Chartburn: 2/1/08

Written by Chartburn, Music

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Mainstream Rock: U2, “Angel of Harlem” (1988)

David: This is when I started to get bored with U2. I liked a couple tunes from Rattle and Hum, but not this one.

Zack: I’ve got a pretty long list of “least favorite” U2 songs, and this song definitely spends some time at the top of the rotation. I know that it’s not, quite, but this has never seemed like anything more than one of those extra songs they sneak onto a greatest-hits album to sell a few extra copies. Not to knock U2 — Achtung Baby is one of my favorite albums ever, and I like “Desire,” also from Rattle and Hum. But this one sounds sour to me. I bet the Commitments hated it too.

Michael: Simple, somewhat inane lyrics, but man, what a hook. I defy you not to sing along with the chorus. I think U2 has been losing some zip on its fastball as of late, but this was during their absolute prime.

Darren: Rattle and Hum their absolute prime?! Egads, man! This was U2 running completely out of ideas. “Angel of Harlem” was the one redeeming song on the entire album, but it is so completely derivative in nature that it barely registers as a U2 song. It was a song for people who found Joshua Tree too challenging and probably didn’t know or care that there had been four albums before that one. A “short bus” version of U2 for the kids who were also buying Tiffany and MC Hammer cassingles.

John: The beginning of the end. Cloying, overemotive, manipulative — everything that U2 would embrace wholeheartedly for the rest of their career forward, with the exception of Pop, for which they were crucified. Of course, said crucifixion probably gave Bono a major woody, given his Christ complex. Here’s something to offend someone, somewhere: this band profited from 9/11 more than Halliburton. Is that their fault? Probably not, but I didn’t see any of them ducking from interviews lauding “Walk On” as the Soundtrack to Comfort Us After.

I’m grumpy today.

Will: Rattle and Hum may be the only U2 album that I’ve ever traded in — which means that, yes, I even like Zooropa more than Rattle and Hum — but then I listen to this song again, and I remember how much I also like “When Love Comes to Town” and “All I Want Is You,” and wonder if maybe I was just in some weird “I hate U2” phase or something.

Robert: I hate that feeling of “Maybe I shouldn’t have sold that one back.” I never owned Ben Folds’s Songs for Silverman since I got to hear an advance copy three years ago and didn’t like it overall, but late last year I realized that I do like 6 of its 11 songs, so then I was obligated to buy it. That’s how these things work, right? I’m sorry for not buying Silverman in 2005, Ben. (He reads Chartburn. I know he does.) At first I didn’t like the mature version of you that avoids saying “fuck” and “shit” in otherwise radio-ready songs because I thought you’d also lost the power of your earlier melodies, but you really didn’t (for the most part). You just realized you’re no longer 14, that’s all.

Dunphy: I suppose we all considered this a lightweight when it came out on the Rattle and Hum soundtrack, but when compared to the seismic stylistic shifts heard on Achtung Baby and the hit-and-miss follow-ups Zooropa and Pop, I think I appreciate it more now, if only theoretically.

But I have a different sense of Rattle and Hum now than I used to. This previous February I was on a business trip to Myrtle Beach. I had picked up the CD (had the vinyl previously) on a stopover in Georgia on the way up to South Carolina. The hotel room was, perhaps, the finest room I had ever slept in (or will ever sleep in). That night I listened to Rattle and Hum while trying to unwind and forget that I was pretty much all alone in the hook-up capital of the eastern shore. I was thinking of someone I knew and the myriad ways I screwed things up. I was thinking of how insanely big the bed was, even for my fat ass. Bono was singing “All I Want Is You,” which may have become my favorite U2 song.

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Modern Rock: Third Eye Blind, “Semi-Charmed Life” (1997)

Dunphy: I know there will be Burners who will staunchly defend this song. You have every right to. Musically, it’s not offensive. I, however, can’t stand Stephen Jenkins’s scatty (take it any way you choose) delivery, like Anthony Kiedis trying to do bubblegum. Very few singers can cram a lot of words into a few brief bars of music and make it work. The lyrics actually need to be clever, and only a few guys, like Elvis Costello, manage to do it right. For the life of me, I don’t know what the hell Jenkins is singing/bebopping/defecating from the mouth. “Rubber baby buggy bumpers”?

Robert: It’s Stephan, Dunphy. Respect his parents’ pretentiousness. Actually, that’s not fair, but does anyone know if he pronounces it as “Stephen”/”Steven”?

Dunphy: I’ll refer to him as Stephan when they pry his neck from my cold, dead hands.

