Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “Daddy” (1941) by Sammy Kaye with the Kaye Choir

It’s been a while since I reviewed a song for my Every Number-One Single challenge that predated the Hot 100, so here we are again! Strangely enough, even though I’ve covered thirty-four(!) singles for the challenge thus far – which is amazing, it honestly doesn’t seem like that much – the one that has gotten the most traffic is for “Maria Elena”, a song that comes over fifteen years before the Hot 100 would be born. And it’s not even close! Interestingly enough, “Daddy” is the very next single following “Maria Elena” that would top a sales and/or radioplay chart in the states, so luckily this is a very natural progression.

One of the main reasons why I decided to extend this challenge backwards to include a bunch of these earlier singles is, first and foremost, to familiarize myself with popular music of the pre-rock ‘n’ roll era, a glaring blindspot of mine. Specifically during the American swing era, bandleaders were all the rage, much in the same way that musicians and producers would be praised in this day and age. During the height of the big bang era, Sammy Kaye stood alongside other bandleaders such as Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, and Harry James as one of the most well-renown of the day. In case one may be wondering, “swing and sway” was a slogan coined by Kaye himself and often used by radio announcers before one of his records was spun. You can’t deny, it is catchy.

Between 1941 and 1950, Sammy Kaye and his orchestra (or in this case, the Kaye Choir) achieved five number-one singles, with “Harbor Lights” arguably being his signature tune. Nonetheless, today we’ll be looking at the first of these, which topped the National Best Selling Retail Records chart for eight nonconsecutive weeks. It should be noted that Kaye’s output tends to not fit within the traditional, agreeable realms of jazz or swing, at least in its day. On the contrary, Kaye’s records were often derided by critics for their playfulness and novelty value, which didn’t sit well for more serious big band connoisseurs.

“Daddy” falls totally in line with these expectations. By way of the Kaye Choir’s simple, synchronized delivery, the song tells of a girl named Daisy Mae who demands only the finest of expensive prizes from her handsome beau… and that’s it. That’s the song. Among her wishes are “a diamond ring, bracelets”, “clothes with Paris labels”, “a brand new car, champagne, caviar”… you get the drill. It’s basically an earlier, less sexier version of “Santa Baby”, only told from an outsider’s perspective as opposed to the latter’s first-person perspective. An in case it must be noted, “daddy” is an outdated term of endearment usually between a young heterosexual couple, from the girl to the boy. Of course, the term itself has taken on a whole other meaning nearly 80 years later, but we’ll skip that part.

The most interesting part about this song, honestly, is that initially the joke seems to be missing – it’s not like the singers are condemning this woman for her desire for nice, flashy things. They’re just kind of stating her own requests pretty objectively. At the start of the song before the main melody, they introduce her as “Lazy Daisy Mae” and observe her personality as, “rather sweet and charming, at times alarming”, which could possibly be interpreted as a form of condemnation. But I don’t see it that way; it seems more like a person talking about their friend, in an “oh, she’s pretty wild” kind of way. And I guess that’s the whole joke here: a young woman who dares to step out of the supposed gender roles of her relationship and ask for material objects, as opposed to the standard romantic notions that would appear in a typical love song.

Now, I wouldn’t be so quick as to call this song subversive in any way – after all, it’s just a cute little novelty song. If anything, it’s more interesting to note how what was once probably gut-bustingly funny in the olden days (remember – this went to number-one!) now seems relatively innocuous, tame, and even kind of boring. Still, there’s enough charm in this one to keep me interested for its brief little snippet of time. It’s always nice to branch away from contemporary rock and pop music for a little while, and I’m glad that this song was the one I landed on!

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Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 2 – Debut albums from Flogging Molly, Linkin Park, Good Charlotte, and more

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 on this challenge, head over here.

Now that I’m making my way through the rock music of the year 2000, I’ve decided to keep things interesting by attempting to present the rest of the albums through a series of themes. While more likely these themes will fall more in line with genre (next post will be devoted to adult contemporary and soft rock!), I also think it would be cool to introduce some bands that released their debut albums in 2000. Some of these bands will almost certainly make their return at one or more points throughout the decade, and I think that tracking their progress from the very beginning would be pretty fun!

Anyway, I’ll keep this introduction short. Here are some debut records!

Swagger – Flogging Molly

LA band Flogging Molly (named after an inside joke regard a bar the members would frequent) wasn’t really much on my radar throughout high school, but I distinctly remember having at least a small handful of their songs on my iPod. As far as their debut album is concerned, I only ever listened to “Devil’s Dance Floor”, which I recall hearing for the first time on mainstream rock radio and falling in love with it instantly. I wouldn’t get into the Pogues until years later, but it’s clear now that the Celtic punk style of this record (and the band as a whole) has roots from deep within the sound of the classic punk group.

