“If I Had $1,000,000” by Barenaked Ladies
(Words/Music: Steven Page and Ed Robertson, Album: Rock Spectacle, Reprise Records 1996)
Sometimes live songs take on a life of their own. “If I Had $1,000,000” by Barenaked Ladies is certainly one of those songs. It started out as a great crowd participation song because of the call-and-response style of the lyrics, and, as the song became a fan favorite, the band allowed the crowd to sing much of the response part of the lyrics. For some reason, I have always loved live recordings in which we can hear the crowd singing along in unison. Maybe it’s some idealist notion that there’s a diverse group of people putting aside differences in favor of a common goal. Maybe it just sounds cool.
Another step in the evolution of this song’s live performance was that the band, known for ad-libbing lyrics in many of their songs, often adapts the song to the venue or city in which they are playing. Seeing them play live a number of time in Buffalo in the early 90s, I can clearly remember them singing about the Bills and Sabres, various TV newspeople, and some of the foods unique to the area (obviously wings, but also loganberry juice, French’s mustard, beef on weck, and Mighty Taco).
From this came the tradition of beginning the song with an adapted version of another song. As heard in this example, they begin with the the chord progression and rhythm of “If I Had $1,000,000” but sing the opening lyrics to their song “Grade 9.” They would eventually begin playing the biggest song from their opening act - for example, when I saw the Goo Goo Dolls open for them at the opening concert at Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo, the Ladies began this song with “Name,” the breakthrough hit from the Goos. What else could we do but stand in wide-eyed (and wide-eared) amusement?
Finally, since the song had become a definite staple in every Ladies show, the crowd decided to get in on the act. Inspired by the crowd-participation employed at showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Ladies fans began “sneaking” in items to through at the band at certain points during the song. For example, when the band sings the line about Kraft Dinner, the crowd would throw boxes of Kraft Dinner onstage. Eventually, the band began to catch on and, in addition to putting the song toward the end of the set (so they wouldn’t have to worry about slipping and falling on debris), they began running to the back of the stage to avoid the bombardment. If you listen to the original, there is a line “We’ll just eat more” which ends the Kraft Dinner section, but live, they have to skip it because they are taking cover.
The live versions of this song have become so legendary among die hard fans that there is (or used to be, because I can’t find it now) a list of alternate lyrics compiled by the fans and amended after each show. Who else but the Barenaked Ladies would inspire a site like this?