Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"There's No One Quite Like Grandma": Britain's Shameless Retreat From The John Lennon Assassination

It's December 1980. John Lennon has just been murdered. A generation's hopes and dreams have been obliterated for all eternity. What are you in the mood to hear, Great Britain?

Why, the St. Winifred's School Choir's "There's No One Quite Like Grandma," of course!

Nothing to cheer up a grieving nation like cloying, saccharine nostalgia. Turns out there's only so much eulogizing a listening public can take. "There's No One Quite Like Grandma" pushed Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over" from the top spot, only to be replaced a couple of weeks later by a re-release of "Imagine," which was followed by Lennon's "Woman," and even Roxy Music's cover of "Jealous Guy." That's two straight months of Lennon, broken up by "There's No One Quite Like Grandma."

What happened, UK? I'm guessing that, for a couple of weeks there, the Baby Boomer generation was so depressed, and so unenthusiastic about buying records, that all the old ladies and little girlies swooped in and took over. Then, when all the Baby Boomers heard the kind of song that Lennon and the Beatles (well, maybe not McCartney) had pretty much sought out to destroy, they were aghast and quickly rectified the situation. "There's No One Quite Like Grandma" is basically the song that would have been playing in the dreams of Lennon's notoriously proper and stuffy guardian Aunt Mimi.

Still, you have to say that this song perfectly captures that moment of complete and utter culture shock. If you could put "La-la-la, everything's just like it always was, let's forget rock 'n' roll ever happened" into a tune, it would be this tune. And for the life of me, I simply can't fathom why "There's No One Quite Like Grandma" never caught on in the States!

While creepy enough on its own, the song is rendered even more disturbing by this Top of the Pops clip, in which a collection of Britain's most sickeningly adorable children have been gathered together and forced to stand on stage in matching pink outfits. I half expect the lead little girl to hold out a bowl and ask, "Please sir, may I have some more?" Either that, or her cranium to start spinning around while she spews vomit and shouts "Let Jesus fuck you! Let Jesus fuck you!"



Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how twisted you are, the version of the clip featuring an introduction by posthumously outed pedophile Jimmy Savile is no longer on YouTube, although you can still see his name in the credits. Why does it not seem terribly out of the question that one or two of these little schoolchildren would have received a traumatic "Christmas gift" from Uncle Jimmy?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fern Kinney, Odyssey, and Kelly Marie: The British Liked Disco? Follow-up Question: The British Liked Our Disco Leftovers?

If there's one thing I don't associate with disco, it's England.

Big Ben. Tower Bridge. Buckingham Palace. Disco! Nope, don't see it.

And yet, Great Britain was a country in the late '70s. There were people living in it. These people must have experienced disco somehow. Funny, but I'd never thought about it. When I think of late '70s England, I think of punk, New Wave, heavy metal, progressive rock, even some soft rock, but I sure as hell don't think of disco.

Well, not only did the British like disco - they liked certain disco singles more than we did. At some point in the late '70s, record labels must have been pumping out so much disco that they lost track. I mean, how could people ever get sick of disco, right? Well, as it turns out, Britain was picking up our disco scraps.

It's charming, in a way, how quickly disco left the American airwaves. Like an inebriated party guest who still has enough sense to know when he's worn out his welcome, as soon as the calendar struck 1980, almost as if on cue, disco in its pure and original form slinked away from the American charts. Sure, there were a few stray odds and ends like "Funkytown," but almost every "disco" song in the new decade was actually disco with a twist: disco-tinged New Wave ("Call Me"), disco-tinged hard rock ("Another Brick In The Wall, Part II," "Another One Bites The Dust"), disco-tinged soft rock ("Magic," "Woman In Love"), disco-tinged Cosby Rock ("Too Hot," "Give Me The Night"), etc. etc. Disco didn't exactly die. Like Voltemort, it just slipped into an alternate supernatural dimension, waiting for the day when it could be reincarnated in a host body.

And then there was Great Britain ... which was about six months behind. Because in 1980, in the UK, disco wasn't quite yet dead.

