It’s Grammy time and we want to be topical, so why not a post about music? Not only are we going to talk about music but we will also be doing some stunt casting by getting an assist from our pal, Treacherous Friend from TreacherousFriends.blog since he is an unabashed record collector and music enthusiast. 2016 was perceived as an incredibly bad year for celebrity deaths and music did not come out unscathed. We all know the big hits but what about the underappreciated music these artists left. So this week’s question, what are your favorite underappreciated songs from the artists we lost in 2016?
For my three I went all over the place, an Eagle, the lead singer of a minor New Wave band and a rock god. The sad fact is there were a lot of good choices for 2016. Without any premeditation, I picked them all shockingly from 1984-1985.
“Smuggler’s Blues”- Glenn Frey
When Glenn Frey passed away last year, he got overshadowed by David Bowie’s own surprise death, and that’s a shame. Glenn Frey had two huge hits with “The Heat is On” and “You Belong to the City”. But the song I love and is underappreciated is “Smuggler’s Blues”. Released on the 1984 album The Allnighter, it reached #12. The song is an action song and tells a story. It’s the type of song as a teen that you imagine being part of the action. The creators of Miami Vice liked the song so much they titled their 15th episode “Smugglers Blues” and Frey guest starred. I am pushing for the upcoming Han Solo stand-alone film to be called Han Solo: Smuggler’s Blues.
Bonus: “Smuggler’s Blues” won an MTV Music Video Award for Best Concept Video beating out fellow Eagle, Don Henley for “Boys of Summer”.
MG: As a kid I also loved songs that had a story, and to have the song’s video go along with the story was doubly awesome. “You Belong To The City” was also on Miami Vice, my favorite show then, in the 2-part episode where they go to New York City.
YTF: Interesting choice. I’d have never picked this as underrated – as you say, it went to #12. The lead single off of The Allnighter, however, was truly underrated and most people still don’t know it: “Sexy Girl” was a little bit racy for the time (and I was 12 years old) but I loved it just the same.
“Lover Come Back to Me”- “Dead or Alive”(Pete Burns)
Pete Burns and Dead or Alive came on the US scene in 1985 with “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” and it was a big hit, number 11 in the states and a number 1 in the UK. Even Flo Rida sampled it. The other song that keeps them from being a one hit wonder is 1986’s “Brand New Lover”. What gets missed is Dead or Alive had a third charting single. “Lover Come Back to Me” is a similar dance-oriented song and is featured on their 1985 album Youthquake. I admit I came to this song later in life and I don’t have an emotional attachment to it but it’s just a fun, catchy song that makes you want to dance. I think more people should hear it.
Bonus: Pete Burns became a reality star in England starring in Celebrity Wife Swap and Big Brother UK.
MG: I forgot how much Pete Burns almost out-androgenized Boy George. Then again, make-up, hairdos and funky clothes were a staple of many male band members then. “Brand New Lover” was one of my favorites of the mid-80’s, but this song is another good one.
YTF: I’d say Dead Or Alive as a whole are underrated. Everyone associates them solely with “You Spin Me ‘Round,” but their whole catalog is pretty excellent – as you say, uptempo dance-oriented electro-pop. Definitely deserved a wider audience.
“Baby I’m A Star” – Prince
Prince is a god. How can you say any of his songs are underappreciated, especially his hits, so for my Prince pick I went with a non-single. I remember having the 1999 cassette; I believe my dad got it from his Columbia House membership (12 tapes for 1 cent). So I had a working knowledge of Prince when Purple Rain came out. It was a huge album and almost all hits. “Let’s Go Crazy” was the rocker, “Purple Rain” the ballad, “When Doves Cry”, the pop masterpiece, “Darling Nikki” the “dirty” one but my favorite and the song that needs more love is “Baby I’m a Star”. This is an upbeat pop-rock-funk-dance song that gets by on its pure energy. Prince sings this song with confidence telling the audience that he is a star and he backs it up on this tune.
Bonus: I saw the performance, from the 1985 Grammy’s, below live and it was the first time I had heard this song. This performance below should make everyone fall in love with Prince, it’s electric.
MG: A good friend and I watched the show together and couldn’t wait to see this performance. Back then, it wasn’t a given that A-list talent would always show up for the Grammys, and I recall Prince previously hadn’t even attended a show, never mind perform. It was a huge “get” and they waited until the end to have him do this song. I remember it being like 10 minutes with a big jam/dance portion to it. It was such a contrast how reclusive and quiet his persona was, until he got on stage and exploded with energy.
YTF: Yeah, G, I remember watching that together. We both were a little surprised with the trouble he had with the mic stand at the beginning of the clip, but he’d completely redeemed himself by the end. Great pick, DJ.
Prince and George Michael were easily in my top 5 musical acts all time, so last year was a huge loss in my music world. It was a good time to go back and take a dive past the top 10 hits and appreciate some of the lesser played songs.
“Waiting For That Day” – George Michael
When Listen Without Prejudice: Vol. 1 was released, I, like most fans, anticipated “Faith 2”. When it clearly wasn’t, I learned to appreciate the emotional depth of this album, and this song was the deepest for me. It was my early 90’s heartbreak song, and it’s impossible to listen to it and not think of the sinking relationship that I had lashed to it. So eloquently written, this song captures that emotional state where your mind knows it’s over, but your heart still longs in futility for “that day” when she’ll come back and everything will be good again.
DJ: No doubt Listen Without Prejudice: Vol 1 is a great album, probably better than Faith and yet I still think the album is underappreciated. This song is so good; the writing is some of his best. Ending with the Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is just brilliant.
YTF: There was supposed to be a Faith 2 of sorts. Legend has it that George Michael recorded a much more dance-oriented, uptempo Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 2 to be released subsequent to Volume 1. Unfortunately, it was shelved by the record company due to the perceived failure of the first one to shift units. Damn shame, too.
“Darling Nikki” – Prince
Covered a number of times, most notably by The Foo Fighters, this was never a single but has the dubious distinction of being the song that prompted Tipper Gore’s music rating crusade. What’s so bad about “masturbating with a magazine” (maybe the hotel lobby part)? My best friend in junior high had a crush on a girl named Nikki, and on a field trip, he thought he could get her attention by playing this song on a mini boom box in the back of the bus. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Yes, Prince was explicit in some of his songs, but not in an aggressive or lewd way. Tipper would disagree I’m sure.
DJ: Great song, I was a big fan of the Swedish band Whale’s 1995 cover as well as Prince’s version.
YTF: Both of you list songs from Purple Rain as “underappreciated.” I think the only way they could be considered such is that they weren’t singles. This album was like Thriller – everyone had a copy and everyone knew every song.
MG: Fair enough, but remember that you are a super-fan, and the casual listener has a different level of recollection. Even Thriller has tracks only the most hardcore MJ fans remember the titles of.
“Freeek” – George Michael
Speaking of being lewd, this lesser-known song from George Michael’s 2002 Patience album was “I Want Your Sex” on steroids. It was released as a single but never went anywhere in the US. Most of the hits of his later career tended to be quieter, but this one was a full-on dance thumper with a good dash of raunch. It features multi-layers of hard-charging baseline, samples of the original internet dial-up screeching noise, and tongue-in-cheek lines like:
I’ll be your sexual freeek
of the week
Yeah – I need a rebooty!
The gonzo video for this song was a mix of Blade Runner, S&M imagery, The Matrix and fake infomercials.
DJ: This is definitely underappreciated because I just discovered this song after he passed and I was a big George Michael fan (I guess not as much after his 2nd album). I’m not sure I love it but it’s definitely over the top and maybe with some repeated listenings I will appreciate it.
YTF: I love this song and this video. I still have both of the CD-singles (it was released with different mixes on each disc) and Freeek!!! is still in regular rotation on my iPod. Very much an underrated George Michael song – a return to his nasty roots before he started putting out covers and symphonic albums.
