Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (1984) by Stevie Wonder

When this came up on the randomizer I’d been using for my Every Hot 100 Number-One Single project, I was instantly elated. And in the very next instant, I literally laughed out loud to myself. Because this is one of the most panned singles of Stevie Wonder’s entire illustrious career and one that I suspect most would expect me to fully tear into. But nah – if you read my overview of 1984’s top 100 songs, I actually enjoy this song quite a bit. It’s one of the songs that I’ve been most looking forward to covering in this challenge, so pardon me if this particular review gets a bit long.

Steve Wonder is a performer who basically needs no introduction. By 1984, he had achieved seven number-one singles, many more top ten singles, and a status of one of the most prominent, influential performers of the 20th century. This reputation even continued into the 80s, where he opted for more adult contemporary-style R&B fare, in sharp contrast to the smooth funk and pop-infused soul of his creative peak. In 1984, he was assigned to write and perform some material for the American film The Lady in Red; thus “I Just Called To Say I Love You” was one of seven songs written and three songs performed for this soundtrack. “I Just Called” was chosen to be the leading marketable single and… well, the rest, as they say, is history.

There’s no denying that this song was huge right from the get-go. First, it topped the Hot 100 for three straight weeks (though it was only the 25th biggest song of Billboard that year – what can I say, 1984 was stacked). Though this song was even more successful in the UK where it achieved the number-one spot for six weeks – Wonder’s first chart-topper of the country – and was the third biggest song of the year. During its run, it would eventually top every single chart it placed in – which, worldwide, counted up to nineteen charts conquered! I believe this is the most for any single ever, but I’m willing to be proved wrong. And it doesn’t stop there – later on, it would win the Oscar for Best Original Song and the equivalent Golden Globe. (Interestingly enough, the other nominees for Best Original Song were “Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now)”, “Footloose”, “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”, and “Ghostbusters” – all chart-toppers! This is the only time this has ever happened in the history of the Academy Awards, so that’s kind of cool.)

Maybe unsurprisingly (especially after all these accolades), “I Just Called to Say I Love You” holds the important distinction of being Wonder’s best-selling single ever. Unfortunately, though, there’s a downside to this, as “I Just Called” is also widely notorious for being one of the most hated of any song from Wonder’s illustrious career. I guess much of this might have to do with sheer overplay, but this wouldn’t necessarily be the case for folks my age or younger, as we were born long after 1984 and the song itself doesn’t get the massive airplay it used to (unlike fellow 1984 peers “Thriller” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, for example). So we’re forced to conclude that the content of the song itself is reprehensible, at least for a sizable fraction of Stevie Wonder fans.

The basic concept of the song, as surmised from the title, involves the speaker going out of the way to emit those three little words to the apple of his eye; as the chorus goes, “I just called to say I love you / I just called to say how much I care”. To further expound upon these intentions, Wonder repeatedly reiterates that there is no special occasion in his affectionate phone call, and he does so by going through each month of the calendar year in order and specifying the month’s particular holiday or occasion. For example, the first line of the first verse goes, “No New Year’s Day to celebrate”, the second line declares, “No chocolate-covered candy hearts to give away”… yeah, you get the drill. While January and February are pretty easy to assign a holiday too, others aren’t so obvious resulting in clumsy lines like, “No summer’s high, no warm July / No harvest moon to light one tender August night”. In any case, they all find their way back home to that warm titular phrase.

So yeah, it’s corny… hence the widespread chagrin. I guess it’s hard for many to not feel betrayed by an artist who had released such cutting edge material in the previous two decades. Unlike the swelling romance of “My Cherie Amour” and “For Once in My Life”, the sharp social commentary of “Higher Ground” and “Living For the City”, or the just plain funkiness of “Superstition” – this song is mellow, milquetoast, and totally play-by-numbers in form and function. Even the instrumentation is just so different from his previous works. While lush instrumental backup is part of what makes Wonder’s best songs so wonderful, the primary instrument here is the keyboard, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if it weren’t placed on the most drab, generic-sounding setting imaginable. Seriously, I’ve heard karaoke versions of this song where the backing music isn’t all that different from the single version.

Since I’m including all these common criticisms to this review, I would like to remind y’all that I am actually quite fond of this song myself. So, what makes this good? Well, for one, Wonder sings the hell out of this one – certainly not something atypical of him. But as cheesy as these lyrics and their sentiments are, there remains a genuine radiance of warmth and positivity, as if Wonder were singing to his soulmate at that very moment. While he tends to stick explicitly to the pretty sterile melody, some of my favorite moments of his performance are the moments when he lets his voice waver and soar, even when that particular line doesn’t exactly call for it. I’m sure he knows how silly a line like “No giving thanks to all the Christmas joy you bring” is, but his delivery of it makes it feel like the most heartwarming compliment imaginable.

I also love how the melody itself, namely how simple and lovely it is. I’m a pretty big karaoke junkie, and this song was practically made to be sung by barflies with one too many drinks and just enough confidence. It also has a key change at the final chorus, which is always bound to make my heart swell no matter what. While this doesn’t hold a candle to the singer-songwriter’s beat tunes, I can’t help but love the positive vibes this song emits without ever trying too hard. And I couldn’t dare end this review without mentioning the vocoder – yes, there is a vocoder here! You can hear a fragment of it during the outro, but the soundtrack version of the song is twice as long and includes the previously-sung verses repeated again through vocoder effect. If that’s not the epitome of 80s cheese, then I don’t know what is.

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A Brief Note on Rockin’ Thru the Aughts

Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering (and have already covered) on this challenge, head over here.

First and foremost, I would like to apologize for the relatively long wait on the ninth and final post on the year 2000 in rock albums. I’ve been busy with a bunch of real life stuff, but rest assured that I am working on it, slowly but surely. I hope to have it completely finished by Thursday August 2nd, at which point I will be taking a train back home for about a week. But in case I don’t, it shouldn’t take too much longer after that point.

