Sunday, May 27, 2018

I Think We're A Random Confluence Of Two Tommy James & The Shondells Covers Now

I once had a conversation with a co-worker about Tommy James and the Shondells. As one often does. I assumed that he, like many people, was familiar with their long string of eminently hummable late '60s hits, but might not have been aware that each of those hits had been performed by Tommy James and the Shondells (I've also had variations of this exact conversation regarding the collected works of Three Dog Night). After I listed several song titles, he nodded sagely and grinned in recognition, before pausing in thought. "You know," he said, "Those are all songs that are kind of about sex, but not quite." I hadn't ever looked at the TJ&S catalog from that angle. "Hanky Panky." "Do Something to Me." "Crystal Blue Persuasion." Hmmm. A fine legacy for an artist. I can almost see the inscription on James's tombstone now: "Master of Songs That Were Sort of About Sex, But Not Quite."

By 1987, James wasn't master of anything other than the oldies revival circuit (although Joan Jett's 1982 cover of "Crimson and Clover" was perhaps a sign of royalty payments to come), but he was in luck: after a period in which pop songs had become more blatant on the subject of fornication, there was suddenly a desperate thirst, once more, for songs that were sort of about sex, but not quite. To paraphrase Huey Lewis, it was hip to be coy. James's time had come.

Fame came much more quickly to one Tiffany Darwish of Norwalk, California (originally of - hold on a second - Irish, Native American, Syrian, and Lebanese descent?). After touring Alaska when she was eleven years old, she appeared on Star Search, finishing in second place (just as she would in her rivalry with Debbie Gibson - burn!). Svengali manager George Tobin, sensing a bloodthirsty appetite for faceless pop among the teens and pre-teens of the world, set Tiffany out on a tour of shopping malls and dubbed it "The Beautiful You: Celebrating The Good Life Shopping Mall Tour '87." Who wouldn't want to head down to the local shopping mall and see that? Never heard of the performer? Who cares, this show's not about the performer, it's about you - the beautiful you. Well in that case. According to Wikipedia, Ms. Darwish initially hated the idea of covering "I Think We're Alone Now," deeming it "neither modern enough nor hip enough." Ironically, in 2018, Tommy James's version may sound both more modern and more hip than Tiffany's version does, but in 1987, at any rate, her instincts couldn't have been more off than if she'd tried to, I don't know, record Irish-Lebanese teen-pop for Alaskans.

There are two moments in the bridge that reveal Tiffany's arguable limitations as a vocalist: 1) When she hits the word "night" on "Trying to get away into the night," she attempts this pseudo-rocker growl that, to these ears at least, sounds amusingly contrived; 2) She tries to string together the words in the line "And then we tumble to the ground and then you say" really sloppily and bluesily, like she's Mick Jagger or Jim Morrison or somebody much raunchier than her. Every time the bridge appears in the song, she delivers these lines with the same exact affectation. It's not a complete wash: the little overdubbed harmony she performs with herself on the line "anyone around" is a nice touch. She definitely sounds like a sad little teen whose parents just won't let her run away with her equally sad little boyfriend. The key to the song's success, of course, was that her target audience (including yours truly) was living in complete ignorance of the original. Here were my eight-year-old thoughts: "Wow! Where did Tiffany come up with this great new song? And if she could come up with a song this great, how many more great songs is she going to come up with?"

Do you think Weird Al intended "I Think I'm a Clone Now" to be a comment on the manufactured and pre-packaged nature of teen-pop sensations such as Tiffany? Or am I reading too much into things? It's funny how the quality of the musical backing on Weird Al's version is easily on par with Tiffany's; the budget for his version might have actually been higher than hers. Most groan-inducing puns: "I guess you could say/I'm really beside myself" and "Cause every pair of genes is a hand-me-down." Humor that sharp could never be ... duplicated.

