Friday, April 08, 2005

In Praise of the Overplayed

Y'know how we all have abandoned artists who got played to death on the radio? We can't be blamed, though, because on the 4,327.5th hearing of "Billie Jean" (besides conjuring up unwanted thoughts on its true meaning since it's now obvious that Michael is a pretty serious pedophile who likes little boys and isn't Billie Jean kind of a masculine name?) we just can't stand that great bass groove any more damnit! It's ruined!

Still, I'd like to submit that in the same way that muscles that burn from a massive workout eventually feel better and stronger, so too can artists for whom radio wore out their welcome can seem all the more rich later on.

I'm here to make the case for folding these guys back into one's iPod playlist, mix-tapes, homebrew CDs, because they got overplayed for a reason: They were damn good. (And, yes, they're all guys, because the only female artist I'm aware of that got and still gets overplayed is Shania "Sha-nay-nay" Twain.)

John Denver was the first artist I can recall getting so overplayed that I have clear memories of people snapping off the radio in disgust when one of his songs came on. Monty Python even disposed of him (scroll down and select the sample of "Farewell to John Denver") in a hilarious, but rather nasty way (he sued them over it, even). Besides his ubiquitousness on the radio, TV specials and a movie (the still charming Oh, God!), people had other reasons for hating him. A good buddy of mine loathes him because he wrote all those earth-loving hippie anthems, but then wrote a song about flying home to his millionaire's estate "Starwood, in Aspen" where he hoarded gas during the fuel shortages of the 70s. A lot of folks hated him over the gas-hoarding thing, actually. Hunter S. Thompson hated him for many reasons beyond that and was known to walk out his front door and pop off some random shots in the direction of Starwood, which bordered Thompson's estate, in hopes of plugging John by accident. He was also despised for refusing to give autographs to fans, and tried to apologize for the same by naming one of his albums Autograph, but no one appreciated that anymore than his lame excuse for not giving autographs (though I don't recall what it was). A lot of his "I'm sorry" songs were written to Annie in hopes she would forgive him for fucking around with groupies on the road. Finally, though it's not remembered this way anymore, he was intent on getting a ride on the space shuttle, and was even in training at NASA for it, but then Ronnie got elected and said he wasn't going to let a pot smoking hippie on the shuttle, so he sent a teacher in his place, and we all recall how that went. Apparently John was destined to die in an aircraft accident.

All that shite aside (and considering that most of us have a laundry list of things we're not proud of in our own lives), the dude had some great songs. "Sunshine on my Shoulders" is still hauntingly beautiful, as are "Annie's Song" and "Rocky Mountain High." Not a single song on his last, and best, anthology will be a stranger to anyone who was forming memories in the 70s. (And, oddly, he's nude on the cover photo, perhaps an acknowledgement of his favorite state in which to mow his lawn. Was it the susurration of 2-stroke engine exhaust gently wafting across his scrotum the reason for this preference? The mind boggles.) Anyway, I dare anyone except my buddy with the grudge about "Starwood, in Aspen" (which does not appear on this disc!) to give this a listen. I'll bet you find yourself glad you did. I think you'll also be surprised how eclectic his songs were in both subject, performance, and arrangements. And - most of all - that voice. Wow.

For a while you couldn't get away from the Bee Gees' chipmunk disco invasion. At one point the Bee Gees had branched out on so many side projects with other artists that even when the radio wasn't playing a Bee Gees song, it was playing something they'd written and/or produced. You could go a solid hour on the radio and hear nothing but brothers Gibb products. By the time they released "Tragedy," it was one.

Besides the hailstorm of Bee Gees songs feeding the growing resentment against them, their music publishing company was notoriously cheap, and all the their album pressings and cassette tapes sounded like shit. Many who heard the songs on the radio and ran out to get their own copy probably wondered what the hell had happened in the transition. Even the first CD releases sounded like they'd been mastered by distilling the sound through a wall of cotton.

Their latest anthology and the megalith Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (that had been originally recorded as a straight Bee Gees album until the movie producers begged enough and tossed enough money at them to make it their soundtrack) are both beautifully remastered and sound great. If you can't bring yourself to buy Saturday Night Fever yet again (and don't try to pretend you didn't buy it at least once), there's a good chance your local library has a copy. Go have yourself another night on Disco Mountain. (Relish again the horror of "A fifth of Beethoven." Yeah, baby!)

