Author Archives: humanizingthevacuum

Songs that peaked at #8: 1985-1989

“Boys will be boys/Nuthin’ but trouble,” Gloria Estefan sang as part of the combo called Miami Sound Machine, and, home biases notwithstanding, “Bad Boys” has aged with thicker muscle mass than anything not Joan Jett’s masochistic Desmond Child co-write, Prince’s okay fourth single (“I Would Die 4 U” is textbook fourth single even allowing for the sexually ambivalent verse), and Peter Gabriel’s “satire” of High Eighties bigness (to my ears it sounds better now than “Sledgehammer”).

Otherwise this list includes several of the decade’s forgotten and probably fake hits, if I use Sean Ross’ expert methodology. I never once heard Thompson Twin’s dopey last top ten except on eighties comps and because my late uncle, stationed in Korea in 1985, owned that country’s pressing of Here’s to Future Days, the cassette of which I claimed when he died in 1995; nor did anyone outside freestyle zones care about Exposé ‘s disappointing blah followups to their 1986-1987 fecund period. As the Faith singles cycle dissipated, clones angled for superstar George Michael’s place in the same way pretenders like Regina and Karyn White did Madonna and Janet Jackson’s, respectively, so it’s no surprise “Careless Whisper” became the song to copy for Boys Club, whose “I Remember Holding You” inspired a terrific Maura Johnston piece last year.

The Hague

Europe – The Final Countdown
Don Henley – The End of the Innocence
New Kids on the Block – Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – War
Steve Winwood – The Finer Things
Thompson Twins – King For a Day
Samantha Fox – I Wanna Have Some Fun
Exposé – What You Don’t Know
Pretty Poison – Catch Me (I’m Falling)
Night Ranger – Sentimental Street
White Lion – Wait
Mr. Mister – Is It Love
Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam – All Cried Out
Boys Club – I Remember Holding You

Sound, Solid

Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel
John Cougar Mellencamp – Cherry Bomb
Sting – Fortress Around Your Heart
Vanessa Williams – Dreamin’
Survivor – High on You
Prince – Alphabet St.
ZZ Top – Sleeping Bag
Lita Ford & Ozzy Osbourne – Close My Eyes Forever
‘Til Tuesday – Voices Carry
Smokey Robinson – Just to See Her
Cher – Just Like Jesse James
Timex Social Club – Rumors

Good to Great

Miami Sound Machine – Bad Boy
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – I Hate Myself for Loving You
Prince and the Revolution – I Would Die 4 U
Neneh Cherry – Kisses on the Wind
Karyn White – Superwoman
Anita Baker – Sweet Love
Peter Gabriel – Big Time

Songs that peaked at #8: 1981-1984

Dig if you will a picture: Prince covers Neil Diamond’s “America,” while Sequins Era Neil covers Prince’s “America.” Or Prince covering America, specifically “You Can Do Magic.” This decade made such mind games possible. Listen to the precision-tooled thud of “Vacation” after the Human League’s cheerful bray — which one is more synthetic?

But no one can duplicate ABBA’s last top ten single.

The Hague

Neil Diamond – America
Bertie Higgins – Key Largo
Journey – Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
Marty Balin – Hearts


America – You Can Do Magic
Irene Cara – Breakdance
Naked Eyes – Always Something There to Remind Me
The Police – Wrapped Around Your Finger

Sound, Solid

Prince – Delirious
Hall & Oates – Adult Education
David Bowie – Blue Jean
Tracy Ullman – They Don’t Know
Commodores – Lady (You Bring Me Up)
Huey Lewis and the News – Heart and Soul
Lionel Richie – Penny Lover
Delbert McClinton – Giving It Up for Your Love

Good to Great

Shannon – Let the Music Play
Soft Cell – Tainted Love
ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
The Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination
The Go-Go’s – Vacation
ZZ Top – Legs
Rick Springfield – I’ve Done Everything for You
Diana Ross – Mirror, Mirror

‘The goal is parity, not superiority’

“All told, liberal society in the U.S. is, at best, just over half a century old: If it were a person, it would be too young to qualify for Medicare,” Osita Nwanevu writes in “The Willful Blindness of Reactionary Liberalism,” his response to liberal critics — Jonathan Chait types — of progressive identity politics. “Reactionary liberals,” he calls them, signatories to “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” published in Harper. Readers will recognize, with dismay, the names of Greil Marcus, Dahlia Lithwick, David W. Blight, and Helen Vendler; others like Bari Weiss appear as predictably as infectious spread at a Trump rally. They lent their reputations to statements like this:

While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.

