Sunday, December 31, 2017

Zrbo's Favorite Songs of 2017

Another year has come and gone - a fairly uneventful one at that. No real major controversies, no major existential crises as a nation comes to grips with its tarnished reputation, no disturbing resurgence of neo-Nazism, nothing really.

But guess what did happen? I actually listened to some music this year... some NEW music. Whereas last year I had essentially given up on modern music, I made a (somewhat) concerted effort this year. And it sorta paid off. Let's get to to it!

Most Disappointing Album:

Taylor Swift - Reputation

If you recall, I had to surrender my goth cred license when I called Taylor Swift's 1989 "a great pop album". Well, give me that license back because I listened to Reputation and I basically just hated it. Gone are the swirling 80s inspired synths and the hummable melodies, instead replaced with... generic club music. No really, I think Taylor's been hanging out with too many DJs in too many velvet rope lined night clubs. This album just sounds like it's designed for those LA/NYC night clubs filled with obnoxiously douchey guys trying to pick up on girls wearing too much makeup and skirts too short, with overpriced bottle service, and $11 Bud Lights (don't forget to tip that weird guy in the bathroom who... hands you a paper towel to dry your hands). I gave it one full listen and never went back. Bring back those synth filled melodies Taylor!

Most Improved Album:

Chrvches - Every Eye Open

Back in 2013 I named Chvrches "Gun" as my favorite song of the year. Then their follow up album Every Eye Open came out in 2015 and while I found it alright, it didn't draw me in as much as I hoped it would. Well color me wrong, I gave the album another listen this year and found that, no, I really do like this album. In fact, going against critical consensus, I actually think I like Every Eye Open just a tad better than their debut album The Bones of What You Believe. Yes, the singles off that debut were stronger, but as a whole I just really dig Every Eye Open. It's got a good flow and I like the male vocalist led track "High Enough to Carry You Over" better than TBOWYB's "You Caught the Light". Not only that, but when I purchased EEO I got the special edition with a few additional tracks. What I love about these tracks are that they continue with the flow of the basic album and they're quite good, with the final song "Bow Down" being one of my favorites off the entire thing.

#5 - Solar Fake - "All the Things You Say"

This song was recommended to me by an algorithm and it looks like the algorithm knows my tastes. Ok, it's really just a club friendly goth song with a hint of euro-dance sprinkled in. The oddly named Solar Fake hail from Germany and as far as I can tell it's just one guy (who also has a VNV Nation cover floating around, too bad it's one of my least favorite VNV songs). "All the Things You Say" isn't that remarkable and I don't really expect anyone else to enjoy it, but it sits comfortably in that dancey EBM space that I love so much.

#4 - Moana Soundtrack - "I Am Moana (Song of the Ancients)"

I have a toddler daughter who's favorite movie is currently Disney's Moana, which means that at the Zrbo household the soundtrack gets played constantly (at least three times a day). Maybe it's just Stockholm Syndrome, but after about a thousand listenings I've grown fond of the soundtrack. While "How Far I'll Go" is the big number, I prefer "I Am Moana". It's not only the big final number, but I like how it serves as a reprise of "How Far I'll Go". Yes, it's got the big loud cathartic ending where the music swells and our hero Moana finds her determination to overcome the challenges against her, but it also has a nicely subdued beginning as we hear Moana's grandma encourage her not to give up. In fact, the part with Moana's grandma might just be my favorite part. It's a good movie and has a soundtrack full of good songs. Oh and it beats that other Disney movie with those two nordic princesses by a mile (a fathom perhaps?).

#3 - When in Rome - "The Promise"

My retro pick of the year, this is one of those songs I've known for awhle but somehow it got lodged deep in my brain this year. It's really just a catchy British new wave single, but once that drum machine kicks in after the initial piano I'm hooked.

Now that being said, you may be curious why you've never heard another song by When in Rome. Well my friend, I recommend reading the AMG Guide review of this album, it's quite the fun read. Some highlights are "a dud of an album", "embarassingly weak", and "the rest of the album is utterly forgettable". Ouch!

I also want to address the video because, well, it's not at all what I expected. Queuing it up I assumed I would see some wimpy looking British guys with big hair in outrageously dated 80s attire, like what you might find in the video for Real Life's "Send Me an Angel" or A Flock of Seagull's "I Ran". Instead there's a beefy looking almost 90s looking Eddie Vedder type and some other guy in a baseball cap who might be described as a "lad" (there's also a third guy but he barely features). And then the video itself is surprisingly cinematic. It looks like it might be from one of those 80s soundtrack videos where it cuts between the performer and the movie (think "St. Elmo's Fire"). But no, it's just this strangely cinematic video that cuts between the bandmates composing the song and a sophisticated looking woman who they're writing their promise to (Perhaps this is a Cyrano de Bergerac situation and the other two guys are composing the song for the Eddie Vedder type?) For a song from 1988 it looks like a video from 1995. It's just... strange.

#2 - Bruno Mars - "24k Magic"

Look, something that was actually popular in the year two thousand seventeen! I'm not really a Bruno Mars guy, but in what can only be the highest accolade that Mr. Mars would want to hear, the first time I heard this song on the radio I thought it was some long lost Michael Jackson track. "Maybe this was off of one of his later albums, like Blood on the Dancefloor?", I thought. Of course, once I heard some lyric about "hashtag" I knew I was wrong, but this is precisely the kind of song I could imagine the late Michael doing if he were still around as a sort of comeback song where he lends his vocals to a younger, more popular act. This song just has this fun build and release where it seems to draw inspiration from a variety of acts. The falsetto is straight from the aformentioned Jackson, parts sound similar to Grandmaster Flash's "The Message", and the build up right before the chorus reminds me of a song I can't quite put my finger on. Anyways, I like it.

#1 - Adele - "Fastlove"

What a complete reinvention of a song. I've always enjoyed George Michael's "Fastlove" but in an easy-listening throwaway-pop kind of way. Yeah yeah George, you're a lothario out on the prowl to find women to have sex with in the back of your BMW, I get it. But it's all kind of breezy and fun, right? Well, let Adele show you how it's done. She transforms the song so completely that it practically becomes a funeral dirge. Especially when she gets to that final verse ("In the absence of security...") it nearly becomes suicide inducing. I've listened to the original a hundred times, but she draws out this pathos that was always hiding just beneath the surface that I had never noticed before. Also, props to whoever put together that backing video behind her, because it just lines up perfectly (skip to 1:50 to see the performance).

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Stealth Attack Of Rick Nowels

The history of popular music is littered with figures who have contributed, in ever-so-clandestine fashion, to the soundtrack of our lives, and yet have done so without ever becoming household names in their own right. You've got your George Martins, your Al Koopers, your Brian Enos, your Norman Whitfields, your Rod Tempertons, your Trevor Horns - to name a mere half-dozen or so. But few of these figures have merited less blog posts than Rick Nowels.

Yes, Rick Nowels. Most people, if pressed, couldn't even name one single song that Rick Nowels has composed. But if those same people simply started naming a string of song titles at random, they might eventually name a Rick Nowels song by accident. Let me show you what I mean.

You know that song by the New Radicals (AKA Gregg Alexander), "You Get What You Give"? The one where that guy who would end up having only one hit in his entire career threatened Beck, Marilyn Manson, and Courtney Love by saying he'd "kick their ass in"?

Co-written by Rick Nowels.

You know that song by Jewel you hear in the motel lobby, "Standing Still"? The one that kind of rips off the bridge melody of Springsteen's "My Hometown," but where at least she doesn't sing about how small her hands are?

Co-written by Rick Nowels.

You know that song by Dido, "White Flag"? The one with a romantic/military metaphor more awkward than ABBA's "Waterloo" and a chorus hook so insinuatingly catchy that it should probably be banned by the Geneva Convention so that it's never employed as a torture device on prisoners of war?

Co-written by Rick Nowels.

Even Madonna once got into the Rick Nowels action, or three times, rather: she co-wrote a trio songs with this international man of mystery on Ray of Light, including a hit I don't quite remember hearing much at the time, "The Power of Good-bye."

How does he do it? Maybe he's just a really fun dude to hang out with late at night. For whatever reason, when mainstream pop stars need to fill out their next album with an extra song or two, and they're stuck in the mud, they call Rick Nowels. He's like the Mr. Wolf of Adult Contemporary pop. Here is a list of artists who, since the turn of the millennium, have called on the secret services of Mr. Nowels: Keith Urban, Cee Lo, Nelly Furtado, John Legend, Geri Halliwell AND Mel C ... hell, even Yusuf Islam, the Muslim reincarnation of Cat Stevens, teamed up with Nowels when he recorded his secular comeback album An Other Cup in 2005. Recently he's developed a fruitful partnership with Lana Del Ray, which I'm certain I would make a witheringly snarky comment about ... if I had actually heard any of Lana Del Ray's music.

Anyway. Brilliant artists, all. But there's only one singer to whom Rick Nowels truly belongs, and will belong forevermore. From Lips Unsealed:
Miles, who wished that Belinda, despite its impressive sales, had been edgier and more in the style of IRS acts, forgot to pick up the option on my contract with IRS and I found myself a free agent. My management and I decided to shop around for a new deal. Miles was furious. But we thought, Why not test the market?
Uh, Miles, I hate to break it to you, but "edgier and more in the style of IRS acts" was definitely not the direction Belinda was itching to head in here. I wonder how "furious" he was about losing Belinda once he heard the ... um ... not-entirely-edgy product that eventually came out on her new label.
It turned out to be a shrewd move. After a bidding war between several major labels, I signed with MCA in the U.S., kept my foreign rights till after the next record was finished, and eventually made seven figures on both sides of the Atlantic.

Michael Lloyd expected to work with me again, but [MCA president] Irving [Azoff] had another producer in mind. I was given the difficult, if not heartbreaking, task of telling Michael, who was understandably upset. I felt awful, but it was one of those things. The silver lining was my new executive producer Rick Nowels, who had scored major triumphs working with Stevie Nicks, another MCA artist. In fact, Stevie had suggested he try to work with me. In a way, we may have been destined to partner. It sure felt like it when we met. We had instant chemistry.
Somehow you knew Stevie Nicks was going to have a hand in the Belinda zaniness at some point, didn't you?
Rick was tall and blonde, a Californian from head to toe, very passionate and a little eccentric. He wrote songs with Ellen Shipley, an amazing artist in her own right. They created songs specifically for my voice. For me, it was a brand-new and exciting way of working. I had never been anyone's muse.

When Rick and I talked about the album and how we envisioned it - what we wanted it to feel like and how we wanted the listener to feel - I had the sense he was reaching into my soul, removing tiny pieces, and magically turning them into songs ... At the same time, I had never worked as hard. Rick made me sing parts forty or fifty times. I could never figure out what specifically he was listening for. Thank God he eventually heard it, though, or I might still be there.
Hah! But you know what? That's the way it should be. Great singers shouldn't even understand what it is about their singing that is great. They should lack any and all self-consciousness. All Belinda needed to do was step up to the microphone, bring it, and let the Stealth Attack do the rest. At any rate. While Nowels' hits with Belinda would certainly not be his last, I would venture to say that they would arguably be his best. Although I'm a little curious about that Geri Halliwell/Mel C material. Oh come on, don't tell me you're not.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Two Valeries Are Better Than One

You want to know how hot Steve Winwood was in 1987? Let me tell you how hot. Steve Winwood was so hot, he could release a remix of a single he'd already released in 1982, which had already flopped, and watch the remixed version turn into a huge hit. But, the things is, "Valerie" kind of deserved it.

Because, let's face it, "Valerie" got stiffed the first time around. This one had it all: chugging synth bass line, bouncy octave-jumping synth riff, smooth Winwood vocal, enigmatic lyrics that were radio-friendly without being embarrassing, suspenseful bridge followed by soaring chorus, solo played by the guy who made the music for Pole Position, and even a nifty, swiftly dramatic ending. I mean, what else did the people want? Still, you never know which way the fickle winds of '80s Yuppie Rock are going to blow.

Speaking of wind. The video for "Valerie '82" opens with Winwood battling a terrifying silver Chromakey effect, his sport coat falling prey to the electronic pellets. He swiftly wins the battle and finds himself restored to his usual appearance, but in the aftermath, apparently everything on Earth has been wiped out other than a giant fan, although judging by the look on his face, he's not worried in the least. Well, he can't be that warm, with the wind in his arms, is what I'm thinking. When he plays the keyboard, his fingers become enveloped in swirling, silver waves of ... energy? Metallic plasma flow? At 3:37 he tempts the laws of physics by duetting with his superimposed self, the hand of one Winwood punching the other Winwood directly in the face, which would probably hurt if he wasn't, you know, such a wimp. Let's just say that the atmospheric conditions of the video have given already-sardonic YouTube commentators a second "wind":
They should call him Steve Windwood. No?

Valerie probably went inside, it's too windy.

There is no wind. His hair always does that on its own. Isn't it glorious?

I have a FEVER, and the only prescription is MORE WIND MACHINE!

We bought that wind machine and dammit, we're going to get our money's worth.

This music video literally blows

The wind machine blew him back to his home planet

Oh, how that YouTube humor just blows me away. But I digress. This original version of "Valerie" appeared on Talking Back to the Night, his follow-up to Arc of a Diver, and while it made it to #13 on the US Mainstream Rock chart, it petered out at #70 on the US Hot 100 and #51 in the UK. Oh, the shame! Like jazz on a summer's day, it floated away on the breeze of listener indifference. The Yuppie Rock Gods sensed a great injustice, one that required remedy, but one that could only be rectified when the time was right.

Well, some day, some good wind blew "Valerie" back to us. And that day ... was 1987.

In 1987, Winwood released a not-quite-greatest-hits album called Chronicles, and included a few remixed versions of older songs, supposedly to entice those fans who must have been looking for the tiniest excuse to plunk down some change for any old Winwood product they didn't already have. Upon revisiting "Valerie," the first thing he apparently thought was "The drums ... they just don't ... rumble enough. They need to be more ... rumbly." And lo, the drums did rumble. "And an imitation snare effect! There's no imitation snare effect!" Consider it done, Steve. Now this sucker had some pizzazz to it. He also added in some extra guitar licks around 1:30 for that "hickory smoked" flavor. "Valerie" was like the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion of '80s Yuppie Rock songs: it had the brains, heart, and courage to be a hit single the whole time, but it just hadn't believed in itself. The remix peaked at #9 in the US, and #19 in the UK.

Looks like ol' Steve-o had a bit more money for the video this time around, although he personally seems to have spent the same exact amount of time making it. The director opted for some sort of "pastel and pencil sketch" look, which has probably aged better than the silver magnetic wave effect, although it kind of feels like it belongs in a lost Sesame Street segment. Then he interspersed it with blurry "strobe effect" shots of Steve and his band in some blue-tinted nether-region. A different actress "plays" Valerie this time around, which leads me to wonder: did the two actresses ever meet each other? Did they ever talk about the beautiful bond that they'll always share, no matter where life takes them?

A few years ago, I was trying to download a higher quality version of "Valerie" so that I could include it on a mix I was making (called, of course, Summer of '88), and when I listened to the version I'd downloaded, boy, you have never seen a more confused Yuppie Rock fan in your life. "This isn't 'Valerie'!" I thought in indignation. "This is like some ... demo version or something!" Little did I know, but I had downloaded the original version. Having only ever heard the remix, at first I thought the original was sorely lacking, but in time, it has grown on me. Today I will stand before you and say that I enjoy both versions almost equally. But according to the heated debate on YouTube, I might be the only one:
I love this original version much better. It's a bit more raw, synth and keyboard wise.

After being used to the 1987 remix, hearing this original version from 1982 feels like a breath of fresh air. :)

I actually like this version better than the '87 version. Musically, It sounds more raw and not polished, the vocals aren't drowned by the synths and I love how this version has the saxophone-like synth sounds from "While You See A Chance"

I greatly prefer the original. In comparison, this is just so heavy handed and over produced.

It's as if Winwood was listening to the original track and thought "Shit, can I make this more 80's than 80's?"

this way better then the original

I lke this version more than the 1982 one, but both are freaking good songs.

remix version for the win am i rite?

personally I prefer this over the original, but nonetheless both are badass classics

This is the mix for this song I prefer. The 1982 cut lacked bite in the drums.

That rare thing where the remix version is better than the original.

Love this version. Its like putting Franks Red Hot sauce on the original.

remix? many of us considered this to be the main song

Let me just say that this 1987 remix is MUCH better than the original 1982 version. Well done Steve for having the sense to re-release it

This version is actually better than his original 1982 release. A no brainer, right????

The 1982 version? Meh. The 1987 remix? One of the best songs of the 80s!

The first time I heard this version I had just smoked a joint. I didn't know it was a remix, and to this day I still remember thinking, "That must be some really good weed because I am hearing all kinds of things I never noticed before."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Rock Steady": Your Middle-Aged Black Uncle's Favorite R&B Jam

Whoa, these guys are old. I didn't even realize how old they were until I watched the video. I always assumed they were, like, in their 20's or something.

If "The Whispers" sounds more like the name of an early '60s doo-wop group than an '80s R&B group, that's because it basically was. Well, they don't quite go back that far, but they'd been fixtures on the soul charts since 1969, although they didn't have a big pop hit until "And the Beat Goes On" in 1980. I remember hearing "And the Beat Goes On," or perhaps more accurately, hearing Will Smith sample "And the Beat Goes On" on his turn-of-the-Willenium classic "Miami" ("Party in the city 'til the heat is on/All night on the beach 'til the break of dawn") and thinking, "Hey, that little two chord synth riff sounds like the one from 'Rock Steady'!" Then one day I learned that both songs had been performed by the same group. So, "Rock Steady" was actually the song that recycled the riff, not the other way around. Well, it worked: they re-used the lick from the biggest hit they'd ever had up to that point, and they scored an even bigger hit with it ("And the Beat Goes On" hit #19, while "Rock Steady" hit #7).

The reason why "Rock Steady" truly does sound like the work of a younger artist is because, in essence, it was. In fact, one of the co-writers and co-producers looked so young, Bootsy Collins ended up giving him the nickname "Babyface." Yes, before Pebbles, Karyn White, and Bobby Brown (let alone Paula Abdul, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Boyz II Men, and TLC), one Kenneth Brian "Babyface" Edmonds and frequent collaborator L.A. Reid gave some old farts a credible makeover and helped introduce New Jack Swing to suburban parents everywhere.

Listen to that finger-popping bass! (I assume it's a bass?) Note the way lead singer Scotty Scott attempts to create some kind of jazz scatting/rapping hybrid on the bridge: "I begin to touch/but yew wouldn't-let-it!/It nevah-seemed-ta-be the raaaht taahme/I started to give up/down to-thah-limit!/And then you changed your myyyynd." I also like the fluttery and yet robotic "ooh-ROCK" vocal interjections peppered throughout the track whenever necessary.

The sight of mustachioed, not-so-youthful black men getting down on stage has inspired the expected comparisons in the YouTube comments section:
Neil Degrasse Tyson is amazing!

I didn't know Richard Pryor was in the Whispers

Fun fact: Steve Harvey discovered cloning technology in the 80's and used it to start a music group called "The Whispers". The machine was soon destroyed by the might of his band's music. Some say the use of the cloning machine was a waste of potential, but most others believe it was the best thing ever. You decide.
The reason why two of the singers look like clones of each other ... is because they were twins. Who needs Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen when you've got the two mustachioed guys in the Whispers, amirite? Other highlights:
These guys were old by 1987 standards. Awesome.

this ain't a boy band, this is a MAN BAND

currently playing at your nearest black uncle's car...

this the type of song you see a old person dancing to at a bbq with that red beer cup in his hand

Every time I walk into a club and I hear this song, I just know it's gona be a GREAT NIGHT !!!

Damn that song makes me dance even on the toilet

This song randomly popped into my head last night at work lol. Then I go to the break room to use the bathroom this video is on the TV. Weird, but it gets weirder. As I'm driving home the first song I hear on the radio is this fucking song lmao.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Summer of '88

Endless volumes of prose have been expended over the Summer of 1967 (the so-called "Summer of Love"), and Bryan Adams sang eloquently about the "Summer of '69," but these days, I've got another, less heralded, summer on my mind. From a socio-historical standpoint, I wouldn't say that any events of great magnitude occurred during this particular summer, other than what must have been, in retrospect, a laughably tame U.S. presidential election, and the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, which I consumed with a ferocity I would never match during any subsequent Olympic period. The Dodgers were on their way to winning the World Series, which, it pleases me to say, is still, as of November 2017, the last time they won the World Series.

No, the Summer of '88 was memorable for me because I was eight years old, I was between 2nd and 3rd grade, I sat around and relished the fact that I did not have to go to school for three months and, most critically for our purposes, I listened to the radio every waking moment of my life.

Of course, I had been listening to '80s Top 40 radio throughout my youth, and I remember hearing specific songs and learning specific artist names long before the Summer of 1988. But that summer was, I suppose, the first time I really began to step back and soak in the full pop music landscape of a particular era. It was the first time I began evaluating the merits of each work, ranking my preferences, picking favorites and not-so-favorites. I remember telling my father one week, with admirable decisiveness, that my absolute favorite song at that time was Huey Lewis and the News' "Perfect World." I loved "Perfect World." For about three weeks, I thought it was the greatest song I'd ever heard. Certain Huey Lewis hits became perennials on radio playlists for decades, but "Perfect World" really came and went. I haven't heard it on the radio since. It was like the world wasn't perfect enough for that song. I finally heard it again about eight years ago, and I thought to myself, "What the hell was so great about this?"

Here's the thing. Top 40 radio, at that time, didn't just play the same forty songs over and over again. On the contrary. They played the same twenty songs over and over again. The hits were the hits, and that was it. I don't even remember them playing too many songs from the previous couple of years, but they did play a few. In a way, late '80s top 40 radio had achieved a kind of accidental nirvana: it always existed in a perpetual present.

One odd, and little commented-upon, aspect of a cluster of hit singles from that summer was what I would like to dub "The Egyptian Thing." Perhaps the influence of "Walk Like An Egyptian" was partially to blame, but according to my eight-year-old brain, it seemed like several artists were trying explore some sort of vaguely "middle eastern" sound on certain singles. I would listen to these hits and imagine pyramids and camels and snake charmers and all sorts of cool stuff. There were about four or five of these songs, and they all seemed to come out at the exact same time. I don't know what was in the air. A particularly exotic batch of hashish? Perhaps you'll agree with me, or perhaps you'll think I've been smoking something a little middle eastern myself.

What else do I remember? I remember taking swimming lessons in the pool of my home town's high school (a school which I would eventually attend six years later). Without revealing this town's name, let me just say that it is located in one of the few regions of North America where the typical summer climate is not very warm, and in fact tends to be noticeably colder than, say, the climate in April or October. In other words, my hometown fell prey to what is generally described as "fog." As a result of this summertime fog, when one went swimming, it was not, as one might hope, on a scorching hot day, but on a cloudy, windy day with an average temperature of about 56 degrees. To further exacerbate matters, I was an extremely skinny child (curiously enough, I'm still an extremely skinny adult), and I became cold with tremendous ease. What I'm trying to say is that during these supposedly enjoyable swimming lessons, I was always freezing my ass off. I shivered in the water, and out of it. The actual act of swimming seemed to temporarily warm me, but not for long. The worst part was the end of the lesson, where I had to walk back to the family car, a Chevy Chevette, driven by my mother, who was completely oblivious to my difficulties and was convinced that I absolutely loved the swimming lessons. The car was something of a piece of junk, even though it somehow managed to run for another six years. It had a heating system, but this was not the most effective apparatus. I remember there was one little vent that shot up from the floor, and I would hold my feet over that one lousy vent, hoping that the warmth would spread. It took a little time to warm up too, so for the first minute or so it would just blast cold air at my already cold feet. Sometimes my mother would go shopping while I was still in my swim suit (I guess I wasn't supposed change into dry clothes until I got home?), and I remember her leaving the car on in the parking lot so that I could benefit from the heat. As I shivered, I listened to the radio. Almost every song from the Summer of '88 reminds me of shivering in the car after a swimming lesson, huddling up to the heating vent, and waiting to get the hell home.

I also remember spending a lot of time at the library. There was this fairly young librarian there who was very sweet, but she always wore this perfume that kind of smelled like poo to me. I have no idea why she covered herself with what literally smelled like crap. I had mixed emotions every time I saw her: she was friendly and helpful, but she smelled so ... weird. At any rate, I can't remember if the Summer of '88 was when I went on my Roald Dahl binge, or if that was the Summer of '89, but during one of those two summers, I read every Roald Dahl book I could get my hands on. I know I'd read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory during the actual 2nd grade school year because I recall reading it on a school bus (but perhaps I'm wrong). After The TwitsGeorge's Marvelous Medicine, and Matilda, I got around to Danny the Champion of the World. That was one of the first experiences I've ever had of not being able to put a book down. I think I read it in two days. And for an eight-year-old, that was a pretty long book! I barely even remember what the plot was. Maybe it's time to re-read it? Hey, I could probably read it in two days. But I often remember sitting in the parking lot of the library, possibly after my swimming lessons, and possibly not, listening to good ol' Top 40 radio.

Let's see ... what else? My movie-going experience that summer consisted of towering works of cinema such as Big, Die Hard, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Short Circuit 2. I think my brother saw Coming To America and A Fish Called Wanda and told me how funny they were, but they seemed like "adult" movies to me. I wasn't interested.

Mainly, the Summer of '88 was the tail end of a fairly happy period in my youth. For whatever reason, in 3rd grade and 4th grade, I became more anti-social and depressed. I stopped making friends, I acted out. I said embarrassing things just to get attention, but, as one of my teachers pointed out to me, I was generating the wrong kind of attention. A phase of picking on other kids in 3rd grade gave way to a phase where I was picked on by other kids in 4th grade. Only around the start of 5th grade in the fall of 1990 did my life begin to improve again, for reasons almost equally as mysterious. In the spring of 1991, the twin whammies of discovering '60s pop music and joining the Boy Scouts made the grimness of 3rd and 4th grade seem a distant memory. But the point is, the spirit of each of these personal mini-epochs implanted themselves on the pop music of the moment in my recollections. For instance, I associate an entirely different vibe with songs from the Fall of '88. Whole different scene.

Anyway. I feel like the Summer of '88 was the last time that pop music was really ... innocent. Kind of inane and mindless, but not without a certain PG charm. Right around 1989, I feel like things got a bit raunchier - or maybe I just became more aware of the raunchiness. What I'm trying to say is that the Summer of '88 seems to me almost like the true, "proper" end of the '80s.

With this next series, I would now like to take you back. Back to a place where R&B singers barely sang about actual sex. A place where Tommy James managed to make millions of dollars, without having to lift a finger. A place where Patrick Swayze could release a hit single, and not sound like a joke. A place where washed up '70s legends could go toe to toe with one hit wonders, and come out about even. A place where black lesbian folk singers could be followed on the dial by wholesome Catholic 17-year-old teen idols, and no one would even bat an eye. And of course, all your old favorites will be along for the ride: George, Belinda ... even Stock Aiken Waterman.

One clarification: Because the radio would, as I mentioned, play a few songs that had come out a year or so earlier, I do associate certain hits with the Summer of '88 even though they were actually released in, say, 1986 or 1987. In fact, one might as well consider my earlier posts on "When I Think Of You," "Walk Like An Egyptian," and "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" to be part of this series. In other words, I don't want to hear anyone saying to me, "But Little Earl, don't you know that song actually came out in May 1987, not the Summer of '88?" Yes, I do know that song came out in May 1987, but I'm including it in my Summer of '88 series anyway, because I feel like it, OK? You see, the Summer of '88 isn't merely a finite period of time on the calendar.

The Summer of '88 ... is a state of mind.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

While You're Begging, Why Stop At One? AKA The Mighty High Of Hippopotamus Urine Comes At A Cost

Why not ... two more nights? Hell, why not three? I mean, give him one more night ... to do what, exactly? Fix the garbage disposal? What the hell is he going to be able to do in one more God damn night, you know? Nevertheless, he sounds so soft and cuddly while he's asking, you'd have to be one cold-hearted Cruella to refuse it to him.

Then again, does the singer of this song sound like the kind of guy who would really be satisfied with "one more night"? What if, at the end of this "one more night," she still says, "Nope, Phil, I gave you that additional evening you so passionately negotiated for, and, guess what, I still feel like dumping your sorry ass"? Is he really just going to nod his head and say, "OK, fair enough, those were the terms of the deal"? Sometimes you need to set boundaries.

There isn't all that much to "One More Night." It's pure MOR minimalism. It's like soft rock's The Sun Also Rises, only less "Lost Generation" and more "Lost Drum Machine." Somehow, though, Phil added enough feathery keyboards and silky back-up vocals to give it that lush, dimly-lit honeymoon suite atmosphere those 1985 record buyers craved. Why is it that, compared to "Sussudio," this one still sounds pretty freakin' good to me? Is it the absence of horns? It's certainly not absent of "horn," but unlike the piercing brass of its predecessor, the saxophone solo during the fade-out of "One More Night" is so smooth, it feels like my ears are slipping on a banana peel. However, after reading on Wikipedia that the sax player, Earth, Wind & Fire's Don Myrick, was fatally shot by L.A. police during a narcotics investigation because they mistook his lighter for a weapon, suddenly that solo hasn't quite sounded the same.

I love the line, "And I was wondering should I call you, then I thought, may-beeee you're nahhht uh-lone." The way his voice climbs into falsetto on those last four words, he just sounds so ... wussy? Just admit it Phil, she's probably moved on and found a real, you know, non-balding boyfriend. Time to grow a pair. Lift some weights, take a karate class, buy a Harley or something.

According to Wikipedia, "Collins was playing around with his drum machine when he started saying the chorus of the song. He later recalled that 'The rest of the song was written very quickly.'" Yeah, somehow I don't find that very hard to believe. This is the way Phil Collins #1 hits get written, ladies and germs.

Or is it? From In The Air Tonight:
I was jamming with my Nigerian buddy Orumbe in Lagos one night, chatting about our favorite Afrobeat records and arguing about the best kinds of animal tranquilizer to get high on. You know, the usual.

"Sometimes, Phillip, you don't even need a drug."

"What are you talking about?"

"Some animals, they make it on their own." He leaned in and began to whisper. "I know some tribal medicine men about 16 kilometers from here. You familiar with ... how do you say it ... the hippopotamus?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Well, do you know about ... fermented hippopotamus urine?"

So he busted out a jar and, man, he wasn't kidding. You took a whiff and it was like Hendrix and Janis were jamming together ... in your mind! I had to leave for Glasgow the next day, so I asked him if I could take a jar with me.

"Well, it is not the easiest thing to get your hands on, and I promised Tony Allen a jar, but ... for my pal Phillip? Sure!" He patted me on the back. "Just please pay me by next month."

"Next month? No problem."

The thing is, when I said I would pay him, I absolutely, positively intended to pay him. But, well ... you know ol' Phil. Between all the music videos, benefit concerts, and Japanese geisha parlors, it was hard to keep track. Fast forward six months later. I'm doing a show in Philly. I've just finished raping two chickens - really gets the blood going before showtime - and I'm in my hotel room drinking tea - for my vocal cords - when five giant Nigerian guys suddenly burst in and pin me to the wall.

"Collins! Thought you could blow us off, eh? You still owe Orumbe, you little drummer bitch!"

"All right, all right! I'll pay him, I'll pay him!" My voice escaped my strangulated throat in a pathetic wheeze.

"Right now, Collins, or your little Genesis dick will soon be feeling a taste of Revelation, you understand?"

"OK, OK, listen, I don't have it on me right now, all right? Just ... just gimme one more night."

"One more night?"

"One more night, and he'll have his fuckin' money." My eyeballs were slipping gently in and out of their sockets.

"Cause we can't wait forever."

"Well you're not gonna have to wait forever, 'cause I'll have it tomorrow."

"One more night, or we're playing Hungry Hungry Hippos on your limey ass. And this time, I'm not talking about fermented hippopotamus urine."

The moment they let me go, I fell to the floor and leaned over on all fours until my breath returned. "Fuck," I thought as the blood came back to my brain. Where was I going to get that kind of money on that kind of notice? So ... I pawned my wedding ring. Thing is, I hadn't actually divorced that particular wife yet, but I figured, knowing my track record, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

That Time Belinda And Grace Slick Hosted "Legendary Ladies Of Rock & Roll"

Having recently been united in cinematic glory, if only via soundtrack magic, perhaps Belinda Carlisle and Grace Slick felt it only natural to team up and ... host a cheesy oldies revival concert for Cinemax? And why not? It's only fitting. Why, the combined cost of the drug intake between these two could've arguably paid all the overdue royalties these guest artists were cheated out of over the years.

Imagine, if you will, a world without YouTube, where gems like these would lie undiscovered for eons, never to be treated to a barrage of snarky comments from '80s music bloggers. What a sad, sad world that would be. Sure, you might be laughing, but frankly, this line-up is nothing to snicker at: we've got ... Martha Reeves! Mary Wells! Lesley Gore! Brenda Lee! Freda Payne! Shirley Alston Reeves! And the recently resurrected Ronnie Spector!

Holy Jackie Kennedy. It's like I'm back in the high school gym in 1963 all over again, getting the shit beaten out of me for glancing too long at the quarterback's girlfriend. Seriously, who did they leave out? Shelly Fabares? Shirley Alston Reeves was the one name I didn't recognize, but when she started singing "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," I realized it was Shirley Owens, AKA the lead singer of the Shirelles. The Shirelles! In other words, Little Earl is basically an admirer of every one of these performers and has at least a greatest hits CD of theirs (or in the case of Brenda Lee, a four-disc boxed set) in his music collection.

Not to mention: special guest star ... Clarence Clemmons!

Of course, no one on stage besides the Big Man and the two hosts were in anything like the prime of their careers, but why be a party pooper? This apparently being February 1987, here we find Belinda in a curious not-quite-blonde, not-quite-brunette phase, as the Belinda period began to wind down and the Heaven On Earth period began to ramp up. She seems to be wearing a purple sweater with sparkles on it, over a black ... jumpsuit? Whatever, I'm into it. Despite being about fifteen years younger than everyone else, she somehow manages to avoid embarrassing herself. Hilariously, Grace Slick was actually older than every single one of the "legendary ladies" she was hosting here (look it up), but in the public imagination, few would probably lump Jefferson Airplane in with the Shirelles (unless you happened to be under the influence of some heavy psychedelics, in which case, perhaps you might).

I'm not sure if Lesley Gore's voice ended up aging too well, but to be fair, she was about 17 when she recorded the original versions of her hits, and she certainly seemed to be having a good time on this particular night ("Was she great? Was she fabulous? Martha Reeves, thank you baby."). Reeves does sound pretty great ... until she reaches for the high notes. Mary Wells doesn't sound too bad considering she was just a couple of years from being diagnosed with throat cancer. However, they may have all gotten smoked by Brenda Lee, who sounds like she's doing just another concert in the middle of an actual tour (which she probably was) and not an oldies show. Yeah, Brenda Lee's sorry all right. Sorry she can out-sing everyone else on this special (probably even Belinda and Grace). Clarence knows what I'm talkin' about.

I doubt many in the audience realized it, but Belinda was certainly no stranger to Freda Payne, and this time she wisely lets Freda take the spotlight on "Band of Gold" (which nevertheless still sounds more like Belinda's tacky, then-current re-make than the original) while Belinda dances awkwardly to Freda's right and sings some barely audible backing vocals. Works for me!

Ronnie Spector, fresh off "Take Me Home Tonight" and acting curiously horny, charmingly introduces Belinda and Grace as "my two Ronettes" before she trudges her way through "Be My Baby." At this point the entire ensemble hops onto the stage and launches into "Da Doo Ron Ron," with everyone presumably getting a line or two (as opposed to, say, doing a line or two). Grace belts out a somewhat inappropriately robust "Summm-bah-dee told me that his name was Bih-hih-hill," while Belinda lets her sweet vibrato fly on "Yeahhhh, my heart stood stillll/Yeahhhh, his name was Billll/And when he walked me hoh-oh-ome." Phew! Didn't fuck up. Whoever was next, however (I'm looking at you, Martha Reeves?), apparently fucked up, as no one sings the following lyric. But Brenda Lee doesn't even blink and papers over the mishap like a consummate pro. No one ruffles Little Miss Dynamite.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Not If I Get The Rhythm First

And you thought being addicted to love was bad. How would you like to be assaulted in the middle of the night by the rhythm?:
At night
When you turn off all the lights
There's no place that you can hide
No no
The rhythm is gonna get'cha

In bed
Throw the covers on your head
And pretend like you are dead
But I know it
The rhythm is gonna get'cha
Oh fuck me. Not even safe in my own bed? What if I hire a bodyguard? How about if I learn karate? I mean, there's got to be some way to keep the rhythm from getting me, right? Maybe the rhythm would be open to a little negotiation perhaps, a cash settlement, one half of my stamp collection? Can I at least "stall" the rhythm with a game of chess like in The Seventh Seal? Does it have to truly, genuinely "get" me?

With "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," Gloria Estefan & the Machine Sound Machine, as they were now being billed, managed to do what no one would have thought possible: they created a "Conga" sequel that was not obviously worse and was not a carbon copy. It still sizzled with that spicy Latin flavor, but it carried a touch more ... menace this time.

As the track commences, the first thing to "get" the listener isn't actually the rhythm, but a tribal warlord chanting "oh-ey oh-ey," echoed by his lusty minions, and one massive, solitary BOOM on a drum so large and so deep it sounds like the Mariana Trench farting. Other little percussive noises quickly pop up from all directions, congas and shakers and all sorts of crazy knick-knacks, while a third group of warriors from (I assume?) a neighboring tribe enter with their own ominous chant of "Yah-ey-oh." Just when all these disparate elements seem to be settling into a groove, there's a giant chord blast from Satan's keyboard, suddenly all the villagers scatter, and we get a brief interlude from what appears to be ... the aluminum cans in your recycling bin? After eight bars, the world's most piercing horn section enters - horns so sharp they could cut Julio Iglesias's balls in half.

Gloria finally calms the cannibals down with her perky entrance, but on the chorus, the Wild Things briefly return: she's doubled up on her third "rhythm is gonna get you" by what sounds like Sloth from The Goonies, then the warlords chime in with a panther-esque "Whoo!" followed by a potent "BLOMP!" from the keyboard of Hades. I tell you what's gonna "get'cha" all right: the Miami Sound Machine's endless arsenal of state-of-the-art studio gimmicks! During the outro, a fourth pack of natives shows up with a comparably less threatening, but seemingly more schoolyardish, chant of "na-na na-na-na na-na," and then everyone sort of gathers around the bonfire and sings their bit before one last comical horn riff grinds the heathen ceremony to a sweaty halt.

For the video, the Machine From Miami That Emits Sound seems to have picked up on the Amazonian rain forest vibe of the song, as Gloria is decked out in full ceremonial face paint a la Captain Willard at the end of Apocalypse Now. And her arms are covered in ... hay? When Gloria Estefan's arms are covered in hay, you know she means business. Meanwhile the rest of the band, including a suddenly more civilized and hay-less Gloria, perform onstage at Miami's most glamorous tiki lounge. At 1:15, she seems to spot her own Surfer Lance in the crowd? One final question: just how many keytarists can one band have? A-ha! Maybe that's the secret to keeping the rhythm from getting you! One must brandish the sacred keytar.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stevie Nicks Goes Aerobic Rock: Stand Back And Make Some Room On The Dance Floor

"Humble" is not the first adjective that comes to mind when one thinks of Stevie Nicks, but after the release of Bella Donna, it would have been difficult to accuse her of sounding conceited if she had said to herself, "Who the hell needs Fleetwood Mac?" Her solo debut, commercially at least, ended up turning Stevie Nicks into the next Madonna. Or maybe the first Madonna. Somehow the rest of the Mac cajoled her into tagging along for Mirage, and yet, as the poets of yore understood too well, the wild heart still yearns to break free - free to slide back into the same exact solo album formula, that is. From AMG's William Ruhlmann:
Stevie Nicks was following both her debut solo album, Bella Donna (1981), which had topped the charts, sold over a million copies (now over four million), and spawned four Top 40 hits, and Fleetwood Mac's Mirage (1982), which had topped the charts, sold over a million copies (now over two million), and spawned three Top 40 hits (including her "Gypsy"), when she released her second solo album, The Wild Heart. She was the most successful American female pop singer of the time. Not surprisingly, she played it safe: The Wild Heart contained nothing that would disturb fans of her previous work and much that echoed it ... the songs were largely interchangeable with those on Bella Donna, even down to the obligatory duet with Tom Petty. Nicks seemed to know what she was up to -- one song was called "Nothing Ever Changes." As a result, The Wild Heart sold to the faithful ... and that was appropriate: if you loved Bella Donna, you would like The Wild Heart very much.
True enough, and yet, there was a new twist or two - like Stevie trying to actually sound like Madonna. A new generation of female pop stars was daring to challenge her supremacy, and it was time to protect her turf. Stand back, aerobo-bitches! I probably shouldn't even be referencing Madonna here, as there's another '80s superstar who played a much more relevant role in the creation of "Stand Back." From Wikipedia:
She wrote it on the day of her marriage to Kim Anderson on January 29, 1983. The newlyweds were driving up to San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara when Prince's song "Little Red Corvette" came on the radio. Nicks started humming along to the melody, especially inspired by the lush synthesizers of the song, and "Stand Back" was born. They stopped and got a tape recorder and she recorded the demo in the honeymoon suite that night. Later, when Nicks went into the studio to record the song, she called Prince and told him the story of how she wrote the song to his melody. He came to the studio that night and played synthesizers on it, although his contribution is uncredited on the album. He and Nicks did agree however to split the publishing royalties on the song 50-50. Then, she says, "he just got up and left as if the whole thing happened in a dream."
So did she have, like, the Prince bat signal or something? "Prince, need ur help, come 2 the studio, it's urgent!" And so he buckled up his ass-chaps, hopped into the Purple-mobile, and laid down the funky licks that saved the day. And then, just like that, in a puff of lavender perfume ... he was gone! It turns out that Dave Chappelle's skits weren't comedy, but documentary. Of course, the real guest star might have been Toto's ever-present axeman Steve Lukather, whose piercing MOR riffs are surely what took the single to #5.

Too bad the Purple One didn't stick around to help with the video, which my co-blogger Herr Zrbo discussed briefly back in January, where he referred to it as being, with chilling accuracy, "on the shortlist for 'videos most indicative of their time'." If you're looking at this video and wondering why it looks so cheap and tacky, apparently there's a good reason for that:
Two videos were filmed for the single. The first, which was never aired and is referred to as the "Scarlett Version", was a lavish production directed by Brian Grant and features Nicks in a Gone with the Wind type scenario. Upon seeing the completed video, Nicks rejected it as, according to Grant, she felt she looked fat.
What. A. Diva. Oh. My. God. Stevie, come over here with me a second, let's have a chat. Listen to me very carefully. Would you rather release a well-made video where you look "fat," or a shoddily-made video where you look like ... I dunno, a hungover witch who wandered into a Jazzercise class by accident? In the words of Wikipedia, "As an alternative, a second video was made on a much lower budget than the original." You don't saaaaay. For better or ill, the "second" clip for "Stand Back" set the template for every '80s Stevie Nicks music video to follow. Invariably, they all feature the following elements, not necessarily in this order:
  1. Stevie staring directly into the camera, standing behind a microphone. Like, in every video. Just look at all the screen captures. Uh, Stevie ... you do know that you don't need a microphone in a music video, right? You can just lip-sync. Maybe she didn't feel comfortable on the set without her "lucky microphone." Maybe it was like her security blanket.
  2. Stevie's alarmingly massive hair blowing in the breeze, usually backlit in some grotesquely unflattering manner - a look which one YouTube commentator describes as Stevie in her "hot mess" phase
  3. Brief shots of Stevie twirling in her shawl as the moonlight drifts through the glass panes of a gothic-looking ballroom
  4. Dancers. Lots of dancers.
With "Stand Back," we get #3 at 0:07, #1 and #2 at 0:23, and finally, #4 at 0:56, when Stevie and her presumed lover twirl leftward and up pops ... a gang of wacky '80s breakdancers straight from a Nickelodeon after-school special! Their outfits all look outrageously dated, but none of them achieve quite the level of frisson as the one worn by the female dancer in the red beret, sleeveless flannel vest (?), short black skirt, nylons, and red tie (!). Stand back, or your eyes might be harmed irreparably by this outfit. You know when Yeats penned the line, "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" I think he was referring to this outfit.

And then. And then! The dancers burst through a saloon door (is there going to be a gunfight?) to reveal Stevie standing on a ... giant neon treadmill? She's gone Tron! And then the director must have thought, "Hmmm, we need more shots of the dancers dry-humping each other in a black room with smoke and excessive backlighting. And jumping in mid-air in slow-motion." Finally, at 4:25, she unleashes a demonic "Why don't you taaaaaaaaake...," although in the video she steals a little of her back-up vocalist's glory on " home." But hey, at least she didn't look "fat," right?

The Wild Heart's second single, "If Anyone Falls," peaked at #14 and then, I assume, started falling down the charts. Let's see if the video hits all the marks on the checklist. We've got #3 at 0:22, #2 at 0:48, and #4 at 0:55, but ... what's this? She's staring directly at the camera ... without a microphone in front of her! Was Stevie ... evolving? Most random moment: Stevie and her merry band of witches riding a carousel at 3:21.

By the time of her third solo album, Rock A Little, Stevie was actually, contrary to the title, doing the rock a lot. According to Wikipedia, "The vocal style is distinctively huskier and nasal (many claim this was due to increasing cocaine abuse) than on previous recordings." Don't let the party stop! If you think "Talk To Me," which hit #4, sounds a bit like John Waite's "Missing You," that might be because the same guy co-wrote both songs. All right, let's see how the video measures up on the ol' checklist. We've got #1 and #2 at 0:31, and ... wait a minute ... she's back to standing in front of a mic again! Stevie, Stevie. You were making such progress, only to let it all slip away in a cloud of coked-out hubris. We finally get #4 at 1:48. Unfortunately, I don't quite see #3 here, although she does twirl around in a well-lit art gallery.

"I Can't Wait" couldn't wait to slide out of the charts after climbing no higher than #16, and might seem relatively insignificant in the Nicks oeuvre, but in retrospect, it marked the unheralded entrance of a certain Rick Nowels into the pop music scene. From the liner notes to Timespace: The Best of Stevie Nicks:
To understand this song, you sort of have to let yourself go a little crazy. Love is blind, it never works out, but you just have to have it. I think this was about the most exciting song that I had ever heard. My friend, Rick, whom I had known since I was 18 and he was 13, brought over this track with this incredible percussion thing, and gave it to me asking me if I would listen to it and consider writing a song for it. I listened to the song once, and pretended not to be that knocked out, but the second Rick left, I ran in my little recording studio and wrote 'I Can't Wait.' It took all night, and I think it is all about how electric I felt about this music. And that night, that SATURDAY night, Rick and I went into a BIG studio and recorded it. I sang it only once, and have never sung it since in the studio.
If Wikipedia is to be trusted, those are Stevie's caps, not mine. That must have been a BIG studio. And on a SATURDAY night, too. Not just Saturday, but SATURDAY. Nowels and Jimmy Iovine seem to be more fond of synthesized bells than even Stock Aitken Waterman. As for the checklist: I see #4 at 0:28, #1 and #2 at 0:47, but I don't really see a clear #3 here, although she does twirl around both on the Busby Berkeley staircase, and inside the medieval dungeon with a giant pane of glass, so it's daaaaamn close. Also, I think I see Mick Fleetwood at 1:57? From Wikipedia:
Nicks says that she did drugs on the set of all her videos of the era however, regarding the video for "I Can't Wait" she said in I Want My MTV: "I look at that video, I look at my eyes, and I say to myself, 'Could you have laid off the pot, the coke, and the tequila for three days, so you could have looked a little better? It just makes me want to go back into that video and stab myself."
I'm afraid it's much too late for that, Stevie. It's much too late.

