Posts Tagged ‘The B-52s’

“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 Pets.com 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.

Bikini Machine joue Dutronc
Bikini Machine
2011

I was looking at Allmusic.com’s lists of recommended songs and albums for 1969 when I hit “Le Responsable” by Jacques Dutronc (from the album Un disque MAXI). Messr. Dutronc is a legend in France but unknown in the USA. He was definitely unknown to any of us here at the Bureau. Unfortunately, Rhapsody didn’t have any of his music, but they did have a cover of “Le Responsable” by fellow Frenchmen Bikini Machine on their masterwork, Bikini Machine joue Dutronc. How did we make these connections before the invention of the World Wide Web? What did I do with my time? Read books? Interact with other humans?

Bikini Machine’s “Le Responsable” is an earth-mover (so’s the original, which I found on YouTube), so I happily gave the rest of this disk a spin. The results: Positive! Here’s a guide to what I heard:

“Sur une nappe de restaurant” (“Sir, that’s my napkin”) begins as if it wanted to live on The B-52s’ Wild Planet but soon surfs into a California-dreamin’/electro wonderland. The horn section gets a moderate workout here.

“Les Cactus” (“All that cactus”) can best be thought of as The Dave Clark Five playing “Boys” on the International Space Station.

“L’idole” (“This song is not about Billy Idol”) could almost be the theme to a spaghetti Western.

“J’ai font lu, tout vu, tout bu” (“I like this typeface, you like it, but the client hates it”) is French rap, which sounds pretty good in French.

“La fille du pere noel” (“My Dad spent Christmas with his girlfriend”) is the French version of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two),” complete with musical flourishes à la Alison Goldfrapp, with whom the Bikini Machine boys probably want to pursue activities l’intimate in the name of rock ’n’ roll.

There are enough worthwhile tracks on this CD to rate it a Buy. (I also tried an earlier album, Let’s Party with Bikini Machine, but that wasn’t much of a party.) Bikini Machine c’est formidable! At least they are on Bikini Machine joue Dutronc (“Bikini Machine thinks Dutronc is Jewish”).

Return with me now to the Swinging Sixties, French division.

“I Wanna Be a Flintstone”
Screaming Blue Messiahs
1987

No critical deconstruction of The Flintstones can commence without first mentioning my sister, who was born the same night as Pebbles. Although I was 7, I sensed that this was a teachable moment, and I told my brother, who was 4, that when Mommy came home from the hospital, she’d bring with her our new sibling – a cartoon. My brother couldn’t decide if he was thrilled or terrified, so he spent that evening at my grandparents’ house being both. Because I’m a natural teacher, I also showed him how to set all the clocks in the house to ring sometime after midnight. Being little children, no one noticed us, and being little children, we slept through the resulting Flintstone-like chaos. The adults were all crabby the next day.

Today I’d much rather refer to The Flintstones than watch them. (Same with the Stooges. Would you rather imitate a lamebrain or spend half an hour watching three of them slap each other?) Every year I call my parents on their anniversary and sing them Fred’s “Happy Anniversary” song (to the tune of the William Tell Overture):

Happy anniversary
Happy anniversary
Happy anniversary
HAPPPPPY anniversary!

We enjoy that, but I doubt we’d enjoy sitting through the entire episode where Fred buys Wilma a hot piano from 88 Fingers Louie and barely has time to sing “Happy Anniversary” before being hauled off to the hoosegow. Though I still think it’s funny that Fred was such a dope that he only remembered their anniversary because that year it fell on trash day.

In our house, whenever a deadline is looming and we’re almost out of time, we announce, “This is Operation Red Light. Repeat. Red Light!” But I’m not interested in rewatching that episode, in which Fred dressed up like Wilma and made meatballs out of golf balls to try to fool…oh forget it.

How did they make everything out of rocks?
There were many original songs on The Flintstones, including the Miss Water Buffalo theme (“O we’ve searched high and low/for Miss Water Buffalo”) and the opening number from Wilma’s Martha Stewart-style show, The Happy Housewife (this was about 10 years before The Happy Hooker): “Make your hubby happy/keep your hubby happy/when he’s a little chubby/he’s a happy pappy…”

And who can forget Wilma and Betty’s immortal car-hop jingle:

Here we come on the run
With a burger on a bun
And a dab of slaw on the side,
Oh your taste we will tickle
With a great dill pickle
And all of our potatoes are french fried, fried, fried,
Our burgers can’t be beat,
’Cause we grind our own meat,
Grind, grind, grind, grind, grind!

And when you’re on your way,
A tip upon our tray
We hope to find, find, find, find, find!
We hope to find, find, find, find, find!

Two Neolithic women in short skirts singing “grind, grind, grind, grind, grind” isn’t the same as The Commitmentettes pleading “Take me, take me, take me,” but it’s not bad for a prime-time cartoon circa 1961.

Fred worked in a gravel pit as a dino operator. Why did he always wear a tie?
Scholars agree that The Flintstones jumped the shark with Pebbles’ birth. A new baby is pretty much the end of any successful sitcom. Après Pebbles, The Flintstones went downhill like a load of rocks (Exhibits A and B: Bamm-Bamm and The Great Gazoo). Repeated attempts to build on The Flintstones‘ legacy have failed. Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm as teenagers? That’s not writing, that’s typing. Live-action movies? Torture. Fruity Pebbles cereal? Gross!

The Screaming Blue Messiahs are another example of Flintstones fail, only weirder. The Messiahs were a British punk outfit with hillbilly leanings. They were led by Bill Carter, who shaved his head at a time when that was still scary, or at least strange. He also played his electric guitar without a pick. He must’ve had adamantine claws for fingers.

The Messiahs remind me at times of their English predecessors, The Clash, and at other times of their Scottish contemporaries, Big Country. They were an intense trio of noisemakers for their era, but even their best album, Bikini Red (1987), has dimmed with age. And it wasn’t all that illuminated to start with. (I do like “Big Brother Muscle,” probably because it sounds like The Clash covering The Rolling Stones.)

“I Wanna Be a Flintstone” (“Dino is my dinosaur/His tail’s in the kitchen and his head’s out the door”) is nothing like the rest of the Messiahs’ catalog. It’s more like a crude copy of The B-52s’ “Private Idaho” as played by The Stray Cats. Naturally, this was the closest the Messiahs ever got to a hit and the only reason they’re remembered today. The song is funny the first few spins, and I admit I once used it at a party to repel boarders, but in true Flintstone fashion it soon becomes something you refer to rather than play. I either lost the record or gave it away as a door prize.

Someday maybe Fred will win what fight? And what happened to that cat?
When Fred was accidentally promoted to the executive suite (a trick every sitcom has used, including The Simpsons), an old hand told him that he could succeed in any business situation by using the following lines:

“What’s your angle?”
“Whose baby is that?”
“I’ll buy that.”

It worked for Fred and with a few variations it’s worked for me. I owe The Flintstones…but I’m not going to watch them. Not even if I was offered the director’s cut of the episode where Fred was cloned by invading aliens into Fred-like automatons who broke into people’s houses and stole their food while monotonously chanting “Yabba. Dabba. Do.” The next day in Bedrock the adults were all crabby. OK, now I’m laughing.

I finally watched The Doors, which I meant to see in 1991. (I’ve been busy.) Two hours of Jim Morrison self-destructing is not what I’d call a date movie. I did enjoy the Thanksgiving scene at the home of Morrison and his saintly but scatterbrained girlfriend, which ended with a burnt duck and a knife fight. I’m willing to add these features to next year’s feast if we could do it at someone else’s house.

Doors fun fact: Val Kilmer with long hair and a beard looks just like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski.

The best Doors movie is still Apocalypse Now, but I was glad I saw Oliver Stone’s depressing film because it made me reconnect with his subject. For those of us who are lucky enough to have reached middle age, The Doors are like the authors we read in high school or college and haven’t touched since. Returning to their 1967 debut album for the first time in maybe 20 years, I was stunned. The Doors  rocks, mocks, and mesmerizes. “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” would be the big radio hit for most other acts. Here it’s just the opener. It’s followed by the funky weirdness of “Soul Kitchen.” And we still have “Light My Fire” and “Twentieth Century Fox” waiting in the middle of the record.

It’s hard to believe that four guys who had been working together for a year could have accomplished so much in so short a time. You could pick and choose from The Doors’ other records and create a standout listen. But even if it included songs such as “Touch Me” and “Love Me Two Times,” this new album still wouldn’t be as good as The Doors.

