I've enjoyed almost everything I've seen and done in my lifetime so far, and while I see logic in the apothegm "Type A personalities MAKE things happen, Type B personalities LET things happen," I am, in general, a firm believer that things occur for a reason, even if they may seem detrimental at the time. That said, I would like to discuss something that's been on my mind for a while now
POP MUSIC OF THE EARLY 1990s.
Ah, the early 1990s, a time in which you could find me decked out in flowered sundresses, with gel in my hair and Roxette on my mind. While I continued listening to 1980s music and adoring 1980s pop culture, I was aware that something was changing in popular music, a phenomenon that did not go unnoticed by anyone not living under a rock. Big hair was out, grunge was on its way. 1980s excess turned into 1990s minimalism in style and music. The party decade became a more reflective decade, and a lot of issues that were repressed in the Reagan 1980s finally came to the forefront, and this demand for political analysis translated easily into rock music.
What about that awkward transition period, from 1990-1992, when grunge wasn't yet fully developed, but 1980s hair rock and synthesized dance music hadn't quite died out? Listeners can define this time period in music songs and artists not quite fitting into streamlined categories as shaky at best. Of course every decade has its one-hit wonders, but I believe this musical transition period produced so many where-are-they-now artists precisely because singers and bands were unsure to whom they should be marketing their music.
As a suburban kid, with limited access to college rock or underground music (not to mention no Internet I just vomited a little in my mouth thinking back on the Internet-less era), kids' biggest source of music was the radio and, of course, MTV and VH1. While I stayed up late on Sunday nights and religiously watched "120 Minutes" on MTV, this was one of my only sources of cutting-edge music at the time. And, fortunately, my hip parents allowed me sign up for Columbia House and BMG at a very young age, so I was also able to find quality music that way. But for the most part, I tuned in to MTV and VH1 at every opportunity possible to catch new music. I was fully immersed in the musical scene, that is, if you consider Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Tara Kemp, Vanilla Ice, Cathy Dennis, and Bell Biv Devoe musical "scenesters." Eh
Now, looking back on those couple of years in the early 1990s, I think fondly of the videos that made me sing and dance. While there was plenty of quality music being made by quality artists leftover from previous decades (Madonna, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Talking Heads, Phil Collins, Blondie, Sting, et al) I would like to focus on the phenomenon known as the Early 1990s One-Hit Wonder.
LET ME ALSO ADD that nostalgia comes in 20- to 25-year cycles, generally take a look at the 1970s films/television shows that were set in a more innocent time, the 1950s (American Graffiti, "Happy Days"); the reemergence of bell-bottoms in the early 1990s; the ABBA revival of the late 1990s; or the current, and very conspicuous, early-mid 1980s revival which could be taken in ad nauseam with a simple glance up and down Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US? Logic dictates that if the 20- to 25-year cycle continues, the early 1990s will be back in vogue in about five years. Can you imagine the day when staples of early 1990s fashion (baggy B.U.M. sweatshirts, French-rolled jeans, tacky sundresses, overstyled bangs, Hypercolor, outrageous tie-dye of course, some of these trends were already recycled from previous decades at the time of their early 1990s revival) will be cool again? After all, contemporary bands like VHS or Beta, The Killers, The Strokes, and Ladytron borrow so heavily from early 1980s pop music; does this mean future bands will be copying early 1990s groups (many of which I discuss below)?
As far as I am concerned, the aforementioned shaky musical transition period is responsible for these one-hit-wonders. For instance (and, oh, and a disclaimer: I use the term "one hit wonder" loosely in a few cases)
VANILLA ICE. Not old enough to be part of the 1980s rap scene (Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, et al), and not cool enough to sing a harder brand of rap (artists like Naughty by Nature, NWA, Wu Tang), Ice (did I really just say that?) was left to his own devices to produce a type of music that was sellable to the masses, but quality enough to be considered as serious music (in my opinion, and I don't think I'm alone here, he suffered with the latter endeavor). Take "Ice, Ice Baby," his successful single, in which Ice reflects on the sound of gunshells dropping to the ground, and vegas pumpin' in his phat ride. Really? Really? Vanilla Ice was almost a joke as soon as the single emerged, partially due to his race (the only successful white rappers before his time were, arguably, the Beastie Boys). Take a look at the video for "Ice, Ice Baby." At the time I guess it was cool to do the Roger Rabbit as part of your dance routine, I mean, what better way to express the perils of inner-city violence? Sarcasm.
DIVINYLS. I still enjoy listening to my Divinyls CD but, unfortunately, few of its tracks match the straightforwardness of "I Touch Myself," a huge hit due to its a) sexy video, b) sexy vocals, c) direct confrontation of female masturbation, which was taboo at the time (with the exception of Cyndi Lauper's "She-Bop"). Billy Squier's "The Stroke," The Vapor's "Turning Japanese," and .38 Special's "Hold on Loosely" more or less explored male masturbation lyrically, and even employing the guitar as a phallus more on that another day and I give Divinyls' Christina Amphlett props for sharing what she, apparently, uh, does behind closed doors. Trivia: The video was filmed in a convent (the nuns stayed at a hotel during filming).
Also of note, check out this cover of "I Touch Myself" by Scala, a choral group of sixty Belgian girls. It's actually quite good take a listen.
DAMN YANKEES. Let's move on to a band who produced one of my all-time favorite monster ballads. Comprised of Ted Nugent on guitar, Styx guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw, Night Ranger bassist/vocalist Jack Blades, and drummer Michael Cartellone, the supergroup enjoyed success with the release of "High Enough," which asked, "Can you take me high enough? Can you fly me over yesterday?" Although the group disbanded a year or two later, this tune remains as powerful as ever, complete with a key change and a screeching guitar solo. The video for "High Enough" even features black and white flashbacks of its protagonist's glory days, denim jackets with the sleeves cut off, shirtless drumming, zebra-print capes, a fog machine, not to mention, musical instruments combusting. Intense. Rock on, Nuge.
