Mainstream Rock: Grateful Dead, “Touch of Grey” (1987)
John C. Hughes: Puppets! Â Well, marionettes. Â Everything is better with puppets/marionettes. Â Except for this.
Jon Cummings: In which the Dead pretended to be a mainstream rock band for, oh, 4:43, and the folks at corporate radio said, “What the heck, let’s play along.” Of course, it’s a damn catchy tune, and a fun and inventive video. I just noticed something in seeing this for the first time in years: Jerry’s voice, at times, sounds distinctly like late-period George Harrison, and the song’s ironic-oldster stance would have fit perfectly on the Traveling Wilburys’ records.
Dw. Dunphy: Twenty-plus years, a couple thousand shows and a couple thousand drugs, and it was 1987 when The Dead finally had a hit. The power of persistence, I guess. And while I never minded the band in passing, I was never a fan, not even of this, their poppiest tune. An injection of bounce in the song is about all that separates it from standard Dead. Listen carefully, and you recognize their sound owed a whole lot more to Chet Atkins than the Haight.
The Grateful Dead? Country pickers? Don’t act so shocked!
Zack Dennis: This is the only Grateful Dead song I can remember ever hearing on the radio. With my secret love of Phish, I was always predisposed to like the Dead, but when it comes down to brass tacks, I’ve never found their music particularly engaging. This is a nice, light song, nothing for me to complain about, but nothing to really get excited about, either. I remember finding it amusing to see Jerry Garcia described as a “skinny kid” in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and later there was an idiotic “dramatized” documentary about his death, which basically showed a faceless chubby guy rolling around a few times on a cot, apparently having a heart attack.
David Medsker: I am just not a Dead kind of guy. I can see why people like them, and even I love “Friend of the Devil.” Good for them that they finally cracked the Top 40. Now please leave.
David Lifton: I have a thing for fluke hits, and this was definitely one of the biggest and best of the decade. It’s cool that the Dead did it without having to change their sound to fit Top 40 radio (compare the flat snare drum with its sample-triggered counterpart on You Can Call Me Al). I’ve always liked the chord structure in the verse, and the chorus works. What’s to hate about it, besides their audience?
Mike Heyliger: I’m with David. I just don’t “get” The Dead. I used to feel the same way about Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan, until I realized that I actually liked The Floyd and the only thing I didn’t like about Dylan was his voice.
I dig “Touch of Grey,” though. I’d heard the song a handful of times when it was popular, obviously, but I’d never actually listened to it until the afternoon after Jerry Garcia passed away, when the manager on duty at the Tower Records in Lincoln Center (R.I.P.) took whatever was playing off mid-song, announced “this one’s for Jerry,” and blasted this at top volume. If more Dead songs sounded this…uh, commercial-sounding (wrong choice of words…maybe more “’80s rock” sounding?), I’d probably like ’em more. I certainly have nothing against their fans. How can I be mad at Deadheads when I follow friggin’ Dave Matthews around like a lost puppy?
Will Harris: Okay, I’ll admit it: this was the first Grateful Dead song I ever heard…or, at the very least, it was the first song I ever heard by the Dead that I knew was by them. I was certainly aware of them, given how many times they played Hampton Coliseum, but I was mostly a top-40 guy, and it’s not like they had a major MTV presence until this track came about. I liked this song from the first time I heard it, though, and with that catchy little keyboard riff, I’m not surprised that it finally earned the band a mainstream hit. One of my greatest regrets is that I never saw the Dead live. I might’ve hated the experience as much as I hated my first Dylan concert (the second one redeemed Bob in my eyes, but enough to see him a third time), but I still wish I’d gone at least once, just to say I’d gone.
Modern Rock: Psychedelic Furs, “All That Money Wants” (1988)
Zack: Is there any voice in rock and roll that’s more distinctive than Richard Butler’s? Actually, if you threw in a few more witticisms, these lyrics would sound like it was written by Morrissey.
Mike: This is the only song in my Chartburn tenure that I’d never heard before. All I knew of the Furs was “Pretty in Pink.” I actually like this song. Now where do I go next?
John: Ah, the retreat from the super gloss of Midnight to Midnight and “Heartbreak Beat.” You really can’t go wrong with producer Stephen Street. The entire album they eventually did with him, World Outside, is a bit of a lost classic. Catch them now, flogging the past at an ’80s reunion tour near you!
Darren Robbins: One of my absolute fave Furs tunes. Funny, it’s easy to spout off about Matthew Wilder than a song/band you think fucking swings. Fuck, I got nothin’…
Medsker: I will confess to being a Butler apologist, even when he rips himself off every other song. Having said that, this song does nothing for me.
Dunphy: Didn’t mesh with The Furs. Did even worse with Butler’s post-Furs outfit, Love Spit Love, proving to be one of the dumbest of the Dumb ’90s Band Names. Still, I can’t say that I’m minding this song…
Will: I’m sure I won’t be the first person to give a shout-out to the USA Network’s late, great “Night Flight,” which was at least as awesome for turning me on to new alternative music as MTV’s “120 Minutes.” I love the Furs, and this track gets forgotten too often because of its status as the obligatory new track on their best-of collection, All of This and Nothing. But, then again, pretty much everything after that collection gets forgotten, too, and that’s a damned shame. I love ’89’s Book of Days and 1991’s World Outside as much as anything else in their discography. For that matter, they teased me with a fantastic new studio track on their 2001 greatest-hits album — “Alive (For Once In My Lifetime),” but never followed it up with a new full-length. Oh, sure, there was Richard Butler’s solo record after that, but it’s just not the same.
Jon: It’s a nice track, but I don’t remember it getting much traction at radio, even at modern rock. It definitely represents a step back from the brass-ring-grab that was “Heartbreak Beat” from the previous album. The Furs’ music holds up astonishingly well these days–“The Ghost in You” and “Love My Way” are all over LA’s “Jack” and “the Sound,” just as they were backbones of KROQ back when KROQ was a great station.
Zack: KROQ still is a great station, at least for the four minutes every afternoon when they play Dramarama’s “Anything.”
Darren: Totally agree. I worked the night shift at eHarmony back in ’04-’06 and befriended Dramarama guitarist Mr. E (Mark Englert), who also worked there (still does, as a matter-of-fact). To this day, I’m continually stunned by the life he leads. He does quality control of customer service emails and phone calls by day and, maybe a handful of times a month, gets to go out and play rock star.
It must be hard going back to eH after performing to an SRO crowd at the Greek Theatre, or whatever.
It took me a solid year to get beyond his gruff exterior shell (a result of some tough pre-reunion years). In the end, it was him seeing me listening to a Dandy Warhols CD that finally broke the ice…seems he’d been in a shortlived band with Courtney Taylor.
We ended up becoming friends, but everytime I hear that tune getting love on L.A.’s premier alt rock station, I can’t quite put my head around the fact that the guy in the grey cubicle is the guy playing guitar on one of the all-time coolest alt. rock tracks ever.
Jeff Giles: Wasn’t Dramarama the subject of an episode of Reuniting the Band, or whatever that VH1 show was called? A surprising number of the musicians featured in that show were toiling in office jobs when Aamer Haleem walked in on them.
Darren: Yeah, Bands Reunited. Mark was actually working at an insurance company at the time (prior to eHarmony). His exact words were, “I was stoned out of my gourd, just coming back from lunch when one of the mailroom guys tells there’s an MTV camera crew here to see me.” On camera, he comes across all smiles and happy; inside, he said he was tripping bigtime.
Ken Shane: They are, of course, a Jersey band, so I was paying particular attention to that one. I recall that one member was driving a tractor or some other machine when they found him. Easdale continues to play now and then in this area.
Medsker: Did you guys ever read Information Society singer Kurt Harland’s blog about VH-1’s grossly misleading edit job of their episode? It’s fascinating, and rather sad that they would go to such extremes for the sake of “drama.”
Giles: I think that’s one of the only episodes I haven’t seen, actually. I miss that show. Stupid VH1.
Medsker: I’m sure the reason they don’t do the show anymore is because the musicians all called their friends and said, “Do NOT talk to these people.”
Ken: My favorite one was when they tried to reunite Extreme. Gary Cherone was into it, but when they found Nuno, he refused to even be on camera. It seems that someone had been, or still was, sleeping with someone else’s girlfriend/wife.
