Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Beverly Hills (Cop) 9021-Oh Yeah!!!

When I was six years old, I think I had a fairly different definition of "great movie" than I do now, because I totally thought that Beverly Hills Cop was a great movie. It was great because 1) there was that scene where Eddie Murphy put a banana in a car's exhaust pipe, which was the funniest thing ever, 2) the guy who played Balki from Perfect Strangers was in it, and 3) it had that awesome, awesome soundtrack.

My family had the soundtrack on cassette, and we played it in the car nonstop. I would stare at the list of artists in wonder, forming opinions based on incomplete information. I was not aware, for instance, that Glenn Frey had been in the Eagles, or that Danny Elfman had been in Oingo Boingo, or that Patti LaBelle had been in ... LaBelle. As far as I was concerned, these artists' musical histories began and ended with the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.

A couple of years ago, deep in the thick of my newfound '80s nostalgia, I caught the opening of Beverly Hills Cop on TV. "God, I haven't seen this since I was a kid," I said to myself in a tone of misplaced curiosity. So, I decided to record it and watch the rest over a week or so. Well, maybe I'm a party pooper, but the first thing I realized was this: Beverly Hills Cop is completely implausible! Perhaps I am ignorant in the ways of 1980s law enforcement, but I feel like if any police officer tried to behave the way Axel Foley behaves in Beverly Hills Cop, he would have his badge immediately revoked and would be knee-deep in lawsuits, criminal charges, and overwhelmingly negative 24-hour news coverage. Hey, I don't know, maybe police officers acted like that all the time, and still act like that, and I'm just naive. But Axel Foley spends the whole movie bluffing his way into restaurants and mansions and countless potentially fatal situations without any sort of clear objective, legal preparation, or even a back-up plan. Not that realism is Beverly Hills Copsaim, mind you. I just thought I would point this out.

So, now that I know a bit more about cinema than I did when I was six years old, I've realized that Beverly Hills Cop is, essentially, a mildly amusing, highly cartoonish early Jerry Bruckheimer production with a message that boils down to something like, "Look at how scared all these rich white people are of a black guy!" Some other observations: 1) as a kid, it seemed like Beverly Hills Cop was such an intense action movie!! Watching it now, the action seems impressively tame, with only a couple of cars blowing up at a time, and editing that almost gives the viewer a sense of where people "are" and what they're "doing," which we simply cannot have; 2) Once upon a time, back in 1984, merely making fun of gay people counted as comedy. You didn't have to make fun of gay people in a certain way, or include some sort of cultural commentary in your gay impersonation. You simply had to impersonate a gay person, for no particular reason, and people would laugh at this.

So, tastes change, but my younger self was entirely correct about at least one aspect of Beverly Hills Cop: the soundtrack is still awesome. Maybe I'm a pushover these days, but asking me to remove even one single track from this album would be like Sophie's Choice. For the most part, the soundtrack delves into a genre I've hardly explored on this blog, a genre that's probably best described as "electro-funk." Most of these guys were trying to be Prince or Rick James, or both. For example, Rockie Robbins does his best "1999" rip-off with "Emergency":

Junior and Shalamar actually seem to be doing more of a Michael Jackson thing with "Do You Really (Want My Love)" and "Don't Get Stopped In Beverly Hills," respectively, the former perhaps a highly perverse re-make of The Move/ELO's "Do Ya," and the latter featuring the requisite imitation Eddie Van Halen "Beat It" solo (although by the fade-out, it ends up sounding more like Stevie Wonder's "Maybe Your Baby"):

Kind of makes you want to get stopped in Beverly Hills, doesn't it? Although sadly not featured on the soundtrack album, the Purple One himself did, in a roundabout fashion, make a musical appearance in the film (during the - if I may say so - fairly ludicrous strip club scene), via notorious female pet project Vanity 6 and the infamous "Nasty Girl."

