Sunday, May 9, 2021

"Vision Of Love": All The Mariah I Ever Needed (But If I Want More, I Know Where To Find It)

Perhaps a year or so ago, my former co-blogger Yoggoth posed a quick pop music game to me, via random text:

"Name a song you really like which is the only song by that artist you actually like."

His choice, Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing," left me scratching my head a bit, I have to say. I promptly asked him if he'd ever heard the album Making Movies, to which he said no, to which I said, "You can't claim you don't like any other Dire Straits songs if you've never heard Making Movies." Whether he eventually gave that album a spin is unknown to me, but he did tell me that later on he gave Dire Straits' debut album (the one with "Sultans of Swing" on it) a spin: "Actually, the whole album is pretty good. Sure, he's kind of just doing a Dylan imitation ... but it's a pretty good Dylan imitation!"

At any rate. My choice? It was a bit of a toss-up between A) Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon"; B) Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun"; or C) Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love."

She sure ain't lacking for hits, I can tell you that. If Mariah ever ends up breaking the Beatles' record for most US Billboard #1 hits (she currently sits one song behind), I feel like that record should carry a nice, thick Roger Maris-style asterisk next to it. I'm sorry, but having a #1 hit in the 2010's does not mean the same thing as having a #1 hit in the '60s. Didn't that freaking 25-year-old Christmas song recently become a "new" #1 hit? Balderdash and malarkey, I say. Frankly, I wish her well in every other career endeavor she decides to undertake, but I hope she never breaks that record. Or how about this: maybe the Beatles could simply top the charts again with some random album track that never topped the charts before? Maybe some hip new TV show features "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" in a climactic, meme-worthy scene, and suddenly it sets streaming services on fire? Ah-hah. There may be hope yet.

Hard to say why I haven't taken the Mariah Carey catalog to heart. I don't have an intense dislike for Mariah Carey. That "Fantasy" song ain't bad, but wasn't that mostly built around a sample of the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love"? I always chuckle when I think about how insanely popular "One Sweet Day" became. Take the insanely popular Mariah Carey, team her up with the insanely popular Boyz II Men, and what do you get? The super double extra insanely popular "One Sweet Day." It was like Coke and Pepsi teaming up to make a new soft drink, or Nike and Adidas teaming up to make a shoe. You couldn't lose. But I thought it was ... I dunno, Mariah's just not my style. I'm the kind of guy who prefers Brenda K. Starr's version of "I Still Believe" to Mariah Carey's. But I'll tell you what. Sometimes, there's nothing quite like your first.

When I revisited "Vision of Love" a few years ago, I heard the opening seconds and thought, "Hmm, why did I used to like this song again?" It sports the questionable one-two punch of synthesized gong followed by several seconds of sparkly keyboard dust and ambient vocal droning, placing it squarely in the realm of late '80s MJ/Quincy Jones production snafus that, in my opinion, probably didn't help improve "Man in the Mirror," "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," or "We Are the World." Well let me say this about "Vision of Love": what it lacks at its opening, it sure as hell makes up for with its ending.

See, when Mariah Carey made "Vision of Love," she didn't yet know she was "Mariah Carey." She was unformed, raw, inchoate. And although the song introduced her unparalleled set of pipes to the masses, in retrospect, it hardly set the template for the overall musical style she would generally follow. Despite launching the career of the most popular singer of the '90s,  I feel like "Vision of Love" is actually a stylistic throwback to a more gospel-influenced type of R&B. Cheesy production aside, in its bones "Vision of Love" resembles the kind of church-heavy number that could have been recorded by, say, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Irma Thomas, or Candi Staton. The finger snaps give it a street corner doo-wop quality. No one thinks of early Mariah Carey as being "retro," but "Vision of Love" is ... retro?

Based on the use of past tense ("I had a vision of love") and given that the melody and arrangement isn't particularly upbeat, I used to assume the song was a "My man dumped me" type of ballad, but instead, it's more like an "I had a vision of love, and that vision came true!" type of ballad, which I don't find quite as interesting, although Wikipedia does a nice job of making it seem potentially more interesting:
Some have noted the relationship between Carey and God, while others point out one with a lover. Carey has yielded to both, while claiming them to have a connection to her childhood and to obstacles encountered while growing up. Michael Slezak wrote "Though it's not clear if she's celebrating a secular love or her relationship with a higher power, this exuberant ballad is a near-religious listening experience."
Amen sister! I'll take the religious interpretation. "Prayed through the nights/Felt so alone/Suffered from alienation/Carried the weight on my own/Had to be strong/So I believed/And now I know I've succeeded/In finding the place I conceived"? "Feel so alive/I'm so thankful that I've received/The answer that heaven/Has sent down to me"? I mean, if it smells like God, and if it tastes like God, then it's a song about God. "Vision of Love" is like the "Let It Be" of the '90s - with melisma!

OK. So. The song doesn't get too crazy until the third verse, where Mariah's "You treated me kind" is answered by Mariah's evil twin, who chimes in with a lusty "Yeahhhh," and thus commences the Attack of the Multiple Mariahs. She duets a fiery duet with her bad self for about 30 seconds, until suddenly, after the first line of the chorus, the Evil Twin Mariah transforms into ... a bird? A dolphin? A smoke detector? Jesus Christ, what is that sound? Just as you're trying to wrap your head around that, she belts out an "all," and then holds it, and holds it, and holds it, and then all the other instruments fade out, and then ... well, personally, I like to imagine Mariah tip-toeing along the roof of a 40-story building in high heels, and then suddenly losing her balance, waving her arms frantically, as if in an old silent movie, while she sings "Alll-uhh-allllllll-uh-oh-uh-ah-oh-uh-ahhhh-l-l-l-oh-all that you..." Somebody call the fire department! A big breath, and then ... "turned out to beeeeeeeee." Phew, she made it back to safety.

Right then and there, apparently every female singer on Earth decided they needed to sound exactly like Mariah's roof ledge balancing act, and I guess that's when Little Earl checked out, but I doubt I was the only one who wasn't too excited about it. I'm sure Whitney Houston was quite complimentary to Mariah Carey in the press, but in private, I've always imagined her, in June 1990, sitting on her couch, perhaps in a ratty old bathrobe, remote control in hand, Bobby slicing up some sausages or perhaps grounding up hamburger meat in the kitchen, feeling like the queen of the R&B universe, suddenly catching this video on MTV, making it all the way to its conclusion, turning to Bobby and shouting, "Who the hell does that little canary-imitating bitch think she is?"

Sunday, April 11, 2021

David Letterman And Belinda Carlisle: A Love Story, In Nine Acts

Sailing through the Seven Seas of YouTube, one can find clips of Belinda Carlisle on every conceivable interview program known to man, from The View and The Joy Behar Show to BBC Breakfast and Good Morning Australia. But boy, either she couldn't get enough of David Letterman, or David Letterman couldn't get enough of her. Two '80s screwballs met in the potent New York night, and awkward television romance blossomed. How blessed we are, decades later, in that the residue of their torrid affair is here to see in all its grainy VHS glory. Join me, if you will, on a detailed retrospective I would like to call "David Letterman and Belinda Carlisle: A Love Story, In Nine Acts."

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 1:

Belinda's first encounter with Letterman, as far as I am aware, was in 1984, when she was still the lead singer of the Go-Go's, and when he was still a gap-toothed comedic curiosity, and it only gave the merest hint of the passion that would soon engulf them (and us). A few years back, I had hoped to embed the clip in a previous blog post discussing Belinda's affair with Michael Hutchence; however, I was forced to write the following: "It looks like somebody took the clip down from YouTube, but despite that obstacle, I have to say I watched it so many times, I can probably recall the entire interview from memory." Lo and behold, the clip has miraculously resurfaced, which means that the internet can see for itself just how accurate my expertly witty summary, composed without the aid of the clip at my disposal, truly was.

For our purposes today, what I'll say is this: 1) Although Dave and Belinda seem to develop a nice rapport here, he essentially treats her no differently from how he might have treated the majority of his guests (an attitude that was not destined to last); 2) Belinda is still in her coked-out Rue McClanahan phase and has not yet become, shall we say, "late '80s Belinda" in physical appearance.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 2:

Two years was a lifetime for our freshly-minted Mrs. Mason AKA Queen of Yuppie Rock, and by the time Belinda returned to Letterman in May of 1986, she was in full-blown blonde bombshell mode and promoting her first solo album. Practically the first words out of Dave's mouth are "Boy, you look great!" Not having been privy to the details of their breakup, he asks what the hell happened to the Go-Go's ("I know it's none of our business, but..."), and her initial answer, while grossly oversimplified and rather uninformative, perhaps contains a kernel of truth to it: "It just got to be real boring." He sticks at it:
Dave: Was it one decision or did everybody collectively make it?
Belinda: No, it was sort of, uh, two people's decision. (giggles)
Dave: And who were those two people?
Belinda: Charlotte and myself.
Dave: Oh. (chuckles) Oh, I see, so you guys just kind of ... you walked.
Belinda: We just kinda, yeah, we said, "See ya later."
Another exchange features Belinda's typically self-censored responses:
Dave: So how is it different now travelling because, for eight years, you were an all-female organization and now you're with, uh, men and women in the group, is it a big difference for you?
Belinda: Well, um ... it's kind of weird like on the bus, we can't exactly parade around in, uh ... you know ... what we used to. (giggles)
Dave: And what exactly was that? (audience chuckles)
Belinda: Well you know, underwear, and uh ... undershirts, and that kind of thing. (more giggles)
Dave: So when the Go-Go's were out touring ... (audience hoots and hollers) I just want to make sure I have the proper mental image of this ...
As Belinda/Dave interviews go, this one is fairly tame, for reasons unbeknownst to me, Belinda, or Dave. However, feel free to check out the sultry version of "Mad About You" featuring Paul Shaffer on back-up vocals (at 32:47).

