Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday (debuting on Wednesday), a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is incredibly un-fun in 2020 and I miss blogging. It’s Friday (or Wednesday, in this specific case) and these will be fun! This week’s list…
Top 5 Cassette Singles From 1991-1993 That I Owned
I’m not sure if this is true any longer, but I remember having explained to me that small, rural towns would “level up” once they got a Wal-Mart. That makes sense. Wal-Marts are enormous, and if your little speed bump in flyover country can support one, that’s as good a marker of growth as any.
In the times before Wal-Mart was seen as everything wrong with capitalism and big business, going to Wal-Mart was exciting. It bears mention this was before it was simply called Walmart, and before Target became the adored mecca of basic white chicks everywhere. My little suburb just West of Denver got a Wal-Mart when I was 9 or 10 and I loved going there. I think it was mostly because it had a snack bar in the middle of it and I would get nachos for 80 cents.
But it also had a giant electronics section with a huge selection of music that was less intimidating than the local music store in the same shopping center that I would fall in love with a few years later when I discovered ska. Wal-Mart was approachable, even inviting. So, since I was just getting interested in music, I’d stand for minutes on end staring at the cassette singles. Occasionally I’d come home with one. Here are some choice selections from those trips occurring between 1991 and 1993.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Under the Bridge”
Still one of my Top 3 songs of all-time, which is a bit odd considering I have neither a heroin addiction nor any kind of particular affection for the city of Los Angeles. I bought this after hearing it in the snack shack at our community pool throughout the summer of 1992. It was just called “The Shack,” it was run by high school kids, and they sold you candy and soft pretzels and cans of Sprite. It was an impossibly cool place.
I can picture standing there in the hot sun in my swimsuit with my towel just leaning into the window with the other grade school kids wanting to be like the high school kids inside who were not only our snack gatekeepers, but arbiters of taste and popularity. The extent to which any of this was actually true, I have no idea, but it’s a feeling I can conjure up with remarkable ease. Everyone seemed to know more about music than I did, so mostly I had no idea what the hell anyone was talking about when they talked about music, ever.
One particular day though, this lovely song came on, and everyone just shut up. “Under the Bridge” is sad, but with a sunny melody like when it gently rains for 15 minutes during the summer and you don’t even bother covering up or running for shelter. We all just stood there crammed next to each other trying to position ourselves for optimal window placement and listened to Anthony Keidis’s voice gently recite a poem about his struggles with addiction until the song builds to lovely choral climax before retreating back into the lonely guitar that begins the song. I didn’t know the name of the song, or even the artist, until I caught it on MTV later that week and wrote it down. Then it was off to Wal-Mart where, thank God, they had it.
Possibly interesting footnote: This is one of the only songs I know from start to finish, so it’s one of the songs I sang to my girls to get them to go back to sleep when they were babies.
Gin Blossoms – “Found Out About You”
One of the many challenges of being an only child is that you’re largely on your own in figuring out pop culture trends, which means you’re always late to them. This is especially true when it comes to music. So, as a coping strategy, sometimes I’d hear something once that felt like something I could continue to enjoy, and just hitch my wagon to it immediately in order not to be the total outside loser. Seriously, I’d just make a conscious choice and be like, “This is going to be my band now.” Sometimes it worked pretty well like when I jumped on the Bush bandwagon because I was late to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and sometimes it didn’t like a few years earlier when I decided Color Me Badd was my favorite band.
That’s what happened with “Found Out About You” by Gin Blossoms. I heard it once, hadn’t heard too many other people talk about it, decided it was unclaimed real estate, and made them a band I liked. Oddly enough, I think I enjoy the Gin Blossoms more now than I even did back then. Their jangly, crowd-pleasing alt-rock is perfect for sitting on a patio enjoying intoxicants.
