August 30, 2011

Shoulda Woulda Coulda: Singles That Never Were

They are the songs that should've been - and never were - released as official singles for the masses to enjoy and for radio DJs to put on their Top 40 rotation. One can't help but wonder, What the hell were the record labels thinking?

Being one to never shy away from creating a playlist or two, I've compiled 20 tracks from the past ten years that never gained the popularity they deserve.

1. "Cinderella" by Britney Spears (2001) - A distant cousin of "Stronger," this powerhouse pop explosion from the album Britney is an anthemic banger in which Brit gets all Shakespearean on us with the lyric, "I won't return to thee." (See also: the BT-produced "Before The Goodbye," an unreleased, before-its-time electro-dance number that gives "Till The World Ends" a run for its apocalyptic money)

2. "Get Mine, Get Yours" by Christina Aguilera (2002) - After living in L.A. for several months I purchased the epic Stripped and was mesmerized - and unabashedly inspired - by this seductive slow jam, in which Christina commands you to work her "like a 9 to 5," while blaring it in my Ford Focus and driving down Santa Monica Boulevard on a Saturday night full of possibilities:

3. "Erase Her" by LFO (2003) - The one-hit-wonders who love girls that wear Abercrombie & Fitch churned out a second album that didn't really suck, including this Depeche Mode-lite tune that could've been the inspiration for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

4. "Blow Your Mind" by Nick Carter (2002) - Taking a page from Justin Timberlake's break from 'NSYNC, Nick Carter detached himself from his own boy band roots and came up with this craptacular pop-rock CD that featured a piss-poor excuse of a lead single. The Powers That Be had it all wrong; they should've chosen this head-banging throwback to 80s hair metal.

5. "One Sided Love" by Mandy Moore (2001) - The Middle Eastern flair found in the absolutely fabulous "In My Pocket" also seeps into this unknown track, along with some nifty percussion. "Hit me with your best shot," Mandy shouts. A hard order to follow after she's already given us hers:

6. "Inflate My Ego" by Daniel Bedingfield (2002) - Sampling Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn Theme," Mr. Bedingfield's deliriously cocky delivery is reminiscent of the tongue-in-cheeky Robbie Williams on this brassy anthem.

7. "Suddenly" by O-Town (2002) - "The radio's playing loud, but it's not our song." Reality TV's first boy band could very well be singing about the fate of this track which was sadly lost in the shuffle during a time when teen pop had both feet firmly planted in its grave.

8. "I Could Be The One" by Stacie Orrico (2004) - Another latecomer to the teen pop boom, the talented Ms. Orrico unfortunately crashed and burned with her debut album, burying this catchy dance track under the rubble.

9. "All Day Long I Dream About Sex" by JC Chasez (2004) - From the highly underrated Schizophrenic, 'NSYNC's vocal second-in-command gets down and dirty on this supersonically funky foot-stomper. And stick around for that two-minute-long bridge in which we're transported into an electronic fantasia that's screaming for some Sonya Tayeh choreography (*NOTE: Although a music video was produced for this, the song never took off as a single).

10. "Dancing Alone" by Ashlee Simpson (2005) - Pre-nose job, Ashlee jumped on the dance-rock trend that was all the rage in the mid-00s. It's the only redeeming song on her sophomore album that's also the only song of hers I can tolerate.

11. "Did You Get My Message?" by Jason Mraz (2005) - With some vocal help by the jazzy-sexy Rachael Yamagata, Mr. A-Z croons his way through this plea for help on mixed signals.

12. "Finally" by Fergie (2006) - Written and composed by the can-do-no-wrong John Legend, this beautiful and touching piano ballad showcases White Girl's capable vocals.

13. "Livin' a Lie" by The Dream feat. Rihanna (2007) - Forbidden love never sounded so good (and hard-hitting) until this duet came along:

14. "Girl Next Door" by Darin (2008) - It's as if someone stole Gaga's "Just Dance," removed the vocals, and replaced it with this winner from Sweden's Pop Idol. Plagiarism allegations aside, this RedOne-driven spectacle simply makes me wanna break out into a dance in the middle of my high school cafeteria. Listen here.

15. "Monster" by Lady Gaga (2009) - Out of the eight exquisite pop gems borne from The Fame Monster this song, an ode to one wicked womanizer, had so much music-video potential, it's a shame Mother Monster never had the chance to bring it to life.

16. "The Remedy" by Blake Lewis (2009) - Why this American Idol runner-up never blew up will remain one of pop's biggest mysteries. And why this irresistible dance number was never released as a single that could've nabbed him much-needed fans and support remains an even bigger one:

17. "Why You Had To Leave" by Cascada (2009) - Take some heartbreak, pulverize it with a deep bass, scatter it in the wind, and then proceed to dance your ass off. That's what Cascada would want you to do when you listen to this jam that never was:

18. "Lift Me Up" by Christina Aguilera (2010) - From the much-maligned Bionic, the only time this track saw the light day was during a telethon benefiting the Haitian earthquake victims when Christina gave a stripped-down performance that stunned viewers.

19. "All Is Fair (Crazy Love)" by Anoop Desai (2010) - I had slotted this slow-jam on last year's summer mix, six months before it was actually released as a single (earlier this year - who knew?). This song should have put the Idol reject on the map with its Ne-Yo-esque feel, but sadly, sparks were minimal. Why, oh why?

20. "Rumour Has It" by Adele (2011) - Although it may too early to tell whether or not this retro, empowering hand-clapper will be released as the VMA showstopper's third American single off the majestically soulful 21, here's hoping that it will be before we all perish at the end of 2012.

August 29, 2011

A Duet I'd Like To See Happen

After seeing what these two delivered to the VMAs last night -- proving that pop artists with voices still exist -- I would love to see a collaboration between them sometime in the near future.

Both Adele and Bruno Mars do the Lovers Scorned thing so well, I can't help but imagine a single in which we'd hear two sides to a story about a relationship in ruins and its devastating effects. A he-said-she-said love song, if you will.

Record labels and managers, are you listening?


August 22, 2011

Random Thought of the Week #24

I am now convinced that, like deaths, break-ups come in threes.

And possibly during odd-numbered years: Back in 2009, three of my closest friends went through emotional relationship turmoil (I even wrote about it here). And now, as of this month, three other friends of mine are taking a trip to Splitsville. Damn.

"The only constant is change."


August 15, 2011

The Curious Case of the Sitcom Star Replacement

While the American television audience gets ready to see Ashton Kutcher make his debut on the (ahem) retooled Two and a Half Men, inquiring minds want to know how it will all go down. The burning questions on the minds of millions of fans are heating up: How will the former That 70s Show star, who's playing an immature Internet billionaire, be written into the show's premise? What's happening to Charlie Sheen's character? Is he really being killed off in a fiery accident, a plot development most likely the creation of a writer scorned? (See: The Hogan Family below)

I, for one, was never a regular viewer of Men. In the eight years it's been on the air, I probably caught a total of 20 minutes of the show, most of that time against my will as I had most likely been sitting on my grandmother's couch during any given holiday visit to New York. However, the brouhaha surrounding this recent casting headline has made me think about similar switch-ups on sitcoms past. Much like the Let's-Have-A-Baby ploy that's used whenever sitcom kids grow older and less cute (See: The Brady Bunch, Growing Pains, and Family Ties), the Sitcom Star Replacement tactic isn't anything new. For decades, television producers and writers have been coming up with ways to switch out prominent characters with new faces...sometimes playing the same character (I'm looking at you, Bewitched and Roseanne). This television staple has been used with the hope of keeping an audience's interest and the ratings stable enough to carry the series into lucrative syndication. Networks execs may call it "revamping," but boob tube fanboys like myself call it "jumping the shark" or just plain desperation.

Here are a few of those recorded-in-front-a-live-studio-audience laughers that attempted to replenish their creative juices when they were faced with some untimely departures...

The Facts of Life (1979-1988)

By the eighth season of this Saturday night sitcom, Cloris Leachman took over for Charlotte Rae whose role as Mrs. Garrett had been reduced throughout the past two seasons. Why? Seeing as this all took place during that pre-TMZ, pre-Twitter era known as the glorious 1980s, fans can only guess and believe whatever Wikipedia now tells them.

*PS - The episode below, "Seven Little Indians," happens to be my favorite episode of the series. It's the one where Natalie gets strangled to death by a pair of fuzzy dice. To my hardcore Facts of Lifers out there, you know which one I'm talking about:

The Hogan Family (formerly titled Valerie) (1986-1991)

TV history books tell us that sitcom legend Valerie Harper demanded an impossible salary hike after the second season of her titular show, and when producers refused, she walked out. Enter Sandy Duncan, who arrived just in time for the 1988-89 season to play cheery Aunt Sandy, consoling the men of the family after Mama Val was killed in a fire (oh those writers!). After going through an awkward title change to Valerie's Family: The Hogans, network execs detected that no one really missed poor old Val and settled on the abbreviated The Hogan Family halfway through the third season:

Step by Step (1991-1998)

