Saturday, September 20, 2008

Read the Lyrics

I said before that I believe Joan Jett is one of the greatest vocalists in rock. Who is the best? For me? Ann Wilson from Heart. Hands down, best voice in rock and roll. There's so much I want to and can say about Heart, but I'm going to split it up into a couple of different posts over time.

This first one? It's about confusion. The confusion that can happen when an artist of a new generation doesn't read the lyrics of a song from a former one. When that younger artist does a hyper-sexual stage performance to a song that is about a young band fronted by a female having to fend off the sleazy rumors-as-journalism and clumsy passes of a man at a show. The song? "Barracuda" from the 1977 album "Little Queen" (the sisters have both talked about how the song represents a run-in with a real reporter who really did want to run a story intimating that the sisters were lesbian lovers as a way to use the sex angle as a way to sell his story--see the metaphor? That kind of a guy/reporter is attracted to shiny things, and attacks them, like the behavior many attribute to the barracuda).

Obviously, even with politicians there are problems with people reading the lyrics of this song. So, before we go any further, here they are:

Here are the lyrics:

So this ain't the end- I saw you again - today
I had to turn my heart away
You smiled like the sun- kisses for everyone
And tales- it never fails!

You're lying so low in the weeds
I bet you're gonna ambush me
You'd have me down, down, down, down on my knees
Now wouldn't you, barracuda?

OH!

Back over time when we were all trying for free
You met the porpoise and me
No right, no wrong, you're selling a song-
A name whisper game

And if the real thing don't do the trick
You better make up something quick
You gonna burn, burn, burn, burn, burn it to the wick
Ooooh, barracuda!

OH!

'Sell me sell you' the porpoise said
Dive down deep down, deeper than
You.. I think that you got the blues too

All that night and all the next
Swam without looking back
Made for the western pools- silly, silly fools!

The real thing don't do the trick
You better make up something quick
You gonna burn, burn, burn, burn, burn it to the wick
Ahh, barra- barracuda!


The problem I'm talking about? Fergie's co-performance with Heart from April 9th's "Idol Gives Back" show this year (2008). Here, see what I mean (it starts at about 1:34):



Before it seems like I'm using that old double standard about women expressing their sexuality, let me say that I don't find fault with her having and expressing her sexuality. Here's why I have a problem with this performance: their entire career, the Wilsons have worked really hard to undo the "you must be a sex kitten to make it in rock and roll" stereotype to a greater or lesser degree depending on market forces at the time. The song's lyrics aren't just about working against the "we don't have to use our bodies to sell our music"--the structure of the song, that gut-level raunchy rythm guitar reinforces that. The message has always been: listen to the music, don't look at our bodies. Yet here comes Fergie vamping it up to the song as a cheap way of generating energy and interest, and working in many ways against the theme of the song. Obviously the Wilsons were somewhat okay with this; they agreed to perform the song on Idol and agreed to have Fergie perform it with them. Still, I question Fergie for giving in to the very force the song works against as a way of scoring cheap points.

Not to mention, this is one of my top ten songs of all time, and I just hate that I didn't get to see them perform it by themselves, like they did here:



(from an episode of the A&E network show Private Session in 2007).

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