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 3:

And now let's cut to October 1987, with Belinda promoting "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," sporting the Wilma Flintstone black dress/green skirt outfit as seen at the Prince's Trust Concert. Apparently either Letterman hadn't been paying much attention the year prior, or he is particularly horny on this night, but let's just say that Dave has finally seen the light. The realization has hit him like a diamond bullet in the brain: Belinda Carlisle has become laughably gorgeous. Dave has essentially decided to rename his show The Let's All Gawk At How Attractive Belinda Carlisle Is Hour. Samples:
Dave: How you doin'?
Belinda: I'm all right.
Dave: Well you look great. (mile-wide gap-toothed grin on his face) You do, you really, I mean you really look great.
Belinda: Thank you.
Dave: Yeah, uh ... well how is it (possibly pivoting to a new subject, but finding himself unable to do so) ... that you look this great?
Belinda: Um ... I run about 25 miles a week ... and I ... (shrugs her shoulders) I dunno, I eat healthy...
Dave: Now when you were with the Go-Go's you didn't ... I mean you looked great then. But now ... Paul what am I lookin' for here?
Dave then proceeds, like Johnny Carson before him, to ask Belinda about her new pet pig (Belinda clarifies, "It's a suede-back potbellied Asian pig"):
Dave: Do you have it in the house with you?
Belinda: Yeah, it's a house pig.
Dave: You know, I was accused of that once in a divorce settlement, but that's a uh ... Do you have other animals?
Belinda: I have four dogs and a parrot.
Dave: And what is the interaction like between the dogs and the pig?
Belinda: Uh ... they all seem to get along all right. And the parrot likes the pig too.
Seriously, who comes off weirder here, Dave or Belinda? Finally, Dave returns to the theme of the evening:
Dave: I just can't get over it, you are stunning.
Belinda: Well God that's ... thank you.
Dave: Well you're certainly welcome, I mean, you deserve it, I mean, why not? ... Well you come back as often as you like, come back tomorrow night as a matter of fact.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 4:

Despite Dave's suggestion, Belinda did not, in fact, come back the next night. Rather, she came back two nights later - possibly without intending to. Apparently, at the start of the show (which was to feature Buck Henry, screenwriter of The Graduate and other films, as well as noted character actor), Dave and Paul got wind that Belinda Carlisle was coincidentally in the building, and they decided to track her down "just say hello to her" because, as Dave put it, "she looks great."

With cameraman in tow, they accost her in the hallway:
Paul: Belinda you really, you really ...
Belinda: Is it tomorrow yet?
Paul: Nice to see you.
Dave: We wanted to to tell you that you just look great and ...
Paul: You look fabulous.
Dave: You want to spend the rest of the evening with us? Would you like to ... it's hard for you to say what you're really thinking right now which is, you'd like us to leave you alone, I'm guessing. Do you have plans, where are you going now?
Belinda: Um ... I have to go do an interview.
Dave: Yeah, with who?
Belinda: Slice Magazine. (giggles)
Dave: Slice Magazine. Oh it's the prestigious ... Slice Magazine.
Paul: Blow that off, babe, and come spend the rest of the evening with us.
And so, with a roar of approval from the studio audience, Belinda walks onto the set and takes a seat. He asks her if she knows Buck Henry, and, hilariously, her eyes grow wide with surprise as she exclaims, "Yeah I do know Buck Henry!" Apparently Buck, Belinda, and Morgan had spent some time together at the beach in LA. When Buck comes out, he explains to Dave, "I have a photograph I took of her a few weeks ago in a wetsuit that I'll be glad to send you - for a reasonable fee," before adding, "I know Belinda, I know her husband - he'll be pretty angry when he sees this mess." Dave proceeds to interview Buck for five minutes, while Belinda sits there and says absolutely nothing. After the commercial break, Dave welcomes everyone back with "All right, Buck Henry is here and Belinda Carlisle is here and," turning to Belinda, adds "you're hating every minute of this, aren't you?" After Dave and Paul proceed with one more round of "You look great" and "She hates us all," Dave asks, "But you'll come back eventually, won't you?" Belinda responds with a nakedly sincere, slightly clueless, "Well yeah, definitely."

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 5:

Clearly, she meant what she said. Now in her leather biker chick phase, Belinda returned to the program in March 1988, riding high on "I Get Weak." Dave mentions that she's been nominated for a Grammy and asks her if it means anything to her, to which she replies, with a typical hint of self-loathing, "No, not really." He then asks her about her wardrobe plans:
Dave: What kind of dress did you get?
Belinda: It's just sort of a ... uh ... strapless ... kind of ...
(Several audience members whistle and holler)
Dave: (To the audience) Oh please.
Belinda: Just, you know, sort of like a showgirl-type dress.
Dave: Oh a showgirl-type dress!
Belinda: Well it's not like that - it's like a partygirl-type dress.
Dave: A showgirl/partygirl-type dress. Where does one go for these accoutrements? ... And do you have things prepared to say if your are a trophy winner?
Belinda: No, I don't think I'm going to win, so I'm not preparing anything. (Audience groans with disbelief and sadness.) I know I should have a better attitude, but ...
To be fair, I believe she was up against Whitney Houston, so, she probably possessed a clear-eyed view of her chances. He asks her how her pet pig is doing, and when she responds, "I don't have it anymore," the audience once again groans with sadness, prompting Dave to ask the audience, "Now wait a minute, whose show is this?" It goes on:
Dave: What happened to your pig?
Audience member: Breakfast!
Belinda: No I didn't eat it. Um ... it was, um, it sort of was kind of messy in the house.
Dave: Well I don't think you should be keeping the pig in the house anyway.
Belinda: Well it was sort of messy outdoors too.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 6:

She returned for more punishment in 1989, knee-deep in her Nicole Kidman circa Days of Thunder phase, to promote "Leave a Light On." Dave asks her why she recorded a bulk of Runaway Horses in France, and she responds, "Just to get away from it all, and get away from distractions." "What kind of distractions were you trying to get away from?..." "Well, we were trying to get away from phone calls, and ... um ... distractions! I don't know." One might consider this a prelude to what follows:
Dave: And you worked in Monaco for ... you did a TV show or an awards presentation, what was that?
Belinda: The Monte Carlo Music Awards. I was up for an award, but I got there and found out I was hosting it (giggles), so ... yeah.
Dave: Now see, if you'd been near a phone, there wouldn't have been this mix-up.
Wrapping things up, Dave says, "Boy you smell terrific," which inspires Belinda to quickly sniff her own wrist in an attempt to establish precisely what she smells like. Whether she succeeded or not is difficult to discern.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 7:

Here she is in her proto-Lauren Holly phase, and it feels like the love affair might have grown just a touch more lethargic at this stage of the game, with Dave more preoccupied by some gag revolving around the construction of wooden shelves, as well as the next night's guest, three-year-old golfer Brent Palladino, and yet, a few sparks still remain. When she explains that she's been touring all summer, he asks her which place was the best and which place was the worst:
Belinda: The worst place was ...
Dave: Not here, don't tell me here.
Belinda: Uh ... Malaysia. It was kinda scary.
Dave: People nice? Food not good?
Belinda: Mmm, no, no, I got food poisoning.
Dave: Really, what were you eating there?
Belinda: Curried something.
Dave: Curried something. See, you need more information on the menu, before you order. "I'll have the curried something."
Speaking of meals: he comes right out and asks her, "What are you doing tonight?" She explains that she plans to have dinner with a few friends somewhere in Little Italy:
Dave: Could I stop by?
Belinda: Sure, come on over.
Dave: Would that kill you if I stopped by?
Belinda: No you can come on by.
Dave: You'd die if I walked in the restaurant, it would be like one of these (proceeds to pull his sport coat over his face), "Oh geez, oh my God."
Belinda: (unconvincingly) No I wouldn't do that.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 8:

Now it's 1991 and Belinda is in her "Jackie Kennedy on November 22" phase, promoting what she and Dave do not know will be her (US) flop single, "Do You Feel Like I Feel?" In retrospect, this renders their seemingly innocuous banter slightly more tragic:
Dave: Yeah! That sounded great. Now will that, will that ... that sounded so good here, you know, that's got, like "hit" written all over it, don't you think?
Belinda: Well I think so.
Dave: And that's the one that's gonna sell the album, and it's gonna be a huge hit.
Belinda: I hope so.
Dave: And also, I understand congratulations are in order, because you're, uh, you're pregnant ... And are we far enough along now to know much about it, do we know if it's a boy, do we know if it's a girl, do we want to know?
Belinda: No, we call it The Blob.
Let me note that, while the audience does not even emit the slightest hint of laughter at Belinda 's answer, I, for one, find it magnificent.
Belinda: 'Cause that's what it looks like.
Dave: Good parenting. But do you want to know, ultimately ...?
Belinda: Yeah, yeah, I do want to know. Um ... my husband doesn't want to know, but I'll ... figure it out. (giggles)
Dave: Are you just ... wild with excitement about this?
Belinda: Well I'm kind of horrified actually, but, um ... yeah I mean I get more excited about it every day, I'm getting used to the idea. I guess I'm not 15 anymore.
Dave: No. Uh ... how old are you?
Belinda: I'm 33.
Dave: Are you - 33? Wow, that's, that's great. How old do you think I am?
Belinda: 25.
Dave: Aww, bless your little heart (kisses her hand). And what do you think I weigh?

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 9:

By the time of 1993's single "Big Scary Animal," perhaps Belinda's US standing had fallen so low that she didn't even merit an interview segment? (Looks like Letterman had moved to CBS at this point; maybe that extra airtime would have cost her record label more money than they were willing to shell out.) Let's call this round a draw. Hell, let's call every round a draw.

Please note that I am also excluding three (!) appearances by the reunited Go-Go's in 1990, 1994, and 2001, respectively, none of which feature interview segments with either Belinda or the rest of the band.

Postscript: Lord knows where I saw it, but I recall reading, in one of many numerous interviews with our fetching heroine, the interviewer asking her what qualities she found attractive in men, and her answer was something along the lines of, "A great sense of humor, you know, like Howard Stern or David Letterman." Two thoughts: 1) What, precisely, would become of David Letterman's brain if word of this ever got around to him? 2) A great sense of humor? Am I crazy to think I would've had a chance?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

How Many Days In Paradise Are We Talking About Here? AKA David Crosby, Vegas Bad Luck Charm

But it's not just another day in paradise at all. Because there are homeless people! Oh man. Feel the burn. Irony so thick you could stick a fork in it.

