Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sheena Easton: Sorceress Of Scotland

Out of the depths of Scotland, there rose an alien being. The villagers gathered around and marveled at her ghoulish gaze. What should they call this strange creature? "We shall call her ... Sheena Easton."

Easton's first and probably biggest hit was originally going to be called "9 To 5," but to avoid confusion with Dolly Parton's extremely recent release, the record label re-named the song "Morning Train (Nine To Five)." As Wikipedia says, "While Parton's song features an empowered (if challenged) working woman, Easton's song features a passive, love-struck woman waiting around at home all day for her lover to return to her." In other words, Sheena's song is kind of stupid. It could have been written for a '30s musical, and not one of the good ones. Yeah, I liked it as a kid, but at this time in my life I find the song relatively annoying, especially its ridiculous bridge: "When he steps off that train, I'm makin' a fool, a fight/Work all day to earn his pay, so we can play all niii-hight!"

I'm more fond of her James Bond theme, "For Your Eyes Only." If there's such a thing as an Aerobic Rock Ballad, "For Your Eyes Only" is it. When I hear the opening, I feel like I'm walking into some sort of space ship holiday resort. When I used to hear this song on The '80s Tape, I couldn't help but make a little gesture with my fingers every time the extra high synthesizer notes followed the initial notes, bathed in a gigantic vat of echo. I always laughed hysterically at the particularly drawn out employment of these notes at the very end of the song (unfortunately cut off in this clip).

"For Your Eyes Only" may be, along with "Live and Let Die" or "Nobody Does It Better," the most memorable James Bond theme. It was unique in one other way. From Wikipedia:
Easton is the only artist to be seen singing the theme song to a Bond movie during its opening titles, as Maurice Binder liked Easton's appearance and decided to add her to the credits.[5] Her seductive appearance in these clips was, according to Roger Moore, more sexy than any of the Bond girls, although Easton herself states that the filming process was very unglamorous.[6][7]
Hey, Sheena, when you get a compliment from James Bond, you take it.

Easton's greatest contribution to Aerobic Rock, however, would have to be "Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)."

Sheena's voice has just the right amount of high-pitched whininess to it, and, as with "For Your Eyes Only," the piano player excels at making dramatic and well-timed entrances. The melody of the verse may owe a little something to ABBA's "Lay All Your Love On Me," but ABBA probably didn't mind. Hell, ABBA were Aerobic Rock before there was even Aerobic Rock. Sheena's just paying her respects.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Belinda Meets Lorna Doom In Art Class, Discovers Glam Rock, And Is Never The Same Again

In her freshman and sophomore years at Newbury Park High School, Belinda became a cheerleader, played on the basketball team, dated a couple of jocks, and went to the prom. She listened to Neil Diamond, Chicago, and the Doobie Brothers. And then, in her junior year ... there was Art Class.
The teacher was a cool, young hippie type who had long hair in the style of the Monkees' Peter Tork. He had a stereo in the room and let the students play albums as we worked on projects.

It turned out the students in that class had phenomenal taste in clothes and music. As I should've expected, they were far more interesting than the jocks and cheerleaders with whom I'd been hanging out ... I met another girl, Theresa "Terri" Ryan, who became better known a few years later as the Germs bassist Lorna Doom. We clicked instantly. She was into the New York Dolls, the Velvet Underground, Nico, and Roxy Music. I hadn't heard of any of these bands.

Nothing like Art Class to help you discover your inner freak.
She was also into Queen, especially the band's guitarist Brian May. She loved him. She took me to see Queen when they came through town in support of their 1974 album, Queen II ... I fell in love with the band's lead singer, Freddie Mercury. I had never seen anyone perform with such energy and passion.

Who looked like that?

Who sounded like that?
Who indeed, Belinda? Who indeed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Laura Branigan And The Director Of The Exorcist Lose Their Self Control

Can Aerobic Rock lightning strike twice? If you're Laura Branigan, the answer is yes. As with "Gloria," Branigan took a sleazy Italian song and turned it into a sleazy '80s pop song.

I remember hearing "Self Control" when I was five years old, and it sort of gave me the creeps. At that age, I could not have possibly known what sleazy urban sex was, and yet even I could sense something disturbing going on:
I, I live among the creatures of the night
I haven't got the will to try and fight
Against a new tomorrow, so I guess I'll just believe it
That tomorrow never comes

A safe night, I'm living in the forest of my dream
I know the night is not as it would seem
I must believe in something, so I'll make myself believe it
But this night will never go 
You've even got the creepy zombie army in the background chanting "Oh-Oh-Oh (BOOM!), Oh-Oh-Oh."

