Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


(for a previous 1995 list, click here)

As we entered the middle of the '90s, America was in a lull. Bill Clinton had been President for a couple of years and his popularity was rising. Although rocked by the events in New York in '93 (first world Trade Center attack) and Waco Branch Dividian massacre), just a year ago, most Americans seemed content not to heap any blame on the President - no matter how poorly both crisis were managed. Instead, as the stock market rose above 4,000 for the first time, Americans were more interested in phenomenon that is the Internet. America Online became the latest and greatest creation and everyone was infatuated with the World-Wide Web. Another invention, the DVD (Optical Disk Storage), is introduced this year, offering  a far better viewing experience than the VHS (video recorder). Using digital technology, as opposed to analogue, it should made the VCR obsolete.

This is not to say tragedy did not strike this year. Just that it seemed, at least here in the States, it was less important. However, there were noticeable events that of course, affected not just us in the United States, but throughout the world. Of course, the biggest of these events was the April 19th bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. While McVeigh was executed for this crime, questions still linger as to who his true accomplices were. Regardless, the tragedy and outpouring of grief throughout the country reminded us of how quickly life can turn in an instance. Little known (outside of law enforcement) at the time was the continued manhunt for the Unibomber, who actually struck again in California, just 5 days later.

This was also the year that Mexican singer, Selena, was gunned down by the president of her own fanclub, Yolanda Saldívar. Also, "Superman" Christopher Reeve was paralyzed during a riding accident in Culpepper, Virginia. He would survive an additional 9 more years, before succumbing to an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. After a year of sensational media coverage, justice was hardly served when former NFL great O.J. Simpson was found not-guilty of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Brown.

November brought tragedy is Israel, when Yigal Amir assassinates Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, during a peace rally in support of the Oslo accords. Amir believed that they peace deal between Yasir Arafat's PLO and the Israeli government were a huge mistake and a suicidal pact with the enemy. Sadly, while his actions were contemptible, his fears were proven proficient.

Kiss From a Rose - Seal (lyrics)

Seal wrote this in tribute to Crosby Stills and Nash while living in a squat in Kensal Green, London and he recorded this for his second album. It was later used over the end credits of the Batman Forever movie, which helped make it a huge hit. It didn't start climbing the charts until the movie was released. With its curious waltz time, lavish harmonies and epic sound proportions, this had a very different sound and stood out on the radio, where many stations were willing to play it. In the US, it was a #1 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts for 12 weeks and won Grammy Awards in 1996 for Record of the Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance. This song was a worldwide hit, scoring in the Top-10 in Australia, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the US, and the UK. Not only is this song part of the Batman Forever soundtrack, but the second version of the video contains a great deal of film footage, and has Seal on a rooftop stage set next to a bat-signal. This ages the song badly, as - brace yourself for an onslaught from the world's most hideous fandom - director Joel Schumacher was later credited with ruining the Batman franchise "forever," resulting in the reboot with the Nolan version. What is Seal's actual birth name? Take a deep breath and say "Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel." Yes, all six of them. Seal is of Nigerian and Brazilian heritage, which might explain some of his unique international appeal. He's married to model/actress/designer Heidi Klum. However, Just this past January, the pair announced that they were separating after just 7 years of marriage.

I'll Be There For You - The Rembrandts (lyrics)

