I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from music recommendations on Twitter lately, which obviously isn’t unique to my writing, but seems pretty welcome regardless of what genre of writing you are reading. We live busy lives, so anything that introduces you to new music at little or no personal effort is a positive.
For today’s update, I wanted to dig in to a subject that is truly love or hate – musical guilty pleasures. These are songs that you know are bad or that you should probably dislike them or that have a definite societal stigma – and yet you can’t help but love them anyway. Now given that they involve the word “guilt” and music, these are deeply personal items that are almost invariably created by the environment around us. What you feel guilty about liking could obviously be very different from what I feel that way about, and what kids today feel guilty about liking differs dramatically from guilty pleasures for someone like my mom. (Now that I think about it, I think my mom’s generation just called guilty pleasures “music.”)
There’s also an element of catharsis about discussing guilty pleasures, and especially in the sharing of them. On a personal level, it gives me a chance to explain the ridiculous and awful areas of my musical tastes and hopefully connect to you guys at the same time. To enhance that connection, I asked you guys to share some of your own guilty pleasures, which you did in volume. Brilliant. Let’s get started, shall we?
This is Michael Bolton’s Fault
If he weren’t singing about Jack Sparrow, and then Zaiem Beg hadn’t commented on how Bolton had a great voice but sang horrible songs, I wouldn’t be writing this update. But he did, so Z did, and here we are. The first guilty pleasure of my own I want to discuss is not Michael Bolton, but instead semi-contemporary songstress Celine Dion.
But first, story time.
“Knutson is probably gay. Look, he’s tall, he’s tidy, he likes show tunes, he gets along well with women… I’m not sure if he’s gay or not, but he’s certainly the most likely among us to come out later in life.”
This might be what you are thinking at this very minute, but it’s actually a quote from one of my best friends in college. Being gay wasn’t a bad thing here (we’re both strong supporters of gay rights), he was just stating the obvious (and was probably slightly bitter about me cockblocking him by making jokes at his expense in front of cute girls) – if gay were a disease, I displayed all the symptoms. This was especially true when you looked at my music collection from the early 90’s. Yes, Pearl Jam and Bush were there, but so were Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand’s Greatest Hits, as well as the ubiquitous Hootie and the Blowfish and Counting Crows. (I’m completely skipping over the showtunes.) I never chose music because I thought it was cool – in fact, throughout my life, I’m pretty sure I have failed completely at ever being a barometer for cool – I just chose music I liked.
And I really liked Celine Dion. With regard to most pop music, the better/cooler/more unique the voice, the more I like it. Eddie Vedder has an amazing voice for a man. Celine Dion has an amazing voice for anyone. So what if she sings cheesy love songs – I was a young romantic, she had a ridiculous voice, and I loved to listen to it. Am I slightly embarrassed by this? Hell yeah, but some of these songs are timeless, cheesy classics, and I love them. She’s since proven herself to be batshit crazy, but her talent is undeniable. Hell, I even like the occasional newer song (though admittedly, this might be Lea Michelle’s fault).
Celine Dion? Guilty as charged.
The greatest hits from Roxette fall in this same vein for me. I’m pretty sure I’d be free and clear if I were European, but since I grew up in America, I feel like I’m not really supposed to like these, even if I can’t quite pinpoint why. (Then again, watching the male half of this duo dance on stage makes me think it’s his fault, since she’s clearly attractive and can sing.)
This next one is a childhood love I never quite managed to escape – Martika’s Toy Soldiers. Back when I was a kid, there was a program called Kids Incorporated that was like an independent version of The Mickey Mouse Club. MMC ended up churning out Timberlake, Spears, and Aguilera. KI gave us Fergie, Jennifer Love Hewitt and
the Twins, and Martika. I’m pretty sure Disney won that, as they have every other battle of child starpower since. (Except maybe Melissa Joan Hart on Clarissa Explains It All, which was on Nickelodeon. They liked her enough that they stole her and put her in Sabrina on ABC instead. I had the biggest crush on Melissa. Aaaanyway…). Speaking of Fergie, if you like Fergalicious (ahem*runningmix*cough) or especially London Bridge, you should absolutely feel guilty. I’m just sayin’.
Make no mistake, Toy Soldiers is a terrible song. It’s a fake, moody, whiny power ballad with awful lyrics, an awful video, and mediocre singing. But I still like it, and I’m at a loss to explain it. If someone came up to me on the street and said, “Do you like Toy Soldiers,” I’d answer, “Of course.” as if there were no other possible answer. At the same time I could critically tear it to pieces. A different type of guilty pleasure from the Celine Dion one, but a guilty pleasure nonetheless.
I was also going to mention Christopher Cross in this section, but instead I’ll just link to the Yacht Rock archive on youtube and say they’ve covered that entire wonderful guilty genre in detail. Oh, and this episode made me view Lee Sharpe in an entirely new light.
This last one is modern and proves that my intelligent brain has absolutely no control over my musical tastes. Worth Wollpert and I have discussed the merits of the Beeb (the remix of Somebody to Love was the best pop song and video of 2010 by a country mile), and he’s pretty easy to justify musically. This guy, however… I’m 20 years too old and the wrong gender to like his music at all and yet Leavin’ and How Do You Sleep? are undeniable for me. Fuckin’ Jesse McCartney of all people has my guilty pleasure number. I am so ashamed.
Maybe Stoakley was right – maybe I am gay…
Not Guilty, ya’ll gots ta feel me.
Your Guilty Pleasures
My copy and paste of your guilty pleasures from Twitter was 13 pages – 13! Since I have been pressed for time lately, I’ve had to cut these down to a manageable size, but know that you are all awesome for participating. Here we go!
@witzo Not sure how obscure it is but it sure makes me feel guilty. Dee Lite: http://youtu.be/C4D1HSL7P98
Knutson: To me, this is a great one-hit wonder (in the U.S anyway) and it remains a classic dance tune 21 years later. There is no guilt in this at all, it’s just fun.
Jim Ferraiolo: If you want to have a talk about guilty musical pleasures, I’m your man. You know this. How about a little Go West, “King of Wishful Thinking” or my Whitney Houston obsession (How Will I Know, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, I’m Your Baby Tonight, etc.) or my ULTIMATE slow jam, Gregory Abbott’s “ShakeYou Down”?
Knutson: Jim and I have had a musical love affair since we met (via Magic) over a decade ago, and I completely share his early and middle career Whitney Houston obsession, but Shake You Down…, man that’s just timeless. Then again, teenagers playing this as booty call music for a girl would probably get laughed at so hard, they’d have permanent erectile dysfunction. Ya gotta understand your audience, kids, especially if the song has a lot of synthesizer.
@yankee_dave Small Town by Johnny Cougar Mellancamp – I grew up in the area in the video!
Knutson: Full disclosure – I grew up in Indiana and like to sing Pink Houses at karaoke. That said, Small Town definitely skews toward the cheesy ultra-Americana side of Mellencamp, so I’d say it qualifies. I think I prefer Jack and Diane and *gulp* Hurt So Good.
@epic_travisty Weird Al – All About the Pentiums
Knutson: Weird Al was important when I was young – he was one of the few funny things we could get past cursing/sex joke sensitive parents and obviously he’s super clever. This particular song is painful to me, but there are others I can’t get enough of (Amish Paradise comes to mind).
Knutson: Palmer’s Addicted to Love isn’t my least favourite karaoke song ever (unlike some songs, people rarely hurt my ears with it), but it’s one of the most overplayed. That said, it probably leans more toward classic than guilty pleasure. As for Rich Astley, like I told the Hawaiian beach bum here, I’d definitely pay good money to see Dane perform this at karaoke complete with dance moves.
Aside on Rick Astley: Ridiculous voice. Seriously- big, booming, unique, solid control, decent range. Sure, he made some bad hair choices, but if he were playing live nearby, I’d probably go see him sing. Fun fact: He was only in the music industry for six years before he retired to spend time with his family.
Rich Hagon: Cascada – Evacuate the Dancefloor Yes, I’m neither 9 years old, nor a girl. Either or these would be a potential excuse, but there it is. 39, male, likes Cascada. Oh the shame. And oh, the cathartic release. Thank you Ted, thank you. Maybe all that undiscovered flair can now rise to the surface untouched by dancemusicloveguilt.
Knutson: Can a club hit that isn’t truly awful (see: Like a G6) be a guilty pleasure? I think Rich is just ashamed he likes some modern music. Would love to see him dance to this though.
Knutson: It’s an open question as to whether liking Tesh or Yanni is worse, but these two are fucking Charles Manson levels of guilty. The fact that Tesh knows this (he was on Entertainment Tonight for ages – he has to understand what’s cheesy and what isn’t with regard to entertainment) and then crushes anyway (nice tuxedo vest) at least makes him likeable.
@DonnieNoland Detroit Rock City by Kiss
Knutson: See, this one has to be generational. When I was a kid, everything by Kiss was cool. I know this sounds absurd – these guys wore ridiculous makeup and costumes and played heavy hair metal, but trust me on this – for most of their career, KISS and everything they did were fucking cool. Nowadays kids see their act and think they are a half-step short of being a musically superior GWAR.
While on this topic, each and every one of you needs to read Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. It’s fantastic.
@wmap Ashlee Simpson L.O.V.E. Ashlee was my running music of choice.
Knutson: This works in every way. The slightly musically-and-looks inferior younger sibling of a musical family producing a heavily auto-tuned semi-rap song with no real artistic merit aside from a decent beat. Perfect and terrible.
@bmkibler I have rocked out to Miley Cyrus “Party in the USA” on occasion.
Knutson: I missed most of the Miley phenomenon for various reasons. The first time I ever saw her sing anything was on American Idol when she performed on the same episode as Jennifer Hudson – talk about opposite ends of the talent scale. Never, ever listen to Miley live. As for the song, the first time I heard Party in the USA was when the girls who lived downstairs from our apartment in Curacao – aged 9, 7, and 5 – were playing it on some speakers at the pool. Again. And again. And again.
If you like anything at all sung by Miley Cyrus, you are guilty. Speaking of music enjoyed by young girls…
Evan Erwin: Here ya go, dignity be damned
@mtgaaron My oldest’s fave singers: 1) Katy Perry 2) Miranda Cosgrove 3) Ke$ha 4) Lady Gaga 5) Pink. She’s 7.
@mtgo_dwayne To be fair, those are my favorites too.
@maro254 My 7 year old girl’s faves: Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez & the Scene and Miranda Cosgrove.
Knutson: I like how Aaron includes the $ in Ke$ha and Rosewater knows that it’s Selena Gomez & THE SCENE. (I did not know this – The Scene is never included in pictures of Selena Gomez on the celeb sites I follow.) I think the lesson here is that having children will force you to hear some awful music along the way, whether it’s the theme song to Barney, or the repetitious playing of Katy Perry’s version of Firework over and over and over again. (Her boobs produce fireworks in that video. I think of this as an allegory for her career.) Obviously this version of Firework is superior, but mostly because Lea Michele can actually sing all the notes.
@tomreeve I don’t really do guilty about music anymore, but I did own this album when I was a little Reeve.
Knutson: Yes, that is Billie Piper. The same adorably cute and rather sultry Billie Piper that was part of Doctor Who and also Secret Diary of a Call Girl. The song Tom first linked (Honey to the Bee) is terrible and typical of the worst stream of UK drek-pop. It is gloriously bad. BUT… it’s not as bad as the second video he introduced me to.
Watching this actually makes me appreciate the early career of Britney Spears that much more.
@ridiculoushat the entirety of Aqua’s catalog. Also eff you, find your own links to Cartoon Heroes.
Knutson: No need to get testy – I haven’t made short or leprechaun jokes about you in weeks (though I kept expecting you to pop up when I was in Dublin last weekend). I had never heard this song before, though I was familiar with Barbie Girl. I think my life was better for having been able to say that. Ben Goodman has ruined me. The lead singers for Aqua have to be two of the stranger voices to ever appear regularly on hit songs, and are made that much weirder by appearing together. The backstory behind Aqua has to be entertaining stuff, I am sure.
Fun fact: Lead singer Lene Nystrom has apparently gone on to have a small career flashing her bits in films. I have no idea what happened to Ken.
Fun fact 2 (from Thomas Rosholm): They are apparently into S&M and have been seen frequenting certain fetish clubs in Copenhagen. As Thomas notes, it puts the Barbie Girl lyrics about spanking and tying up in an interesting light.
ROSHOLM I’m A Blonde Single Girl In The Fantasy World Dress Me Up, Take Your Time, I’m Your Dollie You’re My Doll, Rock And Roll, Feel The Glamour And Pain Kiss Me Here, Touch Me There, Hanky-Panky You Can Touch, You Can Play You Can Say I’m Always Yours, Oooh Whoa
ROSHOLM Make Me Walk, Make Me Talk, Do Whatever You Please I Can Act Like A Star, I Can Beg On My Knees
ROSHOLM actually think its hilarious
ROSHOLM that their music was more or less targetted at children
@blaiwitchgreen Southern Culture on The Skids – Camel Walk
Knutson: I’m not 100%, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this song is more cool and less guilty. It’s sort of like loving the B-52’s before Love Shack –you have a kickass guitar riff, nice beat, and moderately non-sensical lyrics. Depending on what era this came out in originally, it could have been a top 10 hit with the right promotion.
@geraintdmorgan Elton John/Kiki Dee Don’t Go Breaking My Heart = my Birthday #1
Knutson : This song is unabashedly terrible, but is supported by two excellent voices, which makes it something you can totally listen to. Well done.
@rtassicker Quiet Riot – Metal Health (Bang Your Head) is my most played song in itunes
Knutson: One of the things I learned during my two visits to Russell’s wonderful country is that Australia is where bad music never dies. That said, Metal Health was considered very cool by my 8-year-old self. This is still very listenable cock rock.
Speaking of Australia and cock rock…
@rbuehler luckily for me there’s no known karaoke footage of AC/DC’s Shook Me All Night Long to link to
@top8games Not even a cel phone vid? Are you certain?
@blisterguy I had heard it was spectacular
@rtassicker In Australia it’s far more embarassing to NOT like “You Shook Me All Night Long”. Practically the national anthem.
Knutson: Everyone except Randy is right on this one. There was definitely a cell phone video of this performance. (There was also one of an orange-hoodied Aaron Forsythe doing what I believe was Fight the Power with Scott Johns tagteaming.) It was spectacular. And You Shook Me All Night Long is a fantastic song. That said, Randy took it one step beyond with a performance that included all the high notes and sliding on his knees + air guitar at the appropriate parts. That was an amazing night of entertainment – one that included the legendary Jose Barbero literally stepping out of an alleyway when we were walking home and saying this classic line, “Man, these Japanese girls are crazy. I was with one earlier this weekend and I couldn’t tell if I was fuckink her or keeling her. I love Japan!”
Rupert Holmes, Escape. Pity me.
Knutson: This gentleman wins the prize for most egregious guilty pleasure of all time. I loathe this song for so many reasons and yet have been clearly overruled by it’s unfortunate popularity. If you were playing the girl drink drunk game, this song has 15 umbrellas, whipped cream, and is served in a coconut carved in the shape of a tiki girl. Terribad in every way. (Yes, even worse than Yanni and John Tesh. Though maybe not Kenny G.)
I’ll close by saying I used to like Bing Luke – now I am not so sure.
@prolepsis9 – the reason I know you’re off base is the Final Countdown is playing in your head now