Sunday, March 26, 2017

Robert Palmer Unintentionally Activates An Electrical Appliance AKA Maybe He Meant To Turn Some Women ... Off?

Before Janet Jackson, there was Cherrelle. Rather than being a hatchback automobile manufactured by General Motors, Cherrelle was actually an R&B singer and early protege of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. While she only had a couple of small pop hits, apparently she was all over the R&B charts, starting with 1984's "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On." Remember when '80s R&B still had a little bit of funk and disco in it? Yeah. However, the "tire screech" synth part is practically holding up a sign saying, "Help me! I've been kidnapped from Prince's '1999'! Please take me back! Pleeeeease!" Then there's the video, which appears to have utilized the most awkward special effects since the days of Ray Harryhausen. Ever seen a gorilla pop and lock? You have now.

For reasons not clear to me, Robert Palmer covered "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" on Riptide; when released as the follow-up single to "Addicted to Love" in 1986, it hit #2. You and I could sit here till the cows come home and debate which version is "better," but let's face it, both have their strengths. First of all, you've got to give the man some credit; he changed it up a bit. He added a whole new synth riff that doesn't sound like it's from "1999," but sounds more like, I don't know, a Vic 20 with epilepsy? And where Cherrelle came off as a bit solemn and diffident, Palmer comes off as genuinely apologetic and taken aback. Cherrelle sounded like she was folding the laundry; Palmer sounds like he's sexy and he can't help it, and he really wasn't paying attention, and, gosh, he genuinely didn't mean to turn you on, you know? Musically, while his version isn't arguably as funky, it's still pretty funky, goosed along, once again, by former Chic drummer Tony Thompson.

The video features the return of the "Addicted to Love" girls, who I presume have been practicing and are now much more capable? This time around, four elegant dancers in white dresses, black gloves, and chiffon boas have joined the proceedings, straight from the Ziegfeld Follies, and I believe they are actually "for real" dancing and not "miming" dancing. He's even got a glamorous sound and lighting crew!

As far as I can tell, most of Palmer's '80s peers considered him to be a pretty stand-up guy, but it turns out not everybody was particularly "turned on" by his charms. Take, for instance, his opening act, who I'm thinking may have landed the slot in 1986 due to a mutual Andy Taylor connection. From Lips Unsealed:
In June, I went on tour with Robert Palmer, who was having monster success with the chart-topping single "Addicted to Love." I was his opening act, and he was not very nice to me. He was aloof, condescending, and dismissive. He spoke to me only once during the entire month we traveled together and that was to ask if I had any drugs. I didn't. It was the first time I could ever say no. He shrugged, walked away, and never had anything to do with me again.
Damn it, Belinda! You blew it! You got sober too soon. You totally missed your chance to bond with Robert Palmer!

Priceless. Opening act for Robert Palmer? He probably thought she was just a disposable little simpleton. "How dare they pair me up with that silly L.A. fluff muffin!" He, on the other hand, was an artist, a man who played R&B music, real music, like ... "Addicted to Love," OK?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Against All Odds, Phil Crafts A Break-Up Ballad Behemoth AKA The Backstage Oscar Tantrum That Broke The Camel's Back

I've never seen Against All Odds, but apparently it's a re-make of the 1947 film noir classic Out Of The Past, which I recently re-watched on TCM, so does that count? I think my favorite line is when Robert Mitchum's character is explaining to his innocent love interest what the femme fatale is like. His "sweet" girl says, in an effort to be generous, "No one's all bad," and Mitchum replies, "No, but she comes closest." I digress. Apparently, Against All Odds turns the Robert Mitchum character into a professional football star played by Jeff Bridges. Sign me up!

Clearly a twisted plot needed a twisted theme song. Like any self-respecting '80s recording artist, Phil Collins realized it was time to jump into the soundtrack fray. Surely he had another weepy ballad inspired by his divorce still hanging around somewhere? Hey, wait a minute, what about that old demo from the Face Value sessions called "How Can You Just Sit There?" A little revision here, a little alteration there, slip the movie title into the chorus, and presto! Here's what he said in a recent Rolling Stone interview:
This is another song that's been a ring around my neck. It was written around the same time as "In the Air Tonight," but I discarded it. A couple of years later, I was asked to write a song for the movie called Against All Odds. I was really hot at the time, and they said, "Have you got a song for this movie of ours?" I said, "I'm not able to do it on the road, but I have a demo of this ballad." It was basically like saying, "Here's $10 million. Would you want it?"

