Posts Tagged ‘A Flock of Haircuts’

“Pictures of You”
The Cure

“Space Age Love Song”
A Flock of Seagulls

I coach a chess club at a local school, grades 3-8. My toughest challenges are not explaining how to castle or how the knights move. It’s not the 4th-grade belching contests or the two 5th-grade boys I had to separate because they were fighting over the good-behavior trophy. The real problems are the 12- and 13-year-old girls.

One year, Madison, a 6th-grade girl, came to the club in a torn denim jacket and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. Trying to bond with her, I said that I’d seen Led Zep in concert. Madison rolled her eyes and I suddenly saw myself as she saw me: an old man, claiming to know something about her music! The following year she showed up with black hair, black lipstick, black fingernail polish, and a Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me Cure T-shirt. I could’ve told her that I’d seen The Cure, too, but I’m a nice guy. I didn’t want to ruin another band for her.

The Cure have been around long enough to draw pensions. They (“they” meaning Robert Smith) are best known for being gloomy. Right up my alley! I’ve already written about my favorite Cure song, “Pictures of You,” a ballad of lost love that is 278 words long. That’s like a Dickens novel in rock ’n’ roll years.

Let’s instead move on to A Flock of Seagulls (affectionately known as A Flock of Haircuts). Loyal Reader Julius questions their existence. My apologies, Loyal Reader. No ’80s dance party would be complete without their two biggest hits, “I Ran (So Far Away)” and “Space Age Love Song.”

There’s not much to say about “I Ran (So Far Away)” that the song doesn’t say itself:

And I raaaaaaan.
I ran so far away.
I just raaaaaaan.
I ran all night and day.
I couldn’t get away.

“Space Age Love Song” is a simply structured number that moves from start to finish in an unvarying line. Sort of like an object in space. It was in constant rotation on MTV in 1982. As Springsteen put it, “57 Channels (and Nothing On).” It is exactly 73 words long, of which 15 are “I was falling in love” and 12 are “Falling in love.” Pithy. “I saw your eyes/and you made me smile,” the Haircuts sing in stanza 1, which is sweet, but the next line is “For a little while,” which is ungrateful. What have you done for me lately, person with eyes? In stanza 2, the narrator sees the eyes again, and this time “you touched my mind.” Cool. Telepathy. No wonder you fell in love.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are A Flock of Haircuts at the height of their powers.

A few years ago in chess club we had a boy who loved Culture Club. When I made the mistake of telling him that I didn’t, he started singing “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” By the end of the school year my answer was yes. Music from the 1980s can heal us – or it can be weaponized. Madison understood this when she adopted The Cure as a lifestyle. I’m sure it was her defense against the world and her rebellion against her parents. In the early ’70s I did the same thing to my parents with The Doors (minus the drugs, alcohol, and multiple sex partners).

You wouldn’t think these issues would arise in a roomful of kids playing chess, but they do. Adult themes play out in miniature, just as we play this miniature substitute for war. All you can do with these children is be patient, try to put yourself in their place, and don’t let on that you know anything about their music. Kids need to rebel, and The Cure are a good ally in a rebellion. Or The Doors. But not A Flock of Seagulls.

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
Simple Minds

Today I want to have a word with you about guilty pleasures, which, for the purpose of this disquisition, we shall define as enjoying things that you might be too embarrassed to enjoy if anyone found out you were enjoying them. I’m thinking here, just to get the ball rolling, of people who go roller skating because they like the way “You Made Me Love You” sounds on the Wurlitzer. Then there are the folks who eat Pop-Tarts without toasting them first. As for me, I listen to Simple Minds.

On page 160 of my copy of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, the dysfunctional wolverines who work at Championship Vinyl have compiled a list of the top five bands they want to put in front of a firing squad. Simple Minds leads their list, ahead of even Genesis, which seems harsh to me. Genesis spawned Phil Collins. Can you name even one simpleton in Simple Minds? How about the chap who was married to Chryssie Hynde? Of course you can’t. And if you can you probably work at Championship Vinyl.

