Sunday, June 30, 2013

Meat Loaf's Loss Is Someone Else's Gain, Part II: Bonnie Tyler

So you're thinking, "Gosh, Meat Loaf, tough break." I mean, nothing could be worse than missing out on "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All," right?

Ironically, the very week Air Supply's "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" peaked at #2 on the Billboard chart, it was another Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf reject that held the #1 spot. Talk about salt in the wound. Then again, it's quite possible that Meat Loaf is too fat to feel his own wounds, nevertheless the salt in them.

I must confess that I don't remember hearing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" very much in the '80s, although I remember "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" in chilling detail. Later on in my life, when I heard "Total Eclipse of the Heart," it sounded vaguely familiar to me in a way I could not pinpoint. The recycled "Moonlight Sonata" piano chords, the big, descending bass notes hovering around the chorus ... it strongly reminded me of another song! But what song? Years later, one night on Wikipedia solved the entire mystery.

It has probably been noted in Karaoke bars across the globe that the lyrics to "Total Eclipse of the Heart" don't really make any sense. Who the hell is "bright eyes"? Why does she need to turn around? So is she breaking up with the guy, or are they just dealing with some drama? I've never fully understood it. Most importantly, what the fuck is a total eclipse of the heart? Sounds like an unreleased Pink Floyd song:
And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you only hold me tight
We'll be holding on forever
And we'll only be making it right
Cause we'll never be wrong together
We can take it to the end of the line
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time
I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
I really need you tonight
Forever's gonna start tonight
Forever's gonna start tonight

Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I'm only falling apart
There's nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart
Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there's only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart
"We can take it to the end of the line"? So wait, is that a positive thing, or a negative thing? "Love in the dark"? What's wrong with love in the dark? Isn't that how a lot of people prefer it? This is nonsense!

Ah, but Jim Steinman knows what so many more linguistically obsessed songwriters don't: pop music isn't about logic. It's about coming up with a bunch of evocative imagery that sounds like it's about something, even if it isn't, and then coming up with a killer melody, and then producing the incarcerated Phil Spector out of it. As with "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All," Rick Derringer and E Street Band members Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan are on board, which I find somewhat amusing, as Bat Out Of Hell was arguably conceived as one big Springsteen parody. Also, give a hand to the guy playing castanets, because he clearly didn't get his due. I can see Steinman in the control booth now: "You know, it's good, but it needs more ... castanets!" Oh, and last but not least, there's the Welsh lioness behind the microphone.

Once upon a time, Bonnie Tyler was an aspiring young singer with a relatively normal voice. But a botched medical operation changed everything:
In 1977, Tyler was diagnosed with nodules on her vocal cords that were so severe that she needed to undergo surgery to remove them. After the surgery, she was ordered not to speak for six weeks to aid the healing process, but she accidentally screamed out in frustration one day, causing her voice to take on a raspy quality. At first she believed that her singing career was ruined, but to her surprise her next single, "It's a Heartache," made her an international star.
Instead of Tyler's singing voice being ruined, her singing voice was improved. That botched throat operation became her meal ticket!

And of course, there is the video. According to Wikipedia, "The Gothic-themed video features Bonnie Tyler clad in white, apparently having an erotic dream or fantasy about her students in a boys' boarding school." Ohhhhh. So that's what was happening. Makes as much sense as anything else, I suppose. Other than marveling at how it appears to have been filmed in the windiest mansion of all time, there is nothing I could say about the clip that hasn't already been said better by the accompanying "literal video," and there is nothing I could say about the literal video that hasn't already been said better by my fellow blogger Zrbo. Total eclipse of the blog, if you will.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How To Celebrate Your Number One Album: With A Depressing Coke Binge

To quote George Orwell, "Some number one albums are more equal than others." On paper, the J. Geils Band's Freeze Frame, John Cougar's American Fool, Foreigner's 4, Asia's Asia, and the Go-Go's' Beauty and the Beat all have one thing in common. On paper.

I think music executives and the 1982 listening public could be forgiven for having expected albums by the likes of John Cougar and Foreigner to reach number one. But the debut album by a former L.A. punk rock band on some independent label? As Charlotte put it recently, "Our goal was to sell ... if we could only sell 100,000 records we'd be so happy."

Beauty and the Beat sold two million records.

Maybe it was MTV, maybe it was Solid Gold. Or maybe it was Miles Copeland's idea of having the Go-Go's open for his brother Stewart's band, the Police. "At the end of '81 is when we started touring with the Police, and we opened for them," Charlotte explained, "and ... that's really what blew the lid off of it, when our record went to number one and theirs was still at number six. We were like, 'Sorry, but...'" Yep, Ghost in the Machine. It was no Synchronicity. According to Belinda, "Sting was nice but aloof and seemed to be reading a Sartre book whenever he had free time." Sounds about right.

