Wednesday, January 22, 2014

TMFW 20 - Blues Traveler Taunts Listeners With Their Catchy "Hook"

When my daughter started learning Pachelbel's "Canon in D" on piano, I played her this popular comedy bit (11MM views!) that calls out just how many modern songs share its initial chord structure.  The bit includes the Blues Traveler song "Hook," which reminded me of a fun "true music fact" about that song that is hiding in plain sight
Blues Traveler existed mostly as a jam band before and after its two big hits of "Run-Around" and "Hook."  Their success is a product of great timing, as they rose to fame right during the early-'90s "jam band revival."  In fact, the band was instrumental (no pun intended) in that revival, as they created the H.O.R.D.E. festival (brining along their friends Widespread Panic and Phish in the first year) as a way to play larger venues during the summer tour months.
As you might expect of a jam band that prominently features long harmonica solos and a singer that is at times unintelligible, Blues Traveler was skeptical and even outright dismissive of the modern pop scene.  As a critique of that scene, they wrote the song "Hook," which as noted above features the exact chord sequence of "Canon in D." 
But the lyrics are what really set the song apart.  They are sung with a very soothing and catchy melody, and flow easily in one ear and out the other.  When you stop to listen to them, though, they are effectively a taunt.  The lead singer John Popper starts the song by noting "It doesn't matter what I say / as long as I sing with inflection / that makes you feel that I convey / some inner truth of vast reflection / but I've said nothing so far / and I can keep it up as long as it takes / and it don't matter who you are / if I'm doing my job, it's your resolve that breaks."  The chorus follows, which notes simply that "the hook brings you back / I ain't telling you no lie / the hook brings you back / on that you can rely." 
The remaining verses, and even the little "rap" at the bridge (hands up if you ever drunkenly tried to bust that out when it played at a party), continue the message.  Popper notes that he is "being insincere," he offers his wish that he could sing of more genuine things but guesses that it would be "financial suicide," and he boasts that when he's "feeling stuck and need[s] a buck, [he] don't rely on luck" but instead on the formulaic "hook." 
Ironically, the song proves the band's point quite well.  "Hook" was a top-10 hit on the Mainstream chart, while the album four went 6x platinum.  And I must admit that, although I have heard the song many many many times, I never thought about the lyrics or noticed the subterfuge until last year (nearly 20 years after its release).   Much respect to Mr. Popper.
BONUS FACT:  On the subject of "have you ever REALLY listened to that lyric," a favorite of mine is Janet Jackson's "Nasty."  Starting at 2:12 of the video, she demands some respect and explains how to address her, saying "'Privacy' is my middle name / my last name is 'Control.'  No, my first name ain't 'Baby.' It's 'Janet;' 'Miss Jackson' if you're nasty." 
So for those non-nasty people, you may refer to her as "Janet Privacy Control."  If you ARE nasty?  Please use the more formal "Miss Jackson Privacy Control."

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