“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”

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While this is indeed one of my all time favorite Elton John songs, it’s not the song I’m concerned with here.  As I’m sure you figured out by now, I am part of the generation that MTV was created for (which is why I find it such a pity that the channel turns my stomach now).  Watching music videos was a fine way to spend an afternoon in my teenage years.  And the video for “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” is still one of my favorites.  And one of the best, I think.

Now this is obviously not a technical or special effects wonder.  Nor is it provocative or controversial.  It’s just a little love story, with a happy ending I might add.  But it is well done.  The director and artistic people obviously paid attention to detail in creating the atmosphere.  The switch from black & white to color adds to the mood.  And the actors are actually acting (say that five times fast).  It’s a short film, with plot and action and all the things that people didn’t believe music videos possessed.  “I Guess. . .” came out in 1983, the same year the video for “Thriller” was released and rewrote the music video rulebook.  Music videos had been required for commercial success for a year or two by this point, and artists were just beginning to see their potential.  Videos were becoming more than just a vehicle for selling singles; they were becoming entertainment in and of themselves.  Elton John understood that pretty quickly and made videos that complemented his songs.  The story of the song and the video mesh perfectly with “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.”

It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I cry every time I watch it.

Official Disclaimer

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I realized just recently that I’ve neglected something.

I mention a lot of products and companies in my blog, most frequently Apple’s itunes and iPod.  There’s a few others that have come up as well.  I should make it clear that while I use these products personally, I am receiving zero compensation for any mentions.  I would even recommend the products I use and the companies or businesses I mention.  I like them.  But sadly, no one is paying me for anything.

Figured I ought to get that out of the way now.

 

 

“America”

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Bree Sharp had her fifteen minutes when she wrote a song called “David Duchovny” at the height of The X-Files popularity in 1999.  The album, A Cheap and Evil Girl, was pretty good.  Good enough that I have five songs from it on my itunes, anyway.

“America” is one of those songs.  It is not patriotic.  Or I guess that it is very patriotic in the sense that Sharp is exercising her First Amendment rights to critique American consumerism and our obsession with all that is shallow.  The girl in the song claims that she “sold my privacy so that I would always be pretty.”  It’s all about how television has lulled everyone into a sense of complacency, “pay no more attention to the things that you stand for. . .just to make sure that you don’t get lost, here’s the media.”  In 1999, the Internet had not yet become the cultural behemoth that sucks everyone’s free time up like a vacuum cleaner.  Sharp is clearly a child of the VCR age, but that’s okay.  Because, sadly, the message of her song has not become irrelevant.  In fact, between TV and the Internet, between smart phones and video billboards, we’ve become even more attached to electronic media.  More people get their information from Internet news sites, and they can tailor their browsing to include only information they agree with.  It’s helped to increase the divisiveness of politics and decrease the amount of objective reporting.  There’s also been a sharp rise in “reality” television, making people like the Kardashians famous (that may be the wrong spelling; I don’t care).  The sheer amount of electronic crud being shoveled out every day is overwhelming.

Maybe listening to Bree Sharp’s “America” will only add to the overload.  Or maybe it’ll make you think twice before you turn on a screen.  Maybe you might open a book instead.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/america/id375191613?i=375191659&uo=4

“Billy Don’t Be a Hero”

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I’ve mentioned before my affection for bad 70s pop.  This stems partly from the fact that I grew up during the 70s.  Bad 70s pop also appeals to the part of my personality that likes kitsch and other cheesy things.  I still think it’s a crime that Mystery Science Theater 3000 is neither on the air or showing in reruns (there’s still so many bad movies to mock!).  I also think that some bad 70s pop is misunderstood; it’s really not as bad as people remember (and the stuff considered “good” isn’t nearly as good as people like to pretend).

This is not one of those misunderstood songs.  Really.  In fact, I consider “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” to be the second worst song ever made (#1 goes to “You’re Having My Baby”).  It is truly awful.  The plot is a young man goes to join the Union army in the Civil War (!!!!) while his fiancée begs him to be careful, “don’t be a hero and come back to me.”  Billy of course forgets her pleas, and, in a patriotic fervor, get killed as “a volunteer to ride up and bring us back some extra men.”  The army sends his fiancée a letter “that told how Billy died that day.  The letter said that he was a hero.  She should be proud he died that way.”  War is indeed hell.  (I’ll get to the last line of the song in a moment.)

Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods had a hit with “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” and a few other songs in the early 70s.  I remember begging my parents to let me stay up late and watch them on some variety show.  See, I loved this song.  It was the very first 45 I ever owned.  I still have it, too–battered, unplayable, with a chunk out of the edge.  I listened to it all the time, sang along in my little four/five-year old voice.  (I remember being four when it came out, but all the information I’m finding says it was released in 1974, which would make me five.)  I had no idea what it was about or the not-so-hidden meaning.  It was just my favorite song.

Now let’s get back to the end of the song.  It was ostensibly about the Civil War, not exactly a popular subject for pop music in the 70s. (The Band had recorded “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” in 1968, but that’s a good song.)  But war in general was hot.  Vietnam was still raging, and people were still raging against it.  It had taken a while, but the protest had finally seeped into AM radio.  But no one was really comfortable with calling a spade a spade in the Top 40.  You couldn’t just write a ditty about how senseless the loss of life and limb in Vietnam was; that was what Walter Cronkite was for.  So, you wrote a song about a different war, say the Civil War, and hid your anti-war message in that.  The last line, after Billy has died a hero and his fiancée has been told she should be proud?  “I heard she threw the letter away.”