Little could the world have known, however, that while the Stevie Nicks-Rick Nowels partnership was never destined for greatness, Rick Nowels's partnership with another late '80s pop diva with an equal, if not greater, fondness for a certain Colombian powder would turn out to be a match made in ... erm ... "heaven."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

It's Not A Word, Phil, But Don't Let That Stop You AKA The Beguiling Charm Of That Mauritanian Circus Performer

Phil's my numero uno hombre, but ... "Sussudio"? Issue #1: it sounds too much like "1999." Every time I hear it, I keep expecting to one of the girls from the Revolution start singing "I was dreaming when I wrote this/Forgive me if it goes astray." It sounds like "1999" and it is not a better song than "1999." Therefore, it breaks the cardinal rule of song-ripping-offing. Issue #2: "Sussudio" is not even a word! From Wikipedia:
Collins has said that he "improvised" the lyric. Collins was just playing around with a drum machine, and the lyric "su-sussudio" was what came out of his mouth. "So I kinda knew I had to find something else for that word, then I went back and tried to find another word that scanned as well as 'sussudio,' and I couldn't find one, so I went back to 'sussudio'", Collins said.
No! You can't go back to your nonsense word! You still have to come up with a real word! Imagine if Paul McCartney never took "Scrambled eggs, oh my darling how I love your legs" and turned it into "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away." Laziness is not an excuse for centering your song around a fake word.

Let me put it this way: In college, about 18 years ago, when I borrowed Phil's Hits CD from the library, I decided to record all the essential songs onto one side of a 45-minute cassette. "Sussudio," alas, did not make the cut. Things that "Sussudio" sounds like:
  • A colony of mechanical red ants trying to build a giant clock tower made entirely out of defective Casio keyboard parts
  • A highly elastic rubber tire breakdancing in the middle of a party at a retirement complex, with John Philip Sousa looking on
  • A sea of Rubik's cubes in a violent storm, with several of them passing gas at intervals of roughly every three seconds
Of course, others are extremely fond of the ditty, including Patrick Bateman, who declares it a "great, great song, a personal favorite." But he would, of course. Also, Christina, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Sabrina, don't just stare at it, eat it.

Honestly, how the hell did "Sussudio" hit #1? Prince's "1999" didn't even hit #1! It was at this point that I fear the American public may have sent Phil the wrong message. That message was: "We will buy any song that you release, Mr. Collins, even if it is a rip-off of '1999' that primarily consists of a gibberish word repeated over and over."

It turns out that "Sussudio" actually wasn't intended to be a nonsense word at all. From In The Air Tonight:
I was vacationing in Greece, recovering from a mescaline-fueled rampage on my manager's yacht the night before (apparently I'd stuck a live sea urchin up my ass, but I don't remember any of this), when the landlord of the villa I was staying at (lovely place) invited me back to his hot tub. A couple of hits from the crack pipe later, and suddenly I found myself face to face with a stunning Mauritanian beauty.

I'm guessing she was no older than 16, maybe 15 - these things are a little looser in Greece, you understand. She was the most beguiling creature I'd ever laid eyes on. Another fellow there explained to me that she was training to join the circus, and asked me if I wanted a demonstration. I couldn't say no. Let me tell you something: she did things with a unicycle you wouldn't have even thought were possible. I'd never seen a woman's vagina swallow fire before, but for this girl, it was all in a day's work. She didn't speak English, but for a brief, titillating moment, I felt her eyes meet mine. In that Mauritanian circus girl's smile was the key to all earthly and heavenly mystery. But just as soon as she arrived, she was gone.

Back on tour, I tried to forget about her, but she lingered. Lord, how she lingered. One night in the studio, I began farting around with a drum machine. "There's a girl that's been on my mind, all the time," I sang. Boy, no kidding. "Now she don't even know my name, but I think she likes me just the same." Which was true, of course. I don't think the Mauritanian tongue can even form the word "Collins" - something about the genetics, it never really made sense.

After I laid a nice demo down, I lit a cigarette. Suddenly I heard the producer speak over the intercom. "No smoking allowed in the studio, Phil."

I did a double-take. "What do you mean, no smoking?"

"If you want to smoke, you gotta do it outside."

"What - what the fuck is this, a high school dance?"

"Record company rules."

"Since when? This is my playground, all right, this is my fucking factory of the imagination. I need to do whatever the hell I want to do, whenever the hell I want to do it!"

"Hey Phil, don't blame the messenger."

"I'll blame whoever the fuck I want." I got back behind the drum kit and suddenly began improvising some more words to the demo. "This is a bunch of bullshit," I mumbled into the mic. I'd had a bit too much Jim Beam that night, so I was slurring my words. I started to sing "sue - the - studio" - 'cause that's exactly what I planned on doing, you know - but instead it came out as "su-su-sudio." It was like the whole Iron Butterfly, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" thing. Well, in the end, I just combined my slurring with the lyrics about the Mauritanian nymph, and there you go. Another #1.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nothing's Gonna Stop Me From Making Fun Of Starship Now AKA The Belinda Soundtrack Throwaway That Finally Came To Life

Let's just say that after "Rhythm of the Night," DeBarge's and Diane Warren's careers went in ... opposite directions? While Debarge quickly became the '80s pop living embodiment of the Book of Job, Warren teamed up with songwriter Albert Hammond, he of "It Never Rains in Southern California" and "Free Electric Band" fame (and esteemed co-writer of such easy listening gems as the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" and Leo Sayer's "When I Need You") on her way to uncontested '90s power ballad domination. OK, not exactly Goffin/King or Bacharach/David here, but then again, their target recording artists weren't picky. Exhibit A: Starship.

Of Starship's three #1 hits, there is one I am not ashamed to like (and/or love?). I essentially agree with the consensus on "We Built This City," and "Sara" is a good 1986 pop song in the sense that John Paul II was a good pope, but like every great (crappy?) '80s band, what Starship really needed, to bring out its best side, was a movie soundtrack.

I wish I could say I've seen Mannequin so that I could make a snarky comment about it, but I just remember that when it came out, I thought the TV ads were funny. I was also seven years old. However, if you don't think that the soundtrack gave us one of the greatest power ballads of the '80s, hands down, no question, end of story ... then you'll need to get out of my face. AMG's Joe Viglione knows what I'm talking about:
For those purist fans of the early Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, a song like "We Built This City" took the path the Marty Balin-less group embarked on with "Jane" (a title Balin actually rehearsed with the group prior to his leaving for a solo career) farther into the arena rock wasteland. The four minutes and 29 seconds of "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" were a huge treat on an entirely different level. It's really more a collaboration between producer/arranger Narada Michael Walden and singers Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas than it is a Starship track. Lead guitarist Craig Chaquico is merely a guest star here, for this is a high-tech quagmire of bells, whistles, strings, and Walden's vision, building the melody into a rock-solid stomp, but for Starship, it is its zenith ... With this tune the band evolved into the counterculture Archies, but Slick remains the Queen of Cool, and she adds a dimension of integrity, even bringing the very best performance out of Thomas, who was all things a singer for Jefferson Starship should not have been. Slick and Thomas work in unison here, not the tapestry that was her marriage with Balin's voice on "Miracles" but an effortless combination like the guitars of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, a doubling effect which intensifies the sentiment. The song by Albert Hammond and Diane Warren could not be constructed more perfectly or with such refined precision. Walden has to be commended for merging dance-rock with industrial, and for all the contrived elements, anathema to fans of the institution which once crafted "It's No Secret" and "Plastic Fantastic Lover," this platter is itself a fantastic plastic march of triumph and overcoming all obstacles.
"Merging dance-rock with industrial?" Well, it certainly merged something with something. I also didn't realize Thomas and Slick were the Richards and Wood of '80s power ballads, but who am I to argue? The opening percussive barrage sounds like an android version of John Bonham on NyQuil. It may be tame, but it's huuuuuuge. And once it settles into the main rhythm, the beat truly feels like a massive generator that's suddenly up and running and could not be stopped even if someone wanted to stop it. It's like the inevitable chug of time immemorial. Nothing's gonna stop that throbbing thump in the background. And the moment it kicks into gear, it unleashes all these little sparkly sounds that flutter around the stereo spectrum. It's like they dipped the song in glitter.

Mickey enters, singing in an unusually low and sadly unmockable register, but then Grace steps up to the plate, and it sounds like she's been spending some serious time in the batting cage: "Let 'um say we're cray-zayyyy/I don't care 'bout thaaaaaa-uh-aaat/Put your hand in my hand baby/Don't evuh look baaa-uh-aaack/Let the world uh-round-ussss/Just fall uh-paaaaart/Baby we can make it if we're heart to heaaaaaart." I remember listening to this song in the car with my father, and after Slick sang her lines, he starting getting a bit Simon Cowell on us: "Listen to that power! Now that's a powerful voice right there folks." I got the impression that this was a singer who was supposedly more well-known than the usual singer of songs from the Mannequin soundtrack, but I didn't learn about Grace Slick until years later, and I didn't realize she'd sung this song until even later. At the time, sitting there in the car, I just had this image of an extremely large woman with a gigantic pair of lungs. Amazingly, Slick was still quite thin in 1987 (but whoa, if you Google pictures of her now, be prepared).

Her verse is the perfect set-up for what may very well be the most glorious chorus in the annals of '80s power ballad choruses - and unlike popes, that might actually be some seriously stiff competition. Go ahead, sing it right now. I know you want to. Every note feels like it's a stone pillar in the vast temple of love that the song is building in your ears. Mickey suddenly jumps an octave, and the thing is, he can sing in that range without straining at all. It's at this point where you truly realize that nothing is going to stop Starship here: not the Army, not the Navy, not the Air Force, and certainly not the fucking Marines.

There's a nice section that sounds like the start of the fade-out but actually turns out to be merely the bridge, where Mickey proclaims, "Oooooh, all that I need is you," Grace concurs that "All that I ever neee-eee-eee-eeed," and Mickey clarifies by stating "And aaaahll ... that-I-want ... to dooooooooo" and basically they just want to hold each other forever, ever and ever. Mickey reaches back for a nasty "Hey!" and a solo comes in which, while totally expected, sounds exactly the way you hoped it would and does everything it needs to do.

Then it's time for the real fade-out, and Mickey unleashes his usual high-pitched might, with two choice interjections by Grace ("I knowwww" at 4:00 and "Whoo-hoo! Nuh-thin'" at 4:09), and it's at this point, with a faceless sea of background singers chanting the chorus, that the song becomes ... dare I say it? Moving? Touching? Here's the deal: with her three Starship #1's, Grace Slick became the oldest woman to have a #1 hit on the Billboard charts (a record eventually broken by - you better "believe" it - Cher). Now, think of how many female singers tried to stay on top for years and years, putting themselves through all kinds of humiliating industry contortions and makeovers. And yet here was Grace, actually doing it. Not only that, but think of how many times Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship should have died an ugly, Betty Ford Clinic death. People might have even been glad if they'd died an ugly, Betty Ford Clinic death. But here they were, soaring across the airwaves with a hit Diane Warren power ballad from Mannequin, and they overcame every obstacle to become even bigger than they'd been in their prime. In a cheesy, slap-to-the-forehead kind of way, it's ... inspiring.

And then, like Alec Guinness at the end of Bridge on the River Kwai, Grace suddenly realized, with horrifying clarity, what she'd done, and promptly quit the band. Yeah, nothing's gonna stop Starship now, all right ... except Grace Slick leaving.

I only have a few questions about the video:
  1. How much do you think it cost them to make mannequin versions of Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick?
  2. Why does that dog have an ice pack on its head?
  3. What's the deal with the campy black guy with the Jetsons sunglasses, and why would Mickey turn his fire hose off??
While easily the biggest hit from the Mannequin soundtrack, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" was, contrary to the recollection of everyone ever, not the only song on the Mannequin soundtrack. In fact, there was a song that played during the title sequence that was not even available for commercial purchase. And now we come to what has been referred to as the "holy grail" of '80s Belinda Carlisle tracks: "In My Wildest Dreams."

I assume at this point Belinda was up for anything, and as we all know, you weren't a true '80s pop singer until you recorded a soundtrack song, so she obviously had to check this off the list. A clean version of the credit sequence used to be on YouTube, but it looks like it's been taken down, so here's a version I just found that's cropped beyond comprehension, sped up, and dubbed in Italian. Naturally, the movie studio, I.R.S. Records, and I'm guessing even Belinda herself figured nobody would give two shits about a throwaway track playing over the credits of a not exactly Oscar-winning film, so "In My Wildest Dreams" was never released as an album cut or even as a B-side. But oh, how they underestimated the obsessiveness of Carlisle-ophiles.

Personally, the song kind of sounds like an old, wrinkled version of "Walk Like An Egyptian" that was left out in the sun too long, but rarity has a way of improving a work's quality. For years, the only copy of the song you could hear was one directly ripped from the movie soundtrack, which naturally was not stripped of the cartoonish sound effects that played on top of it during the credits (Yes, I had a copy). Recently Belinda, or rather, an independent British record label with Belinda's permission, began reissuing her entire catalog. In an interview clip I swear I saw only last year, but just spent more time than I'd care to admit searching for, she said something along the lines of: "We tried to reissue everything. I kept hearing from fans on the internet saying, 'What about the song from Mannequin? You have to release the song for Mannequin!' The song from Mannequin? I didn't even know what they were talking about. Oh yeah ... I sorta remember doing that song. I guess I remember that song." So let's hear it for those hardcore fans out there who kept Belinda on her toes. Either it was just re-released on her CD singles box set, or someone finally found the master tape and leaked it onto YouTube, but as of 2014, after almost 30 years, courtesy of divine intervention perhaps, fans can now hear the full, proper studio version of "In My Wildest Dreams." The debate rages on in the YouTube comments:
Holy feyuk! Been looking for this since like 1986! OMG, I have done everything to get a copy of the full length lol I even contacted her on twitter! Wow, thank you for uploading. So it's also on her CD singles? Got to look for it now. Never thought I'd get this!

Ive been looking for this since i was a child, i gave up looking a few years ago and by luck stumbled upon this. You have made my day! Honestly; you have no idea how happy i am hearing the whole thing. Thank you for the upload

YESSSS!!!! been looking for this for ages now how did you find this?

Finally! Been searching for the full version of this song for over 25 years. Thank you thank you thank you 😊

I think this was ripped from the singles boxset? if so the quality is terrible, and disappointing considering how long the fans waited for it...they should remaster it and make it really pump!

Belinda's youthful vocal charms are on full display in this giddy & gooey slice of late 80's pop. Plus the song is full of melodic, rhythmic and lyrical hooks. Dreamy!

Mannequin got a lot of playtime in our VCR. This song is as much a part of my childhood as the National Anthem.

Finally it's surfaced in some way! What a travesty that this track never saw a proper release. For me, it's my favourite Belinda track of all time.

If this had appeared 6 months earlier I would have had this as a song at my wedding haha.

They said Napster was evil, but this song never being released by record companies is the real crime against humanity.

Well ... judge not lest ye be judged. Also, "Favourite Belinda track of all time"? I don't know if I'd go quite that far buddy. At any rate. Who knew that Mannequin would have been the source of so much building up and breaking down? For while it caused Grace Slick to finally, finally say adios to the band that wouldn't die, it may have inspired Diane Warren and Belinda Carlisle to quietly, slyly look at each other ... and get a few ideas.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) To Post About "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)"

Here's a sentence from 1986 written by no one ever:

"Can George Michael survive without Wham!?"

The man certainly had a lot to prove. And in order to prove it, he needed to find a heavy hitter, a big timer, a game-changer, someone who could show the world that he didn't need to coast on the back of Andrew Ridgeley. Someone who could, you know, actually sing with him.

Let me propose to you an idea for a duet. Two titans of soul music, joining forces to ascend the Church Spire of the Billboard Hot 100, to achieve a musical height together that would be unthinkable alone. But they couldn't be just any two singers. We're talking about assembling a dream duo of soul here. How about Aretha Franklin? Yeah. That's a good start. Can't go wrong with the Queen of Soul. OK, so Aretha Franklin, and ... who's the male gonna be? Let's see here. Al Green? Ray Charles? Sam Moore? Ronald Isley? Try none of the above.

How the hell did George Michael end up singing a duet with Aretha Franklin? And here's the more pertinent question: how did that duet end up being so fucking awesome?

Seriously. It would be like James Brown doing a duet with Madonna. It couldn't work. It shouldn't work.

It totally worked.

Aretha doesn't mess around. "Like ah warr-yah-that-fights ... and wins the baaaa-tuhl ... I knowwww the taste of vic-tahhry." This, my friends, this is the taste of victory. "Though I went-through-some-nights ... consuuuuuuumed by the shadows ..." She's feelin' it, she's definitely feelin' it. What have you got, Georgios?

"Mmmmmmm somehow I made it through the heartache, yes I did, I escaped/I found my way out of the darkness, I kept my faith." Not bad, Brit Boy! In case anyone doubted whether or not George truly kept his faith, Aretha assures us with a supportive "I know you did." How the hell would she know? She'd probably just met him!

Even so, the moment she met him, I'm guessing the first thing she did was take him to church, because on the chorus, Aretha and George climb up on that pew and raise their hands to the sky:
When the river was deep
I didn´t falter
When the mountain was high
I still believed
When the valley was low
It didn´t stop me
I knew you were waiting for me
Can I get an "Amen"? Favorite ad-libs:
  • 2:29: Aretha's "Whoahhhh-ahhhh!"
  • 2:54: Aretha does a melismatic "Whooo-hooo-uh-ooooh" which George follows with a gutteral "I knewwwww you were waitin'"
  • 3:04: Aretha really lets it all hang out now with an "I didn't faltaaaahhh, Lawd!" while George throws in an authoritative "When-the-val-ley-was-low"
  • 3:22: George really reaches back for "When the mountaaaaaaain was hi-iiiiigh" and I can just imagine Aretha giving him the side-eye and thinking, "What do you think you're doin' honey" because she barely reaches back for an "Ahhhhhhh! When the valley was lowwwww"
  • 3:38: George emits a simple "Yeahhh" but Aretha smothers it with a rising "Whuuuuuuhh-ahhhhh! Uhhhh-Yeah!" which starts at the very tippy tippy-toes of George's feet and ultimately lands on the moon by the time she's done with it
  • 3:44 George hits a nice groove with "Ohhhh-I sti-yillll believe" (OK, we got it, you believe), then Aretha gets masculine on his ass with a growling "You know it couldn't stop me, no," which George punctuates with a forceful "No"
  • 3:52: At this point I suspect George is just riffing on whatever the fuck Aretha seems to be doing; She shouts "Someday!" so he shouts "Someway!, then she shouts "Someplace!" so he shouts "Somehow!," which seems to have settled it. What is this, the Jets and the Sharks? Where's Tony and Maria when you need them?
"I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" managed to do what few hits have done before or since. It managed to unite eight different audiences at once: black and white, male and female, gay and straight, British and American. A record executive couldn't have drawn up more of a sure-fire hit if he'd generated some sort of "focus group hit record algorithm" in a state-of-the-art lab. Naturally, the song hit #1 in both the US and UK, making George the first artist in Britain whose first three singles all peaked at #1, which means that, just as Tom Brady's five Super Bowl rings clearly make him the greatest quarterback of all time, George Michael is clearly the greatest British singer of all time.

Of course, "Careless Whisper" and "A Different Corner" were still quasi-Wham! songs, so the video for "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" was George's first true opportunity to present a new "solo" image to the public, and while the mountain of expectations may have been high, Lord, he didn't falter. That's right, it was time for ... the leather jacket, sunglasses, earrings, and six millimeter stubble. At first he enters a dark, cavernous room with a giant screen on the wall (did every record label have one of those lying around?), and he stares up at footage of Aretha. Uh-oh. Don't tell me this was another one of those deals where the producers couldn't work out the artist's schedules and had to film their bits separately. Come on, we need some hot George on Aretha action here! A full two-and-a-half minutes go by until we finally see - yes! - George slide into the frame with Aretha. See? I knew they were waiting to show me that they'd made it to the same set at the same time.

Suddenly the screen in the background starts showing images of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrill, and I'm thinking, whoa, that's ballsy. You guys really want to be comparing yourselves to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, eh? And then the screen starts showing images of Sonny and Cher, and I'm thinking, OK, that's a little more appropriate - if anything, sort of a downward comparison. I would put George Michael and Aretha Franklin right in the middle: not as great as Marvin and Tammi, but better than Sonny and Cher. Yes, better than Sonny and Cher, even though George and Aretha only recorded one duet ever, and Sonny and Cher recorded hundreds. Look at it this way: no bad songs!

Let's turn, once again, to Professor Higglediggle for a more academic analysis:
Michael's presence of "whiteness" acts as an ethnomusicological co-opting of Franklin's authentic "otherness," which serves to situate her Africanist transnationalism merely as a reductivist codification of "soul." In a perhaps unintended parallel, Franklin's heterogeneity serves to recontextualize Michael's ambiguous phallic capital under a rubric of mediated familial cohesion. By consenting to Michael's reification, Franklin doubles as Michael's African-American "beard," while simultaneously essentializing the British homosexual white male fantasy of "being able to hold one's own" with an "American soul legend," a fantasy which can only be realized in the figmental realm of audience formation, the lyric's invocation of sacred Judeo-Christian imagery (e.g. "river," "valley,") serving to circumvent the repressive inequity of the pairing.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Late '80s Heart: Just Couldn't Leave Those Power Ballads "Alone"

Here's the deal: If you're gonna do a power ballad, you might as well go big. I want to ask a question, in all sincerity: Has anyone ever criticized a power ballad for being ... too powerful? No. No one has ever made such a preposterous statement. It would be like criticizing a swan for being too graceful, a sword for being too sharp, a Bond villain for being too dastardly. It would be absurd.

Well, what if your song's about being alone? Isn't that kind of a ... quiet emotion? Maybe to the outside observer, perhaps, but on the inside, and if you're, I dunno, 16 years old, it's big. It's an emotion so big, it took not one, but two Wilson sisters to fully capture the scope of that pain. Indeed, very few pieces of music have been able to express the sheer magnitude of despair that confronts those in the throes of solitude. Heart's 1987 power ballad, in this regard, may stand (wait for it ...)


Once again, Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (AKA the "Like A Virgin" guys) secretly scored a ubiquitous '80s #1 hit without anyone noticing who in the hell they were. From Songfacts:
Tom Kelly and I were signed to Epic Records and we made one album under the name i-Ten. It was sort of made out to look like a group, but it was really just the two of us.

We made this album and it was co-produced by Keith Olsen and Steve Lukather. I wasn't really happy with the way it turned out, but it did have some good songs on it. One of the songs on it was 'Alone.' The album was titled Taking A Cold Look. It didn't do much although it has sort of a cult following in Europe.

The most prominent song on it was 'Alone.' Tom and I recorded it for that record and just sort of set it aside when that record didn't succeed ... I just put those songs in a drawer and forgot about them, but then Tom and I were having a good deal of success with 'Like a Virgin' and 'True Colors' and then we heard that Heart was looking for a power ballad and Tom said, 'What about 'Alone'?' I winced and said, 'Oh, I don't really want to look at that song.' He said, 'What do you mean? That's perfect.'

We took the song out and sure enough it was relatively easy to do because we liked everything about the song except the first line of the chorus. The version on i-Ten, the lyric said, 'I always fared well on my own.' Both lyrically and melodically it felt very stiff and unappealing. So I did a minor change on the lyric and it said, 'Til now, I always got by on my own,' and Tom changed the melody and gave it much more movement and almost a slightly R&B feel on the first line of the chorus. That really lifted the chorus, and then all of the sudden I liked the song again.
"I always fared well?" No, no, no. Sometimes it really is the little touches. Could you image, say, "I've been suffering recently from a lack of satisfaction"? Or "There's a lady who I believe is fairly certain that all that glitters is gold"? It's gotta scan right.

The song begins with a piano that initially seems to be alone, although on closer inspection it is paired with what may have been intended to sound like a ticking clock, but perhaps more closely resembles a squeaking shoe. Enter Ann Wilson, seemingly not bothered by the rodent in the studio:
I hear the ticking of the clock
I'm lying here, the room's pitch dark
I wonder where you are tonight
No answer on the telephone

And the night goes by so very slow
Oh I hope that it won't end though
OK, you're thinking, so it's another soft rock ballad a la "These Dreams." That's cool, but where's the rocking Heart of yore? And then BAM.

What I think separates "Alone" from its power ballad peers is that the power totally comes out of nowhere and it's like holy shit where did all that power come from? In the blink of an eye, the song goes from Howard's End to The Crow. At first it seems like Ann is merely taking a pleasant little stroll in the moonlight, but then it turns out she's accompanied by a vast and insatiable army of warlocks and sea serpents and stuff:
Till now I always got by on my own
I never really cared until I met you
And now it chills me to the bone
How do I get you alone?
How do I get you alone?
The best touch is the sudden harmonies added by (I imagine) Nancy and Ann that accompany the line "I never really cared until I met you." It's the way they split across the stereo channel with such precision, like a laser beam refracting. I just want to tell the ungrateful guy she's trying to woo, "Hey, she may look quiet and shy, but underneath, she'll come at you like a coven of feral witches - just give her a chance buddy."

Then the song slips back into sensitive ballad mode. The thing is, if you think too hard about the lyrics of "Alone," you realize that it basically describes an embarrassingly well-worn unrequited love song scenario that's not original or insightful in any way whatsoever. But if you forget about that for a second and just listen to it, you can't help but be touched in your ... you know ... that thing in your chest region?

Then there is the second chorus. Oh man, the second chorus. What's amazing about the second chorus is that the song has already revealed its "I'm going to suddenly go from serene and peaceful to explosive and fiery" gimmick and you figure there's no way it could be as effective the second time around. But it's better. At 1:56, the drummer performs this agonizingly slow, monstrously heavy drum fill that sounds like it's coming from Ringo's evil fairy stepmother. In the first chorus, Ann started singing right off the bat, but this time, there are a couple of extra bars that are merely instrumental, and it creates this unprecedented sense of anticipation. "Where's Ann? Why isn't she singing? Is she hurt? Is she ... dead?" Oh she's alive all right. Here is my best rendering of her soul-piercing battle cry:


And then she sings the chorus. Sit the fuck down.

The rest of the song just sort of rides the inertia from that second chorus all the way to the denouement, although Ann finds one last chance to shine around 3:09 with two jet engine-level cries of "Uh-lowwwwwwwwww-wn-uh!" You can practically smell the burnt fuel residue emanating from her lungs.

So, the video. It begins with some creative staging, as Nancy sits in the foreground playing a grand piano, her hair apparently having been dyed in apricot juice, while Ann, dressed in funereal black, leans on a balcony in the distance. At 0:30 we get a nice close-up of her mascara-smothered visage, but then ten seconds later we get another close-up, and suddenly she's wearing a veil. She's a widow! Dude! She's literally grieving over the death of her fleeting love for some random superficial crush.
But what about the chorus? Something crazy's gotta happen at the chorus, right? Well how about the piano exploding? Oh, and now the rest of the band is on stage and there's an audience with flashing lights and blah blah blah, but honestly: how hard do you have to be playing your '80s power ballad to make your piano explode? Do you think the insurance covered that?

Then at 1:38, the Wilson sisters find themselves in the world's most purple-saturated room. Seriously, what was the conversation like on that set? "Not enough purple! Bob, I wanna see purple bleeding out of my eyeballs!" Where's Barney and Grimace when you need them? And then, then, at 1:54, we have what might very well be the best use of a horse in an '80s music video, full stop. Nancy Wilson, for no apparent reason, is suddenly riding a fucking horse. Hi-Ho Silver, girl, that's what I say. Hi-Ho Silver.

Two final observations: 1) By the end of the video, in half the close-ups of Ann, she's wearing the veil, and in the other half, she's not. Was this a gaffe? Intentional? What does it mean? 2) I love the close-up of Nancy at 3:22 - it's like her post-power ballad sexy satisfaction face. You did it, Heart. You shagged that power ballad harder and longer than anyone had ever shagged a power ballad before. Take a well-deserved nap.