A Song You Know All the Words To: ‘Baby Got Back,’ Sir Mix-a-Lot (1992)

‘Day 8’ of the 30-‘Day’ Music Challenge. While the previous entry left me stumped for even one viable choice, this task is tricky for the direct opposite reason, because there are so many songs to choose from. I’ve been a music fan since before I knew what that meant, toe-tapping along in the back of my Mom’s Dodge Dart. Toss in an aspiring karaoke ‘career,’ and I dare say there are tens, if not hundreds, of ditties I know every word to. ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ is embarrassingly among them, partly because I did a 10th-grade extra-credit project defining all the references, partly because I considered it a personal challenge.

Karaoke 5 (Ole)

Thug Life.

But the one I’ll focus on today is ‘Baby Got Back,’ and I’m focusing on it for a karaoke-related reason. Back when I first picked up the mic, the trend of preppy white chicks doing rap/hip-hop/what-have-you hadn’t really reached critical mass. At least not in my then-home of Cincinnati. So when I would take the stage — in a pink button-down and khaki capris –and attempt ‘Bust a Move,’ ‘Shoop,’ or ‘O.P.P.,’ it was taken as amusing and (occasionally, if I enunciated properly) entertaining.

But my piece de resistance now and forevermore — until I learn ‘Empire State of Mind,’ anyway — is ‘Baby Got Back.’ It’s kitschy but respectable, it’s hard enough that it can impress karaoke goers, and it has some truly iconic phrases contained therein. ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hon.’ ‘Red beans and rice didn’t miss her.’ And my favorite, ‘I’ll keep my women like Flo Jo,’ at which point one needs to flash a quick somber expression to acknowledge the Olympian’s premature passing.  Pour one out.

Anyway, what was most fun about this number was not the relentless bass line or the tongue-in-cheek bridge, but the fact that I knew all the words. Perhaps this poetry was burned into my brain from senior year of high school, it’s unclear. But the end result was that a karaoke performance could be rendered more ‘impressive,’ whatever that means in the karaoke context.  My signature move was to stand in FRONT of the karaoke-word screen, thereby proving I was legit and didn’t need no stinking lyrics crutch.

This has unfortunately ruined future rap attempts for me, because I insist on learning every word to any spoken-word piece I want to attempt, lest I look like I am reliant upon the screen.  Which, by the way, is a big part of karaoke, so I’m not sure why I (or anyone) cares.

Anyway, Mr. Mix-a-Lot, you seem like a pretty cool dude, and I’m proud to have performed your  iconic tune in at least five states (Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland) and probably more than 10 dozen times over the 15-plus years it’s been in my repertoire.  Thanks for making it so catchy … and so memorable.

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A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1993)

Task 6 on the “30” Day Music Challenge — A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere.

Y’all, I really wanted to have a better answer. I really tried. I even used the Jack Donaghy method and tried to capitalize on my most reliable period of uninterrupted thought (in the shower). I wanted to think of a song that reminded me of the hammock in my grandmother’s backyard. Or the park that hosted water balloon fights between me and my eighth-grade besties. Even, I don’t know, a song that sparks distinct memories of the halls of my high school, the Chicago Board of Trade, or the interior of my first car.

Dancing at Lebo's, California, Ohio

Pretty Much Sums it Up.

But, alas, I just kept coming back to Lebo’s. Lebo’s — located less than 10 miles east of downtown Cincinnati in the town of California, Ohio — is a large, barn-shaped bar soaked to its very core with hops, sweat, and the cast-off fat from chicken fingers and mini egg rolls. It’s the best kind of dive, that attracts all matter of clientele. Softball players stopping in for a pitcher or six of Miller Lite. Accountants from downtown hoping to slum it in ironic fashion. The elderly. You know.

There were a host of ‘regulars’ there that would treat the crowd to their ‘regular’ song (some of which I heard for the first time in this setting).  Fifty-something buddies Chris and Dave T., who would harmonize on Tommy James’ ‘Draggin’ the Line‘  before moving on to their standard solo selections, as well. (Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah‘ and Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525,’ respectively. The former is far more entertaining, and slightly less apocalyptic, than the latter.)  There was Brian-Austin-Green doppelgänger Todd, who would sing ‘The Chanukah Song‘ no matter the season.  Two preppy white chicks who shall remain nameless that would always insist on making the country-music-loving folks listen to ‘Baby Got Back.’

When I was a willing and frequent participant on Cincinnati’s karaoke circuit, Lebo’s was my Friday-night stop. And each week, the karaoke jockey, who looked like a cross between a standard schnauzer and Floyd from the Muppets, would open the stage with ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance.’ He wasn’t technically good, per se, but you don’t have to be to sing this one (or any Tom Petty classic, really).  There is a lot of spoken-word posing as singing, a few fun ‘Oh, hell yes’ opportunities, and the automatic visual association of a not-quite-dead-yet Kim Basinger. Did we wish he would ever mix things up a bit, try something new?  Perhaps, but then it wouldn’t have been Lebo’s.