Phil Collins. The mere mention of the name causes some music lovers who owned radios in the 80s to grow pale and get moist around the eyes. Their chin might even quiver a little. Phil probably has achieved the status of the most overplayed artist of all time, even though Barf Brooks tried his damndest to reach that goal. Like the Bee Gees, while his own projects were all over the air, both Genesis and his solo stuff, he was doing soundtracks AND side projects with Philip Bailey (Earth, Wind and Fire), Eric Clapton, Howard Jones, and Robert Plant(!!). And then he hit his power ballad phase. You could detect DJs actively suppressing gags while introing his songs, the door to the studio open so they could bolt to the employee lounge as soon as the needle hit the groove. The bitter taste so lingers with some that during the initial screenings of Disney's Tarzan (for those of you in the cheap seats, Phil did the songs), I could look back into the audience and see some parents straining Clockwork Orange-style to avoid lapsing into a seizure. To those of you that have gotten past the Phil overload, whose nervous systems are no longer flooded with Phil antibodies, I just gotta say that his first two solo albums - Face Value and Hello, I Must be Going - were in a league of their own. Nothing else sounded like them, then or now. They were unique blends of Phil's fantastic drumming, the fabulous horn section of "Earth, Wind and Fire" who were pushed way beyond what they did in their own band, and big, ambitious songs. Also, the two Genesis albums from that time are classics: Abacab and the eponymous Genesis. (Oh, and you Peter Gabriel fans are right, that the Phil's Genesis is incomparable with Peter's, but this is about Phil, so grab a beer and relax.)

For all of these, if you don't own them already and if you just don't wanna pop for the CDs on the basis of my advice alone (and I'm not very hurt by that), hit the library, go to a used CD store that'll let you preview them, or borrow them from a buddy. Someone you know will have them, but you have to be discreet about it and don't ask them in front of a crowd or all you'll get is denials. Even listing to the samples you'll find at the end of the links above may suffice. But, rediscover these guys. They rocked and you know it.


Anonymous said...

You're kidding. You're kidding. Tell me you're kidding. Isn't this music playing on the infinite loop on the elevator to hell? (Except for bad Catholics, who will be listening to Haugen and Haas all the way down.)

It's not that I'm a music snob; I spent formative adolescent years in the U.K. tuned to Radio 1 (like there was anything else) and in my heart of hearts love the New Wave stuff that makes Eudoxus gag: Adam and the Ants, Spandau Ballet, Human League, etc. Why don't you do a post on the neglected greatness of Fun Boy Three?

Anonymous said...

Well that would just be cruel, wouldn't it? ;)

No, what launched this post is I had "I Cannot Believe It's True" by Phil on one of my CD mixes in my car, and when it came on, with that great drum intro, my daughter said, "What a cool song!" And I thought, "Yeah!"

Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ, dude.

You feelin ok?


Anonymous said...

I guess the world just isn't ready, yet....

Anonymous said...

If you follow the history of Phil Collins and Genesis, it takes you from happy hippydom to bitter New Wave to the hokey love songs of adult contemporary. A lot of bands from the early 70's followed a similar progression and it must be some indication of the baby boomer psyche. Phil and Genesis had more talent and stayed together longer than most. There was a time in the early 80's when Phil was everywhere, working with Brian Eno, all sorts of different bands, really pushing himself as an artist. It's funny how people have such a limited, gag-me opinion of him. People don't know or care about his earlier work with Genesis or the jazz influenced Brand X. A bigger issue is how we had all this diverse popular music in the 70's and early 80's with trends and genres you could follow and how pop music is so bland and corporate now.

Anonymous said...

Was anyone else reminded of that scene from American Psycho where Christian Bale's character launches into an appreciation of Phil Collins and Whitney Houston?

Anonymous said...

Did I forget to mention that "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is one of my favorite songs? MWAHAHAHA{snort}Heee.

Anonymous said...

feel free to come on in and check it out anytime. :)