Rock and roll hootchie-koo! Rock and roll is here to stay! Rock and roll never forgets! Rock and roll…
…is nowhere to be found on this playlist. I don’t know if it’s a sign that I’m comfortable in my masculinity or have no masculinity whatsoever, but I admit to a weakness for the occasional slice of musical cheese, and I don’t mean the equivalent of brie washed down with a fine Chablis but rather Cheez-Whiz on Ritz crackers washed down with a can of Schlitz.
I don’t succumb to just any piece of cheese. Much of the time, I’m musically lactose-intolerant. I wouldn’t be upset if Barry Manilow and Michael Bolton were suddenly struck mute for eternity, I firmly believe that the only proper arrangement of “Feelings” involves dynamite, and there should have been a follow-up to “You Light Up My Life” titled “You Set Fire to My Songwriter.” (I mean that literally – the writer of “You Light Up My Life” is currently awaiting trial on predatory sex charges.)
On my iPod, amongst the classic and the hip, I have an exceedingly un-hip playlist called “Guilty Pleasures,” consisting of songs that, if I had any shame at all, I would never publicly admit to feeling anything but revulsion. Many of the artists normally earn my scorn but, as the saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn sometimes.
Christina Aguilera, Beautiful: Aguilera is one of those singers compelled to fill every empty space with her vocalizing, even if she has to repeat the words multiple times, compelling me to jam sharp objects in my ears. This sweet ballad, however, features some rare vocal restraint and a lovely message of inclusiveness. Cool factor: Elvis Costello covered it for an episode of House.
(The Elvis Costello version)
Engelbert Humperdinck, A Man Without Love: Humperdinck may be the poor man’s Tom Jones, who may be in turn the poor man’s Elvis, but I’ve already mentioned once how I fell for this song after seeing James Gandolfini singing along to it in a movie called Romance and Cigarettes. Cool factor: If Tony Soprano likes it, that’s good enough for me.
(Gandolfini performing it in "Romance and Cigarettes." Worth checking out.)
The Four Lads, Standing On the Corner: A song from the Broadway musical The Most Happy Fella about the joys of ogling the fairer sex, complete with faux wolf whistles, this was a Top 5 hit when I was 5 years old in 1956 that I pictured being sung by young guys with short blonde hair and cardigan sweaters. Turns out I was pretty close. Cool factor: Their first hit was the original of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” which They Might Be Giants memorably covered.
(This is what the Four "Lads" look like now. If I saw them standing on a corner, I might want to call the authorities.)
Britney Spears, Piece of Me: Truly a guilty pleasure, because I am troubled by loving such a piece of borderline exploitation. The lyrics address Britney’s public meltdowns, she sings them as if she was just awakened from a coma, yet the electronic beat keeps me bouncing, and like most celebrity scandals, I can’t look away. I always feel like I should take a shower afterwards, though, and I don’t mean a cold one. Cool factor: Richard Thompson and Fountains of Wayne have covered Britney songs, and Sonic Youth recorded a song, “Malibu Gas Station,” about Britney’s legendary breakdown.
Miley Cyrus, Party in the USA: I’m sorry, but it’s a catchy dance song, even if she name-checked Jay-Z without actually knowing any of his songs. Don’t be hatin’. Cool factor: Um, she knows what a bong is for?
Tiny Tim, Bye Bye Blackbird: From a surprisingly good mid-1990s album he recorded with the polka-rock band Brave Combo, which included his unique take on “Stairway To Heaven,” it’s campy, of course, but features his distinctive falsetto trill in spurts. Cool factor: Brave Combo was the wedding band at David Byrne’s nuptials.
Hurricane Smith, Oh Babe: A recording engineer for the likes of the Beatles and Pink Floyd, Smith achieved an unexpected #1 hit in 1971 with this sax-driven tune which sounds like it should be sung during a ballroom dance. Cool factor: The recording was a demo Smith had made in the hopes that it would be recorded by Lennon, who had bestowed Norman Smith with his nickname “Hurricane.”
(Hurricane Smith performing on the Johnny Carson Show)
Guy Mitchell, Singing the Blues: A #1 hit in (again) 1956, which must have been a formative year for me. I swear I was listening to Elvis too! Cool factor: The Mertzes (Vivian Vance and William Frawley) sang the song in a commercial for the Edsel.
(I couldn't find the Mertzes' commercial for the Edsel, but here's another.)
Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66, Mais Que Nada: I’m not sure if this should count as a guilty pleasure, since Mendes has a semi-hip reputation, but I know that when this record was a hit when I was 15, I was embarrassed by how much I liked it. Cool factor: Mendes re-recorded the song in 2006 with the Black-Eyed Peas.
The Carpenters, Close to You: I’ve mentioned once how I was in my local record store, looking for a new Clash album, and when I heard this song on the store radio, I began singing it out loud. I'm not ashamed. Cool factor: Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I’m Not There) established his career by making a film version of the Carpenters’ story, Superstar, using Ken and Barbie dolls. What’s not cool is that Richard Carpenter successfully sued Haynes to prevent public showings of his film. (Well, Haynes was using the music without permission.)
Backstreet Boys, I Want It That Way: If you had tween daughters in the late 1990s, as I did, the boy bands were unavoidable, and this was their best piece of ear candy. Max Martin, the producer of much of the boy band/Britney music, is a genius. An evil genius, but still. Cool factor: Famed music critic Robert Christgau named this his #1 single of 1999. So there.
(Yeah, I know it's not the Backstreet Boys, but this group had Justin Timberlake, and he dated Scarlett Jo. I bow down with envy.)
Gilbert O’Sullivan, Alone Again (Naturally): A piano ballad about considering suicide after being jilted, this was one of the biggest hits in the 1970s. I’ve heard a big band version by Bobby Darin that makes the lyrics sound ridiculous. I much prefer O’Sullivan’s understated vocals. Cool factor: Sofia Coppola used it on the soundtrack of The Virgin Suicides. Or is she not cool anymore?
(Seriously, dude, fix your hair.)
Cher, Believe: Whatever the esthetic principles behind Auto-Tune, damn, it sounds irresistible here, and as catchy as an STD. Cool factor: Do drag queens imitate you? I rest my case.
Well, now I'm feeling more than a little cheesy. I need to listen to something with a little more depth. Time to break out my "Best of Disco" collection.