More important lessons passed to the next generation

MMM Toddler Edition and I went to a hockey game over Thanksgiving weekend, and I rewarded his good behavior with the purchase of a small Alex Ovechkin stick.

He has taken to taking the stick to bed, along with the stuffed animals that are multiplying in his bed.

Normally, none of this is a problem. But tonight, we heard noise from his room …

… tap … tap … tap …

“What is he DOING?” asked Mrs. MMM.

My response: “He’s just letting his teammates know the power play is ending.”


Memo to Simpsons producers

You’re still coming up with good ideas. But you keep recycling one bad one.

For the last time, it’s not funny or interesting to break up Homer and Marge before the last commercial break, then scramble to get them back together before the end. It’s been done to death, reincarnated as a cow, milked, and … well, that’s enough of that analogy.

Promising episode tonight for the first half.


VH1 list, the conclusion

76 Thomas Dolby / “She Blinded Me With Science” 1982

Dolby had other good songs — Europa possibly the most memorable. Then he went on to do some techie thing that I probably should’ve done if anyone would’ve given me venture capital or if I had any clue what it entailed or if I’d bought into it enough to say “Oh yeah, it’s what everyone will be doing in five years” with a straight face. Damn my anonymous skeptical self.

Good song, great video.

77 New Edition / “Candy Girl” 1983

Don’t remember it.

78 Blondie / “Call Me” 1980

Ah, the song that taught a young MMM that designer sheets and wine were sexy. They had to be — Debbie Harry was sexy (even I knew that), she was singing about a gigolo, and so she must know what she’s talking about. Right?

But at this point, we should give props to one of the great underrated musicians of the rock era — Blondie keyboardist Jimmy Destri. You don’t hear many songs outside the prog-rock genre that feature a keyboard solo. Even so, this one sticks in your head.

79 Human League / “Don’t You Want Me?” 1981

Another one of those songs that melted my resistance to Top 40 songs. So many good riffs bouncing off each other in the mix, such a compelling story, enhanced by a mildly creepy video.

I’ll insist that Human League went on to do other good songs. (Keep Feeling) Fascination, aside from the parentheses (one of my (pet peeves) in song titles), wasn’t bad. And for a distinctly different take on the Human League, check out The Lebanon, a political lament propelled by Jo Callis’ guitar.

80 Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock / “It Takes Two” 1988

Don’t remember it.

81 Cameo / “Word Up!” 1986

I have a vague memory of a music-magazine interview with one of these guys, who came across as the most arrogant one-hit wonder you’d ever not want to meet. He was apparently working in a shoe store but quit on the spot when he heard his song on the radio. Shouldn’t have burned those bridges.

82 Squeeze / “Tempted” 1981

An oddity, in part because the Difford-Tilbrook core gives way to Paul Carrack, who had just replaced Jools Holland on keyboards and would soon be replaced himself. And then Holland would come back for their second life in the mid-80s, eventually to be replaced AGAIN by Carrack in a roundabout way.

Yes, Holland is the guy who hosts the excellent music show Later on BBC — but curiously on Ovation, not BBC America, here in the States. And yes, Carrack is the guy who would later sing on some dreadful Mike + The Mechanics songs.

Difford and Tilbrook share in the vocals in the second verse, which is a fun listen even if it destroys the narrative. No wonder you’re tempted — you’re four people!

(If I were actually on VH1, I’d do my impression of that verse, which is surprisingly good considering my weak singing voice even after four years of majoring in music.)

It’s a classic because it has a timeless sound and a timeless story, along with some of Difford and Tilbrook’s typically clever lines. But I still find myself listening to other Squeeze tunes ahead of this one — Pulling Mussels from the Shell, Another Nail for My Heart, Take Me I’m Yours, etc. They made one of the best greatest-hits compilations ever compiled.

83 Prince / “Kiss” 1986

Can’t get past the falsetto. I just wanted to reach through the screen, slap him, and say, “Look, dude, pick up that guitar and PLAY! This SUCKS!”

84 Lionel Richie / All Night Long (All Night) 1983

“Jumboleto hipono man … HEYYYYY jumbo jumbo … jumboleto slip emo dan … HEYYYYY shangri-la … Dumbo he go Jar-Jar on crack … heyyyyy Dumbo Dumbo …”

I have no memory of the rest of this song worth sharing.

85 Robert Palmer / “Addicted to Love” 1985

As I’ve hinted throughout, several of these songs caught me at various stages of that precious age in which we discover sex. It’s a confusing age for many of us, and I was no exception. But when I saw this video and heard people talk about how sexy it was, I found a new confidence. I said, “Bullshit.” Emotionless, expressionless women who don’t know the first thing about pretending to play their instruments are not sexy.

Palmer, rest his soul, was always a talented singer in search of decent material. This wasn’t it. Frankly, the Power Station year(s) may have been his pinnacle.

(Did you know that both members of Power Station who were not in Duran Duran are dead, as is collaborator Bernard Edwards? That’s terrible. Tony Thompson, for those who don’t remember, was the guy powering Led Zeppelin through its Live Aid performance while Phil “Hey, It’s a Video About Making a Video About Live Aid, Starring Me on Two Continents!” Collins mugged for the camera.)

86 Bow Wow Wow / “I Want Candy” 1982

There is nothing not to like about this. Love the drum beat, love the enthusiastic vocals, love the surf-punk guitar, love the low-budget video. A favorite of MMM Jr.’s rides to day care. Hey, he doesn’t get subtext.

87 Falco / “Rock Me Amadeus 1986

“Graa vi de doop, whoa oh oh / zyah zyah, Der Kommisar gi doop, whoa oh oh!”

Oh no, this is the other one. Referenced twice in The Simpsons: the “Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius” song in the Broadway Planet of the Apes, and “Thank you, Taco, for that loving tribute to Falco.”

It’s a cool song. What else can you say? Fit perfectly after the movie.

88 Chaka Khan / “Ain’t Nobody” 1989

I’m aware of this song’s existence but have nothing substantial to say about it. Meh.

89 The Pretenders / “Brass in Pocket” 1980

Again, not the Pretenders’ best, and Chrissie Hynde told VH1 she doesn’t really like the song. Considering what else she was capable of doing, that’s not a surprise. Two albums later, with two band members passed away, she roared back with the classic Middle of the Road, which should be on this list. Any song that builds up to her snarled delivery of “I’m not the kind I used to be, I got a kid, I’m 33, baby” is hard to top. (Wow, those first three Pretenders albums had some terrific songs.)

But this song has plenty to justify its inclusion here. Solid bedrock bass line, distinctive guitar riffs, good self-confident strut in the lyrics. Even if I had no idea to this day what “brass in pocket” is supposed to mean.

90 Tone-Loc / “Wild Thing” 1989

This was a whole song? I thought someone just recorded 10 seconds of music for use in ironic contexts in TV shows.

91 Katrina and The Waves / “Walking On Sunshine” 1983

I remember reading that Katrina and company felt this song diminished their standing as true practicioners of punk or whatever else they were doing. But the other two KATW songs I remember — Do You Want Crying? and Is That It? — were pure pop as well. And not as good.

Skip this part if you’re watching the VH1 special. You’ll be heartbroken by what’s happened to Katrina’s hair and singing voice. Her acoustic guitar take on this song is almost as bad as the Indigo Girls’ misguided demolition of Dire Straits’ understated classic Romeo and Juliet. I love Indigo Girls — I really do — but they took that song to a place that wasn’t human. I actually meowed.

92 New Kids on the Block / “You Got It (The Right Stuff) 1988

In the lexicon of the day … whatEVER!

