Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Chills - Big Dark Day

It's a heavenly pop hit,
For those that still want it.

I'm always puzzled by a tendency among certain artists to essentially throw away their most hit-worthy music, relegating their catchiest songs to b-sides, or not releasing them at all. For instance, it's difficult to understand why "Wonder People (I Do Wonder)" wasn't released as a single in advance of Forever Changes. The song clearly wouldn't have fit the dark tone of the album, but it condenses and simplifies many of Forever Changes' virtues in a way that would have made it the perfect vehicle for getting some radio airplay in advance of its release. It's hard to explain why no one recognized this in 1967 and the song sat in the vaults for nearly thirty-five years. Maybe it was the drugs.

"Big Dark Day" by The Chills is another good example of this phenomenon. Martin Phillipps co-wrote what can only be described as a heavenly pop-hit with former dB Peter Holsapple, but inexplicably stuck it on the b-side of the little-heard 1992 "Male Monster From the Id" single. The song was later relegated to a limited-edition "bonus disc" on The Chills best-of album, Heavenly Pop Hits. Good luck finding either of those.

Don't get me wrong, "Male Monster" is a good song, but you don't have to be some music industry genius to figure out that there aren't enough hookers and cocaine in the world to convince radio programmers to play a song whose chorus goes "the male monster from the iiiiddd." On the other hand, "Big Dark Day" is everything one could ask for in a three minute and forty-one second pop song. It's got a big hook, a melody you can hum, nice production, a touch of drama and a sentiment anyone can relate to. I can't think of a single good reason this song wasn't a hit in 1992, other than the fact that no one was allowed to hear it (heck, even I missed it at the time). It's almost too easy to imagine this song being played on the radio between The Sundays' "Love" and The Cranberries' "Dreams" circa 1992. Pity that it wasn't.

So, how to explain why "Male Monster From the Id" was the a-side and "Big Dark Day" was the b-side, and not the other way around? Maybe no one at the label was paying enough attention or cared enough about the band to do proper A&R. Maybe it was the drugs.

Perhaps Martin Phillipps himself left a clue in the lyrics to "Heavenly Pop Hit," which reflect a deep sense of cynicism about the ability of really great pop music to still connect with a mainstream audience. Why not relegate your catchiest songs to b-sides if you're convinced no one is going to hear them anyway? Why not reward the few fans who are paying really close attention if you believe they're the only ones who will care? Of course, there might be a simpler explanation. Maybe Phillipps just thought the song was flawed in some way that escapes my ears and didn't think it was ready for prime-time. Whatever the reason, here's a heavenly pop-hit for those that still want it.

1 comment:

fantom said...

Wow. That is a revelation. As a keen Chills fan -- and a chronicler of Mr Holsapple, had never come across this one. Thanks!