No one ever did psychedelic epics quite like Pink Floyd. Which amazingly, they managed to successfully do long after the ‘psychedelic’ descriptor fell out of style. From ‘psychedelic’ to ‘progressive’ to infinity, as they say. Pink Floyd distinguished themselves in the 60’s, when everyone was competing to see just how long of an extended Moog solo they could get people to sit and listen to. By the end of the 80’s the ideals of psychedelia and the ambitions of prog were on no one’s mind, but Pink Floyd was still selling out stadiums, and all despite their own internal rancor and legal wrangles.
I’ve discovered that I really like the Alan Parsons Project’s early-80’s synthpop, because it blends right in with today’s synthpop. I mean, I knew who Alan Parsons was, but I never allowed myself to enjoy his music more than a little bit, because it felt like ‘wimpy music’ for a snobby teenager with weird and specific standards of cool. But what comes around comes from somewhere, so they say, and even though not a lot of people would point to Vulture Culture as a seminal work of great import, I guess it was more influential than I thought. It sounds pretty on-point, now that music that sounds like this is widely popular again.
I used to think, as a kid, that this song by Sparks was the height of New Romantic romanticism. The keyboard curlicues are so dramatic, and Russ delivers it with such romantic conviction. It takes a few listens to realize that absolutely none of the words make sense, as if the songwriters had gained a weak grasp of the English language entirely by listening to romantic pop songs. The songwriters are actually American, and what they’ve grasped is that the bar for ‘words that make sense together’ is very low in pop songs, and it’s the delivery and production that people respond to. All the lyrics have to do is deliver a vague sense of the general sentiment. Ah, it’s romance! And dancing! Please, say no more.
Welcome back to finding out bands that I’ve made a point of never listening to because I thought they were quote unquote ** 90’s music **. As usual in this particular regard, I’m wrong. The Stone Roses, apparently, had kicked around the Manchester music scene for almost the whole entire 80’s before making a record. They made their debut album in 1989, made another one in 1994, and disbanded amid legal wranglings. So these guys spent most of their lifespan as a group playing without a record label, or records. Which must have been some kind of a feat of bad luck and/or self sabotage, because we all know that Manchester was the absolute coolest miserable, poverty-stricken post-industrial backwater to be plucked from by the sweet chariot of fame aka there were a lot of record label scouts up there looking for the next Ian Curtis. Interesting to know how that whole story played out. Maybe I’ll read up on it. In the meantime, here’s one great 80’s Manchester sadboi album I didn’t previously know about.
I enjoy the B-52’s for their wacky sense of humor, as I think all of their fans do. Their flamboyant silliness is uplifting and refreshing, in marked contrast to most of their self-serious New Wave peers. This song is a great favorite, and of course, I find it hilarious. If anyone remembers those old-timey mail-order dating services which required users to film and exchange short profiles of themselves on VHS tape, will recognize the parody. Those tapes have stopped even being a punchline, gone the way of obsolete technologies without even a puff of nostalgia towards them, giving way to more efficient means of impressing strangers. However, the earnest and mostly doomed optimism of single people putting their best self forward in hopes of finding love – or at least a sexual encounter – in the arms of a stranger has, if anything, become an even more familiar feature of our daily experience, and is never not ripe for humor. Everyone still wants to meet and have a baby with a gal in a gold tinsel wig.
You thought I was an expert on 80’s music, but I’m sorry, I’m not. Every time I think that I really know my stuff, I discover how much I don’t know. For example, I’ve never listened to the Jesus and Mary Chain before this year, and that was only because I put myself through the task of listening to more 80’s music, year by year. Apparently, I know a lot about New Wave and the New Romantics, but alternative rock remains a huge blind spot. I’ve also never listened to Sonic Youth, the Replacements, or R.E.M. just to name a few. I’m not exactly going to change my lifestyle to listen to more R.E.M. – they suck, fyi – but there’s a few records I’ve discovered that I’m going to start listening to more. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy is one of them.
Nick Cave and Gene Pitney hardly seem to occupy the same universe, but it appears that they have at least one thing in common: they both have an ear for a grand romantic love song. In Nick Cave’s world, of course, romance isn’t romance without blood, filth and tragedy. When he promises “Scarlet for me and scarlet for you” he’s not talking about a nice corsage. But when he picks an apparently sunshiny love song by a sunshiny pop singer like Gene Pitney, he does it without a trace of irony. You can make fun of Pitney and the edgeless pop music he recorded in the 60’s, when the boundaries between edgy and square were battlefields. A well made love song, when sung from the heart, rings true when a guy with not one hair out of place delivers it, and it rings equally true when delivered by a guy who looks like he crawled out of a dumpster.