Who killed rock-n-roll? The question will keep forensic scientists busy until Axl Rose is cloned and does it right this time. Lonely acts like the Foo Fighters carry the torch for a generation that grew up scratching on albums rather than cataloging them. Big arena rockers of the 70s and 80s threaten to play into their 70s and 80s, like a PGA Senior Tour with Fenders for fairway wedges.
Rock critics, aging just as quickly, are revisiting their once-glowing contempt for these bands. Led by Chuck Klosterman (who, in I Wear the Black Hat, wrote of the Eagles "they never rocked"), they now look back in hazy nostalgia from the heat of the barren rock desert.
Still, it's okay to hate, especially when a band tries to pull a fast one on us. The following songs rose up the charts on their merits. They weren't terrible. But the singers, bless their hearts, could not have been more mismatched with the material.
"Illegal Alien" -- Genesis
I blame myself. Like millions of Americans, I bought Phil Collins's solo records. We created a monster. Success went to Phil's head, pushing his hair clean out onto his sweater-vest. He thought he could do anything. So he wrote a song from the perspective of a Latino immigrant, even mimicking the voice. The Genesis tune begins with car horns, perhaps from motorists dodging families fleeing across the interstate. Yeah, it's catchy. But for God's sake, give the song to Los Lobos.
"I Want a New Drug" -- Huey Lewis and the News
The lyrics would have you believe Huey Lewis was sick, bloated, had red-eye and dry-mouth and a face covered in boils. Right. Who does he think he is, Eric Clapton? (He is not.) In the video he gets out of bed, hair perfectly coifed (head and chest), with not a single roach or empty next to him. Nope, not buying it. The smash hit propelled a career that would give us perhaps the whitest rock song ever ("The Heart of Rock & Roll") and a milquetoasty movie theme ("The Power of Love"), then crash-land after "Hip to Be Square" (now that I believe). Huey was last seen playing the fake night-desk guy in Die Hard (prove it wasn't him!) before becoming Jimmy Kimmel's BFF.
"Smuggler's Blues" -- Glenn Frey
Now here's a guy you can believe lived the rock-n-roll lifestyle. Selling out stadiums with the Eagles in the '70s? Hell, my nose hurts. But by the '80s, the solo singer was living life in the ad lane, modeling sweaters and showing off his biceps for some crappy gym chain. Then Miami Vice called. "Hello, this is Glenn. Sure, I'll do a song about a gritty drug deal gone wrong. It'll be MOR, don't worry. Adults will snort it up. Make it out to Glenn Frey, that's two N's and an E-Y."
"Informer" -- Snow
Here's the thing. To be an informer, you have to be trusted with information. And no "detective mon" is going to believe this Robin Thicke doppelganger has anything of value to say. He still went to prison in the video, where he had his sunglasses taken and replaced with prescription specs. Hard time. Catch the In Living Color parody, "Imposter," on YouTube. It's intentionally funny.
"Ordinary World" -- Duran Duran
Sweet song. It purportedly tells the story of a love affair gone bad. Nonsense. Listen to the lyrics: "Here today, forgot tomorrow.... I don't cry for yesterday, there's an ordinary world somehow I have to find." Boo-freaking-hoo! You sold tens of millions of records. Put one of your yachts up for auction. "I will learn to survive," Simon LeBon sings. Pardon me if I don't confuse you with Gloria Gaynor. Ironically, the song sparked a brief comeback. Not brief enough, I'm afraid.
"P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" -- Michael Jackson
The song begins, "Where did you come from, lady?" Perhaps she was a social worker visiting Neverland Ranch.
"Just the Way You Are" -- Billy Joel
"I said I love you and that's forever, and this I promise from my heart." Aww. "What will it take 'til you believe in me the way that I believe in you?" How about taking back your divorce papers? Bada-boom! If only his wife had listened to his other songs, like "Stiletto" and "She's Always a Woman." "She cuts you once, she cuts you twice, but still you believe." Wow. "She'll carelessly cut you and laugh while you're bleeding." Ouch. "The wound is so fresh you can taste the blood." It's like marrying Dr. Giggles.
"911 is a Joke" -- Public Enemy
Public Enemy made rap that rocked. "I dialed 911 a long time ago, don't you see how late they're reactin'?" Maybe it's because they had to respond to a domestic assault and a burglary. But you wouldn't know anything about that, right William Jonathan Drayton Jr., a.k.a. Flavor Flav? A tip for young rappers: try not to overdose or get shot. Bet that'll cut down on the 911 response time.
"Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" -- Elton John
This song predicted the debate over gays in the military decades ago, just as "Madman Across the Water" predicted Desert Storm. Wait, what? I'm being told Elton John was not singing about the armed services. Sorry.