So this is a terrible song with a pretty good message.  I guess that’s as good a reason as any to still care about it.

This day in history. . .

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I was contemplating what I would write about tonight and thinking about doing an internet search about what happened today in music history.  That got me thinking about a 1990 calendar I got as an insert in Musician magazine (if you don’t remember Musician, then I feel really sorry for you).  I’d saved it, because it had a lot of birthdays and deaths of rock stars noted, and that’s the kind of trivia I think is worth knowing.  So I dug it out to see what Musician thought it was important to remember about March 28th.

On this day in rock history. . .(drumroll please). . .The Raspberries broke up in 1974.

Really?  That’s it?  No one interesting was born?

Apparently that was it, according to my Musician calendar.  Apart from inflicting Eric Carmen on the world, I couldn’t think of anything The Raspberries had done that would make their break-up worth noticing, much less remembering.  Their Wikipedia page has their brief history and a listing of their singles and albums.  And the fact that “hits” collections outnumber original albums in their discography.  I listened to the sample of their biggest hit, “Go All the Way,” which itunes raved about as “pure pop perfection.”  I didn’t think it was perfectly anything except mediocre.  I remember the song being played on the radio sometimes when I was younger, but it’s pretty much slipped into oblivion since then.  I tried to go to their official website (because everyone has an official website), but I couldn’t get past the intro (literally; I couldn’t click into the site).

I figured that couldn’t be all that happened, so I did do that internet search.  And aside from today being Reba McEntire’s birthday and a couple of Beatles’ minutia, there really wasn’t much happening in music history on this date.

Well, they can’t all be blockbusters.  Go back to yesterday’s post, and watch the video for “Romeo & Juliet” again.  At least that’s a good song.

“Romeo & Juliet”

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There really isn’t anything I could say about this song that could do it justice.  It is sublime.

But when “Romeo & Juliet” came up on the shuffle tonight, I remembered that the music video for this song was one of the first music videos I ever saw.  It came out in 1980, so I was 11.  We had OnTV, and early precursor to cable.  They would sometimes fill the gaps in between movies with music videos.  This was just before MTV came into existence, so videos weren’t quite ubiquitous yet.  They weren’t exactly great art, either.  I had vague memories of people walking along corridors, but no clear picture in my head of what the video was like (just that the production wasn’t exactly high-tech).  So I looked it up on YouTube to see if it matched my memory.

I love how everyone is walking around like they’re in West Side Story.  There were some bits that I hadn’t remembered, and the 80s hair and makeup are awful, but it’s pretty much as cheesy as I remembered.  Luckily, this song is too good to be ruined by a bad video.

“Banditos”

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The Refreshments never really hit it big; they’re probably best known for doing the theme from King of the Hill.  That’s not too shocking.  They’re a mid-level, mid-talent rock band.  I don’t know if that’s necessarily bad, but it doesn’t exactly make them stand out in a crowd.

This is the only song I’ve ever liked by them, but I like it a lot.  “Banditos” is the kind of mocking, smart-assed rock that was almost its own genre for a while and which hit its peak with Blink 182 (a group I think very little of, if at all).  The primary audience for this kind of music is adolescent boys, because they’re the kind of people who usually appreciate this kind of humor.  What makes “Banditos” stand out to me (besides the mention of “Captain Jean-Luc Picard”) is the nasty edge to it.  This isn’t mocking in a self-deprecating way; this is kind of mean.

It’s the kind of song I like to listen to when I’m a little annoyed with the world and want to be agreed with.  The clear message here is in the chorus: “Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people,”  a sentiment that seems so much more obvious during an election year.  Normally, I’m pretty easygoing.  I respect all people whatever their beliefs, color, or fashion choices.  I don’t care if they agree with me (although I prefer it, since I think I’m always right).   I don’t care who they pray to or how (unless it’s naked–then I want nothing to do with it).  I get a little weirded out by people who only watch reality television, but, hey, whatever floats your boat.  I’m not too easily offended, except by two things: stupidity and bigotry.

Let me be clear.  Stupid does not mean uneducated.  I’ve known some really smart uneducated people.  Stupid means deliberately refusing to learn.  You’re stupid if you’ve closed your mind to anything that might oppose you, if you never even bother listening to all sides of an argument or really considering why you hold an opinion.  And there really are a lot of stupid people in the world.  There are also a lot of bigots (usually they’re stupid, too).  Bigots like to pretend they’re not bigoted.  They don’t hate gay people; they just don’t think they deserve all the same legal rights straight people enjoy.  They aren’t racist; it was self-defense when they shot that unarmed black boy.  They believe in freedom of religion, as long as everyone believes in the same god they do.

I could keep going, but I think you get the message.  “Banditos” appeals to the part of me that wants to scream at the world when I think everyone is being an idiot.  It also reminds me that it’s kind of pointless to scream.  Better to laugh at it instead.  And then fight back.

“Well I got the pistols, so I’ll keep the pesos.  Yeah, that seems fair.”