Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Request Line: “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Down at McDonnelzzz,” “Eenie Meenie,” “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 20, 2010

Reader MBI Writes:

Fuck it, I’ve waited long enough. It’ll be certainly years before you get to this, but here are my next four requests:

Gladys Knight and the Pips – Midnight Train to Georgia
Electric Six – Down at McDonnelzzz
Sean Kingston & Justin Bieber – Eenie Meenie
Ben Folds Five – One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces

I really like three of these songs, and if you try to guess which one I don’t, you’ll probably be right.

OoooooooK.

Well, my man, all I can say is that for your sake, I certainly hope this isn’t the one song you don’t like. I remember back in my more-prominent webboarding days I took part in a thread where everyone mentioned songs they thought were unimpeachable, and saw if the song could go 24 hours in the thread without someone else mentioning that they either disliked or had never heard the song. I can’t remember what, if anything, ended up actually winning–I do remember Herb Alpert’s “Spanish Flea” having an incredibly long run at it, oddly–but I do wonder if anyone had the foresight to mention “Midnight Train to Georgia.” I’d be fairly surprised if someone I knew mentioned it as one of their all-time favorite songs (unless they experienced their formative years in the early-mid 70s, anyway), but if someone told me they didn’t know it or didn’t like it, it’d be a fairly Gas Face-worthy exchange. Everyone likes “Midnight Train to Georgia.” I’m not even sure what it would say about you as a person if you didn’t.

Not too much worth going into as to why. The horns and rhythm section playing couldn’t be tighter, the story is a fairly touching one, and as the video above proves (as if there was any doubt in the first place), life is generally good when you have one or more Pips at your disposal. The whole thing is like “Leaving on a Jet Plane” with better backing vocals and no irritating associations with Armageddon to drag it down. And of course, it has what probably has to be considered as one of the ten greatest lyrics in the history of pop music as its anchor–the chorus conclusion of “I’d rather live in his world / Then live without him in mine.” It’s actually the one time in the song that I kind of wish the Pips would leave well-enough alone–it’s such a simple and profound declaration of love and commitment that it’s kind of cheapened by Bubba, William and Edward’s chimes of “Her! World! Is his! His and hers alone!” Should’ve been left to marinate on its own, in my opinion. (For the record, Travis Morrison of the Dismemberment Plan once memorably provided the lone dissenting opinion about the lyric’s merit, and I suppose he does have something of a point.)

I do have one other grievance with the song, minor though it may be. The song’s early lyrics mention that Los Angeles “proved too much” for Gladys’s beau, so we can probably conclude that the City of Angels is where Gladys and Guy currently reside. So after not getting far as a superstar, he decides to return to a simpler life in Georgia. Fair enough. But he decides to take the train to get there? I mean, I don’t know what the travel landscape was back in 1973, exactly, but I have to assume that trans-continental flight existed in some capacity, and you’d have to think that even with a layover or two, it’d probably be about five times quicker and about as expensive as taking the train. (A quick search on Amtrak reveals that an L.A – Atlanta train ride would be about a three-day excursion, all in all.) Hell, at that point, driving the whole way would probably be quicker and easier. Admittedly, “Midnight Red-Eye to Georgia” or “Midnight Road Trip to Georgia” might not have the same ring to them, so we can excuse Gladys a tiny bit of poetic license, but since this thought occurred to me, it’s going to be borderline-impossible for me not to obsess over it every time I heard the song from now on.

Should start by saying that I have never been as sick of a song in my entire life as I ultimately got of Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage.” I liked the song pretty well at first–I bought the CD single, even, though looking back on it I can’t for the life of me imagine why I thought that was a prudent investment–but when the switch flipped for me, it just got brutal. Hearing it at a bar, sitting through friends doing it karaoke…even the memories of it give me shivers now. This is not uncommon for me with acts who tend to wear their campiness as a badge of honor–the songs start out as fun, but when the novelty wears off and what you’re left with are these incessantly winky, thick, vaguely-satirical-of-nothing-in-particular numbers that feel aggressively, purposefully pointless, it gets really, really hard to stomach. When I got done with that song, I figured that was pretty much the end of my relationship with The Electric Six.

So, uh, you’ll forgive me if I’m perhaps not as charitable as I should be with “Down at McDonnelzzz.” I’ll admit that the song’s disco-glam groove and falsetto’d verses are certainly not without their slinky charms, and were they to be found in a different context they might be as sublimely pleasurable as say, Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On” or Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole.” But it’s all lost when you get to the chorus, which is just a babbling, jarring, incoherent mess. I mean, what…I guess it’s supposed to be funny that they brag about partying at McDonald’s and put a bunch of Z’s in it’s name because obviously it’s not actually cool to party at McDonald’s and the idea of treating it like a hip-hop hot spot is comically ridiculous? Blugh. I don’t need irony to enjoy my dance music, thank you very much, and even in the most ironic of contexts, it’s never a good idea to have your big single associated with an establishment as deplorable as Micky D’s.

And the video…I mean, what the fuck? No. Just no.

Or, the IITS response to that age-old unasked question, “If you were to listen to a musical duet between two artists whose sum age would be less than 35, who would be the absolute worst-case scenario?” Over the last few years, Sean Kingston and Justin Bieber have been responsible for an unnerving number of top 40 hits, maybe one, one-and-a-half tops of which have been decent and the overwhelming majority of which have been totally unlistenable. Whoever thought it was a good idea to pair them up with a song based around a hook of “Shawty is an eeenie meenie miney moe lover“…I dunno, give ’em a job in the Timberwolves’ head office or something. Really we should all be overwhelmingly grateful that this song faded from the public consciousness as fast as it did–released a couple months later, maybe it could’ve ridden its early momentum to something eerily close to Summer Jam status. We may never know how close we came.

