VAN HALEN V. ANKA: PLEASE DON'T 'JUMP'
I'm a jazzhead--I was born listening to jazz, grew up obsessed with it, learned to play it as a kid and continue to listen to it every day of my life. Jazz is my religion. I have limited taste at best in classical music and an affection (though not a deep or obsessive one) for the rock and roll of the 50s and 60 (with a smattering of early 70s thrown in).
When I was going to high school in the late 70s/early 80s my schoolmates were listening to very different music than I. It was Hard Rock and the bands had names like 'Rush', 'Van Halen', 'Cheap Trick', 'ACDC' etc. I hated this stuff. It didn't sound at all like music to me, but rather a cacophonous mix of electricity and primal screams accompanied by a barbaric percussion bed. There was no melody I could here, no lyrics that could be understood and no point that I could grasp. I haughtily ignored the times I was living in and went home to listen to my Ella and Louis LP featuring Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown (best cut for me was 'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off').
Yesterday, whilst driving about LA, I wound up listening to Howard Stern interview Jon Bon Jovi, another 80s name that didn't particularly mean anything to me. Bon Jovi is a little older than me, a guy in his fifties who chatted amiably and interestingly about his influences and what made him want to be a rock star. He and Stern (a certified HR geek) started invoking the above bands as well as names like Sammy Hagar, Metallica, Motley Crue, Dire Straits...and I suddenly felt a pang of shame. Because they were speaking nostalgically about something that had completely passed me by. I had failed utterly to engage with my youthful peers in music that was now assuming classical dimensions and had chosen instead to stay buried in my own relatively small corner of the music world. As January is a time of resolutions I immediately resolved to close this gap in my musical education and dig into the world of Hard Rock...assuming I could stand it even slightly more than I did when the music was new.
What I'm finding as I begin this journey is that time has altered the impact of the music and has essentially 'tamed the beast', curbing the all-Id nature of the act and exposing it as so much stagecraft. Actually the 'act' was as much a part of Hard Rock as the music and from this vantage point the act looks amusing rather than violent, clever but deliberately cooked-up to convey the 'all babes and drugs and booze all the time' image of the Hard Rock era. And a very good job they did with it--I'm digging the hair, the costumes and the funny dance moves. But it's hard to picture teenagers today having any reaction but sullen stares and eye-rolls at the goings ons.
But the biggest discovery I've made is that the songs of the Hard Rock era are actually...songs! They have lyrics, choruses and bridges, arrangements and climactic builds with satisfying outs. Given the formless and unintelligible nature of so much modern pop, Hard Rock feels like good old-fashioned tune-smithing.
What better way to prove my point than playing the original video of "Jump", Van Halen's anthem-like mega-hit, alongside Paul Anka's cover of the same tune (both are posted above). Yes, Paul Anka recorded an album called 'Rock Swings' and he seemed to grasp what I didn't at the time--that Hard Rock was filled with valid songs that could be interpreted in different ways, the sign of true value in a popular song. That doesn't mean the Anka record is any good--even though the arrangements are top notch the enterprise is gimmicky and frankly absurd. Yes, I prefer the Van Halen video, especially David Lee Roth's clothes and gymnastics. Next up...Bon Jovi?
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:37 AM