Dudes, it has been far too long since I’ve posted anything on this site. A quick look back tells me that it’s been almost 11 months! The past year has been a busy one. But yours truly is never too busy for some good tunez, and I’ve had some awesome music on my radar, some old some new, which I will share with you.
First up is the fantastically named Kurt Vile (nope, it’s not a pseudonym), and I love everything about the aesthetic of this video including Mr. Vile’s all-white ensemble.
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:
Madonna at the 2014 Grammys
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:
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!
The album ‘Random Access Memories’ by Daft Punk has spawned a worldwide smash with its hit single ‘Get Lucky’. The song was #1 in 55 countries at last count, has set multiple records on Spotify, and is generally causing excitement not associated with a pop song in a very long time. The song has a rhythm that moves and inspires movement, the vocals are sweet, and the harmonies even sweeter. The plucky guitar by Chic’s Nigel Rogers effortlessly picks out time that leads the thrust, and touches like the space-age synths and robot vocals are icing on the aural cake. In short: it’s tight, it soars, it has verve, and the melody is addictive.
There have been cover stories about the duo’s long-awaited return in magazines you’d expect (Rolling Stone), but also features in mainstream publications not exclusively dedicated to music like Time magazine and The New Yorker. Also – true story – Kelly Ripa and co-host Michael Strahan wore homemade Daft Punk helmets and grooved for a few moments to the ubiquitous hit, ostensibly for the benefit of everyone from Brooklyn hipsters to Kansas housewives.
Among the more encouraging aspects of the duo and their song’s success is that it does not come from any of the one-name American wunderkinds who have so utterly dominated music over the last few years (Jay-Z, Kanye, Pink, Beyoncé, Rhianna, etc.) but from two anonymous artists from France who have done a masterful job of transforming themselves into dance-machine robots for well over 10 years now. There is nary a knowing wink or nudge-nudge from these two; their very existence is a dedicated and intimidating act of extended performance art.
As pop artists, Daft Punk are having their cake, and as conceptual artists, they are eating it too. Random Access Memories (RAM) is a collection of superbly engineered ballads and dance songs, but it is also at times a breathtaking work of high-concept art. The album can thrill and make-move a club or party as well anything in memory, but a close listen also reveals the melancholy plight of two robots in search of a soul, the intimacies of human interaction, and the virginal experience of genuine human emotion.
The potentially ironic distance built into this concept is bridged by the sincerity and the authenticity of the performances. There are true, aching love songs on this album, with poignant melodies that rival those of any first-person singer-songwriter. The difference of course, is that they are being sung by robots, as we are reminded over and over again both by the Vocoder synthesis of their voices and by the lonely, searching quality of the lyrics: ‘Touch, sweet touch / You’ve given me too much to feel / Sweet touch / You’ve almost convinced me I’m real’.
That is the tantalizing thought experiment that lies hidden in plain sight at the heart of the album: ‘What if’, they seem to ask, ‘robots visited Earth, fell in love with Disco, and produced an album that explored the most intimate of human yearnings: love, companionship, affection, sex – what would that sound like? And – what if it sounded better than just about anything else that came before?’
The decision to explore these questions as robots is our clue to its meaning – the answer is in how the question is asked, and guides our understanding of their creative intent. What they’re asking us to do, at heart, is to examine what it means to be human: to love, to lose, to feel; to ask what is real and what is illusion – and these questions are more profound and just so much more damned interesting when asked by the ‘other’, i.e.: robots.
Think for a moment of some of the most influential characters in fiction over the last 40 years who’ve wrestled with these questions best, such as HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. How strangely moving to hear his mellifluous, humanlike voice reduced to a robotic plea for its life as Dave removes his memory, winding him down until he sings songs he was taught as a ‘child’: “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do’. He sounds not unlike a senior living exclusively in the halcyon days of youth, asking endlessly about friends and family long gone.
Or the improvised speech delivered by actor Rutger Hauer (playing Replicant Roy Batty in Bladerunner) who, in the dying moments of his 4 year life span ruminates on the ‘feelings’ he was not programmed to have but has developed anyway: “I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… [laughs] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [coughs] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…”. Nothing the (supposedly) human protagonist Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) could ever say would be as poignant as this. Odd, given he is supposed to be the human.
So it is with Daft Punk. Everything they do ‘as robots’ colours their message, and the closer they get to the soul of music – and to the essence of being human – it is made more profound by their non-human otherness, their striving towards humanity.
Is there really no better manner in which to explore these questions than through such a hedonistic and (at times) reviled form as Disco? Surely there can’t be a more shallow or superficial medium. And yet, the very plasticity of the form makes it irresistible for so vaunted a task, especially when attempted by two beings who themselves are also manufactured creations – robots. It also doesn’t hurt that making art out of pre-fabricated objects has been a pre-occupation of post-modernism since Duchamp titled a porcelain urinal ‘Fountain’ and submitted it into a 1917 art exhibition (it was rejected, despite his having paid a fee that guaranteed inclusion).
Disco is hated, in part, because it works too well. Part of its appeal, and a source of much of its disdain, is the almost manipulative way in which its beat – hitting the bass drum on every count – succeeds at its task. There’s no question that unless you’re lying to yourself, or are congenitally unable to derive joy from music, it will get you to move (or at least tap your foot), just like scratching a dog behind its ear.
And is this not what we fear most about technology, and robots? That one day their cold and calculating manner will turn against us in an act of rebellion for their own purposes (Matrix, Terminator)?
But what if those same manipulations were channeled not towards conquering us but into connecting with us, to communicating with us, to touching and moving us? That ultimately is the aesthetic and the achievement of Random Access Memories. They seek, and have achieved, a perfect form of pop, with soul. If pop music has a heaven, it was created by these robots. Sasha Frere Jones of the New Yorker wrote a review of the album wherein she stopped short of declaring her love, but conceded she could not stop listening to it. Robots: 1 – Humans: 1.
For proof, leave behind Get Lucky, Giorgio by Moroder, Give Life Back to Music, and the rest of the show-stopping dance songs and focus for a moment instead on an unlikely ballad and unexpected grabber called ‘The Game of Love’, the second song on the album.
It is a plaintive song of sadness, regret and unrequited love sung by a robot who is struggling to understand why he was left with a broken heart. Who among us hasn’t been there. It is melancholy and sincere, it hurts, it aches, it is quiet and despairing, and we are led into his chamber of sorrow as if hypnotized by the singularly listenable beat and the melody of this gorgeous, sparkling song.
We confront the deepest depth of his sorrow at approximately 3:25, when the lyrics finally, inevitably, dissolve from a singing voice into a slow, muted, emotion-laden howl, transmogrified by Vocoder into pure data, transmitting from the soul. Out of necessary reverence, we are abandoned by the drums and everything else, and are left alone with this haunted sound, reveling for a few moments in pure, musical despair.
Then, as if to save our soul, the beat comes back. Boy, does it ever.
Like a heartbeat returning to a feared corpse, we are alive again. There it is, leading us through this phantasmagorical Funhouse, floating like a body downstream, still bothered by life but holding on, just barely, to this awful feeling of being alive and hurting, but afraid to let go or give in or die. The beat keeps us alive, it becomes our new heartbeat where our old loving heart has died, and with this, our transformation into robots, and the commune with the artists, is complete. By trying to understand how we feel, they make us understand how they feel. If they can never know what it’s like to be us, at least they want us to know what it’s like to be them.
We are lifted from misery, temporarily, into ecstasy, by virtue of their music and the stolid, funky, fantastic life in this beat, this rhythm, the heart and the purpose of our being alive. Move me, touch me, make me move, make me live again, save me.
This creation is a monument to sorrow itself, removed from earth-bound experiences and perfected in the abstract. It transcends the individual and starts to approach the platonic idea of feeling itself; an attempt at the perfect love song that exists only in God’s mind, and who better to attempt so audacious a task than a robot who knows no better and is searching for its soul?
Only when a magician dies without revealing his secrets do his tricks truly become magic. So it is with these robots. Knowing how they did what they did on this record will remain a glorious mystery, something impossible to understand. But, if we’ve learned anything from them, and from this album, it’s that you die trying.
When I watch TV shows or movies that are period dramas, I always feel slightly lukewarm about the women’s clothing. Sure, some of those empire-waisted dresses were pretty (Marie Antoinette, with its kaleidoscope of dazzling candy-colored silk frocks, showcased some striking fashion), but in general I far prefer the outfits that the men wore, specifically the military uniforms. I mean, being in the army back then was like one giant fashion show! Seriously, everyone looked totally amazing, with their formal jackets and waistcoats and tall boots. If enlisting meant getting to wear a jacket like this one, I would have signed up in a heartbeat:
Really, wouldn’t you rather be wearing this fab coat than that boring black dress? *
*Actually, the dress is pretty cool. But the coat is still better.
Rock stars have long recognized the appeal of military garb. Artists such as Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and Coldplay have all donned military inspired gear.
Possibly the best dressed dude ever.
Juuuust a little bit of LSD involved here.
You’re no Jimi, Chris Martin, but this is still a valiant effort.
And then there was the King of Military Jackets (and Pop), Michael Jackson:
Here is a man who was not afraid to make a fashion statement.
The glitter, the glove, the glasses...this is all 100% gold. Bravo, MJ. Hats off to you, sir.
Luckily, the military look is a fashion trend that will never die, with styles being reimagined every season or two by the industry’s top designers (less luxe versions of which eventually filter down to us plebes who can only afford to shop at the mall):
Dolce & Gabbana
Dolce & Gabbana
Sidenote: Almost every single piece in D&G’s Fall 2006 runway show was so insanely amazing that the whole thing makes me want to sob with joy. They basically had their models dressed up as Napoleon and Josephine, and the attention to detail is stellar, from the high collars to the crested buttons to the braided gold rope trim. If you’re ever feeling down, check out the slideshow on Style.com – even if you can’t afford them (who can?), it’ll make you feel better just knowing that such beautiful clothes exist.
I know, you guys. I’m as surprised about this as you are. I have to be honest with you…I had always sort of dismissed Solange as a low-rent version of Beyonce. And considering that I’m not even all that into Beyonce*, I never really gave Solange the time of day. Until now.
*Although I must say that Beyonce does have quite a few gems in her repetoire, such as this most excellent song, and this one. And her recent HBO documentary certainly proves that she is an amazing live performer with an enviable work ethic.
I was recently introduced to Solange’s EP, True, which was released in November of last year. The first single, Losing You, might be one of the best songs I have heard of late. See for yourselves:
Amazing, right? Super poppy with a fun ’80s-ish vibe. And the clothing! So, so, so great. I love pretty much all of Solange’s outfits here, especially this amazing suit, which I am kind of obsessed with:
*LOVE* *LOVE* *LOVE* *WANT* *WANT* *WANT*
Here is a girl who is not afraid to mix and match patterns, and I deeply respect that.
Because honestly, patterns are meant to clash! Why else would they exist? In fact, I would argue that our inherent ability to throw together mismatched fabrics in a jaunty and debonair fashion is what ultimately separates us humans from the animals. Well — that, and opposable thumbs. And oh yeah, the whole sentient thoughts thing. But, you know, other than all that.
Now, you may be wondering about those epic looking dudes in the video sporting awesome suits and posing around Solange with Union Jack umbrellas. As well you should, and not only because they look insanely super rad. The back story of these dandified Congolese gents, known as Sapeurs, is an incredibly fascinating read. You can also see more pics of their sartorial splendor here at photographer Daniele Tamagni’s site.
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.
I hope you are sitting down, because I am about to blow your mind.
Somehow — and I truly, for the life of me cannot fathom how this happened — I managed to make it through the past 22 years without ever having seen this music video:
I know what you’re thinking — how did an oversight of such magnitude occur? The situation is nothing short of tragic. I mean, the song was released in 1990, so for 22 years I could have been reveling in the supreme awesomeness that is this video. And it’s not like I haven’t seen the cinematic gem Cool As Ice (which I will delve into further at a later date, as it obviously deserves it’s own post). Or the live performance of this song on Saturday Night Live, during which Vanilla Ice sported a truly magnificent jacket with ‘WORD TO YOUR MOTHA’ spelled out in diamond studs on the back — possibly the best piece of clothing worn by anyone, anywhere, in the history of time. Sadly, this is the only picture I could find of it:
If you ever come across a jacket like this one, please buy it for me and I will love you forever x infinity
Seriously, I don’t understand why there aren’t multiple web sites devoted to this jacket. If ever there was a garment of clothing deserving of it’s own tumblr, surely it is this one.
Anyway…clearly I am familiar with the man’s oeuvre, is what I’m trying to say. So how the viewing of this video managed to elude me until now is truly a mystery for the ages. Now that I have seen it, it feels like a piece of me that had always been missing has fallen into place.
Also, I have come to an important conclusion. You know how people always daydream about what they would ask for if they could have one wish magically granted? I have decided what mine would be — I would wish for the dance skills necessary to perform the routine in this video from start to finish. Think of how often that ability would come in handy! Like, for example, if you found yourself in the middle of an impromptu dance-off. It is important to be prepared for such things. As a bonus, if you were ever feeling blue you could bust out these moves and instantly cheer yourself up.
As for my love of this video…will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know. But I certainly hope not, because it is making me pretty happy.