Best One-Hit Wonders of the Decade: 2001

Editor's Note: First, let me lay down some ground rules. When I say "best," I don't mean these are my favorite songs or even that they're of the highest quality (though at times both of those things may be true, the opposite is probably true). Rather, these songs represent the "one-hit wonder" concept better than any other released that year. In other words, these songs came out of nowhere, became massive hits and the artists faded into obscurity. In most cases, these songs are still with us, having taken on a life of their own, with the artist in some cases entirely forgotten. We will discuss the song, the song's legacy and where the band is now. Also included at the bottom are links to some of the "runner up" one-hit wonders.

Crazy Town - "Butterfly" (Columbia Records, February 2001; from the album The Gift of Game, 1999)

What can I possibly say about LA-based rap-rockers Crazy Town that hasn't already said by anyone who has ever laid eyes on the band members (and has a decent sense of humor)? What can I say about their hit "Butterfly" that hasn't been run into the ground by the likes of Hal Sparks or Mo Rocca on VH1's umpteenth talking head list program? The answer is probably nothing, but that's never stopped me before.

According to Wikipedia, Crazy Town (who are listed in the genres of "Rapcore," "nu metal" and alternative rock, hip-hop and metal) formed in 1995 after "Epic" (Christian name Bret Mazur) and "Shifty Shellshock" (Seth Binzer) began collaborating on music, but the band did not become "serious"(clearly the Wiki writers got a little loose with the adjectives) about making a go for the big time until several years later. By the late '90s, the duo had recruited a bunch of other dudes who had gelled hair and a truly unnecessary amount of tribal tattoos, christened them with ridiculous, nonsensical names like "SQRL" and "Faydoedeelay", and finagled a record contract out of Columbia Records bosses. By Thanksgiving 1999, the group's album, The Gift of Game, was on the shelves of every Sam Goody and Camelot in every galleria in the country. Unfortunately for Shifty and the gang, the album was nothing special. Another faceless attempt at rap-metal, cashing in on the success of superior (but still shitty) bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn and ignoring anything that might make either of those bands special. The band got a spot on the 2000 Ozzfest tour which allowed Mr. Shellshock to express himself artistically by cracking open a case of Natty Light, greasing himself up, showing off his pecs and Chinese letter tattoos to hoardes of flabby white men in black t-shirts, and pretending to be a rock star. However, this pretending got him into some hot water with the powers that be (most likely Sharon "I'm a horrible person" Osbourne). Shellshock was thrown off the tour two weeks in after doing what he no doubt assumed was simply his rockstar duty--throwing furniture through a glass window.*

Now, I have to side with Señor Shellshock on this one (this is a rant, so skip to the next full paragraph if you don't want to take the scenic route). If you're in a metal band, and you're on a tour named for a man who once tried to impress Nikki Sixx by snorting a line of ants up his nose, and your band is called Crazy Town, it seems like a logical conclusion to assume that, people want you to drink like an asshole and then act like a chemically unbalanced rockstar, even if you're just a chemically unbalanced dude. It worked for Axl Rose, right? It worked for Keith fucking Moon and at least three members of Led Zeppelin, right? Ben Franklin did it. That's historical permission to get wasted and be a prick. Okay, so you could maybe argue that Percy Shellyshock should have waited until his band was headlining Ozzfest, or at least their own tour, before putting a chaise lounge through the French doors, but these are merely details--details a student rockstar cannot be bothered with when all that stands between him and complete rockstar freedom is a couple of inches of glass. So the guy isn't quite Axl--do you think Axl became Axl overnight? No! It took practice; years of pro-bono work smacking around normal girls and freaking out at concerts in dive bars before graduating to supermodels and stadiums. Throwing a chair out a window is Rock Star 101. No one was injured. This isn't Advanced Rockstar Fuckery where you smack photogs, get the cops called on you by your supermodel girlfriend, and incite riots in Canadian provinces. So screw you, Sharon Osbourne, or whoever kicked them off the tour--take a look at yourselves! People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones--they should throw chairs (or something? bear with me; this made sense in my head). And who knows? Maybe the chair really needed to go out the goddamn window.

MOVING ON. Crazy Town's brand of hip-hop-inspired "nu metal" came during the death rattle of the "rap-rock" genre: Limp Bizkit monkey man guitarist Wes Borland departed his band in order to devote his attention to his Ween-inspired band, Big Dumb Face. The likes of Kid Rock had begun to explore other genres like uninspired country-rock, and while nu metal bands like Korn continued to flourish thanks to a strong fanbase, and Johnny-come-latelys Linkin Park managed inexplicably to find success, the salad days of the genre were mostly over and the mainstream tide had begun to turn away from rap-metal. Fans were growing up and either turning their attention to lesser known metal bands, hip-hop acts, or exploring other burgeoning genres like the neo-garage rock scene spearheaded by The White Stripes and The Strokes.

So how did Crazy Town still manage to hit? Easy. Their song had absolutely nothing to do with nu metal. Sure, the guys looked like nu metal guys in their video, but they were playing what was essentially a dance song, just like a few years earlier when Sugar Ray had looked like hard rock guys (and considered themselves as such), but were playing beach music.

"Butterfly" was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in February 2001, almost two full years after the band had released their album. Clearly, someone at the record company was determined to squeeze a hit out of an album that had been sitting on shelves for 18+ months. Why this happened, we may never know, but this is my theory:

There was a lowly A&R manager at Columbia Records who just couldn't catch a break. Maybe he'd spent all his time pushing indie bands and getting nowhere, and his bosses told him he better have a hit band, or he'd soon be collecting unemployment. Desperate, the manager spent a sleepless night at the office, sifting through hundreds of already released songs on his first generation iPod, looking for a hit. Just when he was ready to give up, "Butterfly" played. At first he took no notice of the song, as it was by a band that had two DOA singles ("Toxic" and "Darkside") and an album that had stalled after selling 100,000 copies. But, as he listened to the song, (which is nothing more than a guy rapping over a 5-second sample of John Frusciante's guitar part on Red Hot Chili Peppers' instrumental "Pretty Little Ditty" from 1989's Mother's Milk) he realized, not unlike the creators of the atomic bomb, that what he was listening to had potential; the type of potential that, if exposed to humans, could harm, maim, and maybe kill millions. The A&R guy knew what he had to do. He immediately destroyed his iPod and all copies of the song he could find and, after a few hours of having "yo' my buttafly/suga, baby" stuck in his head, went home and shot the jukebox in his head (read: he killed himself). But he made one mistake: he wrote down the name of the song and artist on a Post-It note. The next morning, an even lowlier intern was clearing out the now deceased A&R guy's desk and came upon the Post-It note reading: "Crazytown (sic) - Butterfly." Within 48 hours, the intern had devliered the song to top execs, who then released the song to radio stations and Tower Records as a single. A video soon followed. When the song hit #1 on the Billboards in 15 countries and sales of The Gift of Game surpassed 1.5 million, the intern was promoted to A&R executive status and made millions of dollars, spent it all on Patrón, cocaine and a McMansion in the Hollywood Hills, joined the Church of Scientology, banged Willa Ford for two weeks, and lost it all when he put all his money and effort behind Nick Lachey's solo career. He now spends his days wandering around Silverlake, filthy, his eyes crazed, and wearing nothing but a sandwich board sign on his shoulders that reads (side 1) "What hath God wrought?" and (side 2) "Butterfly".

