Why isn't Barbra singing?

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Reagan was in his second term, MTV was in its fourth year, and lots of tasteless jokes about the Ethiopian famine were being told in middle schools around the U.S. But the world’s biggest pop star and his trusty sidekicks were about to awaken America’s long-dormant spirit of charity with an improbable pop anthem featuring the vocal talents and star power of a Top 40 rainbow coalition. For one brief moment, Westerners felt sorry for people in the developing world. (Then, of course, those same people all got AIDS, and folks got turned off.)

On the eve of USA for Africa’s 25th anniversary, as if sent by Lionel Richie’s guardian angel, came the massive earthquake in Haiti. For whatever reason (we could explore the social psychology of it for days), this particular misfortune hit America hard. Perhaps it was the Google Earth/Facebook/Twitter effect; perhaps it was Anderson Cooper carrying a bloody child through the ruins of Port-au-Prince; perhaps something entirely else. But before you could say, “Quincy Jones,” a remake of “We Are the World” was being planned. And the speculation began: Who would be asked to participate? Who would be shut out? Who would solo? And how would Bob Geldof feel about all this?

Again, in a “synergy” every music industry publicist would give a kidney for, the new “We Are the World” was ready to be premiered just as the Winter Olympics were starting up. The video for this “Haiti Redux” was sneak-peeked just before the opening ceremonies, and shown in its entirety the following day on several TV networks. And immediately, the fur began to fly. Of course, the original version had had its share of detractors, mostly white men who cringed to see Springsteen and Dylan breathing the same air as Richie and Cyndi Lauper; why should this one be different? The media speculated on why superstars Beyonce and Jay-Z did not participate; now we know why: “I know everybody is gonna take this wrong,” said Jigga, but given the original single’s place in pop history, which he likens to that of Thriller, “I don’t ever wanna see it touched.” Music critics complain that the new version is “oversung” and too “Hollywood.”

News flash, all y’all: NO ONE CARES.

Criticizing the concept, the singing, how the stars dressed, either in ’85 or in ’10, is ultimately pointless. Let’s be honest: this is not a song. It’s performance art. The fascination of the original had to do with celebrity meeting charity, with shallowness linking arms with seriousness. The fun of listening to the record was playing “Guess the Artist” as one solo gave way to the next – hell, stand-up comic Kevin Meaney made his career on his visual impressions of each and every participant. And most important: the record made money and engendered good will for people who desperately needed both. Let’s hope the “25 for Haiti” update will do the same.

That said, here are my lists of the highlights, and lowlights, of “WATW” 2.0.

Hip-hop-ification: In the years that have passed since the original recording, hip-hop went from the fringes of the industry to center stage, so of course the update was going to include rappers galore. Luckily, they were used pretty skillfully. The added bridge, performed by LL Cool J, Snoop, Will.i.am and others, is my favorite part of the new version. Kanye’s rhyming is also effective, not over the top, and allows him to demonstrate that he is capable of behaving in a sane manner. Including a T-Pain auto-tune solo is a clever and hilarious choice; and in response to the critic who remarked that Lil Wayne is “no Bob Dylan”…um, Bob Dylan wasn’t even Bob Dylan anymore in 1985, dude. Relax, it’s not a competition.

Big-voiced ladies: Making one wonder how the hell she was left out of the original recording session, Barbra Streisand brings a surprising amount of soul to her take on “It’s true, we make a better day, just you and me.” P!nk – a criminally underappreciated talent, IMHO – makes other, girlier, more popular singers look like chumps when she belts out, “There’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives.” And who else could take on the indelible Cyndi Lauper moment but Celine Dion? Moments like this one are why artists like her exist. She nails it. In general, the female contribution to USA for Haiti is much greater than that of USA for Africa (a full third of the soloists, in contrast to a quarter back in ’85), but did one of them have to be the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls? Then again, that girl can really sing.

