In an effort to get myself back on track with blogging, I’ve decided to create a few regularly occurring features here. This is the first: a series of musings on the first two volumes of the now out-of-print 80s music collection, Living in Oblivion, which will proceed in track order. Some will be short, serious and contemplative. Others, like the one below, will be overblown magnum opuses, befitting the pompous majesty of the songs themselves.
Somehow, “Too Shy” manages to wring three minutes and forty-five seconds out of what amounts to no more than six lines of lyrics, two lines of non-ad-libbed ad libs, a chorus of five words that’s really only four since one of them is a homonym, and a series of come-hither “doo doo doos” stolen from Lou Reed, who promptly told them he could keep them, don’t bother giving them back, consider them a gift. How exactly did such a thing get composed. I have a few ideas.
This was Kajagoogoo’s debut single off their debut album. Already hampered with a name that sounds like the first words most infants hear from an elderly aunt, this was its chance to make its mark on a world that already had a Brit synth-pop band that it liked very much, thank you, so it could just take its flouncy hair and rude manners elsewhere.
But oh no, Kajagoogoo would not be denied. No, the world’s initial coyness only increased its desire to make the world its own. And so, Kajagoogoo began to seduce the world.
To do so, they’d need someone special, who personified style, charm, and sophistication, but with a playful insouciance. Limahl – whose looks suggested that genetic scientists in the early 1990s were attempting to recombine the DNA of John Cusack, Richard Grieco, and Billy Ray Cyrus’ old haircut when suddenly a rabid cockatiel burst in through the window and perched upon the large beaker in the center of the room for just a split second before lightning struck, bringing about disastrous results, as the scientists felt their hearts seize with fear at what they had done, and agreed amongst themselves that they would send the resultant man – dressed only in a denim boilermaker’s outfit – back in time to 1982 where he might be given a chance to live in peace – was that man.
Yes, “Too Shy” is a song of seduction, but it’s subtle in its intent. In fact, it’s so damn subtle that it’s limp, suggesting that any woman with earshot of the song has as much chance of being seduced by the singer as she did by the art teacher she had in junior high, who was often joined in the classroom by his “teacher’s assistant,” a strapping Cuban with shoulder-length curly hair named Estanislo.
The song begins with some synth noodling and bass work that together approximates the underwater sounds of whales communicating after swallowing Wookies. Limahl, already nervous over the immense responsibility resting on his narrow shoulders, starts singing Culture Club’s “Time (Clock of the Heart)” at 0:39 seconds in, before realizing his mistake after getting the stink-eye from bassist Nick Beggs, who lets him know that he’s still doing the whale/Wookie bass thing for six more seconds before drummer Stuart Neale stops ripping off Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust,” and presses the button for the fill. Then and only then is he supposed to start singing.
Chastened, Limahl experiences a brief moment of schizophrenia, and turns the carefully constructed lyrical bedroom sonnet into a fractured dialogue between hunter and prey.
At about 0:54, keyboardist Stuart Crawford lets his niece practice the scales on an electic piano in the corner, and the song begins to build toward its climax. Shortly after, Limahl immediately regrets purchasing cut-rate synthesizers from a notoriously sketchy outdoor market in Lancashire, when they begin to malfunction at 1:07, causing him to completely forget the rest of the lyrics, which he had assured everyone else he had committed to memory, and are now impotently lying next to the producer’s console.
Barreling into the chorus several measures early, Limahl attempts to buy himself some time by repeating each word twice. Failing this, he skips over the instrumental bridge, earning another stink-eye from Beggs, and begins to recite highlights of his sister’s recent trip to the gynecologist, which had been told to him in excruciating detail the day before, and had obstinately lodged in his brain.
At 1:51, the synth begins malfunctioning again and Limahl muscles his way back into the chorus, but the rest of the group has had enough. Guitarist Steve Askew, the group instructs the recording engineer to remove Limahl from the room and the musicians begin a 35-second free-jazz interlude complete with scatting around 2:35.
Shortly after, Limahl bursts back into the room, seeking to save the song’s pop potential. He begins belting out the limited chorus, over the efforts of Crawford’s niece who has begun playing a slide whistle at 3:05, which she continues to play until the song ends.
It’s at this moment that bassist Beggs realizes that his instrument, which – despite its whale/Wookie tendencies – has, until now, kept the song from completely going off the rails, is completely turned down in the mix, thanks to a quick bribe by Limahl to the recording engineer. Throwing the stink-eye himself, Limahl mocks Beggs by continuing to repeat the five word chorus before the disturbed bassist leaves the studio in disgust, as the rest of the musicians turn up the treble on their respective instruments, and play their parts in-the-round style (the way they used to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) with each playing two measures behind the other until the fade-out.