Who is Dan Baird you might ask? If the name might not ring a bell, perhaps his first band will--The Georgia Satellites. A Southern Rock group out of Atlanta who owed as much to the The Faces Ronnie Lane and Ron Wood as Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant, the Satellites formed in the early '80s and made several great--if decidedly uneven albums--before breaking up before the end of the decade.
But not before they left their mark on the decade with the novelty hit "Keep Your Hands to Yourself"--a tongue-in-cheek Chuck Berry-esque number that stood out from the monster ballads and synth-driven pop of Top 40 radio in 1986.
The song concerns a man lamenting the words of his "cruel" virginal girlfriend who tells him "the story 'bout free milk and a cow" and puts her foot down when it comes to hanky panky: "and she said no huggin' no kissin' until I get a wedding vow/my honey my baby don't put my love upon no shelf/she said don't hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself."
Now you remember? You should, cause the song hit #2 on the Billboards.
That gap-toothed front man being forced into a literal shotgun wedding is Mr. Dan Baird. As I mentioned, the song was labeled a novelty hit, and to an extent it was, but not from the Satellites' point of view. That's just what they did. They were a rock n' roll band in the classic style--their songs are about girls, drinking, and girls. There's no pretense here. And when you think about it, a song about a girl who won't give up the goods--no matter how tongue-in-cheek--isn't really that much more jokey than Rod Stewart's "Lost Paraguayos" in which the singer attempts (unsuccessfully) to fend off the advances of an underage girl. Maybe the novelty aspect was that it was a kick-ass rock n' roll song in an era where that kind of thing barely existed without a big dollop of irony.
After three albums, and a couple of non-starter singles (check out the fantastic "Battleship Chains") the Satellites' original lineup called it quits in 1989. Soon after, Baird announced plans to continue as a solo artist. As the lead singer and songwriter for the group it wasn't surprising that Baird went solo, but the question was--if Baird essentially was the Satellites, what would there be to differentiate his solo work from his work with that band?
The answer: not much. But who cares?
The problem with the Satellites' wasn't the songwriting, or even the playing--it was the energy. The energy from their live shows simply couldn't be caught on tape, and in turn their recordings came off as flat. Working to correct that, Baird teamed up with producers Brendan O'Brien and Rick Rubin and hired a crackerjack group of sessions players (including Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers). What came out was 1991's Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired--an album that was far more consistent than most of the Satellites' output, even if it didn't quite reach the same heights as their debut.
Released on Rubin's Def American (later just American), the album featured more of Baird's patented wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more lyrics and big helping of barroom ready blues rock. What Baird lacks in originality, he makes up for by crafting songs that are just plain fun. They're made for the jukebox--specifically for a drunken barroom singalong (or maybe a drunken ride down a country road in your pickup--your choice). That's not to say they're generic--they're far from it. Sure, Baird is playing riffs and chord changes that have been played a million times before, and maybe more skillfully, but he's a true original--turning blues-rock on its head and pushing it to the limits while still tipping his hat to the greats.
The first single featured possibly the most tongue-in-cheek lyrics of Baird's career. No doubt sensing another chance at a novelty hit, Baird pumped out "I Love You Period," a song that's at first cringe inducing--until you get it stuck in your head and find yourself singing along before the chorus even comes around the second time. It's a funny concept--a kid writes a love letter to his teacher (who he always wanted to impress, but would mentally undress), who then critiques the letter for punctuation. The chorus is the teacher explaining what corrections should be made to the letter:
I love you period
Do you love me question mark?
Please, please exclamation point
I wanna hold you in parentheses
The kid in the song then goes on to high school, where he has trouble meeting girls. But when he remembers what the teacher told him, he becomes something of a Casanova (or Cyrano De Bergerac, at least) writing letters to girls with correct punctuation and telling them the chorus once more--which the narrator discovers is better than Spanish Fly.
