Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hey, Speak For Yourself Lionel, I Didn't Say Anything

There must have been something about Gregory Hines movies that brought out the best in '80s pop stars. Like Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins before him, Lionel Richie couldn't resist the charms of the Soundtrack Song.

I can see our proverbial studio executive now: "You know what we need? A movie about two ballet dancers! But wait - one of them's Russian, and the other one's American! We'll call it White Nights. Fellas it's a hit! Get me Baryshnikov on the phone! And Hines! And Isabella Rossellini!"

So is "Say You, Say Me" about the Cold War? Lionel better hope so, because as far as I can tell, it's not about anything at all. The melody and production are so powerful, though, nobody really cared. Maybe Lionel caught a glimpse of a majestic dystopian future:
I had a dream, I had an awesome dream
People in the park, playing games in the dark
And what they played was a masquerade
From behind the walls of doubt, a voice was crying out
Maybe it's not about the Cold War, but about the War of the Worlds? The War on Drugs? Will we ever find hope in this cold and heartless world?

Then all of a sudden, the song starts going cray-zay:
So you think you know the answers, oh no
Well the whole world's got you dancing, that's right I'm telling you
Time to start believing, oh yes
In even you who are, you are a shining star
Maybe, just maybe, we can break free from the prison of modern life. But no, the moment of possibility vanishes, and we're back to where we started.

You know, Lionel, just say whatever you want.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Where Kool & The Gang Searingly Chronicle The Breakdown Of All The Marriages They Foolishly Instigated

So you've taken Kool & The Gang's advice and gotten yourself hitched. A lifetime of joy and marital bliss awaits you, right?
At seventeen we fell in love
High school sweethearts,
love was so brand new
We took the vows of man and wife
Forever, for life
I remember how we made our way
A little patience, the times we prayed
Can't imagine that this love is through
Feelin' the pain, girl when you lose
Wait a second, "This love is through"? But you said...what didn't tell me about this, Kool & The Gang.
Flyin' high we never took the time
To stop and feel the need
Funny how those years go by
Changing you, changing me
I remember love's fever
In our hearts, girl and in our minds
Can't imagine that this love is through
Feelin' the pain, girl when you lose
Oh great, now you tell me. Thanks a lot, Kool & The Gang. As J.T.'s voice soars into the open night, I can practically taste the court papers and child support on my lips:

"It's so so hot baby, yes it's so hot, I just can't take it, I can't stand no more baby, we were once lovers! We took our vows, of man and wife, foreeevaaahhh!"

Well, one man's song about marital troubles is another man's song about safe sex:

While I'm at it, let's not forget Lil' Kim's sampling of "Ladies Night" on her "Not Tonight" remix, featuring Missy Elliott, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Da Brat, Angie Martinez, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, SWV, Total, Xscape ... and basically every female rapper ever.

That might genuinely be too hot for me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lionel Goes Country

We all have certain ambitions in life. Some of us want to run a marathon. Some of us try to climb Mt. Everest. Some of us hope to win an Oscar. Lionel Richie wanted to write a hit country music song.

Other black singers had gone there before. Let's not forget Charley Pride, who managed to sound exactly like a white country singer except, holy shit, he's black.

Ray Charles decided to tackle country on his own terms, performing country songs in an R&B style, ending up with a unique, new kind of genre entirely.

But by the '80s, it had been a while.

Now, if you stop to think about it, country elements had been lying latent in Lionel's songs as far back as "Easy" and "Sail On." But no, "country elements" weren't enough for the man. Lionel wanted to pen an official "country music song." Well, if he couldn't sing it himself, maybe he could get some white guy to do it. Enter Kenny Rogers.

"Lady" wasn't just a #1 country hit, it was also a #1 pop hit. Perhaps feeling encouraged, and willing to test his powers to the limit, Lionel did not stop there. Thanks Kenny, it was fun, but no, he wanted a country hit under his own damn name.

