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Archive for January, 2007

Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 18

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007


There’s a scene in one of my favorite TV shows, Arrested Development – specifically, the episode entitled “Good Grief” – that manages to be both hysterical and sad at the same time (which, of course, is exactly the point). And I just happen to have a clip available (the Internet is so wonderful).


I mention this clip because it’s what I think of when I hear today’s Mellow Gold song. In fact, remove Guaraldi’s “Christmastime Is Here” from the scene altogether; replace it with this gem.

Michael Johnson – Bluer Than Blue (download)

This Mellow Gold classic comes to us courtesy of Robert, our frequent, prolific commentator (check out his blog, Mulberry Panda 96, for more great writing). Robert knows his Mellow, and found this song on Volume 21 of the Have A Nice Day: Super Hits Of The ’70s compilation. Let’s not ask him if he has 1-20.

Michael Johnson has had quite the career, even before the success of “Bluer Than Blue.” He picked up the guitar after contracting a severe case of pneumonia at the age of 13. Confined to a hospital bed set up in his family living room, Johnson taught himself how to play the instrument, and as soon as he was well, began playing gigs around his homebase of Denver. As a college sophomore, Johnson entered and won a nationwide talent contest; the prizes were a reel-to-reel recorder (which was broken) a two-week engagement at a well-established Chicago coffeehouse (for which he wasn’t paid), and a contract for one record under Epic Records (“Hills,” from a song written at age fifteen, for which he earned a total of eleven cents for 23 copies sold). What a deal, huh? However, the experience was invaluable – the coffeehouse hired him (for pay, this time) for about 20 weeks, and Johnson became passionate enough about his guitar to move to Spain for a year, learning classical guitar from Graciano Tarrago.

Johnson missed singing, however, and soon moved back to the States. There, he joined the Chad Mitchell Trio, along with David Boise and some guy named John Denver. (Beats me.) The group toured as “Denver, Boise and Johnson” (since, y’know, no original members of the trio were still involved), but soon disbanded. (You can see a rare clip of the trio performing here.) Johnson continued to perform (including a part in the Off-Broadway revue Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris), and in 1973 was signed to Atco, under Atlantic Records, as a folk artist. His first album, There Is A Breeze, was produced by Phil Ramone and Peter “I, Too, Am Torn Between Two Lovers” Yarrow, and featured Johnson’s friend Leo Kottke.

Johnson recorded two other albums with limited success, and began to look in different directions. He even contemplated joining a trio – in fact, here’s a rare picture of him rehearsing with none other than Mary MacGregor! (And Mark Henley! And Mark Henley’s dog! Mellow Gold is so exciting!)

I know what you’re thinking: they’re the two lovers!

Anyway, in search of his new, hopefully more mainstream direction, Johnson went to Nashville and recorded a two-song demo to shop to the labels. One song was “Almost Like Being In Love” from the musical Brigadoon, and the other was “Bluer Than Blue,” written by Randy Goodrum (who has penned, among other songs, “Oh Sherrie” and Chicago’s “If She Would Have Been Faithful”). Chosen from a number of demos by Johnson and his producers, Johnson was initially skeptical about the mainstream appeal of a song lamenting the end of a long-time relationship. However, he was dead wrong: EMI America (then a new label) picked Johnson up immediately, and released the single without any changes to the original demo. “Bluer Than Blue” shot up to #1 on the AC chart, and reached #12 on the pop charts in the Spring of 1978.

Does any song live up to its title more than this one? “Mas Triste Que La Tristeza” “Bluer Than Blue” sure packs one hell of an emotional wallop on a number of levels. Musically, the instrumentation couldn’t be any more depressing – the plaintive piano, the gentle guitar, the soft drums, and those oh-so-woeful strings. It sounds like every single musician had his or her head hanging as low as possible while recording. In fact, it’s a wonder that one of the musicians didn’t try and stick his bow straight through his heart after this session. Did they have Zoloft in ’78? How did these guys leave “Bluer Than Blue” and not attempt suicide?

Somehow, though, the music is the kind of depressing that doesn’t necessarily make you feel worse. Instead, it consoles you when you’re actually feeling this way. And let’s talk about the vocal: Johnson may not have had any formal acting experience before joining the cast of Jacques Brel, but clearly he learned something: the sadness that he imbues in his lead vocal is damn near heartbreaking.

Lyrically, this song is a little different from other Mellow Gold hits we’ve covered – but you’d never know it if you went straight for the chorus. It’s true that it doesn’t get any mellower than “Bluer than blue/Sadder than sad/You’re the only light this empty room has ever had.” A chorus such as this only makes you feel bad in that “why don’t you go call Dan Hill or something and leave me alone” kinda way. But Goodrum gives the song a little twist in each of the verses: each one is our protagonist trying his darndest to be optimistic in the middle of a heartbreaking moment.

