3. Peter Gabriel - In Your Eyes

Most of us aren't fancy poets who can shower our lovers with earnest words that make their heart swoon.  Most of us need Hallmark cards to find the right words to sum up our relationship.  Especially if you're talking about us guys, we generally don't have the emotional depth and complexity to fully express what our heart is telling us to tell you.  We want to - desperately, but it ends up coming out pretty lame most of the time.  Something along the lines of, "You're so special to me.  I just love you, like, more than a lot.  You're the chocolate to my peanut butter, um, or the peanut butter to my chocolate, you know, whichever works better for you. Um..."  You smile, tell us we're cute, and give us a sympathy hug.

And this isn't a new phenomenon. Throughout the ages, how many of us hapless males have used the words of the more talented to woo the fairer sex?  From our forefathers quoting Shakespeare, Frost and Dickinson to the more modern poets of Dylan, Lennon/McCartney and Peter Gabriel.  For me, Gabriel's song, "In Your Eyes" was the first love song I heard that wasn't just a sappy "how many different ways can I say I love you" love song.  It was an adult love song.  And even though I was only sixteen when it came out, it was something that I could aspire to.  He formed the words that I knew would some day be in my heart, and God knows I would never be able to wrench them out like this:

And all my instincts, they return
And the grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

"In Your Eyes" is a song about a real relationship.  Peter wrote it during his long romance with actress Rosanna Arquette*.  It was a relationship that was difficult, complicated, heartfelt and passionate.  The way Peter sums up the complex emotions involved in a serious adult relationship are nothing short of poetic.  In just those four lines, he sums up the modern man's struggle to put aside the conventions that men need to be strong and reserved, which conflicts with their desire to show true emotions to the women they love.  At sixteen, I knew I couldn't do this yet, but the song made me want to.  That's the great power of music - it can inspire us to do more, be more.

That desire comes across perfectly in Cameron Crowe's directorial debut, Say Anything.  In the movie, about a complex teenage relationship, John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler has run out of words to try and convince Diane that breaking up with him was a mistake.  As a last resort, he comes to her house, stands outside while holding a boom box over his head, playing "In Your Eyes."  The music wafts down the hillside, saying the things he's tried to say, but has failed to come up with on his own.  This song says the sings we wished we would’ve said at just the right moment to the one we hold dear, or give us the hope that we will have someone, someday, to whom we can play this song.

Melding flawlessly with the touching lyrics is an equally complex musical arrangement.  It starts with Peter's simple keyboards which are paired with Manu Katché's intricate percussive rhythms.  Katché weaves in African drums (with a matching African rhythm), hand cymbals and even traditional rock drums to lay a multifaceted yet solid rhythmic base the rest of the instruments can build upon.  David Rhodes plays the crisp guitar lines in the preludes to the chorus.  Tony Levin, who normally gets to do some really cutting edge bass work in a Peter Gabriel song, puts ego aside and spends almost the entire song as the very bottom of his fretless bass, only occasionally showing those flashes of the standard Tony Levin brilliance.  Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour adds vocals in his native Woolof at the end of the song, showing the most obvious African influences on Peter and his songwriting.

The process for writing and recording an album is an involved one.  Since Peter changes tone from album to album, hell, even in the middle of an album, the complexity is increased almost exponentially.  He puts it this way:
The smart process involves harvesting performances, then analyzing them and layering them up.  Initially you might just look at rhythm, then maybe you look at melody, then harmony, then timbre.  Each time you put down a layer of performance you slow it down and analyze it.  I love diversions and I keep on following them which makes the process a lot longer.

One of the diversions that he just couldn't let go was the final mix of "In Your Eyes."  After the album was released, he kept following the diversions attached to this song, trying out new things.  So when it came time to release the single of "In Your Eyes," Peter decided to release the result of the additional work on the song.  Right away, you can hear the song's different - better.  He added a vocal prelude, with lyrics that augment the original ones.

Accepting all I've done and said
I want to stand and stare again
Til there's nothing left out
Oh, it remains there in your eyes

Manu Katché's rhythms remain the focal part of this new mix, but Tony Levin's bass gets a boost as well, coming out of the dark a little bit to show what he can pull off.  He also had Youssou N'Dour add a substantial amount of new lyrics, almost making the song more African than British.  Ronnie Bright, bass singer from The Coasters, adds the deep and rich "In your eyes" throughout the new mix.  Gone are some of the verses, but the addition of Youssou's Woolof lyrics give the song a global feel that was only a footnote in the album version.

When Peter began performing "In Your Eyes" live, ever the tinkerer, he melded the two versions together and created what's probably the definitive version of the song.  Probably the best recording of this is from his Secret World Live DVD, where the entire band is in top shape, and he's joined by Youssou on vocals, as well as a then unknown Paula Cole on backing vocals.  The combination is an infectiously fun performance that makes this song such a joy to listen to.  When you hear it live, you can feel it growing organically from a ballad to a combination ballad/uptempo song right in front of you. 

Whenever I hear the chorus, I wish I had written those words for my wife.  But the great thing about music is that the artists know that we're going to co-op their art and inject it into our lives.  Peter knows that I can use his words to serenade my own love.

In your eyes
I am complete
In your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
In your eyes
The resolution of all the fruitless searches

That's why this song is the third best song of my lifetime.  It's a song that's become woven into the fabric of my life, intertwined with others that have a deeper meaning than just the song itself.  Whenever I have doubt, I know that without doubt, I am complete in Jennifer's eyes, and that's something that fills my heart with a joy that I wish for everyone.  People have been cribbing the poetry of King David (thousands of years ago), Shakespeare (hundreds of years ago) and Peter Gabriel (um, ten minutes ago) almost as long as there have been people.  If you haven't found a love like this for yourself - or if you've had it and lost it, don't be afraid to pick up your own boom box and let someone like Peter Gabriel help you tell him or her what you've yearned to, but just never found the words for.  They might just make a movie about it someday.

* The story goes that Rosanna Arquette was not only the muse for "In Your Eyes," but also the inspiration for Toto's Grammy award winning "Rosanna."  While it's true that Rosanna and Toto keyboardist Steve Pocaro were in a long-term relationship, songwriter/fellow keyboardist David Paich already had the song mostly done and just needed a name that fit.  "Rosanna" was the perfect three syllable name.

(Fun Fact #212:  The story behind how "In Your Eyes" ended up in Say Anything rivals the movie itself in its awesomeness.  While writing the screenplay for Say Anything, writer/director Cameron Crowe was sitting around, waiting for his wife (who's Heart's Nancy Wilson, by the way...) to finish getting ready so they could go out.  Not one to waste time (and a bit frustrated at having to wait), he sat down to work on the story.  The idea of holding up a boom box, playing a song where the artist sang the words you couldn't say yourself popped into his head.  There was a song that Cameron just loved at the time that he thought was perfect for the scene.  That song, of course, was....... "To Be a Lover" by Billy Idol+.

But when it came time to edit the movie and put the song in the scene, it was clear that "To Be a Lover" wouldn't work.  He searched records, looking for something that would work.  He even commissioned a few songwriter friends to try and come up with something, to no avail.  Finally, he came across the music that he had put together for his wedding to Nancy.  One of the songs on that tape was "In Your Eyes."  He immediately realized that this was the perfect song that he had been looking for and began the process of going through channels to ask Peter Gabriel for permission to use the song in his movie.

Even now, Peter Gabriel very rarely allows his songs to be used in other media, and with "In Your Eyes" he was especially wary since it was a song so personal to him.  When he was initially approached, his knee-jerk reaction was no, but he was convinced (by none other than Rosanna Arquette) to at least watch Say Anything before finalizing his refusal.  Cameron Crowe gave him a call to get the verdict.  "I appreciate you asking for the song.  It's a very personal song to me and I just hope you don't mind that I have to turn you down." 

Crestfallen, Crowe just had to know why.  Peter told him that it didn't feel like a proper use of the song when he takes the overdose.  Crowe was instantly confused.  "Uh, when he takes the overdose?"  Peter replied, "Yeah, you're making the John Belushi story, right?"  It turns out that the studio had sent over two movies for Peter to look at, the other being the John Belushi biopic, Wired.  Crowe immediately said, "Oh, no, no, no.  It's a movie about the guy in high school with the trench coat."  Peter realized that it was the other movie, which they hadn't watched yet.  He hung up with Cameron and watched the movie the next day, and then happily gave permission to complete one of the greatest scenes ever in a high school movie.)

