Sunday, June 02, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 2: A Song You Hate From A Band You Love

There's very little that is more disappointing to a true music fan than when his or her favorite band records a bona fide stinker of a song.  When that happens, as it does all too often, I suspect most of us self-respecting music-lovers just avert our eyes/ears, turn away in ashamed obligation, give a conciliatory shrug and subsequently commence making lame excuses on behalf of our beloved.

You know the excuses I'm talking about.  The kind of excuses you make for your drunk, loud-mouthed, oh-crap-did-she-just-fall-down-in-public? or oh-crap-did-he-just say-that-using-his-outside-voice?,  generally misbehaving date.  Or the kind of excuses you make for your garbage-strewn, barely functional, leaking who-knows-what, P.O.S. car.  Or the otherwise totally endearing excuses you make for your half-blind, half-deaf, three-legged and certifiably ugly dog.  Yes, admit it, you know they're embarrassing.  Yes, you know their appearance or behavior or attempts at even a minimal level of appropriateness are dismal failures.  But, you also know that, on the whole, on their better days, they're better than this particular showing.  Really, honestly, I SWEAR TO YOU, you will no doubt continue to protest, they're not as bad as they seem right now.

To wit, there are a lot of solo artists that I love who've recorded some real lemons at some point in their careers.  Even the best of them.  (See: Johnny Cash's "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" or just about anything that Bob Dylan recorded in the 80's.)  But, to be honest, I feel like solo artists should be given more latitude on this one, even if only because there is a number greater than one of presumably reasonable voters to blame for making the bad artistic decision.  Today's prompt in the 30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel) asks for a song I hate from a band that I love, which requires first that I whittle down the bands I love from the bands I like and, second, that I sniff out the stinkiest of my beloved's stinkers. 

Now, the band I love most is The Rolling Stones, and they've certainly recorded their fair share of doozies. See, for example, what can only (generously) be described as a truly, no kidding really, awful "practice outtake": the 1983 disaster "Pretty Beat Up" from the Stones' album Undercover. (Take it from a girl who's played in more than her share of sh**ty bands, "Pretty Beat Me Up"  is really an embarrassment of a band practice, even.)   Nevertheless, even the worst of the Stones' flops haven't managed to generate in me actual "hatred." As I was suffering through my least favorite of the Stones' duds in search of a truly objectionable one, I realized that I was going about today's challenge in the wrong way.  What I needed to do first, I realized, was try to figure out what it is about a song that inspired in me genuine loathing.  Was it the sound?  Was it the songwriting?  Was it the instrumentation or delivery or execution or arrangement?

No, alas, it was none of these offenses in particular, each of which can be found in unfortunate more-or-less abundance among the very best of my beloved bands.  Instead, I determined finally, what I found most objectionable in the songs I really hated (from the bands I really loved) was simple:  a pure, unadulterated, truly unpalatable quantity of cheese.

What may or may not be surprising, then, about my selection for today is that it comes from a band that I really do love, that I do not find to be "cheesy" at all.  In my estimation, they're not, on the whole, pedestrian or saccharine or cornball in the least.  But they are a band that many people judge to be the very opposite, that is, the sine qua non of sonic cheese. I'm talking about The Beach Boys. of course. And regardless of whether or not you think The Beach Boys' sound in sum is cheesy (which I do not), this song, I think we call can agree, is disgustingly dripping with cheese.  It's The Beach Boys 1988 single "Kokomo":



My arteries just got clogged listening to it again.

Amazingly, this song (released as a single after being featured in the 1988 Tom Cruise film Cocktail, a cinematic version of the same variety of cheese) was nominated for a Grammy Award in the "Best Song written for a Motion Picture" category.  And, even more amazingly, it lost.  TO AN EVEN CHEESIER SONG.  (For the record, the 1988 Cheese Champion was none other than Phil Collins' "Two Hearts".)  There are just too many levels of truly despicable catchpenny in the story of this song, really.  First, everyone knows that the Grammy category "Best Song for a Motion Picture" might as well be called "This Year's Most Cheesy Song" category.  (I'm not kidding, check out the list of winners.)  Second, ANY category of song in which you find yourself competing with Phil Collins is clearly a milk-coagulation contest, and you should be ashamed to be a contestant.  Third, if you LOSE to Phil Collins' master-coagulating Milkmaid-cum-Milquetoast Powers in a contest that you did not immediately withdraw yourself from out of respect for the basic requirements of rudimentary musical integrity, well, I'm not sure what that proves other than that even your best cheese stinks.  And not in the way that good stinky cheese stinks.

I love The Beach Boys.  Brian Wilson is one of the great geniuses of American pop music, of harmony and instrumentation, of the last half-century.  He belongs in the same category as Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan.   In fact, I think that The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" (written, of course, by Wilson) may very well be the most perfectly beautiful 3 minutes of pop music ever produced,... really, hands-down, no contest. Which makes the fact that "Kokomo" is an outright travesty even harder to swallow, and even easier to hate.  "Kokomo" is nothing but a stayed-up-all-night and cranked-out-the-minimum-necessary-to-fulfill-the-assignment work of some granola stoner enrolled in the online-college equivalent of a Music Department fluff course.  Composition for Caribbean Cruise-line Commercials 101. (Yeah, okay, I just read those last two sentences back to myself and that judgment may be a little harsh.)  Whatever.  The most generous thing I can say of "Kokomo" in the end is that it was about 30 years ahead of its time... because, without a doubt, if The Beach Boys hadn't written it, that puka-necklace-wearing cornball-cowboy Kenny Chesney surely would have.

And c'mon, let's be honest, that's not saying a lot.

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Nostalgic?  Here's my Day Two entry for the original version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

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