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Mainstream Rock: Lenny Kravitz, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” (1993)

Zack: I remember when Lenny Kravitz was first thrust upon the music world by a few cynical record company executives. It seemed like he had been designed by a committee to take advantage of all the latest pop-culture trends. Dreadlocks were in, so they gave him dreads. Tattoos and nose rings were still edgy and cool, so those were included. It was like watching a rock-star version of Poochie. One of the talking points that was pushed was that he was a talented songwriter, and every time I heard that spewing from the mouth of some idiot VJ I felt like I’d been taking crazy pills. Some sample lyrics from Lenny’s quill:

We’ve got to hug and rub-a-dub
We got to dance and be in love

Based on his biography, Lenny doesn’t sound like such a bad guy, and this is actually a well-produced video, but I hate hate hate the song.

Robert: I shouldn’t hate Lenny because he’s beautiful, but I do, and it’s because he knows he’s beautiful. He has a few good songs, but I can’t think of any I’ve liked past the Are You Gonna Go My Way album. The title track is one of his best singles, but I’m sure classic-rock fans could tell me note for note who Lenny’s ripping off in this song.

Dunphy: Y’know, I don’t mind “Are You Gonna Go My Way” much. This and “Believe” made the insurgent grunge brigade a little easier to tolerate. Maybe not by much, but still. “We’ve got to hug and rub-a-dub,” while being a fireable offense, certainly had dynamism against “Kill the pain, oh the pain, heroin? Yes, please …”

Jeff: How do I hate thee, Lenny? Let me count the ways. If I had a dollar for every hour Lenny Kravitz has sucked, I’d be … I’d be even richer than Lenny Kravitz, actually, but not by much. How depressing.

Taylor: Oh thank God. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only person who hates Lenny Kravitz. I honestly can’t pinpoint why I hate him, but I do. I especially hate this song.

Vrabel: Apropos of nothing, I found myself this morning with “Are You Gonna Go My Way” stuck in my head, which means, I think, that I have the Chartburn Force. (Lenny Kravitz is an extra-value meal at Wendy’s to me Á¢€” fleetingly pleasing but uniquely forgettable, though this song is pretty goddamned great.)

Jason: I don’t listen to a lot of Lenny Kravitz (although I give him mad props for rockin’ the ‘fro with the last name “Kravitz”), but of the songs I’ve heard, this is probably the only one I can really tolerate. Just about every Kravitz song I’ve heard seems ridiculously derivative to me, and after two listens I never want to hear it again.

Will: I really loved his first album, Let Love Rule, and I liked Are You Gonna Go My Way okay, but it all fell apart for me after the next record, when I realized that everything he recorded was going to sound approximately the same, i.e. unabashedly mining that retro sound. (I had to laugh when I interviewed Karl Wallinger of World Party a few years back and he mocked Kravitz for that tendency. Like that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black.) If you want to hear a fun take on this song, check out the version Tom Jones recorded with Robbie Williams. That’s the only one I ever need to hear again.

Michael: I don’t love Lenny Kravitz, although this song and “Always on the Run” are two of the best rock songs of the ’90s. Still, I feel I must test your collective casual dismissal: “Derivative!” “He’s shamelessly mining classic rock!” “How dare he!” Why did we all decide that it’s completely okay to steal Á¢€” sorry, “sample” Á¢€” actual hooks and melodies, even entire tracks, from hit songs in the rap context, but God forbid anyone use guitar effects pedals and amps from the 1970s when rock was actually good? As long as I live, I will never understand this. Also, why is Kravitz more or less derivative than Wolfmother? Foo Fighters? My Morning Jacket? Why does everyone hate Lenny Kravitz so much?

Dunphy: I think it comes down to the fun factor. Dave Grohl knows he’s the second coming of ’70s rock, but he has a piss take with it. Wolfmother? Oh, I think you’re right about that one …

Robert: Good point, Michael. There are plenty of artists who write songs that are “Beatlesque,” which can be another way of saying “They’re ripping off the Beatles,” and I’m a big fan of Jamiroquai, who rip off ’70s R&B and disco over and over again. I honestly don’t know why Kravitz gets so much shit when, say, World Party doesn’t, as Will mentioned. It could be because Kravitz is a good-lookin’ dude, and a lot of people don’t like good-lookin’ dudes. But like I said, he knows he’s good-lookin’, which annoys me. (He also has an underlying sleazy vibe about him.) Everyone knows you can’t have artistic credibility if you have nice cheekbones.

John: Mike Patton on Wolfmother Á¢€” hi, kettle!

Jeff: Michael, you assume everyone hates Lenny because he’s derivative. I, for one, hate him simply because he sucks.

