Posts Tagged ‘David Bowie’

For Christmas, my dear and honored friend Joy was given a $300 gift certificate to the best record store in Portland, Oregon: Music Millennium, home of new and used CDs, vinyl, and tapes. They also host concerts by bands that are so cool, they won’t tell me when they’re coming to the store.

If someone had given me a $300 gift certificate to the best record store in Portland, Oregon, I would’ve shoved the 10 essentials into my backpack and disappeared for the day. Not Joy. She had the store divide this bounty into six equal parts, one of which she gave to me. She may have been trying to teach me a lesson.

People say the compact disc is dead. Fuck you.

Or at best on life support, according to Fivethirtyeight. OK, statheads, tell that to the barbarian armies, with an average age of 30, who every day reenact the sacking of Rome at Music Millennium. I had to compete with them as I flew through the store with my want list in one hand and my wife in the other. We had to stay longer than I’d planned because the refs gave me 2 minutes for tripping, 2 minutes for elbowing, 2 minutes for slashing, 2 minutes for high-sticking, 2 minutes for charging, 2 minutes for holding, 2 minutes for cross-checking, 5 minutes for board-checking, and a 10-minute misconduct.

(This happened in December, so it doesn’t count toward my improved behavior in 2018.)

With Deborah’s help, I found six CDs and went over my limit by only $4. An average of 67¢ per CD beats yard-sale prices, plus I can finally use the ¢ symbol. Here’s what I hauled home!

The Bad Plus, Prog (2007)

I dug this one out of the jazz section. I never made it as far as the classical bunker. Prog was the only record I bought that day that I hadn’t heard something from, and the only one that the hip Portlandia cashier was thrilled by. After one spin, I was thrilled, too. I love Prog, even the parts I don’t understand.

Their cover of Rush’s 1981 epic, “Tom Sawyer,” smacked me like a sneaker wave. And I’ve been smacked by a sneaker wave. Forgive me, Bob and Doug McKenzie, because I know Rush is your favorite band, but The Bad Plus’ decision to strip “Tom Sawyer” of its substandard lyrics and Geddy Lee’s puny human vocal improved this thing 1,000% before they even started playing.

There are only three musicians in The Bad Plus – Reid Anderson on bass, Ethan Iverson on piano, David King on drums – and yet they produce a ferocious attack. David King must’ve been spitting sticks in the studio. If Gene Krupa and Keith Moon came back to life and listened to this tsunami of beats, they’d drop dead. To paraphrase my Grandma Bella, “They’d drop dead twice.”

I haven’t heard drumming like this since Buddy Rich battled Animal on The Muppets.

Consumer warning: If you hate jazz, nothing on Prog will change your mind, particularly the piano break at the 2-minute mark of “Tom Sawyer,” which almost sent me to the ER.

This disc is screamingly good…minus a few misfires. Like their cover of Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.” The music never detonates or even fizzes. Frankly, any song traveling this slow should have a damn stripper in front of it.

Diana Ross, Icon (2012)

A greatest-hits album masquerading as a studio album. I fell for it. What strikes me about this set is how it showcases Ross at her very best (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Remember Me”) and her very worst (“Touch Me in the Morning”) in the years 1970-1981. The difference between the highs and lows is about as far as from my desk to Star Base 12, but Ross’ voice and delivery are magnificent throughout. (Maybe not on “Love Hangover.” Disco was the record company’s idea, not Diana’s.)

Some of the best writers of the era wrote for Ross – Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Gerry Goffin, Carole Bayer Sager, Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers…and Lionel Richie (“Endless Love”). Too bad they couldn’t swap that joker for Springsteen, Bowie, Gil Scott-Heron, Joan Armatrading, or Patti Smith.

Happy Mondays, Double Easy: The U.S. Singles (1993)

If you haven’t already, watch the definitive account of the Manchester (“Madchester”) music scene of the late 1980s/early 1990s, 24 Hour Party People. The title comes from a Happy Mondays song. If you’re too proud to admit you like electronic dance music and that you’d like to go to a rave and not come back, Happy Mondays are the band for you. They take that rave aesthetic of dance beats, Ecstasy, and waving your hands in the air like you just don’t care and camouflage it with rock ’n’ roll. Top-notch driving music, too.

(Editor’s note: Run-DMSteve hasn’t been to a rave since the week after Thomas Edison invented music.)

Beck, Mellow Gold (1993)

I stand by my statement that Beck is a god, but when I listen to Mellow Gold I wonder if he’s also a moron. On this disc, words mean whatever Beck thinks they mean, and the music is not so much composed as dumped in a blender. Still, you can’t argue with “Beercan,” and then there’s that thing about a loser, and anyway, Beck was right when he said, “You can’t write if you can’t relate,” so there we are.

Gary Numan, Savages (2017)

I haven’t listened to a Gary Numan album since Replicas and The Pleasure Principle, both from 1979. I don’t know why. I guess I got busy. I play both of those a lot, though.

Then I read a review of Savages on Verian’s blog, Thirty Three And A Third, where he reviewed every album released in 2017 from every continent and at least three planets. Verian. Don’t you have a job? Is this your job? How do I get your job?

Gary Numan 40 years on is a revelation. Gone is the interstellar frostiness I fell in love with in the ’70s. Now he sounds as if he has lived among humans. He also sounds as if he’s accepted Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails as his personal savior. Savages is repetitive, but the repetition builds into something so dark and dramatic, a killer burger topped with mushrooms and doom, that when I arrive at the office after listening to this on my commute I want to make a music video in the conference room in which civilizations collapse and are reborn, not trade anecdotes in the kitchen about what we did this weekend.

You could get drunk on this record – drunk as in too much bloodwine at a Klingon funeral – and yet in the midst of songs such as “My Name Is Ruin” and “When the World Comes Apart” there’s an honest love song, “And It All Began with You.” Oh My God of Love.

On the album cover, Numan is dressed like a resident of a desert planet who’s about to steal the Millennium Falcon. What else do you need to know?

David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

Bowie took the glam-rock rage of his era (Mott the Hoople, Queen, Marc Bolan, New York Dolls, Elton John), added it to his hard-rock bag of tricks, and then performed everything as if he had just fallen to Earth. Ziggy Stardust is one of the more difficult classic albums to listen to. The highlights are “Moonage Daydream,” “Starman,” and “Suffragette City,” but there’s plenty to enjoy or puzzle over. The Ramones got their one guitar riff from this record, and if you wasted your teen years playing Space Invaders, you can sacrifice a lamb to Bowie, because this is where he invented the name.

Thank you for so much fun, my dear and honored friend Joy. Inspired by your good example, I’m going to start right now being a better person in 2018. (I gave myself January to gear up for this.) Let me begin by saying to whatever low-life borrowed my Ziggy Stardust CD years ago and never gave it back: I love you, man!


Black Tie White Noise
Black Tie White Noise Extras
David Bowie

If I’m dreaming and I’m not satisfied with the dream I’m in, I rewrite it. I rearrange the plot and reinforce the dialog. When I’m awake, I do this with movies and TV shows. You’ll know it if I do this with you in conversation because I’ll give you new pages to read. I’ll advise you on where to stand and maybe suggest a wardrobe change.

A few nights ago I dreamed that someone had hired me to play drums for David Bowie. This was for an album Bowie had already recorded. (It was a dream, OK?) I was so concerned that I stopped the dream (I was still dreaming while I stopped the dream) and demanded to know which album. There are some that don’t interest me. There are some that could stampede Donald Trump’s hair. At least one should be stored in an ice volcano on Pluto.

I was also concerned about my ability to play. Though I’m competent (or at least annoying) with two pencils on a conference table while I’m waiting for a meeting to start, I haven’t played the drums since I was a teenager. My parents’ plan to keep me out of the Vietnam War was to have me learn to play an instrument. Then if I were drafted into the army, the Pentagon would assign me to a band. Simple. Why didn’t everybody do that?