It’s not as if each member of The Doors was an instrumental wizard. They’re good (the drummer is adequate), but together they manage to be unique. And then there’s Jim Morrison. As a songwriter, he can be brilliant or lame, and he can do both in two consecutive lines, as in “LA Woman”:

Motels, money, murder, madness

With four simple nouns, Morrison pins LA like a butterfly.

Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness

Sadly, this is something I could’ve written in 6th grade.

But only Jim Morrison could lead us through the slow-motion asteroid belt that is “The End,” with its plaintive repetition of “the end,” which he finally rhymes with “I’ll never look into your eyes…again.” The song climaxes with enough murder and madness for anyone, along with some trenchant observations along the lines of “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Yeah fuck!” (Here in the U.S., this line is usually printed as “Kill! Kill! Kill! Yeah kill!”) I could only play The Doors when my parents weren’t home. This was the ultimate trip when I was 12 and I was delighted to discover that I’m still transported by it.

The Doors is the best debut ever recorded
Being me, I wondered which albums would fill out the Debut Top 10. So I made a list. And being me, there are 11 contestants in the Top 10.

The most important part of any project is making sure you can get it done before you die. To keep things manageable, I set these rules:

* 20th century only. I’m not confident picking rock albums after about 1995.

* No country, alt-country, neocountry, outlaw country, or in-law country. Metal is ridiculous. Reggae isn’t, but it doesn’t appeal. I made one exception for rap.

* Since The Doors is named for The Doors, each album must have the same name as the band. A few disqualified yet very worthy discs will appear in my next post.

* I don’t care if the album has the same name as the band, I won’t consider any band named after a U.S. city or state, or any members of the REO Styxjourneywagon military-industrial complex.

* The band has to be composed of newcomers. Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Crosby, Stills & Nash are out of bounds.

Here then are my picks for Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner:

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968)

The Clash, The Clash (1977)

The B-52s, The B-52s (1979)

The Undertones, The Undertones (1979)

Pretenders, Pretenders (1980)

Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C. (1984)

The Smiths, The Smiths (1984)

Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman (1989)

Moby, Moby (1992)

Some thoughts on each:

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico
Maureen Howard, the drummer, has no sense of rhythm, and Lou Reed sings like Bob Dylan. If you call that singing. They make The Doors sound like the Vienna Philharmonic. But this garbage scow of a record has left miles of ripples behind it. The Doors had the talent, but the Velvets incited people to make their own music. I don’t know what Nico actually contributed here, and I hate her voice, so I’m pretending that “and Nico” isn’t in the title.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival
This one is a tour of American roots music. In that respect it resembles The Beatles’ debut, Please Please Me, which is about half covers of American R&B artists. Creedence Clearwater Revival has their lengthy cover of “Suzie Q,” which fills the A and B sides of one 45. “Porterville,” one of their originals, showed us where CCR was going.

The Clash, The Clash
The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Damned all released their first records in 1977, but Johnny Rotten gets on my nerves and The Damned, while riotous, were less technically accomplished than The Velvet Underground. The Clash was a revolution and is one of the most serious competitors to The Doors. “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.,” “White Riot,” and most of the rest of this lineup hit you like a flight of airborne watermelons.

The B-52s, The B-52s
Wall-to-wall party, featuring “Planet Claire,” “Dance This Mess Around,” and the greatest song of all time, “Rock Lobster.” I wish I could go back in time and swap some babies. My Hanukkah wish is to hear Fred Schneider handle the vocals on “The End” and Jim Morrison tackle “Rock Lobster.” If you imagine the albums on this list existing on a spectrum that runs from serious to frivolous, Tracy Chapman and The B-52s would be the farthest apart.

The Undertones, The Undertones
Take The Clash’s ferocity about politics and focus it on teenagers and their pitiful troubles and you have The Undertones. Cons: This record is a monoculture. The only variation between songs is in the speed with which they’re played. Pros: The 14 songs on this disc are barely half an hour long. The uniformity of sound doesn’t have time to wear out its welcome. “Teenage Kicks” still gets the airplay, but wait’ll you hear “Jimmy Jimmy.” Bonus: As good as this record is, their second album, Hypnotised (which includes their masterpieces, “There Goes Norman” and “My Perfect Cousin”), is even better. Of all the bands I’ve reviewed here, only The Undertones and CCR turned in a substantially superior performance the second time around.

