Kris Allen could have picked from thousands of songs released during the year of his birth, 1985, on Tuesday night’s “American Idol.” But, scooting by a number of tunes that would have been perfect for his Jason Mraz-ish soul pop vocal range (A-Ha, Simple Minds, Bryan Adams), he chose “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” from Eagles singer Don Henley’s second solo album, 1984′s Building the Perfect Beast.
Not the biggest hit on the album (that would be “The Boys of Summer,” which won a VMA for Video of the Year), “Dance” was a #9 hit in 1985. Despite the seemingly carefree chorus — “She wants to party/ She wants to get down/ All she wants to do is/ All she wants to do is dance” — the song is actually a scathing takedown of American political apathy and governmental gun-running, not exactly the stuff of typical “Idol” dreams.
(Read the story behind Adam Lambert’s take on “Mad World” here .)
Though he skipped the lyrics about people mixing up Molotov cocktails in their kitchen sinks, Allen didn’t shy away from Henley’s lines about “Crazy people walkin around/ With blood in their eyes” or the bit about “Wild-eyed pistol wavers/ Who ain’t afraid to die.” Instead he made the whole thing sound like a cool, funky dance party, even as he was singing lines about the government putting listening devices in the men’s room at the local disco club.
The tune paints a picture of Americans focusing on their own selfish needs amid the Iran-Contra weapons-selling scandal of the Ronald Reagan administration, and it features allusions to gun running and the corrupting influence of money and drugs.
But like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” a biting rebuke of how Vietnam veterans were treated by the U.S. government that countless politicians have mistakenly used as a feel-good anthem, the Henley song has appeared in movies like “Coyote Ugly” in an upbeat context. That might be because of its deceptively bouncy, ’80s synth-rock vibe, courtesy of a punchy arrangement, “whoo-whoo” female backing vocals, a mean synthtar solo and Henley’s oddly jubilant recitation of the chorus.
Allen also tapped into that sunny take on the song, performing “Dance” in the middle of a circle of fans, playing his electric guitar and punching it up with a lite funk arrangement. It sounded like a celebration of a carefree night at a club … unless you really listened to the lyrics.
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