Sunday, February 18, 2018

No Jacket Required, Great Sleeper Cuts Optional AKA Phil's X-Rated Attempt To "Thaw" The Cold War

Like all great '80s pop stars, from Michael Jackson to Madonna, it seems like the more popular Phil Collins got, the ... what's the word? The ... crappier he got. How come this never happened to performers in the '60s? Quick: name the great '60s pop stars who actually got crappier the more popular they became. Neil Diamond? Blood, Sweat & Tears?

No Jacket Required. It's got quite the resume. Sold 12 million copies in the U.S. alone. For perspective, the best-selling Genesis album of all time, Invisible Touch, only sold half that. Won the Album of the Year Grammy. Spawned four Top 10 singles. Hit #1 in countries that didn't even exist yet. Ended the Cold War. Invented the internet. All those achievements, and still ... somehow, I prefer his first two solo albums. There may have been "no jacket required," all right, but apparently tacky '80s production was mandatory.

Songs on No Jacket Required that don't really do much for me: "Only You and I Know," "I Don't Wanna Know," "Who Said I Would," "Doesn't Anybody Stay Together Anymore," "Inside Out" ... and you can probably throw "Sussudio" and "Don't Lose My Number" onto that pile, even though they were hits and they kind of make me chuckle. God, even the titles are bland. "Long Long Way to Go"? More like "Long Long Way to Go Before I Start Paying Attention to This Song." That particular cut contains a bit of the eerie, ambient atmosphere of "In the Air Tonight," except with a questionable trade-off: instead of the world's greatest drum entrance, we get smoky backing vocals from ... Sting? I guess he'd had enough of his harem of Taiwanese concubines that week and decided he'd pop over to Phil's studio for a change. At least "Doesn't Anybody Stay Together Anymore" has a funny story behind it. From a 1986 interview with Phil in Playboy:
You know, I was very happily married to Jill, my present wife, when I wrote it, but I had been divorced, my manager was getting divorced, a couple of good friends were getting divorced, and I thought, What's going on? Doesn't anybody stay together any more? The song came from that.
The answer is no, Phil. No, nobody stays the fuck together anymore, all right? And it's better that way. In the olden days, sure, people used to stay together, but you know what? They would spend every waking hour of their lives loathing each other and finding ways to passively-aggressively destroy each other's, and their children's, lives. For the record, Phil eventually divorced Jill.

Despite sounding like Prince's leftover throat mucus, "Don't Lose My Number" somehow climbed to #4, but maybe it was the tongue-in-cheek video that did it. Per Wikipedia:
Collins did not know what he would use as a video theme for "Don't Lose My Number", so he decided to create a video showing his decision process in selecting a theme for it. In the video, Collins talks to various "directors", who all give him bad ideas for the video. Their suggestions allow Collins to parody several other music videos of the time, including videos by Michael Jackson, "Weird Al" Yankovic, David Lee Roth ("California Girls"), Elton John ("I'm Still Standing"), The Police ("Every Breath You Take"), and The Cars ("You Might Think"), as well as movies such as Mad Max 2 and various samurai movies and Westerns.
Highlights: 1) "Gunfighter" Phil; 2) "Post-Apocalyptic" Phil; 3) Phil's office being taken over by an aerobics class; 4) "Fake blood! Great, isn't it?" "Yeah, but it's not really me though." 5) The catatonic Japanese director couple. Seriously, I know he catches a lot of flak, but ... how can you hate a guy who makes a video like this?

At any rate. I remember listening to No Jacket Required a couple of years ago, getting all the way to Track #10, and thinking, "Man, what a wash." Other than "One More Night" and "Take Me Home," she just wasn't doing it for me. I was expecting at least a few hidden "gems-nesis," you know? If I'd been listening to the LP, I would have been even more disappointed, because the album contains a CD-only bonus track called "We Said Hello Goodbye," and holy shit.

You won't find a Roland TR-808, LinnDrum, or Oberheim DMX in these waters. There's nary a trace of MiniMoog bass to be heard. Instead, an elegant grand piano gives way to pastoral strings. During the chorus, Phil finds himself smothered in a swirling haze of neo-psychedelic guitar that suddenly evaporates, only to leave behind a pinging, heavily treated piano straight out of Pink Floyd's Meddle. But here's the biggest shock of all: When the drums come in about halfway through, they're completely free of gate, or fence, or hedge, or chicken wire: they actually sound like ... how can I put this? Drums!

Perhaps the title is a bit of a giveaway, but "We Said Hello Goodbye" is supremely Beatle-esque, or perhaps more accurately, Lennon-esque. Let's call it the best song Julian Lennon never wrote. It reminds me of something from a mid-'90s Elton John album, perhaps Made In England or The Big Picture - which is a compliment, I think? Hell, even Phil's arch-nemesis Noel Gallagher would've killed to have come up with a tune this haunting as an Oasis B-side. The song makes me feel like it's about 9:30pm and I'm sitting in the living room of my beautiful house in Marin, surrounded by trees and my white upper middle-class opulence. Now here's some Divorce Rock I can get behind. I find it perversely hilarious that Collins added this keeper to the CD as a "bonus" track. Phil, you're a maniac, really you are.

Finally: what's the deal with the outerwear-clarifying album title? From Wikipedia:
The album is named after an incident at The Pump Room restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. Collins, entering the restaurant with former Led Zeppelin lead vocalist Robert Plant was denied admittance because he did not meet the restaurant's dress code of "jacket required" for dinner while Plant was allowed in. Collins was wearing a jacket and argued about it. The maitre d'hotel argued that the jacket was not "proper". Collins said in an interview with Playboy that he was, at that point, never so mad in his life. After the incident, the singer often appeared on shows such as Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, denouncing the restaurant and telling his story. The management of the restaurant later sent him a complimentary sport coat and an apology letter, stating that he could come to the restaurant wearing whatever he wanted.

"I thought of different things to do. Like maybe going down there wearing the right kind of jacket and ordering a drink and just pouring it onto the floor and saying, 'Well, I've got a jacket on! You can't do anything to me.' Maybe I should smash a few photographs on the wall, a bit of the Robert Plant attitude. But I did nothing, of course. I just moaned about it."
Yes, of course Phil. You did nothing. You simply let them step on you, like you were an insignificant little gnat who crawled out of the three-year-old cream cheese, just as you've let people step on you your whole entire life. When will you finally stand up for yourself?

Of course, loyal readers know that Phil's whole "Sweater Vest Pushover" image is just a ruse, a ploy, to cover up his many, many misdeeds, and that the actual Phil Collins is one seedy hombre. Here's the real story behind the album's title:
I was relaxing in my favorite porn theater, The Mauve Glove, in Boulder, Colorado, watching Six Fists for Sister Sara, taking a break from another grueling tour schedule. After the lights went up, I wandered around back and chatted with the owner, my good friend Alexei Tsorotov, who I always called Billy (a nickname I gave him after a drunken incident in Fort Collins involving a pistol shootout and a transgender bull - can't go into it right now). Alexei mixed up a special concoction of Russian vodka and horse tranquilizer just for me (the man knew how I rolled). I'm telling you, nothing beats a shot of Tsorotov's vodka with crushed ice. Mmmm!

"Phil! You touring Soviet Union someday?"

"You never know, Billy. Why do you care? You live in the States."

"Ahh, but if you ever tour Leningrad, you must stay with my cousin Tatiana. She is very ..." He held up his hands to his chest and made two giant circles with his fingers.

"I'll bet she is. You know me and Russian women. Hey, why don't you invite your cousin to Boulder? We can make a porn together."

"Phil, you know how tricky it is with the embassy and such -"

"Nonsense! I've got connections at the embassy like you wouldn't believe. I'll handle the whole thing. Just get Tatiana over here, and maybe a couple of her friends, you know, if they're up for a little 'adventure'."

"I can get a crew together in two weeks."

"Is Fyodor available? If we can get Fyodor to direct, I think we'd be all set."

"I call Fyodor. He has tight schedule, but maybe he can do it."

