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

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