Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Countdown encounters some Bad Company

Do the Math...10 from 6 equals Bad Company Rocks!

Number 39 on my all time favorite CD list is a greatest hits set by what may be the definitive Hard Rock band...

Bad Company - 10 From 6 (1987)

When it comes to Hard Rock, less is more and Bad Company embodied that ethos better than just about any other band (except maybe AC/DC). The British rockers made their name on muscular, blunt riffs and Paul Rodgers smoky vocals. Like all things Bad Co, even the title is what it says: their 10 best songs from the first 6 albums. In some ways, they were the opposite of labelmates Led Zeppelin in that they completely lacked any sense of mystique.

The original Bad Company blasted thru songs like a jackhammer, such as on their signature song "Feel Like Makin' Love". They would set up the listener with soft, acoustic verses before bringing out the slashing guitars and howling vocals in the chorus. It's a formula that worked wonders on songs like "Shooting Star", "Ready For Love" and "Live For The Music". When they broke from formula, Bad Company could still come up with winners like the stomping "Movin' On" and their self titled ballad, "Bad Company".

It's tempting to pick the two disc Anthology because other classic cuts like "Good Lovin Gone Bad" and "Burnin' Sky" aren't here but again with Bad Company less is more. Their formula lived on long after Bad Co ended as bands like Foreigner and Wolfmother carried on the soft / loud dynamic. To sum it all up, like 10 punches to the face Bad Company delivers their message with brute force.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Feelin' it Again

Been busy lately, so just wanted to make a quick post the easiest way possible. So here's one of my all time favorite songs, "Feel It Again" by Canadian rockers Honeymoon Suite. The video was done in a totally 80's kind of way where all the objects like bright colored cut outs from a Colorforms toy (that toy is a flashback in itself. I think I had the Superfriends version). I really like how the song goes from it's atmospheric verse to the surging guitar powered chorus. In '86 I saw this band play at a festival headlined by Journey, my friend kept yelling "Honeymoon Suite's only fan!!" and pointed at me. The crowd was indifferent until they got to "New Girl Now", another great song by this group. Even years later in College I would play this song and my R.E.M. loving roommate would say "You like this?" (by the way, I like R.E.M. so that's not a knock on them). I've got time to Flash Back just one time today (like Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap), so put on your Miami Vice blazers 'cause it's time to Feel It Again!

Honeymoon Suite - "Feel It Again"

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Put up those Devil Horns-It's time for the Heavy Metal Box!

Heavy Metal. It means so many things to so many people. To an outsider, Heavy Metal is devil worship in spikes and leather. To Hardcore or Speed Metal fans, the ultimate manifestation of mindless aggression. For Hair Metal fans, it's a celebration of life in the most decadent beer binging way. And to a music geek like me, Metal is simply full commitment to the act of Rocking. Don't think twice about it, just hammer on that guitar solo and shout choruses about your Mean Streak (Y&T, for those keeping score).

One gift I received last Christmas took a little time to take in and that was the incredible four disc Heavy Metal Box. Charting the growth of Metal from the early 70's to it's peak in the 80's. the Heavy Metal Box offers a mind blowing mix of classic Metal. A range of acts are featured covering most of the major sub genres of this ranging from Speed to Hair to Comedy and back again. Like any box set of a genre, licensing prevents it from being definitive (for example, no Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, AC/DC, Van Halen, or Ozzy are here) yet there are enough heavy hitters brought in (Metallica, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden) to keep things interesting. What's really great is the more obscure bands are represented as well, bands like Overkill, Helloween, Hanoi Rocks and Testament are included. These groups I only had passing knowledge of and probably knew their T-Shirts due to fans wearing them than their actual music.

The first disc covers the 70's charting the progression of Metal. Surprisingly, the box does not start off or refer to Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" which is the song most commonly credited as the birth of the genre. Instead, it leads off with a three minute version of Iron Butterfly's "In-Da-Gadda-Da-Vida" (who knew a short version existed?). The 70's show Metal's progression from the Blues/Boogie Rock scene with Deep Purple's "Highway Star", Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" and UFO's "Lights Out" to light the way.

