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Mainstream Rock: The Rolling Stones, “Mixed Emotions” (1989)
Scott Malchus: This was the album when Keith and Mick supposedly started liking each other again. In truth, I think Mick suddenly realized the money-making potential of a group of ’60s and ’70s icons touring endlessly. “Mixed Emotions” began the endless cycle of soulless Stones albums put out for the sole purpose of trying to make them seem relevant. I have never found much of the current music remotely interesting. However, since Rolling Stone gives every Rolling Stones record five stars, I must be in the minority.
Darren Robbins: Is this a Stones or Fabulous Thunderbirds video? I must say, it is difficult to differentiate between the two, but if the singer is shown in full-on Olivia Newton-John aerobics attire (circa Perfect), it’s a Stones video.
Beau Dure: You’re not the only one with mixed emotions, but you’re the only one who listened to this song more than once. The Stones have some solid material in the MTV era, and this isn’t horrid, but it’s not particularly memorable except that I kept thinking “suction my lips” instead of “button your lip” would be a funny opening line.
Dw. Dunphy: I’d imagine longtime Stones fan breathed a sigh of relief when they first heard “Mixed Emotions.” I’d imagine, just the same, that they had their own on the second listen. Why? Because they realized that from here on out, they weren’t getting anything new from the boys (giggle, tee hee, snort.) Don’t get me wrong, if this or any other song from Steel Wheels comes on the radio, I don’t mind. But this was the clear proof that they were only going to recycle the sights, sounds and smells of Some Girls and Tattoo You from then on.
David Lifton: Everything decent the Stones have put out since, say, Tattoo You is basically a recycling of things that they did better years earlier. We get it by now: Keef with the I-IV on an open-tuned Telecaster, Charlie playing that drum pattern that says that he can’t be bothered to come up with anything interesting. The other single, “Rock And A Hard Place,” was basically “Brown Sugar.” But it works on this song because, well, it’s the Stones, dammit. It’s the musical equivalent of when James Bond says, “Shaken, not stirred,” and you still love it no matter which Bond says it. It helps that it’s got a fantastic chorus.
There was also a rumor that Keith used to call this “Mick’s Emotions.”
Jeff Giles: I think I’ve said this before, but “Harlem Shuffle” was the first Stones hit of my formative listening years, so I think I can be forgiven for not giving a shit about “Mixed Emotions” when it was released. Having since lived through Voodoo Lounge and Bridges to Babylon, I now feel nothing but the warmest of nostalgia for this song. (I still hate “Harlem Shuffle,” though.)
Will Harris: Somewhere in a box, I still have the promotional 45 that Sony sent out when this song was first released. I had never really been into the Stones prior to this, but I was friends with a girl at the time – hi, Ashlea – who was a huge fan, so I probably think more fondly of this song and the Steel Wheels album that perhaps I rationally should. In retrospect, it’s not necessarily a great Stones song, but it’s still a pretty good pop song. On the whole, though, when I think of Steel Wheels, I generally think of “Almost Hear You Sigh,” Keith’s “Can’t Be Seen,” and the shouldn’t-work-but-it-does “Continental Drift.”
Mike Heyliger: I don’t think I’ve listened to this song since it was popular. I’m surprised beacause I probably like it more now than I did originally. It’s derivative as all hell, but they sound like they’re having a ton of fun. I like the looseness of it.
I hope no one ever tries to button Mick’s lips. That might take some work…and a mighty big button.
Taylor Long: This is actually one of my favorite Stones songs. OK, sure, nothing new from them, and portions of the lyrics are really awful, but I still love it. It’s proved to be a convenient anthem for many a rocky road in various relationships. Their Rarities ’71 – ’03 CD has a fun 12″ mix of this.
David Medsker: Like everyone else, I wasn’t really looking for the Stones to reinvent the wheel at this point. I was just happy that they came up with a leadoff single better than “The Harlem Shuffle.” Always wanted to hear that 12″ mix. Taylor, could you share with the rest of the class?
Taylor: Why yes, I’d love to!
Jon Cummings: This was the second time of … how many has it been now? … since 1986 that the Stones have dragged Keef from the sarcophagus, cranked up the tour bus, and cranked out an album that the nostalgic rock press has hailed as a “return to form” before forgetting it five minutes later. To say that this is their last half-decent single is to overstate its relevance considerably. I have to say, though, that “You’re not the only ship adrift on this ocean” is a pretty profound line for a cock-rock Stones song.
Zack Dennis: Jagger’s voice is stuck on “yell.” It seems like the lyrics would be a whole lot more meaningful if they were sung with some kind of inflection; instead, they’re just belted out over a boring guitar mix.
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Modern Rock: World Party, “Way Down Now” (1990)
Zack: These guys need to clean their apartment. I like this song, the peppiness of the music contrasts nicely with the subject. And it’s kind of neat to hear the “Sympathy For the Devil” hooting at the end right after we’ve listened to a Rolling Stones song.
Lifton: The lyrics are silly, but who cares? This is as good a summer single as “Hey Ya!” or “Crazy.” And the guitar line on the “Show me” section make the whole song a perfect piece of pop.
Dunphy: This song is catchier than it deserves to be and betrays every crappy, hypocritical thing Karl Wallinger said about other bands (at that time) channelling sounds of the ’60s.
Taylor: Where was I when this came out? I have no idea. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard this before. I guess it’s pretty catchy, but he has that annoying, not very expressive ’90s alt-rock voice, and it’s turning me off.
Beau: Gotta give Karl’s one-man gang some credit. Today, a hip-hop guy would just sample all the stuff that he painstakingly reproduced.
I thought this was a pretty good one, actually, but I’m a sucker for lines like “the clocks will all run backwards, all the sheep will have two heads, and Thursday night and Friday will be on Tuesday night instead.” Almost as good as “bible-punching heavyweight, evangelistic boxing kangaroo, orangutan and anaconda, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and even Pluto too.”
Yes, I’m saying Karl should’ve been in the Rutles. Except that he wouldn’t have produced a good relationship angst song like “Is It Too Late,” which precedes “Way Down Now” on the album.
Medsker: Man, I am just shocked by the snark headed World Party’s way. I love these guys, and I loved this song when it came out. The drum track was borderline Art of Noise-ish, which was unheard of for a Beatle-esque alt-pop band at the time. As for relationship angst songs, I’ll see you “Is It Too Late” and raise you “And I Fell Back Alone.” That one’s a heartbreaker.
Jeff: I didn’t catch up with World Party until Egyptology, so I think this might be the first time I’m hearing “Way Down Now.” Not bad, not bad.
Will: I went to see World Party in concert during their tour for Private Revolution rather than attend my prom solo. It felt right at the time, and it feels right now…especially since, ultimately, I never would’ve left the prom with any memory than would’ve compared to seeing Karl Wallinger perform a live cover of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” Although I know that “Ship of Fools” got some mainstream radio play, I don’t remember this one getting nearly as much top-40 success, but it definitely secured them as college-radio faves. To date, there is still nothing in Wallinger’s discography that I don’t love, but this is definitely one of his greatest singles.
Scott: “Ship of Fools” remains one of my favorite songs from the ’80s. Just a great fucking song. That said, “Way Down Now” is an excellent reminder of the greatness of World Party. Too bad they never had huge commercial success.
Jon: In a world inhabited by Lenny Kravitz, everyone who ever derided Karl Wallinger’s Beatles fetish can bugger off. World Party is one of my five favorite ’80s bands, and Goodbye Jumbo may just be my favorite album of the decade. I’d gladly stack this, “Put the Message in the Box,” “Ship of Fools” and “All Come True” against the four best songs by any ’80s mod-rock band you care to name — except maybe REM and the Smiths.
Mike: Before I clicked on the video, I didn’t think I’d heard this song before. However, I recognized it within the first 30 seconds. Fun stuff. Remember when alternative/”college” rock actually sounded cheery (even if the lyrics were on the dour side)? Now, everything on alternative rock radio is either super-aggro or makes you want to kill yourself.
Darren: Yeah, this song is pretty indicative of what alt.rock was before Nirvana blew the format to smithereens. You could turn on the radio and hear World Party, All Shook Down-era Replacements, School of Fish, Material Issue, Tripping Daisy, Peter Murphy…and while it was dark, it didn’t immediately make you reach for the nearest sharp object. Ah, you just don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
Beau: We should have a Popdose debate on the topic “Did Seattle destroy alt and/or rock music?” Though perhaps it’s not Nirvana’s fault that so many bands followed their well-trodden path that we’re maybe a year or two away from having tattooed 13-year-olds singing about the angst of homework.
Dunphy: I don’t think so. A lot of what we considered alternative before Nirvana is just pop music now.
