Tag: Paul Simon

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

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This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

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This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 988: That’s No Moon

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With only a dozen days remaining of my self-imposed sentence in this asylum of perpetual prose, I am scootching toward the realization that there are some topics I will never get to. The hidden subtext within the dialogue of each Misfits of Science episode will remain unexplored, and I’m afraid the sacred ghost notes that elevate the percussive harrumph of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain” and Toto’s “Rosanna” will fail to make the kilograph cut.

Instead I must devote these dog-yawn final days to loftier, more resonant subjects – yesterday’s investigation into Mozart’s poop jokes notwithstanding. And so I look to the moon – that luminous gob of celestial spittle, that pearlesque voyeur who knows all of our funkiest sins, the swiveling muse of the incurable drunkard. The moon pours elbow grease on our tides and provides an alibi when we need one for our meandering sanity. And before we had the cognitive wherewithal to stack our chips on science, the moon provided the palette for some of our strangest superstitions.

The moon puts on a nightly spectacle; what earth-bound broadcast can compare to the thrill of a clump of rock bigger than our entire continent dangling in the air over our heads? And even with Neil Armstrong’s size 9½ prints on her cheeks, she still retains an exotic air of mystery.

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Before Georges Méliès stabbed it with a wayward rocket ship, the man in the moon had a starring role in olde-timey mythology. In the biblical Book of Numbers, one of the more cynical stories tells of a man who was sentenced by God to death by stoning for the heinous crime of gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Early Christian lore suggested that the man in the moon was that very man. Another tradition claims the man is Abel’s blood-bro Cain, forever doomed to circle the Earth. Read more…

Day 687: The *INDISPUTABLE* Big Box O’ Juke – 80’s Edition

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I have, in the past, been accused of acute music snobbery, mostly by people whose names I never bothered to commit to memory. Yes, as an employee of Music World for the summer of 1993 I would regularly look down on customers who purchased music that I deemed to be weak and unworthy of sharing the New Release rack with the 20th anniversary re-issue of Dark Side of the Moon. But I’d only do so in my head and to co-workers after those customers had left the premises. Usually.

And while I hold my own artistic opinion as a more accurate barometer of objective quality than that of the Billboard chart-driven display of ludicrous public embracement, I would be the last to declare my tastes to be definitively correct. I am a child of the 1980’s, an era when music didn’t have to be musicologically intricate – or even necessarily good – to be a terrific record. I’m okay with this – if someone whose sense of auditory aesthetics tells me that Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” is a crap single, I will quietly acknowledge a perfectly valid crevice of opinion, even if I feel they are wrong.

But there are some songs that seem to be objectively inarguable – purely and unavoidably great pieces of music. These are tracks that even the neo-hipsters of that decade will tap their feet to, the ones that truly warrant the moniker of ‘classic’. I’ve written about 80’s music before, but with these songs I can’t imagine any dissent. Or, you could comment below and prove me wrong.

But you won’t.

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In 1984 there was no under-bed hidey-hole so remote it could not be penetrated by some portion of Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA album. It still holds the record (along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller) for having spawned seven top-10 hit singles; that’s seven massive hits off a twelve-track LP. And while perhaps you could uncover some twisted soul who’ll stick up their noses at “Dancing In The Dark” or “Glory Days”, I simply cannot fathom not cranking up the volume to “Cover Me.” Read more…

Day 422: The Big Box O’ Juke – 70s Edition

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It’s time to dial up some tuneage from the distant past, back when cheese was king and fashions looked like rainbows had thrown up onto a jelly bean factory. Yes, it’s another edition of the Big Box O’ Juke, where you learn the stories behind the hits, and probably end up with one of these damn songs ricocheting off the inside of your skull for the rest of the day. I make no apologies; I suffer along with you.

Last month I strolled through the hot-pink neon glow of 80’s hits. I’m not sure if I have more readers who were kids in the 70s or the 90s, but I’m erring on the side of disco balls, ‘ludes and shag carpeting so thick it can trip a rhino.

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On New Year’s Eve, 1977, Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and bass player Bernard Edwards were denied entrance to New York City’s famous Studio 54. They had been invited to join Grace Jones inside, but Grace had forgotten to let the goons running the doors know she was expecting guests. Rodgers and Edwards were pissed, so they did what any self-respecting musicians would do… they wrote a revenge song. Read more…

Day 367: The Happy Rockin’ New Year’s Day Quiz

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It’s New Year’s Day, and that means forsaking actual research in lieu of a Holiday Quiz. For me, it’s a big jump forward. I can no longer Google “What Day Of The Year Is It” in order to make sure my article numbering is correct; now I have to do math. But today is not the day to dwell on 2013’s responsibilities. Now is the time to nurse one’s hangover, to put on some music, and to try to remember why we moved the refrigerator into the swimming pool last night.

Today’s quiz topic is music. Specifically, fictional musical groups from the past few decades: from film, television, comic books, literature, and maybe one or two I invented in my head and just never told anyone about (or would that be unfair?). Don’t worry, I won’t be reaching for the super-obscure. There will be no questions about the Beau Brummelstones from The Flintstones or Malachai and His Band from The Real Ghostbusters. Our brains only work so well after a good New Year’s Eve – I respect that.Folksmen

  1. This fictional band won’t go away. The subject of a 1984 film, they have probably become the most famous band that isn’t a real band. The above photo is from their ‘other’ band (from another movie), the Folksmen. Seriously, the list of reunions for this heavy metal gag band is tremendous: National Geographic documentaries, a Volkswagen commercial, an environmental benefit concert at Wembley Stadium, as well as three actual album releases. They just announced yet another reunion for a BBC show called Family Tree. Hopefully their drummer will live long enough to see the broadcast. Answer.
  2. Here’s the sitcom pitch. A man dies, leaving behind a wife and five children. They are well-off, but decide the best way to maintain their standard of living would be to start up a family band. Throw Johnny Cash into the pilot episode. The bass player will grow up and become a regular in celebrity boxing, which will totally become a thing by the 1990’s. Answer. Read more…

Day 200: A Man Confesses To His Friend, Using Two Hundred 80s Pop Song Titles

In honor of Day 200, I invite you to dig around and find all 200 song titles in the following dialog.

 

Two old friends, Peter and Ian, are having a drink in Ian’s apartment.

 

IAN: “Peter, what’s wrong? You seem to be under pressure. Do you need one more night of magic with those West End girls, buddy?”

PETER: “I’m gonna tear your playhouse down with this news, Ian. It’ll sound cold-hearted, leave you with broken wings and might push you to the borderline of becoming a maniac. Just don’t react in the heat of the moment.”

IAN: You may be right, but it’s a matter of trust, Peter. I’ve been keeping the faith for the longest time that you’re an innocent man. Don’t ask me why, ever since we lived in Allentown I go to extremes while you have the ability to leave a tender moment alone. Just tell me, old friend.

PETER: It’s your wife…

IAN: Sherrie’s quite an uptown girl, isn’t she?

PETER: Ian, she’s a modern woman.

IAN: What’s that supposed to mean?

PETER: It’s hard to say I’m sorry. If I could turn back time, shake it up and change things…

IAN: Relax! The truth is a good thing, and I’ve got my mind set on you speaking it.

PETER: We had sex.

IAN: Oh, Sherrie! My sweet valley girl!

PETER: It was urgent that I tell you tonight, tonight, tonight, Ian. I’m in too deep in this land of confusion, that’s all. Our friendship? Sure, maybe I’m throwing it all away, but if you could have no reply at all for just a moment, let me explain…

IAN: I thought Sherrie and I were on the holiday road to Paradise City; instead these dreams are breaking us in two! I want to cry all night long (all night)!

PETER: It happened when you were on that Africa-Panama trip.

IAN: Weren’t you dating Rosanna then?

PETER: I know, Rosanna was my angel of Harlem, my Caribbean queen; she’s a beauty! But when we were alone, she was a funky cold Medina.

