Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Brief History on Why Hiring Mariah Carey is the Greatest Decision American Idol Has Ever Made

Mariah Carey is the new American Idol judge! Officially! Mariah Carey! I don’t think America can fully appreciate the enormity of this announcement. She is a megastar. Like, a legitimate League of Extraordinary Divas co-founder and lifetime board member. Singer extraordinaire, and songwriter to boot. The type of untouchable legend the likes of which the American Idol judging booth has never known. This is major.

Let’s be clear about one thing: American Idol doesn’t deserve Mariah Carey. At all. It has done nothing and produced no one since at least Carrie Underwood circa 2005 who can even remotely be considered a star. Adam Lambert? Talented? Yes. Do I like him? Yes. But superstar quality? Not quite. Kris Allen? Snore. Lee DeWyze? Who?

Mariah though. Damn. I mean, talk about bringing in a producer’s fantasy. (Sorry. Couldn’t help it.) I don’t care if you’re a fan or not: Her resume is impeccable. The top-charting and top-selling Billboard artist of the 1990s. Over 200 million albums sold worldwide. Five Grammys. A five-octave vocal range. She still holds a 1996 record for most weeks at Number One (16) for “One Sweet Day.” She is second only to the Beatles in Number One hits. After a few years out of the limelight, she came out with one of the most successful comeback albums ever (The Emancipation of Mimi. Do yourself a favor and buy it immediately). Forbes estimates her net worth at $500 million. I could go on and on. Oh, and she’s the singer and songwriter of the single greatest modern Christmas classic of all time.

Also, she’s a goldmine of unscripted antics. Mariah's recent appearances on QVC are the kind of daytime candy you can only pray for. Her MTV Cribs appearance alone, the most watched episode of that show ever, should have netted her a permanent television gig years ago: Mariah gave viewers a tour of her lingerie closet, put on said lingerie and took it off to take a bath, changed outfits approximately five times, did some reps on the StairMaster while wearing a micro-mini and stilettos...the list goes on and on. The woman has a lounge chair in her kitchen, and she owns more Hello Kitty t-shirts than my 8-year-old nieces combined. She spews gems like “There was a time in my life when I only had one pair of shoes. I saved those shoes, but I can’t find them now.” Absolute genius.

But I think the crux of American Idol hiring Mariah Carey now is an acknowledgement that 1) they need help and 2) the Paula Abdul method worked. Remember back when American Idol first debuted in the summer of 2002? Back then, America didn’t know she needed a voted-on pop singing idol – she just walked around buying Destiny's Child and Eminem albums at the FYE at the mall like a fool. Reality shows that involved weekly voting by the people weren’t a thing yet. Back in its infancy, the judge’s table consisted of Simon, Paula and Randy. Randy Jackson (who was not, unfortunately, Michael’s baby brother, but some bassist/record producer who had some credits on songs people had maybe heard of) made his presence known by adding “dawg” to every phrase that came out of his mouth. There was Simon Cowell, who, at the time, no one knew shit about, but he seemed like a good foil to that “You’re the weakest link, goodbye” lady, and America loves a foreigner with an accent who will crush dreams, so he was a win.

And then there was Paula. Everyone loved Paula Abdul. Paula was an absurdly talented little pixie choreographer who had made her bedazzled-blazer mark on pop music and had straight-up won our hearts a decade before this whole judging thing came up. She was the real star on the panel. No wanna-be contestants are going to show up singing Simon or Randy songs – those don't exist. They’re going to sing Paula!

But then, somewhere after years of reality dominance, Paula – sweet, babbling, confusingly complimentary Paula – needed a break, and she left the fold. Simon fumbled and kept adding people to the judge’s table who were not certified pop superstars: Songwriter Kara DioGuardi’s greatest co-contributions are Christina’s “Ain’t No Other Man” and Pink’s “Sober” (both excellent, neither worthy of a judge’s seat); and Ellen DeGeneres, who, as enjoyable as it is to watch her dance, has just as many Top 40 hits as your mom. Then, a breakthrough! Simon gets bored of his own show and leaves to re-launch an American version of his other hit show, the one where the audience votes on the best prospective pop star! (That Simon Cowell: A man of many insults, but few original ideas.)

In the wake of Simon’s absence, Idol had a renaissance. They hired veteran badass rock star Steven Tyler to lend some credibility (what the man lacks in fully functioning brain cells he makes up for in notoriety and hilarious jibber-jabber) and sexy sexypants Jennifer Lopez, who desperately needed a career boost after years of succumbing to husband Marc Anthony’s desexification program, also known as “covering up her assets because J.Lo gets way more attention in public than skeletor does.”

Anyway. Steven started talking to his bandmates again and J.Lo lost the wraith, got her groove back and got herself back on the Billboard charts, so they both decided to hit the road. And then American Idol won the megastar diva lottery and scored Mariah Carey. I don’t know how. A miracle. A goddamned deal-with-the-devil miracle. This is a show that has steadily lost viewership. It fell behind Sunday Night Football this past season. And they just lost their two star judges? Sure, Randy Jackson is still there, but really, has anyone ever really cared what he said? AI was on life support, and Mariah Carey just swooped in with her angelic voice and 7.5 million Twitter “lambs” and saved the day. And honestly? She’s worth every penny of that $18 million they’re giving her. 

Mariah Carey isn’t a case of a forgotten star looking for people to remember her greatness. She still has a career; she’s put out three albums in the past four years. We Belong Together” was named song of the decade by Billboard. She had a whirlwind romance and wedding to Nick Cannon (who, I might note, knows a thing or two about the reality TV game, as he’s been hosting America’s Got Talent for four seasons), and got plenty of tabloid covers based on their relationship, her longest pregnancy ever, and her naming #dembabies Moroccan and Monroe (Note: Go re-watch Cribs if you want some explanation on the names). Then, Mimi and Nick nicknamed the twins Roc and Roe, which 1) Is better than everyone expected (like, say, Sparkle Kitty and Lollipop Discocharm, which seemed like contenders) and 2) I TOTALLY CALLED THOSE NICKNAMES BEFORE THEY MADE THE ANNOUNCEMENT. And while odds of her upcoming album and single (conveniently due next month) doing well were already high, history suggests that AI will boost Mariah’s sales figures far more than it will any of the contestants who are vying for votes and contracts. Her judging gig will expand her fanbase while broadening Idol’s. Win win.

And I have no doubt that Mimi will throw some serious shade at anyone who attempts “Hero” or “Fantasy” or thinks they understand the virtues of melisma. She may be sweet as honey, but the woman knows the business, knows the music, and knows when to lay down the law. Pop music critic Sean Daly once described contestants during the early days of Idol as breaking down into three categories: “1) The Talented Kids, 2) The Weird Kids, and 3) The Mariahs.” He noted that, “The Mariahs are the hardest ones to watch, mainly because most of them think they’re reeeaaally good. [They] plant themselves in front of the judges and proceed to stretch, break and mutilate every note of a song, often Mariah’s ‘Hero,’ a tune that has ruined more throats than smoker’s cough.” Word. If your name isn’t Mariah Fucking Carey, you don’t get to sing that song. And she knows it. Do you think she's going to listen to a William Hung butcher her song? No. No she is not. She’s going to own this show. Simon is off crying in a corner because he didn't think of this earlier.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Adult Education

I got to wondering the other day about the Adult Contemporary charts, and how often it was that big hits there don’t make any sort of splash on the regular pop charts. AC hits have pretty much dominated the pop charts for long stretches of time, unlike, say, C&W hits. It's hard to think of an adult-contemporary single that would get no traction at all on Top Forty radio, at least until recent years. 

I figured there were some Number One AC hits that didn’t reach the Top Forty, but they would at least make the Hot 100, right? So I went through my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Contemporary 1961-2001, looking for any AC Number Ones that didn’t make it to the pop Top Forty. And just maybe, there would be a song somewhere that went all the way to Number One without even Bubbling Under. Because if I don’t do this kind of thing, who will?

OK, here’s my list of all the AC Number Ones (from 1961 to 2001) that failed to crest the Top Forty:

“In the Arms of Love,” Andy Williams, 1966, peaked at No. 49 on the pop chart

“Time, Time,” Ed Ames, 1967, No. 61

Here I thought the only thing Ed Ames ever did was throw a tomahawk on the annual Johnny Carson anniversary special, but it turns out he had three No. 1 AC hits in 1967 alone.

“Stop! And Think It Over,” Perry Como, 1967, No. 92
“It’s Such a Pretty World Today,” Andy Russell, 1967, No. 119

Not bad for a Steelers linebacker. This one, you can see, never made it past Bubbling Under on the Hot 100, but we’ll encounter other songs that didn’t even make it that far.

