Everything I Do, pt 11: Slow dancing in hell [September 15, 1991]
Plus: Salt-N-Pepa, Guns N' Roses, R.E.M., and Fugazi
This week’s Number 1 : ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ — Bryan Adams
The purpose of music is, mostly, sex.
There are other applications, yes. Funeral elegies. National anthems. ‘Happy Birthday To You’. Hold music. Jive Bunny. These songs have a functional purpose and it is not to encourage people to bone down.
But every other piece of music is about sex.
And this is obvious when you think about the social function of music. Music was invented as a way of bringing communities together. We gather as a group, we dance, we laugh, and then we slip away in couples and bang in the nearest available dark corner.
The phrase “rock and roll” was a euphemism for sex that was adopted by the world of music.
In 1991, public dancing was going through a transition. Rave culture was helping to drive a new breed of nightclub that was all about the individual experience. People got drunk or high and spent the whole night essentially vibing by themselves, in the sense that they didn’t really dance with anyone.
But while this was going on, the majority of mainstream nightclubs were still following an evening-time courtship ritual that dated back decades, if not centuries.
For the majority of the night, these clubs played music that would be upbeat and exciting. Stuff to get teenage blood pumping. Pop hits with insistent beats. Maybe something a bit more rock-y to get reluctant guys away from their pints and onto the dancefloor.
There would be glances and flirting and chatting, and the smoother operators might even get a kiss before midnight.
For most people, their night would not reach a climax until the slow set, colloquially known as “The Erection Section”. The DJ would play a sequence of tracks with a slow, romantic vibe, and the boys would ask the girls to dance. Slowly - usually with her arms around his shoulders and his arms around her waist. If you were lucky, this dance would blossom into a kiss, and the kiss might later blossom into something more physical.
This is how my parents met. This is how most people’s parents met.
Personally, most of my slow dancing experience came from school-organized discos when I was in my early teens. I remember it not as something romantic, but a kind of hormone-soaked hostage situation.
All of the girls would sit on one side of the room. All of the boys clung to the wall on the other side, laughing and trying not to make eye contact.
Eventually, a few brave souls would cross the wasteland separating the two sexes. A boy, of course, because the girls must wait to be asked. Eventually, we would all be paired up, awkwardly shuffling to a song that was almost always ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’.
What an awful situation for all involved. So much worse than getting picked last for football. This was like getting picked last for life.
That said, I don’t recall many girls saying no to anyone when asked to dance. I guess they were mostly relieved to be picked by someone. Plus, looking back, it’s easy to see how they felt that they couldn’t say no.
There’s nothing quite as awkward as slow dancing with a girl who said yes when she wanted to say no. The utterly frozen awkwardness between the two of you, locked in this unnatural stance, your arms around each other while also somehow avoiding any kind of physical contact. You sense that she is trying to astrally project so that at least her soul gets to be far away from you.
And neither of you can walk away. Not until the guitar solo in ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ ends.
That is a long guitar solo.
Me, I stopped going to those things in my early teens and devoted myself to a hermetic adolescence, reading sad and angry books, listening to sad and angry songs, all of them written by people who are frustrated by a lack of sex.
When I rediscovered the world of girls and nightclubs, everything had changed. The slow set had vanished from grown-up dances, and I’m informed that it vanished from teenage dances at around the same time.
Whenever anything disappears from the world, there’s always an urge to mourn it. You look at sepia-tinted pictures of old ballrooms and you think about your parents dancing under a mirrorball, and you think, “oh it’s a shame that’s all gone.”
But sometimes things die out because they’ve lived too long. I’m glad the slow set is dead. I’m glad my daughter never has to stand against a wall and hope to get picked. I’m thrilled that she feels free to say no when she doesn’t want to dance with someone.
We let the past go. We learn new rituals.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 3 (↑ from 7): ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ — Salt-N-Pepa
All music is about sex and 1991 was the year that we stopped pretending otherwise, with Top 40 hits that mention the S-word by everyone from Color Me Badd to Billy Bragg.
This is the best one, although the lyrics go off in a weird direction that might be considered slut-shaming in a modern context. Still, it is a horrifically catchy jam that encourages us all to take a more positive, mature attitude to making love.
(Come on, Pep, how many guys you know make love?)
Number 7 (New Entry): ‘Love To Hate You’ — Erasure
“I like to read a murder mystery/I like to know the killer isn’t me” is such a good lyric that I want to cry. Also, a baller move to casually throw in the riff from ‘I Will Survive’. All in all, it’s another amazing pop song from a band that made it all look so effortless.
Number 8 (New Entry): ‘Don’t Cry’ — Guns N’ Roses
Which is better, ‘Don’t Cry’ or ‘November Rain’? Vote in the comments.
BTW, the Use Your Illusions drop next week.
Number 19 (New Entry): ‘Cream’ — Prince
I do not know why Prince released another single so soon after ‘Gett Off’. Both songs are in this week’s Top 40, not that that’s a bad thing. There was a week in 2017 when every song in the Top 10 was Ed Sheeran. Bloody streaming.
Number 28 (New Entry): ‘The One I Love’ — R.E.M.
A very U2 moment for R.E.M., with this banger of a stadium power rock ballad. It’s quite Route One by R.E.M. standards, which is probably why it was a hit.
If you didn’t know much about them at the time (I didn’t), they were a difficult band to pin down. ‘Losing My Religion’, ‘Shiny Happy People’ and this one each sound like they’re from different acts.
Album of the Week
Steady Diet of Nothing — Fugazi
Did anyone ever buy a Fugazi record and not start a band? They are the ultimate musician’s musician, with everyone from Nirvana to Blur lining up to hail their genius, while most non-musicians go their entire life without hearing a Fugazi song.
Steady Diet is a great record, all tight and angular in a way that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1979. Ian MacKaye likes to shout repetitious phrases, the best of which is “it’s time to meet your makers!” on ‘Latin Roots’.
Second best: the multiple pronunciations of “exeunt’” on ‘Exit Only’.
There are no slow dance songs on this record.
Not long until we’re finished with Bryan Adams now. You’ll miss him when he’s gone.