93 Gary Numan / “Cars” 1980

Classic underappreciated video moments: In the long fadeout, Numan’s band is lined up at four keyboards. One guy’s job is to slam his hand on the “4” in every measure. Close your eyes and imagine the song for a second — “Doo doo doo doo … doo KUGSSHHH.” Now picture a guy, looking every bit as serious as Numan, striking a pose that surely inspired Dieter on Sprockets, slamming his hand on the keyboard to get that percussion sound.

Monty Python had the machine that goes “Ping!” Gary Numan had the guy who goes “KUGSSHHHH!” I think I had that sound on my Casio.

I neither love nor hate this song. It’s fascinating to this day, which I suppose is a good thing.

94 The Rolling Stones / “Start Me Up” 1981

Simple guitar riff from a band that did better. In fact, this song is a little clumsy when you get right down to it — the opening riff awkwardly collides with the drums.

95 Debbie Gibson / “Only in My Dreams” 1987

Why did I think Shake Your Love was a bigger song? Was it because my freshman year roommate, who is now a record company exec who works with Guster, played it all the time? And because my other freshman year roommate, a jazz sophisticate who generally teased him about his Top 40 tastes, would play it as well? Maybe so.

It’s catchy, it’s flimsy, it’s just there. I was just jealous, of course, I wanted to be a 17-year-old pop star myself. I guess I’m behind schedule.

96 Men at Work / “Down Under” 1982

Again — Overkill is a better song, but I can’t fault this song’s inclusion. Classic video turning the song’s dry wit into a goofy escapade. These guys had melodic hooks to spare. If you’re in the mood to dig through back catalog, look up I Can See It in Your Eyes.

97 The Romantics / “What I Like About You” 1980

See, Kelly Keagy of Night Ranger? That’s what you’re supposed to do as a singing drummer. Face the crowd, toss the fundamentals aside and let it rip.

One of the few harmonica solos I like.

98 Bobby Brown / “My Perogative” 1988

… is not to listen to this song.

(Sorry … channeling J.D. Considine for a minute. If you’re following the link, the “most famous work” he mentions is his three-letter review of GTR. Which is very easy to guess given these clues but was hysterical upon first discovery.)

99 Wang Chung / “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” 1986

People forget that Wang Chung spent a few years building up to megahit status. Dance Hall Days was a likable effort a few years earlier, and they did an intriguing theme song to the film To Live and Die in L.A.

So I’ll have to emphasize — this was not a bad song or a bad band. Sure, it was a little ironic to see a guy who never smiled telling us to have fun, but that’s nit-picking.

100 Loverboy / “Working for the Weekend” 1981

I get to conclude with one of the funniest stories anyone has ever told me. A friend of mine saw ZZ Top with Loverboy opening. As he told it, the crowd stared with mild but growing hostility as Mike Reno pranced his way around stage, belting out “I gotta do it my-y way,” from the sluggish, conceited mini-epic Turn Me Loose. Finally, it turned ugly. “Z-Z-Top! Z-Z-Top! Z-Z-Top!” Debris raining onto the stage. The guitarist donning a helmet. Reno yelling, “We’re never playing here again!” to raucous cheers.

I have no idea how much of this is true. But it’s a good story, isn’t it?

I’ve softened a bit on Loverboy because Reno seems to have such a great sense of humor. He tells VH1 he still has the tight red pants, same size. Just 36×32 instead of 32×36. Hey, I’m with ya, Mike.

Never really got into this song, though. The video is amusing for the awkward still-frames on drummer Matt Frenette. This band chose two unfortunate visual hooks — tight pants and a drummer who tried just a little too hard to look intense.

We all know why this song lives on. The powers that be aren’t in the habit of letting their work reside at YouTube, but this particular work was so memorable that other people have recorded themselves re-creating it. Check it out.

It is, of course, Patrick Swayze, Chris Farley and Chris Farley’s belly (I maintain they were three separate people, each with different choreography) auditioning to be Chippendales dancers.

Well, this has been fun, and I’ve recorded record readership here. That’ll encourage me to post more often, but bear in mind that I’m a father of two with a demanding job who’s also writing a book. (Anyone interesting in publishing it? Bueller?) At some point in the next week or so, I’ll list MY top songs of the 80s, at least the ones on my iPod. Actually, my iPod is deceased, but I still have it all on iTunes.

Until then, aloha.


VH1 list, #51-75

I know, I know. Time to get to the point. Be warned that I might dismiss a few of these in succinct terms.

51 Ratt / “Round and Round” 1984

I’m going to take a moment to bash Jane’s Addiction and Perry Farrell, just because they deserve it every minute of every day.

All I heard in college was, “Oh, Jane’s Addiction is so cool. They’re so alternative.”

Alternative? The first 50 times I heard Been Caught Stealin’, I thought it was Ratt.

This song was eminently forgettable if not for the video, teaching kids of my generation how to tear their clothing on the climb up to the attic away from Milton Berle so they can show that much more midriff while dancing around.

Ratt had another video, I Need a Woman, that popped up on Beavis and Butt-head. They didn’t like it. IIRC, Butt-head said he needs a woman, too, but isn’t up there singing some crappy song about it, and Beavis noted that the “women” in the video all looked like sophomores. Not in college.

52 Dead or Alive / “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” 1985

I’m not supposed to like dance-oriented songs like this. Especially not back in high school, when I never, ever, ever danced, and I scoffed at pop all day while listening to Rush and Husker Du.

But geez, this is a good song. It’s like White Zombie’s More Human Than Human in the sense that it may be the only time these guys ever put together the pieces in the right combination. (In White Zombie’s case, they couldn’t even put the pieces together again when playing it live — I saw them on some MTV awards show, and it was a train wreck.)

I’ve often fantasized of doing a guitar-based cover version. (Jason? Jefito? Which of you recently posted something about a synth-based song that could just have easily have worked on guitar?)

53 Billy Idol / “White Wedding” 1988

1988? That can’t be right. Let’s see … quick check at AllMusic … aha — 1982, not 88.

What I’m finding with a lot of these songs is that whether I not I liked them is irrelevant. The early 80s MTV bands simply knew how to write musical hooks, deliver vocal hooks and script video hooks. You can … not … forget … this … song. And it’s not altogether unpleasant.

54 Salt-N-Pepa / “Push It” 1986

86? That’s risky. Wouldn’t want to play that song just as Reagan woke up from a nap in the Oval Office near The Button. That would’ve made the Cuban missile crisis look like a picnic on the Mall.

55 A Flock of Seagulls / “I Ran (So Far Away)” 1982

Again, NOT a one-hit wonder. Space Age Love Song is pretty good, and Wishing beautifully explores the possibilities of synth and heavily processed guitar.

Frankly, what held these guys back is Mike Score’s voice. Which has NOT aged well.

You may think of AFOS as a synth-and-hair band, but listen closely to Paul Reynolds’ ultra-sharp guitar riffs. It was a pity he couldn’t quite replicate them on Bands Reunited, but the poor guy hadn’t played in 15 years or so.

56 Bonnie Tyler / “Total Eclipse of the Heart” 1983

I was skinny in high school for two reasons. First, I ran cross-country. Second, in the days before remote control, I had to sprint across the living room to change the channel when this piece of dreck popped up. I may have had nightmares about the kids with the glowing eyes. Or the arrangement.

Jason said all else that needs to be said. The Wikipedia description of the video is unusually — and appropriately — laden with snarky undertones.

57 Toni Basil / “Mickey” 1981

This is a good place to work in something horrible I saw in the Macy’s parade this morning. The cast of the Broadway rendition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas popped up to lip-synch (badly, in some cases) part of the show. It’s safe to say ol’ Doc Geisel is spinning in his grave. The producers absolutely missed the point of the story. The kids of Whoville demand presents and act shocked when the Grinch does his reverse-Santa act. I’ll repeat for emphasis — this heartwarming story of how the Whos are totally unfazed by a massive act of serial burglary on Christmas Eve is rendered here as a bunch of spoiled kids mugging for the crowd.

I mention that, because this entire song and video is mugging. As Peter Griffin once said, “I was very aware that I was watching a performance.”

Set up a good Weird Al parody, though.

58 Culture Club / “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” 1982

One of my best friends from high school performed as Boy George in a lip-sync contest, and it was so adorable that I never hated this song or the band. At the time, I had no idea of the anguished undertones of the George-Jon … oh crap, what’s the drummer’s name? Anyway, that relationship.

George has gone on to become self-parodying, taking out various hostilities on society in any way he can find, but the guy had a great voice.

59 John Mellencamp / “Jack & Diane” 1982

Wasn’t he Cougar at this point? Anyway — I was talking with Mrs. MMM recently about how Mellencamp is one of those guys I respect, even if I don’t own a ton of his music. When you get right down to it, Mellencamp is to Indiana what Springsteen is to New Jersey. He told the stories.

To me, this isn’t one of the better ones. I think Mellencamp got more sophisticated musically over the next couple of years, and it helped. But as I said with Billy Idol, this burns into your head. Even if the video image is of Mellencamp freeze-framed as he starts to throw a punch at the camera for no apparent reason.

If you want the lyrics to the parody I wrote in high school, Sam and Diane, ask me after I get through this list.

60 Young M.C. / “Bust a Move” 1989

You wish you could sex her, but you’re standing there like you were Poindexter. Excellent.

Guy’s got some brains, too, which makes it work. That, and Flea’s guest appearance on bass.

61 Styx / “Mr. Roboto” 1983

Funniest part in the actual VH1 special was seeing a dazed Tommy Shaw make some nondescript comment about this. Yes, that was even funnier than seeing Dennis DeYoung (“former lead singer of Styx”) ham it up. The Shaw bit is hilarious if you remember the Behind the Music in which Shaw clearly doesn’t buy the Kilroy Was Here concept and even jokes that he feared for his safety as he prepared to go out in front of a rowdy audience in Texas to deliver dialogue: “But … Kilroy … what about the youth of today?”

Most of the memorable songs in this countdown are harmless. This one is crap.

(Apologies to my co-worker’s brother, who happens to have been Styx’s drummer for about a decade now.)

62 Berlin / “Take My Breath Away” 1986

It’s a pity Berlin is remembered for this and not something brilliant like The Metro or campy like Sex. That’s all I have to say about that, as Forrest Gump might say.

63 Devo / “Whip It” 1980

It’s a pity Devo is remembered for this and not something brilliant like … no, wait, this WAS Devo’s moment of brilliance. Classic guitar riff, deadpan humor — this is good stuff.

64 Paula Abdul / “Straight Up” 1988

Can someone explain to me why this is better-remembered than Opposites Attract, a modestly clever song with a fun video? This song is just … there. You can probably dance to it. That’s about it.

65 Foreigner / “I Want to Know What Love Is” 1984

Love is never having to listen to this song. Now get back and play Double Vision so our newly converted classic rock station can have something to play once an hour.

66 Depeche Mode / “Just Can’t Get Enough” 1981

They went on to do MUCH better than this. Enjoy the Silence has grown on me over the years, I Feel You was a refreshing guitar blast, and the newish stuff is gorgeous.

67 REO Speedwagon / “Keep On Loving You” 1980

I think I’d like this better if I drank Budweiser.

68 Public Enemy / “Fight the Power” 1988

What’s Spike Lee up to these days, anyway? Hip-hop’s power to uplift peaked here, and it’s been a steady downhill slide ever since.

69 R.E.M / “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” 1980

I supposedly knew someone who knew someone who knew the kid in this video. That’s because Athens isn’t that big a town.

This was 87, by the way. R.E.M. was just a rumor in 1980. By the time this came out, I was heading for college, and this was the perfect soundtrack song for all those freshman frustrations.

