Once again, he’s used the video to promote charity donation, this year emphasizing three immediate causes: protecting access to safe abortions in Texas, recovery in New Orleans after Hurricane Ida, and campaigning for responsible climate policy.
Try to remember to donate if you’re in a position to do so! Hey, that reminds me of a song. I was unaware that Harry Belafonte had done a fairly well-known version of “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks, which is nice to discover. I’ve liked the song ever since I had to sing it for an audition once1I did not get the part., but every version I’ve ever heard is almost cringingly white, like it’s not incidental but they’re leaning heavily into the whiteness of it.
Continuing a theme for the week, I guess, with two songs from ABBA
If I’m sharing my odd pre-adolescent crushes with the internet, I should probably mention Benny Andersson. I was obsessed with ABBA as a kid, even by gay boy standards.
I’m not sure how exactly I first saw their videos — we didn’t get cable until after I’d “outgrown” them, so I guess it was Night Tracks? — but I was still impressionable enough that the one for “Take a Chance on Me” was hugely formative. One of my favorite songs being performed by a beardy man who dressed kind of like Han Solo? I was completely on board.
I’m also not sure exactly how obsession with ABBA became stereotyped as a gay thing. Obviously, the costumes were over the top, but it was the 1970s. There were plenty of glam pop and rock groups that were even more extravagant but weren’t publicly made up of straight couples. Still, the stereotype is pervasive enough that I know of multiple stores in predominantly gay neighborhoods catering to gay customers, called “Does Your Mother Know?” Which is a song that almost sounds more like Cheap Trick than ABBA.
It used to bug me that so many of the most common stereotypes applied to me; nobody likes being a basic bitch. But now there’s something kind of comforting about realizing you’ve got a common frame of reference with so many other people. As I’m looking through old videos, hearing songs that I’d completely forgotten about but somehow I can still sing along with every single word, it feels like I’ve had Agnetha Fältskog floating over my shoulder all this time, coming to me in times of trouble to whisper about good days and bad days.
Surf Guitar and Outer Space are two great tastes that taste great together
Today’s theme for the Tune Two-Fer: Space Surf Guitar!
Although I’d heard examples of it previously, the first time I became aware of combining surf rock and sci-fi was on Space Mountain at Disneyland, when it debuted the soundtrack with Dick Dale doing a space surf version of Carnival of the Animals. It seemed like such a novelty, even though it made perfect sense: the “golden age” of surf music roughly coincided with the popularity of sci-fi B movies and TV series.
I admit that I’d always just assumed that combining space and surf guitar was a novelty the Pixies invented, on Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde. In my defense, if you compare their cover of “Cecilia Ann” on Bossanova with the original by the Surftones, it does sound like the song had spent decades Earthbound until the Pixies added otherworldly organs and echoes.
The above links are from Apple Music; here are the Spotify versions, if that’s your thing:
In honor of Biz Markie, two tracks from one of my favorite albums.
“Intergalactic” from Hello Nasty (as opposed to the video version) ends with what sounds like Biz Markie demoing the style that the boys kind of ended up using in the song. (“Is that an echo?”)
Hello Nasty is easily my favorite Beastie Boys record, and it’s one of my top 10 of all time, so even if I’m mistaken and that’s not what was going on, nobody tell me. I like the memory better.
Biz Markie died last week, from severe complications from diabetes. The memorials I saw online all talked about his hit “Just a Friend,” but I’ve always thought about him in relation to Hello Nasty. That’s not back-handed or condescending. It may not be his album, but the album wouldn’t have become such a classic without him. He’s got such an outsized presence — or at least my favorite tracks — that in my mind, it’s a collaboration, not a guest appearance.
Maybe even more than “Body Movin'” and “Intergalactic,” I think my favorite track on Hello Nasty is “The Grasshopper Unit (Keep Movin’)”. On the Deluxe version of the album, there’s a neat outtake called “The Biz Grasshopper Experiment” that gives an idea how the track came together. You probably can’t go wrong if you’ve got an echo delay effect and Biz Markie as your hype man.