Actually, I should have probably started this post by thanking anyone and everyone who has followed this project thus far. I embarked on this challenge after relistening to a bunch of tracks from some of my favorite bands in high school (Brand New, My Chemical Romance, etc.). It came from a nostalgic ache over how good and meaningful so much of this music was, as well as despair over how few examples of similar stuff we have nowadays. I haven’t even gotten to the true meat of the project, which will come around 2003, but just listening through what the year 2000 had to offer is enough to happily lament this era (as incoherent as that sounds). I haven’t gotten much feedback from many folks thus far, but pretty much all the reactions I’ve received have been overwhelmingly positive, which just makes this experience all the more fruitful. I sincerely appreciate it!

As much as I enjoy listening to all these albums, though, I can’t ignore that I may have bitten off a bit more than I can chew. This isn’t unusual for me, of course – I have a tendency to take on multiple huge projects at a time, ones that take me quite a while to even get a good dent in. I guess it’s the workaholic in me. I definitely knew ahead of time that I would be spending a good deal of time on Rockin’ Thru the Aughts, especially once I tallied up the total number of albums to well over a thousand! And as I mentioned before, so far this project has been a whole lot of fun and an overwhelmingly great experience – I would certainly be willing to power through a thousand albums if the remainder were even half as enjoyable as the list has been thus far.

Still… I’ve got to be realistic. On top of this project, I am also working on listening to every song that has ever reached number-one in the US. Additionally, I’ve got my year-end Hot 100 challenge, where I go through the top 100 songs year by year. I’ve also been considering bringing back One Random Single a Day – though in the current state of things, to do so would be overwhelming if not absolutely impossible. In other words, I am swamped. And even though I was already hard at work on the other projects, I feel even more overwhelmed working on Rockin’ Thru the Aughts than any of the others. Maybe it’s the added pressure I’ve placed upon myself to try to churn out one post a week – or maybe it’s the need I feel to write more about the albums that interest me the most, and then doing that over and over again through the course of the week. It’s gotten slightly monotonous at this point – which is what I was afraid of happening.

But the most unfortunate side effect of this challenge – and one that I honestly did not foresee happening – is that I’ve fallen ridiculously behind on movies this year. 2018 was supposed to be the year that I would watch at least 400 new-to-me films, with at least a quarter of those directed by women. It was to be the year I would go the cinema at least once a week, especially supporting films by women and POC. I would attend special screenings and festivals more often and write more about these films on this site to build some more clout to my name and get more acquainted with the film community. So far, I’m approaching failure on every count. In particular, July has been the most pathetic movie-watching month I’ve had in a long, long, long time. When the only film-related endeavor I can say I’ve accomplished this month is finally getting through the Twilight saga… you know it’s bad.

This is all to say that, sadly, I’ve decided that Rockin’ Thru the Aughts must take a hiatus for quite a while. This is something that greatly interests me, but with what I’ve had to sacrifice thus far, it hasn’t been completely satisfying. I must clarify that I do plan on continuing it eventually – but for a few months at least, there will be no new posts from the project after I finish the year 2000 (which will be accomplished after this next post).

Now, how long should this absence be expected? Well, it all depends on how much work I get done on the other avenues I wish to catch up with. First and foremost, I need to catch up with films that have come out in 2018 so far. I usually reserve the months of December and January for my catch-up time, but seeing how far I’ve fallen behind on new releases, it would be wise to make more of an effort this time. I am pretty much caught up with new music releases, so I’m planning on re-focusing my energies to the film output in 2018.

Additionally, I’ve found that I’m moving so slow on my two other challenges – the Billboard Hot 100 challenge and Every Hot 100 Number-One Single – so I’ll be putting out more stuff from these two avenues in the upcoming months. My progress on the former is the most frustrating, since I completed the 1980 overview back in late November 2016, and almost two years later have just barely broke through the second half of the decade. I’m already a good way through the top 100 songs of 1986, so expect that one sometime soon – but I don’t think Rockin’ Thru the Aughts will be making a comeback until I’ve reached the 1990s at least. For my Number-One Singles project, it fares a bit better – I’ve accomplished thirty-eight reviews to date, which is still just a tiny fraction of what I have yet to cover. But since these reviews take considerably less time to finish, I’ll say that I hope to publish around 100 reviews before the return of Rockin’ Thru the Aughts. I hope that having more time to get around to these will result in a more frequent output of these.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it. I’m very proud of the direction that this site has taken thus far and I know that there’s potential for so much more in the future. Rechanneling my energies, at least temporary, seems like the most logical way for these to occur. I will also say, though, that the time I had been using for movies has lately been used for watching a whole bunch of anime series – so that could maybe find some use on this site for that? It all depends on how much time, energy, and willpower I have, as well as various real-life and health-related issues I’ve gotta keep an eye on. In any case, if you read this all the way through, thanks so much for your continued support! I hope to make this small site into something bigger born from true growth and ongoing commitment.

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Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (1988) by Poison

Time for yet another entry in my project to listen to and review every Hot 100 number-one single! At the rate I’m currently going, though, I doubt I’ll be able to cut my queue down to a reasonable level. It doesn’t help that I’ve also got my Rockin’ Thru the Aughts project that has unforeseeably taken top priority on my site – not to mention that I’ve also been slowly eating away at the top 100 songs of 1986! But of course, I know I have a bit of a workaholic issue. Once I began to mildly consider bringing back One Random Single a Day, I realized that it would only get more cluttered from there and quickly stopped myself. Well, as for now anyway, I’ll just keep on chugging away at this.

So in order to properly introduce “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, one should first be introduced to the then-ubiquitous group known as Poison. Led primarily by lead guitarist C.C. Deville, bassist Bobby Dall, drummer Rikki Rockett, and the beefcake himself, vocalist Bret Michaels, Poison hit the scene right at the crux of the glam metal scene of the mid-80s. Originating primarily from Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip, glam metal characterized as rock music with the added edge of heavy metal, with catchy guitar riffs, flamboyant aesthetics (hence the ‘glam’ part of the name), and lyrics that heavy revolve around drugs, sex, and partying. In short, it’s probably the one genre that most successfully encapsulates the hedonism and excess of the Reagan era. And Poison certainly fits in these confines, first making a splash with their 1986 debut Look What the Cat Dragged In, replete with truly glamorous head shots on the album sleeve!