What I'm trying to say is, the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack is so loaded, it's got great songs on it that aren't even on it. From Wikipedia:
In 1981, Prince, himself a rising musical star, suggested that his three female friends—his girlfriend Susan Moonsie, Boston native Brenda Bennet, and his personal assistant, Jamie Shoop form a girl group that would be called "The Hookers". Prince's vision was that the three women would perform in lingerie and sing sensual songs with lyrics about sex and fantasy.
Such a noble, noble vision.
Prince had been wanting to mentor a girl singer or group since the late 70s when he saw the film A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kirstofferson. The original trio recorded a few demos before Prince met Denise Matthews, a nude model and Canadian B movie actress, in January 1982. Prince was so taken by Matthews' charisma that he decided she would be the perfect frontwoman for his "Hookers" project. Around this time, Prince and Matthews began a romantic relationship. With Matthews' arrival, Shoop was dropped from the group. Matthews was eventually re-christened Vanity. Prince had originally suggested that Matthews use the stage name "Vagina" (to be pronounced /vaginÉ‘/); she declined and renamed herself "Vanity" instead. Other versions of the story suggest that it was Prince himself who coined the name "Vanity", as he said that looking at Matthews was like looking in a mirror at the female version of himself. With the new trio finalized, Prince renamed the group Vanity 6 (the number representing the group's breast count).
If only all musical groups formed with such lofty aspirations. To the surprise of very few, the project quickly fell apart (morphing into the equally short-lived Appolonia 6) and Vanity later became a born-again Christian preacher. Hey I'd study the Bible with her, if you know what I mean.

At any rate, for other soundtracks, R&B goodies such as these would have been plenty of material to package a bunch of leftover pre-recorded crap around. But the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack had other ideas.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Two Great '80s Lennon Singles (Yes, You Read That Right)

But wasn't he ...? Didn't he get ...? Oh, you thought I meant ... no, no, no, not that Lennon. Although that Lennon actually did have a huge posthumous hit in 1984 ("Nobody Told Me"). But it turns out that that Lennon had a son, then more or less abandoned him, but then the son grew up to be a musician. And he was bigger than his father ever was. OK, not exactly. Bigger than Jesus, maybe, but not his father.

Still, there were so many stylistic options for Julian Lennon. Expand upon his dad's folk-rock sound? His whimsical, psychedelic sound? His lean, bitter early solo sound? Nope. When Julian Lennon entered the musical arena, he did so in a genre he felt he could call his own: Yuppie Rock.

In 1984, the first three things people probably thought of when they heard about Julian Lennon were 1) his father, 2) his father, and 3) his father. Now watch as I, thirty years later, more or less do the same thing. Because his father was John Lennon! I mean ... dude!

On the one hand, you could say that the only reason Julian Lennon managed to have two big hits in 1985 was because his father was You Know Who. That's how he got a record deal in the first place, that's how he got studio assistance from savvy industry veterans when debut artists usually don't, that's how he got a solid marketing push, and, most disturbingly, perhaps his slight vocal similarity to You Know Who, and the public's unconditional love of anything remotely Beatle-related (aside from Yoko) is how he managed to sell some records. "John Lennon is gone ... but, hey look, his son will save us!"

Yeah, sure, Julian's voice sounds like one particular shade of John's. He sounds a little like John's most calm, passive ballad voice. I am about to be a bit unfair to Julian, but here are some of the ways his voice does not sound like John's. It's not as: raw, piercing, energetic, raunchy, desperate, wounded, or passionate. But that's OK! How many other singers' voices are? John had a once-in-a-lifetime combination. Julian shares maybe two out of John's twenty-six vocal qualities. But for a lot of people, that was close enough.

Naturally, for his debut album, Julian decided he needed to sound like Billy Joel's The Nylon Curtain, so he tracked down Billy's long-time producer Phil Ramone. Listening to the songs from Valotte, it almost sounds like I'm listening to Julian Lennon trying to imitate Billy Joel trying to imitate John Lennon, but why split hairs? Like a mini-Beatles discography, Julian's two big hits were quite different from each other. We've got the ballad, and we've got the uptempo number.

