Friday, January 25, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Fashion Victim Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental manservant Hop-Sing and I are off to Florida, where we'll be doing door to door campaigning for America's Mayor -- hoping, of course, to drum up support for Rudy in the crucial Sunshine State Paranoid Old Jew demographic. As a result (and also because it's Shabbos) posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a few days.

But in my absence, here's a fun project for you all to contemplate:

You know -- a song in a style or genre that was supposed to be hopelessly old hat but managed to tear up the charts anyway.

Okay, here's my totally top of my head Top Eight:

8. Cher -- Believe

The biggest hit of 1999 was a disco song? Sung through the digital equivalent of a megaphone?

7. Billy Swan -- I Can Help

One of the biggest hits of 1974 was a 50s-style rockabilly song? Excuse me -- didn't anybody tell Swan that the Stray Cats wouldn't become the darlings of MTV for another seven years?

6. Tommy James and the Shondells -- Hanky Panky

A crappy 1963 frat-rock B-side, which makes "Louie Louie" sound like Bach's B-Minor Mass, gets re-released in the heady psychedelic days of "Good Vibrations" and "Eight Miles High" and still sells gazillions. I didn't get it then and I still don't....

5. Beach Boys -- Do It Again

With the world in flames, nothing could have been more unfashionable in 1968 either musically or lyrically than this ode to the halcyon days of pre-Beatles sun and surf. Or so you might have thought....

4. Slim Harpo -- Scratch My Back

A straight ahead swampy blues on the pop charts in 1966? Want to buy some Brooklyn beachfront property?

3. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles -- Tears of a Clown

The instrumental track for the Miracles only number one song was originally done in 1966 (Smokey added the lyrics and vocals in '67) and then the whole thing (just another album cut) was more or less forgotten until 1970, when Motown execs exhumed it even though its sound had practically nothing in common with anything the label had out at the time. I remembering hearing it on the radio and thinking, wow, this has got to be an older song, but boy does it sound great....

2. Tracy Chapman -- Give Me One Reason

A straight ahead Memphis blues on the pop charts in 1996? Yeah, right, and trained sheep will someday pilot the space shuttle.

And the number one song in a supposedly obsolete style is.....

1. Fountains of Wayne -- Stacy's Mom

Adam Schlesinger channels Buddy Holly (the 50s) via the Cars (the 80s) and gets a hit in 2003? It can't be said too often -- Adam Schlesinger is a fricking genius.

Okay -- what similar accomplishment jazzes you guys the most?


four legs good said...

Hmmm, I don't know, but I did love Tears of a Clown.

What a great sound that record has.

Hey, what about that song "Spooky"- that kind of had a odd sound for its year.

dave™© said...

Don't forget - the reason "I Can Help" sold so well was everyone thought it was Ringo!

dave™© said...

Speaking of Smokey, his next big hit (IIRC) after "Tears" followed pretty much the same pattern - "Cruising" came out in, I believe, 1982 and sounded for all the world like a late 60s Motown outtake.

Especially that hook in the chorus - just before he sings "I love it when we're cruising together"...

TJWood said...

I don't know about all the other bloggers, but I find this one a tough category. There are probably enough examples I can come up with, not many of them I consider great. I'll piggyback on one of Steve's choices and choose the Stray Cats' Rock This Town from 1982. Rockabilly, revivalist or otherwise, didn't seem to have good prospects on the radio during the synth-pop early '80's.

If I have to choose another, I would go with one of the Raspberries' string of hits from 1972-1974. This was the period just before "Endless Summer" came out when the Beach Boys were considered uncool, so certainly a band that was heavily influenced (as opposed to just inspired--in the spirit of this week's discussions, had to put that in :))by the Beach Boys--as well as the Beatles and Who--seemed somewhat anachronistic in the year of Dark Side of the Moon.

The Kenosha Kid said...

Herman's Hermits - I'm Henry the VIII - ancient British music hall tune becomes proto-punk teen hit.

Edwins Hawkins Singers - Oh Happy Day - call and response gospel song becomes novelty top ten hit

Gordon Lightfoot - Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - macabre folk dirge is 70's pop hit

Barry Sadler - Ballad of the Green Berets - was there ever an era when this song made sense?

Gummo said...

Green Day had -- what? -- 4 or 5 hits off of the Dookie album in 1992 that could have come right out of the 1977 punk playbook.

K.D. Laing's Ingenue album successfully parlayed 1950s style lushly orchestrated love songs into a hit album in the early 90s.

Hm. Obviously, the early 90s had a terrible identity crisis.

Ripley said...

I Was Made for Lovin You - KISS

A straggling quasi-disco hit that was both uncharacteristic for the band and mystifyingly unaware of the changing music environment. I suppose it falls in the 'disco era' (at least the tail end), but it certainly was an oddity within the band's catalog.