"We'll do one of those ski resort pictures, you know, where it's 20 degrees outside but their nipples get all erect." I gazed off toward the Rocky Mountains and lost myself in thought. "You know how they call this the 'Cold War'? How about a 'Cold Porn'?" I leaned toward Alexei with a grin on my face.

"Phil, you are always funny with the jokes. I make some calls tomorrow."

"I've got to skip town, you know, the next show, but tell me know it goes." I grabbed a pen and paper. "Billy, don't you lose my number."

So after the show in Salt Lake City, I got a call from Alexei. "Phil, I communicate with my cousin, and her friends Olga and Katarina, they all excited to come to Boulder for the film."

"Nice work! So what's the plan now?"

"You see, they not have much money, they are asking me what to bring, and it is a long, long way to go. They are confused. I am telling them it is a porno, and yet I am telling them it will be cold."

"So where's the confusion?"

"They want to know if they need to bring a jacket. In Soviet Union it is the law to wear jacket."

I thought for a moment. "Well, if they feel like bringing one, they can bring one, but if they don't, it's OK."


"This is America, all right? Just tell 'em: 'no jacket required'!"

"Yes, Phil. That's good."

"What about Fyodor?"

"I think he can do it."

"What about his DP? What's that guy's name? Michael or something?"


"Yeah, that's it. Can he do the film?"

"Ahh. He and Fyodor had falling out. They not working as team like before."

"Man." I let out a sigh. "Doesn't anybody stay together anymore?"

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Never Gonna Hear "Never Gonna Give You Up" The Same Way Again AKA I'll Have What That Bartender's Having

There once was a song. Those who heard this song were hard-pressed to name any aspect of the song that was remarkable in any way whatsoever: not the melody, not the lyrics, not the production. It was the most generic pop song in the history of popular songs. Naturally, given the tastes of the 1987/1988 record-buying public, this impressively generic song became a #1 hit in virtually every country in the Western world.

Sometimes, late at night, alone in the dark, I ask myself why. Why "Never Gonna Give You Up"? Why Rick Astley? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do fools fall in love? Why do hot dogs come in packages of ten, but hot dog buns come in packages of eight? Some possible answers:
  1. An invisible race of aliens secretly invaded planet Earth in 1987 and implanted "Never Gonna Give You Up" receptor chips into our feeble humanoid brains. Thus, when the song hit the airwaves, we were instinctively inclined to enjoy it, without fully being able to articulate why. 
  2. Stock Aitken Waterman deliberately gave the rhythm track the same number of beats per minute as the human heart. Listening to "Never Gonna Give You Up" is like ... listening to life itself. 
  3. Homo sapiens are nothing but a bunch of masochistic, self-loathing nihilists, and in late 1987/early 1988, we eagerly relished the opportunity to achieve this ultimate act of self-hatred. 
Valiant attempts, but still somehow unsatisfactory. Occasionally, a phenomenon comes along that simply cannot be explained, like the unicycle, or Pauly Shore. I'm afraid the initial popularity of "Never Gonna Give You Up" will remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of our age.

Question: Are there any actual instruments being played on this song? It's like scrolling through a news website and realizing that none of the actual stories on that site were even written by that site. I feel like I hear a string section, but is that really a string section? I feel like I hear horns, but are they really horns? Is this song just one giant illusion? Indeed, "Never Gonna Give You Up" could be considered Stock Aitken Waterman's most notorious display of studio magic - or should I say black studio magic? Best/worst production choices:
  • The faint echo of Rick Astley's voice that can be heard over the instrumental intro at 0:08 and 0:16 - it's like a foreshadowing of the horror to come 
  • The significantly heavier echo applied to the end of the second line of each verse ("So! do I-do-I-do-I," "Too shy, to say-it-say-it-say-it"). Please, somebody, help, let me out of here!-here-here-here... 
  • The silky bridge, with its choir of female sirens cooing "Ooh ... give-you-up," punctuated by Rick's gruff, spasmodic "Nevah-gonna-give! Nevah-gonna-give!", followed by a repeat of the second verse with all the "instruments" stripped away, leaving only Rick and whatever the hell that thing is that's making all those throbbing noises 
"Never Gonna Give You Up" was one of those songs I used to hear on the radio all the time and I never once gave it a moment's thought. I don't believe I particularly cared for it much. I used to get it mixed up with Rick Astley's other big hit, "Together Forever," and I also used to get Rick Astley mixed up a little bit with Michael McDonald, if you can imagine that. They both sound more black than they really are. That said, at least Michael McDonald sort of looks the way he sounds; Rick Astley looks like he'd sound like, I dunno, Morrissey? The point is, soft rock stations couldn't get their fill of "Never Gonna Give You Up." They wanted to have Rick Astley's baby. Then one day, I forgot about the song, and I didn't really miss it.

Fast-forward to 2008. A friend suddenly tells me about this new internet meme revolving around some cheesy song from the '80s. He tells me he's not familiar with the song. He sends me a link to the video. I instantly chuckle, and boast my extreme familiarity with the piece. Hey, I was grooving to "Never Gonna Give You Up" before the internet even existed, you damn kids! Actually, I hated the song back in the day, but I'll take my pop music street cred wherever I can find it.

The moment I heard about Rickrolling, I understood exactly why it was humorous. "Never Gonna Give You Up" was the epitome of inane, flavorless late '80s pop. There was absolutely nothing interesting about it. Suddenly, the song's utter lack of artistic value was what made its employment as a running gag so surreal and, dare I say, appropriate. The song was stupid. The meme was stupid. Somehow, like the invisible finger that forms above your nose when you place your two index fingers together and let your eyes lose focus, two stupid ideas met in a new, hidden dimension, and formed a brilliant idea.

Here's the strangest part of all: since Rickrolling became a thing, I actually like the song now. Perhaps this is what Karl Marx meant by his remark about history repeating itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Of course, as any true Rickrolling aficionado will tell you, half of the appeal of the meme is in the laughably dated, relentlessly clean-cut video, which, until 2008, I had never seen. Allow me, if I may, to perform a shot-by-shot analysis of the first 18 seconds of this music video:
  1. Close-up of Astley's ginger-coated skull bobbing up and down behind the tip of a microphone and in front of what appears to be a massive stained glass window with an oddly pinkish tint to it, although the movement of Astley's head against the background seems to suggest low-budget usage of a green screen. 
  2. Medium shot of Astley bobbing in the same manner as in Shot #1, again standing behind a (now more visible) microphone, and again in front of this supposed stained glass window, the medium shot revealing his outfit, which consists of a grey sport coat, a striped polo shirt, black belt, and khaki slacks. The shirt is tucked into his slacks, which seem to be pulled up unnervingly high - even for 1987. 
  3. Unexpected close-up of Astley's nondescript shoe. 
  4. Slightly more interesting close-up of Astley's hand. 
  5. Return to the medium shot, featuring Astley bending his elbows and wiggling his arms, but not, apparently, in time with the music. 
  6. Return to the close-up, mercifully sparing us his ill-advised elbow movements. 
  7. We're back to the elbow-jutting in another medium shot. I spoke too soon. 
  8. Close-up of Astley, now in an entirely new setting: it appears to be an ancient stone building with Renaissance-style arches. He's also wearing an entirely new wardrobe, consisting of a tan trench coat and a black turtleneck sweater. The enthusiasm of his smile is somewhat unsettling. One can also detect an occasional flash of light in the background. Is there ... a fireplace somewhere off camera? Did they film this in a lightning storm? During an air raid? What's going on back there? 
  9. Wide shot of Astley in front of the same brick building, featuring the same eerie flashes of light, but, as with Shot #8, revealing no explanation of the source. 
  10. Medium shot of Astley in front of the brick building that's almost as bland as he is. (Is the flickering light supposed to be from ... the reflection of water? Is he standing by a canal??) 
  11. A medium shot of a blonde-haired woman with a yellow ribbon in her hair, wearing a sleeveless black top, dancing in front of the "stained glass window" seen earlier. Initially her back is to the camera, and then, without warning, she spins around and reveals her wholesome, chipper face to the world. 
  12. Slightly wider shot of what appears to be a different blonde-haired woman with a yellow ribbon in her hair, as her black garment clearly has sleeves on it, while the other woman's does not. She performs some type of retro disco move with her left arm while dancing in front of the same pink-tinted "window" image. 
  13. Now we come to a third setting, this time in broad daylight. Rick is wearing sunglasses and a long-sleeve button up light blue shirt, possibly tucked in to an appallingly high-waisted pair of slacks, possibly not, leaning against a fence. This must be "Outdoorsman Rick." 
  14. Slightly wider shot of Outdoorsman Rick, the camera panning around his body as he shuffles his legs, claps, and punches an imaginary foe, again not in any apparent rhythm. And yes, the waist on his slacks is just as frighteningly high as it was on his first pair of slacks. 
  15. Close-up of another blonde woman, standing outdoors and wearing sunglasses like Rick, but also wearing some sort of lightly tie-dyed sleeveless summer dress, twirling gaily in front of a building with white bricks. The camera gradually zooms out as she twirls. 
  16. Close-up of the same woman twirling, although perhaps not capturing the same exact twirl as before. 
I ask you: has any video, within its first 18 seconds, ever crafted a mood quite as powerful? True, the piece arguably never surpasses the aesthetic precision of its majestic opening, but then again, how many videos ever could? Indeed, the next thirty seconds or so merely recycle bits of the already-revealed imagery (Stone Building Rick, Outdoorsman Rick), aside from a cryptic shot of a gyrating shadow (possibly Rick's?) at 0:30. Nothing new truly enters the picture until the 0:51 mark, where we are suddenly presented with a black bartender in a white shirt and red suspenders who pauses from wiping the counter to promptly turn his head and glare off towards the back of the room with an expression that seems to say, "Whoa man, what the hell's going on back there? Looks like they're having a good time." Sure enough, after a quick cut to another shot of Rick and the Dancing Blondes, the camera cuts back to our suspendered mixologist, who is now flipping a glass and bobbing his head in what I might describe as an "All right, I can get into this!" gesture. Ladies and gentlemen, that's not the only thing he's about to flip. This dude's just getting started.

