Album: Voices Carry
. . .
Well, I’m not even sure where to start with the utterly titanic “Voices Carry,” a song that actually changed me. Or at least helped me change one of my key philosophies about how I enjoy art.
Because here’s the thing: with its “chunka-chunka-chunka” rhythm guitar, utterly colorless synths, and a conceptual music video — that actually had dialog that wasn’t in the song — which got played approximately 47,000 times a day on MTV, I should have utterly despised “Voices Carry.” On the surface, it was every single thing I hated about music in 1985: a perfectly-coiffed “new wave” band — with the lead singer sporting a highly ostensible rattail — making utterly pedestrian pop that was precision-tooled to top the charts, whilst my beloved R.E.M. and Replacements and Hüsker Dü were struggling to get heard outside of college radio.
Well, fuck that. Case closed. Next!
Except, except. That fucking ridiculous video — featuring that abusive greaseball trying to keep the lead singer chick with the 80s hair and super intense eyes from making or at least enjoying her music — got the chorus of “Voices Carry” under my skin, and suddenly, I was singing it to myself.
Hush, hush, even downtown
Hush, hush, even downtown
Or at least, that’s what I thought the chorus was.
Why did I think it was “even downtown?” I’m not sure: maybe it’s noisier downtown, so voices don’t carry as much? Or maybe it was because the climatic action of the video when the rat-tailed chick and her abusive greaseball boyfriend are at (I assumed) the opera at Carnegie Hall which (I assumed) is in downtown Manhattan. So when she stands up and fully belts out the chorus embarrassing the fuck out of him, they were actually downtown. Or something. I wasn’t supposed to care enough to even care what the actual lyrics were.
And you know that I know that you know that I’m being disingenuous here: we all know that “Voices Carry” was the first flowering of Aimee Mann, one of the great songwriters of our generation, and someone whom I totally underserved at the beginning of Certain Songs, but promise to round out during my second pass at this insanity.
And so “Voices Carry” opens with that “chunka-chunka-chunka” rhythm guitar from Robert Holmes, the post-Cars synths from Joey Pesce while bassist Mann and drummer Michael Hausman play as straight of a beat as is humanly possible, Mann’s impossibly big voice sets the scene.
I’m in the dark, I’d like to read his mind
But I’m frightened of the things I might find
There must be something he’s thinking of to tear him away
When I tell him that I’m falling in love, why does he say?
Interestingly enough, the original lyrics were Mann singing it to another woman — or from a man to a woman, depending on the source — which was eventually nixed by the big bad major label. That, of course, would have been cooler, but it also would have probably meant the song wouldn’t have been a hit, because they couldn’t have made the video with the abusive greaseball boyfriend that climaxed with the girlfriend standing up for herself by throwing his words back at him. And so while the guy in the song is not quite as much of a dick as the guy in the video, he’s also not not quite as much of a dick as the guy in the video.
Hush hush, keep it down now
Hush hush, keep it down now
Oh, fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck you, dude. Have some respect.
On the second time around with the chorus, they — and by “they,” I’m sure it was producer Mike Thorne — adds an incredibly interesting and weird touch: a massed choir of deep-voiced male singers coming in on “voices carry.” The only other time in my life I’ve heard something like this was on a Black Sabbath record, like for example, when Ozzy sings “Feel it slipping away / Slipping into sorrow” on the eternally awesome “Megalomania” from my favorite Sabbath album, Sabotage. (I’ll also do more Sabbath when I go back around, cos I also underserved them.) (In fact, I really didn’t properly go deep on an artist until I got to The Clash.)
After that second chorus, there’s also a short a synth solo which sets up the bridge where she puts the final nail into her relationship coffin.
Oh, he wants me
But only part of the time
He wants me
If he can keep me in line
But you know she’s done being kept in line, and if you didn’t, the final glorious third of “Voices Carry” — even without the visual of Mann nuking the abusive greaseball by making a public spectacle in Carnegie Hall, or “Carnegie Hall” as the case may be — makes it clear on where she stands, as she replays his telling her to shut up, to keep it down now over and over again, getting angrier and angrier over a vocal arrangement for the ages.
First off, the satanic choir — now which is chanting “voices carry voices carry voices carry” like it was their sentence in Hell — is now joined by a angelic chorus cooing “hush hush”, all of which over Mann starts monologuing about what kind of shit he is, starting with “Oh no, voices carry,” and climaxing with:
He said “shut up!”
He said “shut up!”
“Oh God, can’t you keep it dowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwn?”
and following it up with a very long, and utterly devastating “voiiiii-cceeeees carrrrrrrr-ryyyyyyyyyyyy”
On one hand, “Voices Carry” is the Eightiest song the Eighties ever Eightied, but the other hand, it’s utterly timeless and transcendent, even if you can’t — or maybe especially if you can’t — completely divest it from the equally timeless transcendent and totally Eighties video. Which, 2012, Mann did a near-shot-for-shot parody of it for her — also great — “Labrador,” which featured Jons Wurster and Hamm among others.
“Voices Carry” was a massive smash, topping out at #8 in 1985, and helping Voices Carry make it to #19 on the albums chart, which of course they never repeated. That said, ’til tuesday” wasn’t exactly a one-hit wonder, as a song called “What About Love” made it to #26 on the pop charts, even if their second album, Welcome Home, stalled out at #49 on the album charts. Which was better than how the third album — 1988’s Everything’s Different Now — did, topping out at #124, despite a couple of legit great songs: the Elvis Costello co-write “The Other End (Of The Telescope)” and the name-naming proto-Taylor Swift “‘J’ For Jules.”
After that, ’til tuesday broke up, and Aimee Mann languished in the wilderness for a few years with record company issues before launching her solo career with 1993’s Whatever and 1995’s I’m With Stupid. Nearly two decades later, that solo career is going strong.
After I started following Mann’s solo career, I bought a ’til tuesday compilation, and while the Eighties production was sill annoying, I had a realization: as a song, “Voices Carry” was equally on a par with my favorite of her solo songs like “I Should Have Known” and “Par For The Course,” and as such, wasn’t so much a guilty pleasure as much as a pleasure with no qualifications.
Which got me to thinking about the whole concept of “guilty pleasures” — you know, the whole bit about being afraid to fully own liking something, because you think it’s inferior to all of the cool (or “cool”) things that makes up your public identity — and I realized that it was something that stopped making sense to me. I liked what I liked, full stop, no qualifiers need. After which I decided that I would never again call a song, artist or album a “guilty pleasure.” From now on, I would fully own the things I enjoy. Like the forever awesome “Voices Carry,” a song I will eternally enjoy without any guilt at all.
“Voices Carry” Official Music Video
“Voices Carry” live in New York, 1986
“Voices Carry” performed by Aimee Mann, Ted Leo & John Roderick, Portland 2016
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