Taylor: I don’t know that anyone will argue about Lenny’s derivativeness in comparison to any of those artists Á¢€” except My Morning Jacket. I’d pick them as sounding more up-to-date than Kravitz any day of the week. Besides, everyone hates Lenny Kravitz ’cause he sucks. (Actually, everyone doesn’t hate Lenny Kravitz Á¢€” I know a lot more people that like him, though I couldn’t tell you why.)

David: People don’t hate Kravitz because he steals. They hate him because he generally does a piss-poor job of stealing. He’s surprisingly popular for someone who writes one halfway decent song every five to seven years.

Jason: Michael, since I’m the only one on this entire thread who called him “derivative,” fine Á¢€” I don’t like him and I can’t explain why. But on that same note, I find you really, really derivative.

Jon: Forget the whole “derivative” argument Á¢€” I’ve never been able to get past the Transitive Property of Freaky Nipples. To wit: Lenny Kravitz was famously married to Lisa Bonet early in his career. Lisa Bonet showed off her freaky two-inch-long nipples in that Mickey Rourke movie Angel Heart. Therefore, anytime I hear Lenny Kravitz I think about Lisa Bonet’s nips.

I would like to score me a couple of his velvet jackets, though.

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Modern Rock: The B-52’s, “Love Shack” (1989)

David: As a fan of the band from the very beginning Á¢€” our son wears a onesie with the cover of Wild Planet on it Á¢€” I was happy to see the B-52’s score some chart success, even if I wasn’t crazy about “Love Shack.” What I didn’t foresee was that success leading them to record songs like “Hot Pants Explosion” and “Tell It Like It T-I-Is” on their following album. Ye gods …

Will: Just when I think I want to bury it in the ground and never hear it again, I’m reminded that it’s actually kind of a fun song if you don’t have to hear it every other second. “Love shack, baby!”

Dunphy: “Love Shack” is an awful lot like “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” as it’s based upon nothing more than having a good time. But it sure goes down rough, don’t it? It’s like eating five bags of cotton candy and someone hands you yet another one. Those slightly nauseated sugar dregs Á¢€” that’s “Love Shack” to me.

Jeff: As a 15-year-old, I wanted desperately to punch Fred Schneider in the mouth. I still don’t like this song all that much.

Michael: “TIIIIIIIIIIIIN ROOF! … Rusted.” Like Jeff, I also wanted to slug Schneider when this was inescapable. I guess I’ve mellowed over time Á¢€” I sort of like hearing it now.

Vrabel: “Love Shack.” Eh. It’s no “Shiny Happy People.”

Zack: Go to a karaoke bar a few times and it’s virtually guaranteed that some attention-starved schoolteacher will choose to sing this song and will be drunk enough not to realize how embarrassed everyone is for her. The moment I hear the first few notes of this song, usually at a wedding or office Christmas party or some other social event where I have no control over the music, I’m counting the seconds until it’s over.

Taylor: Meh. The only time “Love Shack” is acceptable listening anymore is karaoke, and even then you’re pushing it.

Jason: Honestly? This track should bother me much more than it should, when I think back to every bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah, sweet 16, and wedding I’ve attended. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to a formal party where “Love Shack” hasn’t been performed by the band or spun by the DJ. But it just doesn’t bother me. I have no idea why.

Robert: The B-52’s are from Athens, Georgia, my favorite city in the world, and I like “Love Shack” more than I did in high school, but it is a notch below “Rock Lobster” or “Private Idaho.” It’s better than “Roam” or that song they recorded for the Flintstones movie in 1994, though.

Jon: This is one of those songs that makes you go all meta, as in “Wouldn’t this have been a great song if I hadn’t heard it ten million times?” Actually, I still tend to think of the first week it came out; MTV only played the video a couple times because they weren’t sure it was going to be a big hit, and I happened to go dancing that weekend with a bunch of people I didn’t know very well, and we all thought “Love Shack” was the Best Thing Ever. Alas, a few years later, when my wife and I got married, “Love Shack” was on the DJ’s “don’t play” list Á¢€” but I demanded he play “Roam,” which I still adore. Gotta love those harmonies.

“Shiny Happy People” Á¢€” ack. But the last song on Out of Time, “Me in Honey,” on which Kate also duets Á¢€” that song is the shizzle.

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AC: Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream” (1983)

Jeff: What is the sound of two rhinestones singing?

Jon: Another track from the Bee Gees’ Lost ’80s, when Barry Gibb decided, “We can’t get any hits of our own anymore, but damned if I won’t get to #1 with every artist who doesn’t sing falsetto.” And the mofo did it!

I took a “Rhetoric of Popular Culture” course in college Á¢€” it largely made me what I am today, for better or worse Á¢€” and my girlfriend was in there, too. One day the subject of Dolly Parton came up, and after 15 minutes of classwide Dolly bashing my girlfriend piped up with “Say what you want about Dolly, but I’ve always appreciated her because she’s got a lot of class.” We broke up pretty soon after that. That girl wasn’t who I thought she was.

Taylor: I stopped listening when Kenny and Dolly got to “making love.” I’m sorry, that’s just not a mental image that I need.

Jason: I love this song so much. Great chord choices and an infectious chorus. I love you, Barry Gibb.

It should be noted that although this is the AC choice for this week, “Islands in the Stream” was the only Hot 100 single to go platinum in 1983.

Zack: Dolly Parton is exhibiting so much nervous energy in this performance that it kind of freaks me out. It’s not a bad song, and if nothing else, it produced a brilliant sample for “Ghetto Superstar” by Pras (along with Mya, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and the ubiquitous mystery artist “Feat.”).

Michael: Gibb! Behold the glory of Gibb! You doubted that his minor6 chords and castrati harmonies would work with country artists? Fools!

It also needs to be said: swiping this song’s chorus for “Ghetto Superstar” gets my vote for “Biggest Spit-Take Sample of All Time.”

Vrabel: Has anyone ever eaten at a Kenny Rogers Roasters? The meat-ish product is surprisingly passable, except that I kept finding beard trimmings in my Val-U Chicken Platter.

Robert: Only the one that used to be in Athens, Other Jeff. Is the franchise still around? It left Athens by ’96, I think.

“Islands” came out when I was in second grade, and I remember a cousin of mine telling me a joke whose punchline revealed that the two islands were Dolly’s big ol’ breasts. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember the setup, which is tragic.

Jeff: Did anyone else giggle a little, and then feel bad about it, when they heard that Dolly was postponing some dates on her current tour due to back problems?

Jason: Yes, and no!

Will: Thank you, Barry Gibb. There’s a live version of this song by the Bee Gees on their box set, Tales From the Brothers Gibb, that’s pretty nice, but I still like this version, too. I mean, hell, I grew up on both these artists. I think I watched Six Pack about a hundred times on cable, so you’ll definitely get no sass from me ’bout Kenny Rogers. It’s true Á¢€” love will turn you around.

Dunphy: “Islands in the Stream.” Sounds like a nasty home video cooked up by Kenny, Dolly, and a camcorder. The song itself is just more Barry Gibb infiltration into every crevasse of pop music. I wonder if he was holding the camera …

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R&B/Hip-Hop: Herb Alpert with Janet Jackson, “Diamonds” (1987)

Jeff: You’ve got to love a label boss who uses his record company’s biggest star to give himself a hit. Go on with your bad self, Mr. Alpert.

David: Hey, if I ran a label and my once successful solo career had officially stalled, I’d do the exact same thing Alpert does here. In 1987 Janet could’ve read a shopping list and DJs would’ve played it.

Will: Man, I’d forgotten about this song, but it’s still a nice, funky number. Granted, my daughter walked in while I was watching it, but Á¢€¦ was Janet actually in the video? Or was that just a face double at the beginning?

Jason: “You gave me some candy / It melted Á¢€” nice try.” I love it. The video, however? Totally sketchy. Given the shadow we see in the first six or seven seconds, we’re led to believe that Janet’s actually going to be in the video. Of course, she never shows up. They would’ve been better off doing one of those pathetic videos where they find archival footage of the singer mouthing words that look like the actual words in the song (a.k.a. every Queen video since 1991).

Taylor: I stopped listening because of boredom. They couldn’t do better than this? If Alpert really wanted to catapult himself, he should’ve just let Janet drive. I don’t think she’d have made something this awful of her own accord.

Zack: “Diamonds” seems like it should be a fairly deep cut on one of Janet’s albums, and I’m certain that it was Alpert’s involvement that elevated it to its status as a single. I don’t see why he’s given equal credit for this song, when he really doesn’t do much more than an average session musician would.

Dunphy: Way to turn ’em out to the street, Mr. Alpert: “Who do you work for, Janet?!” It’s worse that this song is the lousiest kind of forgettable. Worse than The Velvet Rope.

Jon: “Huuh! Diamonds! Love don’t come for free!” J-Lo would beg to differ Á¢€” her love don’t cost a thang.

Some of youse youngsters may be too young to remember that Herb Alpert was still a semi-viable name as a recording artist in ’87, much as Quincy Jones was. Don’t forget, he was just eight years removed from that infuriating #1 laid-back disco instrumental, “Rise” (I smell a “Worst of the ’70s” entry coming on). More to the point, the pop charts were just four years removed from Sergio Mendes’s big comeback (with R&B vocalists), “Never Gonna Let You Go.” And Sergio was Herb’s arch-rival in the ’60s Latin-jazz-pop instrumentals sweepstakes, so Herb had to come back and give Sergio the smackdown Á¢€” “Say, bitch, can you get Janet Jackson to sing on your record? How ya like me now?” Or something like that.

It’s not like Carlos Santana hasn’t been doing the same thing for a decade now. And Randy “It was just a’ight for me, dawg” Jackson has an album like this coming out next month. Paula Abdul sings on it. Steer clear.

Robert: Apparently there’s another female singer besides Janet singing on “Diamonds,” but Janet wasn’t even credited on this song when it came out, right? I seem to remember it being labeled as just a Herb Alpert song, even though DJs mentioned that Janet was the one doing the singing.

Jeff: Labeled as just a Herb Alpert song? I think it’s probably much more likely that it was the other way around. I don’t think anyone in my school knew or cared who Herb Alpert was, and there weren’t any DJs foolish enough to try and educate us. A&M knew which side its bread was buttered on.

Robert: According to the cover of the 45, Lisa Keith was the other vocalist on “Diamonds.” But look how tiny Janet and Lisa’s names are on the cover. It’s not “Herb Alpert featuring Janet Jackson and Lisa Keith.” It’s pretty much all Herb. But he owned the label, so why not? Janet probably owed him one anyway, though she was able to get out of the video somehow. We talked about “Diamonds” a little bit last spring at Jefitoblog when discussing “This Guy’s in Love With You,” but I can’t remember what was said now.

Jason: So at the gym (okay, Curves) this morning, I was going through my “Billboard 1987” playlist. “Diamonds” came on, and I think this was probably the first time I’ve listened to it through headphones. Right after Janet sings the line I mentioned before Á¢€” “You gave me some candy / It melted Á¢€” nice try” Á¢€” listen for Herb making what I can only describe as the “sad clown” sound.

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Hot 100: Robbie Nevil, “C’est la Vie” (1987)

Zack: There is simply nothing redeeming about this song, Robbie Nevil’s vocals, or the video.

Taylor: Huh? What? Who?

Jeff: This, kids, is what passed for funk on the radio in ’87. Dig the “band” “playing” in the background during the video. Also, am I the only one who feels like a dried-up old coot reading that Taylor has never heard of Robbie Nevil?

Jason: As a kid, I used to love buying those “Gold & Platinum” compilations. Anybody else remember those? I remember the cassette I bought in 1987 had “C’est la Vie” on it, immediately followed by Gregory Abbott‘s “Shake You Down.” I loved that cassette. “C’est la Vie” hasn’t aged so well, although when I hear it now I think of Silver Convention’s “Get Up and Boogie” during the “That’s life!” section.

According to Wikipedia, this “C’est la Vie” is actually a cover Á¢€” the original artist is gospel singer Beau Williams. Nevil’s entry also says that he cowrote the theme song to Hannah Montana. It also says that he sang a duet with Courtney Love at Andy Warhol’s funeral, so I’m taking this all with many grains of salt.

Jeff: I refuse to believe that the last two items on this list are true, either about Robbie Nevil or his Wikipedia entry. They just can’t be.

Jason: Scroll down to “Episode 5.”

Jeff and Will (in unison): Hipsway!

Robert: Am I wrong, or was this a hit in the fall of ’86? I’m calling you out, Giles! I still like “C’est la Vie.” It’s fun, and it’s not an overachiever. “J.J., whatchoo been doin’? / You said your car broke down, the thing just isn’t moo-van …” That part’s always fun to sing.

Jeff: My book says “C’est la Vie” peaked in early ’87, so yes, you’re probably right that it was a hit in the fall of ’86. But you know how it is with Top 40 radio. Or was, anyway. Does Top 40 still exist?

Will: A) He looks like an only slightly less feminine version of Lea Thompson. B) I’m pretty sure this song called “C’est la Vie” is funkier than Robbie’s attempt. And that’s just sad, man.

Dunphy: EEeeeeeeeewwwWWW.

Well, that ends my little Back to the Future fetish right there.

Jon: Robbie appears utterly desexualized here. It looks like somebody hooked up a tube and sucked every ounce of testosterone out of that guy.

I hated this video. I wish I could say the same for the song, but it’s pretty damn catchy. He’s my daughter’s favorite songwriter, though she doesn’t know it Á¢€” his songs for Hannah Montana and the High School Musicals play in her mouth every morning while she brushes her teeth. I wonder what kind of songwriting royalties Robbie gets from Tooth Tunes. Would he make more if I could convince my daughter to brush twice a day?

Jason: Jesus Christ, look at those credits! He’s rich, bitches! The joke is on us!

David: That hair. Wow. He did have a unique voice, though. He was like the ’80s version of Jeff Buckley. Anyone who wants an MP3 of the 12-inch mix, hit me up. It’s pretty sweet.