Here is the big factoid that you will read in any article about Beauty and the Beat, or the Go-Go's as a band: the album was the first, and so far only, album to have been written and performed entirely by an all-female band to reach number one on the Billboard chart. Sorry Sleater-Kinney.

I'm a little bit reminded of baseball statistics, where the announcer will say things like, "And he's the first pitcher to record ten strikeouts in a game for six games in a row in the American League while a Republican was in the White House and the moon was a waning gibbous." On the other hand, it's impressive. But what's more impressive to me than an all-female band topping the charts is an all-female band topping the charts with absolutely no intention of doing so.

They were just fucking around! I mean, sure, they wanted to have some commercial success. But this was ridiculous. Beauty and the Beat didn't just go to number one. Beauty and the Beat was a number one album for six weeks. Sometimes an album tops the chart by slipping through the cracks. But six weeks. And with some slapped-together, low-budget video and a couple of TV appearances for promotion. No, it appears that this was the rare instance of an album topping the charts because people actually liked it.

Here's what I think. At some point, the Go-Go's' status as an all-female band became an attribute rather than a detriment. It's like Barack Obama. Stay with me here. Sure, people wanted a black president, but they also wanted a candidate whom they thought could be elected. So at first, everybody said, "Well, yeah, I like Obama, but there's no way people are going to vote for a black guy." But. When it started to seem like he was actually going to have a chance, and that maybe this could really happen, then everybody came out of the woodwork and piled on and shouted, "Woo hoo, a black president, let's do it!"

And so it might have been with the Go-Go's. At first, everyone said, "Well, sure, I'd love to see an all-girl band succeed as much as anybody, but come on." And yet, once people got the sense that, actually, the Go-Go's were not manufactured or fake but a real band like male bands were, and they were potentially going to make it, what had been a liability suddenly became an asset. In other words, yes, audiences liked the music, but the Go-Go's had extra appeal because they were concrete evidence that we'd arrived at a point in society where a band consisting entirely of women could be good in the same way that male bands could be good, and this wasn't just some case of rock 'n' roll affirmative action. Being a fan of the Go-Go's meant that you were being a part of history. Sure, maybe they would have been popular even if they'd had one or two guys in the band, but I think they became additionally popular because they didn't.

Still, no one, Kanye West aside, can be prepared for that kind of instant, massive success. I believe the appropriate saying is "Be careful what you wish for." And so the success of the album hit the Go-Go's, and Belinda in particular, like a ton of bricks. They didn't even have time to process John Belushi's overdose:
The following day, we were back at SIR and talking about John's death and comparing notes about what we had either heard on the news or from other people, when Ginger walked in with a bottle of champagne. Our album Beauty and the Beat, had hit number one on the Billboard album chart. We popped the cork and screamed ... After partying all afternoon, I went back to my apartment and continued to celebrate by myself until the good times unraveled in a frightening breakdown.

Seated at my dining room table, bent over several lines of coke and puffing on cigarettes, I had no idea I was about to become unhinged. In theory, I was rewarding myself in private for being part of the Go-Go's history-making accomplishment. My face was all over the press, and there were few girls in the world who wouldn't have wanted to trade places with me, and yet at that moment I would've been the first to ask them why.

After doing a couple more lines, I looked at a stack of magazines and newspapers on the table. All of them had stories about the Go-Go's. I sifted through a couple and thought how awful it would be if people only knew the truth about me, the truth as far as I was concerned - namely, that I was a fake and didn't feel like I deserved any of my success. I had no sense of self-worth, and worse, I felt like I was on the verge of being found out ... I had the same feeling I got as a kid when I wanted to run away from home. But now, where was I going to go? I couldn't run away from myself.

Or could I?
Could you, Belinda? Could you???

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Meat Loaf's Loss Is Someone Else's Gain - Part I: Air Supply

It's 1981. The evening sunlight streams gently into Jim Steinman's apartment. He scribbles some final notes onto the sheet music, and then slams it down onto the top of the piano. "Meat Loaf! Where in God's name is Meat Loaf? Have I got two songs for you!"

Ah, but Meat Loaf - poor Meat Loaf - never did record those two songs. What strange twist of fate intervened and prevented Marvin Lee Aday from performing those two Jim Steinman jewels that were hand-crafted just for him? Well sources differ, but according to Wikipedia, either he rejected them, or his record company refused to pay for Steinman's material. For Meat Loaf's sake, one can only hope it was the latter, but the end result was the same: neither song made it onto his 1983 album, Midnight at the Lost and Found. Instead, Meat Loaf wrote most of the album's material himself. You probably don't need me to tell you that Midnight at the Lost and Found was not terribly successful.

Ah, but Jim Steinman refused to let his precious creations go to waste. In the end, two lucky artists managed to cash in on Meat Loaf's greasy leftovers.

