Bottom Feeders: The Ass End of the ’90s, Vol. 4
Bottom Feeders is back! And this time, we’re going ’90s on your ass. If you missed the two ’80s editions, here’s the deal. Bottom Feeders takes a look back at every song that hit the Billboard Hot 100 charts, but only if they didn’t crack the top 40. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive review of each tune or each artist, but rather my view of the music I grew up loving. It’s meant to bring back all the great and really crappy songs that have faded into oblivion over time for one reason or another And, the series is designed to get discussions going about the music. I don’t have expert knowledge of every song posted here but I want to hear from you with your memories of the tunes, comments about a artist or general thoughts.
Section 1: The Ass End
Though certainly not the best song Arrested Development ever made, “Revolution” pretty much sums up their entire message in this one track coupled with its appearance in the Denzel Washington epic Malcolm X.
“Ease My Mind” was the only Hot 100 hit from their second record, Zingalamaduni which contained nothing as catchy as “Tennessee” or “Mr. Wendal.” They broke up after that and Speech released some sketchy solo records before the group reunited without Headliner in 2000 and have been releasing records that no one has heard since that point.
Oh, and I can’t forget, “A game of Horseshoes!”
I think the singles officially were presented as DJ Juanito presents Artie the 1 Man Party although I’m not really sure why this Juanito cat needed to introduce another DJ, but anyway. The ‘90s were really the point when Latin dance and hip hop really took off and got airplay but I’d assume that certain areas of the country wouldn’t get anywhere near this while others played the shit out of it, hence the 33 weeks of total chart time. I’ve heard the name before but I’m almost positive Philadelphia was one of those areas that Artie the 1 Man Party never cracked.
Art N’ Soul
“Ever Since You Went Away” 1996, #72 (14 weeks) (download)
I have no idea what an Art N’ Soul album sounded like but I’m a little shocked that “Ever Since You Went Away” was their lone hit and it only reached #72. This is a fantastic little number that reminds me a lot of the groove Tony! Toni! Tone! gave off. Information on the trio is a bit difficult to come by but this had to be some kind of label failure rather than a measure of the quality of the group.
“Days Like These” 1990, #64 (7 weeks) (download)
After a five year absence from the chart, “Days Like These” stormed the charts, made little to no impact and disappeared. I have no problems with the song itself, but plenty with the bullshit Then & Now record from which it appears, which contained four new songs and six hits and yet even with so few hits, the 80’s bottom feeder, “Go” is missing from it. I get the concept – out of the public eye for years, going into the studio to record new stuff, let’s give everyone a refresher but shit, it didn’t really do anything for their success and they didn’t have another charting record in the US until 2008’s Phoenix. I’d rather have just seen an EP of the new stuff.
“Move Right Out” 1991, #81 (5 weeks) (download)
By 1991 no one was surprised Rick Astley was white, right? But the real surprising part was that he got a couple decent hits from his third record, Free. It was the first one that wasn’t produced by SAW and wasn’t really anything to write home about but “Move Right Out” is his best single. Both this and his #7 hit, “Cry For Help” have a more mature sound which can certainly be credited in part to his songwriting partner on both tunes, Rob Fisher from Naked Eyes and Climie Fisher.
“What I Didn’t Know” 1998, #58 (14 weeks) (download)
How many bands were formed at their eighth grade dance? Okay, with the number of teenagers recording in the ‘90s, maybe quite a few. That’s what happened to Athenaeum as their drummer and singer got together at the dance and decided to form a band. One of my good buddies swore by this band back in the day. I thought their second album (Radiance) was the best of their four, the most consistent slab of pop-rock they released. “What I Didn’t Know” was their only charting song though.
I tossed a few e-mails back and forth with former Athenaeum drummer Nic Brown and here’s what transpired:
Did you have a feeling when you recorded “What I Didn’t Know” that it would be a hit song?
