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 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.”

  • Pingback: uberVU - social comments()

  • kshane

    I'm one of those that thought “You Get What You Give” was one of the best pop singles in many years. I knew that Gregg Alexander was the genius behind it, but I never knew what became of him after he quit the band. Thanks for the update.

  • David_E

    Seconded, Ken. I'd take this and Spacehog's “In The Meantime” as the two top chart tunes of the whole '90s.

  • rwcass

    Well, I have no idea where he's been since '03 or so, aside from a few credits; his production work seems to have slowed down considerably around that time. But it was good to hear these demos. “Come Be My Baby” and “My One Thing That's Real” are the two highlights, if you ask me, aside from hearing Alexander sing those high notes on “The Game of Love.”

  • rwcass

    “I'm Too Sexy” comes in at #3, yes?

  • anniezaleski

    Mayor, as per usual, I'll disagree: “Someday You'll Know” is FAR superior to “You Get What You Give.”

    Also, let the record show that Alexander co-wrote a ton of Danielle Brisebois' 1999 album Portable Life, that was shelved. Promos went out, but it wasn't commercially released and didn't see the light of day online officially until 2008. Brisebois has found a lot of fame writing for Natasha Bedingfield (“Unwritten,” “Pocketful of Sunshine”).

    Alexander now lives in London:…

    And his latest project was a song for Obama, with the group the Not So Silent Majority, which also features Brisebois, Paul McCartney's guitarist Rusty Anderson and Rick Nowels, among others. Judging by the tune, they're saving their A-game for other people.

    Funny that appears to have a different version of his solo debut up — Save Me From Myself:

    No mention of Michigan Rain.

  • rwcass

    (Stay positive, Bobby … don't let her get to you …)

    Annie! So good to hear from you!

    I didn't say that I thought “You Get What You Give” was the best song of the '90s, as others have said. In fact, I said it's great until those last 45 seconds, which is when the Magnetic Poetry and “test” taunts kick in. I like “Someday You'll Know” too. Is it better? I'd say they're equally good, but I am glad that “Someday You'll Know” doesn't call out Billy Corgan by name.

    Apparently “Save Me From Myself” was the original title of “Michigan Rain,” but combined with the cover photo, it seemed like a “suicide chic” album, according to Alexander, so the name was changed.

    Thanks for the other links!

  • Pingback: Bootleg City: My Life Would Suck Without Young Girls | Popdose()

  • arishagal

    “You Get What You Give” is a good song, its final 30 seconds notwithstanding . . . but, I am of the opinion that it was stolen from a truly GREAT song, “Maybe I Could Change” by Utopia:

    Wait for the nightclub-piano intro to end, and then the body of the song begins. Notice the uncanny similarity of the chord progressions– not an exact replica, but frighteningly close. The melodic contours are also eerily similar, and the tempo is exactly the same.

    Now, all the critics in '99 were yammering on about how Gregg Alexander was “obviously” influenced by Todd Rundgren. Having been a sixteen-year-old music snob at the time, staking my claim as The Youngest Rundgren Aficionado Alive, I was doubtful of this claim; Todd Rundgren is one of those obscure geniuses whose disciples don't necessarily make it into the Top 40. However, after digging up the aforementioned “Maybe I Could Change,” I was struck by the eerie similarity, and had to conclude that Alexander had, in fact, schooled himself in the works of Rundgren. At least in that one instance, it showed.

    As for the vocals, I agree with you that Alexander sounds more like Karl Wallinger. There is one line, though, that sounds like Rundgren's voice– right before the drivel of the final 30 seconds, when Alexander sings, “What's real can't die.”

    Oh, and, regarding “The Game of Love,” I like that song a lot, but I don't necessarily hear much similarity to “You Get What You Give,” at least from a musical standpoint (the production is very similar, I agree). The chord progression of “The Game of Love” is actually very reminiscent of the verses of the Classics IV's “Stormy.” Those chords also drive the Style Council's “My Ever-Changing Moods.” Take a listen to all three of those tunes in a row, and you'll see, er, hear what I mean.

    Oh, and, by the way– at 27, I am STILL, officially, The Youngest Rundgren Fan Alive.

    -Ari the Music Geek

  • rwcass

    Ari, as soon as I get a chance, I'm going to put “The Game of Love,” “Stormy,” and “My Ever Changing Moods” back to back to back on iTunes. I like all three of those songs, and maybe now I know why on a music-composition level. Thanks!

    “The Game of Love” sounds the most like “You Get What You Give” to me on the line “'Cause right now I'm cryyyyyying” — whether it's Michelle Branch or Gregg Alexander singing it, that line reminds me of the last line before each chorus in “You Get What You Give.” Same delivery, basically.

    Thanks for the link to the Utopia song. I'm a big Rundgren fan, but I don't know as much about his Utopia work, unfortunately.

  • Pingback: Ticket Stub: Billy Squier in Santa Monica, November '81 | Popdose()

  • Pingback: Ticket Stub: Billy Squier in Santa Monica, November ’81 |

  • This_Page_Sucks

    Hey slick, none of your mp3’s work.
    Great work!

  • rwcass

    We only leave our MP3s up for a week, daddy-o. Thanks for reading!

  • Hayden

    Any chance there’s still a way to get ahold of those MP3’s? I’ve been looking around for high quality copies desperately…

  • rwcass

    Please e-mail me at robert and I’ll help you out.

  • NM

    One thing this post did was clue me into how active Gregg still is in some ways — and I’d never even heard the names Ronan Keating or Justin Guarini before (non-crossed-over British pop stars). And what’s interesting about that is now that I hear these demos by those guys I can sure here Gregg’s music in there – and those guys are pretty good (Ronan & Justin) but they really do lack that special magic Gregg displays in these demos. I do like the Santana/Michelle Branch song though – had no idea that too was one of Gregg’s. Rockin’ post and thanks again! (and cool comments above – it’s good to have young Rundgren fans!!)- Nancy

  • NM

    One thing this post did was clue me into how active Gregg still is in some ways — and I’d never even heard the names Ronan Keating or Justin Guarini before (non-crossed-over British pop stars). And what’s interesting about that is now that I hear these demos by those guys I can sure here Gregg’s music in there – and those guys are pretty good (Ronan & Justin) but they really do lack that special magic Gregg displays in these demos. I do like the Santana/Michelle Branch song though – had no idea that too was one of Gregg’s. Rockin’ post and thanks again! (and cool comments above – it’s good to have young Rundgren fans!!)- Nancy

  • Alex

    Wow, that ‘Smokin’ In Bed’ video is possibly the most rank thing ever! what a laugh. But it does reveal Gregg’s latent love of Prince, along with the aforementioned blue-eyed-soul/power pop guys like Rundgren and Hall & Oates.