This Saturday marks one of the most important anniversaries in pop culture history: the 1991 release of Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch's debut album, Music for the People. Before then, chances are you had no idea Donnie from the New Kids on the Block had a younger brother. Since then, you might not even know that Mark Wahlberg's older brother was in the New Kids on the Block. Soon enough, he would be finger banging Reese Witherspoon on a roller coaster, tattooing "Nicole 4 Eva" into his chest, and taunting "Mistah Walkah," and we quickly forgot that Mark Wahlberg and Marky Mark were, in fact, one in the same. You probably assumed I was going to go with "Good Vibrations," which is easily the group's most recognizable song. I would have, if there was a suitable version of the video on YouTube, but somehow, there isn't. Thus, I went with "Wildside," which is no slouch, hitting #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. It's a tale of drug abuse, gun violence, and street life, set to Lou Reed's transgender classic, "Wild Side." Marky Mark wears a White Sox hat and sometimes a shirt.
As you may or may not know, Brian Wilson is on tour for the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, which is unquestionably one of the best albums in rock history. Wilson played this past Saturday at Pitchfork Music Festival, here in Chicago, and I bought a pass for Saturday basically just to see him. When I was there, I realized I had actually been waiting longer to see Wilson (or any of the Beach Boys, for that matter) in concert than I had been for Guns N' Roses, who I saw a few weeks ago. When I was a kid, my parents had a few old Beach Boys records, which my dad graciously dubbed onto cassette tape for me. I listened to the tapes pretty regularly, if not religiously. Hearing these wonderfully crafted pop songs about surfing, driving fast, and girls in the sun convinced me that, when I grew up, I would move to California and be a surfer. They were my favorite band for several years in the mid '80s, right up until I heard "Pour Some Sugar On Me" on the radio for the first time. But anyway, back to the concert. Wilson, who was joined by fellow original Beach Boy Al Jardine, and a large (and talented) backing band, played the Pet Sounds album from beginning to end -- with a special cameo by John and Joan Cusack, who sang backing vocals on "Sloop John B" -- followed by a short set of greatest hits. Wilson has gotten a lot of negative reviews because he basically just sat there at the piano and was rather emotionless (and, of course, can't hit the falsettos that he could hit fifty years ago, which he lets others in the band handle these days), but I'm not sure what people were expecting. He has notoriously less-than-enthusiastic feelings about touring and being on stage, and the man is 74. Frankly, it's Brian Wilson, so everyone needs calm the fuck down because he has earned the right to sit at a piano without cracking a -- wait for it -- smile.
While at the show, I figured out that, when the Beach Boys recorded and released Pet Sounds, Wilson was 23 years old. By then, the band already had 17 Top 40 songs and had established itself as the premier American rock band, but then they (well, mostly Wilson) made what was probably the most ambitious rock album that had been made to that point. They went from singing mostly about teenage love and surfing -- albeit with the most beautiful harmonies you've ever heard -- to making the album that helped usher in the psychedelic era and inspired The Beatles to make Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. By comparison, when I was 23, the most interesting thing I had ever done was vomit poolside at the Flamingo within about five hours of arriving in Las Vegas for the first time, after drinking far too many tropical drinks, all while getting a rather remarkable full-body sun burn. The beauty about Vegas is that when you pass out at 6 p.m. and wake up fully rested and ready to go at 4 a.m., some of your friends will still be up. But anyway, here are my ten favorite Beach Boys songs, in alphabetical order, with the release year and peak Billboard Hot 100 position. Honorable Mention: "Dance, Dance, Dance"; "Do It Again"; "Fun, Fun, Fun,"; "God Only Knows"; "Hang On To Your Ego"; "Here Today"; "Hushabye"; "I Can Hear Music"; "In My Room" "Little Honda"; "Surfer Girl"; "Spirit of America"; "Wipe Out" (with The Fat Boys) 1. "Barbara Ann" (1965, #2) I have always liked the feel of this cover of The Regents' 1961 song. The Beach Boys' recording sounds like they were just goofing around and someone turned on a tape recorder. This song made me wish I was there with The Beach Boys, hanging out and jamming. Maybe I could have been the guy who played the ashtray.
