Sunday, October 8, 2017

That Time Belinda And Grace Slick Hosted "Legendary Ladies Of Rock & Roll"

Having recently been united in cinematic glory, if only via soundtrack magic, perhaps Belinda Carlisle and Grace Slick felt it only natural to team up and ... host a cheesy oldies revival concert for Cinemax? And why not? It's only fitting. Why, the combined cost of the drug intake between these two could've arguably paid all the overdue royalties these guest artists were cheated out of over the years.

Imagine, if you will, a world without YouTube, where gems like these would lie undiscovered for eons, never to be treated to a barrage of snarky comments from '80s music bloggers. What a sad, sad world that would be. Sure, you might be laughing, but frankly, this line-up is nothing to snicker at: we've got ... Martha Reeves! Mary Wells! Lesley Gore! Brenda Lee! Freda Payne! Shirley Alston Reeves! And the recently resurrected Ronnie Spector!



Holy Jackie Kennedy. It's like I'm back in the high school gym in 1963 all over again, getting the shit beaten out of me for glancing too long at the quarterback's girlfriend. Seriously, who did they leave out? Shelly Fabares? Shirley Alston Reeves was the one name I didn't recognize, but when she started singing "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," I realized it was Shirley Owens, AKA the lead singer of the Shirelles. The Shirelles! In other words, Little Earl is basically an admirer of every one of these performers and has at least a greatest hits CD of theirs (or in the case of Brenda Lee, a four-disc boxed set) in his music collection.

Not to mention: special guest star ... Clarence Clemmons!

Of course, no one on stage besides the Big Man and the two hosts were in anything like the prime of their careers, but why be a party pooper? This apparently being February 1987, here we find Belinda in a curious not-quite-blonde, not-quite-brunette phase, as the Belinda period began to wind down and the Heaven On Earth period began to ramp up. She seems to be wearing a purple sweater with sparkles on it, over a black ... jumpsuit? Whatever, I'm into it. Despite being about fifteen years younger than everyone else, she somehow manages to avoid embarrassing herself. Hilariously, Grace Slick was actually older than every single one of the "legendary ladies" she was hosting here (look it up), but in the public imagination, few would probably lump Jefferson Airplane in with the Shirelles (unless you happened to be under the influence of some heavy psychedelics, in which case, perhaps you might).

I'm not sure if Lesley Gore's voice ended up aging too well, but to be fair, she was about 17 when she recorded the original versions of her hits, and she certainly seemed to be having a good time on this particular night ("Was she great? Was she fabulous? Martha Reeves, thank you baby."). Reeves does sound pretty great ... until she reaches for the high notes. Mary Wells doesn't sound too bad considering she was just a couple of years from being diagnosed with throat cancer. However, they may have all gotten smoked by Brenda Lee, who sounds like she's doing just another concert in the middle of an actual tour (which she probably was) and not an oldies show. Yeah, Brenda Lee's sorry all right. Sorry she can out-sing everyone else on this special (probably even Belinda and Grace). Clarence knows what I'm talkin' about.



I doubt many in the audience realized it, but Belinda was certainly no stranger to Freda Payne, and this time she wisely lets Freda take the spotlight on "Band of Gold" (which nevertheless still sounds more like Belinda's tacky, then-current re-make than the original) while Belinda dances awkwardly to Freda's right and sings some barely audible backing vocals. Works for me!



Ronnie Spector, fresh off "Take Me Home Tonight" and acting curiously horny, charmingly introduces Belinda and Grace as "my two Ronettes" before she trudges her way through "Be My Baby." At this point the entire ensemble hops onto the stage and launches into "Da Doo Ron Ron," with everyone presumably getting a line or two (as opposed to, say, doing a line or two). Grace belts out a somewhat inappropriately robust "Summm-bah-dee told me that his name was Bih-hih-hill," while Belinda lets her sweet vibrato fly on "Yeahhhh, my heart stood stillll/Yeahhhh, his name was Billll/And when he walked me hoh-oh-ome." Phew! Didn't fuck up. Whoever was next, however (I'm looking at you, Martha Reeves?), apparently fucked up, as no one sings the following lyric. But Brenda Lee doesn't even blink and papers over the mishap like a consummate pro. No one ruffles Little Miss Dynamite.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Not If I Get The Rhythm First

And you thought being addicted to love was bad. How would you like to be assaulted in the middle of the night by the rhythm?:
At night
When you turn off all the lights
There's no place that you can hide
No no
The rhythm is gonna get'cha

In bed
Throw the covers on your head
And pretend like you are dead
But I know it
The rhythm is gonna get'cha
Oh fuck me. Not even safe in my own bed? What if I hire a bodyguard? How about if I learn karate? I mean, there's got to be some way to keep the rhythm from getting me, right? Maybe the rhythm would be open to a little negotiation perhaps, a cash settlement, one half of my stamp collection? Can I at least "stall" the rhythm with a game of chess like in The Seventh Seal? Does it have to truly, genuinely "get" me?

With "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," Gloria Estefan & the Machine Sound Machine, as they were now being billed, managed to do what no one would have thought possible: they created a "Conga" sequel that was not obviously worse and was not a carbon copy. It still sizzled with that spicy Latin flavor, but it carried a touch more ... menace this time.

As the track commences, the first thing to "get" the listener isn't actually the rhythm, but a tribal warlord chanting "oh-ey oh-ey," echoed by his lusty minions, and one massive, solitary BOOM on a drum so large and so deep it sounds like the Mariana Trench farting. Other little percussive noises quickly pop up from all directions, congas and shakers and all sorts of crazy knick-knacks, while a third group of warriors from (I assume?) a neighboring tribe enter with their own ominous chant of "Yah-ey-oh." Just when all these disparate elements seem to be settling into a groove, there's a giant chord blast from Satan's keyboard, suddenly all the villagers scatter, and we get a brief interlude from what appears to be ... the aluminum cans in your recycling bin? After eight bars, the world's most piercing horn section enters - horns so sharp they could cut Julio Iglesias's balls in half.

Gloria finally calms the cannibals down with her perky entrance, but on the chorus, the Wild Things briefly return: she's doubled up on her third "rhythm is gonna get you" by what sounds like Sloth from The Goonies, then the warlords chime in with a panther-esque "Whoo!" followed by a potent "BLOMP!" from the keyboard of Hades. I tell you what's gonna "get'cha" all right: the Miami Sound Machine's endless arsenal of state-of-the-art studio gimmicks! During the outro, a fourth pack of natives shows up with a comparably less threatening, but seemingly more schoolyardish, chant of "na-na na-na-na na-na," and then everyone sort of gathers around the bonfire and sings their bit before one last comical horn riff grinds the heathen ceremony to a sweaty halt.


For the video, the Machine From Miami That Emits Sound seems to have picked up on the Amazonian rain forest vibe of the song, as Gloria is decked out in full ceremonial face paint a la Captain Willard at the end of Apocalypse Now. And her arms are covered in ... hay? When Gloria Estefan's arms are covered in hay, you know she means business. Meanwhile the rest of the band, including a suddenly more civilized and hay-less Gloria, perform onstage at Miami's most glamorous tiki lounge. At 1:15, she seems to spot her own Surfer Lance in the crowd? One final question: just how many keytarists can one band have? A-ha! Maybe that's the secret to keeping the rhythm from getting you! One must brandish the sacred keytar.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stevie Nicks Goes Aerobic Rock: Stand Back And Make Some Room On The Dance Floor

