Anyone following this column has most likely come to the conclusion that I’m a bit of an insufferable music snob, with tastes leaning towards indie music. To those charges I say, “Guilty, on all counts.”
Still, in spite of my pretensions, I have been known to put on some truly wretched music (usually while alone, but sometimes to appall and astonish my guests) for no other reason than the music makes me happy.
I truly enjoy it.
Guilty pleasures — we all have them. From frozen microwave burritos to the energy drinks that take a permanent position on my desk, to the occasional can of PBR (perfect for a slow float down the river), they are the things in life that we would never share in certain circles, but we would never do without if sufficiently cornered.
Christina Aguilera — The seedy, somewhat redolent flip-side of Britney Spears, Christina rips out some raunchy Swede pop that wouldn’t sully Britney’s somewhat soiled skirt hem. Her 2006 album “Back to Basics,” heavy on the R&B groove (and light on the Swede pop), put her on another level, I think, although I confess that I never minded whatever level she was on.
ABBA, “Waterloo” — Speaking of Swede pop, ABBA set the standard and laid the groundwork for that dubiously esteemed infection of the music scene. Truth be told, there’s not much in the ABBA oeuvre that I’d recommend but “Waterloo” has a driving rhythm guitar reminiscent of the hardest 50s rock n’ roll along with a Phil Spector-ish “Wall of Sound” production that makes the song superlative to the rest of the trivial output that ABBA foisted on us.
The Ting Tings — Yes, “That’s Not My Name” has been overplayed almost to the point of being redundant but, I swear on my old Irish Granny’s soul that I can’t get enough of it. My kids love the song and don’t mind when, on the ride to school, it pops up on Radio Disney, dad cranks the volume.
Electric Light Orchestra — E.L.O. takes up more space on my iPod than I care to admit but they are my quintessential guilty pleasure. I’m not too fond of their earlier “art rock” excursions but when they lightened and tightened in the mid-’70s, taking Beatles harmonies, dipping them in sugar water, rolling them in cocaine and dressing them up in disco clothes, those songs were some of the best things going on top-40 radio.
Powerman 5000 — Not nearly as wretched as Rammstein but equally as cartoonish, Powerman 5000 took up some well-deserved space on late-90s heavy-rock radio. Although known for their minor hit, “When Worlds Collide,” it is “Supernova Goes Pop,” that, in my estimation, really shows what PM5K was capable of doing — making awesome, skull-shattering rock.
Sweet — I have to wonder if Sweet is really such a guilty pleasure since they’ve been covered to death by various metal and punk bands. And I defy anyone to deny that “Ballroom Blitz” is not one of the silliest, rockinest songs ever.
Still, they fit the bill as a guilty pleasure due to the proto-Jonas Brothers pop sound (which nonetheless rock) and metal-lite compositions. Although their last radio hit, “Love is Like Oxygen,” sounded more like 10cc than Sweet, the chugging guitar riff that underpins the melody is one of the best things they ever produced.
10cc — Again, a dubious inclusion. Total “art rock” poseurs, 10cc included some incredible songwriters and musicians (band member Graham Gouldman had penned “Heart Full of Soul”, “Evil Hearted You” and “For Your Love” for The Yardbirds, “Look Through Any Window” and “Bus Stop”’ for The Hollies). When they weren’t puffed up with art rock pretensions and shoe gazing banality, 10cc produced some rather fine pop. Although everyone knows “I’m Not in Love” (which has been covered numerous times), later gems like “Dreadlock Holiday” and “Good Morning, Judge’ are the ones cranked on my shuffle.
Johnny Horton — My dad, a retired U.S. Air Force E-9, was crazy for old-skool country. Although I never took to Hank Snow, Charlie Pride or Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton (Johnny Cash finally found his way into my collection when I was in my early 20s), Johnny Horton still holds an endearing and nostalgic corner of my cold heart. Ditties like “The Battle of New Orleans” and “North to Alaska” still manage to stumble through my psyche with disturbing frequency.
Blue Oyster Cult — I saw these guys open up for Black Sabbath on the tour that, due to BOC’s laser show, led to federal regulations for the use of lasers in performances (a little retina damage here and there necessitated the rules). Anyway, I digress.
My band (a mid-80s punk affair) covered “Hot Rails to Hell,” a move I felt vindicated for when, the following year, The Minutemen released their own cover of “The Red and The Black.”
Most everyone knows BOC from the ubiquitous “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” a song that cemented the band’s reputation as a vampiric metal band that would just as soon suck your blood as take your money. Nonetheless, “Godzilla” is by far their best — and most inane — work. Because, sometimes in rock and roll, the inane becomes sublime (e.g. The Ramones).
Herb Alpert and The Tiajuana Brass, “Casino Royale” — The movie was terrible (not the proper remake with Daniel Craig), a leering, winking nod to the psychedelic ’60s and a nominal spoof of Bond movies with an all-star cast (including Peter Sellers, David Niven and Woody Allen). How the movie failed so miserably is probably only someone with a handful of acid could explain. The theme song was the only redeeming thing in the movie.
Now, look deep into your heart and confront your guilty pleasures. The rest of mine remain a secret.