Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tonight we're going to party with songs from 1980-1999

As the decade draws to a close (or enters its final year, depending on how you want to look at it), let's take one final look the pop music from the two previous decades that I've been chronicling all year. I'm sure most of you have been compiling your own data as the top 500 countdown went along, but please bear with me anyway.

Best Artist: Madonna, 17 songs in the top 500

Runners Up: Bon Jovi and Janet Jackson, 10 each; Michael Jackson and Prince, 8 each

Honorable Mention: George Michael had 9 entries when his solo stuff (including his duet with Elton John) is combined with his work with Wham!.

In all, 280 groups and solo performers made the list, 191 of them with just one song.

Best year for music: 1987 and 1988 had 36 songs each, but'88 gets the nod since 2 songs from other years were rereleased that year (although its top-ranked song was #39).

Worst year: 1981 (8 songs, highest #73) and 1980 (10 songs, highest #56) got the shaft. There were just 16 hits from '99 included, but that year did produce the "#1" song and five others in the top 80.

Most overrated songs: The choice of "Smooth" as #1 is still baffling, but to me it's more fitting than "Iris" at 6, and infinitely more appropriate than "Two Princes" as #11.

Most underrated songs: I'm not surprised "Wannabe" and "The Final Countdown" appeared back to back on the list, but I would expect it to be much, much higher than 462 and 463. Bowie's "Modern Love" is a top 40 song in my mind, but was only ranked #439.

Best one-hit wonder: Santana and Peter Gabriel both cracked the top 10 with their only songs on the list, but they aren't really one-hit wonders. If Natalie Imbruglia was a one-hit wonder (I don't recall anything else by her), she wins this category by placing 12th; otherwise the award goes to The Rembrandts at #50.

Most glaring omission: I know some were surprised at the absence of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but the pop bent of the station and their list make the inclusion of a few Poison, White Lion and Pearl Jam songs more surprising than any metal, grunge or alternative artists who were left out. No, the most inexplicable omission (noticed by my brother) is the absence of Lionel Richie from the list.

That's right, we had three songs each from Bananarama and Jewel, but no "All Night Long." Four each by Billy Idol, Don Henley and Richard Marx, but no "Hello." Five Paula Abdul songs made the list, but there was no room for "Dancin' on the Ceiling." Crazy.

Well, I think that's it. If you want any additional statistical analysis, contact me privately, because this topic will not be addressed on my blog in 2010. Happy New Year, everyone!

Checking it twice

For those of you wondering if I was a good boy in 2009, here's a brief report on what Santa and his helpers brought me on Christmas morning.

My wish list was mostly composed of themes, categories, etc.; I only asked for four specific items, and I got them all:

--A new watch. I used to wear a watch all the time, and felt kinda naked when it wasn't on. But I've been using my phone to tell time since my last watch broke about five years ago. But now, I spend a lot of time in places (the temple, work, my primary classroom) where it's helpful to know what time it is but I can't have my phone out.

--A new wallet. I got my first "big boy" wallet in junior high, and have been using it ever since. The final plastic picture holders fell out recently, which is fine, since I haven't had any wallet-sized photos for about a decade. This new wallet is thinner, which I like, but it's wider, so it doesn't fit as well in my front pockets. I'll still cram it in there next time I'm in New York, though. It's weird--from the time I first started carrying a wallet, I've always been paranoid about it being stolen. I'd be walking through the halls in high school between classes, and I'd feel for my wallet every two minutes to make sure it was still there. I must have been really worried about losing my lunch tickets.

--Season 12 of The Simpsons on DVD, the most recent release (they're on season 21 right now). This season includes such classics as the one where Homer becomes the mayor of New Springfield, the one where the Simpsons get a tennis court, and the one where Bart joins a boy band and is mentored by *NSYNC ("those whack invertebrates will sting you old school"). When I get the DVDs, I've already seen the episodes many times, so I like to watch the episodes with the commentary on and see if they talk about the jokes and moments that I liked best, but they usually just make fun of the people who critique the show on the Internet.

--The Book of Basketball, by Bill Simmons (my favorite sports writer). It's quite an opus--over 700 pages long, weighs about three pounds, and while promoting it on a TV show back in October, they showed that it will even stop a bullet. But you need that kind of space to discuss important things like the 33 biggest "what-ifs" in NBA history (no. 7: what if Julius Erving played with Pete Maravich?) and who the 95th best NBA player of all time is (Jo Jo White). In other words, probably less than 2% of the people who read this blog would be interested in reading this book.

