Friday, November 12, 2010

The Five Best Funny Songs That Still Rock Pretty Hard.

Stupid Bono.

I blame Bono for making rock and roll all serious and making sure that no fun would ever come of rock and roll, so that now listening to any real rock bands is almost the musical equivalent of watching C-Span or the History Channel.

Almost literally:

Is it just me, or does Billy Joel tweak that one rhyme a little when he says "Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, Space Monkey, Mafia?" It sounds like he says mafi-ER, doesn't it?

If you look around the music landscape these days, you'll see very few funny bands - -bands that know how to have a good time while still making good music. (If you look around the music landscape, in fact, you'll see very few good bands or musicians, period. They're all crowded out by the continued and inexplicable popularity of Taylor Swift, who really should put Kanye West on her payroll.)

(As should George "Worst President Ever" Bush, who can thank Kanye for making him relevant these days, giving ol' W(PE) a chance to claim that he never wanted to use force in Iraq... a claim that might just be true -- but only if you believe that W(PE) simply turned the government over to others to dismantle our society for 8 years. So he's either a liar or criminally negligent. Take your pick.)

In fact, I bet somewhere Bono is writing a song called Liar Or Criminally Negligent. It'll have a great guitar solo and a cool driving beat but will still make you feel as though you've got to be out protesting, or at least voting, while you listen to it.

So that's our musical landscape -- mostly -- these days: too serious songs about too serious subjects, taking a little fun out of music-for-music's sake, or songs by people that are either famous for something else:

Ouch! I used to like that song.

Or more famous than they (still) ought to be because someone once interrupted them.

Which I bring up today because isn't music supposed to still be a little fun? Do we all have to be superserious all the time? Maybe, if you ask REM:

REM is a band that gets credit for being superserious mostly because nobody can understand what their lyrics are about. (If you're a budding singer-songwriter, you'll want to make lyrics that are deliberately obtuse, and then mumble or otherwise obscure them. Doing that will guarantee you rocker-emeritus status someday, of the sort that REM enjoys and the sort that Elvis Costello gets in lengthy New Yorker articles that spend a great deal of time mulling his lyrics and almost no time mulling his past racist outbursts or the fact that he apparently will trade in some of his seriousness to play at a conference at which W(PE) was a guest, too.

That's not to say that REM isn't superserious -- they probably are, given that at least one of their songs was about the end of the world, which, jellybean booms notwithstanding, is a pretty serious subject:

...while another was about Andy Kaufman, and everyone knows that you're a serious person if you liked Andy Kaufman. Andy Kaufman holds an elite status in the world of entertainment for serious people: Like 30 Rock, Michael Moore documentaries, and those movies about New York fashion magazines, nobody really likes Andy Kaufman at all -- but serious people are required to say they like those things, or to pretend that people like them, at least, because those things have the Serious Person's Seal Of Approval (TM), a mark that is earned by being (a) not funny (b) not entertaining (c) a little too long and (d) inclusive of Tina Fey or somebody like her. If you have all of those things in your show/song/Broadway musical, you'll get the Serious Person's Seal Of Approval, which will guarantee that your little production, whatever it is, will forever be lauded by critics and mentioned favorably in comparison to other entertainment --

-- Sample critic commentary on snooty television show:

"You know, Bob, a lot of people certainly are flocking to the theaters to see "Freddy Krueger Saves Christmas From Predators," with some going two or even three times, and Christian Bale has even been mentioned as warranting an Oscar for the scene in which he yells at Rudolph and threatens to "trash his lights", but I've just got to say, this movie could have used a little more of Tina Fey's trademark self-deprecating Liz Lemon-one-liners. Also, Andy Kaufman."

-- but the Serious Person's Seal Of Approval also means that nobody will ever actually watch or listen to or actually like your little deal.

Rock and Roll wasn't always serious -- it began, remember, with the song Hound Dog, the very first rock-and-roll song that white people were allowed to listen to, ever:

That song stands as not only the very first rock song, ever, but also as the beginning of rock and roll as fun and not serious (even though there are those who say that you can make Hound Dog into an allegory of the great banking crisis in the early 20th century.) How serious can you be when repeating the words Hound Dog over and over, while also freaking out parents who don't realize that the kids watching this stuff will one day give birth to Katy Perry, whose dead eyes will usher in the horrifying next phase of human existence that begins in 2012?

Sorry. I got a little lost there. The point is that music in the 50s was fun and not serious, which was good because everything else in the 50s was very serious, and also in black-and-white, so America needed a little bit of humor in its music to offset the fact that our president was nicknamed "Ike."

That trend of humorous, fun-loving music continued into the 60s with those loveable moppets, The Monkees, and their famous theme song, "God Monkey Robot":

Ha, ha! Just kidding, and looking for an excuse to put that song in here. In reality, the Monkees' theme song was cleverly titled "(Theme From) The Monkees," and featuring the lyrics "We're the young generation, and we've got something to say."

What that generation had to say, of course, was profound and educational and not in any way influenced by drugs:

It wouldn't be long before the Monkees' infectious fun "crossed the pond" as nobody cool ever said and got adopted by a group of guys known as The Quarrymen. With a quick name change and some bowl haircuts, these guys would become the "Fab Four" we know and love on the strength of such feel-good hits showing the trademark sense of humor that would be associated with "The Beatles," on songs like "Eight Days A Week,"

Which is funny because, you see, there's not 8 days in a week!

But the fun didn't go on forever -- mixed in with such hilarity as "Baby You Can Drive My Car" (with the twist ending -- she had a driver, but [SPOILER ALERT!] she didn't have a car!) would come songs that looked at the serious side of a world caught up in social upheaval. Who can forget the stirring lyrics and stunning music that perfectly encapsulated the era's mixture of peace and war, Establishment and Hippy, Lyndon Johnson and his dog with those ears, all of it coming together in the song Octopus' Garden:

See what I did there? That wasn't a serious song at all!

But it didn't last forever. It wouldn't be long before the 70s came and music turned its back on fun and octopi, opting instead to tell stories of doomed spacemen:

and, because every article about music in the 70s has to mention him, something about Peter Frampton, blah blah blah are you happy now, Baby Boomers?

I'm so sick of having to hear about Peter Frampton. He was the Nirvana of the 70s, you know -- and Nirvana was the BeeGees of the 90s, so that's not saying much.

Rock's growing seriousness in the 70s was briefly combatted by Queen, who did their best to keep rock fun:

But even they couldn't hold out once U2 came on the scene. Their first album was titled War, for Pete's sake, and things didn't get any better from there. Orphaned skinny boys on their album covers, an album named for October, which everyone knows is the most serious month, all those shots of Bono squinting into the distance at all the injustice in the world and their songs! Songs about Martin Luther King and a friend who overdosed on drugs on his 21st birthday:

Which, admittedly, is a great song, but it's not fun, that's for sure. And, suddenly, that was it for fun rock and roll. Suddenly, rock had to be about something and try to save the world and know why the caged bird sings and all, which is all well and good, but we can't always be saving the world, can we? Even people who really do spend all their time saving the world -- Ghandi, Obama, Superman -- they must kick back once in a while and relax and want to just, you know, have some fun, don't they?

As an aside, doesn't the idea of Ghandi, Obama and Superman being together sound like either the intro to a mediocre joke or a great new HBO series? I'm thinking something like Deadwood, only with a mix of real and fictional leaders, and instead of the old West, they're, say, in medieval Korea, only medieval Korea somehow existing in the future.

I never actually watched "Deadwood," mind you, but I know that if you say something's like Deadwood critics will go nuts for it.

And my series about Obama and Ghandi and Superman would feature Andy Kaufman as the narrator.

Well, I say enough's enough, and it's time to recognize that rock can not only save the world, but it can be fun. People can save the world and be fun, you know. People can tell jokes while also getting work done, can achieve something while maybe making a pun or something like that. At least a limerick.

And that's why, at long last in this post, I am going to give you the Five Best FUNNY Songs that Still Rock Pretty Hard, to show you that rock and roll doesn't always have to be serious as a heart attack to be good, and in hopes that someone, somewhere, will listen to these and say "Hey, those are good" and that maybe there'll be a little more fun music out there that I can listen to and sing along with and not feel a crushing burden of guilt when I do. So here they are, counting down to number one, the way all rock countdowns go.

5. "Peaches," Presidents of the United States Of America. Maybe people didn't get the name. Maybe people didn't like the fact that they were making fun of a group of people that, frankly, can stand to be made more fun of. Or maybe they just were confused by the imagery in the song "Peaches," but for whatever reason, the Presidents of the United States of America enjoyed only marginal fame despite the fact that if you listen to this song, it's impossible not to want to tap your foot to the music, and impossible not to get caught up the chanting chorus at the end. Millions of peaches, peaches for me... Look out, indeed:

4. "Ana Ng," They Might Be Giants. They Might Be Giants show what happens to bands that are too clever by half; they end up being treated as kid's bands, until ultimately they just shrug and go into making kids' music. If you're not going to be played on the radio but are so clever that you can come up with a song off the top of your head about sweeping your apartment, what else could you do?

But that doesn't change the fact that they could rock when they wanted to, as shown in this song, with its crazy imagery, complete with claims that people are upside down on the other side of the world:

3. "Aliens Exist," Blink 182. Blink 182 gets a bad rap.

Okay, no they don't. There really wasn't much to their music, or their band. They were like The Ramones if The Ramones were those one jerky kids in your high school that you hoped to God would end up living above the dry cleaners they assistant manage when they were 35, eating dinner off an ironing board: all they had were red guitars, three chords, and a snarky attitude that made them impossible to really like -- but they could put a great song together with a good sense of humor, like in this song about a guy getting abducted by aliens:

2. "Sheep Go To Heaven," Cake. It was kind of hard to choose any particular Cake song for this list -- all of Cake's songs seem to embody a strange sense of humor that makes me feel like I never quite get the joke, but I laugh anyway, just to not let people know how out of it I am. (I do that a lot. I also frequently make noncommittal comments in conversations, like "Oh, yeah, I know," because I don't really pay attention so I never know what you're talking about.)

And I don't know what Cake's talking about here, but I do know that this song is perfect for air guitar and makes me laugh.

1. "July 13, 1985," John Wesley Harding: What else could be the number one on this list, if not the only song that had the guts to make fun of the transformative moment in the "Rock As Serious Business" movement -- Live Aid? In a single song John Wesley Harding not only manages to point out the ridiculous parts of Live Aid, from the fact that it was an all-white festival of congratulations to the fact that nobody attending really helped anything to the impending sainthood of Bob Geldof (remember him?)

And it's catchy:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

a little late on the comment... but uh... CAKE!!! F^CK YEA!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!!1!1!!1ONE!!!!!!