But there's no way the video could match the creepiness of the music - right? Au contraire, mon frere. Someone at the record company must have realized that a "single stage with a disco ball" video wasn't going to cut it this time. Enter Exorcist director William Friedkin.

If all the scenes from Ghostbusters with Sigourney Weaver in them were somehow turned into a music video, it might look something like the video for "Self Control." Take some aluminum foil, some dry ice, add a coterie of anonymously masked Aerobic minions, and presto! From Wikipedia:
Branigan was one of the first artists of the video era to work with an Academy Award-winning film director on a music video when William Friedkin (The French Connection) directed the clip. Filmed in New Jersey and New York City, the video was produced by Fred Caruso and first aired in April 1984.[2] The video ultimately drew controversy, as it was considered so shockingly steamy that MTV required some edits before it could air.[3]
Oh really? Just wait, MTV. You'll soon be wishing your videos were as "steamy" as this one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Laura Branigan: Queen Of Aerobic Rock

Olivia Newton-John may have created Aerobic Rock, but Laura Branigan perfected it.

Branigan went straight to the source: sleazy Eurodisco. "Gloria" was originally an Italian hit for Umberto Tozzi, with lyrics from, so I'm told at least, a male perspective.

With an English translation, some alterations, and the thrilling vocal touch of the then-unknown Branigan, an Aerobic Rock behemoth was born.

You may notice a slight similarity between the three-note synthesizer riff of "Gloria" and the chorus of "Physical." That may or may not be intentional. But let's be honest here: "Physical" wishes it were half the song that "Gloria" is.

Just listen to the opening. A vast, heavenly army of synthesizers descends from Mount Olympus, suddenly landing on a beat. It is a beat that can power the Gods. Forthright, resolute, unwavering. It is the beat ... of "Gloria."

Even though "Gloria" is the biggest piece of cheese of all time, apparently no one told Branigan. She utters the lyrics with a life-or-death urgency. She's really fucking worried about Gloria! On paper, the lyrics may read like this:
I think they've got your number
I think they've got the alias
That you've been living under
But you really don't remember
Was it something that they said
All the voices in your head
Calling "Gloria"?
But in the hands of Laura Branigan, they read more like this:
I think they've got your num-baaa!
I think they've got the alias!
That you've been living unnnnn-daaa-aa-aa!
But you reeeeeeeeeally don't remember
Was it something that they sai-ah-ead
All the voices in your hea-ah-ead
Calling "Gloriaaaa-aaaaa"?
It's like she's thinking, "Get out of my face, Barbra Streisand. Go back to acting." She is Krishna on his chariot, laying waste to the Kaurava army in the Mahabharata. The teething masses, in thrall to Branigan's magnetic sway, can only chant "Gloria" behind her.

I mean hell, check out this clip from Solid Gold. The stage is literally exploding from the sheer force of Branigan's Aerobic Rock power.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Physical": The Birth Of Aerobic Rock

"Physical" was the most successful hit single of the '80s. And, frankly, I have no idea why. It's not that catchy, it's not that clever, it's not even one of Olivia Newton-John's best songs. But it was massive. It was #1 on the Billboard charts for ten weeks. "Hey Jude" was only #1 for nine weeks.

What I want to know is this: who heard "Physical" on the radio and thought, "Oh my God, I have got to buy that song"? Who were these people? "Every Breath You Take," I can understand. "Like A Virgin" sounded ... like a hit. But "Physical"? "Physical" is like an above average commercial jingle. Now that the dust has settled, I can only think of one reason why:


"Physical" caught a cultural wave. "Physical" wasn't just a song; "Physical" was a way of life.

The song itself is not necessarily about Aerobics. Or rather, it's about Aerobics of a more ... carnal kind:
I'm saying all the things that I know you'll like
Making good conversation
I gotta handle you just right
You know what I mean
I took you to an intimate restaurant
Then to a suggestive movie
There's nothing left to talk about
Unless it's horizontally

Let's get physical, physical
I wanna get physical
Let's get into physical
Let me hear your body talk, your body talk
Let me hear your body talk
How exactly does one "get into" physical? Is that like "getting into Magic: The Gathering"? OK, so Olivia Newton-John is not an English professor. Apparently getting "physical" isn't even enough; by the end of the song she's desperately begging to "get animal" - now using the word "animal" as a adjective.

So the song itself is about sex, and not even in a particularly creative or interesting way. No, my friends. They saved all the creativity for the video.

This video is like the ultimate '80s acid nightmare. Take everything horrible about the '80s - the music, the fashion, the headbands, the leotards, the thinly veiled homosexual imagery - stick it in a blender, and I think what you will come up with is this exact clip. It's enough to make a viewer "physically" ill.