Add in the '80s edition of those "Scene It" DVD games, a zip-up BYU hoodie, and a book of puzzles based on New Yorker cartoons, and it was merry Christmas for Jeff.

How about you? Did y'all manage to stay off of the naughty list?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hey little sister, what have you done?

My sister Julie got married last month. I hope she doesn't construe my waiting for six weeks to blog about it as an indication of my feelings about her and the importance of her big day. She is now Julie Chavez, the wife of Jaben Chavez. My new brother-in-law is a good guy. Our moms served together on the stake primary presidency long before Julie and Jaben met (as coworkers at the University of Phoenix). They dated for several years before they got married, and I'm glad he's now officially part of our family.

It was a day I'm sure Julie and Jaben will never forget, but it was memorable for me too. Some of the things that stick out in my mind:

--I won $100 in a radio contest, which allowed me to have one of the four boxes I left in New York shipped to me. My suit was in it, and after getting it dry-cleaned, it felt like the material was about 40% lighter than I remembered. I know that it's the same suit, but it doesn't feel like the same suit. Kind of weird.

--Wedding planning is very complex, at least for the bride and her family (i.e., my mom). I wouldn't describe Julie's wedding and associated events (reception, showers, etc.) as excessive or overly elaborated, but she was busy non-stop for two months getting ready for it. But (at least from my perspective) everything turned out well, so it was worth it.

--I was asked to be the usher for the wedding. Not AN usher, THE usher. Or, as I liked to say, just plain Usher. My idea of wearing jeans, a white blazer, and a baseball cap with a script "A" on it was unfortunately shut down. These are my confessions: I was a terrible usher. By the time I showed up a bunch of people were already there, coming in and out of the chapel. I didn't know who was an employee of the reception hall and who was a member of the groom's family. Someone asked me where the bathroom was and I didn't know. I stationed myself at the only main entrance to the chapel, but there was an opening in the back where the chapel and reception area connect, and most people walked through that. I didn't really do anything positive in my usher role, but fortunately it didn't have any negative impact on the ceremony.

--The ceremony, performed by the bishop of my ward, was cheerful, tender and classy, so obviously someone like me would have nothing extra to say about it.

--My sister has a lot of friends! There were way more people at the reception than I figured there would be. And they hooked the new couple up with lots and lots of presents. Almost makes me want to get married too.

--Speaking of which...there are six kids in my family. My brother Adam is the 2nd; he got married five years ago. Julie is 4th oldest. The rest of us are single. Perhaps sensing that us odd-numbered kids are, well, odd, it was the youngest, my sister Chelsea, who had the most people ask her when she was getting married. I think she ended up with the bouquet too, so things are looking up for her. My brother Derek and I were as clumsy in going for the garter as we are in our attempts at dating.

--The food at the reception was tremendous. Five or six kinds of cheesecake, mini eclairs, brownies, and more...and since I have an in with the bride, we got to take home a lot of the leftovers.

--My brother recorded the ceremony, but turned the camcorder over to me for the reception. It was so much fun. I hadn't used a video camera in about three years, probably. I miss looking for and framing good shots, capturing funny moments on tape, and creating my own funny moments with my commentary. Maybe I'll get a camera for Christmas. I forgot to put it on my list, but Santa knows what we need before we even ask him. Wait, I might be thinking of someone else.

--Last but not least...there's the photographer, Margo. Even before the wedding, my sister had told me that the photog was cute and that I should ask her out. At the wedding and reception, I heard the same thing, independently, from my brother, my aunt, and a few other people. It was kind of weird. She was very attractive (still is, I suppose)--she's even a redhead, which is often a major plus for me--and she's clearly talented (these pictures were taken by her), but I didn't do it, for several reasons: 1) She was busy, and I didn't want to distract her from her job. 2) I've never been the kind of guy to approach women I don't know and ask them out. Probably one of the reasons I'm still highly unmarried, because it can be hard to date your friends. 3) The fact that so many people urged me to do it resulted in natural resistance on my part. 4) Finally, the lukewarm-at-best reaction I got on the two attempts I made to interact with her made me reluctant to try anything further.

Most of the staged picture taking took place in the hour or so between the end of the ceremony and beginning of the reception. Several young nieces and nephews were part of the wedding party, and at one point Margo called out, "ok, I need all of the cute kids up here for this picture." I dutifully walked to the stage, but rather than laugh at my joke she said that she had asked for the cute kids. Later on, I was interviewing people for the reception video. I walked over to the couch where she was talking with my Aunt Anna, and asked if they had anything to say to the bride and groom. She said no thanks and walked away. So that was that.

My aunt had actually had a lengthy conversation with her, and while trying to get me to ask her out later on told me what she had learned about her, including the fact that she also worked for JetBlue as a reservations agent--a job I had applied for a few weeks earlier. Since the reception, I have attended an information session/interview with JetBlue, where Margo and I saw each other again and again did not speak to each other. I've been offered the job, and I accepted, with a training class starting late February.

So there's an off-off-off-off-off chance that this part of the story isn't over, but the most important aspect of this new job is that, after training, I would get to work from home. This will require a high-speed Internet connection, so I have a few weeks to convince my parents to let me do it (at which time I would probably switch to part-time at the post office). If this happens, it will be huge for me, meaning, among other things, much more regular blogging. So keep your fingers crossed. Until I can find someone who suits me as well as my sister and her husband suit each other, the The Internet is the closest thing I have to a significant other, and this separation has been painful.

Congratulations, Julie and Jaben! Thanks for providing content for my blog. You two are great, and you're great together.

It's the most wonderful time of the year

Let me tell you about a dream I recently had.

I don't remember my dreams very often. When I do remember something, it's usually just the gist of it, then when I'm in that pleasant state between being asleep and awake, I semi-consciously enhance and embellish the narrative. So this dream is probably not completely authentic, but it's not totally made up either. It certainly is an accurate representation of my feelings towards certain letters to the editor and commentaries from TV pundits that you see this time of year. Anyway...

In my dream I was working in retail (so I guess it was actually a nightmare). It was probably ShopKo, since I was wearing a red shirt, I worked there when I was in high school, and I only had one customer in my line even though I was the only cashier working. (Seriously, I don't know how the chain as a whole is faring, but I will be shocked if the store by our house isn't closed within two years. It's a ghost town in there.)

Technically, I had two customers, a husband and wife who appeared to be in their late 40s or early 50s. They paid for their stuff, I gave them their change, and wished them "happy holidays." The man then said, "Oh, so you're one of those people who is afraid to say 'Merry Christmas,' huh?" It must have been the end of a long shift, or my shoes were a few sizes too small like the Grinch's, or maybe I'm just a jerk, but I went off on an epic rant. The following retelling probably isn't verbatim, but it's close:

"You're offended that I said happy holidays instead of merry Christmas? Seriously? Why would you care which generic salutation you receive from someone you don't even know? Besides, what is bad about saying happy holidays? Christmas is a holiday, right? When I say happy holidays, doesn't it imply that I wish you a merry Christmas, plus a bonus wish for a happy New Year? Does that mean you'd be even more offended if I said something with no celebratory implications at all, like 'Have a good night' or 'Thanks for shopping with us'? That's what I usually say to people. Just because I chose to say one thing, it doesn't preclude me from meaning something else that I didn't say. And, to be honest, I DON'T really mean it when I say these things. I don't want you to have a bad Christmas, but whether it's merry or not really has no impact on me. So you would rather have me insincerely wish you a merry Christmas, in a sense taking the Lord's name in vain? You want me to break one of the Ten Commandments, just to make you feel good?! Well, fine! HAVE YOURSELVES A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS!"

Happy holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The final countdown

Nothing like finishing up a long series of posts with a little momentum, huh? I'm pretty well adjusted to my work schedule now, but I now am sleeping at the time I used to go to the library to use the Internet. To make matters worse, I've typed several full or partial blog posts on Word, but for some reason they aren't pasting into Blogger. So I have a lot of stuff I want to put up here, but I'm not sure when it will happen.

As for my last post...I can't believe I failed to use the presence of "My Heart Will Go On" to make a comparison between Titanic and the Twilight movies, and how I'm one of the few who has never seen either. Even more unforgivable, though, I got two Savage Garden songs mixed up. I'm so ashamed.