The first two tracks, “Salty Dog” and “Selfish Man”, kick off the record impressively well. Let primarily by Matt Hensley’s uptempo accordion and distinct vocals courtesy of Dave King (an actual Irishman!), these two rowdy tracks recount a rowdy night at a pub just as much as they do a punk show moshpit. Personally, though, I think the band is at their strongest when they tone things down a bit, as is the case with “The Worst Day Since Yesterday”, a midtempo number with some excellent tongue-in-cheek, melancholic lyrics (“Though these wounds have seen no wars, except for the scars I have ignored / And this endless crutch, well it’s never enough / It’s been the worst day since yesterday”).

While the production of this record is credited to Flogging Molly themselves, the mixing is done by the legendary Steve Albini. This must explain how the ragged, punk rock feel of this record works so well with delicate instruments like the tin flute and mandolin in “Life in a Tenement Square” and “The ‘Ol Beggars Bush”, as with the fiddle in “Black Friday Rule” (possibly the album’s centerpiece). Even better, the lyrics remain so completely real and dignified from song to song. I would give most of the credit to King’s consistently awesome performance, but I fear that it would diminish the credit that the rest of the band well deserves. The drum work, guitar solo, and violin solo in “Black Friday Rule”, for example, are all to die for.

While any number of these tracks would be excellent drinkin’ and partyin’ material, going back to “Devil’s Dance Floor” was really one of the highlights of the record for me. That flute/accordion/mandolin combo is absolutely fantastic and the chorus is anthemic as all hell. An even bigger surprise, though, was discovering the second-to-last track “Sentimental Johnny”, which is super reminiscent of  “Fiesta”, one of my very favorite Pogues tracks. Overall, this is an incredibly solid debut record and I cannot wait to check out more from these guys.

Best tracks: “The Worst Day Since Yesterday”, “Life in a Tenement Square”, “Black Friday Rule”, “Devil’s Dance Floor”, “Sentimental Johnny”

The Distillers – The Distillers

Most of the tracks from The Distillers with which I’ve been familiar actually come from their 2003 album Coral Fang (which I definitely plan on covering). Interestingly enough, the one track from their debut that I played frequently back in the day was one that I wasn’t aware was a cover. Indeed, it took me an embarrassingly long time before realizing that “Ask the Angels” was a Patti Smith song – but boy, what an introduction!

The music of The Distillers in their debut is pretty standard punk rock – fast drums, repetitive guitars, simple chords. What makes their sound really pop, I think, are the totally fierce vocals from leading woman Brody Dalle. Once again, much better examples of such will be exemplified in Coral Fang, but I also think that the album’s opener “Oh Serena” is an excellent opener for that very reason. This is carried over to the second track “Idoless”, which is as energetic and passionate as they come.

For the most part, this record keeps up its general sound and tempo from start to finish, with little room in the way of down time. This isn’t to say that it’s bad – quite the contrary. If you’re in the mood for some mid- to high-tempo skate punk with some fierce melodies popping in every now and again (such as in “World Comes Tumblin’ Down”)… well, you could do a whole lot worse. Nonetheless, it’s clear from the first half of the album or so that it’s bound to get pretty repetitive from that point onward. This doesn’t exactly work to its disadvantage, but it’s nothing very cutting edge either.

The gears switch up a little bit with the aforementioned “Ask the Angels”. Here, Dalle is doing more in the way of singing and the melody in general is more pronounced and polished. It is in moments like these where this album feels more like a predecessor of what’s to come than its own totally unique end product. Nonetheless, Dalle steals the show from start to finish – just one listen to “Open Sky” automatically sells it. She and her bandmates are obviously having such a great time, which makes the listener want to join along. As unexceptional as the album may b e as a whole, at least this accomplishment is admirable.

Best tracks: “Oh Serena”, “World Comes Tumblin’ Down”, “Ask the Angels”, “Open Sky”

Hybrid Theory –  Linkin Park

Arguably, Linkin Park are one of the most important mainstream rock bands of the 2000s and their appeal shines through right from their debut. Spearheaded by Mike Shinoda’s rapping and programming, as well as Chester Bennington’s more melodic yet rough vocals, this was the album for many of my generation. I first heard of the band through some older cousins of mine who were raving about them, “In the End” specifically. Nonetheless, it took me far too long to actually listen to this album in its entirety – 2016, to be exact.

From the first couple tracks of Hybrid Theory, it’s clear that this band is the real deal. “Papercut” deals with the issue of paranoia and distrust (“It’s like I’m paranoid lookin’ over my back / It’s like a whirlwind inside of my head”), while “One Step Closer” kicks it up a notch with a healthy dose of pure unadulterated angst (“I need a little room to breathe / ‘Cause I’m one step closer to the edge and I’m about to break”). The latter song especially demonstrates Bennington’s unparalleled penchant for effective emotional outburst during the, “Shut up when I’m talking to you!” section.

Nonetheless, I think the production earns a fair bit of praise. While I’m not the biggest fan of “Crawling”‘s overdramatic chorus, the synths in the verses are some of the purest, most beautiful sonic moments of the whole album. I find “Runaway” to be kind of underrated, with a nu-metal sound that works surprisingly well. And then, of course, there’s “In the End”, with its gorgeously melodic keys at the intro, terrifically rapped verses, and, yes, an amazing vocal performance from Bennington in both the chorus and middle eighth.  It must be said, though – this album is significantly less fun to listen to as an adult (i.e. a non-teenager). So many of these lyrics read and sound like they come straight from the pages of a high schooler’s private diary, which isn’t necessarily to its detriment. Still, it does get tiresome after a while – “Points of Authority” and “Pushing Me Away” are so lyrically similar, it’s a tad ridiculous.