Big Bad Bill - Van Halen

A sweet and faithful cover of an early 40's(?) swing tune, with Father Van Halen on clarinet. The title song from Women and Children First was also an interesting choice, being a spot on dixie-style acoustic number.

Tough category this week, steve.

Noam Sane said...

"Rehab" comes to mind, as does most of the Winehouse ourvre, what with the retro R&B production and bari sax.

Walter Egan's "Magnet and Steel" sounded pretty out of time in the late 70s. Very un-wanking guitar solo.

Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Where'd that come from?

Adding, I think the Cars references are a bit overused with regards to Fountains of Wayne. Plenty of bands use chunka-chunka guitars and monophonic moog-y synth lines.
The guy is just as influenced by, say, Paul Simon. Not that particular song, obviously.

The Kenosha Kid said...

How could I forget these?

Alabama Song
Mack the Knife

Weimar era cabaret reincarnated as quasi-psychedelic rock and 50's Vegas lounge hit

Scarborough Fair
ancient English ballad as modern pop hit.

Kid Charlemagne said...

"Winchester Cathedral" by The New Vaudeville Band (1966)

"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" by Bette Midler (1973)

Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen (1979)

Gummo said...

"Sea of Love" by Robert Plant & the Honeydrippers.

steves said...

Do covers count?

They Must Be Giants did a killer version of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" that was very similar to but more successful than the original that I remember jumping around to as a kid.

TMink said...

Wow! I was stumped by this excellent question and you guys are ripping it up! Especially the kids Kenosha and Charlemagne.

Great posts.


midnight caller said...

If anyone even thinks about mentioning Billy Joel's The Longest Time I will personally show you what your pancreas looks like.

I guess the early to mid-70s was a time where psychedelia was dead and there was a return to the sounds preceding it. Hell, the Carpenters glorified that with their hit "Yesterday Once More." Neil Sedaka, the Four Seasons and of course the Beach Boys each had a career renaissance. So you can probably come up with several examples of old sounds in a hit song.

Another example: No Matter What from Badfinger with the Rubber Soul Beatles sound.

Slig said...

The Korgis - "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime"

It was 1980 (original release). They were channeling some other time. Problem is when?

Anonymous said...

I'm in madly in love with Beirut for the past six months or so.

I'd say Zach Condon's stuff is fairly out of step with most anyone else's current stuff (though he's undoubtedly influenced by Stephin Merrit and Rufus Wainwright)but it all sounds like it could be pre WWII.

As for "climbing the charts" well- does being on multiple Best of 2007 lists make it a hit? Or just a critical success.

The decision rests in your eminently capable hands.

Mike said...

Man, all I can seem to conjure up is crap. The "Hooked On" craze of the early 80s, the Beach Boys' comeback in Getcha Back, and a few attempts to revive the 40s some three decades later. Hey, how about Bette Midler's cover of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy?

I kinda think the Tremeloes' Silence Is Golden sounds out of place for 1967. Guess because the Four Seasons did it earlier, but I'm not quite sure when.

Anonymous said...

Forget Bette Midler's cover and consider Christina Aguilera's Candyman: The tune is completely big band and all generations will be grinning with enjoyment... ... up to the point when the older generations actually listen to the lyrics and blush and/or faint.

A few more Canadian tunes, where folk tunes became unexpected popular on general playlists:

Lukey - a sea shanty performed with vigor by Great Big Sea and the Chieftains got regular radio play on Top 10 radio in Toronto

Dégénérations by Mes Aïeux was immensely popular last year in Quebec.

Sleepy Maggie as performed by Ahsley MacIsaac and Mary Jane Lamond - reached top 40 with fiddling and gaelic vocals in the Canadian markets when it first came out

Why did Loreena McKennitt's The Mummer's Dance reach #18 in US HOT 100?

Riverdance might have had an impact but these actually reached general airplay.

steve simels said...

Oy gevalt -- we're talking Canadian content?

The Kenosha Kid said...

Everyone thought the Barbershop Quartet was dead. Then the Be Sharps bust on the scene with their hit single, "Baby on Board"...

the tree said...

How 'bout "Love Me Tender" recycling the melody from "Aura Lee," a nineteenth century tune? Or Eric Carmen copping the tune from Rachmaninoff's e piano concerto for "All By Myself"?

Anonymous said...

Some non-Canadian content here, eh? (Ha!)):

Not sure if Deee-Lite's Groove is in the Heart counts.

Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli brought "operatic pop" back to regular airplay with Time to Say Goodbye.

It's not "The Longest Time" but Billy Joel's The River of Dreams sticks out as an atypical pop song. I view his Piano Man as distinctive in it's storytelling.

The Supremes brought back Lover's Concerto, originally performed by The Toys, who copped the tune from Bach's Minuet in G major and transformed it into 4/4 time.

A definite fish out of water song that was horrifically popular on the pop charts was definitely Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart. (Remember the mullet and line dancing trends?)

Then there's Björk's cover of It's Oh So Quiet with video by Spike Jonze.