Mainstream Rock: Lou Gramm, “Midnight Blue” (1987)
John: Move over, Foreigner! There’s something blander!
Zack: Despite Lou Gramm’s dreadful, dreadful hairstyle, I really enjoy this song. I can’t help it. It’s such a simple song I could probably play it myself (and I don’t play any instruments), but I appreciate that, the same way one appreciates an old rotary telephone: not too many moving parts, won’t break down too easily, can take a good knock without falling apart, and works even when the power is out.
Scott: When Lou Gramm left Foreigner (the first time), I thought it was because he wanted to rock again, not produce mediocre pop like this. I love this guy’s voice, though. And I think that the follow-up song, “Just Between You and Me,” was a better, more passionate mediocre pop single.
Will: I, too, always preferred “Just Between You and Me” to this song. In fact, the only reason I hold any fond memories for “Midnight Blue” at all is because Michael Stipe sang a snippet of it when I saw R.E.M. for the first time, at William and Mary Hall on the Document tour. (The performance later gained infamy for its discussion in R.E.M.’s Rolling Stone cover story, when Peter Buck complained about someone pelting him with a wet sweat sock during the set, which led to a shorter-than-usual encore.)
Dunphy: Think back. Most of the pop from 1987 was just as wishy-washy. And I was in the same boat with you, as I actually will defend the first three Foreigner albums as being pretty decent, Bad Company-esque rock.
The positive in this is that this song is a lot ballsier than the Foreigner stuff around that time. The negative is that we’re talking about 1987 here, the end of the Mullet Regime. “Ballsy” is a relative term then. If I don’t dissect the song too much, it comes and goes and is pleasant and inoffensive, but hardly an anthem to anything other than shopping at Kohl’s.
Scott: Early Foreigner was great mainstream rock. “Waiting for a Girl Like You” changed them (as a power ballad will do to a rock band). I love “I Want to Know What Love Is,” but that’s not Foreigner.
David: So Foreigner didn’t rock enough for him, huh? Got tired of doing the ballads, did he? As justified as he may have been to do whatever he had to do in order to never sing “I Want to Know What Love Is” again — seriously, that is one of the most overrated ballads of the decade — this ain’t rock. It isn’t terrible, either, but let’s call it like it is: It ain’t rock. It’s pop.
Py Korry: In my neck of the woods (San Francisco Bay Area), Album Oriented Rock stations were a dying breed in 1987. So while this song may have been overplayed in other parts of the country that still had AOR stations, I always found it refreshing that this crossed over to the CHR charts. “Midnight Blue” is a solid song with great hooks and good (but not great) singing by Gramm. Just hearing it again makes me want to get a copy — which, come to think of it, I do have! But it’s a 45.
Jeff: I normally wouldn’t lift a finger to defend even the “greatest” of Foreigner’s “greatest hits,” but I have fond memories of a neighbor girl using “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and some (disturbingly, in retrospect) Axl-ish dance moves to seduce me in a pool hall many years ago.
“Midnight Blue,” on the other hand, blows goats.
Did anybody else get a kick when they heard that the malfunctioning cyborg that calls itself Foreigner would be performing at the Led Zeppelin reunion show-slash-Ahmet Ertegun benefit?
Dunphy: It’s just as Ahmet wanted, you know. “When I’m gone, who’ll take care of Mick Jones? Who?”
Will: Yeah. You don’t suppose that invitation had anything to do with Jason Bonham filling the seat behind the Foreigner drum kit these days, do you?
When I got an e-mail from the band’s publicist announcing that appearance, I wrote back and asked if there’d been any discussion about Lou Gramm making a cameo appearance, given his history with the band (and, more specifically, Atlantic Records). I received no response. Gee, given how many other people were probably wondering the same thing, you’d think they’d just have a stock reply by now …
Dunphy: Well, I actually think they might have tried and Gramm refused. After his cancer scare he divorced himself pretty cleanly from Foreigner and became a born-again Christian. Even sang on a Petra album.
Don’t even ask me how I know this stuff.
Modern Rock: Primitive Radio Gods, “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand” (1996)
Scott: Always loved this song. The best thing Moby never recorded. Not sure what the sample is at the beginning of it (“I’ve been downhearted, baby”), but it totally sets the mood for the song. Heartbreaking and funky at the same time — pretty rare in the middle of the ’90s.
Dunphy: I think it’s a B.B. King sample. Eric Clapton and Simon Climie used it (I think) for their electronica project. I remember really liking this song when it came out, and it still holds up pretty well. I also remember that the rest of the album was darn crappy.
Scott: I recall the rest of that Primitive Radio Gods album as being not just crappy but unbearable.
David: I LOVED this song when it first dropped. As a matter of fact, I still like it today. I don’t think I ever got through the rest of the album, though.
Py Korry: Here’s another song that was miscategorized on Bay Area radio stations. Our modern-rock station (Live 105) didn’t really bother with it. But KFOG (Triple A format) played it to death. Back in the mid-’90s I thought it was a pleasant, hypnotic piece that wouldn’t have seen any chart action if it wasn’t for the sample. But now that I’ve rolled this song a couple of times, I think it’s kind of a stiff.
Zack: I remember the novelty of this song wearing off pretty quickly when it was in radio rotation, but it’s pleasant enough to dust it off and hear it again here. The director’s commentary on his own video was pretty interesting — and it’s a pretty nice job for what must have been a shoestring production budget. I don’t think the song has all that much to say; it seems to be a collection of profound-sounding things that don’t really add up to anything, but it’s a relaxing diversion nonetheless.
Will: I remember the name of the band (and that they recorded a second album that took forever to get released and, even when it finally did see the light of day, was on a different label and with a different track listing), I remember the awesomely pretentious song title, and, upon watching the video, I remembered the sample that’s the focus of the song … but, honestly, I don’t remember the song itself. Under threat of bodily harm, I couldn’t have even begun to tell you how it went. It’s just that good, I guess.
John: I saw these guys (guy?) open for Garbage at the height of this song’s popularity. The small crowd was really indifferent to the radically different power alt-pop they were playing until that sample kicked in and they did this song. Nothing else in their set or on the album remotely matched it. They disappeared immediately after. Take note, Shiny Toy Guns!
AC: Barbra Streisand, “Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)”
John: I just see Andrea Martin when I hear this.
Scott: Guilty pleasure, people. This lady has pipes. Is this clip from the movie? I’ve never been able to sit through the whole thing.
Dunphy: Soft. So soft. As an easy chair. Or a fluffy white pillow. Over my face. Suffocating me ever so softly.
Babs can sing. We know this. But man, if this song doesn’t make me want to slam novocaine and have root canals, I don’t know what would.
David: I’m confused. Did you pick this because you like it, or because you thought Babs would make for some polarizing commentary? While I thoroughly enjoyed watching Robert Smith destroy Babs on South Park, I actually think this is a beautiful song, the likes of which no one will ever write again. That makes me sad, really.
Jeff: “Polarizing commentary.” Streisand’s widespread appeal is mystifying to me.
Py Korry: I was 12 when this song came out, and my best friend’s mom saw this fucking movie more times than I saw Star Wars. (I saw Star Wars eight times in the summer of ’77.) I never understood why A Star Is Born was so popular with my friend’s mom, but after watching the video I can see that she probably wished her hubby would look at her the way Kris Kristofferson looked at Babs in this clip. As far as the song goes … I’m not sure if anyone else could sing this song as well as Streisand. I remember Paul Williams attempting to sing it on the Grammys back in the day and it was just embarrassing.
Will: No thanks, Babs. If I’m gonna listen to a Paul Williams song, I’ll take Kermit the Frog and “The Rainbow Connection” every time. As far as A Star Is Born itself, I’ll just say that I’ve always found it fascinating that the lead male role in the film could’ve belonged to Elvis Presley if he’d been agreeable to doing it. I’d be very curious as to how recent rock history might’ve been changed if that had come to pass.
Zack: I know Streisand is an easy target, but still, must I listen to this? Indeed I must, and I actually owe her a small debt of gratitude, because performing her Neil Diamond duet “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore” was what got me back into singing in high school. I’ll just say that it’s technically proficient and put my snark back in the box.
Will: Sorry, but the mere mention of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore” will always bring to mind the SCTV sketch entitled “Lee Iacocca’s Rock Concert,” where Babs (Andrea Martin) does a duet of the song with Slim Whitman (Joe Flaherty). Classic, classic stuff.
Robert: Love can be as soft as an easy chair, but it can also be as rough as Kris Kristofferson’s two-day stubble, or his film career post-Heaven’s Gate. The Blade movies were popular, but after Heaven’s Gate Kristofferson never regained the B-list leading-man status he had attained by the end of the ’70s. Then again, he wasn’t all that comfortable starring in movies like A Star Is Born. Here’s an excerpt from Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters’s 1996 book Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood:
“Kristofferson posed a special challenge to [producer Jon] Peters. Here was a magnetic star who was supposed to be playing him. The singer-songwriter, a former Rhodes Scholar, had appeared in Cisco Pike, Blume in Love, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, but hadn’t quite broken through to movie stardom. The Star shoot was extremely uncomfortable for Kristofferson, who was caught in the middle of the fighting [between Peters and director Frank] Pierson and buffeted between the two sides. Barbra’s leading man took to fortifying himself with tequila and beer chasers, usually starting before lunch.
“With his musical roots in folk and country, Kristofferson was terrified about looking like an idiot while trying to play a rock star. He was backed up by his own band in the film, but some rock musicians had been brought in as well. When rehearsals began, recalls Star composer Paul Williams, ‘all of a sudden Kris is up on stage singing with these guys, and experiencing what he described as “a deep sense of impending shame.”‘
“Jon began complaining that the singer was not adequately embodying his vision of a rock-‘n’-roll icon, and provoked Kristofferson into heated exchanges and shoving matches on the set. The friction was at its worst when Streisand and Kristofferson shot a love scene in a bathtub surrounded by lit candles.
“Kristofferson had earned a reputation in Hollywood as a superlative lover; he had romanced Janis Joplin and Carly Simon, among others. Streisand didn’t dare tell Peters that she, too, had once had an affair with her co-star. The day before the bathtub scene, Peters took Kristofferson aside and tried to lay down some guidelines. ‘Kris, please, this is my lady,’ he implored. ‘We’re engaged. I love her. Do it with a bathing suit — don’t go in there naked. I don’t want your dick floating around in the tub with her leg right there.’
“At Streisand’s insistence, Jon stayed clear of the set the next day. Kristofferson hesitated not a minute before slipping into the tub buck naked.”
That’s why we love him! There’s also this alleged quote from Kristofferson to Peters during an argument: “If I need any shit from you, I’ll squeeze your head!”
Hot 100: Joe South, “Games People Play” (1969)
Zack: Wow. I’d never heard this song before, and I really enjoyed it. Somehow it seems like it would be more appropriate being played live by a drunken, sweaty Joe Cocker (or maybe a drunken, sweaty Joe South), but I’m surprised by how much I liked it.
Scott: Really? This made it on the charts? I have never heard this song before. What is this, psychedelic country? If so, give me the Byrds or the Flying Burrito Brothers instead.
Dunphy: Nah, nah, nana, nah, ne-naah / I’m rhyming lots of words now / Lots of words that you heard now / I’m polishin’ a turd now / And callin’ it social commen-tree / Been awhile since I did hear / Weren’t no bother in my fifth year / Now’s annoying me right to tears / Retardation lyrically / The Spinners had a song the same name / And Alan Parsons played this name game / And though you might think those are both lame / They both are better songs to me / Nah, nah, nana, nah, ne-naah …
David: The whole time I was listening to this, all I could think was: I wonder what it would sound like if the Hollies covered it. They would have knocked it out of the park.
John: Why do I like this? Am I feeling well? Do I have a fever? I need to get a checkup.
Scott: Who the hell is Joe South anyway?
Zack: I think he’s Peter North’s cousin.
Dunphy: No, Adam West’s bastard son. Wait, I just checked — seems this guy actually had a career! Hot damn! Where them durn Duke boys when ya needs ’em? From Wikipedia:
“South’s compositions have been recorded by many artists. They include Billy Joe Royal’s hits ‘Down in the Boondocks’ and ‘Hush’ (later a hit for Deep Purple and Kula Shaker), the Osmonds’ hit ‘Yo-Yo,’ and Elvis Presley’s Las Vegas-era version of ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes,’ also recorded by Bryan Ferry and Coldcut. South’s most commercially successful composition is Lynn Anderson’s 1971 country/pop monster hit ‘(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,’ which was a hit in 16 countries worldwide. Lynn Anderson won a Grammy Award for her vocals and South won a Grammy Award for writing the song. South would go on to write more hits for Anderson such as, ‘How Can I Unlove You’ (Billboard #1) and ‘Fool Me’ (Billboard #3).
“South was also a prominent sideman, recording the memorable guitar part on Aretha Franklin’s ‘Chain of Fools,’ Tommy Roe’s ‘Sheila’ as well as appearing on Bob Dylan’s album Blonde on Blonde. He also played the electric guitar part that was added to Simon & Garfunkel’s first hit, ‘The Sound of Silence.'”
Will: Huh. I’ve never heard this song before … not even the Georgia Satellites’ version. (I remember In the Land of Salvation and Sin only dimly, and that’s mostly because I remember it doing a commercial bellyflop while I was working music retail.) It’s a pleasant enough string-laden country-pop song, though.
Py Korry: What I love about this clip is that way he sings “Never sayin’ what they mean.” Joe sings “shayin’,” and it’s one of those weird pronunciations that radio folks like myself make fun of. Why? Because almost everyone I’ve worked with in the radio industry has worked with a DJ who does a variation of the following: “That’s Joe Shouth here on Mix, and it’s shixty-eight degreesh outshide. Beautiful day in shtore for us. Shixty-eight degreesh!” Other than that, the only thing I can say about this song is: bring back Freddie and the Dreamers!
Zack: Hell no! That laugh of his gave me nightmares all week.