Sizing Up Fashion Rocks’ Booty Call 0

While doing interviews for Mad World, I’m often asked about the current state of music, and how it’s changed since the early 80s. The first thing that comes to mind: The music charts are no longer about music.

I know, I know. That’s some statement from an author whose book highlights the artists from the dawn of MTV — the music video era! But while the bands in Mad World were certainly concerned with how they looked — after all, almost all of them were formed from the rib of Bowie — first and foremost, they wanted to make music.  ”Our managers drove the video agenda; we were like, ‘Oh man, a video‘,” John Taylor says in the book, recalling how Duran Duran’s reps pushed them to make James Bond-ian mini movies.

While watching Fashion Rocks at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn the other night, I couldn’t help thinking that, for many of today’s biggest stars, it’s the other way around — the music hardly matters. The reps for Jennifer Lopez and Nicki Minaj should remind them their charges that they’re singers, not strippers giving lap dances (although, to be fair, the managers and labels are a big part of the problem).Three Lions Entertainment Presents Fashion Rocks 2014 - Show nicki-anaconda-fr

“She got a big booty that’ll swallow a thong,” sang (lip-synched?) J.Lo as she shoved her infamous, barely-covered bottom in our faces. (Yes, her mid-forties ass looks mighty fine, but that’s besides the point.) A few numbers later, Minaj came out flaunting so much tush it would’ve made Daisy Duke blush. Among her poetic lyrics: “Say he don’t like ‘em boney, he want something he can grab.”

The morning after, my Mad World co-author asked how it all went. I told him how thrilled I was with Duran Duran’s performance — though, to be honest, they barely had any competition, with J.Lo and Minaj’s lame twerk-off coming more than a year after Miley’s bouncing butt hijacked/headlined the MTV Video Music Awards.

“I like Nicki,” JB said in her defense, explaining that she’s a really talented rapper. Rapping — oh, is that what she was doing on stage? I failed to notice.

Look, I’m not a prude, and I did notice that Minaj was flanked by a bunch of shirtless male dancers — perhaps an attempt at equal-opportunity eye candy? But is she really lighting the way forward for women? Is showing everything you’ve got onstage really how you show you’re a feminist, a word Beyoncé flashed at her recent VMAs performance.

JB argued that Nicki needs the butt antics to keep everyone’s attention. Hold on — I thought you said she was talented.

In Alison Moyet’s day, talent was what counted. ”Once upon a time, our attractive girl pop stars were Bananarama, who presented themselves with light independent spirits, but you never felt they were whoring themselves,” she told JB during their Mad World interview. By contrast, ”young women seem to have given up” and are “giving it all away” these days. In the early eighties, “there was less sexism, bizarrely, in the creative arena”; today “all [the female singers are] doing is playing to a sexual fantasy, and they are no more esteemed and stronger — they’re just being sex toys.”

Ironically, it was an 80s artist who drew up the blueprint. But while J.Lo, Minaj, et. al. latched on to Madonna’s shock-and-awe way to the top, they didn’t bother to learn her main lesson: Fantastic, unforgettable songs is the route to longevity. They’re cribbing from her Sex book, her “Justify My Love” video, when they should be paying attention to “Like A Prayer,” “Express Yourself,” “Papa Don’t Preach.”

And Madonna was always changing it up, trying to do something different. J.Lo and Minaj’s booty battle wasn’t nearly as shocking as it was been there-done that. “There are times now when I feel like it’s shocking when you see someone with their clothes on,” Moyet said. ”It’s shocking when someone’s not offering their arse to imagine yourself penetrating when they sing.”

 

 

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Mixtape: You Don’t Bring Me Flowers 0

They beautify our lives then they wither and die. That’s right, this week’s theme is flowers. Let’s see what eighties songs with a floral theme we can dig up–ha!– and how many of them are about roses. (For this and our other Spotify playlists, click here.)

 

“Flowers Of Romance,” Public Image Limited

Okay, so -called Pil aficianados, hands in the air if you stuck with them through records like this because deep down you were hoping against hope that they’d release something that sounded more like “Public Image” and by the time you’d accepted that was never going to happen, you were stuck with a bunch of records that pretty much all went nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah. Just me, then?

“Blind Among The Flowers,” The Tourists

Pre-Eurythmics, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart did time in a journeyman powerpop outfit called The Tourists, who had a few its but left little impression. Somewhere between this and “Sweet Dreams”, Annie Lennox found a whole new voice.

“Good Year For The Roses,” Elvis Costello

I’m not going to say I knew nothing about country music in the early eighties. Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and the “Sweethearts Of The Rodeo”-era Byrds were highly touted by Glasgow’s local tastemakers, such as they were. But, in common with a lot of British youth of the era, the country record I was most familiar with was “Almost Blue”, Elvis Costello’s reverent collection of covers. These days, the best thing I can say about it is that it served as a gateway to the originals. But then again, these days, it’s hard to imagine a contemporary country artist even knowing the originals.

“Trees And Flowers,” Strawberry Switchblade

A mixtape encore for this stirring song about agoraphobia from the underappreciated Glaswegian duo. It takes a particular kind of talent to write a song that sounds as sweet as this and contains the line, “I hate the trees and I hate the flowers.”

“English Rose,” The Jam

Timing was never in any band’s favor more than it was on The Jam’s when their third album, “All Mod Cons”, was released. The previous, “The Modern World” had been met with little more than a collective shrug. The music press were trumpeting new and exciting bands every week. The trio ran the risk of being lost in the shadows. Then the “Quadrophenia” movie inflamed the imagination of British teens soured on punk. The massed ranks of kids in parkas and pork pie hats had a look and a lifestyle but they didn’t have a soundtrack. So they adopted The Jam. And they adopted the band at the perfect time. Paul Weller went all-out to show what he could do on this record, even dropping the gritted-teeth delivery to sing this delicate acoustic love song.

“Carnation,” The Jam

Yes, a second song about a flower from The Jam. This one has a more typical Weller lyric: “If you gave me a fresh carnation, I would only crush it’s tender petals.”

“I Touch Roses,” Book Of Love

Another Mad World: The Book no-show. Which is a shame. I would have liked to know a lot more about this three-girl one-guy goth-pop outfit. Next time!

“The Flood,” Blue Orchids

When part of your adolescence was spent with fingers poised on a tape recorder waiting to tape songs from John Peel’s show, little nuggets of obscurity like this wind up dotted in the depths of your subconscious. Even without resorting to Wiki-research, I recall the Blue Orchids came from Manchester and were made up of various disgruntled members of The Fall. I remember owning this record but I can’t believe I ever played it.

“After Dark,” Flowers

From Edinburgh, on Fast Product, the label that released the debut records by The Human League and Gang Of Four. This song is like a case study in dysfunction from Masters of Sex set to music.

“Young At Heart,” The Bluebells

Yet another Scottish song with a floral connection. Yet the streets of my home own are smeared with dogshit and simmering cigarette butts. Ah, the irony. The Bluebells were lucky enough to be plying their trade in 1984, a year in which a Glasgow accent and a guitar were considered sufficient qualifications for a record deal. This line-dancing reboot of a song originally recorded in fake Motown fashion by Bananarama performed decently on it’s initial release Ten years later, long after the band had split, the song was used in a commercial and shot straight to number one. Not only were The Bluebells’ fortunes briefly revived, the session musician responsible for playing the fiddle that dominates the song, stumbled out of obscurity to sue the band for half the publishing. Which he received. And if this mixtape wasn’t already dominated by my Scottish homeland that is soon to decide on it’s independence, there’s a cameo at the start of this video from Clare Grogan of Altered Images, known to readers of Mad World:The Book as Gary Kemp’s “True” muse.

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Mixtape: Big In Japan! 0

Though the first part of the sixties was dominated by unabashed Anglophilia, the focus of popular music has always been America and the tone it set. The last time the gaze of the world moved away from the USA was the eighties when Europe rewrote the rules of the game.But, as much as every aspiring artist affected an English accent or, failing that, a bizarre hybrid between English and German, there was another cultural obsession. Japan. Every decade sees an attempt to market indigenous Japanese pop culture to a disinterested West but, during the eighties, the Japanese influence on new wave was strong enough that it–and by it, I mean the Yellow Magic Orchestra–almost happened. Here, then, is a mixture of Western artists influenced by Japan and a few Japanese new wave obscurities. (For this and our other Spotify playlists, click here.)

 

“Ghosts,” Japan

Yes, “Life In Tokyo” would have been the more obvious choice but THIS is the most beautiful record they ever made and the biggest hit they ever had. Any kind of appreciation in their own homeland was a long time coming for Japan and they split up not long after mainstream acceptance came knocking. I can’t think of a more elegant way to wrap up a career than “Ghosts”.

“Turning Japanese,” The Vapors

The Vapors had Japan’s problem in reverse. Managed by Paul Weller’s dad, they saw themselves as a junior Jam and had a sturdy set of songs which few ever heard because “Turning Japanese” was an instant hit and also instantly eclipsed anything else they had waiting in the wings. While some bands learn to live with and even love their “Safety Dance”-level of success, being known for a sole song about furtive masturbation did not sit well with The Vapors.

“Big In Japan,” Alphaville

One of our biggest regrets about Mad World: The Book is trying and continually failing to track down Alphaville. Talk about a band that sums up the essence of the entire book. I know Alphaville enthusiasts can argue about the incredible depth of their catalog but to the average dunderhead, today represented by me, they have maintained a comfortable multi-decade career on the backs of two classic songs, “Forever Young” and this, inspired by a long-running piece of music industry back-handed bitchery. If you wanted to disdain a rival artists’ success, you described them as being ‘big in Japan” aka: acceptable to a nation who accepted anything that came from the West, which is a brutal stereotype that has a lot of truth to it.

 

“Tokyo Joe,” Bryan Ferry

The internet thinks everything’s racist so it’s not hard to imagine the endless apologies the creator of this song with it’s references to inscrutable orientals and pliant geishas would have to weep his way through. And the clip with it’s gyrating Asian backup dancers cooing around the suave singer is Exhibit A for the prosecution. I can’t defend it in terms of taste– except that it’s meant to conjure up the wartime Tokyo of the 1940s– but this is the kind of Bryan Ferry I like. Not quite so smooth.

“Yellow Pearl,’ Phil Lynott ft. Midge Ure

Mad World’s own Lori Majewski is in conversation with Midge Ure on Sunday September 14th, 5:00-6:30 at Rough Trade in Brooklyn. So here to commemorate that event and stay with our theme is a record Ure made with his very brief Thin Lizzy bandmate, Phil Lynott. Brits of a certain age –ie: ancient — will recall this as the theme to the 1980s version of Top Of The Pops and, as such, will be very familiar with the first thirty seconds and less so with the remaining few minutes.

“Cyndi And The Barbie Dolls,” Big In Japan

Legendary in Liverpool, barely known outside, this band, who revolved around front woman Jayne Casey, would include Holly Johnson, Bill Drummond, Budgie and, front and center in this clip, Ian Broudie

“Firecracker,” Yellow Magic Orchestra

Bearing in mind their staggering output, I imagine it could be something of an irritant to the brainboxes behind they’re known in these quarters for a scant handful of records from the start of their career. Like this one.I’ve got a lot of digging to do in terms of making a dent in the vast YMO discography.(Sounds like too much work: I probably won’t do it)

“Top Secret Man,” Plastics

Island Records took a shot at launching the Plastics on a British audience who’d shown a vague liking for quirky, staccato, herky-jerky, Farfisa-and-twangy-guitar-dominated music. I remember the NME giving away a free flexidisc of their version of “Last Train To Clarksville.” Sadly, as with every other attempt to launch a Japanese combo, there were few takers.

“Tokyo Sue,” Susan

From “The Girl Can’t Help It”, an album I used to own and try pitifully hard to enjoy, here’s a YMO-produced singer with a tiny squeak of a voice that makes a lot more sense to me all these years later. Well done, Susan.

“Drip Dry Eyes,” Sandii

Another YMO production. They basically own the entire Japanese techno pop era of which I know next to nothing.

Hong Kong,” Pink Tank

Okay, I know absolutely nothing about this. I slipped into a You Tube k-hole in search of kore 1980s Japanese technopop and this is what I found. I like the name Pink Tank. It works on different levels: is it a pun on think tank or is an actual pink tank? This comes from an album titled Electric Cinderella so I’m going for an actual pink tank.

“Morning Time,” Targets

Again, I know nothing about this, plucked it from the swirling depths of You Tube. But if this is what Japan had going on in the eighties, I need to hear a lot more of it! (Maybe I will dig into that YMO mountain after all!)

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