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Mainstream Rock: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “The Waiting” (1981) *
Dunphy: It is, on its face, your standard Petty and Heartbreakers tune. Could’ve been “Refugee.” Could’ve been “You Got Lucky.” But you know what? From 1980 to 1985 that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Was this off Southern Accents or Hard Promises? Does it matter? I miss those good ol’ Petty days.
Zack: Is Tom Petty from Denver? Because Iâ€™m convinced he must go to the same dentist as John Elway. Does anyone else share my suspicion that Petty’s video director used the leftover set from the Cube Squared video in Tapeheads? Like everything else of Petty’s, this is good stuff, though aside from the chorus, the lyrics are pretty much incomprehensible.
Jason: I wish I could think of something other than the episode of The Simpsons where Homer has to wait five days to purchase a gun (“Five days? But I’m mad now!“) and “The Waiting” plays in a montage over the five-day period. Petty is a big Simpsons fan.
Ken: I’ve always liked this one. Petty’s one of those writers who knows how to put the things a lot of us feel into words.
Matthew: I remember a really lovely (and abbreviated) acoustic version of this song played by Petty on an episode of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. It was the episode where Garry has planned the whole show around his neighbor giving birth, and when she can’t do it on cue Shandling ends up looking for ways to stall. Luckily, his neighbor Tom Petty decides to stop by and drop off Garry’s hedge clippers, which he’d borrowed, and he gets recruited to entertain the audience. Tom ended up appearing a number of times on the show playing a version of himself (this was the first time), but he never sang on the show again.
Darren: Back when a simple video, done with class, could hold your attention. No need to spend 500K and have MTV turn their nose up at it. Of course, this was made before there was an MTV, and the only place you saw it was when Showtime or Cinemax had ten minutes to kill until the next showing of Motel Hell or whatever. I remember not digging “The Waiting” much when it came out. It’s still not one of my absolute favorites.
David: This song seems so quaint now. Love the slide guitar, but … I don’t know. I don’t hate it, not at all. I just … don’t care.
Jeff: One of my favorite Petty tracks. I’m surprised by the number of lukewarm reactions to it — I just assumed this was a universally accepted stone-cold classic of the Petty canon. Every time I listen, disappointed, to a new Petty record, this is what I wish I was hearing instead.
Scott: Still my favorite TP&H song. From the Rickenbacker guitar to Stan’s drumming, from Blair’s bass solo to Petty’s aching singing. In a hundred years, when some snot-nosed kid wants to know what the hoopla was all about over Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, they need only listen to this song. Man, it still gives me chills. The live version is even better.
Scraps: Tom Petty is the John Fogerty of his generation: nothing revolutionary in his musical approach, nothing too complicated, yet a seemingly endless ability to write catchy songs that are still remembered decades later.
Jon: Isn’t it amusing that there was a while there when Tom Petty was considered uncool — or, worse, when he was caricatured on SNL as morphing into Bob Dylan Lite? Petty is one of the gods, and “The Waiting” is Stadium Rock Heaven. Who can fail to wail along at the top of their lungs to the lyrics that lead into the chorus, and who can keep their hands still rather than hit these power chords on the air guitar? Then there’s the fact that Petty stood up for his fans when MCA wanted to use the album from which this track was drawn, Hard Promises, to raise the list price of albums from $8.98 to $9.98.
By the way, dudes, help me out! In L.A. on June 25, Petty is playing the Hollywood Bowl and George Michael is playing the Forum — and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are playing the Santa Barbara Bowl! Which show do I attend? Your manhood — and your sense of pop history — is on the line in your response.
David: George Michael, because after this tour you might never see him again.
Zack: Haul your ass all the way up to Santa Barbara when you could be seeing Tom Petty in your own backyard? Doesn’t seem like much of a dilemma to me.
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Modern Rock: Oasis, “Wonderwall” (1995)
Scott: As much as I believe these guys are a bunch of poseurs, this is one fine song.
Jon: It’s the apex of Cool Brittania, isn’t it? For an Anglophile like myself, “Wonderwall” was one of those exhilarating moments when a great British act actually made it across the pond. Of course, Oasis were pompous and ridiculous and had absurd lyrics, and they careened wildly between overexposure, self-indulgence, and implosion. But aren’t those very things what great pop music is all about?
Scraps: Never mind the stupid lyrics; this is one of those songs that’s always sounded irredeemably awkward to me — “Don’t You Want Me” is another — and I can’t understand why it isn’t like sandpaper to everybody’s ears. The chorus “melody” doesn’t even rise to the level of singsong, and every time Liam Gallagher bawls the long-held note at the end of every line in the chorus, I forget why I love British pop music. (I put on a Blur song to remind me.)