“More Than the Eye Can See,” Al Martino, 1967, No. 54

He had another No. 1 AC hit that year with “Mary in the Morning,” later covered by Elvis.

“When the Snow Is on the Roses,” Ed Ames, 1967, did not make the pop chart.

Our first non-charting No. 1.

“Cold,” John Gary, 1967, did not make the pop chart.

Our second one, which directly followed Ed Ames in the AC No. 1 slot.

“Chattanooga Choo Choo,” Harpers Bizarre, 1968, No. 45

The same twee vocal group that had a big pop hit with a cover of Paul Simon’s “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” Their lead member was future Van Halen and Doobie Brothers producer Ted Templeman, which amuses me to no end.

“In the Misty Moonlight,” Dean Martin, 1968, No. 60

These last two are the first two No. 1 AC hits, chronologically, from 1968, which gives us a sequence of 14 consecutive AC No. 1s in which eight of them never reached the pop Top Forty. I almost wonder if they weren’t tracking the AC charts differently in those days. Or maybe with the Beatles and Stones at their peak, the charts just diverged wildly. As you’ll see, this is highly unusual – and it stopped, dead cold, without warning.

“When There’s No You,” Engelbert Humperdinck, 1971, No. 45
“I’m Coming Home,” Johnny Mathis, 1973, No. 75
"99 Miles From L.A.," Albert Hammond,  1975, No. 91

Co-written with Hal David, this song also appeared later that year on Art Garfunkel’s 'Breakaway,' which is where I know it from. Plus, you all know Albert Hammond Jr. And "It Never Rains in Southern California."

“Wonderful Baby,” Don McLean, 1975, No. 93
“Venus (disco version),” Frankie Avalon, 1976, No. 46

The original went to No. 1 on the pop charts in 1959.

“This Moment in Time,” Engelbert Humperdinck, 1978, No. 58
“I Never Said I Love You,” Orsa Lia, 1979, No. 84
“Believe in Me,” Dan Fogelberg, 1984, No. 48
“As Long as You Follow,” Fleetwood Mac, 1988, No. 43
“Cuts Both Ways,” Gloria Estefan, 1990, No. 44

It’s hard to believe this never made the Top Forty, since I still got sick of it anyway.

“You Gotta Love Someone,” Elton John, 1990, No. 43
“Tell Me What You Dream,” Restless Heart featuring Warren Hill, 1993, No. 43
“Here in My Heart,” Chicago, 1997, No. 59

I'm sure Kurt Blumenau knows this one. I don't, but I have no doubt that it sucks.

“For the First Time,” Kenny Loggins, 1997, No. 60
“Taking You Home,” Don Henley, 2000, No. 58
“The Christmas Shoes,” Newsong, 2000, No. 42


“Cruisin’,” Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow, 2000, No. 109

I bet you didn’t expect to see Gwyneth Paltrow on this list.

“Simple Things,” Jim Brickman, 2001, did not make the pop chart

Our third and final Did Not Chart. If I were more conscientious about this stuff, I’d check to see of this trend from 2000-2001 continued; I suspect it did, with the Top Forty becoming more dance/urban/R&B-oriented over the past decade.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Andy, Elvis and the Fourth of July

Very special thanks to my Aunt Colleen, Debris Slide's biggest fan, for sending over the following poster, which appeared in the Tampa Tribune yesterday as a tribute to the late Andy Griffith. As you can see, Andy headlined a power-packed lineup of country music stars, all of which you could indulge in for the low, low price of a buck and a quarter - fifty cents for the kids! The date of the show was July 31, 1955, and I bet you anything Andy did "What It Was, Was Football."

Lots of fun stuff to note here: This may be the first appearance of the title "The Andy Griffith Show," but it was far from the last. And Ferlin Husky was a pretty big star by then, with the Number One country hit "A Dear John Letter" under his belt - c'mon, guys, can't you spell his name right? Simon Crum, by the way, was also Ferlin Husky - it was his cornpone alter ego, the Chris Gaines of his day.

Also, at the bottom of the bill, note that there's a 20-year-old truck driver from Memphis, appearing "by popular demand." It was fifty-eight years ago today, on the evening of the Fourth of July, that Elvis first sat down with Scotty Moore and Bill Black to see if they could work up some material together. They went down to Sun Studios to lay down their first tracks the next day, July 5, 1954.