The History Of The One-Hit Wonder (FM Rock Legends With Only One AM Top 40 Hit)

In the early days of rock and roll, AM Radio was its greatest ally.  Thanks to pioneering DJs like Alan Freed and the influential Top 40 format, this new sound was able to find a young, receptive audience fairly quickly.  It was a dependable way to make or break a new act while keeping the old ones, the artists who regularly churned out popular songs, in business.  Unfortunately, you only heard the hits, the big singles that were played repeatedly, depending on their popularity.  Oh sure, occasionally the flip side of these massive songs were heard publicly, too, and sometimes, they became hits in their own right.  But what if you also wanted to hear other tracks from proper albums?  From the late 1940s to the mid-1960s, you didn’t really have any solid options.  But after that period, if you had a burning desire to hear more than just a happening A-side, you had to switch frequencies.  AM Radio, for the most part, didn’t play them.
 
FM Radio had better sound but needed to offer an alternative rock format in order to compete.  The solution arrived sometime in the late 1960s.  When The Beatles decided not to release any singles from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and "The White Album", it was up to adventurous FM DJs to play something from those records rather than just the non-album singles AM Top 40 Radio was already devouring.  As a result, A Day In The Life, Birthday and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds became just as popular with FM listeners as Strawberry Fields Forever and The Ballad Of John & Yoko were with AM Top 40 fans.
 
Because of the emphasis on album cuts as well as singles, music consumers who listened to FM Radio were given more reasons to invest in the LPs of their favourite bands.  Established groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were able to get their music heard on both frequencies, but not always the same song.  Interestingly, a number of their contemporaries weren’t so lucky.  In fact, while a number of these bands were able to develop good followings on the FM dial, thanks to numerous album tracks and proper singles, they only managed one actual hit on AM Top 40 stations, creating an unusual and rare phenomenon.  On one side of the dial, these bands became legends for their original material but on the other, they were one-hit wonders.  Here are some surprising examples:
 
 
"All Along The Watchtower" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
 
On progressive rock radio, this Seattle guitar legend could do no wrong.  Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary, Crosstown Traffic and Fire were just four of the many reasons why FM listeners stayed glued to their radios to hear him beginning in the late 1960s.  But on the AM dial, not one of these numbers or any original Hendrix composition would ever crack the Top 40.  In fact, it wasn’t until his third and final album with The Experience that he finally got some mainstream exposure.
 
Hendrix was an absolute student of the guitar.  Not only had he spent years practicing as often as he could (even when he was in the bathroom), he also paid close attention to the masters, picking up on their ideas that he would immediately incorporate into his own technique.  If only he had as much confidence in his singing and lyricism. 
 
Because of those self-perceived shortcomings, Hendrix was a big admirer of Bob Dylan.  He loved that he wasn’t a particularly strong singer and he especially appreciated the words to his songs.  ("They are filled with the joys and sadness of life," he once said.)  In late 1967, Dylan released John Wesley Harding, his first purely acoustic LP in 3 years.  It was a major success despite the lack of promotion (Dylan wanted a low-key release) and there weren’t any singles issued from it. 
 
In January 1968, Hendrix was putting together material for Electric Ladyland (named after the iconic New York recording studio where the album was completed).  It was during this time that he first heard the Harding record.  He was particularly taken with All Along The Watchtower, one of the most mysterious songs in the Dylan catalogue.  Unlike the original which was recorded five times in one day (November 6, 1967), Hendrix went the perfectionist route for his version.  Despite taking several stabs at the song on January 21st, Hendrix would continue to work on it throughout the summer adding overdub after overdub after overdub.
 
Finally satisfied, it was issued as a single a month after debuting on Electric Ladyland in the fall of 1968.  Although the track peaked at #20 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart, it has since become one of the best loved songs of the 1960s.  Dylan was so impressed with this version that when he finally decided to play Watchtower live during his 1974 tour, he used Hendrix’ interpretation instead (although he also likes to play The Grateful Dead’s arrangement of the song, as well).  In fact, whenever he does a live rendition of it, he considers it "a tribute to him in some kind of way.".  The cover lives on today thanks to constant radio airplay and its inclusion in countless films and TV programs.
 
"Walk On The Wild Side" by Lou Reed
 
When Andy Warhol managed The Velvet Underground, he introduced them to the colourful characters of The Factory, the studio apartment the famed pop artist called home in New York City.  Among them were Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, three colourful transvestites; Joe Dallesandro, a former prostitute and nude model turned actor;  (That’s his crotch on the cover of The Rolling Stones’ album, Sticky Fingers.  He’s also on the front of The Smiths’ first album.  It’s a still from his most famous movie, Flesh.) and Joe Campbell, another hustler turned actor.
 
The Velvets’ chief songwriter, the mercurial Lou Reed, was a big fan of a 1956 Nelson Algren novel called A Walk On The Wild Side (Algren also wrote The Man With The Golden Arm) and was asked to write the music for a proposed musical version of the story.  The project never happened.  Realizing that he had plenty of eccentric inspiration right under his nose, the song’s lyrical direction became much more personal and ultimately had nothing to do with Algren’s novel.  Each of the five previously mentioned "Warhol Superstars", as they were known at the time, were each given their own verse of tribute. 
 
Walk On The Wild Side was originally supposed to be a Velvets song but by 1970, Reed split acrimoniously from the group to begin his solo career.  He took all his ideas with him, a good number of which were reworked for the first phase of his second act.  By 1972, he turned to friend David Bowie (who was riding high on the success of his Ziggy Stardust album and tour) and his guitarist, Mick Ronson, to help him put together his second solo LP.  The result was Transformer, his only Gold album.
 
Issued a month before the record in November 1972, Walk On The Wild Side was Transformer’s first single (Perfect Day was the B-Side).  Using both an electric bass and an upright bass, the track sounded like nothing else on the radio.  It was pretty raunchy for its time, too.  Reed comfortably drops in an oral sex reference ("But she never lost her head/Even when she was giving head") and he refers to his female backing vocalists as "coloured girls", a term you could never get away with today.
 
Unsurprisingly, there was some controversy over this which likely helped propel the song to #16 in America.  Apparently, the questionable parts of the song were silenced on Top 40 Radio but on the FM dial (at least if you listen to the song today), it aired uncensored.  Walk On The Wild Side has been covered and sampled so many times, Wikipedia actually lists many of the examples.  It is one of the greatest songs in rock and roll history.
 
While Reed would score a number of FM solo hits in the 1980s and 1990s (among them Love You Suzanne, Dirty Boulevard and What’s Good), Wild Side would be the only song in his catalogue that AM Top 40 listeners ever heard.
 
"New World Man" by Rush
 
In the days of two-sided audio releases, there was an insistence on keeping running times even on both sides.  In May of 1982, this Toronto trio were in the middle of making Signals, their ninth studio album, when their producer Terry Brown made a suggestion.  In order to have roughly 21 minutes of music on each side of the record, a 4-minute song needed to be added to side two in order to balance everything out. 
 
The result was New World Man, which was written and recorded in one day.  Released as the album’s first single, it was the most successful song the band ever released in America.  It peaked at #21 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart.  Although its follow-up, the classic Subdivisions, performed brilliantly on FM Radio like its predecessor, it unfortunately failed to hit the Top 40.  Despite accumulating 40 Mainstream Rock hits since 1981, New World Man remains the band’s only Top 40 hit.
 
"Touch Of Grey" by The Grateful Dead
 
They were the anchor band of the Haight-Ashbury scene in 1960s San Francisco.  The prototype for future jam bands like Phish and moe., these unabashed hippies would earn Gold album after Gold album thanks to FM hits like Truckin’ and Casey Jones.  In 1974, their record label released Skeletons From The Closet, their first compilation which has been certified triple Platinum in America.  It remains their biggest seller.  Interestingly, not one of the tracks on it ever cracked The Top 40.  Thanks to relentless touring and recording through the 60s, 70s and early 80s, the band were able to thrive without true mainstream chart success.
 
That all changed in 1987 when The Dead issued In The Dark, their first studio album of new material in 5 years.  The first single was Touch Of Grey, a folky rocker that was written in 1982 and had long been a part of the band’s live set list.  It was determined that a video would be made to help promote it.  A wise decision.  MTV and MuchMusic played it repeatedly reaching a whole new generation of fans not at all familiar with their past work.  Featuring puppet controlled skeletons in place of the band members during a live performance (the real guys appear near the end), Touch Of Grey became a Top 20 Adult Contemporary hit, a number one Mainstream Rock smash and peaked at #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart.
 
In The Dark went Platinum but the band would never make another studio album or hit The Top 40 again.  For the next 8 years, lead singer Jerry Garcia would struggle mightily with a serious heroin addiction and a tumultous personal life.  In 1995, while going through another round of rehabilitation, he died of a heart attack at the age of 53.  Surviving members went on to other projects but occasionally reunite as simply The Dead.
 
"Candy" by Iggy Pop
 
This Michigan legend was notorious for having inappropriate relationships with underage teenagers while in his 20s.  One such girl inspired his only Top 40 hit.
 
Betsy was a thin, blond 13-year-old from Ann Arbor who first laid eyes on Iggy in 1969.  As he later recalled of that first encounter in his co-written autobiography, I Need More, "She looked at me penetratingly.  So I suppose you can figure out what happened next."  According to his authorized biography, Open Up And Bleed, music journalist Paul Trynka reports that despite her young age, she was more mature than her older boyfriend.  Bright and street-smart, Iggy acted "child-like and sincere" when they were together.  But he was a mess.  As the frontman for The Stooges, one of the most notorious pre-punk bands of the late 60s and early 70s, drugs ruined everything.  Two years later, there was an accidental pregnancy which led to an abortion.  Betsy was 15 at the time. 
 
By the summer of 1971, the couple were staying with Rick Derringer (Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo) and his wife at their New York City apartment.  One night, some valued jewellery went missing.  Liz Derringer was certain about who was responsible.  Both Iggy and Betsy were addicts and had already overstayed their welcome.  Amazingly, Iggy was able to return most of the stolen items but his romance with Betsy was kaput.  She went back home to her parents in Michigan and later died of cirrhosis of the liver.  According to Open Up And Bleed, while dying, she told a friend that Iggy "was the love of her life".  That same friend told Trynka that Betsy’s parents hold the singer responsible for her death and refuse to talk to the media.
 
Nearly 20 years later, Iggy Pop was in a much better place both professionally and personally.  Happily married to an Asian actress, he had signed a new record deal with Virgin.  His first release for the label was 1990’s Brick By Brick, one of his finest albums.  Produced by Don Was (who later worked with Iggy on Avenue B, the album that chronicled his life around the time of his divorce nearly 10 years later), it avoided the dissonance and cacophony of his earlier efforts.  Rock radio embraced Home, the album’s opener, and Candy, a duet with Kate Pierson of The B-52s.  The latter song was able to crossover and become a Top 40 hit.
 
A tribute to his ex-girlfriend Betsy, Candy wasn’t the first time Iggy had immortalized her in song.  Previously, there was Dog Food (from 1980’s Soldier), I’m Sick Of You (a Stooges track you can hear on Nude & Rude and A Million In Prizes), and Winners & Losers (from 1986’s Blah Blah Blah), all of which preceded his mainstream breakthrough.  With the exception of that last song, Iggy actually mentions his ex by name in those recordings.
 
Candy was a Top 5 Modern Rock smash and peaked at #28 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart.  Despite having FM rock hits like Lust For Life, Real Wild Child, Cry For Love, Cold Metal, Wild America and Little Know It All, the Brick By Brick hit remains Iggy’s only foray into The Top 40.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, January 18, 2010
3:51 p.m.
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Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Madonna’s Celebration

Strip away the many images.  Take away all the controversies.  And forget about all the gossip.  When talking about Madonna, all that matters is the music.
 
That girlish voice, those danceable rhythms, those moving arrangements, that unabashed sexuality, that remarkable assertiveness, that (mostly) unapologetic nature.  Nearly 30 years after the release of her first single, she remains what she was right from the start:  a sexual feminist who confidently seduces through dance and balladry.
 
As far from a shrinking violet as you can get, Madonna furthered the cause of female sexuality in music with gender role reversals, bold gestures, genuine affection for good men, a sympathetic ear for the emotionally crippled, an intolerance for slow movers and the terminally hurtful, and endless hope for long lasting love.  She tolerated all the jokes, all the criticism, all the derision, all the hostility and all the sexism.  In fact, she seemed to thrive on it.  The result has been a career filled with far more highs than lows.
 
Periodically, throughout her years in the spotlight, there have been occasional pauses from studio work and touring.  It is in these moments that the train slows down and personal achievements are savoured in the form of greatest hits packages.  In 1990, The Immaculate Collection (great title) covered much of her 80s output, albeit in slightly remixed form.  1995’s Something To Remember focused on her balladry.  And 2001’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 focused on the ’90s and 2000. 
 
Now comes Celebration.  Plucking all but one hit from Immaculate and half of GHV2 while adding a few more 80s hits plus six recent ones not to mention two brand new recordings, this double-disc collection is literally crammed with globally popular singles.  Add up the two running times (79 minutes and 42 seconds on disc one, 78 minutes on disc two) and this release is well over two and a half hours long.  There’s not a single wasted second.
 
Oddly, the collection manages to be both completely satisfying and woefully inadequate.  Between 1982 and 2009, Madonna released 75 singles (76 if you count It’s So Cool), all but two were hits on at least one chart in one country, an astounding feat.  Not even half of that total is represented here.  The list of notable omissions includes Causing A Commotion, This Used To Be My Playground, Human Nature, Deeper And Deeper, True Blue, The Power Of Goodbye, Jump, You’ll See, I’ll Remember, Rain, Oh Father, Rescue Me, Angel, Keep It Together, Hanky Panky and about two dozen more.  One wonders if the idea of a complete singles collection, maybe a triple or a quadruple disc release, was ever seriously considered.  It would’ve been a perfect way to end The Warner Years.
 
That being said, this is still a worthwhile release despite being far from comprehensive and a bit too loud (it’s yet another modern release with the volume needlessly cranked).  None of her previous hits collections are nearly this expansive.
 
Disc one begins with the catchy Hung Up, one of only three Top 10 hits she’s had since 2000.  A worldwide number one in 2005 (it peaked at number seven in America), despite the sureness of its Abba-sampled groove, the protagonist is torn between the traditional female role of letting the man initiate courtship ("waiting for your call, baby, night and day") and the longing to be more romantically assertive ("No time to hesitate/Those who run seem to have all the fun").  By the time her love interest gets her on the line, she senses his lack of enthusiasm and is ready to move on ("I can’t keep on waiting for you/I know that you’re still hesitating/Don’t cry for me/’Cause I’ll find my way").  Presented here in its full album version (running a little over 5 and a half minutes instead of the 3 and a half minute radio edit), it’s easy to see why it earned her yet another number one dance club hit.  Far from her best, it nonetheless nicely demonstrates the continuing inner conflict the modern woman faces with romance in the 21st Century.  Sexual assertiveness or nice girl passivity?
 
The next two tracks, Music and Vogue, two number ones from two different decades, are all about finding nirvana on the dance floor, a recurring lyrical theme.  In the former, the music is the natural drug-induced high that maintains a couple’s passion for each other ("I wanna dance with my baby/And when the music starts/I don’t ever want to stop/It’s gonna drive me crazy") and shows no discrimination ("Music makes the people come together/Music makes the bourgeiosie and the rebel").  In the latter, the dance floor is a refuge of empowerment for the powerless, the hopeless and the brokenhearted ("I know a place where you can get away/It’s called a dance floor").  A loving, spoken-word tribute to stars of yesteryear pops up in the final minute. 
 
Although Vogueing originated in underground gay clubs and spawned an earlier hit by former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (Deep In Vogue), the dance will forever be associated with Madonna’s brilliant number, one of her all-time best songs.  Not bad for a track that was originally a throwaway B-Side.  (It was the flipside of Keep It Together which is nowhere to be found on Celebration.)
 
Next comes 4 Minutes, from 2008’s Hard Candy, which features endless yet, at times, curiously cautious flirting between the experienced Madonna and the young but eager Justin Timberlake set against a percussively funky rhythm.  (Because of space limitations, the three-minute single edit is here instead of the four-minute album cut.)  Believably, doubt comes more from the older woman ("The road to hell is paved with good intentions") than the young buck ("Don’t be afraid, Madonna/You gotta get on my hop").  Nonetheless, she knows what she wants, he thinks he can deliver but she wonders if he truly desires her or is nothing but sweet talk.  Only occasionally sounding girly, it’s nice to hear Madonna sounding more womanly and concerned here.  She doesn’t sound like an overeager teenager on this one.
 
The rest of the first half of disc one takes us through more ’80s high points.  Madonna’s very first A-side, Everybody, has held up pretty well over the decades with its mostly electronic arrangement and cheerful dance call to all.  Injecting a little lust into the spoken word sections, it was a good sign of similiarly themed, more fleshed-out follow-ups to come.  The irresistible Into The Groove being one.  Like A Prayer, another of her greatest singles, combines the sexual with the spiritual in a way that would make Prince proud.  Like A Virgin benefits greatly from its foundational drum rhythm and its high melody line but you wish the full single was here and not The Immaculate Collection edit.  (Sadly, the edit is necessary.  The full track wouldn’t have fit on the disc.) 
 
The second half offers more strong examples of her singles work.  Ray Of Light adds welcome guitar licks to a typically electronic arrangement.  I’m not sure I completely understand the lyrics but they are thought provoking in an ambigiously spiritual kind of way, a rare chance for the singer to go beyond her usual lusty terrain.  Sorry is another no-nonsense number, both lyrically and musically, from Confessions On A Dance Floor.  Secret, about the restoration of sexual desire, has grown on me in a way I never expected.  In fact, quite a few of Madonna’s ’90s cuts failed to grab me during their initial release.  Celebration has changed that. 
 
Express Yourself is about as close to a sexual feminist anthem as Madonna has ever gotten.  How many times have you heard a song where a woman advises other women to not find love through material means ("Long stem roses are the way to your heart/But he needs to start with your head") but through true intimacy ("Make him love you ’til you can’t come down")?  Wisely advising females to respect themselves and the men they care about before plunging into a serious relationship, Express Yourself even goes so far to suggest that being single is better than being unhappily attached ("Second best is never enough/You’ll do much better, baby, on your own").  One of the best Madonna singles of all time.  Truly revelatory.
 
Even though "fuck" is covered up with an orgasm echo, the radio edit of Erotica, an exquisite paean to the healing power of rough, kinky sex, is Madonna at her most masculine, her most demanding and her most explicit.  Another excellent lyric set to one of her best musical arrangements, it’s probably one of her most underappreciated gems, too scary for the easily squeamish and too threatening for domineering males.  Despite its overt sadomasochistic imagery, it’s deeply compelling even if pain isn’t your bag.
 
Erotica leads right into another sexual number, Justify My Love.  An erotically charged Madonna is so worked up from start to finish, she continually begs to be seduced by her lover, even helpfully coming up with some good suggestions ("I wanna run naked in a rainstorm/Make love in a train cross-country").  With a spare arrangement consisting of drums, synthesizer, and vocals, it’s the full realization of the lustiness only suggested in Everybody.  One of Lenny Kravitz’ best productions.  (He co-wrote the song and you can hear him sing occasional background vocals during those moments where Madonna isn’t verbalizing her desire.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s him playing the drums.)
 
That brings us to disc two.  The first half is dominated with more terrific ’80s work.  Left off of The Immaculate Collection, the clever Dress You Up, a Top 5 smash in 1985, is a welcome inclusion.  The song’s cheekiness didn’t go unnoticed by Tipper Gore whose annoying busy body organization, The Parents Resource Music Center, named it one of the infamous Filthy Fifteen.  Considering today’s musical climate (and even the one three decades ago), it hardly meets the standard of "filthy".  Material Girl is the anti-Express Yourself, performed very much tongue-in-cheek.  La Isla Bonita has a very pretty arrangement to go along with its lyrical longing.  Lucky Star and Burning Up are good, early, danceable examples of the Madonna-in-heat formula. 
 
Papa Don’t Preach is easily the best single from 1986’s True Blue.  Essentially a short story about a terrified teenage girl needing emotional reassurance from her father about her unplanned pregnancy and the bad boy who knocked her up, the mix of modern and classical instrumentation is an effective touch, a musical representation of the clash between generational values.  What’s most interesting, though, is the mystery involving the protagonist’s mother.  She’s never mentioned.  Did she die?  Did she leave the family?  Is she there but kept in the dark?  That missing character adds to the lyrical drama.
 
You can feel the ache in the devastating Frozen from 1998’s Ray Of Light, yet another song I missed the boat on during its initial run up the charts.  The single edit appeared on GHV2 but Celebration has the full six-minute album cut.  It might be the most beautiful song in her catalogue.  Madonna at her most empathetic.
 
The second half begins with another Hard Candy single, Miles Away.  Imagine being in a relationship that works best when both participants are not in the same room.  (I can relate.)  A very appropriate subject matter in this era of chatrooms, texting and instant messaging.  I like the hook, too. 
 
Madonna’s collaboration with Babyface resulted in Take A Bow, one of her loveliest ballads.  Its inclusion on Celebration has made me a convert.  Live To Tell’s mysterious nature and her vulnerable vocal take make you forget this is a six-minute song.  Beautiful Stranger was one of the few good things about the second Austin Powers movie.  I’ve always liked that song, a rare Madonna number I can sing along to.  (The melody line isn’t too high to reach.)  Cherish has been a longtime favourite, too, with its sweet arrangement and assertive plea for serious, monogamous love.  Die Another Day is that rare non-rhyming Madonna song written from the point of view of a man, most notably in this case, James Bond.  It received mixed reviews in 2002 but listening to it today, it’s very much an underrated Bond theme.  Again, the mix of modern and classic instruments works well here.  It’s quite a cool song.
 
As for the two new recordings, I liked those, too, even though they should’ve been saved for a future studio release.  Celebration, which ends disc two, is very much in the tradition of Everybody, Into The Groove, Vogue and Music with its longstanding belief in the seductive and redemptive powers of dance.  It doesn’t break any new ground but it hooks you in the second it begins.  Revolver, which concludes the earlier disc, is an effective showcase for Madonna’s remarkably good Sean Paul impression, although her trademark girly vocals are here, too.  Essentially one long gun metaphor for sex, even Lil Wayne’s cameo near the end works.
 
