Posts Tagged ‘Lady Gaga’

Purple Rain
Prince & The Revolution
1984

Purple Rain is the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. This soundtrack rocketed Prince to the level just below worldwide godhood – an orbit occupied at that time by only two North Americans, Michael Jackson and the ghost of Elvis. (Madonna joined Michael and Elvis later that year when she unleashed Like a Virgin.) Purple Rain has some slow spots. But when it’s good, it’s hammer-you-like-Mjölnir good.

As a critic, I should do my homework, but I was never good with after-school assignments. I haven’t seen the film. As much as I love this guy’s music, I know that Prince’s real topic is Prince. I can handle that on an album but probably not with visuals.

But it occurred to me last week when I saw Boyhood that I should do a soundtracks week, and if I do I might revisit this issue. I already have the following films lined up: Purple Rain, Stormy Weather, Almost Famous, Footloose, Backbeat, The Wiz, The Crow, The King and I, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Dazed and Confused, Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, Krush Groove, ’Round Midnight, Rocky Horror Picture Show, High Fidelity, Chicago, Kansas City, Escape From New York, Meet Me in St. Louis, Viva Las Vegas, Head, Shaft, Great Balls of Fire, Where the Boys Are, Never on Sunday, all of the Batmans (or at least the one scored by Prince), anything where they play AC/DC’s “Back in Black” or “Highway to Hell” before the big battle, and Amadeus.

[Editor’s note: My wife has asked me to mark on the calendar the weeks I’ll require for this project so she’ll know when to fly to Kauai.]

On Purple Rain, “Let’s Go Crazy” kicks things off in typical kick-you-in-the-posterior, kick-things-off Prince fashion. I can only borrow a phrase my late father-in-law learned back in the 1940s when he wanted to express his appreciation for an attractive woman: “What a tomato!”

I often skip “Take Me With U” and “The Beautiful Ones.” They’re too earnest. But I don’t skip “Computer Blue,” which is funky, danceable, and (I think) told from the point of view of a man who lives inside a computer. He’s kinda blue. This is another song that David Bowie would’ve killed for 30 years ago.

“Darling Nikki” is sex. That’s all. You don’t dance to it, you scare your parents with it. An aspirational number for every gender, particularly female-type persons who grew up under the sway of Madonna or (God help you) Britney. The final minute is dumb. It was dumb in 1984 and it’s still dumb in 2014. There. It had to be said.

“When Doves Cry” has no bass player and doesn’t need one. How many confessional, soul-flayed-open, bass-less songs that compare the singer to his father and his lover to her mother go straight to #1? I like Prince best when he’s more light-hearted, but I can’t help liking this song.

“I Would Die 4 U” is a good rocker, but it’s really the set-up for “Baby I’m a Star,” which goes nova within seconds. This is one of the songs I want played at my memorial service.

Hey! Look me over
Tell me do you like what you see?
Hey, I ain’t got no money
But honey, I’m rich on personality

OK, big finish
And finally, “Purple Rain.” For once, Prince ends rather than begins an album with the title track. I suppose this was the music for the triumphant, light-washed and love-filled final scene in the film, and I suppose if I’d been in the theater for it, it would’ve given me chills. All 9 minutes of it. Listening to it as I have all these years without the movie in front of me, I always wish it were shorter. Well, it definitely sets a mood, and there’s a guitar onslaught halfway through that would’ve caused Huey Lewis or Night Ranger to spontaneously combust. Send the violins off to somebody else’s house and I’d be a lot happier.

It was with this record that I finally recognized the twin messages of empowerment and reassurance in Prince’s lyrics. I heard this 20 years later in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” When I launched this blog after one of her concerts, I wrote that she was “Prince in a bikini.” I shouldn’t have been so flippant. Lady Gaga is not one of the many young women Prince has mentored, but she’s definitely his heir. Also, Prince has probably worn a bikini.

You knew this was going to happen
I should’ve figured that when I started out to review every Prince album ever made, he’d strike back by making more. Sure enough, he has a new album. If I had chosen Sir Paul instead of Prince, the same thing would’ve happened.

Scoreboard
Just as 1999 ran into the buzzsaw of Thriller, this year Purple Rain was overwhelmed by Born in the USA. Not many albums can stand against Born in the USA and not look silly. Purple Rain is one.

Rolling Stone’s best albums of 1984:

Winner:
Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen

Runners-up:
Purple Rain – Prince
Private Dancer – Tina Turner
How Will the Wolf Survive? – Los Lobos
Learning to Crawl – The Pretenders

In 1984, Rolling Stone gave their readers the vote. They too went for Born in the USA in the top spot. These were the runners-up:

Purple Rain – Prince
1984 – Van Halen
Sports – Huey Lewis & The News
Eliminator – ZZ Top

Nobody picked Amadeus. Dudes!

Random Pan of the Day
Prince, Around the World in a Day (1985)
A good album from anyone else but a disappointment from Prince. (Be fair: How do you follow the stupendiosity of Purple Rain?) For the first time in years, the opening track of a Prince album doesn’t rock the house. “Around the World in a Day” doesn’t even knock on the front door. “America” is too much like “Baby I’m a Star,” this time with a few remarks on poverty (he’s against it). The religious-themed songs (Prince became a Seventh Day Adventist around this time) don’t make me jump up and shout “You go, God!”

The one song that’s up to Prince’s standards is “Raspberry Beret,” which sounds vaguely like Michael Jackson territory. I like it, but The Jackson Five would’ve done it better. (The J5 could never have written lyrics anything like Prince’s, though.)

R.I.P.: Paul Revere, 1938-2014. Thanks for the kicks.

Greetings, Honorable Ones! It’s Christmas, so naturally I’m thinking about Pearl Jam. They have a new album, Lightning Bolt. Do I have to listen to more of their repetitious, snoozy arena rock? I haven’t liked a Pearl Jam album since their debut, Ten, and that was in 1991, before we had phones implanted in our heads. Why did they call their first album Ten? There are 11 songs on it. Why not 1 or First or We Wrote 11 Songs or Hey Hey We’re Pearl Jam? Ten has “Jeremy,” “Even Flow,” “Black,” and “Deep,” and that about does it for me. Aren’t they just AC/DC, except that they’ve read some books since leaving high school?

But it’s Christmas, and I don’t want to be visited by creepy ghosts, so let’s be positive here, OK? What is it with you people? Stand up right now, face in the direction of Seattle, and bow because Pearl Jam is the only band that ever went head-to-head with Ticketmaster over that company’s greedy service fees. The good guys lost, but they fought the law.

While I’m on the topic of Christmas, it’s equally natural that my thoughts would turn to Lady Gaga, who also has a new release, Artpop. Lady Gaga’s third album has been lauded for being “autobiographical” and “mature.” Stefani Germanotta is only 27 – how much autobiography does she have? As for the maturity of these songs, she started in a hole. She has a long way to go before she writes anything of interest to adults.

Artpop comes nowhere near the dance-floor success of The Fame Monster or Born This Way. The best songs on Artpop, “Applause” and “Gypsy,” are good, but they sound like refugees from Flashdance.

But it’s Christmas! Forget Artpop. I’ve been listening to “Born This Way” for two years now, and I have to say that this song is FN awesome. It’s the biggest pop anthem since “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” plus it’s easier to understand. (Both songs were wickedly parodied by Weird Al.) So wrap yourself in your feather boa to honor Lady Gaga’s achievement.

Did you know that it’s Christmas? It is, and that can only mean one thing: Boston! They have a new album, Life, Love & Hope. No no no no, I don’t care that it’s Christmas, I refuse to listen to anymore Boston. So how about instead: Paul McCartney!

McCartney has a new album. He calls it New. Come on, Macca, you could’ve done better there. On this release, Sir Paul imitates all the bands from the ’80s and ’90s who imitated him. Which is pretty much everyone. This exercise is pleasant, but on a handful of songs – “Queenie Eye,” “I Can Bet,” “Get Me Out of Here,” and especially “Hosanna” – he reminds me that this is Paul Fucking McCartney of the Major Fucking Leagues I’m listening to.

New was released in October, so it doesn’t qualify as holiday music, but this is the season for gratitude. Sir Paul is 71 and his voice is shot, but let’s give our Beatles bobbleheads a pat on their bobbly heads and be thankful that this man is still around to remind us that rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be fun, dammit.

I see by the calendar that it’s Christmas, and when it’s Christmas, who is never far behind? You’re right: Eminem! Et voilà: The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Poor little white rapper! Perpetually outraged that he’s gotten rich by making his life harder than it has to be. Yo, loyal readers around the world: If you can’t handle Eminem at Christmas, how about R. Kelly, who sets out his philosophy of life on the sensitively titled Black Panties. R. Kelly is a sex “Genius.” How do I know? Silly rabbit, he says so right in the song. Is “Genius” the kind of slow number where you hold your baby close and think of what you mean to each other? No.

Well, it turns out it’s the holidays, and because I don’t believe in making war on Christmas I give you: The Everly Brothers! Yes, though Don and Phil haven’t released any new material since 1989, they’re still just what the season calls for.

If you like The Everly Brothers, you’ll love the Everly Dad
I can’t claim I’m an Everlys fan. I like “I’m Not Angry,” “Burma Shave” (a rockabilly “Wipe Out”), and “Lord of the Manor,” their mid-’60s attempt at psychedelia. It was news to me that, in 1958, while riding the success of their 1957 debut (which featured “Wake Up Little Susie,” “I Wonder If I Care as Much,” and “Bye Bye Love”), the brothers returned to their roots and recorded Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.

The Everlys performed these songs with just their acoustic guitars and other-worldly voices. These are not songs I would play often; they’re Appalachian blues verging on gospel and country, in which the characters are bound for death or something close by. The one song I’m likely to replay is “Roving Gambler.” The first time I heard it, I felt I was listening to the birth of Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Meanwhile, here in 2013, we now have Foreverly, Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones’s loving tribute to Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. What attracted them to this set? The subject matter, surely; Armstrong is the son of Okies and Jones grew up in rural Texas. “These are songs about family,” Jones said in an interview. “Dead family.”

I haven’t much to say about Norah Jones, other than that she’s talented, sings beautifully, makes music too mild to interest me, and is pretty good in an interview.

Billie Joe Armstrong, I thought, was a typical singer in a punk band: a strong voice (a nasal voice), limited range, often resorts to shouting. I wasn’t into him or Green Day until they released their rock opera, American Idiot (2004), which is now a musical. (Those last five words are the most unreal words I’ve ever written.) I admit I’m a sucker for a rock opera. I still remember how excited I was after reading about Tommy in Rolling Stone. I remember bringing the LP home. I remember my Dad threatening to punch multiple big holes in it.

Tommy didn’t disappoint me and neither did American Idiot, though both suffer power failures in the middle. The highlight of American Idiot, for me, is “Jesus of Suburbia.” Green Day spends the first half of the song pretending to be a punk version of the ’50s, a punk version of Queen, and then they briefly do something horrible to Deep Purple. Starting at the 6:30 mark (this song is 9 minutes long) they swing into the tune from “Ring of Fire,” with their own words –

To live
and not to breathe
is to die
in tragedy
To run,
to run away,
to fight
what you believe

– and with a nod to “My Way” and a hint of Ravel’s Bolero, topped off with a guitar lick they stole from Yes. Jesus! Why don’t I ever hear this at Christmas instead of all the stupid Christmas songs written by Jews like me?

