A Touch of Guilt: Music and Guilty Pleasures
Anyone who has relatives probably knows that although guilt is an emotion we feel internally, it can be externally induced. Guilty pleasures are no different. We might feel self-conscious about liking a song because we’re afraid of what other people might think or because they’ve already shared their opinions. I remember my poor junior-high classmate, Andy, who let it be known that he liked the group Abba. Boy, did we set him straight and make him wish that both he and Frida had never been born. In hindsight, Andy was right – Abba has its merits – but it was a catastrophic failure of self-awareness to divulge his taste to a bunch of ignorant 13 year-olds.
I thought of Andy last month when my friends and I trudged through the theme of Guilty Pleasures during our regular album night in suburban Milwaukee. I’ve found that guilty pleasures change depending on who you’re with and correlate inversely to one’s age. Today I have no problem at all admitting to my friends that I like the song “Mandy” by Barry Manilow, but back in high school? Forgetaboutit!
I approached the theme this way: a guilty pleasure is a song that I wouldn’t play on the jukebox in a biker bar. That seemed to open the theme up a bit!
Here’s my list from that evening (and the list could go on and on):
Invisible Tough, Genesis
Girls Chase Boys, Ingrid Michaelson
The Name of the Game, Abba (thanks Andy!)
Without You, Harry Nilsson (this was written by Badfinger, so naturally it didn’t become a hit until later)
Our Lips Are Sealed, The Go-Go’s
Rainy Days and Mondays, The Carpenters
If You Could Read My Mind, Gordon Lightfoot (fun fact: Lightfoot sued the composer Michael Masser for the Whitey Houston hit “The Greatest Love of All,” which shamelessly stole from the B section of Lightfoot’s song. I understand the case was settled though I’ve been unable to find specifics on-line.)
Unwritten, Natasha Beddingfield
The Middle, Jimmy Eat World
Let’s Talk About Me, The Alan Parsons Project
Walking On Broken Glass, Annie Lennox
Even Now, Barry Manilow (I’d have played “Mandy” if I owned it!)
Too Late, Journey (This band has made a comeback to give them an air of legitimacy, but try admitting to liking them back in the 90s – it was tough.)
Add to this list the multiple show tunes I could have played (Fiddler on the Roof songs, anyone?), campy songs by Ella Fitzgerald (“A-Tisket, A-Tasket”), a song from the Brady Bunch (“When It’s Time to Change”? That song rules!), songs by Burt Bacharach, Paul Williams and Marvin Hamlisch, and virtually every song written by Alan Menken (except “Beauty and the Beast” – I could kill him for that one). Plus the entire James Taylor repertoire, Carol King, Sara Bareilles, many of the old Motown girl group hits, ballads by Ben Folds, yada yada yada.
Which begs the question: after all of this, what would be left to play in a biker bar? Not much, I’m afraid, except for classic rock and a few songs by The Replacements. I prefer the songs that induce just a touch of guilt.