This video is presented without comment, but honestly, flying tattoos? What the hell?

A follow up single, "Revolving Door," enjoyed predictably poor results on the charts, but it didn't matter; the damage had been done.

*This also marked the departure of the band's DJ, DJ AM aka Adam Goldstein, who would later become famous for a) spinning at parties thrown by Kate Hudson and other minor celebs, b) boning both Nicole Richie and Mandy Moore, c) barely surviving a plane crash with Travis from Blink 182, and d) dying of a drug overdose in August 2009, two days after the reformation of Crazy Town (I don't say that to be a jerk, but his death really did make him known to people like my mom). Goldstein actually quit the band twice: once quitting after the first Ozzfest incident, only to return after the success of "Butterfly", and leaving once again before the recording of the second album. Inexplicably, Goldstein was actually the second former member of Crazy Town to die after "Rust Epique" aka Charles Lopez, the original guitarist who had left the band for a solo career while The Gift of Game was still being mixed and died of a heart attack in 2004. I'm not going to say there's some sort of curse on Crazy Town, because that Shifty Shellshock guy is still alive despite the best efforts of Dr. Drew and Andy Dick.

Charts: As previously mentioned, the song went to #1 in 15 countries and hit #1 for two consecutive weeks on two different charts (Hot 100 and Modern Rock).

Legacy: What, you mean besides having made one of the most annoying songs of the decade? Possibly ever? Or the fact that they basically gave anyone who is anti-sampling a beyond perfect example of how mind-numbing, repetitive and just plain uncreative sampling can be? Well, there was that great scene in Jake Kasdan's Orange County where the main character (played by Colin Hanks) realizes that the people at Stanford parties are just as horrible as the people at his school, illustrated by a scene of college girls dancing to, you guessed it, "Butterfly".

Where Are They Now? Besides DJ AM, Shifty Shellshock aka Seth Binzer is the only member that anyone remembers or has seen since 2001. After the band's follow-up album, 2002's Darkhorse, failed to deliver another "Butterfly" (which I realize is sort of like saying, "after the US failed to deliver another Hiroshima"), the band broke up. Also in 2002, Binzer guested on Paul Oakenfold's "Starry Eyed Surprise" single, which basically just sounded like another bad Crazy Town song, though 33% less annoying. In 2004, only a year after the band's break up, Binzer released a solo album (as Shifty Shellshock), Happy Love Sick.

2008 saw Binzer joining the cast of VH1's Celebrity Rehab and later Sober House, a celeb-reality show hosted by Dr. Drew about celebrities supposedly in the final stages of treatment, attempting to kick their habits for good. Binzer is best remembered for a relapse in which he disappeared from the premises and posted bizarre videos to his MySpace that gave his housemates (which included Andy Dick) clues as to his whereabouts. Binzer, who was addicted to crack cocaine and an alcoholic, was so good at being sober (or at least, so entertaining at being not sober), that he appeared on Sober House 2.

In 2007, someone played a sick joke on Crazy Town and told them it might be a good idea to reunite (I suspect Ashton Kutcher, though only Sascha Baron Cohen would have the balls to do something so politically charged and sick). It was announced in 2008 that they would be working on a new album, Crazy Town Is Back. According to Wikipedia, the album has been delayed (translation: Obama stepped in).

In August 2009, Crazy Town regrouped for a one-off show at Les Deux in Hollywood.


Afroman - Because I Got High

Willa Ford - I Wanna Be Bad

Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal (Michael Jackson cover)


Best One-Hit Wonders of the Decade: 2000

Editor's Note: First, let me lay down some ground rules. When I say "best," I don't mean these are my favorite songs or even that they're of the highest quality (though at times both of those things may be true, the opposite is probably true). Rather, these songs represent the "one-hit wonder" concept better than any other released that year. In other words, these songs came out of nowhere, became massive hits and the artists faded into obscurity. In most cases, these songs are still with us, having taken on a life of their own, with the artist in some cases entirely forgotten. We will discuss the song, the song's legacy and where the band is now. Also included at the bottom are links to some of the "runner up" one-hit wonders.

Baha Men - Who Let the Dogs Out? (Edel Records, recorded 1998, released as a US single in 2000)

The Baha Men formed in Nassau, Bahamas in 1977 as a group called High Voltage that played traditional Caribbeean junkanoo music. Somewhere in the mid-to-late '90s the group made a decision to begin playing more mainstream fare, which is when "Who Let the Dogs Out?" came into the picture. Originally conceived as a song for Trinidad and Tobogo's Carnival season in 1998, the Baha Men recorded their cover of the track for the soundtrack to The Rugrats Movie.

The song gained popularity mainly through its ubiquitous presence at sporting events during the late '90s and into 2000. The first use of the Baha Men's version being played at a sporting event was at a Seattle Mariner's game. Originally played as a joke (and how could it not be?) for catcher Joe Oliver, shortstop Alex Rodriguez (maybe you've heard of him) took to the song immediately and requested it as his at-bat music.

For some reason, the New York Mets dispute this version of events and claim that they were the first team to use the song, even going so far as to request that the Baha Men record a version of the song with the word "dogs" traded for "Mets" and changing the lyrics to reflect the 2000 Mets lineup. "Who Let the Mets Out?" was played during the Mets' postseason run and the Baha Men performed the tune live at Shea Stadium during Game 4 of the 2000 World Series against the Yankees. The same year, the tune was used by the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants.

Charts: In an instance where radio and sales apparently had little or no impact on the popularity of the song, the song only reached #40 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then again, why request a song or buy the CD when you can hear it at nearly every single sporting event you attend?

Legacy: "Who Let the Dogs Out?" won a plethora of awards: including Grammys for Best Dance Recording and the much coveted Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award for Favorite Song and, naturally, Favorite Band (Hmm...I wonder how the kids who voted in 2000 feel about this choice now? Leave your answer in the comments!). The song was so widespread that it wasn't long before a backlash began, and by the time the ball dropped on January 1, 2001, the song had become almost universally reviled, with Rolling Stone magazine ranking it #3 (behind "My Humps" and "Macarena") on their list of "10 Most Annoying Songs." Besides still periodically being played at sporting events, the song is most well-known these days as a punchline, as indicated by 2009's massive hit comedy The Hangover with Zach Galifianakis' creepy (albeit hilarious) nerd character posing the question, "Are you guys ready to let the dogs out?" Also, if you're ever lucky enough to catch Snow Dogs or any other kids movie that at any time in the film or marketing features a dog wearing sunglasses, you'll most likely get that chorus of barks stuck in your head again like its 2000!

