July 7, 2001
I suppose anyone can write an essay or column about a massive hit song. Rest assured, a fair amount of the songs coming up will have stood the test of time enough that I've heard them on and off plenty of times over the years. Artists like The Killers, Foo Fighters, and Rihanna, just to name a few, that have had durable careers and reeled off an assembly line of songs that always find their way into my ears. But what about those songs that captured lightning in a bottle - with me, anyway - for a little while, only to fade off into obscurity? Maybe they pop up once in a while on a Spotify flashback playlist or on a YouTube recommendation, but otherwise, their legacy mostly consists of chart placements left in old Billboard magazines.
It's fair to say the song in question here qualifies as the latter. Even though the lead singer of the band had been in a couple venerable '90s alternative bands, and just looks like a guy who should be singing on a huge hit rock song, if not several, that wasn't the fate that awaited "Flavor of the Weak" or American Hi-Fi. They'll just have to settle for what I'm about to write about them. That's a shame because "Flavor of the Weak" is an excellent adrenaline-shot of a song.
Stacy Jones was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1970, and got his start in music as the drummer for the Boston band Letters to Cleo. The band released their debut album in 1993, but didn't achieve any fame until a couple years later when their song "Here and Now" was selected to be on a soundtrack for the show Melrose Place. The song got some traction on alternative radio and peaked at #10 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. The band scored a modest hit with the follow-up "Awake", but by 1997, Jones decided to leave the band.
Jones briefly played with Veruca Salt, another mid-90s female-fronted alt-rock radio staple, but he left that band to start his own project, teaching himself to play guitar in the process. The band was going to be called BMX Girl, but he eventually changed it to American Hi-Fi at the suggestion of none other than Keith Richards. I wish I could find more info about this meeting, but alas, the internet of the early 2000s doesn't seem to shed much light on this.
In 2000, Jones went to Hawaii to play drums on former Veruca Salt member Nina Gordon's debut solo album. Bob Rock, the big-deal producer who had worked with Motley Crue and Metallica, was producing Gordon's album when he heard Jones' demos for American Hi-Fi. Jones brought the rest of the band out to Hawaii to work on their debut album, and they booked a show at a club during that time. Rock came to see that show, and he was impressed enough with the band that he agreed to produce the album.
American Hi-Fi's debut fits in with a lot of what was going on at the intersection of the pop and alternative charts at the time. Stretching back further, it owes a debt to power pop bands like Cheap Trick or A Hard Day's Night-era Beatles. Even bands like Nirvana and the Rolling Stones can be cited as influences on their sound. Contemporary music fans would've probably labeled the band as pop-punk, that nebulous subgenre defined by bands like Green Day and Blink-182, two artists that will eventually appear in this column.
I listened to the album in full for the first time for this write-up, and even though I really enjoyed it, I can't but wonder if all those influences made the band's sound hard to define at the time. For most bands that are just getting going, that might not be so bad. But since American Hi-Fi had a decent alt-rock lineage behind it, the name Bob Rock on the production credits, and a push behind the lead single, that may not have been good enough for the powers-that-be controlling what became hits in 2001.
On "Flavor of the Weak", Jones sings about a woman who's treated poorly by her boyfriend. From the outset, we know this dude is a total asshole. While she does the guy's laundry and learns his favorite songs, he's hitting on her best friend and fantasizing about other women. "Her boyfriend, he don't know / anything about her / he's too stoned, Nintendo". The song is outlining a toxic relationship long before that term came into the lexicon.
Jones claimed the song was inspired by a real-life friend he knew who suffered through such a relationship. He narrates the song with a degree of helplessness: "I wish that I could make her see / she's just the flavor of the weak". He can see how terrible this guy is, but is probably too close to her friend to make her aware of the situation. Perhaps that's coming from his own romantic feelings for this person, since he sings at the end, "She makes me weak". It really sucks being the third wheel in a love triangle, especially if one wheel has a flat tire.
For the video, the band parodied the 1986 short film Heavy Metal Parking Lot. The film's title tells you pretty much what you need know about its content. A bunch of heavy metal fans are interviewed outside a Judas Priest concert in Landover, Maryland. It's an interesting window into a subculture that probably didn't get much respect at the time.
In the intro to the video, drummer Jason Sutter cheekily lists American Hi-Fi amongst some legendary 80's metal artists. I guess I should give Chris Applebaum, the video's director, credit for not trying to make the band emulate the look of a band like Dokken since their music obviously comes nowhere near that genre. Within the parking lot setting, the video basically tells the story described in the song's lyrics. The video got constant airplay on MTV2 and other channels back in the day, which was enough to propel the song to #5 on the Modern Rock chart. The song even crossed over to pop radio, but it only climbed as high as #41 on the Hot 100.
The second single from American Hi-Fi was "Another Perfect Day", which only got a fraction of the attention that "Flavor of the Weak" got, and peaked at #38 on my top 40. Two years later, the band released The Art of Losing, but that album failed to build on the momentum built up by their debut. The title track only got as high as #31 on my top 40. The band has put out a few more albums since then, but have mostly stayed under the radar in that time. We won't be seeing them in this column again.
Even though American Hi-Fi's moment of success was fleeting, Stacy Jones has still left his mark on the music industry. He's worked as a touring drummer for various bands, and as the musical director for many different pop artists, most notably Miley Cyrus. Coincidentally, she has a song on my top 40 as of this writing, her first ever on my chart. It's a pretty damn good track too. Jones is one of those hard-working music lifers you can't help but root for. Nobody's ever going to call him the flavor of the weak.
In 2016, American Hi-Fi re-recorded their debut album in acoustic form. Here's that album's version of "Flavor of the Weak".