As consistently compelling as Celebration is (there are no bad songs in this 36-track collection), it only gives you a hint of the legacy of Madonna’s Warner singles.  Perhaps a follow-up release will fill in the remaining blanks.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
4:16 p.m.
Published in: on January 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2009 (Part Five)

 
Winner:  Slumdog Millionaire
 
It was the 15 million dollar movie that could.  First, it was the toast of the 2008 film festival circuit.  Then, it became a critical favourite cleaning up on the awards circuit.  By early 2009, it was the movie to beat at the Academy Awards.  After snagging ten nominations, Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars including Best Picture.  Moviegoers around the world couldn’t get enough of it.  It made over 400 million globally.  (DVD sales have also been strong.)  Richard Roeper recently named it one of his ten favourite films of the decade.  And its two leads, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, became an item in real life. 
 
Not bad for a film that almost went straight to video.
 
Loser:  The Heene Family
 
On October 15th, American news channels broke away from their regularly scheduled programming to cover a runaway silver helium balloon flying across a blue Colorado sky.  We were told a young boy was in that balloon and local authorities scrambled to make sure he landed safely.  The Denver Airport was shut down and numerous law enforcement and National Guard personnel sprung into duty.  Unfortunately, there was a problem.  The kid wasn’t actually in the balloon.  The entire time, he was hiding in his family’s attic.
 
Very quickly, public sympathy for the kid and his family turned to ridicule and annoyance.  The reason?  The whole thing was a hoax
 
Desperate patriarch Richard Heene, along with his wife, Mayumi, foolishly videotaped themselves setting up the balloon and letting it go, pretending that something had gone terribly wrong.  Richard even went so far as to make a bogus 911 call which set everything into motion.  Incredibly, he was hoping the stunt would lead to some kind of reality TV show he wanted to do.  After he was identified as the father of Falcon, the six-year-old wrongly believed to be flying in the balloon, it was discovered that he had already appeared on two episodes of Wife Swap.  In one infamous show clip, which was played on Jimmy Kimmel Live, he screams his head off at the poor woman whose traded places with his Japanese wife.
 
When the family appeared on Larry King Live, Falcon revealed that his parents instructed him to hide in the attic for that proposed reality show.  On The Today Show and Good Morning America, Falcon was so nervous he ended up puking live on the air.  Three days after the incident, Colorado authorities confirmed what everybody else had already believed.  The whole thing was a sad attempt at procuring fame and fortune in the world of Television.
 
In the end, upon being threatened with deportation, Mayumi pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of making a false report to authorities.  She got 20 days in jail which she’ll serve on weekends.  Richard was sentenced to 90 days for attempting to influence a public servant.  (Richard goes to jail on January 11th, with his wife to follow soon thereafter.)  Both are on “supervised probation” for four years and neither of them can cash in on their stupid claim to fame. 
 
Back to the drawing board, guys.
 
Winner:  Lady Gaga
 
Following in the footsteps of another compelling Catholic provocateur, this 23-year-old pop dynamo seamlessly combined an over-the-top sexual image with a series of irresistible, radio-friendly synth-pop singles to keep booties shaking the whole world over.  Her critically praised 2008 debut, The Fame, was a slow starter upon its late summer release but by this year, thanks partly to two popular and acclaimed world tours and lots of TV appearances (including performances on Saturday Night Live and The MTV Video Music Awards), the album has gone double platinum.  The first single, Just Dance, spent nearly half a year on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart before finally planting its flag on the top of the mountain in January.  It spend four straight weeks at number one and has sold three million copies in that one country alone.  The track also topped singles charts in Holland, The United Kingdom and Ireland this year.  (It was number one in Canada and Australia in 2008.)
 
Its superior follow-up, Poker Face, topped the same Billboard chart in April for two consecutive weeks and was a huge number one dance hit, as well.  The song was also number one in Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, Holland, The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sweden and Canada (on two separate occasions).  Single number three, Love Game, peaked at number five in America (number two in Canada) and its successor, Paparazzi, climbed up to number six.  It went to number one in Germany.
 
In November, Lady Gaga released The Fame Monster, an eight-song follow-up that spawned yet another big hit, Bad Romance, which hit number two in America and number one in Canada, Ireland, The UK, Austria, Denmark and Sweden. 
 
Nominated for nine MTV Video Music Awards (she won three) and six Grammys (The Fame was recently nominated for Album Of The Year), not only is she an audience and critical favourite, even the industry respects her work.  (Madonna took her daughter to see one of her live shows.)  The ever nosy Barbara Walters, fascinated with her bisexuality, even named her one of The 10 Most Fascinating People Of The Year.
 
Yes, some of her outfits have entered the land of self-parody (like that red lace get-up that covered up her entire face at the VMAs) and her live performances and videos can sometimes leave you baffled.  But the woman can sing (her voice is reminiscent of Christina Aguilera), she writes moving singles and she has a sense of humour.  Taking Kermit The Frog to The VMAs as her date was genius.
 
Topping it all off, her buttocks are spectacular.
 
Loser:  Erin Andrews’ Creepy Stalker
 
Imagine you have to stay in hotels for work all the time.  Once you get settled in your room, though, the outside world is closed off to you.  You can watch TV, do some research, order some food, drink, even walk around naked if you want.  It’s a safe environment, at least it’s supposed to be.  Now imagine the entire time someone in the room next to you, a complete stranger you’ve never met, has figured out a way to rig a camera into your peephole in order to videotape you without your permission.  Then, imagine that same creep posts the footage he’s taken on the Internet for anyone to access at any time at no charge.
 
This is the dilemma ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews unwittingly found herself in the middle of in the summer of 2009.  Blurry footage of her walking around naked in not one but two hotel rooms were mysteriously posted on a website in July without mentioning her identity.  Once ESPN lawyers caught wind of this, they fired off a tersely worded letter to the website owner who wisely took it down.  It was later revealed the footage had appeared on a different site back in February.  (In fact, it might still exist on other sites.)  A few foolish media outlets, notably The New York Post and Fox News, decided to publish stills from the video and show clips.  Gee, that’s not inappropriate and insensitive.
 
Thankfully, in October, the man responsible for traumatizing Andrews was arrested for attempting to sell his footage to TMZ via email.  48-year-old Michael David Barrett, an insurance executive, was surprisingly able on more than one occasion to get a room right next to the ESPN broadcaster, unscrew the peephole in her door and press record.  He made eight videos in all.  By mid-December, much to the relief of Andrews, Barrett plead guilty to interstate stalking and will serve a five-year sentence beginning this coming February.  Andrews was hoping he would get a life sentence.
 
The ESPN broadcaster hasn’t been the same since she learned of her ordeal.  She has said that sports fans have made rude remarks to her and the whole thing has left her unsettled.  Sadly, she feels a lot less secure about her safety.  The hotels that allowed this gross violation of her privacy to take place have a lot of explaining to do.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 3, 2010
12:49 p.m. 
Published in: on January 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2009 (Part Four)

 
Winner:  U2
 
It was another productive year for the greatest rock band of all time.  No Line On The Horizon, U2’s follow-up to the Grammy-winning How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, was another solid effort earning a 5-star review from Rolling Stone Magazine.  (Along with The New York Times and The Chicago Sun-Times, Rolling Stone also named it one of the best albums of the year.)  It was their first album to feature no bad songs since Pop.  To promote the record, the band played killer live versions of the first single, Get On Your Boots, on at least two awards shows including The Grammys (which they opened).  When the album was issued in March, the band played five straight Late Shows With David Letterman, offering a preview of all the singles from the record plus Beautiful Day which ended with Bono paying tribute to the much-missed New York punk legend Joey Ramone.  (A sixth song, which never aired, was performed especially for the audience in The Ed Sullivan Theater.)  In September, during the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, the band delivered another typically strong 3-song set.
 
In the fall, The Unforgettable Fire was reissued with a bonus disc of complete B-Sides and rarities which earned the band more good critical notices.  Bono and The Edge appeared on the second season premiere of Elvis Costello’s Spectacle.  Despite the mutual asskissing and lack of revelation, it was an entertaining interview.  Plus, there was a rare live performance of Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad, a moving track written for Frank Sinatra in the early 1990s who, sadly, never recorded it. (His daughter, Nancy, covered it on her self-titled 2004 album.  Canadian jazz artist Matt Dusk also did a rendition on his 2004 collection, Two Shots.)
 
Ending off another memorable year, the band contributed a new song called Winter to Jim Sheridan’s latest film, Brothers.  It was recently shortlisted for consideration in the Best Original Song category for the upcoming Academy Awards.  Plus, the band received three Grammy nominations.  No Line On The Horizon is up for Best Rock Album (it should’ve also received an Album Of The Year nomination but I digress) and I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight is competing in the Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals categories. 
 
Here’s hoping it won’t be another 5-year wait for the next studio record.
 
(January 2nd UPDATE:  There’s more good news.  Pollstar.com recently announced that the band were the top grossing concert act of 2009.)
 
Loser:  Jay Leno
 
After ending his 17-year stint hosting The Tonight Show on a weak note in May, the big-chinned comedian took a gamble on a new prime-time talk show in September.  Despite debuting with very strong ratings during his first week (roughly 18 million viewers caught the opener), reviews were less than stellar.  (Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly recently named The Jay Leno Show the worst TV program of the year.)  It also didn’t hurt that the show was initally competing against reruns. 
 
Once new episodes of other programs started airing, however, the ratings dropped significantly.  In the show’s second week, the average nightly viewership was between 6 and 7 million (slightly higher than his Tonight Show viewership).  Great numbers for a late night program but not for prime-time.  Unfortunately, local NBC affiliates noticed that the show was affecting the ratings of its 11 o’clock newscasts.  They’re down by between 20 and 30%.  Despite the hilarity of Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show, its ratings have been affected by Leno, as well.  (Late Show With David Letterman routinely beats it.)
 
If that weren’t bad enough, many in the entertainment industry are openly rooting for its cancellation.  Howard Stern, still steaming over how Leno lured Stuttering John over to The Tonight Show in 2003 as well as signature bits being stolen without credit (Jaywalking, for example, being a rip-off of The Homeless Game), has been revelling in its failure and ER producer John Wells (who’s also the President of The Writers Guild Of America, West) would rather see NBC go back to making episodic dramas at 10 p.m., a common refrain of creative colleagues.  Furthermore, a number of competing networks have banned many of their talent from doing the show.
 
With Comcast now a majority holder of NBC, how long will it stick with The Jay Leno Show?  If the ratings remain lousy for a prolonged period of time, don’t expect a renewal.  
 
Winner:  Lou Diamond Phillips
 
It takes a strong person to put up with Janice Dickinson, Heidi Montag, Spencer Pratt and two Baldwin brothers for any amount of time, but to do it on Television in a rainy and muggy Costa Rican jungle for many, many hours without completely losing your dignity, that’s impressive.  Although one could easily question his decision to appear on the show in the first place, this La Bamba actor (and Tony Award nominee) made the most of his 24-day stint on the second season of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!
 
A serious competitor from the start, the 16-day Camp Leader won 11 of the 24 “trials” and was declared the winner on the 24th and final broadcast, making his charity, Art Has Heart Foundation, very happy. 
 
But it was his remarkable run in The Main Event of The 2009 World Series Of Poker that garnered far more acclaim.  One of 19 celebrities in a field of nearly 3000 overall competitors, he outlasted every one of them finishing a respectable 186 with a cashout of $36,626.  (Not bad for a $10,000 investment, the event’s entry fee.)  To put this in perspective, he finished higher than long established poker greats like 1988 World Texas Hold ‘Em Champion Phil Hellmuth (436), 2000 Champ Chris Ferguson (561) and a whole slew of others with numerous WSOP bracelets to their names. 
 
Forget these silly reality shows, Lou.  Stick with poker.
  
Loser:  Robin Quivers and Gary Dell’Abate 
 
Howard Stern’s longtime sidekick/newswoman and producer have been embarrassed countless times on the long-running morning radio staple and 2009 was no exception. 
 
After beating Regis Philbin and Stephen King on a 1997 edition of Celebrity Jeopardy, the ageless Quivers was hoping for a repeat triumph twelve years later when she battled Julie Bowen and Jane Kaczmarek during an episode that aired in November.
 
No such luck.  Unlike her previous appearance, she had a hard time buzzing in first.  Although most of the few questions she did offer were correct, it was all for naught.  By the time the game got to Final Jeopardy, she lost all but one dollar on an answer related to Film Directors.  Instead of writing “Who is Frank Capra?” (which would’ve been right), she wrote “Who is Pon?”  That response was so out there Wikipedia has a brief entry for it.  (It’s under “Non-Fiction” in that link.)
 
The first half of 2009 was just as bad as the second.  In January, she claimed that Captain Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who safely landed a commercial airliner onto New York’s Hudson River without losing a single passenger, was just doing his job and didn’t deserve to be called a hero.  And in March, during a memorable appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Dr. Drew Pinsky revealed that Quivers scored so high on her narcissism test (which was part of a greater study of celebrity ego for his co-written book, The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America) that her results were higher than 99% of the population.  You can imagine how thrilled she was with that revelation. 
 
As for Baba Booey, he’d like to forget all about May 9th.  That was the day he threw out the ceremonial opening pitch at Citi Field before a game between The Mets and The Pittsburgh Pirates.  Worrying for weeks about how it was all going to turn out (he practiced relentlessly and consulted a sports psychologist), Dell’Abate’s nerves got the better of him as he threw the ball a little too far to the right.  The meaningless, bad pitch nonetheless ignited a comedic shitstorm.  Not only was he goofed on relentlessly by listeners and his work colleagues (especially Artie Lange), his infamous pitch was hammered repeatedly in numerous news and sports reports.  It is considered one of the worst opening pitches ever.
 
Par for the course when you’re Baba Booey.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 1, 2010
8:16 p.m.
Published in: on January 1, 2010 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment