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Don’t You Forget About Me: Marilyn Manson – “Sweet Dreams” (Video)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 7, 2008

Moving on

FUSE, music video channel of the privileged few, has recently started airing a series called “Video Yearbook,” in which they play an hour’s worth of videos from a specific year. Mostly this is meant more for sane people who haven’t continued to watch these videos year-in and year-out as they’ve faded from relevancy than it is for me specifically, but I do appreciate their willingness to acknowledge that the music video does in fact have a history, and that it’s a history worth reviewing every now and then. And hey, every once in a while, even I catch a chesnut that’s eluded me for a while, and in today’s 1995 Yearbook, I saw a video that I’ve seen maybe only a handful of times since it was popular: Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams”.

This isn’t an anomaly, either–the musical career in general of Marilyn Manson has more or less been absent from the public consciousness since his golden age of ’96 – ’01 or so. Think about it: when was the last time you heard a Marilyn Manson song on the radio? Perhaps more importantly, if you were to hear a Manson song on the radio, which station would it be? He’s not old enough for classic rock, he’s too close to metal for repertory alt-rock and too weird to be found next to Nickelback and Seether on Mainstream rock. And perhaps most importantly, if you were to hear a Manson song on the radio, which song would it be? As recognizable a popular figure as he was during his era (which, by the way, is starting to feel like it was whole generations ago), he didn’t really have many hits, and those that he did were far bigger for their shocking, instantly unforgettable videos than for their actual musical merits–forgot the pop charts, where he never made a single appearance, Manson never even charted in the top 10 of the rock charts.

Why the cruel time treatment? Well, one is that there’s a reason his music was so much less appreciated than his videos–it wasn’t nearly as memorable. Sure, “The Dope Show” was a surprisingly slinky piece of glam-metal (which has held up much, much better than I would have expected) and the frantic energy of “The Beautiful People” is at least admirable. If you can hum more than a few bars of “The Man That You Fear,” “I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me),” “Rock is Dead,” or any of the Holy Wood singles, though, then you’re either a Manson fanatic or you spent even more time obsessing over turn-of-the-century modern rock than I did, and I’m not sure which is worse.

That’s not the only reason, though. Just as liable for the fading of his stature is the fact that Marilyn failed, in juust about every way, to quit while he was ahead. It might have been in Marilyn’s best interest, especially in the post-Columbine fallout (where there were people who actually semeed to think that this guy was the reason a bunch of kids died seemingly for no reason), to convince people that he was actually a smart, well-spoken guy that would be less likely to worship Satan than he would to discuss the latest Werner Herzog movie with him. But fact of the matter is that the more we saw in the real world of an out-of-costume Manson, the less compelling his on-stage persona became, especially as he seemingly stopped trying to do anything legitimately new and decided covering 80s pop songs and shouting their choruses all scary-like would be enough. Onion article “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-to-Door Trying to Shock People” really hit the nail on the head–by 2004, this guy was about as scary as Alice Cooper teeing off at the Golf All-Star Cup.

Which is why it’s so weird to see “Sweet Dreams” now, and to remember what it was like seeing this video (and this artist) for the first time over a decade ago. Back in the day, when you had absolutely no idea who this guy was, this was some pretty outrageous stuff–Manson in garish lipstick and wedding garb, walking down an abandoned street in nothing but a tutu, and most of all, Medusa Manson with the clock-hair and that creepy, creepy fake eye–this just wasn’t stuff you were going to see in a Bush or Pumpkins video (not until ’98, at least, at which point Billy Corgan decided to get a piece of that weirdo action). Throw in the appearance of bassist Twiggy Ramirez, who you weren’t sure was a man or woman, and weren’t sure if (s)he was hot as a member of either gender, and you had a video that really fucked with your head a bit–one of only two videos that ten-year-old me simply refused to watch if I was alone or if it was past 9:00 at night.*

And you know what? It’s not a bad cover, either. The fact that I think I knew it way before I ever heard the Eurythmics original might have to do with it, but considering how lame his future covers of “Personal Jesus” and “Tainted Love” were, Manson sorta makes “Sweet Dreams” his own–the synth riff just sounds more natural to me as a super-dark, wah-wahed guitar line, and the psychosexual creepiness of the original’s lyrics just sounds more like something that Manson would come up with than the chick who would go on to sing “Walking on Broken Glass” and “Sisters are Doin’ It For Themselves”. Then you’ve got that climactic whisper-screeched final verse, which I think might go on as Manson’s definitive musical moment. Sure, it doesn’t sound outright frightening the way it did back in ’96, but I wouldn’t mind it on classic rock radio in another ten years or so. A revival has to be due sooner or later, no?

*Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”

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Don’t You Forget About Me: Ringo Starr – “No No Song” (1975)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 10, 2008

The best in all the land

Ringo Starr has had to play the loser for the great majority of his life. The least-talented, worst-looking and by some considerable distance the most lacking in ambition of the four Beatles, Ringo was officially locked into his goofball persona by his roles as the comedic centerpieces in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and was rarely able to transcend that role for the rest of his career, either with the fabs or without them. Not to say I particularly feel sorry for dear old Richard–being the schlubby one in the most popular group in the history of recorded music is still pretty good, and what’s more, Ringo has given us little evidence that he particularly minds the role history and circumstance has relegated him to (otherwise, the post-Beatles film roles he’s chosen could seriously use some explaining).

But the really remarkable thing is that for a good solid three-four year period in the early 70s, Ringo was just as popular as any of his fab friends. From 1971 to 1975, Ringo notched a stunning seven consecutive top ten singles, five of which were top five hits and a pair of which were even chart-toppers. That’s right, in the U.S. Today, it’s practically impossible to believe today, since most would probably find it a struggle to name a single Starkey solo joint, with virtually none of his prime-era hits surviving even on the most lax of classic rock radio station playlists.

And there’s a reason for that–none of the songs were particularly good. While Paul was off creating his overstuffed pocket symphonies, George was mellowing out with his transcendental anthems, and John was doing just about whatever the hell John felt like doing, Ringo was content shooting for par, covering Johnny Burnette songs, creating hits around the phrases “Back Off Boogaloo” and “Snookeroo,” reenacting scenes from The Day The Earth Stood Still and just generally not challenging his audience or himself any more than necessary. Yet America seemingly couldn’t get enough of the Liverpudlian goofball, and in the ensuing half-decade after the Beatles’ dissolution, Ringo was arguably the most popular (and certainly most consistent) of the four.

If you had to pick one song to demonstrate just why America found this guy so appealing back in the 70s–and why no one seems to remember it now–it’d have to be “No No Song,” a #3 hit for Ringo in 1975. An anti-intoxication anthem that is actually more a personal statement of laziness and getting old, “No No” is catchy and sing-songy enough to practically qualify as childrens’ music, if not for the numerous references to alocohol and drugs throughout.

Structurally, it’s about as simple as it gets–Ringo gets offered a different substance (pot, coke, whiskey) in all three verses, but politely refuses, claiming to be “tired of waking up on the floor” and attesting that the substances only “make [him] sneeze” and “make it hard to find the door”. It’s basically the perfect summation of Ringo’s solo career–tired of the tumult and confusion caused by an extremely dramatic decade that inspired some extremely brilliant music, Ringo was through experimenting and branching out, deciding to stay comfortable in his own bed for once.

That sounds like a condemnation, but it really isn’t, or at least it mostly isn’t. I will say that with the exception of a couple of Paul’s more irresistibly goofy numbers (“Jet” went from being one of my least favorite songs of all-time to being JET!!! WOOOOWOOOOOOOOOOOOOWOOOOOOOOOOOOO in something like a matter of months), no song by an ex-Beatle puts a smile on my face quite like this one. Despite how open Ringo leaves himself to accusations of laziness in his choice of song material, it’s still sort of admirable to see an artist completely at peace with his mediocrity–you don’t exactly picture him fretting in his room with a pen and a pad wondering why he can’t come up with an “Instant Karma!” or a “My Sweet Lord” (or hell, even an “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey”). He knew his potential, and he was perfectly willing to grind it out for as long as America would have him.

And I do really sort of like this song. The cooing ah-ah backing vocals in the background, the gently funky bass and drum groove (with electric piano to boot!), Ringo making a “[snort]” sound in the coke verse instead of just saying the word, the not-too-obvious use of maracas, horns and other extraneous instruments for punctuation’s sake…it’s as delightful a little number as you could ask for, and at 2:33, overstays its welcome for not a second. I didn’t even know it was a cover until very recently (original by Hoyt Axton, of “Joy to the World” writing fame), but hearing the original, which takes the song’s novelty aspects a little too far out, just made me appreciate Ringo’s version more.

I can’t say that I wouldn’t have wanted to know what Ringo’s attempt at a three-LP rock opera would’ve sounded like, though. Is there there some hidden, brilliantly over-cooked and historically over-ambitious gem in his back catalogue that I don’t know about? Please say that there is.

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Don’t You Forget About Me: Toto – “Georgy Porgy”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 15, 2008

It’s really not confusing, I’m just the young illusion, can’t you see

Channel flipping on my XM the other day, I came across Toto’s “Georgy Porgy” for the very first time on The Groove, the smooth-oriented 70s/80s R&B station. This was shocking for a number of reasons. First, I had no idea that the version done by forgotten 90s crooner Eric Benet (famous for dating either Mariah Carey or Halle Berry, I can never remember which) was a cover–the song seemed too unremarkable (and too quintessentially 90s R&B) to be rooted elsewhere. Listening to Benet’s cover again, it’s almost stunning how faithful a cover it is, too–apparently the original made much more of an impression on Mr. Benet than it did the rest of the world.

