Reply All: #158 The Case of the Missing Hit
March 5, 2020 8:30 AM - Subscribe

A man in California is haunted by the memory of a pop song from his youth. He can remember the lyrics and the melody. But the song itself has vanished, completely scrubbed from the internet. PJ takes on the Super Tech Support case.
posted by dnash (42 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't listen to every episode of Reply All, and I'm so glad I listened to this one.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 9:36 AM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Great episode, but the whole time I was wondering how fast Metafilter could have solved it.
posted by pearlybob at 10:27 AM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

This was a very good one and such a good use of that Spotify money.
posted by hijinx at 10:37 AM on March 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

This might be my favorite episode of Reply All yet. All the interviews were great and the ending was amazing. I was pretty sure the song was real, but probably remembered a bit incorrectly and they wouldn't find it because it was obscure and they weren't quite close enough. Obviously others were sure it wasn't ever real. The reveal that we were both wrong was really fun and nicely done in the episode.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 1:06 PM on March 5, 2020

I can't believe I teared up at a Reply All
posted by theodolite at 4:06 PM on March 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

This was so good it could have been an FPP, really. Just every twist of it had me clapping and grinning like an idiot.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:24 PM on March 5, 2020

Wow, they've really perfected the craft of managing listeners' emotions. That was quite the rollercoaster, and probably just jumped into my top 5 favorite episodes.
posted by noneuclidean at 6:34 PM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I totally knew this song!! I think maybe my cousin put it on a mix cd for me? I definitely remembered the title but not the artist.
The re-creation of it was so weird, like a mirror universe version.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:26 PM on March 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh wait, now that I went to the YouTube channel I absolutely recognize the photo! Did I actually own the cd???
posted by exceptinsects at 10:30 PM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

This was so satisfying. And what a cast of supporting characters noping PJ on his quest.
posted by janell at 10:43 PM on March 5, 2020 [3 favorites]


Never have I identified so strongly with Alex.
posted by odd ghost at 4:38 AM on March 6, 2020 [6 favorites]

This was the first replyall i've listened to in some time and it was so satisfying... I figured that because they did an entire episode about it, that the hosts would have eventually track down the artist by the end of the episode but I was doubting myself as the episode went on and was thinking that he was misrepresenting the song and it was a combination of a couple different ones.

The remarkable part, it was hiding in plain sight, the entire time. It only took a search on Facebook.

The song was featured on the Pop Edition of Promo Only in December 1999. Promo Only is a service that provides 10-15 tracks for each genre of very recently released or about to be released tracks. Corporate radio stations (think Clear Channel) and DJs would play the hell out of those songs for that month, thinking that these songs would become the big hits (often in part because they became a self-fulfilling prophecy by playing these songs so often.

If you look at the Promo Onlys for a particular month, they often contain at least a couple songs that were extremely prevalent for that much (or maybe the month or 2 after) for at least the late 90s/early 00s when the big labels' influence on the distribution of music was at its peak and the internet's influence of determining/birthing pop culture was just emerging.

Also major kudos to Tyler for remembering that song so well.
posted by fizzix at 5:32 AM on March 6, 2020 [10 favorites]

Even in the middle of a tough personal week, I had a goofy grin on my face from "FUCKING GET OUT OF HERE!" until the end of the episode.

Instantly gets into the Hall of Fame of Podcast Episodes

Anybody has a link to Tyler/PJ's version?
posted by fjom at 9:10 AM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

SoundCloud has them: Better Than (Christian Lee Hutson/Tyler Gillett), Better Than (Alex Goldman)

Great episode. I loved the way it escalated until, oops, the answer was just sitting on Facebook.
posted by ectabo at 9:31 AM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

This was a great episode but now I'm starting to wonder what the name of the industrial band with the syncopated vocals was.
posted by cmfletcher at 10:52 AM on March 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Reddit believes it was Skinny Puppy
posted by fjom at 11:06 AM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

This was such a wonderful episode. I was grinning the entire time. So happy for Tyler.

(And it made me revisit this wonderful story. Mystery songs are the best!)
posted by gemmy at 2:29 PM on March 6, 2020

I was smiling throughout the ending! But of course, now I have the Barenaked Ladies's "One Week" stuck in my head...
posted by Rora at 4:40 PM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

This was such a good episode. Easily top three, I think. Holy crap.

