Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Good Songs VIII

Kiss of Death – Dokken
Burning Like a Flame – Dokken
Epic – Faith No More
Falling to Pieces – Faith No More
Up All Night – Slaughter
Fly to the Angels – Slaughter
Never Enough – LA Guns
Ballad of Jayne – LA Guns
Cult of Personality – Living Colour
Glamour Boys – Living Colour
Type – Living Colour
Love Rears Its Ugly Head – Living Colour
Don’t Close Your Eyes – Kix
Cold Blood – Kix
Kickstart My Heart – Motley Crue
Doctor Feelgood – Motley Crue
Don’t Go Away Mad – Motley Crue
Same Old Situation – Motley Crue
Down Boys – Warrant

Currently, I am a marketer. Technically, I’m a product marketer and that can mean a lot of different things at a lot of different companies. However, the bulk of my job is understanding my product, crafting a message for that product and making sure that message gets to the buying public. Unless you have amazing brand recognition (Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonalds) getting that message out there can be difficult.

But that’s what I love about my job. I love determining what the product’s message and value props are going to be and figuring out a way to present it in a way that will make people reach into their wallets and pay my company their hard-earned money. That’s probably a crass way to put it, but that’s basically what my job boils down to.

One of the things that I would love to discover (and this is a discovery, more than an invention, thought I assume it could be argued either way) is an algorithm that will correctly predict the whims of the public. On a macro-level, I’m not sure if you need something like this. Normally, people will gravitate to something that has a ton of hype around it. Hype costs money, ergo if you have a ton of money you can get your hype and your customers. The trick is creating something worthwhile enough so that the hype can die down a bit and people will still actively seek out your product. The bottom line is, money helps.  

The algorithm that I would like to discover would operate  on the micro-level. Why do some towns and cities prefer Pepsi over Coke, Budweiser over Coors Light, Burger King over McDonalds. These hamlets have their regional favorites and there has to be a reason why. If you get enough of these micro-levels together, you get a chunk of the macro-level and start competing with the big guys.

The first two songs on this tape* sorta relate to this micro-level way of thinking.

* The next three Good Songs tapes were all created at the same time. They were broken up into Rock, Rap and Mix. As you might be able to tell from this tape, the first 14 songs are paired – a duo of songs from one tape. Except for some reason I really liked me some Motley Crue at this point, so I doubled the duo of Dr. Feelgood. Anyway, I’m not sure if I like this gimmick, it reminds me of those old “Two for Tuesdays” programs they’d run on the local radio station where you’d get two songs from the same artist. I have a feeling that I was influenced by MTV who was playing video blocks of the same type of music during the summer of 1990 and 91. At this point in my life, MTV was the Pied Piper, I’d pretty much buy anything that was in heavy rotation on MTV.

This micro-level of marketing refers to the band Dokken and my specifically high school. From any objectionable point-of-view there is no difference between Dokken and Ratt and LA Guns and Poison or any other mid-80s, LA heavy metal band. Like those bands, they were an amalgam of Led Zeppelin/Van Halen/Black Sabbath-influenced rock that placed a premium on looking a certain way (PRETTY!) and acting a certain way (obtuse and obnoxious). Also like those bands, Dokken didn’t do anything extraordinary. The lyrics weren’t anything special, the musicianship was mediocre and even the way that the singles were released (rockin’ one first, ballad second, whatever third) was all the same.

They were unoriginal soliders in a time where corporations were pumping out bands who were rockin’ by numbers. They were a disposable band that was an example of a successful musical formula.

For some reason, Dokken took ahold of my high school. Or at least the band took ahold of the cooler guys in my grade, which meant that the band Dokken had a heightened sense of awareness at Amesbury High School. It wasn’t “Dokken or Die” but I seem to remember that there were a lot of cafeteria conversations about whether Dokken guitarist was “Awesome”, “Fucking Awesome” or “Wicked Fucking Awesome”. On days when “Mr. Scary” was extra loud, there were some debates about whether Lynch was legitimately better than Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page.

I’m sure that every moderately popular band had an unexplained loyal following at every high school in America, so I don’t mean to single my high school out. I’m sure you could replace Lynch with Rikki Rocket or Richie Sambora or Mick Mars and the same conversations where taking place all throughout America at that time.

As a young person you have no real idea of what came before you but you have an endless amount of time to figure out where you heroes will rank. I thought that Jose Canseco would sail into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, things happen. But what I’m most interested in is how did one high school in the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts have a slavish devotion to a completely forgettable and totally middle-of-the-road rock band? I’ve thought about this question for nigh 20 years and I don’t think that I ever figured out a good answer. Maybe an algorithm for predicting the trends of teenagers is dumb because there is too much randomness, but I don’t believe that. There should be an answer somewhere.

