Sunday, December 18, 2016

Where The Genesis And Collins Discographies Meld As One AKA Woe To The Record Exec Who Skimps On Phil's Royalties

At this point, what exactly was the difference between Genesis and solo Phil Collins? Genesis records had ... more keyboards? Less horns? No cover versions? Less love songs? In a blind taste test, nine out of ten consumers haven't been able to tell the difference.

Not that I'm complaining. Although it was their 12th album, Genesis might actually be the Genesis album I enjoy the most. No, seriously. I'm not Patrick Bateman, and I'm not just trying to be a hipster douchebag contrarian. I like every song! Each track is concise and atmospheric without being vapid or monotonous. Abacab can go to hell.

Thus, I take issue with AMG Guy's three-and-a-half star review, in which he writes that, while strong, the album is a bit disjointed:
Moments of Genesis are as spooky and arty as those on Abacab -- in particular, there's the tortured howl of "Mama," uncannily reminiscent of Phil Collins' Face Value, and the two-part "Home by the Sea" -- but this eponymous 1983 album is indeed a rebirth, as so many self-titled albums delivered in the thick of a band's career often are. Here the art rock functions as coloring to the pop songs, unlike on Abacab and Duke, where the reverse is true. Some of this may be covering their bets -- to ensure that the longtime fans didn't jump ship, they gave them a bit of art -- some of it may be that the band just couldn't leave prog behind, but the end result is the same: as of this record, Genesis was now primarily a pop band. Anybody who paid attention to "Misunderstanding" and "No Reply at All" could tell that this was a good pop band, primarily thanks to the rapidly escalating confidence of Phil Collins, but Genesis illustrates just how good they could be, by balancing such sleek, pulsating pop tunes as "That's All" with a newfound touch for aching ballads, as on "Taking It All Too Hard." They still rocked -- "Just a Job to Do" has an almost nasty edge to its propulsion -- and they could still get too silly as on "Illegal Alien," where Phil's Speedy Gonzalez accident is an outright embarrassment (although in some ways it's not all that far removed from his Artful Dodger accent on the previous album's "Who Dunnit?"), and that's why the album doesn't quite gel. It has a little bit too much of everything -- too much pop, too much art, too much silliness -- so it doesn't pull together, but if taken individually, most of these moments are very strong, testaments to the increasing confidence and pop power of the trio, even if it's not quite what longtime fans might care to hear.
Good thing I'm not one of those "longtime fans," you know? As opposed to, say, Patrick Bateman, who also sounds rather disappointed with this one:
Hugh Padgham produced next an even less conceptual effort, simply called Genesis (Atlantic; 1983), and though it's a fine album a lot of it now seems too derivative for my tastes. "That's All" sounds like "Misunderstanding," "Taking It All Too Hard" reminds me of "Throwing It All Away." It also seems less jazzy than its predecessors and more of an eighties pop album, more rock 'n' roll. Padgham does a brilliant job of producing, but the material is weaker than usual and you can sense the strain.
Is that Genesis' strain he's sensing, or the strain of his own fragile mental state? Never trust the music reviews of a sharply-dressed serial killer, that's what I say.

While a huge hit in the UK and throughout Europe, "Mama" stiffed in the US, peaking at #73. Maybe delicate Yankee ears couldn't handle the psychic trauma. According to Wikipedia, "The song's theme involves a young man's longing for a particular prostitute." Hmmmm? Take it from the man himself:
Our manager, when he first heard it, thought it was about abortion, the kind of feeling of the, you know, the fetus, if you like, saying to the Mother 'Please give me a chance, can't you feel my heart, don't take away my last chance', all those lyrics are in the song but in fact what it is, is just about a young teenager that's got a mother fixation with a prostitute that he's just happened to have met in passing and he has such a strong feeling for her and doesn't understand why she isn't interested in him. It's a bit like [British actor] David Niven in The Moon's a Balloon, I don't know if you've read that book, he's very young, just come out of cadet college or whatever, and he meets this quite, you know, 45-year-old prostitute who he has a fantastic time with. He's special to her but it definitely can't go any further than what it is and that's really what the song is about, with sinister overtones.
Damn it Phil. My attempt to exaggerate your sick, perverted tendencies doesn't work as well when I learn that some of your songs are actually sick and perverted! Because who can't relate to having a mother fixation with a prostitute, right? And what's with the deranged cackle? "On the DVD The Genesis Songbook, the band and producer Hugh Padgham revealed that the inspiration for Collins's laugh came from rap music pioneer Grandmaster Flash's song 'The Message'." Well, obviously. The little "Eeeugh!" that follows the laugh reminds me, if anything, of John Lennon's heavily-echoed vocal ad-libs during the fade-out of "Lovely Rita."
I can't see you Mama
But I can hardly wait
Ooh to touch and to feel you Mama
Oh I just can't keep away

In the heat and the steam of the city
Oh it's got me running and I just can't break
So say you'll help me Mama
Cause it's getting so hard

Now I can't keep you Mama
But I know you're always there
You listen, you teach me Mama
And I know inside you care

So get down, down here beside me
Oh you ain't going nowhere
No I won't hurt you Mama
But it's getting so hard

It's hot, too hot for me Mama
But I can't hardly wait
My eyes, they're burning Mama
And I can feel my body shake

Don't stop, don't stop me Mama
Make the pain, make it go away
No I won't hurt you Mama
But it's getting so hard
The video finds Phil and friends in a dingy club (or an extremely low-budget motel?) which unfortunately does not seem to have any air conditioning. Wearing a sweaty, light red sleeveless shirt, Phil tries to do his best Sly Stallone impersonation. How much do you think he could bench press?



Likewise, there certainly wasn't anything sweetly romantic about "Home By The Sea" (and its primarily instrumental counterpart, "Second Home By The Sea"), unless Wuthering Heights is your idea of romance: From Wikipedia: "Lyrically, the song is about a burglar who breaks into a house only to find it is a haunted prison. The burglar is captured by the ghosts, who force him to listen to their stories for the rest of his life." I hate it when that happens. The unexpectedly insistent tempo gives the song's sweetly aching melody an urgent power it might otherwise lack. Jesus. Is my music writing starting to sound like Patrick Bateman's? Well, sometimes even a deranged Yuppie nutjob is right on the money, even when he misinterprets the lyrics and misquotes the song's title:
"... Phil's voice is strongest on "House by the Sea," whose lyrics are, however, too stream-of-consciousness to make much sense. It might be about growing up and accepting adulthood but it's unclear; at any rate, its second instrumental part puts the song more in focus for me and Mike Banks gets to show off his virtuoso guitar skills while Tom Rutherford washes the tracks over with dreamy synthesizers, and when Phil repeats the song's third verse at the end it can give you chills."
Chills!
Creeping up the blind side, shinning up the wall
Stealing through the dark of night
Climbing through a window, stepping to the floor
Checking to the left and the right
Picking up the pieces, putting them away
Something doesn't feel quite right

Help me someone, let me out of here
Then out of the dark was suddenly heard
Welcome to the Home by the Sea

Coming out the woodwork, through the open door
Pushing from above and below
Shadows without substance, in the shape of men
Round and down and sideways they go
Adrift without direction, eyes that hold despair
Then as one they sigh and they moan

Help us someone, let us out of here
Living here so long undisturbed
Dreaming of the time we were free
So many years ago
Before the time when we first heard
Welcome to the Home by the Sea
Sit down, sit down
As we relive our lives in what we tell you

Images of sorrow, pictures of delight
Things that go to make up a life
Endless days of summer, longer nights of gloom
Waiting for the morning light
Scenes of unimportance, like photos in a frame
Things that go to make up a life


"Taking It All Too Hard" is the one song that sounds the most like late '80s solo Phil (also sounding like a dry run for "In Too Deep"), but somehow I can't resist its gloopy charm. It peaked at #11 Adult Contemporary, but only #50 on the Hot 100. This is one of those small, "Oh yeahhhhh, I think I remember that!" hits that litter the Phil Collins and Genesis discographies like so many stains on a YMCA sofa.



But Genesis could still turn around and rock your balls off with a ditty like "Just A Job To Do," which "tells the story of a hit man pursuing his victim," a situation Phil knew perhaps all too well, if the tales of his murderous escapades in San Diego are to be believed. Nonetheless, Patrick Bateman has a different theory: "'Just a Job to Do' is the album's funkiest song, with a killer bass line by Banks, and though it seems to be about a detective chasing a criminal, I think it could also be about a jealous lover tracking someone down." You decide:
It's no use saying that it's alright, it's alright
Where were you after midnight, midnight
Heard a Bang, Bang, Bang, down they go
It's just a job you do
'Cause the harder they run, and the harder they fall
I'm coming down hard on you

Now no one saw what you looked like, what you looked like
Like a stranger, you came out of the night, out of the night
'Cause someone put the word on you, and I hope my aim is true

'Cause I got a name, and I got a number, I gotta line on you
I got a name, and I got a number, I'm coming after you


Of course, little did the public realize it at the time, but "Just A Job To Do," as well as several of the album's other tracks, were inspired by Phil's ongoing financial battles with his record label. From In The Air Tonight:
I was at home watching a bootleg copy of a Sardinian snuff film when the mailman slid my royalty check through the mail slot. "All right, here's the $500,000 dollars from Hello, I Must Be Going!" I muttered to myself with glee. But when I opened up the envelope, I couldn't believe what I saw. Only $490,000! Where was the other $10,000? This was bullshit. I was owed at least $500,000. Those Atlantic sons of bitches. I dialed Frankie Foster, but he didn't pick up. So I decided to go down there in person. I brought two goons along, you know, to make sure we cleared up this little mistake real quick.

