Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On Piety in Death Metal

As many who read my blog know, I am rather nostalgic when it comes to the 1980's, so it may come as no surprise that I frequently watch VH1 Classic. Yes, there is (for now) a music network that does play music, as opposed to an endless assortment of reality TV shows. One of the shows I frequently watch is "That Metal Show". The best part of the show are the interviews wherein bands past, present, and future, appear and discuss all that they have been doing since we last heard from them (which in some cases is a very long time). From Aerosmith to Guns N' Roses to Slayer, there is apparently no band that is too dark or even too light (sometimes they have "hair metal" bands on there)  to appear.

There are three hosts on the show who spend the majority of their time behaving a lot like a bunch of adolescents. Not surprisingly, they seem to find bodily functions a great source of comedy. Nevertheless, when they start talking about music, or their favorite artists, they all of sudden become very solemn and respectful. In fact, when it comes to meeting some of their favorite metal heroes, they are downright worshipful. So much so that when a guest walks on stage, you half expect the hosts to start declaring in a fit of ecstasy "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy", a la Wayne's World.

On occasion, the hosts will even go on a tirade about how silly religious groups have been complaining about some album jacket or some song lyric. What is so odd about their outrage is that the point of their music is to offend people. And so it comes off as a little bit disigneuous when they appear to be shocked because some silly Christian takes offense that one of their album covers portrays a crucifix in a vile of urine (or some such thing). To varying degrees they scorn such objectors, while at the same time praising words that by their own admission are filled with venom and hatred. This is the odd dichotomy that lies at the heart of most metal heads. For on the one hand they would never praise an action that was truly Satanic, while on the other, they do seem quite content to endorse the message when it appears in a song. If it rhymes, it's fine. Indeed, they justify it by saying that the words and music aren't meant to be taken so seriously, yet if you were try to criticize such music, you might think, judging from their response, that you had just insulted their mother.

A few years back, Ronnie James Dio's widow appeared on the show (Dio was at one time  a member of Black Sabbath). Interestingly, both she and the hosts talked very little about his musical career and instead chose to focus on what a kind and generous person he was. On another episode, the lead singer of the band King Diamond, a self-professed Satanist in the school of Anton LaVey, explained how he nearly died during a recent heart operation. The discussion quickly became very serious as he relayed just how frightening the process was. At one point, one of the hosts even asked him if he had considered praying to God throughout the whole ordeal. That's right- a show often dedicated to taking "God-mocking" lyrics lightly, wants to know if the great King Diamond, the professed Satanist, prayed? And in case you're curious about his response, it was remarkably interesting. He never came right out and said that he wouldn't, but instead chose to tell everyone that he had his wife bring him a necklace with three crystals, one of which possessed the soul of his recently deceased cat, a cat who apparently possessed "very special powers of healing." What he did not say was that he appealed to the "sweet graces" of the evil one, nor did he pretend that Beelzebub would offer him hope in such a dark hour. Instead, he put his faith in a crystal that held the soul of his cat! Amazing what lengths some will go to in order to avoid admitting that they need God.

Another raging blind-spot among metal musicians (as well as their devotees) is the effect that the music has upon the listener. For example, when both Ozzy Osbourne and Judas priest were accused of encouraging two youths to commit suicide through their music (Rob Halford actually stood on trial for this), they were absolutely incredulous as to how the words of a song could possibly have such an effect on young people. Indeed, they saw no connection between their songs being dark, violent, and despairing, and the subsequent behavior of youths who sought to emulate what was glamorized in these songs. Imagine that; what you say and do has an effect on what others say and do. This is not to say that I think this was their intention- for both Ozzy and Halford looked genuinely shaken by these tragic events, but the level of naiveté on the part of both borders on that of a seven year old child who is shocked that a house has burned down as a result of him playing with matches.

Apart from the tragedy itself, what is most striking about these events is just how stunned and saddened these artists were by the occurrence in real life of the events that they so artfully describe in their songs. In most cases, I really do believe that they do not know what they are doing. But ignorance nevertheless does not make "playing with fire" any less dangerous (in this situation you might even call it playing with hell fire). In other instances, I think that the naiveté is more of a kind of willful ignorance. The artist knows that people aren't listening to these messages because they are innocuous, anymore than people watch a Lady Gaga video because they expect family-friendly entertainment. They listen to them because they appeal to the most visceral and violent part of themselves. I am not talking here so much about Halloween metal, which I would associate with someone like Alice Cooper. I am speaking about the kind which either does make a direct appeal to the evil one, or sounds like the unleashing of something that most would regard as terrifying. The question is, how can it be both cool and uncool at the same time to say these things? These bands will argue that their songs help disaffected youth express their frustration in a healthy way, but darkness and hatred are not pacified by further fomenting them; they are pacified by suggesting a more rational way to deal with those powerful emotions.