Medsker: There was still room for bands like World Party, Lightning Seeds, Tears for Fears, Erasure, etc. on the dial after Nirvana broke. Hell, I even heard the Trash Can Sinatras on the radio in Boston in the middle of 1993. No, I maintain that it was the soundtrack to The Crow that blew all those bands off the dial. After that, it was come hard, or don’t come at all.
P.S. Does anyone remember when Metallica was briefly considered an alternative band? They even played Lollapalooza, didn’t they? Strange days, indeed. Most peculiar, mama.
Taylor: I’m from Seattle. Fair warning. I think “alternative” eventually became kind of like “indie” is now: More of an umbrella term for whatever you can justify using the word for.
Dunphy: It’s always something that strikes me odd. When I think indie, I’m thinking Slint, or The For Carnation, or Palace or even Man Or Astroman? When I hear what is now considered indie, the majority sounds like twee-pop.
Medsker: Shit. I’ve only heard of one of those bands. Do I need to turn in my rock critic badge?
Mike: I’ve heard of ’em, but have never listened to ’em, so I guess I’ll throw my badge on top of David’s. But I will agree that a lot of what is being called indie-pop these days isn’t too far removed from regular old dance-pop. It’s like Justin Timberlake in skinny jeans, nerdy eyeglasses and Chucks.
Zack: I’ve only heard two of them, and you’ll have to pry my rock critic badge from my cold dead hands.
Beau: I think I know Slint by association — didn’t they have a guy who went on to be in Zwan, which Billy Corgan acrimoniously dissolved, claiming the other people in the band (other than Jimmy Chamberlin) were reprehensible people who did things like have sex in public? I thought that might have been a good marketing gimmick.
Zack: Did you just call me reprehensible?
Jon: I’m among the few and the proud who have always considered Nirvana more than a bit overrated, but the descent of “alternative rock” from Nirvana/Pearl Jam to Nickelback isn’t difficult to trace — just follow the sound of the gargling male vocalists singing the same sort of crap that’s filled time on AOR radio for 40 years. The gag, as we all know, is that any style that fits the “alternative rock” rubric is only “alternative” until it becomes popular, at which point it becomes another excuse for cynical corporate marketing. Kurt no doubt had many complex reasons for putting a gun to his head, but who could have blamed him if the final straw was hearing an advance copy of Sixteen Stone?
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Adult Contemporary: Shawn Colvin, “Sunny Came Home” (1997)
Jeff: I think A Few Small Repairs and Whole New You are Colvin’s worst albums, and this might be my least favorite song of hers…but like pretty much everyone else has said, I was still glad for her success. If it hadn’t been for the Lilith Fair gang, the mid-to-late ’90s would have been wall-to-wall Limp Bizkit.
Scott: I recall an interview with Shawn Colvin back when the Cover Girl record came out, and she said she wanted to record an album like Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love. With her own divorce behind her, I think Colvin accomplished just that. “Sunny Came Home” was a strange song to become such a huge hit. It’s moody and downright depressing, like most of A Few Small Repairs. But I like that album almost as much as I enjoy Fat City. I agree with Jeff, too. I’m very glad that after the hard years Colvin went through both personally and professionally she finally found success. Of course, she found that success just as the record industry was taking a shit, so I don’t know how much good it did her.
Beau: It was so nice to see Colvin get her moment in the sun that I hardly cared how good the song was. Fortunately, it’s pretty good.
Taylor: Oh god, I hate this song. What the fuck kind of name is Sunny?! And why do I give a shit that she’s home?! Her voice on the chorus kills me — wait, what’s that? I think I just heard the neighborhood dogs howling in response.
Beau: Coincidentally, I saw my high school friend Sunny this weekend. Not related to my friend and former co-worker Sunny (a guy of Asian descent).
So since you have a name that could go both boy and girl, you should empathize! :)
The voice on the chorus bothers you? I hope you never get stuck in an elevator listening to Whitney Houston.
Taylor: So, uh… I sincerely apologize to anyone named Sunny.
And yes, I also hope I never get stuck in an elevator listening to Whitney Houston.
Zack: I haven’t heard this song in quite a while, so it seems to have reset, but I remember finding it progressively more annoying each time I heard it. The lilting voice in the chorus is cute at first, and gradually become more grating each time she does it until finally it seems about as melodic as a car alarm.