On Foreverly, this odd pairing of punker and crooner is dynamite on a china plate. Unlike the Everlys on Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, Armstrong and Jones bring a band to the studio. This gives the songs hope to go with their innate despair. (Some of the songs, anyway.) Their version of “Kentucky” is haunting, but now also with a touch of calypso, or maybe Los Lobos in their quieter moments. They turn “Oh So Many Years” into a hoedown, “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail” into a funeral march (OK, that’s not hopeful), and “Barbara Allen” into a track from Songs of the Civil War or a Camper Van Beethoven outtake.

There’s a lot of heartache in the love affair in “Roving Gambler,” a song that may be unique in having three points of view, the gambler, the mother, and her daughter:

Mother, oh dear mother, I’ll tell you if I can
If you ever see me comin’ back, I’ll be with the gambling man.
Be with the gambling man.
Be with the gambling man.

But in their performance, Armstrong and Jones give it an unexpected buoyancy. You finish the song thinking, sure, the gambler is goin’ down to George to gamble his last game, but maybe this will work out!

“Rockin’ Alone (in An Old Rockin’ Chair)” is a manipulative tear-jerker no matter how you slice it (“It wouldn’t take much to gladden her heart/just some small remembrance on somebody’s part”), and “Long Time Gone” and “Lightning Express” are way too country, but overall I rate Foreverly as a Buy – but ONLY if you also buy Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. Happy holidays, Don and Phil, and I hope you liked this gift from Billie Joe and Norah.

As for me, I’m still waiting to hear “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” on the radio, plus I suspect that R. Kelly is bluffing. I think I might give Norah Jones another try. Why not? I hear it’s Christmas.

RIP: Lou Reed, who I hope is taking one long walk on the wild side.

Postscript, 3 Jan 2014: RIP Phil Everly. Bye bye love.

 

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan
Various artists
2012

What was the first rock ’n’ roll song? Scholars debate “Rocket 88” (1951) vs. “Rock Around the Clock” (1955). As if! The first rock ’n’ roll song was obviously “Please Please Me” (1963), because that was the first rock ’n’ roll record I ever owned.

I have no memory of how “Please Please Me” entered my little world. The perp might’ve been one of my younger, hipper aunts, the one who could correctly identify Jerry Lee Lewis and The Beach Boys. The record could also have come from my father’s only known visit to a record store. In the wake of The Beatles’ 1964 appearance on Ed Sullivan, my dad, Run-DMIrving, went in search of music that would appeal to Young People, as he had three of them at home. At the store, Dad (who cries every time he hears Mike Douglas sing “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life”) was advised by two teenage girls and returned with a stack of 45s: The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, Glenn Miller leading his band in “Moonlight Serenade,” Liberace leading an assault on Mozart, nursery rhymes, country songs about prisons and coffee, something about a purple people eater, and Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” I don’t know who those girls were, but I’ll bet they’re the ones who invented satellite radio.

I quickly lost the paper sleeve to “Please Please Me,” but we had crayoned all over it anyway. We probably tried the same trick on the black-and-silver inner label. Then, to completely erase the value of this artifact, I played it repeatedly on our 1940s-era turntable. The tone-arm tracked at a sure-footed 10 pounds and you could imagine if not actually see slivers of vinyl curling up in the wake of the needle. This record rests in peace today inside the huge console phonograph my parents bought in 1970, sandwiched between the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof and Grand Funk Railroad’s Closer to Home.

Whatever your choice for the first rock ’n’ roll record, no one back then would have believed that anyone could make a living for 50 years in this business. Most bands never have a hit and most of the ones that do have only one. But here’s Bob Dylan in 2012 with 50 years of music behind him, still touring, still recording, and still holding the attention of fans, critics, scholars, and idiot bloggers.

Amnesty International is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a tribute to Bob Dylan: Chimes of Freedom. This is an enormous block of music, four CDs in its initial release and two CDs in a follow-up from Starbucks. Because I’m not a fan of Dylan, I opted for the set I could buy at my neighborhood Starbucks, which also gave me an excuse to buy a cranberry-orange scone.

Run-DMSteve vs. Bob Dylan
I admit I have made a few comments about Dylan that have not been entirely positive. However, it doesn’t matter what I think of the music of Bob Dylan or the films of Bob Dylan or the art of Bob Dylan or the many religions of Bob Dylan or the man Bob Dylan. What does matter is that the only artists who have had a greater influence on popular music in the past 50 years were John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Dylan deserves all the acclaim he gets, though he probably doesn’t deserve Ke$ha covering “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” which is what happens if you buy the four-CD version. I’d rather hear Lady Gaga take a swing at “Lay Lady Lay,” but I regret that that one only exists in my head.

The Starbucks Chimes of Freedom is not a history of Dylan’s career. More than half of this set is from the 1960s, with most of those songs from two albums, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin’. Well, those are two pretty good albums, even if they leave the final g off their verbs. Starbucks also omitted “Lay Lady Lay,” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” most of Nashville Skyline, Blood on the Tracks, and Desire, and everything he’s recorded since 1997’s Time Out of Mind.

What this is is a series of loving tributes. Unfortunately, while the 31 artists from around the world are undeniably talented (not counting Sting), most of them are way too loving. An air of reverence, almost as if they’re asking for permission, inhibits them from cutting loose and owning the song they’ve been assigned. No one goes head-to-head with Dylan à la Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” or Beck’s “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”

It doesn’t help that several people tried to imitate Dylan’s voice. I can hear that from any street-corner musician on my lunch break. Two tracks from Blonde on Blonde suffer this fate. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red does a pretty good Dylan on “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and the Israeli Oren Lavie proves on “4th Time Around” that he can imitate Dylan and Leonard Cohen simultaneously. This is not an evolutionary advantage.