Nonetheless, I’d be wrong not to mention that these lyrics hold an intrinsic value to listeners who could relate to the themes laid out here – which inherently makes this a worthwhile listen. Ever since Bennington’s suicide nearly a year ago, it’s been really hard to go back and listen to Linkin Park’s music, least of all their earlier stuff. Bennington’s pain, depression, and trauma are so concretely realized song after song and it hurts to realize that the very gift that caused so many people, young and old, to connect with their music is the same that would lead him to end his life. Still, this album was one that became the voice for many who were voiceless – and I think that’s kind of beautiful.

Best tracks: “One Step Closer”, “Runaway”, “In the End”

Mer de noms – A Perfect Circle

A Perfect Circle is yet another band that has always just kind of been around. When I was listening to a lot more harder rock (most likely between ages 12-15), A Perfect Circle always felt to be a band that remained ragged around the edges, yet still inexplicably calming to listen to. It doesn’t hurt that vocalist Maynard James Keenan was previously leader of Tool, which embraced a relatively rougher progressive metal style, as opposed to A Perfect Circle’s emphasis on slightly more polished alternative rock tones.

Mer de noms was, of course, the band’s debut record and the one that has generally garnered them the most acclaim. Much like Deftones (whose album White Pony I covered in The Year 2000 Pt. 1), it’s tempting to conclude that the atmosphere formed in this record stands in priority over the lyrics themselves. Just take a listen to “Magdalena”, which emphasizes a moody bass line and dark, moody guitar aesthetics to create the record’s unique sound. This is carried over into “Rose”, a more explicitly hard rock number that, nonetheless, uses its abnormal time signatures and variety of instruments (including strings and unique percussion) to set itself apart from others.

Nonetheless, this is also the kind of record that I, personally, could really only find myself admiring from afar. Once I look a little closer, it seems that the lyrics themselves, though decidedly vague and often emitted powerfully by Keenan, leave much to be desired. “Magdalena”, for example, concerns itself with with a stripper as the subject, with lyrics that are as male gazey as they come (“So pure, so rare / To witness such an earthly goddess”). While “Judith” was a personal favorite of mine as a teenager, the lyrics of concerning atheism and intense distaste for Christianity seem unnecessarily cruel in retrospect (“You’re such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be / Oh, so many ways for me to show you how your savior has abandoned you”).

These are just a sampling of the lyrics that rubbed me the wrong way – I could go more in depth, but I want to keep these reviews short! Overall, the best word I could use to describe this record is “bitter” – which I could see befitting the needs of many, but does not particularly suit my own tastes. Still, I’ve got to give it up for the polished production on a good many of these tracks, including “Rose”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Thinking of You”, and others. If anything, it was really nice to find out that “3 Libras” holds up, with its magnificent melding of intricate strings and melodic vocals that sounds just as good now as it did when I was younger.

Best tracks: “Rose”, “3 Libras”

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence – Glassjaw

Unlike many of the other bands that I’ve been covering on this challenge, Glassjaw is one that has been relatively unfamiliar to me pretty much all the way to the present day. My guess is that they just flew under my radar on account of them not getting a lot of TV play (since that was where I found the vast majority of alternative rock). Still, I had a couple of their songs in my music library, thus making them eligible for this challenge.

I’ll start this off by stating that I’m well aware of Glassjaw’s reputation as an important figure of the 2000s post-hardcore scene (especially this album)… and I get it. The intensity of Daryl Palumbo’s vocals is matched perfectly with Justin Beck’s erratic guitar work, both of these very prominently demonstrated from one track of this album to the next. “Pretty Lush”, the album’s opener, goes for the throat right off the get-go, with a blistering intensity that fires off like dynamite. While there are only a few other songs that match this level of unfettered intensity, the album is at its best when it demonstrates its diversity of sound. “Ry Ry’s Song” was the one track that I listened to the most in high school, and while its lyrics have certainly not held up so well over time, it’s a pleasant surprise to see that it’s still the most pleasant listen to come out of this album. And say what you will about this sound overall – it’s damn influential of what’s to come from the post-hardcore scene.

But anyway, let’s talk about these lyrics, shall we!!

So, the vast majority of this album deals with the inner turmoil that occurs when a relationship goes awry… and let’s just say it’s pretty bitter. Not to mention sexist as all hell. “Pretty Lush” contains the lyrics, “You can lead a whore to water and you can bet that she’ll drink and follow orders”. But it gets worse. “Siberian Kiss” has the speaker telling his dreaded ex, “Why don’t you sell yourself?”, while also using the typical emotional abuse line, “If I can’t have you, no one will”. “Lovebites and Razorlines” is arguably the worst offender, fully composed of egregious lines like, ” Fucking whore, you live in shit, and you will eat your own way out” (and that’s not even the worst line in the whole song!). “Hurting and Shoving” paints a cruel scenario wherein he states he’d, “hold his child’s head underwater… If it’s a daughter, I’ll say I did what I did because I had to”. “Piano” states plainly, “I only beat you when I’m drunk; you’re only pretty when you’re crying”.

