Toad the Wet Sprocket is back! Listen now, then go see them live

The best jokes contain painful truths. When it comes to music, I joke that the life cycle of bands is (a) starving unknowns, (b) big breakout hit, (c) rehab, (d) lead singer goes solo and band breaks up, then (e) reunion tour 20 years later when they’re all broke, sober, married and need to pay the mortgage.

So it gives me unbridled joy (note: don’t ever try to put a bridle on my joy; I will punch you into next week) to learn one of my favorite bands OF ALL TIME is back together and cranking out new albums.

Toad the Wet Sprocket is the weirdest possible name for a great band.

I say that with love.

Honestly, you can throw together a sweet band name in two seconds using this simple formula: “the” + active adjective + non-threatening animal.

Check it out:

  • The Flaming Squirrels
  • The Angry Hedgehogs
  • The Psychotic Hamsters

However: While the name doesn’t really work on every level, at least you remember because it’s so flipping weird.

Though I take great joy in dissecting terrible music videos, or divining why brilliant ones work, it’s nice to simply share a great bad with people who might not know they exist.

Also: To the punk who broke into my car when I was a starving reporter and stole all my tapes (yes, music once lived on these things called “tapes”), you took every Toad album I owned, and if I ever see you, and figure out you’ve got a closet full of cassette tapes from your criminal past, I think that’s punishment enough, because tapes are a terrible idea. They always get snagged in your car stereo, with the tape spilling out like intestines full of music, and maybe, maybe, you could take a pencil and wind everything back into place after you did some scotch-tape surgery. Tapes sucked.

Back to Toad the Wet Sprocket: Whatever you think of the band name, the music is beautiful.

Toad can play rock or folk, fast songs or slow, electric or acoustic. 

I bet they could even do a medium-paced song that’s neither happy nor sad, if you asked nicely.

Here’s one of their more famous songs:

And here’s a slow burner that still slays me:

Welcome back, Toad the Wet Sprocket–so happy you’re making new music and hitting the road again.

If you want to check them out, here’s a link to the band and their tour schedule. See them live. DO IT NOW.

The Red Pen of Doom digs up the existential dread hidden beneath the BABY SHARK song

baby shark song, baby shark lyrics

Songs for kids like BABY SHARK can be relentlessly repetitive and deceptively deep, if you dig deep enough–or stay up all night writing a term paper about Nietzsche, who is harder to spell than understand.

BABY SHARK is a perfect example of this, a peppy, wholesome song viewed billions of times, and this is perhaps the first time I mean “billions” literally, since I usually say something like “2.84 bazillions” as a joke on the internets. No. People have watched and listened to versions of BABY SHARK more than a billion times.

Have a listen to the original, and if you’re feeling masochistic, or have a tiny one in your secret fortress, go ahead and watch the dance version, too.

Then we’ll dissect every line of lyrics through the eyes of a grown-up who understands the joke behind the Nihilist Arby’s twitter account. (What makes me an expert? I dissect music videos, movies and books on this silly blog. I also watched 5,823 hours of The Wiggles, Thomas the Trains and the Teletubbies when our pookie was small. Come at me, bro.)

Baby Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Small Shark, you are small now, like the small humans singing this song, doom doom, doom doom doom doom) 

Baby Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(But little shark, you will eat and grow big, just as the tiny humans will grow, doom doom, doom doom doom doom) 

Baby Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Big enough to become the feared apex predator of the ocean, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Baby Shark

(So all hail the baby shark, future king of the seas, and the tiny humans, future lords of the land)

Mummy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Mother Sharks are loving and wise, except when they tear into a school of tuna with their razor teeth, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Mummy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Mother Sharks are strong and powerful, and can take away our iPhones when we are bad, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Mummy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(We thank you for not eating us, which you could easily do, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Mummy Shark

(All hail the Mother Sharks)

Daddy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Father Sharks are the largest and scariest of them all, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Daddy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Father Sharks can seem unreadable and mysterious, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Daddy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Baby Sharks recognize the size and power of the Fathers, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Daddy Shark

(We also hope to grow as big, strong and silent as Father Shark, like Clint Eastwood in a Spaghetti western, though this will not happen if you eat us when there are no tuna around)

Grandma Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Grandma Sharks are still big but not scary at all, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandma Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Their age and infirmity is a sign that death comes for us all, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandma Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(So their time with us is limited and precious, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandma Shark

(We love you, Grandma Shark)

Grandpa Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Grandpa Shark is no longer a threatening predator, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandpa Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Like Grandma Shark, he is loving and kind, and spends his limited time on us, doom doom, doom doom doom doom))

Grandpa Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Possibly because there is no Shark Golf Channel, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandpa Shark

(You’re a lovable goofball, Grandpa Shark)

