Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 17: House Of Pain, "Shamrocks & Shenanigans"

Artist: House Of Pain
Song: "Shamrocks & Shenanigans"
Album: House Of Pain
Year: 1992

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When one looks back at the history of pop music, it is almost impossible to decipher exactly “why” certain songs end up as hits, while others fall by the wayside.  While this is certainly true when it comes to pitting once group against another, one can take the same argument deeper, and note that in many cases, the most impressive song from a group often never gets much notoriety.  This is sometimes due to another song on the album becoming a surprise hit, and in other cases, the true brilliance behind a song is simply not realized by the masses until years later.  But of course, one must also take into account the generally fickle nature of popular culture, and the attention span of the masses is rarely short than it is in music.  As the music scene began to explode in countless directions in the early years of the 1990’s, there are few groups that found themselves at the top of the pop mountain quicker than hip-hop trio, House Of Pain.  Making the most of their Irish heritage and taking over the world with their infectious single, “Jump Around,” the group’s 1992 self-titled debut remains one of the finest examples of the eclectic nature of the music scene at the time.  Filled with fantastic musical landscapes and the distinctive vocal delivery of Everlast and Danny Boy, the song, as well as the groups’ persona are in many ways synonymous with the era.  However, after listening to House Of Pain, it is quickly clear that the groups’ finest effort was NOT the hit single, but their second single, the powerful 1992 song, “Shamrocks & Shenanigans.”

While “Jump Around” is best known for its hook, the same can be said of “Shamrocks & Shenanigans,” as DJ Lethal proved that he had a matchless understanding of how to craft fantastic beats, using songs from across the musical spectrum. In fact, the song did have a bit of chart success, cracking the top twenty-five in the U.K., and becoming a favorite “underground” track of hip-hop heads across the world.  More than a decade later, House Of Pain would take the song title as the name of their greatest hits compilation, and this further reinforces the fact that, while it may have not found the commercial success of their first single, it remains unquestionably the groups’ finest musical effort.  Much like the case of “Jump Around,” “Shamrocks & Shenanigans” has a short musical opening, and this time, it has a rather Irish feel to it before dropping into one of the greatest hip-hop beats ever composed.  The core of this song revolves around tight samples from John Lee Hooker’s, “I Come To You Baby” and “No Matter What The Say” by Booker T & The M.G.’s.  Along with these songs, Lethal spins in a sample from David Bowie’s “Fame,” and the overall effect is true sonic genius.  The music has just enough bass to get your head bobbing, and yet it is not so overpowering that it competes with the vocals, it simply compliments them.  The off-beat saxophone note that runs throughout the song is simple, yet perfect, as it adds an intangible element to the song that turns it into a true classic of the genre. 

While the work of DJ Lethal is unquestionably fantastic, there is simply nothing else on “Shamrocks & Shenanigans” that can compare to the high-octane, original rhymes of Everlast and Danny Boy.  History has proven that Everlast has one of the most instantly recognizable voices and delivery styles, and this unique ability is why he remains so highly respected all these years later.  Bringing a voice that is on the aggressive side, yet never seeming to be pushing to this sound, his natural style is unlike that of any other emcee.  The fact that he is able, in a single verse, to rhyme on everything from religion to pornography and somehow “make it work” proves what a brilliant writer he was, and that he was far more than his “tough guy” image.  Bringing a fantastic smoothness to his flows, Everlast has rarely sounded better than when he delivers the lines, “…I rock mad styles, I hop turnstiles, I rock all mics, I last all night, I puff fat blunts, I rock fine scunts, step up bold, I'll knock out your gold fronts…”  Providing a perfect contrast to the style and sound of Everlast, Danny Boy is also in top form on “Shamrocks & Shenanigans.”  Handling the middle verse, Danny Boy is just as smooth, and the pairing of these two emcees was unquestionably one of the finest hip-hop duos in history.  With a catchy, yet unobtrusive beat and music running underneath, “Shamrocks & Shenanigans” serves as a proving ground, highlighting the peerless rhyming abilities of both Everlast and Danny Boy.

It has been proven over the decades that any second effort from a group is almost just as, if not more difficult to find success than their debut.  Whether this pertains to an album or a single, the so-called “Sophomore Slump” has been shown so many times that it simply cannot be ignored.  Furthermore, one can make the case that, the more successful the initial effort, the harder it is for the second to be seen as anything more than “not quite as good” in comparison to the first.  Standing as a perfect example of these theories, House Of Pain’s second single, “Shamrocks & Shenanigans,” though in nearly every aspect superior to their runaway hit, “Jump Around,” never gained the same commercial success, and has remained largely an afterthought of the groups’ history.  From the perfectly crafted sounds and beats of DJ Lethal to the absolutely stunning rhyming styles of Everlast and Danny Boy, “Shamrocks & Shenanigans” is simply a hip-hop classic like no other song ever recorded.  Truth be told, Everlast is absolutely on fire on the track, and one would be hard pressed to find a better example of his lyrical prowess than is on display here.  It is the combination of his hard-hitting vocals and the strong, yet understated music of DJ Lethal that make this track such a classic, and it is also the reason that it remains a favorite of hip-hop fans nearly two decades after it was first released.  Though it is still overshadowed by the success of their hit single, there is no more a defining track of the unquestionable skill and power of House Of Pain than one will find in their 1992 song, “Shamrocks & Shenanigans.”

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