Dunphy: I have several music crushes, a few of which I’ve already divulged. Jenny Lewis, Neko Case, Alison Krauss… Jewel and Shirley Manson are in there, but not for their music, so… yeah. Objectifying pig, I presume. But Shawn Colvin was the first, mostly on the strength of her Fat City LP. By the time this song came out, as well as the whole A Few Small Repairs recording, I was a goner, and not because she went all pyromaniacal in the video. Colvin has the combination of a writer who can get a lot from a little, not one for cramming up paragraphs where one word will do (I know, I know. I could definitely take a tip from her) and a singer with no need to oversell the sentiment.
She’s also damn foxy.
Jon: “Sunny” is far from my favorite of Shawn’s songs, but it was pretty amazing when an artist who had previously been stuck in the “contemporary folk”/”Americana” ghetto (and has since been shoved right back there) briefly grabbed the pop brass ring. (Why doesn’t Joel Whitburn list “Sunny” as a #1 hit, the way he did other radio-only chart-toppers of the ’90s?) A bit of a history lesson on the single that ensured that Shawn could burn down any house she chooses to own until the end of her days: In the mid-’90s my old editor at Billboard, the late, great (?) Timothy White, helped spearhead a major tweaking of the way nominees would be selected for the “big four” Grammy categories. It was seen by many to be not just a coincidence that Tim’s new process resulted in one of his favorite artists surprisingly sweeping Song of the Year and Record of the Year. (That was an unusual Grammy year, anyway, what with “Soy Bomb” and ODB’s intrusion on one of Shawn’s speeches.)
Lifton: This was a deserved hit, because Colvin is such an intelligent songwriter. I generally hate songs that become feminist anthems, but this is great because it doesn’t sound like she set out to write one. She just came up with a good story, like she has done so often, and put a haunting guitar line to it, and it resonated with a lot of woman who could relate to it. Good for her.
Medsker: She played my hometown’s concert festival a few years back. It was the first time I had attended in decades. I was completely and utterly bored.
Mike: This was when I briefly jumped on the Shawn Colvin train. Actually, it was the single before this — “Get Out of This House,” which I saw her perform on the Rosie O’ Donnell show or something. The album this appears on is pretty decent, but this is one of the weaker songs (maybe I’m just saying that because I heard it on the radio so much), and by the time her next album was released, I’d officially jumped off of the Shawn Colvin train.
Will: I always thought “Steady On” was a rather whiny track, so I’d both been introduced to Shawn Colvin and dismissed her early on. But the chorus of this song winds around you and embraces you from first listen, so I’ve given her new stuff a chance ever since.
Darren: I lump this one in with the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” — downright disturbing characters that the feminist soccer moms of this world have embraced with an idiotic, entitled fervor. I also lump this one in with Paul Cole’s “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” wherein a moderately successful singer has that one brief shining moment where the stars align, radio formats oblige, and a single solitary hit is born — akin to a pitcher with a .190 batting average hitting a home run.
Dunphy: I’d agree with you only if I never had to hear “I Don’t Want To Wait” ever again in my life. It probably won’t happen. As for Paula Cole, do you think she’s flipping burgers now?
Mike: Didn’t she put an album out a year or so ago? I recall seeing some reviews of it that were quite favorable.
Beau: Shameless self-promotion: Spurred by a discussion at Jason’s blog last year, I covered Paula Cole’s whereabouts here. She precipitously left behind inauthentic trappings, or something like that.
Jon: Leaping proudly to Paula Cole’s defense…sorta…her first album, Harbinger, was tremendous, and I would be happy to hear “I Don’t Want to Wait” on a regular basis for the rest of my life. (It may be the Party of Five connotations, but it may not.) I offer no defense for that ridiculous “Cowboy” song or the rest of her overwrought catalog, but I still listen to Harbinger pretty frequently — “I Am So Ordinary” is an amazing song.
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R&B/Hip-Hop: Ray, Goodman, & Brown, “Special Lady” (1980)
Jon: I remember crooning this song on a daily basis while delivering newspapers on my bicycle during the winter of ’80. My voice was breaking at that time, so the falsetto I had been so proud of took on a Peter Brady quality as I sang the verses — but I didn’t mind because puberty also gave me a deep bass that was perfect for the choruses. I still love this song — I’ll take this and “How ‘Bout Us,” and you can have every melody-deprived R&B hit of the last 20 years.
