Thursday, January 08, 2015

Good Songs II and III

Good Songs II

Turn This Mutha Out - MC Hammer
Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N Roses
Open Letter to a Landlord – Living Colour
It Takes Two – Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock
Rock N Roll All Nite – Kiss
Love in an Elevator – Aerosmith
Hysteria – Def Leppard
Principal’s Office – Young MC
Welcome to the Jungle – Guns N Roses
Wild, Wild West – Kool Moe Dee
Wild Thing – Tone Loc
Scared – Dangerous Toys
Nothin’ But A Good Time – Poison
I’m That Type of Guy – LL Cool J
Lick It Up – Kiss
Who Made Who – AC/DC
Cult of Personality – Living Colour
Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard
Bust A Move – Young MC

Good Songs III

Paradise City – Guns N Roses
Going Back to Cali – LL Cool J
Devil Inside – INXS
Janie’s Got a Gun – Aerosmith
Funky Cold Medina – Tone Loc
Glamour Boys – Living Colour
Back in Black – AC/DC
Love Bites – Def Leppard
Mr. Brownstone – Guns N Roses

I listened to two editions of Good Songs today. I’m not sure exactly why (the linear notes in the Good Songs tapes are completely nonexistent—it’s as if I never thought about the future), but for some reason Good Songs III is only a half of a tape. This may be because I bought two 90 minute tapes and had only 135 minutes worth of good songs in my collection (perhaps), something better came along and took me away from taping (not likely) or I was just lazy (most definitely).

Whatever the reason (definitely laziness), I decided to combine both of these volumes into one entry because it makes the most sense and it’s just easier. I probably created these tapes in the late winter of 1989/early spring of 1990, or about eight-to-nine months after I unleashed Good Songs I on an unsuspecting world. And by unsuspecting world, I mean myself and my stereo – these tapes were never publically consumed.

In the mangled, unrefined high school brain of an adolescent male, I wanted these tapes to be heard by my peers, but at the same time I definitely didn’t want my peers to hear the mixes. When creating these tapes, I’d often daydream about the adulation that I’d get from my peers “Wow! What a mix! Rock and rap? What a maestro!” And in my more outlandish fantasies, it was me who came to the rescue of a school dance gone awry with my Good Songs mix tapes.

“Don’t worry girls, a slow song is coming up real soon. You can all have a dance,” I would think.

But I would never dare put this out there for fear of public ridicule. “Young MC? Dangerous Toys?  Poison? These songs are terrible! You suck,” is how the flipside of the aforementioned daydream usually played out.

In high school and the subsequent years after graduation are interesting (especially in a pre-internet world) in terms of my media consumption in terms of how it reflected on my person. On one hand I wanted to be unique, have a few outlying tastes that no one else has. That’s what makes me who I am and it differed me from the sea of people listening, watching and discussing the same thing. 

At the same time, I didn’t want to be an outlier or an outsider, listening to stuff that no one else liked. There was no community, no sense of belonging; I really wanted to be sorta like everyone else. Of course, with the way the internet connects everyone’s likes now, this wouldn’t be a problem that I’d have faced.

One of the bands that really spoke to me and was “mine” was Living Colour. I don’t know what it was about them, but I latched on to them the first time I saw “Cult of Personality” on MTV. Aside from the fact that they were black* and they were playing hard rock (heavy metal? I don’t know) their video was completely different than what was being played on the channel at that time.

* I hate to say it, but it was a big deal to me that there was a black rock band on MTV and that’s what probably attracted me to them – I thought that they were incredibly talented but they didn’t look like everyone else, which got me thinking that they were probably an underdog story, championed by some lonely A&R rep somewhere. (That’s not true, by the way, Mick Jagger loved them and produced their records and had them open for the Stones on their Steel Wheels tour). I’ve always loved an underdog story—even one that only I perceive as such—so that’s why I identified with their music so much. At the time I didn’t understand that rock was once full of black musicians and that historically, the race of Living Colour shouldn’t have been a big deal.

Their videos were paired down, nothing like the big budget spectaculars of  their contemporaries like Motley Crue or Poison or Bon Jovi. “Cult of Personality” were four dudes on a sound stage, with a couple of pieces of stock footage to accentuate the lyrics. And the lyrics were (seemed?) deeper than their contemporaries too. They talked about gentrification, despots and the ruination of the lower-to-middle class. Their guitars squealed just as loud as their rock brethren, but it seemed like they were smarter.

