Monday, January 28, 2008

The Top Ten Musical Guilty Pleasures

PART ONE OF THREE

Perplexio, the owner of a blog I read regularly named The Review Revue, recently challenged me to post an article listing my favorite musical guilty pleasures after he recently posted his personal Top Twenty.

Wikipedia accurately defines the term "guilty pleasure" as follows: "A guilty pleasure is known as something one considers pleasurable despite it being mainly received negatively or looked down on by a majority of society. References to guilty pleasures are often used in terms of the arts and entertainment, such as music, film, and television and other aspects of popular culture."

My number one all time guilty pleasure will be covered in a separate article as Bloggerhythms first post in February. So keeping Wikipedia's definition in mind, here, in the approximate chronological order I discovered them, are nine of my top ten guilty pleasures.

Herman's Hermits
Lead singer Peter Noone (Herman) and his band were part of the "cute" division of the original British Invasion. The Hermits appealed to rock music fans, mostly girls, who thought that Herman was adorable and The Rolling Stones were too evil looking. Even Paul McCartney looked sinister by comparison. The Hermits weren't particularly talented, and there is even some question about whether the band actually played on most of their own records, but their producer, Mickey Most, knew what he was doing in the studio using Noone and the band to produce many lightweight but fun little ditties. Hit singles released under their name in the mid-sixties included, "I'm Into Something Good," "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat," "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter," "I'm Leaning On A Lamppost," and what is probably their most famous song, "There's a Kind Of Hush." My favorites included their sprightly remake of "Silhouettes," "She's A Must To Avoid," and "No Milk Today." They had a handful of other hit singles including "Dandy," a song they stole from Ray Davies and The Kinks.

The Monkees
Much of what can be said about Herman's Hermits also applies to Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork but The Monkees had far more talent than The Hermits. Sometimes they were even allowed to play on their records and write their own songs. They were more than capable musicians but the controlling powers behind the scenes wanted to make sure their music and image were packaged to the world in a specific way because TV ratings and record sales were paramount. To their credit the band eventually grew to resent their image and rebelled. Over the decades their famous TV show has made them such major icons of 60s pop culture that today they are now considered cool by many of the same detractors who used to criticize them as as the "Pre-Fab Four" and they are now seen as candidates for the Rock n' Roll Hall Of Fame. In 2008 I can still listen to "Stepping Stone" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" with a big smile on my face.

The Monkees fans were mostly girls who gave up on The Beatles whose music had become less innocent and more sophisticated by 1966. Both The Monkees debut single "Last Train To Clarksville" and their TV show were unleashed on the world the same year The Beatles released their superb hit single, "Eleanor Rigby," and the album it came from, the very LSD and Indian influenced Revolver.

Three Dog Night
During their heyday Three Dog Night were mostly a guilty pleasure in the eyes of music critics and the snobs who ate up their words. The Dogs committed the two biggest musical crimes of the 70s: they didn’t write their own songs and they were a quintessential singles band. The rest of us, who apparently didn’t know any better, were fans. They had an unusual lineup consisting of three lead singers who didn’t play any instruments and a permanent four piece backing band whose individual names I actually knew at one time. Vocalists Cory Wells, Danny Hutton, and Chuck Negron could sing rock and blue-eyed soul with the best in the best business, they often featured great harmonies, and they were impeccable ballad singers. Negron’s lead vocal on a cover of Stevie Wonder’s "Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer" is spectacular. Late in their career they proved the critics right by selling tons of the hideous children’s anthem "Black and White," a sin from which they never recovered. Three Dog Night seems to be a forgotten group today even though they were one of the most popular bands of the first half of the 70s.

The Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive
The Bee Gees are not a guilty pleasure but their soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever is. I not only loathed disco music I loathed the entire disco scene as well but there is something special about this huge hit from that soundtrack that I still can't resist. The song proves how much more talent The Bee Gees had than your standard, run-of-the-mill disco artist. It doesn't sound like most other disco records and it's far superior instrumentally. It doesn't have that monotonous, droning, electric bass and drum beat that every other disco song overused. There is no doubt about it, "Stayin' Alive" truly is a very cool song.