Back in college, when I had a record player, I found Valotte in the discount bin, bought it on a whim, and listened to the title track. I give you this back story just to make it clear that I felt I was under no obligation to like his music. But you know what? I thought was a good song! I played it on repeat without listening to the rest of the album, and then I gave the album away when I moved. But I don't care whose name is on the spine, this is a keeper. It's got a pretty and yet unpredictable melody filled with surprising chord changes. Also, with its lyrical references to valleys and rivers and pebbles, it makes me think of sitting around a house in New England or Oregon on a late afternoon, contemplating my sad Yuppie existence. Screw Beethoven's 6th; this is pastoral, '80s-style.

OK, so it kind of sounds like the Beatles. Here's what Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes: "Its elegant evocation of late-period Beatles -- deliberate but not self-conscious -- invited some carping criticisms that Julian was riding on his father's coattails when the reality is this: any pop singer/songwriter of Julian's generation was bound to be influenced by the Beatles." Exactly! That's like telling Sophia Coppola not to be influenced by her father. What filmmaker would not be influenced by Francis Ford Coppola? How do you not sound like the Beatles? That's like telling Bob Marley's kids not to sound like Bob Marley. That's like when John Fogerty got sued for plagiarising himself. When you're writing songs, you can't start thinking about those things. Of course, that didn't prevent the public from reading hidden meanings into these rather open-ended lyrics:
Sitting on the doorstep of the house I can't afford
I can feel you there
Thinking of a reason, well, it's really not very hard
To love you even though you nearly lost my heart
How can I explain the meaning of our love
It fits so tight, closer than a glove

Sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar
Wonderin' if we're really ever gonna get that far
Do you know there's something wrong
'Cause I've felt it all along

I can see your face in the mirrors of my mind
Will you still be there
We're really not so clever as we seem to think we are
We've always got our troubles
So we'll solve them in the bar
As the days go by, we seem to drift apart
If I could only find a way to keep hold of your heart

Sitting in the valley as I watch the sun go down
I can see you there
Thinking of a reason, well, it's really not very hard
To love you though you nearly lost my heart
When will we know when the change is gonna come
I've got a good feeling and it's coming from the sun
Is he singing ... to his father? Oh please, he could be singing about anybody. Yeah, if I squint hard enough, I suppose some of this sounds like a "message" to John, like "I can see your face in the mirrors of my mind/Will you still be there?" But with other lines, like "Wonderin' if we're really ever gonna get that far," I don't think that works. How could Julian and John "get that far" if John was already dead?

The truth is, John was barely a part of Julian's life. In fact, Julian claims to remember hanging out more with Paul McCartney than with his own father! It must be frustrating to instantly be associated with a person you hardly knew and, in many ways, actively resented. Note to the public: there were many other people in Julian Lennon's thoughts beside his father, so he probably wasn't writing about him all that much. Also, I wouldn't say Julian was the world's most dynamic lyricist, so it's not too hard to over-interpret lyrics this semi-cliched. Case in point: his other major hit, "Too Late for Goodbyes":
Ever since you've been leavin' me, I've been wantin' to cry
Now I know how it feels for you, I've been wanting to die
But it's much too late for goodbyes
Yes it's much too late for goodbyes
Pretty deep. Is he saying it's too late to say goodbye to his father ... because he's dead? Julian himself said it was about breaking up with his girlfriend, but come on, that's no fun. The point is, as a wordsmith, he wasn't exactly Billy Joel, let alone Lennon Sr., but forget it, because the song itself is a dynamic slice of bone-crunching dance-pop. Check out the funky bass plucking around 3:05!

What's weird is that I didn't become a Beatles fan until 1991, and I remember reading about Julian Lennon's solo career, but I had no idea what he sounded like, and then one day I heard "Too Late For Goodbyes" on the radio and realized that this massive hit from my childhood that I'd heard a million times was by ... Julian Lennon! Hey, my five-year-old self didn't even know who John Lennon was, and I still liked the song, so who needs nepotism?

Actually, the weirdest part about Julian Lennon's two big '80s hits isn't how much he kinda sorta sounded like his father, but that the two videos were directed by the croaking last gasp of legendarily violent Western director Sam Peckinpah (!).

Who the what now? Years ago, I read a biography of Peckinpah which explained that Julian's video producer was throwing out names of potential video directors, and when someone suggested Peckinpah, the producer gasped and said something like, "Oh God, that's all we need, he'll go and film an ultra-bloody re-enactment of John's murder! In slow motion!" But then his assistant reminded him of other, more meditative Peckinpah films like The Ballad Of Cable Hogue (probably my second favorite film of his after The Wild Bunch), and the producer realized the grizzled old coot was capable of a lighter touch when it suited him. And so, the videos for "Valotte" and "Too Late For Goodbyes" turned out to be the last works Peckinpah ever directed, as he died a few months later in a haze of booze and burnt scorpion carcasses.

Which is cool, except I would have never known Sam Peckinpah "directed" these videos unless somebody told me, as there is, in my opinion, nothing distinctive about them. I know he wasn't exactly in his artistic prime, but they look like the "making-of" documentaries of the videos, not the videos themselves. Let's just say John Landis didn't have anything to worry about.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Mad About You" (Song): The Little Solo Singer That Could

Usually, lead singers who go solo have been itching to go solo. They've been silently waiting for that moment when they're able to finally tell their jealous band mates to stuff it. They're ready to show those clowns that they don't need anybody else. Lead singers who go solo have a plan, a vision, a style, and they're eager to share it with their fans in a way their band mates simply never understood.

Then, there is Belinda Carlisle.

Now, I'm not saying a solo career like Belinda's didn't take "effort" and "hard work," but in a way, yes, that is exactly what I'm saying. Belinda's solo career seems like that rare instance of a solo career essentially falling into a person's lap. If Belinda's solo career was a Broadway musical, it would have been called How To Succeed In '80s Pop Music Without Really Trying. Whereas other lead singers would have rung up their record company and demanded, "I wanna do this, I wanna do that," Belinda's approach was more along the lines of, "I dunno guys, should I make a record? What songs should I do? I dunno, what songs do you wanna do?" Making a solo album was not, as far as I can tell, a burning desire in this particular artist's soul. But the Go-Go's fell apart, and hey, she needed to do something. In Lip Unsealed, she describes her predicament with what might be my absolute favorite quote in a book full of favorite quotes: "I had less than $20,000 to my name when I moved in with Morgan ... I had blown God only knew how much money on drugs, travel, clothes, and even a racehorse I purchased on a whim for some ghastly sum. I needed to work."

A racehorse? Oh man. Where did she even keep it? She can't just leave us hanging like that. However, keep in mind that once she officially married Mr. Mason, any financial concerns were probably rendered moot, but you get the idea. She was a singer. Singers sing. Quite what they sing, on the other hand, depends on what people want to hear.

The point is, this relative lack of direction could have, nay, should have been a recipe for what the English politely call "dog shit." Now, the Go-Go's had been a successful band. The public heard Belinda Carlisle's voice, and they heard awesome music. What the public did not quite know was that Belinda Carlisle didn't exactly have much to do with all that awesome music. One could even argue that Belinda contributed the least to the Go-Go's music. OK, OK, I'm playing devil's advocate here; the Go-Go's without Belinda would have been nothing. Nothing! But my point is this: if it's 1985, and you're looking at Belinda's musical skills on paper, your expectations for her solo career are fairly, shall we say, low.

Ah, but there are moments in the story of our species where something indescribable happens, where magic takes over from logic, where the pop music gods blow on the dice and roll a pair of sixes. Belinda Carlisle's solo career ... was one such moment.