Frankie waved me hello with a half-smoked cigar dangling between his stubby fingers. "Phil ol' boy, come on in! 'You Can't Hurry Love,' it's unstoppable, I gotta tell you." The boys knocked him to the floor and tied his hands with extension cables.

"Where's my $500,000 Frankie?"

"Hey, hey! Hold on, Phil, what are you talkin' about?"

I shoved the check in his face. "This says $490,000. Where's my $500,000?"

"There's ... there's fees, you know? We've gotta take a little out for the fees Phil, I swear!"

I pointed to the corner. "Throw him over there until he changes his tune."

We sat in that room all afternoon, and after sunset. Things got a little messy. Had the boys pull out a couple of toenails. They grow back. Frankie broke down sobbing.

"Mama!" He cried at one point. "Mama!"

"You want your mama, eh?"

"I can't see you mama, but I know you're always there."

"That's it Frankie, you talk to whoever you want to talk to."

"I wanna go home."

"Where's your home."

"By the sea."

"Sounds nice."

"Help me someone, let me out of here, living here so long undisturbed." He started babbling like a madman. "Endless days of summer, longer nights of gloom, waiting for the morning light." That's not bad, I thought. Could use that somewhere.

"It's all right, Frankie, it's all right. You're taking it all too hard."

Another hour passed by in silence. Finally, he cracked. "OK Phil. I'll give you the extra $10,000."

"Extra? It's not fucking extra. It's what I'm owed."

"OK, OK, it's not extra! Will you untie me now?"

Frankie crawled over to his desk and began pulling out a series of $100 bills.

"Don't give it to me now, just put it in my next check."

"But-"

"I don't carry cash. I know you'll pay up. 'Cause if you don't, well ... I got a name, and I got a number, I got a line on you, Frankie. I got a name, I got a number, I'm comin' after you."
Editor's Note: A few of our loyal Cosmic American readers may have noticed the appearance of a supposed "real" memoir recently "written" by Phil Collins, titled Not Dead Yet. Mr. Collins has even been spotted on several late night programs promoting this ostensibly "legitimate" autobiography. But let me be clear: credible as it may seem, Not Dead Yet is a fraud and a sham, not to be confused with the much more obscure, but much more authentic In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life And Twisted Psyche Of Philip D. Collins. The motive behind this false publication is not entirely clear; perhaps Mr. Collins, upon further reflection, has gotten "cold feet" and now feels ashamed of his previous attempt at brutal candor and unflinching honesty; perhaps he feels threatened by law enforcement (both domestic and international) after confessing to numerous felonies and misdeeds, even though the statute of limitations on all of them appears to have passed; perhaps he simply enjoys playing elaborate games and ruses with the public, like a balding, drumming Andy Kaufman, who delights in treating his fans as elaborate pawns in a vast piece of inscrutable performance art. Read it if you choose, but be warned: not a word of it may be true.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Power Ballad "Heart" Attack AKA One Band's Reluctant Journey To The "Heart" Of '80s Cheese

Some '70s bands figured out the '80s right off the bat. Others needed a little time, but, boy, when they got there, they got there nice and good.

Let's cut to the "heart" of the matter here (also, let's see how many bad "heart" puns I can incorporate into this post ... actually, I think I'm done). Heart's initial brush with the '80s began rather inauspiciously: a hit cover of Aaron Neville's New Orleans R&B slow jam "Tell It Like It Is," one of the "new" tracks off their first greatest hits album. Suffice to say, this was not a long-term plan for success in the MTV era. (And couldn't the high school PTA have found a cheaper prom band?)



See, I think in the '70s, you could just be a bar band from down the street. But in the '80s, you had to be bigger, cheaper, tackier, poofier. You needed to reach the back row of that stadium filled with sexy middle-aged housewives. You needed to schlock it up.

For the Ladies Wilson and Friends, the transition would not be easy, nor would it occur overnight, but rest assured: it would occur. Private Audition (1982) peaked at #25, Passionworks (1983) at #39. The latter's "How Can I Refuse" showed signs of the band potentially catching on to the schlock, particularly that electronically-processed triple-thwack drum fill in the chorus. In the video, we see the Wilson sisters' hair becoming slightly more permed, with Nancy wearing what appears to be Bowie's mullet from Labyrinth. Although the clip features an early taste of the third-rate sci-fi/fantasy landscapes to come, with its interlude of peyote-fueled necromancy in the deserts of a distant realm (question: best music video featuring a crystal ball ever?), the majority of the clip still finds the band "performing," you know, "on stage." No, no, no. It reached #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, but only #44 on the Pop chart. Epic Records had seen enough.



Capitol Records, on the other hand, saw a second act in our two little queenies, but first they laid out a few conditions:
  1. No more of those crappy songs you're writing, you know, "yourself." We give you the songs, you cover them.
  2. The videos, girls, the videos - they need more: flames, corsets, anvils, you know, shit like that.
It looks like Heart got the memo. They got the memo, rolled it up, and smoked it. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you "What About Love."



The band hops on a tour bus after another exhausting gig. Everything's in black and white. Nancy cuddles up with her guitar. Lonely, pensive Ann begins to sing about heartbreak. "But where are the explosions?" you're asking. "Where are the explosions?"

BOOM. Heart's got your explosions right here, buddy. And flames, lots of flames. Ann takes the stage wearing a medieval gown and holding a mallet. She means business. Because next comes the metallurgy.

The fuckin' metallurgy.

Two guys pour molten gold into a cast, and out of that cast rises ... Nancy Wilson. Heart: forged from the cauldrons of '80s power balladry. Then the camera cuts to a mysteriously masked woman holding a blowtorch. She takes off her helmet to reveal that she is ... Ann Wilson! Singer by day, blacksmith by night. Then peasants begin hauling gold bricks. And of course there's anvils, lots of anvils. At 2:12 Nancy appears to be offering her guitar as a sacrifice to the metallurgy gods, or perhaps the Capitol Records execs? Then Nancy and the lead guitarist jam while standing on top of a spiral staircase ... that's engulfed in flames. Notice also how the lead guitarist appears to be playing a sled, and the bassist is playing a guitar with a hideous cheetah design on it. Suddenly, the last shot shows Ann still sitting on that tour bus, dejected and reading ... Gone With The Wind? Is that where this whole daydream came from?

The band had its doubts, and I can't possibly fathom why, about its new direction, but here's a question: if you don't act on your doubts, do they actually mean anything? Here's Ann Wilson from a recent Rolling Stone interview:
At the time, that transition was really hard for me. And for a couple of reasons. One was that we were accepting songs from outside writers. I think we came to the realization that, "Hey, we're not writing so well right now. We're not coming up with the goods." So we decided to go ahead with it and audition some outside stuff. And you can make sense of that in your brain, but it's hard to convince your emotions and your ego to accept that kind of thing. So it was rocky for me. When I first heard the demo for "What About Love," my hackles went up because I thought it sounded like a victim song. "Oh, poor me! What about me?" It felt like an "I'm so weak and you can just walk all over me" type song. And so I rejected it. But our producer and the record company and everyone kept working on me, and I finally agreed to sing the song. And when I did, I brought my own sort of rage to it, I guess. It ended up not being a victim song and I think it's good.
Rage. You got that? Do you feel the rage?

I guess the question on the minds of eager MTV viewers really had been "What About Love?" and apparently Heart had really answered it, as the single sent the band back into the top ten. I don't remember hearing "What About Love" much at the time, and when I heard it later, the first thing I thought was, "Wow, this is a total ripoff of Roxette's 'Listen To Your Heart'!" Turns out I had it backwards; "Listen To Your Heart" was a total ripoff of "What About Love." Well, not totally, since every power ballad is essentially a ripoff of the same power ballad. It's like there's this one Ur-ballad sitting in a vault somewhere in a strip club on Hollywood Blvd., and everyone who ever needs to write one takes a little piece of it.

Oh yeah, and you know who's singing backing vocals on "What About Love"? Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick. Let's see Roxette rip off that.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Fitting Enz To Belinda's Solo Debut AKA Stuff And Awesomeness

If someone paid me a dollar for every time I heard a love song which featured sentiments such as "Our love will last forever" or "We'll be together till the end of time," why, I'd ... probably spend my time doing something other than blogging about '80s music, I can tell you that much. My point is, most relationships generally don't last "forever," and if you really stayed with someone until "the end of time," then you would be immortal, and ... who cares who your partner is, what's it like to be immortal???

Seriously though, I get it. It's a nice sentiment. You're saying that you really love somebody a lot. But it's not ... realistic. Feelings come and go. People form a connection, but that connection often fades. Most love songs aren't very realistic. Maybe they shouldn't be. But in 1979, Tim Finn wrote one of those rare love songs that strikes me as surprisingly honest.

"Stuff and Nonsense" was an album track on Split Enz's Frenzy. Remember Split Enz? You know, the guys from the Fatty Foods Party? Well, when he wasn't crashing depraved L.A. New Wave all-girl slumber parties, Tim Finn was writing love songs from a decidedly cautious perspective:
Disobey my own decisions
I deserve all your suspicions
First it's yes and then it's no
I dilly dally down to you, oh
But I've got no secrets that I battle in my sleep
I won't make promises to you that I can't keep
Promises that you can't keep? I mean, there goes the plot of every romantic comedy ever. But it's in the chorus where he really subverts prevailing teenage notions of lifetime entanglement:
And you know that I love you
Here and now, not forever
I can give you the present
I don't know about the future
That's all stuff and nonsense
Whoa, that's like ... Buddhist. The power of Now, man. He's not saying that he won't love her in the future; he's just saying that he doesn't know. Because nobody knows. And anybody who says they do know ... is lying.



It was a nice album track. But just as Tim Finn couldn't have known what the future held in store for his romance, he couldn't have known what the future held in store for his composition. Fast forward seven years. Belinda Carlisle needs a closing track for her solo debut. She's just married the man of her dreams. Could she pick a song with lyrics that say she'll love Morgan Mason "until the end of time"? Sure. But that's not how Belinda rolls, baby.

I couldn't say who or what inspired Finn to write "Stuff and Nonsense," be it his significant other, his orthodontist, or his cat, and it's not like he sounds insincere when he's singing it. But it's hard to believe that Finn didn't somehow know that he was unconsciously writing this song for Belinda to sing ... seven years later! Despite the supremely non-Californian ring of the title phrase, I have to say that, in the hands of Belinda, "Stuff and Nonsense" became a fitting statement of hesitant optimism, as she embarked on a new kind of relationship, one with so much promise, but so much uncertainty.

True, the somewhat schmaltzy piano-and-strings intro comes on as a little less Paul McCartney and a little more Barry Manilow, but just you wait. Her vocal shakiness, while possibly unintentional and possibly a result of her not really knowing how to sing all that great, also adds to the vibe of fragility and vulnerability. She's sort of going in and out of doing this "speak-singing" thing, especially on the word "promises," and it kind of makes me cringe a little, but every time she seems to lose her balance, she gets right back on track and gives the next few notes some solid gusto. Under the first chorus it sounds like someone is gently banging an aluminum sheet - "Bridge Over A Troubled Belinda," if you will - but fortunately some real drums come in during the second chorus.

It's more or less Belinda Streisand until the instrumental bridge, when suddenly a regal trumpet flies in from the left channel straight out of "Penny Lane." All you need is Belinda! The third time through the chorus, she's joined by wordless "ooh-ooh" backing vocalists, but the fourth time through the chorus, those backing vocalists all start singing the words and it becomes one giant singalong. Hey Belinda, don't make it bad, take a Split Enz song, and make it better. The fifth time through the chorus, out of nowhere, an overdubbed, slightly more faint mini-Belinda starts ad libbing passionately in the right channel ("Know that I-I-I-I dooooo! Yes I doooo-wooo!") while the Penny Lane guy really starts going apeshit. Roll up for the Magical Belinda Tour! Coo-coo-ca-choob!



This is the way Belinda's first solo album ends: not with a bang, but with a pile of psychedelic Beatles flourishes. A splendid time is guaranteed for most.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Better Than Being Addicted To Hate, Right?

But ... hey ... come on, man! That's not even a real band. Those girls can barely even play. This whole thing is a farce, I tell you, a sham!

I wonder what it would actually be like to be "addicted" to love. Is it expensive? Could you OD? Is there a Love-a-holics Anonymous? I just hope it's not as brutal as, say, having a bad case of loving you.

But I digress. If the other members of the Power Station thought their little supergroup was in it for the long haul, Robert Palmer had other ideas. According to Wikipedia, the band booked a tour, but after one performance on Saturday Night Live, Palmer decided that, you know, since he was now such a hot commodity, maybe it was the perfect time to ... record another solo album. And he was right! This may not have bothered the band, but according to Wikipedia, it didn't sit too well with the music press:
When Palmer bailed on the tour, some critics referred to it as "unprofessional behaviour". In Number One magazine, he hit back at the claims he joined the band for money: "Firstly, I didn't need the money and, secondly the cash wasn't exactly a long time coming. It wasn't exactly an experience that set me up for retirement." He was also accused of ripping off the Power Station sound for his own records. He snapped: "Listen, I gave The Power Station that sound. They took it from me, not the other way around."
Don't incite the Palmer! You may not come back in one piece. At any rate, wasn't Palmer the last member to join? Enough of this he said/she said: the bottom line is that, with drumming from Tony Thompson, bass playing from Power Station producer (and, like Thompson, former Chic member) Bernard Edwards, and guitar from Andy Taylor, "Addicted to Love" might as well have been the new Power Station single. Unless you watched the video, that is.

Because in the video for "Addicted to Love," there's no doubt who's in charge here. And, funny enough, the other guys are ... nowhere to be found! Hmmmm, that doesn't look like Andy Taylor on lead guitar there. And you can't seriously convince me that that's Tony Thompson on the skins. Why, these are just a bunch of ... models! What is this, some kind of a ... some kind of a joke? From Wikipedia: "The video features Palmer performing the song with an abstract 'band', being a group of female models whose pale skin, heavy makeup, dark hair and seductive, rather mannequin-like expression follow the style of women in Patrick Nagel paintings."

Patrick Nagel, you say? Think Duran Duran's Rio, or the walls of any neighborhood hair salon. I'm guessing some people find this look "hot," but, personally, I find it slightly disturbing. I mean, I want a guitarist who will keep me warm at night, not eat bats in my attic. I have to say, however, that on another day, I might go for the keyboardist, and maybe the guitarist to Palmer's right. According to VH-1's Pop-Up Video, "a musician was hired to teach the models basic fingering techniques, but 'gave up after about an hour and left'." Oh Lord.



Favorite YouTube comments:
man did he film this in his living room?

I suspect the musicians are not playing their instruments here.

If you watch this video closely, you'll see Robert Palmer.

What makes the video is how serious Palmer is and how he stays in character. That, and the girl licking her lips.

Some say those women are still standing there dancing like that.

Step 1. Look at the drummer in the wide shots
Step 2. Laugh your arse off
Step 3. Repeat
Suffice to say, everyone from Tone Loc to Shania Twain has paid homage to the video, but no one has done it quite the way Sonic Youth side project Ciccone Youth did on 1989's The Whitey Album. Here we have Kim Gordon apparently singing along live to a budget version blasting out of a Macy's karaoke booth, which might explain why the playing sounds more competent than usual, and why the backing vocalist carries a tune better than Thurston Moore. Am I crazy, or is this like, the best thing they ever did?


Less hipster, but equally absurd, would be Weird Al's take. No one can deflate a nonsensical lyrical conceit and a male singer's veneer of suave machismo like Weird Al, who manages to turn the song's dubious metaphor into a tale of literal addiction. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ... "Addicted to Spuds":
Potato skins, potato cakes
Hash browns, and instant flakes
Baked or boiled, or french fried
There's no kind you haven't tried

You planned a trip to Idaho
Just to watch potatoes grow
I understand how you must feel
I can't deny they've got appeal

You like them whether they are plain or they're stuffed, oh yeah
Better face the facts, it seems you can't get enough
You know, you're gonna have to face it
You're addicted to spuds

Your greasy hands, your salty lips
Looks like you found the chips
Your belly aches, your teeth grind
Some tater tots would blow your mind

And you don't mind if they're not cooked
You need your fix, I guess you're hooked
And late at night you always dream
Of bacon bits and sour cream

You like them even if they're lumpy or tough, oh yeah
Well it's pretty obvious to me you can't get enough
You know you're gonna have to face it
You're addicted to spuds

I'm givin' up, it's just no use
Another case of spud abuse
What can I say, what can I do
Potato bug has got me too

I used to hate them, now they're all that I eat, oh yeah
Well, I've often seen then whipped, but they just can't be beat
Now I'm gonna have to face it
I'm addicted to spuds
Most groan inducing puns: "I can't deny they've got appeal"; "Potato bug has got me too"; "I've often seen them whipped but they just can't be beat." Oy gevalt. Not being a doctor, I can't honestly say whether or not he's truly addicted to spuds, but I will say this: he's definitely addicted to bad puns.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Take Me Home Tonight": Two Comebacks In One!

At least Johnny Cash's real last name was actually Cash. Not quite so for one Edward Joseph Mahoney, son of an NYPD cop who almost followed in his father's footsteps until the siren song of cheesy bar band rock came calling. "Baby Hold On," "Two Tickets To Paradise," "Think I'm In Love" ... sometimes the key to fulfilling all your musical ambitions is to have very low ambitions.

And here's a question for you: can you call it a "comeback" if you actually weren't that big to begin with? Eddie Money probably didn't care what people called it as long it put some of, you know, his own name in the bank account.

