May I Have Another?: Alannah Myles

Ever watch one of those VH1, “one-hit wonders” specials, where the random D level commentators start talking about these artists that had one hit, where half of them actually had multiple songs that charted? Random commentator probably has no idea but then somewhere in there Matt Pinfield comes in with his “I’m smarter than you and probably no fun at all” persona and makes sure you know they had another song that charted exactly at #98 for one week in 1984. Well, I’m the everyman’s Pinfield but funnier and better looking. This series will go back to the 80s and spotlight one-hit wonders (in the US), real (truly only one charting hit) or perceived (other songs charted low but they are known for just one song) and come to a definitive verdict if we should accept or reject their status as that one-hit wonder.

Alannah Myles burst onto the scene here in the U.S. in 1989, with her hit song “Black Velvet” which was a pretty great, sultry blues-pop tune and then she promptly faded away. She had a bigger career in her native Canada but for the purpose of this blog, we focus on the US.

“Black Velvet”

Myles was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada as Alannah Byles and was performing from age of 12 or so all around Ontario. She put in her dues for a good six years before meeting Christopher Ward, who was not only a songwriter but the very first VJ on MuchMusic in Canada (think MTV of Canada). Ward truly believed in her talent and although she shopped a demo around for years with no traction, about nine years after they met, he was still working with her and helped her get a record deal with Atlantic in 1987. She then teamed up with Canadian producer and writer, David Tyson and started recording the debut record. Released in 1989, Alannah was already 31 at the time which was a bit older than the age of many of the artists on the radio then. Ward/Tyson had a hand in writing nine of the ten songs on the record including “Black Velvet” which went to #1 in the US. It was actually her second single with the song “Love Is” charting at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 before that. The self-titled debut represents the 80’s pretty well, a bit of rock mixed with adult contemporary pop and Myles had a bit of a smokey voice, with a bit of grit, reminding me of Pat Benatar at that time. The album itself is really enjoyable from front to back. Listening to it in 2019 shows that it’s extremely dated but represents 1989 pretty well.

As good as the debut is, there’s a glaring flaw that is likely the reason she never made another dent in the US charts. Nothing else on the album sounds close to “Black Velvet” and therefore there was no perfect follow up single to the hit. In addition, if you watch the video for the track, she’s dressed in cowboy gear and playing the southern blues chick. It worked well for the track at hand but that didn’t translate to the rest of the album. There’s one acoustic blues track ending the record, called “Hurry Make Love” but it wasn’t a radio ready track. Much of the rest of the album was pretty rockin’ for the time. Her gravely voice blended well with rock guitars and the album focused on that. IMO, if the record company had pitched her as a rock star first and released “Just One Kiss” as the first single, “Love Is” as the second and “Black Velvet” as the third as a ballad from a rocker, she could have had significantly more success. I think if you put “Just One Kiss” up against, say Pat Benatar’s “All Fired Up,” you have a pitch that might have worked in the end. Of course that still doesn’t leave a proper follow up to “Black Velvet” but her persona would have been way different.

“Just One Kiss”

A little over three years later, she followed up with the album Rockinghorse, which followed the same general path as the debut, although I definitely wouldn’t have started the album with a rap like she did on “Our World Our Times.” The album opens up with pure rockers like the aforementioned track, which has a guitar riff very similar to “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister and “Make Me Happy” which seems to share the same bassline as Poison’s “Unskinny Bop.” The track that really should have been a hit was the ballad, “Sonny Say You Will” which would have been a perfect song for 1992. Instead, the first single was “Song Instead of a Kiss” a painfully slow ballad filled with epic string movements. While a good enough song on its own, not something that would have gotten much airplay in the U.S. It did hit #1 in Canada, but here, did nothing. And that was pretty much her last real shot in the states.

“Song Instead of a Kiss”

From this point on, the focus seemed to be on her native Canada where she actually had five hits off Rockinghorse. In 1995, she released her third record A-Lan-Nah, on which she brought in new songwriters. Ward and Tyson had their hand in four tracks on the record but Phil Johnstone (Robert Plant) co-wrote a few tunes and Pat McDonald (Timbuk3) co-wrote two others. The album had a decidedly less rock feel and went more in the pop direction. With acoustic guitars heavily in the fold this time, the disc has an overall singer-songwriter vibe. But the lead track on the disc, “Mistress of Erzulie” sure sounds a whole lot like another top Canadian artist at the time – Alanis Morrisette.