And that was good, smart is always good. It also didn’t hurt that their music was pretty good too and was part of a trend to more thoughtful popular music. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Living Colour was my first foray into the alternative musical landscape* that was going to monopolize the playlists of the next decade. 

* Along with Jane’s Addiction, Ice-T and a bunch of other bands, Living Colour was a part of the first Lollapalooza. That’s the gold standard for 90s alternative nation!

I have to admit, I’m not a big AC/DC fan. I like them well enough to listen to them when they pop up on the radio and I’d say that I know a good portion of their back catalog despite owning two tapes: “Back in Black” and “Who Made Who” and rarely ever seeing a video on MTV*. The reason why I know them so well is because I grew up on the border of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In high school, most of the radio stations I listened to were the New Hampshire rock stations. And each station played at least one AC/DC song every hour.

* I remember losing my damn mind when I saw AC/DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long” on MTV one random February afternoon. I immediately called up my friend Jesse to discuss this HUGE event. He didn’t think it was that big of a deal – he was probably right. Like I said, I was never a big AC/DC fan and MTV used to play hundreds of videos every day—who cares. It must not have been easy to be my friend in high school.

After hearing AC/DC so many times, I was worn down and asked for those tapes for Christmas. I listened to them a bunch of times, liked them okay and the ultimately forgot about ever listening to them again. What was the point? They were on the radio all the time. At one point in my life, I may have gone every day for five or six straight years with hearing at least a snippet of an AC/DC song. I know Brian Johnson’s voice better than my own mother’s.

After Aerosmith came back from a decade of drugs and debauchery with “Walk This Way” and “Permanent Vacation”, they were everywhere. Living in Massachusetts, it was doubly impossible to escape from their clutches. I never loved Aerosmith, I almost felt as if I should own their tapes out of consolation; I lived in Massachusetts, they’re popular, I needed to get with the program.  

As far as later Aerosmith goes, “Pump” was a pretty decent album. There was a bunch of filler on it, but the singles were decent enough to mine. And they followed the formula of most heavy metal bands at the time, release a rocking song as your first single and then a slow, more serious ballad as your second single. And that’s what Aerosmith did here.

It’s kind of difficult to slow dance to a song about a girl who was molested by her dad and then shoots him, but it was a different time, I suppose. Aerosmith spent a lot of money of their videos and really embraced the whole rock/MTV star thing. On every MTV News show, Steven Tyler was giving his opinion about something and I think that ubiquitous helped to make Aerosmith even more popular. When their videos weren’t on MTV, the group’s front man was talking about AIDs or Led Zeppelin or reading George Bush’s lips.

He was one of the first entertainers to realize that being a rock star takes a lot more than knowing how to sing or play guitar, you have to always put yourself out there and when people aren’t listening to your songs, they need to see your face and hear your voice. It’s all about the synergy – which is a far dirty, dirty word than Steven Tyler has ever skatted.

After my dalliance with DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince on my first Good Songs tape, I really jumped into the poppy side of rap. MC Hammer (this tape was made before “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em” was huge), Rob Base, Young MC, LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee and Tone Loc all make appearances on this tape.

At the time, I was probably under the impression that I was pretty cool to include stuff that was seen daily on Yo! MTV Raps. But most of these tracks are pretty whack.

Of the nine hip hop songs, “Going Back to Cali” is probably the best one. Though I wouldn’t fault you if you argued for “It Takes Two”. I can remember seeing “It Takes Two” for the first time on MTV and just being hypnotized by it. The beat, the hook, Rob Base’s delivery; I am not a dancing man at all, but damn it, that song made me want to get up and do the running man.

And the way it spread through the school was organically. It’s not like today where you can show someone a video on your phone, if you liked a song, you asked another person if they had heard it before.  If they did—BOOM—instant connection. If they didn’t, you had to explain it to them, describe the beat, spit out a few lyrics, talk about the video. Maybe, if you were lucky, you had it on tape in your Walkman and they could hear a snippet. But talking about new music was almost like passing a secret or saying a code word.

My interest in rap was still at a pretty elementary level at that point in my life. I just thought that it was music to dance to. I had no idea that it could be used for social commentary. More on that in the entries to come.

No comments: