Non Sequitur: Guilty Pleasures (Musical Edition)

Queen is one of those guilty pleasures: a band whose music is great, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I like.

Anonymous, during a recent conversation we had about music.

I don’t have any trouble admitting that I like Queen, personally, but I do hesitate sometimes before revealing that enjoy some other musicians and musical groups, like Ace of Base and (gasp!) Yanni. I also like enough of the music from The Backyardigans, a Nick Jr. show that my young apprentice occasionally watches, that I’ve purchased several songs from their repertoire (ostensibly for my son’s enjoyment, though I listen to them when he’s not around).

Some people consider ABBA a guilty pleasure, but so much of my childhood occurred while “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo” were spinning on my dad’s record player that I can’t feel even the slightest bit of embarrassment about enjoying them. ((In my memory, my father owned exactly three distinct categories of LPs: ABBA, Bill Cosby and Country & Western.))

Yanni: Live at the Acropolis
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What makes a guilty pleasure? Why should I (or anyone else, for that matter) feel guilty for enjoying the music of a 70s Scandinavian pop group (or a 90s copycat of a 70s Scandinavian pop group) or a smug, over-coiffed, Greek synthesizer slinger? ((I don’t know that Yanni is actually smug, but he certainly comes across that way. If you’ve ever seen his Live at the Acropolis performance, you may know what I mean.))

Context plays a big part; the music I’ll readily cop to enjoying depends a lot on who I’m talking to and what sort of music we’re discussing. ((Peer pressure: no expiration date.)) Am I likely to mention that I own half a dozen Enya albums when the musical topic is metal groups? Not terribly. ((I may not be likely to mention that I own three Metallica albums, either, as Metallica fans seem to be divided into pre-Load fans and…me.)) That’s not to say I’ll deny owning those Enya albums, mind you—there’s just less of a likelihood they’ll be mentioned in that context than if the genre of the moment is overdubbed, ethereal Irish New Age. ((Which, admittedly, is a fairly specific genre.))

ABBA: Voulez-vous
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There’s also the context of the artist or group itself. ABBA is a product of the early 1970s, and everything about ABBA—from their glam-pop sound to their stage costumes and album covers—is a testament to the time period. There are aspects of every decade in the past half-century that are mocked, from the exaggerated Nuclear Family of the 1950s to Free Love in the 1960s and Big Hair in the 1980s, ((What are the 1990s mocked for, you ask? Mostly Ace of Base and Yanni, I think.)) but I don’t think any decade is shunned with such socio-fashionistic fervor as the 1970s. ((Is there any musical genre more scorned than disco? I think not. Nonetheless, I do enjoy a Bee Gees tune every now and then.))

Then there are individual songs from artists or groups who might not otherwise be considered guilty pleasures. Neil Diamond’s “America” with its bombastic, unabashed patriotism; the saccharine sweetness of “Lovely, Love My Family” by The Roots (produced for another Nick Jr. show, Yo Gabba Gabba!); the sappy sentimentality of Marc Cohn’s “Silver Thunderbird”—all songs that tug at my emotions to such a degree that I often struggle to keep the tears down when I listen to them. ((Yes, I’m destined to turn into the sort of father who is moved to tears by long-distance telephone service advertisements on television. I’m told it’s hereditary.))

What else about a genre, group, artist or song might make it a guilty pleasure? What are your personal musical guilty pleasures and why are they guilty?

13 thoughts on “Non Sequitur: Guilty Pleasures (Musical Edition)”

  1. Oh, Kris,

    This can of worms runs so deep. Where do I even begin? My obsession with T’Pau, a 1980s one hit wonder in the US (although they did fare better in their native UK)? I’ve got all of their albums, singles, and a PAL videocassette that I can’t even watch.

    My love for Japanese pop & rock? The rock part could possibly be excusable.

    It has to be said, though, that I’m in the Metallica minority with you. The Black album was the turning point toward awesome for me, although I do like a number of their earlier songs.

    1. @blob — I’m amused by the folks who claim that Metallica “sold out” with The Black Album (or anything released after it). It has led me to understand that the nature of selling out is as follows: I like $GROUP$’s music. I don’t like you. $GROUP$ releases an album that you like, therefore they have sold out.

  2. Madonna. I LOVE it.

    As a personality/celebrity, she is not very admirable or interesting to me. In fact, I often found her need to be provocative … well, annoying and egotistical.

    But, oh, the music! Especially the “True Blue” album.

    Okay, enough true confession. I feel naked.

  3. I used to own Qkumba Zoo’s CD and every alternate version/extended single mix I could find. Which, if not guilty, was the most “completionist” I’ve ever been about some specific music.

    AI agree that “guilty” depends on context.

    1. @Rachel — I do not own a Qkumba Zoo CD, but I do have the single of “The Child Inside”, which (I suspect) is the tune that draws the most notice. I believe it was used in a SeaWorld commercial, which is how it captured my attention. Qkumba Zoo is not alone in this respect; I also own “Da Da Da” by Trio (used in a Volkswagen ad) and a handful of other tunes for similar reasons.

  4. I am a big fan of so much music, and my guilty pleasures include much in the way of Country (I may hate myself in the morning, but I’m gonna love you tonight), and in some cases techno (Moby bubblegum pop, yes, I like it) and even Country Rap (Cowboy Troy).

    I also feel like Creative Commons music has made me a musical oddball. My favorites include Cassandra Kubinski, Cylindrian Rutabega, Jonathan Coulton, a random person named Hannah who released a lot of improvised clips on “The Sixty One” http://thesixtyone.com – and others, most of which I was introduced to either by prowling the Podsafe Music Network or otherwise listening to podcasts that played music from the PMN.

    Do you know how hard it is to find Cassandra Kubinski fans in Atlanta, GA? She has never been to the state of Georgia, as far as I can tell.

    Anyway, great post and good on ya.

    1. @Sam — I suppose I might consider The Mavericks my one Country & Western guilty pleasure. I do enjoy Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson on occasion, but they somehow transcend genre and it’s hard to feel guilty about enjoying their music (possible exception, “The Highwayman”). The Mavericks, though, are pure, crooning Country.

  5. I have no *guilty* pleasures when it comes to music, but if I had more sense I’d probably be guilty of how much I enjoy techno dance music. I say I listen to it while writing because the thumping beats get me into a writing mood (and they do), but when those songs come up in my randomized playlist I never, ever skip them.

  6. So here I am, reading the post on my phone in a Denny’s and as I get to the part about Enya CDs, Orinoco Flow (Sail Away) comes on. Serendipity I say.

    Guilty pleasures? I have several, one of which is indeed techno dance. I don’t have *every* Queen album, but I am close.

    @Sam send me a link to Cassandra Kubinski’s music and I will check it out.

  7. Oh, my. Guilty pleasures.

    Alphaville, a German pop group of the eighties, Falco, a German soloist…Asia and most of the Prog Rock groups of the decade preceding them…

    Some would call my Billy Joel collection a guilty pleasure. For my part, I do not feel guilt about it at all.

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