Spice/Spiceworld

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Somewhere between The Beatles, and the Biebs, the youth of the world were losing their minds for a pop sensation known as the Spice Girls. In the late 90’s, the Spice Girls were everywhere. I’m talking pencil cases, gum wrappers, yo-yos, magazines… They even had their own movie.  Not just some documentary/concert film, like pretty much all pop acts are pumping out today. Spice World was a full-fledged narrative film along the lines of A Hard Day’s Night (and equally cheesy). Their catchy dance beats, with lyrics about the importance of Girl Power, friendship, and never giving up on the good times, really struck a chord with pretty much everybody.

As a young male approaching my teenage years, I wasn’t quite their target audience. That is to say, being a young male, and preferring “Spice Up Your Life” to anything by Marilyn Manson wasn’t really doing my image any favours with the elementary school crowd. Not that I had much of an image to worry about back then. I wasn’t a social outcast by any means, but I definitely didn’t count myself as part of the “cool” crowd. Falling somewhere between that, I was the shy kid with the questionable haircut, who spent all of his weekends with his great grandparents, out of town.

As far as we still have to go as a society, I’d have to say that attitudes towards sexual orientation have come a long way in the past 15 years. Back then, it seemed perfectly acceptable to refer to anything considered undesirable as “gay”. To the elementary school crowd, “gay” wasn’t so much of a sexual orientation, as it was a catch-all term for bad stuff. A throwaway insult or a go-to descriptor for something you didn’t like.

Following these rules, many kids considered the Spice Girls, and their fans as “gay”. This manages to hit both points of using the term as a general insult towards the Spice Girls, while also bringing the sexual orientation of their fans into question. Basically the grand slam of grade school teasing.

As a pre-teen boy, you hear this stuff enough, and an already confusing time of your life gets even more confusing. Did the fact that I enjoyed cranking up “Move Over” mean that I was gay? I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time (or any real experience with girls in general), and I didn’t really relate with “the guys” on most things. I wasn’t the most masculine kid on the school yard. I mean, I didn’t really care for sports and was pretty terrible at them to be honest. At a time and place that could be pretty obsessed with gender roles, any deviation from the set standards was seen as a pretty solid indication of homosexuality.

The more I thought about the subject, I came to realize a few things. The reason that I didn’t subscribe to most things masculine didn’t have anything to do with my sexual orientation. It probably had a lot more do with the fact that I was jointly raised by my single mother, single grandmother, and elderly great-grandparents. Macho wasn’t really on the menu.  I was different, sure, but it wasn’t up to some ignorant grade-schooler, or a piece of music to define me.  I could listen to whatever music I wanted, play it loud, and not give a damn about what anybody else might think (this same principal applies to a few Nickelback songs).  The idea that being unique automatically dumped you into a set category seemed to fly in the face of the whole idea of uniqueness. I’m my own category, and I have no problem putting Lady Gaga and Low Profile on the same mix.

I’m lumping the two albums together here, because honestly, I never actually owned either of these albums (and I still don’t). Both albums were out at the time, and both albums were everywhere, so my association with either one blends together pretty seamlessly at this point.
MP3s weren’t quite a thing back then, so I was surfing Spice Girls fan-sites, and downloading MIDI versions of whatever songs weren’t on the radio. RealAudio streaming was the go-to for versions that actually had vocals, and the rest was up to MuchMusic, and 99.5 YesFM. I basically listened to both albums dozens of times, but in the most fragmented way possible.

These 20 songs really left a lasting impression on my unabashed enjoyment of upbeat, often over the top, dance-pop.  Music doesn’t have to be high art to be fun, and if a song can make you smile and dance, sometimes that’s all you need.

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#songoftheday: Ellie Goulding – You My Everything

I didn’t really take much notice of Ellie Goulding until I saw her perform live at Osheaga last summer. One of the many instances of acts with more electronic sounding records that really impressed me with live sets integrating traditional instruments.
For a taste of that live performance, here’s a track from the bonus disc of the deluxe version of her second album, Halcyon.

