first round game
(1) poison, "every rose has its thorn"
(1) poison, "talk dirty to me"
and moves on to the second round
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/2.
janine annett on poison's "talk dirty to me"
In 1987, Poison released the single “Talk Dirty to Me”. I’m sure I was not the original intended audience for this song or this band, but like many pre-teens of that era, I came to know the band and the song via MTV, which I’d spend countless hours watching (I often wonder if I could have become a much more accomplished person if I’d only spent approximately 9 million fewer hours watching MTV in my formative years, but I digress. It was a different time, and what’s done is done). “Talk Dirty to Me”, from Poison’s first album, Look What the Cat Dragged In, was the band’s second single and their first to crack the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, peaking at #9. The first single from the album, “Cry Tough” (an inferior track, in my opinion, so who knows why it was chosen as the first single; although hindsight is 20/20), didn’t chart at all. Imagine the near-miss that could have been if the record label didn’t decide to release another single from the band after “Cry Tough” had tanked.
The guys (who looked like gals) in Poison could actually play and sing. They weren’t Svengalied into existence, as slick as their choreographed stage moves and highly glossed looks were. They were originally called Paris and, as any true fan knows, hailed from Pennsylvania (where they all met each other, with the exception of guitar player C.C. DeVille). They moved out to L.A. (where they met C.C.) to make it big, and they did just that. Big hair, big dreams, big hits: Poison had them all, and everything started with the album Look What the Cat Dragged In and the single “Talk Dirty to Me.”
What strikes me now, listening to the song—all of Poison’s songs—as an adult is the sincerity. Say what you will about the band and their songs—they were overproduced, they were corny, they were too slick, too commercial, not pure enough “metal”—they were sincere. Poison songs were about having a good time, wanting to get it on with a girlfriend, being broken-hearted about a breakup, dreaming of making it big. Grunge came in and killed off “hair metal” with irony and detachment and anger. Poison had none of that. And if you strip away the way the band looked—if you just listen to the lyrics of the song—“Talk Dirty to Me” is really timeless. It could have been written in the 1950s, with its talk of drive-ins and Fords. In certain ways, “Talk Dirty to Me” reminds me of some of the Ramones’ tracks (like “Rock and Roll Radio”) that are nostalgic for an earlier era and recall 1950s and 1960s pop.
“Talk Dirty to Me” starts with a riff, then comes that pick-shredding (just ask anyone who ever learned to play the song) descending slide down the guitar neck, courtesy of Poison’s guitar player, C.C. DeVille. The lyrics are catchy. The structure is simple. Right before the big guitar solo, Bret shouts, “C.C., pick up that guitar and talk to me” and C.C. is kind enough to respond with a solo, then Bret starts whooping and C.C. really pours on the licks. In the video for the song, which I implore you to watch right now, C.C.’s lying on the floor playing the guitar.
About that music video: It starts with a silly bit about a boy calling a girl on the phone; her old, square parents initially pick up and then let the girl know the boy is calling. In the background, on a television, another Poison video plays. The parents hang up the phone and say, “That Bret sounds like such a nice boy” (as we would say today, but didn’t say back then, “LOL”). The home looks quite retro—not 1980s, but again, more 1950s. The video then cuts to a backstage area. Bret Michaels, Poison’s singer, is twirling a phone around on a cord (a cord!) and then he says “Hit it, C.C.” (he commands C.C. to do a lot of things, I guess, and C.C. is always ready to hit it or “talk” with his guitar) and the camera pans down a row of guitars. C.C. plays the riff, does the pick-slide-thing, and tosses the guitar aside. Bret appraises some ladies’ legs walking by during the opening lines, “You know I never/I never seen you look so good.” The rest of the video features the band members performing, presumably live, on stage. The video includes lots of goofing around and stage antics: leaps through the air, band members switching instruments, the drummer (Rikki Rockett) and C.C. lip syncing the singer’s words, tossing around a pirate flag, mugging for the camera, high kicks. The band members who are not behind a drum kit perform simultaneous somersaults. At one point, Bret rides on Bobby Dall’s acid-green bass guitar. C.C. and Bobby twirl around while playing their instruments. There is head-banging, and there are leather pants, and big, teased hair, and lots of makeup. On-stage explosions happen at the end of the video.
There were so many songs and videos of that era that were ridiculously, blatantly sexist. “Talk Dirty to Me” seems quite tame in that department by comparison. Aside from Bret objectifying some legs in the video, it’s not bad at all on the Sexism Meter. Also, the guys in Poison wore as much makeup and skimpy, tight clothes as any of the women in the videos of the day. As for the song lyrics, there’s a fair bit of give and take. The “you” in the song makes Bret feel good, but he makes her feel good, too. “You know that I can hardly wait/Just to see you/And I know you cannot wait/Wait to see me too”—the feelings there are mutual. Not all the songs on Look What the Cat Dragged In have aged as well as “Talk Dirty to Me”, which at least has a tinge of sweetness to the dirtiness. For example, the lyrics in the song “I Want Action” are horrifying—again, I didn’t understand the lyrics when this album first came out—but listening to the words now (“If I can’t have her/I’ll take her/and make her”), I cringe.
