6.29.2007

Overplayed and Underappreciated

Some songs are inexplicably popular, played on the radio until you'd rather impale yourself on a salad fork than listen to them one more time -- "Kokomo," for instance, or just about anything by Hall and Oats or The Spice Girls. Then there are those songs that deserve their repeated airplay, but due to their own popularity start to diminish a little in stature. You've heard them so many times that it's hard not to just tune them out -- they've become Muzak.

Today's post is dedicated to the latter -- songs that are overplayed and underappreciated. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. Jackson Browne, "Running on Empty." Most people only know this song, "Somebody's Baby," and possibly "Doctor My Eyes." Which is really too bad, because those tunes only hint at the depth of Browne's songwriting (if you don't believe me, download "These Days," or the album Late For the Sky). Of his hits, though, "Running on Empty" comes closest to capturing Browne's distinctive wistfulness. It's one of those tunes you've probably heard a thousand times without really listening to it. Like the best Bruce Springsteen songs, this one opens like a happy trip down memory lane, but it's a lot darker than its late-70's Eagles-ish vibe would suggest.

2. Aerosmith, "Dream On." It's hard to respect a band that took the stage with N*Sync and Britney Spears at the Super Bowl. Hell, it's hard to respect a band that made "Eat the Rich" and "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." But just because Aerosmith went and became a bad parody of itself, don't discount their best stuff, like "Sweet Emotion" (an integral part of what may be the greatest movie-opening montage of all time) and "Dream On," the song that launched a thousand ripoff power ballads.

3. Rod Stewart, "Maggie May. Depending on your age, you might know Rod Stewart best as a) the laughably mulletted guy who made you cringe with "Do You Think I'm Sexy," b) the dude who cheesified Tom Waits' "Downtown Train," or c) a creepy leatherface who's pretty much indistinguishable from Bryan Adams. And yet, believe it or not, Rod Stewart used to rock. Witness Example A. For even more rocking, check out The Faces, Stewart's pre-solo-work band. Those guys would never have let him make "Forever Young."

4. Queen and David Bowie, "Under Pressure." First off, it's not their fault that Vanilla Ice ripped off this song's catchy hook for one of hip hop's greatest abortions (instead of suing, I wish Bowie had challenged Ice to a knife fight, then shown up in his Ziggy Stardust gear and tore Robert Van Winkle's fake-gangster ass a new one). More importantly, I've listened to this song approximately 1,300 times, and it's yet to get old. For all Freddie Mercury's late-career disco-influenced missteps ("Another One Bites the Dust," anyone? "Sheer Heart Attack"?), he's got a great voice and, like Bowie, an incredible presence and flair for the dramatic. Plus, this song has possibly the best soaring bridge ever.

5. The Five Stairsteps, "Ooh Child." This song's probably been used in more movies than just about any other, except maybe Carmina Burana, yet it makes me smile every time I hear it. It's hard for a song to be genuinely optimistic without being cloying, but this one pulls it off. Also a great song for a summer barbecue.

6. Led Zeppelin, "The Song Remains the Same." I think Chuck Klosterman's a douchebag about a lot of things, but I'll give him credit for nailing this one: just about every teenaged boy goes through a serious Led Zeppelin phase. Mine was in 8th and 9th grade. I never had the hobbit tee shirts, but several of my friends did, and for people who'd yet to discover pot, we spent way too much time analyzing the intricacies of the "IV" cover. Later, I went through a kind of Zeppelin Backlash period, where I just couldn't listen to any of it. But later, I went back to those old albums and damn if they didn't hold up. Quite nicely, in fact. I could have picked just about any popular Zep song, but this one happens to be my favorite.

7. Elton John, "Levon." File this in the Rod Stewart/Aerosmith category of artists who've gone out of their way to make us forget how good they used to be. But even if EJ spends the next twenty years making nothing but "Lion King" soundtracks and tribute songs for dead royals, his back catalog will still stand up. Admittedly, it's harder to remember those old tunes are good after you've heard them so many times in grocery stores and bank lobbies.

8. INXS, "Need You Tonight." Maybe I just have a soft spot for INXS, since my 6th grade Social Studies teacher was on a one-woman mission to convince us the band worshiped Satan (apparently this was clear from the Kick album cover art, as well as the song "Devil Inside.") Predictably, her ire translated into pretty much the best endorsement a band could ever hope to get among a group of middle-schoolers. I was pretty uniformly disappointed by the INXS albums that came later, but any of the songs off Kick still prompt a pleasant trip down memory lane.

9. Rick Springfield, "Jessie's Girl." Okay, maybe this song is terribly cheesy and kind of lame. But when it comes on the radio, do you ever change the station?

5 comments:

dave said...

Great topic! Here are mine:

ANYTHING BY AC/DC:
You Shook Me All Night Long. Back in Black. Hell's Bells. Even Thunderstuck. You've heard them a million times, but think about it: AC/DC never got cheesy, they never sound especially embarrassing, and they still fucking rock. With the exception of a few kind of crappy albums -- notable mostly for the way they accentuated the fact that these guys could only play like 3 chords, rather than the fact that they were old, lame, and desperate (like Aerosmith, for instance), AC/DC has never been embarrassing or lame, even after eight billion plays on classic rock radio.

PAUL REVERE, Beastie boys
I was going to say anything by the Beastie boys, but a better way to put it would be anything but Fight for Your Right (to Party). That song is over. Just about everything else off that album, though, and it's maybe their worst one, still kind of rocks in that same, stupid, AC/DC kind of way.

VAN HALEN I:
That's right! I'm throwing down the David Lee Roth gauntlet again: this is a great fucking album, even though I played it ten times a day from the time I was twelve til I was about 18.

KING OF THE ROAD, Roger Miller
SUNDOWN, by Gordon Lightfoot
Cool, lolling, classic pop country. Great to sing along to when drunk. Never old.

R.J. said...

I love this topic. I agree with everything posted so far. But I would also like to add:

WILD NIGHT, Van Morrison
This is one of George's (I can call him that 'cause we're BFFs) most overplayed songs (short of BROWN-EYED GIRL and yet it set a great example of his uncanny grasp of the pop music structure. Though mostly devoid of his earlier classical jazz and Celtic influences, the writing is top-notch, oozing with poetic imagery, American Graffiti vibes, and a catchy singable hook that has become synonymous with this music.

Mike said...

R.J. -- Definitely agree on that and other Van tunes. I almost put Tupelo Honey on the list, but I wasn't sure if it counts as overplayed, or just overplayed on my own ipod.

Good call on AC/DC. As for Van Halen -- I imagine Joe will be on here any minute advocating for Hagar.

Kyle said...

for me it's most of the bands you mention, but a different song. well except springfield cause none top "jesse's girl." and i'd remove jackson brown on my personal list, cause i EFFin hate him. but i know it's my own issue.

for INX i'd go with "never tear us apart". for Elton i'd say "goodbye yellowbrick road". Bowie - "ashes to ashes". Led Zeppelin - "hot dog" (I'm KIDDING... i hope anyone who owns in through the out door would be in on that joke)

I'd add two bands

BonJovi.
maybe "livin on a prayer".... or "wanted dead or alive".

and my all time favorite band
The Clash.
there may not be a musak version but i love "rudy cant fail".
but i guess "lost in the supermarket" fits the requirment.

dave said...

Oh, I forgot this one: Push It, by Salt n' Pepa. Man, that's a good song. Push it real good!