Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Ultimate Pop Song Tournament: Bracket Breakdown, Pt. 4

Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark has started posting the first-round matchups, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to go over there and vote.

For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!



(5) "You Oughta Know" [Alanis Morissette] vs. (12) "Sober" [Pink]

I feel bad that I wasn't able to conjure up the appropriate rapture about "Sober" in my writeup, so please go and read Mark's case for the song in the comments. He makes for a brilliant advocate. I don't know what my problem is, because "Sober" is an excellent song. There is just always a ceiling on my enthusiasm for Pink songs. Mostly because so few of them burn as brightly for me five years down the line. How often to I spin "Don't Let Me Get Me" these days? Sure, I love "Raise a Glass" right now, but the New Year's Eve trailer will probably kill some of that for me. Meanwhile, fifteen years on, and I am still in the middle of a passionate but vengeful affair with "You Oughta Know."

(4) "Smells Like Teen Spirit" [Nirvana] vs. (13) "Hey Ya" [Outkast]

I love what a close matchup this is, at least so far! It's such an apples-vs-oranges debate, it's hard to believe these songs are even from the same century (okay, okay, they're not, but don't be a dick about it). The point is, I have no idea what criteria someone would possibly use to make this choice, other than to very quickly ask themselves the question out loud and then vote the first song that pops into their head. I may or may not have done that. And voted Nirvana.

(6) "Livin' in a Prayer" [Bon Jovi] vs. (11) "Crazy" [Gnarls Barkley]

Someone in the comments on Mark's blog mentioned that it takes them a minute, after seeing the title "Crazy" to cycle past Seal's early hit in their mental rolodex before arriving at Gnarls Barkley. I confess, I have to do the same. Maybe that's not the sole reason I voted Bon Jovi, but I can't exactly discount it.

(3) "Edge of Seventeen" [Stevie Nicks] vs. "Take Me Home Tonight" [Eddie Money f/ Ronnie Spector]

This is the closest I have come to actually just refusing to choose either one of them, and maybe the biggest motivation for actually casting a vote was so I could see what the current results were. (At press time, they were almost dead even which: a) is as it should be, but also b) OH MY GOD, I am going to agonize over this one.) If the entire decade of the '80s was the Brady Bunch, "Edge of Seventeen" and "Take Me Home Tonight" would be Jan and Greg, a.k.a. THE BEST ONES. How am I supposed to now go one step further and decide which song is the Jan (THE BEST ONE, people, keep up). You'd think "Take Me Home Tonight" would have the advantage because of two people vs. one, but really, this is a Ronnie vs. Stevie contest and everybody knows it. Tragically, my #justlikeRonniesays hash tag game failed to catch fire today, which is perhaps a bad omen for her chances. I'm not even going to tell you how I voted, because that's my God-given right as an American. But I will say this: I will raise SO MUCH HELL if the eventual winner doesn't at least go two more rounds.

(7) "Here I Go Again" [Whitesnake] vs. (10) "Mr. Brightside" [The Killers]

Knowing what you know about me and The Killers, it should come as no surprise that this choice gave me zero anxiety whatsoever. Sorry, David Coverdale. You'll have to comfort yourself with the knowledge that you had the greatest head of hair in the 1980s. No small feat, that. Meanwhile, I'm off to plot out a strategy for my beloved Brandon Flowers to knock off Steve Perry in Round 2.

(2) "Don't Stop Believing" [Journey] vs. (15) "Love Shack" [The B-52s]

My personal finding that "Don't Stop Believing" is somehow backlash-proof notwithstanding, I was totally expecting the attrition from The Sopranos to Rock of Ages to Glee to have soured the public on the objectively great song. (Also, for my money, I still always think of it as the song from the roller rink in Monster.) But it's currently kicking the crap out of "Love Shack," which is both probably the right call and still crushingly disappointing. Listening to "Love Shack" more than a few times this week, I was smitten anew, at the playfulness, the nimble sonic grab-bag, the scratchy, prodding guitar licks during the "Bang, bang, bang" part. Bummer it's getting dropped so early.

