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If It Sounds Good, Should You Feel Guilty?

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Guilty pleasures. Admit it, we've all got 'em when it comes to music.

A couple of months ago, fellow Blogcritic Glen Boyd had his go around in the confession booth, and at that time I made a toss away comment threatening to do the same.

I was reminded of that half-serious promise when I came across Rolling Stone Magazine's back-handed compliment piece listing 25 "undisputed" guilty pleasure bands. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's Rolling Stone, for crissakes, but much like that infamous "100 Best Guitarists" list, they sure seem to know how to get a lively discussion going. For the record, I found all but one entry on that guilty pleasures list either guilty or pleasurable but not both, except for one.

So after carefully building up a reputation here (ha) over some sixty odd articles, it all comes tumbling down here in one fell swoop. Behold my own guilty pleasures list:

1) Gino Vannelli

Why he gets scorn
Especially in the beginning, Toronto-based Vannelli wrote some incredibly cringe-inducing vapid lyrics, like "now don't get paranoid, I ain't a horny little mongoloid." He also often over-emoted the hell out of his voice, like as if he forgot he was singing rock and was performing an opera instead (much later he did recognize that he was singing opera and put out a real opera record). And the heavy reliance on ARPs and Moogs gave his recordings shorter shelf lives than a fresh grouper left out on a sidewalk in July.

Over time, all these quirks were mitigated just enough to give him a #2 hit in 1978 with the sappy ballad "I Just Wanna Stop." So Gino probably didn't get all that widely criticized, because nobody noticed him much when he was more prone to show his bizarre side. Lucky him.

Why I dig him, anyway
Vannelli had some pretensions of being a soul-jazz inflected prog rocker before he eventually settled for just getting a few AM hits, but while he often failed in that pursuit, he came up with some interesting, melodic stuff anyway. "Where Am I Going" flashed some sophisticated arrangements and tempo changes, while "The Surest Things Can Change" has a sweet, melancholy vibe that proved the Italian Stallion of the North could come across sincerely if he just went light on the syrup. Plus, he didn't skimp on the studio help; guys like Jay Graydon, Graham Lear, Ernie Watts, and Jimmy Haslip provided the instrumentation, and it showed.

2) Michael Franks

Why he gets scorn
Like Gino, Franks is a pseudo-jazz crooner, singing silly, sappy love songs. You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs (eh, Sir Paul?). But at least Gino has gears in his voice. Franks goes at one speed: a dull monotone.

Why I dig him, anyway
Franks' dull monotone singing can be appealing if it's applied wisely to soft romantic songs — like Chet Baker did with his similarly thin warble — and it often was. What's more, sometimes his compositions are so consciously silly they actually become charming. Part of the charm, though, was Franks clever use of double entendres that could sometimes do 1930's country blues naughty boy Bo Carter proud.

"Popsicle Toes" is a classic of bouncy, lightly naughty ditties. But where Vannelli brought in his fare share of noted sessionists, the credits list on Franks' albums often read like Warren Zevon's or Steely Dan's: Joe Sample, Michael Brecker, Larry Carlton, David Sanborn, Wilton Felder, with Tommy LiPuma and Al Schmitt behind the boards… and that was all from his first release.

3) Heatwave

Why they get scorn

They were disco. Nuff said.

Why I dig 'em, anyway
Sometimes I think they got the disco label only because the word "boogie" got mentioned forty of fifty times on each of their dance numbers. Musically, they were a lot closer to Earth, Wind & Fire than the Village People. There were guys in the band who actually played instruments and they had good chops. And Rod Temperton's songwriting ("Boogie Nights," "Always & Forever," "Groove Line") was a couple of cuts above everyone else's, whether you wanted to call it disco, r & b, or funk.

This isn't the first time I've raved on Heatwave, so I won't go any further, here. Suffice to say, they managed to give disco a good name. That in itself is worthy of somebody's lifetime achievement award, don't you think?

4) Hall & Oates

This is the one act where I agree with Rolling Stone's list.Hall_Oates

Why they get scorn
They ruled the pop world in the first half of the eighties. That doesn't exactly carry the same weight as saying "Elton John ruled the pop world in the first half of the seventies." And have you ever seen the album cover of their 1975 self-titled release? *shudder*

Why I dig 'em, anyway
Even as their music became increasingly bogged down by vintage cheesy synths, Sonar drums and other trendy production tricks of the time, the Philly soul element still managed to emerge from it — "One On One" is a prime example. If you listened closely enough, you'd find that John Oates was a better than average singer. Daryl Hall's singing was simply outstanding, and you don't have to listen closely at all to know that.

And if none of this convinces you, then I guess it's time to pull out my trump card: these were the same guys who came up with Abandoned Luncheonette. That album alone bought them some serious cred. Sure, they might have since spent it all, but what the hell, the spending spree was mostly fun.

5) Jeff Lorber

Why he gets scorn
Lorber is a conservatory-trained fusion keyboardist, and sounds like it. Sure, he's got chops galore, but none of them are his own. Mostly, he stole them from Chick Corea. He started out with jazz-funk, but now he's a smooth jazz star. Another strike against him, unless you generally like that kind of music.

Oh, and he gave Kenny G(orelick) his big break. Thanks, Jeff.

Why I dig him, anyway
Lorber's brand of funk-jazz, when he doesn't dilute it with guest vocalists and banks of synthesizers, is straightforward and genuinely soulful. His keyboard licks are consistently concise and in the pocket. Even some of his latter smooth jazz recordings retain those attributes. But early albums like Lift Off and Water Sign are some of the finer examples of non-nonsense fusion I've come across. A lot like middle-period Return To Forever without the excesses. So maybe Lorber did separate himself a little bit from Corea after all, and in a good way.

So there you have it. There might be a few more guilty pleasures I didn't put on the list, but I might've embarrassed myself enough already. I need to make amends and find a nice, arty record to review. Has anyone covered Tom Waits' Bastards CD yet?

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About Pico

  • Mark Saleski

    Michael Franks?!! yeesh. i guy a worked for a long time ago found out i was into jazz. he sez, really? you should check out Michael Franks.

    so i bought Skin Dive. gross.

    love Hall & Oates.

    hmmm, i think i wrote a guilty pleasures post many moons ago…

  • Mark Saleski

    …and here it is

  • JC Mosquito

    Urk. Guilty as charged.

    Gentlemen, the confessional is over on the culture page. Ask for forgiveness and pull out some pre-1975 Stone’s albums.

  • So before listening you bought an album with a picture of a guy who put too much sculpting gel in his hair? Tak, tak, you’ve got only yourself to blame for that one, Mark.

    Notice the Michael Franks at the top of this article; he looks a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Franks. Now that’s the kind of dude who’s likely to have some good music inside ;&)

  • hey, i think it was his most recent release at the time. i pull it out (vinyl) every once in a while….and it’s still not very good.

  • Now that’s the kind of dude who’s likely to have some good music inside ;&)

    yea, yea…sez the guy who listens to Jeff Lorber.

  • Hall & Oates have been consistently outstanding for decades. What’s there to feel guilty about?

  • JANK

    I have NO guilt over liking Michael Franks very much thank you. Check out “The Lady Wants to Know”, “Tiger in the Rain”, “The Cookie Jar is Empty”….

  • “The Cookie Jar Is Empty”? Seriously? That’s a real song?

  • And that RS list is completely ridiculous with Rush at the top. And that’s not just me being a huge fan. I’ve seen non-fans even saying that’s stupid of them to say they’re a guilty pleasure.

    What’s funny is that RS wouldn’t publish my comment on their site – I suggested that they used lists like this only to generate traffic for their advertisers (and it sure works!) and they really don’t care what the lists actually say. See if you can find it – it’s under my name, but it ain’t there! Hitting a little too close to home, perhaps?

  • sean Paul Mahoney

    Bananarama are totally my guilty pleasure! But Hall and Oates rock too.

  • so sez Tom Johnson:
    “And that RS list is completely ridiculous with Rush at the top. And that’s not just me being a huge fan. I’ve seen non-fans even saying that’s stupid of them to say they’re a guilty pleasure.”

    That was my thought, too, when I first saw Rolling Stone’s list. And even though I consider Moving Pictures to be a classic, I’m not really a Rush fan. But even if you might disagree with the number of times they’ve struck out, Rush always seem to be swinging for the fences. Yet, they’re being put in the same company as some acts who are content to bunt every time out.

  • I’ve always dug Hall and Oates. G.E. Smith, who played on a number of their records is one bad ass guitar player for one thing (he was also in the old Saturday Night Live band).

    Speaking of SNL, I’m reminded of an old skit from Second City with Eugene Levy (I think) doing “I Just Wanna Stop” as Gino V. Every time he turns around, his chest is just a little harrier.

    But for guilty pleasures, nothing tops Abba.

    Fun read, Pico—and thanx for the link and the props.


  • i’m a pretty big G.E. Smith fan….even have his Smith Band record. cool stuff. hey, come to think of it, i have an album made back in the 70’s that Smith was a part of: The Scratch Band.

    nothin’ guilty about Hall & Oates either.

  • Thanks for the comments and the inspiration for this article, Glen.

    I also dig seeing someone represent for good ol’ Gino. His fans really get behind him; just go to Amazon to find all the five star ratings on his records. You can’t fault a guy too much for bringing that kind of happiness to so much folks’ lives, can you?

    As to the the question posed in the title “If It Sounds Good, Should You Feel Guilty?”, the answer I’m getting from most everyone is NO. So I won’t. I just won’t play it around certain company, that’s all ;&)