7.27.2010

Canadian Wonder #5: LEN - "Steal My Sunshine" (Summer Mix-Tape Edition)

The Basics:

Remember these guys? No? Well you surely remember their song, "Steal My Sunshine," which answered the age-old question, "can a white, Canadian rap group who resembles extras from 'Degrassi: The Next Generation' make a hit song by borrowing liberally from an old '80s hit and looping a beat from one of the most ubiquitous songs of the disco era?" The answer was "why yes," and not only that, but this song is somehow still going to sound good eleven years later and make you want to shake your hindquarters like it is New Year's Eve 1999 (and we all remember how crazy that was. Me and Carson Daly had a big night that night. Shit was CORRECT, son. MTV NYE '99! w00t!).

Formed in 1991, made up of a brother and sister team straight outta Toronto, Len started out as a pop-punk act all the while gradually shifting towards a more hip-hop influenced sound, culminating with their major label debut, You Can't Stop the Bum Rush. But it was the appearance of the single "Steal My Sunshine" on the soundtrack to the way excellent and completely underrated Doug Liman crime-comedy Go that propelled the song and album into the nation's zeitgeist.

But Len's time in the strobe light would be--wait for it--short lived and the Canadians would go back to the Great White North where singing about this mythical "sunshine" is at best an exercise in futility and at worst considered a form of black magic--a serious crime in Canadia, meaning a man in a powdered wig and robe might sentence you to beheading by the Queen of Hearts. I know, right? Canadians are crazy.

TELL ME MORE, MAESTRO:

Thank you, I will.

Now you may say, hey! Maestro! What a Len? And I am here to tell you, dear reader, that I have no earthly idea what a Len be, but I suspect it has something to do with Newfoundlandian (a word) women's rugby players. Or maybe it's the name of some rugby dude. Yep, that is as far as I cared to Google, folks. Love it or leave it, babies.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about the brother-sister duo, Mark "The Burger Pimp" Costanzo and Sharon "Why is my brother nicknamed the goddamn Burger Pimp?" Costanzo. (His nickname should be "Can't Stands Yo." Get it? Cause like on Seinf--oh, like you could do better. Jerk. You wanna go? Huh? Yeah, you better run cause I'm gonna lay you the f down.)

Anywho, in the early-to-mid '90s, the Can't Stands Yos were spending most of their days making 8-track recordings of their pop-punk ventures, and in fact, their early work was more within this genre. Before making Bumrush, the duo recorded two full-length independent albums, 1994's Superstar and 1996's Get Your Legs Broke.
Len soon picked up some new members with equally bad ass nicknames like D Rock, DJ Moves, Planet Pea, and a gentleman with the moniker Drunkness Monster--names that no doubt struck fear into the very hearts of even the most cold blooded suburban Toronto gangs. The new group produced the album that would become You Can't Stop the Bum Rush, an ode to old-school hip-hop with a sugary pop edge (bzzz! I spot a couple buzz words!) and a heavy helping of Hello Nasty-era Beastie Boys. Signing to Sony subsidiary Work Records, the obvious first single and first track on the album, "Steal My Sunshine" was placed on the electronica-centric soundtrack to the Scott Wolf/Jay Mohr action vehicle Go, in order to whet the public's appetite for more Len. The song was so successful that the album release date was moved up a month.


I think my friends from freshman year of high school would love for me to note how much I'm downplaying just how obsessed I was with this film/soundtrack/Katie Holmes in 1999. Oh well, they should get their own blog. SNAP! LMAO! BAHAHA!

The album did some dees (cool slang for "decent") business buoyed by "Sunshine," reaching #46 on the album charts and was certified Gold in the US, and no doubt record sales in Toronto alone kept the Canadian economy afloat well into 2003.

¡El Single-o Primero!

So, no doubt "Steal My Sunshine" reminds one of another massive hit from a bygone era. C'mon, you know the one!

"Ordinary World" by Duran Duran? Well, no.

"Tobacco Road" by The Nashville Teens? No, not at all.

"Kiss the Rain" by Billie Myers? Uh-uh. I don't think you're getting this.

How about, "Don't You Want Me" by Human League? AH-HA! YOU AH CORRECT, SIR! [/Perfect Ed McMahon]

Both Burger Pimp and Sharon related to various sources that "Sunshine" was indeed directly inspired by Human League's 1981 hit single.

The story went something like this: Burger Pee-yump and My Sharona got in a tiff, in which they did not speak for months. Burger, in hot pursuit of something to make his spinal fluid run backwards, attended a rave at which he downed some E and heard the classic disco song "More, More, More" by Andrea...actually, you know what? Let me allow B.P. himself to tell you the epic story of how "Sunshine" came together:
''I'll tell you how I found that sample. I had come home from a rave and everyone was on E and we were listening to disco at six in the morning when the sun was coming up and we were cooking eggs and s -- -. You can't deny that disco really works at that time. I wasn't like, 'Whoa, that's it!' We were just like, 'Let's just loop that and sing over it.' I mean, 'Sunshine' didn't look like much of a song. It was recorded on eight-track. We weren't going to put it on the record. The master was sitting under my bed, covered in dust. We were like, 'Where the f -- - is it?'''
As for the connection to Human League, the Pimp was uncharacteristically humble.

''We were down with this song when we were young. I used to think, I'm gonna make a song just like that f -- -ing Human League song, 'cause it's dope. I tried to do that with 'Sunshine.' Ours didn't go down as good, but I like it. What a f -- -ing joke. What a bad thing to try to do.''

