Let me count the ways: Brought to you by the numbers 1 and 2

Posted: August 26, 2013 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Before we get started, I have two more disqualifications:

  • The 4 Hits & a Miss: They were born during the Great Depression as 3 Hits & a Miss. They later expanded to 6 Hits, but like many start-ups they soon learned that steady growth is preferable to reckless expansion and by the end of the war they had cut back to 4 Hits. There was only ever one Miss. Survived into the late ’40s when they drafted Andy Williams, who was just starting out as a force against music. Anyway, they are so not rock ’n’ roll.
  • World War Four: AllMusic.com mentions an album, Rising From the Rubble, but gives no further info. I can’t find any tracks. Someone on MySpace has a World War Four page, and there are bands in Canada and New Zealand that claim this name. This is beginning to smell suspicious so out they go.

Beginning right now: I spend the week summarizing people’s life work in 100 words or less!

.38 Special
One of only three non-integers on this list. .38 Special was sort of an ’80s power pop band, not as hard as The Romantics (“What I Like About You”) but not as soft as A-Ha (“Take on Me”). They broke into the Top 40 in 1981 with “Hold on Loosely,” which is about not smothering your girlfriend with attention, which is unusual for a rock song. The only other thing I find interesting about this band is that “38 Specials” would be a great name for a porn actress.

Kenny Rogers & The First Edition
Kenny Rogers, with his immaculately made-up hair and his meticulously landscaped beard, looks exactly like the kind of guy who always tries to corner me at a party so he can deliver a monolog about his main area of expertise, himself. You gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em and the time to fold this joker’s music was way back in 1967.

One Direction

It’s kind of late for me to be catching up with KRS-One (“Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone,” or Kris Parker, to use his birth name), as his heyday was the late ’80s-early ’90s. I’ve detected a curious thing about rap: What sounded raucous, threatening, and unfocused 25 years ago can sound almost melodic today. I listened to his second album, KRS-One (1995), and found myself tapping my foot as I listened. If KRS-One is reading this he’s probably wondering where he went wrong. Way wrong.

2 Live Crew

2 Nice Girls
Folk music with a country flavor and a feminist/lesbian perspective. Sometimes they add Spanish or Hawaiian overtones. 2 Nice Girls is actually three girls; I suppose the third one is not very nice, but I am prohibited by certain legal requirements from researching this.

The three women harmonize beautifully, not with the strange-visitors-from-another-planet grace of The Roches but more like The Indigo Girls. You can’t resist them when they sing, “I spent my last ten dollars on birth control and beer/My life was so much simpler when I was sober and queer.”

2 Unlimited
Dutch 1990s techno that was absurdly popular in Europe but almost unknown here, except for “Get Ready for This,” which has starred in the soundtracks of two movies (How to Eat Fried Worms and Scooby-Doo 2) and was played for many years in the old Kingdome whenever the Seattle Mariners did anything noteworthy or were just trying to wake the crowd up.

Kid Rock owes a lot to this guy; KR simply removed the politics and the real-life gun battles. But I suppose every rapper who came along in the 1990s owes something to Tupac Amaru Shakur. No telling where this artist would be today if he hadn’t been murdered in 1996. I listened to his debut, 2Pacalypse Now (1991). I wish I could say something insightful about rap but I usually flee from it. From everything I’ve read, Me Against the World (1996) is supposed to be 2Pac’s best, but I don’t intend to test that claim.

Amon Düül II
This was a tough call. Amon Düül II may be the only band in history with two consecutive umlauts in its name. (Their distant competition is Hüsker Dü.) This alone deserves some attention.

The “II” in their name refers to the second incarnation of this German juggernaut of musical avant-gardists. The second act didn’t just recycle the old material, à la Devo 2.0; they produced new, noise-filled records that I’ll bet their own mothers wouldn’t listen to.

A much-traveled co-worker once told me that the only thing wrong with Germany is that it’s filled with 90 million depressed Germans. The thought of listening to German experimental music filled me with angst, and I’m not talking about a German beer.

Aztec Two-Step
Aztec Two-Step (1972) is a relaxed country-folk hybrid that makes me want to nap under a tree. The surprising exception is “The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty (On the Road),” which is surely one of the lost classics of the 1970s.

Boyz II Men
Doo-wop transplanted from the ’50s to the ’90s. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and Teddy Pendergrass pulled off the same trick in the ’70s. “Motownphilly,” their first hit, is a song I remember from dance floors of the very early ’90s.

Another white hip-hop artist/MC/turntablist. This one mixes in lounge and various strange things and takes us to a very boring place.

No one takes themselves more seriously than U2. U2 makes Yes, The Moody Blues, and Kraftwerk look like a corral full of circus clowns. U2 makes Coldplay look like a bunch of guys who blow up balloons on your birthday. Only a band with the collective ego and awesome skills of U2 could decide to call a song “Magnificent” and then write a song that actually is magnificent. Only Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen could stand around like Anasazi gods in the desert and then deliver a record that very possibly came from Anasazi gods in the desert. Only Bono and The Edge would call themselves Bono and The Edge and five minutes later everyone else in the world is calling them Bono and The Edge.

U2 is the best band by far on our list of bands with numbers in their names, but they’d be the best band on almost any list. I wouldn’t give you much for them here in the new century, but in the 1980s and ’90s they led the pack. My favorite U2 album is still their live set from 1983, Under a Blood Red Sky, even though it showcases U2’s most enduring and least endearing trait: the way they can pair genius (“Gloria,” “The Electric Co.”) with way less than genius (“Party Girl,” “40”) on the same record.

Tomorrow night: They’re givin’ you a number, and takin’ ‘way your name!

  1. Verlierer says:

    Wow. You are delving deep to dig up the dirt, considering the number of number bands in the field or out to pasture.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      You’d be surprised how fast this has been going. I already know the music of many of these bands (I didn’t have to listen to U2 or The Four Seasons, for example), and many others are simple enough that I only needed to hear about three songs to get a bead on them. The bands that I didn’t know and that had something going for them (Timbuk 3, 2 Nice Girls) I spent the most time on.

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