FFWDing to the Best Part: “To Be With You,” Mr. Big (1991)

Y’all, each day it takes a fair amount of restraint to not select a song from the 1987-1991 heyday of hair metal. (Thanks for ruining all that was right with the world, KURT COBAIN.) This genre is so full of bravado and power chords that I DARE you to not find a “best part” within even some of the worst among the catalog.

Today’s pick, however, is unequivocally one of the best of its breed! First, the sweet earnestness with which lead singer Eric Martin (yeah, yeah, I had to Wiki that) delivers the lyrics makes me believe (deep inside) that he, in fact, truly does want to be with me!

Best part? 2:51. You think it’s the post-bridge key change (2:28), with its dramatic pause and increased tambourine-play.  But then!  The key changes again, back to the original!  And while the backing vocals revert to a lower register, the lead part somehow manages to swell further in intensity!  It’s a clever little surprise, and far less “cheap” than one simple dramatic key change.  Yeah, I’m looking at you, “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

 

Side note, singing friends. This song is a toughie at karaoke. It is never clear if you are supposed to slog through the chorus with the backing singers, or pseudo-improvise the lead vocals. “Waaaaiiited on a line,” and etc. etc. Better to leave this one to the professionals.

FFWDing to the Best Part: “All These Things That I’ve Done,” The Killers (2005)

Basically, this song is essentially four-plus minutes of perfect new-wave-revival-meets-power-pop from start to finish — and NME agrees with me (kind of).

In the right bar, on the right night, this is a great karaoke choice, especially if one can hold the final note of the “I’m not a sol-dieeeeeeer” bridge sufficiently (psssst — I can — though down a couple of keys).  Swap “wrong” in for those two “rights,” and it can be a mild disaster during which four minutes feels like 26.  Just as a random example, if one is in a crowd full of 60-something chain-smoking Busch Light drinkers, and singing to a low-rent MIDI backing track posing as karaoke.

Best part? 0:39. The most well-known version of the song kicks off with a slow and quiet tinkling of the ivories and a lone vocal that is later called back to in the second verse.  Almost 40 seconds in, the drums pick up tempo, the main guitar riff emerges, all is right with the world.  I dare you to be listening to this in the car and not roll the windows down and crank the volume to 45 — or whatever the high point is for today’s modern vehicles.

RUNNER UP: 3:51 – 4:07.  The vocals swell to a climax and then?  We are finally treated to the payoff of the song’s title. This was hardly a “runner up” for me, because it MOVES me, but doesn’t quite make me rip the knob off like the intro.

FFWDing to the Best Part: “Shape Of My Heart,” Backstreet Boys (2000)

From July 1998 through January 2001, I karaoke’d to The Backstreet Boys approximately 826 times. Every Tuesday, sometimes more than one song (perhaps I should check my math), at Cincinnati’s Mount Lookout Tavern, colloquially known as MLT(s).  A 25-year-old at work told me a few months ago that it currently remains a place for people who are “You know … young.”  WhatEVER, I wasn’t going to TRY AND GO THERE THIS VISIT ANYWAY.

At any rate, one of my proudest moments in life occurred in the aisles of Blockbuster video, when a  guy, girlfriend in tow, approached me and said “Hey — are you the Backstreet Girl from MLT(s)?”  Recognized!  For my “singing,” no less!  I need to think of other moments that made me proud, perhaps.

Anyway, “Shape of My Heart” is not a song I performed.  Too late in their catalog, too sappy. But not without its merits.

Best part?  3:12 – 3:20, when Nick Carter — rocking Bieber bangs before Bieber was in junior high — belts out, seemingly from nowhere, “Now let me show you the (true) shape of my heaaaaaaaaart!”  Side note: I didn’t recognize that “true” in there until watching the video just now to get the time stamp.  What is the shape?  We never find out. But Nick doesn’t want to share it with the likes of us, I suppose.

RUNNER UP: 1:13 – 1:21, when AJ McLean summarizes life thusly: “Sadness is beautiful. Loneliness is tragical.” As it turns out, it’s a word, people.

 

I :heart: NY (In Which I Miss My Chance to Take a Greyhound on the Hudson Riverline)

What’s this?  A blog?  The things I’ll resort to when stuck solo at Newark Airport for two-plus hours (finally posting this almost a week later as I was waiting on buddy Sendil to upload his pictures for my own personal use). I started writing a Facebook status about my favorite moments about my recent New York trip, but it became bloated for a status update. I thought a short blog would be more appropriate.

1. Dining al fresco at Pure Food and Wine. The food — raw and vegan — wasn’t anything amazing on the palette, but the cozy table for three in a surprisingly serene garden was perfection. The crisp rosé didn’t hurt.

2. Meeting various Howard Stern staffers. The catalyst for this trip was that my dear friend Sendil won the opportunity to tour the Howard Stern studios and sit in on the after show — the ‘Wrap Up Show.’ In addition to catching a rare, split-second glimpse of a gruff King of All Media, we met all the back-office crew, including some of my faves — Benjy Bronk, Jason Kaplan, Sal Governale, and JD Harmeyer, who stammered as much to me about Cincinnati geography as he does to Howard about his love life. Everyone was far nicer than they needed to be, and I will remember the morning always. Hey now!

