I don’t listen much to anything Elton John did in the 80’s and 90’s. He was one of those high-profile stars who high-profile had a hard time staying relevant during those years. He was hardly the only one not keeping up with the times musically, of course. For his part, Elton John was also having a very rough time in his personal life, dealing with substance abuse and the pressure to stay quietly in the closet at the height of the AIDS crisis. Today we all know and love his prissy-gay-uncle persona, but back in the day he somehow convinced the world he was straight, and was actually seen as being pretty wholesome for a guy who wears that much glitter. That combined with a lot of cocaine and booze certainly drained away at the creative energy. It’s hard to keep producing heartfelt, honest work when you’re living a lie and constantly trying to medicate reality into submission. Still, there were some shining moments even in dark times. Elton and Bernie could still put their heads together and produce something of value. Even though the production is maudlin and lazy, the performance is moving and it shows that the artist hasn’t really lost his touch after all.

The Rose Tattoo

Here’s a song with literary reference. It takes its title from a 1951 Tennessee Williams play, or its better-known film adaptation. I haven’t seen the movie or the play, and I don’t understand the Spanish parts of the song, so I can’t tell you how much of a reference it really is. But David Byrne seems like he would know his Tennessee Williams, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I guess that’s a homework assignment for me, then.

Rock and a Hard Place

The Rolling Stones, circa 1989, doing what they do best – swaggering, aggressive rock’n’roll. You could say that this sound and posturing has become calcified, and it has, but still, nobody does it better. The Rolling Stones didn’t start out as a band that writes songs for stadiums, because they’re older than the stadium era, but that’s what they’ve become. They helped invent stadium rock, and you can blame them for a lot of other people’s shit music as a result of that. By 1989 they were already a well-oiled machine selling sex and attitude as a futuristic mass spectacle. Some fans gripe that the band has sold out its soul, but we all know that Mick Jagger exchanged his soul for the promise of an eternally fawnlike physique sometime in the mid-sixties, while Keith Richards picked up the vampire virus in Marrakesh. The Rolling Stones have no choice but to carry on writing hard-riffing rock songs and filling up stadiums; they signed a blood oath with the devil to go on being The Rolling Stones for all of eternity. The Rolling Stones are going to be playing when the world melts.


You all know this one, and chances are, it’s a favorite party-starter. For the B-52’s, party-starting is pretty much a mission statement. Being outrageous, flamboyant, campy and fun is their game, and it’s honestly hard to think of a more reliable spirit-booster. As a big radio hit, this song is definitely one of their least weird. For some fans, any song not featuring Fred Schneider is not really a proper B-52’s song. I’ve always been of the opinion that the ladies deserve more credit than they get for shaping the band’s signature sound – especially Kate Pierson. They’re more than backups or accessories for a charismatic frontman, they are the aesthetic. (And major fashion icons!) So this is a perennial favorite that can’t possibly be played into oblivion.

Return of the Ugly

When Buster Bloodvessel sings about the return of the ugly, he means himself. Damn, that dude is ugly! If you’re cursed with a face like that, make it your schtick. Buster has made a career from being an ugly rudeboy, to the eternal inspiration of ugly rudeboys everywhere. You don’t have to be pretty to succeed at ska, you just have to be really fun, and I guarantee that Buster has more fun than you. He’s probably having more fun than you right now. And that’s why Bad Manners exists – to help you have more fun. Forget about social consciousness, let’s get drunk and rampage til we drop!

Pass It On

It’s been a while since I’ve promoted the long-defunct Timbuk 3. Although I have no illusionsĀ that my singlehanded efforts will help Blift them out of obscurity, I still have to do my part. But, on the other hand, forĀ all the 80’s nostalgia going on and so many figures from the pre-grunge indie post-punk whatever scene getting lionized, why not them too? It seems that all six of Timbuk 3’s albums are now out of print, but they’re still available for download. If you’re not into that, I know someone with a full set of cassette tapes they’d gladly copy for you. Which would be just perfectly appropriate, because feeling nostalgic for 1993 is, like, everybody’s mood board right now. I think that Pat MacDonald’s brand of darkly humorous modern life malaise is never not relevant. When he said the future was bright, he was being ironic, and in fact, the future is a cornucopia of bleakness.

Ouija Board, Ouija Board

No, I was not pushing that time!

A dire warning about messing about with the spirit world, lest whimsical weirdness interrupts your bucolic teatime seance. Morrissey is borderline batshit insane even on his best behavior, and the rock star necessity of shooting videos does not bring his best out. So has, notoriously enough, taken the art of video where most artists of his stature would fear to tread. His videos have consistently been embarrassingly ill-conceived, amateurish, and just plain batshit insane. In this case, he does keep his shirt on, which may or may not be a detriment, depending on what you’re expecting to enjoy. And, as tends to happen, the general weirdness does no service to the song, which is actually weird in a good way. I think you all know what a Ouija board is, and I expect you’ll agree that it’s an exceedingly dumb toy. It’s dumb if you believe in the occult and equally dumb if you don’t. And it’s definitely something you could imagine your pale, mopey, celibate, tea-drinking self doing alone in an isolated Tudor mansion in the middle of the woods on a misguided romantic whim. Inevitably, you will find that the spirits don’t care for your company any more than the living.