It doesn’t matter how cool you are: this great production showcases gestures as shocking now as any Elvis Presley put on television in 1956, and it’s a prissy myth that only those who disapproved of Elvis were shocked. Here, the interracial hermaphroditic porn of “Like a Virgin” was merely a warm-up for the blasphemies of “Like a Prayer,” which as a dance raised the music to the level of Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” cut in with Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say.” “This,” Madonna said on May 31 in Toronto, when police arrived with an order that she alter her performance, “is certainly a cause for which I am willing to be arrested.”
2. Dorothy Wade and Justine Picardie, Music Man—Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records, and the Triumph of Rock and Roll (Norton S19.95)
Engaging, seductive writing that never calls attention to itself, first-class business reporting—a music book you can actually read, not simply glean for gossip, though there’s plenty of that, from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s attempt to get Red Bird Records back from the Mafia to Mick Jones’s pre-Foreigner bid to take over the corpse of Stax. The book is strongest as a shadow biography of Morris Levy—mobster, bad conscience of pop laissez-faire capitalism, and imp of the perverse—who talked his head off.
3. Clancy Eccles, et al., Clancy Eccles Presents His Reggae Revue (Heartbeat CD reissue, 1967-72)
Rock steady, and never steadier—not a single twitching nerve.
4. Wedding Present, Bizarre (RCA CD)
As a singer, David Gedge sounds like John Cale on his obscure 1969 Vintage Violence LP; as a guitarist he fronts a Leeds band whose influences seem to begin and end with the Velvet Underground’s 8:47 1969 live version of “What Goes On”—and what goes on on Bizarre is a fanatical argument that true rock ‘n’ roll, or music, emerges only at that point where repetition takes on a charge so powerful not even rhythm can be heard. Listen to “What Have I Said Now?“—Fairport Convention’s “A Sailor’s Life” as redone by Joy Division—and tell Gedge he’s wrong.
5. Sinead O’Connor, green T-shirt (Berkeley Community Theater, June 4)
“PWA,” it read; her publicist said it meant “Paddies With Attitude,” not “Person With AIDS.” I don’t know what the ACT UP sticker on the sleeve meant.
6. Cathodes Adams, dispatch on Romanian elections (UPI, May 20)
“More than 80 political parties are participating in the elections,” Adams reported. “The Laughter Party, the Barking Dog Party, the Gypsy Home Decorators Party… More than 1,000 foreign observers have begun traveling to some of the 3000 polling stations around the country to monitor the balloting. ‘I’m overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for democracy,’ said Roy Hattersley, a British Labor Party deputy.” “Me, too,” said Monty Python. 7. Fleetwood Mac, “Save Me” (Warner Bros.)
Rock economics: the guitar solo costs nobody anything; the way Christine McVie sings “Is it one or the other, baby?” was paid for a long time ago.
8. Rod Stewart and Ronald Isley, “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” (Warner Bros.)
Flying back from the U.K. in 1966, I found the Isley Brothers’ original on the audio; for the next 14 hours Swinging London dissolved as I waited for the headset to give up the tune again and again. As a 1990 video it’s a period piece: ignoring Holland-Dozier-Holland’s sweetest melody, the slowly vamping go-go girls have that ultra-’60s Edie Sedgwick coldness down pat, and they’re hard to resist. But on the radio, where it’s just as hard to tell feathered Rod from pony-tailed Ron, the music is flooded with a new warmth, probably because Rod and Ron are riding the melody, and toward the same goal: their shared past.
9. The Ghost of Gene Chandler, “Duke of Earl,” on Billboard Top Rock ‘n’ Roll Hits—1962 (Rhino CD)
Digital displacement No. 7891: did you know this featured organ, guitar, clarinet? It does now—and only if you believe that sound converted into numbers tells the truth, what once seemed a primarily casual piece of singing has now been revealed as a precise, professional, altogether constructed piece of orchestration. I’m not sure we’re richer for this information.
10. Charles Freeman, proprietor, E. C. Records: arrested on charges of distributing obscene material for selling copies of 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be (Fort Lauderdale)
“America is free, free for everybody,” he said two days after federal judge Jose Gonzalez found the music “as much against the law as assault, rape, [or] kidnapping.” “I’ll go to jail, and I’ll come back and sell it again.”
Village Voice, June 1990 (precise date TBD)