plural noun: guilty pleasures
something, such as a movie, television program, or piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.
"everybody has a guilty pleasure—for me, it has to be mid 70s disco"
These are some of the things I pontificate about over drinks in the back rooms of dive bars, on soap-boxes at social gatherings, and during long drives between shows. It takes work to digest a piece of music objectively. It takes time, too. You have to learn to navigate through a quagmire of distractions that might include too much reverb, electronic drums, sterile or dated production, computerized perfection, and layers of unnecessary tracks. But beneath it all is the song and performance. Here’s a few that I’ve come to terms with, and learned to admit that I love, despite what you think.
This isn’t going to make me any new friends.
Aerosmith - Janie’s Got A Gun
This song made every old-school Aerosmith fan cringe. A lot of them left and never came back. The Toxic Twins were no more. The days of “Draw The Line” and “Sweet Emotion” were long gone. Well, ok, let’s get this on the table right off. This is a GREAT F*ING SONG. The writing and arrangement is just perfection. It rises when it’s supposed to and drops out when it’s supposed to. There’s not a wasted note or lyric anywhere. If I had to take points off, it’d be the sheen over the mix and the synthy strings over the outro. But Jesus, I love the tone of the guitar solo. And there are some real classic Aerosmith elements at play here: the piano shuffle going into the pre-chorus, the layered Tyler harmonies in the intro, and especially the Joe Perry rat-tail guitar bends over the “run away, run away from the pain” bridge. All things considered, Steven Tyler is the greatest American rock singer of all time, for my money. His genius and talent as a singer and composer shines on this from front to back.
Van Halen - Jump
Continuing with bands that jumped the shark, here’s another one that made old-school fans want to puke. You’ve got the greatest guitarist on the planet….and you write a synthesizer song. Ugh. Well, let me tell ya, this too is a GREAT F*ING SONG. And mostly thanks to Diamond David Lee Roth. Anyone else behind the mic and this song probably sucks. His delivery is just amazing. It’s funny and soulful and just overflowing with sex and energy. The highlight? “Whoah-oh, hey you? Who said that? Baby how you been?” is just classic brilliant rock and roll writing. It’s pure snarl, idiot-in-a-bar-pickup-line conversation that - through a stroke of genius - becomes the lyric that opens the second verse. Who does that? No one but DLR would have thought of it. It’s an uninhibited move. Eddie’s smile in the solo is infectious. These guys nailed it with this one, and it was the hit it deserved to be.
Bruce, Elvis, Steven, Dave - London Calling (Tribute to Joe Strummer)
OK, I’ll pull you back in with a not-so-guilty pleasure. Not sure I need to say anything about this, other than everytime I hear Bruce yell “This is for Joe!” at the beginning I get goosebumps, then I get sad as I remember how bummed out I was after Joe unexpectedly died. I never feel as out of touch about music as I do when someone brings up the Grammys and the crap that flows through there, but every once in awhile… Tony Kanal of No Doubt plays bass here, which gets us back (in a roundabout way) to our next guilty pleasure. Better watch this first cuz it’s about to get sappy here.
Gwen Stefani - Cool
OK, we’re getting really guilty here. I’ve never been a No Doubt fan, and her solo stuff has been even harder for me to appreciate. Frankly, I loathe most of what I’ve heard. That Bananas song is horrible. But damn, this is a GREAT F*ING SONG! Like “Janie” above, the arrangement, the lyrics, and the vocals are just great and so efficient. Four minutes goes by quick. The real key here is that hooky synthesiser riff that carries it throughout. The back story is cool, about her ex, the dude playing bass for the Boss up above (see how I did that?), and how they’re all adult now and get along after she hooked up with the dude from Bush. Yeah, it’s heavy on the Madonna and Lauper vibe, and the video is Godawful (tho Gwen is lookin’ fine), but it kills me every time.
The Ataris - Boys Of Summer
Annoyed yet? Even as an unapologetic Eagles fan, I can’t get on board with Don Henley’s solo stuff. But as a teenager watching MTV I saw that there was a really good song in here somewhere. I fell for the hook and the lyrics and wished the DH version and video were better. Then I heard this a couple decades later. Yeah, it’s a bit stiff, a bit emo. It’s been through the Pro-Tools time lock, and you probably can’t find a single damn mistake in the whole thing, but somehow I can get past all that. The vocal is strong and the guitars are huge and the song is up front where it belongs. It’s a great cover of a great song that everyone hates.
Bangles - Hazy Shade of Winter
Here’s another cover that I think is an improvement over the original. Everyone knows the Bangles for “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame” - easily two of the weakest songs in their catalog (even if Susanna was naked when she sang the latter). But they have a dark streak: minor chords with themes of loneliness and betrayal, delivered with moody melodies and layered harmonies and '60s fuzz. More polished than the also amazing Go-Gos, but the material warrants some extra shine, and this Simon & Garfunkel tune from the Less Than Zero soundtrack pretty much kicks ass. Vicki plays a great Carvin and sister Debbie hits the snare hard. I played this a lot in 1987, between spinning Please To Meet Me, Document No. 5, and Warehouse: Songs And Stories, and I saw them open with this on tour that summer in Milwaukee, too. Most of my friends didn’t get it. I think it holds up pretty well.
Britney Spears - Womanizer
If you’re still with me, then this ought to do it. Auto-tune, drum-machine, vocal-fry bullshit by the heap. It flies in the face of everything I love about music. This ain’t white guys with low-strung guitars! Whoever spent days and days at the mixing board and computer keyboard assembling this deserves credit for crafting a perfect combination of arrangement, punch, vocals and groove. The bridge is a nice change of pace. Let’s drop some molly and dance!
The Nils - Freedom
I have to try to save some face here at the end: so this is no guilty pleasure, but something near and dear to my heart. The Nils were a disaster of a band from Montreal in the '80s/'90s who churned out some of the best punk, power-pop and rock that was never heard. Alex Soria wrote amazing songs from an early age until his untimely suicide in 2004. They had one full length (self-titled on Profile Records), 3 eps, and a coupla posthumous releases. This was their only official video. If you’re looking for something new (to you) and love bands like The Replacements and early Soul Asylum, check them out. Start with the self-titled record.
Jeremy Porter lives near Detroit and fronts the rock and roll band Jeremy Porter And The Tucos. Follow them on Facebook to read his road-blog chronicling their adventures and see his photo series documenting the disgusting bathrooms in the dives they play. He's a whiskey snob, an unapologetic fan of "good" metal, and couldn't really care less about the UofM - OSU rivalry since he once saw The Stones at the Horseshoe. Still, go blue.