Liza Minnelli – Don’t Drop Bombs
In The World of Pop, there are fewer things to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck or get the blood pumping faster than the thought of a good collaboration. I’m not talking about the ‘featuring’ epidemic currently ravaging the singles chart – at the start of this year The Guardian reported that over half of the top 40 best-selling singles in the UK in 2013 had a ‘featuring’ guest vocalist credit – I mean the kind of auspicious marriages forged between two different ruling Houses of Pop, bringing well-matched strands of genuine Pop Royalty together to form a Holy Union. Wow! Didn’t I tell you it was exciting?
A few achieve a significance greater than merely welding together the sum of their disparate parts – think Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure, Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks’ Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around or Daft Punk, Pharrell and Nile Rodgers’ on Get Lucky – while others just should’ve been better – The Jacksons and Mick Jagger’s State of Shock and the Madonna/Prince hook-up, Love Song, from Like A Prayer instantly spring to mind. Some just shouldn’t work, but do – Run DMC and Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue’s murder ballad, Where The Wild Roses Grow, and Eminem introducing us to the delights of Dido on Stan (thanks Slim!) While others should work and resoundingly don’t – sorry David Bowie and Mick Jagger, I know Dancing In The Streets was for charity, but that’s just an excuse. There are those which seem somehow inevitable, more destiny than mere chance, like Lionel Richie and Diana Ross with Endless Love, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s Islands in the Stream and Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s Say, Say, Say and a very select few which rise so triumphantly to the occasion, such as Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, they become untouchable – I’m looking at you Keating.
While the ‘one-night stand’ approach seems to suit the more fickle and promiscuous pop star mindset, sometimes it blossoms into a more permanent arrangement. On occasion, it can be something positive salvaged from an otherwise unfortunate situation. When Duran Duran got to the point where they basically couldn’t stand the sight of one another, circa 1985, the band decided to split right down the middle and formed two opposing gangs. One was all soft and girly and liked books and poetry and stuff; Arcadia, while the other, Power Station, was full of rough boys who liked drinking, guitars and girls…in fact, mostly girls…but only if they were supermodels. As Arcadia had managed to snag the singer, the Power Station boys managed to lure Robert Palmer to the party, joining them for a whole album – it turned out he quite liked guitars and supermodels too. Similarly, Electronic was formed by surgically removing some of the more talented elements from New Order and The Smiths, splicing them together and creating an Indie/Dance Frankenstein’s monster – albeit one which was more interested in making ‘killer’ tunes than actually killing revolting villagers who were merely protesting peacefully whilst brandishing torches and pitchforks. While this became a full-time (but sadly only temporary) job for Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr, they also managed to keep Neil Tennant waiting patiently in the wings, reliably on-hand whenever they needed him, presumably via a very early version of the zero hours contract. In the end, that little experiment was shut down when conspiracy theorists managed to prove the whole thing was just a sinister plot to make straight men listen to Pet Shop Boys albums.
But the real magic happens when two pop stars, who love each other very much, choose to get together and work hard to make their relationship last – even if it is for just one album. Top of my list of such ‘marriages made in pop heaven’ has to be Pet Shop Boys and Liza Minnelli, with Don’t Drop Bombs perfectly exemplifying what happens when seemingly incompatible strands of pop DNA are brought together to form a completely new molecule – CBP (Camp Broadway Pop).
Losing My Mind got the whole Results project going rather nicely by achieving the expected, well, results and delivering a top 10 single in August 1989. However, things went dramatically downhill from then on, when all three subsequent singles failed to land inside the top 40. While it’s vaguely understandable when it comes to Love Pains – it was the fourth single from the album and faced competition from a rival Hazell Dean version – there was absolutely no excuse at all for the stunning ballad, So Sorry I Said, or the bombastic Don’t Drop Bombs to fall short of the chart’s upper reaches.
Don’t Drop Bombs is pure high camp. On a scale of ‘Not Camp At All’ to ‘Camper Than Christmas’, Liza, Neil and Chris’s combined antics register somewhere around the ‘Fabulous’ mark. It’s the musical equivalent of Alexis and Krystle cat fighting their way through half a dozen seasons of Dynasty, with Neil and Chris somehow transforming the sound of two glamorous old hags, wrestling in a whirlpool of sequins until they end up drenched and dirty for one final round of bitch-slaps in an ornate garden lily pond, into a cacophony of fairlight orchestra stabs and explosive sound effects. Lyrically, Don’t Drop Bombs suggests Neil and Chris managed to deviously extract a few of the more scandalous pages from Liza’s diary, put them through their Sondheim Lyric-O-Meter (patent pending) and create the first song for a proposed Frost / Nixon style two-handed musical about the Reagan / Thatcher years – can anyone think of anything more thrilling than the thought of Kristin Scott Thomas’s Thatcher singing the lines, “Don’t tell me about your lack of restrictions / Guilty records / And previous convictions / Or I shall start playing rough,” while dressed in a blue twin set and pearls?
Taking a step back from my personal West End wet dream, on record, when Liza presumably confronts her cheating husband with, “I’d rather not / Have to hear about / Your other girls / On your expense account,” she’s spitting enough venom to fell an ox. And there’s no doubt in my mind that when she purrs “I know you carry on / Behind my back / With your secretary / You’ll have a heart attack,“ she’s not giving him a warning, she’s issuing a command – and I’d put money on it being accompanied by her finger impatiently tapping the exquisite diamond encrusted watch face she’s wearing. The whole track has a relentless urgency and dramatic tension worthy of the last five minutes of any episode nine from any season of Game of Thrones.
Almost 26 years on from its release (stops typing to check the date and then weeps uncontrollably), Don’t Drop Bombs feels as curiously out-of-step with everything else going on around it as it did back then, but its camp bluster and melodramatic menace have never been bettered – well not in a three and a half minute pop song anyway. Lyrically, it still manages to raise a smile, and it might just offer a clue or two as to why David didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Liza by telling her he may or may not be gay. Well not until after the wedding at any rate.
Entered chart: 07/10/1989
Chart peak: 46
Weeks on chart: 3
Who could sing this today and have a hit? – Surely this is perfect for Lady Gaga? And let’s face it she needs to pull a camp one out of the bag if she wants to get as many of her fans back on board as possible. Admittedly, she’ll only really need it if the whole ‘playing nurse to Tony Bennett’ ploy doesn’t get her an Anna Nicole Smith style free pass into his will.