Bands We Shouldn't Like But Do

Cristy: We’ve had a surprising number of requests to write about guilty pleasures.

William: Is that bands we thought we shouldn't like but did?

C: Sort of. I like Justin Timberlake. There are things I listen to when I'm alone.

W: That's getting dangerous. Would I be telling people that if they like Styx they're lame, but since I do, I'm hip? And where would we draw the line? I like lots of commercial music: Martin Denny, Cole Porter, the Beatles. I like Beethoven.

C: I’m not talking about bad performers it’s hip to like. Back in the 1990s, Tom Jones was hip. The Carpenters merited their own tribute album with the likes of Sonic Youth. Hell, even Pat Boone released a heavy metal covers album. (How many grungemeisters, who once proudly dragged it out to impress their parents, have stashed that one away?)

No. These are performers who are truly bad. Who have some sort of hold on us, due to childhood memories or listening to Top 40 radio in high school.

W: In writing this, we have to avoid the “so bad it’s good” phenomenon. I think this apparent paradox is an advanced manifestation of the fact that it is cool to find identity in liking music other people don’t know, so if you choose to adore some musician that history has correctly neglected, then make a fence around it by establishing it as “bad,” then you have succeeded in making yourself unique. It's tempting to find your unique expression in somebody else's art, but is likely to backfire. It’s crushing when, for example, you think you’re the only one who appreciates Perez Prado and then he shows up on the Office Space soundtrack. Or when U2 and REM become superstars. Or when anybody other than me listens to the Soft Boys (even though they don’t appreciate them because the Soft Boys wrote all their songs about me). Why are these bands we shouldn’t like? They epitomize something we find distasteful. In ourselves. 

C: Bread. I was never old enough to sleep with a copy of the Baby I’m-a Want You 8-track under my pillow while fawning over the mild, math-teacher-like countenance of one David Gates. Bread is so polished and square, proper rock fans can’t possibly find anything memorable or kick-ass about a group of milky-white studio musicians. But during a mundane workday, I spied The Best of Bread on a 40-something co-worker’s desk. He blushed all the way up to his thinning hair when I inquired about it. You could tell he didn’t want anybody to know the CD belonged to him, but he finally gave in and let me borrow it. Then I implored my parents about Bread. They were the proper age to eschew it in favor of sweaty arena rock like Head East, having dated and married in the mid-1970s. “Oh, just ask your father about Bread,” my mother replied, as if she were disclosing a major family secret. “They played 'If' at our wedding,” she whispered, mortified. My dad shrugged. “Bread’s good!” he insisted brazenly, then broke into a warbly “Make It with You.” That night, I popped the recording into my stereo. And the verdict is that I must agree with my father. Bread is good.

W: ABC. The Lexicon of Love. 1982. The 1980s? I was twelve. I was there. I thought I had left. But I now know I can never leave this music. What seemed like a passing plastic candy fad—synth pop—was, but as a result what was commercial and trite then now sounds really strange.

Although I had gotten rid of almost all of the dozens of Columbia Record and Tape Club cassettes I absorbed like plankton in adolescence, I still have this tape, and, when I slipped it into Cristy's car stereo, I noted with distress that I had written a heart and a number on side two. The number was the point on the tape counter (on my mono panasonic boombox circa 1983) when the "All of my Heart" would play, noted so that I could rewind over and over to listen to that song obsessively to soothe the agony of my unrequited love for a teenaged woman whose identity I don't even remember.

But I still remember the pain. Thanks to ABC's The Lexicon of Love.

Unabashedly new romantic, vocalist Martin Fry stops just short of sobbing over the tracks. Definitive new wave producer Trevor Horn mixes droolingly sentimental quasi-classical arrangements of syrupy lyric poetry lifted straight from the high school diaries of the CEO of Hallmark. These lyrics, in their pained search for truth, are obsessed with opposites and dichotomies (north/south, supply/demand, democracy/fascism, off the rack/custom fit, smart/stupid, surface/deep, certainty/instability). They spew exotic imagery (Hearts and flowers.../ivory towers, A ship in the harbour with wind in its sails, The cowboys at the rodeo/The rhine-stones on that Romeo, A sunken ship with a rich cargo/Buried treasure that the four winds blow/Wind and rain, diamonds, curls, Tears for shields and spears, When they find you beached on the barrier reef/And the only pleasure treasured is in map relief). All this poetic verbiage piles up atop lavishly fake orchestral orchestrations. It is really all too much, and if there was even a drop of knowing irony or self-consciousness, this house of cards (all hearts) would collapse. But Martin Fry is poker-faced. And gets theatrically emotional just up to but not over the point of absurdity during a real talking part, building to shouts:

And though my friends just might ask me
They say "Martin maybe one day you'll find true love"
I say "Maybe there must be a solution
To the one thing we can't find"

That's the look, That's the look
     The look of love
Hip Hip Hooray! Yippee-yi Yippee-yi Yay!

See why I am ashamed? Because I now own this record on cassette, on vinyl (Cristy would let me buy only two copies, as affordable as they have become), but not CD. Because it is an album, damnit—a romantic tragedy with two acts—and is not meant to be shuffled or tainted with bonus material any more than you'd want Romeo and Juliet Act V followed by a rough draft of Act II. *

C: “All I Need” by Jack Wagner. I have no idea what else this heartthrob soap star has done, except General Hospital and Heather Locklear (his squeeze of the moment). This type of maudlin crap is tailor-made for Casey Kasem’s sappy “request and dedication” segment of his weekly countdown. (“So, Casey…can you play 'All I Need' for my ex-girlfriend? With this song, she’s destined to come back, even though I had sex with her mother.”) Perfect to belt out dramatically into a hairbrush microphone when nobody’s home.

W: Loverboy. Get Lucky. 1981. Canada's top selling rock band of 1980 pimps a predictable, synthesized, squealy, fake pop metal dredge of quasi-masculinist hits.

The cover of their eponymous debut LP looks misleadingly artsy—the skinny guy in black smoking a cigarette, the edgy cropping removing part of his head, the bohemian typewriter text spewing poetry all over the cover. But by their second album, they had found their voice and arrived: a big red leather man ass.

The bellowing of the lead singer and the horrifying cover point the way for every bad hair band to follow. The title is cunning, apparently referring to sex as well as unexpectedly having a commercially successful band without ever having had a music lesson. Get lucky: no skill in either pursuit implied. The horrid synthesizer bursts will make you wince. Verses with seemingly structured melodies seem to run out of ideas and stumble into the chorus not sure what notes they use.

In 2006 some criminal, unemployed engineers were called upon to remaster this travesty and dig up some demos and bonus tracks to pad out a CD just to see what gullible consumer would fall for the deluxe "digitally remastered" package: people who already had every Huey Lewis and the News CD and didn't know where to go from there. They tacked on bonus songs with words like "girl," "boy," "town," and "Saturday night" with farting guitar amps and fatuous honky tonk piano tropes. All the gestures of good-time hairy-back lowbrow beercoaster rock, without the music. Canadians trying to sound like Elton John trying to sound heterosexual, American and black. The demo of "Working for the Weekend" (previously unreleased!—so was the bubonic plague) could not possibly be of interest, but it is included here. I will personally mail my poop to the first person who writes a review on claiming that they found it added to their understanding of that creative period in Loverboy's career. How the song evolved from half an idea to half an idea.

But I kind of like this album. "Gangs in the Street" is scary. But if these Canadians were ever even remotely "street," by 1981 they were strictly penthouse.

C: Megadeth. I can’t freaking explain why. I just like it.

*Read Martin Frye's take on "beauty is only skin deep"

Nine out of ten, in every case
She might look pretty but there`s makeup on her face

And compare it to the more sinister Robyn Hitchcock

A girl can smile sweetly though her mouth is stuffed with flies

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