The American Broadcasting Company, better known as ABC, has lately delved into all things past with great relish. A couple of recent summer program offerings from the Already Been Cherished network include a weak retread of The Match Game and a reboot of those Dick Clark "Pyramid" shows. So, ABC's latest music-based program, Greatest Hits, follows the company blueprint. Each week, over the course of an hour, the show looks back at music from a five-year period, beginning last week in 1980. Contemporary acts are added to the mix to attract the young end of the TV demographic. For instance, this week's show features Backstreet Boys, Coolio, Jewel and LL Cool J collaborating with today’s stars like Meghan Trainor and Tori Kelly.
Last week's episode, covering 1980-85, featured Ray Parker, Jr. and Kool and the Gang; future editions will include Wilson Phillips, Foreigner, Chicago and Bonnie Raitt. Even the hosts follow the “was-is” model, with Arsenio Hall and country singer Kelsea Ballerini sharing the duties (but no chemistry).
But who cares about the hosts? Or the awkwardly choreographed dance routines accompanying some of the performances? Or the faceless hordes brought in to give the show an American Bandstand look? This is about the music. And while the show hits the mark on some of its choices, it might have done better by thinking outside the box a bit on others. Maybe next year they can work the following acts into the mix:
OINGO BOINGO (1980-1985)
Last week's acts selected for this era were inoffensive, bland choices like Kenny Loggins (‘memba him?) and REO Speedwagon. There’s not much reason to hunt through your On Demand list for the debut episode unless you want to see whether you too believe REO front man Kevin Cronin now sorta looks like the Church Lady. If your remote’s fast-forward button is broken, you definitely will want to pass instead of sitting through the REO-Pitbull collaboration.
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If the show’s producers had included Oingo Boingo in the mix, you’d at least have a more interesting reason to rewind. Loggins did an interview segment where he recalled his ‘70s rock career morphing into a series of soundtrack hits. No one in this generation has written more iconic movie and TV songs than Danny Elfman. Getting him to relive his Oingo Bingo days on network TV could be subversive fun, especially if the band performed something super creepy like “Little Girls” instead of more likely candidates like “Dead Man’s Party” or “Weird Science.”
TERENCE TRENT D’ARBY (1985-1990)
When Terence Trent D’Arby emerged in the late 1980s, some people christened him the next Prince. But once the fervor over his first hits faded, the only similarity between the acts is they each changed their names. Prince famously became an unpronouncable symbol by name, and D'Arby, less famously, became Sananda Maitreya. He's continued to record under that name, so getting D'Arby on the Greatest Hits stage would be a challenge. According to a Wiki page on the artist, he declared D'Arby "dead." Save a resurrection, it's unlikely he'd grace the stage under his former moniker, but it would be pretty awesome to hear him sing "Wishing Well" today. D'Arby always had an old soul's voice. Now, in his elder years, would it sound much different? And, if there were time, would the show allow him to also play "Sign Your Name," which was really the better of the two songs?
SAMANTHA FOX (1990-1995)
This week’s episode features acts that have been on TVs more than test patterns. Do we really need to see LL Cool J on television doing anything ever again? With apologies to Jim Rome and Pete Gillen, LL Cool J is on TV more than Leave It to Beaver reruns. Why not someone who hasn’t been seen recently, like Samantha Fox? There was a time when the Britpop star was ubiquitous. In her heyday, as the It Girl who paved the way for the Spice Girls, Fox was the most photographed woman in the United Kingdom. Her 1992 hit “I Wanna Have Some Fun” was the party-starting anthem for people of a certain age. And we of that age have questions, like what’s she been up to recently and does she still wanna have some fun? Fun fact: although she was totally foxy and befitting a stage name that played off her looks, her birth name is actually Samantha Fox.
WILL SMITH (1995-2000)
One couldn’t go any place, like a car with a radio, the grocery store, West Philadelphia and definitely the club, without hearing Will Smith’s “Getting’ Jiggy Wit It” in 1997. The Grammy Award-winning song from Big Willie Style was such a massive hit it remained on the airwaves and in our hearts (?) into the new millennium. Because it’s also been vilified as one of the worst songs ever, how incredible might it be to see Smith perform the song today? He’s largely cast off his recording career in favor of acting, so getting him to do any song would be a feat worth watching; but having him just sing the word “jiggy” in 2016 would be a coup sure to bring in big ratings.
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Maybe Afroman’s “Because I Got High” wasn’t network-friendly on its release in 2001 (yep – 15 years ago!) but times have changed. We’re increasingly becoming a weed nation, so the openness to songs about smoking herb is higher than ever before. As for the song itself, it has always divided people into two camps. One considers it a sort of chill, "Just Say No" admonishment against the puff-puff-pass. The other camp — we’ll call them “Weed Smokers” — considers it an exaggerated but technically correct appraisal of the smokers’ lifestyle. For good measure, let’s have Afroman’s 2016 televised performance backed by the entrepreneurs who have recently become millionaires thanks to legalized recreational marijuana, all singing about how they got rich because they got high.
Eminem is no stranger to network TV. He’s been on the 8 o’clock hour before, dueting with Elton John and fighting with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. He’d be perfect for Greatest Hits because his greatest hits are now behind him, secured in the annals of hip-hop history. Although he still is a major draw in concert and at festivals, well, so is The Who. And, like The Who, Marshall Mathers hasn’t had a meaningful hit song in some time. Not even Sia, the best musical sidekick of her time, could restore him to Slim Shady status. Of course, he may not remain relegated to the realm of once- and never-weres. He’s a proven, incredible talent who tomorrow could drop something hotter than today’s outdoor temperatures. But his window of relevance is quickly shutting in favor of the doorway to legacy.