There are two kinds of music in the world: The albums you listen to with the car windows rolled down, and the ones you only enjoy when the windows are rolled up tight.
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We present a few tributes to the latter. Billboard can keep its Top 40; we're sticking with our Hidden 12.
Not that there's any shame in loving these tunes. Many a talented artist appears on the list, though if Phish's Trey Anastasio is sitting around Googling himself one night, he might wonder how he ended up on the same page as Paula Abdul.
But if you're stuck in rush-hour traffic, and that hot convertible pulls up alongside you, bass a-pumpin', it's a safe bet you don't want to be caught bopping along to Britney's Pepsi jingle and turning the volume on that Neil Diamond CD to 11.
This band may be best known for two things: appearing on the medical-marijuana episode of "The Simpsons" ("If Phish don't see a prescription slip, we are outta here!") and having a Ben & Jerry's flavor named in their honor, presumably to combat the munchies. The prototypical Phish enthusiast — or "phan" — reeks of patchouli and is festooned with dreadlocks and hemp necklaces. Does their music have redeeming qualities for those who do not partake of the ganja? From the way friends taunt me when they see "A Live One" on my iPod, you wouldn't think so.
But a band doesn't survive over two decades with virtually no radio play simply because listeners are too baked to know better. I adore Phish's relentless optimism and hypnotic wordplay. Like the Beatles, they continually reinvent themselves, incorporating elements of rock and jazz, even tongue-in-cheek country. Unlike almost every other act in existence, Phish knows there's more to sing about than love and loneliness: hedge mazes and llamas and aliens sipping lemonade with a girl named Kitty Malone. To me, they'll always be the music of long summer drives and sleepless nights — even if I never figure out what they mean by “Appletoast, bedheated, furblanket rat.” —Kim Rollins
Broadway show tunes
I call it my Broadway revival. While visiting friends in Napa Valley, our host sat down at his baby grand and asked for a song. My love of Broadway show tunes
was soon back out in the open. It was never a secret, just a passion pushed aside. Lost opportunity and respect for others no longer permits belting out Rodgers and Hart in the shower, Cole Porter in the kitchen, or Sondheim in the living room. Now my stage is my car. Up before the sun, on the road with coffee in mug, there is some warming up … traffic reports, headline news … but when the coffee kicks in, it’s Fats Waller and Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s turning into a legacy. My 14-year-old niece just invited me to a concert. I paused, curious to discover the teen idol of the month. She grinned, and said, “It’s Linda Eder … I think you’ll really like her.” My heart skipped a beat. “Like her?” I asked, putting my arm around her. Who would have thought that a woman’s rendition of Don Quixote would span a generation? Ms. Eder’s next release is a tribute to Judy Garland. My niece and I can’t wait. —Dara Brown
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
It's probably a stretch to claim that the smooth near-Muzak of tunes like Herb Alpert's “A Taste of Honey” was ever quite hip. Alpert's faux-Mexican ballads probably resonated more in Ohio than Oaxaca. And let's not even talk about “Tijuana Sauerkraut.” None of it matters. Alpert always generated his own cloud of cool, even if I stumbled upon my Dad's old LPs a decade after the Brass' late-60s fame had waned. He was the kind of dude who could strike an unabashed pose in his vibrant caballero shirts, hold a trumpet like a deadly weapon and convince a scalding-hot babe to pose for an album cover in nothing but whipped cream. And that horn? Well, Alpert was a smooth master, an icon to us gawky teen brassmen who moaned about how clarinetists saw all the action. He took his fame and built A&M into a huge independent label. Nearly four decades later, Herb remains a big man in the music business. You could mock his music, and his style, but he was a trumpet king, and he got the girls. —Jon Bonné
Yeah, I love that Duran Duran song, “Rio.” You know, where they sing, “It means so much to meeee, like a birthday or a preeee-view.” Because really, who doesn’t like birthdays and movie previews? Oh wait — you mean it’s really “birthday or a pretty view?” Enunciate, Simon, enunciate! I can’t help it, I love misheard lyrics. There are about 100 Web sites collecting them. Some are so old they’re clichés by now — “There’s a bathroom on the right” and “'Scuze me, while I kiss this guy” being two golden oldies. Others are so dumb you wonder if someone just made them up to be funny. Did people really mishear, “We all live in a yellow submarine” as “We all live in a ghetto in the sink”? I wonder. My favorites are the ones that people I know actually admit to believing, such as my husband Rob once thinking the Ramones were singing, “The kids are lids on land mines” instead of “The kids are losing their minds” in “Blitzkrieg Bop.” And an anonymous high-school friend who really thought Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” was “How’s About a Date?” I have to admit, I still mishear lyrics every day. U2’s “Vertigo”? Where Bono sings “Hello, hello, I’m at a place called Vertigo”? It still sounds to me like he’s saying “Hello, hello, I’m in a place called Oregon.” —G.F.C.
