With KTCL, the Peak and what's left of KBCO all attempting to bend the ears of listeners who went to college during the early Eighties (and apparently lost their taste for musical adventure immediately thereafter), Denver's airwaves hang heavy with the work of artists who came to prominence when Ronald Reagan was still president, if not earlier. Some of the performers behind these songs faded faster than the photo on a fake ID, while others continue to dominate Denver's supposedly alternative airwaves for reasons that frequently owe less to the quality of their current efforts than to their past reputations. Together these acts combine to form a sort of Big Chill soundtrack for the Me Too Generation.
What follows is a categorized listing of the most overplayed songs from the genre that's come to be known by an extremely oxymoronic title: classic alternative. In addition, we've included a smattering of explanations why the very mention of these tunes should give you newfound respect for Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols.
TRIUMPHS OF STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE "Dead Man's Party," by Oingo Boingo (1985)
A cute concept and a catchy ditty that no doubt inspired the scrawling of crime-scene-style body outlines inside dorm rooms everywhere. But does this one-trick strain (and a host of others from Oingo Boingo) really justify the current status of annoying head Boinger Danny Elfman as one of the American film industry's busiest composers? Those who think so, I humbly submit, are dead wrong.
"One Thing Leads to Another," by the Fixx (1983)
"One Thing," a composition that comes complete with a pasty-white groove and more guitar effects than toppings on a Wendy's bacon cheeseburger, briefly convinced gangly Caucasians the world over that they could dance. Worse, it also inspired the English band that wrote it to continue penning their faux-apocalyptic treatises long after their haircuts went out of fashion. Singer Cy Curnin, whose appearance in a video alongside bona fide rock icon Tina Turner left him looking utterly superfluous, tried to spearhead a Fixx revival a couple of years ago. Thank your lucky stars he failed.
"Crazy," by Icehouse (1987)
Has anyone ever bought an Icehouse record? If so, why? With overwrought vocals and musical arrangements as cheesy as the Borden factory, this cut sounds incredibly generic--which is precisely why it gets spun to death on both modern-alternative and classic-rock radio. That's no mean feat considering that the band's career has been in a much-deserved deep freeze since shortly after this number's release.
"What You Need," by INXS (1986)
Take a relentless dance beat and shrill vocals courtesy of Mick Jagger wannabe Michael Hutchence, remix them in enough varieties to confuse Baskin-Robbins, and what do you get? A track that sounds so much like the rest of this Aussie band's output as to be all but indistinguishable from it. Fortunately for INXS, that's the way listeners at the tail end of the baby boom seem to like their rock and roll--but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to put up with it. Despite Hutchence's recent tabloid-pleasing dalliance down under the sheets with the former Mrs. Bob Geldof, this group ceased to be interesting around the time of Crocodile Dundee II.
ONE-HIT WONDERS AND FLASHES IN THE PANAVISION "A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)," by Romeo Void (1984)
A girl in trouble might be a temporary thing, but with its whiny sax licks and a simpering vocal, this slice of dance-floor dreck seems to last forever. Luckily, the aptly named Romeo Void disappeared shortly after this song's release (although that fat chick was kind of cute).
"Tainted Love," by Soft Cell (1982)
The only thing tainted by this song is the Motown legacy. By inserting a breathy verse of the Supremes hit "Where Did Our Love Go" into its dance-mix version of this hit, Mark Almond, the man behind Soft Cell, took a decidedly hard-sell approach to marketing his material. He succeeded all too well: "Tainted Love" remains a club and party staple for countless young revelers of slippery sexual orientation and even more questionable musical taste.
"I Melt With You," by Modern English (1982)
With its lushly romantic verses and driv-ing pop refrain, this act's only smash melted the hearts of many an aging new-waver when it first appeared. However, it also must have done something to their brains, for fans embraced with equal gusto a watered down and utterly unnecessary new recording of the song that surfaced within the last few years. As a result, this concoction can be heard in one form or another on a daily, if not hourly, basis throughout the city. The one consolation for music critics and other sensible folk is that the remake failed to revive Modern English's career.
"Pretty in Pink," by the Psychedelic Furs (1981)
Although this offering first emerged years before the John Hughes film that borrowed its title, the scruffy, sometimes inspired Furs might well have languished in almost complete obscurity had they not been lifted to prominence by this 1986 Hollywood vehicle. The ultimate ignominy, though, is that most listeners are unlikely to remember them for anything other than the rendition of "Pink" they made for the picture's soundtrack--a denatured, gussied-up take that was no doubt sanitized for the protection of Molly Ringwald fans. You know who you were.
"Don't You (Forget About Me)," by Simple Minds (1985)
The omnipresence of Simple Minds on FM dials during the middle and late Eighties can be traced directly to "Don't You (Forget About Me)," a song marked by a sweeping sense of dynamics, highfalutin synth work and a keening vocal performance from former Chrissie Hynde hubby Jim Kerr. To Kerr's credit, his current work is far from an embarrassment (although the matching jackets he and his fellows are wont to don in concert are a little, well, Duran Duran). And at least the Minds are sharp enough to downplay their connection to the aforementioned Hughes, whose treacly 1985 coming-of-age flick The Breakfast Club originally pushed the single onto the charts.
THINKING PERSON'S MUSIC FOR THOSE WHO CAN'T THINK FOR THEMSELVES "Tempted," by Squeeze (1981)
A near-sultry groove and the disaffected crooning of ivory tickler Paul Carrack helped "Tempted" seduce a generation of dateless male undergrads into thinking that skinny ties were cool. It's far from the only decent song written by this still-interesting combo, but you'd never know it from the frequency with which clueless jocks broadcast it.
"Sensual World," by Kate Bush (1989)
Equal parts girlish vocals and womanly aspirations, "Sensual World" is emblematic of the music that's propelled the semi-reclusive Miss Bush into her role as a somewhat hipper option to Stevie Nicks. A must-hear for earth waifs and the boys who'd like to boff them.
"More Than This," by Roxy Music (1981)
This tune's got it all, including a soaring keyboard arrangement, the tremulous warblings of Bryan Ferry and vaguely romantic lyrics of the sort that probably would mean next to nothing if you could actually discern them. But for all its superficial suavity, "More Than This," like the vast majority of the Ferry/Roxy Music songbook, exists for one purpose only--to reduce the innards of clove-sucking alternababes to jelly. A noble purpose, to be sure, but still--there's something almost sacrilegious about trotting out so much naked sensuality in response to a lunch-hour request called in by Bertha in data processing.
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"Life During Wartime," by Talking Heads (1979)
"This ain't no party/This ain't no disco/ This ain't no fooling around"? You got that right. For a while, the chorus of "Wartime" threatened to become a national catchphrase for scads of music journalists and directionless art-school pukes who saw Heads singer/fellow geek David Byrne as their one true savior. Instead, the less-than-sonorous Byrne turned out to be something else--a performer whose fondness for South American rhythms convinced him that he deserved to be worshiped as the high priest of the worldbeat crowd. Who probably got along just fine without him.
"Steam," by Peter Gabriel (1992)
It seems wrong somehow to call "Steam" a Gabriel original, because it so closely resembles a ball-pein version of "Sledgehammer," one of his genuine pop masterworks. But its redundancy doesn't seem to bother certain lazy listeners, whose appreciation for Gabriel's audio, video and cyberspace innovations seemingly has blinded them to the possibility that he may be running out of creative gas. In fact, the song's formulaic construction is nearly as grating as the vocalist's fake falsetto screams. We certainly expect more from Gabriel, a man smart enough to get out of Genesis while the getting was good.
"If You Love Somebody Set Them Free," by Sting (1985)
Granted, the former Gordon Sumner still looks okay in a pair of tight trousers. And through a miracle known only to members of the Hair Club for Men, his hairline has made more comebacks than George Foreman. But when you get right down to it, the former Police frontman hasn't written a passable song since "Roxanne"--and while he's toned down the fake Jamaican accent he used in those days, his paper-thin screeching throughout "Free" makes Sammy Hagar sound pleasant by comparison. Equally unsavory is the artist's continued insistence upon his own importance (which regrettably has become a self-fulfilling prophecy) and the almost palpable disdain he displays toward his former bandmates. Pray that his fans start treating him the same way soon.
Have we missed any overplayed modern-rock selections? If so, please send your suggestions to Westword, c/o Backbeat, 1621 18th Street, Denver, CO 80202, or fax us at 296-5416.