A super-hip chorus. Some old-reliables (Harry Connick, Rob Thomas, Brandy), and some head-scratchers (most glaring: Jeff Bridges and Vince Vaughn), but also a stunning number of ass-kicking original talents: I mean, India.Aire? Robin Thicke? Raphael Saadiq? Nikka Costa? Kid Cudi? Can they record yet a third version with all the cool, sexy people up front?

Freda Payne. I’m just glad she was there.

Wyclef. I admit, sometimes he gets on my nerves. But without him there, the record just feels like a series of platitudes. He gets on the mic and is in the zone…when the music fades out at the end and you’re left with him chanting, “Ha-i-ti, Ha-i-ti” in a Kreyol accent, well, you get a little verklempt.

The ghost of Michael Jackson. No one else from 1985 got to reprise their roles, why him? Oh, yeah, because he died. I know lots of people like the use of MJ’s original vocal, and Janet coming in on harmony with him, but this isn’t “Unforgettable,” and he’s only been dead nine months. You say “touching,” I say, “creepy.”

Justin Bieber. I get why they used him as the first singer. He’s super popular with the kids and still has a child’s voice, so it’s affecting and all. But I have a hard time believing anyone will know who he is in 25 years. Lionel Richie may not have had a hit in a while, but people still lose their shit when “All Night Long” comes on at the Fourth of July barbecue.

Tony Bennett. I adore him. I revere him. I think he has no idea what he is doing here. Like, literally, it sounds like he is speaking English phonetically. A shame.

Gladys Knight. You’re thinking, “Gladys Knight? She doesn’t solo.” Exactly my point. She’s in the studio, doing backup and handclaps, just like Vince and Jeff. Granted, there were several major divas, both male and female, who were relegated to the chorus (Natalie Cole, the Wilson sisters of Heart, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys), and the whole point is supposed to be to “check your ego at the door” – and Gladys did. But the woman is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She has had to walk ten paces behind Diana Ross for her entire career. This could have made up for just a little of that. But no, instead we got Jamie Foxx and Adam Levine. Just know, Sister Gladys, I got your back.

Now ignore everything I just said, and go buy the track. In fact, while you’re at it, go buy a copy of the original too – I recommend the full USA for Africa album, if you can find it (yes, I own it…on cassette. It includes a killer Prince track and an even cheesier Canadian charity single. Corey Hart? Of course). Because no matter what your musical principles, “there are people dying.” You can stand on principle later. Buy the record.

They are the world.


I had forgotten that Michael Jackson’s birthday was August 29th, until it was announced that his family planned to bury him on that date this year, when he would have turned fifty-one. (That has now been postponed until September 3rd, no doubt to give him just slightly more time to rise from the dead.) Once upon a time, it was a date I knew by heart – along with the fact that MJ’s zodiac sign was Virgo, which made him a potentially compatible mate for me. Spike Lee, who was recently quoted as saying, “I wanted my Afro to be perfectly round, like Michael’s,” is throwing a public birthday party for the deceased in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Me, I’d like to observe the occasion by looking on the bright side – there are eight Jackson siblings still living.  (Joe Jackson may already be looking forward to a future in which he will put his hapless grandchildren on stage, but we need not encourage him.)  Sure, next to Michael, the rest of the clan seem like saplings in the shade of a mighty oak, but when we have no alternative, perhaps we can make do.

The Yang to his Yin: Janet

Maybe because she was born so late in the game that she was almost an afterthought, Janet was able to break free of the Joe Jackson mindfuck and make a series of hit records, which, seriously, if you haven’t listened to them in a while, bust out your shoulder pads and crimp your hair, cuz we havin’ a party. For my money, Control and Rhythm Nation 1814 are still the best – I have a weakness for bootylicious Janet as opposed to washboard-abs Janet. But even before she joined forces with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Janet had (or should have) earned her big brothers’ respect by going where none of them was able to go – sitcoms. She was little more than wallpaper as Willis’  girlfriend Charlene on Diff’rent Strokes, but as little girl lost Penny on Good Times, who follows J.J. home and stays in the ghet-to forever, she is indispensable.

The Dethroned Prince: Jermaine

It must have been difficult for him not to just kick Michael in the ass – literally – when the Jackson 5 took to the stage. The handsomest of the boys, Jermaine was the obvious choice for lead singer until his pipsqueak kid brother started hogging all the attention. Getting to sing “co-lead” on hits like “I Want You Back” and “The Love You Save” must have been small consolation. Jermaine soothed his injured feelings by bringing groupies back to the hotel rooms he shared with his brothers on the road, possibly laying the groundwork for at least some of Michael’s future sexual hangups. When he struck out on his own (an endeavor assisted by his marriage to the boss’ daughter, Hazel Gordy), he worked with a mind-blowing range of musical celebs, from Devo to Pia Zadora.  However, I think it’s his contribution to the music video world that really deserves more attention.  The ever-so-sweaty clip for “Do What You Do,” featuring Iman as a well-oiled lover with a secret agenda, haunted my dreams for years.  On the other end of the spectrum is the video for “Dynamite,” in which Jermaine attempts to break out of a prison guarded entirely by dancing women.  Thank you for the day-glo vertical stripes, J-Man.

The One Who Saved Herself: Rebbie

The oldest sibling, Rebbie (pronounced REE-bee) is remarkable among the Jackson sisters for how much you don’t know about her. Too old and too female to belong to the Jackson 5, she simply went about her business, marrying her high school sweetheart (to whom she is still wed), pitching in on the family variety show, and doing background vocals on records by Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls. Her li’l bro Michael wrote her a Top 40 hit, “Centipede,” and she was able to enjoy her moderate success without flipping out, talking to the media too much, or butchering her face (though she did give one of the weirdest performances ever captured in a music video). Hopefully, when grandma Katherine passes, Prince, Paris and Blanket will be ushered into adulthood by the gracefully un-neurotic Aunt Rebbie.

The Twin Soul: LaToya

Clearly, LaToya and Michael share the distinction of “Most Troubled Jackson,” the major difference being the latter’s unparalleled success and former’s status as a perpetual loser. Then again, she’s still alive.  Before Armed and Famous and Celebrity Big Brother (in which Jermaine also appeared, by the way), before posing for Playboy, before the tell-all memoir, before the unconsummated marriage to the psycho manager who beat her and tried to force her to appear in a porno…wait, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah, back in their tender years, Michael and LaToya did everything together, from knocking on doors like good little Jehovah’s Witnesses to sharing their first “grown-up” pad together in New York while Michael was filming The Wiz. Appropriately, she seems to have benefited the most from her beloved brother’s untimely death. It gave her an excuse to release a previously unheard single, ostensibly to benefit Michael’s favorite charity, Project AIDS Los Angeles (remember Ryan White?), and her increased visibility has led to her being asked back to guest host on The View this fall (apparently she did it before, back in 2003 – why on earth…?). The chance to reinvent herself as a long-suffering survivor is, perhaps, Michael’s final gift to the sister who, like him, was a primary victim of their awful father’s intolerance for weakness. He loved her, and his heart don’t lie.

 

I want some hot stuff baby this evenin'

I want some hot stuff baby this evenin'

Because after watching tonight’s “Disco Explosion” pledge drive on PBS, I feel compelled to give the man his due. Because even those whose greatest achievements are accomplished behind the scenes instead of at the mic or before the camera are worthy of homage. Because his name is just so goddamn cool. If you spent time in the industrialized world anytime between 1975 and 1990, you know his work.  Below is a partial discography:

 

Love to Love You Baby, I Feel Love, Hot Stuff, Last Dance, On the Radio, Bad Girls – Donna Summer

Call Me – Blondie

Flashdance (What A Feeling) – Irene Cara

The NeverEnding Story – Limahl

Take My Breath Away – Berlin

Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins

You can see even from the above list that Moroder had one foot in the world of the discotheque and the other in motion pictures. So even if you avoided the radio in the 1980s, you certainly would have heard some of the tunes that GM wrote, produced or both in big-ass movies of the day, like (duh) Flashdance and Top Gun. Of course, as busy a guy as he was, he was bound to get involved in some fiascos. So for every Oscar-winner like Midnight Express, there was a (cough) lesser work like Over the Top; for every classic like Scarface, an acquired taste like Electric Dreams. As an ethnic German born in the Italian Alps (his real first name is Hansjörg), he rocks an all-purpose Euro-identity which continues to be chic even today; however, his 1960s relocation to Munich, smack in the bosom of Hitlerland, might give one pause, especially considering some of his most Germanic projects: not only did he create a synth-pop score for Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent Metropolis, he composed the score for the final film of onetime Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. (For the record, it was a nature doc.) Well, I suppose keyboards know no politics.

 

Oh trust in me my pretty one

Oh trust in me my pretty one

These days, there’s no stigma left about going into show business.  I guess parents today consider it uncool to tell their ten-year-old that it might be more important to finish high school than to go on American Idol or get into a boy band.  But prior to our current, enlightened age, there was a long, distinguished history of musical geniuses whose families were not what you might call “supportive” – especially if they were playing “youth” or “devil” music.  For example, jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton was disowned for turning away from Mozart and taking on ragtime and the blues.  John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi famously advised him that “the guitar’s all very well as a hobby…but you’ll never make a living at it.”  Now, I don’t know exactly what Susan Ballion’s mum thought about her running around with the Sex Pistols and getting the crap kicked out of her for wearing a swastika armband, but I am going to assume she wasn’t thrilled.  Fortunately, her daughter persisted in her punkdom (minus the swastikas) and became the goddess better known as Siouxsie Sioux.

In a moment of rock history that might tempt one to believe in a higher power, Siouxsie was forced, almost literally, on stage when a band booked by impresario Malcolm McLaren didn’t show.  Maybe she would have ended up as a singer anyway, but what if?  What kind of world would it be without Siouxsie’s queen-of-the-damned voice in it?  Sure, even if she couldn’t sing, she might have earned a place in goth history simply for channeling Cleopatra, Louise Brooks and the Evil Queen in Snow White so effectively.  But here’s the thing about most goth groups that have stood the test of time: their members are actually talented.  Don’t let the eye makeup distract you.

Fortunately, Siouxsie Sioux could, and did, sing.  Anything.  I mean, what band besides Siouxsie and the Banshees could plausibly cover the Beatles, Billie Holiday, and Kraftwerk? Who besides Siouxsie could make a song from The Jungle Book actually sound menacing?  Who else could tempt Robert Smith to quit the Cure for two years?  Even her side project with Banshees drummer (and then-hubby) Budgie, the Creatures, is actually good – especially amazing when you look at the history of ’80s side projects (anyone remember Arcadia?  Tin Machine?).  But the core of Siouxsie’s brilliance is in the yearning, nastiness, grief and sheer terror she brings to the songs she recorded with the Banshees – every time you hear her coming down on you like a hammer in “Spellbound,” or accusing you of being filthy, filthy, filthy in “Peek-A-Boo,” it’s all you can do not to fall to the floor and beg for mercy.  Keening like the mythical women who gave her band its name, Siouxsie does her mum proud.

A night to remember (Jody top center, Jermaine in the hat)

A night to remember (Jody top center, Jermaine in the hat)

From Soul Train to Shalamar to the R&B Charts to MTV to nostalgia – these were the days of their lives.  Where is the movie musical about this strange and wonderful friendship?  It has all the elements: two crazy kids with a dream, the early success, the international journey to self, the highest and heights, and oh, the regrets. 

If I had not had a powerful aversion to Soul Train as a child (Don Cornelius creeped me out), I might have seen the near future of crossover R&B shakin’ its groove thing in the form of Jody Watley and Jermaine Stewart.  The 1980s were a magical time when just having a good time on the dance floor could lead to fame and fortune (Madonna and Rosie Perez, anyone)?  Jody, no stranger to the world of showbiz (her godfather was soul music legend Jackie Wilson, whose fate should have taught her something about life’s injustices), was tapped to join the vocal group Shalamar; Jermaine was hired as a backup singer/dancer.  The die was cast…

The next stage in both their careers would come courtesy of the United Kingdom.  Jermaine hooked up (I’m sure it was innocent) with Culture Club and provided backing vocals on their world-changing Colour by Numbers album (“You know you’ll miss me bliii-ind!”).  Jody left Shalamar and somehow ended up in the studio standing next to Bananarama during the recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”  (I mean, you know, singing.)  Frankly, simply on the strength of their totally dope British associations, J&J could have called it a career right there.

But it doesn’t count unless you do it in the U.S.  Do you remember where you were when you first heard the naughty-yet-uptight lyric “We don’t have to take our clothes off?” – in the car? at the family cookout? in utero?  How about when you saw Miss Watley and her hair breakin’ it down in the video for “Looking for a New Love?”  I know at least one adult homosexual who remembers being paralyzed with emotion.  Jody and Jermaine may have been the black musical precursors to Will and Grace: his Frantic Romantic album (if anyone can explain to me what’s going on in that photo, I’ll buy you a drink) includes a tribute to his old friend, “Jody.”  And oh, yeah, he was gay – I know you may find it hard to believe that a guy who sang a lyric like “And drink some cherry wine” might sleep with dudes, but let go of your stereotypes, okay?

Sadly, only one of the Js would see the 21st century.  In spite of his admonition, Jermaine clearly did take his clothes off and did not put a condom on: he contracted HIV and died in 1997.  Jody is still with us, but her hitmaking did not survive the ’80s.  She touched the top of the charts a few more times than Jermaine, but which of these dance-music pros really left the greater mark?  Whose catchphrase is more deeply embedded in our consciousness – her “Hasta la vista, baby” or his “Na na na naaa, n-na na…na na”?  Which is more unforgettable – her cheekbones or his hair?  But the choice is a false one, because the two are cut from the same all-singing, all-dancing disco-soul cloth.  Their personae are symbiotic, like Judy and Mickey, or  Jacko and Miss Ross.

Makers of the Soul Train feature film, are you listening?

Aerosmith

Aerosmith

Every generation thinks it makes the world anew…but no matter how many years pass, it’s same shit, different decade.  The data presented below should leave no doubt.

Girl Group:

BOOMERS – Supremes

GEN-X – Go-Gos

MILLENNIALS – Spice Girls

Other Girl Group:

B’s – Ronettes

X’s – Bangles

M’s – Destiny’s Child

One-Named Singer:

B’s – Cher

X’s – Madonna

M’s – Beyoncé

Piano Chick:

B’s – Carole King

X’s – Tori Amos

M’s – Alicia Keys

White Boy Band:

B’s – Monkees

X’s – New Kids

M’s – N’Sync

Black Boy Band:

B’s – Jackson 5

X’s – New Edition

M’s – Boyz II Men

Guy Who Changed His Name:

B’s – Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam)

X’s – John Cougar (John Mellencamp)

M’s – Puff Daddy (Puffy/P. Diddy/Diddy)

Rock Musical:

B’s – Hair

X’s – Rent

M’s – Spring Awakening

Aerosmith Ballad:

B’s – “Dream On”

X’s – “Angel”

M’s – “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”

Jersey Rock:

B’s – Springsteen

X’s – Bon Jovi

M’s – Fountains of Wayne

Messiah Wannabe:

B’s – Jim Morrison

X’s – Prince

M’s – Kanye West

Child Molester:

B’s – Jerry Lee Lewis

X’s – Jacko

M’s – R. Kelly

Yes, there are differences…big ones. My preferred test is to yell out “Mama say mama sa mama koo sa” and see who starts dancing – that’s Gen-X. But the distinctions noted here are also dead on.

Terence Trent D'Arby

Terence Trent D'Arby

February should not simply be a four-week period devoted to repeating incessantly why Dr. King and Rosa Parks were heroes, but also to unearthing and rediscovering achievements by black folks who fell through the cracks on the long march toward equality.  So in honor of Black History Month, Gigi is here to tell all y’all that you really missed the boat on Terence Trent D’Arby.  Seriously.  Yeah, I know his ego probably fills an airplane hangar, but so does Mick Jagger’s, and that never held him back.

The comparison of D’Arby with Jagger is an apt one, as both singers make the most of similar natural attributes – namely, super-skinny bodies that shake and twist with ease and saucy, pillowy lips.  Like Jagger during the Performance period, D’Arby enjoyed an easy-going androgyny in his early career, with luxurious braids that flew to and fro when he took the stage to rock your world.  I swear I will never understand how his blazin’ first single, If You Let Me Stay failed to become a hit in the U.S. while making the top 20 in his adopted country, the U.K.  Are the people of America really that funk-deficient?  Have we lost that founding funkiness which fueled the Revolution and underpins our Constitution?  Granted, the Fifty States eventually lived up to the funkitude that is our birthright when we bopped and grooved, respectively, to Wishing Well and Sign Your Name but perhaps if the rest of you had shown more appreciation earlier on, TTD wouldn’t have made the unfortunate detour of the Neither Fish nor Flesh album, which might well have been called Neither Fun nor Memorable.

D’Arby’s redemption record, Symphony or Damn, is a Black History Month in itself; it sounds like it was made by a nation of men, not just one Eurotrashy expatriate preacher’s son.  From the nasty guitars of She Kissed Me to the sexy-sweet vocals of Delicate to the comic pop of “Penelope Please,” it sounds like the younger brother of Prince’s Sign O’ the Times. I guess America only has room for one megalomaniacal, eccentric black funkmaster at a time (and no, Kanye does NOT count), but maybe during Black History Month, TTD can get some affirmative action up in here.

Which is Which?

Which is Which?

Answers below – but don’t cheat!:

1.  Which band recorded a sassy anti-Reaganite tune with the lyric, “We’re talkin’ about the dollar bill/And that old man that’s over the hill”?

2.  Which band is forever linked to Molly Ringwald?

3.  Which band’s lead singer had mad curly hair?

4.  Which band’s lead singer was married to Chryssie Hynde?

5.  Which band originated in Glasgow?

6.  Which band formed as a result of seeing the Sex Pistols play live?

7.  Which band had more #1 hits in the US?

ANSWERS:

1.  SIMPLY RED.  The song, called “Money’$ Too Tight to Mention,” is a hoot and a half for those of us who grumbled through the Reagan years (yes, even those of us who were too young to vote).  Mick Hucknall, the singer and chief artistic force behind the group, even name drops the First Lady: “Yeah, I’m talkin’ Nancy.”

2.  SIMPLE MINDS.  The Breakfast Club. “Don’t You Forget About Me.”  From “Go fix me a turkey pot pie!” to “Did ya slip her the hot beef injection?”, Judd Nelson’s finest celluloid hour.  Shockingly, this movie is still good over two decades later.  Let’s face it, Pretty in Pink doesn’t hold up well, and Sixteen Candles is actually an affront to humanity, The Geek notwithstanding.  But the nerd, the jock, the princess, the freak and the criminal have proven immortal.  (For the record, Simple Minds did not write “Don’t You Forget About Me,” and the song was actually offered to Billy Idol first.  That would have been…something.)