I doubt the first act that came to Jim Steinman's mind as a substitute for Meat Loaf was Air Supply. I believe he referred to them as "two boring idiots from Australia." But hey, everyone needs an image makeover now and then, and it turns out that, for Air Supply, a Jim Steinman power ballad was just the thing. Also, throw in the E Street Band's Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan, and hard rock guitarist (and frequent Weird Al collaborator) Rick Derringer, and Air Supply's new smash single was guaranteed to make all those grannies stain their panties. Anyone familiar with Steinman's later "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" will recognize some of his pet rhetorical tricks:
I know just how to whisper
And I know just how to cry
I know just where to find the answers
And I know just how to lie

I know just how to fake it
And I know just how to scheme
I know just when to face the truth
And then I know just when to dream

And I know just where to touch you
And I know just what to prove
I know when to pull you closer
And I know when to let you loose

And I know the night is fading
And I know that time's gonna fly
And I'm never gonna tell you everything I've got to tell you
But I know I've got to give it a try

And I know the roads to riches
And I know the ways to fame
I know all the rules
And then I know how to break 'em
And I always know the name of the game

But I don't know how to leave you
And I'll never let you fall
And I don't know how you do it
Making love out of nothing at all
Out of nothing at all? Doesn't that defy Newton's laws of physics? Well, Steinman never claimed to be much of a scientist, but the man certainly had a PhD in Power Ballad Studies. Thesis #1: the moment, right when Russell sings "And I know the night is fading," where the massively overdubbed backing vocals enter through both stereo channels, like an army of mechanical soft-rock witches. Thesis #2: the way Russell sings "And-I'm-never-gon-na-tell-you-every-thing-I-gotta-tell-you-but-I-know-I've-got-to-give-it-a-try," as if he's struggling to get each syllable out of his supremely sensitive mouth. And how many good Christian Air Supply fans do you think called into the radio station to complain about the band's new direction once they got a taste of Derringer's raunchy guitar solo?

I also must admit I chuckle a bit as I hear Air Supply using football metaphors ("I can make the runner stumble/I can make the final block/And I can make every tackle at the sound of the whistle/I can make all the stadiums rock"). Just picture Russell and Graham tackling somebody. Go ahead, do it. Another nice touch: right after the lines "stadiums rock," Derringer throws in a killer guitar lick into each stereo channel, as if to say, "This is the sound a rocking stadium would make."

Maybe Air Supply's problem wasn't a Jim Steinman power ballad, but a lack of more Jim Steinman power ballads, as "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" ended up being their biggest, and last, major hit. Meat Loaf, however, would live to see another day.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Benny Mardones: Into The Night - His Parole Officer In Hot Pursuit

Question: is it better to be a two-hit wonder, or a one-hit wonder whose one hit happened to have become a hit twice? Second question: is it better when your one hit was about a 16-year-old girl? Let's ask Benny Mardones.

"Into the Night" peaked at #11 in 1980, and then experienced an odd resurgence in 1989, where it peaked at #20. Which is fitting, in a way, as the song has a peculiarly general "80s-ness" that doesn't really tie it either to the early '80s or the late '80s. Congratulations Benny!

But that's not the only unusual aspect of "Into the Night." It sounds like a nice little ballad, until you listen to the lyrics:
She's just 16 years old
Leave her alone, they said
Separated by fools
Who don't know what love is yet
Uh ... Benny? Are you talking about what I think you're talking about? Actually, I think you really don't know what love is yet. And when "they" tell you to leave her alone, you might want to listen to them. I mean, if that was really the sort of thing he was into, someone should have hooked him up with Annabella from Bow Wow Wow.

Some choice YouTube comments:
I like how he's trying to score a 16-year old chick with a wedding band on his finger! That's moxie!

This Video must of had a $50.25 budget. the .25 cents was for the phone call and the rest went toward the shitty rug


hope he gets used to the stripes

they left out where benny stops and gets gas for the rug,course nowadays they have electric ones, but.....

when the number 2 member in al-quaeda say's leave her alone guess i would be scared off.

My old neighbor used to beat this shit out of his wife and blast the radio to hide the screams. It was always soft rock/elevator music (KOST FM here in LA) and I'll never forget this one particular time he was really laying into her and this song was on the radio and all I could hear was.. "If I could fly..." PINCHE PUTA HIJA DE LA CHINGADAAAA!!! *SMACK SMACK* AHHH!!! " you love like you'd never seen...ever seen..."
But, you know, you've got to hand it to him. The piano riffs are so elegant, and the chorus is so sweeping, I'm almost willing to let Benny do whatever the hell he wants to do with 16-year-old girls. As the song fades, our weary ephebophile lets out some rather intense wordless screams; either he really wants to take this girl into the night, or someone is slowly dipping his toes into a vat of acid.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Oh, Perry AKA Journey Schmourney

And then, Steve Perry went solo.