He needed a single that summoned up the appropriate aura of '80s late night urban desperation and Wagnerian malaise. Initially, "Take Me Home Tonight" doesn't sound like that single, with its generic stew of mushy keyboards and jangly-but-not-quite-jangly-enough guitar, followed by a mood-setting "Oh-ohhh-ooooh-oh-wuh-ohhh" and an imitation Asian synth lick. What the hell is this, the Vapors' "Turning Japanese"? In enters the man of the hour, sounding like your neighborhood Springsteen-with-a-meth-addiction, and apparently he hasn't eaten all day:
I feel a hunger, it's a hunger
That tries to keep a man awake at night
Are you the answer? I shouldn't wonder
When I feel you whet my appetite
Dude, find a Sizzler. Or a Denny's.
With all the power you're releasing
It isn't safe to walk the city streets alone
Anticipation's running through me
Let's find the key and turn this engine on

I can feel you breathe
I can feel your heart beat faster
Eddie, this town rips the bones from your back, it's a death trap, it's a suicide rap, you gotta get out while you're young ... wait, never mind. The point is, Eddie isn't hungry for food, or even meth: he's hungry for escape. The bridge suggests the promise of change, of that glimpse of something better just around the corner, complete with tacky echo on "faster," but based on what you've heard so far, you know, come on, how much better could it really be? You're figuring Eddie Money probably doesn't have it in him.

But wrong you are. Right at the 1:02 mark, he delivers the goods. Oh SHIIIIT. YEAHHH BABY. That is what I'm talkin' about. You thought you had a chorus? That ain't a chorus. This is a chorus. Those guitar chords are like the sound of an American flag making love to a Harley-Davidson ... on the White House lawn. It's Eddie Money reaching deep down inside himself, knowing that nothing less than the catchiest, most anthemic chorus in the world could salvage the shattered remnants of his pathetic career, and it's sitting right there in his pocket, and he's like, "You think I'm all out of bar band hooks, don't you? Don't you? Well get a load of this." It is, if you will, the song's "Money" shot.

Actually, he didn't write the song, and he didn't even like the song. But he did have one suggestion: if they were going to do an interpolation of "Be My Baby," they might as well get the original singer of "Be My Baby" to sing it.

And just what was Ronnie Spector up to anyways? She had last been seen in the mid-'70s, fleeing the infamous mansion of her soon-to-be ex-husband, where she had reportedly been held hostage in her own home for years on end, not even allowed to pick up the groceries. Guess it's hard to focus on your recording career when you're recovering from the trauma of a marriage to Phil Spector, you know? According to Wikipedia, in 1986, Eddie Money called her and asked her what she was doing. She answered, "Washing the dishes."

So that's the thing. This chorus is already soaring like a bald eagle that's just inhaled a tank of liberty helium, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, Ronnie comes in, taking you back to those hot summer days on a Brooklyn street corner, playing stickball and beating up some Italian kid with a trashcan lid. It's like the flavor of the "new" (slickly-produced '80s arena rock) with a sprinkling of the "old" (critically unimpeachable early '60s girl group pop). You can't lose.

And if you're going to reference an oldie like that, why be subtle about it? At 2:22, not only does Ronnie come back in, but also the "Be My Baby" drumbeat, and even the damn castanets! At this point you're probably thinking to yourself, "Yeah, that's all pretty solid, but what this song really needs right now is for all the instruments to just suddenly drop out, and then all we'd hear is that sweet, sweet chorus again, with Eddie's shaggy dog wail and that crunchy-ass riff."

Witness 2:37.

The fade-out features the former Miss Veronica Bennett double-tracking her vocals and performing just about every aspect of the "Be My Baby" chorus she hasn't already touched. Rock 'n' Roll never dies, all right - it just cashes in on cheap oldies nostalgia. "Take Me Home Tonight" found a home at #4 on the Hot 100.


The video looks like it was filmed in between bouts at a boxing arena, with all the budget "Eddie" money perhaps going toward the (admittedly appealing) black and white film stock. Are Eddie and Ronnie about to face off in the ring? If so, personally, my money's on Eddie. At first it seems like one of those videos where the two performers had scheduling issues and couldn't appear on the set at the same time: Ronnie sits in the dressing room, putting out her cigarette butt with her shoe, while Eddie fondles a ladder on stage. We see her slinking her way down the hallway in silhouette, shrouded in smoke. The massive door of the arena begins to lift. Who's that ghostly figure in the darkness - E.T.? Finally, at 2:42, we get a close-up. It's Ronnie! She made it! Well of course she made it, what the hell else was she doing, washing the dishes? Still, you never quite see them standing together. I'm thinking they might have used a double in the long shots. Also note: Eddie apparently does his own sax duty. Check out the whirlwind montage at about 2:33, where singer blows into saxophone, rips open shirt, grabs saxophone (which somehow is not in his hands anymore?), hoists saxophone, and lets the chorus fly. Soak it in, Eddie: this time you've truly earned your financial sobriquet.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Mr. Panayiotou Goes To Beijing

Just as Admiral Perry cracked open Japan, just as Nixon sat face to face with Mao, one heroic Western pop group was destined to bring the decadent, rebellious sounds of rock and roll to an oppressive East. Was it the Beatles? The Stones? Dylan? The Beach Boys?

Pfft, they wished. The group to break Communism's iron grip on Chinese mass culture...

...was Wham!

Say "Ni-Hao" to the reign of the Michael dynasty. I wonder what the Mandarin translation for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is. That's right. In 1985, Red China got its first taste of Pasty White British Guys. But were they ready? Could they handle the wild, unhinged attitude of ... Wham!? According to Wikipedia, the People's Republic came this close to being treated to actual rock and roll, if it hadn't been for the machinations of Wham!'s crafty co-manager:
In March 1985, Wham! took a break from recording to embark on a lengthy world tour, including a ground-breaking 10-day visit to China, the first by a Western pop group. The China excursion was a publicity scheme devised by Simon Napier-Bell (one of their two managers—Jazz Summers being the other). It culminated in a concert at the Workers' Gymnasium in Beijing in front of 15,000 people. Wham!'s visit to China attracted huge media attention across the world. Napier-Bell later admitted that he used cunning tactics to sabotage the efforts of rock group Queen to be the first to play in China. He made two brochures for the Chinese authorities - one featuring Wham! fans as pleasant middle-class youngsters, and one portraying Queen singer Freddie Mercury in typically flamboyant poses. The Chinese opted for Wham!
OK, OK, who in Queen's management allowed Wham!'s manager to produce a brochure on behalf of both artists? I mean really now. Did they honestly think the other guy would just be a neutral party? This one was on Queen if you ask me.

Well, the Chinese authorities obviously dodged a bullet there, because unlike Freddie Mercury, George Michael was just a wholesome, clean-cut old-fashioned British male. Nope, nothing subversive or unusual about this pop star, folks. A perfect role model for millions of impressionable young Chinese children to emulate. "Western popular music is just fine, kids, as long as you do it just like this nice, normal Mr. Michael does it, OK"?

While not quite up there with Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, the VHS concert release Foreign Skies, directed by leftist '60s British art-house filmmaker/documentarian Lindsay Anderson (!), is nevertheless a riveting portrait of a live musical powerhouse at its peak. Never before has a concert film featured:
  • Martial arts sequences set to Wham!'s "Bad Boys" (6:36)
  • The sexiest photo shoot ever taken at the Great Wall (7:42)
  • Michael and Ridgeley, as guests of the British ambassador, discussing the finer points of foreign policy, presumably between games of croquet (12:26)
  • A media spokesman explaining, in response to a question about how many people were in the "band," that Wham! featured "two main singers"; something must have gotten lost in translation? (15:48)
  • The world's most appalled security guard, clearly not being able to comprehend the spectacle of "Everything She Wants" being performed right in front of him (45:26)


As for the climactic performance, it's impressive how Andrew Ridgeley, here in his "picnic blanket" phase, manages to play his guitar without its being plugged in. Also, China may have been ready for Wham!, but were they truly ready for ... Pepsi and Shirley?

The concert even features a number called "Blue" (sounding to me like the evil step-sister of "Nothing Looks The Same In the Light" from their first album) which Wham! never actually recorded in the studio. Instead, they threw the live version from China onto their farewell album The Final/Music From The Edge Of Heaven. Don't you see? Without that Beijing concert, a key piece of Wham! history would have been lost forever.



So what does Professor Higglediggle make of this watershed moment in Sino-Anglo relations?:
Turning once again to the mark of the "other," Wham! proceeded to break from Western hetero-orthodoxy and, in the words of Jacques Brisson, "transcend the theoretical breach." Posing as a British pop duo, Wham! could not overcome the stigma of co-optation and ritual (in)vocation. Yet in this very failure to bridge the tension between West and East, Michael and Ridgeley demonstrated an affinity for class antagonism, their gesture of outreach potentially (circum)navigating the unwritten "code" of diplomacy, which is to never, in the common lingua franca, bring a saxophone player. Here we see, as argued by Simone Digeau-Nille in A Sexuality of The Asexual, the power of persuasive Western iconography, as represented by wimpy synth-pop, to shake the (Far) Eastern axis of post-dialectical Marxist thought in a "symbolic" and "binary" manner, only to succumb to the subtraction of its own self-negated ideas.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Only Time In History An Airplane Ever Crashed, And Turned Into A Starship

Trying to explain the history of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship is like trying to explain the history of the French government from 1789 to 1870. Let's see ... first there was a king, and then there was a revolution, and then there was Napoleon, and then Napoleon left, but then he came back, and then there was a king again, and then there was a "citizen-king," and then Napoleon's nephew took over? I lost track right around 1810. Basically there needs to be a Periodic Table of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship. If you really want to sort it out, there's this amazing website called Wikipedia. Here's the short version:

Jefferson Airplane were a late '60s San Francisco psychedelic rock band, originally featuring, at its core, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jorna Kaukonen, Jack Casady, and, from their second album onward, co-lead singer Grace Slick. In the early '70s, Kantner and Slick formed a temporary side project called Jefferson Starship, which was not really meant to be a proper band (they also had a baby together, but never married). Kaukonen and Casady frequently performed as a side project called Hot Tuna, and although Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Hot Tuna co-existed for a time, by 1974 the band split for good into either Jefferson Starship or Hot Tuna, leaving Kanter, Slick, and Balin as the core of Jefferson Starship. Many other members came and went. After going on a drunken tirade during a concert in Germany in 1978 where she gloated about the US winning World War II, Slick was kicked out of the band, and soon after, Balin left as well. In 1979, another lead singer, Mickey Thomas, mainly known for singing lead on Elvin Bishop's huge hit "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" in 1976, joined Jefferson Starship. Mickey Thomas had never been in Jefferson Airplane. Slick, presumably more sober, rejoined in 1981. By 1984, Kantner had finally had enough of the band's transition into increasingly cheesy arena rock, but all the other members of Jefferson Starship totally wanted to keep going. Kantner said that if they wanted to keep going, they would have to do it under a different name, God damn it. Legal action was taken. Slick and Thomas suddenly had a needle to thread: they needed a new name that still retained the sense of connection with the old group, while also managing to satisfy the rigid decree of the court system. What if they dropped the "Jefferson" and became, simply, Starship? The perfect solution for all involved! Although the initial Starship lineup was essentially the 1984 lineup of Jefferson Starship minus Kantner, the only member of Starship who had ever originally been in Jefferson Airplane was Grace Slick. And then the Germans invaded Alsace-Lorraine in revenge for Slick's drunken tirade.

But what about the music, Little Earl, what about the music?

Early '80s Jefferson Starship is what happens when a band just ... keeps ... going. Why are we a band again? We've got to keep being a band because being a band is what we do. No one asks how we got here. To ask is to make trouble.

Jefferson Starship's early '80s hits are like the early '80s hits that time forgot. I've never heard them played anywhere. None of them were very big hits, but there were a bunch of them. It's like their popularity declined, but they never quite got unpopular enough. They still had an excuse to keep making records. And unlike most other aging '60s veterans, the band dove eagerly and brazenly into the MTV age. You thought the video for "We Built This City" was bad? Wait till you get a load of some of this shit.

Most people probably think of Jefferson Starship as having retained some semblance of taste and integrity before the shameless slide into Starship, but I discovered a shocking secret. In reality, Starship really began once Mickey Thomas joined Jefferson Starship in 1979, long before the name change. Mickey Thomas was like the Safeway Select Cola to Steve Perry's Coke. When "Jane" hit #14 in 1979, sounding like Toto after a long night at a biker bar, any lingering Jefferson Airplane fans probably headed for the exits, but Mickey was just getting warmed up.



"Find Your Way Back" found its way to #29 (#3 on the Mainstream Rock chart) in 1981, just as Slick rejoined the band at the last minute. According to Wikipedia, "Although not appearing in the band picture on the gatefold cover, she is listed on the back cover of the LP with the credit 'Introducing Grace Slick' and her picture is on the lyric sleeve with the note 'Grace Slick courtesy of Grace Slick.'" Ha ha, guys, very funny. The video finds Mickey Thomas trying to give Oates a run for his money in the mustache department, as well as wearing the world's tiniest tie. Also, I love how there's a group photo at the end, and then an entirely separate photo of Grace Slick that suddenly flies in out of nowhere. She's gone light speed!



"Stranger" stalled at #48 (#17 Mainstream Rock), took its title from Billy Joel, its opening drum beat from "My Sharona," and I think Grace Slick took her hair from Bride of Frankenstein and her necklace from her neighborhood hardware store, but other than that, it's not bad. Most unintentionally hilarious moments:
  • 1:02 - Eyes! So many eyes!
  • 1:10 - Mickey Thomas has a sheet over his head, and as the camera zooms in, the sheet ... flies off his head! Slowly!
  • 2:05 Mickey walks through a dark room toward a brightly-lit doorway, stands in the doorway, and then ... turns around! And then disappears! In a blinding flash!


And yet, like loyal fans sitting in the bleachers when their team is down 9-0 in the 9th, there still must have been at least one or two old hippie burnouts, desperately clutching their ticket stubs from the Fillmore days, hoping that Paul and Grace would be able to turn this (star)ship around and fly it back to glory.

Their faith would be ... how should I put it? Misplaced.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

"Illegal Alien": Phil Collins Turns Mexican AKA "It's No Fun" Reading These YouTube Comments

I believe that, at some point in popular music history, as with the great government of our United States, there existed a system of checks and balances. If an act decided to write a song about illegal immigration and perform it with a slightly racist Mexican accent, there would have been forces involved that would've stepped in and said, "Hold on, are you sure you don't want to think twice about this?" However, there have been occasional lapses. I believe that such a system existed at some point prior to the '80s, and at some point after the '80s, but research has led me to believe that it didn't actually exist during the '80s.

This is the only explanation I can give for Genesis' "Illegal Alien." It plays the politically charged issue of Mexican immigration to the U.S. for ... comedic value. Get ready, folks, because In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life and Twisted Psyche of Phillip D. Collins is about to get topical.

Thanks to a certain fluorescent presidential candidate I need not name, Mexican immigration is an issue that, in 2016, remains at the forefront of our political debate. But as the catalog of Genesis proves, it is an issue that is not necessarily new. However, it is an issue that, from where I stand at least, is not now, nor ever has been, particularly hilarious.

Ha Ha Ha! Oh those Mexicans, trying to feed their families by picking produce for a shadow economy! That's a real knee-slapper, boy. I don't personally find the song offensive, but then again, my tolerance is notoriously high. It doesn't sit quite as well with Stephen Thomas Erlewine, who writes, "Phil's Speedy Gonzalez accent is an outright embarrassment (although in some ways it's not all that far removed from his Artful Dodger accent on the previous album's "Who Dunnit?")." Outright embarrassment? Try being a bald drummer. That's an outright embarrassment. The song receives a more enthusiastic recommendation from the less culturally sensitive Patrick Bateman:
"Illegal Alien" is the most explicitly political song the group has yet recorded and their funniest. The subject is supposed to be sad - a wetback trying to get across the border into the United States - but the details are highly comical: the bottle of tequila the Mexican holds, the new pair of shoes he's wearing (probably stolen); and it all seems totally accurate. Phil sings it in a brash, whiny pseudo-Mexican voice that makes it even funnier, and the rhyme of "fun" with "illegal alien" is inspired.
Congratulations, Genesis: you've impressed a psychopath. On paper it doesn't seem quite so tasteless, aside from ... well, a couple of segments:
Got out of bed, wasn't feeling too good
With my wallet and my passport, a new pair of shoes
The sun is shining so I head for the park
With a bottle of tequila and a new pack of cigarettes

I got a cousin and she got a friend
Who thought that her aunt knew a man who could help
At his apartment I knocked on the door
He wouldn't come out until he got paid
Now don't tell anybody what I wanna do
If they find out you know that they'll never let me through

Cause it's a-no fun being an illegal alien
Cause it's a-no fun being an illegal alien
It's all right, "Felipe Collins," you can trust us. We won't squeal on you.
Down at the office had to fill out the forms
A pink one, a red one, the colors you choose
Up to the counter to see what they think
They said "It doesn't count man, it ain't written in ink"
Don't trust anybody least not around here

Consideration for your fellow man
Would not hurt anybody, sure fits in with my plan
Over the border, there lies the promised land
When everything comes easy
You just hold out your hand
Yep, no problems in America all right; you just hold out your hand ... so the migrant guy next to you can place a head of lettuce in it. Then things start to get a little sketchy for "Felipe":
Keep your suspicions, I've seen that look before
But I ain't done nothing wrong now, is that such as surprise?
But I've got a sister who'll be willing to oblige
She will do anything now to help me get to the outside
A sister who's "willing to oblige"? So the guy's trying to prostitute his sister to get across the border? Hey, if that's what it takes. Unsurprisingly, according to Wikipedia, that last verse was edited out of radio versions and the video mix. Maybe they shouldn't have bothered: "Illegal Alien" only hit #44 in the US and #46 in the UK. Who knows, maybe if they'd kept that verse in, it might have really set the charts on fire.

But here's what the song was truly missing: Phil Collins wearing a bad wig (shaped like an eggplant stem?) and a cartoonishly droopy mustache. That's what was missing. And the requisite poncho and sombrero at 2:34. Is he holding ... cucumbers as drumsticks? I've gotta say, despite their protestations to the contrary, it sure seems like a lot of fun being an illegal alien.



