Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Titans, Part 2: U2 & The Beatles

16. U2 - Discotheque (1997)
(File under: You Broke My Heart, Fredo: When Our Musical Heroes Betray Us)

I was somewhat shocked, when researching this, to learn that this single made the top 10 (#1 in the UK), and its parent album went to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Obviously it's not just the Boomers who are guilty of keeping well-past-their-peak artists viable in the marketplace.

Confession time: I am (or, more accurately, was) a U2 fan. I realize this destroys any hipster cachet I may have hoped to cultivate, but one of the nice things about getting old is I no longer worry about hiding the uncool aspects of my obsessions for fear of being mocked by the more image-conscious geeks of which I'm a subset. Which also means I no longer feel it necessary to invest time and money trying to appreciate acts like Modest Mouse or The Decemberists or The Mountain Goats or The Hold Steady or whoever the latest overhyped indie-flavor-of-the-month is, and instead am free to write them off based on my initial impressions (I'm pretty catholic in my tastes, and though I may be missing out on some things I'd conceivably enjoy, there aren't that many albums that require excessive time to reveal their charms - in other words, albums that will "grow on you".). Anyway, we all know that the music you listened to during your teens will always have a special place in your heart - this is how The Spice Girls were able to recently mount a successful stadium tour - and, at 14, "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" possessed the kind of moral certainty and constructive anger I needed as something positive to cling to amid the melodramatic confusion of early adolescence (melodrama also being a key to why I related to U2's music so strongly at the time). And though now I'd rather actually be tortured than listen to Bono preach about its evil as a practice, the guy (and the rest of the band) got me through some rough times, so I can't ever completely turn my back on him, no matter how banal the music gets. And it's gotten pretty banal. Case in point:

I remember, right before this album was released, a lot of press about how it was going to be their "dance/electronic/techno" move (which they'd said about the previous 2 albums as well - why I continued listening this late in the game is surely a testament to my loyalty), and then the first single was called "Discotheque", so I was intrigued. The intrigue quickly turned to boredom and the feeling I'd been gypped (again), however, upon hearing it. U2 could never be a disco band, of course, for a couple reasons: first, dance music requires an absolutely kick-ass rhythm section, and, though they're fine for rock, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. don't have the chops for disco. Second, dance music is fun, and U2 never showed any facility for stepping outside their personae as saviors and simply getting down mindlessly. Not that I doubt they sincerely admired those who could or that they sincerely tried - they did everything sincerely, which was part of the problem. In the end, the entire album came off as a hopeless mess. For those who care, this was near the end of their "ironic" period, which went over about as well as a big wet fart during a eulogy. Unfortunately for them and us, the only irony on display here is the fact that this came from an album called Pop, which was filled with songs you couldn't remember 30 seconds after the CD (mercifully) ended. A rote guitar riff, a half-thought-out hook that never sinks in, and Bono's suffocatingly self-important vocal style add up to a song tailored for Top 40 radio that ends up being even more monumentally inconsequential than the dumb pop surrounding it. At least Madonna was able to give and experience simple pleasure (dance music's raison d'etre) without being hamstrung by Christian guilt.

17. The Beatles - All You Need Is Love (1967)
(File under: When Good People Do Bad Things: The Worst Of The Best)

Let's be clear: Every artist has their share of worthless filler scattered throughout their albums. If I wanted to write about lame album tracks rather than singles, I could easily expand this list to 50,000 entries. But I'm more interested in writing about the hits (or at least songs that were popular among the artist's fans), because they occupy a loftier position in the culture at large, and are therefore more "meaningful", sociologically speaking. So while this is by no stretch the worst Beatles song in existence - with Ringo having contributed 2 of his very own compositions to the canon, this would automatically be at least their third-worst by default - it is the worst of their #1 singles ("Love Me Do" doesn't count, as it didn't top the charts upon initial release, and only hit in America after Beatlemania was in full swing and their U.S. label(s) were exploiting their back catalogue for all it was worth). Had Lennon written it a mere two years previously, his tone of sneering mockery would have been evident to even the most guileless teenybopper. Instead, perhaps because he was in the grip of heroin addiction (I feel duty-bound to search for any excuse, since he's probably my favorite all-around musician ever, if push comes to shove), he plays it straight, to the detriment of the song and the disappointment of any listener not a casualty of blissed-out mush-brained hippie ideology.