Here’s what good
Joan Baez sings “Seven Curses,” a track that was dropped from the Freewheelin’ album. I’m astounded by the purity of her voice, as she’s been around as long as Dylan. Airborne Toxic Event gives us a memorable “Boots of Spanish Leather,” though the chorus threatens to slide into “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.” K’Naan, a Somalian rapper, works against an intrusive string section to transform “With God on Our Side” into a heartfelt foot-tapper. Raphael Saadiq (from the USA) is no Beck, but I like how he turns “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” into a languid honky-tonk.

Then there’s RedOne, a Moroccan who produced Lady Gaga, and Nabil Khayat, who is from Lebanon and who otherwise is a mystery to me. Their version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” rewards more than one listen, despite the echo of the 1993 Guns N’ Roses version.

Patti Smith gives “Drifter’s Escape” a real country flavor, befitting one of the gems from  John Wesley Harding but something I wouldn’t have expected from her. Diana Krall does a lot with “Simple Twist of Fate,” one of only two songs here from Blood on the Tracks. The reverence that undercuts others somehow works for her.

Mexico’s Ximena Sarinana is an actress and a singer, like Zooey Deschanel but with a more appealing voice. She turns “I Want You” into a cross between a low-budget carnival and a high school march. Mariachi El Bronx’s “Love Sick” is fun but slow, as is the Silversun Pickups’ rendition of “Not Dark Yet,” which is dreamy and U2-like without U2’s ability to floor it.

Kris Kristofferson’s “Quinn the Eskimo” is so singular, it’s too weird to listen to a second time!

The trouble with big names
Just because you recruit a famous artist to interpret the song of another famous artist doesn’t mean you’re going to wind up with something famous. What bigger name is there than Johnny Cash? His duet with Dylan on Nashville Skyline’s “Girl From the North Country” was the highlight of that monumental album. Here he sings another ’60s favorite, “One Too Many Mornings,” but he’s in the harness with a North Carolina folk duo named The Avett Brothers. The Avetts play well, and they sing OK, but OK isn’t good enough when you’re standing side by side with Johnny Cash, mister.

Seal is a British soul singer; Jeff Beck is a Stone Age guitar god and jazz-fusion pioneer. They were assigned the most awesome Bob Dylan song ever, “Like a Rolling Stone” (#1 on Rolling Stones’ list of the top 500 songs of all time). Sadly, combining Seal’s voice, which is brassy and opaque, with Beck’s guitar playing, which is fast and furious, gets us just about nowhere. But they’re livelier than their cohorts Pete Townshend, Bryan Ferry, Mark Knopfler, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Adele, and Jackson Browne. These folks are simply uninteresting, except for Jackson Browne, who also manages to be irritating.

Ziggy Marley does fine with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and if I liked reggae I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it.

Bottom of the barrel
The one irredeemable track comes to us courtesy of Sting: “Girl From the North Country.” I can’t tell if Sting is serious, if Sting is kidding, or if Sting has a head cold. Somewhere in the middle his mind wanders and he strays dangerously close to Simon & Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will.” I can forgive him for his cover of “Little Wing” on Nothing Like the Sun, but this means war.

In a category by themselves
The Dave Matthews Band’s core competency is sanitized rock ’n’ roll. They always make me think of the ribbon of white paper you have to break to use the toilet in your motel room. They were assigned “All Along the Watchtower,” and I don’t envy them having to walk in Dylan’s and Hendrix’s footsteps. But what I heard on this track was the Dave Matthews Band deciding to have fun in their doofus Dave Matthews way.

And they do! Dave’s voice sounds as if it’s been filtered through a kaleidoscope, and there’s some inane horn-playing and scat-singing, but this is one of their few songs that I’ve ever listened to all the way through. I especially liked the part where they flirted with “Stairway to Heaven.” The song ends like a car full of crash-test dummies.

Consumer report
There’s something inherently wrong with these multi-decade career retrospectives. I can’t figure out who listens to these things. If you love Bob Dylan, do you love him in every one of his decades? If you agree with Dylan that everyone must get stoned, do you want to hear his Christian music? If you were attracted to Dylan by his conversion to Christianity, how will he win you over with the rest of his oeuvre? It seems to me that tributes work best when the band didn’t change much over the years (Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode), didn’t last long (The Smiths), or when the artists are covering a single album (This Bird Has Flown, the 40th-anniversary salute to Rubber Soul).

Enough philosophizing. Dylan never fails to provoke, and how many pop artists can say the same after 50 years? Or even five? If you adore Bob Dylan, buy the four-CD set. As for Starbucks, every now and then they come up with a winner. Unfortunately, their Chimes of Freedom isn’t one of them. Everybody must get sconed? No, those aren’t good for you either.

I’ll see you in 2062 for the 100th anniversary tribute to Dylan, featuring Grand Dame Gaga, Yo-Yo Ma 2.0, Clone McCartney, Sir Justin Bieber, Adele (looking for a do-over), and probably Sting.

For years, my dogs Emma and Sailor collaborated on free-form and synchronized barking. Though Emma was older and smaller than Sailor, she never took a backseat to him. In fact she kept him on probation for seven years. As a producer of sound, Emma was a formidable unit who could shake the shack with her John Philip Sousa thundering. In memory of Emma and Sailor and their body of work, which is still echoing through the cosmos, here’s a look at some famous female/male musical duos.

