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Tied to the 90s: 10 1990s rock songs that were killed by being overplayed Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Posted by Yostal in 90s rock, Gen X&Y, music, Reasons why I am single, Tied to the 90s, Yostal.

Tied to the 90s

Welcome back to “Tied to the 90s“, a not-very complete guide to a decade that was. I’m your host, Yostal, and once more, I’ll be taking you through the pop culture landscape of the 1990s. If you have any suggestions for future columns, please email me at GoinYostal@gmail.com or leave me a comment.

Today, I’ll be looking at 10 songs that were killed by being overplayed. This list probably will not be as “cool” as some of my previous music lists, but these are basically songs which were good enough to be really popular , so popular in fact that they probably got way too overplayed, which then “killed” them. With that in mind, here we go…

1). “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something (from the 1995 album Home)

I don’t want to too badly hammer DBS for writing a really hooky track, but that’s exactly what got them killed. You could not go anywhere during summer of 1995 without hearing this on your pop music or alt. rock radio stations. It was ubiquitous, and what exactly is it about? Building a relationship that’s clearly falling apart based on a shared love of a film. Granted, a classic piece of American cinema, but still, it’s an utterly Gen-X moment, trying to make things work based on the notion that you both like a movie. It’s “the one thing we got.” Not even “one thing”, “THE one thing”. I realize that opposites attract, but this is grasping at straws in the worst way. And yet, as silly as it is, it’s so damn hooky, it was like the Pigpen cloud of dust, following radio listeners everywhere during that summer, you know, when stations weren’t playing Hootie.

2). “Block Rockin’ Beats” by the Chemical Brothers (from the 1997 album Dig Your Own Hole)

Actually, this one never got killed for me, per se, but the frequency of its play in my life leads to a great story which I wanted to share. Picture it, Ann Arbor, 1997. Every Football Saturday, my roommate Dave and I are walking down from the CC Little Bus Stop to Michigan Stadium. It’s an amazing walk, you take in the whole feeling of the campus. So, we’ve come across the Diag and are headed towards the Michigan Union. Next door to the Michigan Union is Sigma Chi, which always hosts a major pre-game bash. So, as we walk by, every game day, without fail, “Block Rockin’ Beats” is blasting out of the speakers at like 90 dB. I mean, the odds of this are not too staggering, Dave and I were creatures of habit, so we likely walked by in roughly the same window every game day, but to hear “Block Rockin’ Beats” every time is just a shocker, a major shocker. But it had to be good luck, I mean, every game that season, a Michigan win. I even remember the two of us having a discussion as to whether he was going to take a portable CD player with him to Pasadena to make sure he heard the song before the 1998 Rose Bowl. Anyway, this song, which won a Grammy for Best Instrumental, holds a special place in my overplayed heart.

3). “South Side” by Moby (from the 1999 album Play)

It’s a strange collaboration, you have Gwen Stefani’s vocals in the chorus with Moby on the verses. If you weren’t sure, Moby claims that the song is about a car ride in post-apocalyptic New York City. (On the plus side, parking should be plentiful.) Being a Midwestern boy, I’m just trying to figure out where the “South Side” of New York City is, I mean, I thought that the Southern part would be The Battery, no? I mean, it’s no worse than Journey’s claim of being a city boy, born in raised in South Detroit, which, if you look at a map, is Windsor, Ontario. The belief that it’s about driving around Chicago is more easily bought, with its legendary South Side. Anyway, this one shows up a lot on my playlogs from 2000, so I’m going to trust the list and say, yep, probably way overplayed.

4). “Unbelievable” by EMF (from the 1991 album Schubert Dip)

This one is another sports related one for me. The Red Wings, once upon a time, used this song after every goal was scored at a home game. My first Wings game live and in person was February 15, 1992, when the Wings played the then-expansion San Jose Sharks. They won by a score of 11-1. So 11 times that game, “Unbelievable!” So every time the Wings go crazy lighting the lamp, I fully expect this one to start playing, even if they don’t do it anymore. (I did program one of the EA NHL games a couple of years ago to play this every time the Wings scored in a game, so that was kind of fun.) It’s not just left to hockey though, all sports have leaned on this one over the years, in part because of the way “You’re UNBELIEVABLE” is hit in the chorus. And then Tom Jones got involved, and then later Kraft got involved, and then Colbert got involved, and the rest is history.

5). “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger (from the 1997 album Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?)

(You’ll forgive me for choosing a fan video using the song featuring clips from Arrested Development. I mean, it was THAT good a show.) This is a strange strange song to have been a huge hit, but it showed up in American Pie and in Disturbing Behavior (you know, the Katie Holmes movie), and it was just all over the radio during the summer of 1998. I think it’s the “been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding” line that people seem to remember, but there’s a lot of lyrical wackiness here, like “they cut off my legs, now I’m an amputee, god damn you!!!” or about “I wanna publish ‘zines, and rage against machines” that just make this one of the strangest songs to be a Top 5 modern rock track. I’m not sick, but I’m not well, indeed.

6). “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in my Hand” by Primitive Radio Gods (from the 1996 album Rocket)

I’m going to get a letter for this, but I will claim this is the only good thing to come out of the movie The Cable Guy. Sampling B.B. King’s 1964 song “How Blue Can You Get?” and slipping in some hip-hop subtext, this song was everywhere the summer after I graduated from high school. Hitting #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock tracks, it contains one of my favorite completely looney lyrical turns of phrase in a 1990s rock song ” Sunday comes and all the papers say ‘Ma Teresa’s joined the mob / and happy with her full time job'”. I been downhearted baby, ever since the day we met, rolling between Chris O’Connor’s “doot doo’s” make for a song you immediately remember when you hear it, even if you don’t remember all of the words of the title at that time.

7). “Big Empty” by Stone Temple Pilots (from the 1994 album Purple)

This may be my favorite STP song ever, so it hurts to put this on the list, but it’s true. I blame Brandon Lee. OK, it may not be fair, but it’s true. Think about it, would people have flocked to see The Crow in the numbers they did without the tragic connection? Perhaps, but the connections pushed it, and subsequently its soundtrack, way up the notice ladder. Thus, this song showed all over the radio during the summer of 1994 because it was on the film’s soundtrack. That said, it’s a strange song, moving back and forth in tempo, having a really low key bridge that swells into a hard driving crescendo. I never noticed the elements of a bluegrass sound before I did the research on it, but I guess in relistening with that in mind, you can hear it, a little.

8). “Life is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane (from the 1992 album Mad Mad World)

My nod to CanCon. Growing up in the Detroit suburbs, one of our finest alt. rock stations was (and still is) 89X, CIMX Windsor/Detroit. Well, sometimes you have to bend the rules to meet your Canadian Content requirements, and when you’re sick of playing Bryan Adams, there’s this song. Cochrane’s biggest American hit, I will argue that this is the hookiest song on this list. It’s a great driving song (as one might expect), it has a locational name check (though I never would have put Mozambique, Memphis, the Khyber Pass, and Vancouver in ANY grouping of four), and it’s got lyrical speed variance, all of which draw you in. Covered by Rascal Flatts for the Cars soundtrack last year, it ended up being the #1 country single of the year, but I will always take the original when given a choice.

9). “Closing Time” by Semisonic (from the 1998 album Feeling Strangely Fine)

I think of any song on this list, this is the one that really just got destroyed by being overplayed. Which is a shame, because Semisonic is such a vastly underrated band when you look beyond this track. (My pal Jerkwheat sort of beat me to this point last week, but if you still don’t believe me: “F.N.T.”, “If I Run”, “For the Love of the Game”, and “Singing in My Sleep”. Go listen, I’ll be here when you’re done…See, told you.) It’s such a perfect song, it speaks to a theoretically universal moment, and to those to young to experience it, it speaks to the aspirational moment of being old enough to be in a bar at last call. The simple little piano riff at the open is just enough to bring you in, and by that point, you’re rolling with it. You get to the classic “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” line and then boom, into the chorus. Probably a great karaoke track, at some point, all of us do indeed know who we want to take us home. I do like that Dan Wilson, a major baseball fan, has said he would love if just one MLB closer would pick “Closing Time” as their entry music, but he doesn’t see it happening.

10). “Banditos” by The Refreshments (from the 1996 album Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy)

(Fast fact: The Refreshments contributed the theme song to King of the Hill) The other Arizona modern rock band, this is an awesome story song that is as goofy as all hell. From “and you can look deep into my eyes, like I was a supermodel, uh-huh” to the alias on your id card claiming that you’re Capt. Jean-Luc Picard on the United Federation of Planets, I’ve always loved this song. (Seriously, has anyone else dropped some love for an Enterprise captain in the lyrics of their song, I mean, besides the shout-out in “99 Luftballoons” to Capt. Kirk.) Add to that that the singer calls out his own double cross with the line “Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people” before using the pistol to keep the pesos. Oh, and because the next track on the album is appropriately entitled “Mexico”. But, for all of it’s silliness, there’s a lot of good guitar work on this one which keeps you coming back for another go. All in all, another exceptional track that you could not escape from that summer.

I’m sure I forgot some classics here, so please, have at the obvious misses in the comments.

That’s all I have for this week. I genuinely hoped you enjoyed it, and please come back next week for another edition of “Tied to the 90s”. Until then, this has been Subcommandante Yostal, logging off.



1. Weed Against Speed - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Great post, Yostal.

I’m a huge fan of The Refreshments. The lead singer is now has his own solo act, Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers. Definitely worth checking out. They’re a little more country than The Refreshments but they still rock.

Side note: They are complete touring maniacs so keep an eye out for them. Great rocking show and real cool crowd, despite me being there, of course.

2. LenBiasCocaineSurplus - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I think DBS ruined that song when they wrote it.

3. Lou P. - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Good call on these songs. And you’re right that Semisonic’s one big hit overshadowed some other great songs that they put out.

4. Cinnamon Girl - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

tell me “closing time” isn’t dead – I could listen to that over and over. Great post.

5. goathair - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I will always associate “Unbelievable” with Tim Hardaway and Run TMC. Thanks for that NBA Inside Stuff.

6. Longsnapper Jones - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I assert that it’s not possible to overplay The Refreshments (love that whole album, BTW) or Flagpole Sitta. But right there with you on DBS, PRG, and EMF–all good songs that were beaten to death.

This column also made me feel better because after your previous music columns, I was pretty sure I’d slept through the ’90s completely oblivious to all music.

7. Yostal - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I am glad I was able to help Longsnapper…

8. The Fan's Attic - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Great stuff, Yostal. I’d have to say any time a song gets regular play in a sports venue it’s a pretty sure sign that the song will die a death by overplaying.

9. Fizzball - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Love for an Enterprise captain? Spizzenergi (aka Athletico Spizz ’80, Spizzoil, etc.) beat Nena to the punch with “Where’s Captain Kirk?”. Sadly, their performance from Urgh! A Music War has not yet been captured for YT posterity.

Never did hear “Banditos” on the radio, but it would have made the ’90s much better.

10. Amanda - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It probably doesn’t count, but Weird Al’s “White & Nerdy” has a line that goes something like “the only question that’s hard is if I like Kirk or Picard.”

That Refreshments song was one of the first ones to go on my iPod. It’s such a treat when it comes up on the shuffle.

11. Ms. Prolix - Thursday, March 15, 2007

The belief that it’s about driving around Chicago is more easily bought, with it’s legendary South Side.

Two things:
1. It’s “its”. Just sayin’
2. Doesn’t that song mention the East Side? The East Side of Chicago is Lake Michigan, which is why I always figured Moby wasn’t writing about a real city.

Otherwise, great post. Thanks, hon!

12. Byko - Thursday, March 15, 2007

My co-worker and I looked on a map and did some research for this one. Since Brooklyn was officially combined, for population purposes, with New York about a century ago, the south side of New York City would be around Brighton Beach/Coney Island. At least that’s better than being in another country.

And I’m with Longsnapper Jones–granted, I consider most everything musical in the 90s that came out after 1996 to be utter dross, but until this post, I really thought I must have slept through the decade too. Then again, I do tend to favor the mainstream with the exception of some bizarre 80s stuff.

13. Yostal - Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ms. Prolix,
Your mad copy editing eye is much appreciated.

14. spankyjoe - Thursday, March 15, 2007

One contribution that didn’t make Yostal’s list:

You can’t imagine how much this pains me to say (as quite possibly one of the world’s biggest Soundgarden fans both then and now), but even I got sick of hearing “Black Hole Sun” back in ’94-’95. I think I still throw a Soundgarden disc on the stereo at least once or twice a month, but I still cringe ever-so-slightly when I hear the opening notes.

15. Greek McPapadopoulos - Thursday, March 15, 2007

Yostal–I believe on the album version of “South Side”, Stefani doesn’t do the backup vocals, but only on the Single version. I preferred the non-Stefani track, but it did get overplayed. And I was too young to hear “Big Empty” to be overplayed, so it still remains near and dear to me. Great choices though.

And spanky, I totally agree about “Black Hole Sun”. I almost always skip that song (and only that one) when listening to Superunknown.

16. Elric VIII Emperor of Melnibone - Thursday, March 15, 2007

Black Hole Sun may have been overplayed, but the commentary on the music video is still one of the best Beavis and Butthead moments.

“tis within these hills that Juan Valdez and his trusty goat gather coffee beans every morning.”

17. spankyjoe - Friday, March 16, 2007

@ Elric:

I know the first round of Beavis and Butthead DVDs omitted the video commentary, which forever kills my usually OCD-level desire to own my re-packaged childhood and early adolescence.


That being said, however, I gritted my teeth and laid down the money this week for both parts 1 and 2 for the German single for Black Hole Sun (and “My Wave” and “The Day I Tried To Live” and “Flower” and the SOMMS edition of Badmotorfinger), just to get the (very tasty) b-sides.

OCD is a hell of a drug…

18. spankyjoe - Friday, March 16, 2007

BTW, I’m remiss in noting that Yostal’s original list was quite on point. In fact, I’m going to be spending my time at the office late tonight fighting to get a horrible, horrible rotation of his aforementioned list off the playlist in my head…

19. SA - Friday, March 16, 2007

It was overkilled, but I still like “Closing Time.”

20. Grimey - Friday, March 16, 2007

This might be late, but I just wanted to add “You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals (and I have noted New Radicals love in this section before, but god do I hate this song). “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, probably the most overplayed song of the 90’s. I would also like to add that “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd was killed by being overplayed in the 90’s.

Quick note: “Unbelievable” by EMF was the theme song to the Australian Rules Football show that used to air on Sunshine Network (in Florida) while I was in high school.

21. Greek McPapadopoulos - Friday, March 16, 2007


I have the My Wave single, but I haven’t seen the other ones you mention–what’s on them? and what’s SOMMS? By chance, do any of these have the Soundgarden covers of “Come Together” or “Big Bottom”?

22. HelloWorld - Sunday, April 29, 2007

Peace people

We love you

23. Papa Lou BSU - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Great topic… talk about songs that got beaten to death!

I would add the Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom” and Blues Traveler’s “Runaround” to this list… the worst offenders were always the songs that would be in rotation at your local alt-rock, rock, and Top 40 stations at the same time (like STP or Hootie) . You couldn’t escape the songs when that happened.

24. steve - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Great call on Runaround, it’s also one of those songs that you can’t get out of your head either.

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