I thought the drums would be easy to learn, but a year of instruction made it clear that I was never going to be a drummer, not even on a bad Bowie album. I turned 18 just in time for the last draft, but none of us from that year were called up. Today I serve my country as a blogger. It even says “Blogger” on my uniform.

Bowie’s version of The White Album
One thing we bloggers fight about when we fight about music is an artist’s best album, worst album, and last great album. Bowie almost managed all three in the same decade. His best albums live in the 1970s. His last great album was Scary Monsters in 1980. His worst album lurched into the daylight in 1987 – the unfortunately named Never Let Me Down.

After that one, Bowie barricaded himself in his Fortress of Silentude for six years. He opened the 1990s by marrying a model and stabilizing his life. David and I must be like chocolate and peanut butter because this was almost exactly my experience around that time, not counting all that stuff about music.

Bowie’s next album was Black Tie White Noise (1993). BTWN is not a great album, a return to form, or an innovation. It’s something I don’t associate with Bowie: It’s fun. It’s his most fun album.

BTWN has its quota of menace and paranoia, but even when it’s dark, happiness lurks behind every shadow. Happiness springs from his extraterrestrial sax playing (producer Nile Rodgers said that Bowie “painted” with the sax rather than played it) and from the chaos of musical styles on this disc: rock, pop, dance, terrific covers of Cream’s “I Feel Free” and Scott Walker’s “Nite Flights,” two symphonies for his new wife, Imam, and one avant-gardey track for of all you self-conscious hipsters.

Bowie issued several new versions of this record over the next 10 years, removing songs and adding others (including “Real Cool World,” which he wrote for the movie Cool World). You could theorize that with all this fiddling, Bowie was trying to improve the original pressing. I say that’s just a theory. I say it was too much fun not to.

Black Tie White Noise Extras, a collection of dance remixes, was released on the 10th anniversary of the original. BTWNx dropped five of the original 12 songs, added “new” tracks, and remixed all of them, some more than once. I loved most of the first record and I love most of the remixes.

(I don’t know why, but nobody changed a note in the only blank in this bandolier: the avant-gardey “Pallas Athena.” Here are all the words:

Is on top of it all
And that’s all it is.
We are praying.
Athena, Athena
Athena, Athena
Athena, Athena
Athena, Athena
etc., etc.

This stinker, which I admit has a kick-ass drum track, somehow survived every lineup change since 1992.)

This is a fun record in any version. It doesn’t matter which you choose, just choose already. As Kirk said to Balok in “The Corbormite Maneuver”: “We grow annoyed at your foolishness.” Or was he talking to Trump? Maybe I’m dreaming.

Random Pick of the Day
EMF, Schubert Dip (1991)
Hard rock with a scoop of hip-hop and a bedrock of danceability. “Unbelievable,” an unbelievably happy rock song, hit #1 in the U.S. and the U.K.

Schubert Dip is notable for “Unbelievable” and for the unstoppable expression of just being alive as only five guys in their 20s can express it. The first two tracks, “Children” and “Long Summer Days,” jump at you like puppies that haven’t had their walk today. The rest of the album sags – a 25-year-old can only go so far on all that natural energy – but come on, you can’t say no to an album that includes audio clips of T.S. Eliot and Bert & Ernie.

Random Pan of the Day
The Pretenders, Packed (1990)
Most of the album sounds like Don Henley. That’s OK for Henley, but Chrissie Hynde can do better. Her cover of Hendrix makes me dislike Hendrix. Pack this one away.


David Bowie is dead. Why didn’t the world stand still?

In 1976, I bought a Bowie album called Station to Station. It doesn’t matter what kind of music Bowie made on Station to Station or how it fits into his life’s work or that it marked the end of this phase and the beginning of that phase. It doesn’t matter if you, Dear Reader, played it once and ran away. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve never heard of it.

What does matter is that I found this record and that as soon as the needle hit the wax it jumped into my soul. It tilted my brain. It stares unblinking from my eyes. As Bowie sang on another record, “Never no turning back.” I like to think that we all have a song or a book or a movie or a painting or a sculpture or a play that did that to us…if we were lucky.