Look At Us
Sonny & Cher
(Salvatore Bono and Cherilyn Lapierre)
1965
Sonny and Cher were perfectly matched, as neither of them had a particularly good voice. Sometimes I can’t tell which one of them is singing. But they harmonized well! Sonny rarely ventured beyond his limited range; when Cher swung out, as in her solo hit “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” (1971), it sounded like controlled yelling. When they worked together, Sonny did the composing, Cher did the hair. Most of their albums aren’t worth spit, but if you were a teenage love couple in the ’60s you have a soft spot in your heart for “I Got You, Babe.” The dopey lyrics don’t hurt the surprisingly strong finish, the spare but effective piano arrangement, and their genuine affection for each other.

River Deep – Mountain High
Ike & Tina Turner
1966
I could’ve picked any of their albums because none of them are memorable, but I picked this one because it features “River Deep – Mountain High.” This is either Phil Spector’s masterpiece or his monster mash. Tina sounds like she’s floundering in a tidal wave of strings, but she’s one of the few vocalists of that era who could stand against the full fury of the Wall of Sound. Crosby, Stills, & Nash would’ve been sucked into another dimension. Ike wrote most of their material (not “River Deep”), but Tina topped him when she wrote their last hit, the upbeat, funky “Nutbush City Limits” (1973).

Make Your Move
Captain & Tennille
(Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille)
1979
It pains me to even consider these characters, as their lukewarm music makes Bananarama sound like The Buzzcocks. However, I can appreciate their special status in the music industry: A husband-and-wife team who have been recording and performing together since the early ’70s. The only other couple I can think of with that kind of staying power is June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash. Dragon wrote most of the Captain & Tennille catalog, so he’s the one who deserves the lengthy prison sentence, but the bland-voiced Tennille is guilty of aiding and abetting. She also contributed their final hit, “Do That to Me One More Time” (1979). If this blog survives until 2015 it will be my pleasure to wish them a happy 40th wedding anniversary.

While we’re discussing substandard music of the ’70s, let me briefly mention The Carpenters, Donny and Marie, and Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Roberta Flack by herself was by far the biggest talent in this sorrowful group, but none of them were as good as (to cross into another genre) Ian & Sylvia. [Note from me in 2015: I was thinking here of the Flack/Hathaway duets, which I didn’t care for. Flack on her own was a force, if not The Force. Hathaway wasn’t my style, but I recognize how good he was and the tragedy of his early death.]

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Eurythmics
(Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart)
1983
Annie Lennox has a truly outstanding voice, and in Eurythmics she was also a formidable artistic partner. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) gave us two iconic ’80s hits: the title track and “Love Is a Stranger.” Here’s a rumor I remember from 1983: Lennox’s transsexual look in the “Love Is a Stranger” video alarmed some radio programming heads, who demanded to know her gender before they would play the single. Which reminds me, I somehow managed to leave Ms. Lennox off my Ladies of the ’80s post, even though “Love Is a Stranger” is one of my favorite songs of that era.

Eurythmics were no fluke, as on later albums they produced “It’s Alright, Baby’s Coming Back,” “Here Comes the Rain Again,” “Sexcrime (Nineteen Eightyfour),” and “Would I Lie to You Baby?” which I think is their finest moment. The band dominated the middle of the decade, but didn’t last into the next one. Lennox and Dave Stewart long ago split up, personally and professionally. Two things Lennox has done in her solo career have caught my attention: the covers album Medusa (particularly her interpretations of Neil Young and Procul Harum) and her Mick Jagger impersonation on “I Want a Man.”

Nerd alert: Lennox wrote “Into the West” for the third Lord of the Rings movie.

Poolside
Nu Shooz
(Valerie Day and John Smith)
1986
Nu Shooz are here only because they’re from Portland and because Valerie Day and John Smith are still together and still performing. They had a hit with “I Can’t Wait,” which is an excellent warm-up number before you start spinning the dance music. As for the rest of their stuff…I can wait.

Details
Frou Frou
(Imogen Heap and Guy Sigsworth)
2002
This one-off from two British musicians is noteworthy even before you get to the music: The couple is not romantically involved, and the woman not only does the singing, she also co-writes, co-produces, and plays some of the instruments. Imogen Heap’s voice is not as powerful as Annie Lennox’s, but it’s more expressive, like Tina Turner’s without Turner’s Wagnerian wallop. Some of the tracks on Details are pleasant (“Hear Me Out”), some are Gary Numan-like electronic excursions that are humanized by Heap’s voice (“Flicks”), one is upbeat despite its ambiguous lyrics (“Breathe In” – are they breaking up or what?), and one is every bit as melancholy as Pink Floyd, but with adult lyrics (“Psychobabble”):

You couldn’t be more wrong, darling
I never gave out these signs
You misunderstand all meaning
Snap out of it
I’m not falling for this one

I only like a few songs from this disc, but I like those a lot, and I wish there’d been a follow-up to this at times mesmerizing debut.

Supernature
Goldfrapp
(Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory)
2006
Time for more guilty pleasures! Goldfrapp is an electronic dance outfit for people who are just a tiny bit scared of Lady Gaga. Goldfrapp’s music is danceable, but not as frantically as Gaga’s. Goldfrapp is willing to chance some downbeat numbers, which might make her the thinking woman’s Gaga if you don’t listen to the lyrics. Both performers flaunt their legs, but they’re both built like sticks so it’s hard to say who is superior in this area. (Actually, it’s not hard to say: Tina Turner.) They cover some of the same thematic material; Gaga wants to ride my disco stick, Goldfrapp wants to ride a white horse. As David Byrne sang, “Everybody. Get. In. Line!

The main difference between the two women is Allison Goldfrapp’s voice, which must be one of Britain’s natural resources and the main reason I keep listening. “Felt Mountain,” the title track from the album before Supernature, is like a story by H.P. Lovecraft – nothing but atmosphere. She’s singing, but there are no lyrics. If there’s a radio station on Mars, “Felt Mountain” is in heavy rotation. “Do That to Me One More Time” is not.

Supernature has quite a few misfires, but I can recommend “Fly Me Away,” “Ride a White Horse,” and “Ooh La La.” (“Little Bird,” from their Seventh Tree  album, could’ve been a Magical Mystery Tour  outtake.) Ms. Goldfrapp is the co-author with Will Gregory of most the band’s songs and she has considerable influence on the videos, so I am placing the responsibility for the “Ride a White Horse” video on her shoulders. This footage must be seen to be believed. You might be tempted to bail after the first 30 seconds, but I urge you to hang in until 2:05 when The Underwearers climb out of a dumpster and form a zombie conga line behind her.

Volume One
She & Him
(Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward)
2008
I’ve tangled with these people before. I still haven’t succeeded in developing any affection for them. This is pretty much how I feel about another cult couple, Richard and Linda Thompson (I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, 1974).

Zooey Deschanel has a precious, little-girl voice that’s as warm as tin. M. Ward is too country and frankly kind of tame. (He is from Portland, though, so extra points there.) “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” sounds like the B side to something by Badfinger. Perry Como would’ve rejected “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” as too laid-back. “I Was Made for You” is simulated ’60s Girl Group. I couldn’t help tapping my foot to it, and I also couldn’t help asking myself who could’ve done this better. I finally settled on The Monkees.

Deschanel writes all the lyrics, and they give the illusion of meaning, which is more than I can say for Goldfrapp. But it’s still an illusion. I am interested in their covers, though. Ward’s lo-fi arrangement for “You Really Got a Hold on Me” is austerely beautiful, and they were gutsy to record “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Deschanel’s voice rises to the occasion on that one, so bravo, She & Him!

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody, whether your union is heterosexual, homosexual, multidisciplinary, or independent/undecided. And as for our current dog, The Notorious S.M.A.L.L., he’s been a solo act too long. We’re getting a puppy.

I finished ’70s Week with a list of my favorite songs of the decade. I gave up on concluding ’80s Week the same way when my list of favorite songs surpassed 200. I’m going to choose one at random and call that my favorite song of the 1980s. OK, reaching into the hat now…The winner: Paul Simon’s “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War.” Done!

With that out of the way we can move on to a more important subject, and that subject is women. My list of favorites from ’70s Week mistakenly gave the impression that I don’t like music made by women. This is not true. I like music made by women and I like women who enjoy music made by women. I can prove these assertions with the ticket stubs to three concerts I took Special D to: Lady Gaga, The Roches, and Cher. Cher’s opening act was Cyndi Lauper so that makes six total women I went out of my way to experience in a concert setting. You’re probably thinking that I acted like a martyr each time, but I did no such thing. I survived Mudhoney. These gals were a snap.

Here’s my attempt at classifying women in music in the 1980s. By including them all here rather than spreading them through ’80s Week I am inadvertently creating a ghetto, but it took me days to write this post so you’ll just have to deal.

1)  Madonna and some lesser satellites
Of course the woman who strides across the 1980s like a colossus is Madonna. However, the only song I like by Madonna, “Vogue,” didn’t happen until the ’90s, which means we are now done with Madonna.

It’s fashionable to laugh at Pat Benatar, probably because she’s laughable. I wish she had fronted for a band rather than zig-zagged around on her own. Van Halen went through a parade of heavy metal idiots after David Lee Roth walked out. They should’ve hired Benatar. She would’ve been fantastic.

I have nothing to say about Bette Midler or Cher except that they don’t make your brain bleed like Mudhoney. Cyndi Lauper angered conservative groups with “She Bop,” which may or may not be about masturbation. Whether it is or not, tally-ho Cyndi Lauper.

2)  Singer/songwriters with folk origins or dangerous country tendencies
The 1980s saw a mob of confessional women following the lead of Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, and Melanie. I mostly ignore them. I’m too busy with Pink Floyd. Examples of this phenomenon are Shawn Colvin (“Shotgun Down the Avalanche”), Sarah McLachlan (“Vox”), Edie Brickell (“What I Am”), and Melissa Etheridge (“Bring Me Some Water,” which rocks like a literate ZZ Top). I’ll talk about Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” when we get to’90s Week.

The Indigo Girls appeared in the crossword movie Wordplay. They get my respect for that, and for “Closer to Fine.”

Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” is one of the decade’s milestones, while Michelle Shocked’s “If Love Was a Train” is one of the sexier moments (and a lot smarter than Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator”).

kd lang’s swinging “Walkin’ in and Out of Your Arms” is a crowd-pleaser, but that’s as country as I get, and I had to work at it. This is why Emmylou Harris is beyond me.

You’ll find Tracy Chapman in category 6 below.

3)  Party out of bounds
Could we live without “Venus,” “I Can’t Help It,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Hero Takes a Fall,” “How Much More,” and “Vacation”? Absolutely not. The world will always need Bananarama, The Bangles, and The Go-Go’s. These bands are better than the critics think. But not a lot better.

4)  Quota system
Women rocked in the ’80s, but they were often limited to one rocking woman per band. (Heart and The B-52s had two women each, but they were from the ’70s so they don’t count.) Here’s how I rate these artists:

Unfortunately for Dale Bozzio, her voice is similar to Cyndi Lauper’s, who came along at the same time and blew past Bozzio’s band, Missing Persons. Their hits “Destination Unknown” and “Windows” were familiar to viewers of early MTV. The music hasn’t aged well plus they sound like somebody imitating Cyndi Lauper.

Margo Timmins is a haunting vocalist, but her brother Michael is the force that makes The Cowboy Junkies go. (Cowboy Junkies are so soft-spoken, I can’t always tell if they’re playing or if they’re resting following a prolonged squawk.)

