Thoughts on Summer Hits of the 90s

In typical fashion, my computer can’t access the internet from my classroom. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? Not really. I am typing this entry on MS Word, and only time will tell if it will find its way to the WordPress site. The odds aren’t really in its favor. I a few minutes I could think of something else to do, such as check (again) to see if it’s my turn on any of the Words With Friends games I’ve got going on. Or, as I am wont to do, I might start going through some pictures on the hard drive, get nostalgic and also angry at myself because I’ll hear a Nickelback song playing in my head while I work the manual slideshow. It would likely start out as the one about “looking at photographs,” but then it would bleed into any number of Nickelback songs as they all sound alike. They’ve tried very hard to wrest the title of “All Our Songs Sound Identical” from Green Day, but so far have come up empty. Sometimes when we listen to the radio (because even Hawaii radio is preferable to whatever song Madison wants to hear on repeat), I’ll hear a song and I can’t tell whether or not it’s Nickelback or Daughtry. I haven’t decided whether this makes me upset (I like to think I have a pretty keen ear, no matter what my wife says) or happy (that I’ve avoided both acts enough to not be able to tell the difference).

But not so much with Megadeth.

While I don’t have the internet, I do have Pandora on my phone, so that will have to do. The “Summer Songs of the 90’s” pre-fab playlist I’ve been listening to has been more hit than miss, though I have to admit that this morning’s kick-off of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” leaves me wanting. It’s not even the best song with “Are You Gonna” as the first three words in its title. That distinction goes to Lenny Kravitz’s immortal “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” (Baby, he got to know) On the heels of the Incubus concert this past weekend, I’ve done a little thinking about music. I saw the shirt on the left a while back and nodded my head wistfully. It must have been aimed solely at my demographic. But I would likely alter the shirt to read (in much smaller font, obviously) “All my new favorite bands are pretty much my old favorite bands, and I hate everything they’ve recorded since I turned 22.” That would just about sum it up. WhenI hear a song like “Slide” by the Goo Goo Dolls, I am happy. Yes, I have always liked the song, and yes, part of the reason is because it reminds me of a specific time in my life that I look back on fondly. But it also stands as my favorite representative of my favorite period of the Goo Goo Dolls’ career. I think Dizzy Up the Girl was the perfect point at which the quality of Johnny Reznick’s voice intersected with the glamness of his Jennifer (M)Anniston haircut. In later years, his hair would continue to improve – or at least manage to stay absolutely fabulous – while his vocal skills would waiver. That’s just how time works, I suppose. You can always work some kind of hair magic, but once the vocal chords go, man, they’re gone.

I can’t tell whether he wants to push me around or do my girlfriend.

I don’t know what to make of Rob Thomas, honestly. Matchbox 20 (as opposed to the later Twenty) and their debut album Yourself or Someone Like You spawned a bunch of hits that are eternally singable in the shower, in the car, at karaoke bars, and in a garage with your friends, but I never thought they were a great band or anything. I love “Mad Season,” and that’s about it, but that’s worth something. Rob Thomas’ solo career seems to me like the kind of thing that someone extremely bored comes up with. While not as intense as Garth Broooks’ fictional character Chris Gaines, Rob’s foray into pop music initially sounded like he wanted to be 3 slots behind Justin Timberlake in all musical sales categories for all eternity. He’s since toned down his solo stuff, as he’s no longer telling me how a heart breaks on FM radio or during the NBA post-season commercial timeouts. Is it possible to like Matchbox 20 but hate Rob Thomas? I say yes. While it would seem like a contradiction, the love/hate dichotomy is truly made difficult by the fact that it isn’t always particularly easy to tell the two apart. There are at least two Rob Thomases that we know about, and it’s since it’s really difficult at times to aurally pick apart the two, Rob should probably give us some visual cues. I mean if I’m flipping through the channels and I see Rob Tomas making love to the microphone, then I want to know whether or not it’s worth stopping there. The Matchbox Twenty Rob Thomas should wear jeans and plain graphic t-shirts only while the solo Rob Thomas should rock jeans and distressed button-down shirts, both featuring pseudo-diamond studs or rhinestones or other semi-precious gems in strategic locations. That’s a pretty big distinction, I think. It might be all you need to know about the difference in his work with the band and the work he does on his own.