Pretenders, Pretenders
Women have always had to fight for their right to rock. Bands like Heart don’t help. But Chrissie Hynde not only rocked, she disemboweled. There is no song in rock like “Tattooed Love Boys” and few women who can write words and music at Hynde’s high level. Pretenders is still a beacon for the ages. I wrote about the Pretenders at Ladies of the Eighties.

Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C.
Recently I ate lunch at a hip Portland burger place full of pale white 20somethings uniformly dressed in black and listening to 50 Cent with the volume cranked to 11. Given my stage of life, I deserved a free burger for correctly identifying 50 Cent. The cashier didn’t see it that way. I came along too late to get into rap, but in 1984 even I could tell that Run-D.M.C. was an early clue to a new direction. I don’t want to listen to it, but I have to acknowledge it. Now get off my lawn.

The Smiths, The Smiths
I always thought these guys were pretty funny, though I’m guessing that they weren’t trying to be, like when they sang about people dying. Here on The Smiths they already sound like veterans, and in fact in the four short years they were together they hardly varied their sound at all. I like to think that The Smiths’ collective philosophy of relationships is summed up by two back-to-back song titles on this disc: “What Difference Does It Make?” and “I Don’t Owe You Anything.”

Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
Makes you want to reach through the speakers and hold her. Chapman was only 25 when Tracy Chapman appeared, but it was already obvious that she was in total control of her talent and able to tell someone’s life story in a couple hundred super-sharp words. What’s more heart-breaking than “Fast Cars” and the vicious life pattern the narrator struggles to escape? As for “Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution,” this song has never gone out of style. Just ask Occupy Wall Street.

Moby, Moby
In the ’90s I discovered trance, house, and other forms of electronica. Once I found that I could sink into stuff like Moby and literally enter a trance-like state while I was writing, I was sold. Moby is an odd one, a vegetarian Christian who makes dance music for 24-hour party people who majored in recreational drugs. Praise the Lord and pass the beets.

Next post: Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Didn’t Name Their Debut After Themselves and Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner. Until then, the Twentieth-Century Fox I married asks you to remember that when the music’s over, turn out the lights.

’70s Week at Run-DMSteve concludes with some of my favorite songs of the decade. I’m not saying these are the best songs of the decade, and they’re not all of my favorites. I just stopped at 25. To keep things manageable, I limited myself to one song per artist (except in one instance), but to make them less manageable, I included some runners-up.

A few words about women, of whom my list has only one, Joan Armatrading, recording on her own. (I do have Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of The B-52s and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads.)

There were plenty of remarkable women in rock in the ’70s. Minnie Ripperton could reach all of the known octaves and a few that she must’ve invented. But I can’t digest her music. Ditto Cher, Blondie, The Runaways, and Susie Quatro. I’ll see you in hell before I listen to Heart. If I added another 25 songs, I’d include Patti Smith (“So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star”), Donna Summer (“I Feel Love”), Joni Mitchell (tough one, but probably “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire”), and The Slits (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”). How I wish The Slits could’ve opened for Hole. I’ll try to field a more balanced squad during ’80s Week.

My heartfelt thanks to Brother Bob Lingard, who started me on this week’s theme when he kindly loaned me a CD with hundreds of songs from the ’70s and ’80s. Though listening to this collection often seemed like an endurance test, especially when I collided with Christopher Cross –

“I’m on the runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn/no time to sleep”

– Phil Collins, and the REO Styxjourneywagon dud machine, I learned a lot. I’d forgotten how much I like Roxy Music and Squeeze, how overrated REM is and how undeservedly obscure Steve Winwood is. Party on, Brother Bob!

Here’s the list:

Aerosmith, “Sweet Emotion”
It pains me to type “Aerosmith,” but at least they’re not Foghat.

Joan Armatrading, “Love and Affection”
This is the female “Bolero”!

The B-52s, “Rock Lobster”
How amazing that “Rock Lobster,” the greatest song ever recorded by anyone in any language on any planet, was produced in the same decade that gave us “Kung Fu Fighting” and “You’re Having My Baby.”

David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream”
My favorite Bowie album is Station to Station, but this is my favorite song.

The Clash, “Complete Control”
Runner-up: “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”

Elvis Costello, “You Belong to Me”
Could easily have gone with “Mystery Dance,” “Watching the Detectives,” or “This Year’s Model.”

The Dickies, “Nights in White Satin”
One of the best covers in the history of covers. You get every note of the original but all of them played five times as fast. The single was released in 1979 on white vinyl.

Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On” and “What’s Going On
If this had been ’60s Week, I would’ve picked “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Al Green, “Love and Happiness”
I can listen to this over and over. In fact, I have.

The Guess Who, “No Time”
What this song means is anybody’s guess. The live version, recorded in Seattle on the same stage where Special D and I saw The Roches and Guys and Dolls, rocks harder.

George Harrison, “Isn’t It a Pity”
Harrison’s talent seems so very different from Lennon’s and McCartney’s. George’s work floats on a slow-moving undercurrent of grief.

Isaac Hayes, “Theme From Shaft”
Shaft. Any questions?

Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”
The video of Jackson dancing to this song was the first thing I ever saw played back on a VCR.

K.C. & The Sunshine Band, “Get Down Tonight”
By your command!

Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir”
I’ve tried for years to dismiss Led Zeppelin as AC/DC with a library card, but songs like this rebuke me.

Paul McCartney, “Maybe I’m Amazed”
The best thing Sir Paul did on his own, and good enough to compare to his work with John.

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”
Thelma Houston’s version is more disco. I had to flip a coin to pick one.

Pink Floyd, “Fearless”
Dark Side of the Moon is my favorite Pink Floyd, but this is my favorite song. Always brings tears to my eyes.

Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side”
To save space, the term “Lou Reed” includes the term “The Velvet Underground.”

The Rolling Stones, “Wild Horses”
If I hadn’t limited myself to one song apiece, The Stones would’ve dominated this list. For ’60s Week I would’ve picked “Street Fighting Man.”

Tom Rush, “Urge for Going”
Joni Mitchell wrote this one. Tom Rush is not in her league, except here. Not what you’d call a bouncy number.

Bruce Springsteen, “Backstreets”
One of the few times Bruce surpassed “Wild Billy’s Circus Story.”

Steely Dan, “Bodhisattva”
Steely Dan is not the most annoying band of the decade, though they’re right behind Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Bee-Gees in that department. “Bodhisattva,” however, is too ridiculous to resist. Plus it packs more swing than anything else in the Steely Dan catalog.

Talking Heads, “Heaven”
As I wrote here, I never appreciated this song until I heard them perform it during the Stop Making Sense concert tour.

Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”
Almost every one of his songs bursts with joy. Runner-up: “As.”

Your suggestions, comments, and suggestive comments are welcome. Thanks as always for reading. See you for ’80s Week!

MTV went on the air in 1981 and immediately rewrote the musical map. It’s easy to see how round-the-clock music videos made stars of talented people with outlandish personalities, like Michael Jackson and Madonna. I thought it would be more interesting to see what MTV did for a band with loads of talent but no personality. That band would be Dire Straits.

You probably remember their first album, released in 1978, if only for their Top 10 single “Sultans of Swing.” Guitarist Mark Knopfler wrote offbeat songs in an observational style somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger; he and his bandmates could play pop, jazz, and country. Their follow-up, Communiqué (1979), was less of the same, but it established the Dire Straits pattern:

  • The good songs were on the odd-numbered albums.
  • All of their albums sold well in their native UK.
  • Dire Straits made hard rock for people who liked soft rock. If you wanted something tougher than The Doobie Brothers or more authentic than Steely Dan, Dire Straits was the band for you.

Dire Straits’ third album, Making Movies (1980), was easily the band’s best and one of the best albums of the decade. And I say this as someone who doesn’t like soft rock or Knopfler’s voice. “Skateway” and “Romeo and Juliet” are lovely and haunting, and as for “Les Boys,” how often do you stumble across a song about German transvestites?

That ain’t workin’…that’s the way you do it
Because Dire Straits had a profitable history, their label, Warner Bros., was willing to bankroll a venture into the New World of music videos. And they didn’t just slap something together to fill the sudden demand for content, either. The videos for “Skateway” and “Romeo and Juliet,” particularly the former, remain stylish and interesting 30 years later.

Dire Straits was still selling records and MTV was still running their videos in 1985 when they released Brothers in Arms. This was the band’s commercial blockbuster (though the album runs out of gas well before it’s over), and I’m convinced they had MTV to thank. Their big hit, “Money For Nothing,” was perfect for MTV. It had a killer guitar line, you could pick up all the words on the first listen, it was an anti-MTV song for the snobs in the audience, and the insanely popular Sting sang the falsetto “I want my MTV” to the tune of The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” (In my mind, attaching Sting to a project means burn before listening, but in 1985 he was a god.)

