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Mainstream Rock: Spacehog, “In the Meantime” (1996)

Pete: Haven’t thought about old Spacehog since, well, 1996. But this song did age well.

Jeff: I can’t believe these guys opened for Pearl Jam. Their moment in the sun was sadly brief — that hourglass in the beginning of the video is pretty appropriate — but I guess you don’t need to be too worried about record sales when you’re Liv Tyler’s husband.

Robert: Why, because of her two dads’ cash? ‘Cause she’s not really that big of a movie star. By the by, my pitch for a new version of the ’80s sitcom My Two Dads, starring Steven Tyler and Todd Rundgren as themselves, never made it to the small screen. I was just as surprised as all of you must be right now.

Spacehog’s Royston Langdon played on the Lemonheads’ 1996 album Car Button Cloth and Evan Dando’s 2003 solo album Baby I’m Bored. In 1994 Dando and Tyler played boyfriend and girlfriend in the movie Heavy when she was only 16 or 17. They had at least one make-out scene. Do you think Royston and Evan ever talk about that? If I’m ever in the same room with them and Liv, I’ll be sure to bring it up.

Dunphy: Not an auspicious beginning here — I had no idea what this song was or who did it. Matter of fact, upon reading, the only thing I recalled was Monster Magnet doing “Space … lord … mutha-mutha!!” But “In the Meantime” isn’t that bad. Pretty enjoyable, actually, even if the lead singer looks like Hyde from That ’70s Show.

Michael: What a bass line. I forget where I read it, but someone compared it to a tuba line from ’20s jazz. That Langdon can play it while singing is especially impressive. The bass line, the interesting bridge, the plaintive piano ending … I like it. This song has aged well. Compared to what else was around in the mid-’90s, it’s a bloody masterpiece.

Jon: These days it feels like every decent pop hook has been appropriated for a cell-phone commercial or a sports program. I mostly remember “In the Meantime” as the theme from the football (that’s soccer to us non-limeys) Match of the Week in the UK during the late ’90s. The video is more interesting than the song, which plays like a computer simulation of a Bowie/Psych Furs song. The hook is kinda irresistible, though.

Ken: This is a song that I had totally forgotten, but it’s a good one. Spacehog should’ve had more success. I suppose it’s another one of “those” stories. The video, on the other hand, put me off a bit: There’s the dreaded double-bass-drum setup, for a start. And then there are all of those tragically hip people loitering in the foreground. In fact the band themselves look a little too cool for the room, but hey, they’re the band.

Will: My attention was focused on the power-pop world when these guys made their debut, so I wasnÁ¢€â„¢t really paying attention, but I happened upon their stuff a few years later and itÁ¢€â„¢s pretty good. They were definitely ahead of their time. I think the most surprising thing is that America actually made Spacehog successful; generally weÁ¢€â„¢re prone to blowing off anything that sounds even remotely glam.

Jason: Wow, I don’t remember this one at all. Agree with Mike, though — that bass line is fantastic, and this is way better than most of the stuff that was on the radio in 1996. (I feel like my parents would say something similar about 1988, but they’d be wrong.)

Zack: “In the Meantime” is one of those songs that doesn’t seem to have been released, per se; it’s more like it was just somehow injected into the general consciousness at some point with very little fanfare. It’s surprising that it’s over ten years old. There’s nothing about it that’s awful (well, the hooting is kind of annoying), but there’s nothing particularly likable or memorable about it either.

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Modern Rock: 10,000 Maniacs, “These Are Days” (1992)

Robert: This band was played too much on the adult-contemporary stations I listened to in high school and college for me to ever like them, I’m afraid.

Zack: Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone managed to combine this song, Green Day’s “Time of Your Life,” and Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” into one big ’90s graduation medley? Although they’ve caught Natalie Merchant in one of her more presentable phases, and it’s always fun to watch her skip around barefoot, somehow it makes me uncomfortable to watch her here — the white sweater makes me feel like I’m watching Oprah.

Jason: I love this song. It’s so unbelievably happy but never annoying. It’s like the perfect soundtrack to a spring day where you realize winter’s finally gone for good.

I saw 10,000 Maniacs perform “These Are Days” at Madison Square Garden in July of 1993 at one of those radio-station-sponsored shows: the Proclaimers, 10,000 Maniacs, Duran Duran, and Bon Jovi. Turned out to be the very last time 10,000 Maniacs performed the song live with Natalie Merchant.

Will: NatÁ¢€â„¢s last gasp with the Maniacs. I loved this whole album, but I pretty much loved everything she did with the band. (CanÁ¢€â„¢t say the same for her solo stuff.) Like many a college-rock guy, I was totally smitten with Ms. Merchant for a few years or so. It wasnÁ¢€â„¢t that she was a hottie or anything; it was just the overall package, I think, with the whirling and the twirling and the singing and the Andie Walsh fashion sense.

Dunphy: I don’t like Natalie Merchant’s voice. I know a lot of folks on this panel do. They don’t mind how she drops off at the end of every damned line. They think it’s classy and dramatic. I think Belinda Carlisle did that too, and it’s just as irritating. The song is friendly jangle and, as such, is okay, but I have a natural aversion to tunes that would fit perfectly into sitcom soundtracks and telethon sing-alongs. This one is perfect for both. Show me your pain, Natalie!! Back in ’92, everyone else was!

Pete: Natalie’s always been a bit too milquetoast-y for my tastes. But I do give her props for the Maniacs’ unplugged version of Bruce’s “Because the Night.” Perform an admirable version of a Boss tune and you score points with me.

Jeff: Like pretty much everyone else here, I get very sleepy when listening to Natalie Merchant’s solo albums — and thought a lot of the Maniacs’ stuff took itself way too seriously, besides — but there isn’t anything wrong with “These Are Days.” Didn’t hurt that it was released at the exact perfect moment, either.

Jon: These were the days when Natalie Merchant could sing the phone book and I’d be captivated. Her vocals, those lyrics that they printed on the album sleeve as though they were prose instead of poetry, Robert Buck’s guitar — was there a better sound going during that five-year period before she got all snooty and bailed on the boys? And that dancing — that bizarre combination of Stevie Nicks gypsy and Appalachian clogging. I was mesmerized. And “These Are Days” was so happy and carefree. I remember it being a relief, because I had thought she was suicidal after the Blind Man’s Zoo album.

They played this song at Clinton’s MTV Inaugural Ball. You’re all gonna think I’m nuts, but I thought of Natalie like Audrey Hepburn during that era — delicate and gorgeous, and immensely talented. But then she went solo and got really, really, really boring and obtuse. And Robert Buck died. So it goes …

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AC: Gloria Loring & Carl Anderson, “Friends and Lovers” (1986) *

* Embedding for the YouTube clip we wanted to show you has been “disabled by request,” so if you want to see the performance of “Friends and Lovers” that’s referenced several times below, please click here.

Jon: Excuse me, I have to go throw up now.

Okay, I’m back. This is one of history’s worst recordings. I’d rather listen to “I’ve Never Been to Me.” Before I ralf again, I’ll just point out that Eddie Rabbitt and Juice Newton did a country version of this song the same year but called it “Both to Each Other.” It was much better than this, though still not good, but at least Eddie sounded vaguely like he meant it.

I love the Hillary and Barack comments on the YouTube page. I see an SNL skit.

Will: Ugh. Awful. Make it stop now.

Dunphy: You know, as a freelance critic I may have had my head up my own bung far too long, ’cause after some time all I see is crap. The Maniacs might not deserve the drubbing I gave “These Are Days,” but it takes something as obviously bad as “Friends and Lovers” to knock scales from my eyes. I wonder if they pumped this song through Gitmo to get the Talibanis to talk. I also wonder if John McCain would consider this coercion and not torture. Because it’s totally torture. Polyp-on-my- asshole torture.

Pete: Wow, does Gloria look like a sauced-up cougar! “Comeoverrrherre and buy a girl a drinkÁ¢€” *hic* … Look at me when you sing to me!” Visually, the chemistry between these two is, shall we say, uncomfortable? Eh, we’ll just blame it on the ’80s.

Zack: One thing you should never do is stand outside a girl’s bedroom and play this song on a boombox after you confessed your feelings to her and she’s told you she would rather “just be friends.” Especially if her blabbermouth best friend happens to be sleeping over that night and tells your entire junior high about it, and then some kid manages to sneak into the principal’s office and plays the song over the intercom during homeroom and everyone starts laughing and pointing, and you try to run out of the classroom in tears but go to the wrong door and open up the supply closet instead, which just makes everyone laugh even harder, including the teacher. One kid even laughs so hard he falls out of his chair.

Jason: You’re going to break my heart by telling me you were the kid who fell out of his chair, aren’t you?

Jeff: Haha! Boo-yaa, fuckers! As soon as I saw this piece of shit on the ’86 chart, I knew we had a winner! Well, not “winner,” exactly, but you know what I mean. According to Gloria’s official website, Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times says she’s “one of the most pure musical talents in mainstream pop today” (emphasis decidedly not mine). She’s always mentioned as a member of the Days of Our Lives cast, but what I never knew until three minutes ago was that she was Alan Thicke’s wife for a spell, meaning she cowrote the theme songs to Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life (in fact, that’s her voice you hear on the latter). Plus, she’s Robin Thicke’s mom. Like Robbie Nevil, she wipes her ass with our scorn (and $100 bills).