As for the music, though, the group picked up a following fairly quickly. Songs like “Talk Dirty to Me”, “I Want Action”, and even the power ballad “I Won’t Forget You” made their way onto the Hot 100, the first of the three reaching the top ten. These songs are pretty good definers of Poison’s music up until this point, characterized by their rip-roaring guitars and (with the exception of “Forget”) sexually-charged, pleasure-seeking vibes. It’s all about the party for these folks. And it’s all incredibly ankle-deep in its lyricism and even the overall sound – I suspect this must have been excellent background music for the hottest party in town and their onstage antics must have been something to admire all the same. But there really isn’t much else to work with there… though that’s okay if that’s what you’re into!

Arguably, the band’s second album 1988’s Open Up and Say… Ahh! would prove to be even more successful than their debut. While there are still a whole collection of party anthems ever-present here, the driving force for this album’s commercial success is “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, which went to number-one in late 1988 and early 1989 for three weeks and was Poison’s only chart-topper. While the band had previously accomplished getting “I Won’t Forget You” into the top twenty, “Rose” was something of a different animal. In ways, the sound presented more of a watered-down version of glam metal, with an emphasis on an acoustic guitar near the front of the mix and more personalized lyrics. Of course, after the first chorus the familiar electric guitars and pounding drums come back in, but for the most part this sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of Poison’s discography up until this point. Given that it follows a lot of traditions of the sad country ballad, I could imagine that the crossover appeal of such would’ve only helped this song’s rise to prominence.

Honestly, my favorite part of this single has nothing to do with the song itself. Rather, it’s that single, beleaguered sigh given by Bret Michaels (I assume) during the first few seconds of the track, immediately before he begins strumming his guitar. It’s almost like a warning sign, an indicator to listeners that he’s about to pour his heart out and man, is it gonna hurt. Although every member of Poison is given writing credit for this single, it might be safe to assume that this was Michaels’s conception from the start. After all, he has gone on the record by stating that this was inspired by a moment he accidentally discovered his girlfriend’s infidelity by hearing the whispering of another man in the background of a phone call. Of course, he also stated, “Now, a female voice, that I could’ve lived with… I may have even welcomed it!”… But I’ll just use that excerpt as an example of how good ol’ 80s chauvinism never quite leaves the 80s chauvinist, even in a slow, weepy ballad as this one.

But seriously, though, as lukewarm as I am on this song as a whole, there’s no denying that this is the best that Poison has ever been (and ever will be). While their uptempo party music can often peter off into a dull haze of mindless background noise, the stripped-down nature of this track comes from a place of real pain and it’s felt in every chord and every line of the lyrics. To use myself as an example – I could never see songs like “I Want Action” and “Talk Dirty To Me” as anything but pure novelty, something that I could never quite relate to but only gaze at from afar. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, on the other hand, has such heart-wrenching lines like, “Although we both lie close together, we’re both miles apart inside” and “Instead of making love, we both made our separate ways”, which… yeah, same. Even the part where he talks about the anguish he feels when their formerly favorite song comes on the radio accurately depicts the surreal emptiness when you realize that a piece of great media is forever changed by someone who is no longer in your life.

Not to mention that “every rose has its thorn” is just a pretty brilliant metaphor, if a bit too nihilistic for this particular situation. But overall, while the rest of the band’s efforts to keep up result in the same kinda wall of background noise they’ve emitted all this time, the efforts made in polishing up their style into something a bit more real and sophisticated are certainly seen. Given that glam metal would soon take a nosedive in popularity in the face of the grittier, bleaker style of 90s alternative rock, this isn’t a bad song to represent the genre’s final bow. Well, one of them anyway – sometime around this point, glam metal bands started releasing stripped-down ballads of their own. They got progressively cheesier and cheesier and finally just faded away. At least this is one of the more dignified ones.

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Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 8 – Lesser known stuff

Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering (and have already covered) on this challenge, head over here.

As I stated before, I’m starting to run out of relevant themes shared by the remaining handful of albums I have slated from the year 2000. So since I previously covered albums that performed well on the Hot 100 and were generally commercially successful and well-known, I’ll take things a bit to the other direction. Yep, today I’m gonna cover some of the stuff that didn’t make the charts, isn’t all that well-remembered by most, or might not even entered the public consciousness at all. This will hopefully be an interesting mixture of a whole bunch of stuff – and here we go!

Superfast – Dynamite Hack

The name Dynamite Hack will probably not mean anything for about 99% of folks out there. For the one percent, though, the memory is hard to shake – that is, the memory of their singular minor hit, an acoustic rock-style cover of rapper Eazy-E’s “The Boyz-N-The-Hood”. While it only made it up to #12 on the rock charts upon release, I still somehow hear it pop up on alternative stations every now and then – or at least I used to in high school, when I actually still listened to such stations. Thus explaining how such a goofy cover made its way onto my music library; it was the exact kind of knee-deep, self-aware humor I found absolutely hilarious (as most kids do).

For those who haven’t heard the single, it really is as awful as it sounds. The novelty value of the song’s mere existence last about ten seconds before it gets really, really old, and age certainly hasn’t been kind to it. Fittingly, it is pretty much around the ten second mark when the (white) lead singer casually drops the n-word, which is… not good. And while the just as casual violence and racialized misogyny in the original track was always sort of unappealing, it’s all the more distasteful here. The band attempts to turn the early gangsta rap single into a sing-song anthem of sorts, which is just so ill-fitting and replete with lame, half-assed satire that is just not worth anyone’s time.

