(Ed. note: sorry for my latest delay— I’ve been having issues with my laptop these last few weeks, and I’m on the brink of replacing the damn thing. Please excuse this and any future protractions.)
For nearly three years now, I've dedicated the last blog of the month to a particular year in music. As you've probably assumed by now, what had started off as a lark has turned into a time-consuming, long-term project. Though I have not officially said anything until this point, about two years ago I determined that I would cover every year of music from 1963 onwards, not in chronological order by any means but by jumping between years and eras in any given month. Since Autumn 2008, I have only taken one month off, and that was to write about Christmas music last November. Daunting as it might've been, I've had a lot of fun writing these monthly music blogs, and I will feel a weird emptiness when I wrap up the project sometime in late 2012. What I will do with these critical mini-analyses remains to be seen.
Now that I've explained my true motive, I'm taking one more breather before I gradually finish this project. When writing my "guilty pleasures" blog two weeks ago, it dawned on me that are a number of genuinely mediocre songs over the past five decades or so that I simply can't resist. If they play on the radio, I'll crank them up and sing along. Admitting to liking the songs below required a massive blow to my ego.
I have whittled down my musical guilty pleasures to nine songs:
"Surfin' Bird," The Trashmen. Like its contemporary "Louie Louie," this early-60s surf-rock hit is just as famous for its frenetic hook as its indecipherable, vaguely perverse lyrics. A quintet from the surf-friendly state of Minnesota, they cracked the Billboard Top Five in 1963 with “Surfin’ Bird,” also known in some circles “Bob the Bird.” It’s unfair to call them a one-hit wonder —they had several charting singles afterward, just nothing matching that song’s success— though their other work just hasn’t stood the test of time. To my generation, it’s hard to hear this song and not picture Peter Griffin dancing frenetically.
“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” The Silkie. Another one-hit wonder in the US, this British quartet was arguably Devon’s answer to Peter, Paul, & Mary. It’s hard to make Beatles cover a your own, but The Silkie did it in the best AND worst way possible. Simply put, the falsetto on the second verse is supposed to be lilting and pleasant, it comes off as mildly disturbing. Strangely enough, three-quarters of the Fab Four helped out in the recording of this bizarre single: John produced, Paul played guitar, and George sat in on tambourine. Considering that both acts were managed by Brian Epstein, maybe they were obligated to chip in.
"The Night Chicago Died," Paper Lace. When I wrote my 1974 blog a while back, I singled out this one-hit wonder as a "so bad, it's good" selection. What I said nearly two years ago still applies.
“Fool for the City,” Foghat. I am by no means a Foghat fan, but for some inexplicable reason I love this song. I think it’s that opening guitar riff…
"Ca Plane Pour Moi," Plastic Bertrand. Just as much an influential early new-wave single as it was a novelty hit in the UK, “Ca Plane Pour Moi” (“The Life For Me”) is probably the only song sung in French to generate any attention stateside that wasn’t belted out by a group of nuns. When you translate the lyrics it makes absolutely no sense, but Bertrand’s voice and bravado makes that Gaulic twaddle oddly compelling.
"Thunder Island," Jay Ferguson. Nowadays he’s better known for composing the theme song to the American version of “The Office”; however, in the late ‘60s and throughout the ‘70s Ferguson was a respectable singer-songwriter. Better known for his work in the bands Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne than as a solo artist, Ferguson had a fluke top ten hit in 1978 with “Island.” It’s not hard to learn or memorize the lyrics, as 80% of the song is Ferguson and three female backup singers going “do do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do do dooooo…” Like the other selections here, it’s just too catchy to ignore.
"Your Love," The Outfield. The band itself is a conundrum: they're British and admittedly know little about baseball, yet their name is distinctly American. Alas, they were a trio so they went with a name that symbolized that number, and they probably found "outfield" in a dictionary. (In retrospect, “Triple Play” and/or “Triple Crown” might’ve also worked.) That would be like an American band calling itself “Yellowcard.” The song itself is pure ‘80s cheese, best devoured on a power-pop wheat cracker.
"Show Stopper," Danity Kane. I don't particularly care for Sean "Diddy" Combs. To me Puffy is a third-tier rapper, an unbelievely lazy and self-involved deliettante who rose to fame and forture riding the coattails of others. At his creative peak in the mid-90s, the former Puff Daddy was serviceable at best. To his credit, Combs was funny in the movie "Get Him To The Greek," a bravura performance if playing a minor variation of yourself is considered acting. Of all his vanity projects and money-making opportunities, nothing reaked of more ego than his hijacking of "Making The Band" in the mid-2000s. Gobbling up a mostly forgotten reality show that aired on ABC for two years, MTB went from middling docu-series about the formation of a boy band to a middling docu-series about the formation of a singing group starring Diddy.
The fourth series of the MTB franchise found Diddy looking to create an all-girl singing group that he could domineer and micromanage. After an exhausting “talent” search, a group of 12 finalists were whittled down to the quintet Danity Kane. As stunningly beautiful as they were devoid of any personality, DK released two albums before disintegrating in 2009. In their short lifespan they had three singles in the Top 40, including “Show Stopper,” a overproduced Frankenstein’s monster of an R&B song. In the first ten seconds of the song they lure you into the club, but once you enter you can never leave…
"Temperature," Sean Paul. I don’t really have a dance jam so to speak, but this song comes fairly close. The fifth single from Paul’s third album The Trinity was omnipresent on the Illinois State campus —or at Z106, anyway— during my final semester in Fall 2007. Never mind that the album was released in 2005 and the single in early 2006, it was just oddly inescapable during that particular four-month span. My theory is that the earworm essence of “Temperature” was a slow burn in this region of the country, that it found its audience in a slow series of waves. Either that, or I went to too many keggers.
So ladies and germs, this is my mix CD of the damned. Judge me if you want, but I will only come out of this bolder and stronger. Next month I’ll be covering the year in music that was 1991, a particular 12-month span I’ve looking forward to for quite a while. Near as I can tell, I shouldn’t be forced to defend any of those picks.