Tom Cochrane: Mad Mad World – with “Friendly Advice” video cover

Tom Cochrane - Mad Mad WorldPart 10 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me

If you know Tom Cochrane’s biggest hit, it’s probably as “that Rascal Flatts song from Cars“. Indeed, the original “Life is a Highway” was pretty big for a couple weeks at the end of 1991, but it faded away pretty quickly. As an anthem for a bunch of computer-animated, anthropomorphic automobiles 15 years later, Pixar could’ve picked worse.

The rest of the album is … well, it’s not at the top of  many lists. Maybe “Tom Cochrane solo records” or “least politically challenging post-Gulf War releases”. Were it not for my own nerd rage at country covers of rock songs and a final track I could play acoustically at open mics to a fair amount of praise, the whole disc might’ve faded from my memory too.

I was also about 13 when this thing came out, and thus the perfect audience for its straightforward rock and roll sorta-coolness. While it strays into heavy topics like drug use and poverty occasionally, it’s never subtle. Consider this metric: on average, the title of each song is repeated nearly 12 times in that song. The number would be considerably higher if Cochrane actually sang “Everything comes around” instead of “Everything comes ’round” in track 6.

Tom Cochrane: Mad Mad World spreadsheet

Spreadsheets: the ultimate music appreciation tool.

This tendency to repeat a key phrase likely influenced my own very early songwriting – the stuff that no one ever, ever needs to hear. Reacting against that simplistic technique later on made me into the obscure creator of uncatchy yet brilliantly insightful tunes you all know and love.

Something else stands out about Tom Cochrane: this particular noise he makes. It might be “Awrwrwrwrwrwrwrwr”, his equivalent of an “ooh” or “ah” or rapper’s “yeah”. The sound is the precise midpoint between seeing a pile of sleeping kittens and adjusting your eyepatch with your hook hand.

Hidden between these tropes, though, is a good amount of decent music. The lyrics are sometimes clumsy, but Cochrane knows it, going so far as to pen an entire bridge composed of nothing but clichés in “Washed Away”. The unslick writing does lead to a few choice lines, and several tracks feature not just one but two bridge sections.

Speaking of movies and covers, by the way, the album and second track title has nothing to do with “Mad World”, the 1982 Tears for Fears song covered by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for the Donnie Darko soundtrack. Also I am not related to Michael Andrews, as far as I know. And also speaking of Tears for Fears, while I did try to grow my hair like Roland Orzabal’s, I never saw the original Canadian cover art for Mad Mad World and didn’t go for that look.

Tom Cochrane: Mad Mad World original cover art

Man, I could’ve been so rad in high school.

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