Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ten Stupid Songs That Make Me Emotional

A Tribute to the Tunes that ... Much to My Dismay ... Still Warm the Cockles of My Heart

The emotional pull of some songs is impossible to deny. Who among us doesn't feel pangs of bittersweet nostalgia whenever "Boys of Summer" plays on the radio, or a sense of dreary lovesickness at the mere mention of Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning?"

Alas, not every song that resonates with us is respectable fare by the likes of Bruce Springsteen or Peter Gabriel. Sometimes, the songs that move us ... for whatever reason ... stem from musicians, works or predicaments that, frankly, are just embarrassing.

Rather than shy away from the miscellaneous songs that we all hum along to when we make sure nobody is within a ten mile radius of us, I decided it was worth our collective whiles to pay homage to the cheesy, corny and flatout crappy tunes that, inexplicably or not, hit us right *here* in the feels. Grab a box of tissues and a lighter to wave in the air, folks ... this shit might just make you a little emotional.

"Real American" by Rick Derringer

I am pretty sure this was the first piece of music I ever really liked. To all but the most ignorant of souls, this song is instantly recognizable as the theme music for Hulk Hogan, 1980s pro wrestling mega-star. While that pop cultural connection definitely stands out as a reason why I dig the track, the frank reality is that, after years of listening to it, a good goddamn, is this thing expertly arranged. I'm only being slightly hyperbolic when I say this thing is as good as, if not better, than anything Haydn or Wagner composed. Seriously. Sort of. 

First, there's that intro, with the soulful humming and Mr. Derringer's "I am a real American" echo. This naturally segues to one of the absolute greatest guitar riffs ever laid to tape, an absolute ass-kicker that in a just world, would be recognized and hailed as widely as "Smoke on the Water." The bridge, a patriotic ode to the USA so grandiloquent it would make Toby Keith blush, transitions to a quick but memorable pre-chorus before launching out into the super-iconic main chorus, which itself is backed by an entirely separate chorus from an actual choir. And then, there's that solo, which in my opinion, is one of the ten greatest ever recorded. 

While my initial love of this song was born out of an adulation for the Hulkster, over time, I've come to appreciate it for being just an incredibly composed song in and of itself. This song is so stupidly powerful that it causes anarchist punks to wave around Ol' Glory like Hacksaw Jim Duggan used to -- more than just a nostalgic throwback, this thing is just exquisitely crafted guilty pleasure art, all the way around. 

The "Green Hill Zone" music from the first "Sonic the Hedgehog" game

Honestly, I could probably fill up an entire CD with "Sonic the Hedgehog" tracks that get me a wee bit misty-eyed. The ultra relaxing "Sky Chase" music from "Sonic 2," the haunting "Ice Cap" zone theme from the third Genesis game and even "Escape the City" from "Sonic Adventures 2" -- all tracks that indubitably fill me with fuzzy feelings of yesteryear.

That said, no video game music makes turns me into a wishy-washy, nostalgic sod quite like the opening level music from the first "Sonic the Hedgehog" game. It's easily the cheeriest tune in the annals of video game history, and a track that always takes me back to the heyday of Yikes! pencils and Dr. Dreadful. It's a ditty that basically jams a six-button Sega Genesis control pad into your soul, and for that, this glorious 16-bit chiptune music constitutes all that is right in this world.

Yeah, it's a track that reminds me of my childhood and the demise of Sega, but even without those antecedents, I still think the deliriously upbeat song would make me smile an almost teary smile. Now, explaining why a "Sonic the Hedgehog" song makes you cry a little to your girlfriend, however ... well, folks, I just cannot help you there, I am afraid. 

"Hysteria" by Def Leppard

Def Lep had quite a few decent ballads. "Photograph" is probably their most famous one, although "Bringing  on the Heartbreak" gets a lot of radio play, too. That said, I've always thought the title track off "Hysteria" was the band's proudest moment -- despite the fact the lyrics are just preposterously bland, even for an era that gave us such artificial cheese-fests as Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home" and Aerosmith's "Angel."

I first heard this song on the local classic rock on literally the last day of my freshman year in high school. At the time, I was kinda' sorta' courting this one girl who had just moved into the neighborhood, and because I was a little biggity-bitch, I immediately equated the lovelorn ballad with my post-pubescent, lukewarm liking of the latest set of XX chromosomes on the block. 

This being a pre 9/11 society, we used to chat with each other on AOL Instant Messenger every evening. To pysch myself up, I would play this stupid song ten minutes before our mutually agreed upon online meet-up time. When what's his name cooed "I've got to know tonight," I felt the shivers travel up and down my spine -- if there was ever a song that embodied what I was going through, surely, this "Hysteria" was it in five-minute or so audio form. Strangely enough, me and the girl down the street never so much as kissed, or even went out on a date. That said, nearly 15 years down the road, every time this damn tune starts playing, I instantly revert back to my proud, naive, 15-year-old self ... and for some reason, that always makes me want to play Playstation 1 games. 

"Love Song" by Tesla

The woefully generic title alone is enough to make this one a guilty pleasure. I mean, shit, that's the best name you could come up with? Did the band record a really fast track called "Heavy Song," as well?

While "Love Song" most certainly will not win any points for creativity, it's undeniably one of the best hair metal puss-out ballads ever recorded. With its acoustic throwback sound, most folks would probably mistake this one for a mid 1970s track, and that's a compliment -- this is undoubtedly the best song Peter Frampton never recorded. 

The power of the song, in my humblest of opinions, resides in its build-up. It starts off with this really slow melody, with the lead singer (you can look up his name on Wikipedia yourself, slackers) letting a few pangs of emotion creep in -- most notably, with the oddly resounding way he chirps "outside your doooooor" before the chorus. So basically, it's just acoustic syrup for three minutes, and then, BAM! This song goes full nuclear at the end, with it's goose-pimple inducing "love will find a way" outro. Sure, sure, it doesn't hit you with the raw, respectable emotional power of "Darkness on the Edge of Town" or "Purple Rain," but if you're not ready to have sex with something before this track fades out, you're probably deaf or something. 

"I Remember You" by Skid Row

Skid Row is one of those hair metal bands that I like, but don't really, really like. While I consider Twisted Sister to be one of the absolute best bands of the 1980s, I'd have a hard time lumping Skid Row into a top 250 list, even if they did have some, admittedly, kick-ass songs here and there. Even now, every time I hear "18 and Life," I want to play with a switchblade and/or rob a gas station. 

"I Remember You," ultimately, is just a sonic tour de force. I don't know what compelled Sebastian Bach to pen this song, but his raw emotion on the track is just awe-inspiring, as if he forced a 20-year career's worth of effort into this one five minute ditty (a thesis more or less confirmed by the band's follow-up album, I contest.) 

The lyrics are by-the-book, as is the acoustic-to-electric composition. As stated previously, though, it's Bach's ear-splitting shrieks that absolutely make this one work -- when he yelps "through all the sleepless nights" you just feel a certain amount of mad sincerity, and it never fails to get my blood pumping. And as it turns out, there seems to be something about titling a track "I Remember You" that really speaks to me on an emotional level...

"I Remember You" by The Ramones

Technically, I could make a list 20 or 30 items long of just Ramones songs that make me a bit heartsick. "I Want You Around," "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," "She Loves Me So" -- all tracks that, in fluctuating degrees,brings out the bittersweet by the truckload. 

What makes "I Remember You" so unusual is just how simple it is. I mean, the entire song is literally just four lines, with Joey Ramon spitting out "I Remember You" over and over while a low-pitched shit riff chugs underneath him. It's so absurdly unspecific, but for some reason, it STILL connects with me. 

The Ramones are one of my all-time favorite bands, and while I still think this borders on being a legitimately great song, it's still a weird one to develop any kind of emotional investment around. Still, it could be weirder, I suppose -- at least I don't get assailed by nostalgic longings whenever I hear "The KKK Took My Baby Away," no?

"The Freshman" by The Verve Pipe

The thing about 1990s alt-rock love ballads is that, most times, outside of the simple nostalgia that they come from the "Mortal Kombat" era, there's rarely that much to the songs themselves. Go ahead, try listening to the Primitive Radio Gods or Candlebox sometime, and TELL me you actually feel something genuine resonating through your speakerbox. 

