Listening to the Australian Top 40, 1990-2009 (Artists A-C)

My current job (producer at a radio station) allows me access to a music library that is – as the title of this post might suggest – pretty darn comprehensive. It’s a mighty batch of mp3 files, arranged according to the first name of each artist. I’ve been listening to the songs in the car, in order, with the following strict rules:

1. If the song is familiar – that is, if I think I’ve heard it in the last couple of years – I skip it. Even if I like it.

2. Any unfamiliar song has until the end of its first chorus. That’s it. If a song doesn’t grab me by then, I move on.

3. If the kids are in the car, they get to vote on whether a song lives or dies.

4. If the kids are in the car, an exception is made to the first rule. But the third rule is still ruthlessly enforced.

The point to this exercise is to discover worthy songs I have missed or gems I have forgotten, within the limits of Top 40 success.

Some observations and discoveries, artists A-C:

Number of Songs Played In Full

About one in ten, I reckon.

Surprised I Quite Liked It

I’m not a fan of young women singing “baby, take control of me” songs; even when they’re wrapped in empowerment cliches, they’re still icky.

But I liked the guitar sample, and the production on the backing vocals. So that’s what I listened to.

Liked It More Than Everyone Else Seems To

This didn’t get a great response (“sucks” – Rolling Stone), but I don’t think Jack White’s song is the problem. Male/female duets are always tricky, because there’s usually only one or two keys that will work for both vocalists, and the solution is almost always a high vocal for the guy, with low-mid notes for the female. She’ll spend most of the song sounding comparatively dull, then get to wail later on (as is the case here). Meanwhile, whenever the male and female sing together, it’s hard for both singers to pitch identically. Hence the deliberately ragged vocals on the chorus in this recording, with a meticulously arranged and produced backing. That’s what disappointed Bond theme purists, I reckon, rather than the song itself.

You know what would have worked, for a song like this? Drop it a couple of keys, and have Michael Buble sing it.

You know what would have worked even better? Slow it down, and have Leonard Cohen speak/sing it. Rolling Stone would have loved that.

Bon Jovi

Have had a lot of hits. I am no fan of the band, because in 1987 I liked The Beatles and everyone – everyone – at my school was playing the album Slippery When Wet. But I have to give it to Bon Jovi: a lot of hits. And a surprisingly wide range of rhythmic feels and production styles over the course of their career. Their singles do not simply boil down to rocker-rocker-power ballad-rocker-power ballad.

Creed

There is no excuse for them. Just awful.

Color Me Badd

In their own way, as bad as Creed.

Annie Lennox

No More “I Love You’s”, from 1995, is a cover! I had no idea. Here is the original, from 1986, by The Lover Speaks:

I notice that the arrangement of the Lennox cover (which I’ve always liked) comes almost entirely from the original. Also the two versions are barely a semitone apart (cover – E flat major; original – a very sharp D major). Lennox sings the same melody, with some octave shifting to accomodate the fact that she’s female.

So here’s my theory: The Lover Speaks played support for The Eurythmics, and Lennox used to hear this song, sang along with it backstage (hence the octave shifting), and thought to herself “I’ll record that some day”.

But there’s more: the Lennox cover is (like much of her stuff) arch and mannered; surrounded in her music video by ballerina men with fantastic cheekbones, she delivers the chorus in a pose. Shorn of any irony, however, consider the first lines of this song’s chorus:

No more “I love you’s”
The language is leaving me.

That is a devastating sentiment, in twelve beautifully singable syllables.

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About Peter J Casey

Writer of musical theatre, player of piano, producer of radio.

2 responses »

  1. And that’s why I thought you’d be a worthy recipient of the collection!

    But if you think Bon Jovi had a lot of singles, wait till you go to the global 55-89 section and do the same thing. You’ll get to the songs by James Brown, and feel like you’re stuck there for a day. Without the variety of Bon Jovi…

    Reply

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