Crash Chords: Listening In Shame (But Liking It!)

Cheese, glorious cheese. That’s what guilty pleasure music is all about. And I’m not talking about the dairy product. But a crazy mix of mushy, maudlin, silly and maybe even just plain stupid stuff that we all love anyway because gosh, we’re still human. Though there may be some tunes that are inherently tacky, cheesiness is predominantly an aspect that rests squarely on the lyrics side of a composition. To start off, I declare that the theme song to this article should be: “Bakit Ako Mahihiya?” (Why Should I Be Ashamed?) – the Didith Reyes-sung theme to the Gretchen BarrettoGabby Concepcion ST starrer of the same name (another guilty pleasure all to itself). If you’re willing to wallow in even more shame, watch this on a double bill with “Isang Linggong Pag-Ibig” (One Week of Love), named after the shamelessly entertaining immortal classic by jukebox queen Imelda Papin, and again starring the brazen Gretchen. Then sing along at the big finish.

Cropped screenshot of Bette Davis from All Abo...

Cropped screenshot of Bette Davis from All About Eve. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Past the Papin, the crown of top sentimental songstress was seized by Jessa Zaragoza for a few fabulous years. Built like a billion-dollar battle cruiser – with Betty Boop’s figure, Bette Davis’ face, and Boy George’s vocal range – Jessa further buttressed her unique persona by enunciating her song lyrics as if she were continuously sucking on a giant jawbreaker candy ball. Now I feel guilty just for writing all that.

GMA Supershow

GMA Supershow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 1980s was a decade we all wish we could do penance for. And I think some record producers are still praying novenas so that their souls won’t go straight to hell. Whoever thought up Timmy Cruz’s oeuvre is sure lucky that Timmy is doing Christian music at the moment. But back during her godless teenybopper years, her Taglish song lyrics never failed to tickle. Just imagine them translated completely into English and you’ll come up with something like “I love you boy, if you only knew. I’m really really annoyed with you.” And ain’t that a priceless sentiment? Please stop snickering. I’m sure you watched GMA Supershow too.

J.A.M Transit Nissan DVC-289 (fleet Nos 8180 a...

J.A.M Transit Nissan DVC-289 (fleet Nos 8180 and 8160) Ermita, Manila, Philippines. (Photo credit: express000)

Thanks to that show I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Ms. Jam Morales (and some of her other co-hosts, most of whom couldn’t sing, but released albums and held concerts anyway). Partly because I thought she owned the JAM Transit buses. And partly due to that distinct throaty quaver in her voice and the buhaghag hair that make me think of her as the Irene Cara of The Philippines.

What a Feelin'

What a Feelin’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speaking of Irene, I’ll cop to angsting over “Out Here On My Own” and maybe uh, shuffling a few times to Flashdance (Oh! What A Feeling!), but admitting to doing anything along to the “Fame” theme is just too mortifying.

I’m militantly indifferent to rap music for now, but back in Grade 6 I knew the lyrics to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and Andrew E’s “Andrew Ford Medina” by heart. And I was proud of it! I also really liked the stylings of local female rapper Lady Diane, she of short-lived “Saddam” and “Si Mario” fame.

The irrefutable precursor to rap (as affirmed by Rico J. Puno no less), songs with spoken word segments are another shameful preoccupation. I think I can trace my interest in this subset of songcraft to watching that scene in Superman where Lois Lane asks “Can You Read My Mind?” as set to John Williams’ score.

But my love affair with the spoken word was cemented by this heartfelt speech: “Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie. A fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be. But you know what truth is? It’s that little baby you’re holding and it’s that man you fought with this morning, the same one you’re going to make love with tonight. That’s truth, that’s love!”