At press time there was still no answer to the song's titular question.

Where Are They Now? After 2002's Move It Like This, the band's took two years to release a follow up album. 2004's Holla!, was an unexpected success among the Pitchfork indie rock crowd, with the Baha Men taking their talents to the next level by recording an intricately constructed song-cycle about an impoverished child rising through the ranks of the Caribbean drug trade. The band worked with producer Nigel Godrich and guests included Beck, Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, Lauryn Hill, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan.

OKAY, so none of that actually happened, but it sounds a lot more interesting than the reality of Holla!, which was basically just more of the same from the Baha Men, with the title track being written specifically for the abysmal Garfield movie (and includes references to indicate such). The lyrical content didn't improve much over "Dogs," with lines that urged the audience to shout, free of charge, "Come on everybody holla/You don't have to bring a dollar." Reportedly the band is releasing their next album in 2010.

Here's a fantastic video for "Holla!" set to clips of the 11,000th iteration of Power Rangers, Power Rangers: SPD:

Runners Up:

Macy Gray - "I Try" (Billboard #5)
Aaron Carter - "Aaron's Party (Come Get It)" (Billboard #35)


The Rentals - "Friends of P"

The Basics: In 1995, original Weezer bassist Matt Sharp turned a small, low-budget side-project into a minor hit with "Friends of P"--a new wave-ish tribute to producer Ric Ocasek's supermodel wife Paulina Porizkova. The Return of the Rentals--a collaboration between Sharp and members of that dog. as well as Weezer bassist Pat Wilson--was picked up by Madonna's Maverick Records label and thanks to the success of "P," the band grew a life of its own. Though Sharp returned to Weezer for 1996's Pinkerton , he exited the group not long after (under what initially seemed to be friendly terms, but later--following a lawsuit levied by Sharp on Weezer--seemed vaguely not-so-friendly). He turned to The Rentals full time, releasing a sophomore effort, Seven More Minutes, in 1998.

Tell Me More:
Born in 1969 in Bangkok, Thailand, Matt Sharp's family soon moved to Arlington, Virginia (assuming dad had some job with the government). Fed up with the classic rock-heavy music scene of his hometown, the punk-influenced Sharp made his way to California at the tender age of 16 and ended up in San Diego. After playing in various metal bands, Sharp met drummer Patrick Wilson. Wilson and Sharp drafted guitarist Jason Cropper to make up the band known as The Wrong Sausage. At the same time, Wilson was in a band called Fuzz with former metal guitarist gone alternative singer/songwriter Rivers Cuomo. Soon, Wilson convinced Cuomo to move into he and Sharp's apartment so they could take advantage of Cuomo's 8-track recorder.

In the summer of 1991, Sharp moved to Berkley, California to work on his own "symphonic keyboard sequencing" music, but by January, he had reconnected with Wilson, Cuomo and Cropper and by Valentine's Day of that year, the band known as "Weezer" was holding their first rehearsal.

After being signed to Geffen Records, the band hooked up with Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, who would produce their eponymous debut (widely nicknamed "The Blue Album"). With the surprise success of that album, Sharp spent the downtime from touring recording his own songs with members of Weezer and that dog.

Though originally intended as a personal project with no plans for release, record companies soon became interested, and the "band" (the lineup was never concrete) signed with Madonna's Maverick Records.

The First Single:
To start, let's get this "Who is P?" nonsense out of the way. As rumored, the song is indeed about Ocasek's wife Paulina Porizkova. From a 1998 Addicted to Noise interview with Sharp:
"It was one of the first songs I'd ever written at the total infancy of all that stuff. I think at the time it came about because [Porizkova] had mentioned that the only people who would write songs for her were bad heavy-metal bands or something like that. And all her friends were getting these songs written about them and all these other supermodel girls were getting all these songs written about them. So it may have been kind of off-handed like that. That song was written when we were making the first Weezer record, when she was around quite a bit, very pregnant and very large."
Okay, so now that that's through, let's talk about the rest of the song. A fuzzed out pop song using the aesthetics of new wave (notably Moog synthesizers) to create a lighthearted, upbeat composition far removed from the darker and more sinister synth-heavy new wave of the early '80s. While most new wave was concerned with adapting the concerns of 1984 and Brave New World--depersonalization and alienation caused by technology--into musical form, here Sharp uses the same aesthetics to make a fun, power-pop tribute to those soulless robotic songs made popular by bands like Tubeway Army. It'd almost seem like sacrilege to the synth-pop purists if it wasn't so damn catchy. The "big sound on a low budget" aesthetic makes it even more charming--there's all sorts of synths, violins and harmonies going on, but you can't get away from the feeling that this was made on some very dated analog equipment--like Depeche Mode with a 4-track. But the fact that it sounds like it was made for pennies is part of the beauty of it: at times, it sounds like the lost work of a garage band from the early '80s who was more concerned with writing theme songs for their Atari 2600 games than cynical notions of futuristic dystopias.

So as a one-hit wonder, was this just another novelty hit? Most likely. People forget that Weezer started out with not one but two novelty hits--"Buddy Holly" and "Undone - The Sweater Song," before getting some recognition for the heavy emotions of "Say It Ain't So." "Friends of P" offered another hit in line with "Buddy Holly," but even weirder and maybe not quite as friendly--though undoubtedly just as catchy. The song reached #7 on Modern Rock charts and just barely dented the Hot 100 at #92. The accompanying video's aesthetic was keeping in line with the music's--cheap, antiquated, static, weird and funny.

The Second Single:
"Waiting" was an odd choice for a follow-up single. Used as a tie-in with MTV Films' first feature, the singing cockroach comedy Joe's Apartment, the song was given the big (and seriously, it looks huge) budget video treatment and made its debut on 120 Minutes (note Afro'd keyboardist and future SNL alum Maya Rudolph):
Personally, I think "My Summer Girl" would have been a more obvious follow-up single. It's not quite as fast as "Waiting," but it's twice as catchy. Regardless, The Rentals were probably destined to be a one-hit wonder. "Friends of P" was hung with the dreaded "novelty" tag early on, and as we've learned from a good 50% of the artists the blog has covered, that's almost as bad as not having anything good to follow it up with. It's almost more infuriating that audiences rejected follow-ups that were just as good if not better, simply because they'd decided the novelty had worn off. It's a shame really, cause, in a just world, most of the songs on Return of the Rentals could have been released as singles. But as any power-pop act from Fountains of Wayne and Matthew Sweet to Cheap Trick and Big Star will tell you: simply having catchy, well-written songs doesn't mean shit in this day and age.

"Waiting" failed to chart and wasn't included in heavy-rotation on MTV.

Whatever Happened to...?:
In the ensuing years since the release of Return of the Rentals, a myriad of odd things have happened concerning Sharp/The Rentals.