But why am I spending all this time and energy reviewing this single when there’s a whole album at my disposal? Well, it’s mostly because the album has next to nothing else to offer. I didn’t look into the band before playing this album (why would I?), so I actually expected something more along the lines of the chill demeanor that their famed cover had delivered. What I found out is that Dynamite Hack are actually a post-grunge band of sorts, with this particular album taking more of a pop-punk approach. Nonetheless, from song to song, the hooks are limp, the guitar chords are simple and ineffective, and the lead vocals are just so, so bad. They almost get it right with the song “Anyway”, which actually has a tight structure and should have been the single by all rights. Nonetheless, lines like, “I’m drunk, but I want some anyway / I just don’t care enough about you / So fuck you anyway” absolutely kill it dead. It also doesn’t help that the chorus of “Alvin” emphasizes, “Sitting back and drinking some beers / And go date-rape with the guys”. Classy.

While nothing on this record is as explicitly awful as “Boyz-n-the-Hood”, the remainder of the album is just as pointless and ineffective. It really could have been made by anyone, and nothing in this record tells me anything about Dynamite Hack that would convince me to seek out more of their stuff. Don’t waste your time with this one.

Best track: “Anyway”

Horrorscope – Eve 6

Like Lifehouse with “Hanging By a Moment” and Fuel with “Bad Day”, Eve 6 was one of the first rock bands that found their way in my cultural consciousness through a song that happened to get a lot of play in the radio stations I listened to growing up. This song was “Here’s to the Night”, which I discovered and enjoyed long before their arguably more famous single, 1998’s “Inside Out”. Even though it doesn’t get nearly as play from me these days, I will always remember this album – if only for its awesome cover art, which just looks like the coolest pseudo-anime I will never watch.

Those two Eve 6 songs I mentioned? They are literally the only two with which I were familiar before giving this album a play – I was just never motivated to look more into them. Nonetheless, I always thought they were pretty dissimilar, with “Here’s to the Night” being more of a slow, thumping ballad about the fleeting nature of time intersected with fading love. As I soon found out, though, this song is unusual in context of Horrorscope as a whole. Replete with chugging pop-rock guitars and idiosyncratic lyricism to match, the rest of the album basically coasts along this general vibe of casual distorted grooviness. It feels very much like an early 2000s rock album, for better or for worse – the mindlessness is all there, but so is the polished production as well as the positive attitude. Elements of synth are thrown in now and again, but the simple rock ‘n’ roll layout is far more pronounced, and all for the better.

Nonetheless, as badly as these songs want to resonate, there is very little of that going on here. With the exception of “Here’s to the Night”, which is genuinely profound (though that may also be my nostalgia goggles), every song seems to exist simply to take up space on a record. It convinces me that this would be a good band to watch live, but I doubt that I would be singing their songs on the car ride home. As I mentioned earlier, some of the lyrics are legitimately crafty – “On the Roof Again”, for example, contains a bridge that states, “Your heinous highness broke her hymen, hey man, try to quit your crying”, which is clever assonance even if it amounts to nothing. But then there are similar lines, such as in the bridge of “Bang”: “Big bang, little girl, run away with me / And be my Thelma and Louise / Brush that sand off your ask your questions later / Love me long time”. Just… typical dude-rock awfulness.

This is where the album truly fails. It’s a whole lot of nothing, and there’s no reason to give much attention except out of boredom. Eve 6 has proven themselves, at least with this record, to just be a singles band, but at least the single is nice.

Best track: “Here’s to the Night”

The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone – The Apples in Stereo

I have no idea how I came across the Apples in Stereo, but it must have been more or less around the time when I discovered the indie rock radio station. Additionally, I also remember namedropping Apples in Stereo when naming off some of my favorite bands in an attempt to make my taste seem as varied, obscure, and cool as possible. High school was really weird for me. In any case, I’ve been really excited to revisit this band – I remember them being a lot of fun, with a sound that always seemed reminiscent of some of the most poptastic branches of 90s alternative rock.

The album immediately starts off on a high note, with the appropriately titled “Go” leading off the rest. I must confess now that I am only familiar with the Apples’ material from this album onward, and not so much their earlier stuff from the decade prior. Nonetheless, this album was widely seen as a departure from their more textured, layered sonic atmospheres into a sound that is noticeably rawer – a bit more in the garage rock vein of things. “Go” definitely showcases this, with much emphasis placed on its fuzzy guitars and loose-but-bubbly vocal harmonies. This general sonic relationship is demonstrated throughout the rest of the album, but it is never bring – rather, the consistency of its sound and ability to continue to bring something new and interesting to the table continue to be some of the record’s biggest strengths.

Fun is definitely the easiest descriptor I could give to this album, but I must also emphasize that there is a lot of depth to this record that would deem it deserving of the title. The melodies here are bright and charming, but so is the seamless relationship between each of the sonic elements. Sure, the sound is rawer, but that doesn’t mean that it had to be flat – on the contrary, the influences present here loom sky high. Songs like “Look Away”, with its friendly horns and pronounced poppiness, feel like they could have come right from the peak bliss portions of the late 60s. Same with “What Happened Then”, which feels like such a reminder of Lennon-McCartney’s moody ballads it’s almost jarring. Of course, this homage gets a bit over-the-top, both in title and in sound, with the psychedelic track “Submarine Dream”, but there’s enough pleasantries in there to make it totally worthwhile.

This is quite a pleasant album for sure, and every song comes across as the soundtrack to the happiest day of my life. “20 Cases Suggestive of…” lovingly gives the center stage to drummer Hilarie Sidney, who brings some warm and absolutely wonderful vibes to the record. Moreover, “The Bird That You Can’t See”, though one of their weaker songs, still uses its buzzy electronic influences to its advantage, implementing added bounce for good measure. I think what most impresses me, though, is how little effort it seems that the band members are taking to pump out such magical tapestries of sound. None of these songs are boring in the slightest, and each and every one is enjoyable to varying degrees. Overall, though, I’m just plain impressed by this album – I really wished I listened to this whole record as a teenager, as it would’ve been my favorite thing in the world at that specific time.