"Stuck On You" (do I hear faint traces of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight"?) became the fourth straight Top Ten hit from Can't Slow Down, peaking at #3. But I doubt Lionel cared much about that. No, what he really cared about was that the song climbed all the way to #24 on the country charts. #24!

Ladies and gentlemen, Lionel Richie had finally become an official country music singer.

You ride 'em, cowboy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Where Kool & The Gang Definitely Don't Promote Marital Sex

Here's a Kool & The Gang song not likely to be played at a wedding reception. Even fans of their '70s incarnation can get behind this one; to quote one YouTube user, "Didn't care much for their 80's output, but this song is a banger!"

The band was apparently hoping it would be considered a rocker. I'm staring to come under the impression that every single '80s R&B artist, at some point, tried to do their own "Beat It." Kool & The Gang released a couple of different mixes of "Tonight." The version that appeared on my '80s Tape was, oddly enough, the "album" mix. They also released an "AOR Mix," with a different and slightly longer guitar solo, presumably in an attempt at having a crossover "Album Oriented Rock" hit. Didn't work, I'm presuming.

What's always struck me about "Tonight" is that, while the lyrics appear to describe a 16-year-old guy losing his virginity, the song doesn't sound particularly happy or idyllic. Instead, it sounds kind of freaky and menacing. Maybe it wasn't such a great night after all. When J.T. leaps into a piercing falsetto at the end, proclaiming "Oh tonight, I wanna da-aaa-ance with you," I mean, I'm glad he wants to dance, but I wouldn't want him dancing anywhere near me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hello? Is It The Most Unintentionally Hilarious Video Of The '80s You Were Looking For?

There are cheesy '80s music videos. And then there is Lionel Richie's "Hello."

Some artists viewed the new possibilities of the music video format as an opportunity to push the limits of visual creativity. Lionel Richie took it as an opportunity to push the limits of cheese.

The song "Hello" itself is already on the sappy side. "I've been alone with you inside my mind/and in my dreams I've kissed your lips a thousand times." Yeah, Lionel, like you're the first person to ever write a love song. But when that little chord swoops in after the word "for," and he slides into the chorus, I have to admit, I'm a goner.

But they needed to create a whole new category of cheese to accurately measure the cheese level in this video. You see, Lionel's a college professor (or a student teacher? a high school teacher?), she's a student, he's in love with her. Pretty corny. Except there's just one twist: she's blind.

Oh! Snap! Boo-yah!

No, Lionel, don't go there - wait - just - don't - but - aaaaaaaaaaaaand he went there.

It's hard to know what to say. There's the embarrassing play dialogue ("It isn't good for you Billy Boy. Too many memories, too many ghosts." "It's what I know - this, and the can."). There's the late night phone call. And finally, there is the sculpture. Oh, the sculpture.

You know what? I'll just let the YouTube users take it from here:
That statue needs a heavy douching of jerry curl juice to portray him accurately

No one has ever captured my jerry curl in clay......I'm jealous

Lionel Richie Chia Pet Head. On sale now!

Do you think that the bust of Lionel that looks nothing like him still exists? It's probably worth a fortune. I would love to own it. It would really tie the room together.

how does she put her makeup on??

Why is she reading with the lights on?

obviously pretending to be blind for a scholarship

Hello? Is it me you're looking for? Oh, sorry... I'll try back later. Do you know when she'll be in? Around 9, you say? I apologize for the mixup again, take care now.

What subject is he teaching? Mackin' 101

Yo, how come no one notices that Lionel Ritchie is singing in the middle of class out of nowhere.

Lionel, what the f*ck kinda shirt are you wearing @3:47? its like a striped button up tank-top-vest with pockets...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Where Kool & The Gang Single-handedly Create Your Wedding Reception Playlist

For reasons that remain unclear to this day, in the '80s Kool & The Gang took it upon themselves to make the jobs of wedding DJs the world over just a little bit easier. Don't know what to play at a wedding? Just pop in a Kool & The Gang Greatest Hits CD and you're all set.

