Jeopardy’s Five Best Music Moments

Sure, selling almost 180 million records worldwide is pretty special. As is winning 17 Grammy Awards. But last week, Beyoncé’s legacy was bestowed with arguably the highest of all honors: She got her own category on Jeopardy. Personally, our favorite part was Alex Trebek’s delivery of the phrase “Jay-Z is featured on this Beyoncé song that mentions ‘that liquor get into me.’ ”

In case you missed this glorious moment, you can see it here:

See also: An Illustrated Guide to Beyoncé’s Insight and Empowerment

Jeopardy, of course, has a long and rich history of taking stuff that’s cool and sexy and For The Kids and making it sound extraordinarily awkward and sanitized and, rather ironically, really damn stupid. Here are some of our favorite musical moments from the show’s history.

1. We’re guessing a student intern was responsible for this.
In 2012, Jeopardy reduced much-lauded emotive indie quintet Fleet Foxes to “folk-rockin’ dudes” with this clue. To celebrate, Sub Pop Records tweeted a link to the incident and hashtagged “Trebek!” for good measure.

2. ‘The 1990s Rap Song’
In a particularly delightful episode of Jeopardy: The Battle of the Decades, there was, rather magically, a category titled “The 1990s Rap Song.” The questions — er, answers — included clues relating to Notorious B.I.G., Shock G, and MC Hammer, but it was Trebek’s enthusiastic renditions of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” and Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” that truly made this a special moment in TV game show history. This is possibly the most animated we’ve ever heard him.

3. Who Is Buddy Holly?
Sometimes, under pressure, contestants do crazy things on Jeopardy. One time, a guy actually ended up face-down, passed out, during Final Jeopardy, and another lady got laughed at super-hard by the audience for giving “Chris Farley” as a response to a Johnny Cash clue. However, it’s difficult to imagine how one woman, in response to the clue “His widow Maria Elena and actor Gary Busey were on hand when his star was dedicated outside Capitol Records in 2011,” came up with this:

We hope that when someone finally makes a movie about Ice-T, Gary Busey is allowed to at least audition. We would pay to see that.

4. Most Bizarre Clue Ever
We’re pretty sure you could put this in front of every single member of Mötley Crüe and even they wouldn’t answer it correctly. Who the hell came up with this?

5. ‘It’s a Rap’
Plucky contestant Mary holds her shit together really, really well until the very last moment of tackling the “It’s a Rap” category. What sends her over the edge? Trebek doing Public Enemy, that’s what. “I don’t know why that’s making you laugh so much!” the host declares. We think you do, Trebek. We think you do…



Radiance Heads to the Bar

After a first third as a small, traditional play about small, unkempt lives, Labyrinth Theater’s Radiance spills into a trapdoor of a flashback and becomes a big-idea play about the most momentous of lives: that of the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb Little Boy on Hiroshima.

That could work, but in this case the trouble is threefold: (1) That momentous flashback, one with nothing less than the fate of the world on the brink, burns so much hotter and brighter than the smaller-stakes day-in-the-life-of-a-bar play built around it that it’s something like a blazing hot coal sealed up in a paper envelope. (2) In execution, that flashback—a moment of the highest moral consequences certainly deserving a play of its own—becomes one of those utterly artificial theatrical constructions where every single important emotional event in one character’s life is crammed into one concentrated half-hour, something like the last act of The Buddy Holly Story. (3) Cusi Cram’s script is at its most adroit with the smaller stuff, before its scope widens, especially at showing how the everyday humiliations stared down by pub accountant May (the strong Ana Reeder) have at last piled up so high that she’s moved to take significant action within her own life—not the kind of thing that might level a city or end a war, but momentous in its own way. Post-flashback, when we’ve learned that the twitchy, gravel-throated afternoon drinker (Kohl Sudduth) who’s been flirting with her is that Enola Gay co-pilot, May’s problems are reduced back to what they’d been when she first took the stage: the ol’ hill of beans.