The song was a hit--if only a minor one--reaching #14 on Top 40, #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the Mainstream Rock Charts. Luckily, it also featured one of those "guy walks down the highway playing his guitar" videos that seemed so popular in the early '90s. Here it seems the director was instructed to make Baird's David Letterman-esque gap-tooth something of a trademark for the man, perhaps in hopes that Baird would start a gap-tooth craze wherein kids would buy prosthetic toy gap-teeth and maybe even spur people to undergo controversial dental work. I can see it now: "Gimme 'The Baird,' Doc."
But back to the music. If I may go off on a small tangent--here's the problem with novelty songs: they're nearly impossible to follow up.
Take Beck's "Loser." A complete novelty song--a good one, no doubt, but still a novelty song. What was the next single? "Pay No Mind"? "Snoozer"? Either of those ring a bell? Probably not, and they shouldn't, because "Where It's At" was the first true follow up--a whole two years later. He had to wait until his next album, Odelay, on which he didn't have one song that sounded even close to his hit. Genius! The guy knew he had talent, and knew that he had been and always would be more than one novelty song, so he didn't even attempt to go back to that well--he moved forward, and he was successful. Of course, it didn't hurt that he had an insane amount of talent, but had he not signed to a major label, he might still be part one-hit wonder and part underground phenomenon (which was how he'd started).
The problem with novelty songs is that the people appreciate the actual novelty. Not the songwriting. Not the musicianship. Not necessarily the sound (unless it's sung in a strange voice, a la "Disco Duck")--though in Baird's case, that may have been part of the novelty. Usually, all of the above are involved, but it's really the lyrics that send it over the top. "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" is another example--if it weren't for the lyrics, that song would be just another soft-rock ditty. But it made people laugh, and they remembered it and it's still played endlessly.
Novelty songs aren't as popular as they used to be--and that's probably because they've been usurped by YouTube and viral music videos. Hell, Andy Samberg has practically built a career off viral videos (and a damn good one)--his digital shorts are really just music videos for novelty songs. But even most viral videos are one-hit wonders. For example, I do not expect Tay Zonday to be the next Bob Dylan (please prove me wrong, Tay!). Samberg is lucky enough to have a venue like SNL that shows more of his work to a massive audience. Had "Lazy Sunday" come out a decade ago on the radio, that might have been it for Samberg. We might not have ever heard "Dick in a Box" or "Jizz in My Pants."
Think, for a minute, about a world without "Dick in a Box"--on second thought, don't. It's too painful.
Musically, it's every bit as rockin' and exciting with its crunchy riffs and call and response vocals. In fact, it's probably a better song. It doesn't try so hard to be cute and clever, it just plain rocks. And the lyrics aren't lacking either with gems like: ""I can't afford to buy you no four star dinner/but by god, my love's a winner." That's gold, Jerry, gold. But it still isn't "I Love You Period"--and while that was mostly good news for listeners who wanted the real Baird and not just another jokey song, it was bad news for Baird. While the song did a strong #13 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks, it didn't crack the Billboards or Top 40.
With that in mind, we check out Baird's follow-up, "The One I Am," the lead-track off the album.
Baird followed up his debut with a five-year long break. When he finally did release an album, 1996's Buffalo Nickel, the album tanked. The Georgia Satellites reformed the same year without Baird. Perhaps in response, Baird started a new band with two other more then capable songwriters to form The Yayhoos. The band toured behind Baird's album and in 2001, released Fear Not the Obvious, followed by Put the Hammer Down in 2006. Around this time, Baird also began producing and guesting on other musicians' recordings.
In 2007, Baird introduced a new band in his newly adopted home town of Nashville. Made up of players from various bands, including Georgia Satellites and Yayhoos, the band may be Baird's best yet. In 2008, Dan Baird & Homemade Sin released their eponymous debut to critical acclaim, along with an outtakes compilation, Out of Mothballs.
Here's the group playing "I Love You Period" last year at the Exit/In in Nashville. Clearly, Baird is continuing on his one-man mission to preserve kick-ass rock n' roll.
THE FIRST SINGLE: B
THE SECOND SINGLE: B+
Download: Dan Baird - I Love You Period
Download: Dan Baird - The One I Am
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