Track By Track: Nu Shooz: Poolside
My first exposure to Nu Shooz came when I heard the song I Can't Wait on one of the many 80s music compilations I purchased throughout the late 90s and early 00s. I loved the beat and the lyrics, and when I saw the music video on VH1, I thought it was fantastic as well. 2021 marks the 35th anniversary of Nu Shooz's biggest album, Poolside, and I wanted to do another Track By Track article to celebrate that anniversary. Join me as we look back as this stellar piece of 80s dance-pop.
Poolside starts out with the track Lost Your Number. This song, to my ears, sounds like it's about someone who got the number of a good-looking person, and is now looking to do the wild thing. The only problem is that, as the title says, this person lost the potential hookup's number. Now they need to wait and hope that this potential crush still remembers them. The production also makes it sounds like the protagonist is so desperate to make a connection that they're reduced to stuttering.
In my late teens and through a large part of my twenties, when I thought I was entitled to have people like me, I would always collect the contact information of people I wanted to stay in touch with. Almost invariably, these were people who were older than I was, although I did collect contact information from several co-workers. I was desperate for connection of any kind as I felt so lonely, but it took me a long time to learn that relationships of any kind are a two-way street.
Today, I have no interest in romance, and I now genuinely make friend easier. If I meet someone who I think will be interested in my writing, or who shares my interest in retro pop culture, I now ask them if they're on Facebook. If they give me the okay to send a friend request, I do so, and I gradually develop friendships with them. Social media is a blessing in some ways, and a curse in others, but it does make it easier for people to develop bonds. My circle of friends is now wider than it was in 2001, and I'm glad of that.
Returning to Poolside, we now come to the aforementioned I Can't Wait. The 80s was a major decade for love songs, and not all of them were ballads. I Can't Wait is an excellent example of a love song you could dance to. The song is about the deep passion the protagonist has for their significant other, and how she looks forward to seeing them come home every night. It's wonderful when you have a connection like that.
i Can't Wait is a song I've always loved, but I can't say I've always loved it well. You see, in my late teens and early 20s, I wrote "comedy pieces" for a website that paid tribute to a popular comedy show. None of my pieces were funny, though. Instead they reflected the darkness and anger in my pre-right-psychologist, pre-right-medication, pre-understanding-my-autism-spectrum-disorder self. With the exceptions of the pieces I'd specifically designed to be serious, my writing deservedly caught a lot of heat.
At one point, I wrote a parody of I Can't Wait called I Can't Write, where I had a cast member of this show singing of their own inability to write comedy. This was a lot of projection on my part. The person who I wrote singing this had a great wit, and the sort of comic timing I could only hope to have. Basically, I was admitting that I didn't have it in me to write comedy. I probably should've written this for a fictional writer to sing, and not an actual person, but suffice to say, the writing I did for this site was part of the process of getting my bad writing out of my system so I could do better work.
We're back to Poolside for the album's third track Don't Let Me Be The One. This is my favorite song on the album. It has a driving beat and excellent horn work, but if you listen closely to the lyrics, it's not a love song. It's instead a song designed to tell someone you don't want a romantic relationship with them. You just want to be friends instead. The protagonist is trying to let this person down easy.
This is another one of those songs that people who think they're "nice guys" need to hear. I've written about this on here and other websites, but there was a period of time when I was a "nice guy". I couldn't understand why people didn't want anything to do with me. I thought I was kind and charming, and I thought I had natural charisma. I didn't think there was anything wrong with me, or that I was doing anything wrong.
However, I drove a lot of people away with my behavior throughout my teens and the great majority of my 20s, and even many of the people who stayed connected to me in that time period had some fear of me and/or how I would react to a given situation. It wasn't until half-a-year or so after my mom died that I started to see how my behavior was alienating people, and how even people who wanted to be friends with me viewed me in an unflattering light.
It took some time, but now people view me in a more positive light, and I view myself in a more positive light. I no longer view myself as a specific type of person. I'm just myself. I have good days and bad days, and I understand that not everybody will like me. Does it hurt? It does for a bit, but then I look at the many friends I already have, and I realize that this is just the way life goes. As the late, great Rick Nelson once sang, "You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself". I please myself now, and as a result, I please many others. It's a good feeling.
The fourth track on Poolside is Goin' Through The Motions. To my ear, this sounds like a follow-up to the first track, Lost Your Number. The protagonist has found their potential hookup's phone number, and now it seems like they're in a game of Telephone Tag, a game that's been going on for a while now. Now she's wavering on whether she supports this person or not.
The lyrical concept is one we've all had to deal with. We've all had certain things that we were passionate about, whether it's a genuine passion or one borne out of midsguidance and fear, and we've looked for validation from family and friends, but never got it. Nevertheless, we've continued to ask these same people for that validation in the classic definition of insanity: Doing the same thing again and again, and expecting different results.
It took me a long time to review my own viewpoints, whether I genuinely believed in them or not, and how they impacted my relationships with other people. I eventually realized that some people just won't understand where you're coming from, but that doesn't make them your enemies. It just means they have different takes on the world. This realization came too late to save some of my relationships, but it's helped me to figure out others and make them work better.
We're now past Poolside's halfway point as we come to the album's fifth track, You Put Me In A Trance. It's another song about how a relationship can bewitch somebody to the point where the object of their affection is the only thing on their minds. However, the lyrics also have the caveat that the protagonist knows that people are talking poorly about her relationship. Although she may want to keep it secret, she's still in love with this person.
I've never really had a relationship like that, nor am I interested in one. However, music does allow us the chance to pretend to be people who aren't anything like ourselves. I identify as aromantic, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy love songs. I just pretend that i'm interested in romancing somebody, and I go along with the song for the length of it. Again, I do love a lot of people, but the love is platonic and familial, not romantic. Love has many facets.
Going to Poolside's sixth track, we have Nu Shooz's other big hit from this album, Point Of No Return. Not to be confused with the Expose song of the same name (which I'll be discussing next year to mark the 35th anniversary of their album Exposure), Point Of No Return is a song that, to my ears, is about ending one relationship and beginning another one. It's about love at first sight, which is, of course, not a real thing. Sure, you might want to have sex with somebody the first time you meet them, but love takes a while.
The music video for this song is a particular favorite because of its' unique visual style. It expertly uses stop-motion, and many pairs of shoes, to create an unusual style for the song. I dig it, though. The shoes can represent wanting to walk into a new relationship, a new adventure, a new anything. Of course, that's just the way my mind reads into the visuals. No matter the intent, it's a fantastic video.
This does remind me, though, of how I wish people wouldn't give 80s music videos such grief for their visual styles. By extension, I wish that people wouldn't be so snarky about 80s fashions and hairstyles. As I've written elsewhere, many sites discussing 80s fashion and hairstyles talk about it in the same manner one would use to describe pictures of murder victims or war atrocities. With all the things there were to be legitimately upset about in the 80s, do you really want to treat visual aesthetics with such venom? Dial it back a bit...Please.
Poolside's seventh track is called Secret Message. It's all about the protagonist finding the title item, and having mixed feelings about it. She doesn't know how to respond to what she's read. Although she says she's "still in love with" the person who wrote the message, it's clear that opening this envelope and reading this message has put her in turmoil. The message's details aren't explained, but we can give it our own spin.
That's one of the things I like about songs like this. You can fill in your own story about what the message may be. Does her lover still want to be in a relationship with her? Do they want to break up with her? Are they seeing someone else, and this "secret message" is the damning detail? So many possibilities. I could easily see someone turning this into a short story.
Further thoughts: Is this the same protagonist from Lost Your Number, and is her lover the same person she sought out before for a hookup? Although I said that the protagonist in Goin' Through The Motions was the same one in Lost Your Number, was I wrong, and was that woman a different person, with Secret Message being the follow-up to Goin' Through The Motions? Am I wrong about what TV Tropes would call Wild Mass Guessing, and Is every song written from a different person's perspective? Feel free to leave your opinions below.
Poolside draws to a close with the eighth track, Don't You Be Afraid. A while back, I wrote an article about the impact that Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush's Don't Give Up had on me. In a more upbeat manner, Don't You Be Afraid addresses a lot of the same matters. The protagonist assures a loved one that, no matter how bad things get for them, they'll always have the support of at least one person, if not more.
Many critics of 80s pop culture view the decade as a selfish one. They see figures of the decade like Reagan and Milken and Trump, and they see people who only cared for themselves and not those who were different (Author's note: This is my opinion of those three). Not everybody in the 80s, though, was a Reagan acolyte or a follower of Milken and Trump's ethos. There were plenty of people working for noble causes, and working to help out the disadvantaged. Whether it was fundraisers for AIDS charities, the launch of Farm Aid, or working to help the homeless, there were plenty of people in the 80s who weren't selfish.
That's the message I get from Don't You Be Afraid. While it's ostensibly a love song, it's also a song that can be applied to charitable matters as well. It doesn't take much to help people out. While you can't always solve another person's problems, you can always work to help them in other ways. Even by just listening to another person's problems, you can help them feel better. Empathy and sympathy are the two sides of the coin, and both can help a person out. Don't be afraid to do so, especially in the time we're currently living in.
With that, what are your thoughts on Nu Shooz's Poolside? What's your favorite song(s) from the album? Have you seen them in concert? Whatever your memories may be, leave them in a comment below. I'll talk to you all again soon...Hopefully, sooner than later.