Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Mad About You" (Song): The Little Solo Singer That Could

Usually, lead singers who go solo have been itching to go solo. They've been silently waiting for that moment when they're able to finally tell their jealous band mates to stuff it. They're ready to show those clowns that they don't need anybody else. Lead singers who go solo have a plan, a vision, a style, and they're eager to share it with their fans in a way their band mates simply never understood.

Then, there is Belinda Carlisle.

Now, I'm not saying a solo career like Belinda's didn't take "effort" and "hard work," but in a way, yes, that is exactly what I'm saying. Belinda's solo career seems like that rare instance of a solo career essentially falling into a person's lap. If Belinda's solo career was a Broadway musical, it would have been called How To Succeed In '80s Pop Music Without Really Trying. Whereas other lead singers would have rung up their record company and demanded, "I wanna do this, I wanna do that," Belinda's approach was more along the lines of, "I dunno guys, should I make a record? What songs should I do? I dunno, what songs do you wanna do?" Making a solo album was not, as far as I can tell, a burning desire in this particular artist's soul. But the Go-Go's fell apart, and hey, she needed to do something. In Lip Unsealed, she describes her predicament with what might be my absolute favorite quote in a book full of favorite quotes: "I had less than $20,000 to my name when I moved in with Morgan ... I had blown God only knew how much money on drugs, travel, clothes, and even a racehorse I purchased on a whim for some ghastly sum. I needed to work."

A racehorse? Oh man. Where did she even keep it? She can't just leave us hanging like that. However, keep in mind that once she officially married Mr. Mason, any financial concerns were probably rendered moot, but you get the idea. She was a singer. Singers sing. Quite what they sing, on the other hand, depends on what people want to hear.

The point is, this relative lack of direction could have, nay, should have been a recipe for what the English politely call "dog shit." Now, the Go-Go's had been a successful band. The public heard Belinda Carlisle's voice, and they heard awesome music. What the public did not quite know was that Belinda Carlisle didn't exactly have much to do with all that awesome music. One could even argue that Belinda contributed the least to the Go-Go's music. OK, OK, I'm playing devil's advocate here; the Go-Go's without Belinda would have been nothing. Nothing! But my point is this: if it's 1985, and you're looking at Belinda's musical skills on paper, your expectations for her solo career are fairly, shall we say, low.

Ah, but there are moments in the story of our species where something indescribable happens, where magic takes over from logic, where the pop music gods blow on the dice and roll a pair of sixes. Belinda Carlisle's solo career ... was one such moment.

It all started with a Go-Go's leftover. Soon-to-be-rendered futile Jane replacement Paula Jean Brown had co-written (along with two guys named James Whelan and Mitchell Young Evans - I wonder what their stories are?) a charming little number called "Mad About You." Well, the Go-Go's obviously weren't about to record it, so why let a winner go to waste? Belinda said, "I'll have that, thank you very much." In terms of song structure, I suppose it was not markedly different from her former band's material. Although the lyrics were more romantically optimistic than the Go-Go's' patented (but often ignored) anguish and angst, when coupled with the singer's new image, this probably turned out to be an unanticipated piece of the single's appeal. Rather, I'd say it was the glossy, vaguely digitized production that most strongly differentiated it from her previous band's work. Imagine Kate Pierson going solo and sounding like Kenny Loggins. I can just see Miles Copeland sitting in the control room now: "Uh, Belinda, you really think the I.R.S. Records fanbase is going to go for this shit?" I.R.S. Records fanbase? Get your head out of the sand, Miles. Belinda's going for a whole new demographic, baby. Well, I'm distorting history a little to suit my own ends; Miles Copeland actually loved "Mad About You," and he would not be alone. Is it my favorite solo Belinda song? That's like naming my favorite star on the American flag. They're all shining beacons of hope and freedom.

It commences with a tacky bass and drum intro mimicking a heartbeat (somewhat reminiscent of Vacation album track "This Old Feeling," to be honest). Once the overly-processed acoustic guitars and strangely ill-defined keyboards come in, you know that she's playing a new game here, one with new rules. To paraphrase The Wizard of Oz: "Toto, I have a strange feeling Belinda's not even trying to be punk anymore." Oh, but when that scratchy tickle of a voice comes in, she washes away all doubts. New sonic backdrop, but same mother fuckin' Belinda:
I'm mad about you
You're mad about me babe
Couple of fools run wild
Aren't we
Following these lines, in both stereo channels, Belinda is attacked by some kind of ... synthesized glockenspiel? Then the drums kick into double time. This jet airplane is preparing for take-off:
Pushing the day
Into the night time
Somewhere between the two
We start to see
There's a great anticipatory chord under "see" that just dangles for a few seconds. It's like the Chord That Stops Time. Then, with a hint of growling guitar and semi-hideous '80s drum fill, suddenly we're soaring through the Clouds of Belinda Land. But what's this? She has two old friends flying beside her. Yes, on backing vocals, it's ... it's ... Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin!

You mean to tell me she had two Go-Go's singing backup on her first solo recording? Isn't that cheating? Hey, what did I say about a new game, with new rules? This is Belinda Carlisle; she can do whatever the hell she wants. I'm not surprised that Charlotte was involved, since she essentially acted as Belinda's right-hand woman for a couple of years (given that she, you know, actually understood how to make music) playing on Belinda's first two solo albums, and even co-writing several of the songs. But Jane? I would have thought the wounds were still a little raw at this point. Didn't Jane pretty much want to kick Belinda in the balls? Maybe she figured, "Well, Belinda's solo career's got no chance, I might as well throw her a bone." Ha! To be honest, the two of them together almost sound like multi-tracked Belindas, but I'll take Wikipedia's word for it. And so it is that "Mad About You" is not just Belinda's first solo song, but practically the last official Go-Go's song of the '80s, because 1) it was genuinely being considered for the Go-Go's' non-existent fourth album, and 2) three out of five Go-Go's actually perform on it. Of course, once the video came out, there was no mistaking this for a mere Go-Go's song. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This song has one of those choruses that just ... it just ... it just wraps around your ears and gives them a back rub. It has this sneaky ... cool to it. I mean, it sounds like the simplest chorus of all time. When it seems like it's about to rest, it's on the move again. Maybe it's something about the interplay between Belinda's full-throttled lead and Charlotte and Jane's coy, teasing responses. A recently added sentence on Wikipedia states, "Part of the appeal of the song's chorus lies in the rapid-fire kick drum double stroke pattern on every bar, performed using either a single or double bass pedal," which, now that I've listened for it, is totally true, although next to that sentence is a "[citation needed]," so perhaps I should remain skeptical. Honestly, there's so much '80s studio gloop on the recording, I kind of assumed it was a drum machine!

The show goes on. She sings the first part of the second verse in the upper range of her voice: "Something 'bout you/right there beside me/Touches the touched part of me/Like I can't believe." "Touches the touched?" Just go with it. Then she drops back down an octave for the second part: "Pushing the night/Into the daytiy-iy-ime/Watching the sky's first light/While the city sleeeeeeps..." See, she's exploring her range. It's her solo career.

Then at 1:54, there's more lifeless keyboard, only to be broken up at 2:07 by a fiery guitar solo from ... Duran Duran's Andy Taylor! Because the first thing people think of when they think of Duran Duran is, "What an amazing guitarist!" You mean Duran Duran even had a guitarist? Oh they did, and in 1986 ... guess what he was doing? He was rocking out with Belinda Carlisle is what he was doing. I love the part right around 2:22 where Taylor's solo burns out in a blaze of glory, but there's this ridiculous echo effect on the last note and it bounces around for another few seconds, like an inescapable cry from the depths of Satan's lair. Belinda delivers a couple of soft, seductive "I'm mad about you"s, until the meek studio crew somehow manages to gather enough energy to build back up to the chorus, and then she really lets it rip in the fade-out. At 2:58 and 3:25, I can just picture her in the studio, blond locks flowing over her sweaty forehead, as she clenches her fists Lou Gramm-style, head tilted back, and wails "I'm mad about yoooouuuu!" Belinda is giving it all she's got right there. At 3:09, Taylor throws in some ear-shredding riffs for good measure, the hard-rocking icing on the proverbial '80s MOR cake.

Catchy tune - it's what I might call the "gleaming essence of a 1986 fluffy pop confection," playfully innocent and yet slightly adult, like a Christmas card from Larry Flynt  - but would it play in Peoria? Well, if Belinda had any doubts that she could pull off this whole solo thing, the performance of her first single quickly put those to rest, as it rocketed up to #3 in the US (and #1 in Canada!), right alongside the likes of "Papa Don't Preach," "Stuck With You," "Sledgehammer," and "Higher Love." I don't know if it inspired the name of the Helen Hunt-Paul Reiser sitcom, but according to one '80s music blog I read a couple of years ago, it plays in the background of a scene from Growing Pains where Tracey Gold's character has a pillow fight with her friends during a slumber party, and if that isn't true, it should be. Also, how could we forget its appearance on the soundtrack to the Jennifer Garner body-swapping rom-com 13 Going On 30?

And so, the woman was on her way. But like many a memorable '80s hit, the recording itself ... was only half the story. See, talking about "Mad About You" without talking about its accompanying music video is like talking about the Grand Canyon without talking about its depth. It's like talking about the Burj Khalifa without talking about its height. It's like talking about The Great Gatsby without talking about Gatsy. The video for "Mad About You" is a work of such mesmerizing visual power and cultural heft, it deserves a post of its own. And I think it's going to get one.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

See Phil Fake His Music - Literally! AKA When Poodlephobia Consumes A Man

Here's my simple rule for most Phil Collins songs: no horns = good; horns = not as good. But clearly, Phil thought otherwise. From Wikipedia:
According to Classic Albums, in what was then considered a controversial move at the time, Collins, who grew up listening to American R&B as a child in Chiswick, decided to incorporate an R&B horn section, hiring the Phenix Horns, who played backup for Earth, Wind & Fire. Collins refused to listen to friends who had advised him not to use the horns and they would play a major role for most of his solo career.
He refused to listen! You know, Phil, I don't mean to discourage genre experimentation, but maybe those friends of yours were on to something. I, too, grew up listening to American R&B as a child, but you don't see me hiring Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section, now, do you? Strangely enough, Atlantic Records CEO Ahmet Ertegun, a man who nurtured actual R&B talents such as Ray Charles, The Drifters, Aretha Franklin, and The Coasters, didn't seem to have a problem with it, stating in the Classic Albums documentary, "Face Value is a record which has a lot of black influence. And that's also one of the things that made it an international hit. His feelings and his soul are expressed in terms very much influenced by black American music." Well ... sure. Phil Collins' feelings and soul might be expressed in terms influenced by black American music, but does the end result of that expression equal black American music? The record buying public obviously said "Yes!" - and theirs is the only vote that counts.

And so we come to the second single from Face Value, "I Missed Again," which may have been overshadowed by its notorious predecessor, but at the time was a fairly substantial hit (#19 in the US and #14 in the UK). I heard it some years ago and thought it was kind of crappy, but now I'm more or less down with it, in that shrugging "whatever, it's Phil Collins" sort of way. Still not sure about those horns though; they make the song sound like it's from 1985, not 1981. According to Wikipedia, "The original demo was entitled, 'I Miss You, Babe' and the lyrics were made much sadder. He re-wrote the lyric, gave the song a different tempo, and re-titled it 'I Missed Again' in an effort to make it funny as opposed to sad..." Of course, a song can be both funny and sad, as many of my favorite songs are. But the video is unmistakably one and not the other, unless you find the idea of a man pretending to play several different instruments sad. Naturally, he proves himself to be a highly skilled air drummer, a decent air keyboardist, and a passable air vocalist, but, as one YouTube commentator put it, "Dudes air bass was just a little off." Actually, I'm having a hard time differentiating between his air guitar and his air bass guitar, but they're both a touch sloppy, although the licking of the finger seems like an impressively accurate move.

Other YouTube comment highlights:
The 3 dislikes are probably his ex-wives(!)

Listen to that sax solo played with a phaser effect. THAT is some hardcore New Wave studio trickery, and indeed, some serious 1981 action.

He was a walking CONVERSE billboard....

This is almost as awkward to watch as the final 30 seconds of the Michael McDonald - sweet freedom video
But that's not all! Witness the following exchange. Comment #1: "Dang he was so friggin hot...OMG." Comment #2: "??? OK....if you think so. Not quite what I expected to read in the comments." Then again, when you're reading the comments in a Phil Collins video, you can expect the unexpected. One fearless viewer tries to speculate as to the deeper origin of the lyrics: "This is the song he wrote about peeing in the middle of the night with the light off =P." Good guess, but I'm afraid this anonymous YouTube commentator has missed again, for the song's true inspiration was the result of a traumatic childhood incident involving a breed of dog that most of us find adorable. Most of us. From In The Air Tonight:
For some people, it's clowns. For other people, it's spiders. For me, it's poodles. They are the most shiver-inducing creatures on God's green earth. If I could, I would wipe every fucking poodle out of existence. Their putrid odor, their offensive curls, their sickly little legs, their arrogant manner of walking ... I can't sleep at night thinking about it. I've never spoken a word about this to anyone. Yes. I suffer from ... acute poodlephobia.

Once when I was about four years old, I was walking through the park, preparing to enjoy a freshly-purchased ice cream cone my auntie Gladys had procured for me. Pecan fudge, I believe. It was everything a boy could have wanted. Out of the bushes, an old, wrinkly lady appeared, stinking of moth balls and gin, dressed in a white coat with fur trimming. Following behind her was ... yes, that's right. It was her poodle. Their appearances were disturbingly identical. "Say hello to the nice young boy!" the lady shouted, suggesting she was hard of hearing. Only, instead of hello, that loathsome creature extended her palm, reached up to my cone, and swatted it out of my hands and onto the ground. "Bad girl! Very bad girl!" The woman turned and squinted right into my heartbroken eyes. "I'm terribly sorry, boy. She's never like this, I don't know what's gotten into her." She picked up her little beast and began rubbing its head. "Isn't that right? Isn't that right? Yes it is! Yes it is little schnookums!"

I knew, from that moment on, that all poodles needed to die.

We were on break from the Duke tour, but all I could think about was how to exterminate as many poodles as possible. I tossed and turned in my silk pajamas, with visions of severed poodle limbs and red-stained fur filling my dreams. One morning I borrowed a rifle from my neighbor. I knew there was a dog show out in the countryside near Cambridge. This was my chance! And yet, all along the leisurely drive there, I wondered to myself, "How can I shoot those poodles ... without getting caught?" The question never properly resolved itself, but I was too full of hatred to turn back.

I parked up on a hillside, and knelt behind the bushes. There were scads of people around. Obviously I didn't want to harm any people; I love people, as everyone knows. It was those offensive poodles I was after. I knew there would be a moment or two when the humans would wander inside, eat the hors d'oeuvres, and leave the poodles out in the open, ripe for the picking. Finally, around 1:00 PM, their morally and spiritually bankrupt owners stepped into the showroom sans pets. I loaded my M-16 and began to fire. There was one crucial detail that I didn't count on, however: I'm a rather sloppy marksman. I aimed right for a slender little pink one, but ... damn it! I missed! I tried for a corded Standard black, but I simply wasn't on target. "I missed again!," I muttered to myself. I knew my window was closing. I went for a Toy poodle (with a Scandinavian clip - I know my breeds), but the bullet merely pierced a nearby car windshield. "Bollocks!" I cursed to no one in particular. "Did I miss again? I think I missed again!" By this time some of the attendees began running outside, screaming and hollering, and I believe I heard someone shout, "Call the police!" so I packed up my weapon and drove on home. A tune started to come to me. I kept repeating those words, and it sounded like a dynamite chorus I had there.

Got home, made a demo, and almost forgot about the poodles for a little while. Feels good to let the music flow. I started picturing the video, where I would mime all the instruments. What a cute idea! So, that's the story of "I Missed Again."

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Beware the Baltimora

Are you familiar with those Japanese horror Ring movies? The ones where you are given a certain tape or DVD and told that even if you just momentarily watch the tape you are forever doomed? I have not watched those films myself, but I have read the frantically scribbled notes left by some of several of their victims. Most of the writing is incomprehensible scrawls, the last remnants of a mind losing its last shred of sanity. But the one word I can keep making out over and over again is... "Baltimora".

Once you listen to the chorus your soul is forever doomed. Doomed to have one of the greatest forgotten hits of the 80s run through your head over and over again. There's something hypnotic about that chorus with its repeating "oh oh ah oh" (though like in Monty Python's Funniest Joke in the World I dare not type out the entirety of it lest I too go mad).

Baltimora, or as some call him "Shub-Niggurath" or "the Unspeakable One", was an Irish pop star based out of Italy (how does that that work again?) who had a brief hit of fame with 1985's "Tarzan Boy", where it hit #3 in the UK and #13 in the U.S. Just check out the video above and relish in its garishness.

Or check out Baltimora on American Bandstand. I love how the audience spontaneously gets up and starts dancing. Also check out the fashions, I love the guy just to the right sporting the black shirt, white jacket, and black gloves. Stay classy 1985.

At that same American Bandstand appearance Baltimora was interviewed by Dick Clark (known in some dark circles as "The Ageless One"). Dick Clark asks him about his ambitions and Baltimora confesses that Tarzan Boy is a bit of a novelty song but that he plans to work on a more serious effort soon. As far as I can tell, Baltimora never made that second album.

Baltimora sure racked up those frequent flyer miles in 1985. Here's Baltimora on some show I've never heard of called "Peter's Pop Show" whose Wikipedia entry looks to be in Czech but IMDB tells me was a West German program. Check out those backup dancers:

Finally, here's Baltimora performing in an unnamed location (the third layer of Hell?). I only included this clip because, as one of the commenters points out, it features David Koresh on drums:

Alas, after writing this piece I discovered that Baltimora's physical form passed away in 1995 due to AIDS. Strangely I found this out through this site I've never heard of before: You can view his tombstone here. I have to confess that I feel like a bit of a dick now for writing such a snarky post. Rest in peace Mighty Baltimora, rest in peace.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wake You Up Before I Go-Go? Ever Heard Of An Alarm Clock, Asshole?

Some days, you're in the mood for Stravinsky. Some days, Thelonious Monk. Maybe a little Husker Du, or My Bloody Valentine. Other days, you're in the mood for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go."

I mean come on. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is one of those songs that is everything it desires to be. Call it vapid, call it disposable, call it whatever derogatory term of your choosing, and it just doesn't care. In the words of another irrepressibly cheerful '80s hit, ain't nothing gonna break its stride, ain't nothing gonna slow it down.

Quick aside: I remember hearing "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" on the radio at some point in the '90s, feeling fairly confident that it was an old George Michael song, and then a DJ came on at the end and said, "And that was Wham! with 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." "Wham!"? Who the fuck was "Wham!"? You mean I'd been spending all these years believing, erroneously, that this was George Michael? Gosh, it was really uncanny. Their lead singer sounded just like him.

Like "A Hard Day's Night" or "Tomorrow Never Knows," the title arose from a moment of unintentional verbal whimsy. From Wikipedia: "Michael's inspiration for the song was a scribbled note left by his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley for Andrew's parents, originally intended to read "wake me up before you go" but with "up" accidentally written twice, so Ridgeley wrote 'go' twice on purpose."

And inspiration struck. Here Wham! renders, in vivid terms, the terrifying scenario of a man wholeheartedly intending to go-go, but unable to do so as a result of the tragic oversight of his partner's refusal to interrupt his slumber:
You put the boom-boom into my heart
You send my soul sky high when your lovin' starts
Jitterbug into my brain
Goes a bang-bang-bang 'til my feet do the same

But something's bugging you
Something ain't right
My best friend told me what you did last night
Left me sleepin' in my bed
I was dreaming, but I should have been with you instead

Wake me up before you go-go
Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo
Wake me up before you go-go
I don't want to miss it when you hit that high

Wake me up before you go-go
'Cause I'm not plannin' on going solo
Wake me up before you go-go
Take me dancing tonight
I wanna hit that high (yeah, yeah)
Geez, why didn't you just wake him up? The man can't wake himself. Also, note the irony in the line "I'm not plannin' on going solo," as that is exactly what George Michael was planning to do. He was a two-faced liar. Witness the line "You're my lady/I'm your fool." Lady? Lady? Oh really now. But like Elton John and Freddie Mercury before him, George Michael gleefully played with pop song conventions and it didn't matter whether or not he could really "be" the man singing here. It was a put-on, and the audience was (mostly) in on the joke. Hence the winking humor of the final verse, where, in a shocking twist, he attempts to turn his love interest's egregious mistake into an unexpected opportunity for romance:
Cuddle up, baby, move in tight
We'll go dancing tomorrow night
It's cold out there, but it's warm in bed
They can dance, we'll stay home instead
That's some quick thinkin' there, Georgie boy.

Oh, and NEWSFLASH: this is a catchy song. Right off the bat, you know Wham! is not trying to compete with "This Charming Man" for British indie cred; there's a bouncy keyboard, fingersnaps, and a comical bass voice emitting the word "jitterbug." He even rhymes "go-go" with "yo-yo," for God's sake! I have seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is Wham! The backing "woo hoo" vocals were probably an homage to the Supremes' "Come See About Me" ("I've been crying"/"Woo hoo"/"'Cause I'm lonely"/"For you"), but I think some stray horn players from a Phil Collins session accidentally stumbled into the wrong studio, because I'm not sure if they're in the right place.

For all its status as the epitome of '80s pop fluffiness, to me, "Wake Me Up" doesn't really sound dated. I guess it's no surprise that a Wham! homage to '60s Motown has aged a little better than, say, a Wham! homage to early '80s hip-hop. But plenty of '80s bands ripped off the style of '60s pop. I think George Michael almost captured the sound of '60s pop. And if you can capture the sound of '60s pop in the '80s, then obviously your song is still going to sound good in the '00s. It's like how The Graduate (great movie, don't get me wrong) feels a little more dated than Bonnie and Clyde, because while both movies were made at the same time, The Graduate was set in the '60s, and Bonnie and Clyde was set in the '30s. Yes, I just compared "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" to Bonnie and Clyde ... and it worked.

Also, without references to the DHSS and trilby hats and the like, "Wake Me Up" sure was a lot less "British" than Wham's earlier material, and I guess it just tapped into the Yankee zeitgeist, because it broke them wide open in the US (or perhaps I should say "him"), becoming the first of ten #1 singles for George Michael in America (all right, I'm counting Wham! and all those duet things in there). I mean, the Rolling Stones only had eight. The video wasn't particularly "British" either, though it did smack of something else that usually didn't appeal to mainstream America in those days.

Now, I really don't mean to keep sticking with this angle, but I'm sorry, the video for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" has got to be gayer than Liberace's bathtub. First of all, "Choose Life"? Were Wham! trying to make an ill-advised anti-abortion statement here? Apparently not. According to Rolling Stone, "the shirt's designer is pro-choice and it relates to respecting life by shunning violence and war," and another website claims it was trying to promote an "anti-drug, anti-suicide message." Uhh ... first of all, I don't know about how this came across in 1984, but that slogan suggests something very different today. And secondly, I'm sure the gravity of the message really came across in a fucking Wham! video.
And look how everything is so white and clean! Are we in heaven? I know we're not in Iowa. Naturally, at about the one minute mark, Wham! magically switches from hideous white outfits to ... hideous day-glo outfits! George is now wearing a blindingly pink long-sleeve top, blue and white athletic shorts (which are disturbingly short), and yellow fingerless gloves. This was staying in the closet? Meanwhile, Andrew thinks he's on safari. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, "He shot an elephant in a music video; how he got into a music video, I'll never know." Finally, around 2:34, I believe somebody screwed up in the film lab and failed to develop the footage properly, as George, Andrew & Co. become evil black-faced sand people.

So yes, I know "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is mindless pop trash, but I love it anyway. Or is it? Professor Horton J. Higglediggle writes:
Initially reduced to the status of an inane retro Motown homage, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" nefariously doubles as an exegesis on language duality in the ontological mode. The unnerving echolalia of the title serves as a rhetorical motif for the contemporary youngster, yearning to disavow himself from the sociological binds of the prior generation, and yet proving himself unable to (re)negotiate the cultural signifiers of the symbolic "father." He cannot be "woken up" before he "go-goes," for to do so would undercut the patriarchal structure of the modern dance (sub)culture. "Hitting that high," would, in this instance, be a severe negation, deflation, subjugation, and appropriation of the dominant form of the preceding generations, i.e. "jitterbugging." He is caught in between the slipperiness of language and the fixed meaning of dancing. Therefore, the singer finds himself in an irrevocable bind, both desiring not to be "left hanging on like a yo-yo," but not entirely pleased to be "staying home instead."
Well I'll be.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Guy Named Kimberly, An L.A. Band Trying To Be British, And A Not Particularly "Logical" Video

Just follow along with me, if you can:

Kimberley Rew (actually a male) was the guitarist in the Soft Boys, a short-lived New Wave/post-punk group led by Robyn Hitchcock (also a male - hey, it's England). Their 1980 album Underwater Moonlight is one of those albums I swiftly try to recommend to people who generally share my taste in music but aren't familiar with anything that hasn't been played on classic rock radio; in other words, while it may have been a complete commercial flop in its day, anyone who likes supremely catchy, playful, and passionate guitar pop would probably like said album. But enough about music that actually, you know, means something to me. After the Soft Boys broke up, Rew formed the Waves and wrote, recorded, and sang a track called "Going Down to Liverpool."
Hey now
Where you going with that load of nothing in your hand
I said hey now
All through this green and pleasant land

I'm going down to Liverpool to do nothing
I'm going down to Liverpool to do nothing
I'm going down to Liverpool to do nothing
All the days of my life
All the days of my life

Hey there
Where you going with that UB40 in your hand
I said hey there
All through this green and pleasant land

It appeared on a UK EP called "Shock Horror!" and later appeared on the band's debut album, which was only released in Canada, for some reason I cannot establish. By this time, American Katrina Leskanich had become the band's primary lead singer, and thus the band became known thereafter as "Katrina and the Waves." They signed with Capitol in 1985 and re-recorded "Going Down to Liverpool" with Katrina singing lead, and also re-recorded another earlier Rew-written song, "Walking on Sunshine," which ... well, you know.

In come the Bangles. Vicki Peterson happened to hear "Going Down to Liverpool" (I assume the original version) from a friend. "Cool, it's all about ... Liverpool! The Beatles were, like, from Liverpool! Let's do it!" I'm not sure the Bangles fully grasped the grim Northern English economic subtext (I believe a UB40 is an unemployment card - at least when it's not a pop-reggae group), but at least they contributed to the gender confusion, since they had a female bassist named Michael. Drummer Debbie Peterson, however, ended up singing lead, and it was probably one of the stronger tracks on All Over the Place, but I don't know if it would have gone anywhere without the video. Because the video features, of all people, the recently departed Leonard Nimoy. Randomly. Just sitting there. He's not playing Spock. He's not doing the Vulcan neck pinch. He's just ... in a music video.

How did the Paisley Foursome achieve this astonishing celebrity coup? Apparently it pays to have famous neighbors. The Hoffs and Nimoy families lived right next to each other and had been friends for quite some time. Wikipedia also mentions that Susanna had been college chums with Leonard's son Adam. Thus, when it came time to do a video for her up-and-coming band, the young ingenue pulled some strings, requested a favor or two, and presto. See, never underestimate the power of an L.A. neighborhood connection. The end result was that the Bangles suddenly had a science fiction icon at their disposal. Whether the song itself had anything to do with Klingons and Romulans was entirely irrelevant. I can just see the conversation now: "All right, we've got $1,000 dollars, a camera, a car, and Leonard Nimoy. Let's make this happen." Some YouTube comment highlights:
You know Spock has ice water in his veins when he watches four hot babes wander away from his car without even batting an eye.

What is it, Spock gets laid once every 12 years? This was that day.

Logically speaking, Susanna Hoffs is the hottest thing in music history.

According to my calculations, there is a distinct AC hum at 1:20, I would suggest a suppressor capacitor across the alternator output - I will get Scotty onto it.....
The mere presence of the late Mr. Nimoy turned "Going Down to Liverpool" into something almost kinda sorta resembling a hit. However, it would take the assistance of a celebrity even more alien and even more creepy to turn the Bangles into genuine stars.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Discography Rediscovered: Faith No More's "The Real Thing" (1989)

I recently began listening to The Real Thing again after hearing that Faith No More was coming out with their first new album in 18 years. Like Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine (the subject of my first Discography Rediscovered) I used to listen to The Real Thing (TRT) a lot in high school. And just like Nine Inch Nails I stopped listening to Faith No More around the time I went off to college.

The Real Thing was the first FNM album to feature Mike Patton on vocals. Previously the band was led by Chuck Mosley, who was kicked out from the band due to narcolepsy (he supposedly would fall asleep mid-set). Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, FNM had already gone through several other lead singers including a stint by Courtney Love at some point. TRT was almost done when they brought on Patton, and you can definitely tell he had to adjust his singing style to compensate, especially when compared to later FNM albums. His voice is somewhat nasally and I find that it's often difficult to understand the lyrics because of this.

The album kicks off with "From Out of Nowhere."  The video for the song (which I've never seen until a week ago) captures FNM's, and especially Patton's style of the time, which might be best described as "kinetic". Watch this video and it becomes easy to compare FNM to one of their contemporaries, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both FNM and Red Hot Chili Peppers rose to popularity around the same time in the late 80s but if you didn't know that when watching this video you'd think Patton was straight copying Anthony Kiedes' style. Compare this video with RHCP's video for "Higher Ground" which came out the same year and note their similar look, dance style, and even hair.

With both bands hailing from California you could say that Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More were two sides of a similar coin with RHCP being the sunshine-and-heroin funk of SoCal, and FNM being their stoned fog-drenched brothers to the north. It's a bit odd of a comparison to make for me as I really dig FNM but have little love for RCHP.

The second track on TRT and arguably the band's most well-known song is "Epic". With a bizarre music video that only matches the bizarreness of the lyrics, Patton raps and sings a strange number about... it? He keeps referring to "it" but never quite says what "it" is. If you listen closely I think the song is meant as a bit of commentary on consumer culture, with the listener being told how much they should desire "it". Anyways, though it's the band's most famous song it's somewhat of an oddity because this is the only song of FNM's where Patton raps.

The next track "Falling to Pieces" was the follow up to "Epic", and while it shares a similarly strange video it's a perfectly fine song but not necessarily one of my favorites.

Patton's weirdness really starts showing on the bizarrely named "Zombie Eaters". A mellow acoustic guitar gives way to Patton singing from the perspective of a baby. It sounds like a ballad, like Patton might be singing a tender song about his little baby... but then at 2:00 a chugging guitar kicks in and the song takes on a much more menacing vibe. Now it's the baby talking about how he loves to make his parent's lives miserable. There's some real choice lyrics here, like:
Hey look at me lady
I'm just a little baby
You're lucky to have me
I'm cute and sweet as candy
As charming as a fable
I'm innocent and disabled
So hug me and kiss me
Then wipe my butt and piss me
Trust me, this song is chilling once you have your own baby.

At the middle point of the album sits perhaps its most ambitious song. The titular track "The Real Thing" is a sprawling eight plus minute song that comes the closest to a FNM ballad. Just like in "Epic", the real "thing" being described is never fully articulated. For years I've thought the lyrics were referencing the moment of sexual climax but now I'm not so sure. It could also be about the pleasure derived from drugs but then I've read that Patton doesn't partake in any illegal substances (which is amazing considering the overall strangeness of FNM's lyrics). Regardless, it's one of my favorites.

"The Morning After" and "Underwater Love" are fine but I tend to skip them. The awesomely titled "Woodpecker from Mars" is an instrumental appearing late on the album and comes with a slight Arabic tinge.

The second to last track is a cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". The AMG review (written by Ned Raggett - we seriously have eerily similar tastes in music) notes that this cover "amusingly backfired on the band -- at the time, Sabbath's hipness level was nonexistent, making it a great screw-you to the supposed cutting edge types." If only FNM could foresee that Ozzie would become a reality TV star.

The final track once again allows Patton to indulge in some of his zanier tendencies. "Edge of the World" can only be described as sleazy lounge music. Hell, it even inclues the sounds of a sleazy lounge in the background with swilling drinks and men quietly muttering. Sung from the perspective of a sleazy old man who's trying to convince a younger woman to let him be her sugar daddy (he's only 40 years older than her!), it's one of Patton's songs where he's taking on a particular character. The follow up album, Angel Dust, would include several of these character songs.

I do really enjoy this song - it's just an easy listen and a good unwind after the frenetic-ness of the previous few songs and it's even kind of charming. Strangely I remember this track being somewhere in the middle of the album, which I had on cassette.  Wikipedia tells me that I am indeed not having a bout of dementia and that the cassette release did place "Edge of the World" at track six, so there you go.

Faith No More would go on to make two more albums before breaking up. Patton went on to the band Mr. Bungle and became involved more in avant-garde rock. It makes sense, he seemed to like jumping around and trying out different styles and sounds, something much more prevalent in the follow up Angel Dust (which may be the subject of a future entry).

That's it for this round of Discography Rediscovered, until next time.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"You Belong To The City" ... But That Sultry Blonde Belongs To Glenn Frey

Some people don't know where they belong. Maybe they belong in a seaside resort. Maybe they belong in a one-room shack in Idaho. Well Glenn Frey isn't talking to those people. He's talking to the people who know where they belong. If you're listening to Glenn Frey's smash 1985 single, if you're really in tune with what he has to say, if you really understand him, then you know.

You belong ... to the city.

I'm a little suspicious though. I mean, if you really belonged to the city, you wouldn't have to write a song about it, right? Maybe he was just being borrowed by the city. Maybe he was just traded to the city for half a season.

Or maybe he was trying to write a song for Miami Vice. After all, once you've already starred in an episode of Miami Vice based around one of your own songs, you might as well record a song specifically for Miami Vice, right? I know movie soundtracks were popular in the '80s, but I didn't realize that television soundtracks were popular in the '80s. Can you believe that the Miami Vice soundtrack album was #1 for 11 weeks? And can you believe that Glenn Frey's two biggest solo hits weren't even from proper Glenn Frey albums? Who did he think he was, Kenny Loggins?
It starts, of course, with the sax. Without the sax, there is no city. Then the chug begins. The urban rhythms of the night. Or maybe it's Glenn's washing machine. Perhaps this is the birth of Laundromat Rock. Sorry, the washing machine in my apartment's been broken the last few weeks; obviously I've had laundry on the brain.

The great thing about "You Belong to the City" is that Glenn Frey gives it all he's got. The man thinks he's singing "Stand By Me" or "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." Glenn Frey is so into this song that he won't be able to crawl out of this song. Glenn Frey is so into this song that nobody's heard from him for weeks. His family just reported him missing.

But he works his way up to it. At first, he keeps things sly and sultry:
The sun rolls down, the night rolls in
You can feel it starting all over again
The moon comes up and the music calls
You're gettin' tired of starin' at the same four walls

You're out of your room and down on the street
Movin' through the crowd in the midnight heat
The traffic roars, the sirens scream
You look at the faces, it's just like a dream
I'm totally with him, right up until "just like a dream." That was the best he could come up with? What kind of a dream, Glenn? A good dream? A bad dream? Saying it's "just like a dream" is like saying it's just like anything. But Glenn is unperturbed, as the chords build behind him: "Nobody knows where you're goin'/Nobody cares where you've been." Yeah, and? And??? What does it mean? Is he going to cut to the chase here? You're damn right he is:

"'Cause you be-long to the city! You belong to the night!" There is it. The cold hard truth comes out. This is your world. This is your moment. This is your home. "Livin' in a river of darkness/Beneath the neon lights." A river of darkness, huh? It would probably be pretty hard to live in there. You'd need a wet suit. And maybe an oxygen tank. And one of those water-resistant flashlights. All right, I get it, it's a metaphor.

By the second verse, Glenn turns it up to 10:
When you said goodbye, you were onnnn the run!
Tryin' to get away from the things you've done!
Now you're back again, and you're feeeeeling strange!
So much has happened, but nothing has changed!
Whoa, dude. That is deep. Glenn Frey is tapping into the mystical zen of city-dwelling here. How could so much happen, and yet ... nothing change? It's a paradox, a mind-melting paradox.

And that's it, right? Oh no, sit right down, because Preacher Glenn's still got some more gospel to spread. He mutters a quiet "You can feel it." Then some sax. "You can taste it." A little more sax. "You can see it." OK, that one had some bite to it. So let me guess, he's naming all the senses here, up next is ... "You can touch it"? Well, that doesn't rhyme with "taste it." Looks like ol' Glenny Boy's painted himself into a corner. "You can face it." Ooh, nice recovery. "You can hear it, hey/You're getting near it!" Now the man's not pulling any punches. He's completely abandoned that whole call-and-response thing with the saxophone, because, damn it, he's gotta let it out. "You wanna make it!" Uh-huh. Go on. "'Cause you can take it!" Actually, I don't know if I can.

But even after that gripping testimony, if you still have your doubts as to whether or not Glenn truly belongs to the city, a quick viewing of the music video should erase any misgivings.

As with "The One You Love," right off the bat, there's the saxophone. Glenn Frey doesn't fuck around. The Manhattan skyline. The Brooklyn Bridge. Oh yeah. Eat shit Joe Jackson. Suddenly, that very same saxophone is ... on a TV monitor? Hey, we're in somebody's apartment. The camera pans back to reveal ... the King of Cool himself. He's leaning back on his bed, smoking a cigarette, the Empire State Building glittering through the window, his extremely sexy cat licking itself in the foreground. Another night, another mystery.

Then BOOM! We hit the streets. The man is on the prowl. But who's the lucky lady? Ah, there she is, all dolled up with nowhere to go, lighting candles, watching the tube. You know what she needs? She needs an exciter. She needs the Allnighter. Oh, also, every so often, there's a shot of a TV monitor showing random clips of Don Johnson and that other guy from the show (look, I never watched it) wandering through the same mean streets that Glenn apparently knows so well. In fact, if you've got some extra time to kill, there's actually a weird "alternate universe" video of "You Belong To The City" in which Don Johnson walks around Manhattan like a sex machine instead of Glenn. Pick your poison, America.

Anyway, Glenn's Goddess of Destiny hops into a cab, uncertain of the magic that awaits her. The cab almost hits Glenn a la Midnight Cowboy's "I'm walkin' here!" scene, but he can't stay mad for long, as a he catches a glimpse of ... the Woman. He's got to have her, traffic accidents be damned. She enters a bar, and he follows, but he sits on the other side of room; he's got to stake out the situation first. Some sleazeball tries to light her cigarette, he's probably trying to pick her up, but Glenn can see she's not interested in that guy. No way. There's only one man who can satisfy her PG-13 desire. He steps outside to hail a cab, but she's done messing around with amateurs. She and Glenn start to chat. They walk back to her apartment. The city (to which he so enthusiastically belongs, remember) swirls around them. Also, lest we forget, there's a shot of the saxophone every now and then.

Suddenly, it's morning. Like a Yuppie Rock Don Draper, Glenn casually pops out of an elevator, fresh from another conquest, turns off the security monitor ("Don't worry, Glenn Frey was here, nobody's going to harm this building"), and strolls out onto the street.

Or you know what? Maybe he killed her! Where are those damn vice cops when you need them?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Love Over Gold: More Like Length Over Gold

For most bands, an eight minute opening track would seem pretty long. For Dire Straits, eight minutes wasn't long enough. How about fourteen minutes? Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about. "Telegraph Road," the first song on 1982's Love Over Gold, practically makes "Tunnel of Love" sound like a Ramones single. Or, to put it another way, "Telegraph Road" was probably every radio DJ's perfect chance to go grab a quick cheeseburger. In the time it takes me to listen to "Telegraph Road," I could finish one of those maddening jigsaw puzzles where half of it is just a picture of generic blue sky. Why do they make those, anyway? And what's with the album cover? What is this, a Metallica record? A Magic: The Gathering card? At any rate, Lover Over Gold might mimic the five-song format of a classic prog-rock album, but Mark Knopfler wasn't interested in warlocks and wizards.

No, he was interested in the crumbling hopes and dreams of a once-prosperous society. "Telegraph Road" is the story of America. It's the story of a civilization growing, cresting, and declining. Above all, it is the story of a very, very long guitar solo. From Wikipedia:
Inspired by a bus trip taken by Knopfler, the lyrics narrate a tale of changing land development over a span of many decades along Telegraph Road in suburban Detroit, Michigan. In the latter verses, Knopfler focuses on one man's personal struggle with unemployment after the city built around the telegraph road has become uninhabited and barren just as it began.
Yeah, but that was 1982. Look at the place now! All right, let's see what we've got here:
A long time ago came a man on a track
Walking thirty miles with a sack on his back
And he put down his load where he thought it was the best
Made a home in the wilderness
He built a cabin and a winter store
And he ploughed up the ground by the cold lake shore
And that man turned out to be ... Eminem's great-grandfather! No, no, I'm just playin'.
And the other travelers came walking down the track
And they never went further, no, they never went back
Then came the churches, then came the schools
Then came the lawyers, then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their loads
And the dirty old track was the telegraph road
Then came the Taco Bells, and then came the Best Buys, and then came the Lenscrafters, and then came the Starbucks ... wait, nope, that's not where he's going with this:
Then came the mines, then came the ore
Then there was the hard times, then there was a war
Telegraph sang a song about the world outside
Telegraph road got so deep and so wide
Like a rolling river
OK, then about seven minutes in (!), this whole Ken Burns documentary thing turns into a first-person Springsteen-esque bitchfest:
I used to like to go to work but they shut it down
I got a right to go to work but there's no work here to be found
Yes and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed
We're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed
And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles
They can always fly away from this rain and this cold
You can hear them singing out their telegraph code
All the way down the telegraph road
Damn birds. They don't know what it's like to file for unemployment, do they? There's another verse, but you get the idea: the flyover states are fucked. Hey Mark, you're not even from here. Although everything you're saying is completely spot-on, you don't get to say that crap about working class malaise; only we get to say it.

Did I mention that this is a really long song? To be fair, the "song" more or less ends before the ten minute mark, but it turns out Knopfler needs to jam. So we get a four minute guitar solo, which must be treated with the greatest reverence, like a flag-lowering ceremony. The whole camp is required to stand at attention and salute during the folding of the outtro, and Knopfler's solo is not allowed to touch the ground.

When the record company sat around and said, "All right we need a hit from this thing," I don't know who suggested "Private Investigations," but I would have called that person an idiot. "Private Investigations" is essentially a spoken word monologue (where Knopfler indulges in his Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade fantasies) with some occasional and unexpected piano and guitar crescendos in the background. I don't hear a hook, I don't hear a chorus, I don't hear any singing - it's the birth of Mumble Rock. And yet, in the UK, this peaked at #2. That is why they get paid the big bucks and I don't.
It's a mystery to me, the game commences
For the usual fee plus expenses
Confidential information, it's not a public inquiry

I go checking out the reports, digging up the dirt
You get to meet all sorts in this line of work
Treachery and treason, there's always an excuse for it
And when I find the reason I still can't get used to it

And what have you got at the end of the day?
What have you got to take away?
A bottle of whisky and a new set of lies
Blinds on the windows and a pain behind the eyes

Scarred for life, no compensation
Private investigations

Smoky Dire Straits mood pieces: the stuff that dreams are made of. The obvious single, at least to American ears, was the Side Two opener, "Industrial Disease" (clocking in at a brisk 5:50). With its roller rink keyboard, continuous drumming (not always a given in a Dire Straits song), and stream-of-consciousness verbiage, it sounds for all the world like an early version of "Walk of Life," perhaps crossed with Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues"? It's a jolly little number that treats the broad sociological term "Industrial Disease" as if it were a genuine physical ailment. During one verse, Knopfler comically plays doctor:
Doctor Parkinson declared "I'm not surprised to see you here
You've got smoker's cough from smoking, brewer's droop from drinking beer
I don't know how you came to get the Bette Davis knees
But worst of all young man you've got Industrial Disease"
He wrote me a prescription he said "You are depressed
But I'm glad you came to see me to get this off your chest
Come back and see me later - next patient please
Send in another victim of Industrial Disease, ha ha, splendid!"
Umm, I don't think it quite works like that. Though it didn't set the Hot 100 on fire, "Industrial Disease" was, according to Wikipedia's Dire Straits discography page, a big US radio hit on the Mainstream Rock chart. In the end, it seems American listeners took the title to heart and apparently chose love, given that the album didn't go gold until 1986, but somehow, given that it was arguably their most uncompromising and least commercial release, Love Over Gold hit #1 in the UK, Australia, and several other non-English-speaking nations. Maybe they used the album as a handy way to keep track of their washing machine cycles. Love Over Gold: Songs You Can Time Your Laundry To.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Behind Blonde Eyes: Inside The Fractured Mind Of a Belinda Reborn

Nobody knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

- The Who, "Behind Blue Eyes"
So, when Belinda Carlisle quit doing coke in 1985 (although, as it turns out, not once and for all), a funny thing happened. She started to look a little ... different. And not a "bad" kind of different. I'm not talking a Lindsay Lohan, I-need-a-blood-transfusion different, or a Marlon Brando, I-just-ate-my-pet-chihuahua different. I'm talking more like an "if Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Redford, Brigitte Bardot, Sean Connery, Amy Adams, and Ryan Gosling all had a baby together" different.

Now, particularly in the early Go-Go's days, I would have to say that Belinda already looked pretty good, and if you dare to disagree with me, I will secretly begin stealing your mail every other Thursday. But at the dawn of her solo career, Belinda's appearance rendered terms like "good-looking" woefully inadequate - insulting, even. All of sudden, completely out of nowhere, Belinda Carlisle became ... laughably attractive. She became depressingly attractive. She became so attractive, it was, for all intents and purposes, a joke. Well hardy-har-har. I'd be laughing more if I wasn't writhing in pain. Some of us find late '80s Belinda Carlisle so attractive, it actually hurts to look at her. I have to shield my eyes while I'm watching her videos, the same way I shield my eyes when I glance at the sun.

When I first discovered, via YouTube and other sources, the unfathomable attractiveness of late '80s Belinda Carlisle, I had to ask myself a number of questions. First of all, how did this happen? How did she go from looking like a quasi-lesbian Florida retiree to a living, breathing, reanimated Barbie doll? Some at the time speculated the utilization of surgery, but the woman has always denied it, and I'm far from an expert on such matters, but it seems like her face looked healthy and "naturally" good, not sickly and "artificially" good, the way many celebrities' faces tend to look after a procedure or two. Many wondered if she deliberately tried to "re-package" herself in order to "make it" as a solo artist, but as far as I can tell, the fact that her physical transformation coincided with the start of her solo career was more or less an accident (albeit one her record company certainly appreciated). Nope, I think all that happened is that she quit doing coke and finally settled down with a decent guy.

But here is what I truly wanted to know: "What does it actually feel like to be that attractive? Is one aware of how attractive one is? Does one not really care? Is it annoying? Is it satisfying? Just ... what's it like?" Deep within the caverns of Lips Unsealed, my answer lay waiting for me. And it was even more complex than I'd anticipated. For in providing the answer, Belinda merely raised more questions:
... after cleaning up my act, I saw a profound physical change. I lost the bloat I had from doing coke and drinking every night, especially from my face. I also lived a healthier lifestyle, eating better and working out. I started my day in the morning, a positive change in itself, as opposed to ending my day at that time, and I hit the gym with a trainer, lifting weights and running. All in all, I shed about twenty pounds and received lots of compliments about the way I looked.
Wait, I thought earlier she said that coke helped her stay thin. I guess coke can be whatever you want it to be, but I digress. So, life was an endless stream of awesomeness, right?
... I realized that I photographed well and was considered pretty even though I didn't feel that way about myself.

No, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw me at ten years old, wearing the polka-dot dress my mom had gotten on special at Sears, the one the kids at school knew was my only outfit. Or I saw myself a year or two later in a sleeveless hand-me-down that was lime green with flowers and let me believe when I put it on and did my hair in pigtails that I was pretty like Marcia Brady. Yet then I ran outside just as a car carrying some kids from school drove past and one of them yelled, "Hey, fatso!"

Despite being almost twenty-eight years old, inside my head I was still that girl, scared, awkward, and full of shame and insecurity. I definitely didn't see the beauty other people kept saying I had turned into.
So what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is the rare instance of a woman who, on the outside, looked like this ...

... but on the inside, still felt like this:

You see, this is why I don't find the laughably attractive Yuppie Belinda insufferable, like I find so many laughably attractive people. This was not a woman who had "always" looked perfect. This was not a woman who'd never lacked confidence, who'd never felt like an outcast, who'd never had to fret about her appearance. I look at laughably attractive Belinda Carlisle and, somehow, some way, I see ... myself. Am I insane? I see a frog who became a princess. I see someone with the personality of an art-school geek, who accidentally ended up in the body of a supermodel. And I see comedy, lots of comedy. She goes on:
There was nothing like being a boutique and hearing women whisper, "Isn't that Belinda Carlisle? I didn't know she was so pretty." (Hey, I didn't know it either). I also heard people say I looked like a young Ann-Margret, whose starring roles in Viva Las Vegas and Bye Bye Birdie had made her one of my favorite actresses.
But I had mixed feelings about such compliments. All through the Go-Go's I never lacked for boyfriends, but the press constantly referred to me as pretty and plump or cute and chubby, which bugged me. Then, as I started to do some early interviews before my album was close to being released, I began to hear the flipside, that I was slim, svelte, and sexy, like a new, hot Belinda Carlisle.

I knew it was all well intentioned. But why did my size even have to be an issue? I was confused enough. Couldn't I just be liked for being myself?

Good question.

No easy answers.
Geez. Sounds kind of ... fucked up. When people make comments like that, they're not really thinking about it all that hard. I mean, what is the "self"? Is it the way a person looks? Is it the things a person does? When we like someone, what is it that we're actually "liking"? If Belinda records an album in the woods, and there's no label there to release it, does it make the charts? Were her dreams as empty as her conscience seemed to be?

Honestly, I'm just a bored blogger with a silly '80s pop singer obsession. I'd hate to fuel our society's fixation on the superficial physical appearance of celebrities but, in the words of the great Abraham Lincoln, "Screw that shit."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

While You See A Chance (For A Slick '80s Career Re-Boot), Take It

OK, so that first solo album didn't work out so hot. What was a Winwood to do?

How about retreat to his farm (where he'd already built his own private studio), and start hatching a plan? I suppose desperate times called for desperate measures. I mean, here was a man who could have invited a Dream Team of British studio musicians to join him in making a follow-up. He invited ... no one. Sometimes a Yuppie Rocker needs to make a solitary sojourn into the unknown, needs to confront his inner A&R man, needs to strip himself down to the bare wannabe-New Wave essentials.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Arc Of A Diver. Yes, Winwood's second solo album was truly a "solo" album. He and Stevie Wonder already shared the same initials, but did that really mean they needed to start sharing the same recording methods? According to Wikipedia, Winwood played "acoustic & electric guitars, bass, drums, percussion, drum machines, keyboards, synthesizers, organ, lead & backing vocals." What, no zither?

At the start of "While You See A Chance," whatever instrument he's playing sounds like an elephant seal's queef, but once the drums kick in, that queef turns into a jet engine, spewing synthesized elephant seal love all over your eardrums. Sound a little gross? Steve Winwood doesn't know the meaning of gross. But that's not quite the best part. Yes, like "In The Air Tonight," "While You See A Chance" has a universally agreed-upon "best part." A tambourine is a simple instrument, but deployed strategically, it can turn a catchy song into a life-affirming gust of wind. Right at 0:40, when Winwood really lets that tambourine fly (better heard on the stereo album mix), "While You See A Chance" becomes that gust. It's like that moment (to use a Bay Area example, although I will neither confirm nor deny that I live there) when you're driving south on Highway 101 through the Waldo Tunnel, and suddenly out of nowhere the entirety of the Golden Gate Bridge comes into view. Or when you're driving west on Interstate 80, and you pop out of Yerba Buena Island, and boom!, there's the western span of the Bay Bridge. You're sitting in a drab, ugly, shitty tunnel, and then the brightness creeps into your eyes, and this world-class vista just hits you. The elephant seal queef synthesizer is that tunnel, and the tambourine is that vista. Wait. That's not it. Yeah. I'm moving on.

"While You See A Chance" is like the "I Have a Dream" speech for white yuppie people. It's like a synth-pop PSA. Believe in yourself, and you can do anything - even resuscitate your solo career!
Stand up in a clear blue morning until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning, are you still free? Can you be?

When some cold tomorrow finds you, when some sad old dream reminds you
How the endless road unwinds you

While you see a chance take it, find romance make it
Because it's all on you

Don't you know by now no one gives you anything
Don't you wonder how you keep on moving one more day your way

When there's no one left to leave you, even you don't quite believe you
That's when nothing can deceive you

And that old gray wind is blowing and there's nothing left worth knowing
And it's time you should be going
"Even you don't quite believe you?" Uh, Steve, don't you mean "even you don't quite believe yourself"? I guess the grammatically correct version didn't scan so well. Forget it guys, he's rolling. The video finds Winwood stuck on the set of Tron with, it appears, Cirque du Soliel's minor league affiliate. The humans of this particular world (if they're humans at all) worship the Plywood Pyramid God, and only speak to each other by reflecting light off their hand mirrors. Personally, I wouldn't want to live there, but obviously Winwood feels right at home. Several YouTube commentators have compared his appearance to Conan O'Brien, but I'm going to go a little more contemporary and say ... Benedict Cumberbatch?

You know, for a boring white guy, Steve Winwood really knew how to groove. He was like a one-man Hall & Oates! I've recently discovered Arc Of A Diver's title track, which has a haunting melody worthy of the Bee Gees but a funky rhythm track worthy of Earth, Wind & Fire - or vice versa. Also, the lyrics make no sense:
She bathes me in sweetness I cannot reveal
For sharing dreams I need my woman
This humble expression meagerly dressed
My eyes so mean it has no meaning

But jealous night and all her secret chords
I must be deaf on the telephone
I need my love to translate

I play the piano no more running, honey
This time to the sky I'll sing if clouds don't hear me
To the sun I'll cry and even if I'm blinded
I'll try moon gazer because with you I'm stronger
"Bathes me in sweetness"? "Moon gazer"? He sounds like he's been listening to too many Donovan records. These lyrics don't even rhyme! Besides, if the sun blinds you, looking at the moon isn't going to help ... because you'll be blind. "I need my love to translate"? Great, now he's using his girlfriend as his foreign language interpreter? Just get a software program for that, Steve. Oh yeah, then his rock 'n' roll starts overeating, and he tops it all off by threatening to rob the past, present, and future at gunpoint:
Arc of a diver effortlessly
My mind in sky and when I wake up
Daytime and nighttime I feel you near
Warm water breathing, she helps me here

Lean streaky music spawned on the streets
I hear it but with you I had to go
'Cause my rock 'n' roll is putting on weight
And the beat it goes on

With you my love we're going to raid the future
With you my love we're going to stick up the past
We'll hold today to ransom 'til our quartz clock stops until yesterday
Whatever, it's got a good beat, and I can drive my Volvo to it.

Although "Night Train," arguably the world's greatest Giorgio Moroder homage, deserves a mention, the real hidden gem of Arc Of A Diver has got to be "Spanish Dancer," where Winwood funks it up harder than Rick James and George Clinton in Patti LaBelle's backyard hot tub. He programs the synthesizer to what sounds like its "Japanese harpsichord" setting, and then for six minutes he just goes to town. It kind of sounds like a laser beam trying to perform Swan Lake, but hey, I'd pay to see that. I wouldn't call it much of a "composition': there's a nice bridge, but there's either no chorus, or no verse, I'm not sure which. He probably thought, "I don't need no chorus or verse, I'm fucking Steve Winwood." Well, when released as a single, it flopped like a Spanish dancer, but don't worry '80s: Steve Winwood, Yuppie Rocker, had seen his chance, and he was only just beginning to take it.