Note to Readers
There are lots of places one hears music in public - the radio, the PA system in stores and offices, even in public parks. Unlike the music I choose to play at home, for which no one but myself is to blame if I hate it, this public music is often inflicted on unsuspecting consumers by people with terrible taste. Someone ought to hold them accountable! So this special section is devoted to music I heard "out there" that raises my hackles.
"Who's That Lady?" by the Isley Brothers (heard on "Classic Soul 105")
This is a fine song, with a lovely hook and a funky rhythm. My complaint is the guitar solo - who decided to let Jimi Hendrix's bastard son play in the wrong key for 10 minutes? Curse you for destroying a fine groovin' oldie!
"You've Really Got a Hold on Me" rendered by an unidentified duo (heard on the PA at Lowe's)
I love this song - it's witty and soulful, and just plain beautiful. So whose brilliant idea was it to sing a "jazz" version, with a woman and a man scatting around the melody? THE MELODY IS THE POINT OF THIS SONG!!!! The lyrics only work if you sing them with exactly the same notes - otherwise the contrast is lost, and the wordplay becomes meaningless. Idiots!
"Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by the Rolling Stones (heard on "Cool Rockin' 94")
Egad! If these guys are the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band then why can't they play a solo in the same modality as the rest of the song? Or keep from slaughtering this rhythm? Or sing the melody instead of belching out this crap? Atrocious.
"With Arms Wide Open" by Creed (heard on the PA at J.C. Penney)
Yes, the arrival of a child is a joyous experience, as the lyrics say. So why is the music still in grunge mode? And boring slow grunge mode at that? Do these guys only have one style?
"Problem Child" by AC/DC (heard on "The Home of Rock and Roll 101")
Two chords do not equal a riff. Repeating the title over and over does not equal a chorus. This recording is not a song; it's an instrument of torture designed to extract confessions from captured spies. ("You can cooperate, or we can put the CD on repeat." "No! Anything but that! I'll tell you everything if you'll just let me hear a V chord!")
"Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi (heard at the "Concert for New York City")
At both of the telethons for victims of September 11, Bon Jovi has performed this song in a new, dramatic arrangement, with violin and big leather drum. I'm glad he's doing his part, but I wish he would do it less obnoxiously. It was moderately tolerable as a hair-metal fluff piece - I loved the combination of voice box and wah-wah - but he apparently thinks it's some sort of anthem, the lyrics of which deserve careful scrutiny at the expense of all the interesting things (fast beat, cool guitar licks, four-part harmonies on the chorus) about the original arrangment. It's not.
"Your Song" by Elton John (heard on the PA at the mall)
What is he blithering on about? He says, "I hope you don't mind that I put down in words how wonderful life is while you're in the world," and I wouldn't, if he had! Instead, he spends the whole song stringing non-sequiturs, filling out lines with nonsense rhymes, or just plain sucking up to the radio audience. If someone wrote this song for me, I'd break up.
"Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd (heard on Classic Rock 94) (for more, please see this note)
Are they really trying to excuse George Wallace by saying he's not Richard Nixon? Well, I guess Ronnie Van Zant wasn't too much of a redneck - after all, he wasn't George Wallace.
"Imagine" by John Lennon (heard on the radio briefly before I made Jessica switch it)
How's this for a utopian vision: you give up your religion, citizenship, and assets, in return for "living as one" with The People. Sounds great, Comrade! Where do I sign up?
"Takin' It to the Streets" by the Doobie Brothers (heard on Nice 97)
You have to admire the San Francisco scene for living up to their ideals of equality. I mean, where else would a guy with no teeth get to be a lead singer?
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by some unctuous singer or other (heard on the PA at the mall)
I expect Christmas songs to be sentimentally nostalgic, historically questionable, and just plain corny. But condescending? That's going too far!
"Freedom" by Paul McCartney (heard in an NFL promotional ad during the Ravens' thrashing of the Dolphins - sorry, Ben)
There's nothing in particular wrong with the song, but I found it an unbearable irony that it was backing a message by Ray Lewis, a man who enjoys personal freedom (i.e., the fact that he's not in jail) because he abused his constitutional rights to obstruct justice. Does the NFL think we don't remember?
A song I don't know the title of by Rush (the one that goes "I will choose free will") (heard on Rockin' 101)
There's a Far Side cartoon captioned "Gary's last day as a sound man" which shows a character turning up the knob labeled "suck". It's like that's what the producer did here. Every instrument is mixed so that the harshest overtones are brought out and the nice sounds buried: grinding metallic bass, cheap chorused guitars, and of course they put the microphone right up Geddy's nose - there's no other explanation for the sheer adenoidal fury. And about free will: it's a theological doctrine, not a philosophy. You're either born with it or not (depending on whether you believe John Calvin), but it's certainly not something you choose.
"Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Willie Nelson (heard at the Olympics closing ceremony)
Willie's famous for a lot of things, but soaring vocal showcases is not one of them. Was Art Garfunkel booked elsewhere? They could have gotten one of the athletes to do a better karaoke rendition than Willie's.
"Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seger (heard on Classic Rock 94)
Lord, every time I hear that opening riff I cringe. Is it the generational chauvinism? The completely unfunky drumming? Bob Seger's bellowing vocal confirming Ohioans' opinions of Michiganders as loud-mouthed nincompoops? Maybe it's the whole package, but I hear this enough at weddings, I don't want to put up with it in the rest of my life!
"Head Over Feet" by Alanis Morrisette (heard on the PA at the Red Cross)
Alanis Morissete is such an awkward lyricist she doesn't even know her cliches. It's "head over heels", as even Tears for Fears know (you see, the alliteration helps you remember!) And if she thinks that a guy who holds the door and asks how her day was is treating her like a princess, I can only imagine her doorman is getting a lot of attention. Plus, the worst harmonica playing to hit the Top 10 since "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35".
