John Waters is a very funny and charming man. Even if you don’t like his bizarre and often hilariously disgusting movies, you have to admit the man is a hoot. (Or seen him act; his recent cameo in My Name Is Earl was boffo entertainment.) And no one can deny that the man has a great ear for music—his films are always littered with great R&B classics, and I still think Cry Baby, his musical starring Johnny Depp, is his greatest achievement.
So it’s a foregone conclusion that this Waters-curated disc of love songs will be at least worth a chuckle. And yes, there are plenty of camp classics here. Elton Morello’s hysterical gender workout “Jet Boy Jet Girl” is here in all its freaky glory, ready to confuse a whole room full of straight people. So is a version of “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, attributed to longtime Waters stable member Edith Massey. (It’s eminently skippable.) And then there’s Josie Cotton’s notorious new wave jam “Johnny Are You Queer?”, still offensive after all these years. And I was very surprised by how great Mink Stole sounds on the awesome hostage-themed love song “Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun”. It’s pretty good!
Then there is a whole gang of songs that were probably meant sincerely but just end up being off. Mildred Bailey’s “I’d Love to Take Orders From You” is spunky and military… and thoroughly disturbing. The version of “Tonight You Belong to Me” by Patience and Prudence is done fairly straight, except that the singers both sound like seven-year-olds, lending a whole new level of “eeeesh” to the whole thing. And you can’t help but love hearing Iris Dement accuse John Prine of sniffing her panties on “In Spite of Ourselves”.
The star here might be the live version of “All I Can Do Is Cry” by Ike and Tina Turner. Tina gives this one, a tale of watching her ex-boyfriend marry another woman, her all—and it turns out to be WAY more than enough. She starts off screaming and over-emoting, and then just ratchets up the drama from there. This is the very definition of overdone, and it is both horrifying and amazing.
But Waters is a big softie under that sleazy mustache, and the majority of the songs here are just really nice songs with only a touch of weirdness. My favorite song ever is present and accounted for: “Ain’t got No Home” by Clarence “Frogman” Henry, in all its boy/girl/amphibian glory. Dean Martin warbles, Ray Charles gets sexy, and Shirley and Lee do the wonderful wonderful “Bewildered”. Waters loves this, and so does every right-thinking person.
All in all, a splendid Valentine’s Day gift for that special, twisted someone.
// Notes from the Road
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