I’m still not exactly sure how any of us survived being teenagers in the 1980s.
It’s alarming how many people either don’t know or don’t remember — or refuse to remember — the video to Billy Ocean’s “Loverboy”. It exists, it happened, and if we go on denying it, we’ll never recover as a global society.
Actually, even though it’s just bonkers and more than a little off-putting, I love that the video exists. I feel like the TV-headed aliens were genuinely novel; it was at least he first time I’d seen anything like them. It’s tempting to say “they don’t make ’em like that anymore!” but that would be a lie. This might be the biggest gap between inexplicably weird video to straightforward pop song ever, though.
Looking back on the early 1980s, I’m kind of surprised that 12-13-year-old me survived it without becoming even weirder than I already am. Everything seemed unnecessarily sci-fi or post-apocalyptic (Star Wars and Mad Max/The Road Warrior over-saturated 1981-1985 even more than the MCU has done in the present), and oddly sexual and dirty. Not dirty like “naughty” but dirty like actual dirt.
In particular, Russell Mulcahy-directed videos for Duran Duran around this time, like Union of the Snake and The Wild Boys, hit me right in the adolescence. They were a blur of scaffolding and leather and abs and eye make-up. Watching Simon LeBon tied up on a windmill made me feel like the villain in Hunchback of Notre Dame watching Esemeralda dance.
But I mean, Duran Duran was supposed to be 80s sexy; that was their whole schtick. You don’t really get a feel for how bizarrely sexualized early-80s music videos were unless you see something like Hall & Oates’s “Adult Education”, with its post-apocalyptic wedding ceremony and John Oates looking very angry that he didn’t get to wear a shirt. I’m pretty sure that this video had the most naked person I’d ever seen up to that point. But it was like seeing Michael Douglas’s gratuitously bare-assed flank in Romancing the Stone: I thought “even as a ridiculously confused and horned-up 13-year-old, there is nothing I can do with this image.”
Always two there are, on Tuesdays, no more, no less.
For this May 4th, my favorite performance of “Hey Ya” and what might be the best thing that I’ve ever seen (almost) live: the Hyperspace Hoopla, part of the Star Wars Celebration at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which culminated in a dance off with Chewbacca and the women of Star Wars shaking it like a Polaroid picture. (YouTube won’t let me embed this version of the show, but it better conveys the mood with the introduction of DJ Lobot).
That was such a joyfully ridiculous (and ridiculously joyful) show — extremely, almost obscenely cheesy, effusively corny, so far beyond the boundaries of self-awareness that it became earnest again, and seemingly driven more by genuine enthusiasm and love for all of this nonsense than by a desire to impress. I was at the studios goofing off after working on a project, unaware that the show was even happening, so stumbling on this bizarre moment and learning it was part of a long-running tradition made it even more remarkable.
A huge part of the appeal of Star Wars for me as an adult is that it’s precariously balanced on a knife edge between cool and ridiculous. The ridiculousness of the “Hyperspace Hoopla” without the dancing and costume-making talent would’ve been cringe-worthy. But if you just try for cool props and set design and visual effects, but no spark of joyful goofiness, you end up with Rogue One.
Tuesday tune two is “Nama Heh,” which is one of the songs played at Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge. A fact which should surprise no one is that for at least two months after Disney released the cantina songs on streaming services, I listened to them in a near-constant loop. Another example of extremely talented people putting all their talent into making something goofy, because these songs are both a) nonsense, and b) bangin’.
Not much to say about this week’s semi-new song Sunday: a funk cover of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” by Scary Pockets featuring Swatkins. It’s corny as heck but I think it’s a lot of fun. (They also did a roof-top cover of “Harder Better Faster Stronger”, because if you’re gonna go to the trouble of getting a talkbox, you might as well get use out of it).
I also recommend watching the original version if you haven’t yet. I hadn’t heard of it before a couple of years ago, and I only knew it from the “ooo whatcha say” sample. Which is a shame, because knowing only the sample dumbs down and over-simplifies a genuinely unique contribution to 21st century pop music. If you’re going to dumb it down and over-simplify it, you should at least have fun with it.
I’ve always been bad at recognizing song lyrics, so I appreciate songs like “Huffer” by The Breeders and “Rock Music” by Pixies. If there’s one thing that Kim Deal and Black Francis can both agree on, it’s that it’s a waste to be getting too heady with the lyrics if I’m just going to be in my car screaming nonsense anyway.
Lord Huron’s ominous and atmospheric music may not need such an elaborate framing device, but I’ll allow it
I can tell I’m getting older, because my reaction to Lord Huron over the past couple of days has been that they don’t have to try so hard. They could just keep releasing pretty, Beck-ish songs like “Mine Forever” and we’d all be perfectly happy with them. It doesn’t all need to be framed in layers of supernatural-60s-TV-country-and-western visual treatments.
Which is a little sad, because I used to go nuts for that shit. You could show me a black-and-white globe and fictional broadcast call letters, and it’d set my heart aflutter.
I don’t know when I became such a spoilsport. Especially when it’s let them take the live-from-home COVID-concert trend and turn it into a web series of broadcasts called “Alive From Whispering Pines,” with vaguely Chris Isaak-meets-surf-guitar songs like “The World Ender”.
And it’s churlish of me to begrudge a band wanting to apply some showmanship to songs that would make for an amazingly creepy and atmospheric road trip, at a time when we’re all stuck at home.
It’s a good way to be a responsible citizen looking out for your neighbors, just like Pat Benatar does in this video by telling someone in the front row of the audience that he’s got some barbecue sauce on his cheek.
Two tangentially-related tunes every Tuesday: today’s videos made me like the songs more
This installment of Tuesday Tune Two-Fer has two of my favorite music videos ever, and in fact they’re so good that they make me like the song more.
First up is “And She Was” by Talking Heads, which has such an amazing aesthetic that I’m still surprised it wasn’t used more often. (The only other occurrence I know of is Michael Jackson’s “Leave Me Alone” video). I still want to make some kind of video or game project that looks like this, which let’s be honest must be a billion times easier to do now. Just use shaders or some shit.
I say “almost” because I really can’t overstate how much “Electronic Behavior Control System” blew my mind, even as a tiny QuickTime video hidden on the data portion of the album CD. This one wasn’t included on the CD, for whatever reason, so I never really appreciated just how much video DJ-ing went into the track. I also appreciate how their sense of humor comes through more subtly in this one, especially with the sign language interpreter pointing accusingly at us.
I’m embarrassed I’m only just now finding out about Thundercat.
There’s usually no shame in the Semi-New Sunday series. After all, the whole point is for me to acknowledge that I’m out of touch with what’s going on with music, and I’m making an effort to broaden my horizons. But I’m genuinely embarrassed that I’m only just now finding out about Thundercat.
Because he’s straight-up hilarious, and I am 10000% behind this new weird genre of Nerd Funk that he’s created. Plus he’s made what might be the best album cover ever.
I feel like I’ve seen the video to “Dragonball Durag” before, but I just assumed it was some Adult Swim thing, and I didn’t think much of it. Thinking of it as just a weird comedy video, I didn’t appreciate that he’s so brilliant at playing the bass and coming up with a groove that he doesn’t need to take anything all that seriously. He can treat it as just a vehicle for him to be weird and write songs about his cat and playing Diablo, and making a video of himself trying to hit on women and getting turned down repeatedly until he finally gets some traction with Este Haim.
That talent — combined with what seems to be a total lack of concern about looking uncool — results in a kind of freedom that I think is just amazing and inspiring to see. It feels like unapologetic, unfettered enthusiasm. Without hesitation, or self-censorship, or fear of being too earnest.
For instance: the video to “Them Changes”, which you know is about a samurai simply because he thinks samurai are cool and wanted to dress up as one. And the video is set up like a gag, but there’s no wink to the camera. There’s no line where the gag stops and the earnest part begins. It’s not using something silly to hide a serious message; it’s kind of suggesting that everything is always cool and dumb and silly and sad and serious and funny, all at the same time.
That story is continued in the video to “Show You the Way,” which also has Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, also simultaneously a stunt and an earnest appreciation of their music. There’s a feeling of celebration in all of it, even the melancholy parts. I know that funk and R&B have a long history of being weird and funny, but this is the first time I felt like I’ve really connected with any of it.
My entry in the Haim fan club and a near-fifty-year-old’s lament of the Tik Tok generation.
I want to start by saying I don’t feel the least bit guilty about this post’s title, considering that the band themselves were promoting last year’s tour with a version of Daft Punk’s “One More Haim.”
I was proud of myself for not letting this turn into a Dirty Projectors fan blog, but then Haim snuck in on the Seth Meyers show dressed as vampire brides, and the next thing I knew, I was a fan. It’s kind of the same trap I fell into with Neko Case: I had no idea they were funny! With Haim, on top of the title of their third album, there’s their Twitter and Instagram accounts. They make it clear that while they take the music part seriously, everything that comes with fame and self-promotion is really just an excuse for them to wear nice clothes and have fun.
Granted, most people who know me will know that I’ve always had the spirit of a twenty-something Los Angeles millennial Jewish woman, trapped in the body of a big hairy, nerdy WASP. But even if you don’t have an affinity for it like I do, they’re doing a hell of a job of selling a lifestyle: being a young, successful woman in LA. They keep getting Paul Thomas Anderson to direct their videos of them walking around the city, taking their clothes off, racing each other through the Forum parking lot, wandering through car washes, or having a make-up-related breakdown while complaining that you don’t understand me, and it just seems like even at its grimiest and most suburban sprawling, the city would be a fascinating place to live in.
Today’s two tunes appeared on 99.9% of my playlists in the 2000s
Remember the early 2000s, which were just a few years ago and not 20, so shut your lying mouth? Instead of all these uninspired present-day bands who insist on making “new music,” back then, they dug up under-appreciated albums from the 60s and 70s and did electronic remix version compilations. They were crazy about that stuff, and we liked it that way.
One was called The Now Sound Redesigned, a bunch of remixes of songs by The Free Design. The Free Design have an album called Kites Are Fun and they seem to me as if they were inspired by The Association, but wanted a sound that wasn’t so intense and edgy. “I Found Love” is by far my favorite track from that project. Putting the original men’s vocals weaving in and out of Sarah Shannon’s more prominent lead vocals is the perfect move, elevating the original from something slight and treacly to something genuinely pretty.
Another was “Batucada” by Towa Tei & Bebel Gilberto. (It had already been out a few years before I discovered it). Hearing this song brings back memories of driving around the Bay Area listening to Pizzicato Five, Fantastic Plastic Machine, the Samba de Amigo and Jet Set Radio soundtracks, and imagining living in a swinging future bachelor pad that overlooked the megalopolis of Rio de Tokyo.