Wednesday, July 13, 2011
YouTube Hall of Fame: Crash Test Dummies, Cam'ron, and Tolstoy Every week, Grantland's staff watches all 200 million videos on YouTube and picks their favorites.
Bill Simmons: On February 19, 1994, Saturday Night Live unleashed its single goofiest host/band pairing ever: Martin Lawrence and Crash Test Dummies. Neither would ever appear on the show again. Lawrence made his monologue so crude that SNL's producers edited it from every repeat and banned him for life. And the Crash Test Dummies were the ultimate one-hit wonder, an unassuming Canadian band whose creepy "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" song improbably became a smash hit. I remember enjoying lead singer Brad Roberts because of his extended mullet, his serial-killer wardrobe and a voice that sounded like Jame Gumb from Silence of the Lambs, but it wasn't until Roberts' SNL appearance that everything fell into place. Roberts may have been stoned out of his mind, nervous as hell, as amazed as anyone that this song had become a smash hit we'll never know what happened. Just know that he unleashed so many crazy faces that the song inadvertently became the funniest four minutes of that SNL season.
If you've ever heard "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," it starts out with Roberts singing, "Once there was this kid, who got into an accident but couldn't come to school, but, whennnnnnnn, he finally came back, his... hair... had turned from black into bright white." Then he has to kill a couple of seconds before the next verse. On SNL (fast-forward to the 18-second mark of this quick montage clip), Roberts squeezed his face really hard during these two seconds like he crapped his pants, then glanced over to his guitarist as if to tell him, "It happened, I crapped my pants." It only got better. There was Brad's calm, provocative, superserious, "This 'Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm' chorus was the best I could do" face. There was the "I know you heard me sing 'Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm' before, so this time, I'm going to raise my right eyebrow through my forehead" face. There was the, "I just sang 'Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm' again, so I'm going to self-consciously glance over to my synth player and smile so she's not afraid of me later when I throw her into my van and make a body suit out of her skin" face. And there was my favorite part, when the chorus inexplicably shifts from "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" to the guttural "Awwwww ahhhhhhh awwwww awwww-ahhhhhhhhhhhhh" which Roberts belted it out with a deliriously happy head bob, as if he were saying, "YEAH! We just proved that choruses don't need any words! FUCK WORDS!"
And by the way? It's a really good song! I have no idea what it's about (my guess: three outcasts in a high school, one whose hair turned white after a car accident, one who didn't like anyone to see her change because she had birthmarks all over her body, and one who had to come home directly after school to go to church, and the only thing these three kids had in common was mmm mmm mmm mmmmm mmm mmm mmm mmmmmm), but there's something innocent and happy and one-hit wondery about it. I always got the feeling from Crash Test Dummies that they never imagined in a million katrillion years that they'd sell 5,000 albums, much less 5½ million (what God Shuffled His Feet sold), so they just enjoyed the ride and got a sincere kick out of everything. If you watch their performances on Stewart, Letterman or the Conan clip above, you'll notice that things always end with Roberts turning to the rest of his band, like he's either saying, "That was fun, everybody, I really enjoyed that" or "I'm throwing one of you in a deep hole later tonight and mocking you while holding a white poodle." It was one or the other.
Sadly, none of their YouTube clips are even one-tenth as funny as the immortal (for me) SNL appearance. You may have noticed that NBC blocks every SNL musical performance on the Internet, which makes no sense because EVERYTHING is on the Internet now. The best live SNL performance ever was Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" in 1983; even that one exists only in audio form, and I'm sure they'll pull it down within a few hours after we post this piece. Why have YouTube if we can't watch Stevie belt that song out every few months? I think it's the loudest that little studio audience ever cheered a performance. I mean, that was a moment. And really, so was Crash Test Dummies singing "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm." I can't believe there are 10 kajillion bajillion music clips on You Tube at this point and I'm still not satisfied.
Chuck Klosterman: This is not funny, interesting, or shocking. It's only mildly insightful, and even that might be pushing it. But isn't it insane that Leo Tolstoy is on YouTube? "There he is, sawing wood." Here's a writer who *died* in 1910. When I woke up this morning, I did not expect to see footage of Leo Tolstoy's funeral. This is also a great clip if you have a lot of personal interest in peasants.
Patrice Evans: This is Slick Rick, performing “Hey Young World” at B.B. King's. Of course Rick earned a rep for his storytelling: From "La Di Da Di" to "Children's Story", "Indian Girl (An Adult Story)" to "Mona Lisa," most of his classics were fun, flirty, fantastical lyrical narratives. His wacky, irreverent, often sexist rhymes made him the Dr. Seuss-meets-Benny Hill of hip-hop.
But the single that broke this mold was "Hey Young World." Produced by Rick himself, the smooth strings, dinky-dinky-dink toy-piano riff, and bouncy back-and-forth flow make the song more like a carefree nursery rhyme than a street anthem. And those lyrics. Honestly, this might be the cheesiest song in hip-hop history, complete with instructions like "do your chores", "get a suit for a job", and "scream whoopy-doo." If an old, white grandmother from the Midwest didn't write the lyrics, "Times have changed and it's cool to look bummy, be a dumb dummy, and disrespect your mummy," then they'd have to be a first draft for some twee Lonely Island sketch left on the cutting room floor.
But nope. It's the ruler, Richard Walters. And here he is in his mid-40s with a live band, about $20k in diamonds on his eye patch, a mouth full of gold teeth, who knows how much money hanging around his neck, and a crowd of people screaming, "Go for yours, 'cause dreams come true." If that doesn't teach the kids something (I'm not sure what), we should probably stop trying. (The video gets rough in the middle, but there's a nice capper of a sax solo in the last minute.)