Well, it took me a while to figure this out, but I don't think the song was intended to be pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant, but was directed more at the opportunists on both sides of the border who were (and are) exploiting immigrants' desperation. It appears, however, that Genesis did not present this message to the public effectively. In the uncensored domain that is YouTube, many are the lamentations of those who long for a time when a world famous band could release a gleefully tasteless single and not be shamed by the PC Police:
why is it no fun? they get treated like royalty by our commie pres

Yeah it was funny back then, now try getting a job if you're not. What fun.

this was actually an early 80s MTV fave. it wasn't controversial at the time. it was just considered another video. things were simpler then, people were happier.

Great video. Unfortunately, there is no way it gets made today in this pussified country in which everyone is offended by their own shadow.

31 years later and nothing has changed. Everything comes easy you just hold out your hand.

This song needs a new chorus. Entitlement! For the undocumented resident. Entitlement! For the undocumented resident.

Nowadays you have to change the name to "It's No Fun Being an Undocumented Guest Worker With Government Amnesty"

Phil Collins recently said that he was going to change the song title to "It's Really Fun Being an Illegal Alien". He's dedicating the new song to President Obama.

We're going to build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Phil Collins pay for that wall.

Jesus, can you imagine if this song came out today? It would be a massive success simply due to the publicity from all the pundits bitching. Fox Blows & PMSNBC would have a feigned sand-in-the-vagina wankfest. I'M OUTRAGED! OUTRAGED, I TELL YOU! WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?

I appreciate Genesis, but this song can easily strike a nerve. I would never sing this song Karaoke or play it with the window down. The song sounds good, but can come off as hurtful to people of Mexican Ethnicity (IMHO). I want to marry a Mexican Lady, they are beautiful and a SUPER TURN ON!!!

I'm offensive and I find this video highly Mexican.

Phil looks like Bob Hoskins in Super Mario Bros.

Great song...Those who are offended by it need to learn Spanish on my behalf. Cuz I sure as hell ain't gonna.

This is a song about the time when E.T. didn't pay his television licence.

doesn't he have a Jamaican accent towards the end.

Next in the series: West Side Story's "I Want to Leeef In America ...Everything Free In Amereeeca !"
Still, however misguided, it was nice of Phil and the boys to donate some album space to the issue. After all, no one was forcing them to raise the public's awareness. Or were they? From In The Air Tonight:
It was after a show in San Antonio. I remember it well because I was having trouble getting the right sound out of the hi-hat, so in a rage I threw it toward the back of the stage, and it accidentally sliced open one of our roadies. Chopped him clean in half. Anyway, great show, especially "Follow You Follow Me."

That's when Yovani gave me a tip about some new shit, he said it was killer: duck anti-histamine. "It's like crack without the jitters," he said. I knew I had to score some, but I had to go down to Nuevo Laredo, find Yovani's uncle Carlos. I got across the border around 3:00am, no problem. He said his uncle lived in a shack next to a duck pond. Made sense I guess.

"Quien es?"

"Phil Collins."

"Si, yes, Felipe Collins, bienvenidos, come in, Yovani tells me about you!" I looked around the shack. Several of Carlos' friends were sitting around a pool table, wearing ponchos and sombreros and drinking tequila.

"Mira, mi amigos, es Felipe Collins!" Carlos' friends gave me menacing grins and slowly inched toward me. "He comes for the duck medicine."

"I heard it was good."

"Oh it's bueno, it's muy bueno." Suddenly two of Carlos' buddies pulled out .44 Magnums and threw me onto the pool table.

"What should we do with this gringo, eh?"

"Let's hold him for ransom, make his rich white friends pay for him."

"Wait, fellas, please, it's a mistake!"

"The mistake was you coming into our country, taking our duck medicine, raping our people, laughing in our faces."

"No, listen, you don't understand. I need to keep drumming! I need to keep making hits! The world needs my chart-topping Divorce Rock!"

"Maybe the world needs a few of your teeth, eh gringo?"

Suddenly Carlos stepped forward. "Muchachos, muchachos, I propose a deal. Felipe, you want to hear my deal?"

"Yes, whatever it is, I'll do it."

"OK, good. We let you go - on one condition."

"Yeah?"

"You write song about illegal alien." Carlos' henchmen nodded.

"That's it?"

"There's more. You write song about illegal alien, and you sing it in stupid Mexican accent that makes you sound stupid."

I thought for a moment. "And then you'll let me live?"

"Then we let you live."

"And you'll let me out of Nuevo Laredo?"

"We let you out of Nuevo Laredo."

"And I get a stash of Duck anti-histamine?"

"Gringo, we almost blow your brains out onto pool table. No press your luck. No duck medicine."

So I left it at that. However, I told them I was starving, so they gave me two cucumbers, and I headed back across the border. The whole thing seemed a little fowl to me.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

When I Think Of A Great Janet Jackson Song ... Strangely, My Mind Goes Blank

If one were to evaluate Janet Jackson's love life by the contents of Control's first two singles, one would conclude that every man in Janet's life had either been a narcissistic, lazy, ungrateful boyfriend or a disrespectful, leering, horny felon-to-be. Surely not all men were complete and utter drags? A nice girl like her - you know what she needed? She needed to get herself a handsome lawyer or a doctor, you know, settle down, stop surrounding herself with all this riff-raff. Well, it looks like there was at least one man who treated her right.

I feel like "When I Think Of You" is Janet Jackson's "Holiday," her "Girls Just Want To Have Fun": no matter how many great singles she's released throughout her career, let's get real here. This shit can't be topped. It's the kind of song you can only make when you're young and on the way up and you feel absolutely zero pressure to out-do yourself.

But another part of the charm of "When I Think Of You" is that it's a breather, a respite from Control's dominant mood of defensiveness and self-empowerment. Here, for four minutes at any rate, Janet simply skips down the street like a carefree schoolgirl walking off the bus, waiting to meet a (finally) non-abusive boyfriend! But the masterstroke is that the music sounds like that feeling. First of all, it has one of those patented '80s irresistable intros where each sparkling element enters the mix in staggered, piece-by-piece fashion:
  1. Two chiming keyboard chords, isolated, forsaken
  2. Frisky multi-octave synthesized bass line, bringing a sludgy light to the darkness
  3. Eminently skippable drum machine rhythm
  4. More chiming keyboard chords (that chime in a completely different way from the other chiming keyboard chords)
  5. Tacky imitation brass synth blasts, coupled with funky rhythm guitar, and then, finally...
  6. Janet
How can you lose with an intro like that? She had me at "Oooooh! Bay-beh." And the whole song just rides those two keyboard chords. There's no bridge or modulation or anything. And yet somehow the song never becomes boring or seems like it's repeating itself. That's probably because, at the halfway point, Jam & Lewis shake things up in a number of delightfully imaginative ways:
  • 1:56 - A chorus of mini-Janets playfully chant "So-In-Love" in conjunction with the chiming keyboard melody discussed in bullet point #4 above
  • 2:13 - The bass line unexpectedly disappears, and then Janet recites the song title in deadpan spoken word form (helpfully, when the bass re-enters at 2:29, Janet speaks the word "bass" in the same ennui-laden tone)
  • 2:46 - Now the chorus of mini-Janets create an entirely new melody, and also sound like a hive of monosyllabic robot people ("I'm. So. In. Love. I. Just. Think. Of. You.")
  • 3:19 - Thwarting the expectations of all but the most prescient listeners, Janet suddenly utters the word "break" and she and Jam, or she and Lewis (or perhaps all three of them?), descend into several seconds of indecipherable grunt-speak. Janet's gone ... Animal Planet?
  • 3:36 - The doors of Hades sound like they're about to burst open and let all the evil spirits of the underworld run rampant on '80s R&B radio, until...
  • 3:39 - Janet lets out an impassioned squack, holding the devil's children at bay, which she promptly follows with...
  • 3:40 - A disarmingly natural-sounding giggle, the carefree effervescence of which probably took even Jam & Lewis by surprise, followed by a sloppy, post-chuckle "Feels so good!"
This is, to quote The Maltese Falcon, "the stuff that dreams are made of."



Naturally, as with "Everything She Wants," the official video features a completely different (and, in my opinion, less enjoyable) mix, which I've never heard on the radio ever, of a song which, in its original incarnation, was the definition of flawless, leaving me reluctant to ever watch it. In other words, when I think of "When I Think Of You," I never think of this mix. The drum machine pounds instead of skips, the snippets of dialogue are jarring, etc. etc. The most egregious addition is an extra keyboard riff (on top of the other two keyboard riffs that were already present!) that sounds like it belongs on Janet's subsequent "Love Will Never Do Without You" but shouldn't have been let 10 miles near "When I Think Of You." It's like that scene in Amadeus where the Emperor tells Mozart that his composition is excellent, except it contains "too many notes." Substitute Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis for Mozart, and you know what? The Emperor was right!

The video appears to take place on the set of a post-war MGM musical, modeled after a crowded New York tenement, complete with ladies who shake their rugs off balconies, rowdy sailors on shore leave, zoot-suited swing dancers, lazy neighborhood loiterers who sleep in other people's convertibles, photographers who still use flash bulbs, hobos juggling torches, a disgruntled old geezer who keeps threatening to call the cops for no apparent reason, and, nostalgically, a pair of cops who don't actually beat the shit out of people. And then there's Janet, who looks exactly like how she always looked in 1986. The video gives the illusion of having been filmed in one shot, but is actually five smaller shots combined - sort of like a menu item at Taco Bell. Between you and me, while I admire the scale of the production, it feels at odds with the more elemental "Janet and a couple of keyboards" arrangement of the song. Where's the "Lucky Star"/three-dancers-and-a-white-background approach when you need it?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

"Since You've Gone": Belinda Stares Straight Into The Heart Of Yuppie Darkness, Doesn't Blink, Impresses Future Self

Bewildered with their star's new, um ... "stylistic direction" as they may have been, IRS Records decided to ultimately release three official singles from Belinda. However, a fourth track was released as something called a "radio" single, which I believe meant that it was sent to DJs for promotional purposes but was not made available in stores. Well you know what? They probably should have released it as an official single because, as true Carlisle-ophiles will tell you, aside from "Mad About You," it was arguably the best song on the whole freakin' album. Mundanely generic title aside, "Since You've Gone" actually marked the birth of a new subgenre for Belinda, one that would have seemed wholly inappropriate merely three or four years prior, but one that she would quickly master like nobody's business: the power ballad.

Oh, and Lindsey Buckingham wrote the lyrics. Or rather, it is credited as a Lindsey Buckingham/Charlotte Caffey composition, but sources tell me Buckingham wrote the lyrics, which would imply that Charlotte wrote the music. I have absolutely no idea how the only male member of golden era Fleetwood Mac not named Fleetwood or Mac got roped into this shit, but hey, I'm glad he climbed aboard the Belinda train. Still, as much as I love Stevie Nicks' former musical/romantic partner/nemesis, the music probably outshines the lyrics. But it's all irrelevant when the singer outshines the words, music, the toilet paper hanging in the studio bathroom ... all of it.

Somehow, one way or another, Buckingham found his way into the desolate heart of the Yuppie experience, and captured it in song. However, while he may have filled up the gas tank, Belinda turned the fuckin' key. Those who were concerned that her storybook marriage to a rich dude had killed off her sense of inner torment and despair had no cause to fret. On the surface, she may have seemed like a brand new Belinda, but as "Since You've Gone" shows, somewhere, buried beneath all the mascara and the lip gloss, that frightened, desperate child remained.

Note: The studio version used to be on YouTube as recently as last year (when I began drafting this post) but it looks like it's been taken down again. As impressive as the version of Live At The Roxy is (discussed below), it is no substitute for the studio version, which truly remains in a category of its own. I will add it to the post if it pops up again, but if you choose to download it yourself, mark my words, you will never regret it for as long as you live.

Here we find her, alone in a shadowy bar, grand piano at her side. Some noir strings briefly stir the pot, setting a funereal mood and then quickly receding. Enter our fragile Yuppie queen:
Since you've gone
Nothing really matters
All I do
Is hang out with my pillow
I wait in anticipation
For your call
That never comes

Since you've gone
Don't care about tomorrow
Since you've gone
My heart's barely beating
I wait in anticipation
For your touch
It never comes
Can't you just picture sad little Belinda, lying in bed, clutching her pillow, with cute little Belinda tears in her eyes? Awww. I just want to burst into her bedroom and rescue her. Do anything Belinda, but please, please, don't just lie there and hug your pillow! The image is too unbearable to contemplate.

Then the bass lets out a frightening blast, the drums and guitars kick in out of nowhere, and Belinda starts rocking out:
Another wild Friday night
And I'm waiting here for you
My head says stay home and die
But my heart says break on through
Now this is the Belinda I remember! Frenzied, hungry, reckless. The girl's still got a little Go-Go left in her yet. Listen to the way she elongates "wild" and "stay" - such intensity, such raunch! When she sings "another wild Friday night," you better believe she's known more than her share of wild Friday nights, OK? The music calms down again, but Belinda refuses to calm down with it:
There were times
When you really loved me
All the times
We would run together
To the heart
The heart of the city
Dreams that filled
The night
She really belts out "all the times," like she's thinking "This MOR shit ain't holding me back now." Then she repeats an earlier verse, but hardly repeats her earlier delivery. At 1:53, "since you've gone" becomes "siiiiince you've goh-honnn!" as she pushes her throat to the limit, creating some serious mic distortion, but that's child's play compared to 2:05, where she lets out a terrifying "it nehhh-ver comes!" that could have cleared Nazis from the battlefield. "You want mic distortion? I've got your mic distortion right here."

Just when you'd think there'd be nowhere to go except down, then BOOM! The second time through the chorus, Belinda manages to strip herself to her tattered, shambling core. This time she lingers over the words "wild" and "stay," relishes them, like she's rediscovered her inner bad girl and suddenly remembers how good it feels to be bad. The overly-processed drums thunder in the background as she milks the drama for all that it's worth, her torment brought to new levels of grandeur at 2:31 with the unexpected assistance of female backing vocalists joining her on "break on through!" Just as it couldn't get any more tormented, Belinda suddenly hatches a futile escape plan, a long-shot way out of her empty and meaningless Yuppie existence: "I oughta get into my car/Hit that pedal hard!" Yeah! Yeah! Step on that pedal Belinda! Drive, drive on through the Southern California night, speed out of your ostentatious mansion in your shiny new convertible, flee from the sickening dread that's engulfing your wounded soul! I hope she had larynx insurance, because she practically destroys that thing as she proclaims "I'll drive until I'll find my waaaaaay!" But no. She knows that not even a cathartic late night drive through Malibu is going to cure her of that omnipresent existential void, and retreats with a heartbreaking, voice-cracking "Since you've gone away." Then she crawls back into her bed and hugs her pillow.

Although nothing can top the sleek majesty of the studio version, I have to admit that, as this clip from Live At The Roxy demonstrates, Belinda certainly brought the heat to "Since You've Gone" in concert as well.



Funny story: so I watched this clip on YouTube just a couple of weeks before I read Lips Unsealed. It didn't really seem like a big deal. You're probably wondering why I'm even mentioning it. Well, little did I know, but I was about to experience a Charlie Kaufman moment. For as I made my way through her memoir, I stumbled upon this mind-blowing passage:
More than twenty years later, as I was redoing my website, I came across a video on YouTube of me from one of those shows, singing "Since You've Gone," a great song that featured Charlotte playing keyboards. Unsure if I wanted to watch it, I took a deep breath and clicked Play. I was surprised. I thought it was really good.
Whoa, whoa, hold on a second. You mean to tell me Belinda Carlisle herself was sitting in her mansion in ... France, or India, or wherever the hell she lives these days, and she was sitting there watching the very same YouTube clip I was watching?

Oh. My. God.

Dude.

Mind = blown.

And she wasn't even sure if she wanted to watch it! I love this. Well, yeah, that's gotta be awkward. I mean, how many older celebrities just sit around at home and watch YouTube clips of themselves from back in their youthful prime all day? Maybe David Lee Roth. And she had to take a deep breath before watching it! Like, "God, what if I sucked?" But no, she was actually really impressed ... with herself! Don't you see how weird this is? Both Belinda and I were sitting at home watching YouTube, watching the same exact video, and thinking the same exact thing. "You know, actually, I was pretty fuckin' good!"

That makes two of us, Belinda. That makes two of us.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Miami Sound Machine's Surprise Ticket To Glory: Not Sounding Latin

"Conga" established the perfect formula for the Miami Sound Machine: cheesy latin-tinged '80s dance-pop. But with their two follow-up singles from Primitive Love, the group refined this formula in a revelatory fashion: they removed the words "latin-tinged." Now their dance-pop kind of just sounded ... like everybody else's! Were these the hot new singles by the Pointer Sisters? Whitney Houston? Sheena Easton? Who cared? They were hits!

First up: the perky "Bad Boy," which hit #8, but hopefully no actual bad boys actually hit Gloria Estefan during the making of this song. I don't think Emilio was that type. For reasons that elude me, two music videos were made for "Bad Boy." The first video is cute and hokey, but for some reason Vevo only uploaded half of it and the clip cuts off abruptly at the 2:11 mark. Not up to your usual standard, Vevo! If anyone really wants to see the shocking conclusion of Gloria's attempt to woo a Ricky Nelson-esque Hollywood heartthrob while prancing around Miami Beach, the full video is on Daily Motion.



Apparently, that video wasn't deemed worthy enough, as somebody decided to make a second, even weirder one. Now, what's the first thing you think of when you think about the Miami Sound Machine's "Bad Boy"? Why, the Andrew Lloyd-Weber musical Cats, of course. Apparently, "Bad Boy" was a Jellicle Song for Jellicle Cats, and Gloria found herself being invited to a magical Jellicle Ball. I knew these cats were bad, but ... flipping through a copy of Playcat? That's pretty bad. They also consume copious amounts of cat liquor, as well as KitKats. And boy, do they play a mean fish skeleton xylophone. At the end of it all, her WASPy boyfriend wants to know what the deal is. "So tell me the truth. You're seeing another guy." Gloria gives the only appropriate response: "Uh ... not exactly." She's seeing cats, dude. Get your head out of your ass. Not only that, but the ending even suggests that ... you've been dating a cat. You better get tested bro.