"More Than Words" by Extreme (heard on Light 106)
Even though I lived through them, I kept thinking of the early ‘90s as a bad dream long gone but then this tune brings all the horrid memories flooding back. You know it’s trouble when Right Said Fred (“Don’t Talk Just Kiss”) address the same topic more cogently. Apparently, the qualifications to join Van Halen are writing slightly less dumb lyrics than Sammy Hagar.
"Been Awhile" by Faceless Grunge Band #11,204 (heard on Cool 104)
A heard a radio report about a family that is suing the state of Maine to give them money for their daughter's Catholic school tuition, on the grounds that she "wasn't happy in her high school." This strikes me as a terrible idea, not only for the legal principles involved (if the government can be sued by anyone who's not happy, will there be anyone left out of the suit?) but for the economic ramifications: if not for kids who are unhappy in high school, would bands like this sell any records?
"Breathe" by Faith Hill (heard at the dentist's office)
If this is a song about watching a lover sleep, why is she belting out the chorus? Wouldn't that wake him up?
"The Chili's Scat Song" by some fake jazz singer (heard repeatedly during television commercials)
If it weren't for that pesky First Amendment, I would be leading the movement to outlaw scat singing, especially by clueless amateurs. Especially extolling barbecued food. Especially when you just want to watch some football. Especially when your coach opts to kick off in overtime. Especially when your team just gave up 10 points in four minutes.
"Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band-Aid (heard on Magic 106)
While I appreciate the sentiment, I don't appreciate the lyrics, especially as Bono sings in his most pompous voice, "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you." Why should I be thanking God that anybody's starving? And if Sir Bob is trying to propose that hunger is a zero-sum problem, I reject his notion utterly; there's enough food in the world, if only the governments would get out of the way and let the markets take the food where it's needed.
"Good Lovin'" by the Grateful Dead (heard on Classic Rock 94)
Leave it to the Dead to transform one of the great hard-charging tunes into the sort of ersatz mambo used in Disney cartoons to back up singing crustaceans. And how is it that in thirty years of trying no one in the band ever learned to sing?
"Lightning Crashes" by Live (heard on Drive 95)
Quoth Jessica (with a sigh), "This is the most uninteresting band ever." And later, "What the hell is this song about?"
"Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival (heard in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial)
I think this is one of the great protest songs, and it's a disgrace the way they've edited it in this commercial, so that the only lyrics are "Some folks are born, made to wave the flag, they're red white and blue." First of all, who do they think they're fooling? Second, no matter how you slice it, this is a pretty damn angry guitar line, and it doesn't make me feel patriotic at all. Idiots.
"A Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton (heard on the Grammies)
Someone should let the creators of Betty Boop know that she's using the voice without permission.
"The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel (heard on the Grammies)
Simon looked embarassed I don't know if he was embarassed for himself (cashing in on baby-boomer nostalgia by reuniting with a guy he can't stand) or the audience (forty years of songwriting and they want this piece of juvenile tripe). Meanwhile Garfunkel looked smugly satisfied, proving that you can knock down a big-haired high-voiced punk, but you can't wipe the smirk off his face.
The collected hymns of Ralph Vaughn Williams (heard in church occasionally)
Every time I see his name at the bottom of a hymn, I cringe. I just know it's going to be an odd melody, with strange intervals and weird spacing of the notes (his favorite trick is to cram several short notes between two long ones.) They might be fine instrumental works, but they're just not made for singing. The congregation always gets lost, even with the organ blasting away.
"Sk8r Boi" by Avril LaVigne (heard on the PA in the mall)
OK, if you're going to condemn a girl for not dating a scruffy skateboarder, fine (although how can you judge whether someone's good-looking except by, um, looking?). But don't do it by pointing out that he may be the next big rock star. Setting aside the fact that there are about 70000 skater-turned-convenience-store-clerks for every skater-turned-rock-star, who wants to marry a rock star?
That "boot in your ass" country song (heard from a float in the Independence Day parade)
Naturally it as a float urging us to "support our troops" (by the way, what does that phrase mean? If it means supplying them with food, uniforms and ammunition, well, I do that every April 15. If it means attending to their personal welfare, I'd venture they'd be safer and more comfortable on base in North Carolina than serving as sniper bait in Najaf, and feel more useful fighting actual terrorists. If it means I shouldn't criticize the president's foreign policy because it undermines morale, well, that's like saying I shouldn't criticize tax policy because it undermines the morale of IRS workers. If you're going to take it personally when a president of questionable legitimacy pursues a controversial invasion in the face of widespread protest, then you're just not tough enough to be in the army.) But whatever your opinion of our presence in Iraq, don't you think it demeans our gallant soldiers to reduce our country's mission to the level of a schoolyard fistfight?
The Hours soundtrack
All through the movie, it's "needle needle needle", false climax unrelated to the plot, then more "needle needle needle". I hope they didn't pay the guy for writing a whole movie score when he only wrote eight bars of music. Almost as irritating as the movie itself.
"Grave Digger" by Dave Matthews (heard on MTV)
Hey, Dave, you know when you're listening to other music, and there are little parts of the song that make you sing along? They're called hooks. Put some in your music.
"Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (heard on Classic Rock 94)
Wow, Neil Young was so upset by the Kent State shootings that he wrote a whole verse and a half about it! (And still managed to mangle the syntax so that it sounds like he thought it was well past time for soldiers to shoot students.) Outrage at the indefensible is a cheap stunt for performers who want to shore up their images without actually committing to anything. But most importantly, why are stations still playing it (right before "Hit Me with Your Best Shot", no less)? Is there some epidemic of soldiers wantonly gunning down protesters I'm missing?
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