Mainstream Rock: Pink Floyd, “Keep Talking” (1994)
Scott: Could Gilmour sound more bored? No wonder he called Floyd quits. Although Momentary Lapse of Reason had its moments, neither of the post-Waters Floyd albums hold a candle to Gilmour’s second solo record, About Face. In fact, you can hear echoes of that ’84 album in the Gilmour-led Floyd records. And the live performances were so bloated. How many people did they have onstage?
Jon: Zzzzzzzzz … oh, sorry, I fell asleep as soon as I saw that number “7:32” on the volume bar. Could somebody give me a rag? I need to wipe this drool off my chin.
Isn’t this song the reason punk was invented … 20 years earlier? Couldn’t Gilmour have caught a clue by 1994? I actually was never a big Floyd fan, but after Waters left I tuned them out completely — except for “Learning to Fly,” which at least has a discernible melody and something of a hook. Please don’t make me listen to this again.
David: I own The Division Bell, but I do not remember a single lick of the album, except for “I never thought you’d lose that light in your eyes.” That’s one of the Nick Laird-Clowes songs, yes?
Dunphy: You know, if you’re a Pink Floyd fan, you’re prone to forgiving a lot of stuff, and I forgive The Division Bell and “Keep Talking,” but I can’t deny that it’s pretty tepid on its own. When grouped with the entire album, the song coasts on a little new-agey groove and everything flows together in a mellow, atmospheric haze. When separated out, what can you say? Is there anything really remarkable here? The best they could’ve done was release it as a David Gilmour solo album and not raised expectations so high.
Zack: I know it’s all too easy to complain about how Pink Floyd sounds in the absence of Roger Waters, but this really does suck. The Hollywood Bowl is impressive at the worst of times and it’s positively dazzling here, but all the stage production in the world can’t save a song like “Keep Talking.” All it makes me think of is some henpecked husband and his nagging wife: “Why did you ask the Nortons’ kid to house-sit for us while we were in Charleston? You should have known he’d steal from the liquor cabinet and order pay-per-view porn! Why would you trust him? What were you thinking?”
Jeff: I think I have to be one of about a hundred people on the planet, not counting the post-’84 members of the band or their families, who prefers the Gilmour-led Floyd to what came before it. Yes, the songs were frequently very dull, but at least you don’t have to hear Roger Waters “singing” about war, his dad, or his dad in the war. In a contest of overrated bands, the Doors would beat Pink Floyd, but only after a bloody, 12-round struggle in which someone’s ear is bitten off.
Py Korry: I’m not sure why everyone is so “thumbs down” on this song. Sure, it’s not Pink Floyd’s finest hour, and perhaps it was just late-afternoon ennui setting in when I watched the video, but I was sucked in.
Will: As I watch this live performance, I’m now certain that I’ve never heard “Keep Talking” before. I actually quite enjoy the post-Waters incarnation of Pink Floyd — Gilmour’s a far better vocalist, at least to my ears — and I even picked up the CD for the first single from The Division Bell, “Take It Back,” but I only did it to get a new live version of the Syd Barrett song “Astronomy Domine.” Even though I liked “Take It Back” (and was fascinated to see Nick Laird-Clowes from the Dream Academy as one of the cowriters), I really wasn’t in a Pink Floyd place in 1994, so it never occurred to me to get the album in its entirety. Listening to “Keep Talking” and its oddly Frampton-esque guitar break right before the six-minute mark, I probably would’ve been disappointed with The Division Bell, but that said, one of these days I really ought to download the other Laird-Clowes cowrite, “Poles Apart,” which is quite good.
Modern Rock: Peter Murphy, “Cuts You Up” (1990)
Jeff: I swear to God, this is the first time I’m hearing this song.
Zack: Wow. It’s like a magic television set that can look into the future by about 20 years or so and show us what Dracus Malfoy will look like. And despite the proliferation of music-video clichÃ©s (moon, clouds, blue light, pillars, running through the woods), I’m pretty sure this is the only time I’ll ever see a muscular black guy bowing a bass guitar. The song? Oh, yeah, the song is okay. A pleasant surprise, actually.
Py Korry: Here’s another song that engenders a lack of snark on my part. I loved this song when it came out, but after repeated listens, am I the only one who thinks that Peter has a kind of Neil Diamond sound going on with the vocals?
Dunphy: Murphy’s a freaky little creep, isn’t he? Nonetheless, “Cuts You Up” isn’t that bad. In fact, I would listen to this over any Bauhaus album (heresy!!), and it has a vibe like late-period Oingo Boingo (less party, more dead men), so I guess I’m giving it a pass. Suppose this means I’ll be extra cruel toward the next entrant.
Will: I fucking love Peter Murphy. I really only knew of Bauhaus by name when Murphy came to the Boathouse as one of two openers for the Church in ’88 (the other was Tom Verlaine, of Television), but after his performance that night, I was in the record store bright and early the next day to pick up my very own copy of Love Hysteria, which I still break out on a regular basis. Deep is definitely a better-produced and better-realized album as a whole, though, and this single is perfect time-capsule material for defining the general sound of the Peter Murphy oeuvre in just over four minutes.
Scott: I love “Cuts You Up.” Anytime it comes on the radio I have to crank it up. For years I had no idea who did it. Now I own, like, three copies.
Jon: It’s hard to believe this song and “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” exist in the same universe, much less that the same guy sang them. That said, they’re both pretty good.
One does wonder whether it was the need for a serious cash infusion or just jealousy over his former bandmates’ success as Love and Rockets that convinced Murphy to lighten up on this song. As “mainstream” Bauhaus-related music goes, I still prefer “No New Tale to Tell,” but this is worthwhile as well.
When Bauhaus reunited at Coachella a few years back, Murphy emerged onto the stage hanging upside down from the rafters and proceeded to stay that way for more than seven minutes while singing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” It was one of the most riveting performances I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, once he turned himself upright the rest of the set was pretty dull.
David: His finest hour. What else is there to say?
Adult Contemporary: Jermaine Jackson, “Do What You Do” (1984)
Jeff: Remember the days when pretty much every goddamn Jackson had a record deal? Who can forget Rebbie Jackson’s “Centipede”? And speaking of suppressed memories, I had forgotten how much I hated this song.
David: The intro to the video was money: a bunch of guys dressed in semi-timeless gangster garb … and then Jermaine appears in suspenders and a wife beater. Ahhhhhhahahahahaha!
“Do What You Do” actually has a pretty melody. Why couldn’t they come up with better lyrics? And I love his growl of “diiiiiiiiiid” at the end. Quien es mas macho?
Robert: “Let’s Get Serious” was great, but Stevie Wonder wrote that one for Jermaine. Or he just picked a tape out of a pile in his vault, said “I never got around to finishing this one,” handed it to Berry Gordy, and then Berry released Stevie from his choke hold. Berry didn’t mess around when it came to scrounging up songs for his son-in-law to sing. It’s all in my new book, Motown Stories You’ve Never Heard Before, Probably Because They’ve Never Been Verified by Any Reliable Sources.
Did Jermaine have other good songs? I can’t remember.
Zack: I could never stand this song, mainly because of the chorus. Oh, wait, I mean mainly because of the whole thing. It’s just so damn repetitive. Also, I was distracted while watching it because I was trying to see if I could catch a bottle of Soul Glo in the background anywhere.
Py Korry: There’s nothing remarkable about “Do What You Do,” which is why it’s perfect for the AC format, but when one considers that the Jacksons put out a piece of shit with Victory the same year this song was released, one can be pleased (?) that at least one Jackson released a song that wasn’t as bad as “Torture” or “State of Shock.”
Dunphy: It’s a little shocking in hindsight — while Michael was in his glory, Jermaine was able to carve out a nice career for himself. I was surprised how many songs of his I actually knew. And how could you ever not know this song? It’s dumb. It’s cows-staring-at-the-rain-and-drowning dumb. It’s natural-blondes- buying-blonde-hair-color dumb. “Why don’t you do what you do when you did what you did to me?” And what did you do? Taxes? Yahtzee? Did you test out Little Jermaine (a.k.a. Teeny ‘Maine) for suction tolerance? Well, I can’t speak for his junk, but his song sure sucks.
Will: While Tito was busy getting Michael a tissue, Jermaine managed to carve out a pretty decent solo career for himself; most of it hasn’t stood the test of time, but I definitely remembered the awful lyrics of the chorus to “Do What You Do” right off the bat. Yes, the lyrics are terrible, but it’s got a great melody and a nice quiet-storm feel. But I really hate videos where the music occasionally drops out to focus on the story. It’s a video, people, not legitimate drama.
Jon: There’s so very little to say about this song. I like the bit of melody in the lines “I was crazy for you / You were crazy for me,” but otherwise the interest meter never moves from zero. In fact, as soon as this song reached the first chorus I started hunting for Jermaine’s fabulous, ludicrous duet with Pia Zadora, “When the Rain Begins to Fall.” I hadn’t thought about it in 24 years, but I had a Pavlovian response for some reason. The video came out right after “Do What You Do” and featured a pair of postapocalyptic gangs wardrobed by Merry Go Round. Ah, Pia … what I wouldn’t give to see The Lonely Lady again someday …
R&B/Hip-Hop: Terence Trent D’Arby, “Wishing Well” (1988)
Scott: Hey, it’s that guy who used to sing for INXS!