Chicago - Hot Streets
Let me start off by stating that the original version of Chicago were not, and should never be considered, a guilty pleasure. However, by the time they got to 1978's Hot Streets, their twelfth album and first without Terry Kath, they had long since given up trying to create arty records and evolved into a well oiled hit machine. I hated this album when it came out because I believed it was a total sellout. Today I view Hot Streets quite differently as you can read here in a full review of the album. It would be Chicago's last good record for sixteen years.

Michael Jackson - Thriller
Unlike most of the music discussed on this list Thriller was an album that was universally critically acclaimed because it's loaded with great songs. Even a rock 'n roller like me bought this album when it came out in 1982. Why then is it a guilty pleasure? The answer is simple. It's by Michael Jackson, a man who has sunk so low in the public's opinion that it truly has become an embarrassment to say you like this album or even acknowledge the man's existence. Today you have to separate Jackson from the music to fully appreciate Thriller.

Celine Dion - My Heart Will Go On
Yes, it's the famous song from the 1997 movie Titanic. It's very melodramatic and everything you are supposed to hate about Ms. Dion but I love both the song and her performance. The movie and song complement each other perfectly.

Savage Garden Live At The Mann Center For The Performing Arts, Philadelphia, PA, July 22, 1999
No, I'm not a fan. Anybody who records a song like "I Knew I Loved You" can't be all good but since they also recorded the spunky "I Want You" they can't be all bad either. Why do I consider them a guilty pleasure when I only know the names of about four of their songs? Because in the summer of 1999, I took my daughter to her very first rock concert. It was Savage Garden at the excellent outdoor venue, The Mann Center For The Performing Arts in Philadelphia and, much to my surprise, I didn't hate them. In fact I had quite a pleasant evening. Of course my daughter loved the show by her favorite band from her high school years. While the music was geared toward teenagers it was professionally done by a band who knew exactly what they wanted to achieve and succeeded nicely. However, if I've heard Savage Garden more than once since that night it has been by accident.

The Corrs
The Corrs last CD, Home was my favorite release of 2006. Returning to their Irish folk roots finally provided them with some much needed street cred. If they continue to mine the Celtic songbook in lieu of their penchant for producing slick, often over-produced pop they may have to be removed form this list. Here is the complete review of Home.

Coming Up Next: Part Two - My Ultimate Guilty Pleasure.

5 comments:

  1. I disagree about Hot Streets being the band's last great album for 16 years. I thought 1982's 16 was (up to that point) the band's best post-Terry Kath album. There's a hunger on 16 that wasn't there on 17 or 18. Chicago was dead in the water when Foster took them on, so he was essentially taking some chances on 16... They panned out and because they panned out-- we ended up with Chicago 17, which took the musical formula Foster had established on 16 one step further (and many, myself included, would argue-- one step TOO far). 16 still had a bit of musical integrity to it that the other Foster produced (and later the Nevison and Nevison/Sanford produced albums) lacked. Imho the best post Terry Kath Chicago albums are:

    1. Stone of Sisyphus
    2. 16
    3. Hot Streets

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  2. Oh Boy! I'm sort of with you on this one. In a conditional sort of way!
    First two, HH and the Ms, I couldn't agree more. 'No Milk Today' (Graham Gouldman, I think) is wonderful and most of the Monkees stuff is still listenable today.
    Next 4, I'm with you in spirit but they are not up to the first two's standard. You know about me and Chicago so no further comment! The last three I can take or leave.

    Can't wait for the next installment! Sould be fun.

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  3. Well it's nice that you appreciate The Monkees, they were very good for what they were doing, but your comment that they played on some of their albums is a bit misleading. They played the instruments on all of the albums starting with Headquarters, which was their third.

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  4. Velvetcyberpunk:

    According to the All Music Guide The Monkees returned to using mostly studio musicians on their next two albums following Headquarters.

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  5. Is it even permissible any more for a straight guy to admit liking Cher? Love her or hate her, she is one of those few performers (Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison come to mind) who has an immediately recognizable voice and sounds like no one else. You don't last that long without doing SOMETHING right...

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