Posts Tagged ‘Thriller’

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

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

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

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

Sting is scary, music by The Police is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1999
Prince
1982

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

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

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

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

* When he was younger. Way younger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rolling Stone’s best albums of 1982:

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

Runners-up:
Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello
1999 – Prince
The Blue Mask – Lou Reed
Marshall Crenshaw – Marshall Crenshaw

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

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

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

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

 

It’s time for a wee bit of head-banging with today’s special guests, AC/DC. But before I tell you how to cope with these Australian wunderkinder, let’s deal with some of the more common reactions to their music. And people definitely react.

Former co-worker Karrie objects to AC/DC’s “misogynistic lyrics, badly rhyming lyrics, and badly rhyming misogynistic lyrics.”

Former co-worker Curt compares AC/DC to “an expensive, exotic cheese…smells horrid, leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but when paired with the proper wine and foods…it’s exquisite.”

Current wife Special D opines, “They’re really annoying if you’re not drunk.”

Critics: All their songs sound the same!!

Though I enjoy a big blast of AC/DC, I can’t refute these charges. (I never found out what former co-worker Curt thought you could pair them with. Prozac?) However, I believe that AC/DC is the one butt-kicking metal outfit you should listen to because, in today’s time-starved environment, they are by far the most efficient. From Anthrax to White Snake, you’ll never find a band that rocks this hard with all of these strengths:

1) All their songs sound the same? Of course they do. Angus and Malcolm Young only know a couple of riffs. They can’t even get the artillery on “For Those About to Rock” to go off at the right time. But those riffs are good riffs!

2) Because everything sounds the same, you can forget 17 of their 18 albums of original material and just buy Back in Black.

3) Back in Black is the second-biggest selling album of all time. (Thriller is first.) No one will make fun of you for having the vinyl, the CD, the eight-track, or the cassette in your collection because they’ve already seen it in 50 million other collections.

4) If you’re stealing this stuff online, why are you reading this?

5) The album cover is black.

As for the lyrics: You’re listening to the lyrics? Don’t do that. If you do, you’ll quickly realize that the members of AC/DC face some serious hurdles in establishing mutually respectful and beneficial relationships with women. Unfortunately there’s no patch you can download to improve these guys. I’ve grown adept at hearing the words without hearing the meaning. It helps to concentrate on the really loopy declarations, as when Brian Johnson threatens us with…a bell, or when he claims he doesn’t need to be hosed down or that he’s caught “in the middle of a railroad track.” Just step over one of the rails, Brian, you’ll free yourself in a jiffy.

Can women enjoy AC/DC responsibly? In 2003, Special D and I saw an all-female AC/DC tribute band called Hell’s Belles. The guitarist could mimic the Youngs perfectly, and in honor of Bon “Bon is gone” Scott she wore Australian-flag underwear. The singer was a black Janis Joplin who had us thunderstruck from the moment she opened her mouth. The ensemble restricted themselves to the less misogynistic epics, never resorted to bagpipes or cannons, and they even replaced the gong that opens “Hell’s Bells” with a triangle.

The spectacle of a stage full of women playing the music of these sexist birdbrains, coupled with some serious skills, made for an experience that was probably better than seeing the real thing. I’m sure they smelled better, too.

Thank you, AC/DC, for shaking me all night long, or at least for the 36-minute running time of Back in Black. You guys will always rock. Stay away from my wife.