Lou Barlow on why he hates “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”

Lou Barlow on why he hates “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”

In HateSongwe ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world. 

The hater: Lou Barlow has been a prominent indie rock feature since the mid ’80s, when he first joined quietly groundbreaking, lo-fi act Dinosaur Jr. Though he was kicked out of the group in the late ’80s, he’s since returned, and has released three records with the group, Beyond, Farm, and I Bet On Sky. In the past six or so years, Barlow has also re-launched his work with Sebadoh, a similarly spare group he fronted in the ’90s. Though the re-formed band has played shows off and on since 2007, it’s only just now releasing a new LP, Defend Yourself.

The hated: Don Henley, “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” (1984)

The A.V. Club: Why did you pick “All She Wants to Do is Dance”?

Lou Barlow: The song really drives me crazy. Every time I hear it, it reveals horrible aspects. It melodically violates me. It’s repetitive. And I mean, because it’s Don Henley, it does kind of tend to stick in your head, because he’s certainly a talented guy. But, yeah, I don’t know. There’s a lot. And it also just makes me think of Don Henley. I’ve been puzzling over him for ages. Puzzling over his personality and his talent—his arrogance.

AVC: How so?

LB: I grew up loving the Eagles, playing his music, and I loved, despite myself, “Boys Of Summer.” But then you start finding out things about him. In the ’70s, with the rise of bands like The Stooges and the Ramones, he was really indignant about that and called them out for being non-musicians and non-writers. At one point in the early ’70s, he was even wearing a T-shirt that just said, “songwriter” on it, just because he was incensed by all the critical acclaim that these sort of crude, caveman bands were getting. He was very outspoken about it. It’s just always been kind of creepy. 

I wrote a song about him, I guess in about 2003 or so. I had a band called Folk Implosion, and I wrote a song called “End Of Henley” about him. It took me a long time to write the lyrics. I was really puzzling over it. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him, and back when Sebadoh was active, in the ’90s, he did this really long interview on VH1 where he was just the most pompous, and I ended up taping a lot of it and playing it during Sebadoh shows. And then the other day, I heard “All She Wants To Do Is Dance,” and I was like, God, this is a terrible song. It came out around the same time as when Phil Collins was writing all sorts of meaningless stuff. To me as a musician, it seems all that material came from them jamming in the studio and they were like, “Yeah, that’s a good groove,” and just coming up with some horrible shit to sing over the top of it. I don’t know. Repetitive. Awful.

AVC: It’s a little ridiculous that this song has electric drums on it when Don Henley is a famous drummer.

LB: It manages to cram every horrible sound from the ’80s into one song, too. It’s a lot of keyboards that are pretending to be real instruments, like harmonicas and saxophones all coming off of these keyboards that were really big at the time. It’s really shrill, and the way that he sings the word “dance,” too, just really cuts into me every time.

AVC: It’s a really pompous song, too. He’s saying, “Guys, start thinking about global issues instead of dancing and having fun.” 

LB: I was talking to my girlfriend about this. I’m like, “Why is it that all he wants to do is dance? What’s with this girl? She’s so shallow and she’s in the midst of a war zone. All she wants to do is dance.” Maybe if he was cornered about this song, he could say that he was singing it about enduring youth in the midst of crisis and stuff, but his delivery wouldn’t support that. His delivery is definitely condescending. 

AVC: It was so ubiquitous for a time. 

LB: And I hear it on the radio all the time. 

AVC: What type of station plays this? 

LB: Like, JACK FM. Those stations are kind of cool. They play a really random selection of hits from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s. That’s the whole thing—that they play whatever they want. But it seems like they hit “random” on like a huge database of songs. “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” is always on. And then Dire Straits’ “Sultans Of Swing” is always on, which I actually like. 

There are very few songs I really hate. Because of where I live in Los Angeles, the bands that make the songs I really hate right now are practically my neighbors. Or they have kids at my kids’ schools. I can’t really choose that stuff necessarily. Don Henley is real fallback for awfulness.

AVC: You’re obviously interested in Don Henley. Would you want to meet him? Do you have questions for him?

LB: No, I don’t want to meet anybody famous, usually. I’d like to see him from across a crowded room. Be like, “Wow, it’s Don Henley.” I’d love to do that. I’d like to see him turning a corner, driving a convertible. That’d be cool.

AVC: He probably has a really sweet convertible.

LB: Yeah, it would seem so.

AVC: Don Henley didn’t even write “All She Wants To Do.” Danny Kortchmar did.

LB: That’s even worse because I was re-watching the VH1 interview this morning, and when the interviewer was bringing up all these songs and is like, “Well, you wrote all of these songs,” and he’s just kind of nodding. And I’m thinking, he didn’t write “Boys of Summer.” I know that. The diabetic guitar player from Tom Petty wrote it. So Danny Kortchmar wrote “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”? Oh, man. I didn’t know that.

AVC: There are a ton of people on the song as well, like The Motels’ Martha Davis, Scandal’s Patty Smyth, and Bruce Hornsby.

LB: Really? Bruce Hornsby? Maybe that’s who plays all that terrible keyboard stuff.

I assumed the women on this song were just sort of typical ’80s backup singers.

AVC: Sure, studio people.

LB: They’re one of the worst parts of the song. “She wants to party / She wants to get down.” and they go, “Ooh,” in the background. If I’m really sick and I’m in bed just feeling terrible, that part of his song is always with me. “She wants to party, ooh. She wants to get down, ooh.” It’s looping in my head.

AVC: Does that happen to you with other songs?

LB: I get parts of songs that I don’t particularly like—maybe like a four-second loop of a song I really hate—looping in my head. That’s a sick thing for me.

AVC: Like what other songs?

LB: I get themes from Disney children’s shows. I have kids so there was a period where my daughter would just be watching The Suite Life Of Zach & Cody. That has this really obnoxious theme song that repeats a lot. Those are tough.

AVC: And yet, you still hate Don Henley over all those other songs. That says something about Zack & Cody.

LB: He triggers a lot of things in my mind. I like all the obnoxious Eagles stuff that just drives people crazy. I love “Life In The Fast Lane” and “Hotel California.” That’s a real kind of righteous tune, you know. I really do kind of like him. I think he’s talented. I have such ambivalence about him.

AVC: You’ve clearly thought about this a lot.

LB: I talk about him a lot—more than I should, probably. At least two or three times a year I find myself holding court about Don Henley. It’s usually probably more articulately than I did just now, but I can get into it. And I want to find out more about him. Apparently there’s this Eagles documentary that’s out and I want to see that. And J Mascis says that one of the members of the Eagles wrote a really good tell-all book. I’d love to read that. This is an ongoing fascination.

AVC: There doesn’t seem to be much love lost between the Eagles, even though they keep getting back together.

LB: That’s the weird thing. I don’t know where the love is with them, but at the same time the music itself is not without passion to me. Maybe I respect the kind of passion they stir in people and how ubiquitous their music was and how it was the soundtrack of my childhood and how I learned guitar to their songs. Stuff like that. I’m very torn about it.

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