1999: First, Sharp and Weezer parted ways sometime after Pinkerton. Whether he was fired or left is still unclear (Sharp claims he never left or quit). Then, The Rentals made a big, gorgeous, Brit-pop influenced follow-up album called Seven More Minutes, released by Maverick in 1998. The album featured appearances by Blur's Damon Albarn, Ash's Tim Wheeler, Elastica's Donna Matthews, and a song co-written by former Weezer band mate Rivers Cuomo. Despite being completely commercial and pop-oriented, the album tanked. There were a myriad of factors going against the album--the changing tide of rock music, the failure of Weezer's Pinkerton, the fact that SMM sounded a lot different than ROTR. While not an entirely different sound from their debut, the group took it in a whole new direction, no doubt disappointing or confusing fans of the first album who wanted more of the same. I still know people who love ROTR and hate SMM or vice versa. It's quite literally two different bands. Following the failure of the album, Sharp exited the limelight without a word--some assumed for good...

2000: But it wasn't for good. After the success of Weezer's comeback album Weezer (2000) aka the Green Album, people were suddenly interested in Matt Sharp again. The reasons were numerous, but the number one reason was this: Weezer didn't sound like Weezer anymore, and many assumed that was due to Sharp's absense. Despite the fact that Sharp had no songwriting credits on either album, fans posited that he must have had some creative influence over the band that was irretrievably lost upon his exit (more on this later). And with the release of 2002's Maladroit--another disappointment to longtime fans--the theory picked up steam. Sharp quickly became considered something of a martyr by Weezer fandom--a secret genius who had refused to be relegated to the role of sideman by a tyrannical frontman, and Sharp's silence only helped this legend grow. So when Sharp finally broke his silence, people--or at least, hardcore Weezer fans--took notice.

2002: Word began to leak that Sharp had decamped to rural Leiper's Fork, Tennessee (about an hour outside of Nashville) to pursue a solo project. The music was reported to be more stripped down and folky--most songs consisting of Sharp and his acoustic guitar, with maybe some organ here and there. At the same time, Sharp became the subject of controversy when he filed a federal lawsuit against Weezer alleging he was owed royalties for co-writing the hit "Undone (The Sweater Song)" and "owned a 25% interest in the first nine tracks of Pinkerton," all of which were credited solely to Rivers Cuomo. He also charged them with a bunch of other legalese stuff--in the end, they settled out of court. Around the same time Sharp remarked that, despite his lawsuit, his influence was not that large, and the new albums would be just as bad if he were still with the group (noting he hadn't heard the new albums).

Around this time Cuomo himself had taken to chat rooms and message boards to interact with fans. When asked why he never released Weezer's proposed space opera Songs from the Black Hole (written after the Blue album, before Pinkerton), he answered simply "ROTR" (Return of the Rentals). Geeky fans (such as myself) deduced that Sharp may have been influenced by the new wave influenced/moog heavy demos Cuomo had recorded for Black Hole. Listening to the demos available on Cuomo's ALONE collections (as well as B-sides culled from the sessions), there are some sonic and aesthetic similarities, but nothing to implicate Sharp in any sort of creative thievery.

Others have speculated that Sharp was not in fact ripping off Cuomo's ideas, but rather was working in collaboration with him on Black Hole and decided to use the songs for his own project instead. Since Return of the Rentals would be released before the next Weezer album, the incenuation was that Cuomo did not want to be accused of ripping off The Rentals. Parts of Black Hole ("Tired of Sex," for instance) ended up on Pinkerton. All in all, what you really need to know is that Weezer has some of the geekiest fans around (yours truly included).

2004: In 2003, Sharp released a solo EP Puckett's vs. The Country Boy, and a year later released a self-titled full length. Both albums were culled from the sessions in Leiper's Fork. Around this time, Sharp began doing acoustic solo tours and, to everyone's surprise, on February 12, 2004 (two days before the 12th anniversary of Weezer) Cuomo joined Sharp on stage at UCal - Fullerton where they played a couple of joint compositions from back in the day. The performance lead to rumors of a Sharp and Cuomo collaboration which never came to fruition due to what Sharp describes as the duo's "special brand of dysfunction." However, by this time the lawsuit had been settled out of court and there was brief talk of Sharp re-joining Weezer as a third guitar player--however, this did not come to fruition.

2005-present: Instead, Sharp went back to The Rentals, where he has been steadily working for the past four years with a (mostly) all new group of musicians. In 2007, the group released an EP, The Last Little Life and toured during 2006-2007. At the moment, the band is preparing to release Songs About Time, described as "three mini-albums to be released in April, July, and October as digital downloads. At the end of the year, the band will release a limited deluxe edition box set of the project, available both as compact discs and 180-gram vinyl records." Note to Sharp: Sounds complicated. Just give me a new CD, guy.

Based on the new songs on the group's MySpace page, the sound is sort of a combination of Seven More Minutes, Return of the Rentals and a surprising amount of influence from Sharp's solo acoustic work--the sound is far more organic than the fuzzed out futuristic sound of the band's albums. All in all, the new songs are essential for any old-school Weezer or Rentals fan--while I can't say I'm too eager for the next hopelessly ironic new Weezer album, Ratitude, Sharp still seems like a serious artist who's ready to make some cool music.
Download: The Rentals - Friends of P
Download: The Rentals - Waiting
Download: Matt Sharp & Maya Rudolph - Not Tonight (Tegan & Sara cover)


The Refreshments - "Banditos"

The Basics: Cutting a balance between alternative rock and Americana that owed a debt to their Southwestern roots, the Tempe, AZ-based group The Refreshments never reached the levels of fame of their hometown compadres the Gin Blossoms. And while they briefly sneaked their way onto the modern rock charts with the clever tale of a Mexican crime caper, their lasting contribution would be the TV theme to an animated network sitcom by that dude from Texas who made Beavis & Butthead.

Tell Me More: In 1993, Arizona State University graduates and drinking buddies Roger Clyne, Brian David Blush, Arthur Edwards began playing together on a lark and completed The Refreshments lineup when P.H. Naffah joined on drums. By 1994, the band had two independently releases under their belt which sold extremely well in their local Tempe. Noticing their success, Mercury pounced, signing the band the next year. In 1996, the band released their major-label debut, Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy, which featured professionally recorded versions of songs from their independent releases Wheelie and Lo, Our Much Praised Yet Not Altogether Satisfactory Lady EP.

The First Single: "Banditos," the band's only real hit was a fun slice of Tex-Mex influenced power-pop--though more on the alt. rock side of things than say, Old 97s. Featuring irreverent and, at times, hilarious lyrics describing an underachieving outlaw couple discussing their run for the border (as in, Mexico, not Taco Bell) after a planned hold-up. They have fake IDs with names like "Capt. Jean Luc Picard," but it won't matter cause the border guards can't "read English anyway." The narrator ironically believes that, because "the world is full of stupid people" that it's only fair that he should get his "pesos." Think of it as the story of what might've happened to the passionate but strategically inept Pumpkin and Honeybunny from Pulp Fiction had hightailed it to Mexico after they left that diner.