I'm not a musician - I play drums (rim shot) - but it seems to me even the melodic composition here is lazy (the laziness of the lyrics should be obvious to anyone who's able to walk upright). What is the verse - like, one chord? Strip away the excessive instrumental ornamentation they couldn't refrain from employing on every track during the period - the overbearing strings and brass and harpsichords and whatever else that ruined Magical Mystery Tour - and you've barely got a song here at all. It doesn't help that the verses consist of what I'm sure were intended to be "deep" insights that were in reality tautologies that failed to put across anything more meaningful than "Drugs aren't always conducive to creativity" and the chorus is a kind of sing-along chant that sounds like a nice, humane, "brotherhood-of-man" sentiment until you think about it for two seconds and realize how hollow it is, especially when coming out of the mouths of obscenely wealthy pop stars who likely wouldn't have the time to listen to you gush about how brilliant they were if you ran into them on the street (which you wouldn't). It's sad, because they had the opportunity (as well as the ability - and, I don't doubt, the desire) to use their platform (this song was performed as Britain's entry for Our World, the first global television broadcast) to make a statement on what was truly beautiful about modern life and humanity, as they had, directly and indirectly, so often in previous songs. As it stands, the song's got about as much to say about love in the real world as a commercial for Kay Jewelers. Only Lennon takes about 6 times as long to say it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Titans, Part 1: Dylan

15. Bob Dylan - Blowin' In The Wind (1963)
(File under: Hope I Buy Before I Get Sold: Baby Boomer Bullshit & (The Myth Of) The '60s)

All right, let's get this out of the way: I don't hate Bob Dylan. I'd even go so far as to say he's got, in his catalogue, at least a CD's worth of really good-to-great songs, which is more than can be said of 95% of recording artists. But he's not somebody I'd ever want to have a conversation with. And it annoys me to no end to hear the "genius" label applied to him, when, near as I can reckon, he never did anything remotely groundbreaking his entire career, unless you consider lazy vocalizing in a tuneless nasal whine and never bothering to play your instrument(s) above a rudimentary level revolutionary. I sure as hell don't. But, remember, I don't hate Bob Dylan. He can't help the fact that so many people projected so much onto him that wasn't always there. Though he should be held accountable for coasting on his rep for damn near 4 decades now. Not that he will be, with the stranglehold the Love Generation has on the perception of what signifies as cultural currency in the popular imagination. Sure, every new "youth" trend in music has its criminally overrated contingent. But how many critical exegeses have been written about Nick Cave's lyrics? I trust you see my point.

Anyway, early Dylan, to me, is the worst (except for post-60s Dylan, of course - I'm dealing mainly with the legend here, not the "survivor"). In my opinion, he did his most valuable work when he went electric - I'm talking the '65-'66 stuff (and, no matter what Dylanologists will have to believe, he got more from the Beatles [if not necessarily the Byrds] than they got from him). On his first albums, he wanted to be Woody Guthrie more than even Woody Guthrie wanted to, and he succeeded somewhat - albeit minus the humor and big heart. And I think that's what grates on me more than the voice (yeah, I've read plenty of critics yammer on about how he was a "real" slash "honest" singer, untrained [code for "can't sing worth a fuck"], blah blah blah, but there have been hundreds of better "honest" singers, from Lou Reed to Brian Eno to Joey Ramone to Paul Westerberg to Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil - who, by the by, was a much more dynamic stage presence, as well as a much more dynamic protest-song writer) or the crap lyrics (which I'll get to in a moment, but special dumb-shit award has to go to "Masters Of War", which is almost entirely stupid, but deserves special mention for the line "You that turn and run farther when the fast bullets fly" - yep, no point in anybody running from slow bullets, I guess, is there, Bob?) or the musical ineptitude, which are all qualities I'm happy to overlook in others: the guy has no sense of joy. He comes off as hopelessly bitter - ever notice how he seems to save all his passion for putting people down? - and also, like most joyless beings, smug: what really translates in these songs (and in his voice) is not his concern for humanity and its pain, but his conviction that he is absolutely right about everything, and hence smarter than us fools in the audience (never mind that we're there to listen to him in the first place) and, especially, those fools not in the audience. It's the perfect psychological recipe for a born-again Christian (which he later became) or any other type of zealot, and it also goes a way toward explaining his unwillingness to put much effort into his singing or playing, and also his aforementioned coasting on his reputation for so long. Of course, he was smart enough that he managed to overcome these limitations on many occasions anyway. This is not an example of one of those occasions, however.

