newradicalscover

Everyone has a particular song which has a personal meaning, the time and place can have a hold on how valuable that song was. Was it a time in the summer or an early childhood memory of a year gone by? It can vary depending on your memory. A particular memory for me was from the year 1999, despite being too young to remember I recall that it was a great year for mainstream music. Artists ranking in the UK charts at the time ranged from mainstream pop singers (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys and Madonna), Big Beat DJs (Fatboy Slim, Armand Van Helden), Britpop’s remnants (Manic Street Preachers, Blur, Stereophonics), up and coming rap stars (Eminem), the one acid jazz band (Jamiroquai) and even latin and country music. It was a year of a lot of variety and range, rarely if ever seen in a year of mainstream pop music. It also saw the arrival of bands such as Muse and Travis; the former would become more famous through the majority of the next decade. There was however one little band from Los Angeles, that would gain the spotlight for one particular song and then promptly disappear in the midst of their success. The band New Radicals, were most certainly a band that had the potential to be something bigger beyond their sole album Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, and a great majority of their (sometimes politically heavy) tracks are evidential of frontman Gregg Alexander’s artistic ambitions which will be covered in a later section of the article.

 

On first listen, the song isn’t vastly different than your typical song of the summer that pops up in the charts; it has an overall general airy feel good vibe with a sound that varies between Alternative and Pop sounding. It’s no surprise that it managed to chart at #5 in the UK and #8 in Billboard’s Modern Rock charts. The music video, filmed at the Staten Island Mall in New York feels like a scene lifted from a typical 1990s teen movie, of youths rebelling against the uptight establishment adults. What makes the song stand the test of time however, are the overall universal lyrics that could be fundamentally interpreted as something of a pep talk you’d give to someone in times of a crisis, or a transitional time in one’s life, be it graduation, moving away or starting work. The sing-along chorus illustrates the song’s testimonial and anthemic message in an uplifting and encouraging wave of motion.

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget
We only get what we give

While so many songs have faded from public memory, the meaning behind this song ages extremely well like fine wine, and takes its cues musically from other timeless eras and sounds: more specifically blue-eyed soul. Despite the uplifting and positive message, it is somewhat neutered by the following off guard outro which many could debate sealed the band’s fate as a one hit wonder.

Health insurance rip off lying FDA big bankers buying
Fake computer crashes dining
Cloning while they’re multiplying
Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson
Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson
You’re all fakes
Run to your mansions
Come around
We’ll kick your ass in

Gregg Alexander admitted that he wrote the outro as an experiment to test which area of subject matter the public would focus on, the social problems in America or the celebrity bashing. Predictably enough most people focused on the latter. When asked about Alexander, an irate Marilyn Manson responded: “I’m not mad that he said he’d kick my ass, I just don’t want to be used in the same sentence as Courtney Love.” He even added that he’d “crack his skull open if I see him.” Alexander however has since in recent years apologized to Beck and Hanson, even working with the latter on writing the song Lost Without Each Other for their 2004 album Underneath. The break-up of the New Radicals was without any strife or in-band conflict, it simply came down to the fact that Gregg Alexander began to tire of touring and being the frontman in the middle of an album cycle. In a press release, he announced his intention to go into music production and songwriting for other artists:

“I’m going to be turning 30 next year, and realized that travelling and getting three hours sleep in a different hotel every night to do ‘hanging and schmoozing’ with radio and retail people, is definitely not for me,” he wrote. “Over the last several months, I’d lost interest in fronting a ‘One Hit Wonder’ [sic] to the point that I was wearing a hat while performing so that people wouldn’t see my lack of enthusiasm.” 

After that he withdrew from the public eye and immersed himself in the studio. Throughout the first three years of the 2000s he wrote songs such as Life Is A Rollercoaster for Ronan Keating and Murder On The Dancefloor for Sophie Ellis Bextor. In 2003, he won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals for the song The Game Of Love by Santana which featured Michelle Branch on vocals. All was quiet on the press front until 2014, when Alexander came out to promote the soundtrack for John Carney’s 2013 film Begin Again, for which he had a hand in co-writing the songs alongside fellow ex-New Radicals members Danielle Brisebois and Greg Nowels. The film’s particular song Lost Stars earned Alexander and Brisebois an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. Overall a really good outcome and achievement.

 

In spite of the 1990s being long gone, why does the song in my opinion hold up and what personal meaning does it have to me which I’ve taken to heart? I believe universal appeal encapsulates it, and how unlike a lot of other songs from the particular year of 1999, it had no set demographic. While I’ve forgotten the specific time and place, I do remember hearing this song as a kid on the radio and its shelf life since its year of release has been surprisingly long. You can still expect to hear it on Absolute Radio 90s and has made various lists of the greatest songs of the 1990s. Despite Alexander’s success as a songwriter, you have to wonder whether the New Radicals could have been a much bigger band, and Alexander’s subsequent songwriting for other artists could be considered the blue print for what never materialized. Still whatever did or didn’t happen, this song will continue to evolve and endure, even as this current decade of mainstream music draws to a close, becoming both a nostalgic artifact and a song that transcends any era.

Articles cited:

1. Zaleski, Annie. “New Radicals’ only hit,.” The A.V. Club. N.p., 28 July 2015. Web. 05 July 2017. <http://www.avclub.com/article/new-radicals-only-hit-you-get-what-you-give-was-se-222559&gt;.

2. Nme. “RADICAL CAREER MOVE.” NME. N.p., 04 Mar. 2009. Web. 05 July 2017.

3. Staff, MTV News. “New Radicals Discuss Slighting Marilyn Manson And Courtney Love, Manson Responds.” MTV News. N.p., 02 Dec. 1998. Web. 05 July 2017.

4. Bassil, Ryan. “Revisiting the New Radicals Song That Taught Us How to Navigate the Future.” Noisey. N.p., 19 Jan. 2017. Web. 05 July 2017. <https://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/article/8qqada/revisiting-the-new-radicals-song-that-taught-us-how-to-navigate-the-future&gt;.

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