Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Walk of Life" by Dire Straits (1985)

I may well get crucified for this one: I know this is a well-loved song. The thing is that I can’t stand it. As a general rule, I hate all baseball music, and I’m not even sure if this is a baseball song. I don’t think it is, in fact: Mark Knopfler is British, and the song’s lyrics seem to say something about songs or music or something. Perhaps the ‘walk of life’ is a dance. Don’t know. Don’t care.

It’s the organ, you see. That’s what makes it ‘baseball music’. The rinky-dinky rink organ that just calls out ‘me and the boys having a good time with beer and barbecue’. Kind of like “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen, equally cringe-worthy. The whole thing reeks of a kind of fake enthusiasm and ‘gusto’ that is about as catchy as a lead pipe. I recently spoke about “Lay Down Sally” by Eric Clapton, and this song has pretty much the same qualities. I love happiness and breeziness and meaningless good-time party vibes in music. But if there’s some sincerity to it. This sounds like what a robot programmed to come up with ‘fun music’ might produce.

And as far as headbands go, none was more evil than Mark Knopfler’s. The ‘CD test’ album this came from, “Brothers in Arms” had a gorgeous title-track but also “Money for Nothing”, whose repugnant lyrics (ah, but it’s tongue-in-cheek, not really homophobic and demeaning at all) might make it even a worse song than this one if it weren’t for the fourteen-second solo guitar part that comes in about half a minute into the song and is the best fourteen-second solo guitar part on any guitar-wank technophilic CD to be released in the mid-eighties. So that’s why “Money for Nothing” isn’t here and this is.

Oh, plus the fact that I want to squeeze my head in a vice to stop the pain every time I hear this song.

Oh, plus the headband. This song deserves inclusion for the headband alone, if nothing else.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Lay Down Sally" by Eric Clapton (1977)

Apparently, when I was, like, four, I amazed my father and several of his friends by being correctly able to identify the song “Layla” by its opening guitar riff. I have no comment on how I was able to do that (especially since it would have been a years-old mouldy oldie at that time), but I can confirm that I like that song quite a bit.

Which makes it perhaps the only Eric Clapton song I’ve liked in his 40-some-odd years as a professional musician.

Yes, yes. Eric Clapton is God. I know, I know. Thing is, I don’t believe in God, either.

For me, the moment of truth was finding Time Pieces: The Best of Eric Clapton in a cutout bin. I knew I liked “Layla” (and that rubbishy acoustic version had yet to come out) and seemed to recall having heard a song or two of his that I didn’t mind. Plus, the universe was filled with people all too willing to tell me how great Eric Clapton is. So I saw it there looking me in the face for, like, $3 or something, and gave it a go.

Time Pieces: The Best of Eric Clapton is perhaps the worst greatest hits album ever, beating out even Shaquille O’Neal’s. I know, it sounds like iconoclasm for its own sake, but it’s a simple fact. A more inept album I could not imagine. Except for the great “Layla” and the acceptable “After Midnight”, it’s laziness from start to finish. For a man allegedly so connected to the blues, Clapton seems to have no soul, no passion or feeling whatsoever. He is a piece of cardboard. He can play guitar well enough, but so can Yngwie Malmsteen, and that doesn’t mean anyone ever wants to listen to him either.

I’ve chosen the excruciating “Lay Down Sally.” But equally legitimately it could have been “Cocaine” or “Willie and the Hand Jive” or his embarrassing take on “I Shot the Sherriff”. It could also have been “Tales of Brave Ulysses” or any of the every-now-and-then interchangeable singles he’s released over the past fifteen years that have a vague soft-rock feel but are produced by R&B svengalis like Babyface. All deserve to be here, frankly.

“Lay Down Sally” is the most depressing because it attempts to be ‘jolly’. Because we know you have to have a heart to have one broken, we can immediately recognize soulless robo-emoting on supposed ‘sad songs’ as the pretense it is. Because this preposterous little ‘down-home shuffle’ sets its sights so low, though, we may not immediately realize how it is affected by Mr. Clapton’s critical lack of a soul.