Of all the guests that I have seen on the show, Marilyn Manson was perhaps the crudest and most vile. I watched his interview thinking, maybe this guy has learned a thing or two since "Anti-Christ Superstar". Alas, he is one of the rare shock rockers who is just about as unpleasant in an interview as he is in his music. However, in spite of all of his vulgarity, when it came to discussing some of his music heroes, he was practically prostrate with admiration for them. Yes, even the born-again Alice Cooper was regarded by him as a great pioneer of rock. Even more interesting was his take on the Columbine massacre. Apparently the shooters were huge Manson fans, and so naturally people asked what sort of influence he may have had on them. Not surprisingly, Manson was shocked and appalled by this prospect, complaining that he was merely a scapegoat (a goat seems to be an appropriate image) for the crime. The truly guilty party was certainly not himself, but rather a society that glamorizes this sort of violence. I still cannot get over the sense of wonder on his face that some kids might actually take what he was saying in his songs seriously. Dress it up if you like with some philosophical argument about how Manson is really offering a critique of society, but kids are not going to consult Socrates in order to understand song lyrics. Christians are often criticized for being naive, but this kind of "innocence" makes the simplest Evangelical Christian seem about as wise as a serpent.

But whatever your persuasion, it is at bottom worth repeating just how reverential metal heads are about their music. On the show, quite regularly they will invoke the illusutrious "metal gods" subsequent to any significant metal announcement. And whenever they deem that something is particularly hard core, they give the universal sign of metal heads, namely the horns. Furthermore, just as the Church has a process called canonization, they too would never dare utter a blasphemy against any one of their saints or icons that had been inducted into their hall of fame (though ironically they have no problem blaspheming God). Along with a common set of rituals, they even have what some might call a metal reliquary, a place in their homes wherein they keep items that have been touched by a particular metal hero. They are the disciples of metal- the experts on every fact and detail surrounding their favorite artists. It is, shall we say, their religion. It is the cult of cool. All is forgiven, and all is good, as long as said coolness reigns. And what is "cool" according to them? Anything that is dark, rebellious, and destructive. And though they will not direct that same reverence towards God, they do demonstrate in the oddest of ways that every man is made for worship. And even though they would seem to be the last person on the face of the earth to be accused of being religious, they too have their own religious ceremonies through which they demonstrate an ecstatic devotion to their particular gods. While it is true that they spend a great deal of their time being irreverent to God, it is also true that they remain painfully ignorant of the potential ramifications of this. So forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do, or at least give them the eyes to see what most of us simply recognize as the principle of cause and effect.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

The 10 Most Nonsensical Songs of All Time

The primary difference between these songs and hieroglyphics is that hieroglyphics are decipherable and when deciphered actually say something, while these songs, when they are "translated," not only become more unintelligible, but you actually wish you could go back to that innocent time when you had no idea what the lyrics were at all. Instead, as you begin to listen to the words more carefully, it becomes readily apparent that you are not the only one who has no idea what they are talking about.

10. In-A-Gada-Da-Vida - Iron Butterfly

Not to be confused with what a child says when he or she is trying to say "Daddy", or Fred Flintstone's famous catchphrase "Yabba-Dabba-Da-Vida", this Iron Butterfly song was originally supposed to be called In the Garden of Eden, but after the lead singer started slurring the words while intoxicated, the band decided that the resulting nonsense sounded cooler than the actual words. Hence, the title of the song. Though tenth on the list, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida holds a very special place, for unlike the other songs on the list, it really is gibberish, not just real words that happen to say nothing.

9. Stand - R.E.M.

Famous for his stream of conscious lyrics, Stipe sometimes actually manages to say something with his collage of images, while at other times it can just come off sounding like a child rhyming on the playground. Frankly, the song reminds me of something you might hear when children are skipping rope or playing hopscotch; "Stand in the place where you live. Now face north. Think about direction, wonder why you haven't before... If you are confused, check with the sun. Carry a compass to move you along. Your feet are going to be on the ground, your head is there to move you around." Note to self; "Your head is there to move you around." I will treasure this wisdom always.

8. Ironic - Alanis Morissette

First, let me credit Ms. Morissette for tackling such an interesting subject as "irony." However, the problem with writing a song about instances of irony is that you actually have to provide instances of irony; "It's like rain on your wedding day, It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. It's like meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife." One might describe these events as "typical", or even the result of "Murphy's law," but they are not "ironic" in the strictest sense. The truth is Ms. Morissette gives a valiant effort in this regard, but sadly it is one that ultimately comes up short. Now isn't that ironic- a song about irony that has no irony. Indeed, by avoiding irony altogether, Ms. Morissette has written the most ironic song of all.

7. Kryptonite - Three Doors Down

I don't mean to slag on this band because they seem like good guys, but when it comes to their first major hit, Kryptonite, they've got some explaining to do. The song is presumably an attempt to draw a parallel between the story of Superman and the lead singer. However, when one uses a figure as colorful as Superman, the metaphor should in fact reflect that which it represents; "If I go crazy then would you still call me Superman. If I'm alive and well would you be there a holdin' my hand. I'll keep you by my side with my super-human might. Kryptonite." OK, I can overlook the questionable use of Superman in this song, but I can't just turn the other way when one arbitrarily throws the word "Kryptonite" where it doesn't belong. He may just as well have thrown the word "beta-carotene" or "ziggurat" in the song, it would have made about the same amount of sense. I know, I know, kryptonite is part of the story of Superman, but what, pray tell, does it have to do with the previous statement? I know it rhymes, but just because something rhymes doesn't make it true (though I am tempted to argue otherwise). Perhaps the lyric writer needs a reminder that Superman does not like Kryptonite, so not only does it not follow from the previous statement, it contradicts it.

6. I Want It That Way - Backstreet Boys

My lyrical standards for boybands (or girlbands like the Spice Girls) are very low. In fact, I have about the same expectation as I do for a second grader writing their first poem. For example, here is the first poem I ever wrote; "A cat went to a tree. He ate a bee. The bee did buzz. The cat raised his fuzz, and they ran around and around all over town." Genius, no. Logical in the most basic sense? Yes. So when I listen the lyrics of a song like I Want It That Way, I am not asking for much. Alas, that is apparently too much to much to ask for. Placed at the end of every verse and chorus is this inexplicable phrase; "I want it that way". In the first verse it is a good thing. In the second it is a bad thing. In the chorus, he "never wants to hear her say it." Son, make up your mind, do you want it that way, or not? And what pray tell, is "that way" in the first place?  Not since Meat Loaf's, "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that", has a lyric said so much and so little at the same time. In any case, when I hear this catchy little number I can't help but to think that it would make a great fast food commercial. How would you like your burger, sir? "I want it that way!"

5. Africa - Toto

"I know that I must do what's right, as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus across the Serengeti... It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you. It's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take the time to do the things we never have." This may very well mean something profound that I am just not cultured enough to understand (which is more than a little possible).The other possibility is that the band is just making stuff up. According to lyricist Jeff Porcaro, he wrote the song after watching a documentary on Africa. So inspired by it was he that he wrote a song about going to Africa, a place he had never been. In a certain sense he does pull it off. The song really does have an exotic feel, not to mention a great chorus. But upon closer observation, the lyrics have about as much content as the love song that I have yet to write about the people of Mongolia. To be clear, I have never been to Mongolia, but I have watched a special on National Geographic, and was fascinated by it. And though I generally leave it to God to do the blessing, as much as I can, I too "bless the rains" in Mongolia, especially in the capital city Ulaanbaatar, where it is sorely needed (or so I am told).

4. MacArthur Park - Donna Summer

Performed in the late 70's by the recently deceased Donna Summer, this song starts promisingly with a rather pleasant melody coupled with lyrics that seem pretty straight forward. Then all of sudden, it goes south in a hurry; "Spring was never waiting for us. It ran one step ahead... Between the parted pages, and were pressed in love's hot fevered iron, like a striped pair of pants." How many songs do you know use a simile comparing love to a striped (she actually says stripéd) pair of pants? "MacArthur park is melting in the dark. All the sweet green icing flowing down. Someone left the cake out in the rain. I don't think I can take it, 'cause it took so long to bake it, and I'll never have that recipe again, oh no...". To the contrary, oh yes! I take it back- this is one of the most spectacular songs ever written; the words couldn't be anymore marvelous if the songwriter tried to make a joke out of the song. R.E.M., once upon a time, tried to do this with their song Superman (not to be confused with the 3 Doors Down version), and Sting, in a bid to make fun of the song Every Breath You Take, added these words at the end of one of his solo efforts; "Every breath you take, every move you make, every cake you bake, every leg you break..." But the genius of comparing a broken heart to a cake melting in the rain is almost too much for me to bear. It is difficult to write a lyrical masterpiece, but it is perhaps even more difficult to write spectacularly bad lyrics and mean them. This song accomplishes all of this in spades.