At 1:18 he truly begins to break out of his shell as he spins and spins with more vigor than the Tazmanian Devil, then leaps into the air and ... does a jumping jack! Who knew Carl Lewis was in the "Never Gonna Give You Up" video? At 1:34 he starts to jog on an (I presume?) invisible treadmill, and then at 1:42, WHOA, look out, he does a backflip over the entire freaking bar! All I can say is, whatever they're paying this bartender, it's clearly not enough. When he pops up again at 2:07, he's changed out of his suffocating bartender wardrobe and is now sporting the athletic gear he clearly feels liberated in, as he bounces buoyantly against a chain-link fence. Then at 2:25, he does a full somersault under the Renaissance arches, pausing robotically upon completion, as if he were dancing to Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." But wait, he's still got one more moment of glory in him: at 2:46, he runs up the brick wall, tumbles backwards, and lands on his feet with a thousand-watt grin. All well and good, but what I'm wondering is: while he's busy prancing around and flying through the air and having a grand old time ... who the hell's manning the bar?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"I Want Your Sex," But Who Wants A Good Chuckle?

If, after the dissolution of Wham!, George Michael had intended the record-buying public to begin taking his music more seriously, I'm not sure "I Want Your Sex" was exactly the way to go.

I like "I Want Your Sex," but not because I think it's a particularly good song. I like it because ... well, because it is hilarious.

First of all, the title is hilarious. No one says, "I want your sex." Seriously, who says that? One might say, "I want sex," or "I want your body," but no one would say "I want your sex." I don't know if it's incorrect English, but I do know that it's something no one says. It would be like saying, "I want your aerobics," or "I want your finance." "Sex" is not a thing that belongs to a person. One does not "possess" sex.

Or perhaps what we have here ... is George Michael ... completely redefining ... what sex is.

Most people know "I Want Your Sex" from its inclusion on Faith, but the song actually made its first appearance on the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II, which my family purchased in the summer of 1987, and which is how I initially became, well, "exposed" to the song's many charms. To be fair, I haven't revisited the soundtrack album since then, but from what I recall, the quality of the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack bore about the same relationship to the original Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack as the quality of the actual Beverly Hills Cop II movie did to its predecessor. Who can forget James Ingram's "Better Way," Corey Hart's "Hold On," or The Jets' "Cross My Broken Heart"? The Pointer Sisters were the only act to return for a second tour of duty, this time contributing "Be There," which probably wasn't as "there" as "Neutron Dance" was. I remember being extremely enamored with Bob Seger's "Shakedown," which became the #1 hit that probably even Bob Seger doesn't remember having, but I heard it again a few years ago and I can't say I entirely agree with the assessment of my seven-year-old self. I remember my brother and I deciding to perform "dance routines" to each song on the album in our tiny living room. Somehow or other, I got the short end of the stick and had to come up with a routine for "I Want Your Sex." Our father rolled his eyes as he viewed it and said, "I don't know if this is such a great idea." I managed to half-heartedly trudge my way through all four minutes and forty seconds of squeakiness.

I assume the sound at the start of the song is a synthesizer, and not, as I'm tempted to believe, two banana slugs copulating, but I could be mistaken. The squeaking noises continue throughout the piece, as if someone was standing in the corner continually squeezing mud between his hands, and recording it. The verse flirts with a decent melody, but I feel like that sense of musical decency goes out the window once the chorus shows up. The bridge is actually somewhat promising, and suggests that a very exciting, passionate, anthemic chorus is on the way:
I swear I won't tease you, won't tell you no lies
I don't need no bible, just look in my eyes
I've waiting so long, baby, now that we're friends
A man's got his patience, and here's where mine ends
And then suddenly, we hear a very bored, dispassionate George Michael, in a supremely unexciting lower register, speak-singing the words "I want your sex," followed by, I believe, a long string of farting noises. This is where his patience ends? You'd think he could have waited for something a little better, you know? To me, this song is about as sexy as a night out at Hooter's, but hey, maybe it works for you.

Right around the end of the second chorus, things truly start to get weird. Follow along with me if you can:
  • 2:23: Just business as usual, until George pauses after "I want your," only to unleash an emphatic "sex ... sex! Ow!"
  • 2:28: The squeak returns with a vengeance, and we're treated to a solo by what sounds like an ... "imitation Asian gong" synth setting?
  • 2:49: A cluster of sped-up Georges attempt to sell the listener on the myriad benefits of sex, helpfully explaining that "it's natural" and "it's chemical," when suddenly they are interrupted by another, regular-speed George who apparently is finding the sped-up mini-Georges' approach much too subtle and simply grunts "Let's do it!"
  • 2:54: The pitch-altered Georges continue, as if we weren't already convinced, adding "it's logical" and "habitual," and once again unaltered George chimes in with an impatient "Can we do it-uh?"
  • 2:59: The chorus of Georges is clearly running out of selling points, pointing out that "it's sexual" (I think we knew this already), but then pivoting into a different pattern with "but most of all, sex is something that we should do," which is followed by an unexpectedly deep-voiced man who I assume just crawled up from the basement of whatever S&M castle we've somehow found ourselves trapped in, adding "Sex is something for me and you." Who would have thought!
  • 3:07: Now we arrive at what might arguably be the "climax" of the interlude. The gathering of Georges, by this time appearing at a mixture of pitches, surmises that "Sex is natural, sex is good/Not everybody does it, but everybody should/Sex is natural, sex is fun," then a lone George pokes his head in to point out that "Sex is best when it's" ... and finally deep-voiced George finishes the thought with an emotionless "one-on-one." "I see," said the blind man.
  • 3:47: The comparatively tranquil bongo jam that follows is broken up by, if I'm not mistaken, George dry heaving repeatedly in the left channel ("hu-ah!"), which is invariably followed by another George in the center channel chanting "sex," and all the while, lead vocalist George explains to the object of his affection that "I'm not your father/I'm not your brother/talk to your sister" and then he really kicks it into Whitney Houston territory with " I am a luv-ahh-ahh! Whoooo-hooo-hooo-euh!" which he finally punctuates with a James Brown-ish "Ow!" and the immortal "C-C-C-C-C-C-Come own-ah!"
  • 4:23: After a little rap (a genre to which George was no stranger, of course), he really lays it all out with "Don't you think it's time you had sex! With! Meee-ayyy-uh!"
  • 4:38: Finally, the piece comes to a fitting conclusion with a last "Mmmm have sex! With! Meee-ayyy-uh!" as the man praying to the porcelain goddess reappears to add another (completely necessary) "hu-ah!" while George ties a nice little ribbon around the whole enchilada with one more "C-C-C-C-C-C-Come own-ah!"
Naturally, George sat in the studio, listened to the playback, and concluded, "You know what? I think the world needs two more versions of this." "Rhythm Two: Brass In Love" manages to be more tasteful and yet, in my opinion, more boring. It's sort of what I imagine would've happened if George had asked Phil Collins to do a remix version. The addition of horns feels gimmicky. I mean, if he wanted to bring a Stax/R&B feel to the piece, he shouldn't have kept using the same crappy drum machine from "Part 1." "Rhythm Three: A Last Request" might actually be, from a purely musical standpoint, the most palatable version, with some decent keyboard work, some noirish trumpet, and the drum machine setting from Gregory Abbott's "Shake You Down," but again, I feel it lacks the comedic edge of "Part 1."

