Friday, December 29, 2006

Crowd manipulation, expert level

I don't usually go for bands that demand audience participation. Back in the days when I could spend eight hours at a music festival, the last thing I wanted to hear was someone on stage yelling at me to get up and yell. If I wanted to yell and jump, I could've stayed home and avoided the $50 tickets, the filthy bathrooms, the aroma of pot smoke, etc.

But one band is an exception. And I think it's because they seem to have a cause. They're not asking you to get into it for some ego trip. Their creed is that there's nothing more important at this moment than to throw your problems out the window and celebrate the fact that you're alive.

And the band's leader is exceptionally good at making you believe that creed. He could've been a televangelist and made more money than he's making in this veteran bar band with a couple of semi-hits.

Have you guessed?

It's Cowboy Mouth.

Someone caught the act in Boston and put it on YouTube in five parts. Enjoy ...

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Great but forgotten

Apologies for not doing any kind of Christmas post. I was thinking of doing something based on Steve Martin's SNL Christmas monologue, but (A) NBC doesn't have that on its site and (B) all I really want is peace. Seriously. Everywhere from the Middle East to the Internet, where I've been involved in some really tedious bickering lately.

I'm now in my favorite post-Christmas activity, iTunes gift card spending. Here's what I have so far:

  • Lindsey Buckingham, To Try for the Sun: Heavy on the acoustic picking. Saw it on a "Best of" and figured I'd give it a listen. Not bad.
  • Motorhead, Ace of Spades: Because it's ridiculous to have it as a ringtone and a Young Ones episode and not as an actual song.
  • Hayseed Dixie, Ace of Spades: Because Hayseed Dixie is just that good.
  • KT Tunstall, Black Horse and the Cherry Tree: Artist I'm planning to watch in 2007.
  • Weird Al, White and Nerdy: Fluent in JavaScript and Klingon, be-otch.
  • Talking Heads, Burning Down the House: One of those songs that makes you go, "Oh yeah -- I used to have that on tape somewhere and should really have it on the iPod."
  • Young MC, Bust a Move: Just filling out the '80s songs.
There's one '80s song I can't get at iTunes because it's simply not there. And that's a shame. Like a couple of Dubstar songs, this one surely has enough of a following to warrant a few downloads.

So as with Dubstar, I'll reluctantly link to YouTube. In this case, the video is indeed kind of silly, mostly because the lead singer insists on doing the Belinda Carlisle two-step through the whole thing. That's a little odd for a band that was aiming for a Clash/U2 political vibe with the odd pop hit mixed in.

Guessed it yet?

Here you go -- Red Rockers' China

Great bass line, isn't it?

At least they made a video. If you want to hear the powerful Vixtrola song Gunboat, you have to watch some weird thing with subtitles that has nothing to do with the band itself.

Updating: I searched for some more stuff at iTunes based on an old list of songs I couldn't find. Found: Big Country's You Dreamer and Poe's breathtaking Haunted, which has apparently inspired a lot of fan videos at YouTube.

Not found: Whale's Hobo Humping Slobo Babe, Melting Hopefuls' She's a Big Boy Now, more Big Country and this charming effort from Stretch Princess ...

I didn't realize the lead singer played bass. Uh oh -- crush alert ...

Updating: If you're not up on your Minako and would rather just hear Vixtrola without the video, check their MySpace page. Seems they have some trouble with their record label. Sounds like Poe. Or maybe Fiona Apple.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

When siblings share too much ...

Hairstyles aside, the '80s were the Golden Age of videos. When they were good, they were very good. When they were bad, they were hysterical.

And it was in the '80s that Heart, in the midst of slowly shredding their rock-n-roll cred in a long descent into synthesizer balladry (the nadir being All I Want to Do Is Make Love to You), gave us the video for the otherwise forgettable Nothin' At All:

A few highlights (and no, I don't mean the hair) ...

- Full-band videos can be tough on drummers if there's no easy way to work a drum set into a video. In this case, I think Denny Carmassi must have pissed off the director. There are plenty of places to get his drums into the video. But no. He's stuck there banging his sticks on a post and a couple of railings.

- This will send us on a tangent. For no apparent reason, there's a panther in this video who keeps morphing back and forth into a cat. I have no idea what this has to do with anything.

Now, in Hall and Oates' Maneater video, it makes sense. A panther could theoretically be a maneater, right?

Tangent, step 3: For more disturbing imagery from Hall and Oates, check Jefito's take on Jingle Bell Rock, which sees the duo and their bandmates cavorting as if stuck on the world's goofiest Christmas special.

Tangent, step 4: Oates' painfully stiff mannerisms in Jingle Bell Rock make him a dead ringer for Eddie Murphy's whiteface character in the classic SNL "White Like Me" sketch.

Tangent over. I'll get to the point ...

- Ann sings the song in the girls' bedroom while Nancy is getting spruced up. Presumably for a date. Presumably with the same guy Ann is singing about.

All together now: Ewwwwwww ...

And, of course, while primping (a word whose similarity to "pimping" never seemed to appropriate), Nancy picks the cleavage-enhancing model she wore so well in Heart videos. ZZ Top had the guitar spin -- Nancy had the 45-degree tilt that drove 15-year-olds like me wild with feelings we didn't quite understand.

Sure, that was probably the point. Put Nancy in the hot outfit and hint, not so subtly, they don't mind sharing. They're already in the same bedroom having a cute girly conversation. Years later, South Park's Chef would provide the theme music for the fantasy they're selling here -- "You ... and me ... and her ... simultaneous!"

Timberlake on SNL

A few things we've learned after Justin Timberlake's hosting stint last weekend ...

1. Timberlake is a damn good sketch actor. Almost anyone can be funny in SNL's hands, but few hosts get into the characters as well as he does. He's one small step below the Alec Baldwin / Christopher Walken / Steve Martin stratosphere, and he's a lot younger than those guys.

2. The NYTimes piece making this point veers into pretentiousness, but yes, Timberlake's ability to remake his image is impressive. He could easily be this century's Madonna.

3. The Internet is giving SNL new life. Putting the uncensored (Bleep) in a Box on NBC's official site was a brilliant move -- and apparently lucrative.

4. Some people -- from the Parents Television Council (funny -- I'm a parent, and I don't remember nominating these guys) to snarky bloggers -- will never get it. Their loss.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'South Park' misinterpreted

I'll pass on the book South Park and Philosophy. It should be right up my alley -- I majored in philosophy all those years ago, and I've probably seen every episode of the show.

But this review skewers the book just as effectively as the show skewers its satirical targets:

"South Park is a mini-representation of America, where different races, religions and types of people have to coexist, but have their problems as well. There is no right answer in South Park. Everyone has their faults, and everyone has their strengths, just like in America. South Park is great because of it's diversity, and it's acceptance of other people. When you try to loosely base an opinion-based argument on a show that clearly argues something totally different, then you're just using the South Park name to sell some books. "

The problem, claims the reviewer, is that the writers miss the point or misrepresent it. That's also the case in "The Invisible Gnomes and the Invisible Hand," which seems to be an excerpt from the book.

Paul Cantor, an English professor writing here on economics, starts on solid ground, insisting that South Park's vulgarity is merely the continuation of proud traditions of fart jokes in comedy and philosophy. And he rightly hails the surprise twist at the end of the Big Gay Scoutmaster episode, which has a resolution sure to confuse and challenge slogan-chanters on all sides.

But Cantor so desperately wants to claim South Park for the "right" -- the economic "right," anyway -- that he misreads the episode on which he bases most of his piece.

He gets half of it right, accurately summing up the town's misguided efforts to fight "Harbucks." Yet even in that section, the ideological blinders are evident. He labels the TV ad with the kids and the American flag as "a wonderful parody of a liberal political commercial." Take out the word "liberal," and this description is more precise. Kids and flags are equal-opportunity political pawns.

The great misreading concerns the Underpants Gnomes. A few quotes:

"The gnomes represent the ordinary business activity that is always going on in plain sight of everyone, but which they fail to notice and fail to understand. The people of South Park are unaware that the ceaseless activity of large corporations like Harbucks is necessary to provide them with all the goods they enjoy in their daily lives. They take it for granted that the shelves of their supermarkets will always be amply stocked with a wide variety of goods and never appreciate all the capitalist entrepreneurs who make that abundance possible."

The second and third sentences are a viable argument. The first is nonsense. The gnomes are sneaking into Tweek's room in the middle of the bloody night. That's "plain sight"?