Will: I neither know nor care what a â€œwonderwallâ€ might be. I just like the song, as proven by the fact that I also dig the Mike Flowers Pops lounge version and the Paul Anka jazz version.
David: I’ve had it out for these guys ever since Noel Gallagher said he wished Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon would die of AIDS. Douchebag. Oh, and pretty much everything they’ve ever done is wildly overrated.
Jeff: Fuckin’ hated these guys at the time, but they’ve grown on me in the decade-plus since — probably because they’re no longer on the radio 24 hours a day. Actually, now that I think about it, they grew on me pretty quickly — I actually bought Be Here Now (and picked up the requisite contact high) two years later. I think I sort of love “Wonderwall” now.
Darren: I had a drunk friend (no, not me!) who, after hearing this song, came up with the premise that there are a variety of walls in terms of female genitalia — sugar walls, in which case the chick is so hot you don’t care who’s been up in there, and wonderwalls, where you’re too busy wondering how many have been up in there to want to venture forth yourself. There were others, but I’ve forgotten them, and damn if I don’t think about his slurred diatribe any time I hear this tune (or “Sugar Walls,” for that matter).
Ken: Liam Gallagher is my favorite rock star. His sneer is infectious, and his lack of any sort of interest in what you think is impressive. “Wonderwall” is a great song, but at this point I’ve heard it too many times, and played it too many times. Besides, even though this is an easy choice, Oasis has a lot of songs that are better.
Dunphy: I’m one of those deranged people who finds it difficult to separate the singer from the song. It’s with that in mind that I find it so hard to enjoy Oasis. Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory are the kinds of Britpop that should be right up my alley, only I’m too interested in beating Gallagher ass to really give an honest opinion. Oh, sure, pop is filled with douchebags, some of whom I like a lot, but rarely has a group attempted to elevate shitty behavior into an ideal.
Matthew: George Harrison represent (at least in the title)! I think “Wonderwall” has aged about as well as any of their tunes. It’s funny — they were huge in the States for about two months, and then poof. And yet there is a fan base here, at least to see them live. They can still play Madison Square Garden. It’s just that no one wants to hear anything from their third album onward. Speaking of that, Noel Gallagher claimed that Green Day ripped off “Wonderwall” for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” He’s right that they were ripped off, but he’s got the wrong song: Green Day ripped off “D’Ya Know What I Mean?,” the first song on the follow-up album, Be Here Now.
Zack: A friend in college gave me a hard time for liking Oasis when (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? came out. “Wonderwall” is still a decent song, but I like them a lot less nowadays. With his round glasses, Liam Gallagher boldly challenges us to compare him to John Lennon. Thatâ€™s fine by me — I find them both to be overrated, arrogant, insufferable prats. Also, what the hell is up with the clowns?
Jon: Good God, man, what are you thinking? That’s blasphemy! “Overrated, arrogant, insufferable prat”? How dare you describe Liam Gallagher that way!
But you’re right — screw all those guys with round National Health glasses. Harry Potter, too. Wanker.
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Adult Contemporary: 38 Special, “Second Chance” (1989) *
Dunphy: Bleagh. These guys used to rock and laugh and love! They were good ol’ boys! What the heck is this?
David: I’m surprised .38 Special even put their name to this. It’s such a slap in the face of their musical legacy, as it were. The thing is, it’s kinda pretty. It’s also really dumb.
Zack: I hated, hated, hated this song during the days when it was receiving radio airplay. These days Iâ€™ve softened up a little bit, but I still dislike it. Itâ€™s a bunch of sappy bullshit, and if youâ€™re going to name your band after a firearm youâ€™d better rock a hell of a lot harder than this.
Jason: I’m not sure why, but “Second Chance” makes me think of 1988 for some reason. And although I’ve always known it was 38 Special, it makes me think of Chicago. Maybe because both bands used to rock, and completely wussed it up in the late ’80s.
Darren: Yeah, I think of Chicago (the band) too when I hear this. I think it’s because both 38 Special and Chicago had drifted toward the absolute middle of the road and both were utilizing singers who had zero personality, to my ears at least. They were both starting to put out tune after tune of drivel that sounded cowritten by either Diane Warren or Jim Peterik.
Will: As much as I enjoy .38 Specialâ€™s AOR hits from the â€˜70s and early â€˜80s, this is just a schmaltz-ridden yawn. They made a comeback a few years later with their debut Charisma single, â€œSound of Your Voice,â€ but I donâ€™t recall whether the album from which that song originated was any good as a whole.