I got that one from Charlton Heston, or as I refer to him, Charleston.

John: I’m going from slaughtering a sacred cow to praising a pile of cow patties. Say what you will of Jenkins and his opportunistic ways, but that first Third Eye Blind album is killer power pop, with barely a clunker in the bunch. Probably the best power-pop debut since Get the Knack (another reviled bunch). Don’t believe me? Go to your local used-record shop, plunk down the 99 cents for a copy, and listen with an open mind.

Zack: It’s kind of like a bunch of burnouts got sick of tweaking and formed a boy band. This song really was perfect for radio, despite its sex and drug references; it was upbeat and irresistibly catchy. There’s not really much about it that has remained appealing, but there was a time in life when I could’ve sung along to this tune.

Jason: First time I heard this song, I genuinely liked it. By “it,” I mean the single edit, not the longer version that has some sort of weird, unnecessary coda. But then radio, and my friend who insisted on listening to only this song repeatedly while we were in the car, completely killed it for me. It’s catchy, just overplayed.

At least Jeff didn’t pick that other song that starts off with that line about stepping back from the ledge, my friend. That song brings out such unadulterated rage in me.

Michael: I haaaaaaaaaaaate this song. I hate everything about it. The smug sex-boast lyrics, the ridiculous “doo doo doo!” chorus, the stupid high note on “goodbye.” This song is devoid of redeeming qualities. Everyone associated with it should be shot.

Darren: “Everyone associated with it should be shot”? Dayum, bro, it’s just a song. Step away from the potato gun. Like Jason, I personally dug it when it came out. As a songwriter myself, I had to admire the perfect alignment of the planets that this song was — a “My Sharona” for the ’90s, if you will — knowing full well it would be the song Stephan Jenkins would spend the rest of his life competing with or trying to top. Radio, of course, played the snot out of the tune, Jenkins said some stupid things in interviews, all the while banging an actress most wives have “agreed” to let their hubby sleep with should the occasion ever arrive (unless wifey runs into Hugh Jackman first and never comes back), and the next thing you know, you’re made to feel like a Nazi sympathizer for liking “Semi-Charmed Life.”

I like “How’s It Gonna Be” too, motherfuckers. Come get me.

David: Never liked Stephan Jenkins. Never liked this song or this band. Can’t even be bothered to come up with something pithy to say about them, they rate that low with me.

Will: I really don’t know why these guys got labeled as the antithesis of cool the way they did. It’s just your basic catchy pop-rock material, and they’ve been consistently good at writing memorable hooks. It’s mainstream stuff, obviously, but I’ve got all three of their studio albums and … well, honestly, I couldn’t tell you a thing about the third one, but I do quite enjoy the first two, anyway.

Robert: What was the big single off their second album, the one from 2000? It contained the phrase “never let you go” or “never let you down.” I liked the falsetto delivery of that line, but that was all I liked. So somewhere on a tape in my collection, I have that one line taped off the radio. Thanks, Third Eye Blind! You can go now.

Jeff: What killed Third Eye Blind for me was seeing the band on The Tonight Show and realizing that Stephan Jenkins can’t sing. Like, at all. The people responsible for ProTooling that band’s records should either be pistol-whipped or given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

The 1997 year-end chart, incidentally, contains appearances by the holy triumvirate of late-’90s Dudes Who Can’t Fucking Sing — Jenkins, Mark McGrath, and the insufferable Steve Harwell. The three of them together, on a great day, after six months of lessons, might boast the combined range of, say, Paula Abdul. Then again, maybe not.

Dunphy: Ugh. Sounds like the premise for another insufferable reality TV show.

Darren: Dude, I saw that Tonight Show appearance. In addition to not being able to hit a note with a baseball bat, Jenkins actually made Freddie Mercury turn over in his grave by prancing around with only the top half of a mic stand. I believe the term “fucktard” was created solely for the purpose of describing Jenkins based on that performance.

The assistant to David Massey, the VP of A&R at Epic, told me a funny story. Massey wanted to sign Third Eye Blind, and when he and Jenkins met for the first time, Jenkins cut right to the chase and started making demands to gauge Massey’s interest. What Massey didn’t know was that TEB was already earmarked for Elektra.

That didn’t matter to Jenkins, though. He basically told Massey that if he was really interested in the band, he’d pull some strings and get them on the bill for Oasis’s upcoming Bay Area gig. Massey was incredulous, of course, but went ahead and pulled the necessary strings. Jenkins got to share the stage with a band he idolized, then turned right around and signed with Sylvia Rhone and Elektra.