When Michael Stipe is striving for High Art with stuff like Losing My Religion, it’s easy to forget that these guys have a great sense of humor.

70 Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/ “I Love Rock N’ Roll” 1981

I don’t know — I was never as enamored with the Jett attitude as others were. Perhaps it was the leather jackets, like she wanted to be the Fonz of the 80s. Not my thing.

But as far as beginner-level guitar riffs go, this was a good one.

71 Rick James / “Super Freak” 1981

It’s a pity the talent to write hooks like this is so often wasted on guys who mismanage their lives as badly as Rick James did.

72 The Fixx / “One Thing Leads to Another” 1983

This band did quality stuff for a few years. Red Skies was a haunting masterpiece. This one, like so many others here, may not be their best, but the hooks are killers.

73 Nena / “99 Luftbaloons” 1983

The people on the VH1 special were shocked to hear that this had something to do with balloons accidentally triggering a missile crisis. Yes, it did, and it’s quite clever.

Unlike some of the other bands here, Nena qualifies as a one-hit wonder. I can’t remember another song in her catalog, and I’m the guy who can name two songs by the Red Rockers, for Pete’s sake. (I’ll spot you China. Name another. Go ahead.)

Anyway, that’s too bad. I love her voice.

74 George Michael / “Faith” 1987

My dislike of George Michael only melts for one song, and that’s Freedom. The only good thing that came from his other work is Dana Carvey’s amazing impersonation. (“Look at my butt, Dennis! It’s perfectly round! Scientists use it to calibrate their instruments.”)

75 Prince / “Little Red Corvette” 1983

The VH1 crowd all recounted how they eventually realized this song was about sex. No shit. It’s PRINCE. Of COURSE it’s about sex. Even *I* got some of the references, and I was still a couple of years away from kissing a girl when this song came out.

Probably why I found it a little intimidating.

Guitarist Dez Dickerson is now a Christian rock mogul, oddly enough. Between him and the former Vanity, Prince has probably driven more people to Jesus than most evangelists.


Forgotten from the ’80s: The "performance" video

In the good old days of MTV, before every video was staged by a film crew worthy of a big-studio blockbuster, the budgets were often a little lower. So much lower, in fact, that the “video” might consist of a band … playing the song. That’s it.

You’ve already seen one such video tonight (if you’re checking the blog every time I post in this prolific holiday window) — Yes’ Tempus Fugit. Fellow prog-rockers-turned-80s-popsters Genesis upped the ante with this take on the always-intriguing tune Abacab:

You’ll notice that it’s not completely straight. The band members fade in at the beginning and fade out … oh, wait, I don’t want to spoil the ending. And the special effects kick in just in time to enliven the dramatic part in which Mike Rutherford takes a few steps back, then walks over toward Tony Banks. Oh, the tension! Will he keep walking toward Tony? Or does he want to check in on Phil?

These videos are actually fun to watch, like a concert staged just for you, the viewer, with studio-quality sound. Today’s video directors have forgotten the visual interest of one guy playing drums.

Which is why I’ll nit-pick here and ask a question of our music geek friends: Do you get the feeling Phil Collins isn’t playing the complete drum part with his legs? Either that, or he has a really subtle bass drum motion with his left ankle and manages to get a nice uplift on the hi-hat by moving his right big toe. He just looks like he’s shaking his legs most of the time.

Tony Banks, I’m convinced, is playing every note.


John Fogerty — extreme touring

I have no idea whose idea it was for John Fogerty to play at TWO NFL halftime shows on Thanksgiving (Detroit around 2 p.m., Kansas City at 9:35 p.m.), but good for him.

I can’t tell if he brought the same band with him. NFL Network had a brief feature on his trip, and we saw plenty of his wife and daughter, but nothing on the band. One guitarist looks the same, but I think it’s a different drummer.

But here’s the big question — do you suppose the military-obsessed NFL realizes Fortunate Son is a protest song?