeles. With the release of their second album, Bringing Down the Horse, the band rose to stardom with this song. Says Dylan: "I tend to write with a lot of metaphors and images, so people take them literally. The song's meaning is all in the first verse. It's about the death of ideas. The first verse says, 'The death of the long broken arm of human law.' At times, it seems like there should be a code among human beings that is about respect and appreciation. I wasn't feeling like there was much support outside the group putting together the record. In the chorus, it says, 'C'mon try a little.' I didn't need everything to get through; I could still get through - meaning 'one headlight."

Breakfast At Tiffany's - Deep Blue Something

Lead singer Todd Pipes was inspired to write this after seeing Audrey Hepburn in the film Roman Holiday, but he thought "Breakfast at Tiffany's" would be a better title. Breakfast at Tiffany's is a 1961 movie based on a book by Truman Capote. It starred Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, a high-priced escort looking for a rich man to marry. The movie made the song "Moon River" famous. Deep Blue Something was formed by 4 college students from the University of North Texas. This was their only hit, and they did not release another album until 2001. Todd Pipes recalled to Q magazine November 2008 that promoting this song got to be pretty tiresome. He explained: "As the song had Breakfast in the title, radio stations thought it would be genius to have us on at breakfast time. We'd be up till 3am and they'd wonder why we were pissed off playing at 6am.” Recently, Deep Blue Something has been reactivated, and the band did a short tour in the winter 2007. The band is also planning on releasing new music through iTunes.

Mary Jane - Alanis Morissette

From late 1995 to 1999, rarely could you play the radio without hearing a song by Alanis Morrisette at least once every hour. Although she was moderately famous in her native Canada – due to her appearing on the children's show “You Can't do That on Television”, as well as recording two teen-pop albums, it wasn't until she released Jagged Little Pill when she finally hit the big time. Musically and lyrically, JLP was a huge leap for the rising star – so much so that she had to have a family meeting with her parents to prepare them for the anger and sexual content of the album. Taken from JLP, “Mary Jane” is a perfect example of the passion and heartfelt raw emotion Morrisette has since become known for. Rumored to be a self-portrait, the song attempts to lend support and a soft shoulder to a girl who has lost her way.

Wonder - Natalie Merchant

Merchant has said in interviews that after her split with 10,000 Maniacs she was so eager to begin writing her own material that she went home that very day and composed the song “I May Know the Word,” which was originally meant to appear on the soundtrack to the Tom Hanks movie, Philadelphia. The song was eventually cut from the soundtrack, but it would go on to appear on Merchant's debut solo album, Tigerlily, which was released on the Elektra label in 1995. Merchant chose to name the album Tigerlily as she felt it captured the feel of the album, which she described as both “fierce” and “delicate." Tigerlily was a critical and commercial success, spawning her first top-ten hit in the single "Carnival," and achieving top-forty success with subsequent singles "Wonder" and "Jealousy." The lyrics of "Wonder" appear to discuss the phenomenon of a gifted child from the child's point of view. According to her website, after an eight-year-long hiatus from recording, Merchant is in the studio again to record a full album.

A Long December – Counting Crows

During the taping of a VH1 Storytellers performance, lead singer Adam Duritz talked about the song: "In the middle of December of '95 my friend Jennifer got run over by a car, just creamed; and I spent that whole month, while we were just beginning the record and most of January and February in the hospital. Each morning and early afternoon then I'd go to the studio, the house where we were recording, and we'd play all afternoon and all night. It was a very weird time because there is a lot of stress, not that it's a big deal being a second album, but any album. They're just not that easy to make. It's a very stressful process, especially when you're first starting out. I spent a lot of time in the hospital which is pretty weird. But one day I just left the studio about 2 in the morning, and I went to my friends Samantha and Tracy's house which is Hillside Manor, that's what we call it anyway, it's just a little house and I sat there talking with them. I woke them up, got them out of bed and made them talk to me for a couple hours, and then I went home to my house. I wrote this song between about 4 and 6 and then went to the hospital the next day, and came to the house and I played it for the guys before dinner and taught it to them after dinner. We played it about 6 or 7 times. It was take number 6. We just stopped, that was it. We recorded the song, it was done. We all went into the kitchen and had a cold beer, I grabbed Brad our engineer and ran back out about 5 minutes later, had him play the tape three times, just recorded all the harmonies, and we've never touched it since, that was it. It's a completely live song except for the harmonies. It's a song about looking back on your life and seeing changes happening, and for once for me, looking forward and thinking, ya know, things are gonna change for the better - 'maybe this year will be better than the last' - and so, like a lot of songs on the end of an album it's not about everything turning out great, but it at least it is about hope... and the possibilities..."

