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.
In 1984 Cameo’s, ‘She’s Strange’ sat on top of Billboard’s R&B charts for the entire month of April. The tune combined elements of disco, funk, rap and R&B and in addition to being a catchy, sexy pop song – it served as one of the year’s best anthems for the freaks and eccentrics of the time.
“Now I’m a different guy/ And I don’t compare to many”
Cameo wasn’t alone embracing otherness in the mid-80’s. Boy George, Annie Lennox, and Michael Jackson all made being odd feel very mainstream. Also, is it a coincidence that the title of Cyndi Lauper‘s debut album, She’s So Unusual, is so similar to the title of Cameo’s single? Well actually – yes – that probably is a coincidence (but let’s pause for a moment and imagine the magic that would have resulted if Blackmon and Lauper had recorded a song together. That should have happened!) Of course funk musicians like George Clinton and Africa Bamabaataa were letting their freak flags fly well before 1984; but there was something about Cameo’s exploration of weirdness – especially in this song – that really intrigued me.
Even before the music starts Cameo lets us know what we’re in for. It’s their one word, harmonic, declarative statement that sets us up for the simple, brilliant chorus.
“She’s Strange/And I like it”.
It’s the word ‘and‘ that really made the song interesting to me. Blackmon is stating he likes this woman because she’s different. Imagine if the chorus were “She’s strange/but despite her strangeness I still find her appealing,” See the difference? Not as interesting, right? In all seriousness, I remember thinking about that line quite a bit the first few times I listened to the song. So – being odd is good?Difference can be sexy? Of course those are simple and true statements – but how often, either as a teen or an adult do we need to be reminded of those facts? This music video is a great time capsule of mid-80’s R&B imagery. Jheri curls? Check. Women with big hair? Check. Dressed in neon day glo colors? Check! Check!
Freddie Mercury: Larry Blackmon’s brother from another mother?
But what really stands out for me is Blackmon’s style. Blackmon rocked the ‘the 70’s are not quite over ‘stache’ like no else – with the possible exception of Freddie Mercury (I think of Blackmon and Mercury as brothers in arms – from different musical genres and different countries, but sharing the goal of fighting for the rights of freaks everywhere). Blackmon’s style in the video is amazing. The muscle T, the leather jacket, the sunglasses – Blackmon was serving three minutes and forty seven seconds of On the Waterfront realness! Two years later he’d cement his style icon status by 1) sporting an enviably high flat top 2) wearing that unforgettable red codpiece. I’d place that codpiece right alongside Elvis’ blue suede shoes, Madonna’s cone bra, and Michael’s glove. It’s iconic! Someone needs to write an epic poem about that codpiece!
So Much Depends Upon/ A Red Codpiece
30 Years later I’m just as intrigued by the song and video and have just as many questions. Is Blackmon gay? Is he straight? Was that a whore-house in the middle of the desert the band just visited? Why so many shots of women applying toe nail polish? How can a woman be one’s Al Capone, one’s Rollingstones and one’s Eva Peron? Many questions without definite answers. 30 Years later the song and video are still inscrutable, the music is still great and I still like it.