Sunday, January 21, 2018

"I Want Your Sex," But Who Wants A Good Chuckle?

If, after the dissolution of Wham!, George Michael had intended the record-buying public to begin taking his music more seriously, I'm not sure "I Want Your Sex" was exactly the way to go.

I like "I Want Your Sex," but not because I think it's a particularly good song. I like it because ... well, because it is hilarious.

First of all, the title is hilarious. No one says, "I want your sex." Seriously, who says that? One might say, "I want sex," or "I want your body," but no one would say "I want your sex." I don't know if it's incorrect English, but I do know that it's something no one says. It would be like saying, "I want your aerobics," or "I want your finance." "Sex" is not a thing that belongs to a person. One does not "possess" sex.

Or perhaps what we have here ... is George Michael ... completely redefining ... what sex is.

Most people know "I Want Your Sex" from its inclusion on Faith, but the song actually made its first appearance on the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II, which my family purchased in the summer of 1987, and which is how I initially became, well, "exposed" to the song's many charms. To be fair, I haven't revisited the soundtrack album since then, but from what I recall, the quality of the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack bore about the same relationship to the original Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack as the quality of the actual Beverly Hills Cop II movie did to its predecessor. Who can forget James Ingram's "Better Way," Corey Hart's "Hold On," or The Jets' "Cross My Broken Heart"? The Pointer Sisters were the only act to return for a second tour of duty, this time contributing "Be There," which probably wasn't as "there" as "Neutron Dance" was. I remember being extremely enamored with Bob Seger's "Shakedown," which became the #1 hit that probably even Bob Seger doesn't remember having, but I heard it again a few years ago and I can't say I entirely agree with the assessment of my seven-year-old self. I remember my brother and I deciding to perform "dance routines" to each song on the album in our tiny living room. Somehow or other, I got the short end of the stick and had to come up with a routine for "I Want Your Sex." Our father rolled his eyes as he viewed it and said, "I don't know if this is such a great idea." I managed to half-heartedly trudge my way through all four minutes and forty seconds of squeakiness.

I assume the sound at the start of the song is a synthesizer, and not, as I'm tempted to believe, two banana slugs copulating, but I could be mistaken. The squeaking noises continue throughout the piece, as if someone was standing in the corner continually squeezing mud between his hands, and recording it. The verse flirts with a decent melody, but I feel like that sense of musical decency goes out the window once the chorus shows up. The bridge is actually somewhat promising, and suggests that a very exciting, passionate, anthemic chorus is on the way:
I swear I won't tease you, won't tell you no lies
I don't need no bible, just look in my eyes
I've waiting so long, baby, now that we're friends
A man's got his patience, and here's where mine ends
And then suddenly, we hear a very bored, dispassionate George Michael, in a supremely unexciting lower register, speak-singing the words "I want your sex," followed by, I believe, a long string of farting noises. This is where his patience ends? You'd think he could have waited for something a little better, you know? To me, this song is about as sexy as a night out at Hooter's, but hey, maybe it works for you.

Right around the end of the second chorus, things truly start to get weird. Follow along with me if you can:
  • 2:23: Just business as usual, until George pauses after "I want your," only to unleash an emphatic "sex ... sex! Ow!"
  • 2:28: The squeak returns with a vengeance, and we're treated to a solo by what sounds like an ... "imitation Asian gong" synth setting?
  • 2:49: A cluster of sped-up Georges attempt to sell the listener on the myriad benefits of sex, helpfully explaining that "it's natural" and "it's chemical," when suddenly they are interrupted by another, regular-speed George who apparently is finding the sped-up mini-Georges' approach much too subtle and simply grunts "Let's do it!"
  • 2:54: The pitch-altered Georges continue, as if we weren't already convinced, adding "it's logical" and "habitual," and once again unaltered George chimes in with an impatient "Can we do it-uh?"
  • 2:59: The chorus of Georges is clearly running out of selling points, pointing out that "it's sexual" (I think we knew this already), but then pivoting into a different pattern with "but most of all, sex is something that we should do," which is followed by an unexpectedly deep-voiced man who I assume just crawled up from the basement of whatever S&M castle we've somehow found ourselves trapped in, adding "Sex is something for me and you." Who would have thought!
  • 3:07: Now we arrive at what might arguably be the "climax" of the interlude. The gathering of Georges, by this time appearing at a mixture of pitches, surmises that "Sex is natural, sex is good/Not everybody does it, but everybody should/Sex is natural, sex is fun," then a lone George pokes his head in to point out that "Sex is best when it's" ... and finally deep-voiced George finishes the thought with an emotionless "one-on-one." "I see," said the blind man.
  • 3:47: The comparatively tranquil bongo jam that follows is broken up by, if I'm not mistaken, George dry heaving repeatedly in the left channel ("hu-ah!"), which is invariably followed by another George in the center channel chanting "sex," and all the while, lead vocalist George explains to the object of his affection that "I'm not your father/I'm not your brother/talk to your sister" and then he really kicks it into Whitney Houston territory with " I am a luv-ahh-ahh! Whoooo-hooo-hooo-euh!" which he finally punctuates with a James Brown-ish "Ow!" and the immortal "C-C-C-C-C-C-Come own-ah!"
  • 4:23: After a little rap (a genre to which George was no stranger, of course), he really lays it all out with "Don't you think it's time you had sex! With! Meee-ayyy-uh!"
  • 4:38: Finally, the piece comes to a fitting conclusion with a last "Mmmm have sex! With! Meee-ayyy-uh!" as the man praying to the porcelain goddess reappears to add another (completely necessary) "hu-ah!" while George ties a nice little ribbon around the whole enchilada with one more "C-C-C-C-C-C-Come own-ah!"
Naturally, George sat in the studio, listened to the playback, and concluded, "You know what? I think the world needs two more versions of this." "Rhythm Two: Brass In Love" manages to be more tasteful and yet, in my opinion, more boring. It's sort of what I imagine would've happened if George had asked Phil Collins to do a remix version. The addition of horns feels gimmicky. I mean, if he wanted to bring a Stax/R&B feel to the piece, he shouldn't have kept using the same crappy drum machine from "Part 1." "Rhythm Three: A Last Request" might actually be, from a purely musical standpoint, the most palatable version, with some decent keyboard work, some noirish trumpet, and the drum machine setting from Gregory Abbott's "Shake You Down," but again, I feel it lacks the comedic edge of "Part 1."

The video was rather "controversial" in its day but, watching it now, I kind of have to wonder, "For what?" Too much stubble? Naked feet being doused with water? Excessive use of red blindfold? This thing is 50 Shades of Tame. From Wikipedia: "The music video, directed by Andy Morahan, featured Michael's then-girlfriend Kathy Jeung to emphasize that he was in a monogamous relationship; at one point, he is shown using lipstick to write the words 'explore' and 'monogamy' on her back." Two questions: 1) His ... girlfriend? Just how serious were they? I mean, if he's not that interested in her, maybe we can trade? 2) "Monogamy"? I'll tell you the first thing that pops into my head when I hear this song: monogamy! It's so obvious! How could anyone miss it? Final thought: what do you think he did with that red lipstick once the cameras stopped rolling? Professor Higglediggle's take:
With his contribution to a reductive, Dionysian symbol of post-blockbuster disjunction (Beverly Hills Cop II), Michael sought to subvert the symbolic capital of monogamy through the interpretive framework of libidinal electro-funk. His declaration "I don't need no bible" serves to sever the act of lovemaking from its codified familial purpose, while his question "What do you consider pornography?" forces the listener to situate her/his (re)conception of the procreational drive in stark opposition to Puritan mythos. Michael's experimental usage of lipstick does much to undercut his circuitous effort to establish a sexualized element of play, however, subtly reinforcing the codified status of female marginalization at the hands of the cosmetics industry and highlighting his partner's lack of sexual agency.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Because "(I Just) Blew My Load In Your Arms Tonight" Didn't Have The Same Ring To It

The opening of this song sounds like somebody singing "Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha" really rapidly and quietly. I know it's just a synthesizer. But wouldn't it have been cool if it had actually been some square-jawed stud in Calvin Klein underwear sitting in the studio breathing "Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha" into a microphone? That's my dream; don't take it away from me. I must confess that I have, with my own voice, recreated the opening hook of "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" at various parties and social gatherings. It's a hit every time.

