One of the highlights of breakfasting in the dining room of the lovely Jinjiang Hotel in Shanghai, was the cognitive dissonance of reading the International Herald Tribune’s coverage of North Korea possibly restarting its nuclear reactor, and the continuing game of chicken between the U.S. and Russia in Syria, accompanied by an endless loop of instrumental versions of vintage adult contemporary pop hits. While some folks would not have noticed the morning’s playlist and others who did might have been mildly annoyed, it will come as little surprise that I was beyond thrilled: Anne Murray’s You Needed Me; Whitney Houston’s Run to You; Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack’s Tonight, I Celebrate My Love; to name just a few. Love songs, nothing but love songs, and all without the pesky distraction of any of the original vocalists or, to be more specific, any vocals at all.
The locals didn’t seem to notice. Perhaps in the morning hours the Chinese prefer the more organic sounds of soup slurping and phlegm hacking. Whatever the reason, the absence of a guide vocal only freed me up to provide my own vocals and to take bold liberties with the familiar melodies that are so well loved. Of course, no one paid me any mind as I sat there reading about imminent nuclear conflicts and belting Allen Rich’s lyrics to Run To You with my croaking morning voice, because one of the great things about the Chinese people is they’re absolute unflappability. They just don’t give a shit.
But there was a greater musical treasure awaiting me in my room, for no Muzak instrumental of any old Lite FM favorite I heard at breakfast could compare by half to the original Jin Jiang Hotel song that loops on channel 69; of course I recorded it for you along with my Mystery Science 2000-style commentary! A delicious mash up of late-1970s-1990s pop music clichés, the Jinjiang song has it all: an introduction that reminds me of David Foster’s I Have Nothing from The Bodyguard; syrupy, uplifting lyrics that suggest a brief stay at the Jinjiang hotel can accomplish everything that you hope to achieve in a happy marriage; the sort of neo-Seals and Crofts meets David Gates meets England Dan and John Ford Coley white guy vocal that has been all but eviscerated from the international airwaves; the thrilling ebb and flows, big build ups, break downs and—wait for it—key modulations with which Barry Manilow built one of America’s most enduring musical brands, but are sadly now as rare as the Chinese panda.
In the wonderful Jin Jiang song you will find no melisma or distracting vocal runs. You will find no rapper filling in the space that can be perfectly occupied by the kind of electric guitar solo that was de rigeur in 1981. What you will find is the kind of good old-fashioned pop ballad that my disenfranchised songwriter friends in L.A. used to make a lot of money creating. My suggestion to them? Head east and start using those suspended chords again for what they were meant to do: unite a people in the truly western belief that an outstanding hospitality experience can have a transformative and lasting impact on our lives. Sign me up for that.
With complete awareness of how the songwriters of the United States, many of whom are personal friends of mine, have suffered because piracy in China, it gave me exquisite pleasure to steal the Jin Jiang song right off channel 69 so I could gleefully propogate it through Stargayzing to my devoted readers and beyond. Let me know what old American pop ballad does it reminds you of? (Apologies in advance—my commentary is a little hot in the mix)
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