If you’re looking for a unifying theme for this column, here it is: It’s dedicated to exploring what one of my oldest and dearest friends calls “the uncanny valley of music.”
I’ve mentioned it here before. For anyone who missed it, here’s how it works: Take a band like The Monkees. People who know nothing about music love The Monkees. People who think they know a lot about music hate The Monkees, call them a fake television band and mock their tunes. People who actually know a lot about music know that Neil Diamond wrote a bunch of The Monkees' tracks, that they were admired by members of Led Zeppelin and The Who, and that Mike Nesmith had a bitchin’ country-rock career that included scoring Northville Cemetery Massacre, the Citizen Kane of biker flicks.
People in this great middle who hate The Monkees are currently returning from Brochella and think that an “unpopular opinion” would be something about how Iggy Pop is the greatest punk-rock singer ever or how Sonic Youth are criminally underappreciated. Of course, neither of these opinions is unpopular among college-educated urbanites working in media and tech. They’re pretty par for the course among the types of coastal elitists who plan their summer vacations around music festivals.
A true aficionado of music is able to appreciate tunes in any form they come in, be it the blistering hardcore of Despise You or the smooth, blue-eyed soul of Phil Collins. And speaking of smooth, blue-eyed soul, I’m going on record as saying that anyone who doesn’t like Hall and Oates has zero right to express an opinion on music.
They’re the litmus test. Does the person you’re talking to actually know anything about music? Or do they just ape whatever Pitchfork is telling them to think this week?
The reason Hall and Oates make for such a compelling litmus test is that you have to be either an idiot or a genius to appreciate them. The tunes are catchy, hearkening back to the best of what made Motown’s poppiest pop great. It’s that simple and that complicated. You can groove on the sugary sweet simplicity of the melody or you can dive down deep into the nuances of the rhythm section and the harmonies. The choice is yours.
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But what you can’t do is not like Hall and Oates. And sorry, some ironic karaoke appreciation of them isn’t going to cut the mustard, nor is labeling them a “guilty pleasure.” Though, if you’re not doing “Kiss on My List” at karaoke, you’re kind of fucking up.
If you need to start somewhere, I suggest Private Eyes, though, honestly, you can’t even go wrong with any of their singles collections. They’ve got great deep tracks like “Mano a Mano,” “Portable Radio” and my personal favorite, “Head Above Water.” But they really knock it out of the park on the tracks they were best known for. “Private Eyes” and “Out of Touch” might just be two of the best songs to ever grace the radio, and it's no wonder “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” landed on the top of the R&B charts for a week. Not a lot of white folks have done that in the last 60 years.
But you’re right, Captain Bonnaroo. Radiohead are definitely way better, and you’re mad smart for listening to boring, “difficult” music.