I’m guessing that the thinking is pretty simple. Take one music superstar and add another music superstar to yield double the star power (and double the sales!). Seems logical. So why has this line of reasoning so consistently produced some of the worst songs imaginable? I blame drugs. After all, can you imagine a completely sober person wanting to hear Frank Sinatra sing a song with Bono? Raise your hand if you wanted to hear Nelly and Tim McGraw collaborate. No? Congratulations, you passed the drug screening.
I bring this up because this week marks the anniversary of the 1984 release of Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger’s collaboration on the song “State of Shock.” (A title which no doubt refers to Keith Richards reaction upon hearing about Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger collaborating.) Now, after 32 years I think it’s time that we ended these kinds of musical abominations.
That’s why I’m proposing the creation of a bipartisan group of music writers, producers, artists and fans who will issue licenses to any established artist (or actor) who wishes to take part in a duet. Any artist (or actor) who participates in a duet without a license will be forced to spend a week in solitary confinement listening to Elton John & Luciano Pavarotti perform “Live Like Horses” on a continuous loop.
My hope is that in addition to preventing another “Islands in the Stream,” we may also bring the country some unity in this time of unprecedented political divisiveness. After all, what could be more uplifting then working together to insure that future generations never have to endure another Dolly Parton/Sylvester Stallone duet.
Not convinced? Click the play button and tell me I’m wrong.
…Our story begins with a very likeable, but somewhat aimless high school senior being dumped by his girlfriend on the day of graduation. Now crestfallen, our young hero sulks around the house being annoyed by his bratty little sister until his infinitely understanding mother makes a suggestion. Why doesn’t our hero spend the summer at the lake? He can house sit for his eccentric aunt while she sails around the world with a cartoonish Texas oil baron stereotype. It’ll be a great way to spend the summer before he heads off to a nondescript state university to study art history. Our young hero reluctantly agrees after his girl-crazy best friend convinces him that it’ll be a great way to “meet chicks.”
After a brief travel montage (“Vacation” by The Go Go’s plays), our hero and his knucklehead friend arrive in a picturesque lake town. Everything is looking up.
The next day our hero is awakened by the sounds of two goofy but lovable brothers who have been hired by the eccentric aunt to paint the house while she is away. The brothers clearly have no idea how to do this, but their attempts are amusing, and everyone becomes fast friends. Oh, and they have a scruffy one-eyed dog named Stubs who provides plenty of paint-related comic relief.
Later that day things take a turn for the worse when, at the local beach, our young hero and his new friends witnesses an ugly exchange between a tomboyish girl and well-healed business man. The business man is Mr. Harrison Winslow, the local heartless oligarch. Together with his son, Remy Winslow, they are about to foreclose on a local elephant sanctuary operated by the girl and her environmentalist mother.
Our hero is forced to get involved after Stubs hilariously mistakes Harrison Winslow’s expensive Armani dress pants for a mischievous gopher. It turns out that without $5000 the elephant sanctuary, which has been the home for retired circus elephants for more than 20 years, will be closed down.
Our hero wants to help, but the only way to quickly raise $5000 would be to win the annual boat club water skiing contest. But that would be impossible. Our hero can barely swim. Plus Remy Winslow has won the contest 6 years in a row. He’s unbeatable! Oh yeah, the girl-crazy best friend falls for Remy Winslow’s beautiful, but utterly superficial girlfriend. That plot thread goes nowhere.
What the group needs now is a training montage where our hero learns to water ski and slowly falls in love with the quietly attractive tomboy. And that’s just what they get (“And We Danced” by The Hooters plays). Much is accomplished and there’s a healthy dose if shenanigans courtesy of Stubs and the goofy brothers.
The music fades and we are treated to a tender moment between our hero and the deceptively pretty tomboy. We learn that her father was a world champion water skier who was killed attempting the dangerous Triple Reverse Flying Beachie. Tragic.
The day of the big ski competition finally arrives. As the competition progresses, it becomes obvious that our hero is out matched by the cheating Remy Winslow. Our hero only has one chance. He must attempt the Triple Reverse Flying Beachie. After a very tense slow motion sequence, our hero sticks the landing and wins the competition.
The crowd goes wild.
Remy Winslow crashes into a wedding cake.
Stubs viciously attacks Harrison Winslow’s expensive cabana slacks.
The elephant sanctuary is saved.
The lovable misfits gather together.
The goofy brothers raise the trophy.
Our hero kisses the sexy tomboy.
The image freezes.
The credits roll.
This song plays.
I miss the 80’s.
Humans are immensely complex creatures. Psychologists, sociologists, economists, behaviorists, neurologists, political scientists, etc… have been trying to unravel what makes us tick for centuries. Well, good news nerds! Some enterprising young internet genius has cracked the code. Turns out all you need to know is what someone enjoys on their pizza. That’s all. Just pizza toppings. For example, if you like Hawaiian pizza, you’re laid-back, self-confident and quirky. What about boring pepperoni? That would make you caring, uncomplicated and fun.
