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Michael's Number Ones: "Love Song" by 311



DATE

WEEKS

April 17, 2004

3

I think it was around 2001 when I realized most Adam Sandler movies were the same. Sure, there were different plots and characters, but you weren't going to an Adam Sandler movie for a complex or moving plot. You went because you wanted to see Adam Sandler act like a wise-ass with his buddies.


Now I'm not counting the exceptions to this rule, namely 2002's Punch-Drunk Love, and 2019's Uncut Gems. And it's not a knock on the quality of some of these movies. Happy Gilmore? That's a great fucking movie. Plus, let's be honest, kids between the ages of 10-14, such as myself, were in Sandler's wheelhouse in the late-90s.


One of those late-90s movies was The Wedding Singer, a romantic comedy satire of mid-1980s pop culture that also starred Drew Barrymore. Six years after that movie, Sandler was a cash register for movie studios, so they decided to pair him and Barrymore once again. In 50 First Dates, Sandler plays a veterinarian in Hawaii trying to woo a woman played by Barrymore who suffers from short-term memory loss. I wasn't interested in seeing the movie then, and I'm not particularly motivated to see it now.


One of the promotional ideas for the movie was to have the soundtrack filled with reggae-adjacent covers of 1980s pop songs. Really nothing about the movie makes much sense in the cold light of 2024. But one of those soundtrack songs was a cover of an all-time new wave classic by a band from Nebraska. I really dug it then. Nowadays, I wouldn't trade the original for this one, but it still rates a listen if it comes on the radio.



Nick Hexum was born in 1970 in Madison, Wisconsin and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. His father was a professor at the University of Nebraska. Hexum formed a band with future 311 member Chad Sexton called Unity, but the group broke up soon after moving to Los Angeles. Sexton formed a new group in Omaha with the terrible name Fish Hippos, and invited Hexum to join. Hexum agreed on the condition they change the band name. They went with 311 after the police code in Omaha for indecent exposure.


311 signed with Capricorn Records and released their debut album Music in 1993, and the song "Do You Right" grazed the bottom of the Modern Rock chart that year. The band toured heavily behind that record and their 1994 follow-up Grassroots. Wikipedia has a crazy, but unverified, story about the band's RV catching fire en route to a show in Omaha and destroying the group's equipment and possessions.



Their self-titled third album would prove to be 311's breakthrough. The second single from the album, "Down" made it to #1 on the Modern Rock chart and even got some pop airplay as well. "Down" feels like a prototype to the nu metal scene that would dominate rock radio in the years to come. S.A. Martinez joined the group as a rap vocalist and turntablist, and is all over "Down". You could argue a band like Incubus couldn't get their foot in the door if 311 didn't get their first.


311 went on to be a staple on alternative radio afterwards. Follow-up single "All Mixed Up" got to #4. 1997's Transistor and 1999's Soundsystem spun off a bunch of singles that got alternative airplay. I really like "Beautiful Disaster" from Transistor; it's kinda hypnotic and feels like it captures the late 90s alternative zeitgeist. It only got to #21 on the Modern Rock chart, but


For my part, I think I took a while to really warm up to the group. The singles from their 2001 album From Chaos didn't really connect with me. "Amber", the third single from the album, finally became the band's first top 40 hit on my chart, peaking at #32 in the summer of 2002. Hexum wrote the song about his relationship with girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, who also appears in the video.


(Scherzinger's actually been on my chart with two different groups. With Eden's Crush, she got to #9 with "Get Over Yourself" in 2001. With The Pussycat Dolls, her biggest hit was 2005's "Don't Cha", which peaked at #30.)



"Amber" is easily the most reggae-sounding single in the band's catalog to that point and it was a decent hit on the alternative chart, so you can see how they might have gotten recruited for the 50 First Dates soundtrack. In the meantime, they kept cranking out albums. 2003's Evolver produced the #3 alternative hit "Creatures (For a While)". On my chart, it only got to #35.


Hexum actually produced the soundtrack for 50 First Dates. Looking at the roster of artists he brought on board, 311 badly stands out from the pack. You have Wayne Wonder doing The Thompson Twins' "Hold Me Now"; Ziggy Marley covering "Drive" by The Cars; Will.i.am and Fergie actually show up to cover Spandau Ballet's "True".


But let's talk about the song 311 covered. Because "Lovesong" by The Cure (styled as one word on the original) is a fucking classic. It appears on their 1989 masterpiece Disintegration. Most of the album is somber and spare, but "Lovesong" stands out as a relatively positive song. Robert Smith wrote the song as a wedding present for his wife.


