It wasn’t Bob Dylan, it was Satchel Paige who said “Don’t look back”—because “someone might be gaining on you,” and whoever it was has long since passed the singer of this song. “This drunken old whore,” David Baerwald half jokes, half snarls from a back table in some L.A. dive: “You see, we’d been swallowed by the cracks, fallen so far down. Like the rest of those clowns, begging busfare back.” Those lines are too cold, too unpleasant, to do anything but pull the string on a life, but as an overdubbed one-man-band David Ricketts has a feel for the light touch, strong melodies, good rhythms; his music and Davitt Sigerson’s careful, anonymous production give Baerwald back the will he’s mourning. A great song to listen to when you’re miserable.2. Cameo, “Word Up!” (Atlanta Artists)
A piece of funk so imaginative and clean it’d fit on Prince’s Dirty Mind; a trick vocal; and a lyric that starts off as if it’s going to try to teach you a new dance (“The Word,” or something), turns into Ashton, Gardner & Dyke’s “Resurrection Shuffle,” the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird,” and the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself,” and then gets complicated.3. Billy Bragg, “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” (Go! 12-inch, UK)
A knife in the heart—and, in the best of all possible worlds, the last song the Four Tops will sing before Levi Stubbs’s promised retirement in 1990.4. Impotent Sea Snakes, Too Cool for Rock & Roll (Pravda, Box 268043, Chicago, IL 60626)
From Florida, leading off with “Pope John Paul Can Suck My Dick” (it’s not anticlerical—the singer’s doing Johnny a favor), moving on to “Missing Link” (i.e., black people) and “I Caught AIDS from a Dead Man,” this set of cheap but extremely detailed slurs isn’t especially shocking, and it isn’t funny. What it is is pointlessly vicious and obscene, and listening to it in 1986—as opposed to, say, 1979—carries a certain charge: you wonder how long it might be before this sort of public speech is made illegal. (It already is in North Carolina; see “University Under Fire,” James B. Meigs’s report on that state’s recent nullification of the First Amendment, Rolling Stone, September 25.)5. Eddie Money, “Take Me Home Tonight” (Columbia)
Urgent with a good idea: “Just like Ronnie sang,” pleads the man to his one-night would-be, and then there she is, Ronnie of the Ronettes in the flesh, warbling “Uh-uh-uh-oh/Be my little baby…” She sounds terrible, hopeless—and she’s right in your lap, when she should have been mixed back, emerging only as a radio ghost. The number still makes it.6. Stacey Q, “Two of Hearts” (Atlantic)
Not as good as Madonna’s “‘True Blue,” better than anything on Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors7. Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian” (Columbia)
Not as good as Steve Martin’s “King Tut,” better than the Pyramids’ “Here Comes Marsha.”8. Smokey Robinson, “The Star-Spangled Banner” (Fenway Park, Boston, October 23)
Not as good as Marvin Gaye, better than Trini Lopez.9. Del Shannon, “Runaway,” theme song for Crime Story (NBC, Thesdays, 9 p.m.)
As lead cop Dennis Farina’s wife, Darlanne Fluegel is the sexiest woman on TV.
10. Unknown guitarist, “Apache” (Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy, October 12)
Throughout the weekend, the streets and plazas of central Bologna fill with citizens. Thousands and thousands of people, old and young, most of whom have taken the bus in from cheaper districts, gather together: they form groups and leave them, talk and argue, look for friends and find them. They’re not shopping, or hanging out in cafés: they walk the streets and mill in the plazas as if they’re on a pilgrimage to the place where, culturally, they were born. “I love my native city more than my own soul,” Machiavelli wrote some four centuries ago; the people in Bologna seem to act out that sentiment as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. It’s the pleasure of being part of something bigger than yourself; look for greed, resentment, or nervousness in these streets, and you won’t find them. It was the most exuberant version of public life, of what used to be called “public happiness,” I’ve ever witnessed.
In the midst of this ordinary festival—square in the middle of the biggest plaza in the city—was a guitar player with a mike and a little amp. There was something about the air, or the way the people baffled it, or the way the man played, that carried his notes hundreds of yards, and yet kept them from blaring at a distance of 10 feet: kept them from interrupting whatever anyone else might want to do. It struck me that there has never been a bad version of “Apache”; (Jorgen Ingmann, 1961, first and last German surf instrumental); the melody is simply too sweet. But this was 10 in the morning; the guy was still there, as many people joyously listening as joyously ignoring him, 12 hours later.
Village Voice, October 1986