"Celebration" may not only be heard at weddings, but also at birthdays, bar mitzvahs, Quinceaneras, and freed hostage welcoming parties (see: Iran Hostage Crisis, 1981). Personally, I will forever associate the song with Oakland A's home victories, but the tune can be applied to virtually any sporting event, aside from those held in Cleveland, where fans have nothing to celebrate.

Depending on at what point you play the video for "Get Down On It" at your reception, sickness may be unintentionally induced. As one YouTube user put it, "Guy who made the video had just found the 'ghosting' function and thought 'hey thats pretty cool!' "

Meanwhile, the video for "Fresh" was apparently a rare collaboration between Bob Fosse and Ridley Scott:

Imagine chewing on your steak, and then turning around to find that...Kool & The Gang have taken over your favorite all-night diner! "Hey, get that keyboard off the table, you're scratching the paint."

But the mother of all Kool & the Gang wedding reception songs has to be "Cherish." "Cherish" is to '80s wedding reception songs as "Just The Way You Are" is to '70s wedding reception songs. It is a wedding reception unto itself.

But see, what I like about "Cherish" is that it is not specifically about weddings, or even about romance. According to AMG, the band was recording in the Bahamas, and "while working along the beach, lead singer James 'J.T.' Taylor watched the band members' children happily at play and thought to himself 'how blessed we are. God has been good to us and we should cherish it.' " His falsetto at the 3:33 mark is so sweet, it almost makes me want to cherish something. Like my sarcasm.

The video is like a perfect four-minute distillation of every Time-Life "Romantic Classics" infomercial ever made, complete with seagulls, bonfires, and tiki torches. I warn you: the sheer wholesomeness of these images may cause blindness.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dear God, Something Terrible's Happened, Why Can't Lionel Richie Slow Down??

In 1982, Lionel released his first solo album, simply called Lionel Richie. The album was an immediate success and boasted three hit singles: "Truly," "You Are" (which brightened up my '80s Tape) and "My Love," a song I heard on the radio a couple of months ago and kept waiting for it to slip into the chorus of "Easy," and then I realized that after a while Lionel Richie's ballads all just blend together and become one big Lionel stew.

But in retrospect, Lionel Richie was merely a warm-up for the MOR onslaught that was Can't Slow Down.

Imagine a record executive sitting around his penthouse in 1983, smoking a cigar, thinking, "Man, if only I had an album that was just like Thriller, but much wimpier." Can't Slow Down is that record.

Picture an emasculated hybrid of "Beat It" and "Bille Jean" and you might have "Running With The Night." Who needs a scorching guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen when you can have a scorching guitar solo from...Toto's Steve Lukather?

Then there was the time Lionel Richie tried to sound Jamaican. "People dancing all in the street/Feel the rhythm all in their feet/Life is goooood, whyyyylde and sweet." Dude, Lionel, you're from Alabama. You're not fooling anybody.

But clearly all the partygoers are having too good of a time to care about the man's dubious accent; even the policeman can't resist joining in on the fun. As one YouTube user put it, "This song stopped me from killing myself with a spoon today."

Also: did you know that Lionel Richie is huge in the Middle East? According to ABC News, "Grown Iraqi men get misty-eyed by the mere mention of his name. Iraqis who do not understand a word of English can sing an entire Lionel Richie song." Fittingly, on the night American tanks invaded Baghdad, Iraqis celebrated by blasting "All Night Long" throughout the streets. Probably not the kind of party Lionel had in mind.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Shat is Back

Yes folks, the Shat is back! Back with a new album that is. An album... of covers! Have you ever wanted to hear Shatner sing Space Oddity? How about She Blinded me with Science? Or maybe you're in the mood for some 90's Floyd with Learning to Fly? All these and more await on Shatner's "Seeking Major Tom", an album of space-themed covers. Here's Bohemian Rhapsody for you (which curiously takes its cues from the Halo 3 Superbowl halftime commercial, as well as Halo 3's opening cinematic). Enjoy!