I discovered Neil Diamond
on July 4, 1986, during the heady days of "Top Gun," a jelly-bean fueled presidency and the nation's audacious Statue of Liberty centennial. Against a backdrop of warships and fireworks, an orchestra struck the haunting first chords of "America" and Neil belted out lyrics so infused with humility, pride and patriotism that they still bring tears to my eyes. As Lady Liberty beckoned, Neil reassured us all that “everywhere around the world / They're coming to America / Every time that flag's unfurled / They're coming to America.” At last, I’d found a crooning Jewish superhero to call my own. Foolishly, I lost touch with Neil in my rebellious adolescence. In forsaking him, I cheated myself out of more than just great music. I lost a bridge to my heritage and the zest for life Neil exudes, whether he's wooing "Sweet Caroline" or singing sweet thanks to "Shilo." Older, wiser and arguably more refined, I’ve rediscovered Neil. Cruising down the road on a hot August night, you'll find Neil and I joyfully sharing a bowl of "Crunchy Granola Suite" and proclaiming "Halle, hallelujah!" —Josh Belzman
The '60s and '70s were the Golden Age of pop novelty songs, when Top 40 radio always had some comedy relief. The Elvis of that musical sub-genre, with three Top 10 singles, was Ray Stevens
. He first appeared in 1962 with the politically incorrect "Ahab the Arab," a half-sung, half-talked send-up of Valentino's "Sheik of Araby." ("He'd jump on his Camel named Clyde and ride!") With "Gitarzan," he turned Edgar Rice Burroughs' king of the jungle into a rock star, while Jane belted out a Janis-Joplinesque "Oh baby, baby!" Then in 1974, when streaking was the hot fad, inspiring more than 20 singles, it was Stevens who went to No. 1 with the simply-titled "The Streak," whose dimwitted 'victim' vainly tried to protect his wife ("Don't look, Ethel!") until she threw off her inhibitions and clothes. ("Ethel, you shameless hussy!") In such whimsical performances as "Harry the Hairy Ape" or "The Mississipi Squirrel Revival," Stevens wasn't trying to be as ironic or sophisticated as other novelty artists — just funny. And he was. —Wendell Wittler
Everyone's collection of (legally purchased and downloaded) MP3s probably has a few embarrassments. Mine includes a Britney Spears song, but Britney is not the reason why it's embarrassing. “The world goes round and round / But some things never change / Ba pa pa pa ba pa pa pa / The joy of Pepsi!” Yes, it's an ad jingle, because my addiction to consumer culture extends into music. Also on my playlist is Kasabian's "Club Foot," exceptional because it’s one of the few songs I knew before it became the soundtrack for a brand (Pontiac, in that case). Most ad songs are uplifting, which is obviously the point: Coke's C2 commercials reintroduced me to Queen's thrilling anthem "I Want to Break Free"; Renee Cologne's "Color My World" makes me want to dive into a river of vibrating M&Ms. There’s also a 29-second clip used in a Saab convertible ad. I've been unable to identify it by Googling the lyrics or searching AdTunes, an exceptionally informative site that feeds my addiction. Even though it remains a mystery, and even though I have yet to purchase a Saab, the song still brings joy to my playlist. —Andy Dehnart
Rock songs have a fairly limited subject matter, love and drugs and breaking up and blah blah blah. But only a country song would tackle the topic of a desperate mother burning her abusive husband alive. I first heard Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” when Carrie Underwood sang it on “American Idol.” (Speaking of guilty pleasures … ) I didn’t quite tune in to all the lyrics then. But I knew that the verses were haunting (“I was only eight years old that summer, and I always seemed to be in the way”) and the chorus pounding and powerful (“Roll the stone away, let the guilty pay, it’s Independence Day”). When I sought out the Martina version, I realized that here is an American Gothic tragedy, all wrapped up in a neat little chorus-verse-chorus. I’m not saying the abusive drunk of a dad didn’t deserve to burn, but the matter-of-fact delivery is almost biblical in its simplicity. I still get a lump in my throat when she sings, “They just put out the flames, and took down some names, and sent me to the county home.” I’m still not ready to dub myself a country fan, but don’t dis Martina around me, that’s all. Especially if I have a match. —G.F.C.