In all the years I’ve been playing Station to Station, never have I thought, “Not this again.”

I never met the man, saw him in concert, or had any contact with him outside of his music. I have no cool stories to share. But today at work I played 35 of his songs and from time to time I looked out the window as the clouds closed in and broke up and closed in and wondered what kind of person am I in the alternative universe where there was no Bowie.

I’m glad I live over here.

Goodbye, David Bowie. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues!

In June I set out to review every album Prince ever made. I embarked on this project because I realized that, for me, Prince was embalmed in the ’80s – the guy I heard at clubs and parties. He was that sexy M.F. who could rock, croon, talk to God, talk for God, write weird erotic scenarios, and take goofy chances. I wanted a better idea of who he really was. There had to be more to the man than “Purple Rain” playing to a gang of us nerds in a hotel ballroom at a science fiction convention.

It’s easy to follow, album by album, a band that existed for fewer than 20 years – I’ve done that with The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Pixies, The Clash, Creedence, and several others. It’s much harder to do with an artist who’s been playing and recording for 30 years or more. They change too much. They travel down side roads while you stick to the interstate. Or you change too much. It’s been a long time since I was punchin’ a clock and listening wide-eyed to Born to Run.

It’s also hard to follow an artist with a lengthy career because every artist, no matter how talented, eventually skids into the Bad Spot. That’s the rough patch where your Muse runs off with someone younger and prettier and you’re left to grit it out on craftsmanship alone.

In the 1970s, Neil Young dissected his soul on several awe-inspiring albums. Two that’ll slay you: On the Beach (1974) and Tonight’s the Night (1975). When the ’80s dawned, Neil took a long time getting out of bed. For example, Trans (1982), which might as well have been called Tron, and Everybody’s Rockin’ (1983), his fake Fabulous Fifties record. Neil didn’t make a good record until Freedom (1989), which you’ll recall for the stunning “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Bruce Springsteen did pretty well in the 1980s, at least until Tunnel of Love (1987). Then things went downhill. Or, in Springsteen terms, the mill closed, the state cops shut down all that street racing, and the D.A. couldn’t get no relief. After two subpar efforts, Human Touch and Lucky Town (both 1992), he recorded nothing of consequence until his reaction to 9/11, The Rising (2002), after which he reinvented himself as the Dark Knight of the 21st century.

I need a weatherman to explain to me what Bob Dylan was trying to do on Self Portrait (1970) and Dylan (1973).

David Bowie’s career after Scary Monsters (1980) is not the least bit scary.

Sadly, Michael Jackson’s career after Bad (1987) is not worth talking about.

Back to Prince. I made it through the first 14 albums. I rediscovered his ’70s disco discs. I relived my youth with Dirty Mind, 1999, and Purple Rain. I was struck as if by lightning by Sign O’ the Times.

By the time we got to the 1990s, the road Prince and I were driving developed some serious twists, the safety rails disappeared, and the paving got thinner. Loyal Reader Slave to the Garden warned me that in the ’90s, Prince, in his apocalyptic struggle with Warner Bros., dumped albums on the market that should’ve been dumped in the dump. We were approaching the Bad Spot.

The next one on my list, Come (1994), is what we critics like to call awful. I’d rather listen to a flock of trumpeter swans barking like dogs as they circle for a landing.

Prince’s 1987 bootleg, The Black Album, officially appeared in 1994. It’s not as good as black albums by Spinal Tap (1984), Metallica (1991), and Jay-Z (2003), though it’s probably better than the Marilyn Manson Black Album bootleg, if I could bring myself to listen to that one.

Looking at the rest of the ’90s, I see that Prince was either attacking the Warner Bros. Death Star or playing stuff that belongs in a galaxy far, far away. Well, what did I expect? How long can Prince go on being that sexy M.F.? (I can still pull it off, but only from a distance.) Artists have to change or they might as well be locked in a trophy cabinet. I’m convinced that Prince will emerge from this depressing era into some new and wonderful form, but I’m not going to follow every bread crumb until I catch up with him.

