Sunday, April 23, 2017

If We Built This City, Can It Be ... Un-Built? AKA Nothing Screams "Dust Bowl" Like Corporate Synth-Rock

Woo! All right! No more worrying about those pesky, lingering ties to some old band named Jefferson Airplane. Pffftt. Now we can give the people what they want!

Fact: Jefferson Airplane had two big Top 10 hits in 1967. Jefferson Starship had several Top 40 hits, big and small, between 1975 and 1984. However, neither of those fine musical institutions ever managed to have a #1 hit.

Starship had three.

God either has A) a very twisted sense of humor, or B) very embarrassing taste in music.

Seriously though, what's the moral of the story here? Do the very thing you've struggled not to do for decades, and suddenly you'll be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams? Turns out Jefferson Starship's problem wasn't that they'd sold out; it was that they hadn't sold out enough.

On the other hand, time has a funny way of balancing the scales. "We Built This City" has occasionally received the distinction of being named "the worst song of all time." All time? That's a lot of songs. We're talking every caveman grunt, every biblical croon, every Nickelback growl. According to Wikipedia, most of these surveys laid out some ground rules:
The defunct magazine Blender's ranking of the song as the worst song ever was in conjunction with a VH1 Special of The 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs...Ever. In order to qualify for the distinction, the songs on the list had to be a popular hit at some point, thus disqualifying many songs that would by consensus be considered much worse. Blender editor Craig Marks said of the song, "It purports to be anti-commercial but reeks of '80s corporate-rock commercialism. It's a real reflection of what practically killed rock music in the '80s."

In 2011 a Rolling Stone magazine online readers poll named "We Built This City" as the worst song of the 1980s. The song's winning margin was so large that the magazine reported it "could be the biggest blow-out victory in the history of the Rolling Stone Readers Poll".
It's a landslide! I must now direct your attention to an article published in GQ last year, "An Oral History of 'We Built This City,' the Worst Song of All Time," featuring testimony from defendants such as songwriters Bernie Taupin and Martin Page (I'm afraid Heart's "These Dreams" may not have been their biggest 1985 pop music crime), producer and co-writer Peter Wolf, and Starship members Mickey Thomas, Craig Chaquico, and Pete Sears, among others. The jury's verdict? Guilty pleasure as charged! Highlights:
Craig Chaquico: Peter came to my recording studio in Mill Valley and played the demo for me. About a minute in, he hit the pause button and in his Austrian accent started to sing: “Vee built dis seety on vock and VOLL” ... Peter Wolf was a genius synthesizer player. The Synclavier was cutting-edge. We didn't feel like we were selling out; we felt like we were trying to land a man on the moon.

Peter Wolf: Journey was recording in the studio next door, and every time I opened the door, their band members were standing outside with their mouths open. “This is the Starship? It's unbelievable!”

Craig Chaquico: It's a very '80s track. I remember watching Miami Vice in between takes.

Pete Sears: That was the best song on the album, even though it's considered the worst song of all time. The rest were a load of crap.

Mickey Thomas: Bernie didn't say “mambo,” he said “mamba,” which is a snake. Marconi created the radio. Maybe Bernie meant to say “mambo.” Maybe it means: If you don't like this music, some really angry snakes are gonna come out of the speakers ... At one point I did start to sing “mambo,” to try and be more grammatically correct, and after a while I thought, “Fuck it,” and went back to “mamba.”

Craig Chaquico: Marconi's the guy who invented the radio, and his style of music was the mamba. But listen to the radio now. Do you hear any mamba? That's how I look at the lyric: Things change. I could be totally wrong.

Mickey Thomas: When the song went to No. 1, I said to Bernie, “More than ever, people are gonna ask what ‘Marconi plays the mamba’ means.” He said, “I have no fucking idea, mate.”

Craig Chaquico: The No. 3 song on that Blender list was “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” by Wang Chung, which Peter Wolf produced. I called him and said, “Dude, I'm on one of the worst songs ever, but you're on two. That's awesome!”

Martin Page: “We Built This City” is like Mickey Mouse. People want to knock it and they want to love it. It's iconic, like Mickey's ears. The moment it comes on, people go, “I know that. I love it.” Because people love Mickey.
That's certainly the first thing I think of when I hear "We Built This City": "I'm going to Disneyland!" Full disclosure: I'm probably in the camp of "awesomely bad." While I would never play the song by choice, I would certainly sing along to it at a karaoke night, especially when Grace Slick gets around to her hilariously-enunciated "Evvv-rybody's play-ing, cor-por-ay-shun-games!" I also love how the riff between the chorus and the verse sounds like it's being played by a giant pair of electronic scissors. But that's neither here nor there. I don't know if any one song can be declared "the worst song of all time," but back in 2009, my (part-time?) co-blogger Herr Zrbo dared to declare the video for "We Built This City" to be the "Worst. Video. Ever." Some choice excerpts:
First there's the montage of people's faces looking thoughtful and contemplative. Why are they looking so stern while lost in their innermost reflections? Why? Because they're all looking at the Lincoln Memorial of course! Now, I wasn't aware that Lincoln built this city, or country, on rock and roll. Actually, I'm pretty sure he didn't found much at all. And I'm damn 100% sure he didn't listen to rock and roll.

But then, what follows afterwards! I'm just going to call it folks, it's the MOST cringe-worthy moment in music video history of ALL TIME. As our oh-so-80s rebel protagonists look on in adoration at Lincoln, the statue comes to life, raises his fist, and sings the chorus! It's just so, so awful. Even in 1985 this scene must have been perceived as awful. Words can't honestly express how truly awful it is. Not only that but it's creepy as hell.

The video just proceeds to be awful from there on out. Grace Slick sings about corporations and how annoying it is that they're constantly changing their names (boohoo!), all set to the backdrop of... Vegas casinos?! I wonder if the band realized the irony in these lyrics, as Starship are well known for having changed their name multiple times. Then a bunch of people are running away from giant tumbling dice. Why? I guess those dice represent those pesky corporations and their pesky habit of changing their names.

Then there's the radio announcer part during the bridge. I think it's there to give some 'street-cred' to the band, but if you listen to what the announcer says it makes little sense. He starts with "looking out over the Golden Gate Bridge on another gorgeous sunny Saturday." Ok, that sounds pretty good. Then: "and I'm seeing that bumper-to-bumper traffic." Huh? If you're trying to get the the radio guy to hippen-up the song, do you really want him talking about bumper-to-bumper traffic? How about something like "and there's no traffic today!" My reaction to this part is something like "Bumper-bumper traffic?? Oh well, I'll just stay in today and let someone else build this city."
Zing! I don't have much to add, other than that for a video made in 1985, the blue screen technology seems laughably poor. Also notice how, after Abe Lincoln miraculously springs to life, the camera cuts back to the assembled onlookers,who act as if ... nothing remarkable has happened whatsoever! I mean come on people, Lincoln just sang the chorus of "We Built This City." At least give the man a courtesy clap.

Less maligned, although perhaps that may not be saying much, is "Sara," which hit #1 in early 1986 and does not feature Grace Slick singing ill-conceived lyrics in a comical way. "Sara" isn't actually good for much of a laugh at all, come to think of it. The weirdest thing about "Sara" is that it could have been by anybody: Mr. Mister, Survivor, Peter Cetera, Mike & The Mechanics ... pick a band, any band! Let's just say that in the pantheon of "Sara" songs, I think it's third banana to Fleetwood Mac's "Sara" and Hall & Oates' "Sara Smile," both chronologically and artistically. Forget about being in the same league; it might not even be in the same sport. If those other two "Sara" songs are like downhill skiing, Starship's "Sara" is more like curling.

I'll tell you what Starship's "Sara" doesn't make me think of, though: the Dust Bowl! That's right, the video was apparently directed by Dorothea Lange as part of the Works Progress Administration. I think "Sara" wins the award for "Best '80s Video Featuring A Tornado." Here's how Wikipedia describes it:
The music video for "Sara" prominently features actress Rebecca De Mornay and Thomas in a storyline about a relationship ending, on a Dust Bowl farm in the midwest, with frequent flashbacks to what is presumably Thomas's character's childhood and the tornado that wrecked his home.
Thomas's "character"? Mickey certainly does a nice job leaning against a fence post and staring off into the distance. And why does Rebecca De Mornay keep morphing into Thomas' salt of the earth mother? That's kind of ... fucked up. Strangely, I find both the black-and-white footage of his hard-scrabble youth and the imitation "home video" footage of modern-day Mickey and Rebecca horsing around oddly convincing, but they don't seem to mesh tonally. When I watch a Starship video, I expect tonal unity, damn it. The last shot is cool, but I think it's one video too late: that ominous dust cloud should have swallowed up the "We Built This City" video instead.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

This Is The Way Wham! Ends: Not With A Wham!, But With The Whimper Of Leftovers

Did Wham! even have to make an official break-up announcement? This might have been the most redundant break-up announcement of all time. From Wikipedia:
Michael was keen to create music targeted at a more sophisticated adult market rather than the duo's primarily teenage audience and therefore, Michael and Ridgeley officially announced the breakup of Wham! in the spring of 1986. Announcing the breakup, Michael said: "I think it should be the most amicable split in pop history."
Well sure! What was Ridgeley going to do? Refuse?
At London's Wembley Stadium on Saturday 28 June 1986, Wham! bade goodbye to their fans and each other with an emotional embrace at the end of its final concert. 72,000 people attended the eight-hour event, which included support artists, on a scorching hot day in London.
And the cosmos sighed just a tiny little sigh that warm summer day. Which leads us to the critical question: What do you do when your duo is splitting up and you've got a pile of random, incoherent leftovers in the can? The answer: For the UK market, tack the new songs onto Sides Three and Four of a double-LP greatest hits collection, and for the US market, slap together one more final "album" from a combo of new songs and stray odds and ends!

Sounds like a good plan to me. And so, Wham! didn't release a final album proper so much as 66.6% of a final album. In the UK and most of the globe, grieving Wham! fans received a greatest hits package called The Final, while in North America and Japan, they had to console themselves with the "album" Music From The Edge Of Heaven. Remember that one?

Imagine, if you will, a world in which "Careless Whisper" had never existed. Most of Wham!'s farewell material exists in such a world. In the minds of most George Michael-loving Americans, the true follow-up to Make It Big wasn't Music From The Edge Of Heaven, but Faith, in the same sense that the true follow-up to True Blue wasn't Who's That Girl, but Like A Prayer. George Michael fans are not easily fooled.

All right, well let's see what we've got here.

"I'm Your Man" was the biggest, if not the best, hit from this batch, charting at #1 in the UK and #3 in the US. It kind of sounds like a re-tread of "Freedom," which was just a retread of every Motown single from 1966, and its chorus of "If you're gonna do it, do it right" sounds like a retread of The S.O.S. Band's "Take Your Time (Do It Right)," but keep your expectations low and you'll have a good time. The video finds Wham! accidentally being booked at London's historic, and yet insultingly small, Marquee Club. Listen to George bitch to his manager over the payphone: "Eight million albums in the last six months, I don't understand why on earth we're playing at the Marquee." Also, don't miss the sleazy scalper with an odd (Caribbean?) accent: "Want ticket? Beautiful band, man, Jorge Miguel!"

"A Different Corner" was another one of those "Careless Whisper" deals where the song appeared on a Wham! album but was credited to George Michael on the single - even in North America! No "George Michael featuring George Michael" business this time. Although it was another UK #1 hit (and a US #7), I can't help but feel like he found a discarded Yazoo backing track in the dumpster outside the studio and recorded a vocal over it. It's like his way of saying "Hey everybody, I'm a sophisticated adult now" was to put as little instrumentation into the song as possible. I dunno, as super-minimalist George Michael songs where he plays all the instruments and where the video features him sitting alone in a room go, it's no "One More Try."

As a rubbery Prince pastiche, "Battlestations" could be considered a proto-"I Want Your Sex," complete with a "sexy George whispering" intro and a "random sexy woman whispering in French" outro, but it looks like the campiness meter was still resting around 5 or 6 at this point and hadn't been turned up to the necessary 9 or 10. I keep expecting Prince to chime in with "You don't have to be rich to be my girl" any second:
Monday was the worst day
And Friday wasn't my day
But Wednesday was the best day
Because on Wednesday night we made love
All I'm trying to give you is a good time honey
Why d'ya have to keep on playing games with my head
Used to be your baby when you had no money
Now we spend more time in battle
Than we ever do in bed

With its peppy horns and bass-voiced doo-wop intro, "The Edge Of Heaven" (promoted as Wham!'s "farewell single") sounds like the sinister step-child of "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." According to Wikipedia, "Michael has said the lyrics to the song were 'deliberately and overtly sexual, especially the first verse'. The reason for this, he says, was he thought no one would care 'because no one listens to a Wham! lyric. It had got to that stage.'"

Oh the injustice! Oh the inhumanity! No one was listening to Wham! for the lyrics! Fine, all right, so George snuck something outrageously explicit into it, thought he'd show his fans how stupid they were, eh? Let's see what X-rated nastiness he got away with:
I would lock you up
But I could not bear to hear you
Screaming to be set free
I would chain you up
If I'd thought you'd swear
The only one that mattered was me, me, me

I would strap you up
But don't worry baby
You know I wouldn't hurt you 'less you wanted me to
It's too late to stop
Won't the heavens save me?
My daddy said the devil looks a lot like you

You take me to the edge of heaven
Tell me that my soul's forgiven
Hide your baby's eyes and we can
You take me to the edge of heaven
One last time might be forever
When the passion dies
It's just a matter of time before my heart is
Looking for a home

I'm like a maniac, at the end of the day
I'm like a doggie barking at your door
So come take me back to the place you stay
And maybe we can do it once more

You say I'm dangerous
But don't worry baby
I get excited at the things that you do
And there's a place for us
In a dirty movie
Cause no one does it better than me and you
Wait. Where was the "overtly sexual" part again? "I would strap you up"? Eh, pretty mild. "Maybe we can do it once more"? "I'm like a doggie barking at your door"? I've heard worse in cereal commercials. Let's just say that, with "I Want Your Sex," George would finally recognize the wisdom of not beating around the bush.

So how did the record label fill out the edges of Music From the Edge of Heaven? Let's see ... a little "Wham! Rap '86" remix here, a little "Last Christmas" there, toss in an unreleased live song from the Beijing concert, and voila! Bon voyage, you noble soldiers of fortune. Professor Higglediggle writes:
Situated along the marginal divide between "farewell album" and "retrospective collection," the disjointed material assembled for the Music From the Edge Of Heaven and The Final releases further places Wham! at an ever-shifting artistic intersection of displaced cultural signifiers. The duo's refusal to generate a proper, ideologically unified "album" signaled their relational defiance to the mechanization of heterogeneity. Its schizophrenic mimesis is not generally noted in reviews, the All Music Guide referring to the US edition as "More of a hodgepodge of tracks than a coherent album," a judgement that conveniently ignores the duo's dogged commitment to avant-garde theory of the post-war period and the Situationalist International. Although one could argue that Wham! have been given just credit in many respects, in this particular respect, one could argue they warrant reevaluation, although we could not necessarily advocate a hollow formalist analysis of this type.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fuck off."

"Umm, Mr. Collins, excuse me?"

"I said fuck off!"

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

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

"Mr. Collins is there something the matter?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Bob, do you want to call security?"

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

BLVR: What was tough about that time?

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

BLVR: Who were those other people?

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

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

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

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

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

BLVR: Your feet?

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

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

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

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

BLVR: Did it go in the video?

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

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

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

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

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

A mermaid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Belinda, ugly dress

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

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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Zrbo's Favorite Songs of 2016

The year I gave up on popular music.

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

5. "Hee Haw"

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

4. "Flashbeagle"

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

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

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

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

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

3. Stevie Nicks - "Stand Back"

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

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

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

2. Echo Image - "Things I Know"

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

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

1. Overwatch - "Victory Theme"

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

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

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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