Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Walk Of Life"? Should've Called It Brothers In Legs Then

Man, did Brothers In Arms sell a lot of copies. For a while there it was probably out-selling toilet paper. Stand back in awe: it stayed at #1 in the US for nine weeks, #1 in the UK for 10 weeks, and #1 in Australia for 34 weeks. The little chart at the bottom of the album's Wikipedia page lists 18 countries where the album hit #1 (shame on you, Italy and Norway), and this chart still leaves out other countries where it topped the charts, including Denmark, Spain, and Yugoslavia. And to think: if only Yugoslavia had splintered up by 1985, Brothers In Arms might have gone to #1 in even more countries.

Now is the time to admit that, when I was 15, I added to this pile. I figured any album that was so commercially successful must also have been great. The same logic had led to the purchase of Frampton Comes Alive! about a month prior, but I suppose I hadn't learned my lesson. Hey, I wanted the long version of "Money For Nothing," I vaguely remembered "Walk Of Life" from '80s radio ... it felt like the right move. I brought the cassette home, popped it in the player, and sat on the bed, intensely scanning the lyric booklet as the album played, trying to grasp the hidden significance of every garbled phrase. For a year or so, it seemed to me that the album merited this sort of close attention. Then I realized one day that perhaps it did not.

In preparation for writing this blog post, I have ended up listening to Brothers In Arms for the first time in about, say, ten years. Maybe if I'd initially heard it the way I hear most albums now - by putting it on casually in the background, only paying closer attention if the album draws me in - I would feel like listening to it now and then, but instead, hearing it again, I cringe a little, knowing that I spent so much time analyzing something that didn't quite deserve that level of analysis. In hindsight, I feel like the lyrics manage to be occasionally interesting without being as deep as I assumed they were when I was 15 - which, given that some of the other artists I loved when I was 15 were artists like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Elton John, is not an experience I'm particularly used to having. I have very few teenage musical regrets!

While not a "gimmick" album, Brothers In Arms was one of the first to really be promoted as a whole "compact disc experience." From Wikipedia:
Brothers in Arms was the first album to sell one million copies in the CD format and to outsell its LP version. A Rykodisc employee would subsequently write, "[In 1985 we] were fighting to get our CDs manufactured because the entire worldwide manufacturing capacity was overwhelmed by demand for a single rock title (Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms)."
"Muffy, would you buy me some caviar, a diamond necklace, and that new Dire Straits compact disc?" "Yes, Buffy, certainly my dahling."

Most of the songs are looooooooong, with long intros and even longer outros. They're almost gratuitously long, as if Knopfler just wanted to take advantage of the extra CD capacity. And thus began a trend, my friends, a terrible, terrible trend. Apparently, on the LP version, several of the songs were shortened by a minute or so, and I can see how that version might actually be preferable. Mainly, upon revisiting the thing, the album strikes me as, oh, you know, dated. Sitting around the console in Monserrat, I'm sure they all thought it sounded "state of the art," but everything's way too processed and filtered. It sounds like the Miami Vice episode that's playing in your nightmares. "The Man's Too Strong" still strikes me as kind of cool: more industrialized, almost like "Welcome To The Machine." The other songs need to drink some caffeine before they doze off completely.

That said, I still like "Walk Of Life." For starters, it's only four minutes long. Second, it doesn't sound like a synthesizer that's taking a massive dump on my ears. It's an actual, you know, pop song. The album's co-producer didn't even want it on the album, thinking it was at odds with the other material. And the thing is, he was right - but for the wrong reason! Thankfully, he was outvoted by the band.

Keyboards! Keyboards! Step right up and get your keyboards! You want a graceful, churchy one? We've got one right at the start here, to lull you in. You want a cheesy, roller rinky one? Oh boy, have we got the keyboard riff of your wet dreams! Pair it up with some well-timed acoustic guitar strums and eight teasing pounds on the bass drum, and you are off to the races my friend. Even Mark Knopfler's iffy attempt to roam out of his five note range at the end ("Hmm, you do the walk of ligh-high-hife") can't derail this sucker.



Not only did "Walk of Life" reach #7 in the US and #2 in the UK, but it even received region-specific videos. The British video featured the requisite concert footage spliced with shots of a subway busker giving it all he's got. Perhaps that one was deemed a bit too "British," because with the American video, they certainly didn't make that mistake.



It's time for ... Sports Bloopers! How much do you think it cost to get the rights to all this stuff? Well, considering the giant pile of money the album made, I'm sure they were able to afford it. Favorite YouTube comments:
Studies have shown that it is impossible to listen to this song and not smile.

This song I've found can make almost anyone dance. This huge guy on the road crew directing traffic, He was about 6'5 and 300 pounds, I pulled up with this song cranked and he went to getting down. Then on I-85 in Atlanta, Traffic completely stopped from a wreck, Again I had this song cranked, a pickup truck beside me had a bed with about 4 mexicans on it and they all started dancing.

My Dad always tells the story of the time he went to Italy. He stayed in this tiny Inn in the middle of nowhere, and when he told the Innkeeper he was American, he said: "You Americano, you like the Rock and Roll!" and put this record on
Finally, there is the Walk of Life Project. The Walk of Life Project poses one simple hypothesis: "'Walk of Life' by Dire Straits is the perfect song to end any movie." From an article on Slate published back in March 2016:
It can take a long time for humanity to figure out the best use for a new technology. Hedy Lamarr imagined the radio-frequency–hopping technology she invented would be used for torpedoes, not cell phones. The Internet was around for 30 years before it changed the world forever. And now, 120 years after their first public exhibition, Peter Salomone has perfected motion pictures. As is so often the case, the secret turned out to be Dire Straits.
Like you or I, Mr. Salomone must have been sitting at his computer farting around one day when a bolt of goofy inspiration struck. But unlike you or I, he had the drive, the vision, the know-how to truly go through with his hare-brained scheme.

See the endings of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider, Planet of the Apes, and Star Wars the way they were truly meant to be seen. This gag isn't just running; it's practically galloping.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Zrbo's Favorite Songs of 2016

The year I gave up on popular music.

This was a strange year for me musically. It would seem that I just didn't hear anything new this year that caught me ear. That's due either to me not paying as much attention to pop culture as I used to, or the other more pressing matters that affected the global stage this year, or perhaps my own interests solidifying into what I already listen to. Either way, you won't find much music from 2016 on this list. Here we go.

5. "Hee Haw"

This didn't gain very much viral fame as it frankly deserved. It basically sums up our current state of things. Washington has been reduced to a Hee Haw singalong.

4. "Flashbeagle"

Hear me out. When I was very little I was obsessed with Snoopy and the Peanuts. To this day I still have a bunch of Snoopy paraphernalia lying around. One of my earliest Snoopy related memories is dancing like a maniac to "Flashbeagle" while some babysitters looked on. The song comes from the animated special "It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown" created around the time that Flashdance and aerobic rock were greatly in vogue.

There's actually two different videos of Flashbeagle circulating around. There's one here that's basically the straight song as it appeared in the animated special. But the second video, posted above, is much more entertaining. It's got parts of the animated special but it's interspersed with "making of" segments. While it's kind of neat to see how they rotoscoped the quite impressive moves of Marine Jahan (also Jennifer Beals' body double for Flashdance) the real gem is here is the shots of the vocalists singing in the studio.

You've got schlubby Joey Scarbury, "known" for "Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe it or Not)", and Desiree Goyette, known for voicing various animated figures such as Nermal and Betty Boop. I love how we're led to believe we're watching the actual studio recording, with Desiree looking particularly over-enthused. But then the illusion is ruined when at 40 seconds Desiree looks straight into the camera completely ruining the notion that this was not pre-planned.

I haven't even got to the animated bits yet though. It's fascinating to see how Snoopy is the "cool" one wearing his ripped aerobic gear, but the dance floor is still straight up from the disco era complete with the multi colored lighted tile floor. You can sense the transition that was taking place in American dance floors as the new 80s style dance was being performed in aging disco clubs. Even the adults in the room (adults in a Snoopy cartoon?) seem to be in awe of Snoopy's "new" style and moves. Am I reading too much into a Snoopy cartoon?

The song is incredibly cheesy but I just love how Desiree and especially Joey are giving it their all. Then there's the little things like the crashes of thunder and epic string flourishes that give the song a decidedly epic 80s dance floor feel. I distinctly remember seeing this version of the video when I was younger and I'm terribly glad that someone made it available online.

3. Stevie Nicks - "Stand Back"

I've known this song for years but as I was driving across a bridge back in March it came on the radio and it just lodged itself deep in my skull. It's really all about that snazzy keyboard riff, provided by Prince in a perfectly Dave Chappelle-ready story.

And then there's the video. On the shortlist for "videos most indicative of their time" we've got some serious early 80s music video tropes. There's no less than billowy drapery, big hair, synchronized dancers that look like they just came off the set of All That Jazz or possibly the video for Beat It, berets a la Red Dawn, various neon lights, and even a treadmill because aerobics!

Then at around 2:40 we change venues from a darkly lit studio to something resembling the men's condo from Three Men and a Baby. What I love is how sincere everyone seems to be taking it. They are really *feeling* that jam. It's a great video and a great song from start to finish.

2. Echo Image - "Things I Know"

Isn't it great when you discover new music from a band that you thought were no longer producing music? That's how I felt earlier this year when I discovered "Things I Know" from Norwegian synthpop group Echo Image. Having only released one album back in 2001 they seemed to disappear from the music world. Well, it looks like I wasn't paying enough attention. Back in 2010 Echo Image released "Things I Know", and now it looks like they released a compilation album back in April, with possibly more to come.

The strange thing about "Things I Know" is that it sounds exactly like Echo Image did back in 2001. If you didn't tell me this was a more recent song I would have thought it was just a B-side I had never heard from their heyday. And in this age of the post-2016 election it wins my award for favorite chorus of the year:
I feel the world is not my own
But I believe the things I know
I feel the world is without love
And died long ago
Who can resist the part near the end when criminally underused Trine Bilet drops in to sing the chorus while the trance euphoria kicks in? Not me.

1. Overwatch - "Victory Theme"

Not the most interesting number one, but let me explain. The game Overwatch is easily my favorite game of the year. Because I've been playing it so much I hear the music a lot. The whole soundtrack is great. The World Could Always Use More Heroes is just utterly triumphant, and Rally the Heroes is this bit of music that plays near the end of a match that just perfectly matches the tenseness of the finale of any given match.

However, my personal favorite is the Victory theme. The reason I've heard it so many times it because it plays at the end of every match. Many Overwatch fans will tell you they like the Victory theme too, but most of them are referring to the part near the beginning where the horns and percussion blast triumphantly.

Me, my favorite part occurs immediately after this, when the game throws you into a post-match lobby while you wait a bit until the next match starts. That's when, at around 32 seconds, that wonderful synth line kicks and manages to be simultaneously tense and vaguely calming. In particular there's this little bit that starts around 56 seconds. That part right there is my favorite piece of music this year. I have had that little synth riff running through my head nonstop for months now and every time I play a match it's right there waiting for me. Game of the year and music of the year, all in a nutshell.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Changing Winds Of Grace Slick AKA Kantner Finally Throws The Nuclear Furniture

Ah, Grace Slick. Your family tried to raise a good little girl, but you were simply having none of it. Private schools and a promising modeling career at a high-end department store just weren't enough to steer this all-American ingenue away from a life of hardcore leftist radicalism. Select highlights (or lowlights?) from Wikipedia:
In 1968, Slick performed "Crown of Creation" on The Smothers Brother Comedy Hour in blackface and ended the performance with a Black Panther fist. In an appearance on a 1969 episode of the Dick Cavett Show, she became the first person to say "motherfucker" on live television during a performance of "We Can Be Together" by Jefferson Airplane.

During her hospital stay after [daughter] China's birth, Slick joked to one of the attending nurses that she intended to name the child "god" with a lowercase g, as she "wished for the child to be humble."

Slick was dragged off a San Francisco game show for abusing the contestants.

Slick and Tricia Nixon, former President Richard Nixon's daughter, are alumnae of Finch College. Slick was invited to a tea party for the alumnae at the White House in 1969. She invited political activist Abbie Hoffman to be her escort and planned to spike President Richard Nixon's tea with 600 micrograms of LSD. The plan was thwarted when they were prevented from entering after being recognized by White House security personnel, as Slick had been placed on an FBI blacklist.

In 1971, after a long recording session, Slick crashed her car into a wall near the Golden Gate Bridge while racing with Jorma Kaukonen. She suffered a concussion and later used the incident as the basis of her song "Never Argue with a German if You're Tired (or 'European Song')," which appears on the Bark album (1971).

Despite her retirement, Slick has appeared a couple of times over the years with Paul Kantner's revamped version of Jefferson Starship when the band played in Los Angeles. The most recent appearance was during a post-9/11 gig during which she came on the stage initially covered in black from head to toe in a makeshift burqa. She then removed the burqa to reveal a covering bearing an American flag and the words "Fuck Fear".
The girl had moxie, all right. And not even Jefferson Starship's long, agonizing slide into faceless corporate arena rock was going to dull the edges on this particular knife.

Slick didn't have a huge presence on Winds of Change's "Be My Lady," which hit #28 and at least still kind of sounded like Jefferson Starship's mellow late '70s singles such as "Count On Me" and "With Your Love," as opposed to, I dunno, Foreigner. The video features Mickey Thomas in a series of Escher illustrations: The corner of a house ... without a house! The stairway that leads ... back to itself!



But the Chrome Nun (as David Crosby was fond of calling her) certainly made her presence known on "Out of Control." Ever wonder what happens when 40-year-old ex-hippie Baby Boomers suddenly listen to punk one day and decide, "Yeah, I can do that!" This is what happens. Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, and Poly Styrene, look out, 'cause here comes Grace Slick.



The album's title track petered out at #38. Apparently the video was filmed on the set of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, with Grace Slick as Tinkerbell's older drug-addicted sister and Mickey Thomas as Bernie (from Weekend at Bernie's). Oh, and of course there's wind! Lots of wind!



By Nuclear Furniture, you can really sense Paul Kantner's tolerance finally reaching its breaking point. From Wikipedia: "Before the sessions came to a close, he stole the master tapes, put them in his car and drove around San Francisco for a few days and wouldn't bring them back until the band mixed the album in a way more to his liking." Well, I suppose that's one way to deal with deep disappointment in your band's new direction: take the album hostage! "No Way Out" hit #23 (#1 Mainstream Rock), and its complete dissimilarity to "White Rabbit" must have finally convinced Kantner to take the one pill that made him smaller. The video finds Mickey and his girlfriend accidentally stumbling into a laboratory run by ... sci-fi wizards? He becomes psychologically interrogated by ... Father Guido Sarducci? And Grace Slick is running around speaking like a munchkin? And some shirtless dude with a porn 'stache (I think he's the drummer) is lifting weights in bed, staring at a Japanese geisha who's dancing in front of a Mao poster? I give up on this one.



Last but not least: were you secretly hoping that Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick would run for president as "Mick & Slick"? In the "Layin' It On The Line" video, you get your wish, along with cameos by ... Willie Brown? Timothy Leary? G. Gordon Liddy? The Residents? Hey, at this point, they've got my vote. Maybe they can spike their tea with LSD once they get there.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Where The Genesis And Collins Discographies Meld As One AKA Woe To The Record Exec Who Skimps On Phil's Royalties

At this point, what exactly was the difference between Genesis and solo Phil Collins? Genesis records had ... more keyboards? Less horns? No cover versions? Less love songs? In a blind taste test, nine out of ten consumers haven't been able to tell the difference.

Not that I'm complaining. Although it was their 12th album, Genesis might actually be the Genesis album I enjoy the most. No, seriously. I'm not Patrick Bateman, and I'm not just trying to be a hipster douchebag contrarian. I like every song! Each track is concise and atmospheric without being vapid or monotonous. Abacab can go to hell.

Thus, I take issue with AMG Guy's three-and-a-half star review, in which he writes that, while strong, the album is a bit disjointed:
Moments of Genesis are as spooky and arty as those on Abacab -- in particular, there's the tortured howl of "Mama," uncannily reminiscent of Phil Collins' Face Value, and the two-part "Home by the Sea" -- but this eponymous 1983 album is indeed a rebirth, as so many self-titled albums delivered in the thick of a band's career often are. Here the art rock functions as coloring to the pop songs, unlike on Abacab and Duke, where the reverse is true. Some of this may be covering their bets -- to ensure that the longtime fans didn't jump ship, they gave them a bit of art -- some of it may be that the band just couldn't leave prog behind, but the end result is the same: as of this record, Genesis was now primarily a pop band. Anybody who paid attention to "Misunderstanding" and "No Reply at All" could tell that this was a good pop band, primarily thanks to the rapidly escalating confidence of Phil Collins, but Genesis illustrates just how good they could be, by balancing such sleek, pulsating pop tunes as "That's All" with a newfound touch for aching ballads, as on "Taking It All Too Hard." They still rocked -- "Just a Job to Do" has an almost nasty edge to its propulsion -- and they could still get too silly as on "Illegal Alien," where Phil's Speedy Gonzalez accident is an outright embarrassment (although in some ways it's not all that far removed from his Artful Dodger accent on the previous album's "Who Dunnit?"), and that's why the album doesn't quite gel. It has a little bit too much of everything -- too much pop, too much art, too much silliness -- so it doesn't pull together, but if taken individually, most of these moments are very strong, testaments to the increasing confidence and pop power of the trio, even if it's not quite what longtime fans might care to hear.
Good thing I'm not one of those "longtime fans," you know? As opposed to, say, Patrick Bateman, who also sounds rather disappointed with this one:
Hugh Padgham produced next an even less conceptual effort, simply called Genesis (Atlantic; 1983), and though it's a fine album a lot of it now seems too derivative for my tastes. "That's All" sounds like "Misunderstanding," "Taking It All Too Hard" reminds me of "Throwing It All Away." It also seems less jazzy than its predecessors and more of an eighties pop album, more rock 'n' roll. Padgham does a brilliant job of producing, but the material is weaker than usual and you can sense the strain.
Is that Genesis' strain he's sensing, or the strain of his own fragile mental state? Never trust the music reviews of a sharply-dressed serial killer, that's what I say.

While a huge hit in the UK and throughout Europe, "Mama" stiffed in the US, peaking at #73. Maybe delicate Yankee ears couldn't handle the psychic trauma. According to Wikipedia, "The song's theme involves a young man's longing for a particular prostitute." Hmmmm? Take it from the man himself:
Our manager, when he first heard it, thought it was about abortion, the kind of feeling of the, you know, the fetus, if you like, saying to the Mother 'Please give me a chance, can't you feel my heart, don't take away my last chance', all those lyrics are in the song but in fact what it is, is just about a young teenager that's got a mother fixation with a prostitute that he's just happened to have met in passing and he has such a strong feeling for her and doesn't understand why she isn't interested in him. It's a bit like [British actor] David Niven in The Moon's a Balloon, I don't know if you've read that book, he's very young, just come out of cadet college or whatever, and he meets this quite, you know, 45-year-old prostitute who he has a fantastic time with. He's special to her but it definitely can't go any further than what it is and that's really what the song is about, with sinister overtones.
Damn it Phil. My attempt to exaggerate your sick, perverted tendencies doesn't work as well when I learn that some of your songs are actually sick and perverted! Because who can't relate to having a mother fixation with a prostitute, right? And what's with the deranged cackle? "On the DVD The Genesis Songbook, the band and producer Hugh Padgham revealed that the inspiration for Collins's laugh came from rap music pioneer Grandmaster Flash's song 'The Message'." Well, obviously. The little "Eeeugh!" that follows the laugh reminds me, if anything, of John Lennon's heavily-echoed vocal ad-libs during the fade-out of "Lovely Rita."
I can't see you Mama
But I can hardly wait
Ooh to touch and to feel you Mama
Oh I just can't keep away

In the heat and the steam of the city
Oh it's got me running and I just can't break
So say you'll help me Mama
Cause it's getting so hard

Now I can't keep you Mama
But I know you're always there
You listen, you teach me Mama
And I know inside you care

So get down, down here beside me
Oh you ain't going nowhere
No I won't hurt you Mama
But it's getting so hard

It's hot, too hot for me Mama
But I can't hardly wait
My eyes, they're burning Mama
And I can feel my body shake

Don't stop, don't stop me Mama
Make the pain, make it go away
No I won't hurt you Mama
But it's getting so hard
The video finds Phil and friends in a dingy club (or an extremely low-budget motel?) which unfortunately does not seem to have any air conditioning. Wearing a sweaty, light red sleeveless shirt, Phil tries to do his best Sly Stallone impersonation. How much do you think he could bench press?



Likewise, there certainly wasn't anything sweetly romantic about "Home By The Sea" (and its primarily instrumental counterpart, "Second Home By The Sea"), unless Wuthering Heights is your idea of romance: From Wikipedia: "Lyrically, the song is about a burglar who breaks into a house only to find it is a haunted prison. The burglar is captured by the ghosts, who force him to listen to their stories for the rest of his life." I hate it when that happens. The unexpectedly insistent tempo gives the song's sweetly aching melody an urgent power it might otherwise lack. Jesus. Is my music writing starting to sound like Patrick Bateman's? Well, sometimes even a deranged Yuppie nutjob is right on the money, even when he misinterprets the lyrics and misquotes the song's title:
"... Phil's voice is strongest on "House by the Sea," whose lyrics are, however, too stream-of-consciousness to make much sense. It might be about growing up and accepting adulthood but it's unclear; at any rate, its second instrumental part puts the song more in focus for me and Mike Banks gets to show off his virtuoso guitar skills while Tom Rutherford washes the tracks over with dreamy synthesizers, and when Phil repeats the song's third verse at the end it can give you chills."
Chills!
Creeping up the blind side, shinning up the wall
Stealing through the dark of night
Climbing through a window, stepping to the floor
Checking to the left and the right
Picking up the pieces, putting them away
Something doesn't feel quite right

Help me someone, let me out of here
Then out of the dark was suddenly heard
Welcome to the Home by the Sea

Coming out the woodwork, through the open door
Pushing from above and below
Shadows without substance, in the shape of men
Round and down and sideways they go
Adrift without direction, eyes that hold despair
Then as one they sigh and they moan

Help us someone, let us out of here
Living here so long undisturbed
Dreaming of the time we were free
So many years ago
Before the time when we first heard
Welcome to the Home by the Sea
Sit down, sit down
As we relive our lives in what we tell you

Images of sorrow, pictures of delight
Things that go to make up a life
Endless days of summer, longer nights of gloom
Waiting for the morning light
Scenes of unimportance, like photos in a frame
Things that go to make up a life


"Taking It All Too Hard" is the one song that sounds the most like late '80s solo Phil (also sounding like a dry run for "In Too Deep"), but somehow I can't resist its gloopy charm. It peaked at #11 Adult Contemporary, but only #50 on the Hot 100. This is one of those small, "Oh yeahhhhh, I think I remember that!" hits that litter the Phil Collins and Genesis discographies like so many stains on a YMCA sofa.



But Genesis could still turn around and rock your balls off with a ditty like "Just A Job To Do," which "tells the story of a hit man pursuing his victim," a situation Phil knew perhaps all too well, if the tales of his murderous escapades in San Diego are to be believed. Nonetheless, Patrick Bateman has a different theory: "'Just a Job to Do' is the album's funkiest song, with a killer bass line by Banks, and though it seems to be about a detective chasing a criminal, I think it could also be about a jealous lover tracking someone down." You decide:
It's no use saying that it's alright, it's alright
Where were you after midnight, midnight
Heard a Bang, Bang, Bang, down they go
It's just a job you do
'Cause the harder they run, and the harder they fall
I'm coming down hard on you

Now no one saw what you looked like, what you looked like
Like a stranger, you came out of the night, out of the night
'Cause someone put the word on you, and I hope my aim is true

'Cause I got a name, and I got a number, I gotta line on you
I got a name, and I got a number, I'm coming after you


Of course, little did the public realize it at the time, but "Just A Job To Do," as well as several of the album's other tracks, were inspired by Phil's ongoing financial battles with his record label. From In The Air Tonight:
I was at home watching a bootleg copy of a Sardinian snuff film when the mailman slid my royalty check through the mail slot. "All right, here's the $500,000 dollars from Hello, I Must Be Going!" I muttered to myself with glee. But when I opened up the envelope, I couldn't believe what I saw. Only $490,000! Where was the other $10,000? This was bullshit. I was owed at least $500,000. Those Atlantic sons of bitches. I dialed Frankie Foster, but he didn't pick up. So I decided to go down there in person. I brought two goons along, you know, to make sure we cleared up this little mistake real quick.

Frankie waved me hello with a half-smoked cigar dangling between his stubby fingers. "Phil ol' boy, come on in! 'You Can't Hurry Love,' it's unstoppable, I gotta tell you." The boys knocked him to the floor and tied his hands with extension cables.

"Where's my $500,000 Frankie?"

"Hey, hey! Hold on, Phil, what are you talkin' about?"

I shoved the check in his face. "This says $490,000. Where's my $500,000?"

"There's ... there's fees, you know? We've gotta take a little out for the fees Phil, I swear!"

I pointed to the corner. "Throw him over there until he changes his tune."

We sat in that room all afternoon, and after sunset. Things got a little messy. Had the boys pull out a couple of toenails. They grow back. Frankie broke down sobbing.

"Mama!" He cried at one point. "Mama!"

"You want your mama, eh?"

"I can't see you mama, but I know you're always there."

"That's it Frankie, you talk to whoever you want to talk to."

"I wanna go home."

"Where's your home."

"By the sea."

"Sounds nice."

