Wednesday, March 18, 2009

22./23. Queen - We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions (1977)
(File under: The Theory Of Alternating Decades: The '70s & '90s)

I've always had a soft spot for Queen - by which I mean a literal physical soft spot, right on my brain, because what else could explain it? Still, I make no apologies (though I will admit I pretty much abandoned ship about the same time the rest of America did, around '82 and Hot Space), because unlike pretty much every other band of the era who dealt in bombast and overweening pomposity (Led Zeppelin, the dreaded Styx, pretty much every prog rock act ever), Queen always seemed to do it with a sly wink, as if they were smart enough to realize what a joke it was and also smart enough to enjoy it strictly as camp. Until 1977 and News of the World.

There's no sly wink in these songs (grouped together since they were always played back-to-back on the radio upon initial release), which leaves merely bombast and overweening pomposity, a fact that no doubt accounts for their huge success (especially in America, where cleverness and wit have always been qualities viewed with extreme suspicion). If, as some critic whose name I can't recall claimed, "We Are The Champions" was written as a gay anthem, it would indeed add a layer to the song; but if that was the intention it utterly failed, since everything about it sounds like exactly what it's been taken for these past 3+ decades: something to blast over the P.A. at the end of sporting events. And when that's the function of a piece of music, it's not just a case of lowest common denominator - it means you're actually aiming for the outliers on the wrong side of the bell curve. If there is anything more brutally stupid and antithetical to art than an enormous drunken mob shouting inanities and waving homemade banners at a stadium sporting event, it's the same bunch of dipshits singing a victory song in unison. And that is what "We Are The Champions" (as well as "We Will Rock You") is really "about", especially at this remove. Hell, I'm not even necessarily against football chants - plenty of '77 punk could qualify, and New Order's World Cup anthem is pretty damned good - but this stuff seems to have been market researched to fit the bill a little too neatly.

"We Will Rock You" barely qualifies as a song at all - except for Brian May's patented dime-as-a-guitar-pick bit at the end, the whole thing is yobbish bellowing over foot stomps and handclaps, kind of a distant cousin to The Mekons's "The Building", except 90 times more stupid. Besides, everybody with half the brains God gave a donkey knows you don't tell people you're going to rock them, you just do it - otherwise you come off looking like either a smug asshole or a delusional fucking fool (in other words: Jeremy Piven). Also, the verses have nothing to do with the chorus. In its way, as lazy as any Eric Clapton solo album.

"We Are The Champions", for those who just returned from a long vacation on Saturn, is the queen mother (no pun intended) of power ballads, and I bet Bono's pissed that somebody beat him to it. The verses are basically "I Am Woman" for lunkheaded soccer fans, and the chorus is the kind of doggerel that's supposed to be rousing and empowering, and might even succeed if it had any connection to reality as most people live it. But then, we don't value our rock stars for being in touch with the concerns of normal human beings, do we? No, we prefer them elevated to God-like status, which mitigates the sense of shame and despair we feel after sucking their cocks backstage and being summarily tossed out into the alley afterwards. Believe me, I understand this. I just resent being told what Gods they are by the performers themselves. Especially in song. Especially especially when that song tops the charts. It's usually a mistake to believe a song somehow speaks to your particular circumstances; in this case, the ego is so much a part of the music it should get a composing credit. The epitome of why it was known as the "Me Decade".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More uses of the word "fart"

21. Eddie Money - Take Me Home Tonight (1986)
(File under: I Ran (So Far Away): The '80s)

Oh, corporate rock. Not since "Trout Mask Replica" has a term so aptly described the music it referred to, motherfuckers (not that I think whoever's reading this is a motherfucker; I just hate to end my sentences with prepositions). Hell, you don't even have to hear songs by Journey, Boston, Loverboy, etc. etc. when you can refer to the handy "corporate rock" label - you can just use your imagination (remember that? It's a part of the mind people accessed before videos and the internet) and arrive at a fairly accurate approximation (probably come up with better melodies, too, unless you're a tone-deaf retarded farm hand). But for every hopelessly middle-of-the-road genre, there's an artist who stands squarely in the middle of that road, and in this case, that artist is Eddie Money.

The schlub's so blandly nondescript he was bound to have a few hits on U.S. radio, and I'll say this for the guy: Better him than Styx. Faint praise, to be sure, but when your stock in trade is mediocrity, praise is a commodity (and I use that word advisedly in this case) measured not in quality but in quantity. I bet Eddie's got every not-so-negative press clipping ever written about him in some dusty, musty photo album somewhere, and why not? It's probably more healthy than saving the horrible reviews and keeping a revenge list. Then again, Elvis Costello had a revenge list, and his music of the period blew this guy's stuff out of the water. I guess what I'm trying to say is: cliche though it may sound, great art is, more often than not, the product of people who are seriously fucked up in some profound way, or at the very least excessively neurotic and twitchy (Human Chihuahua Syndrome). How many well-adjusted, self-actualized Zen masters have put out albums that make you want to jump up and down and smash the walls? I rest my case.

So the guy's boring; that's not a crime (in the strict legal sense). In fact, he's boring right down to his "image" - with his basset hound visage, he looks like an ordinary slob; more like the manager of an Arby's in Manhattan, Kansas than a bona fide rock star. Normally, I find this look endearing; unfortunately, he adopts all the poses of a rock star, which make them appear even more comical than usual, especially with his shaggy, feathered 'do and doughy features that make his head look like a possum gnawing on a partially spoiled ham. Say what you will about David Lee Roth - and he does seem like the Platonic ideal of a big ol' dick - but he's got the presence to pull off the cock-rock bullshit moves without making you snigger more than rules of propriety demand.

His music, in case you just started reading at this paragraph, is as boring as his "personality". In fact, it's so ho-hum he can't even achieve true wretchedness, which is at least worth writing about. So why include him? Simple, mein freund: because on this song he shit all over the memory of The Ronettes' "Be My Baby", arguably the best Girl Group song of all time, as well as the song that introduced the opening drum riff that's been used more times (and in better songs) than Bo Diddley's patented rhythm. Not only did he commit this act of musical necrophilia, he actually got Ronnie Spector to sing that song's chorus. Such acts of cultural piracy are but one more reason half of the wolrd wants to drop bombs on New York, and should accordingly not go unpunished. I don't blame Ronnie for taking part - everybody's gotta pay rent, especially when their ex-husband's idea of alimony involves pistol-whipping - but Eddie was just thieving to add novelty to a(nother) weak-ass song, and it shows. Nothing about the rest of the song makes you think, "You know what would fit in perfectly right here? The chorus from an old Phil Spector pop tune!". And if it does, that probably means you're eating your meat loaf through a tube in your arm.

There are plenty of ways to ruin great songs - using them in commercials or crappy TV shows/films - but inserting a (re-recorded) snippet of it into your own horrific travesty of a radio-ready single has got to be the most underhanded. Then again, how many times can you insert a saxophone solo into your "hard rock" before you become a laughing stock? As gimmicks go, I suppose giving work to and reigniting interest in an underappreciated oldies singer is somewhat noble (heap big thanks, white man!). I just wish it had been done in the service of a song that wasn't a complete pile of bleh. It's enough to make you fart out a Hyundai.