+I know!  "To Be a Lover"?  Really?  Why not just go with "Sussudio"?  I cued up the movie, muted it, and played "To Be a Lover" over where "In Your Eyes" went.  I laughed out loud.  It was absurd.  Don't get me wrong, I love Billy Idol (check out the Mother of Mercy mix of "To Be a Lover," it's one of my favorite songs ever.  I could eat Steve Stevens' riffs for breakfast, lunch and dinner), but that song just would never have worked.  By the way, I checked out "Sussudio" the same way and it turns out that it was even funnier.  Do it yourself if you're in the need for a laugh.

(Fun Fact #32 Having Nothing at All to Do With "In Your Eyes":  One of the groups that Cameron Crowe asked to do a song for Lloyd to play was The Smithereens.  They ended up writing the song "A Girl Like You," which Cameron really loved, but realized wouldn't work in the movie either.  No big deal, though.  "A Girl Like You" ended up being a Top 40 hit for the band when they released it off their next album.)

4. Journey - Don't Stop Believin'

Like most iconic rock songs, "Don't Stop Believin'" has a beginning  become iconic because you can recognize them instantly.  Often, you only need a second or two to start to nod your head, as if to say, “Yeah, this is a great song.”  The opening piano riff of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” is one of those moments.  Then Steve Perry’s perfect rock tenor echoes the thoughts of everman and everywoman.  “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world, she took the midnight train going anywhere.”  How many of us have had that feeling?  We run outside, hail a cab.  "Where to mister?"  “Anywhere... Anywhere but here.”  There’s a life out there that’s better.  And it’s not here.

But "Don't Stop Believin'" almost never happened.

In 1980, Journey was at a crossroads.  After years of success, founding member, keyboardist and vocalist Greg Rolle left the band and they needed to decide how to replace him.  Do they hire a "yes" man who'd just do what they told him to do?  Or do they take a risk, leave their comfort zone and bring in a new member who they expected to make substantial contributions?  Luckily for us, they left safe harbor and brought in former Babys' keyboardist Jonathan Cain to man the keyboards and be an active songwriting contributor for the album that would end up being Escape.
Right from the start, Cain clicked with lead singer Steve Perry and songs soon began flowing out of their collaborations.  They quickly strung together pop melodies that were perfect for Perry's voice, while Neal Schon helped keep the rock in their roll.  One of their early projects was the song that ended up becoming one of the greatest songs of my lifetime, "Don't Stop Believin'."  In an interview with McKinney News, Cain talked about the songwriting process:

I brought in the title and the end piece and certainly the lyrics. I did a lot but it wasn’t without sitting there with Steve. We wrote together. There was a lot of arranging we did together. Neal brought the fire and the rock-n-roll attitude you want to have in a rock-n-roll band. Without the three of us, it just wasn’t Journey.
Many serious music fans dismiss "corporate bands" such as Journey, Styx, Boston and others, seeing them as more interested in popularity and money than in making serious records.  Band members were split on their reaction to the label.  "I hated it.  I thought it came from jealousy and envy.... and [us] having good business sense."  Drummer Steve Smith, on the other hand, said, "We probably were guilty of everything the critics said, as far as writing hit records... but I personally don't see anything wrong with that."  But they also took their craft seriously.  Not every song needs to be "Subterranean Homesick Blues" or "Ohio," just not like every movie needs to be "The Accused" or "Sophie's Choice."  Good music and good movies can also be fun.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Sean Penn once said that if the movie you're making isn't art, you're wasting your time.  Sorry, Spicoli, but you've become a little too serious for my tastes.  I want some fun with my art.  I like movies like Transformers and The Hangover.  So sue me.  Even though they're fantastical stories, they're people I can relate to.  I don't have much in common with Daniel Day Lewis' character in There Will Be Blood, which would fall under Penn's "art" test.  But an insecure teenager who just happens to fight an alien invasion side by side with other aliens?  That's more my cup of tea.  Art is great, and it has its place, all work and no play...  Jonathan Cain's sentiments said it best.  "You know what?  We're going to write songs about people's lives - about what's on their mind."  That's why they were so popular.  They wrote catchy songs with lyrics that people could relate to.  Again, what's wrong with that?