This is basic old-timey protest folk of no discernible consequence, the title being the answer to a string of mostly naive and/or idiotic rhetorical questions (some of which aren't as rhetorical as he thinks - it's just that their answers don't fit into his worldview, and therefore can't exist). It's supposed to be deep, I assume, but the depth it aspires to is undercut by the lyric's utter obviousness. At least he left the jokers and queens and thieves out of this one (maybe he was so popular because nerds didn't have heavy metal at the time to help them indulge in their medieval fantasies), but he did include another Lenny Kravitz-level bonehead line: "How many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned?". Hey, I didn't know there were still any cannonballs flying in '63, Bob! Why will critics put up with this guy's anachronisms while dismissing Iron Maiden et al. for doing something similar? Oh, oh, and there's also "How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?". I'm gonna go with one, Bob. A man has to look up one time to see the sky. That is my final answer. Oh, wait - unless he's indoors. Then he'll have to look out the window. You have to get up a lot earlier than that to put one over on me, Zimmy.

In any case, if you want some good old-time folk music, stick with Woody Guthrie. Or Pete Seeger. Or the Anthology of American Folk Music box set. If you want some good electric folk music, however - well, still search out something else before digging into his work. The first Clash album, perhaps. Or Entertainment! by Gang Of Four. Really, there's way more vital stuff in the genre out there than this guy's records, and you've probably heard the best of Dylan's songs a billion times by now anyway. And if, like me, you didn't get the big deal, maybe that's because it wasn't really there to be gotten in the first place.

Still, I don't hate Bob Dylan.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Numba Fo'

11. Blues Traveler - The Hook (1994)
(File under: The Theory Of Alternating Decades: The '70s & '90s)

Fucking hippie music. Everywhere you turned in the early 90s - fucking hippie music. And not even Grateful Dead-level (and how sad is it when the Dead are the held up as the example to which to aspire?) hippie music, either - more like Canned Heat or Hot Tuna (I'm assuming; I don't think I'd recognize a song by either of those bands even if I was lunging to change the radio station). This being the 90s, the production was better; this being fucking hippie music, production values were beside the point. In fact, this being fucking hippie music, everything was beside the point. Oh, it wasn't a formless psychedelicized jack-off jam - it had a hook (which is why the could get away with the title they gave it and not "Formless Psychedelicized Jack-Off Jam", which Phish should steal if they ever hope to win a "Truth in Advertising" award), annoying as it was. But it definitely shared the spirit of all those crappy late 60s/early 70s stoned, middle-class white bands corrupting blues forms and selling the result to other stoned, middle-class white people. And it sold more units than most of the aforementioned, to boot. Think of it: A jam band. In the 90s! With harmonica solos! In heavy rotation on MTV! Somebody fucking shoot me!

And despite the band's name, it wasn't even blues music (thank Jah for small favors). In fact, according to AMG: " "Hook" criticizes the music industry... and follows the chord progression of Pachelbel's Canon". Hey, who gives a shit?

12. Diana Ross - Theme From "Mahogany" (1975)
(File under: That's Barry White Of You: Soul & R&B)

If I owned a record store, I'd make up all kinds of subgenres for my classification system. Styx? They're in the "Hard Atheism" section, because their success is definitive proof that a personal God could not possibly exist. The Moody Blues? Over in the "$200 Albums" section, because you've obviously lost too many brain cells to make any kind of rational decision. And this single would be in the "I Feel Like Slitting My Wrists But I Need That Extra Psychological Nudge" section.

Seriously, this song is the aural equivalent of suicide. Which I guess is some kind of achievement, if you're a glass-is-half-full kind of person. Personally, whenever I see a glass half-filled with water, I don't think of it as half full or half empty; I think, "Goddamn, I hate water", and then dump the vile swill down the sink before busting open a Pepsi. So, theoretically, I suppose I should like this song. And yet, I think it hardly necessary to add, I most vehemently do not.

I'm at a loss to see the line that leads from the Supremes, one of the best, most vibrant Motown groups of the 60s, to anything near as despondent as this. I was tempted to assume heroin was involved, until I thought about all the junkies who managed to produce such exciting work (Lennon '68-'69; Grant Hart in the late 80s; Johnny Thunders Birth-Death). So maybe Diana should have taken heroin. Then perhaps she'd have been able to inject some joy into this performance.