IAN: A what?

PETER: I mean she was no wild thing in bed. We were free fallin’ out of our jungle love like a two of hearts down a wishing well. Just like that, abracadabra, another one bites the dust.

IAN: But Sherrie…

PETER: Remember your white wedding? It was hot in the city that night and I was dancing with myself. Sherrie brought me an Orange Crush. Don’t get me wrong, nothing happened then, but I knew that night that someday we’d get it on (bang a gong).

IAN: This is hitting me like a sledgehammer. What have I done to deserve this?

PETER: She was no easy lover, and you can’t hurry love, you know. Months later I was on my own, when…

IAN: Say, say say! Was this the night you were airing your dirty laundry when she worked the night shift at the Sunset Grill?

PETER: We got caught up in the rhythm of the night, yes. I remember there was a photograph of some China girl over the deep-frying machine, we were little wasted on the way, and our hormones just seemed to… sail on.

IAN: Do you really want to hurt me with this?

PETER: No! It was no endless love, just part of the walk of life is all.

IAN: That heartbreaker. All she wants to do is dance, ever since she was a centerfold.

PETER: Hey Ian, you’ve got a view to a kill in your eyes…

IAN: Why not? Why shouldn’t this nasty torture make me the king of pain? I oughta rock you like a hurricane, the same way you managed to rock me. Amadeus once said, “never trust a smooth operator.”

PETER: Did he say that?

IAN: I’ll knock you from here to Kokomo.

PETER: This is really turning into a manic Monday.

IAN: I’m sorry Peter. The calendar says it’s a new moon on Monday, and that always makes my inner rebel yell like an old pink Cadillac. Besides, I don’t like Mondays anyway.

PETER: You know, you can call me Al before you can call me someone who’d hurt a friend.

IAN: What about that time you hooked up in that love shack with Sara? Wasn’t she Jesse’s girl?

PETER: I guess I just feel forever young. My desire becomes an obsession. I want someone with angel eyes to be near me, so I get all lost in love like some jukebox hero, then one thing leads to another and I end up making love out of nothing at all.

IAN: I had faith in you, Peter. You were like a father figure to me. I feel so out of touch, like I need to hire private eyes to follow this maneater to see who she gets all one-on-one with. It feels like every kiss on my list of greatest kisses has been a fraud! Say it isn’t so, Peter. I can’t go for that. No can do.

PETER: Ian, it’s a small world, and if this is it, it’s as much a perfect world as we’ll ever see. Sure, the power of love can rip apart your heart and soul, and have you walking on a thin line because of her devil inside. But no one is to blame, and really things can only get better! Before you know it, you’ll be back in the high life.

IAN: I can’t just roll with it, not if this is true. It’s a tainted love now.

PETER: She was a part-time lover to me. But she’s still head over heels for you, she’d shout it from the rooftop! She and I were puttin’ on the Ritz, maybe once or twice we’d pump up the jam, but she’s been sowing the seeds of love with you for years.

IAN: She’s just a private dancer. Our relationship has been on the road to nowhere, it’s a wonder I’m not burning down the house!

PETER: Come on, you’re simply the best. You wouldn’t do that.

IAN: And you! Maybe it’s time you beat it, get out of here. You’re just a gigolo!

PETER: But what about love?

IAN: What’s love got to do with it? I’m all out of love.

PETER: Look Ian, just bang your head against the wall a couple of times, and let’s go out. Yah mo B there for you, man. Throw on that raspberry beret you bought in 1999, I’ll call up 867-5309 (Jenny’s number, I think), get her to invite Mickey and that darling Nikki, and you and I will hop in my little red corvette and get delirious! Come on, let’s go crazy!

IAN: Oh yeah… blah blah blah, de do do do de da da da… forget it! I’m the owner of a lonely heart, remember?

PETER: Bull. Even when you wear your cheap sunglasses at night you’re a sharp dressed man. Remember the freedom of our dance hall days? We’d chug down some red red wine and scream, “We are the world!”