This was the theme song of the TV show Friends, which went on the air in 1994 and quickly became a ratings powerhouse. The theme was written by the songwriters Allee Willis and Michael Skloff. Says Willis: "I had seen the pilot, and that one line ('I'll Be There For You') had been given to me by Michael Skloff, who had started on the music, and it was just supposed to be about the loyalty of friends. That no matter how screwed up your life was, I'll be there for you." It is fairly rare for a TV show theme song to become a hit. The themes usually sound great for the 30 seconds they are on the air, but make terrible full length songs. This was an exception, as the popularity of the show exposed the theme to a mass audience that loved the incredibly catchy tune, and soon there was demand for a full-length version of the theme. Says Willis: "It was never, ever to this day released as a single. It was just DJs who made a cassette of the song and just started playing it. And it became the #1 airplay record of the year, but the Rembrandts never wanted it out as a single because they didn't write the song. So they kind of bit off their nose to spite their face. At that point, the only way they could get the Rembrandts to do the record was if they got songwriting credit. So the song needed a bridge, and it needed a second verse lyric, and they wrote that. They don't have credit on the theme, but they have it on the record." The Rembrandts are guitar players Danny Wilde and Phil Solem. They had some success since their first album was released in 1990, but they are best known for this song, which isn't typical of their work. They recorded the song because they were the only group signed to Warner Brothers who was available, and since Warner Brothers owned Friends, they made sure the theme was written by their publishing company (Warner/Chappell) and recorded by one of their artists.

You Oughta Know - Alanis Morissette (lyrics)

This an angry message from a scorned ex-girlfriend directed at her former lover. Morissette has said it is about a specific person, but that person has not contacted her, and probably doesn't know it's about him. Morissette claims she will never say who this is about, just as Carly Simon has done with "You're So Vain." The song was rumored to be about the actor Dave Coulier, who Morissette went out with for a while when she was 16 and he was 31 (hence the line "an older version of me"). Coulier played Joey on the TV show Full House, and is known for his Bullwinkle impression. In a 2008 interview with the Calgary Herald, Coulier confirmed that this song is about their rocky former relationship. The actor/comedian said that he first heard the track was when he was driving. "I said, 'Wow, this girl is angry.' And then I said, 'Oh man, I think it's Alanis,'" Coulier revealed. "I listened to the song over and over again, and I said, 'I think I have really hurt this person.' I tried to contact her and I finally got a hold of her. And at the same time, the press was calling and saying, 'You want to comment on this song?' I called her and I said, 'Hi. Uh, what do you want me to say?' And she said, 'You can say whatever you want.' We saw each other and hung out for an entire day. And it was beautiful. It was one of those things where it was kind of like, 'We're good.'"

When I Come Around - Green Day (lyrics)

This is about 2 lovers who have had a fight. The song is saying that they need space, but eventually they will "come around" and get back together. MTV released 2 videos for this song when it became a single. They had the concept video for the song directed by Mark Kohr, and they also released a live version from Green Day's infamous Woodstock '94 performance (lots of mud was in the air). They used this video to promote the MTV Woodstock '94 retrospect video tape and it went into rotation. Jason White, who sometimes played as a second guitarist for Green Day, is in this video. He's the guy kissing the girl. When performing this song at Woodstock 94, a fan threw a clump of mud onstage and Billie Joe stuck it in his mouth. This caused the fans to keep throwing mud and started the infamous mud fight. A security guard (in a rush to get fans off of the stage) accidentally slammed bassist Mike Dirnt into an amplifier, causing him injuries to his arm and three of his teeth. This song was the fourth single, and highest charting song from the multi-platinum album, Dookie.

As I Lay Me Down - Sophie B. Hawkins (lyrics)

This song is Hawkins' second-highest charting Billboard hit right behind "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover." And the contrast between that song and this one is quite pronounced, showing off her' broad thematic range. This song is actually a ballad in memory of her father and as told in the 1998 film documentary The Cream Will Rise, Hawkins has struggled to overcome problems with her dysfunctional relationship with her mother and brother; so with that in mind, her father might have been her main source of stability in her home. Hawkins took to touring the country with an acoustic piano to promote this song, after which time it took off in the charts. Radio stations in the Top 40 and Adult Contemporary formats loved the song, since it was such an accessible, non-threatening tune without a trace of Grunge or Hip-Hop. The phones weren't exactly lighting up with requests for it, but it fit nicely on the playlists. "As I Lay Me Down" is familiar not only from heavy radio airplay, but from soundtrack usage in the TV series Dawson's Creek and Party of Five. It was also used in the 1995 film Now and Then, a chick flick about girls bicycling around the neighborhood to (mostly) 1969-1970 music. You name it, if it's a liberal cause, Hawkins is an active supporter of it. She's vegan, an animal-rights' activist, a female musician advocate, and as a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmentalist. She also reworked her "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover" single into "Damn We Wish You Were President" in support of former first lady Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign for US president.

