Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Poetry of Queen: Radio Ga Ga

Queen image

A song lamenting the loss of radio’s popularity that produced a music video that went into heavy rotation on MTV. There’s a bit of a contradiction there, no? But Queen owned this irony. They included clips from their previously popular music videos in the video for Radio Ga Ga and took partial responsibility for killing the radio star.

But there isn’t anything ironic about the song’s lyrics or Freddie Mercury’s performance. Straightforward and earnest. The band is wearing their nostalgia like a badge of honor.

I can relate.

I’d sit alone and watch your light

My only friend through teenage nights

And everything I had to know

I heard it on my radio

——————————————————–

So don’t become some background noise

A backdrop for the girls and boys

Who just don’t know or just don’t care

And just complain when you’re not there

You had your time, you had the power

You’ve yet to have your finest hour

Radio.

All we hear is Radio ga ga

Radio goo goo

Radio ga ga

All we hear is Radio ga ga

Radio blah blah

Radio what’s new?

Radio, someone still loves you!

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Let the Truth Unfurl (Part 2)

mj-thriller-1984

Michael Jackson’s Thriller ended its 80 week run at the top of the album charts in April 1984. I’ve pulled together 3 MJ acolytes to discuss Jackson’s masterpiece. In our previous discussion we talked about our favorite and least favorite songs on the album, whether we consider Thriller perfect, and what drove Michael to create one of the most successful albums in history.

Part 2

Sean: We’ve discussed Michael’s music – now let’s talk about the videos from Thriller.

Norman: He was a visual artist – he was one of the first visual artists and those videos (from Thriller) are incredible!

Sean: He was the first black artist to be played on MTV. Before 1983 MTV did not play black artists in heavy rotation.

Norman: That was 1983? That’s within my lifetime! And that was just ok with people?

Shana : Well Walter Yetnikoff got gangsta with it – you know that story. He was the head of CBS records and Michael was really pissed that he did not get the cover of Rollingstone after “Off the Wall,” and he was accusing the industry of being racist – rightfully so. But when MTV wouldn’t play (Billie Jean from Thriller) because they said it wasn’t their ‘audience’ – Walter Yetnikoff was like – I will pull all of our artists’ videos from your network if you do not play Michael’s videos. Which was at a time when it mattered to artists to have their videos played on that network. And that’s what set everything in motion.

Sean: And I love that Michael was like – you want rock? Here’s “Beat it”. You like R&B – here’s “Billie Jean”.

Norman: You like amazing novelty yet soul/funk? Here’s “Thriller”!

Sean: So what’s everyone’s favorite video from Thriller?

Norman: “Thriller”. That goes without saying, right?

mj-beat-itShana: I think my favorite is “Beat It”.

Sean: I’m going to say “Beat It” as well. It’s concise, it’s tight, it tells a story and has some of the most memorable choreography in music video history. Plus “Beat It” was so good he decided to make it again and call it “Bad”. “Bad” is basically ‘Beat It Part 2..’

Norman: There are only 3 videos from the album Thriller – “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “Thriller”.

Sean:  I’m sad that there was not a video for “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”.

Norman: Or “Human Nature”. I’ve seen the “Human Nature” video in my head!

Sean: Me too! It’s black and white – lots of beauty shots of NYC at night.

Norman: Yes!

Sean: Christine – what’s your favorite video from Thriller?

jackson-lays-down-some-moves-in-the-zombie-dance-scene-from-his-1982-thriller-music-video-ctChristine: I can’t answer this question without sounding like a hypocrite (Note: in our previous post Christine admitted the song “Thriller” was her least favorite on the album). The “Thriller” video is obviously my favorite. “Thriller” changed music video as we knew it.

Norman: Thriller is the best music video of all time! Of any artist! Ever! No video has come out that is better than Thriller!

Shana: But the best doesn’t have to be your favorite.

Sean: It’s two for “Beat It”, two for “Thriller”. Ok – most important question for everyone – can you do the “Thriller” dance?

Shana: Not in its entirety.

Norman: Not in its entirety.

Christine: No.

Sean: I’m disappointed in all of you. Ok – let’s move on and discuss the aftermath of Thriller.

Shana: I’d argue in the scheme of things that Thriller was the moment Michael – who was always a performer his whole life – really just wanted to devote himself and almost sacrifice himself to the crowd, for the applause. Thriller is the last moment in his career when he made an album that was solely for the fans. After that – the albums were a little bit more for him. Bad, for example. He made that album when he was going through some stuff so he comes out with really personal songs like “Leave Me Alone” and “Dirty Diana” and “Another Part of Me”.