Let’s go hunt doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Though we are small, we know that we must learn to be predators, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Let’s go hunt doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(As it is in the ocean, it is on land, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Let’s go hunt doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(The little fish gets eaten by the bigger fish, who gets munched by the biggest shark, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Let’s go hunt

(This is the real food pyramid, with predators on top, and thankfully we are predators)

Run away doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(But for right now, we are still small, and prey for anything larger, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Run away doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(We can’t stand and fight, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Run away doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Running is our only option, which is why young animals of all sorts chase each other, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Run away

(Running isn’t just a game, it’s essential practice for survival, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Safe at last doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Running and hiding can protect you, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Safe at last doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(But not forever, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Safe at last doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Eventually, you need to grow big enough to chase and eat not just prey, but your competition, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Safe at last

(Safety is temporary and elusive)

It’s the end doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(There are beginnings, middles and ends, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

It’s the end doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(We are all Baby Sharks, then Daddy Shark and Grandpa Shark–or Mommy Shark and Grandma Shark, you get the idea, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

It’s the end doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(And our existences will end, as everything must, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

It’s the end

(Eat Arbies)

Writing insights revealed by country twang

country music

Usually, I take a music video and dissect the lyrics to look for writing insights, which is interesting and fun.

Click with your mousity mouse to see what I did to the music video and lyrics for ELECTRIC AVENUE, because it is not only fun, but educational.

Then go see what I did with Vanilla Ice and ICE, ICE BABY.

OK. Now we get all serious. Because I am using the lyrics to a country song, and I’m not making fun of it, despite my severe twang allergy.

Good music — and good writing — have the same patterns. Songs start slow, build up, bridge to  the chorus, return to the melody and build to a crescendo. They bring the audience on a journey.

The greatest guitarist in the world would bore you into a coma if he repeated the same riffs.

Variety is good.

Repetition can be powerfully boring, or powerfully good, depending on how you use it. If you do use repetition, it must have a purpose.

Country songs like this are great study for writers. Why? Not because they’re all sad songs where your pickup truck died, your wife left you for your best friend and your dog hates you. They’re useful because country songs tell a story in about 200 words, a story you can understand and dissect. I can point out the setups and payoffs. You can see the heroes and villains, the reversals and the climax.

By contrast, most pop songs feature lyrics that don’t have any real structure or story. 

Also, you can hear and understand country lyrics without a cheat sheet.

Three other good examples of country songs with great lyrics and minimal twang, if you are also allergic like me: LOVE STORY by Taylor Swift, Traveling Soldier by the Dixie Chicks and damn near anything by Lady Antebellum, who are flipping brilliant.

No matter what you write–novels or newspaper stories, screenplays or speeches–it’s worth remembering that writing needs to be like music. You need an interesting intro, a melody, a chorus and a crescendo. You need variety AND repetition.

So: watch this cheesy home-made music video. Listen to the lyrics, and read them on your magical screen that shows you words and moving pictures from anywhere on the planet.

See how Bucky the Covington has clear setups and payoff, and how he cleverly, and beautifully, uses repetition with a purpose.

The words in the chorus change slightly each time, yet the meaning is quite different. And while the writing itself is a tad clunky, my God, the structure, it is glorious. My only wish is that I owned a cowboy hat so I could take it off and salute you, Bucky.

I’LL WALK by Bucky Covington

We were 18, it was prom night.

We had our first big fight.

She said, Pull this car over.

I did and then I told her, I don’t know what you are crying for.

I grabbed her hand, as she reached for the door.

She said …

I’ll walk.

Let go of my hand.

Right now I’m hurt, and you don’t understand.

So just be quiet.

And later we will talk.

Just leave, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

It was a dark night, a black dress.

Driver never saw her, around the bend.

I never will forget the call,

or driving to the hospital,

when they told me her legs still wouldn’t move.

I cried, when I walked into her room.

She said …

I’ll walk.

Please come and hold my hand.

Right now I’m hurt, and I don’t understand.

Lets just be quiet, and later we can talk.

Please stay, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

I held her hand through everything.

The weeks and months of therapy.

And I held her hand and asked her to be my bride.

She’s dreamed from a little girl,

to have her daddy bring her down the isle.

So from her wheelchair, she looks up to him and smiles.

And says …

I’ll walk.

Please hold my hand.

I know that this will hurt, I know you understand.

Please daddy don’t cry.

This is already hard.

Let’s go, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

Music video dance-off: Janet Jackson vs. Dua Lipa

Dance and music videos go together like peanut butter and chocolate, salt and pepper, bacon and eggs, coffee and newspapers.

Janet Jackson has made dance music videos forever, and my fake news version of “forever” includes before Dua Lipa was born. (She’s 23, so yes, no lie.)

Today, we’re looking at the latest from Janet, MADE FOR NOW, versus an interesting twist on the dance video from Dua, IDGAF, and yes, if you’re offended by bad words, Dua has a bad one right up there in the title. Sorry. Didn’t write the song.

First up: Janet, then Dua, before we dissect both videos.

I bet you the title to my car that Janet’s video cost far, far more than Dua’s–it certainly looks slick and expensive.

In this case, money and production values don’t win.

Dua has a better song and a far, far more entertaining video.

The acid test to me is whether (a) you’d have to pay me to rewatch it or (b) I’d happily watch and listen to something again. I’ve happily put IDGAF on loop while you’d have to pay me to hit replay on MADE FOR NOW, a repetitive song and boring video.

And that’s too bad. Janet’s got talent to burn. She’s made iconic music videos for years.

RHYTHM NATION was groundbreaking and still works today.

So I’m disappointed because Janet’s playing it safe with this. So safe that it fails.

Here’s the thing: once you’ve already had crazy success and so much cash you can’t spend it without buying private islands in the South Pacific, playing it safe is a losing strategy. You’re coasting instead of pushing yourself, and the audience feels it.

Though I’m no fan of Madonna’s music, she did a tremendous job of recognizing this and picking a hot new producer for every album to reinvent herself. That was bold and risky. It made her a star for decades instead of a one-hit wonder.

The best music–rock, pop, rap, whatever–attacks the status quo.

Aggressively. Relentlessly. Without mercy.

The worst music defends the status quo.

Limply. Lamely. Apologetically.

If you’re a famous singer or band, please take your piles of money and try to make something insanely different, new and interesting.

Rebel again.

Because that’s the real point of art, to shock us into seeing the world in a different way.

We have a contender for Worst Music Video of All Time

Here’s what makes WIRED FOR SOUND a masterpiece in the genre of bad music videos:

First, the song has to be genuinely bad, and it is boring and repetitive, with insipid lyrics.

Second, you want terrible production values, as in “We rented the local skating rink for $50 and only have four hours to shoot this thing, so let’s get it done.”

Third, the costumes need to absolutely pop, and these spandex unitard-things make everybody look like Teletubbies had a fling with Jane Fonda during her leggings and aerobics phase. Then they they discovered a hot tub time machine and went back to 1977 to find the nearest disco.

Which means I absolutely love this video.

Most terrible music videos are annoying, like DJ Khaled shouting his name six times while Justin Bieber tries to rap and look edgy with more tattoos. Here we go with a supercut of DJ Khaled doing his thing, saying his name in songs.

Note: Don’t confuse him with the singer Khalid, who did the brilliant LOVE LIES, one of my favorite songs and videos ever. To cleanse your palate, give this a listen.

WIRED FOR SOUND isn’t purely annoying.

This thing is so bad, it circles back to good, rewarding the viewer who rewatches it to discover new details, like anthropologists from the future wondering what specific drugs we were on and whether the different colors of spandex unitard-things denoted your cultural position and class rank.

Clean Bandit makes a clean getaway with SOLO

Here we go: a music video done right.

There’s a story that (a) makes sense and (b) fits the lyrics.

We’ve got funky, Weird Science effects and skateboarding tricks that are actually cool and doable by normal people. And it all works together in a package that fits the song.

I truly like this video. They’re not desperately trying to be deep, awards or boost the ego of band members. This video is meant to be a good time, and it gets that job done.

Great job, Clean Bandit and Demi Levato–I’d love to see more like this.

Battle of the Trippy Music Videos: GOD IS A WOMAN versus MINE

Ariana Grande possesses an illegal amount of talent.

If you’ve seen her on SNL, Jimmy Fallon or at awards shows, you know she can imitate everybody from Whitney Houston to Celine Dion to Britney Spears.

It. Is. Uncanny.

Her music videos tend to be creative, too. Good on her.

GOD IS A WOMAN may be peak Ariana so far.

This video is a spectacle, with trippy visuals and interesting effects. Every time you watch it, you see something new.

Compare that with MINE by Bazzi, an equally trippy music video in an entirely different style.

Note: there are some bad words in Bazzi’s video. Don’t play this at work with your speakers cranked up to 11, though that’s a pretty safe thing to say about just about every pop song today.

I bet Ariana’s video cost a lot more than Bazzi’s, and it’s definitely more ambitious and slicker. You get the sense a giant Hollywood production crew worked for a month on Ariana’s, where this dude you knew in college who’s good with AfterEffects went to town on Bazzi’s video.

However, Bazzi wins this round. With the GOD IS A WOMAN video, I’m fully aware of how slick and perfect everything is, which makes me want to find flaws.

MINE is gritty and raw, which lets you enjoy the details without wondering if they cost more than the Gross Domestic Product of Paraguay.

VERDICT: People rightfully like the message and spectacle of GOD IS A WOMAN, which is genuinely good. But the underdog, Bazzi, does her one better. Give us more like this, Bazzi.


Okay, fine–let’s admit the brilliance of DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART by the Backstreet Boys

I come not to bury the Backstreet Boys, but to praise them.

And yes, this is praise from the most unlikely of sources. I don’t personally hate this band, or anybody in it–they’re just not my cup of tea. Now, it’s different with others who are inherently annoying. Justin Bieber could show up at my front door with a suitcase stuffed with $3.75 million dollars while singing original compositions about my virtues and it would STILL rub me wrong.

So you’d expect me to take a scalpel to any one of the Backstreet Boys songs, old or new, or any random song from New Kids on the Block or Nsync, and no, I couldn’t tell these three bands apart except for the fact that one of them included a young Justin Timberlake before he hired Jason Statham to make a daring escape in a black BMW. (Note: Timberlake is one of the dudes wearing a ski mask.)

So why would I go against every instinct in my body and praise a video by the Backstreet Boys?

Here’s why:

(1) Radio is the great equalizer

Since I drive about two hours a day, 99 percent of music comes to me in a blind taste test, like Pepsi versus Coke except there’s no carbonated sugar water involved.

This song hit my radio and honestly, I had no idea it was Backstreet Boys–could’ve been any boy band, whether you’re talking current UK newbies or a Nostalgic Throwback Tour Because Yo, We Got Kids and Need to Pay the Mortgage.

Honestly, for a pop song, this is good. The lyrics are nothing to spend time dissecting, and the song won’t go on my running playlist or anything. But the song isn’t actively annoying, which is better than most of the stuff I hear on the radio. Not once did I rush to change radio stations, skip forward on Pandora or cover my ears in pain. That’s the acid test right there, empirical proof that despite my anti boy-band bias, the song holds up.

(2) Their fans will love it

What’s the purpose of a song like this? It’s not to get people like me to buy their stuff on iTunes or shell out serious money for a concert ticket.

They don’t need to generate name ID or start from scratch. This music video is for their fans, which is people who loved them back when they were on top of the world.

That’s a massive, built-in audience. When you start with an old fan base of millions and millions around the world, you only need to excite a fraction of that audience to pay the bills.

And I bet you all those old fans adored this new song.

(3) The video gets the job done

Music videos these days are expensive, with budgets in the millions not unusual.

Clearly, they spared no expense on this one.

So why do it, aside from letting singers scratch the acting itch?

A good music video adds to the song by (a) telling a story, (b) showing off the dancing skills of the singer/band or (c) giving you a taste of what a live concert might feel and sound like.

The Backstreet Boys are on tour, and these days the music business doesn’t really make money from selling music. The real cash comes from concerts.

If you grew up listening to these guys, and now you’re an adult with some scratch instead of a teenager raiding the change jar, this video probably makes you want to see the band live. Because hey, they clearly put on a good show.

VERDICT: I have to admire the brilliance of this comeback song and video. Fans of the Backstreet Boys will adore this song and video, so congrats on a well-performed comeback.


FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is a mini-movie masterpiece by Zayn and Sia

Why is this so good?

First, it looks amazing, and could easily pass for bits of a real noir movie, a dark mystery.

Yet what really hits me is how brilliantly this video uses minimalism.

There’s no needless exposition. In fact, the only real dialogue comes in a short interrogation scene, and it doesn’t get into much detail.

This is a huge strength. Trying to give all of these characters names and motivations that you’ll remember in a little music video is like ice skating uphill.

We don’t need to know the names of the man and the woman with the briefcases, the cops trying to bust them or the bad guys looking to steal the briefcase. There’s no real need to know exactly what’s in the second briefcase, how our heroes obtained it or what’s inside.

Making the briefcase a true MacGuffin adds to the mystery and actually helps the story. Not knowing any names or backstories also makes you more curious about them.

VERDICT: There’s a fine line between (a) keeping enough secrets from your audience to make them curious and (b) confusing your audience with events and characters that make no sense. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN nails it. The story works, and moves fast, without any stray exposition.

SOBER UP by AJR is a true beauty, except for this itty bitty fatal flaw

So, what did you notice?

I loved this song, and the video–especially the strings. A nice touch, and so well done.

Then it goes completely sideways at the one minute, 54-second mark, when we get the clunkiest lyrics since Train sang, “Just a shy guy looking for a two ply / Hefty bag to hold my love.”

Here’s the damage: “My favorite color is you / You’re vibrating out my frequency.”

And that’s when I run screaming from the room.

Because that line put the A in Awkward.

It killed the song for me, especially when that same terrible line came up again and again.

This answers the question: Can one bad lyrical choice kill an otherwise beautiful song?

And now we know: Yes, yes it can.

One bad line can be a nasty shotgun blast to the heart of a sweet, sweet song.

VERDICT: Man in a furry hat and friends with stringed instruments, please consider recutting this song after changing that terrible line in the chorus. I would send you monies.