“Evita” (original Broadway album)
Let me be clear: I think Andrew Lloyd Webber is Satan incarnate, responsible for much of what went wrong with musicals in the 1980s. If I never hear “Music of the Night” again, it will be too soon. But then there’s “Evita,”
the single most embarrassing item in my extensive collection of Broadway musicals. (And that’s counting “Seussical.”) If you’ve seen the Madonna movie (which wasn’t bad) or the “Simpsons” parody (which was awesome), you know the plot: A powerful woman’s rise and fall, as told by a mysterious balladeer. A friend of mine who adores this show without any of my self-hatred thinks the show’s historical roots are part of its charm. She may be right. My favorite part of the show is how it manages to encompass several months, scenes and perspectives all in one song, such as in “Rainbow Tour.” Then there’s the cast: The divine Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. Both have since become close to self-parodies, but in this 1978 recording their powerful voices are transcendent. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, the truth is I’m embarrassed enough already. —Lori Smith
Between my wife and I, we own about 500 CDs ... and one dusty CD player that hasn't been used since we moved over a year ago. We only listen to them in the car, and since neither of us drive enough to listen to that many CDs in a year, every now and then I go down to the basement and pack up another shoebox full to sell or donate. But one remains safely enshrined in the '80s section ... Paula Abdul's “Forever Your Girl.” OK, I might not admit it's mine when the guys are over to watch football, but it's actually a pretty snazzy album. You'd have to be a Cold-Hearted Snake to judge it based on her nuttiness as an “American Idol” judge ... she just seems so happy to be Forever Your Girl, because Opposites Attract. I bought the CD in eighth grade because I liked most of the songs on it, and that holds true today. Besides, for 15 minutes in the 1980s, she was as hot an act as there was in music. Straight Up. —Craig Berman
In 1983, while I was outwardly declaring my dedication to British punk and power-pop bands like the Clash and The Jam, I secretly grooved to an odd funk band called Midnight Star
. A year before Madonna ordered everyone to get into the grove, Midnight Star assured us, in its left-over-from-the-'70s way, “It’s so easy to rock it with your body.” I kept my 12-inch singles of “No Parking on the Dance Floor” and “Freak-a-Zoid” hidden from my punker friends, but could barely stand still when those songs were played at school dances or parties. Honestly, who could resist those catchy lyrics (“I’ll be your freak-a-zoid, come on and wind me up”), dated synthesizer sounds and the robotic near-rap? Two decades on, I find myself still secretly listening to the same songs, now buried several folders deep in my digital music player. —Denise Ono
Men at Work
To most hip young kids now over 40, the only '80s groups worth remembering are U2 or REM. But in 1982, a merry band from Australia came out of nowhere with a black-humored song about alienation and paranoia titled "Who Can It Be Now," and a low-budget noir-style video spotlighting lead singer Colin Hay with his creepy lazy eye. Men at Work
went to No. 1 with that song and its even odder follow-up, the relentlessly cheery Aussie anthem "Down Under." But these were no mere two-hit wonders; their first album broke the Monkees' record for best-selling debut ever, and kept placing songs in the Top 40, including "Be Good Johnny," which bore absolutely NO resemblance to "Johnny B. Good," and the punning parable "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive." Their recordings were perfect party music, as long as your party didn't require a continuous 120 bpm backbeat. When "Down Under" started up, it would always turn into a sing-along. (Nobody got that "where women glow and men thunder" line right.) It's still a mystery why they fell out of favor. They were certainly weren’t repetitive. And they never took themselves too seriously. Maybe in the '80s, that was the problem. —W.W.
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