Norman: I don’t think Bad is like that  – I think it (Michael working out his personal demons phase) comes later. I think Bad was trying to completely be Thriller Part Two.

Shana: No!

Norman: He had every intention of making an album that was just as successful.

Shana: I think he became much more personal making Bad. Thriller was the least autobiographical.

Sean: But the most popular.

Norman: Thriller was for us. It was The Passion of the Jackson!

Cuz-this-is-Thriller-michael-jackson-13030300-1213-912

You Might Also Like my Countdown of the Best Post-Thriller Michael Jackson Songs in 1984:

Michael Jackson at his best in 1984

#2 – Centipede

#3 – Say Say Say

#4 – Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good To Be True)

#5 – Farewell My Summer Love

#6 – Somebody’s Watching Me

 

Number One this Week in 1984: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins

Thirty years ago this week Phil Collins scored the number one pop song in the country with “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” a song he’d written for the film Against All Odds. There’s no denying this is a great ballad and also one of the great soundtrack tunes from a year that produced many amazing songs from films (including Ghostbusters, Footloose, Sixteen Candles, Breakin’, Eurythmics’ 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother), and of course Purple Rain). I liked the song but never developed a real love for it. I wanted to give the song its due so I invited my friend Caroline to share her very passionate feelings for it. In addition to being a Phil Collins devotee, Caroline is also the author of the hysterical blog  Cringeworthy Stuff from My Journal. Prepare for the most emotional post this blog has ever seen!

Sean: Caroline, what are your memories of this song?

Caroline: I know it’s from a movie (Against All Odds) but I’ve not seen this movie. I was only 11 when the song came out but I absolutely loved it – and still do. I really think it’s a beautiful song. I don’t know if it stirred something in my pre-pubescent self – but of course I had no grasp of what the song was really about. I knew it was about love – in the abstract. I knew it was something about someone leaving you. I knew it was devastating. That was it. But I really thought that it was an emotionally wrought song and Phil Collins’ vocals were amazing and … this is all so embarrassing to admit!

Sean: So what’s your favorite moment of the song?

Caroline: It has to be towards the end when it sort of crescendos into that very passionate moment where he says, ‘Take a GOOD look at me now,’ instead of just ‘take a look at me now,’ as he has previously.

Sean: That ‘GOOD,” means he means it!

Caroline: He means it this time, with FEELING! And then it’s like a huge emotional moment but then it just goes back into the lilting piano of the beginning, very soft, very calm. I like the way it resolves. I love that moment. It’s very powerful

Sean: I can tell this is an emotional journey for you, both as an 11 year old girl and as a grown woman.

Caroline: And I don’t even know why. I remember seeing the video which of course had clips from the movie . And something very dramatic was going on, I couldn’t tell you what exactly.

Sean: I’ve never seen the movie either but based on the video i sense there’s infidelity. I also sense that at the end of the film someone drives into a garbage truck.

Caroline: A dramatic death scene perhaps! Very dramatic. My only beef with the song when I was younger was that I felt it should be longer. I felt there was a verse missing. As a child I remember thinking after the bridge there should be one more moment and I was sad it wasn’t longer – but today when I was listening to it it felt perfect at 3 and a half minutes.

Sean: For some reason I remember it being 12 minutes long. Ok now be honest with me – did you have a poster of Phil Collins on your bedroom wall?

Caroline: Surprisingly no -I did love the song, I did love many other Phil Collins songs but, however, I did not find him cute. Unlike Huey Lewis who did feature prominently on my wall, I did not have a poster of Phil Collins.

Sean: We’re going to deal with Huey Lewis AND The News in a future post. But back to Phil – no insult to him – but he is not the sexiest pop star – so applause to him for having number one songs without being a looker.

Caroline: Exactly – and I think he was genuinely a good singer.

Sean: A lot of people have covered this song. Mariah Carey famously. Have you heard the Mariah version?

Caroline: No – but I don’t know if Mariah can compete with Phil on this one. You don’t mess with the classics.

Note: I later played Mariah’s version for Caroline who had this to say: “Oooh she does a good job!! But that’s no shock- she’s Mariah, after all. I like hearing a woman sing it. But she doesn’t do the end justice like Phil did!!!! Too screechy.”)