Best tracks: “Go”, “The Rainbow”, “20 Cases Suggestive of…”, “Submarine Dream”

Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia – The Dandy Warhols

The Dandy Warhols have always been on my radar through the years, but I never actually got around to listening to any full-length albums of theirs. This particular album is considered by most to be their breakthrough album, thanks largely to their single “Bohemian Like You” which entered the mainstream sphere about a year later. I definitely heard this song pop up on the radio from time to time, so of course it would become an iTunes purchase for me in an attempt to rack up the cool points in high school (this was a trend for me in those years).

Having only been familiar with less than a handful of singles from the group before listening to this album, I was expecting an upbeat album in the vein of some polished, moshable pop-rock. Thus, it was certainly a surprise to hear that the opening track “Godless” as more of a mid-tempo, earthy-sounding piece. The guitars are fuzzy, Courtney Taylor’s vocals are soft and lilting, and the overall song is chill and dreamy, with slight tinges of psychedelic flair to keep things interesting throughout. And throughout the first few tracks, this album pretty much rides on this wave: from “Godless” into “Mohammed” and “Nietzsche”, the mild gloom of the production and instrumentation leads the way along this blissful shoegaze trail.

But then things are switched up a bit into “Country Leaver”, where the production incorporates more acoustic guitar, handclaps, and… chicken squawks? Additionally, Taylor’s vocals are twangier and the tempo becomes far more defined as a typical stomp-along country ballad. From this point on, this album delves more into the straight-forward garage rock style I was expecting upon entrance. Honestly, this album just overwhelms me with how sonically diverse it presents itself right off the get-go. If nothing else, it makes me eager to check out the rest of the Dandy Warhols’ dense body of work.

But (there’s always a ‘but’) given how diverse this all is, it’s no surprise that some aspects of it simply wouldn’t work as well as others. I noticed that the songs that highly emphasize the lyrics over all else are the ones that, ironically, are the weakest. “Solid” brags about the speaker’s “beautiful, new Asian girlfriend” who “hangs around for days in his bed”. Additionally, “Horse Pills” almost kills the vibe entirely by undercutting its fierce, raw production with inane lyrics about rockstar materialism and party drugs. This doesn’t have to be inherently bad, but there’s also a time and place for everything and with how promising the whole record seemed from the beginning, stuff like this sticks out like a sore thumb. Nonetheless, it’s also admirable how the album always finds a way to spring back up from its pitfalls; songs like “Get Off” and “Sleep” are very different in sound, yet find clever ways to demonstrate the best qualities of the band’s sound without taking it too over the top.

And yeah, it’s clear now how “Bohemian Like You” became the radio hit – with an album this wild, it’s so obviously the catchiest and easiest to consume in a broader sense. Of course, there’s a lot here to play around with, which makes me confident to recommend this to pretty much anyone who enjoys even slightly interesting rock music. It’s fun, playful, strange, and smartly balances out its failures with even more interesting strengths. Check it out!

Best tracks: “Godless”, “Country Leaver”, “Get Off”, “Cool Scene”

Consent to Treatment – Blue October

Okay, so here’s an interesting one. Blue October was a band that I got really into for about a year sometime in high school, around the time they broke through in the mainstream with their 2006 album Foiled. Looking back, I’m sure much of my interest with the band lay in their raw, earnest portrayal of suicidal depression through their sound and lyrics, coinciding with the age in which I was beginning to come to terms with the fact that I may be mentally ill as well. Generally speaking, Blue October is the project of lead vocalist and main songwriter Justin Furstenfeld, who speaks very frankly about his life with depression, intersecting with relationships he’s made through the years. I can’t lie – at times, I found myself in Furstenfeld’s shoes, heightening the emotional appeal that I had for much of their music.

It’s been a few years since I avidly listened to anything from Blue October, but I do have this lingering memory of Consent to Treatment being among the darkest of the band’s discography. I’d have to relisten to their stuff to confirm this, but yeah – this album is still pretty bleak. Stylistically, this album could potentially be shoehorned in the post-grunge, but the addition of instruments like violins and mandolin challenge this notion. It’s a very difficult album to sit through, not necessarily because the sound itself is challenging (it’s all pretty basic studio rock with slight symphonic inflections), but because of its subject matter. Furstenfeld clearly put his all into this record and the result is an emotionally textured, self-deprecating, utterly painful record. Anyone who has struggled with depression could certainly find something to relate to in this collection of tunes, varied in tone and textures. It’s all so achingly personal, it’s almost unlistenable. Although songs like “Independently Happy” and “Balance Beam” might seem upbeat and positive on the surface, there is always an undercurrent of sadness that permeates throughout all these tracks, whether it be from the weeping violin (traditionally an indicator of sadness) or from Furstenfeld’s strained vocals themselves.

Believe me – even though I frequently gave this record numerous plays as a teenager, it took me a couple of tries to relisten to it in completion, having gone through much of the awfulness that comes with depression through the years. Even though I could willingly pick apart this album all day, about how boring it can be at times and how some of the lyrical choices don’t often work… I think that is besides the point. Labeling this album as “good” or “bad” would minimize its painstaking efforts to make something that truly digs deep to the core of what depression really is (or specifically, how Furstenfeld experiences it). Though I think that two of the most important songs this record puts out are found in its final stretch: “Angel” and “The Answer”. Both of these compositions really cut to the ugly, unthinkable sides of depression and are far and away the most resonating tracks on the entirety of the album.

While I would hesitate before playing this album again or recommending it to anyone, I mostly admire Furstenfeld’s strength to put all these feelings into words and releasing it to the public in such a manner. Much of these songs play out as a kind of dark poetry and it takes a certain amount of pushing past these negative feelings to release such an intimate work of art. It’s not perfect, but it’s actually kind of beautiful.