With Steve Brandano

Self-described cougar hater Steve Brandano hates being this close to a 38-year-old.

3. Sing Sing karaoke. You pass around a wireless mic and everyone just sings along in supportive fashion while sitting along the bar. You buy tickets for each song you want to sing, which keeps things fair. It was a great crowd, we had a fantastic and enthusiastic bartender, and the songs sung included Hanson, The Killers, Smashing Pumpkins, and The Proclaimers. (Thanks to Molly for the recommendation!  One day, I hope to venture here together.)

3. Playing Sunday afternoon ping pong at a subterranean dive bar in the West Village. Ping pong, shuffleboard, foosball, and pool tables were lively, while a guy in the background played jazz piano. Craft beer flowed from the taps, and wine was served out of low balls. What’s best, I felt like the only tourist there.

4. Central Park carousel. There was no one who wasn’t a tourist here, obviously, but the day was beautiful, the music was oddly quirky (Mary Chapin Carpenter, calliope style), and at $3, it’s the best tourist-trappy deal in Manhattan.

Central Park Carousel

Round and round (what comes around, goes around, I’ll tell you why-y-y-y)

5. Lucking into Book of Mormon tickets. Having bought tickets to the Chicago performance two years ago, only to miss the performance due to a shellfish reaction, I never thought I’d end up seeing this show. But asking at the box office six hours before the Saturday evening performance yielded a box seat.  Even Gary Dell’Abate said this was a miracle.

6.  Realizing that I love Chicago. One of my life’s biggest regrets is not moving to New York City right out of college.  Back then, I was used to roommates and ramen and limited living space. By the time I came to another life’s crossroads, I’d gotten used to my 800 square-foot apartment for $450 a month, and didn’t think I could appropriately downsize. New York is bustling and happening and great and unlike any other American city, but Chicago’s pretty fantastic, too. And more my pace. So as I sit here, tired and sad to have this trip in the rear view, I’m also happy to be headed back home.

Thanks, Sendil, for a very memorable trip!

Thanks, Sendil, for a very memorable trip!

DJ Jazzy Beth (In Which I Effectively Spit Rhyme)

One thing I’m pretty good at — and I have no idea why or how — is karaoke rapping. Part of it is that I annunciate decently, learn lyrics quickly, and can talk in the necessarily rapid fashion needed (the too-fast Yankee speak my grandmother always complained about has its benefits).

Another part is the simple element of surprise. No one expects the 30-something white chick in the Gap outfit to bust out Kid Rock or Naughty By Nature. And so I only have to be 75% decent to earn 100% credit.

Natalie Portman rapping

My first experiment in the rap oeuvre was ‘Bust a Move‘ in about 1999, with my friend Kelly on chorus backup (‘You want it … you’ve got it’).  I tried ‘Funky Cold Medina’ at some point, but found it overly slow and ultimately boring.

With different partners — most prominently Kelly and Amy — I took Sir Mix-a-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back’ to near-perfection, where words aren’t needed and charades accompany appropriate lyrics. This tradition started in 1988, just before the song came screaming back in ironic fashion. It is all-but retired these days due to over-saturation, but it got the job done on a weekly basis for years.

In the mid-2000s, I took on a new challenge – ‘O.P.P.’ My first public attempt was at a bar in Tampa with Molly. Right before I began, a table of about 15 African-American women walked in and sat right in front of me. And they supported my every syllable, complete with high-fives at its conclusion. The speed of this one is the biggest challenge, and I refuse to do it if I’ve had more than two drinks. Unless I attempt this at a country bar (I’ll never make that mistake again), it rarely fails to impress (unless I’ve had more than two drinks, in which case it is an embarrassing hot mess).

Fondness of O.P.P. chart, naughty by nature

At some point, I added Rob Base (and DJ Easy Rock’s) ‘It Takes Two” to the mix. Fun, but not as much a crowd pleaser as the others. No accounting for taste, or nostalgia.  I also (once) attempted ‘The Bad Touch’ by Bloodhound Gang. I stuck every last word, from Lyle Lovett to FedEx to Waffle-House-hash-browns, and the crowd ignored the whole effort. Does no one remember this song?

This year, I tried my pipes at a little Kid Rock’s ‘Cowboy.’ It’s a world of fun, slow paced, and one of my new go-tos. The biggest challenge is getting out the P-word (as Naughty By Nature would say, “It’s sorta like, uhhh, well, another way you call a cat a kitty”) without stammering or blushing. I am, after all, a 30-something white chick in a Gap outfit.

Kid Rock Cowboy

Note that I never add any new songs to my repertoire, by the way. I’m all about nostalgia. No Nicki Minaj for me – at least not for four years or so.

That said, it’s time to add something fresh-ish to the mix. Want to help me decide? The first choice has the challenge of a word I will not say and so will have to swallow; the second and third contain super-dated references (do people remember Tom Green? Chris Kirkpatrick?); the fourth requires a bit of singing and is perhaps far too iconic to eff with. The fifth? I just don’t like as well as the others.

Leave any other suggestions you might have in the comments. And ‘Rapper’s Delight’ is off the table because it is just too damn long and I won’t do that to an audience.