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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, 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.


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?



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


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

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?


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!)



Don’t snicker. They weren’t always mainstays of your local light jazz radio station. Okay, perhaps they were, but they were also much more. In a period when hair was getting bigger, jeans more stone-washed, and bands younger and younger, a couple of cool customers from Britain created a bubble of astonishing calmness and maturity.

After breaking fans’ hearts around the world by dissolving the Police, Sting knew he had better have a really good reason for doing so. Continuing to play the same reggae/ska-inflected rock that was the band’s stock-in-trade would have folks scratching their heads and whining, “Bring back Stewart Copeland!” So Sting took a page from Paul Simon’s book and started assembled some people of color. Unlike Simon, he manages not to sound like he’s anointing himself world music messiah. This is pretty amazing, considering that a number of the tracks on his first solo album, THE DREAM OF THE BLUE TURTLES, have incredibly serious subject matter, like nuclear war (“Russians,” anyone?). BLUE TURTLES also includes what might be the most beautiful, complicated song Sting has ever written, “We Work the Black Seam,” which musicalizes the UK miners’ strike of 1984 (you know, the one in BILLY ELLIOT). Mixing together strains of Celtic folk and jazz, it is a song that could make you forget that Sting would go on to record “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.” Even more insane, the album went triple platinum and had four singles in the Top 40. If you haven’t listened to BLUE TURTLES in a while, dig it out and give it a spin: is it even conceivable that “Fortress Around Your Heart” would be a hit single today?

Sade is like the inverse of Sting – black singer, white band, female, starting in jazz and progressing to pop. I used to listen to her PROMISE album back-to-back with BLUE TURTLES on those weekends when my parents dragged me out to their campsite by a man-made lake in Jersey, which I spent primarily talking on the phone long distance with my friends. We achieved 90 minutes’ peace and togetherness with the one-two punch of Sting’s smooth tenor (which is practically an alto) and Sade’s cool alto (which is sometimes a tenor). Most folks remember her first (and biggest) US hit, “Smooth Operator” (“No need to ahhhsk…”), but there’s a community of like-minded people out there – most of them members of university Afro-Am organizations – who hold a special place in their hearts for “Is It a Crime,” a lament for lost love at once artful, classy, messy, and immature.

Time marches on. The Cold War ends. The music industry gets greedier. Bands get angrier. Sting goes through male menopause. Sade gets a nasty divorce. The kids who are seeking something less MTV-oriented and slightly more musically challenging with a helping of diversity on the side start listening to Dave Matthews. But no matter how many fiftysomething couples may be getting it on while listening to “Fields of Gold” or “No Ordinary Love,” I’ve got S&S’s backs.

Saving All My Love for You (Single)

Saving All My Love for You (Single)

They don’t know, girl
The young ones

For all they know
You’re just the crazy lady
Married to the dude
Who puts butt cream under his eyes
(Not on his butt)

Or they might catch you
Making out with Kevin Costner
On the Oxygen Channel
And making another thousand bucks
For Dolly Parton

But I know

Legs that were longer
And straighter than flagpoles
If not especially endowed with rhythm

At least fifteen extra teeth

And songs that may or may not
Have made any sense
On topics like adultery
And first love
The magic of childhood
And masturbation

Next time I see you sweat
I hope it’s because
You’re holding that long note
And not because
You’re jonesing.

Peter Cetera

Peter Cetera

You know, I started to write this installment of the only-slightly-regular blog, and through a careless click of the mouse pad, lost the whole thing when I was almost done. A roaring flame of idle middle-class rage quickly engulfed my brain. It was enough to make me wonder whether my unconscious was trying to send me a message – maybe this particular subject was just not – GASP! – important enough to put out there in cyberspace for people to see. But evidently, I am just that good at ignoring my unconscious.

The fact of my (literal) Freudian slip is especially curious, considering that my subject is one I take on with some amount of shame. As those of you who know me in the real world are aware, I am ashamed of very few things, especially those that involve corny and/or trashy pop culture treasures from my formative years. It just goes to show that even the bravest among us have moments of weakness of which we may or may not be proud. Mine? Facing the fact of having had the same unreasoning, obsessive fondness for Peter Cetera’s “The Glory of Love” as did every newly-ovulating American girl the summer it was released. It wasn’t simply that I was denying this feeling to others, but even to myself: when an acquaintance bemoaned the fact that the hit tune, immortalized as the love theme from “Karate Kid II,” is not available on iTunes, I privately sneered. However, if I’m honest with myself and you, I must cop to having had plenty of “knight-in-shining-armor” daydreams while listening to Cetera warble, “I am a man who will fight for your honor” – yeah, right, you and how many other middle-aged tenors?

Perhaps it’s the appalling unsexiness of Cetera – especially to those of us young enough to be his daughters, or sons – that makes it so difficult for some of us to own our uncritical fixation on his solo slow-jams, the second-best of which is clearly “Next Time I Fall,” a duet with the personality-free gospel star Amy Grant. (Later he tried to get funky by singing with Chaka Khan and Cher, but no amount of unmanageable hair can camouflage Cetera’s blinding blondness.) The best antidote for this poisonous cowardice comes, in fact, from Cetera himself, specifically from his earlier rock ballads with Chicago. I suppose he must have believed he could seduce even more married women in the Midwest without the rest of the band holding him back, but even the Ralph Macchio-inspired grandeur of “Glory” pales in comparison to the sensitive machismo – or is that macho sensitivity? – of “You’re the Inspiration,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” and “Hard Habit to Break.” Listen to them one after another, and it’s like a mini-song-cycle; add in the videos that got this unphotogenic group on MTV – populated by girl next door blondes shot in soft focus – and you’re as heartbroken as you were when Andie chose Blane instead of Duckie on prom night.