3. The Impression That I Get (Knock on Wood) - The Might Mighty Bosstones

Perhaps no one has ever really explained to the lead singer what it means to "knock on wood," because the "impression that he seems to get about it" seems to be the wrong one. "Have you ever been close to tragedy, or been close to folks who have. Have you ever felt a pain so powerful, so heavy you collapse... Have you ever had the odds stacked up so high you need a strength that most don't possess. Or has it ever come down to do or die, you've got rise above the rest? Never had to knock on wood, but I know someone who has, which makes me wonder if I could... because I'm sure it isn't good. That's the impression that I get." Don't get me wrong, this ska-influenced band is a lot of fun, and I especially like the fact that they have a guy in the band who's only job is to dance around, but I feel almost like interrupting him in mid song if only to save him from the embarrassment of not making sense in front of millions of people. It is almost as if the song 'Ironic" and this one got together in order to follow the same pattern of lyrics that have nothing to do with the major premise of the song. "Knocking on wood" really isn't  meant to be some deeply foreboding act that one only commences doing at the darkest hour. To the contrary, it generally follows a spate of good luck, and is, in most cases, a light-hearted attempt to try to keep the winds of fortune blowing in the same direction. One does not generally knock on wood when one is in throes of some tragic situation- wherein one feels as if they will "collapse", rather it is the behavior of one who is simply looking for a little positive juju.

2. Sunglasses at Night - Corey Hart

The song starts in promising fashion, with haunting synthesizers as well as the description of a man wearing sunglasses at night; an image which may be pretentious, but may also be an opportunity for setting up some dramatic intrigue. However, intrigue is quickly transformed into lameness when these words are uttered; "I wear my sunglasses at night so I can, so I can, watch you weave and breathe your story lines..." But this is practically Shakespeare compared to what follows; "Don't switch the blade on a guy in shades, oh no." Oh no indeed! Did he just take poetic license with the word "switchblade"? "Don't masquerade with the guy in shades, oh no. I don't believe it, because you've got it made with the guy in shades, oh no." Oh my, I think is the expression. "I wear my sunglasses at night, so I can, so I can forget my name while you collect your claim..." What makes this song so marvelously nonsensical is the fact that by the end of the song we still have no idea why he is really wearing those stupid sunglasses in the first place (other than some ill-conceived attempt to remain incognito at a party). OK, I can understand wanting to watch a crowd without having them watch you, but when it comes to "switching the blade on a guy in shades" that's where I have to draw the line. And no, I don't care if you've "got it made with the guy in shades", that still does not excuse the lyrical pablum that proceeds from this mid 1980's hit record.

1. The Hurdy Gurdy Man - Donovan

Let me first say that I am not quite certain that Donovan is actually from this planet- so that might, to some extent, explain the bizarre nature of this song. Secondly, I suppose it is somehow apropos that even the real words in this song sound like they are fake (the hurdy gurdy is in actuality a real instrument). It is almost as if Donovan set out to write a song about St. Francis (who was also known to play on stringed instruments "singing songs of love"), but decided instead to turn Francis into some trippy tie-dye wearing peacenik who walks around in a haze singing gibberish and telling people to be nice to one another. "Thrown like a star in my vast sleep, I open my eyes to take a peep". I half expect to hear about Santa Claus next. "Twas' when the hurdy gurdy man came singing songs of lo-o-ove." Making the song even stranger and more remote sounding is the fact that the whole piece is sung in such an ethereal way. If an album were recorded on a spaceship this is exactlywhat I imagine it would sound like. And then comes my personally favorite part; "Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang. Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy. Roly poly, roly poly, roly poly, he sang. Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy." And that goes on for a while. Indeed, just about the only thing missing from this buffet of weirdness is a backing track from the Swedish chef.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

8 Egregious Examples of Popular Music in Advertising

The whole pose of the music industry in the late 1960's was that it stood for something, and furthermore, no amount of worldly bribery could take that away. But as Don Henley pointed out with his image of the "Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac," many of those ideals were sacrificed to that very same god of materialism. In the spirit of that compromise, I will be examining some of the most egregious and bizarre examples of bands (or those who owned the rights to their music) selling out their musical integrity for the purposes of crass commercialism. Now some may argue that not all of these songs are of the highest musical pedigree, and that may be true, but what is indisputable is the fact that no matter what people thought of them before, henceforward they will always be regarded as a TV jingle which either annoys or amuses, but will most certainly never again be regarded with respect.

8. Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding (Hire's Root Beer)

I don't know how responsible Mr. Redding was for this classic being used in a root beer ad, but whoever is to blame, they should be ashamed of themselves. Once a bittersweet ode to "sittin' on the dock of bay", while simultaneously lamenting one's own misfortune and ill-begotten adventures, it is now simply a song about a lovely afternoon wherein one ponders the profound question of whether or not to take another sip of one's carbonated drink.        

7. Elton John - Sad Songs Say So Much (Sasson Jeans)

I am not sure what offends me more, a rock legend lending a hit song to a company that sells denim products, or the cheap pun that resulted from the deal (Sassons say so much...). In either case, whenever I hear the song on the radio now I find myself singing the commercial version and not the real one. This is quite a remarkable accomplishment on the part of the advertiser, especially considering I haven't seen the commercial since it came out in 1984.

6. Player - Baby Come Back (The Swiffer)

Thanks to this Swiffer commercial, Player will forever be remembered in infamy for writing a song, not about a woman whom he is trying to convince to return to him, but a product which apparently has turned the every day mop into some kind of stalker lurking behind trees as well as grocery store display signs. The commercial is quite amusing, though whenever it comes on the radio now I must concede that I get a little paranoid and wonder if I myself am being watched by some sort of inanimate object.

5. The Human League - Fascination (Kingsford Charcoal)

Best known for their hit Don't You Want Me (Baby), the Human League was an 80's New Wave band that specialized in turning remote British pop into something a little bit more palatable and familiar. The band was cold and steely in appearance, and as a young boy it always seemed to me that they would have made some pretty good aliens (kind of like the alien trio in Superman 2). Taking all of this into account, one might assume that such individuals would not be so interested in selling their songs to various advertising agencies. However, that is precisely what they have done. And what's worse, not only did this formerly gritty English band (as gritty as you can be wearing that much makeup) decide to sell the song Fascination to a charcoal company, but they also went ahead and sold Human to Liberty Mutual. The truth is I could have chosen either one for the list, but decided on the former primarily because there seems to be such a disparity between the song's original feel and the type of product that is being sold. I suppose I can get why a band would want to sell out to make a little money, but why would a charcoal commercial choose an upbeat new wave song, which seems to have very little to do with barbecuing, and then to render the choice even more bizarre by the slowing the melody down to an almost snails pace. Indeed, any slower and the vocalist would sound possessed.

4. Modern English - Melt With You (Burger King)

Perhaps not one of the most lyrically astute songs in history, Melt With You topped the charts in the mid 80s; "I'll stop the world and melt with you. You've seen the difference and it's getting better all the time." Not since Hey Jude has there been such awkward grammar in a song. Nevertheless, the hook in this song is undeniably, well, "hooky." Nevertheless, in the early 00's Modern English decided to allow Burger King to use it in a commercial in order to promote their new patty melt (or some such thing). Now when I hear the song, instead of imagining a romantic relationship, I see a cheeseburger with a piece of melted cheese on it morphing into the head of the lead singer. Indeed, it is a mystical sign for me that he and his lovely lady somehow- through the union of beef products, cheese, lettuce, and buns, have become one.... sandwich that is.

3. Revolution - The Beatles (Nike)

I am well aware that the Beatles cannot be directly blamed for this song being in a commercial. After all, it was Michael Jackson who swooped in and bought the rights to the entire Beatles catalogue. And as if that weren't enough, after doing it he subsequently allowed Nike to use it in a television commercial. This apparently was a great shock to sir Paul McCartney, for he had always considered Michael Jackson a great friend. In fact, as you will recall, they wrote two hit songs together. But apparently the soft spoken Mr. Jackson had other plans, for when the songs became available for purchase, he ignored McCartney's plea, and outbid him anyway. Consequently, a song that McCartney said really stood for something (though I am not quite sure for what), was given away to Nike as if it never really meant anything to anyone at all.

2. Debbie Boone - You Light Up My Life (Lifestyle Lift)

I cannot decide whether this is a form of blasphemy against God, or it is simply a form of self-mockery on the part of Ms. Boone. In any case, she apparently sees no problem conflating a song that was once devoted to the Almighty and using it in an info-mercial to sell plastic surgery. To be honest when I hear the commercial, I half expect her to start singing; "You lift up my face...", but for some reason that never seems to happen. More confusing to me however is what the song now represents in the light of the commercial. Is she singing it to her plastic surgeon, or is it an ode to her new face; "You light up my life, you give me hope to carry on". I could understand the correlation if the commercial involved reconstructive surgery, but no mere "lifestyle lift" is worthy of such celestial praise.