“Just go ahead, now.”

Speaking of songs worthy of being belted out in any kind of singing situation, I’m being treated to the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes.” When I was a kid, I just thought it was a catchy tune hiding a love song, and it is. But it could also double as the theme song for Twilight, which just crushes me (It also devastates me that I’m the kind of person who would see this, think about it, then try to articulate it unnecessarily. It’s simply what I do.). Essentially, the speaker is professing his love for some woman who has at least one other potential suitor. “One has diamonds in his pockets, this one, he wants to buy you rockets.” Bella Swan has a similar decision to make between “One whose skin turns to diamonds and this one, he turns into a fucking huge wolf.” The reason why “Two Princes” works so well as the theme for Twilight is because the argument is the same in both love triangles. The singer of the song claims that his rival has a “big seal upon his jacket,” which would seem to imply some kind of important lineage. By contrast, the speaker says of himself “I ain’t got no future or family tree,” essentially admitting that by social and monetary standards, he simply can’t compete (though I assume that both diamonds and rockets are expensive with rockets possibly being more difficult to come by). Still, our singer tries to subvert this obvious disadvantage by going for the heartstrings as the full pre-chorus goes “Marry him or marry me, I’m the one who loves you, baby, can’t you see? I ain’t got no future or family tree, but I know what a prince and lover ought to be.” The practical decision for the woman would be to choose the other guy (as the song presents her as conflicted at least). It’s the safer bet. Similarly, the practical decision for Bella is to choose the werewolf, as he’s human(ish) and as Stephanie Meyer already showed us, can keep her warm when she has to hide out in a tent on the top of a snowy mountain. I admittedly know far more about Twilight than I wish I did. Like the weight gain, I’ll just rightfully blame my wife. Additionally, every problem Bella has in her life can be traced back to the single decision to date a vampire. But of course she doesn’t go the safe, practical route. She has to go with the more difficult/nearly impossible leg of the triangle, and therefore more transcendent. There are plenty of girls who made out with werewolves (Tonks being the most famous), but vampires? That’s Kristen Dunst territory.

Almost as iconic as the cover for Queen II.

I didn’t really expect this entry to work out like this, but screw it. I’ve got to get breakfast in a couple of minutes, then head on to some meetings. I’m going to hold out for one more really good song or at least a song to write something about before leaving my classroom. Goo Goo Dolls again. Did they really dominate the 90s like this or is it a fluke of the playlist? Skip. Why do they have to put the ads so close to the fast-forward button? House of Pain. You know exactly which song it is. Skip. “Don’t Speak,” by No Doubt. Sorry, Paul. Skip. Who the hell is Robyn? Skip.

Here we go. I’m not really all that familiar with ABBA, but I know enough (and was told over and over) that Ace of Base basically took the ABBA blueprint, crossed out ABBA with a single thin line (like this: ABBA), then hastily wrote their own name in with pen. As a teacher, I am very familiar with this particular technique.

They looked like the (then) modern incarnation of ABBA and if nothing else, they gave us “The Sign.” Years later, I still cannot confidently state what the song is about; the video (you know you want to) didn’t help at all – in fact, it made it worse. The song is an even more abstract version of every Wilson Phillips song that went on about not giving up or finally giving up. Oh, but God, is it catchy. Whenever I hear “The Sign,” I think about 7th or 8th grade at my little parochial Catholic school. Since I was obviously among the older kids at the school, I think that I thought I knew what it meant to love and be in love. I watched MTV. I saw R-Rated movies. But I didn’t. And really, that’s the only way you could have “The Sign” on a list bordered with hearts titled “Our Songs” with your middle school girlfriend.

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