Posts Tagged ‘Madonna’

Purple Rain
Prince & The Revolution

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.

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:

Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen

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.

“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.

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!

Lady Gaga in concert
The Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.
August, 2010

This summer I won two tickets to see Lady Gaga. I was trying to win tickets to Arcade Fire. You take what you can get in this life.

Her concert lasted two hours, in which she demonstrated her ability to fill 45 minutes with good songs. The evening, a drama that could only have been choreographed by Wagner and Tolkein while both were seriously faced, included a UFO, a haunted truck, a slice of subway, a jungle gym, surreal videos, blood, trap doors, platforms shooting out of the stage, platform shoes, a burial, a resurrection, taekwondo-style dancing, and enough stilettos to stake a circus tent. And wigs, including one that looked like a mushroom cap. I want one! All we were missing were bagpipes, artillery, and a miniature version of Stonehenge.

Lady Gaga and her court, when not hurling themselves into every song at Warp 6, were busy changing clothes, except the guitar player, who took his shirt off but should have left it on. (Up in our private suite, Special D wore a white feather boa, which she occasionally loaned to admiring gay men.) In the middle innings, Gaga cooled down by playing two songs solo at the piano. Someday she’ll look back at this interlude and wish she were dead. I certainly did during her inane warbling. I give her credit for setting the piano on fire, but I take it back because the piano was not consumed.

Nevermind this acoustic crap. What about the songs that made her famous? Can she write or is she just bluffin’ with her muffin? Let’s examine the thematic material in Lady Gaga’s oeuvre. No, let’s not. Let’s confine ourselves to “Telephone”:

Situation: The singer is dancing at a club.
Problem: Everyone is calling her.
Result: She’s stressed.
Resolution: It occurred to me that she should stop answering her phone, but this hypothesis was not tested or even considered.
Lesson: Stress is bad, but stupidity makes it worse.

That leaves the actual music. Lady Gaga stuffs so many happy hooks into each song that they can’t be dislodged from the fluffy insulation inside your brain. (In that respect her sound is like the seamless, vacuum-packed assembly line that was Boston, except you can dance to it.) For 24 hours all I could hear in my head was “Poker Face.” Even while I was asleep, dreaming about dinosaurs or cheerleaders, they were dancing to “Poker Face.” At least it’s her best song.

To rid myself of this neuro-plague I counterattacked with an hour of music that was the opposite of Lady Gaga’s: thoughtful, intricate, subtle, quiet. Alas, the Cowboy Junkies are too quiet. I could still hear “Poker Face” while listening to “Sweet Jane.” What’s the next notch above the Cowboy Junkies? That would be Coldplay. But I was afraid of swapping “Poker Face” for “Yellow.” I finally hit on the freeing formula: the neo-human, glacier-fed, synthesized wall-of-drone of late-’70s David Bowie. I listened to Station to Station, Low, and Heroes. Twice. Done!

We hear a lot about Lady Gaga’s influences. There are the big names, like Queen, Kiss, and Madonna, and the lesser-known but edgier bands, like Mott the Hoople and the New York Dolls. You could even make a case for Grace Jones, at least during her disco years, and for raw chutzpah her only peer is Tiny Tim.

But to me, Lady Gaga will always be Prince in a bikini.

And yes, I enjoyed her show. Especially when they fired her out of a missile silo and she landed on her 6” heels without a waver or a wobble. How I wish I had that woman’s knees! I’d put them on eBay.