(1) "Crazy in Love" [Beyonce f/Jay-Z] vs. (16) "No Diggity" [Blackstreet f/ Dr. Dre]

The Curse of Sixteen continues in the Groove Thang bracket, as "No Diggity," a personal favorite and assumed competition dark horse gets instead fed to the Beyonce beast. Which is no slight against Ms. Knowles. You know I deemed "Crazy in Love" the best song of the decade. And even though "No Diggity" hails from the '90s, I wouldn't rank it above. But I will absolutely cop to throwing a sympathy vote Blackstreet's way because COME ON. This is an ignoble fate for a song that still, in 2011, gets asses to shaking. If it's not already on at least three of your party mixes, you have some personal evaluating to do.

(8) "Work It" [Missy Elliot] vs. "End of the Road" [Boyz II Men]

And thus dies the last of my four V.I.P. invites into the tournament. The imminent demise of "End of the Road" doesn't hurt the way "Freedom '90" or "I Want It That Way" do. Even I am not about to entertain thoughts of endangering Missy's position in the competition. I tried to make a case for "Get Ur Freak On" in the nomination phase, but the finality of Nick's defense of "Work It" as Missy's apex made me go back and listen to it -- really listen to it -- and he's actually right. There is just so much more happening at any given moment than you even realize. I can't even begin to speak of the horrors that await in Round 2.

But I'm glad "End of the Road" made it into the competition. For one thing, it would have seemed fraudulent to evaluate the top pop of the last 30 years without including some Boyz II Men, because they pretty much owned the early '90s. For another, this particular song is secretly the craziest thing to ever spend 10+ weeks at #1. A full third of the song is a spoken-word Ho Pass issued by a broken man to a cheatin' woman. Not even Tammy Wynette would have attempted that one. And then THAT is followed by a grown man crying for a minute and a half, while the rest of his group tries to keep the song going without things getting too weird. It is quite simply the greatest. "Oh my God. OH MY GOD!"
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Ultimate Pop Song Tournament: Bracket Breakdown, Pt. 3

Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark has started posting the first-round matchups, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to go over there and vote.

For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!


(3) "Nothing Compares 2 U" [Sinead O'Connor] vs. (14) "I Will Always Love You" [Whitney Houston]

I love this matchup of two of the biggest "You know that's not originally their song, right?" hits of all time. The gold standard of obnoxious know-it-alls everywhere! And you know what? I love Dolly Parton with all my heart, I really do, but I'm just about sick of hearing about how much better her version is than Whitney Houston's. Like, we get it, you're a far more substantial person for liking Dolly. And obviously her version is better! But it's not like Whitney has a number-one hit for a bazillion weeks due to hypnosis or something. When she hits that booming note for the final chorus, she's making you feel something. That's why you hate it!

Fewer people try to perpetuate the notion that Prince gives a better rendition of "Nothing Compares 2 U," thank God. Mostly because Sinead O'Connor is viewed as just as authentic as Dolly Parton. And boy, is she. If you know me, you know my very favorite thing in the universe is singers who cry real tears in their music videos. Which is why that single tear at "All the flowers that you planted, Mama" just slays me. Sinead definitely gets my vote.

(6) "We Belong" [Pat Benatar] vs. (11) "Lost in Your Eyes" [Debbie Gibson]

I had to fight to get BOTH these songs in the tournament, and even though my beloved Debbie is currently getting trounced. I'm choosing to see it as a validation of how fucking unbelievable a song "We Belong" is. Because IT IS. I love that Pat Benatar's ass-kicker of a voice is putting itself in service of perfectly constructed melodic relationship counseling. Still, though, my vote went to my childhood best pal Debbie Gibson, who managed to fight through the Casio orchestrations of her regrettable time period with the sheer clarity of her voice and lyrics. Plus, seriously, watch that music video. Shoulder pads AND Blossom hats AND Rickie Vasquez-approved color-explosion vests?? Bliss.

(2) "(Don't You) Forget About Me" [Simple Minds] vs. (15) "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" [Pet Shop Boys w/ Dusty Springfield]

Similar to my Kate Bush-free childhood, I also was somehow kept ignorant of the Pet Shop Boys, at least until long past the point where I was judged to be a traitor to my orientation for not really getting their whole thing. I think the last bus to the New Wave was leaving just as I was entering the pop-culture sphere, which means neither of these two options hold much sway over me. So I did what I felt was the only responsible thing to do and went with Dusty Springfield.

(7) "Running Up That Hill" [Kate Bush] vs. (10) "Losing My Religion" [R.E.M.]