Needless to say, as a woman, it’s clear that this album was not meant for me and is thus quite an exhausting listen. Still, it makes me wonder: who is this album for? Even one of the less obviously awful tracks, “When One Eight Becomes Two Zeroes” (awful title, I know) asserts that the subject is, “just another hobby for a guy like me”. I get that breakups are tough and the emotions coming from that are even tougher, but there’s got to be a better way to handle this kind of pain. I’m glad that the band have recently renounced this album’s blatant misogyny, but that still doesn’t change the fact that it has taught a full generation of boys and men that violence toward women (even if implied) is an adequate means of dealing with the struggle of heartbreak.

But I won’t put this entirely on Glassjaw’s back – after all, rock music has a long history of men’s entitlement over women that manifests itself in various ways. And lemme tell you, I’ve got a long, long road ahead of me.

Best track: “Ry Ry’s Song”

Good Charlotte – Good Charlotte

After the last listen, I needed a palette cleanser of sorts – music from a band that are just plain silly and don’t take themselves so damn seriously. Regardless of the quality of their music, Good Charlotte were a band that were always pretty persistent in my middle school and earlier high school years. While I would eventually grow out of their silly, knee-deep brand of pop-punk, I still get a warm sense of nostalgia when revisiting their stuff, especially songs from the sophomore album The Young and the Hopeless. With that being said, I never actually gave a listen to their self-titled debut – so, lucky me!

So, while this is far from a particularly strong album, it’s actually not to bad in terms of debut album quality. Two main elements of these songs hold the record down as a whole: the Madden brothers’ corny-ass lyrics and Joel Madden’s whiny vocalizations. The intro track “Little Things” (what would become one of the band’s signature tracks) immediately zeroes in on its target audience, being “dedicated to every kid who ever got picked last in gym class”. It then reflects on a bunch of tired cliches about the high school underdog experience, from being picked on by the popular kids to the speaker’s dad walking out on them. One thing that’s for certain about this band is that subtlety isn’t their strong suit – you know that “I Heard You” is about being laughed at by the cool kids at the t-shirt stand because this is literally stated in the lyrics! Nonetheless, the lyrical plain-speak also explain how this band was so big with really young kids (like myself), so there’s that.

Basically, this album is the best whenever Good Charlotte just decide to stay in their lane. Once they try to experiment with adding more hip hop elements to their sounds (such as in “Waldorf Worldwide” and “Complicated”), the whole thing just falls flat on its face. At the same time, though, I can’t hate it completely – the music of songs like “I Don’t Wanna Stop” and “Walk By” are totally competent, and even their slower songs like “The Motivation Proclamation” and “Seasons” are totally in their element. And I can’t deny that I’m a sucker for the album closer, the hidden track “Thank You Mom”, which is an acoustic-style ballad to the most important woman in the Madden boys’ lives. It’s corny, yes, but also fitting to the entirety of the album… and probably the band as a whole. While I wouldn’t recommend Good Charlotte to anyone over the age of fifteen, I can also see how this would appeal to the young and young at heart. It’s fine!

Best tracks: “Walk By”, “Screamer”

This was an intriguing section this time around. Perhaps not the most consistent in terms of quality, but interesting and eye-opening nonetheless! As I stated above, next week’s entry to the challenge will be devoted to adult contemporary, soft rock, and anything else falling under that relative umbrella. Think less guitars and more pianos. ‘Til next time!

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Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “Dirty Diana” (1988) by Michael Jackson

Interesting. This is my second review on a Michael Jackson song for my Every Number-One Single challenge – the first was “Ben”, which peaked near the beginning of Jackson’s prominence, and now it’s “Dirty Diana”, which came by around the beginning of his descent. It’s tempting for me to try to compare the world of differences between the two very different singles… but I’ll refrain from such recklessness.

Following the unparalleled success of his 1982 album Thriller, Jackson released his album Bad five years later, opting for a more mature trajectory in terms of sound and lyrical themes. This album would cement him as one of the best-selling pop artists of the 80s, and of all time for that matter. In total, five singles from Bad would all hit number-one, a feat that has yet to be surpassed. Written by Jackson, who also co-produced it with longtime collaborator Quincy Jones, “Dirty Diana” was the final of these chart topping singles. Immediately, one can note the stylistic difference between this song’s sound and the sonic qualities of Thriller‘s singles – the synths run deeper and darker; the tempo is less funky and more brooding. And although the prominent electric guitar (from Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens) is reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen’s work on “Beat It”, these power chords are not nearly quite so fun.