Sean: This song knocked Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” out of the number one spot back in April, 1984. Do you remember that? How did you feel about it?

Caroline: I did like “Footloose” a lot but it did not have the emotional pull for me that “Against All Odds” did.

Sean: I envision 11 year old Caroline sitting in her bedroom listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 and dancing for joy when he announced “Against All Odds” stole the number one spot from “Footloose”.

Caroline: Absolutely – there may have even been tears. There was definitely a dash to the boom box to try to capture it on tape. And It stays with me as a song I just love. I don’t hear it very often anymore. I don’t even know if I can tell you why –  all I can do is just tell you I love it, I think it’s a beautiful song and it’s obviously still resonating with me today.

Sean: I think you’re tearing up right now. That’s a fact. Thank you for talking with me and sharing your thoughts about a song I could not muster the passion or emotion to write about myself. Maybe I’m dead inside, I don’t know. Thank you Caroline

Caroline: No problem. My pleasure. I look forward to our chat on Huey Lewis.

 

Screamer of the Week: You Take Me Up by Thompson Twins. This Week in 1984

During the third week of April, 1984, Thompson Twins won the Screamer of the Week with “You Take Me Up,” the third single from Into the Gap.  This song is the band at its most earnest – and its best. They seem to be taking a stab at something close to Blue Grass – and it works. The harmonica, the call and response, the lack of synthesizers (are those real cowbell I hear?).  And most importantly, the song answers the musical question: ‘what’s the solution to being caught up in an oppressive post-industrial economic system that depends on forced labor?’ The answer? Love, of course!

The video takes that idea even further. ‘What do you do when you are wrongly convicted of a crime and placed on a chain gang?’ Why, you sing about love and magically free yourself (even more effective than DNA testing)!

My favorite moment comes 2:00 in when Tom Bailey belts out the lyric

I believe in TODAY!

(believe boy, believe boy)

It’s better that way when you work through the night.

That’s a pretty good lyric, isn’t it. I’ll admit that when I worked in news and found myself on the night shift I’d sing that line to myself every once in awhile. I may have secretly hoped Tom, Joe, and Allanah would bust me out of my corporate media chain gang and allow me to bounce off into the sunset with them. I’ll also admit I may still be waiting.

Additional Screamer of the Week posts:

The Psychedelic Furs – Heaven

Prince and the Revolution – When Doves Cry

R.E.M. – Pretty Persuasion

From the Vault: The Swing by INXS

 

From the Vault

30 years old this month.

Before their biggest hits “Devil Inside,” and “Need You Tonight,” INXS released The Swing in 1984 (I’m happy to say my vinyl copy has survived countless moves over the past 30 years). I’d argue it’s their best album.

Want to hear a perfect pop song? Listen to Side A, Track 3 – “I Send a Message”. How about one of the best pop songs ever recorded about interracial love (yes, EVEN BETTER than Stevie Wonder’s “Jungle Fever”)? Then listen to the album’s first track (produced by the GREAT Nile Rodgers), “Original Sin,” and then just keep going and listen to the entire record all the way through. It’s sexy and melodic. It’s danceable rock n’ roll. It’s Michael Hutchence’s voice and Garry Beers’ bass and Kirk Pengilly’s Sax and the Farriss brothers on guitars, keyboards and drums.

Plus,  the album has a song called “Johnson’s Aeroplane,” and that makes me very happy.

If you don’t have a 30 year old vinyl copy – try it out on Spotify:

spotify:album:3PRbbpBj9gdGhe7YRsJ5Tg

 

 

The Poetry of The Style Council: Sweet Sounds, Dark Thoughts

The first few times I heard this classic by The Style Council in 1984 I assumed it was a love song. I thought the singer was lamenting his inability to stay faithful to his girlfriend. Or maybe he was only admitting to having a wandering eye? In defense of my younger self I’d say this was an easy mistake to make. The song lures you in with its sweet and smooth British soul harmonies. It’s Motown via South London.  But Paul Weller is asking you to come for the groove and stay for the lyrics – an angry, sad, rebellious mediation on taking responsibility for injustices in the world. Downer? Yep. But have no fear, if the lyrics have you feeling low, the music will lift you back up.

Teardrops turn to children who’ve never had the time

To commit the sins they pay for through another’s evil mind

The love after the hate

the love we leave too late

I wish we’d wake up one day and everyone feel moved

But we’re caught up in the dailies and an ever changing mood.