(There are two albums I definitely want to hear: The Girl 6 soundtrack, which is supposed to be a throwback to the ’80s, and the three-record Emancipation, both from 1996.)

What I’ve learned
Here’s what I can tell you about me: It’s hard to grow past the music that filled me with joy when I was young. Some of those artists are still recording, but they no longer speak to me. Or perhaps I can no longer hear them.

Here’s what I can tell you about Prince: Overall, no performer in the history of popular music is as talented as Prince. Some people sing better or write better or dance better, some people see deeper into the human or the national psyche. Some people are more economical (Prince does not know when to end a song).

But no one can do everything that this gentleman does at such a consistently high level. No male performer is as insistently sexy without also being sickeningly misogynistic. Carlos Santana, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Bowie, Young, and Dylan are as prolific, but even those guys never released three discs of original material on the same day.

There’s much more to Prince than “Purple Rain.” I just don’t need it.

[Editor’s note: It’s at least twice as difficult for a female singer/songwriter to survive in a decades-long career as it is for a male. It’s much easier to find male counterparts to Prince, so I stuck with the men.]

I started out liking Prince, but after listening to the first 14 albums I really like Prince. I want to keep liking Prince. So I’ll stop here. Thanks as always for reading along.

A couple of days ago I spent an afternoon listening to Pink Floyd and Justin Timberlake. I got nothing out of that. This afternoon I’m listening to Chuck Berry. Until next time, enjoy this insane video from the Neil Young of the Everybody’s Rockin’ era.


Today I heard “Ghosbusters” (three times on two stations), “Thriller” (twice), and once each for “Spirits in the Material World,” “The Purple People Eater,” “Monster Mash,” “Season of the Witch,” and “Every Day Is Halloween.” From this sample I deduced that Christmas music is always about Christmas but Halloween music is never about Halloween.

Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” is about ghosts, sure, but it’s also about as scary as “Y.M.C.A.”

Michael Jackson sets a scary scene in “Thriller,” but it turns out to be a movie on TV. “I can thrill you more than any ghost,” he claims. Uh-huh. As for Vincent Price’s monologue, remember that the root of it is “And whosoever shall be found/Without the soul for getting down/Must stand and face the hounds of hell/And rot inside a corpse’s shell.”

It’s always a mistake to put Vincent Price on your record.

Sting is scary, music by The Police is not.

Sheb Wooley’s Purple People Eater has one eye, one horn, flies, and devours people, but it came to Earth to form a rock ’n’ roll band. The last word in the song is “Tequila.”

In Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” all they wanna do is dance, dance.

Songs with “witch” in the title are usually about a woman who won’t have sex with the singer. God knows what Donovan was getting at in “Season of the Witch.” He threw me with the line “Beatniks are out to make it rich.”

For the boys in Ministry, every day is Halloween because they dress like goths, not because they come to the door asking for candy.

David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters” are actually “super creeps,” Oingo Boingo’s dead men are going to a “Dead Man’s Party” which makes it a descendant of “Monster Mash,” and The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” is a love song, and not to a ghost.

We humans like being scared…in our books and movies. We love haunted houses and Halloween. We love opening the door on another batch of kids dressed as monsters, ninja assassins, witches, Jedis, superheroes, and roller-skating ninja assassin prom queens. But we don’t like being scared in our music. Wagner can be frightening, but that’s because I don’t want to be trapped for weeks in one of his operas.

Unidentified noises in the night, when we’re in bed, scare us. Songs don’t. I don’t know why.

Tonight, my parents opened the same door for trick-or-treaters that they’ve been opening since 1957. There must be adults who got candy from my Mom and Dad back when they were kids and who are now bringing their grandchildren around. And I’m their son. OK, now I’m scared.



Is there a better way to open a prom, a wedding, a bar mitzvah, an election, a Supreme Court hearing, the Ring cycle, or yet another Christmas production of the Messiah than with “1999”? You’re smiling just thinking about it, just like you do when you hear The Rolling Stones start up “Start Me Up.” We humans have been wired to be happy when we hear “1999.” How can we not? The first words on the record are spoken by God! That’s a God I can get behind.

