Sunday, December 3, 2017

Two Valeries Are Better Than One

You want to know how hot Steve Winwood was in 1987? Let me tell you how hot. Steve Winwood was so hot, he could release a remix of a single he'd already released in 1982, which had already flopped, and watch the remixed version turn into a huge hit. But, the things is, "Valerie" kind of deserved it.

Because, let's face it, "Valerie" got stiffed the first time around. This one had it all: chugging synth bass line, bouncy octave-jumping synth riff, smooth Winwood vocal, enigmatic lyrics that were radio-friendly without being embarrassing, suspenseful bridge followed by soaring chorus, solo played by the guy who made the music for Pole Position, and even a nifty, swiftly dramatic ending. I mean, what else did the people want? Still, you never know which way the fickle winds of '80s Yuppie Rock are going to blow.

Speaking of wind. The video for "Valerie '82" opens with Winwood battling a terrifying silver Chromakey effect, his sport coat falling prey to the electronic pellets. He swiftly wins the battle and finds himself restored to his usual appearance, but in the aftermath, apparently everything on Earth has been wiped out other than a giant fan, although judging by the look on his face, he's not worried in the least. Well, he can't be that warm, with the wind in his arms, is what I'm thinking. When he plays the keyboard, his fingers become enveloped in swirling, silver waves of ... energy? Metallic plasma flow? At 3:37 he tempts the laws of physics by duetting with his superimposed self, the hand of one Winwood punching the other Winwood directly in the face, which would probably hurt if he wasn't, you know, such a wimp. Let's just say that the atmospheric conditions of the video have given already-sardonic YouTube commentators a second "wind":
They should call him Steve Windwood. No?

Valerie probably went inside, it's too windy.

There is no wind. His hair always does that on its own. Isn't it glorious?

I have a FEVER, and the only prescription is MORE WIND MACHINE!

We bought that wind machine and dammit, we're going to get our money's worth.

This music video literally blows

The wind machine blew him back to his home planet

Oh, how that YouTube humor just blows me away. But I digress. This original version of "Valerie" appeared on Talking Back to the Night, his follow-up to Arc of a Diver, and while it made it to #13 on the US Mainstream Rock chart, it petered out at #70 on the US Hot 100 and #51 in the UK. Oh, the shame! Like jazz on a summer's day, it floated away on the breeze of listener indifference. The Yuppie Rock Gods sensed a great injustice, one that required remedy, but one that could only be rectified when the time was right.

Well, some day, some good wind blew "Valerie" back to us. And that day ... was 1987.

In 1987, Winwood released a not-quite-greatest-hits album called Chronicles, and included a few remixed versions of older songs, supposedly to entice those fans who must have been looking for the tiniest excuse to plunk down some change for any old Winwood product they didn't already have. Upon revisiting "Valerie," the first thing he apparently thought was "The drums ... they just don't ... rumble enough. They need to be more ... rumbly." And lo, the drums did rumble. "And an imitation snare effect! There's no imitation snare effect!" Consider it done, Steve. Now this sucker had some pizzazz to it. He also added in some extra guitar licks around 1:30 for that "hickory smoked" flavor. "Valerie" was like the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion of '80s Yuppie Rock songs: it had the brains, heart, and courage to be a hit single the whole time, but it just hadn't believed in itself. The remix peaked at #9 in the US, and #19 in the UK.

Looks like ol' Steve-o had a bit more money for the video this time around, although he personally seems to have spent the same exact amount of time making it. The director opted for some sort of "pastel and pencil sketch" look, which has probably aged better than the silver magnetic wave effect, although it kind of feels like it belongs in a lost Sesame Street segment. Then he interspersed it with blurry "strobe effect" shots of Steve and his band in some blue-tinted nether-region. A different actress "plays" Valerie this time around, which leads me to wonder: did the two actresses ever meet each other? Did they ever talk about the beautiful bond that they'll always share, no matter where life takes them?

A few years ago, I was trying to download a higher quality version of "Valerie" so that I could include it on a mix I was making (called, of course, Summer of '88), and when I listened to the version I'd downloaded, boy, you have never seen a more confused Yuppie Rock fan in your life. "This isn't 'Valerie'!" I thought in indignation. "This is like some ... demo version or something!" Little did I know, but I had downloaded the original version. Having only ever heard the remix, at first I thought the original was sorely lacking, but in time, it has grown on me. Today I will stand before you and say that I enjoy both versions almost equally. But according to the heated debate on YouTube, I might be the only one:
I love this original version much better. It's a bit more raw, synth and keyboard wise.

After being used to the 1987 remix, hearing this original version from 1982 feels like a breath of fresh air. :)

I actually like this version better than the '87 version. Musically, It sounds more raw and not polished, the vocals aren't drowned by the synths and I love how this version has the saxophone-like synth sounds from "While You See A Chance"

I greatly prefer the original. In comparison, this is just so heavy handed and over produced.

It's as if Winwood was listening to the original track and thought "Shit, can I make this more 80's than 80's?"

this way better then the original

I lke this version more than the 1982 one, but both are freaking good songs.

remix version for the win am i rite?

personally I prefer this over the original, but nonetheless both are badass classics

This is the mix for this song I prefer. The 1982 cut lacked bite in the drums.

That rare thing where the remix version is better than the original.

Love this version. Its like putting Franks Red Hot sauce on the original.

remix? many of us considered this to be the main song

Let me just say that this 1987 remix is MUCH better than the original 1982 version. Well done Steve for having the sense to re-release it

This version is actually better than his original 1982 release. A no brainer, right????

The 1982 version? Meh. The 1987 remix? One of the best songs of the 80s!

The first time I heard this version I had just smoked a joint. I didn't know it was a remix, and to this day I still remember thinking, "That must be some really good weed because I am hearing all kinds of things I never noticed before."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Rock Steady": Your Middle-Aged Black Uncle's Favorite R&B Jam

Whoa, these guys are old. I didn't even realize how old they were until I watched the video. I always assumed they were, like, in their 20's or something.

If "The Whispers" sounds more like the name of an early '60s doo-wop group than an '80s R&B group, that's because it basically was. Well, they don't quite go back that far, but they'd been fixtures on the soul charts since 1969, although they didn't have a big pop hit until "And the Beat Goes On" in 1980. I remember hearing "And the Beat Goes On," or perhaps more accurately, hearing Will Smith sample "And the Beat Goes On" on his turn-of-the-Willenium classic "Miami" ("Party in the city 'til the heat is on/All night on the beach 'til the break of dawn") and thinking, "Hey, that little two chord synth riff sounds like the one from 'Rock Steady'!" Then one day I learned that both songs had been performed by the same group. So, "Rock Steady" was actually the song that recycled the riff, not the other way around. Well, it worked: they re-used the lick from the biggest hit they'd ever had up to that point, and they scored an even bigger hit with it ("And the Beat Goes On" hit #19, while "Rock Steady" hit #7).

The reason why "Rock Steady" truly does sound like the work of a younger artist is because, in essence, it was. In fact, one of the co-writers and co-producers looked so young, Bootsy Collins ended up giving him the nickname "Babyface." Yes, before Pebbles, Karyn White, and Bobby Brown (let alone Paula Abdul, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Boyz II Men, and TLC), one Kenneth Brian "Babyface" Edmonds and frequent collaborator L.A. Reid gave some old farts a credible makeover and helped introduce New Jack Swing to suburban parents everywhere.