Medsker: As a Spinners fan, I am embarrassed that I have not heard this song (or remember hearing this song) until now. That’s some dope-ass Philly soul. Was Thom Bell involved with this? And just how tall is that singer? His legs looked like they were five feet long by themselves.
Mike: These guys used to be The Moments, and had a pretty decent string of hits through the Seventies (“Love on a Two Way Street” was probably the most popular) before changing their name for no apparent reason. This song is the epitome of smooth, and these guys should’ve been starring in Colt 45 commercials along with Billy Dee Williams.
Taylor: If a man ever decided to sing this to me, I’d so be okay with it. Especially if he used the same facial expressions and hand motions from this video.
Zack: Having just been to a wedding, this seems like it would be a great song to dance to. It’s putting a smile on my face, and ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Scott: Ow! Those pipes! Those suits! I have no clue who the hell Ray, Goodman and their buddy Brown are, but this song is smoooooooth.
Will: I have reached a point in my musical evolution where I’d just as soon listen to smooth R&B like this as I would a catchy power pop track. I guess that’s maturity.
Beau: I watched the video, then came back to post, and I still see the title and immediately think of Sugarloaf’s “Green-Eyed Lady.”
Dunphy: Whatever happened to these R&B soul types that, even though their song isn’t great, it’s enough to be really good? What did they have that the modern bunch don’t? I suppose the easy answer is “soul,” but the more complex answer is that these love songs actually sound like the subject is love, and not a Roofie date rape soundtrack.
Jeff: Fuck yes. Where are these guys now? Why haven’t they slapped the shit out of T.I. yet?
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Hot 100: Tesla, “Love Song” (1990)
Zack: Man, I never got what the big deal was about Tesla. The opening is admittedly good, but it doesn’t seem any better than a moderately talented guitarist could put together and post to youtube. And did anyone else notice that the drummer has about seven times as many pieces in his kit than anyone could possibly ever need?
Mike: I made it my business to listen to “American Top 40” every week from probably 1983 until I graduated high school ten years later. This might be the only Top 10 song from that period that I have absolutely no recollection of. Then again, this is fairly anonymous as far as anonymous power ballads. Is it me, or does every video for one of these hair metal slow jams have a tour bus in it?
Dunphy: I have a theory that the Tesla tour bus hit that proverbial fork in the road, splitting it in two. On one side, you wound up with Candlebox and, on the other, the Black Crowes. It’s just a theory.
Jon: I have no memory of this song whatsoever. But then, I ignored the entire hair-metal oeuvre as best I could, and I avoided pop radio like the plague during the winter of ’89-’90, when this was a hit. And why not, with Paula Abdul and Michael Bolton and Milli Vanilli and … this dominating the charts? To me, Tesla is that pointless cover of “Signs,” and nothing else. If anyone can convince me that Tesla is worth another moment of my time, I might give them a shot. Any takers? Don’t all scream at once.
Beau: When I get to heaven, I’ll have to ask the Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla if he’s prouder to have an asteroid or a hair band named after him.
Dunphy: He may have wanted the asteroid and the band to meet.
Medsker: He’ll say, “Who cares? David fucking Bowie played me in a movie.”
Zack: That’s what my friend Jareth the Goblin King always says whenever I give him shit for putting on weight.
Beau: Tesla seems like California’s answer to those English bands that had some intellectual grounding (enough to name the band after an inventor) but recorded stuff with very little pretense. “Love Song” is the most basic of basic power ballads. And then they brought “Signs” back into public consciousness. Hippie, hair metal, obscure references … amazing that these guys never had a massive identity crisis.
Jeff: These guys are still around, and they still have a major following. In Sacramento, but still. I mean, what are those assholes from Saigon Kick doing these days? I bet they couldn’t sell out Arco Arena.
Taylor: Hey, the guitarist’s hair looks like mine! But seriously, THIS was from “Hot 100”? Why, dear god, WHY? Oh, the ’90s. I miss them and yet I don’t, all at the same time.
Medsker: “Iiiii knoooooow. Doot n doot, doot n doot, Iiiiiiii knoooow.” That’s all you need to, um, know about this song.
Will: I am Tesla’s worst nightmare, because no matter how many of their songs I hear, I still – and probably always will – think of them as “the guys who covered ‘Signs.’” This isn’t a bad song for what it is and when it was recorded, but I’ll stick with Skid Row’s “I Remember You,” thanks.
Zack: Sweet — now I’m thinking about “18 and Life.” Time to get my cock rock on.