Jason: Robert asked me in a separate e-mail whether this song qualifies as Mellow Gold. I don’t think it does, but I’m not sure I can defend it other than saying I don’t think it has that MG “feel” to it — it’s too synthesized and polished. (For what it’s worth, I consider Double’s “Captain of Her Heart” to be the last true MG song to make the charts — released the same year, but it sounds like 1983 all over again.)

I can’t figure out why these two opted to sing the majority of “Friends and Lovers” in unison, but Carl Anderson spends a lot of time in the video looking like he’s in pain. He’s fantastic, though — I saw him in Jesus Christ Superstar, and I can’t remember the last time I leapt to my feet to give a standing ovation. It should be noted, though, that I sat my ass right back down when Dennis DeYoung came out for his bow.

Robert: No no no, Jason! I said I wanted you to tell all of us who these people are. Were they both actors on Days of Our Lives? Or just Loring? (Thank you, Jeff.) I thought you might have some information on them since this song qualifies as soft rock and therefore it’s close enough to Mellow Gold territory.

Jeff: Robert’s awfully lazy with his fact-checking today. Not two hours ago, he was asking me and Jason who Larry Pine is.

Robert: Yeah yeah, fuck you too! If Jason can ask me to identify actors who look like the tubby guy in Toto circa 1982, then I can ask him about possible soap-opera actors.

Jason: Don’t twist this around, you bastard! You originally said, “I want you to comment because of the Mellow Gold factor.” I’m saying there’s no Mellow Gold factor. That being said, according to the official Carl Anderson website (holy cow, Carl Anderson is dead?), he did appear on both Another World and Days of our Lives, although I can’t seem to care, er, find out whether he was on Days at the time of this duet.

Jeff: The tubby guy in Toto?

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R&B/Hip-Hop: Johnny Gill, “Rub You the Right Way” (1990)

Zack: I owe a debt of gratitude to Johnny Gill, because it was songs like this one that forced me to stop listening to FM stations like WTIC and WKSS in Hartford and start listening to WFCS, the local community-college radio station. To be fair, “Rub You the Right Way” is actually a decent song for its particular genre, but there’s no way I’ll ever like this kind of song.

Jason: That’s Bobby Brown in the video, right? Same outfit, same hair, same everything.

Will: Well, heÁ¢€â„¢s no Ralph Tresvant, but he can hold his own, I guess. Some songs exist solely so that the singer can get laid, and I think this is definitely in that category.

Jeff: I’m not too proud to admit that I loved this song when it was popular. Matter of fact, I probably have a Maxell tape with “My, My, My” on it somewhere around here. And the Ralph Tresvant “Sensitivity” cassingle.

Robert: Jeff, I erased “My, My, My” in tenth grade after taping it off the radio in ninth grade, but I still love “Rub You the Right Way” and “Fairweather Friend.” My favorite part of “Rub” is when Johnny yells “Get busy!” with somewhat frightening urgency.

When I was in ninth grade and “Fairweather Friend” was becoming a hit (stop me, oh-ho-ho stop me, stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before in a Chartburn discussion), a girl who was running for a student-council position at my school put up posters that said “Vote for ___. She’ll be your fairweather friend.” Now, at the time I didn’t realize myself what it meant to be a fairweather friend or fan, and in the song it sounds like Gill is saying, “I wanna be your fairweather friend,” but it turns out he’s saying, “I won’t be no fairweather friend.”

I don’t think that girl got elected to student council. But at least she was honest in her campaign advertising.

Michael: I vaguely remember this song. The chorus, at least. Those fake synthesizer hand claps did stout yeoman’s work in the late ’80s, didn’t they?

Pete: Ah, 1990. New Jack Swing. You may think this song is a Teddy Riley production, but it’s actually Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis doing their best Teddy Riley impression. May sound a tad dated, but I can’t knock it Á¢€” I own a Guy cassette.

Jon: He’s got the New Jack Swing goin’ on! (What song was that? Was that Tony! Toni! TonÁƒ©!?) But I remember there being more words in the chorus. What’s up with that?

Robert: For the record, the version of “Rub You the Right Way” that’s featured in the video up above is a remix. The superior album version can be heard here, albeit in “radio edit” mode, I guess.

Jeff: This has got to be the only place on earth where people are discussing the relative merits of the different versions of Johnny Gill songs.

Robert: This shit matters, Jeff! Don’t make me force the stupid clip of Gill on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1990 singing “Rub.”

Jeff: I was sorely tempted to send that one out instead of the “remix” clip. Woof! Woof! Woof!

Dunphy: Rub, rub, ra-rub-rub you the right way. Take it, Donnie Wahlberg!

I keed, I keed. Still, that New Jack rhythm sure was everywhere in the early ’90s, wasn’t it? Did all those guys ever consider that riding a trend that hard was going to make them sound horribly dated a decade from … oh … wait … of course they weren’t. They were gonna be number one forever, right, MC Hammer, Bell Biv DeVoe, Paula Abdul, Bobby Brown, and anyone else with the boom-shacka-lacka beat? Proper!

