Week 10 of my 1990s cover series is here.
1999- Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way" & Britney Spears "Oops! I Did It Again"
There's a study done that shows how westerners change their career focus roughly once a decade. In my observation, that also seems to hold true for the music industry and the shelf-life of mainstream styles. By the end of the 90s, the masses had had enough of guitar rock. It was getting rudely bowled over by slick pop performed by people who probably didn't write music or play a musical instrument. For some reason, though, my friends and I decided to start a guitar rock band. You can imagine my dismay when I strolled into a record store somewhere in Saskatchewan, where I was greeted by a large cardboard cutout of the Backstreet Boys advertising their new single, "Larger Than Life." It's like they were standing there in their white homeboy poses, and flashy, sporty outfits, directly mocking me. Because - wait for it - that was the title of MY band's first single! NOOOO!!!
That's right. Downhere's first radio single was called "Larger Than Life," the very same year BSB had a mega-hit of the same name. To this day, I'm convinced Jive Records had spies snooping around Bible colleges all across Canada in search of the next big idea. And that comforts me. There's no way the song title was merely a coincidence. But it doesn't change the fact that 'my music' was falling out of the limelight to make room for a new, polished-with-a-grittier-edge sound, reminiscent of the mid-to-late 80s. Sure, rock was still going quite strong. I mean... Creed, right? Creed.
That was my first experience with the cycle of popular music styles. What was cool in the past, will be cool again. Then it will die again, only to be resurrected sometime in the future by some innovative young punks who put a fresh spin on it. My natural reaction to it was disgust, unfortunately. Don't they know that New Kids On The Block and Debbie Gibson did this exact thing just a decade ago? Wake up, people! But I was falling into that old trap that says whatever you grew up listening to will forever be the best music. It took me a long time to realize I'd fallen for that lie - even longer to start breaking out of that mindset.
Marrying Crystal was probably the best thing to happen to my personal music discovery. She's always listening to new artists. Raging against the zeitgeist of buffet-style music consumption, she still binges on an artist, and will listen to their ENTIRE album. Novel concept. And so, one of the valuable lessons I've learned in marriage is to never stop discovering. And, of course, that doesn't only go for music. It's a hard pill to swallow for someone like me who writes in a particular style. But an open mind and a willingness to accept change is the only way one can continue to grow.
I don't know where I saw it - maybe in the comments of one of my YouTube videos - but someone had written in response to another comment, "Don't be one of those people who graduates high school and stops listening to new music." Preach it, bro! The comment wasn't intended for me, but it hit home in its simplicity. I will not become that crotchety old man. And so in the spirit of giving music outside of my realm of familiarity a fighting chance, and because my wife is the world's biggest Backstreet Boys fan, I give you a mashup of two of 1999's biggest songs I used to roll my eyes at.
But not anymore.
Week 10 of my 1990s cover series is here.
Week 9 of my 1990s cover series is here.
1998- Goo Goo Dolls - "Iris"
I've never met Nick Cage, but he's heard my album "Impersonator," and digs it. Huh? I know this because another celebrity I actually have met, Carrot Top, made him listen to it. Then he sent me a screen-shot of the text conversation they had about me. I KNOW! Crazy. Apparently, if you go see Carrot Top's show in Vegas, you'll hear my song "Dead Ringer" when he walks out on stage at the top of the show. Scott "Carrot Top" Thompson likes my music a lot. And that's pretty rad, because he's not only a talented performer, he's also literally one of the nicest guys I've met.
But, let's get to 1998.
Nick Cage. Meg Ryan. "City Of Angels." "Iris" by Goo Goo Dolls. A no-brainer. A monster ballad Johnny Rzeznik actually wrote specifically for the movie, which is why the lyrics fit the story so well. When I first heard the line, "When everything's made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am," I immediately kicked myself for not coming up with it. The idea of brokenness and personal identity was something this third-year Bible college student was becoming very familiar with, although not necessarily through personal experience. Let's face it, aside from one or two heartbreaks, and a lonely year between high school and college, my life so far had been relatively painless. But those themes were in a lot of the music I listened to, the songs we sang in chapel, and even the ones I was writing.