Still, the show is sturdily acted and well designed, and the final third builds some power despite the fact that the likable May, its most electric character, is sidelined. May and Rob, the co-pilot, are holed up in a Hollywood Boulevard bar near the El Capitan Theatre, where NBC recorded the This Is Your Life. Rob—based on the real-life Robert Lewis—has been booked to appear on the show for a moment that producer Waxman (Aaron Roman Weiner, superb) assures him will be one of serious international significance: for an Enola Gay crew member to shake hands with a Japanese reverend who is raising money to provide plastic surgery to the so-called “Hiroshima Maidens,” two dozen young women who suffered facial disfigurement from the blast. Before that flashback, and the revelation of who exactly he is, Rob watches May bust up her on-again, off-again thing with Artie (Kelly AuCoin), the bar’s manager. At this point, the play is still May’s, and as Reeder spitfires amusingly, the fellows are reduced to standing around and waiting for the inevitable moment when the script again gives them agency.

Eventually, Rob gets to drinking, Waxman gets to beseeching him to appear on the show, and that flashback hits. By the end, as Rob sifts through his ambivalence about having participated in the deaths of some 70,000 people—the real Lewis is the only Enola Gay crewmember who ever expressed public remorse for the bombing—it’s May who is left to stand around, now just another witness to history— and too small to matter much to Radiance.


David Bazan

It’s been a year since the former Pedro the Lion frontman came out with his solo debut, and that itself was several years in the making since PtL broke up. It was worth the wait, though, since Bazan threw off his need for concept albums in favor of sweet, simple, attractive songs (shades of Buddy Holly). Emo boys should note how he emotes in an appealing way without sounding whiny or wimpy. With the Mynabirds.

Fri., Sept. 24, 9 p.m., 2010


We Are Scientists’ Brain Thrust Mastery

Sure, We Are Scientists want you to dance, albeit in a school-function kind of way (the band often covers “Be My Baby” live); they also share the adolescent fixations/frustrations of ’90s punk. But it’s more accurate to say they’re the kingpins of the likably square subgenre launched by Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” video that never actually existed. Not emo, exactly—something more respectful toward women, even if it puts women on the same pedestal. Robert Christgau once termed Thunderbirds Are Now! makers of “high-anxiety pop,” and you could call it that: WAS singer Keith Murray (the pretty one) always sounds like he’s on the edge of total endocrinal implosion, a fun trait when his band was a power trio filtering disco through fuzz-laced garage.

But on their second album, the band’s lost a crucial piece of the puzzle: Slyly winking drummer Michael Tapper (prettier) helped the boys craft a likable image via videos milking jokes from homoeroticism that avoided being annoying and frat-friendly in a you’re-so-gay-you-like-Coldplay way. Simple as the formula was, WAS were the rare radio-eyed current band to offer three distinct personalities. But now Tapper’s gone, and the band’s sense of humor has gone with him: Whereas 2006’s playfully angst-ridden With Love and Squalor had a humane composure (“Instead of throwing up your hands/Why don’t you tell me what you’re trying to tell me”), the new Brain Thrust Mastery finds Murray obsessed with being “the problem here.” The music is even more defensive about the rut they’re stuck in, and fires back in every style the now-duo can think of, from actual disco to Jimmy Eat World; the slower tunes are longer on texture than hooks. Which is no problem, but man, the hints of what could’ve been: The gorgeous “After Hours” deserves to be the “Closing Time” of the ‘aughts, and “Impatience” easily bests R.E.M.’s recent retro moves. Not a dreadful record, but they hereby forfeit their membership in the high-anxiety club, with nowhere to go but emo.


Melting the Ice

It seemed like the Raveonettes were finished with surprises. On each successive CD, they’ve subtracted more and more of the noisy bits of futurama they brought to their Buddy Holly-doo-wop-girl group revision. Their latest, Pretty in Black, is lovely, no question, but still can’t match the zap of their first EP.

Well, the horses are officially held, because the Raveonettes burned through a set that proved the revision is still in progress. The show was so raucous, the sound so big, that they managed to reverse the age-old truism that rock ‘n’ roll is always better in a small, sweaty club. Their set at Southpaw a couple months back was fine, but from the get-go, this go-round cut right through the overzealous laser lights-smoke machine dopiness of cavernous Webster Hall, as the band played with more heated purpose than their Danish suave usually musters.