That being said, if you look at "Don't Stop Believin'" from a purely musical level, you're forced to give Journey some artistic credit.  Although the keyboard line and melody are pure pop, the rest of the song is more intricate and complicated than you'd think.  Drummer Steve Smith dances all over his drum set, keeping the beat but almost never playing the same beat on the same drum or cymbal.  He hits the tom toms, then lightly clinks a crash cymbal, finally hitting the snare that's the bread and butter of any rock song.  but after that, he clinks another cymbal, giving the drums an almost melodic quality to them.  Bassist Ross Vallory plays a bass line that isn't your typical timekeeper.  There's a nice buzzy effect to it and he jumps all over the place while also keeping the song moving forward, which is harder than you think.  Neal Schon's guitar work shows why people considered him a guitar wunderkind at the tender age of fifteen.  His opening guitar line has him racing over the neck, slowly building up to a massive shred, which culminates in a wail punctuated by a double crash of Smith's cymbals.

Even the song structure belies the simplicity that's normally associated with pop songs.  They don't even get to the real chorus of the song until the last fifty seconds of the song.  The "corporate rock" textbook doesn't tell you to do that.  It's intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-bridge-chorus-fade. 

And then there's the voice.  Steve Perry has arguably the greatest voice in the history of rock & roll.  He can belt out the rockers and softly deliver the tenderest of ballads.  His vocal performances bring what's needed for each song, and in "Don't Stop Believin'" it's a delivery that starts out on a smaller scale when the lyrics address despair, but then builds up into a strong and deliberate tone when the chorus finally arrives.  Jonathan's words flow out of Steve's voice so naturally, you can't believe the words aren't Steve's.  It's a lyricist/vocalist collaboration right out of the "Taupin/John" school.

Strangers waiting
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlight people
Living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night

Although it was popular on radio at the time, "Don't Stop Believin'" really found its niche when they began to play it live.  It almost instantly became the song that ended their concerts, so strong was the reaction.  So much like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2, "Don't Stop Believin'" found its true home on the stage, rather than the studio.  It's a song that doesn't sugarcoat that the world is a hard place, where countless people fall prey to the trappings of the easy life.  But for those who want to leave all that behind and strive for something more, there's the reminder that as long as you believe, and as long as you're willing to work for what you want, anything is possible.  It's a timeless message that still speaks to millions.

What's wrong with that?

(Fun Fact #512:  Steve Perry, who owns the rights to "Don't Stop Believin'" had a choice to make in 2007.  He had been approached by the creators of The Sopranos to have the song play at the very end of the very last episode, fading to black.  But Steve feared that "Don't Stop Believin'" would become forever known as the song that was playing when Tony Soprano died.  Once the producers showed him how the episode would end, he agreed to have the song play.  So while legions of Sopranos fans were disappointed with the ending, Steve Perry ended up being the real genius.  The clip was played over and over on various news/entertainment outlets as well as clicked on millions of times on YouTube.)

(Fun Fact #513:  In early 2009, Steve, who had been approached hundreds of times to use "Don't Stop Believin'" in various ads and movies, declining all until The Sopranos, was approached by the creators of a new television series.  They also wanted to use the iconic song.  Upon hearing that the series was focused around a glee club who took their singing very seriously indeed, he gave them permission to use the song.  Upon its airing in May of 2009, the pilot of Glee became an instant hit, largely to the rousing rendition they did of Journey's classic song.  Released as a digital single in early July, it went on to be downloaded over 500,000 times, giving Journey yet another gold record - sort of.)

(Fun Fact #723:  During the San Francisco Giants' run to the World Series title in 2010, the team would play "Don't Stop Believin'" during inning changes, since Journey is a Bay Area hometown band.  During game 5 of the National League Championship Series, they played the song again.  In the club level, people started turning around with their cell phones, taking videos while pointing and smiling.  What was the object of their attention?  None other than Steve Perry himself, standing up and leading the whole section in his song, belting it out at the top of his lungs.  I have to say I would've been as giddy as a schoolgirl if I'd been there.  Here's a great YouTube clip)

5. Metallica - Enter Sandman

Movies are scary.  Books are scary.  Songs?  Not so much, for the most part.  Movies and books are mediums where it's much easier to inspire fear in someone.  With the combination of video and sound, movies can shake you to your core.  Silence of the Lambs is a great example.  Even without images or sound, books can use bucketfuls of words to paint a very specific, terrifying mental picture.  This is shown perfectly in the Friends episode where Joey puts Stephen King's book The Shining in the freezer because it scares him so much.  But to do that with a song, that's the real challenge.

Music can inspire many emotions.  Go ahead and make fun, but a song like "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion caused many a heart to swoon, its message of love was so strong.  On the other hand, music can incite feelings of anger or hate.  Check out my post on Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" for living proof.  But fear?  Granted, Danny Elfman has written some creepy stuff for his movie score work (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow and Red Dragon come to mind), and some Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson music flirts with fear, but the first song that actually stirred fear in me was "Enter Sandman" by Metallica.

The song starts off innocently enough with the slow guitar open, played by Kirk Hammet, but then the wah-wah guitar whisps around, feeling like the twilight you experience as you're drifting off to sleep.  Then there's a sudden thud as the drums and bass, symbolizing our increasing heart rate, let us know that things are not well.  And then Kirk kicks off into the instantly classic guitar riff he came up with that was the basis for the entire song*. The riff confirms the fact that this is not going to be a good night’s sleep.  Slowly, the guitar refrain is built upon and then Lars Ulrich's crash of cymbals confirm it - we know it’s going to be a bad night ahead.  And all of this is before a single word is sung.

Say your prayers little one
Don't forget my son
To include everyone

If the music were happier, you'd think that these were the kind words of a devoted father, tucking his child in bed for the night.  But from the start, we've known this isn't a happy, genteel lullaby.  For the first time, Metallica worked with legendary producer Bob Rock, who worked Metallica hard, asking more of them than any producer had ever had.  To add some heft to the guitars, Rock and lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield recorded three separate rhythm guitar tracks, creating what they called a "wall of guitars," cribbing the old Phil Spector philosophy of the "wall of sound."  It gives the song a full, dense sound that previous Metallica albums never really had.  He also encouraged more straightforward rock songs, of which "Enter Sandman" is one, rather than the complicated, sprawling epics of past records, like And Justice for All 's "One."  Rock tightened the production, the music and also tightened the lyrics.

James, Metallica's lyricist, originally had written "Enter Sandman" as a song about death, even referring to a suspicious crib death, but Lars and Bob Rock thought he could do better, and for the first time in the band's history, they challenged him to delve deeper - and do better.  James was open to the task, and the storyline to "Enter Sandman" is a classic one that's so memorable.  The lyrics are delivered in the trademark snarl/scream that James had always used on previous records, but Rock asked him to hit the notes of the melody more precisely than James had ever done in the past.   This resulted in a stronger vocal performance, which the song's lyrics really needed. 

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight

What makes the image so scary, is that it’s the universal fear of what may happen while we’re asleep.  From tales of the bogeyman to Nightmare on Elm Street, mankind has always been afraid of nightmares, especially the ones that are so hard to wake from.  As our evil tour guide into the land of dreams, James welcomes us to our nightmare:

Exit light, enter night. 
Take my hand, off to never never land.  

In Peter Pan, it's Neverland, so never-neverland is the anti-neverland.  This isn't the place where dreams come true and you can stay a child forever.  This is the place where children dream adult nightmares and are forever haunted by them.  The music matches the darkness and gloom of the lyrics, with the drums, bass and guitar all relentless in their attack on your senses.

A sprawiling and screeching guitar solo feels like a runaway train through our nightmare, getting faster and more frantic, combining with the distorted wah-wah effect that adds to our disorientation.  Kirk rides the neck back down to the low registers, quieting only to bring up the prayer that we all know so well, “Now I lay me down to sleep…”  Lars and bassist Jason Newsted keep the rhythm pounding, with Lars riding the tom toms while Jason plays the persistent bass line that echoes our heartbeat.  Then James taunts us with the song's most haunting lyrics:

Hush little baby don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beasts under your bed
In your closet in your head

These are the lyrics that really get to me.  It reminds me of the story that Steven Spielberg told about making Jaws.  He was responding to a question about why he waited so long before revealing the terrifying shark.  He simply replied, "Nothing's more scary than what's in your head."  James Hetfield fed on our insecurities and paranoias and let us fill in the rest with our imagination.  And if your imagination is anything like mine, it can conjure up some terrifying stuff.  I'd tell you about one of my worst nightmares, but "Enter Sandman" is traumatizing enough.

