Friday, August 20, 2010

Forever In Blue Jeans

Michael Tomasky at The Guardian asks his readers to "Name us a song or two that all "right-thinking people" would dismiss as sentimental but that you love. And be bold and unapologetic!"

I'll start off with Neil Diamond's "Forever In Blue Jeans" a top 20 hit from 1979, seen here performed in concert for a CBS special in 2009. I could list you hundreds of reasons why all "right thinking people" should not only dismiss this bit of sentimental drivel, but should actively hate it. Instead, I'll limit myself to eight very compelling reasons:

1) This is not a track by the (relatively) cool, early, "Jewish Elvis" Neil Diamond. Nor is it by the Rick Rubin rehabilitated Neil Diamond either. No, this is the by the full-on, rhinestone-jumpsuit-wearing, 70s schlockmeister, Neil Diamond.

2) The fact that the track appears on the You Don't Bring Me Flowers LP should be enough for anyone with even a modicum of "taste" in music to write the song off without even hearing it.

3) The song was used to advertise actual blue jeans. By the Gap.

4) It's been performed on American Idol (by a white guy with dreadlocks no less).

5) It was produced by Bob Gaudio (of The Four Seasons, who is largely to blame for foisting the reactionary Jersey Boys on an unsuspecting world).

6) It features one of those awful disco-synth string arrangements that were already passe by 1979.

7) Oh my God. Look at those middle-aged white people in Diamond's audience try to dance. They probably paid over $500 a head and got all dressed up to sing along to a song about...

8) Most damning of all, this song belongs to the hideous musical sub-genre that features fabulously wealthy people singing about how great it is to be poor. Like John Lennon asking us to "imagine no possessions," Diamond's own life is so far from the simple, happy existence he celebrates in the song, it's laughable.
"Money talks,
But it don't sing and dance and it don't walk,
And long as I can have you here with me,
I'd much rather be,
Forever in blue jeans"
Look Neil, if money is so bad (or at the very least inessential to happiness) I'd be happy to take some of your many millions off your hands for you. Seriously.

I could probably make a relatively compelling argument that songs like this are foisted on us by the entertainment industry to keep the resentment of society's "have-nots" from boiling over into something like a revolution (or at the very least a less regressive tax code). After all, if Hollywood movies, hit pop songs and tabloids teach us nothing else, it's that the rich are never as happy as us simple folk. So maybe I shouldn't even bother to notice that the top 5% in the United States own something like 60% of the country's wealth, while the other 95% of us fight it out over what's left over. After all, all that money hasn't made those fancy rich folks happy, so why should I care? I'd much rather be forever in blue jeans. Yeah, right.

And yet, I love this song.
"Honey's sweet,
But it ain't nothing next to baby's treat,"
First of all, it's hard not to love a song that slips lyrics so casually obscene and vulgar into a tune that gets airplay on easy listening stations and CBS television specials. There's just something about that I respect.

I'm not stupid. I know Neil Diamond doesn't remotely live the lyrics to this song. He's an artist. A performer. An entertainer. A showbiz personality. But the fact is, I really can relate to the song's sentiment. I've made certain decisions in my life that have likely minimized the amount of money I earn, but maximized the amount of time I get to spend with my wife and kids. I wouldn't have it any other way. I was listening to this song on my iPod earlier today waiting for my wife and kids, thinking about the role of sentimentality in music. Just as the song ended I spotted my kids running towards me, just genuinely and totally happy to see me. I feel like I've done okay for myself. I really would much rather be forever in blue jeans.

Other sentimental songs I love:

"Giddy Up Go" and "Teddy Bear" by Red Sovine
I don't think music gets much more sentimental than Red Sovine's signature trucking songs. Both songs feature spoken-word vocals and it sounds like 'ole Red might choke up at any moment. "Giddy Up Go" tells the story of a trucker who discovers that his long-lost son is also a trucker now. "Teddy Bear" is about how a young paraplegic boy whose truck drivin' father has perished in an accident finally gets his wish to ride in a truck thanks to CB radio and some big hearted truckers. You would be hard pressed to find more blatantly emotionally manipulative music than these two songs, and yet I find them strangely sublime.

"Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro
This makes "worst song ever" lists about as often as any other song I can think of. It's a totally maudlin song about a guy who loses his girl to suicide. It even features a Christmas puppy. And yet it is so totally over-the-top and excessive in its sentimentality that I can't help but love it.

"Little Green Apples" by Roger Miller
Written by Bobby Russell (the same guy who wrote "Honey"). This song actually chokes me up. It's about a guy whose wife is tolerant of his flaws, and if that ain't lovin' him, "God didn't make little green apples and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime." It would be easy to dismiss the song as sexist, except that it is so clear that the protagonist really appreciates everything his wife does for him. It's about feeling like you don't really deserve the love your significant other gives, but being grateful for receiving it anyway. It's another sentiment I can relate to. Also, Roger Miller was a genius.

"The Most Beautiful Girl" by Charlie Rich
Everybody's supposed to hate the sappy "Countrypolitan" sound of the 70s, but I've always loved this song. And as you can see I have a soft spot for sappy country music.

"Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney and Wings
I understand why a lot of people hate McCartney, I really do. Still, I find this answer to his critics pretty convincing. That throbbing Macca bassline helps.

"A Tiny Broken Heart" by The Louvin Brothers
It's about a little boy who gets his heart broken because his his playmate's parents are too poor to stay in town. Frankly, The Louvin Brothers could have harmonized to the phone book and I would find it incredibly moving.

"Now Is Better Than Before" by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
Jonathan Richman has created his own unique musical and artistic aesthetic by refusing to be afraid of being corny and sentimental, and by rejecting even the slightest hint of "coolness" or cynicism. He is one of the bravest artists I can think of. I find this to be one of his most moving songs.


"Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain" by Willie Nelson

"Just An Old Fashioned Love Song" by Three Dog Night

"What A Wonderful World" by Sam Cooke

"A Good Year For The Roses" by George Jones

"Then Came You" by The Spinners with Dionne Warwick

"A Place In The Sun" by Stevie Wonder

"You Are Everything" by The Stylistics

"Beeswing" by Richard Thompson

"All The Right Reasons" by The Jayhawks

I could go on...these are just some of the first ones to pop into my head. What sappy, sentimental songs do you love?

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