2. "Don't Worry Baby" (1964, #24) Released in May 1964 as the B-side to the group's first #1 hit ("I Get Around"), "Don't Worry Baby" hit #24 on its own, but I think it's the better song. It's thoughtful and pure and a little dark -- kind of a harbinger of the end of the California Sound era. That was kind of Wilson's genius. He could write these gorgeous pop songs that had these sneaky undertones of anxiety and self-doubt. But at the end of the day, don't worry, baby, because everything will turn out all right.
3. "Do You Wanna Dance?" (1965, #12) Originally recorded by Bobby Freeman in 1958 and also covered by Cliff Richard & The Shadows in 1962, "Do You Wanna Dance?" is an uptempo pop/doo-wop song. It's extremely catchy, and The Beach Boys took the original -- which kind of had a Latin feel to it -- and made a version with a Phil Spector feel to it, with some great wailing backing falsettos. Interestingly, it was the group's highest-charting song featuring Dennis Wilson on lead vocals.
4. "Feel Flows" (1971, N/A) I don't think I had ever heard this until the closing credits of Almost Famous. It's kind of a trippy, post-psychedelic song, with a reverb echo used for Carl Wilson's vocals that gives the song an ethereal feel.
5. "Good Vibrations" (1966, #1) Anyone who has had the pleasure of taking History of Rock and Roll II at Indiana University with Dr. Glenn Gass has a special place in his or her heart for this song. I had always liked this song, but Professor Gass's energetic lecture about "Good Vibrations" in the spring of 1997 was unlike anything I have every experienced. He played the song and excitedly talked about every part, pointing out all the layers and intricacies, all while flailing about in front of a packed 350-person lecture hall. When the song ended, he got a standing ovation, and there wasn't a person in the class who didn't walk out of there without a greater appreciation for "Good Vibrations."
6. "Help Me, Rhonda" (1965, #1) "Help Me, Rhonda" was the group's second #1 hit. It's a classic Beach Boys song that presumably ruined the name Rhonda. Seriously, Rhonda had been rising in popularity as a girl's name since the mid '40s. In 1965 -- the year this song was released -- Rhonda had risen to become the 37th most popular girl's name in the U.S. That year was the peak in the popularity of the name, as it fell consistently over the coming years, falling out of the Top 100 by 1976 on its way to falling out of the Top 1000 by 1995. After all, any time you meet someone named Rhonda, don't you immediately want to say, "Help me, Rhonda?" I do. On a related note, I don't have any friends named Rhonda.
7. "I'm Waiting For The Day" (1966, N/A) "I'm Waiting For The Day" is an underrated gem from Pet Sounds, alternating between bombastic timpanies and Wall of Sound woodwinds, and quiet, sweet verses.
8. "Surfin' U.S.A." (1963, #3) "Surfin' U.S.A." is pretty much the epitome of Beach Boys songs. Set to the melody of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen," it's fun, it's catchy, and it's about surfing. I learned the names of more beaches while listening to this song than any other song I've ever heard. Fact.
9. "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)" (1964, #9) When I was around 8 or 9 years old, I remember this song really striking a chord with me (music pun not intended) because it was the first time I remember thinking about the realities of becoming an adult. In the song, the narrator laments whether, when he grows up, he'll "dig the same things that turn me on as a kid." I heard this, and I lost a little bit of my innocence because I realized that, when I became an adult, I probably wouldn't still watch cartoons every morning, trade baseball cards with my friends, or build reckless bike ramps on the sidewalk. That said, I still love pussy, so one out of four ain't bad.
10. "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (1966, #8) This is the first track off of Pet Sounds, and it's just about as perfect a pop song as you can get, from the fairytale-esque intro to the Wall of Sound production for the rest of the song to the quaint and relatable topic of talking about your future with your girlfriend/boyfriend. My mom always used to tell me that this was her and her high school boyfriend's "song." I had always assumed the woman who gave birth to me wouldn't lie to her son's face over and over again for the better part of thirty years, but the other day, I realized that Pet Sounds was released only a couple weeks before she graduated from high school, and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" wasn't released as a single until several months later. What else, Mom? When I talked to the Easter Bunny on the phone, it was really my aunt pretending to be an anthropomorphic rabbit?
