Been a while, hasn’t it? I’m doing some work with the dial at Channel 237, so let’s have some fun.
Blue Oyster Cult, Burnin’ for You: Likeable if unexceptional riff-rocker. Video is four, five, 10 guys with guitars, plus a drummer in zebra pants. And some fire, in case you forgot the name of the song.
Neil Young, Heart of Gold: I like the song, which is the only thing keeping from me a rant about Neil’s status as one of the most overrated performers/songwriters in rock history. Southern Man actually makes me sympathize with Skynyrd. Cinnamon Girl makes no sense. Like Bowie, he’s gone through different phases; unlike Bowie, he seems ill at ease in all of them. But this one, at least, is worthwhile. Good classic folk song. Video is a bunch of hippies strumming guitars.
Meat Loaf, Two out of Three Ain’t Bad: Video is from VH1’s Storytellers, which is wrong on so many levels. I’d listen to Mr. Loaf talk about Bat Out of Hell, sure. Maybe have a good fistfight with Jim Steinman just for old times’ sake. But this is a crap performance of a crap song. He’s sitting, he’s struggling with the melody, and he’s doing hand gestures I’d associate with Sarah McLachlan emphasizing a particularly tear-jerking lyric in Hold On. As Crash Davis would say, “C’mon Meat. Bring that weak-ass shit.”
Def Leppard, Love Bites: I have to apologize for VH1 Classic here. You don’t usually get a quartet this weak. I don’t mind Leppard ballads in general — Bringin’ On the Heartbreak is an overlooked classic, even if the remake could make you long for the days when synthesizers existed only in labs. This one prototypical Leppard — awkward lyrics balanced by strong vocal harmonies and solid subtle riffs.
But please don’t ever play this on Storytellers or Unplugged or anything that would deny Phil Collen use of the whammy bar.
Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in the Dark: The closest I can come to relating this song to anything in my life is the vague thought that Family Ties officially jumped the shark when Courteney Cox replaced Tracy Pollan as Alex’s girlfriend. But at least Cox wound up with a great show later.
Bruce Springsteen, Radio Nowhere: Hey, they snuck a “Classic/Current” into the mix! It’s a better-than-average song transformed into something truly good by the E Streeters’ sense of urgency. Great playing from Weinberg and Clemons here. Biggest flaw is that Bruce, even moreso than usual, is singing as if his teeth are glued together. The video is nothing more than the band playing in a sparsely lit room, which is plenty. Great to see these guys play.
John Cougar Mellencamp, R.O.C.K. in the USA: I always have to laugh at this song. Not because of the Renaissance Man scene, but because I wrote a truly juvenile parody back in the day. All you have to do is switch two letters and fill in the verses. The last one is a lot of fun. The video is a little overbearing, opening and closing with Mellencamp in some sort of mock interview about how great all this music was.
The Police, Synchronicity II: I’m tempted to do a Beavis and Butthead-style “Yes!” here. I’m not sure Sting ever wrote a better song, and the performance is perfect in its blustery chaos. Sing along now: “The factory belch-es filth inTOOOOO the sky!” The video works, too – Sting, Andy and Stewart dressed up like kings of a post-apocalyptic landfill, all looking angry, until the camera zooms over a dark Scottish lake. Many miles away — or is it?
The Cars, My Best Friend’s Girl: Live version. Not bad, since these guys could all play, but whenever I hear this, I wish it was Just What I Needed, which has a few more novelties and a terrific Elliott Easton solo. Hmmm … quick download here … there. What’s next?
Night Ranger, Don’t Tell Me You Love Me: Opening with the band’s logo floating over train tracks as if introducing the band — necessary in these pre-Sister Christian days — the video settles into a rather silly performance clip with wind machines, leaves and smoke. (Except during the guitar solos, when they’re all sitting on a train in black and white like some Agatha Christie murder mystery.) The song, though, isn’t half-bad. Bassist Jack Blades, thankfully, gets the call on lead vocals instead of drummer Kelly Keagy. The band thunders as if they have something deep to say. They don’t, but if you pretend they do, it’s a solid rocker.
Rod Stewart, Hot Legs: Also set on train tracks for some reason, as if Stewart’s positing himself as an old bluesman. Dude, you’re not singing She Caught the Katy. The band looks incredibly bored, though bassist Phil Chen tries to get into it by chewing on a piece of hay during his mini-solo. Perhaps they knew they were a year or so away from filming Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?
Ozzy Osbourne, Shot in the Dark: How many sort-of metal songs open with “Out on the street.” This is your typical girl-goes-to-concert, girl-gets-headache, Ozzy-makes-dramatic-entrance (begging the question: “Where was he during the first verse?”), Ozzy’s-glare-exacerbates-headache, girl-turns-into-metal-she-demon. Let this be a warning to everyone: Taking Ozzy Osbourne seriously will give you a headache and affect your vision. In rare cases, you may turn two-dimensional. Moreso than you already were.
They’re playing Space Oddity now, but I think that’s enough. We’ll try this again sometime, hopefully with a better selection of videos.