Thematically, this song concerns a woman – the titular Diana – whom Jackson berates for her promiscuity and her constant attempts to bed him (“You seduce every man; this time you won’t seduce me”). Contemporary critics immediately drew parallels between this song and another of Jackson’s earlier huge hits, “Billie Jean”, which dealt with Jackson’s dodging a woman who possibly mistakenly claims him to be her child’s father. Although both of these singles deal with relatively similar material, “Billie Jean” covers the realistic stress and tragedy of this predicament with funky synths and a cool, casual, utterly danceable rhythm. In the case of “Dirty Diana”, no dancing is invited. The anger emitted by the lyrics is echoed not just in the dark production, but in Jackson’s impassioned performance itself. The is especially pronounced in the pre-chorus melody, where Jackson’s singing (coupled with some cold keyboards) builds and builds to an explosion of intense frustration, immediately followed by the simple, chanting chorus (“Dirty Diana, nah; dirty Diana, nah…”).

At this time, I haven’t quite reached the late 80s part of my Year-End Hot 100 challenge, but honestly I’m kind of dreading the thought of covering Jackson’s Bad singles once I get there. It’s not that I dislike them, so much as it is that the move away from the fun and good vibes of Off the Wall and Thriller is so jarring, and I think “Dirty Diana” is a good example of this. While none of Jackson’s music has ever been the most progressive in terms of gender politics and depiction of women, his utter distaste toward this hypothetical woman seems to come right out of nowhere. In this song, Diana is predatory in her affection for Jackson (“She says there’s no turnin’ back; she trapped me in her heart”), as well as a fast lover (“‘I’ll be your night lovin’ thing, I’ll be the freak you can taunt'”), hungry for fame (“‘I’ll be your everything if you make me a star'”), and willing to tear apart loving relationships to get what she wants (“She said, ‘He’s not coming back, because he’s sleeping with me'”). There is also the obvious connotation of Diana being “dirty” that definitely throws this woman on the wrong side of the dreaded virgin/whore dichotomy.

Nonetheless, while this twisted depiction of a woman who dares not to be docile is replete with its own kind of misogyny, I think it’s also worth noting who this is coming from. It’s clear that so much of this is reflective of Jackson’s increasingly tensed relationship with the media and individual people who have come in and out of his life through the years. These darker themes of betrayal, frustration, and anger help to compose many of the more prominent tracks off Bad, with this one being no exception. Therefore, it might not be much of a stretch to state that “Dirty Diana” is yet another depiction of the unfair ways he feels to have been treated, by way of a tired, sexist metaphor.

Still, it also wouldn’t surprise me at all that Michael Jackson would have no idea how to present multi-faceted women in his compositions in fair, unbiased ways. This is coming from someone whose had fame chase him almost his entire life, and certainly through his entire adult life. Empathy toward others doesn’t get built if you’ve had no reason to think of anyone but yourself for several years, and the built-in misogyny of the music industry as a whole wouldn’t help manners. Anyway, the point I’m getting at is that this is nowhere near my favorite of Jackson’s work. The production is fine enough and I can even get behind the guitar work (even if I’d rather be listening to Eddie Van Halen). The lyrics just about kill it for me, though – songs like these were definitely not meant for the performer’s female fans, and this only serves to mark the beginning of the end for Jackson.

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Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “Karma Chameleon” (1983) by Culture Club

Looks like the trajectory of gayness that my Every Number-One Single challenge had been taking of late took a brief detour with my last post on T.I.’s “Whatever You Like”. That song is as heterosexual as they come, but I had fun writing that review! Of course, since I recently reviewed Pet Shop Boys and Barbra Streisand, it would only be a matter of time before my randomizer would embark upon yet another gay icon of the music world. And here we are! I’m starting to think the randomizer knows me a little too well…

But I’ll digress. Culture Club are a pretty big deal, especially when the early 80s became the mid 80s. 1983 in particular gave us what many have called the Second British Invasion. As dance music continued its slow descent from the disco era and punk music became increasingly nihilistic and tougher to exploit in the mainstream, groups from overseas began flooding the charts with a new, fresh sound. With more textured instrumentation, strange lyrics, and charismatic identities, groups like Duran Duran, Eurythmics, and The Human League found themselves rubbing shoulder-to-shoulder with all the popular American artists like Michael Jackson and Hall & Oates. This is no better defined by the year-end Hot 100 of 1983, which finds UK band The Police nabbing the coveted top spot.

Also present amongst this clashing of cultures is one Culture Club, who have three of the spots contained within the top 100. Nonetheless, while all three of these songs (“Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”, “Time (Clock of the Heart)” and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”) were huge top ten hits in the States, it wasn’t until the following year where they would accomplish their first and only number-one hit in America: “Karma Chameleon”. As the second single from their second studio album Colour By Numbers, the song captured the colorful personality of frontman Boy George and the rest of his bandmates, topping the charts for three glimmering weeks. After a jaunty guitar riff at the start, the song transitions into what has become one of the band’s signature sounds – a quirky harmonica, played by The Hideaways’ Judd Lander (who also makes an appearance on Colour By Numbers‘s first single, “Church of the Poison Mind”).

