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‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something’ with these songs

You may love your 'Piña Colada' but you'll never admit it
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Everybody has them. Hidden deep in the entertainment center. Buried at the bottom of the CD chest. Scratch the veneer of any hip music enthusiast and you'll find a closet Milli Vanilli fan.

We all have a song, a CD, even an old vinyl record that we never tire of hearing, but that we wouldn't pop into the CD player in an effort to impress that special someone. In fact, you'd have to know that special someone pretty well before you'd reveal this guilty little secret. Here are a few of our twisted choices. Remember, if you can't say anything nice, keep it to yourself!

Hee-hee, it's a 'Thriller'
Once upon a time, you'd never dream of calling Michael Jackson's "Thriller" a guilty pleasure. It is the best selling album of all time and it seriously rocks. But come on, how many people do you know who would admit to listening to Michael Jackson music now? Molestation charges, multiple plastic surgeries, dangling babies, skin pigmentation changes. The former Gloved One is no longer known for his moonwalking skills and incredible musical talent, but rather for his freakish looks and erratic (and allegedly criminal) behavior. But I'm not ashamed to say that I still listen to Michael and I love it. On a recent plane trip across country, I was all but dancing in my cramped seat listening to "Thriller" and the album that preceeded it, "Off the Wall." "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" is a mainstay in my triathlon training playlist because it flat flies. I remember how giddy I felt when my friend Reina gave me the cassette copy of "Thriller" for my 18th birthday and how we used to stop what we were doing and turn up the volume on the TV when "Beat It" came on MTV (this was 1982, back when MTV still showed music videos). I still feel like a "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" when I listen to "Thriller" and if you "Wanna Be Startin' Something" just tell me that Michael can't sing. — Denise Hazlick

Take me home, country roads

When my Honda Civic was broken into this January, the thief stole my stereo and even the cheapie silver shifter knob my husband bought for $14 at GI Joe’s. One thing the crook did not take was my double-disc "Best of John Denver" CD set, which he or she left prominently on the driver’s seat in a pile of shattered glass, as if to say “Come on, lady, even criminals don’t want this.” Can I help it if criminals have no taste? I’ve always been drawn to Denver’s romantic lyrics, gentle music and liberal views on protecting the environment. I loved even his more obscure tunes — “Rocky Mountain Suite (Cold Nights in Canada),” “Matthew,” “60 Second Song for a Bank.” I was shocked to hear that he and his first wife, the Annie of “Annie’s Song,” had divorced — when someone wrote you a song that beautiful, how could it not work out? She filled up his senses, like a night in the forest! Like a mountain in springtime, like a walk in the rain! Plus, he hung out with the Muppets — a true marker of coolness. When Denver’s experimental plane crashed in Monterey Bay in 1997, I felt as if I’d lost a brother. And while I might hide his CDs in the glove compartment most of the time, if you see me driving alone and belting like Pavarotti, it’s probably not opera I’m singing. Take me home, country roads.   — Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Senior-citizen radio

OK, "senior-citizen radio" is probably not the approved name for the format, but these days, calling something an "oldies station" means they play a lot of Beatles and Skynyrd. Senior-citizen radio, on the other hand, lives in a different, much older world. A world where Bing Crosby never beat his kids, where Frank Sinatra didn't have all his messy Mobster friends, and where Patti Page never found out how much is that doggie in the window. Senior-citizen radio is always on AM, so good luck tuning in to it in your home — if you're lucky, you may be able to hear it in your car. I suspect my fondness for senior-citizen radio comes from growing up with my World War II veteran parents, who were always driving me somewhere in our big American car and always playing Perry Como, Burl Ives or Bing  — on 8-track. (Although granted, they also had a fondness for the much-younger Kris Kristofferson.)

A child of the '80s myself, I'm not above loving a good rap song, but there's something addictive about the plain silliness of these true oldies: "Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away."  "Until the twelfth of never, I'll still be loving you." And it's not just about the regular programming — if you're lucky, the station will have special nights where they play old-time radio shows ("The Shadow Knows!") or entire blocks of Rat Pack music ("The Sounds of Sinatra").

