Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


Unlike the Prince song of the same name, 1999 was not a year caused people to want to party. More than anything else, the fear over the impending Y2K anxiety forced businesses worldwide to spent billions of dollars in order to secure that their computer systems would not crash when the next year began. No one knows how much damage was prevented and most historians now believe the threat was widely exaggerated.

Another big story was that of the California energy crisis. It would still be two years until Enron would be indicted on charges caused by obscene corporate greed that stemmed from the crisis. But the market was riding high in ’99 – actually topping 10,000 for the first time ever - and a lot of people began investing insane amounts of money in the tech sector. This would lead to the market crash in 2001, when the tech bubble came crashing down.

Tragedy struck the town of Littleton, Co when two teenagers open fire on their classmates. 12 students are murdered, along with one teacher. The two teens later committed suicide at the end of the assault. Another tragedy happened in Moore, Oklahoma, when an F-5 tornado ripped into town, killing 38 people. This was the strongest tornado ever recorded. In November 12 students are killed when a bonfire, celebrating Homecoming week, collapses at Texas A&M University, in College Station, Texas.

In entertainment news, the much-anticipated prequel to the Star Wars trilogy – the Phantom Menace – is released in theaters and becomes the highest grossing movie in franchise history. Also this year, the music file-sharing program, Napster, debuts and changes the way music is listened to forever. In July, the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of the slain President, is killed when his private jet goes down off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

Mambo No. 5 – Lou Bega

This song was originally done in 1952 by the Cuban-Mexican bandleader Perez Prado. Known as the 'King of the Mambo,' Prado recorded numerous mambos and when he ran out of inspiration, he would simply number them, and "Mambo No 5" was one of a series of 8. Prado's version was an instrumental and in ‘99 German Pop musician Lou Bega added lyrics to it, transforming it into a love song for several women, namely Angela, Pamela, Sandra, Rita, Monica, Erica, Tina, Mary and Jessica. It was reported that the girls he mentioned were all Lou's former girlfriends but it is probably beyond coincidence that eight of the girls in the song have names that happen to end in "A."

Livin' La Vida Loca – Ricky Martin

The title of the song translates to “Living the Cray Life.” Desmond Child and Robi Rosa wrote this. Child has written hits for many artists, including Kiss, Cher, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith. Rosa was in the group Menudo with Martin. According to an interview, Child and Rosa were trying to write "The Millennium party song from Hell." While popular in his native Puerto Rico since 1991, this song was by far his most successful English hit, topping the charts for 6 weeks.

The Final Countdown - Pearl Jam

This song, which was originally a #2 smash by J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers (in 1962) is about Jeanette Clark and J.L. Hancock, who were both 16 years old when their car hit a tractor-trailer on a road in rural Barnesville, Georgia. They were on a date a few days before Christmas in 1962. A local gas station attendant helping with the recovery of the bodies did not recognize his own daughter. The song was written by Wayne Cochran, who lived near the road and was working on a song about all the accidents he saw on it. He finished it and dedicated it to Jeanette Clark. Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder came across this song when he found the record in an antique store in Seattle before a show. He bought it and stayed up all night listening to it. He took it to the band and they played it throughout the summer of their 1998 tour. Pearl Jam recorded this at a sound check and released it as a single to their fan club, who often get songs that are unavailable to the public. After a while, radio stations got copies and started playing it. By the spring of 1999, it was getting a lot of airplay and becoming a hit, even though it was not released as a single or available on an album.