It also fits into some of my random recent thinking about the late-90s era in popular rock music. It was such a wild time—imagine a time when bands were popping on the scene as various as Smashmouth, Sugar Ray, the Refreshments, No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, Cherry Poppin' Daddies. The record companies really were throwing anything up at the wall, and it was, in fact, amazing.

Now we have this corporate radio system that plays a steady stream of Imagine Dragons and...something something Pilots? I saw the list of the biggest rock singles of the last decade and it was depressing as hell. Not depressing like Linkin Park, who I think took the same seven spots of the 2000s (I mean this one in the actually depressing way), but still.

The late 90s may have been the best time in popular (rock) music we've ever experienced in terms of sheer variety of music in the popular consciousness. Now, we're all huddled in our internet conclaves, with almost no real good discovery. The algorithms just give you what everybody else is listening to, and they're listing to the same thing you already are.

God, 2010s popular rock music was boring. Luckily, I spent so much time finding new bands, bands like RVIVR, Spanish Love Songs, Mixtapes, etc., that maybe would have been one the radio in 1998, but there's no way now. The radio is boring. The radio still, in fact, plays the same songs they were playing in 1998, with the incidental Imagine Dragon song at the top of the hour. It's not even oldies, or classic rock, despite the fact that these songs are over 20 years old.

I had some friends in bands in the late 1990s - and can second what the Barenaked Ladies lead singer said. They all were sucked in by a major label, the label would scrub an already-recorded record for offense/covers, then release it verbatim with no publicity or help. Then they all owed the record companies so much money they had to break contracts. They were extremely good bands, but in the end, the dream was never to be. The dream was never to be.

In terms of the episode, I really thought it was an amalgam of different songs, and I was SO HYPED to learn that it was really a song! Made me think of the 20-30 songs I can hum the first couple of bars of that are lost to the internet lyric wasteland. Like, there was a song that I really liked in 1998ish that was posted on about a shitty car that I loved, but nope, that thing is gone. For those too young to know, the original was Bandcamp but with better discovery.

But, dang, they found it on Facebook? What a ride.
posted by General Malaise at 5:30 PM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best podcast episode I've heard this year, hands down, one of the best ones I've ever heard in my life. A spiritual 7th episode to the Mystery Show (RIP).
posted by KTamas at 3:56 AM on March 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

A spiritual 7th episode to the Mystery Show (RIP)

Did anyone else go to the Live Mystery Show Starlee Kine did after the podcast got dropped? I went to the Toronto one. Kine told a story about a guy she met in...I want to say Austria, who had a memory of a song from the New Age pop song from the 80s. In this case she actually had a snippet of the actual track. But the guy couldn't remember the name of the song or the artist. Kine spent an hour building this mystery and then didn't even solve it. She left us with contact info and said anyone in the audience who had info should get in touch. It was a real let down, and honestly made it more understandable why Gimlet dropped her.

Anyway, when I first saw the title of this episode, I thought maybe the Reply All guys had picked up *that* mystery. But this was much better.

Aside from the Solve, I really enjoyed the insights into the music business offered by the various people interviewed, particularly Steven Page and Olsen himself (Page's anecdotes about the industry in the late 90s perfectly set the stage for Olsen describing his experience). The riddle was a terrific vehicle for a dive into that world.
posted by dry white toast at 9:35 PM on March 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Starlee has a patreon for a future episode of the Mystery Show but it's been on pause for several months now with no news.
posted by KTamas at 6:15 AM on March 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

This episode is proving popular on Twitter; seen lots of good comments. As it should, it's very well done. Fun rolling story we can identify with, lots of improbable turns, excitement and good fun. I feel the moment they introduced Tyler's all-vocals version it was clear this episode was gonna be gold.

It's sort of hilarious the answer was as simple as "search Facebook". Good thing they didn't think to try that first, we'd never have gotten the show. Then again I never think to search Facebook either, between the weirdness of the data they have and the crappy support for getting at anything over a week old.
posted by Nelson at 9:01 AM on March 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

So much fun! I loved everyone involved and this is part of the charm but... can we all agree this song is terrible?! The lyrics, omg.
posted by latkes at 9:42 AM on March 9, 2020

Oh yeah, the song is awful. Vapid, derivative, repetitive, simplistic. Also it's catchy and fun and listenable and clearly memorable. In short it's everything that is awful about manufactured music. Turns out corporate radio still sucks, even through a veneer of nostalgia.
posted by Nelson at 9:59 AM on March 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I feel like it's been a long time since I've heard Reply All where everyone involved is smart, kind, sincere, and happy.