The “Money for Nothing” video is as fun as it ever was; the computer animation looks like the distant past’s vision of the far future. You just have to overlook the matching 20 Minute Workout sweat bands the boys are wearing.

Success isn’t just being in the right place at the right time. Even if the planets line up for you, you have to recognize that they’ve done so. And you must possess the skill and the desire to produce a positive outcome. Even though the Dire Straits express ran right off the rails after Brothers in Arms, let’s give them credit. When opportunity knocked, they gave her a big old smooch.

Now look at them yo-yo’s: A few of Dire Straits’ contemporaries
Elvis Costello debuted about the same time as Dire Straits, with My Aim Is True (1977). But Costello was unable to use MTV the way Dire Straits did. (Whether he wanted to is another question.) By 1981 he’d released five albums on four labels and the four of them together didn’t have the resources of Warner Bros. His biggest hit, “Veronica” (in collaboration with Paul McCartney), was six years off. His early albums had a smallish following and he had an undeserved punk reputation.

Costello is far more talented than Knopfler, which is saying a lot. Lots of people are better than Coldplay. Not many are better than Mark Knopfler. Costello’s songs were too angry and angular to fit in the sanitized environment of the early MTV. Plus you can’t categorize Elvis Costello. That to me is a virtue but I don’t run my own network.

The B-52s
Regular readers and people who put up with me socially know that I love this band. They produced two dance-club faves in 1979 and ’80: The B-52s and Wild Planet. Like Costello, their only Top 10 hits, “Love Shack” and “Roam,” were years away.

In 1981 The B-52s were too weird for MTV, which is a weird concept now. When Special D and I saw them in 2007, people brought their grandchildren. Warner Bros. was behind The B-52s but apparently they saw no need to pay for fancy videos early on, even though this is the band that gave us “Rock Lobster,” the greatest song ever recorded.

The Talking Heads
The Talking Heads had four albums in play by 1981, but like The B-52s they were viewed as weird. (Here’s how to tell the difference between the two bands: Talking Heads are Rene Magritte. The B-52s are an inebriated Norman Rockwell.)

Talking Heads’ sole foray into the top of the charts, “Burning Down the House,” appeared in 1983. That song had an elaborate – and boring – video. The most interesting artists sometimes made the least-interesting videos. Talking Heads were one example; David Bowie was another.

The Pretenders
A tough woman singing about sex? Not in 1981!

The Allies
The Allies were a Seattle band that made their own video and won MTV’s “Basement Tapes” competition in 1982. “Emma Peel” is a little creaky now but was amazing then, given its backwoods origins. Also, I was almost in it. Unfortunately, the band lacked the material to follow up on this success, even though they sound very similar to our next contestants, The Romantics.

The Romantics
The Romantics are a rare example of a band that succeeded despite MTV. These power poppers had a hit in 1980 with “That’s What I Like About You.” The video was the laziest kind, a performance, and frankly, these guys are not visually appetizing. The Romantics had another hit in 1983, “Talking In Your Sleep,” but the video, in true MTV tradition, is too stupid to be believed. (If you don’t believe anything could be that stupid, watch the first 25 seconds.)

That’s my idiosyncratic tour of the protoplasmic MTV. Money for nothin’…chicks for free.

Goodbye: Gil Scott-Heron, 1949-2011
I wish MTV had existed in an earlier time. They wouldn’t have touched Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” with a barge pole, but what a video that song would’ve made! Rest in peace.

The B-52s
Boston, Mass. 1979
Portland, Ore. 2007
In the summer of 1979, when The B-52s sang “Everybody had matching towels,” I was one of the people in that little club waving matching towels. Mine were white with a red checked pattern and I bought them that morning at Goodwill.

Of course none of us who had arrived at the club equipped with extracurricular textiles had considered what we were going to do with them after that line, since the rock lobster immediately appears and there’s no time for towels after that. They mostly ended up kicked into a corner. I’d like to think the club donated them all to Goodwill the next day.

I wish I knew the exact date of that show, and the time of the evening when they launched into “Rock Lobster,” because at that moment I was cooler than I’d ever been or ever would be again. (I saw The B-52s again in 1980 and 1981, by which time I was hauling a strobe light around with me.) Before the 2007 show I considered going back to Goodwill for more towels, but you can never recapture your old glory. Not even if you drove a Plymouth Satellite/faster than the speed of light.