I can't really put into words why this song disturbs me so much (aside from the unnecessary prepositional ending to the first line of the chorus, without which, I realize, she'd have to rhyme everything with "Going" - an exercise I really have no desire to be subjected to [see how you do it correctly?], so I'll give her a pass), but the image it conjures in my mind is some 70s movie filmed in distracting soft focus involving a group of cult disciples dressed in white robes lying down in a field of poppies and merrily drinking hemlock. Which is overly specific, I realize, but is also a pretty apt description of the level of banality mixed with horror this track epitomizes. Holy shit, it's depressing me just writing about it. In fact, this was the only song so far I couldn't actually bring myself to listen to before critiquing. Kind of a shame, because I was ready to go off on a diatribe about the heinous electric piano (the single nastiest-sounding instrument known to man or beast [or Jeremy Piven]) on display; but on reflection, I wasn't sure there actually was an electric piano in the song. And you know what? It doesn't make the slightest difference. This thing sucks so bad, it wouldn't matter if the backing music was done on kazoos and perfectly-pitched farts. It might conceivably serve some purpose to future generations, however: if some social historian ever wants to posit the thesis that human beings in the latter half of the 20th century were dead inside, here's the audio proof.

Warning: In accordance with a reader request, the video of this song is made up of scenes from The Sims video game.

13. Martin Page - In The House Of Stone And Light (1994)
(File under:
Days Of Whine & Roses: Singer/Songwriters [Or, Hypersensitivity As A Marketing Ploy])

Looking for info on this guy, I learned that he co-wrote (with Bernie Taupin, no less) both "We Built This City" and Heart's "These Dreams", either one of which (not to mention working with Taupin) would have ensured his reputation as a major player in the All-Time Shit Rock Sweepstakes. Fortunately for me, he also recorded his own music. Which sounds like Oprah magazine transformed into sound: self-satisfied Marin County-style languor seeps out of every note of the smooth MOR-flavored mush that passes for music (this is probably the only artist ever to be profoundly influenced by Mr. Mister), which is married to vaguely "spiritual"/"uplifting" lyrics that probably sound sagacious to listeners who believe in feng shui and the Enneagram - in short, like Sting. To whose voice Page's bears an uncanny resemblance. If only he'd written "Message In A Bottle" or "Can't Stand Losing You" instead of that execrable Starship hit, that might even mean something. Anyway, watch the video if you dare. A dumb song for dummies!

14. Edie Brickell & New Bohemians - What I Am (1989)
(File under:
I Ran (So Far Away): The '80s)

See entry #11 if you're wondering what's going on here musically (more fucking hippie music), 'cause that sums it up succinctly (and accurately, as I'm sure even the band would agree), though it is less "jammy" than Blues Traveler. All that means, though, is that it's more sluggish, and when I say "all that means" I'm being literal, because this is quite possibly the most meaningless song in existence. Not meaningless in the good sense (ie. "Wop Bop A Lu Bop"), either. The lyrics are a glorification of shallowness and the utter lack of rigourous thinking. "Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box"? Wish you woulda let me in on that before I wasted my time reading all that fucking Kant (And, since we're name-dropping smart dead guys, I'm pretty sure Wittgenstein would disagree with your assessment as well). And who the hell calls the writing on a cereal box (or anywhere else) "talk" in the first place? The illiterate and the drug-addled, that's who. "Religion is a smile on a dog"? Hey, if it was, I probably wouldn't be an atheist. Then again, I've never seen a dog smile, so maybe she's making the point that it's all just mush-brained mystical bullshit. And maybe a troupe of acrobat monkeys just flamboyantly cartwheeled out of my ass while I was struck by lightning twice clutching my winning lottery ticket.

"What I am is what I am"? That's the kind of tautology that scam "prophets" have been using to con stoned teenagers into believing they had cosmic insights since Siddhartha was a hit. In fact, every single line of this song is worthy of mockery. "I'm not aware of too many things"? No shit. "I know what I know if you know what I mean"? If I know what you mean? That you know what you know? Seems self-evident, but thanks for the concern. "Choke me in the shallow water"? If you insist. "...Before I get too deep"? Frankly, I'd be more worried about catching Avian Flu Virus from the hand soap dispenser at work. You know, the whole song is so perfectly preposterous that I'm tempted to assume it's Andy Kaufman-level satire. Until I check out her other songs and note the suffocating earnestness with which she sings her platitudes, at which point I pull the first Clash album out and try to achieve true Right Mindfulness. In any case, she's Paul Simon's problem now.

