Sunday, September 30, 2012

Toni Basil's "Mickey"/Weird Al's "Ricky"

Believe it or not, "Mickey" was not Toni Basil's fifteen minutes of fame. Toni Basil is a dancer and choreographer, not a singer. She was also an occasional actress, appearing in such acclaimed, edgy late '60s movies as Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. I remember seeing the credits for those movies and thinking, "Wait, is that the same Toni Basil? Couldn't be." Oh, but it was.

She's the girl with long black hair.

Toni Basil has done choreography for films such as American Graffiti, Peggy Sue Got Married, My Best Friend's Wedding, Legally Blonde, etc. The choreography for David Bowie's 1974 Diamond Dogs tour? Toni Basil. The choreography for Talking Head's "Once In A Lifetime" music video? Toni Basil. As with Toto, Toni Basil has had a massive effect on your life and you didn't even know it.

Or maybe you did, if "Mickey" happened to have a massive effect on your life, that is. Along with "We Got The Beat," it is one of the cornerstones of Cheerleader Rock. And if any '80s music video would happen to display superlative choreography, that video would be "Mickey."

But I will forever know "Mickey" as "Ricky," from Weird Al's first album, back when he still played accordion on every song, and long before he had the clout to, say, borrow video sets from Michael Jackson. In fact, I'm always taken aback whenever I listen to "Mickey" and it doesn't segue into the I Love Lucy theme at the end. I didn't know much about I Love Lucy when I first heard "Ricky," and honestly, I still don't know much about I Love Lucy even today. But I know a brilliant Weird Al song when I hear one. Maybe it's just his attempt to do a Cuban accent, or his character's inability to realize that "every day's a re-run and the laughter's always canned"; like Truman in The Truman Show, Ricky believes he has free will, but in reality, he merely exists for other people's amusement.

The irony.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Huge '80s Hits That I Only Know Because Of Weird Al

And now for something that I suppose you might call a spin-off series of Huge '80s Hits That I Don't Actually Remember Hearing In The '80s.

The first cassette that I ever bought with my own money was Weird Al's Greatest Hits. True, it was actually my father's money, but I think I earned it by doing chores, and he had no influence on my purchase, and I kept the cassette in my own private music stash. The second cassette I ever bought with my own money was the Beatles' 20 Greatest Hits (an early version of Beatles 1), which was probably a better choice, but not by much. A few years later, a friend loaned me every Weird Al '80s album aside from Polka Party.

Listening to '80s Weird Al in the '90s was a strange activity. As many die-hard fans know, Weird Al often writes original compositions in addition to parodies. Listening to his albums a decade later, I was often unaware as to when a song was an original or when it was simply a parody of a song I missed the first time around. As a result, I later realized that several Weird Al "originals" were actually parodies.

Radio rotation can be a funny thing. A song can be playing twenty times a day for weeks at a time, and it seems like it's literally everywhere, and then DJs can just collectively decide that its time is up and everyone is sick of it, and the song gets locked away in a hyperbolic chamber deep within the recesses of pop culture, never to be heard from again, until it is rediscovered by a brave VH1 archeologist. Some songs will end up on permanent radio playlists even though they were only marginal hits at the time (for example, Madonna's "Holiday" only peaked at #16). By the same token, when was the last time you heard a radio station play "The Macarena"?

A pop culture satirist like Weird Al can be so in tune with the present cultural moment while he's satirizing, he can sometimes preserve works that would have otherwise been forgotten. Weird Al has had more longevity than most of the acts he's parodied.

Such is the power of Weird Al that, when I eventually heard the original hits, all I could think of was the Weird Al version. Even when I hear them today, all I can think of is the Weird Al version. I couldn't even sing you the actual lyrics, but I can sing the Weird Al lyrics.

A key part of Weird Al's appeal is the strength of his actual music. His production team over the years has done such a good job of professionally recreating the sound of the hits he's satirizing that when you're listening to his parodies, you're rarely distracted by the music. Hence, the discrepancy between the normal-sounding music and the ridiculous new lyrics is what generates the comedy. Am I stating the obvious? The lyrics are humorous, but he sings them in a serious fashion. Do you understand?

Above all, Weird Al's parodies call attention to the overall banality and interchangeability of the vast majority of pop song lyrics. I mean, "Beat It" might as well have been about food, right? It certainly wasn't Michael Jackson's magnificent wordplay that made the song a hit.

Sure, I heard "Like a Virgin" before I heard "Like a Surgeon." I heard "Addicted To Love" before I heard "Addicted To Spuds." But this series is a tribute to those '80s hits that I initially heard as performed by the mustachioed master.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Impressive Punk Fashion Sense Of Belinda Carlisle

When I said that Belinda Carlisle was attractive, in truth there was actually more to say. It depends on which Belinda we are talking about. Are we talking the Go-Go's Belinda, the solo Belinda, the punk Belinda? For there was not really one Belinda. Most of the Belindas were attractive, but some were ... how shall we say this? More attractive than others.

When I first began reading about Belinda's punk days, I had this image in my head of the 1987 stick-thin, glistening auburn-haired Belinda running around and being a punk. Not quite.

You see, back in her punk days, Belinda was a bit ... heavier. It was not obvious that one day she would become Belinda Carlisle, Ultimate California Superbabe. Much has been made of her transformation from the Go-Go's to her solo career, but just as amusing, in my opinion, is her transition from pre-fame Go-Go's to famous Go-Go's.

In her punk days, Belinda didn't just dress like a punk; she dressed like a hilarious punk. Other punk rockers were trying; Belinda was trying and succeeding. L.A. punk photographer Jenny Lens has an excellent collection of early Belinda and early Go-Go's photos on her website. Lens actually seems concerned about copyright protection and the unauthorized reproduction of her photos and she's not some extremely wealthy corporate figure, so I am going to respect her wishes and not reproduce any of her photos on my blog. But if you want to have a good laugh, I recommend clicking on this page.

In photos 1, 9, and 10, Belinda and her mysterious gang of space vixens look like something straight out of Barbarella, complete with whips, chains, and torn lingerie. The trash bag dress (photos #3-6) has become somewhat notorious in Belinda lore, but other punk rockers had worn the trash bag dress before. No, my personal favorite would have to be photo #8, in which Belinda is wearing a 45 RPM record as a necklace. A necklace.

Above all, you just have to shake your head and wonder how, in just a few short years, someone who looked like this...

... would eventually look like this:

Yes, I am being told (cups his hand to imaginary earpiece a la Jon Stewart) that this is actually the same person.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Weird, Random German '80s Hits

There are some '80s pop culture jokes I've missed out on, while Zrbo has probably been smiling in gleeful recognition. Why? Because he speaks German and has lived in Germany, which I don't and have not. If I had, I might have been all too familiar with these next three songs.

Zrbo came back from Germany one time and started making jokes about Falco. I didn't really know who Falco was, and I ... still don't! But in 1981 he released "Der Kommissar," the first ... German rap song?

The British group After The Fire recorded an English language version, which might have possibly been the first British rap song (check that - I forgot about The Clash's "The Magnificent Seven"). After The Fire's cover peaked at #5 in the US and became a staple of '80s compilations forevermore. There is a raging YouTube debate as to which version is better. I mean raging.

Falco would achieve American glory under his own name with "Rock Me Amadeus," a song that I had heard about for years but have only heard just recently. Suffice to say, I don't think it compares favorably to the musical works of its subject. My guess is that, if Mozart were alive to hear "Rock Me Amadeus," he would probably not like it.

Oddly, although Nena recorded German and English versions of "99 Luftballons," and the English version was a #1 hit in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Canada, it was the German version that Americans preferred! Nobody had any idea what the hell she was singing about, and it was probably for the best, according to this (grammatically questionable) Wikipedia summary:
The English (but not the German) version tells about two children who buy 99 balloons at a toy shop and release them into the air, where faulty radar equipment is unable to identify the balloons. The German version starts with the narrator stating he will tell of a story about 99 balloons. Both versions then continue much in the same way with the government immediately put their troops on red alert and scrambles fighter jets to intercept the balloons, which ultimately triggers a nuclear war. Although originally in German, no countries are ever named. In the apocalyptic aftermath, the song's narrator stands in the rubble of the city and finds a single remaining balloon. Thinking of the other child, he releases the balloon.
Wait. Really? That's kind of ... fucked up! I always thought this was just some bland love song. Take your Third World War songs back to Germany Nena, and stay there.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I'll Have What He's Having

From the same minds who brought you the Bed Intruder Song comes this amazing ditty.  I've never wanted to eat at a Five Guys Burger & Fries so much until I watched this mouthwatering morsel of a song (look at the bacon!).  And as always, we turn to our fellow Youtube commenters to provide insight:

"His next song is on Type 2 diabetes"

"I'm a Vegan, but I still gives this a thumbs up"

"Oh god, I almost forgot to watch this song today."

and finally:


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Flock Of Seagulls: Better Hair Than Music

When rock critics condescendingly dismiss the '80s as being more about the hair than the music, they're usually exaggerating. Usually.

Mike Score, A Flock Of Seagulls' lead singer, was a hairdresser who formed a band. No, really.

I'd heard the name thrown about here and there, but I always wondered just how ridiculous A Flock of Seagulls could have been. The answer: pretty ridiculous.

Everything I said about Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy" applies here. If you had to explain to a young person of today what the '80s were like, and how a band could just come out of nowhere, have a huge hit, and then sink back into the ether, and they give you a puzzled, confused look in return, just show them this.

Honestly, the camera doesn't swirl enough for my taste. Also, I think the girls simply couldn't afford sunglasses, so they decided to paint giant rectangles around their eyes instead. Also, I know I'm making fun of it, but this song kind of rocks.

In the end, there is the hair. According to Wikipedia, "his 'seagull' or 'wings' hairstyle was created when Score was trying to style his hair like that of David Bowie's character, Ziggy Stardust. AFOS bassist Frank Maudsley was trying to use the mirror at the same time, and placed his hand on Score's head, leaving only the hair on the sides of his head sticking up."

Well that's one explanation. I also heard he was trying to grow an afro, but happened to stand too long in front of a jet engine. Whatever he was trying to do is really beside the point. In fact, I have a theory that he was the inspiration for Edward Scissorhands.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kajagoogoo: "Too Shy" To Have More Than One Hit

When the cultural powers-that-be gather together at the great summit of '80s pop, and they are faced with the task of having to name the ultimate, most frivolous, most ridiculous, most flash-in-the-pan '80s hit of all time, Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy" may be the song that they name.

First of all: Kajagoogoo? Really? How could they possibly have more than one hit? The universe would not allow it.

Sadly, once again the UK has ruined everything by letting Kajagoogoo have a few other smaller British hits. So how about this instead: the universe would not have allowed Kajagoogoo to have more than one American hit?

I'd seen this song listed on every '80s nostalgic cash-in compilation album, but I had never actually heard it until last year. Just from looking at the band name and the song title, however, I felt like I got the idea. When I finally heard the song, I have to say it was everything I hoped for and more.

"Too Shy" is like the leftover bits of Human League and Duran Duran that you found stuck in the garbage disposal and you slapped together to make a spare '80s synth-pop song. In fact, Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes produced the song, and dare I say it, but it's better than most of the hits his own band came up with! The lead singer, Limahl, sounds like Boy George, only slightly more gay. There isn't a trace of genuine rock and roll muscle to be found. And when that chorus comes around, I can't resist swishing my hands from side to side in a slightly effeminate manner.