The second disc focuses a bit on the British New Wave Of Heavy Metal, or BNWOHM. Many of the bands that influenced Metallica are on disc 2, bands like Tigers of Pan Tang, Merciful Fate, Diamond Head and Blitzkreig. Standard bearers of BNWOHM Judas Priest and Iron Maiden bring in prime cuts like "You Got Another Thing Comin" and "The Number of the Beast". Tellingly, Metallica is placed at the end of disc 2 with "Whiplash". (It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when Def Leppard was considered part of BNWOHM. I'm not F-F-F-F-Foolin'.)

The third disc dives into Metal's heady Hair Band period. Ratt, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Krokus, Cinderella and a few other "poser" bands bring in the big anthems and shredding guitar solos. Both intentional (Spinal Tap) and unintentional (Stryper) comedic bands are included too (Remember Stryper? The Yellow and Black attack Christian Metal band that threw bibles from the stage Stryper? They sounded great but it was tough to get past that gimmick. Honestly). Some of the Speed Metal scene gets some love here too with Anthrax's "Caught in a Mosh" and Megadeth's "Peace Sells" in for good measure. Plus Accept's "Balls To The Walls", you gotta love that.

Disc 4 brings it too a close by showing the Hair Metal's switch from aerosol canned Led Zep light (Whitesnake's "Still of the Niigghhhtt!) to slightly down and dirty (Great White, Skid Row) to a more brutal sound (Metallica, Slayer and Pantera) before being wiped off the face of the earth by Grunge in the early 90's.

While probably no box set could fully capture the Metal experience, this set makes great choices in what to include. A real treat for me was getting or in some cases hearing for the first time some of the lesser known bands. Ywgnie Malmsteen is a guitarist I've always liked a lot but didn't have any of his stuff. Same with the Michael Schekner Group, finally I have some MSG. Best of all, the set comes with Savatage's "Hall Of The Mountain King". I'm a big fan of that band's name, it just sounds cool like people should have kids just so they can name them Savatage.

And what better way to wrap up this post than having the video from that band. Hmmm...maybe I should legally change my name. I could be Mr. Savatage. How cool would that be? Would I like fries with that?? No, Mr. Savatage will have the salad instead please. Heh Heh, Savatage.

Savatage - "Hall of the Mountain King"

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Damn Right I've Got The Blues

Halfway into this weekend, it became inevitable that I would post about the last 24 hours. It rained heavily yesterday, to the point that my wife and I refer to our driveway as "The Lake" and our bedroom window started leaking. I was away from home at the time the window was leaking, so my wife had to put up a ladder and tarp over the window in the rain to stop the leak. She's also recovering from being sick while doing this!

After a nice dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, we returned home last night to discover our dog had puked and decided the best way to clean up was to eat it back up and then sit her butt in the remains. Nnaaasstttyyyy....It took two baths, one last night and one this morning, to get the stink off her. All of her blankets and seating areas had to be washed multiple times. And the rancid smell of dog vomit has persisted in the house to this moment, though it is finally starting to dissipate.

Shortly after going to sleep, my wife heard a loud squealing noise that turned out to be our heater. We had to shut down the heater and wait until morning to call for a repairman. Did I mention it's been cold? It costs thousands of dollars to replace a heater! Following hours of lost sleep, we got a repairman over who said it was the fan which means it could be fixed instead of replaced. At least one thing went our way.

The song I thought best fit how I feel is Eric Clapton's "Broken Down" from the Reptile album (2001). But because that song wasn't a hit it's not online anywhere, so I needed to find a new song to fit this.

To my surprise, I ended up digging up a Buddy Guy cut called "Damn Right I've Got The Blues". I've never been a big fan of Guy, I had a friend who lent me a couple of Buddy Guy CDs but I just couldn't get into it. Today, this song pretty much nailed how I felt and the guitarwork is fantastic. Damn Right I've Got The Blues.

Buddy Guy - "Damn Right I've Got The Blues"

Thursday, January 24, 2008

American Idle

Anytime someone starts off by saying "I'm going to do a song by Whitney Houston..." always ends badly. Why do people never learn this?