The commercials are for products like denture cleaner and retirement homes, and the DJs, sounding well past retirement age themselves, have the soothing, comforting voices of your favorite grandparents. They lived through Pearl Harbor, Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam, their voices seem to say, surely we'll get through whatever new world crisis today's news has brought us. Now let's have one for my baby, and one more for the road.   — G.F.C.

It's ain't easy ... singing at workMy particular guilty pleasure is my Muppet Show CD. Whenever I’m feeling crummy, I put on “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green” or my all-time favorite song, “The Rainbow Connection.” They conjure up images of Kermit’s head bobbing along to the music and the little Frog Chorus singing in the background. Sometimes I wonder if it’s normal for a thirtysomething to listen to this stuff, but what the heck… at least I don’t sing it at work. — Molly Masland

A pocket full of what?
The Spin Doctors' "Pocket Full of Kryptonite" was never “cool,” but it was popular and I was a teenager susceptible to constant radio and MTV airplay of “Two Princes.” For some reason, though, I listened to the CD a lot and found myself popping it in my stereo whenever I needed to drive somewhere and zone out to music. Still do. I suppose it’s not a really bad buy like Color Me Badd or Fine Young Cannibals, but man, you better believe it’s hidden in my CD collection. Until I need to zone out, that is. And it’s just such happy music. You can’t hate music that’s this happy. — Mike Miller

Have a nice day!

The 1970s are known for a lot of things. Mood rings, bellbottoms, shag haircuts, gas rationing, Watergate, Nixon's resignation — in short, mostly trends and events that are baaaaad (and that don't mean good). And the music of the '70s as a rule doesn't fare much better. "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)", "Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia", "Billy, Don't Be a Hero", "Disco Duck" — pure '70s crap. But it filled AM (that's right AM) radio as pure pop gasped its final breathe. However, for every "Kung Fu Fighting", there was also an "O-o-h Child" and a "Freddie's Dead". The 70s had kick-ass soul (Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, The Staples Singers) and lame-ass pop (Tony Orlando and Dawn, Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods, Paper Lace, Looking Glass), but God save me, I just love it. "Have A Nice Decade: The '70s Pop Culture Book" box set spans the decade from Shocking Blue's "Venus" to "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge. As I listen to these songs, I remember listening to Dr. Don Rose on KFRC-AM each morning as I got ready for school. I remember the gauchos and disco platforms I wore and doin' the Bump at dances. Several of the discs from this compilation are currently in the CD changer in my car, including the one with the song that will follow me for the rest of my life. Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis" is my one and only karaoke song. It's goofy, quirky, sexy — the quinessential '70s pop song. There is a certain group of friends who can attest to my affection for this song and will happily recall one very drunken night when I offered up an a cappella version. "Let's slip off to a sand dude, real soon, and kick up a little dust ... " Sing it, Maria! — Denise Hazlick

So tell me what I want, what I really, really want

Feminism has been exploited in some pretty dubious marketing strategies over the years — selling extremely long and skinny cigarettes, for instance, or diamond rings for women’s right hands. So in the grand scheme, branding the Spice Girls as the new faces of “Girl Power” is pretty tame. Before Britney’s hip-huggers, Christina’s chaps and Avril’s necktie, there were five scrappy British girls and some extremely tall platform shoes. And not only did the group as a whole have a brand: each of the five Spice Girls had a fully realized look and marketing angle, the better to turn them into immediately recognizable 12-inch dolls. The Girl Power thing was a load of hooey, certainly. Though they hit that talking point in interviews, and sang about their love of their mothers and female friends, mostly their music was about getting with dudes. But that message only made it through if you listened to the lyrics, and why would you? The Spices’ first album (“Spice”) spawned five extremely catchy, inoffensive singles; “Spice World,” released to coincide with the movie of the same title, did just as well. Then Geri left the band and it all went to hell; you should skip the third album, as they should have. Sure, they were a pre-fab band, cast by showbiz Svengalis instead of working their way through garages and club gigs to the top of the pop charts — but so were The Monkees, and they gave us some great pop hits! Wait, you don’t like The Monkees either? Then you don’t like pop music, and we’re done here. — Tara Ariano