Who doesn’t know this song and love this song and feel guilty about doing so? Since “Never Been To Me” tackled the rather weighty and controversial themes of abortion and prostitution, a few moral watchdogs took their interpretations of the lyrics a bit further and even mistook the word “fought” for a certain sound-alike four-letter word. Fans may be fascinated to note that it was originally written with Robert Shaw’s character from JAWS as its inspiration and with a male lyric.  It was only when singer Charlene began working with producer Ron Miller for her debut album on  Prodigal Records, that he re-wrote the lyrics to come from a female perspective. Strangely enough, when Ogie Alcasid remade this gem, he chose to retain the girly viewpoint. Why? Maybe only Michelle Van Eimeren knows for sure.

Admitting to a fondness for Pinoy Power Pop requires either extremely thick skin, a note-perfect appreciation of the concept of irony, and/or an official Jologs membership card. Down the road from where I live there used to be a beer garden with an open mike where you could jam with the band. Aegis songs were very popular among their clientele. A friend and I used to fantasize about showing up one night and just totally debasing ourselves by singing a medley of “Luha” (Tear), “Basang-basa sa Ulan” (Soaking Wet In The Rain), and “Halik” (Kiss).

I also really dig Orient Pearl’s anthemic “Pagsubok” (Trial). The really “malalim” (profound) Tagalog lyrics sung rapid-fire and with tons of conviction prick at my patriotic and power-ballad hungry heart for some reason. Try singing “Pagkabigo’t alinlangan, gumugulo sa isipan, mga pagsubok lamang yan wag mong itigil ang laban!” (Defeat and doubt, disturbing thoughts, they’re only trials, don’t stop the fight!) seven times fast!

Some people may find a penchant for soap opera themes particularly blushworthy, but I believe it’s their loss. They should try parsing the pathos and bathing in the bathos of the tremendously profound Anna Luna theme: Saan ka ba patungo? Bakit ka nag-iisa? Ang tangi mong karamay, dumi sa iyong paanan. At isang anino ng pag-asa ang iyong kaibigan. (Where are you going? Why are you alone? Your only companion is the dirt on your feet. And your friend is a shadow of hope). What could be more sublimely pathetic than that?

Then there’s the enigmatic but hopeful theme to Mara Clara, the soap that launched the career of the great Gladys Reyes. It goes: Ang buhay minsan, nakapagtataka, kahit ating sikapin na ito ay maiba. Sa bandang huli, babalik muli sa kung saan lahat nagsimula. (Sometimes life is puzzling, even if we try to change it. In the end, it goes back to where it all started). As if privy to the many secret twists and turns to be revealed throughout the beloved series, the theme song’s words drip with conundrums and double meanings.

Ok, so now that I’ve typed, saved, and sent you all this incriminating crap, will you editors please call the sniper off? He’s scaring my cats.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2006

Sprouting Wood (an interview with Bamboo)

Bamboo, one of the best known Pinoy Rock bands...

Bamboo, one of the best known Pinoy Rock bands in the Philippines. Taken December 2006 by exec8 during their Christmas party. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The name Bamboo may have preceded the band, but it doesn’t necessarily define them. “The band comes from the chemistry of all the members, it’s like DNA,” says drummer Vic Mercado. “When you lose one member, it all changes. You can’t force it.” But Vic jokes that if they do need to replace their lead vocalist, they can always get the local equivalent of that “Coldplay” guy.

For a rocker who seems so spontaneous onstage, Bamboo Mañalac himself is a stickler for details and preparation, preferring to have everything planned and checked beforehand. So right now he’s rather wound up about their next project, which charts unexplored territory for the Filipino music industry. Even their big-gun record label, EMI, is still “making kapa” (feeling things out). What they’ve done is combine their first two albums, putting together all of the songs with English lyrics, and giving it a final edit and polish. Then they’ll be releasing the resulting album simultaneously in 6 countries around the region: India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore, followed by a grand Asian tour. Bamboo could grow bigger than was ever thought possible for a Pinoy band. So we at Manual are glad we got them before things get too crazy.