Poor American Idol, the pop culture juggernaut is showing signs of slowing down going into it's 7th season. Last year's winner, Jordan Sparks, had the lowest selling debut record for an Idol winner ever. Former winners Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks were both dropped by their record labels, as well as former runner up Katherine McPhee. While Kelly Clarkson became a pop sensation for a few years, her recent effort My December was met with record label resistance and audience indifference. While Jennifer Hudson's Oscar win, Carrie Underwood's ascension and Chris Daughtry's chart dominance are a feather in Idol's cap, it's not enough to fight a slight feeling of ennui going into Season 7.

Still, I get a kick out of watching America's biggest talent show and this season is no different. There is a conscious effort to get back to basics following last season where Sanjaya Malakar dominated the show. This year there is a focus on spotlighting contestants human interest stories amid the bizzaro world that is the audition process. Less focus on product tie ins and special guest judges so far. It is nice to see these profiles of the contestants to build some interest in their actual audition.

Yet the audition process has somewhat of a "been there, done that" feel. It doesn't help that judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson seem jaded and bored this season. Cowell's still brutally honest but seems less interested this year. Meanwhile, Abdul and Jackson seem to go out of their way to encourage the bad auditioners in an effort to stay awake.

Thankfully, there's still no shortage of delusional nutjobs and melismatic wailers to entertain me. American Idol is a fun tradition my wife and I have and I'm still happy to sit down in front of the TV to see the lastest flake bomb an audition or the next wanna be Soul singer warble "A Change Is Gonna Come". Hopefully the talent pool will be stronger than last year and once again, when we get to the final group I'll make my horribly wrong predictions. So I'll see you...after the break.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Looking for funny over the weekend

May the Farce be with you. I think I've heard that somewhere before...maybe Spaceballs?

Two of my all time favorite TV shows are cartoons: Family Guy and The Simpsons. Both cartoons have recently released DVDs of movies or special episodes that I watched last weekend. With the dearth of new episodes (particularly Family Guy, not so much the Simpsons) due to the writers strike these DVDs were sorely needed. To kick things off, let's talk about Family Guy.

Family Guy's Blue Harvest is a DVD version of the season premiere episode that took on Star Wars. The show has always had an affinity for Star Wars jokes, but this time they were able to milk it for a full 45 minutes. Fam Guy's crude humor and irreverent approach are unleashed with full force on what's the equivalent of modern mythology. These guys are clearly Star Wars geeks as they make inside references (Blue Harvest was the title to one of the Star Wars movies when they wanted to hide what they were making) and show real attention to detail (they had Peter Griffin/Han Solo shoot first). They shoot up the plot holes from Episode IV with gusto and find a way to effectively blend Family Guy's world with the Star Wars universe. The DVD extras are crappy and be careful about the price if you choose to get it (Borders had it for $24, I bought it at Best Buy for $13.00. This is just the regular version, not the deluxe boxed version).

The Simpson's movie seems almost like an afterthought after the decade plus run it's had on TV. After all these years, is there really anything they can do on the silver screen they couldn't do on Fox? After watching the Simpsons movie, the answer is no, not really. The movie plays like a long episode, the animation is slightly upgraded but for the most part it looks like the TV show. That's not to say there aren't any differences, one noticeable tweak was a greater range of emotions at play (mainly sadness, there are a few heavy moments in the movie that hardly ever show in the series). Artistically, this probably would have been better showing on TV as a special episode but hey, everyone's gotta cash in at some point right? Overall, The Simpson's movie is entertaining but lacks the ROTFL moments that Family Guy had and can't quite live up to the high expectations I had going in.

It wouldn't be Mr Mike's if music didn't come into the picture. While surfing You Tube I was surprised to find many shot-by-shot remakes of Journey's "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" video. As big a fan as I am of Journey and despite this being one of my favorite songs by anyone anywhere at anytime, I always thought this particular video was a little silly. It was meant to look cool with the disappearing/reappearing instruments and the carefully lined up group shots. Did I mention slo mo? Still, it's Journey and I do like the video despite it's dorky tendencies. Somehow, people have picked up on this video 25 years later and are making their own video literally following the old video down to the second. I'm including the original video and the funniest of the remakes I saw. The remake was made by someone called Seven Oh Five.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Day

I usually don't cover political items but I will make an exception for Martin Luther King Day. Martin Luther King Day is in tribute to the Civil Rights leader who pushed for racial equality in the 60's using nonviolent methods. He has become a symbol of equal rights and was certainly someone who accomplished a lot of good in his life. Racism still exists and definitely has a negative impact on our society, but at the same time there has been undeniable progress made in advancing equality in our Country. Just the fact that Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have become serious contenders for the Presidential Election is groundbreaking in itself regardless if they win or lose.