Your Treacherous Friend
Hi, fellas. Thanks for asking me to contribute to this post. It was a rough year. I cried when David Bowie died. I cried when Prince died. As a friend of mine said toward the end of the year, “Jesus Christ! My whole childhood is dying!” Narrowing it down to three is a daunting task, but here goes.
Leonard Cohen: Tower Of Song
Choosing one of Leonard Cohen’s best known songs may seem like cheating the rules a bit, but I’m moving forward under the argument that the man’s entire career is underappreciated, particularly in the U.S. I’ve made the statement before – and stand by it – that if I had to choose to listen to just one song for the rest of my life, this would be that song. It is gorgeous in its simplicity, the music being the preprogrammed sample that came with an electronic keyboard that Mr. Cohen found in a shop. He was already in his mid-fifties when I’m Your Man was released in 1988. “Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey / I ache in the places where I used to play / And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on / I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower Of Song…” It’s one of those records where every single song is a standout, but among all of those, “Tower Of Song” shines the brightest.
DJ: Honestly you should have just picked “Hallelujah” then. I wish I liked Leonard Cohen, sounds like I would be part of the cool kids. This is not underappreciated to Cohen fans, anyone else just doesn’t know it.
MG: I gave this a first listen, and if I had to hear this song the rest of my life I’d cut my throat. But I know there’s a cult of die-hard Cohen fans, so I guess I just don’t have the ear for it.
David Bowie: Station To Station
Choosing a song from David Bowie’s enormous output was not as cut-and-dried as picking one of Leonard Cohen’s. In the end, I chose “Station To Station” because it has long been a favorite and unless someone is a big David Bowie fan and buys (and listens to) his albums all the way through, there’s a chance that this ten-plus-minute opus has gone unheard, making it underappreciated. The song is made up of three parts – the instrumental opening bit (which takes up half the song), “the return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers’ eyes,” in the second part, and the final act, a straight-ahead rocker which ended up being released as a single in a much abbreviated form. It’s an amazing work of art, an entire concept album covering the Kabalah, Buddhism, and Gnostic belief systems all crammed into a single ten-minute song (incidentally the longest single studio song Bowie ever recorded).
Bonus: If you want to check out an incredibly thoughtful, well-written, and exhaustively comprehensive examination of this song, pop on over to the Pushing Ahead Of Dame blog at https://bowiesongs.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/station-to-station/ for a more in-depth breakdown than you could ever want.
DJ: I like Bowie but just like you said, not a big enough fan to have sat through this.
MG: Thank you to anyone still reading the blog at this point.
Prince: P Control
Oh, boy. Where to start with this one? “You’ve got over a thousand Prince tracks to choose from and you go with ‘P Control.’” Well, yeah. First off, it’s called “P Control” on the album sleeve, but we all know what the “P” stands for. Second, this cut originated on the criminally out of print The Gold Experience, one of the last true Prince records before he became a Jehovah’s Witness and stopped cursing in his songs. Third, it was his final album of new material for Warner Bros. (the follow-ups, Chaos & Disorder and The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale were largely pulled from archived recordings to fulfill contractual obligations). Finally, it’s a feminist anthem in a way that only Prince could do it. The concept of pussy control as it is presented on this cut has to do with women using their brains to outsmart men who offer them money, fame, or power in exchange for giving up the goods. The protagonist of the song is named Pussy Control and “Pussy got bank in her pocket / before she got dick in her drawers / If brother didn’t have good-and-plenty of his own / then in love Pussy never did fall.” In Prince’s idealized world, Pussy Control is everywoman; he’s encouraging all females to take control of their own destiny, to make their own way in the world, to avoid dependence on men, and to avoid being taken advantage of by those same men. It might be an unconventional feminist anthem, but I stand by that argument just the same.
DJ: I think you said it all.
MG: This song has some good funky bass work, I’ll grant you that. For a good portion of his career, it seemed like Prince wanted to be seen as racially unaffiliated. Was he black, white, Latino? – it didn’t matter, he was defying labels & categorization, which I liked. Then in songs like this he started referring to himself with the N word. Obviously his prerogative, but it felt like a disconnect for me.