When I was 15 and maybe even 20 I knew what was happening. Not every note, but I knew a lot. OK, I missed something big once. Epic, really: punk. In 1977 I was offered a free ticket to see The Clash on their first U.S. tour and I turned it down because I thought punk was a joke. This is particularly ironic given that in 1977 I was a disco activist.

My sense of what was happening musically was resurrected in my 30s when I worked for an alternative newspaper. Our reviewers were plugged in. We were all it and a bag of chips. And yet we missed something big once. Epic, really: grunge. Time and Newsweek  broke that story in 1991. Irony overload – Sub Pop was located right in our building and I often shared an elevator with some shambling, hairy hulk from Mudhoney.

My knowledge of popular music has deepened and broadened but I rarely know what’s new. Last week I wrote about a local band, Red Fang. It took me two years to catch up with them, and I caught them only because they were featured in The Oregonian. And if they’ve been featured in our daily paper’s lifestyle section they are probably way past their expiration date.

Fortunately, in my 40s I realized that I could still learn what was happening in music by befriending people younger than me and asking. That’s how I discovered Internet radio in 1999. (Spinner: Free music and a cool boombox on your desktop!) Youthful friends of mine in Boise made major contributions to my musical knowledge, not counting the guy who’s still fixated on Night Ranger.

Isabelle is in the house!
Today we’re going to learn about music from somebody who’s so young, she’s barely older than my dog, Storm Small. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm Run-DMSteve welcome to my 12-year-old niece, Isabelle!

Isabelle is an amazing young woman. I would’ve known this even if she hadn’t told me, which she did. In Isabelle’s world, when you want your music, you go first to YouTube. Her iPod is in second place. Third place is held by an ancient technological device called the radio. I visited her favorite station and checked the last 20 songs they’d played. I knew one, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” I had a lot of ground to cover.

Isabelle’s favorite artists right now are Ke$ha and Bruno Mars, so I listened to their debut albums, Ke$ha’s Animal and Mars’ Doo-Wops & Hooligans. I was prepared to floss my brain afterwards with Miles Davis, but I enjoyed myself. This is probably bad news for Ke$ha, whose audience is not middle-aged men, but good news for Bruno Mars, who is striving for a more universal appeal.

Trying to fill Lady Gaga’s skyscraper heels
If you take the nonstop pop appeal of The Go-Go’s, the sauciness of Bananarama, the oops-I-did-it-again dance grooves of Britney Spears, and then lower everyone’s IQ, you’ve about got Ke$ha. Her songs mostly focus on having a good time even if you have to drink until you can’t spell your own name. Which in her case wouldn’t take long. “TiK ToK” was a huge hit, and “Boots & Boys,” “Take It Off,” and “Hungover” neatly sum up the principles by which she lives her life.

I was surprised to see “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” on this album, but when I got there it turned out not to be a cover of Ultravox’s 1984 hit. Too bad, as Ke$ha would’ve kicked those syntho-pop pretty boys from here to eternity. Ke$ha’s song is about a love affair she torpedoed with her self-destructive behavior. This probably happens to her a lot.

“Party At a Rich Dude’s House” builds on a rich pop tradition. In Randy Newman’s  “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” the narrator is appalled by the shenanigans around him. The B-52s turned this idea inside-out with “Party Out of Bounds.”  They’re not appalled; in fact, they’re stealing everything out of your icebox! The Beastie Boys updated The B-52s when they told us “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party).” Ke$ha’s contribution is to throw up in a rich dude’s closet.

Animal has some spring-loaded dance tunes that will probably sound dated in 10 years but are hyperkinetic right now. Ke$ha spends a lot of time being kittenish, and I can’t tell how much of her voice is her and how much is her engineer, but overall she’s hard to resist. I probably won’t listen to Animal again, but I am sure that “Boots & Boys” will one day become a female anthem. When women hear it they’ll storm the dance floor, as they do today for “Dancing Queen,” “I Will Survive,” and “Venus.”

