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Theatre, Music, etc.


January 27, 2012

Evenings Out

Let me show you the world on 45s

Back in the 1980s, one could not turn on the television without being assailed by commercials for Freedom Rock, an album of countercultural 1960s protest songs. The advertisement was so iconic, many people still quote the line, “Is that Freedom Rock? Well, turn it up, man!”

Unfortunately, by the time those born in the 1970s and weaned on the Freedom Rock commercials came of age, the era of the mass-market music compilation was on the wane, so getting the same capitalist lip-service for people into Culture Club, Echo and the Bunnymen, Technotronic and Public Enemy was pretty much out of the question. Instead, they were yelled at for pirating the songs they loved online.

Thankfully, music historian and Cleveland native Matthew Chojnacki has provided the next best thing: Put the Needle on the Record: The 1980s at 45 Revolutions Per Minute (Schiffer, $39.99, hardcover).

Certainly, there have been compendia and encyclopedia written of records from almost every period since the beginning of recorded sound; this is not one of those. Instead, it’s an intriguing collection of cover art from vinyl singles, paired thematically and with background information on the genesis of the artwork, the bands, and the world into which they were thrust.

All of the records are part of Chojnacki’s extensive record collection, and despite the overall neutrality of the source material, the book is gayer than Liberace at brunch. In addition to a forward by Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters and an afterward by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran (heterosexual, but responsible for more questioning of sexual orientation than The Crying Game), so very many of the artists within are queer.

There’s the two-page spread of Sylvester’s “Someone Like You” and Emanon’s “The Baby Beat Box,” both covers drawn by iconic gay artist Keith Haring. Sylvester was gay, Emanon probably not (being Doug E. Fresh’s “beat-boxing protégé”), but it epitomizes the book.

Another two-page spread focuses on Cyndi Lauper’s “What’s Going On” single, coupled with Luther Vandross’ “It’s Over Now.” Vandross was gay, although very quiet about it, and Lauper has emerged as one of the preeminent LGBT allies of the last 20 years. Lauper’s cover was photographed by Annie Leibovitz, perhaps the most famous queer photographer of the last 50 years. However, what ties the two covers together in the book is the fact that both are close-ups of the artists’ faces.

Other queer icons in the book include Grace Jones (straight and thin, but far from narrow), the B-52s, Dolly Parton (whose love for our community is bigger than her substantial bosom), Depeche Mode, Dead or Alive (before Peter Burns became a Barbie doll), Pet Shop Boys, Madonna, Queen, Elton John, Annie Lennox, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and so very many more, listing them seems almost counterproductive.

Turn the page, and there is Michelle Shocked. A little further in is Josie Cotton’s “Johnny Are You Queer?” coupled with the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men.” Really, what could be more sublime?

And witnessing the horror of the Village People’s cover for the 45 of “Sex Over the Phone” is an experience that makes one’s life complete. After all, you have to take the bad with the good, and it’s good to not have to hear how bad that song must have been.

Chojnacki should be either praised or spanked for pairing Stevie Nicks’ “Rooms on Fire” with Meco’s “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)” Comparing Nicks to Chewbacca because of the windswept hair is unkind, perhaps, but terribly funny.

Seeing “I Feel Love” by Bronski Beat and Marc Almond next to “Witchcraft” by Book of Love makes one want to dance . . . or go to Pirate Bay and illegally download some albums before SOPA passes and one is sent to Guantanamo Bay.

Beyond the gay (and gay-friendly, and crypto-gay, and pseudo-gay), there is literally something for everyone in this book. From heavy metal, hair metal and thrash metal to rap, hip-hop, electro and funk, from German art-rock to early American electronic music, this is a far-reaching and wide-ranging glimpse at the decade. Oddly enough, the only cover that seems to not be in the book is MARRS’ “Pump Up the Volume,” which had the sample, “put the needle to the record when the drum beats go like this.” One would think that would make the cut, surely?




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