The Freelance Mentalists.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
"Ballroom Blitz," Sweet, 1974.

When I was in third grade, my best friend, S., lived across the street. We were geeky sports nerds together, did plays and wrote sci-fi stories, etc. His older sister C.J. was kind of a hermit, she sat in her room doing homework listening to the radio. Once, when me and my friend were kind of bored with each other, I went to go talk to her, asked her what she was doing with that huge bunch of paper. She said, "I make a list of every song I hear on the radio. Then, when I hear it again, I put another tally mark beside it."

Made perfect sense to me. I went home and did the same thing. But I kept losing that list, so I started to make lists of my 100 favorite songs, updated weekly like it was a chart. I remember that "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and "Have You Seen Her" by the Chi-Lites used to jockey between #1 and #2 a lot, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was always a top tenner, "Shannon," the song about the dog dying, was more like #33, etc. I wish to god I still had those lists.

"Ballroom Blitz" probably wasn't too far up on the list because it scared the bejeezus monkeys outa me. First of all, it's got about three pre-choruses, always the buildup, inexorable and maddening like Gerald Ford. The extremely high-pitched harmonics on the actual chorus itself. The refusal to commit to either bubble-gum or metal. The fact that I always kept forgetting and thinking that it was "Barroom Blitz." The football chant of the chorus at the end, which I didn't know from having never actually heard one. The introduction of the band members at the beginning, which I knew was the punkest statement ever, only two years before anyone had heard the word "punk" in music.

And then, of course, there's the not inconsiderable fact that the lead voice is constantly devolving into madness. This is the single most unhinged vocal performance in the history of songs that got played on my little blue transistor radio. We cranked that thing up when we went to 7-Eleven to buy the new X-Men or Avengers comics, nothing but all my life coming out of that tiny speaker, me and my brother(s) and neighborhood friends singing along, me correcting them on the lyrics and telling them what the song was really about, I heard it on Casey Kasem's American Top 40!

These lyrics, about the freaks in the scene who instigate some kind of danzehall putsch riot, were never going to be figured out by anybody. To this day, I don't know if it's a narrative or just an impressionist fry-up. But this thrilled, and repulsed, and intrigued my young self too. It was just the most unhinged song and therefore perfect.

I just listened to it again and it all goes double. Those guitars really do chug, the drums are rocking some kind of schaffel train rhythm (and go all Burundi at the end! Malcolm Mclaren, you done been caught!), everyone gets his little "Radar Love" two-bar solo moment, God's in his heaven, all's right with the world.

Because Chinn and Chapman were clearly trying to start a revolution of little girls and boys here. It's a call to arms, mostly, as are "The 6-Teens" and "Teenage Rampage," The Man at the Back who says "Everyone Attack!": Stalin? Mao? Nixon? Even when I was young, I realized that it would take some powerful womanmojo for someone to kill me with a wink of her eye--then, one day in the carpool to St. John Fisher School, I saw that wink from my NEW best friend, L., and fell in love with her (and all dark-haired blue-eyed girls and women) forever.

So this song shoulda been higher on my lists. C.J., if you're out there anywhere, I hope you're still keeping your weird OCD book, still rockin' that radio, still holding it down until the band starts leaving cause they all stop breathing.
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