Maybe it’s just the fact they’ve soldered into shape from the current two-month tour, but by the third tune, “Let’s Rave On,” it was clear even to those who might’ve been disappointed with Black‘s lullaby tone that the Raveonettes haven’t gone beddy-bye. And even during those lullabies (“Uncertain Times,” “Little Animal”) the unwavering three-guitar reverb swirl whirled around the joint and lulled indeed, but wasn’t about to put anyone to sleep. Groovy fuzzbombs like “Do You Believe Her” and “Love in a Trashcan” snarled, but it’s obvious the Raveonettes aren’t out to rock ass as such. The obvious canned handclaps, tambourines, and other sampled sundries keep things clenched. And the too reverential tone—frequent “thank you”s and glowing praise to their automated special guests (“Mo Tucker couldn’t be here tonight, but you’ll hear her drumming on tape in this song”)—gets a bit cheesy and threatens to chip the icy block of cool this band’s intrigue stands on. Covering “My Boyfriend’s Back” is obvious and cheesy too, but damned if they haven’t added some new harmonies and spit-shined that old chestnut. If anything, the Raveonettes’ romantic gorgeousness is sadly absent in most modern retro rock. And when they can merge the beauty and the beast, as on the show-stopper “Great Love Sound,” they come closest to giddying-up that zombie horse of ’50s psycho teen drama r’n’r into this millennium.


Fuck Emo Let’s Fight

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble. It’s time for the battle for the future of American punk. In this corner: heartbroken emo kids and twee indie fans hugging each other on the dancefloor. In that corner: the Blood Brothers, Ex Models, the Locust and friends, beating each other up. Melody, harmony, and sing-alongs versus screams, noise, and chaos. Verse chorus verse versus 30-second jolts of voltage. Cardigans and corduroys versus ringer tees and tight black pants. Say Anything versus Fight Club. Gilmore Girls versus Jackass. versus Cuddling versus fucking.

(Of course, there are plenty of bands who straddle both teams, or who avoid the game all together. But let’s just forget about them right now. Generalization is the fruit of life . . . er, of rock criticism.)

Recently, the fighters have been giving the lovers a serious ass-whupping. All across the land, kids are trading in their copies of Tigermilk for anything on GSL, and learning how to get crazy in the pit all over again. Nobody wants to be seduced by a melody anymore; they want to be assaulted by a blast of pure fury. Or maybe it’s not a nationwide thing. Maybe it’s just my friends and the people I associate with. But it kind of freaks me out, the way mild-mannered teddy-bear-types go apeshit for this stuff. When I saw Lightning Bolt play last summer, I was nearly crushed to death by a moshing, headbanging mass sporting trucker hats and Buddy Holly glasses. The last time I had feared so for my life was at the 1997 Warped Tour. And it wasn’t ironic, remember-how-stupid-we-were-back-in-the-’90s moshing. It was full-on, heartfelt, I-am-so-into-this-music-that-the-only-way-I-know-how-to-express-my-passion-is-by-slamming-my-body-into-the-person-next-to-me moshing. As I fought my way out of the mob, I felt like Angela Chase in the first episode of My So-Called Life, falling in a mud puddle at the backyard metal show, the look on her face saying “what the hell am I doing here?”

What is it about this music that makes allegedly suave urban hipsters, who claim to know better, act like 14-year-old suburban Metallica heshers? Is it because emo went mainstream and most indie stalwarts have gone boring and washed-up (see latest records by Yo La Tengo, Beck, Belle and Sebastian, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Calvin Johnson, Arab Strap, and any former member of Sebadoh)? Because of the invasion of Iraq, Clear Channel, the bad economy, the Bush administration, SARS, monkeypox? Because, as Uncle Johnny Rotten once sang, “anger is an energy”? Everybody likes to have a soundtrack to getting angry and energetic sometimes, but why do these kids choose these bands over nu-metal, or old metal, or the Victory Records roster?