1. Sarah McLachlan - Angel (Animal Cruelty)

Of all the songs on this list, "Angel" is not necessarily the greatest, but it is the most egregious example of a popular song in advertising, and here's why. First of all, when the song originally came out, it was a virtual juggernaut on the radio primarily because it combined McLachlan's gorgeous vocals with a tragic yet ultimately redemptive theme; "In the arms of the angel fly away from here, from this dark cold hotel room and the emptiness that you feel. You were pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie. You're in the arms of the angel, may you find some comfort here." Exquisite, but unfortunately I can barely even write those lyrics without somehow feeling profoundly irritated (and dare I say it, nauseated) for what it is now attached to. Does this mean that I think animal cruelty is a good thing, or that I am not in favor of organizations that seek to protect animals. Of course not- I can assure you that I am still an "elefriend." What I am complaining about is a well-composed song that has nothing to do with animals, though it is being employed as such. I'm sorry, but a dog is not capable of "reverie", perhaps a doggie dream or two, but not (for example) dwelling on memories of a great love that was lost in days gone by! Ms. Mclachlin must be the type of pet owner who refers to her animals as her children, which is why, I suppose, she is attributing human qualities to them. So not only is the song irrelevant to the commercial's subject matter, but now both have been tainted because whenever one hears the song, one can only think about suffering animals, and when one sees suffering animals one thinks about the song. And as if that weren't bad enough, around Christmas time, Ms. McLachlan carts out Silent Night in order to do the same. Once again, how does this relate in any way to the subject matter. Are the manger animals supposed to be those depicted in the commercial? Are these the angels that announced Jesus' birth to the shepherds in the field? The truth is this is the worst type of pathos that one can use, or maybe it's just lazy and utilitarian. But whatever the case, it is unlikely that I will ever again listen to the song Angel without also imagining some one-eyed, three legged dog shivering in Ms. McLachlan's lap... and that's just a pity.            

Monday, October 1, 2012

The 10 Best 80's Sitcom Theme Songs with a Message

Sitcoms haven't always felt the need to wax poetic and/or preach life lessons, but there was something about the 1980's in which the songs were not only catchy but came with a probing message. So gather 'round, young goslings, and sit at the feet of mother goose as she reveals her most profound secrets via lyrics of popular 80's sitcoms.

10. Cheers

If I had a heart song it would sound something like this; "Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got, taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn't you like to get away?" Oh yes, my friend, and might I ask how you know the deepest secrets of my soul? "Sometimes you've got to go where everybody knows your name, where they're always glad you came. You want to be where you can see the troubles are all the same. You want to be where everybody knows your name." The great insight of this particular theme song is the solemn recognition that a man sometimes needs a place for fellowship that is not his home, but is rather his home away from home (i.e. the pub). Of all the eighties sitcoms premises, this one is probably the most brilliant, particularly for recognizing that one can do a lot of comedy in a place which quite naturally draws a wide variety of people in a bid to drink from the fount of rejuvenation. Perhaps the producers were even perceptive enough to recognize that there must be something to the fact that so many jokes begin with a most unusual set of characters walking into a bar.

9. Webster

Some may accuse this show of being a kind of rip off of Different Strokes, but I can assure you that Emmanuel Lewis had his own thing going on. Nevertheless, it does seem more than a little odd that the 1980's had such a fixation on under-grown African-American children. At any rate, the theme song of Webster is quite revealing about the nature of the show itself; "Set in my ways, losing track of the days, only me to live for. Had no need to give more than I wanted to... It was you, then came you, you made me leap without taking a look. Never thought forever was the best I could, then came you." Ah yes, the age old tale of a white self-centered male narcissist, who finds love late in life, and then subsequently decides to a adopt a vertically challenged black child. What TV audience wouldn't clamor for more shows like this? The truth is there were no boundaries in the 80's when it came to a family construct. However, what distinguishes the 80's from today is that the unconventional family was a matter of necessity in order that the child might have some some sense of stability, whereas in today's comedies a broken family is practically the only respectable way to find happiness. Indeed, audiences (or at least producers) would never tolerate something so mundane and banal as the Cosby Show today.  

8. Punky Brewster

The show Punky Brewster is another in a long line of shows which detail the wackiness that can ensue in the heart of an unconventional family situation. "Punky", as she is called, is an orphan abandoned by her mother and father. The story centers around her and her foster father "George" who is an old widower who also happens to be a bit of an old coot. Thus the stage is set for the bittersweet lyrics of the theme song; "Maybe the world is blind, or just a little unkind... don't know. It seems you can't be sure of anything anymore, although... You may be lonely and then, one day you're smiling again. Every time I turn around, I see the girls who turns my world around... What's gonna be? Guess we'll just wait and see." And the coffeehouse patrons go wild! The age old question is, do men do evil because they are ignorant or is it because they are simply wicked? Sadly, the Punky Brewster theme song does not attempt to answer this great riddle, "although..." in the midst of the uncertainty of this age, it does suggest that one should not lose heart, for you never know- just around the corner there may be something which leaves you "smiling again". And indeed, this widower and orphan did manage to find a common purpose, at least for three seasons (which is like 30 years by TV reckoning). Thanks to a preteen and a 70 year old grouse, we were all able to laugh, cry, and become better people together. Where is that type of TV today, I ask you? Though the theme song never promises imminent happiness for this dynamic duo (nor for us) it does leave us with these tantalizingly suggestive words; "What's gonna be? Guess we'll just wait and see".          

7. Silver Spoons

Much like the previous sitcom, Ricky, the main character of the show, is a child that is initially rejected by both parents (apparently childhood abandonment was a popular theme in the 1980's). But as the story line gets solidified we see that the son and the father, whether they like it or not, are stuck together. The father is a wealthy man-child who wants no responsibility. And of course the antidote, at least from the writer's perspective, was to introduce a son who never knew he had. In the 80's whenever a sitcom needed a dramatic kick-start, all you had to do was make a child magically appear out of no where, and presto the series all of sudden had second life. "Here we are face to face a couple of silver spoons, hoping to find we're two of a kind, makin' show, makin' grow. Together, we're gonna find our way... to learn about those things you just can't buy." The best way to read this is not to sing it, but rather to say it out loud in the style of spoken word. Perhaps even doing it with some of the flair of a William Shatner, reciting Rocket Man, but I digress. As I read these words, I can't help but to be silent in contemplation at their significance. In a sense, both Ricky Stratton and his father Edward are lost. They have all the money in the world (they are silver spoons, after all), yet they need each other to "find their way". Why? To "learn all about those things you just can't buy" Not only is this a brilliant insight, but it is a brilliant insight wrapped within a play on words, which ever so eloquently contrasts the truly "priceless" things in life, with those that are no doubt worthless by comparison.

6. Perfect Strangers

Just like you remember where you were the moment you heard the news about the Space Shuttle Challenger, so also you remember where you were the first time you saw Balki Bartokomous does his special Balki dance.  Moreover, whenever he waxed nostalgic with stories about his strange and magical homeland known as Mypos, admit it, your heart leapt for joy! The show features two characters who are the classic odd couple. One character is a bit of a curmudgeon (cousin Larry), while the other, Balki, is an easy-going, though annoyingly naive figure. Despite the fact that they are distant cousins, they are in truth "perfect strangers", for they have never met before. The story begins with "cousin Larry" moving to Chicago to start a new life away from his family, but just when he thinks he is truly free, here comes a cousin whom he has never met- who must nevertheless must depend on him in order to get on his feet; "Sometimes the world looks perfect, nothing to rearrange, sometimes you just get a feeling like you need some kind of change (hence, you move to Chicago). No matter what the odds are this time, nothing's gonna stand in my way, this flame in my heart, and a long lost friend, gives every dark street a light at the end. Standing tall on the wings of my dreams. Rise and fall on the wings of my dreams. The rain and thunder, the wind and haze, I'm bound for better days. It's my life and my dreams, and nothing's gonna stop me now (except perhaps Balki)." This world is a crazy place, but you know what, don't ever let anyone "clip your wings", and that includes any pesky family members. In spite of the rain and thunder, or the wind and haze, you've just got to give your dreams a shot. Yet we dare not forget, as per the the advice of the song, that the "flame in your heart" is only part of the equation. Yes, in order to achieve perfect fulfillment, you may want to consider acquiring a distant cousin from a heretofore unheard of island in the Mediterranean.

5. Family Matters

Of the theme songs on the list, this is the only one which is about traditional domestic bliss. In fact, the late 80's and early 90's saw a brief renaissance of the celebration of the conventional family (e.g. The Cosby Show, The Hogan Family, and Just the Ten of Us). Yes, those were the golden years for dinner in front of the television. "It's a rare condition in this day and age, read any good news on the newspaper page. Love and tradition of the grand design, some people say is even harden to find. But then there must be some kind of clue inside these tearful walls... As days go by we're gonna fill our house with happiness." Yawn. I mean really, can't we just return to those happy stories about abandoned children and families constructed in a loose affiliation of individuals brought together by chance? Is not Steven Urkel (I call him Durkel) the best argument against even having children? Didn't you watch the movie Pleasantville? Leave it to Beaver is dead. For these reasons (and many more), let us get with the times, abandoning all hope, and further disposing of such naive little myths about happy families, and other wicked people who, for some undefinable reason, think that there is such a thing as love, tradition, and of all things, a "grand design."        

