Thursday, December 15, 2011

Inconsequential Reader Debate #1

Ages ago I had the idea of a recurring weekly feature in which I would share one of the seemingly hundreds of nicknames my friends and I have doled out over the years and the stories behind their creation. This "weekly" feature, cleverly titled "Nickname Friday," survived for exactly one Friday, dying in its infancy when I realized I had committed myself to weekly updates on a day that, quite frankly, I looked forward to for reasons other than sitting in front of my computer and forcing myself to try to be clever. Dance, monkey! Dance!

Maybe I'll bring it back one of these days (not a Friday), but for now I have an idea for another potentially recurring bit. Welcome to the first Inconsequential Reader Debate! For clarity's sake, the debate is the inconsequential part, not you the reader. As I noted yesterday, this blog needs (wants?) all the readership it can get so each and every one of you is decidedly consequential as far as I'm concerned. Feel good about yourselves. Go ahead, I'll wait.

On to the debate!

Of the following seminal 80s bands, which band is the King of the Seminal 80s Band Hill?

The Contenders:


Scoff all you want, but Erasure was the balls. Depeche Mode castoff, Vince Clarke and flamboyantly gay lead singer, Andy Bell had 24 consecutive Top 20 hits in the UK. I remember listening to the radio as a kid and Erasure being sort of an also ran amidst songs by The Cure, Duran Duran, U2, Depeche Mode, and all that ridiculous hair metal, which, strictly speaking, was very much hair and very little metal. But every time I hear an 80s hits compilation, Erasure seems to have at least two or three songs in the mix. As a testament to how awesome Erasure must have been, can you imagine a lead male vocalist in the present day being as comfortably out as Andy Bell is/was and enjoying anything close to the popularity Erasure did? Maybe our country has become more intolerant (God, I hope not), but I have a hard time envisioning it. "Well, maybe he wasn't clearly gay at the time," you say.

"Have a look at this," I counter.

The Cure
Does the dude on the far right not look vaguely like Jared Leto?
If the hairspray industry had a say in this debate, The Cure would win hands down. I mean, Michael Jackson's activator once caught fire on stage because he stood just a touch too close to a tiny open flame. The Cure must have had a staunch "No pyrotechnics" policy at their shows. These guys would go up like flash paper.

Hairspray aside, of the four bands I've chosen for this Inconsequential Debate, The Cure is arguably still the most relevant. I challenge any of the 80s babies out there to produce a Cure free iPod or to not sing along to "Friday I'm in Love" when it comes on the radio during one of those throwback lunch hour shows. I fell in love with The Cure when my mother, in a bold child rearing move, allowed my sister and I to watch MTV (when it was just music videos) reasoning that we were being exposed to the arts and not gratuitous violence or mindless sitcoms. I haven't been the same since I saw Madonna's "Justify My Love" video. Hang on. I need a moment.

[Two minutes later]

Back to The Cure! Anyhow, "Lovesong" was the first video by The Cure I ever saw. Creepy, forlorn, and awesome. I was hooked. And apparently so were a lot of other future musicians my age. You can't read an interview about influences without someone, from Deftones to AFI to 311 to The Killers, mentioning The Cure.

Depeche Mode

Of the bands in the debate, Depeche Mode is easily the most overtly sexual. Andy Bell was heartbroken most of the time but in a Gloria Gaynor "I Will survive" kind of way and wanted you to know all about it. Robert Smith was heartbroken then in love then heartbroken then in love then just really missed someone then was in love again then was back to being heartbroken. Dave Gahan just wanted to fuck you.

Even today, 25-30 years on, Depeche Mode's songs sound like sex.

Let me take you on a trip
Around the world and back
And you won't have to move
You just sit still

Now let your mind do the walking
And let my body do the talking
Let me show you the world in my eyes

Gahan's baritone, the mischievous and hyper-sexual synth melodies, and driving bass lines were a formula for some massive hits in the 80s and early 90s and, like The Cure, a huge number of present day artists from diverse backgrounds reference Depeche Mode when naming their most prominent influences. Check out this list of acts from "For The Masses," a Depeche Mode tribute album:

Smashing Pumpkins
God Lives Underwater
The Cure
Hooverphonic (I had ever heard of them either, but their cover of "Shake the Disease" is awesome)
Monster Magnet
Veruca Salt
Meat Beat Manifesto
Rammstein (Can we get a mulligan on Rammstein?)

Tears For Fears

For me, Tears For Fears is the dark horse in this debate. They were big a little before the other three bands and their decided lack of hairspray and black clothing in favor of Cosby sweaters and mullets can't be ignored, can it? Maybe I should have thrown INXS in here instead, but I'm really curious to see who can make a case for Tears For Fears. "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" were huge songs and deservedly so, but they were both from the "Songs From the Big Chair" album and "The Seeds of Love" may be just a touch too saccharine for my taste. But what do I know? Earlier in this post Andy Bell was dancing around in heels and a he-corset and it rocked.

Essentially, Tears For Fears was two dudes who wrote pretty good songs. They're certainly the least processed of the four bands in the debate and are arguably the most cerebral. Admittedly, I know little about them compared to Erasure, The Cure, and Depeche Mode, but I had to have four choices for the reader. Why? I don't know. Three just seemed a little totalitarian.

So there are the contenders. Have at it, small but hopefully growing readership. Leave your comments below. It's OK to be anonymous, just have a reason for choosing whichever band you choose. No one ever won a debate without supporting his/her position. Well, Lloyd Bentsen did own Dan Quayle with that, "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy," but you, Reader, are no Lloyd Bentsen.


Not a Mom or a Mrs. - just Rachel. said...

This was the most fun I have had not being able to sleep in quite some time :)

The 1980’s - a time when androgyny and aerosol reigned supreme and really cool people were born. MTV actually lived up to its moniker and the anthems of a generation emerged. Everyone knew Jenny’s number, wore their sunglasses at night, and lamented that every rose has its thorn. According to Doug Danger, four of arguably the most influential bands of this epic era were Erasure, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Tears for Fears. (The last band being included on this list truly for no other reason than the moderator’s wish to not be “totalitarian,” and in spite of their anemic discography they did write “Mad World” which even though the cover by Gary Jules is better is still an awesome song.)

In order to establish which of the aforementioned bands is the “King of the Seminal 80’s Bands,” it is necessary to first define seminal. For the purpose of this debate the definition is “highly original and influencing the development of future events.” Using this interpretation, with the help of Wikipedia (which I have no shame in using because based on your references I'm guessing neither did you) I will prove that The Cure is the King of the Seminal 80’s Bands. Regardless of record sales, popularity, or how many bands thought they would resurrect their waning career and sell records by covering their songs, The Cure inspired creativity in future artists and their originality both in lyrics and on stage is unquestionable.

First, let’s toss out Tears for Fears as a contender and acknowledge them for the afterthought that they were in this debate. Next, the synthpop duo of Vince Clarke and Andy Bell, better known as Erasure. Even for as fabulous as Andy Bell is, as far as flamboyant frontmen go he was eclipsed by Queen’s Freddie Mercury and his amazing outfits. While they are a great band with songs so catchy they are now used as the soundtrack for iPhone and Android apps, Vince Clarke was a founding member of Depeche Mode and the sole writer of their first three singles, including the Top Ten Hit “Just Can’t Get Enough.” To say that Depeche Mode influenced Erasure is an understatement. Due to Clarke’s presence the two are inextricably intertwined. Several years earlier, Clarke and his classmate, Andy Fletcher, formed a Cure-influenced band called “No Romance In China” that would later evolve into Depeche Mode. Therefore any band influenced by Erasure was also influenced by Depeche Mode and subsequently by The Cure. The scope of their influence is not limited to music, but can be seen in film titles and South Park references. With regard to originality, look no further than their unabashed recording of both goth rock like “Pornography” and mainstream hits like “Just Like Heaven.” The Cure serves as a major source of inspiration to myriad artists, including current popular bands Interpol and My Chemical Romance, and eye-liner loving boys everywhere.

Pancho said...

Rachel, so many jokes in response to that first sentence, but I'll refrain.

You make some good points, but I have some bones to pick.

Firstly, good "Mad World" reference. I'm still not willing to toss Tears For Fears out completely. I think there could be a good argument for them (I'm just not sure what it is).

Secondly, I used Wikipedia exactly once to determine the number of Erasure hits.