I can see why the “Talk Dirty to Me” video and the song appealed to me, despite the fact that I had only the vaguest notion of what “dirty talk” really was at the time the song was released. The guys in Poison looked like they were having a blast in the video, and you have to at least admire their athleticism. I was into gymnastics at the time, and they were doing all these crazy leaps, kicks, and rolls. The song was catchy, fun, uncomplicated. Even I could play it on guitar as a beginner (I haven’t played this song on the guitar in years and years, but I picked up a guitar while working on this, and was immediately able to play a reasonable facsimile of the opening riff off the top of my head, strumming my way through without needing to look up the chords). Oh, and thanks to Poison, back in 1987 I even learned a new vocabulary word (“inebriated”, used in reference to Bobby Dall) by reading an article in a magazine about the band.
I was able to actually see Poison live—my very first live concert experience! It must have been shortly after “Talk Dirty to Me” became a hit, because I don’t think I had any trouble getting tickets and I saw them in a fairly small venue. I somehow convinced my mom to take me and my best friend to see them (a fact she likes to remind me of to this day). The band played at the Westchester County Center in suburban New York. I was so excited, and I recall that the band did indeed live up to my expectations. I’m pretty sure I got a Poison t-shirt at the concert. I guess it was tame enough, though, because my mom let me go to concerts without parental guardianship from that time forward.
It’s not “cool” to like Poison, although it’s cool to like plenty of other glam rock bands. No one will sneer at you for liking, say, the New York Dolls. The Dolls wore lots of makeup and outlandish clothes; so did Poison. Sure, Poison were more commercial and had more success than many of their glam rock forebears; you could reasonably argue that they were the watered-down version of the real thing. Yet, Poison was a gateway to the “better” music for me—and probably many others. Within a few years of loving Poison, I was listening to bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine and the Velvet Underground. At first glance, these bands might not seem to have a lot in common with Poison; but somehow, I started off with Poison and the trail led me down many different musical roads.
All these years later, I objectively know “Talk Dirty to Me” is not a great work of art, and yet… since I started working on this, I’ve had the song in my head for days on end. I listen to the track and somehow I still know every word, every note. And it actually is sweetly nostalgic to think of a time when you’d have to “lock the cellar door” and go “behind the bushes” or “in the old man’s Ford” to get some dirty talk and more. I know now what “screaming for more” really means, and in reality I’m not really one for dirty talk or guys with a full face of makeup or having anyone call me “baby”, but all I can say is: Baby, talk dirty to me, yeah.
And in fact, while writing this essay and revisiting my love for this song, I teamed up with the band Soft News to record an acoustic cover of "Talk Dirty to Me", with all-female vocals. I believe this version highlights the strong structure and beauty of the original song while reimagining it and updating it for modern times. It'll be released to iTunes and Spotify in a couple weeks, but for now it's all yours, March Shredness readers, and you know what to do:
Janine Annett is a writer who lives in New York. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Real Simple, and more. Janine's website is www.janineannett.com.
katie jean shinkle on poison's "every rose has its thorn"
What is the meaning of life? According to the film Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, when asked in heaven by St. Peter what the meaning of life is, Bill & Ted & the grim reaper quote the first lines from the chorus of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”:
At the end of the year in 1988, Poison conquered the Billboard charts with “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” a power ballad from their album Open Up and Say…Ahh! “Every Rose…” stayed #1 into 1989 for three consecutive weeks. It is their only #1 hit to date.
Poison never expected “Every Rose…” to be the single to top the charts. In fact, the story behind the inception, told in many different permutations throughout the years, is that Bret Michaels wrote the song in a laundromat in Dallas, Texas after a fight with his girlfriend. In a Dallas Observer interview from 2012, Michaels is asked “Back in the laundromat, did you feel you had written something special?” Michaels responds “No, I was just heartbroken … When you write a song, nothing pops up and says that this song is magic. When I wrote it, it came from my heart and soul …The record company really didn’t believe in it. It ended up being a No. 1 song. It was a rock and country station in Dallas that actually broke the song.”
The first time I ever heard “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, I knew it as a country song. My father, a permanently disabled cowboy, a stay-at-home dad, was a strict country & western music fan.
He loved this song. I do not remember if he actually bought the album or the single, how the music ended up in my house, as I feel like I would remember vividly the album cover of Open Up and Say…Ahh! standing out amongst the Dolly Parton and Conway Twitty records if he owned it. I associate “Every Rose…” with my father’s constant state of physical pain from feet surgeries, back surgeries, residual complications from heart attacks suffered too young. He would sit on the edge of my parents' bed, smoke Camel wide unfiltered cigarettes and close his eyes while Poison’s guitar and bass riffs smoothly filled the room between plays of “Hillbilly Rock” by Marty Stuart and “Mountain Music” by Alabama. My father died in July of 1990 from one final massive heart attack at 54 years old and it is strange to think that “Every Rose…” may have been one of the last ventures into new music my father had before death. Can you imagine “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” being one of the last songs you “discover” before you die?
Throughout various interviews, the members of Poison claim that “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was a crossover hit on the Billboard charts, but it has been hard, in 2018, to locate the exactness of these statements. From the same Dallas Observer interview from 2012 Bret Micheals states “This was back before anyone thought about a crossover. We had “Every Rose…” at #1 Pop, #1 Rock, and Top 40 Country, which was unheard of.” The Internet only lauds a #1 on the Top 100 Billboard chart, so it is unclear what Michaels is asserting here, if the song was simply played on country radio stations or if it was a #1 hit on the country charts.
In 2013, on Michaels’ album Jammin’ with Friends, he recorded “Every Rose…” with Loretta Lynn.
In 2010, when Miley Cyrus was still pure country and 17 years old (3 years before Bangerz), she recorded “Every Rose…”
In childhood: Before my dad died, being too young to make the connection, I remember my babysitter J and her older sister S wearing Poison t-shirts. These shirts were black t-shirts with a picture of the band on them, cut jaggedly into crop tops featuring holes to show off cleavage and the underside of their breasts. In 2018, this particular t-shirt is listed as RARE on eBay and the listing says it is from the Open Up and Say…Ahh! tour from 1989. Today, I can imagine J & S at a concert on boys’ shoulders—the same boys who will eventually crush their hearts and leave them crying in my dining room to “Every Rose…” The t-shirt on eBay is selling for $18.91 from Hong Kong, with $10.00 shipping on a Buy It Now deal.
A few months later, when the weather was warmer, J showed up in yet another Open Up and Say Ahh! tour shirt, a regular fitted t-shirt that was not cut, which was confusing given the warmer weather. Her heart was broken by yet another dumb high school boy. I remember her sitting by my family’s stereo system—as my father took pride in having the latest music playing technologies—and listening to “Every Rose…” on repeat on a cassette single. She would burst into tears at the lyrics “I listen to our favorite song/Playing on the radio/Hear the DJ say love’s a game of easy come, easy go/But I wonder does he know/Has he ever felt like this.” Little did we know at the time, that J was pregnant and the boy who knocked her up didn’t want the baby and had broken up with her. She didn’t know what she was going to do. She ended up having the baby in the fall, and stopped being my babysitter.
I love reality television. Fuck a guilty pleasure, it is just a straight up pleasure in my life. I love all reality TV, too, the weirder the premise, the more into it I am. From Naked and Afraid to The Surreal Life, from Jersey Shore to The Swan, I am all in. One particular delight has been Vh1’s Rock of Love with Bret Michaels (now on Hulu). (Michaels, to me, is arguably the most interesting member of Poison due to his reality TV fame).
In July 2007, Rock of Love with Bret Michaels aired on the heels of the wild success of Flavor of Love, Flavor Flav’s show. The premise of Rock of Love with Bret Michaels is the same looking-for-love format as The Bacholer/Bacholerette. In season one, 25 women gather and vie for his attention and love. Within the first few minutes of the first episode of season one, we get these choice quotes:
- Bret Michaels’ life priority: “Rock n’ Roll is my #1 love.”
- His ideas about love: “When I was 15 years old I was handed the secret to love—There’s plenty of women out there that you want to be friends with, and there’s a lot of women out there that you want to have sex with, but if you can find one that you can be friends with and have sex with—henceforth: rock of love.”
- And, finally, his criteria for the kind of suitable companion he is looking for: “This girl’s got to be hot, she’s got to be cool, she’s got to be sexy, she’s gotta deal with the insanity, she’s gotta know that rock n roll is my one big love. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, rock n roll is an insatiable bitch goddess, but I love her, and I’m just looking for that one woman in my life to participate in that threesome.”
Cut to 2013, in an interview with Vulture, he is asked “Do you miss those Rock of Love girls?” and he answers “No.”
Why do we love “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” so much? Is it because it is a quintessential love song, embodying the true heartbreak we feel when abandoned by another, as all good loves songs are? Does it reveal something about a cross-over, crossing over? Is because it is such a surprising song coming from the same group that brought us “Nothin’ But a Good Time” and “Unskinny Bop”? Because we all want to believe that even hard cowboys and rock ‘n’ roll guys are sensitive lovers with huge hearts that really just want intimacy and passion? What to do with a broken heart but swoon and weep and feel the grief? Was Bill & Ted & the grim reaper on to something when they quoted “Every Rose…” at the pearly gates? All beauty has its sad, sad song.
Undoubtedly, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is Poison’s best work. I never tire of it. When asked in the Dallas Observer interview if he ever gets tired of playing it, Bret Michaels says “It's the exact opposite…I still get excited playing that song on stage.”
Katie Jean Shinkle is the author of three books, most recently Ruination (Spuyten Duyvil, forthcoming 2018). She lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio.