Saturday, March 29, 2014

You Mean MTV ... Gave Out Awards? AKA Belinda's Brief And Unexpected Brush With Her Idol

The first thing every new art form needs, obviously, is an awards show. Thankfully, Kanye West aside, one rarely hears heated debates about such-and-such a video being "robbed" at the MTV Video Music Awards, because come on, who takes the Video Music Awards seriously? Certainly not, as the following clips demonstrate, the presenters.

In September 1984, MTV aired the first Video Music Awards. Some enterprising young '80s fan, it looks like from Russia (?), has actually uploaded the entire show onto YouTube (edit: later removed). Maybe you've got two and-a-half hours to kill (as I did), but in case you don't, allow me to summarize the highlights. Here's your chance to see:
  1. How much the voters really loved Herbie Hancock's "Rockit"
  2. Huey Lewis & The News and ZZ Top give some killer lip-syncing performances
  3. Madonna roll around on the stage in a wedding dress
  4. A bunch of memorably dated commercials for products such as Mountain Dew, Levi's 501 jeans, some shoe brand called Thom McAn, and a car that was apparently called a "Plymouth"
But arguably the most amusing part of all is the entertaining parade of half-drunken presenters presenting categories they barely seem to understand, such as Roger Daltrey presenting "Best Overall Performance in a Video" (as opposed to "Best Partial Performance in a Video"?), and Ronnie Wood presenting "Best Stage Performance in a Video" (um, isn't a video performance obviously not a stage performance?). But at any rate, the organizers may have saved the best for second-last, as once Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes dispense with the presentation of "Best Female Video," out come Belinda Carlisle and Kathy Valentine to present "Best Male Video."

Co-host Dan Ackroyd introduces our dazed and confused pair with the portentous announcement, "In the beginning, there was the beat, and the beat was good." Belinda's voice sounds like she just drank a bottle of transmission fluid, but once again, she and Kathy demonstrate an impressive ability to read cue cards despite most likely being completely high out of their minds. Sure, Belinda has a little bit of trouble around the 0:38 mark, but who wouldn't?
Belinda: "Tell me Kathy, how do you like your male video stars? Do you like the heart on the sleeve, 'I'm not too tough to cry' new age male, or do you like the heavy metal motorcycle macho, macho, hit 'em and hug 'em types?"

Kathy: "Well one thing I do like in a guy is one with a lot of substance."
As one YouTube commentator put it, "Yeah, and I think we all know what substance that was." Belinda is so unconcerned with the gravity of the moment that she even stops reading from the teleprompter long enough to wink her eye and flirt with an undisclosed member of the audience.

All you need to know about the nominees for "Best Male Video" is that one of them is Michael Jackson's "Thriller." This one should be a no-brainer, right? But the award goes to ... David Bowie, "China Girl"? Whuuuuut. Sadly, that's not the most egregious sin of the night. That would have to be Video of the Year going, not to "Thriller," not to "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," not to "Every Breath You Take," not to "Jump," or "All Night Long (All Night)," or "Love Is A Battlefield," or "Borderline," or "Uptown Girl," or any one of the dozens of other amazing videos that must have come out that year, but to The Cars' "You Might Think." I'll tell you what I might think, all right. I might think the 1984 MTV VMA voters were smoking crack.

Ah, but there's one other extra bit of chaos here. Believe it or not, some of these world-famous recording artists actually had better things to do that night than to attend the Video Music Awards. Like what? But in the instance of an absent performer happening to win an award, an almost equally famous artist would walk up to the stage to accept it on the absent performer's behalf. In this manner, Diana Ross accepted on behalf of Michael Jackson, and Joey Ramone accepted on behalf of the Eurythmics. Well, David Bowie didn't happen to make it that night, so accepting the award in his place was the co-writer and original performer of "China Girl," Iggy Pop. Which isn't that amusing, until you recall that Iggy Pop is Belinda Carlisle's idol. Look into her eyes and you can see her quietly, secretly, freaking out. Well, well, thought you could just be a presenter at the VMAs and sleepwalk your way through it and everything would be fine, didn't you?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Real Men": A Real "Queer" '80s Pop Song

Joe Jackson released a third single from Night and Day, but it didn't do as well as the other two. Maybe it wasn't catchy? Maybe it wasn't elegant? Maybe it wasn't glistening with sophisticated charm? No, it was definitely all of those things. Maybe it flopped because it was a song about GAY PEOPLE.

And not just surreptitiously. Joe actually says "faggot" in the lyrics. No, "Real Men" flopped as a single because no radio station in the '80s probably wanted to touch, with a ten foot pole, a song that tackled homosexuality with quite so much zeal.

It wasn't the most danceable single either, with Joe trading in the latin congas and maracas for a dignified string quartet. Out with the Tito Puente, in with the "Eleanor Rigby"? Also, by pairing up the strings with an extremely prominent drum machine, he might have been trying to invent the new genre of "synth-chamber pop," but apart from The Cure's "Lullaby," I don't think it caught on. Nor does the song seem to fit in with the album's whole "New York" concept, until you realize that the City That Never Sleeps is also a city full of Men Who Sleep With Other Men.

But if "Real Men" is about homosexuality, it's not exactly an anthem for homosexual rights. And if it's not quite pro-gay, it's not quite anti-gay either. So what the hell is it then? Upon closer inspection, "Real Men" may be the ultimate slice of straight male panic:
Take your mind back
I don't know when
Sometime when it always seemed
To be just us and them
Girls that wore pink
And boys that wore blue
Boys that always grew up better men
Than me and you

What's a man now?
What's a man mean?
Is he rough or is he rugged?
Is he cultural and clean?
Now it's all changed
It's got to change more
'Cause we think it's getting better
But nobody's really sure

And so it goes, go round again
But now and then we wonder who the real men are
As if Joe didn't already feel awkward enough dealing with heterosexual relationships, now he has to deal with homosexual relationships too? Can't an Angry Young Man catch a break? Things were already confusing enough as they were! Which is not to say that he harbors some misguided nostalgia for "the good old days" when girls wore pink and boys wore blue and everything was perfect, since he admits that "it's got to change more." Still, as he projects those "Woh-hoh"s over that "Be My Baby" drumbeat, there must be that reactionary little part of him that has his doubts:
See the nice boys
Dancing in pairs
Golden earring, golden tan
Blow-wave in the hair
Sure they're all straight
Straight as a line
All the gays are macho
Can't you see their leather shine

You don't want to sound dumb
Don't want to offend
So don't call me a faggot
Not unless you are a friend
Then if you're tall
And handsome and strong
You can wear the uniform
And I could play along
Like fellow Yuppie Rocker Mark Knopfler (see "Les Boys"), I think Joe's trying to show that although he's "cool" with gay people, the whole thing still makes him a little bit squeamish:
Time to get scared
Time to change plan
Don't know how to treat a lady
Don't know how to be a man
Time to admit
What you call defeat
'Cause there's women running past you now
And you just drag your feet
Poor, poor Joe Jackson. The rise of the gay subculture has messed up his whole sense of identity! God, it's hard being a straight white male sometimes. To be honest, there are probably any number of ways to read these lyrics, although I'm not sure if such open-endedness was Joe's intention. And if "Real Man" was already a bit ideologically confused as it was, in the last verse, Joe goes for broke and tries to make some big grand statement about the human race:
Man makes a gun
Man goes to war
Man can kill and man can drink
And man can take a whore
Kill all the blacks
Kill all the reds
And if there's war between the sexes
Then there'll be no people left
Wait, what? So, at first, he just names all the stereotypical qualities that, for centuries, have been associated with "Man," all of which are somewhat destructive and negative. But then he throws in these lines about blacks and reds and a war between the sexes and I don't know where he's hoping to go with this crap. Well, maybe Joe didn't know exactly what he was trying to say, but hey, you've got to give him points for being a mainstream '80s artist who was at least trying to say something - even if it just seemed like he was throwing a bunch of controversial ideas into a big socio-political pot.

Then there's the video, in which the seemingly All-American, small town football jock decides to drive off a cliff rather than watch his homecoming queen girlfriend hang out with gay biker dudes? I think? Your guess is as good as mine. I'll bet MTV loved this one.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Henley vs. Frey: The Bloody, Brutal, Post-Eagles Battle For Yuppie Rock Supremacy

The Eagles without the '70s would have been like a bagel without cream cheese. There just wouldn't have been any point. Besides, the band's whole "swaying palm tree" image wasn't all it was cracked up to be. They may have looked mellow and easy-going on the outside, but on the inside, they were as vicious as the most homicidal gangsta rappers:
On July 31, 1980, in Long Beach, California, tempers boiled over into what has been described as "Long Night at Wrong Beach." Frey and [lead guitarist Don] Felder spent the entire show telling each other about the beating each planned to administer backstage. "Only three more songs until I kick your ass, pal," Frey recalls Felder telling him near the end of the band's set. Felder recalls Frey making a similar threat to him during "Best of My Love." "We're out there singing ‘Best of My Love,’ but inside both of us are thinking, 'As soon as this is over, I'm gonna kill him'", recalled Frey.
Well damn. I used to always chuckle to myself whenever I'd hear Frey sing, "Somebody's gonna hurt someone/Before the night is through," but apparently, he wasn't fucking around.

It appeared to be the end of the Eagles, but the band still had a commitment with Elektra Records to make a live record from the tour. Eagles Live (released in November 1980) was mixed by Frey and Henley on opposite coasts; the two decided they could not bear to be in the same state, let alone the same studio. "The record's perfect three-part harmonies were fixed courtesy of Federal Express," said producer Bill Szymczyk. With credits that listed no fewer than five attorneys, the album's liner notes simply said, "Thank you and goodnight."
And that was different from any of the Eagles' other albums ... how? At any rate, the news must have been a terrible blow to suburban housewives everywhere. It was the day the '70s died. Forty-year-old ex-hippie real estate developers drove their Mazdas to the levee but the levee was dry. The Beatles breaking up in 1970? Yeah, that must have hurt. But the Eagles breaking up in 1980? Who was going to lead Baby Boomers into self-absorbed narcissism now?

Fortunately, all was not lost, for as the Beatles' break-up demonstrated (at least until about ... 1975?), a time of loss was also a time of gain. You see, instead of having just one artist to follow, Eagles fans now had two. It was like that scene in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" where Mickey tries to destroy the mop but instead the mop only multiplies. You couldn't kill the Eagles. Nevertheless, things were going to be different. Former allies were now preparing to be adversaries. It would be ugly. It would be brutal. It would be ... Henley vs. Frey.

The heat was on, as they say. This was the end of the innocence. Henley and Frey became engaged in an epic battle to see who could outdo the other in yuppiness. The first step was to smear their glistening, laid back Southern California bodies in gallons of yuppie oil, as both country-rock icons proceeded to erase any last remaining whiff of "country-rock" from their music. The '80s couldn't have come fast enough for these two. But if they both sucked up the '80s like a sponge, they absorbed their music from entirely different pans of dishwater. While Don Henley re-imagined himself as some sort of cross between John Mellencamp and Devo, Glenn Frey saw himself as a strange hybrid of Gerry Rafferty and Barry White. Henley wanted to lecture you on the state of the world; Frey just wanted to get laid.

In the end, although Frey may have won a couple of battles, I'd say Henley won the overall war - not that anyone cared. For in a sense, we all won.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Marsh, The Convict, And The Mysterious Parentage Of Phil Collins

Just an ordinary, quiet, proper, British post-war childhood: that's what Phil Collins seems to have had. Until now.

Wikipedia tells us that "Collins was born and raised in Hounslow, London, the son of Winifred M. 'June' (née Strange), a theatrical agent, and Greville Philip Austin Collins, an insurance agent" - but don't be fooled. In truth, the Collinses found young Philip abandoned on the doorstep of a cathedral roughly three kilometers from their home, and raised him as one of their own. Rumour has it that he was the biological son of Sir Geoffrey Kindlingsworth of Cambridge and notorious brothel madame Liza Beth Quainsley, but this has never been substantiated. Collins never suspected any unusual circumstances behind his birth until one misty evening shortly past his fifth birthday:
It was a damp, dreary dusk out in the marsh, just after supper. I was skipping pebbles out by the dock, when I heard a terrible, rattling noise from the thickets. Rabbits didn't usually venture out that far from the meadow, and besides, I'd left my shotgun back in my father's barn. Before I could even inspect the reeds, a hand reached out and covered my mouth.

"Now, now, shush boy! You wouldn't tell a soul about old Jack, would ya?"

His grimy face was covered with scars and warts, although I could see that, perhaps in his youth, he might have been handsome once.

"Oh no, sir, I ... I wouldn't tell nobody."

"Good! And you wouldn't tell nobody about these chains, then?"

"Oh, sir, I - I ain't even seen those chains. I was just supposin' you were a fella who liked chains - a chain collector."

"Quiet, boy, quiet! Now you see that little house over there? You know that house?"

"Yes sir. It's where I live."

"Ah, splendid! Now what you're goin' to do is to go into that house, and fetch me a file, and some wittles. You have wittles, dotcha boy?"

"Oh, yes sir."

"Because if you don't feed old Jack, I'll tell ya all about your father."

"But I know all about my father, sir. My father's Greville Philip Austin Collins, of Hounslow."

"Is that what they tell ya?"

"Why yes. He's one of the most distinguished insurance agents in all of London. Ain't he?"

Jack flashed a hideous, gap-toothed grin.

"Ain't he?"

"Nevermind, boy, just fetch me that file and wittles, and you won't have to worry about crazy old Jack any longer."

I ran back to the house in a feverish daze, swiped the pastries from the cupboard, and swiftly brought them to Jack.

"Ah, beautiful, my boy, beautiful!" He ate with a desperation the likes of which I have never seen. "You don't know what you've done for old Jack. I'll make it worth your while, my boy. Have mercy on my soul, I will! It don't look so good for me now, but when I climb my way out of these chains, boy, you'll never know a better man in your life!"

"Please, sir, I'd rather we forgot all about this."

"Nonsense, my boy! Why, God help me if I know how I'm to do it, but I'll make you gentleman, I will. Not just a gentleman, but ... a drummer! And not just a drummer, but a drummer with ... gated reverb! But no time for that now, they're after me, son!"

And with that, he darted back across the marsh, and crawled away through the mist. From that moment on, I couldn't put the sentiment into words, but somehow, I knew then that whatever strange, troubling, circuitous path my life took, it would not be an ordinary one.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Mini Divorce Album Hidden Inside The Nylon Curtain

Poor Elizabeth Joel. Saddled with the tough years, without getting to stick around for too many of the glory years, she was forever overshadowed by her successor to the Billy Joel throne. If it's any consolation, however, she did inspire some great songs. Speaking of: it may not be a legitimate Abbey Road-style medley, but I've always felt like the first three songs on Side Two of The Nylon Curtain form sort of a divorce mini-suite. After closing Side One with Miss Saigon ("Goodnight Saigon," whatever), Billy Joel immediately switches things up with the wistful mid-tempo ballad "She's Right On Time."

The opening piano introduction almost has the feel of a Chopin nocturne, but then the imitation solo Lennon drums come in and fill up the stereo channels with a decidedly non-Chopin feel. There's also a somewhat jangly, Byrd-ish guitar meandering its way through the verses. Extra points for the bridge (at 2:44) where Billy plays the opening piano lick on a harpsichord instead, and adds some sweet, descending "hoh-wohs." All these delicate interludes contrast nicely with the slightly dissonant arena rock chorus, if I may say so.

Lyrically, "She's Right On Time" is almost like a scene from a couple on its last legs, even if they don't know it yet. At the very least, they've been together for some time and have had their ups and downs ("And it occurred to me/While I set up my Christmas tree/She never missed a cue or lost a beat/Every time I lost the meter/There she was where I would need her/Greeting me with footsteps in the street"). You rarely hear love songs about couples that have actually gone through some shit. Well, you do in country music, but not as much in pop music (and you rarely hear songs that rhyme "meter" with "need her," while we're at it). Also, despite the vague Christmas theme, funny how this one never gets played on the radio in December, sandwiched between "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Santa Baby."

In that 1982 interview Billy did with a British DJ that I keep quoting, the DJ gives Billy a pretty hard time over the song, stating, "After Side One, this one ... didn't fit ... somehow." But Billy is non-plussed and seems to have a pretty good understanding of what makes it effective:
I think, after "Goodnight Saigon, it's a bit of a "phew," you know, you gotta take a breath. And this song, "She's Right On Time" is actually about a reunion, kind of a love song but it's like a mature love song. And it's kind of "up," without being crazy "up" ... It's sort of a positive song but there's still an edge of anxiety in it.

Turn on all the Christmas lights
Cause baby's coming home tonight
I can hear her footsteps in the street
Turn the choral music higher
Pile more wood upon the fire
That should make the atmosphere complete

I've had to wait forever
But better late than never

She's just in time for me
She's right on time
She's right where she should be
She's right on time

I'm a man with so much tension
Far too many sins to mention
She don't have to take it anymore
But since she said she's coming home
I've torn out all my telephones
Soon she will be walking through that door

I may be going nowhere
But I don't mind if she's there

Left to my own device
I can always make believe
That there's nothing wrong

Still I will choose to live
In the complicated world
That we share for so long
Good or bad
Right or wrong

And it occurred to me
While I set up my Christmas tree
She never missed a cue
Or lost a beat
Every time I lost the meter
There she was when I would need her
Greeting me with footsteps in the street

I guess I should have known it
She'd find the perfect moment
Given that it wasn't a single, I was surprised to discover that not only is there a music video for "She's Right On Time," but it looks like it had a reasonably high budget. Let's just call this a date night that doesn't go exactly as planned. As entertaining as it is, I actually don't think the farcical nature of the video compliments the more contemplative mood of the song, but if judged on its own, it's pretty wacky, with Billy doing his best Inspector Clouseau impersonation, battling some pesky window blinds, an uncooperative Christmas tree, and a renegade cork.

Well, Billy must have felt a little silly having written a song about how great his wife was, right before they ultimately got divorced, but I guess he decided to throw the song onto the album anyway. If "A Room Of Our Own" is any indication, he wasn't terribly upset about the dissolution of his marriage. On an album that's overall rather claustrophobic and oppressive, "A Room Of Our Own" is sort of a jaunty, goofy breather, with Billy in jazzy imitation Ray Charles mode. Here the couple is splitting, but the man at least seems to feel pretty sanguine about the whole deal. In the spirit of Gershwin's "Let Call the Whole Thing Off," the song is a giant list of things that the woman likes vs. things that the man likes - with a cynical '80s twist?
You've got diamonds and
I've got spades
You've got pills
And I've got razor blades

You've got yoga honey
I've got beer
You got overpriced
And I got weird

But it's alright
We're the same even though we're alone
It's alright
Yes we all need a room of our own

You've got love, darlin'
I've got sex
You've got cash, mama
And I've got checks

You've got business, baby
I've got the kids
You got crowded just the way I did

But it's alright
Cause we all need a place to call home
It's alright
Yes we all need a room of our own

Well, he may have been laughing on "A Room Of Our Own," but there's nothing funny about "Surprises," the creeping, crawling, bitter kiss-off, smothered in icy synths and featuring arguably Billy's most Lennon-esque vocal of the album, out-Lennoning even "Laura" (!). "Surprises" is the sound of promises gone sour and optimism gone rotten. Not that I would know, but it seems to capture that sense of betrayal that a couple must feel when they realize that something they put so much effort into, and something they once assumed would last forever, has actually proven itself to be mortal. I love the subtle accusation buried within the phrase "It shouldn't surprise you at all." It's the kind of thing you only say to someone you know intimately, along the lines of, "Come on baby, don't play dumb with me" or "If you're so smart, then you should have seen this coming":
Don't get excited
Don't say a word
Nobody noticed
Nothing was heard
It was committed discreetly
It was handled so neatly
And it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know

Break all the records
Burn the cassettes
I'd be lying if I told you
That I had no regrets
There were so many mistakes
And what a difference it makes
But still it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know

Don't look now but you have changed
Your best friends wouldn't tell you

Now it's apparent
Now it's a fact
So marshal your forces
For another attack
You were so young and naive
I know it's hard to believe
But now it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know

What has it cost you
What have you won
The sins of the fathers
Are the sins of the sons
It was always within you
It will always continue
But it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know
I said it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know

It turns out, of course, that Billy wouldn't be sifting through the ashes of his first marriage for long. In a sudden twist of fate that most members of the human race probably considered a surprise - Billy included - a certain supermodel fiancee was about to inspire a very ... different batch of love songs.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Irony Of Talk Show: While Attempting To Sound Like Huge Rock Stars, Go-Go's Make Their Least Successful Album

Talk Show, Talk Show. What are we to do with you?

In some ways, one could say that Talk Show is better than Vacation, in that it has a more unified feel, isn't just a regurgitation of the album that came before, and it shows the band's sound evolving. On the other hand, it's also the sound of the Go-Go's becoming more conventional, more streamlined, and dare I say it, a little more ... boring? Just look at some of these song titles: "Forget That Day," "Turn To You," "Capture The Light," "You Thought," "Yes Or No." Did they just start picking random titles out of a hat? Where's my "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite"? Where's my "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict"? Granted, song titles aren't everything, but in retrospect, this particular batch is indicative of one element that is noticeably missing from Talk Show: an overt sense of humor. I think by this time, the members were feeling so hostile toward each other, and yet were experiencing so much external pressure to pretend that they were still super best buddies, that they started taking things a bit too seriously. On the plus side, all this tension meant that, like almost all of the Go-Go's' output, at least none of the songs on Talk Show came out particularly happy or optimistic. Even so, Talk Show is the one Go-Go's album that sounds most like it was recorded in the '80s. It's their Heartbeat City, with Martin Rushent doing his best Robert "Mutt" Lange impersonation.

The thing is, if you squint your eyes, Talk Show feels like a great Go-Go's album. Or rather, if you asked me to name the "bad" songs on the album I'm not sure I could; I certainly wouldn't call any of them terrible, and if anyone suggests that any of them are, I will personally spit in their french fries. But, as with Vacation, I tend to listen to certain songs rather than listen to the album proper. Part of the reason is that, oddly, for years Talk Show wasn't available on CD, and I think the copy I downloaded was actually ripped from vinyl, so it sounds kind of crummy. I suppose I could try to download another version, but that would take, you know, effort. Still, I'm not sure a higher quality version would change my mind. In his AMG review, Stephen Thomas Erlewine does a nice job of summarizing the album's strengths and weaknesses:
For their third album, the Go-Go's abandoned all pretense of being punk, or even new wave, and went for an unabashed mainstream pop masterpiece. They nearly achieved their goal with Talk Show, an album filled with great pop songs but undermined by its own ambition. Talk Show has a sharper sound than its predecessors, with bigger guitars and drums, which helps drive home the accomplished pop hooks of "Turn to You," "I'm the Only One," and "Yes or No." However, the record is cluttered with half-realized songs and an overly detailed production which occasionally prevents the songs from reaching their full potential. But when the production and song are teamed well, the results are incredible, such as the surging "Head Over Heels," another classic single. Unfortunately, those moments don't arrive frequently enough to make Talk Show the new wave classic that it wants to be.
Although he sounds disappointed, I did notice that when AMG published their "All Music Guide Loves 1984" blog article a few years back, Erlewine listed Talk Show as one of his favorite albums from that year, which suggests that his three-star rating may no longer accurately reflect his true affection for the work. A-ha! Here's another writer who thinks the album might be underrated: Belinda Carlisle. From Lips Unsealed: "In many ways, it's remarkable we were able to make an album given the nonstop drama. Even more remarkable, I think it's the best Go-Go's album. There's no doubt that when we were in sync, the five of us had a special chemistry and spirit."