That was the year Jason and I recorded our first real album together. We'd gotten to be good friends with Leroy Harder, a Music Faculty member who'd taken an early interest in us. So much so, that he decided to start a record label and sign us as his first artists. We had some songs to record, but what we lacked was a name.
Finding a band name can be very difficult. Especially if you want it to mean something. At the time, I was discovering my love for counter-cultural biblical ideas like grace, humility, redemption, forgiveness, selflessness, etc., and I wanted the name of our band to reflect that. Leroy had actually given us a deadline to come up with a name, and threatened that if we couldn't think of something, our album was going to be called "Martel & Germain." Well, we didn't like that at all. We had to have a cool name. I still don't know to this day if what we landed on was really good, or really terrible. If I had a nickel for every time we got called "Downunder," "Downhome," or "Downthere," well, I'd buy myself a nice bottle of Lagavulin 16. We named ourselves "Downhere" because it conjured a lot of the themes our music was about. The idea is that down here on Earth, we have a certain amount of years to live meaningful lives because we believe there's an "up there." And what we do in our lifetimes matters in the context of eternity.
So it's with no small amount of irony that I present to you a song about an angel who's gown disillusioned with his heavenly perspective, and makes a deal with God to give up his immortality to be with a woman.
Week 8 of my 1990s cover series is here.
1997- Radiohead - "Karma Police"
Why "Karma Police"?
If you've been keeping up with my song blogs, you may remember that in 1995-1996, I was working at a record store. It was in a shopping mall, and to pass the long hours largely devoid of patrons, I'd sit behind the checkout counter and play CDs, play solitaire, read, or venture across the hall and chat with the girls at the hair salon. That pretty much sums up my time there.
One weird detail that stayed with me from that job is of an unwrapped CD my boss left on a shelf behind the counter. I don't know if it was damaged, returned, or reserved for someone who'd forgotten about it, but it sat there for the entire duration of my employment. Because of the CD's bizarre artwork, I never listened to it. Every day I'd see it and think what a creepy cover it was, the image being reminiscent of a movie that had scarred me - "Dune." You know that scene with the slaves with heart-plugs installed in their chests? Yuck. I think the person depicted on the CD cover is actually wearing suction cups for some kind of electro-shock therapy, but regardless, it didn't inspire me at the time. It said "Radiohead" in big block lettering, and I didn't know if it was a band, album title, solo artist, or some radio hits compilation.
Fast-forward two years. The few cutting-edge music aficionados at my college were listening to Radiohead. Also, my brother, my main source for cool new music, was getting heavily into them. Their new release, OK Computer, pushed pop music boundaries, but I didn't "get it" until I heard "Paranoid Android." It's one of THE rock masterpieces, in my books. Almost on par with Bohemian Rhapsody, minus a very ambitious vocal arrangement. The song was also my introduction to deconstructionism. It was as if someone had unlocked the ability to completely destroy the music I grew up with, then put it back together into something totally unrecognizable, yet undeniably beautiful. The range of sonic exploration was much wider than Pearl Jam's, who were my 90s darlings. Their aggressive guitar tones were meaner, but their ballads were sweeter and more angelic. They demonstrated a level of intellectual refinement I'd never encountered before in the realm of rock. I got the sense that these musicians were all classically trained, yet had chosen to use their acquired techniques for a kind of rebellion. The lyrics were more cryptic than I was accustomed to, but I found, even in their most cynical moments, a longing for goodness. I even went back to the album with the creepy cover, and discovered that The Bends is also a fantastic album.
What I really wanted to cover this week was "Paranoid Android."