Best tracks “Independently Happy”, “HRSA”,  “Conversation Via Radio (Do You Ever Wonder)”, “Angel”, “The Answer”

Wheatus – Wheatus

The last couple of reviews on this week’s post went on a little longer than originally intended… so I’ll make this one relatively shorter. Wheatus is probably best known for their hit single from the summer of 2000 that many confuse for a 90s song: “Teenage Dirtbag”. Admittedly, it’s one of my big guilty pleasures, even to this day. I never listened to it much during its peak popularity, but it was among my most played tunes in the later years of high school, when I begun to lean back into pop music. Nowadays, it’s fun for a round of karaoke or two, but it will always remind me of the carefree summers of those days.

With the album’s first two tracks “Truffles” and “Sunshine”, I am surprised to realize that the band tends to lie more in the pop-punk vein than I originally realized. While the melodies are bright and singable and there is a noticeable amount of studio mixing apparent through these tracks, the music still retains a certain amount of edge that prevents it from veering too far into the pop sphere. It’s basically along the same sound of early Smash Mouth and Sugar Ray, with more of a slight punk rock sensibility than either of those two every had. Far and away the most interesting aspect of the band, though, is Brendan B. Brown’s vocal delivery, which is delicate and pleasant in ways I never quite expected.

Unfortunately, what really bogs this album down are its lyrics. One of my favorite elements of “Teenage Dirtbag” is the way that it balances its naive emotion conflict and conventional narrative with slightly more darker undertones (such as how Noelle’s boyfriend, “brings a gun to school”). This is heightened by Brown, who just sounds like the epitome of teenage innocence and confusion. As for the rest of the songs on here, though, nothing ever quite matches this same vibe – on the contrary, most of them just come off too cocky and try-hard to ever be at least a little bit charming. Sure, some of these melodies really stick (such as in “Hump’Em N’ Dump’Em” and “Love is a Mutt From Hell”) and might be good for mindless listening, but nothing ever sounds quite so timeless.

On the plus side, there is a cover of Erasure’s “A Little Respect” on here. Although it really doesn’t match with anything else on the record and is a huge step down from the original, the song is one of my all-time favorites and it’s always nice to hear a different take on the sound. Additionally, as poor as this album can come off at times, it flies by without so much as a moment’s notice – so at the very least, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Still, “Teenage Dirtbag” is probably all you need.

Best tracks: “Teenage Dirtbag”, “A Little Respect”

Okay, there’s only one more week for the year 2000 and then I’ll be totally done with the year. It’s actually kind of bittersweet leaving this year behind. Generally speaking, it’s been an eye-opening experience seeing just how different the rock scene was nearly two decades ago. It usually takes the music of a certain decade a few years before it finds its definitive footing; as such, the year 2000 feels more like an extension of 90s rock music than anything else. Nonetheless, there were some pretty interesting material released this year, both in the positive and no-so-positive sense.

But I can’t say goodbye just yet – I’ve still got a handful of albums from 2000 to get through! Thanks for reading, once again. Seeya on the other side.

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Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 7 – Billboard 200 favorites

Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering (and have already covered) on this challenge, head over here.

As the rock albums on my queue for the year 2000 start to really dwindle down to the final twenty, I find myself struggling to come up with themes that would tie more than just a couple of releases together. I went to the Billboard 200 for inspiration, checking the 2000 year-end list for the most popular, commercially successful releases of the year. After finding that I already covered a bunch of albums that appeared on this list (including The Better LifeMad SeasonChocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, and Mer de Noms) I found some more on the lower rungs that I had yet to cover.

So this week will be devoted to albums released in 2000 that sold exceptionally well, specifically those that hit the top ten. More below!

All That You Can’t Leave Behind – U2
Peak position: #3

We’re starting off with a big one today. The big singles from this album (especially “Beautiful Day”) are among the very first tastes of modern mainstream I got in the days when I didn’t listen to much music at all. Even though I was raised on a bunch of 80s music by my mom, I’m pretty certain that this album’s frequent rotation on VH1 was what introduced me to U2 in the first place. It wasn’t until later that I found out that this was their tenth album and was widely considered a return to the band’s textured rock sound – albeit with a more modern edge – after they had experimented with pop music throughout the previous decade. I’m sure that the heightened public activism put forth by Bono in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks certainly brought him to the foreground of my public consciousness

The band also reunited with producer Daniel Lanois, who here collaborates with legendary musician Brian Eno. The latter inclusion to this record brings out some of its best traits – the opening track alone, “Beautiful Day”, is led by this floating echo of a guitar line and New Age elements in its production that, alone, work to keep this from being a drab, forgettable track. Although this album is certainly top-heavy as a whole, different forms of Eno’s touch could be felt on practically every track throughout the record. Despite its clunky title, “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” remains particularly nostalgic for me, especially with the synthesizer touches throughout and the subtle horn at the outro. “Walk On” is the closest thing to a great song that this record contains, particularly due to its swelling melody, Bono’s heartfelt delivery of such, and a beautiful reverberating guitar line courtesy of The Edge.

At its best, the album is largely driven by its lush instrumentation that just makes for some smooth, perfectly pleasant rock radio listening material. At its worst, however, this album can unfortunately be boring as sin. For anyone familiar with the band’s earlier material, it’s painfully obvious that as impassioned as Bono and folks’ tend to play on here from time to time, they never shine quite as bright as they did in their prime. And while it’s clear that they’re definitely going for an entirely different result here (“In a Little While” has a hip hop beat, for crying out loud), too many of these songs tend to ramble and drag along for the experience to be remarkable in the slightest. Especially notable is how many of these songs are bogged down by clunky lyricism from Bono himself, especially in the cloying “Peace on Earth” and “New York”, which I’m bound to hate for the line “Irish, Italians, Jews, and Hispanics”.

Still, if this album is worth listening for any reason, let it be for Brian Eno, whose production is just plain solid, as well as The Edge, whose guitar work is easily the most consistent element of any of the musicians on display here. I can’t wholly recommend this when there are entire albums of earlier, better U2 material out there – but from personal experience, it’s not a bad introduction to the group.

