Sunday, November 14, 2010

1/11/11 - Songs of the summer, #52-53: "Baby Got Back" and "That's The Way Love Goes"

Well, that's a long time between entries, and now it's not summer anymore (hello 2011), so this project is now summer songs during the wintertime. But that's what happens when there's a wedding to plan and a honeymoon to go on. Wouldn't trade it for the world.

But now, I am, as Aerosmith would say, back in the saddle again, to finish off the songs of summers past, starting with...

Top Song of 1992: "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix a Lot.

As long as there are karoake bars, this song will never die. Why? Because it speaks, in witty and catchy fashion, to the timeless appreciation of the female posterior, a topic which has still not been exhausted nearly twenty years later. Sometimes innovation loses pace once the influences have been absorbed (see Presley, Elvis), but sometimes the first one to say something says it best. Not that Sir Mix a Lot expressed big butt appreciation first, per se, but he might have been the first to exhaust the topic in the manner he does here.

The genius of this song, I theorize, is in that opening line: "I like big butts and I cannot lie". It's the cannot lie part. Sir Mix a Lot is no sleazy leering Lothario that the ladies should beware of, no, he's the George Washington of rear lust. Like Washington boldly refusing to lie about the cutting down of the cherry tree, Sir Mix a Lot will not compromise his principles, he will state his preference for big butts no matter what the consequences. The consequences, in this case, being filthy lucre and a huge, huge hit from now until the rest of time. The thing to love about this song is that it is NOT smooth, is is NOT suave, it's almost unhinged. When Sir Mix A Lot says he "don't want none unless you got buns hon", the whole thing hits staccato, hitting street preacher rhythms, as though the Word is possessing him and he just can't help but testify. It's a lot closer to the real male libido than the laconic posturing of the gangsta rappers to come.

Top Song of 1993: "That's The Way Love Goes", by Janet Jackson

It seems like it's damning Janet Jackson with faint praise to say that her most impressive accomplishment is coming out of her family and life halfway sane, but it's astonishing. When you look at the level of adjustment that Janet seems to have compared to big brother Michael's, it can get hard to see past that to the music beyond.

And certainly, Janet's a known hitmaker in her own right. This song isn't my cup of tea for something to crank up and really pay attention to, but it's got a slick, soulful groove and is as solidly constructed as a Midwestern farmhouse. That's about the extent of it, though, and that gets to the tricky thing about Janet, for me. I get that she's an artist in her own right, but the things that probably enable her to have a sane life are some of the same things that prevent her songs from burrowing as deep as her brother's.

Michael Jackson is a man with demons, and men (and women) with demons are often responsible for some of the best pop music, as they wrestle those demons into catchy 1-4-5 bound shapes. The craftsmen, by contrast, are their companions on the charts, but more rarely have their songs adopted as cultural hymns. The thing about Janet, though, is, that critically she seems to get a bit of a pass, merely for not being as queasiness-inducing as her more famous brother. No doubt, her success is earned, and you don't hit #1 after #1 without at least a modicum of talent and determination, but the gap between "Billie Jean" and "That's The Way Love Goes" is the gap between a photograph and a snapshot.