Significantly more shocking, however, was the fact that this was Toto. ON A CLASSIC SOUL STATION. A lot of things come to mind when one thinks of Toto, but generally speaking, classic soul is not among them. But then again, how would one classify Toto, exactly? They tend to get grouped in with arena rockers and power balladeers of the time like Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and Styx, but looking at their biggest hits–“Hold the Line,” “Rosanna,” “Africa”–all they have in common with those guys is a member-wide tendency towards the hideous (the fact that “uggo-rock” never caught on as an acceptable genre demarcation during this time is severely unfortunate, it’s doubtful that the general median of male unattractiveness in rock music will ever be quite this low again).

Really, Toto’s hits don’t establish a consistent identity at all. “Hold the Line” was a grinding anthem, the closest the band got to chest-beating territory, but “Rosanna” was as jazzy a pop number as the 80s would see, and the #1 hit “Africa,” surely one of the most musically perplexing and lyrically obscure songs to ever top the charts (“But I know that I must do what’s right / As sure as Kilaminjaro rises like Olympus / Above the Serengheti”), is closer to the plodding, atmospheric pretentions of the Alan Parsons Preject and early-80s Peter Gabriel than anything else. The controversy over the fact that they won all those Grammys in 1982 probably doesn’t stem from the band being bad so much as it does from confusion over who the hell these guys were, getting so many hits and winning so many Grammys.

Plus, before finding success on their own, Toto had previously cut their teeth as the backing band for Boz Scaggs, establishing their diversity by playing on Scaggs hits such as the dorky white-boy stomp of “Lido Shuffle” (currently best known for soundtracking Chris Berman’s coverage of Eagles games prominently featuring cornerback Lito Sheppard) and, more importantly, the impossibly smooth soul of “Lowdown” (one of the best songs of the 70s, and one I could’ve sworn was done by someone like Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield for most of my life). Clearly, they had paid their blue-eyed soul dues, and could actually groove with the best of them (or with the Little River Band, at least).

Still, it’s surprising just how good this is. Aside from the title hook itself, which is kind of weak, it’s one of the most slithery, insiduously catchy things I’ve ever heard on the station–high praise indeed for one of the few non-rock XM stations I consider being preset-worthy. The playing is crisp and tight, as technically perfect as you’d expect from a band of studio pros like Toto, the production is shimmeringly immaculate (practically Steely Dan-worthy in its almost disconcerting spotlessness), and if lead singer Bobby Kimball (and you better believe I had to Wiki that name isn’t exactly a Barry White or even a Philip Bailey, he sounds convincing enough in the soul mold that the band never seems like posers–frankly, without seeing the XM artist info, I might’ve been fooled by this one for even longer than “Lowdown”.

Give it a listen, even if you don’t much care for Toto. And if you haven’t heard “Lowdown” yet…dear lord….

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Don’t You Forget About me: Alice DeeJay’s “Better Off Alone” (2000)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 3, 2007

Talk to me

I got a ticket last night, driving back from Maryland with some friends, listening to Alice DeeJay’s “Better Off Alone.” I kinda hoped that the guy would let me off for being a first timer (although the fact that it took me this long to ever get pulled over is sort of a miracle) but it was a legit ticket–I was going something like 30 MPH over the speed limit, aggressively passing cars, the whole bit. What really annoyed me about getting the ticket, though–arguably even more the financial loss and the indignity suffered–was that it interrupted our listening to “Better Off Alone,” just when we had a real groove going. The car trip never regained the momentum lost.

This is one of the things I miss most about popular music from earlier this decade–hi-NRG pop-trance hits like this were still possible. I mean, sure, we get flukes like Cascade’s “Everytime We Touch” about once a year now, but this was a time when songs like ATC’s “Around the World,” Darude’s “Sandstorm” and DJ Sammy’s “(We’re In) Heaven” were just part of the pop music landscape, without seeming particularly anomolous. Of course at the time, these songs were largely drubbed, roundly derided for being derivative, crass and infuriatingly insiduous. Which naturally is pretty much all true, but I feel like if we knew how little time we’d have left with this style of music, we might not have been so quick to dismiss. Hip-hop isn’t the only kind of dance music in existence, y’know?

This said, I don’t mean to suggest that the only worth of “Better Off Alone” is its cultural relic status. Really, I think there’s something sort of magical about this song–a songcraft that transcends the cheesy connotations of its easily pop-trance formula and goofy, time-stamped sound effects (though sorry, I’ll always love those synth squelches at the end of each phrase). It’s kind of hard to describe, since there’s really not too much to describe in this song–it’s not much more than a synth hook, a one-line chorus and the aforementioned techno flourishes. But I do believe there’s a kind of emotional purity to the song, one even translatable to other genres outside the dance realm, as evidence by Weezer’s demo cover of the song (meant as a joke no doubt, but actually pretty fucking cool). It’s the kind of song few people know the title to or artist behind, but if you sing them a few bars, I feel like most would go “Oh yeah, THAT song! I love that song!”
A lot of it has to do with the feeling of loneliness at the core of the song. And I don’t just say that because of the title, though doubtless a song built around the line “Do you think you’re better off alone?” doesn’t have great odds of being terribly communal. Really, though, the whole song smacks of isolation to me, from the yearning, almost weeping sound of the main hook (which, by the way, is one of the most irresistible ever engineered–say what you will about pop-trance, but what other genre uses the off-beat this well?), to the echoing, cavernous sound of the synth whooshes in the background, and the dark, pulsating bass at the center.