Best tracks: “Beautiful Day”, “Walk On”

Maroon – Barenaked Ladies
Peak position: #5

Oh, hey – remember Barenaked Ladies? Most people would recognize the name as synonymous with their hit single “One Week”, which hit number-one back in 1998 for (amusingly enough) one week. Few others might also recognize the name for some of their earlier hits that mainly charted in their home country of Canada, such as “If I Had $1000000”, “Enid” and “Brian Wilson”. For me, though, even before all of that, their top twenty single “Pinch Me” somehow found its way into my eardrums and lingered there for quite some time. I’ve never been a huge fan of the band, but something about the light, poppy vibes of “Pinch Me” really appealed to my childhood imagination back when the song was at peak airplay.

Maroon isn’t an album that most people think of when reminiscing on Barenaked Ladies – for one thing, it was the follow-up to the success of Stunt and the aforementioned lead single inevitably had to perform in the wake of the catchy “One Week”. Indeed, through “Pinch Me” alone, you get the sense that the band is trying so, so hard for a successful follow-up, even implementing some of the speed-sing vocals that made their chart topper memorable, as well as some similarly idiosyncratic lyrics.

Even though I don’t exactly love Barenaked Ladies, I just can’t deny how much I enjoyed this record. Sure, it’s nothing amazing and a bit slow to start, but once it gets going it’s a real treat. Each track does something a little different to its admittedly generic adult alternative sound to keep things listenable and, above all, kind of interesting. Much more notably, though, I found myself having a lot of dumb fun with some of these lyrics. Amidst the dark humor of “Pinch Me”, for example, comes the lines, “I could hide out under there / I just made you say underwear”. Things aren’t quite so juvenile most of the time, though – “Never Do Anything” has the line, “I’ll lick my wounds; could you pass the salt?”, “Go Home” suggests, “If you think of her as Joan of Arc / She’s burning for you; get your car out of park”, and “Falling For the First Time” asserts in its clever bridge, “Anything plain can be lovely / Anything loved can be lost / Maybe I lost my direction”.

I wish I had more time to spend on this record, because there’s so much interesting stuff going on in each track that deserves being pored over. As it stands, though, I’ll conclude this review by reasserting that the songwriting here is truly something to be admired. The Ladies are still unafraid to let their goofy side shine through from time to time, but this album as a whole just feels more sophisticated and streamlined than any older works of theirs I’ve listened to. Once again, it’s nothing life-changing, but judging by the fact that I really had no expectations for this album as all, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I got out of it overall. It’s definitely an under-appreciated record of its time.

Best tracks: “Pinch Me”, “Falling For the First Time”, “The Humour of the Situation”, “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel”

Kid A – Radiohead
Peak position: #1

In the year 2000, three different albums of some genre of rock made it up to the top of the Billboard 200. Two of them are Santana’s Supernatural (which I won’t be covering since it had a 1999 release date) and Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (which I have already covered and hope to never look back on ever again). Nestled  in between is Kid A, widely considered among the top tier of Radiohead’s album output. I actually never listened to this album much until after high school – I was still replaying “Karma Police” and “Creep” in those days, and it wasn’t until I discovered In Rainbows that I actually even thought to look back on the band’s older material.

There’s no doubt that Radiohead are one of the greats and so much had been written about Kid A in particular that my attempts can only be futile. Still, I’ll try. This album marks a significant departure for the band into more experimental territory, and the result is each and every track sounding distinctly dense and textured in its own way. While the opener “Everything in Its Right Place” is vividly electronic in influence, others like “The National Anthem” take more of a style of freeform jazz, and still others more openly express the group’s traditional gloomy rock roots.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Thom Yorke as a vocalist, but I think this album demonstrates some of the best usage of his delicate, melancholic range. Even more so, I’m ridiculously impressed by the instrumentation of this record. Not just the experimental quality of the album, but how much of it there is – that’s just so damn cool to me. Tracks like “In Limbo” and “Idioteque” really pile on with the sonic textures, laying different sounds atop each other until it feels like the whole track will implode upon itself. In a way, this is the perfect representation of unrelenting anxiety. While the mixing will sound a bit cluttered and admittedly ugly from time to time, it always seems to find a way to land on its feet in the end.

Most of the time while listening to this record, I find myself either not caring or being absolutely puzzled by the lyrical choices here. It’s clear, though, that this album is more of an excellent mood piece than anything else, with each and every track brimming with a highly recognizable atmosphere. It’s both calming and depressive as hell, in equal measure. More than anything, even though this is not my favorite of Radiohead’s works, I’m forever impressed by the sonic textures accomplished by this album. The guys took a chance and nailed it! Obviously, I would recommend this one to… pretty much anyone who loves music.

Best tracks: “Everything in Its Right Place”, “The National Anthem”, “How to Disappear Completely”, “Optimistic”, “Idioteque”, “Motion Picture Soundtrack”

Warning – Green Day
Peak position: #4

Oh, Green Day. Like many now-adults around my age, my music listening habits were forever changed by the release of the veteran punks’ groundbreaking 2004 album American Idiot. I’ll talk more about this album specifically when I get to it, but let’s just say that Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool (my favorite) were pinned up on my bedroom wall for more than a few months. My obsession with this album led me to look up some of the group’s 90s output – and, eventually, Warning. Well, more specifically, “Warning”. It was one of their many tracks I had on constant rotation back in the day, but I never actually listened to the album in full… until now.

I think what initially made me lean away from this album so particularly is how different in style the trio’s sound had become at this point. In comparison to the bouncy pop-punk of Dookie and the rougher, political edge of American Idiot, the sound encompassed in Warning is a bit softer, folkier even. It’s true that their penchant for tight, catchy melodies can still be found in songs such as “Fashion Victim”, “Misery”, “Minority”, and the titular track. Yet the tone has certainly changed, replacing the playful, energetic vibes of their earlier fare with easier tempos, more earnest lyricism, and a broader array of sonic influences overall.