It all started with a Go-Go's leftover. Soon-to-be-rendered futile Jane replacement Paula Jean Brown had co-written (along with two guys named James Whelan and Mitchell Young Evans - I wonder what their stories are?) a charming little number called "Mad About You." Well, the Go-Go's obviously weren't about to record it, so why let a winner go to waste? Belinda said, "I'll have that, thank you very much." In terms of song structure, I suppose it was not markedly different from her former band's material. Although the lyrics were more romantically optimistic than the Go-Go's' patented (but often ignored) anguish and angst, when coupled with the singer's new image, this probably turned out to be an unanticipated piece of the single's appeal. Rather, I'd say it was the glossy, vaguely digitized production that most strongly differentiated it from her previous band's work. Imagine Kate Pierson going solo and sounding like Kenny Loggins. I can just see Miles Copeland sitting in the control room now: "Uh, Belinda, you really think the I.R.S. Records fanbase is going to go for this shit?" I.R.S. Records fanbase? Get your head out of the sand, Miles. Belinda's going for a whole new demographic, baby. Well, I'm distorting history a little to suit my own ends; Miles Copeland actually loved "Mad About You," and he would not be alone. Is it my favorite solo Belinda song? That's like naming my favorite star on the American flag. They're all shining beacons of hope and freedom.

It commences with a tacky bass and drum intro mimicking a heartbeat (somewhat reminiscent of Vacation album track "This Old Feeling," to be honest). Once the overly-processed acoustic guitars and strangely ill-defined keyboards come in, you know that she's playing a new game here, one with new rules. To paraphrase The Wizard of Oz: "Toto, I have a strange feeling Belinda's not even trying to be punk anymore." Oh, but when that scratchy tickle of a voice comes in, she washes away all doubts. New sonic backdrop, but same mother fuckin' Belinda:
I'm mad about you
You're mad about me babe
Couple of fools run wild
Aren't we
Following these lines, in both stereo channels, Belinda is attacked by some kind of ... synthesized glockenspiel? Then the drums kick into double time. This jet airplane is preparing for take-off:
Pushing the day
Into the night time
Somewhere between the two
We start to see
There's a great anticipatory chord under "see" that just dangles for a few seconds. It's like the Chord That Stops Time. Then, with a hint of growling guitar and semi-hideous '80s drum fill, suddenly we're soaring through the Clouds of Belinda Land. But what's this? She has two old friends flying beside her. Yes, on backing vocals, it's ... it's ... Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin!

You mean to tell me she had two Go-Go's singing backup on her first solo recording? Isn't that cheating? Hey, what did I say about a new game, with new rules? This is Belinda Carlisle; she can do whatever the hell she wants. I'm not surprised that Charlotte was involved, since she essentially acted as Belinda's right-hand woman for a couple of years (given that she, you know, actually understood how to make music) playing on Belinda's first two solo albums, and even co-writing several of the songs. But Jane? I would have thought the wounds were still a little raw at this point. Didn't Jane pretty much want to kick Belinda in the balls? Maybe she figured, "Well, Belinda's solo career's got no chance, I might as well throw her a bone." Ha! To be honest, the two of them together almost sound like multi-tracked Belindas, but I'll take Wikipedia's word for it. And so it is that "Mad About You" is not just Belinda's first solo song, but practically the last official Go-Go's song of the '80s, because 1) it was genuinely being considered for the Go-Go's' non-existent fourth album, and 2) three out of five Go-Go's actually perform on it. Of course, once the video came out, there was no mistaking this for a mere Go-Go's song. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This song has one of those choruses that just ... it just ... it just wraps around your ears and gives them a back rub. It has this sneaky ... cool to it. I mean, it sounds like the simplest chorus of all time. When it seems like it's about to rest, it's on the move again. Maybe it's something about the interplay between Belinda's full-throttled lead and Charlotte and Jane's coy, teasing responses. A recently added sentence on Wikipedia states, "Part of the appeal of the song's chorus lies in the rapid-fire kick drum double stroke pattern on every bar, performed using either a single or double bass pedal," which, now that I've listened for it, is totally true, although next to that sentence is a "[citation needed]," so perhaps I should remain skeptical. Honestly, there's so much '80s studio gloop on the recording, I kind of assumed it was a drum machine!

The show goes on. She sings the first part of the second verse in the upper range of her voice: "Something 'bout you/right there beside me/Touches the touched part of me/Like I can't believe." "Touches the touched?" Just go with it. Then she drops back down an octave for the second part: "Pushing the night/Into the daytiy-iy-ime/Watching the sky's first light/While the city sleeeeeeps..." See, she's exploring her range. It's her solo career.

Then at 1:54, there's more lifeless keyboard, only to be broken up at 2:07 by a fiery guitar solo from ... Duran Duran's Andy Taylor! Because the first thing people think of when they think of Duran Duran is, "What an amazing guitarist!" You mean Duran Duran even had a guitarist? Oh they did, and in 1986 ... guess what he was doing? He was rocking out with Belinda Carlisle is what he was doing. I love the part right around 2:22 where Taylor's solo burns out in a blaze of glory, but there's this ridiculous echo effect on the last note and it bounces around for another few seconds, like an inescapable cry from the depths of Satan's lair. Belinda delivers a couple of soft, seductive "I'm mad about you"s, until the meek studio crew somehow manages to gather enough energy to build back up to the chorus, and then she really lets it rip in the fade-out. At 2:58 and 3:25, I can just picture her in the studio, blond locks flowing over her sweaty forehead, as she clenches her fists Lou Gramm-style, head tilted back, and wails "I'm mad about yoooouuuu!" Belinda is giving it all she's got right there. At 3:09, Taylor throws in some ear-shredding riffs for good measure, the hard-rocking icing on the proverbial '80s MOR cake.

Catchy tune - it's what I might call the "gleaming essence of a 1986 fluffy pop confection," playfully innocent and yet slightly adult, like a Christmas card from Larry Flynt  - but would it play in Peoria? Well, if Belinda had any doubts that she could pull off this whole solo thing, the performance of her first single quickly put those to rest, as it rocketed up to #3 in the US (and #1 in Canada!), right alongside the likes of "Papa Don't Preach," "Stuck With You," "Sledgehammer," and "Higher Love." I don't know if it inspired the name of the Helen Hunt-Paul Reiser sitcom, but according to one '80s music blog I read a couple of years ago, it plays in the background of a scene from Growing Pains where Tracey Gold's character has a pillow fight with her friends during a slumber party, and if that isn't true, it should be. Also, how could we forget its appearance on the soundtrack to the Jennifer Garner body-swapping rom-com 13 Going On 30?

And so, the woman was on her way. But like many a memorable '80s hit, the recording itself ... was only half the story. See, talking about "Mad About You" without talking about its accompanying music video is like talking about the Grand Canyon without talking about its depth. It's like talking about the Burj Khalifa without talking about its height. It's like talking about The Great Gatsby without talking about Gatsy. The video for "Mad About You" is a work of such mesmerizing visual power and cultural heft, it deserves a post of its own. And I think it's going to get one.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

See Phil Fake His Music - Literally! AKA When Poodlephobia Consumes A Man

Here's my simple rule for most Phil Collins songs: no horns = good; horns = not as good. But clearly, Phil thought otherwise. From Wikipedia:
According to Classic Albums, in what was then considered a controversial move at the time, Collins, who grew up listening to American R&B as a child in Chiswick, decided to incorporate an R&B horn section, hiring the Phenix Horns, who played backup for Earth, Wind & Fire. Collins refused to listen to friends who had advised him not to use the horns and they would play a major role for most of his solo career.
He refused to listen! You know, Phil, I don't mean to discourage genre experimentation, but maybe those friends of yours were on to something. I, too, grew up listening to American R&B as a child, but you don't see me hiring Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section, now, do you? Strangely enough, Atlantic Records CEO Ahmet Ertegun, a man who nurtured actual R&B talents such as Ray Charles, The Drifters, Aretha Franklin, and The Coasters, didn't seem to have a problem with it, stating in the Classic Albums documentary, "Face Value is a record which has a lot of black influence. And that's also one of the things that made it an international hit. His feelings and his soul are expressed in terms very much influenced by black American music." Well ... sure. Phil Collins' feelings and soul might be expressed in terms influenced by black American music, but does the end result of that expression equal black American music? The record buying public obviously said "Yes!" - and theirs is the only vote that counts.

And so we come to the second single from Face Value, "I Missed Again," which may have been overshadowed by its notorious predecessor, but at the time was a fairly substantial hit (#19 in the US and #14 in the UK). I heard it some years ago and thought it was kind of crappy, but now I'm more or less down with it, in that shrugging "whatever, it's Phil Collins" sort of way. Still not sure about those horns though; they make the song sound like it's from 1985, not 1981. According to Wikipedia, "The original demo was entitled, 'I Miss You, Babe' and the lyrics were made much sadder. He re-wrote the lyric, gave the song a different tempo, and re-titled it 'I Missed Again' in an effort to make it funny as opposed to sad..." Of course, a song can be both funny and sad, as many of my favorite songs are. But the video is unmistakably one and not the other, unless you find the idea of a man pretending to play several different instruments sad. Naturally, he proves himself to be a highly skilled air drummer, a decent air keyboardist, and a passable air vocalist, but, as one YouTube commentator put it, "Dudes air bass was just a little off." Actually, I'm having a hard time differentiating between his air guitar and his air bass guitar, but they're both a touch sloppy, although the licking of the finger seems like an impressively accurate move.

Other YouTube comment highlights:
The 3 dislikes are probably his ex-wives(!)

Listen to that sax solo played with a phaser effect. THAT is some hardcore New Wave studio trickery, and indeed, some serious 1981 action.

He was a walking CONVERSE billboard....

This is almost as awkward to watch as the final 30 seconds of the Michael McDonald - sweet freedom video
But that's not all! Witness the following exchange. Comment #1: "Dang he was so friggin hot...OMG." Comment #2: "??? OK....if you think so. Not quite what I expected to read in the comments." Then again, when you're reading the comments in a Phil Collins video, you can expect the unexpected. One fearless viewer tries to speculate as to the deeper origin of the lyrics: "This is the song he wrote about peeing in the middle of the night with the light off =P." Good guess, but I'm afraid this anonymous YouTube commentator has missed again, for the song's true inspiration was the result of a traumatic childhood incident involving a breed of dog that most of us find adorable. Most of us. From In The Air Tonight:
For some people, it's clowns. For other people, it's spiders. For me, it's poodles. They are the most shiver-inducing creatures on God's green earth. If I could, I would wipe every fucking poodle out of existence. Their putrid odor, their offensive curls, their sickly little legs, their arrogant manner of walking ... I can't sleep at night thinking about it. I've never spoken a word about this to anyone. Yes. I suffer from ... acute poodlephobia.

Once when I was about four years old, I was walking through the park, preparing to enjoy a freshly-purchased ice cream cone my auntie Gladys had procured for me. Pecan fudge, I believe. It was everything a boy could have wanted. Out of the bushes, an old, wrinkly lady appeared, stinking of moth balls and gin, dressed in a white coat with fur trimming. Following behind her was ... yes, that's right. It was her poodle. Their appearances were disturbingly identical. "Say hello to the nice young boy!" the lady shouted, suggesting she was hard of hearing. Only, instead of hello, that loathsome creature extended her palm, reached up to my cone, and swatted it out of my hands and onto the ground. "Bad girl! Very bad girl!" The woman turned and squinted right into my heartbroken eyes. "I'm terribly sorry, boy. She's never like this, I don't know what's gotten into her." She picked up her little beast and began rubbing its head. "Isn't that right? Isn't that right? Yes it is! Yes it is little schnookums!"

I knew, from that moment on, that all poodles needed to die.

