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Mainstream Rock: Mike + the Mechanics, “Silent Running” (1985)
David Medsker: I love Paul Carrack as much as the next guy, but is what I refer to as a non-song. Not a whole lot of meat on these bones.
Jeff Giles: An odd little hit from an odd little record. People remember Paul Carrack and Paul Young (no, the other Paul Young) as Mike +/& the Mechanics’ singers, but this album featured lead vocals from two other guys. I can’t remember either of their names, but I do remember that I like “Taken In” more than “Silent Running” or “All I Need Is a Miracle.”
Jon Cummings: If I remember correctly, M+M albums were packaged with drool cups. Or did I just dream that during the 48-hour nap that was induced by my one and only full hearing of this song? Even 23 years on, it’s extraordinary that a nuclear war/Terminator/whatever prog-rock “epic” could be so abysmally boring. (Compared to this oblique blather, Sting’s contemporaneous “Russians” was a Tolstoy novel.) It’s also extraordinary that Carrack’s voice could be so thoroughly wasted. His M+M work is so pulse-deadening that it calls into question everything he did before. (Was “How Long” really that good? Doesn’t Glenn Tilbrook sing “Tempted” just as well in concert as Carrack did on record?) God, I hated this band.
Dw. Dunphy: Mike + the Mechanics got off to a good start, didn’t they? Big hit, nice synth-y melody, Paul Carrack — but it’s all for naught. I don’t understand a whit of this song. It sounds like the theme to some really bad syndicated sci-fi show. If you don’t pay too much attention to it, perfectly pleasant.
Scott Malchus: I often wonder what songs from the ’80s, with all of the lame electronic drums and synths, would sound like with real instruments. This song holds up okay. I guess I always expected more from Mike Rutherford since he was the lead guitarist from Genesis (and, before that, the bassist). All of the Mike + the Mechanics songs sound very “lite rock” compared to what he did in the ’70s. Then again, look at Phil Collins’s solo output. Worse, look what Genesis had become by the end of the ’80s. How is it that only Peter Gabriel was able to maintain his artistic integrity after he quit the band?
Zack Dennis: The story of revolution that’s embedded in this song reminds me a lot of Genesis’s “Land of Confusion” from the same era. I usually like songs that tell a story, but unfortunately the supposed villains (the church? the government? an invading authority?) remain too ambiguous to draw me in too deeply.
Mike Heyliger: For some reason, I always link “Silent Running” with Phil Collins’s “Don’t Lose My Number.” You can run silently, Billy, but you’re not anywhere that I can’t find you.
I would say that anything Paul Carrack sings is worthy of listening to, but I remember hearing a couple of songs of his on adult-contemporary radio in the mid-’90s (I believe one of the songs was called “For Once in My Life”?) that were completely awful, although not on account of Carrack’s voice. One of the best blue-eyed soul singers around. Can someone put out a good greatest-hits collection of his work and keep it in print?
Beau Dure: Hard to believe the same forgotten sci-fi film influenced both Mike + the Mechanics and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Seriously — check the Wikipedia entry. What it all means, I have no idea.
Robert Cass: When I was ten I thought “Silent Running” was on the soundtrack of some movie that hadn’t come out yet, because the video seemed to be showing scenes from the movie, and I always enjoyed videos like “The Power of Love” that incorporated actors from the accompanying film instead of just cutting to random clips from the film every five seconds. (There is a Bruce Dern movie called Silent Running, cowritten by Michael Cimino, but it’s from the early ’70s.) But despite the presence of The Untouchables‘ Billy Drago as the Creepy Man With the Key, there was no movie coming soon to a theater near you. Like Jeff, I prefer “Taken In.” It’s Mike + the Mechanics’ best song — a nice, “sighing” soft-rock number.
Dunphy: On the cover of the single for “Silent Running” it reads, “From the soundtrack of On Dangerous Ground.” Now, I always assumed the movie either never actually got made, was made and was so D-list that nobody cares, or was a cable flick trying to be something it wasn’t. Hopefully it was choice A, much like the path that stymied Styx’s Kilroy Was Here rock-musical extravaganza …
Robert: Okay, so I’m not totally crazy. According to this site, On Dangerous Ground is more commonly known as Choke Canyon. And Billy Drago isn’t even in the movie. Was he already in the process of killing Sean Connery?
Ted Asregadoo: I have no idea, but Lance Henriksen is in it. And we all know when it comes to actors with amazing dramatic range, Lance is the guy! In second place is David Duchovny.
Beau: And yet no one thought it significant to add the Mike + the Mechanics’ song to the IMDB trivia section for Choke Canyon, though someone does mention the connection in the comments. Hard to imagine a bigger imbalance between song popularity and film popularity.
Jeff: Actually, Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” was the love theme for a movie nobody saw, if I’m remembering right. I’m sure Robert knows the name.
Robert and Ted (in unison): Was it Summer Lovers, with Daryl Hannah and Peter Gallagher?
Jeff: Bingo! That’s the one!
Ken Shane: Carrack is the answer to a good trivia question. Name a singer who has had top-ten hits with three different bands:
Ace, “How Long”
Mike + the Mechanics, “The Living Years”
Can you think of another singer that has achieved this?
Mike: “Tempted” was a top-ten hit?
Ken: According to Wikipedia, “Tempted” made #41 in the UK and #49 in the U.S. So let’s change my question to “a singer who has had a top-50 hit with three different bands.” And stop ruining my fun.
Jon: By the way, has anybody else noticed that Chris Difford has a new album out today called The Last Temptation of Chris? Killer!
Dunphy: Well, it certainly has me interested. Last year, at the big Squeeze reunion (which amounted to a real little Squeeze reunion), Glenn Tilbrook got most of the attention due to a sore throat. Still, the band did remarkably well, and Difford still had his ridiculously low, bass-confounding voice intact.
David Lifton: I’m wondering if Tarantino borrowed the “My father wanted me to give you this” line for Walken’s one scene in Pulp Fiction from the “Silent Running” video. The best thing that can be said about the song is that it’s not “The Living Years.”
Medsker: Good, now I can tell my “Living Years” story. Well, it’s actually someone else’s “Living Years” story. My best friend Tim was driving with our friend Roy Scott Paul (RSP for short), and Tim popped in the cassette for The Living Years. The title track comes on, and when it hits the chorus, RSP ejects the tape and throws it out the window without saying a word. Tim’s going, “Whoa! What the hell?” And RSP merely said, “I hate that song.” That’s right, he hated it so much he didn’t even want to be in the same car as the song.
Robert: That sort of story is funny because we’re not Tim. I hope Roy Scott Paul got punched in the dick for throwing someone else’s tape out the window.
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Modern Rock: Fatboy Slim, “Praise You” (1999)
Dunphy: The year this album broke, some zealous street-teamer in my town pasted Fatboy Slim stickers everywhere — on stop signs, store windows, bus stops, port-a-potties. The image of his logo was highly repetitive, not unlike this song. If there’s a version without the damned “I have to praise you like I should” out there, please let me know.
Zack: Iâ€™ve always felt Fatboy Slim had a particular strength for opening his albums, evidenced by songs like â€œSong for Lindyâ€ and â€œRight Here, Right Now,â€ and then fading quickly. â€œPraise Youâ€ tends to be more annoying than catchy, the videoâ€™s director, Spike Jonze, is vastly overrated, and the song gets repetitive and tiresome after just a few bars.
Jon: I had the good fortune to be in London when this song was released, and it was instantly massive. UK radio had already given us a steady dose of “The Rockafeller Skank,” so we were primed for a big rollout when Mr. Cook put out a single that was accessible as it was inventive. I mean, who can resist such great piano hooks — not to mention the organic inclusion of the Fat Albert theme song? 1999 certainly was Spike Jonze’s high-water mark, between this video and Being John Malkovich.
Medsker: I confess to playing the daylights out of You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby upon its release, but I grew tired of “Praise You” pretty quickly. I’ll take “Gangster Tripping” over this any day of the week. Love the video, though. Oh, that wacky Spike Jonze.
Malchus: For the longest time I didn’t realize that Jonze was one of the people in the video. Honestly, I believe I’m more intrigued by how it was thrown together than by the actual song. Are those real amateur dancers? Friends of Jonze’s? Professional actors? What’s the song again?
Beau: I’d often wondered what happened to Norman Cook after the Housemartins broke up.
Okay, okay, decent song, but I got so tired of the Fatboy hype that year. Really, he takes samples and spins them into something else? And one out of a hundred times it results in a decent song? Cool!
Robert: Is he still making albums? His zeitgeist moment was brief.
Mike: What impressed me most about Fatboy Slim? The fact that he was the mastermind behind a group called Beats International that released an awesome album when I was in high school called Let Them Eat Bingo. As for this song? A little too repetitive for my tastes (although, as someone mentioned earlier, I do dig the “Fat Albert” sample). Maybe I need some E and a glow stick to truly enjoy it. I also remember the host of the VMAs that year (I think it was Chris Rock) saying something like “Fatboy Slim? More like Whiteboy Retarded!!” The video was cute and funny the first 1,000 times. After that it got as annoying as the song itself.
