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.