After you go
I can catch up on my reading
After you go
I’ll have a lot more time for sleeping
And when you’re gone
It looks like things are gonna be a lot easier
Life will be a breeze, you know
I really should be glad

And let’s not forget this important point: she hasn’t actually left yet! This, of course, leads us to the question of what’s sadder: when she’s actually gone, or when she’s still there, and you know it’s over…yet, it’s not over? It’s a matter of opinion, but I’m going with the latter. And all of this – the false optimism and the underlying heartbreak – is there in Johnson’s vocal.

Y’know, if I were to make a video for this song, it’d have Johnson lying on the couch in an empty apartment, that book that he’s been dying to read in his hands, sadly staring at the ceiling…ooh, and then the choruses would have a split-screen: one side with him in the apartment, and the other with him singing directly to camera! Oh wait….that was the video:


I’ts unlike most Mellow Gold videos: for one, it’s not just a live performance of the band playing the song. But more importantly, Johnson doesn’t ham it up or overact to try to get his point across. He sings to the camera as simply as he sings into the microphone. And it works. I’m not saying he’s Pacino or anything, but the guy’s got some acting skills.

When Johnson’s producers first played him “Bluer Than Blue,” he couldn’t believe that nobody else had recorded it already. Once Johnson recorded it, a number of other artists followed suit, including Barry Manilow and (who sounds quite similar to Johnson), Livingston Taylor (who makes the song way more depressing).

Johnson wasn’t a one-hit wonder; I’m sure you’ll tell me about your memories of his other hits in the comments, but I can tell you his other big AC hits were “Almost Like Being In Love,” “This Night Won’t Last Forever,” and his hit in the Orthodox community, “Jewer Than Jew.” (Okay, maybe he didn’t do that last one.) In the mid-’80s, Johnson moved from the light pop genre to country, where he had a number of smash hits, including the #1s “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder.” And, like many of our Mellow artists, Johnson pulled a Mardones and re-recorded a number of his hits for 1997’s Then And Now. However, the re-recording isn’t too bad – and by replacing piano with delicate guitar fingerpicking, it proves that Johnson’s year in Spain with Tarrago wasn’t a waste.

Bluer Than Blue (re-recorded, 1997) (download)

You might recognize some of the musicians adding their talents to the song: Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Ron Block…it’s pretty much Michael Johnson + Union Station. Speaking of Krauss, Johnson co-wrote a song for her album Forget About It. His collaborator?

These days, Johnson keeps actively musically as the touring guitarist for Nanci Griffith, who included a cover of “Bluer Than Blue” on last year’s Ruby Torch release. I encourage you to check out his official website it’s pretty comprehensive (where else could I find a picture of the Spanish “Bluer Than Blue” 45?), and traces his long, interesting path through the music biz.

And with that, I bid you a fond, wussy farewell, and hope to see you next week for another edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!

CHART ATTACK! #16: 1/27/90

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Welcome back, friends, to another edition of CHART ATTACK!  Well, maybe I shouldn’t say "friends."  I don’t think you’ll like me very much after you review this week in music.  I have affection for lots of early ’90s music, and I’ve defended it in previous posts, but there’s really not much to defend here.  But they can’t all be winners, can they?  So suck it up and let’s review the charts of January 27, 1990!

10.  Another Day In Paradise – Phil Collins
  Amazon iTunes
9.  I Remember You – Skid Row
  Amazon iTunes
8.  Opposites Attract – Paula Abdul with The Wild Pair  Amazon iTunes
7.  Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty  Amazon iTunes
6.  Just Between You And Me – Lou Gramm  Amazon iTunes
5.  Two To Make It Right- Seduction  Amazon iTunes
4.  Everything – Jody Watley  Amazon iTunes
3.  Downtown Train – Rod Stewart  Amazon iTunes
2.  Pump Up The Jam – Technotronic Featuring Felly  Amazon iTunes
1.  How Am I Supposed To Live Without You – Michael Bolton  Amazon iTunes

10.  Another Day In Paradise – Phil Collins  Well, no better way to start of Chart Attack! with a downer, huh?  I guess you can’t expect much more from a man who titled his album …But Seriously, and was serious about it.  The song, which vividly depicts the life of the homeless, definitely sends a good, strong message, but part of me can’t help but wonder a) if we needed to be beaten over the head with the point, and b) if we did, did this song change anything?  Other than putting some bucks in David Crosby’s pocket?  (No, you assholes, Crosby was a backing vocalist.  He just looked homeless.)

"Another Day In Paradise" left the Top 10 after this week, but it has the honor of being both the last #1 of the ’80s and the first #1 of the ’90s.

9.  I Remember You – Skid Row (download)
  I saw Skid Row live once.  It’s true: the same wuss who saw The Weepies and Indigo Girls rocked out to Skid Row.  They opened, along with Sam Kinison, for Bon Jovi at Giants Stadium in the summer of 1989.  Ace Frehley came out and duetted on "Cold Gin" with Sebastian Bach.

Say what you want about Bach (no, seriously, say what you want, I’m hoping it’s snarky), but the man has a set of pipes on him.  I remember being in a summer camp band and them wanting someone to sing "I Remember You."  We gave it to a girl.

Completely random note, but Bach tried out for Velvet Revolver, apparently, and was turned down because with him in the lead spot, the band pretty much sounded just like Skid Row.

8.  Opposites Attract – Paula Abdul with The Wild Pair
  How did we not predict "The Crazy Years," people?  It’s Paula Abdul duetting with a fuckin’ cartoon!  I mean, it’s true that the country was still all nuts over that rascal Roger Rabbit, but…wait a minute – that’s not even true!  Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released two years prior – so what was Abdul thinking?

But then again, let’s give her some credit, as she’s not really duetting with a cartoon…yet all you think of when you hear "Opposites Attract" is her video boogie with MC Skat Kat.  In reality, her duet was with The Wild Pair.  The video added, er, Mr. Kat, the creation of animator Michael Patterson (who also did the animation for "Take On Me").  The video for "Opposites Attract" won the Grammy for Video Of The Year, and was directed by none other than David Fincher.  (Fincher directed tons of music videos in the late ’80s/early ’90s, including a cover of Tom Waits’ "Downtown Train" by Patty Smyth.)  And to be honest, the video’s not really that bad.  Say what you want about freaky Paula, but she was quite a dancer, and pulled off her half-animated duet.

But forget all that – the most important thing about "Opposites Attract" is that it paved the way for MC Skat Kat’s career as a solo, er, kat.  The Adventures Of… by MC Skat Kat & The Stray Mob was released in 1991, and the first single, "Skat Strut" was boosted by a popular video on MTV.  Abdul appeared in the video, but didn’t sing, which at the time caused people to whine, "Bummer!"  Now we know better.  The Adventures Of… didn’t sell, and that was the end of that, er, Kat.

7.  Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty  Can I be honest with you for a sec?  I like "Free Fallin’."  I like "Free Fallin’" a bunch.  Yet I don’t know what it is – whenever it comes on the radio, I switch the station.  Why?  Is it because it’s only three chords over and over again?  Or is it because it must be the most overplayed Tom Petty song in Tom Petty history?  I don’t think I really have anything against the song, or Tom Petty – it’s just that I think the song was made out to be much greater than it actually was.

I was telling Mike how I really didn’t know what to say about "Free Fallin’" (although I encourage you to check out the Wiki, which has a few interesting facts) and he encouraged me to watch the video (which I haven’t seen since around this time, I imagine).  It’s true, I did enjoy the slap fight between the two opposing gangs as they were in separate cars (and I think this would have been a very funny recurring gag), and the spandex worn by both male and female skateboarders was quaint.  But I felt the same way about the video that I did about the song – I just kind of wanted to turn it off.

6.  Just Between You And Me – Lou Gramm (download) Earworm Alert!  Earworm Alert!  "Just Between You And Me" was another hit co-written by Holly Knight.  And I don’t know what more to say about this song, except that I kind of like it.  I don’t want to like it, but I do.  I giggle at the way he says the phrase "…and then we’ll have nowhere to (shrieky girl voice) go!" every time.  I was hoping to share some more information about the song with you, and even went to Lou Gramm’s official website (really, there’s no need for a link), but considering they list the song in the discography as "Just Between Me And You," I’m guessing tidbits will be hard to find.  The Foreigner Files website wasn’t much help either – the 2004 press kit lists "Just Between You And Me" as "a Top 5 hit," then goes on to explain that it peaked here at #6.  And if you’re at that link, seeing the old picture of Gramm and thinking, "man, he’s really rockin’ out," then definitely don’t look at this picture.  Or this one.  This is apparently the official site of the Lou Gramm Band, and this is the best they can do?  Chunky!

Ooh!  Here’s something I didn’t mention about Jessica in my mushy post yesterday: she loves the soundtrack to The Lost Boys – and that includes the theme song by Lou Gramm, "Lost In The Shadows!"

I’m going to get in trouble for making this public, I know it.

5.  Two To Make It Right – Seduction  The brainchild (and hoo boy, do I use that term loosely) of Clivilles and Cole of C+C Music Factory, Seduction consisted of three women: Idalis DeLeon, who became an MTV VJ I’ve never heard of, Michelle Visage, who became an NYC radio DJ I’ve never heard of, and April Harris, who owns the rights to the name and releases music I’ve never heard of.  Additionally, they apparently had four Top 20 hits, and I barely remember this one, their biggest hit.  So you can see why I can barely muster up the energy to find anything interesting to say about them.

4.  Everything – Jody Watley
  I don’t get it.  Jody Watley is apparently still making albums (and having hits on the Dance charts), but I haven’t heard a word about her since, well, "Everything."  Watley had a number of huge hits, and for a while, she really was – wait for it – Larger Than Life.  (Huh?  Huh?  You like that one?  No?  Okay.)  "Everything" was Watley’s sixth Top 10 and her first ballad release.  I’ve loved Watley’s voice since Shalamar (on a side note, I refuse to say the word "Shalamar" out loud, ever) and always thought this song was quite pretty.

3.  Downtown Train – Rod Stewart  You see how the Chart Attack circle is complete?  That’s pretty much the only reason I mentioned Fincher’s directorial bit above.  Anyway, as Rod Stewart songs go, this one isn’t awful.  Unfortunately, it’s really a Tom Waits song, which – I will admit – I didn’t know until maybe a year ago.  (Don’t blame me, blame the radio.)  So if you’re going to go by those standards, Stewart’s cover is pretty bad.  It’s hard to improve upon Waits’ original (unless you don’t like Cookie Monster), but if you’re looking for another version, check out Smyth’s version, or Mary Chapin Carpenter’s version.  Only Stewart’s version (with a guitar solo by buddy Jeff Beck) charted, and peaked this week at #3.

2.  Pump Up The Jam – Technotronic Featuring Felly
  Just like C+C Music Factory (another Chart Attack circle, complete), Technotronic experienced a bit of controversy when it was revealed that the lead singer in their video was not actually the real vocalist behind the song.  Why Technotronic chose Felly over real singer Ya Kid K, the world may never know…hmm…

Anyway, "Pump Up The Jam" was an unexpected hit, so the group rushed to put out Pump Up The Jam – The Album.  That album title?  That’s money talking.  No need for a high-concept title, just tell the people what they need to hear to fork down their $16.

1.  How Am I Supposed To Live Without You – Michael Bolton  I’m sorry, everybody.  It wasn’t until I really started writing the bulk of this week’s Chart Attack! that I realized: this is a cruel, shitty way to end your workweek.  I don’t expect you to forgive me, so instead, I’ll tell you the thing I remember most about "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You." 

I went to sleepaway camp for five or six summers in my childhood.  One of the kids in the bunk next door (who, incidentally, was instrumental in jh.com commenter JT and I becoming sleepaway camp sweethearts – ah, 12 year-old love!) got dumped and was heartbroken.  So what did he do?  Late at night, he crossed from the boys’ campus to the girls’ campus (a BIG no-no), stood outside her bunk window, and serenaded her.  With "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You."  The kid couldn’t sing, either, and I’m almost positive he was going throug puberty at the time.  Needless to say, not only did he get totally busted for being on the girls campus (after curfew, no less), she didn’t take him back.  I remember hearing the story and – even back then, when Michael Bolton was popular and I was young – I thought, "wow, that’s really pathetic."

I really don’t want to spend too much time on this song (I’ve already said too much), but I’ll tell you that you almost first heard the golden voice of Russell Hitchcock on this tune.  Bolton wrote it in the early ’80s, and it was offered to Air Supply; however, they wanted some changes in the chorus, and Bolton wasn’t having it.  Instead, the song went to Laura Branigan, who took it to #12 (#1 AC) in 1983.  Incidentally, Bolton also wrote "I Found Someone" for Branigan, which Cher ruined many years later.

What a shitty way to end the week, huh?  Sorry, folks, they can’t all be winners.  Let’s cross our fingers and hope for better luck next Friday on CHART ATTACK!

Ten Year Date-A-Versary

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

This post is going to be a bit mushy, so if you don’t stick around, I understand.

Last month, our friend Py Korry posted about his "date-a-versary" with his wife, J.  I was glad to read it, knowing I’m not the only one who remembers this and thinks it "counts."  Everybody celebrates their wedding anniversary, but in my case, Jessica and I dated for almost eight years before we got married (granted, we were 18 and 19, respectively, at the time).  That’s eight years of Jessica putting up with my shit.  Those years can’t go uncounted.

Today is our ten year date-a-versary.  And since this is a blog where I primarily focus on music, this is how I remember that first date, and the few months after it, musically.

The first song I ever remember associating with Jessica – and this probably goes a long way in explaining our relationship – was "Dead" by They Might Be Giants.  Odd choice for a "first song," yes, but it was only because the Flood CD was in her player at the time.  That being said, she serenaded me, and came off as utterly charming and goofy.  We talked a lot that first evening, and learned a lot about each other – and I remember one song, and one song only, popping into my head: "As We Go Along," by The Monkees.  There’s a phrase in that song that immediately seemed perfect:

And you shouldn’t be shy
For I’m not going to try
To hurt you
Or heal you
Or steal your star

I immediately went home and, smitten, did the only thing I felt appropriate: I made her a mix tape.

Trying desperately not to sound too obsessive, I lied and just happened to mention that oh, I was just making a completely random mix tape, and, uh, would she like a copy?  For that reason, I didn’t hide too many secret messages in the tape as to how I was feeling.  I just included songs that I thought represented my musical tastes, hoping she’d think I was cool.  Songs like "Optimistic Thought" by Blues Traveler, " "Africa" by Toto, and, just for fun, "Who’s On First" by Abbott and Costello, just because I had a bit of room at the end of Side 2.  (Why I thought she’d find any of this "cool," I have no clue.)  There were two hints to my affection for her on the tape: the aforementioned Monkees tune, and "We Meet Again" by Nancy Wilson, from the Jerry Maguire soundtrack – one of my favorite movies at the time.

I don’t think either of us intended to start a serious relationship, and if somebody had told us we’d be where we are today, we both would have run.  But we didn’t.  Instead, we took it day by day.  And we sang together.  A lot.  I’d drive her from the North Campus (my dorm) to the South Campus (her dorm), and we’d sing at the top of our lungs.  She taught me "Birdhouse In Your Soul" by TMBG, I taught her "Baba O’Riley" by The Who, and together we learned songs like "I Love My Boss" by Moxy Früvous.  Late at night, we’d put on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (which we both believe is the last good Sarah McLachlan album), and she’d softly sing "Good Enough" by Sarah McLachlan as I was falling asleep.

Music continued to be an important part of our relationship.  I made more mix tapes.  We learned songs to sing to each other to keep us entertained, like the night in Belgium where we waited in the freezing cold forever for a train to Switzerland, and belted out "Never There" by Cake on the empty platform.  We went to concerts.  Lots of concerts.  We drove two hours in a snowstorm to Syracuse to see Früvous (the drummer shot us a dirty look as we smooched during one of his songs).  We’ve seen Barenaked Ladies a dozen times together.  I even dragged her to The Who, and she didn’t complain once.  We’ve seen Indigo Girls a dozen times as well.  We decided, like many, I’m sure, to make "Power Of Two" our song, and got a smile from Emily Saliers as we slow-danced in the second row.  We even sang it together during our wedding ceremony.

We still share a lot of our musical tastes.  These days, we sing together to songs like "Does He Love You?" by Rilo Kiley and "If You Were Gay" from the Avenue Q soundtrack.  (We’re more than a little warped.)  She puts up with the music I force on her, still gets angry the minute I play "What A Fool Believes," and I swear I heard her humming "Magnet And Steel" the other day, though she would never admit it.  Just the other week, I learned for the first time that she knows the lyrics to about 15 Helen Reddy songs, and there is something oddly satisfying in hearing her softly sing "it’s so nice to be insane, no one asks you to explain" from "Angie Baby."  She encourages me to sing and play whenever possible, even when it means she has to listen to the same guitar and piano parts for days on end as I try to play them correctly.  When I play gigs with Mike, she’s always in the front row, singing loudly along, even when she only vaguely knows the words, which always cracks me up.

There’s this one musical memory of Jessica that will stay with me forever.  Four or five years ago, Mike and I played an outdoor gig at around 1 in the morning – the Relay For Life all-night cancer benefit on Long Island.  It was raining, we were cold, we had very few in the audience, and I played some awful piano since I could barely feel my fingers.  I was getting pissed at myself, and was doing a poor job at hiding it from…well, anybody.  Jess came up to sing a song with me, gently put her hand on my back, and calmed me down. 

Then, she started mugging and dancing like a goofball, knowing it would put me in the right frame of mind.  She’s always been quietly available in moments like these when I get overwhelmed or stressed, musical or otherwise.  I’ll never be able to thank her enough for them.

She’s my wife and my best friend, and like I said, she puts up with me, so she’s an angel, too.  Happy ten years, sweetheart.  I love you more than I could ever express in a dinky little webpost.

Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 17

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007


Oh, Wednesday morning, you gave me no warning. Instead, you just showed up and offered me the wussiest music imaginable. So I suppose I’ll do my duty and present you all with yet another one of our Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!

Alan O’Day – Undercover Angel (download)

May Emasculysus, the God of all things Mellow, bless and keep those who recommended “Undercover Angel” for Mellow Gold.

Alan O’Day had minor success when he first joined the music business in the early ’60s. As part of a rock ‘n roll trio named Alan, Bob and Denny, he performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965. (Doesn’t have the same ring as “Peter, Paul and Mary,” does it?) He had also released an album with Dunhill Records and performed for troops in the Far East in the late ’60s. By 1969, however, he was burned out as a performer, and opted to concentrate solely on songwriting, like many of our Mellow artists. When he signed with Warner Brothers Publishing in 1971, he had his first hit, handing “The Drum” to Bobby Sherman.

Other songwriting hits followed, such as “Rock And Roll Heaven,” performed by The Righteous Brothers, and most notably, “Angie Baby,” which became Helen Reddy’s biggest-selling single, and her third #1 hit. In 1976, O’Day signed with the Pacific Records label. Pacific Records was a small boutique label set up by some of the WB publishers to allow their songwriters to record and release their own music, instead of giving it to the larger artists.

Read that above sentence again. Ahhh, the ’70s. So innocent.

Pacific Records, which distributed under Atlantic, released “Undercover Angel.” It was their first release from their first artist, and they didn’t really expect it to go anywhere. To everyone’s surprise, on July 9, 1977, “Undercover Angel” hit #1 on the Billboard charts. Nobody knew what to do. O’Day didn’t even have an album prepared. He went out on the road and publicized the hell out of the song, and “Undercover Angel” wound up selling two million copies.

Without knowing anything about the song, you might think this is a tale of suspense – one of a beautiful woman going undercover to solve a mystery. But this is Mellow Gold, people, and such deep plot points are against the rules (unless you’re Rupert Holmes).

No, “Undercover Angel” is a song that O’Day describes as a “nocturnal novelette.” In the song, a beautiful, wondrous vision (most likely in the form of a girl with big hooters) appears to him while he’s lying in bed. He describes the experience in the chorus:

Undercover angel, midnight fantasy
I never had a dream that made sweet love to me, oooh

Methinks Alan O’Day skipped puberty.

Anyhoo, the apparition convinces O’Day that maybe he should stop masturbating and find a real woman. Okay, that’s not exactly what’s said in the song, but that’s what I’m taking from it. Read between the lines, people.

As for the other lyrics in the song, they’re fantastically Mellow. Witness the phrase “Wonder is your night light/Magic is your dream.” That’s all I’m gonna say. They don’t write ’em like that anymore. There’s probably a good reason, but I digress.

In terms of music, I’ve been listening to this song for a few weeks now, and I smile every time I hear it. Not in the “oh god, this is so pathetic” kind of way, but in that “I can’t believe a song this goofy did as well as it did” way. It’s got a bunch of great things going for it, though: strong, keyboard-based instrumentation (some of it actually sounds – dare I say it – Stevie Wonder-esque?), a bit of funky guitar, and some awesome female backing vocals. No sax solo, but you had better believe there’s a Mellow Gold key change.

The shining moment of “Undercover Angel,” however, is the pre-chorus.

I said “what?”
She said “oooohweee”
“I said ‘All riiiight!'”
She said “love me, love me, love me!”

If this doesn’t seem impressive, it’s because you haven’t listened to the song yet. In fact, I’m so in love with this pre-chorus that I’ll even excerpt it here for those of you bastards who will download but take three weeks to listen to it (Michael, I’m looking in your general direction):


Alan O’Day channels John Travolta, film at eleven.

I’m not joking: I erupt in giggles every single time I hear this pre-chorus. Even better is the final pre-chorus. Listen for the heavy-breathing “undercover, ah, undercover!” in the left speaker, and if you listen closely, you’ll even hear a hint of the key change (I’m such a tease):


I’m giggling right now. It’s dangerously close to a cackle. Is there anything Mellower than the “all riiiiight,” I ask you? Especially when you consider that it’s being sung to a woman that doesn’t even exist?

O’Day had some international hits after “Undercover Angel,” specifically a song entitled “Skinny Girls” which was an Australian #1, and “Your Eyes” which was a chart-topper in Japan. You probably didn’t hear much of his music in the U.S. after his big song…that is, unless you were a kid in the mid-’80s: O’Day and songwriter Janis Liebhart wrote over 100 songs for “Muppet Babies.” In 2001, “Undercover Angel” was used in the movie version of Charlie’s Angels.

I’ve read a number of interviews with Alan O’Day over the past couple of weeks, and I’ll say this: he seems like a genuinely intelligent, nice man. He doesn’t seem deluded about his place in music history like Benny some other artists we know, and he seems genuinely content. Okay, so he looks like the substitute teacher that Walter Egan actually is, but whatever.

So yeah, consider me an Alan O’Day fan. In fact, I figured I really didn’t have anything to snark about in this Mellow Gold entry…until I saw the following on his website:

NEW!!! To hear or purchase my CD “UNDERCOVER ANGEL 2001”, CLICK HERE

Oh no, I thought. Alan O’Day did not just go all Mardones on me. Please tell me he didn’t do what I think he did.

He did.

I’m not saying another word. Click on the above link and listen to a snippet of “Undercover Angel 2001.” Count how many things are wrong with this remake. We could make a list.

My first thought was “oh my god, this is the most horrible thing I’ve heard since Mellowmas.” But then I listened a couple more times, and…nope, still horrible.

But on the fourth listen, I took all the things I now know about Alan O’Day (anybody wonder how I’m still married?), and began to smile. The man has his tongue planted firmly in cheek, and is clearly having fun – not taking it seriously like Benny some other artists we know. Plus, if you read around his site, you’ll find out two interesting things: 1) he really loved his mother (and I’m a mama’s boy, so I can appreciate this), and 2) he set up a scholarship fund in her name, with all proceeds from “Undercover Angel 2001” going to the scholarship. (Okay, the first 500 copies, but let’s just say I’m not convinced 500 have been sold of a CD with a song entitled “WWW Dot Lonely.”) The scholarship gives money to underprivileged graduates of his high school who wish to pursue teaching. So maybe it’s the Mellow talking, but I’m having a hard time finding anything really sarcastic to say – I just find everything about Alan O’Day silly, in a good way.

However, that doesn’t mean you are all exempt from snark in the comments. So enjoy “Undercover Angel” (and don’t enjoy “Undercover Angel 2001”), and I look forward, as always, to reading your thoughts. And we’ll see you next week for yet another edition (dear god, will it ever end?) of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!

(PS: ¿Hola baby, que paso?)

CHART ATTACK! #15: 1/16/88

Friday, January 19th, 2007

It’s Friday, and here we are again for another edition of CHART ATTACK!  As I’ve said before, 1988 is my favorite chart year of the ’80s; I know each of these songs (as well as songs 11-20, I’m sure) by heart.  So let’s take a look at the charts as they appeared on January 16, 1988!

10.  Is This Love – Whitesnake  Amazon iTunes
9.  Faith – George Michael
  Amazon iTunes
8.  Tell It To My Heart – Taylor Dayne  Amazon iTunes
7.  Candle In The Wind – Elton John  Amazon iTunes
6.  Hazy Shade Of Winter – Bangles  Amazon iTunes
5.  Could’ve Been – Tiffany  Amazon iTunes
4.  Need You Tonight – INXS  Amazon iTunes
3.  The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson  Amazon iTunes
2.  So Emotional – Whitney Houston  Amazon iTunes
1.  Got My Mind Set On You – George Harrison  Amazon

10.  Is This Love – Whitesnake (download)  Well, I’ll be damned.  Although I’ve never heard a Whitesnake song other than this one and "Here I Go Again," I figured the band had other big hits on the Hot 100.  These two are essentially their only big ones.  I guess the reason I remember them being HUGE in 1987, and much more successful is because their 1987 album Whitesnake sold over 8 million copies – probably due in part to Geffen A&R man John Kalodner, responsible for a zillion successful records.  Tawny Kitaen in the video probably didn’t hurt either.

9.  Faith – George Michael  This was the last week that "Faith" held a spot on the Top 10.  But don’t feel bad for George Michael – "Faith" entered the Top 10 on November 21, 1987, nearly two months’ prior, and "Father Figure" entered the Top 10 only a few weeks following this one.  We covered "Faith" in the week of its Top 10 debut in Chart Attack! #9, so head there if you’d like to read more about the song.

8.  Tell It To My Heart – Taylor Dayne  So I’m at a party in…I guess it must have been ’98 or ’99.  We’re up in the attic of this frat house, and the hosts have hired a DJ.  He’s playing all the current songs ("Feels So Good" by Mase, por ejemplo), and "Tell It To My Heart" comes on.  I sing every. single. word.  And that was the first time that I truly realized: if I could only rid my brain of things like the lyrics to Taylor Dayne songs, I’d be so much more useful to the world.

"Tell It To My Heart" was Dayne’s first hit, and although it didn’t pass #7, her following five consecutive releases hit the Top 10.  If you’d like a reminder of how some music videos are just locked in a time capsule, reminding us of all the things we’d like to forget about the ’80s, "Tell It To My Heart" is a good choice – watch it here.  I remember hearing her singing voice and having no idea where she came from…but then I heard her speaking voice and realized this woman definitely grew up on Long Island.

Some people have encouraged me to rip Taylor Dayne to shreds.  I’m not going to do it, but if you’d like to figure out their reasons, you can check out her website or her video blog at YouTube, specifically this video.  I encourage you to watch it and randomly hit "pause" on any facial expression.