Giles: And now they’re back together again. Funny what a few years of releasing records in Japan and fronting a Who cover band will do to your disagreements.
So Cherone was porking Nuno’s wife? Maybe he thought he was sleeping with Nuno. Have you ever seen the cover of Nuno’s first solo album? Jesus.
Lifton: In entirely unrelated news, I was at lunch today and saw a woman who was about 6’4″ and looked like Geddy Lee.
Adult Contemporary: The Rembrandts, “I’ll Be There for You” (1995)
Jon: I will now commit the hipster hari-kari of admitting that, for a couple of years, my wife and I did the handclaps every time this played over the “Friends” credits. (C’mon, somebody else admit you did it too!! Millions of us did, I’m quite sure of it … don’t let me go down alone here.) As Top 10 TV themes go, this sits a notch above “Happy Days” but a notch below “Welcome Back.”
Will: I have no legitimate reason for still loving this song, but I have never gotten tired of it, and I’m fucking Pavlovian in my need to clap at the appropriate moment after the opening lines. That should’ve been in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. “You know how I know you’re gay? After the Rembrandts sing, ‘So no-one told you life was gonna be this way,’ you fucking clap.” But I do. Every fucking time.
John: I never imagined the fine power-pop duo I loved for “Just The Way It Is, Baby” would become one of my most hated nemeses. Hope the money’s worth it, boys (of course it is).
Medsker: For a brief moment, I put my dislike for this aside and was happy for the Rembrandts that they were making some money. I liked their first two albums (the second one in particular), and hoped they would be more than that “That’s Just the Way It Is, Baby” band. As it turns out, they’re the “Friends” band, which is much, much worse.
Mike: This song is awfully corny, but hell, it’s the theme to a TV show. It’s supposed to be! I could definitely do without hearing this song again, but LP is actually a pretty good album. There’s a song on there called “Drowning in Your Tears” that blows me away every time I hear it.
Dunphy: And this is the moment where power pop fans knew the party was over. Sure, The Rembrandts had a hit previously and they had some fair-to-middling critical respect, but then they hitched themselves to this Friends phenomenon, forgetting that the lyrics they would sing were as stupid as a chihuahua humping a pit bull.
Then the theme became a HUGE hit, obliterating all that came before in their career and, virtually, obliterating anything that would come after. It’s like a chihuahua being blackmailed by fellow chihuahuas with incriminating photos of tawdy kenel misdeeds.
Remind me never to Chartburn while Animal Planet is on.
Zack: Wait, this was an actual song that existed outside of the framework of “Friends”? It’s so peppy and sweet that I turned it off halfway through for fear that I’d get Type 2 Diabetes if I listened to the whole thing. It’s kind of depressing that Phil Solem and Danny Wilde, each of whom have a fairly extensive catalogue of music, will only ever be remembered for a TV show theme, but hopefully they managed to pull down some decent royalties for it, at least.
Darren: I dunno how common-knowledge this is, but when the band did the theme song, it was just what you heard on the show. There was no full-length song. My buddy Jordan at Yellow Pills had actually talked to Danny Wilde about doing a full-legnth version of the song, to which Danny said, nah…never happen…next thing you know, the fine folks at Atlantic snap their fingers and blammo…full-length version suddenly appears. While it’s great to see guys I’ve long admired have such success, I can’t help but wonder if they really saw all that much cash from the tune. There’s like eighteen people listed on the writing credits for that thing. I’ve seen Danny’s house, though…he’s made money from somewhere!
Lifton: I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned the very obvious nod to “Pleasant Valley Sunday” that starts off this song.
R&B/Hip-Hop: Donell Jones feat. Left Eye, “U Know What’s Up” (1999)
John: Some things just aren’t meant to be clicked upon.
Medsker: Am I the only one that’s never heard this song before? It’s not bad, though I wonder if his subsequent lack of chart success was due to his lack of melisma in his singing. Come on, you need to sing MORE, dude! Don’t just hit the note, that’s boring. Dance all around that motherfucker! No, don’t want to do that? You’re fired.
Mike: Donell Jones was pretty anonymous as far as R&B vocalists go. That said, this is a nice little upbeat summery record. Is it me or was Left Eye the only talented member of TLC?
Will: I’d never heard this until this very moment, but I really liked it up until Left Eye opened her mouth. Many a great song has been ruined by an utterly unnecessary rap break, and this is but one of them.
Mike: The album version is Left Eye-less. If you dig this, you might wanna check out the whole CD. I’m sure you can find it dirt cheap.
Jon: Ah, Left Eye, we hardly knew ye… I had never heard this song until just now, because “me and my people be rollin'” in England in 1999, where this song wasn’t a hit until after we’d come back to the States early the next year. It’s very nice, really–it’s lodged in my head and having a lovely time bouncing around. I give it a 78!
Dunphy: You know what’s up? My blood pressure. I blame my salami sandwich because it is chock full o’nitrates. I blame Congress for jerking around and getting nothing accomplished, then ditching for their month-long vacation. Mostly my blood pressure is skyrocketing because this song is a repetitive hunk of junk that got by with a quasi-famous Feat. and the employment of every crap trick in the pathetic modern R&B book!
Deep breaths, deep breaths. Calm, blue ocean; calm, blue ocean… Serenity now.
Zack: If I couldn’t understand a single word in the song, I’d actually probably like it better. The beat, melodies, and harmonies are actually pleasant enough to listen to. It’s the five-cent lyrics that kill it for me. And Left Eye’s portion grates against my ears the exact same way that throwing a handful of sand onto a spinning vinyl record would.
Hot 100: Belinda Carlisle, “I Get Weak” (1988)
Zack: Belinda, why are you into that snobbish jerk, anyway? He can’t love you like I can, baby. Still…I think your lipstick might have smeared a bit. Here’s a tissue. I don’t want to be seen in public with you if you’re going to walk around with a whore’s mouth like that.
Jon: I believe this is Exhibit A in the argument for the auto-tune. Easily the most cringe-inducing of Carlisle’s solo hits, it proved beyond doubt that she should never be asked to hold a note longer than two beats. (Have you ever heard recordings of early Go-Go’s concerts? The caterwauling is outrageous!) Don’t get me wrong — I love the Go-Go’s, I adored “Mad About You” (Belinda’s debut solo hit, not the show, but I figured I’d make the distinction as long as we’re Must-See-TVing). But Belinda’s solo thing got tired pretty quickly, and mostly went to show what a good group of girls with guitars can accomplish when Jane Wiedlin’s one of them.
Will: I love Belinda so much that I bought that issue of Playboy where she got all nekkid, so I have no complaints about a video where she’s rolling around in silk sheets for part of the proceedings. I hope she fired her hairdresser, though. I still think this is one of her best solo singles.
Mike: I forgot Belinda posed in Playboy. I gotta admit, even when she was a little chunkalicious, she was pretty sexy. And she has aged quite well. Still, this is no “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” Hell, it’s not even “Mad About You.” And it’s certainly no “Rush Hour” (the best solo single from a Go-Go ever). But it’s way better than “Circle in the Sand.” As much as I sorta dig Belinda and love Stevie Nicks, don’t they both kind of sound like bleating sheep?
Will: Even though I love her, I once reviewed a later album of Belinda’s by accusing her of falling prey to Stevie Nicks Syndrome, where tense of the verb “to bleat” are used to describe her performances on some songs. I’ve never quite forgiven myself for that, but it made me laugh too much to cut the line out.
John: I always imagined her recording her vocals for this while sitting on a washing machine during the spin cycle. Hence the vibrato PLUS pleasurable tone!
Dunphy: We’ve discussed the Carlisle / Merchant Doppler Effect before (listen to how she ends every verse) but after finding out she was the original drummer for Pat Smear and The Germs, I can’t rag on her. She has punk cred now. I am not backpedaling because she was hot. I’m not that shallow. (But she was very, very hot.)
Medsker: Did you ever hear Belinda’s version of “Submission” with the band Radiator? Awesome, baby! As for this one, I was working as a club DJ when this album came out, and I remember being amazed when I saw that not only was there a dance mix for this song, but they recruited remix god Shep Pettibone to do it. We played it once. People barely lifted their feet. We never played it again.
As for the song, cute chorus, certainly better than the dreadful “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” But not exactly danceable.
Beau Dure: Anyone else wonder if there’s any tension in the Carlisle-Mason household since he’s a former Reagan aide and she’s endorsing Obama?
Part of my teen innocence died when I found out Belinda married a political dude. The rest of it died when I saw the Go-Go’s’ Behind the Music.
Mike: I’ve never seen the BTM, but I’ve heard great things about this supposedly drunken video they made where Belinda talks about what a slut she’s been and I guess a roadie gets violated or something. Sounds like must-see-TV! Anyone know where this video can be located?
Medsker: When I was living in New York and broke (and lonely), I was fascinated with that cable access porn channel that had Robyn Byrd’s show, or whatever her name is. They ran these ads for a video called “Is This Chuck Berry?” (“Is this Chuck Berry fucking? Is this Chuck Berry getting a blowjob?”) Order now, and they’ll send you, absolutely free, “Is This the Go-Go’s?” Man, was I tempted to order that.
Jon: I only ever watched Channel 35 for the interviews–the naked ones, on the bed, with that fat fuck Al Goldstein.
Medsker: Oh, I remember that guy. I only saw one interview, but it was memorable because of how sorry I felt for the girl he was talking to.
Dunphy: I never had cable TV so I never had the pleasure of the Robin Byrd show. Of course, when she hawked her wares on regular TV I was certain that there was no pleasure there anyway. What a homely, homely woman.
And while I may have been able to resist “Are These The Go-Gos,” I probably would have caved for “Are These The Bangles?” Annette and Vicki? Yes! Debbi? Uh… Maybe…
Jon: Don’t be ragging on Debbi, man. I had the privilege of hanging backstage at a Bangles show in ’86, and Debbi and I had an actual conversation for upwards of an hour. She’s very sweet. Plus there’s that whole business of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” and how she didn’t have anything to do because the drums were programmed and she didn’t have a singing part. Poor thing.
I have trouble objectifying either the Go-Go’s or the Bangles, for some reason.
Giles: Even Susanna Hoffs? Jon, I…I don’t get you, man.
Will: I have never had a problem objectifying Susanna Hoffs. I’ve done phoners with her on two separate occasions, and both times I kept thinking of this scene from The Allnighter.
Jon: No, I’m sorry. Even in the Allnighter clip Susanna looks like a 14-year-old, and while that’s not always a problem for me…(Clair! Clair! Sorry–flashback to a months-old Popdose-perversion thread…)
When I was introduced to Susanna after that gig in ’86, I came face-to-air with how unbelievably SHORT that woman is. She’s shorter than PRINCE, for cryin out loud!
Now, Vicki on the other hand–she was smokin’ back then, and still kinda is now. She sat near me at a Holsapple-Stamey gig a few years back, with Susan Cowsill, and Vicki still looked good.
Darren: Damn you, Will… I seem to have misplaced my pants.
Giles: Didn’t her mom direct this terrible movie? Strange, man, strange.
Still, I must confess to staying up late to catch it on cable when I was 13.
Dunphy: She sure did, adding the flavor of creepy!
Darren: Strangely enuff, this is the first I’ve ever seen of it. I totally washed my hands of her when she turned a cool band into the Susannah Hoffs googly-eyed pose-fest. After seeing that clip, all is (BOING!) forgiven.
Will: What’s funny is that the first conversation I had with Susanna was one where Matthew Sweet was also on the line (it was in conjunction with their covers album), and when she gave me the opening to ask about the flick by referencing that her mother had heard something about the Rainy Day album being reissued, Matthew made it very clear that he was a fan of the film, too.
Will: Okay, and since you mentioned your mother, I do have to say this: I’m a big fan of The Allnighter.
Susanna: You’re kidding!
Will: I am not. It’s on my shelf as we speak.
Susanna: Omigod! My mother’s going to be so thrilled! She’s so, like, thrilled when people tell me about liking The Allnighter. There are a lot of fans of it, although I always turn five shades of red when people bring that up. Do you know about that movie I made, Matthew…?
Matthew: (slightly lecherously) Oh, yeah.
Matthew: I just don’t remember it that well. I think I need to see it again.
Susanna: Oh, come on! Don’t!
Will: I can lend you my copy, if you’d like.
Susanna: I’ll pass that along to my mom, Will.
Matthew: (dreamily) Oh, do I know about The Allnighter…