Poor Kate Bush, you guys. I guess I can't complain too loudly about how she's currently getting trounced in this matchup. I'm the guy who apparently never came across Ms. Bush growing up, despite the fact that I was super into pretty much all her descendents (Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, you name 'em). But even though I probably can't tell Hounds of Love from Hound of the Baskervilles, I can still appreciate a superior pop song, and "Running Up That Hill" is definitely one. I like "Losing My Religion" a whole lot -- certainly my favorite use of the mandolin in music history -- but other R.E.M. songs would have given me more of an internal struggle.

(1) "Sweet Child O' Mine" [Guns N Roses] vs. (16) "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" [Smashing Pumpkins]

Now we're getting to the region of the bracket where I actually wrote the song blurbs, so I'm not going to repeat myself too much here. Except to say, once again, that I feel compelled to make the case for the underdog; "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" is a GREAT song. What is with these 16-seeds?? I love them all so much and yet I just can't vote for them again such towering competition. Billy Corgan may have my angsty teens, but Axl Rose has my hopeful formative years.

(8) "Rolling in the Deep" [Adele] vs. (9) "Dog Days Are Over" [Florence + the Machine]

Talk about two songs jockeying for position in the same square of the pop landscape. I love Adele and think she's got the better career-longevity potential. But "Dog Days" takes it for me in a squeaker. Maybe not exclusively for that moment when the beat drops out and then ol' Florence comes roaring back, but that's certainly a big part of it.

VOTE!
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Ultimate Pop Song Tournament: Bracket Breakdown, Pt. 2

Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark has started posting the first-round matchups, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to go over there and vote.

For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!



(2) "Since U Been Gone" [Kelly Clarkson] vs. (15) "What's Love Got to Do With It?" [Tina Turner]

Look, I realize that Tina Turner doesn't need one more man in her life doing her wrong. But I can't help it, Tina! If it helps any, Kelly's pop-perfect breakout song makes the same case for liberating oneself from a crap relationship.

(7) "Karma Chameleon" [Boy George] vs. (10) "Straight Up" [Paula Abdul]

A lot of today's matchups are pitting '80s aficionados against '90s/'00s hits, and you know what side of the line I fall on. The charms of "Karma Chameleon" don't fade over time, or repeated listenings, and when it ultimately wins this matchup, it'll be a worthy victor. But my soft spot for Early Abdul endures, particularly the mechanical ramp up to the chorus on "Straight Up." Like a Transformer morphing into a giant dance floor.

(8) "Total Eclipse of the Heart" [Bonnie Tyler] vs. (9) "Time After Time" [Cyndi Lauper]

First of all, I'm going to pat us on the back for choosing the right Cyndi Lauper song. And then I'm going to pat Mark on the back for crafting this first-round matchup that seems to be driving people into self-flagellating fits. That said...I'm kind of nonplussed to see that "Time After Time" has such a solid lead, at press time. It's an achingly gorgeous song, but "Total Eclipse" is legendary and managed to live up to its own grandeur which, if you think about it, should not even be possible.

(1) "Alone" [Heart] vs. (16) "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" [Meat Loaf]

Once again, a 1-16 matchup where I can't help but feel like the low seed deserved better. There's a lot to snicker at with Meat Loaf's big, fat romantic epic, but it builds up to crescendos that few songs can even dream of, and Lorraine Crosby (thanks, Mark) taking things up to a whole other level. Please a make a point to listen to the full version of the song, just so you can hear her wail about building Emerald Cities out of grains of sand. All that said ... it's "Alone." There really isn't much of a discussion. Ann Wilson manages to combine Lorraine Crosby's voice and Meat Loaf's imposing frame in one perfect package, and that's BEFORE we even factor Nancy into things. Done deal.

(5) "Viva La Vida" [Coldplay] vs. (12) "Voices Carry" [Til Tuesday]

Big surprise, everybody still hates Coldplay. I still don't quite know where the vehemence comes from. Not when there's so much evidence that Chris Martin and Co. know their way around brilliant pop songs. "Viva La Vida" is maybe a notch below "Clocks," in my estimation, but they both hold far more singular positions in the pop pantheon than most are willing to give them credit for. I love "Voices Carry" passionately, but I feel the need to stick up for the underdog here, even if it's seeded higher.