‘The Nylons’ a tight fit
I'm fooling myself to think I can sing like this a cappella group, but I always try. I switch from lead to harmony, just fitting my voice to the melodies when I can hit the notes. God knows I could never do it with anyone else in the car. — George Malone

Air Supply: Now and Forever

I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about music and I don’t bother with the newest bands or sounds. I just stick to my old, comfortable, worn-in favorites, and unlike a pair of jeans, I won’t outgrow these tunes or draw paisleys all over them in ballpoint pen. The first tape I converted to CD was Air Supply’s craypa-rific 1988 greatest hits compilation. No, seriously. Look, it’s not my fault that all public pools in Minneapolis played “Here I Am (The One that You Love)” and “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” all summer long, single-handedly shaping what I thought every love song should sound and smell like! Sometime in junior high, I tacked the lyrics to “Even the Nights Are Better” on my bedroom wall. Slap up against my Corey Haim collage. Compared to a lot of music these days, there’s something so sweet, simple, and — since I don’t admit to having much of a voice — something so singable about the songs. Sure, it’s not Dylan, DiFranco or even De La Soul, but when I want to block out city noise, I slip in the CD and drift back to chlorinated kickboards, pool checks, and my Wonder Woman beach towel. See, even these 20 years later, I’m still not certain if it’s “We have the right, you know” or “We have the right to know” and believe you me, I’m going to keep listening until I crack that code.  — Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

Come just 'Bust a Move'
Poor Young MC
. The rapper behind 1990 party classic “Bust a Move,” he’s spoken of now with the dismissive pity reserved for a novelty-hit wonder, lumped in with jokers like Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer.  Why doesn’t Young get more respect? He never tangled with Queen over a sample like Ice did, he never wore gigantic shiny pants (which then got named after him, and not in a complimentary way) like Hammer did, and he never turned up on “Behind The Music” or in WB has-been dorm “The Surreal Life” — which both of the others did.

And “Bust a Move” is a great song. It’s like “Tequila” by the Champs; you don’t want to like it, because it’s everywhere, but — it’s everywhere because it’s good. 

“Bust a Move” isn’t even the best song on “Stone Cold Rhymin’.”  “Principal’s Office” has the one of the best bass lines going, and “Know How” uses the “Shaft” theme as a sample while Young speeds through his lyrics — it’s poppy, cleaner and fluffier than most of today’s mainstream hip-hop, but it’s also damn catchy.

It’s easy to dismiss Young as quaint now, because he raps a lot about staying in school and off drugs — and every album after “Stone Cold Rhymin’” bombed, not least “Brainstorm,” which only Young MC’s mom and I bought before it flopped itself to death. But he’s better than he gets credit for, and “Pick Up The Pace” is a rad song. — Sarah D. Bunting

Rupert HolmesWhen “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” hit the pop charts with a vengeance in 1979, I told all my friends I had Rupert Holmes’ first album from five years earlier. But as “Piña Colada” suffered from overexposure and backlash, I had to keep “Widescreen” to myself.  An ambitious and eclectic album, it featured some of the strangest pop songs ever to not make Dr. Demento’s Top 10.

One highlight was a picture-perfect Big Band performance in a song about an untalented “Second Saxophone”, ending with Rupert himself playing sax on a street-corner, accompanied by a sound effect of coins being thrown into a hat. Another near-operatic production featured a failed singer following the convoluted plotline of a “Soap Opera”. Then there was the potentially treasonous “Our National Pastime” in which a clumsy swinging single tries to pick up a girl at a baseball game — to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner.

“Won’t you come home with me?I’ve a room you should seeWith a warm waterbedAnd a pillow for your head...”

Then, halfway through side two of the original vinyl, Holmes went totally theatrical with a nine-minute parody of Old Time Radio Drama that poked fun at Humphrey Bogart movies, Agatha Christie mysteries and plot devices like “foam-rubber trolleycars”.