Plus, it’s not just the lyrical content of the one line, it’s the way Judith Anna Pronk (no, Alice DeeJay isn’t the name of the singer, it’s the group) sings it. The huge leap in notes between the two halves of the line is extremely jarring, as is the fact that DeeJay rushes through the words in the first half, but sings the title phrase with huge emphasis on each word. It pierces you, as does the phrase’s ambiguous phrasing–Pronk likely means something along the lines of “why did you break up with me?,” but with no other lyrical content to augment it or provide context for it, the line could just as easily be viewed as a legitimate, purposefully thought-provoking question directed at the listener. Do you honestly think that you’re OK being by yourself? Why aren’t you out trying to find someone new?

To me, the whole thing suggests the feeling of a packed club, where you’re sitting at the corner of the bar, sipping a rum and coke and wondering why everyone else seems to be finding love so much easier than you are–incidentally, the exact feelings I imagine I’d have, if I ever got up the nerve to actually set foot in a club. “Better Off Alone” really speaks to the lonely soul in me, far more than the majority of emo or singer/songwriter or other recordings from traditionally “deep” genres do. It even suggests to a strange kind of community to be found in the song, in a third potential reading of the chorus: Do you think you’re better off alone? Because I did too.

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Don’t You Forget About Me: Peter Wolf – “Lights Out”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 9, 2007

Dance all night to the radio of love

Don’t have time today for a full entry or anything, but I figured I’d at least take the time to give a shoutout to my new favorite VH1 Classic discovery. The only time I’d even heard of “Lights Out” before was when All Music head honcho Stephen Thomas Erlewine bemoaned its exclusion from the Rhino 80s box, which at the time just made me go “complaining about no solo stuff from the J. Geils Band guy? STE, you dun gone crrrr-aaaaaazy!” But he was right, just like he is about everything–song is so insanely catchy that I was singing along before I was even done my first listen. Worthy company for “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame”. And how about that lower-left-hand-corner Rolling Stone headline? Or the fact that it put Peter Wolf on the cover at all?

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Your Cover’s Blown / Don’t You Forget About Me: The Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Love Rollercoaster” (1996)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 7, 2007

You give me that funny feeling in my tummy

I remember reading an NME review of The Cure’s Galore once upon a time that quoted Mick Jagger saying something about how after the Rolling Stones made Exile on Main Street, they just didn’t try that hard anymore, since they had already achieved everything they wanted or needed to achieve (the reviewer went on to compare this to The Cure’s situation post-Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me). This is, of course, a fairly stupid point, since not only did The Stones make at least one great album over a half-decade after Exile (Some Girls, and I’m starting to think possibly Tattoo You as well), but The Cure’s best and most loved album was the one directly after KMx3. However, I do come back to this quote fairly frequently when thinking about the careers of two current modern rock bands–The Foo Fighters and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

A recent karaoke performance of RHCP smash “Scar Tissue” by IITS friend Andrew Weber prompted discussion about exactly what the moment was that Red Hot Chili Peppers stopped caring about making distinctly above average music. Like peers the Foo Fighters, for nearly the last decade, RHCP have continued to put out a seamingly endless stream of increasingly mediocre singles, re-writing old hits and crafting songs so unremarkable and samey-sounding that trying to identify one from another is like trying to beat the Pepsi Challenge. This would be no great tragedy–few great bands can stay consistently great for multiple decades–but the real dastardly thing about RHCP is that they’ve undergone this whiting-out while still managing to stay in the top strata of current rock bands commercially (same with The Foo Fighters, whose “The Pretender” is in I think its 87th consecutive week on top of the modern rock charts at the moment). Unfortunate, to say the least.

Ultimately, I think we concluded that while “Scar Tissue”–the lead single from 1999’s Californication, and the song that revived the band’s fading fortunes after 1996’s semi-disastrous One Hot Minute–was a pretty good song, it was also probably the beginning of the end (or more accurately, I suppose, the beginning of the middle) for the band. It was the kind of lukewarm, underwritten mid-tempo non-rocker that RHCP would make their bread and butter at the beginning of the 21st century (“Californication,” “By the Way,” “Can’t Stop,” “Tell Me Baby,” “Snow (Hey Oh),” probably “The Zephyr Song” if I could remember how the hell it went), but it had a cool enough hangover feel to it, decent enough soloing and pretty enough harmonies to make it worthwhile in itself (and the Stephane Sednaoui-directed video was kinda nifty, too).

“Love Rollercoaster” is, at best, a footnote in RHCP’s chronology. A cover of a 70s #1 hit (strike one) by the Ohio Players, released on the soundtrack (strike two) to Beavis & Butthead Do America (one of the most underrated TV-show-cum-movies* ever made), with an animated video featuring heavy cameoing from the movie’s similarly animated title characters (uh, I guess that should be strike three, but frankly, that’s just awesome), the song has not aged as well in fans’ memories or on modern rock radio as well as some of their less ridiculous hits. It wasn’t even included on the band’s 2002 greatest hits album (tellingly titled Greatest Hits), though that was arguably just as much due to guitarist John Frusciante’s distaste for ex-axer Dave Navarro’s era with the band than anything to do with the song itself.

But the song’s actually fun, y’know? How many post-’96 RHCP songs can you even say that about? Off hand, I can only think of one–Californication‘s “Around the World,” because I actually like that ridiculous slap bass intro and the way the chorus just dissolves into faux-Chinese gibberish towards the end of the song. But “Love Rollercoaster” is even better–especially with that amazing intro, the screeching guitar distortion giving way to the song’s admirably disco-aping beat and Navarro’s Nile Rodgers-esque guitar, even tighter than Leroy Bonner’s playing on the original.

Falsetto! Kazoo! The band gets naked in the video! And lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis actually sort of raps on the verses! Remember when Anthony Kiedis used to sort of rap? Remember how RHCP used to be one of those rap / rock / funk fusion-y sort of bands? Of course you don’t–it’s hard to even remember when RHCP could write decent ballads like “Breaking the Girl” and “Soul to Squeeze” at this point, much less to remember when they were actually considered slightly cutting edge. I’d be surprised if the band remembered themselves.

OK, so it doesn’t quite match the spooky paranoia of the original–a feeling which is half attributable to the ridiculous urban legends surrounding the song and the infamous high-pitched scream that comes two and a half minutes in–and it could’ve used some horns to really sell those verses. But I still like it just as much as anything the band’s done since ’91, and RHCP were never very good at sounding creepy anyway. Besides, I feel like if they tried their hand it again today, it’d just sound overly reverent and sort of sedated, so I’m glad they got it out while it still had a chance to be even slightly kick ass.

*(Huh huh huh, huh huh huh)

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Listeria / Don’t You Forget About Me: The Top Ten Reasons Go is So Underrated

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 11, 2007

“Just so we’re clear, you stole a car, shot a bouncer, and had sex with two women?

Go was one of the last movies I fought with my parents about letting me see back when it came out in 1999, and probably one of the bigger cinematic bones of contention I had with them. Caught in between my days of strictly commercial film viewing and my period of irrepressible film snobbery, Go was that rarest of creatures–the critically-acclaimed (or, at least, critically accepted, but I do remember my paper giving it 3 1/2 stars out of four) flick that also held the promise of decent amounts of car chases and nudity. Luckily, at the time, I found a loophole in my parents’ allowance that if I was with my friends when they were all watching a movie I wasn’t supposed to see, I didn’t have to be the only one preventing them from doing so, which I totally exploited to mean “it’s OK to rent whatever you want as long as you’re with your friends when you do it.” Heh.

I loved Go then, and watching it again for the first time almost a decade later, I still love it. It’s a movie very, very much of its time–more than any movie I can remember, it just feels like the late-90s–but it’s one that’s still held up remarkably well. Of all the “crazy intertwining action-filled plots hinging on bizarre coincidences and lots of pop culture references” movies to come out in the wake of Pulp Fiction, I’d say it’s the one that best manages to maintain its own identity, and it’s a damn shame that no one seems to care about this movie anymore.

So, ten reasons why maybe you should:

10. The Threesome Scene. Not quite as hot or explicit as I was hoping at the time, but probably one of the funniest sex scenes of recent years. British guy Simon, on a trip to Vegas with his friends, ends up smoking pot with a couple of bridesmaids from a nearby wedding, almost setting the room on fire when the tissues one of the girls stuffs in her nose to keep the smoke in nearly catches fire. The near-danger of the fire incites the three-way, but they don’t quite put it out entirely, and eventually the whole room goes in flames, forcing the three to flee naked for the elevator. The best part is how Simon initially dismisses the fire, despite it having spread to half the room, as a sort of common, “wow, things are really starting to get hot!” effect of good sex, before the fire alarm goes off and sort of snaps him into reality. Still funnier, though: Annette Benning getting nailed by Peter Gallagher in American Beauty. “FUCK ME, YOUR MAJESTY!”

9. Sookie’s Cameo As the Make-Up Guy’s Roommate. The movie’s third story, with Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr as closeted TV actors in a secret relationship with each other, is probably the weakest of the three, and the whole thing with cop William Fichtner and his wife trying to sell them on some Amway-esque retail company is just sort of weird. But the story at least has some humor in Mohr & Wolf finding out that they’ve been cheating on each other with the same dude, Jimmy, the make-up guy on their set. This is confirmed by Jimmy’s roommate, played by, of all people, Gilmore Girls‘ Melissa McCarthy, who can’t stop giggling when the two show up looking for him. “You know you guys once missed each other by like, three minutes?” she tells them.