We were on break from the Duke tour, but all I could think about was how to exterminate as many poodles as possible. I tossed and turned in my silk pajamas, with visions of severed poodle limbs and red-stained fur filling my dreams. One morning I borrowed a rifle from my neighbor. I knew there was a dog show out in the countryside near Cambridge. This was my chance! And yet, all along the leisurely drive there, I wondered to myself, "How can I shoot those poodles ... without getting caught?" The question never properly resolved itself, but I was too full of hatred to turn back.

I parked up on a hillside, and knelt behind the bushes. There were scads of people around. Obviously I didn't want to harm any people; I love people, as everyone knows. It was those offensive poodles I was after. I knew there would be a moment or two when the humans would wander inside, eat the hors d'oeuvres, and leave the poodles out in the open, ripe for the picking. Finally, around 1:00 PM, their morally and spiritually bankrupt owners stepped into the showroom sans pets. I loaded my M-16 and began to fire. There was one crucial detail that I didn't count on, however: I'm a rather sloppy marksman. I aimed right for a slender little pink one, but ... damn it! I missed! I tried for a corded Standard black, but I simply wasn't on target. "I missed again!," I muttered to myself. I knew my window was closing. I went for a Toy poodle (with a Scandinavian clip - I know my breeds), but the bullet merely pierced a nearby car windshield. "Bollocks!" I cursed to no one in particular. "Did I miss again? I think I missed again!" By this time some of the attendees began running outside, screaming and hollering, and I believe I heard someone shout, "Call the police!" so I packed up my weapon and drove on home. A tune started to come to me. I kept repeating those words, and it sounded like a dynamite chorus I had there.

Got home, made a demo, and almost forgot about the poodles for a little while. Feels good to let the music flow. I started picturing the video, where I would mime all the instruments. What a cute idea! So, that's the story of "I Missed Again."

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Beware the Baltimora

Are you familiar with those Japanese horror Ring movies? The ones where you are given a certain tape or DVD and told that even if you just momentarily watch the tape you are forever doomed? I have not watched those films myself, but I have read the frantically scribbled notes left by some of several of their victims. Most of the writing is incomprehensible scrawls, the last remnants of a mind losing its last shred of sanity. But the one word I can keep making out over and over again is... "Baltimora".

Once you listen to the chorus your soul is forever doomed. Doomed to have one of the greatest forgotten hits of the 80s run through your head over and over again. There's something hypnotic about that chorus with its repeating "oh oh ah oh" (though like in Monty Python's Funniest Joke in the World I dare not type out the entirety of it lest I too go mad).

Baltimora, or as some call him "Shub-Niggurath" or "the Unspeakable One", was an Irish pop star based out of Italy (how does that that work again?) who had a brief hit of fame with 1985's "Tarzan Boy", where it hit #3 in the UK and #13 in the U.S. Just check out the video above and relish in its garishness.

Or check out Baltimora on American Bandstand. I love how the audience spontaneously gets up and starts dancing. Also check out the fashions, I love the guy just to the right sporting the black shirt, white jacket, and black gloves. Stay classy 1985.

At that same American Bandstand appearance Baltimora was interviewed by Dick Clark (known in some dark circles as "The Ageless One"). Dick Clark asks him about his ambitions and Baltimora confesses that Tarzan Boy is a bit of a novelty song but that he plans to work on a more serious effort soon. As far as I can tell, Baltimora never made that second album.

Baltimora sure racked up those frequent flyer miles in 1985. Here's Baltimora on some show I've never heard of called "Peter's Pop Show" whose Wikipedia entry looks to be in Czech but IMDB tells me was a West German program. Check out those backup dancers:

Finally, here's Baltimora performing in an unnamed location (the third layer of Hell?). I only included this clip because, as one of the commenters points out, it features David Koresh on drums:

Alas, after writing this piece I discovered that Baltimora's physical form passed away in 1995 due to AIDS. Strangely I found this out through this site I've never heard of before: You can view his tombstone here. I have to confess that I feel like a bit of a dick now for writing such a snarky post. Rest in peace Mighty Baltimora, rest in peace.