Cast regular Sasha Mitchell, who played doofus cousin Cody, got into some legal trouble back in the mid-90s for allegedly beating the crap out of his wife. And the fact that the well-built dude had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do (and starred in those low-rent Kickboxer films) probably didn't help his case. Enter Bronson Pinchot, the former Perfect Strangers star who returned to this TGIF roots on ABC as Jean-Luc Rieupeyroux, a male beautician who becomes business partners with Carol (Suzanne Somers) in the show's sixth season:

Spin City (1996-2002)

Looking back now, the irony is loud and clear: 11 years ago Charlie Sheen stepped in to replace Michael J. Fox, who had to leave in order to deal with his Parkinson's disease. Sheen arrived at the top of the fifth and penultimate season when production moved its operations from manic Manhattan to schizophrenic L.A. He joined Heather Locklear, who had arrived during the season prior (conveniently after bidding adieu to Melrose Place), and the chemistry was apparently so only lasted those two final years.

Wishing you and your loved ones a merry fall TV season,


August 09, 2011

Forgotten Vampires of the 80s

Before there was ever a Team Edward, before Sookie fell for Bill and Eric - hell, before Buffy picked up her first wooden stake - there was a vampire craze that sunk its teeth into popular culture during the 1980s*. There was the good (1987's sexy-awesome The Lost Boys), the bad (Grace Jones's Vamp) and the artsy (David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon in The Hunger).

And since that Fright Night remake is upon us (don't let me down, Colin Farrell), I'm going to rev up the Nostalgia Machine once again and revisit some lesser-known titles I grew up with and still cherish to this day. In fact, their VHS copies are collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. It's about time they come out of storage...

Once Bitten (1985)

A fresh-faced, pre-In Living Color Jim Carrey plays Mark, a high schooler who just wants to lose his virginity to his smokin' hot girlfriend. His two horndog friends decide to take him to The Big City (in this case, Los Angeles) where they can have a memorable encounter with some ladies of the evening. But as luck would have it, Mark becomes the target of a 390-year-old temptress (the cougarific Lauren Hutton), who must take three bites from a virgin before All Hallows Eve in order to keep her youthful beauty. Needless to say, hijinks ensue, horrific 80s fashion is put on display, and Cleavon Little pops up as what may be Hollywood's first out bloodsucker. Oh, and look for a blink-and-you'll-miss-her scene with Will & Grace's Megan Mullally (that's right) and a choreographed Halloween dance-off that is simply - ridiculously - awesome. In short, totally radical:

My Best Friend Is A Vampire (1987)

This movie is all kinds of cheesy awesome. Before he played a doctor on TV (House) Robert Sean Leonard played Jeremy, crushing on a girl (the androgynously nerdy-sexy Cheryl Pollack, the chick who would go on to play the sax on The Heights four years later) while balancing an afterschool job delivering groceries to the elderly. And as luck would have it, Jeremy becomes the target of a centuries-old hottie (Celia Peck, daughter of Gregory) who bites him right before she's killed by vamp hunter Professor McCarthy (the scenery-chewing David Warner). Now, with the help of his vampire mentor (Hello Rene Auberjonois from TV's Benson and Star Trek: DS9!), Jeremy must adapt to his new lifestyle and learn how to "come out" to his friends and family. And playing his mom? Fried Green Tomatoes author Fannie Flag. I know: Shut. Up.

Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)

More monster mash-up than straight-up vampire flick, this Mel Brooksian comedy stars Ed Begley Jr. and Jeff Goldblum as tabloid journalists who travel to the fictitious country to investigate the reappearance of Frankenstein's monster. What they get instead are several run-ins with a variety of boogymen (and women) who, by the end, just turn out to be misunderstood outcasts. A camped-up Geena Davis, sporting enough cleavage to give any Hooters waitress a run for her money, appears as the movie's sole bloodsucker. Other familiar faces to namecheck: Michael Richards as a prankster butler, Carol Kane as Dr. Frankenstein's kooky aide, and Norman Fell as the boys' cranky editor at the paper. A fun romp:

The Monster Squad (1987)

It's as if someone went to Tri-Star Pictures and said, "I got your next Goonies. Just replace the pirates and bad guys with Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolfman." To which Tri-Star might have replied, "But we're not Universal. It's gonna cost us a lot of rich stuff to get the rights to those names." And there you have it. $12 million and a few obligatory Pepsi and Burger King placement shots later, we have ourselves a movie that taught us that werewolves indeed have gnards. All this from the guy who wrote Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. And is it me, or is it now a little unsettling to see a 12-year-old lock and load a shotgun?

Updating my Netflix queue as I type,


*The 1980s: Those ancient times, back when rotary phones were still in use, people played vinyl records and tape cassettes, and your mom and sister went through a can of Aqua Net in one week.

August 01, 2011

When Bad Music Videos Happen to Great Pop Songs

When you hear a pop song you absolutely love, it's easy to assume (or hope) that the accompanying music video will only enhance the awesomeness of it with the right blend of imagery, overall production elements (sets, camerawork, casting), and perhaps a good narrative to follow. But when the end result does nothing to compliment said tune, it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of pop culture junkies who eagerly anticipate seeing their favorite singles manifest into the visual medium (If you're one to argue that music videos are already a dying art form, then let's save that discussion for another time).

Here are five great songs from major pop artists whose music videos were major letdowns, most likely because expectations had been so high at the time. I'm sure there are plenty more to nitpick, but this will have to do for now...

"Gimme More" by Britney Spears (2007)

Granted, this came out shortly after Brit shaved her head and went all Kimberly Shaw on an SUV with an how could we possibly expect the year's biggest trainwreck to get it together and shoot a video for the first single off Blackout, the album that promised - for the umpteenth time - a comeback of biblical proportions? A stripper pole? A horrible wig? Unflattering ass shots? No, no. no. Where's the hot choreography? Where are the hotter extras? Where's the friggin' concept? A Flipcam-shot montage of Ms. Spears sitting at a bar with a bunch of body doubles watching a raven-haired version of herself carelessly twirl around on a platform in a poorly fitted biker outfit does not a music video make:

"The Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga (2011)

The most recent disappointment in memory comes from Mother Monster herself, and the fact that it's GAGA, Queen of Creativity, Mistress of the Millennial Music Video, makes it even more heartbreaking to see such a lack of imagination on display. Sure, "Born This Way" was nice, and "Judas" was alright, but for "The Edge of Glory," her best single since "Bad Romance," a ginormous ball was dropped. Rumor has it, her record label got a hold of music-vid veteran Joseph Kahn to direct the piece but quickly lost him when he "refused" to "co-direct" with the Haus of Gaga, the creative think tank that has become infamous for controlling all content pertaining to Her Monstrous Majesty. The result is a sad production that seems to have been thrown together at the 11th hour, poorly showcases the late and great Clarence Clemons (is that a homeless man sitting on the stoop playing for change?), and doesn't do this epic anthem any justice. There's nothing glorious about being on the edge of...a fire escape. Stick with the Google Chrome TV commercial instead.

"The One" by Backstreet Boys (2000)

Hey guys, let's take old concert footage, throw in some exclusive behind-the-scenes shots, give it to an editor who has 30 minutes to spare, and slap on a thank you message to our fans at the top! Awesome, right? WRONG. In other words, the Biggest Cop Out in Teen Pop:

"Give It 2 Me" by Madonna feat. Pharrell (2008)

Filming a photo shoot for W magazine, adding a few Warhol-esque camera filters, and strutting around with a feather boa isn't the stuff great music videos are made of, Madge. Shame on you - and your director.

"Runaway" by Maroon 5 (2011)

Since when did Adam Levine & Co. start providing soundtracks to surfing documentaries? In the music video for the last single off their latest album, not one member of the band appears in this 3-minute clip. What we get instead is some gorgeous shots of a guy surfing off the coast of some indeterminate country. Oh, and there are a few cutaways to a reasonably attractive woman who spins around in a red shawl. And waves. Lots of waves. I would've loved to have seen the call sheet for this minimalist shoot. What, the group couldn't at least be helicoptered in to simulate a jam session on a cliff overlooking a sunset? Lame:

If only I could go back in time to tweak the treatments made by the creative forces behind these pathetic excuses for music videos...

*UPDATE: Coincidentally, and fittingly, today is MTV's 30th anniversary.



Theme Song of the Month: August 2011

The buck-toothed bloke pictured here goes by the name of Example (real name Elliot Gleave, hence his initials inspiring the stage name). He's 29 and British. And a pretty talented rapper-singer at that.

He's got a nifty little club anthem called "Stay Awake" that's been sucking me in and making me a fan (also worth trying: "Changed The Way You Kissed Me"). Without being too heavy-handed, the single is a message to all the kids out there, advising them to responsibly take charge of their lives so that our entire future doesn't go down the toilet -- and to have a good time shufflin' to his beats, of course:

And yes, I'm still trying to decipher all the Cockney-ed lyrics in between.


Catfights, Cleavage and Carrie-Anne Moss: 'Models Inc.' Turns 25

In the early 90s, as anyone familiar with the oeuvre of uber-producer Aaron Spelling knows, the successful  Beverly Hills, 90210 begat ...