Wednesday, February 23, 2011

98 The Hard Way, Part 1: One Hit Wonders (June-August)

The lure of one hit wonders is a hard one to resist. They're a definite mark of their era, showcasing exactly what was popular for a short period of time, and more often than not the songs lumped in under that umbrella are diverse enough to make for an interesting journey. So what better place to start this massive project off than by revisiting 1998 at it's most flash in the pan and disposable? This is the third of four posts dissection the year's one hit wonders. Enjoy.

Playa “Cheers 2 U” (#38, June 6th)

You know, I kinda want to just ignore this one. I mean, look at that peak of #38, it barely qualifies for this distinction. Sigh...I've dealt with forgettable before so I guess I can go to that well again. It would be so much easier if the song left any impression at all. I mean, I swear I just listened to it and all that comes to mind now is that they harmionized on the title for the chorus. That's it. [3]

Link “Whatcha Gone Do?” (#23, July 4th)

I remember a bit more from this one at least, even if it's relegated to the cataloging of various sex acts in the chorus. Come on, harmonizing on the phrase 'would ya like it if I hit you with a 69?' stands out, that's just the way it is. Outside of that though it's not like the song's up to much though. Chalk it up to the ugly truth: talking about sex + decent production and vocals + more talking about sex = chart success. [5]

Imajin ft. Kieth Murray “Shorty (You Keep Playin' With My Mind)” (#25, July 11th)

Ladies and gentlemen, your first urban boy band of the BSB era. Really, on the surface this should be one more in the long, boring line of male R 'n' B groups that I've been so dismissive of so far, but rather than being in the Boyz II Men mold of stoic, serenade-y balladeers Imajin are clearly in the boy band 2000 mold, right down to the token rap verse – albeit from ringer Keith Murray rather than a member of the group itself – and the light, playful tone. Why does that make it twice as good empirically as that Playa song I just dismissed? Because rather than being lifeless and unmemorable this contains actual energy and joie de vivre, plus a memorable hook. It doesn't make the song good per se, just makes it immensely preferable to another dour ballad without an ounce of hookiness. [6]

Nicole Wray ft. Mocha and Missy Elliott “Make It Hot” (#5, August 1st)

This, however, casts an extremely fucking long shadow over every other urban pop single released in 1998. Supa Dupa Fly might have contained the initial warning shots from Tim Mosely, but for my money this is where he took the pop charts and made them his bitch. Maybe Aaliyah's next few single eclipsed this in terms of recognition, but all the ingredients that made those stand out are here too; the water-torture eastern synths, the odd syncopation that nevertheless creates a smooth flow, the understated injections from the man himself (the 'Yes you can' in the last chorus is perfect) and the overall feel is just as good as “Are You That Somebody” if not better. But it would be all for not if all this was used to back an utter dud of a singer, and Nicole Wray isn't a dud. She may not have Aaliyah's effortless sexiness, but she's certainly distinctive enough to stand out amidst the glut of female R 'n' B singers I've sat through already even without Tim doing his thing. Add in a couple of great, understated verses from the similarly unknown Mocha and everyone's favorite Missy Elliott and you might have the 90s' great lost R 'n' B cut. [10]

5ive “When the Lights Go Out” (#10, August 1st)

Is it just me or is this song a bit, um...rapey? Just me? OK, well you can't argue that there' something a bit more obnoxious going on here than the usual. I mean, I get that other than *Nsync every boy band out there was trying their hardest to not look or sound like a Backstreet Boys clone, but the attempts at urbanizing (god that rapped interlude is painful) or coming across as harder (well as hard as five guys who bust out synchronized dance moves can appear) just fall flat. I have a small bit of respect for the fact that they're at least trying to separate themselves from the pack but it's all for naught, isn't it? [4]

Cleopatra “Cleopatra's Theme” (#26, August 1st)

I expect that music for the kids is gonna be a bit obnoxious. I expect that modern girl groups are gonna be incredibly lacking in comparison to their forebears. I expect these things and yet when something like this comes along I can only stand there, slack jawed in amazement at just how awful things can get. It pains me to say this, but even fucking 5ive have more going for them than this dross. This is absolute bottom of the barrel kiddie pop that doesn't even have the common courtesy to have anything even moderately interesting going on. It's just weak and annoying on pretty much every single level, and the worst crime it commits is not even seeming to know how bad it is. (Full disclosure, my sister actually owned their CD around this time, so I heard this far, FAR more often than I'd have liked to. It's possible that residual bitterness is seeping in here.) [2]

Semisonic “Closing Time” (#11, August 8th )

The few times that a band like Semisonic get into the realms of one-hit wonderdom it's moderately depressing. I mean, Semisonic are at their heart a very good band. Looking at their other singles, plus Dan Wilson's pedigree in the overlooked Trip Shakespeare, it's easy to see that this is a talented group, so having this albatross hung around their neck is unfortunate. It's even worse because the song's ubiquity continues to this day, so any shred of respect I have for it as a song – and I do think it's a good song, don't get me wrong – has been eroded by the decade plus of continuous exposure I've had to it. As good as it is, it's not the sort of song that's built for constant exposure. It doesn't get better the more you listen to it. It plateaus around the 10th time you hear it, maybe when you realize that the lyrics are more ambiguous than you'd initially considered, and from there on out every subsequent listen pushes you to the point of enough already. Consider this rating for that 10th listen, because honestly I never want to hear this one again. [7]

Big Punisher ft. Joe “Still Not a Player” (#26, August 15th)

There's a certain line that a rapper has to cross to get a hit of any sort. Unfortunately, it boils down to making enough overtures towards radio-friendliness – tone down your lyrics, add in some recognizable samples, give the hook to an R 'n' B singer – that it's hard to recognize that the artist behind the hit is the same artist that has the capacity to blow minds when he's less adorned. So this was Pun's blatant pop move, and it paid off for him by shortchanging a lot of what made him so good. I mean, compare this to the album track that it's based around; the meat of the track is still there, toned down of course but visible, but the stuff that's obscuring it is overpowering. Pun still gets to show off his flow quite well though, he's not in “Twinz” mode or anything but the second verse is impressively dextrous, which is why I can't hate on it too much. [6]

Tomorrow: The end of the one hit wonder portion of our program, with paranoia, black cows, swing dancing and hooch.

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