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How Low Can You Go?

Let's see with the last installment of our guilty-pleasures project

Last fall, we started asking musicians, music critics and other folks in the biz about their favorite guilty pleasures, and this is the third article (and last for a while) in that series.

Well, what have we learned? Guilty pleasures are in the eye of the beholder. For a country music label honcho like Brad Turcotte, the Killers qualify, while a straight-up rock bassist like Rozz Zamorano cites other hip bands like the Cure and Blondie. All three of those groups would be proudly claimed by many a so-called hipster. We also learned that Neil Diamond -- who should just add "Frickin'" as his legal middle name -- is the king of guilty pleasures and that Hall & Oates and ABBA aren't far behind.

But without further ado, here's the last installment for a while, this time coming from a few Texas music critics.

Ellis, Greg (Press contributor and director of marketing for local folk/Americana label Blue Corn Music). Ellis, who is well known for his (to put it charitably) "extremely wide-ranging" taste, would like to preface his selections: "These are all genuine guilty pleasures. I listen to them all frequently in the privacy of my own home," he says.

REO Speedwagon tops his list. "Between Kevin Cronin's mannered vocals and Gary Richrath's morbidly obese guitar tone, REO set the bar for Midwestern melodic rock in the late '70s. Far better than the Journeys and Foreigners that followed in their wake." As do so many others in the guilty-pleasures project, Ellis digs Neil Diamond: "Very appropriate that Neil's first feature film should be The Jazz Singer, since his vocal style is best described as Jolson-esque. He was sort of the Brill Building version of John Fogerty. Plus, you gotta love a Jewish guy who has two Christmas albums!" Ellis is flummoxed by Diamond's run of hits in the '60s and '70s, which he calls "an amazing bullet-train journey from bubblegum to pretension. How the hell do you get from 'Cherry Cherry' to 'I Am…I Said' in just five years?"

Barry Manilow also gets some love: "Barry's mantra was three simple words: Modulation. Modulation. Modulation. I love all the hits, and it further shames me to say that I can also report that he is a dynamic live performer." As was another fave, Black Oak Arkansas: "The best live act of the early '70s. David Lee Roth stole Jim Dandy's act lock, stock and barrel. Keep the Faithis their masterpiece, from Dandy sittin' around the campfire tellin' the boys about a 'White Headed Woman' with 'long white hair hangin' down past her nip-piles' to the has-to-be-heard-to-be-believed 'Fever in My Mind.' Keep the Faith is the Abbey Roadof Southern rock. Plus, their manager was the biggest financial backer of Bill Clinton's first campaign."

Gray, Christopher(music columnist, Austin Chronicle). Gray admits that even "the hipsters at Pitchfork and Austin's Club deVille fess up" to liking Avril Lavigne's "Complic8ed" these days, but he thinks her more recent hit "My Happy Ending" is even better. "It's all there," he says. "The wince-worthy lyric about 'your dumb friends,' the way she pronounces every last syllable of 'ev-er-y-thing,' the melody that sticks in your head like a popcorn kernel in your teeth. Ev-er-y-thing I want in a pop song, for sure." Like Ellis, Gray has a thing for REO Speedwagon, specifically "Take It On The Run." "The rumor mill as Sophoclean tragedy… Kevin Cronin sings 'Heard it from a friend who…heard it from a friend who' like he's still in denial, and the all-consuming AOR wash of guitars and keys the rest of the way still isn't enough to dull his pain."

Gray also manages to find a highlight in the mercifully dead nü-metal movement, and that was Disturbed's "Down with the Sickness." "Nü-metal's finest hour. Best moment is a tie between the simian scream that kicks it off and singer David Draiman's 'Mommy, don't hit me!' rant at the end. In between is enough rubber-band bass and furrowed-brow shredding to render the entire catalogs of Korn and Limp Bizkit obsolete. Wack-ack-ack-ack!" In further defense of the indefensible, Gray cottons to digging both Faith Hill's "Cry" ("Pass the Kleenex") and even Toby Keith's "The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue)." Insists Gray: "Putting a boot in the evildoers' collective ass is the American way, dadgummit!"

Lomax, John Nova(music editor, Houston Press). Back in 1994 my wife and I were doing the backpacker thing overseas. We spent six months doing odd jobs in Israel, and "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes was the anthem of the volunteers on Kibbutz Kfar Blum. At the end of each long week's work peeling potatoes for about 25 cents an hour, we'd all pile in a bus and hit some podunk club in the Galilee and get extremely shitfaced on paint-thinner-like vodka. Among us were Scandinavians, Brits, Israelis, Aussies, New Zealanders, Germans, Irish, Americans and South Africans. When the DJ would spin this masterpiece, we would hit the dance floor and throw our arms around one other and bellow Linda Perry's staccato words in vodka-sodden, cosmopolitan "harmony." It was stuff like "I take a deep breath and I get real high!" and "I say hey! What's going on?" Screw those smirking turds who ridicule this song on VH1's I Love the '90s specials. I say the world would be a better place if they all got drunk and stoned at the UN and bawled this tune together every Friday afternoon. Make the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis in Iraq sing it together, the Crips and the Bloods, the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, the Israelis and Palestinians, the Tutsis and the Hutus…"What's Up?" is the key to world peace!

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