Sunday, August 19, 2018

Al B. Sure! Not To Chuckle Too Hard At "Nite And Day" AKA Where Unibrows And Sexy Karate Collide

I'm not sure! of much in this crazy old world, but I'm sure! of one thing: Al B. Sure! surely had the most impressive unibrow in all of '80s R&B. That thing is like a rug. Did he try to shave it, and just give up? Or was this a look he was actually ... cultivating? He reminds me of Maggie's unibrowed "rival baby" on The Simpsons, except, well, sexier.

"Nite and Day" is, along with "Father Figure" and select other singles, a linchpin of what I have referred to earlier as the Summer of '88's "Egyptian Thing." That opening minor key synth riff could have been hummed by the Pharaoh's courtiers during a ceremonial dance along the shores of the Nile, at least as far as my eight-year-old imagination was concerned. I can just see Tutankhamun now, stepping off his throne, sauntering over to a comely maid, trying out these lines:
Ahhh ... can you feel it baby?
I can
Ah ... excuse me
Do you think that ... that I could ... touch you?
On a lesser single, Sure!'s playful little intro might have been the end of it, but on "Nite and Day," we actually hear from the object of his affections, who responds, with a mixture of confusion and flattery, "Who, me?" No, girl, Frosty the fucking Snowman. Yes, of course, you! Get a clue. Al B. Sure! doesn't make mistakes. His name isn't Al B. Unsure!.

Mr. Sure! then proceeds to sing the entire song in a feathery falsetto that probably sounds more effeminate than either he or co-producer Kyle West intended it to, but hey, I guess this was 1988's idea of "sexy." Honestly, with the sinewy force of that haunting chord progression behind him, even if he'd been the fruitiest of fruitcakes, I'll bet he still could've snagged a lady or two, merely by accident. Listen to the smoldering harmonic blend that coalesces around the word "day." It's like they stretch the word "day" into three separate chords. Al B. and West stitched that dreamy wave of backing vocals together more tightly than the hairs above Sure!'s nose.

Of course, vocal acrobatics are par for the course for '80s R&B, but let me tell you what's not: freaky Hendrix-style guitar runs. You hear that psychedelic shredding in the background? Where the hell did that come from? Surely Al B. Sure! didn't drop acid? Seriously, given the genre, talk about a touch I totally didn't expect, and am totally into. I'm thinking that Sure! and West might have sampled it from a preexisting recording - either that, or some unheralded session guitarist's incredible gift for Prince-style riffage was being squandered on a sleazy New Jack Swing single.

Favorite vocal highlight: the little breakdown at 2:39, where Sure!'s voice finally dips into what I assume is his natural range on the word "girl," but not without a comically drawn-out "nnn" sound preceding it. The end product might be rendered thusly: "If you and I were one ... nnn-girl-ah" and "Just take my hand and you'll see ... nnn-girl-ah." Dude is so sex-ay.

Which brings me to the video. Al B. Sure!'s idea of music video dancing strikes me as closer to taekwondo than true choreography, but I'll give him this: at least he's got passion. I keep expecting him to chop a piece of wood between two cinder blocks at some point, but sadly he never does. And what's with all the turtleneck sweaters? Did he have a unibrow on his neck he was trying to hide? One issue that doesn't help is that, somewhere around the middle of the clip, the audio on this particular YouTube upload ceases to sync up with the video properly, making Sure!'s gymnastics seem even more disjointed than they already are. Frankly, the guy wouldn't need to intimidate me with his spastic arm-waving; the unibrow alone would be enough to make me take a few steps back. Favorite YouTube comments (from, one would presume and hope, given liberal use of the "n" word, a mostly black audience):
He just doing too much in this video!!! When he throws his hands up over his head with the ballerina pose, I die laughing every timeπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ classic song tho, he paved the way for light skinned brothas with good hair πŸ‘

Love this song, but I imagine the filming for this video went something like this...
Director : I need more emotion Al
Al : Say no more scowls throughout whole video

when that nigga throw his arms up he must be trying to morph into a Power Ranger or some shit πŸ˜‚⚡

That stank ass look on his face never ceases to amaze me and crack me up after all these years.

like he was all coked up or sumpin

Dude looks pissed off through the whole damn clip. Maybe he was trying to look hard, but there's no way to look hard while you're singing a song like this.