Matthew: Secret shame story — I had my dad set up a timer to tape “Second Chance” during Casey Kasem’s countdown while I was away one weekend at temple camp. Ugh. What the hell was I thinking? Between this song and the Human League’s “Human,” I’ve had my lifetime fill of “Yeah, I dicked around, but c’mon!” songs.
Zack: Mentioning that you liked “Human” is about 50 times more shameful than liking 38 Special. At least with the latter you can claim it’s out of reverence for the Van Zant family.
Scott: I only have bitter memories of hearing this damn song endlessly during the summer of ’89. Somehow this crap passed as rock and roll. Oh, and didn’t they go by Thirty Eight Special, dropping the .38?
Jon: Yep. After dropping the period in the mid-’80s, they went all spelled-out on us a couple years later to further jettison the gun reference. The name changes seemed to coincide with increasing lameness, though .38 Special were always far better than they had any right to be. Considering how late to the party they were, and considering they represented the poppiest face of southern rock (once Pure Prairie League was gone), they were pretty awesome — until this. It’s at least a bit atmospheric, but mostly it just lays there like a jaded call girl. Not that I’d know anything about that.
Dave: I’m disappointed that I seem to be the only one to like “Second Chance.” 38 Special basically told you right up front this wasn’t by 38 Special by spelling their name out. After a decade of hits and near the end of popularity, gotta make money somehow. Change the name of the group, sing some sap, get played at proms, continue career. It’s a model that works if you pick the right song, and c’mon, it wasn’t that bad.
Jeff: We had a family friend who was a big ol’ AOR-head, so I had a cassette dub of this album when it was released in ’88, and I’m pretty sure I eventually knew every word to every song. It’s true, they were Thirty Eight Special at this point, but fuck that shit, we’re calling ’em 38 here. “Second Chance” was from the atrociously titled Rock & Roll Strategy, an album whose title track is every bit as retarded as you think (“I got a system that’s guaranteed / I got a rock & roll strategy / It ain’t no science, but it works for me / It’s a rock & roll strategy”), and was made without the participation of founding guitarist/main songwriter Don Barnes. The songs aren’t bad, but the record is almost entirely missing anything resembling a bottom end. Lame-ass bass, tinny drums … ah, 1988.
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R&B/Hip-Hop: Naughty by Nature, “Hip Hop Hooray” (1993)
David: Wasn’t this on that list of rap songs that white people can like? Either way, I freaking love this. Great beat, good rhythm to the rapping.
Jeff: The rap song everyone at work can agree on!
Ken: Jersey representin’. That’s all you need to know. Where the hell has Treach been anyway? I might go over to East Orange this afternoon to see if I can find him.
Robert: Treach was on The Sopranos in 2006 as a member of a famous rapper’s crew. He wanted respect from the hip-hop community for being “hard,” so he asked Bobby Baccalieri to shoot him in the thigh when he wasn’t expecting it. Bobby ended up shooting him in the ass instead on his way out of a fast-food joint.
I’ve also seen Treach on BET’s “Blackbuster” movie showcase for low-budget, straight-to-video action movies featuring black heroes, but I can’t remember the name of whatever he was in. He was also in something with Steven Seagal that went straight to video. Basically, aside from that one-episode role on The Sopranos, his acting career hasn’t been that great.
Matthew: This was during that period when it seemed like every other hip-hop video was directed by Spike Lee. The song’s … okay. Really repetitious, though. Seems like, in all honesty, it was created with an eye to be played during time-outs at sporting events (which — bick shock — it was!).
Jason: You gotta give ’em credit for a great hook, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “O.P.P.”
Will: Câ€™mon, thatâ€™s a clever title. You have to give them that much, at least. Itâ€™s not exactly what youâ€™d call a major musical evolution from â€œO.P.P.â€ to this song, but it still inspires one to wave oneâ€™s hands in the air. (Yâ€™know, as if one just doesnâ€™t care?)
Dunphy: By this time I had had enough of other people’s … er … property. You couldn’t escape “O.P.P.” in 1991. By 1992 you still couldn’t. By ’93, and by the time Naughty by Nature came out with the new stuff, I was burned out. By hip-hop standards it’s actually kind of cute. Last time out we discussed rock’s penchant for songs that celebrate itself and its excesses, so you can say this tune is kind of a passing of the torch from one dominant pop style to another.
Zack: Itâ€™s actually kind of sad that Naughty by Natureâ€™s ability to sew rhymes was overshadowed by their ability to produce catchy chants. Shamelessly self-referential and not particularly threatening, the arm-waving idiocy of this craze has a surprising amount of appeal, particularly for someone who would rather shoot his own grandmother than have to dance in public.