I had already written the lyrics, before I saw the film. When I think about the movie, the first thing that comes to mind is the size of Rachel Ward's breasts. I thought they were fantastic. I like Jeff Bridges, too.
Good old Phil, always reliable for a deep insight or two. And yes, Jeff Bridges's breasts were also fantastic.

So let's see, what've got here? The piano (and vibraphone?) introduction is like the calm before the storm. And this is going to be one raging fucking storm, let me tell you. After a pregnant pause, the man enters:
How can I just let you walk away
Just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here taking every breath
With you, ooh ooh
You're the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me
When all I can do is watch you leave
Cause we've shared the laughter and the pain
And even shared the tears
You're the only one who really knew me at all
Come on Phil, is she seriously "the only one who really knew [you] at all"? Not your parents, your siblings, your bandmates? Guilty of a little exaggeration here, aren't we?  He's totally turning himself into this helpless, pathetic victim. "How can I just let you walk away"? Just lock the door, put a chair in front of it or something. "Just let you leave without a trace"? I'm sure there's a trace. Maybe a receipt from JC Penney? That half-eaten box of Triscuits? "When all I can do is watch you leave"? How about blackmail her new lover? Slash his tires? There's all kinds of shit you can do.

And another thing: has anyone ever noticed that these lyrics don't actually rhyme? He's employing this incredibly simple A/B/C/B rhyming scheme, but he can't even bother with that. Look at the first verse. "Trace" doesn't rhyme with "you." What the phuck, Phil. Sorry, "leave" doesn't rhyme with "tears." The sad part is, there's a perfect rhyme for "leave" that means the same thing as "tears": "grief." "And even shared the grief." I mean, how lazy do you have to be here? At least he bothers to rhyme "space" with "face" on the chorus, even though he does it twice in a row:
So take a look at me now
There's just an empty space
And there's nothing left here to remind me
Just the memory of your face

Ooh take a look at me now
Well there's just an empty space
And you coming back to me is against the odds
And that's what I've got to face
The truth is, Phil brings so much unstoppable vocal passion to the proceedings, it's clear the rhyme scheme is the last thing on his mind. He probably didn't even notice the strings coming in at the start of the second verse (but I did). I just want to enter this song, put my arms around Phil, and tell him, "It's OK, bro, you don't need that ho." Or maybe someone needed to tell Phil that he wasn't the first person to ever write a break-up song. Then again, maybe that would have ruined his shameless level of emotional commitment. I mean, here is a man so fragile, so abandoned. And he really wants his ex to know it too. It's not just, "I feel like shit," it's "I want to you stop whatever it is that you're doing right now and see the absence of matter in my house. That space right there, it used to be occupied by solid molecules, and now there is literally nothing there. I just want you to soak in, on a pure, visceral level, the shriveling wreck of a human that I've become. Just look at me, bitch. That is all."

A minute and thirty seconds go by, and I know what you're thinking: "If this is a Phil Collins song, then where are the mother fucking drums?" Don't worry, Phil's got your back. At 1:35, first comes one thwack, and then another, and he draws it out nice and slow, like a tender massage from a sensual lover, until he finally locks into a deafening groove. Note, also, the army of Phils who descend from the ether on "turn around and see me cry," like the spectral spirits of so many love-scarred yuppies. Up until now, it seems like Phil is cruising the vocal highway at top speed, but right around 2:12, you finally realize that he'd merely been taking this Jaguar for a test drive. "There's nothing LEFFFFT here!" Whoa. Dude. Phil clenched his fist so tight on that one that when he opened it again, I swear some blood came out. Then at 2:23, he gives a "cause THERRRRRES!" so abdominal-pinching that I'm almost certain he let out a little nugget of poop. At 2:35 he's so overcome with passion, his body convulsing uncontrollably, it almost sounds like he's stuttering as he lets rip a "Take-a-good-look-at-me-naaaooo-haaaoo-haaaooo!" The man's gotta be out of gas, right? He's got nowhere to go but down, surely? Oh, my friends, you underestimate Phil at your own peril. Because at 2:39, he lets out a "cause I-I-I-I-I'll" so intense, so primal, I'm pretty sure that his ex-wife heard it all the way from her Mediterranean vacation home. He begins to calm down, but like a devastating rain storm that still has one last gust in it, he manages, one final time, to go back into that place of terrible, terrible pain at 2:45 ("And you coming back! to me"). Now the hurricane has truly dispersed. Everyone can go back to their homes. Send in the Coast Guard. Let the clean-up begin.

Oh Phil cleaned up all right - on the Billboard charts, that is. "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" became the first of seven US #1 singles for our diminutive hero. "In the Air Tonight" may seem ubiquitous now, but I think its ubiquity evolved over time. It was with "Against All Odds" where the floodgates (floodgated drumming?) truly opened. Two comments on the video: 1) How much fruit-flavored syrup could they have possibly used to create that majestically multi-colored waterfall behind Phil? OK, fine, I guess it was just water with fancy lighting. You got red, blue, green ... I mean, I just want to dip my snow cone under that waterfall, you know? 2) Right when he sings "And you coming back! to me," he gives the moment the almost mandatory fist-clench it deserves.

Sure enough, Oscar knew a middle of the road winner when it heard one. Just one problem: they didn't actually let Phil perform the song during the telecast. Now let me make one thing clear: when I die, I hope they bury me with my DVD copy of All That Jazz, but ... Ann Reinking doing a dance routine version of "Against All Odds"? From a recent story in Rolling Stone:
Phil Collins was so overjoyed when "Against All Odds" got nominated for an Academy Award in 1985 that he re-routed his Australian tour so he could fly in to attend the event. The song was his first Number One in America and he was thrilled to have the chance to perform it at the Oscars in front of a worldwide audience of millions. Then he got the bad news: The Academy wasn't going to let him sing it at the 57th Annual Academy Awards, offering the dubious argument that this was a movie event and thus only movie people would perform. Even though he was one of the biggest stars in the world at this point and would be in the audience, eager to play, he'd have to sit there and watch dancer Ann Reinking deliver the tune.

He walked into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with his head high, telling reporters on the red carpet that he looked forward to seeing Reinking's take on the song. Then the show started. Not only was Deniece Williams allowed to sing "Let's Hear It For The Boy" from Footloose, but Ray Parker Jr. was permitted to sing "Ghostbusters." He sat in his chair and stewed, and his anger only grew when he saw Reinking lip sync part of the song as she did a ridiculous, cheesy dance with a male partner. Stevie Wonder won the Best Song Award for "I Just Called to Say I Love You," and when Rolling Stone caught up with Collins the next morning he was still fuming.

"It was awful," he said of Reinking's performance. "But I'm glad I didn't sing the song now, after what they did to Ray Parker." He then turned his attention to Stevie Wonder. "He is one of my heroes, but I have serious doubts about whether or not that song was actually written for the film," he said, before offering an explanation for why Wonder won that he probably regrets: "He's blind, black, lives in L.A. and does a lot for human rights."

Fuckin' Stevie Wonder, such a sympathy pick (and what exactly did they do to Ray Parker, Jr.?). Sounds like Oscar really screwed Phil over - if you listen to the public story, that is. What really happened, of course is even more shocking. From In The Air Tonight:
I got into town the night before to do the rehearsal. My boys were supposed to be there with my shit - not just the horsie juice, but some exotic fuckin' junk. We're talking seal tranquilizer, walrus antiseptic - there was this guy we knew in Santa Monica who had connections with the Coast Guard you wouldn't believe. But I got to my dressing room, nothing was there. And I mean, I needed something, you know? It was a bitch of a flight, I'd had some quiche that wasn't agreeing with me ... I was on a razor's edge. A pair of producers knocked on my door, so I cracked it open.

"Mr. Collins, you're scheduled to do a soundcheck at 8:30pm. You think you'll be ready?"

"Fuck off."

"Umm, Mr. Collins, excuse me?"

"I said fuck off!"

"So ... you're not quite ready yet?"

"I'm ready all right - ready to shove a fuckin' ice pick down your fuckin' throat!"

"Mr. Collins is there something the matter?"

"Where's my shit? I'm not singing a fucking note until I get my shit!"

"I see. We have some hors d'oeuvres in the lobby."

"I can't get high on fuckin' crab cakes!"

One producer whispered to the other. "I'm not sure he can go on."

"Fuck this ..." I threw a champagne bottle. "... fuck this ..." I threw an imitation statuette. "... and fuck this ..." I threw a rotary phone.

"Bob, do you want to call security?"

"You want your Oscar?" I proceeded to drop my trousers and point to my nether regions. "I've got your Oscar right here!"

"I think we're going to have to go with Plan B. Get that dancer on the phone."

I wagged my dick in the air. "Take a look at me now, eh?" Emboldened, I pulled out a ninja star from my jacket pocket - I used to always have a couple of those around - and I chucked it right between one of those fellows' legs, where it lodged itself into the door with a distinct thwaaaaang.

"Well, Mr. Collins, thank you for coming, but I think we'll need to make alternate plans."

So they had that stupid Broadway dancer go out there instead. It was my fault, really. But I made up some story about the Oscars not allowing me to perform - which was technically true, I suppose.