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Can You Hear Me, Major Tom?

Posted 4 days, 10 hours ago by Penguin Pete

It's amazing to think that David Bowie is still kicking around in the entertainment scene after all these years. He just released an album "The Next Day," last year. From that album, the single "Where Are We Now?" shot to the top of the UK Singles charts at #6 in the same year - Bowie's first top-10 in over 2 decades.

This is the same David Bowie the Internet all knows and loves from this...

Yeah... at least it's presumably the same guy. We're not sure if he's some kind of immortal shapeshifter or what. He's certainly reinvented himself with each passing decade, seeming to belong more to another world than this one. He has recently released a statement that he is never, ever touring again or granting an interview again, and one could hardly blame him. He has appointed longtime producer / manager Tony Visconti his designated "voice on Earth" (yes, he put it just that way).

Lest you think from all this reclusive-ness together with the weird posing on that first video that he's gone Michael Jackson on us, here he is in "Valentine's Day" from that same album:

There, see? He hasn't come down with some freakish skin disease or gotten hideous plastic-surgery. He's just messing with us.

Messing with us is what David Bowie does best. Just think of the movie Labyrinth. In a movie crammed with singing Jim Henson critters, '80s CGI, fantasy realms, and a living 3-dimensional M.C. Escher painting, David Bowie still figured out how to be the one thing we can't take our eyes off all the way through the film... for one reason or a couple of others.

See, throughout his career, he's created a string of stage personalities:

Major Tom

Yes, that's a music video in 1969. What, you thought MTV invented those? Anyway, this song is "Space Oddity," not to be confused with the actual song "Major Tom," which wasn't even by Bowie, but by Peter Schilling in 1983. Several artists have in fact contributed to the saga of Major Tom to the point where he's almost a public domain character. There's even supposed to be a connection to Elton John's "Rocket Man." Bowie's original song appears to be about an astronaut who wanders off into space instead of coming back to Earth... or something. There's another theory that it's actually about Bowie's sense of alienation from the world.

But in any case, you can see a very clear influence here from Stanley Kubrick's 1969 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which the song is even referencing in the name. A movie which, not to spoil it, does also involve a man wandering off in space... by one interpretation.

Ziggy Stardust / Aladdin Sane

In the early '70s, Bowie was an androgynous rock star who apparently got some kind of superpowers from contact with aliens, if we get the story straight.

And you thought Elton John was flamboyant. The Aladdin Sane character was basically Ziggy (not to be confused with the cartoon character, although for all we know Bowie picked it out of the newspaper). That is, Ziggy with a lightning bolt painted over his face, the look that became his signature.

The Thin White Duke

The film The Man Who Fell To Earth was not based on anything created by David Bowie, but on the novel by Walter Tevis. David Bowie just played the title character in the 1973 film. But you can see a definite arc from Kubrick to Bowie to Schilling. People went space-happy for a couple decades, what are you going to do?

This became his final branded stage persona. In the late 1970s, after his role in the film, he adopted the character for himself, exhibiting an almost Peter-Sellers-like tendency to want to put on fictional characters rather than be himself.

We're all the way back to 2013: The version of himself portrayed in "Love is Lost" from the "The Next Day" album is the Thin White Duke himself. That is, the puppet. The creepy, creepy puppet you'll be seeing in your nightmares...

David Bowie has changed over and over, and yet remains the same him. It's just that he made sure we got used to his eccentricities right up front, the way you'd wear a clown nose to a job interview when your resume pretty much guarantees you'll get hired anyway. It's so that we'd expect anything at all from him and accept it all. There's art pop, and then there's David Bowie.

He just exists on a different plane, man. His first personality wasn't the original him, either. That's just the point where his life happened to begin on the third rock from Sol, and he was other people in other lifetimes on other planets before and he's going to go on to something else after he's done here. That's clearly the narrative we're supposed to accept, and it's one we're happy to live with. The man's been entertaining us for four decades and hasn't broken character once.

Revenge of the Unknown Ubuweb Songs

Posted 3 weeks, 4 days ago by Penguin Pete

A long time ago (in a galaxy right next door to Loopyville) we covered the marvelous archives of the obscure, offbeat, and ridiculous. Those posts are here:

...and now we'll revisit this silly space. Because it's fun, you get to discover something you've never listened to before, and this just feels like the right time of year for novelty weirdness.

"Clap Your Tentacles" - Happy Monsters

MP3 here

Suggested listening: In your living room sofa-pillow fort.

Take the karaoke track to James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," but instead of vocals, substitute a trip to the toy aisle of Dollar General where you raid the New Year's Eve noise-maker shelf and play everything you can get your mitts on. And the point of this was again?

"I Hate Men" - Nancy Walker

MP3 here

Suggested listening: Right after you've finally listened to your mother and packed up to leave the big dumb jerk.

Before you get to thinking that this was original with her, Nancy Walker's whole album is composed of cover songs of established stage musical numbers. But you might be forgiven for suspecting that if your whole career were defined by cleaning up after baseball teams while hawking paper towels, you'd hate men too. I mean come on, he deliberately pours the creamer on the counter right in front of her - just "Guess where this goes? Right there! Yeah, now mop it up, wench!"

"Paralyzed" - The Legendary Stardust Cowboy

MP3 here

Suggested listening: Any public activity that begins with alcohol and nudity and ends with your mugshot on the front page of a Florida newspaper.

Crank your speakers up for this one! This song is living proof that what you lack in talent can be made up in ENTHUSIASM! Mind you, the write-up says that he was dead serious about his music. He hated to be laughed at. So no laughing during his performance; you laugh, you lose. This guy was inventing psychobilly before The Cramps were a twinkle in a studio executive'e eye.

"Nothin' But A Pencil Neck Geek" - Fred Blassie

MP3 here

Suggested listening: At your next Magic: The Gathering FNM draft (Khans of Tarkir debuts this weekend! Go team Jeskai!).

Well, this should be some relief. This is an actual professional number for a change, in fact even a staple of the venerated Dr. Demento radio show. Freddie Blassie was a professional and all, after all. We didn't say what profession. And nowadays, this song is awash in irony, as the meaning of the word "geek" has come all the way around from what it meant at the time of this song. Which is why we need it now more than ever, to bring "geek" back to being an insult so everyone will quit pretending to be one just to be cool.

"Chicken Fat" - Robert Preston

MP3 here

Suggested listening: Doing anything at all but exercising.

How about Robert Preston, in character as professor Harold Hill of Music Man fame, making a record to motivate teenagers at P.T., in a government-funded project that sent records out to all the public schools in the nation? Singing a song all about chicken fat? Why haven't we outlawed high school P.T. yet? It's just an excuse for pervert coaches to leer at pre-legal girls in tight shorts, when they aren't busier looking at the boys.

 

NO VIDEO AVAILABLE

"Pass-a No Gas" - The Greene County Boys

MP3 here

Suggested listening: Build a Broadway stage show around this group immediately!

Come on, everybody, sing along! "I'm oh so bloated 'cause I pass-a no gas!" See, this was the Greene County Boys - a sextet of doctors. And if you think "Pass-a No Gas" was a blow-out, wait until you hear their other medical-themed numbers, including "A Little Pentothol," "It Must Be a Virus," "Halitosis Beats No Breath At All," and who can forget the smash hit "Menopause"? Three albums put out by these guys to fund medical scholarships - and they're just lying dormant, undiscovered, awaiting their explosion onto the Internet for meme immortality!

Here it is, dear readers. The fate of the fame of The Greene County Boys now rests in your hands. With no bid for our own site's popularity, we will state bluntly that if you do not do everything in your power to spread the genius of the Greene County Boys to the web at large, you'll just have to live with yourself for the rest of your life.

Nelvana Entertainment and the Rock & Roll Road to Hell

Posted on 7/9/14 by Penguin Pete

Strap on your helmet so you don't make a mess when we blow your mind, because we're about to show you that there's a continuous karass in pop culture history that connects Woodstock, Star Wars, Heavy Metal, the Beatles, and the Care Bears.