Listening to the following three songs is like listening to disco from an alternate dimension. They "sound" like the disco songs you know and love, without actually "being" the disco songs you know and love. Imagine if you programmed a computer to generate "disco songs." The computer would create something like "Together We Are Beautiful," "Use It Up and Wear It Out," and "Feels Like I'm In Love."

Both Fern Kinney and Odyssey were American disco acts who never made it big in their homeland. But alas, the disco gods threw them a bone, and they were able to achieve at least a small slice of polyester immortality across the pond. Kinney's "Together We Are Beautiful," which hit #1 in March 1980, floats along on a swirling, pseudo-Diana Ross cloud.



Meanwhile, Odyssey's "Use It Up and Wear It Out," which hit #1 in July 1980, has more of a latin, "Bad Girls"/"Calypso Breakdown" quality.



However, there were a few British disco hits that were genuinely British in origin. Scotland's own Kelly Marie hit #1 in September 1980 with "Feels Like I'm In Love," a song that was originally written for Elvis Presley, but he croaked before he got the chance to record it (assuming he would have wanted to record it anyway). God knows what that version might have sounded like, but I get kind of an Anita Ward, "Ring My Bell" vibe from Kelly Marie's, with some Moroder-esque laser beam effects thrown in for good measure. I'm not sure which of the song's several YouTube clips I find more hilarious, so I've decided to embed the official video (which comes with a campy naval theme, and most definitely was filmed in Britain), but if your head's still in a spin and your feet still haven't touched the ground, then you might enjoy this video from Top of the Pops. But be warned: if Courtney Love and Boy George had a bastard child, Kelly Marie might be the result.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

UK #1 '80s Hits That Weren't Even Minor US Hits

I like to think of myself as someone who possesses a comprehensive knowledge of popular music. It irks me when I read about a song or a band that is unfamiliar to me. The trick is, just when I think I've got a handle on all of the music that's ever been popular from roughly 1948 to 2012, I'll read about a "#1 hit" or a "classic single" that I've never heard of. You know why I've never heard of it?

Because it was a "#1 hit" in the UK.

Oh bollocks. You mean to tell me there's a whole other chart history that I need to know about that consists of songs I've never even heard on American radio? Bloody hell.

Well, it's not quite as daunting as it sounds. You see, there's been a lot of overlap between the US charts and the UK charts. It's not like I'm starting from zero. There have been many songs that were #1 hits in both the US and UK. Then there are those songs that were #1 hits in one country, and very big hits in the other country, if not quite #1. This has happened a lot. Then there are those songs that were #1 hits in one country, but only small hits in the other country. Still, all this overlap certainly makes things easier.

But then. Then there are those songs that were #1 hits in one country, but weren't even minor hits in the other country. Now, in terms of US hits that didn't quite take off in the UK, this isn't really a problem for me. But what about those UK #1 hits that didn't even make a dent over here?

Tea and nonsense, I tell you.

The thing is, American culture is so pervasive and omnipresent around the world that even if a massive US hit never charted in the UK, people over there would have probably encountered the song in a movie or a TV show at some point anyway. There isn't really too much music that is so distinctly "American" that it wouldn't make sense to a British person - no, not even rap or country. But Britain, on the other hand - Britain is weird. Britain is kind of insular. There's all kinds of shit that would make sense to the British public that would be completely incomprehensible to an American. All those World Cup songs, for example.

Looking at the UK charts is kind of like living in the Twilight Zone. Right next to songs that are deeply ingrained in the American consciousness are songs have remained completely obscure to the American public at large. They haven't even become cult favorites. You won't find them on AMG five star albums.

Here's my theory: because the UK is relatively small, I think that songs with potentially limited appeal were still able to catch fire somehow. It's like if New England and New York State had a chart of its own, separate from the rest of the U.S. One renegade DJ in Sheffield could spark a month-long obsession with a generic remix of some '60s TV theme, and there you go. I feel like some of these songs became #1 hits almost by accident. And that's one thing you have to say about the American charts, for better or for worse: rarely has a song ever become #1 by accident.