(4) "Fast Car" [Tracy Chapman] vs. (13) "Not Ready to Make Nice" [Dixie Chicks]

"Not Ready to Make Nice" has one of my favorite extended-bridge sequences from the past ten years. I am incapable of not being moved when I hear it. That said, picking "Fast Car" is the easiest call of today's matchups. There is so much honest pain, conveyed so beautifully, I could burst open. And not even Natalie Maines can match the sobbing yodel in Tracy's voice.

VOTE!
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Monday, July 25, 2011

The Ultimate Pop Song Tournament: Bracket Breakdown

You guys! Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark started posting the first-round matchups today, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to go over there and vote.

For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!

FIRST ROUND - "JOY BOMB" DIVISION

(1) "Like a Prayer" [Madonna] vs. (16) "Higher Love" [Steve Winwood f/ Chaka Khan]

This is a matchup that should not be close, on paper. And I don't really expect the voting to be very close either. "Like a Prayer" is pretty much the definition of a brilliant pop song, and that's before you consider all its ancillary benefits (it represents all Madonna for the tournament; the music video was groundbreaking and amazing). It's getting my vote, but MAN do I want to make a case for "Higher Love," one of the more underrated pop masterpieces of the '80s. By the time Chaka Khan joins the festivities, all "BRAAAAANG ME A HIGHER LOVE!" I'm pretty much in heaven. Stevie and Chaka got a terrible first-round draw; I'd have voted it over either one of the 8-9 seeds.

(8) "Tubthumping" [Chumbawamba] vs. "Don't You Want Me" [The Human League]

I think I grew up in the wrong corner of the '80s, because I never really experienced "Don't You Want Me" until its Aughts-and-beyond resurgence. It's a strong song, but so much of pop music (at least in the way I experience it) is in the emotional reactions it pulls from you, and I don't really get that from The Human League. As one-hit-wonders go, "Tubthumping" is a really strong one, as this irony-melting They Might Be Giants cover shows. It gets my vote.

(5) "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" [Eurythmics] vs. "Freedom '90" [George Michael]

It's not that I don't love "Sweet Dreams" or Annie Lennox or appreciate the positions that they hold in the halls of music history. But I'm just not going to vote for it over a song that hold as prominent a place in my own personal history as "Freedom" does. Most days, I like to pretend that David Fincher got his first Oscar nomination for directing that video rather than Benjamin Button. It holds up as a pure song without all those supermodels writhing around too, but why deny yourself all those mental images?

(4) "I Want It That Way" [Backstreet Boys] vs. "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" [Belinda Carlisle]

I advocated hard for BSB's inclusion in this tournament, and my reward was a first-round matchup with a song I have more pure heart-bursting affection for than almost any other. Oh, hi, my two children. I guess I'm going to have to choose between you now. Both songs make me want to force the entire world to sing along with me. Both have amazing breakdown-power-return moments. Iconography: the masked children with glowy Earth globes vs. the BSB white-suit assault? AAAAHHH, I can't choose! I guess, breaking it down, Belinda does solo what it takes five Backstreet Boys to do. But, man, when Nick Carter busts in with that post-breakdown "Don't wanna hear you SAYYY!" I can't vote any other way.

(6) "Flashdance (What a Feeling)" [Irene Cara] vs. (11) "Groove Is in the Heart" [Dee-Lite]

Once again, call me Sophie, because girlfriend is about to make a CHOICE. There are few songs more fun to sing along to than Dee-Lite's early-'90s confection (especially if you have like 2-3 friends with you and can assign roles -- make sure your Q-Tip can handle that rapid-fire flow!). But I honestly think "What a Feeling" is one of those unimprovable pop songs gifted from Jesus. I still think Lady Miss Kier should be a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race, though.

(3) "Bad Romance" [Lady Gaga] vs. (14) "9 to 5" (Dolly Parton)

So tough to properly evaluate "Bad Romance" without years and years of perspective. Obviously, I know "9 to 5" has stood the test of time. Will I be able to say the same about "Bad Romance"?? ...Actually, I think we will. I wouldn't be opposed to a series of battle duets to help me change my mind.

GO VOTE!
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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sounds of My Commute, No. 004



This song makes me want a margarita. And a lesbian softball team to watch from the sidelines.
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