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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Overrated and Underrated (the 80s)

Time can do tricky things to your memory.  Last post my disdain for The Eagles brought about some varied feedback.  Some folks piled on and agreed that Glenn Frey and Don Henley suck.  Others (including my wife, damn!) wrote fondly of the band and how listening to their songs provided warmth and comfort.  My memory of the band is clouded with Don Felder's account of his sentence with them and how he was miserable for most of it.  Oh, and their songs were, for the most part, rubbish.  Not all of them, just most!  And, in a word, they were overrated.

The 80s are a little trickier.  That is, no one expected much musically from that decade.  The 60s set the bar high for innovation and rock and roll legends.  From it we got The Stones, The Beatles, The Who, Janis, Jimi, Clapton, et al.  The 70s continued to build that foundation with venerable acts like Zeppelin, Rush, Yes, Floyd, etc...  Rock and roll was here to stay.  When the 70s punk scene emerged and synths became more commonplace it became obvious the 80s would have a different feel.

Indeed, U2 and The Police established themselves as "rock" acts.  Bruce and Bon Jovi carried the torch a bit too.  But more often the 80s were less about songs and more about performers.  Madonna, Michael and Janet Jackson, and Prince are 80s stars and icons.  The look of an artist had as much to do with their success than other intangible factors.  Would Madonna have thrived in the 70s without MTV?  Doubtful.  The scene changed and, cliche as it is, video killed the radio star.

Before you knew it legendary radio stars had embraced the new medium.  David Bowie, always theatrical, was making narrative short films to his carefully manufactured score.  Were we supposed to watch or listen?  Take the short form art that is "Let's Dance" or "China Girl" for instance.

Sting and his mates employed these tactics too.  "Wrapped Around My Finger" and "Every Breath Your Take" are as much examples skillful lighting, expert cinematography and sheer tantric sexiness than genius song making.

That said, Bowie and The Police get a pass.  They have enough quality in their respective catalogs.  Case closed.  Ziggy Stardust and "Walking on the Moon" are really all they needed.

Sadly, a few bands' songs and cassettes do not stand the test of time.   One band in particular looks particularly suspect held up to higher scrutiny.  Genesis...  Phil Collins....  Mike Rutherford and/or your Mechanics....  we look to you.

Collins, Rutherford and Tony Banks actually started the band in the late 60s/early 70s.  From the beginning they were a progressive rock act with some blues tendencies.  Peter Gabriel popped in and out of the band in the 70s in addition to some other member turnover and general dysfunction.  It was not until the 80s that they found enormous commercial success.  To which we are left asking:  Why?  How?

It cannot be the music, can it?  "Invisible Touch?"  Be honest, if this popped on your radio would you  listen to all of it?  "Follow You, Follow Me" is a redundant and nauseating bore.  Collins' voice assaults your ears like a toddler begging to be fed.

It's all a goof and we were fooled!  "It's no fun/being an illegal alien?"  "It's always the same/It's just a shame/That's all?"  "Throwing it All Away?"  I would like to!  The songs are sophomoric, uncomplicated, and boring.  Collins was a showman though and that showmanship went a long way.  He appeared on Miami Vice.  He sourced those goofy BBC puppets for the "Land of Confusion" video.   He was full of personality but lacking in memorable hooks and melodies.  A short, balding crooner not unlike "Weird" Al.   The difference is "Weird" Al was always in on the joke.

British contemporaries Wang Chung shared commercial success like Genesis.  Their mega hit "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" could not be avoided and still has legs nearly 30 years later.  Ugh, that hurts to write.  Sure it isn't 10 years ago?

Dig deeper into Wang Chung's catalog and you might be surprised.  "Dance Hall Days" is a sweet and wonderful piece of nostalgia about nostalgia.  There is more to their efforts than party anthems and overplayed 80s filler.  Wang Chung's (guitar/vocalist Jeremy Ryder a.k.a Jack Hues and bassist Nick Feldman) debut record also gave us brilliant, and mostly unheard tracks "Wait" and "Don't Let Go".

Then there is the oft forgotten and largely ignored soundtrack to the oft forgotten and largely ignored film To Live and Die in LA.  "Wait" also appears on this record.  So too does the brooding, haunting title track.   The movie, with a very young Wilem Dafoe and thinner William Peterson, is a fairly run of the crime drama.  There are your traditional car chases and shoot-outs.  Love scenes and gritty LA location shots are prevalent as well.

What you remember most of all is the score.  You remember the songs.  It is a charismatic band somehow slighted by critics and largely ignored by mainstream.

Not sure why really.  Fate?  Bad timing?

Or maybe they weren't as amusing, colorful on camera.  That does you little good when you simply want to listen to a song and remember easier days.

Better like this or like this?

Case closed.

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