Oblivious Living Part 1.2: "(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me" by Naked Eyes

This is the second in 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.

MP3 – “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” by Naked Eyes
Lyrics – “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” by Naked Eyes

While not the greatest song in the Naked Eyes canon (that honor goes to “Promises, Promises”), “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” still impresses thanks to quality source material courtesy of Mr. Burt Bacharach, who’s written some of the greatest pop standards of the last fifty years. It clocks in at 3:40, which is about the same length as “Too Shy” but unlike that opus, it somehow manages to leave the listener wanting more.

Bacharach said he preferred to write for female voices, so the duo of Naked Eyes is good enough in a pinch. Frankly, Sadie Shaw’s original version in 1964 did the song only rough justice. She sings as if she’s in a hurry, and her voice reminds me a bit too much of Michael Jackson’s early works. Plus, the background vocalists make Benny Hill’s Ladybirds* sound like classically-trained vocalists, by comparison.

Pete Byrne isn’t quite the crooner the song needs here, but what he lacks in phrasing, he makes up for in longing. It’s almost as if you can hear him creating the template for Colin Meloy’s timorous mewling about sailor’s wives crying about their husbands being eaten by sea monsters or whatever.

Wikipedia says
Naked Eyes was “the very first band to make significant use of the Fairlight CMI on a pop recording,” before contradicting itself by saying Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel used it a couple years before. This is one of the things I love about Wikipedia: no fact is not fungible. If you didn’t know it was used primarily in the 80s, you’d have only to have heard the words “light pen interface” to get a clue. In any case, much like key parties, the Fairlight CMI’s time has come and gone though I bet it was secretly used on that one Andrew WK album that’s only available as a Japanese-import.

To capture the proper amount of bombast, the song sounds as if it was recorded in a studio on the same block as a Catholic church. Each verse after an instrumental break is preceded by more (synthesized) pealing bells than your average Easter celebration in Rome.

Oddly enough, that church must be on the industrial end of town. The sounds of those faux hammers in the second verse make me think of that one Simpsons episode where the steel mill turns into a gay disco called The Anvil, and I’m pretty sure this song breaks the record for “most drum fills.”

Outside of a few Elvis Costello songs, “Always” might be the best example of a song whose music is in direct conflict with its lyrics. Though what Fisher’s intoning is really depressing, heartbreak never sounded so happy. Everywhere he goes, he’s reminded of this woman he was “born to love,” as he pines for her while walking the streets. He “will never be free” from thoughts of her. All this over someone with whom he didn’t even get to first base (note the lack of kissing or holding tight at the cafe with the nighttime dancing). God, no wonder everyone I went to junior high with still loves this song.

So all that having been said, it rightly stands as the definitive version of the song, even if the drum intro always makes me picture Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer.

Naked Eyes would revisit parenthetical titles with its single “(What) In The Name of Love” off its second, and last, album though Byrne is apparently still making noise about a third, even though keyboardist Rob Fisher died in 1999. If he had a sense of humor, Fisher would bill himself as “Naked Eye” even though people might mistake him for a Luscious Jackson cover band.

* After writing this, I discovered via IMDB that The Ladybirds actually sang on one of Shaw’s later hits. So apparently, I’m not the only one to think this.

On pimps and hos

Tomorrow brings another installment of “Oblivious Living” wherein I examine the joie de vivre behind Track 2 of Living in Oblivion: “Always Something There To Remind Me” by Naked Eyes. But today, some seriousness.

Last night, I was rolling around town and flipping around on the radio in search of a song that would get me psyched up for the evening. I settled on this song that near as I could tell was called “Flirt” and sounded a lot like R. Kelly due to a “Trapped in the Closet”-style flow.

I thought the song toed the line between ridiculous and sublime, like all great pop esongs. The lyrics I heard had a fun, playful tone…

Soon as I see her walk up in the club I’ma flirt
Winkin’ eyes at me when I roll up on dem dubs I’ma flirt
Sometimes when I’m wit my chick on the low I’ma flirt
And when she’s wit her man lookin’ at me damn right I’ma flirt
So homie don’t bring your girl to me to meet cause I’ma flirt

…and the beat was hot. “If this song had come out a month later, it would be a candidate for song of the summer,” I thought. I told my girlfriend this was going to be my jam, and she replied that the song was terrible and if I was going to be adding it to my repertoire of Songs I Start Singing With No Prompting Whatsoever, then I better get used to loneliness. Clearly, she was a hater.

Then this morning I got a look at the full lyrics and realized something that a lot of other people realized this week: if we’re really serious about attacking misogyny in our societal dialogue, we’re going to have to look closer, and realize that we’re all complicit if we don’t.

Turns out it WAS a song called “Flirt” by R. Kelly (with T.I. and T-Pain). I won’t waste space here detailing the lyrics, but you can view them in full here. I will say that I’m pretty sure there ought to be a ban on the use of the phrase “the moral of the story is” if what follows involves the words “cuff” or “bitch.” Because a moral of a particular story is supposed to be, you know, moral.

If I’d heard those lyrics in my first brief listen, I would not have given it “jam” status, nor would I have come home last night and spent 99 cents on the damn thing thanks to iTunes and too many Old Styles. (This act also made me realize that if one were to inadvertently purchase offensive material, you used to be able to let the retailer know your feelings by returning it to the store and voting against such things with your dollar(s). You can’t do that anymore. There’s nothing that keeps track of which songs, books or movies end up as digital bits in someone’s Recycle Bin).

Anyway, whether I heard these lyrics or not (I might not have since it was early enough in the evening that I was probably hearing the clean radio version) isn’t the point. The point is that all of us need to look past the surface, and examine our own usage of words like “bitch,” “ho” and “pimpin’”.

From pimp cups to Pimp My Ride to Snoop Dogg’s appearances in Chrysler commercials and in the movie Old School (where he’s joined by the self-styled Archbishop Don “Magic” Juan), it’s all over. We’ve become so anesthetized to it that we don’t even stop to think, “Hey, a guy who talks about selling a woman on a street corner like she is his property is in a commercial selling automobiles with the head of a Fortune 500 company.”

Clearly, I’ve been complicit in the spread of this kind of casual misogyny. Last night’s “Flirt” purchase aside, I used to have a picture of myself on my MySpace page* in a pimp costume. It was taken at a “Pimps and ‘Hos” party my friends and I threw in college. Last year, after attending a seminar on prostitution and a discussion of the of “pimp culture,” I took it down.

The argument usually given in defense of “Pimp and Ho” parties, or the kind of lyrics in a song like “Flirt” is that it’s “just about having a good time” and that you (or the vocalist) doesn’t really mean it. In Chris Rock’s HBO special Never Scared, he riffs on women who dismiss misogyny in hip-hop by saying “Girl, he ain’t talking about me.”

Well, yes. He is. There’s nothing to suggest you’d be treated any differently. And while there might be a contextual difference between what a bunch of silly, drunk college students do on a Saturday night, and what happens down on the west side of North Avenue on a Saturday night, it’s all an assent to the same type of behavior with similar language and affectations.

So let’s be clear. When you say you’re going to “pimp” your ride, you’re equating what you’re doing to the work of someone who sells women on the street like property. When you say you’re going to “pimp” something, you’re suggesting you’re going to do it with the forcefulness of a person who establishes control of a woman, and decides what she can do with her body. When you call a woman a “ho,” you are saying she sells herself on the street for money to men who will have sex with her.

We as a society need to start looking at things…um, holistically. We are the sum total of the things we say and do. We may say we’re not misogynists, but if we buy things that are, we’re contributing to a misogynist culture. We may say we decry the degradation of women, but if we don pimp clothes and wave around a pimp cup, we assent to the kinds of things that go on far from our eyes. We may say that it’s OK for certain kinds of lyrics, but it’s not OK to describe collegiate women using the words found in those lyrics, because they aren’t “the same thing.”

But they are.

Unfortunately, most of the debate about this kind of misogyny has concerned itself with hip-hop lyrics, which conveniently ignores the other aspects of (white) culture that allow casual misogyny to continue. It’s really easy to sit back and say that it’s not OK to call women ‘hos. But only by stepping back and taking a closer look are we able to see that listening to a political discussion about Iraq means you also give your blessing to someone who describes women as “nappy headed hos.” And by purchasing Girls Gone Wild videos, you give assent to this kind of thing.

Some questions are harder to answer. Does enjoying a story by Arthur C. Clarke in an old issue of Playboy mean you’re OK with something like this? It is OK for me to still enjoy “Hot For Teacher?”

I’m not sure. But it’s worth taking a closer look.

* Incidentally, I realize tha
t, for some, there’s a contradiction between what I’m saying here, and keeping a picture of me and Ludacris up on my page in light of lyrics like these. But that’s a whole other post.

Private dancers

Seriously, how private a party is it if you can get in by paying $100 bucks? That’s like thinking strippers really like you.

The press release that came with this was ripe for mockery, but in the end I just couldn’t do it. It felt like making fun of the slow kid in class.

No, really. The phrase “keeping it real” was used. And the title was “DAVID SCHWIMMER, BILLY DEC AND JOEY SLOTNICK RETURN TO THEIR ROOTS.” Yeah, nothing says returning to your roots like partying it up in a club that didn’t exist six months ago with a bunch of people who paid $100 to get in to an event where Paul Sevigny is considered a celebrity. Paul Sevigny is barely considered a celebrity in New York, for crying out loud. Hell, his sister Chloe Sevigny is barely considered a celebrity most days.

Oblivious Living Part 1.1: "Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo

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.

MP3 – “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo
Lyrics – “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo

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.

And only 10 years after kids on AOL figured it out

Woah, really MySpace? An answer to the mystery? Um, again?

But I bit anyway, just to see if he confirmed it, and found the most galling thing about the whole tease. At the moment of the reveal, the video supposedly melts away as if were a cheap reel exposed to the light of a projector.

So galling that I’m not even going to post a link to it. You’ll thank me later, when you have an extra two minutes in your life that you wouldn’t have had before, having wasted it to watch little more than a promo clip.

An unexpected error, indeed.

Sometimes tomorrow is farther away than you think

I know this Sheryl Crow commercial’s been around since the Super Bowl, and I thought it was heinous then. But another thought struck me this week. Do the folks at Revlon realize that by enlisting the narrator from “Behind The Music,” they’ve missed verisimilitude and headed straight into full-on parody?

Admittedly, this one doesn’t play as badly as the one right now that purports to show her on Week 4. If you TIVO’ed this week’s 30 Rock, watch for it in the first break. If that doesn’t play like a Saturday Night Live sketch, I don’t know what doesn’t.