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.

A Song That Reminds You of an Event …

Task 7 on the “30” Day Music Challenge … a song that reminds you of an event.

There’s been a complete unintended hiatus from the ole Neurotic City, because I’ve been trying to think of something for this for weeks. I have rarely struggled with writer’s block more, and I’ve had some bouts, believe you me.  What constitutes an ‘event,’ really?  Does it need to be something life-altering, like a wedding … or a death?

Can it be something fleeting and trivial, such as that one time I heard Miley Cyrus’ ‘See You Again’ in an H&M in Atlanta and noted with bemusement that every world-weary hipster in the place was singing along?

Or is it those collection of songs I heard non-stop in March 2001 when recovering from the flu on my couch and glued to MTV2?  (Which, oddly enough, STILL SHOWED VIDEOS then.)  Those were, if anyone cares, Lifehouse’s ‘Hanging By a Moment,’ Nelly Furtado’s ‘I’m Like a Bird,’ and Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Movies.’

The bf said his might be something that reminded him of a concert.  I openly mocked him, saying that’s akin to writing that “Gimme Shelter” reminds me of someone, and that someone is Mick Jagger. (Unless, I guess, the mental connection is not directly linear … Foo Fighters’ ‘Everlong’ reminds me of that time I saw the Foo Fighters is different — and therefore less allowed/excusable — than Food Fighters’ ‘Everlong’ reminds me of that one time I was at an Elton John concert, because I heard it on a loop while waiting to get out of the parking lot for 50 minutes.) Whatever, I’m a jerk.

Alice CooperI do associate a handful of late-1989 songs with a particular event of sorts. I was in a play — a musical (!) version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream — and as became my lot in life throughout my high school musical ‘career,’ I had a super tiny role.  (This, after winning ‘Best Actress’ in the 8th grade for my star-making turn as a hillbilly infested with fleas!  But that’s a story for another day.)

ANYWAY, my super tiny role kept me firmly hidden backstage where I belonged. I gossiped with fellow ‘actors,’ drank Diet Dr. Pepper, and — when there was nothing else to do — listened to the ‘Open House Party’ broadcast on my Walkman radio.  The description of this is better JFG’d, but suffice to say it was a syndicated weekend-night radio program for immature and friendless dumb-dumbs.  During the two-week Midsummer run, I frequently heard: ‘Love Shack’ (B-52’s), ‘Poison’ (Alice Cooper), and ‘Pump Up the Jam’ (Technotronic). Hey, at least OHP had all bases covered, from New Wave to Pseudo-Metal to ‘Dance.’  So to this day, when I hear any of these, I picture my 15-year-old bespectacled self, sitting cross-legged on a dirty linoleum floor, halfway enjoying the songs that would define my sophomore year. Btw, ‘Love Shack’ is terrible.  Among the band’s worst, and such a pity that it’s also their most famous.

Thanks for letting me ramble. I hope Day 8 is a bit more cohesive.

 

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.

A Song That Reminds You of Someone: “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” The Verve (1997)

Task 5 on the “30” Day Music Challenge — A Song That Reminds You of Someone

Before I get into who this song reminds me of (and why), I’d like to offer this little ditty — whose “best part” comes from The Rolling Stones by way of record producer Andrew Loog Oldham — a bit of a superlative. I maintain that this song’s employment in the 1999 instant classic Cruel Intentions (yeah, that’s right) represents one of the best-ever uses of music in film.

Picture it (MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT 15 years later): Ryan Philippe’s character (Sebastian) has suffered death-by-New-York-City-taxi-cab.  The only girl he ever truly loved, Annette (Reese Witherspoon) has gotten revenge on Sebastian’s despicable stepsister, Kathryn (played brilliantly by Sarah Michelle Gellar). The song comes in ever-so-quietly at 0:17 in the clip below and swells as Kathryn’s world begins to unravel in epic fashion. A single tear falls. And shortly before the credits roll, we cut to Annette, who has taken to the streets in Sebastian’s vintage Jaguar, having lost love but gained strength.  You know you want to see it:

But that’s not why I’m here. Why I’m here is to explain why this song reminds me of my friend Katie. Katie and I met in 2001 on a blind-friend-date (to keep the story brief, I’ll say that a friend of mine knew her from college and put us in touch when I moved to St. Louis). Together we have shared many adventures, big and small, more than bottle of screw-top wine, and millions of laughs. But for the better part of a decade, her ringtone on my phone has been “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” because of this one fleeting and seemingly inconsequential moment we shared.

