Thursday, June 12, 2008

Week 3: "Radiation Vibe" by Fountains of Wayne

I will come right out and make a bold statement: If I had to pick just one song to play as driving music, I would choose “Radiation Vibe” by the power-pop band Fountains of Wayne. And I wouldn’t even hesitate.

For the first two songs that I have written about in my 52 Songs in 52 Weeks feature, I followed the formula of providing a short biography and discography of the artist before launching into a discussion of the song of the week. Over the next 49 weeks, I will feature two more songs by Fountains of Wayne, so I will skip that introduction for now.

However, I will say that the songs I’ve picked for the 52 Songs project do follow (roughly) the general calendar year. I will write about FoW’s cover version of the song “These Days” in November; it is a perfect song for late autumn. Appropriately, I will write about their “Valley Winter Song” in mid-January. During the month of August I will take a trip to California, so I’ve selected several songs about California for that month. In late February / early March I will write about two songs that came from movies that won Oscars last year.

This weekend I deliver my final sermon on the “church year.” Even though I will be back to preach a sermon in mid-July, I will be away from church the next three Sundays. “Radiation Vibe” is a song that encompasses that feeling of hitting the road in the summertime.

“Vibe” is the first track off Fountain of Wayne’s first album, which was self-titled and released in 1996. At three minutes and forty seconds in length, it is a gem of pop-perfection from a band that knows how to write catchy pop songs. (Adam Schlesinger, the co-writer of most of FoW’s songs also wrote the title-track for That Thing You Do, a movie about a one hit wonder pop band.)

"Raditation Vibe" leads off with a nice groove (Dan-dun-Dan dik-a dik-a Dan-dun) that repeats through the entire song. The song follows a basic verse – chorus – verse – chorus – solo – chorus form. The lyrics are actually fairly inane, but the chorus is as catchy as can be. While the verses are fairly soft, the chorus, which is introduced by a blast of guitar distortion, pumps up your mood. The lyrics to the chorus are also nothing special. “And now it’s time to say / what I forgot to say / baby, baby, baby / c’mon what’s wrong? / It’s a radiation vibe I’m grooving on / and don’t it make you want to get some sun? / Shine on, shine on, shine, on.” But I guarantee you will be humming the tune for the rest of the day.

The other thing to point out about the song is that the solo (if it can truly be called that) is not the high point of the song. While the chorus, to employ a driving metaphor, makes you feel like you are peeling out of a parking lot, the solo makes you feel like you’ve downshifted in order to cruise the strip. The solo sets up the reprise of the joy-riding chorus with which the song concludes. Watch the music video of Radiation Vibe and see if you agree with me.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear FoW live in concert twice. The first time was in 1999 in Portland, Oregon. The second time was in Kansas City in 2003. It should be noted that the “solo” serves a very different function in their live performances. Immediately following the chorus, the band members quickly conference and then launch into a medley of classic rock hits (you can see them do it in this piece of amateur concert footage.) FoW is a fantastic live-band and this gimmick is joyful, funny, captivating, and surprising. When they finally return to the chorus it is as if they’ve taken you on wild journey and then returned you to the right place.

While “Radiation Vibe” rises to a superb level of catchy songwriting, the entire album on which it is featured is strong. From start to finish every song is solid. “Sink to the Bottom” and “Barbara H.” each approach the catchiness of “Vibe.” “Survival Car” is the most up-tempo track on the album and “I’ve Got A Flair” has the feel of a rock anthem that would fit seamlessly into just about any Weezer album. Finally, “Leave the Biker” is laugh-out-loud funny. Five years later, Bowling for Soup released a thematically identical track entitled, “Girl All the Bad Guys Want.” While the BfS song is better, in my opinion, “Leave the Biker” is spectacular in its own right.

And, if I haven’t poured enough accolades on this album as it is, I will add just one more note of praise. The cover art is hilariously perfect. What a picture!