 

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Let the Truth Unfurl (Part 1)

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The first single from Michael Jackson’s Thriller was released in October of 1982. So how is it possible to feature that album on this blog, which is dedicated to the music of 1984? It may seem like a Wikipedia mistake, but Thriller’s success was so massive it dominated the charts for almost two years. In 1983 – the album spawned SIX more top 10 singles. In January of 1984 the album’s seventh single, “Thriller,” would reach number one (thanks, in large part, to what many consider the greatest music video ever created). In February 1984 Thriller would win 8 Grammy Awards propelling the album to stay at number one for the first four months of the year! In total – the album was on the charts for 80 consecutive weeks! So what do we talk about when we talk about Thriller? All of the impressive stats are astounding, but the album would not have achieved that level of success if not for the music. And the videos. And that album cover.

And of course we have to talk about the Man who created the album (or shall we give proper credit and refer to the Men – Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton in addition to Michael Jackson?). Thriller ended its reign at the top during the third week of April, 1984, so to mark the occasion I’ve assembled three MJ experts. The sincerity of their love for and breadth of knowledge about the Jacksons is unsurpassed. They also happen to be my good friends so this isn’t the first time we’ve had a couple of drinks and spent hours engaged in Jackson related discussions. The four of us came into our Jackson obsessions at different times (for me it is the memory of watching The Jackson 5 cartoon and the Jackson Variety show and fantasizing about being Randy’s twin brother and experiencing the pure joy of having Randy and Janet as my peers and Michael and Jermaine as older brothers).

Here’s the first part of our Thriller talk.

Sean: I can remember the first time I heard Thriller – I don’t know about you guys – but I can remember being at my uncle’s house, picking up the album cover, staring at the picture and then opening the gatefold – and I remember hearing “Wanna Be Starting Somethin'” and I felt like I had never heard anything like that before.

Christine: My grandmother bought me two VHS tapes of the “Thriller” video. I was 5 years old maybe and in the same way we wore out the Wizard of Oz – we wore out the “Thriller” video.

Sean: Do you think anyone will ever beat Thriller’s records? Will any other album sell as much or be number one for so long?

Norman: No – I think it’s impossible with the modern model of music consumption – it just cant happen. Virtually impossible – it’s like saying can any TV show beat the Roots ratings record.

Sean: So what do you guys think – was Michael chasing that level of commercial success or was he trying to create an artistically great album?

Christine: Commercial success – 100%

Sean: Really?

Christine: He was so hungry after Off the Wall. He was so hungry.

(Note: Off the Wall sold 20 million copies but Michael was still very disappointed. He believed the record should have been much more commercially and critically successful and he became depressed when OTW did not win the Grammy for Record of the Year).

Shana: I have to wonder if Off the Wall had done as well as Michael wanted it to if anything remotely approaching Thriller would have been his follow up because I feel like he kind of did it in attempt to really reach everyone. You can’t say that you don’t like at least one song on Thriller. I don’t know if he would have had that same fire under his butt and had been that pissed off if not for Off the Wall.

Sean: Lightning round – favorite track on Thriller. Shana!

Shana: “The Lady in My Life”

Norman: It changes everyday but either “The Lady in My Life” or “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs ever! And so is “The Lady in My Life”.

Christine: I agree  – “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”. … and “The Lady in My Life”.

Sean: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” – that’s no surprise to anyone who knows me.

Christine: The song is about La Toya.

Shana: So SHE says

Norman: I heard it was about Liza Minnelli and her time at studio 54.

Christine: It’s about La Toya.

Shana: La Toya says its about her, but do we believe La Toya?

Norman: It is not about her! It is not about La Toya – he loved his sister!

Christine: He (Michael) has said it’s about her!

Sean: Wait – ‘if you can’t feed the baby/then don’t have the baby’. Who is pregnant?!? I feel like the song is all about unwanted pregnancy and Michael is being a little too judgmental. Was La Toya pregnant?

michael-and-la-toya-jackson

“I believe in me/so you believe in you”

(Note: We spend the next 5 minutes debating whether the song was written about La Toya Jackson. The discussion veers into the OWN docu-soap Life with Latoya and the revelation that La Toya is a 60 year old virgin. Christine stands firm on her belief the song is about La Toya and some of the Jackson’s sisters-in-law).