Given that I had a '90s college party this past weekend, it only seems fitting that I should have a '90s song as this week's Retro Video of the Week. This Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Tonic's debut album, Lemon Parade. Setting aside the fact that lemons can't walk or drive and, therefore, cannot have a parade, I'm going with the band's biggest song off of that (or any other) album, "If You Could Only See." This song did not make the cut for my playlist this past weekend because it's kind of a downer and, after all, I was limited to a mere ten hours of music. As with countless songs, "If You Could Only See" has a good backstory. Lead singer Emerson Hart -- whose sideburns are strong to quite strong -- wrote the song when he was 21 or 22 in a matter of minutes after getting into an argument with his mom, who disapproved of an older woman Hart was dating at the time. During a conversation, he told his mom, "If you could only see the way she loves me, maybe you would understand," which, of course, became the lead line for the song and its chorus, and is such an early '90s thing to say to your mom. If one of my kids ever said that to me, I would laugh in his or her face, no matter how old he or she is. The song became a radio staple in 1997, hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, #3 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart, #7 on the Billboard Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks chart, and #11 on both Billboard's Hot 100 Airplay and Top 40 Mainstream charts.
This past weekend, Jester and I threw our second '90s college party. I'm sure you can get the gist of it, but in case you're a millennial or something, let me explain. We had a house party, like those thrown in college, starting in the later afternoon and going until the wee hours of the night. Because we did not have any known children in college, we shipped ours off to grandma's for the night, and had a no-kid rule at the party. Only light or ice beers were acceptable beers to drink, and there was no wine allowed unless it was in a box or said "Boone's Farm" on the side of it. I made a few gallons of Everclear punch for good measure. Drinking games were played. A magnificent playlist of '90s music blared, featuring music throughout the decade, from new jack swing and the end of the hair band era all the way through rap metal and the dawn of boy bands. Some people wore some '90s gear (although it was not a costume party). Good times were had by all. Here's what I learned, in no particular order: 1. I'm glad I didn't actually have this hairstyle in the '90s because I look ridiculous. Then again, that was how people looked back then.
2. Drakkar Noir and Abercrombie Woods are still very potent. And yes, I still have all of these. And yes, I put them out for people to wear. And yes, it smelled like a high school prom circa 1996.
3. Everclear punch is still very potent, but people will likely only have one cup because it makes your teeth and lips red, so there is no need to make three gallons.
4. If you have several coolers and tubs with cans of Natty Light, Natty Ice, Red Dog, Ice House, Keystone Light, PBR, Beast, Beast Light, Beast Ice, Busch Light, Busch Heavy, and Special Export, you probably don't need a full keg of Bud Light.
5. Purchasing a second foldable table in order to double your flip cup capacity is always a good decision because 10 on 10 flip cup is better in every way than 5 on 5 flip cup. Also, playing flip cup in a garage is awesome. Also, in general, boys are still better than girls at flip cup, based on the results from the evening. Take that, Lilith Fair.
6. An ice luge is a wonderful addition to any party, even if your friends later play "Titanic" with the shattered chunks of the luge and end up breaking your kids' plastic push car.
7. If you tell people not to bring wine unless it says "Boone's Farm" on the label, this might happen:
8. Choker necklaces should never have gone out of style.
9. As a 20-year-old, if I went to bed at 3:30 a.m., I would have woken up sometime between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. feeling refreshed and ready to do it again. As a 38-year-old, if I go to bed at 3:30 a.m., I will wake at 9:30 a.m. because it feels like a gnome is standing on my head and beating my temples with a ballpeen hammer. 10. If you put out a platter of Parliaments, Gen Xers will go ape shit. Seriously, I saw people who I've never seen smoke before smoke multiple cigarettes over the course of the night. We went through five packs.
11. We will be doing this every year because not a single person had a bad time. Feel free to use all of the above advice to throw your own party of the century -- well, last century, anyway.
