For today’s Song of the Day, one of my most favourite tunes from the ’80s…
Every once in a while I run into someone who claims not to like the Beatles.
This is absolute horseshit. The only possible reason not to like the Beatles is because you are a misanthropic malcontent, or a generally crappy person.
The Beatles weren’t around for long, compared to other bands (Rolling Stones, I am looking in your direction) but they produced such a prolific and varied body of work, that even if you don’t enjoy, say, their early pop period you can still be a fan of their later experimental psychedelic stuff.
Or the White Album. I once knew someone who argued that the White Album sucked. But this person had, admittedly, never really taken the time to listen to it. The main thrust of their argument was that they didn’t like the Beatles because they are “too popular”. Shitting on a band because they’re “too mainstream” or “too popular” or whatever is the same thing to me as liking a band for those very same reasons. If you like a certain type of music just because everyone else does, you’re a lemming. By the same token, if you don’t like music simply because everyone else does, you may think that you’re being subversive, but isn’t it really just the flip side of the same coin?
There may be parts of the White Album that you can take or leave, depending on your tastes. But you can’t argue that it contains some absolute gems. ‘Back in the USSR’ was the Beatles doing the Beach Boys, only better. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ is a delightful, happy little tune. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is just gorgeous. ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ is a slightly aggressive, oddly sexual song, while ‘I’m So Tired’ is a tribute to sleep-deprived obsession. ‘Rocky Raccoon’ is probably my favorite tune on the entire album, just for the absurd pleasure of singing along with such lines as “Rocky burst in and grinning a grin / He said Danny boy this is a showdown!” It sounds like a little kid’s song, but the content is anything but.
And that’s just the first side of this double album. I’m also partial to ‘Sexy Sadie’, ‘Helter Skelter’, and ‘Honey Pie’: “Honey Pie, you are making me crazy / I’m in love but I’m lazy / So won’t you please come home”.
Whichever way you slice it, the White Album has something for everyone.
And so, to those people out there who claim not to like the Beatles simply because they are “too popular”, this tune from Rubber Soul is one for you:
Think for yourself. Don’t embrace something just because everyone else is, and by the same token don’t reject it simply to be a contrarian. Figure out what you genuinely like and dislike, and then proclaim it and defend it to your heart’s content.
I know what you may be thinking: “But Spencer, if you’re telling me that I suck if I don’t like the Beatles, isn’t that the same narrow-minded attitude you’re asking me to rise above?” Sure, fair point. And hey, don’t take my word for it. If you dislike the Beatles for a legit reason, hit me up in the comments and tell me why I’m full of it.
But it better be a good one.
It should be no surprise to anyone reading this that I love the ’80s. And one of the things that I love most about that decade is the cheesy, over-the-top, heavy metal rock ballads. It seems that every ’80s metal band worth their glitter spandex put out at least one of these gems (and of course, there were some repeat offenders — Bon Jovi, I’m looking in your direction). Below, I have gathered together some classic examples from this genre. I’ve assembled them into a handy playlist so that you, too, can rock out. Bonus points if you serenade your lady (or man) friend with an overblown rendition of one of these ballads. “If I could fly high I would give you the skyyyy/Don’t you make that mistake, what does it taaaaake…”
It also goes without saying that music videos from this era were just complete and utter solid gold, filled with so many utterly amazing 80s cliches (big hair, spandex, overwrought guitar solos, modulation) that it makes my head explode with joy. I mean, look, I know that the 80s were no different from any other decade in that people still had problems, lost money, got divorced, got fired, had general angstiness, etc…but honestly, how could things possibly be that bad when you looked like this?
If you were feeling down, wouldn’t you be able to look in the mirror and immediately be cheered up by the super rad apparition staring back at you? Of course you would!
So here are my picks for top ’80s power ballads. Take the time to re-watch these videos – I promise it’ll put a smile on your face. And let me know your faves!
