A Tragedy, 2 Hits, And Aspirations For The Future

A Tragedy, 2 Hits, And Aspirations For The Future

It is the anniversary of 9/11 this month. My relationship with that event as a west coast dweller is complicated. Unless I experience something first had the stories always feel at a distance. So initially 9/11 was just a surreal news story I could not actually connect to. But then my neighbor who was a fireman felt it was his duty to go to New York and so I knew somebody involved and that helped make it more real. Even so, I didn’t have much feeling on it overall because I’d already been emotionally drained empty by my own family trauma. Also, in terms of national news I was more devastated by the Columbine shootings and the political response and division a couple years prior. So, when 9/11 occurred I was more or less done with politics and humanity. Plus, I understood why a kid might go on such a rampage even if at the time I could never openly empathize that way. But let’s not do anymore of that heavy lifting. The world is already down enough with everything going right now in 2021.

Let’s talk about music!

It is the anniversary of two very iconic and VERY different songs; John Lennon’s hopeful, “Imagine” and Kylie Minogue’s obsessive and carnal, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”. Two songs that defined their eras and the artists who recorded them.

“Imagine”, turns 50 this year.

At this point it is easy to pass off the song as overplayed and overly saccharine. It comes on and we know it and just sort of let it run its course as opposed to taking in its ideals. People have commented the hypocrisy of the song coming from somebody who by many accounts was an asshole.

I imagine if Lennon were around today and younger and fresher he would’ve been canceled by twitter, reddit, and The View. I also doubt he would’ve written, “Imagine” in this climate. Besides, I think people who focus on his flaws are missing the point. I think Lennon knew he wasn’t perfect and “Imagine” is not a command it is an aspiration (maybe more so for himself than anyone else). Still, I think it is something we as people should be striving towards and yet always seem to take one step forward two steps back as a whole species.

About 10 years ago now, I designed some buttons that I give out for free that say, “Love Everybody”.

It is a simple message and a simple design. People LOVE them because it’s catchy, short, and the idea is great even if people can never fully implement it. Some have even told me directly I’m asking a lot or that they simply can’t love everybody. And I say, “It’s an aspiration not a command”. Also, I am flawed and imperfect just like Lennon but that doesn’t mean I don’t think we can’t all try to move towards a more unified positive end goal. I am definitely jaded/cynical and so my buttons and songs like, “Imagine” are what keep me from total blackout. I REALLY want everybody to just get along and have a good time, despite feeling like it will NEVER happen and I should give up.

Imagine was released in October of ‘71 in the later part of the Vietnam era, which had a plethora of “unity” type songs; “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”, both by Jackie Deshannon (the latter written by her). Stephen Stills gave us, “Love The One You’re With” and the Youngbloods had a hit with, “Get Together”. The Staples singers a had the iconic bass line of, “I’ll Take You There” and also, “Come Go With Me”. Wilbert Harrison gave us the funky, “Let’s Work Together”, later covered by Roxy Music. And two adjacent songs; Bill Wither’s, “Lean On Me” and Carole King’s, “You’ve Got A Friend” are iconic songs about friendship that I would also say fit the bill. Even Lennon & Ono gave us another similar song, the raga styled, “Give Peace a Chance” and The Beatles had; “All You Need Is Love”, “We Can Work It Out”, “Get By With A Little Help From My Friends”. And in a weird way, “Come Together” with itsnonsense lyrics could be seen in this light, I argue.

These songs were all HUGE hits in the US. We don’t and we haven’t had any hit songs with this kind of message for possibly decades. The last ones I can think of are Black Eyed Pea’s, “Where’s The Love” from 2003 and Seal’s, “Get Together” from the same year. Neither song made the Hot 100 but the latter was a HUGE club hit that year. And we were deep into the post 9/11 war on terror. So why didn’t that era of music produce more hit, “unity anthems” like the 60s did? It’s something I think about a fair bit when I take my deeper dives in pop.

I read about a study once where vocabulary usage in popular music was examined and it pointed out the drastic shift from a much wider vocabulary used in song lyrics over the years. It also commented on the shift in pronouns from the more inclusive; “us” & “we” to the more exclusive, “I” & “me” over the decades since the 50s. And “you” being used in a more accusatory fashion then inclusive. Off the top of my head, I can think of songs like; Katy Perry’s “Roar” or “Firework”, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, Pink’s “So What”, and Swift’s “Shake It Off”- all part of this new breed of self-empowerment/everybody is special anthems (which is fine of the surface) but they also seem to come with a little, middle finger swagger. An I got mine you get yours posturing. But for all the DGAF attitude it seems as if they very much GAF. This all about me ethos was definitely not something common to songs in the 60s or even 70s not even in the empowerment songs. “You Don’t Own Me”, “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, “I Will Survive” or the ultimate slice of saucy, Carly Simon’s, “You’re So Vain” seem tepid now in comparison to lyrics like these from Demi Lovato’s, “Sorry Not Sorry”:

Now, payback is a bad bitch
And baby, I’m the baddest
You fuckin’ with a savage
Can’t have this, can’t have this (Ah)
And it’d be nice of me to take it easy on ya, but nah

These lyrics also come off as much more explicit and direct, not to mention juvenile (despite being similar in age range to the songwriters/singers above when they wrote/recorded theirs hits). I feel like there is less fun/creative word play too (I mean no modern pop song has ever used the word gavotte). And the production sound is also harsher and less complex. I don’t hate these songs by any stretch. But the tone is definitely rougher and maybe even schoolyard cruel. And if you spend any time on the internet you’ve run into the kind of energy these songs represent in the comment sections. Personally,I’d be just fine if comment sections went away forever, IMDB tossed them out to great praise. But let’s not lane change topics.

And let’s also not look at, “Imagine” and its cohorts through psychedelic hippy rainbow glasses. Just because the songs were championing a better world doesn’t mean society on the whole was following suit. The US was VERY divided during the Vietnam era. Plus, there are plenty of songs from that time expressing righteous anger thanks to people like Bob Dylan, CCR, and others. But all of these songs came about precisely because the world WAS NOT giving peace a chance. Again, it was an aspiration, a hope, a dream… and maybe as the years have gone on the mainstream lost that hope and popular music today is the natural conclusion of that with all the shade throwing diss tracks and I don’t give a fuck party anthems. The music becoming less a response to the world and more a representation of it. The mindset being, if we can’t come together and the world is going to end anyway then I’m going to do my own thing and to hell with the rest of you. Bye.

Another criticism of “Imagine”, is that it is naive. But I say, “So what?” Dylan alone, told enough truth in his songs to last humanity centuries. We need a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down after all. And I hope one of these new pop acts like Dua Lipa or Olivia Rodrigo or somebody young covers the song and brings it back to the forefront. I imagine the purists will vomit their displeasure in the comment sections somewhere but I think some shiny production and some raise the rafters singing could, if only for a tik-tok moment, realign some people’s mentalities with a less self-involved ethos and champion are more unified future.

Speaking of the future (now’s there’s a really cheesy segue), Kylie Minogue’s minimalist dance anthem “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” and its companion album, Fever still sounds like the future. But it also sounds like 20 year old nostalgia (Sorry, Ms. Lipa). All pop music is still moving towards the throb presented in the 3:50 running time released in 2001 on one of the best post 70s disco, disco records, period. In fact, with Kylie’s output since her 2000 release Light Years I have dubbed her heir to Donna’s disco crown. Not even Ms. Summer in her post glitter glory did disco as pure as Kylie over the last 20 years.

This fever starts with the throbbing bass line and cycling percussion of, “More More More”. Basically, inducting us into her house of disco dance, saying what we will all be wanting by the time it’s over. This is followed by the straight up disco of, “Love At First Sight”. A pure joy of a song much like, “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates or, “I Love You Always Forever” by Donna Lewis. It’s all smiles. Released as the third single, it became another big hit worldwide and a club smash here in the states. So it’s two songs in before we get to the main event the that changed her career from Euro camp goddess to global superstar.

I didn’t like, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” at first. I much preferred the absolute sugar of “Love At First Sight”. The former, felt too simple. There is no meat on the lyrics… But listening again, I stand corrected. There is no FAT on the lyrics. If we are talking about obsession and desire (in the modern era) one doesn’t need a lot of words (sorry Mr. Wilde andMs Austin). Who has time for excessive word play when you are babbling like a love-struck Looney Tunes character. The song isn’t Hamlet, it’s What’s Opera Doc. Those few obsessive phrases cycling over and over in your head.

That said the ramifications have been pretty much solidified in the ever-increasing low word count and song length in pop music today. This was one of the first major hits with the audacity to lead chorus first. But just because one hit ran with this kind of carousel of carnal doesn’t mean it works and should be employed on every hit coming and going.

This is also the kind of song that makes you want to drive fast at night. Does anyone even play this song (or this album) during the day? It is a night MOOD. Coincidentally for much of the video Kylie is driving fast in a fast car at night towards a future this song/album is still predicting. It certainly has to be one of the most iconic videos of the MTV TRL era. That white jumpsuit alone was many a boys first encounter with sex. And for us gays it had all the check marks of a gay icon dream; catchy, classic, and camp. Kylie Minogue like Madonna was never a powerhouse on vocals but she gets a pass for personality for knowing how to phrase and sell a song.