George Michael – “Too Funky”
Hey, here’s a classic! Everyone remember this one? Look, I have no idea why an 11 year-old would boy grab onto “slinky, disco-fever-redux hit” (which is how the critic from Entertainment Weekly described it, I just learned), but I sure did. My first guess upon reflecting was that I saw the music video too many times, but that doesn’t really make sense either considering it features George Michael pretending to be a director filming a runway fashion show and a bunch of models wearing weird shit.
Truthfully, I think it’s because he says “I’d love to see ya’ naked, baby!” a bunch of times and I was a pervy little dude, even very early on. I was always curious about and fascinated by sex, and this was a safe entry point because beyond the aforementioned desires of wanting to see someone naked, it’s not like this song had anything truly scandalous going on in it. As for listening to it again just now, I think it’d be a decent jam for any time you’re on a party bus and everyone’s boogeying. When we get to do something like that again is anyone’s guess, and now I’m sad again about the world we live in.
Bryan Adams – “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”
If you remember this song, it’s probably because you saw that Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner. I actually never saw it, so I can’t tell you how it figured into the movie, but I do know MTV and the radio played the everloving shit out of this song for months on end. The music video had scenes from the movie, if memory serves. I remember hearing it in my elementary school carpool and asking my friend’s mom what channel it was playing on (presumably so I could catch it again as often as possible), but she told me it was on a tape.
Off to the Wal-Mart!
I liked this one so much I remember being at dinner with my parents at their favorite place, Brewery Bar II, finding it on the jukebox, putting in a quarter, and then waiting for it. Re-reading that previous sentence makes me feel like I’m one hundred years old.
So, it starts, then fades out as another song comes up and replaces it. Puzzled, we ask the waitress what happened, she does some digging with the manager and the bartender and it ends up becoming a whole thing and a giant hassle. Eventually she gets it figured out, puts her own quarter in the jukebox, and the song starts back up. She comes back to the table and, either being oblivious or hilarious, informs us, “Sorry. The manager didn’t think anyone would actually willfully choose that song, so he switched over to the radio. I explained to him that a customer chose it on the jukebox, so he switched it back over. Sorry about that!”
The manager clearly hated this song (and its ubiquity), so he made the editorial decision to turn it off. Having been shamed a bit, I never felt the same way about that song again. I hadn’t listened to it in probably decades before writing this little blog piece, and I gotta say, that manager was right. This song blows. It’s syrupy and overwrought and lasts six and a half endless minutes. Its aesthetic is too-earnest lovesick eighth grade boy. And now those plinky piano notes are going to be in my head for a month.
Joe Public – “Live and Learn”
I’m gonna level with you on this one. I have no idea where, when or how I exactly came upon this song. But two things I know for certain. 1) I definitely had this cassette single; and 2) This song is fucking dog ass terrible. I mean, holy shit. As soon as I hit play on the video and that “car turning up a ramp in a mall parking garage” screech forces its way into your brain through your eye, it all came flooding back.
“Too Funky” was mystifying enough as to why I liked it, but at least that was a good song by a legendary artist. This song is nothing but empty, platitudinous, non-specifically motivational lyrics over a shitty beat, sung by a bunch of dudes who look like they were hired by your middle school to give a motivational rap about why you shouldn’t vape or whatever.
This song is like what would come out if you forced a bot to listen to thousands of hours of hip hop directed at teenyboppers and read everything Mitch Albom has ever published. The chorus of this song is “You’ve got to live and learn! Before your bridges burn!” What the fuck does that even mean? I’ve gotten better life advice from the back of a Cheez-Its box. The verses are no better. The very first lines of the very first verse go like this:
Here’s a little story about life.– Joe Public, hitting you with the deep shit
Everybody that lives surely dies.
A lot of people ask the questions why.
Some people have to go through so much more before they really learn about life’s score.
But the subject is not to be ignored.
Wow. Great work, guys. You may be curious to check this song out yourself now that I’ve appropriately shit all over it, but don’t. I listened to it four complete times in writing this stupid blog post, and woke up every day for a week with it in my head. No one wants that.
But, you live and learn, I guess. Before your bridges burn!