"Humble" is not the first adjective that comes to mind when one thinks of Stevie Nicks, but after the release of Bella Donna, it would have been difficult to accuse her of sounding conceited if she had said to herself, "Who the hell needs Fleetwood Mac?" Her solo debut, commercially at least, ended up turning Stevie Nicks into the next Madonna. Or maybe the first Madonna. Somehow the rest of the Mac cajoled her into tagging along for Mirage, and yet, as the poets of yore understood too well, the wild heart still yearns to break free - free to slide back into the same exact solo album formula, that is. From AMG's William Ruhlmann:
Stevie Nicks was following both her debut solo album, Bella Donna (1981), which had topped the charts, sold over a million copies (now over four million), and spawned four Top 40 hits, and Fleetwood Mac's Mirage (1982), which had topped the charts, sold over a million copies (now over two million), and spawned three Top 40 hits (including her "Gypsy"), when she released her second solo album, The Wild Heart. She was the most successful American female pop singer of the time. Not surprisingly, she played it safe: The Wild Heart contained nothing that would disturb fans of her previous work and much that echoed it ... the songs were largely interchangeable with those on Bella Donna, even down to the obligatory duet with Tom Petty. Nicks seemed to know what she was up to -- one song was called "Nothing Ever Changes." As a result, The Wild Heart sold to the faithful ... and that was appropriate: if you loved Bella Donna, you would like The Wild Heart very much.
True enough, and yet, there was a new twist or two - like Stevie trying to actually sound like Madonna. A new generation of female pop stars was daring to challenge her supremacy, and it was time to protect her turf. Stand back, aerobo-bitches! I probably shouldn't even be referencing Madonna here, as there's another '80s superstar who played a much more relevant role in the creation of "Stand Back." From Wikipedia:
She wrote it on the day of her marriage to Kim Anderson on January 29, 1983. The newlyweds were driving up to San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara when Prince's song "Little Red Corvette" came on the radio. Nicks started humming along to the melody, especially inspired by the lush synthesizers of the song, and "Stand Back" was born. They stopped and got a tape recorder and she recorded the demo in the honeymoon suite that night. Later, when Nicks went into the studio to record the song, she called Prince and told him the story of how she wrote the song to his melody. He came to the studio that night and played synthesizers on it, although his contribution is uncredited on the album. He and Nicks did agree however to split the publishing royalties on the song 50-50. Then, she says, "he just got up and left as if the whole thing happened in a dream."
So did she have, like, the Prince bat signal or something? "Prince, need ur help, come 2 the studio, it's urgent!" And so he buckled up his ass-chaps, hopped into the Purple-mobile, and laid down the funky licks that saved the day. And then, just like that, in a puff of lavender perfume ... he was gone! It turns out that Dave Chappelle's skits weren't comedy, but documentary. Of course, the real guest star might have been Toto's ever-present axeman Steve Lukather, whose piercing MOR riffs are surely what took the single to #5.


Too bad the Purple One didn't stick around to help with the video, which my co-blogger Herr Zrbo discussed briefly back in January, where he referred to it as being, with chilling accuracy, "on the shortlist for 'videos most indicative of their time'." If you're looking at this video and wondering why it looks so cheap and tacky, apparently there's a good reason for that:
Two videos were filmed for the single. The first, which was never aired and is referred to as the "Scarlett Version", was a lavish production directed by Brian Grant and features Nicks in a Gone with the Wind type scenario. Upon seeing the completed video, Nicks rejected it as, according to Grant, she felt she looked fat.
What. A. Diva. Oh. My. God. Stevie, come over here with me a second, let's have a chat. Listen to me very carefully. Would you rather release a well-made video where you look "fat," or a shoddily-made video where you look like ... I dunno, a hungover witch who wandered into a Jazzercise class by accident? In the words of Wikipedia, "As an alternative, a second video was made on a much lower budget than the original." You don't saaaaay. For better or ill, the "second" clip for "Stand Back" set the template for every '80s Stevie Nicks music video to follow. Invariably, they all feature the following elements, not necessarily in this order:
  1. Stevie staring directly into the camera, standing behind a microphone. Like, in every video. Just look at all the screen captures. Uh, Stevie ... you do know that you don't need a microphone in a music video, right? You can just lip-sync. Maybe she didn't feel comfortable on the set without her "lucky microphone." Maybe it was like her security blanket.
  2. Stevie's alarmingly massive hair blowing in the breeze, usually backlit in some grotesquely unflattering manner - a look which one YouTube commentator describes as Stevie in her "hot mess" phase
  3. Brief shots of Stevie twirling in her shawl as the moonlight drifts through the glass panes of a gothic-looking ballroom
  4. Dancers. Lots of dancers.
With "Stand Back," we get #3 at 0:07, #1 and #2 at 0:23, and finally, #4 at 0:56, when Stevie and her presumed lover twirl leftward and up pops ... a gang of wacky '80s breakdancers straight from a Nickelodeon after-school special! Their outfits all look outrageously dated, but none of them achieve quite the level of frisson as the one worn by the female dancer in the red beret, sleeveless flannel vest (?), short black skirt, nylons, and red tie (!). Stand back, or your eyes might be harmed irreparably by this outfit. You know when Yeats penned the line, "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" I think he was referring to this outfit.

And then. And then! The dancers burst through a saloon door (is there going to be a gunfight?) to reveal Stevie standing on a ... giant neon treadmill? She's gone Tron! And then the director must have thought, "Hmmm, we need more shots of the dancers dry-humping each other in a black room with smoke and excessive backlighting. And jumping in mid-air in slow-motion." Finally, at 4:25, she unleashes a demonic "Why don't you taaaaaaaaake...," although in the video she steals a little of her back-up vocalist's glory on "...me home." But hey, at least she didn't look "fat," right?

The Wild Heart's second single, "If Anyone Falls," peaked at #14 and then, I assume, started falling down the charts. Let's see if the video hits all the marks on the checklist. We've got #3 at 0:22, #2 at 0:48, and #4 at 0:55, but ... what's this? She's staring directly at the camera ... without a microphone in front of her! Was Stevie ... evolving? Most random moment: Stevie and her merry band of witches riding a carousel at 3:21.



By the time of her third solo album, Rock A Little, Stevie was actually, contrary to the title, doing the rock a lot. According to Wikipedia, "The vocal style is distinctively huskier and nasal (many claim this was due to increasing cocaine abuse) than on previous recordings." Don't let the party stop! If you think "Talk To Me," which hit #4, sounds a bit like John Waite's "Missing You," that might be because the same guy co-wrote both songs. All right, let's see how the video measures up on the ol' checklist. We've got #1 and #2 at 0:31, and ... wait a minute ... she's back to standing in front of a mic again! Stevie, Stevie. You were making such progress, only to let it all slip away in a cloud of coked-out hubris. We finally get #4 at 1:48. Unfortunately, I don't quite see #3 here, although she does twirl around in a well-lit art gallery.



"I Can't Wait" couldn't wait to slide out of the charts after climbing no higher than #16, and might seem relatively insignificant in the Nicks oeuvre, but in retrospect, it marked the unheralded entrance of a certain Rick Nowels into the pop music scene. From the liner notes to Timespace: The Best of Stevie Nicks:
To understand this song, you sort of have to let yourself go a little crazy. Love is blind, it never works out, but you just have to have it. I think this was about the most exciting song that I had ever heard. My friend, Rick, whom I had known since I was 18 and he was 13, brought over this track with this incredible percussion thing, and gave it to me asking me if I would listen to it and consider writing a song for it. I listened to the song once, and pretended not to be that knocked out, but the second Rick left, I ran in my little recording studio and wrote 'I Can't Wait.' It took all night, and I think it is all about how electric I felt about this music. And that night, that SATURDAY night, Rick and I went into a BIG studio and recorded it. I sang it only once, and have never sung it since in the studio.
If Wikipedia is to be trusted, those are Stevie's caps, not mine. That must have been a BIG studio. And on a SATURDAY night, too. Not just Saturday, but SATURDAY. Nowels and Jimmy Iovine seem to be more fond of synthesized bells than even Stock Aitken Waterman. As for the checklist: I see #4 at 0:28, #1 and #2 at 0:47, but I don't really see a clear #3 here, although she does twirl around both on the Busby Berkeley staircase, and inside the medieval dungeon with a giant pane of glass, so it's daaaaamn close. Also, I think I see Mick Fleetwood at 1:57? From Wikipedia:
Nicks says that she did drugs on the set of all her videos of the era however, regarding the video for "I Can't Wait" she said in I Want My MTV: "I look at that video, I look at my eyes, and I say to myself, 'Could you have laid off the pot, the coke, and the tequila for three days, so you could have looked a little better? It just makes me want to go back into that video and stab myself."
I'm afraid it's much too late for that, Stevie. It's much too late.



