Monday, April 6, 2009

HOT HITS! WCAU-FM: Given that most of our bloggers spent our formative years in the 80s and early 90s, it should come as no surprise that we love the idea of “Songs from the Year You Were Born” week on AI. (But for the existence of the tender young Miss Iraheta, they may as well just have called it 80s Week – the days of contestants born in the 70s are officially behind us. Eek.) Because this theme makes us feel a trifle, well, indulgent, we decided each to offer our own suggestions as to which songs Your.Top.Eight. should sing tomorrow night. The judges for this endeavor are: Isaac (b. 1970, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”), Kim (b. 1971, Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee”), and Adam (b.1972, Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”).

[Methodology Note. We paid no attention whatsoever to whether AI could get the rights to any of these songs. We also didn’t work too hard on figuring out which year a song belonged to. For example, we’ve got “No One Is to Blame” recommended for both 1985 and 1986. The album came out in ’85, but the song wasn’t released as a single until ’86. So let’s not get too hung up on release date nitpickery.]

Gokey. 1980.
Isaac: There's a ton of stuff Gokey could do from 1980. "Shining Star" is right up his The Redeemer (tm Fienberg) alley, assuming he isn't Danny the Cheeseball Entertainer this week and therefore doesn't just pick the most obvious Queen/Billy Joel song near the top of the charts. By the way, London Calling came out in 1980 in the US and I didn't even give it a thought.

Adam: C'mon, it's obvious: "Grandpa pissed his pants again/He don't give a damn," Warren Zevon's searing "Play It All Night Long." As a fallback, I guess Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening" or Hall & Oates' "Every Time You Go Away" could do -- but the people want their brucellosis.

Kim: I don’t love 1980 as a source for Danny – too many of the vanilla big ballads he’s been leaning on. I’d much rather throw him into 1992 with Allison and let him tackle any number of songs from that period. (“Jeremy”!) But 1980 it is – I’m going to resist the siren call of the lite-FM highlights of my youth and offer up “Heartache Tonight.” It’s got some opportunity to riff, some nice notes in that gruff-shouty zone everyone seems to like, and it’s neither boppy nor too glurgey. If he can’t resist the slow stuff, let him take on Mr. Raspy himself, Kenny Rogers, with “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer.”
Lambert. 1982.
Kim: The whole ethos of Lambertosity cries out for a performance of “Tainted Love.” But if that’s either not singerly enough for him (although he has not been shy about reaching to the stratosphere to create new high notes where none previously existed), he should add a riff on Steve Perry to his repertoire. “Don’t Stop Believin’” is presumably off the table, given last week’s group sing, but Adam could do a mean “Open Arms.”

Adam: When Kim and I first started discussing this, we started with Lambert, and both of us gravitated to "Tainted Love" right away -- it gives him plenty of opportunities to wail and insinuate. He'd be fine with Journey, but not freaky. "Wall of Death" isn't going to happen ... but it could.

Isaac: I'd guess he'd pick a song like "Harden My Heart," which would give him a chance to do some more showy yelling at the top of his register, but I'd rather hear the Stones' "Waitin' On a Friend." The mood and tempo would prevent him from screaming like he's just been stabbed, but the song would still let him strut his Jagger-lite stuff and it has a nice very high falsetto part that Lambert could actually sing better than Mick.
Lil. 1984.
Isaac: She's kind of disappeared from the competition and needs to get back on track. "What's Love Got to Do With It" was hugely popular (#2 of the year), is recognizable for everybody in the Idol audience, would bring Rounds back to the self-reliant vibe that propelled her into the finals, and is by a certified diva. Or she could do "99 Luftballoons." [ed. note: in German? ] [author response: ja.]

Adam: She needs her swagger back, but staying in her box with Tina is too predictable; she's not winning the competition that way. Want a game-changer? Culture Club, "Church of the Poison Mind," a soul-gospel number that just happened to be recorded by a white man in drag.

Kim: Lil needs her groove back, in a serious, serious way. This is not the week for her to sing anything except “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” The thing is, Lil has been outside her box for so many weeks that getting back into it won’t be predictable – it will be a relief. Get back into your box, Lil, now! It’s a good box! If she tries to experiment with anything else, on the heels of meh performance after meh performance, she deserves to go home.
Matt. 1985.
Kim: Interestingly, this is the only year with multiple contestants. Kris, Matt, and Scott will all be battling it out for the best of 1985. First of all, someone needs to sing “Sea of Love” (which is one of my favorite songs, even if it’s not really from 1985), and while I will pluck my eyes out with a steak knife if it’s Scott, I’m kind of ambivalent as between Matt and Kris. Matt could do a nice bluesy take on it, which should satisfy both the judges and the viewers for a change. But for some reason I’m liking the idea of a more aggressive, predatory angle for Matt – I suspect that “I’m on Fire” might alienate more people than it would attract, but I’d like it, anyway.

Isaac: 1985 is either the high or low point for what we think of as 80s music, depending upon whether you wore your bra on the inside or outside of your shirt, I guess. Hard to find an obvious midtempo falsetto R&B song in 1985 to please the judges. He's going to have to rearrange, and I'll bet he could do a pretty good bluesy piano-bar reimagining of "Saving All My Love for You" that would please the judges and get him through to the next round. It would have to be piano-only; this is the kind of stuff that Ricky Minor's arranging absolutely ruins.

Adam: Whoever draws "No One Is To Blame" wins. I'd like it to be Matt.
Kris. 1985.
Adam. "All You Zombies"? It is Pesach week, after all. Dire Straits' "So Far Away" has a nice tone to it that he can match, as would Cougar's "Lonely Ol' Night" or "Small Town."

Kim: In contrast to Matt’s more bluesy take on “Sea of Love,” this could be another of those Tender Kris songs that everyone, myself included, seems to enjoy. Ditto “Heaven.” But Kris has been smart, smart, smart about song choice, and I suspect that he might want to consider moving in another direction to avoid pigeonholing. So here’s a different approach: how about something from Dream of the Blue Turtles? I know that the Sting’s rhythms can be tough, but I could imagine Kris pulling off something like a stripped-down guitar-only take on “Fortress Around Your Heart,” if it didn’t come off too stalkery. But hey, “Every Breath You Take” has been sung twice on the show without negative repercussions.

Isaac: He's at his best with a really strong melody. A guitar-only "Careless Whisper"? Or "Sea of Love," which, of course, is cheating. It's weird -- I have no desire to penalize Allen, unlike other contestants, for doing the most obvious songs.
Scott. 1985.
Isaac: You know he's going to do the most pointless dull filler, like "You Belong to the City" or "One More Night," but I have two suggestions. "We Built This City," which is indisputably the worst collection of sounds assembled together intentionally since the dawn of time, but which seems just about right, vocally and stylistically, for McIntyre; or, my preference, "Miami Vice Theme."

Adam: "Careless Whisper". Or "Part-Time Lover"; even though it didn't sink Covais, it's due.

Kim: I can’t waste any mental energy coming up with a serious song suggestion for Scott. As far as I’m concerned, there is one song and one song only for Scott to sing from 1985: “Too Late for Goodbyes.” Hyuk!
Anoop. 1986.
Adam: The problem with Anoop is that he's not a good enough dancer to sell the stuff that he's most amusing performing. He's reached his limit. So, yeah, there's a lot of stuff on Janet Jackson's "Control" on which he could underwhelm (or "Dancing on the Ceiling") but I'd rather he go straight ahead for the ironic exit and take on Glass Tiger's "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)." Either that, or pluck Gen X heartstrings with "In Your Eyes," or our parents' with Billy Joel's "This Is the Time."

Isaac: He has to do "Kiss," right? Why would he do anything else? Incidentally, "Party All the Time" was the #7 song of 1986, which is flabbergasting.

Kim: I hope Anoop resists the temptation of “Kiss,” because that song represents everything that Anoop wants to be and just isn’t. I think he’s stronger in the ballad realm, and it’s where the judges seem to like him as well. “No One Is to Blame” would showcase the nicer aspects of his voice, and if he could find a way to inject his personality into a ballad (i.e., without having to dance all over the stage wearing a Star Trek uniform and a sneer), so much the better.
Allison. 1992.
Isaac: 1992, to me, was musically the greatest of all years. Sadly, it's all music Iraheta has never heard of. "November Rain" could work, though it might need four times the 90 seconds allowed. I would be interested, which is not to say enthused, about hearing Iraheta on En Vogue's "Never Gonna Get It" or REM's "Man on the Moon" (which Ricky Minor, again, would screw up, so forget it). It's more fun to fantasize about what I would do if I were given a chance at 1992, the year of Dry, Slanted and Enchanted, The Chronic, Harvest Moon, Incesticide, Let Me Come Over, March 16-20, 1992, Hollywood Town Hall, Check Your Head, and Joshua Judges Ruth.

Kim: She has lucked out, being the only contestant young enough to pick from the early 90s instead of the 80s. Allison needs to connect with the audience in a way that she usually doesn’t – she has a tendency to sing to the rafters rather than the viewers. I think she’d do a knockout job on “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” especially if she used the Tori Amos arrangement. Ditto on something from Achtung Baby – a dialed-back performance of “One” without too much involvement from the band could be really amazing.

Adam: So many good albums from that year, and I agree on Achtung Baby as being a source, but I'd go with the album closer "Love Is Blindness," a bit obscure off that album but a song with some serious emotion to sell. Among the better-known songs of that year, no one's ever attempted Annie Lennox's "Why" on Idol, and Iraheta has the pipes to try it. One tip, if she does: when you get to "this is what I feel" towards the end? Have the music stop before the line, and just stop right there. Just like Lennox at Live 8. [Added note: Tori Amos' "Little Earthquakes" is also 1992, but a 16-year-old singing "Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon -- how's that thought for you?" is not something I expect to see on Idol. Or, per Isaac's suggestion, "Sheela-na-gig."]

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