This Friday marks not only the 38th anniversary of the birth of my friend Dan, but also the 20th anniversary of the release (in Europe and Oceania, anyway) of one of the most popular songs ever, "Wannabe" by The Spice Girls. This song was a fixture at parties second semester of my freshman year of college (as it was released in the US in early 1997), but by then it had already been #1 in 22 countries. A few months later, that number would grow to 37, including the Billboard Hot 100. "Wannabe" is the best-selling single by a female group ever, and it has been ranked as the most recognizable pop song since the 1940s according a Dutch/English study, in which participants recognized the song on average in an astounding 2.3 seconds. The video shows Baby, Ginger, Posh, Scary, and Sporty crashing a fancy London hotel and causing a raucous. Apparently, it was very cold in the hotel.
Yesterday, our fair country celebrated its 240th birthday. In honor of this blessed occasion, this week's Tuesday Top Ten will feature my ten favorite songs with "America," "American," or "U.S.A" in the song title. Here they are, in alphabetical order by artist: Honorable mention: "Banned In The U.S.A." by 2 Live Crew; "Spirit of America" by The Beach Boys; "Young Americans" by David Bowie; "America" by Neil Diamond; "Real America" by Rick Derringer; "L'America" by The Doors; "American Slang" by The Gaslight Anthem; "American Idiot" by Green Day; "Proud To Be An American" by Lee Greenwood; "American Boys" by Halestorm; "American Badass" by Kid Rock; "Rockin' in the USA" by Kiss; "American Nightmare" by The Misfits; "(You Can Still) Rock in America" by Night Ranger; "Kids In America" by Kim Wilde 1. "Surfin' USA" by The Beach Boys Before I discovered Def Leppard, The Beach Boys were my favorite band, and this was probably my favorite Beach Boys song. I know the names of too many surf beaches as a result, and this song was one of the reasons I wanted to be a surfer when I was younger.
2. "Living In America" by James Brown I can remember seeing The Godfather of Soul perform this in Rocky IV, when the Cold War was at its height, and all any young American kid wanted to see was an aging Rocky Balboa beat the doping Russian cyborg, Ivan Drago.
3. "Hello America" by Def Leppard "Hello America" is off of Def Leppard's 1980 debut album, On Through The Night. Back then, Def Leppard was grouped in with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and this song is definitely more NWOBHM than hair band. It's hard rocking and fast paced, and you can hear elements of what the band would become. Steve Clark has a great solo about halfway through the song. When watching the video, keep in mind that drummer Rick Allen wasn't even 17 when this video was recorded.
4. "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A." by John Cougar Mellencamp This is a nice rocking tribute to '60s rock and soul music. And it would be impossible to have a list of "American" rock songs without something by The Coug.
5. "American Woman" by The Guess Who When I was young, I thought this was so strange because why would an American band be talking about an American woman? It never dawned on me that there might be rock and roll bands from Canada. Though redone several times since then (most notably by Lenny Kravitz), the original "American Woman" is still the most badass, gritty version of the song, featuring a bluesy acoustic intro, followed by fuzzy guitars and Burton Cummings's fantastic, wailing voice.
6. "American Girl" by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Perhaps the most iconic Petty song, "American Girl" is actually pretty dark if you pay attention to the lyrics. Still a great song, though, no matter how many times you hear it.
7. "Theme from Greatest American Hero" by Joey Scarbury This song has to be at or near the top of the list of best TV theme songs of all-time. I'm including a video of the song being used as the theme song with clips from the show, rather than the full version of the song. In case you are under the impression that I'm not old, I actually remember watching this show when it was on.
8. "America" by Simon & Garfunkel "America" is a mellow tribute to traveling across the country. It was featured in Almost Famous, and anything that makes me think of that movie is positive.
9. "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen This is the first Springsteen song I really remember hearing as a kid, and I loved it, even though I really didn't understand what it's about -- and I'm not the only one. Assumed by many politicians (including Ronald Reagan) to be a patriotic anthem, it's really about the struggles Vietnam vets faced when returning from war. Regardless, it is a great song.
10. "Surf Wax America" by Weezer An underrated, energetic gem from Weezer's iconic debut album, "Surf Wax America" is an apparent ode to living green, or at least surfing to work instead of driving. Thanks to my Segway, I don't have to do either.