That’s either a complete dickhead move, or sheer brilliance, or both.

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AC: Chuck Mangione, “Feels So Good” (1978)

David: Now we’re talking. This is freaking money. Suck on that, Third Eye Blind.

John: Didn’t Luke rape Laura to this song?

Robert: No, that was Christopher Cross: “All right / Think I’m gonna rape ya …”

Jeff: Just to stave off the inevitable wave of scolding from the trivia brigade, I feel obligated to point out that yes, we are aware that the song in question was actually Herb Alpert’s “Rise.”

Jason: Sing along with me: Feeeels soooo gooood / It feels so good / It feels so good / Itfeelssogood, it feels so good / It feels so good / It feels so good / Itfeelssogood, it fee-ee-eels so good …

God, I love this song. I love how it goes from smooth to porno in just a few minutes.

Michael: Jason isn’t lying — he loves this song. Loves it to disturbing levels. I don’t think I ever heard the full nine-minute version until he sent it to me. That version, with the rubato, lackadaisical statement of the theme in the beginning, is quite brilliant. This is one of those songs that I have studiously avoided learning on guitar, because I feel like if I knew how to play it I would play it ALL THE TIME.

Will: This song could consistently make me smile even before Chuck scored a pop-culture comeback via his regular appearances, both in person and in reference, on King of the Hill. Mind you, it’s the only song of his that I know offhand. I presume there were other hits, but this is the only one that screams “Mangione!”

Robert: I’m glad Mangione still shows up on King now and again. His status as MegaLoMart’s celebrity spokesperson (“Prices like these feel so good”) in the first few seasons seemed like a wacky idea that might be dropped at any second as the writers realized what tone they wanted the show to have, e.g. guest stars generally play original characters, not animated versions of themselves like on The Simpsons (I realize that’s not always the case on that show). In ads for the third season’s premiere, which concluded a cliffhanger that had MegaLoMart blowing up as several major characters remained inside, Mangione was featured in the “Who will live? Who will die?” roll call of faces. Luanne’s boyfriend, Buckley, is the one who died; Mangione played a version of “Taps” at his funeral that sounded a lot like “Feels So Good.”

Dunphy: In 1978 this song was inescapable, and no wonder. It had everything you could actually want in an instrumental: it had a decent beat but wasn’t disco, it had a good main melody but didn’t wank off with technical wizardry, and it didn’t attempt to throw in a couple words to elevate it from the bowels of the “instrumental curse” dungeon. In short, even though nine out of ten doctors and dentists agree it’s perfect music for the office, “Feels So Good” kinda sums it up.

Now Mangione is a punchline on King of the Hill. How’s that for a legacy?

Zack: The little I know about Chuck Mangione is through his appearances on King, which certainly kicks him up a notch in my eyes, but when I hear this song all I can think of is Bob Barker introducing the prizes in the Showcase Showdown.

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Hot 100: Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell, “Dueling Banjos” (1973)

Zack: Good stuff.

Dunphy: Yeah, it’s all fun and games until Ned Beatty is prepped to be ass raped.

Will: It’s instrumentals-a-go-go this week on the Chartburn. It’s a shame this will forever be linked to the same disconcerting mental image that’s inextricably connected to the film Deliverance. I hear it’s actually a really great flick, but just knowing about the whole “squeal like a pig” scene is enough for me to have never quite mustered the courage to watch it.

Dunphy: I’m a film nut. I’ve seen Sean Connery shoot a dead man in the mouth trying to coerce a confession. I’ve seen Joe Pesci whacked not once, but twice. I’ve seen Arnold Schwarzenegger kill … well, everything, and yet I haven’t watched Deliverance for the exact same reasons. Maybe the French are right about us.

Michael: This transcends music, I think. It’s zeitgeist. It’s like the music from the first Super Mario Bros. game. Everyone knows it, everyone can sing it, and pretty much everyone has associated it with being sodomized by southern people. Hooray for shared cultural experiences!

I love the song, but dammit, I feel it must be said: why the hell is it called “Dueling Banjos”? It’s quite clearly a banjo and a guitar. I realize that “Dueling Fretted Instruments” is not a zippy name, but one comes to a song called “Dueling Banjos” expecting banjos, plural. Not enough is made of this.

John: Just about anything could get played on Top 40 AM radio in the ’70s. Sigh. I wonder if any DJ ever followed this with the DeFranco Family.

David: Note to self: move Deliverance up in the Netflix queue.