I’ve had a few random music thoughts of late. None really deserving of a post in its own right. Maybe worth a tweet, but who wants to read tweets spread over multiple days with even less continuity than usual? So maybe I’ll just throw the whole damned hodgepodge into a post.
Did you know Neil Diamond is fun to listen to? I seemed to have forgotten.
I rarely seek him out. I never wake up in a Neil Diamond kinda mood. If I’m asking Alexa, my robot overlord, to shuffle songs by a certain artist, it ain’t gonna be the Diam-ster.
Does he go by the Diam-ster? He totally should. I’m trademarking that bad boy right now. Neil, have your lawyers call my lawyers. Not that I have lawyers. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand how trademarks work.
The reason I don’t go out of my way to hear me some Neil is because his songs are mostly similar to each other. If you’ve heard one, you’ve sated that Diamond Itch (ooh, Trademark!). As I’ve mentioned before, my family loves Billy Joel Radio. With Billy Joel, you’ve got song variety and some great stories about what’s going on, both lyrically and musically, like why he decided to change into a C-minor for the second verse of that one song. There’s a reason Billy Joel Radio comes back every year.
By comparison, Neil Diamond Radio lasted a few weeks once and never came back. Because every Neil Diamond song is September Morn, give or take five percent, eternally toeing that same line between soulful ballad and Album-Oriented Rock. Or maybe it’s Adult-Oriented Rock? I can’t tell the difference, but if you wanna sound like a snooty 1970s-era music aficionado, say AOR. It’s the musical equivalent of “I was using it as an adverb,” a rejoinder to which nobody can quibble.
Whereas Billy Joel introduces his songs with stories about threesomes with Christie Brinkley and Elle MacPherson, Neil Diamond’s stories tend more toward, “Well, it was a September morning so I decided to write a song called ‘September Morn.’ It’s in the key of… the same key as all my other songs. Same five notes, too.”
But dammit if I can stop myself from singing along.
The other day, I read a reference to Cracklin’ Rosie, and the song got stuck in my head. Seriously, if you could read that last sentence without singing “Get on board” in your head, then you’re stronger than I. It’s an impossibility. To be fair, I’m not pulling an Eric Cartman needing to sing the rest of the song, but I must finish the lyric. One doesn’t “Cracklin’ Rosie” without a “Get on board.”
Speaking of Eric Cartman, it’s hard to not sing along with Eric Carmen’s All by Myself, too. Can’t believe South Park didn’t go with that option instead of Come Sail Away. Too obvious? Probably a good thing I don’t write for South Park.
Shortly after the Cracklin’ Rosie (get on board) incident, I asked Alexa to play some Neil Diamond, then proceeded to belt out every song she played.
I read recently that Paul Simon would not be remembered as much as Bob Dylan. My first thought was, “Well, duh, stupid clickbait.” I doubt Paul Simon would place himself in Bob Dylan’s category. Simon is, first and foremost, an entertainer, while Dylan is an icon, bigger than himself. But on the flip side, people don’t still whine to Paul Simon that he switched from acoustic to electric fifty years ago. And Bob Dylan never had Chevy Chase in any of his videos.
Neil Diamond is in the Paul Simon category. Not definitive of a genre, not an icon of a generation. Not music I’ll go out of my way to to. But if it’s on, I’m singing along and you better not touch that dial.
Most of what I wrote about Neil Diamond goes double for Air Supply. The only thing rarer than me seeking them out is me NOT singing along at the top of my goddamn lungs. And woe to whoever is within the same zip code.
I’ve seen Air Supply in concert three or four times and, let me tell you, they rock. It’s not a a word one normally associates with their sappy love songs, but if you listen in the background of their songs, there’s some solid guitar riffs. In concert, they bring those forward and emphasize the first word in power ballad.
And unlike some of the older acts I’ve seen (cough, cough, Eric Clapton, cough, cough), they still seem to enjoy touring. Even if they have to amend that lyric from Making Love Out of Nothing at All to “And I can make all the [state fairs] rock!”
Unlike Neil Diamond, I’m not surprised at my closet appreciation for Air Supply. When they come on the radio, I’m like, “Heck yeah, Air Supply!” instead of, “Oh hey, Neil Diamond?” Part of that dichotomy stems from the necessity to stand by your fandom. One doesn’t run into too many people arguing that Neil Diamond isn’t a legitimate musician. But say you’re an Air Supply fan and you’re encountering some raised eyebrows. Don’t let them cow you!
Ironically, I encounter Air Supply songs more often than Neil Diamond songs. Perhaps it’s my choice of radio station. While I’m only likely to encounter the latter if I tune in for the seventh-inning stretch of a Red Sox game, the former get heavy rotation on the SiriusXM Yacht Rock station.
I’ve blogged before about the amorphous blob that the “Yacht Rock” moniker is growing into. It’s supposed to reflect a certain carefree attitude, foolish pursuits of whimsical love, and perhaps a wee bit of drinking oneself into oblivion. Michael McDonald croons, “I keep forgetting we’re not in love anymore,” while the lead singer of the Doobie Brothers opines, “What a fool believes he sees, the wise man has the power to reason away.” Not sure who that guy is. Turns out his name is Michael McDonald. Wonder if they’re related.
Another big time Yacht Rocker is Kenny Loggins of This Is It and Danny’s Song fame, not to be confused with the King of the 1980s soundtracks, confusingly named Kenny Loggins. No way those two cats are the same.
Or Kenny Rodgers, who was also known for both soft rock ballads and soundtracks, but definitely isn’t Yacht Rock. Unless you look at Lady a certain way. Islands in the Stream, too, which sounds sacrilegious because how can Dolly Parton be Yacht Rock until you realize that Barbara fucking Streisand gets the nod for her duet with Andy Gibb.
If the first rule of Fight Club is “never talk about Fight Club,” then the first rule of Yacht Rock is “is it Yacht Rock?”
And Air Supply isn’t Yacht Rock. Let me get that out of the way up front. They are straight-up, unabashed love songs. There is virtually no planet on which they should be considered otherwise.
Unless that planet is SiriusXM’s Yacht Rock station, cause let me tell you, they play Air Supply all the fucking time.
Every single time, I say, “This isn’t Yacht Rock.” Then I sing along at the top of my lungs like it’s September Morn.
Yacht Rock Radio has quite a bit of this “Yacht Rock adjacent” music. What started as a distinct style and theme has morphed into “any soft rock from the late 1970s and early 1980s.” Or, in the case of Loggins and Messina, as early as 1971.
As with the Yacht Rock cover band I watched, at least when they’re playing non-Yacht Rock, they do a good job of playing stuff that anyone who tuned in for Yacht Rock won’t mind hearing. Like Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat. Seriously, what the fuck is that song? It’s like a genre unto itself. But it’s kinda fun to listen to. Quirky.
So keep playing Air Supply, SiriusXM. I’ll judge you, but then I’ll be anxiously listening for the next one.
WKRP in Cincinnati.
While I’m on the topic of Yacht Rock, here’s another song that gets heavy rotation on the SiriusXM station.
It feels weird that a TV theme song gets the Yacht Rock designation, but if any one deserves it, this one might be it.
I take that back. Believe It or Not, the theme song from “The Greatest American Hero” is yachtier, but unfortunately the powers that be refuse to admit that. I’ve never once heard it on the rotation and, in case it isn’t obvious by now, I’ve got a lot of “Time Spent Listening.” What’s even more annoying is that one of their bumpers references it. The smooth, deep-voiced guy makes some asinine comment, says “Believe it or not,” and they cue up the refrain from a song they don’t fucking play on the station! What the hell?
But if they’re not playing the quintessential Yacht Rock TV Theme, they’ve got a decent second-place replacement.
Here’s the weird thing about WKRP in Cincinnati. Were you aware there’s more than one verse?
It’s not uncommon for some TV Themes to have extended cuts that become hits on their own. In the 1990s, the theme songs from both “Friends” and “Party of Five” made their way up various charts. Those songs, however, didn’t really make reference to the show, so it makes sense that I’ll Be There For You and Closer to Free might have extra verses. The verse that played during the opening credits sounded like a verse, or perhaps a chorus, not a song in its entirety. Similar things could be said about 1980s stalwarts like the aforementioned Believe It or Not, as well as Thank You for Being a Friend from that show about the four Miami sexpot lesbians. If the theme song started, “Whoa, those golden girls with their silver curls and their golden showers,” I wouldn’t expect to hear it on 80s on 8.
WKRP in Cincinnati, on the other hand, fits more in line with the 1970s trends of catering a theme song to the specific story of the TV Show. Nobody was running out to buy Brady Bunch or Love Boat on 45. The refrain “I’m on WKRP in Cincinnati” isn’t quite so ubiquitous as “Thank you for being a friend.” But props to the guy who was tasked with writing a TV theme song for not letting it stop there. He let the Yacht Rock flow and wrote a second damn verse.
The thing that sticks out when I hear the song is neither its relative yachtiness nor its success at incorporating the letters WKRP into a rhyming scheme. It’s the fact that the best line, a slice of lyrical that ties together the whole song, DOESN’T appear in the first verse, and therefore, on the very opening credits that necessitated the song in the first place.
From the “public” verse (“Baby, if you’ve ever wondered…”), you probably know that the song is a letter to a former love by someone settling down from a transient lifestyle. Somehow he decided a podunk radio station in southern Ohio was a good place to plant roots. Clearly he didn’t know that terrestrial radio was in its waning days of independence where wacky DJs like Dr. Johnny Fever could get away with shenanigans before going on to substitute teach a class of nerds.
The second verse continues in the same vein. “Heading up that highway, leaving you behind, hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Broke my heart in two, but Baby, pay no mind…” Thne comes the beautiful coda: “The price of finding me was losing you.”
Damn dude. Doesn’t really fit with a turkey drop, but hauntingly profound, nonetheless.
Maybe don’t bury that on the B Side of all B Sides?
Barry Manilow and Phil Collins.
I didn’t start out this post intending to bring these two in, but in so many ways, they mirror my earlier topics.
Barry Manilow? Like Air Supply, ya gotta be unabashed in your appreciation. As with those two Aussies who seem to be singing their love toward each other, Barry’s lyrics are mushy as shit. Hence many a fan closeting their appreciation.
But musically, he’s solid. Predictable, but solid. It didn’t get called a “Barry Manilow key change” for nothing. The chord-progression equivalent of Spinal Tap’s “going to 11.”
One cannot merely hum along with Barry. One must belt!
On a desert island with a gun to my head? I’d probably take Barry over Air Supply, based solely on the breadth of his catalog. Air Supply’s got, like, ten songs that I know all the words to. With Manilow, it’s closer to thirty. And Air Supply ain’t got nothin’ on par with Copacabana.
Which brings us full circle back to Phil Collins. I’ve got four of his albums, six if you count Genesis. Using the same metric, I’ve seen him twice or three times in concert. There’ve been a few times I’ve heard an unknown song and said, “That’s Phil Collins on drums,” and each time I was proven correct. Like Neil Diamond, you simply cannot argue with the quality of his work. Whether it’s his haunting early stuff from “Face Value,” the happy-go-lucky mid-eighties hits from “No Jacket Required,” or his supercilious wagging-of-finger songs from “But Seriously,” he’s consistently solid.
But like Neil Diamond, it’s easy to forget. His holier-than-thou attitude might be what sours me toward him. He kinds seems like a jerk. A tool. Both of them do. I feel like if SiriusXM tried a Phil Collins radio, his song introductions would be along the line of, “I wrote this song because I’m a good musician. I don’t care if you like it or not.”
But then there’s his remake of You Can’t Hurry Love.
And what about those duets? Philip Bailey is usually painted as the talented one in Easy Lover, but if it was only Philip Bailey, it wouldn’t have been a hit. And don’t let amateurs butchering it at karaoke sour you on Separate Lives. If Endless Love hasn’t been banned from karaoke bars, then the ballad from “White Nights” has to be allowed, as well.
To be honest, Phil Collins is one of the few singers I can’t karaoke. He’s a skosh to high for me, but not high enough to falsetto or belt. It’s painful. Bon Jovi’s in the same range. Every single other singer I’ve karaoked to, I’ve completely nailed. You’ll just have to trust me on that.
The easiest guy to karaoke is Neil Diamond and his five-note range.
But as different as they are at the karaoke bar, Neil and Phil are birds of a feather in terms of listenability. Rarely top of mind. If I want to listen to them, you’ll get an eyeroll and a begrudging “I guess.”
But if you turn one of their songs on, you better keep it there. Maybe even repeat it more than once. Because dammit if they’re not good.
I just can’t seem to remember that.
Seriously, go listen to Sussudio. Just TRY turn it off mid-song. You can’t, can you?
If you can, you’re a monster! Leave your name and I’ll report you to the authorities.
Your penance will be Forever in Blue Jeans.