Friday, November 16, 2007

Not Guilty, Your Honor

I'm sure you've seen the commercial.

Two guys driving down the road. Driver wants to show off his new voice-activated sound system. He says, "Play artist Smashing Pumpkins." And the dear ol' Punkins play. Then he goes to switch but his buddy interrupts him saying, "Play artist Tiffany." Nothing. Then "Play artist Michael Bolton." And the dulcet tones of He With The Receded Hairline play. Embarrassed, the first guy hastily says, "Play artist Korn." And as Korn lumbers out of the speakers, he sheepishly looks aside while his friend looks on with scorn.

Or is that skorn?

Couple things about this. Number One: Korn? The default music for regaining your cool (or is that "kool?") (I'll stop now) is Korn? Honestly? I'm no Michael Bolton fan, but I'd rather hear him over emote than listen to the tuneless bore that is Korn. As for Tiffany, I admit a grudging respect. She may have started as a musical mallrat but in recent years on discs that no one except me listened to, she gained a nice torchy, bluesy edge. Think junior league Joan Osborne.

Plus she posed naked. I'll always be grateful for that.

Number Two: In a moment like the one the driver experiences in the commercial, you gotta own your guilty pleasure. Shout it from the rooftops.

And in the spirit of taking my own advice, here are some acts that other people might consider guilty pleasures but I am honored to have in my musical rotation:

The Monkees -- Like I say, these are acts that OTHER people consider guilty pleasures or embarrassments. I sure don't. But the Monkees still get a bum rap over the accusation that they didn't play their own instruments (false) and that they were pre-fabricated for a TV show (true, but irrelevant). One of the greatest outlets ever for the apex of 60's hit factory songwriting, and stunningly creative individuals in their own right. Mickey, Davey, Peter and Mike are as good as classic pop gets.

Paul McCartney, solo -- Maybe a bit of a ringer on this list, because of the huge rep. But it's that same huge rep that caused so many to dismiss his solo work out of hand. Ram is one of the most brilliantly bizarre albums ever recorded. And his mid-seventies work with Wings is stunning. The best of it can stand tall alongside the music he made with that other band.

The stuff on Super Hits of the Seventies -- Detecting a trend here? What can I say? The seventies were the ultimate guilty pleasure decade. Not that I feel any guilt. And not that all of it was great. Lots of bad bad music. Bad then, bad now. But the bulk of the radio hits on this sprawling 25-disc collection puts a big dopey grin on my face. Just typing the titles of the songs is about to make me smile: "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes," "Brandy," "Gimme Dat Ding." I could go on. And yes, I am smiling.

Kelly Clarkson -- And back to the present day. Like the Monkees, she was completely pre-packaged for TV and could have stayed in her box and raked in the cash and went away and that would have been that. But, like the Monkees, there's a real artist with a real vision inside that awful marketing campaign. And real talent. She has insisted on creative control and her recent efforts have suffered commercially. But in the long run, there will be a re-appreciation.

ABBA -- And finally, the granddaddy (and grandmamas) of guilty pleasures. I almost left them off the list just because they've kind of cycled back through the pop culture ether to a place where they've gained a small cache of coolness. But face it: They were always too cheerfully dorky to ever really be cool. Fortunately you don't have to be cool to write astoundingly catchy pop songs.

So there's five for you. Chime in. Or make fun of me for my choices. I fly all their banners proudly.

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