I Believe - Blessid Union of Souls (lyrics)

This is a heartfelt song about the power of love and the belief that it can impact life for the better. It has a strong Christian message, though it's implied rather than spelled out. There's a heavy dose of social commentary in this song as well. Blessid Union of Souls frontman Eliot Sloan recalls writing this song after his girlfriend's father coerced her into breaking up with him by threatening to cut off her college tuition. This was the group's biggest hit - they had 3 others hit the US Top-40: "Let Me Be the One," "I Wanna Be There," and "Hey, Leonardo (She Likes Me For Me)." Although they have not had a charted single since 1999,  the band still performs and records. This past year, they released a contemporary Christian record, called The Mission Field.

December - Collective Soul (lyrics)

Before forming Collective Soul, Ed Roland had studied music composition and guitar playing at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Since the mid 1980s Roland had been involved in underground music, either making unpublished demos or performing. He also worked at Real 2 Reel Studios in Stockbridge during the 1980s and early 1990s, which was owned by Will Turpin's father. Roland's main duties were producing, mixing and engineering work for local Atlanta artists. He also recorded his own demos and released his independent solo album Ed-E Roland in 1991. He had a pre-Collective Soul band in the late 1980s and early 1990s called Marching Two-Step which included Shane Evans, Michele Rhea Caplinger, and Matt Serletic. Marching Two-Step were a band for several years, but never managed to grow beyond the local club scene. Roland's early attempts to be signed to a recording contract by a label ended in rejection. In 1992, he enlisted musicians to record a demo in a basement. Roland intended only to sell the songs to a publishing company and had no plans of forming a band out of it. The demo was passed along to an Atlanta college radio station which began playing "Shine," soon to be its most requested song. Amidst the surprise popularity, Roland agreed to perform live shows, enlisting his brother Dean as well as Shane Evans, Will Turpin, and Ross Childress in what would be the first line-up of Collective Soul. Atlantic Records took note of the popularity of the song and subsequently signed them. While "Shine" was their breakthrough song, the band's second album, the eponymous Collective Soul, put them solidly on the map. Two singles for the LP, "December" and "The World I Know"both hit the Billboard top 20 and also, both topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Unfortunately, the two songs were the last top 40 songs the band recorded. They still perform and record, releasing their eighth studio album, another self-titled, but designated by the band as Rabbit, in 2009.

Bullet With Butterfly Wings - Smashing Pumpkins (lyrics)

Lead singer Billy Corgan wrote this about pain that comes from being a rock star. The lyrics are exceptionally dramatic, and Corgan has said they are a bit of a joke. This was the first single off Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness and Smashing Pumpkins' second biggest US hit ("1979" hit #12). This song also won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. The next year, they won the same award for "The End Is The Beginning Is The End." In the video, Corgan still has hair. However, when it was released, he had cut all of his hair off. Ever since, Billy has been bald. Possibly shedding some light on what to read into the lyrics, Corgan once said: "If people were interested in my own personal story and they knew every thing that had happened to me in my childhood, I think they would look at me differently because I was raised in a family that set me up to fail." Although the band first formed in 1988, it took until this year for them to make any impact on the charts. "Bullet" was their first single from the multi-platinum Mellon Collie LP, and first of theirs to chart. It ushered in their most successful run. In 2000, due to infighting and drug use, the group disbanded. However, as most bands do, they reconvened to record a new Smashing Pumpkins album, Zeitgeist. The band toured with a rotating lineup of between five and nine musicians through much of 2007 and 2008 before changes to the lineup were made permanent. Still, they toured through much of 2010 and 2011, and are currently recording the album Teargarden by Kaleidyscope and the album-inside-an-album Oceania.