Little could the world have known, however, that while the Stevie Nicks-Rick Nowels partnership was never destined for greatness, Rick Nowels's partnership with another late '80s pop diva with an equal, if not greater, fondness for a certain Colombian powder would turn out to be a match made in ... erm ... "heaven."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

It's Not A Word, Phil, But Don't Let That Stop You AKA The Beguiling Charm Of That Mauritanian Circus Performer

Phil's my numero uno hombre, but ... "Sussudio"? Issue #1: it sounds too much like "1999." Every time I hear it, I keep expecting to one of the girls from the Revolution start singing "I was dreaming when I wrote this/Forgive me if it goes astray." It sounds like "1999" and it is not a better song than "1999." Therefore, it breaks the cardinal rule of song-ripping-offing. Issue #2: "Sussudio" is not even a word! From Wikipedia:
Collins has said that he "improvised" the lyric. Collins was just playing around with a drum machine, and the lyric "su-sussudio" was what came out of his mouth. "So I kinda knew I had to find something else for that word, then I went back and tried to find another word that scanned as well as 'sussudio,' and I couldn't find one, so I went back to 'sussudio'", Collins said.
No! You can't go back to your nonsense word! You still have to come up with a real word! Imagine if Paul McCartney never took "Scrambled eggs, oh my darling how I love your legs" and turned it into "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away." Laziness is not an excuse for centering your song around a fake word.

Let me put it this way: In college, about 18 years ago, when I borrowed Phil's Hits CD from the library, I decided to record all the essential songs onto one side of a 45-minute cassette. "Sussudio," alas, did not make the cut. Things that "Sussudio" sounds like:
  • A colony of mechanical red ants trying to build a giant clock tower made entirely out of defective Casio keyboard parts
  • A highly elastic rubber tire breakdancing in the middle of a party at a retirement complex, with John Philip Sousa looking on
  • A sea of Rubik's cubes in a violent storm, with several of them passing gas at intervals of roughly every three seconds
Of course, others are extremely fond of the ditty, including Patrick Bateman, who declares it a "great, great song, a personal favorite." But he would, of course. Also, Christina, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Sabrina, don't just stare at it, eat it.

Honestly, how the hell did "Sussudio" hit #1? Prince's "1999" didn't even hit #1! It was at this point that I fear the American public may have sent Phil the wrong message. That message was: "We will buy any song that you release, Mr. Collins, even if it is a rip-off of '1999' that primarily consists of a gibberish word repeated over and over."



It turns out that "Sussudio" actually wasn't intended to be a nonsense word at all. From In The Air Tonight:
I was vacationing in Greece, recovering from a mescaline-fueled rampage on my manager's yacht the night before (apparently I'd stuck a live sea urchin up my ass, but I don't remember any of this), when the landlord of the villa I was staying at (lovely place) invited me back to his hot tub. A couple of hits from the crack pipe later, and suddenly I found myself face to face with a stunning Mauritanian beauty.

I'm guessing she was no older than 16, maybe 15 - these things are a little looser in Greece, you understand. She was the most beguiling creature I'd ever laid eyes on. Another fellow there explained to me that she was training to join the circus, and asked me if I wanted a demonstration. I couldn't say no. Let me tell you something: she did things with a unicycle you wouldn't have even thought were possible. I'd never seen a woman's vagina swallow fire before, but for this girl, it was all in a day's work. She didn't speak English, but for a brief, titillating moment, I felt her eyes meet mine. In that Mauritanian circus girl's smile was the key to all earthly and heavenly mystery. But just as soon as she arrived, she was gone.

Back on tour, I tried to forget about her, but she lingered. Lord, how she lingered. One night in the studio, I began farting around with a drum machine. "There's a girl that's been on my mind, all the time," I sang. Boy, no kidding. "Now she don't even know my name, but I think she likes me just the same." Which was true, of course. I don't think the Mauritanian tongue can even form the word "Collins" - something about the genetics, it never really made sense.

After I laid a nice demo down, I lit a cigarette. Suddenly I heard the producer speak over the intercom. "No smoking allowed in the studio, Phil."

I did a double-take. "What do you mean, no smoking?"

"If you want to smoke, you gotta do it outside."

"What - what the fuck is this, a high school dance?"

"Record company rules."

"Since when? This is my playground, all right, this is my fucking factory of the imagination. I need to do whatever the hell I want to do, whenever the hell I want to do it!"

"Hey Phil, don't blame the messenger."

"I'll blame whoever the fuck I want." I got back behind the drum kit and suddenly began improvising some more words to the demo. "This is a bunch of bullshit," I mumbled into the mic. I'd had a bit too much Jim Beam that night, so I was slurring my words. I started to sing "sue - the - studio" - 'cause that's exactly what I planned on doing, you know - but instead it came out as "su-su-sudio." It was like the whole Iron Butterfly, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" thing. Well, in the end, I just combined my slurring with the lyrics about the Mauritanian nymph, and there you go. Another #1.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nothing's Gonna Stop Me From Making Fun Of Starship Now AKA The Belinda Soundtrack Throwaway That Finally Came To Life

Let's just say that after "Rhythm of the Night," DeBarge's and Diane Warren's careers went in ... opposite directions? While Debarge quickly became the '80s pop living embodiment of the Book of Job, Warren teamed up with songwriter Albert Hammond, he of "It Never Rains in Southern California" and "Free Electric Band" fame (and esteemed co-writer of such easy listening gems as the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" and Leo Sayer's "When I Need You") on her way to uncontested '90s power ballad domination. OK, not exactly Goffin/King or Bacharach/David here, but then again, their target recording artists weren't picky. Exhibit A: Starship.

Of Starship's three #1 hits, there is one I am not ashamed to like (and/or love?). I essentially agree with the consensus on "We Built This City," and "Sara" is a good 1986 pop song in the sense that John Paul II was a good pope, but like every great (crappy?) '80s band, what Starship really needed, to bring out its best side, was a movie soundtrack.

I wish I could say I've seen Mannequin so that I could make a snarky comment about it, but I just remember that when it came out, I thought the TV ads were funny. I was also seven years old. However, if you don't think that the soundtrack gave us one of the greatest power ballads of the '80s, hands down, no question, end of story ... then you'll need to get out of my face. AMG's Joe Viglione knows what I'm talking about:
For those purist fans of the early Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, a song like "We Built This City" took the path the Marty Balin-less group embarked on with "Jane" (a title Balin actually rehearsed with the group prior to his leaving for a solo career) farther into the arena rock wasteland. The four minutes and 29 seconds of "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" were a huge treat on an entirely different level. It's really more a collaboration between producer/arranger Narada Michael Walden and singers Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas than it is a Starship track. Lead guitarist Craig Chaquico is merely a guest star here, for this is a high-tech quagmire of bells, whistles, strings, and Walden's vision, building the melody into a rock-solid stomp, but for Starship, it is its zenith ... With this tune the band evolved into the counterculture Archies, but Slick remains the Queen of Cool, and she adds a dimension of integrity, even bringing the very best performance out of Thomas, who was all things a singer for Jefferson Starship should not have been. Slick and Thomas work in unison here, not the tapestry that was her marriage with Balin's voice on "Miracles" but an effortless combination like the guitars of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, a doubling effect which intensifies the sentiment. The song by Albert Hammond and Diane Warren could not be constructed more perfectly or with such refined precision. Walden has to be commended for merging dance-rock with industrial, and for all the contrived elements, anathema to fans of the institution which once crafted "It's No Secret" and "Plastic Fantastic Lover," this platter is itself a fantastic plastic march of triumph and overcoming all obstacles.
"Merging dance-rock with industrial?" Well, it certainly merged something with something. I also didn't realize Thomas and Slick were the Richards and Wood of '80s power ballads, but who am I to argue? The opening percussive barrage sounds like an android version of John Bonham on NyQuil. It may be tame, but it's huuuuuuge. And once it settles into the main rhythm, the beat truly feels like a massive generator that's suddenly up and running and could not be stopped even if someone wanted to stop it. It's like the inevitable chug of time immemorial. Nothing's gonna stop that throbbing thump in the background. And the moment it kicks into gear, it unleashes all these little sparkly sounds that flutter around the stereo spectrum. It's like they dipped the song in glitter.

Mickey enters, singing in an unusually low and sadly unmockable register, but then Grace steps up to the plate, and it sounds like she's been spending some serious time in the batting cage: "Let 'um say we're cray-zayyyy/I don't care 'bout thaaaaaa-uh-aaat/Put your hand in my hand baby/Don't evuh look baaa-uh-aaack/Let the world uh-round-ussss/Just fall uh-paaaaart/Baby we can make it if we're heart to heaaaaaart." I remember listening to this song in the car with my father, and after Slick sang her lines, he starting getting a bit Simon Cowell on us: "Listen to that power! Now that's a powerful voice right there folks." I got the impression that this was a singer who was supposedly more well-known than the usual singer of songs from the Mannequin soundtrack, but I didn't learn about Grace Slick until years later, and I didn't realize she'd sung this song until even later. At the time, sitting there in the car, I just had this image of an extremely large woman with a gigantic pair of lungs. Amazingly, Slick was still quite thin in 1987 (but whoa, if you Google pictures of her now, be prepared).

Her verse is the perfect set-up for what may very well be the most glorious chorus in the annals of '80s power ballad choruses - and unlike popes, that might actually be some seriously stiff competition. Go ahead, sing it right now. I know you want to. Every note feels like it's a stone pillar in the vast temple of love that the song is building in your ears. Mickey suddenly jumps an octave, and the thing is, he can sing in that range without straining at all. It's at this point where you truly realize that nothing is going to stop Starship here: not the Army, not the Navy, not the Air Force, and certainly not the fucking Marines.

There's a nice section that sounds like the start of the fade-out but actually turns out to be merely the bridge, where Mickey proclaims, "Oooooh, all that I need is you," Grace concurs that "All that I ever neee-eee-eee-eeed," and Mickey clarifies by stating "And aaaahll ... that-I-want ... to dooooooooo" and basically they just want to hold each other forever, ever and ever. Mickey reaches back for a nasty "Hey!" and a solo comes in which, while totally expected, sounds exactly the way you hoped it would and does everything it needs to do.

Then it's time for the real fade-out, and Mickey unleashes his usual high-pitched might, with two choice interjections by Grace ("I knowwww" at 4:00 and "Whoo-hoo! Nuh-thin'" at 4:09), and it's at this point, with a faceless sea of background singers chanting the chorus, that the song becomes ... dare I say it? Moving? Touching? Here's the deal: with her three Starship #1's, Grace Slick became the oldest woman to have a #1 hit on the Billboard charts (a record eventually broken by - you better "believe" it - Cher). Now, think of how many female singers tried to stay on top for years and years, putting themselves through all kinds of humiliating industry contortions and makeovers. And yet here was Grace, actually doing it. Not only that, but think of how many times Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship should have died an ugly, Betty Ford Clinic death. People might have even been glad if they'd died an ugly, Betty Ford Clinic death. But here they were, soaring across the airwaves with a hit Diane Warren power ballad from Mannequin, and they overcame every obstacle to become even bigger than they'd been in their prime. In a cheesy, slap-to-the-forehead kind of way, it's ... inspiring.

And then, like Alec Guinness at the end of Bridge on the River Kwai, Grace suddenly realized, with horrifying clarity, what she'd done, and promptly quit the band. Yeah, nothing's gonna stop Starship now, all right ... except Grace Slick leaving.



I only have a few questions about the video:
  1. How much do you think it cost them to make mannequin versions of Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick?
  2. Why does that dog have an ice pack on its head?
  3. What's the deal with the campy black guy with the Jetsons sunglasses, and why would Mickey turn his fire hose off??
While easily the biggest hit from the Mannequin soundtrack, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" was, contrary to the recollection of everyone ever, not the only song on the Mannequin soundtrack. In fact, there was a song that played during the title sequence that was not even available for commercial purchase. And now we come to what has been referred to as the "holy grail" of '80s Belinda Carlisle tracks: "In My Wildest Dreams."

I assume at this point Belinda was up for anything, and as we all know, you weren't a true '80s pop singer until you recorded a soundtrack song, so she obviously had to check this off the list. A clean version of the credit sequence used to be on YouTube, but it looks like it's been taken down, so here's a version I just found that's cropped beyond comprehension, sped up, and dubbed in Italian. Naturally, the movie studio, I.R.S. Records, and I'm guessing even Belinda herself figured nobody would give two shits about a throwaway track playing over the credits of a not exactly Oscar-winning film, so "In My Wildest Dreams" was never released as an album cut or even as a B-side. But oh, how they underestimated the obsessiveness of Carlisle-ophiles.

Personally, the song kind of sounds like an old, wrinkled version of "Walk Like An Egyptian" that was left out in the sun too long, but rarity has a way of improving a work's quality. For years, the only copy of the song you could hear was one directly ripped from the movie soundtrack, which naturally was not stripped of the cartoonish sound effects that played on top of it during the credits (Yes, I had a copy). Recently Belinda, or rather, an independent British record label with Belinda's permission, began reissuing her entire catalog. In an interview clip I swear I saw only last year, but just spent more time than I'd care to admit searching for, she said something along the lines of: "We tried to reissue everything. I kept hearing from fans on the internet saying, 'What about the song from Mannequin? You have to release the song for Mannequin!' The song from Mannequin? I didn't even know what they were talking about. Oh yeah ... I sorta remember doing that song. I guess I remember that song." So let's hear it for those hardcore fans out there who kept Belinda on her toes. Either it was just re-released on her CD singles box set, or someone finally found the master tape and leaked it onto YouTube, but as of 2014, after almost 30 years, courtesy of divine intervention perhaps, fans can now hear the full, proper studio version of "In My Wildest Dreams." The debate rages on in the YouTube comments:
Holy feyuk! Been looking for this since like 1986! OMG, I have done everything to get a copy of the full length lol I even contacted her on twitter! Wow, thank you for uploading. So it's also on her CD singles? Got to look for it now. Never thought I'd get this!

Ive been looking for this since i was a child, i gave up looking a few years ago and by luck stumbled upon this. You have made my day! Honestly; you have no idea how happy i am hearing the whole thing. Thank you for the upload

YESSSS!!!! been looking for this for ages now how did you find this?

Finally! Been searching for the full version of this song for over 25 years. Thank you thank you thank you 😊

I think this was ripped from the singles boxset? if so the quality is terrible, and disappointing considering how long the fans waited for it...they should remaster it and make it really pump!

Belinda's youthful vocal charms are on full display in this giddy & gooey slice of late 80's pop. Plus the song is full of melodic, rhythmic and lyrical hooks. Dreamy!

Mannequin got a lot of playtime in our VCR. This song is as much a part of my childhood as the National Anthem.

Finally it's surfaced in some way! What a travesty that this track never saw a proper release. For me, it's my favourite Belinda track of all time.

If this had appeared 6 months earlier I would have had this as a song at my wedding haha.

They said Napster was evil, but this song never being released by record companies is the real crime against humanity.


Well ... judge not lest ye be judged. Also, "Favourite Belinda track of all time"? I don't know if I'd go quite that far buddy. At any rate. Who knew that Mannequin would have been the source of so much building up and breaking down? For while it caused Grace Slick to finally, finally say adios to the band that wouldn't die, it may have inspired Diane Warren and Belinda Carlisle to quietly, slyly look at each other ... and get a few ideas.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) To Post About "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)"

Here's a sentence from 1986 written by no one ever:

"Can George Michael survive without Wham!?"

The man certainly had a lot to prove. And in order to prove it, he needed to find a heavy hitter, a big timer, a game-changer, someone who could show the world that he didn't need to coast on the back of Andrew Ridgeley. Someone who could, you know, actually sing with him.

Let me propose to you an idea for a duet. Two titans of soul music, joining forces to ascend the Church Spire of the Billboard Hot 100, to achieve a musical height together that would be unthinkable alone. But they couldn't be just any two singers. We're talking about assembling a dream duo of soul here. How about Aretha Franklin? Yeah. That's a good start. Can't go wrong with the Queen of Soul. OK, so Aretha Franklin, and ... who's the male gonna be? Let's see here. Al Green? Ray Charles? Sam Moore? Ronald Isley? Try none of the above.

How the hell did George Michael end up singing a duet with Aretha Franklin? And here's the more pertinent question: how did that duet end up being so fucking awesome?

Seriously. It would be like James Brown doing a duet with Madonna. It couldn't work. It shouldn't work.

It totally worked.

Aretha doesn't mess around. "Like ah warr-yah-that-fights ... and wins the baaaa-tuhl ... I knowwww the taste of vic-tahhry." This, my friends, this is the taste of victory. "Though I went-through-some-nights ... consuuuuuuumed by the shadows ..." She's feelin' it, she's definitely feelin' it. What have you got, Georgios?

"Mmmmmmm somehow I made it through the heartache, yes I did, I escaped/I found my way out of the darkness, I kept my faith." Not bad, Brit Boy! In case anyone doubted whether or not George truly kept his faith, Aretha assures us with a supportive "I know you did." How the hell would she know? She'd probably just met him!

Even so, the moment she met him, I'm guessing the first thing she did was take him to church, because on the chorus, Aretha and George climb up on that pew and raise their hands to the sky:
When the river was deep
I didn´t falter
When the mountain was high
I still believed
When the valley was low
It didn´t stop me
I knew you were waiting for me
Can I get an "Amen"? Favorite ad-libs:
  • 2:29: Aretha's "Whoahhhh-ahhhh!"
  • 2:54: Aretha does a melismatic "Whooo-hooo-uh-ooooh" which George follows with a gutteral "I knewwwww you were waitin'"
  • 3:04: Aretha really lets it all hang out now with an "I didn't faltaaaahhh, Lawd!" while George throws in an authoritative "When-the-val-ley-was-low"
  • 3:22: George really reaches back for "When the mountaaaaaaain was hi-iiiiigh" and I can just imagine Aretha giving him the side-eye and thinking, "What do you think you're doin' honey" because she barely reaches back for an "Ahhhhhhh! When the valley was lowwwww"
  • 3:38: George emits a simple "Yeahhh" but Aretha smothers it with a rising "Whuuuuuuhh-ahhhhh! Uhhhh-Yeah!" which starts at the very tippy tippy-toes of George's feet and ultimately lands on the moon by the time she's done with it
  • 3:44 George hits a nice groove with "Ohhhh-I sti-yillll believe" (OK, we got it, you believe), then Aretha gets masculine on his ass with a growling "You know it couldn't stop me, no," which George punctuates with a forceful "No"
  • 3:52: At this point I suspect George is just riffing on whatever the fuck Aretha seems to be doing; She shouts "Someday!" so he shouts "Someway!, then she shouts "Someplace!" so he shouts "Somehow!," which seems to have settled it. What is this, the Jets and the Sharks? Where's Tony and Maria when you need them?
"I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" managed to do what few hits have done before or since. It managed to unite eight different audiences at once: black and white, male and female, gay and straight, British and American. A record executive couldn't have drawn up more of a sure-fire hit if he'd generated some sort of "focus group hit record algorithm" in a state-of-the-art lab. Naturally, the song hit #1 in both the US and UK, making George the first artist in Britain whose first three singles all peaked at #1, which means that, just as Tom Brady's five Super Bowl rings clearly make him the greatest quarterback of all time, George Michael is clearly the greatest British singer of all time.



Of course, "Careless Whisper" and "A Different Corner" were still quasi-Wham! songs, so the video for "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" was George's first true opportunity to present a new "solo" image to the public, and while the mountain of expectations may have been high, Lord, he didn't falter. That's right, it was time for ... the leather jacket, sunglasses, earrings, and six millimeter stubble. At first he enters a dark, cavernous room with a giant screen on the wall (did every record label have one of those lying around?), and he stares up at footage of Aretha. Uh-oh. Don't tell me this was another one of those deals where the producers couldn't work out the artist's schedules and had to film their bits separately. Come on, we need some hot George on Aretha action here! A full two-and-a-half minutes go by until we finally see - yes! - George slide into the frame with Aretha. See? I knew they were waiting to show me that they'd made it to the same set at the same time.

Suddenly the screen in the background starts showing images of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrill, and I'm thinking, whoa, that's ballsy. You guys really want to be comparing yourselves to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, eh? And then the screen starts showing images of Sonny and Cher, and I'm thinking, OK, that's a little more appropriate - if anything, sort of a downward comparison. I would put George Michael and Aretha Franklin right in the middle: not as great as Marvin and Tammi, but better than Sonny and Cher. Yes, better than Sonny and Cher, even though George and Aretha only recorded one duet ever, and Sonny and Cher recorded hundreds. Look at it this way: no bad songs!

Let's turn, once again, to Professor Higglediggle for a more academic analysis:
Michael's presence of "whiteness" acts as an ethnomusicological co-opting of Franklin's authentic "otherness," which serves to situate her Africanist transnationalism merely as a reductivist codification of "soul." In a perhaps unintended parallel, Franklin's heterogeneity serves to recontextualize Michael's ambiguous phallic capital under a rubric of mediated familial cohesion. By consenting to Michael's reification, Franklin doubles as Michael's African-American "beard," while simultaneously essentializing the British homosexual white male fantasy of "being able to hold one's own" with an "American soul legend," a fantasy which can only be realized in the figmental realm of audience formation, the lyric's invocation of sacred Judeo-Christian imagery (e.g. "river," "valley,") serving to circumvent the repressive inequity of the pairing.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Late '80s Heart: Just Couldn't Leave Those Power Ballads "Alone"

Here's the deal: If you're gonna do a power ballad, you might as well go big. I want to ask a question, in all sincerity: Has anyone ever criticized a power ballad for being ... too powerful? No. No one has ever made such a preposterous statement. It would be like criticizing a swan for being too graceful, a sword for being too sharp, a Bond villain for being too dastardly. It would be absurd.

Well, what if your song's about being alone? Isn't that kind of a ... quiet emotion? Maybe to the outside observer, perhaps, but on the inside, and if you're, I dunno, 16 years old, it's big. It's an emotion so big, it took not one, but two Wilson sisters to fully capture the scope of that pain. Indeed, very few pieces of music have been able to express the sheer magnitude of despair that confronts those in the throes of solitude. Heart's 1987 power ballad, in this regard, may stand (wait for it ...)

Alone.

Once again, Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (AKA the "Like A Virgin" guys) secretly scored a ubiquitous '80s #1 hit without anyone noticing who in the hell they were. From Songfacts:
Tom Kelly and I were signed to Epic Records and we made one album under the name i-Ten. It was sort of made out to look like a group, but it was really just the two of us.

We made this album and it was co-produced by Keith Olsen and Steve Lukather. I wasn't really happy with the way it turned out, but it did have some good songs on it. One of the songs on it was 'Alone.' The album was titled Taking A Cold Look. It didn't do much although it has sort of a cult following in Europe.

The most prominent song on it was 'Alone.' Tom and I recorded it for that record and just sort of set it aside when that record didn't succeed ... I just put those songs in a drawer and forgot about them, but then Tom and I were having a good deal of success with 'Like a Virgin' and 'True Colors' and then we heard that Heart was looking for a power ballad and Tom said, 'What about 'Alone'?' I winced and said, 'Oh, I don't really want to look at that song.' He said, 'What do you mean? That's perfect.'

We took the song out and sure enough it was relatively easy to do because we liked everything about the song except the first line of the chorus. The version on i-Ten, the lyric said, 'I always fared well on my own.' Both lyrically and melodically it felt very stiff and unappealing. So I did a minor change on the lyric and it said, 'Til now, I always got by on my own,' and Tom changed the melody and gave it much more movement and almost a slightly R&B feel on the first line of the chorus. That really lifted the chorus, and then all of the sudden I liked the song again.
"I always fared well?" No, no, no. Sometimes it really is the little touches. Could you image, say, "I've been suffering recently from a lack of satisfaction"? Or "There's a lady who I believe is fairly certain that all that glitters is gold"? It's gotta scan right.

The song begins with a piano that initially seems to be alone, although on closer inspection it is paired with what may have been intended to sound like a ticking clock, but perhaps more closely resembles a squeaking shoe. Enter Ann Wilson, seemingly not bothered by the rodent in the studio:
I hear the ticking of the clock
I'm lying here, the room's pitch dark
I wonder where you are tonight
No answer on the telephone

And the night goes by so very slow
Oh I hope that it won't end though
Alone
OK, you're thinking, so it's another soft rock ballad a la "These Dreams." That's cool, but where's the rocking Heart of yore? And then BAM.

What I think separates "Alone" from its power ballad peers is that the power totally comes out of nowhere and it's like holy shit where did all that power come from? In the blink of an eye, the song goes from Howard's End to The Crow. At first it seems like Ann is merely taking a pleasant little stroll in the moonlight, but then it turns out she's accompanied by a vast and insatiable army of warlocks and sea serpents and stuff:
Till now I always got by on my own
I never really cared until I met you
And now it chills me to the bone
How do I get you alone?
How do I get you alone?
The best touch is the sudden harmonies added by (I imagine) Nancy and Ann that accompany the line "I never really cared until I met you." It's the way they split across the stereo channel with such precision, like a laser beam refracting. I just want to tell the ungrateful guy she's trying to woo, "Hey, she may look quiet and shy, but underneath, she'll come at you like a coven of feral witches - just give her a chance buddy."

Then the song slips back into sensitive ballad mode. The thing is, if you think too hard about the lyrics of "Alone," you realize that it basically describes an embarrassingly well-worn unrequited love song scenario that's not original or insightful in any way whatsoever. But if you forget about that for a second and just listen to it, you can't help but be touched in your ... you know ... that thing in your chest region?

Then there is the second chorus. Oh man, the second chorus. What's amazing about the second chorus is that the song has already revealed its "I'm going to suddenly go from serene and peaceful to explosive and fiery" gimmick and you figure there's no way it could be as effective the second time around. But it's better. At 1:56, the drummer performs this agonizingly slow, monstrously heavy drum fill that sounds like it's coming from Ringo's evil fairy stepmother. In the first chorus, Ann started singing right off the bat, but this time, there are a couple of extra bars that are merely instrumental, and it creates this unprecedented sense of anticipation. "Where's Ann? Why isn't she singing? Is she hurt? Is she ... dead?" Oh she's alive all right. Here is my best rendering of her soul-piercing battle cry:

"Ohhhhhhhhh-hauuu-huh-whoa-hauuu!"

And then she sings the chorus. Sit the fuck down.

The rest of the song just sort of rides the inertia from that second chorus all the way to the denouement, although Ann finds one last chance to shine around 3:09 with two jet engine-level cries of "Uh-lowwwwwwwwww-wn-uh!" You can practically smell the burnt fuel residue emanating from her lungs.



So, the video. It begins with some creative staging, as Nancy sits in the foreground playing a grand piano, her hair apparently having been dyed in apricot juice, while Ann, dressed in funereal black, leans on a balcony in the distance. At 0:30 we get a nice close-up of her mascara-smothered visage, but then ten seconds later we get another close-up, and suddenly she's wearing a veil. She's a widow! Dude! She's literally grieving over the death of her fleeting love for some random superficial crush.
But what about the chorus? Something crazy's gotta happen at the chorus, right? Well how about the piano exploding? Oh, and now the rest of the band is on stage and there's an audience with flashing lights and blah blah blah, but honestly: how hard do you have to be playing your '80s power ballad to make your piano explode? Do you think the insurance covered that?

Then at 1:38, the Wilson sisters find themselves in the world's most purple-saturated room. Seriously, what was the conversation like on that set? "Not enough purple! Bob, I wanna see purple bleeding out of my eyeballs!" Where's Barney and Grimace when you need them? And then, then, at 1:54, we have what might very well be the best use of a horse in an '80s music video, full stop. Nancy Wilson, for no apparent reason, is suddenly riding a fucking horse. Hi-Ho Silver, girl, that's what I say. Hi-Ho Silver.

Two final observations: 1) By the end of the video, in half the close-ups of Ann, she's wearing the veil, and in the other half, she's not. Was this a gaffe? Intentional? What does it mean? 2) I love the close-up of Nancy at 3:22 - it's like her post-power ballad sexy satisfaction face. You did it, Heart. You shagged that power ballad harder and longer than anyone had ever shagged a power ballad before. Take a well-deserved nap.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

That Time Belinda Met Sammy Davis, Jr. (Plus: That Time Belinda Dated ... Dave Mustaine?)

Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two? Belinda Carlisle, obviously. You don't even need me to answer that. But who can also take an unexpected compliment from Sammy Davis, Jr.?

Our erstwhile Go-Go certainly was no stranger to surreal, unexpected celebrity encounters: who can forget that awards show with Marvin Gaye, that random smooch from David Lee Roth ... hell, we could even go all the way back to Darby Crash and Pat Smear while we're at it. But there was something about the combined effect of a new Hollywood royalty husband and a sustained cocaine hiatus that managed to generate a heightened amount of extra-bizarre Belinda celebrity juxtapositions. While she never met her husband's father, she certainly spent plenty of time with Morgan's mother (and James Mason's ex-wife), Pamela Mason, who, judging by Belinda's description at least, must have been quite the character. From Lips Unsealed:
By the time I met her, she was more famous as a hostess than anything else. She had parties almost every night, which was how Morgan had grown up. I came in toward the tail end of that run and met scads of amazing people. Over the years, I met George Burns (he was charming), Stewart Granger (boisterous and handsome), Dick Van Dyke (I talked to him about Mary Poppins, whose songs I sang as a little girl), Glenn Ford (a lovely man), Gregory Peck (wonderful), Milton Berle, Robert Wagner, Anthony Perkins, Berry Berenson, and Walter Matthau, who was always seated next to me at dinners. Every time I saw that I was next to him, I thought, Oh God, not him again. He was so cranky that making conversation was a chore. But I was young, naive, and limited in what I had to say, and now I realize how lucky I was to have known him.
Walter Matthau, cranky? In real life? I cannot believe it. I ... just ... cannot believe it. "Oh God, not him again." No kidding. That would be awkward. "Hey, soooo ... Mr. Matthau, have you heard the new Pet Shop Boys album?" "There hasn't been a great band leader since the day Glenn Miller died. Who the hell are you? Pass me the Polident!" This whole description of these dinners seems like pure invention. Can you picture a young Belinda Carlisle in the same room as A) George Burns; B) Milton Berle; C) Gregory Peck; D) More than one of them at the same time?

And yet, the most mind-melting encounter of all appears to have been the time Belinda claims she met the only one-eyed black Jewish member of the Rat Pack in a Hollywood restaurant:
"I went up to him and drooled all over him in Chasen's. It was a few years before he died. He knew everything about me and the Go-Go's. On his way out, he came up to my table, snapped his fingers, looked at me and said, 'Baby, you're a vision of nowness.' I just about died. That was the best line I'd ever had from anybody!"


The best line - from anybody! And God knows she must have gotten plenty of lines. Unfortunately, I don't even get enough lines to bother to rank them. Apparently this encounter changed her life, as she still talks about it to this day, and even named the last chapter of Lips Unsealed "Vision of Nowness." Belinda, has it occurred to you that maybe Sammy said that to every girl?

And now, from the opposite side of the musical spectrum, a story that's a little too good to be true - meaning it probably isn't. But don't let that stop you from repeating it. Allow me to quote a passage from Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine's Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir:
At one point in the mid 1980s, I was set up on a date with Belinda Carlisle, the former lead singer of an almost freakishly popular girl band called the Go-Go's and at that time a solo artist. In this case, I was more than happy to suspend my feelings about pop and metal making strange bedfellows. Belinda was gorgeous, and she was, at the time, ubiquitous (as well as single). I have no idea if she was a fan of Megadeth or of heavy metal in general. I know only that through an intermediary I was to meet her and we were to embark on an honest-to-goodness "date." Belinda came to the Music Grinder one day while we were starting to mix So Far, So Good ... So What! Unfortunately, her timing could have been better. Moments before she arrived, I had finished snorting a balloon of heroin. As she knocked at the door I chucked the empty balloon behind a dresser and lit up a joint - better the sweet smell of weed than the acrid odor of smack. Belinda walked in, looking positively radiant - and sober, I should add - and smiled.

"Hello," she said.

I tried to choke back a lungful of smoke, but to no avail.

"Whoo-huh!" I barked, a cloud of gray filling the air.

Belinda turned on her heel and walked right back out of the room. And that was the end of that particular love story. It was, I guess, doomed from the very beginning.
I think I have to cry foul on this one - either that, or Mustaine's memory is a little hazy (and based on the content of the passage, I don't find that too hard to believe). Belinda had already met Morgan before she ever went solo, and before she got (temporarily) sober. In other words, by the time her solo career started, she was already off the market. Peace sells ... but who's buying this anecdote?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Let's Wait Awhile" - Like ... The Next Album?

An R&B smash about ... abstinence? Boy, back in 1987, things sure were different. People said hello to you at the corner grocery store. Elementary school students brought their teacher an apple on the first day of school. The president didn't talk about AIDS. It was a gentler, kinder world. And instead of singing about taking her panties off at the first possible opportunity, Janet Jackson sang about ... keeping her fly zipped for that special someone?
There's something I want to tell you
There's something I think that you should know
It's not that I shouldn't really love you
Let's take it slow

When we get to know each other
And we're both feeling much stronger
Then let's try to talk it over
Let's wait awhile longer

Let's wait awhile
Before it's too late
Let's wait awhile
Before we go too far
"Wait"? "Wait"?! This isn't the '80s pop music I know. Prince didn't sing about waiting. Madonna didn't sing about waiting. George Michael sure as shit didn't sing about waiting. Not even Billy Joel sang about waiting. Who the fuck sang about waiting? The English Beat?

Also, who knew Jam & Lewis were such die-hard fans of '70s soft rock poster boys America? Not only did they build 2001's "Someone to Call My Lover" around a sample of "Ventura Highway," but years earlier, they arguably lifted the opening of"Let's Wait Awhile" from "Daisy Jane." Indeed, it turns out that not only were Jam & Lewis masters of dance floor funk, but they also possessed an impressive gift for lush, slow jam balladry. "Let's Wait Awhile" is like a soft velvet blanket on my ears. It's so ... cozy. I think this is the sound Madonna was trying to achieve on her ballads, only with more, you know, warmth or something.



Once again, Jam & Lewis get a lot out of a little:
  • 0:01: Fake wind chimes and the world's gentlest keyboard melody
  • 0:11 Janet enters, single-tracked
  • 0:34: Imitation bass drum and imitation fingersnaps
  • 0:57 Janet's voice multiplies on the chorus, while some eerie, futuristic synths squirm in the background
I don't remember hearing "Let's Wait Awhile" much in 1987, nor immediately afterward. In fact, I heard it on the radio in college one night and couldn't quite place its year of origin. I thought it might have been a track from Rhythm Nation 1814, or even janet. I have to say that it has aged quite nicely, as has the classy black and white video, in which Janet comforts her disappointed boyfriend on a majestic Manhattan rooftop. Just when they seem to have come to terms with her decision, the door slams shut behind them. Looks like they might have to "wait" on that rooftop ... for "awhile"! Also, do you think I could have their apartment?



The magic truly blossoms at 4:00, after the (not entirely unnecessary) key change, when Janet suddenly transforms into a bouquet of floating flowers, crooning "da-dee-da-dee" from each stereo channel. It's like Minnie Riperton's "Loving You" ... except she's deliberately not loving you. "I promise ... I'll be worth the wait," she coos at 4:17. Oh I believe it.

And we wouldn't have to wait long. Three years, to be specific. The last (proper) track on Rhythm Nation 1814, "Someday Is Tonight," is where Janet finally goes all the way. Sample lyric:
You know I promised
I'd be worth the wait
Now the wait is over baby
Please don't hesitate
Boy you make me tremble
With your warm caress
I never knew I could feel this way
No more fantasizing
You'll ever have to do
Cause tonight baby
All your dreams come true
I want you so bad I can taste it
I'm yours if you want me
So what you're saying Janet, if I'm reading this right, is that you're done waiting? It's a little unclear to me. The thing is, we arguably didn't even have to wait the full three years! The last track on Control, "Funny How Time Flies (When You're Having Fun)," in addition to sounding like an early version of Al B. Sure's "Nite and Day," may not spell things out quite as explicitly, but based on the aural evidence before me, I'm not entirely sure that Janet was truly able to hold it in until 1989. Listen to the moans and whimpers in the final minute, including the breathy deployment of phrases in French (the language of love):
Je ne sais pas ou le temps s'est enfui
Il me plait d'etre là avec tu
I really don't know where all the time went
I really have to go
Stop...
Stop!
Oh I really have to go
Oh ... I really have to go
One more time?

Oh je t'aime mon cheri

Ohhhh...
Ohhhh...
OK, Janet, get a room. I mean, if you're not going all the way right there, you're definitely getting close enough for me.



Sunday, June 4, 2017

Two Phil(ip)s Are Better Than One AKA "Easy Lover" And Some Hard, Hard Varnish

And then one day, Philip Bailey, that guy from Earth, Wind & Fire with the super girly falsetto, decided that maybe he'd had enough of the other elements for a little while. Too much fire in his life. A little sick of wind. You know how it goes. Unfortunately, his first solo album, Continuation, seemed to vanish into thin ... what's the word? Air. Thin air. Turns out he needed another element. But which one? Water? Sulphur? Lava?

Phil Collins. I'm no chemist, but the element he needed was Phil Collins.

Yes. Like Frida before him, Bailey turned to the nakedly-domed producer with the Midas touch. But the world may not have been ready for Chinese Wall - and it may not be ready still. First of all, did you know that Philip Bailey could actually sing in a normal voice? That's sort of like finding out the Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest could actually talk. Bailey was putting us on all this time! The thing is, Philip Bailey the tenor sounds a lot like ... fellow EW&F lead singer Maurice White. Which is probably why he decided to sing in falsetto while he was in the band. I guess the falsetto was his golden goose. But solo Philip Bailey was suddenly like, "Fuck that pansy shit, this is my record, I'll sing however the fuck I want." The end result is that a lot of Chinese Wall kind of sounds like J.T. Taylor being produced by Phil Collins. I mean, when you can sing effectively in two completely different registers, how do you decide which tracks should get the tenor and which tracks should get the falsetto? Did they record alternate versions of each, and then flip a coin?

"Photogenic Memory" partially solves the vocal issue by featuring the tacky vocoder version of Philip Bailey, surrounded by screaming guitar and lots of clanging things. Apparently Phil was really into that '80s synth effect that sounded like an Asian flute (perhaps inspiring the album's title?), as he smothered "For Every Heart That's Been Broken" and "Time Is A Woman" with the gimmick. A couple of these songs could have easily fit onto an EW&F album: "Go" sounds like a peppier version of "After the Love Has Gone," while "Show You the Way to Love" sounds like a more lethargic version of "After the Love Has Gone."

But EW&F retreads were not what the people came for. They came for the Collins. "Easy Lover" was Phil Collins's way of saying, "Yeah sure, it might say 'Philip Bailey' on the album cover, but I'm gonna let everybody know who's really in charge here." "Easy Lover" is like "Say Say Say" or "The Girl Is Mine," but with balls.



Before you can even speak the word "Sussudio," the drums come crashing in like Genghis Khan's hordes - snares taut and brittle, cymbals shimmering and piercing. In the distance there's this high-pitched synthesizer whistle, like an evil robotic bird singing outside your window on a warm summer day. Look out 1984, 'cause Phil and Philip are comin' to getcha. After about thirteen seconds, the big riff kicks in - a riff that is simultaneously raunchy and sinister without actually possessing what you might consider any genuine menace. Because this is Phil Collins we're talking about.

But listen to that titanium percussion machine! He's muscular, yet supple, forceful, yet thoughtful. When the song goes hither, he goes thither. And the transitions! Good lord, the transitions. Just when you get a handle on things, and you're humming along to "I'm just trying to make you seeeeee," Phil kicks you in the ribs with a fill, suddenly Philip Bailey's in this whole other zone with "She's the kind of girl you dream of," and you're curled up on the floor, gasping for breath. And just when you've gathered yourself, Phil knocks the wind right out of you with three swift punches to the gut and now we're in this whole new section about "No you'll never change her, so leave her, leaver her." The sheer sonic beat-down is unceasing.

And listen to that sweet, sweet vocal blend. It really makes me believe that God must be a fan of MOR '80s duets. Notice how, on the chorus, Phil and Philip harmonize way out on the left and right channels, multi-tracked and stacked, like a thousand gym teachers lurking in the night, but when the verse comes around, Philip jumps front and center, with Phil right behind. They're coming from all directions! And then they hit this chord at the end of "It's the only way/You'll ever knowwww-ohhh-ohhh." What kind of a chord is that? This "vocals from all directions" set-up truly pays off during the fade-out, as multi-tracked, pre-recorded Phil and Philip keep the party going on the sides, while live and in-the-flesh Phil and Philip hold court in the center and throw some juicy ad-libs into the mix:
  • 3:55 - Phil: "Sheee-eee's aneasyluvahh!"
  • 3:56 - Philip: "Get-uh, hold on, ohhh"
  • 4:06 - Phil: "You'll be downnnn on your knees!"
  • 4:12 - Philip: "You won't feeeeeee-aal it"
  • 4:21 - Phil: "Tryna make you seee-heee yeah!"
  • 4:30 - Philip: "And like no uhh-thah ... yuuuhhl be on yah knees"
  • 4:35 - Phil: "You'll be on your knees!"
  • 4:37 - Philip: "Yeah yeah yeah!"
The concept for the video (which seems to have been uploaded at the wrong speed - come on Vevo) strikes me as a bit underdeveloped. We're supposed to be watching Phil and Philip "making" the video that we're watching, but as far as I can tell ... how is that different from every other music video ever made? At 1:24 we see both of them in a dressing room, with Phil "practicing" the lyrics (for what, the video? It's not a recording session), getting his hair styled. Now that has got to be the easiest hair styling job of all time. And whose outfit is sillier: Phil's blue vest and white shirt with khakis, or Philip's black leather pants and wool sweater?



Here's a riddle for the ages: what genre is "Easy Lover"? It's like the Mariah Carey of pop singles. It managed to make the R&B, Mainstream Rock, and Adult Contemporary charts. It is a genre without a home, forever roaming the '80s airwaves of our collective minds. Phil knows what I'm talking about. From a recent Rolling Stone interview:
I always loved Earth, Wind & Fire, and in 1984 I was asked if I would produce Philip Bailey's solo album. People were leaning on him, racially — "Don't come back with a white album. You're one of us." So Philip got Nathan East to play on it also. We hit some rocky ground early on, but we worked everything out. Near the end of the sessions, Philip said, "We haven't written anything together on this album."

So we just started having a jam one night, and went round and round and turned it into a verse and a chorus. We recorded it that night so we wouldn't forget it. That song doesn't sound like any particular era. It's just fantastic. The hip-hop brigade fell in love with me after "Easy Lover." They were like, "Where'd that come from? That ain't black music and that ain't white music. That's kind of an interesting color of beige."
So that's the name of its genre: "beige rock." Got a certain ring to it. Once again, a riveting story - if only it were the truth. Here's what really happened. From In The Air Tonight:
I was playing strip croquet with the Phenix Horns. We'd made a bet: if I won, they'd buy me a ten-pack of Japanese bondage videos, and if I lost, I'd have to produce Philip Bailey's solo album. Well, guess who lost?

It was a warm summer day in L.A. On my way to the studio I saw a girl in the Sears parking lot, reminded me of a chick I'd shacked up with a couple of years earlier back in Baltimore. Kitty. Said she was Geraldine Ferarro's cousin. A stone cold fox, with short black hair and a Daffy Duck tattoo on her thigh. But she never called me back.

So Philip was cool, we hung out in the studio, jammed a little, but no ideas were coming. I went to the bathroom to get a fix of the horsie juice, when I saw him pull out a little metal canister from his jacket.

"You want some Phil?"

"What is it?"

"Just some shit I like to sniff."

"You're a sniffer? I've done some solid sniffing in my day." I walked over to Philip and leaned in close. "I used to get these big cases of paint thinner, you know, just crack that shit open and take a big whiff."

"What brand do you use?"

"Crown mostly."

"Crown's good."

"Sometimes I go with Klean Strip."

"Klean Strip? Klean Strip's for kids, man."

"Really?"

"Yeah, don't mess around with that amateur crap. What you really want is Jasco."

"Hmm. Never tried Jasco."

"Now that shit will fuck you up. Just drop a little of it in your eyes. You'll be flyin' higher than the Milky Way."

"No kidding."

"But I'll let you in on a little secret. You really want to get fucked up, you go with varnish." He dangled his canister in mid-air.

"Varnish?"

"Ronseal is good, Minwax ain't bad, but Valspar will take you to the fuckin' promised land."

"You don't say?"

"Yeah man. I take a good solid sniff before every concert. How do you think I get that high fuckin' voice all the time?"

"I see."

"Yes sir. Me and Valspar have had some good times. Boy, last year, I was doin' a show in Baltimore, afterward I was back at the hotel with this bad bitch, she had like, this short black hair, we were crackin' open that varnish, I was pourin' it on her tits and sniffin' it right off, man. But she never called me back. She was no good, man. Total tease, but couldn't trust her for shit, you know?"

"I know just the type."

"Yeah, she had sort of this Daffy Duck tattoo on her thigh, said she was Geraldine Ferraro's cousin or something."

I did a double-take. "Wait, Kitty?"

"Yeah, that was it, Kitty! You know Kitty?"

"Do I know Kitty?" I shook my head in mutual disgust. "Hell yeah I know Kitty. She's a total tramp."

"Oh, tell me about it! You had Kitty too, huh? Well I'll be damned."

I stood back in reflection. "I mean, at first, she's like the kind of girl you dream of, dream of keeping hold of."

"Yeah, but better forget it, man. You'll never get it."

"She'll say that there's no other, 'till she just goes and finds another."

"Yeah! Right on, man. You know what she is, Phil?"

"What?"

"She's an easy lover."

We both glanced at each other. "That's it." Turns out Philip and I had been done wrong by the same skank. So it just flowed from there.

"We gotta warn other guys about her. Like, we gotta make them see."

"They're going to think they're going to change her, but they just need to leave her, get out quick, you know?"

"Man." I could see Philip was really getting eaten up ruminating about Kitty. "It's like ... she'll take your heart but you won't even feel it. How can she even do that? Bitch is crazy."

"And yet, you're the one that wants to hold her, right? And control her as well. I can't explain it."

"Better forget it, is all I gotta say. Ooh, you'll regret it. You getting all this, Nathan? This is gold, motherfucker, gold I tell you."