With that in mind, here's Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech and U2's "Pride (in the Name of Love)". Someone did a real nice job with transcribing the "Dream" speech. As many music critics have noted, Bono does get the time of day King was assasinated wrong (he says morning but it happened in the evening) but it still stands as a great song to a great man.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Springsteen discovers White Flower Day at Macys

The Boss has released a third single and video from his Magic CD and it is one of the best songs on the album, "Girls In Their Summer Clothes". It was one of the first songs that stood out to me on the initial playing of the CD. It has really nice Brian Wilson style orchestration backing a relaxed beat and Springsteen singing in what he's termed his "romantic" style where he's a little more Roy Orbisonish. The song brings across a feeling of lost innocence and aging with a bit of happiness and sadness mixed together.

I liked this video even though visually I felt like I was watching a Department store clothing commercial featuring Johnny Cash (Springsteen slightly resembles the Man in Black with his big black coat). Nonetheless the video is a good fit for the song making it my Song of the Moment.

Bruce Springsteen - "Girls In Their Summer Clothes"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Cheap Trick- Next Position Please

The album cover was supposed to be inspired by Springsteen's Born to Run cover. I never picked up on that, I just thought it was cool that Rick Nielsen had a guitar shaped like him.

Jumping once again in the wayback machine to a record I actually had in High School. In this case, it's Cheap Trick's Next Position Please album. I hadn't heard this record in decades, but when my wife found this CD in the $3.00 used CD bin of a record store I had to have it.

A little background, in the late 70's Cheap Trick hit it big with their live album At Budokan (1977). But the followup record Dream Police (1979) didn't sustain their momentum. In a confusing mash up of artistic experimentation and commercial desperation Cheap Trick seemed to go with the whims of their producers. All Shook Up (1980) was produced by George Martin and emphasized their Beatles influence. One on One (1982) was produced by Roy Thomas Baker and saw their sound shellacked in a thick coat of overdubs and an almost mechanical perfection.

In an about face from the Arena rock approach on One on One, Cheap Trick hired power pop / studio whiz Todd Rundgren to produce 1983's Next Position Please. When I first started listening to music, my friend next door worshipped Todd Rundgren because his older brother did. So this record came with a heavy recommendation from my neighbor who had a lot more records than I did at the time. When it came to music, I sort of valued his opinion (outside of Rush and Todd Rundgren he seemed to be a little fickle) and I really liked the lead single so I gave this disc a try.

On Next Position Please, Cheap Trick takes Rundgren's production to heart. Like a Todd Rundgren album, the guitars are softer, the melody tends to sway and everything sounds super clean and tight. Track by Track, here's one of Cheap Trick's many forgotten albums.

I Can't Take It - The main song known from the album, I was confused if this was the first or second single. No matter, this is a great song that sets the tone for the album. Rick Nielsen's electric guitar is low in the mix and almost sounds acoustic while the rhythm section of Bun E Carlos (drums) and Jon Brant (bass) kick up the beat. Robin Zander's vocals are as high and tremulous as ever. The chorus is pure Rundgren with the way it becomes tightly harmonic and swaying over the beat.

Borderline - On other Cheap Trick albums, this would have been a full tilt rocker. Instead, squiggly synths emphasize the new wave edge that was popular at the time. Pleasant.

I Don't Love Here Anymore - Nielsen loves song titles that play on words on other albums this type of song would be a stomping, heavy tune. Here, it comes across as mildly insistent, decent but forgettable.

Next Position Please - One of my favorites from this album, the song has a catchy Beatlesque chorus over a semi-punk beat. The zany sense of humor helps here.

Younger Girls - You're not a rock star unless you sing about young girls. A midtempo power pop piece of fluff. A little remiscent of the band's early sound.

