Fuck you, nu-metal. Fuck you, "modern rock." We're taking it back to when A&R agents got paid to watch David Yow knot up his weiner and I didn't know what a titty felt like.

Bel Biv Devoe: “Poison”

This is what it was about. There was a time when, if you were a guy of a certain age, this was what you aspired to be. Surrounded by beautiful women, hanging out with your friends. Dressed in clothing made from the same fabric they used to make your grandmother’s drapes, wearing gold jewelry considered modest by today’s standards, dancing in front of a green screen and/or a street with a fog machine and/or some club where apparently nobody but you, your homies, your backup dancers, and girls go.

This was one of the original pimp anthems.  Even when you play this song today at parties, you can see it in the guys’ eyes. They know what Bel Biv Devoe was saying. This song is about being the man and not trusting no woman, no matter how much you miss her, kiss her, love her…. that girl is poison. Silly, misguided, paranoid and misogynistic? Probably. But also a cautionary tale that must be heeded. 

Let the advice of Bel Biv Devoe ring true for the ages: Never trust a big butt and a smile. 

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Jeff Buckley: “Last Goodbye”

Much has been said about what the world lost when Jeff Buckley died in 1997 and perhaps none of it will ever effectively capture the magnitude of meaning in the void left by his passing. “Hallelujah,” obviously his most well-known recording, showcased his uncanny ability to draw the blood to your cheeks and the shivers to your spine by simply holding onto a certain note in that Jeff Buckley sorta way. Me? I prefer to remember him most for “Last Goodbye” and “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.” Jeff Buckley sang about a special brand of desperation, a very distinct sense of helplessness. These aren’t songs about love, they’re about the consequence of love. 

Jeff Buckley wrote the soundtrack to the most fucked up breakup you will ever have. For me, every time I hear his voice, I remember sitting in my car, inhaling cold winter evening air between drags of my Camel Lights, hitting repeat on this song. The end of a horrible relationship was near, and I was preparing myself to move on. And it all just felt bigger than me. The desperation seems trivial in hindsight, but Jeff’s music isn’t meant for retrospect — it’s about giving yourself over completely to a moment, a need. When he sings “kiss me, please kiss me,” it is entirely irrational. It comes not from his head, or his heart, but from the pit of his stomach and that’s what makes it great. 

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Nerf Herder: “Van Halen”

How great was Nerf Herder?

What Nerf Herder offered was a counter-weight to the seriousness of a lot of alt-rock at the time. And while they weren’t the only ones to do this, they had a humorous sense of self-deprecation that made you feel like you were on their team. Like Star Wars a little too much? Check out this band. Have weird glasses or a bad haircut? Check out this band. First girlfriend breakup with you because she realized you were a freak and she was destined to be popular? Check out this band. Get drunk on Bacardi at a party at her house, sneak in her room and throw up on her bed, then tell her you still love her? Check out this band. Every song on this album has sing-a-long quality, and that makes it awesome. Corny as hell? You bet your ass.

Better than listening to the Barenaked Ladies. 

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Mazzy Star: “Fade Into You”

This song. The end wraps back into the beginning like recursive gauze; its runtime is infinite so long as you let it continue. Billions of wet eyes riddling my heart. I am become Angela Chase, head turtled into my sweater. Who could possibly object to this song? Betsy McCaughey? Jason Voorhees? AIG FP? Ganondorf? Grendel? Lee Atwater? M.O.D.O.K.? A gun? The distance from my house to my favorite dive bar, the one bar where I’m known by libation and the jukebox has Paramore and TLC and Al Green and Nazareth and everything in between, is precisely the runtime of this song in the dead of winter, and I know this to be immutably true because I wait outside the bar until my headphones are still.

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The Flys: “Got You (Where I Want You)”

"Hey guys, I’ve got a great idea for the middle of the our new song. I mean, since I don’t play any instruments at all, or really even sing for that matter… how about I just repeat a short verse over and over in a poorly-conceived reggae-inspired mumble?" 


Quick poll:

Raise your hand if you learned this song on guitar when it came out. 

Raise your other hand if you can explain to me why the lead singer has more effects pedals than the guitarist. 

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TLC: “Creep”

Fact #1: This song made me absolutely paranoid that if I didn’t treat my girlfriends exactly how they wanted to be treated at all times, that they would surely creep around and cheat on me indiscriminately and never, ever let me know.

Observation #1: Doesn’t it seem to be the sign of a healthy relationship to, you know, talk about things if you’re suspicious of your man cheating on you? Instead of just doing it yourself? Or better yet, just leave him? What? No? You’re just gonna stick around in a crappy relationship and yourself contribute to what is clearly a hurricane of a breakup just waiting to happen? Okay, I guess

Fact #2: My never-ending love for this song was developed perhaps subconsciously due to the unbreakable teenage hormone-powered attention with which I watched this video looking for any glimpses of these ladies’ body parts as they danced around in a windy room (???) while wearing silk pajamas (???). Must. See. Boobs. Which leads me to…

Observation #2: All hail the holy side boob of T-Boz!