7.  Candle In The Wind – Elton John  Sadly, my first exposure to "Candle In The Wind" was through this version of the song – but I can’t be blamed.  After all, the original wasn’t even released as a single in the U.S. back in 1973, when it was included on the excellent Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – only as a single in the U.K., where it reached #11.  And it’s even more frightening to think that there’s a generation who only know "Candle In The Wind ’97."  The version released here is from the album Live In Australia, which was recorded with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.  It’s an interesting album, both excellent and terrible: excellent because in order to make full use of the orchestra, Elton went back into his early records and pulled out fantastic songs like "The King Must Die" and "The Greatest Discovery," and terrible because Elton never sounded so bad: years of drug abuse led to nodules on his vocal cords.  I’m sure some of our readers in the radio biz can attest to "Candle’s" popularity in 1987 – I know it was played constantly in New York at the time, and eventually reached #7.  10 years later, the updated version topped the charts for a good 14 weeks.

6.  Hazy Shade Of Winter – Bangles (download)  What do they call it when you hear the cover before the original, and since it’s the cover you heard first, you wind up preferring it to the original?  Oh yeah, in this case, that’s probably called "blasphemy."  Sorry, folks, but it’s true.  I heard the Bangles version before the Simon & Garfunkel version, and I really like the cover better.  Produced by the Bangles themselves and included on the soundtrack to the movie Less Than Zero, the song became their third song to reach the Top 10.  This remains one of my favorite covers.

5.  Could’ve Been – Tiffany
  I had this album.  I don’t want to talk about it, except to say that this song eventually hit #1 for two weeks, so it wasn’t just me.

4.  Need You Tonight – INXS  …but I also had this album, which kind of redeems me, doesn’t it?  I always thought "Need You Tonight" was a freaking awesome song, from the drum part that sounded like nothing else on the radio, to that simple yet unquestionably catchy guitar riff.  And I don’t think it should ever be played without "Mediate" directly following.  This song hit #1 for just a week, as it was knocked off the top by…"Could’ve Been." 

3.  The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson  In the comments section of last week’s Chart Attack!, we began discussing some of the better songs off of Thriller and Bad.  This song wasn’t mentioned either way.  Thoughts?  Personally, I think it’s a great song, back when Jackson could still write, produce and record and not suck at all three simultaneously.  This was also a period of time where you could see Michael Jackson lust after a woman in a video and almost believe him. 

Speaking of the video, it’s pretty stupid.  Michael chases after this hot girl who’s clearly not interested, and continues to pursue her at the insistence of his street buddies.  It comes very close to an encouragement of gang rape.  She resists his advances, even though she’s charmed by him, thanks to the support of her female friends (including LaToya, who Michael thankfully ignores this time).  However, the final dance sequence, with Michael and his buddies gettin’ down under the streetlights, convinces her that he really is the right guy for her.  She confirms it by meeting him under those lights, and…hugging him.

Like I said, a stupid video.  However, as is often the case with Michael Jackson, once he starts dancing, it’s hard to focus on anything else.  Say what you want about him – he’s still an unbelievable dancer.  You can even forgive him for lip-syncing both "The Way You Make Me Feel" AND "Man In The Mirror" at the 1988 Grammies once you see him move.


2.  So Emotional – Whitney Houston
  I don’t know why I like it.  I just do.  (Before you think this is some lame admission, you should know that’s the opening line of the song.)  "So Emotional" hit #1 for one very brief week – the first week of the year – but it allowed Houston to tie the record for most consecutive #1 hits, which was six, held by the Bee Gees and the Beatles.  With her following single, "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," she set the new record.

"So Emotional" was another result of Houston’s successful collaboration with producer Narada Michael Walden, who is responsible for so many of the songs you wish you could forget, such as Houston’s "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" (among many), Starship’s "Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now," and…two songs with Taylor Dayne.  Of course.

1.  Got My Mind Set On You – George Harrison  Well, I think it’s safe to say that nobody saw this coming.  Almost 24 years after he had his first chart-topping hit with The Beatles ("I Want To Hold Your Hand"), Harrison inexplicably found himself holding the top spot this week.   Granted, it was only a week, but it remains the last #1 song in the U.S. by any Beatle to date.

A cover of the song released in 1962 by James Ray, "Got My Mind Set On You" was – like so many of the songs in the Top 10 during these years – assisted by a memorable video.  Harrison wasn’t really the star of the video, in which he simply sat in a chair, in a mansion’s library, and strummed guitar directly to the camera; the library was the star, with moving furniture and animal heads.  MTV played the hell out of this video, which was actually the third video produced for the song: version 1 focused on teens in an arcade, version 2 was a typical band video, and version 3 was the one that we all know and love.  Plus, it has an obvious stunt double doing a dance break…although when I was 10 years old, I was very impressed with George Harrison for being a Beatle AND doing a back flip.  Beat THAT, Ringo!

And that’s the end of another Top 10!  Join me next week for yet another edition of CHART ATTACK!