If anything, familiarizing myself with UK #1 hits has shattered a myth or two. For many years, I have been under the impression that the British have had better taste in music than Americans. But maybe that's because the only obscure British music I'd heard thus far was the critically acclaimed British music. Well, funny thing. It turns out that the British record-buying public has liked just as much crap as the American record-buying public; Americans just never got to hear the crap!

And so we come to my new series: UK #1 '80s Hits That Weren't Even Minor US Hits. If some of these songs are crap, they are very bizarre crap. We've got ABBA knock-offs, goofy rockabilly revivalists, tasteless ethnic novelties, flop American singles from the '70s that somehow became popular ten years later, Eurovision contest winners, and songs that are just too plain British for American years. Prepare to get yer knickers in a twist.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cheeseburger in Paradise


Herr Zrbo here, blogging to you from paradise. Yes, this is another "on the road" post, except that, unlike last time, Little Earl isn't here with me.  I'm hanging out in a villa on St. John in the Virgin Islands. That picture there, that's the view from the terrace, it's pretty freaking astounding. The island in the upper left is Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands (I'm on one of the American ones), so yes, I can see Britain from my house, eat your heart out Sarah Palin.

What am I doing here? I'm here with my wife and my in-laws. The in-laws have been coming here for the past ten years and they finally convinced us to vacation with them. I'm not normally a tropical traveler, and it's taken me a bit to become accustomed to the lifestyle, but I'm slowly beginning to enjoy myself.

We spend our days waking early and eating breakfast outside. You can do everything outside here because it's always so warm. Our shower is even located outside. You could essentially walk around naked and be perfectly comfortable.

Then we hop in a jeep, everyone drives jeeps here because the roads are the steepest I've ever seen. Think of the steepest hill in San Francisco and double the grade. They also drive on the opposite side of the road here, even thought they drive American cars with the driver on the left.

We drive to one of the beaches, set up camp... and go snorkeling. I've gotta admit, the first day I was somewhat terrified of the ocean, but after seeing it (it's truly the most amazing color, like you see in photographs that you are sure are photoshopped), and getting into it (it's damn warm, this ain't no Pacific), I started to feel comfortable. Snorkeling is actually pretty fun, it's truly amazing how much life is going on down there under the surface, there's just fish and other critters everywhere.

Sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent

After that we come home, rest for a bit, and start preparing dinner while listening to the Jimmy Buffet channel on the satellite TV. Nothing like drinking rum based cocktails while listening to Mr. Buffett while actually being in the actual Caribbean.

It's been pretty fun so far. Tomorrow we go out on a boat that'll take us to some primo snorkeling spots. I'll be back home next week, when I'll have to re-accustom myself to mainland life. Until then, I'll drink a margarita for you.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Vacation" AKA The Go-Go's' Response To Achieving "All They Ever Wanted": Get Drunk And Waterski

Ah, fame. It was all the Go-Go's ever wanted. But now they just had to get away - from the public, and from each other:
With the success of Beauty and the Beat, the Go-Go's turned into more of a serious business than it had initially begun. We lost our anonymity and privacy. We also began to lose the relationships we had with one another. At photo sessions, I heard one of the girls behind me say, "Does she always have to be in the middle? Can't someone else stand in front?" I saw eyes roll if reporters asked me too many questions.
"'Belinda, Belinda, Belinda!' Why is it always 'Belinda'?" Well, you know why it was always Belinda. The things is, I can understand why the other members resented the way the media lavished extra attention on Belinda, considering that she didn't really ... do anything. But I can also understand why the media lavished extra attention on Belinda: because she was the summit of the female form, a Greek goddess temporarily given terrestrial life as an '80s pop singer.

Oh yeah, and the music:
On top of the jealousies, there was serious pressure. As we worked on our second album, we knew Miles wanted another megasmash ... the reality was such that we'd had more than two years to come up with Beauty and the Beat and now we were given only a couple of months to write songs for the next album.
Another album? You mean we have to keep ... making music? We can't just do coke and film sex tapes? Yes, Go-Go's, a follow-up album. Jane was pretty tapped out. Charlotte was too busy scoring heroin. Other bands would have been screwed. But it was time for the Go-Go's to deploy their secret weapon: Kathy Valentine.

Kathy was like the Go-Go's' ace in the hole. She was like their George. Most bands would kill for one great songwriter. The best bands sometimes manage to have two. But here's how stacked the Go-Go's were: they managed to have three. And Belinda was not one of them. So basically the Go-Go's had three great songwriters ... and Belinda. They were stacked dude.

Before joining the Go-Go's, Kathy had already composed a handful of songs as a member of the obscure Texas group the Textones. Jane and Charlotte took one of the more promising numbers, fiddled with some of the lyrics, and presto.


Given the title and the shimmering melody, you'd think "Vacation" would be a carefree summer anthem. But the Go-Go's may have fooled you once again:
Can't seem to get my mind off of you
Back here at home there's nothin' to do
Now that I'm away
I wish I'd stayed
Tomorrow's a day of mine
That you won't be in

When you looked at me, I should have run
But I thought it was just for fun
I see I was wrong
And I'm not so strong
I should've known all along
That time would tell

A week without you
Thought I'd forget
Two weeks without you and I
Still haven't gotten over you yet

Vacation
All I ever wanted
Vacation
Had to get away
Vacation
Meant to be spent alone
So let me get this straight: girl develops a crush on a guy before heading home for summer vacation, figures it was some minor attraction and that she'll quickly forget about him. Instead, she's sitting at home, her feelings are growing and growing, and she has nothing else to distract her, because she's on fucking vacation. So the very thing which was "all [she] ever wanted" has now been ruined by the longing that's eating away at her mind and soul. To the beach!

Uh ... this song is de-press-ing. With its theme of a romantic fling turned peskily serious, "Vacation" shares some similarities with the earlier "Lust to Love," but considering one was written primarily by Kathy and the other was written primarily by Charlotte and Jane, this just goes to show that, despite their party girl exteriors, the Go-Go's were collectively a bunch of sad sacks. None of these sacks, of course, were sadder than Belinda, who did not have a hard time finding her way into these lyrics. Highlights:
  1. The way she sings "get" in the first line, it's as if she figures that the more intensely she sings the word, the more quickly she'll be able to escape from the sickening prison that is her low self-esteem, coke addiction, and the new-found fame that's going to enable the whole enchilada.
  2. The growl on "me" in "When you looked at me": hey, she may be singing a fluffy pop song, but she will kick your ass.
  3. Her little trick of putting a period after every word on "But. I. Thought. It. Was. Just. For. Fun.," similar to what she did in "This Town," and even though she'd used it already, it still works, damn it.
Yes, once again, the Go-Go's managed to churn out another catchy, radio-friendly bummer. Charlotte seems to have switched to a more synthesized keyboard, which gives the music a bit more of a commercialized '80s quality, but Gina sounds like she doesn't give a shit and she still thinks the Ramones are coming on next. Also of note is the song's interesting structure, where the two verses appear at the very start, and the rest of the song is simply just bridge, chorus, bridge, chorus. But that's kind of how a vacation feels, isn't it? Those first couple of weeks, you think you're going to have plenty of time for verses, and then before you know it, there's a massive pile of bridges and choruses and suddenly you have to go back to school.

So between you and me, "Vacation" may have been a spruced-up leftover, but as far as the American public was concerned, it kept the band's momentum rolling along nicely, climbing to a robust #8 and keeping Miles off their backs for a couple of months. Coincidentally, the song also came in at #8 on Rolling Stone's recent, and dubiously ranked, "Best Summer Songs Of All Time" list. It also bears the distinction, according to I.R.S. Records, of being the very first cassette single, or "cassingle" as the label was trying to call it. I don't believe the phrase caught on quite as well as the format did - and the format didn't exactly catch on either.