That was the thing we did back then, made emojis with our face. The emoji he did in this video was the ima get in that ass girl.

Homie is balling out of control with that cardigan Coogi sweater... straight Cosby status, y'all!

looking like Bert from Sesame Street!!! but I still love the New Jack Swing flavor!

its like had to wear protection when he was on stage cuz he was making love to the music

The "B" was for 'brow'. Maybe his name should have been Brow B Sure.

I just watched this shit again...look at that scowl on his face as soon as the video starts! He looks disgusted! This nigga was mad at sunrise! lmao

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Foolish Bleat Of Debbie Gibson's Art

I woke up this morning and thought to myself, "Am I really about to do a blog post on Debbie Gibson?"

Sometimes, a man needs to live on the edge.

Every now and then, I've heard talk about a so-called Debbie Gibson/Tiffany "rivalry." Such chatter, I feel, while well-intentioned, is uninformed and misguided. Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were rivals in about the same sense that, say, the Zombies and Herman's Hermits were rivals. The casual pop music dilettante might not have observed a noticeable demarcation point, but upon closer inspection, one spots a clear difference. The difference being: Debbie Gibson composed her own songs, and Tiffany did not. Granted, one might counter that the songs Debbie Gibson composed may not have been particularly noteworthy songs. But that's not the point. Debbie Gibson carried those little jewels of teen-pop schmaltz in her womb for nine months, suffered morning sickness, took the Lamaze classes, screamed through the agony of labor. What did Tiffany do? Tiffany just drove her pick-up truck to the adoption center. And Gibson was, by the way, about seventeen years old when she composed, produced, and performed said songs. She didn't merely know her target audience; she was her target audience.

You know what? I was sitting here staring at a bunch of Debbie Gibson song titles, and I just had the most shocking realization. I think Debbie Gibson might have been deliberately naming her song titles in a subtle stylistic homage ... to Roxy Music. Seriously. Let's play a little game here. I'm going to throw a few song titles out there, and your job is to try to tell me which songs are by Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, and which songs are by Debbie Gibson. Ready? Set? Go! (Answers at the bottom of the post):

"Staying Together"
"Let's Stick Together"
"Angel Eyes"
"Lost In Your Eyes"
"Foolish Beat"
"While Me Heart Is Still Beating"
"Only In My Dreams"
"In Every Dream Home A Heartache"
"Don't Stop The Dance"
"Shake Your Love"
"Out Of The Blue"

Damn. Who pegged Debbie Gibson as such a '70s British art-rock aficionado?

But I digress. With her debut single "Only in My Dreams," Gibson attempted to answer the most pressing question of her age: Is generic teen pop more impressive if it's actually been written by the performer? "Probably not" is my answer, but the record-buying public apparently said "Yes," or, perhaps more likely, didn't even notice. Hanson, any thoughts? I would like to point out that when Janis Ian was 14, she wrote "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)." Just saying.

In the video Gibson finds herself trapped in a Fellini film, waking up in a bed that's been sitting in the middle of a beach (does anyone else really want to know the details of the night she's just had?), surrounded by little girls and a priest. I think I see Marcello Mastroianni in the background playing with a beach ball somewhere. These "dreamlike" black and white shots are interspersed with color footage of Debbie cavorting on a merry-go-round, wearing hoop earrings, a cropped jacket, and ... thigh-length jean shorts? Ah, the '80s. She also copiously moves her hands in front of her face. Maybe it's just me, but this might be the rare instance of a sax solo detracting from the overall power of an '80s song.

While Madonna couldn't abandon her early, fluffy "Minnie Mouse on helium" dance-pop image fast enough, instead quickly pivoting to material about abortion and loathing her father and all that "adult" stuff, Debbie Gibson stormed into the studio clutching her copy of Madonna with all her might and said to the engineer, "I wanna sound like this!" Of course, even in her first incarnation, while her lyrics were more or less dopey, Madonna still used her videos to push boundaries. Based on the contents of the "Shake Your Love" video, I think the only thing Debbie Gibson wanted to push was ... a shoe to her ear (1:24). Favorite YouTube comments:
What brought me here? I am a UPS driver and a lady on my route is named Debbie Gibson. Every time she gets a package I walk in the office and sing " Shake your love!" LOL

Because of Debbie I learned English so well, I'm from Chile. Regards

“shake your love” by debbie gibson was a song she wrote about giving handjobs

Now that would have been boundary-pushing. Well, it turns out Debbie did have a darker, more brooding side. She just needed to be provoked, and nothing provokes a teenage girl like a bad break-up. I mean, we're not talking your run-of-the-mill break-up here. We're talking an End Of The World, Cry of Existential Agony, Lose All Faith In Humanity kind of break-up. If Debbie Gibson has an epic, soul-crushing, legacy-cementing work, that work ... would be "Foolish Beat."

It begins gently, eerily - the feather-light keyboard, acoustic guitar, and lightly-struck bell conjuring the uncertain calm of an autumn sunset. The corresponding images in the video suggest a typical, quotidian evening in New York City. Look at all those people out there, driving home from work, crossing bridges, living in their plush Manhattan digs. You know what all those people have? They have someone. And who does Debbie Gibson have? No one. We catch a quick glimpse of our bereaved at 0:06, lit in silhouette, striking a foreboding pose. She's about to tell us a tale - a heartbreaking tale.

At 0:13, the sax enters. See, this is how you use a saxophone in an '80s song. We see a man walking along a grimy city street, as steam rises up from a manhole. Suddenly, we zoom into a cafe. The narrative commences: "There was a time when/Broken hearts and broken dreams/Were over." Uh ... the grammar needs some work, but I think I get the gist of her intentions: broken hearts and broken dreams were "things of the past." She goes on: "There was a place where/All you could do was/Wish on a four leaf clover." "All you could do"? That's a pretty limited set of options. What about wishing upon a star? Throwing a coin in the well? Did it have to be a clover? The camera pans over and the film stock shifts from color to black and white, clearly giving us a depiction of happier times, as Debbie sits with her paramour while an imposing stack of coffee cups teeters on the table. Seriously, how much coffee did these two drink? No wonder why their relationship didn't work out: they were probably caffeinated up to the gills! They probably couldn't even sit still for five seconds. Talk about "shaking your love."

But then wait, look out, here comes the imitation snare drum: "But now is a new time/There is a new place/Where dreams just can't come true/It started the day when I left you, oh/I could never love again the way that I loved you, oh." Never love again? Like, ever? I don't know, Debbie. Just give it a little more time, you know, watch a movie, get drunk with some friends. He was probably an asshole anyway. He was probably the kind of guy who left the toilet seat up. I can practically hear her shimmying her hips and thrusting her chest when she belts "And WHEN we SAID goodBYE!" as the guitar strums some menacing chords and the keyboard surges. The ache, the longing is so palpable. She's like the cagey little white suburban girl who, for the first time in her sheltered, spotless life, finally discovers her inner tortured R&B diva and decides to let it rip. I love how there's a medium shot of Debbie grieving in her dressing room, and then the camera cuts to a brief close-up at 1:23 just to catch her singing "oh," and then the camera cuts right back out again. That "oh" really needed its own close-up, did it not? At 1:48, she literally wipes a tear away from her eye. Take that, Sinead O'Connor.

"Foolish Beat," how else do I love thee? I love the forlorn stroll along the New York harbor during the second chorus, I love the heavily choreographed "live concert" dance routine during the bridge, I love the snippet of castanets after the lyrics "without your heart," the little blast of synthesized brass at 3:11 (right before "break my heart"), the shot of Debbie and her former beau attempting to buy roses during the sax solo, where everything is in black and white except the roses - like that scene in Schindler's List with the girl in the red coat, only bleaker - and just as they're about to purchase a bouquet, some brat on a skateboard snatches it from them! I tell ya, it just wasn't in the cards for these two.

OK, fine, I get it. I'm sure her break-up is a bummer of epic proportions and all, but why do I still get the sense that this whole episode is merely a result of Debbie's youthful inexperience? Let me put it this way: When Karen Carpenter sings "I'll say goodbye to love," I really believe that Karen is permanently, irrevocably saying adios to romantic fulfillment. Debbie Gibson just sounds like she's having a bad weekend. Indeed, although in the last shot, her ex tosses roses into a trashcan while waiting in vain outside a Debbie Gibson concert (he really puts some fear and loathing into that toss), the melody concludes on an unexpected major chord, suggesting a sense of ... optimism and renewal? Don't worry Debbie, everything gets better in college - at least that's what they tell me.

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