Music Monday is one stop to the rhythm that hopefully doesn’t divide us, because we can certainly all agree on this one thing: mid-1990s music is awesome!
I was fourteen during the summer of 1997, and one of the music genres I loved, which comprised a portion of my musical collection at the time was Alternative. One of my favorite groups that summer was Third Eye Blind, and I could not stop listening to their first single, which came out right as I was finishing eighth grade.
“Semi-Charmed Life” was the debut single by Third Eye Blind, from their self-titled debut album. Formed in San Francisco in 1993, Third Eye Blind had recorded its first demo (of three), and by 1995, opened for Oasis (another group I was listening to during that time) at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. They were brought back on stage for an encore, considered to be an unlikely scenario for an opening act. They were signed to Elektra in 1996, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The deceptively-cheerful song actually has a darker tone to it – lyrics talk about a drug user’s descent into crystal meth addiction. According to lead singer Stephan Jenkins, it is a filthy song about snorting speed, as well as a pretty specific sexual act (listen to the lyrics, and you’ll find out for yourself which one). Pretty heady stuff, since I was fourteen and loved this song. Much like All-4-One’s “(She’s Got) Skillz” a few years earlier, I’m convinced if my mom knew exactly what this song was about, she would never have bought this album for me as a Christmas present.
Then again, my brother had half-naked posters of Carmen Electra and Jenny McCarthy on his walls. We only listened to the stuff, and didn’t actually find it to be an influencer.
Anyway, the title refers to a life that is propped up – people leading a bright and shiny life of the surface, but are a mess beneath that surface. Hence, it’s tone – meant to draw you into its cheerful tone, only to be drawn into the actual mess the song talks about. The sound of the song reflects changes in the San Francisco music scene, particularly a growing interest in Hip Hop, and was a response to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” but from a San Francisco perspective (rather than Reed’s song’s New York perspective).
Knowing all of this, I couldn’t care less – it is still very catchy!
“Semi-Charmed Life” reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, #3 on the Billboard Adult Top 40, and topped both Billboard’s US Alternative and Mainstream Top 40 charts. There are two versions – a radio edit and “clean edit,” both of which remove section 2:20-3:07 of the album version. The only difference between both versions is “crystal meth” is removed from the clean edit via backmasking (sound or message is recorded backward onto a track that is meant to be played forward – source: Wikipedia). Radio stations that chose not to edit the drug reference played the radio edit.
I’ve actually heard all three versions – I listened to one station that played the clean edit (the local Adult Contemporary station), another played the radio edit (the local Top 40/Alternative station), and I had the album. The only thing that has ever disappointed me about the edited version were that they were shorter. Once you’ve heard the album version, you generally don’t go back. And obviously, since I didn’t notice the drug references back then, I wouldn’t have noticed the backmasking.
The song was featured in a few movies of the time, including Contact (used to establish the setting as present day), Dirty Work (a movie starring Norm MacDonald that I loved around the same time), Excess Baggage, American Pie (but was not featured on the soundtrack), Gigli, and A Lot Like Love. Alvin and Chipmunks sang a (heavily modified) version of this song as a bonus track for their 2007 video game. “Weird” Al Yankovic sampled it as part of his trademark polka medley for the album Running With Scissors, and Rachel McAdams sings and dances to it briefly in the movie Game Night (which is a funny movie).
The self-titled album proved to be Third Eye Blind’s biggest selling album, and through record label changes, a four-year break from releasing albums, and personnel changes, Third Eye Blind is still together today, and have an album coming out on October 18, 2019. That album started out as an EP, and turned into a ten-track LP studio album. They toured briefly this summer as well.
I’d like to think they’ve had more than a semi-charmed kind of life, wouldn’t you say?
Have a great Monday, and enjoy the music!