As such, "The Freshman" occupies this weird territory where, while it's still mostly groan-inducing, antiquated Bill Clinton music, it also has something that kind of resembles genuine sentiment attached to it. Nobody's going to mistake it for "Because the Night," but I also think it's self-evident this is something a bit more meaningful than say, "Push" by Matchbox 20.

The lyrics are a little frustrating. Is the lead singer talking about a drug overdose, or a suicide, or an abortion, or what? Frankly, the context here doesn't matter, as the lead singer's hoarse voice really pushes this one over the top. The part where he goes "yeah-eh-yeah-eh-yeah" is so pained and powerful, even if it literally means nothing in terms of human language...which, in a way, kind of summarizes the emotional appeal of MOST 1990s alt-rock ballads, now that I think about it. 

"Here's to the Night" by Eve 6 

Eve 6 was one of approximately 9,457 indistinguishable alternative post grunge pop rock bands to get heavy MTV rotation in the late 1990s. I always kind of thought they were a middle of the road act myself -- markedly better than, say, Chumbawamba or the Squirrel Nut Zippers, but certainly a few rungs beneath Third Eye Blind and Semisonic. 

While their big hit was "Inside Out," I've always thought their other single -- "Here's to the Night" -- was a vastly superior track. This song is so incomparably late 1990s, I'm surprised the video itself doesn't have a watermark from the WB on it. 

It's really hard to state for sure what it is that makes this song "work," per se. Is it the way the lead singer drones through the song with that elevated-then-not-elevated delivery, or the soft guitar licks before the chorus or that final post-chorus bridge, complete with one of the most endearing wussified solos of all time? Really, it's all of the above that makes "Here's to the Night" stand out from the likes of the Flies and Harvey Danger ... and damn, does it make me want to go out and rent "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Urban Legends" all of a sudden. 

"Why Can't I?" by Liz Phair

"Exile on Guyville" is one of my all-time favorite albums, and certainly one of the best overall records of the 1990s. Really, everything Liz did in the decade was pretty damn great, which makes her 2003 self-titled album all the more perplexing. 

Now personally, I didn't think it was all that terrible, but it was pretty much crucified by Rolling Stone and Spin for being too mainstream. Not that their criticism was entirely unfounded, mind you -- all you have to do is take a listen to 30 seconds of "Extraordinary" and you'll realize this stuff is a far, far cry from the guitar-driven indie rock sound that made Liz a flannel era icon to begin with.

That said, "Why Can't I?" is just a remarkable little pop song, that still manages to convey Phair's trademark sexual bluntness. Looking back on it, I am kind of wondering why the elitist rock magazines of the time found this song so offensive -- I mean, she manages to drop the word "fuck" in her mainstream, teeny-bopper courting debut single, no? Blasting this song at full volume while cruising down the highway may not win over your music nazi pals, but if you're looking for a deliciously subversive bubble gum earworm -- well folks, I reckon you just found one. 

"Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

While this song may not exactly be "embarrassing," per se, the thing that made me fall in love with the track certainly is.

The song first came out in 2003, when a lot of corporate-alt-rock bands like AFI and the All-American Rejects were just starting to make it big. "Maps" stood out from the pack, not only because it was a song belted by a woman, but because of its slower, smokier flavor. This was just a depressing, desperate sounding song, at a time when motherfucking "Stacy's Mom" was considered genre norm. It impacted me some way back when, but fast forward five or so years, and this track took on a totally different resonance for me.

My first year in college, I was going through a nasty, bitter break-up. At the time, I would periodically drop by some of my friends' houses to play Xbox, and one of the most popular titles at the time was "Rock Band." No stranger to the "Guitar Hero" series (really, the entire soundtrack from the third game could have been included on this countdown), I immediately took a liking to the game, with "Maps" becoming a track I was downright OBSESSED with conquering on expert mode. On more than one occasion, I recall literally crying like the biggest widdle bitch of all-time, strumming my make-believe bass guitar while Karen O screamed "they don't love you like I love you" through a plasma screen TV set. Oh, I still feel the twinges of yesteryear's emotions when this song comes on the radio ... and I assure you, some equally sizable dollops of embarrassment, too.


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