Like Tiffany, William Michael Albert Broad is better known to the world by a much shorter name. And like Sweet or Kiss before him, he managed to cultivate an image of being a total hard-rocking badass while essentially making radio-friendly pop singles. Lest anyone accuse Billy Idol of jumping on some sort of "Tommy James Revival Train," it should be noted that he originally covered "Mony Mony" in 1981. However, to promote his excellently named 1987 remix collection Vital Idol, he released a live cover of "Mony Mony," which, in one of those Billboard chart oddities that one might be tempted to imbue with some grand meaning, but is probably about as random as the weather, eventually bumped "I Think We're Alone Now" off the top of the charts. Or maybe Tommy James was secretly plotting to take over the world THE WHOLE TIME. If that was indeed the plan, using Tiffany and Billy Idol as his agents of doom was certainly an unexpected strategy. Although I think the live version of "Mony Mony" is strong (as live versions go), I'm ultimately partial to the studio version; both somehow manage to out-sleaze the already-sleazy original. And even though the live version is what officially hit #1, the odd thing is, I feel like I remember Top 40 radio playing both versions. It's been a long time since I've come across the live version on the dial, let's just say that.

I love performers whose hair is whiter than their skin. Also: At first I thought it was amazing how Idol's leather jacket mysteriously managed to fly off his chest at some point between the first and second verse, but then I noticed the little jacket twirl at 1:28, and breathed a continuity sigh of relief. I should also mention the part where he starts to grope the keyboardist in the slinky red dress and she gets a look on her face that seems to say, "Erm, not now Billy, we're on stage!"

So I guess Weird Al figured that, if he was going to parody one recent Tommy James cover on Even Worse, he might as well parody the other, right? Which brings me to, in my humble opinion, one of the unheralded gems in the Yankovic catalog: "Alimony." Al turns James's/Idol's paean to lust into a bitter lament over the unseemly financial fine print of a marriage gone wrong. It's hard to say what Billy Idol was so worked up about in his version, but this guy? No wonder he sounds so sweaty. She took his toothbrush too? Show the poor schlub some mercy. At least no one could accuse Weird Al's take as being a song that's sort of about sex, but not quite; this couple clearly hasn't slept together for decades. Amusingly, "Alimony" is a parody of the live version, complete with fake audience ambiance and the whole works. I'll say this: if Tommy James ever happened to find himself staring down any ugly alimony payments in the late '80s, let's hope he received some nice financial assistance from all this malarkey.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

"Heaven Is A Place On Earth" (Video): Diane Keaton + Creepy Globe Children + Wall Fondling ... What More Could You Want?

Music videos can be many things, but one thing that even the best of them cannot be is "catchy." It was therefore inevitable that the music video for "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" - which I have deemed, after rigorous analysis, to be the "Catchiest Song of All Time" - would fall short of the title "Catchiest Music Video of All Time." Nevertheless, while the song may have been (as I have so irrefutably established) written by God himself, the video was quite obviously created by decidedly more ... mortal forces. From Lips Unsealed:
Through Morgan's best friend, John Burnham, I was fortunate enough to get Academy Award-winning actress Diane Keaton to direct the videos for "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" and "I Get Weak." I was almost intimidated to meet her, but she was utterly charming and thoroughly inspirational in her approach to work. I only had to look at her body of work or the way she dressed (beautifully and with style) to know she had great taste, so I said, "Just do what you want."
And, by the looks of it, that is exactly what Keaton did. At first blush, the phrase, "Directed by Academy Award winner Diane Keaton" would suggest a video of supreme quality, and then one steps back and realizes, "Wait a minute. Diane Keaton is an Academy Award-winning actress, not a Academy Award-winning director." I'm guessing most of the participants involved were not sober enough to know the difference. Well, as music videos go, this one's more First Wives Club than The Godfather, but everyone had a great time making it, so who cares? I'm also not sure that Belinda was aware of the low relevancy level between Keaton's fashion gifts and her video-making prowess, but, hey ... she got Diane Keaton to direct her video! It's the '80s! Here's some coke! Let's do it!

I've never been to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita (I feel like I've driven past it a couple of times), and I've certainly never been on the Spin Out ride, but I may have to make a pilgrimage one day to see the prime location featured in this riveting video. Quite what the Spin Out ride, or an army of children wearing identical black Zorro masks and cloaks, has to do with the lyrics of "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" is unclear, and I'm reckoning it was unclear to Keaton too, but the song has the word "Earth" in it, and the children are all clutching glowing plastic globes, so that's relevant I guess? We don't even catch a glimpse of Belinda for the first twenty seconds; it's just marching bat kids hoisting their spheres in a fashion slightly reminiscent of a Nazi rally. I feel like this could be footage from a pilot episode of a rejected Nickelodeon game show called "Globe Reload!" or something of that nature. Up to this point, the video is pretty meh; I'm basically thinking to myself, in the words of the director herself, "Well la-di-da. La-di-da."

Finally, at 0:20, She appears, and Holy Blindfolded Pre-teen Choir Batman, this video just got a whole lot better. It turns out that heaven is a place on Earth after all, and that place ... is Belinda Carlisle's smokin' hot bod. I think this is where Diane Keaton's directorial genius truly reached its apex. She understood that the key to making a great music video ... was to have Belinda Carlisle in it. A masterstroke! A touch of divine inspiration! With one simple casting decision, Keaton entered the realm of a Scorsese or a Bergman. By liberally sprinkling her work with the aesthetic perfection of prime 1987 Belinda, she instantly elevated her video into the upper echelons of modern telegraphic achievement.

But what's this? Is it just me or ... has the former Dottie Danger done something ... new with her hair? Where's the beach blonde babe of "Mad About You" fame? Well, she probably figured, new record label, new producer, time for a new look. And so we have the debut of yet another hair color from the Big C. This one is sort of a brownish-red, but not quite red and not quite brown. I've read some describe it as "auburn." This finally raises a question that has been on my mind for longer than I'd care to admit: just what is Belinda Carlisle's "natural" hair color? I'm serious. I have seen it colored: brown, red, blonde, dirty blonde, green ... even purple. These days her hair is generally black, but I assume she dyes it. I've seen photos of her from high school where her hair appears to be blonde, but she could have been dyeing it even then. I honestly have no idea. Ultimately ... [throws hands in the air despondently] does it even matter? Like the fate of the Roanoke Colony, or the location of Amelia Earhart's plane, it is one of those questions that is destined to remain an eternal mystery.

Frankly, her hair could be beige for all I care and she'd still probably make it work. Belinda can wave her six flags over my magic mountain any day, you know what I'm sayin'? The accompanying garments are equally mesmerizing. At first she opts for a black sleeveless dress that's sporting some kind of white dangling ball design on the front, and she pairs it with a fluffy, unbuttoned pink sweater (perhaps a nod to her prior cheerleader days?). And then in the second verse she rocks some sort of black off-the-shoulder dress and belt, with flowers in her lapel. Flowers! The woman exudes sheer fecundity and potency, I tell you.

But, hold on a second. What's she doing to that wall? Honey, put the kids to bed, Belinda's ... humping a wall. Yes, for several seconds in this video, we are treated to the sight of Belinda Carlisle rubbing herself sensually against an unusually narrow corner of a nondescript wall. I mean, she's having a really good time with that wall. I hope that wall's wearing protection. What were the directions here? "Just shake it Belinda, fondle the wall, let it all out!" You rub that wall, Belinda. You rub that wall nice and good.

Other observations:
1. At 0:30, Belinda tilts her head back teasingly, and then Keaton simply hits the "repeat" button and plays the same exact shot over again. I'm thinking maybe Keaton had a preliminary cut and thought she'd covered the full length of the audio, but realized she was half a second short, so then she just decided to ... fill in the gap with a pointlessly repeated shot?
2. Why is there suddenly a narrow slit of light shining across Belinda's face? Is she in a prison cell? Is it time to feed Belinda?
3. Personally, Belinda is at her hottest in this video at about 1:13, and then later at 1:21, where she's leaning behind a fence, now wearing some kind of coat. She's got that sexy, captured, helpless, "Stockholm Syndrome" look. Ooh yeah.
4. I love the shot that starts at the second verse (1:32), where Belinda, in Outfit #2, sort of twirls away from the camera merrily, then arrives at the end of the room, realizes "Hey, crap, another wall is there!" and calmly turns around and retraces her steps. Couldn't they have just found a ... larger room? Or at least planned out the shot better? Were they under a deadline? Something fishy goin' on here. And then there's this horribly awkward edit at 1:42, where (I assume) Keaton spliced together two slightly different takes of Belinda twirling back from whence she came, perhaps hoping no one would notice? Why not just do another take?? Or maybe it's all for "effect"? Diane Keaton was fucking with us!
5. At 1:47, Belinda is back in her corner, and ... allow me to pause for a moment and state: What an exceptional corner. It's like the walls are at a 20 degree angle. They could have called this video "Heaven Is a Place in the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." This shot also, I should add, gives us an impressive view of Belinda's cleavage.
6. And why are the bat children jogging in place all the time? Is that how they're powering the globes? What sickening underworld dystopia was Belinda living in here?
7. Perhaps running out of ideas, Keaton looked behind her and said, "Hey Morgan, just get in there and stand in that pool of water and start ... making out with Belinda or something. This'll be great!" Sometimes, to quote Annie Hall, a music video is like a shark. It has to keep moving, or it dies. And what Keaton had on her hands here ... was a dead shark. Then she covered the happy couple in a ... satin sheet? My guess as to the thought process here: "I dunno, I saw it in a Maybelline commercial one time." By the end, they migrate over to Belinda's favorite wall, as the children keep spinning, and spinning, and SPINNING ... I mean, if heaven is really a place on earth, that place would be pretty nauseous by now.