It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to Dokken* (actually, I do unironically enjoy the second song on this tape, “Burning Like a Flame”) but it’s interesting how hearing the opening riffs to “Kiss of Death” brings back those old high school memories. I never made a big deal of liking or disliking Dokken (in fact, I know I got “Back For the Attack” from the Columbia House tape club for a penny) but I’m not made of stone. I heard a bunch of people talking about a band, I listened to them a few dozen times, I thought that maybe I could get cool by osmosis, it didn’t work that way and I moved on. High school is a strange time.

* In the late 90s, MTV ran a retrospective Where-Are-They-Now special (this was pre-everyone having the internet and knowing where everyone is) on the heavy metal heroes of the late 80s. An interview with Dokken lead singer Don Dokken was surprising in just how unaware he was about his band’s place in the world was. He said that his band’s managers worked with Metallica at the time and would beg him and his mates not to fall in the trap of the LA scene of too much makeup, too much Aquanet, too much handkerchiefs, basically too much opulence. Be like Metallica they said and don’t follow the trends. The band ignored them and Dokken wistfully said—and I quote, “If we listened to them, we could have been Metallica.” No you wouldn’t, Don. No you wouldn’t.

I will not apologize for the Faith No More double-dip, though. Both of these songs were in heavy rotation on MTV and rock radio in the early 90s though not too many people remember the band itself. They had a modest hit later in the decade with the ironic cover of the Commodore’s “Easy (Like Sunday Morning)” but other than that, you didn’t hear too much about them. It’s easy to understand why because the group was ahead of its time. From the rock/rap melding to the band members’ detached, almost ironic sense of being, FNM had no business showing up in the self-absorbed stratosphere of the early 90s.

If you asked a person to tell you something about FNM, a majority would talk about the video for “Epic”, specifically the slow-motion video of a fish who had fallen out of its bowl and was gasping for breath. It wasn’t a particular shocking image, but for some reason it resonated with a lot of viewers. So much so that MTV News felt it was their duty to ask the band about the video. Lead guitarist Jim Martin glibly said, “Well, the fish deserved to be filmed too.” This answer was interesting on many levels in that a. it was a foolish “controversy” to be overly concerned about b. the visuals don’t matter, it’s supposed to be about the music. And c. the answer itself almost a non sequitor in that the interviewer obviously wasn’t concerned about the fish’s popularity but rather the fish’s well-being. Martin brought a sense of absurdity to the interview by turning an incredibly dumb question’s perception completely askew.

I watched a lot of MTV News and saw a lot of celebrities interviewed and that’s the only one that I remember because frankly, I don’t think that anyone else at that time could have given the same response.

Aside from Motley Crue and Living Colour (who I wrote about a few entries back) the rest of the bands are completely anonymous. A few quick hitters on what I remember from them:

Slaughter: the band that girls really loved, mainly because of Mark Slaughter. I thought that they might be kinda cool because I heard Gene Simmons “discovered” them and Gene let Mark wear his leather jacket in the “Fly to the Angels” video. Here’s a potentially embarrassing fact, if I get drunk and I have access to YouTube, I will probably play “Fly to the Angels” at least a half-dozen times. BTW, the line from "Up All Night", "Oh I wish we could stay up, 24 hours a day!" is perhaps the whiniest line ever song by a band that wanted to look cool or tough. Man, that was terrible. 

Kix: the name sounds like Kiss, but the band sounds like Great White. In fact, I get those two bands confused all the time. I owned the tape these two songs came from and I don’t think that I could name any other song these guys did.

LA Guns: I wonder if the Jayne from the “Ballad of Jayne” is the same Jane from Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says” (despite the spelling differences)? Probably not but  that last sentence holds the records for most times I’ve ever written the name Jane in any permutation of the name. I remember hearing that lead guitarist Tracii Guns was in a band with Axl Rose and that’s how the name Guns N Roses came to be. The story goes on to say that Axl kicked Tracii out and replaced him with Slash, but kept the name. Wikipedia says this story checks out, so good work AHS rumor mongers! Anyway, I always felt sorta bad for Guns and thought that he had to be kicking himself that he wasn’t actually in the multi-platinum band that was partly named after him.

Warrant: This band is usually short-hand for being part of the terrible rock scene that is being covered with this cassette. And for good reason, I suppose. I have no idea what a Down Boy is and I don’t remember caring too much. The one thing that I found refreshing about lead singer Jani Lane is that in that same MTV retrospective that I referred to earlier, he talks about going to the band’s record company in 1992 and seeing a huge poster of “Cherry Pie” hanging over the secretary’s desk. A year later, the poster was replaced by Alice In Chains. He then thought, “Crap. We’re probably in big trouble.”

He certainly was.

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