Warning: This song is accompanied by a video of somebody's fucking cat pictures as a slideshow.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Third Edition

7. David Crosby with Phil Collins - Hero (1993)
(File under: The Usual Suspects: Songs That Are Universally Despised)

You know, looking at my notes, I see all kinds of damning phrases - "worthless reprobate filthy hippie"; "murderously bland"; "somebody please kill this fucking beast"; "MOR poisoning" - but as I listen to it, I'm struck by how much I'm digging it. I mean, Crosby was in The Byrds, right? Of course, he was also in the execrable Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Sometimes Young), but hey, how many great bands have you been a member of? And Phil Collins was in Genesis, who certain people unfortunate enough to have gone through adolescence in the early 70s claim were "rockin'", no? So how bad could it be? Answer: not bad at all! Heck, what's wrong with mellow, I ask you? And what's wrong with fossils like Crosby embracing synthesizers, even if it is 15 years too late to be cool? This guy's so cool, he doesn't need to be cool. He doesn't even worry about losing his aura of hip by joining with somebody as unhip as Phil Collins (or is Phil the one who's losing his hip aura by teaming with Crosby? I can't tell these hack baldies apart at this remove). And get a load of that lyric: "He never wondered what was right or wrong - he just knew". Hot damn! That is pretty heroic. I've met plenty of people who had no idea what was right or wrong. Babies, for instance. Those little dicks would just as soon bite you as look at you! Even when you provide their ingrate asses with clothing and shelter! Yep, these two have gone and done what People With Taste have always claimed was beyond them: they've written an Important Song! And a damn fine one, too! Sheeit, I'm humming it right now, and I'm not ashamed to admit it's bringing a tear of joy to mine cynical eye. In fact, I'm going to go on the record as saying "Hero" is one of the best songs of the past 20 years, if not the past century!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I recently suffered severe blunt cranial trauma, and should get myself to the E.R. immediately.

8. Lenny Kravitz - Fly Away (1998)
(File under:
The Theory Of Alternating Decades: The '70s & '90s)

Critics who compared this guy to Hendrix and Prince were indulging in mild racism - just because he was a black man who played guitar and went the pop/rock route rather than R&B/hip hop, they were the easy (read: lazy) reference points, but musically, Lenny isn't fit to wring the sweat out of either of their t-shirts (and I'm not even a fan of Hendrix). In fact, his race shouldn't even come into it, because this music is as white as The Carpenters or Peter, Paul & Mary (who, no matter what you think of their music, at least weren't poseurs). Everybody knows Roxie Roker (of Jeffersons fame) is his mother, but after listening to the guy, I have to wonder if maybe the actor who played Mr. Willis isn't actually his father. Blander than a vegan potluck, with 5th-generation riffs only confused 12 year-olds could love, his music is Exhibit A for anyone who wants to make a case that rock died in the 90s. And though I don't doubt he has many worse songs than this, I chose it specifically because its lyric contains the Queen Mother of Horrible Rock Bullshit Stanzas:

I wish that I could fly
Into the sky

So very high

Just like a dragonfly

...And those are the very first lines! (I can't prove it, of course, but I suspect he changed that last line from "butterfly" to "dragonfly" because he thought it sounded less trite. He was wrong, as usual. It sounds equally trite either way.) Even if what follows is Thomas Pynchon (and trust me, it's not), there's no recovering from prose that insipid. I don't believe I'm exaggerating when I say this is the stupidest fucking song in the history of anything anywhere.

9. The Eagles - Witchy Woman (1972)
(File under: The Theory Of Alternating Decades: The '70s & '90s)

Surely this can't be the most misogynistic song ever to crack the top 40, but when that's the only half-decent thing you can say about a piece of music, it's probably best not to try to review it at all. I mean, you already know what they sound like anyway, and if you don't - well, then, I envy you. In fact, fuck these motherfuckers and their entire recorded (and personal) history. You know what the difference is between The Eagles and Jackson Browne? Jackson Browne's only capable of beating up one woman at a time. See, the mere process of writing about these assholes makes me a more hateful human being.

And if you ask me, they weren't laid-back enough - at least, not if they were still breathing.

Then again, perhaps I'm being needlessly harsh for effect.
Then again again, probably not.

Warning: Don't even ask me WTF is up with this video.