The song hit #11 on the Mainstream Rock Charts and #14 on the Modern Rock charts. The song propelled the album to #1 on the Heatseekers charts--the chart that tracks albums from new artists--and #97 on the Billboard 200 album charts.

And unlike even the most clever rock groups of the time, The Refreshments weren't afraid to make a humorous video that made it look like they were actually, ya know, enjoying themselves:

The Second Single: "Down Together" - Surprisingly not as successful, "Down Together" is perhaps a better and more conventional song than its predecessor. After seeing "Banditos" chart performance--good, but room to improve--they picked this one, perhaps hoping that the people who didn't like the idiosyncrasies of the first single would enjoy this wry take on the standard love song. As usual, this was a mistake. This type of thinking ignores the fact that "Banditos," like so many other one-hit wonders, struck a balance between commercial and completely unique. "Down Together"--and I reiterate that I indeed like it better than "Banditos"--is not quite as outwardly unusual and funny as that track. "Down" is fun and poppy and rockin' on the outside, and sweet--but not cloying on the inside--though not without its share of snide remarks, including one directed at the grungy fashion stylings of friends and fellow Arizonans, Dead Hot Workshop. As with most of The Refreshments material, the lyrics make the song, but they're far more subtle here than on the hit, and admittedly lack the LOL qualities of "Banditos."

The song reached #38 on the Modern Rock charts, failing to chart on Mainstream. The group did film another video for it with director Dave Dobkin (director of Wedding Crashers):

Whatever Happened to...
?: Lucky for us (and the band), the story doesn't end there.

In 1997, Beavis & Butthead creator Mike Judge selected The Refreshments' instrumental--built off a jam they played at soundchecks--"Yahoos and Triangles" to be the theme song to his new Fox animated series, King of the Hill. Though I'm not a huge fan of the show, the theme song, along with Sanford and Son, The Simpsons and The Office US, ranks up there with the best of instrumental TV show theme songs. After millions of reruns and a few hundred episodes, the song never fails to make me wanna get my hoedown on.

Like so many '90s bands ready to spend a record company's money and spread their wings of musical maturity, the band followed up their successful major-label debut with a less-commercially-more-critically successful sophomore effort, The Bottle and Fresh Horses. The songs moved away from the clever "smirk-rock" (TM Allmusic.com) in favor of more country influenced story songs--though that's not to say there wasn't still a lot of pop and rock n' roll going on.

Produced by Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary, the album is really quite good--a forgotten gem of sorts. Unfortunately, audiences either didn't care for a more mature Refreshments and the album peaked at #150.

Here's the band in a 1997 morning TV performance doing the failed Mexa-reggae single "Wanted":

And a live performance of the Old 97s-ish "Broken Record":

Following the relative failure of The Bottle & Fresh Horses, the band split with Mercury Records and each other in 1998. However, lead singer/songwriter Clyne and drummer Naffah reteamed to create Roger Clyne and The Peacemakers. The Peacemakers are a bit of an Arizona supergroup, with members of Gin Blossoms and Dead Hot Workshop among their ranks. Releasing their first album, Honky Tonk Union, in 2000, the new music--true to its title--showed Clyne indulging his Americana influences with a more country sound, while still retaining some of the alt. rock that made them so enjoyable in the first place. The lyrics, while still revealing Clyne's trademark wit, were decidedly more reflective.

Ten years and seven albums later (including a live one that featured the band playing some of the Refreshments' better known songs), the Roger Clyne and Peacemakers are still at it, still bringing their witty brand of heartland rock.

Download: The Refreshments - Banditos
Download: The Refreshments - Down Together


Seven Mary Three - "Cumbersome"

Hell has frozen over! I've written a new blog post. I apologize for not updating this blog regularly and can't make any promises about the future, but I will try my best to make this a consistent thing. I've gotten requests to do this band since the beginning, so hope you all enjoy.

The Basics:
Seven Mary Three (aka 7M3--their decal ready abbreviation) were a mid-90s grunge band who released the single "Cumbersome," which his #1 on the Mainstream Rock charts, #7 on the Modern Rock Charts and #39 on the Hot 100. At the time, the band was heavily criticized for being Pearl Jam imitators. If the accusation is indeed true (spoiler: it is) then 7M3 were some sort of pioneer--one of the first in a long line of PJ imitators that would come to include Nixons, 3 Doors Down, Creed, Nickleback, and yes, even my beloved Stone Temple Pilots. The band cried all the way to the bank as their first album, 1995's American Standard sold millions.

Tell Me More: 7M3 originated in Williamsburg, VA. The songwriting duo of Jason Ross and Jason Pollock met while attending the College of William & Mary and began an acoustic duo--Ross sang, Pollock played guitar and they split the song-writing duties. Soon, the duo were joined by drummer Giti Khalsa and bassist Casey Daniel, and the band (named from a bit of dialogue from CHiPs) toured bars and clubs throughout the Southeast. In 1994 they released their independently produced debut, Churn. The album caught the attention of several entities including the label Mammoth Records and was given airtime by rock-radio DJs in Orlando, FL. Spurred by the attention their single "Cumbersome" received, the band moved to the crap-music mecca Orlando re-recorded Churn, added two new songs and slapped a new title on it: American Tradition. "Cumbersome" became a mega-hit, and soon the band was offered a contract with Atlantic Records. After seven months of bad reviews and hundreds of hours of airplay, the album went platinum.

The First Single: "Cumbersome" is an extremely hateable song. If one was so inclined, it would be quite easy to trace a path that led from this song to the entire post-grunge movement. Nickleback, Puddle of Mudd, Creed, Staind, even Daughtry--this song is the cornerstone for that sound in the same way glam rock was kicked off by Marc Bolan's "Ride a White Swan," or how "6 in the Mornin'" by Ice-T started gangsta rap. It's arguable, but when you hear it, you just know. This is the birth of the sound that has ruled rock radio for nigh on fifteen years.

Now, am I blaming Seven Mary Three? Not at all. They were just doing what was popular at the time. The sound was still somewhat vital then--at least in parts of the country outside Seattle. They were there for the last gasp--the death rattle--of grunge.
They didn't know that sound would rape radio listeners' ears for over a decade--pouring sludgy riffs, hoarse vocals and unnecessarily angsty and laughable lyrics into the heads of teens (though 7M3's careers would be in much better shape right now had they had that kind of foresight). They were just college guys in a bar band mimicking the music they loved, like tons of bar bands imitate the Stones or Stevie Ray Vaughn or Dave Matthews. I can't hate them for that--but I don't have to like the music either.

It's not that it's a bad song, really. It rocks pretty hard and has a decent hook and it does a fine approximation of the Seattle sound (if a bit more straight forward and wholly without much in the way of nuance or dynamics), but it's hard to hear it with fresh ears after being subjected to the bands that sprung fully formed from 7M3's crusty afterbirth. Granted, if forced to choose between 7M3 and the bands they influenced, I'd take them any day of the week. But at the end of the day, why listen to the east coast facsimile of the Sub Pop sound at all? Why not just throw on Ten instead? Or one of the less-successful but far superior Washington-area bands like the Screaming Trees or Mudhoney?

