Over at Bloggerhythms, Charlie has been writing about guilty pleasures lately. That’s too good an idea not to steal, although it’s possible to quibble with the very concept. Why should you feel guilty for liking what you like? It only makes sense if you accept that the taste of the tastemakers, whoever they are, is automatically superior to your own. But the concept persists nevertheless, and it’s not going away. Imagine, for a brief and horrifying moment, that you have a taste for Hello Kitty stuff. Calling it a bold declaration of personal style would be more gilt than most of us are willing to apply to such a lily. To call it a guilty pleasure (and to express it with a shrug, like you have no control over it) is more appropriate, and safer, if you want your friends to keep admitting they know you.
Here are a few of my guilty pleasures:
KC and the Sunshine Band. From the first time “Get Down Tonight” blasted out of my radio in the summer of 1975, I was hooked. And “hooked” is exactly the right word—KC had a gift for marrying hooks to grooves that produced records that would get stuck in your head for days at a time. The critical knock on KC is that he doesn’t sing very well, and that his records are repetitive. The former is true, but it doesn’t matter, and the latter is disingenuous—the annals of pop music are full of artists who became famous on three chords and couldn’t sing a lick, so it’s not as if repetition never works, or vocal chops are necessary. KC’s greatest records are his most repetitive: the lyrics to “That’s the Way (I Like It)” and “Keep it Comin’ Love” are little more than the titles, and each one keeps humping away at the groove for four or five delicious minutes. Yeah, that’s precisely the picture I want you to have—with KC, the longer it goes, the better it feels.
“I’ll Meet You Halfway”/Partridge Family. Somewhere on my hard drive is a fragment arguing that the 1970s as a pop-cultural period began on September 25, 1970, the night The Partridge Family premiered on ABC. I wrote it maybe 12 or 13 years ago, and I don’t think I agree with it anymore, but it gets one thing right: For kids like me, who discovered the radio after the Beatles, on their own, without older siblings or friends to steer their tastes, The Partridge Family was seriously influential. Bubblegum became the first kind of music I loved, and “I Think I Love You” was one of the first records I ever owned. Like the best bubblegum, the Partridge Family’s best songs were crafted with more care than necessary for something intended to be sold to kids and ultimately disposable. The big solo on “I Think I Love You” is played on a harpsichord, fer chrissakes. But “I Think I Love You” is not my guiltiest Partridge pleasure. That would be “I’ll Meet You Halfway,” the group’s third single. It’s a terrific pop song lovingly played by some of the best session musicians in Los Angeles, and contains hooks every bit as monstrous as anything on “I Think I Love You,” from the quiet piano that opens it to the bit of the refrain that goes, “We’ve been travelin’ in circles/Such a long long time/Tryin’ to say hello-oh.” Right at the fadeout, somebody—Shirley Jones, I presume—adds a high harmony part to David Cassidy’s vocal. It wasn’t necessary, but it’s gorgeous. “I’ll Meet You Halfway” was the Partridge Family’s third and final Top-10 hit in the summer of 1971. If you can’t dig it just a little bit, I’m not sure we should see each other anymore.
It occurs to me that I’m not feeling particularly guilty about that last one. I am about this next one, though, even if it is weirdly appropriate, given the subjects of this essay so far.
Velveeta chili dip. Get a 16-ounce block of Velveeta (reduced-fat is fine), a can of Hormel chili, a 16-ounce jar of your favorite salsa, and a cup of Minute Rice. Dump the whole works into a pan and heat until the cheese is melted and the rice is cooked. Eat it with chips, fold it in a tortilla, or just smear it on your forearm and lick it off. I have not made this stuff in several years because once I start eating it, I can’t stop until it’s gone. I tried not to pig out like that even when I was fat; since I dropped 75 pounds, I don’t dare. In the past, I have told The Mrs. that she will know if I am ever diagnosed with a terminal illness because she will come home and find me on the couch eating a five-pound bag of M&Ms with both hands. Another signal would be seeing me lick Velveeta cheese dip off both of my forearms.
Please share your guilty pleasures—musical, culinary, books, movies, or anything else—in the comments. I may have a few more to share later myself.
“Keep it Comin’ Love”/KC and the Sunshine Band (buy it here, on what is still the best compilation of their stuff, although it contains the single versions of “Get Down Tonight” and “That’s the Way (I Like It)” instead of the intoxicating long versions; TK 1023, chart peak #2, October 1, 1977)