10. Bob Seeger & The Silver Bullet Band - Like A Rock (1986)
(File under: I Ran [So Far Away]: The '80s)

The most annoying song ever used to hawk shitty cars - even granting the "Zoom zoom zoom" jingle - and if you're not familiar with it, a look at the album cover should clue you in to what you're in store for. Hey, I didn't know Lionel Richie was in the Silver Bullet Band! Along with half the members of Toto! Although it sure explains a lot. And is anyone else surprised that this guy still had a record contract as late as '86? I've got friends who've told me that ol' Blob actually put out some garagey, MC5-style punkish stuff in the late 60s, but I've heard the same said of Ted Nugent (in re: his ultra-craptastic "psych" band The Amboy Dukes), and, having been burned once, I'm in no hurry to discover the truth for myself. Especially not from an eternally over-the-hill bargain-basement Springsteen with such an immaculately trimmed beard. Though I will admit that, as a feckless teenager, this song made my friends and I giddy because we would change the words to "Like a cock" when we sang along. Of course, we were also drunk most of the time. Ah, youth.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Two posts In One Day! Kneel Before Me, Freaks!

4. The Doobie Brothers - Black Water (1974)
(File under: The Theory Of Alternating Decades: The '70s & '90s)

If they're remembered for nothing else (and they shouldn't be), these shit-rock pioneers can at least lay claim to being the inspiration for the look of the rock band on The Muppet Show. Other than that, it should be noted that they were able to make some of the most truly wretched music of the 70s, which is quite a stunning achievement given the almost overwhelming competition.

The Doobie Brothers, ca. 1974

I'm actually at kind of a loss to describe why this is so bad; I couldn't even honestly classify the music - Southern Boogie Wimp Stoner Laid-Back Hard-Lite Rock? It seems easier just to say Doobie Brothers music, which implies all the shit contained in the grooves more succinctly than a thesaurus full of adjectives. Of course, this was before Michael McDonald took over and turned them into an equally useless ultra-bland MOR blue-eyed soul band. So, what can I say? Well, glancing at the album cover above, it would appear they had two drummers, a gimmick that, unless you're The Feelies, is pretty much guaranteed to pump up your suck-assitude quotient by at least 75%. I can say that my mom used to play this incessantly when I was a poor, defenseless child with no means of escape, and she used to do a deeply disturbing age-and-social-standing-inappropriate dance to the "Dixieland" segment at the end. I could say that their use of the word "funky" on the track is doubly misguided as it is used in what may be the most unfunky music this side of early Kraftwerk and as a description of Dixieland jazz. I could say that the use of "Mama" to describe a female love object completely creeps me out (possibly tied up with the image of my own mother dancing) unless I encounter it in, say, Otis Redding's "Hard To Handle" or The Beatles' "Happiness Is A Warm Gun". Maybe that's because Otis and John Lennon were geniuses. Needless to say, these dicks are not Lennon or Redding - though they did try to court the black audience not only by peppering their lyrics with "Mama" and "funky", but by appearing on the absolute worst episode ever of What's Happening!! The black audience, to its credit, never bothered to respond.

Warning: Video is just some guy's photo slideshow set to the song. Which is probably better than having to look at the band, come to think of it.

5. Iron Maiden - Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1984)
(File under: Heavy Metal Blunder: Hell's Jukebox)

Except for maybe prime Motorhead and one or two early Black Sabbath numbers, I have about as much use for heavy metal as I do for "contemporary country" - which is to say, none at all. Possibly it's because I bring my own prejudices to both forms and therefore am unable to listen objectively. More likely, though, it's because I'm no longer a 14 year-old obsessed with sci-fi/fantasy and utterly terrified of any human being with a vagina.

Even on a purely musical level, HM leaves me cold - like prog rock, its roots seem to lie more in classical music than rock (never mind rock and roll) - the obsession with technique; a premium placed on mastery over expression. Even the volume (and obviously the singing) owes more to opera than Chuck Berry (or even The Who). In fact, the only connection to rock is the electric instruments and the presence of a drum kit. And I'm pretty sure the drum kit only got incorporated because tympani are too hard to tune.

Oh, and did I mention the lyrical content? 10 times out of 9, it is to puke.

