Thursday, February 26, 2009

At the request of one of my more obnoxious friends, a few words on George Lamond's great single "Bad of the Heart." 1989 and 1990 were curious years for freestyle: Stevie B, Sweet Sensation, Sa-Fire, and Timmy T scored their first Top 40 hits, at least four years after the genre supposedly peaked artistically. This is harder, slower, and, yeah, faster than any freestyle, most notably in the first forty seconds, in which the earnest crooning of the title surrenders to deafening turntable scratching and a backbeat Hank Shocklee might have concocted. It's the most abrupt, thrilling moment in freestyle -- maybe the first hit since Shannon's "Let The Music Play" whose sonic innovations buttressed the longing of the vocalist. Because Lamond's high, wan, uncertain voice is so exposed, I'm tempted to cite "Bad of the Heart" as a terrific example of the tricks freestyle played on critics: the genre presented weaknesses in pitch and tone as signifiers of humanity. But the obsession, pain, and recrimination to which Lamond and other submitted found their match in the beats, like horrible, honest admissions in diaries photocopied and circulated to friends.

Growing up in Miami, I heard this and other retreads constantly on Power 96, so Top 40 validation seemed irrelevant (Gloria Estefan, then at the peak of her chart success, dulled the victory too). Anyway, the name of my favorite freestyle hit of all wasn't even spoken by Casey Kasem. Neither was the love that dare not speak its name: when Lamond and Noel conveyed sentiments more at home coming from young women, with the same emotional abandonment, I wonder if they're being as honest as their lyrics and vocals suggest -- which is why I'm grateful to the Pet Shop Boys, who scored their last significant American chart hit with a Lewis Martinee (Expose) production, for exposing the subtext.

Since Sony Records won't allow me to embed the YouTube clip of "Bad of the Heart," here's the link.

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