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Have you ever been so completely turned off by one song that you very nearly missed out on the experience of an excellent band?
This is how it was for me and The Flaming Lips for many years. It was their biggest commercial hit, 1993’s “She don’t use jelly”, that really did me in from the first. Not that it was a particularly bad song, it was just that ultra push foisted upon us by their major label. It was overplayed to the point where they warranted an appearance on an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 and gained Steve Sanders’ seal of approval. “You know, I’ve never been a big fan of alternative music, but these guys rocked the house!” Ugh.
Interestingly, it was television that brought me back to the psych-rockers from Oklahoma City. More to the point, it was a television commercial. For many years, I have misremembered the ad being for Volkswagen, probably because it fell in line with the other songs that had been used for their ad campaigns, but when I googled it, discovered that it was actually for Hewlett-Packard (and also featured famed magicians, Penn and Teller). More on that in a minute.
The Flaming Lips actually formed as early as 1983 and they released four full-length studio albums before they caught the attention of Warner Brothers. And then, they released four more albums on that major before they finally found their feet and released 1999’s “The soft bulletin”, an album many critics see as the best album in a decade that included “Nevermind”, “Loveless”, and “OK computer”. And the band didn’t stop there. Indeed, eight albums later and they still show no signs of slowing or falling into ruts or making anything that vaguely resembles pedestrian tunes.
My ears pricked up with the first notes of “Do you realize??” that I heard at the end of that Hewlett Packard commercial. I was at my desktop computer with the TV on behind me and I heard spaceships and angels and beauty. I turned around, made notes, did some google searches, and eventually found the full song. I played it and replayed it and replayed it. Then, I listened to the rest of the album on which it appeared, “Yoshimi battles the pink robots”, and declared myself in love.
These days, I wouldn’t consider myself a diehard of the band. Yet I do very much love “Yoshimi”, along with the two albums that bookend it in their chronological discography, and totally respect everything they do, even if I don’t like it all. I saw them perform live at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2011 and would jump at the chance to witness their live extravaganza again… But I’m once again getting away from our song today.
“Do you realize??” is possibly their most recognizable song. It was honoured by their home state as its official song for a period of time in 2000s and is considered by the band as the best thing they have ever done. It was inspired by multi-instrumentalist Steve Drozd’s struggles with drug withdrawal and by the death of frontman Wayne Coyne’s father. It is about the precariousness of life, the planet, and everything else.
“Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?
Do you realize we’re floating in space?
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry?
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?”
It all starts with a robotic count in and the falls up the rabbit hole in the clouds and the ether where everything is in stasis and sparkly. The strumming of the guitar holds everything together and roots you in reality while everything flies around you – memories, feelings, life, death – and everyone is singing along. It is gentle and beautiful and sad and perfect. Just wow.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.