As noted in the first part, the song was a huge hit on radio and MTV and gave way to another single that did surprisingly well.

The Second Single: "Water's Edge" A surprisingly lame song considering it was rumored to be based on the badass '80s Keanu Reeves movie River's Edge. Like the film, the song is about a young narrator finding a dead body by the river. Just like with their hit, 7M3 kept things dreary and gray on the second single. The one thing you can say for this song is that it may be the entire basis for (ultimate-crap rockers) 3 Doors Down's entire sound. Honestly, I'm getting more and more fired up about trying some sort of voodoo thing where we cut off the collective head of 7M3 with the idea that their minions--3DD, Daughtry, Hoobastank, etc.--will turn to ash.

The video featured a young boy walking in the woods and spotting a strange man and discovering a tent and...you know what? This video is pretty fucking boring. I apologize, but I can't be bothered to finish it. I read the description of the rest of it on Wikipedia and there's some shit about puppets cavorting in a tent and harassing a woman or something. Sounds like I should have kept watching but c'mon--there's a full minute of an old man walking before the song even starts, what do you want from me? If you can make it through, kudos, tell me if I'm missing something great.

"Water's Edge" reached #7 on Mainstream charts, #37 on Modern Rock charts and failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.

Where are they now? Seven Mary Three's day in the sun didn't last long. Their follow-up album, RockCrown, veered away from the hard-rock angst towards a more folky-acoustic angst, but it didn't matter--they were seen as grunge and grunge was dying (or hibernating). Reviews were no good (Rolling Stone gave it two out of five stars), sales were poor, and the rock radio DJs who had previously championed the band had turned their backs on 7M3 in favor of the pop-punk, rap rock and nu metal that would soon slither their way into the tape decks of every rock radio station in the country. RockCrown reached #75 on the Billboard charts. If we've learned nothing from this site, it's that more often than not, the public can smell a one hit wonder before even the record label. Atlantic gave them another album.

Orange Ave. arrived in 1998 to poor sales, although it spawned a minor hit with "Over Your Shoulder." The single reached #7 on the Mainstream Rock charts, a position they would reach once more in 2001 with "Wait" from The Economy of Sound, their first album after the departure of founding member Jason Pollock. The album also featured a return to Mammoth Records (no longer affiliated with Atlantic). The song (which also appeared on the soundtrack to the Kirsten Dunst vehicle Crazy/Beautiful) featured a decidedly lighter 7M3; far more classic rock oriented than their previous output--they no longer sound like they're auditioning to be the background band in Cameron Crowe's Singles. It's actually not half bad as far as turn of the century rock radio goes--but that could just be the scantily clad Dunst from the video hynotizing me with her dance moves.

Two more albums have followed with minimal fanfare and terrible titles--2004's Dis/Location and 2008's day&nightdriving. 2008 also saw a re-release of their independent debut, Churn. The new songs feature a band that has moved far closer to folk and roots-rock oriented sound. In other words, they sound like a band from Virginia, instead of a band from Virginia trying to sound like they crawled out of a rain-drenched Seattle suburb. Can't say I blame them, and actually give them props for it. Not sure I'd ever buy their albums, but by making a point to move away from "the song that launched a thousand shitty bands" towards something more enjoyable, I gain a new found respect.

7M3 can still be found touring the country, and in fact are coming to my neck of the woods this October. If there's any interest, I may trek out to the club to see them and write up a review. "The Second Single -- ON THE SCENE" how does that sound? Or is this one of those ideas that sounds better on paper?

Download: Seven Mary Three - Cumbersome
Download: Seven Mary Three - Water's Edge


Whoops! The Second Single apologizes

So, sorry for the long delay. I finally got a job in this economy and haven't had as much time to devote to posts as I might like.

Unfortunately, after doing some research I came to find that Lisa Loeb is not, in fact, a one-hit wonder. Not even in a technical sense. She had two top twenty hits ("I Do" and "Do You Sleep?") following her number one single, "Stay."

Nonetheless, here's a few of her videos so you can enjoy her in all her sexy librarianness...

"Stay" (1994) from the Reality Bites soundtrack

"Do You Sleep?" (1995) from the album Tails

"I Do" (1997) from the album Firecracker

Bummer! Normally I'd feel completely justified in writing about someone whose only other singles had ranked low on the charts, but, well, I actually remember these songs. And they're pretty damn good to boot.

Plus, Lisa Loeb is just too dang cute for me to rip on too much. Basically, what I'm saying is that I have no integrity. Typical blogger! You're off the hook, Ms. Loeb.

I know what you're thinking. "Why the eff was this picture taken?"
Well, I have one thing to say to you: would you ask Tom Petty that?

However, don't fret, I will absolutely have another entry up in the next few days, and I KNOW you'll like this one. (Note: that was a hint)


For all you jonesin' for some Loeb

Next week, I promise...


Reality Bites Soundtrack Pt. 1 of 2, Big Mountain

Few movies encapsulate an era like Ben Stiller's Reality Bites. That's not necessarily a compliment. I'd argue that only 1995's Empire Records bests it in the "middle-aged studio exec attempts to cash in on the humor and angst of the grunge generation using sub-John Hughes script, indie actors and eclectic soundtrack" department.

Released in 1994 and starring Gen X superstars Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder, the film tells the story of four twenty-somethings living in Houston, TX in the mid-90s. Though Stiller and producers would later deny it, the initial idea was to make a film about the Generation X crowd and everything that went along with that lifestyle:
  • shitty 9-5 jobs - Ryder is a morning show PA, Hawke is unemployed for the 13th time in two years while roommate/friend Janeane Garofalo works as a manager at the ultimate '90s microcosm, The Gap.
  • relationships - Ryder's stuck in a love triangle between the wannabe philosopher, grunge rocker and all around loser Hawke, and the educated, successful yuppie-ish sell-out Stiller).
  • pop culture-centric conversations - endless references to '70s kitsch--half of Hawke's lines are either quoting a commercial jingle ("I'm a Pepper", "This girl is cukoo for Cocoa Puffs!") or throwing down some trivial tidbit about Good Times or Diff'rnt Strokes.
  • modern, sexually-based fears - at one point Garofalo takes an HIV test and fourth roommate Steve Zahn struggles with his sexuality.
  • living off fast food - Ryder at one point works at a burger place and, while on a date with Stiller, pontificates on the joys of 7-11's Big Gulp.
  • the fear of selling out and becoming like their parents, i.e. doing something not in the arts - Hawke repeatedly fails to live up to his potential due to the fear of selling out to "the man," Ryder sabotages her own job and later breaks up with Stiller when he dares to allow the MTV-like network he works for to edit a boring yet artistically sound documentary she made about her friends' lives into something commercial and entertaining.
  • Janeane Garofalo - does anything scream "'90s!" more than the grungy, sloppy, deadpan, cynical, "I'm studying for an M.A. in gender studies so fuck 90210" humor of Ms. Garofalo? MTV even made a cartoon based on her persona with Daria--and to make her even angrier, didn't give her any credit.
Of course, all of this was done better two years earlier in Cameron Crowe's Altman-esque survey of Seattle singles in the grunge era, titled, er, Singles. Audiences' initial reaction to Reality Bites was markedly less than Stiller and co. had hoped. Despite the indie-cred the film gained by playing at Sundance Film Festival, Reality Bites failed to connect with the ever-cynical Gen X crowd, and didn't really connect with anyone else either, grossing a reasonable-but-not-impressive $20 million at the box office. In recent years it has become something of a hit on video and DVD, buoyed by the meteoric rise of '90s nostalgia in the latter half of this decade. If nothing else, the film is extremely entertaining as a time capsule of the brief time period when Doc Martens with Guess Jeans shorts was considered the height of fashion, Kurt Cobain was the new Jim Morrison and the worst thing post-adolescent white people had to worry about was how bad it would look if they worked at The Gap.