The structure of the lyrics is remarkably simple and repetitive. "Whenever I'm alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again." Smith repeats that lyric, but changes "home" to whole, young, fun, free, and clean. But it's the emotion and timbre of Smith's voice that lifts up the song. When Smith sings "However far away, I will always love you", I feel the distance he's conveying in his voice.


"Lovesong" was the biggest hit of The Cure's career in the United States; it got to #2 on the Hot 100 in 1989. Surprisingly, it also only got to #2 on the Modern Rock chart; "Fascination Street" was the biggest alternative hit from the album, and it too absolutely slams.


311's version doesn't try to make the song sound like a typical 311 song. The instruments are relaxed, and Hexum's voice is laconic. But it also doesn't try to sound anything like The Cure's version, either. Sometimes cover songs try to be so faithful to the original that they veer into karaoke territory. I think 311 did a fine job of threading a tough needle with their version of "Love Song". They put their own spin on a classic song, even if it ultimately didn't surpass the original in my memory.


The fact that they chose to cover The Cure in the first place might have been the song's biggest asset, and the reason it even went to #1. I was getting heavily into '80s new wave around this time, watching videos on VH1 Classic and probably spending as much time listening to classic alternative rock as its current brethren.


I wasn't alone in feeling this way, either. I remember Seattle's alternative station KNDD rebranding themselves at the beginning of 2004, playing less hard rock and more classic and new wave-influenced songs. Blink-182, an artist that was recently in this column, were heavily influenced by The Cure in recording their self-titled 2003 album, and featured Smith on the track "All of This". While "Love Song" was rising on my chart, "All of This" peaked at #31.


The Cure were always a steady presence on alternative radio, even as new wave faded from alternative radio during the 90s, so I guess it wasn't too surprising the first single from their 2004 self-titled album reached #19 on the Modern Rock chart that summer. Nonetheless, I was really excited to hear a new Cure song on the radio. "The End of the World" eventually peaked at #4 on my top 40, sharing space on my chart with "Love Song".



The Cure weren't the only new wave stalwart to capitalize on this revival. Morrissey released his album You Are the Quarry in 2004 and got his biggest hit on the UK charts with "Irish Blood, English Heart". That song became kinda problematic in later years, being embraced as an anthem for Brexit supporters in 2016. I have no business weighing in on British politics, but I know I liked the song a lot in 2004. It too peaked at #4 on my top 40.


At the same time, the 2001 film Donnie Darko, which was set in 1988 and prominently featured a few new wave classics on the soundtrack, saw a surge in interest and a director's cut was released in May 2004. I caught the movie on cable for the first time in 2004, and was mesmerized. Michael Andrews and Gary Jules' haunting cover of the Tears for Fears song "Mad World", got to #9 on my chart that year.



As for 311, their version of "Love Song" actually outperformed the Cure's original on alternative radio, becoming the band's second and final #1 hit on the format. They released a greatest hits album in 2004, which featured the new single "First Straw". It rode the momentum generated by "Love Song" to peak at #10 on my chart later that summer.


311's album production slowed down a bit afterward, but they were still force on alternative radio for years to come. The title track from their 2005 album Don't Tread on Me, peaked at #28 on my chart, and got to #2 on the Modern Rock chart. Their last top 10 on my chart came in 2009 with the song "Hey You" from their album Uplifter; it peaked at #10.



311's most recent appearance on my chart came in 2011 when they released the album Universal Pulse; their song "Sunset in July" peaked at #14 in August that year. They've released three more albums after that, most recently 2019's Voyager, but I can't recall any songs from those albums.


A couple weeks ago, they premiered a video for the song "You're Gonna Get It", so it sounds like a new album from them is on the way. I doubt anything from it will reach my chart, but you never know. We probably won't see 311 again in this column, but it won't be the last time a "Love Song" finds its way to the top of my chart. And it wouldn't be the last time The Cure will leave their mark on my chart, either. As a featured artist, Robert Smith will eventually figure into this column once again.


EXTRAS

Every March 11, the band celebrates "311 Day" with a residency of concerts, usually in Las Vegas. For the 2020 edition, the band did a SiriusXM session. Almost immediately afterward, the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inauspicious, to say the least. Anyway, here's their performance of "Love Song" from that session.



Besides 311, perhaps the most notable cover of "Lovesong" came from Adele. Her version appeared near the end of her monster album 21 in 2011. Here it is:



(Adele will eventually appear in this column.)


THE BEST BELOW THE TOP

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' wrenching heart-ripper, "Maps", peaked at #4 behind "Love Song". They don't love this song like I love this song.



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