Since before LeAnn Rimes was even born, Pop Eye has ended each year by singling out those in the pop music world deserving, um, credit for their Dubious Distinctions, with one generally selected as the most worthy of recognition.
But there were so many doers of the distinctively dubious in 1996--with transgressions ranging from silly to tragic--that it's impossible to narrow it down to even a reasonable list of nominees.
So this year, let's try something different. Rather than merely jape at the goats of pop, let's honor a true hero, one person who had the courage not just to talk about the rampant pomposity and vainglory, but to do something.
That person is Jarvis (Do a Little Dance) Cocker, singer for the English band Pulp, who while watching Michael Jackson's grandiose performance at the Brit Awards in London last February did something that expressed so well what so many others were feeling: He bolted on stage, shook his scrawny tushy around and made a mockery of the former King of Pop--if that's not redundant, considering Jackson's own track record of making a mockery of himself.
Cocker was not only cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident, but proved himself a first-class mensch when accepting the highly prestigious Mercury Prize awarded to Pulp's "Different Class" as the best British album of the year. He immediately gave both the trophy and the $35,000 cash award to Bosnian relief charity War Child, whose "Help" anthology album he declared to be the year's best.
English pop weekly Melody Maker suggested that Cocker be given a knighthood for his service to Britain. That's not in our power, but we can rename our Dubious Distinction award in his honor. So ladies and gentlemen, presenting the Jarvis--at least for this year. Just don't dance the Macarena.
Our only regret is that Cocker wasn't able give the same treatment he gave Jackson to a few others. So now, let's turn to those figures in the pop world whose activities were, well, dubious:
Suge Knight--The death of Tupac Shakur after a gangland-style ambush while riding in Knight's car stands as a tragedy. But Knight, the picture of hubris, added "The New and Untouchable" to his Death Row company's logo, though he's now untouchably behind bars, having violated probation on assault charges. The least he could do is return calls from Gina Longo, the teenager whom Knight signed to a record deal after her assistant-D.A. dad recommended Knight's probation.
Many record executives--Sure, maybe recording academy president Mike Greene was grandstanding a bit when he called for industrywide programs to stem the ongoing drug epidemic. But someone had to take the leadership role. As it was, it took the death of Smashing Pumpkins sideman Jonathan Melvoin, son of former recording academy president Mike Melvoin, to get people to work together.
Van Halen--Who would guess that Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth would ever be on the same side of matters concerning the band each fronted at one time? We have no idea who to believe in the war of words that ensued from Hagar being fired (or quitting, depending on who you talk to) or Roth being allowed to think he was back in the band (or fooling himself, depending on who you talk to), and frankly, we don't care. But we loved Eddie Van Halen's quip that the two disgruntled ex-frontmen should take their act on the road as "Sam & Dave." And you had to feel for Roth, who could hardly contain his glee at being back in the band when he appeared with his former mates at the MTV Awards.
The Battlin' Gallagher Brothers--If Oasis is the Beatles of the '90s, the band is still at the "I Want to Hold Your Hand" stage of its career. But the founding siblings' disruptive foibles are more like a scene from "Let It Be."
Jenny McCarthy--Just because.
Here are some other highlights from the 1996 Pop Follies:
HIGHWAY TO HECK: Metal's back . . . and Pat Boone's got it. Sure, once-controversial heavy metal is now tame by gangsta and industrial hard-core standards, but the White Bucked Man of Milk still made an unlikely champion of the nasty noise as he recorded his upcoming "Pat Boone in a Metal Mood: No More Mister Nice Guy" during breaks from his Christian TV duties. Due in stores in February, the album features Boone's straight-faced (and strait-laced) takes on such classics as Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," Van Halen's "Panama" (with some of the randier lines altered), Alice Cooper's title song and, of course, the inevitable Led Zeppelin anthem "Stairway to Heaven." We can't wait to hear Beavis and Butt-head's review.
LIFE AFTER DEAD: The peace and love vibe elicited by Jerry Garcia's August 1995 death didn't last into '96. His widow, Deborah Koons Garcia, and former Grateful Dead bandmate Bob Weir snuck off to India and dumped some of his ashes in the Ganges, without the knowledge of Garcia's much-chagrined two daughters and previous wife, Carolyn. Why India, they wondered, a country the guitarist had never visited? Weir explained to the San Francisco Chronicle that it came to him in a flash "between being awake and asleep."
Now Deborah has sued to prevent Carolyn from getting the $5 million left to her in Garcia's will.