The soundtrack, however, was a different story. A mish-mash of '80s new wave and indie, '70s hits, new covers and contemporary alternative rock, the album played like your average '90s college student's mixtape, and somewhat inexplicably birthed two left-field hits: Lisa Loeb's "Stay" and Big Mountain's cover of Peter Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way."

This week we'll focus on the latter--next week, Loeb will get her own entry.

So, Big Mountain was a reggae band formed in the early 1990s and hailing from the decidedly un-Jamaican land of San Diego. For some reason, early '90s audiences welcomed non-Jamacian white dudes playing reggae (see also: UB40) and believe it or not, Big Mountain had hit the Hot 100 a year or so prior to Reality Bites. "Touch My Light," from the album Wake Up, had reached #51 on the Hot 100. The minor hit spurred Bites producer Ron Fair to approach the band about recording a cover of Frampton's song for the soundtrack.

Why didn't they just include Frampton's original recording? I honestly don't know. The original Frampton recording (which reached #12 on the Billboards) is featured in the actual movie during a scene where Stiller playfully berates Ryder for not knowing Frampton Comes Alive! (the metaphorical overtones of Stiller's yuppie-ish love for corporate rock are not lost on this viewer). My guess is that licensing Frampton's original recording would have cost the producers too much money, and reggae bands--as anyone who has ever eaten at a restaurant in the islands can attest to--are dirt cheap. It's also probable that the producers were looking for a hit single for the soundtrack and took a page from the 1993's Sliver soundtrack, which featured a UB40 cover of Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love With You."
I'm convinced the black guys were hired for the picture and are not actually members of Big Mountain

Turning Frampton's song into a reggae jam wasn't much of a stretch--the original was clearly influenced by reggae with Frampton doing a sad white man's imitation of an island singer. Still, Big Mountain's version turns into a full-on soft rock reggae jam, with lightly plucked acoustic guitars, a prominent saxophone and three-part harmony. And if there was any doubt in your mind that this wasn't a group of non-Jamaican white (and Mexican) dudes with dreads from So. Cal, the video--which looks to have been shot at a lame resort in Sandles--quickly changed that.

If reggae didn't die after this video, then it must have already been long dead, and this was merely another long, cheesy nail in the coffin. Any lingering memory of reggae that had concerns about injustice, poverty, religion (or basically that it had anything do with anything other than act as a soundtrack to your rockin' the gange and making love to your second wife on a beach in Sandles while a guy with dreads brings you a margarita) were washed away by this video. Dashikis, Steinberger guitars, unwieldy headset microphones, shots of Winona Ryder's ass in jeans...doesn't get much better than this, folks.

But as awesome as this version may be, it has nothing on the Spanish version, "Baby Te Quiero A Ti." Oh yeah, this actually happened.

Full disclosure: I recall loving the shit out of this song when I was all of 10 years old. As cheesy as it may be, it's infectious. That key change used to blow my mind. It made me want to play sax for about five minutes, and it very well could have been the first reggae song I ever really listened to (This could explain why I have no real use for reggae these days).

The song was a smash crossover, hitting #6 on the Hot 100, #1 on the Top 40, #10 on Adult Contemporary, #19 on Hot Latin Tracks (huh?) and #8 on Rhythmic Top 40 (double huh?). And thanks in part to that amazing Spanish version, the song was a worldwide hit. To make matters stranger--this wasn't the first time a cover of Frampton's song charted: in 1988, Will to Power had a #1 hit with their cloying medley of "Baby" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird."

The Reality Bites soundtrack sold 1.2 million units and reached #13 on the Billboard charts. The track was also included on their album Unity, which reached #174 on the album charts.

So where did Big Mountain go from there? They released two more singles. The first, an original called "Sweet Sensual Love" was very much in line with the sound of their hit; that is, safe, soft-rock reggae with all the edges smoothed out. The problem? It wasn't a cover! It stalled at #80 on the Billboard charts. Lead singer Quino and co. must have had their dreads tied too tied if they thought folks wanted to hear their original music. Luckily, the group smoked some of that Jamaican Gold and decided the public wanted a smooth-reggae version of another classic feel-good favorite.

They chose The Youngbloods' "Get Together," which in 1995 was somewhat popular again, having been featured on the monster-selling Forrest Gump soundtrack. Featured on their 1995 album, the vaguely political sounding Resistance, "Get Together" featured production that would have sounded dated in 1988, but brought the goods on the "feel-good smooth reggae" front, so I guess for that reason it could be called a success. As far as I can tell, there's not much to separate it from any of those Reggae Tribute to Paul Anka album. Listening to this song makes me feel like I'm in a shitty bar in inland Florida, watching some sunburned middle-aged fat guy in a sales rack Tommy Bahama shirt order up yet another Pina Colada with one hand while he gropes the frizzy haired 35-year-old divorcee in the bikini top and belly jewelry with the other hand. If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

The cover trick worked a second time and "Get Together" did surprisingly well, reaching #44 on the Billboard charts, and #28 on the Adult Contemporary charts.

The band was dropped from Warner Bros. after on more album, Free Up, in 1997. Since then they've been recording some originals, but have mostly fallen to recording reggae cover albums that no doubt are played in Jamaican themed restaurants throughout the midwest. So check out the lazily titled Versions Undercover for Big Mountain's take on John Lennon, James Taylor and others, or just sit near the speakers next time you go to Bahama Breeze (order the West Indies Ribs!). Hell, Big Mountain might even be playing at your location! (They live off tips, people! Have a heart!)

One love!

Next Week: the sexy librarianness of Lisa Loeb
Download: Big Mountain - Baby, I Love Your Way
Download: Big Mountain - Sweet, Sensual Love
Download: Big Mountain - Get Together

Big Mountain website


Letters to Cleo "Here and Now"

What was it about '90s rock music that lent itself so easily to female-fronted rock groups? How many times did you turn on MTV to see a cute girl sporting a dress she probably stole from her grandma and a hair color not found in nature standing in front of a wall of Marshall stacks singing about how much guys suck? They certainly weren't invented in the '90s. Janis Joplin, Patti Smith and Debbie Harry had held their own as the only girl in serious rock bands decades earlier, and certainly the '80s had their share with Chrissy Hynde of The Pretenders leading the way.

