Sunday, December 11, 2011

Turn Down the Volume, I Can't See: Another Peek Into the Junk Cinema Song Book

Just recently I was at an established retail outlet, minding my own bees wax, when all of a sudden my ears were assaulted with a stabbing, piercing pain. It reverberated through my brain and then traveled down to my stomach, where it set off waves of nausea. Eventually I doubled over in agony, as if punched in the gut by a 200 pound gorilla.

What caused this episode?

The store's PA system was blaring "Don't Give Up On Us, Baby", the violently toxic "love ballad" sung (if you can call it that) by David Soul, the blond half of the iconic '70's cop show "Starsky and Hutch".

Junk Cinema has a proud history of embracing the best of filmdom's worst, but it also has a soft spot for wretched music--and you don't get more wretched than this inexplicable chart-topper from Soul's 1977 album "Black Bean Soup."

After recovering from hearing David's one-hit wonder (and forcing myself not to insist customer service to fire the jerk who programmed that tune into their system), I decided it was time to crack open a new page of the Junk Cinema Song Book and revisit the ditties that make us ask the musical question, "Who wrote that piece of (add your own expletive)!"

In the case of "Don't Give Up On Us, Baby", the guilty party is a chump named Tom Macaulay, although Soul should take equal blame for his horrible vocals. The gist of the tune is David pleading with his wife/girlfriend not to leave him, reasoning, "The future isn't just one night." This leaves one to believe the couple's problems are based on:

A) The man's inability to perform in the sack, which caused the female to storm off in a huff.


B) The gal's inability to perform in the sack, which caused her to run off in shame or embarrassment.

Either way, this tune is simply beneath contempt, especially when Soul warbles, "We can still pull throu-ou-ou-gh" and his voice cracks. Indeed, a major part of the surreal weirdness of this song is that Dave's vocals are surprisingly thin and whiny; he might have played a bad ass, rule breakin' cop on TV, but when he sang, he sounded like Tiny Tim.

"Don't Give Up On Us, Baby" is rarely played anywhere but the blandest of "adult contemporary" and "soft rock" stations, where Neil Diamond's "Heartlight" and Quarterflash's "Harden My Heart" are on heavy rotation. However, instead of languishing in Easy Listening Hell, it occurred to me that this tune could be of benefit to our country.

See, instead of water boarding enemy combatants (which Dick Cheney enjoys so much), we should just force them to listen to this song. By the second or third playing, the no-good-nicks will crack like wall nuts. Try it and see!

Next up is an equally revolting ditty from the '70's group Bread titled "Baby, I'm-a Want You."

No, you are not seeing things and, yes, that is the correct spelling of the tune.

A mere recitation of the lyrics and an in-depth analysis of this song's meaning can't begin to do justice to the sheer insanity of this particular piece of mu-zack.

Basically, "Baby, I'm-a Want You" is another plea from a desperate guy for his girl not to dump him. When you consider the tunes Bread regularly cranked out in their storied career ( "I Want to Make it With You", "Diary", the theme of Neil Simon's "Goodbye Girl", for starters), this is par for the course; all their tunes are about some guy pleading for his gal-pal not to dump him.

However, what makes this particular "please don't dump me" lament is writer/lead singer/guilty party David Gates' decision to add an "a" on the end of "I am". Thus, listeners are treated to such verbal flights of fancy as "Baby, I'm-a want you", "Baby, I'm-a need you", "maybe I'm-a prayin'" and "maybe I'm-a crazy" (Maybe he's-a crazy?!).

Why Gates decided to do this has been lost to history. It certainly doesn't improve the song. And, thank goodness, it didn't inspire other groups to monkey with the language in similar, nonsensical ways. Perhaps as a sensitive artist, Dave just "felt" this odd semantic choice "worked" for his tune. Whatever motivated him, it merely turned up the annoying quotient, which for Bread, was always pretty high anyway. Mix in Gates' whiny, high-pitched tenor that regularly soars into dog whistle territory and you have one musical torture test.

And just to prove there is no accounting for taste, "Baby I'm-a Want You" has been "covered" by various artists, ranging from Shirley "Gold Finger" Bassey and Englebert Humperdink.

But wait! There's more! Believe it or not, in what must be a Junk Cinema Song Book first, the worst rendition of "Baby, I'm-a Want You" was not even performed by Bread. That dubious discredit belongs to '70's teen actress Kristy McNichol, who warbled this tune on her brother Jimmy McNichol's TV variety special. Later on, Kristy and Jimmy would perform the whitest version ever of "Enjoy Yourself" by the Jackson 5 on "The Mike Douglas Show."

Of course, when discussing the relative value of certain musical monstrosities you cannot over look the giant cesspool that is "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)."

Written and sung by Rupert Holmes, "Escape" manages to celebrate swinging, answering dubious personal ads, running off with strangers, drinking and traditional monogamy all at the same time.

For those fortunate few who have not heard this song, the plot of "Escape" concerns a jerk in a long term relationship who had "grown tried of his lady." One night "as she lay sleepin'", the said jerk happens upon a personal ad that piques his interest. He responds to it, bragging that he likes "Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain." He's also "not into health food; I am into champagne." Most notoriously of all, the jerk asks if "you like making love at mid-night in the dunes of the Cape", you should meet him "at a bar called O'Malley's/where we'll plan our escape."

Believe it or not, someone actually answers this ad and the jerk excitedly rushes over to meet them. Unfortunately, the respondent is not a psycho with multiple personalities who scans the personal ads for Pina Colada drinkers that they enjoy leading on and then killing in a variety of inventively gruesome ways, but his "own lovely lady."

Ha, ha, it's a surprise ending! Get it?!

Suddenly realizing how much he loves "his lady", the jerk abandons all plans to run off with a stranger and vows not to take his relationship or his partner for granted anymore. The end. Now, everybody drink up!

Perhaps the most irritating part of this song is the overly high opinion the personal ad responding jerk holds of himself. He seems to view himself as a romantic, classy guy with his love of champagne, running in rainstorms and making whoopskie in Cape Cod, rather than, say, some cracker arranging a meeting at McDonald's for a Happy Meal and then proposing a quickie at the nearest Motel 6.

But he's really just a bored jerk out for a little no-strings fun, without or without the champagne.

Finally, it is the irony of ironies that Rupert Holmes, the man responsible for this song, hates "Escape" more than anybody else. A Tony and Grammy winner, as well as the creator of the AMC original series "Remember WENN", Holmes believes the tune has over shadowed his other achievements.

What's more, he doesn't even like Pina Coladas!

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