Someday – Sugar Ray

Sugar Ray formed in 1992 calling themselves The Shrinky Dinks, later having to change it (upon threat of lawsuit from the Milton Bradley Company, maker of the Shrinky Dinks toy) to Sugar Ray after the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. The band's debut album, Lemonade and Brownies, was released in 1995, though it failed to produce a major hit single. Sugar Ray's first mainstream hit came in the summer of 1997 with their song "Fly," which was released on the album Floored and featured reggae artist Super Cat. "Fly" was notable for not sounding anything at all like the rest of the tracks on the album and received frequent radio play. As a result of the success of "Fly," Floored sold well and was certified double platinum. However, by the end of 1997, critics were skeptical that Sugar Ray could put out another successful song labeled them a one-hit wonder. The same year, Sugar Ray was featured in the movie Father's Day, starring Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. However, their follow up album proved them all wrong, as 14:59 was a huge success, featuring the #3 hit “Every Morning” and this song, which reached #7.

My Name Is – Eminem

This introduced the character "Slim Shady." Eminem claims to have 3 characters he acts like: Marshal Mathers (his real name), Eminem, and Slim Shady. The keyboard track was based on a song called "I Got The" by Labi Siffre. Siffre is a gay activist, so before he let Eminem use his song, he insisted that he change one of the lines in the song that called a teacher ”gay.” This song was Eminem’s first top 40 hit and it made a name for the white rapper from Detroit.

Jumper – Third Eye Blind

In an odd fact, this song is only one of a handful of top 40 hits where the title is never sung in the lyrics, which led many people to believe it was called "I Would Understand," which is repeated throughout the song. Lead singer Stephan Jenkins said on the PBS show In The Mix: "It's not just a song about some guy offing himself. Jumper's really about understanding. Everyone carries demons around, they carry some sort of scar around. The message of Jumper is that there comes a time when you have to put the past away." Even so, in the film “Yes, Man,” Jim Carrey uses this song to convince a man not to jump off a ledge.

Smooth – Santana (featuring Rob Thomas)

Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty wrote this with Itaal Shur, a songwriter and producer who has worked also with Jewel, Robi Rosa and Maxwell (co-writing his first hit, "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder). Says Shur: “My manager at the time told me that Pete Ganbarg, who was working at the time at Arista, he was looking for music for the new Santana record. At the time, I had my own band and was performing a lot around the city. I jumped at it because I grew up with an older brother who hipped me up to Classic Rock and I always loved Santana.” Clive Davis is a legendary record executive who was the mastermind behind this album. Santana had not had a hit since "Hold On" in 1982, so Davis teamed him up with contemporary musicians like Wyclef Jean, Everlast and Lauryn Hill to make sure the younger generation took notice. The result was a wildly successful album that went over well with Santana's old fans and created a legion of new ones. This was the first single, and it spent 12 weeks at #1 in the US.

That I Would Be Good – Alanis Morissette

With the incredible success of the first two post-teeny bopper albums, Morissette was asked to appear and perform on the MTV Unplugged television series. It featured tracks from her previous two albums alongside four new songs, including "King of Pain" (a cover of The Police song) and "No Pressure over Cappuccino", which Morissette wrote with her main guitar player, Nick Lashley. From that live concert (and subsequent live album), she released this song, which was a very popular album track from Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.

She's So High – Tal Bachman

Bachman is the son of Canadian rocker Randy Bachman, who is famous for his work in The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. This is Tal's first single - his sound is much more mellow and mainstream than his father's. His debut album, Staring Down the Sun, earned Bachman two Juno awards in Canada, and much media exposure, including appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, MTV, MuchMusic, and E Network; and profiles, interviews, and reviews in "Rolling Stone," "Q Magazine," "USA Today," "Interview," and the Los Angeles Times. In support of the record, Bachman toured as an opening act for Bryan Adams and the Barenaked Ladies, and also toured in his own right.

Kiss Me – Sixpense 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. This became a hit when it was used on the third season to the WB TV show Dawson's Creek. This was the most-played radio song in 1999 in 11 different countries, including Canada, UK, Australia, Japan and Israel. The band had only modest commercial success – including the follow up song, “There She Goes” – until their breakup in 2004. However, after lead singer Leigh Nash released a solo effort, the band reunited in 2008 and they released a Christmas-themed album, titled The Dawn of Grace.

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