America: Horse With No Name
Did you know that legendary Beatles producer George Martin also manned the booth for America? It’s true! The same man who calmly received Lennon’s impossible marching orders to splice together the final version of Strawberry Fields Forever from two different takes recorded at different tempos and in different keys, and pulled it off, also produced America! Really! The very same fellow who transcribed the score for McCartney’s hummed-off-the-top-of-his-head piccolo trumpet solo for David Mason of the Royal Philharmonic – he produced America! He sat there in the booth, twiddling the knobs, and doubtless his thumbs, as the dullest of all dull-as-dishwater MOR white boy AM darlings went about the musical equivalent of unwrapping Kraft processed cheese slices and slapping them between soggy slabs of bleached white Wonder Bread. The only consolation – thank God for small mercies – is that he wasn’t with them yet when they tore this soul-crushingly drab, dreary, listless little hole in the fabric of space-time. A tape of the Energizer Bunny endlessly banging its head on a wee little toy piano would be far more inspiring (and certainly a lot more exciting) than this interminable morphine drip of a song, which, perhaps inevitably, I began referring to as Horse With No Tune.
You want lyrics? This one’s got’em! Here:
On the first part of the journey, I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry,
But the air was full of sounds
There were plants and birds and rocks and…things. And the heat was hot.
I’m pretty sure this crew was genetically engineered by record company boffins to ensure that the Eagles would have somebody they could credibly claim to out-rock. How else to explain a thing like this? This is the sound of water draining out of a bathtub. This is the quiet hiss of air as it escapes in a slow leak from a punctured tire. From one perspective it’s almost terrifying in its perfection.
I remember people saying this reminded them of Neil Young. Neil Young!
People are idiots.
Kim Mitchell: Go For a Soda
Maybe it’s because the dumbass slobs in this video remind me so much of the jagoffs I had to put up with in high school. Maybe it’s because Kim Mitchell himself is so ugly he makes me want to hurl. It might even be that stupid channel changer he’s jumping on – a real piece of gear that the cable companies foisted on you in the 1980s, it was a clunky analog box made of brown plastic that attached to the cable receiver by a wire – it wasn’t even a remote! – and was such a primitive, Eastern Block piece of crap that they would have snorted at its farcical low-tech stupidity in Ceausescu’s Romania. Just being reminded of having to rent that thing with my hard-earned 1980s minor ducats makes me furious. Or maybe it’s just because it’s such a flat-out awful song, and everybody loved it, to the point that Much Music was playing it 37 times a day. A few seconds of this and I want to throw a stapler at the TV.
Steve Perry: Oh Sherrie
This video sure takes a while to get to the point, and the whole time I’m dreading it like a blow to the head I won’t be able to duck, that moment when he cuts loose with that first, shrill, shrieking Shoulda’ bin gooooooo-onnnnn!! It’s like an ice-pick right between the eyes. Every time.
Phil Collins: Sussudio
OK, what the hell does this even mean? What in God’s name is a Sussudio? Is it some poor girl’s name, or something? This is from Wikipedia:
Collins has said that he “improvised” the lyric. Collins was just playing around with a drum machine, and the lyric “su-sussudio” was what came out of his mouth. “So I kinda knew I had to find something else for that word, then I went back and tried to find another word that scanned as well as ‘sussudio,’ and I couldn’t find one, so I went back to ‘sussudio'”, Collins said.[4
Kind of like if McCartney had decided to keep calling it “Scrambled Eggs”, minus the sublime melody. I’d forgotten how frigging repetitive this one is, and how annoying those horns are – he was doing the horn thing a lot in those days, like in No Reply At All, which maybe gets its own slot somewhere down the line. It all makes me want to listen to Solsbury Hill, you know?
Say, talk about highly unpleasant reminders of the jagoffs you had to tolerate in high school! Rush was a religion to those guys! Re-listening now, the thing I can’t believe is how much this sounds like Stonehenge. The period shots of Toronto’s Yonge Street – then, as now, easily the lousiest main drag of any purportedly world class city on Earth – are a special treat, as is the portentous chanting of the word “subdivisions” over the typically meandering and incoherent flailing away on drums and keyboards. They had the angsty Scarborough teenager thing sussed out too, have a read:
Growing up, it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass-production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Geez, it was tough being a Canadian teenager in Scarborough back then, you can tell. Just brutal. All the conformity! The parkas! The malls! Everybody cramming Rush down your throat! It was like something out of The Gulag Archipelago, except the fries were better.
Sonseed: Jesus Is My Friend
Once I tried to run; I tried to run and hide
But Jesus came and found me and He touched me down inside
He is like a mounty; He always gets His man
And He’ll zap you any way He can … ZAP!
I looked this up, I was so sure it was a parody. As near as I can tell, it’s for real. It can’t be – I mean, this would be perfect for Mel’s Rock Pile on SCTV – but I swear by the same deity they do that as near as I can tell, it’s completely on the level.
In which case, hey, I don’t want to question their sincerity or anything, I’m sure Jesus really was their friend and all, but gotta say, dude sounds a little weird to me. What’s with all this getting his man by touching him inside business? He zaps you too? Like a Mounty? You mean with a Taser? Or something much, much worse? Seriously, guys, what do you mean?
Also, “Sonseed”? WTF?
Barry Manilow: anything, actually, but let’s pick I Write the Songs.
Not for being awful, though of course it is awful, but mainly because he didn’t write it. He did write a number of advertising jingles, many of which the reader of a certain age will remember, like The Pepsi Generation, and one of his most popular bits at his live concerts was a medley of all the stuff he composed to help sell insurance, Band-Aids, sugary drinks and greasy fried chicken:
But he actually didn’t write this saccharine ode to the idea that music is somehow an immortal disembodied spirit that impresses itself upon the human consciousness, a concept that might have formed the basis of something meaningful. Some of the greatest songwriters who ever lived have mused as much. The thing is, no, it was always actually their own gifted musical minds that crafted the greatest pop songs in history, which is why none of them ever became famous on the strength of something so limp and facile as I Write The Songs.
Sammy Davis Jr: Candyman
Even though Sammy Davis was a charter member of the quintessentially oligineous, craven asshole club that was the Rat Pack, and everything he did was to modern eyes at a minimum embarrassing and often appalling, I feel vaguely unhappy about slamming him. He was a guy who faced a lot of awful racism and bigotry, doing his best to make it in a slimy business by what the rules then were, and as far as I know he didn’t make his name by hurting anybody. Yet Candyman…Jesus. Has anybody sensible ever heard this without imagining a pedophile in a trench coat trying to entice an innocent little kid into a windowless van? When this one was big on AM radio in the early Seventies, twelve-year-old me found it literally frightening.
Whatever Sammy Davis had in mind, Candyman is sickening. Just sickening.
Helen Reddy: I Am Woman
Are you, Helen? Are you woman? Then why did you need a man to write most of this for you? And why did you stiff him on the royalties? I’d like to hear you roar about that, if you would.
Look, fuck, OK, there could be no greater justice than women achieving some semblance of the equality that’s always been denied them, a goal that remains infuriatingly elusive.
That doesn’t mean this farcically ham-fisted, transparently bogus, and frankly narcissistic declaration of female empowerment belted out with a bare midriff does anything but suck eggs from here to eternity.
Vicki Lawrence: The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia
Vicki was a comedian who lent a great many genuinely funny, well-acted moments to Carol Burnett’s wonderful, long-running variety show on CBS, and nobody can take that away from her. This, however, was not the sort of thing upon which to advocate for a lifetime achievement award. For one thing, it’s just so, so…well…so Seventies. For another it seemed to be trying to steal the story-telling vibe from Bobby Gentry’s far, far, nay infinitely superior Ode to Billy-Joe. Then there was the ugly narrative idea that the female singer was happy to let an innocent man, her own brother if I understand correctly, get the rope for something she did, while she blames the cops and lawyers for failing to figure out that she was the one that murdered somebody. Then there was the musical arrangement, which sounded like something tossed together for the theme from a bad ABC Movie of the Week.
Dreadful stuff. Truly. Dreadful.