By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
This column (or at least this installment of it) is a mixtape. The songs in it are all hits. Its title sort of comes from a great honky-tonk divorce ditty, by Gary Stewart.
LFO: "Girl on TV" (Arista) » Long ago, and oh so far away, they fell in love with her before the second show: a male groupie anthem from three wicked pissers from Boston and Orlando, wishing on falling stars and (à la the Carpenters) superstars. When main hottie Rich meets his celebrity flygirl from the City of Angels, she's got a green dress onfrom Abercrombie & Fitch, one suspects. No idea what the Scooby Snacks (courtesy of Fun Lovin' Criminals) have to do with anything, but God, these guys shooby-doo-wop (their word) sweet: Their acousticized rap flow is Everlast without the macho crap, and in the middle one guy winds his whitebread midrange into R. Kelly territory.
'N Sync: "Bye Bye Bye" (Jive) » Prediction: This is the year teenpop really starts to kick. Classical strings at the start, like some early-'80s Jacksons track, then "I'm doing this tonight, you're probably gonna start a fight"a breakup song, or really, a kick-her-out-the-door song. Sixties garage in spiritnot nice. And though their five-man mesh of (mostly) high harmonies says 'N Sync "don't wanna make it tough," over drum machine triplets as funky as Britney's greatest hits they sound tough regardless. Maybe they're saying bye bye to Miss American Pie. Who is sort of their audience, right?
Madonna: "American Pie" (Maverick) » For 28 years we've been on our own, and Kate Moss grows phat in Rolling Stone,but that's not the way it used to be. Not as funny as last year's Weird Al Star Warsversion or Paul Weitz movie version or Rob Sheffield Rolling StoneWoodstock version ("as the flames climbed high into the night/to moonlight the sacrificial rite/I saw Kid Rock laughing with delight"), but not bad: Ms. Ciccone's in Irish brogue mode atop light bright lounge techno, and she can still remember how the music used to make her smile. She excises all the stuff about the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens and Lennon reading books of Marx and February making her shiver with every paper she'd deliver, not to mention Don McLean's "Stairway to Heaven"-genus soft-to-loud stairway climb. But how come in 28 years I never noticed the weird lyricalcongruities with Led Zep (via "Book of Love" and levees breaking), or the blatant "That'll Be the Day" reference, or all the Catholicism motifs (sacred stores, church bells broken, mortal souls saved, faith in God above)? No surprise that the three men Madonna admires most are the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But I'm still not convinced she was ever a lonely teenage bronkin' buck.
A3: "Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix)" (Columbia) » Good old boys drinking whiskey and rye, or as close to it as British techno-crats can come. Now it's a Sopranoshit, but inits original album incarnation three yearsago it helped kick off an oddly-never-namedrootstronica trend that ranges from Lo Fidelity Allstars to Moby. Back-porch picking, barrelhouse piano, and scratchy vinyl effects; then a stoned but electronically embellished lowlife voice imagining the Trenchcoat Mafia: "Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun." In and out of corny gospel born-under-bad-sign/bad-blue-moon-of-Kentucky-rising/Omenimagery, the guy drawls about your head going ding-dong regretting what you did the night before, about how when you woke up everything you had was gone: She'd taken the bed and the chest of drawers, and the boys blamed you for bringing her home. She's crafty; she fucked and ran. Almost immediately you felt sorry. You didn't think this would happen again.
Steps: "Tragedy" (Jive) » "The morning cries, and it all just dies," just like with A3. Three smiling Barbie girls and two smiling Ken boys from England, so squeaky-clean you better be careful not to get any on you, but as with their role models Abba, there's intense sadness underneath: "Here I lie, in a lost and lonely part of town, held in time, in a world of tears I slowly drown." "You lose control and you've got no soul." For the Bee Gees, who had soul most people didn't notice, and whose songs were almost always tragic (check out "New York Mining Disaster" on the imminent Chumbawamba album), "Tragedy" was one of two chart-toppers (the other was "Stayin' Alive") to explicitly address "going nowhere." Steps have to have a girl sing the Robin Gibb falsetto over the gurgle and thump, and she gives the suicidal melody as much screeching propulsion as he did. They're falling, fast, out of the blue and into the black.
Eiffel 65: "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" (Republic/Universal) » Riding a boogie-woogie house beat, a white cyborg from Italy literally sings the blues: This is a song about color,and in great Thomas Dolby tradition, the most computerized parts are also the most melodic and emotional. He's Mr. Blue, and these are Blue's clues, and everything's blue (not to mention redundant) for "him and himself"; even his little red Corvette is blue. The nonsense syllables in the subtitle make it sound like he's repeatedly chanting, "I'm blue, and indeed I will die." Turn me on, dead man.