Eddie and the Cruisers vs. the Barbusters: Odd Couples

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There’s a popular saying about the ‘60s: “If someone says they remember the ‘60s, they probably weren’t there.” Turns out the same could be said about the ‘80s, but for different reasons.

While the now-aging hippie chillen of the Woodstock Generation fondly remember the days of drug induced wonder, free love and great music, the hippie chillen’s chillen who were brought up in the mid ’80s lived through Reaganomics, the fear of AIDS and an overall mostly forgettable pop culture based on marketing demographics and maximizing corporate profits.

No wonder that generation doesn’t want to remember anything: If the powers that be ever wanted to make a That ‘70’s Show type of TV comedy based around the ‘80s, it would probably tank and quickly be erased from the public memory (errr… what’s that you say?).

That’s overstating the case, but not by much. For example, who remembers the 1983 late show/drive in classic Eddie and the Cruisers? At least you’ll probably remember “On the Dark Side,” which in the movie was the hit by the fictional Eddie Wilson and his 1960s Jersey shore bar band the Cruisers. You should remember it, as it made Billboard’s Top 10 and carried the soundtrack into quadruple platinum status. Written by John Cafferty and performed by his group the Beaver Brown Band, it’s a slice of anachronistic Springsteen-style rock that didn’t exist in the early ’60s — although one could argue the point was moot as Springsteen himself had always kept alive the memories of those times by playing such early pop gems like “Quarter to Three” in his concerts anyway. Beaver Brown’s sax player Michael “Tunes” Antunes even got cast in the film as … the sax player for Eddie and the Cruisers. But despite an Eddie and the Cruisers sequel and follow up soundtrack, the franchise was soon relegated to cult status. Even actors Ellen Barkin, Tom Berenger, and chef-turned-actor-singer Michael Pare don’t mention this one much.

The Boss himself got a chance to enter the B-movie soundtrack sweepstakes by writing the title track to the 1987 film Light of Day, featuring rock ‘n’ roller Joan Jett and popular actor Michael J. Fox as a brother and sister who both play in the same Cleveland bar band. Unlike the story of Eddie and the Cruisers’ aspirations for artistic fulfillment, the story of the fictional Rasnick siblings centers on how they deal with their interpersonal and familial relationships. The band dynamics are important yet incidental to the story. Bruce Springsteen’s rocker “Light of Day” seems to accentuate the fact that although life can be rough, things can get better: “I got a little lost along the way, but I’m just around the corner to the light of day.” This is one of those tunes His New Jerseyship probably cranks out while waiting for his soft boiled egg at breakfast to wrap up its eight minute swim in the ol’ stove-top hot tub, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. (I’d guess classics like “She’s the One” and “Cadillac Ranch” come from the same figurative kitchen.) Sometimes listeners create their own meaning when presented with vague, borderline cliched lyrics.

At least it has a sense of movement or a change coming soon. On the other hand, Eddie and the Cruisers’s “On the Dark Side” presents such a jumble of images that it’s hard to tell what it’s about: “Ain’t nothin’ gonna save you from a love that’s blind; you slip to the dark side across that line — on the dark side, oh yeah.” Maybe it’s an existential acceptance that everything goes south sooner or later, but you just suck it up move on because that’s what people do. Because it’s all they can do.

Musically, it’s a coin toss: Same key, same chords. In fact, it’s a wonder that some enterprising internet DJ mix genius hasn’t already done a mash up (hint: speed up the Joan Jett track by 5 percent first). You also have two fake bands (sort of), but two great songs (sort of). So it’s a tough call here.

Let’s see… the Barbusters’ band from Light of Day lists actor Michael McKean on bass, but he sure looks a lot like Spinal Tap’s lead singer David St. Hubbins. A ringer! Is that a professional musician pretending to be an actor pretending to be a musician — or something else? A pretty cool trick. But Eddie and the Cruisers’ “On the Dark Side” pulls off an even more amazing feat of musical sleight of hand. The lyrics consist of only one verse, sung two and a half times. Check it yourself. It’s like a subversive quadruple platinum nod to the Ramones’ command of lyrical minimalism: If you sing the same words over and over, the song can mean anything you want it to mean.

Winner: Eddie and the Cruisers’ “On the Dark Side” by sucker punch at about the 2:40 mark. Despite actually being a tad slower, it’s nearly a minute shorter than “Light of Day” anyway. If only the rest of the ’80s had passed by as quickly.

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
JC Mosquito
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