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Sheryl Crow – All I Wanna Do (90s – 97)

April 29, 2010

This list of 100 songs from the Nineties is not meant to be going chronologically, but I thought I’d start with a snapshot of my listening habits in the earlier half of the decade as a basis for what came later once I hit University and student radio.

And so onto Pop, which, in the first half of the decade, I mostly despised. It was not always so. Since 10, I had been an avid listener to Take 40 Australia, the commercial weekly charts show which kept me entertained every Saturday afternoon. I still look nostalgically at my copies of the Smash Hits compilations for 87, 88 and 89. Being a child in the Eighties, the New Romantics and early House-pop were my staples. But as that decade closed, dark clouds were brewing, affecting even my treasured compilations.

First there was Jason and Kylie, then there was New Kids on the Block, before Boys II Men hit town. Mariah was on the horizon, ready to take over from Whitney. Boy groups, and smooth r’n’b ladies were commanding commercial radio, wowing several young girls I knew, but pushing me away from pop.

By the time 1990 came around, my pop listening was becoming sporadic. This was not to say I disliked every pop tune I heard, but rather I was generally avoiding commercial radio.

Pop, of course, has a way of being heard even when you are not listening out for it. And to prick my ears, it had to have something different.

Sheryl Crow came out of nowhere in 1994, and promptly returned there, leaving “All I Wanna Do” as the perfect summer anthem. Laconic and lazy, the song was the epitome of California as imagined in my mind’s eye. That slide guitar just hangs around, the rhythm relaxed, but best of all were the lyrics. There is no pretension in the song, no forced utterances of love, betrayal or revenge, no heartfelt clichés. It’s just people hanging around, idly wanting to be doing something else.

Compare this to Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, an anthem of freedom and generational rebellion, and Lauper wants everybody to know. By contrast, Crow just props up the bar with some bloke, watching the world go by, wondering where to find some fun. And she isn’t even a Tom Waits barfly: where a Waits character wallows in their despair, Crow and Billy are just loitering.

I was not surprised when I recently learnt the lyrics were adapted from a poem called “Fun” by Wyn Cooper. Unlike most pop songs, the lyrics are descriptive not of the singer’s situation, but the incidentals around her. We learn almost nothing about Crow’s character. Is she upset, or merely bored, and did it matter?

Back in 1994, I liked “All I Wanna Do” because it was unlike other pop music. It didn’t pretend to ask big questions. There was no faux-emotion of the boy bands or divas. No sickly strings. Just a few minutes of quirk – quirk of the sort I hadn’t heard since the Eighties.

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