Stories Behind The Songs: New Radicals - You Get What You Give

In this new segment, which is basically a spin-off of our retrospective album reviews, we will be taking a look at classic songs, be them one-hit wonders or otherwise, to see how they came about, what impact they had and the legacy they left.

Last week, our retrospective review looked at the Sex Pistols, a band who came and went in the blink of an eye. Yet, somehow, the band this week lasted an even shorter amount of time; active from 1997-1999, the New Radicals barely existed - but they certainly made a splash in that time.

Formed by Gregg Alexander, who had released two unsuccessful solo albums earlier in the decade, he wrote and produced the entirety of the band's output. Even calling them a band is a slight stretch; with only one other permanent member, keyboardist Danielle Brisebois, Alexander maintained a revolving door of musicians coming in and out at various times.

They only released one album, and true, we could do a retrospective of that, but the truth is that it wasn't the album that made the impact. It was decent but on the whole, pretty unnoteworthy, and the entire point of our retrospectives is to look back on albums that made an impact, either for being incredible, or at least important in some way (hence the review of Metallica's St. Anger). Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too is a very good album, with some excellent lyrical content regarding socio-political issues that resonate to this day, but it just isn't really worthy of a full retrospective.

What IS worthy of that is the band's hit single, 'You Get What You Give'. A worldwide hit at the time, it continues to be a popular radio track to this day; indeed, having forgotten about the track for a long time, it re-entered my life via the radio as I drove home one day from my previous job. Despite being released in 1998, here it was, like a new single. Some songs never die and this is certainly one of them.

An upbeat track, 'You Get What You Give' is rather a positive song. The chorus states that "this world is gonna pull through" and "you've got a reason to live", lyrics which are in stark contrast to today's songs about break-ups and whatnot. Though the song never progresses much in terms of sound, its catchy hooks and steady rhythm keeps your head bobbing throughout. In many ways, it's rather similar to Tom Petty's hit 'Learning to Fly', which is also driven by guitar chords and has a constant, foot-tapping tempo. On the face of it, 'You Get What You Give' isn't a special song, but it quickly becomes an unescapable earworm and this is what led to its success.

The song was also slightly controversial, due its final passage of lyrics. "Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson/Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson/You're all fakes/Run to your mansions/Come around/We'll kick your ass in!" Strong words from Alexander, but as it turns out, he was playing the media, willing them to make his song controversial. It was a test to see which part of the final passage the media would focus on, and they fell for it. The first bit reads "Health insurance rip off lying/FDA big bankers buying/Fake computer crashes dining/Cloning while they're multiplying", referencing much more serious matters in the world. But instead of focussing on that bit, the media highlighted the second bit, essentially falling for Alexander's trick and failing the 'test'. Sly work from the singer.

A testament to the song's quality is the amount of peers who have lauded it; Joni Mitchell has praised the song, the likes of Lulu and and Michelle Branch have covered it, and U2 guitarist The Edge is jealous of the song, saying he "really would love to have written it". High praise indeed from the man who has released songs such as 'Where The Streets Have No Name' and 'Beautiful Day'.

'You Get What You Give' is still so enjoyable, because, like all of the best songs, it is timeless. Listening to it today still sounds as fresh and relevant as it did then; it just works no matter what. This song could be released today and it would be just as successful now as it was then, simply due to its very nature. It's a fantastic tune and will remain a staple on certain radios until the end of time. It's a shame that Alexander didn't take well to the touring life and promtly disbanded the group, but on the bright side, at least we got a stone cold classic from their brief time in the sun.


While you're here, we'd like to make a request. We currently run this website on the tightest of budgets, and whilst we gladly do it because we love music, we need money like any other business. We have set up a patreon which is linked below. If you read and enjoy our content, please give it a look and consider donating what you can to help keep us running. Thank you.