But with so many crucial instrumental turns and wacky guitar solos I'd have to actually sing, I felt like many of you would be a little put-off, to say the least. (I do realize a few might get a kick out of that, though... sorry guys!) So I'm going with the more accessible hit from OK Computer, "Karma Police." As a Christian, I don't adhere to the philosophy of karma. I do, however, hold to the belief that good will ultimately triumph. That this physical life is only part of the whole, and that every human being will account for their sin before a God who is not only loving and gracious, but also just. My hope is not in the balance of good and evil, but in the overwhelming victory of good over evil. But I digress, as I believe the song's actual aim (as best I can decode Thom Yorke's lyrics) is to point out the folly in trying to subjugate others to our own ideals. To examine ourselves before pointing out faults in others. To remember who we are, to love and seek peace with those who oppose us, instead of retaliation. That sounds like Jesus. That, I can absolutely get on board with.
P.S.: In regards to the little guitar flub before verse 3... you're welcome!
Week 7 of my 1990s cover series is here.
1996- Seal - "Kiss From A Rose"
Why "Kiss From A Rose"?
Sometimes it's appropriate to compromise to serve the bigger picture. The criteria for this cover series are more than simply finding a good song. It should also be one that I like, that is well-known, that is meaningful to me, and that I feel I can emotionally deliver with an acoustic instrument. If I'm hitting three or four of those, it's not perfect, but it's acceptable.
This week is one of those compromises. I spent far too long hemming and hawing over countless 1996 radio charts, looking for that perfect cover. Every other year so far has been easy, but for some reason, nothing on the 1996 charts makes me go "DEFINITELY THIS ONE!" Not that "Kiss From A Rose" isn't a great tune - I've always dug it. But it isn't particularly near or dear to me, even though the melody is nothing short of epic. Even though it gave us the best possible way to sing the word "baby" - ever! And despite the song's eternal marriage to one of the worst Batman films in silver screen history, my hat's off to Seal for writing a mega-hit in 6/8 time. Quite a feat!
At first, I was set on doing an Alanis Morissette song. But as chock full of hits as Jagged Little Pill is, when I played them on guitar, they just fell flat. Not sure why. Then I toyed with "Don't Speak" by No Doubt, but realized I didn't know the song well enough, and lacked the time to devote to it, what with being on tour with QE, and Crystal visiting last week. I do need to do a female-sung song one of these weeks, though!
Ironically, in 1996 I was very much diving deep into the things where compromise is much less acceptable. My faith and core beliefs, my search for what I was put on this earth to do, and the people I would do that with. (That's what you do in college, right?)
Jason Germain and I were roommates and becoming best friends. We had this understated musical awe of one another. We came at music from different backgrounds, but when we got together, it was something... more. Between classes and playing Jars Of Clay's entire debut album by heart, we had started co-writing. And we did so up and down the halls of our dorm. We were quickly dubbed "The Wandering Minstrels" by one of our hall mates. Jason had this Panasonic CD/radio that you could set to wake you up with whatever CD track you loaded the night before. A Carolyn Arends song called "Reaching," was a favorite of ours to start the day to. Other mornings, it was Ennio Morricone greeting us with a selection from the "The Mission" soundtrack, or James Horner with "Braveheart." Not to mention that we were learning the art of recording, as well as leading worship in morning chapel. That year was overflowing with music.
In the mainstream, grunge had almost fully run its course, and more-refined pop was showing signs of a comeback, to my dismay. But all of that seemed to sort of pass me by that year, being cocooned in the fascinating, and tightly-knit little world that is Bible College. It was the first of four years that would set a new course for my life. And after a long, dreary 1995, "A light hits the gloom on the gray," is actually a pretty perfect way to sum up 1996 for me.
P.S.: Finding a space to record these on the road is not easy! Hotel rooms don't really work because my singing would carry down the hall. I did manage to find a secluded (and very echoey) stairwell at Usher Hall, our venue in Edinburgh, Scotland. Enjoy.