 

 

Shana: I have this theory, in a weird way Michael pioneered what we now know as ‘House’ without people paying attention to it. Not just like in songs like “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground” and other percussion driven things but on each of his albums.  Whether intentionally or not he created a moment of possession that is really subliminal but it’s always there – as follows: Off the Wall – “Get on the Floor” – he has that breakdown where it’s all just like panting and shit and it’s very nod to the mother land I supposed. Thriller would be Ma Ma Se Ma Ma Sa Ma Ma Coo Sa / Ma Ma Se Ma Ma Sa Ma Ma Coo Sa (from “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”) and it just goes on and on and on in a way that most artists would not let it go on.

Sean: You’re right, it just goes on for minutes – and you want it to go on for even longer.

Shana: And (on Bad) “Smooth Criminal” – that séance moment in the video. Where they all sway and start screaming. I feel like it’s this part of him that no one really talks about.

Sean: You know what I love about that theory – a lot of people criticize Michael for abandoning his black roots . . .

Shana: Totally not true.

Sean: but musically he didn’t abandon his black roots.

Norman: Not at all

Sean: Do you think Thriller is a perfect album? My answer would be ‘no’ because for me – on a perfect album every single song is amazing and perfect. As great as it is, Thriller doesn’t pass that test. It’s great, but not perfect.

Norman: What song do you skip?

Christine: I skip the track ‘Thriller.’

Sean/Norman/Shana: – What?!?!?!!?

Norman: First of all Christine don’t ever say that again – “Thriller”, the song, is amazing!

Shana: I’m not having it.

Norman: The breakdown in that song . . .

Shana: At the end?

Norman: Yes!

Shana & Norman: (singing the breakdown together in perfect harmony):  ‘Thriller  . .Thriiiiler’

Norman: It gives me chills and it makes me run faster on the treadmill. You know what song I skip? “The Girl is Mine”.

Shana: I skip that too

Sean: You know that was the first single from the album.

Norman: I did not know that.

Shana: I always forget that song is on the album.

Christine: That song is so good!

Shana: Sean – what’s the one you skip?

Sean: Let’s rundown the album

thriller back cover

Almost Perfect?

Shana: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”

Sean: Perfect.

Norman: “Baby Be Mine”

Sean: Amazing.

Norman: “The Girl is Mine”.

Sean: Fine.

Norman: “Thriller”

Sean: Yes.

Norman: “Beat it!”

Sean: YES!

Norman: “Billie Jean”

Sean: Brilliant!

Norman: “Human Nature!”

Sean: The best!

Norman: “P.Y.T.” and then “The Lady in My Life”

Sean: Oh – so I I’m taking my earlier statement back – it is a perfect album.

Shana: So you like, “The Girl is Mine”?

Sean: its catchy , its sweet so  . . .

Norman: I always skip it. ALWAYS.

Shana: Me too. I never listen to it.

Sean: So you are saying Thriller is not perfect?

Shana: I say it is because every song isolated (except for The Girl is Mine) is perfect alone.  But I feel like you release an album because the songs need to be released together and I think those song don’t need to be together. They could easily be singles that were all just released. I think I’m really just searching to figure out what’s the one thing conceptually that’s driving all those songs… Do you feel like when you listen to Thriller, when you listen to it straight through – what’s the identity of that album – what is it saying about him  what statement is he making with Thriller conceptually.

Norman: For me that album reminds me so much of my older sisters who were teenagers when that was out. It was a time when I really really looked up to them and thought they were the coolest people on the planet. They loved it! So for me when I listen to it I hear 80’s black youth. That’s what the album says to me  – the sounds, the instruments, some of the slang –  it’s all a time capsule of 80’s black youth.

Sean: Maybe the theme of the album is : Michael Jackson – our greatest musical mind and he’s saying, ‘here are all of the genres I love  and I’m going to absorb them and emit them back through my lens.” Maybe that’s the theme – there is so much different music he loved and he was drawn to. But he was going to make every genre his own.

Coming up in Part 2 – after a few more drinks we discuss Thriller’s videos and the unbelievable lengths Jackson’s team had to go to get those videos on MTV. Plus why Thriller was Michael Jackson’s ultimate sacrifice.

You Might Also Like my Countdown of the Best Post-Thriller Michael Jackson Songs in 1984:

Michael Jackson at his best in 1984

#2 – Centipede

#3 – Say Say Say

#4 – Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good To Be True)

#5 – Farewell My Summer Love

#6 – Somebody’s Watching Me