The video was rather "controversial" in its day but, watching it now, I kind of have to wonder, "For what?" Too much stubble? Naked feet being doused with water? Excessive use of red blindfold? This thing is 50 Shades of Tame. From Wikipedia: "The music video, directed by Andy Morahan, featured Michael's then-girlfriend Kathy Jeung to emphasize that he was in a monogamous relationship; at one point, he is shown using lipstick to write the words 'explore' and 'monogamy' on her back." Two questions: 1) His ... girlfriend? Just how serious were they? I mean, if he's not that interested in her, maybe we can trade? 2) "Monogamy"? I'll tell you the first thing that pops into my head when I hear this song: monogamy! It's so obvious! How could anyone miss it? Final thought: what do you think he did with that red lipstick once the cameras stopped rolling? Professor Higglediggle's take:
With his contribution to a reductive, Dionysian symbol of post-blockbuster disjunction (Beverly Hills Cop II), Michael sought to subvert the symbolic capital of monogamy through the interpretive framework of libidinal electro-funk. His declaration "I don't need no bible" serves to sever the act of lovemaking from its codified familial purpose, while his question "What do you consider pornography?" forces the listener to situate her/his (re)conception of the procreational drive in stark opposition to Puritan mythos. Michael's experimental usage of lipstick does much to undercut his circuitous effort to establish a sexualized element of play, however, subtly reinforcing the codified status of female marginalization at the hands of the cosmetics industry and highlighting his partner's lack of sexual agency.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Because "(I Just) Blew My Load In Your Arms Tonight" Didn't Have The Same Ring To It

The opening of this song sounds like somebody singing "Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha" really rapidly and quietly. I know it's just a synthesizer. But wouldn't it have been cool if it had actually been some square-jawed stud in Calvin Klein underwear sitting in the studio breathing "Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha" into a microphone? That's my dream; don't take it away from me. I must confess that I have, with my own voice, recreated the opening hook of "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" at various parties and social gatherings. It's a hit every time.

Anyway, you think your crew is bad? How about a crew that cuts? Now that's a pretty bad crew. Pointing out that "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" wasn't Cutting Crew's only Top 40 hit is sort of like pointing out that Don Quixote wasn't Cervantes's only novel, but, to be fair to the band, I might as well do it. Of course, no one types "I've Been In Love Before" or "One For The Mockingbird" into the YouTube search feature when they're in the mood for a quick blast of '80s nostalgia. It's OK guys. Your one magnificent contribution to retro '80s playlists, like Don Quixote to Spanish literature, is an artistic legacy to be proud of.

For years I assumed the "death" mentioned in the title alluded to some sort of "emotional" death, given that the singer seemed to be expressing remorse over an affair ("I should have walked away," "I know I was wrong"). Turns out there are many different kinds of deaths, including those that bring forth life. From Wikipedia: "The actual words 'I just died in your arms tonight' originally came to Van Eede while he was having sex with his girlfriend, the French phrase la petite mort, or 'the little death', being a metaphor for orgasm." Deep, dude, really deep. Even if that was how he came up with the lyric, was it really that wise to admit it? Couldn't he have claimed he'd been reading Camus or something? This might explain other lines such as "It was a long, hot night/She made it easy, she made it feel right." I'll bet she did. Here are some alternate titles that probably would have hindered the single's climb to #1:
  • "I Just Splooged In Your Arms Tonight"
  • "I Just Busted A Nut In Your Arms Tonight"
  • "I Just Jizzed In Your Arms Tonight"
  • "I Just Shot My Wad In Your Arms Tonight"
Nope, the title they went with was definitely the best one. I have to say, this is one conflicted '80s hit. It's got that potent mixture of sex and death that all great rock music thrives on. I think that, had he lived, this might be what Jim Morrison's inevitable '80s comeback smash would have sounded like. Highlights:
  • 0:07: The entrance of a stately cello, lending an air of elegance to the sleaze
  • 0:15: A cymbal crash, slowly fading upwards just as Nick Van Eede makes his dramatic entrance
  • 1:40: Little guitar bridge between the second chorus and the second verse that sounds like it was lifted from After the Fire's "Der Kommissar"
  • 3:22: After a guitar solo that sounds like your neighbor's step-mom trying to play hair metal, there's a violent, brutal drum fill, followed by a swell of voices, which leads into ...
  • 3:24: All the instrumentation vanishing swiftly into the background, allowing for the solitary re-emergence of the "Ha Ha Ha Ha" synth, because we totally needed to hear that again
  • 3:55: Van Eede finally fades into the night, leaving the guitars to harmonize and groan in the kind of sonic agony that would have made Joe Walsh and Don Felder weep.

The video features what Wikipedia calls "artistic fragmented shots." Is that what those are? I feel like I'm watching the "preview" of another channel in the corner of my screen while the main channel is still on. Initially, when I searched for the video on YouTube and saw that thumbnail, I assumed it might have been one of those clips where the uploader had fiddled with the aspect ratio in order to avoid copyright infringement issues, but nope. Everything sort of looks like a bad Depeche Mode album cover. I can't tell if the model is really good-looking, or if the camera is just really out of focus, but she lounges around in her posh European apartment in a bra and silk sheets, wearing a month's worth of eyeliner, while the camera cuts away to equally sexy shots of of pears, roses, vases, ashtrays, and tomatoes. Various images initially appear in the top left pane, and then, a split second later, appear in the large background pane! But all, like, zoomed in and stuff! I can't get a handle on it, man.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Zrbo's Favorite Songs of 2017

Another year has come and gone - a fairly uneventful one at that. No real major controversies, no major existential crises as a nation comes to grips with its tarnished reputation, no disturbing resurgence of neo-Nazism, nothing really.

But guess what did happen? I actually listened to some music this year... some NEW music. Whereas last year I had essentially given up on modern music, I made a (somewhat) concerted effort this year. And it sorta paid off. Let's get to to it!

Most Disappointing Album:

Taylor Swift - Reputation

If you recall, I had to surrender my goth cred license when I called Taylor Swift's 1989 "a great pop album". Well, give me that license back because I listened to Reputation and I basically just hated it. Gone are the swirling 80s inspired synths and the hummable melodies, instead replaced with... generic club music. No really, I think Taylor's been hanging out with too many DJs in too many velvet rope lined night clubs. This album just sounds like it's designed for those LA/NYC night clubs filled with obnoxiously douchey guys trying to pick up on girls wearing too much makeup and skirts too short, with overpriced bottle service, and $11 Bud Lights (don't forget to tip that weird guy in the bathroom who... hands you a paper towel to dry your hands). I gave it one full listen and never went back. Bring back those synth filled melodies Taylor!

Most Improved Album:

Chrvches - Every Eye Open

Back in 2013 I named Chvrches "Gun" as my favorite song of the year. Then their follow up album Every Eye Open came out in 2015 and while I found it alright, it didn't draw me in as much as I hoped it would. Well color me wrong, I gave the album another listen this year and found that, no, I really do like this album. In fact, going against critical consensus, I actually think I like Every Eye Open just a tad better than their debut album The Bones of What You Believe. Yes, the singles off that debut were stronger, but as a whole I just really dig Every Eye Open. It's got a good flow and I like the male vocalist led track "High Enough to Carry You Over" better than TBOWYB's "You Caught the Light". Not only that, but when I purchased EEO I got the special edition with a few additional tracks. What I love about these tracks are that they continue with the flow of the basic album and they're quite good, with the final song "Bow Down" being one of my favorites off the entire thing.

#5 - Solar Fake - "All the Things You Say"

This song was recommended to me by an algorithm and it looks like the algorithm knows my tastes. Ok, it's really just a club friendly goth song with a hint of euro-dance sprinkled in. The oddly named Solar Fake hail from Germany and as far as I can tell it's just one guy (who also has a VNV Nation cover floating around, too bad it's one of my least favorite VNV songs). "All the Things You Say" isn't that remarkable and I don't really expect anyone else to enjoy it, but it sits comfortably in that dancey EBM space that I love so much.

#4 - Moana Soundtrack - "I Am Moana (Song of the Ancients)"

I have a toddler daughter who's favorite movie is currently Disney's Moana, which means that at the Zrbo household the soundtrack gets played constantly (at least three times a day). Maybe it's just Stockholm Syndrome, but after about a thousand listenings I've grown fond of the soundtrack. While "How Far I'll Go" is the big number, I prefer "I Am Moana". It's not only the big final number, but I like how it serves as a reprise of "How Far I'll Go". Yes, it's got the big loud cathartic ending where the music swells and our hero Moana finds her determination to overcome the challenges against her, but it also has a nicely subdued beginning as we hear Moana's grandma encourage her not to give up. In fact, the part with Moana's grandma might just be my favorite part. It's a good movie and has a soundtrack full of good songs. Oh and it beats that other Disney movie with those two nordic princesses by a mile (a fathom perhaps?).

#3 - When in Rome - "The Promise"

My retro pick of the year, this is one of those songs I've known for awhle but somehow it got lodged deep in my brain this year. It's really just a catchy British new wave single, but once that drum machine kicks in after the initial piano I'm hooked.

Now that being said, you may be curious why you've never heard another song by When in Rome. Well my friend, I recommend reading the AMG Guide review of this album, it's quite the fun read. Some highlights are "a dud of an album", "embarassingly weak", and "the rest of the album is utterly forgettable". Ouch!

I also want to address the video because, well, it's not at all what I expected. Queuing it up I assumed I would see some wimpy looking British guys with big hair in outrageously dated 80s attire, like what you might find in the video for Real Life's "Send Me an Angel" or A Flock of Seagull's "I Ran". Instead there's a beefy looking almost 90s looking Eddie Vedder type and some other guy in a baseball cap who might be described as a "lad" (there's also a third guy but he barely features). And then the video itself is surprisingly cinematic. It looks like it might be from one of those 80s soundtrack videos where it cuts between the performer and the movie (think "St. Elmo's Fire"). But no, it's just this strangely cinematic video that cuts between the bandmates composing the song and a sophisticated looking woman who they're writing their promise to (Perhaps this is a Cyrano de Bergerac situation and the other two guys are composing the song for the Eddie Vedder type?) For a song from 1988 it looks like a video from 1995. It's just... strange.

#2 - Bruno Mars - "24k Magic"

Look, something that was actually popular in the year two thousand seventeen! I'm not really a Bruno Mars guy, but in what can only be the highest accolade that Mr. Mars would want to hear, the first time I heard this song on the radio I thought it was some long lost Michael Jackson track. "Maybe this was off of one of his later albums, like Blood on the Dancefloor?", I thought. Of course, once I heard some lyric about "hashtag" I knew I was wrong, but this is precisely the kind of song I could imagine the late Michael doing if he were still around as a sort of comeback song where he lends his vocals to a younger, more popular act. This song just has this fun build and release where it seems to draw inspiration from a variety of acts. The falsetto is straight from the aformentioned Jackson, parts sound similar to Grandmaster Flash's "The Message", and the build up right before the chorus reminds me of a song I can't quite put my finger on. Anyways, I like it.

#1 - Adele - "Fastlove"

What a complete reinvention of a song. I've always enjoyed George Michael's "Fastlove" but in an easy-listening throwaway-pop kind of way. Yeah yeah George, you're a lothario out on the prowl to find women to have sex with in the back of your BMW, I get it. But it's all kind of breezy and fun, right? Well, let Adele show you how it's done. She transforms the song so completely that it practically becomes a funeral dirge. Especially when she gets to that final verse ("In the absence of security...") it nearly becomes suicide inducing. I've listened to the original a hundred times, but she draws out this pathos that was always hiding just beneath the surface that I had never noticed before. Also, props to whoever put together that backing video behind her, because it just lines up perfectly (skip to 1:50 to see the performance).

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Stealth Attack Of Rick Nowels

The history of popular music is littered with figures who have contributed, in ever-so-clandestine fashion, to the soundtrack of our lives, and yet have done so without ever becoming household names in their own right. You've got your George Martins, your Al Koopers, your Brian Enos, your Norman Whitfields, your Rod Tempertons, your Trevor Horns - to name a mere half-dozen or so. But few of these figures have merited less blog posts than Rick Nowels.

Yes, Rick Nowels. Most people, if pressed, couldn't even name one single song that Rick Nowels has composed. But if those same people simply started naming a string of song titles at random, they might eventually name a Rick Nowels song by accident. Let me show you what I mean.

You know that song by the New Radicals (AKA Gregg Alexander), "You Get What You Give"? The one where that guy who would end up having only one hit in his entire career threatened Beck, Marilyn Manson, and Courtney Love by saying he'd "kick their ass in"?

Co-written by Rick Nowels.

You know that song by Jewel you hear in the motel lobby, "Standing Still"? The one that kind of rips off the bridge melody of Springsteen's "My Hometown," but where at least she doesn't sing about how small her hands are?

Co-written by Rick Nowels.

You know that song by Dido, "White Flag"? The one with a romantic/military metaphor more awkward than ABBA's "Waterloo" and a chorus hook so insinuatingly catchy that it should probably be banned by the Geneva Convention so that it's never employed as a torture device on prisoners of war?

Co-written by Rick Nowels.

Even Madonna once got into the Rick Nowels action, or three times, rather: she co-wrote a trio songs with this international man of mystery on Ray of Light, including a hit I don't quite remember hearing much at the time, "The Power of Good-bye."

How does he do it? Maybe he's just a really fun dude to hang out with late at night. For whatever reason, when mainstream pop stars need to fill out their next album with an extra song or two, and they're stuck in the mud, they call Rick Nowels. He's like the Mr. Wolf of Adult Contemporary pop. Here is a list of artists who, since the turn of the millennium, have called on the secret services of Mr. Nowels: Keith Urban, Cee Lo, Nelly Furtado, John Legend, Geri Halliwell AND Mel C ... hell, even Yusuf Islam, the Muslim reincarnation of Cat Stevens, teamed up with Nowels when he recorded his secular comeback album An Other Cup in 2005. Recently he's developed a fruitful partnership with Lana Del Ray, which I'm certain I would make a witheringly snarky comment about ... if I had actually heard any of Lana Del Ray's music.

Anyway. Brilliant artists, all. But there's only one singer to whom Rick Nowels truly belongs, and will belong forevermore. From Lips Unsealed:
Miles, who wished that Belinda, despite its impressive sales, had been edgier and more in the style of IRS acts, forgot to pick up the option on my contract with IRS and I found myself a free agent. My management and I decided to shop around for a new deal. Miles was furious. But we thought, Why not test the market?
Uh, Miles, I hate to break it to you, but "edgier and more in the style of IRS acts" was definitely not the direction Belinda was itching to head in here. I wonder how "furious" he was about losing Belinda once he heard the ... um ... not-entirely-edgy product that eventually came out on her new label.
It turned out to be a shrewd move. After a bidding war between several major labels, I signed with MCA in the U.S., kept my foreign rights till after the next record was finished, and eventually made seven figures on both sides of the Atlantic.

Michael Lloyd expected to work with me again, but [MCA president] Irving [Azoff] had another producer in mind. I was given the difficult, if not heartbreaking, task of telling Michael, who was understandably upset. I felt awful, but it was one of those things. The silver lining was my new executive producer Rick Nowels, who had scored major triumphs working with Stevie Nicks, another MCA artist. In fact, Stevie had suggested he try to work with me. In a way, we may have been destined to partner. It sure felt like it when we met. We had instant chemistry.
Somehow you knew Stevie Nicks was going to have a hand in the Belinda zaniness at some point, didn't you?
Rick was tall and blonde, a Californian from head to toe, very passionate and a little eccentric. He wrote songs with Ellen Shipley, an amazing artist in her own right. They created songs specifically for my voice. For me, it was a brand-new and exciting way of working. I had never been anyone's muse.

When Rick and I talked about the album and how we envisioned it - what we wanted it to feel like and how we wanted the listener to feel - I had the sense he was reaching into my soul, removing tiny pieces, and magically turning them into songs ... At the same time, I had never worked as hard. Rick made me sing parts forty or fifty times. I could never figure out what specifically he was listening for. Thank God he eventually heard it, though, or I might still be there.
Hah! But you know what? That's the way it should be. Great singers shouldn't even understand what it is about their singing that is great. They should lack any and all self-consciousness. All Belinda needed to do was step up to the microphone, bring it, and let the Stealth Attack do the rest. At any rate. While Nowels' hits with Belinda would certainly not be his last, I would venture to say that they would arguably be his best. Although I'm a little curious about that Geri Halliwell/Mel C material. Oh come on, don't tell me you're not.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Two Valeries Are Better Than One

You want to know how hot Steve Winwood was in 1987? Let me tell you how hot. Steve Winwood was so hot, he could release a remix of a single he'd already released in 1982, which had already flopped, and watch the remixed version turn into a huge hit. But, the things is, "Valerie" kind of deserved it.

Because, let's face it, "Valerie" got stiffed the first time around. This one had it all: chugging synth bass line, bouncy octave-jumping synth riff, smooth Winwood vocal, enigmatic lyrics that were radio-friendly without being embarrassing, suspenseful bridge followed by soaring chorus, solo played by the guy who made the music for Pole Position, and even a nifty, swiftly dramatic ending. I mean, what else did the people want? Still, you never know which way the fickle winds of '80s Yuppie Rock are going to blow.

Speaking of wind. The video for "Valerie '82" opens with Winwood battling a terrifying silver Chromakey effect, his sport coat falling prey to the electronic pellets. He swiftly wins the battle and finds himself restored to his usual appearance, but in the aftermath, apparently everything on Earth has been wiped out other than a giant fan, although judging by the look on his face, he's not worried in the least. Well, he can't be that warm, with the wind in his arms, is what I'm thinking. When he plays the keyboard, his fingers become enveloped in swirling, silver waves of ... energy? Metallic plasma flow? At 3:37 he tempts the laws of physics by duetting with his superimposed self, the hand of one Winwood punching the other Winwood directly in the face, which would probably hurt if he wasn't, you know, such a wimp. Let's just say that the atmospheric conditions of the video have given already-sardonic YouTube commentators a second "wind":
They should call him Steve Windwood. No?

Valerie probably went inside, it's too windy.

There is no wind. His hair always does that on its own. Isn't it glorious?

I have a FEVER, and the only prescription is MORE WIND MACHINE!

We bought that wind machine and dammit, we're going to get our money's worth.

This music video literally blows

The wind machine blew him back to his home planet

Oh, how that YouTube humor just blows me away. But I digress. This original version of "Valerie" appeared on Talking Back to the Night, his follow-up to Arc of a Diver, and while it made it to #13 on the US Mainstream Rock chart, it petered out at #70 on the US Hot 100 and #51 in the UK. Oh, the shame! Like jazz on a summer's day, it floated away on the breeze of listener indifference. The Yuppie Rock Gods sensed a great injustice, one that required remedy, but one that could only be rectified when the time was right.

Well, some day, some good wind blew "Valerie" back to us. And that day ... was 1987.

In 1987, Winwood released a not-quite-greatest-hits album called Chronicles, and included a few remixed versions of older songs, supposedly to entice those fans who must have been looking for the tiniest excuse to plunk down some change for any old Winwood product they didn't already have. Upon revisiting "Valerie," the first thing he apparently thought was "The drums ... they just don't ... rumble enough. They need to be more ... rumbly." And lo, the drums did rumble. "And an imitation snare effect! There's no imitation snare effect!" Consider it done, Steve. Now this sucker had some pizzazz to it. He also added in some extra guitar licks around 1:30 for that "hickory smoked" flavor. "Valerie" was like the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion of '80s Yuppie Rock songs: it had the brains, heart, and courage to be a hit single the whole time, but it just hadn't believed in itself. The remix peaked at #9 in the US, and #19 in the UK.

Looks like ol' Steve-o had a bit more money for the video this time around, although he personally seems to have spent the same exact amount of time making it. The director opted for some sort of "pastel and pencil sketch" look, which has probably aged better than the silver magnetic wave effect, although it kind of feels like it belongs in a lost Sesame Street segment. Then he interspersed it with blurry "strobe effect" shots of Steve and his band in some blue-tinted nether-region. A different actress "plays" Valerie this time around, which leads me to wonder: did the two actresses ever meet each other? Did they ever talk about the beautiful bond that they'll always share, no matter where life takes them?

A few years ago, I was trying to download a higher quality version of "Valerie" so that I could include it on a mix I was making (called, of course, Summer of '88), and when I listened to the version I'd downloaded, boy, you have never seen a more confused Yuppie Rock fan in your life. "This isn't 'Valerie'!" I thought in indignation. "This is like some ... demo version or something!" Little did I know, but I had downloaded the original version. Having only ever heard the remix, at first I thought the original was sorely lacking, but in time, it has grown on me. Today I will stand before you and say that I enjoy both versions almost equally. But according to the heated debate on YouTube, I might be the only one:
I love this original version much better. It's a bit more raw, synth and keyboard wise.

After being used to the 1987 remix, hearing this original version from 1982 feels like a breath of fresh air. :)

I actually like this version better than the '87 version. Musically, It sounds more raw and not polished, the vocals aren't drowned by the synths and I love how this version has the saxophone-like synth sounds from "While You See A Chance"

I greatly prefer the original. In comparison, this is just so heavy handed and over produced.

It's as if Winwood was listening to the original track and thought "Shit, can I make this more 80's than 80's?"

this way better then the original

I lke this version more than the 1982 one, but both are freaking good songs.

remix version for the win am i rite?

personally I prefer this over the original, but nonetheless both are badass classics

This is the mix for this song I prefer. The 1982 cut lacked bite in the drums.

That rare thing where the remix version is better than the original.

Love this version. Its like putting Franks Red Hot sauce on the original.

remix? many of us considered this to be the main song

Let me just say that this 1987 remix is MUCH better than the original 1982 version. Well done Steve for having the sense to re-release it

This version is actually better than his original 1982 release. A no brainer, right????

The 1982 version? Meh. The 1987 remix? One of the best songs of the 80s!

The first time I heard this version I had just smoked a joint. I didn't know it was a remix, and to this day I still remember thinking, "That must be some really good weed because I am hearing all kinds of things I never noticed before."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Rock Steady": Your Middle-Aged Black Uncle's Favorite R&B Jam

Whoa, these guys are old. I didn't even realize how old they were until I watched the video. I always assumed they were, like, in their 20's or something.

If "The Whispers" sounds more like the name of an early '60s doo-wop group than an '80s R&B group, that's because it basically was. Well, they don't quite go back that far, but they'd been fixtures on the soul charts since 1969, although they didn't have a big pop hit until "And the Beat Goes On" in 1980. I remember hearing "And the Beat Goes On," or perhaps more accurately, hearing Will Smith sample "And the Beat Goes On" on his turn-of-the-Willenium classic "Miami" ("Party in the city 'til the heat is on/All night on the beach 'til the break of dawn") and thinking, "Hey, that little two chord synth riff sounds like the one from 'Rock Steady'!" Then one day I learned that both songs had been performed by the same group. So, "Rock Steady" was actually the song that recycled the riff, not the other way around. Well, it worked: they re-used the lick from the biggest hit they'd ever had up to that point, and they scored an even bigger hit with it ("And the Beat Goes On" hit #19, while "Rock Steady" hit #7).

The reason why "Rock Steady" truly does sound like the work of a younger artist is because, in essence, it was. In fact, one of the co-writers and co-producers looked so young, Bootsy Collins ended up giving him the nickname "Babyface." Yes, before Pebbles, Karyn White, and Bobby Brown (let alone Paula Abdul, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Boyz II Men, and TLC), one Kenneth Brian "Babyface" Edmonds and frequent collaborator L.A. Reid gave some old farts a credible makeover and helped introduce New Jack Swing to suburban parents everywhere.

Listen to that finger-popping bass! (I assume it's a bass?) Note the way lead singer Scotty Scott attempts to create some kind of jazz scatting/rapping hybrid on the bridge: "I begin to touch/but yew wouldn't-let-it!/It nevah-seemed-ta-be the raaaht taahme/I started to give up/down to-thah-limit!/And then you changed your myyyynd." I also like the fluttery and yet robotic "ooh-ROCK" vocal interjections peppered throughout the track whenever necessary.

The sight of mustachioed, not-so-youthful black men getting down on stage has inspired the expected comparisons in the YouTube comments section:
Neil Degrasse Tyson is amazing!

I didn't know Richard Pryor was in the Whispers

Fun fact: Steve Harvey discovered cloning technology in the 80's and used it to start a music group called "The Whispers". The machine was soon destroyed by the might of his band's music. Some say the use of the cloning machine was a waste of potential, but most others believe it was the best thing ever. You decide.
The reason why two of the singers look like clones of each other ... is because they were twins. Who needs Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen when you've got the two mustachioed guys in the Whispers, amirite? Other highlights:
These guys were old by 1987 standards. Awesome.

this ain't a boy band, this is a MAN BAND

currently playing at your nearest black uncle's car...

this the type of song you see a old person dancing to at a bbq with that red beer cup in his hand

Every time I walk into a club and I hear this song, I just know it's gona be a GREAT NIGHT !!!

Damn that song makes me dance even on the toilet

This song randomly popped into my head last night at work lol. Then I go to the break room to use the bathroom this video is on the TV. Weird, but it gets weirder. As I'm driving home the first song I hear on the radio is this fucking song lmao.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Summer of '88

Endless volumes of prose have been expended over the Summer of 1967 (the so-called "Summer of Love"), and Bryan Adams sang eloquently about the "Summer of '69," but these days, I've got another, less heralded, summer on my mind. From a socio-historical standpoint, I wouldn't say that any events of great magnitude occurred during this particular summer, other than what must have been, in retrospect, a laughably tame U.S. presidential election, and the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, which I consumed with a ferocity I would never match during any subsequent Olympic period. The Dodgers were on their way to winning the World Series, which, it pleases me to say, is still, as of November 2017, the last time they won the World Series.

No, the Summer of '88 was memorable for me because I was eight years old, I was between 2nd and 3rd grade, I sat around and relished the fact that I did not have to go to school for three months and, most critically for our purposes, I listened to the radio every waking moment of my life.

Of course, I had been listening to '80s Top 40 radio throughout my youth, and I remember hearing specific songs and learning specific artist names long before the Summer of 1988. But that summer was, I suppose, the first time I really began to step back and soak in the full pop music landscape of a particular era. It was the first time I began evaluating the merits of each work, ranking my preferences, picking favorites and not-so-favorites. I remember telling my father one week, with admirable decisiveness, that my absolute favorite song at that time was Huey Lewis and the News' "Perfect World." I loved "Perfect World." For about three weeks, I thought it was the greatest song I'd ever heard. Certain Huey Lewis hits became perennials on radio playlists for decades, but "Perfect World" really came and went. I haven't heard it on the radio since. It was like the world wasn't perfect enough for that song. I finally heard it again about eight years ago, and I thought to myself, "What the hell was so great about this?"

Here's the thing. Top 40 radio, at that time, didn't just play the same forty songs over and over again. On the contrary. They played the same twenty songs over and over again. The hits were the hits, and that was it. I don't even remember them playing too many songs from the previous couple of years, but they did play a few. In a way, late '80s top 40 radio had achieved a kind of accidental nirvana: it always existed in a perpetual present.

One odd, and little commented-upon, aspect of a cluster of hit singles from that summer was what I would like to dub "The Egyptian Thing." Perhaps the influence of "Walk Like An Egyptian" was partially to blame, but according to my eight-year-old brain, it seemed like several artists were trying explore some sort of vaguely "middle eastern" sound on certain singles. I would listen to these hits and imagine pyramids and camels and snake charmers and all sorts of cool stuff. There were about four or five of these songs, and they all seemed to come out at the exact same time. I don't know what was in the air. A particularly exotic batch of hashish? Perhaps you'll agree with me, or perhaps you'll think I've been smoking something a little middle eastern myself.

What else do I remember? I remember taking swimming lessons in the pool of my home town's high school (a school which I would eventually attend six years later). Without revealing this town's name, let me just say that it is located in one of the few regions of North America where the typical summer climate is not very warm, and in fact tends to be noticeably colder than, say, the climate in April or October. In other words, my hometown fell prey to what is generally described as "fog." As a result of this summertime fog, when one went swimming, it was not, as one might hope, on a scorching hot day, but on a cloudy, windy day with an average temperature of about 56 degrees. To further exacerbate matters, I was an extremely skinny child (curiously enough, I'm still an extremely skinny adult), and I became cold with tremendous ease. What I'm trying to say is that during these supposedly enjoyable swimming lessons, I was always freezing my ass off. I shivered in the water, and out of it. The actual act of swimming seemed to temporarily warm me, but not for long. The worst part was the end of the lesson, where I had to walk back to the family car, a Chevy Chevette, driven by my mother, who was completely oblivious to my difficulties and was convinced that I absolutely loved the swimming lessons. The car was something of a piece of junk, even though it somehow managed to run for another six years. It had a heating system, but this was not the most effective apparatus. I remember there was one little vent that shot up from the floor, and I would hold my feet over that one lousy vent, hoping that the warmth would spread. It took a little time to warm up too, so for the first minute or so it would just blast cold air at my already cold feet. Sometimes my mother would go shopping while I was still in my swim suit (I guess I wasn't supposed change into dry clothes until I got home?), and I remember her leaving the car on in the parking lot so that I could benefit from the heat. As I shivered, I listened to the radio. Almost every song from the Summer of '88 reminds me of shivering in the car after a swimming lesson, huddling up to the heating vent, and waiting to get the hell home.

I also remember spending a lot of time at the library. There was this fairly young librarian there who was very sweet, but she always wore this perfume that kind of smelled like poo to me. I have no idea why she covered herself with what literally smelled like crap. I had mixed emotions every time I saw her: she was friendly and helpful, but she smelled so ... weird. At any rate, I can't remember if the Summer of '88 was when I went on my Roald Dahl binge, or if that was the Summer of '89, but during one of those two summers, I read every Roald Dahl book I could get my hands on. I know I'd read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory during the actual 2nd grade school year because I recall reading it on a school bus (but perhaps I'm wrong). After The TwitsGeorge's Marvelous Medicine, and Matilda, I got around to Danny the Champion of the World. That was one of the first experiences I've ever had of not being able to put a book down. I think I read it in two days. And for an eight-year-old, that was a pretty long book! I barely even remember what the plot was. Maybe it's time to re-read it? Hey, I could probably read it in two days. But I often remember sitting in the parking lot of the library, possibly after my swimming lessons, and possibly not, listening to good ol' Top 40 radio.

Let's see ... what else? My movie-going experience that summer consisted of towering works of cinema such as Big, Die Hard, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Short Circuit 2. I think my brother saw Coming To America and A Fish Called Wanda and told me how funny they were, but they seemed like "adult" movies to me. I wasn't interested.

Mainly, the Summer of '88 was the tail end of a fairly happy period in my youth. For whatever reason, in 3rd grade and 4th grade, I became more anti-social and depressed. I stopped making friends, I acted out. I said embarrassing things just to get attention, but, as one of my teachers pointed out to me, I was generating the wrong kind of attention. A phase of picking on other kids in 3rd grade gave way to a phase where I was picked on by other kids in 4th grade. Only around the start of 5th grade in the fall of 1990 did my life begin to improve again, for reasons almost equally as mysterious. In the spring of 1991, the twin whammies of discovering '60s pop music and joining the Boy Scouts made the grimness of 3rd and 4th grade seem a distant memory. But the point is, the spirit of each of these personal mini-epochs implanted themselves on the pop music of the moment in my recollections. For instance, I associate an entirely different vibe with songs from the Fall of '88. Whole different scene.

Anyway. I feel like the Summer of '88 was the last time that pop music was really ... innocent. Kind of inane and mindless, but not without a certain PG charm. Right around 1989, I feel like things got a bit raunchier - or maybe I just became more aware of the raunchiness. What I'm trying to say is that the Summer of '88 seems to me almost like the true, "proper" end of the '80s.

With this next series, I would now like to take you back. Back to a place where R&B singers barely sang about actual sex. A place where Tommy James managed to make millions of dollars, without having to lift a finger. A place where Patrick Swayze could release a hit single, and not sound like a joke. A place where washed up '70s legends could go toe to toe with one hit wonders, and come out about even. A place where black lesbian folk singers could be followed on the dial by wholesome Catholic 17-year-old teen idols, and no one would even bat an eye. And of course, all your old favorites will be along for the ride: George, Belinda ... even Stock Aiken Waterman.

One clarification: Because the radio would, as I mentioned, play a few songs that had come out a year or so earlier, I do associate certain hits with the Summer of '88 even though they were actually released in, say, 1986 or 1987. In fact, one might as well consider my earlier posts on "When I Think Of You," "Walk Like An Egyptian," and "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" to be part of this series. In other words, I don't want to hear anyone saying to me, "But Little Earl, don't you know that song actually came out in May 1987, not the Summer of '88?" Yes, I do know that song came out in May 1987, but I'm including it in my Summer of '88 series anyway, because I feel like it, OK? You see, the Summer of '88 isn't merely a finite period of time on the calendar.

The Summer of '88 ... is a state of mind.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

While You're Begging, Why Stop At One? AKA The Mighty High Of Hippopotamus Urine Comes At A Cost

Why not ... two more nights? Hell, why not three? I mean, give him one more night ... to do what, exactly? Fix the garbage disposal? What the hell is he going to be able to do in one more God damn night, you know? Nevertheless, he sounds so soft and cuddly while he's asking, you'd have to be one cold-hearted Cruella to refuse it to him.

Then again, does the singer of this song sound like the kind of guy who would really be satisfied with "one more night"? What if, at the end of this "one more night," she still says, "Nope, Phil, I gave you that additional evening you so passionately negotiated for, and, guess what, I still feel like dumping your sorry ass"? Is he really just going to nod his head and say, "OK, fair enough, those were the terms of the deal"? Sometimes you need to set boundaries.

There isn't all that much to "One More Night." It's pure MOR minimalism. It's like soft rock's The Sun Also Rises, only less "Lost Generation" and more "Lost Drum Machine." Somehow, though, Phil added enough feathery keyboards and silky back-up vocals to give it that lush, dimly-lit honeymoon suite atmosphere those 1985 record buyers craved. Why is it that, compared to "Sussudio," this one still sounds pretty freakin' good to me? Is it the absence of horns? It's certainly not absent of "horn," but unlike the piercing brass of its predecessor, the saxophone solo during the fade-out of "One More Night" is so smooth, it feels like my ears are slipping on a banana peel. However, after reading on Wikipedia that the sax player, Earth, Wind & Fire's Don Myrick, was fatally shot by L.A. police during a narcotics investigation because they mistook his lighter for a weapon, suddenly that solo hasn't quite sounded the same.

I love the line, "And I was wondering should I call you, then I thought, may-beeee you're nahhht uh-lone." The way his voice climbs into falsetto on those last four words, he just sounds so ... wussy? Just admit it Phil, she's probably moved on and found a real, you know, non-balding boyfriend. Time to grow a pair. Lift some weights, take a karate class, buy a Harley or something.

According to Wikipedia, "Collins was playing around with his drum machine when he started saying the chorus of the song. He later recalled that 'The rest of the song was written very quickly.'" Yeah, somehow I don't find that very hard to believe. This is the way Phil Collins #1 hits get written, ladies and germs.

Or is it? From In The Air Tonight:
I was jamming with my Nigerian buddy Orumbe in Lagos one night, chatting about our favorite Afrobeat records and arguing about the best kinds of animal tranquilizer to get high on. You know, the usual.

"Sometimes, Phillip, you don't even need a drug."

"What are you talking about?"

"Some animals, they make it on their own." He leaned in and began to whisper. "I know some tribal medicine men about 16 kilometers from here. You familiar with ... how do you say it ... the hippopotamus?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Well, do you know about ... fermented hippopotamus urine?"

So he busted out a jar and, man, he wasn't kidding. You took a whiff and it was like Hendrix and Janis were jamming together ... in your mind! I had to leave for Glasgow the next day, so I asked him if I could take a jar with me.

"Well, it is not the easiest thing to get your hands on, and I promised Tony Allen a jar, but ... for my pal Phillip? Sure!" He patted me on the back. "Just please pay me by next month."

"Next month? No problem."

The thing is, when I said I would pay him, I absolutely, positively intended to pay him. But, well ... you know ol' Phil. Between all the music videos, benefit concerts, and Japanese geisha parlors, it was hard to keep track. Fast forward six months later. I'm doing a show in Philly. I've just finished raping two chickens - really gets the blood going before showtime - and I'm in my hotel room drinking tea - for my vocal cords - when five giant Nigerian guys suddenly burst in and pin me to the wall.

"Collins! Thought you could blow us off, eh? You still owe Orumbe, you little drummer bitch!"

"All right, all right! I'll pay him, I'll pay him!" My voice escaped my strangulated throat in a pathetic wheeze.

"Right now, Collins, or your little Genesis dick will soon be feeling a taste of Revelation, you understand?"

"OK, OK, listen, I don't have it on me right now, all right? Just ... just gimme one more night."

"One more night?"

"One more night, and he'll have his fuckin' money." My eyeballs were slipping gently in and out of their sockets.

"Cause we can't wait forever."

"Well you're not gonna have to wait forever, 'cause I'll have it tomorrow."

"One more night, or we're playing Hungry Hungry Hippos on your limey ass. And this time, I'm not talking about fermented hippopotamus urine."

The moment they let me go, I fell to the floor and leaned over on all fours until my breath returned. "Fuck," I thought as the blood came back to my brain. Where was I going to get that kind of money on that kind of notice? So ... I pawned my wedding ring. Thing is, I hadn't actually divorced that particular wife yet, but I figured, knowing my track record, it was bound to happen sooner or later.