Van Stephenson, Snow, and Basia: artists who offered us unusual songs

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In terms of unusual songs, for the purposes here, the definition doesn’t apply to novelty songs. Instead, maybe the artists are one-hit wonders, and that one hit was so different from what was typically heard in that genre that the listening public didn’t know what to make of it. Three examples: Van Stephenson, Snow, and Basia all represent different genres of music, but each gave listeners a little something unexpected with the recordings associated with them.

Van Stephenson and “Modern Day Delilah”

A prolific songwriter and musician, Stephenson played in garage band in his teens. He was born in Ohio, but spent some of his early years in Nashville, Tennessee. He wrote a number of rock and country songs, including ones for artists like Kenny Rogers, Janie Fricke, Crystal Gayle and others.

With a strong background in country, it is surprising to consider that the song most people know Stephenson for is a rock song called “Modern Day Delilah.” The song seemed to simply get inserted into Music Television’s rotation without much fanfare. The title was catchy, and the song itself was a cautionary tale about a certain kind of woman who would only make a man weak. The single didn’t always get what some would argue was its fair share of airplay, but it managed to reach No. 22 on US charts, and climbed all the way to No. 9 on US main charts.

“Modern Day Delilah” is characterized by intricate guitar work and sometimes fast-paced lyrics that when parsed, make sense in light of Stephenson’s background. It has a classic pop-rock sound that was popular in 1984, the year of its release.

Stephenson would have one other hit after “Modern Day Delilah,” but most of his successes after that came from his songwriting skills. He passed away in 2001 at age 47 of cancer.

“Informer” by Snow

For most people, the words “Canada” and “reggae” do not mix easily. When embodied by Darrin Kenneth O’Brien, the performer known as Snow, the blend sounds natural. Except, most US listeners considered Snow a rapper. In most parts of the country, his CD, “12 Inches of Snow” could be found in the rap section, not reggae.

“Informer” tells what seems to be the real-life story of Snow’s time in prison for attempted murder. To say that the song was popular is an understatement. “Informer” reached No. 1  and stayed there for seven weeks. Snow is twice listed in the Guinness Book of World Records– once for having the highest-charting reggae song in the US and for the having the best-selling reggae song in US history. “Informer” the single, sold eight million copies.

From all accounts, Snow continues to perform.

“Time and Tide” by Basia

The 1980s were full of examples of performers from elsewhere finding a place on US charts. One example is Polish singer, Basia. She is also another example of her work being one genre and US audiences cataloguing her as another. Her single “Time and Tide” from the 1987 album of the same name reached No. 1 on US jazz charts in 1987. The single did well on US top singles and adult contemporary charts, reaching 26 and 19, respectively.

The song’s cool, relatively smooth soundscape might have reminded some listeners of Swing Out Sister, which was some audiences’ closest example of pop jazz. Apparently, the song was more jazz than pop. Basia would continue to have jazz successes, even as audiences remember that one time when she had a pop song.

The singer’s latest album, “Matteo,” is at No. 23 on US jazz charts and No. 23 on Polish charts.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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