"Help me someone, let me out of here, living here so long undisturbed." He started babbling like a madman. "Endless days of summer, longer nights of gloom, waiting for the morning light." That's not bad, I thought. Could use that somewhere.

"It's all right, Frankie, it's all right. You're taking it all too hard."

Another hour passed by in silence. Finally, he cracked. "OK Phil. I'll give you the extra $10,000."

"Extra? It's not fucking extra. It's what I'm owed."

"OK, OK, it's not extra! Will you untie me now?"

Frankie crawled over to his desk and began pulling out a series of $100 bills.

"Don't give it to me now, just put it in my next check."

"But-"

"I don't carry cash. I know you'll pay up. 'Cause if you don't, well ... I got a name, and I got a number, I got a line on you, Frankie. I got a name, I got a number, I'm comin' after you."
Editor's Note: A few of our loyal Cosmic American readers may have noticed the appearance of a supposed "real" memoir recently "written" by Phil Collins, titled Not Dead Yet. Mr. Collins has even been spotted on several late night programs promoting this ostensibly "legitimate" autobiography. But let me be clear: credible as it may seem, Not Dead Yet is a fraud and a sham, not to be confused with the much more obscure, but much more authentic In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life And Twisted Psyche Of Philip D. Collins. The motive behind this false publication is not entirely clear; perhaps Mr. Collins, upon further reflection, has gotten "cold feet" and now feels ashamed of his previous attempt at brutal candor and unflinching honesty; perhaps he feels threatened by law enforcement (both domestic and international) after confessing to numerous felonies and misdeeds, even though the statute of limitations on all of them appears to have passed; perhaps he simply enjoys playing elaborate games and ruses with the public, like a balding, drumming Andy Kaufman, who delights in treating his fans as elaborate pawns in a vast piece of inscrutable performance art. Read it if you choose, but be warned: not a word of it may be true.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Power Ballad "Heart" Attack AKA One Band's Reluctant Journey To The "Heart" Of '80s Cheese

Some '70s bands figured out the '80s right off the bat. Others needed a little time, but, boy, when they got there, they got there nice and good.

Let's cut to the "heart" of the matter here (also, let's see how many bad "heart" puns I can incorporate into this post ... actually, I think I'm done). Heart's initial brush with the '80s began rather inauspiciously: a hit cover of Aaron Neville's New Orleans R&B slow jam "Tell It Like It Is," one of the "new" tracks off their first greatest hits album. Suffice to say, this was not a long-term plan for success in the MTV era. (And couldn't the high school PTA have found a cheaper prom band?)



See, I think in the '70s, you could just be a bar band from down the street. But in the '80s, you had to be bigger, cheaper, tackier, poofier. You needed to reach the back row of that stadium filled with sexy middle-aged housewives. You needed to schlock it up.

For the Ladies Wilson and Friends, the transition would not be easy, nor would it occur overnight, but rest assured: it would occur. Private Audition (1982) peaked at #25, Passionworks (1983) at #39. The latter's "How Can I Refuse" showed signs of the band potentially catching on to the schlock, particularly that electronically-processed triple-thwack drum fill in the chorus. In the video, we see the Wilson sisters' hair becoming slightly more permed, with Nancy wearing what appears to be Bowie's mullet from Labyrinth. Although the clip features an early taste of the third-rate sci-fi/fantasy landscapes to come, with its interlude of peyote-fueled necromancy in the deserts of a distant realm (question: best music video featuring a crystal ball ever?), the majority of the clip still finds the band "performing," you know, "on stage." No, no, no. It reached #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, but only #44 on the Pop chart. Epic Records had seen enough.



Capitol Records, on the other hand, saw a second act in our two little queenies, but first they laid out a few conditions:
  1. No more of those crappy songs you're writing, you know, "yourself." We give you the songs, you cover them.
  2. The videos, girls, the videos - they need more: flames, corsets, anvils, you know, shit like that.
It looks like Heart got the memo. They got the memo, rolled it up, and smoked it. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you "What About Love."



The band hops on a tour bus after another exhausting gig. Everything's in black and white. Nancy cuddles up with her guitar. Lonely, pensive Ann begins to sing about heartbreak. "But where are the explosions?" you're asking. "Where are the explosions?"

BOOM. Heart's got your explosions right here, buddy. And flames, lots of flames. Ann takes the stage wearing a medieval gown and holding a mallet. She means business. Because next comes the metallurgy.

The fuckin' metallurgy.

Two guys pour molten gold into a cast, and out of that cast rises ... Nancy Wilson. Heart: forged from the cauldrons of '80s power balladry. Then the camera cuts to a mysteriously masked woman holding a blowtorch. She takes off her helmet to reveal that she is ... Ann Wilson! Singer by day, blacksmith by night. Then peasants begin hauling gold bricks. And of course there's anvils, lots of anvils. At 2:12 Nancy appears to be offering her guitar as a sacrifice to the metallurgy gods, or perhaps the Capitol Records execs? Then Nancy and the lead guitarist jam while standing on top of a spiral staircase ... that's engulfed in flames. Notice also how the lead guitarist appears to be playing a sled, and the bassist is playing a guitar with a hideous cheetah design on it. Suddenly, the last shot shows Ann still sitting on that tour bus, dejected and reading ... Gone With The Wind? Is that where this whole daydream came from?

The band had its doubts, and I can't possibly fathom why, about its new direction, but here's a question: if you don't act on your doubts, do they actually mean anything? Here's Ann Wilson from a recent Rolling Stone interview:
At the time, that transition was really hard for me. And for a couple of reasons. One was that we were accepting songs from outside writers. I think we came to the realization that, "Hey, we're not writing so well right now. We're not coming up with the goods." So we decided to go ahead with it and audition some outside stuff. And you can make sense of that in your brain, but it's hard to convince your emotions and your ego to accept that kind of thing. So it was rocky for me. When I first heard the demo for "What About Love," my hackles went up because I thought it sounded like a victim song. "Oh, poor me! What about me?" It felt like an "I'm so weak and you can just walk all over me" type song. And so I rejected it. But our producer and the record company and everyone kept working on me, and I finally agreed to sing the song. And when I did, I brought my own sort of rage to it, I guess. It ended up not being a victim song and I think it's good.
Rage. You got that? Do you feel the rage?

I guess the question on the minds of eager MTV viewers really had been "What About Love?" and apparently Heart had really answered it, as the single sent the band back into the top ten. I don't remember hearing "What About Love" much at the time, and when I heard it later, the first thing I thought was, "Wow, this is a total ripoff of Roxette's 'Listen To Your Heart'!" Turns out I had it backwards; "Listen To Your Heart" was a total ripoff of "What About Love." Well, not totally, since every power ballad is essentially a ripoff of the same power ballad. It's like there's this one Ur-ballad sitting in a vault somewhere in a strip club on Hollywood Blvd., and everyone who ever needs to write one takes a little piece of it.

Oh yeah, and you know who's singing backing vocals on "What About Love"? Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick. Let's see Roxette rip off that.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Fitting Enz To Belinda's Solo Debut AKA Stuff And Awesomeness

If someone paid me a dollar for every time I heard a love song which featured sentiments such as "Our love will last forever" or "We'll be together till the end of time," why, I'd ... probably spend my time doing something other than blogging about '80s music, I can tell you that much. My point is, most relationships generally don't last "forever," and if you really stayed with someone until "the end of time," then you would be immortal, and ... who cares who your partner is, what's it like to be immortal???

Seriously though, I get it. It's a nice sentiment. You're saying that you really love somebody a lot. But it's not ... realistic. Feelings come and go. People form a connection, but that connection often fades. Most love songs aren't very realistic. Maybe they shouldn't be. But in 1979, Tim Finn wrote one of those rare love songs that strikes me as surprisingly honest.

"Stuff and Nonsense" was an album track on Split Enz's Frenzy. Remember Split Enz? You know, the guys from the Fatty Foods Party? Well, when he wasn't crashing depraved L.A. New Wave all-girl slumber parties, Tim Finn was writing love songs from a decidedly cautious perspective:
Disobey my own decisions
I deserve all your suspicions
First it's yes and then it's no
I dilly dally down to you, oh
But I've got no secrets that I battle in my sleep
I won't make promises to you that I can't keep
Promises that you can't keep? I mean, there goes the plot of every romantic comedy ever. But it's in the chorus where he really subverts prevailing teenage notions of lifetime entanglement:
And you know that I love you
Here and now, not forever
I can give you the present
I don't know about the future
That's all stuff and nonsense
Whoa, that's like ... Buddhist. The power of Now, man. He's not saying that he won't love her in the future; he's just saying that he doesn't know. Because nobody knows. And anybody who says they do know ... is lying.



It was a nice album track. But just as Tim Finn couldn't have known what the future held in store for his romance, he couldn't have known what the future held in store for his composition. Fast forward seven years. Belinda Carlisle needs a closing track for her solo debut. She's just married the man of her dreams. Could she pick a song with lyrics that say she'll love Morgan Mason "until the end of time"? Sure. But that's not how Belinda rolls, baby.

I couldn't say who or what inspired Finn to write "Stuff and Nonsense," be it his significant other, his orthodontist, or his cat, and it's not like he sounds insincere when he's singing it. But it's hard to believe that Finn didn't somehow know that he was unconsciously writing this song for Belinda to sing ... seven years later! Despite the supremely non-Californian ring of the title phrase, I have to say that, in the hands of Belinda, "Stuff and Nonsense" became a fitting statement of hesitant optimism, as she embarked on a new kind of relationship, one with so much promise, but so much uncertainty.

True, the somewhat schmaltzy piano-and-strings intro comes on as a little less Paul McCartney and a little more Barry Manilow, but just you wait. Her vocal shakiness, while possibly unintentional and possibly a result of her not really knowing how to sing all that great, also adds to the vibe of fragility and vulnerability. She's sort of going in and out of doing this "speak-singing" thing, especially on the word "promises," and it kind of makes me cringe a little, but every time she seems to lose her balance, she gets right back on track and gives the next few notes some solid gusto. Under the first chorus it sounds like someone is gently banging an aluminum sheet - "Bridge Over A Troubled Belinda," if you will - but fortunately some real drums come in during the second chorus.

It's more or less Belinda Streisand until the instrumental bridge, when suddenly a regal trumpet flies in from the left channel straight out of "Penny Lane." All you need is Belinda! The third time through the chorus, she's joined by wordless "ooh-ooh" backing vocalists, but the fourth time through the chorus, those backing vocalists all start singing the words and it becomes one giant singalong. Hey Belinda, don't make it bad, take a Split Enz song, and make it better. The fifth time through the chorus, out of nowhere, an overdubbed, slightly more faint mini-Belinda starts ad libbing passionately in the right channel ("Know that I-I-I-I dooooo! Yes I doooo-wooo!") while the Penny Lane guy really starts going apeshit. Roll up for the Magical Belinda Tour! Coo-coo-ca-choob!



This is the way Belinda's first solo album ends: not with a bang, but with a pile of psychedelic Beatles flourishes. A splendid time is guaranteed for most.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Better Than Being Addicted To Hate, Right?

But ... hey ... come on, man! That's not even a real band. Those girls can barely even play. This whole thing is a farce, I tell you, a sham!

I wonder what it would actually be like to be "addicted" to love. Is it expensive? Could you OD? Is there a Love-a-holics Anonymous? I just hope it's not as brutal as, say, having a bad case of loving you.

But I digress. If the other members of the Power Station thought their little supergroup was in it for the long haul, Robert Palmer had other ideas. According to Wikipedia, the band booked a tour, but after one performance on Saturday Night Live, Palmer decided that, you know, since he was now such a hot commodity, maybe it was the perfect time to ... record another solo album. And he was right! This may not have bothered the band, but according to Wikipedia, it didn't sit too well with the music press:
When Palmer bailed on the tour, some critics referred to it as "unprofessional behaviour". In Number One magazine, he hit back at the claims he joined the band for money: "Firstly, I didn't need the money and, secondly the cash wasn't exactly a long time coming. It wasn't exactly an experience that set me up for retirement." He was also accused of ripping off the Power Station sound for his own records. He snapped: "Listen, I gave The Power Station that sound. They took it from me, not the other way around."
Don't incite the Palmer! You may not come back in one piece. At any rate, wasn't Palmer the last member to join? Enough of this he said/she said: the bottom line is that, with drumming from Tony Thompson, bass playing from Power Station producer (and, like Thompson, former Chic member) Bernard Edwards, and guitar from Andy Taylor, "Addicted to Love" might as well have been the new Power Station single. Unless you watched the video, that is.

Because in the video for "Addicted to Love," there's no doubt who's in charge here. And, funny enough, the other guys are ... nowhere to be found! Hmmmm, that doesn't look like Andy Taylor on lead guitar there. And you can't seriously convince me that that's Tony Thompson on the skins. Why, these are just a bunch of ... models! What is this, some kind of a ... some kind of a joke? From Wikipedia: "The video features Palmer performing the song with an abstract 'band', being a group of female models whose pale skin, heavy makeup, dark hair and seductive, rather mannequin-like expression follow the style of women in Patrick Nagel paintings."

Patrick Nagel, you say? Think Duran Duran's Rio, or the walls of any neighborhood hair salon. I'm guessing some people find this look "hot," but, personally, I find it slightly disturbing. I mean, I want a guitarist who will keep me warm at night, not eat bats in my attic. I have to say, however, that on another day, I might go for the keyboardist, and maybe the guitarist to Palmer's right. According to VH-1's Pop-Up Video, "a musician was hired to teach the models basic fingering techniques, but 'gave up after about an hour and left'." Oh Lord.



Favorite YouTube comments:
man did he film this in his living room?

I suspect the musicians are not playing their instruments here.

If you watch this video closely, you'll see Robert Palmer.

What makes the video is how serious Palmer is and how he stays in character. That, and the girl licking her lips.

Some say those women are still standing there dancing like that.

Step 1. Look at the drummer in the wide shots
Step 2. Laugh your arse off
Step 3. Repeat
Suffice to say, everyone from Tone Loc to Shania Twain has paid homage to the video, but no one has done it quite the way Sonic Youth side project Ciccone Youth did on 1989's The Whitey Album. Here we have Kim Gordon apparently singing along live to a budget version blasting out of a Macy's karaoke booth, which might explain why the playing sounds more competent than usual, and why the backing vocalist carries a tune better than Thurston Moore. Am I crazy, or is this like, the best thing they ever did?


Less hipster, but equally absurd, would be Weird Al's take. No one can deflate a nonsensical lyrical conceit and a male singer's veneer of suave machismo like Weird Al, who manages to turn the song's dubious metaphor into a tale of literal addiction. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ... "Addicted to Spuds":
Potato skins, potato cakes
Hash browns, and instant flakes
Baked or boiled, or french fried
There's no kind you haven't tried

You planned a trip to Idaho
Just to watch potatoes grow
I understand how you must feel
I can't deny they've got appeal

You like them whether they are plain or they're stuffed, oh yeah
Better face the facts, it seems you can't get enough
You know, you're gonna have to face it
You're addicted to spuds

Your greasy hands, your salty lips
Looks like you found the chips
Your belly aches, your teeth grind
Some tater tots would blow your mind

And you don't mind if they're not cooked
You need your fix, I guess you're hooked
And late at night you always dream
Of bacon bits and sour cream

You like them even if they're lumpy or tough, oh yeah
Well it's pretty obvious to me you can't get enough
You know you're gonna have to face it
You're addicted to spuds

I'm givin' up, it's just no use
Another case of spud abuse
What can I say, what can I do
Potato bug has got me too

I used to hate them, now they're all that I eat, oh yeah
Well, I've often seen then whipped, but they just can't be beat
Now I'm gonna have to face it
I'm addicted to spuds
Most groan inducing puns: "I can't deny they've got appeal"; "Potato bug has got me too"; "I've often seen them whipped but they just can't be beat." Oy gevalt. Not being a doctor, I can't honestly say whether or not he's truly addicted to spuds, but I will say this: he's definitely addicted to bad puns.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Take Me Home Tonight": Two Comebacks In One!

At least Johnny Cash's real last name was actually Cash. Not quite so for one Edward Joseph Mahoney, son of an NYPD cop who almost followed in his father's footsteps until the siren song of cheesy bar band rock came calling. "Baby Hold On," "Two Tickets To Paradise," "Think I'm In Love" ... sometimes the key to fulfilling all your musical ambitions is to have very low ambitions.

And here's a question for you: can you call it a "comeback" if you actually weren't that big to begin with? Eddie Money probably didn't care what people called it as long it put some of, you know, his own name in the bank account.

He needed a single that summoned up the appropriate aura of '80s late night urban desperation and Wagnerian malaise. Initially, "Take Me Home Tonight" doesn't sound like that single, with its generic stew of mushy keyboards and jangly-but-not-quite-jangly-enough guitar, followed by a mood-setting "Oh-ohhh-ooooh-oh-wuh-ohhh" and an imitation Asian synth lick. What the hell is this, the Vapors' "Turning Japanese"? In enters the man of the hour, sounding like your neighborhood Springsteen-with-a-meth-addiction, and apparently he hasn't eaten all day:
I feel a hunger, it's a hunger
That tries to keep a man awake at night
Are you the answer? I shouldn't wonder
When I feel you whet my appetite
Dude, find a Sizzler. Or a Denny's.
With all the power you're releasing
It isn't safe to walk the city streets alone
Anticipation's running through me
Let's find the key and turn this engine on

I can feel you breathe
I can feel your heart beat faster
Eddie, this town rips the bones from your back, it's a death trap, it's a suicide rap, you gotta get out while you're young ... wait, never mind. The point is, Eddie isn't hungry for food, or even meth: he's hungry for escape. The bridge suggests the promise of change, of that glimpse of something better just around the corner, complete with tacky echo on "faster," but based on what you've heard so far, you know, come on, how much better could it really be? You're figuring Eddie Money probably doesn't have it in him.

But wrong you are. Right at the 1:02 mark, he delivers the goods. Oh SHIIIIT. YEAHHH BABY. That is what I'm talkin' about. You thought you had a chorus? That ain't a chorus. This is a chorus. Those guitar chords are like the sound of an American flag making love to a Harley-Davidson ... on the White House lawn. It's Eddie Money reaching deep down inside himself, knowing that nothing less than the catchiest, most anthemic chorus in the world could salvage the shattered remnants of his pathetic career, and it's sitting right there in his pocket, and he's like, "You think I'm all out of bar band hooks, don't you? Don't you? Well get a load of this." It is, if you will, the song's "Money" shot.

Actually, he didn't write the song, and he didn't even like the song. But he did have one suggestion: if they were going to do an interpolation of "Be My Baby," they might as well get the original singer of "Be My Baby" to sing it.

And just what was Ronnie Spector up to anyways? She had last been seen in the mid-'70s, fleeing the infamous mansion of her soon-to-be ex-husband, where she had reportedly been held hostage in her own home for years on end, not even allowed to pick up the groceries. Guess it's hard to focus on your recording career when you're recovering from the trauma of a marriage to Phil Spector, you know? According to Wikipedia, in 1986, Eddie Money called her and asked her what she was doing. She answered, "Washing the dishes."

So that's the thing. This chorus is already soaring like a bald eagle that's just inhaled a tank of liberty helium, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, Ronnie comes in, taking you back to those hot summer days on a Brooklyn street corner, playing stickball and beating up some Italian kid with a trashcan lid. It's like the flavor of the "new" (slickly-produced '80s arena rock) with a sprinkling of the "old" (critically unimpeachable early '60s girl group pop). You can't lose.

And if you're going to reference an oldie like that, why be subtle about it? At 2:22, not only does Ronnie come back in, but also the "Be My Baby" drumbeat, and even the damn castanets! At this point you're probably thinking to yourself, "Yeah, that's all pretty solid, but what this song really needs right now is for all the instruments to just suddenly drop out, and then all we'd hear is that sweet, sweet chorus again, with Eddie's shaggy dog wail and that crunchy-ass riff."

Witness 2:37.

The fade-out features the former Miss Veronica Bennett double-tracking her vocals and performing just about every aspect of the "Be My Baby" chorus she hasn't already touched. Rock 'n' Roll never dies, all right - it just cashes in on cheap oldies nostalgia. "Take Me Home Tonight" found a home at #4 on the Hot 100.


The video looks like it was filmed in between bouts at a boxing arena, with all the budget "Eddie" money perhaps going toward the (admittedly appealing) black and white film stock. Are Eddie and Ronnie about to face off in the ring? If so, personally, my money's on Eddie. At first it seems like one of those videos where the two performers had scheduling issues and couldn't appear on the set at the same time: Ronnie sits in the dressing room, putting out her cigarette butt with her shoe, while Eddie fondles a ladder on stage. We see her slinking her way down the hallway in silhouette, shrouded in smoke. The massive door of the arena begins to lift. Who's that ghostly figure in the darkness - E.T.? Finally, at 2:42, we get a close-up. It's Ronnie! She made it! Well of course she made it, what the hell else was she doing, washing the dishes? Still, you never quite see them standing together. I'm thinking they might have used a double in the long shots. Also note: Eddie apparently does his own sax duty. Check out the whirlwind montage at about 2:33, where singer blows into saxophone, rips open shirt, grabs saxophone (which somehow is not in his hands anymore?), hoists saxophone, and lets the chorus fly. Soak it in, Eddie: this time you've truly earned your financial sobriquet.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Mr. Panayiotou Goes To Beijing

Just as Admiral Perry cracked open Japan, just as Nixon sat face to face with Mao, one heroic Western pop group was destined to bring the decadent, rebellious sounds of rock and roll to an oppressive East. Was it the Beatles? The Stones? Dylan? The Beach Boys?

Pfft, they wished. The group to break Communism's iron grip on Chinese mass culture...

...was Wham!

Say "Ni-Hao" to the reign of the Michael dynasty. I wonder what the Mandarin translation for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is. That's right. In 1985, Red China got its first taste of Pasty White British Guys. But were they ready? Could they handle the wild, unhinged attitude of ... Wham!? According to Wikipedia, the People's Republic came this close to being treated to actual rock and roll, if it hadn't been for the machinations of Wham!'s crafty co-manager:
In March 1985, Wham! took a break from recording to embark on a lengthy world tour, including a ground-breaking 10-day visit to China, the first by a Western pop group. The China excursion was a publicity scheme devised by Simon Napier-Bell (one of their two managers—Jazz Summers being the other). It culminated in a concert at the Workers' Gymnasium in Beijing in front of 15,000 people. Wham!'s visit to China attracted huge media attention across the world. Napier-Bell later admitted that he used cunning tactics to sabotage the efforts of rock group Queen to be the first to play in China. He made two brochures for the Chinese authorities - one featuring Wham! fans as pleasant middle-class youngsters, and one portraying Queen singer Freddie Mercury in typically flamboyant poses. The Chinese opted for Wham!
OK, OK, who in Queen's management allowed Wham!'s manager to produce a brochure on behalf of both artists? I mean really now. Did they honestly think the other guy would just be a neutral party? This one was on Queen if you ask me.

Well, the Chinese authorities obviously dodged a bullet there, because unlike Freddie Mercury, George Michael was just a wholesome, clean-cut old-fashioned British male. Nope, nothing subversive or unusual about this pop star, folks. A perfect role model for millions of impressionable young Chinese children to emulate. "Western popular music is just fine, kids, as long as you do it just like this nice, normal Mr. Michael does it, OK"?

While not quite up there with Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, the VHS concert release Foreign Skies, directed by leftist '60s British art-house filmmaker/documentarian Lindsay Anderson (!), is nevertheless a riveting portrait of a live musical powerhouse at its peak. Never before has a concert film featured:
  • Martial arts sequences set to Wham!'s "Bad Boys" (6:36)
  • The sexiest photo shoot ever taken at the Great Wall (7:42)
  • Michael and Ridgeley, as guests of the British ambassador, discussing the finer points of foreign policy, presumably between games of croquet (12:26)
  • A media spokesman explaining, in response to a question about how many people were in the "band," that Wham! featured "two main singers"; something must have gotten lost in translation? (15:48)
  • The world's most appalled security guard, clearly not being able to comprehend the spectacle of "Everything She Wants" being performed right in front of him (45:26)


As for the climactic performance, it's impressive how Andrew Ridgeley, here in his "picnic blanket" phase, manages to play his guitar without its being plugged in. Also, China may have been ready for Wham!, but were they truly ready for ... Pepsi and Shirley?

The concert even features a number called "Blue" (sounding to me like the evil step-sister of "Nothing Looks The Same In the Light" from their first album) which Wham! never actually recorded in the studio. Instead, they threw the live version from China onto their farewell album The Final/Music From The Edge Of Heaven. Don't you see? Without that Beijing concert, a key piece of Wham! history would have been lost forever.



So what does Professor Higglediggle make of this watershed moment in Sino-Anglo relations?:
Turning once again to the mark of the "other," Wham! proceeded to break from Western hetero-orthodoxy and, in the words of Jacques Brisson, "transcend the theoretical breach." Posing as a British pop duo, Wham! could not overcome the stigma of co-optation and ritual (in)vocation. Yet in this very failure to bridge the tension between West and East, Michael and Ridgeley demonstrated an affinity for class antagonism, their gesture of outreach potentially (circum)navigating the unwritten "code" of diplomacy, which is to never, in the common lingua franca, bring a saxophone player. Here we see, as argued by Simone Digeau-Nille in A Sexuality of The Asexual, the power of persuasive Western iconography, as represented by wimpy synth-pop, to shake the (Far) Eastern axis of post-dialectical Marxist thought in a "symbolic" and "binary" manner, only to succumb to the subtraction of its own self-negated ideas.