Speaking of Erasure, yes Freddy Mercury was pretty over the top, but he wasn't out like Andy Bell and he certainly didn't sing about it as openly as Andy did. Mercury is sort of the bridge between Rob Halford and Andy Bell for me...figuratively, not homoerotically.

Thirdly, can you say Depeche Mode influenced Erasure if the link in the chain is a founding member of both bands? More like Vince Clarke influenced Vince Clarke.

Fourthly, I can't argue much with anything you said about The Cure. Awesome band.

Kenozebi said...

Ridiculous post. No Huey Lewis and no phil collins/genesis? Fine, you were drifting towards hair bands (though you never came out and said that). What about AC/DC? Or are you looking only for bands that existed in the 1980's and no other time period? I would also posit that Run DMC or N.W.A. deserves at least a mention. Well at least erasure is on the list (extreme sarcasm). Good day sir.

Kenozebi said...

Oh, and of these obviously the answer is Tears for Fears.

However, i still think you need to reconsider how you do lists like this? What will next week's survey flavor candy? Choose between: poop, ass, and boogers.

Pancho said...

Ah, Barrett. Sweet, sweet Barrett. Clearly, I couldn't list every popular band from the 80s that sold a record. The list would be endlessly long and Starship would be on it. Coincidentally, my first concert ever was Starship and Huey Lewis and the News at Freedom Fest '86 in Austin, TX. That's also the first time I smelled marijuana. Educational!

Anyhow, I picked the four bands I did because they were in the same genre. Apples to apples. I couldn't ask you to compare AC/DC and Erasure. That's just absurd.

Also, how did I know you'd write in and try to lawyer me? Not many ambulances to chase in East Texas today? Good day, Sir.

Corey said...

Wow, where to start? There have already been many good points made. So let me begin by also taking up the devil's advocate role (partly because that's my profession and partly because I work for the prince of darkness) and pontificate on behalf of Tears for Fears. I think there are a few points that got lost on their behalf. No proper defense of the band can fail to mention of Head Over Heals or Shout. And if there was a dictator and/or evil genius who has lived since 1984 and not used Everybody Wants to Rule the World as a theme song for one rally or execution, well, they’re not really trying. Those points made, even Lucifer himself couldn’t pull this one out for them #sadface

Moving on, you have the Cure, the “thinking man’s Goth, moody, proto-emo band” (and I use that descriptor as a compliment). They were ahead of their time in many ways and how many bands start their careers with singles based upon French Existential masterpieces which could double as modern day right wing rallying cries (“Shooting an Arab”)? They’re the bees’ knees, don’t get me wrong, but now I’m going to tell you why the real winner here should be…Erasure.

Unbelievable you say? Well, as pointed out by our illustrious host Vince Clarke was the founding member of both Erasure and Depeche Mode (“DM”). Admittedly, he left early in DM’s development cycle, so maybe we only give him say 10 to 15% credit for the band. But he shaped their early sound through his songwriting and heavy use of synthesizers (mostly because for about the first five years DM didn’t know how to play their instruments; I seem to recall having heard Martin Gore say that once in an interview).

But even crediting Clarke with that portion of their success in addition to Erasure’s own and I think that pushes them over the top. Still not convinced? Let me add two more points.

Ever hear of Yaz? It’s the band Clarke formed in between DM and Erasure (though admittedly it is now more well know as a form of women’s birth control that also treats acne; I’m throwing up in my mouth a little as I write this at the travesty of situation). It produced three excellent and very underrated singles in Don’t Go, Situation, and their masterpiece, Only You (which plays a prominent role in the final scene of Can’t Hardly Wait, and based on the discussions on this blog, and my perception of the ages of the readers/contributors, I’m going to guess you might have at least a passing familiarity with this movie).

So tack those pop gems onto the Erasure scoreboard. And finally, I will now argue that Erasure is more relatable and more relevant to modern culture than any of these other bands. Sadly (to me at least) it seems that 90’s alternative/rock staples (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains) have given way to Pop R&B and Hip Hop as being the dominant form of modern music. And what do you find loads of in those genres? Synthesizers, auto-tuned voices...and remixes. And Erasure is nothing if not the Granddaddy of remixes. In fact my favorite Erasure song is Always (but specifically the Microbots Trance Dance Mix). And is there any doubt that if you were at a club the one band of this four you would be most likely to hear is Erasure? (Not that I go to clubs myself per se, because I am old, boring, and apparently enjoy writing comments to blogs with my evenings.) For instance, Rhianna had a hit with S&M, but it didn’t make it to number 1 until the remix with Britney Spears came out.

Hmmm…well at this point I might have gotten far a field of our original question, and answered some other question, but I’ve written enough so I’m sticking with my answer. Erasure forever!

Pancho said...

Corey, you are officially the Lloyd Bentsen of this debate. Well played, Sir. I didn't think we'd get a vote for Erasure, but that was pretty well reasoned. Nice Camus reference as well. Also, I know Can't Hardly Wait is sort of a late 90s rip off of Dazed and Confused, but that movie still cracks me up. He's kind of tall and wears t-shirts sometimes.

Kenozebi said...

I assume that when discussing “Starship” I get to include both Jefferson Starship and Starship featuring Mickey Thomas.

1 – Starship crushes it live. One of those bands that sounds just as good in person.

2 – The highs – We built this City, Nothing’s gonna stop us now, and Sara are vastly to superior to the highs of any band you listed not named “tears for Fears”. 7 albums that reached the top 12 (and 5 that reached the more commonly used top 10). 3 platinum albums, one additional multi-platinum album, and 6 gold albums. Erasure by comparison has 1 US platinum album and 1 Gold. The Gold Album was a compilation, so I’m not even sure that should count. Zero Albums that reached the top 12 in the US by Erasure.

3 – The lows, I guess you could consider constant squabbling and band changes (including litigation over the name of the band) a low for starship. But, it is countered by the following low for Erasure and the fact that Erasure’s compilation album was titled “Pop! The first 20 Hits”. One, I hate exclamation points in album titles. 2 – On the date of its release in 1992 Erasure had exactly 4 songs that appeared on the US top 100. I realize you can’t call your album Four (unless you are Huey Lewis (Fore, I know)), but still. Oh, and 15 years later they released “Total Pop! The First 40 Hits” (what a fucking joke). On its release in 2009 Erasure had 7 singles on the US top 100.

And Starship (this may be a really bad example of awesomeness, but I need to get back to work…

Pancho said...

Dammit, ObiWan! You've almost got me convinced that Starship was a great 80s band. Starship?! I was actually contemplating this being a possibility and, pouring over the numbers, I found myself borderline convinced that you were on to something...but then I remembered, Starship fucking sucks.

Seriously. "We Built this city on rock and roll," really Starship, really?! That song isn't even a rock and roll song. It's all too schlocky for me and smacks of has beens trying to morph into a new aesthetic in order to prolong their very-much-done careers.

You almost lawyered me, ObiWan. Almost.

Anonymous said...

Barrett is clearly a damn fool. While he makes a compelling argument that is backed by seemingly factual empirical data (assuming, of course, that said data wasn't pulled from his vast and well-honed library of grade-A bullshit that he somehow lawyered into truthiness), he is dead freaking wrong.

Because not only does Starship suck on a musical level, they also suck on a logical level.

You cannot, under any circumstances, build a city on rock and roll. It's a terrible foundation. If rock and roll were a substance, it would be the equivalent of that wet sand on the beach that is constantly being thrown ashore and then washed out to sea again. Rock and roll has always been, and will always be, driven by the moment, by emotion, by whatever sounds good. Not only can you not build a city on it, you cant even build a shanty, because IT WOULD WASH OUT INTO THE EFFIN OCEAN BEFORE YOU EVER MOVED IN!

Then again, Barrett is an ambulance chaser who thrives on others' hurts and misfortunes, so I guess it makes sense for him to make that call. Har!

Pancho said...

Bahahaha! That's a professional musician speaking too. I know you can't build a city on rock n roll, but could you pitch a tent? Because I'm pretty sure that's what Barrett did all over Starship. Boom!

Kenozebi said...

Logically impossible...I think not. Literal, almost certainly not. Starship, much like Jesus Christ (your Lord and mine) is not meant to be taken literally. No one (well, almost no one) finds themself with a literal log (or plank depending on your translation) in their eye. No doubt people often ask of Starship, "Why dost though speaketh to the people in parables?".

And lo unto them, Starship doth reply, "We're fire and Ice, the dream won't come true. Though hearing, they do not hear or understand." Clearly anonymous (if that is your real name...which I doubt!) the words of Starship were prophetic as to your involvement in this conversation.

Dearest anonymous, the city is not literally built on rock & roll (though arguably it could be built on rock, like the wise man's house, and then...roll!). Much like your home is not literally built on the back of David Crowder (occupational burn!).

The clear theme here is that Corporations are up to their corporate games again. You see, Starship was not permitted to perform at a free concert in San Francisco circa 1977. But don't you remember? It was in fact Starship that assisted in the growth of San Francisco due to the music industry. Here, Starship goes a step further and contemplates a future without Rock & Roll, controlled by corporations. It is a protest in exclamatory form. But wait, "WE BUILT THIS CITY"!
It is a parable about: seeking and growing; loss and redemption; love and forgiveness.
It even contemplates a future with such problems as: too many runaways eating up the night; the desire to dance, but someone stole the stage; a choke hold held by law enforcement while (ho) the citizens have lost the beat.
The song has nothing to do with the construction and organization of municipalities (which should of course be left to engineers). But rather delves into themes of art. Can it be a coincidence that the song was actually written by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page (among others) in [GASP] the year 1984!! I think not.

How many oscar nominations does erasure have? Because Starship received one for Nothings Gonna Stop us Now (which was #1 in the US for multiple weeks, wrestling the top spot from "Lean on Me"...the Club Nouveau version.

Side note: Just so we are clear, I think Starship is vastly superior to Erasure, which is approximately the 1,345,652,657,987th best band of the 80's. They would still be behind Huey Lewis (with or without the News) and Phil Collins...oh, and Chicago (which don't you dare tell me was a 70's band).

Anonymous said...

Barrett, you son of a bitch, you've missed the point completely.

1) Looking at this literally or metaphorically is beside the point. The bottom line is, "We Built This City on Rock and Roll" is stupid because it's the farthest thing from rock and roll this side of Savage Garden. If you think (and here I'm assuming that you don't really, and that we all know this is all bullshit intellectualizing for the sake of "humor") that this is, in fact, an example of rock and roll, then I can see your vagina from here, and the argument is over.

2) If I remember correctly, that oscar nod would have come along with the movie 'Mannequin,' which was terrible in plot, writing, acting, directing, and casting (points have been, and always will be, deducted by the presence of that slutty lady from Sex in the City). Giving points for that is like saying a thug should be acquitted because of his volunteering at the old folks home when its been proven that he also murdered, raped, sold crack, and robbed that poor Korean guy's bodega on the corner.

3) The occupational burn was solid. I'll give you that.

4) It's well known that Bernie Taupin did his best writing for Elton John. This crap with Starship was obviously backwash that didn't make the cut for the vastly superior (and more fabulous) Elton.

5) Starship were well known hippies. So, there's that.

In conclusion, I win.

Also, if Phil Collins were in this, he would have blown it all away.

Kenozebi said...

Anaonymous, will your adorability never cease?

With respect to the mega-hit movie (yes, you read that correctly...I am calling it a mega-hit) Mannequin:

Any Sex and the City actress hwo may or may not have appeared is more than overshadowed by Andrew McCarthy , Meshach Taylor, and one Estelle Getty. No doubt with your affinity for "Designing Women" and "The Golden Girls" you are very familiar with Taylor and Getty. Of course, then we add in James Spader (quite possibly the most underrated actor of all time) and Mannequin's cast is withoutr a doubt, solid.

Per Wikipedia the film "has since become a cult classic". The direction provided by Michael Gottlieb also cannot be overstated. The same director of Mr. Nannyu and A Kid in King Arthur's Court absolutely crushes it here.

As to We Built This City Taupin actually (I think) did write this song for Elton John...Elton John just has no vision and rejected it. So we are agreed, his best stuff was written for Elton John.

Finally, I can't help but notice that no one has yet provided a single reason that Erasure is on this list (other than Clarke was in other bands that were good...which still makes no sense to me).

In conclusion, Why isn't Phil Collins on this list? The only reason I can come up with is becasue the post was meant to spark a debate and the inclusion of Phil Collins would have left no room for debate. As such, this should be retitled "Who is the 2nd Best 80's Band"