Saturday, April 04, 2009

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


Bill Clinton's second inauguration started the year off with a celebration for his admirers, but was somewhat tempered by the continued Republican control of Congress, led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Upon resuming his presidency, Clinton named Madeleine Albright as the first female Secretary of State. He follows that up with legislation that bans human cloning. This comes on the heels of Dolly, the first cloned sheep, making headlines out of Scotland the year before.

In world news, a 126-day hostage crisis at the residence of the Japanese ambassador in Lima , Peru ends after government commandos storm and capture the building, rescuing 71 hostages, in April. One hostage dies of a heart attack, 2 soldiers are killed by rebel fire, and all 14 Tupac Amaru rebels are slain. In Britain , the Labor Party finally wins after 18 years of Conservative rule. Tony Blair is named Prime Minister. Also, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash, after running from paparazzi in Paris .

This was also the year that serial-spree killer Andrew Cunanan murdered five people, including fashion designer Gianni Versace, during a three-month period in 1997, ending with Cunanan's suicide, at age 27. Also perishing this year was Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa. In legal news, Timothy McVeigh, the mastermind of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing, are both found guilty of their crimes. McVeigh was executed in 2001.

Semi Charmed Life - Third Eye Blind

This song is about a drug user's descent into crystal meth addiction. The line "I want something else..." contains a reference to crystal meth in the song. The line: "Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break" was a little racy for some radio stations, which played an edited version with the words "crystal meth" distorted. With regard to the name of the band, lead vocalist Stephan Jenkins indicated during a radio interview that the name came from the metaphysical idea of a mind's eye, a topic of a book he had read. The other group members liked it and chose it as the official name. In the past, Jenkins has also joked about a Ouija board and vodka being the sources of the name. This song peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was number 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks for 8 weeks. (View lyrics here)

Barely Breathing - Duncan Sheik

Sheik began his professional musical career playing for other acts, including Liz and Lisa (with Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell), and played on His Boy Elroy's 1993 album. Through connections from fellow Brown University alum Tracee Ellis Ross, Sheik's music and good looks gained the attention of executives at Atlantic Records. Duncan Sheik's eponymous debut album for Atlantic was certified Gold and spawned this song, which remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-setting 55 straight weeks. It also enjoyed lengthy stays on Billboard's Adult Contemporary and Adult Top 40 charts. In early 1998, Duncan was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for "Barely Breathing" but lost to Elton John's “Candle In The Wind .” A lay Buddhist, Sheik's involvement with Soka Gakkai has increased steadily over the years. In 2000, Sheik wrote the foreword to “The Way of Youth: Buddhist Common Sense for Handling Life's Questions” by Soka Gakkai leader Daisaku Ikeda. On January 27, 2009 , Duncan released Whisper House, his first new studio album since 2006. (View lyrics here)

Your Woman - White Town

White Town is Jyoti Mishra, who sings and records dance music using synthesizers and samples. This is by far his best-known song. This samples a Bing Crosby song from the 1930s that was sung by British singer Al Bowlly called "My Woman." Mishra heard it on the Pennies From Heaven soundtrack. According to Mishra, "The lyrics are very nasty and, from a certain perspective, misogynist. I thought it might be an interesting twist to sample the spooky part and write a song around it that had different perspectives. The music was done fairly quickly - the lyrics took bloody ages!" He recorded this on an 8-track in his spare room in Derby and played it to his girlfriend, who encouraged him to do something with it. He could only afford to press 5 copies, and he sent one of them to the DJ Simon Mayo at Radio One, who started playing it. It became the most requested track of the week and as a consequence he landed a deal with EMI. It sold 165,000 copies the week it was released shooting to #1 despite his refusal to appear in a video or on British TV to promote it. (View lyrics here)

Where Have All The Cowboys Gone - Paula Cole

Cole was an active and popular student in middle school and high school, holding offices as class president and student council member. In addition, she was very active in the school's theatre arts program, starring in many productions, among them “Flower Drum Song” and “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” She was a French Club member and traveled to France as part of a well-established exchange program founded by Foreign Language department head Mary Hayes. Cole entered the Berklee College of Music in Boston when she was 18, where she studied jazz singing and improvisation. She got her first big professional break when she was invited to perform on Peter Gabriel's 1993-1994 Secret World Live tour. Shortly after this, she was signed on with her first record company Imago Records. Through this record company, she released her first album Harbinger in 1994. In late 1996, Cole released her second album on Warner Bros. Records, This Fire, which was entirely self-produced. The album's debut single, "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone", became an instant smash radio (reaching #8 on Billboard magazine's pop chart) and MTV hit. The follow up single, "I Don't Want to Wait", was a #11 pop hit single, thanks in part to the fact that it was made the theme song to the popular teen drama Dawson's Creek . The song was played so much that it was lampooned on various sketch comedy shows. (View lyrics here)

Lovefool - The Cardigans

The Cardigans are a Swedish band formed in the town of Jönköping in 1992. The band's musical style has varied greatly from album to album and encompasses their early indie leanings passing through '60s-inspired pop and more band-based rock. Their debut album Emmerdale (1994) gave them a solid base in their home country and enjoyed some success abroad, especially in Japan. But it wasn't until their breakthrough second album Life (1995) that international audiences and critics responded. The band is perhaps best known outside of Sweden for their international hit singles "Erase/Rewind" and "My Favourite Game" from the album Gran Turismo (1998) and this song from the album First Band on the Moon (1996). Its inclusion in the soundtrack of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet by director Baz Luhrmann secured their popularity. The Cardigans have since sold over 5 million albums worldwide. Currently, the band is taking a break from recording and touring. A Best of The Cardigans compilation album was released in January 2008. (View lyrics here)

Push - Matchbox 20

Lead singer Rob Thomas wrote this about a high school girlfriend who broke up with him by giving his clothes to charity. Thomas didn't have money to buy new clothes, so local bands helped him out by giving him T-shirts and other items. Over the next few months, he wore a lot of band T-shirts. At least one feminist group tried to ban this song, believing that it encouraged violence toward woman. The ploy failed when the band explained that it was about emotional, rather than physical confrontation, and dealt with female on male mental harm, not the other way around. Thomas has said that this is evident to anyone who listens to the lyrics and not just the chorus. The album was out for a year before this was released as a single. Yourself Or Someone Like You got noticed gradually and stayed on the charts for about 2 years while the band released more singles from it like "3 AM" and "Real World." It also got a boost in 1999 when Thomas wrote and sang on Santana's hit "Smooth." By 2000, the album had sold over 10 million copies, giving it the rare designation of "Diamond Album." (View lyrics here)

Female of the Species – Space

Written and sung by frontman Tommy Scott in tribute to his late father, who was reported to dislike his son's taste of music, "Female of the Species" is a funky, upbeat Latin-flavored number with feel-good sounding vibes and vocals reminiscent of lounge singers such as Perry Como and Frank Sinatra combined with keyboardist Franny Griffiths' trademark sound effects and Scott's dark humored lyrics. When the song was performed at later concerts, Scott usually walks into the audience and shakes the front concert-goers by the hand. The song's distinctive style and lyrics led to it being used in TV and films, including the opening theme to the UK drama “Cold Feet ,” the 1997 film “ The Matchmaker” starring Janeane Garofalo; and during the end credits of the popular movie “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery .” It gained further popularity in the UK when used in a 1998 advert (with a cameo appearance by Quentin Crisp) for the bodyspray "Impulse ." The song's name is a reference to the 1911 Rudyard Kipling poem "The Female of the Species", which has as its refrain: "The female of the species is more deadly than the male." (View lyrics here)

Walkin' On the Sun – Smash Mouth

In 1994 in San Jose, California, Steve Harwell was a veteran of a disbanded rap group called F.O.S. which had released only one single, "Big Black Boots", available only on vinyl. His former manager was Kevin Coleman. Harwell wanted to form a rock band, so Coleman introduced him to friends' guitarist Greg Camp and bassist Paul De Lisle, both veterans of a local punk band called Lackadaddy. They met and held their first rehearsal later, with Coleman on drums. They named themselves Smash Mouth after a football term coined by Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, describing a style of hard, straightforward and bare-knuckles rock-and-roll. For the most part, the band played ska punk, somewhat popular at the time, although Harwell has since claimed that the band is variously influenced. Smash Mouth got its break in 1996 when San Jose rock radio station KOME played a demo of the band's song "Nervous in the Alley" which achieved some notoriety. The group was signed by Interscope Records after a show, and they released a first album, Fush Yu Mang (yes, it was an intentional misspelling of the “f” word) the next year, sporting a title in a font suggesting Oriental characters. The band explained in interviews that the name was inspired by watching an edited version of Scarface on TV. Fittingly, this is the only Smash Mouth album to be labeled the Parental Advisory. "Walkin' on the Sun" was Smash Mouth's first major single. The opening riff and backbone of the tune is borrowed from the opening riff of "Swan's Splashdown", from the 1966 Perrey and Kingsley album The In Sound From Way Out! – which is considered to be the first-ever mainstream electronic music album. The lyrics in "Walkin' on the Sun" present an ironic and implied Generation X view of the hippie movement: that it extolled ideals of peace and love, then exchanged them for commerce. The big break for the band came soon after when they appeared on the hit Showtime series, “The Gary Shandling Show” – where they performed “Walkin' on the Sun.” (View lyrics here)