Does it have something to do with (gasp!) the music itself? Here’s what the Locust’s Plague Soundscapes, Ex Models’ Zoo Psychology, and the Blood Brothers’ . . . Burn Piano Island, Burn have in common: sprinting, pounding, rhythms; a tendency towards incredibly short songs; dissonant guitars turned up to 11 that are allergic to standard chord progressions, or standard chords for that matter; singers who sound like they’re gonna cough up a lung and whose voices are just another instrument, since you can never make out the words. So at heart, they’re a bunch of standard American hardcore bands circa 1983, 1993, 2003, whenever. But they’re also a lot weirder. Here’s what they don’t have in common with most hardcore bands, or with each other: San Diego’s the Locust have a keyboard player, wear silly costumes onstage, and sell belt buckles and compacts with their logo on them. So not hardcore. Jersey’s Ex Models sound like an extremely horny dog humping your leg, with a singer who brings to mind David Byrne inhaling helium. They are friends with, and frequent openers for, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. So not hardcore. Seattle’s Blood Brothers deviate the most from the formula, adding acoustic guitar, xylophone, piano, and even slower rhythms at times. Their new album is on the BMG subsidiary Artistdirect, and it was produced by Korn/W.A.S.P./Limp Bizkit/Slipknot/Vanilla Ice knob twiddler Ross Robinson. So so so not hardcore. Not surprisingly, it’s the least monotonous, most risk-taking, and all-around best record of the three. Even though it’s by far the longest, . . . Burn is the only album I enjoy listening to all the way through, and don’t have to fight an urge to put on Celine Dion afterwards.

I guess the weirdness and the deviations are why indie kids find these bands attractive, musically. Yet something in my gut tells me that maybe it’s more than that. There’s no doubt that traditional masculinity has become cool again in the culture at large. Perhaps the expanding fanbase of bands like the Locust, Ex Models and Blood Brothers is Maxim, WWF wrestling, extreme sports, and Johnny Knoxville trickling down into the subculture. It’s a scary thought. I started listening to punk to get away from that kind of crap. But it’s not like punk hasn’t always had testosteroned elements. And these bands certainly aren’t misogynist in any way (in fact, most of their members would probably identify as feminist). Plus, it’s difficult to deny the power of their music; in the right mood, it even makes me want to break stuff.


Rubbers Full of Soul

As catchy as they are nonstop from song #1 (39/Smooth‘s “At the Library,” still the best song ever written by a 17-year-old) through song #68 (Nimrod‘s “Prosthetic Head”), Green Day’s first five albums were not easy listens (i.e., stuff you could hum to washing dishes, as a friend of mine used to do daily in 1970 to my fave-o American rock album ever, Cosmo’s Factory). The first two are fueled by the punk rock Gilman Street aesthetic (and a whole lotta speed, i.e., the drug); the middle two have a waaaaaay-over-the-top wall-of-guitars sound used to good effect. And 1997’s Nimrod probably would sound all over the place to anyone not versed in what came before (that is, the first 50 songs).

Or to put it another way, Green Day’s “cutest” album (1992’s Kerplunk), most “rock” album (1990’s 39/Smooth), crankiest album (1995’s Insomniac), most eclectic album (1997’s Nimrod), and most muddled album though it sold a zillion copies anyway (1994’s Dookie) are all just slightly, um, idiosyncratic.

Their new album, Warning, is a whole nother kettle of fish. While being almost as adorable as hardcore-fan-fave Kerplunk (just like the street buzz had promised), it also resonates through my cerebrum and on my stereo not unlike . . . well, what I’ve always dug about Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller (who’re pretty much the same artist, ’57 vs. ’66) is how their feel is kinda lightweight and unassuming—they made “minor” records—yet their listening pleasure becomes immense over the years and decades. After a dozen-plus hearings, I definitely will testify that this new Green Day has got that vibe. Boy, does it sound different from all their previous work (tho the lighter parts of Nimrod definitely foreshadow it)—it has exactly 0% to do with even Gilman Street pop-punk, except for one solitary track, “Deadbeat,” that’s their old ’90-’92 type of tune.

The album’s darn spooky good (and I notice Rolling Stone had some postpunk postmodern son-of-R.E.M. poetry major review it, jeez, where do these mooks come from?), 36 minutes (with the CD program skipping the one lame cut) that may wind up one of my all-time five favorite non-heavy-metal non-punk-rock American rock-band albums (counting Holly and the Crickets as a “band,” and Beach Boys, Creedence, Bobby Fuller Four, the ’71 Flamin Groovies I’ve always sworn by, and . . . um, I don’t know if I recall anything that good in the brief 29 years since).

With their power-trio attack equal parts Ramones (ramalama) and Grand Funk (chugga chugga, let’s rock), Green Day have always sounded like a “rock” band (with buzzier haircuts) in the best sense anyway, as straight- forward as Chuck Holly or Jerry Lee Berry or, hell, Mark Farner and, yep, Johnny Ramone. For all you boneheads who confused Green Day with the Buzzcocks (not even close) instead of Eater (three big chords, a lot closer) or Grand Funk (way closer, if you threw in Buddy Holly and Keith Moon as replacements for Mark and Don), here’s a geography lesson: Contra Costa County’s west-end refinery section does not equal London, U.K. And speaking of recent Cali punk—how about those wacky, genuinely funny videos like “Nice Guys Finish Last,” “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy),” and even the ones by nefarious Calis-come-lately Blink-182? Isn’t that exactly what the ’77 Ramones or Dickies or Weirdos would’ve blown up with nationwide, given the chance? Making people laugh (and rocking at the same time)?

Unfortunately, none of those older bands ever got a chance to make a great sixth album. (Hey ho let’s go: The Ramones’ fifth album, End of the Century, was some of the worst crap they ever did; Green Day’s fifth, Nimrod, was hands-down some of their best stuff.) Green Day did get a chance, though, and what do you know? Five songs on Warning (out of 12) are flat-out perfect. “Warning” opens the album with a loping, rocking groove riff that’s a hella rewrite (unintended or not) of the Kinks’ classic “Picture Book.” “Real simple riff,” you say, yep, but why has NO OTHER BAND stumbled across it in 30 years? I’m not saying Billie Joe’s as great a songwriter as Ray Davies, mind you . . . just working somewhere in the same Brill Building.

“Church on Sunday,” three tunes in, blows up Buddy Holly in Technicolor. Hooks fly around like 21st-century rocket ships, and an exploding guitar bridge makes me wanna go back to 1966 and join the Who Fan Club all over again. Heard from a different angle, this song might be the best Elvis Costello hard-pop tune ever (tho his dork glasses were no match for Buddy’s).

Jumping forward almost to the end, “Minority” is the catchiest, cutest single Green Day has ever issued. Not many millionaires can write a good antiauthority song, but this is one. Damnedest thing is, it’s like a playground marching chant, with more ’66 mod-rock power riffs punching up the background. Three times a day, the melody and words pop into my head without my even knowing they’re there, I find myself smiling, and only then do I realize: “Oh jeez, it’s that damn Green Day song playing in my skull again!”


I’ll tell you exactly what song the single reminds me of: “Plastic Man” by the Kinks (#31 U.K., 1969). Just the vibe and feel, the half-goofy/half-serious authority rant where it’s hard to tell which is which (G or S), the writer’s intentions not at all clear or transparent. Tho the Green Day tune is obviously sincere, there’s deliberately stupid stuff in the lyric too: “one nation under dog,” that kinda shit. A fuck-off lyric coupled with jolly happy humming music—if Neil Young’s ever written anything half as clever, hey Neil, send me a postcard, huh?

And the very best thing about “Minority”: the blatting harmonica that pops up several times. Now THERE is the great lost rock cliché: We’re definitely not talking the likes of Blues Traveler here. Well-known songs using harmonica usually break down to (1) r&b/blues harp (99%) or (2) folk-rock harmonica (the other 1%), i.e., the “happy harp” type à la Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby” (#1 U.S., early 1962) and “Love Me Do”/”Thank You Girl” Beatles (i.e., before they’d heard Dylan). Anyway, the harp blatting in “Minority” is just a crack-up. Works musically, too.

(John Cougar interlude: I bet the reason harp is the only Rolling Stones component not to show up big-time on American Fool and Uh-Huh is cuz he was personally harp-phobic as a mental backlash against his doofus youth, i.e., those old ’60s high school photos of him wearing a Dylan harp and acoustic Gibson, to impress the “sensitive” girls, I believe—the ones ready for something slightly heavier than Donovan. Logically, there should be harp all over those two albums, to go with the maracas and tambourines and handclaps, but there’s almost none. Freud would probably see Cougar’s later accordion phase as “symbolic harp compensation.”)

Back three tracks on Warning, “Hold On” is the companion marching-chant of the set, again with more jaunty Bruce Channel/John Lennon harmonica squawking. Reference point? Kinda like that dippy Proclaimers hit. But good.

Closing the album, “Macy’s Day Parade” is genuinely pretty, like “It’s Only Love” on side two of the Beatles’ best American set . . . Nimrod‘s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” (which, in truth, was just a little too jerky-rhythm “folkie”) was barely a practice run. If pull-the-pretty-song for a single holds true again, this one is very possibly a hit.

The other seven songs? Well, Green Day bails us out with “Misery” halfway through, a skip-it-it-sucks oddity (sorta like the Doors playing “Alabama Song” meets “Unknown Soldier” sideways . . . nah, even worse); otherwise I’d be juggling “perfect album” and “best record of the year” sound bites like Alfred E. Neuman stuck on a college lecture circuit looking for a way out. But the rest is off the hook compared not just to today’s uno-dimensional “rock bands” (code around here for: “start runnin’ or I start shootin’ “), but to the other five Green Day albums and 20 million plus in worldwide sales that came before. Even those usually annoying Cheap Trick “I Want You to Want Me” rhythms (on “Jackass” and “Blood, Sex and Booze”) work to neat, punchy effect.

Important footnote: Shelving the old Green Day wall of guitars (Dookie and Insomniac) in favor of the youngest (and best) Pete Townshend mod-clanky buzz opens up the band’s sound dramatically; it’s airy and spacious, lots of room for the vocals. The whole thing breathes with neat ambiences.

The other nifty new wrinkle is the rockin’ with light guitars (acoustic and/or electric) thing. Everybody in the world says they’ve heard Rubber Soul; but no band has ever got it RIGHT. Kick me hard for heresy, but that effortless state of grace (that the four Fabs had from “I’m a Loser” through the last note of Rubber Soul) echoes all over the place here. All the taut 1966 Who/Creation/Byrds moves, razor-sharp guitars bouncing off exploding drum parts (“Fashion Victim,” “Waiting,” and “Castaway” on Warning), you figure there’s been a few bands for sure who’ve gotten that down. But Rubber Soul, nada. (Except, as nitpickers will point out, side two of the second Raspberries album, which is too lightweight on the instruments to be anything except an approximate homage. And unless you count what might be the greatest Beatles song since 1965: Hanson’s summer 2000 hit “If Only,” which would have been the best track on Rubber Soul, closing either side.)

Translated to real life, the simple story is that Green Day spent over six straight months, 1999-2000, in an Oakland practice room, learning and rehearsing the usual ton of new material. So they had the songs memorized thrice over like the rest of us could hum Cyndi’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” if you threw a $10 bill on the table. And hey, I noticed in a short somewhere (maybe in Rolling Stone) a Billie Joe quote pegging the sound on Warning to Springsteen’s two-LP River set. Since that’s the only electric Springsteen I ever thought was worth the time to listen to (and its follow-up ditto in the folkie damage-art category), I might be Green Day’s ground-zero fan base . . .


Six-String Samurai

Everything from Pulp Fiction to The Wizard of Oz to Road Warrior to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly has been mulched into this postapocalyptic road movie by Lance Mungia, who made this first feature fresh out of college. Cowriter Jeffrey Falcon, who also designed the costumes, stars as samurai Buddy, his battered, black-framed glasses and dweeb
suit inspired by Buddy Holly. Buddy’s on his way to Lost
Vegas, an Oz with an opening for a new Elvis, but it’s a long, strange trip, imperiled by
mutants and bogeymen whom he must battle. Falcon is an
agile martial artist and deadpan clown, and his wild-child sidekick, The Kid (played by seven-year-old Justin McGuire), is equally appealing. There’s one charming sequence, with vaudeville grace and tragicomedy worthy of Beckett, but the rest of the film, even with startling visual effects and some impish humor, is repetitious and derivative, playing like an endless commercial for bullet-hole chic.