Even in its more serious side, “Widescreen” featured melancholy ‘story songs’ that were a cross between Harry Chapin and O. Henry. In its time, “Widescreen” was critically acclaimed but under-promoted, and made the playlists of Progressive Rock radio stations that would later burn copies of “Piña Colada.”

Holmes’ second album featured oddities like a film noir in verse, “Brass Knuckles,” that ended with the narrator’s murder, but subsequent albums grew more conventional, until he decided to replace a Bogart reference in a lyric for the name of a tropical cocktail, and the rest is, unfortunately, pop music history. — Wendell Wittler

Yes, he listens to boy bands
‘Faded,’ by Soul Decision. These guys were bad, even for the boy-band boom of the late 90s. But Faded (Kind of Faded, but I feel all right, think about makin my move tonight) is one of those that always gets my head bobbing, my feet stomping and shoulders grooving. If I saw it as a CD single in a record store, I’d scoop it up in a minute. Its beat, dopey lyrics and length (not too short, not too long) make it perfect to listen to. Not that I’d tell anyone. — Mike Miller

'Every Morning', I just want to 'Fly'Sugar Ray just might personify guilty pleasure. They’ve somehow managed to steer clear of being labeled a boy band while being radio friendly enough that you hide your copy of 14:59 from your music snob friends.

The pursuit of leisure seems to be a full time gig for these SoCal rockers, who delicately straddle disposable summer time rock and sanguine feel good jams. Equally at home on the mix CD that flirtatious frat-boy made you last spring or blaring out of his little sister’s Jeep Wrangler, Sugar Ray is practically made for lazy summer days.

Every Morning, with its mariachi-like guitar riffs spliced between record scratches, is almost sweet enough to help you get the girl, or get the girl back should you take the band’s advice a bit too literally.

Fly may have dominated the airwaves to the point of being totally unlistenable, but it’s probably safe to work back into rotation while you’re mixing up a batch of mojitos. Ignore the collective groans from any hipper-than-thou summertime party guests, more people than not will be tapping their feet by song’s end.

Someday is, without a doubt, the reason your girlfriend loves this band (besides lead singer/teen heartthrob Mark McGrath). It’s also the reason that so many guys who were originally hooked on the reggae-hip-hop blend built for the Abercrombie crowd now roll their eyes.

The dog days of summer are supposed to be about letting responsibility go on vacation, and Sugar Ray fits the bill perfectly. You’ve got the rest of the year to worry about what your music says about your personality. — Jim Ray

Not 'good' in the normal sense
Have you ever heard William Shatner sing? Then you’ve heard a classic example of “outsider music,” a genre that includes strange celebrity recordings, offbeat religious music, industrial records, amateur home recordings, in-studio misfires and experiments by professionals, and the work of musicians who genuinely seem to need psychiatric help.

Hands-down the best source for this music on the Internet is the 365 Days Project, a labor-of-love compilation by a guy with the improbable-sounding name of Otis Fodder. Each day during 2003, Fodder posted a new song to his Web site (hence the name) — introducing his audience to mind-boggling wonders from the forgotten edges of the recording industry. A couple favorites: “Sand,” an over-the-top show tune produced to promote GE’s Silicon Products division, which enthusiastically makes the case for sand as the most important material in the universe. And “Ali's Historical Theme Song,” a wonderfully weird gem in which boxing legend Muhammad Ali insists vehemently that he is not responsible for knocking the crack in the Liberty Bell. None of this is “novelty music” in the sense of a typical Dr. Demento show, though fans of one will certainly enjoy the other.

What makes the songs of 365 Days compelling is that the artists were usually completely serious — and in that gap between what they wanted to do and what they actually achieved, there’s often something utterly amazing, if unintentional. None of these recordings are "good" in any normal sense, but the best pushes the "what were they thinking?" factor into a completely new realm — not necessarily art, but definitely not trash. (Because of hosting expenses, Fodder took his site down in early 2004, but recently the folks at UbuWeb stepped up to , preserving this important cultural artifact for future generations.— Chris Bahn