Well, here's a song that manages to combine the worst elements of decades of prog and metal into one heinous travesty of a "rock" song. You know, there are certain bands - The Stooges, The Ramones, even Devo - who have to be pretty fucking intelligent to make music that sounds so stupid. This is the converse equation: you've got to possess some special brand of dumb-ass to make music that appears so "smart". First of all, Rush already beat them to a 10+ minute song based on a Coleridge poem (and it was a better poem, too - whether or not it was a better song is for those with stronger masochistic tendencies than I to determine). Were they not content to have written one bad “epic” song based on a literary work of dubious merit (1983's “To Tame A Land”, a "musical" homage to Frank Herbert's Dune, which contained such scintillating lyrics as “He is the Kwizatz Haderach/He is born of Caladan/And will take the Gom Jabbar” - I swear to Christ I'm not making this up)? No, here they trot out a 13-minute musical re-telling of the poem, which isn't that captivating even as prose. And it comes complete with spoken-word middle section, unnecessary signature changes, over-the-top stentorian vocalizing and endless boring (though I'm sure difficult to play) guitar solos. That this kind of crap didn't die out with Jethro Tull is a testament to the massive amount of chromosome damage inflicted upon the post-Baby Boom generation(s). I should point out, in the interest of full disclosure, that I was a Maiden fan in my youth and saw the band on this particular tour (Cow Palace, San Francisco - Twisted Sister opened; look it up if you don't believe me, bitches), and I loved it at the time. Then again, I loved shitting in my pants as a (much younger) youth, too, but you wouldn't expect me to sing the praises of pants-shitting now that I'm a mature adult with a highly developed aesthetic sense, would you? Of course not. You'd expect me to hum the praises quietly to myself, which is exactly what I do.

Warning: This song had to be split into 2 videos.
Warning #2: The "videos" consist of the song being played to an image of the Powerslave album cover. Rock & Roll!

6. Dan Hill - Sometimes When We Touch (1978)
(File under: Days Of Whine & Roses: Singer/Songwriters [Or, Hypersensitivity As A Marketing Ploy])

Here's the real legacy of the hippie movement - not peace and love (which was just a euphemism for "Let's get high and fuck" anyway) or revolution, but New Agey psychobabble and the shifting of the image of the "ideal" man toward a more self-actualized being in touch with his emotions (and the image of the ideal woman toward a more - oh, wait, the feminine ideal still hinges on physical attributes, doesn't it? Nice going, Bella Abzug). Thing is, even a fully self-actualized man still wants to fuck (if not get high) a good deal of the time (every 2.9 seconds), only now instead of just admitting he's horny, he feels the need to rationalize it as some sort of spiritual endeavor. Hence, this asshole and his pieceashit "song".

At least cock-rock dildoes like Motley Crue or Poison come right out and say "I just want to fuck you", which, for all its frat-boy misogyny, still comes off as more romantic than this passive-aggressive sensitive puppy act. Seriously - "Sometimes when we touch/The honesty's too much/And I have to close my eyes and hide"? This guy's using bad singles bar pickup lines even after he's already snagged the girl! If I ever said any shit that flat-out stupid to someone during a tender moment, I'd consider them perfectly within their rights to immediately break my jaw with a table lamp. In fact, I doubt I'd be able to respect them anymore if they didn't. Wait, wait - he's got verses, too: "I'm just another writer/Still trapped within my truth/A hesitant prize fighter/Still trapped within my youth". Slow down there, Walt Whitman! Give me time to process the depth of the profundities you're forcing me to grapple with! You know what's funny? I got trapped within my truth once. Cost me $47 just to call AAA and have some smelly ex-con with a Slim Jim get me out.

Anyway, I've never heard anything else by the guy, but I don't think anyone could accuse me of making shit up when I say I'm sure that, somewhere in his catalogue, he's got a ballad lamenting the fact that he'll never be able to experience the miracle of menstruation.

Warning: This video may cause vomiting.

Volume 1

All right. I'm resurrecting this blog after failing at trying to sell it as a book (read: giving up after the 2 publishing contacts I have turned it down). Now, I realize this is pretty conceptual, so try to follow me: this is a blog wherein I'll write about the 1,001 Worst Songs Of All Time. At least, the 1,001 worst pop music songs since the '50s. Which still leaves about 18 billion horrible songs unaccounted for, but there you have it. I'll also include YouTube videos whenever possible (which gets around the illegality of offering mp3s, as well as saves me time having to find these shitty songs in mp3 form in the first place). For my book proposal, I'd broken the songs down into categories, which I'm going to keep because I spent precious minutes coming up with them. They are:

