Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Worst Song on the Radio Now: Volumes 2 and 3

Volume 1 of this series was published way back in November of 2012 and it's astonishing that an additional five or six volumes haven't already been published.  There are so many bad songs on the radio!  Somehow, though, no song ever seemed to sink quite as low as Die Young by Ke$ha, so I held back.  That was a mistake. Not every bad song needs to be the "LeBron James" of bad songs in order to be honored.  Here are a couple of songs in the "Carmelo Anthony" class.

Volume 2:   Honey I'm Good

Andy Grammar
It usually takes a few listenings before a song starts to bug me, but this one did it on the first try.  Maybe it's because it reminds me of these two all-time horrible songs:

   Thank God I'm a Country Boy by John Denver
   Cotton-Eye Joe by Rednex
And then there's the lyrics. At first, I thought, OK, not so bad.  It's a song about a guy staying true to his "baby at home" despite being tempted by the women at the bar.  I still disliked it, but it was palatable fluff. The third or fourth time I heard it though, the lyrics started sounding darker and creepier:

 "I could have another but I probably should not."

The guy doesn't say he won't have another; he says "I probably should not" which means (as anyone who's ever had a few beers knows) that he will have another!  While it's not clear how many drinks this guy has had already, it must have been quite a few:

"It’s been a long night here, and a long night there."

What is clear, though, is that he hasn't been thinking platonic thoughts ...

"And these long, long legs are damn near everywhere!"

... and his thoughts appear to be getting worse:

"And you’ve got that ass, but..."

It's at this point that he straightens up and tells the woman, "You've got me all wrong, baby".  Somehow, though, I doubt very strongly that she has him all wrong.  He's already started to rationalize his position:

"Better men than me have failed, drinking from that unholy grail."

How it eventually will end
In essence, then, here's the picture being painted by this song:  A guy is drinking for hours at a bar while the woman that has "all of his love" is back at home.  Sounds a little dodgy, but, hey, it sometimes happens.  But this guy isn't at a sports bar with the boys watching the big game.  He's drinking heavily at what sounds like a singles bar and checking out the girls, to the point where he compliments the ass of the woman he's talking to!  Suddenly, he snaps to his senses and realizes that if he has just one more drink, "I might not leave alone."

Somebody better have a long talk with his baby at home.  Despite the bouncy music and cutesy refrain, this song is talking about a relationship that is one jack and coke away from disintegration.

Volume 3:  Go Big Or Go Home

American Authors
If you haven't heard this song yet, don't worry.  You will.  It was only released a couple of months ago and hasn't made it into the Billboard Hot 100 yet, but trust me, it'll be there before the month is out.  This band is a case study on how to make it big in the music world today.

They originally formed in 2006 under the name "Blue Pages" and labored in relative obscurity for 5 years, putting out mediocre pop songs such as Run Back Home.  In 2012, though, they went through a complete overhaul, emerging with a new patriotic name, a new market-focus sound (see the "Teen Girl Pop" formula described in Volume 1 of this series) and a smash hit called Best Day of My Life.  It opens with a rudimentary banjo riff (an attempt to attract the Mumford & Sons crowd?) and is simply loaded with repeated syllable hooks to the point of being laughable:
"Wo-o-o-o-o-oh" [x2]
"My li-i-i-ife"
This song is bad, but it isn't quite worthy of the coveted Worst Song on Radio Now award.  Go Big Or Go Home, though, is a tour de force of horribleness. 

It begins with the title.  The phrase "go big or go home" is a marketing slogan from the 1990's that turned into a hackneyed sports cliche years ago.  The fact that American Authors are latching onto it now tells you all you need to know about this band.  

Next, as dictated by the "Teen Girl Pop" formula, the song contains a mandatory repeated syllable hook, in this case, "Go big or go ho-o-o-o-o-me".  It's annoying, to be sure, but it's not enough.  What vaults this song into Worst status is the continuous stream of party-all-night-binge-drinking-live-for-the-moment lyrics that Ke$ha would be proud of.  For starters, there's this:
Giving my body all the things I need
Rescue me with a little whiskey
Staying out, don't need no sleep
I'll sleep when I'm dead; you can bury me
And then there's this:
I guess I'm going home
Cause all my cash is gone
I spent it all trying to feel alive
And finally, this:
Yeah, I got nothing to do tonight
I'm passed out on the floor
Up in the hotel bar
But it don't matter, cause I'm feeling fine
I'm thinking life's too short; it's passing by
So if I'm gonna go at all
Go big or go home
The message of this song is clear:  Life is too short.  You can't let it pass you by.  You need to "go big", and the best way to "go big" is to stay out all night, spend all of your money drinking whiskey until you pass out, and then get up and do it again and again.  And you can do this because you "don't need no sleep" which, as a double negative, is the only helpful (albeit unintentional) advice in the entire song.
Thanks, John...

Pretty crappy song, right?  Who in their right mind would want this to be their theme song?   The National Basketball Association, that's who!! For the last few months it has been featured in their NBA Playoff Promotions videos.  I wonder if John Abbamondi, Senior Vice President of Marketing for the NBA, listened to the lyrics of this song even once?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Farewell to Vin Scelsa and "Idiot's Delight"

I had a bittersweet "all things must pass" feeling this past weekend when I learned that Vin Scelsa had retired from broadcast radio on May 2.  Although that day had to come, it still came as a shock.  While I hadn't been listening to Vin with the same regularity as I had in year's past, I still downloaded a recorded version of his show every now and then in order to get my Vin-fix.  

WNEW DJ's in the 70's
I first became aware of Vin in the mid-70's, occasionally listening to his WNEW show on Sunday mornings.  I became an avid follower, though, in the mid-80's when his show moved to WXRK (K-Rock) and became known as "Idiot's Delight".   His show aired at 8pm on Sunday night and was scheduled to end at 2am, but when it would actually end was anyone's guess.  Since I had to get up and work on Monday mornings, I decided to invest in a dual cassette deck so that I could tape the last three hours of the show (I still rarely caught the end).  I listened to these tapes throughout the week while driving to and from work, noting the locations on the tape that contained particularly interesting songs.  When I got home, I copied these songs to a "Best of Vin" tape.  I did this for almost 12 years, resulting in 25 "Best of Vin" tapes and hundreds of excellent songs. 

It's difficult to describe "Idiot's Delight" to someone who has never actually listened to the program, but I'll try. First and foremost, of course, was the music. It was a "free form" program, meaning that Vin was not constrained by a station-dictated playlist.  He could play anything that he wanted: new music, old music, opera, country, rag time, Broadway show tunes, big band music, zydeco, world music.  I think you get the picture.  One thing about his program was certain:  you would hear at least one song each week that you would never hear anywhere else.  

If Vin really liked a new song, he might play it 2 or 3 times in a row. If a song had been covered by multiple artists, he might play a half-dozen of those covers in a row.  WXRK was a commercial radio station, so Vin was required to play commercials; but those commercials didn't have to come at a specific time.  As such, there were times that a set of music went on for 20-30 minutes without interruption.  Occasionally, Vin would apologize to the audience for the length of a set, saying that he had planned on ending it sooner but it just wouldn't stop, as though the set had a mind of its own. Within a set, Vin was the master of the segue and the audience played along, trying to figure out how a particular song related to the prior or (even more fun) trying to guess the song that was coming next.  

Larry Kirwan of Black 47 with Vin
As valuable as the music was, "Idiot's Delight" was much more than that.  If something of importance happened in the world, you wanted to hear Vin's take on it.  Whether it dealt with politics, religion, entertainment, current events or the death of a cultural icon, Vin's viewpoint was always worth listening to. These monologs sometimes went on for 15 minutes or more and were usually laced with his iconic and infectious laugh.  If you didn't like hearing Vin laugh, well, you couldn't be a fan of the show.  You also tuned in to hear Vin's  interviews.  If the guest was a musician, there would almost always be live music.  If the guest was an author, either Vin or the author would read a few passages from the author's new book. 

Vin put everything he had into his program;  he held nothing back.  When he was happy, we knew it.  When he was sad or depressed -- which happened from time to time -- we knew that as well.  He called himself the "Bayonne Butch" and the "Bayonne Bear" We knew his wife's name (Freddie) and listened to stories about his daughter, Kate, as she grew up.  All of this created an extremely loyal fan base that followed him from radio station to radio station.  That fan base became mobilized in the mid-90's thanks to an email-driven newsgroup called "The Idiot's Delight Digest" (IDD).  While the original digest no longer exists, the IDD continues to this day, having morphed into a Yahoo Group and a Facebook page. There is also a fan site called Vin!dication that contains a partial archives of Vin's shows, including one that dates back to 1976.  Such is the devotion that Vin inspired.  

While there may be a DJ somewhere in the world doing a show similar to "Idiot's Delight" I've yet to find it, either on the radio or on the Internet.  I have a feeling that I'll be downloading archived shows from Vin!dication for years to come.

Adios compaƱero ...

Happy feet - Paolo Conte
Prairie Town - Randy Bachman
Witchitai-to - Jim Pepper
Some Kinda Fatigue - Yo La Tengo
The Modern Dance - Pere Ubu
Fell off the Floor Man - dEUS
How Can We Hang On To A Dream - Tim Hardin
Complainte pour Ste Catherine - The McGarrigles
O Superman - Laurie Anderson
Nobody Cares About The Railroad Anymore - Harry Nilsson
A House Is Not A Motel - Love
Tarantella - Lounge Lizards
Everybody Knows - Leonard Cohen
Chase the Wind - Jimmie Dale Gilmore
Zack Attack Rap - Zachary Richard
Rhythm King - Luna
I Ain't Lyin' - The Skeletons
Badi-Da - Mark Lanegan
Honi Soit - John Cale
Nomads - High Llamas
I Love the Unknown - Clem Snide
Lorenz and Watson - Ryuichi Sakamoto
Just One Kiss - Beau Jocque
I Radio Heaven - Over the Rhine
Better Back Off - Marshall Crenshaw
Black Slacks - Robert Gordon
My Monkey Made a Man Out of Me - Candy Butchers
Toxic Girl - Kings of Convenience
Alleged - Beta Band
Parallel or Together - Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Nitro - Dick Dale
My Favorite Kiss - Frank Black
Hello In There - John Prine
It's The Little Things - Robert Earl Keen
If I Had Known - Greg Brown
Love Is All Around - REM
Azalea Festival - John and Mary
King of Beers - Too Much Joy
Hey Nonny Nonny - Violent Femmes
Walking Down Madison - Kirsty MacColl
Take A Look At My Heart - John Prine and Bruce Springsteen
Cafe Memphis - Willie Nile
Fallen - Philip Rambow
This Town Ain't Big Enough - Sparks
Burning Flies - Looper
City Drops into the Night - Jim Carroll Band
I Hate My Freakin' ISP - Todd Rundgren
Drink Too Much - Tom Clark and the High Action Boys
When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas - Kate Campbell
Funky Ceili - Black 47

Further Reading:

Vin Scelsa Idiot's Delight - Non Official Documentary