The best part is that no matter what you like on your pie, it says something positive about you. You never have to worry that liking mushrooms on your pizza makes you a duplicitous, unemployable grifter. Nope. You’re open, earthy and giving.
Essentially, internet clickbait creators are utilizing the same deception that’s served fortune tellers and astrologists well for eons. Tell people what they want to hear, and you’ll never go broke.
But what if they didn’t? What if clickbait was honest? What if I wanted to learn which Hollywood celebrity I looked like, and instead of Leonardo Dicaprio or Brad Pitt, it told me I looked like Steve Buscemi after a bout of food poisoning?
Where will I retire? The Maldives? Tiara del Feugo? Nope. It’ll be a used mobile home near a swamp south of Birmingham.
What color is my energy? Is it red to represent my power and strength? Wrong again. It’s mummy-skin gray because I’m weak and ineffectual.
Of course, it hardly matters. Good or bad, I’m clicking anyway.
Do I want to know what the cast of Baywatch looks like now? Of course I do.
Do I want to know which cartoon character is my soul mate? Yep.
Do I want to know what bird resembles my spirit? Not really.
Maybe we’re not so complex after all.
Back in December I wrote about a few criminally overlooked cover songs. For music fans, hearing a different artist bring new perspective to a great song is nothing short of sublime. The trouble is, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Often times the original recording, by the original artist, represents the true pinnacle of that songs potential. It’s for that reason that cover songs are a dicey business. Here are a few that never should have seen the light of day.
5 Criminally Bad Cover Songs
Judas Priest “Johnny B. Goode”
Judas Priest recorded this cover of the Chuck Berry classic for the utterly forgettable Anthony Michael Hall movie of the same name (0% on Rotten Tomatoes!). They did this after refusing to allow Tony Scott to use their song “Reckless” in a little movie called Top Gun. There’s not a word in the English language for a string of decisions this bad.
Celine Dion “You Shook Me All Night Long”
Cringe-worthy does not even begin to describe this musical Hindenburg. It’s like watching your mom try to rap along with a Lil Kim song. Traumatizing.
David Bowie & Mick Jagger “Dancing in the Streets”
Even rock royalty isn’t immune. This song could not be more generic and soulless if it was being karaoked by a Mormon youth group. It also has the ignominious distinction of having one of the worst videos of the MTV era.
Guns ‘n Roses – “Sympathy for the Devil”
Generally speaking, if you’re in a rock band, you should probably not cover any songs by the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Just don’t. You can’t pull it off. The originals are too well loved, and believing that you can improve upon them is the height of hubris.
The B-52’s “Meet the Flintstones”
This actually makes sense. It’s awful, but I get it.
Usually when you see that question you expect an interesting answer. Not today. I really just want to know. Here are 3 artists who not only did some amazing work, but could very easily still be relevant today if circumstance hadn’t faded them into obscurity.
Micheal Penn – One of my all-time favorite artists. Michael Penn (yes, he’s the brother of Sean Penn) actually won a Best New Artist VMA in 1990 for the single “No Myth.” He followed that success with several brilliant albums of intelligent, Beatles-ish pop. For reasons that escape me entirely, they were not successful. His most recent offering appears to be the song “The Count of Pennsylvania” which currently has less than 12,000 views on YouTube. It’s every bit as amazing as anything he ever did.
Grant Lee Buffalo – If you were into alternative rock in the mid-90’s and you were also sad a lot, Grant Lee Buffalo’s 1994 album Mighty Joe Moon probably never left your CD player. The song “Happiness” has the distinction of being the most depressing song ever written with that title.
Dada – Their first single “Dizz Knee Land” (spelled to presumably avoid a trademark suit) was a huge hit on rock radio. With good reason. It’s irreverent, sardonic and infinitely catchy. Follow up singles like “Dim” were every bit as good, but never seemed to move the needle.
Calling the music industry “fickle” is far too generous. It’s brutal. Talented songwriters, inspiring bands and worthwhile albums are routinely and unceremoniously cast aside in favor of empty popstars performing glorified commercial jingles. It’s left to dorks like me to carry the flag on this tiny little corner of the internet. WHO’S WITH ME! MUSIC NERDS, ASSEMBLE!
I never really cared for Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever.” The main riff always reminded me of a warped version of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” But that’s not the only reason. Besides being uninspired musically, I could never take it seriously after I found out that Cat Scratch Fever was an actual disease. Of course I’m keenly aware that Ted Nugent wasn’t actually writing about subacute regional lymphadenitis (the less said about his true intent the better). But what if he was? What if The Nuge wanted to draw attention to this relatively benign illness because he felt strongly about raising awareness of it in the public consciousness? What if that trend caught on? What if it became trendy for 70’s rock artists to record songs about relatively harmless medical conditions? Imagine a world where these were real songs…
Rush – “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (parts I-IV)”
It may seem a bit wordy, but it would probably fit right in with their prog-rock 70’s epics.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Halitosis”
They’ve already got a song called “That Smell” so this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
ABBA – “Alopecia”
If anyone could make a song about total hair loss catchy, it’s ABBA. The Broadway musical they’d eventually make based on the song would probably be a hit too.
