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Columns > Rob Kallick

Published: 2002/01/22
by Rob Kallick

Two Turntables and a Microphone

The year is 2002. 10 years ago I listened to Nirvana for the first time. I remember it vividly. My friend handed me their CD and told me his mom thought they sounded like the Beatles. I had no idea what that meant. Was that a good thing? Well, yes and no, and I still have no idea what that meant. But, yeah, Nirvana, changed music, blah blah blah. Whatever. Thats done. I mean, how many times a month do you really listen to Nirvana? I love them, but I think they are more symbolic than anything else. But what happens when I throw these names at you: 4 Non Blondes. Candlebox. Sponge. The Toadies. Can you deal with that? God bless those bands. They continued what is the time-honored tradition in rock, and one that will never ever end: the One Hit Wonder. The 90s had its fair share of them. Some have been revived in trendy commercials (Geggy Tah anyone?) and some have popped up in movies. They make you smile. They make you laugh. They make you curious what the hell happened to them.
There were plenty of blink-and-you-missed-them bands in the 90s, but did you realize that some of them are still among us, living and breathing from your very speakers. Come kids, gather round the fire and let me tell you a little story about a man named Beck.
In Chicago we have a radio station called Q101, the new rock alternative. They had (and probably still do) a habit of being a bit excessive. When a song called Loser showed up at the station by a wacked-out kid from California it was perfect fodder for the next big thing. Next thing you knew the ubiquitous refrain of Im a loser baby so why dont you kill me was plastered in the head of every alterna-rocker with a pulse. Then came the backlash. And let me tell you, it wasnt pretty. You could basically hear the air being let out of the balloon as Beck became the poster child destined for the used CD bins. Mellow Gold didnt have a bonafide second single to really be huge and soon Beck was almost forgotten all together. Fast-forward three years. Alternative music had already become a parody of itself. Things were getting out of control. Someone had to kick everyones ass and show them what being alternative really meant. To Beck it meant these simple words: Two turntables and a microphone. Dig it.
Odelay turned out to be the mindfuck that everyone was looking for it fused nearly every genre of music into a cohesive and fun pop album. Beck is smart enough to know that pop songs need a little more juice to them these days so he throws in some tripped-out sound effects and samples into the mix to keep things interesting, The Loser boy had transcended his reputation. Not an easy task by any means, but he did it. And even though some will always connect him with his first single, he has proven to be one of the most vital and important artists of the last decade. The proof is in the genius of Mutations and Midnite Vultures, his last two albums.
The same can clearly be said about Radiohead. For a period of almost three years nearly everyone thought that they had hit their peak with Creep from Pablo Honey and would never be heard from again. Looking back that was kind of like saying Stanley Kubricks career ended with Spartacus. Those who gave Radioheads second album, The Bends, a chance were given a peek at the impending brilliance of this band. When OK Computer was unleashed on the world in 1997 it seemed to verify what The Bends quietly mentioned: at the end of the millennium Radiohead was the best rock band still standing. They perfectly captured the paranoia and pre-millenial tension of the late 90s and packaged it in songs bursting with unique ideas. Their follow up, Kid A and Amnesiac, prove they are not ones to rest on their success as they do not simply rely on the formula that made their previous albums great, but instead push on even further the sign of a truly remarkable band.
What Beck and Radiohead symbolize more than anything is that you simply cant judge a band by their first hit. As much as wed like to believe that Staind, Nickleback, Sum 41 or Puddle of Mudd are just flashes in the pan, odds are at least one of them will prove to be vital in some way. Weezer, at one time a shoe-in for one-hit-wonder, have proven to be a very important band. As are the Flaming Lips, Ween, and the Smashing Pumpkins. Sadly the same cant be said for Luscious Jackson, Gin Blossoms or the Stereo M.C.s. And while those bands arent vital anymore, their brief flirt with stardom produced a few pop gems that may pop up on a mix tape near you someday.

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