Crap Lyrics Of The 1980s (Part One)

dynasty_wallpaper_by_mabmeddowsmercuryDuring an interview in 1981, Peter Gabriel said: ‘Many great songs have really appalling lyrics, but no great songs have had appalling music. If you’re going to write lyrics, you might as well make them try and communicate something.’ Sadly, it was a maxim ignored by many of his contemporaries in the ’80s pop pantheon…

But these sad wretches have our sympathies; anyone who’s ever tried to pen a song knows the potential pitfalls. Got a good melody? Great, but you’ve got to sustain the lyrical narrative across the whole song in a cogent way (just ask Coldplay and Keane). Words first? Handy, but it can be very tricky to fit a melody to ‘poetic’ ramblings. Basically, for every ‘Talking Scarlet‘, there’s a ‘With Or Without You’.

So join us as we take a trip through a collection of the sometimes inane, occasionally coarse, often totally meaningless ramblings of the 1980s. And don’t forget – sometimes these lexical disaster-areas didn’t detract from the quality of the song at all. But sometimes they did…

‘Sittin’ on a mountain, looking at the sun
Plastic fantastic lobster telephone’.

THE CULT: ‘Electric’

 

‘Heart of mine, sewing frenzies of steel to the sky
By night, a child in a harvest of virginal mines’.

IT BITES: ‘Midnight’

 

‘This morning there was joy in my heart cos I know that I loved you so
Scrambled eggs are so boring, for you’re all, all that I want to know’.

PRINCE: ‘Life Can Be So Nice’

 

‘She’s got eyes like saucers, oh you think she’s a dish
She is the blue chip that belongs to the big fish’.

ELVIS COSTELLO: ‘Big Sister’s Clothes’

 

‘I know that I must do what’s right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti’.

TOTO: ‘Africa’

 

‘Only time will tell if we can stand the test of time’.

VAN HALEN: ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’

 

‘I’m so bad I can suck my own d*ck’.

LL COOL J: ‘Clap Your Hands’

 

‘Late spring and you’re drifting off to sleep
With your teeth in your mouth’.

REM: ‘You Are The Everything’

 

‘Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts
Look for the purple banana til they put us in the truck’.

PRINCE: ‘Let’s Go Crazy’

 

‘You set my teeth on edge
You think you’re a vegetable, never come out of the fridge
C-c-c-cucumber! C-c-c-cabbage! C-c-c-cauliflower!’

ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN: ‘Thorn Of Crowns’

 

‘Where does it go from here
Is it down to the lake I fear
Ay-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya/Ah-ya/Ah-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya’

HAIRCUT ONE HUNDRED: ‘Love Plus One’

 

‘Oh babe
I wanna put my log in your fireplace’.

KISS: ‘Burn Bitch Burn’

 

‘A stripping puppet on a liquid stick gets into it pretty thick
A butterfly drinks a turtle’s tears
But how do you know he really needs it?’

ELVIS COSTELLO: ‘Deep Dark Truthful Mirror’

 

‘Every second counts when I am with you
I think you are a pig, you should be in a zoo’.

NEW ORDER: ‘Every Second Counts’

Catching Up With Eddie Van Halen

225px-Eddie_Van_Halen_(1993)When I think of ’80s Eddie Van Halen, the image in my mind’s eye is probably not a lot different to any other fan – he’s grinning from ear to ear, cavorting around the stage, playing some of the greatest rock guitar of all time with one of the sweetest tones.

So it’s interesting to see him recently – sober, reflective, brutally honest, fiercely independent – talking about his life and craft onstage at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington DC.

‘Jump’ had always been a favourite of mine and was at the back of my mind when I came across Van Halen’s superb debut album sometime in the late-’80s. In fact, I remember exactly when and where I bought it: Harry’s Records in Twickenham (another one that’s bitten the dust), during my first week of sixth-form college in 1989. I just loved the devil-may-care feel of Eddie’s playing. He was fearless, unconcerned about making mistakes (his dad gave him some advice: if you make a mistake, do it again – with a smile), the same attitude that spurred on Parker, Ornette, Hendrix and Jaco.

classic_van_halen_by_xfel13-d7qidg1

I later got heavily into the VH albums Women And Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down, 1984 and OU812, but the band have been completely off my radar since the early ’90s, when I loved the ‘Poundcake‘ single. Having said that, not living in the States, I’ve completely missed the recent new album and TV appearances featuring David Lee Roth back on vocals. Maybe I need to check in again because I dug this:

Anyway, back to the interview. It’s fascinating hearing Eddie chatting about his life and career, away from all the controversy that has dogged the band over the last few decades. He talks about building his first guitar, the last album he bought (clue: it was back in 1986!), demonstrates some techniques and talks candidly about his sometimes difficult early life as an immigrant in the USA. G’wan – give yourself an hour off and enjoy some words from a master.

Story Of A Song: Mr Big’s Addicted To That Rush

Mr_Big_Self-TitledIn the world of late-1980s US rock, guitar virtuosity was the order of the day. Eddie Van Halen’s massive popularity had ushered in a huge raft of poodle-haired, fleet-fingered plank-spankers such as Zakk Wylde, Marty Friedman and George Lynch (whose playing I’ve never actually heard – I just remember their names from Guitar World and Guitar Player, though I’m off to Youtube to check them out NOW…).

Though I was very definitely a Van Halen man, and also had a real penchant for Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen, I was always much more into people like Scott Henderson, Jeff Beck and John Scofield than the thousand-notes-per-second boys, brilliant musicians though they undoubtedly were.

But then my friend James Broad played me ‘Addicted To That Rush’ by Mr Big. It had the unmistakable whiff of early Van Halen about it, not least with its double-time groove, similar to ‘Hot For Teacher’ and ‘Satch Boogie‘. Guitarist Paul Gilbert was clearly a veritable fire-breather with an incredible facility for high-speed, heavily-chromatic solos, but also had quite an original tone and refreshing sense of humour.

1024px-MrBig_-_Sofia_-_4

Mr Big in concert, yesterday

But basically ‘Addicted’ was a flagrant display of muso shock and awe, not just from Gilbert but also ex-Dave Lee Roth bassist Billy Sheehan (how many other HM tracks have had the balls to start with a tap-bass solo?) and drummer Pat Torpey (check out his intricate hi-hat work in the opening section). Oh, and the singer has a fine set of pipes too.

The rest of side one from their 1989 debut album was also great. Side two was not so hot though, and I really hated their pop breakthrough (‘To Be With You’).

But there’ll always be ‘Addicted To That Rush’. Hit it!

No Brown M&Ms: Great Backstage Riders Of The ’80s

brown-milk-chocolate-m-m-1-poundYou know you’ve made it in the music biz when your gig rider raises eyebrows. The rider: a contract drawn up by the promoter stipulating a band’s concert requirements including ‘dressing room extras’ – food, drink and drugs to you and me. And, if the general tenor of the 1980s was extravagance and exuberance, many artists’ backstage demands were no different.

Here are five corkers:

5. Howard Jones

He had barely registered a hit and was only undertaking a modest college tour of the UK, but his backstage demands included ‘eight pounds of brown rice, six large aubergines, three pounds of courgettes, three green peppers, one head of garlic, three pounds of fresh tomatoes, twelve mixed yogurts and twelve bananas.’ He also requested that security not have ‘guns or dogs’, that the dressing room possess a ‘sweet-smelling ambience’ and that he must have ‘physical contact with the audience’. And you thought he was just a slightly vapid though ultimately harmless pop guy…

4. Van Halen

They famously often requested ‘large bowls of M&Ms with the brown ones taken out’ but their legendary 1984 Monsters Of Rock show at Castle Donington also required ‘eight litre bottles of Jack Daniels, eight litre bottles of brandy, eight litre bottles of vodka, 16 cases of domestic beer and a worldwide selection of cheeses’. Those boys knew how to partay. And were also rather fond of continental cheeses.

3. Iggy Pop

Late great musician/writer Ian Carr once described seeing Miles Davis come offstage and collapse into the arms of two specially-placed roadies as soon as he was out of the audience’s sight, but that’s nothing compared to The Iggster’s post-show routine. His rider for a 1983 UK tour stipulated ‘it is absolutely essential at the end of the show that there is a nurse in attendance with two cylinders of oxygen and masks’. I wonder if maybe Iggy wanted the ‘nurse’ for a bit more than ‘oxygen’…

2. David Thomas

The portly Pere Ubu frontman demanded meticulous sandwich preparation for a University of London show in the early ’80s: ‘A sandwich is defined as three pieces each of meat and/or cheese, one-inch thickness of lettuce, a half-inch thickness of onion, mayonnaise, two slices of three-quarters of an inch of tomato, all between two thick slices of wholemeal bread. NO BUTTER. AND I WILL REPEAT: NO BUTTER OR MARGARINE. PERIOD.’ It’s as if punk never happened.

1. Aerosmith

The Bad Boys From Boston didn’t leave anything drug-related to chance when putting together their backstage rider for a particularly blitzed tour in the early ’80s. The stand-out clause read: ‘No snow, no show’! Well, at least they were honest. Allegedly, of course…

A tip of the hat to Simon Garfield’s excellent book ‘Expensive Habits‘.