“Rub” is still kinda funky and not hard on the ears. Of course, “Friends and Lovers” has sucked all the vitriol out of me like a monster tsetse fly, so I’m probably softballing against my common sense. Damn you, Gloria and Carl. I’m melting. Melting. Oh, what a world, what a world.

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Hot 100: Cher, “Believe” (1999)

Robert: I like her more as an actress. That is all.

Zack: I really wish you’d preface links like this with an NSFW tag, Jeff.

Jeff: One of my proudest possessions is a promo CD single containing a series of progressively longer and more horrible remixes of this song. I featured one of them at Jefitoblog, but I think this Chartburn is the right place to share the rest:

Album version
Almighty Definitive Mix
Club 69 Future Anthem Dub
Club 69 Future Anthem Mix
Club 69 Phunk Club Mix
Club 69 Phunk Dub
Grips Heartbroken Mix
Phat ‘N’ Phunky “After Luv” Dub
Phat ‘N’ Phunky Club Mix
Xenomania Mad Tim and the Mekon Club Mix

Pete: Speaking of naughty old cougars …

Damn, and I thought this was the video of Cher on the Navy ship traipsing about in her skivvies. Ahoy!!

Michael: Ah, the Auto-Tune song. A good example of the postulate that if you have a good hook in the chorus it really doesn’t matter who’s singing or what they’re singing about. I remember hearing “Believe” on the radio for the first time and thinking, “Oh man, that is going to be huge.” It was. There’s an Over the Rhine Song that lifts the chorus hook note for note. I forget the title. Someone help me out.

Jason: “Show Me,” from Ohio.

Jon: I always knew Cher was a cyborg. Actually, she was a half-breed, Cherokee, and cyborg.

“Believe” kinda defines the millennium, doesn’t it? It’s like the Y2K virus hit the mixing board. (Anybody who’s interested in reading 1,500 words about how they got the vocal effect can go here.) Plus, this was the biggest solo female hit in history, apparently. Not in the U.S. (five words: “I-ee-I-ee-I”), but worldwide.

Dunphy: So, after you’ve received an STD from humping a gun turret on an aircraft carrier, what do you do for an encore? Max Headroom impressions! If “These Are Days” was made for graduation episodes of sitcoms, “Believe” was made for empowerment episodes of those same sitcoms. I can’t hear this song without thinking amazing things outside the box, shifting the paradigms, getting my groove back, and just plain going, girl. In other words, this song has as much cultural longevity as my niece’s collection of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards.

Zack: Are you suggesting that our Navy’s battleships and destroyers are floating cauldrons of venereal disease? Because … because … well, not that it’s untrue, but it’s not a very nice thing to say.

Will: I fucking love me some vocoder, so youÁ¢€â„¢ll get no complaints from me. Plus, itÁ¢€â„¢s a monster dance-floor-filling hook.

Jon: Dude, that wasn’t a vocoder on “Believe.” Here’s the Wikipedia entry: “An interesting note about the recording of the song revolved around the highly-recognizable Auto-tune effect utilized in the verses and chorus. Producer Mark Taylor added the effect to Cher’s vocal simply as a lark, and in interviews at the time, he claimed to be testing out his recently purchased … ‘DigiTech Talker’. However, it later emerged that the effect was not created by a vocoder, but by utilizing extreme (and then unheard) settings on auto-tune. When Cher heard the results, she demanded that the effect remain in the song, and her original vocal be erased, much to the chagrin of her record company, who wanted it removed; upon their suggestion, Cher’s response to the record label was ‘over my dead body!’ The vocal effect is caused by a pitch correction speed that is ‘set too fast for the audio that it is processing.'”

That Cher Á¢€” sticking to her artistic principles, and demanding that her voice be fucked around with as much as possible. You gotta respect the integrity.

Ken: If “Believe” had been the only misuse of Auto-Tune ever, I suppose I could’ve appreciated this as a nice novelty record. As it happens, Auto-Tune has become the bane of the music industry. Now every bad singer on American Idol can sound like, well, Cher.

Jason: Well, most of what I could’ve said about this song has already been said. Jon, I love your comment about Y2K hitting the mixing board Á¢€” that’s perfect. I didn’t mind the vocal effect in the song, but of course that’s only because it was “innovative” at the time. Now we’re a generation chock-full of Auto-Tune abuse. Here’s a great page listing some of the most blatant (and in many cases, unnecessary) uses of Auto-Tune.

David: “Friends and Lovers”? “Believe”? Johnny Gill? It’s official: Giles hates our rotten guts.

Jeff: I’ll have you all know that I could have sent you Gill’s “My, My, My,” featuring sax from Kenny G. If I’m not going to get credit for being merciful, I might as well just be a total bastard.