Katie and Me … Several Years Ago, OKAY.


It was a fall (I think?) afternoon in St. Louis, and we were taking advantage of that sliver of time in the city — after the stifling humidity of summer and before the cruel Midwestern winter sets in — by enjoying a coffee outdoors. Sitting there minding our own business, we hear this song coming our way, growing ever-louder. A red convertible Jaguar (ironically) pulls up to the coffee shop, parallel parks, and the driver hops out. LEAVES IT RUNNING — in the middle of the city — and saunters in to grab a latte. Meanwhile, The Verve is just blasting away.

So we totally stole the car.

In actuality, we sat there with WTF expressions, laughed at the absurd douchery of it all, and continued to enjoy our afternoon. It was absolutely a nothing moment, and yet it has stuck with me. And whenever I hear those opening strings, I’ll think of Katie, and the great friendship we share.

A Song That Makes You Sad: “Ordinary World,” Duran Duran (1992)

Task 4 on the “30-Day” (HA!) Music Challenge is to write about a song that makes you sad. It’s mid-week, and I’ve been fighting some form of sinus congestion for three weeks or so, so WHY NOT WALLOW.

How has Duran Duran stayed out of my FFWDing… (or otherwise music-centric) content thus far? Historically, they are my favorite band. I say “historically” because we have had our turbulent times in our 32-ish-year relationship when I am “mad” at them. Such as now, when I’ve solidly disliked their last two studio albums. Sometimes I’m obsessive, listening to every rare cut and B-side I can get my synthesizer-loving little hands on. Other times, I’m content to go weeks or months without hearing frontman Simon Le Bon’s signature wail.

Like every bad fan, the oldies (“Rio” et al.) are typically my favorites, but their 1992 “comeback” single is its own little gem. Also, I’m realizing as I type this, a relative oldie, as it has surpassed the drinking age. From Warren Cuccurullo’s expert guitar picking in the intro — solidifying his place in the band, to some Duranies, as nearly equal to Andy Taylor — to the falsetto-laced harmonies in the fade-out, this is one beautifully crafted piece of music.

And it’s downright sad.

Many reports have stated that this was written five or so years after the death of Simon Le Bon’s close friend. The verses contain some of the head-scratching vagaries for which Le Bon is well known (“Well now pride’s gone out the window, cross the rooftops, run away”) but for the most part, the story is clear. The narrator has lost a loved one, and against all odds, he needs to find his way back to an “ordinary world,” which was Duran Duran’s own name for a concept that would later be referred to as the “new normal.” We all love people, and they go away — through choice or through the realities of mortality — but all we left behind can do is get on with living–

But I won’t cry for yesterday
There’s an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive

What really gets me are the closing lines of the bridge, which are basically a version of, “Someone’s got it way worse, man. Take a deep breath and move along.” —

Here besides the news
Of holy war and holy need
Ours is just a little sorrowed talk

Every time I’ve seen them do this in concert, I weep like a child. Mostly because I’ve lost loved ones prematurely, but also because Simon — as arrogant, preening, and occasionally loathsome as he is — is still affected by this one (or is an even better actor than he’s previously let on). He’s learned to survive, all right, but it doesn’t mean he can’t miss his friend, especially when singing a song dedicated to his memory.

 

A Song That Makes You Happy: “Roar,” Katy Perry (2013)

Task 3 on the “30-Day” Music Challenge is to write about a song that makes you happy.

This weekend, I re-watched (for the first time in years) one of my favorite movies, High Fidelity. Not quite as good as the Nick Hornby book that inspired it, it tells the tale of Rob (John Cusack), an unlucky-in-love, music-obsessed, thirty-something record-store owner. At the very beginning, our flawed protagonist drops this rhetorical question: 

Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

We will revisit this when Task 4 (a song that makes you sad) rolls around, but I feel a mirror image of this is also valid.  When I’m in a particularly good or especially social mood, I feel like listening to music. My spirits are then elevated further.  (When I’m in a fair mood, incidentally, Howard Stern, This American Life, or the Savage Lovecast become my soundtracks of choice.)

But a song that makes me happy is also, as it turns out, the same one I’m most desperate to hear at a time when I’m nearing the proverbial cloud nine anyway (or at least cloud three). In the past, my songs of the season have included the following: “Girlfriend,” Avril Lavigne. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” Nirvana. “Move Along,” The All-American Rejects. “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry),” Jason Mraz. “Teenage Dream,” Katy Perry.  Well, Ms. Perry has my attention once again, and today’s featured 2013 hit — the first single from her fourth album, Prism — currently holds the honor.

When I first heard it, I thought the tempo a little too slow, the rhyme scheme of the chorus a little too messy (“fire” rhymes with “fire,” then “lion” rhymes with … nothing).  And then it grew on me … like a syrupy, fluffy little fungus.

First, the theme of self-assuredness in the wake of a stifling relationship, though hardly original, is  one to be applauded.  Wash that man right out of your hair and be stronger without him, Katy. (Whether “that man” is Russell Brand, John Mayer, or someone fictional remains unclear and irrelevant.)

Secondly, as this is yet another Max Martin gem, there are the musical cornerstones that make Martin’s contributions to pop instant classics.  Key changes.  Vocal crescendos.  Interesting — if artificially created — instrumentation.  Little vocal flurries that crop up in the background that you might not notice at first (I smell the seeds of a FFWDing … post germinating.)

Listening to “Roar” has become part of my weekend routine. I’ll listen to it while I’m getting ready, and it often is required listening as the evening draws to a close, as well.  The video (below) is horrible in nearly every way, but I’ll cut Katy some slack in this area.  (But seriously, how does she have so much makeup on if stranded in the middle of the … NEVER MIND.) Enjoy … and I hope this makes you smile.

 

Your Least Favorite Song: “Are You That Somebody,” Aaliyah (1998)

There was a music-writing challenge going around on Facebook a couple of years ago that I never did. (Great story! And then I found 20 dollars?) But ANYWAY, I thought about doing it in January. Then February.  Lo and behold, it is March 9, although one would never guess since it is lit’ rally 23 degrees outside. One is supposed to complete this in 30 days, writing one essay a day. I can’t promise to deliver in that time frame — I have a real-world job and a busy social calendar, after all — but I will get through it.  Then I’ll get back to our regularly scheduled FFWDing posts.

Day 1 was “Your Favorite Song,” which I think I blathered on about enough in this FFWDing… post.

So let’s get negative. Appropriate enough for a Sunday evening.  My “least favorite song” is a hard one to pin down.

Is it just the most irritating song from an artist I already can’t stand? That’s “Rude Boy” by Rihanna. Is it a song that has plagued me for years — “She Blinded Me with Science” by Thomas Dolby — or a newer song that represents the slow death of popular music as we know it? (That might also be “Rude Boy.”)

Or is it a song that’s merely “okay,” but wildly popular and tragically overplayed?  (See: “Sweet Caroline,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,”  “Brown-Eyed Girl.”) There are obviously songs by death-metal bands that would be simply unlistenable to my pop-loving ear, but I feel “least favorite song” needs to be one you can clearly identify by song and artist (rather than just, “sounds like a terrible System of a Down-slash-Mudvayne-slash-Slipknot song”).

I think I have to go with my gut. Because it’s not like I can scroll through my personal iTunes library to find songs I just can’t stand. What I did do, however, was listen to the 1990s Spotify station for 10,000 years and heard some very worthy candidates before deciding on the Aaliyah hit. Do I feel guilty because she met with a tragic end? (And I’m referring of course to her becoming R. Kelly’s illegal child bride, not her airplane-crash death at 22.) Kind of. And I’d like to hope that perhaps, with maturity and a chance meeting with Max Martin, she would have redeemed herself.

For me, a good song should be comprised of at least most of the following: Interesting melody. Catchy hook. Impressive instrumentation and/or vocals. Perhaps a thoughtful lyric or two.  This has NONE of those, PLUS there is the added insult that an irritating sound effect (a baby goo-gaaing, if you’re not familiar) runs throughout the track. It also contains the following lyric — in the chorus, so you hear it multiple times:

Sometimes I’m goody goody
Right now I’m naughty naughty 

I don’t even know what to do with that.  I’m going to leave you there.

 

Other nominees:

“You’re Beautiful,” James Blunt. (Never has a compliment sounded so whiney.)
“F*ck It (I Don’t Want You Back,” Eamon. (Don’t worry.  She doesn’t either.)
“What It’s Like,” Everlast (Message is fine. Monotony is not.)
“Say My Name,” Destiny’s Child (I truly think the mediocre chorus is repeated 34 times.)