This week's list- Television songs. Most of these songs do not paint a flattering picture of the beloved idiot box. It was actually hard to think of any songs espousing the joys of television that weren't being blatantly ironic. I would love to hear selections from other people. Now excuse me while I flip through 57 channels with "nothing on".BLACK FLAG - TV Party (1982) - A raucous punk rock anthem celebrating the vapidness of incessant TV viewing - "don't talk about anything else, we don't wanna know, we're dedicated to our favorite shows". The best part is when they shout out the names of the shows that dominated television at the time - That's Incredible, Hill Streets Blues, Dallas etc.
DAVE EDMUNDS - "Television" (1978) - This rockabilly tinged number makes a sarcastic statement about the mindless love of television; "I don't care whats on/ if it's happy or sad/ I don't give a damn if its good or bad/ I sit and watch till it drives me mad/as long as its on I'm glad".
THE DISPOSABLE HEROES OF HIPHOPROSY - "Television, the Drug of the Nation" (1992) - A scathing industrial strength hip-hop polemic about the impact of TV on America. Michael Franti sees TV as having a desensitizing & numbing impact, creating a world where "a child watches 1500 murders before he's 12" and "armchair generals & quarterbacks can experience firsthand the excitement of warfare". It is also the place where "image takes precedence over wisdom". A piece of sharp and erudite social commentary that is sadly missing from much of the hip-hop on the airwaves today.
EX MODELS - "Its on Television" (2001) The Brooklyn based no-wavers provide a wonderfully choppy and chaotic song that begins with hastily uttered lines "there is no inspiration, only calculation". Musically, it sounds like the lead singer of Devo hired the Gang of Four for his backing band and developed a penchant for frequent and unpredictable time changes. This is a compliment of sorts.
PETER GABRIEL - "The Barry Williams Show" (2002) - Peter Gabriel takes on the persona of Barry Williams, a Gerry Springer inspired talk show host that represents the lowest common denominator on television. The lyrics are great; "Dysfunctional excess is all it took for my success/and when the punches start to fly the ratings always read so high/ it’s showtime". I would highly recommend checking out Gabriel's live DVD "Growing Up Live", which includes a splendid performance piece built around this song, including Gabriel filming the audience and playing Barry Williams with a preacher's zeal.JAPAN - "Television" (1978) - Clocking in at 9 minutes and 12 seconds this glam rock epic is one that David Sylvian would probably prefer that fans skip over. Not me though, I love Japan's more raunchy Hansa era pre 80's recordings, which are less arty and polished than their later albums. It appears that in this case Sylvian is agitated by a television obsessed lover; " Well but you're changing my love... It's television all night and day/ It's all you ever wanted ...fucking television!". Complete with screeching guitar solos, a light funk bass line and space age synths fading in and out throughout. This is loads of fun!
(Note: I couldn't find any video footage for this song, though if you want to appreciate my glam rock bliss check out these clips from Japan's early incarnation - Communist China, Adolescent Sex, & Sometimes I Feel So Low)
JOEL PLASKETT - "Television Set" (2005) - A playful diddy from the Canadian singer/songwriter, complete with hockey arena organs bouncing along throughout. Here TV is the only escape from the drudgery of life, where the "kids were screaming, wife was bitching", logically extending to a chorus of "I want a television set to free my mind/ television set to drown 'em out ... there ain't nothing better for the down and the out". I guess its better than drinking.
PUBLIC ENEMY - "She Watch Channel Zero?!" (1988) - Chuck .D. and his crew rage against mindless television viewing and its numbing impact. Specifically, an attractive woman gets a distorted view of men by watching soaps; "her brains being washed by an actor, and every real man that tries to approach.... he gets dissed like a roach" and notes that "her brains retrained by a 24 inch remote". Some usual great direct commentary from Public Enemy (their second consecutive appearance on List'O'Rama!)
TALKING HEADS - "Television Man" (1985) - Through a jangly pop number with funk underpinnings David Byrne and company explore how TV shapes the world for those willing to allow it to take them away; " When the world crashes into my living room, Television man made me what I am".
ROGER WATERS - "Watching TV" (1992) - From the appropriately titled "Amused To Death" LP, the former Pink Floyd singer tells a story about a woman killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre. He grieves for an innocent life lost, and notes that unlike many other lives ended needlessly out of the abuse of power, this one serves a higher purpose due to it reaching the world on TV. The lyrics that end the song are wonderful; "She's everybody's sister/ She's a symbolic of our failure /She's the one in fifty million / Who can help us to be free because she died on TV/ And I grieve for my sister". Some images are too powerful not change the world in some way.