Sanctify Yourself
Simple Minds supposedly took their name from David Bowie’s “Jean Genie.” The relevant line in that song, “He’s so simple-minded he can’t drive his capsule,” is meaningless out of context and is uninspiring even if you know what Bowie was talking about, which I don’t. Simple Minds was part of the 1970s-’80s movement loosely known as New Wave, which tried to mesh art and post-punk. In fact Simple Minds started out in life as a punk outfit called Johnny & The Self-Abusers, which immediately leads me to inquire why they thought they needed a new name.

Like many New Wave bands, most of Simple Minds’ songs are hopelessly airy and artsy. This is probably why I like them. I even like the singer, Jim Kerr (Ms. Hynde’s former husband), who is Scottish but who always sounds vaguely German.

Life in a Day
Objectively, I would have to rank Simple Minds far below expert practitioners of the New Wave form, such as Echo & The Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs, but way above Spandau Ballet, Human League, and Haircut 100, three bands that together couldn’t make a snake out of Play-Doh. This leaves Simple Minds with the same artistic command of their material as A Flock of Haircuts, who were best known for their haircuts.

But that’s my objectivity speaking. Every time I play one of my favorite Simple Minds cuts, I melt into a puddle. Like The Tubes, I can’t clean up/but I know I should.

Promised You a Miracle
In 1985, when Simple Minds were making a good living in the UK but were still unknown in the US, the band was hired to perform a song for an upcoming film: The Breakfast Club. The boys were handed the words and music to something called “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” did some rearranging, and recorded a 4-minute and a 6-minute version, both on the same afternoon.

I’ll bet Simple Minds didn’t think about this song again until the movie came out and “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” went to #1 on the US charts and became an anthem. Suddenly, Simple Minds were famous in the world’s biggest music market for a song they didn’t write. They didn’t even include it on an album until 1992.

I understand why it took them seven years to finally claim this song. Have you ever read the lyrics?

Tell me your troubles and doubts
Giving me everything inside and out and
Love’s strange so real in the dark
Think of the tender things that we were working on

That’s quite enough. And if you own the original 45, I suggest you not play the B side, “A Brass Band in Africa.” Simple Minds wrote this one, but listening to it is like eating a Pop-Tart before it’s toasted or even unwrapped.

Up on the Catwalk
Though the words to “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” are, well, awful (and the 6-minute version has even more of them), and though the thing is too slow to dance to, the music wields a crowd-pleasing power. Like all immortal songs, it begins with a musical flourish you instantly recognize and lyrics anyone can handle:

Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

The song’s helium-filled synthesizer musings are ballasted by a steady beat and a chorus that would break the heart of any teenager or immature adult:

Don’t you, forget about me
Don’t don’t don’t don’t
Don’t you, forget about me

And then comes the moment of genius, when Simple Minds rose above themselves and created matter out of energy with their bare hands. At 3:13 most of the music falls away, leaving only the synth, which is playing somewhere in low Earth orbit, the muted drums, and Jim Kerr muttering on behalf of the lovelorn:

Will you walk away?
Will you walk on by?
Come on – call my name
Will you call my name?

For 30 seconds we’re suspended in time and space, anticipating that delicious moment when the triumphant drum roll crashes in. After that it’s a walk in the park. Anyone can sing along, because from here to the finish line it’s just La. La la la la. La la la la. La la la LA la la la la la etc. Audience participation; that’s the ticket!

I’ve run out of Simple Minds song titles
But I’ll never run out of opinions. I’m declaring “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” as the iconic song of the 1980s, the one song that can represent the entire decade. I think the only serious competition comes from Special D’s pick, Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and I have to admit this would’ve been an even closer race if Ms. Lauper had been backed by a genre-defining movie.

Will we ever see the likes of Simple Minds again? Unfortunately, yes. They’re still recording. They’ve even inspired a band to carry on their work, and that band is called Coldplay. We’ll talk about them the next time we tackle guilty pleasures.

Wouldn’t you love to hear “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on a Wurlizter?

Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time

Carlos Santana has been a cultural icon for 40 years. But how much do we really know about him? Let’s check the record.

Yay! Carlos Santana Fun Facts!

  • Has released more albums than The Rolling Stones, and they had a head start.
  • Wears a stupid hat.
  • Recorded the most popular versions of three Classic Rock mainstays: “Oye Como Va,” “Evil Ways,” and “Black Magic Marker.”
  • Made a comeback in 1999 with Supernatural, which was kinda cuddly coming from a Classic Rock guy.
  • Rolling Stone ranks him 15th on their list of 100 greatest guitarists, behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays.
  • I may be looking at the wrong list.

Guitar Heaven is a reinterpretation of 14 “greatest guitar classics of all time,” with guest vocalists (and Yo-Yo Ma?) adding their superpowers to Carlos Santana’s. Now we can learn more about Santana, and the first thing we learn is that he has brain damage. When did T-Rex’s “Bang A Gong” become a guitar classic? It has more sax than guitar. It has more lame than cool. It’s Golden Oldies, not Classic Rock. I couldn’t understand why this number was included until I remembered that T-Rex’s Marc Bolan, like Santana, wore a stupid hat. Oh, OK then.

Then there’s “Photograph.” Don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t “Photograph” by A Flock of Haircuts. I would’ve loved to hear what a Category 6 hurricane like Santana could have done with that New Wave dirge. Nor is it “Photograph” by The Verve Pipe. The guitar on that one is as lazy as an afternoon at Starbucks. Santana would’ve turned it into Alien vs. Predator. Alas, this is “Photograph” by No Depth Leppard. If you have to pick something by Leppard, why not “Rock of Ages”? It’s a much tougher song, probably because the lads were imitating someone a lot tougher than them, Joan Jett. Santana sounds bored on this track. Santana smash puny Leppards!

And couldn’t he fight the urge to include “Smoke on the Water”Rolling Stone ranks this immortal doorstop 426th on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” By my math that means there are 425 other songs that are better. “Smoke on the Water” has already been covered by Pat Boone. I believe we can call his version definitive. Stop it!

Shut up and play the music already
Right. OMG! Leading off is the most hilarious song ever recorded: “Whole Lotta Love”! Led Zeppelin’s version enthusiastically rattled along like a Model T on a log road. Santana easily duplicates that effect, brightening Jimmy Page’s sound without blunting the song’s inherent stupidity. (You’re going to give me every inch of your love? You nut!) Santana jettisons the psychedelic on-ramp that Led Zep installed in the middle, but the replacement, a sort of highway rest area, is not an improvement. You’re still waiting for the pistons to start jerking again. Chris Cornell adds his strong yet curiously inexpressive voice, making the whole thing sound like Audioslave if anyone in that band could play guitar.

Next up: The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Santana sizzles in the blues half of this song but loses his way in the jazz half. This from the man who played one of the two guitars on the jazz landmark Love Devotion Surrender…I blame Supernatural. Extra credit to Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots for standing in for Mick Jagger without sounding ridiculous.

Of all the vocalists, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty turns in the best performance. He’s completely convincing on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” and the music gives him the space he needs – Santana doesn’t fill every microsecond with fireworks. These well-chosen moments of quiet demonstrate what an awesome guitarist Santana is – one of the best in the history of pop. Only his stupid hat keeps him out of the front rank.

My favorite track is Santana and Nas’ collaboration on AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” (Sure, they’ve removed the air of danger, but admit it, after 30 years AC/DC are about as dangerous as The B-52s.) Santana rips the bones from its back. Nas alternates between rapping the lyrics and rapping about Santana.

Anything else any good? No.
Santana purees Creedence Clearwater Revival’s anti-war “Fortunate Son” into a fruit smoothie that suggests The Spencer Davis Group’s pro-sex “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Scott Stapp of Creed handles the vocal on this track, but for once something isn’t Creed’s fault.

Which brings us to Yo-Yo Ma, who adds something to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” though I can’t tell you what. He would’ve made more of a difference on the drums. The song is so sluggish you gradually lose the will to live.

And what’s the deal with “Little Wing”? Joe Cocker’s voice is mixed so far into the background, he sounds like Bruce Springsteen. Or was he singing his part from out in the parking lot? This version of “Little Wing” can’t touch Jimi Hendrix’s or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, though it easily outpaces Sting’s La-Z-Boy go at it.

Scoreboard totals
25% of the 14 songs on Guitar Classics rawked (I gave “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” half a point). That’s a solid score in the elite world of Run-DMSteve. A tip of the hat to Santana! Don’t change your evil ways. Baby.