When asked what music he’d like to pose to for the cover shoot, Bamboo cites Miles Davis, “basta negro,” he says without any hesitation. Vic theorizes that black music has extra soul because of the legendary size of their genitalia. He got to prove this for himself when he was left behind in LA and doing his laundry alone in a neighborhood shop. A homeless black man was sitting outside against the wall, getting himself drunk. Before Vic knew it, the man’s huge package was hanging out. Then the guy started playing with himself. This prompted Vic to speculate that the blacks’ gift for musical improvisation must come from down there. It turns out that the band found themselves fascinated by, of all things, LA’s laundromat scene. In La-la land, these temples to the washing machine provide other distractions such as arcade games, internet service, cafes, and even bars as an alternative to watching dirty clothes go round and round. The guys would observe seedy-looking Latinos hanging out, drinking bottles of god-knows-what concealed in brown paper bags, each character ripe fodder for a gritty tale. Bamboo recounts the time when he was doing his laundry in a shop somewhere in Melrose while the others were away. He then found himself in the middle of a brawl between a member of the Chinese Mafia and a Taliban terrorist, or so they seemed. There aren’t any laundry-inspired songs yet in the band’s repertoire, but you never know. The guys also found it great fun to play Dr. Phil-type self-help audiobooks on the long drives, the psychobabble would always get them to crack up laughing. It was also a blast to be able to crank up the volume on guitarist Ira Cruz’s collection of classic porn soundtracks, real premium boom-chicka-wow-wow stuff that you don’t normally get to appreciate while otherwise “enjoying” porn with the sound turned down low.

Bamboo describes his bandmates as “mga walang hiya” (shameless). They’d agree to get naked, if the situation called for it. If there’s one thing they’re never going to do, it’s to pose with their instruments, a concept they find too cheesy for words. They don’t really care about fussing with their appearance. While touring the US with glossier, more glamorous acts like The Strokes, Bamboo noticed that they were the only band who didn’t have a particular style. There’s Bamboo with his close-cropped hair, Ira with his tats and goatee, and bassist Nathan Azarcon’s impenetrably dark glasses. Hardly a cohesive look. They’re not saying never to being all made up or dressed up, just that they’ll never do it for the money. That’s a hard line to follow in an industry where commercial endorsement tie-ins are increasingly picking up the slack for weakening sales. But Bamboo is the band in the pole position now, and they’re not bowing out anytime soon.

-first published in Manual magazine, 2006. text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved.

Crash Chords: D’ Hebigats

Heady, heavy assignment, figure out the TEN most influential Pinoy albums EVER in less than a week. In the end, I could only come up with nine, and a few days late too. But, tough noogies. During crunches like these it turns out that everyone’s an expert, everyone’s a critic, and everyone interprets the word “influential” in a different way.

Ultraelectromagneticjam!: The Music Of The Era...

Ultraelectromagneticjam!: The Music Of The Eraserheads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody agrees on one album though – the Eraserheads’ “Ultraelectromagneticpop”. I can still remember watching their first TV performance on Dawn Zulueta’s late night show RSVP, and foreseeing that they were going to be big. Released in 1993 by BMG Records, the album’s commercial success rejiggered the sound of the decade, reintroducing band-based music into the pop mainstream, leading the way for rivals Rivermaya, Yano, and arguably every Pinoy pop-rock band created since then.

Filipino musician Pepe Smith, Philippine Rock ...

Filipino musician Pepe Smith, Philippine Rock n Roll Legend (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Going back to the era when Pinoy rock first exploded, the Golden Age is tied irrevocably to the rise of The Juan Dela Cruz Band, founded by legends Edmund and Mike Hanopol. The band was named after the common man and played rock for the common man. Although the band debuted with “Up in Arms,” in 1971, it is “Himig Natin“, released in 1974 and featuring the too-cool trifecta of Mike, Wally Gonzales, and the notorious Joey “Pepe” Smith on the cover that will always resonate for a generation of teenagers that lived through the “maximum tolerance” of martial rule, a time when sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll raged under the cloak of curfew.

Hotdog’s Unang Kagat” combined big band music with droll Taglish lyrics resulting in their patented “Manila Sound”. Hitting it big with the theme song to the 1974 Ms. Universe Pageant held here in Manila, “Ikaw ang Miss Universe ng Buhay Ko” could have cemented Hotdog’s immortality all on its own, if it hadn’t been followed by the just-as-memorable smashes “Pers Lab”, “Annie Batungbakal”, “Bongga Ka ‘Day”, “Beh Buti Nga”, and eventually “Manila”. The 1970s saw Hotdog, together with VST and Company and the Boyfriends, pushing Filipino pop music to innovate, adopting foreign trends such as disco to serve local tastes.

The culturati may beg to differ, but novelty songs are as important a subgenre in Pinoy music as jazz and classical. Although its roots can be traced as far back as vaudeville and even bugtungan, and its fruits continue to haunt us in the musical stylings of the Sexbomb girls and the Masculados, only one man can stake a claim as conquistador of this turf, and that’s “Magellan”, Yoyoy Villame’s first recording in 1972. As an artist, Yoyoy has had his ups and downs, but he’s never worn a frown.

Freddie Aguilar is a very popular folk musicia...

Freddie Aguilar is a very popular folk musician from the Philippines who is best known for the hit – Bayan Ko-, which became the anthem for the opposition to the Marcos regime during the 1986 EDSA Revolution. Photo taken in Tondo, National Capitol Region, The Phillipines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the late 1970s Filipino rock musicians started infusing folk influences into their sound, leading to the 1978 breakthrough success of Freddie Aguilar‘s debut recording “Anak”. This album was the most commercially successful Filipino recording in history, even crossing over to the rest of Asia and Europe. Master Freddie went on to record other powerful (and revolutionary, in a literal sense) anthems such as “Bayan Ko“, and he also paved the way for later Filipino folk stars such as Joey Ayala and Grace Nono.

Rey Valera

Rey Valera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few could have predicted that a fresh young 12 year-old mayor’s daughter would eventually spawn a veritable industry unto herself after first listening to the sweet, inoffensive, obviously-sucking-up-to-the-radio-stations ditty “Mr. DJ”. But the hits and record albums kept coming and a Megastar was born. To her credit, Ate Shawie has managed to use her considerable popularity to boost the careers of talented composers such as George Canseco and Rey Valera, and even other singers like Raymond Lauchengco…

…who, as we of a certain age all know, shot to stardom with his songs for the soundtrack to the mother of all 1980s barkada flicks – Bagets (and its sequel). Not only did this flick define teen fashion, trends and morès for the pre-Edsa era, but its accompanying songs burrowed into the collective consciousness, prompting laughter and tears for many proms, graduations, homecomings, reunions, and nostalgia sessions to come. “Growing Up”, anyone?

Francis Magalona

Francis Magalona (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Francis M’s “Yo!” exploded in 1990, the first rap album by a Filipino to be commercially released in the Philippines, giving birth to Filipino hip hop (for good and ill). Francis M always seemed to take rapping seriously, unlike some of the subsequent pretenders (like the Es, Vs, and “Amirs”) to his throne as “King of Pinoy Rap”, thus earning the respect of even the folksters and rockers, and bridging a customarily unbridgeable divide.

A couple of years ago, thanks to an inundation of Chi-novela-induced pop and other Pan-Asian pap, it was a real slog wading through the sickly-sweet waters for something less cloying. But something was there all right, and ‘twas Sugarfree no less. Drowning in obscurity for months, their album “Sa Wakas!” was finally rescued from the depths and heralded the resurgence of the real Pinoy music scene. Record labels started taking chances on local talent again, and the rest, as they say, is the present.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2005

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