MTV Top 100 of 1996 -- Reviews #20-11

20. Rage Against the Machine -- Bulls on Parade **1/2

These opinionated metal punkers are so anti-capitalist that their album's gone platinum. In a year in which the #1 song was "Ironic," I think this is a good example of irony. Band puts anti-government messages in every song, bashes the stratified money system in our country and rakes in the dough. Bet they're not as enthusiastic about a classless society as they used to be.

"Bulls on Parade," which is mostly concert performance footage mixed with more politically-charged messages, is about how the government spends all their money on war while people are starving in the country... Where's Nixon? I don't think anyone's said that since about 1971 when Vietnam was in full sway. It's not like the U.S. government has been in any major war since then, so if they want to sell off some of their million-dollar warplanes, there's a certain band which just came into a large amount of money...

19. No Doubt -- Spiderwebs ***

The second single from Tragic Kingdom, the "Spiderwebs" video features more of Gwen's freaky female body builder routine, which I still find repulsive and gorgeous at the same time. This is how it is with her -- she's got a beautiful face but gross hair, her stomach is really flat but so is her chest. She's pretty but at the same time ugly. The woman is a living, breathing yin-yang.

Speaking of yin-yangs, "Spiderwebs" is set in China (or Japan... or Korea... or Taiwan... or Cambodia... or Hong Kong...) in an ancient place of worship. It's a wedding party, and the band is No Doubt. Since they don't know "The Power of Love" or "Achy Breaky Heart," they play this charged rock tune instead, to various stares and subtitled comments from the audience. I'm not too good with Chinese (or Japanese... or Korean...) symbols, but I think one of them said something about her chest and stomach both being flat.

18. R. Kelly featuring Ronald Isley -- Down Low ****

R. Kelly featuring Ronald Isley -- Down Low

Oh how the times change. Two years ago, I was only too eager to slap R. with a zero-star rating for his "Bump and Grind" video, now he's getting the coveted four-star for "Down Low." Most of that is due to Hype Williams, the best director of R+B / hip-hop videos. "Down Low" blows the others out of the water by making the song into a mini-movie that's just as beautifully-photographed as it is badly-acted.
R. Kelly featuring Ronald Isley -- Down Low

The combination of the two is perfect. Unlike Celine Dion's "All Coming Back to Me" fiasco, this video is great to look at and incredibly fun to watch, a perfect mix of style and camp. The plot involves Kelly as a gangster working for Mr. Big (Isley), who wants him to take his wife to dinner. The original title of this was R. Fiction. Isley explains it to him something like this...
R. Kelly featuring Ronald Isley -- Down Low

"Now Kelly, I'm going out of town for the week. While I'm gone, I want you to look after my beautiful, sexy wife. She is an insatiable babe who needs sex eight or nine times a day and has confessed to me that her favorite fantasy involves making love to your bald, studly ass. I love her more than anything and I don't know what I'd do if I found out she was cheating on me, I'd probably kill the bastard. So take her out, show her a good time, but under no circumstances are you to touch her."
R. Kelly featuring Ronald Isley -- Down Low

It's set up just like that, with Isley virtually setting a trap for Kelly to walk into. During their little night out, Mrs. Isley (who is at least twenty years younger than the Mr.) comes on to Kelly, as planned, and he succumbs, as planned. In the middle of the night, the door bursts open and the two adulterers are dragged into the desert, where a silk-scarfed, trenchcoated Isley kicks Kelly's bald, studly ass and yells, "Look at me! I did this to you!"
R. Kelly featuring Ronald Isley -- Down Low

They leave him for dead, and the video's most inadvertently hilarious moment comes as the camera sweeps over a bruised, bloody Kelly, who looks up and yells a Stallone-like, "NOOOOOOOOO!!!" Cut to Kelly in the hospital, wheelchair-bound, checking in on his girlfriend, the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Isley. Just as he wheels in, she flatlines and he raises his head again to yell out another "NOOOOOOOO!!!" The video freeze frames before that happens, otherwise anyone with a sense of humor would overdose with laughter.
R. Kelly featuring Ronald Isley -- Down Low

17. Alanis Morissette -- You Learn ***

As near as I can figure it, the video for "You Learn" is supposed to be a day in the life of Alanis. If so, she needs to head for the nearest psych ward. Here's a run-down of the day's activities... First she's standing on her head in her apartment. She rolls over, puts on a jacket and climbs down the fire escape. She walks into the street, causes an accident, and keeps walking. She walks by a flaming building, gets on a horse and rides it into a gymnasum. She interrupts a basketball game, throws the ball into the hoop and walks out.

Next she's backflipping down a boardwalk, kissing a street peformer and jumping off a bridge. Her braided dreads flap in the wind and she ends up looking just like "Weird Al" Yankovic on the cover of his Bad Hair Day album. She lands like a cat and immediately gets into a pie fight in the middle of the street. Then she's climbing into a boxing ring, where Robin Quivers knocks her out... Wait, wait, wait. That's all what I did yesterday.

16. Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre -- No Diggity ***1/2

Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre -- No Diggity

The first time I saw this, I wondered why Montell Jordan was in a group all of a sudden. But it's not him, just another soundalike hip-hop act that made what was probably the best black pop (blop, if you will) song of the year. They'll go down in history as one-hit wonders, of course, and we'll all disown liking this song, but right now this song is the very definition of cool.
Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre -- No Diggity

What makes it so undoubtedly good is the opening and closing rap verses, the ones that never get played on Top 40 radio. The poor kids are missing half the song when Dr. Dre gets cut off the front of the song and Queenpen off the back. Both are in the video, though, along with the first appearance of dancing flygirls in a video since "In Living Color" went off the air.
Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre -- No Diggity

15. Los Del Rio featuring the Bayside Boys -- Macarena *

I'm still wondering how many people along the way had to sell their eternal souls to the devil to get this song to even chart in America, much less remain at the #1 position for 14 weeks. That's twice as long at the top of the chart than "Hey Jude," folks. I've discovered that the less I hear this song, the more I like it. When it was all over the place, I couldn't stomach it. Now when I see it pop up on VH1, showing they know what's in and what's out, I'm almost nostalgic. Appreciate this song now, we'll probably (make that "hopefully") never hear it again.

1996 was Macarena year. Besides being the biggest single of the year, it spawned remakes and parodies right and left. The Chipmunks even got their paws on it, for God's sake. And last month Best Buy was offering an "exclusive" Macarena Christmas Party CD that mixed traditional carols with the song from hell. Bad kids didn't have to worry about getting a lump of coal in their stockings, they knew if they misbehaved it would be a big fat Macarena Christmas Party.

None of us will ever know how this song had such a long run on the charts. I'm thinking it probably has to do with the fact that the Macarena is the easiest damn dance ever invented. If white people like me can do it in their sleep, it's easy, but apparently not for everyone. One ambitious company released an hourlong "Dance the Macarena" home video that bragged about teaching the Macarena to even the most dancing-impaired individual "in sixteen easy steps."

I'm surprised this video even showed up on the MTV Top 100 countdown. They used to pretend they were too cool for this stuff, but this year they gave airplay to Celine Dion, Donna Lewis and even the Quad City DJ's. But the "Macarena" video just sucks. On an all-white soundstage, it's got the two old guys who sing the song cavorting with about twenty scantily-clad models of every ethnic background who lip synch and dance the Macarena the entire time. Hey Macarena!

14. Foo Fighters -- Big Me ****

In the tradition of Weezer... yeah, I know how that sounds, but that's the comparison that immediately comes to mind. Like "Buddy Holly" for Weezer, "Big Me" is the only true pop song on an alternative album. It also has a highly-watchable video parodying a cultural phenomenon. With "Buddy Holly" it was the TV show "Happy Days," in "Big Me" the satire comes from a series of Mentos commercials.

A lot could be written about those commercials, which show peppy people getting out of all sorts of difficult situations after popping a Mento in their mouths. Then they turn to the camera, Mentos package in hand, and smile widely as "Mentos -- The Fresh-Maker" pops up on the screen. These things penetrated every channel, both broadcast and cable, at all times of the day, yet I still don't know anyone who's ever bought a package of Mentos. I've never even seen them in a store.

This Foo Fighters video recreates three of the situations from the commercials, this time pushing "Footos -- The Fresh Fighter." First a woman's compact car is blocked in by an over-zealous businessman and the Foos have to move it for her. Then three of them are crossing the street as an immense stretch limo pulls up, blocking lead singer Dave Grohl (formerly of Nirvana -- you know Cobain rolls over in his grave every time this video makes an appearance on VH1). He walks through the back seat of a limo as a Footos-popping woman grins at him. Finally, a headband-clad kid sneaks into the Foo Fighters show and plays beside them on the stage.

Every year a video like this comes along. For the Foo Fighters, their previous hit "I'll Stick Around" was Alternative Nation material, but this video shot to #1 and even got some airplay on VH1. You know you're hot stuff when A.J. Hammer says "We'll see the Foo Fighters in the next twenty." But this kind of thing, although it earns you a place in music video history, dooms a band to novelty status and virtually guarantees their follow-up album will bomb. Just ask Weezer, all four of them now work at Auntie Em's Pretzels in the Santa Monica Mall.

13. Mariah Carey featuring Da Brat and Xscape -- Always Be My Baby (remix) **

Someone at MTV should be fired for picking this mundane black-and-white remix video over the original "Always Be My Baby" (***). That video, the first to be directed by Mariah herself, showed a Dazzy Duks-wearing Mariah cavorting at a kid's summer camp, where she spends most of her time swinging seductively on a tire swing hanging over a lake. That video had every heterosexual male from the age of 14-41 wishing they were the subject of the song.

This version just has Mariah (looking damn good, I'll give her that) in the recording studio with girl group Xscape and girl rapper Da Brat, neither of which have charted since 1994. Why would someone of Mariah's superstar status even be working with those two, except that they're all under contract to Columbia Records and Columbia had to get some use out of them somehow. Jermaine Dupri, who produced both Brat and Xscape, even pops up in the video. Where's Kris Kross?

Xscape gets a few unnecessary backing vocals in and Da Brat even gets a whole verse of Mariah Carey-oriented gangsta rap. If you saw the Ol' Dirty Bastard remix video of "Fantasy," you'll agree Mariah and gangsta rap don't exactly mesh well, especially when the rap is about Mariah herself. Lyrics like, "Who rocks the music box... visualize me as your dreamlover," got me wondering whose bright idea this was.

12. 311 -- Down *1/2

I'll never got the whole 311 thing. I'd sooner dial 911 or watch "227" reruns myself. If you want the 411 on 311 you'll have to go to another place. All I can tell you is "All Mixed Up" was a whole lot better than this muddled white boy alterna-rap stuff. You gotta fight for your right to party, you know. The video is traditional garage-band-cavorting-about stuff, aided by a funhouse mirror camera tricks and the presence of a shirtless, emormously fat man. It was the first of what I hope will be many music video appearances for me.

11. The Smashing Pumpkins -- 1979 ***1/2

Painful as it is for me to admit it, there is a Smashing Pumpkins song I like, and this is it. I've made no secret that I hate effeminate Billy Corgan, and also that this has inadvertently stemmed from the people who have told me I look like him. This I resent, but it's stopped now that Billy has shaved his head, which you're allowed to do when you sell however-many-million albums.

But "1979," which really was a good year (think "Y.M.C.A." and Meatballs), has a great accompanying video that confines Corgan to the back seat of a car inhabited by a bunch of punk kids who roll each other around in a giant tire, crash a party and bowl with soda bottles in a convenience store. It's Dazed and Confused for the teeny bopper crowd... Smashed and Pumpkined, I'd call it.
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Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks / Fatboy Productions