Thursday, July 03, 2008

Extreme Timewaster, 90's music edition

Nostalgia can be one of those funny things. I can look back at something I enjoyed in my younger days fondly while still realizing that the same thing was completely ridiculous. A great example of that would be the music of the late 90's. I'm going to try to pull two different points into this post and we'll see if it works at all (no).

I got to thinking about this after reading this piece from the Onion AV Club entitled "Where have you gone, Eagle-Eye Cherry?: A tribute to terrible late 90's hits." It's basically what it says. The author comes up with a list of terrible songs he had to listen to while he worked in college. I definitely consider myself a cultural product of the 90's moreso than the 80's so a lot of these reminded me of my high school days. Here is the list he came up with:
Spectator Songs: Your Favorite Terrible Late ’90s Radio Hitz!

Disc One

"Semi-Charmed Life," Third Eye Blind

"Push," Matchbox 20

"Walking on the Sun," Smashmouth

"All For You," Sister Hazel

"Save Tonight," Eagle-Eye Cherry

"Sweat," Inner Circle

"Angel," Sarah McLachlan

"Rhythm is a Dancer," Snap

"Meet Virginia," Train

"Flag Pole Sitta," Harvey Danger*

"Fly," Sugar Ray

"Hook," Blues Traveler

"Dammit," Blink-182

"You Get What You Give," The New Radicals*

"We Like to Party," The Vengaboys

"Ready to Go," Republica*

"Torn," Natalie Imbruglia

Disc Two

“Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” Baz Luhrmann

"Tubthumping," Chumbawumba

"The Freshmen," The Verve Pipe

"Blue," Eiffel 65

"Kiss Me," Sixpence None the Richer

"How Bizarre," OMC

"One Week," Barenaked Ladies

“Sex and Candy," Marcy Playground*

“Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hands,” Primitive Radio Gods

"She's So High," Tal Bachman

"Missing," Everything But the Girl

"Take a Picture," Filter*

"I Need to Know," Marc Anthony*

"Livin' La Vida Loca," Ricky Martin

"Steal My Sunshine," Len

"Mambo No. 5," Lou Bega

"Summer Girls," LFO

*Actually not that terrible

Wow. Those really are some terrible songs. But at the time I really didn't realize some of them were because I was young and had so much less exposure to good music than I do now. I lived outside a tiny central Kansas town without cable TV and a dialup modem. That didn't exactly lend itself to music exploration but, I tried. I was pretty much limited to the record reviews in the back of the Rolling Stone magazine that would come every two weeks. If I read a good review of something that sounded interesting I might take a chance and buy it and if I didn't at least I had heard of the band.

One thing I noticed from that list is the presence of Sugar Ray, Smashmouth, and Marcy Playground. The local alternative/rock station had a music festival every year called OzFest (not to be confused with OzzFest). Since I was overprotected by my parents I was (probably rightly) never allowed to go but they started hyping those three bands that were going to play there. Unfortunately no one had ever heard of them so the station just played those songs and they immediately became hits around there. It wasn't until after everyone had already seen the show and gotten sick of those songs that I saw that all of the sudden they were climbing up the national charts so we got another dose of them on all of the other stations. I'm pretty sure that remains the only time in the history of the world that Wichita got into music before the rest of the country did. Something to be proud of, right? Uhh, guess not.

Sometimes I really wonder what the legacy of the music of the 90's will be. It's tough for me to pick a defining sound. You could certainly consider grunge/post-grunge as a big part of it but then there's also a lot of the sort of rock/pop crossover acts like Sugar Ray, New Radicals, Verve Pipe, most of the bands on that list... The author mentions that the decade produced some great music but it really, really brought the corporate Clear Channel homogenization of music to the forefront.

All of that brings me to my next point. Many months ago I stumbled upon the Wikipedia list of Billboard Magazines list of number one hits on the Modern Rock Tracks list. Wikipedia explains all of what that means but basically it's what we called alternative and started in 1988 continuing through today. As I followed it through every year I noticed how it really was the best of what I remembered from those days so we'll take a little tour. And I'm aware that this is one of the most masturbatory posts I've done in a while (and that's saying something) so feel free to mock me if you want. Just know that I know where I'm going with it even if it takes me half a page to get there.
You've got some I've never heard of (Hoodoo Gurus), some fairly obscure alternative acts that I discovered years later (The Jesus and Mary Chain, Love and Rockets), and some huge ones (U2 "Desire", REM "Orange Crush", "Stand").

More of the same but it ends with some bands that would have major impacts on the rest of the decade. Red Hot Chili Peppers "Give it Away", U2 had "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways", and Nirvana snuck in for one week with "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Then they disappear from the list (along with pretty much anyone else that wasn't an 80's alternative icon. I'm serious: Depeche Mode, Morrissey, New Order, Peter Gabriel...) until 1993 when the Chili Pepper, Blind Melon, and Nirvana make another impact.