I don't know about "best" Go-Go's album, but I'm glad she likes it. In particular, she singles out "Head Over Heels" and "Beneath the Blue Sky," the latter which she calls "a beautiful song whose vocals were, unfortunately, too complicated for us to ever do live." Hey, that never stopped Queen.
Hey over there what's going on
Where I am they say you're wrong
When my sun is setting
Yours is breaking dawn
Say over there I want to talk
I wonder if we think the same thoughts
What do they teach you
How much have you bought

These days I feel too wise
I think we're sharing the same lies

Beneath the blue sky we're all alone together
The calm hides stormy weather
And if we stand apart we'll kiss goodbye
Beneath the blue sky

Almost sounds like an epitath for the band, does it not? "The calm hides the stormy weather," AKA "It may look like everyone's having a great time, but actually, at the moment, we hate each other's guts." Or as Smokey Robinson once put it, "People say I'm the life of the party/'Cause I tell a joke or two/Although I might be laughing loud and hearty/Deep inside I'm blue." By the time I.R.S. released the last single from the album, "Yes Or No," I think the band had all but announced its break-up, and the label barely bothered to promote the song (it peaked at a whopping #84). As a result, the video is just a cheap montage of concert footage and home movies somebody took of the Go-Go's dicking around by a pool, obviously with all the coke-snorting scenes edited out.

Amusingly, the band quietly hoped that the album's stratospheric commercial success would alleviate their interpersonal conflicts and wash away all the tension like a magical '80s potion. They were in for a rude awakening when Talk Show peaked at #18 and failed to even go gold. What the hell happened? I mean, yeah OK, it wasn't Thriller, but it was at least good enough to sustain some of the momentum, right? Maybe the public had simply become bored with the Go-Go's in their endless quest for the Next Big Thing. "The Go-Go's? Oh my God, they're so ... 1982!" This was 1984, and female pop singers were becoming weirder, wilder, sexier, more controversial, more provocative. That old water-ski schtick just wasn't going to cut it anymore. Even to this day, Belinda still wonders why the album didn't do better, but, in her own special way, manages to blame herself:
A Los Angeles Times review a few days after the album's release called it "awkward," noted the absence of catchy pop hooks, and said "the songs demand more work from the listener, and the elaborate melodies certainly demand more of singer Belinda Carlisle." Unfortunately, I agreed. Deep down I knew that I had bitten off more than I could chew on that album. Unlike the other girls, I hadn't worked on my craft as hard as I should have ... I would develop into a decent singer later, but at the time I didn't improve as much as I would expect myself to if I was able to go back and do it over again.
"Decent"? "Decent"?! The sweetest voice my ears have ever heard, and she calls herself "decent"? Oh, the modesty. She does sound a little lost on "I'm With You," but other than that, she should give herself a freakin' break. Although she does a nice job on the anguished closing track, "Mercenary," I actually prefer some of the stripped-down live versions the band performed during their first reunion tour in 1990 (one of which is included on Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's), which do slightly make Belinda's case for her claims of vocal development. Or maybe Gina's eccentric martial drumming wasn't quite the touch the surprisingly bitter song needed:
He's crying inside
Can't tear the hurt out
Life's rushing by
Like and old movie backdrop
The radio's blasting
Song after song
About the big romance
That went all wrong

She says, I just wanted to make you
I never meant to break you
He says, have some mercy on me
Do you have to be
Such a mercenary

She's scheming inside
Can't stop the wheels turning
Been through it before
There's no profit or learning
She's not really bad
Just a gold-plated heart
So scared to be alone
It rips her apart

Bottom line: as imploding break-up albums go, Talk Show is pretty respectable.