“Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves”


“Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” is one of those songs it’s easy to make fun of, the butt of the joke, until you listen to it again.

There’s a lot that can be said about 70s music.  Cheesy.  Dumb.  Manufactured.  The only problem with all those labels is that they’re equally applicable to the Pop music of any era.  The only thing that changes is the dominant musical style and the double entendres, and even those are fairly consistent from decade to decade.  I like cheesy Pop songs.  I like it when they have a storyline.  I like a good chorus that’s easy to sing along with.  I like “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.”

Cher has never had the greatest voice, but she’s okay.  What she lacks in technique and raw talent, she makes up for in style and charisma.  You get the feeling she means what she sings.  Not that she grew up as a performer in a traveling show, or anything like that.  But that she understands what it’s like to be that girl.  She feels the loneliness and sadness.  The same goes with any of her other hits.  She sings with conviction.

Of course, it’s also clearly a performance.  Watch her face in the clip.  There’s a couple of points where she almost breaks character, smirking a little as if she cannot believe she’s singing this glop.  It says something about her abilities as a performer that she still pulls it off.  There’s something in her eyes that gives truth to the lie of the song.  She might not be that girl, but she gets what it feels like to be trapped like that.

None of this magically transforms “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” into a great song.  But it’s not a joke, either.  Take a little trip in the wayback machine, and remember how much fun this song still is.

Highway Sing-a-Long


I don’t know who TJ Smith is, but I think I’m in love with him.  Or I want to adopt him, since he seems pretty young.  Either way, anyone who does this on Southern California’s freeways deserves all the love and praise he gets.  Seriously.  There should be some kind of award for General Awesomeness and Making People in Traffic Smile.

I’d like to dedicate this little clip o’ happiness to all of you who visit the jukebox.  I’d probably still be doing this if you guys weren’t there, but it would be a LOT less fun.  Special wishes and interwebs ((Hugs)) go out to Claudia, aka Summer Solstice Girl.  Things might be bad right now, but it’s gonna get better.  I love you.

“Baby’s in Black”


There’s something weird about this song, but I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on what it is.

Maybe it’s the way the guitar’s tuned, or the notes that open the song.  Maybe it’s the way the harmonies don’t fully harmonize, as if someone had a bit of a cold that day.  Maybe it’s the funny rhythm, or the way the lyrical tempo shifts from chorus to bridge.  It’s like this song was recorded by some kind of alternate universe Beatles with evil goatees or something.

Whatever it is, it works.  This is one of my all-time favorites by the Beatles; it’s probably in my personal top twenty.  I think I like it because it seems a little darker than a lot of their other early stuff.  Beatles for Sale came out at the end of 1964, and marked the beginning of the transition from Cute Pop Band to Serious Rock Musicians.  They’d already changed the face of the music industry and culture; now it was time to begin changing themselves.

I know a lot of people use 1965’s Rubber Soul as the traditional transitional album, but the changes really started occurring a year earlier. They felt trapped by their fame, and were beginning to chafe against Brian Epstein’s control.  All the original songs sounded weary, and a bit depressed.  Even the generally chipper “Eight Days a Week” reflected the chaos of their lives.  (Who thinks about having eight days in the week?  People who have enough stuff going on that they could use a couple of extra days just to get something done.)  The darkness of the originals was offset by the covers, although even these were a little on the overwhelmed side (“Everybody’s Trying to be my Baby”).  The walls were clearly beginning to close in around the lads.

This is the Beatles beginning a new stage of their musical evolution, which is another part of the reason I like it so much.  They were more than guys in matching suits playing innocent love songs for teenagers.  This is one of the moments when their talent began growing, and they began to break the mold they had created.

Freaky Repost: Einstein on the Beach


There are still tickets available for this.  I’ve been so topsy-turvy lately, I just now checked for availability.  Maybe it’s time to call the BFF.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the Los Angeles Opera will be performing Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s 1976 opera Einstein on the Beach as part of their new season.  Now, I’ve been reading a lot about Glass in Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, since those few years were formative for him.  I’ve been intrigued about the descriptions of Glass’s minimalism, but I’d really never heard anything by him.  I just know him by reputation, so I figured this announcement was further cosmic reinforcement that maybe I ought to give Glass a chance.

Minimalism is a style of music that relies heavily on repetition, and Philip Glass is considered one of the masters of it.  I can understand why people would find his work boring or difficult; this stuff is not for the faint of heart or the easily bored.  But there is something compellingly hypnotic about this music.  The repetition forces you to pay attention.  Every change in tone or rhythm is amplified–you simply notice everything.  But it’s lulling as well.  You get caught up in the repeated mantras and notes that when something does change, you’re startled out of yourself.  Another interesting aspect is that the repeated words begin to seem like they’re a foreign language.  There’s clearly something deeply unique happening here; there’s also something deeply strange.  What I think Einstein on the Beach accomplishes is to take the everyday world and make it new.  This is to music what Modernism was to Literature, what Cubism was to Art: a new way of seeing.  There’s also a very Zen quality to all of it, which appeals to me greatly.  If I can find anyone I think will be able to handle it, I think I’d like to go see Einstein on the Beach when it premieres in October.