1994 is a good example of what I consider some of the better years for this list (at least from my perspective). If you look at the list there are something like 15 different bands with 17 or 18 different songs and nobody has a longer run than Morrissey at 7 weeks. Nirvana, Green Day, Beck, Pearl Jam, Offspring, REM, Cranberries...some names that I can still enjoy from time to time.

Unfortunately we start to see some problems in 1995. "Lightning Crashes" is on the list for 9 straight weeks only to be replaced by Better Than Ezra (uuuh-uh huh it was goooooooood a-livin with you uh-huhhhhhhh it was go-od...I actually own this CD and listened to it like twice before giving up on it for some reason) and later we get Goo Goo Dolls with "Name." I liked Live a lot but really got tired of that song when it would never go away and any song that has the line "the placenta falls to the floor" just doesn't do it for me anymore. Really liked that BTE song but, meh. HATED that Goo Goo Dolls song and it was everywhere for like 2 years.

1996 just bothers me that Oasis dominated that whole thing while "1979" by the Pumpkins only got 1 week and that was the only song from the album to make the list. Was it classified as something else?

Fortunately that year also had some bands I really like such as the eels and Sublime along with some other memorable songs for me like "Pepper" by the Butthole Surfers. We've still got a pretty good variety but there are some songs that don't stand the test of time like Dishwalla and Primitive Radio Gods and 311. Wow, 311 seemed kinda cool at the time because I was a 15-year old guy but then I realized that even though they combined all these different genres their music still sounded the same.

1997 As you can see we have OzFest that summer, Sugar Ray hits #1 in August, Smashmouth after that, and Marcy Playground owns the first 14(!) weeks of 1998. Seriously, Marcy Playground for a total of 15 weeks at #1?

There are some real turds here. "Freshman" by the Verve Pipe? I don't remember really hating that song at first but hearing it now just makes me wonder how that song could possibly be that popular? Were we just looking for these kinda crappy emotional ballads like that and "One Headlight" What was going on in our lives? Were we just sucking any emotion out of grunge and putting into the rock ballads of the 90's?

We picked it up a little bit in the summer with "Semi-Charmed Life" and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones before somehow allowing Matchbox 20 into the list. It would only get worse in 1998. I mentioned Marcy Playground but then we get Fastball "The Way" (I have mixed feelings on it), "Closing Time" (a song of the times that looks more and more like a novelty song the further away I get), and two fucking Goo Goo Dolls songs. Not to mention Lenny Kravitz and one of Cake's crappier songs (IMO) "Never There."

Oh no, 1999. Senior year of high school, first year at ISU, and the year I began to completely lose touch with this stuff. You all remember Everlast (oh man, he's rapping the truth about how you really don't know what it's have to choose), Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy" and Sugar Ray's brutal "Every Morning." RCHP owned all of summer and before the epic crapstorm that was Bush's "Chemicals Between Us" and Creed's "Higher" duking it out and going back and forth. I'm actually kind of shocked that Creed could only manage three non-consecutive weeks with that song because I feel like the station I grew up on played it every other song for a long, long time. The year ends with two bands, for better or worse, I strongly associate with my early days in college, Limp Bizkit and Blink 182.

Six bands. That's it. Blink 182, RCHP, 3 Doors Down, Papa Roach, Green Day, and Fuel.

If you think that's bad wait until I give you the list for 2001.
Fuel, Lifehouse, Crazy Town, Incubus, Staind, Sum 41, Alien Ant Farm, Nickelback, Linkin Park. Turds. All of them.

Two things you need to know. Puddle of Mudd was #1 for 9 weeks and Nirvana made a comeback!

The next couple of years are more of the same crappy bands dominating the charts with only a few bands I like (White Stripes and...Modest Mouse...and, damn, I thought there were more. The Beastie Boys with their worst song in a long time, Green Day with a decent one and then "Boulevard of Broken Dreams").

Fortunately things do get a little better in 2005 and beyond with Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Gorillaz but overall I barely recognize most of the songs, if at all. To many bands still monopolize 3 months at a time with crappy, formulaic songs. I wonder what this has in common with the interesting, quality music this chart had in its earlier days. Using the latest in graphing technology and statistical analysis I made up a graph to demonstrate the probability of finding a good song on the list. It started out as a sigmoidal curve until I realized that 2001 was so brutal so I had to adjust for that. Notice there's a glimmer of hope at the end though.

Oh, and for good measure here is a picture of me attempting to listen to that crap circa 2001 or so. Notice the icepicks jammed into my eardrums. I appear to have some slight bleeding.

So, in the end, it really bothers me that music has gotten this way. I think the consolidations of radio stations by companies like Clear Channel really did hurt the diversity of music. I don't think it's a coincidence that as people are exposed to music through the internet and their iPods that you see a greater diversity on the list in the last 2-3 years. It's really nice to think that even if these stations don't do a better job that there are so many more ways for someone growing up in my position to find what they really like.

And in case you're wondering it took me about 2 hours to do all of this while I listened to the Royals and my local college radio station.



Blogger rcombs said...

This is amazing. Thank you for this post.

3:07 PM  

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