"What is worse, the ordinary citizens misinterpret capitalist activity as theft. They focus only on what businessmen take from them – their money – and forget about what they get in return, all the goods and services. "

Dude, they're stealing Tweek's underwear. Not the model business on which you want to hinge this argument.

"Even the gnomes do not understand what they are doing. Perhaps South Park is suggesting that the real problem is that businessmen themselves lack the economic knowledge they would need to explain their activity to the public and justify their profits. When the boys ask the gnomes to tell them about corporations, all they can offer is this enigmatic diagram of the stages of their business."

He then offers up the chart -- Phase 1, Collect Underpants. Phase 2, ? ... Phase 3, Profit. So far, so good.

"This chart basically encapsulates the economic illiteracy of the American public. They can see no connection between the activities businessmen undertake and the profits they make. What businessmen actually contribute to the economy is a big question mark to them. "

No, I didn't skip a bit between the last two quotes. Cantor has jumped from laughing with us at the Underpants Gnomes' confused business plan to laughing at us for failing to understand it.

Again, Cantor could make a fair point on the "economic illiteracy of the American public." The mistake is tying that argument to a bunch of gnomes who raid Tweek's drawer in the middle of the night and have no idea what to do with the undergarments. You could make a better case that the gnomes are some sort of allegory for the dotcom bust circa 2001.

My dad, very much a traditionalist in terms of education, pushed me to go to Virginia. I wonder how he'd feel about a Virginia professor watching cartoons ... and misinterpreting them.

To be fair to Cantor, the segments of his piece not dealing with gnomes aren't bad. And I've seen worse in terms of misreading pop culture, from the other side of the political aisle. That would be one Michael Eric Dyson, who spoke at a graduation I attended in Chapel Hill. Dyson, whose entire speech was designed to shock the grandmothers who had come to see their little Tar Heels turn tassels, made reference to Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know, saying many of us are stunned by the reference to fellatio in the backseat of a car.

Why yes, I would be stunned if that song had a reference to fellatio in a car. Because the act takes place in a theater. Way to do your research, Mr. Dyson.

Maybe I shouldn't go into academia. These guys don't seem any smarter or more intellectually honest than my colleagues in journalism.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In defense of Band Aid ...

And AGAIN, we're back. At least most of the time. We'll see how long this sticks.

I would've posted earlier in the evening, but I got sucked into my recording of a truly excellent show I highly recommend -- Sundance Channel's One Punk Under God. It follows Jim Bakker's son, Jay, as he kicks around the ruins of Heritage USA and talks about his estrangement from his dad. (But NOT from his mom, Tammy Faye, who is ailing.)

I thought it'd be interesting to see Heritage USA, and it was. "Ruins" is not an overstatement, and whatever you think of the theological and financial creativity that brought people there, it's hard not to see something poignant in the deserted theme park.

But beyond that, Jay is an interesting guy. He did the typical 180-degree turn away from his parents' lifestyle and has made it about 145 degrees back. He preaches a more inclusive Christianity and talks with remarkable openness about his past, moving listeners to tears. His wife reminds me of any number of smart Georgia women I knew growing up.

So anyway, back to tonight's topic ...

While browsing the Jason / Jefito "Mellowmas" celebration (also highly recommended), I came across a passing negative reference to the Band Aid charity song Do They Know It's Christmas? That's the second Band Aid dissing I've seen recently, and I'm a little surprised. I'd always assumed the general reaction to that song ranged from "like" to "benign indifference."

Let me explain why those should be the only viable reactions (I'm a little insistent about some aspects of my musical taste) ...

1. The group charity appeal was not yet cliche at this point. (If I weren't rushing to get this done, I'd look up the dates to see if the Super Bowl Shuffle pre-dated this, but it's safe to say Refrigerator Perry can't be cited as an influence here.) Bob Geldof was no bandwagoner.

2. Like Courtney Love, Boy George has seen his long, tedious downfall overshadow his considerable talent. But the talent was considerable. The guy could sing.

3. It's so simple and unassuming. Especially in comparison to the wretched U.S. response. Band Aid simply sings Feed the World. USA for Africa claims WE Are the World. I guess that's a complaint about the catering?

And you HAVE to judge it in comparison to other such efforts. If you're going to raise money on this scale, you have to do it in a style that offers the broadest appeal. As much as you and I might love to hear Husker Du crank the amps to 12 and scream about Africa, that's probably not going to make a dent in the famine relief budget.

It's a pleasant melody and a nice sentiment, with a driving Phil Collins beat. And best of all, they let Collins play drums instead of writing the lyrics.

Let them know it's Christmas. Or Hanukkah, or the winter solstice, or whatever. Feed the world.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hey! I'm online again!

My ISP, which rhymes with "Lox Lommunications," has generously provided us with Internet access again. I'll post quickly in case they change their minds.

Sorry to miss a chance to respond to the Jason-Jefito flirtation, which I was proud to host here at the blog.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Things I don't understand ...

Am I the only one who thinks boxer briefs accomplish nothing but combining the restrictiveness of briefs with the bulkiness of boxers?

More from the Golden Age of Videos

I can picture the conversation ...

"Yeah, Nigel? I'm having trouble with a concept for this video here."

"Sure, what's the problem?"

"Well, it's a solo artist, but he's not a singer. There's nothing particularly interesting about him from a visual standpoint."

"Hmmm ... who sings?"

"Um ... hang on ... I've got his name somewhere ..."

"Wait -- never mind. I've got it. Pretend you're doing an audition for singers."

"Well, I suppose that might work. But wouldn't get a little repetitive?"

"Why not throw in some celebrities and some gag singers?"

"Sounds good. Who can we get?"

"How about the guy who plays Tattoo?"

"Isn't he dead?"

"Not yet. It's only 1985. And we'll get Donny Osmond to play against type. And Dr. Joyce Brothers and Parker Stevenson."

"To sing?"

"Nah. Joyce will just explain the underlying psychological concept. Parker will just stand in line to audition and then introduce himself."

"Neat, but can we get some real singers?"

"Sure. Let's get Marilyn McCoo, who'll be awesome. And Jon Butcher. And Jimmy Hall, since he actually performs on the track."

"Hmmmmm. Will this actually work?"

"Hey, enjoy it while you can. In a few years, videos will be nothing but special effects and helicopter shots."

"Good point. OK, action!"

Here you go ... Jeff Beck's Ambitious.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More important lessons passed to the next generation

MMM Toddler Edition and I went to a hockey game over Thanksgiving weekend, and I rewarded his good behavior with the purchase of a small Alex Ovechkin stick.

He has taken to taking the stick to bed, along with the stuffed animals that are multiplying in his bed.

Normally, none of this is a problem. But tonight, we heard noise from his room ...

... tap ... tap ... tap ...

"What is he DOING?" asked Mrs. MMM.

My response: "He's just letting his teammates know the power play is ending."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Memo to Simpsons producers

You're still coming up with good ideas. But you keep recycling one bad one.

For the last time, it's not funny or interesting to break up Homer and Marge before the last commercial break, then scramble to get them back together before the end. It's been done to death, reincarnated as a cow, milked, and ... well, that's enough of that analogy.

Promising episode tonight for the first half.

VH1 list, the conclusion

76 Thomas Dolby / "She Blinded Me With Science" 1982

Dolby had other good songs -- Europa possibly the most memorable. Then he went on to do some techie thing that I probably should've done if anyone would've given me venture capital or if I had any clue what it entailed or if I'd bought into it enough to say "Oh yeah, it's what everyone will be doing in five years" with a straight face. Damn my anonymous skeptical self.

Good song, great video.

77 New Edition / "Candy Girl" 1983

Don't remember it.

78 Blondie / "Call Me" 1980

Ah, the song that taught a young MMM that designer sheets and wine were sexy. They had to be -- Debbie Harry was sexy (even I knew that), she was singing about a gigolo, and so she must know what she's talking about. Right?

But at this point, we should give props to one of the great underrated musicians of the rock era -- Blondie keyboardist Jimmy Destri. You don't hear many songs outside the prog-rock genre that feature a keyboard solo. Even so, this one sticks in your head.

79 Human League / "Don't You Want Me?" 1981

Another one of those songs that melted my resistance to Top 40 songs. So many good riffs bouncing off each other in the mix, such a compelling story, enhanced by a mildly creepy video.

I'll insist that Human League went on to do other good songs. (Keep Feeling) Fascination, aside from the parentheses (one of my (pet peeves) in song titles), wasn't bad. And for a distinctly different take on the Human League, check out The Lebanon, a political lament propelled by Jo Callis' guitar.

80 Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock / "It Takes Two" 1988

Don't remember it.

81 Cameo / "Word Up!" 1986

I have a vague memory of a music-magazine interview with one of these guys, who came across as the most arrogant one-hit wonder you'd ever not want to meet. He was apparently working in a shoe store but quit on the spot when he heard his song on the radio. Shouldn't have burned those bridges.

82 Squeeze / "Tempted" 1981

An oddity, in part because the Difford-Tilbrook core gives way to Paul Carrack, who had just replaced Jools Holland on keyboards and would soon be replaced himself. And then Holland would come back for their second life in the mid-80s, eventually to be replaced AGAIN by Carrack in a roundabout way.

Yes, Holland is the guy who hosts the excellent music show Later on BBC -- but curiously on Ovation, not BBC America, here in the States. And yes, Carrack is the guy who would later sing on some dreadful Mike + The Mechanics songs.

Difford and Tilbrook share in the vocals in the second verse, which is a fun listen even if it destroys the narrative. No wonder you're tempted -- you're four people!

(If I were actually on VH1, I'd do my impression of that verse, which is surprisingly good considering my weak singing voice even after four years of majoring in music.)

It's a classic because it has a timeless sound and a timeless story, along with some of Difford and Tilbrook's typically clever lines. But I still find myself listening to other Squeeze tunes ahead of this one -- Pulling Mussels from the Shell, Another Nail for My Heart, Take Me I'm Yours, etc. They made one of the best greatest-hits compilations ever compiled.

83 Prince / "Kiss" 1986

Can't get past the falsetto. I just wanted to reach through the screen, slap him, and say, "Look, dude, pick up that guitar and PLAY! This SUCKS!"

84 Lionel Richie / All Night Long (All Night) 1983

"Jumboleto hipono man ... HEYYYYY jumbo jumbo ... jumboleto slip emo dan ... HEYYYYY shangri-la ... Dumbo he go Jar-Jar on crack ... heyyyyy Dumbo Dumbo ..."

I have no memory of the rest of this song worth sharing.

85 Robert Palmer / "Addicted to Love" 1985

As I've hinted throughout, several of these songs caught me at various stages of that precious age in which we discover sex. It's a confusing age for many of us, and I was no exception. But when I saw this video and heard people talk about how sexy it was, I found a new confidence. I said, "Bullshit." Emotionless, expressionless women who don't know the first thing about pretending to play their instruments are not sexy.

Palmer, rest his soul, was always a talented singer in search of decent material. This wasn't it. Frankly, the Power Station year(s) may have been his pinnacle.

(Did you know that both members of Power Station who were not in Duran Duran are dead, as is collaborator Bernard Edwards? That's terrible. Tony Thompson, for those who don't remember, was the guy powering Led Zeppelin through its Live Aid performance while Phil "Hey, It's a Video About Making a Video About Live Aid, Starring Me on Two Continents!" Collins mugged for the camera.)

86 Bow Wow Wow / "I Want Candy" 1982

There is nothing not to like about this. Love the drum beat, love the enthusiastic vocals, love the surf-punk guitar, love the low-budget video. A favorite of MMM Jr.'s rides to day care. Hey, he doesn't get subtext.

87 Falco / "Rock Me Amadeus 1986

"Graa vi de doop, whoa oh oh / zyah zyah, Der Kommisar gi doop, whoa oh oh!"

Oh no, this is the other one. Referenced twice in The Simpsons: the "Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius" song in the Broadway Planet of the Apes, and "Thank you, Taco, for that loving tribute to Falco."

It's a cool song. What else can you say? Fit perfectly after the movie.

88 Chaka Khan / "Ain't Nobody" 1989

I'm aware of this song's existence but have nothing substantial to say about it. Meh.

89 The Pretenders / "Brass in Pocket" 1980

Again, not the Pretenders' best, and Chrissie Hynde told VH1 she doesn't really like the song. Considering what else she was capable of doing, that's not a surprise. Two albums later, with two band members passed away, she roared back with the classic Middle of the Road, which should be on this list. Any song that builds up to her snarled delivery of "I'm not the kind I used to be, I got a kid, I'm 33, baby" is hard to top. (Wow, those first three Pretenders albums had some terrific songs.)

But this song has plenty to justify its inclusion here. Solid bedrock bass line, distinctive guitar riffs, good self-confident strut in the lyrics. Even if I had no idea to this day what "brass in pocket" is supposed to mean.

90 Tone-Loc / "Wild Thing" 1989

This was a whole song? I thought someone just recorded 10 seconds of music for use in ironic contexts in TV shows.

91 Katrina and The Waves / "Walking On Sunshine" 1983

I remember reading that Katrina and company felt this song diminished their standing as true practicioners of punk or whatever else they were doing. But the other two KATW songs I remember -- Do You Want Crying? and Is That It? -- were pure pop as well. And not as good.

Skip this part if you're watching the VH1 special. You'll be heartbroken by what's happened to Katrina's hair and singing voice. Her acoustic guitar take on this song is almost as bad as the Indigo Girls' misguided demolition of Dire Straits' understated classic Romeo and Juliet. I love Indigo Girls -- I really do -- but they took that song to a place that wasn't human. I actually meowed.

92 New Kids on the Block / "You Got It (The Right Stuff) 1988

In the lexicon of the day ... whatEVER!

93 Gary Numan / "Cars" 1980

Classic underappreciated video moments: In the long fadeout, Numan's band is lined up at four keyboards. One guy's job is to slam his hand on the "4" in every measure. Close your eyes and imagine the song for a second -- "Doo doo doo doo ... doo KUGSSHHH." Now picture a guy, looking every bit as serious as Numan, striking a pose that surely inspired Dieter on Sprockets, slamming his hand on the keyboard to get that percussion sound.

Monty Python had the machine that goes "Ping!" Gary Numan had the guy who goes "KUGSSHHHH!" I think I had that sound on my Casio.

I neither love nor hate this song. It's fascinating to this day, which I suppose is a good thing.

94 The Rolling Stones / "Start Me Up" 1981

Simple guitar riff from a band that did better. In fact, this song is a little clumsy when you get right down to it -- the opening riff awkwardly collides with the drums.

95 Debbie Gibson / "Only in My Dreams" 1987

Why did I think Shake Your Love was a bigger song? Was it because my freshman year roommate, who is now a record company exec who works with Guster, played it all the time? And because my other freshman year roommate, a jazz sophisticate who generally teased him about his Top 40 tastes, would play it as well? Maybe so.

It's catchy, it's flimsy, it's just there. I was just jealous, of course, I wanted to be a 17-year-old pop star myself. I guess I'm behind schedule.

96 Men at Work / "Down Under" 1982

Again -- Overkill is a better song, but I can't fault this song's inclusion. Classic video turning the song's dry wit into a goofy escapade. These guys had melodic hooks to spare. If you're in the mood to dig through back catalog, look up I Can See It in Your Eyes.

97 The Romantics / "What I Like About You" 1980

See, Kelly Keagy of Night Ranger? That's what you're supposed to do as a singing drummer. Face the crowd, toss the fundamentals aside and let it rip.

One of the few harmonica solos I like.

98 Bobby Brown / "My Perogative" 1988

... is not to listen to this song.

(Sorry ... channeling J.D. Considine for a minute. If you're following the link, the "most famous work" he mentions is his three-letter review of GTR. Which is very easy to guess given these clues but was hysterical upon first discovery.)

99 Wang Chung / "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" 1986

People forget that Wang Chung spent a few years building up to megahit status. Dance Hall Days was a likable effort a few years earlier, and they did an intriguing theme song to the film To Live and Die in L.A.

So I'll have to emphasize -- this was not a bad song or a bad band. Sure, it was a little ironic to see a guy who never smiled telling us to have fun, but that's nit-picking.

100 Loverboy / "Working for the Weekend" 1981

I get to conclude with one of the funniest stories anyone has ever told me. A friend of mine saw ZZ Top with Loverboy opening. As he told it, the crowd stared with mild but growing hostility as Mike Reno pranced his way around stage, belting out "I gotta do it my-y way," from the sluggish, conceited mini-epic Turn Me Loose. Finally, it turned ugly. "Z-Z-Top! Z-Z-Top! Z-Z-Top!" Debris raining onto the stage. The guitarist donning a helmet. Reno yelling, "We're never playing here again!" to raucous cheers.

I have no idea how much of this is true. But it's a good story, isn't it?

I've softened a bit on Loverboy because Reno seems to have such a great sense of humor. He tells VH1 he still has the tight red pants, same size. Just 36x32 instead of 32x36. Hey, I'm with ya, Mike.

Never really got into this song, though. The video is amusing for the awkward still-frames on drummer Matt Frenette. This band chose two unfortunate visual hooks -- tight pants and a drummer who tried just a little too hard to look intense.

We all know why this song lives on. The powers that be aren't in the habit of letting their work reside at YouTube, but this particular work was so memorable that other people have recorded themselves re-creating it. Check it out.

It is, of course, Patrick Swayze, Chris Farley and Chris Farley's belly (I maintain they were three separate people, each with different choreography) auditioning to be Chippendales dancers.

Well, this has been fun, and I've recorded record readership here. That'll encourage me to post more often, but bear in mind that I'm a father of two with a demanding job who's also writing a book. (Anyone interesting in publishing it? Bueller?) At some point in the next week or so, I'll list MY top songs of the 80s, at least the ones on my iPod. Actually, my iPod is deceased, but I still have it all on iTunes.

Until then, aloha.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

VH1 list, #51-75

I know, I know. Time to get to the point. Be warned that I might dismiss a few of these in succinct terms.

51 Ratt / "Round and Round" 1984

I'm going to take a moment to bash Jane's Addiction and Perry Farrell, just because they deserve it every minute of every day.

All I heard in college was, "Oh, Jane's Addiction is so cool. They're so alternative."

Alternative? The first 50 times I heard Been Caught Stealin', I thought it was Ratt.

This song was eminently forgettable if not for the video, teaching kids of my generation how to tear their clothing on the climb up to the attic away from Milton Berle so they can show that much more midriff while dancing around.

Ratt had another video, I Need a Woman, that popped up on Beavis and Butt-head. They didn't like it. IIRC, Butt-head said he needs a woman, too, but isn't up there singing some crappy song about it, and Beavis noted that the "women" in the video all looked like sophomores. Not in college.

52 Dead or Alive / "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)" 1985

I'm not supposed to like dance-oriented songs like this. Especially not back in high school, when I never, ever, ever danced, and I scoffed at pop all day while listening to Rush and Husker Du.

But geez, this is a good song. It's like White Zombie's More Human Than Human in the sense that it may be the only time these guys ever put together the pieces in the right combination. (In White Zombie's case, they couldn't even put the pieces together again when playing it live -- I saw them on some MTV awards show, and it was a train wreck.)

I've often fantasized of doing a guitar-based cover version. (Jason? Jefito? Which of you recently posted something about a synth-based song that could just have easily have worked on guitar?)

53 Billy Idol / "White Wedding" 1988

1988? That can't be right. Let's see ... quick check at AllMusic ... aha -- 1982, not 88.

What I'm finding with a lot of these songs is that whether I not I liked them is irrelevant. The early 80s MTV bands simply knew how to write musical hooks, deliver vocal hooks and script video hooks. You can ... not ... forget ... this ... song. And it's not altogether unpleasant.

54 Salt-N-Pepa / "Push It" 1986

86? That's risky. Wouldn't want to play that song just as Reagan woke up from a nap in the Oval Office near The Button. That would've made the Cuban missile crisis look like a picnic on the Mall.

55 A Flock of Seagulls / "I Ran (So Far Away)" 1982

Again, NOT a one-hit wonder. Space Age Love Song is pretty good, and Wishing beautifully explores the possibilities of synth and heavily processed guitar.

Frankly, what held these guys back is Mike Score's voice. Which has NOT aged well.

You may think of AFOS as a synth-and-hair band, but listen closely to Paul Reynolds' ultra-sharp guitar riffs. It was a pity he couldn't quite replicate them on Bands Reunited, but the poor guy hadn't played in 15 years or so.

56 Bonnie Tyler / "Total Eclipse of the Heart" 1983

I was skinny in high school for two reasons. First, I ran cross-country. Second, in the days before remote control, I had to sprint across the living room to change the channel when this piece of dreck popped up. I may have had nightmares about the kids with the glowing eyes. Or the arrangement.

Jason said all else that needs to be said. The Wikipedia description of the video is unusually -- and appropriately -- laden with snarky undertones.

57 Toni Basil / "Mickey" 1981

This is a good place to work in something horrible I saw in the Macy's parade this morning. The cast of the Broadway rendition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas popped up to lip-synch (badly, in some cases) part of the show. It's safe to say ol' Doc Geisel is spinning in his grave. The producers absolutely missed the point of the story. The kids of Whoville demand presents and act shocked when the Grinch does his reverse-Santa act. I'll repeat for emphasis -- this heartwarming story of how the Whos are totally unfazed by a massive act of serial burglary on Christmas Eve is rendered here as a bunch of spoiled kids mugging for the crowd.

I mention that, because this entire song and video is mugging. As Peter Griffin once said, "I was very aware that I was watching a performance."

Set up a good Weird Al parody, though.

58 Culture Club / "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" 1982

One of my best friends from high school performed as Boy George in a lip-sync contest, and it was so adorable that I never hated this song or the band. At the time, I had no idea of the anguished undertones of the George-Jon ... oh crap, what's the drummer's name? Anyway, that relationship.

George has gone on to become self-parodying, taking out various hostilities on society in any way he can find, but the guy had a great voice.

59 John Mellencamp / "Jack & Diane" 1982

Wasn't he Cougar at this point? Anyway -- I was talking with Mrs. MMM recently about how Mellencamp is one of those guys I respect, even if I don't own a ton of his music. When you get right down to it, Mellencamp is to Indiana what Springsteen is to New Jersey. He told the stories.

To me, this isn't one of the better ones. I think Mellencamp got more sophisticated musically over the next couple of years, and it helped. But as I said with Billy Idol, this burns into your head. Even if the video image is of Mellencamp freeze-framed as he starts to throw a punch at the camera for no apparent reason.

If you want the lyrics to the parody I wrote in high school, Sam and Diane, ask me after I get through this list.

60 Young M.C. / "Bust a Move" 1989

You wish you could sex her, but you're standing there like you were Poindexter. Excellent.

Guy's got some brains, too, which makes it work. That, and Flea's guest appearance on bass.

61 Styx / "Mr. Roboto" 1983

Funniest part in the actual VH1 special was seeing a dazed Tommy Shaw make some nondescript comment about this. Yes, that was even funnier than seeing Dennis DeYoung ("former lead singer of Styx") ham it up. The Shaw bit is hilarious if you remember the Behind the Music in which Shaw clearly doesn't buy the Kilroy Was Here concept and even jokes that he feared for his safety as he prepared to go out in front of a rowdy audience in Texas to deliver dialogue: "But ... Kilroy ... what about the youth of today?"

Most of the memorable songs in this countdown are harmless. This one is crap.

(Apologies to my co-worker's brother, who happens to have been Styx's drummer for about a decade now.)

62 Berlin / "Take My Breath Away" 1986

It's a pity Berlin is remembered for this and not something brilliant like The Metro or campy like Sex. That's all I have to say about that, as Forrest Gump might say.

63 Devo / "Whip It" 1980

It's a pity Devo is remembered for this and not something brilliant like ... no, wait, this WAS Devo's moment of brilliance. Classic guitar riff, deadpan humor -- this is good stuff.

64 Paula Abdul / "Straight Up" 1988

Can someone explain to me why this is better-remembered than Opposites Attract, a modestly clever song with a fun video? This song is just ... there. You can probably dance to it. That's about it.

65 Foreigner / "I Want to Know What Love Is" 1984

Love is never having to listen to this song. Now get back and play Double Vision so our newly converted classic rock station can have something to play once an hour.

66 Depeche Mode / "Just Can't Get Enough" 1981

They went on to do MUCH better than this. Enjoy the Silence has grown on me over the years, I Feel You was a refreshing guitar blast, and the newish stuff is gorgeous.

67 REO Speedwagon / "Keep On Loving You" 1980

I think I'd like this better if I drank Budweiser.

68 Public Enemy / "Fight the Power" 1988

What's Spike Lee up to these days, anyway? Hip-hop's power to uplift peaked here, and it's been a steady downhill slide ever since.

69 R.E.M / "It's The End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" 1980

I supposedly knew someone who knew someone who knew the kid in this video. That's because Athens isn't that big a town.

This was 87, by the way. R.E.M. was just a rumor in 1980. By the time this came out, I was heading for college, and this was the perfect soundtrack song for all those freshman frustrations.

When Michael Stipe is striving for High Art with stuff like Losing My Religion, it's easy to forget that these guys have a great sense of humor.

70 Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/ "I Love Rock N' Roll" 1981

I don't know -- I was never as enamored with the Jett attitude as others were. Perhaps it was the leather jackets, like she wanted to be the Fonz of the 80s. Not my thing.

But as far as beginner-level guitar riffs go, this was a good one.

71 Rick James / "Super Freak" 1981

It's a pity the talent to write hooks like this is so often wasted on guys who mismanage their lives as badly as Rick James did.

72 The Fixx / "One Thing Leads to Another" 1983

This band did quality stuff for a few years. Red Skies was a haunting masterpiece. This one, like so many others here, may not be their best, but the hooks are killers.

73 Nena / "99 Luftbaloons" 1983

The people on the VH1 special were shocked to hear that this had something to do with balloons accidentally triggering a missile crisis. Yes, it did, and it's quite clever.

Unlike some of the other bands here, Nena qualifies as a one-hit wonder. I can't remember another song in her catalog, and I'm the guy who can name two songs by the Red Rockers, for Pete's sake. (I'll spot you China. Name another. Go ahead.)

Anyway, that's too bad. I love her voice.

74 George Michael / "Faith" 1987

My dislike of George Michael only melts for one song, and that's Freedom. The only good thing that came from his other work is Dana Carvey's amazing impersonation. ("Look at my butt, Dennis! It's perfectly round! Scientists use it to calibrate their instruments.")

75 Prince / "Little Red Corvette" 1983

The VH1 crowd all recounted how they eventually realized this song was about sex. No shit. It's PRINCE. Of COURSE it's about sex. Even *I* got some of the references, and I was still a couple of years away from kissing a girl when this song came out.

Probably why I found it a little intimidating.

Guitarist Dez Dickerson is now a Christian rock mogul, oddly enough. Between him and the former Vanity, Prince has probably driven more people to Jesus than most evangelists.

Forgotten from the '80s: The "performance" video

In the good old days of MTV, before every video was staged by a film crew worthy of a big-studio blockbuster, the budgets were often a little lower. So much lower, in fact, that the "video" might consist of a band ... playing the song. That's it.

You've already seen one such video tonight (if you're checking the blog every time I post in this prolific holiday window) -- Yes' Tempus Fugit. Fellow prog-rockers-turned-80s-popsters Genesis upped the ante with this take on the always-intriguing tune Abacab:

You'll notice that it's not completely straight. The band members fade in at the beginning and fade out ... oh, wait, I don't want to spoil the ending. And the special effects kick in just in time to enliven the dramatic part in which Mike Rutherford takes a few steps back, then walks over toward Tony Banks. Oh, the tension! Will he keep walking toward Tony? Or does he want to check in on Phil?

These videos are actually fun to watch, like a concert staged just for you, the viewer, with studio-quality sound. Today's video directors have forgotten the visual interest of one guy playing drums.

Which is why I'll nit-pick here and ask a question of our music geek friends: Do you get the feeling Phil Collins isn't playing the complete drum part with his legs? Either that, or he has a really subtle bass drum motion with his left ankle and manages to get a nice uplift on the hi-hat by moving his right big toe. He just looks like he's shaking his legs most of the time.

Tony Banks, I'm convinced, is playing every note.

John Fogerty -- extreme touring

I have no idea whose idea it was for John Fogerty to play at TWO NFL halftime shows on Thanksgiving (Detroit around 2 p.m., Kansas City at 9:35 p.m.), but good for him.

I can't tell if he brought the same band with him. NFL Network had a brief feature on his trip, and we saw plenty of his wife and daughter, but nothing on the band. One guitarist looks the same, but I think it's a different drummer.

But here's the big question -- do you suppose the military-obsessed NFL realizes Fortunate Son is a protest song?

Speaking of the Buggles ...

And, more specifically, the brief time (one album) in which the Buggles were absorbed into Yes, here's Tempus Fugit.

It's a good song, and the album (Drama) had a couple of them. It's clear that Trevor Horn was more comfortable behind the boards in a recording studio than he was fronting a band, but the interplay between Steve Howe (in roughly his 10th year in Yes) and Geoff Downes (Horn's fellow Buggle) was better here than it was in Asia, and that's high praise. Perhaps it's because Chris Squire and Alan White are a more propulsive rhythm section than Asia's John Wetton, who basically just thumped the bass while singing in his unique charisma-free style, and Carl Palmer.

So yeah, it's kind of a shame this combination didn't last longer. Then again, by the time Yes had broken up and reformed, they did pretty well. The next album was 90125, which was introduced to everyone with Trevor Rabin's distinctive riff on Owner of a Lonely Heart.

Which was introduced to us in a truly bizarre extended video that I don't think was shown much once the edited version took hold on MTV.

(In case you're wondering where we were speaking of The Buggles, check here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Back to the VH1 list

To recap, see the whole list of 80s songs and my comments on 1-25.

26 Guns N' Roses / "Welcome to the Jungle" 1987

Hey, hockey teams need theme songs. One of the last great riff-driven songs.

That said, I've been known to break into parody that seems appropriate for this long, long-inactive band:

Welcome to McDonald's / We've got burgers and fries
(haven't figured out the next part)
Would you like some ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cheeeese?! Cheese?!

27 Kajagoogoo / "Too Shy" 1984

Here's where I differ from the average snarky kid-in-T-shirt they drag onto these shows. Most of these people remember Kajagoogoo for the hair. I remember them because Nick Beggs is a helluva bass player.

(Tangent alert ...)

You also have to like Beggs because he figured in not one, but two, Bands Reunited episodes. One with Kajagoogoo, of course. The other was ABC, though that was a bit of a sham because Beggs was actually part of ABC's touring band at that point anyway.

(Further tangent alert ...)

How has this Wikipedia entry on former ABC "member" Fiona Russell-Powell gone unedited?

(And back to a previous tangent ...)

Back to Bands Reunited, here's an epilogue on Extreme:

"Nuno Bettencourt refused to be filmed on camera. After a conversation with Gary Cherone (who wasn't sure on participating either), they decided it wasn't a good time to reunite. Since then, they have reunited in 2004 and 2006."

This is when you call bullshit. As if the original episode itself didn't have enough bullshit in it, given Cherone's attempt to explain More Than Words as something other than a sleazy "If you loved me you'd do me" drunken frat-boy warble. Then Nuno refuses to appear on camera, apparently because he's too big in Japan or some bullshit like that. Who does he think he is, Nigel Tufnel?

So Nuno and the guy who bombed as Sammy's replacement in Van Hagar take a stand for artistic freedom and privacy by refusing to reunite, even though the other guys -- who seemed like the only guys you'd ever consider meeting over a beer -- were up for it.

And after all that ... they play some reunion concerts elsewhere?

Yeah. That's bullshit.

OK, back to the list.

28 Wham! / "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" 1984

I hated this song in high school. And I still do. And the video is an affront to the eyes.

(Could I say "affront" on VH1? Probably not.)

29 Talking Heads / Burning Down the House 1983

This band spend a lot of time in the deep end without a life vest, but when they put it together and let Chris Frantz play drums, they did good stuff. I liked the video, too, with a diverse collection of people switching places back and forth with the band and matching the choreography.

30 Pat Benatar / "Love is a Battlefield" 1983

Beware the Shimmy of Death! And the overwrought acting!

"You leave this house now ..."
"No one can tell us we're wrong ..."
"... you can just forget about coming back!"
"Search in our heart for so long ..."
"Hey! Could you cut the operatic crap for a minute?! I said, 'If you leave this house now' ... ah screw it."

Want to see a good Benatar video? Check out Shadows of the Night, with her and the band as a WWII band of pilots on some sort of secret mission. Not her fault Top Secret came out around the same time and seemed to use a lot of the same sets.

And Benatar did far better songs. If we were going for quality, Heartbreaker would be worth a shot here.

31 Queen and David Bowie / "Under Pressure" 1981

F--- Vanilla Ice.

The impression I get of the English is that this song ranks only slightly behind the Bible and the 1966 World Cup on their list of things that are to be treated with nothing other than reverence. And that's understandable. This is a legitimate classic, one of the rare rock songs that could be called "majestic" without any trace of irony or snark. It's also quintessentially English, building wonderfully from that understated bass line to Mercury's soaring pleas to get along and Bowie's calming response.

I'm unable to find a link to the story behind the video, and that's too bad. As I recall, an unknown director was told to make a video for it without the musicians, leaving him to assemble it from stock footage. The result, like the song, is a classic.

They don't make 'em like this anymore. Guster comes close, singing about difficult situations while offering a pat on the back and encouragement to stick it out, but that's about it.

32 Night Ranger / "Sister Christian" 1983


Don't turn your drums sideways and yell "Motoring" at me like it's supposed to be some sort of meaningful statement.

Disturbing news from the VH1 special -- drummer Kelly Keagy's sister has apparently been hounded constantly about the song, of which the Wikipedia entry says, "It became a cautionary anthem for teenage girls across a conservative America, warning them not to 'give it up before their time is due'." But if you're not Kelly Keagy's sister, see Mongo over there for a backstage pass.

33 Soft Cell / "Tainted Love" 1981

Does YouTube have the ad in which the guy starts singing this in the hospital? I couldn't find it under "tainted love ad" or "tainted love hospital."

I don't need to hear this song often. It's a little thin beyond the still-novel synth sounds and that unforgettable rhythmic hook. But that hook and the vocals are pretty cool, aren't they?

34 Poison / "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" 1988

"Just like every dog has his day ... just like every cowboy wears disco boots ... every girl ... would rather listen to something else." Come on. Nobody likes this song.

35 Phil Collins / "In the Air Tonight" 1981

The Wikipedia entry on this one covers it quite well. Section 1.1 -- Drum sound. Section 2 -- Urban legend.

This was Phil at his peak. For all the computerized recommendations that tell me I should listen to early Genesis, I simply cannot listen to early Genesis. The band started to hit its stride in the early 80s, and so did Phil, who managed to do interesting stuff on his own and with the band for a couple of albums before degenerating into Illegal Alien and Invisible Touch. Not to mention all the videos about making videos.

The song is simply mesmerizing. And Collins was a damn good drummer back in the day.

36 Tommy Tutone / "867-5309 / Jenny" 1981

Another classic case of a journeyman stumbling upon a couple of interlocking hooks that just drill themselves into your head. This is easily the best song ever about a phone number, closely followed by Public Enemy's 911 Is a Joke. (So why did Duran Duran cover the latter and not the former? I'm not kidding.)

37 Aerosmith / "Janie's Got a Gun" 1989

I may lose tons of street cred here, but I don't like this song. Please allow me to explain.

I don't like the way Aerosmith gets a free pass on things that, if done by another band, would draw the snarkiest of critics' commentaries. They can use an orchestra for a live performance of Dream On, and it's brilliant, but when Yes calls in the strings, they're pretentious jerks.

In this case, they do an allegedly serious song about an abused daughter, then sabotage it with cutesy synth-horn blasts in the prolonged fadeout. Let's call this the Chopsticks rule. You can add Chopsticks to the middle section of Blinded by the Light, and it works. You can't do that to, say, Sting's Fragile. You're either trying to say something, or you're not. Make up your mind.

Mrs. MMM points out a flaw in the video. She shoots him in his home office. But he's found on the tracks. That's a drag, so to speak.

38 U2 / "Pride (In the Name of Love)" 1984

Now here's a band that knows how to make the music fit the lyrics. And wow, this was awesome. U2 always had a social conscience, obviously, but this song started Bono down the path as one of history's greatest humanitarians. And the Edge, Adam and Larry have always known how to make us march along.

39 Modern English / "I Melt With You" 1982

The Clash were a scowling political band whose legacy on current radio playlists is a couple of lighthearted songs. Same deal here. But in this case, the shoe may fit a bit better. Maybe love songs weren't their primary interest, but they made a good one.

40 The B-52's / "Love Shack" 1989

(Snarky, VH1-friendly take) A Chrysler that seats about 20? Haven't these people heard of being environmental? And what's with the OLD guy in the video? Ewwww ...

(My actual take) Somebody tell all the gangstas rapping about smoking blunts and making videos indistinguishable from MTV Cribs that THIS is how you're supposed to party.

41 Mötley Crüe / "Dr. Feelgood" 1989

Always good to see hard-rock bands with a little groove. Big leap forward for these guys, who started out as a cartoon in the Shout at the Devil days.

42 The Clash / "London Calling" 1982

A very well-delivered song, with that staccato guitar telling you it's time to listen up. If only I had any idea what Joe Strummer was talking about. I can get a general sense from the tone, but I have to file this under "songs I love even if I don't quite get the lyrics." The AllMusic review doesn't really help. Yeah, it's a call to action. To do what?

I'm nit-picking, I know. This is a good one, establishing a mood of urgency that makes you want to join whatever rebellion Strummer's selling.

43 ABC / "Look of Love (Part One)" 1982

ABC did better songs than this. Poison Arrow and Be Near Me, to name two. This one provides a likable backdrop for Martin Frye to do his English soulman bit, but if I put one ABC song on an iPod, it's Poison Arrow, which has far more going on musically.

44 Bananarama / "Cruel Summer" 1984

Oh yeah -- I remember hanging out at the pool, dancing and singing along. It was kind of my theme song for a while.

Oh wait. No, it wasn't. It was an insubstantial pop ditty I would've forgotten years ago if VH1 didn't keep dredging it up.

45 Janet Jackson / "Nasty" 1986

Gotta love those pop-feminist "treat me with respect" anthems, dating back to Aretha. This one fits nicely. Every comedian for the next two years did some variation of the "Miss Jackson if you're nasty" bit.

46 The Police / "Every Breath You Take" 1983

Another one of those songs on this list that isn't the best song by this band but is the most unforgettable. The simple melody, the limerick-style verses, Sting's aching vocal on the bridge -- one listen, and this joins half the Beatles catalog and a handful of '70s tunes as a pop standard in your head.

Didn't like the video(s), though. The camera and lighting effects were anything but smoothly integrated.

47 Twisted Sister / "We're Not Gonna Take It" 1984

What a fun career Mark Metcalf has had. He was apparently on Buffy, he was The Maestro on Seinfeld, and he was able to reprise his Animal House character in these Twisted Sister videos.

Sure, the video is full of goofy humor that seems dated today, but that's OK. This was never high art.

But geez, Dee Snider was an ugly cross-dresser.

48 Bruce Springsteen / "Born in the U.S.A." 1984

Poor Bruce. One of the most misunderstood songs in history, right up with CCR's Fortunate Son. (No, advertisers, it's NOT a patriotic anthem -- it's a nasty rip on the draft and the way those who encourage our wars are rarely the people who fight them.)

The talking heads on VH1 had it wrong here -- Bruce was already big. If anything, this was a comeback after the low-key album Nebraska. (In an alternative "non-hits but nevertheless vital songs of the '80s list," we'd need to discuss Atlantic City.)

The lyrics here shine more brightly with every listen. He crams so much detail in every verse. Who can forget this: "Had a brother at Khe Sanh / Fightin' off the Viet Cong / They're still there, he's all gone."

Attention Toby Keith -- THAT'S a boot up your ass, son.

49 Beastie Boys / "Fight For Your Right" 1986

Sure, the chorus sticks in your head, and the video was entertaining. But the lyrics are really, really stupid. I'll take Sabotage over this one.

50 Eurythmics / "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" 1983

I didn't know what to make of this when I first saw it. I still don't. Even 23 years later, after androgyny lost its shock value and after synth-popsters grew tired of such artificial sounds, this song and video are still cutting-edge. And that's a compliment.

Raising my boy right

From the ride home today ...

"What song is that?"

"Oh, that's Good Stuff. It's by the B-52s."

"I like the B-52s."

"I know you do. Can you name anyone in the B-52s?"

"Um ... Kate Pierson."

"Good boy."

Today's cool video

Some may find this tribute to Chico Mendes a bit of a bummer for the holiday, but (A) those of us who are unilingual won't absorb the words because they're in Spanish, (B) it's life-affirming and (C) the percussion break near the end is simply awesome.

The resident music geeks here will like the indulgent drum kit, with a couple hundred splash cymbals and enough toms to make Alex Van Halen jealous.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

If I were on VH1

The following, taken from here but also appearing on other boards, appears to be an accurate take of VH1's Top 100 songs of the '80s.

One of these days, I should live-blog one of these things so you, my three or four readers, can experience the joy of hearing me talk back to some of the vapid mediocrities trotted out for such shows. This one was a particularly mixed bag -- Barenaked Ladies were great as always, and Thomas Dolby brought some much-needed intellectual heft to the proceedings. Others ... not so much. (My co-worker, of course, was fantastic. Brilliant. Should have used her more. Seriously, she was pretty good.)

So if I'd been on the show, here's what I would've said. I've also watched songs 41-100, so if I remember any comments worth rebutting, I'll include.

01 Bon Jovi / "Livin' on a Prayer" 1986

OK, fine. One of many songs on this list that have earned a grudging respect from me over the years, though I still don't care for the vocal delivery. Or the "whoap ... whoap ... dug dug dug ... whoap ... whoap" guitar.

02 Def Leppard / "Pour Some Sugar On Me" 1987

Hey, can we have some shots of backstage-worthy women in the crowd, just in case we miss the subtlety of the metaphor? We can? Excellent!

03 Duran Duran / "Hungry Like the Wolf" 1982

When I was 12, there were several aspects of the lyrics and the video that I knew I was supposed to find sexy, even if I didn't quite understand why. Now, 24 years later, I still don't quite understand. Great song, but the album version lays it on a bit thick with the squeals that uncomfortably straddle the line between "orgasm" and "getting mauled by a herd of hyenas."

04 Michael Jackson / "Billie Jean" 1982

Great talent -- the songwriting, the singing, the dancing. Whatever happened to him?

05 Prince / "When Doves Cry" 1984

Hated it in high school. Grew to respect it 10 years later. Found it tedious 20 years later. Any song with "Touch, if you will, my stomach" as a key lyric has veered from artistic to pretentious.

06 Hall & Oates / "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" 1981

Funny how they managed to sneak such a catchy hook into such a sleepy song.

07 Guns N' Roses / Sweet Child O' Mine 1987

Great guitar riff, unforgettable chorus, but I got really tired of all my sexually adventurous classmates finding deep meaning in chanting "Where do we go now?" 800 times.

08 Madonna / "Like a Virgin" 1984

I'm surprised this song isn't covered more often. Great hooks, dated production.

09 Run-D.M.C. / "Walk This Way" 1986

As a song, the Public Enemy-Anthrax collaboration on "Bring the Noise" was better. As a cultural event, this was unforgettable. And necessary, bringing hip-hop out of the margins and showing its possibilities as a melting pot of styles. Seemed to help Aerosmith's career just a bit as well.

10 AC/DC / "You Shook Me All Night Long" 1980

Knocking me out with those American thighs, indeed. AC/DC was one of those rare bands that can make a plodding drum beat and guitar riff work.

11 Journey / Don't Stop Believin' 1981

Lost a lot of cred with me when I heard a live version in which Steve Perry wailed, "Just a city boy ... born and raised in (pause, as if checking a set list) PHILADELPHIA!" But it worked. Journey got a lot of mileage of having Neil Schon adding the power to Jonathan Cain's power ballads.

12 Whitney Houston / "How Will I Know" 1985

For years, I didn't recognize the word "Screech" as a character on Saved By the Bell. I recognized it as Houston's vocal style here.

13 U2 / "With Or Without You" 1984

I had to hear this song about 10 times to realize how brilliant it was. One the best fadeouts in rock history, as The Edge echoes Bono's longing in his guitar.

14 The Bangles / "Walk Like an Egyptian" 1986

Aside from the fact that I, like every boy my age, had a major crush on Susanna Hoffs (and I still would, if I weren't married), this song is insubtantial. I liked all the Bangles, but Susanna was the only reason to watch this video. They did better songs -- many of them on this album.

15 Van Halen / "Jump" 1984

You can almost read Dave's mind -- "Awww, man, he's serious about playing keyboards. I'd better amp up the Diamond Dave routine to sell this one." The creative tension worked.

16 INXS / "Need You Tonight" 1987

I think it was Charles M. Smith -- I know it was in Musician magazine -- describing this song as a completely sincere pick-up attempt. Not sexist, not demeaning, just a polite yet direct way of saying, "Hey, I'd really like to sleep with you." It's actually far less sleazy than, say, Dave Matthews' Crash.

17 Whitesnake / "Here I Go Again" 1982


18 Dexy's Midnight Runners / "Come On Eileen" 1982

Underrated. Easy to make fun of the guy for spending half the video showing off his armpits (even worse, check out the pencil-thin 1950s suave look he's trying now), but the song was terrific.

19 Cyndi Lauper / "Time after Time" 1984

It was tough for Cyndi Lauper to switch gears like this after pushing the She's So Unusual character. No wonder I didn't think it worked.

20 Rick Springfield / "Jessie's Girl" 1981

I think Jessie's girl would probably take off with Rick. Especially after realizing it's spelled "J-e-s-s-I-e." That's a girl's spelling.

21 Michael Jackson / "Beat It" 1982

Even in my Top 40-hating high school days, I had to give it up for this song. And the video. And the guitar solo.

22 The Cure / "Just Like Heaven" 1987

Did the Cure have to record a ton of gloomy songs just so the upbeat ones would stand out? It worked. This song is perfect. Great guitar riff over the atmospheric keyboards, well-timed pushes from the drums ... pop songs don't get better than this.

23 Cyndi Lauper / "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" 1984

I respect Cyndi Lauper these days. Still don't like her songs. There's a camp value to seeing the old wrestlers trying to scold the "naughty" Cyndi for ... what exactly? Coloring her hair? Wearing a goofy hat? That's it, young lady -- you're grounded!

24 A-Ha / "Take On Me" 1985

I maintain that these guys were NOT one-hit wonders. They did a Bond song, for Pete's sake, plus the excellent The Sun Always Shines on TV. But yeah, this was huge. If you don't like that video, you probably have issues.

25 Go-Go's / "Our Lips Are Sealed" 1981

I liked a few other Go-Go's songs better than this one, but it's fine. Not your typical bubblegum fare.

I'll come back to this. Here's the rest of the list.

26 Guns N' Roses / "Welcome to the Jungle" 1987
27 Kajagoogoo / "Too Shy" 1984
28 Wham! / "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" 1984
29 Talking Heads / Burning Down the House 1983
30 Pat Benatar / "Love is a Battlefield" 1983
31 Queen and David Bowie / "Under Pressure" 1981
32 Night Ranger / "Sister Christian" 1983
33 Soft Cell / "Tainted Love" 1981
34 Poison / "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" 1988
35 Phil Collins / "In the Air Tonight" 1981
36 Tommy Tutone / "867-5309 / Jenny" 1981
37 Aerosmith / "Janie's Got a Gun" 1989
38 U2 / "Pride (In the Name of Love)" 1984
39 Modern English / "I Melt With You" 1982
40 The B-52's / "Love Shack" 1989
41 Mötley Crüe / "Dr. Feelgood" 1989
42 The Clash / "London Calling" 1982
43 ABC / "Look of Love (Part One)" 1982
44 Bananarama / "Cruel Summer" 1984
45 Janet Jackson / "Nasty" 1986
46 The Police / "Every Breath You Take" 1983
47 Twisted Sister / "We're Not Gonna Take It" 1984
48 Bruce Springsteen / "Born in the U.S.A." 1984
49 Beastie Boys / "Fight For Your Right" 1986
50 Eurythmics / "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" 1983
51 Ratt / "Round and Round" 1984
52 Dead or Alive / "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)" 1985
53 Billy Idol / "White Wedding" 1988
54 Salt-N-Pepa / "Push It" 1986
55 A Flock of Seagulls / "I Ran (So Far Away)" 1982
56 Bonnie Tyler / "Total Eclipse of the Heart" 1983
57 Toni Basil / "Mickey" 1981
58 Culture Club / "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" 1982
59 John Mellencamp / "Jack & Diane" 1982
60 Young M.C. / "Bust a Move" 1989
61 Styx / "Mr. Roboto" 1983
62 Berlin / "Take My Breath Away" 1986
63 Devo / "Whip It" 1980
64 Paula Abdul / "Straight Up" 1988
65 Foreigner / "I Want to Know What Love Is" 1984
66 Depeche Mode / "Just Can't Get Enough" 1981
67 REO Speedwagon / "Keep On Loving You" 1980
68 Public Enemy / "Fight the Power" 1988
69 R.E.M / "It's The End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" 1980
70 Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/ "I Love Rock N' Roll" 1981
71 Rick James / "Super Freak" 1981
72 The Fixx / "One Thing Leads to Another" 1983
73 Nena / "99 Luftbaloons" 1983
74 George Michael / "Faith" 1987
75 Prince / "Little Red Corvette" 1983
76 Thomas Dolby / "She Blinded Me With Science" 1982
77 New Edition / "Candy Girl" 1983
78 Blondie / "Call Me" 1980
79 Human League / "Don't You Want Me?" 1981
80 Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock / "It Takes Two" 1988
81 Cameo / "Word Up!" 1986
82 Squeeze / "Tempted" 1981
83 Prince / "Kiss" 1986
84 Lionel Richie / All Night Long (All Night) 1983
85 Robert Palmer / "Addicted to Love" 1985
86 Bow Wow Wow / "I Want Candy" 1982
87 Falco / "Rock Me Amadeus 1986
88 Chaka Khan / "Ain't Nobody" 1989
89 The Pretenders / "Brass in Pocket" 1980
90 Tone-Loc / "Wild Thing" 1989
91 Katrina and The Waves / "Walking On Sunshine" 1983
92 New Kids on the Block / "You Got It (The Right Stuff) 1988
93 Gary Numan / "Cars" 1980
94 The Rolling Stones / "Start Me Up" 1981
95 Debbie Gibson / "Only in My Dreams" 1987
96 Men at Work / "Down Under" 1982
97 The Romantics / "What I Like About You" 1980
98 Bobby Brown / "My Perogative" 1988
99 Wang Chung / "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" 1986
100 Loverboy / "Working for the Weekend" 1981

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Reasons to keep watching "The Simpsons"

Like Saturday Night Live, terrestrial radio and Joe Paterno, The Simpsons has been around so long that the snarks, cynics and lazy intellectuals presume that it was better in the good old days.

I'd argue that it might be less consistent and that some plots, particularly anything involving a Homer-Marge rift, get tired. But at its best, it's still very good.

Counting backwards from this season, here are a few latter-day Simpsons to treasure:

Treehouse of Horror XVII - Far better than I expected from the reviews, though I agreed the war commentary at the end was heavy-handed.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore - An amusing culture clash with Homer and Mr. Burns in India, and Richard Dean Anderson does a nice job skewering his MacGyver persona. Also fun to see Homer at the center of an Apocalypse Now scenario.

Homer Simpson, This is Your Wife - Ricky Gervais wrote and performed, twisting his Office character into a participant on Wife Swap.

Marge's Son Poisoning - Marge realizes she doesn't want Bart to grow up a mama's boy, and Homer explores professional arm wrestling under Moe's management.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star - Bart goes to Catholic school ... and converts. The Lovejoy-Flanders axis is aghast. Strong guest performance from Liam Neeson.

The Heartbroke Kid - New school vending machines turn Bart fat, prompting a gut-busting and sidewalk-busting retake of the opening credits and one of Albert Brooks' classic guest bits.

Goo Goo Gai Pan - Selma goes to China to adopt, but the star is Homer, who makes dragons cry, performs as a Chinese acrobat and poses as a golden Buddha struggling to maintain his look of serenity.

Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass - In case you wondered where T.O. got his most recent celebration.

Simple Simpson - Pie Man!

Catch 'Em If You Can - Homer and Marge try to outrun and outwit Bart and Lisa, all on the Flanders' credit cards.

Margical History Tour - Their three-parters generally have at least one very good part, and this has one of their best -- Homer as Henry VIII. So I'm a British history geek. Got a problem with that?

The three before that were also good, but I'm being told to sign off.

So if you've been snarking on The Simpsons, shut your yap.

Monday, November 06, 2006

How I wish I wrote

Snarky, perhaps, but brilliant.

Sample: "There are a number of things you can count on from an Enigma album. They are, in no particular order: Canned beats, neo-classical elements, attractive packaging, and New Age horseshit."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tolerable drama

I don't watch a lot of drama. It's not because I don't respect the art form. It's because it tends to seep too deeply into my brain, forcing me into another reality. So I have to find something I like about that reality to tolerate the trip.

I've watched 15 minutes of 24, and it was terrific. Maybe someday, I'll watch the rest of that season. But I can't devote that much time to worrying about Jack Bauer right now. Not with two young kids. Not while I'm at a career crossroads. Not with yard work to be done.

Lost just seems far too bleak to me, though I have to concede I haven't watched it. I see ads with a woman holding a baby on an island, and I want to cry. All the joys I've seen with my kids are joys this kid will never know. I'm sure someone will tell me Lost is about the triumph of the human spirit, and there may be some truth to that. It is, as Steven Johnson has noted with similar shows, a testament to how much complexity Generation Y can absorb in its TV viewing, and that's great. I simply can't spend that much time on the island. I'm fascinated in reading about Lost, which I sometimes do. But I can't watch it.

And forget ER. Nice of them to let at least one kid and his mom survive, but it's too little, too late.

I've found two exceptions ...

Friday Night Lights. It's hauntingly beautiful, just like its theme music (play Remember Me As a Time of Day, though it's edited -- to brilliant effect -- in the opening credits). I'm sure some people would say it's as bleak as Lost in the sense that all of the people involved are striving for things they're not likely to reach. The star quarterback is paralyzed. His girlfriend is realizing -- slowly -- that the fairy-tale life she planned with him probably isn't going to happen. The brooding alcoholic fullback is racked with guilt over the injury, and messing around with his girlfriend (my theory: He can't stand to see her despondent, and in his subconscious, he's just trying to make her happy). The coach only occasionally finds the words to wriggle out of uncomfortable conversations with boosters and townspeople who will think him a failure if he doesn't deliver a title. The supposed star running back who stinks up the field and blames his blockers.

And then there's the character with whom I identify -- the backup QB full of self-doubt who also has a part-time job and cares for a grandmother with dementia.

Gee, I make it sound great, don't I?

Well, it is. Like all good scripted sports, it delivers the occasional moment of triumph. And a few moments of levity, like the coach urging the backup QB to deal with tension by asking out the girl he likes and taking her to the back seat, not realizing that the girl in question is (ulp!) his daughter. The scene in which he realizes what he's done simply cannot be topped in writing, directing and acting. It's brilliant.

At its core, the show is about identity. The town's identity is wrapped tightly around this football team, fairly or unfairly. The paralyzed QB is grappling with questions of who he's supposed to be now. His girlfriend, having lost the "Mrs. NFL QB-in-waiting" persona, is searching.

In all likelihood, few people in the show will get everything to which they aspire -- the state title, the major college scholarship, the perfect relationship. In that sense, perhaps it is like Lost.

But what you'll see in this show -- as you see in sports -- are the little triumphs you gain while striving for something bigger. The backup QB, as the coach tells him in the last episode, is a changed man already.

I'm wondering if America is failing to embrace this show because it can't deal with triumph on a small scale. American mythology is that you aim high ... and succeed. Or die trying. Friday Night Lights is for those of us in the middle.

Watch it. Or I'll hunt you down and physically injure you.

The other drama (with considerable wit) on my mind: Doonesbury, subject of a good profile in the weekend's Post Magazine.

When For Better or For Worse launches into something tragic, that's a safe bet to skip the next couple of weeks. In fact, you can pretty well skip the strip every day except Sunday, when Lynn Johnston occasionally brings the funny with a pet-related cartoon. She touched a lot of people when the old dog, Farley, died in heroic fashion, and so now she goes to the well far too often. And she gets more maudlin each time.

When I saw a Doonesbury strip in which B.D.'s Army buddy, Ray, was clearly agitated amid circumstances that weren't immediately clear, I knew this would be the first thing I read in the paper for the next week and likely beyond. I didn't know if Garry Trudeau was going to let B.D. die or be seriously wounded. But I knew he was going to handle it thoughtfully. We didn't actually see B.D. for a couple of days, and it was a striking image -- wounded, missing a leg, seen for the first time without a helmet. In one panel, he had transformed the character.

The Post story shows us just how thoughtful his work really is. Trudeau talked to veterans before figuring out what to do with the storyline. That gives him some cred, and it gives him the confidence to inject humor into the situation. (A classic features a doctor describing the stages through which amputees pass. Last panel: B.D., off-screen, yells "Son of a BITCH!" Doc concedes that some skip through the "denial" stage.)

Trudeau has received a warm welcome from wounded veterans. It's no surprise. He's telling stories better than many journalists can. Just as The Simpsons is often a better reflection of society than your daily paper, Doonesbury is capturing reality for us.

So from these tragic, desperate situations, I'm getting uplifting thoughts. I'm inspired. I'm not sure I can say that about most dramas. If Lost is a testament to the human spirit of survival, great; if it's just a big puzzle to expand mental capability, then chess is just as efficient.

(Maybe Lost is the reason America doesn't produce many good chess players. Damn you, Hollywood.)