4. Laverne and Shirley

"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!". You really cannot add to that introduction; that is enough to chew on for days. But if you look further, you will see an ode to woman's empowerment that perhaps is only rivaled by the show Alice ("There's a new girl in town and I'm feelin' good..."). If this theme song had a male counterpart it would "I Did it My Way" by Satan, I mean Sinatra. It's the old, OK, so I had to crack a few eggs/skulls to make the omelette, but hey, it's a damn tasty omelette! "Give us any chance we'll take, give us any rules, we'll break it. We're gonna make our dreams come true, doin' it our way!" These ladies have "never heard the word impossible" (or so they say), but whatever the case, do not get in their way, or you too may be the next casualty in their glorious march to the head of the assembly line.  


3. Whose the Boss?

"Who's the Boss" is the Robert Frost of 80's wisdom lyrics; "There's is more to life than what you're livin' so take a chance and face the wind; an open road and a road that's hidden, a brand new life around the bend. There were times I lost a dream or time, found the trail and at the end was you. There's a path you take and a path untaken. The choice is up to you, my friend. The nights are long, but you might awake to a brand new life around the bend." I am so confused about which path I am supposed to take! Is it the open road or the road that's hidden? I am told that if I take the path that is "taken", versus the one that is "not taken," I will be fine. Or is it the other way around? Please help me, oh sage of the 80's theme song, help me to know which road to take in order to find a "brand new life around the bend!"

2. The Facts of Life

Just from the title of the show you know you are about to get schooled (pun intended) on the great secrets of life. Indelible in my the memory are those crazy girls known as Tootie, Jo, Blair, and Natalie. Enrolled at a rather cushy boarding school, these girls are given weekly life-lessons- in thirty minute intervals- based on the zany predicaments they find themselves in. The "mother goose" of the series is the matriarch Mrs. Garrett (a.k.a. Mrs. G), who speaks from her treasury of wisdom in order to help these young ladies turn into fine upstanding citizens. Such is the wisdom revealed in the theme song; "You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have, the facts of life, the facts of life. There's a time you've got to go and show you're growing now you know about the fact of life, the facts of life. When the world never seems to be living up to your dreams, and suddenly you're finding out the facts of life are all about you-hoooo." And thus I close the great compendium of all quintessential knowledge, putting to shame all the great thinkers of history who poured out so many unnecessary words, just to say what this theme song said in one fifty second spot.

1. Different Strokes

From the great TV series which brought us Arnold's unforgettable riposte; "What you talkin' about Willis?" comes the final series to be honored in this list. I guess it is no surprise that this show and the previous are paired together considering that the Facts of Life was a spin-off of "Different Strokes". In any case, Different Strokes is the last in a string of comedies which involve some sort of unconventional family situation. In other words, nothing can be hilarious unless one is living in a broken family, or at least a family that is put together through happenstance. I grant you this can provide a plethora of interesting plot-lines (not to mention good lyrics in the theme song), but must there be so much domestic carnage? Only in fairytales could there be so much abandonment, strife, and domestic disillusionment. But I suppose in the midst of that chaos, there is comedy to be had; there is an opportunity to lay down roots in a rootless society. Different Strokes provides perhaps the oddest of odd couples. A rich widower with a daughter from uptown Manhattan decides to take in two orphans from Harlem; "Now the world don't move to the beat of just one drum, what might be right for you may not be right for some. A man is born, he's a man of means, then along came two they got nothin' but their jeans. But they got different strokes; it takes different strokes to move the world. It don't matter that you got, not a lot, so what. They'll have theirs, you'll have yours and I'll have mine. And together we'll be fine." Like a catchy little jingle chalk full of truisms about walking to the beat of a different drummer, and allowing others the opportunity "live and let live" (even if they do only have a pair jeans to their name). The sages of this period never saw the need to explain what they meant by their tired cliches, nor did they feel the need to clarify phrases that could be interpreted in one of any number of ways. And I applaud them for that! After all, what would the eighties have been were it not for this kind of simplistic moralizing about a whole range of important social issues? They were offering us solutions in a soda can, and as you can see, we savored every last drop!      


Honorable Mention: Charles in Charge and Small Wonder were oh so close to making the list. The truth is I do want Charles in Charge of my "wrongs and rights", but I must draw the line of having him in charge of my "days and nights." As for that little robot girl who is lovely and bright with soft curls. I have to say she is fantastic, made of plastic, with microchips here and there. However, the truth is I find the lyrics of the theme song remind a little too much of that song "Barbie Girl" and that kind of creeps me out a bit.