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Our Lady Peace: “Clumsy”

Honestly, I don’t really actually remember this song. I just remember that my girlfriend freshman year of high school was ridiculously stubborn and dumb. For lots of reasons, really, but here’s one. 

Crazy girl. I knew it at the time, too. Even the alt-rock radio DJ knew she was dumb in the way he answered her question when she called to have him settle an argument about whether they were known as  ”Our Lady Peace” or ”Our Lady of Peace”.  

I know what you’re saying, “Oh, that doesn’t make her dumb just because she didn’t know the name of the band, that just makes her mistaken. Ohhh, wahhhh, be nicer!” 

You’re right. What made her dumb was the fact that she continued to call them “Our Lady of Peace” out of spite from that moment on. 

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Everclear: “Fire Maple Song”

I stumbled on Everclear’s album “World of Noise” at some small pro-audio shop that also sold a random assortment of CDs shortly after I bought “Sparkle and Fade” upon its release. “Sparkle and Fade” was catchy as all hell, and was so polished around the edges that it was impossible not to love the album front-to-back, especially when you’re too young to really grasp the depth of a popular band’s earlier, darker, edgier recordings. BUT! I somehow managed to love “World of Noise” more, especially “Fire Maple Song” and it stuck there in my 3-CD changer for the better part of three years. When it wasn’t in the stereo, it was in my friends’ stereos, because this was the one album that I was always introducing to my friends. It was my ace-in-the-hole to prove that, hey, dude, I like underground stuff too, even if it’s by alt-rock radio staples.

No seriously, check this CD out, it’s nothing like “I Will Buy You A New Life”. It’s dark shit.

What? No, I have never heard of Hazel. Just listen to this CD

Fast forward to about 8 years ago from today. Art Alexakis was playing a solo acoustic show on my campus as a fundraiser for a democratic senatorial candidate. After the set, I hung around to let Art know how much “World of Noise” meant to me, and to proudly display my badge as a legit Everclear fan from way back when. 

Shaking hands, shaking hands, taking pictures, shaking hands. My turn. 

"Hey, Art. Great set tonight. I just wanted to let you know that when I was younger and just starting to get into music, I picked up ‘World of Noise’ and just fell in love with it. Seriously, that’s an incredible album and I just wanted to let you know that it influenced my taste in music so much."

"Really? Thanks, but ‘World of Noise’ sucks." 

End of conversation. He turns and walks away.

What a dick. 

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New Radicals: “Someday We’ll Know”

Damn you, Gregg Alexander. Damn you to Hell. Why did you have to write such a pitch-perfect song for me to use to cope with my first real breakup in high school? Why did you have to write such a flawlessly-crafted pop song, mixed with a scoop of sentimentality and topped with a catchy melody?

Better yet, why did you write a song that is still good after all these years? Were you some kind of soothsayer, knowing full well that almost a decade later, shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” would be in need of your services during the closing montage during the season Finale where so-and-so gets shot/dumped/leaves wherever they are? Is that why you wrote so many god damn songs? Did you know?! Are you some kind of song-writing wizard from the future, Gregg Alexander? Tell us the secrets of this spell you have cast! 

I mean, seriously. I bought a god damn bucket hat because of you. 

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Reacharound: “Big Chair”

Sometimes the limn of culture described by your memory is wholly off the mark. To wit: As recently as last week, I remembered this song as being absolutely inescapable in 1996, when in fact it wasn’t even popular enough to eventually warrant its own page on Wikipedia. Less often is the construction of that assumption traceable to a series of distinct moments—backsolving the geneses of one’s own cultural history requires some preternaturally burly memory recall and a stiff dram of humility, after all. But that’s my stock and trade here, and sure enough, in trying to decide what to say about this song, I realized precisely why it held such false prominence for me.

  1. Up late studying, I heard this song for the first time. Morning and afternoon radio DJs were terrible at telling you who a given artist was, or even what any particular song was called, but at night there was a higher aggregate of DJs who gave a shit, and so I learned: Reacharound. Big Chair. Studying, as I had been, from a textbook, there was no paper handy to jot this information down, and I could feel it being actively squeezed out of my short-term memory in favor of information about the Krebs cycle, and in a last-ditch effort to retain the data, I scrawled it on the wall next to my pillow, where I would lay my head nearly every night for the next four years.

  2. My girlfriend and I had an argument over the repeated “Oi! Oi!” chant in the chorus. She argued that it was a football chant, because they were Australian. I argued that it was “a punk thing,” despite the fact that I was (and, frankly, still am) less punk than a copy of The Fountainhead resting on an Eames chair. We OF COURSE had this argument in her parents’ car on the way to see Titanic.
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