Monday, November 18, 2013

in defence of Dancing In The Street

hi there

well, here we go again. yes, this is one of "those" posts. it is a defence of two rock stars who neither want nor need any sort of defence, least of all from some obscure 40 year old fan. why do i bother, then? it's just one of those things that bothers me, so on the blog it goes.

with increasing frequency, "worst ever" lists are featuring all over the internet and indeed in magazines. i am guessing, then, that "best ever" lists have reached some sort of saturation point, and thus readers are encouraged to argue over what is the worst rather than what is the best.

in regards of rock, pop or just music in general, this 1985 number one single is appearing often, usually close to the top (bottom) of worst ever lists, if not being called the worst ever.

yes, that's the cover of David Bowie and Mick Jagger's heartfelt duet of Dancing In The Streets. it was recorded and had a video made for it in record time in order to be played at the celebrated Live Aid event. it was on sale as a single not long at all after Live Aid, and sold many copies.

up front, any website or publication that opts to include any sort of charity record in a "worst of" list is telling you exactly what they are about, and that is not something pleasant. charity records are seldom about any sort of great artistic statement, although of course the artists involved give it their all to make the best record possible. including a charity record in a "worst of" list is, frankly, lazy at best.

not that Live Aid itself, or any charity effort, is beyond question. in many respects, some of the extravagance around the Dancing In The Street single, like Live Aid itself, can easily be questioned and have the wisdom of it doubted. but we will get to that.

the origins of David Bowie and Mick Jagger coming to do Dancing In The Street are both noble and ambitious. with Live Aid set to become a truly global event, with even the Soviet Union and the apartheid controlled South Africa getting involved, the world was likely to do what the song said. who better to deliver a cover of it, then, than Bowie and Jagger? no one, except Bowie was all set to perform at the London show, with Jagger in the States to perform there.

the first idea thrown about was a transatlantic duet via satellite. that would have been ace, but something just about beyond today's technology, never mind the "Commodore 64 is as good as it gets" computers of the 80s. a 30 or so second delay would affect the efforts of a "live by satellite" duet. a solution was for one of the artists to simply mime. yeah, you go and tell Bowie or Jagger to mime in front of any audience, let alone a worldwide one of over a billion.

the way forward, then, was one to fly to the other, record it and be done with it. as Bowie was busy with Absolute Beginners, and indeed polishing his codpiece in anticipation of Labyrinth, it made sense for Jagger to fly to London. which he did.

that, reader, is an example of the arguably "excessive" costs run up by the whole Live Aid thing. Bowie and Jagger doing a duet to raise awareness and funds for charity? cool. flying across the Atlantic to do it? hmn. whereas i have no doubt that Jagger covered the costs all by himself, it seems rather extravagant, especially as he flew back to the US some 15 hours after landing. why not just stay and do the duet with Bowie onstage at Wembley? we will get to that.

it's not the single most extravagant or ridiculous flight taken in the name of Live Aid, of course. that honour goes very much to Phil Collins. whilst most assumed that Phil Collins was invited to play Live Aid either by a very bad accident or some strange practical joke he didn't get, our Phil decided he would make personal history on the day by using Concorde to duck from London to the Philly gig, thus playing two concerts in two continents on the same day. Phil, the starving millions of Ethiopia to this day speak with nothing but pride of this gesture, i am certain.

as for why Mick simply could not stay in fakkin Landhan, innit, to do Dancing On The Street with Bowie at Wembley, well, it would have left the US bill with one star less. the US Live Aid was already a troubled affair, with the likes of Bob Dylan wanting nothing to do with it, saying US musicians should help US people, not strangers in Africa.

more importantly, Jagger was due to duet with Tina Turner. Tina - at this stage - was one of a very small percentage of women worldwide who had not had their skirt ripped off by a member of The Rolling Stones, something Mick was very eager to remedy. with his known admiration of Tina Turner, this was no doubt an important factor in Prince Charles deciding to have a word with his Mummy about a Knighthood for Mick.

on to the song then. just think on this - if the satellite thing had worked, or one had mimed, or both had been in the same country, the world would never have a recording of David Bowie shouting "SARF URMERICAAAAAAA" in a voice so cockney that Chas N Dave sound like Glaswegians in comparison.

the song and the video were all done and dusted in 13 hours. just over half a day, then, for two major artists who never settle for less than perfect to assemble a band, record a version of a song that both were happy with and make a video. and not just any musicians - the likes of Earl Slick and Steve Nieve (the latter to go on to huge cult fame due to being a Jonathan Ross regular) are playing on that record.

is the record, in isolation, any good? oh hell yes. it's a loving cover, meaning it's the boys having fun doing it but not to the extent of taking the p!ss. at worst it's a highly polished, well produced "jam", the likes of which we all assumed megastars got together and did for their own amusement, right before twitter came along and showed off how incredibly boring they are for the most part. there are easily a hundred or so songs far worse than it out in the universe, probably thousands.

it doesn't exist in isolation, though. whereas not many these days associate the song with its Live Aid origins, it is quite difficult to think of the song and not imagine the video.

the video is, as the above screenshot suggests, pretty much as much of a homage to the highest levels of camp homoerotica as you could get away with in the mid-80s. did it play on the Bowie-Jagger rumours? yes of course it did.

what rumours? just about every British pop or rock star has had some sort of homosexual "incident" associated with them over the years. it is the way of the British press, really, and it tends to be only the members of the press that really care. the story that Bowie and Jagger got together and reached a state of sexual congress in the early 70s, however, is a tale that has endured for decades. Angie Bowie certainly thrived on hints of the rumour. when the restraining / gagging orders on her as part of the divorce settlement ended and she published her "interesting" book Backstage Passes, did she reveal all? no, of course not. just more hints and suggestions that maybe they did get together, although she did confirm that she saw them in the same room together.

on that basis, Bowie and Jagger have had even more sex with even more people than was previously thought. a couple of thousand page phone books worth, really, compared to, say, a scribbled note on a piece of paper that Charlie Sheen can hold up. British Sex 1, American Sex 0, then. bravo boys.

viewing the video as a "let's play on this idea that for some reason lots of people are bothered about whether or not we had sex" makes it a revelation. it says "we don't really care what rumours are out there about us, and we know that most of you don't care beyond the amusement factor, so let's play with it and have some fun for a good cause". this certainly ties in with Bowie's views on his life story. when asked if he would ever produce an autobiography, the gist of his response was "just go and look at any one of the many biographies of me out there, find one that amuses you the most and just assume that's the truth". showing his gift for keeping his life private yet not hiding from fans, check out Bowie's VH-1 Storytellers performance. at no point does he reveal anything of himself, just lighthearted stories about some friends and booking agents.

but to get back on topic, having read the facts (and indeed my opinions) on this, does Dancing In The Street, in any sense at all, belong on any "worst ever" list? no, not really. both Bowie and Jagger in their own right have done at least 10 other songs you could easily say are worse than this one.

by all means do not all of a sudden love and embrace the song, and nor should one decide "actually this is a classic". it was a bit of fun to give a boost to a well intentioned cause, that's all, and sounds like what it is - two megastars having fun with a great song whilst showing off flashes of their genius.

by all means do, however, stop putting this song on sh!t lists. it does not belong on them.

yes, i probably do care about this one more than Dave or Sir Mick, but that is what it is to be a fan, i guess.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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