Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Only Time In History An Airplane Ever Crashed, And Turned Into A Starship

Trying to explain the history of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship is like trying to explain the history of the French government from 1789 to 1870. Let's see ... first there was a king, and then there was a revolution, and then there was Napoleon, and then Napoleon left, but then he came back, and then there was a king again, and then there was a "citizen-king," and then Napoleon's nephew took over? I lost track right around 1810. Basically there needs to be a Periodic Table of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship. If you really want to sort it out, there's this amazing website called Wikipedia. Here's the short version:

Jefferson Airplane were a late '60s San Francisco psychedelic rock band, originally featuring, at its core, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jorna Kaukonen, Jack Casady, and, from their second album onward, co-lead singer Grace Slick. In the early '70s, Kantner and Slick formed a temporary side project called Jefferson Starship, which was not really meant to be a proper band (they also had a baby together, but never married). Kaukonen and Casady frequently performed as a side project called Hot Tuna, and although Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Hot Tuna co-existed for a time, by 1974 the band split for good into either Jefferson Starship or Hot Tuna, leaving Kanter, Slick, and Balin as the core of Jefferson Starship. Many other members came and went. After going on a drunken tirade during a concert in Germany in 1978 where she gloated about the US winning World War II, Slick was kicked out of the band, and soon after, Balin left as well. In 1979, another lead singer, Mickey Thomas, mainly known for singing lead on Elvin Bishop's huge hit "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" in 1976, joined Jefferson Starship. Mickey Thomas had never been in Jefferson Airplane. Slick, presumably more sober, rejoined in 1981. By 1984, Kantner had finally had enough of the band's transition into increasingly cheesy arena rock, but all the other members of Jefferson Starship totally wanted to keep going. Kantner said that if they wanted to keep going, they would have to do it under a different name, God damn it. Legal action was taken. Slick and Thomas suddenly had a needle to thread: they needed a new name that still retained the sense of connection with the old group, while also managing to satisfy the rigid decree of the court system. What if they dropped the "Jefferson" and became, simply, Starship? The perfect solution for all involved! Although the initial Starship lineup was essentially the 1984 lineup of Jefferson Starship minus Kantner, the only member of Starship who had ever originally been in Jefferson Airplane was Grace Slick. And then the Germans invaded Alsace-Lorraine in revenge for Slick's drunken tirade.

But what about the music, Little Earl, what about the music?

Early '80s Jefferson Starship is what happens when a band just ... keeps ... going. Why are we a band again? We've got to keep being a band because being a band is what we do. No one asks how we got here. To ask is to make trouble.

Jefferson Starship's early '80s hits are like the early '80s hits that time forgot. I've never heard them played anywhere. None of them were very big hits, but there were a bunch of them. It's like their popularity declined, but they never quite got unpopular enough. They still had an excuse to keep making records. And unlike most other aging '60s veterans, the band dove eagerly and brazenly into the MTV age. You thought the video for "We Built This City" was bad? Wait till you get a load of some of this shit.

Most people probably think of Jefferson Starship as having retained some semblance of taste and integrity before the shameless slide into Starship, but I discovered a shocking secret. In reality, Starship really began once Mickey Thomas joined Jefferson Starship in 1979, long before the name change. Mickey Thomas was like the Safeway Select Cola to Steve Perry's Coke. When "Jane" hit #14 in 1979, sounding like Toto after a long night at a biker bar, any lingering Jefferson Airplane fans probably headed for the exits, but Mickey was just getting warmed up.



"Find Your Way Back" found its way to #29 (#3 on the Mainstream Rock chart) in 1981, just as Slick rejoined the band at the last minute. According to Wikipedia, "Although not appearing in the band picture on the gatefold cover, she is listed on the back cover of the LP with the credit 'Introducing Grace Slick' and her picture is on the lyric sleeve with the note 'Grace Slick courtesy of Grace Slick.'" Ha ha, guys, very funny. The video finds Mickey Thomas trying to give Oates a run for his money in the mustache department, as well as wearing the world's tiniest tie. Also, I love how there's a group photo at the end, and then an entirely separate photo of Grace Slick that suddenly flies in out of nowhere. She's gone light speed!



"Stranger" stalled at #48 (#17 Mainstream Rock), took its title from Billy Joel, its opening drum beat from "My Sharona," and I think Grace Slick took her hair from Bride of Frankenstein and her necklace from her neighborhood hardware store, but other than that, it's not bad. Most unintentionally hilarious moments:
  • 1:02 - Eyes! So many eyes!
  • 1:10 - Mickey Thomas has a sheet over his head, and as the camera zooms in, the sheet ... flies off his head! Slowly!
  • 2:05 Mickey walks through a dark room toward a brightly-lit doorway, stands in the doorway, and then ... turns around! And then disappears! In a blinding flash!


And yet, like loyal fans sitting in the bleachers when their team is down 9-0 in the 9th, there still must have been at least one or two old hippie burnouts, desperately clutching their ticket stubs from the Fillmore days, hoping that Paul and Grace would be able to turn this (star)ship around and fly it back to glory.

Their faith would be ... how should I put it? Misplaced.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

"Illegal Alien": Phil Collins Turns Mexican AKA "It's No Fun" Reading These YouTube Comments

I believe that, at some point in popular music history, as with the great government of our United States, there existed a system of checks and balances. If an act decided to write a song about illegal immigration and perform it with a slightly racist Mexican accent, there would have been forces involved that would've stepped in and said, "Hold on, are you sure you don't want to think twice about this?" However, there have been occasional lapses. I believe that such a system existed at some point prior to the '80s, and at some point after the '80s, but research has led me to believe that it didn't actually exist during the '80s.

This is the only explanation I can give for Genesis' "Illegal Alien." It plays the politically charged issue of Mexican immigration to the U.S. for ... comedic value. Get ready, folks, because In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life and Twisted Psyche of Phillip D. Collins is about to get topical.

Thanks to a certain fluorescent presidential candidate I need not name, Mexican immigration is an issue that, in 2016, remains at the forefront of our political debate. But as the catalog of Genesis proves, it is an issue that is not necessarily new. However, it is an issue that, from where I stand at least, is not now, nor ever has been, particularly hilarious.

Ha Ha Ha! Oh those Mexicans, trying to feed their families by picking produce for a shadow economy! That's a real knee-slapper, boy. I don't personally find the song offensive, but then again, my tolerance is notoriously high. It doesn't sit quite as well with Stephen Thomas Erlewine, who writes, "Phil's Speedy Gonzalez accent 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?")." Outright embarrassment? Try being a bald drummer. That's an outright embarrassment. The song receives a more enthusiastic recommendation from the less culturally sensitive Patrick Bateman:
"Illegal Alien" is the most explicitly political song the group has yet recorded and their funniest. The subject is supposed to be sad - a wetback trying to get across the border into the United States - but the details are highly comical: the bottle of tequila the Mexican holds, the new pair of shoes he's wearing (probably stolen); and it all seems totally accurate. Phil sings it in a brash, whiny pseudo-Mexican voice that makes it even funnier, and the rhyme of "fun" with "illegal alien" is inspired.
Congratulations, Genesis: you've impressed a psychopath. On paper it doesn't seem quite so tasteless, aside from ... well, a couple of segments:
Got out of bed, wasn't feeling too good
With my wallet and my passport, a new pair of shoes
The sun is shining so I head for the park
With a bottle of tequila and a new pack of cigarettes

I got a cousin and she got a friend
Who thought that her aunt knew a man who could help
At his apartment I knocked on the door
He wouldn't come out until he got paid
Now don't tell anybody what I wanna do
If they find out you know that they'll never let me through

Cause it's a-no fun being an illegal alien
Cause it's a-no fun being an illegal alien
It's all right, "Felipe Collins," you can trust us. We won't squeal on you.
Down at the office had to fill out the forms
A pink one, a red one, the colors you choose
Up to the counter to see what they think
They said "It doesn't count man, it ain't written in ink"
Don't trust anybody least not around here

Consideration for your fellow man
Would not hurt anybody, sure fits in with my plan
Over the border, there lies the promised land
When everything comes easy
You just hold out your hand
Yep, no problems in America all right; you just hold out your hand ... so the migrant guy next to you can place a head of lettuce in it. Then things start to get a little sketchy for "Felipe":
Keep your suspicions, I've seen that look before
But I ain't done nothing wrong now, is that such as surprise?
But I've got a sister who'll be willing to oblige
She will do anything now to help me get to the outside
A sister who's "willing to oblige"? So the guy's trying to prostitute his sister to get across the border? Hey, if that's what it takes. Unsurprisingly, according to Wikipedia, that last verse was edited out of radio versions and the video mix. Maybe they shouldn't have bothered: "Illegal Alien" only hit #44 in the US and #46 in the UK. Who knows, maybe if they'd kept that verse in, it might have really set the charts on fire.

But here's what the song was truly missing: Phil Collins wearing a bad wig (shaped like an eggplant stem?) and a cartoonishly droopy mustache. That's what was missing. And the requisite poncho and sombrero at 2:34. Is he holding ... cucumbers as drumsticks? I've gotta say, despite their protestations to the contrary, it sure seems like a lot of fun being an illegal alien.



Well, it took me a while to figure this out, but I don't think the song was intended to be pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant, but was directed more at the opportunists on both sides of the border who were (and are) exploiting immigrants' desperation. It appears, however, that Genesis did not present this message to the public effectively. In the uncensored domain that is YouTube, many are the lamentations of those who long for a time when a world famous band could release a gleefully tasteless single and not be shamed by the PC Police:
why is it no fun? they get treated like royalty by our commie pres

Yeah it was funny back then, now try getting a job if you're not. What fun.

this was actually an early 80s MTV fave. it wasn't controversial at the time. it was just considered another video. things were simpler then, people were happier.

Great video. Unfortunately, there is no way it gets made today in this pussified country in which everyone is offended by their own shadow.

31 years later and nothing has changed. Everything comes easy you just hold out your hand.

This song needs a new chorus. Entitlement! For the undocumented resident. Entitlement! For the undocumented resident.

Nowadays you have to change the name to "It's No Fun Being an Undocumented Guest Worker With Government Amnesty"

Phil Collins recently said that he was going to change the song title to "It's Really Fun Being an Illegal Alien". He's dedicating the new song to President Obama.

We're going to build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Phil Collins pay for that wall.

Jesus, can you imagine if this song came out today? It would be a massive success simply due to the publicity from all the pundits bitching. Fox Blows & PMSNBC would have a feigned sand-in-the-vagina wankfest. I'M OUTRAGED! OUTRAGED, I TELL YOU! WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?

I appreciate Genesis, but this song can easily strike a nerve. I would never sing this song Karaoke or play it with the window down. The song sounds good, but can come off as hurtful to people of Mexican Ethnicity (IMHO). I want to marry a Mexican Lady, they are beautiful and a SUPER TURN ON!!!

I'm offensive and I find this video highly Mexican.

Phil looks like Bob Hoskins in Super Mario Bros.

Great song...Those who are offended by it need to learn Spanish on my behalf. Cuz I sure as hell ain't gonna.

This is a song about the time when E.T. didn't pay his television licence.

doesn't he have a Jamaican accent towards the end.

Next in the series: West Side Story's "I Want to Leeef In America ...Everything Free In Amereeeca !"
Still, however misguided, it was nice of Phil and the boys to donate some album space to the issue. After all, no one was forcing them to raise the public's awareness. Or were they? From In The Air Tonight:
It was after a show in San Antonio. I remember it well because I was having trouble getting the right sound out of the hi-hat, so in a rage I threw it toward the back of the stage, and it accidentally sliced open one of our roadies. Chopped him clean in half. Anyway, great show, especially "Follow You Follow Me."

That's when Yovani gave me a tip about some new shit, he said it was killer: duck anti-histamine. "It's like crack without the jitters," he said. I knew I had to score some, but I had to go down to Nuevo Laredo, find Yovani's uncle Carlos. I got across the border around 3:00am, no problem. He said his uncle lived in a shack next to a duck pond. Made sense I guess.

"Quien es?"

"Phil Collins."

"Si, yes, Felipe Collins, bienvenidos, come in, Yovani tells me about you!" I looked around the shack. Several of Carlos' friends were sitting around a pool table, wearing ponchos and sombreros and drinking tequila.

"Mira, mi amigos, es Felipe Collins!" Carlos' friends gave me menacing grins and slowly inched toward me. "He comes for the duck medicine."

"I heard it was good."

"Oh it's bueno, it's muy bueno." Suddenly two of Carlos' buddies pulled out .44 Magnums and threw me onto the pool table.

"What should we do with this gringo, eh?"

"Let's hold him for ransom, make his rich white friends pay for him."

"Wait, fellas, please, it's a mistake!"

"The mistake was you coming into our country, taking our duck medicine, raping our people, laughing in our faces."

"No, listen, you don't understand. I need to keep drumming! I need to keep making hits! The world needs my chart-topping Divorce Rock!"

"Maybe the world needs a few of your teeth, eh gringo?"

Suddenly Carlos stepped forward. "Muchachos, muchachos, I propose a deal. Felipe, you want to hear my deal?"

"Yes, whatever it is, I'll do it."

"OK, good. We let you go - on one condition."

"Yeah?"

"You write song about illegal alien." Carlos' henchmen nodded.

"That's it?"

"There's more. You write song about illegal alien, and you sing it in stupid Mexican accent that makes you sound stupid."

I thought for a moment. "And then you'll let me live?"

"Then we let you live."

"And you'll let me out of Nuevo Laredo?"

"We let you out of Nuevo Laredo."

"And I get a stash of Duck anti-histamine?"

"Gringo, we almost blow your brains out onto pool table. No press your luck. No duck medicine."

So I left it at that. However, I told them I was starving, so they gave me two cucumbers, and I headed back across the border. The whole thing seemed a little fowl to me.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

When I Think Of A Great Janet Jackson Song ... Strangely, My Mind Goes Blank

If one were to evaluate Janet Jackson's love life by the contents of Control's first two singles, one would conclude that every man in Janet's life had either been a narcissistic, lazy, ungrateful boyfriend or a disrespectful, leering, horny felon-to-be. Surely not all men were complete and utter drags? A nice girl like her - you know what she needed? She needed to get herself a handsome lawyer or a doctor, you know, settle down, stop surrounding herself with all this riff-raff. Well, it looks like there was at least one man who treated her right.

I feel like "When I Think Of You" is Janet Jackson's "Holiday," her "Girls Just Want To Have Fun": no matter how many great singles she's released throughout her career, let's get real here. This shit can't be topped. It's the kind of song you can only make when you're young and on the way up and you feel absolutely zero pressure to out-do yourself.

But another part of the charm of "When I Think Of You" is that it's a breather, a respite from Control's dominant mood of defensiveness and self-empowerment. Here, for four minutes at any rate, Janet simply skips down the street like a carefree schoolgirl walking off the bus, waiting to meet a (finally) non-abusive boyfriend! But the masterstroke is that the music sounds like that feeling. First of all, it has one of those patented '80s irresistable intros where each sparkling element enters the mix in staggered, piece-by-piece fashion:
  1. Two chiming keyboard chords, isolated, forsaken
  2. Frisky multi-octave synthesized bass line, bringing a sludgy light to the darkness
  3. Eminently skippable drum machine rhythm
  4. More chiming keyboard chords (that chime in a completely different way from the other chiming keyboard chords)
  5. Tacky imitation brass synth blasts, coupled with funky rhythm guitar, and then, finally...
  6. Janet
How can you lose with an intro like that? She had me at "Oooooh! Bay-beh." And the whole song just rides those two keyboard chords. There's no bridge or modulation or anything. And yet somehow the song never becomes boring or seems like it's repeating itself. That's probably because, at the halfway point, Jam & Lewis shake things up in a number of delightfully imaginative ways:
  • 1:56 - A chorus of mini-Janets playfully chant "So-In-Love" in conjunction with the chiming keyboard melody discussed in bullet point #4 above
  • 2:13 - The bass line unexpectedly disappears, and then Janet recites the song title in deadpan spoken word form (helpfully, when the bass re-enters at 2:29, Janet speaks the word "bass" in the same ennui-laden tone)
  • 2:46 - Now the chorus of mini-Janets create an entirely new melody, and also sound like a hive of monosyllabic robot people ("I'm. So. In. Love. I. Just. Think. Of. You.")
  • 3:19 - Thwarting the expectations of all but the most prescient listeners, Janet suddenly utters the word "break" and she and Jam, or she and Lewis (or perhaps all three of them?), descend into several seconds of indecipherable grunt-speak. Janet's gone ... Animal Planet?
  • 3:36 - The doors of Hades sound like they're about to burst open and let all the evil spirits of the underworld run rampant on '80s R&B radio, until...
  • 3:39 - Janet lets out an impassioned squack, holding the devil's children at bay, which she promptly follows with...
  • 3:40 - A disarmingly natural-sounding giggle, the carefree effervescence of which probably took even Jam & Lewis by surprise, followed by a sloppy, post-chuckle "Feels so good!"
This is, to quote The Maltese Falcon, "the stuff that dreams are made of."



Naturally, as with "Everything She Wants," the official video features a completely different (and, in my opinion, less enjoyable) mix, which I've never heard on the radio ever, of a song which, in its original incarnation, was the definition of flawless, leaving me reluctant to ever watch it. In other words, when I think of "When I Think Of You," I never think of this mix. The drum machine pounds instead of skips, the snippets of dialogue are jarring, etc. etc. The most egregious addition is an extra keyboard riff (on top of the other two keyboard riffs that were already present!) that sounds like it belongs on Janet's subsequent "Love Will Never Do Without You" but shouldn't have been let 10 miles near "When I Think Of You." It's like that scene in Amadeus where the Emperor tells Mozart that his composition is excellent, except it contains "too many notes." Substitute Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis for Mozart, and you know what? The Emperor was right!

The video appears to take place on the set of a post-war MGM musical, modeled after a crowded New York tenement, complete with ladies who shake their rugs off balconies, rowdy sailors on shore leave, zoot-suited swing dancers, lazy neighborhood loiterers who sleep in other people's convertibles, photographers who still use flash bulbs, hobos juggling torches, a disgruntled old geezer who keeps threatening to call the cops for no apparent reason, and, nostalgically, a pair of cops who don't actually beat the shit out of people. And then there's Janet, who looks exactly like how she always looked in 1986. The video gives the illusion of having been filmed in one shot, but is actually five smaller shots combined - sort of like a menu item at Taco Bell. Between you and me, while I admire the scale of the production, it feels at odds with the more elemental "Janet and a couple of keyboards" arrangement of the song. Where's the "Lucky Star"/three-dancers-and-a-white-background approach when you need it?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

"Since You've Gone": Belinda Stares Straight Into The Heart Of Yuppie Darkness, Doesn't Blink, Impresses Future Self

Bewildered with their star's new, um ... "stylistic direction" as they may have been, IRS Records decided to ultimately release three official singles from Belinda. However, a fourth track was released as something called a "radio" single, which I believe meant that it was sent to DJs for promotional purposes but was not made available in stores. Well you know what? They probably should have released it as an official single because, as true Carlisle-ophiles will tell you, aside from "Mad About You," it was arguably the best song on the whole freakin' album. Mundanely generic title aside, "Since You've Gone" actually marked the birth of a new subgenre for Belinda, one that would have seemed wholly inappropriate merely three or four years prior, but one that she would quickly master like nobody's business: the power ballad.

Oh, and Lindsey Buckingham wrote the lyrics. Or rather, it is credited as a Lindsey Buckingham/Charlotte Caffey composition, but sources tell me Buckingham wrote the lyrics, which would imply that Charlotte wrote the music. I have absolutely no idea how the only male member of golden era Fleetwood Mac not named Fleetwood or Mac got roped into this shit, but hey, I'm glad he climbed aboard the Belinda train. Still, as much as I love Stevie Nicks' former musical/romantic partner/nemesis, the music probably outshines the lyrics. But it's all irrelevant when the singer outshines the words, music, the toilet paper hanging in the studio bathroom ... all of it.

Somehow, one way or another, Buckingham found his way into the desolate heart of the Yuppie experience, and captured it in song. However, while he may have filled up the gas tank, Belinda turned the fuckin' key. Those who were concerned that her storybook marriage to a rich dude had killed off her sense of inner torment and despair had no cause to fret. On the surface, she may have seemed like a brand new Belinda, but as "Since You've Gone" shows, somewhere, buried beneath all the mascara and the lip gloss, that frightened, desperate child remained.

Note: The studio version used to be on YouTube as recently as last year (when I began drafting this post) but it looks like it's been taken down again. As impressive as the version of Live At The Roxy is (discussed below), it is no substitute for the studio version, which truly remains in a category of its own. I will add it to the post if it pops up again, but if you choose to download it yourself, mark my words, you will never regret it for as long as you live.

Here we find her, alone in a shadowy bar, grand piano at her side. Some noir strings briefly stir the pot, setting a funereal mood and then quickly receding. Enter our fragile Yuppie queen:
Since you've gone
Nothing really matters
All I do
Is hang out with my pillow
I wait in anticipation
For your call
That never comes

Since you've gone
Don't care about tomorrow
Since you've gone
My heart's barely beating
I wait in anticipation
For your touch
It never comes
Can't you just picture sad little Belinda, lying in bed, clutching her pillow, with cute little Belinda tears in her eyes? Awww. I just want to burst into her bedroom and rescue her. Do anything Belinda, but please, please, don't just lie there and hug your pillow! The image is too unbearable to contemplate.

Then the bass lets out a frightening blast, the drums and guitars kick in out of nowhere, and Belinda starts rocking out:
Another wild Friday night
And I'm waiting here for you
My head says stay home and die
But my heart says break on through
Now this is the Belinda I remember! Frenzied, hungry, reckless. The girl's still got a little Go-Go left in her yet. Listen to the way she elongates "wild" and "stay" - such intensity, such raunch! When she sings "another wild Friday night," you better believe she's known more than her share of wild Friday nights, OK? The music calms down again, but Belinda refuses to calm down with it:
There were times
When you really loved me
All the times
We would run together
To the heart
The heart of the city
Dreams that filled
The night
She really belts out "all the times," like she's thinking "This MOR shit ain't holding me back now." Then she repeats an earlier verse, but hardly repeats her earlier delivery. At 1:53, "since you've gone" becomes "siiiiince you've goh-honnn!" as she pushes her throat to the limit, creating some serious mic distortion, but that's child's play compared to 2:05, where she lets out a terrifying "it nehhh-ver comes!" that could have cleared Nazis from the battlefield. "You want mic distortion? I've got your mic distortion right here."

Just when you'd think there'd be nowhere to go except down, then BOOM! The second time through the chorus, Belinda manages to strip herself to her tattered, shambling core. This time she lingers over the words "wild" and "stay," relishes them, like she's rediscovered her inner bad girl and suddenly remembers how good it feels to be bad. The overly-processed drums thunder in the background as she milks the drama for all that it's worth, her torment brought to new levels of grandeur at 2:31 with the unexpected assistance of female backing vocalists joining her on "break on through!" Just as it couldn't get any more tormented, Belinda suddenly hatches a futile escape plan, a long-shot way out of her empty and meaningless Yuppie existence: "I oughta get into my car/Hit that pedal hard!" Yeah! Yeah! Step on that pedal Belinda! Drive, drive on through the Southern California night, speed out of your ostentatious mansion in your shiny new convertible, flee from the sickening dread that's engulfing your wounded soul! I hope she had larynx insurance, because she practically destroys that thing as she proclaims "I'll drive until I'll find my waaaaaay!" But no. She knows that not even a cathartic late night drive through Malibu is going to cure her of that omnipresent existential void, and retreats with a heartbreaking, voice-cracking "Since you've gone away." Then she crawls back into her bed and hugs her pillow.

Although nothing can top the sleek majesty of the studio version, I have to admit that, as this clip from Live At The Roxy demonstrates, Belinda certainly brought the heat to "Since You've Gone" in concert as well.



Funny story: so I watched this clip on YouTube just a couple of weeks before I read Lips Unsealed. It didn't really seem like a big deal. You're probably wondering why I'm even mentioning it. Well, little did I know, but I was about to experience a Charlie Kaufman moment. For as I made my way through her memoir, I stumbled upon this mind-blowing passage:
More than twenty years later, as I was redoing my website, I came across a video on YouTube of me from one of those shows, singing "Since You've Gone," a great song that featured Charlotte playing keyboards. Unsure if I wanted to watch it, I took a deep breath and clicked Play. I was surprised. I thought it was really good.
Whoa, whoa, hold on a second. You mean to tell me Belinda Carlisle herself was sitting in her mansion in ... France, or India, or wherever the hell she lives these days, and she was sitting there watching the very same YouTube clip I was watching?

Oh. My. God.

Dude.

Mind = blown.

And she wasn't even sure if she wanted to watch it! I love this. Well, yeah, that's gotta be awkward. I mean, how many older celebrities just sit around at home and watch YouTube clips of themselves from back in their youthful prime all day? Maybe David Lee Roth. And she had to take a deep breath before watching it! Like, "God, what if I sucked?" But no, she was actually really impressed ... with herself! Don't you see how weird this is? Both Belinda and I were sitting at home watching YouTube, watching the same exact video, and thinking the same exact thing. "You know, actually, I was pretty fuckin' good!"

That makes two of us, Belinda. That makes two of us.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Miami Sound Machine's Surprise Ticket To Glory: Not Sounding Latin

"Conga" established the perfect formula for the Miami Sound Machine: cheesy latin-tinged '80s dance-pop. But with their two follow-up singles from Primitive Love, the group refined this formula in a revelatory fashion: they removed the words "latin-tinged." Now their dance-pop kind of just sounded ... like everybody else's! Were these the hot new singles by the Pointer Sisters? Whitney Houston? Sheena Easton? Who cared? They were hits!

First up: the perky "Bad Boy," which hit #8, but hopefully no actual bad boys actually hit Gloria Estefan during the making of this song. I don't think Emilio was that type. For reasons that elude me, two music videos were made for "Bad Boy." The first video is cute and hokey, but for some reason Vevo only uploaded half of it and the clip cuts off abruptly at the 2:11 mark. Not up to your usual standard, Vevo! If anyone really wants to see the shocking conclusion of Gloria's attempt to woo a Ricky Nelson-esque Hollywood heartthrob while prancing around Miami Beach, the full video is on Daily Motion.



Apparently, that video wasn't deemed worthy enough, as somebody decided to make a second, even weirder one. Now, what's the first thing you think of when you think about the Miami Sound Machine's "Bad Boy"? Why, the Andrew Lloyd-Weber musical Cats, of course. Apparently, "Bad Boy" was a Jellicle Song for Jellicle Cats, and Gloria found herself being invited to a magical Jellicle Ball. I knew these cats were bad, but ... flipping through a copy of Playcat? That's pretty bad. They also consume copious amounts of cat liquor, as well as KitKats. And boy, do they play a mean fish skeleton xylophone. At the end of it all, her WASPy boyfriend wants to know what the deal is. "So tell me the truth. You're seeing another guy." Gloria gives the only appropriate response: "Uh ... not exactly." She's seeing cats, dude. Get your head out of your ass. Not only that, but the ending even suggests that ... you've been dating a cat. You better get tested bro.



But just when everyone began wondering if Gloria Estefan was the Cuban Irene Cara, "Words Get In The Way" hit the airwaves and made everyone wonder if Gloria Estefan was actually the Cuban ... Karen Carpenter? Holy A&M! It's like they replaced Hal Blaine with a soulless drum machine and shoved Karen's tortured ghost out to the mic. Who knew those Latinos had so much suburban dread locked deep inside them? This one rocketed to #5, and clearly Gloria could see where her bread and butter lay.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

When You Multiply Robert Palmer, Two Guys From Duran Duran, And The Drummer From Chic ... To The Nth Power

Other bands, when the shit hit the fan, devolved into bruised rib cages and broken collar bones; Duran Duran merely went on "hiatus." I guess a proper break-up would have required too much testosterone. Nope, they amicably decided to explore two separate side projects. Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and Roger Taylor formed Arcadia, who essentially sound like Duran Duran, so I'm not sure what the point was there. They were Duran Duran minus two guys who didn't sing anyway. According to Wikipedia, their #6 hit "Election Day" still gets trotted out as background music during election coverage by news networks who think they're being clever.



The other Taylors of Duran Duran, John and Andy, however, were sick of all that synth-pop hogwash and wanted to rock out. Which is why they teamed up with ... former Chic drummer Tony Thompson? First of all, just as I'd never realized that Duran Duran had a guitarist, I'd never realized that Chic had a drummer. I suppose they were as much of a funk band as a disco band, so it makes sense. Still, I'd heard of Nile Rodgers, even Bernard Edwards, but ... Tony Thompson? Normally the drummer in a band is an afterthought, but with the Power Station, the drums are turned way up in the mix. You can't miss 'em. Basically, if your idea of great music is extremely loud hair metal guitar coupled with extremely loud and overly-aggressive drumming, then the Power Station is the band for you.

But every great hard rock/synth-funk '80s band needs a singer. Wouldn't you know it, but at that exact moment, a certain artistically restless Yuppie Rocker was down on his luck and needed a tight ensemble to play behind him. From Wikipedia:
The original plan for this one-album project was for the three musicians (Taylor, Taylor and Thompson) to provide musical continuity to an album full of material, with a different singer performing on each track. Those who were approached included Mick Jagger, Billy Idol, Mars Williams (who eventually contributed brass to the album), Richard Butler (of The Psychedelic Furs), and Mick Ronson.

The group then invited eclectic soul singer Robert Palmer to record vocals for the track "Communication". When he heard that they had recorded demos for "Get It On (Bang a Gong)", he asked to try out vocals on that one as well, and by the end of the day, the group knew that they had found that elusive chemistry which distinguishes successful bands. Before long, they had decided to record the entire album with Palmer.
So, if Arcadia sounds like Duran Duran, then The Power Station sounds like ... Robert Palmer. Never mind that the band wasn't really his idea. Of course, part of the reason the Power Station sounds like Robert Palmer is because "Addicted To Love" and much of Palmer's subsequent solo material ended up sounding like The Power Station (and actually featured backing from the other Power Station members). Which came first: the chicken or the egg? The Taylor or the Palmer? Either way, thanks to this freak collaboration, Palmer found himself with two US Top Ten hits - his first. Just when his career seemed dead in the water, the Power Station gave him that extra ... what's the word? Power.

It's always risky to cover a distinctive rock classic, let alone what is arguably the Holy Grail of glam rock singles, T. Rex's "Get It On (Bang A Gong)." The risks here were twofold: 1) how could an artist improve upon a song so magnificent, a song featuring Marc Bolan's most imitated guitar riff, without merely producing a re-tread of the original? And 2) how could another singer make his way through an absurd set of lyrics penned by the man I once dubbed "the world's greatest 'bad' lyricist"? How does one croon "Well you look like a car/You've got a hubcap diamond-starred halo" or "You're an untamed youth/That's the truth, with your cloak full of eagles" or "Well you're slim and you're weak/You've got the teeth of the hydra upon you" without sounding like a developmentally-challenged doofus?

Be the Power Station, that's how.

The first blasphemous alteration the Power Station makes is that Andy Taylor doesn't quite reproduce the proper Bolan riff note-for-note. Bolan's riff, as any self-respecting teenage male from 1972 could have told you, features three descending notes in the middle. But Andy Taylor says to hell with all that, essentially turning the riff into one staccato note. This ain't Phil Collins covering "You Can't Hurry Love," all right? The other smart touch, as befitting such a smartly-dressed man, is that Palmer sort of mumbles, groans, and grunts his way through the lyrics, treating them more like sexy gibberish than thoughtful poetic expression. Instead of sounding silly, he sounds like he's about to whip out his bondage gear. John Taylor even gets a bass solo! Did T. Rex's version have a bass solo?

Mostly it just sounds like a bunch of musicians who never expected to be playing together, suddenly finding a groove and not really concerning themselves with the results. So, despite all the potential pitfalls, the Power Station's cover of "Get It On (Bang A Gong)" rocks in a crunchy, danceable, radio-friendly fashion, as the original T. Rex version did, while managing to sound nothing like the T. Rex version. And look what happened: the single hit #9 in the US and #22 in Britain. Also, I'm partially convinced that Tony Thompson is banging a drum kit full of literal gongs, but the video, at least, suggests otherwise. It looks like the Power Station have found themselves jamming in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan apartment with a surprisingly reckless Alice in Wonderland. The only thing this video needs is more pink, green, and aqua. Oh, and why are there shots of the Twin Towers ... with airplanes in the background? What did they know and when did they know it???



In addition to being glam rock aficionados, apparently the Power Station were also big Billy Wilder aficionados, unless they had something else on their minds other than the Jack Lemmon/Tony Curtis/Marilyn Monroe comedy when they conceived "Some Like It Hot." Maybe it was a song about Kung Pao chicken. But yes, as the title implies, this one has a Latin/Caribbean feel, complete with peppy and supremely processed '80s horns. It's like they made the ultimate Miami Sound Machine hit ... before anyone had even heard of the Miami Sound Machine. Well, some like it hot and some like a hit: this one peaked at #6 in the US and #14 in the UK. As for the video, it sure looks pretty hot in that papier mache desert. Well, not only do some like it when Robert Palmer dresses up like a priest, but some men like it when they have a sex change: the "girl" in the video is actually the trans-sexual model Caroline Cossey, otherwise known as "Tula." All the references to shaving suddenly make a little more sense now. And you thought Caitlyn Jenner was a trailblazer.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bananarama's Very Large "Venus"

After "Cruel Summer," Bananarama suddenly got heavy. On the surface of it, "Robert De Niro's Waiting..." sounds like a dreamy ode to a movie star not generally considered to be a romantic heartthrob, but according to AMG's Stewart Mason, it actually "turns out to be the traumatized musings of a teenage rape victim." Oh-kaaaay.



Their next single, like the Fun Boy Three's "The More I See (The Less I Believe)," seems to address Irish violence in particular and the mass public's apathy toward global atrocities in general. Here is the chorus to "Rough Justice":
Innocent people walking by
No time to smile before they die
Don't call that justice
Children are starving on the street
Another one disappearing every week
Don't call that justice
Yes, once upon a time, Bananarama were trying to be U2. But by 1986, it was time for a change in direction. And nothing spells "change in direction" like Stock Aitken Waterman.

Let me back up a little. Dutch rock music hasn't quite been the joke it sounds like it should've been. I'm not just talking '60s Nuggets cult favorites like The Outsiders and Q65, but actual bands with actual US top 40 hits, like Focus ("Hocus Pocus") and Golden Earring ("Radar Love"). Still, perhaps no band represented the Netherlands more proudly than Shocking Blue, known mainly for two things: 1) Nirvana covering their "Love Buzz" on Bleach, and 2) the 1970 #1 hit "Venus." Of course, when your native language isn't English, you might not realize that the word "venus" rhymes with a certain part of the male anatomy, but that's OK, we're all adults here.



Fast-forward to 1986. The girls of Bananarama have an idea. Why not do a re-make of "Venus" ... using those guys who just produced Dead Or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)"? It was obvious ... a little too obvious. Actually, their old producers thought a dance version of "Venus" was a terrible idea, and so did Stock Aitken Waterman! But the Bananarama gets what the Bananarama wants, and I think the world secretly wanted it too, as their Hi-NRG re-make of "Venus" hit #1 in the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, and countries that probably don't even exist anymore.



The video finds our formerly tomboyish threesome embracing their slutty side, as they dance on top of what appears to be a fire-spewing volcano located somewhere in the recesses of hell (but is also a trendy cafe?). I'm not sure what this has to do with the Greek mythological figured being feted in the title, but if you're turning to '80s music videos for ideological consistency, you're barking up the wrong tree. Each of our girls gets the chance to act out her deepest Halloween fantasies, be it raven-haired batwoman, Victorian-era vampire, or cat-suited she-devil. Also, midriffs abound. If by "it," Bananarama meant belly buttons, then yes, she's definitely "got it."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"That's All" The Funk Phil Can Muster AKA If You're Going To Be Extorted By Your Drug Dealer in Alberquerque, Might As Well Make A Hit Single Out Of It

There are those who dare label Phil Collins "soft rock," "MOR," "Adult Contemporary" - even today! But a little Genesis number from 1983 called "That's All" would beg to differ. Yeah, that's right. If a song could talk, "That's All" would say, "Feel the Phil Collins Phunk, y'all!"

Just listen to those opening bars, as our boy lays down an odd two-step "oom-pah" rhythm while Tony Banks pounds out a spidery groove on the keys. And dare I say it, but Phil actually manages to sound a little "black" without completely embarrassing himself, shifting from his usual croon to a nasty snarl right after the first bridge ("So why does it awwwwl-ways seem to be/Me lookin' at you, you lookin' at me/It's always the saaayme, it's just uh shame, that's awww-all"). Damn, brother! Dude doesn't let up either, quickly transitioning to "Turnin' me on! Turnin' me off" as he kicks the drums into a higher gear. Phil Collins sounds ... kind of pissed!

I mean, as pissed as Phil Collins can get. He might spill coffee on the back seat of your Lexus, maybe. But as '80s Genesis songs go, "That's All" is probably the toughest, meanest, leanest of them all. It's a "relationship" song that's somehow free of Phil's patented self-pity or whiny despair. It's almost caustic, spiteful perhaps, but quietly so. It's sort of a "fuck you," but with a sigh. Even if you hate the living snot out of Phil Collins, I mean, come on, you have to at least give the man "That's All."

It wasn't just the phunk turning Phil pseudo-aggressive. Like a surprising but perhaps not-so-surprising number of '80s hits, "That's All" was also a band's attempt to sound like the Beatles. From Wikipedia: "The song was intended as an attempt to write a simple pop song with a melody in the style of the Beatles. Phil Collins acknowledged in a subsequent interview that the song also features one of his attempts at a 'Ringo Starr drum part'." Of course, only a fellow drummer would know what the hell a "Ringo Starr drum part" would sound like. I am the biggest Beatles fan in the Western Hemisphere, but honestly, a Ringo Starr drum part would just sound like low-key, sneakily imaginative, no-frills drumming - which I suppose is what Phil employs on "That's All," so ... congratulations?

In the spirit of the 1964-1965 era Beatles, the lyrics paint a portrait of a man in a relationship he doesn't seem to enjoy but can't quite bring himself to escape, a la Lennon's "I'll Be Back" or "Girl." Like Ringo's drumming, these lyrics manage to be get the job done without seeming particularly novel. The vocals aren't even very high in the mix, and almost feel like another instrument - an instrument, that is, of sheer Collins brutality:
Just as I thought it was going alright
I find out I'm wrong, when I thought I was right
S'always the same, it's just a shame, that's all
I could say day, and you'd say night
Tell me it's black when I know that it's white
Always the same, it's just a shame, that's all

I could leave but I won't go
Though my heart might tell me so
I can't feel a thing from my head down to my toes
So why does it always seem to be
Me looking at you, you looking at me
It's always the same, it's just a shame, that's all

Turning me on, turning me off
Making me feel like I want too much
Living with you's just putting me through it all of the time
Running around, staying out all night
Taking it all instead of taking one bite
Living with you's just putting me through it all of the time

Truth is I love you
More than I wanted to
There's no point in trying to pretend
There's been no one who
Makes me feel like you do
Say we'll be together til the end
Notice also how "That's All" doesn't really have a chorus, but sort of a long series of verses and two completely different bridges ("I could leave but I won't go" and "Truth is I love you more than I wanted to"), both of which I imagine are fighting a brutal cage match to the death in the quest to establish which one of them is catchier.

Finally, at 3:28, Phil lets out a concluding, defeated "that's all" and switches the drumming to a kind of anti-climactic double time. It's like, "I was really getting ready to kick your ass, woman, but I guess it'll have to wait for another day." Mike Rutherford then starts doing his best Bobby Womack impression on guitar while Phil devolves into baby talk, most impressively at 4:00 with "Whah-Ho!" You'll get yours yet, Sexy Sadie, however big you think you are.



The video, at least on the surface, appears to be another fine example of early '80s hobo chic (see also Taco's "Puttin' On The Ritz"), with the three band members eking out a Depression-era existence in an abandoned tenement, huddling around a fire (presumably made out of scrapwood and dismantled furniture?) for precious warmth, playing poker to pass the time (I'll bet Phil is losing), and cooking up a gourmet pot of gruel for sustenance. However, as it turns out, this was no fanciful dramatization. From In The Air Tonight:
I hadn't heard from Julio in a while - the Cuban janitor, you know, the one who got me started on the "Golden Jockey," as I liked to call it. When he started jerking me around, haggling over prices, threatening blackmail if I didn't pay up, I started going to other guys. So while on tour with Genesis in the Southwest, I got a postcard from Julio: "New mix of jugo de caballo. Best stuff you ever had. Meet me at warehouse outside Alberquerque." Pain though he was, Julio knew his stuff. I decided it was worth a shot.

We parked the tour van out back. I figured it might be a couple of hours. We brought some instruments inside, and a camera, and a deck of cards - you never know when a deck of cards will come in handy on the road. So we're sitting around, jamming, sharing dirty limericks, when a white dove flies into the warehouse with a message taped to it. "Collected the tour van to cover your debts. Pay up now or your van stays with me. Buenas tardes - Julio."

"That bastard! That rat fucking bastard!"

"What's the matter, Phil?"

"They stole our tour van. The son of a bitch stole our tour van! It's a total extortion job. Whatever. I guess I better pay up."

"Phil, you know, I hate to say it, but your horse tranquilizer addiction is becoming a bit of a problem."

"Problem? What problem?"

"It's always one thing after another. We almost got knifed at a jungle gym in Amarillo, then there was that one-eyed Malaysian guy at that McDonald's in Vegas ... it's not good for the band, Phil, you're losing control."

"Losing control? I can quit this shit whenever I feel like it, all right? Not good for the band? How do you think I keep writing all this awesome fucking music, OK? I'll tell you what's good for the band. Julio just keeps dicking me around, doing the same old shit, that's all. It's just a shame."

So we were stuck there for a night without any transportation. We had all our instruments. I just vented my feelings toward Julio: "Always the same, it's just a shame, that's all," "I could leave but I won't go," "Taking it all instead of taking one bite" - all that shit, I just laid it out there on the line. Nice keyboard lick from Tony.

I chased down a Navajo kid and paid him $200 to go call my lawyer. Meanwhile we were stuck in that run-down warehouse for the night. Boy, it can get cold in the desert. So we built a fire, but it didn't really do the job. That's where "I can't feel a thing from my head down to my toes" comes from. Then we remembered, oh shit, we've got a camera. Hey, why not film a video? Cook some soup, play some cards, make a video ... you kind of forget all about things.

Guess my lawyer made the calls he needed to make, 'cause the van showed up in the morning. I found a bag of fresh tranquilizer in the glove compartment. We hit Interstate 10 and never looked back.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Different Light: A Little Less Bite, But Still All Right

With their second album, the Bangles just said, "Fuck it, we want some hits." But I like hits. Not everybody does, however, including AMG's Mark Deming:
The Bangles' first album, All Over The Place, may have earned them a smattering of radio and MTV airplay, but it's clear that with Different Light they were aiming for much higher stakes ... though Vicki Peterson does get to show off her guitar work on a few songs here, the differences between Different Light and All Over the Place are telling and a bit sad. The drum machines ... rob the performances of the organic feel of this group's best music, the funky accents of "Standing in the Hallway" are simply out of place ... most of the songs struggle to stand up under David Kahne's overly slick production and the layers of gingerbread added by a handful of guest musicians. Different Light turned The Bangles into bona fide pop stars, but it also transformed a spunky and distinctive band into a comparatively faceless vehicle for a hit-seeking producer; the group tries to let its personality shine through despite it all, but the effort fails most of the time.
Yeah, but ... it was the '80s! Name me some bands whose work got edgier over the course of the '80s. I'm hearing crickets. The Bangles wanted to have a good time, man, and so did everybody else. Based on that AMG review, I didn't even bother to listen to the album until recently, and maybe I'm a more charitable listener, but personally, this sounds like a long way from "fail." OK, some of the tracks are pretty meh: "Standing In The Hallway," "Return Post," "Angels Don't Fall In Love," "Not Like You" ... well, that's almost half the album. Then there's bassist Michael Steele's attempt to be the next Joni Mitchell with "Following"  - a solo acoustic performance that was oddly released as a single in Europe (?!). Hey, at least she didn't trot out the drum machine. But I feel like "In A Different Light" and "Let It Go" could have fit on All Over The Place, or could have at least been B-sides. How about this: the drop-off between All Over The Place and Different Light is not as steep as the drop-off between, say, Beauty And The Beat and Vacation? But I could see some of the L.A. cognoscenti feeling a little miffed. Still, it's funny that a lot of "hip" '80s listeners were really bothered by the Bangles' supposed corporate sell-out. Grow some perspective. It was the fucking Bangles. I mean, it wasn't like Bob Dylan going electric. And even that was actually a good thing!


Speaking of good things: the second single from the album, "If She Knew What She Wants," another hit version of a Jules Shear song (Cyndi Lauper had covered "All Through The Night" a couple of years earlier), which peaked at #29. "Walking Down Your Street" charted even higher at #11, but was arguably more inane, although how many '80s videos feature cameos from Little Richard and Randy Quaid?



There's also the cover of Big Star's "September Gurls," the 1974 power-pop classic that was a massive hit in an alternate dimension, just not the one in which we've lived. I got into Big Star long before I got in the Bangles, and in almost every article I read about Big Star in record guides, or in CD liner notes, everybody would always mention that the Bangles covered "September Gurls" in 1986, like it made Big Star seem more important. "See, even the Bangles liked Big Star." For years I rolled my eyes at that little piece of information. OK, maybe some ignorant '80s high school kid learned about Big Star from a Bangles cover, but I sure didn't. The Bangles? They were just '80s fluff. I mean, I was glad they helped give Alex Chilton what were probably some of his first genuine royalties, but other than that, who cared?

Then I actually heard the Bangles' version, and you know what? It's a good freakin' version! I'm not sure if Michael Steele was the best choice for lead vocals, but it's not really a song that depends on the vocals. And considering how lethargic some of the other songs on the album sound, "September Gurls" is reasonably punchy and rocking. I like how Vicki Peterson turned Chilton's uncluttered "Roger McGuinn circa 'Turn Turn Turn'" solo into a "Roger McGuinn circa 'Eight Miles High,'" play-as-many-notes-as-quickly-as-you-can solo. Is it the best cover ever? No. But is it a pleasant cover? I say sure. And the Bangles weren't just trying to be hip by covering it. They really were big Big Star fans. Now here they were, big stars themselves, playing Big Star. It was a big deal. And I was a big cynic for assuming their version probably stank.



I feel like I'm forgetting something. Oh yeahhhh. There was one other song on Different Light, it wasn't originally even supposed to be a single, a couple of radio stations began playing it, it took on a life of its own, something about ... starving like an Ethiopian? It'll come to me.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"Money For Nothing" And Your MTV Promotion For Free

Irony. Satire. Playing a "character." Quite common and acceptable tricks in the world of, say, classic theater, or modern television comedy. But, as Billy Joel ("It's Still Rock And Roll To Me") and Huey Lewis ("Hip To Be Square") had both discovered beforehand, Mark Knopfler learned the hard way that, in the world of Yuppie Rock, it's another matter entirely. From Wikipedia:
According to Knopfler, he was in New York and stopped by an appliance store. At the back of the store, they had a wall of TVs which were all tuned to MTV. Knopfler said there was a man working there dressed in a baseball cap, work boots, and a checkered shirt delivering boxes who was standing next to him watching. As they were standing there watching MTV, Knopfler remembers the man coming up with lines such as "what are those, Hawaiian noises?...that ain't workin'," etc. Knopfler asked for a pen to write some of these lines down and then eventually put those words to music.

"The lead character in 'Money for Nothing' is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television/​custom kitchen/​refrigerator/​microwave appliance store. He's singing the song. I wrote the song when I was actually in the store. I borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store. I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real..."
Little did that anonymous department store employee know, but one of those "yo-yos" getting his "money for nothing" and his "chicks for free" was standing right there next to him, witnessing his entire impromptu treatise. I can just see Knopfler now, hunched over an unused washer-dryer, jotting every stray comment down as fast as he could. "'Like a chimpanzee'? 'Maybe get a blister'? This is gold, I tell you, pure gold!!"
Now look at them yo-yo's, that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain't workin', that's the way you do it
Money for nothin' and your chicks for free

Now that ain't workin', that's the way you do it
Lemme tell ya, them guys ain't dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb


With those long, droning keyboard chords, the song may start out sounding like "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," but by the time the digitally souped-up drums kick in, it morphs into something more along the lines of ... Momentary Lapse Of Reason? Speaking of Dire Straits' British Yuppie peers, somehow one Gordon Sumner, AKA Sting, got roped into the shenanigans:
Sting was visiting Montserrat during the recording of the song, and was invited to add some background vocals. Sting has stated that his only compositional contribution was the "I want my MTV" line, which followed the melody from his song "Don't Stand So Close To Me."
Nonetheless, Sting's agent, or record company, or publicist, or somebody with a finger in the pie, insisted that Sting receive co-writing credit or else the song wouldn't be released. Talk about literally getting your money for nothing. I mean, at least Knopfler paid his dues with some blisters on his thumb. (Side note: I love that Sting just "happened" to be visiting Montserrat, you know, like Stings are prone to be doing every now and then.)

Initially, I had the four minute single edit of "Money For Nothing" on a mix tape and I thought it was so unfathomably awesome, and then one day I heard the eight minute version on classic rock radio and I said to myself, "Oh. My. God. Somehow, someway, I have got to get the long version. That shorter version ...eeeeuuuch!" That version was so yesterday's news. That version was for poseurs. The real Dire Straits fans out there only dealt with the long version. You know why I thought the longer version was better? Because it was longer.

One day, when I was a much older man, it dawned on me that the long version was just kind of ... long. The catch is that, with Dire Straits songs, the length tended to give Knopfler room to toss out his sharp, precise, ultra-tasty licks. But what if Knopfler had suddenly decided to substitute his trademark sound for something he found in, I don't know, Stevie Ray Vaughn's dumpster?:
Knopfler modeled his guitar sound on the recorded track after ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons' trademark guitar tone, as ZZ Top's music videos were already a staple of early MTV. Gibbons later told a Musician magazine interviewer in 1986 that Knopfler had solicited Gibbons' help in replicating the tone, adding, "He didn't do a half-bad job, considering that I didn't tell him a thing!"
So what we have here is a really long Dire Straits song ... where the guitar doesn't even sound that great! Eight minutes? Tell you what: You can play "Money for Nothing," while I'll just go into my room, listen to "Tunnel Of Love," and come back out when it's over.

Oh yeah, there's also this lyric:
The little faggot with the earring and the makeup
Yeah buddy, that's his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot, he's a millionaire
Yep, he just whipped out the "F" word. I have to say, back in the mid '90s, when I got into Brothers In Arms, usage of the word "faggot" was a great deal more ... casual than it is now, particularly amongst my fellow teenage males. So I can only image how casual it was in the mid '80s. Of course, Knopfler wasn't really calling anyone a faggot; the character in the song was calling someone a faggot. Nevertheless, Canadians don't take too kindly to that sort of thing. From Wikipedia:
In January 2011, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) ruled that the unedited version of the song was unacceptable for air play on private Canadian radio stations, as it breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics and their Equitable Portrayal Code. The CBSC concluded that "like other racially driven words in the English language, 'faggot' is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so." The CBSC's proceedings came in response to a radio listener's Ruling Request stemming from a playing of the song by CHOZ-FM in St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador, which in turn followed the radio listener's dissatisfaction with the radio station's reply to their complaint about a gay slur in the lyrics ... On 31 August, the CBSC reiterated that it found the slur to be inappropriate; however, because of considerations in regard to its use in context, the CBSC has left it up to the stations to decide whether to play the original or edited versions of the song. Most of the CBSC panelists thought the slur was inappropriate, but it was used only in a satirical, non-hateful manner.
God damn Newfoundlanders, always bitching about something! I, as well as many others, do no personally find the usage offensive, but I have to say that such lyrics would probably not be able to fly today. Then again, look at Eminem! Here are some of Knopfler's thoughts:
Apart from the fact that there are stupid gay people as well as stupid other people, it suggests that maybe you can't let it have so many meanings – you have to be direct. In fact, I'm still in two minds as to whether it's a good idea to write songs that aren't in the first person, to take on other characters. The singer in "Money for Nothing" is a real ignoramus, hard hat mentality – somebody who sees everything in financial terms. I mean, this guy has a grudging respect for rock stars. He sees it in terms of, well, that's not working and yet the guy's rich: that's a good scam. He isn't sneering.
I'll tell you one group that definitely wasn't offended: MTV. I can just see the roomful of gel-clad executives hearing the acetate now: "Boys, I think we just found our new theme song." There was just one problem: Knopfler hated music videos:
Originally, Mark Knopfler was not at all enthusiastic about the concept of the music video. MTV, however, was insistent on it. Director Steve Barron, of Rushes Postproduction in London, was contacted by Warner Bros. to persuade Knopfler to relent. Describing the contrasting attitudes of Knopfler and MTV, he said:

"The problem was that Mark Knopfler was very anti-videos. All he wanted to do was perform, and he thought that videos would destroy the purity of songwriters and performers. They said, 'Can you convince him that this is the right thing to do, because we've played this song to MTV and they think it's fantastic but they won't play it if it's him standing there playing guitar. They need a concept.'"

Barron then flew to Budapest to convince Knopfler of their concept. Meeting together after a gig, Knopfler was reportedly still unimpressed, but this time his girlfriend was present and took a hand. According to Barron:

"Luckily, his girlfriend said, 'He's absolutely right. There aren't enough interesting videos on MTV, and that sounds like a brilliant idea.' Mark didn't say anything but he didn't make the call to get me out of Budapest. We just went ahead and did it."
This was clearly in the days before the "Yes Means Yes" movement. It's like one of those Woodward/Bernstein confidential source tricks: "I'm going to say a name, and if you don't say anything for ten seconds, then that means you confirm." Let's hear it for Mark Knopfler's girlfriend I guess. (Side note: doesn't Get Me Out Of Budapest sound like a great Dan Ackroyd/John Candy buddy comedy?)

And so, "Money For Nothing" became Dire Strait's first and only US #1 hit. The funny part is, at the time, this video must have seemed incredibly state-of-the-art and groundbreaking, but now ... I dunno. Most people's car dashboards probably have better graphics than this.