Molly Lambert: Let's face it. The '90s were our '60s. Sure everybody complained a lot (looking at you, Gen X), and the "cool" president turned out to be kind of a sleazeball. But all in all, damned if we weren't pretty carefree. This video for So So Def signee Corina's remake of Nocera's '80s Latin freestyle hit "Summertime Summertime" features numerous hallmarks of '90s R&B videos: vinyl bikinis, spit curls, Rollerbladers, fingerless gloves, sunglasses goggles, brown lipstick, and supersaturated colors. It also features a pre-crunk Lil Jon spinning, perfectly breezy convertible-driving POV shots, and a beach dance sequence. It's a flawless jam for summer mixes. This is what July always looks like in my mind.
Katie Baker: Shh, don't worry about it. It's just a member of the My Little Ponies Live roadshow relaxing between performances with a little impromptu, eyelash-batting, hoof-kicking rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." Just let it happen, and while you're watching tell me this: Doesn't that pony actually bear a really spooky resemblance to the real Jennifer Hudson these days?
Anyway, this stunning performance notwithstanding, I've always been partial to "Listen" when it comes to songs from the (underrated!) major motion picture Dreamgirls. And I'm not alone! As trusted an expert as Coach K agrees: On this playlist he put together, he explains "I have become a huge fan of Beyoncé and of the movie, Dreamgirls. I am so impressed by the performances in that movie including this one by Beyoncé." Seriously, take a second to check out that playlist. He has a song from the A League of Their Own soundtrack, some Celine Dion, some Phantom, some Legends of the Fall — nice! — and "That's What Friends Are For" by Dionne Warwick. I bet the dude puts on a sick year-end slideshow.
Chris Ryan: This is Cam’ron on BET’s Rap City, sometime in 2005, spitting over The Game’s “Dreams” track, which was produced by Kanye West. It is the most “I’m in the zone! I can hear Jimi!” performance in the history of recorded sound. That’s not particularly surprising when you consider the fact that, in the middle part of the last decade, Cam’ron was that zone’s landlord.
From 2001, when the first Diplomats mixtape dropped, through his full-lengths, Come Home With Me and Purple Haze, Cam’ron was matched possibly only by Ghostface in rap’s lyrical supremacy sweepstakes.
Where Ghost was 500-hour energy-drink amped and crying for the babies, Cam couldn’t care less. Everything seemed effortless for him. They were both spitting what, at times, felt like free-associative poetry about New York City, but they were doing it in totally different ways. He basically sums up his “I’m the best, who cares” attitude within the first 30 seconds of the Rap City clip: “I don’t even like to rhyme, love, but love this life of mine.”
Despite all the great records Cam put out over that 5-year-and-change stretch, this might be my favorite artifact from that time. To the best of my knowledge and Googling, this performance, in full, only exists on YouTube. You can find snippets of it on Best Of Cam’ron mixes, but not the full-length version. The lyrics were eventually repurposed for a song called “It’s Nothin’” on Dipset The Movement Moves On, but that track, with all due respect to Hell Rell, pales in comparison to what you see above.
My favorite thing about this performance is how it looks like someone woke Cam from an incredibly nice dream about Pelicans he was having in the back of an Escalade and told him, “Killa, your country needs you.”
Sleepy-eyed, no doubt a side effect from some powerful glaucoma medication, Cam proceeds to absolutely repossess this song from The Game. .22 to my head, this may be favorite Kanye West beat, outside of “Gone” or “School Spirit” or “Two Words” OK it’s up there. But despite the fact that Kanye made it and it officially belonged to Game, I will always and forever consider this a Cam track.
Cam rhymes about his sweat socks, the short life span of his jewelry, his Dipset crew member Juelz Santana’s style of conflict resolution, the variety to be found in his drug inventory, Betty and Wilma, Dora the Explorer, the veneer of his cabinets and winds down by declaring himself the brand new Entenmann's.
You might feel like this doesn’t qualify as a freestyle since Cam clearly isn’t coming off the dome. In this case I’d say you’re being pedantic and let you know that your shuffle-board game is about to start at the Covered Bridge Retirement Community Rec Center.
You also might note, for better or worse, that Cam never breaks for a chorus or offers up a lyrical hook. Listen closer. Watch this over and over again. Everything Cam’ron says is a hook. Yahtzee. Yacht time.
Jay Caspian Kang: When recording an R&B video, do you talk or not talk? And if you choose to talk, do you talk at the beginning of the song or at the end? Do you go Jodeci and talk over the bridge before the last verse? When you talk, do you start with the word “girl,” or do you pronounce it “grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl?” If the R&B song you just recorded is titled “I Adore Mi Amor,” do you sexy-talk in Spanish or in Italian? (Color Me Badd chose Spanish.)
In the video above, Al B. Sure fully commits to talking at the beginning of the song. In 2011, this would count as a risky move, but Night and Day was recorded before the Boomerang soundtrack came and changed the game. After "End of the Road," talking during R&B videos was changed forever in the way the Bible was changed after the King James Version. After Boomerang, R&B singers had to justify talking in any spot other than the end of the song or else Shawn Stockman was going to come and rub you out. The credo of "End of the Road" lasted until R. Kelly revolutionized the game with "Real Talk." (Strange. As I type this, I am hearing Sway’s voice in my head. I’m channeling Sway. WHERE IS MY HAIR WRAP?!?)
Some final thoughts on this topic: The greatest opportunity for talking that went by the wayside was that D’Angelo song where he was butt-naked and they kept trying to scroll down before the spot where his FUPA would be if he was a menopausal old woman. (What is that place called on men? The bladder holder?) The group that talked the most in its songs without it meaning anything was Shai. By a long mile, really.