“Mistress of Erzulie”

After her 2007 release, A Rival, she took a break from recording, though still toured over the years. In 2009 though she released the creatively titled Black Velvet which was not a greatest hits record but rather new songs and of course a re-recording of her most famous hit (in a clearly inferior version). 2014 was her 25th anniversary, so you know, instead of repacking the original record and re-releasing it, her label at the time decided to expand the Black Velvet album out a bit, rename it 85 BPM and re-release that, of all things.

“Black Velvet” 2008 remake

In the end, Alannah Myles career in the US seemed to have been just a series of weird and possibly bad decisions. No one is really going to argue with having a #1 hit but she was a good enough rock artist to have had better success here in the end.

Summary: Despite “Love Is” going to #36 in 1989, no one really knows that song. In the US, it was all about “Black Velvet” and for that, I’m going to accept her status as a one-hit wonder. Part of my accepting or rejecting the status is my thoughts on whether an artist should have been a bigger hit or not but in a case like this, either herself or her label really didn’t do her many favors in their choice of songs. If the singles would have been the right ones but just didn’t chart, I would have rejected the status but in the US at least, the decision makers failed her here, to the point where I simply have to say that one-hit wonder-dom was her true fate.

New Music 7/26/19

It’s week 30 of ’19. I’m downloading records on Tidal based on name recognition or album covers that intrigue me, only. Some artists I have a history with and some I’ve never heard of. This is how I discover as I trek through the new music landscape.

Song of the Week: YBN Cordae w/ Chance the Rapper, “Bad Idea”
  • Album: Sugar Ray – Little Yachty
  • Previous knowledge: A naked Nicole Eggert on the cover of their first album. And you know, the hits. Who doesn’t know “Fly?”
  • Review: First, let’s just say that I love the name of the album. Kind of making fun of the rapper Lil Yachty and at the same time making sure everyone knows up front that this album might be a bit yacht rock in nature. And yacht rock it is. For their first album in ten years due in part to some legal issues when some members left, they have created a modern version of Christopher Cross, Robbie Dupree and the Little River Band. If you doubt what I’m saying, you don’t even need to listen, just take a note of the tracklist and near the end, you’ll see their cover of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Aging is part of life but it still stuns me sometimes when I look an artist like Mark McGrath up on the web and see that he’s 51. It’s hard to believe that he’s that old but then remembering that I listened to them 25 years ago, says that all those 90s artists are now in or approaching their 50s. And this is 100% a 50-year-old’s record. There’s zero substance to Little Yachty at all (not that I’m looking for that in a Sugar Ray album) – it’s just lighthearted beach music and really nothing else and as the songs “Trouble” and “Perfect Mornings” show, Mr. McGrath doesn’t quite have the same vocal chops that he used to.
  • Rating: 4/10
Sugar Ray, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”
  • Album: Of Monsters and Men – Fever Dream
  • Previous knowledge: None
  • Review: I feel like I really should have known more about this Icelandic band since I know the name and Fever Dream is their third major label album. But since historically I’ve strayed away from female fronted bands, maybe that’s why. But I’m surely glad I got a seat on the train now.

The first question I have is do all tiny Icelandic singers look like Bjork? I mean, I now know two of them but lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, surely does look like Bjork’s little sister. And the second question…well, there is no second question but really more of an introspective where have these guys been all my life, type thing.

I read that she says this album is sunnier and brighter than the previous one and since this is mostly mid-tempo, that must have been a really slooooo record. Fever Dream begins with a nice upbeat, dance-like track called “Alligator” that is very drum heavy and quite fun. But that’s a bit different than the rest of the album. With the rest you vary between midtempo pop and ballads, all the while with just a light and breezy feel to it all. It becomes one of those records that you can easily just chill out to and maybe listen to as you fall asleep. Harmless, catchy pop from a group of clearly talented musicians that live in the less-is-more camp of songwriting.

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Album: E-40 – Practice Makes Paper
  • Previous knowledge: Various albums and tunes over the course of the last 25 years.
  • Review: Shit, I love this record. Twenty-six records into his career, E-40 is still making real rap music. Beats wise, this isn’t old-school and it isn’t trap. It’s somewhere in between the two of them though – pretty basic in the end, which allows the focus to be on the rhymes, which is cool when you can still actually understand them. And E-4o knows how to enunciate, for sure. He’s always had a very interesting style, with his verses almost spoken. And yes, I realize that’s the basis of most rap but E-40 really does just tend to speak really fast in a lot of songs, rather than what you’d consider a traditional rap. And it’s fucking captivating as hell when he does it. Songs like “Wake They Shit Up” “I Don’t Like Em” and “Bet You Didn’t Know” showcase this style really well, with the latter song simply being a list of things E-40 believes we might not have known, like “Oatmeal can scrape the plaque off your arteries” or “a maggot morphs into a fly.” At 26 songs, it’s extremely long and heavens, the track with Red & Meth is buried at #25 but Practice Makes Paper is still a pretty killer record from a dude that’s one of the hardest hustlas in the business.
  • Rating: 8/10
E-40, “No Choice”
  • Album: YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy
  • Previous knowledge: Random songs my 10-year-old has made me listen to.
  • Review: What a surprise this one is for me. I expected mumble rap out of anyone in YBN stable but there’s much more to this album than that. This album is pretty smooth, with R&B samples peppered in to offset some of the trap beats. And YBN Cordae not only is a decent rapper but brought in a slew of R&B singers to do the hooks on many of these tracks. And while the guest stars are pretty large (Anderson Paak, Chance the Rapper, Meek Mill etc…) they don’t overwhelm the entire record, allowing Cordae to actually shine on this record. There’s smooth tracks like “Bad Idea” which samples the same Robert Flack/ Donny Hathaway song as Scarface used in “On My Block,” and then a really groovy track like “RNP” which is a super catchy head-bobber. Sometimes albums catch me off guard. This one slapped me over the side of the head to get my attention. Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s an example of one of the new era of hip-hop artists that really might still have a career when trap finally fades out.
  • Rating: 9/10
YBN Cordae, “RNP”
  • Album: NF – The Search
  • Previous knowledge: Previous record only
  • Review: I feel like it’s a cop-out when I say a white rapper kind of sounds like Eminem but then again maybe half the white rappers out there shouldn’t sound like Em and give me more of a reason not to say it. That comparison is usually only based on style alone and not quality. Stylistically, you’re talking about similar mid-tempo to slow drops, and a hyper-fast rhyme style that usually tells a story throughout the song. So, from that, you may get the comparison but one listen to “Nate” should also get you there. This is pretty much Eminem’s “Stan” right down to locking the woman in the trunk. There’s no chorus by Dido and Eminem sang about Stan while Nate is actually NF himself but other than those two things, it’s pretty much the same damn song.

“The Search” refers to NF looking for himself after gaining fame. This is another one of those “it was great when I was unknown but now that people know who I am, celebrity kind of stinks” messages. I detest this ever-so common theme in Hollywood. Of course, I have never been a celebrity, nor will ever be one, so I have no idea what it’s like to have TMZ corner me while taking a dump but I can’t help but not feel too sorry for these people. You’re making music for people to listen to. If you don’t potentially want the spotlight on you, then like, I don’t know, take up knitting.

I haven’t said much about the music here because frankly, I can’t get passed the fact that he wrote a track that’s pretty much copying off of Em directly. There’s being influenced by a guy and then just biting off of someone else’s success.

  • Rating: 5/10
NF, “Nate”

Albums ranked 10/10 so far in 2019 (ordered only by release date)

  1. Terror Jr. – Unfortunately, Terror Jr
  2. Emily King – Scenery
  3. Good Fuck – Good Fuck
  4. The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality
  5. UB40 – For the Many
  6. Griz – Ride Waves
  7. Pup – Morbid Stuff
  8. Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
  9. Howard Jones – Transform
  10. Mavis Staples – We Get By
  11. Prince – Originals
  12. Yeasayer – Erotic Returns
  13. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real – Turn off the News (Build a Garden)
  14. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Servants of the Sun
  15. The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
  16. K. Flay – Solutions
  17. Tuxedo – Tuxedo III
  18. Dorian Electra – Flamboyant