Monday, September 16, 2013

Fresh Corn

While I love the decade of the 1980s for its music, movies and, well, mostly music, like anyone else, I cannot avoid the corny aspects.

Some would argue that the 80s had the corniest music, or music videos. Others would disagree, proclaiming it the time when music was real or otherwise memorable. Those people would almost certainly be those who were teens or young adults at the time, coming of age. That magical time in life when things seem ever possible, you're young and free, there's no fear of mortality, you're on top of the world, blah blah blah. Yeah, whatever. In my argument, every decade save for probably the 1950s and going backwards has its share of corniness. There's no more or less, because everybody's opinion differs.

I'm going to post my three chosen corniest songs/videos of the 80s below. I typically like songs from the 1980s for their sound and aesthetic, their deep drum sounds and synths, their tone and atmosphere, but there are some songs that still get too far. Not too ironically, for the songs that I've chosen, all three of them are fads for me - I liked them immediately, but that like was short-lived because of the fact that only one little hook or instrument riff spurred my interest.

#3. Don't Leave Me This Way (Communards extended version)

I came across this thing while going through an 80s music video/song compilation on YouTube. I do that sometimes and find stuff I like now and then. But the important thing is that had the compilation not focused on the songs' chorus, I probably wouldn't have been interested at all.

Communards was a short-lived band fronted by Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles, both of whom had played in the earlier outfit 'Bronski Beat.' They only had two single hits, this one and another called 'Never Can Say Goodbye,' and both of them were covers of earlier disco songs - Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes originally did 'Don't Leave me This Way' and the Jackson 5 were the original performers of the latter. They were often accompanied by Jazz singer Sarah Jane Morris, who sang on both songs.

As for 'Don't Leave me this Way,' it was originally recorded by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes before being subsequently covered by Thelma Houston. Here's the thing that gets me about the Communards' version (the hook that hooked me in): The chorus has this horn riff at the beginning, right after the first phrase is sung. Just these horns that play the same couple of notes at the beginning of each lyrical phrase of the chorus. I don't particularly know why - it's likely the way they sort of go up into the higher notes - but it's just alluring to me.

When I looked into the other and original versions, there hadn't been horns in either one. Instead, for Thelma Houston's cover, it was, interestingly enough, the bass guitar that does the riff. Except it's a complicated-sounding mixture of melodic notes instead of these squawking horns. In the Bluenotes' original, while there are horns that play constantly throughout the chorus, it's also the bass that does the little riff.

The Communards are the only band that decided to replace the bass with horns, and probably due to its different genre. The Bluenotes' original was an early disco hit; Thelma Houston stayed within that genre with her cover, and The Communards were the only outfit that strayed from that and revamped it for their version. The only probably similarities really are the general piano melody and the drum rhythm. I wouldn't and probably couldn't play bass on their version, because while it's not as complicated in terms of extra notes, it's extremely frenetic and energetic because it instead bounces between octaves on each note. The bassist is switching between strings like crazy on the neck because one finger is playing a low F on the E string and then a high F on the D string.

Anyway, the video, in a very short summary, depicts the band secretly having a gig in a warehouse. They have an entire outfit there including a brass section and Morris joining in with Somerville on the second chorus. In a separate plot, a young blonde-haired man tries to escape pursuers that eventually capture him and force him to infiltrate the band's performance. The 'evil boss' character seems to represent something I'm unsure of but seems familiar at the back of my mind - perhaps certain historical political leaders or dictators or outfits. Either way, a force obviously opposed to the band or its message or songs. The man is admitted to the gig, spends the whole time watching/listening with what looks like an extremely hurt expression that looks like betrayal, and at the song's climax, the evil guys show up and shines a light on everyone after the blonde man whispers something into the walkie-talkie he has. Everyone scatters.

In the previous versions, the song has always obviously been about a man addressing a woman, or a woman addressing a man in Houston's cover, but this version seems more ambiguous. The blonde man's appearance and visibly hurt expression seems to suggest it's actually him that's being addressed. Two male heads in side-profile, one with a teardrop, on the single's cover art also suggest that, but that could just as well be Jimmy and Richard's side-profiles.

Here's where the song's corniness comes from: it's obviously campy, very dramatic and overly-colourful. There's a whacky organ-like keyboard in the chorus that elevates it into a campy sound. The bass sounds overly bright and bouncy. The vocals are, well, too much by the time the bridge comes along and they're chanting 'free-eee' endlessly in silly operatic voices. There's a ridiculous warbling of the bass that makes me think of the Village People and campy disco. After the wonderful piano solo (one other awesome part of the song I do like) the voices all return together - 'come satisfy me,' 'freeee,' 'don't leave me this way,' all coming together as Somerville yells 'nooo!' all in falsetto. It makes me imagine him falling down a well, actually. The voices are just way too melodramatic. For that - the silly chants, campy instruments, and extreme melodrama - it's #3.

Note that I embedded the extended version of the music video. That just means the entire song - not edited down for radio play - is in it, and you can hear that one other great thing about the song. Richard's piano solo, which sounds classical and sweeping in contrast to the melodrama surrounding it - is definitely something to listen to. It's one thing The Communards added that wasn't in previous versions and benefits the song beautifully.

#2. 'Shiny Shiny' (Haysi Fantayzee)

The second picking from an 80s video compilation, it caught my eye because the scene from the video - this woman wearing the most ridiculous outfit - and the general melody (from the instruments, not her voice) kept my attention. Originally I'd hear it and feel I shouldn't even look it up because it looked so silly and whacky, someone twenty-two years of age would obviously be way too old to listen to something so childish-sounding.

Curiosity got the best of me and I ended up looking it up, turning the volume down on the computer as low as I could without eliminating the sound completely. To my surprise, it wasn't just this outlandishly-dressed woman, but a duo - her and this outlandishly-dressed guy.

Haysi Fantayzee consisted of three people, actually - Kate Garner, Jeremy Healy, and Kate's boyfriend Paul Caplan, who did all the writing and producing. They were also short-lived (a pattern is developing here) and though I haven't mentioned it before, both these guys and The Communards originated in Britain. Garner developed their unusual dress and makeup, making the two of them as similar-looking as possible. This led to friction between them and Boy George, apparently, because the former decided the latter had 'stolen' the look; Boy George was probably best-remembered for his makeup and dress in that period. I guess the duo just couldn't popularize the appearance as well as Boy George could. Oh well.

For the song, I can say that I have very little idea of what it's actually about. I don't know. Their song titles and album title - 'Battle Hymns For Children Singing' - all seem kind of nonsensical and unusual. I don't know what 'John Wayne is Big Leggy' means (one of their other singles) so I doubt I can figure out what the lyrics of this song mean or refer to.

As for the song, here's what I do like about it: The low piano chords (particularly the deep and resounding C major near the bridge) are deep and great, the general melody is actually not bad, the guitar is kind of fun and there are certain elements that I like or make me think of younger times. The 'no chance' chant they yell now and then makes me think of a silly young brother-sister duo getting on together, and the little guitar lead-in after the first chorus makes me think of something I heard when I was a kid that precipitated good excitement either in a video or a silly song. At the same time in the video, Jeremy is playing it in a spotlight that reminds me of the Mr. Bean opening intro (though this was shot before Mr. Bean had been around). The little meditation-like phrase - 'bad times behind me' - is a good little positive element to it I find.

The video is a very typical let's play with special effects piece where they appear together now and then with images flashing behind or in front of them, scenes of Jeremy 'ripping' the video or image off the screen behind him, and stuttering repetitions that were not nearly as normal as they are in music today. Perhaps the biggest visual aspect of the video is their silly outfits. I will say though that Kate has an attractive face that may seem a little harsh in the white light. It's just plain silly.

For the corny aspect, just watch the video and listen to the song generally. I like the deep chords and bass melody, but their combined voices and certain effects and overall tone just make it seem so corny it's more or less like a Saturday morning cartoon opening sequence rather than a pop song. That's the tone I get from it - a children's show opening theme. And and early 80s one at that. It sounds like a children's song yet I doubt it's for children despite the album's title. The stuttering and repetition is silly. Garner's extremely high-pitched voice in the chorus - and her lyrics ('shiny shiny...') is just childish-sounding. I can't listen to the 'good times come to me now' introduction, though that's more to do with my difficulty listening to high-pitched female voices sing solo in general. I still think I'm too old to listen to the song or watch the video, because it seems more like kids would like it.

But I still like the deep piano chords...

#1. 'Breakin' ...There's No Stopping Us (Ollie & Jerry)

This is #1 because of how it covers basically every single corny aspect as possible. I found it in an 80s music video compilation (another pattern here - all located in compilations, all from short-lived bands) and is the most recent song to hit my notice. So recent that I still like to listen to it, and only for a couple of reasons.

As for Ollie & Jerry, they weren't from the UK but rather from the States - and they never had an actual album. Rather, they recorded this song particularly for the movie soundtrack to the film Breakin' in 1984. The only other thing they did (other than promote the song) was record 'Electric Boogaloo' - not as an independent single of their own with no affiliations but to supplement the soundtrack to the sequel of the Breakin' movie - Electric Boogaloo.

The duo apparently were session musicians that teamed up for this effort, but they were only ever for the movies. The song appears to be about 'breaking down the doors' and otherwise being able to do what you want to do (in this case break-dance).

Perhaps this song was only really made to be intended to be break-danced to, and if it was, then I'm sure it succeeds. What do I like (still like as of this point)? The keyboard chords. They sound positive and bright. That and the keyboard-bass which isn't that bad either. The high-pitched keyboard notes that are more obvious in the chorus nearer the end. That's about it.

The video isn't particularly corny really since it's just scenes from the movie the song comes from, and random shots of people break-dancing.

As for the corny aspect, the rest of the song is basically it. The drum machine is over-done - you hear too many flourishes. It's so electronic and exuberant that it's typical 80s but to a crazy degree. There's a robot voice that sounds rather cliched. The little warp noises are also cliched. The vocals are kind of cliched and silly at the same time. There's a lyric that goes 'now don't you try to laugh us out, 'cause we're breaking down the doors...' how can you not laugh at the sound of his voice by the end of that verse? It goes so high-pitched, it sounds like he turned into a baby. Or a cute high-pitched animal, whichever. The obvious keyboard-bass is cliched...this is full of a lot of cliches. Perhaps this is where all of music's cliches originated. The little minor verse between choruses where the singer goes 'na-nana-na-na-nana' is definitely cliched and repetitive. The voices don't even sound that good together in that chorus.

I can go on. Like I said, it's number 1 because it's corny and cliched all over, the point that's what the song is altogether. Ironically I still like it at the moment, but that's only because of the heavenly keyboard chords in the chorus and little organ-like ones that accompany it later.

Anyway, there's no point in my grading the three of these since all of them are corny and melodramatic and silly and childish and cliched, etc. etc., so I'll just leave it at that. There are probably worse stuff out there, and I while I do have them numbered from three to one, they can be considered one to three or whatever; they're all corny in their own respects.

Justin C.

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