murdering the classics

Music. I’ve had people tell me I love everything. And that I hate everything.

Both camps are of course correct.

As a former colleague once pointed out to me, I seem to have rather a lot of “favourite” bands and singers. On the other hand, thanks to the ubiquitous presence of classic rock in all our lives, it’s not uncommon for me to become (mildly) enraged when confronted by a “classic” during an otherwise uneventful shopping excursion or dentist appointment. (The latter can make for an uncomfortable situation.) I am aware that these are songs beloved by one and all, and that they are for the most part pretty harmless. Hell, I’ll even concede that each boasts a relatively catchy tune. How else could it qualify for classic status? But sometimes it takes only one — perhaps minor — detail to turn a song from a joyful to a torturous experience. And given that we’re talking pop music here, that minor detail is invariably repeated. Repetition, after all, is a pop singer’s job. And a pop singer’s job is repetition.

And so to a thoroughly subjective list (a rare thing for a blog, I know) of songs that when played will cause me to reach for the dial, the door, the bottle, or the nearest sharp implement. Funny thing is, you probably don’t hate them. At worst, most people at least tolerate these radio staples. And I will concede that in some cases I don’t hate the song, so much as what has been done to it. I merely ask that you not play it — or for you cover-bands perform it — in my presence. Especially if you are the original artist.

I’ve debated whether to post links to these tracks, but that would rather defeat the purpose, would it not? For one thing, I’d have to seek out the very songs that are my nemeses. So, instead, I’m posting links to classic songs I like. ‘Cause when it comes to music I love everything.

1. Echo Beach

Good riff, sure. Peppy little tune, agreed. But it takes only four bars, late in the song, for a wildly off-key saxophone solo to utterly destroy all that Martha, Martha and band have worked so hard for two minutes and 22 seconds to construct. In that sense, this song pretty much defines the 1980s. I guess that’s why people are so attached to it.

2. If It Makes You Happy

On the heels of the release of her first album, I swear Sheryl Crow was following me. I caught Crowded House in Ottawa, and she was there. Bob Dylan in New York City, she was there too. And when Wilco came to play Another Roadside Attraction, whom should I have to sit through first? Got it in one. Yet, I had and have nothing against the singer. Well, one thing. One word, in fact. And that word, fittingly, is bad. Or, more accurately: “Ba-a-a-aaaad!” I cannot imagine any ‘proper’ singer not pulling her or his hair out at the sound of Ms. Crow’s efforts to hold a note through those four syllables. Too bad, really, The song itself is a decent Stones wannabe rocker.

3. Life is a Highway

This should be first on my list, but I do not with to award Tom Cochrane with a number one. I’ve never much cared for the hoarse-throated hollers Mr. Red Rider routinely lets loose after every verse of every song he sings. (You’re not Iggy, pal, and never will be.) Yet, I could perhaps be convinced to at least not hate this song if the songwriter could explain to me why he wants to ride the highway of life only for tonight. Is he a prisoner scheduled to be executed at dawn? Has he swallowed something and been given only 24 hours to live? (That might explain the yelping.) Is there more here than meets the ear? If so, well done, sir. All these years we’ve thought it just a poorly thought-out call to par-tay.

4. The Reason

It’s by Hoobastank. For some that might be reason enough to hate this easy-listening favourite. Me, I can’t understand why, if I’m the reason you’re living, you feel the need to shout at me. Who are you? Tom Cochrane?

5. Jack and Diane

Elton John. Burt Bacharach. Richard Rodgers. Each knew his way around a melody, but recognized that lyrics were beyond his scope. Each, therefore, recruited someone who had a way with words to offset this shortcoming and allow the composer to concentrate on putting those pretty black dots on the page. Not so, Mr. Cougar.

Now, I’ve said many times lyrics in rock and roll songs do not matter. For the most part. The most profound wordage will still be lost in the mix when the song is performed live, whether at club or stadium. If people actually paid attention to lyrics, I like to think Thicke the Younger would not be comfortably resting atop the charts at the moment. Hence, while I appreciate a bit of effort in a lyric, I will usually let a lacklustre one go, if it is in the service of a good tune. Indeed, I consider the greatest rock and roll lyric of all time to be that of The Surfaris classic, Wipe Out. Not one word wasted — How often can we say that about a rock and roll song? So if Mick Jagger’s verses to You Can’t Always Get What You Want appear to in no way link to the sentiment expressed in the chorus, the song is no less great for it. And sure, I occasionally stop to wonder exactly what that something is that everyone is looking for in Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (or, for that matter, who “them” are that are using and abusing us, or us them). But I’m willing to let it go.

But not so fast, Johnny. I mean, if you’re not even going to try… Come to think of it, I’m going to go ahead and declare that every song Johnny Cougar has ever written, belongs on this list. Except, of course, Human Wheels. “Human wheels spin round and round.” Now that’s more like it.

6. Sultans of Swing

I could have gone with Walk of Life, which is hardly a favourite of mine, but it’s never made me cringe as much as this radio must-have. Plus, this song is way longer — like 10 or 12 minutes longer, or so it seems. What’s my problem, you ask? (Oh, and don’t get me started on Money for Nothing.) Singing like Bob Dylan and playing guitar like Richard Thompson can be considered admirable goals. But each is a tall order, and, well, thank you for playing, Mark, but we’ll phone you.

Wow, just mentioning these songs is getting me all worked up. So I’ll skip Walking in Memphis (every version), Beds are Burning (if you have a great chorus, you’re required to come up with a melody for the verse; that’s the rule) and Tears For Fears’ Shout (I don’t know; it just bugs me). In the name of cutting our losses, let’s instead go straight to…

7. Brown Eyed Girl

You’re right. I don’t hate Brown Eyed Girl. No one does. But tell me that’s not Bert from Sesame Street leading the chorus during the final round of sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-dee-das. LIke, how did this become the final mix of a sure-fire hit song? Mind you, that’s the sort of thing a Mrs. Miller fan like me would normally love. And, uh, yeah. I love this song. Especially that final singalong bit, with Bert.

Which is funny, ’cause when it comes to music I hate everything.

3 Comments

Filed under Music

3 responses to “murdering the classics

  1. Bo0 Bahdoo

    I stand corrected, my eyes stopped working briefly when I saw reference to certain sultans

    Like

  2. Bo0 Bahdoo

    heresy! no Crash Test Dummies “MMm Mmm Mmm” ? no Marc Cohn “walking in mephis” Fastball “the way” Sugar Ray “every morning”

    Like

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