Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Radio Daze Bonus Tracks: Vol. 1

I realized the other day that there's been a problem with my Radio Daze series: by looking at only the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, I'm limiting the amount of exposure that other genres and artists who are popular enough to land on the Hot 100, but not enough to make it into the upper echelons of the chart. So let's fix this! Welcome to Bonus Tracks. Every once in a while between proper Radio Daze entries, I'll take a look at the hinterlands of pop, using a random number generator to select ten tracks from a Hot 100 chart that are below the top 10. As you can see from this first entry, there's an interesting assortment of songs here, and unlike Radio Daze, there hopefully will be 10 brand new songs in every entry. Let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy!

This entry is based on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated August 20, 2011.

16. "Dirt Road Anthem," Jason Aldean

Do you remember hick-hop? The unfortunate genre-mashing of country and hip-hop that seemed poised to take off with the mid-Aughts success of Big & Rich and Cowboy Troy, only to go absolutely nowhere (and for good reason)? Well, it seems that Jason Aldean remembers, as "Dirt Road Anthem" features both crooning and rapping. The song has been a country hit all summer, and it certainly benefits from not being as obnoxious as "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" or "I Play Chicken with the Train." However, though his delivery isn't offensively bad, Aldean doesn't have much in the way of rap skills, and the song itself is a rather bland retread of territory that country has mined countless times. It's perfectly mediocre country, nothing more and nothing less. C

20. "Otis," Jay-Z and Kanye West feat. Otis Redding

Maybe Aldean could take some lessons from a pair of masters in hip-hop. When Jay-Z and Kanye West teamed up for Watch the Throne, it immediately became one of the most anticipated albums of the year. "Otis," the second single off of the recently-released album, is an interesting choice for a radio hit. There's no hook here, just Jay and 'Ye trading verses over a "Try a Little Tenderness"-sampling beat (how good is it that Otis Redding is back on the charts 44 years after his death?). Unfortunately, most of those verses find two of rap's best storytellers boasting about their own wealth, a pattern that continues over the course of the album. Surely they could have turned their collective gaze to something else, as they have in the past? Either way, it's strangely catchy, and of course these two on autopilot are better than most rappers' A-game. A-

24. "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," Jake Owen

Similar to "Dirt Road Anthem," Owen's "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" is a country summer anthem, the kind of song you'd put on for a bonfire in late July. However, this song goes for a more epic, crowd-rousing sound, as the chants of "whoa-oh-oh" illustrate. It's also strangely short, a brief sing-along for those warm summer nights. Again, this isn't new territory for country, and Owen's definitely not taking the old theme to new places musically. But it is enjoyable enough, and his particular brand of twang is a somewhat-welcome break from the country norm. B-

26. "You Make Me Feel...," Cobra Starship feat. Sabi

There's no reason this song should even exist. Cobra Starship was initially supposed to be a gimmick, an emo supergroup meant for a knockoff single for Snakes on a Plane five years ago. But then something strange happened: they kept making music, kept releasing successful singles, and their career is still going strong. Part of their success, of course, comes from changing their sound from emo to synthy dance-pop. This single relies more on guest Sabi than it does lead singer Gabe Saporta, but there's a frolicking sense of fun throughout the song. Is it goofy? Of course. But it's also mindlessly enjoyable, and if they can keep making music like this, then long live Cobra Starship. B+

32. "Stereo Hearts," Gym Class Heroes feat. Adam Levine

This song comes at an interesting point for everyone involved. For one, guest Adam Levine is now better known as a judge on The Voice than he is as lead singer of blue-eyed soul-pop band Maroon 5. Gym Class Heroes' lead, Travie McCoy, had a huge solo hit last year with "Billionaire," a move that may have threatened to end the band. But no fear: all parties are back together, and they're putting forward music that is perfectly in line with their respective careers. Levine delivers a huge soulful hook, while McCoy innocently rhymes about a girl who makes his heart beat like a boombox. It's nothing new for Gym Class Heroes, which is both good and bad: you wish the band would branch out and experiment a little more, but when they're already so sunshiny and goofy-sweet, it's hard to complain too much. B

65. "Long Hot Summer," Keith Urban

Keith Urban is not a typical country artist. For one thing, he hails from Australia rather than Alabama, which may attribute to his Southern-but-not-really accent. Also, his music seems more influenced by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Lynyrd Skynyrd than he does George Jones and Conway Twitty, only country in the fact that he calls it country and there's a banjo involved. As such, he does make pretty good Southern rock, and "Long Hot Summer" is the kind of song you can play in your car with the windows down. It's easy-going, middle-of-the-road music, but Urban has a zest for playing that makes it worthwhile. There's not much modern country artists that I really like, but I can make a case for Mr. Nicole Kidman and this song. B

79. "On My Level," Wiz Khalifa feat. Too $hort

Rapper/marijuana aficionado Wiz Khalifa scored a huge #1 pop hit earlier this year with "Black & Yellow," his tribute to his hometown of Pittsburgh that was no doubt helped by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl appearance. Since then, he scored another minor pop hit with "Roll Up," and now he's aiming for another with "On My Level." This one seems like its destined to by an urban radio hit rather than pop, however, and the guest appearance from rap veteran Too $hort (seriously, his career spans 32 years) isn't exactly inspiring. In fact, it seems like everyone involved is just kind of coasting through this one, as Wiz doesn't seem particularly engaged in the material either. I guess it seemed like a good (under-the-influence) idea at the time, but this is strangely off. C+

85. "Lights," Ellie Goulding

Like last year's breakout La Roux, Ellie Goulding seems to be the latest electro-pop chanteuse to seek a spot among the already-established pop superstars. And in "Lights," she makes a great case for herself as an artist. The glossy sheen of the production makes this a pretty irresistible dance track, but the main attraction is Goulding's breathy soprano. It's a beautiful thing, and it puts her far and away ahead of her contemporaries in the ever-growing genre. It remains to be seen whether or not Goulding can make a splash the way La Roux did last year, but if there's justice in the world, she'll be cranking out hits for years. A-

90. "Faster," Matt Nathanson

Matt Nathanson is perhaps best known for his modest hit "Come On Get Higher," released at the end of the mid-Aughts singer-songwriter mini-revival. Though "Faster" is decidedly more upbeat than "Higher," it still resides in the same genre vein of his previous works. In fact, judging by the video, it seems that Nathanson's inspiration for the song was George Michael's "Faith," and it definitely reflects the buoyant ebullience of '80s pop, albeit in a much more acoustic way. Nathanson's chance at returning to mainstream pop seems unlikely, but he's carved out a niche for himself, and "Faster" shows that he can still craft a great tune. B+

97. "One More Drinkin' Song," Jerrod Niemann

The drinking song: yet another country music staple. Helping Niemann's case is that he sounds like he's playing with a decent bar band, which lends the song a dose of alcohol-fueled breeziness. However, the song itself asks, "what's wrong with one more drinking song," without actually doing anything different. There's nothing new here, and Niemann's stabs at self-awareness only draw attention to song's pointless existence. Perhaps appropriately for a drinking song, it's utterly forgettable, and the title ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy: it's just one more drinking song, nothing more. C-

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