YouTube comments for the "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" video generally fall into four categories:

Category #1: Belinda's Affection for the Wall:
Haha. She really likes that wall. ;)

I think she'd addicted to dancing with walls.

is she having sex with the wall?

i want to be reincarnated as a wall

Dedicated to all the guys who so wanted to be the wall...

Something tells me that wall thoroughly enjoyed itself.

That wall... I just want to roll around against it.

Thats one lucky corner.

Nobody puts Belinda in a corner....

What is she doing to the poor wall lol

this has a lot more wall humping than i remember.
Category #2: Belinda's Hotness:
Thats an "A" Class redhead meat !!!

the day this video was shot....Belinda Carlisle was THE most beautiful woman on the planet...................

Oh Heaven is a place in her pants

Thats a lucky guy who got to maul her in this video. Damn, i would've stepped up and did his job.

I love her vibrato. And her jugs.

I certainly would not miss a day of school if she were my teacher . HOT HOT !

Without sounding shallow, B. Carlisle is STILL damn HOTT!

boy would I have drank her bathwater back in 87-90. now a days I think I would let that bathwater stagnate in the hopes that the algae and mold along with the flakes of dead skin and fecal matter (from her playfully farting in the water) would mutate in to a new and soon to be young Belinda Carlisle.

Damn, Belinda Carlisle just gave me a serious Woodrow

Belinda, if you're ever down south, I'd love to take you to lunch, St Augustine area. I'll treat your bodyguard too. open invitation.
Category #3: What Does It Mean?
This vid is WHACK! I mean, is Heaven really supposed to look like a torture chamber from the Saw saga?

apparently in heaven everyone wears black eye masks.

So is this video about gnosticism?

Great song, but DAMN they had some of the worst music videos back then. What's with the jogging in place with the globe and the Green Hornet Kato masks??? And who's idea was it to stick Belinda in the corner where she almost whips her head into the's not even a right angle, it's, like, a wedge or something. Great song, though. :D

Belinda is Gaia, the earth mother, and she's fallen in love with the male mask of the apocalypse, one of many it wears. It's unclear if she knows his true nature, destroyer of worlds, or if like so many other naive women, she's under his spell and won't realize it until his violent love overcomes her and throws her body into the ditch of unbeing. In any case, at the end of the video she's obviously dead, added to his collection of little worlds, but did she want it this way, and why? Why?!

The message of this video is that accepting a one world government would bring about heavon on earth. It is Illuminati programming. Very little analysis is required to come to this conclusion.
Category #4: Miscellaneous:
"Ooo" is not a word.

Damn this whole time I thought it was "blueberry heaven was a place on earth"

Belinda and the Globe Trotters.

Best. Pop song. Ever. And I'm a thrash metal freak...

I'd have like to done lines with Belinda!!!!!!!!!!!!

Watching this video makes me realize there's a lot of us that graduated from the Belinda Carlisle school of dance.

heaven would be a place on earth if people would stop making comments about justin bieber on every music video i go on. 

Belinda Carlisle, the William Blake of the 1980s
'Until we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land'

I remember when I was young, this was my favorite song the year it came out. My brother knew this, so he changed the channel when it came on. :- ( He's now married to a horrible woman who looks like the Penguin. Karma.

Love does NOT come first. First comes introducing yourself, then comes "Nice meeting you", then comes getting to know, then comes like, then comes talking about your likes and dislikes, then comes love, then comes "Will you marry me?", then comes marriage, and then comes a family of your own.

I listened to this song on repeat before my colonoscopy because I thought I might die. Spoiler alert, I did not die.

Heaven is A Place On Earth. Hell is A Place In My Marriage.