In between "guilty pleasures" and "true favorites" are musical artists that are indeed bad but do deserve a certain begrudging respect. Prime example is the early '80s arena rock and current karaoke favorites Journey. Journey is by and large cheesy and ungood. However, they had so many massive hits "Don't Stop Believing," "Faithfully," "Separate Ways" all lodged in the brains of so many people that you have to admit they did their job. Presuming their job was to make hit records, well, then Journey did its goddamn job.
"Bands That Do Their Job" is a useful categorization. The term was coined by my younger brother Brian when we stumbled upon a "Journey's Greatest Hits" in a used CD store. "Ugh" I said. "Terrible." But after a quick glance at the playlist my brother exclaimed "These guys had a ton of hits!" He presented the CD to me. "They did their job," he concluded. "You buy this now, they deserve it," he said, and so I did. I always respond to direct orders, as I am a robot.
After a discussion that lasted, no exaggeration, ten years (spread out over Thanksgivings and occasional emails), we arrived TODAY at the factors which determines if a musical artist is a "Did Their Job" kind of artist:
- The artist had several hits over several years (no one-hit wonders like LFO or Len, ugh)
- The artist wrote his/her/their own songs (no song factories like Backstreet Boys or Britney or even Motown)
- The artist is one who if someone said it was their favorite artist, you would burst out laughing.
Artists that did their job:
- Goo Goo Dolls
- Phil Collins
- Sugar Ray
- The Steve Miller Band
- Owl City
- Kenny Loggins
- Matchbox 20
- Neil Diamond
- Huey Lewis and The Goddamn News
It's a particular kind of band that fits into this grouping because they're both bad and good. They have to be good enough to make hits for some time. But they must be bad, also. Generally, they represent talented people or groups who seemed to have no aspirations of being interesting. They were happy with writing songs that would one day introduce corporate training videos or dumb montages in Wayans Brothers movies.
"Bands That Did Their Job" are working man's bands. They show up, year and year, and get it done. But they don't make a fuss about it by doing anything innovative. That would be smug. Instead these guys are content to simply slap out a few top 10 hits and then get their almost-genius asses home for dinner. No one does drugs in any obvious way. You can imagine them all watching lots of TV. They name their kids with normal goddamn names.
These are bands that you don't want to approve of, but you don't like other people ridiculing either. "Hall and Oates are so bad" someone will say. And you will snap back "Hey, THEY DID THEIR JOB!" Then you'll stomp angrily enough and no one will know why you are upset. I would understand.
It's a moderate amount of respect. Like, no one should have a tattoo of Huey Lewis and the News, for heaven's sake. But if you don't absent-mindedly nod your head to "If This Is It" then you are a false human, made of synthetic plastic and lying to everyone about everything.
We need to celebrate things that are this level of good. Too often, our society is focused on labelling things as ONES and ZEROES. Things are either AMAZING or TERRIBLE, it seems. "Argo" was THE BEST MOVIE EVER, or else "Argo" was SUCH A PIECE OF CRAP. Whereas neither is true, and we all know it! "Argo" was IMPRESSIVELY OKAY. Shout it from the rooftops, with a measured amount of quiet joy! "ARGO WAS IMPRESSIVELY OKAY AND I'M NOT GOING TO COMPLIMENT IT ANYMORE!"
Shouldn't we be happy with the middle? Most of US, in our daily routines, are merely "doing our job." Few of us wake up and do things equal to the tastefulness of David Bowie or sheer talent of Fiona Apple or creativity of Arcade Fire or wacky originality of Joanna Newsome. No, we live our lives to the standard of reliable formulas of Boston, decent-but-forgettable melodies like Linkin Park and perfectly-adequate choruses of Avril Lavigne. PERFECTLY ADEQUATE: embrace its realistic level of validation.
Although I admit that if you play more than like three Neil Diamond songs in a row, you do feel a bit gross.