Sunday, March 26, 2017

Robert Palmer Unintentionally Activates An Electrical Appliance AKA Maybe He Meant To Turn Some Women ... Off?

Before Janet Jackson, there was Cherrelle. Rather than being a hatchback automobile manufactured by General Motors, Cherrelle was actually an R&B singer and early protege of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. While she only had a couple of small pop hits, apparently she was all over the R&B charts, starting with 1984's "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On." Remember when '80s R&B still had a little bit of funk and disco in it? Yeah. However, the "tire screech" synth part is practically holding up a sign saying, "Help me! I've been kidnapped from Prince's '1999'! Please bring take me back! Pleeeeease!" Then there's the video, which appears to have utilized the most awkward special effects since the days of Ray Harryhausen. Ever seen a gorilla pop and lock? You have now.

For reasons not clear to me, Robert Palmer covered "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" on Riptide; when released as the follow-up single to "Addicted to Love" in 1986, it hit #2. You and I could sit here till the cows come home and debate which version is "better," but let's face it, both have their strengths. First of all, you've got to give the man some credit; he changed it up a bit. He added a whole new synth riff that doesn't sound like it's from "1999," but sounds more like, I don't know, a Vic 20 with epilepsy? And where Cherrelle came off as a bit solemn and diffident, Palmer comes off as genuinely apologetic and taken aback. Cherrelle sounded like she was folding the laundry; Palmer sounds like he's sexy and he can't help it, and he really wasn't paying attention, and, gosh, he genuinely didn't mean to turn you on, you know? Musically, while his version isn't arguably as funky, it's still pretty funky, goosed along, once again, by former Chic drummer Tony Thompson.

The video features the return of the "Addicted to Love" girls, who I presume have been practicing and are now much more capable? This time around, four elegant dancers in white dresses, black gloves, and chiffon boas have joined the proceedings, straight from the Ziegfeld Follies, and I believe they are actually "for real" dancing and not "miming" dancing. He's even got a glamorous sound and lighting crew!

As far as I can tell, most of Palmer's '80s peers considered him to be a pretty stand-up guy, but it turns out not everybody was particularly "turned on" by his charms. Take, for instance, his opening act, who I'm thinking may have landed the slot in 1986 due to a mutual Andy Taylor connection. From Lips Unsealed:
In June, I went on tour with Robert Palmer, who was having monster success with the chart-topping single "Addicted to Love." I was his opening act, and he was not very nice to me. He was aloof, condescending, and dismissive. He spoke to me only once during the entire month we traveled together and that was to ask if I had any drugs. I didn't. It was the first time I could ever say no. He shrugged, walked away, and never had anything to do with me again.
Damn it, Belinda! You blew it! You got sober too soon. You totally missed your chance to bond with Robert Palmer!

Priceless. Opening act for Robert Palmer? He probably thought she was just a disposable little simpleton. "How dare they pair me up with that silly L.A. fluff muffin!" He, on the other hand, was an artist, a man who played R&B music, real music, like ... "Addicted to Love," OK?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Against All Odds, Phil Crafts A Break-Up Ballad Behemoth AKA The Backstage Oscar Tantrum That Broke The Camel's Back

I've never seen Against All Odds, but apparently it's a re-make of the 1947 film noir classic Out Of The Past, which I recently re-watched on TCM, so does that count? I think my favorite line is when Robert Mitchum's character is explaining to his innocent love interest what the femme fatale is like. His "sweet" girl says, in an effort to be generous, "No one's all bad," and Mitchum replies, "No, but she comes closest." I digress. Apparently, Against All Odds turns the Robert Mitchum character into a professional football star played by Jeff Bridges. Sign me up!

Clearly a twisted plot needed a twisted theme song. Like any self-respecting '80s recording artist, Phil Collins realized it was time to jump into the soundtrack fray. Surely he had another weepy ballad inspired by his divorce still hanging around somewhere? Hey, wait a minute, what about that old demo from the Face Value sessions called "How Can You Just Sit There?" A little revision here, a little alteration there, slip the movie title into the chorus, and presto! Here's what he said in a recent Rolling Stone interview:
This is another song that's been a ring around my neck. It was written around the same time as "In the Air Tonight," but I discarded it. A couple of years later, I was asked to write a song for the movie called Against All Odds. I was really hot at the time, and they said, "Have you got a song for this movie of ours?" I said, "I'm not able to do it on the road, but I have a demo of this ballad." It was basically like saying, "Here's $10 million. Would you want it?"

I had already written the lyrics, before I saw the film. When I think about the movie, the first thing that comes to mind is the size of Rachel Ward's breasts. I thought they were fantastic. I like Jeff Bridges, too.
Good old Phil, always reliable for a deep insight or two. And yes, Jeff Bridges's breasts were also fantastic.

So let's see, what've got here? The piano (and vibraphone?) introduction is like the calm before the storm. And this is going to be one raging fucking storm, let me tell you. After a pregnant pause, the man enters:
How can I just let you walk away
Just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here taking every breath
With you, ooh ooh
You're the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me
When all I can do is watch you leave
Cause we've shared the laughter and the pain
And even shared the tears
You're the only one who really knew me at all
Come on Phil, is she seriously "the only one who really knew [you] at all"? Not your parents, your siblings, your bandmates? Guilty of a little exaggeration here, aren't we?  He's totally turning himself into this helpless, pathetic victim. "How can I just let you walk away"? Just lock the door, put a chair in front of it or something. "Just let you leave without a trace"? I'm sure there's a trace. Maybe a receipt from JC Penney? That half-eaten box of Triscuits? "When all I can do is watch you leave"? How about blackmail her new lover? Slash his tires? There's all kinds of shit you can do.

And another thing: has anyone ever noticed that these lyrics don't actually rhyme? He's employing this incredibly simple A/B/C/B rhyming scheme, but he can't even bother with that. Look at the first verse. "Trace" doesn't rhyme with "you." What the phuck, Phil. Sorry, "leave" doesn't rhyme with "tears." The sad part is, there's a perfect rhyme for "leave" that means the same thing as "tears": "grief." "And even shared the grief." I mean, how lazy do you have to be here? At least he bothers to rhyme "space" with "face" on the chorus, even though he does it twice in a row:
So take a look at me now
There's just an empty space
And there's nothing left here to remind me
Just the memory of your face

Ooh take a look at me now
Well there's just an empty space
And you coming back to me is against the odds
And that's what I've got to face
The truth is, Phil brings so much unstoppable vocal passion to the proceedings, it's clear the rhyme scheme is the last thing on his mind. He probably didn't even notice the strings coming in at the start of the second verse (but I did). I just want to enter this song, put my arms around Phil, and tell him, "It's OK, bro, you don't need that ho." Or maybe someone needed to tell Phil that he wasn't the first person to ever write a break-up song. Then again, maybe that would have ruined his shameless level of emotional commitment. I mean, here is a man so fragile, so abandoned. And he really wants his ex to know it too. It's not just, "I feel like shit," it's "I want to you stop whatever it is that you're doing right now and see the absence of matter in my house. That space right there, it used to be occupied by solid molecules, and now there is literally nothing there. I just want you to soak in, on a pure, visceral level, the shriveling wreck of a human that I've become. Just look at me, bitch. That is all."