In the long and lengthy history of sappy charity rock, perhaps the easiest target for critical scorn that has ever been produced - easier than "Ebony and Ivory," "We Are the World," even Elton's "Princess Diana" remake of "Candle in the Wind," for crying out loud - would be "Another Day In Paradise." You want to know why? I'll tell you why:


There, I said it. I feel better now. OK. Take a breath.

Here's how I'm guessing this went down: One festive evening, in between caviar dinners and red carpet ceremonies, Phil happened to notice some scraggly-looking ruffian living in a box and eating out of a leftover Chinese take-out container, and thought to himself, "Oh, this is terrible. Hasn't anybody noticed all these homeless people around? You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to write a song about it. And then I'm going to bring in David Crosby, patron saint of old hippies who love telling everybody how badly they should feel about stuff (even though he's probably just a couple of late royalty payments away from being homeless himself), to sing backing vocals." Cloying. Obnoxious. Sanctimonious.

And yet.

Do you know how many views the video for "Another Day in Paradise" has on YouTube? 370 million. Sweet Jesus. "In the Air Tonight" only has 219 million. Do you know why so many people, including your humble '80s blogger, enjoy listening to the hypocritical guilt-fest known as "Another Day in Paradise"? Because the man ... just had a gift.

That keyboard hook. Whoa nelly. It's gentle, but insistent. At this point Phil was farting out keyboard hooks like a man who'd eaten five "keyboard hook" burritos the night before. And the chorus - so hypnotic, so relaxing. Phil and David's harmonizing really lulls your ears into that sweet, arrogant, middle-class complacency the lyrics are apparently trying to warn you against. Reclining in your Cape Cod hammock, you slip into a sedate, comforting junkie nod as you think to yourself, "Yes, Phil, it is another day in paradise ... wait, what's this song about again?" It's like a soft, velvetty pillow of shame. Select instrumental highlights:
  • Throughout the first half, the entirety of the track's percussion appears to be supplied by a drum machine (thwacking slightly louder during the keyboard hook than during either the verse or the chorus) until the 2:47 mark, when His Gated-Reverbed Majesty makes his grand entrance on the skins. Sometimes the best tricks ... are the oldest tricks.
  • Phil lays off the drums during the third verse, giving ample room for a tasty flamenco guitar flourish to steal the spotlight at 3:45, only to come crashing back in on the final chorus, his anger at the cosmic injustice he's been forced to witness between limo rides clearly boiling over.
  • I feel like the outro goes on just long enough; with Phil now inventively singing the chorus lyric over the previously unaccompanied keyboard hook, you really get a chance to wallow in your privileged indifference for a good extra minute or so.
But here's the funniest part. I don't merely admire the song on its musical merits alone. I think some twisted, confused portion of me actually likes the lyrics. They're just so ... unapologetically sarcastic. He's really throwing your apathy in your face, gleefully getting off while watching you squirm. And the details are spot-on - give or take a bit of dramatic embellishment. For instance, anyone else find it pretty convenient that the homeless lady in the first verse happens to speak in rhyme? Also, "Starts to whistle as he crosses the street"? How many businessmen whistled as they crossed the street ... in 1989? Plus, Phil left out the most important detail: what was the man whistling? I'm going to go with "The Colonel Bogey March."

At least Phil doesn't pretend to have a solution. It's not like the lyrics are, "If we all just worked together, we could end homelessness forever, la la la la." Instead, he's merely painting the scene, then offering a wry joke about how "wonderful" everything is. "No answers here, folks." In fact, on the bridge, he outright asks, "Oh Lord, is there nothing more that anybody can do?," before adding desperately, "Oh Lord, there must be something you can say." But God doesn't seem to be telling Phil Collins jack squat. Besides, I don't think "Another Day in Paradise" is asking the listener to "solve" homelessness anyway; it's just asking the listener to "think about it." And, you know what? For five minutes and twenty-three seconds of my precious existence, I think I can do that.

It's still the cheesiest piece of cheese that any Yuppie Rocker ever cheesed, of course. I like how the video features shocking "facts," rendered in big bold letters, such as "ONE BILLION PEOPLE HAVE INADEQUATE SHELTER." Define "inadequate." I mean, you should see some of the apartments I've lived in. I also like the shot of the homeless guy wearing a "Don't Worry Be Happy" beanie. Take that, Bobby McFerrin.

Surprisingly, at least according to Phil, the initial inspiration for the track stemmed from an incident far removed from the plight of the street dweller. From In The Air Tonight:
Common misconception: I can understand why people thought I was talking about "paradise," you know, like an ironic reference to heaven or something in relation to the whole homelessness issue, but actually, when I wrote the demo back in the mid-'80s, I was talking about Paradise, Nevada. See, when you think of "Las Vegas," what do you think of? You think of the Las Vegas Strip, right? But what most people don't realize is that the majority of the Las Vegas Strip technically resides in the unincorporated census-designated community of Paradise, Nevada, and that Las Vegas proper is to the north. For demographic purposes, it's probably best to think of Vegas as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Anyway. So it was about 1986, fresh off No Jacket Required, and I'd just gotten back to my room at Harrah's at 3:00am, returning from my favorite Vegas strip club, Cutie Pie's, when the phone rings. Crosby's in town. You know shit's about to get crazy.

So we meet over at Caesar's and head to the blackjack table. He's high on a mixture of ... I want to say PCP and Robitussin? Given that he'd just gotten out of Texas State Prison for drugs and weapons possession charges, you'd think he would've been taking it a bit easy, but then you don't know Croz. And of course I'd just injected a couple of kilos of horsie juice laced with some WD-40 (for that extra kick).

So we're in a pretty good mood. I get on a bit of a roll, and suddenly I'm dealt a 10 and a 6. "I think I'm gonna go for it."

Crosby looks at me, with a clarity belying his mental state. "You sure about that Phil? Think twice."

So I respond, just off the cuff, you know, "Cause it's another day for you and me in Paradise." And we both emit these enormous, Cheshire Cat grins. Anyway, I go for it. "Hit me!" I get a 7. I tell you, Crosby's energy is just unlucky all around, that's what I think. I guess I probably saw some homeless bloke standing on the corner as I stumbled back to Harrah's but ... didn't really feel that bad about it, honestly.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

"I've Got The Power" To Guffaw At Three Anonymous Early '90s Jock Jams

Ner-Nn ... Nn ... Nn ... Nn-Nn-Ner-Nn ... Nn ... Nn ... I've got the powah! (-owah, -owah ...)

And so, at the dawn of the '90s, a strange new genre arose: Eurodance songs featuring American R&B singers and American rappers where nobody knew who the hell any of these people were and nobody really cared, with the odds that the singers appearing in the music videos had anything to do with the sounds being generated on the recordings standing at about 17.5%. Wikipedia attempts to call it "hip house," but I'm skeptical. The official artist credits gave little indication as to who were the genuine brains behind the operations, or even which countries the artists originated from. The producers of these singles could have been international spies, for all we know. "Snap!" "Technotronic." "C+C Music Factory." Even a name like The Beach Boys, unrevealing as it was, at least hinted that young males were somehow involved in the creation of the music one was purchasing. These group names conjured up images of kitchen appliance brands.

Let me say this about "The Power," by Snap!: I love the synthesizer riff that sounds like an extremely shy and hesitant table saw. Credit must also go to the guy in the background continuously smacking the hell out of the wind chime he probably lifted off his neighbor's porch that morning. And kudos to the brains behind Snap! for recognizing that they could not showcase the lyric "I've got the power!" without using a vocalist who truly demonstrated said power. According to Wikipedia, the singer on the recording is Penny Ford, the singer in the video is Jackie Harris, and ... honestly I stopped caring about five seconds ago. She's got the power! Who gives a fuck who the real singer is?

I wonder how much street cred rapper Turbo B generated for himself back in his hometown of Pittsburgh with his appearance on "The Power." I want to make fun of his rap, but hell, he's probably got better flow than MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice combined. (His moment of crowning glory: "Of the mic... rophone ... that I ... am holdin/Copywritten-lyrics-so-they-can't-be-stolen.'") I mean, for 1990, he sounds pretty tough! He is, after all, the lyrical "Jesse James," which means that he, a black man from Pittsburgh, is the lyrical "unrepentant ex-Confederate train-robber," but whatever, it sounds menacing. Another nice touch: the trilling saxophone that calls to mind the opening of the Mission: Impossible Theme. What I'm trying to say is that "The Power" is one of those seemingly tossed-off dance singles where any of the individual elements, taken in isolation, would sound kind of stupid, but when put together, do they not add up to an unstoppable jock jam of the highest order? I mean, this song has really got the ... energy? No, that's not the right word. Wattage? No, not quite it. Centrifugal force? It'll come to me.

The video apparently takes place in a terrifying post-modern future where black people give press conferences. Admit it, breakdancers with flat-top haircuts gyrating in the background is exactly the kind of choreographic touch our new VP's speeches need.

A couple of elements of Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam" that I've always found mildly annoying: 1) The rapper sounds like the second cousin once removed of either Salt or Pepa (sorry, I never figured out which was which), with a grotesquely thick New York accent and a delivery that lags more egregiously behind the beat than the lead singer of Cake's; 2) The opening lyrics of the chorus. What the hell is she singing? It sounds like "Ow-oh-wah, a place to stay." It's irritated me for years. According to various YouTube comments, she is singing "I don't want a place to stay." Come on now, does it really sound like "I don't want" to you? Look, I don't need Cary Grant-level pronunciation here, but when the lyrics are this repetitive, it wouldn't hurt. Some of the vocalist's awkward affectations might be explained by the fact that, according to Wikipedia, she was Congolese-Belgian recording artist Ya Kid K (birth name Manuela Barbara Kamosi Moaso Djogi), and probably grew up on a street corner in Kinshasa, not Brooklyn. Could've fooled me. Those who watched the video were also fooled, but in a different way: they were fooled into believing that the vocalist was actually Congolese model Felly Kilingi instead. I can see what the producers were thinking here: "Well, as long as the girl in the video is also Congolese, it's all good, right?" Here's what I'm thinking: "Pump Up the Jam"? How about "Pump Up the Video Budget"? This thing looks like it was filmed inside a Game Boy.

Surprisingly, the powers-that-be behind C+C Music Factory were more or less American, although, unsurprisingly, they were not actually a factory. Talk about things that make me go "hmmmm." At least they got one key piece of the formula right: the rather heavy-set Martha Wash's vocals for "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" were mimed in the video by strikingly less heavy-set Liberian "model-turned-singer" Zelma Davis. Apparently Zelma could sing, and she did perform on the aforementioned "Things" and "Here We Go (Let's Rock & Rock)," but after Martha raised such a fuss about "Gonna Make You Sweat," everyone assumed Zelma was just another Milli Vanilla and was promptly stigmatized accordingly, so, it's hard to say who the biggest victims in this terrible saga truly were.

In retrospect, it's funny how much "Gonna Make You Sweat" comes across to my ears as "The Power" Lite. If Turbo B and Frederick Brandon "Freedom" Williams ever faced off in the street, my bet would be on Turbo B. "Make the twirl, it's your world, and I'm just a squirrel/Tryin' to get a nut to move your butt"? "I paid the price to control the dice/I'm all precise, to the point, I'm nice"? Oh Snap!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Runaway Belinda Interviews From The Runaway Horses Era

Like a novice equestrian riding an untamed stallion, any interviewer of Belinda Carlisle circa 1989/1990 might have found themselves treading a thin line between galloping majestically through the unspoiled countryside and being violently catapulted into the gooey mud. Maybe she'd stay the course, maybe she'd end up kicking the jockey in the balls - who could say?

I've always been familiar with USA Today as a newspaper (one which ... still exists?), but I've been unaware of its existence as any sort of television entity; until being asked to do this interview, my guess is that Belinda would have been equally ignorant. Regardless, just prior to the release of Runaway Horses in late 1989, here she finds herself reclining in the passenger seat of an old Cadillac across from a Universal City Nissan dealership, alongside an interviewer armed with a camcorder, a boom box, and hokey narration. I have to say, somehow this ends up being more substantial than it had any right to be. Highlights:
Interviewer: When you went out on the road with the Go-Go's, you had this clean-cut, wholesome image. Did that bother you at the time?

Belinda: Yeah, it was sort of, you know, I think people feel comfortable with labels, and they just happened to slap the "cute, bubbly, and effervescent" label on us, which was fine, it was really annoying, and uh ...

Interviewer: At the time, were you rebelling against that?

Belinda: Oh yeah, definitely. Definitely privately, not publicly, but privately we were definitely rebelling.
Details? Not safe for USA Today? Saving those up for the book, I suppose. The interviewer plays "Leave a Light On" from a tiny little boom box and asks Belinda if she likes it. "Oh yeah, I love it," she responds between giggles. "It's good. I better like it, I did it!"
Interviewer: Is it hard for you to listen to your own music?

Belinda: Yes it is. Especially after I just got through singing that song at least 200 times. Yeah, it is. You know, I love hearing it on the radio though, I remember the very first time I heard my voice on the radio, it was really ... thrilling and it still is, I have to admit when my song comes on I do turn it up.

Interviewer [in voiceover]: When she goes this long between performances, does the thought of a live audience make Belinda nervous?

Belinda: Even when I'm used to it, it freaks me out if I think about it, so I just try not to think about it, and I pretend that they're there to see somebody else. 'Cause it is kind of ... a couple times I've been on stage and I've sort of looked out and you could see profiles from way in the back going like this [waves arms] and you start thinking about, well they've actually paid money to see me, and then it starts, uh, playing tricks on your mind a little bit.
Impostor Syndrome, thy name is Belinda Carlisle.

Here we have a solid performance of "Summer Rain" from the Arsenio Hall Show (featuring at least a few live strings?), followed by a typically amusing interview. (Apologies for the audio that only plays on the left channel; there is a clip of simply the interview portion that features better audio, but I wanted include the performance as well, so, deal with it.) The surely neon-and-spandex-clad audience appears to approve of both the song and Belinda's majestically lengthy fake eyelashes, as I detect a few patented "Whoot! Whoot!" chants among the gathered throng.

I've forgotten how nice Arsenio's couches were. He really didn't skimp on the couches. I've also forgotten how perceptive and empathetic of an interviewer he could be. After Belinda confirms an upcoming Go-Go's reunion (to be discussed by yours truly in a future post?), Arsenio remarks, "You look good. And when I say 'good' I mean, not, yeah, you know..." The audience inevitably hollers. "I mean not in the sense of 'Why don't you come on back to my place later' ... I don't mean it like that, I mean, I'm looking into your eyes and I know you did have some problems and you've gotten 'em together and you look real healthy and happy and I'm happy for you." Belinda smiles, nods, and responds "Thank you, I am happy." Yeahhhh. According to Lips Unsealed, she was just keeping things together at this point and was merely a few months away from hitting an even rougher patch, but, you know ... it was probably wisest just to smile, nod, and say "Thank you, I am happy." The next exchange is a keeper:
Arsenio: Let's talk music. AMA's this past week?

Belinda: (giggles)

Arsenio: What'd you think, did you go?

Belinda: No. Uh-uh. I was in Vegas.

Arsenio: What do you think about, like, the direction of music, Milli Vanilli being the hottest thing in music? (laughs gleefully)

Belinda: (mangles her words but essentially says, "Mother always taught me, 'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.'") They're not my favorite. But I know they're not your favorite either.

Arsenio: I'm just amazed by it.

Belinda: I am too. I am too! What can I say?

Arsenio: I mean, some place, Tom Petty, and Paul McCartney, and great writers like Luther Vandross and Elton John, they're sittin' around and sayin' "What the hell is goin' on?!"
Well how 'bout them apples? I guess even at the time, before their terrible "secret" trickled out, many in the entertainment business were already rather unimpressed with Milli Vanilli. Catchy tunes though. Later, Belinda goes into detail about her process for picking her material, something she hardly ever talked about:
Arsenio: How do you choose your material, I mean, what do you look for? 'Cause I think, people sing your songs constantly.

Belinda: Well I know lyrically, you know, by looking at it, whether it's right for me or not and, um, I have a good sense of what I do, and uh, I just know really basically within 30 seconds whether the song is right for me or not, doesn't really take me that long to figure it out.
This might help explain her glorious demo of "Waiting For a Star to Fall," although it certainly lasted longer than 30 seconds. He asks her if she writes a lot, and she replies, without too much exaggeration, "I'm starting to write, I have a credit on the Graces album [one of Charlotte Caffey's projects] and I have a half-a-credit on my album, so I'm tryin'." When Arsenio repeats, "Half a credit," she responds, playfully, "That's better than no credit." He asks her which song she co-wrote, she answers "Shades of Michaelangelo," and when she hears crickets, Belinda raises her arms and shouts, "Yeah!" like a girl in school who just ran for class president, failed to receive a single vote, and is attempting to laugh it off.

Just when I thought I'd seen it all, here's Belinda on what appears to be a UK children's TV show called Going Live! The host begins by handing Belinda a Platinum award for Runaway Horses (or rather, forcing young Hayden and Genevieve to do the dirty work), which she pretends to appreciate but ultimately seems to understand she has no real use for. Then, upon being prompted, she shares the following story: "I was jogging in the park in Australia, and I love dogs, and I stopped to pet a great dane, and he liked me a lot and he attacked me in the park." She proceeds to raise her eyebrows with sardonic glee.

Next comes a segment in which children across the British Isles call in and ask Belinda questions, which she is supposed to be able to hear through a giant 1990-era cell phone, but her phone seems to malfunction and she can't make out a damn thing. Utilizing that quick British problem-solving know-how of his, the host simply repeats the questions for Belinda, but she is obviously wondering why the program doesn't just pipe the caller audio into large studio speakers like a normal TV program would. A technician speedily pops up and hands Belinda a new cell phone, but this doesn't necessarily make the cell phone gimmick seem any more justifiable. After a pair of softball questions from Claire Chisholm and Zoe Lawrence about fear of live performance and animal rights activism, respectively, Nicholas Payne asks what should be a softball question, but gives Belinda the chance to puncture the magical veneer of pop stardom:
Nicholas Payne: Why did you choose the ... musical career?

Belinda: Why did I? Umm ... well I sort of fell into it accidentally. I was with a bunch of friends one night at a party, four of the girls, and everybody we knew was in a band and they were terrible, so we thought, that we could be in a band and be terrible too.

Host: This is the Go-Go's.

Belinda: Yeah, uh-huh. But that was the great thing about the punk days, you know, you didn't really have to know how to play your instruments.

Host: Would you say that you've now changed, and maybe changed your singing and vocals?

Belinda: Oh I've since, about four or five years into my, you know, singing career, I started taking vocal lessons.

Host: Right, right, did they make any difference? I mean, did you think halfway through, "Oh this is a waste of time"?

Belinda: Oh it makes a big difference, I still go to vocal lessons, yeah, yeah.

Host: And what is that, stretching your ...

Belinda: It's learning how to sing properly and not singing through your throat, singing through your diaphragm, your stomach, and it's, umm, you know, they sort of stretch your vocal abilities out a little bit.

Host: Sounds very painful to me.
So there you go Nicholas, you could be a pop star too - with or without vocal lessons. James Gilbert then asks Belinda if she has ever been to Marseilles, given that the town is mentioned in the lyrics to "La Luna," and Belinda spends about thirty seconds uninformatively repeating that her time in Marseilles was "interesting," leading one to conclude that whatever did happen to Belinda in Marseilles was probably very interesting indeed, and probably NSF-Going Live! She and the host then show off the glorious package of Runaway Horses paraphernalia that lucky viewers could win if they correctly answer the question, "What is the term used to describe the height of a horse?"

The show finally switches to an awkward segment where the host and Belinda grab postcards out of a giant basket, read out questions and answers, and then announce the winners of various prizes, with Belinda essentially acting as Vannah White. She attempts to be a good sport (and she somehow knows how many colors there are in a rainbow!), but clearly has a look on her face that all but says, "When I finally get out of here, I'm going to have a talk with my agent about this."

Last but not least, here's another interview from, I presume, only a short while later during the same tour of Britain, and this poor UK TV station appears to have caught Belinda on a ... less-than-optimal day. If Belinda isn't high on coke here, she certainly appears to be high on something (in Lips Unsealed she mentions lugging around a tasty cocktail of Valium, Halcion, and Rohypnol at this time). Either she'd been singing herself hoarse the entire week prior, or she'd been drinking one pint of lighter fluid too many, but her speaking voice has been reduced to a craggy ball of razors. Notice, also, how her speech is extremely rushed and tense, with hardly any pauses. She barely looks at the interviewer, and she only laughs when she recounts the depressing details of her drug use. The answers all sound slightly rehearsed and canned. Basically, she looks kind of ... fucked up. Which makes this clip utterly mesmerizing and turns all the talk about her "past struggles with addiction" into something alternately sad and hilarious. It's as if the station had prepared a segment based on a bunch of marketing info they'd received from Belinda's record label, and then Belinda walked into the studio almost certainly under the influence of one chemical or another and completely undercut the narrative, but the anchors pretended not to notice and simply stuck to the script. It's gold, baby! Best segment:
Interviewer: Well how did you decide to stop then?

Belinda: I met my husband, and I knew that I couldn't carry on with a relationship with him, um, if I continued the way I was going. He had no idea that I was a drug addict when he got involved with me. And, um, he didn't give me any ultimatum, I just decided that, if I was to, you know, I wanted to marry him.

Interviewer: When did you tell him that you had this problem, when did he guess?

Belinda: No, I think he figured it out when he found all the coke underneath the sofa. (Laughs uncontrollably.) I think that's ... I think that's ... (can't seem to stop laughing) when he figured out, "I've gotten involved with a drug addict." Um, but, I mean, I could hide it pretty well. You know. I'll never forget that morning when he found ... (bursts into uncontrollable laughter again) ... he dumps it over the balcony and I was like, "Oh no! My drugs!" But um, I realized then that I had a choice, that I had to either get my act together or, you know, I wouldn't be where I am now.
And where, exactly, are you now, Belinda? Props for her skillful re-enactment of Morgan tossing her coke; I feel like she really took us into the moment. The zaniness continues:
Interviewer: So what did you do then, Belinda, what route did you go then to stop it?

Belinda: I had a friend that just got clean, and I called her and she took me to a meeting. I'm not a program person because I still drink occasionally, it was never a problem with me, um, you know, drugs were a problem with me. Um, so, for a while I was going to support groups, and now I'm in, um, sort of an offspring of a support group that deals with a different addiction which is food. And so now I'm working my steps through the drugs too. Um, but if it's not one thing it's the other.

Interviewer: Can I talk to you a bit about your music?
Oh that's right, her music. I'd forgotten about that. Once it's all over, the camera cuts back to the studio set, where the two unflappable anchors do their best to ignore what they'd seen and mostly focus on what they'd heard. "She's been very honest about all that." "But it's brilliant what she's been through, to come out of it like that, and to have a wonderful career." Oh yes, to "come out of it" like that. Totally the impression I got.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Zrbo's Favorite Songs of 2020

Hey, remember last year how I began my Top 5 with a sarcastic jab at the craziness of that year? Yeah, little did I know that whatever craziness happened in 2019 (does anyone even remember anymore?) was like an amuse-bouche of what was to come in 2020. But look, here we are, and if you're reading this, you survived! So while you're here and still living, sit back and take in Zrbo's favorite songs of 2020.

5. Pet Shop Boys - "What Have I Done to Deserve This"

Let's begin with a 2020 confession: I kind of enjoyed staying put at home this year. As the pandemic reared its head and we were forced into our homes, I was somewhat grateful. I had only recently begun working a swing shift job that required me to work late into the evenings and I was missing my family and social life. Suddenly I'm being told to go home and work normal hours with almost zero oversight and not much to actually do. That, and I was doing financially well for the first time in a long while. I was kinda, actually, enjoying myself. I looked around at my situation and found myself asking: "What have I done to deserve this?"

Yes, this song is 33 years old, and yes, I've had it on CD for 20 years and knew it well, but damn if this song didn't get stuck in my head this past spring. And I feel somewhat embarrassed that I didn't even realize until this year that the backing vocals were done by Dusty Springfield. The MP3s that I ripped from that CD didn't convey that there was anything special about this song. I had just presumed that the backing vocalist was some studio vocalist the Pet Shop Boys had pulled out of nowhere, like a performer from 20 Feet From Stardom. Hell, even the official Youtube video doesn't communicate that she's anyone of importance. But holy hell, did this song ever lodge itself into my brain in the early days of lockdown and it stuck there until sometime in the summer. What did I do to deserve this song?

4. KMFDM - "Bumaye" (dub)

What do you do when you've been putting out industrial music for 36 years and you're stuck in lockdown? Why, you make a dub album of course! Yes, in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty, industrial music stalwarts KMFDM put out a reggae album. Okay, it's dub actually, but I went and read up on the difference between reggae and dub, and frankly, I'm still not quite sure I fully understand the distinction.

Okay, actually this whole situation isn't *quite* that strange. KMFDM have put out a few dub remixes occasionally throughout their career, and one of their biggest early hits, "Godlike", features what sounds like a Jamaican man repeating the refrain "Black man/white man/rip the system".

It's a chilled out take on KMFDM, and that little bit of background radio at the outset lets you know this was created under the doldrums of lockdown. Ideal for lounging around the house on another day where nothing ever happens. Personally, I think this dub version is better than the original.

3. Jessie Frye feat. Timecop1983 - "Faded Memory"

Who the heck is Jessie Frye? I can barely find anything about this Dallas based artist outside of a small handful of interviews from some hometown outlets. I know that though "Faded Memory" came out in 2018, the album it's featured on only came out this summer. It's also a bit strange that her videos on Youtube have a nice, professional look to them, but outside of this song, they all have a meager number of views. Is she like some sort of regional-based pop artist or something? Do those exist? Someone's throwing a lot of money at Jessie and not getting much in return it seems.

Anyhoo, "Faded Memory" belongs to the niche musical genre of 'synthwave', which tries to capture the sparkly magic of 80s synth-pop, but tends to all end up sounding the same to my ears. "Faded Memory" is what you might imagine listening to in 1987 as you drove around in a convertible corvette with your girlfriend, the wind in your hair, on your way to the make-out spot on the hill overlooking the city. It's easy, it's breezy, and it's incredibly easy to digest (the chorus is simply the same three words repeated). But in a year full of stress and anxiety, I found it simple and kind of relaxing.

2. The Eternal Afflict - "San Diego"

I've probably heard this song while dancing in a club before, but it didn't capture my attention until this year. There's so much to love about this song. First, it begins with these synthesized strings and a piano that give the false impression that this is going to be some sort of electronic chamber music piece. Then, the unmistakably German accented announcer pleasingly announces the name of the band, sounding like he's about to introduce some delightful Von Trapp Family cover group that you would take your grandma to see. Finally the song proper begins and the, uh, "singer" starts, ahem, "singing" in a way that sounds like they're being delivered by some barely comprehensible slurring German recovering from a massive hangover after a weekend of binge drinking. I mean, this guy had such a terribly memorable night (or more?) in San Diego that he wrote a whole damn song moaning about it. It's a great piece of early 90s industrial dance. All I'm saying is that if I were a club DJ in San Diego, at the end of the night I would end my set with this song, with the final yell at the end of the song serving as perfect punctuation for the night.

1. The Birthday Massacre - "One"

If you've been keeping up with this blog you might remember how I wrote that I discovered Canadian goth rockers The Birthday Massacre this summer. I immediately became entranced by their easily digestible take on pop infused goth rock, and I've continued to explore their nearly two decades worth of output.

I stumbled upon the song "One" fairly soon after I discovered the band in early July, and I quickly fell in love with it. Here's a song about the slow inevitability of death, and when combined with a video featuring the band performing to an empty music venue, provides a perfect summary of the year 2020.

The song opens with a twinkly synth and then just slams into the soaring main riff, the one I cannot get out of my head. I like lead singer Chibi's deeper, more mature sounding voice she debuts here. I don't know where she found it, because her typical voice usually oscillates between creepy-little-girl and teenage emo punk rocker. I also dig the guitar bridge after the second chorus. It's short but powerful. I also appreciate how, after the bridge, the song just effortlessly slides back into the chorus one more time.

Meanwhile, the video features the male band members dressed up like some sort of lounge act, the men's vests giving them the appearance like they might also be the ones bringing your car around after the show too. Then there's Chibi's look. From the dress, the shoes, the tattoos, to the hair and makeup, she has achieved the look of apex goth-punk princess. Seriously, I am just completely infatuated with this dress she's wearing (where does her dress actually end?). If I am ever reincarnated as a woman, I swear I want to look as magnificent as Chibi does in this video.

And that's it. My favorite song of this long, awful year of 2020. See you again next year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Blogging Without Prejudice, Vol. 1,483

Listen ... without extreme prejudice. (Any Apocalypse Now fans in the house?)

Toward the tail end of high school, back in the dark ages of human existence (AKA before the internet), I used to spend long, desperate nights staring at my computer screen perusing a CD-ROM created by Microsoft called Music Central, which featured, among other bits of rock journalism, several reviews from Q magazine (a UK publication, I believe?). Let me just say that it's always amusing to read album reviews that were written immediately upon those albums' release, without the benefit of even the slightest hindsight. For instance, Q magazine gave five stars to Dire Straits' long-awaited On Every Street, which currently sports a cool two stars from AMG, and they also had a hilarious habit of giving five stars to every single new Lou Reed and Van Morrison album of the '80s.

At any rate. I was only dimly aware of George Michael's Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 at the time, but when I read Q magazine's five star rave review, I admit it: I got pumped. I glanced at my recently-purchased print edition of the All Music Guide, which merely gave Listen Without Prejudice four stars to Faith's five, but ... man, you should have read this review. It really whetted my appetite. So, long before I ever experienced the majesty known as "I Want Your Sex, Parts I, II, & III," I checked out a copy of Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 from my local library. Upon listening (without prejudice, I assure you), I concluded that ... this particular Q magazine reviewer might have gotten a little too excited.

The tendency for arguable over-excitement can work in the opposite direction as well, such as when a performer passes on and it's suddenly "hip" and "trendy" to re-evaluate his work, as this BBC Culture article by Nick Levine titled "How George Michael Transformed Pop" demonstrates. The blurb at the top reads "Thirty years ago, the star released the commercially disappointing Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1. Now, it is rightly recognised as a groundbreaking masterpiece..." Well, maybe it's deserving of a second look, but "groundbreaking masterpiece" is one of those phrases that music journalists should only whip out on birthdays and anniversaries. "... It is seen in retrospect as the album that successfully cemented his position as a pop maestro, not a mere pop puppet." Yeah, uh, wouldn't you say that Faith is generally seen as that album? "[Paul] Flynn calls the album Michael’s 'grand apologia for being in the closet' as well as 'the album where he turns his back on fame'. 'It’s the album where he realises where his hollow ambitions have led him to, and the compromises they have involved, which have so much to do with his sexuality,' Flynn says." Well, cool story bro, but I'm not sure if George himself ever described the album in that way, even after he came out. Levine continues:
Written by a closeted gay man at the height of the epidemic, Listen without Prejudice Vol. 1 is an album steeped in the grief and confusion of the HIV/Aids era. Michael acknowledged in a 2007 Desert Island Discs interview that “Aids was the predominant feature of being gay in the 1980s and early 90s as far as any parent was concerned” and a major factor in his decision not to come out to his own family sooner. It’s little wonder that, as he became more emotionally honest in his music, he no longer sounded ready to party.
Wouldn't argue with that too much, I guess. I do like this narrative that the Q magazine and BBC Culture writers were aiming for, sort of suggesting that Faith was George Michael's Revolver and Listen Without Prejudice was his Sgt. Pepper; I'd like it more if I didn't think it was just a bit off. Let's try this one instead, using a different British George: Faith was his All Things Must Pass and Listen Without Prejudice was his Living in the Material World. In other words, the follow-up album would have been seen as a huge success, if not for the even larger success of its predecessor. Looking back, that "disappointing" follow-up album can sound pretty damn good - but would you recommend it as a starting point for the curious instead of recommending the previous album? Questionable.

I've never listened to George Michael's third solo album, Older, but I have read Stephen Thomas Erlewine's AMG review of it, which basically amounts to the same thing, and a couple of lines of his have always stuck with me: "It is one thing to be mature and another to be boring. Too often, Michael mistakes slight melodies for mature craftsmanship and Older never quite recovers." This more or less sums up how I feel about roughly 50% of Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. Look, I'm completely on board with George "getting himself happy" and "taking these lies and making them true" and all that self-actualizing mumbo-jumbo; I just wished I felt the songs did all that while employing instantly hummable melodies and energetic production flourishes. "Something To Save," "Waiting For That Day," "Mother's Pride," "Heal The Pain" ... I find them pleasant, pretty, sincere, somber ... and a bit flavorless. Where the hooks, G.?

Now, I wouldn't normally get my knickers in a twist over an album that contains some tracks I love and some tracks I meh, but what gets me about Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 is that I can imagine there being a version of this album that I like as much as I think George intended me to. You know what the ballads on that imaginary album all sound like? They all sound like ... "Praying For Time"! That song was serious, yeah, but seriously catchy. I feel like "Praying For Time" demonstrated that George could pull off the impossible, ie. shift his lyrical concerns while still making melodically gripping pop music. But what about the follow-through? It's like he caught the ball at the five yard line, but only scored a field goal. Sure, field goals are still points, but after the one-two punch of "Praying For Time" and "Freedom '90," I was kind of expecting a touchdown.

If there is one style George Michael thought he could pull off that Little Earl would say he really could not, that would be acoustic-based rock. I've read reviews that call "Heal the Pain" "McCartney-esque," probably because, with its synthesized conga percussion, it somewhat resembles The White Album's "I Will." But even '80s-era McCartney doesn't sound as dry and stilted to me as "Heal the Pain" does. To these ears, "Heal the Pain" is stiffer than piece of matzoh. Remember when I wrote that "Faith" didn't really rock enough? This song is like "Faith" after being left out in the sun for two weeks. Then there's "Something To Save," which I'm tempted to dub "proto-Lilith Fair." I'm convinced George found these chord changes in the back of a Sears catalog. "Waiting For the Day" comes a little closer to dance-pop by utilizing a then-ubiquitous "Funky Drummer" sample, but too bad the rest of the arrangement only utilizes two chords! I mean, "Freedom '90" also utilized a "Funky Drummer" sample, but it altered and contorted that sample so creatively that I didn't even realize the track had utilized "Funky Drummer" until a few months ago, when I wrote my blog post about "Freedom '90." Finally, "Mother's Pride" utilizes an "Asian flute" synth sound that, personally speaking, reeks of Dire Straits circa 1985. What I'm saying is that there are oodles of songs in George's catalog where I feel like he really made all the right moves and all the smartest choices. I wouldn't say that these are those songs.

Caught somewhat in between is his cover of Stevie Wonder's "They Won't Go When I Go." I remember playing the album, arriving at this track, and thinking, "Wow, what a great undiscovered George Michael song!" And then I looked at the songwriting credits and realized, "Oh, hold on a minute, it's a Stevie Wonder cover." Granted, it's an enjoyable Stevie Wonder cover. But eventually I heard the Stevie Wonder version, and, well, I don't think I'm going out on a limb by stating that improving on a Stevie Wonder track is a tall order. I give George points for picking a relatively obscure Stevie Wonder track to cover, and not screwing it up. But Faith didn't have any covers on it. Faith didn't need any covers on it. I think George simultaneously thought he could demonstrate his newfound artistic credibility and add another top-drawer composition to the album in one fell swoop. These days, I'm slightly resentful of George's cover, because, however strong it is, I simply wish I'd heard Stevie's version first. I find myself unable to listen to George's version without being ... prejudiced.

However. There are two tracks on the album that I've never tired of and would place right up there with "Praying For Time" and "Freedom '90" as Giorgios essentials. In other words, if I had found at least a couple of the other tracks discussed above as enjoyable as I find these two, I might be more inclined to support the views expressed by my friends at Q magazine and BBC Culture.

"Cowboys and Angels" is like the smoky prog rock sequel to "Kissing a Fool" (sophisti-prog?). It's supper club George, but this time with an evil film noir breeze blowing in through the slightly ajar window. Despite being seven minutes long, I find it hypnotic instead of boring, because I'm fairly certain that, wherever the hell George found these tasty chord changes, he did not find them in the back of a Sears catalog. "Cowboys and Angels" is a black and white crime film starring George Bogart, who saunters into a dimly-lit bar wearing a fedora and trench coat (and probably nothing else), sits down at the counter, and barks, "Gimme the hardest stuff ya got." And do I detect the haunted ghost of "Careless Whisper" in the sax outro? Someone decidedly, wisely I think, that the song was single material, and yet it only made it to #45 in the UK, and didn't do squat in the US. Hogwash, I say. At least George managed to sneak it onto Ladies and Gentlemen: The Best Of, which hopefully gave it the wider exposure I would say it deserved the first time around.

Finally, for those hoping that Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 would offer at least one more irresistibly hook-tastic butt shaker aside from "Freedom '90," I give you "Soul Free." "Soul Free" is like the Miami Sound Machine-influenced sequel to "Monkey." It's a sultry stew of flute, congas, horns, and lusty falsetto come-ons. Maybe it's just me, but I need my Serious George leavened with campy cries like "When ya touch me bay-uh-bayyyy/Ahh don't have no choice, ooooh!" Leave that acoustic guitar in the den, George. Your head may be saying, "I'm a folksy balladeer!," but your groin is saying, "I need to hit the gay clubs, pronto."

Professor Higglediggle writes, somewhat incomprehensibly (even for him):
The lapsed modernity within the twin axes of expression presented by "Heal the Pain" and "Waiting for the Day" is only mediated by the invocation and realization of disjunctions and cohesions expressed by an interpretation of a Stevie Wonder composition, which essentializes and racializes Michael's grab-bag primitivism under a rubric of co-optation and Africanist reification. The Latin groove of "Soul Free" doubles as an amatory assemblage of tonic-dominant sonorities and a neologistic re-reading of Cuban revolutionary rhetoric, which is only undercut by the static harmonic polysemy of "Cowboys and Angels," Michael's declaration "You're not the same/Everyone's to blame" forcing us to interpret his semiotic slippage through the lens of queer theory and ethnomusicological nihilism.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

"Poison": A Femme Fatale So Duplicitous, She Induces Vomiting

Have you guys thought about, you know ... calling the Poison Control Center? Maybe taking a quick trip to the emergency room? Rinsing gently with water for 15-20 minutes? Am I the only one concerned that, by being so preoccupied with warning the other members of their gender about the toxic nature of this particular female, Bell Biv DeVoe are ignoring the necessary first aid precautions?

New Edition. Forgive me if I've lost track of who the exact members of this '80s teen act were, or exactly when each member was in the group, or exactly which hits they had. I've been busy focusing on more important things, like the juicy details behind Phil Collins's decades-long horse tranquilizer addiction. Suffice to say, in 1990, perhaps following the lead of their erstwhile colleague Bobby Brown, New Edition alums Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, and Ronnie DeVoe decided to shed that sacred "boy band" image and drag their music into the darkest recesses of the modern American experience.

Here's a thought. Didn't Dick Tracy come out right around the same time as "Poison"? With its "rat-a-tat" percussion and snappy horn blasts, I'm thinking "Poison" might have fit more handily onto the Dick Tracy soundtrack than Madonna's attempts at lounge crooning that make up the majority of I'm Breathless. According to Wikipedia, the song's writer and producer, Elliot Straite AKA Dr. Freeze (possibly a villain from the Dick Tracy comics?), "cited German electronic group Kraftwerk and Latin musicians Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria as influences on the song's sound and production," which I suppose is where the track gets its "Miami Sound Machine stuck inside a malfunctioning Apple IIe" vibe from. It's like Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5," but more evil.

