I Love Bad Music: Shine, Sweet Freedom

Only my closest friends know of those secret nuggets tucked away behind playlists boasting a taste for “garage electropop” and “minimalist instrumentation” are thumping disco anthems and aging one-hit wonders by British girl groups (“Cleopatra comin’ ‘atcha!” …Anyone? No? I’ll be in the corner).

I don’t think I’ve even seen the movie Running Scared, nor must I, as I’ve taken away from the film all I’ll need to know: Michael McDonald’s Sweet Freedom. Between McDonald’s Hawaiian shirt, Billy Crystal’s comedic delivery, and Gregory Hines in a leather jacket, does it get any better? The short answer: no.

It doesn’t get any better because, frankly, it couldn’t be any worse. To his credit, this song came out in the 1980s, a time referred to by most social historians as The Era Of Nastiness, a period when all pop cultural products — from Dynasty to Nell Carter — virtually functioned without consideration of irony or quality.


McDonald, to today’s youth, might best be known as the butt of a joke in The 40-Year Old Virgin, when Paul Rudd’s character begs the manager of the electronics store at which he works to turn off the live concert of McDonald that plays on all the TV sets in the store, all the time. Jane Lynch’s character — a hypersexual yet stern old bag — won’t budge.

And that resistance to change is a sentiment echoed in McDonald’s career, which has found phenomenal success in a voice as recognizable as Aaron Neville’s or Macy Gray’s, but with a throaty timbre that sounds as if he continues singing in spite of the jumbo marshmallow remnants constantly stuck in his throat.

Sweet Freedom, however, takes that froggy vibrato and plays to its advantage, resulting in a song that is so over-synthesized, so extraordinarily gooey that I can’t help but love it (listen to the end of the bridge when McDonald lets out a whispered melismatic rift, followed by the signature of eighties R&B: electronic harmonica). In this case, it seems solid cheese breeds solid gold — a Lite FM hit that will forever make trips to the dentist almost worthwhile.

And, really, Gregory Hines in a belly shirt? Seriously.

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0 Responses

  1. Sweet Freedom has been one of my favorite cheesy 80s tunes since, well, the 80s. I loved the movie Running Scared and I knew from an early age that Mikey McD was all blue-eyed soul all the time. Any iPod without it is not an iPod worth owning.

    In fact, if anyone recalls being in the Alpine Valley parking lot in 2003 and hearing this tune all over the place, that was me. I musta been singing that tune from the time I left the show ’til the time my acid-eating friend was okay enough to get in the car and go back to the motel.

  2. Eliot Glazer, I could tell you how I feel about your post. But I think it’d be better put…in song. So, in the immortal words of the one – the only – Mr. Michael Jackson, I say to you: “Yoooou are not alone! I am here with yooou!”

    Honestly, I feel like Louis Skolnik from the last scene of Revenge Of The Nerds right now. I love Sweet Freedom. And, I’m not afraid to admit it. In fact, I love Michael McDonald. In fact, I listened to “Taking It To The Streets” – the entire album – yesterday. All of it, and not just the title track. I listened to “Rio” and “For Someone Special”. I had a TA in college who looked just like Michael McDonald and that somehow gave me more pleasure than it should have (the professors’s name was “Lee Peachy” and singing “Shine Lee Peachy, shine your light on me” was a joke that remained funny for far too long) But men who look like McDonald are not uncommon. Remember the old site “Men who look like Kenny Rogers”? I feel like I see a good two, three Michael McD look-alikes a week.

    And as far as “bad music” is concerned, I may not have any Simon Cowell-approved material, but I have an entire playlist called “Adult Contemporary.” And it gets more play than Wilmer Valderama. I’ve got Al Stewart (Time Passages), Ambrosia (Biggest Part Of Me), Leo Sayer, Anita Baker…I could go on. Thank you, Eliot Glazer, for giving me the courage to cleanse my soul.

  3. “Running Scared” is actually a decent guy flick. Lotsa cop action, shoot-em-ups, bossy police captains, buddytastic hijinx, one-liners & not to mention, Jimmy Smits & Joe Pantoliano as druglord & drugrunner.


  4. But Eliot, to quote the incomparable pop God Huey Lewis, “Sometimes bad is bad.”

    Except when talking about Michael McDonald. He’s just baaaaad. In a “takin’ it to the streets” kind of way.

  5. I saw this in the theater. AND I have it on vinyl. There’s an AMAZING New Edition track on it called Once In A Lifetime Groove.

    So bad, so grand.

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