Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ranking the 45 Number One Songs on My Birthday

45 sucks. Yes, I'm probably biased, but hear me out. On March 30, 2018, I turned 45. The next day, while lifting an innocuous cooler of beer at my 14-year-old son's baseball game, I wrenched my back. Undisputed clinical proof that 45 is a pain. Over the summer, I stopped shaving. The results were decidedly... uneven. More proof -- albeit, aesthetic -- that 45 is a goddam embarrassment. Finally, in the fall, I was diagnosed with AERD and needed two days of controlled treatment. 45 is f cking insidious, fam. It needs its own #45sucks hashtag campaign or social media logo* or marketing**...thing.

** -- I graduated from San Diego State University in 1997 with a BS in Marketing. The internet made me irrelevant in under 18 months. Fortunately, I married way outside my league!

Way back in 2003 (you know it's a vital anniversary, because it's divisible by five) I began writing a weekly column called the Friday Music News Bootleg. It ran for three years and a few months after it ended, I started this bare-bones blog. Over the past 15 years, I've written about everything from deep-fried fair food to family eulogies, but music will always be where it began.

So, let's lift a collective middle finger to the face of 45, by revisiting -- AND DEFINITIVELY RANKING -- all 45 songs that charted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on each of my 45 birthdays. On the day of my birth, the #1 song in the country was Love Train by the O'Jays. 1973 also featured #1 classics by Stevie Wonder, Jim Croce, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight. Physiologically and chronologically, the calendar makes me uniquely qualified to offer my ear to the best music from March 30, 1974 through 2018...but, we start with the worst!

45.) Butterfly by Crazy Town (2001) -- Oh, rap-rock. You weren't the first flash-in-the-pan fusion of musical genres, but you were undoubtedly the most unlistenable. Remember the four-day disaster of "Woodstock '99"? Limp Bizkit performed did did Insane Clown did Kid Rock! According to my math, that's one disaster for each day! Will modern-day cultural appropriation ever find its patient zero? Stay tuned!

44.) Sunshine on my Shoulders by John Denver (1974) -- As I entered elementary school in the late 1970s, few troubadours were as ubiquitous as the bespectacled Denver. When I was 5 or 6, I thought he might've actually been a Muppet for all his maudlin cameos alongside Kermit. Denver reportedly wrote this song at the end of an unforgiving Minnesota winter, but come on: "Sunshine almost always makes me high"? COME ON.

43.) Harlem Shake by Baauer (2013) -- Did I mention I'm 45-years-old? I've lived long enough for a single to hit #1 because of a YouTube video that became internet-meme infamy. The only thing about the story of this song that, say, 18-year-old me would understand is that no one made any money off it, because none of the samples were cleared. (Meanwhile, 45-year-old me only recently learned how to pronounce "meme".)

42.) Rock Me Amadeus by Falco (1986) -- The A&M label released 19(!) versions and remixes of this single, but MY favorite is the heretofore unreleased 20th...sigh. Look. Those of you who've been reading my writing since the beginning know where this is going. I am nothing if not beholden to the traditional crutch of this lightly-read blog. Anyways...the heretofore unreleased 20th remix!

41.) The Sign by Ace of Base (1994) -- Although considered one of -- if not THE -- greatest years for hip hop, the genre wasn't yet cranking out chart-topping singles. Instead, we get the Swedish pop stylings of Ace of Base. Ulf Ekberg and the Berggren siblings conspired to RUIN my 21st birthday with their repetitive, broken-relationship pap. What hath ABBA and Roxette wrought?!

40.) Rapture by Blondie (1981) -- This was the first number one single to incorporate rap vocals? Huh. I assume it was also the first to include "sacroiliac" as a lyric. The video debuted on -- and I'm excited to type this -- "Solid Gold" and was part of MTV's first video rotation. Has modern-day cultural appropriation found its "patient zero"? It has!

39.) One More Night by Phil Collins (1985) -- This list will NOT celebrate songs that celebrate simpin'. Hell was the Hart Foundation even talking about? (Yes, I know that's a different song. It's called a non sequitor. You, uh, new readers might wanna get used to it.)

38.) So Sick by Ne-Yo (2006) -- Speaking of simpin'. Ne-Yo is out here telling us he's "so sick of love songs" and asking "why can't I turn off the radio"? Negro, it's not that difficult! And, why in the hell did hip hop heavyweights LL Cool J and Jay-Z appear on various remixes of this? And, Hype Williams directed the music video?! Stargate produced this, so I'm afforded the rare opportunity to dismiss Sweden and Norway within a few dozen words of each other.

37.) Glamorous by Fergie featuring Ludacris (2007) -- After J-Lo's Jenny From the Block and Gwen Stefani's Luxurious earlier in the decade, you'd think American audiences would've tired of hearing how the obscenely loaded and gorgeous were just like all us other uggos. Fergie's d-e-r-i-v-a-t-i-v-e paints by the same numbers with Luda's lazily mailed-in lyrics crammed in for an attempt at urban credibility. The video also attempts, uh..."urban". With dancing Dickies and...damn.

36.) Gettin' Jiggy Wit It by Will Smith (1998) -- It's no secret that Nas -- one of the seminal rappers from the 1990's grimy "return to lyricism" movement -- helped with the writing on Smith's 1997 Big Willie Style release. He was long rumored to have co-written this vapid, vacuous single, as well. Only recently -- presumably as the royalty checks have at last run dry -- has Nas gone on record to distance himself from this mess of excess and shiny-suit residue.

35.) Candy Shop by 50 Cent featuring Olivia (2005) -- Witness protection ain't got nothing on women in rap who show up for a verse or a hook here and there and are never heard from again. Olivia left the G-Unit label in 2007 and would eventually join silenced sisters such as Ms. Toi, Truth/Truth Hurts, Tweet, Jewell and Amil. This is hardly representative of the level of respect and admiration rap music usually has for women.

34.) Right Round by Flo Rida featuring Kesha (2009) -- SEVEN songwriters on a three-minute single about blow jobs that leans heavily on a familiar sample from the disposable-pop heyday of the 1980s? From the guy whose totally original stage name is his home state with a superfluous space? THIS is how middle-aged Americans begin bitching about everything.

33.) Work by Rihanna featuring Drake (2016) -- RiRi appears twice on this list and her two entries couldn't be more opposite from each other. This formulaic bore was intended to bring the Barbadian beauty "back" from the so-so response to 2012's rushed and unpolished Unapologetic album. If the halfhearted, pandering nod to her dancehall roots couldn't win over critics, it's hard to see how Drake's (admittedly, often charismatic) dreck -- "If you had a twin, I would still choose you!" -- could either. Do they not teach basic biology in the province of Ontario, Aubrey? Your lyric is NOT a compliment, man!

32.) Black Velvet by Alannah Myles (1990) -- I liked this song better before I learned that songwriter Christopher Ward penned it after being inspired by...a busload of Elvis Presley fans and impersonators who were heading to Graceland. I once made a playful crack at Elvis' expense in my old weekly music column and endured several days of hate e-mail. Despite their pompadoured hero's protests to the contrary, they were actually quite cruel.

31.) Born This Way by Lady Gaga (2011) -- Just when you think Lady Gaga had ONLY stolen the chords from Madonna's 1989 smash Express Yourself, she hits you with some vocal cadence from Madonna's Vogue as well! There's an inspiring message buried deep -- deep -- within the brazen, unapologetic jacking of beats. Look close. Closer. Closer still. Yes...past the questionable use of "chola" and the unquestionably dated "orient" descriptors. Millennials, man.

30.) Tragedy by The Bee Gees (1979) -- This was the penultimate number one single for the Bee Gees, as the writing was on the wall -- and disco ball -- for the musical genre that ruled radio for the last half of the 1970s. Roughly three months after hitting the top of the charts, Major League Baseball's Chicago White Sox hosted Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. The line-ups that night included a "Champ", a "Junior" a "Chet" and not one, but TWO "Rustys". (This reminds me...when I was a kid, every other boy was named "Toby" or "Wesley". Where did they all go? And, how does this bode for "Dakota" and "Jordan" today?)

29.) God's Plan by Drake (2018) -- Drake's had three songs reach #1 this year and God's Plan kept hold of the throne for 11 consecutive weeks -- the longest run of 2018. The video, however, reaches all the way out to 2058 as it's mysteriously hosted by former NFL cornerback/strip club aficionado Adam "Pacman" Jones from 40 years in the future. No, seriously. Are there ANY powers that Drake doesn't have?!

28.) Rich Girl by Hall & Oates (1977) -- We've got a ways to go on our list; but I'mma bet this is the only song that references Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz, the Symbionese Liberation Army and cult-favorite 1980s TV drama Hunter on its Wikipedia page. The GREAT guitar and drum break right after the first verse inexplicably isn't mentioned, though. Do better, internet.

27.) December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) by The Four Seasons (1976) -- The roots of this song (kinda-sorta) reach back to 1933 and its 1993 re-release/remix matched the original's 27-week reign on the Billboard Hot 100. That's 60 years we've spent celebrating...*checks lyrics* stands and..."as I recall, it ended much too soon...". Oh. Oh, god, no.

26.) Believe by Cher (1999) -- The original auto-tune! Hopefully, Cher's getting some residuals from this! Meanwhile, the sheer number of failed relationship-related songs that reached #1 on or around my birthday probably explains at least a little about my fractured psyche, yes? You're too near me not to hear me, Cher.

25.) Jump by Van Halen (1984) -- Let's declare 1984 as the single most "'80s music" year of the decade, OK? Other number ones included: Karma Cameleon, Footloose, Let's Hear it For the Boy, Ghostbusters, What's Love Got to Do With It and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Coincidentally, nearly 20 countries boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles where Lionel Richie sang a NINE-minute version of All Night Long at the closing ceremonies. But, sure..."coincidence".

24.) Shape of You by Ed Sheerhan (2017) -- West Yorkshire's favorite milquetoast vocalist checks in with his usual four minutes of inoffensive whimsy. I do find it funny that he'd take a first date to an all-you-can-eat restaurant (Fill up your bag and I'll fill up a plate...), but it appears to have turned out better than one of MY first dates back in the summer of 1993:

23.) Can't Nobody Hold Me Down by Puff Daddy (featuring Ma$e) (1997) -- Songs produced or performed by Sean "Puffy" Combs spent 25 total weeks at #1 in 1997. This one samples heavily from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's iconic single The Message and includes one of my favorite ("...spend time in H-A-W-A-AH-AH...") and dirt-worst ("Young, black and famous with money hangin' out the anus.") bars of the year. 25. Total. Weeks.

22.) Coming out of the Dark by Gloria Estefan (1991) -- This was Estefan's first single after her near-fatal tour bus accident in March 1990. The video features Married...With Children alumnus David Garrison -- who left the successful sitcom before it ruined his career, like those of Ed O'Neill...wait, no...Katey Sagal?...wait, no...Christina Applegate?...wait, no...David Faustino? Yes...that'll do. In fact, let's see what ol' Bud's up to.

21.) Love in This Club by Usher featuring Young Jeezy (2008) -- I'm not sure which bit of unintentional hilarity tickles me more. Usher with the opening audience assurance to "...keep it hood" or Young Jeezy telling the ladies to " me in the bathroom" -- after offering up fornication "on the couch, on the table, on the bar or on the floor". Nightclubs are practically a Petri dish of disease, Jeezy. The floor? The bathroom? I hope all these women told the Snowman "no, man". I might've been drinking as I wrote that last line. Regrets? None.

20.) Say My Name by Destiny's Child (2000) -- The drama around this song is probably better than the actual song, as Beyonce turned heel on former bandmates LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson. The video featured 11th hour additions Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin, but kept the original members' vocals. Obviously, the group's manager -- and Beyonce's father, Mathew Knowles -- was wielding the proverbial sledgehammer, though. The whole ordeal was chronicled in a 2014 made-for-TV movie.

19.) Ain't It Funny by Jennifer Lopez featuring Ja Rule (2002) -- Other than Eminem, there might not have been a more ubiquitous rapper in the early 2000s than Ja Rule. And, other than, say, Nate Dogg, no other hip hop act benefitted more from the word "featuring..." on artist's credits. Jay-Z, Ashanti and J-Lo all shared the mic with Ja on some of his/their biggest hits. Sadly, Ja Rule was murdered at his peak in 2003. His body was never recovered.