But affected it is. The wholly unconvincing ‘good-timey’ vibe (with female b-vox appearing in time for the chorus) actually accentuates its total lack of personality. ‘Good-timey’ only works if it’s charming, and I can’t imagine anything as charmless as this.

And the guitar’s no great shakes either.

God, pshaw.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer (1985)

It’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, I know. And in this particular case, his premature, unnatural death is genuinely tragic. Very sad.

Yet this does nothing to change the fact that the decades-long career of Robert Palmer was, pretty much without exception, horrible. After spending the seventies as a dilettante, making facile covers in a variety of genres spiritually alien to him (and the casual cheesiness and sexism of merely the album covers from this decade pretty much tell you everything there is to know), Palmer settled into the 80s as one of the best faces for the naked greed and ambition people ‘his age’ had developed by then.

It’s difficult not to have a love/hate relationship with the 80s. On the one hand, there was so much great music made – primarily music made for the consumption of kids, music that was scorned by the post-hippie ‘style makers’ of the time. Then there was this: ‘beer commercial’ music made by people wearing suits (not that there’s anything wrong with suits, mind you) and intended for mass consumption by people for whom music is a background – something for the ghetto blaster to play while playing catch in the backyard, for example. Not only is it music without a soul, it’s music that fetishises its lack of a soul.

Theoretically, I could have chosen any Robert Palmer song for inclusion here, and certainly it was a toss-up between this, its clone “Simply Irresistable”, “Some Like it Hot” (all the more reprehensible because Duran Duran and Chic, the ‘main bands’ of this side-project’s other members, were otherwise making decent music) and Palmer’s 1970s intro to corporate-rock, “Bad Case of Loving You”. All are equally terrible, all are interchangeable. Ultimately, it has to be this one, though. For several reasons:
  • That video. As so often happened in the 80s, confusing ‘sexist’ with ‘sexy’, it’s a leering, drooling, sneering video, present ‘women as musicians’ as a comical concept. All surface, no depth, ‘cool’ in intention but ultimately icky, it fit its soundtrack perfectly.
  • Clichés in lieu of meaning in the lyrics. Lyrics don’t have to have meaning, but they shouldn’t be just a long litany of cheesy wannabe-aphorisms like “The lights are on, but no-one’s home” either.
  • The line “your teeth guh-rind”. This teeth-cuh-lenchingly annoying line is ultimately the reason I chose this airbrushed muscle-man ode to naked ambition over any of its creator’s other, um, masterpieces. I can wake up in the night in a cold terror thinking about that annoying two-syllable ‘grind’. Truly, truly dastardly.
That this, shockingly enough, was designed as a duet with the truly magnificent Chaka Khan goes to show both how misguided the mid-eighties’ sense of ‘soul’ was and how lucky this English-Bahamanian was to have been born in the era where his sleazy soul-boy dribblings could, for reasons I’ll never understand, be interpreted as in some way ‘authentic’.

Alternately, I suppose Chaka just needed the money.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (1968)

Great songs can have terrible lyrics. Sometimes terrible songs can have great lyrics. You can't judge a song by its lyrics.

Um, well...

There have to be a few exceptions. This absolutely vile testament to, well, the joys of young love is one example. I won't include lyrics here, but I'll include a link to them. Notice how the song is not merely about lecherous drooling regarding a 'baby in disguise' who should 'hurry home to (her) mama', but it even has the cheek to blame the child in question for her 'come-on look'.

Gary Puckett's oddly-titled backup group the Union Gap features horns blaring in a minutely-Latin manner. They don't sound all that bad, despite the hackneyed half-time lead in. But Mr. Puckett's 'throaty' vocalisations ruin even the chance of enjoying this song by ignoring the lyrics. His bravura would be sickening if he were, for example, comparing his (adult) love to the moon or some rubbish. However using his brassy, charmless tenor to shout accusingly at the child he's sexually attracted to merely compounds the problem.

When this song was released, it was a #1 hit in the UK and #2 in the USA. Somehow, people actually enjoyed this repugnant song and went out and purchased it, or else requested it on the radio. Perhaps some were young girls, and could maybe be excused. Yet how this playground-stalkers' anthem could ever be played in clean conscience by adults, I have no idea.

Truly hideous.

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