1979 - Smashing Pumpkins

Lead singer Billy Corgan wrote this about making the transition out of youth and into adulthood. He remembered being in high school and having adult responsibilities like a car and job, but still being very much a youth and dependent on his parents. Corgan chose 1979 for the title because it rhymed with many of the words he wanted to use in the lyrics. Corgan (from VH1 Storytellers ): "Sometimes, when I write a song, I see a picture in my head. For some reason, it's of the obscure memory I have." The memory that goes with this song is from when he was around 18 years old. He was driving down a road near his home on a rainy night, and was waiting at a traffic light. He says that the picture "emotionally connotes a feeling of waiting for something to happen, and not being quite there yet, but it's just around the corner.” The video took 3 days to shoot and included a scene where a bunch of kids are at a party, and The Smashing Pumpkins are the house band. The original tape of this scene was lost after a crew member forgot that had placed it on top of his car and drove away. A new video was cobbled together with unused footage, plus new footage shot by the group. The production assistant who drove off without the tapes was sentenced to stand in the city center with a sandwich board that said: "Lost Tapes, reward for return" on it. Corgan once joked, "We wrote this song for Michael Jackson, but found he couldn't do the Moonwalk to it."

Counting Blue Cars –Dishwalla

This song is about a man who is on a walk with his child. They get into a deep yet child-like conversation about God. The band's name comes from an Indian term for a person providing cable television to a neighborhood. In a Vox interview, Rodney Cravens claimed the band took the name out of a Wired magazine article. This song, from the album Pet Your Friends climbed the charts and was much-played on the airwaves, bringing the band a short round of mainstream-scale success. The track earned them a Billboard Award for "Best Rock Song" for 1996 as well as two ASCAP Awards for "Rock Track Of The Year" in both 1996 and 1997. Their 1998 follow-up album, And You Think You Know What Life's About, failed to sustain the level of popularity achieved by "Counting Blue Cars". The group is remembered for their creative compositions and the smooth yet powerful vocals of J.R. Richards. Their unique style and musical talent landed them many movie and TV series ventures – including appearing in the film Empire Records, and landing songs in The Avengers, American Pie, Stir of Echoes and the WB series Charmed. Lead Singer J.R. Richards has recorded a debut solo album titled "A Beautiful End" scheduled to be released in early 2009.

Gangsta's Paradise – Coolio

This is a reworking of Stevie Wonder's 1976 song "Pasttime Paradise." Coolio updated the lyrics to make it relevant to life on the streets in the mid-'90s. Coolio wrote this for the Michelle Pfifer movie Dangerous Minds. It appeared on the soundtrack before it was used on Coolio's album because his record company did not want to release it at first. This song got some resistance from his record company about its release. They were afraid the song was too graphic and would alienate fans who enjoyed his hit "Fantastic Voyage," which had much lighter subject matter. However, it became the first hard-core Rap song to hit #1 in the UK . It was also the best selling Rap single in the UK until Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" displaced it two years later. Weird Al Yankovic recorded a popular parody of this called "Amish Paradise ." Coolio did not give him permission to use it and claimed Al "desecrated" his song. They made peace and appeared together at the 1996 American Music Awards.

Free to Decide - The Cranberries

The band's third album, To the Faithful Departed, was a heavier album, which failed to garner the same reception as its predecessors. On its spring release, the album entered the charts, peaking at number 2 on the UK Album Chart and number 4 on the Billboard 200. Despite favorable reviews, the album did not match the sales of No Need to Argue. The album only went double platinum in the US, which was somewhat disappointing in light of its two predecessors' which was certified seven times platinum. The first single from the album was "Salvation" which peaked at number one on the modern rock tracks. The second single from the album was this one - a song about empowerment and priorities. During the autumn of 1996, the group cancelled their Australian and European tour, sparking another round of rumors that O'Riordan was about to launch a solo career.

BONUS TRACK

Free as a Bird – The Beatles

John Lennon recorded this as a demo in 1977. The other Beatles recorded around his tracks to complete song in 1994. The next year, it was released as a single for the Beatles Anthology project. Yoko Ono agreed to release Lennon's demo to the other Beatles the day after he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yoko got a bad rap by a lot of Beatles fans, but she has been very protective of Lennon's legacy. This is one of the few projects she has authorized on his behalf. Jeff Lynne of The Electric Light Orchestra produced this. Ringo Starr and George Harrison both played on ELO's 2001 album Zoom and Harrison and Lynne became great friends when Lynne co-wrote and produced Harrison's 1988 multi-platinum album, Cloud Nine. The next year, they teamed up again – along with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty – to record two albums under the guise of The Traveling Wilburys. The phrase "Turned out nice again" at the end of the song is a reference to George Formby, a musical hall entertainer who played the ukulele and is represented in the closing scenes of the video. "Turned out nice again" was Formby's catchphrase. The connection here is that George Harrison played the ukulele and was a member of the George Formby Appreciation Society. He even attended their gatherings. Harrison was said to have had a ukulele in every room of his home and gave one to McCartney early on in their career. Paul McCartney told Observer Music Monthly that they put some backward recordings at the end of the single as a joke, "To give all those Beatles nuts something to do."

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