Of course, another single meant another video, and you'd figure that after they'd seen first-hand the massive boost that MTV's constant airing of the "Our Lips Are Sealed" clip had given their debut album, the band would have been willing to take their next video a little more seriously. But nope.

Allow me to make a confession. Some pop culture phenomena were, I'll admit it, before my time. I remember Madonna. I remember New Kids On The Block. I even remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But at some point in the early '80s, from what I understand, the Go-Go's became a whole "thing," and while I was technically alive at the time, I recall none of this. According to the scrolls and cave paintings I've excavated, however, I've been led to believe that the media almost treated the group like a teen-pop band. Everyone had their favorite Go-Go. Columnists gossiped about the band members in magazines. TV shows scrambled to fit the Go-Go's into their schedule. At some point (according to legend), the media began referring to the Go-Go's as "America's Sweethearts." I don't know where the phrase came from, or how often it was deployed, but I find it hilarious - as did the band themselves, it seems.

Apparently, one of the members found an old '50s postcard of the Cypress Gardens Waterski team, and the rest of the group thought it was hysterical. "They want America's Sweethearts? We'll give them America's Sweethearts." So the Go-Go's decided to show off a previously unrevealed skill. See, while the public may have known that America's Sweethearts were skilled musicians, who knew they possessed such incredible dexterity on waterskis?



Isn't that right, Jane? "We still saw videos as an annoying waste of time. After seven or eight hours we sent out someone to sneak in booze ... if you look at our eyes, we're all so drunk. We didn't even try to make it look like we were really waterskiing."

"Not ... really ... waterskiing"? What does she mean? The Go-Go's would never lie to us like that. Don't tell me those synchronized leg kicks are faked. And let me ask you this: if they're not really waterskiing, then how do you explain them bouncing up and down? I mean, look at Jane at 1:31. She can barely hang on! And while, in the non-waterskiing portion, Belinda's hair may be doing its best Lucille Ball impersonation, check her out at 2:29, bobbing on the water ... in her little tutu! And the necklace, and the tiara, and ... somebody just stop me now before I hurt myself.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Play It Again, Zrbo: Half Life 2


There's very few other games I would want to kick off this new series with other than Half Life 2. The game is not only widely considered one of the greatest games of the past decade, it's absolutely a contender for the best first person shooter of all time. I recently picked it up again after playing through other, lesser shooters (Bioshock Infinite *cough*) because I was yearning for a well constructed game. It did not disappoint.

Playing through Half Life 2 again I was reminded of just how much game-makers Valve got things just right. Nearly every single aspect of the game is top notch. The graphics, while far from cutting edge, are more than serviceable and hold up well for a nearly nine year old game. The level design and pacing couldn't be much better (though the final quarter drags just ever so slightly), and the character development, in a game in which the main protagonist is completely silent, is extremely well done. This playthrough I was especially impressed with the quality of the voice acting, something even most AAA titles don't get right.

If you'll recall from my old post on the opening of Half Life 2, the game finds you once again in the shoes of MIT physicist Gordon Freeman. Just like in the original Half Life, the game takes place entirely in the first person perspective, never cutting to a cinematic or pulling control away from the player. While the concept of the silent protagonist has become a conceit in modern gaming, supposedly making the player feel more "immersed" in the game world, Valve not only nails it here, but essentially sets the bar, something no other first person shooter I've played has yet to surpass.

As I mentioned, I was really taken away with the voice acting this time around. Everybody just nails it, from the suited G-Man in his completely bizarre stilted intonation (reminding me a bit of the backwards talking segments from Twin Peaks), to Doctor Kleiner's bumbling scientist in a lab coat. But I was especially impressed this go around with two voices in particular.