As Charles Pierce is fond of saying, bull, and also, shit. “Blinding moral certainty” confronting a MAGA-ite is the least we can arm ourselves with; maybe the courage to say, “Fuck you, racist asshole” too, but perhaps the obscenity is too morally blinding for these intellectuals, who must rue the day Susan Sontag died so she could join them (who knows, maybe she wouldn’t have). Continue reading

Songs that peaked at #7: 1972-1976

KISS suck. Few franchises — to call them a “band” or an “act” would debase human expression as shamefully as Mao did — devoted with, given their backstage habits, an almost ascetic concentration on being as terrible as possible while not giving a damn about it. “i had so much fun one night watching different live video clips of gene’s “famous” blood bass solos during Kiss shows. there is nothing like watching someone who had never learned how to play the bass play the bass for 30 years.” So says Scott Seward, one of the sharpest of rock writers on ILM’s classic Eagles listening thread, i.e. more classic than KISS. More Scott: “they are soooooo deadly slow and plodding. and not in a cool doom metal slow and plodding way. and they weren’t heavy enough! some good talented heavy band should do an album of kiss songs where everything is faster and heavier.” Listening to “Beth,” this Peter Criss-sung ballad pours out like motor oil from a valve leak; the song wants to be “Love Hurts” and can’t even summon Paul Anka. “Detroit Rock City” at least has a rhythm section that eyes, say, the James Gang, and almost succeeds. Continue reading

Ringo Starr’s best sung performances

About the power of his drumming the world should no longer doubt, and should you find doubters, arrest them and send them to The Hague. Richard Starkey’s singing is as easily identifiable and at its best pure charm. When star power meets technique, the results can be more fascinating, I wrote yesterday about Catherine Deneuve; given material by the Shirelles, his Beatles mates (especially George Harrison, who generously ceded songwriting credit), and Pete Drake, Starr could manipulate his doleful mien for self-parodic ends. The problem came, as happens too often, when Starr thought the world needed self-expression from him. Thus he was exposed as an average person with average ideas about life and below average ideas about collaborators. Continue reading

Ennio Morricone — RIP

I can think of few composers whose scores projected what the film was supposed to “say” better than their screenplays and directors did than the late Ennio Morricone. I can cite many examples of his acumen; let me settle on The Mission, an otherwise regrettable, forgotten Cannes winner starring Jeremy Irons in his stuffed canary phase and, uh, Robert De Niro as martyred Jesuits. My boys Catholic high school loved Morricone’s score, and it proved up to the task of providing a backdrop for transubstantiation.

Songs that peaked at #7: 1996-2002

I extended these rules further because I couldn’t ignore a few stunning songs, notably Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My),” one of the most radical pop songs to hit the top ten: space, clarinet samples, and a sharp lyric, and, presto, “Get Ur Freak On” and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” sound like Sugar Ray before “Someday.” The lightness of touch reduces Creed to flailing and Shawn Colvin to projecting bland singer-songwriterdom. Am I too hard on her? Sure. But the sound of radio in this era didn’t deserve it.

Meanwhile: a cult singer named Robyn scored two #7s and disappeared. Continue reading

‘The Truth’ ponders the mystery of Catherine Deneuve

Beginning as a goggle-eyed waif sensational in Yves Saint Laurent who waltzed on the fault line between postwar formality and the new freedoms of the soixante-huitard era, Catherine Deneuve has aged into the least fussy grande dame in world cinema. She hasn’t turned more precious or bitter; she hangs on to a De Gaulle-era idea of living: she still smokes with a winning unfussy carelessness and shows little interest in keeping trim despite her still formidable couture. This insouciance comes through in her performances of the last fifteen years. Whether in films by major directors like Arnaud Desplechin (Kings & Queen, A Christmas Tale), André Téchiné (The Girl on the Train, In the Name of My Daughter), François Ozon (Potiche) or in one-offs like Ozon’s 8 Women, Deneuve projects a faintly abstract engagement with the people in her life. She loves them but makes no demands; if this upsets them, well, grow up. A Christmas Tale (2008) has become a holiday favorite at Soto Manse, not least because it includes a beautiful scene between Deneuve and son Mathieu Amalric in which they sit on a beautifully cold winter evening they blow smoke into the moist air and Deneuve confesses he’s her favorite child. Continue reading

Songs that peaked at #7: 1990-1995

Distinguishing this group of #7s: one of the few songs whose title coincided with its chart position, and, of course, Prince had to break that record; with Seal listeners got Trevor Horn’s most fruitful ’90s project just like Michel’le was Dre’s; and a certain Tom Petty-Jeff Lynne co-write more famous now than in early 1990. I want to love Gerardo but his hit is neither suave nor rico. Continue reading

But I don’t have the strength to go: Fourth of July Coronavirus update

To celebrate our independence in 2020 means reckoning with what independence has wrought — difficult, I know, amid the snapping of American flags on Ford Explorers. Frustrated by a pandemic that does not pause for festivities, we want to hit the beach, eat at restaurants, and, to my yearly amusement, light fireworks (I don’t understand fireworks, a subject for another post). Instead, millions like me live thwarted lives because mountebanks in Tallahassee, Austin, Phoenix, and California clung to a desiccated but venomous idea of liberty that regards the wearing of masks as no less an infringement of the pursuit of happiness than slavery was; their followers — our fellow citizens — agree. Meanwhile thousands of men and women continue the demonstrations that have forced a stunning percentage of Americans into the reckoning with the ways in which police and carceral systems sustain peonage and make different war on black bodies. Continue reading

Songs that peaked at #7: 1977-1980

One of the greatest songs in recorded history made this list: Fleetwood Mac’s poetic ambisexua account of the sea of love. I get upset when listeners condescend to her.

On another note, let’s discuss this frenzied literalness, I can’t outdo Wikipedia:

“Imaginary Lover” extols the virtues of fantasy and “private pleasure” as being an easy way to guaranteed satisfaction in the absence of an actual lover. It also implies the superiority at times of imaginary lovers to real ones, eliminating the complications of relating to an actual partner as well as the possibilities of disagreement, rejection, or boredom.

The Hague

Cliff Richard – We Don’t Talk Anymore
Paul Davis – I Go Crazy
John Paul Young –  Love is in the Air


Rita Coolidge – We’re All Alone
Linda Ronstadt – Ooh Baby Baby
Kenny Rogers – You Decorated My Life
Atlanta Rhythm Section – Imaginary Lover
Kenny Loggins – I’m Alright

Sound, Solid

J.D. Souther – You’re Only Lonely
Andrew Gold – Lonely Boy
George Benson – On Broadway
Atlanta Rhythm Section – So Into You
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Just a Song Before I Go
Billy Joel – You May Be Right

Good to Great

Chic – I Want Your Love
Fleetwood Mac – Sara
The Jacksons – Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)
The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line
Cheap Trick – I Want You to Want Me
Heatwave – The Groove Line
Al Stewart – Time Passages

Songs that peaked at #7: 1986-1989

I’ve been doing these granular lists for a few weeks, and, I must say, I love these songs best. The glorious freestyle-gospel hybrid by Expose called “Let Me Be the One,” George Michael’s first oblique queer moment that, I’m convinced, was a fake hit but is marvelous anyway, Donna Summer showing Rick Astley how to sing the hell out of a generic S-A-W hit, Belinda Carlisle and Thomas Dolby using atmospheric synths to suggest an August unease as real as Bananrama’s four years earlier. Hall & Oates may have been fading, but The Mustachioed One proved his pop mettle by co-writing the second and biggest hit by the ghastliest of Australian mulletheads; the chorus is one of those marvelous bits of inanity that only a veteran would’ve written. Continue reading