The video doesn't disappoint either. There's a giant banner that reads "Welcome Home Boys," perhaps suggesting a post-war theme, but I don't think they had Roland synthesizers back in 1945. Call it a hunch. Nor did anyone sport Limahl's haircut, which suggests Rod Stewart and anticipates Andrew Ridgeley. I also like his yellow "barely a shirt."

There are far too many silly '80s hits for us to label any one song the ultimate champion (the next song in this series is certainly going to make its case), so let's just say this: in the realm of shameless '80s disposable hits, "Too Shy" may have been equalled, but it has never been surpassed.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Early Go-Go's Mischief And Mayhem - Part I

The Go-Go's didn't remain terrible for long.
We needed someone to guide us through the basics, starting with how to plug in our equipment. We really were that clueless.
Charlotte was a California blonde with a sensibility that was more pop than punk. It was probably because she actually had some music training ... Margot and I approached her one night backstage at the Starwood and asked if she wanted to join us in our new band, the Go-Go's. It's funny to think that we hadn't even played a gig but we were already talking as if there was nothing more real and happening than our band ... We told her who was in the group and that she would play lead guitar, which she said sounded great. What she left out was that she didn't know how to play lead guitar.
No problem! Here's how Charlotte tells it:
Belinda came up to me that night at the Starwood, I was playing with my punk band The Eyes; it was The Jam, The Dickies, and The Eyes, and we would play two sets a night. Of course, I can’t imagine that today (laughs). But it was between sets, Belinda and Margot came up to me and they looked so freaky to me, because I was pretty normal looking. I think Belinda had purple hair and she was wearing a trash bag, and spiky heels with ripped stockings. Now it’s no big deal, but back then it was freaky. And Margot had pink and green hair and all this freaky makeup. And I thought, Well, this sounds like fun.
Again, another life-altering decision clearly made with the gravity the occasion deserved. It turns out that Charlotte would fit right in:
Slash magazine ran our first print interview/feature, and in it, Jane described herself as an "ex-Catholic, ex-cowgirl, ex-fashion designer." Charlotte said that she possessed an IQ of 165 and declared herself a genius whose fantasy was "to be gang-raped by seven Mister Rogers clones." I described myself as a reject from a "strict Southern Baptist home" who liked "huge sweatshirts, rabbit feet, the Hollywood cemetary, rosaries, penguins, the Marquis de Sade, and gin rummy."
Sign me up! At this point Belinda, most of the other Go-Go's, and various members of the L.A. punk scene lived in a soon to be infamous apartment building known as the Canterbury.
If someone had blown up the Canterbury, and God knows someone might have tried, most of Hollywood's punk scene would have been destroyed. I heard rumors the Canterbury's landlord was also a pimp and oversaw a theft ring ... The Canterbury was a great big interconnected stew of  crazies devoted to two things, partying and music, though it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began ... Theresa and I had a studio apartment with a kitchen. It came with a disgustingly dirty and worn plaid sofa - the piece that qualified it as "furnished." We also shared a Murphy bed. One day, in a burst of inspiration, I set out to paint the bathroom bloodred, but I ran out of steam halfway through and never finished.
Well, what's more punk than a bloodred bathroom? A halfway painted bloodred bathroom. In the book We Got The Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story Of L.A. Punk, former Runaways manager (and all-around sleazy music business hanger-on) Kim Fowley put it best:
The scene at the Masque and the Canterbury got into a lot of decadence and debauchery, and all of the fucking and sucking, and the heroin and the dog fucking and the obese shit-assing with the Go-Go's and their early circle. Somewhere in the vomit, the blood, and vaginal pus, somewhere among the filthy hypo syringes and the blubber, there probably was poetry. Scene cheerleaders got to have their scabied cunts eaten on dirty roach-infested floors while this loop music raged and worms crawled, you know? It was excremental existential sexual shit at death's door.