Tuesday, August 19, 2008

One-Hit Wonder Week: "Steal My Sunshine" by Len

Back in 1975, a Nashville-born woman named Andrea True with a background in what Casey Kasem called "blue movies" went to Jamaica to make a commercial promoting the real estate industry on the island. While she was there, she felt like making a record, and a record producer she knew named Gregg Diamond gave her a song to cut. Andrea True (that was apparently her real name) wrote lyrics for it, and the result was a song called "More, More, More."

Andrea, who was already 32 at the time, had never recorded before, but "More, More, More" became a huge hit, under the band name the Andrea True Connection. The song went all the way to Number Four in the spring of 1976, a peppy disco hit distinguished by its poor singing and late piano break - not even a middle eight, just a little vamp Diamond threw in at the end.

Fast-forward about twenty years, to a brother and sister act from Toronto calling itself Len and heavily influenced by, of all people, Human League. Although their first two EPs were more punky, Marc and Sharon "Shar" Costanzo added three new quasi-members to the band for their first LP, 1999's You Can't Stop the Bum Rush, for more of a hip-hop sound. (By that point, Marc had also done a brief stint as the guitarist in Sum 41.) For "Steal My Sunshine," Marc Costanzo raspily rap-sung over the Andrea True sample, trading verses with his sweet-voiced sister Sharon. They didn't realize how buoyant it sounded, though, nearly leaving it off the LP: "Two days before the album went out," Marc said later, "we were like, 'Ah, let's put that one on.'"

Good thing they did. Even before the record was officially released, director Doug Liman, making his sophomore follow-up to Swingers, decided to use the song in his film Go, a Katie Holmes starrer that came out in the spring of 1999. Although that couldn't have hurt the song's popularity, I don't know how much it helped, either, because "Steal My Sunshine" didn't crash the Top Forty until September.

It would eventually go to Number Nine in the U.S., peaking just before the end of the century. In Len's native Canada, of course, it went to Number One.

And that was it for Len. They almost released a follow-up album in 2002, called We Be Who We Be, going so far as to send out advance copies and get written up in Rolling Stone, but the record was never actually released, for reasons that remain obscure to me. Finally, in 2005, Len's second full-length LP, a new record called The Diary of the Madmen, came out only in Canada (featuring a song called "We Be Who We Be"). Apparently there have been some drug problems. Although Len is still officially a going concern, Marc Costanzo is now a senior creative consultant at EMI Music Publishing Canada, no doubt looking for the next Glass Tiger.

"Some people think we suck, some people think we're a mistake, and that's OK," Sharon said in 1999. "We get to travel, we get to play in front of lots of people, it's great. I might wind up broke and selling vacuum cleaners in the end, but at least I'll get some frequent flyer miles out of this." Shar Costanzo turns 40 next month.

It's funny how much more information I was able to find out about "Telstar," which is 46 years old, than I was about this song recorded ten years ago. Still, it's terrific. I can't embed it, but you can see it here.


Gavin said...

I interviewed those crazy kids (in the July 1999 issue of Details). I spoke with Marc and Sharon separately; Sharon initially tried to be diplomatic about Marc, but when she found out he had told me about the time she came crawling down the hallway with no shoes when she first got drunk at age 14, she started telling stories about him too.

Inspirational wisdom from Sharon: "Marc is Mr. Music Man--I just shake my rack."

The article's subhed identifies them as "the brother/sister team behind the Go soundtrack tune 'Steal My Sunshine,'" so it looks like that placement helped.

The album was an eclectic hodgepodge. For one track, they wanted a heavy-metal guitar solo from somebody famous like Eddie Van Halen, but didn't know how to track someone like him down. The receptionist at the studio said, "Well, I'm friendly with C.C. DeVille." So later that day, the Poison guitarist came in and laid down a solo for them. When they tried to discuss payment with him, he demurred, saying "That's a freebie from C.C."'

That story got cut from the article for space, but I still say "That's a freebie from C.C." with disturbing frequency.

T. Nawrocki said...

Thanks for the insight. If that Details piece had been online, this would have been a much better item.

Gavin said...

I don't even have a copy of it on my hard disk anymore--I had to drag an issue out of the closet.

This was a great, entertaining item, by the way--lots of stuff here I never knew.

T. Nawrocki said...

Thanks! Tell your friends!

Marshall said...

This is how we have to find out that we're not Gavin's friends?

T. Nawrocki said...

Yeah, Gavin was not the right person to address that comment to, since I know he brought Scraps into the OPC fold, and maybe a few others as well.

What I really meant was "Tell your friends who are in a position to pay me good money for writing about crap like this!"