Zombie - The Cranberries (lyrics)

This was inspired by the IRA bombing in Warrington, Cheshire in 1993. Two children, Jonathan Ball and Tim Parry, were killed. The IRA (The Irish Republican Army) is a militant group determined to remove British troops from Northern Ireland. Lead singer Dolores O'Riordan claimed that "Zombie" speaks about "The Irish fight for independence that seems to last forever." The lyrics even say, "It's the same old theme since 1916." Like the responsive works of Yeats, Heaney and U2, The Cranberries claim they wrote "Zombie" to be a "Song for peace, peace among England and Ireland." On August 31, 1994, just a few weeks after this song was released, the IRA declared a ceasefire after 25 years of conflict, leading some critics of The Cranberries to wonder if the IRA was willing to call a truce to make sure the group didn't release any more songs about them.

One of Us - Joan Osborne (lyrics)

This was written by Eric Bazilian, who was working on the album with Rob Hyman and Rick Chertoff. Says Bazilian, "For me, the song was more about what happens to you when you look at something that has completely changed your world view, which could be meeting God, it could be meeting an alien, it could be a near-death experience, it could be anything like that. Just how everything you know is wrong, or everything you know is right, and you didn't know it." Hyman and Bazilian were members of The Hooters and along with Chertoff, collaborated on Cyndi Lauper's first album, She's So Unusual. They usually take a while to craft their songs, but occasionally one will come out quickly. One of these songs was "All You Zombies," which was The Hooters' first single and also contains lots of Biblical imagery. Says Bazilian, "I've written a decent number of 'God' songs, and I wrote a bunch of them after 'One Of Us,' except you'll never hear them because they're not as good. It's a strange thing. I could, and I often have, pointed to another hand guiding." This song earned Grammy nominations for Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best Female Pop Vocal. Osborne was also nominated for Best New Artist and Relish for album of the year. None of them won, with Seal's "Kiss From A Rose" beating it for Song and Record Of The Year, Alanis Morissette winning Best Album and Hootie and the Blowfish winning Best New Artist. Osborne's latest album, Little Wild One, was released in September 2008. Osborne performs as a guest vocalist on Sgt. Pepper Live, the 2009 album and DVD by Cheap Trick.


Macarena - Los Del Rio (lyrics)

This was originally released on a local label in Spain in 1993, where it did fairly well. The next year, the American label BMG bought the Spanish label and set out to make "Macarena" a hit in America. They marketed an English language version to dance clubs and cruise ships, then released it as a single in 1995. It was a minor hit until the summer of 1996, when the Macarena dance craze hit America. The song went to #1 in July and stayed there for 14 weeks. Los Del Rio (Antonio Romeo Monge and Rafael Ruiz) are a Spanish flamenco-pop duo and they were inspired to record this on a trip to Venezuela when they spotted a beautiful flamenco dancer named Diana Patricia. When the song became a hit, she became known in Venezuela as "Macarena." This was the first hit for Los Del Rio since 1962 and their only hit in the US. This song stayed in the US Top 100 for 60 weeks, the one-time record for the longest run on the singles chart. In 1998 it was overtaken by LeAnn Rimes' "How Do I Live", which spent 69 weeks in total in the Hot 100. The song's 32-week climb (over two separate chart runs) to the #1 position established the record for the longest journey to the Hot 100's summit. The world record for the most people performing one dance at the same time was set by 50,000 people in Yankee stadium while dancing the "Macarena."

1 comment:

Sherry Crocker said...

Okay. So you found a year with some good songs in it in the 90's. But you forgot to add anything from Sting's 10 Summoner's Tales. Ahem...a minor oversight I assume.

Anyway, What if God was one of us was later used for the CBS show Joan of Arcadia. It had been one of my favorite secular songs. I was working with college geeks in Marquette and had my eyes open to the extreme views my religious group held toward all things commercial.

The Friends Theme always brings back memories of pasties and Togo's subs on a Must See Thursday evening with the north Wind howling through sleepy little Marquette.

Thanks for the memories.