As for these influences, they are very proudly worn on the musicians’ sleeves. “Warning”‘s main guitar riff draws parallels to “Picture Book” by The Kinks; the lilting melody of “Waiting” reminds me of the soaring chorus in Petula Clark’s “Downtown”; “Misery” is replete with unusual brass instrumentals and a swaying, polka-like tempo; “Hold On” contains a harmonica riff that sounds suspiciously like that in The Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better”… you get the picture. What this results in is a collection of cool ideas thrown together , but unfortunately little by way of the original, memorable style with which they had made a name for themselves back in the day.

At the very least, though, we’ve always got the strong melodies – there are several songs on this record that had me humming along even long after the tracks had finished. Still, it’s hard to not feel that this is a bit of a lukewarm version of Dookie. This album, while good, still feels a bit like the middle child of Green Day albums. Still, it’s interesting to note just how much their lyricism and style had matured over the years – knowing that American Idiot lies just over the horizon, we have the advantage of viewing the tip of the iceberg.

Best tracks: “Fashion Victim”, “Misery”, “Waiting”

No Name Face – Lifehouse
Peak position: #6

We will return to Lifehouse’s continued success into the 2000s, at which point they became more connected to the adult alternative scene than here. In this, their debut album that put them on the map, they are still technically a post-grunge band. One of the first CDs I ever remember owning was the seventh volume of Now That’s What I Call Music!, and while I generally enjoyed the whole compilation (honestly, it still kind of holds up!), I felt particularly fond of Lifehouse’s hit song “Hanging By a Moment”, which fell near the final stretch of songs on this CD.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one who appreciated this tune – it would soon go on to become the biggest song of the entirety of the following year. Not bad for a song that never managed to hit number-one on the Hot 100! The upright bass at the start of this song had long been one of my favorite elements of the track, so it was a pleasant realization to find that this was what Lifehouse chose to introduce their entire album. The song is an intriguing blend of post-grunge and less angry, more sentimental alternative rock that keeps this song memorable without driving it too far over the edge.

It’s too bad, then, that the album gradually gets pretty boring from this point onward. The thing about post-grunge is that… well, it’s exactly that. As one of the defining rock genres of the early- to mid-2000s, post-grunge consists of groups greatly influenced by the 90s grunge movement, opting to take the sound in a whole different direction. I’ll get more into other breeds of post-grunge further into the challenge, but Lifehouse almost wholly represents just one breed – the quiet, brooding, sensitive bands with a rough edge. Vocalist Jason Wade sure sounds like Kurt Cobain and the guitars are just distorted enough, but the lyrics are relatively offensive ad the sound is much more polished than their predecessors.

It’s not that this record is bad – just incredibly forgettable. The record consists primarily of ballads and mildly poetic, mildly introspective numbers. “Hanging By a Moment” is far-and-away their most compelling cut here, which is too bad considering it is stuffed right at the beginning, with but a steep downhill crawl to follow. Their songs with more pronounced electric guitars consistently sound tame, while their slower songs barely leave much of an impression. One exception is “Breathing”, which contains a lovely, warmly-welcomed mandolin-like instrument in the mix. And while the album closer “Everything” is a bit too Christian rock for my own tastes, it’s got a lush, lovely sound to it that I can see appealing to some folks. But overall, while this album is a good sample of the state of mainstream rock at the turn of the millennium… it’s mostly worth skipping.

Best tracks: “Hanging By a Moment”, “Breathing”

Machina / The Machines of God – The Smashing Pumpkins
Peak position: #3

Rock music of the 90s as very important to developing my overall music taste in my formative years. One of the bands that I discovered and quickly came to love was The Smashing Pumpkins, specifically with their albums Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Still, I never actually gave a complete listen to their fifth studio album Machina / The Machines of God, save for a few tracks here and there I had on constant rotation. So, in keeping tradition of one of the many benefits I’ve had on this Rockin’ Thru the Aughts challenge thus far, I finally got around to this album on which I’ve been procrastinating for years.

Much as this case for U2 with All That You Can’t Leave Behind (see above), Machina was widely seen as a return to form for Smashing Pumpkins, after their previous album Adore had experimented with new electronic elements to their sound. Here, the distorted guitars returned front-and-center and the band regained their footing on the polished alternative rock sound with which they had made a name for themselves in the previous decade. Even more interesting, I think, is the struggle undertaken by the band to push this album out. It was originally conceived as an ambitious concept album with a convoluted storyline and more theatrical elements. Ultimately, most involved never felt fully on board with these ideas, thus resulting in essentially just another studio album for the band.

Even without this backstory in mind, there is something to say for the songs themselves. Many of these tracks deal with very big ideas, led by flowing walls of sound and noise that flow from one song into the next. Yet, when the first track “The Everlasting Gaze” plays out like a rehash of the band’s previous Mellon Collie-era single “Zero”, this oughta be a bad sign. Indeed, much of this record plays out like a bit of a sampler of the band’s styles as they had evolved through the years. Many of these are soaring, rhythmic rock anthems with a bit of a shoegaze edge, but there are also tracks that continue to focus on the electronic tinges of their previous album, as well as more experimental gothic rock tracks. It’s one hell of a mixed bag, but at least it stays interesting.

Honestly, the biggest treat I got from this album was being able to revisit “Stand Inside Your Love”. It was one of my favorite songs as a teenage girl with budding depression and a yearning for a deep, meaningful romantic relationship. While the lyrics are pretty clumsy in retrospect and Billy Corgan tends to rear his creepy obsessive tendencies here and there (“I wrap my wire around your heart and mind / You’re mine forever now”), I still have an untouchable nostalgia for this one and it remains one of the best Pumpkins songs of this era. Overall, while this album hardly holds a candle to the best this band has to offer, it is consistently sonically interesting, with rich atmospheric elements that would appeal to even the mildest of Smashing Pumpkins fans. It’s well worth the hour-plus length!

Best tracks: “Stand Inside Your Love”, “This Time”, “Wound”

We’re getting down to the wire now, with the final dozen or so albums left on my list for 2000. It’s going to be kind of bittersweet leaving this year behind so soon, but if this is any indicator of how fun this project is going to be with years to come… I’ve got some journey on my hands. Thanks for reading, once again, and seeya next week!

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