And among the claimants asking for payments from Garcia's estate were his acupuncturist and personal trainer, though you've got to wonder if Garcia would still be alive if they'd done their jobs better.
CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: MTV's announcement that it plans to change its music programming caught off guard many record executives who were surprised to learn that MTV still features music. Well, they have to have something to fill the time between "Singled Out" and "Beavis and Butt-head."
IN HIS OWN WORDS: When Jewish leaders decried reports that Michael Jackson was using the original "Jew me, sue me" version of "They Don't Care About Us" for a video taping in Brazil, a Jackson spokesman defended his boss by declaring to "Entertainment Tonight": "The bigger he has gotten, the bigger the shots. . . . Christ did things to free the oppressed people, and they tried to destroy him also."
NIGHTLY NEWS: Reporting the acquittal of Snoop Doggy Dogg on murder charges in February, ABC's Peter Jennings couldn't keep a straight face after saying the rapper's name several times and actually broke out in a chuckle, for which he made an on-air apology.
WE'VE SEEN THE FUTURE OF ROCK 'N' ROLL: MTV ran promo spots featuring figures meant to be an aged Madonna and Courtney Love in a scene from "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane," with Love as Bette Davis' Baby Jane and Ms. Ciccone in the Joan Crawford part. Um, this was meant to be them acting the parts, right?
DID PEARL JAM SPONSOR THIS?: Two gems from the "Homerpalooza" episode of Fox TV's "The Simpsons," a spoof of Lollapalooza that featured vocal and musical appearances by the Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth and, uh, Peter Frampton:
* "Feeding into teenagers' depression is like shooting fish in a barrel." (Bart, while watching the Pumpkins perform.)
* "It ensures a mix of the rich and the ignorant." (Mr. Burns' toadie Smithers on his boss buying Ticketmaster and instituting a 100% service charge.)
PSYCHIC FRIENDS: OK, so only 10% of the psychics at a late-'95 convention predicted the split of Michael Jackson and Lisa-Marie Presley. We want to know if any of them predicted that Jackson would not only be married again by now, but be a poppa-to-be.
COMMERCIAL ENDEAVORS: The best music videos of the year? They were ads, hands down. Nissan scored with its "Toy Story" scenario featuring a cleaned-up GI Joe cruising to pick up a hot Barbie for a date, to the tune of Van Halen's version of "You Really Got Me." And the most exhilarating programming during the Olympics was Nike's brutal yet riveting quick-cut montage set to Iggy & the Stooges "Search and Destroy."
And then there was the state of New Jersey pushing a tax amnesty plan with Blondie's 1978 hit "One Way or Another." Singer Debbie Harry said that, though it was done without her knowledge, she approved. Of course, she herself had tax troubles in New York a few years ago.
NOT JARVIS COCKER'S DANCE: Joining a list that included Dennis Rodman, Howard Stern, Bob Dole and Kathie Lee Gifford, the Macarena was named by Alan Caruba, the lone member of the Boring Institute in New Jersey, as one of the most boring things of '96. The craze, Caruba noted, was "a dance fad that lasted a whole month until Al Gore tried to do it." Guess he never heard the Chipmunks' hot version.
DICKENSIAN TRAGEDIES: Tiny Tim, after nearly 30 years in show biz, finally did the inevitable Christmas album--only to pass away from a heart attack just as the holiday season was beginning. And Patty Donahue, singer for the early-'80s band the Waitresses, also passed away from cancer this month, just as radio stations around the country were starting their annual playing of the band's great Noel romance saga, "Christmas Wrapping." (No, Alanis, that's not really ironic either.)
ROAD HAZARDS: Several months before his death, Tiny Tim created havoc at Philadelphia International Airport when a motorized luggage cart he may have been driving (reports varied) lurched out of control, hitting two pedestrians, including a 67-year-old woman who was hospitalized with pelvic injuries. At least he made it to the minor-league baseball game where he was booked to perform.
And producer David Foster might want to consider staying off Pacific Coast Highway. It was there in 1992 that he accidentally hit and severely injured Ben Vereen, who was walking in the street. In December, though, it was Foster in peril on PCH, narrowly escaping unharmed when a mudslide overtook his car and pushed it off the road.
TRENDWATCH '97: What's to follow the lounge music explosion of this past year? We're betting on a big revival of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass' classic '60s sound. When you're so sick of hearing "The Lonely Bull" over and over and over that you want to drown in whipped cream and/or other delights, just remember that you read it here first.