18.) Because You Loved Me by Celine Dion (1996) -- Then-Girlfriend Bootleg and I attended, like, 100 weddings before we got engaged (I know, I know...) and this song was probably the father/daughter dance at 98 of 'em. I can't have it higher because it's become SUCH a cliché. What's that you ask? What did my mom and I dance to at MY wedding? That's none of your goddam business...but, it wasn't cliché! Let's move on!

17.) Night Fever by The Bee Gees (1978) -- From the biggest-selling soundtrack of all time; for the first five weeks this song was #1, the Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive was #2. The apex of the disco movement, the Saturday Night Fever phenomenon was absolute alchemy for all involved. Hell, remember John Travolta's highly-publicized 1990s comeback in a role NO ONE expected? Alchemy, kid.

16.) Lean on Me by Club Nouveau (1987) -- One of only nine songs to hit #1 as performed by two different artists, this version -- and the original by Bill Withers -- were featured in the great 1989 Morgan Freeman film of  the same name. Of course, the musical number from THAT flick tops anything modern cinema has ever recorded. Fight me.

15.) Another Brick in the Wall, Part II by Pink Floyd (1980) -- I feel like I'm gonna catch hell for ranking this one so low. The bass-line and drums are wonderful. The anthemic chorus is legendary. The message? It just never connected with me. I was seven when it hit #1...and, I always liked school. In fact, if you were listening to this in class, I'd tell on you. "Nerd", you say? Well, I'm telling teacher you said THAT, too.

14.) I Love Rock & Roll by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (1982) -- I was nine-years-old when I lost my first bet. On the playground of Tarawa Terrace II elementary school near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, I was convinced that the woman who sang this song and the cute brunette on TV's Three's Company were one and the same. It turns out they were not. I WAS SO SURE.

13.) We Are Young by Fun featuring Janelle Monáe (2012) -- The serendipitous success of this single is so 21st century, son. It was originally released in September 2011 without much fanfare. Later in the year, it was covered by the FOX television series Glee and soon...kaboom. From there, Chevrolet used the song in a commercial that first aired during yet another New England Patriots bed-sh tting Super Bowl loss. Along the way, it broke digital sales/impressions records that were previously held by Eminem and Destiny's Child. If that last sentence doesn't scream "21st century", I don't know what does.

12.) Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars (2015) -- My favorite music truism is how an infectious beat can lift even the most ridiculous lyrics. Dr. Dre and Kanye West -- two of the greatest producers of our generation -- were understandably given a pass on "I get plenty of ass/So, call me an astronaut" (Keep Their Heads Ringin') and "The way Kathie Lee needed Regis/That's the way I need Jesus" (Jesus Walks), respectively. So, it's to Ronson's credit that his funk-on-amphetamines approach elevates lines like "Gotta kiss myself, so pretty." and "Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy".

11.) Happy by Pharrell Williams (2014) -- Anyone else remember the 24-hour video for this song? It remains a joyous ode to,, but it's omnipresence had y'all forgetting that Pharrell and the Neptunes been in the game for almost 30 years and are probably responsible for getting more folks onto the dance floor at your wedding, high school reunion, office Christmas party or as any other kind of cover for your casual alcoholism.

10.) Rude Boy by Rihanna (2010) -- With the kind of sexual empowerment and assertiveness that could only come from an album called Rated R, it's a terrific spin on the misogyny that's made men millions. It was released less than a year after inexplicably still-standing sh tbag Chris Brown was arrested for assaulting her. She's since dated erstwhile Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and Canadian diva Drake, proving once again that light-skinned men such as myself are ALWAYS in your league, ladies. *rowr*

9.) Informer by Snow (1993) -- You had to be there. That's the only way I can explain how the best bad song ever -- with apologies to Ini Kamoze -- spent SEVEN weeks at #1 in 1993. I remember incredulous urban radio DJs in LA playing it over and over while overtly protesting its popularity on air. I'll always have a soft spot for this nonsensical sh*t, though, as it was the song that took me into my 20s. It also directly led to the last good In Living Color skit ever.

8.) Yeah! by Usher featuring Ludacris and Lil' Jon (2004) -- My son Jalen was born in 2004. As most of you know, he was a preemie -- born nine weeks early during Mrs. Bootleg's 31st week of pregnancy. As most of you ALSO know, I only mention this in my writing to use the lives of my wife and son to take the most circuitous path to a larger, uninteresting point. Mrs. Bootleg's 31 weeks with Jalen were just three less than the number of weeks Usher's songs spent at #1 in 2004. See?

7.) Save the Best for Last by Vanessa Williams (1992) -- Over the course of a couple of months in early 1992, my first girlfriend dumped me, reconciled with me and then dumped me again. At that time, the top of the Billboard charts were riddled with singles like All 4 Love, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me and To Be With You. Too bad she missed out on taking me back/breaking up with me that summer when Boyz II Men's End of the Road was RIGHT THERE to ruin me.

6.) Take a Bow by Madonna (1995) -- The usual collection of pearl-clutchers had birthed a backlash towards ol' Madge for the in-plain-sight sexuality she celebrated in the early 1990s. Kudos, repressed prudes! You indirectly forced her into the studio of uber-producer Babyface and the end result is on the short list of Madonna's best songs. Were y'all ever able to scrub your own moral decay and intellectual dishonesty from your fainting couches? Oh, I'm kidding, you feckless hypocrites. I'm kidding.

5.) In Da Club by 50 Cent (2003) -- How big was the first single from 50's debut studio album? It spent nine weeks at #1. Subsequently, it inadvertently served as a springboard for the early release of Get Rich or Die Tryin' due to rampant bootlegging (woo!) and internet leaks. The Dr. Dre-beat bumped so hard, it was essentially lifted and used again on then-labelmate The Game's wonderful Westside Story track two years later. How big was it?! Me and my rhythmless running buddy Dale were bar-hopping in San Francisco in the summer of 2003. This song even got HIM to the dance floor. Here's a reasonable reenactment.

4.) Lady Marmalade by LaBelle (1975) -- Patti LaBelle is a goddam national treasure, we all agree. Similarly, we all agree that her 1992-93 sitcom didn't get a fair shake from NBC, yes? YES. Anyways...this song is SOAKED in sensuality and -- near as I can tell -- is the first use of "freak" as a euphemism for "sex", beating Adina Howard to the punch by, like, 20 years. Ms. Howard and I are the same age, which might be the most definitive "old" identifier in any of these 4000 words.

3.) Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson (1988) -- This song peaked at #2 on the Billboard charts...more than 20 years after its initial release following the death of Michael Jackson. In the same week, it became the most downloaded song on iTunes. An alternate version was used in Jackson's 1988 film Moonwalker. Some of you might remember the poorly-received video game that was inspired by the movie. No? Well, the last paragraph of "arcade gameplay" under its Wikipedia entry might be the greatest thing ever written on the internet.

2.) The Living Years by Mike & The Mechanics (1989) -- My father passed away in March 2018 and this song...holy sh t, this song. It's almost perfect in its representation of heartbreak and regret. I wish my old man and I could've been closer -- he was a hardscrabble jarhead who grew up in Jim Crow Georgia and I'm a soft-ass suburbian who never fully understood or appreciated my pops' pain. My favorite memory of him is from Thanksgiving 1995. My parents had bought their first house -- after I'd moved out, then moved away to San Diego. And, on a typically too-warm late November morning, my dad and I shared a beer -- for the first time -- in the backyard. Just me and him. I remember him asking if I was doing OK. Yes, sir. But, I wish you were still here to make sure.

1.) Billie Jean by Michael Jackson (1983) -- The most recognizable first 30 seconds in the history of pop music. I parents went out and bought the Thriller album the day it was released -- and, I mean the vinyl ALBUM. And, they played it on THIS. I'd argue Michael Jackson was the last of the "larger-than-life" entertainment icons, as today, fame is handed out like Heath Bars on Halloween. This is probably not his greatest song, but it might be his most perfect.

*-- Logo courtesy of Mike Mitchell. Facts check out.