Mainstream Rock: Silverchair, “Tomorrow” (1995)
John: It’s Jim Henson’s Kurt Cobain Babies!
Zack: Everybody made such a big deal out of this band because the members were so young. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean their music doesn’t suck. It kind of feels like the record company played the role of the doting parents whose six-year-old brought home a laughably bad drawing of the beach cottage the family rented last summer and hung it up on the fridge, all the while snickering behind their hands. And the public, not getting the joke, all agreed that it was pretty terrific.
Will: How far they’ve come. I didn’t give a flying flip about these guys when they first came around selling their wares, and this song reminds me why. (Granted, the video’s a little creepy.) Since they dumped the Nirvana wannabe sound and embraced the glory of the pop hook, their stock has risen considerably. The turning point for me was “Across the Night” — and they’ve remained on my “can’t wait to hear the next record” list ever since.
David: What Will said. I love their last record, Young Modern, and also liked the Dissociatives, that electronic project that Daniel Johns did. But this song still bugs me. So derivative, so void of any personality.
Jeff: It should surprise none of you that I got bored with grunge sometime in the fall of 1991 — right around the time “Even Flow” or “Alive” was reaching its 10,000th spin on our local rock stations — and by the time Silverchair came around, anything that sounded the least bit like flannel was switched off immediately. I know this was just one aspect of Silverchair’s sound, but I’ve never bothered to check up on their later recordings, despite Will’s evangelism.
Jon: I had forgotten about this song completely, though I remember it as a WHFS fave in DC. Who knew it lasted nearly four and a half minutes? To me it always lasted just under a minute, right up to the point where he sings, “There is a bathroom and there is no sink / The water out of the tap is very hard to drink / VERY HARD TO DRINK!!!!,” at which point my eyes rolled back into my head and I changed the station. Has the emotional (i.e. screamed, as if to shred the lungs) high point of any other song in history been as utterly vapid as “The water is very hard to drink”?
I’d never seen “Tomorrow’s” video before, but the various overexposed, half-lit, and filtered close-ups are a veritable catalog of rip-offs from “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Why is it that acts with little apparent talent, who shamelessly rip off other (better) artists early in their careers, are so often rewarded with opportunities to “mature” rather than being beaten down into oblivion?
Py Korry: I think I’m the only one of the group who has never heard of this band, nor any of their music. I watched the entire “pig boy” video and found it to be oddly compelling — only because it was so stupid. The song, though, has that “We wanna be Pearl Jam” sound that infected Stone Temple Pilots and made Creed the AC version of PJ for years.
Dunphy: I second all the talk of Silverchair’s metamorphosis. Who’d have thought back then that these Nirvana-bes would be making songs with Van Dyke Parks a decade later? As for “Tomorrow,” it’s not awful-awful, by which I mean it ain’t great. But if you’re in a ’90s kind of grunge flashback mood, it gets the job done. Better Silverchair than Creed, which is a job of a whole different stripe.
Modern Rock: Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, “So You Think You’re in Love” (1991)
Py Korry: A few things about the video: 1. John Tesh is a clone. 2. Robyn looks like he’s going to kill the drummer at the beginning of the song. 3. It makes me want to hear the studio version ’cause this version sounds horrible to me.
Zack: You should. It’s much better.
Jeff: Yeah, this isn’t as good as the studio version — but the studio version doesn’t have the band being introduced as “Robert Hitchcock and the Egyptians.”
Dunphy: Not without its charms, although this video is pretty hard to love. Is that Boyd Mattson introducing? What is up with that hair? It’s like a jello mold as waves cycle from the back to the front in a hypnotic way. These were the last days of the mega-mousse.
But yeah, “So You Think You’re in Love” sounded better on the album, no question.
Jon: Robyn (I mean, Robert) is one of those artists who I hold near to my heart but whose later catalog I’ve never explored. I’m a huge fan of I Often Dream of Trains, Element of Light, and Globe of Frogs, but then I was underwhelmed by Queen Elvis, Eye, and Perspex Island because they didn’t really advance beyond what had come before. After that I just stopped paying attention to his new stuff. This is a perfectly fine but unremarkable Robyn Hitchcock song. How soon can I listen to “Uncorrected Personality Traits” or “Ted, Woody and Junior” again?
David: I always loved this song, but never bought any of Robyn’s records. Just listened to Perspex Island for the first time the other day. Hot damn, is that a good record.
John: A classic example of an artist I’m “supposed to” like but just don’t get.
Zack: Before Craig Kilborn there was … this guy. It’s an interesting coincidence that Jeff assigned this — it was one of the songs from my Uncle Mark’s Mix that I had forgotten about. I’m not enamored of this live version, but it’s still a good song. I always felt that when Nixon referred to his beloved “silent majority,” he was being unforgivably subversive. I’m glad to see Robyn agrees.
Will: Robyn Hitchcock is a god of music who can do no wrong in my eyes, but even if I were to set aside that worship, I don’t think anyone can deny the catchiness of this hook. Perspex Island was a really underrated album with several outstanding tracks, most notably “She Doesn’t Exist,” which features well-utilized backing vocals from Michael Stipe. Dammit, Jeff, I really am going to do that Popdose Guide for Hitchcock one of these days!
AC: DeBarge, “Rhythm of the Night” (1985)
John: Fey funk. (I just coined a term!)
Jon: Who slapped that mustache on Marilyn McCoo?
Man, the mid-’80s were a wimpy time for R&B music! I mean, apart from Prince, was every male R&B singer of the era sharing a single testicle? If so, then El DeBarge missed a couple turns. (Maybe it was being bogarted by brother James, who either did or did not need the testosterone during his brief marriage to Janet Jackson — depending on whether you believe the rumors that she secretly bore his child, then gave it to a relative to raise.) Still, I don’t hate this song. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. I’ll give it an 85! It slots perfectly in that “All Night Long”/”Dancing in the Sheets”/”Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” continuum of toothless ’80s dance classics.
Zack: Which movie featured “Rhythm of the Night”? I remember seeing the promotion for some Bodyguard-type film and finding myself interested in seeing it based on this song alone. I can’t help cracking a smile when I’m listening to it, particularly at the key change near the end.
Dunphy: I never understood the charm of DeBarge. Never ever. El DeBarge has the voice of a girl, which probably scored him a lot of 1980s tail in that sensitive, nonthreatening way girls really seem to love. Same goes for “Rhythm of the Night,” which is a fraternal twin to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” copping almost a salsa feel. (Get it? Feel copping? Eh? Pfft … this gold’s wasted on you.) It’s as if El’s calling to all the young, inhibited girls of ’85, saying “We’ll have a party and I promise I’ll never ever ever do anything inappropriate to you.” Then he’d squeal and giggle and throw a pillow or something.
Michael: I hate this song. (I love that Diane Warren wrote it, though. That makes perfect sense.) It always reminds me of that classic of the cinema, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon — DeBarge performs the song in the film. Some have theorized the whole movie was some sort of DeBarge vehicle.
Zack: Ah! That’s the one!
Michael: I really can’t recommend the movie highly enough. It is everything you want in a mid-’80s blaxploitation martial-arts film. William H. Macy is even in it (which proves that Steve Buscemi and/or Macy appear in every movie ever made).
Py Korry: If you mixed this song with “All Night Long,” “Celebration,” and something by the Jets at a wedding reception, you’d get every person over 60 out on the dance floor.
David: Ugh. I was a member of a high school singing group, and our director made us sing this. I can’t believe they called this R&B. It is neither.
Will: Clearly, the chorus says all that needs to be said about why you should embrace the work of DeBarge: “Forget about the worries on your mind / You can leave them all behind.” Nobody ever said pop music was supposed to be deep; it just has to be catchy, and this song succeeds on that front and then some.
Robert: El DeBarge’s “Who’s Johnny” is right up there with Rod Stewart’s “Love Touch” on the list of pop songs from the summer of ’86 that I’ll continue to defend even if I’m always in the minority. (I still haven’t seen Short Circuit, by the way.) The DeBarge family’s “I Like It” is a true ’80s soft-soul classic, and “You Wear It Well” is great too. But “Rhythm of the Night” was lame back then, and it’s still lame now.
Say, doesn’t “El DeBarge” translate to “The of Barge”? And pardon the chartjack, or whatever Jason calls it, but does anyone else remember that there’s a cardboard cutout of Steve Guttenberg in the “Who’s Johnny” video? Ally Sheedy’s in it with El, but the Gute is represented by a cutout. I’ve always wondered (well, only since 2002, when I saw the video for the first time in 16 years on VH1 Classic) if the Gute dropped out at the last minute and the director decided to work around him but also say “Screw you, Gute!” at the same time by using a cutout in the shots featuring him that had already been choreographed.
Jeff: I’ve never been able to figure out which I hate more, this song or “Who’s Holding Donna Now.” I’m powerless to resist “Who’s Johnny,” of course — and I just watched that video, too. Funny how Gute went from being too cool for MTV to being embarrassingly grateful to join the cast of Dancing With the Stars.
R&B/Hip-Hop: Karyn White, “Superwoman” (1989)
Zack: So very soulful. Despite myself, I couldn’t help rooting for this video to have a happy ending.
Jeff: This was the top R&B/Hip-Hop song of the year, holding the #1 spot for three weeks. Until now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. I’m going to make sure it’s on the soundtrack to the movie I’m basing on my life, titled I Was a Teenage Caucasian.
Jon: “Now you say the juice is sour, it used to be so sweet / And I can’t help but to wonder if you’re talking ’bout me.” Ack! Ack! Ack! (Never mind the yucky question of how her “juice” might have gone from sweet to sour.) I’ve never been a big fan of pop songs about domesticity — orange juice and toasters (see Carly Simon’s “Coming Around Again”) are topics too mundane to base a song around (though it must be said that Daniel Johns of Silverchair seems to feel very strongly about that hard-to-drink water).
Dunphy: You know you’re in trouble when the first lines of the song are about food prep. You’re also in trouble when the video looks like a singing Cosby Kid and sounds like every other R&B empowerment jam from the late ’80s. It’s inoffensive, and that’s the best I can give it. But you know what would’ve made this thing a whole lot easier to take? New Jack dance party on a decaying Krypton, that’s what.
Py Korry: Another song I’ve never heard before. But the video ought to be subtitled “I married an asshole who might also be gay.”
Zack: I take this to mean your “partner” has never been shot?
Will: I can’t stomach the song, but I could watch Karyn White all day long. She’s gorgeous.
Robert: Agreed. A hot lady, and her 1991 song “Romantic” made up for “Superwoman’s” shortcomings. “Romantic” is all New Jacked up and it still sounds great. I used to think “Superwoman” was by Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley. What was her big hit?
David: Wow, that was really dull. She’s beautiful, but the song is just dull.
John: I spent most of 1989 in Army basic training and advanced schooling, so there’s a large gap of tunes from that year that have zero resonance with me. Thankfully, this is one of them.
Hot 100: Deep Blue Something, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1995)
Jon: Yet another atrocious lyrical hook! “And I said, ‘What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?’ / She said, ‘I think I remember the film’ / As I recall, I think we both kinda liked it / And I said, ‘Well, that’s one thing we’ve got.'” Forget for a minute that the song never gets around to revealing any deeper connection between these two people than the slim thread of one Audrey Hepburn film. What annoys me is the diffidence in the lyrics juxtaposed with the great sweep of the chorus. “As I recall, I think we both kinda liked it”? It’s as though McCartney hadn’t bothered to change that initial “Scrambled eggs / Oh baby, how I love your legs” into “Yesterday.” (Of course, one could say Macca spent most of the ’70s forgetting to edit his lyrics.)
Besides, this song came out less than a year after that Seinfeld episode in which George blew off reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s, watched the film instead, and then got his comeuppance when he didn’t know that Truman Capote had actually written George Peppard’s character as a gay man.
Zack: Ugh. I can’t write objectively about this song because it brings back memories of a prefrosh I made out with my sophomore year of college who gave me the runaround later on. This song and anything by the Goo Goo Dolls makes me pissed off that Too Much Joy didn’t get more attention; they played a similar sort of music, except with a lot more character.
Robert: I used to really like a girl named Paula back in college who really liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The movie, not the song. So I didn’t pretend to like the song, but I did finally see the movie because of her. I fell in love with Mickey Rooney’s offensive Asian stereotype, and he and I have been together ever since.
Will: My wife swears by the movie, but I’d never seen it ’til she and I first started dating. I think what surprised me the most was seeing George Peppard in a romantic-comedy context; he’d always been Hannibal Smith to me. (Now, however, I think of him more as Banacek, thanks to that series finally coming out on DVD.) After watching the flick, I liked it well enough, but I can’t say it affected me quite as much as it does my wife. There are obviously much worse fates than watching Audrey Hepburn for a couple of hours, but if I’m going to do that I’m more likely to put on Charade.
Michael: People sometimes argue with me when I say that pop music hit its absolute nadir in the mid-’90s. Q.E.D., bitches.
David: I can’t be bothered to come up with something catty to say about “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” That’s how little I care for this song or this band.
Will: Deep Blue Something might not have had any other tricks up their sleeve to match “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but I never miss a chance to sing along to this in the car. The second album (there was one?) really wasn’t too bad, but you need more than “wasn’t too bad” to score career longevity. Also, while their lack of a powerhouse follow-up single didn’t help matters any, this was right around the time when I really started to notice how awful radio was getting about playing a band’s first single into oblivion and then quietly slipping single #2 onto the playlist without lessening the plays of single #1. As a result, single #2 never had a chance, and single #1 got overplayed to the point where nobody wanted to hear anything else by the band ever again.
Jeff: This shitty band put out a second album? Are you sure you aren’t thinking of Dishwalla, Will?
Will: Don’t tempt me to upload it …
Py Korry: It’s a catchy song, but it’s one that’s on my “Hits From Hell” compilation. Long story short: the radio station I work for has never taken this song out of rotation. It’s been played since 1995, and I’ve worked for this station for ten years.
Zack: Yeah, I could see this being the kind of thing that Satan plays on a loop for you if you’ve done something really bad. Like, say you were a serial killer — of kittens.
Dunphy: And I said, “What about breakfast at Denny’s?” and she said, “Ain’t that a racist restaurant?” And I said, “They had some isolated incidents,” and she said, “I don’t know you anymore!”
Deep Blue Something ended up with Cardigans Disease on this tune, in that there was little to nothing like this song in the rest of the band’s output, so everyone was shocked to find DBS sounded nothing like their big hit. The Cardigans had it with “Lovefool” (a.k.a. “Luff me, luff me”), to the same effect. Both bands are, to my knowledge, kaput, and I say serves ’em right, those filthy liars.
Robert: The Cardigans are still around, although the fun of their First Band on the Moon album never really returned. But that album, which features “Lovefool,” has many songs that sound like”Lovefool” — bright melodies, sad lyrics. It’s a great album.
Dunphy: I just remember an interview with Nina Persson where she said, “Everyone thinks we’re ABBA because of that song. We were never ABBA, but now they want us to be ABBA,” or something like that. I’m reminded of it only because she negatively referenced ABBA almost 20 times in the article.
Will: Yeah, but can you really blame her? That whole “everybody from Sweden sounds like ABBA” mind-set has got to really piss Swedish bands off. It’s like thinking some band should sound like Bruce Springsteen just because they’re from America. It’s gotta get pretty fucking old pretty fucking quick.
Robert: I do remember the Cardigans being pissed off about having to play their big hit over and over again at concerts in ’97, but their previous album, 1995’s Life, wasn’t all that different from First Band on the Moon, from what I remember, though First Band is much better. It was with 1998’s Gran Turismo that they decided to alienate the fans who jumped on board after First Band and “Lovefool.” Then they didn’t release anything as a band again until 2003; I remember listening to that album, Long Gone Before Daylight, once at work and not hearing one memorable song. Instead of bright melodies, sad lyrics, the Cardigans opted for depressing melodies, depressing lyrics. The follow-up, Super Extra Gravity, came out in ’05 and had a good song called “I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer,” but I haven’t heard anything else from it.
John: More like Deep Brown Something! Har! Thank you! Goodnight!