Talking Heads may have started as equals, but they eventually became David Byrne and his backing musicians. I give Tina Weymouth (and her husband, Chris Frantz) credit for starting their own side project. But the side project they started was The Tom Tom Club, which makes me wish they had started a nice Italian restaurant instead.

Kim Deal didn’t do much with The Pixies (a band I don’t like), so she formed The Breeders (a band I do like) with Tanya Donnelly of Throwing Muses. The Breeders just missed the ’80s. Not many rock stars have had a song written specifically about them by other rock stars (The Dandy Warhols’ “Cool As Kim Deal”).

I always think I should like Donnelly’s Throwing Muses, but I don’t. I start each album with enthusiasm and never make it to the end.

I don’t like Sonic Youth and they don’t like me, so I can’t say anything about Kim Gordon except that she would wake things up, if not send people home, if she opened for Cher.

5)  All in the family
The Runaways were intended to be a tough female version of The Monkees. By “tough,” the record company meant “they might have sex with you.” This probably didn’t work out all that well in reality, but reality has little connection with marketing. Three women from The Runaways forged notable careers in music after that band dissolved: Michael Steele joined The Bangles, while Lita Ford and Joan Jett went off on their own.

Lita Ford was tough enough to play guitar in the male world of metal. Point! But the world of metal isn’t evil and extreme, it’s ridiculous and inane. Counterpoint! Ford worked hard for 10 years before finally scoring a hit, “Kiss Me Deadly.” Point! “Kiss Me Deadly” is deadly forgettable. Counterpoint! Her next hit, “Close My Eyes Forever,” was a duet with…Ozzy Osbourne. Counterpoint! Uh-oh, I don’t want her to lose. Fortunately, Ford spent the ’80s outfitted in rock-star lingerie. I’ll put her back in the plus column for having one of the best derrières in the business. And after a long hiatus and the birth of her children, she is rocking again at 53. Point! Whew. W00t!

In 1981, Joan Jet and her new band, The Blackhearts, took their version of “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” to #1 in the U.S., Canada, and The Netherlands (a new band would kill to be #1 in The Netherlands). Jett is the hardest-working woman in music and an expert interpreter of rock standards. She salvaged “Crimson & Clover” and “Time Has Come Today” from the scrapheap of ’60s psychedelia and took “I Wanna Be Your Dog” away from Iggy Pop. As with Weird Al, her originals are not well-regarded, but she accomplished a lot with “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”

6)  The Four Horsewomen of the ’80s Apocalypse
My choices for the best female artists of the decade:

Tracy Chapman (“Fast Cars”) brings more emotion to a song than any contemporary artist I know, female or male. The only part of her career that takes place in the 1980s was her debut, Tracy Chapman. The stories on that album can go head-to-head with those on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Siouxsie Sioux (a name that’s impossible to type correctly on the first go) and her band, Siouxsie & The Banshees, put eight songs on or close to my list of ’80s favorites: Their covers of “Dear Prudence” and “Helter Skelter,” as well as “Christine,” “Happy House,” “Trophy,” “Clockface,” “Shadow Time,” and the one I like best, “Silly Thing.” And they still have “Kiss Them for Me” waiting in the ’90s.

Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Cure are the only goth outfits I can listen to. Robert Smith of The Cure moonlighted as a Banshee for a couple of years. I’d love to put that on my resume. “Banshee: Served as omen of death across all distribution channels. Initiated howling programs that decreased productivity by 400%.”

Deborah Iyall was the co-founder, singer, and songwriter of Romeo Void. She is one the best writers of the ’80s, able to cut you like a knife with one line (“Nothing makes me lonelier than a phone call from you”). Romeo Void had minor hits with “I Might Like You Better If We Slept Together” and “A Girl in Trouble Is a Temporary Thing.” I prefer “Just Too Easy” and “Myself to Myself.” They don’t have many good songs, but the good ones are very good.

Chrissie Hynde had it all. She could write the music and the words and deliver the whole package in the hurricane that was The Pretenders. They only had three worthwhile albums (Pretenders, Pretenders II, and Learning to Crawl), but those are three of the best albums of the decade. It was Hynde who made me realize that I had to abandon my attempt to list my favorite songs of the 1980s, as I picked most of the songs on these discs (I’m especially taken by “Private Life,” “The Adulteress,” and “Two Birds of Paradise”).

This has been my longest post. Women are exhausting. I’m going to go listen to some uncomplicated male music…maybe David Bowie.

Run-DMSteve alert: This weekend I will celebrate my anniversary by posting an index to this blog’s first year. See you then!

Stop Making Sense
Talking Heads
1984

I’d like to have a few words with you today about the value of friends. And I don’t just mean how much money you can borrow from them. My friends have more than once straightened me out about music. Today I’d like to tell you about my friend Donald and the gift he gave me: Talking Heads.

Donald was a great guy, but there was this one thing about him. He was weird. He was bookish and hyper-intellectual, a guy who, in 1983, when this story begins, listened to King Crimson, Yes, Neil Young at his most cheerful (“Cortez the Killer”), and contemporary classical – a subgenre of classical music that most people avoid because it makes their teeth fall out. One of Donald’s heroes was Béla Bartók. Have you ever spent any time with Béla Bartók? You can easily reproduce Bartók’s most renowned music by cranking up an orchestra inside a revolving cement mixer. However, I once heard something melodious by this man. I was eager to tell Don about it:

Run-DMSteve: I heard something I liked by Bartók!
Donald: What was it?
Run-DMSteve: It was called “Hungarian Sketches.”
Donald: That’s wimpy Bartók!

Everyone is trying/to get to the bar
The name of the bar/the bar is called Heaven
And you thought I was a snob. Later Donald was sorry that he didn’t encourage rather than disparage me. Let me add right here that in addition to the millions of books he’d read and songs he’d listened to, most of which I wouldn’t touch on a bet, Don was one of the best defensive centerfielders I’d ever seen. He could chase down fly balls that were barely in the same area code.

Don was the person who made me a fan of Talking Heads. Until I met him, I hadn’t thought much about this band, except to turn their songs off when they came on the radio. When I heard Talking Heads on commercial radio in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I didn’t hear much I cared for: The insipid “Love Has Come to Town,” for example, and the incomprehensible “Psycho Killer.” In fact I mainly knew “Psycho Killer” from the parody by The Fools, “Psycho Chicken”: “I plucked him once/why pluck him again?”

The band in Heaven/they play my favorite song
Play it once again/Play it all night long
I understood why Donald loved David Byrne, the main creative force behind Talking Heads, because Byrne was weird. And that voice. Where have I heard that voice? On a Saturday morning cartoon, perhaps. Byrne’s voice is otherworldly (like David Bowie, Lady Gaga, and Gary Numan) and comical (like Weird Al, Fred Schneider, and the guy who did the yodeling in the Dutch prog-rock band Hocus Pocus). At any moment you expect him to de-materialize. Or else say “Well fuck it then” and pull out an accordion.

It didn’t help that Andy Warhol did some early radio commercials to support the band in which he a) acted like a total nerd, and I don’t think he was acting, and b) basically said that he liked Talking Heads because they were nerds. And those of you who have met me and are now asking why I couldn’t get down with a heightened degree of nerdiness can just shut UP.

Heaven/Heaven is a place/A place where nothing/nothing ever happens
When Talking Heads came to Seattle in 1983, Don insisted that I go with him, his wife, their precocious grade-school daughter, and a couple of his fellow hyper-intellectuals (minimalists, surely). Don might have even bought my ticket. If he didn’t, he should have.

The concert wasn’t what I expected. The songs I had previously disliked or had never heard were accelerated and deep-fried in funk. The concert followed a storyline, with Byrne opening the show alone and welcoming his bandmates singly and in groups as the songs progressed. By the time Byrne climbed into his Big Suit to sing about his girlfriend with bows in her hair (and nothing is better than that) and suggest that we stop making sense, I was banging my face into the stage. I never felt that way in a synagogue.

There is a party/everyone is there
Everyone will leave at/exactly the same time
The following year this tour was immortalized by Jonathan Demme in Stop Making Sense. I saw this film three times when it was released and I saw it again on the big screen with a younger generation of nerds in 2009 when it was rereleased. It was every bit as powerful in 2009 as it was in 1985 and I was surprised at how well I remembered it, whereas I don’t remember much about the concert at all and in fact I don’t even connect the band I saw live with the band I see in this film. (One of the few things I do remember from the concert is that everyone on Don’s side of the family brought a book.)

If you’ve been to a rock concert, you know that musicians who have been on the road a while forget what city they’re in and sometimes what song they’re in. They forget the words, make up new ones, hit the wrong key, crash into an amp or the bass player. Guitar strings break. Drums fall over. On The Clash’s From Here to Eternity, Joe Strummer croaks “Take it from me” to Mick Jones in the middle of “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” because his voice is shot.

It’s hard to imagine that/nothing at all
Could be so exciting/could be so much fun
There are no mishaps or indecisive moments in Stop Making Sense, a record of a concert that never was. It was filmed by multiple cameras over three nights. The sound was run through a studio the way milk and ice cream are run through a blender. It makes Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones look crude and The Last Waltz look stagy. Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara is a pebble on its shoe. Stop Making Sense is so powerful that I hate to think what my life would’ve been like if Demme had decided to make his movie about Queensrÿche or Kenny G.

Writing in The New Yorker in 1984, Pauline Kael said she loved the film but that the songs all sounded the same to her. What makes Stop Making Sense irresistible? Is it the way the tension builds in the first half as the band multiplies and the black-shirted roadies wheel out the equipment? Is it that supreme moment in “Once in a Lifetime” when the two female singers with outstretched arms rise behind the ranting David Byrne? It is all the quotable lines?

–       Same as it ever was
–       You may ask yourself, how did I get here?
–       I feel like talking to someone/who knows the difference between right and wrong
–       This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around
–       Changed my hairstyle so many times now/don’t know what I look like

I have the answer and here it is in one sentence: Stop Making Sense is to a real concert what high-end pornography is to real sex.

Table 1. Shared characteristics of Stop Making Sense and high-class porn

  • Lengthy Bolero-style build-up
  • Everybody knows where everything goes
  • Everything is illuminated
  • Everything is audible, too
  • No time-outs
  • No encore

Stop Making Sense is a fantasy that musicians and audiences can all aspire to. And no one has to take their clothes off.

When this kiss is over/it will start again
It will not be any different/ it will be exactly the same
I play the Stop Making Sense soundtrack a lot but only a few of Talking Heads’ other songs: “Cities” (which was cut from the film), “(Nothing But) Flowers,” and “Sax and Violins.” One of Byrne’s collaborations with Brian Eno produced a gorgeous song called “Strange Overtones.” But mostly it’s Stop Making Sense for me – one of the pillars of my musical universe.

In 1984, Donald walked into a costume party at my house wearing a suit and a tie and carrying a guitar and a boom box. He placed his boom box on the floor and announced, “Hi. I have a tape I want to play.” Wherever you are, Don, I thank you again. If it weren’t for my friends I’d still be listening to Three Dog Night. In my parents’ basement.

It’s hard to imagine that/nothing at all
Could be so exciting/could be so much fun
Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse. I have rarely heard a voice like yours.

Heaven/Heaven is a place/A place where nothing/nothing ever happens.

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.