Man, what the hell did this guy do to just drop off the face of the earth? His first album had two slick singles, and the second album had that driving, modern-rock song. And then …
Jon: I was completely in the tank for TTD. I was furious when “If You Let Me Stay” wasn’t a massive hit here, and I caught one of his first U.S. gigs at a club in DC. He was two of my favorite things about ’80s artists: British and funky. Unfortunately, it later turned out he was at least vaguely insane, but he was a rare saving grace on the pop charts in a truly bad era. “Wishing Well” and “Sign Your Name” are both still magnificent. I even thought 1993’s Symphony or Damn was pretty great, though I’m amazed that his big head could even fit in a recording studio by that time.
Robert: I don’t remember “If You Let Me Stay.” Was it the first single, or did it come after “Sign Your Name”? He sang “Wishing Well” and a cover of “Under My Thumb” on Saturday Night Live in 1988 a few weeks before that year’s writers’ strike ended the season early. Justine Bateman was the host. She was plugging Satisfaction. I tried to google who she was dating at the time so I could say “… while ____ was plugging her at home,” but no dice. Damn you, Internet, for ruining a perfectly dumb joke! But I did find this:
In 1988, NBC tried to make Bateman into a movie star, funding a theatrical film called Satisfaction, with Bateman as front-girl for a minor rock band. The network even had Bateman host Saturday Night Live to promote the movie, but audiences showed little interest in seeing her cover the Rolling Stones song.
I never saw Satisfaction. I know it was one of Julia Roberts’s first movies, but I found out last year that Britta Phillips is in it too. I met Britta’s ex-mother-in-law last summer. I declined to tell her that I’ve lusted after her ex-daughter-in-law for some time now.
Jon: “If You Let Me Stay” was D’Arby’s first #1 single in the UK, then his first single here. It’s much more of a straight-up R&B song. It was released here as “Wishing Well” was charting in England, and it got considerable vid-channel airtime for a couple weeks as the hype machine got cranking. Maybe it was too old-fashioned to do well here; the Brits are suckers for old-school soul (and for novelties like a black Brit channeling James Brown).
Dunphy: You can hear a bit of new jack in his groove, but it’s awfully hard to get excited over these lyrics unless you’re a meth-head:
Wish me love a wishing well / To kiss and tell / A wishing well of butterfly tears / Wish me love a wishing well / To kiss and tell / A wishing well of crocodile cheers (??)
On a sliding scale, I guess it’s better than doing what you’re doing when you did whatever to whomever, but it’s apparent that D’Arby was no wordsmith either. Nonetheless, I vaguely remember this song being inescapable for a year, enough so that I had worked out parody lyrics in my head — something about a venereal disease causing urinary-tract infections and painful discharge. Hey, life hands you lemons …
David: The meth-happy lyrics aren’t the hook to this. That instrumental bit after the chorus is. Without that, the song is a dud.
Py Korry: I never paid attention to the lyrics, but I did groove on the quirky sounds Terence was able to infuse into the song. Remember how he was being touted as the new Prince but quickly fell off the musical map by getting all “artistic” with his follow-up? Indeed, the title of his second album sounds like an academic paper presented at a Modern Language Association conference: Neither Fish Nor Flesh (A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope & Destruction). The same goes for his third album, Symphony or Damn (Exploring the Tension Inside the Sweetness).
Zack: You’d think a member of the Jewish Secret Police would be a bit more secretive, but Terence Trent D’Arby really seems to flaunt it here. Minus the visuals, I actually like this song, mainly because of D’Arby’s vocals. It’s a little overproduced, but it’s still fun.
Will: TTD had some fucking pipes! Unfortunately, in addition to those pipes, he also had some ridiculous cajones, claiming that his debut album was better than Sgt. Pepper, and not a little bit of pretension, given the titles of his two subsequent albums. I had no idea that he changed his name in 2001 to Sananda Maitreya, but, really, is that significantly better than Terence Trent D’Arby? (Apparently, he did it mostly to break ties with his past, announcing that Terence was dead and that “he watched his suffering as he died a noble death.” Whatever.) As for the “Wishing Well” video, I can’t say much for his choreography (except for the slide, which is pretty cool), but he makes a face at the 1:02 mark that makes me laugh every time.
Robert: I had forgotten about those albums’ names. They remind me of Maxwell’s Embrya album from ’98, which had terrible song titles like “I’m You: You Are Me and We Are You (Pt. Me and You)” and “Submerge: Til We Become the Sun.” Every title had a colon. It wasn’t a good album, but I didn’t like 1996’s Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite (that’s where he kept his silver hammer) much either. 2001’s Now, on the other hand, was terrific, and I looked forward to his next album … which still hasn’t arrived.
I read an interview with D’Arby a few years ago — I think it was conducted around the time he changed his name to Maitreya — in which he said that all of his legend-in-his-own-mind comments from 1988 weren’t meant to be taken seriously and that his dry British humor had gone over Americans’ heads. I don’t remember TV interviews from that time — we all know that sarcasm doesn’t translate as well on paper as it does on camera — but I think it’s safe to say that D’Arby is no Lennon or McCartney in the dry-British-humor department. He’s not even Robbie Williams.
Despite all that, “Wishing Well” is a terrific song. It’s been 20 years, hasn’t it? It still holds up. “Sign Your Name” was a huge follow-up hit in the summer of ’88, but “Wishing Well” was better.
Jeff: I’ve always liked this song, never liked “Sign Your Name,” and never listened to a single minute of anything else Terence Whatever the H’ell recorded. I guess I have to break that streak now that Jon has said such nice things about “If You Let Me Stay.”
Jon: That’s Terence Trent Whatever the H’ell to you, motherfucker.
Robert: And I think that technically your joke name should end with “H’Ell,” not “H’ell.”
Hot 100: Amy Grant, “Baby Baby” (1991)
Py Korry: In the “Famous Pop Stars With Underbites” category, I think Amy would be at #2, with Bruce Springsteen taking the #1 spot. As far as the song goes, it’s part of a collection of songs I’m assembling for my “Soundtrack From Hell” compilation.
Will: I hate you, Jeff Giles. It took me 17 goddamned years to get this song out of my head, and now it’s back. I say again, sir, I hate you. If I’m gonna get an Amy Grant song stuck in my head, better it should be “Find a Way.” In fact, I’m going to go listen to it right now to see if it helps.
(Three minutes and 20 seconds later …)
It did not. Man, I hate you, Jeff.
Jeff: Will, if it’s any consolation, I included “Baby Baby” in this week’s discussion entirely based on the hope that someone would react exactly the way you did. Also, I’m now forced to admit that 17 years later “Baby Baby” has lost almost none of its appeal for me.
David: Love the matching black shoes and white socks. They were clearly meant to be together.
This version of the song is cute but saccharine. I did dig the mix that had the Soul II Soul beat to it, though. And man, did I have a hard time reconciling my lust for Amy Grant with her Christian ways. The devil made me do it, or something. I remember having a crush on her in the “Every Heartbeat” video too, so I went back and watched it. (Um … hmm … that blue shirt she’s wearing is the size of a tent.)
Zack: I rarely like romantic comedies (only if they’re “quirky”), so you can’t expect me to like something like this. That said, I have to give Amy Grant a good bit of credit as an actress — she’s doing a great job of selling the idea that she really likes the guy in the video.
Dunphy: And speaking of inescapable, here is the poster child for the term. How could you miss “Baby Baby”? It was fricking everywhere! And I’m not convinced that Grant’s dedication of the song to her daughter is genuine. Nothing about it really says “I want to make strange sand prints with you on an island beach,” but nothing says “I want to burp you and supply you with Binkies” either. A sham, I tells ya.
The discomfort factor doubled when, even though you knew Grant was totally Christian, you wanted to make strange sand prints with her on an island beach. And thus the creepy dichotomy of Bible-thumpin’ sex symbol reached its peak and you wanted Miss Amy to do what you do when you did what you did to the cover of Heart in Motion. Which is filthy. Really filthy. Eliot Spitzer filthy.
Jon: “Baby Baby” is a perfect pop single. It’s undeniable. I can’t separate “Baby Baby” from “Losing My Religion” and “Joyride” (also a perfect pop single) — all of them made the spring of ’91 a pretty awesome time to be driving around listening to pop radio and singing along like a complete goon. (As long as I could change the station whenever Wilson Phillips or Mariah came on.)
That whole Heart in Motion album was full of great pop. It does really hold up. Her career has been a bit bizarre since then, as she’s toed the line between the Christian market and pop radio. But we’ll always have “Baby Baby.”
Scott: I thought the song was cute when it came out. I was surprised that Ms. Grant had written something secular. Then I learned that it’s really about her child. Ohhhhh … even cuter.
Robert: I like “Baby Baby” more now than I did in ’91. I probably thought I was too cool for it back then. “Every Heartbeat” also sounds good now, as does “Good for Me.” You Lite FM up my life, Amy Grant.