"Never trust a big butt and a smile"? So can I trust a big butt and a frown? A small butt and a smile? What are the rules here? So much early '90s R&B crossover has no teeth, but "Poison" spits out a nice fat wad of misogyny. Which, honestly, is sort of what I like about it. It's not emanating from the same early '90s wellspring of misogyny as, say, N.W.A. or Guns 'n' Roses; it's more like a throwback to the Coasters' "Poison Ivy" or Dion's "Runaround Sue," with a brief nod to Hall & Oates's "Maneater." It's retro-misogyny. (Speaking of N.W.A., I've always chuckled at this lyric from Ice Cube's "The Wrong N**** to Fuck Wit": "It ain't no pop 'cause that sucks/And you can new jack swing on my nuts.") How do they know she's a loser? "Cause me and the crew used to do her." "Do her"? Like "date" her? "Sleep" with her? Beat her ass with a rusty pipe in the alleyway outside the studio? You see, that line is really the key to Bell Biv DeVoe's true source of anger: their own culpability. As much as they'd like to deny it, they're part of the poison.

Anyway. I'm always looking for ways to fill gaps in my otherwise vast knowledge of late 20th century popular music. One day I was perusing Wikipedia, found myself staring at a list of Billboard R&B #1 hits, and was amazed at how many of the tracks I did not recognize. So, I downloaded them all and listened to them in order. Let me tell you something: this might be the Forgotten Kingdom of '80s music. Herein lies songs that have not been played on any radio station since 1989 - or at least not on any radio station in my neighborhood. To paraphrase Paul Simon, "Where have you gone, Freddie Jackson, LeVert, Surface, The Boys, Troop, and Angela Winbush? An '80s blogger turns his lonely eyes to you." I feel like this was music that was meant to satisfy a certain audience at a certain time, but not surprise or innovate, even in minor ways.

However, I think "Poison" managed to crawl out of this late '80s/early '90s sewer with some dignity and appeal intact because, setting aside Dr. Freeze's arsenal of new jack production tricks, let's face it, melodically it's as smooth as buttah. No Freddie Jackson song ever piled on the tasty, soaring vocals that dominate the pre-chorus. Check out the section following the command, "Yo Slick, blow," where the beat drops out, and Ricky (?) busts out with "It's drivin' me outta my myyynd" accompanied only by the bouncy bass line and a gauzy "imitation choir" synth part that sounds, shall we say, more '90s than '80s. This is some poison worthy of the martyred lips of Socrates.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

"Come Back To Me": The Futile Words Uttered By Fans Of This Kind Of R&B Ever Since 1990

So much '90s R&B makes me want to reach for the hand sanitizer. When I listen to "Come Back To Me," here's what I'm wondering: why didn't R&B move more in this direction? Lush, classy, soft, hypnotic, melancholy ... could've happened, but I guess it just wasn't in the cards. A few artists might have picked up on this sweet, autumnal sensitivity, like P.M. Dawn and ... well, P.M. Dawn. You know, R&B that I might want to listen to in my bedroom as I fall asleep at night? I feel like even the ballads in '90s R&B mostly ended up being about fucking. It was R&B you'd listen to in your bedroom as you fell asleep at night ... after having fucked somebody. And Janet went right along with it!

I like to think of "Come Back To Me" as Rhythm Nation 1814's "Let's Wait Awhile." Both songs are (essentially, if one ignores Rhythm Nation's "Interlude: Livin' ... In Complete Darkness") the second-to-last songs on their respective albums, both songs are the gentler, more downbeat, G-rated counterparts to the raunchier, more sexually fulfilling tracks that follow them, both songs wrap Janet's lead vocals in a dreamy, scintillating mass of background Janets, both songs peaked at #2 on the Hot 100, and both songs sound, to these ears at least, like they were recorded and released much later than they actually were. For years I thought "Come Back To Me" might have been a track from janet., or hell, even one of those new tracks from Design of a Decade. "Come Back to Me" sounds like a song from 1995, not 1989. Anita Baker's "Giving You the Best That I Got" - now that's an R&B song that sounds like it's from 1989. Wait a minute, wasn't I just saying that '90s R&B didn't sound like "Come Back to Me"? I guess what I'm saying is that a lot of R&B-adjacent mid-'90s balladry sounded like "Come Back to Me": think Madonna's "Take a Bow," or Toni Braxton's "Breathe Again." But those songs sort of plodded along. They didn't carry the same air of mystery, of evocative atmosphere, that this one does. "Come Back to Me" is like the Perrier of R&B ballads.

Those mainly familiar with the single mix ought to get their hands on the album mix, even though the end of the previous track, "Lonely," lingers a half-second too long on the CD edit (in true "listening to the Abbey Road medley on shuffle" fashion). Because, for my money, as with "Escapade," the most melodically haunting section of "Come Back to Me" is the bridge, and like "Escapade," the album mix of "Come Back to Me" opens with that sweet, sweet bridge. Remember that quasi-trend on several hits from the Summer of '88 I attempted to describe as "the Egyptian thing"? The bridge on "Come Back to Me" is so damn Egyptian, I can practically hear Omar Sharif on backing vocals.

But there's another element besides the chord progression or the vocal overdubs that provides "Come Back to Me" with its stately grandeur. Only after reading the Wikipedia article did I hone in on what might separate the song so thoroughly from its late '80s peers: the strings. Per Jimmy Jam:
"At the time we did it, it was one of my favorite songs. I loved the lyrics and the vocal on it ... the interesting thing [...] was the live strings ... I never heard the strings when we were doing it. We'd kept it simple, and Janet said, "It'd be great to get some strings on this." There was a guy in Minneapolis [arranger Lee Blaske] who was an incredible string guy. He arranged a lot of our string stuff. I said, "Hey, Lee, come up with a string thing for this," and he did. We loved it so much that the end of the song, it basically fades out with just the strings as the last thing you hear.
Yeah. Oh yeah. And the ambient rain sound effect doesn't hurt either. Also, when I learned on Wikipedia that Janet recorded a Spanish language version of "Come Back to Me" titled "Vuelve a Mi," my brain initially read that as "Vulva and Me," which perhaps could have been a track from her more explicit Velvet Rope era, but probably would have been out of place on Rhythm Nation 1814.

Even the video (featuring the album mix) feels more like a 1995 video than a 1990 video. This wasn't some low-budget, "splice together a bunch of live footage in a panic" hack job. Oh no. This was filmed in a little city called "Paris," and it's littered with shots of sexy Parisian statues and sexy Parisian rail cars and sexy Parisian apartment buildings (one of which, I'm guessing, the key dangling from Janet's ear supposedly unlocks?) and sexy Parisian lovers' spats on a staircase involving a hurdled shoe. This video's got class up the wazoo. I haven't done the research, but I'm fairly certain this is the last time Janet appeared in a video wearing an overcoat. I hope she donated it to a good cause.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Waiting For An Embarrassing Belinda Demo To Fall (Into Bootleggers' Arms)

So, my favorite singers. It's funny who might make the list. Not necessarily the singers who would normally appear high on perennial "Greatest Singer" lists - Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey - although some of them might. Not even necessarily the singers who I would count among my favorite musical artists: Paul McCartney, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, David Byrne, Morrissey, Liam Gallagher. I mean, I'm sure I enjoy those voices on some level, but it's not precisely the voices that I connect with. No, my list of favorite singers is even more random than that.

Here's what makes a singer's voice qualify as a "favorite" for me: when I feel like I can hear a part of my own personality in that voice - be it sadness, rage, uncertainty, steadiness, etc. It's when I hear certain voices and they feel like a warm hug being wrapped around my soul. These are the voices that make me feel ever-so-slightly more connected to the human race - a connection that, at times, can feel rather tenuous. Some of my favorite singers are quite highly regarded as singers: Stevie Wonder, Elvis, George Jones, Karen Carpenter, John Lennon, Etta James, Brian Wilson, Ray Charles, Brenda Lee, Bobby "Blue" Bland. Some of my favorite singers have often been called outright "bad" singers: Neil Young, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Roger Waters, Donald Fagen, Joe Jackson, Leon Russell. Sometimes, I just plain like the sound of that singer's voice, even when the song they're singing stinks. But the one quality that I think all my favorite voices share - for me at least - is a sense of directness. When I am listening to these people sing, I feel like there is nothing standing between their being and my being. There's no artifice. Even when they're phoning it in, I feel like I am always getting the full "them." Also, I can pick out their voices in about five seconds flat. They may have had their influences, but somehow, someway, I always know that it's them.

I think it's accurate to say that, in her youth, Belinda Carlisle didn't possess a conventionally "strong" voice. She wasn't what you might have called "versatile." She probably wouldn't have cut it in any scene other than the punk/new wave scene. So why is it that the mere sound of her voice makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside? It's the kind of voice that I had always subconsciously liked, but I had never really given much thought to until I went on my unexpected Go-Go's binge roughly ten years ago. Even on the earliest Go-Go's songs, Belinda's voice always had that little vibrato, or "quiver" or "tremble" to it. In wondering where that vibrato might have come from, I think back to the terror she might have experienced as a child wondering whether her drunken stepfather was about to beat the living shit out of her or not. That could have had something to do with it. All those childhood fears may have become embedded deeply into her bones. To paraphrase Pete Townshend (another "favorite" singer of mine whose voice probably wouldn't be considered conventionally "good"), "sickness can surely take the voice where voices can't usually go."

This anonymous person who commented on an old AV Club article about Beauty and the Beat that was published several years back knows what I'm talkin' 'bout:
Carlisle is obviously my favourite Go-Go (because Wilma vs. Betty is not even a choice since you're obviously gonna go with Wilma every time). I love her voice. I have a thing for raspy female voices that sill sound feminine (listen to the choruses in "Runaway Horses", the song). Her voice is a mix of Bonnie Tyler, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, Siouxsie Sioux, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, and Dolly Parton. The thing about her voice is, it's not a pop voice, it's a raspy rock and roll voice (listen to the Go-Gos' version of "I Wanna Be Sedated" from the 2001 concert in Central Park). But it's not as harsh as most female rock voices, so you do buy her as a pop singer in the same way you buy Pink as a pop singer. Or I guess a better way to put it would be that Carlisle straddles the fence between pop (solo) and rock (with the Go-Go's) and is a bit too rock for pop music and bit too pop for rock music. But yeah, Carlisle rocks. She may be one of the only women in music who came close to matching Keith Richards' level of drug abuse/partying and came out the other side with her sense of humor (and everything else) intact.
Yes, like Keith, she is truly a modern miracle of science and biology.