Sunny Came Home – Shawn Colvin

This song is about a woman who "Makes a few repairs" (the album this song is from is called A Few Small Repairs ) to the oven, then uses the gases to burn her house down by lighting a match. She does this in an attempt to escape her past. Colvin began working in the music scene in earnest in the late 1970s, first in Austin , Texas and then nationally. She met music partner John Leventhal during this time; Leventhal – who is married to Roseanne Cash, Johnny Cash's daughter and an award-winning singer in her own right – became Colvin's producer on several albums. Colvin often lends her talent to contemporaries in the music business. In fact, she can be heard singing the backing vocals on the Suzanne Vega hit, "Luka". Vega returned the favor, singing backup on Colvin's "Diamond In The Rough", from her debut album, Steady On. Early in their careers, Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter formed a friendship that led to their frequently guesting on one-another's recordings: Colvin lent her vocals to Carpenter's 1992 recordings "The Hard Way" and "Come On Come On", and Mary Chapin returned the favor on Colvin's "Climb On a Back That's Strong", from Colvin's Fat City album. She also contributed in the studio and onstage to several Bruce Hornsby songs. This won Grammys for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. When she won for Song Of The Year, rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard rushed the stage and took the microphone. Apparently upset that his group, The Wu Tang Clan, lost Best Rap Album to Puff Daddy, he rambled about how "Wu Tang is for the children" before he was ushered offstage and a very confused Colvin was allowed to give her speech. (View lyrics here)

Kiss Me - Sixpence None the Richer

Sixpence None the Richer is a Contemporary Christian trio from Austin , Texas . Their name comes from a passage in C.S. Lewis' book Mere Christianity and was the most-played radio song in 1999 in 11 different countries, including Canada , UK , Australia , Japan and Israel . After recording two albums that failed to garner much attention, the group – in 1997 – signed on to Squint Entertainment and released a self-titled album, which slowly began garnering attention from a wider audience in the mainstream industry. "Kiss Me" was released as a single, propelling Sixpence None the Richer into the national pop spotlight. Soon after, the song was featured in the film She's All That as the newly made-over protagonist, Laney Boggs, is revealed, and again at the end, during the film's credits. In 2001 the film Not Another Teen Movie would use the song in a parody of that scene. "Kiss Me" was also played on the WB teen drama Dawson's Creek in episodes #2-06 "The Dance" and #2-18 "The Perfect Wedding," and is found on the show's first soundtrack CD, Songs from Dawson's Creek (Volume 1) and also played at the televised wedding of England's Prince Edward. In 1999, the band recorded a cover of The La's' "There She Goes", which became their second hit single and propelled them into the limelight again. Sixpence has appeared on In 1999, the band recorded a cover of The La's' "There She Goes", which became their second hit single and propelled them into the limelight again. Sixpence has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the gems of morning talk shows, as well as had their music hit #1 status in 11 countries. This recording was subsequently added to the band's self-titled album in the US , though it had already appeared on all copies of the album internationally. After disbanding in 2004, the band reunited in '07 and released their first Christmas album entitled The Dawn of Grace. Vocalist Leigh Nash commented, “Sixpence fans have been asking for a Christmas album for as long as I can remember. It was something we always wanted to do, but somehow time got away from us. Now that we are back together, we thought a Christmas album would be a nice gift for our long time supporters. We love it and hope they will too!" (View lyrics here)


Sher said...

I must have liveed under a rock that year. I only recognize 6pence. And I guess that's why the 90's are a blur... they never existed for me musically. But if it telss you anything... Diana was killed a month before my brother left me stranded in the apartment we shared. Nice huh? been screwed ever since. Geez what a long freakin' decade.

Allison Guerriero said...

AHHH!!! Lovefool! I forgot about that song. I LOVE when you do these 10 song posts!

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