THE PROCLAIMERS. This fraternal duo that produced what is perhaps one of the most fun and challenging songs to sing along to in a crowded bar, or serenade your pet hermit crab (not like I ever did the latter or anything, I was just saying). "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," which became a huge radio and video hit and was included on the Benny and Joon soundtrack, gave new meaning to repetitive vocal ejaculations of the phrase DA DA DA DA DA DA. While I applaud the Scottish duo for incorporating myriad musical styles rock, dance, folk, post-punk just watch the video for "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" and it's easy to see why the duo didn't remain huge after the single's success died down. Yeah, The Proclaimers are adorable, but I think they suffered from the same curse that destroyed many a rock band in the image-obsessed 1980s and early 1990s (REO Speedwagon, Styx, Journey, Electric Light Orchestra).
GERARDO. As much as I would like love to type "No comment," I do want to commend Gerardo for bringing Latin-flavored music to the American masses, who were largely familiar with the word "rico" only as in Puerto Rico, and "suave" as in the hair products. I think Gerardo's one hit wonder-dom was a result of a) too much oiled-up hardbodying and pelvic thrusting and not enough substance in his video, b) more than two scantilly-clad females in the "Rico Suave" video (I think two is acceptable, more than that makes a singer look desperate, well, with the exception of Duran Duran, but as far as I'm concerned, with a quintet, ten scantilly-clad females are acceptable), c) too many dimwits confusing him with Geraldo Rivera. NEXT.
MR. BIG. 1991's "To Be With You" remains one of the prettiest ballads from a long-haired rock band whose members knew how to play their instruments really, really well. Complete with a dramatic key change and a simplistic, but effective, video, the tune was very popular, but Mr. Big (who are still intact, by the way) were unable to match the success of "To Be With You." Too bad, because I would pay serious cash to hear a more sinister update of the tune, perhaps titled "To Not Be With You," or "I Am Dangerously Obsessed and Do Not Only Want to Be With You, But Rather I Want to BE YOU." Just sayin'.
COLOR ME BADD. In addition to a ridiculous spelling of a ridiculous band name, C.M.B suffered not only from New Kids on the Block backlash I suspect that listeners were apprehensive to devote attention to a studio-produced, pretty boy-band following in N.K.O.T.B.'s wake but also for releasing slow-jams and R&B sex-grooves that were dated and cheesy before they even rolled off the CD presses. I use the term one-hit wonder loosely for C.M.B. because they did manage to produce three very successful singles off their eponymous debut "I Wanna Sex You Up," "All 4 Love," "Slow Motion" (all of these videos can be found on YouTube. Unfortunately); check out the latter's vaguely S&M / casting couch / voyeurism / male gaze premise video) however, it's amazing that C.M.B. possessed enough staying power to even release a second album misleadingly titled Young, Gifted, and Badd or even gasp! a couple of more albums throughout the 1990s, although I suspect only the hardcore C.M.B. fanatics, all nine of them, purchased these follow-up albums.
I would like to devote a second paragraph to C.M.B. with an especial emphasis on the group's tendancy to include a mid-song spoken word. Much like pretty much EVERY SINGLE ONE of Boyz II Men's love ballads in the 1990s, "All 4 Love," for instance, features a very unnecessary middle portion in which the deepest-voiced singer utters something along the lines of, "Baby, I never meant to hurt you. You know I love you. That's why I wanna sing this song to you. Please listen!" What I also love about this video is that the choreography pretty much relies on one dance move. HERE'S HOW YOU DO IT: Put both hands in front of you, elbows at right angles, palms facing forward. Pivot on right leg and swing left leg. Do a couple of 360s (keeping your hands in the air) and pretty soon you'll be dizzy, and perhaps even disoriented to stumble into a record store and buy C.M.B.'s box set of unreleased material.
Hell, why not a third C.M.B. paragraph? Let's take a look at the "I Wanna Sex You Up" video. This gem also plays with the idea of voyeurism / pornography I love the snippet in which the Kenny G lookalike member of the band (who, sadly, was rarely given the opportunity to sing lead) gets stuck in an elevator and takes it upon himself to mack it to his attractive female passenger. We are forced to watch this uncomfortable scenario through a surveillance camera POV. Hated it. Best of luck, chap.
Gosh, LET'S GO ALL THE WAY. A fourth C.M.B. paragraph: Okay, so I realized, much like Debbie Gibson's "Lost in Your Eyes," that all three of the aforementioned C.M.B. tunes sound more like SHOWTUNES than radio tunes. For example: Cue up "All 4 Love," sit back, and close your eyes. Imagine you are sitting in Seat 1D at a Broadway theater, unnecessarily being sprayed by the Kenny G. lookalike's saliva as he gyrates and bends over the audience, grinning, to make his point that that he lives his life "all 4 love." THIS IS NOT HARD TO IMAGINE IF YOU TRY. Now, this Kenny G. lookalike, being the sensitive one of the group, will likely realize by mid-song that you, the audience member, would rather be seeing "Cats" on this dark, stormy night. Don't show it in your face; this will only egg him on to jump into the aisle and serenade you directly. Instead, he will nonchalantly extend an arm to you (whatever you do, DON'T swat it away). Just take his hand and let him finish the song, then you can quietly make your way to the restroom at intermission (yes, "All 4 Love" is the finale of Act One) and vomit your Olive Garden food, gather your jacket and scarf, and shamefully head home.
Well, that's all for now.