The Usual Suspects: Songs That Are Universally Despised

You Broke My Heart, Fredo: When Our Musical Heroes Betray Us

We Care A Lot: Protest & Folk

When Good People Do Bad Things: The Worst Of The Best

Heavy Metal Blunder: Hell's Jukebox

Days Of Whine & Roses: Singer/Songwriters (Or, Hypersensitivity As A Marketing Ploy)

Schlock Around The Clock: The '50s

Hope I Buy Before I Get Sold: Baby Boomer Bullshit & (The Myth Of) The '60s

The Theory Of Alternating Decades: The '70s & '90s

I Ran (So Far Away): The '80s

Meet The New Boss: The 2000s

Baffled By The Light: Unaccountable Critics' Darlings

Bach Don't Rock: Prog

Fear Of A Wack Planet: Hip Hop

Slanted And Entitled: Indie - From Punk To Post-Rock (Or: Great White Hypes)

That's Barry White Of You: Soul & R&B

Hang The DJ: Dance & Electronic

Shit-Kickers Minus The "Kickers": Country

But I Like The Sound Of Nails On A Chalkboard: Guilty Pleasures/Songs That Are Better Than Everybody Thinks

I had descriptions written for each category, but they seem pretty self-explanatory. So, without further ado, the list:

1. 4 Non Blondes - "What's Up?" (1992)
(File under: We Care A Lot: Protest & Folk)

Ever wonder what music would have resulted if Axl Rose had been a woman? And had grown up listening to half-baked folkie protest music instead of metal? Me either.

2. Dave Matthews Band - Don't Drink The Water (1998)
(File under: The Theory Of Alternating Decades: The '70s & '90s)

(Note: The embedding code for this video has been disabled on YouTube, but you can find it here if you simply have to watch it for some reason.)

Did you know that James G. Birney of Michigan ran for President as a member of something called the "Liberty Party" in 1844? Or that domesticated wheat was being cultivated in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley more than 9,000 years ago? How about the fact that Country Living magazine is headquartered in New York City? I bring all this up because I find it infinitely more fascinating than anything in Dave Matthews' oeuvre. In fact, I find the mere act of typing it infinitely more fascinating than anything in Dave Matthews' oeuvre.

If pressed, I'd have to admit I chose this song over his dozens (hundreds?) of other piles of crap because his hideously reedy, whiny voice is even more hysterical/annoying when he's trying to sound "menacing", which I assume is what he's going for on this track. The music is basically the same Sting-meets-Grateful Dead aural flaccid penis as all the rest of his nuevo-hippie shtick, only with more distortion (ever the dipshit, Dave tries to latch onto the grunge movement 6 years too late). Can't remember the last time I thought any "rock" would sound better with less distortion, but there you have it. Speaking of the Dead...

3. The Grateful Dead - Touch Of Grey (1987)
(File under: I Ran (So Far Away): The '80s)

Figures a band so closely tied to the '60s in the popular consciousness should make the list with something from 2 decades later (I mean, really - why do all these Boomer "legends" insist on inflicting new product on us? Ever listen to any of Bob Dylan's '80s output? Or Eric Clapton's? Not unless you're an idiot, you haven't.). I've never been a fan, and believe me, I've tried - I thought there must be something I was missing, since many people whose opinions I respected spoke so highly of them. Well, that's what you get for respecting people's opinions. After spending good money on their first five albums (not counting the '69 live disc - I at least knew enough about the Dead to avoid their soporific "transcendent" jams at all costs), my initial impression - that they were purveyors of the most ball-less brand of fuzzy (both philosophically and sonically) psychedelic (read: white) blooze - was cemented, and by the time I got to "Truckin'" and the second-hand, third-rate country/folk/jug band stuff, I sobbed for the portion of my life wasted on these fools. And, despite what their many fans may think, it's not because I don't "get it". In fact, I "get it" completely. I just think it's absolutely fucking retarded.

This, as far as I can tell without actually having to listen to more of their albums, is their nadir. When multi-millionaires in Marin County start lazily singing to you about how they will survive/get by, both you (the listener) and (especially) they are so out of touch with anything meaningful in this world you might as well all be floating away on a cloud of cotton candy. If you want to understand how the Peace & Love crowd ended up electing Reagan twice, here's the soundtrack version. Sounds about as "revolutionary" as buying your own vineyard. Also sounds quite a bit like Jimmy Buffett.