Listen to that finger-popping bass! (I assume it's a bass?) Note the way lead singer Scotty Scott attempts to create some kind of jazz scatting/rapping hybrid on the bridge: "I begin to touch/but yew wouldn't-let-it!/It nevah-seemed-ta-be the raaaht taahme/I started to give up/down to-thah-limit!/And then you changed your myyyynd." I also like the fluttery and yet robotic "ooh-ROCK" vocal interjections peppered throughout the track whenever necessary.

The sight of mustachioed, not-so-youthful black men getting down on stage has inspired the expected comparisons in the YouTube comments section:
Neil Degrasse Tyson is amazing!

I didn't know Richard Pryor was in the Whispers

Fun fact: Steve Harvey discovered cloning technology in the 80's and used it to start a music group called "The Whispers". The machine was soon destroyed by the might of his band's music. Some say the use of the cloning machine was a waste of potential, but most others believe it was the best thing ever. You decide.
The reason why two of the singers look like clones of each other ... is because they were twins. Who needs Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen when you've got the two mustachioed guys in the Whispers, amirite? Other highlights:
These guys were old by 1987 standards. Awesome.

this ain't a boy band, this is a MAN BAND

currently playing at your nearest black uncle's car...

this the type of song you see a old person dancing to at a bbq with that red beer cup in his hand

Every time I walk into a club and I hear this song, I just know it's gona be a GREAT NIGHT !!!

Damn that song makes me dance even on the toilet

This song randomly popped into my head last night at work lol. Then I go to the break room to use the bathroom this video is on the TV. Weird, but it gets weirder. As I'm driving home the first song I hear on the radio is this fucking song lmao.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Summer of '88

Endless volumes of prose have been expended over the Summer of 1967 (the so-called "Summer of Love"), and Bryan Adams sang eloquently about the "Summer of '69," but these days, I've got another, less heralded, summer on my mind. From a socio-historical standpoint, I wouldn't say that any events of great magnitude occurred during this particular summer, other than what must have been, in retrospect, a laughably tame U.S. presidential election, and the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, which I consumed with a ferocity I would never match during any subsequent Olympic period. The Dodgers were on their way to winning the World Series, which, it pleases me to say, is still, as of November 2017, the last time they won the World Series.

No, the Summer of '88 was memorable for me because I was eight years old, I was between 2nd and 3rd grade, I sat around and relished the fact that I did not have to go to school for three months and, most critically for our purposes, I listened to the radio every waking moment of my life.

Of course, I had been listening to '80s Top 40 radio throughout my youth, and I remember hearing specific songs and learning specific artist names long before the Summer of 1988. But that summer was, I suppose, the first time I really began to step back and soak in the full pop music landscape of a particular era. It was the first time I began evaluating the merits of each work, ranking my preferences, picking favorites and not-so-favorites. I remember telling my father one week, with admirable decisiveness, that my absolute favorite song at that time was Huey Lewis and the News' "Perfect World." I loved "Perfect World." For about three weeks, I thought it was the greatest song I'd ever heard. Certain Huey Lewis hits became perennials on radio playlists for decades, but "Perfect World" really came and went. I haven't heard it on the radio since. It was like the world wasn't perfect enough for that song. I finally heard it again about eight years ago, and I thought to myself, "What the hell was so great about this?"

Here's the thing. Top 40 radio, at that time, didn't just play the same forty songs over and over again. On the contrary. They played the same twenty songs over and over again. The hits were the hits, and that was it. I don't even remember them playing too many songs from the previous couple of years, but they did play a few. In a way, late '80s top 40 radio had achieved a kind of accidental nirvana: it always existed in a perpetual present.

One odd, and little commented-upon, aspect of a cluster of hit singles from that summer was what I would like to dub "The Egyptian Thing." Perhaps the influence of "Walk Like An Egyptian" was partially to blame, but according to my eight-year-old brain, it seemed like several artists were trying explore some sort of vaguely "middle eastern" sound on certain singles. I would listen to these hits and imagine pyramids and camels and snake charmers and all sorts of cool stuff. There were about four or five of these songs, and they all seemed to come out at the exact same time. I don't know what was in the air. A particularly exotic batch of hashish? Perhaps you'll agree with me, or perhaps you'll think I've been smoking something a little middle eastern myself.

What else do I remember? I remember taking swimming lessons in the pool of my home town's high school (a school which I would eventually attend six years later). Without revealing this town's name, let me just say that it is located in one of the few regions of North America where the typical summer climate is not very warm, and in fact tends to be noticeably colder than, say, the climate in April or October. In other words, my hometown fell prey to what is generally described as "fog." As a result of this summertime fog, when one went swimming, it was not, as one might hope, on a scorching hot day, but on a cloudy, windy day with an average temperature of about 56 degrees. To further exacerbate matters, I was an extremely skinny child (curiously enough, I'm still an extremely skinny adult), and I became cold with tremendous ease. What I'm trying to say is that during these supposedly enjoyable swimming lessons, I was always freezing my ass off. I shivered in the water, and out of it. The actual act of swimming seemed to temporarily warm me, but not for long. The worst part was the end of the lesson, where I had to walk back to the family car, a Chevy Chevette, driven by my mother, who was completely oblivious to my difficulties and was convinced that I absolutely loved the swimming lessons. The car was something of a piece of junk, even though it somehow managed to run for another six years. It had a heating system, but this was not the most effective apparatus. I remember there was one little vent that shot up from the floor, and I would hold my feet over that one lousy vent, hoping that the warmth would spread. It took a little time to warm up too, so for the first minute or so it would just blast cold air at my already cold feet. Sometimes my mother would go shopping while I was still in my swim suit (I guess I wasn't supposed change into dry clothes until I got home?), and I remember her leaving the car on in the parking lot so that I could benefit from the heat. As I shivered, I listened to the radio. Almost every song from the Summer of '88 reminds me of shivering in the car after a swimming lesson, huddling up to the heating vent, and waiting to get the hell home.

I also remember spending a lot of time at the library. There was this fairly young librarian there who was very sweet, but she always wore this perfume that kind of smelled like poo to me. I have no idea why she covered herself with what literally smelled like crap. I had mixed emotions every time I saw her: she was friendly and helpful, but she smelled so ... weird. At any rate, I can't remember if the Summer of '88 was when I went on my Roald Dahl binge, or if that was the Summer of '89, but during one of those two summers, I read every Roald Dahl book I could get my hands on. I know I'd read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory during the actual 2nd grade school year because I recall reading it on a school bus (but perhaps I'm wrong). After The TwitsGeorge's Marvelous Medicine, and Matilda, I got around to Danny the Champion of the World. That was one of the first experiences I've ever had of not being able to put a book down. I think I read it in two days. And for an eight-year-old, that was a pretty long book! I barely even remember what the plot was. Maybe it's time to re-read it? Hey, I could probably read it in two days. But I often remember sitting in the parking lot of the library, possibly after my swimming lessons, and possibly not, listening to good ol' Top 40 radio.

Let's see ... what else? My movie-going experience that summer consisted of towering works of cinema such as Big, Die Hard, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Short Circuit 2. I think my brother saw Coming To America and A Fish Called Wanda and told me how funny they were, but they seemed like "adult" movies to me. I wasn't interested.

Mainly, the Summer of '88 was the tail end of a fairly happy period in my youth. For whatever reason, in 3rd grade and 4th grade, I became more anti-social and depressed. I stopped making friends, I acted out. I said embarrassing things just to get attention, but, as one of my teachers pointed out to me, I was generating the wrong kind of attention. A phase of picking on other kids in 3rd grade gave way to a phase where I was picked on by other kids in 4th grade. Only around the start of 5th grade in the fall of 1990 did my life begin to improve again, for reasons almost equally as mysterious. In the spring of 1991, the twin whammies of discovering '60s pop music and joining the Boy Scouts made the grimness of 3rd and 4th grade seem a distant memory. But the point is, the spirit of each of these personal mini-epochs implanted themselves on the pop music of the moment in my recollections. For instance, I associate an entirely different vibe with songs from the Fall of '88. Whole different scene.

Anyway. I feel like the Summer of '88 was the last time that pop music was really ... innocent. Kind of inane and mindless, but not without a certain PG charm. Right around 1989, I feel like things got a bit raunchier - or maybe I just became more aware of the raunchiness. What I'm trying to say is that the Summer of '88 seems to me almost like the true, "proper" end of the '80s.

With this next series, I would now like to take you back. Back to a place where R&B singers barely sang about actual sex. A place where Tommy James managed to make millions of dollars, without having to lift a finger. A place where Patrick Swayze could release a hit single, and not sound like a joke. A place where washed up '70s legends could go toe to toe with one hit wonders, and come out about even. A place where black lesbian folk singers could be followed on the dial by wholesome Catholic 17-year-old teen idols, and no one would even bat an eye. And of course, all your old favorites will be along for the ride: George, Belinda ... even Stock Aiken Waterman.

One clarification: Because the radio would, as I mentioned, play a few songs that had come out a year or so earlier, I do associate certain hits with the Summer of '88 even though they were actually released in, say, 1986 or 1987. In fact, one might as well consider my earlier posts on "When I Think Of You," "Walk Like An Egyptian," and "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" to be part of this series. In other words, I don't want to hear anyone saying to me, "But Little Earl, don't you know that song actually came out in May 1987, not the Summer of '88?" Yes, I do know that song came out in May 1987, but I'm including it in my Summer of '88 series anyway, because I feel like it, OK? You see, the Summer of '88 isn't merely a finite period of time on the calendar.

The Summer of '88 ... is a state of mind.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

While You're Begging, Why Stop At One? AKA The Mighty High Of Hippopotamus Urine Comes At A Cost

Why not ... two more nights? Hell, why not three? I mean, give him one more night ... to do what, exactly? Fix the garbage disposal? What the hell is he going to be able to do in one more God damn night, you know? Nevertheless, he sounds so soft and cuddly while he's asking, you'd have to be one cold-hearted Cruella to refuse it to him.

Then again, does the singer of this song sound like the kind of guy who would really be satisfied with "one more night"? What if, at the end of this "one more night," she still says, "Nope, Phil, I gave you that additional evening you so passionately negotiated for, and, guess what, I still feel like dumping your sorry ass"? Is he really just going to nod his head and say, "OK, fair enough, those were the terms of the deal"? Sometimes you need to set boundaries.

There isn't all that much to "One More Night." It's pure MOR minimalism. It's like soft rock's The Sun Also Rises, only less "Lost Generation" and more "Lost Drum Machine." Somehow, though, Phil added enough feathery keyboards and silky back-up vocals to give it that lush, dimly-lit honeymoon suite atmosphere those 1985 record buyers craved. Why is it that, compared to "Sussudio," this one still sounds pretty freakin' good to me? Is it the absence of horns? It's certainly not absent of "horn," but unlike the piercing brass of its predecessor, the saxophone solo during the fade-out of "One More Night" is so smooth, it feels like my ears are slipping on a banana peel. However, after reading on Wikipedia that the sax player, Earth, Wind & Fire's Don Myrick, was fatally shot by L.A. police during a narcotics investigation because they mistook his lighter for a weapon, suddenly that solo hasn't quite sounded the same.

I love the line, "And I was wondering should I call you, then I thought, may-beeee you're nahhht uh-lone." The way his voice climbs into falsetto on those last four words, he just sounds so ... wussy? Just admit it Phil, she's probably moved on and found a real, you know, non-balding boyfriend. Time to grow a pair. Lift some weights, take a karate class, buy a Harley or something.

According to Wikipedia, "Collins was playing around with his drum machine when he started saying the chorus of the song. He later recalled that 'The rest of the song was written very quickly.'" Yeah, somehow I don't find that very hard to believe. This is the way Phil Collins #1 hits get written, ladies and germs.

Or is it? From In The Air Tonight:
I was jamming with my Nigerian buddy Orumbe in Lagos one night, chatting about our favorite Afrobeat records and arguing about the best kinds of animal tranquilizer to get high on. You know, the usual.

"Sometimes, Phillip, you don't even need a drug."

"What are you talking about?"

"Some animals, they make it on their own." He leaned in and began to whisper. "I know some tribal medicine men about 16 kilometers from here. You familiar with ... how do you say it ... the hippopotamus?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Well, do you know about ... fermented hippopotamus urine?"

So he busted out a jar and, man, he wasn't kidding. You took a whiff and it was like Hendrix and Janis were jamming together ... in your mind! I had to leave for Glasgow the next day, so I asked him if I could take a jar with me.

"Well, it is not the easiest thing to get your hands on, and I promised Tony Allen a jar, but ... for my pal Phillip? Sure!" He patted me on the back. "Just please pay me by next month."

"Next month? No problem."

The thing is, when I said I would pay him, I absolutely, positively intended to pay him. But, well ... you know ol' Phil. Between all the music videos, benefit concerts, and Japanese geisha parlors, it was hard to keep track. Fast forward six months later. I'm doing a show in Philly. I've just finished raping two chickens - really gets the blood going before showtime - and I'm in my hotel room drinking tea - for my vocal cords - when five giant Nigerian guys suddenly burst in and pin me to the wall.

"Collins! Thought you could blow us off, eh? You still owe Orumbe, you little drummer bitch!"

"All right, all right! I'll pay him, I'll pay him!" My voice escaped my strangulated throat in a pathetic wheeze.

"Right now, Collins, or your little Genesis dick will soon be feeling a taste of Revelation, you understand?"

"OK, OK, listen, I don't have it on me right now, all right? Just ... just gimme one more night."

"One more night?"

"One more night, and he'll have his fuckin' money." My eyeballs were slipping gently in and out of their sockets.

"Cause we can't wait forever."

"Well you're not gonna have to wait forever, 'cause I'll have it tomorrow."

"One more night, or we're playing Hungry Hungry Hippos on your limey ass. And this time, I'm not talking about fermented hippopotamus urine."

The moment they let me go, I fell to the floor and leaned over on all fours until my breath returned. "Fuck," I thought as the blood came back to my brain. Where was I going to get that kind of money on that kind of notice? So ... I pawned my wedding ring. Thing is, I hadn't actually divorced that particular wife yet, but I figured, knowing my track record, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

That Time Belinda And Grace Slick Hosted "Legendary Ladies Of Rock & Roll"

Having recently been united in cinematic glory, if only via soundtrack magic, perhaps Belinda Carlisle and Grace Slick felt it only natural to team up and ... host a cheesy oldies revival concert for Cinemax? And why not? It's only fitting. Why, the combined cost of the drug intake between these two could've arguably paid all the overdue royalties these guest artists were cheated out of over the years.

Imagine, if you will, a world without YouTube, where gems like these would lie undiscovered for eons, never to be treated to a barrage of snarky comments from '80s music bloggers. What a sad, sad world that would be. Sure, you might be laughing, but frankly, this line-up is nothing to snicker at: we've got ... Martha Reeves! Mary Wells! Lesley Gore! Brenda Lee! Freda Payne! Shirley Alston Reeves! And the recently resurrected Ronnie Spector!

Holy Jackie Kennedy. It's like I'm back in the high school gym in 1963 all over again, getting the shit beaten out of me for glancing too long at the quarterback's girlfriend. Seriously, who did they leave out? Shelly Fabares? Shirley Alston Reeves was the one name I didn't recognize, but when she started singing "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," I realized it was Shirley Owens, AKA the lead singer of the Shirelles. The Shirelles! In other words, Little Earl is basically an admirer of every one of these performers and has at least a greatest hits CD of theirs (or in the case of Brenda Lee, a four-disc boxed set) in his music collection.

Not to mention: special guest star ... Clarence Clemmons!

Of course, no one on stage besides the Big Man and the two hosts were in anything like the prime of their careers, but why be a party pooper? This apparently being February 1987, here we find Belinda in a curious not-quite-blonde, not-quite-brunette phase, as the Belinda period began to wind down and the Heaven On Earth period began to ramp up. She seems to be wearing a purple sweater with sparkles on it, over a black ... jumpsuit? Whatever, I'm into it. Despite being about fifteen years younger than everyone else, she somehow manages to avoid embarrassing herself. Hilariously, Grace Slick was actually older than every single one of the "legendary ladies" she was hosting here (look it up), but in the public imagination, few would probably lump Jefferson Airplane in with the Shirelles (unless you happened to be under the influence of some heavy psychedelics, in which case, perhaps you might).

I'm not sure if Lesley Gore's voice ended up aging too well, but to be fair, she was about 17 when she recorded the original versions of her hits, and she certainly seemed to be having a good time on this particular night ("Was she great? Was she fabulous? Martha Reeves, thank you baby."). Reeves does sound pretty great ... until she reaches for the high notes. Mary Wells doesn't sound too bad considering she was just a couple of years from being diagnosed with throat cancer. However, they may have all gotten smoked by Brenda Lee, who sounds like she's doing just another concert in the middle of an actual tour (which she probably was) and not an oldies show. Yeah, Brenda Lee's sorry all right. Sorry she can out-sing everyone else on this special (probably even Belinda and Grace). Clarence knows what I'm talkin' about.

I doubt many in the audience realized it, but Belinda was certainly no stranger to Freda Payne, and this time she wisely lets Freda take the spotlight on "Band of Gold" (which nevertheless still sounds more like Belinda's tacky, then-current re-make than the original) while Belinda dances awkwardly to Freda's right and sings some barely audible backing vocals. Works for me!

Ronnie Spector, fresh off "Take Me Home Tonight" and acting curiously horny, charmingly introduces Belinda and Grace as "my two Ronettes" before she trudges her way through "Be My Baby." At this point the entire ensemble hops onto the stage and launches into "Da Doo Ron Ron," with everyone presumably getting a line or two (as opposed to, say, doing a line or two). Grace belts out a somewhat inappropriately robust "Summm-bah-dee told me that his name was Bih-hih-hill," while Belinda lets her sweet vibrato fly on "Yeahhhh, my heart stood stillll/Yeahhhh, his name was Billll/And when he walked me hoh-oh-ome." Phew! Didn't fuck up. Whoever was next, however (I'm looking at you, Martha Reeves?), apparently fucked up, as no one sings the following lyric. But Brenda Lee doesn't even blink and papers over the mishap like a consummate pro. No one ruffles Little Miss Dynamite.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Not If I Get The Rhythm First

And you thought being addicted to love was bad. How would you like to be assaulted in the middle of the night by the rhythm?:
At night
When you turn off all the lights
There's no place that you can hide
No no
The rhythm is gonna get'cha

In bed
Throw the covers on your head
And pretend like you are dead
But I know it
The rhythm is gonna get'cha
Oh fuck me. Not even safe in my own bed? What if I hire a bodyguard? How about if I learn karate? I mean, there's got to be some way to keep the rhythm from getting me, right? Maybe the rhythm would be open to a little negotiation perhaps, a cash settlement, one half of my stamp collection? Can I at least "stall" the rhythm with a game of chess like in The Seventh Seal? Does it have to truly, genuinely "get" me?

With "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," Gloria Estefan & the Machine Sound Machine, as they were now being billed, managed to do what no one would have thought possible: they created a "Conga" sequel that was not obviously worse and was not a carbon copy. It still sizzled with that spicy Latin flavor, but it carried a touch more ... menace this time.

As the track commences, the first thing to "get" the listener isn't actually the rhythm, but a tribal warlord chanting "oh-ey oh-ey," echoed by his lusty minions, and one massive, solitary BOOM on a drum so large and so deep it sounds like the Mariana Trench farting. Other little percussive noises quickly pop up from all directions, congas and shakers and all sorts of crazy knick-knacks, while a third group of warriors from (I assume?) a neighboring tribe enter with their own ominous chant of "Yah-ey-oh." Just when all these disparate elements seem to be settling into a groove, there's a giant chord blast from Satan's keyboard, suddenly all the villagers scatter, and we get a brief interlude from what appears to be ... the aluminum cans in your recycling bin? After eight bars, the world's most piercing horn section enters - horns so sharp they could cut Julio Iglesias's balls in half.

Gloria finally calms the cannibals down with her perky entrance, but on the chorus, the Wild Things briefly return: she's doubled up on her third "rhythm is gonna get you" by what sounds like Sloth from The Goonies, then the warlords chime in with a panther-esque "Whoo!" followed by a potent "BLOMP!" from the keyboard of Hades. I tell you what's gonna "get'cha" all right: the Miami Sound Machine's endless arsenal of state-of-the-art studio gimmicks! During the outro, a fourth pack of natives shows up with a comparably less threatening, but seemingly more schoolyardish, chant of "na-na na-na-na na-na," and then everyone sort of gathers around the bonfire and sings their bit before one last comical horn riff grinds the heathen ceremony to a sweaty halt.

For the video, the Machine From Miami That Emits Sound seems to have picked up on the Amazonian rain forest vibe of the song, as Gloria is decked out in full ceremonial face paint a la Captain Willard at the end of Apocalypse Now. And her arms are covered in ... hay? When Gloria Estefan's arms are covered in hay, you know she means business. Meanwhile the rest of the band, including a suddenly more civilized and hay-less Gloria, perform onstage at Miami's most glamorous tiki lounge. At 1:15, she seems to spot her own Surfer Lance in the crowd? One final question: just how many keytarists can one band have? A-ha! Maybe that's the secret to keeping the rhythm from getting you! One must brandish the sacred keytar.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stevie Nicks Goes Aerobic Rock: Stand Back And Make Some Room On The Dance Floor

"Humble" is not the first adjective that comes to mind when one thinks of Stevie Nicks, but after the release of Bella Donna, it would have been difficult to accuse her of sounding conceited if she had said to herself, "Who the hell needs Fleetwood Mac?" Her solo debut, commercially at least, ended up turning Stevie Nicks into the next Madonna. Or maybe the first Madonna. Somehow the rest of the Mac cajoled her into tagging along for Mirage, and yet, as the poets of yore understood too well, the wild heart still yearns to break free - free to slide back into the same exact solo album formula, that is. From AMG's William Ruhlmann:
Stevie Nicks was following both her debut solo album, Bella Donna (1981), which had topped the charts, sold over a million copies (now over four million), and spawned four Top 40 hits, and Fleetwood Mac's Mirage (1982), which had topped the charts, sold over a million copies (now over two million), and spawned three Top 40 hits (including her "Gypsy"), when she released her second solo album, The Wild Heart. She was the most successful American female pop singer of the time. Not surprisingly, she played it safe: The Wild Heart contained nothing that would disturb fans of her previous work and much that echoed it ... the songs were largely interchangeable with those on Bella Donna, even down to the obligatory duet with Tom Petty. Nicks seemed to know what she was up to -- one song was called "Nothing Ever Changes." As a result, The Wild Heart sold to the faithful ... and that was appropriate: if you loved Bella Donna, you would like The Wild Heart very much.
True enough, and yet, there was a new twist or two - like Stevie trying to actually sound like Madonna. A new generation of female pop stars was daring to challenge her supremacy, and it was time to protect her turf. Stand back, aerobo-bitches! I probably shouldn't even be referencing Madonna here, as there's another '80s superstar who played a much more relevant role in the creation of "Stand Back." From Wikipedia:
She wrote it on the day of her marriage to Kim Anderson on January 29, 1983. The newlyweds were driving up to San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara when Prince's song "Little Red Corvette" came on the radio. Nicks started humming along to the melody, especially inspired by the lush synthesizers of the song, and "Stand Back" was born. They stopped and got a tape recorder and she recorded the demo in the honeymoon suite that night. Later, when Nicks went into the studio to record the song, she called Prince and told him the story of how she wrote the song to his melody. He came to the studio that night and played synthesizers on it, although his contribution is uncredited on the album. He and Nicks did agree however to split the publishing royalties on the song 50-50. Then, she says, "he just got up and left as if the whole thing happened in a dream."
So did she have, like, the Prince bat signal or something? "Prince, need ur help, come 2 the studio, it's urgent!" And so he buckled up his ass-chaps, hopped into the Purple-mobile, and laid down the funky licks that saved the day. And then, just like that, in a puff of lavender perfume ... he was gone! It turns out that Dave Chappelle's skits weren't comedy, but documentary. Of course, the real guest star might have been Toto's ever-present axeman Steve Lukather, whose piercing MOR riffs are surely what took the single to #5.

Too bad the Purple One didn't stick around to help with the video, which my co-blogger Herr Zrbo discussed briefly back in January, where he referred to it as being, with chilling accuracy, "on the shortlist for 'videos most indicative of their time'." If you're looking at this video and wondering why it looks so cheap and tacky, apparently there's a good reason for that:
Two videos were filmed for the single. The first, which was never aired and is referred to as the "Scarlett Version", was a lavish production directed by Brian Grant and features Nicks in a Gone with the Wind type scenario. Upon seeing the completed video, Nicks rejected it as, according to Grant, she felt she looked fat.
What. A. Diva. Oh. My. God. Stevie, come over here with me a second, let's have a chat. Listen to me very carefully. Would you rather release a well-made video where you look "fat," or a shoddily-made video where you look like ... I dunno, a hungover witch who wandered into a Jazzercise class by accident? In the words of Wikipedia, "As an alternative, a second video was made on a much lower budget than the original." You don't saaaaay. For better or ill, the "second" clip for "Stand Back" set the template for every '80s Stevie Nicks music video to follow. Invariably, they all feature the following elements, not necessarily in this order:
  1. Stevie staring directly into the camera, standing behind a microphone. Like, in every video. Just look at all the screen captures. Uh, Stevie ... you do know that you don't need a microphone in a music video, right? You can just lip-sync. Maybe she didn't feel comfortable on the set without her "lucky microphone." Maybe it was like her security blanket.
  2. Stevie's alarmingly massive hair blowing in the breeze, usually backlit in some grotesquely unflattering manner - a look which one YouTube commentator describes as Stevie in her "hot mess" phase
  3. Brief shots of Stevie twirling in her shawl as the moonlight drifts through the glass panes of a gothic-looking ballroom
  4. Dancers. Lots of dancers.
With "Stand Back," we get #3 at 0:07, #1 and #2 at 0:23, and finally, #4 at 0:56, when Stevie and her presumed lover twirl leftward and up pops ... a gang of wacky '80s breakdancers straight from a Nickelodeon after-school special! Their outfits all look outrageously dated, but none of them achieve quite the level of frisson as the one worn by the female dancer in the red beret, sleeveless flannel vest (?), short black skirt, nylons, and red tie (!). Stand back, or your eyes might be harmed irreparably by this outfit. You know when Yeats penned the line, "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" I think he was referring to this outfit.

And then. And then! The dancers burst through a saloon door (is there going to be a gunfight?) to reveal Stevie standing on a ... giant neon treadmill? She's gone Tron! And then the director must have thought, "Hmmm, we need more shots of the dancers dry-humping each other in a black room with smoke and excessive backlighting. And jumping in mid-air in slow-motion." Finally, at 4:25, she unleashes a demonic "Why don't you taaaaaaaaake...," although in the video she steals a little of her back-up vocalist's glory on " home." But hey, at least she didn't look "fat," right?

The Wild Heart's second single, "If Anyone Falls," peaked at #14 and then, I assume, started falling down the charts. Let's see if the video hits all the marks on the checklist. We've got #3 at 0:22, #2 at 0:48, and #4 at 0:55, but ... what's this? She's staring directly at the camera ... without a microphone in front of her! Was Stevie ... evolving? Most random moment: Stevie and her merry band of witches riding a carousel at 3:21.

By the time of her third solo album, Rock A Little, Stevie was actually, contrary to the title, doing the rock a lot. According to Wikipedia, "The vocal style is distinctively huskier and nasal (many claim this was due to increasing cocaine abuse) than on previous recordings." Don't let the party stop! If you think "Talk To Me," which hit #4, sounds a bit like John Waite's "Missing You," that might be because the same guy co-wrote both songs. All right, let's see how the video measures up on the ol' checklist. We've got #1 and #2 at 0:31, and ... wait a minute ... she's back to standing in front of a mic again! Stevie, Stevie. You were making such progress, only to let it all slip away in a cloud of coked-out hubris. We finally get #4 at 1:48. Unfortunately, I don't quite see #3 here, although she does twirl around in a well-lit art gallery.

"I Can't Wait" couldn't wait to slide out of the charts after climbing no higher than #16, and might seem relatively insignificant in the Nicks oeuvre, but in retrospect, it marked the unheralded entrance of a certain Rick Nowels into the pop music scene. From the liner notes to Timespace: The Best of Stevie Nicks:
To understand this song, you sort of have to let yourself go a little crazy. Love is blind, it never works out, but you just have to have it. I think this was about the most exciting song that I had ever heard. My friend, Rick, whom I had known since I was 18 and he was 13, brought over this track with this incredible percussion thing, and gave it to me asking me if I would listen to it and consider writing a song for it. I listened to the song once, and pretended not to be that knocked out, but the second Rick left, I ran in my little recording studio and wrote 'I Can't Wait.' It took all night, and I think it is all about how electric I felt about this music. And that night, that SATURDAY night, Rick and I went into a BIG studio and recorded it. I sang it only once, and have never sung it since in the studio.
If Wikipedia is to be trusted, those are Stevie's caps, not mine. That must have been a BIG studio. And on a SATURDAY night, too. Not just Saturday, but SATURDAY. Nowels and Jimmy Iovine seem to be more fond of synthesized bells than even Stock Aitken Waterman. As for the checklist: I see #4 at 0:28, #1 and #2 at 0:47, but I don't really see a clear #3 here, although she does twirl around both on the Busby Berkeley staircase, and inside the medieval dungeon with a giant pane of glass, so it's daaaaamn close. Also, I think I see Mick Fleetwood at 1:57? From Wikipedia:
Nicks says that she did drugs on the set of all her videos of the era however, regarding the video for "I Can't Wait" she said in I Want My MTV: "I look at that video, I look at my eyes, and I say to myself, 'Could you have laid off the pot, the coke, and the tequila for three days, so you could have looked a little better? It just makes me want to go back into that video and stab myself."
I'm afraid it's much too late for that, Stevie. It's much too late.

