of the week

In the spring of 1999, a new pop song appeared out of nowhere and instantly became ubiquitous being played on just about every radio station. In the US, it was released in December the previous year but received massive airplay and, hence, peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 38. Many acts would have been happy with that, but the man behind the song, Gregg Alexander was the man behind the New Radicals moniker and was not a newcomer, but he’d had a rough ride with a number of record labels who, typically, had little care for their acts if they weren’t an instant hit. But he rose above that and came out smelling of roses, had a big hit, got disillusioned, quit and rose again. Let’s learn about Alexander’s musical rollercoaster ride.

Alexander was born Gregory Aiuto in Grosse Point, Michigan and moved to L.A at 16. In the early days, he lived very close to the Motown conglomeration and that music had an influenced on him as he and his mother would drive around the streets of Detroit listening to local radio stations. He began to learn piano which the family had in the front room and Band on the Run was one of the first songs he learned. At the age of 12, received his first guitar and soon began writing songs with his sister Caroline. He has an elder brother Stephen and the brothers joined a band called The Circus when Gregg was only 14. “I began instinctually writing my own melodies because I found I couldn’t learn other people’s,” Gregg once said. “The game changer for me was seeing Prince in Purple Rain and Let’s Go Crazy knocked me over my head, but when I heard The Beautiful Ones it was all over. At that point I knew I was gonna be running away to California.”

Two years later he launched a solo career initially under the moniker Alex Ander and sent some demos to a couple of record companies and A&M signed him. He then joined those two names together and chose to use his given first name. In 1989, he recorded and released his debut album Michigan Rain. It sold so few copies that the record company dropped him and three years later signed to Epic records where they released his second album, Intoxifornication. When that didn’t sell well, he got dropped again and decided something needed to be done. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in 2014, Gregg said, “I was used to making records that never got heard and decided to stop trying to make music that might be successful. Instead, I ripped up the few rules that applied to my first two records and produced an album almost entirely on my own: Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too.” And that was the title of the new album he released under a new name, New Radicals.

The band comprised lead guitarist Rusty Anderson, John Pierce on bass, Rick Nowels on keyboard, Gary Ferguson on drums and percussionist Danielle Brisbois who had been a child actor in the late 70s/early 80s and had previously recorded an album Arrive All Over You in 1994 which was co-written and co-producer by Alexander. The only track released from that album was a cover of Brenton Wood’s Gimme Little Sign which reached the dizzy heights of number 75.

You Get What you Give was the first song released from the album and Gregg said of it, “The central theme of the song was remembering to fly high and be completely off your head in a world where you can’t control all elements.” The opening line recalled his early struggle with the record companies and warns others against it, ‘Wake up, kids we got the dreamers disease. Age fourteen, they got you down on your knees.’ The chorus is one of the reality and hope, ‘But when the night is falling you cannot find the light, you feel your dreams are dying, hold tight.’ The third verse basically said, if you believe in what you do, don’t give up, ‘You’ve got the music in you, don’t let go.’ But it’s the final verse that caused a little controversy: ‘Health insurance, rip off lying, FDA, big bankers buying fake computer crashes dining, cloning while they’re multiplying’ and he did this just to see if the media picked up on the real issues he addressed or if they even picked up on the famous names that followed, ‘Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson, Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson you’re all fakes’. They did indeed focus more on the fame list and looking back on it, Alexander said in an interview with MTV, “There’s this whole hysteria and curiosity over peripheral stupidity instead of focusing on real issues, and a lot of people I talked to asked me about those real things, while a lot of rock media tried to turn it into a cat fight.” At least Hanson never took offence because in 2005 when asked Alexander to produce their top 40 hit Lost Without Each Other. The funniest part was Marilyn Manson who, apparently, threatened to smash Gregg Alexander’s skull open because what upset him was being mentioned in the same sentence as Courtney Love.

You Get What you Give reached number five in the UK, number four in Ireland and number one in Canada and New Zealand and reached the top 40 in 12 other countries. When the follow up, Someday We’ll Know petered out at number 48 once again, Alexander called it a day and the New Radicals were no more.

Alexander’s love of song writing continued and he also turned his hand to production and his first success as both writer and producer was in 2002 on the top 20 hit The Game Of Love by Santana Featuring Michelle Branch in which he used his earlier pseudonym Alex Ander. Since when he has co-written and produced, alongside his former New Radicals keyboard player Rick Nowells, Life is A Rollercoaster, Lovin’ Each Day and I Love It When We Do for Ronan Keating, Inner Smile for Texas, I Can’t Deny It for Rod Stewart and four bit hits for Sophie Ellis-Bextor including Murder On the Dancefloor which has a longer second lease of life in 2024 when it got to number two after appearing in the film Saltburn.

You Get What You Give was back in the top 40 in a dance cover version by LMC Featuring Rachel Mcfarlane and his last hit, to date, was in 2015 when Steve Mccrorie took the song Lost Stars to number six which Alexander had co-written with Brisbois.

In another pollical move, Alexander reformed the New Radicals for a one-off performance when they performed You Get What you Give at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Alexander had previously said in a Rolling Stone interview, “If there’s one thing on earth that would possibly make us get the band together, if only for a day, it is the hope that our song could be even the tiniest beacon of light in such a dark time. America knows in its heart that things will get bright again with a new administration and a real plan for vaccines on the way. That’s the message of the song… this world is gonna pull through.”

President Biden, in his memoir, Promises to Keep, wrote, “That song became a kind of ‘theme song’ for his son Beau during his battle with cancer. The Biden administration got in touch with Alexander, and asked him to perform You Get What you Give during the inaugural parade, and in a sign that there may in fact be a God out there watching over us. ” Alexander agreed.