There wasn’t a distinct feeling that it was going to be a hit. Keep in mind that, especially at that time, almost everything Athenaeum wrote was very accessible. It wasn’t like we were the Pixies who suddenly tracked a super-clean “Here Comes your Man” and then looked at each other and said, “Uh oh.” “What I Didn’t Know” was just another Athenaeum song. The album it appeared on – Radiance – has a very high percentage of radio-ready songs. In fact, I always felt like there were other songs on the album that seemed even more likely to be a hit. “Unnoticed” gave me that feeling. I was actually a bit surprised when “What I Didn’t Know” was selected as the first single. It worked out, obviously. But the success of that song never seemed to me as much an actual function of the song itself as it was a function of promotion behind a valid representation of the band. Several other Athenaeum songs could have been hits just as easily, I think. But I have less perspective on this than anyone, really.
And what was the reaction like when you heard it on the radio for the first time?
It was in the spring of 1998, and we were driving our van to a show, pulling a trailer, and listening to the radio. I think this was outside Charlotte, NC. Mark, our singer was driving. We were on the sharpest curve of an interstate entry ramp when the drum intro of “What I Didn’t Know” tapped out of the speakers. Mark shouted, and then I think we all just got quiet and smiled. But I guess Mark forgot to keep turning the steering wheel, because in that thick blissed out excitement, the van careened off the ramp, drove over the little triangle of turf between the ramp and the interstate, and entered the highway perpendicular to traffic. There weren’t any cars coming, and Mark just righted the van and we carried on. But how did we not die? In those years, we traded in that sort of simple bliss combined with dangerous naiveté. I guess that’s youth.
I had such a wide variety of expectations. They ranged from humble to not, but the members of Athenaeum were smart and for the most part realistic. We had seen a number of regional bands get signed to majors and sell a very small number of records and garner almost no radio play. At the same time, our label mates and regional neighbors Hootie and the Blowfish were charting hit after hit and selling millions of records. So both outcomes seemed distinctly possible. What we did not understand at the time was the true ephemeral nature of the situation we were in. We thought that if Radiance didn’t go gold or have a number one hit, then the next album would, or the one after that. That kept my expectations vague, because I felt they didn’t need a timeline. What was the rush? Well, I now know that that was our chance. At the end of the day, we all knew that top twenty on the modern rock charts and six digit sales were good. We wanted a platinum record, of course. But looking back, we enjoyed the perfect level of success. We had a hit, but it wasn’t such a big one that we had to go on the second act of our lives forever being haunted by our teenage identities. (Because, despite of Fitzgerald’s statement to the contrary, there are, of course, second acts in American lives.)
Before the band could get a follow up record out, you left to go back to school. What made you decide to leave the band after having that first hit record and focus on building a writing and teaching career instead?
That wasn’t the decision I was facing, exactly. Here’s the situation. I’d finished recording Athenaeum’s second record. I could stay in North Carolina and wait to tour for its release, whenever that happened. At the same time, I had a spot waiting for me at an Ivy League school and an offer to begin playing and recording with NYC’s Skeleton Key, a band also on a major label at the time (Capitol) who I was a fan of. So quitting Athenaeum for me was actually less about Athenaeum, and more about wanting even more artistically – both from my musical career, and from my writing career. I love the members of Athenaeum, and any time you can say that about people you’ve been in a band with for more than a decade, you know it’s special. But I’m ambitious. So yes, I got a degree at Columbia and learned how to write well, but I also had a very successful run as a session drummer in those years (primarily recording and/or touring with Longwave and Ben Lee, in addition to Skeleton Key). In many ways I enjoyed even more success musically then than I did with Athenaeum. I had a lot of work, and it was lucrative and artistically rewarding. So quitting Athenaeum actually enabled a real blossoming of my musical career. Then I moved to Iowa and wrote a book. But that came at the right time and was the start of the newest artist phase of my life – that of a writer, and now – believe it or not – a professor. I never play drums anymore.
Nic has actually written two books, which you can read about and purchase on his website.