We begin with Nelvana studios in Toronto, Ontario, and a forgotten animated Halloween TV special from 1978, name of The Devil and Daniel Mouse:

In it, a pair of folk-singing mice despair of ever reaching fame and fortune, but the female of the duo slips into a Faustian bargain with B.L. Zebubb, an infernal record producer who isn't supposed to remind you of Don Kirshner more than a lot. Said mouse becomes "Funky Jan" and achieves '70s rock success in a hilarious montage of '70s parody, while abandoning her former partner, before the slimy Zebubb comes back to collect her soul. Former stage-mate Daniel holds a trial to contest her contract which they win through the groovy power of folk rock. The songs are by none other than the face of Woodstock himself, John Sebastian, AKA founder of the Lovin' Spoonfuls.

But Star Wars fans right now are experiencing a rippling disturbance in the Force, as if the animation was vaguely familiar but they can't quite place it. Does this entry at Wookieepedia help? That's right, George Lucas was a fan of Nelvana and tapped them to produce the animated segment of The Star Wars Holiday Special, we already covered it here.

Now for the Heavy Metal angle: Nelvana had a shot at producing one of the animated segments for the 1981 film, but declined this opportunity, probably because they sensed what a disaster it would become. Instead they set out to do something that could even be considered to be a far superior effort, 1983's Rock & Rule:

Rock & Rule is nothing less than a retread of The Devil and Daniel Mouse. This time a sinister aging rock star (who isn't supposed to remind you of Steven Tyler more than a lot) forcibly recruits a nobody performer with a magic voice to summon a demon, and her old crew comes to bail her out. But this time Nelvana went big: their round-up of talent now included Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Cheap Trick, and Earth Wind & Fire.

In this film, you can definitely see some influence from what Heavy Metal became, but with a far more coherent production and story line. Albeit, a story that's out of its mind. One in which a friggin' demon is summoned from a laser-light-show pentagram through the arrangements of a villain whose theme song is voiced by Lou Reed. Plus all of these cute little references, like the characters being just a touch of homage to Ralph Bakshi and when Angel and the demon meet for the first time, we get just a glimpse of a Fay Wray and King Kong angle. Yeah, just look at this movie: This is what Heavy Metal could have been!

But Rock & Rule was a financial disaster; Nelvana, a studio which got its start filming with a camera tripod over a toilet using phone books to stack up animation cels to simulate zooms, spent $8 million dollars producing Rock & Rule and it literally opened and closed overnight.

What bailed out the studio? Classic '80s Saturday morning cartoons, that's what. Starting from a gig producing the first season of Inspector Gadget, they went on to produce Herself the Elf, Strawberry Shortcake, and the whole Care Bears franchise. Their previous association with George Lucas even got them a spot on the Star Wars animated spin-offs, Droids and Ewoks.

Nelvana went on to even greater fame and fortune which still continues today, so, perhaps, in a narrative that parallels their early stories of performers who learned a Very Important Lesson about signing contracts presented by shape-shifting dudes with their heads on fire, they have earned their redemption. But let's linger on a bit more about the studio's early days.

Nelvana was founded by animator Clive A. Smith, whose previous by-line included working on none other than Yellow Submarine and the Beatles animated TV series. What, you didn't know that existed? Well, here's an episode:

...and now you know a secret!

Do Music Awards Shows Even Matter Anymore?

Posted on 25/8/14 by Penguin Pete

So the big blog buzz today is what happened at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. But here in Internet-land, we thought we'd start right out looking at the irony of that situation:

Who listens to this stuff?

This is MTV we're talking about, a channel that hasn't shown an actual music video in about a decade. MTV is a reality TV channel. MTV handing out video music awards now makes as much sense as the Home Shopping Network handing out Nobel Prizes.

Top video winner: Miley Cyruss and her Wrecking Ball video. Wait a minute, isn't that the same wrecking ball we were all mercilessly mocking for the past year? The Internet fairly ruptured itself with memes parodying Miley.

Why do we have to line up and clap for her now?

In fact, you can't help but notice a huge disconnect between the artists honored at MTV and the groups people actually listen to. On the whole winner's list, not one of them shows up in our current trending artists list here at Lyric Interpretations. Of our trending artists list, only Taylor Swift shows up on the page about MTV at all; she performed, but was not honored.

