Song Of The Day 5/26/2013: Captain Sensible - "It's Hard To Believe I'm Not"

I had to drive from Tumwater to Sea-Tac Saturday morning. Not wanting to fuss with my mobile phone to play Spotify through the stereo, not interested in being challenged that early in the day and not at all in the mood to hear talk radio, I stuck with the local Jack station who are in the middle of an all-'80s weekend. Songs that are an important subcomponent of my nostalgic temperament. I decided to leave the dial on this station and stick through whatever songs they threw my way, even if I didn't like them. Sort of a miniature research project, re-familiarizing myself with pop music of my formative years that I hadn't heard in a very long time. And as I was driving up towards my destination, as Phil Collins' "Take Me Home" drifted out of my speakers, one very poignant, pertinent question sprang to my mind:

Who signed off on gated drum reverb? 

You know what I'm talking about. Those gigantic snare drum hits that sound like they're huge, but get cut off in the middle of the decay. How did this come to symbolize metronomic masculinity? This enfeebled half-Spector coitus interruptus?
For that matter, what was the deal with those cheap orchestra hits? They're all over Janet Jackson's "Nasty." They make her sound like a Victorian robot maid. Was there ever a surer sign that a musician was out of ideas than the careless insertion of some indeterminate pseudo-symphonic instruments going "splash!" What in God's name?
And while I'm at it, who thought synthesized strings were a good idea? Did no one stop to consider that they wouldn't age well? Because theoretically they were supposed to sound futuristic back then, but almost nothing else sounds more dated now. There was never anything about synthesized strings that sounded good. You couldn't engineer a "great" synthetic strings recording. Led Zeppelin couldn't do it, INXS couldn't do it, nobody could do it. I guarantee you the only guys who loved synthesized strings back then favored bland pink pastel sports jackets, had far more hair ringlets than the law allowed, and dated women in A&R who were a little embarrassed of being seen with them at social functions.

"Yeah!" the recording engineer said, "this synthesized string section is going to rock the shit out of this song! It's gonna be..." Oh, hold on a sec... I'm sorry, just checked my notes. What the recording engineer actually said was, "Synthesized strings? Go find my intern, I'm getting lunch. He has one hour."
And those gooey keyboard electric pianos -- not the cool ones like Fender Rhodes or Wurlitzers, but those creamy, saccharin sounds you found on DX7's. Whenever you heard one of those sounds in the intro to a song, you knew that song was either going to heal the world, end the prom, or be sung by Peter Cetera. 
And those other digital pianos, that had some kind of weird filter on the decay, so at first hit they sounded sort of like a normal acoustic piano, but by the time the sound wound down they had all the impact of a stale graham cracker.
And those ridiculously compressed guitars? And crappy chorus effects? And synthesized brass hits? And Sting?

Good God - what were we thinking in the '80s?

Except Captain Sensible. Captain Sensible was very good.


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