To me, Atlantic Starr is an ‘80s group. Even though “Masterpiece” hit #3 in 1992 they were certainly at the tail end of a decent career. Even so, “Love Crazy” goes down as one of the best songs of their run. “I’ll Remember You” turns out okay in the end but starts off like crap and since it’s the lead track on Time, the last album from them that anyone bothered with, it’s no surprise they didn’t have more hits after this one.
“Never Been Kissed” 1999, #89 (10 weeks) (download)
I’ve never heard anything from Sherrie Austin aside from her singles, but “Never Been Kissed” is a fantastic tune. Based on this alone, I think she could have had a bigger career if she was a pop singer as this really only has a slight country feel to it.
Bobby Ross Avila
“La La Love” 1993, #86 (3 weeks) (download)
It’s hard to believe that Avila was only 18 when he recorded this. You can tell when you are watching the video but not simply by listening to the tune. He’s certainly got a more mature voice than most of the teenagers in the decade.
Avila was on Perspective records (not the same label of my elusive Shamus M’Cool) which was run by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and he’s parlayed that into writing and performing for some big names like Earth, Wind & Fire, Janet Jackson, Usher and Gwen Stefani. Unfortunately, as I was looking through his song credits, while he worked with those artists, he seems to be present on tracks that end up being filler. The dude is talented, no doubt, but I just can’t find that one single that would put his name on everyone’s tongue.
“For the Cool In You” 1993, #81 (9 weeks) (download)
“For the Cool In You” was the title track from Babyface’s 4th album and the only one of four singles that didn’t hit the Top 40 from the disc. It’s one of the more generic songs in his catalog especially when the same album had the excellent #4 smash, “When Can I See You.”
“Hooked On A Feeling (Ooga-Chaka)” 1998, #71 (6 weeks) (download)
God, I thought I’d never have to relive the dancing baby again, but now that’s all I can think about. As far as I know, this is the only thing the studio musicians lumped under the title of Baby Talk ever did together. Producer David Hummer put the musicians together (names of which I just cannot locate on-line and thank heavens I never bought it back in the day to check the liner notes). It was of course made popular on Ally McBeal and the CD featured a lenticular image of that fucking kid.
“We’ve Got It Goin’ On” 1995, #69 (20 weeks) (download)
This is the very first Backstreet Boys single before anyone had a clue how to market them in the US. It was released in 1995 as a single from the self-titled debut that was only released oversees. It was then included two years later on the second self-titled disc which would be the first to see US distribution. That set them ablaze with “Quit Playing Games (with My Heart),” “As Long As You Love Me,” I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” “All I Have To Give” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” all hitting the Top 10 despite the US having no idea what they were back from since again, this was their first release here. Max Martin sighting on this track, ya’ll.
Bad Boys Blue
“Save Your Love” 1993, #81 (7 weeks) (download)
Unbelievably there are two versions of this German pop group today but in 1993, they were just one band. That year, Zoo released a self-titled disc in the US to try to capture the Eurodance magic but the songs really weren’t that great to begin with. “Save Your Love” was the first single and “I Totally Miss You” bubbled under and that was the end of their 15 minutes (though in Germany and Finland they had hits since 1985 and still do well). In 2005 two of the group’s original members split into two bands. John McInerney performs as Bad Boys Blue and Andrew Thomas performs as The Real Bad Boys Blue. As if.
So yeah, Bad Company were a AAA shell of their former selves at this point but they still rocked out now and then and had the fine vocals of Brian Howe to carry the tunes. A few people were still interested in them though as the Holy Water album in 1990 went platinum on the strength of the sugary ballad “If You Needed Somebody.”
Here Comes Trouble was the follow up record to that and their last one with Howe singing lead. “How About That” spent six weeks at #1 on the rock charts and hit #38 on the Hot 100 giving them one last push to sell records. “This Could Be the One” would be the 17th and final Hot 100 song of their career.
I said back in the ‘80s version that I love John Waite’s voice, so I was all over the first Bad English album. Obviously “When I See You Smile” was the monster song off the disc but “Heaven Is A 4 Letter Word” was a rockin’ tune. Unfortunately, their second record – Backlash – was a fucking mess and proved to be their final record. “Straight To Your Heart” would have been a bigger hit if someone had bothered to take the time to write a real chorus.
“Angeline Is Coming Home” 1996, #67 (11 weeks) (download)
The Badlees had existed since 1989-ish with their first independent EP being released in 1990. I remember them making a nice name for themselves in the Philadelphia area where they are from, way before “Angeline Is Coming Home” was released, but it’s both this song and “Fear of Falling” that put them on the map. The River Songs album from which these came, was also an indie release before A&M signed them and put them on Polydor. Unfortunately for them, the usual corporate bullshit went on and after the next album being pushed back to an “indefinite” status, they again went indie, soon after signing with Ark 21 records, which was going bankrupt by the time they released the excellent Up There, Down Here in 1999.
Badlees guitarist and primary songwriter Bret Alexander was kind enough to talk about “Angeline” and the band a little with me.
I grew up in Philly, so I was aware of the band before you went national as PA stations gave you more airplay than they gave most independent artists, but what was the feeling like for you and the band when “Angeline Is Coming Home” went national and you started seeing it climb the charts?
Well, in our case it was a long time coming. We had been at it nonstop for 6 years at that point. I remember when we were about to put out River Songs (the record that “Angeline” was on) we had a meeting and decided not to shop it to major labels. We were just very frustrated about trying to get a deal and decided to just do business independently. of course, that is when we got a deal. We were excited about the success for sure. But we didn’t spend much time sitting back and enjoying it. We went right on the road.
In the mid-90s the musical climate feels like it changed on a daily basis. With hip-hop/rap really taking center stage at this point, was it difficult for the Badlees to fit in nationally after River Songs came out?
A few years before we got a deal the wind started blowing in our direction musically. Counting Crows, Gin Blossoms, Hootie and the Blowfish were all doing well. So we had a home at radio and on the road. Sure there was alot of hip hop and grunge and whatnot, but our music had its niche.
I know Polydor was sold in ’98 or so and your next album got held up in record label hell before you ultimately went back to being an indie artist again. How dissapointing was it that at the peak of your career with the group, it was a record label holding you back from follow up success?
It was a double edged sword. We had done the grass roots things regionally, but our label had certainly been responsible for a big part of our national success to begin with. We got some great opportunities from being signed to Polydor. And we had some good people in our corner. At the end of the River Songs tour we had sold about 250,000 records. Enough to call it a successful first tour. So to have it all completely go away after all that hard work was certainly frustrating. Even more frustrating was the fact that we were in limbo with the label. It was like getting fired from a job and not being allowed to go get a new one. Those were a rough couple years.
And finally, the Badlees are back! After a seven year-or-so layoff between albums, you guys released Love Is Rain in 2009. How has the reception been towards that record and what are you and the band up to as we speak?
The new record has been very well received. I think we are sounding better than ever. Right now we are working on a “Best Of” collection, a new record, a documentary about the history of the band, and we have a film in production that features our music and story. So we are busy for sure. I do alot of producing of other bands now too. Doing that has given me a new appreciation for how hard The Badlees work to this day.
Erykah Badu featuring Rahzel
“Southern Gul” 1999, #76 (6 weeks) (download)
Well respected but not nearly as successful as she should be (though, seven million in sales in the US isn’t slumming it either), Badu has been making fantastic R&B since the mid-90s. “Southern Gul” has more of a hip-hop flair than her usual singles and was a one-off from a compilation called Make the Music 2000. Earlier in the year she guested on the Grammy winning “You Got Me “ by the Roots, so then Roots member, beatboxer Razhel, returned the favor and provided the mouth beats for this tune, one of my favorites from her.