If ever this country needed Cartoon Network to be cool again, that time is now
If I were to tell you that there’s a piece of music that’s running on a constant loop in the background of my brain, it’d be reasonable to assume that it’s the Innoventions Area loop from Epcot, or the theme from Space: 1999, or even Pump Up the Jam.
And those do frequently take over my capacity for thought for weeks at a time. But the one tune that lies, Cthulu-like, in the depths of my subconscious, waiting for its time to strike, is That Time Is Now by Michael Kohler. It was broadcast as a commercial bumper in the golden age of Cartoon Network, when all of us nerds of a certain age were so happy that a bunch of hipsters had gotten control of the Hanna Barbera and Warner Brothers libraries.
That remix of the Superfriends theme is what I heard in my head as a child, all the power and bombast and excitement of a show that simply didn’t warrant such cool music or Ted Knight voice-overs.
There were a ton of other impossibly cool ones, and it’s hard to pick a second favorite. The collage video warning that Atom Ant was the only thing saving us from nuclear annihilation? The impossible board game with Jonny Quest? The one that takes Josie and the Pussycats through various stages of music from the 60s to the early 2000s? I mean, their Betty Boop video for “Rolling” by Soul Coughing is what made me love the band.
But I think the one that made me feel like there was infinite potential for creative people to remix and re-imagine was Jabberjaw Running Underwater, with a song by the band Pain and a video re-imagining the Neptunes as hipsters on a lunchbox.
One song from Epcot Center and another song that captures how I felt as a 13-14 year old in Epcot Center.
The Universe of Energy pavilion wasn’t my favorite (although the pre-show with a film projected on rotating panels was mind-blowing to teen Chuck and hasn’t been matched since). But the “Universe of Energy” theme song has almost everything I love about early Epcot: undeniably early 80s, with that kind of inspiring instrumentation that made you feel like F Yeah with Exxon and American ingenuity, we can do anything wait what’s that about an oil spill?
I say “almost everything” because another of my favorite aspects of early Epcot was how 60s and 70s animation was still lingering in unexpected places: a Roman chariot turning a corner in Spaceship Earth, several scenes in World of Motion, and the “horror story” section of Journey Into Imagination. It made the park feel almost like a showcase for the Disney educational cartoons.
And to this unabashed nerd, it was like they’d combined Disney World and PBS into a full-sized version of 3-2-1 Contact that I could walk through. I’m definitely not anti-IP, and I’d prefer a movie-based attraction to a corporate sponsorship any day, but I do think it’s a little sad that when it came to Epcot Center, the edutainment nerds lost. It was inevitable, in retrospect, that entertainment would win out for people spending a ton of money on a vacation. (Especially since it should’ve been obvious to everyone, even in the late 70s, that Disney would never be willing to make the kind of recurring investment required to keep the educational material current and interesting). But at least it’s comfortably settled into nostalgia, which is both fun for aging nerds and profitable for Disney, so win-win!
This Tuesday Tune Two-Fer’s all about whatever makes you happy
There’s a new song out by the Go! Team, from their upcoming album Get Up Sequences Part One. It’s called “A Bee Without Its Sting,” and it’s joyful.
I’ve got to admit that it feels a little bit like Go! Team videos are being generated by a neural network at this point: they’re a mish-mash of Cooper Black, video and photocopier artifacts, film footage of bodegas and other city scenes, and people playing instruments in front of a green screen. But I don’t care a bit, since it’s all such a positive energy that I don’t even feel self-conscious using phrases like “positive energy.”
The only thing that could improve it, of course, is replacing the Sting. Here’s the Tantric Dad himself singing “Little Something” with Melody “What If Eartha Kitt but Super-White?” Gardot. I wish I could get past my snobbery about music like this, because I am almost-50-enough and white enough to genuinely like it, but I still can’t jettison the idea that I’m supposed to be at least a little bit embarrassed for liking it. This seems like music that affluent straight white people in their mid-50s have sex to. Like right after the end of the Cialis commercial, they get out of the tubs, open the doors of their Lexus parked nearby, and just crank this shit out while they start doin’ it. Happy Tuesday!
Cosmonauts and astronauts and Von Trapps and tortoises
How long has it been since you’ve seen the video for 1987 dance hit “Pump Up the Volume” by M/A/R/R/S? I’m betting it’s been too long, and you’ve forgotten that the video is actually pretty rad, with tons of old space race footage and NASA visualizations.
Music that transports me to a place where I’m hot and moist and can still taste fish and chips
Today I’m back on my bullshit about how much I like Epcot. Specifically: the Illuminations fireworks show, still one of the best things Disney’s ever done. The last time we went to Epcot, I got to see it, knowing that it was my final time seeing it, and I just cried and cried as I said goodbye to what felt like 20 years of my life.
Any obsessive fan can tell you that the appeal of Illuminations wasn’t just the fireworks, but the whole experience. In that way, I imagine it’s like Burning Man for middle-class suburban white people. (Or in other words, Burning Man). Even before the narrator blows out the torches all around the lake, there was an electricity as people walked around the World Showcase to find a good spot to watch the show. All set to early 2000s new age world music, composed in an environment where Gregorian chants set to electronic beats were played on popular radio. Most memorable is probably “Our Life” by Uttara-Kuru, from the album East Wind.
For years, I just assumed that if these songs never appeared on an official Disney album, there’s no way I’d be able to have recordings of them. But then I remembered the internet exists. A playlist by Timothy McJilton on Apple Music compiles most of the songs from the Illuminations preshow, and there are countless others on streaming services and YouTube.
That’s how I know that the song I’ve always known as “Holy Shit The Fireworks Are About to Start” is actually called “Gaviotes” by Hevia, from the album Tierra de Nadie.
The Art of Getting the Band Back Together For the Purposes of Selling Out to Hollywood
It’s always seemed weird to me that Art of Noise weren’t more of a video band. It seems like they’d be all about making experimental, genre-defining videos, and Close (To The Edit) is up there with “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Billie Jean” as defining the music video era.
But I guess it’s not all that surprising that not many videos followed, since they didn’t really make hit songs. There was probably little money in trying to promote them. What is surprising to me, though, is just how corny their other videos are. Such a gap between the wryly comic avant garde artists I picture when listening to the albums, and the almost-“Superbowl Shuffle” levels of awkwardness in the videos.
Which culminated in the video to their cash-grabby theme for the movie Dragnet. This movie was forgettable even by late 80s standards, but it feels like Dan Aykroyd was still riding off Ghostbusters‘s surprising popularity, so Hollywood was eager to throw tons of money at it to force it to become A Thing. And while I don’t know it for sure, it seems apparent that Art of Noise were still riding off their version of the Peter Gunn theme with Duane Eddy, and someone involved with the movie asked them, “could you give us another one of those, please?”
What’s remarkable to me about the video is just how it’s such a pure example of its species; it’s like the platonic ideal of a Hollywood sell-out musicvideomercial. A random (no doubt studio-mandated) assortment of video clips from the movie, with a track containing dialogue samples from the movie, here mixed with callbacks to the band’s most well-known video.
It’s so brazen that I wonder if AoN at the time thought of it as satire. Whether it was or wasn’t, they still got the last laugh. I would’ve completely forgotten that Dragnet the movie existed — it’s so non-essential that even now, as I’m writing about it, my brain is trying to erase any memory of it — if Art of Noise hadn’t included the theme song as the first track of their second-best album, which I’ve listened to hundreds of times.
Update 5/29/2021: Okay, over the past few days, I’ve been rethinking my surprisingly hostile reaction to the “Dragnet” video, which now seems pretty dense. I mean, of course they’re in on the joke; “The Art of Noise has gone Hollywood” is the entire joke. It’s not particularly subtle.
Also, I found out that Zbigniew Rybczynski, director of the “Close (To The Edit)” video, directed this one as well, so it’s more like an artist playing off his own work than a studio capitalizing on an artist’s work. I’m not sure why I thought that a movie studio making a purely crass piece of marketing would go to the trouble of getting the original performers in a semi-obscure art-pop video to goof off with green screen effects.
Regardless, my over-thinking the whole thing was pretty dumb, which annoys me, because it’s exactly the kind of simple-minded “Stick it to The Man! Only I can see how the exploitative system really works!” nonsense I spend so much time complaining about.
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’.