Dancing The Night Away - The one song not produced by Rundgren and therefore the hardest rocking song found here. This is more in line with traditional Cheap Trick with it's jumpy beat and harder guitars. Supposedly done at the insistance of the record label (it's a cover song) it's one of the more memorable songs here-probably because it sounds so normal.

You Talk To Much - forgettable because I heard this CD all week and can't recall it.

3D - The most Rundgrenish track, a lot of his studio tricks with distorted voices and off kilter instrumentation is used here. Despite the rockin' "Dancing the Night Away" this album begins to wear out it's welcome with it's studied studious approach.

You Say Jump - or "I Want You To Want Me" again, it has the same beat as their biggest hit. An OK copy of the original.

Y.O.Y.O.Y. - a nice soft ballad with their Beatles influence showing again. There was so much Rundgren on this album that people thought he sang this song.

Won't Take No For An Answer - zzzzzz...what's that? This disc is still playing?

Heavens Falling-starting to get to the end of the record, the band begins to rock a little harder. On a different album, this would have been classic Cheap Trick with the big guitar riff and the urgent tone. A good song.

Invaders Of The Heart - One of the best on the album, a dynamic rock song with nice drum work from Bun E Carlos. His drum solo in the middle is excellent.

Don't Make Our Love A Crime - Back in boring songwriting land again. 14 songs on a record from the vinyl age, can you say "excessive"?

To bring this baby home, it's clear Rundgren is holding the reins on this one though Rick Nielen's songwriting definitely comes through. There are about 4 great songs amid a lot of empty filler which was par for the course for the Tricksters at this point in their career (though 1986's The Doctor was so abysmmal that it only had one good song). If this album was 4 or 5 songs shorter, it would have been better. It went down as another career misstep for the band, the following album would see the return of hard rock producer Jack Douglas and a more direct sound.

Below is a live version from Alan Thicke's short lived late night show Thicke of the Night. He was one of the few people to try to take on Johnny Carson directly in late night tv. His show died quickly, fortunately he was able to channel his condescending smarminess into Growing Pains.

Cheap Trick - "I Can't Take It"

Friday, January 18, 2008

Governator-less Terminator brings on the Apocalypse

You know what the best Terminator was? That Terminator 2 pinball game. I've spent like a year's salary in my life playing that game. "Load the Cannon!"

In my time, the first two Terminator films were revered as state-of-the-art moviemaking of the highest degree. The first film was an economical exercise in building tension as Arnold Schwartzeneger became a movie star for saying, like, 5 lines of dialogue. The second film upped the stakes with CGI special effects. Both movies were driven by auteur James Cameron imaginative vision of a robot world that kills mankind. Making a TV show following these films is a daunting task for anyone.

Thankfully, Terminator 3 lowered the bar a little bit to make room for a TV show to follow. This is only in terms of quality because in the storyline it seems like T3 either didn't happen or hasn't happened yet. But in removing the expectation of the "WOW" factor, what's left? You may expect just competent sci fi, but after watching the pilot episode of Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles there's a bit of life left in the old rustbucket.

The pilot episode starts off in 1999 with the Connors on the run under assumed aliases. Naturally, a hulking (well, kinda hulking tv size) Terminator begins stalking and shooting at the pair. They receive help from another friendly Terminator, this time in the form of Firefly's Summer Glau. In her second butt kicking role, Glau seems right at home throwing around stunt doubles and sending ballet like kicks to people's heads.

The first episode sets up the assumed story arc which is finding and destroying Skynet, the computer that will eventually gain consciousness and destroy all man. Plenty of the classic touchstones are used with dream sequences, glowing eyes and the synthetic Bump-Bump-Bump soundtrack. Naturally, a lot of running and chasing happens and seems a bit familiar but with enough of a spin to freshen it up. The actress playing Sarah Connor (didn't look up the name) does a capable job of assuming Linda Hamilton's role of nurturing mother / guerrella fighter and manages to make the character her own. Probably because of the difference in writers (TV writers vs. James Cameron) Sarah Connor has a grounded perspective she lacked in the movies.

After watching Terminator I have hope that this could develop into a good TV series. I'll be back.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Matt Damon must be Bourne to it

Exciting Movie. Boring DVD Cover. Did someone really get paid to design this cover? It probably took like 5 minutes to photoshop this.