Giles: It’s nice enough, as far as this stuff goes, but all I can think about whenever I see the words “Fatboy Slim” is sitting in a car with a friend of mine and watching him dance in the driver’s seat when that “Fatboy Slim is fucking in heaven” song came on. If you’ve never heard it, it goes a little someting like this: “Fatboy Slim is fucking in heaven / Fatboy Slim is fucking in heaven / Fucking in heaven / Fucking in heaven / Fuck / Fuck / Fuck / Fuck / Fucking in heaven / Fatboy Slim is…” you get the idea. God, even writing about it makes me want to punch someone in the throat.
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Adult Contemporary: Rod Stewart, “Have I Told You Lately” (1993)
Beau: Odd career moves over the years, but the man can sing a ballad.
Robert: The subtext of this video is “I love you, current wife.” BUT WHEN DO WE GET TO DISCUSS “LOVE TOUCH,” JEFF?
Mike: This version of the song makes me retch. I generally dig Rod Stewart, but something about his performance here strikes me as insincere. I did like the original version of the song, and when I finally got around to discovering Van Morrison, I realized that only then was I hearing the song the way it was meant to be heard.
Jon: Another recording I thought I’d never have to hear again. DAMN YOU, CHARTBURN!!!! I guess the little old ladies must have loved this song — and I guess Clive Davis must have based his market research on this, Rod’s last solo Top 10, when he called Roderick into his office and said, “Mr. Stewart, I believe it’s time for you to start singing show tunes.”
Malchus: Rod remaking another classic love song and doing a hell of a job. I believe that version from 1993 was the Unplugged concert, right? I like that version better than the studio one he did a year or so previously. No matter what you think of Stewart, when he wants to he can really deliver a stellar performance, as he does with this one. Unlike many remakes, I like this one just as much as Van Morrison’s original.
Dunphy: In the sequel to the cinema classic Bubba Ho-Tep, the monster Rod Stewart eats Van Morrison’s soul and, oddly enough, nothing happens. So you have this song coming from Van the Man’s mouth and he sounds like he means it, this is flat-out testifying. From Rod? It’s emotive, but it comes off as stark professionalism. Here’s where you choke up. Here’s where you whisper it. Here’s where you belt. It is a perfectly acceptable piece of adult contemporary pop, but it sure don’t move me.
Medsker: I’m not sure how I’d feel if someone told me Rod Stewart had covered one of my songs, because once he sings it, it’s his for life. This, and his covers of “Downtown Train” and “Broken Arrow,” are perfect examples of that. Still, I bet Van Morrison didn’t mind, since it probably helped pay for a vacation house in the hills.
Lifton: I would say this is a great ballad that Rod watered down, but Van’s original was also a whole bucket of maple syrup with those strings. I think Rod pulls this off nicely. He holds back just enough instead of going over the top. I do prefer the studio version to the one that came out on Unplugged, though.
Giles: Ordinarily, I’d say that the early ’90s version of Rod Stewart should never have been allowed to cover a Van Morrison song, but the original version was already pretty Muzak-y, so Rod didn’t do anything worse than make Van a pile of unexpected mailbox money. It marks the butt end of his late-period Cool Covers Trilogy, which — as David already noted — started with “Downtown Train” and continued with “Broken Arrow.” I thought the Unplugged record sucked, but if I’d known what was to come, I would have bought a dozen copies.
Zack: Was this song really from 1993? It feels so dated. And also it sucks. I was kind of hoping weâ€™d never see another Rod Stewart song after â€œDa Ya Think Iâ€™m Sexy.” Fortunately for me, the audio for this one was overwhelmed by the churning sounds coming from my stomach, and later on the retching noises blocked out the last verse quite nicely.
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R&B/Hip-Hop: The Notorious B.I.G., “Hypnotize” (1997)
Giles: Can’t really go wrong with Biggie, can you? You’re welcome, Chartburn panel.
Robert: Never saw the appeal of Biggie. Never saw the appeal of 2Pac either outside of a few songs. But that’s just me. And I guess I missed “Hypnotize” in ’97, because I kind of like it now that I’m hearing it for possibly the first time. I also like Puffy’s remix of “Roxanne” that came out near the end of ’97.
Medsker: Best. Choreography. Ever. “Okay, you’re basically going to dance like you’re a crack-addicted whore looking for a buck. Are you feeling me? No, spread your legs wiiiiiide open. That’s it. Now it’s time to stack you two by two.” That’s just awesome.
Beau: Why did Biggie do a Fleetwood Mac cover?
Dunphy: Did Michael Bay direct the video? Nah, probably Hype Williams. Around then he was directing every hip-hop video, but you couldn’t tell from all the gear on display. Then there are the Hummers, copters, and boats. (Rim shot.)
But seriously, folks, what kind of casting call do you put out there for actors? “Casting agent seeks hip-hop hos”? The worst part about the song “Hypnotize” is that, even though I’m not a big hip-hop guy, you can’t deny Biggie Smalls had something there. He was alternately funky, funny, and downright menacing. Had he not died, he probably would’ve been a huge crossover movie star, no pun intended.
Malchus: This song has a great beat, Puff and Biggie make a great duo, but once I get past the groove and listen to the lyrics, I just don’t get it. Why was he so huge– I mean, popular? Thus, if I just want the groove, I’ll go listen to the Herb Alpert song they’re sampling.
Lifton: Part of the beauty of being an embitttered old crank is that you can pretty much dismiss anything you don’t like by saying “I don’t get these kids today” and nobody bats an eyelash. Maybe it was because this was the first single after his death, or maybe it was all the hot chicks in the video, but I always dug this song. For months after this, I would say “Show me, homie” whenever an appropriate situation arose. I could never pull it off, though.
Mike: And now the black kid from Brooklyn is going to wax rhapsodic over how awesome Biggie was. Easily top-five all-time when it comes to rappers. He’s not rhyming about anything in particular, but goddamn his flow is amazing. This is one of those songs that begs to be played so loud that the bass rattles the ground. Ace Herb Alpert sample, too. “Rise” is one of the first songs I distinctly remember loving as a little kid. That’s an awesome groove no matter what’s playing or who’s singing or rapping over it.
Jon: About four months ago I argued in Chartburn that Alpert was still a viable pop presence at the time that “Diamonds” was released in ’87, and some of y’all tried to laugh me right off the column. Well, here’s sweet redemption, bitches! Forget about Biggie’s murder hype. Forget that all things Puffy hit #1 in ’97. Forget about that bitchin’ video. (Do you think the vid’s director, Paul Hunter, got a two-for-one special with this and Mariah Carey’s “Honey,” which I believe features the same water and the same speedboat?) The popularity of this song was all about “Rise”! Herbie rides again!
Zack: Tupac and Biggie get shot, and yet Puffy (no, not P-Diddy, or Diddy, or whateverthefuck he calls himself now — he chose Puffy, he should be stuck with it) Combs is still alive? This is a pretty good song, as far as gangster rap goes, but the audio in the video version of the song is totally fucked. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with a few well-placed sound effects, but this is the most ham-fisted audio mix Iâ€™ve heard in my entire life.
Mike: Every time I hear Biggie get called a “gangsta” rapper, I sort of cringe a little. Because he really wasn’t. Ice-T? N.W.A.? Gangsta rap. Biggie? Wu-Tang? I’d beg to differ there.
Medsker: Biggie was a dealer, but not a gangsta. Do you guys remember that chain e-mail that translated one of his songs in white-boy speak? God, was that funny. Actually, I found it right here.
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Hot 100: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, “If You Leave” (1986)
Lifton: The only thing I have to say about OMD is that they were loved in high school by girls who wouldn’t stop to piss on me if I was on fire. Yeah, I’m still bitter. But now I’m the head of an Internet multimedia empire. They had their chance.
Beau: Dang it — another Chartburn, another lame earworm. This one has its moments, but the backing vocals are so whiny they make Morrissey sound like David Lee Roth. I’m guessing the significant other in question turned heel and got out of there in a hurry.
Malchus: Why do I still love this song after the millions of times I’ve heard it? Is it the images of pre-TV Ringwald, Cryer, Spader and McCarthy? Is it that fake synth sax (don’t tell me that’s real)? I don’t know, but I do like it and always will. Brings back memories of going to the drive-in and seeing Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink back-to-back while sipping cheap beers and hoping to cop a feel with one of the three girls I happened to be with. Never did cop a feel, never got drunk, but I’ll always have OMD.
Dunphy: I like to brag about my vast expanse of musical knowledge and broad spectrum of taste, but I just never cottoned to OMD. The only thing most people know from them is this tune, still a Muzak perennial. It’s okay. It’s no classic though, and that nu-romantic squeak in the voice is like basil in your tomato sauce. A little is just fine. A little more and you’ve ruined it. We’re dangerously close to ruin here. I suppose I’m more for the Haircut One Hundred “ai-yi-yi-yi-yi-yis” than the squeak.
Mike: Meh, this song never did much for me. It’s pleasant enough, but not so good that it made me want to listen to more OMD. The singer’s performance is totally limp-wristed, too — even more than most British pop of that era. I think Pretty in Pink might be the only Brat Pack movie I’ve never seen. However, it’s also the only Brat Pack movie I own the soundtrack of. What kinda sense does that make?
Jon: Ah, memories. I discussed this song in my first Jesus of Cool column, way back in the dark ages of January. Anyway, what I’m interested in today is the fact that this single peaked only at #48 in England — and, in fact, continued a long downward slide that had begun with OMD’s poppy Crush album in ’85. In fact, “So in Love” had peaked higher in the U.S. (#26) than it did in the UK (#27). I know this is burrowing down into absurd music-geek obsessions, but OMD was one of my five favorite bands of the ’80s, and I think it’s remarkable that, while singles like “Joan of Arc” and “Maid of Orleans” could go top five over there, “Secret” and “If You Leave” couldn’t make the top 30. Of course, who knows what use the Brits could possibly have had for Andrew McCarthy. Or Ducky.
Robert: Molly Ringwald should’ve chosen James Spader at the end of Pretty in Pink. Bad for business, but great for the list of Most Bizarro Third-Act Plot Twists in Movie History.
Medsker: I was happy that this song was a hit for OMD, but it is far from their best. I always laughed at how long this song played in the background of the prom scene in Pretty in Pink. Those poor kids pretended to dance to this for over ten minutes.
Zack: Much like Die Hard set a standard for action movies that all future films were judged against (until The Matrix came along), the soundtrack for Pretty in Pink set a standard against which all movie soundtracks are weighed to this very day. Itâ€™s hard to separate OMDâ€™s classic from its use in the filmâ€™s climactic scene, but the video does a great job of paying low-key homage to the movie without devolving into a series of clips, which typically occurs when a song is so closely associated with a film. “If You Leave” is a great song with great vocals and a great key change from a great movie.
Giles: This song and the Moody Blues’ “Your Wildest Dreams” remind me of my sixth-grade year — they were both all over the Top 40 station my parents listened to. Which makes me wonder: These days, who’s making hits that appeal to kids and their parents? Coldplay, maybe?
Dunphy: Well, according to Disney, everyone loves Miley Cyrus. You hear that, you braindead zombie consumers? Everybody Loves Miley Cyrus, or else the the mouse takes two between the ears and goes to the Happiest Place Not On Earth!
Giles: I listened to the new Miley last night — I’m reviewing it for Bullz-Eye, you fuckers — and I have to say: I didn’t hate it.
Jon: Well, that brings up an interesting point — music for kids has been ghetto-ized onto Radio Disney and such, just as kids are so attached to their own cable channels that the networks no longer feel they have to have a “family hour.” Even the Top 40 pop songs kids listen to are filtered through the horrid “Kidz Bop” albums. My son finds music mostly through video and computer games and the songs that get tacked onto YouTube videos related to Maple Story and his other online obsessions. That said, Jacob was a Green Day fan at eight, a Coldplay fan at nine, and a Killers fan at ten. He’s also big into Nickelback and Linkin Park, but I have no use for those bands. By the way, I’m perfectly happy to rock out with my daughter to her Hannah Montana albums … for about ten minutes, anyway, before it gets too cutesy.
John C. Hughes: I felt my confidence in youth build back up again when I went back to Ohio for the Fourth of July and my 13-year-old niece told me she loves the Ting Tings, Death Cab, Radiohead, and (ugh) 30 Seconds to Mars. Just last year she was demanding American Girl product.
Malchus: My kids listen to Miley, the Jonas Brothers, and Springsteen. I have no qualms if they listen to safe, bubblegum pop. At the rate the corporations want children to grow up, I’m happy for them to act nine and six years old. I’m with Jeff — the Cyrus records aren’t all that bad. At least there are real musicians involved and she’s not ruining some hit from the ’80s, as so many of the Disney-brand stars are asked to do. Also, it’s exciting that kids are actually listening to music. The joy of discovering pop songs is upon young kids and eventually they’ll outgrow Disney and move on to better things like John’s niece.
Giles: They’ll move on to John’s niece? Good Lord, Malchus, what are you trying to say here?
Hughes: Well, she is one of the better things.
Malchus: Fucking commas!
Robert: Commas are your friend, Scott. Ellipses, on the other hand … usually … aren’t…!
Malchus: You’re right, Robert, I do love commas, especially when someone like, say, Hawthorne, uses them for an entire paragraph, as he did at the beginning of his famous novel, The Scarlet Letter.