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Sonic Boom: Head Music

Here's how Mike got the Cranberries' song "Zombie" stuck in his head

The Cranberries: not Mike's favorite band

This is how the Cranberries song “Zombie” got stuck in my head:

I was talking to my friend Dan about those old CD clubs. Remember them? Columbia House and BMG? Get eight CDs for a penny and agree to purchase five more CDs for full price (full price being approximately 50 to 80 percent more than retail)? With the cards that you had to send back, or else they would send you the CD of the Month (which you never wanted)? But you never did? Send back the card, that is? Because you were lazy? Do they still have those things? The clubs, I mean, not the cards. It seems incredibly obsolete in the age of file-sharing, but who knows?


Anyway, like many people in my general age range, I was a member of both Columbia House and BMG—several times over, in fact. I believe I lived up to the terms of those agreements at least once, and reneged on them at least three times, meaning I still owe both companies a small sum of money. (There was a time when I believed these debts would cripple my credit rating and leave me incapable of ever buying a house, and I suppose there is still a possibility this will occur—I’ll let you know when I try to buy a house.)

Those CD clubs were a huge scam, of course, but they were good for a young collector trying to fill major gaps in his nascent CD library. I got most of Led Zeppelin’s catalog for a penny, a bunch of Doors CDs, Metallica stuff I had previously only owned on cassette, etc. (Why yes, I was in high school when first getting involved in these clubs, why do you ask?) As a freshman in college, I rejoined one of the clubs (new address and all—I figured they couldn’t track my old transgressions) and picked up a lot of “college-appropriate” music. Among the CDs in this batch were the first two albums from England’s The Sundays. I can’t recall now why I ordered these CDs (it may have had something to do with a cute girl in my life-drawing class wearing a Sundays T-shirt) but I listened to them—sporadically at first, but over time, those Sundays CDs found regular rotation on my stereo, and over the years, they wore themselves into grooves of the seasons: Certain types of days, certain times of day (sunny, cool weekday afternoons, for instance) called for The Sundays and their subdued, jangly sweetness and melancholy.

So, after talking to Dan about those CD clubs, and remembering all the CDs I obtained for those pennies, I got to thinking about The Sundays, and how unlikely it was that I found their music, and how happy I was (and continue to be) about our serendipitous meeting. As this musing occurred on a cool and sunny weekday afternoon, I decided to listen to the band’s flawless first album, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (all The Sundays’ albums are flawless, so that adjective is sort of redundant here, but still worth noting).

Anyway, listening to the album made me think about the band’s legacy: Reading came out in 1990, their second album, Blind, came out in 1992, and their third album, Static & Silence, came out in 1997. (They have released nothing since, though I continue to hold out unfounded hope that a new album is forthcoming.) And that made me think about how, for a while, it looked as though The Sundays’ legacy would forever be overshadowed by The Cranberries’ legacy, because—even though The Cranberries 1993 debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, blatantly ripped off The Sundays’ sound—The Cranberries were a more successful band, in terms of mainstream popularity. And at the time, this prospect really bothered me: I wanted The Sundays to get credit for that sound, because it was theirs and because they were better at it.

But my concern was unwarranted; that historical error was never made. Why? Because The Sundays never really changed their sound, they never made any musical mistakes, and now they have a flawless (but way-too-small) catalog.

Meanwhile, The Cranberries, after getting their first taste of success, decided it would be better to be global rock giants than quaint purveyors of smart Smiths-ian pop, and on their second album they included the song “Zombie”: a loud, catchy, annoying and ubiquitous smash that ranks among the worst songs of the era. It has become the defining moment of The Cranberries’ career—their entire legacy boiled down to one awful song.

And that made me think of this: “IT’S IN YOUR HEA-ED/ IN YOUR HEA-EE-YEA-ED/ ZAH-AHM-BE/ ZAH-AHM-BE/ ZAH-AHM-BE-AY, E-AY, E-AY.”

From there it was stuck—as the lady sings—in my head, where it’s been for days.

And now, dear reader, it’s in yours, too.

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