Early in my teens, I became enamored with the power of being a DJ. As a
small kid, it blew me away to see the effect that music had on people,
and the amazing control that a disc jockey could then have over an
assembled crowd, regardless of his size. I saw how music could turn a
simple gathering in a party, and turn awkward first meetings of strangers into steamy rendezvous. Of course, it wasn't just any music that could do this, but the right music.
And so the axiom originally opined by Stan Lee in 1962 (via the Amazing
SpiderMan) once again proved true for the disc jockey: with great power
did come great responsibility. For just as a DJ could magically make a
party, he could also irreparably kill one. I was hooked, and before too
long I was collecting music as fast as my limited budget would allow,
and beginning to learn the oft overlooked art of programming.
Programming? It's not what you were thinking. Because the "tricks" that DJs could do (scratches, spins, etc.) were never what really intrigued me (although, in fairness, they are wicked cool), but rather the delicate art of knowing which songs to play and when to play them. The obvious prequisite for this practice was to know a lot of music - and so I began to listen, ask, research and collect. Twenty years later, I've heard hundreds of thousands of songs - and love the obscure as much as I love the popular. And while I don't get behind the "wheels of steel" as often as I used to, I'm still known to rock the party every once in a while. But more often than that, I still use music to cheer up, inspire or englighten my friends. And given that opportunity this past week, I came up a musical epiphany of sorts.
Often times in music you come across what you believe to be a truly unique aspect of a song: a novel instrument, an obscure name or just a brilliant turn of phrase - and it's just the sort of thing that makes you inexplicably happy. But there are a few rare instances, which I'll share with you below, where there are actually two songs that have this unique characteristic, and you haven't even heard the better one yet! Trust me - these are musical gems that you can carry around in your pocket and will always put a smile on your face, brought to you courtesy of "the world's most dangerous disc jockey" (my old moniker)...
There are only two songs about a girl named Eileen, and you haven't heard the good one yet...
Songs about a particular girl are as old as songs themselves, and we've all heard odes to Sherries, Jennys, and Kates. But as the 760th most popular name for girls last year (and steadily falling about 15 spots a year), Eileen shows up less often then "Armani" and only slightly more often than "Campbell". So, it comes as no suprise that there are not a whole lot of tunes about a girl named Eileen. And although the one you know is inarguably one of the greatest sing along/karaoke songs of all time, it's not the better of the two.
Steelheart was one of the very last of the "hair metal" bands of the 80's. In fact, they were formed in 1990, and built their following on the strength of vocalist Michael Matijevic, who had a vocal range like Mariah Carey (but the good sense never to star in "Glitter", and similarly long hair). You might think you don't know Steelheart, but if you heard "I'll Never Let You Go", and were a teenager during the early nineties, it'll take you back to your high school/middle school dance days faster than watching Sixteen Candles. But I always thought their signature piece was "Everybody Loves Eileen" - the other song about a girl named Eileen. You can't really sing along to it, because no one can sing along with Michael's vocals, but trying to sing along with it is the most purely blissful experiences you can have in your car, okay, well maybe the second most blissful.
The high note at 3:20 is particularly fun to try and hit (much like the last note in Summer Nights)... and the drum solo that closes the song out is also an excellent chance to hone your air drumming skills.
Try and tell me you didn't smile while listening to that...
There are only two songs with the word "chameleon" in the lyrics, and you haven't heard the good one yet...
I'm not trying to diminish the special place in your memory that you may hold for Boy George and Culture Club. The unashamed androgyny of the whole thing practically demanded that you enjoy dancing around to it like you were at a grade school slumber party. And Karma Chameleon had lyrics that, even now with nineteen years of education, I haven't the foggiest notion what they mean (notwithstanding the amount of time it took me to realize that he wasn't saying "Comma Chameleon"). But it's clear that the gents(?) of Culture Club didn't have the lyrical bravery or wherewithal to try and actually rhyme the word "chameleon" (or perhaps they were just too emotionally overwrought to even attempt it), but there is a band that did.
Slade is a band that you've probably never heard of - unless you lived in the UK during the 70's. In the UK they were the unrivaled kings of the Glam Rock movement and outsold and outperformed some of the more well-known Glam acts that you have heard of (Gary Glitter & David Bowie). Slade had 17 top 20 hits between 1971 and 1976 including six #1s, three #2s and two #3s and actually came the closest to matching The Beatles' 22 top ten records in a single decade. They originally wrote and performed a song, that when covered by English rockers Quiet Riot made that band globally and eternally famous, called "Cum On, Feel the Noize".
But the most fun they ever had (and the best song they ever had in the US - reaching number 20 in 1984) was with "Run Runaway" - which sounds like an Irish drinking song made into a rock song. That alone should make you smile, but the song is brilliant fun to listen to, and has lyrics (including "see there chameleon, lyin' there in the sun, all things to everyone...") that are eminently singable. And if that's not enough - there's a video with a castle and a leprechaun on lead guitar - which, I'm told, will make you want to go out and buy either a jaunty hat...
...or buy a bar of Irish Spring.
There are only two techno songs with a banjo in them, and you haven't heard the good one yet...
There isn't usually a tremendously large market for taking traditional or well known songs and turning them into techno dance numbers. In fact, outside of the rave scene and Dance Dance Revolution games (easily the surest way to embarass yourself at an arcade), there aren't really any. So when the Rednex turned traditional American folk song "Cotten Eyed Joe" into a euro-style dance anthem, no one could have expected its pervasive insvasion of global pop culture. It's now regularly heard at sporting venues from Green Bay to Yankee Stadium, and I've yet to be to a country bar that doesn't at least play it once a night.
For millions of people who would otherwise never be caught dead listening to banjo music, they enthusiastically dance and clap along to the Rednex favorite, where the banjo gives a distintive sense of both Americana and good-ol', down-home, boot-stompin' fun. These same folks would be even more surprised to find out that there is, in fact, another euro-dance number that is not only better and more fun, but also has (if you can believe it) more banjo.
The Grid was one of countless techno acts from the UK that formed in the early 90's. As dance music that had once been relegated to late night dance halls suddenly became mainstream, this easy-to-do yet hard-to-master genre spawned dozens of wannabe and copy-cat acts who had little more going for them save a decent sampling keyboard, a drum machine and a dream. And while boys from The Grid enjoyed modest success in the UK and Europe with the early stuff, it wasn't until they took on that proverbial American instrument, that they broke through to the US audience.
Swamp Thing is the sort of catchy romp that reminds you just how "dance music" got so popular in the first place. I actually have this song in my "workout mix", and just can't help but smile when I hear it. Plus there's a baby playing with speakers in the video... and you can't argue with that:
...and if nothing else, you'll finally have something to ask the DJ for (without looking like an ass) if you ever end up at a country bar.
* * *
There are not a lot of places to reliably find happiness these days, and where they can be found, they've often been exploited to the point of being overly expensive or affected and stupid. We have chemical substitutes, but they're often poor analogs and almost always come with more down-side than up. But there is and will always be the pure and enduring joy of a great song just when you need it. And for that, the only prescription you'll need is a meeting with your local DJ, who, like the song says, just may save your life.