Scott: What the …? Yet another winner this week. And how do you follow up “O.P.P.”? You write another hook-laden rap song that grabs hold of you and sticks in your head all day. “Heyyy, hoooo!”
Jon: Hey, ho, hey, ho! It was about friggin’ time somebody institutionalized one of the two phrases that seem to be, from the very beginnings of hip-hop, the only way MCs know how to energize a live audience. (The other, of course, being “Put your hands in the air, and wave ’em like you just don’t care!”) Am I oversimplifying here? Anyway, this song was such a comedown after the colossally wonderful “O.P.P.,” which I can still reel off to this day, start to finish, and the surprisingly moving “Ghetto Bastard,” renamed, of course, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” for white folks’ consumption.
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Hot 100: Joe Jackson, “Steppin’ Out” (1982)
Zack: I swear when I was a kid my sister had me convinced the lyrics were â€œBluebirds, stepping out into the night,â€ and it made absolutely no sense to me. Itâ€™s a cute little song, and a cute little video.
Jeff: Not my favorite Joe Jackson song (hello, “Be My Number Two”), but still aces. And for a synth-y early-’80s track, it’s aged really well, don’t you think?
Matthew: “Steppin’ Out” came out when I was eight. Do you know what it does to the psyche of an eight-year-old to see Joe Jackson for the first time? (Shiver!) Seriously, though, there’s just something about early-’80s videos that dates them terribly — even when they’re set up to be a pseudo period piece like this one, they scream “1980s.” And between the videotape and the slathered makeup, I was expecting that by the time the second woman appeared in the adjoining room, suddenly a porno was going to break out. Oh, God — Joe Jackson porn! (Shiver!)
Will: Joe Jackson is awesome, and so is everything on Night and Day. This track in particular, however, is probably one of my favorite singles from the â€˜80s. â€œBreaking Us in Twoâ€ is more poignant, but the piano here is just fantastic.
Ken: I like guitar Joe Jackson more than piano Joe Jackson. That’s not to say that some of the piano stuff isn’t good. It’s just not what got me into Joe in the first place. Bring back Gary Sanford.
Jon: I’m actually a bigger fan of Joe’s mid-’80s chamber-pop phase (“Be My Number Two,” “Happy Ending,” the entire Big World album), but who didn’t think “Steppin’ Out” was cool? ’82 was such a big year for synth-pop smashes (“Don’t You Want Me,” “Tainted Love,” “I Ran”), and then Joe comes along as all those songs are dropping off the charts and shows those high-haired fuckers how to do synths with style and class.
Jason: I love this song. You just can’t beat that bass line and the piano. However, apparently I can’t sing it without changing the chorus to “into the muthafuckin’ night.” No, it doesn’t scan correctly, but that makes it more fun.
How awesome would it be if Tony Bennett covered this instead of Irving Berlin’s “Steppin’ Out”?
Dunphy: I have a short list of pop musical geniuses, these artists who go wherever their muse takes them, sales be damned and public opinion with it. Joe Jackson decided to make a Latin-tinged, jazz-inflected concept album about both sides of the Big Apple. He could’ve made another rock album like his first two, or another big swing album like Jumpin’ Jive, but he decided to go way over here and make something for the ages. While “Steppin’ Out” is all bright lights and gliss, Night and Day also has my favorite Jackson tune of all time, the utterly noir-romantic “A Slow Song.”
Darren: I remember being pretty appalled by Jackson’s switch in direction, but he was smart enough to realize that the guitar-based rock stuff was in Elvis Costello’s very capable hands (I always thought they were amazingly similar up to this point). Night and Day is actually a pretty inspired effort, and the fact he scored a couple nice hits with “Steppin’ Out” and “Breaking Us in Two” just makes me wistful for the days when radio could be bothered to play stuff that didn’t insult your intelligence.
Scott: This week wraps up being the best Chartburn ever (.38– I’m sorry, Thirty Eight Special aside). Nothing bad to say about Joe. Stellar album and a top-notch band behind him. This was Mr. Jackson at his peak.
Scraps: Just as he reached his commercial peak with this great album and lovely song, he shot down his popular career by refusing to make any more videos. I’m another one who prefers his middle period to his early stuff — nothing against the early stuff, but Big World is a perfect album — and the middle period started here.
David: Poor bastard never caught a break. Can you believe there was a time when MTV played “Real Men” in medium to high rotation?
I like the idea of Joe more than the man himself. He’s made some great records (including his most recent one), but I understand why he never attracted a larger audience; he just didn’t play that way. Still, there was no denying the hook in this verse.