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Category Archives: Gruesome

Gruesome Twosome: Crazy About The La La La Edition

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Massiel: “La, La, La”
Spanish Eurovision Song Contest entry, 1968

Joëlle Ursull: “White and Black Blues”
French Eurovision Song Contest entry, 1990

Today I look at an entity at once comforting and strangely alien: the Eurovision Song Contest. I’m an American who finds this annual competition fascinating: the pageantry, the kitsch, the inter-country squabbling. Amidst all the hubbub, it’s easy to forget that Eurovision has produced some catchy, kick-ass songs over its fifty year history — all under three and a half minutes in length. 1968’s winner, Massiel’s rousing “La, La, La”, is typical in being grandly melodic without losing its essential Euro-ness (which is why Lesley Gore’s English language cover of the tune sank like a stone). Joëlle Ursull’s 1990 entry “White and Black Blues” finished third for its year, but comes through winningly with its unusual percussion and Ursull’s winsome vocal — and check out the fly backup dancers on the video. That’s Eurovision gold. Wikipedia offers an amazingly thorough history of the event with year-by-year breakdowns of all entries’ vote totals.

Gruesome Twosome: Foster Children Edition

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David Foster: “Love Theme from ‘St. Elmo’s Fire'”
LPs: St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack, 1985, and David Foster, 1986 | BUY

Paul Anka: “Hold Me ‘Til The Morning Comes”
LP: Walk A Fine Line, 1983 | BUY

Mega-successful ’80s producer David Foster might be the least likely person on earth to undergo an ironic hipster resurgence — admiring his work is something akin to finding Laura Ashley dresses hot and sexy. Just keep it to yourself, weirdo. But I have to admit that his production on Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry’ still raises goosebumps, and it’s safe to say that this style of music never really went away. Tune into American Idol and you’ll find the Power Ballad (which Foster was the architect of) very much alive and well. So I’m gonna go ahead and share a couple of numbers which may have had your Mom rocking on the drive to the mall. Foster’s production on the impossibly lush St. Elmo’s Fire love theme fairly screams “Class of ’86 Senior Prom last dance”. He also twiddled the dials on Paul Anka’s comeback single “Hold Me Till The Morning Comes,” notable for having duet partner Peter Cetera’s voice mixed in more prominently than Anka’s. Both pieces showcase Foster’s unnerving way of making synthesizers and drum machines sound warm and organic.

Gruesome Twosome: Mama’s Faux Pearl Edition

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Honey Cone: “Stick-Up”
LP: Soulful Tapestry, 1971 | BUY

The Newcomers: “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”
Stax Records single, 1971 | BUY

The Jackson 5 were probably the hottest act in showbiz in 1971, so it makes sense that their success would inspire many imitators. I’m presenting two of the more entertaining knockoffs today. The Honey Cone paid their dues as a talented but somewhat nondescript girl group on the Hot Wax label — until their #1 “Want Ads” transformed them into the queens of bubblegum soul. Follow-up single “Stick-Up” adheres to the same tight, funky pattern, only with lyrics (about a girl who blackmails her cheatin’ beau into marriage) told from a shockingly adult perspective. I dig Edna Wright’s sassy lead vocal and the fey cries of “Help, I’ve been robbed!” from the backup singers. Unlike Honey Cone, The Newcomers’ “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” slavishly imitates the J5 formula right down to the song’s Jermaine Jacksonlike shout-outs. Still, those nursery rhyme horn arrangements are fun. I wonder why they never made a Newcomers Saturday morning cartoon?

Gruesome Twosome: Generic Perky Chorus Edition

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Francis Lai: “The Bobo”
LP: The Bobo Soundtrack, 1967

Neal Hefti: “Waltz for Jeannie”
LP: Harlow Soundtrack, 1965

Today’s selections spotlight that ’60s soundtrack staple, the Generic Perky Chorus. Many soundtrack albums of that era substitute a film’s actual soundtrack music with more palatable fare — and that includes vocal numbers sporting the inevitable Generic Perky Chorus. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! As a matter of fact, Lai’s swingy Bossa and Hefti’s lilting waltz add up to a delectably chichi duo. Thanks to Jonny for the Lai.

Gruesome Twosome: Reheated Nostalgia Edition

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Lady Flash: “Street Singin'”
LP: Beauties In The Night, 1976

The Rubettes: “Tonight”
LP: Wear It’s At, 1974 | BUY

Old was new in the mid-’70s, and this pair of enjoyably retro efforts put me in a Happy Days frame of mind. Oreo-like trio Lady Flash were formed as backup singers for Barry Manilow’s touring show. Barry himself wrote and produced “Street Singin'”, an unexpectedly funky modest hit (#27 in the summer of ’76) with lyrics and melodies that cleverly echoed various ’60s pop tunes. Interestingly, Lady Flash member Lorraine Mazzola had previously been in Girl Group faves Reparata & The Del-Rons. England’s The Rubettes were another odd duck hybrid (hey, your Glitter Rock got into my Doo-Wop!) which could’ve only emerged from the ’70s. “Sugar Baby Love” was their signature hit, but the follow-up single “Tonight” amps up the retro to charming effect. Both of these songs make me want to don a powder blue polyester prom suit, frilly shirt and platform heels to do the Stroll. Enjoy!

Gruesome Twosome: God Save the Telly Edition

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Barry Gray: “Captain Scarlet”
TV theme, 1967 | BUY

John Barry: “The Persuaders”
TV theme, 1971 | BUY

In the spirit of insternational comraderie, I am reaching across the pond today for a duo of marvy vintage British TV themes. The funky charm of Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation productions couldn’t have had a better complement in Barry Gray’s music. Captain Scarlet and The Mysterions is one of my faves. Although the version here to my knowledge was never actually used in the show itself, it’s a fine piece that calls to mind go-go girls dancing in cages, hips aflutter. Check out more of Gray’s work for Anderson on this page. And what about John Barry’s seductive theme for the Roger Moore/Tony Curtis sleuthing series The Persuaders? Quite sexy and Bond-like. Which begs another question: why can’t today’s TV themes sound this friggin’ fantastic?