8. The Chase Scenes. And there are a bunch, mostly in Simon’s Vegas story, but with at least one decent foot chase in Ronna’s (Sarah Polley) as well. Nothing too extraordinary, but good pursuits accompanied by good hi-octane music and the verve for action director Doug Limon would later bring to the first Bourne movie.

7. The Title. Simple, effective, and immediately energizing. Besides, nothing beats a good title reference in a movie’s dialogue, and with a title like Go, the flick packs in at least a dozen of ’em, and you probably wouldn’t even notice if you weren’t listening for it. Supposedly it’s also a drug reference as well, making it about as brilliant a title as Canadian rapper Snow’s Twelve Inches of Snow album (see if you can spot all three puns!)

6. Timothy Olyphant. He may have kicked off his career of playing teeth-clenched lowlifes as one of the villains of Scream 2, but his role as Todd, the scummy drug dealer in Go would make him one of the coolest That Guys of the last decade, before Deadwood would make him a leading man in earnest. Ripping on Family Circus, making creepy Breakfast Club jokes, saying lines like “I didn’t know we’d become such good friends, because if we had, you’d know that I give head before I give favors and I don’t even give my best friends head so your chances of getting a favor are pretty fucking slim.” Awesome guy.

5. The Poster.

I dunno, I always found it exciting for some reason. Especially that tagline.

4. The Rave. Growing up in the late-90s, practically a decade after the rave peaked in the UK as a legitimate social or musical movement, raves just mostly seemed like an excuse for American teenagers to take a lot of drugs, wear a lot of bright clothes and act like total idiots for a night. The rave scenes in Go–probably the first mainstream American movie to prominently feature one–confirmed all my brigest hopes (communal vibe, thrilling atmosphere, cool flashing lights) and worst fears (asshole drug dealers, terrible music) about what raves were actually like, as well as making me realize that I would never be either cool or lame enough to attend one. Oh well.

3. Katie Holmes. Watching this back-to-back with Magonlia a few nights ago was somewhat depressing. It’s almost hard to remember a time when I didn’t view Katie Holmes & Tom Cruise as totally insane fucks, incapable of genuine human emotion or relatability. At the time of Go, though, Katie Holmes was about the cutest, most innocent-seeming creature in US popular entertainment, and her scenes in the movie as Claire, Ronna’s best friend and temporary drug collateral, while frustratingly devoid of actual sex or nudity (The Gift was still a few years away at this point) were still fairly heart-tugging. Holds up better than Disturbing Behavior, at least.

2. The Soundtrack. Go is what partying like it’s 1999 would actually sound like. Filled with trashy, third-tier big beat and trip-hop groups (Lionrock, BT, Esthero) and other quintessentially 90s artifacts like Eagle-Eye Cherry, Natalie Imbruglia, and Philip Steir’s 90s so-cal update of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” the soundtrack really couldn’t possibly be more of its time and place. And it even includes two legitimate gem singles, No Doubt’s super-underrated non-album “New” and LEN’s bubblegum classic “Steal My Sunshine”.

1. The Last Line. The best part of Go isn’t any of the individual stories, but the way they all come together at the end. Then as Ronna and Claire return to work the next day after a Christmas night of bad drug deals, attempted murder and stairwell sex, they realize they forgot to retrieve Mannie–their X-dropping friend that Ronna had to hide at the rave under a piece of scrap metal when his dry-heaving was slowing down her escape from the pissed-off Todd. They go back to the now-empty rave site and discover aqhighly groggy Mannie in the exact same place Ronna left him. Finding Ronna’s car and driving back to work, Mannie gets the film’s should’ve-been-classic closing line–“So…what are we doing for New Years?”

Still holding out for a sequel.

Posted in Don't You Forget About Me, Listeria | 5 Comments »

Don’t You Forget About Me / OMGWTFLOL: Donna Summer & Musical Youth’s “Unconditional Love” (1983)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 25, 2007

“The kind of love I deserve, the kind I want to return”

I’ve been hooked for some years now on these sporadically released 12″ / 80s compilations. What these comps do is take 80s songs that everybody knows (if you were a teenager in the 80s…and living in the UK at the time…) and present them in their original 12″ format–the unedited, dancefloor-ready extended versions that you’re not too likely to hear on the radio these days, unless your local station is awesome and does an 80s club night on Saturdays or something. Consequently, you get to hear some of the best pop songs of the 80s–INXS’s “Need You Tonight,” Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life,” Duran Duran’s “The Reflex”–in ways you’ve never really heard them before, tight pop songs stretched out into (extremely decade-dated) dance epics. For many, the mere idea of this would be grounds for uncontrollable nausea, but for listeners such as myself, the hefty $40 price tags are negligible compared to the thrill of getting an extra couple minutes of The Blow Monkeys’ “Diggin’ Your Scene.” Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah.

An additional thrill of these comps, as exemplified by the All-Pop edition I picked up last week (which, as far as I can tell, bears no discernible thematic difference whatsoever to the last two), is that you also get to hear some 80s gems that had either been obscured by time or by trans-continental divides (apparently, in the UK, Soft Cell had several albums’ worth of hits–who knew?) And so in addition to containing a blissfully dubbed out extendo “Pass the Dutchie” (is there anyone on the planet that could possibly not like this song), 12″/80s Pop also contains kiddie-reggae wonders Musical Youth’s near-2nd hit, “Unconditional Love,” a duet with disco diva Donna Summer that almost scraped the top 40 in 1983 (#43, so close). It’s not quite as all-encompassingly adorable as “Pass the Dutchie”–what could be?–but it deserves more than mere footnote status in a career most assume could be summed up in one song.

I’d previously heard “Unconditional Love” mentioned on either a pop-up video or VH1’s 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonder List, where they also noted that Donna Summer’s love for Musical Youth “proved to not be unconditional” when she refused to perform with them, or something. Indeed, Musical Youth are not even credited on the song, meaning that even if it had managed to break into the top 40, it still technically wouldn’t have disqualified the boys from OHW status. C’mon, Donna, even superdiva Diana Ross managed not to screw the Jackson Five over. Have a heart.

Regardless of the behind-the-scenes drama, the song is all sweetness. A bubbly pop number from that wonderfully uncomfortable musical period stuck in between disco, synth-pop and freestyle, the song sparkles with the innocence and joy of an early New Edition number, though unfortunately missing an NE-style breakdown section (“U is for her Understanding / N ‘coz she’s Never Demanding…”) In fact, it’s Donna Summer that seems like the guest on this song, her vocal sounding distant and phoned-in, and the Jamaican accent she adopts on the chorus sounding more than a little awkward. And I wonder how appropriate lines like “Hasten just to pray / And Jah’s true word obey” would’ve sounded on “She Works Hard for the Money”–just sayin’…

It’s unlikely that you could get away with a song like this today–though it’s arguable (probable?) that the song is about love more spiritual than romantic, a song where a 35-year old woman demands the “unconditional love” of a bunch of 15-and-unders would probably encounter a few roadblocks on the way to pop success. These matters would be helped little by the song’s super-ridiculous video, which features Summer as the boys’ schoolteacher, eventually busting out of her frumpy working woman’s outfit into a blue sequin dress, and leading the boys to skip school and frolic with some keystone cops. The vid’s worth watching if only for the scene where Musical Youth literally break into the classroom (an obligatory scene for any video in 1983, pretty much), presumably because they were late for class. Mrs. Summer reacts by handing each of the boys what appears to be a set of chopsticks. Is this how schools’ disciplinary systems worked in the 80s?

The AMG is pretty wild over the Youth’s debut album, Youth of Today, as well. Anyone wanna confirm or deny this? (Here’s the 12″, by the way)

Posted in Don't You Forget About Me, OMGWTFLOL | 1 Comment »

Don’t You Forget About Me: Sue in Swingers

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 15, 2007

“You’re like a fucking bear, man!”

I was watching the Guy’s Choice Awards on Spike TV last Wednesday–not exactly the most prestigious of ceremonies, but much more fun (and arguably more creative) than this year’s MTV Movie Awards. One of the awards given was for this year’s (the first? Has Spike ever done this before?) Guy Movie Hall of Fame entry, which was deservedly handed to 90s guy movie classic Swingers. Almost as influential in its own way as the more critically acclaimed Pulp Fiction (watch IFC for more than eight hours in a row, and you’re bound to see at least one carbon copy) and easily one of the best movies ever made about male bonding (“the male version of Steel Magnolias,” star Vince Vaughn called it), Vaughn and co-star/writer Jon Favreau more than deserved the award, which they showed up to accept on the movie’s behalf.

But really, there should’ve been another dude there to accept it as well. Well, actually, there should be two, but co-star Ron Livingston has himself gone on to bigger and better things, and surely he’ll be there to accept when Spike inevitably bestows honors Office Space in a couple of years. But the guy who really should be there–and the guy who almost certainly had nothing else better to do at the time–was Patrick Van Horn, best (and really, only) known for playing Sue–the third arm of the Swingers Triumverate.

And I’m not exaggerating when I say that’s what he’s only known for. The totality of Patrick Van Horn’s Wikipedia entry reads as such: “Patrick Van Horn (b. 19 August 1969) is an American actor best known for his role Sue in the film Swingers.” IMDB lists a few other roles–in Clint Eastwood’s The Dead Pool, Pauly Shore’s Encino Man, and a one-ep gig on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But to 99.999999% of America, Van Horn is Sue and Sue is Van Horn. This was his–excuse the pun–money shot.

Really, Sue is almost as essential a part of the movie as Vince’s Trent. Sure, Vaughn is about a million times more charismatic and memorable, and he gets all of the best lines, but I just couldn’t see the movie working so well without Sue. He’s the midway point between Trent’s super-confident ladies man and Mikey’s insecure clinger, and the type of friend that just about every group of friends has one of–the type of guy that no one’s really likes that much because he’s kind of an asshole sometimes, but who still throws your group’s dynamics all out of wack when he’s not present.

What’s more, he gets two of the movie’s three best scenes (the third either being the famous one with Mikey leaving Nikki six straight answering machine messages, or Ron Livingston’s “It’s sunny every day here!” motivational speech to Mikey when he’s at his low point)*. One is the scene from virtually out of nowhere where he pulls a piece on some Latino guys who accidentally bump into him, unwittingly starting much shit (“Come on, haven’t you seen Boyz n the Hood? Now one of us is gonna get shot!) It’s the kind of random and totally unnecessary incident that people like Sue are always incident for no apparent reason, and the meltdown his character suffers immediately afterwards–unleashing a string of shit-talking on Mikey, totally undoing all the good work he and Trent had been doing to build up his confidence–is inevitable and painful.

But the second scene is my favorite in the whole movie–it’s a couple days afterwards, and after Livingston’s previously mentioned pep talk snaps Mikey out of his funk, and they’re over at Trent’s place, who’s busy wooing the Latino gang from the previous incident with his NHL 95 skillz. Sue pulls Mikey over, explains what’s going on to him, and apologizes. Mikey instantly forgives him for the incident, saying that they’re better friends for it, and they embrace. “I’ve been hating myself for the last two days,” Sue says. After what we saw transpire between these two guys just a few scenes earlier–and without any real progression in between leading up to this apology–it comes as just as much of a shock as Sue’s initial gat-pulling, and it’s one of the most touching demonstrations of genuine dude friendship I’ve ever seen on film–how even the ones who are kind of assholes sometimes still have your back 95% of the time.

Yet not a single mention, not even a single shout out from Favreau and Vaughn at the the Guy’s Choice Awards. Maybe Van Horn at least managed to avoid the Swingers curse of gaining about 100 pounds over the course of the next decade. Anyone have a recent picture?

*Edit: I totally forgot about the last scene between Favreau and Vaughn, which is obviously the best scene in the whole movie. But you guys were probably taking that for granted already, right?)

Posted in Don't You Forget About Me | 3 Comments »

Don’t You Forget About Me: The Trade Winds – “New York’s a Lonely Town” (1965)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 7, 2007

My woody’s outside, covered in snow

Apologies to readers of my regular Thursday chart column (all zero of you–hey, sorry, you try getting up the motivation to write something creative every Thursday), but not enough happened in the charts this week to justify a whole entry (Rihanna = still #1, Plain White T’s and Amy Winehouse moved up some, that’s about it). Anyway, I’ve written about this song before in a Stylus article about the Top Ten Songs That Prove That Originality is Overrated, but I heard this song on the XM 60s channel today and felt like writing something more on it.

I’m not sure when exactly I first heard “New York’s a Lonely Town,” but I think it was around the end of my Freshman year at NYU, and for a variety of reasons, it was exactly the sort of song I wanted to hear at that time. The sensation of being a stranger in a city that big, of running into thousands of different people every day of your life but feeling like you don’t fit in with any of them–I might not have had the unused surfboard, but aside from that, the sentiments of the song definitely spoke to me. Listening to the song today, back home in Philadelphia for the summer, was sort of a surreal experience, since it’s probably the first time I heard the song without it really striking even a single chord with me personally.

Luckily, “New York’s a Lonely Town” is beautiful and emotional enough that being able to relate to it (even though I think most people probably could, on some level anyway) is only part of the song’s appeal. To say it sounds like The Beach Boys would be, uh, to state an accurate fact–“New York’s a Lonely Town” is a Beach Boys song in all but name and technical credits, and I’m not even totally convinced about that part. It sounds like something straight off of a ’64-era BBoys albumnamely classic single “Don’t Worry Baby,” which shares the same guitar pattern, the same background chimes, the same production and of course, the same heavenly sighing harmonies and whatnot. Brian Wilson didn’t write it, so it ultimately loses the Beach Boys soundalike contest to Jan & Dean’s “Surf City,” but it comes in a very, very, very close 2nd.

But here’s the good news: ’64-era Beach Boys were awesome, and “New York’s a Lonely Town” is even better. And what’s more, thematically, it’s sort of an anti-Beach Boys song. It seems like an emotional inversion of the BBoys’ Endless Summer–in fact, I can think of few songs that sound more definitively winter-ish, part of why hearing it on the radio today was so strange. But in rock history, summer has been sort of overrated in general, and winter has been criminally under-represented, so it’s great to see such heart-rending haromines and Spectorian production being used to support the cruelest season for once.

And 24-Year-Old Brittany from Philadelphia, if you’re reading this, give me a buzz. At least we’d never have to worry about a wedding song.

Posted in Don't You Forget About Me | 7 Comments »