The Sins of Thy Past
A Personal Top 10 of Musical Degradation and Guilty Pleasures
Confession time! Spring cleaning’s not only a household activity, it’s also a coming to terms with your own faults and shortcomings. Or something. Anyway, it’s March, and it’s time to get those skeletons out of your closet, to confront your own past, or even — more specifically speaking — to dig out those old albums and admit that yes, they meant a lot to you, and yes, they continue to do so. While fully aware that no one can possibly take me serious after this, I proudly give you my very own top ten of guilty pleasures. Cleansing.
Of all bands, Kiss was my first love, and probably the main reason why I just can’t remember a time when I wasn’t totally surrounded by music. How sad is that? I still love, them, of course, even though they haven’t released a half-decent album since 1976 (or 1977, if we’re being nice). But when five years old in 1980, down with the flu, listening to my brother’s tape of Peter Criss’s 1978 solo album — otherwise regarded as the single worst album in Kisstory — the amazingly soppy “I Can’t Stop the Rain” seemed like the best song ever.
9) Cliff Richard
I actually find this a bit hard to comprehend myself, but there was a time when I did use to find Cliff absolutely brilliant. Yes, that Cliff, the most generic artist ever. After sucking up all his 1960s hits, I discovered the dubious joys of his huge, totally irrelevant 1970s output, and became the only person in the world, most likely including Cliff himself, to think that those were the ignored masterpieces of a brilliant performer. What can I say? Confused years, I guess.
8) The Grunge Years
More confusion. Like every other teenager on the Western hemisphere, I ate up Nirvana and the rest of them. Not satisfied with the music, however, I took it to the next level and ended up sporting one of those scruffy, half-assed pointy beards, long, Cobain-ish (I thought) hair, and stunningly stupid clothes. The dumbest summer. All angst and fun wasn’t something we talked openly about.
I once bought this huge load of LPs from someone’s brother, and included was albums from every major ’70s rock band, and particularly, every soft rock act imaginable. One of those albums was Styx’s The Grand Illusion — I knew neither the album nor the band, even though this was the second half of the ’80s, as no one in Europe could’ve cared less about music like this. Except me, apparently. I was completely taken by the album, I sat through it with my mouth open, shocked by how brilliant it was, and how could this band have passed me by? And stuff like that. Styx, the best band ever? Well, there you go. Coinciding with my “discovery” of, and total immersion with, so-called indie music, this must’ve been schizophrenic times indeed, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
Do I know “Wham! Rap” by heart? Of course I do! At a time when everyone else did the right thing and went with Grandmaster Flash, I stumbled unto Wham! and thought they were the absolutely unrivalled kings of rap. “Hey everybody, take a look at me/I’ve got street credibility,” rapped George Michael, and I was far too young to tell him that no, he didn’t. It took Public Enemy (by way of Anthrax) to show me that rap could matter in a very real way.
5) Hair Metal
Faster Pussycat, Skid Row, Dokken, L.A. Guns — you name them, I’ve got them. Yes, the power of ultra-fast, pointless, shredding, high-pitched, androgynous screams, songs about people named Johnny and Angelina, make-up and men in blouses. Absolutely irresistible. And while everyone else will at best admit to sort-of-liking Appetite For Destruction, I go that extra mile and have been known to dig out a worn-out copy of Cinderella’s Long Cold Winter and wail along. Awright!
4) Kiddie Pop
Brilliant masters of pop composition. Immediately appealing cleverness. Refreshing ingenuity. Could’ve been talking about The Beatles, but no, these are phrases I’m more than like to use to describe bands like Aqua, Backstreet Boys, and Take That. Not N’Sync, mind — this boy’s got some self-respect left, thank you very much! And if I’m not actually going out to buy albums from any of the above, I’ll still maintain that some of the finest songwriters of our time work for huge corporations, churning out one hit after another for bands without faces. Was “Barbie Girl” a stroke of genius? Finest naive pop single of the ’90s, is what it was. So there, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open. Ah.
3) Bad Indie
The late ’80s were a good time to discover underground rock, what with The Pixies, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr. being only three of the many other-worldly bands out there. But you know how it is, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of new discoveries, and suddenly every band that was even remotely “indie” was considered to be absolutely brilliant. With an album collection increasingly full of bands with ludicrous names, cool haircuts, and not an ounce of talent, I suddenly woke up in the early ’90s to discover that “doing it yourself” didn’t have to be a stance against commercialism and a mark of great music, it could also be a simple matter of not being good enough to deserve a record deal.
2) We Are the World
Live Aid is one thing — good cause, OK bands… and “We Are the World.” Me in the mid-’90s, in a dark basement, up on the stage with an “all-star” team of local musicians doing a spirited, if tongue-in-cheek version of Live Aid, for some cause or other, is an uglier image indeed. Did I belong on a stage with the city’s finest musicians? Of course not, I stormed it, insisting on singing most of Michael Jackson’s lines myself. Did I — like those other people on stage — have a certain ironic distance to the song and to performing it? Absolutely not. Was I sober? Ho-hum. My girlfriend at the time left me a couple of weeks later. Coincidence? Methinks not.
1) Meat Loaf
This is obviously the most embarrassing one by far, although I really only liked Bat Out of Hell, and even that one I got over pretty fast. Makes no difference, though. It’s Meat Loaf, dammit! Mad “genius” Jim Steinman’s rather large musical puppet sang his heart out about driving around feeling lonely and then getting off with his girl in a car — me, I don’t even have a driver’s license, and I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to get one. And still I thought I could relate – and worse still, maybe I could! Does that mean I’m pompous at heart? Does that mean I think Todd Rundgren on “motorcycle guitar” is in any way defendable? Does this mean I’ve got a redneck jock living inside of me? All those questions and more are brought up by the existence of a Meat Loaf living in your record collection, and they’re all questions I dare not yet answer. Music, eh? Never as safe as you thought it’d be.