You guys, I despair. I despair at what Madonna has done to her face:
This is not a knock on Madonna in general. Even though she’s not my favorite artist of all time, there’s much to admire about this lady. She was an absolute trendsetter and a ground breaker at the the start of her career. Madonna paved the way for many a female pop star, from Britney to Lady Gaga to Katy Perry. And let’s face it, she is (or, was) better than all of them. Her moves were great, her look was fantastic, and her attitude was fucking awesome. I’m talking way early on – the ‘struggling artist in early ’80s New York’ era, the ‘Like a Virgin’ era…back when Madonna was young, and confident, and snarky, and superior, and all of that was okay because had the goods to back it up. That Madonna excelled at pushing boundaries and being way ahead of the curve, armed only with a cheeky, unapologetic, in-your-face demeanor.
Nowadays, the most in-your-face thing about her is what’s going on with her face. And that’s the thing – this Madonna, who seems so desperate to hold onto her youth (for why else would she be doing this?), does not seem unapologetic at all. It seems like she’s forgotten who she is – a woman who rose to the upper echelons of the music industry on the basis of stringent hard work and an incredible amount of chutzpah (I mean let’s face, it, she doesn’t have the greatest voice of all time). She had that ineffable quality — that ‘It’ factor — to a degree that makes other female artists who have come after her pale in comparison.
My favorite Madonna tracks continue to be the ones from her early career, and particularly from 1986’s True Blue. This record contained not only gems such as ‘Papa Don’t Preach’, ‘Live to Tell’, and ‘La Isla Bonita’, but also what is surely one of pop music’s poppiest songs of all time, ‘True Blue’. This track is the ultimate in bubblegum brilliance, deceptive in its simplicity (much like the Archies 1969 hit ‘Sugar Sugar’). And I absolutely adore the video – pure, campy fun (and featuring Debi Mazar!) Enjoy:
Pop ephemera? Yes. But I would guess you’ve heard this song at least within the last year, probably the last 6 months, or if you ever go within spitting distance of the depressingly recent-seeming ‘classic’ radio stations spraying 70’s, 80’s and 90’s hits 24/7 – probably within the last week.
Why? What has kept this seemingly innocuous song about a break-up in the pop culture heavens? I re-heard this song recently on my iPod and it became more clear – to me anyway.
First is the beat. It is metronomic, icily detached, and perfect. The bass drum lands with a decisive thud each, and, every, time. Twittery blips of a synth march in syncopated lockstep with artificial 16th notes played on a phantom hi-hat cymbal. It’s clear there is no living, breathing drummer behind this beat and that matters. More on that soon.
Then come the bass-y, waver-y, futuristic synths. Anything synthesized is (of course) synthetic, and therefore ‘not real’, and therefore distanced from feeling or, in this case, caring. I would argue that a structure is being put in place by the mechanized beat and technologically potent synths that foretell the doomed future of this relationship. This is all business. Manufactured soul. Groovy but calculating. Like her.
This song’s lyrics basically consist of a he said/she said, back-and-forth dispute over ‘what happened’ between two former lovers in what seems like letters, or maybe voicemails, which at the time would have been cutting edge.
He begins: ‘You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar / when I found you’. Ah. You found her did you? Well, we’ll see what she has to say about that. He continues to describe how her success was surely a result of his own Machiavellian maneuvers behind the scenes in the cutthroat music industry. It appears however that these efforts have been lavished upon an ungrateful heart, as the first verse concludes with a chilling final sentence, if not outright threat:
I picked you out, I shook you up
And turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.
Here’s where it gets interesting. We haven’t even heard her response yet, and already we are sensing his desperation. The first line of the next verse is ‘Don’t.’
This means both ‘please don’t do this’, and it is a stutter from someone who is petrified, meaning it can also be heard as ‘Don’t..don’t you want me?’ as though his disbelief is such that he can barely allow the words, the question, to exit his mouth for fear of hearing the answer. It is reminiscent of a devastated Roy Lichtenstein blonde reclining on a sofa, exaggerated tears coming from her eyes, barely able to speak so choked with emotion is she, her halting words captured in a cartoon voice bubble over her head.
And if he was desperate before, he’s terrified now. The song reveals this by amping up its volume and pitch to a cry: ‘Don’t you want me baby?’ followed by ‘Don’t you want me? Ooooh!’ It’s too much for words. This is a howl of despair. And millions upon millions of happy party and club goers over the last 30 years have rejoiced in the sound of an agonized man falling apart, joining him in the anthemic cry of this glorious chorus.
It is also a struggle to escape from the synthesized prison that is this song. His voice is the only human or natural substance in this environment, and he is drowning. The beat however, is uncaring. Just listen to it. There are no flourishes or pauses. It steamrolls forward in service of good times. There are people to entertain, dancers to inspire, good times to be fueled, so if you are suffering from a broken heart, that’s fine, but get the f*ck out of the way. Don’t think for one moment this dance machine is gonna stop before running you over.
It is, after all, the music business they’re singing about, not one another. That’s the revelation. These two lovers are not the subject of the song; it is the machine they found themselves caught within that torn them asunder. He doesn’t even realize it.
My candidate for one of the great lines in pop music is her response: ‘I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar – that much is true’. Ouch. In other words, nothing you said after that was true. She will not brook the argument that he had anything to do with where she is now: ‘But even then I knew I’d find a much better place / Either with or without you’. Her singing is flat, deadpan and dismissive, and that’s because she’s part of the machine now, and sounds like one. She isn’t really singing; it’s more like a robot dictating a goodbye letter; her tone reflects it.
She concedes ‘the five years we have had have been such good times’ but even in the ‘I still love you’ she can’t rouse any true feeling. It’s semi-sung in a ‘Well, ya, I guess so’ tone. She’s throwing him his last bone before she says goodbye forever, in which she concludes: ‘But now I think it’s time I live my life on my own. I guess it’s just what I must do’.
And again, from our protagonist (Can we call him that? Who are we cheering for here? That’s one of the great questions in this song): ‘Don’t’. And of course, ‘Don’t you want me?’
We never hear from her again. I said up top and believed my whole life this was a back-and-forth song, but it isn’t. She has exactly one verse and then she is gone. He, however, spirals down in an endless loop of disbelief and pleas, repeating over and over again ‘Don’t you want me…Ooooooh!’
I usually don’t refer to videos when contemplating songs because it can ruin your own personal interpretation. This video however is pretty good. The performances by the artists are frozen, detached and best described as mannequinesque. It’s a marvelous vision realized by the Director, whoever that was.
The best and most appropriate shot is the final one, where the camera retreats from the set of a video shoot and swings over to get one last shot of the girl in front of the makeup mirror. Except, of course, she is gone. So for a moment we get the camera looking at itself, gazing into a mirror at it’s own reflection, trapped in a self-referential and existential loop, just like our poor hero, doomed to cry in eternal sorrow for his hastily departed betrothed, unable to escape, even 30 years on.
You guys, I just can’t help it…I’m feeling a little — okay, a lot — of ’90s nostalgia today. It’s probably because of this slideshow I perused while sipping my morning tea. So many great shows! So many good songs! So many hideous fashion choices!
But you know who didn’t look hideous in the ’90s? Jay Kay, that’s who. That dude was one stylish mofo.
Confession: I secretly loved that look that British male pop stars were sporting in the mid ’90s — black jeans, Adidas sneaks, oversize zipped hoodies or military duffel coats. In fact, I haven’t really moved on – that’s pretty much the exact outfit I wore all last winter (albeit with a slightly skinnier jean – ya gotta roll with the times).
And just ‘cos I’m digging this ’90s vibe, here are some of my fav songs from that era. Enjoy!
You guys. I did something very exciting recently. I went to a ’90s themed dinner party, and it was awesome. The couple who hosted the party are celebrating their 20-YEAR* anniversary this year, so decided on a ’90s throwback theme. Everyone had to prepare a dish that was inspired by that decade, and we rocked out to ’90s tunes and reminisced over old pictures in which people were decked out in baggy jeans, plaid shirts, and Chuck Taylors (some things haven’t changed all that much in 20 years).
*Can we talk about this? Because this seems crazy to me! I mean, crazy in a super awesome way! These two have been dating since George Bush Sr. was president. WTF!!!
Anyway, I threw together a playlist for the event, which was probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time as it gave me a chance to revisit some old classics, including this gem:
Seriously, is this video not THE CHEESIEST THING YOU HAVE EVER SEEN? I remember when this tune was popular — it was always one of the slow songs at our school dances. I really can’t tell you the insane joy that this song brings to my life – it is the ultimate in guilty pleasures, and so much fun to sing along to. The early ’90s were really great for producing this type of song – essentially a continuation of the ’80s power ballad genre.
In fact, I think more young artists today should be producing power ballads. I’d like to start a ‘Bring Back the Power Ballad’ movement, as I feel that there is a considerable dearth of songs these days that allow you to close your eyes and earnestly belt out lines such as “I don’t wanna touch you too much baby/ ‘Cos making love to you might drive me crazy/ I know you think that love is the way you make it/ So I don’t wanna be there when you decide to break it” (Def Leppard, ‘Love Bites’, 1987).
Let’s make this happen, you guys. Who’s with me?
For today’s Song of the Day I’m going back to a classic. This has always been one of my favourite U2 songs, but I never really paid a lot of attention to the lyrics.
Have you ever had insomnia? It’s amazing how quickly the human body starts to break down when deprived of sleep. Concentration, motivation, aspiration — they all suffer. Insomnia basically attacks on all fronts, with both mental and physical repercussions — and sometimes it seems like the more one tries to fight it, the worse it gets. You can’t will yourself to sleep, so what are you left with? Hour upon hour of relentless consciousness.
I paint a bleak picture. Forgive me. That is not my intention. For here is a song that, when I was listening to it today, made me think of the turbulence of sleeplessness, but also of the peace that sometimes comes in the early morning hours. This is song that, to me, explores the beautiful dark corners of a sleepless mind with gentleness and compassion. I picture this song soothing a restless brow, stroking a mind fevered with lack of sleep, whispering “it’s okay…it’s going to be okay”. Let’s not fight this. Let’s celebrate being awake, and conscious, and alive.
I don’t know what U2’s Bad was written about. But this is how it speaks to me.
To let it go
And so fade away
I’m wide awake
I’m wide awake
I’m not sleeping, oh no, no, no
My two favourite bands couldn’t be more of a study in contrasts. Led Zeppelin was a hard-rocking, drug-taking, groupie-banging maelstrom of bombastic sound. U2’s music, on the other hand, is infused with spirituality, soaring melodies, and the quest for a connection with a higher power.
And yet I love them both. Which is why I think it’s important to celebrate many different styles of music, from the highly spiritual to the down-and-dirty. And how better to do so than by comparing and contrasting one band of self-professed Christian rockers with another band that was plagued throughout their career by lurid tales of dark arts and devil worship.
Now, I’m not trying to turn this into an epic battle between the forces of Good and Evil…but just for the hell of it, I wonder who would win? Clearly the only way to judge is by employing the objective powers of Science to sort it out.
Therefore, I will be examining each band based on a variety of categories, and
totally choosing my favourites utilizing a highly scientifical method that is not at all biased in order to establish the winner in each category. Points from all of the categories will be tabulated at the conclusion of our study to determine the ultimate victor. So without further ado, I present to you our first category:
When I heard that Jane’s Addiction was touring again, and playing Toronto’s Massey Hall (one of my all-time favorite venues), I was totally into it. But then I kind of dropped the ball on getting tickets, so I had resigned myself to the fact that I would miss the chance yet again to see Perry Farrell in action, which was a shame because I have heard many accounts of what an excellent front man he is. Plus I love the band. I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard them. It was the summer after grade 9 and I was in San Francisco visiting family. I met up with a bunch of my high school buddies who were also in town. We were hanging out down at Pier 39 doing the touristy thing, and it was one of those perfect San Fran days where it’s sunny and kind of cool but the air is crisp and the sky is unbelievably blue. My friend Matt turned to me and said “Spencer, check this out,” shoving a pair of earphones into my ears. ‘Been Caught Stealing’. That was my first taste of Jane’s Addiction.