The other kind of stories are often important and worth telling. . . but, this was fun.
posted by eotvos at 10:22 AM on March 9, 2020

Wow, such a great episode, and and even more amazing ability to recall the details of a song, especially one that so richly deserved to be forgotten. If I had to describe my all-time favorite and most listened-to pop song and have a band of professional session musicians then actually play it, it would probably just sound like some weird industrial noise with mumbled non-rhyming lyrics.
posted by skewed at 2:47 PM on March 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Wow, Hannah Davies at The Guardian sure liked this: Reply All's The Case of the Missing Hit: could this be the best podcast episode ever?

posted by Nelson at 9:51 AM on March 10, 2020

Oh yeah, the song is awful. Vapid, derivative, repetitive, simplistic. Also it's catchy and fun and listenable and clearly memorable. In short it's everything that is awful about manufactured music. Turns out corporate radio still sucks, even through a veneer of nostalgia.

I mean, you like the song, you don't like the song, whatever, I'm sure you're very cool.

But if a song recorded by a single person on their own in their bedroom in a medium sized town in North Carolina and then released as-is to radio with no promotional support from the label is "manufactured music" and "corporate" then those terms have no meaning whatsoever.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2020 [11 favorites]

I was wondering about that too but I thought maybe I don't understand what manufactured music is. Part of the episode that stood out to me was that he was bummed that it wasn't manufactured, corporatized, and over-produced by the label when they bought it and they just released the recording he already made.

I like the song (both versions) so I don't know if we can *all* agree that song is terrible. It's not the greatest song of all time but it's catchy and well made for what it is.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 1:42 PM on March 10, 2020

I don't think he expected full corporate AutoTuneization of his song, more to rerecord it in a real studio and work with someone to develop an album rather than have the home version unceremoniously dropped.
posted by Flannery Culp at 2:10 PM on March 10, 2020

I loved this episode, but I was so struck by the difference between a conference room full of Rolling Stone critics (mostly, if not all, men to my ears) who assumed the song either didn't exist or was a prank since none of them knew it, and Jessica Hopper who actually thought through the details a bit and decided there was more detective work to be done.
posted by gladly at 6:58 AM on March 11, 2020 [6 favorites]

The song (hell, the whole album) is now available to purchase on iTunes and streaming worldwide on Spotify.
posted by KTamas at 12:22 PM on March 11, 2020

I enjoyed it, but the whole first half of the show, I was yelling for them to talk to a program director (ideally, the one from the radio station Tyler was listening to). I didn’t expect anyone to remember the song, but there’s enough documentation about spins that they should be able to find a record of it (no pun intended). The the second half I was yelling for them to talk to *another* PD. Glad it worked out.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:09 PM on March 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Crossover appeal: the song makes an appearance in this week's 99% Invisible as Roman sings for 20 seconds while washing his hands.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:58 AM on March 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, the song is awful. Vapid, derivative, repetitive, simplistic. Also it's catchy and fun and listenable and clearly memorable.

That is also a function of the booming label era Olsen alludes to. I was a gigging and recording musician in the nineties and I can think of a dozen songs from circa 1999 that check off all those boxes (the Savage Garden one came to mind before they mentioned it). I am surprised that they didn’t latch onto the other aspect of the syncopated melody: that it has a sharply limited range. I recall a guitarist in a band I was playing in back in the day complaining that one of our songs needed more soaring shifts in the chorus, so I hoisted his guitar and played the melody line of the chorus of what was on top of the charts at that moment: something about getting knocked down but then getting up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.

Nevertheless he did not persist.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:27 PM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I also neglected to mention: it puts me in mind of Searching for Sugar Man, which, inexplicably, seems not have a Fanfare thread.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:56 PM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

The song makes an extremely cute and touching return on this week's episode, which by the way is extremely good and sad and wonderful and I'm not crying you're crying.
posted by General Malaise at 10:50 AM on March 28, 2020

Oh, I so enjoyed this episode. I'm a Reply-All fan but was a few episodes behind, so had not heard it yet. Then it was featured on CBC Radio One and they played about half the episode and then said, "if you want to find out how it ends, listen to the Reply-All podcast!" Honestly I wonder how many people turned off the CBC right then and there and immediately went to the podcast! (I did.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:22 PM on April 14, 2020

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