IAN: But Sherrie…

PETER: You got lucky when you married her. I know you’ve felt a heartache tonight, but if you love somebody set them free!

IAN: Keep it down, voices carry through these apartment walls.

PETER: Sorry. Come on, Ian. We built this city in our wild electric youth. Sherrie just can’t get enough of you, I swear. But you’re in the danger zone, dwelling on this, and it’s the final countdown before you get hungry like the wolf and do something stupid.

IAN: I guess this is why she was doodling “P.Y.T.” in her notebook instead of “I.G.Y.” She was thinking of your monogram.

PETER: Forget that. So what, so this is the end of the innocence. I guess that’s why they call it the blues, right?

IAN: Oh, Sherrie…

PETER: Enough! I’m still standing, you’re still standing. Don’t worry, be happy Ian! This isn’t the wild, wild west – you’ll forgive those hungry eyes of hers and stay together forever. Sherrie’s never gonna give you up, you’re simply irresistible!

IAN: If you say so…

PETER: For me it was a brief infatuation, and I’m sorry. But some guys have all the luck; she’ll always be your emotional rescue. Sherrie is wrapped around your finger! She’ll always be right here waiting to give you the look when you come home, and I’ll be alone. So what? C’est la vie. Listen to your heart, Ian.

IAN: I guess you’re right. Pretty smart for a super freak.

PETER: Let’s go. Let’s have one last worthless evening like a pair of Ghostbusters under an invisible sun.

IAN: Let’s do it. Let’s go runnin’ down a dream and do some dancing in the dark.

PETER: These are our glory days, my friend. Leave the shattered dreams for the old man down the road. Don’t stop believing!

IAN: Should I call my cousin, Eileen?

PETER: Please. I wouldn’t come on Eileen undercover of the night, brother.

 

Ian and Peter grab their coats and leave.

Day 88: Knee-Deep In The Worst Song Of The 1980s

Every so often, I feel like punishing myself. Maybe I’ve had it too easy. I’ve written 87 articles now, totaling over 95,000 words. But have I really pushed myself? As an artist, have I really suffered?

Today’s topic is “We Built This City” by Starship.

Today I suffer, because this song will be in my head for as long as it takes to write this article. I will be typing quickly.

This single hit #1 in the US, in Canada, and in Australia in 1985. Over time it has become one of the most reviled pieces of music from a decade truly bursting with reviled pieces of music. If you haven’t heard it, leave your computer immediately, go to the corner store and purchase a lottery ticket because you are the luckiest son of a bitch ever. Or, you can just listen here.

The song is about San Francisco. You may remember that, in the 1960s, San Francisco was the hub of the music world. They spit out more successful bands than 90s-era Seattle, including the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & The Holding Company, and Jefferson Airplane. Jefferson Airplane eventually devolved into the 1980s band Starship, and this was their way of reminding everyone that they were once really cool (by releasing a song that was very much not cool).

If aliens see this video, I won't blame them for destroying us.

They reference the Golden Gate Bridge and the ‘City by the Bay’, though they also call it ‘The City that Never Sleeps’ and ‘The City that Rocks’. Maybe they were being ambiguous, referencing New York and Cleveland’s nicknames just so they can try to make the song’s message universal. Maybe they wanted local DJs to slip in their own cities’ slogans into the song when they played it (and apparently that actually happened). Maybe reading too much into the lyrics of this thing is not the right approach. We should look for someone to blame.

It took four people to write this song. Four people. One of them, Dennis Lambert, has no Wikipedia page, and will remain relatively safe from my scorn. Let’s start with Peter Wolf, Austrian-born composer and arranger, who played keyboards on Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti and Joe’s Garage albums. He has produced or arranged a litany of 80’s K-Tel Gold, like Wang Chung’s “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”, Debarge’s “Who’s Johnny”, Heart’s “These Dreams” and the Commodores’ “Night Shift”. He scored some of the greatest films of all time, like The Never-Ending Story III, and Weekend At Bernie’s II. (Doesn’t everyone remember that touching score from WaBII?) Read more…