Sad 90s Music Roundup or “Whatever Happened To Alternative Pop?”

it was probably nothing like this.

I graduated from high school in 1998 and made the excellent choice of working at BestBuy that summer.  My domain was the media department, and my duties included farming CDs (I love doing that.  I started doing it at stores I didn’t even work at), helping customers make not-sucky choices (I added that to my job description), catching would-be shoplifters (the best), stocking shelves, and looking stuff up on the DOS databases. I was also expected to try to sell monster cables to people buying new media equipment and service protection plans for PlayStations.  I was better at the other stuff.

All of this is important for a few reasons:

Working at BestBuy was like what I imagine working at Empire Records would have been like if those meddling kids hadn’t convinced Joe (that really is Anthony LaPaglia, by the way) to damn the man.  At BestBuy, all the Ethan Embrys worked in media and all the Renee Zellewegers worked the registers.  We had polo shirts and BHAGs and talked about shrink.   My immediate supers, which were team leaders directly below the department manager, were in their mid-twenties, which made them world-wary and wise.  One was a Zeppelin freak, the other was bound to name his first son Sid Barrett.  DVDs were very new and DVD players were very expensive.  Where were the Liv Tylers, you ask?  Grow up, dear reader.  There’s no Liv Tyler.

Some really good music came out that summer, much of which we listened to for hours on end via the Turn On The Fun Summer Sampler.

I got to buy the biggest microfridge ever made on the cheap because of my employee discount.  To the gentleman who had that item reserved and never came for it, we did try to call you.  300 feet of rope later, my best friend and I sailed that thing down Rt 22 West in one of the more harrowing transports of our lives.  I’ll be honest, it may have been 300 yards.  If you think you can’t load two microfridges into one 12-year-old Tempo, think again, friend.  Think again.

That second point, as you may have guessed, is the one we’ll be exploring today via a round-up of archived posts from 2009 about 90s music and 90s awesome.  (I doubt you could have guessed anything after the word via, so I hope you like your surprise. I made it just for you.  If you hate it I can take it back, or make another out of tears.)

The Roundup:

Speaking of tears, here’s one of my favorite post titles ever:  How Not To Be Sad About the 90s.  The impetus for that one was that someone really did make their way to this blog by searching that term.  Bear in mind that this post is 2-and-half years old, written well before I learned to stop worrying and love the blog.  Also before I lightened up about a lot of things.  Turning 30 is now like what growing a mustache was in the 70s.

Everything to Everyone

Maybe I Just Like Sad 90s One-Or-Two Hitters is a post about whatever happened to alternative pop in the Top 40. I remastered this one a bit before re-releasing.

Sad (Great) 90s Songs, Part II is a follow-up to above, mostly because I’d finally figured out what the third song in the sad (great) BestBuy song trilogy was.

Oh, and don’t let anyone fool you.  I still can’t watch that Flys video without losing my mind about how the 2000s turned out.  Still, one thing I’ve learned since writing these old posts is that sometimes, you really can pick up with people right where you left off, and that sometimes, old contexts aren’t as important or as fleeting as what you keep on doing.

Sad (Great) 90s Songs, pt 2

I figured out what the third song in the “Got You Where I Want You” (The Flys) and “Time Ago” (Black Lab) trinity of obscure songs from Summer of ’98 BestBuy sampler was: “High” by Feeder.  Sweet.  Of course, Semicsonic and New Radicals were on there, too, but they got way more radio play than The Flys, Black Lab and Feeder did.

Man. That is beautiful late 90’s hair.  Before all the the spiky short dos.

And then there’s “Suffocate,” which is awesome and totally different.

Cashless and Cheap, We Killed the Radio Star

Sometimes I mourn the loss of acts like John (I Still Call You Cougar) Mellencamp and Tom (a hell of a lot more so) Petty on Top 40 radio.  This post, from June 2009, is about missing acts like Black Lab and The Flys.  Remember them?  They came out in the summer of 1998 along with bands like Semisonic and Harvey Danger and Days of the New.  I worked in the music section of BestBuy that summer, so I remember these things…

…a week or two after I loaded  my new dorm-room-employee-discounted-fridge onto my best friend’s Tempo and secured it with 300-odd feet of rope, I was in college discovering mp3s and file sharing.  Even if you didn’t use Napster, you probably used your campus network to copy songs from your friends’ computers.  It can’t be a coincidence that so many of the bands that came out right before the industry shift this practice created haven’t stayed in the Top 40, which is to say we have only ourselves to blame for forfeiting popular radio and the lost art of music video to the market defined by our allowance-spending, dial-up connecting kid sisters.  Hello, Brittney Spears, Backsteet Boys, NSync, et al.  Hello and you’re welcome.  To all the good bands we killed in the process, I’ll apologize on behalf of all of us.  We didn’t do it on purpose. We were just cashless and cheap.

It’s hard to think of a major pop or rock band to emerge circa 1998 that’s still super popular now.  You might come up with a few, but they don’t spring to mind like bona fide stars of the mainstream.  Go back to 1996 or 97.  Where are the Wallflowers? Why didn’t Primitive Radio Gods become the new Peter Gabriel? Come on, Better Than Ezra! Maybe it’s all very zeitgeisty. Remember that “Take a Picture” song by Filter from 1999?  That song killed.  I know, I know, Coldplay.  But they’re so post-2000.

Everyone knows the saccharine pop side of what happened next. There was also the continued hip-hop move to the mainstream that started with The Chronic and Snoop’s early records, continued through Tupac, Biggie, Puff Daddy and Missy Elliot.  Streets Is Watching came out when I was at BestBuy and then Eminem came in the fall.  Oh, how we laughed at Slim Shady.  “Who is this clown? What’s Dr. Dre thinking?”  Well, we know better now. But hip-hop and rap records, huge as they were, didn’t kill alternative radio.  That was never an either-or kind of thing.  Then came the post-grunge, which started okay but became something else.

Somewhere in all of this, people stopped purchasing alternative pop into the Top 40.  And I’m not talking about all the high-brow indie stuff.  I’m talking about accessible, quirky, well-crafted music with some hooks and a few jangles.  I could tie this in to the recent posts about irony, about how our tastes shifted as a way of escaping sincerity blah blah blah.  I always liked that “Old Apartment” song by Barenaked Ladies.  But “One Week”?  Come on.

“So long ago, remember baby….”  I would hear this at BestBuy and sort of know I was in the process of losing something.  How about that look at 00:28?  Video here.

“I think you’re smart, you sweet thing…”  This is one of my all-time favorite videos.  Do I miss circa 1998 Katie Holmes the way I miss circa 1998 myself?  I think so.  Or maybe I just hate the 2000s.

“Phonebooth” is one of the smarter songs of the decade, circa 1996.

How about Tonic? (The “You Wanted More” video from 1999 is here).  Lemon Parade came out in 1996: