Friday, July 19, 2013

Favorite Song Friday - Radiation Vibe

Sometimes, a fun song can just be a fun song. Right?

Sometimes good rock-n-roll is just something to be hummed along to, something to bop along with in the car when you think no one else is watching. No deep meanings to absorb, no unrequited love to break your heart, no plea for an S.O.S. (no, I still haven’t quite gotten over this). Sometimes a song is just a song. Something to be thoroughly enjoyed for the three minutes or so that it’s on before you move onto the next one.

And hey, I’m all for meaningful songs. We need “Blowin’ in the Wind” as much as we need “Good Vibrations.” We need Van the Man to make a genuine plea for hope like “Brand New Day” on the same record where he allows us to appreciate the simple joys of swimming and fishing with “And It Stoned Me.”

We need “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Sun City” and “Exhuming McCarthy” and “Peace Love and Understanding.” You can dance to all of ‘em, even as there’s plenty going on behind the groovy beats. I get that.

But for this Favorite Song Friday I’m writing about a song that I love just because it’s a fun and giddy and a relentlessly upbeat romp of a song. Try as I may, I can’t for the life of me find an ounce of hidden meaning. And as the immortal Sammy Johns once so prophetically crooned, “that’s all right with me.”

Favorite Song Friday – Fountains of Wayne – “Radiation Vibe”

This is another one of those “less is more” approaches, and boy howdy does it ever work. The very first single from the very first album from Fountains of Wayne, back when the band was really just a delightful duo of Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger. The band—or at this time just Adam and Chris—leaned heavily on simpler, clean pop sounds of the mid-to-late 80s. While plenty of American bands in the 90s took their cues from the darker side offered by the likes of The Pixies or Sonic Youth, Fountains of Wayne played kind of like an American version of Squeeze, with Collingwood/Schlesinger doing a more than capable Difford/Tillbrook impression (of sorts).

“Radiation Vibe” is pretty much 3 ½ minutes of bouncy, melodic fun. Guest bassist Danny Weinkauf lays down a nifty little waka waka bassline, and Chris and Adam drape some easy and sun-drenched crunchy guitar chords over them. The chord pattern is simple – there are no solos, just a little bit of reverb fuzz that pops up now and again. The lyrics in the two verses are a little silly and a little clever all at once.

Are you alone now?
Did you lose the monkey?
He gave you backaches,
And now you slouch.

He didn't mean it.
He's just a dumb ape.
Reading Playboy
On your couch.

I went to Pittsburgh
To join a pro team.
Talk about a bad dream.
I broke a knee.

But I can still croon,
And make the girls swoon.
Isn't that the way life's
Supposed to be?

Collingwood hangs back on the verses and sings in a largely subdued fashion, eschewing his estimable range and choosing to soft-peddle it, almost blending into the rhythm line. But it works gangbusters, and it tees things up perfectly for the glowing explosion of feedback and power-chords that comes at the chorus.

And now it's time to say
What I forgot to say:
Baby baby baby,
Come on, what's wrong?
It's a radiation vibe I'm groovin’ on.
Don't it make you want to get some sun
Shine on, shine on, shine on

Collingwood sings these gibberishly cool lines in full voice, and the songs careens and pogos through an irresistible chorus that represents the very best in bright, brilliant power-pop. His flip and seductive “Come on, what’s wrong?” The way he extends the vocal line out to the edges of the melody on the “groovin’ on” line. And the sheer joy in his voice, even as it starts to fray, as he sells the “Shine on, Shine on!” concluding lines for real. It all adds up to an exuberant and delicious piece of rock-n-roll that rattles through your skull, merrily, long after the final fuzzy chord plays out.

Shine on, indeed.

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