What do people actually listen to?

Now, speaking as a parent of teenagers, I get to be pretty plugged in to what young people are listening to. Which is why I'm increasingly alarmed year after year to find them refusing to move on to their generation and clinging to mine instead.

Hot Topic. We may make fun of it, but kids still shop there in droves. There's a Hot Topic at your local mall, bet your fur. Stroll on in and take a gander at the T-shirts; Ramones, AC/DC, KISS, System of a Down, Sublime, Nirvana, Green Day, Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot, Fall-Out Boy, Foo Fighters...

Wait, sixteen-year-olds are now more into Kurt Cobain than they are modern top-40 radio? Because Kurt Cobain has been dead since before they were born. When a dead guy from 20 years back can connect with the kids of today more than a real live person right now, that's telling you how out of touch the whole top-40 and award scene is.

Go to school with your teenager and note the T-shirts the kids actually buy. Heck, even older than Hot Topic's demographic, there's Bob Marley, Guns 'n' Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden, Red Hot Chili Peppers...

And if we shift our focus outside the mall with kids raiding grandpa's album shelf, we'll find older generations listening to the same thing. And then after that, we turn to the Internet.

What do people pretend to listen to?

There is another class of music popular with a lot of people but either too obscure to find on a T-shirt that wasn't custom-printed, or just too niche to be appreciated by more than a select group. Now we're in heady college intellectual territory, with Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa (peace be upon the name of the prophet), Pulp, Cake, Neutral Milk Hotel, Television, Talking Heads, They Might Be Giants, Destroy All Monsters. You might dismiss some of these as "geek music," but don't look now, but we're all geeks. Internet culture is actually more relevant than radio now, I'd say.

And then there's the hipster factor. That's where you find Doors, Beatles, Velvet Underground, Parliament, Radiohead, Fugazi, Primus, Weezer, Dr. Dre... all on the same playlist. People who pick their music based on what will be good for them more than what they actually can rock out to. Don't get us wrong, we love all this stuff too! The ultimate irony of hipster culture is that it will have good taste, even if it's defiant taste, and what they think is popular will eventually be shared alike with non-hipsters.

Beyond that, we reach the gateway of Internet infinity. There are thousands and thousands of bands out there, with thousands of fans, and you've never heard of them. Neither have we, and we're a music website. Indy / arthouse / alternative artists, some of them going no farther than to record in their garage and mix in the bedroom on a laptop, now have more of a following than Frank Sinatra had in his day. This is because the Internet is a world-wide audience. You can have twice a Sinatra worth of fans, and still be obscure, unknown, and broke.

So who are these people who actually like top-40 music?

Oh, don't get us wrong. There's still fans out there for Eminem and Kanye West. But by and large, when queried about Kanye, most people will respond "Yes, I've heard of him." Not "Yeah, I have all his albums, he rocks!" Just "Kanye, oh, that jerk that married Kim Kardashian." We all know who these people are, but most of them aren't the same names on your iPod playlist. Most of them are merely famous for being famous.

The fact is, TMZ and Perez Hilton and the whole MTV world, lives in its own record industry bubble. That bubble is almost a secret underground society all its own. Rihanna, a great artist who's sold a lot of records and swept a lot of Grammys. And barely peeks into the bottom rungs of Grooveshark's popular playlist.

Who's on top of Grooveshark? Currently Maroon 5, Sla, Nico and Vinz, One Republic, and American Authors. I'll tell you this much, more people listened to music on Grooveshark this year than listened to music on MTV.

Good luck making sense of that.

Return of the Unique One-Hit Wonder Stories

Posted on 16/8/14 by Penguin Pete

Continued from part three, here's another dive into music's mythic pool of one-hitters with a story to tell. And when we say "one-hit wonder" we mean as far as the Billboard US Hot-100 chart is concerned. We also ponder the reason why the parties behind these hits never ascended the Billboard again, because they're fascinating, and they're like popcorn. You can't just read one of these. Where would our ad revenue be if you did that?