“1999” is going to be huge forever, but I predict a surge in 2099. In case I don’t make it that far, I want one of you to grab your personal anti-grav fanny pack and hit the dance floor in my memory.

Prince names his third album in a row after the opening track and each time the opener gets better. How do you follow an overture like “1999”? Before we answer that question, let’s take up another: What makes Prince’s records sexy? I have a theory, which I will illustrate by comparing him with two of his peers, Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson.

My theory, which is mine: Why Prince is so Lovesexy
1. Funny guy who makes fun of himself: Prince yes, Mick says who, Michael no.
2. Really wants to have sex with you: Prince yes, Mick yes, Michael not applicable.
3. Really wants you to enjoy it: Prince yes, Mick says what, Michael not applicable.
4. Willing to be vulnerable: Prince yes, Mick just left with a groupie, Michael yes*.

* When he was younger. Way younger.

The first half of 1999 is the house party
“Little Red Corvette” gives us a breather after “1999.” The macho narrator at the song’s conclusion who wants to tame your “little red love machine” started far short of that:

I guess I should’ve closed my eyes
When you drove me to the place where your horses run free
’Cause I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures
Of the jockeys that were there before me

The sweet-sounding “Delirious” comes next, with plenty more car imagery. “1999” is my favorite Prince song, but so is “Delirious,” and also the next one, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” It takes almost a minute for that one to get going because the man knows he’s got us.

The second half of 1999 is the private-club rave
Five and six tracks in and we’re still smoking. “D.M.S.R.” (dance, music, sex, romance) and “Automatic” are some of the best funk ever recorded, but these songs are long – 17 minutes together. (“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” runs seven minutes but feels shorter.) After the headrush of the first four songs, they bog things down.

“D.M.S.R.” is an amalgam of Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Till You Get Enough” (without the string section), everything by Ohio Players, and of course Prince. The synthesizers are the stars, but everyone’s playing them in the ’80s, including The Rolling Stones – listen to what they do the following year on “Undercover of the Night.”

“Automatic” takes on the computer-chipped Gary Numan at his own frigid game. David Bowie of the Station to Station/Low/Heroes period would’ve killed to write a dance groove like this one – but Bowie would never have let it run loose for 9 minutes.

A pause while we consider a sex act
Could it be that Prince was writing 8- to 9-minute rhythmic dance songs because he wanted to create a soundtrack for the average length of intercourse? Or what men think is the average length of intercourse?

Now stop considering a sex act
The air leaks out of this album with “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” which is like a serious version of The B-52s, which is like a terrible idea, and “Free,” which offers no surprises, which for Prince is a surprise. Teddy Pendergrass, Rod Stewart, and even Supertramp could’ve recorded “Free” while they were walking from their car to the front door of the studio.

Prince tries to seal the leak but gets mixed results with the final three tracks. “Lady Cab Driver” (this being a Prince album, you know how the ride went) rocks, but not over the entire 8 minutes. “All the Critics Love You in New York” is a dues song; at least he held off for five albums before birthing one. But “International Lover” is a strong finish. The spoken word ending, which includes the title of this post, is funnier and sexier than Mick Jagger’s knight-in-shining-armor shtick at the end of “Emotional Rescue” (1980).

Wanna be startin’ something
1999 was released just one month before Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the biggest-selling record since the invention of the sackbut. I said a while back that I’d take Prince over Michael for career performance and Michael over Prince for peak performance. Thriller is Michael’s peak, and it’s Mount Everest. Prince has to settle for Mount Rainier. No shame in that; Rainer has many neighbors and dwarfs all of them.

1999 is my favorite of the two, but Thriller is the better album.

Rolling Stone’s best albums of 1982:

Winner (tie):
Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen
Shoot Out the Lights – Richard and Linda Thompson

Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello
1999 – Prince
The Blue Mask – Lou Reed
Marshall Crenshaw – Marshall Crenshaw

Random Pick of the Day
The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers (1971)
The Beatles are #1. The Rolling Stones are #2. Why is this? Because The Beatles were original. The Rolling Stones are not. The Stones excel at other people’s genres (including disco but excluding punk). They didn’t invent hard rock, but Sticky Fingers is the best hard-rock album this side of Paradise. It’s easily worth the entire Pearl Jam catalog. Take away “You Got to Move,” a blues cover (oddly, for them, it’s not a good one), and this record is almost perfect.

Random Pan of the Day
The Rolling Stones, Undercover (1983)
By this point the Stones were well on their way to becoming the Christmas fruitcake of popular music. The only salvageable song on Undercover is “Undercover of the Night.” It would’ve fit well on their last good album, Some Girls (1978). The rest is crap.

A few years ago, I set out to listen to every Rolling Stones record in chronological order. After I listened to Undercover I was so annoyed that I dropped the project.

Compensation: If you type in “Undercover” on Rhapsody, you also get an electronic dance trio by that name. They play dancified covers of big ’70s pop hits, including Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” and Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” They’re not bad. They’re better than Foreigner!


“I am what I am. Thank God.” – Jimi Hendrix, “Message to Love”

A co-worker entered my humble cubicle one day late in 2012 and said, “Flashback!” He was looking at the two shelves above my desk, which held a row of CDs, a display of old postcards, and the Sock Puppet Spokesthing. While he gushed about these ancient cultural artifacts, I saw my possessions through his eyes. I realized that I could’ve decorated my space the same way at the job I had in 2000. In fact, I know I did.

I’m stuck in time!

In an email later that morning to this co-worker, after stating that I didn’t care what he thought of me, I wrote without even thinking “I’m through being cool!” and hit Send. Then I thought, Oh no, it’s Devo! I’m really stuck in time.

Rather than consider what all this says about me, let’s use it as an excuse to go back to the future. Welcome to 1986 Week, commemorating that stellar year when, as Paul Simon sang on Graceland, “I was single/and life was great!”*

Most of the artists I loved in the ’80s released nothing new in 1986. Echo & The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, U2, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen held off until 1987 (when Prince gave us Sign ’O’ the Times, his equivalent of The White Album, and U2 gave us their masterpiece, The Unforgettable Fire**).

The B-52s didn’t record again until 1989, but in 1986 The Rolling Stones dressed up just like them.

Dirty Work

By 1986 Romeo Void had broken up. David Bowie and Michael Jackson had left the bulk of their best work behind. Gary Numan had left all of his best work behind. Robert Cray debuted with Strong Persuader, though I prefer what he did later. Duran Duran released Notorious, which was notorious for being awful. I refuse to listen to Madonna’s True Blue or Boston’s Third Stage. I can’t decide which is funnier, The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill or Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I’ll get to Depeche Mode, The Pretenders, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, and Siouxsie & The Banshees as 1986 Week progresses.

What was the best song of 1986? Yo, pretty ladies around the world: Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care for Cameo’s “Word Up!”

Don’t expect 1986 Week to last all week. Don’t expect a comprehensive survey. Don’t get all army-foldy on me, either.

As we used to say in the peculiar slang we employed back in 1986: See you tomorrow!

* Special D is fond of quoting that line to me. Hey doll: “I sure do love you/let’s get that straight.”
** A tip of the critic’s pointy hat to my friend and fellow softball player Donald Keller, who put “mantlepiece” in my head whenever I want to say “masterpiece.” 

Random 1986 Pick of the Day
The Chills, Kaleidoscope World
1986 gave us albums from The Chills, The Cramps, and The Creeps. This reminds me of an evening I spent at Fenway Park in 1979 when we had three pitchers on hand named Clear, Frost, and Rainey.

I don’t know a thing about Kaleidoscope World; I just needed a Chills album from 1986 to fit my theme. The album I have heard is Submarine Bells (1990), which has two lovely pop songs, “Singing in My Sleep” and “Heavenly Pop Hit” (nice try, boys).

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
Stan Ridgway, The Big Heat
I must honor this man for rhyming “Tijuana” with “barbecued iguana” in Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio.” Sadly, on his solo debut he sounds like The B-52s’ Fred Schneider with really bad hair.