“Pour Some Sugar on Me”


Do I really need a reason for this one?  Cause I’m in trouble if I do.

This is just pure dumb rockin’ fun.  And all the shirtless boys are kinda nice, too. (Seriously, these guys were pretty wealthy by this point.  They couldn’t throw down a few bucks for a pack of Hanes undershirts? 🙂 )

If you look at it lyrically, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” is an asinine song.  But I’m also pretty sure the lyrics aren’t the point . . . except maybe the chorus, which is one of the worst metaphors for sex, ever.  “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was the fourth single from the mega-selling megahit Hysteria.  By the time they were finished milking this album, something like seven or eight of the twelve tracks were released as singles. This is Def Leppard at their Pop Metal peak; they would never be better.

I think they went pretty radically downhill after this.  They were slowed down a little after Pyromania when drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in a car accident, but they rebounded beautifully with Hysteria (and gained the distinction of having the best one-armed drummer in the business).  But their follow-up was marred when guitarist Steve Clark died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription drugs.  (It wasn’t a surprise; Clark had been battling alcoholism for years, and had taken a leave from the band.)  I think they never quite recovered.  Clark wasn’t the main songwriter, or even the only lead guitarist, but the chemistry of the band was irrevocably changed after his death.  Subsequent albums relied too heavily on the Hysteria formula, forgetting that although it was produced by hit making wizard Robert John “Mutt” Lange, there really wasn’t a formula to Hysteria.  It was a marvelous confluence of style, skill, songs, and moment that could never quite be repeated.

“Pick Up the Pieces”


I’m not quite sure why I picked up on this one today, but here it is.

Of course, I suppose it’s not too unusual for this to end up on my radio.  It was ubiquitous in the 70s and much of the 80s.  Not quite as overplayed as, say, “Wicked Game,” but it showed up in just about every movie, TV show, and radio playlist.  It’s still pretty commonly heard, especially if you want to evoke the time of Disco, bell bottoms, and astrological medallions floating in a sea of chest hair.

This is really one of the Funk-Soul classics, eminently danceable and fun.  Overplaying is less of a problem when the song is this good.  I remember my aunt used to have the AWB album this song is from.  You know, the one with their name in script that has the “W” formed by a stylized drawing of a lady’s backside.  I couldn’t read cursive yet, so it made no sense why anyone would want a naked lady’s rear end in their band name.  (I knew it was a name, but that’s about it.)

What most people don’t ever really think about is that Average White Band is Scottish.  I don’t know that their nationality had anything to do with a booty in their name, but it certainly is kind of astonishing.  “Funky” and “danceable” are not the first words I think of when I think of Scotland.  “Kilts” and “incomprehensible accents” come to mind, as does Craig Ferguson.  If I’m feeling literary, I might think about Robert Burns.  But not funky and danceable.

Maybe all that Scotch whiskey finally loosened them up.

“Atlantic City”


Want to bring down a party?  Play “Atlantic City.”  This is the musical equivalent of a Thomas Hardy novel.  (I read Jude the Obscure during a sunny summer visit to Houston and my dad, and I wanted to throw myself in front of a fucking bus by the end.)  There should probably be a Surgeon General’s warning on this song saying that people prone to depression should never, ever listen to this song.  Really.

The despair in this song is palpable.  Springsteen wrote this song, and the entire Nebraska album, shortly after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.  He tried recording the songs with the E Street Band, but the sessions never quite jelled.  So he cleaned up the acoustic demo tapes he made, probably added a few overdubs, and released that as one of the hardest, most emotional musical experiences I’ve ever had.  I seriously have a hard time listening to this album, even though it is utterly brilliant.  “Atlantic City” is the second track, which when paired with the opening title track makes for a metaphorical punch to the solar plexus: It leaves you breathless.

I’m actually not quite sure what inspired it as today’s choice.  I’m feeling pretty good.  My test today went okay, and I got enough sleep last night.  Life is all right.

Well, I can sort of trace it back to a reply Dan made to my comment on his most recent post.  (He’s taking a little break from blogging for a while, which I hope will be productive and good for him.)  Hope is a killer, but sometimes it’s the only thing we have.  What makes “Atlantic City” so damn awful is that this guy still has hope, in spite of the odds that are so clearly stacked against him.  “Well, I got a job, and tried to put my money away.  But I got debts that no honest man can pay.  So I drew what I had from the Central Trust, and I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus.”  You don’t need much explanation about who this guy is gonna do a favor for.  You don’t need to know anything to guess how it’s gonna turn out.  The song begins with some guy called Chicken Man getting blown up; it ends with the sound of ghosts howling down empty alleys off the boardwalk.  (Actually, the opening line of the song is a real mob killing from 1981.)  There’s no way this is gonna turn out the way this guy hopes it will, but he still tells his girl to “Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

But of course, the flip side of all this is hope itself.  Even when you know what the outcome is going to be, hope still buoys you up.  And as long as you have hope, as long as you keep trying and keep getting up just one more time, there is still a chance.  There’s always a chance.  You just gotta buy your ticket and take your chances.