Sunday, February 05, 2012

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Russian Federation was created on the first day of the new year. A week later, in what could not have been a reaction, President Bush falls violently ill during a dinner in his honor in Japan. A week after that, The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia begins to break up. Slovenia and Croatia gain independence and international recognition in some Western countries.

In February, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is sentenced to life in prison. Two years later, he was beaten to death by another inmate. In April, fuel that leaked into a sewer explodes in Guadalajara, Mexico, killing 215 and injuring 1,500 more. Later that week, the acquittal of four police officers in the Rodney King beating criminal trial triggers massive rioting in Los Angeles. The riots will last for six days resulting in 53 deaths and over a $1 billion in damages before order is restored.

August brought in Hurricane Andrew. Only the third category 5 storm to hit the mainland, slams into south Florida, and then Louisiana, and causes a record $26.5 billion in damage before dying out. In October, after performing a song protesting alleged child abuse by the Catholic Church, SinĂ©ad O'Connor rips up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, causing huge controversy, leading the switchboards at NBC to ring off the hook.

November brought in a change of leadership in the U.S. as Bill Clinton defeats George Bush to win the Presidential election. Just one year earlier, Bush enjoyed an over 80% approval rating following the first Gulf War. However, economic insecurity doomed his presidency. In December, Prince Charles and Princess Diana publicly announce their separation. Unfortunately, the Princess would be dead in just 5 years.

Smells Like Teen Spirit -- Nirvana (lyrics)

Kurt Cobain wrote this song for Nirvana; it came together in a jam session when he played it for the band. He said: "I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off The Pixies." Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer of the group Bikini Kill, gave Cobain the idea for the title when she spray painted "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on his bedroom wall after a night of drinking and spraying graffiti around the Seattle area. In his pre-Courtney Love days, Cobain went out with Bikini Kill lead singer Tobi Vail, but she dumped him. Vail wore Teen Spirit deodorant, and Hanna was implying that Cobain was marked with her scent.

Under the Bridge -- Red Hot Chili Peppers (lyrics)

Lead singer Anthony Kiedis wrote this about his days as a heroin addict and the loneliness that went with it. The bridge mentioned in the song is a place where he sometimes went to buy drugs and get high. This was the biggest hit for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it was not typical of their sound. This was a ballad, but most of their songs to that point were hard Rock or Funk. This was particularly challenging for Kiedis to sing during the Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour, but the Chili Peppers became comfortable with the sound and followed this up with more slower singles like "Soul To Squeeze" and "Breaking The Girl."

Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough -- Patty Smyth and Don Henley (lyrics)

Many songs are about love, but this one takes a melancholy look at what happens when love isn't enough to keep a couple together. Recorded as a duet, we get both sides of the story, as Henley and Smyth sing about how the best thing for their relationship is for it to end. She had worked with him on his albums Building The Perfect Beast and The End of the Innocence - her singing is most obvious in the song "Sunset Grill." She played him a demo version of the song that she recorded with Glen Burtnik (from Styx), and Henley loved it. Glen explained: "There was the harmony part I was singing with Patty which he learned and sang beautifully when he agreed to appear on her record. I feel forever indebted to Don Henley for his appearing on her recording. He was at the peak of his solo years and I believe it drew attention to the song which might not have happened otherwise."

Little Miss Can't Be Wrong -- The Spin Doctors (lyrics)

This was the second single released from their debut LP, Pocket Full of Kryptonite (the other being "Two Princes"). The history of the Spin Doctors can be traced back to the late 1980s in New York City, originally as a band called Trucking Company, which included Canadian guitarist Eric Schenkman, John Popper, and later Chris Barron, who was John Popper's Princeton, New Jersey high school friend. Popper left this side project to focus on his main gig with Blues Traveler full time. With a name change to Spin Doctors, as well as the addition of Aaron Comess and Mark White, the classic lineup was in place by the spring of 1989.

Right Now -- Van Halen (lyrics)

The song is a message about living in the moment. It came at a time of worldwide political change, especially in Eastern Europe and The Soviet Union. In 1993, this was used in commercials for Crystal Pepsi, a clear cola. The commercials were good, but the product was a huge flop as consumers decided they would rather not see through their soft drink. The group was criticized for "selling out" when the ads came out, but they did it because Pepsi was going to use the song with or without them. Pepsi got the rights to the song, and would have had a sound-alike group record it. Van Halen figured it was best to let them use their version and at least get paid for it. Carolyn Mayer Beug, who also worked with Rod Stewart and Dwight Yoakam, directed the video. She was on board flight 11, which was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

All I Want - Toad The Wet Sprocket (lyrics)

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. Toad the Wet Sprocket's first album came out in 1989. Bread and Circus was self-financed through their label, Abe Records. The album spawned the singles "Way Away" and "One Little Girl," which made the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, but did not receive much attention. 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" reach the top twenty of the Billboard Hot 100. The album became the band's first RIAA-certified platinum album. In 1992, the cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured the song "Little Heaven" and was included in the movie soundtrack and 1993, the Mike Myers feature film So I Married an Axe Murderer included the song "Brother" on its soundtrack. Toad the Wet Sprocket formally broke up in July 1998, citing creative differences but temporarily reunited in late 2002, playing a benefit for the Rape Crisis Center in Santa Barbara, and opening a few shows for Counting Crows.

I Can't Make You Love Me -- Bonnie Raitt (lyrics)

This was written by songwriting team of Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. Reid got the idea from a newspaper article about a guy who got drunk and shot up his girlfriend's car. When the judge sentenced him and asked him what he had learned, he said, "You can't make a woman love you if she don't." Before Mike Reid became a songwriter and Country music artist, he played defensive tackle for the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals. Although Raitt had been recording since 1971, this was only her second top 40 song. Bruce Hornsby ("The Way It Is") plays the piano on this track.

Jeremy -- Pearl Jam (lyrics)

This song is about a boy who kills himself at school to get revenge on the students who tormented him. It is based on the true story of Jeremy Delle, a 16 year old who killed himself in front of his English class at Richardson High School in Richardson, Texas on January 8, 1991. Eddie Vedder found out about Jeremy when he read an article an article about the incident in the Dallas Morning News, which read: "Because he had missed class, the teacher in his second-period English class told Jeremy to get an admittance slip from the school office. Instead, he returned with the gun, police said. He walked directly to the front of the classroom. 'Miss, I got what I really went for,' he said, then placed the barrel in his mouth and fired." The article adds that three Richardson students committed suicide in 1988. In 1996 Barry Loukaitis, a junior-high student in Washington State, shot and killed 2 students and a teacher when he went to school. He claimed he was copying the video for this song.

Drive -- R.E.M. (lyrics)

The central lyric, "Hey kids, rock n' roll," was borrowed from "Rock On" by David Essex. The words may be the same, but the mood is completely different. This is a much more somber song. Lead singer Michael Stipe explained in the November 12, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone: "There were, before Punk, a few songs that resonated with me. One was David Essex's "Rock On." "Drive" is a homage to that. It was the first song I wrote on computer. Before, I had a typewriter. The reason is my handwriting changes dramatically day to day. I don't trust it. I will write one of the best lyrics ever and discard it because the handwriting looks like s--t. Or the handwriting looks good but it's a crap lyric, lo and behold, it's in the song. Too late."

Why -- Annie Lennox (lyrics)

In November 2007, Annie Lennox was interviewed extensively by Malcolm Bragg on The South Bank Show. In this program she said that "Why," which was her first solo release, was a personal song related to her going solo; she wasn't sure that she could write songs by herself, or where she was going in music or in life. It took her about 10 minutes to write. "It's weird," she added, "Some songs are like that, while others are not." "Why" is the opening track on the Diva album.Lennox, of course, is best known for her work with the Eurythmics ("Sweet Dreams are Made of This").


Boot Scootin' Boogie -- Brooks and Dunn (lyrics)

Brooks and Dunn recorded ten studio albums, one Christmas album and three compilation albums. They also released fifty singles, of which twenty went to number one on the Hot Country Songs charts and nineteen more reached top ten. They also won the Country Music Association Vocal Duo of the Year award every year between 1992 and 2006 (except for 2000). Alvin and the Chipmunks released a cover of this song, done in their signature style, for the 1993 re-release of Urban Chipmunk.

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