Harmonies between the two on the chorus ain’t so bad though. Gotta give it up to ’em for that.

Often I wonder how my feelings about Ben Folds Five would change were they not foisted upon me from an early age as my musical birthright as a white, suburban, marginally-disenfranchised youth of the late-20th century. There are a fair number of musical elements in “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” that suggest things I would generally like–the verses are highly reminiscent of Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Nineteen-Hundred Eighty-Five,” the piano on the chorus echoes Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” (sort of), and the suddenly-disco-y bridge section…well, I don’t have a handy 70s MOR pop reference for that one, but it’s pretty cool anyway. This certainly is not a bad song and is even very arguably a good song; I don’t think I’ve heard it before this but on my scale of Ben Folds-Related Best (“Army”) to Ben Folds-Related Worst (“Rockin’ the Suburbs”), I’d probably about rate it a…I dunno, “The Battle of Who Could Care Less”? That song was OK-ish.

The thing is, I guess, that I really just don’t give a shit about Ben Folds. I mean, on the surface perhaps some of our early-life predicaments were comparable and surely we check a lot of the same boxes in our census surveys (THAT IS I WOULD HAVE IF I HAD EVER TAKEN THE FIVE SECONDS TO FILL IT OUT BUT I DIDN’T AND NOW IT’S TOO LATE PROBABLY SIT AND SPIN ON THAT SHIT AMERICA) but I mean…whatever. This Caucasian’s problems are not of interest to me and he does little to make them so. Plus, no matter what the fine folks of Keane may try to prove to the contrary, piano is not an acceptable substitute for a lead rock instrument in much more than single-song doses, telling someone to “kiss my ass” is really the most meaningless of directives and the line “200 solemn faces are you” would be dumb in any set of circumstances. Kurt Cobain, Billie Joe Armstrong, Rivers Cuomo–these are acceptable musical proxies for 90s-bred males with a vague sense of entitlement to teenage rebellion and a lot of free time in study hall and shop class. Ben Folds, Adam Schlesinger, dude from Cake–these are not.

Fuck me if I can’t take a joke, I guess.

2 Responses to “Request Line: “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Down at McDonnelzzz,” “Eenie Meenie,” “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces””

  1. Jack said

    I feel like E6 are one of those “you love them or hate them” bands. I, of course, love them, but even I agree that “Danger!” might be their weakest song. The real one that got me into them was “Gay Bar,” mostly for the fact Gay-braham Lincoln video never ceases to make me chuckle.

    Also, “3-2-1 I’m the Bomb” and “Synthesizer” are the underrated gems of early 90s indie ironic glam rock.

  2. Two things:

    1. I’m not really defending the song/lyric/band, but it’s actually “now I’m big and important / one angry dwarf and / 200 solemn faces FOR you,” which at least makes marginally more sense.

    2. I think you’ve got E6 (and that song) all wrong, or at least the “vaguely-satirical-of-nothing-in-particular” bit makes it seem like you do (Switzerland is both a fantastic album musically and a really scathing, bleakly funny indictment of modern American life, and it’s exactly the kind of thing I would have thought you’d get a kick out of). The key I think, is that they’re NOT ironic, a very overused word; sardonic, sure; filled with manic self-loathing, goofy, garish, absurd, and so on, but there’s no ironic distance in the music. They use fairly outdated/unfashionable musical idioms (cock rock, cheesey synth pop, Jock Jams, glam rock, every single genre that’s ever had a whiff of lame white guys trying to be cool), but they don’t do it because that’s the joke, they do it because that music is awesome. And “Down at McDonnellzzz” isn’t about how awesome it is to party at a fast-food restaurant (that’d be douchey, I agree), it’s a nightmarish night working at McDonald’s. It’s party absurd party jam and part bad flashback for anyone who’s spent time in the customer service industry. Here’s the lyrics minus most of the repetition:

    Closing is the gift to the night shift
    And now you’ve got two minutes to go!

    Swept up the floors, locked all the doors, lights out!
    And now it’s time to go

    You hear the bounce and the bounce in the parking lot
    And the night just got to a point where it’s gonna blow

    You were doing your best
    ‘Till you got punched in the chest
    And the leader said: “There’s something you oughta know”

    He said: “My people need a place to Go!” (Go!)
    My people need a place to Go! (Go!)
    People need a place to go
    People need a place to go

    Now everybody down at McDonnellzzz
    They down with Ronnell McDonnell
    And now they hitting the bottle
    And everybody cool!

    You notice methods gretting crude
    Language is rude
    And you just wanna go!

    All you wanna do is make it stop
    So you call the cops, but the cops they never show

    The leader sees your fear
    So pulls you near
    Says “Son – there’s something you ought to know”

    He said “Time ceases it’s marches at the golden archezzz
    And that’s what we’re here for.”

    He said: “My people need a place to Go!” (Go!)…

    The leader’s gonna make you party
    Preventing you from departing
    The leader is the party
    The party is the leader’s mind

    He said: “My people need a place to Go!” (Go!)…

    I’m not saying you have to like them or anything, but I do think you’re selling them a bit short.

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