Thursday, February 24, 2011

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

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 final post dissecting the year's one hit wonders. Enjoy.

Harvey Danger “Flagpole Sitta” (#38, August 22nd)

Despite the fact that it's actually one of the weaker songs on Harvey Danger's debut album, this song still just fucking rocks. It's kind of the antithesis of “Closing Time” in that it hooks you from the first listen and just keeps engaging you at the exact same level regardless of how often you hear it. I mean, just think about all the ways this has been used i n the time since it's release: it's the theme for Peep Show, the basis of one of the few lip dub videos hat actually works (something about a whole office united by a song about isolationism and paranoia is just so...precious) and still a moderately ubiquitous presence on rock radio. And yet it hasn't gotten old yet. Somewhere in the mania of Sean Nelson's vocals, the background 'ba-ba-ba's, the basic yet also perfect instrumentation and the overall aura of the song, things just hit together perfectly, and even if it's the kind of thing that the band improved upon quite often it's still nice to see it as their calling card. [9]

Jennifer Paige “Crush” (#3, September 5th)

The key to this song's relative greatness lies in two separate yet equally important things. Firstly, the production is pretty far removed from what was becoming the norm on pop radio around this time. Here we've got a light, summery touch instead of a sledgehammer of studio trickery to get the same effect, and by god does it work wonders in its subtlty. Secondly, it's pretty much the midpoint between The Cardigans' “LoveFool” and Donna Lewis' “I Love You Always Forever,” retaining the childlike innocence of the latter with the maturity and control of the former. Given that it's obvious forebears are two of the better pop singles of the decade it's no surprise that all these years later I still find it so inviting. [7]

Tatyana Ali “Daydreamin'” (#6, September 12th)

Anytime that two songs come out within a certain brief time period, both based around a sample from the same song, it's the natural human reaction to compare them to each other. The case of “Daydreamin'” and “Déjà Vu” makes it even easier given that the duo from the latter make a cameo appearance in theformer – for christ's sake Gunz even reprises “Déjà Vu”'s opening lines in his verse – on top of both songs riding that same “Black Cow” sample. So how does “Daydreamin'” measure up? Well, it's certainly better than a lot of similar flash-in-the-pan female R 'n' B singles from this era, not only due to the sample but because Ali's a much more engaging presence than, say, Sylk-E. Fyne, but it feels a bit slight in the shadow of “Déjà Vu.” Plus I'd argue that the Tariq and Gunz cameo is to the song's detriment – unnecessary and a bit lazy on their part – while the song around it is one of the better tunes I've come across in this series. If anything it shows the versatility of that damn “Black Cow” loop, given that it sounds just as good backing a light, poppy R 'n' B number as it does backing an anthemic, poppy rap number (plus it's original context, of course.) [8]

Pressha “Splackavellie” (#27, September 19th)

Fuck so much of this...beyond the ridiculousness of the title and it's explanation within the song (why do you need to call a fuckbuddy anything but a fuckbuddy? Espeically if the alternative is, well, a splackavellie) there isn't even a hint of effort behind the whole enterprise here. The production is weak, the vocals are standard issue, and the lyrics include the word 'splackavellie' far more often than the word has ever been used in the real world (please tell me that's true, it would crush me if this actually became a thing for any period of time.) Really, fuck this. [3]

The Brian Setzer Orchestra “Jump Jive an' Wail” (#23, October 17th)

It surprised me that out of the entire swing revival this was only bona fide one hit wonder. Sure it had that Gap commercial to ride the coattails of, but I swear that “Zoot Suit Riot” was a much bigger single at the time (though that could be my Canadian skew on things) while “Jump Jive an' Wail” was a sort of afterthought. Yet apparently “Zoot Suit Riot” peaked at #41, making in a sort of one hit wonder emeritas, while this got close to the top 20 a good two months after I swear it had vanished from the public consciousness. Maybe that Gap ad was the deciding factor in what became the bigger hit, but did the song itself have to be so lazy. Sure it's fun, upbeat and ideal for swing dance classes at the Y, but what is there to it beyond that? [5]

TQ “Westside” (#12, October 24nd)

I suppose that this exists to restore the balance of east/west coast anthems in the aftermath of “Déjà Vu,” but this is rather rudimentary, isn't it? You've got your basic, string-laden R 'n' B ballad production, a cliched list of LA signifiers, the obligatory 2Pac's pretty much exactly what you'd expect to hear if I told you no more than 'This is a ballad about how much a personality-deprived male R 'n' B singer loves the west coast.' Essentially, when you can get the gist of a song from that vague of a description, someone isn't trying hard enough to make a high quality product. [4]

Everything “Hooch” (#34, November 7th)

Speaking of songs that peaked well after I remembered them being moderately inescapable, how could this have survived beyond the summer? I'm not complaining that it stuck around this long, but if there was ever a song better suited to the summer months from this era I can't remember it at all. This, however, was catchy enough to survive in my memory, enough that I was actually looking forward to it's inclusion here. And damned if it didn't sound exactly like I remember it sounding: like August, around the campfire, buzzed off whatever booze we brought out but not so far gone that we were embarrassing ourselves, maybe mildly stoned if that was our thing at the time, enjoying the company and the outdoors. Any song that so perfectly evokes that scene can't not be in the upper reaches of my ratings here. Plus, that rootsy sax solo is like the icing on the cake. [8]

Ty Herndon “It Must Be Love” (#38, December 5th)

I'm more tolerant of country music than most in my particular sphere, but I still have plenty of issues with the way modern C&W has gone in the post-Garth Brooks era. So I go into each country single with healthy reservations, a good deal of trepidation and plenty of ready made dismissive insults on hand. So I'm sitting here, getting ready to deflate this song and the chorus comes along...and goddamn am I won over. It's such a simple thing, the call and response structure and inversions of tropes that it brings up are both well worn country traditions, but there's something in Herndon's performance that makes them work so much better than they read on paper. It's so...giddy I guess, so caught up in the rush of infatuation that the song characterizes that it's charming as fuck. I am a sucker for charming if nothing else, so I guess the year of one-hit wonders goes out with a nice surprise. [8]

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