Thursday, November 27, 2008

Greatest Songs of the 80s - the YBA POV

I snagged the CD the instant it was on the shelf.

Wild horses couldn't stop me from listening and writing about it.


A 10-hour drive to see the inlaws, with a toddler puking all over the car half way through then an emergency cleanup (we were the talk of the car wash that day) then finally arriving in the middle of &^%$%& nowhere, to stay in a 130-year-old house with ONE bathroom, whose plumbing is almost as old as the house; bunking in with 5 other relatives and their families, and the above-mentioned toddler insisting on sleeping with Mommy and Daddy instead of in her own little bed, then waking up to miles and miles of harvested corn and soybean fields and nothing else...... THAT stopped me from writing about it.

This is the kind of Thanksgiving family gathering you talk about for years and years. We'll see how this blog goes because I'm right on the edge of the broadband network and connectivity has been touch-and-go. I really mean it when I say we're in the middle of nowhwere. (Oh look, a couple of deer. Wonder if they know there's a hunter in that blind.....oops, guess not!)

Back to music and down to business.

Islands in the Stream - is there anything else about this track that I could gush about that I haven't already? Of course there is! I finally realized why I like this so much, besides the catchy melody, etc. The original version had too much contrast in the vocals between Rogers and Parton. It was fun, but it was what it was: country kitsch, just this side of "Hee Haw". The vocals on this one are smoother and Reba, while obviously country, has a quality that matches Barry's better. More pop with a little country undertone. My favorite is still the Vegas stage show. Probably because that was the first time I heard it.

Open Arms - I heard a number of versions of Barry's take on this song before ripping it to my iPod and settling in with it. First was the bootleg on YouTube. (Note to TPTB - I SAW the bootleg, I didn't make it, OK?) Then the Tonight Show performance, then QVC some other videos.... I just wasn't sure about it. Then I checked out a chat board dedicated to Journey. Journey has more than its fair share of douchebags in their fan base. They came out of the woodwork when the band started going through lead singers like paper napkins at a barbeque. That didn't help matters, although a few brave souls confessed to being Barry fans and enjoying the remake. I would have saved myself a lot of angst if I just blew off the previews and listed to the track directly. Barry turned the orchestration up to 11. The depth of it is almost decadent, like taking a bath in warm chocolate pudding. The only way he can match that in concert is to have a full symphony backing him up. The thing was the previews didn't sound like he "owned" the song; you still thought of Journey. Barry's orchestration is beyond anything Cain and Perry could dream of.

Never Gonna Give You Up - not much more I can add to this one either. It just sounds fun. And it's a great get-up-and-dance-and-clap-along-even-if-you're-a-civilian song. This type of uptempo number is as easy for Barry as rubbing sleep out of his eyes in the morning.

Have I Told You Lately - another one I couldn't imagine. What else is he going to do with it? Ah, OK, accoustic guitar and brushes on the drums, that'll do it!! With a little more jazz sax instead of guitar, slow it down further, this might have fit on Paradise Cafe. The kind of thing you slow-dance to at the end of the night when the club is closed and the staff are busing tables and hoping you'll finish up and get out so they can go home. ;-)

I Just Called to Say I Love You - I hated this song. I mean really hated it. The video was cheezy, even by 80s standards and the tune and arrangement gave bubble gum a bad name. Barry's really doing a lot of guitar these days and it's showing up a lot in this album. The 50s/60s (not sure on the decade - sorry, before my time....) bossa nova made this song sound made for mature adults rather than teenagers. Love the vocal - like he's whispering into the microphone. I can just imagine a video for this one: lots of late-50s pastels, soft focus and bright spotlights, early evening at the dinner club type of setting. MMmmmmmm.......

Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now) - I didn't hear anything special in the original. Again: What can he do with this? What makes it most special is that he layers piano, over guitar, over full orchestration and you can hear all the parts - it doesn't get muddy. It doesn't hurt that I prefer Barry's singing voice to Phil Collins' any day.

Careless Whisper - another that I wasn't suprised at. Smart not to change or remove or do anything else with the sax. It makes the song and whatever else you do, you have to keep it. Again with the guitar added in. Makes the song more of a Latin jazz style than pop. George Michael doesn't have the chops for this version.

Right Here Waiting - Made for Barry as-is, but he's not going to leave it alone. :-) Here it goes in the opposite direction: the original had more accoustic elements and now he brings in more 80s synth. This song would make a good concert ballad with light show emphasizing all of the different kinds of synth.

Arthur's Theme - my favorite going in, based on the track list alone. What little girl doesn't love a Cinderella story and this one was shot on location at all of the places I knew growing up. Barry didn't have to do much with the orchestration - all he had to do was sing clearly! This is why he does Christopher Cross so well. Christopher Cross is to music what Boomhauer is on King of the Hill. You may not get all of the words but you just kinda get the gist of it. I've listened to this song for years, since seeing the movie in the theatre and this is the first time I understood all of the words. Again, don't touch the sax, you need the sax as is.

Hard to Say I'm Sorry - I'm noticing a theme here: whatever the original artist did, do the opposite. Peter Cetera put in tons of layers on the original and here they are all stripped down to a few essentials. Nice echo on the vocals in the beginning, then bell-type synth, is that an electronic drum in the background? And some of the background vocals are synthed as well. If you just do a little of that, it doesn't sound cheezy, it emphasizes the emotion and lyrics in the right places. He saved a little bit of Chicago tribute with the horn at the end. ;-)

Time After Time - you know Barry can do this one well but it's been done to death through the 80s, it's been a jingle several times over, it's almost a stereotype or parody of itself by now. Oh wait, open it up with cello then open up the full orchestration. Like "I Just Called..." pull out the pop elements and replace them with real orchestration and it's an entirely new song.

I've Had the Time of My Life - I thought Barry was joking when he talked about making this a ballad on QVC. Someone's on a guitar kick and I love it! There is more passion and more intensity in this version than the original could dream of. It curled my toes up. Perfect closer.
I think everyone who's a serious fan should do their own review of however they hear the record. When Barry gets the recordings done and the engineers finalize the mix and ship it off to the production company, their job is over. But when each of us hears it is going to hear different elements at different times and bring something else - so it becomes something new that the musicians couldn't have thought of. I don't presume to know what Barry was thinking when he compiled this record and if I tried, I don't doubt that I'd be wrong. Besides I know I'm an amateur and there's probably lots that I've missed. But be that as it may, this is my new favorite of the "decades" series. (The 50s is a close second.)

For anyone out there who thinks they're bored or frustrated with the decades albums and wants Barry to do something "new", this IS new. The way these songs were taken apart and reassembled, they are basically entirely new creations. I won't complain if Barry decides to do his own original music at some point, but I wouldn't say this record isn't "new". It is new, and suprisingly so.

So it's back to the inlaws now. Turkey is going on the table soon. The holidays are a lot of different things to a lot of people so I'll just say that whatever you have planned today and in the coming weeks, I hope it's what makes you happy. As for me, I have a great family, great inlaws, and a place to be loved on Thanksgiving. Can't ask for more than that.


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