From then on, frontman Boy George takes center stage, soulfully crooning the opening couplet: “Desert loving in your eyes all the way / If I listened to your lies, would you say”. Like much of Culture Club’s lyrics, the meaning to this song is relatively cryptic and requires a bit of reading between the lines. At face value, though, this song is magically, wonderfully poppy, with enormous hooks of which I’m sure had many a songwriter wishing they’ve composed. The chorus alone is instantly infectious: “Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams / Red, gold, and green; red, gold, and green”.

At this surface level reading, I actually consider this to be among the lower tier of Culture Club singles. As I briefly mentioned in my overview of 1984’s top 100 songs, I find Culture Club to be at their absolute best when their lyrics are sad and mournful, with more lush instrumentation to match. The easiest example of such would be their first US top-ten single “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?”, which is a beautiful display of not only Boy George’s androgynous vocals, but the textured midtempo production and the painfully poignant lyrics of heartache. The fact that it’s specifically gay heartache makes this song far more cutting edge than many people give it credit for.

This theme carries over with “Karma Chameleon”. As I mentioned, the lyrics take a bit of close reading, but there are also some lines that are a bit more upfront about it (“Didn’t hear your wicked words every day / And you used to be so sweet, I heard you say / That my love was an addiction”). As the story goes, this was one of many songs written about the troubled affair between Boy George and the band drummer Jon Moss – just regular foolish relationship stuff. While the phrase “karma chameleon” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it is implied that the impact of karma kicks in when one refuses to commit themselves fully to a relationship out of fear of alienation. Basically, this is a song that is less about heartache than it is about frustration; this is no more apparent than in the middle eighth, wherein the turmoiled singer sings, “Everyday is like survival / You’re my lover, not my rival“.

While more uptempo cuts like “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” and “Miss Me Blind” still contain these lyrics about romantic turmoil and are undeniably well-produced and polished, they don’t quite come off as amazing to me, maybe by virtue of being pretty loose and danceable. That’s basically where I stand on “Karma Chameleon” as well – it’s uplifting, incredibly easy to dance and sing along to, but a tad irritating to penetrate and relatively flat, compared to the Club’s previous output. For anyone who was relatively unfamiliar with the group and their other songs, I wouldn’t blame them for thinking that this is one of the best songs of the 80s (and they might even be right!). For anyone else, though, I would quickly turn their attention to “Time (Clock of the Heart)”… but that’s for another day.

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Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 1 – HIM, 3 Doors Down, Disturbed, and more

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 on this challenge, head over here.

As I step into this new listening/writing challenge for the very first time, I see no reason to start anywhere but at the very beginning. The music world of the year 2000 was very different from what we have now. For one thing, even though pop and R&B definitely dominated top 40 radio, there was a lot more rock present on the actual pop charts. In the year-end list of the year’s top 100 songs, I counted fourteen singles by bonafide rock bands, including two Santana tracks in the top three. This doesn’t sound like a while lot, but compared to today’s musical climate, an occurrence as this is practically miraculous.

But who was I in the year 2000? And what was I listening to? Well, I was eight years old when the ball dropped into Y2K (I sincerely thought it would be the end of the world… but in an exciting way), and I was mostly listening to whatever mainstream radio pushed my way in those days. I was still riding the high of the countless boy and girl bands circulating pop radio (I had an O-Town poster on my wall!), as well as flipping through both sides of my cassette copy of Britney Spears’s …Baby, One More Time again and again. And there was also Radio Disney, which offered a variety of other G-rate musical fare for my budding eardrums. I got really into Aaron Carter around this time. Rap music was pretty much nonexistent in my listening habits (except for Radio Disney staple Lil Romeo), partially because my household forbid it and partially because I simply had no interest in branching out.

Needless to say, my musical tastes were not nearly as honed as they would be in later years. Nonetheless, as I mentioned earlier, rock music continued to thrive in these days. Here is the first part, wherein I cover some of the most prominent rock releases of this year.

Razorblade Romance – HIM

Released on January 24th, this album is the earliest record of 2000 that I found to follow my three qualifications for this challenge: it was released in the 2000s, falls under a rock genre, and was found in my music library at some point in this decade. Of course, I was far too young at the time for its release to catch my attention at all; it took until late middle school for HIM to go across my radar in any way at all. They are notable for being one of the few rock bands from Finland to have a successful crossover into the mainstream rock scene. Their gothic rock sound was certainly attractive to the emo kids in the mid-2000s… but the obnoxious good looks of lead vocalist Ville Valo didn’t hurt either.

Razorblade Romance, HIM’s second album, best demonstrates the two most prominent themes across their discography: love and death. Just reading through some of these track titles certainly conveys this – “Poison Girl”, “Join Me In Death”, “Razorblade Kiss”. In particular, “Death is in Love With Us” sounds like it could be a parody song title! Not that these songs are played particularly straight anyway – the lyrics of “Join Me In Death” in particular feel very tongue-in-cheek in its kitschy worship of the Shakespearean suicide love story. As does “Gone With the Sin”, which turn a lot of generic romance conventions on its head (“I love your skin, cold as ice… I love the way you’re losing your life”).  The best songs on this record rely strongly on the chugging guitars of Mikke Lindström, as well as Valo’s delicate but versatile vocal delivery.