No, dude! You did a good thing! It's the rest of your songs that were a bad thing to try to do. But this song kicks ass!

All the split screens make it look like an episode of Squawk Box! Hi-yo! CNBC humor always gets the kids.

Look. Is the rapping here stilted? Is the video (which won a slew of MuchMusic awards in Canada) one of the douchiest thing to come out of the '90s? Other than that monkey guy in Limp Bizkit, of course? Or all of Limp Bizkit? Is that Sharon girl actually kind of adorable and kind of blastin' her nips? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and you tell me.

Borrowing the "he said, she said" structure from Human League and the excellent piano-based bridge from "More, More, More," the track isn't quite as good as either of its direct influences, but it nonetheless does a bang-up job of evoking that time in your life when all you wanna do is get stupid and lie out on sweltering sandy beaches in the late-afternoon California sunshine, and it achieves this feeling without resorting to ripping off the Beach Boys or laying on any steel drums. But besides evoking a feeling, the song, like the best pop hits, lodges in your brain and not only does it refuse to dislodge itself, you actually don't want it to. This song rocks.

"Sunshine" became a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching #9. It also reached the top ten on the Modern Rock charts and the Top 40 and Top 40 Mainstream (no, I don't really know the difference between those two charts).

The song was nominated for "Song of the Year" at the Canadian music awards, the Junos, but tragically lost to The Tragically Hip (irony alert!).

Le Deuxième Disque


"Feeling Alright" was the follow up to "Sunshine" and one of several tracks on the album to feature guest appearances, in this case, Poison's C.C. DeVille on guitar. DeVille's apparance on the track is a natrual fit, as the song is based around a riff that sounds straight out of '80s hair metal. In fact, the song is way less hip-hop and far more "Beverly Hills"-era Weezer (before Weezer actually made "Beverly Hills): amusing and catchy rap/singing over big, dumb arena rock riffing (though, unfortunately, less of a preoccupation with half-Asian women).

Wait, Burgerpimp is one word?

The song is another excellent pop track that holds on to nostalgia and adolecense (in this case, for the '80s--imagine that) and is, above all, about cutting loose and having fun. Clearly the Burgerpimp is all about the good times, and pimping burgers.

Well, apparently we Americans don't like having fun, because "Feelin' Alright" didn't exactly repeat the success of "Sunshine." In fact, it didn't even chart. That episode of 120 Minutes was no doubt the one and only time the "Feelin' Alright" video was run MTV (and surely the last time C.C. DeVille showed up on MTV, aside from the occasional Behind the Music or reality show). Maybe it didn't have the hook-in-your-consciousness quality that "Sunshine" did, but it's still a damn fine slice of bubblegum.

It's a shame that the song didn't hit, as You Can't Stop the Bum Rush was actually a pretty stacked album when it came to potential bubblegum pop singles. Check out this glowing review from NY Times. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and Len faded, proving that even if you're a Burgerpimp and have all the chops, it can't stop you from being labeled a one-hit wonder right out of the gate.

Where Be LEN Now?

After the success of "Sunshine," Len took their success a little too well, reportedly partying it up for a couple of years, with the Pimp no doubt downing buckets of E and listening to disco songs before finally buckling down in the studio to record a follow up. Although they began the sessions for what would become Diary of the Madmen (no relation to Don Draper). The album took 3 years to complete, and the final album was more of a compilation of studio tracks compiled from 2001-2004 than a complete album. Madmen wasn't released until April 2005, a full six years after "Steal My Sunshine" hit; more than enough time for Len to be completely forgotten.

While not as strong as Bum Rush, by all accounts, Madmen is another album made to be played at parties, cookouts and beach parties. One of the few reviews available online at allmusic.com describes the album as "much more dynamic set than You Can't Stop the Bum Rush," and concluding that "LEN's sequel to "Sunshine" deserves a listen." If you can fine it, that is. Try the cut-out bins first.

Unsurprisingly, the album, despite some good reviews, did not come close to cracking any charts, leaving the band back at square one, in a wadded up grease-stained paper bag of despair.

As for where they are now, Len kept a MySpace page until September 2008, when Burgerpimp himself announced that the band would not be reuniting for a new album, but instead he and Sharon would be working on a new record, which he claimed would be done in a few "months, not years." But for those keeping count, that was two years ago! One can only assume that his side gig as an agent for ground beef burgers of the night has taken up all his time. We can only hope he didn't drag Sharon into his web of culinary deviance.

Whether or not the band ever comes back with another offering of laid-back, old-school party music and makes it back on the charts (which is increasingly unlikely at this point) "Steal My Sunshine" will always have a place on my "Summer Mixxx Jamz!" playlist alongside Thin Lizzy and The Beach Boys. Kudos, you crazy Canucks!

The First Single: Len - "Steal My Sunshine"
The Second Single: Len - "Feelin' Alright"

4 comments:

Jeff said...

I loved that song- thanks for doing the write-up on it. I boosted its rating in iTunes so I would hear it more often on the iPod. No idea why I rated it only 3 stars- I liked it much more than that.

Anonymous said...

sharon i love you! pure genius tune

hagertx said...

Nice post. A couple of weeks ago I did a post on the Steal My Sunshine video. I was in Florida and stopped by Daytona Beach for a few hours and found several of the landmarks from the video.

ROD said...

i FUCKING love L.E.N i have their song "SUNSHINE" on my mp3 & ps3 (also the aylen remix)