Bootleg City: A New, Radical Concept for the Future

There’s been a lot of negativity here in Bootleg City the past few months. From last fall’s mayoral election to the criticism of my extended vacation and the controversy over my personal life and its private parts, more mud has been slung back and forth than in all two weeks of the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Mud Wrestling Arena’s brief (but glorious) existence back in ’78.

But enough’s enough. After a while all that negativity starts to poison your insides, and I don’t want alcohol to get jealous or think it’s being replaced. From now on there will be no more sniping and bickering and bitching and moaning here in Bootleg City. Let the word go forth!

As an act of good faith, I’ve taken down Shit My Mortal Enemy Says, my popular Twitter feed of favorite Matt Wardlaw sayings. I’ve also opened up the online Mayor Robert W. Cass Mayoral Library for Research and Political Studies, where citizens can access all of my online correspondence from 1996 to the present and decide for themselves just how freaky I really am. My life is an open book, but since books aren’t selling very well these days, my life can be a string of text messages or a long-winded podcast if you prefer those delivery platforms. Lastly, I’ve stopped telling political opponents and bitter ex-girlfriends that they can borrow my Toyota Camry whenever they want in order to prove I’m “a good guy.”

Let’s let bygones be bygones and bisexuals be bisexuals, okay? We don’t all have to like each other from here on out. We just have to learn to ignore each other better.

Speaking of negativity, New Radicals’ 1998 hit song “You Get What You Give” has to be near the top of a list titled Songs That Are Perfect Up Until the Last 30 Seconds, at Which Point the Lead Singer Metaphorically Drops the Microphone and Walks Off-Stage. In the case of “You Get What You Give,” the middle-finger lyrics near the end of this otherwise sunny, inspirational song are as follows:

Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson
Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson
You’re all fakes, run to your mansions
Come around, we’ll kick your ass in

New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander was compared to Todd Rundgren back in the late ’90s for his vocal style (personally, I thought he sounded like World Party’s Karl Wallinger) and piano-based, major-key pop sound, and Rundgren took shots at John Lennon in his 1973 song “Rock and Roll Pussy,” although he never mentioned the former Beatle by name (“Get up, get up, get up and see / Revolution on the TV / Will you, will you get your nails dirty / Or are you only just a rock and roll pussy?”). But Lennon is a legend, then and now, whereas Hanson and Manson were never destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Beck was a left-field hit with both critics and record buyers from the very beginning, and Courtney Love has always been one of the most candid interview subjects around (often to her detriment) — definitely not a “fake.” So what was Alexander’s beef?

Apparently, there wasn’t one. He said he included the celebrity taunts as a “test” to see if the media would focus on those lyrics instead of the ones that come directly before them in the song:

Health insurance rip-off lying
FDA big bankers buying
Fake computer crashes dining
Cloning while they’re multiplying

He was right, of course. But the song should’ve ended on the following lines, before the Magnetic Poetry political rant and rock-star smackdowns:

What’s real can’t die
You only get what you give
You’re gonna get what you give
Just don’t be afraid to leave

If you thought Alexander was singing “live,” not “leave,” all these years, you’re not alone, but leave he did — New Radicals’ Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too turned out to be their only album. Alexander hated touring and kissing up to radio and record executives, and less than a year after Brainwashed‘s debut, he announced the breakup of the “band,” of which he was the only permanent member — New Radicals consisted of session pros like drummer Josh Freese and Alexander’s longtime collaborators Richard Nowels (spelled “Knowels” in the album’s liner notes) and Danielle Brisebois in the studio, and keyboardist Jim McGorman and guitarist Brad Fernquist on the road.

Alexander then concentrated on songwriting, often in collaboration with Nowels, and producing songs for artists like Enrique Iglesias and Carly Hennessy as well as UK artists Ronan Keating and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, whose popularity never translated to this side of the Atlantic. Rod Stewart, INXS, Spice Girls’ Melanie C, and even Hanson have recorded Alexander’s songs, and in 2003 he won a Grammy for “The Game of Love,” a huge hit for Santana and Michelle Branch. When that song started getting radio play in the fall of ’02 I thought, “This sounds a little like ‘You Get What You Give.'” A few months later I discovered Alexander and Nowels were the songwriters.

It’s a song that’s well worth self-plagiarizing. Not only did the Edge tell Time magazine “I really would love to have written that” in 2006, but in the liner notes of her 2005 Artist’s Choice compilation for Starbucks’s Hear Music label, Joni Mitchell said the song was “the only thing I heard in many years that I thought had greatness in it … I loved that song ‘You Get What You Give.’ It was a big hit, and I said, ‘Where did they go?’ It turns out the guy quit. I thought, ‘Good for him.’ I knew he was my kind of guy.”

“You Get What You Give” even inspired an entire album, albeit one that remains unreleased. Daniel Tashian, frontman of the Silver Seas, told Puremusic.com in ’07 that the songs on his solo project “The Lovetest” “just sort of appeared one day. It was just a vision of a sound. It was really influenced by the New Radicals, which I was very— I actually still maintain that the best song that came out between 1990 and 2000, in ten years, the best single song was ‘You Get What You Give.'”

A friend of mine described “You Get What You Give” after it came out as “the best song Hall & Oates never recorded.” In 2003 the Philly duo released their cover of New Radicals’ “Someday We’ll Know,” featuring backing vocals by Todd Rundgren. Alexander’s soulful pop fit like a glove.

Below are some demos made by Alexander with the intention of them being properly recorded by other artists (I can’t imagine that “Speaking My Language” was ever meant for a male singer); the eventual performer is listed in parentheses after the song title. “A Love Like That” is considered to be an outtake from Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, but Alexander has made no mention of a second New Radicals album. It’s just as well — any commitment on his part would be a confirmation of the brainwashing he resisted more than a decade ago. (The Wikipedia entry for “You Get What You Give” does contain this ironic little nugget, however: “The song was famously used in Australia and New Zealand in an advertising campaign for Mitsubishi Motors, leading to a repressing of Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too that was issued with the sticker ‘Featuring the song from the Mitsubishi ad.'”)

Inner Child (Texas, 2000; Justin Guarini, 2003)
Blown Away (Ronan Keating, 2002)
Come Be My Baby (Ronan Keating, 2002)
My One Thing That’s Real (Ronan Keating, 2002)
The Game of Love (Santana featuring Michelle Branch, 2002)
A Love Like That (Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too outtake from 1998)
My Heart Can’t Change
Speaking My Language
You’re Beautiful (Like No One Before)

PS: Alexander recorded one and a half solo albums before he formed New Radicals. Michigan Rain (1989) was recorded when he was 18, and five of its songs reappeared on Intoxifornication three years later. Both albums came and went, but Alexander did film videos for Intoxifornication‘s two singles, “The Truth” and “Smokin’ in Bed.”

Robert Cass
Robert Cass lives in Chicago. At Popdose he's written the series Sugar Water, Bootleg City, and Box Office Flashback and spearheaded the collaborative series 'Face Time with Jeff Giles and Mike Heyliger.