Nonetheless, the album as a whole is pretty top-heavy – once you get through the interesting power of the first few tracks, the rest unfortunately feels like it’s treading on familiar territory. Still, the first six songs would make one hell of an EP, dripping with equal parts lust and theatrical angst.

Best tracks: “Poison Girl”, “Right Here in My Arms”, “Gone With the Sin”

The Better Life – 3 Doors Down

This album’s introductory track and lead single “Kryptonite” holds the honor of being one of the first rock songs I remember piquing my interest. Specifically, I remember watching the video for the first time while I was getting ready for school and was amused by how wacky it was. I think back in the day I even interpreted it as being about a superhero, specifically Superman, given the song title and the line, “If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman”. I was a weird kid.

While I enjoyed the song pretty well back in the day, looking back now with much more hindsight on what the band would soon become, it’s just alright for me. The guitars chug along pretty nice and the melody is catchy enough for comfortable radio play – nothing more or less. It isn’t until now, though, that I actually gave a listen to 3 Doors Down’s sophomore album The Better Life, one of the most successful albums of 2000. While “Kryptonite” led things off to a good start, it all went steadily downhill from there. This whole album is nothing more than a totally watered-down, radio-friendly brand of post-punk where the last track is indistinguishable from the next.

It simply baffles me to figure out what exactly people find compelling about 3 Doors Down. I guess Brad Arnold’s lead vocals is a big factor in it, consistently demonstrating just as much country twang as it does grungy grit. The guitar work leaves little to the imagination, though, with the same simple arpeggios and chords chugging along song after song after pitiful song. Even worse is when they try their hand at low-tempo ballads, as in the case with “Be Like That”, which is just treacly, limp, and embarrassing.

Moving further into the second half of the record… yeah, nothing exceptional here. It’s all the same shit. In particular, “Smack” feels like an egregious uptempo copycat of “Kryptonite”, demonstrating that there’s not much else the band has to offer. Worse of all, this is just the start of it: while compiling the list of rock releases to cover for this challenge, I was annoyed to find out that 3 Doors Down is one of the only bands to remain consistently relevant all throughout the 2000s. In other words, it looks like I’m gonna have a long road ahead of me.

Best track: “Kryptonite”

Bloodflowers – The Cure

Pretty much all throughout high school, if one would ask me who my favorite band were, my answer would almost consistently be The Cure. This was the same phase of my life where dark, moody, sad-sounding music was totally My Thing. While I never paid much attention to The Cure’s post-90s releases, I distinctly remember having Bloodflowers in my music library, though I mostly just gave “Maybe Someday” the most attention.

In any case, I finally gave the album a complete spin for this challenge. Having slowly drifted away from listening to the band as copiously as I did in high school (save for a few of my favorite 80ss tracks of theirs), this experience was akin to revisiting an old friend. The album begins with “Out of This World”, which is as replete with guitar washes and signature gloomy vocals courtesy of leader Robert Smith. The rest of the album rides on this easy wavelength for the remainder of its runtime.

Save for the obviously updated studio rock production and increased reliance on keyboards, most of the tracks on this album would fit in nicely alongside others from The Cure’s classic repertoire, such as Pornography and Disintegration. While many have criticized this album for its lack of ambition, I would argue that it is when the band branches out from their usual sound that this record falters the most. A vivid example can be found with “The Loudest Sound”, which attempts a sort of trip-hop feel that, frankly, does not work.

Fortunately, though, these turns are far and few between through this record. Those that appreciate the textured doom ‘n’ gloom that defined Disintegration would find much to love with Bloodflowers, especially in tracks like “The Last Day of Summer” and the titular outro track. Now that I’ve come back to an old friend, I can’t wait to revisit the rest of The Cure’s 2000s discography and see if its held up just as well.

Best tracks: “Out of This World”, “Maybe Someday”, “The Last Day of Summer”, “Bloodflowers”

White Pony – Deftones

This album was actually chosen for me by my partner, after giving him the complete list of albums from 2000 that I’ll be covering. Although I’ve been familiar with alternative metal act Deftones in the past, I never actually gave a listen to an entire album of theirs until now. White Pony is arguably the most acclaimed album of their career – it was a bit of a change from the sound of their previous albums in that it took on more experimental sounds and formats on a track by track basis.

The intro track “Feiticeira” is a good starting point on what to expect from the rest of the album. It contains the signature qualities of the band’s best stuff, including Stephen Carpenter’s heavy, distorted guitars, Abe Cunningham’s sharp drums, and vocalist Chino Moreno’s delicate sound that contrasts wonderfully with the aggressive instrumentals. “Digital Bath” was one of my favorite tracks of theirs in high school, and I was pleased to find out that it still holds up. The guitars are softer and more melodic without losing its edge; this combined with Moreno’s eclectic vocals create a wonderful wall of sound that seems to just drift along with little effort.