Once the car ride ends we arrive at, “Fever” the only logical conclusion. The production again feels of it’s era with the likes of Britney and others but also seems to be pushing into some era not yet imagined. So once you got a fever the only solution is to, “Give It To Me”. A song that thrusts in an out until you pass out limp and messy.

“Fragile”, comes dead center on the album, and is another pure disco confection and also a slightly less aggressive groove than all that has come before. I mean we gotta take a break sometime, right? A little post coital cool down. Maybe it’s not the strongest track but it is right in my target zone of pop sap MADE for close partner dancing. After this we have the third single, the breathy, “Come Into My World”. Again, the pulsing back beat running at various heart rates on the album is present here as well. It’s a swirling carousel of guitars and high hats floating us higher and higher to the clouds bringing us back to that club floor apex. Also, this video featured the Kylie doppelgangers as if one Minogue was not enough.

“In Your Eyes” is many a Kylie superfans favorite hit that wasn’t a “hit” off the album and of her entire career. It was second single off the album and is another full-frontal attack on the sexual senses and the movement muscles.

Listening again to the album I am struck by how consistent the mood is. Her previous album 2000s Light Years had disco but also house, rave, and 60s shagadelic grooves. It feels like a great high school theater production of dance music throughout history. Fever is the album that got a master’s degree in four on the floor sex music. This album picked not just one freeway but the fast lane and sticks with it no off ramps in sight. This is both its strength and flaw because outside of the hits it all melds together like one extended White Label a-side single.

Track 7, “Dancefloor” is the most straight-ahead disco cut on the album. You could take a time machine to 1980 at the Paradise Garage and drop this track among some hi-nrg and nobody would be the wiser. And so the producers (all ten of them) should be commended, they know how to surround Kylie with the right sonic fashion choices. They are not trying to dress her up as something she is not and yet 20 years on many pop stars have tried very hard to be her and what was achieved here. Lots of close… but no cigar.

The later part of the album is… more of the same. And with 12 tracks I feel like it could’ve been trimmed to 10 for a more compact delivery. The thing is every song is good to GREAT. So I see why they loaded up all the barrels on the gun. And maybe with more variety I wouldn’t feel like it was all one song at some points. But also it wouldn’t be the solid disco dance masterclass it is. I imagine if Fever had been released today it would have upwards of 14 + songs (all at around 3:50) to game streaming. The average song length here is 3:30.

“Love Affair”, “Your Love”, and “Burning Up” close out the album in that order. And “Burning Up” is a total knockout of dance track and I don’t know why it was not dropped as an atomic bomb final single. It is dance floor nuclear war! And when it is over, we want more (smash that repeat button) but also it sends us off with our hair a disaster zone and our clothes a flood area of sweat to try find the next party. Or, for those without the stamina to crash right there on the floor and go to sleep.

The Cher effect is all over, “Burning Up” and much of the album but it is not constantly in your face like it is with pop hits today. I probably could do without it all together but at least it isn’t the main event. Dancing and feeling sexy are the main event here. And with a number of producers on the album it’s impressive how all the songs co-exist so wonderfully together towards that end. I know I said cutting a couple songs wouldn’t have hurt but I can’t tell you which ones to leave behind. I can tell you that if you need a workout, are in the mood, or just want to party for your life- put on Fever, you won’t need spotify or a DJ for a good 40 minutes.

Tasty Tracks:

Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

Burning Up

Love At First Sight

Fragile

Dancefloor

Come Into My World

Lastly, as I said this album still sounds like the future. It has not dated one beat unlike much of her work with the S/A/W/ team. It still feels like driving forward into some unknown glitter bliss where sex and sensuality reign not just on the dance floor but in our lives. And sometimes in order to reach that ideal future we have to look to the past for guidance. It is why I do what I do, play songs that matter because Lennon isn’t alive to play his own hits anymore. So somebody has to or the message will be lost.

It seems like we are doing much less reflecting on the past now as we stay so obsessively minute to minute in the present on social media or with the news cycle. Falling further down our echo chamber rabbit holes of division cemented in many ways because of the media/government response to 9-11. And so, looking back, while Kylie’s Fever invites us to a futuristic four on the floor- Lennon’s, “Imagine” posits a landscape where everyone is welcome on that floor. And jaded as I am and as naive as, “Imagine” might be, I’ll say it again, the song is an aspiration not a command. But I do hope at some point I don’t have to imagine those lyrics. That instead it will be right here before us all a permanent high fever love-in we just can’t get out of our lives.

Bear 2021

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