Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Good Songs I

Funky Cold Medina – Tone Loc
One – Metallica
Cult of Personality – Living Colour
Welcome to the Jungle – Guns N’ Roses
Rock N Roll All Nite – Kiss
Rocket – Def Leppard
Nothing But a Good Time – Poison
Way Cool Jr. – Ratt
Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble – DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
Devil Inside – INXS
Wild Thing – Tone Loc
I Love it Loud – Kiss
Animal – Def Leppard

A few weeks ago I was at my parents’ house in Amesbury when I stumbled on a cache of old tapes – correction, it was a cache of old MIX tapes. Because I tend to be a completest (though my wife might call me a hoarder), just about every mix tape that I had ever made was in that collection.—there are 27 volumes*. I thought this discovery was noteworthy, so I did what people like me do in these situations; I snapped a photo of the tapes, posted it on my Facebook wall and made snide comments about musical tastes.

* If you don’t know what a mix tape is, it’s pretty simple. Back in the stone age (the 1980s and 90s) people listened to music four ways: radio, record (which was becoming irrelevant), CD (which—at the beginning of the 90s—were for the rich) or cassette tape (the choice of most people I knew). To put it bluntly, there was a lot of garbage on every tape so waiting to listen to your favorite song was torturous and fast forwarding was a pain. No one wanted to spend all day sitting by the radio hoping their favorite song would be spun. Much like today, people wanted control of their media.

Thus was born the mix tape.

You could tape a whole bunch of different songs off the radio, records, CDs and tape onto a blank cassette tape that usually cost less than five bucks. It was portable – you could listen to it in your Walkman or in your car. If you liked a girl, you gave them a mix tape of a bunch of slow songs and hoped that she didn’t laugh when she played it. I wasn’t courageous enough to do something like that, so the vast majority of my mix tapes are songs that I liked and would be played ad nauseam. So much so that when I hear a song that I had on a Good Songs tape played on the radio or at a concert, I expect to hear the next good song to be played after it.

I think that I once heard two good songs in a row on the radio, I bragged about it all day.

A few weeks went by and my friend Shawn said that I should turn the tapes into a playlist, which seemed like a great idea. A few weeks after that, my friend Ryan suggested that I listen to the playlists and write about them. That seemed like an even better idea.

This morning I opened iTunes and populated a new playlist (cleverly titled “Good Songs I”) with the songs above and listened to them while I did my normal morning routine. Some of these songs I haven’t heard in decades and I certainly hadn’t  listened to them in the order of the original mix tape. The experience was interesting as I juxtaposed my tastes from 1989 (this tape was made, I think, in the spring of 1989) to what I’m currently faced with with now: adulthood, being a husband, fatherhood, changing cultural mores.

For instance, I don’t think that Tone Loc could have had a hit with a song about a drug that causes women to black out and his comical inability to rape them, like he did with “Funky Cold Medina”. His gay panic declaration, “This is the 80s and I am down with the ladies” also comes off a little desperate too. But Tone Loc was right about one thing, it was the 80s and this sort of thing was condoned and maybe a bit encouraged. Plus there was a shout out to the dog mascots on beer companies that were inexplicably popular back then (Spuds McKenzie, Alex from Stroh’s – is Stroh’s still around any more?).

I was most embarrassed by two tracks on the tap:  Ratt’s “Way Cool Jr.” and the Fresh Prince’s “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble. You may not remember it, but GANBT is a fairly harmless song that also uses rape as a punch line (what a fun time for the ladies!) over the “I Dream of Jeanie” TV theme song. Even though GANBT was featured on the album before “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, it was rereleased after that song became gigantic and rerecorded to reference that song and a song about “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (this was actually their second single, but New Line Cinema sued them over character infringement and it was recalled) at the end.

Today, we’d call this a blatant cash grab and I would guess that this isn’t the video Will Smith shows Jaden when he’s teaching him to become multitalented. Though, to be fair, if my date caused me to miss a RUN DMC concert because she was doing her hair, I’d be steamin’ like a demon too. That’s an important lesson for the kids to learn.

When I made this mix tape, I knew that Ratt’s “Way Cool Jr.” was the weak link of this track list. I jumped on the Ratt bandwagon way too late—I didn’t own their only good album “Out of the Cellar”—but I bought “Reach For the Sky” where WCJ is found. I really, really tried to like (I even bought a Ratt poster) the song, the album and the band but it was all so terrible. Listening to that song again only drives that point home, it’s an awful song trying to build some sort of bluesy mythology that had a horn section and a saxophone solo.

As a kid I knew that Ratt was a lot of things, but Memphis blues wasn’t one of them. Someone probably told them that their next album had to be more serious and this is what they came up with. I don’t know whether that’s sad or laughable.

I remember being \ afraid of Metallica when I was a kid. Who were they? Why weren’t they on MTV? Why did they play so fast and sing so aggressively? What was their deal? So I’m sure that I was extremely proud that I put this song on their – even though it’s the single for their first video that was on MTV and it was played in heavy rotation.

This might be the only time in recorded history where this comparison may be made, but like “Reach for the Sky”, I tried really hard to get into “ … And Justice For All”, but I failed miserably. It was way too fast for my taste and coming from a place where I only listened to Weird Al and Huey Lewis just two years prior; loading this into my Walkman and hitting play was a bit like going from the Amesbury PONY League to playing Michael Jordan in HORSE. Yes, I know that I mixed sports metaphors there, but “… And Justice For All” almost broke my brain.

The one other thing that I found interesting about this tape is that there is a bit of nostalgia nestled in it. I hated middle school, it was the most confusing and frustrating time in my life, and every second that I was in school seemed like forever. I didn’t have a lot of friends, I was awkward and goofy, I was slammed up against a brick wall by a girl (and it hurt – badly), everything I thought I knew and liked was completely out of sync—in short, I didn’t know who I was yet.

The only thing that I liked about junior high was our Spanish class trip to Montreal (yeah, don’t ask). The two songs that I remembered most from that trip were “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Devil Inside”. I thought that both songs were by dangerous bands (in the Satanic Panic hey day of the 1980s, any band that sang about the Devil may have been dabbling in the black arts) but I really dug the sounds and bought both tapes by the end of the year.

Depending on your thoughts about your lead singers dying while masturbating and making self-indulgent, incredibly boring videos, both bands were as dangerous as cream cheese. However, listening to them on this playlist brought me back to being on a school bus with 40 other stupid, awkward, lonely and confused kids wondering why we all (barely) spoke Spanish and were heading to the Frenchest place in North America. It was the one respite in three years of trash.

Finding that respite and holding onto it is what a mix tape could do for you.

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