3.  BOTH.  Hucknall’s hair was more plentiful and, as in the band’s name, red, but Jim Kerr rocked his own slightly effeminizing mop as well…which makes the answer to the following question especially interesting…  (BTW, Brits are insanely prejudiced against redheads in a way that suggests a collective form of retardation.  British comics tell jokes about “gingers” and send their audiences into fits of laughter so inappropriate you almost feel like you’re watching a Nazi-era performance of The Merchant of Venice.)

4.  SIMPLE MINDS.  I have never quite been able to wrap my mind around this.  Chryssie Hynde seems far, far too badass to have consorted with the guy who flailed around in an oversized trench coat in all those videos, but there’s a kid to prove it.  Kerr must have some amazing kind of magnetism going on, because after he and Chryssie divorced, he got together with blonde British bombshell Patsy Kensit.  After that marriage broke up, Patsy wed Oasis singer Liam Gallagher.  So Chryssie Hynde’s privates are only two degrees of separation from those of Oasis.  The implications are frightening.

5.  SIMPLE MINDS.  Perhaps there is something in the water in Scotland that makes even the wimpy weirdos among their men irresistible to women?  Or is it just the burr?

6.  SIMPLY RED.  Not that you could tell it from their eventual musical output, which established them as Britain’s premier blue-eyed soul group of the 1980s, but Mick Hucknall was present at the Pistols’ legendary 1976 Manchester gig, along with Morrissey and future founders of the Buzzcocks and Joy Division, all of whom got inspired to be rock stars.  (Let us pause and offer up a prayer to whatever gods there are that this gig took place.)

7.  SIMPLY RED.  Simple Minds hit #1 in America only once, thanks to Judd, Molly and Emilio.  Simply Red managed it twice, with “Holding Back the Years” (a.k.a. the “years/tears/keep holding on” song) and a cover of R&B classic “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.”  Seems like cheating somehow.

What more fitting band to begin a new year with than Wang Chung? In their heyday – namely, during the frenzy that surrounded their immortal party hit, “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” – they themselves celebrated the end of the old year and the beginning of the new by sending copies of the single to various world leaders at holiday time, in the hopes of ending the Cold War through the power of boogie. Whether Reagan, Thatcher, and Gorbachev ever even heard the record, or listened to it together when high, or sang it at a UN-karaoke night, or got freaky to it, we will likely never know. But everybody else with access to a radio, cassette player, or MTV certainly did at least one of those things.

Lame hipster mags like Blender like to make fun of “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and mid-80’s songs like it – for example, Starship’s “We Built This City” – but what this really reveals about them is their tragic inability to relax. Maybe this is being too charitable, but I feel pretty sure that the guys of Wang Chung knew that “Everybody Wang Chung tonight” was meaningless and absurd. It’s the parallel universe version of their earlier hit, “Dance Hall Days,” in which an amorous young man is advised to “take your baby by the ears and play upon her darkest fears.” One tune has a dark tone and cool instrumentation, while the other has horns and a semi-queer yet fraternity-esque chorus, but their lyrics are equally ridiculous. Who cares, Blender? It’s pop music. Yours is just the kind of overserious attitude Starship is complaining about when they ask, “Who rides the wrecking balls into our guitars?”

Besides, Wang Chung earned its street cred with its criminally underappreciated theme song for the cop flick TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., which may itself be underappreciated, but never having seen it, I’m not sure. All I know is, I better not get started listening to the song unless I have half an hour or so, because I have to listen to it over and over. It sounds like a Wang Chung record, but has lyrics that actually make sense, and one has to give the band props for integrating the movie’s title into them in what might be the slickest soundtrack maneuver since “Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!”:

In the dark of the night
Every time I turn the light
I feel that God is not in heaven
In the dark of the night…
I wonder why I live alone here
I wonder why we spend these nights together
Is this the room I’ll live my life forever
I wonder why in L.A.
To live and die in L.A.

Geez, after getting into that mindset, no wonder they went to “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” (FYI: the video does NOT give people seizures…so Wang Chung to your heart’s content!)