#songoftheday: The Fratellis – Country Boys & City Girls

Because I seem to take forever to write up my “Influential Albums” posts, I’ve decided to integrate my #songoftheday initiative into the Soup’s Tunes blog.

The mandate’s pretty simple: one song, every day. I try to keep things as diverse/random as I can, while avoiding too many hit singles. I’m mostly trying to draw attention to the lesser played songs off of albums, or the singles that haven’t been heard in a while.
I’m planning on doing a few theme weeks too, but we’ll see how it goes.

First up is a track off  the Fratellis’ first full length album release.

Big Shiny Tunes 2

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The unspoken Canadian classic. The album that shaped a generation. No mere compilation, this was my true introduction to pop music.

It was the wintertime, in the beginning of 1998. My elementary school had a little thing called Play Day. Essentially an elementary school combination of the winter Olympics, and American Gladiators. Grade 7 and 8 students would split up into groups of 4, and make up games for the younger kids to compete against each other in. The teams (consisting of a student or two from each of the lower grades) would go around to all the different stations, and get some kind of prize at the end, based on their win/loss record. The whole thing was basically an excuse for the grade 8 kids to revel in their “top of the food chain” status before the inevitable wake-up call known as high school.

My friends and I claimed the huge snowbank on the edge of the parking lot as our game station. The only game that really made sense was an (admittedly dangerous) toboggan relay. The game didn’t really matter to us all that much though. For us, it was all about building the ultimate snow fort. We’d spent every recess, and lunch break digging out the top section of the mountainous pile of snow and ice. We had stairs leading into it, sections for storage, chairs, and of course: the stereo.

No Play Day would be complete without a soundtrack, and Big Shiny Tunes 2 was ours. At the time, I’d honestly never heard of any of the bands featured on it a, so here’s a brief list of what I was introduced to that day:
The Prodigy – Blur – Third Eye Blind – Smash Mouth – Bush – Matchbox 20 – Stone Temple Pilots – Radiohead….

Let that sink in for a bit. It was basically alt-rock overload for my impressionable ears. From the driving electro-rock intro of “Breathe”, to the brilliant choice of “Song 2” as the second track, to the “do-do-do, do-do-do-doo” of “Semi-Charmed Life”, it was pretty much my personal version of seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. That singular moment where music meant something new. To this day, any time I hear one of these songs, I’m always expecting whatever the next track on Big Shiny Tunes 2 was to kick in.

Not every song off the album’s stood the test of time (“Fly” by Sugar Ray was overplayed to the extreme on the radio), but a good chunk of it remains irresistible to this day. I’ve never run into a party where a surprise play of “Drinking in L.A” didn’t guarantee me at least one appreciative nod and smile from somebody. Even my generally quiet and reserved great-grandfather couldn’t resist tapping his foot to the infectious riffs and “woo hoo”s of “Song 2”, when it kicked in during a beer commercial.

Although it would go on to become on of the best selling albums in Canadian history, the advent of iTunes (and the cheap/easy way to make your own compilations) pretty much killed the Big Shiny franchise. Still, I’ll never forget the lesson it taught me, about how great a really well put together mix can be. Not just a random mish-mash of songs, but a combination of genres that has the ability to bring people with diverse tastes together to have a good time. Stressing the importance of sequencing tracks to hook people in, then take them through a musical trip, full of energetic highs, and contemplative cooldowns. A well constructed mix really is a thing of beauty.

1. The Prodigy – Breathe (Edit)
2. Blur – Song 2
3. Third Eye Blind – Semi-Charmed Life
4. Smash Mouth – Walkin’ on the Sun
5. Sugar Ray featuring Super Cat – Fly
6. Bran Van 3000 – Drinking in L.A.
7. Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People
8. Holly McNarland – Numb
9. Bush – Swallowed
10. Matchbox 20 – Push
11. Collective Soul – Precious Declaration (Remix)
12. The Tea Party – Temptation (Edit) (Tom Lord-Alge Mix)
13. The Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats (Radio Edit)
14. Wide Mouth Mason – My Old Self
15. Radiohead – Paranoid Android
16. The Age of Electric – Remote Control
17. Stone Temple Pilots – Lady Picture Show