Until recently, I'd never even realized that Steve Perry had actually gone solo. A few years ago, I was hanging out with my roommate's German boyfriend, and we started talking about '80s music. He said, "You know Steve Perry, 'Oh Sherrie'?" I said I didn't. He pulled it up on YouTube. It suddenly hit me. "Ohhhh," I said. "'Oh Sherrie.' Pfft, yeah, I've heard this song. I heard it all the time. That was Steve Perry? The lyrics are 'Oh Sherrie'?" Epiphanies abounded.

What does it say about Journey that, as impressive as all those anthemic power ballads were, Steve Perry's best song might have actually been his big solo hit? I mean hell. The "S" and the "P" on the record sleeve even bleed into each other.

The delicate synthesizer intro is like the sound of an angel stroking himself. Then there is silence. Too much silence. Out of the silence, comes a voice.

"Shoulda been goh-honnn!"

Like Moses parting the Red Sea, the husky cry of Perry cuts through the emptiness and allows the Israelites to flee Egypt.

I do not think I can be blamed for not having recognized the song's title as "Oh Sherrie," given that the chorus line of "Oh Sherrie, our love/holds on, holds on" comes out of Perry's mouth sounding more like "Oh Shaellae, hauhh-hah-luh/huuhhl-zah, huuhhl-zah."

The video is complete with an awkward, presumably fictional framing device in which Perry is about to star in some sort of medieval-themed clip directed by an egotistical British fellow, which gives him ample room to show off his acting chops in front of his artistic muse and then real-life girlfriend, Sherrie Swafford. Damn it, Hollywood, all Steve Perry wants to do is rock!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The 1981 Grammys: Who's On Coke, And Who's Not?

Whenever I start to complain about the Oscars, I always pause and think, "Yeah, but at least they're not the Grammys." From Lips Unsealed:
 In 1982, the Go-Go's were nominated for a Grammy as Best New Artist. At the February event, we were up against Adam and the Ants, James Ingram, Luther Vandross, and Sheena Easton. We were thrilled, and I'm pretty sure we wanted to win, though I remember being more concerned about what I was going to wear to the awards show, which I thought of as the world's glitziest prom ... I looked like Cinderella at the ball. But unlike Cinderella, I started doing coke in the morning and I was out of my head by the time Buster and I stepped out of our limo and hit the red carpet ... Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees, who was doing interviews for Good Morning America, actually took me aside before talking to me and told me to wipe my nose. That was embarrassing.
Well, sure, but it takes one to know one. Like the Bee Gees never did the dust. I mean, come on.

At any rate, it was the 1981 Grammys, and the guest list almost looks like a Cosmic American Blog All-Star Game. We've got representatives from Yacht Rock (Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross), Cosby Rock (Lionel Richie, Bill Withers, James Ingram, The Pointer Sisters), Fun New Wave Surprises (Adam Ant, The Go-Go's), Aerobic Rock (Sheena Easton), Women Who Rocked ... In The '80s (Pat Benatar) ... there's even a nice shot of Yoko Ono crying as she hears the sound of her dead husband's voice: (Editor's note: clip since removed, but you get the idea.)

"Bette Davis Eyes"? Hey, why not. The Best New Artist award was presented by the Pointer Sisters, who sang a version of "Slow Hand" with new lyrics written especially for the occasion:
Now Sheena Easton had a great year
The "Morning Train" began her hot career
And Luther Vandross sang 'bout "Never Too Much"
And proved he really had that golden touch
The Go-Go's' lips were sealed but they scored
And James Ingram hit the high (board?)
And England and the U.S. danced and danced
When they heard Adam and his rockin' Ants

We want a winner with the slow hand
A nominee who deserves so much
A Best New Artist who will spend some time
A Grammy winner with the real touch
We want to tell you so you understand
We'll open the envelope with a slow hand
So how'd it go? [Edit: This clip's been removed too. Them's the breaks!]
Quincy Jones won five awards that night. Al Jarreau took home three. And the Go-Go's? None. We lost to Sheena Easton as Best New Artist, which didn't bum us out as much as it caused us to lose interest in the rest of the show, and so at the next commercial break we got up and left, which, as we later learned from the network, was a big no-no.
Sheena Easton? Oh, that's right, it's the Grammys. No big loss, Go-Go's. From a longevity standpoint, the winner probably should have been Luther Vandross, who, ironically, was probably the least famous of the five at this time; he was mostly an R&B star and didn't really cross over into the pop market until the '90s. Whatever, where's the bathroom?

Yeah, look at John Denver at the very end there. He's on coke. Wipe that smile off your face, country boy.