But just when everyone began wondering if Gloria Estefan was the Cuban Irene Cara, "Words Get In The Way" hit the airwaves and made everyone wonder if Gloria Estefan was actually the Cuban ... Karen Carpenter? Holy A&M! It's like they replaced Hal Blaine with a soulless drum machine and shoved Karen's tortured ghost out to the mic. Who knew those Latinos had so much suburban dread locked deep inside them? This one rocketed to #5, and clearly Gloria could see where her bread and butter lay.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

When You Multiply Robert Palmer, Two Guys From Duran Duran, And The Drummer From Chic ... To The Nth Power

Other bands, when the shit hit the fan, devolved into bruised rib cages and broken collar bones; Duran Duran merely went on "hiatus." I guess a proper break-up would have required too much testosterone. Nope, they amicably decided to explore two separate side projects. Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and Roger Taylor formed Arcadia, who essentially sound like Duran Duran, so I'm not sure what the point was there. They were Duran Duran minus two guys who didn't sing anyway. According to Wikipedia, their #6 hit "Election Day" still gets trotted out as background music during election coverage by news networks who think they're being clever.



The other Taylors of Duran Duran, John and Andy, however, were sick of all that synth-pop hogwash and wanted to rock out. Which is why they teamed up with ... former Chic drummer Tony Thompson? First of all, just as I'd never realized that Duran Duran had a guitarist, I'd never realized that Chic had a drummer. I suppose they were as much of a funk band as a disco band, so it makes sense. Still, I'd heard of Nile Rodgers, even Bernard Edwards, but ... Tony Thompson? Normally the drummer in a band is an afterthought, but with the Power Station, the drums are turned way up in the mix. You can't miss 'em. Basically, if your idea of great music is extremely loud hair metal guitar coupled with extremely loud and overly-aggressive drumming, then the Power Station is the band for you.

But every great hard rock/synth-funk '80s band needs a singer. Wouldn't you know it, but at that exact moment, a certain artistically restless Yuppie Rocker was down on his luck and needed a tight ensemble to play behind him. From Wikipedia:
The original plan for this one-album project was for the three musicians (Taylor, Taylor and Thompson) to provide musical continuity to an album full of material, with a different singer performing on each track. Those who were approached included Mick Jagger, Billy Idol, Mars Williams (who eventually contributed brass to the album), Richard Butler (of The Psychedelic Furs), and Mick Ronson.

The group then invited eclectic soul singer Robert Palmer to record vocals for the track "Communication". When he heard that they had recorded demos for "Get It On (Bang a Gong)", he asked to try out vocals on that one as well, and by the end of the day, the group knew that they had found that elusive chemistry which distinguishes successful bands. Before long, they had decided to record the entire album with Palmer.
So, if Arcadia sounds like Duran Duran, then The Power Station sounds like ... Robert Palmer. Never mind that the band wasn't really his idea. Of course, part of the reason the Power Station sounds like Robert Palmer is because "Addicted To Love" and much of Palmer's subsequent solo material ended up sounding like The Power Station (and actually featured backing from the other Power Station members). Which came first: the chicken or the egg? The Taylor or the Palmer? Either way, thanks to this freak collaboration, Palmer found himself with two US Top Ten hits - his first. Just when his career seemed dead in the water, the Power Station gave him that extra ... what's the word? Power.

It's always risky to cover a distinctive rock classic, let alone what is arguably the Holy Grail of glam rock singles, T. Rex's "Get It On (Bang A Gong)." The risks here were twofold: 1) how could an artist improve upon a song so magnificent, a song featuring Marc Bolan's most imitated guitar riff, without merely producing a re-tread of the original? And 2) how could another singer make his way through an absurd set of lyrics penned by the man I once dubbed "the world's greatest 'bad' lyricist"? How does one croon "Well you look like a car/You've got a hubcap diamond-starred halo" or "You're an untamed youth/That's the truth, with your cloak full of eagles" or "Well you're slim and you're weak/You've got the teeth of the hydra upon you" without sounding like a developmentally-challenged doofus?

Be the Power Station, that's how.

The first blasphemous alteration the Power Station makes is that Andy Taylor doesn't quite reproduce the proper Bolan riff note-for-note. Bolan's riff, as any self-respecting teenage male from 1972 could have told you, features three descending notes in the middle. But Andy Taylor says to hell with all that, essentially turning the riff into one staccato note. This ain't Phil Collins covering "You Can't Hurry Love," all right? The other smart touch, as befitting such a smartly-dressed man, is that Palmer sort of mumbles, groans, and grunts his way through the lyrics, treating them more like sexy gibberish than thoughtful poetic expression. Instead of sounding silly, he sounds like he's about to whip out his bondage gear. John Taylor even gets a bass solo! Did T. Rex's version have a bass solo?

Mostly it just sounds like a bunch of musicians who never expected to be playing together, suddenly finding a groove and not really concerning themselves with the results. So, despite all the potential pitfalls, the Power Station's cover of "Get It On (Bang A Gong)" rocks in a crunchy, danceable, radio-friendly fashion, as the original T. Rex version did, while managing to sound nothing like the T. Rex version. And look what happened: the single hit #9 in the US and #22 in Britain. Also, I'm partially convinced that Tony Thompson is banging a drum kit full of literal gongs, but the video, at least, suggests otherwise. It looks like the Power Station have found themselves jamming in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan apartment with a surprisingly reckless Alice in Wonderland. The only thing this video needs is more pink, green, and aqua. Oh, and why are there shots of the Twin Towers ... with airplanes in the background? What did they know and when did they know it???



In addition to being glam rock aficionados, apparently the Power Station were also big Billy Wilder aficionados, unless they had something else on their minds other than the Jack Lemmon/Tony Curtis/Marilyn Monroe comedy when they conceived "Some Like It Hot." Maybe it was a song about Kung Pao chicken. But yes, as the title implies, this one has a Latin/Caribbean feel, complete with peppy and supremely processed '80s horns. It's like they made the ultimate Miami Sound Machine hit ... before anyone had even heard of the Miami Sound Machine. Well, some like it hot and some like a hit: this one peaked at #6 in the US and #14 in the UK. As for the video, it sure looks pretty hot in that papier mache desert. Well, not only do some like it when Robert Palmer dresses up like a priest, but some men like it when they have a sex change: the "girl" in the video is actually the trans-sexual model Caroline Cossey, otherwise known as "Tula." All the references to shaving suddenly make a little more sense now. And you thought Caitlyn Jenner was a trailblazer.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bananarama's Very Large "Venus"

After "Cruel Summer," Bananarama suddenly got heavy. On the surface of it, "Robert De Niro's Waiting..." sounds like a dreamy ode to a movie star not generally considered to be a romantic heartthrob, but according to AMG's Stewart Mason, it actually "turns out to be the traumatized musings of a teenage rape victim." Oh-kaaaay.



Their next single, like the Fun Boy Three's "The More I See (The Less I Believe)," seems to address Irish violence in particular and the mass public's apathy toward global atrocities in general. Here is the chorus to "Rough Justice":
Innocent people walking by
No time to smile before they die
Don't call that justice
Children are starving on the street
Another one disappearing every week
Don't call that justice
Yes, once upon a time, Bananarama were trying to be U2. But by 1986, it was time for a change in direction. And nothing spells "change in direction" like Stock Aitken Waterman.

Let me back up a little. Dutch rock music hasn't quite been the joke it sounds like it should've been. I'm not just talking '60s Nuggets cult favorites like The Outsiders and Q65, but actual bands with actual US top 40 hits, like Focus ("Hocus Pocus") and Golden Earring ("Radar Love"). Still, perhaps no band represented the Netherlands more proudly than Shocking Blue, known mainly for two things: 1) Nirvana covering their "Love Buzz" on Bleach, and 2) the 1970 #1 hit "Venus." Of course, when your native language isn't English, you might not realize that the word "venus" rhymes with a certain part of the male anatomy, but that's OK, we're all adults here.



Fast-forward to 1986. The girls of Bananarama have an idea. Why not do a re-make of "Venus" ... using those guys who just produced Dead Or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)"? It was obvious ... a little too obvious. Actually, their old producers thought a dance version of "Venus" was a terrible idea, and so did Stock Aitken Waterman! But the Bananarama gets what the Bananarama wants, and I think the world secretly wanted it too, as their Hi-NRG re-make of "Venus" hit #1 in the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, and countries that probably don't even exist anymore.



The video finds our formerly tomboyish threesome embracing their slutty side, as they dance on top of what appears to be a fire-spewing volcano located somewhere in the recesses of hell (but is also a trendy cafe?). I'm not sure what this has to do with the Greek mythological figured being feted in the title, but if you're turning to '80s music videos for ideological consistency, you're barking up the wrong tree. Each of our girls gets the chance to act out her deepest Halloween fantasies, be it raven-haired batwoman, Victorian-era vampire, or cat-suited she-devil. Also, midriffs abound. If by "it," Bananarama meant belly buttons, then yes, she's definitely "got it."