Tuesday, January 18, 2022

"What I Am" by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

Top 10 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  3729
Date:  11/26/1988
Debut:  96
Peak:  7
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Alternative Rock, Folk-Rock

Pop Bits:  In 1985, a local Dallas folk rock outfit called New Bohemians invited one of their former high school classmates, Edie Brickell, to sit in and sing with them. From the get-go, Brickell fit in perfectly with the band and she quickly secured a permanent spot as their lead vocalist. New Bohemians would become a popular act on the Dallas folk rock/college scene and in '86 they would independently record and release a cassette album titled It's Like This. That tape along with their burgeoning popularity attracted major label attention and the band eventually signed with Geffen Records. Work began on a debut album with producer Pat Moran and by the fall of '88 Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars was completed. Four songs from their original cassette would be re-recorded for the LP including this lead single. Co-written by Brickell and band member Kenny Withrow, the song first started gaining traction at college/modern rock radio stations and by mid-October it peaked at #4 on the Modern Rock chart. That led to the song climbing the Rock chart where it reached #9. A few weeks before that peak, the song crossed over to the Pop chart. It started off a bit slow, but gained momentum and made its way into the Top 10. The quirky hit got folks interested in the band and that helped to sell albums. It would peak at #4 and eventually go double-platinum. The band was off and running in a big way, but long-term chart success wasn't in the cards. They would only get more more mid-charting single at Pop. Due to that, this lone, standout Top 10 hit would get the band tagged as a one-hit wonder (#23 on VH1's list of Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80s).

ReduxReview:  I think the jangling guitar riff and the opening line quickly reeled people in to this song. It was unusual, catchy, folky, and hippy-ish right off the bat. The song then unfolded with further hooks including the chorus and that distinct filtered guitar solo. It was perfect for college radio and it was that crowd that helped the song get off the ground. A few months later, the mainstream were all singing "I know what I know, if you know what I mean" thinking they are all hip and cool. The tune got my attention too and I ended up buying the album. It was a good listen, but nothing on it was as entrancing as "What I Am." In fact, I think this album might have come 'n' gone quickly if it wasn't for that song. I figured that the band was most likely not going to be Pop chart mainstays, but it did surprise me how quickly they imploded. Still, Brickell continued to maintain a successful low-key career over the years that included solo work, collaboration albums with Steve Martin, and even a Broadway musical.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song and the band got a boost when they were selected as the musical guest on the November 5, 1988, airing of Saturday Night Live. It was also at that show that Brickell met her future husband. As she was singing "What I Am," she noticed standing by one of the cameras superstar folk rocker Paul Simon. The glimpse of him nearly threw her off her performance. The pair met and soon began dating. They were married in '92 and would go on to have three kids. The couple had a bit of an infamous argument at home in 2014 that got them arrested on disorderly conduct charges. Apparently, Simon did something that broke Brickell's heart and after a couple of drinks things got heated and a minor physical altercation ensued that caused Simon to dial 911 (although he hung up). Brickell's mother was staying with them and witnessed the argument and apparently called the police. The couple were later a united front in court and after explaining the situation, the charges were dismissed.  2) Upon release, this song would only reach #31 in the UK. However, a remake would later do far better. The UK electronic/dance music duo Tin Tin Out (Darren Stokes and Lindsay Edwards) would cover the song in 1998 for their second full-length album Eleven to Fly. For the vocals, they would bring in Spice Girl Emma Bunton (Baby Spice). It would be released as the LPs third single and would reach #2 in the UK. It would not reach a US chart. It was the duo's biggest hit and their second UK Top 10 following another remake. For their first LP, they covered "Here's Where the Story Ends," which was originally recorded by The Sundays (1990, #1 US Modern Rock). English singer Shelley Nelson would provide the vocals on that UK #7/US #15 Dance hit.


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