Anyway, you think your crew is bad? How about a crew that cuts? Now that's a pretty bad crew. Pointing out that "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" wasn't Cutting Crew's only Top 40 hit is sort of like pointing out that Don Quixote wasn't Cervantes's only novel, but, to be fair to the band, I might as well do it. Of course, no one types "I've Been In Love Before" or "One For The Mockingbird" into the YouTube search feature when they're in the mood for a quick blast of '80s nostalgia. It's OK guys. Your one magnificent contribution to retro '80s playlists, like Don Quixote to Spanish literature, is an artistic legacy to be proud of.

For years I assumed the "death" mentioned in the title alluded to some sort of "emotional" death, given that the singer seemed to be expressing remorse over an affair ("I should have walked away," "I know I was wrong"). Turns out there are many different kinds of deaths, including those that bring forth life. From Wikipedia: "The actual words 'I just died in your arms tonight' originally came to Van Eede while he was having sex with his girlfriend, the French phrase la petite mort, or 'the little death', being a metaphor for orgasm." Deep, dude, really deep. Even if that was how he came up with the lyric, was it really that wise to admit it? Couldn't he have claimed he'd been reading Camus or something? This might explain other lines such as "It was a long, hot night/She made it easy, she made it feel right." I'll bet she did. Here are some alternate titles that probably would have hindered the single's climb to #1:
  • "I Just Splooged In Your Arms Tonight"
  • "I Just Busted A Nut In Your Arms Tonight"
  • "I Just Jizzed In Your Arms Tonight"
  • "I Just Shot My Wad In Your Arms Tonight"
Nope, the title they went with was definitely the best one. I have to say, this is one conflicted '80s hit. It's got that potent mixture of sex and death that all great rock music thrives on. I think that, had he lived, this might be what Jim Morrison's inevitable '80s comeback smash would have sounded like. Highlights:
  • 0:07: The entrance of a stately cello, lending an air of elegance to the sleaze
  • 0:15: A cymbal crash, slowly fading upwards just as Nick Van Eede makes his dramatic entrance
  • 1:40: Little guitar bridge between the second chorus and the second verse that sounds like it was lifted from After the Fire's "Der Kommissar"
  • 3:22: After a guitar solo that sounds like your neighbor's step-mom trying to play hair metal, there's a violent, brutal drum fill, followed by a swell of voices, which leads into ...
  • 3:24: All the instrumentation vanishing swiftly into the background, allowing for the solitary re-emergence of the "Ha Ha Ha Ha" synth, because we totally needed to hear that again
  • 3:55: Van Eede finally fades into the night, leaving the guitars to harmonize and groan in the kind of sonic agony that would have made Joe Walsh and Don Felder weep.

The video features what Wikipedia calls "artistic fragmented shots." Is that what those are? I feel like I'm watching the "preview" of another channel in the corner of my screen while the main channel is still on. Initially, when I searched for the video on YouTube and saw that thumbnail, I assumed it might have been one of those clips where the uploader had fiddled with the aspect ratio in order to avoid copyright infringement issues, but nope. Everything sort of looks like a bad Depeche Mode album cover. I can't tell if the model is really good-looking, or if the camera is just really out of focus, but she lounges around in her posh European apartment in a bra and silk sheets, wearing a month's worth of eyeliner, while the camera cuts away to equally sexy shots of of pears, roses, vases, ashtrays, and tomatoes. Various images initially appear in the top left pane, and then, a split second later, appear in the large background pane! But all, like, zoomed in and stuff! I can't get a handle on it, man.