In Random Rules, The A.V. Club asks some of its favorite people to set their MP3 players to shuffle and comment on the first few tracks that come up—no cheating or skipping embarrassing tracks allowed.
Shuffler: Chris Cain, bassist for We Are Scientists. (He's the one with the wicked 'stache.) His band plays that dance-y, melodic post-punk that's stubbornly still all the rage, but We Are Scientists are far better (and more rockin') than their peers—and a lot wittier, if Cain's song analysis is any indication.
Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt, "Don't Know Much"
Chris Cain: A track that is definitely in pretty heavy rotation on my iPod. I feel that, for vocal harmonization, you can't do a lot better than Ronstadt and Neville. It's one of those '80s soft-rock tracks that is sort of coming back into vogue, I would say. And sure, it's sort of ironic, but I've always had a pretty sincere admiration for the way these two crooners can make magic on this track.
Cher, "If I Could Turn Back Time"
CC: I believe an aircraft carrier came into play on this one. Probably, G.I. Joe aside, the most important aircraft-carrier reference in the Western canon would be this track. It's definitely part of Reagan's plan to sugarcoat his huge defense-spending budget. And it worked.
The A.V. Club: By having a scantily clad Cher on a battleship?
CC: Yeah, it really glamorized war, I think. We're still feeling the effects. Cher is actually a pretty masterful collector of songs. I'm not sure how much of her stuff she wrote, and this I believe is on a greatest-hits album, which has stuff all the way back from the Sonny Bono era and straight through to "Do you believe in life after love." I think I remember that being the last track on the album. There's got to be one in the pipeline at this point; she's due for yet another life. I don't know if that's my favorite song on that CD, but it's a hell of a CD, and Cher definitely works with some amazing songwriters. I will say it's the only one whose video I remember, going back to the carrier issue. It's funny, because I sort of blend that in my head and the Steven Seagal movie Under Siege; they were probably shot on the same carrier. There can't be that many carriers that the military gives film crews access to.
Heart, "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You"
CC: I was thinking it was Berlin for some reason when I saw the track—what's that song from Top Gun?—"Take My Breath Away." I don't know why, when I saw Heart, I thought about that song. This is also an amazing song. I think this was early-'90s Heart, probably their most recent. It's pretty steamy. I feel like there's a part about her actually talking about the man satisfying her. Keith [Murray, WAS guitarist-vocalist] just said it's "He made a woman out of me so many times easily." Amazing. It's an R-rated track.
AVC: So why is this on your iPod?
CC: Actually, I have a couple of Heart albums, although that's probably on a best-of because I don't have whatever album it was released on. In fact, I have to wonder if that was released on an album at all, or they just put it out as a single, and that sort of occasioned the greatest-hits album. Maybe that was the new track that every greatest-hits album includes, and it just became a runaway hit. As a kid, I'm thinking I was probably 13 or something, I do remember being pretty turned on by this song in a way that radio music does not generally have the power to do. I guess nowadays with your Britney Spears and the like, this song isn't really as racy it seemed at the time. I feel that power lies in the fact that it really does kind of craft a narrative. It's like the difference between porn and a romance movie—like Legends Of The Fall or something—where you've got actual relationships, and you can sense some sort of emotion. Legends Of The Fall is a far sexier thing than straight-up pornography, certainly more affecting. I think I teared up at Legends Of The Fall. I think that's what "All I Wanna Do" does that Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears don't do. There're characters. Although I guess the occasion for their meeting is pretty perfunctory. Doesn't she just pick him up on the side of the road or something?
AVC: According to the lyrics, he was standing by the road, no umbrella, no coat. It was raining…
CC: Maybe it starts out as a good Samaritan thing; it's hard to say. Does it detail at what point she becomes attracted to him, or do they just kind of skip to the hotel room at that point?
AVC: Well, she says "Fate tell me it's right, is this love at first sight?" She was into him right away.
CC: There is no small amount of pathos as well in her decision to cut him out of her life. I don't really get that "love at first sight." It seems like everything went well that night. I don't know why the next day she's like, "Adios."
AVC: But she says at the end, "Please, please understand, I'm in love with another man."
CC: But that's much, much later—that doesn't explain why, on that fateful night, she walked away.
Kenny Loggins, "Danger Zone"
CC: And we were just talking about Berlin! I do listen to the Top Gun soundtrack with some frequency. Well, I throw it on at parties. I think it's good, but this song, "Danger Zone," is a legitimately churning rocker. I only recently realized that he says "Highway to the danger zone." For the longest time, I thought he said, "Highway Cougar danger zone," like the character in the movie, Cougar. Although I found this to be a very clumsy lyric. I always assumed that the song was basically written for the movie. I also simultaneously was like, "Jesus, couldn't you have done a little better than that? Why is he talking about Cougar, a tertiary character?" He's in the thing for about five minutes, and he's out of the film.
Interpol, "Obstacle 2"
CC: Don't really how that got on here, and I don't even know what this is. I haven't really listened to Interpol, to be honest. Obviously I've heard them, but I guess I would hesitate to really give an opinion on them. I finally listened to The Strokes and really liked them, probably like six months ago. It's sort of ironic, I guess, since we're a New York band; I have very little knowledge of a lot of the popular New York bands. I've never heard TV On The Radio. Somebody was just giving me shit for it yesterday.
AVC: So you aren't sure how this ended up on there?
CC: I assume one of my bandmates gave it to me. Michael, our drummer, is definitely really up on all of this type of stuff, like all the Pitchfork type of bands, I guess. He'll put stuff on my iPod occasionally, or he'll be like, "Check this out." I plug into his computer and grab it, but I often don't end up listening to it. I have a 60-gig iPod, so there's actually a lot of stuff on here that I have no idea what it is.