After a nonstop four minute assault, the song ends the way it began, slowly bringing us out of sleep to return to the waking world, where we’ll never forget that nightmare that we had as a kid…

*Back when Metallica was recorded, the way Metallica wrote songs was that guitarist Kirk Hammet and bassist Jason Newsted would record riffs, melody and rhythm lines for songwriters James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich to piece together into songs of their creation.  It wasn't until their album St. Anger that Metallica began writing songs as a whole group, with everyone involved in the process.

(Interesting Fact #112:  In 2003, the United States military used "Enter Sandman" to antagonize their Muslim prisoners.  It was an interrogation tool, used to break down the will of the prisoners, making them easier to interrogate.  On the flip side, they also used the theme to the children's show Barney for the same purpose.  I would guess if you alternated Metallica with Barney, I'd break in about an hour.)

Three videos for this one.  The first is the official video of the song, with images that match the terror of the lyrics.  Secondly, there's a great live performance of the song.  Lastly, there's the headbanging cover by Apocalyptica, who covers Metallica songs with strings.  That's right, these guys bang their heads while playing the cello.

6. Prince and The Revolution - Let's Go Crazy

Prince was at a crossroads in the middle of 1983.  His previous album, 1999, had become a big hit, becoming his first Top 10 album and spawning three Top 15 hit singles, "1999", "Delirious", and "Little Red Corvette."  1999 was the first album where he used a backup band called The Revolution.  The addition of a band gave 1999 a depth and organic musical complexity that was missing from his earlier works, where it was Prince adding layer upon layer of vocals and instrumentation in the studio virtually all by himself.  So when it came time to record his next album, Prince needed to decide which path he would take, the solo genius at work, or the leader of a collaborative group of musicians - a band, if you will.  It was a novel concept for Prince.

He realized that the opportunity to have others involved in the songwriting and recording process could only make the resulting songs better, so in August of 1983, Prince and The Revolution started work on the Purple Rain album.  The band was involved not just in playing on the record, but also in its writing and production.  Lengthy jam sessions spurred creativity for all, and the resulting songs had a much more cohesive construction.  What started out as a music project morphed into a music and movie project, with the movie Purple Rain released in 1984.  The songs Prince and The Revolution were working on ended up becoming the soundtrack to the film.  And the song that would open both the album and the movie was aptly called "Let's Go Crazy," the sixth best song of my life.

Starting off with a church organ, you're not sure what you've gotten yourself into.  Then Prince starts preaching:

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that's a mighty long time

It's very dramatic opening, so much so that it opens the album as well as the movie, but you start to wonder what this all has to do with an actual, well, song.  But as Prince's preaching reaches the apex, the bass drum beat starts, followed by a cool, echoed quick drum tap.  It's this beat that permeates the whole song, with other elements added, giving the song the complexity that The Revolution helped bring to "Let's Go Crazy." 

First, there's the fuzzed out, almost metal guitar that Prince plays.  Right off the bat, you can see that he's taking his music down another road.  Building on what he'd started on his single "1999," he doesn't completely abandon the funk and soul that was such a huge part of his earlier records.  He builds it on a classic dance song rhythm, but let's be clear, "Let's Go Crazy" is a rock song at its core.

And when you're Prince, the king of soul-funk-dance at the time, writing a rock song can piss a few people off.  What most of us like when we like a certain artist or band is whatever kind of music they were playing at the time we started to like them.  When artists stretch their musical boundaries, their fans revolt.  If they wanted to hear a different kind of music, they'd listen to a different band.  The problem with Prince, though, is that he had no boundaries.  He wrote songs that interested him, and with the influence of The Revolution, he was exposed to musical styles and song structures that he'd never really paid that much attention to.  That resulted in rock elements invading his music for the first time.  In a rare interview* with MTV, Prince was asked about those rock elements:
Some have criticized you for selling out to the white rock audience with Purple Rain, and leaving your black listeners behind. How do you respond to that?

Oh, come on, come on! Okay, let's be frank. Can we be frank? If we can't do nothing else, we might as well be frank. Seriously, I was brought up in a black-and-white world and, yes, black and white, night and day, rich and poor. I listened to all kinds of music when I was young, and when I was younger, I always said that one day I would play all kinds of music and not be judged for the color of my skin but the quality of my work, and hopefully I will continue. There are a lot of people out there that understand this, 'cause they support me and my habits, and I support them and theirs.
 Musically, there's so much more, though, to "Let's Go Crazy."  Sure it's a rock song, but the funk and soul elements of his previous efforts are still there.  It's a buffet of musical styles.  There are the rich vocals that would normally be found in a soul song, with the duo of Wendy & Lisa adding a nice vocal complement to Prince's strong voice.  Dr. Fink plays some standard dance style keyboards, which work especially well with Bobby Z's danceable drum beat.  Brown Mark's bass line, however, is textbook rock, virtually mirroring the guitar line, giving it that extra umph.  It's a bass line that Van Halen's Mark Anthony could've done, and it's in a Prince song of all places. 

Finally, there's Prince and his guitar playing.  When I first heard him shred in this song, my first thought was "This is amazing!  I didn't know he could play like this!"  Then I thought how much we'd all missed if he could've played guitar like this the whole time.  Of course he could, but he hadn't felt the need to until Purple Rain.  But when he decided to show the world what he could do with a guitar, thankfully, he never stopped.  Sure "Let's Go Crazy" is his most prominent guitar work on the record, but there's some great electric stuff in "When Doves Cry," some great acoustic stuff in "Take Me With U," and great all around guitar in "Purple Rain."  He wasn't hiding his "guitar" light under a bushel anymore.

But the music isn't the only area where "Let's Go Crazy" bucked the trend.  Lyrically, it's a song that urges us to put aside the trappings of the rock and roll lifestyle and to "punch a higher floor."  You couldn't get more "un" rock&roll  than these lyrics.  So the church organ at the beginning of the song and his sermon were an appropriate introduction to everything that followed.  Even though the music is rock and roll, the lyrics speak to the "be in the world, not of the world" convention of Christianity.  It's as if he's saying, "I'll rock your pants off, but I'll teach you a valuable life lesson at the same time."  It's a feat that's nigh impossible to pull off, but somehow Prince does it.  Part of the reason it works so well is that he puts it in the language that his generation - our generation - would understand.

Dr. Everything'll be alright
Will make everything go wrong
Pills and thrills and dafodills will kill
Hang tough children

Now I'm not sure about the perils of daffodils, but Prince is urging us to live as pure a life as we can. He acknowledges that although there will be temptations and troubles, the prize at the end, salvation, is worth the struggle in this world.  Later in the MTV interview I quoted above, Prince summed up his belief system.
I believe in God. There is only one God. And I believe in an afterworld. Hopefully we'll all see it. I have been accused of a lot of things contrary to this, and I just want people to know that I'm very sincere in my beliefs. I pray every night, and I don't ask for much. I just say, "Thank you" all the time.
I'd always thought that Prince had a sense of entitlement - that he believed he deserved all of the accolades that were thrown his way by the music media.  He was a genius, sure, but he knew he was a genius and his ego mirrored that.  It's nice to see that there's also a heavy dose of appreciation for the gifts he received.  It wasn't a revolutionary idea to add positive lyrics to a rock and roll foundation, but the way Prince and The Revolution did it brought the idea to a whole new generation.  This wasn't a hippie song that our parents listened to, this was something we loved, from a voice from our generation.

I called Prince the Mozart of our time in my other Prince post, and I stand by that assertion.  Prince brought complex, technically intricate music to the masses.  But it wasn't just complex, it was eminently listenable.  Music fans from all over the spectrum call themselves Prince fans, and even the ones who don't really like his music generally acknowledge his genius.  So sure, he's smart enough to know how talented he is, but at then end of the day, I'm glad he says thank you for it.

* After a few stories that he felt didn't reflect the actual interviews, Prince declined to speak to the media between 1981 and 1985.  He did two major interviews in 1985, one with MTV and the other with Rolling Stone. The quotes in this essay are from the MTV interview, but one quote from the RS one I thought was pretty profound, "I think when one discovers himself, he discovers God. Or maybe it's the other way around. I'm not sure...It's hard to put into words. It's a feeling -- someone knows when they get it. That's all I can really say."

Just couldn't restrain myself!

I know I've only got a few songs left on my list and you want me to get to it, but I just couldn't help myself.  So #6 is going to have to wait just a few days longer while I crank this one out.

If you ever liked Duran Duran back in the day you MUST listen to their new single, "All You Need Is Now."  Normally I'm not one to tell people what to do, but when I heard this song for the first time a few days ago, I just couldn't shake it.  Although I'm a big fan of Duran Duran, I have to admit that I had not idea they had a new album out+.  After only the first listen, this quickly jumped into one of my favorite Duran Duran songs ever, and not just because it was new.  It's a song that I didn't expect much from (wasn't a huge fan of their last effort), but being the huge fan of the band, I at least wanted to give it a fair shake.  I just didn't expect it to shake back.  But boy did it.

When the song kicks off, there's this strange keyboard riff that immediately reminded me of some of the stuff from Red Carpet Massacre, their last studio album (which I wasn't a huge fan of).  Ugh, I thought to myself - not this again.  But the more Nick Rhodes keyboards kept repeating, the more I started getting into it*.  My head started to bob as John Taylor's straightforward (especially for him) bass line kicked in.  Roger Taylor does a great drum beat, playing mostly the rim of his snare and laying down an infectious rhythm with his brother from another mother.

Simon LeBon's vocals have that "singing through a bullhorn" effect laid over them, giving a distant timbre to his voice.  Normally, I'm not a big fan of this particular effect, but like the keyboard line, it quickly grew on me.  The lyrics sound good with that aggressive delivery, and are vintage LeBon, meaning that I don't have any real idea what the hell he's talking about:

It's all up to you now
Find yourself in the moment
Go directly to the voodoo
Now the channel is open

Then I realized something about the opening and first verse- it's all a part of a yin-yang prelude to the chorus.  The verses are the new Duran Duran dissonance laden dance-hall music, but with a nod to the more traditional Duran Duran melody.  But then the chorus hits, with a slight change in tempo, a phasing effect and pow!  You're immediately transported to 1982 with a chorus that could've been the lead single from their album Rio.  It's such a shock that you pause for a second, wondering if you heard it right.  I actually scrolled back a few seconds just to hear the transition again.  There it was again, this juke to the right when you expected it to go left.

Realizing that they were paying tribute to the Duran Duran of the 80's, Simon's lyrics in the chorus more than nod to the past.  In fact, he says it outright, as he paints a beautiful picture of what it was like back in the day - and that it can be like that again.

And you sway in the moon the way you did when you were younger
We told everybody all you need is now
Stay with the music let it play a little longer
You don't need anybody all you need is now

Producer Mick Ronson, who grew up a huge Duran Duran fan, wanted the band to take a page from both books, new and old, and meld them together into something special.  A Grammy winner for his production on Amy Winehouse's breakout album Back to Black, he even helped out with the effort, playing the guitar on the new song and the rest of the new album.  Thank God he talked the boys into going back to what they do so well, because they hit this one out of the park.

That's the great thing about music.  It can surprise you and impress you when you least expect it.  A band you've never heard of before gets played by someone in the cube next to yours.  It starts off with "Who's that?" and turns into a new band that you really like.  Other times, like this, a band that you miss puts out something that harkens to what they do best but also has a flair of originality that captures your attention - just like it did when you heard them play back in the day.  Duran Duran caught me off guard, but in the best possible way.  They made a song I wasn't sure they still had in them, and I'm hungry for more. 

At this point, I'm contemplating at twelve-step program of some type to deal with this addiction.  I've listed to the song twenty times in the last three days.  And I'll listen to it another half-dozen times while I'm working on this post.  So watch/listen to the clip below and put on your 80's regalia - neon, hair spray, whatever you got left, and enjoy new wave/pop music the way it's supposed to be done. 

+ In fairness to me, they released it only on Itunes.  I'm not a big Itunes fan - I don't like the way Apple wants to control my music and where/how I listen to it, so I get my music vial old-school CDs or other online outlets.

* But think about it for a minute.  Aren't there some similarities between the whacked out keyboard intro to this song and the melancholy vampire-like intro to "The Chauffeur"?  Both are catch you off guard, zig instead of zag keyboard lines.  So while I called they keyboard intro and verses the "yin" to the "yang" of the chorus, there's a little more gray than we give it credit for.