To look at it from an academic point of view, perhaps it was inspired by third-wave of feminism, which started in the early '90s and suggested that women's sexuality was a positive thing that could be empowering, challenging earlier views of sexuality as exploitative. It also allowed women the ability to "take back" words such as "bitch" and "whore." But perhaps that's a discussion probably best left for the Meredith Brooks entry...

Whatever it was, it was certainly popular. Besides the ultra-feminist bands of the riot grrrl movement like Bikini Kill and L7 (the latter infamous for an incident at a concert in which the lead singer removed her tampon and tossed it into the crowd, shouting, "Eat my tampon, fuckers!" in response to mud being slung at the stage), popular bands like The Breeders, No Doubt, The Cardigans, Veruca Salt, Hole, Luscious Jackson, and Belly all featured women in prominent roles--usually serving as lead vocalist and songwriter. At this point I could probably use Freudian analysis to dissect why so many of those type of bands--that is to say, bands in which a small, cute female lead singer surrounds herself with an all-male backing band--were so popular with male audiences, but that sounds kinda boring, so instead, I'm just going to talk about Letters to Cleo and how cute Kay Hanley is.

Letters to Cleo was formed by Hanley and guitarist Greg McKenna in Boston in 1988. McKenna had begun another band and drafted Hanley, then a member of a new wave group. When that band dissolved, McKenna and Hanley decided to continue their partnership with a new power-pop based project. With the addition of Mike Eisenstein on guitar, Stacy Jones on drums and Scott Riebling on bass, the project became Letters to Cleo, named for a box of letters from Hanley's childhood pen pal named, er, "Cleo".

LtC spent a few years gaining a following and sharpening their skills in the Boston area before recording their first album, Aurora Gory Alice, released on the local Boston label Cherry Disc Records in 1993. The album was successful enough to gain the attention of major label Giant Records who signed the band and re-released the album in 1994. The band already had another album in the can--Wholesale Meats and Fish--but would have to wait another year to release thanks to the success of an Aurora track that had been included on the soundtrack for Aaron Spelling awesomely cliched and horribly acted prime time soap Melrose Place--"Here and Now."

Besides Hanley's cuteness, not much impressive about the video as evidenced by this video, complete with color commentary by these two dudes from Texas

Thanks to the exposure of the song on the soundtrack (and the show, where it was played during the closing credits) the song went up the charts and the band found themselves playing the single that they'd recorded some three years previous on hip late night shows for young people like Jon Stewart's short-lived talk show and Conan's still-in-its-infancy Late Night program.

Again with the pigtails, Kay? You're making it really hard for me to not go Freudian on you here.

Equal parts hard rocking grunge and power-pop--and buoyed by Hanley's powerhouse vocals-- "Here and Now" showcased the band's sound nicely, and the song turned into a hit on the Modern Rock chart (#10), and even crossed over to the Hot 100 (#56) and Top 40 (#40). Oh, and in case you're wondering, here the really fast lyrics during the chorus...
The comfort of a knowledge and I'll rise above the sky
above I'll never parallel the challenge of an acquisition
In the here and now...here and now
I'm pretty sure we'll all stick with mumbling our way through that part when it comes on the iPod, but thought it would be nice to see, right?

The follow-up, "Awake," came off Wholesale Meats and Fish--the sophomore effort that was finally released after the success of "Here and Now." "Awake," while still poppy, had a harder-edged sound than "Here and Now." With the guitars turned up and the sound a little messier, the band sounds almost Weezer-ish. In fact, one could call Wholesale Meats and Fish the band's Pinkerton, which would make Aurora Gory Alice their Blue Album--only, you know, not quite as good. It's also clear that the sweetness of Hanley's vocals has been toned down a bit--they're less overpowering here.
The sweetness of the vocals may be what ultimately kept Letters to Cleo from achieving real success. There's some really great power-pop here, but Hanley's vocals run the risk of being sickly sweet and free of the sort of attitude that would make Gwen Stefani and No Doubt so successful. As good as the melodies and music were, there wasn't a whole lot in this single to separate the band from the other girl-fronted rock bands of the day.

"Awake" went to #17 on the Modern Rock charts and #88 on the Hot 100.

Still riding high on the success of "Here and Now," in 1996 Letters to Cleo turned their attention towards recording cover songs for movie soundtracks, starting with a cover of The Cars' "Dangerous Type" for the soundtrack to the completely boring teen-witch movie The Craft.

While the song failed to chart, it probably went a long way towards getting them the role as themselves in 1999's underrated teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You. In the film--a retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew--Letters to Cleo are mentioned as being the favorite band of Julia Stiles' character (the shrew). Later in the film, the band actually shows up playing a cover of Nick Lowe's "Cruel to Be Kind" alongside '90s ska no-hit wonders Save Ferris:

Caution: Clips include Heath Ledger which might make you sad, and Alex Mack, which might make you aroused

The film also features the band playing a cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" on the roof of the high school.

Fast forward to 1:48 to see the band on the roof...on second thought, dont'--this trailer is like a trip back in time. Watch the whole thing.

Letters to Cleo's music was also used in other forgotten teen girl-centric '90s films like Jawbreaker and The Babysitters Club. Kay Hanley also served as the singing voice of "Josie" in the horrific live-action Josie and the Pussycats movie. Sorry, no clip for that one--if you want to burn your retinas, do it on your own time.

A year later--after four albums, including 1997's Go! and 1998's Sister--the band called it quits after a final show in their home town in May of 2000.

Since then, each member has followed his or her own muse, with Kay Hanley releasing two solo albums (Cherry Marmalade in 2002 and Weaponize in 2008), drummer Stacy Jones forming American Hi-Fi and McKenna starting his own side project, Murder Capitol of the World.

But, like many one-hit wonders, the band has had to do some terrible things to make ends meet. I'm sure she's not proud of it, but on the 2007-2008 Hannah Montana tour, Kay Hanley sang back up for Miley Cyrus.

I know, I know. Take a moment. Pull it together. Now, let's move on.

Lucky for us (and for them, it would seem), in September 2008, the band announced their reunion, which kicked off with a series of shows that will continue May 20, 2009, starting with a free show in New Orleans and continuing into Texas. In 2008, the band also released an odds and sods collection, When Did We Do That? Find more info at their Myspace and official site.

Here's the band playing at a Boston club last December, with the band sounding as good as ever and, of course, Hanley looking as cute as ever. Even the evils of Miley Cyrus can't take down this sprightly woman.

Download: Letters to Cleo - Here and Now
Download: Letters to Cleo - Awake
Download: Letters to Cleo - I Want You to Want Me (Cheap Trick cover)