Junk Food Junkie - Larry Groce #9 1976

Reason: America lost its taste for microbiotic lentil puree.

It was the Jimmy Carter '70s, and the Baby Boomers aged into Yuppies and began to notice for the first time that they were finally getting older. This caused panic in the generation that thought they were immortal. Suddenly there was a flurry of interest in healthy living, to clean up after all of that unbridled hedonism of the '60s. Boomers desperately turned to anything they thought would help slow the black hand of impending death - God, Elvis, astral projection, jogging, and of course sunflower-seed tofu wraps. Health food stores became a huge fad, popping up all over like alfalfa sprouts in a rainstorm. Larry Groce was parodying this trend with the bicentennial hit, but never made the top charts again. He doesn't care; he's too busy hosting Mountain Stage to bother with such trivial matters as the Billboard Hot-100.

The Middle - Jimmy Eat World #5 2002

Reason: The Hot-100 hates alternative power-pop.

Jimmy Eat World has continued to release albums, tour, and routinely blow away the US Alternative chart on Billboard. Their most recent Alt Top-40 was "I Will Steal You Back" from the album Damage, dropped just months ago. So don't hassle them with this Hot-100 business, because if the Hot-100 doesn't include Jimmy Eat World, it's the chart's loss, not theirs. In the meantime we will always have our Sears' catalog underwear section parties. But just to say we said it, another reason that Jimmy Eat World might not be showing in mainstream is because the mainstream has a hard time telling them from Weezer.

Whoomp! (There It Is) - Tag Team #2 1993

Reason: That's all that was there.

"Whoomp!" is the penultimate one-hit wonder song, by a band which might as well have had "one-hit wonder" branded on their forehead. Tag Team was a Miami hip-hop group comprised of Cecil Glenn, Steve Gibson, and exactly one idea. After 1993 and the way the song penetrated sporting events with a vengeance, they tried various false starts and eventually released "Here it is, Bam!" in 1994, which charted #75 on the R&B. They also tried an Addams' Family remix, and released a Disney remix called "Whoomp! There it went," also in 1994. That was Tag Team throwing up their hands and admitting defeat right there. Their fourteen and a half minutes were up, and it was back to the gator farm.

Epic - Faith No More #9 1990

Reason: Americans hate being told they can't have something.

Faith No More had thriving chart success in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, all the way through the '90s. But this song alone caught on in the US, as the MTV generation briefly became fascinated by the flipping fish and exploding piano. This would make sense if they were from, say, Australia, but they hailed from San Francisco, which says weird things about their appeal. Add to this that a huge chuck of the US rock scene seemed to be infatuated with Faith No More; Nirvana, Metallica, Alice In Chains, and Guns 'n Roses all cited them as influences, while Cory Taylor of Slipknot flat out declares that seeing Faith No More at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards changed his life. With such a Velvet-Underground-level of influence on mainstream American rock, and having plinked the charts in the US Alt category at least, you'd think Faith No More could themselves crack the Hot-100 chart a second time? Nope! We'll have to chalk this one up to flying saucers. Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown!

I Touch Myself - Divinyls #4 1991

Reason: Americans washed their hands of the group.

Is this song about what I think it is? It is??? Eeeeewwww! In the stuffy Puritan US, coming out of the straight-jacket Conservative '80s, it's a rift in the space time continuum that this song made the charts at all. Heck, the only reason it wasn't banned by a Moral Majority mob led by Jack Thompson must be that they were all still too busy in court with 2 Live Crew. As it is, once the rebellion was put down, the Divinyls were never shown in the US again. However, there is that small peak of the concept that women are allowed to acknowledge their own sexuality. It has now been introduced into the stateside mind, a spark of independence that may yet see contraceptives freely available through corporate health care before the end of the century, give or take a couple more civil wars. Various celebrities have paid tribute or cover to the song, including Pink, Ben Folds Five, Weird Al Yankovic, and Eve 6. A few women may keep it on their playlists, right on their Kindle alongside 50 Shades of Gray, which they can enjoy under their burquas in relative peace as long as they don't talk about it. The sisterhood may rise again, yet.

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