The biggest misconception about Hanson’s 1997 album Middle Of Nowhere is that it isn’t straight up one of the greatest pop records ever committed to tape.
The next biggest misconception is that the three Hanson brothers weren’t the main creative force behind the album.
It’s easy to see why this could be. How could this be the work of two pretty, prepubescent boys and one velvet-voiced teen troubadour? (Nah, I’m only joking, but Isaac’s “could it be a daisy or a rose” section in ‘MMMBop’ still sounds deep by comparison.) Surely there was a team of songwriters, producers and session musicians crafting pop-by-numbers in a studio before indiscriminately finding three blonde children to yell “sing in harmony” at?
This wasn’t at all the case.
Let’s travel back to late 1995. While you were listening to ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’, and ranting about how awesome Braveheart was the second time, the three Hanson brothers were recording a self-financed album in a shitty demo studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The album, their second in two years, was named MMMBop after a rather cruisy ballad the trio wrote and recorded, and they pressed up a few hundred copies to sell at their sporadic live shows.
Structurally speaking, this early demo version of ‘MMMBop’ is basically the same, aside from a few extra bars of improvised MMMBopping in places. The loose, lazy vibe really suits the song, with Isaac’s verse harmonies more prominent, Taylor’s young-MJ flourishes more pronounced, and the baggy-style drum shuffle more a meander than a strut. It’s impressive work from kids who really should have been spending that time finding secret levels in Donkey Kong Country.
Interestingly, 20 years on from ‘MMMBop’ becoming a worldwide pop hit, the only elements that age the final single version are the flourishes added by producers The Dust Brothers, such as the very Odelay-esque scratching breakdown, and the of-its-time drum production.
While there’s no doubting the song benefitted from being sped up and polished into a shiny pop nugget, it’s nice to have recorded proof that these kids were on point way before the suits got involved.