Kiss – “Gout”
The fact that it also rhymes with the word ‘shout’ makes it a lyrical no-brainer. Perfect for a band that never met a bad lyric they didn’t like.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Conjunctivitis”
Those guys seem like they might need an alternative explanation for their bloodshot eyes anyway.
Blue Oyster Cult – “(Don’t Fear) The Head Lice”
There was a lot of hair in that band. The Reaper was the least of their concerns.
Rod Stewart – “Tooth Decay”
His work did became progressively more saccharine as the 70’s wore on. I imagine that this song would fit nicely on 1978’s Blondes Have More Fun.
Well, that just about does it for this week kids. Be sure and join me next week for What if 80’s Music Videos Only Starred Dachshunds. And be sure to check out my upcoming book, Wild Side: The Sociopolitical Impact of Glam Metal on the 1988 Presidential Election.
– Whenever I get coffee from the vending machine here in the beautiful Rick L. and Vicki L. James University Center, I always pay the extra 10-cents for the “premium” blend. Why do I do that? How much better could the premium blend possibly be?
– There will always be more toes in the world than people.
– It’s not a reunion if all the former members of your band are still alive and active in music, but not part of said reunion. Lookin’ at you Guns ‘n Roses.
– I’m not sure what “molecular gastronomy” is, but I’m pretty sure it would make an extremely unsatisfying meal.
– Is owning a fish tank really worth the hassle?
– I once saw a billboard decrying the evils of rhinoceros poaching. Of course I’m against rhino poaching, but do you think that billboard made a single rhino poacher rethink his position on the issue?
– All CD’s make great coasters, but Matchbox 20 CD’s are the most satisfying.
– These would have made better tweets. Oh well. Follow us on Twitter!
Well, Valentine’s Day has come and gone. I don’t know what your significant other did for you, but I have a pretty good idea what they didn’t do. They didn’t make you a mixtape. That’s a shame. Nothing quite has the nerdy romantic earnestness of being handed a cassette that someone spent hours putting together. You know that hours of thought went in to picking just the right songs. But, it’s more than just song choices. The running order makes a difference too. The fact that each song is a mystery up until the moment it starts playing also matters. Once you’ve received a mixtape from someone you love, each song will forever have a different context. A better context. It’s the perfect gift really.
At least this is what I told my wife when I handed her a cassette tape on Valentine’s Day. She teared up, then correctly pointed out that we haven’t had a cassette player in the house for nearly 15 years. She’s right of course. Good thing too. That cassette was blank.
I’ve written before about the demise of the Album Era, and how music in general has been devalued in the age of the mp3. I make no bones about it, I’m nostalgic for a time when albums mattered. But my melancholy isn’t strictly about the music. One aspect of this tragic shift that often gets overlooked is the death of album cover art. Does anyone even know what the cover of Adele’s album looks like? I certainly don’t. People just don’t care anymore. We may never again experience the kind iconic album art that’s seared into our collective consciousness (Dark Side of the Moon anyone?). But perhaps more importantly, we’ll never again experience the sublime, ridiculous, head-scratching artwork that adorned many album covers in the 70’s and 80’s. Some of it was truly transcendent in its unmitigated stupidity. For example, in 1981 the American heavy metal band Riot released their 3rd album titled Fire Down Under. This was the cover.
The band’s name and the title of the album are clearly expressed, but beyond that, what the hell am I looking at? Is that a human with an enormous harp seal head standing in front of a forest fire? Unless this is a concept album about campfire safety and the dangers of genetic manipulation, I’m guessing this isn’t what the band envisioned. What it is instead is gloriously awful. A bad idea and even worse execution. I miss that.
So, everyone’s talking about the lottery. Again. It seems like every couple of years the Powerball jackpot gets high enough to make it everyone’s favorite small talk topic. What would you do with the money? Did you by your tickets? I never understood this. No matter how high the jackpot gets, I know one thing is absolutely certain. I will not win. Not just because I refuse to buy a ticket, but because I have a rudimentary understanding of the odds. In this case, one in more than 292 million. It’s hard to comprehend those numbers, but suffice it to say, putting any amount of money on odds like that seems foolhardy at best, and dangerously delusional at worst. I won’t win because I won’t buy a ticket. You won’t win either. No matter how many tickets you buy, you won’t win. People don’t like to hear this. They make two basic arguments. First, is the “you can’t win if you don’t play” argument. Technically that’s true. However, I feel very confident saying that you will not win either and I’ll have a few extra dollars in my pocket for tacos. The odds are overwhelmingly in my favor after all. The second argument is the “it’s fun” cliche. It isn’t fun. It barely qualifies as a game. Pick numbers and we’ll see if you get them right. Hooray for guessing numbers!
Of course, if I’m wrong and you actually win, the best way to rub it in my face would be to buy me an expensive house. That’ll show me.