Sure, her singing style is not everyone's cup of tea. I can understand someone actively disliking her voice (her detractors have not been shy to make their presence known on YouTube). She's not a "properly trained" vocalist ... but that's a good thing! The great ones either got it or they don't. Witness Madonna after about 1986, who has tried so incredibly hard to train her voice and to become a "conventionally great" vocalist, and yet ... I don't get the warm fuzzies from just the sheer sound of her voice like I do from Belinda's. That voice is like a trusty friend - and it might have been a trusty friend to Belinda too. One aspect of her career (out of many) I find highly amusing is that, while she went through about sixteen different physical transformations, eighteen different hairstyles, and fourteen different hair colors, whenever she opened her mouth, no matter what phase she happened to be in, that same fucking voice would come out. It was her North Star, her Big Mac. (Another irony is that, at the peak of her recording career, she didn't think much of herself as a singer, but now, in her later years, I've noticed that she has finally discovered her singing "self-esteem" and that she puts a lot more thought and effort into her singing ... even though her voice has aged and doesn't sound like it once did. But, them's the breaks.)

I write all these observations as a prelude to a discussion of Belinda's less-than-impressive vocal performance on a demo of the song "Waiting for a Star to Fall."

Flying in straight from a rejected sitcom pilot near you, allow me to present Boy Meets Girl's "Waiting for a Star to Fall," a 1989 #5 hit that I didn't care for much at the time, which, considering I had the taste of a nine-year-old, was a fairly harsh verdict. Yes, even back then, the tune struck me as an over-calculated piece of radio product, utilizing a corny metaphor (stars are actually massive bodies of gas that burn out over the course of billions of years, and don't technically "fall" anywhere), self-consciously dramatic pauses, and a TUKC at the start of the sax solo (to be fair, the key change usually comes after the solo, so I guess they were trying to shake things up a little?). I just find something so artificially "sloppy" about the chorus: "Carry your heart into my arms, that's where you belong, in my arms, baby, yeah!" with the whole "arms, baby, yeah!" bit coming off to me like a freeze-dried, pre-packaged Robert Plant ad lib - tacked on for a touch of "spontaneous" flavor, but ending up tasting like undercooked microwaved Swanson's pot pie? And they apply this little "delay" effect to the lead singer's last "yeah" so that he appears to sing it twice, as if he's so smitten by this overpowering crush of his that he can't even deliver his words on time. I can see why the song was a hit, and I can also see why the radio quickly banished it to Siberia right around, say, February of 1991, presumably for all eternity, only for the mutant robot remnants of the track to return with a vengeance in the UK circa 2005 as "Star2Fall" by Cabin Crew, "Falling Stars" by Sunset Strippers, and "In My Arms" by Mylo. Moral of the story: you can try sweeping those '80s ghouls under the carpet, but eventually, their dusty remains will morph, shift, coagulate, and re-emerge to terrorize the world once again in kitschy electronica form.

But let's go back to the original culprit. If you're listening to "Waiting for a Star to Fall" and thinking, "You know, this kind of sounds like a Whitney Houston reject," well ... from Wikipedia:
Boy Meets Girl is an American pop-music duo consisting of keyboardist and vocalist George Merrill and singer Shannon Rubicam. They are perhaps best known for their hit song "Waiting for a Star to Fall" from 1988 and for writing two of Whitney Houston's number one hits: "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)."
Oh. I've heard of those. Wikipedia goes on to mention that "Waiting for a Star to Fall" was "inspired by an actual falling star that Rubicam had seen during a Whitney Houston concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles." Well there you have it, the stars were literally aligning for Merrill, Rubicam, and Houston to score their third #1 single, and then ... Houston's manager, the one and only Clive Davis ... didn't like it. He said that it "didn't suit her." Why the hell not? It sounded just like the other two songs. Guy was nuts, but anyway. We're not here to talk about Whitney Houston. Oh no. We're here to talk about the next singer to whom the song was offered.

According to Wikipedia: "The song was then offered to and recorded by Belinda Carlisle for her 1987 release Heaven on Earth, at the insistence of her label, but Carlisle disliked it and refused to include it on the album. This version has, however, circulated on an unofficial compilation of that album's outtakes."

[twirling mustache] Oh reeeeeally. All right, YouTube, I know you're going to come through for me here.

That's what I'm talking about. Let me guess how this went down:

"Belinda, we've got a hot new song, it's from Whitney's people, but she doesn't want to do it, come on, it'll be huge!"

"Uhh, I dunno guys, it's pretty cheesy."

"So were all the songs on your last album, like 'I Feel the Magic' and 'Shot in the Dark,' I mean, why stop now?"

"Well, if Whitney didn't want to do it, then why would I want to do it?"

"Belinda, baby, we're your record label! Have we ever let you down?"

"Look, I don't think it's for me. Can we just pass here?"

"Tell you what. At least do a demo of it, all right? One lousy demo. Let's just see what we've got here, see what it sounds like. Do a demo and then we'll talk. Capice?"

"OK, fine. If I do a half-assed demo version that's totally fucking terrible, then we can move on to something else?"


And so, somewhere beneath 200 tons of tape hiss, we have Belinda's demo version of "Waiting for a Star to Fall." You know Plato's concept of the Cave, which posits that most of what human beings actually perceive is merely a shadow of reality being projected onto the wall of a cave? Well, this demo's backing track sounds like the shadow of an actual recording, projected onto the wall of the recording studio's cave. And then we have Belinda's vocal performance, which I presume was given at gunpoint, as she sounds like a woman undergoing extreme discomfort and duress. Your mother singing "Waiting for a Star to Fall" in the shower would have probably sounded more confident than this. Bottom line: she just ... wasn't ... into it.

And yet! Several YouTube commentators have taken this less-than-stellar outtake as evidence that Belinda couldn't actually sing, but I think it might prove the exact opposite. For someone recording a practice vocal of a song she didn't like over a Casio-generated musical backing ... she sounds pretty good to me! Choice excerpts from the debate:
Belinda, go home. You're drunk.

Yikes! It's like a birthday cake with a big spider on it.

Waiting for this song to end.

1:43 is where I stopped hoping for a good part and just laughed my way through the demo.

It sounds like a cow being run over.

Hey Belinda, I love ya, you've got allotta my money in your pocket but thanks for turning this song down.

To be fair it's a demo but Belinda cannot hit the notes very well. Boy Meets Girl did it with passion on vocals and instruments.

This gives me hope that, being a total lay singer, my own singing isn't thaaaat bad after all. It's interesting how weak Belinda's vocals sound without fancy sound effects.

Belinda's vocals get cut a lot of slack due to her looks.

This needs like 500% more sax.

c'mon all!! This isn't that bad! It's pretty good!

Unpopular Opinion: I think this is good.

amazing what happens when you have to actually sing before all the editing to make you sound good is added in. I never knew she was actually a terrible live singer omg lol she''s all over the place, way out of tune

She's a very strong live singer, this song just doesn't suit her. Bear in mind too that this is a demo and could be 1 of many takes, check out some of her live video's she can really nail it.

I'm sorry but those making fun of her voice; she's by far better then any 'teen' singing now.

This was probably a scratch take rather than anything that was meant to sound decent. I mean, the backing music is just as bad as the vocal. If you watch videos of her live performances you can see she can actually sing. If she had done a version with a serious vocal and full-on instrumentation, I'm sure it would sound good.

This sounds like a practice recording while she's trying to learn the song.I wonder who released this,it appears they don't like Belinda.

There are so many negative comments. It's obvious she was just going through the motions seeing if she liked the song. I mean their are no real instruments even. It's all synthesized/drum machine junk. I love Belinda. Even with no auto tune or real musicians she sounds better than most, even good I will venture to say.

This was way too far from the finished product. Even if she had recorded it, it would have sounded much better than this. I do think it was more a Whitney song than Belinda. Having said that Merrill and Rubicam own it.

Belinda's lovely voice is the best thing about this recording. The musicians were farther off of their marks on this spiritless arrangement. Had they drafted a serious producer/arranger and put in some positive rehearsal time, they would have come away with the best version ever recorded. A sweet, yet tragic, orphan of the muse.

Do people not know what a "demo" is? It's a rough cut of a song before you go in the studio to fully record, polish and produce it. This song was thrown at her and she didn't want to record at all. For those comparing it to Boy Meet Girl, that's comparing apples to oranges - the original songwriters version of the song with full production (as everyone knows and loves) compared to a demo of someone who never wanted it. And thank God. This song has no place on "Heaven on Earth" at all and would've killed the album. Boy Meets Girl should be glad they got to keep it for themselves and have success with it. It's just the industry.

What a delightful little find! These days they auto tune the demos so it's kinda nice hearing a good old traditional slightly off key in parts grass roots demo - 80's style!

I pose that my demo from 1988 is better than Belinda’s version of this song...but barely
Here's the deal: as crappy as this demo is ... somehow, someway, I still feel the magic. I still feel the warm and fuzzies. That's the deal with your favorite singers: even when they're terrible, you love them regardless. It's like a marriage: for better or worse, for richer or poorer. If Belinda's voice is like a warm hug wrapping itself around my soul, this demo is more like a sweaty, gross hug after she's just come back from the gym. But I'll take it.

In the end, "Waiting for a Star to Fall" was simply "waiting to fall" into the hands of the duo who wrote it, providing them with the glory and status that they so richly deserved, and allowing Belinda to dodge a cheesy '80s bullet. Apparently, she just couldn't stoop so low as to record a peppy Whitney Houston reject. The woman had standards. I mean, it's not like she was filming Christmas ads for L.A. Gear or something. Oh, wait: