Grunge. Wu Tang Clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall.” The music of the 90s was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does it say about the era – and why does it still matter? 60 songs that define the 90s is back for 30 final episodes (and a brand new book!) to try to answer these questions. Join Calling music writer and ’90s survivor Rob Harvilla as he wanders through the soundtrack of his youth, one song (and embarrassing anecdote) at a time. Follow and listen for free on Spotify. IN Episode 98 of 60 Songs That Define The 90s—yes, you read that right – we’re covering Warren G, Nate Dogg and “Regulate”. Below is an excerpt of this episode’s transcript.
Warren G’s album Regulate… G Funk Era debuted and peaked at no. 2 on the bulletin board album list, only beaten by Purple by Stone Temple Pilots. It’s funny. I think it’s funny. I am very concerned about the CD copy of the Purple which I bought may have been the only copy of it Purple which prevented Warren G’s album from debuting at no. 1. I feel bad about it. The Above the edge The soundtrack, also featuring SWV, Tupac, Lady of Rage and Dogg Pound, also peaked at no. 2 on the bulletin board album list, only beaten by The division clock by Pink Floyd. A little less fun but still fun. I didn’t buy a copy of The division clock. That’s not my fault. “Regulate,” the Warren G and Nate Dogg song, topped, you guessed it, no. 2 on the bulletin board Hot 100, beaten only by “I Swear” by All-4-One. Huh. Wow. At least it wasn’t Pink Floyd, I guess.
I had nothing to do with “I swear” stopping “Regulate” from going no. 1. Yes, “Regulate” as a hit song and a hit album seller achieved the extremely rare triple. 2. There’s your pathos. It’s tough. It’s cool though. I imagine saying no. 2 three times is harder than saying no. 1 anywhere once. Yes, “Regulate”, the story of three great men brought together to achieve true greatness together. Yes, three men. Cards on the table, I’m a white male in my 40s who owns a lawnmower, and I’m therefore bound, by our personal code, by the podcaster’s code, by the FCC, I’m bound by the Constitution to speak to you now about a truly great man named Michael McDonald.
Yes, national treasure and voice of a generation Michael McDonald, who graces us here with his tasty 1982 hit “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)”, from his 1982 album If that’s what it takes. I go back and forth on yacht rock, right, as a genre, as an era, as an ethos. I loved this kind of extra luxurious soft rock – your Steely Dans, your Kenny Logginses, maybe a bit of your Hall & Oateses – when this music spread, when it dominated from the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s, or at least it dominated my experience from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s, when I was literally a baby and then a slightly unruly child. And as an unruly young adult, I loved it in the early 2000s, when this music was retroactively and lovingly reclassified as yacht rock, via Yacht Rock early web video series and via the eternal, permanent Steely Dan renaissance, right? There’s a great new book by Alex Pappademas and Joan LeMay about Steely Dan, of course. I’m not the kind of guy immune to the charms of, say, Weezer covering “Africa” by Toto, although Weezer’s 2018 cover of the 1982 hit “Africa” is an almost parodic Weezer thing to do.
It’s cool, it’s lovely and it’s loving, it is sincere, all this yacht rock talk and celebration. But there’s still a little inherent tension, isn’t there, when a genre of music only gets its canonical name, its generally accepted cultural framework several decades later; “Yachtrock” became an old, legitimate pop music sensation and a new, hilarious internet meme at the same time. It’s a little weird, but also pretty wonderful. Same deal with Michael McDonald’s physical voice.
That part isn’t sampled on “Regulate”, and Michael McDonald’s physical vocals don’t appear on “Regulate”, but that part of “I Keep Forgettin'” is still good, right? Me and my boys, we went to see Michael McDonald play the Blue Note, the famous West Village jazz club, in 2008 – I feel like me and my boys is exactly the right way to describe us in that circumstance – and it was ass. Michael played “I Keep Forgettin'”, of course, and his saxophonist, who looked like Wilford Brimley, the saxophonist threw in some John Coltrane A Love Supreme in the intro; I wrote up that show and described Michael McDonald in print as “the Akon of the ’80s.” Ahh, shut up, Rob.
I point to someone else. The great rock critic and author Eric Harvey wrote a great appreciation of Michael McDonald for Deadspin In 2014, when I was working there—Deadspin classic. And Eric wrote, “Michael McDonald’s voice is so unique that for more than 30 years it has subsumed Michael McDonald the man.” He continued: “I have an impression of the guy in my own repertoire, and there’s a good chance that many of you do too. It’s not that hard. To do a Ray Charles, an Al Green or even a Daryl Hall requires a great deal of vocal training and genetic luck. A Michael McDonald impression, on the other hand, is 95 percent timbre—the subjective ‘color’ of a voice—which I know because I have no vocal talent and yet can imitate’ I Keep Forgettin” with a high degree of truth. I just find the place in my throat where a sound that would otherwise mean “soul” instead sounds like one of those eerily human Japanese robots programmed for “soul.”
Michael McDonald’s voice, and all his soundis so distinctive – it is precisely at the level where no one can duplicate it but all can try to mimic it — that all love for him feels ironic even if it isn’t. Loving Michael McDonald is a funny idea, but what’s really funny is that all the people who love him are absolutely serious. Last thing, and maybe you didn’t expect this to happen, but trust me, you will be mad at yourself, after this happens, that you didn’t expect this to happen. I never looked Family guythe animated TV show Family guy. I don’t mean that in any elitist way, but I only know one Family guy joke. And that’s when Peter, the family guy, he hires Michael McDonald to go around with him and sing background vocals for all his calls, but then Michael McDonald refuses to leave.
Can I say that I didn’t expect to go so hard on Michael Mcdonald right now? Now I’m mad at myself for not expecting to go that hard. Michael McDonald perseveres, is my point. There is a viral TikTok going on right now where a young girl is extremely exciting to go and see Michael McDonald sing with his old band the Doobie Brothers. The kids know why I went so hard on Michael McDonald. Warren G, the rapper and DJ and producer we discussed earlier, Warren G knows why I went so hard. Talking with Notice board of Michael McDonald in 2014, Warren G said: “I’m a fan. I’m still a fan. I really love his work. I think he’s one of the greatest of all time. His voice is incredible.”
And then Warren retold the story of living in the early ’90s in a dingy apartment on Long Beach Boulevard with dog poop all over the floor, and he goes to pick up a bunch of vinyl records from a dealer near Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘N Waffles, and a of the records are If that’s what it takes by Michael McDonald, and Warren G hears “I Keep Forgettin'” and he knows. He knows immediately. Warren added Notice board, “I thought, ‘Wow, this is an incredible record — plus it’s a record that my stepmom and my pops used to play. It brought back feelings for me to living with my parents, when we lived in North Long Beach. They used to jam with some good music, man.” So Warren G tries the bejesus out of Michael Mcdonald. Next thing he does, watches a movie.
Young Guns, from 1988. Starring Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips and that guy. Casey Siemaszko. Casey was also there Back to the Future. He played 3D, the guy with 3D glasses who was one of Biff’s henchmen in Back to the Future. Regulates possible theft of Biff’s property. Casey, appears in Young Guns playing the famous outlaw Charlie Bowdre, Casey most likely doesn’t realize when he says these words that these will be the most famous words he’s ever spoken. But then again, the force with which Casey says this suggests that he might know?
It was a pig. So there you go. So Warren G hooks up his VCR to his Akai MPC60 sequencer, and he samples that dialogue from a VHS tape of Young Guns. I’m happy about that detail. The VCR connected to the sequencer. Which obviously: This is the early 90s. How else is Warren going to try it? But a physical VHS tape inserted into a physical VCR connected to a physical sequencer, with a cord between them: I like it. I’m into the tangible, the tactile, the bodily in this test. The next thing Warren does, he decides that this song is not going to be a duet, a dialogue, like what Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg did with “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang.” And also, Warren G will – graciously, I must say – play the guy in this duet who needs rescuing.
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