A minute and thirty seconds go by, and I know what you're thinking: "If this is a Phil Collins song, then where are the mother fucking drums?" Don't worry, Phil's got your back. At 1:35, first comes one thwack, and then another, and he draws it out nice and slow, like a tender massage from a sensual lover, until he finally locks into a deafening groove. Note, also, the army of Phils who descend from the ether on "turn around and see me cry," like the spectral spirits of so many love-scarred yuppies. Up until now, it seems like Phil is cruising the vocal highway at top speed, but right around 2:12, you finally realize that he'd merely been taking this Jaguar for a test drive. "There's nothing LEFFFFT here!" Whoa. Dude. Phil clenched his fist so tight on that one that when he opened it again, I swear some blood came out. Then at 2:23, he gives a "cause THERRRRRES!" so abdominal-pinching that I'm almost certain he let out a little nugget of poop. At 2:35 he's so overcome with passion, his body convulsing uncontrollably, it almost sounds like he's stuttering as he lets rip a "Take-a-good-look-at-me-naaaooo-haaaoo-haaaooo!" The man's gotta be out of gas, right? He's got nowhere to go but down, surely? Oh, my friends, you underestimate Phil at your own peril. Because at 2:39, he lets out a "cause I-I-I-I-I'll" so intense, so primal, I'm pretty sure that his ex-wife heard it all the way from her Mediterranean vacation home. He begins to calm down, but like a devastating rain storm that still has one last gust in it, he manages, one final time, to go back into that place of terrible, terrible pain at 2:45 ("And you coming back! to me"). Now the hurricane has truly dispersed. Everyone can go back to their homes. Send in the Coast Guard. Let the clean-up begin.

Oh Phil cleaned up all right - on the Billboard charts, that is. "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" became the first of seven US #1 singles for our diminutive hero. "In the Air Tonight" may seem ubiquitous now, but I think its ubiquity evolved over time. It was with "Against All Odds" where the floodgates (floodgated drumming?) truly opened. Two comments on the video: 1) How much fruit-flavored syrup could they have possibly used to create that majestically multi-colored waterfall behind Phil? OK, fine, I guess it was just water with fancy lighting. You got red, blue, green ... I mean, I just want to dip my snow cone under that waterfall, you know? 2) Right when he sings "And you coming back! to me," he gives the moment the almost mandatory fist-clench it deserves.

Sure enough, Oscar knew a middle of the road winner when it heard one. Just one problem: they didn't actually let Phil perform the song during the telecast. Now let me make one thing clear: when I die, I hope they bury me with my DVD copy of All That Jazz, but ... Ann Reinking doing a dance routine version of "Against All Odds"? From a recent story in Rolling Stone:
Phil Collins was so overjoyed when "Against All Odds" got nominated for an Academy Award in 1985 that he re-routed his Australian tour so he could fly in to attend the event. The song was his first Number One in America and he was thrilled to have the chance to perform it at the Oscars in front of a worldwide audience of millions. Then he got the bad news: The Academy wasn't going to let him sing it at the 57th Annual Academy Awards, offering the dubious argument that this was a movie event and thus only movie people would perform. Even though he was one of the biggest stars in the world at this point and would be in the audience, eager to play, he'd have to sit there and watch dancer Ann Reinking deliver the tune.

He walked into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with his head high, telling reporters on the red carpet that he looked forward to seeing Reinking's take on the song. Then the show started. Not only was Deniece Williams allowed to sing "Let's Hear It For The Boy" from Footloose, but Ray Parker Jr. was permitted to sing "Ghostbusters." He sat in his chair and stewed, and his anger only grew when he saw Reinking lip sync part of the song as she did a ridiculous, cheesy dance with a male partner. Stevie Wonder won the Best Song Award for "I Just Called to Say I Love You," and when Rolling Stone caught up with Collins the next morning he was still fuming.

"It was awful," he said of Reinking's performance. "But I'm glad I didn't sing the song now, after what they did to Ray Parker." He then turned his attention to Stevie Wonder. "He is one of my heroes, but I have serious doubts about whether or not that song was actually written for the film," he said, before offering an explanation for why Wonder won that he probably regrets: "He's blind, black, lives in L.A. and does a lot for human rights."

Fuckin' Stevie Wonder, such a sympathy pick (and what exactly did they do to Ray Parker, Jr.?). Sounds like Oscar really screwed Phil over - if you listen to the public story, that is. What really happened, of course is even more shocking. From In The Air Tonight:
I got into town the night before to do the rehearsal. My boys were supposed to be there with my shit - not just the horsie juice, but some exotic fuckin' junk. We're talking seal tranquilizer, walrus antiseptic - there was this guy we knew in Santa Monica who had connections with the Coast Guard you wouldn't believe. But I got to my dressing room, nothing was there. And I mean, I needed something, you know? It was a bitch of a flight, I'd had some quiche that wasn't agreeing with me ... I was on a razor's edge. A pair of producers knocked on my door, so I cracked it open.

"Mr. Collins, you're scheduled to do a soundcheck at 8:30pm. You think you'll be ready?"

"Fuck off."

"Umm, Mr. Collins, excuse me?"

"I said fuck off!"

"So ... you're not quite ready yet?"

"I'm ready all right - ready to shove a fuckin' ice pick down your fuckin' throat!"

"Mr. Collins is there something the matter?"

"Where's my shit? I'm not singing a fucking note until I get my shit!"

"I see. We have some hors d'oeuvres in the lobby."

"I can't get high on fuckin' crab cakes!"

One producer whispered to the other. "I'm not sure he can go on."

"Fuck this ..." I threw a champagne bottle. "... fuck this ..." I threw an imitation statuette. "... and fuck this ..." I threw a rotary phone.

"Bob, do you want to call security?"

"You want your Oscar?" I proceeded to drop my trousers and point to my nether regions. "I've got your Oscar right here!"

"I think we're going to have to go with Plan B. Get that dancer on the phone."

I wagged my dick in the air. "Take a look at me now, eh?" Emboldened, I pulled out a ninja star from my jacket pocket - I used to always have a couple of those around - and I chucked it right between one of those fellows' legs, where it lodged itself into the door with a distinct thwaaaaang.

"Well, Mr. Collins, thank you for coming, but I think we'll need to make alternate plans."

So they had that stupid Broadway dancer go out there instead. It was my fault, really. But I made up some story about the Oscars not allowing me to perform - which was technically true, I suppose.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

How "These Dreams" Of An '80s Comeback ... Turned Into Heart's Worst MTV Nightmare

Yes, "What About Love," but what about Heart? Were the Sisters Wilson about to regret their thorough and complete change in musical and visual style? Their next single appeared to answer that question with a resounding cry of defiance:


This one rocketed up to #4, a height they'd never even reached in the '70s. The first few notes of the song make it sound as though it's going to be a karaoke backing track version of the Emotions' "The Best of My Love," but then a little combo synth/guitar lick kicks in out of the blue to say "Hey! All-Natural, Organic Cheesy '80s Rock Here!" The video finds Heart on a massive sound stage surrounded by billowy pink sheets and copious amounts of netting. While Nancy appears to be wearing Robert Plant's hair, Ann appears to be wearing ... Robert Smith's? Honest question: had Capitol Records outlawed normal guitars? Did they stipulate in the band's contract that they could only play those cartoonish lightning bolt guitars? Also: video being docked a few points for lack of anvils.

Of course, when they weren't rocking out, the Wilson sisters were busy spending their evenings in absurdly opulent bedrooms, folding silk scarves, trying on questionable outfits, and drinking wine, as the video for "Nothing At All" demonstrates. They also had a panther infestation on the premises. And you thought mice were a pain. I gotta tell you, when that panther follows Ann into an elevator at the end, and then several seconds go by, I have to admit I get a little bit concerned, but when the door opens, the panther has turned back into ... her precious little kitty cat! Awwww. That's right. Ann Wilson can tame even the wild beasts of the night. Nevertheless, I would have to designate this only the second-best '80s video to feature a panther (hard to top "Maneater").

It's also hard to top three consecutive top ten hits, but I guess that's what Bernie Taupin can do for you. According to Wikipedia, Taupin and "poor man's Elton John" Martin Page initially offered "These Dreams" to Stevie Nicks, who said no way Jose, but Heart jumped all over that shit. And when did Stevie Nicks ever have a solo #1 hit? That's right: never. And instead of Ann singing lead, for some reason Nancy ended up taking the reins on this one. As secondary lead singers in bands go, how does this evaluation sound: not quite Pete Townshend, but better than Keith Richards?

I don't remember hearing the other singles from Heart as a kid, but "These Dreams" instantly makes me think of sitting in the parking lot waiting for my parents to come out of the supermarket, or some other equally unpleasant scenario. The one lyric that always puzzled the crap out of me was "Every second of the night/I live another life." Being roughly six years old at the time, I remember thinking about that line in depth, almost taking it literally. "So does that mean that you die every second, and then you're reborn? So basically you would live ... let's do the math here ... like 32,400 lives in the course of one evening? How could you even do anything in such a short lifespan? The moment you're born, you'd just die again. You couldn't even get up to go to the bathroom. You'd just be dead. That's crazy!" Although it was the first time I devoted intense analysis to an enigmatic Bernie Taupin lyric, it would not be the last. Maybe if I hadn't heard the song so much at the time, I'd like it more now, but let me just say that I'm currently listening to it for blogging purposes only. Basically, every second of this song, I wish I was listening to another song.

Although Nancy Wilson herself appears to have no regrets about her signature moment of glory, or at least the audio portion of it, in general she does not sound terribly fond of this particular phase of Heart's career. Here's a lengthy excerpt from an interview she gave with The Believer in 2007:
NW: But you know, Ann and I have been through some challenging times together, especially trying to lead our band through the ’80s.

BLVR: What was tough about that time?

NW: The way that MTV was changing the landscape. Things were shifting away from the artistry of rock music—away from writing good songs—and tilting toward the commercial side. Suddenly record companies were putting a lot of pressure on bands to look a certain way, to have a certain image, to sound a certain way… and to sell a lot of records. One of the things that happened as a result was that certain bands, like Heart, who used to have their own voice were suddenly forced to start performing songs written by other people.

BLVR: Who were those other people?

NW: A whole stable of L.A. hit-makers. The labels made us and other bands record those songs because they wanted a sure thing—something that would become a radio hit. Before that point, we’d always written all our own stuff. We barely even did covers, except for some Led Zeppelin songs. But when MTV came along, things got a lot more corporate, fast. And we were not naturals to that way of doing things. Of course, we were lucky to be able to put our stamp on some songs, to really make them ours. I mean, I still loving singing “These Dreams.” Bernie Taupin wrote the words for that one.

BLVR: The guy who wrote all those songs with Elton John? Like “Tiny Dancer”?

NW: Yep. Those are his lyrics in “These Dreams.”And there are other songs we still love to perform from that era ... But the real problem of the ’80s was the hit we took in terms of artistic integrity. Though we were able to put songs we’d written on every single one of our albums during that period, the ones that the label would focus on—the ones that would get turned into the big singles—were written by other people.

BLVR: I think there’s a public perception that since you were a big rock band—since you were Heart—you could always do whatever you wanted. But it sounds like there weren’t real choices so much as things you had to do to survive.

NW: Yep. It actually makes my feet hurt right now, to think about it.

BLVR: Your feet?

NW: Oh, yeah. For the videos, we’d get stuffed into these awful outfits—tiny stiletto boots and corsets and bustiers. Then there’d be all these smoke machines. [Fakes a choking fit] And a ton of hair spray was involved! It seemed like a fun dress-up party at first, but it got kind of old when we were expected to do it all the time. Ann or I would be like, “Uh, why don’t we try something different?” And the label would say [faking a deep-throated voice]: “No, babe! That’s the image that sells, babe! Lick your lips and suck in your cheeks!” We had our own ideas about what our image should be. Softer. More like what it used to be. A kind of Led Zeppelin look. But when we’d take those ideas to the designers, they’d come back to us with clothing that looked nothing like what we’d described.

And shooting videos during that period could get pretty ridiculous. We’d do them in two or three days; and everyone would be on cocaine, especially the director; and no one would sleep; and they’d call you in for your close-up at six in the morning.

BLVR: Looking back, is there any one video that you just wish you could just strike off the map?

NW: [Singing like Cher] “If I could turn back time!” Although, there was another one—I think it was “What About Love” but I can’t remember; one of those power ballads—and for it, the director wanted me to put on a harness and jump off a tall building in a fog. He worked on me for days, trying to convince me to do it. I really didn’t want to, but finally he wore me down. I said, “If it looks stupid, we don’t use it—and I get the final say.” He was like, “OK, OK, just put on the harness!” So I totally did it. And of course, it looked stupid and felt even more stupid.

BLVR: Did it go in the video?

NW: Nope. But that kind of thing was the epitome of the ’80s. In every video, people wanted a big rock punch line—a visual hook, something no one had ever seen before. You know, like: “Act Three really has to rock, dude.”
But the thing is ... those record execs were right! That image was totally selling like nobody's business! Look, Heart, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the '80s kitchen. At any rate, I wouldn't quite say that Act Three in the video for "These Dreams" happens to particularly "rock," but neither do Act Two or Act One, as far as I can tell. And since when did music videos have "acts" anyway? While I can't discern the three acts, here is my list of the top seven most ridiculous images in this video:
  1. Nancy gently massaging a pool of water, with a creepily orange sky and papier-mache mountains behind her
  2. Two hooded members of ISIS (I assume?) holding a giant picture frame with the image of Ann Wilson in it, and then the camera just smashes right into the glass (1:27)
  3. Nancy frantically crawling on the sand, trying to escape something (those guys from ISIS?), finally catching her breath aside what appears to be a giant rook from a giant chess board (1:33)
  4. Nancy marching down a massive staircase into a hidden pool of water, being escorted by twenty hooded ISIS guys holding flashlights (2:35)
  5. Heart's two male guitarists flopping face up into that same damn pool of water ... only to eerily pop out of the water just a few moments later! (3:02)
  6. Nancy standing on a grid-patterned platform ... with hands poking through! (2:25)
  7. Nancy rising out of a hot tub ... surrounded by more hands! So many hands! (3:19)

Well, "These Dreams" probably figured it would be Heart's only #1 hit, but it turned out that, in barely just a year or so, it would not find itself ... alone.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

That Time Belinda Became A Mermaid And Sang With The Beach Boys

So you're the Beach Boys, celebrating your 25th anniversary in 1986, even though you haven't been artistically relevant since about 1971, and you're doing a network television concert special on Waikiki Beach. Who do you invite to come out and sing "Wouldn't It Be Nice" with you? Why, Belinda Carlisle, of course!

Further cementing her status as the '80s female heir to the '60s California pop sound, Belinda simultaneously brought contemporary Top 40 cred and genuine Beach Boy respect to the proceedings. What the network executives may not have counted on, however, was that Belinda had become ....

A mermaid.

From the depths of the Pacific, out she rose, the shining emerald incarnation of Neptune's daughter, dripping with the mist of warm, tropical Yuppie hotness. Or maybe just wearing a very tacky dress. Seriously, what kind of a dress is that? Did she get lost on her way to the Enchantment By The Sea ball? I mean, where's Flounder and Sebastian? Whatever. Wish I could be a part of her world, you know what I'm sayin'? Belinda can flap her fins on my beach any day.

As he escorts her out to the stage, Al Jardine asks the immortal question, "Are you ready to become a Beach Girl?" (he almost says "Beach Boy" but corrects himself). Right on cue, Belinda responds with deadpan glee, "Well I've been waiting all my life." I feel like what these two are really thinking here is, "We're not the sweet and wholesome California pop stars everyone at home thinks we are, right? But let's just keep that our little secret." Al Jardine's like, "Man, I've screwed more women and scored more drugs than the entire population of Moloka'i, but the Beach Boys are a family band, all right? Yeah, girl, you know what the deal is here." The amazing part is, Belinda really had been waiting all her life to become a Beach Girl. Her banter is simultaneously canned as hell and endearingly genuine.

While she makes her way to the front, Mike Love, dressed in typically douchey Jimmy Buffett-style white cap and open chested Hawaiian shirt, raises his hands to the air and shouts, "Welcome our own California Girl! Belinda Carlisle!"

But the moment that rippling, baroque Brian Wilson melody flows out of that swaying mermaid body, I'm in California pop heaven. (Note: although he's not too visible in this particular clip, I think they did drag Brian's partially functioning frame out there at some point.) Belinda's wild honey voice, when united with the sound of fragile genius, can't help but put a smiley smile on my face. It's like two lovers after sunset, having only met at sunrise, discovering for the first time how their intertwined bodies are creating such a natural blend of passion and longing. It's a union that was meant to be.

Listen to that smoldering desire on display. This was Belinda's secret childhood fantasy - to be on-stage with the Beach Boys, fronting them, owning them, making every word hers and hers alone! You can tell she not only loves the song, but has lived it, wrestled with it, subsumed it. My point is: this was just some low-budget anniversary special. I don't know who came on before her, or who came on after, but Belinda could have just phoned it in. Instead, she's caressing every fucking note. One might argue that she's coming on a little too strong, at the end, for instance, trying to scream instead of harmonize. She almost thinks she's singing "Blitzkrieg Bop" here. The needle's going into the red a little bit, but that's OK, she's excited.

The funny thing is, if you watch closely, you realize she had plenty of time to rehearse, because this was actually pre-recorded. Notice at about 0:29, where Belinda points her mic in Al's direction, but you can still hear her singing, "You know it's gonna make it that much better." How did she do that? Then she remembers, "Oh yeah, I'm supposed to be singing this part!" - and she quickly recovers. But here's a detail I don't understand: she screws up the lyrics. Instead of singing, "And after having spent the day together, hold each other close the whole night through," she sings "night" twice. And yet, if this had been pre-recorded, why wouldn't they have just fixed that? Was there not enough time? Jesus. And so, actually, it was impressive that Belinda remembered to screw up the lyrics on the telecast in the exact same spot she'd screwed up the lyrics on the pre-recording!

Suddenly the timpani pounds, and then Belinda goes into a little spiel: "You guys are great, it's great to be a Beach Girl, and you said 'Together for 25 years' ... and you're really the band of gold." Then she hops down onto her very own special stage, with body language that practically says, "OK, get lost Beach Boys, this is my show now," and launches into a rockin' version of "Band of Gold." Nice, Belinda, very nice - honoring the Beach Boys and promoting your latest record at the same time. Good stuff. The strange part is, although she's obviously singing to the cheesy backing track from her own recording, this time her vocals are live. You can hear her miss a couple of words when she catches her breath. The vocals fade when she pulls the mic away from her mouth. In other words, live. Why would one song be pre-recorded and the other song live? Who was running this show? But here's the shocking truth: her live performance of "Band of Gold" kicks the studio version's buttocks. Seriously. If she'd laid into it in the studio like she lays into it here, the thing might have actually gone somewhere. You can tell she knows she's in the zone by the sultry brush of the hair and the authoritative crowd point at 2:56. The assembled onlookers are either too stunned by Belinda's golden visage and vocal sublimity to move, or they're thinking, "OK, who's on next?" Even the totem pole looks confused.

Favorite YouTube comments:
Belinda must have had the first wardrobe malfunction. The designer of that dress should have had to wear it afterwards.You could tell she was getting very frustrated about it.

This is THE example of 1980s beauty, when self-reflexive young artists like Belinda Carlisle could combine many past styles and influences: vintage glamor, California golden girl, mixed with the current 198Os oversized shoulders and rich, Dyanasty hues. Also, her hair style was perfect mid-1980s, new wave/preppy blond bob - slightly grown out. Her tan, frosted lips, and totally awesome upbeat demeanor bring her to life!

Beautiful Belinda, ugly dress

...that was a LONG way to go, to try to justify a very bad pun.

i thought she was wearing a sleeping bag. still what a dream girl, hummana hummana

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Michael Of George: A Few Words, A Brief Pause (Plus: Professor Higglediggle's Unique Take)

And here I was, making fun of Wham!'s trip to China, having a jolly old time. Well then. It looks like Father Figure: The Socio-Political Implications of George Michael In The Post-Modern Landscape has taken an unexpected turn for the somber.

Nevertheless, I come to praise George, not to bury him. I must ask myself questions. Intense, probing questions. First of all: does the artist's death alter the goal at hand, or merely reinvigorate it? I tend to prefer writing about '80s pop star careers that haven't been given the kind of scrutiny one could find elsewhere. It's odd to see so many others scrutinize a career I'd already been scrutinizing so scrutinizingly. On the other hand: no, this only confirms my resolve, buttresses my belief, strengthens my commitment. The truth is, the essential nature of George Michael's '80s catalog has not changed. It was already fixed within history - and outside history - even though the man behind the art continued to live on into the '90s and the '00s, and then ultimately departed once and for all. Observations made about "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" while George was alive hold just as much relevance today as observations one might make about "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" now that George is no more. We must continue to laugh, to observe, to mock, to admire. I truly believe that George ... *sigh* ... would have wanted it that way.

In the midst of all the tributes, I couldn't help but be curious what Professor Horton J. Higglediggle, author of the obscure but invaluable tomé which I have been referencing so frequently, might have thought of Mr. Michael's passing. Surely he could be counted on for a slightly more idiosyncratic observation, a pointed requiem, a eulogy devoid of cliché and excess sentiment. Although notoriously slow in responding, Professor Higglediggle has, at last, sent me a brief reply, which I thought I would share with you:
Ah yes - a comment on the supposedly premature departure of the subject of my study (although here we must note that only recently in anthropoid evolution has 53 been considered "premature," but this attitude is anathema to the current cultural grievance construct, I understand).

The residual media commodification is an unfailingly regrettable process, normally a marginal and insignificant aspect of the artistic recontextualization that occurs upon expiration. However, one curious item standing out amid the pre-existing symbolic clutter of Michael's cessation strikes me as quite worthy of discussion - more discussion than it has appeared to receive. It must be noted that Mr. Michael shed this mortal coil on December 25 - Christmas Day. Although many individuals experience termination on this date - indeed, statistically, as many as on any other date - few have come to appreciate the singular irony of December 25, 2016 having literally been Mr. Michael's last Christmas. Much has been made of Mr. Bowie exiting only days after releasing his final album, a final meta-conceptual flourish appended to the career of the ever-conceptual changeling. Not to be outdone by an idol, Mr. Michael's eerily appropriate date of ascension serves as the macabre wink to the hyper-libinal cosmos, a last act of ideological reductionism, only to be appreciated by the non-commodified subcultural elite - a semiotic slippage which, I assume, will fail to be improved upon in the near future.

On a different note: 10 years and still going. How about them apples? That sure is a long time to be blogging. While the world may never know if Little Earl's time might have been better spent doing something arguably more productive over the last ten years ... what's done is done. He certainly never would have guessed, in January 2007, that he would still be blogging on the same silly blog ten years later, or that the blog would have taken a swift and seemingly irreversible turn toward '80s music at about the halfway mark. He has seen co-bloggers come and go (it appears Herr Zrbo may still be with us); since January 2007, his fellow Cosmic Americans have gotten married, sired children (some more than one), and I believe one co-blogger even ended up getting a divorce! Little Earl's life, while a little different as well, is not quite so different, but through the ups and downs, one constant has always been there. He couldn't say what the future holds for this strange Blogspot apparatus with its low-quality graphic design, but on this occasion he'd simply like to stop and utter a hushed, dignified ... "Holy shit."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Walk Of Life"? Should've Called It Brothers In Legs Then

Man, did Brothers In Arms sell a lot of copies. For a while there it was probably out-selling toilet paper. Stand back in awe: it stayed at #1 in the US for nine weeks, #1 in the UK for 10 weeks, and #1 in Australia for 34 weeks. The little chart at the bottom of the album's Wikipedia page lists 18 countries where the album hit #1 (shame on you, Italy and Norway), and this chart still leaves out other countries where it topped the charts, including Denmark, Spain, and Yugoslavia. And to think: if only Yugoslavia had splintered up by 1985, Brothers In Arms might have gone to #1 in even more countries.

Now is the time to admit that, when I was 15, I added to this pile. I figured any album that was so commercially successful must also have been great. The same logic had led to the purchase of Frampton Comes Alive! about a month prior, but I suppose I hadn't learned my lesson. Hey, I wanted the long version of "Money For Nothing," I vaguely remembered "Walk Of Life" from '80s radio ... it felt like the right move. I brought the cassette home, popped it in the player, and sat on the bed, intensely scanning the lyric booklet as the album played, trying to grasp the hidden significance of every garbled phrase. For a year or so, it seemed to me that the album merited this sort of close attention. Then I realized one day that perhaps it did not.

In preparation for writing this blog post, I have ended up listening to Brothers In Arms for the first time in about, say, ten years. Maybe if I'd initially heard it the way I hear most albums now - by putting it on casually in the background, only paying closer attention if the album draws me in - I would feel like listening to it now and then, but instead, hearing it again, I cringe a little, knowing that I spent so much time analyzing something that didn't quite deserve that level of analysis. In hindsight, I feel like the lyrics manage to be occasionally interesting without being as deep as I assumed they were when I was 15 - which, given that some of the other artists I loved when I was 15 were artists like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Elton John, is not an experience I'm particularly used to having. I have very few teenage musical regrets!

While not a "gimmick" album, Brothers In Arms was one of the first to really be promoted as a whole "compact disc experience." From Wikipedia:
Brothers in Arms was the first album to sell one million copies in the CD format and to outsell its LP version. A Rykodisc employee would subsequently write, "[In 1985 we] were fighting to get our CDs manufactured because the entire worldwide manufacturing capacity was overwhelmed by demand for a single rock title (Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms)."
"Muffy, would you buy me some caviar, a diamond necklace, and that new Dire Straits compact disc?" "Yes, Buffy, certainly my dahling."

Most of the songs are looooooooong, with long intros and even longer outros. They're almost gratuitously long, as if Knopfler just wanted to take advantage of the extra CD capacity. And thus began a trend, my friends, a terrible, terrible trend. Apparently, on the LP version, several of the songs were shortened by a minute or so, and I can see how that version might actually be preferable. Mainly, upon revisiting the thing, the album strikes me as, oh, you know, dated. Sitting around the console in Monserrat, I'm sure they all thought it sounded "state of the art," but everything's way too processed and filtered. It sounds like the Miami Vice episode that's playing in your nightmares. "The Man's Too Strong" still strikes me as kind of cool: more industrialized, almost like "Welcome To The Machine." The other songs need to drink some caffeine before they doze off completely.

That said, I still like "Walk Of Life." For starters, it's only four minutes long. Second, it doesn't sound like a synthesizer that's taking a massive dump on my ears. It's an actual, you know, pop song. The album's co-producer didn't even want it on the album, thinking it was at odds with the other material. And the thing is, he was right - but for the wrong reason! Thankfully, he was outvoted by the band.

Keyboards! Keyboards! Step right up and get your keyboards! You want a graceful, churchy one? We've got one right at the start here, to lull you in. You want a cheesy, roller rinky one? Oh boy, have we got the keyboard riff of your wet dreams! Pair it up with some well-timed acoustic guitar strums and eight teasing pounds on the bass drum, and you are off to the races my friend. Even Mark Knopfler's iffy attempt to roam out of his five note range at the end ("Hmm, you do the walk of ligh-high-hife") can't derail this sucker.

Not only did "Walk of Life" reach #7 in the US and #2 in the UK, but it even received region-specific videos. The British video featured the requisite concert footage spliced with shots of a subway busker giving it all he's got. Perhaps that one was deemed a bit too "British," because with the American video, they certainly didn't make that mistake.

It's time for ... Sports Bloopers! How much do you think it cost to get the rights to all this stuff? Well, considering the giant pile of money the album made, I'm sure they were able to afford it. Favorite YouTube comments:
Studies have shown that it is impossible to listen to this song and not smile.

This song I've found can make almost anyone dance. This huge guy on the road crew directing traffic, He was about 6'5 and 300 pounds, I pulled up with this song cranked and he went to getting down. Then on I-85 in Atlanta, Traffic completely stopped from a wreck, Again I had this song cranked, a pickup truck beside me had a bed with about 4 mexicans on it and they all started dancing.

My Dad always tells the story of the time he went to Italy. He stayed in this tiny Inn in the middle of nowhere, and when he told the Innkeeper he was American, he said: "You Americano, you like the Rock and Roll!" and put this record on
Finally, there is the Walk of Life Project. The Walk of Life Project poses one simple hypothesis: "'Walk of Life' by Dire Straits is the perfect song to end any movie." From an article on Slate published back in March 2016:
It can take a long time for humanity to figure out the best use for a new technology. Hedy Lamarr imagined the radio-frequency–hopping technology she invented would be used for torpedoes, not cell phones. The Internet was around for 30 years before it changed the world forever. And now, 120 years after their first public exhibition, Peter Salomone has perfected motion pictures. As is so often the case, the secret turned out to be Dire Straits.
Like you or I, Mr. Salomone must have been sitting at his computer farting around one day when a bolt of goofy inspiration struck. But unlike you or I, he had the drive, the vision, the know-how to truly go through with his hare-brained scheme.

See the endings of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider, Planet of the Apes, and Star Wars the way they were truly meant to be seen. This gag isn't just running; it's practically galloping.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Zrbo's Favorite Songs of 2016

The year I gave up on popular music.

This was a strange year for me musically. It would seem that I just didn't hear anything new this year that caught me ear. That's due either to me not paying as much attention to pop culture as I used to, or the other more pressing matters that affected the global stage this year, or perhaps my own interests solidifying into what I already listen to. Either way, you won't find much music from 2016 on this list. Here we go.

5. "Hee Haw"

This didn't gain very much viral fame as it frankly deserved. It basically sums up our current state of things. Washington has been reduced to a Hee Haw singalong.

4. "Flashbeagle"

Hear me out. When I was very little I was obsessed with Snoopy and the Peanuts. To this day I still have a bunch of Snoopy paraphernalia lying around. One of my earliest Snoopy related memories is dancing like a maniac to "Flashbeagle" while some babysitters looked on. The song comes from the animated special "It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown" created around the time that Flashdance and aerobic rock were greatly in vogue.

There's actually two different videos of Flashbeagle circulating around. There's one here that's basically the straight song as it appeared in the animated special. But the second video, posted above, is much more entertaining. It's got parts of the animated special but it's interspersed with "making of" segments. While it's kind of neat to see how they rotoscoped the quite impressive moves of Marine Jahan (also Jennifer Beals' body double for Flashdance) the real gem is here is the shots of the vocalists singing in the studio.

You've got schlubby Joey Scarbury, "known" for "Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe it or Not)", and Desiree Goyette, known for voicing various animated figures such as Nermal and Betty Boop. I love how we're led to believe we're watching the actual studio recording, with Desiree looking particularly over-enthused. But then the illusion is ruined when at 40 seconds Desiree looks straight into the camera completely ruining the notion that this was not pre-planned.

I haven't even got to the animated bits yet though. It's fascinating to see how Snoopy is the "cool" one wearing his ripped aerobic gear, but the dance floor is still straight up from the disco era complete with the multi colored lighted tile floor. You can sense the transition that was taking place in American dance floors as the new 80s style dance was being performed in aging disco clubs. Even the adults in the room (adults in a Snoopy cartoon?) seem to be in awe of Snoopy's "new" style and moves. Am I reading too much into a Snoopy cartoon?

The song is incredibly cheesy but I just love how Desiree and especially Joey are giving it their all. Then there's the little things like the crashes of thunder and epic string flourishes that give the song a decidedly epic 80s dance floor feel. I distinctly remember seeing this version of the video when I was younger and I'm terribly glad that someone made it available online.

3. Stevie Nicks - "Stand Back"

I've known this song for years but as I was driving across a bridge back in March it came on the radio and it just lodged itself deep in my skull. It's really all about that snazzy keyboard riff, provided by Prince in a perfectly Dave Chappelle-ready story.

And then there's the video. On the shortlist for "videos most indicative of their time" we've got some serious early 80s music video tropes. There's no less than billowy drapery, big hair, synchronized dancers that look like they just came off the set of All That Jazz or possibly the video for Beat It, berets a la Red Dawn, various neon lights, and even a treadmill because aerobics!

Then at around 2:40 we change venues from a darkly lit studio to something resembling the men's condo from Three Men and a Baby. What I love is how sincere everyone seems to be taking it. They are really *feeling* that jam. It's a great video and a great song from start to finish.

2. Echo Image - "Things I Know"

Isn't it great when you discover new music from a band that you thought were no longer producing music? That's how I felt earlier this year when I discovered "Things I Know" from Norwegian synthpop group Echo Image. Having only released one album back in 2001 they seemed to disappear from the music world. Well, it looks like I wasn't paying enough attention. Back in 2010 Echo Image released "Things I Know", and now it looks like they released a compilation album back in April, with possibly more to come.

The strange thing about "Things I Know" is that it sounds exactly like Echo Image did back in 2001. If you didn't tell me this was a more recent song I would have thought it was just a B-side I had never heard from their heyday. And in this age of the post-2016 election it wins my award for favorite chorus of the year:
I feel the world is not my own
But I believe the things I know
I feel the world is without love
And died long ago
Who can resist the part near the end when criminally underused Trine Bilet drops in to sing the chorus while the trance euphoria kicks in? Not me.

1. Overwatch - "Victory Theme"

Not the most interesting number one, but let me explain. The game Overwatch is easily my favorite game of the year. Because I've been playing it so much I hear the music a lot. The whole soundtrack is great. The World Could Always Use More Heroes is just utterly triumphant, and Rally the Heroes is this bit of music that plays near the end of a match that just perfectly matches the tenseness of the finale of any given match.

However, my personal favorite is the Victory theme. The reason I've heard it so many times it because it plays at the end of every match. Many Overwatch fans will tell you they like the Victory theme too, but most of them are referring to the part near the beginning where the horns and percussion blast triumphantly.

Me, my favorite part occurs immediately after this, when the game throws you into a post-match lobby while you wait a bit until the next match starts. That's when, at around 32 seconds, that wonderful synth line kicks and manages to be simultaneously tense and vaguely calming. In particular there's this little bit that starts around 56 seconds. That part right there is my favorite piece of music this year. I have had that little synth riff running through my head nonstop for months now and every time I play a match it's right there waiting for me. Game of the year and music of the year, all in a nutshell.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Changing Winds Of Grace Slick AKA Kantner Finally Throws The Nuclear Furniture

Ah, Grace Slick. Your family tried to raise a good little girl, but you were simply having none of it. Private schools and a promising modeling career at a high-end department store just weren't enough to steer this all-American ingenue away from a life of hardcore leftist radicalism. Select highlights (or lowlights?) from Wikipedia:
In 1968, Slick performed "Crown of Creation" on The Smothers Brother Comedy Hour in blackface and ended the performance with a Black Panther fist. In an appearance on a 1969 episode of the Dick Cavett Show, she became the first person to say "motherfucker" on live television during a performance of "We Can Be Together" by Jefferson Airplane.

During her hospital stay after [daughter] China's birth, Slick joked to one of the attending nurses that she intended to name the child "god" with a lowercase g, as she "wished for the child to be humble."

Slick was dragged off a San Francisco game show for abusing the contestants.

Slick and Tricia Nixon, former President Richard Nixon's daughter, are alumnae of Finch College. Slick was invited to a tea party for the alumnae at the White House in 1969. She invited political activist Abbie Hoffman to be her escort and planned to spike President Richard Nixon's tea with 600 micrograms of LSD. The plan was thwarted when they were prevented from entering after being recognized by White House security personnel, as Slick had been placed on an FBI blacklist.

In 1971, after a long recording session, Slick crashed her car into a wall near the Golden Gate Bridge while racing with Jorma Kaukonen. She suffered a concussion and later used the incident as the basis of her song "Never Argue with a German if You're Tired (or 'European Song')," which appears on the Bark album (1971).

Despite her retirement, Slick has appeared a couple of times over the years with Paul Kantner's revamped version of Jefferson Starship when the band played in Los Angeles. The most recent appearance was during a post-9/11 gig during which she came on the stage initially covered in black from head to toe in a makeshift burqa. She then removed the burqa to reveal a covering bearing an American flag and the words "Fuck Fear".
The girl had moxie, all right. And not even Jefferson Starship's long, agonizing slide into faceless corporate arena rock was going to dull the edges on this particular knife.

Slick didn't have a huge presence on Winds of Change's "Be My Lady," which hit #28 and at least still kind of sounded like Jefferson Starship's mellow late '70s singles such as "Count On Me" and "With Your Love," as opposed to, I dunno, Foreigner. The video features Mickey Thomas in a series of Escher illustrations: The corner of a house ... without a house! The stairway that leads ... back to itself!

But the Chrome Nun (as David Crosby was fond of calling her) certainly made her presence known on "Out of Control." Ever wonder what happens when 40-year-old ex-hippie Baby Boomers suddenly listen to punk one day and decide, "Yeah, I can do that!" This is what happens. Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, and Poly Styrene, look out, 'cause here comes Grace Slick.

The album's title track petered out at #38. Apparently the video was filmed on the set of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, with Grace Slick as Tinkerbell's older drug-addicted sister and Mickey Thomas as Bernie (from Weekend at Bernie's). Oh, and of course there's wind! Lots of wind!

By Nuclear Furniture, you can really sense Paul Kantner's tolerance finally reaching its breaking point. From Wikipedia: "Before the sessions came to a close, he stole the master tapes, put them in his car and drove around San Francisco for a few days and wouldn't bring them back until the band mixed the album in a way more to his liking." Well, I suppose that's one way to deal with deep disappointment in your band's new direction: take the album hostage! "No Way Out" hit #23 (#1 Mainstream Rock), and its complete dissimilarity to "White Rabbit" must have finally convinced Kantner to take the one pill that made him smaller. The video finds Mickey and his girlfriend accidentally stumbling into a laboratory run by ... sci-fi wizards? He becomes psychologically interrogated by ... Father Guido Sarducci? And Grace Slick is running around speaking like a munchkin? And some shirtless dude with a porn 'stache (I think he's the drummer) is lifting weights in bed, staring at a Japanese geisha who's dancing in front of a Mao poster? I give up on this one.

Last but not least: were you secretly hoping that Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick would run for president as "Mick & Slick"? In the "Layin' It On The Line" video, you get your wish, along with cameos by ... Willie Brown? Timothy Leary? G. Gordon Liddy? The Residents? Hey, at this point, they've got my vote. Maybe they can spike their tea with LSD once they get there.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Where The Genesis And Collins Discographies Meld As One AKA Woe To The Record Exec Who Skimps On Phil's Royalties

At this point, what exactly was the difference between Genesis and solo Phil Collins? Genesis records had ... more keyboards? Less horns? No cover versions? Less love songs? In a blind taste test, nine out of ten consumers haven't been able to tell the difference.

Not that I'm complaining. Although it was their 12th album, Genesis might actually be the Genesis album I enjoy the most. No, seriously. I'm not Patrick Bateman, and I'm not just trying to be a hipster douchebag contrarian. I like every song! Each track is concise and atmospheric without being vapid or monotonous. Abacab can go to hell.

Thus, I take issue with AMG Guy's three-and-a-half star review, in which he writes that, while strong, the album is a bit disjointed:
Moments of Genesis are as spooky and arty as those on Abacab -- in particular, there's the tortured howl of "Mama," uncannily reminiscent of Phil Collins' Face Value, and the two-part "Home by the Sea" -- but this eponymous 1983 album is indeed a rebirth, as so many self-titled albums delivered in the thick of a band's career often are. Here the art rock functions as coloring to the pop songs, unlike on Abacab and Duke, where the reverse is true. Some of this may be covering their bets -- to ensure that the longtime fans didn't jump ship, they gave them a bit of art -- some of it may be that the band just couldn't leave prog behind, but the end result is the same: as of this record, Genesis was now primarily a pop band. Anybody who paid attention to "Misunderstanding" and "No Reply at All" could tell that this was a good pop band, primarily thanks to the rapidly escalating confidence of Phil Collins, but Genesis illustrates just how good they could be, by balancing such sleek, pulsating pop tunes as "That's All" with a newfound touch for aching ballads, as on "Taking It All Too Hard." They still rocked -- "Just a Job to Do" has an almost nasty edge to its propulsion -- and they could still get too silly as on "Illegal Alien," where Phil's Speedy Gonzalez accident is an outright embarrassment (although in some ways it's not all that far removed from his Artful Dodger accent on the previous album's "Who Dunnit?"), and that's why the album doesn't quite gel. It has a little bit too much of everything -- too much pop, too much art, too much silliness -- so it doesn't pull together, but if taken individually, most of these moments are very strong, testaments to the increasing confidence and pop power of the trio, even if it's not quite what longtime fans might care to hear.
Good thing I'm not one of those "longtime fans," you know? As opposed to, say, Patrick Bateman, who also sounds rather disappointed with this one:
Hugh Padgham produced next an even less conceptual effort, simply called Genesis (Atlantic; 1983), and though it's a fine album a lot of it now seems too derivative for my tastes. "That's All" sounds like "Misunderstanding," "Taking It All Too Hard" reminds me of "Throwing It All Away." It also seems less jazzy than its predecessors and more of an eighties pop album, more rock 'n' roll. Padgham does a brilliant job of producing, but the material is weaker than usual and you can sense the strain.
Is that Genesis' strain he's sensing, or the strain of his own fragile mental state? Never trust the music reviews of a sharply-dressed serial killer, that's what I say.

While a huge hit in the UK and throughout Europe, "Mama" stiffed in the US, peaking at #73. Maybe delicate Yankee ears couldn't handle the psychic trauma. According to Wikipedia, "The song's theme involves a young man's longing for a particular prostitute." Hmmmm? Take it from the man himself:
Our manager, when he first heard it, thought it was about abortion, the kind of feeling of the, you know, the fetus, if you like, saying to the Mother 'Please give me a chance, can't you feel my heart, don't take away my last chance', all those lyrics are in the song but in fact what it is, is just about a young teenager that's got a mother fixation with a prostitute that he's just happened to have met in passing and he has such a strong feeling for her and doesn't understand why she isn't interested in him. It's a bit like [British actor] David Niven in The Moon's a Balloon, I don't know if you've read that book, he's very young, just come out of cadet college or whatever, and he meets this quite, you know, 45-year-old prostitute who he has a fantastic time with. He's special to her but it definitely can't go any further than what it is and that's really what the song is about, with sinister overtones.
Damn it Phil. My attempt to exaggerate your sick, perverted tendencies doesn't work as well when I learn that some of your songs are actually sick and perverted! Because who can't relate to having a mother fixation with a prostitute, right? And what's with the deranged cackle? "On the DVD The Genesis Songbook, the band and producer Hugh Padgham revealed that the inspiration for Collins's laugh came from rap music pioneer Grandmaster Flash's song 'The Message'." Well, obviously. The little "Eeeugh!" that follows the laugh reminds me, if anything, of John Lennon's heavily-echoed vocal ad-libs during the fade-out of "Lovely Rita."
I can't see you Mama
But I can hardly wait
Ooh to touch and to feel you Mama
Oh I just can't keep away

In the heat and the steam of the city
Oh it's got me running and I just can't break
So say you'll help me Mama
Cause it's getting so hard

Now I can't keep you Mama
But I know you're always there
You listen, you teach me Mama
And I know inside you care

So get down, down here beside me
Oh you ain't going nowhere
No I won't hurt you Mama
But it's getting so hard

It's hot, too hot for me Mama
But I can't hardly wait
My eyes, they're burning Mama
And I can feel my body shake

Don't stop, don't stop me Mama
Make the pain, make it go away
No I won't hurt you Mama
But it's getting so hard
The video finds Phil and friends in a dingy club (or an extremely low-budget motel?) which unfortunately does not seem to have any air conditioning. Wearing a sweaty, light red sleeveless shirt, Phil tries to do his best Sly Stallone impersonation. How much do you think he could bench press?

Likewise, there certainly wasn't anything sweetly romantic about "Home By The Sea" (and its primarily instrumental counterpart, "Second Home By The Sea"), unless Wuthering Heights is your idea of romance: From Wikipedia: "Lyrically, the song is about a burglar who breaks into a house only to find it is a haunted prison. The burglar is captured by the ghosts, who force him to listen to their stories for the rest of his life." I hate it when that happens. The unexpectedly insistent tempo gives the song's sweetly aching melody an urgent power it might otherwise lack. Jesus. Is my music writing starting to sound like Patrick Bateman's? Well, sometimes even a deranged Yuppie nutjob is right on the money, even when he misinterprets the lyrics and misquotes the song's title:
"... Phil's voice is strongest on "House by the Sea," whose lyrics are, however, too stream-of-consciousness to make much sense. It might be about growing up and accepting adulthood but it's unclear; at any rate, its second instrumental part puts the song more in focus for me and Mike Banks gets to show off his virtuoso guitar skills while Tom Rutherford washes the tracks over with dreamy synthesizers, and when Phil repeats the song's third verse at the end it can give you chills."
Creeping up the blind side, shinning up the wall
Stealing through the dark of night
Climbing through a window, stepping to the floor
Checking to the left and the right
Picking up the pieces, putting them away
Something doesn't feel quite right

Help me someone, let me out of here
Then out of the dark was suddenly heard
Welcome to the Home by the Sea

Coming out the woodwork, through the open door
Pushing from above and below
Shadows without substance, in the shape of men
Round and down and sideways they go
Adrift without direction, eyes that hold despair
Then as one they sigh and they moan

Help us someone, let us out of here
Living here so long undisturbed
Dreaming of the time we were free
So many years ago
Before the time when we first heard
Welcome to the Home by the Sea
Sit down, sit down
As we relive our lives in what we tell you

Images of sorrow, pictures of delight
Things that go to make up a life
Endless days of summer, longer nights of gloom
Waiting for the morning light
Scenes of unimportance, like photos in a frame
Things that go to make up a life

"Taking It All Too Hard" is the one song that sounds the most like late '80s solo Phil (also sounding like a dry run for "In Too Deep"), but somehow I can't resist its gloopy charm. It peaked at #11 Adult Contemporary, but only #50 on the Hot 100. This is one of those small, "Oh yeahhhhh, I think I remember that!" hits that litter the Phil Collins and Genesis discographies like so many stains on a YMCA sofa.

But Genesis could still turn around and rock your balls off with a ditty like "Just A Job To Do," which "tells the story of a hit man pursuing his victim," a situation Phil knew perhaps all too well, if the tales of his murderous escapades in San Diego are to be believed. Nonetheless, Patrick Bateman has a different theory: "'Just a Job to Do' is the album's funkiest song, with a killer bass line by Banks, and though it seems to be about a detective chasing a criminal, I think it could also be about a jealous lover tracking someone down." You decide:
It's no use saying that it's alright, it's alright
Where were you after midnight, midnight
Heard a Bang, Bang, Bang, down they go
It's just a job you do
'Cause the harder they run, and the harder they fall
I'm coming down hard on you

Now no one saw what you looked like, what you looked like
Like a stranger, you came out of the night, out of the night
'Cause someone put the word on you, and I hope my aim is true

'Cause I got a name, and I got a number, I gotta line on you
I got a name, and I got a number, I'm coming after you

Of course, little did the public realize it at the time, but "Just A Job To Do," as well as several of the album's other tracks, were inspired by Phil's ongoing financial battles with his record label. From In The Air Tonight:
I was at home watching a bootleg copy of a Sardinian snuff film when the mailman slid my royalty check through the mail slot. "All right, here's the $500,000 dollars from Hello, I Must Be Going!" I muttered to myself with glee. But when I opened up the envelope, I couldn't believe what I saw. Only $490,000! Where was the other $10,000? This was bullshit. I was owed at least $500,000. Those Atlantic sons of bitches. I dialed Frankie Foster, but he didn't pick up. So I decided to go down there in person. I brought two goons along, you know, to make sure we cleared up this little mistake real quick.

Frankie waved me hello with a half-smoked cigar dangling between his stubby fingers. "Phil ol' boy, come on in! 'You Can't Hurry Love,' it's unstoppable, I gotta tell you." The boys knocked him to the floor and tied his hands with extension cables.

"Where's my $500,000 Frankie?"

"Hey, hey! Hold on, Phil, what are you talkin' about?"

I shoved the check in his face. "This says $490,000. Where's my $500,000?"

"There's ... there's fees, you know? We've gotta take a little out for the fees Phil, I swear!"

I pointed to the corner. "Throw him over there until he changes his tune."

We sat in that room all afternoon, and after sunset. Things got a little messy. Had the boys pull out a couple of toenails. They grow back. Frankie broke down sobbing.

"Mama!" He cried at one point. "Mama!"

"You want your mama, eh?"

"I can't see you mama, but I know you're always there."

"That's it Frankie, you talk to whoever you want to talk to."

"I wanna go home."

"Where's your home."

"By the sea."

"Sounds nice."

"Help me someone, let me out of here, living here so long undisturbed." He started babbling like a madman. "Endless days of summer, longer nights of gloom, waiting for the morning light." That's not bad, I thought. Could use that somewhere.

"It's all right, Frankie, it's all right. You're taking it all too hard."

Another hour passed by in silence. Finally, he cracked. "OK Phil. I'll give you the extra $10,000."

"Extra? It's not fucking extra. It's what I'm owed."

"OK, OK, it's not extra! Will you untie me now?"

Frankie crawled over to his desk and began pulling out a series of $100 bills.

"Don't give it to me now, just put it in my next check."


"I don't carry cash. I know you'll pay up. 'Cause if you don't, well ... I got a name, and I got a number, I got a line on you, Frankie. I got a name, I got a number, I'm comin' after you."
Editor's Note: A few of our loyal Cosmic American readers may have noticed the appearance of a supposed "real" memoir recently "written" by Phil Collins, titled Not Dead Yet. Mr. Collins has even been spotted on several late night programs promoting this ostensibly "legitimate" autobiography. But let me be clear: credible as it may seem, Not Dead Yet is a fraud and a sham, not to be confused with the much more obscure, but much more authentic In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life And Twisted Psyche Of Philip D. Collins. The motive behind this false publication is not entirely clear; perhaps Mr. Collins, upon further reflection, has gotten "cold feet" and now feels ashamed of his previous attempt at brutal candor and unflinching honesty; perhaps he feels threatened by law enforcement (both domestic and international) after confessing to numerous felonies and misdeeds, even though the statute of limitations on all of them appears to have passed; perhaps he simply enjoys playing elaborate games and ruses with the public, like a balding, drumming Andy Kaufman, who delights in treating his fans as elaborate pawns in a vast piece of inscrutable performance art. Read it if you choose, but be warned: not a word of it may be true.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Power Ballad "Heart" Attack AKA One Band's Reluctant Journey To The "Heart" Of '80s Cheese

Some '70s bands figured out the '80s right off the bat. Others needed a little time, but, boy, when they got there, they got there nice and good.

Let's cut to the "heart" of the matter here (also, let's see how many bad "heart" puns I can incorporate into this post ... actually, I think I'm done). Heart's initial brush with the '80s began rather inauspiciously: a hit cover of Aaron Neville's New Orleans R&B slow jam "Tell It Like It Is," one of the "new" tracks off their first greatest hits album. Suffice to say, this was not a long-term plan for success in the MTV era. (And couldn't the high school PTA have found a cheaper prom band?)

See, I think in the '70s, you could just be a bar band from down the street. But in the '80s, you had to be bigger, cheaper, tackier, poofier. You needed to reach the back row of that stadium filled with sexy middle-aged housewives. You needed to schlock it up.

For the Ladies Wilson and Friends, the transition would not be easy, nor would it occur overnight, but rest assured: it would occur. Private Audition (1982) peaked at #25, Passionworks (1983) at #39. The latter's "How Can I Refuse" showed signs of the band potentially catching on to the schlock, particularly that electronically-processed triple-thwack drum fill in the chorus. In the video, we see the Wilson sisters' hair becoming slightly more permed, with Nancy wearing what appears to be Bowie's mullet from Labyrinth. Although the clip features an early taste of the third-rate sci-fi/fantasy landscapes to come, with its interlude of peyote-fueled necromancy in the deserts of a distant realm (question: best music video featuring a crystal ball ever?), the majority of the clip still finds the band "performing," you know, "on stage." No, no, no. It reached #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, but only #44 on the Pop chart. Epic Records had seen enough.

Capitol Records, on the other hand, saw a second act in our two little queenies, but first they laid out a few conditions:
  1. No more of those crappy songs you're writing, you know, "yourself." We give you the songs, you cover them.
  2. The videos, girls, the videos - they need more: flames, corsets, anvils, you know, shit like that.
It looks like Heart got the memo. They got the memo, rolled it up, and smoked it. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you "What About Love."

The band hops on a tour bus after another exhausting gig. Everything's in black and white. Nancy cuddles up with her guitar. Lonely, pensive Ann begins to sing about heartbreak. "But where are the explosions?" you're asking. "Where are the explosions?"

BOOM. Heart's got your explosions right here, buddy. And flames, lots of flames. Ann takes the stage wearing a medieval gown and holding a mallet. She means business. Because next comes the metallurgy.

The fuckin' metallurgy.

Two guys pour molten gold into a cast, and out of that cast rises ... Nancy Wilson. Heart: forged from the cauldrons of '80s power balladry. Then the camera cuts to a mysteriously masked woman holding a blowtorch. She takes off her helmet to reveal that she is ... Ann Wilson! Singer by day, blacksmith by night. Then peasants begin hauling gold bricks. And of course there's anvils, lots of anvils. At 2:12 Nancy appears to be offering her guitar as a sacrifice to the metallurgy gods, or perhaps the Capitol Records execs? Then Nancy and the lead guitarist jam while standing on top of a spiral staircase ... that's engulfed in flames. Notice also how the lead guitarist appears to be playing a sled, and the bassist is playing a guitar with a hideous cheetah design on it. Suddenly, the last shot shows Ann still sitting on that tour bus, dejected and reading ... Gone With The Wind? Is that where this whole daydream came from?

The band had its doubts, and I can't possibly fathom why, about its new direction, but here's a question: if you don't act on your doubts, do they actually mean anything? Here's Ann Wilson from a recent Rolling Stone interview:
At the time, that transition was really hard for me. And for a couple of reasons. One was that we were accepting songs from outside writers. I think we came to the realization that, "Hey, we're not writing so well right now. We're not coming up with the goods." So we decided to go ahead with it and audition some outside stuff. And you can make sense of that in your brain, but it's hard to convince your emotions and your ego to accept that kind of thing. So it was rocky for me. When I first heard the demo for "What About Love," my hackles went up because I thought it sounded like a victim song. "Oh, poor me! What about me?" It felt like an "I'm so weak and you can just walk all over me" type song. And so I rejected it. But our producer and the record company and everyone kept working on me, and I finally agreed to sing the song. And when I did, I brought my own sort of rage to it, I guess. It ended up not being a victim song and I think it's good.
Rage. You got that? Do you feel the rage?

I guess the question on the minds of eager MTV viewers really had been "What About Love?" and apparently Heart had really answered it, as the single sent the band back into the top ten. I don't remember hearing "What About Love" much at the time, and when I heard it later, the first thing I thought was, "Wow, this is a total ripoff of Roxette's 'Listen To Your Heart'!" Turns out I had it backwards; "Listen To Your Heart" was a total ripoff of "What About Love." Well, not totally, since every power ballad is essentially a ripoff of the same power ballad. It's like there's this one Ur-ballad sitting in a vault somewhere in a strip club on Hollywood Blvd., and everyone who ever needs to write one takes a little piece of it.

Oh yeah, and you know who's singing backing vocals on "What About Love"? Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick. Let's see Roxette rip off that.