I guess technically this band would be considered nu-metal – more rhythm-heavy songs like “Elite”, “Rx Queen”, and “Passenger” certainly contain a tad bit of a hip-hop influence, although, yes, the rock edge is at the foreground at all times. What I do enjoy is how varied each of the songs are from each other, with each song bringing a little something different to the table. A great example of this is “Knife Prty”, which includes an Arabic-style vocal bridge sung by a guest vocalist named Rodleen Getsic, who is just terrific. And then there’s “Change (In the House of Flies)”, arguably the band’s most recognizable single. Rich, textured, mysterious, and even a little sexy, it’s got to be up there with one of the greatest radio rock singles of the decade (but we’ve just started!).

Honestly, I ended up enjoying this album a whole lot more than I expected to. The Deftones sound is just so chill and even a little melancholic – in other words, something I would have totally dug had I fully discovered this album in my high school years.

Best tracks: “Digital Bath”, “Street Carp”, “Knife Prty”, “Change (In the House of Flies)”

The Sickness – Disturbed

Ah, now for Disturbed, one of the more prominent edgy rock bands of the 2000s. Two of the most prominent aspects of Disturbed’s music (to me at least) have been their melding of ragged hard rock guitars and David Draiman’s unique, primal, totally strange vocals. This is immediately apparent with The Sickness‘s introductory track “Voices”, which follows up a creeping synth loop with some deep pounding bass and, eventually, Draiman’s intense staccato vocals. The next track, “The Game”, contains a more prominent industrial rock influence, which is actually pretty unusual for the band. It’s still replete with its own flaws, such as the vocals and guitar drowning out all the cool electronic flairs, but at least it’s the closest I’ve come to truly enjoying any track off this album.

Where this album tends to falter the most is in its lyrics. “Voices” introduces the album with, “I’m gonna talk about some freaky shit now”. Nearly every line of every verse in “Stupify” ends with the word “fuck” (which Draiman delivers with his signature guttural yelp), and includes a shoutout to “all la gente in the barrio”. “Conflict” is even lazier, ending every line in the verses with “enemy” to the point where it no longer sounds like a word.”Droppin’ Plates” introduces itself as, “A little somethin’ for your earhole”. And then there’s the notorious “Down With the Sickness” that introduces itself with that awful vocal hook, continues with some vague lines about alienation and anger, and climaxes with an atrocious enactment of a child being abused by his mother. Not fun.

But even the songs that are so much more innocuous – like “Fear”, “Numb”, and the closer “Meaning of Life” – just feel so devoid of anything resembling a pulse. It’s not so much that this is style over substance – on the contrary, it often feels like the style and the substance are consistently sizing each other up in an arm wrestle of sorts. And that’s even mentioning their soulless cover of Tear For Fears’ “Shout” (which they renamed “Shout 2000” for some reason)… though maybe it’s best not to go into that one. I’ve definitely listened to worse albums, but few quite so unrewarding as this one.

Best tracks: “The Game”

Return of Saturn – No Doubt

While compiling the list of albums to cover for this challenge, one trend became glaringly obvious: these bands are almost completely made up of white men. I guess this is what I should have expected upon entering this project, and it does give me an excuse to offer my critique on the toxic masculinity that plagues so much of this music (see directly above for an example of such). Still, I want to try to have at least one review in these posts that covers a band led by or featuring a woman in its lineup.

No Doubt is actually one of the more important bands of my childhood. In particular, this album and its predecessor Tragic Kingdom really remind me of car trips with my mom (who was and still is a huge fan). The beginning chords of “Ex-Girlfriend” immediately set of bells in my heart to this day; now that I’m older, I can actually relate to the lyrics so much more (“I’m another ex-girlfriend on your list / But I should have thought of that before we kissed”). It’s clear also that the band is much more willing to experiment with their sound – while “Ex-Girlfriend” is more of a straight-forward pop-rock number, “Bathwater” has more of a pronounced jazz-swing element to it, while “Comforting Lie” is oddly tinged with nu-metal inflections.

Now that I have more of an adult(ish) frame of reference these days, comparing this with Tragic Kingdom is all the more fruitful. While their earlier ska sound is still present, the lyric throughout Return of Saturn seem to be much more about Gwen Stefani’s desire for domesticity. In “Simple Kind of Life”, she croons, “I always thought I’d be a mom… You’d seem like you’d be a good dad”. In “Marry Me”, amidst a soft, slinky rhythm, she describes herself as, “A creature conditioned to enjoy matrimony”. She plays it pretty straight, but at the same time, I get no sense of her condemning the person she was in her “Just a Girl” days – there’s a palpable sense of growth, not just with her but with the rest of the band, and it’s warmly welcomed.

“New” in particular is my personal high point of the album. Some sparse drums and soft singing from Stefani is followed up by Tony Kanal’s upbeat bassline, quicker drums from Adrian Young, and a reiteration of the melody line with a fresher, different sound than the intro. The band has rarely sounded better in this very moment – it’s also the only song that is produced by Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison! While the album as a whole is a mixed back in terms of how well it sticks, the liveliness, ability for experimentation, and personal growth emitted from Return to Saturn makes this a ride well worth taking.

Best tracks: “Ex-Girlfriend”, “Bathwater”, “New”

Come through for my next Rockin’ Thru the Aughts post next Monday, where I’ll continue my quest through the rock music from the year 2000!

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