But enough about that, though. Back to the matter at hand. We've finally reached the end. The final installment of our pop song countdown. For those of you just joining us, I've been reprinting, with my added commentary, a countdown of the top 500 songs of the '80s and '90s, as played by New York City radio station WPLJ over Memorial Day weekend in 2003.

Much thanks to PLJ for providing about 1/3 of my blog content over the last six months, and to anyone who actually read every post. Let's find out which songs got the top spots.


25. “Save The Best For Last,” Vanessa Williams (1992)
Pretty serendipitous placement for this rather forgettable song.
24. “Jump,” Van Halen (1984)
23. “The Sign,” Ace Of Base (1994)
I may have already written about this in a previous installment, but it's surprising how much I dislike Ace of Base in light of how much I like their fellow Swedes ABBA and Roxette. Was there a big Swedish pop act this decade? I'd hate to see the streak end.
22. “Summer Of ’69,” Bryan Adams (1985)
In case you were wondering...Mr. Adams was 9 years old in the summer of 1969. What a prodigy!
21. “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Sinead O’Connor (1990)
20. “Eye Of The Tiger,” Survivor (1982)
19. “Ironic,” Alanis Morissette (1996)
18. “Against All Odds,” Phil Collins (1984)
17. “Semi Charmed Life,” Third Eye Blind (1997)
16. “One Sweet Day,” Mariah Carey/Boyz II Men (1995)
15. “3 AM,” Matchbox Twenty (1998)
14. “Every Breath You Take,” Police (1983)
13. “Torn,” Natalie Imbruglia (1998)
12. “Open Arms,” Journey (1982)
11. “Two Princes,” Spin Doctors (1993)
This might be my least favorite song on the list. If it was #311, I would've thought it was too high. Man, '90s pop music was disappointing.
10. “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston (1992)
9. “Beat It,” Michael Jackson (1983)
8. “In Your Eyes,” Peter Gabriel (1986, 1989)
Ah, the theme song from my junior prom. Last Sunday, I had a visitor in my Primary class--the 9-year-old daughter of my prom date, whose parents are in my ward. She has a 9-year-old! And has been married for 11 years! She must have wanted to make sure I didn't ask her out again. By the way, I enjoyed SNL's updated take on the most famous movie scene involving this song (near the end of this episode, they don't have a separate clip of the sketch).
7. “Crazy For You,” Madonna (1985)
It's good to see most of the seminal acts of the era (Madge, MJ, Mariah, Whitney, the guys from Genesis) represented at the top of the list, but I'm not sure if they chose the right song for any of them.
6. “Iris,” Goo Goo Dolls (1998)
Seriously? #6? If not for Spin Doctors, this might be the most overrated song of the list. If they ever struggle to stay relevant, they could change their name to the Google Dolls. Then, for once, I would agree with someone saying a band has "sold out."
5. “Everything I Do (I Do For You),” Bryan Adams (1991)
Really? Two songs in the top 25? I guess you were right all along, Joey. Bryan Adams is awesome. This is also the highest ranked song that they made us sing at 6th grade graduation ("That's What Friends Are For" and "From A Distance" were the others).
4. “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince (1984)
I'm kind of surprised that Prince got the respect he deserves on this list. When they play this song with the full "Dearly beloved..." intro on the radio, it's a rare treat.
3. “You Oughta Know,” Alanis Morissette (1995)
Two top 20 songs for Alanis too. If she did a duet with Bryan Adams, it might have been the biggest song ever!
2. “Livin’ On A Prayer,” Bon Jovi (1987)
Speaking of SNL, I can't believe they didn't go with the easy, obvious, and guaranteed laughs of a Bon Jovi-Jon Bovi showdown when Jon, Richie and the rest were on the show last week. This is a great song, and it's not a big surprise that it was ranked this high.

And it is...the top song...

1. “Smooth,” Santana/Rob Thomas (1999)
I actually like this song. It's pretty good. It works for karaoke, and you can groove to it at a dance. But is it the best pop song, not just of 1999, or of the 1990s, but of the '80s AND '90s? I don't know of anyone that would say that. Especially considering this list was made in 2003, when this song was just four years old, making it impossible for it to have had a long-term impact like a lot of other, worthier candidates. Oh well.

That's it. 500 songs. It's been a long ride. Not sure if, ultimately, it was worth making the journey, but at least we had some good mixtapes to keep us company along the way.