March 30th, 2013
Split screen: On the left side, a tour of the house. On the right, Todd plays "Closing Time" on his piano
SEMISONIC - CLOSING TIME
A one-hit wonder retrospective
Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we...one screen, guys. [Tour ends, leaving Todd taking the full screen] Thank you. Where we take a look at bands and artists who are known for only one song. And take it from a guy who knows, there are a few songs that every piano player just knows, just as sure as your average guitar player needs to learn "Smoke on the Water". Um...
- Clips follow...
Todd (VO): "Don't Stop Believing" is one of them; "Imagine", that's a good one; the really obvious one is "Piano Man". So just for your own sanity, learn that one because you will hear a lot of requests for that one. I swear, one day I'm gonna put up a Wayne's World-style sign that says [clip from Wayne's World where clerk points to sign reading, "NO Stairway to Heaven"] "Absolutely No 'Piano Man'".
Todd: Anyway, learn it.
And, um...there's one more that comes to mind.
- Video for "Closing Time"
- Dan Wilson: Closing time
- Open all the doors and...
Todd (VO): "Closing Time"—God's blessing to piano bars across the country.
Todd: Seriously, a piano bar that doesn't end its set with "Closing Time" is like Thanksgiving without the cranberry sauce.
- Dan: I know who I want...
Todd (VO): But who are the men behind the hit? You can see them over there on the right side of your screen. This band was called Semisonic—a fitting name for a band that was only ever partially heard.
Todd: And their legacy was one of the most enduring songs of the 90s. I mean, who doesn't like "Closing Time"?
Todd (VO): It was only a moderate hit in 1998, but its legacy only grows bigger as the years go by. And it dropped some timeless wisdom on all of us, like how every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.
Todd: But Semisonic's beginning was its end, as "Closing Time" was their one and only chart success, leaving them with a reputation as a relic from that glorious period in the late 90s where songs like "Closing Time" could get popular.
Todd (VO): But "Closing Time" is such a good song, it goes to reason that they probably had more, right?
Todd: Well, let's find out. Finish your whiskey or beer, everyone. We're about to explore the career of Semisonic, the band that got semi-famous.
- Semisonic: ...some other beginning's end. Yeah
Before the fame
Todd: The story of Semisonic starts in Minneapolis. Not with them, but with another band, Trip Shakespeare.
- Video for Trip Shakespeare - "Bachelorette"
- Trip Shakespeare: Hey! Hey-hey-hey
- Matt Wilson: Say it again!
- Trip Shakespeare: Hey!
Todd (VO): Trip Shakespeare was started in the late 80s by lead singer Matt Wilson and bassist John Munson. And eventually Matt's older brother Dan Wilson joined, too. Now, they were big deals in the area, and they wrote songs with names like "Toolmaster of Brainerd".
- "Toolmaster of Brainerd" plays over
- Matt: Toolmaster of Brainerd
Todd (VO): This makes more sense if you come from Minnesota, I imagine.
- Video for "Pearle"
- Matt: Pearle is coming down
Todd (VO): Eventually the major labels came calling, releasing two of their albums—Are You Shakespearienced and Lulu. And from all accounts, the label had a lot of faith in Trip Shakespeare. Surely, their brand of jangly, upbeat, psychedelic college rock would become the...
Todd: ...face of alternative music in 1991.
- Video for Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
- Kurt Cobain: With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Todd (VO): Actually, alternative rock decided to take things in a bit of a different direction that year, as I'm sure you're aware.
- Clip of Trip Shakespeare performance
After two flop major label albums, Trip Shakespeare called it quits, which is a shame because if they'd stuck it out, they could've been big deals in the 90s jam band scene. 'Cause apparently [promo pic of...] Phish was a pretty big fan of them. Anyway, the Wilsons went their separate ways and started some separate bands. Matt's was called The Flops, ha ha. Bassist John Munson played in it for a while, but he also played in Dan Wilson's band [image of tape for...] Pleasure.
[Picture of the band] Actually, Wilson, Munson, and their drummer Jacob Slichter had two simultaneous bands going on playing different styles of music, but [album cover of The Greatest of Pleasure] the name Pleasure had already been taken. So they just consolidated Pleasure's music...
Todd: ...into their other band, Semisonic.
- Video for "F.N.T."
Todd (VO): Semisonic released their first album, Great Divide, in 1996.
Todd: I like it.
- Semisonic: I'm surprised that you've never been told before
- Dan: That you're lovely and you're perfect
- And that somebody wants you
Todd (VO): That's some good, vintage 90s rock right there. "F.N.T." is the single you wanna look out for.
- Video for "The Prize"
- Semisonic: Maybe this news can wait
Todd (VO): Also "The Prize", that's a good one too. [Clip of "If I Run"] "If I Run" was released as a single. Uh, none of these songs did anything, obviously. "If I Run", by the way, was their set-closer, but Wilson says at one point, the other guys got sick of finishing each concert with that song.
Todd: And they wanted to close the set every night with something else, so they needed a new closing song for the set. [Pause] So he decided to write a song for when it was time to be closing their performance. [Long pause] So when they were clo...
The big hit
- Video for "Closing Time"
Todd: It's an easy riff, aspiring piano players. Look, here's the notes. (B G B G D G B G B G B G C G B G) Learn it if you haven't already.
- Dan: Closing time
- Open all the doors and let you out into the world
Todd (VO): "Closing Time" was nowhere near the biggest hit of 1998. Like, "Gettin' Jiggy wit It" and "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" and "The Boy Is Mine," those were your real inescapable smashes, not "Closing Time." But "Closing Time" was definitely around regardless, and nowadays, you'd be...
Todd: ...really hard-pressed to find a song that you wish more people know today.
- Dan: You don't have to go home
- But you can't stay here
- I know who I want to take me home
Todd (VO): And it stuck around because it sticks out. We did not have a song about closing time at the bar before this happened. We did not have a song about last call and loneliness in the bar at the end of the night before "Closing Time". And a unique topic will generally guarantee longevity.
Todd: But obviously, "Closing Time" isn't just about trolling for booty at the end of the night.
Todd (VO): I'd say the metaphor is pretty easy to decode. I distinctly remember having to analyze the lyrics for this once as an English class assignment in the 11th grade. Which makes sense because "Closing Time" uses a metaphor that even a bunch of [picture of...] jackass, hormonal teenagers like me could figure out.
Todd: Obviously, it's about moving forward, the end of one time of your life and the beginning of another. Phases, you know: sunrise, sunset.
Todd (VO): Which is what makes it such a popular graduation song, if [single cover of...] "I Will Remember You" or [still shot from video for...] "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" are just too obvious for you. Not that "Closing Time" isn't also obvious, except you generally don't want high schoolers singing about whiskey and beer.
- Dan: Finish your whiskey or beer
Todd: Anything's better than that Vitamin C song though. Ugh.
Todd (VO): Among other things "Closing Time" is applicable to, Wilson also suggests that it could be about being born, which...
Todd: ...there's definitely logic to that.
- Dan: Time for you to go out
- To the places you will be from
Todd: Also, Wilson had just become a dad around this time, so...
Todd: ...parenthood, you can add that to the list. It's a very versatile song.
- Dan: I know who I want to take me home
Todd (VO): We never do find out who he wanted to take him home, though. Just as long as he got home safely.
Todd: Remember, kids, get a designated driver.
Todd (VO): This was the breakthrough they had been looking for because they had always been worried about being a little too pop for the rock stations and too rock for the pop stations. But clearly this was their way in.
Todd: So what happened?
The failed follow-up
- Video for "Secret Smile"
Todd (VO): Uh, I haven't said it yet, but there's a reason I chose Semisonic to do an episode on. I...I've actually been a pretty big Semisonic fan for a long, long time. They were one of the first bands I got into when I started to get interested in music, and that's...
Todd: ...that's why I wanted to do this episode—'cause I really love them and I wanted to share how good they were with the rest of the world. Also because it meant I wouldn't have to do much research for this video.
Todd (VO): But I really do think their other singles deserve more attention. You might not know this, but they actually did have a second hit. In the UK, not here. It was called "Secret Smile".
- Dan: Nobody knows it but you've got a secret smile
- And you use it only for me
Todd (VO): I've heard people say that "secret smile" was meant as a euphemism for vagina. Ha ha, hilarious. Jerks.
Todd: But it's their forgotten third single that I think was the standout from that album, "Singing in My Sleep".
- Video for "Singing in My Sleep"
Todd (VO): It's about the feeling of love declared through a really awesome mix tape.
- Dan: I can hear you sing it to me in my sleep
- I can hear you sing it to me in my sleep
Todd (VO): There are a lot of good songs on that album; "Never You Mind" is another one I'd single out. But I actually got into Semisonic...
Todd: ...from their third album, All About Chemistry.
- Video for "Chemistry"
Todd (VO): Uh...when this album came out, I had an online friend who swore up and down it was, like, the best album of the year, and even then, he was, like, one of the smartest and best music writers I ever knew, so I took him at his word and I bought the thing. I wouldn't go so far as did and say [album covers of All About Chemistry and...] it's our generation's answers to Pet Sounds, but it is, in fact, pretty damn good. For example, the lead single, "Chemistry".
- Semisonic: All about chemistry
- Dan: Won't you show me everything you've learned
- I'll memorize everything you do to me so I can
- Teach it when it comes my turn
Todd: It's about sex. Much of the album is.
Todd (VO): This song is basically the "Night Moves" for the glasses-wearing, indie rock set, except it also reminisces about the virginal days, too.
- Dan: So for awhile I conducted experiments
- And I was amazed by the things I learned
Todd: And then there was also my other favorite song on that album, "Get a Grip".
- Video for "Get a Grip"
- Dan: Lonely boys and you lonely girls
- Here at the end of the lonely world
Todd: "Get a Grip" is about...
- Dan: Get a grip on yourself you know you should
- I got a grip on myself and it feels good
- Get a grip on yourself take my advice
- I got a grip on myself and it feels nice
Todd: Uh, yeah. It is also about masturbation. It's about how good and how healthy masturbation is.
- Dan: Lonely girls and you lonely boys
- Playing alone with your lonely toys
Todd: I'm sure there was a reason why I was such a fan of this album in high school, but I can't quite figure out what it might be.
- Dan: When the lights come on and the party's through
- There are always a few with nobody to do
- Well now don't despair
Todd: I know who I want to take me home, but in lieu of that person, there's always, uh...[holds up his right hand]
- Dan: Get a grip on yourself you know you should
Todd (VO): And that was the last single they ever released—a song about jerking off. Semisonic went on hiatus after All About Chemistry mostly flopped, and...
Todd: ...twelve years later, it doesn't look like they're gonna be making a fourth album anytime soon. [He shrugs]
Did they ever do anything else?
Todd: Wilson found a new beginning after Semisonic and now works behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer. Maybe you've heard of this:
- Video for Adele - "Someone Like You"
- Adele: Never mind, I'll find someone like you
Todd (VO): Yeah, well, Wilson co-wrote it and produced it, and a few other songs on that album. [Clip of Adele winning Grammy for Album of the Year] So he's got that going for him, [arrow pointing to Wilson behind her] which is nice.
Todd: A few years before that, all the Grammys went to the...
- Clip of "Not Ready to Make Nice"
Todd (VO): ...Dixie Chicks' giant middle finger to country music. Yeah, Wilson co-wrote and produced that, too. So that's a few more awards on his shelf. He's got others, too. [Star Tribune article: "Semisonic's Dan Wilson rolls on with Taylor Swift, Pink"] So it's hard to feel bad for the guy, he's doing pretty well.
Todd: He's working on a solo album, I've heard.
- Clip of The Twilight Hours - "Alone"
Todd (VO): John Munson is back working with Matt Wilson and his new band, the Twilight Hours. And drummer Jacob Slichter wrote a book about what it's like being in a quasi-sort-of-successful rock band. Not as fun as you'd imagine, turns out. He's a college professor now.
Todd: So it looks like everyone's doing pretty well for themselves.
Did they deserve better?
Todd: Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
Todd (VO): Semisonic's music is very much of its time, in that it sounds like 90s rock, so if you don't like 90s alt rock, don't bother. Honestly, I'm not surprised that Semisonic never really quite took off. They're a lot like [album cover of self-titled album by...] Fountains of Wayne and [...and single cover of "Sugarbuzz" by...] the Marvelous 3—two other bands that should have been bigger, but were just a little too pop to have more than just marginal success in the rock world. They had more success behind the scenes than as performers. Semisonic weren't forces of personality like Rivers Cuomo or Billie Joe Armstrong; there was never going to be a huge contingent who were going to say, "oh, man, Semisonic were my life in high school."
Todd: This is stuff for a certain brand of record-collection pop nerd...like me, and I'm not sure how many of us there are out there.
Todd (VO): But still, they were a phenomenally talented band anchored by a superb songwriter, and I wish they had more success. I mean, I've heard a half dozen Lifehouse songs on the radio and they were all atrocious. We could've given a couple more radio plays to Semisonic. But at least they had "Closing Time"—the right song for the right time.
Todd: I'm Todd In The Shadows saying closing time, gather up your jackets, every new beginning, yadda yadda yadda. Good night.
- Dan: Closing time
- Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end
Closing tag song: Andy Bernard and Pam Halpert - "Closing Time"
"Closing Time" is owned by Geffen Records
This video is owned by me