And that, more than its massive commercial success, may be the song's true achievement.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Belinda Starts Shoplifting and Tries to Become Mexican

Well, it's probably not any more ridiculous than Gulliver trying to become a horse. But America's '80s pop sweetheart ... a petty thief?
I learned from three girlfriends of mine, all of whom happened to be Chicano. Like me, they were poor. I went through a phase where I thought their accents and the music they liked were cool. I went so far as to eat menudo, a traditional Mexican soup, on Saturdays they way they did.
Oh brother.
One of them was an especially tough girl who made no secret of the fact that she stole clothes and accessories. She said it was easy, and lo and behold, I tried it at the Thousand Oaks mall and it was. I made a rule: Never steal from people, just stores. Somehow I convinced myself that was okay because I couldn't afford the stuff I took.
Makes sense to me.
I gave myself free rein at numerous stores, including Judy's, the mall's most stylish young woman's store. It didn't seem bad even when I was caught taking tikis from a gift shop at Disneyland, but only because the park's security let me off with a warning. I wasn't as lucky at Thrifty Drugs. There, security caught me outside the store with a purse full of merchandise from the cosmetics counter.

They held me in the manager's office, said the police were on their way, and called my parents. I didn't fear the cops as much as I did my dad. I pissed my pants and then pretended to pass out. The store felt bad and let me off with a stern warning. My dad wasn't as forgiving. As soon as we got home, his belt came off and he let me have it.

He said it was time I learned a lesson and grew up. Well, I learned a lesson, but growing up was going to take more time - not just years, but decades.
Decades! Yes! Yes!

Also, you know some bad shit must have gone down at Thrifty's in its day.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Olivia Newton-John: Country Goes Aerobic

You'd think there would be no genuine link between country music and Aerobic Rock. But you would be wrong.

Because there was Olivia Newton-John. "Newton-John"? Sounds like the secret bastard child of Juice Newton and Elton John. Actually, that might be a pretty accurate way of describing her career.

Here's another question for you: can you be a country singer if you're from Australia? I guess they do have their own version of "countryside," called the Outback. You can probably be a more authentic Australian country singer than you can a British country singer.

At any rate, in the case of Olivia-Newton John, the answer was "yes." She rose to country-pop superstardom in the mid-70s, with clean-cut MOR gems such as "I Honestly Love You" and "Have You Never Been Mellow."

Then she became a movie star. I have never seen Grease, nor do I plan to see it. I will refrain from posting a YouTube clip from it. Still, Grease might have suggested a long and successful film career for Newton-John. Xanadu quickly put an end to all that.

In addition to the title track, which I once dubbed "The Most '70s Thing Ever," and the Cliff Richard duet "Suddenly," the film featured one of the most inescapable hits of 1980: "Magic."

I'll tell you what's magic: Olivia Newton-John's ability to transform from a wholesome country-pop singer into the slutty Goddess of Aerobic Rock.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Aerobic Rock

I don't know how people exercised prior to the '80s.

My mother had a vast collection of Jane Fonda exercise records. I used to stare at them in dismay. Who was this hideous creature?

Personally, the notion of performing strenuous, repetitive physical exercises for an extended period of time sounds like my idea of hell. But somebody must have liked it. It was only a matter of time before '80s record executives realized, "Hey! All those people doing aerobics? They're going to need music ... to do aerobics to!"

How does one define Aerobic Rock? Let me give it a try: Aerobic Rock is music that is more singer-driven than disco or club music, but more uptempo than Yacht Rock. Aerobic Rock is like dance pop for housewives.

The heyday of Aerobic Rock was brief. Dance music swiftly got younger, sexier, smarter, more political. But for that one shining moment, exercise and pop music worked out in the same gym. So strap on your leotards, cinch up your leg warmers, and pull out your Jane Fonda records. It's time ... for Aerobic Rock.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Johnny Cash's Daughter Made Better Music In The '80s Than He Did

Being a Johnny Cash fan, I always heard about how his oldest daughter Rosanne was a successful and respected musician in her own right. "Whatever," I always thought. "She made country music ... in the '80s. Probably not that good." I was probably wrong.

"Seven Year Ache" is like New Wave/Country. There's a synthesizer and a steel guitar. That sounds like it would be terrible, but it is so not terrible. Rosanne also has a more conventionally beautiful singing voice than her father's. Where the hell did it come from?

Sadly, this New Wave/Country hybrid was not expanded upon by Rosanne Cash, or by anyone else. Let's just say that, after the early '80s, country music decided to go in a ... different direction. I mean, when the Chipmunks start doing your genre, you know you've jumped the shark.