FFWDing to the Best Part: “Pictures of You,” The Cure (1990)

Without a doubt one of their worst videos, The Cure’s “Pictures of You,” from their 1989 album Disintegration, is by far one of their best songs. Epically emo, with a droning rhythm, and sentimental lyrics, it is the definitive Cure ballad. The lyrics are amorphous and unspecific enough that anyone who has felt heartache or loss can bleed along with Robert Smith as he whines, “If only I’d thought of the right words/I could have held on to your heart.”

The video is a strange one. Palm trees, snow, winter coats, and the making-of-a-video-within-the-video-idea make you wonder “Why?” With their caught-on-film Hard Day’s Night-type antics and Smith’s cringe-inducing smile, it feels like it should have been the backing video for 1992’s regrettable but (unfortunately) unforgettable “Friday I’m in Love.”

The Best Part comes at the 4:07 mark. The music swells with a strum of chimes as the chord progression goes from the monotonous A-D-A-D to A-B-C#-D. Those two chords in between seem to stretch out the emotional motif and, for one reason or another, the upward spiraling bass line gets me every time.

 

Woman Beats Machine (In Which I Remember John Henry and Ken Jennings)

For the first time in years — if not ever — I succeeded where technology failed.

Over the weekend, my friend Travis hummed a few bars on the way out of my apartment. He popped his head back in: ‘What song is that?’ And he repeated the phrase … 11 or so notes.

‘I dunno,’ I dismissed. ‘Sounds 80s.’ Travis agreed. We tried humming the few bars into SoundHound, the usually miraculous iPhone app that names a tune in 10 seconds or fewer, whether it is the studio recording, a live performance, or your own dumb self humming it.

This time, however? No dice.

Tuesday morning, the riff was still running through my head. I sing it into SoundHound at least 15 times. I type the musical phrase, semi-phonetically, into Google. I stumble across pages like this and this. I review a list of 80s one-hit wonders to see if that jogs my memory (side note to self: download ‘Nineteen’ by Paul Hardcastle). I email Travis and tell him he has to visit me in the mental institution where I will inevitably wind up.

Ugghh.

Suddenly, in a rare moment that I’m actually not humming the cursed 11 notes to myself, it hits me. It’s a Cure song. I’m almost sure of it. I write ‘Cure’ in my notebook and circle it, as if this will manifest a correct result.

I Google the track listing to Staring at the Sea (okay, so the Internet helped a little bit, but this was quicker than booting up iTunes). Lo and behold, I see track 16: ‘Close to Me.’ I take a listen via LastFM.

Hot damn. 0:32 through 0:40 has been on replay through my brain for the past three days.

 

I text Travis to see if I’ve solved the mystery. Wouldn’t you know it, I had. What a relief! A rewarding, fulfilling relief.

Yes, it drove me crazy for a few days and yes, I shook my fist at SoundHound more than once, but the answer was ultimately so much sweeter because I stumbled across it on my own. I exercised my brain and my long-term memory for once.

I should remember this feeling next time I run to my phone or laptop to pull up IMBD or Wikipedia or my favorite lyrics site or any other source of an answer that’s haunting me.

But you know what? I probably won’t. It’s just too easy and efficient to cheat.

I hope we aren’t all doomed to have jelly-brains because technology makes it too easy on us. At least Google can’t write this blog for me – for the little that it’s worth, this has been my mental exercise for the day.

Cleveland Rocks!? (In Which I Belatedly Judge Rock and Roll’s Elite)

Late last month, the nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced, and despite the fact that the so-called honor of being nominated (or inducted, for that matter)

means virtually nothing at all, the new potential class was met with disdain and controversy. Rock critics are about the least forgiving crowd you’ll ever find.

Let’s review, shall we?

First time nominees (note: an artist isn’t even eligible until 25 years after his/her/their first studio work):

  • Guns ‘n’ Roses (Appetite is a quarter-century old? Holy hell.)
  • Joan Jett (with or without the Blackhearts)
  • The Cure
  • Eric B and Rakim

Sleevage.com

Also on the list:

  • Heart
  • The Spinners
  • The (Small) Faces
  • Freddy King
  • Rufus with Chaka Khan

Those who have been nominated more than once:

  • Beastie Boys
  • Laura Nyro
  • War
  • Donovan
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers

There are several limbs missing from this picture.

Now, I don’t have time or patience to review all these choices, and many legit rock journalists have already commented before me. But here is what I’m thinking:

Every year, it seems to me that an artist merely has to hang around and wait long enough and nomination/induction will surely happen. One-hit wonders from the 60s are getting inducted now, making me think that Lou Bega and Deep Blue Something will make this list in 2030.  Though obviously, the musical landscape has much more depth and breadth these days.  Still. Donovan?  Barely a step above Fabian, which is to say a 20th-century Justin Bieber. War? The Faces?  Sure, they begot Rod Stewart but before that, they had just minor blips on Billboard’s radar.

Hall of Fame Class of 2026

And clearly I know that’s not what it’s all about – chart success is akin to box-office receipts, and if these were the only qualifications for superlatives, The Hurt Locker wouldn’t have ever won anything.

Five of these artists will be the inducted class this year, and if I had my way, it would be the following folks: Beastie Boys (inspiring Jewish rappers everywhere); Guns ‘N’ Roses (yeah, they fizzled most epically, but Appetite was the seminal rock album of the last 25 years); The Cure (somehow making New Wave mopier and yet more popular); Rufus/Chaka Khan (funk pioneers); Red Hot Chili Peppers (sure, they are lightweights now, but were among the first to blend hard rock and rap.  Kid Rock and Korn thank you).

Aww, Mom, you’re just jealous 

This leads to another discussion; if we look ahead to, say, 2025, who would make the first ballot?  What artists have hit the scene in the new millennium and will stand the test of time in order to be honored thusly? What do y’all think?  Let me ruminate on this and get back to you next time.