Little could the world have known, however, that while the Stevie Nicks-Rick Nowels partnership was never destined for greatness, Rick Nowels's partnership with another late '80s pop diva with an equal, if not greater, fondness for a certain Colombian powder would turn out to be a match made in ... erm ... "heaven."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

It's Not A Word, Phil, But Don't Let That Stop You AKA The Beguiling Charm Of That Mauritanian Circus Performer

Phil's my numero uno hombre, but ... "Sussudio"? Issue #1: it sounds too much like "1999." Every time I hear it, I keep expecting to one of the girls from the Revolution start singing "I was dreaming when I wrote this/Forgive me if it goes astray." It sounds like "1999" and it is not a better song than "1999." Therefore, it breaks the cardinal rule of song-ripping-offing. Issue #2: "Sussudio" is not even a word! From Wikipedia:
Collins has said that he "improvised" the lyric. Collins was just playing around with a drum machine, and the lyric "su-sussudio" was what came out of his mouth. "So I kinda knew I had to find something else for that word, then I went back and tried to find another word that scanned as well as 'sussudio,' and I couldn't find one, so I went back to 'sussudio'", Collins said.
No! You can't go back to your nonsense word! You still have to come up with a real word! Imagine if Paul McCartney never took "Scrambled eggs, oh my darling how I love your legs" and turned it into "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away." Laziness is not an excuse for centering your song around a fake word.

Let me put it this way: In college, about 18 years ago, when I borrowed Phil's Hits CD from the library, I decided to record all the essential songs onto one side of a 45-minute cassette. "Sussudio," alas, did not make the cut. Things that "Sussudio" sounds like:
  • A colony of mechanical red ants trying to build a giant clock tower made entirely out of defective Casio keyboard parts
  • A highly elastic rubber tire breakdancing in the middle of a party at a retirement complex, with John Philip Sousa looking on
  • A sea of Rubik's cubes in a violent storm, with several of them passing gas at intervals of roughly every three seconds
Of course, others are extremely fond of the ditty, including Patrick Bateman, who declares it a "great, great song, a personal favorite." But he would, of course. Also, Christina, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Sabrina, don't just stare at it, eat it.

Honestly, how the hell did "Sussudio" hit #1? Prince's "1999" didn't even hit #1! It was at this point that I fear the American public may have sent Phil the wrong message. That message was: "We will buy any song that you release, Mr. Collins, even if it is a rip-off of '1999' that primarily consists of a gibberish word repeated over and over."

It turns out that "Sussudio" actually wasn't intended to be a nonsense word at all. From In The Air Tonight:
I was vacationing in Greece, recovering from a mescaline-fueled rampage on my manager's yacht the night before (apparently I'd stuck a live sea urchin up my ass, but I don't remember any of this), when the landlord of the villa I was staying at (lovely place) invited me back to his hot tub. A couple of hits from the crack pipe later, and suddenly I found myself face to face with a stunning Mauritanian beauty.

I'm guessing she was no older than 16, maybe 15 - these things are a little looser in Greece, you understand. She was the most beguiling creature I'd ever laid eyes on. Another fellow there explained to me that she was training to join the circus, and asked me if I wanted a demonstration. I couldn't say no. Let me tell you something: she did things with a unicycle you wouldn't have even thought were possible. I'd never seen a woman's vagina swallow fire before, but for this girl, it was all in a day's work. She didn't speak English, but for a brief, titillating moment, I felt her eyes meet mine. In that Mauritanian circus girl's smile was the key to all earthly and heavenly mystery. But just as soon as she arrived, she was gone.

Back on tour, I tried to forget about her, but she lingered. Lord, how she lingered. One night in the studio, I began farting around with a drum machine. "There's a girl that's been on my mind, all the time," I sang. Boy, no kidding. "Now she don't even know my name, but I think she likes me just the same." Which was true, of course. I don't think the Mauritanian tongue can even form the word "Collins" - something about the genetics, it never really made sense.

After I laid a nice demo down, I lit a cigarette. Suddenly I heard the producer speak over the intercom. "No smoking allowed in the studio, Phil."

I did a double-take. "What do you mean, no smoking?"

"If you want to smoke, you gotta do it outside."

"What - what the fuck is this, a high school dance?"

"Record company rules."

"Since when? This is my playground, all right, this is my fucking factory of the imagination. I need to do whatever the hell I want to do, whenever the hell I want to do it!"

"Hey Phil, don't blame the messenger."

"I'll blame whoever the fuck I want." I got back behind the drum kit and suddenly began improvising some more words to the demo. "This is a bunch of bullshit," I mumbled into the mic. I'd had a bit too much Jim Beam that night, so I was slurring my words. I started to sing "sue - the - studio" - 'cause that's exactly what I planned on doing, you know - but instead it came out as "su-su-sudio." It was like the whole Iron Butterfly, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" thing. Well, in the end, I just combined my slurring with the lyrics about the Mauritanian nymph, and there you go. Another #1.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nothing's Gonna Stop Me From Making Fun Of Starship Now AKA The Belinda Soundtrack Throwaway That Finally Came To Life

Let's just say that after "Rhythm of the Night," DeBarge's and Diane Warren's careers went in ... opposite directions? While Debarge quickly became the '80s pop living embodiment of the Book of Job, Warren teamed up with songwriter Albert Hammond, he of "It Never Rains in Southern California" and "Free Electric Band" fame (and esteemed co-writer of such easy listening gems as the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" and Leo Sayer's "When I Need You") on her way to uncontested '90s power ballad domination. OK, not exactly Goffin/King or Bacharach/David here, but then again, their target recording artists weren't picky. Exhibit A: Starship.

Of Starship's three #1 hits, there is one I am not ashamed to like (and/or love?). I essentially agree with the consensus on "We Built This City," and "Sara" is a good 1986 pop song in the sense that John Paul II was a good pope, but like every great (crappy?) '80s band, what Starship really needed, to bring out its best side, was a movie soundtrack.

I wish I could say I've seen Mannequin so that I could make a snarky comment about it, but I just remember that when it came out, I thought the TV ads were funny. I was also seven years old. However, if you don't think that the soundtrack gave us one of the greatest power ballads of the '80s, hands down, no question, end of story ... then you'll need to get out of my face. AMG's Joe Viglione knows what I'm talking about:
For those purist fans of the early Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, a song like "We Built This City" took the path the Marty Balin-less group embarked on with "Jane" (a title Balin actually rehearsed with the group prior to his leaving for a solo career) farther into the arena rock wasteland. The four minutes and 29 seconds of "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" were a huge treat on an entirely different level. It's really more a collaboration between producer/arranger Narada Michael Walden and singers Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas than it is a Starship track. Lead guitarist Craig Chaquico is merely a guest star here, for this is a high-tech quagmire of bells, whistles, strings, and Walden's vision, building the melody into a rock-solid stomp, but for Starship, it is its zenith ... With this tune the band evolved into the counterculture Archies, but Slick remains the Queen of Cool, and she adds a dimension of integrity, even bringing the very best performance out of Thomas, who was all things a singer for Jefferson Starship should not have been. Slick and Thomas work in unison here, not the tapestry that was her marriage with Balin's voice on "Miracles" but an effortless combination like the guitars of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, a doubling effect which intensifies the sentiment. The song by Albert Hammond and Diane Warren could not be constructed more perfectly or with such refined precision. Walden has to be commended for merging dance-rock with industrial, and for all the contrived elements, anathema to fans of the institution which once crafted "It's No Secret" and "Plastic Fantastic Lover," this platter is itself a fantastic plastic march of triumph and overcoming all obstacles.
"Merging dance-rock with industrial?" Well, it certainly merged something with something. I also didn't realize Thomas and Slick were the Richards and Wood of '80s power ballads, but who am I to argue? The opening percussive barrage sounds like an android version of John Bonham on NyQuil. It may be tame, but it's huuuuuuge. And once it settles into the main rhythm, the beat truly feels like a massive generator that's suddenly up and running and could not be stopped even if someone wanted to stop it. It's like the inevitable chug of time immemorial. Nothing's gonna stop that throbbing thump in the background. And the moment it kicks into gear, it unleashes all these little sparkly sounds that flutter around the stereo spectrum. It's like they dipped the song in glitter.

Mickey enters, singing in an unusually low and sadly unmockable register, but then Grace steps up to the plate, and it sounds like she's been spending some serious time in the batting cage: "Let 'um say we're cray-zayyyy/I don't care 'bout thaaaaaa-uh-aaat/Put your hand in my hand baby/Don't evuh look baaa-uh-aaack/Let the world uh-round-ussss/Just fall uh-paaaaart/Baby we can make it if we're heart to heaaaaaart." I remember listening to this song in the car with my father, and after Slick sang her lines, he starting getting a bit Simon Cowell on us: "Listen to that power! Now that's a powerful voice right there folks." I got the impression that this was a singer who was supposedly more well-known than the usual singer of songs from the Mannequin soundtrack, but I didn't learn about Grace Slick until years later, and I didn't realize she'd sung this song until even later. At the time, sitting there in the car, I just had this image of an extremely large woman with a gigantic pair of lungs. Amazingly, Slick was still quite thin in 1987 (but whoa, if you Google pictures of her now, be prepared).

Her verse is the perfect set-up for what may very well be the most glorious chorus in the annals of '80s power ballad choruses - and unlike popes, that might actually be some seriously stiff competition. Go ahead, sing it right now. I know you want to. Every note feels like it's a stone pillar in the vast temple of love that the song is building in your ears. Mickey suddenly jumps an octave, and the thing is, he can sing in that range without straining at all. It's at this point where you truly realize that nothing is going to stop Starship here: not the Army, not the Navy, not the Air Force, and certainly not the fucking Marines.

There's a nice section that sounds like the start of the fade-out but actually turns out to be merely the bridge, where Mickey proclaims, "Oooooh, all that I need is you," Grace concurs that "All that I ever neee-eee-eee-eeed," and Mickey clarifies by stating "And aaaahll ... that-I-want ... to dooooooooo" and basically they just want to hold each other forever, ever and ever. Mickey reaches back for a nasty "Hey!" and a solo comes in which, while totally expected, sounds exactly the way you hoped it would and does everything it needs to do.

Then it's time for the real fade-out, and Mickey unleashes his usual high-pitched might, with two choice interjections by Grace ("I knowwww" at 4:00 and "Whoo-hoo! Nuh-thin'" at 4:09), and it's at this point, with a faceless sea of background singers chanting the chorus, that the song becomes ... dare I say it? Moving? Touching? Here's the deal: with her three Starship #1's, Grace Slick became the oldest woman to have a #1 hit on the Billboard charts (a record eventually broken by - you better "believe" it - Cher). Now, think of how many female singers tried to stay on top for years and years, putting themselves through all kinds of humiliating industry contortions and makeovers. And yet here was Grace, actually doing it. Not only that, but think of how many times Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship should have died an ugly, Betty Ford Clinic death. People might have even been glad if they'd died an ugly, Betty Ford Clinic death. But here they were, soaring across the airwaves with a hit Diane Warren power ballad from Mannequin, and they overcame every obstacle to become even bigger than they'd been in their prime. In a cheesy, slap-to-the-forehead kind of way, it's ... inspiring.

And then, like Alec Guinness at the end of Bridge on the River Kwai, Grace suddenly realized, with horrifying clarity, what she'd done, and promptly quit the band. Yeah, nothing's gonna stop Starship now, all right ... except Grace Slick leaving.

I only have a few questions about the video:
  1. How much do you think it cost them to make mannequin versions of Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick?
  2. Why does that dog have an ice pack on its head?
  3. What's the deal with the campy black guy with the Jetsons sunglasses, and why would Mickey turn his fire hose off??
While easily the biggest hit from the Mannequin soundtrack, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" was, contrary to the recollection of everyone ever, not the only song on the Mannequin soundtrack. In fact, there was a song that played during the title sequence that was not even available for commercial purchase. And now we come to what has been referred to as the "holy grail" of '80s Belinda Carlisle tracks: "In My Wildest Dreams."

I assume at this point Belinda was up for anything, and as we all know, you weren't a true '80s pop singer until you recorded a soundtrack song, so she obviously had to check this off the list. A clean version of the credit sequence used to be on YouTube, but it looks like it's been taken down, so here's a version I just found that's cropped beyond comprehension, sped up, and dubbed in Italian. Naturally, the movie studio, I.R.S. Records, and I'm guessing even Belinda herself figured nobody would give two shits about a throwaway track playing over the credits of a not exactly Oscar-winning film, so "In My Wildest Dreams" was never released as an album cut or even as a B-side. But oh, how they underestimated the obsessiveness of Carlisle-ophiles.

Personally, the song kind of sounds like an old, wrinkled version of "Walk Like An Egyptian" that was left out in the sun too long, but rarity has a way of improving a work's quality. For years, the only copy of the song you could hear was one directly ripped from the movie soundtrack, which naturally was not stripped of the cartoonish sound effects that played on top of it during the credits (Yes, I had a copy). Recently Belinda, or rather, an independent British record label with Belinda's permission, began reissuing her entire catalog. In an interview clip I swear I saw only last year, but just spent more time than I'd care to admit searching for, she said something along the lines of: "We tried to reissue everything. I kept hearing from fans on the internet saying, 'What about the song from Mannequin? You have to release the song for Mannequin!' The song from Mannequin? I didn't even know what they were talking about. Oh yeah ... I sorta remember doing that song. I guess I remember that song." So let's hear it for those hardcore fans out there who kept Belinda on her toes. Either it was just re-released on her CD singles box set, or someone finally found the master tape and leaked it onto YouTube, but as of 2014, after almost 30 years, courtesy of divine intervention perhaps, fans can now hear the full, proper studio version of "In My Wildest Dreams." The debate rages on in the YouTube comments:
Holy feyuk! Been looking for this since like 1986! OMG, I have done everything to get a copy of the full length lol I even contacted her on twitter! Wow, thank you for uploading. So it's also on her CD singles? Got to look for it now. Never thought I'd get this!

Ive been looking for this since i was a child, i gave up looking a few years ago and by luck stumbled upon this. You have made my day! Honestly; you have no idea how happy i am hearing the whole thing. Thank you for the upload

YESSSS!!!! been looking for this for ages now how did you find this?

Finally! Been searching for the full version of this song for over 25 years. Thank you thank you thank you 😊

I think this was ripped from the singles boxset? if so the quality is terrible, and disappointing considering how long the fans waited for it...they should remaster it and make it really pump!

Belinda's youthful vocal charms are on full display in this giddy & gooey slice of late 80's pop. Plus the song is full of melodic, rhythmic and lyrical hooks. Dreamy!

Mannequin got a lot of playtime in our VCR. This song is as much a part of my childhood as the National Anthem.

Finally it's surfaced in some way! What a travesty that this track never saw a proper release. For me, it's my favourite Belinda track of all time.

If this had appeared 6 months earlier I would have had this as a song at my wedding haha.

They said Napster was evil, but this song never being released by record companies is the real crime against humanity.

Well ... judge not lest ye be judged. Also, "Favourite Belinda track of all time"? I don't know if I'd go quite that far buddy. At any rate. Who knew that Mannequin would have been the source of so much building up and breaking down? For while it caused Grace Slick to finally, finally say adios to the band that wouldn't die, it may have inspired Diane Warren and Belinda Carlisle to quietly, slyly look at each other ... and get a few ideas.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) To Post About "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)"

Here's a sentence from 1986 written by no one ever:

"Can George Michael survive without Wham!?"

The man certainly had a lot to prove. And in order to prove it, he needed to find a heavy hitter, a big timer, a game-changer, someone who could show the world that he didn't need to coast on the back of Andrew Ridgeley. Someone who could, you know, actually sing with him.

Let me propose to you an idea for a duet. Two titans of soul music, joining forces to ascend the Church Spire of the Billboard Hot 100, to achieve a musical height together that would be unthinkable alone. But they couldn't be just any two singers. We're talking about assembling a dream duo of soul here. How about Aretha Franklin? Yeah. That's a good start. Can't go wrong with the Queen of Soul. OK, so Aretha Franklin, and ... who's the male gonna be? Let's see here. Al Green? Ray Charles? Sam Moore? Ronald Isley? Try none of the above.

How the hell did George Michael end up singing a duet with Aretha Franklin? And here's the more pertinent question: how did that duet end up being so fucking awesome?

Seriously. It would be like James Brown doing a duet with Madonna. It couldn't work. It shouldn't work.

It totally worked.

Aretha doesn't mess around. "Like ah warr-yah-that-fights ... and wins the baaaa-tuhl ... I knowwww the taste of vic-tahhry." This, my friends, this is the taste of victory. "Though I went-through-some-nights ... consuuuuuuumed by the shadows ..." She's feelin' it, she's definitely feelin' it. What have you got, Georgios?

"Mmmmmmm somehow I made it through the heartache, yes I did, I escaped/I found my way out of the darkness, I kept my faith." Not bad, Brit Boy! In case anyone doubted whether or not George truly kept his faith, Aretha assures us with a supportive "I know you did." How the hell would she know? She'd probably just met him!

Even so, the moment she met him, I'm guessing the first thing she did was take him to church, because on the chorus, Aretha and George climb up on that pew and raise their hands to the sky:
When the river was deep
I didn´t falter
When the mountain was high
I still believed
When the valley was low
It didn´t stop me
I knew you were waiting for me
Can I get an "Amen"? Favorite ad-libs:
  • 2:29: Aretha's "Whoahhhh-ahhhh!"
  • 2:54: Aretha does a melismatic "Whooo-hooo-uh-ooooh" which George follows with a gutteral "I knewwwww you were waitin'"
  • 3:04: Aretha really lets it all hang out now with an "I didn't faltaaaahhh, Lawd!" while George throws in an authoritative "When-the-val-ley-was-low"
  • 3:22: George really reaches back for "When the mountaaaaaaain was hi-iiiiigh" and I can just imagine Aretha giving him the side-eye and thinking, "What do you think you're doin' honey" because she barely reaches back for an "Ahhhhhhh! When the valley was lowwwww"
  • 3:38: George emits a simple "Yeahhh" but Aretha smothers it with a rising "Whuuuuuuhh-ahhhhh! Uhhhh-Yeah!" which starts at the very tippy tippy-toes of George's feet and ultimately lands on the moon by the time she's done with it
  • 3:44 George hits a nice groove with "Ohhhh-I sti-yillll believe" (OK, we got it, you believe), then Aretha gets masculine on his ass with a growling "You know it couldn't stop me, no," which George punctuates with a forceful "No"
  • 3:52: At this point I suspect George is just riffing on whatever the fuck Aretha seems to be doing; She shouts "Someday!" so he shouts "Someway!, then she shouts "Someplace!" so he shouts "Somehow!," which seems to have settled it. What is this, the Jets and the Sharks? Where's Tony and Maria when you need them?
"I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" managed to do what few hits have done before or since. It managed to unite eight different audiences at once: black and white, male and female, gay and straight, British and American. A record executive couldn't have drawn up more of a sure-fire hit if he'd generated some sort of "focus group hit record algorithm" in a state-of-the-art lab. Naturally, the song hit #1 in both the US and UK, making George the first artist in Britain whose first three singles all peaked at #1, which means that, just as Tom Brady's five Super Bowl rings clearly make him the greatest quarterback of all time, George Michael is clearly the greatest British singer of all time.

Of course, "Careless Whisper" and "A Different Corner" were still quasi-Wham! songs, so the video for "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" was George's first true opportunity to present a new "solo" image to the public, and while the mountain of expectations may have been high, Lord, he didn't falter. That's right, it was time for ... the leather jacket, sunglasses, earrings, and six millimeter stubble. At first he enters a dark, cavernous room with a giant screen on the wall (did every record label have one of those lying around?), and he stares up at footage of Aretha. Uh-oh. Don't tell me this was another one of those deals where the producers couldn't work out the artist's schedules and had to film their bits separately. Come on, we need some hot George on Aretha action here! A full two-and-a-half minutes go by until we finally see - yes! - George slide into the frame with Aretha. See? I knew they were waiting to show me that they'd made it to the same set at the same time.

Suddenly the screen in the background starts showing images of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrill, and I'm thinking, whoa, that's ballsy. You guys really want to be comparing yourselves to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, eh? And then the screen starts showing images of Sonny and Cher, and I'm thinking, OK, that's a little more appropriate - if anything, sort of a downward comparison. I would put George Michael and Aretha Franklin right in the middle: not as great as Marvin and Tammi, but better than Sonny and Cher. Yes, better than Sonny and Cher, even though George and Aretha only recorded one duet ever, and Sonny and Cher recorded hundreds. Look at it this way: no bad songs!

Let's turn, once again, to Professor Higglediggle for a more academic analysis:
Michael's presence of "whiteness" acts as an ethnomusicological co-opting of Franklin's authentic "otherness," which serves to situate her Africanist transnationalism merely as a reductivist codification of "soul." In a perhaps unintended parallel, Franklin's heterogeneity serves to recontextualize Michael's ambiguous phallic capital under a rubric of mediated familial cohesion. By consenting to Michael's reification, Franklin doubles as Michael's African-American "beard," while simultaneously essentializing the British homosexual white male fantasy of "being able to hold one's own" with an "American soul legend," a fantasy which can only be realized in the figmental realm of audience formation, the lyric's invocation of sacred Judeo-Christian imagery (e.g. "river," "valley,") serving to circumvent the repressive inequity of the pairing.