Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included Ronnie & The Daytonas' "Little G.T.O.," G N' R's "Mama Kin," and 'Grease's' "Summer Nights."
Continuing my recent travels through the 1980s -- and especially through the channels I didn't personally frequent during that time period -- I got smacked with a heavy dose of "It's Tricky". I realize now both the appeal of writing personal biographies which are intended to sum up your life and tell everyone who misunderstood you "Hey... this is me man," and I'm feeling that temptation now. I want to go into a long passage not only explaining not only why I didn't listen to Raising Hell when I was ten (being a white kid in the middle of White-ville, Illinois should suffice), but why I wasn't into music that much pre-college. There are many navel-gazing reasons I could list, but the sad fact is that all the time I spend explaining myself is really an act of ego inflation. Honestly, it's not that interesting -- and that's where the temptation comes in. I want it to be interesting, but only when I get to the keys do I truly realize my musical life could be summed up easily with two sentences:
I didn't listen to music much until college.
Then I did.
I first got a heavy dish of Run-DMC the same way any other dateless Midwestern kid did: with the rebroadcast of The History of Rock n' Roll on PBS around 1996. According to such experts as Bono and Bruce Springsteen, Run-DMC was important in all sorts of ways my second-chair alto saxophone mind could not comprehend.
So obviously, my love affair with Run-DMC was late coming, but none the less infectious and powerful. Despite its creation during the pre-digital ear, "It's Tricky" repeats like a champ. I've played it so much in a row that I can't tell you when the lyrics are supposed to go, except for "I met this little girly." I'm positive that one is early in the song, but does it really matter when you're living in repeat? I'm living in a world of constant "It's Tricky", and that means there is no end or start or middle or anything. The song remains constant as I live simultaneously in the past, present and future, becoming the lamest version of God imaginable.
Listening to Raising Hell out of context proves difficult. I cut my rap teeth with early 90s gansta rap, culminating with repeated plays of "Doggystyle" on high school trips (the Me of 1994 would have composed a killer G.S.A.T.M. on "Gz And Hustlas", including the preceding grade-school scene). I have become so (understandably) accustomed to the multi-layered style of more modern rap that most tracks on Hell feel close to quaint. I'm not knocking the quality or the obvious influence the group had on any and all followers, but I doubt a modern rap song could get away with so many instrumental moments. Listen to "Walk This Way" and you get as many guitar solos as you would on the original Aerosmith version with very little alteration. Historical context is everything. The Aerosmith cover at the time was revolutionary, but to hear it now you realize how it's really just a clever cover. Not much has been added to the mix, yet because it was the first to have the balls to do it, "Walk This Way" remains cooler than the Puff Daddy/Jimmy Page collaboration "Come With Me", which is pretty much the same deal as "Walk This Way", but it wasn't first so it got quickly labeled "crappy." Maybe these instrumental breaks were left long to allow for more crappy 80s video acting from Penn and Teller. (I'm embarrassed of myself for not knowing my Run-DMC history as well as I should, but at least I never committed the first "teach us to be cool/don't look cool at all/posing white guys" sin as seen in the video. In fact, it's a big reason why I'm not linking that version of the song. You can look it up on your own and cringe for yourself.)
Perhaps my own ignorance along with Hell's surrounding early-rap context actually helped "It's Tricky" grab my ear. By all accounts, it should be just like every other song on the record, yet by utilizing that classic you-then-you-then-you lyric trade-off they mastered, the energy of "It's Tricky" is only matched by "Peter Piper". In fact, since most of "Hell's" rhythms feel identical, the art of bringing new energy to each track truly is "tricky." From the opening Run speech (which is very "vital"), I'm already feeling it, and the post "Uh-uh-uh-uh" bit of "Here we go" couldn't be more perfect. They're pumped and so are we. Such a little thing, but that little "Here we go" is the greatest part of a great song. It offers enough early humanity for the song to feel like it's being performed live, but it gets me that much closer to jumping out of my seat and dancing however poorly.
But all this jazz feels less up to the true power of "It's Tricky", and the entire Raising Hell album. Once again I have fallen victim to both the trap of music and music criticism. I'm thinking too much. This is only natural. I have lived a week in the world of "It's Tricky", so it only makes sense that I would try to apply some logic to my situation. This leads to over-thinking and the eventual demise of music. Nothing was ever designed (consciously, anyway) to hold up to this much scrutiny. Nor should it. I have a problem when people label songs as "timeless," because that robs the song of its power. If "It's Tricky" was timeless, then I'd hate it. It would just be an antiquated sounding song and go right back in the dusty retreats of my brain with old homework and forgotten magazine articles. Instead, the song manages to draw me in to not only the world of 20 years ago but a world I've never occupied. I never lived in New York and I never wore Adidas anything. This song does not belong to our modern world, and that's perfect.
Written By Phillip Mottaz