Monday, April 13, 2009
The Four Best Best New Artists Who Weren't.
Maybe one of the reasons why people in the entertainment industry are so afraid of the New is because so often, they're wrong about something new being something good.
Take the Grammys, for instance. Every year, there's a Grammy award for "Best New Artist." I'm not sure who votes on these things, but all the evidence is that the people who vote for Best New Artist have the worst taste in music, and that's a shame, because it not only reinforces society's love of the old, but it also bypassed some very very good acts that should have been Best New Artist, but weren't.
To rectify that wrong, I've selected The Four Best Best New Artists Who Weren't -- six "New Artists" who were up for the not-so-coveted Best New Artist Grammy, but who then lost out to...some people you never heard from again.
1. The J's With Jamie.
Year Nominated: 1964.
Representative Song: "Your Dog."
Why They Should've Been The Best: That song's catchy, isn't it? It should be, because "The Js With Jamie" know a little something about catchy. Time Magazine said this in 1964 about "The J's With Jamie:" "They have probably been heard by more people more times than any other group in the history of sound." Back in the day, they made $250,000 a year, "the day" being the 1960s, when $250,000 a year was nothing to sneeze at.
Lost To: "The Swingle Singers." No, I've never heard of them either. But because of that loss, "The Js with Jamie" have the ignominy of having not a single word devoted to them in Wikidiotpedia. And that's on a site so devoted to cataloging (and writing poorly about) the minutiae of our world that it has a lengthy dissertation on "Dungeons & Dragons," a thesis that includes carefully researched footnotes (like this one:)
“Generally, when you are subject to an unusual or magical attack, you get a saving throw to avoid or reduce the effect.” There is identical language in sections titled ‘Saving Throws’ in (Tweet 2000:119).
They can footnote D&D, but they can't say anything about a band that was so catchy they became the go-to group for commercials. Things might have been different had The Js With Jamie been named Best New Artist. They might have a Wikipedia page, and they might (like The Swingle Singers) still be around to this day. With a website that includes this actual question:
* ...the question asked by a little boy in Cerritos, California : 'What were you thinking when you joined the swingle singers?'
I think, most of us were screaming and jumping around with joy... ! For many of us it has been a life-long dream to perform with this group and we are all very happy to have the privilege of being part of the history of the swingle singers !
Is there anyone out there, honestly, who had a life-long dream of doing this:
Although that IS very cool. Not as cool and catchy as "The Js With Jamie." But very cool.
2. Elvis Costello
Year Nominated: 1979
Represenative Song: "Veronica."
Why He Should've Been The Best: Elvis Costello might be the only rock'n'roll artist ever to voluntarily dumb down his own wordplay (besides the lead singer of "Warrant," that is.) Costello called himself "Rock and roll's Scrabble champion," because of his love of wordplay and obscure lyrics, then ultimately toned it down to avoid losing his audience -- maybe because he remembered that your message is only effective if understood? Maybe because he wanted to leave obscure puns based on Chaucer to Sting? Who knows: whatever the reason, Costello dumbed down his lyrics to, oh, about the graduate student level, and went on making smart, fun pop rock that nobody ever got a chance to listen to.
Lost To: "A Taste Of Honey." What can be said about a group that apparently stole its name from a Herb Alpert single? How about this, from Wikidiotpedia: "Two ladies up front singing and playing bass and guitar, this innovation was unheard of in its time. " Interestingly, if you search Wikidiotpedia for "proper grammatical construction of a sentence" you'll find... nothing. You will find, though, that "A Taste Of Honey" lit up the charts in 1981 with a version of "Sukiyaki."
So in 1981, you were listening to this:
But you COULD have been listening to this:
Year Nominated: 1987
Representative Song: No, it's not The Future's So Bright, etc. etc. Timbuk3 made a lot more songs than just that one. Like one of the sweetest, saddest love songs ever, a song worthy of being made into a movie... "The B Side of Life."
Why They Should've Been The Best: Timbuk3 made great music, and in doing so, made a lot of political statements, and as is the case with most political statements made via song, the statement itself was completely lost and/or ignored. (see also: "Born In The U.S.A.", "Our Country," Every Song That Tried To Make A Point Ever") The Future's So Bright, blah blah blah, was a catchy song that mocked the very people who adopted it as an anthem, and their adoption of that anthem meant it got overplayed to the point of nausea, which meant that nobody could stand to ever listen again to Timbuk3 (see also "Men Without Hats.") Which meant that people not only didn't get a chance to misconstrue "National Holiday," but also missed out on the sad, bluesy, partially a capella "Eden Alley," the steel-drum tinged "Sunshine," the trucker-blues number "Mudflap Girl," the also-sweetly-sad "Don't Give Up On Me," and even the pulsing rocker "Too Much Sex, Not Enough Affection" (featured in D.O.A.)
How quickly did Timbuk3 fade away? So quickly that there's no mention of most of those songs on the Internet... at all.
You can listen to snippets on Amazon, if you want. But you don't hear about them because instead of Timbuk3 as Best New Artist, we got:
Lost To: Bruce Hornsby & The Range. Which is kind of like having plain oatmeal for breakfast and then finding out 22 years later that you could've had Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch. Quick: Name a Bruce Hornsby song. You can't, can you? And if you can, then quick: Name a second Bruce Hornsby song and describe the difference between them. You can't do that, either, can you?
I tried to Google "Bruce Hornsby number one hits" but my computer shut down out of sheer boredom the moment I finished typing Hornsby.
4. Fiona Apple.
Year Nominated: 1998.
Representative Song: "Extraordinary Machine."
Why She Should've Been The Best: Everyone who reads this for any length of time knows that I'm a big Fiona Apple fan, almost entirely by accident. What's not to like about Fiona Apple? Great voice, interesting songs, obviously very talented... and seemingly determined to not have a musical career, which might explain why she wasn't chosen. There are all kinds of rumors behind what took so long for Extraordinary Machine, Fiona's last album, to be released and most of them have to do with claims that she turned in a record full of bells and whistles and quirky songs that horrified record company executives, balanced by Fiona's own version of events, saying that she was the one who was unhappy with the original album and went back to the studio to re-record parts of it. The result is that Fiona Apple has released three albums in 12 years, and one of those albums had, as its title, a 90-word poem.
Lost to: Paula Cole. Granted, Fiona Apple's difficult background and behavior made it tough for the music industry to want to reward her, but did they have to go 180 degrees from her and give a Grammy to the generic sounds of Paula Cole, instead?
Paula Cole's biography on this site has three interesting quotes:
There's this one: "After graduation, she enrolled at Berklee [sic] full-time, studying jazz singing and improvisation, and 'becoming a sexual being'." I'll assume the site, not Paula, spelled the college's name wrong. But basically, in college, Paula studied jazz and fooled around -- making her identical to 99.9% of all other college freshmen.
Then there's this one, on her early career performing jazz songs: "There was that side of it that made me think, 'How am I ever going to live like this? It's so depressing.' " Which is what I think about jazz, too. And a world where Paula Cole got the Grammy for Best New Artist.
Then there's this one: Although she is aware of skeptics who consider "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" nothing more than a one-off novelty hit and who speculate about whether they'll ever hear from her again, Cole, of course, holds no such doubts. "Hopefully good art will appeal to many different people, and people will realize I'm not just about 'Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?,'" she told Request magazine. "There's a lasting artist here. In a decade, I think that will be pretty clear."
And it is. In the decade since she was Best New Artist, Cole hit the charts one time, rising to 112th with "I Believe In Love" in 1999. Following that, let me quote from her Myspace page:
My relationship with my record company became increasingly remote and strained. I left. Or, as they see it, they dropped me.
Which leaves Paula these days touring the northeast and writing on her Myspace blog, apparently with a new record deal -- which, judging by the sample you're forced to listen to if you link to her Myspace page, is going to feature songs that sound exactly the same as her first go-round.
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