With a name like that he should be playing third base for the Cardinals
Bruno Mars is like David Bowie and Prince in his ability to change shape from track to track. He’s run every song recorded in the last 50 years through the blender that is his brain. “Runaway Baby” sounds like a 1960s rave-up between The Animals and The Dave Clark Five. Bono could’ve sung “Just the Way You Are” and it would’ve been the B-side of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” “Marry You” is an innocent gem that would’ve been right at home on MTV in 1985. “Liquor Store Blues” is reggae, “Count on Me” is Jack Johnson or Cat Stevens, and then there’s the weird “Grenade,” which sounds like Michael Jackson crossed with a European New Wave act I can’t put my finger on. (Not Ultravox.)

Mars has a supple tenor voice that seems to work in any genre and he not only loves Elvis, he impersonates Elvis. I can’t say that Doo-Wops & Hooligans is one of my favorite albums, but it does reward the time you invest in it.

Isabelle also informed me that the Worst. Song. Ever. was “Friday” by Rebecca Black. This song is such a stinker that Rhapsody not only refuses to carry it, they sent an electric shock through my keyboard when I requested it. Although Isabelle and I are of different generations, we can agree that “Friday” sucks. I haven’t heard anything this bad since the time Storm Small cornered a weasel in our drainpipe.

Thank you, Isabelle, for furthering my musical education. But before I get to Rihanna, Pit Bull, and P!nk I think I will give Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue a spin.

Comments
  1. Accused of Lurking says:

    I followed in your footsteps and was amazed to find every track from each CD available on YouTube, sometimes with an official video, other times with lyrics, and a depressing number of times with someone other than the original artist butchering the tune. First thought: “Friday” is indeed the worst song ever recorded, which is saying a lot for a universe that also includes the song “Billy Don’t Be A Hero.”

    Ke$ha disappointed mightily and with vigor. Her persona is despicable, her songs forgettable, and her clothes are retro Madonna circa 1985, which is not necessarily a bad thing, except that on Ke$ha, they are a bad thing. If I want to listen to a teen queen, I’ll go Taylor Swift.

    Bruno is the opposite, especially the clothes part. I had already heard and enjoyed two of his songs on the radio. I’m a love song/ballad junkie, so much of his stuff hits my sweet spot. As a teen idol, he is perfection, in a way not seen since the days of David Cassidy. I can imagine 14-year-old girls around the world, with his poster on their walls, fantasizing that he is singing these lyrics directly to them:

    “When I see your face, there’s not a thing that I would change, cause you’re amazing just the way you are”
    OR
    “I’d catch a grenade for ya; throw my head on a blade for ya. I’d jump in front of a train for ya. You know I’d do anything for ya.”

    Please return to Isabelle the source and get two more artists. So far she’s batting .500 with me. Just make sure she doesn’t give you any retreads like Britney, Christina, Beyonce, Eminem, Justin, or John Legend.

    BTW, Grunge I can understand, but disco? Really? Did you own a powder blue leisure suit too?

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Isabelle said that her first choice of technology for music delivery is YouTube, and now you know why, pal. Plus I heard at a recent seminar that YouTube is the #1 search engine for people under 30. The rest of us are still using that wheezy old Google thing.

      You are so right about “Friday.” It’s worse than “Billy Don’t Be Hero,” “Vicky Don’t Lose That Number,” “Bobby Don’t Change That Channel,” “Shelley Don’t Burn That Pot Roast,” “Eddie Don’t Forget to Call Vicky, She Lost Your Number,” and the theme to Felicity.

      Taylor Swift is far more respectable than Ke$ha but Ke$ha fills the dance floor. She also makes Lady Gaga sound like a humanities professor. (Lady Gaga was Isabelle’s third choice, BTW.) As for Bruno, he may be a teen idol like David Cassidy, but David Cassidy was no deeper than a puddle. Bruno may be one of the Great Lakes.

      Powder blue. You got it on the first guess.

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