Dr. Breen welcomes you to City 17

The first is the voice of the main antagonist, Dr. Breen. Looking somewhat like Dennis Hopper in a turtleneck, Breen delivers several monologues throughout the game that are just delivered brilliantly. A P├ętain-like figure urging you to sympathize with the occupying Combine, Dr. Breen can be heard several times throughout the game speaking on all sorts of matters. Upon arriving in the dystopic City 17, the player is greeted with a message from Dr. Breen welcoming them to the city. I love the ever so slight weariness to his words, as if you can tell that deep inside he wishes it didn't have to be this way either. Listen to the opening speech here (the first 45 seconds or so, though I urge you to stick around and listen to the second speech as well, which begins immediately after). He pulls it off perfectly, and I especially love that little pause he often gives before referring to the alien Combine as "our benefactors". Later on in the game, in an increasingly agitated set of speeches (beginning at 5:03), he chastises the Combine forces for being unable to capture Gordon Freeman. You can just hear the exasperated frustration in his voice as he refers to Freeman as "an ordinary man". Kudos to the late Robert Culp for such a terrific performance.

The other great voice is that of Ellen McLain. Known better as the voice of the HAL-like GlaDOS from the Portal games (and as a voice in the new Pacific Rim film), McLain voices what's generally referred to as the Overwatch Voice. A female voice heard over the radio of the masked "Civil Protection" units that Gordon Freeman regularly encounters, the Overwatch Voice is this eerie police radio dispatch voice mixed with words that describe human activities as if they were viral outbreaks, all delivered in a disjointed, completely flat, clinical tone. The Half Life wiki describes it as "medically-inspired Newspeak to describe resistance activity in the context of a bacterial infection and treatment". The Wiki also says the voice is inspired from various films such as an announcer in the film version of 1984 and Farenheit 451. Whatever the influence, it's really well done, you can listen to clips here.

The infamous bridge crossing

The game as a whole has a great sense of pacing and place. Short physics-based puzzles are often placed between enemy encounters, lending a sense of relief while giving the player something to do. Then there's all the great locations the game takes you to. Any of these places will be instantly recognizable to anyone who's played the game: the red barn, the horror-tinged Ravenholm, the bridge crossing (possibly my favorite sequence in the entire game), the invasion of Nova Prospekt on the beach during sunset, the interior of the Citadel. And those areas further highlight the brilliant structure of the entire game itself. For about two thirds of the game you are fleeing the Combine, trying to put distance between you and your pursuers, and then without ever drawing attention to it, you find yourself  invading them. It's really well done. I do have to say however that near the end when you're fighting through the streets of City 17 that I found the game to drag ever so slightly and was relieved when I finally made it to those Citadel walls.

Half Life 2 continues on in episodes 1 and 2, an attempt at "episodic gaming" that didn't quite work out as Valve planned. Both episodes continue the strong level design and character development, and the ending of episode 2 is so sudden and shocking that it leaves the player somewhat dazed (and terribly sad), but to this date we're still awaiting the resolution in a fabled Half Life 3 (which Valve won't acknowledge it's something they're even working on). We've had our Star Wars and our Empire Strikes Back, now we need the resolution.

Half Life 2 is a great game. It's definitely smart, well-paced, and has characters that you really care about. I would even recommend it those who aren't normally drawn to gaming. Now just give us Half Life 3, Valve... please??

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Just One More Time, Play It Again, Zrbo

Welcome to my new series. When playing videogames I often play through a game the first time to experience the game and get a feel for its mechanics. Sometime later, usually about a year or so, I like to go back to that game and play through it again. Just like with films, I find that often you can get more out of a game the second time through. You notice the foreshadowing, you see the hints, you admire the characters and story just a little more. You may notice some detail or utilize a game mechanic that you didn't get a chance to the first time around. I find that the second playthrough is important in solidifying an opinion.

In Play It Again, Zrbo I'll be doing just that. Playing a game a second (or even third or more) time, seeing if it holds up, and if I admire it any more or less. So put on a white jacket and bow tie, light a cigar, and join me as I play it again.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Foreigner Wants You To Know What A Gospel Choir Is

Once the staunchly hard-rocking Foreigner had given balladry a shot with "Waiting For a Girl Like You," and ended up with their most massive hit yet, let's just say the gloves were off. As with a band like Chicago, long-time fans may have still been bemoaning the change in direction, while everyone else probably just assumed this was the sound of Foreigner. But if there were those who thought that "Waiting For a Girl Like You" couldn't be topped, well ... they were sorely mistaken.

For you see, as the music video shows, "I Want To Know What Love Is" isn't just a song about love; it's a song about racial harmony. It's a song about black and white joining forces to create musical magic.



The key to "I Want To Know What Love Is" is that it doesn't start out too powerfully. Oh, but it gets powerful. Lou Gramm stands alone at the microphone. He opens his clenched fist in slow motion. "Gotta take a little time/A little time to think things over." A woman tosses in the darkness. The producer fumbles with the blinds. Outside, a city is awakening.

There's a hint of the power to come at 0:43, when the synthesizer rises threateningly behind Lou, only to swiftly recede. A young black construction worker precariously lifts a beam on a rooftop. "Now this mountain I must climb/Feels like the world upon my shoulders." Well, OK, maybe not the world. I mean, the beam looks heavy, but come on.

But wait, what's this? A new urgency in Lou's voice. "In my lyyy-fffe, there's been heartache and pain/Uh-ah don't know if I can faaaaace it again/Can't stop now, I've traaaaveled so far/To change this lonely lyyy-uy-ffe ..." The white girl is taking a shower. There's the patented "agonizingly long power ballad pause," a drumroll, and then ...

The choir.

The gospel choir.

Foreigner. For shame. It's the oldest trick in the book. And Foreigner totally goes for it. Shamelessly goes for it. Unapologetically dives headfirst into it. It should be embarrassing, insulting, manipulative, exploitative, except ... it works so well.

The images continue to build. A black woman leaves her cleaning job and walks down a New York City sidewalk. Steam rises from the manholes. The members of Foreigner ride in a cab. The second time around, Lou's "in my life" is extra intense as he draws each of the three words out, sounding something like "Eeeaann! Maahh! Lyy-yyff!!" I mean, he really, really wants to know what love is.

Then the video takes a twist. Why are these black kids hopping on a bus? Why are they holding pieces of paper that say "Foreigner" on them? Wait. Could it be? Is the video depicting these young gospel singers ... on their way to the recording session for "I Want To Know What Love Is?"?! Which would obviously be the most exciting thing an inner city black kid could possibly imagine doing, amirite?

Foreigner enters the studio. The choir members enter the studio. This is beautiful. Didn't Martin Luther King mention something about this in his "I Have a Dream" speech? There's only one thing missing: the impossibly hot white girl. Ah, there she is at 3:25, her perfectly coiffed hair bouncing as she runs down the Manhattan street.

When it's time for the fade-out, this stallion finally breaks free from his chains. Now it's Lou and the choir, one on one. His back is so massive and his hair is so curly that, from this angle, he sort of looks like an ogre. But this is one ogre who can belt it. He slips in a nice "Ah I wanna feel" at the 3:28 mark, and an aching "And I know-ah-ohh-uhh" at the 3:34 mark. We're into serious "Hey Jude" territory here. What else have you got for us, Lou?

3:43: "Let's talk about luv"
3:47: "Luu-uuv that yuh feel innnnn-sy-hyyyde"
3:54 "Uh-and ahhm feelin' so much luuuv"
4:00 "Uhh you just cannah hahhyde"

But look out, Lou! Here comes the anonymous, soulful black woman! You can hear her start to warm up at the 4:08 mark. She provides arguably the song's most glorious moment with her seemingly impromptu "Let's talk a-bhou-out luh-huve" at 4:15. Oh damn. You can't compete with the real thing, can you, Lou? Then at 4:32 she throws in a "show me that it's real" for good measure. That said, Lou's subsequent "yeahh-heah!" at 4:35 and "haaa wanna knoh-uh-hohh!" at 4:39 really hold their own against this invisible quasi-Aretha.

It's timeless. It's moving. Ah, but who cares about the massive black choir, because look! Lou's unfathomably gorgeous white girlfriend has finally made it to the studio.