originally published April 17, 2013

Once again it’s time to twist that volume knob all the way to the right, wrap yourself in your favorite flannel shirt, bring your old Tamagotchi back to life, and ease into the latest batch of vintage tuneage from the Big Box ‘O Juke. Today we’re dipping into the music of the 1990’s, a decade that brought us mainstream music we called “alternative”, the death of so many record stores who sold actual records, and the birth of the mighty mp3.

The 90’s was the end of populist popular music. Where once a band like the Scorpions could share the same top-ten audience as Cyndi Lauper, now listeners were becoming more fragmented. Rock music hit a wall it still has yet to climb over – apart from a handful of trends (like the forgettable rap-rock phase), guitar-based rock, or at least the stuff that hit the radio, simply stopped growing.

Pop music became computer-based, and the best stuff was wading through an increasingly deeper pool of pap and fluff. But it was still out there. Depending on your tastes, this may or may not be a sampling of some of it.

I don’t think it’s a shameful confession, but I was never really a fan of Meat Loaf. Nothing against the guy, but his sense of musical-theatre-rock drama just never hit me in my groovocampus, the part of the brain that stores memories of the funky licks that get one’s boogie on. His song “I’ll Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” was a monster hit for him in ’93, the first single off that Bat Out Of Hell II album I had to play ad nauseum when I worked at MusicWorld.

The mystery around this song was the definition of “that”. Each verse’s lyrics actually state things he wouldn’t do for love (“forgive myself if we don’t go all the way tonight”, that kind of thing), but still people felt there was something else, some bigger message. Euthanasia and anal sex were the top guesses. Meat Loaf actually explained the items found in the lyrics on VH1, using a chalkboard and a pointing stick.

Though in a 2004 audio commentary to his Live With The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra DVD, he admits that yeah, it might be about anal sex.

The music video for Radiohead’s “Karma Police” was directed by Jonathan Glazer, who also created the 2000 film Sexy Beast. This was the beginning of the era when that sort of rock-video-to-film transition happened (Meat Loaf’s video was directed by Michael Bay). The song itself, which was the most radio-friendly track off the band’s OK Computer album, has no chorus, just two distinct sections tacked together. But what are the lyrics about?

According to Thom Yorke, the song is an inside joke. Also, it’s about stress and when people look at you a certain way. It’s also a song about sticking it to middle management. And insanity. And capitalism. There’s a lot going on here.

The song completed its run through the Billboard charts in 1997, yet for some reason it showed up for one week in 2010 at #15 on the Danish charts, only to disappear. Nobody seems to know why.

In 1990, I was entering high school, completely disconnected from the culture that was enrapturing my peers. I had discovered the Beatles, and had little time for non-Oldies radio, in particular because I didn’t want to waste my time listening to crap like EMF’s “Unbelievable.”

Still, a little info on the 1000th song to top the Billboard charts. It’s no surprise that it’s Andrew Dice Clay’s voice yelling “Oh!” at the beginning of every chorus – in fact, that was the only part of the song that intrigued me. In the ninth grade, Dice’s comedy was passed around our school like precious contraband, his filthy nursery rhymes uttered in hushed tones to scandalous giggles.

This song was covered by a wide variety of artists, from Christian rock group Thousand Foot Krutch to the tender, heart-felt rendition I’m sure you all remember by grindcore band Anal Cunt. Due to the repeated uncensored utterance of “What the fuck was that” in the chorus of EMF’s hit, this track is probably responsible for the most profanity ever heard on radio.

But it still sucks.

For those of you too non-Canadian to remember, Alanis Morissette was once a bubblegum pop icon in this country. As one who preferred his bubblegum without the accompanying pop, I was able to successfully ignore her career, at least until Jagged Little Pill turned her into one of the only really fresh sounds in guitar-driven rock music in the mid-90’s. “You Oughta Know” is a track so soaked in pissed-offedness, it could leave stains of angst and betrayal when it leaked out of your speakers onto your carpet.

Also, Flea and Dave Navarro played on it, so it rocked.

Nobody wanted to leave her lyrics alone as good poetry though – everyone wanted to know who the song was about. Just like Carly Simon’s mysterious “You’re So Vain” subject, Alanis’s torrid personal life had everyone curious. Some of the rumors: sitcom star Bob Saget, hockey player Mike Peluso, some guy named Matt LeBlanc who had appeared in a 1991 Alanis video, and Leslie Howe, her producer from a few years back.

Though she has since tried to un-admit it, Alanis let it slip to the Calgary Sun in 2008 that the subject was actually Dave Coulier, Uncle Joey on Full House. So goes the old show-biz adage, ‘Do a crappy sitcom, get blown in a movie theatre.’

I hate to finish up at the bottom of the crap-bucket, but here we are, with Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”, one of the most infectiously awful songs to get played on the radio. I’m not joking, I have had to change my shirt twice so far while writing this, as my ears reflexively start bleeding whenever I even think of this song.

Mattel sued the group and MCA records, claiming Aqua turned Barbie into a sex object (she is referred to as a bimbo) and infringed their copyright. The case was tossed out, even after Mattel took it to the Supreme Court. MCA then countersued Mattel for defamation. The judge dismissed this case also, actually concluding his ruling with, “The parties are advised to chill.”

Well, Mattel chilled about as much as anyone could. They wound up paying money to use the song in 2009 in a series of advertisements to boost sagging Barbie sales.

Sometimes garbage music just poisons the soul, I guess.

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