The third movie in the Jason Bourne series, the Bourne Ultimatum, continues the streak of great action thrillers Matt Damon and co. have been producing for the past few years. If there's one thing Hollywood likes its trilogies and with Ultimatum comes one of the best in years. A better term for the Bourne series would be "thrillogy", if there was such a word.

Bourne Ultimatum picks up where the Bourne Supremacy left off, in cold cold Russia. Bourne struggles to remember his, uh, memories of who he was and who he had killed in his former life. The trail of hidden secrets and spies on the run lead all over the earth. Along the way all of the cat and mouse spy games, brutal quicksilver action and GPS video displays you saw in the previous movies come into play times ten. Like usual, the government sees Bourne as a loose cannon and a threat while Bourne tries to get as much info from people as possible before they die.

Director Paul Greengrass retains his knack for thrilling set ups and shaky camera angles to drive the tension home. Matt Damon is as good as ever as the amnesiac super spy. Yet it's not a perfect movie. After two movies, it's hard to get excited about Bourne trying to take down the same government department program he's been after since the beginning (good 'ol Treadstone). About half way through the action gets a little repetitive with the I follow you and you follow me and maybe I've faked you out and maybe I'm fooled bit. And unlike the other Bourne movies, the personal revelation about the character isn't quite as moving.

Plus, in the second half of the movie Bourne survives like 50 car crashes in a row (that's an exagerration, don't want to give away too much in case anyone sees it). I don't care how well trained you are, you can't survive repeated car crashes unscathed-the odds are just against you. As Scotty once said on the Enterprise, "I can't change the laws of physics man! You can't mix matter and anti matter cold!!"

Yet by the end of Bourne Ultimatum I felt satisfied I had seen an entertaining film. The action sequences are well staged, a great supporting cast that includes a returning Joan Allen as ice queen Pamela Landy and lots of spy stuff to keep conspiracy theorists happy make for a lot of fun. Even when Bourne Ultimatum is treading water it's still an exciting adventure worth taking. Now to use all of the bad Bourne puns I thought of using for this post title: Get Bourne Again. Bourne to be Wild. Bourne Free. Bourne on the 4th of July (I know, that makes no sense). There, I feel better now.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Artist Spotlight: Michael Bolton 1979-1985

I have this CD! Should I be bragging about this?

Originally I was thinking of picking a different decade of music to write about because sometimes I get stuck in one time period for too long. Last night, I was surfing You Tube and found several lost classics of late 70's and early 80's Album Oriented Rock that I could not stop watching it. And out of that grab bag of forgotten bands like Device, FM and Orion the Hunter I came across something I felt needed some evaluation.

Anyone who has spent the last few decades scouring the cut out bins for classics (I got a lot of Cheap Trick albums that way in high school) knows there was a time when super cheesy Adult Contemporary god Michael Bolton was once super cheesy Rocker Michael Bolotin. Michael Bolton is like the William Shatner of music, at times his overblown delivery can power a song (such as "Soul Provider", "Missing You Now"). Other times, he seems to say "I'm goin' for it!" and strains to overemote like a man trapped under a heavy object ("When I'm Back On My Feet Again", "When A Man Loves A Woman").

But before Nicollete Sheridan and a bevy of housewives longed for the curly maned singer, Michael Bolotin was a member of the band Blackjack. I came across a promotional video for the band that included Bruce Kulick of KISS and includes two songs. In between the endorsement from the producer (I think it was Tom Dowd) and comparisons to Foreigner was surprisingly good late 70's AOR. Bolotin sounded really good and compared favorably to Paul Rodgers on the second song where they rip off Bad Company's "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love".

Needless to say, Blackjack didn't make it and Bolotin started a solo career as a hard rocker! I came across a used CD of his 1983 album where he delivers a competent Foreigner pastiche. Tellingly, there's a hard rock cover of the Supremes classic "Back In My Arms Again". Fortunately, Bolton was still able to make a living as a songwriter and without knowing it had enjoyed his music via Laura Branigan's preferrable version of "How Can I Live Without You" (the plaintive tone sounds better with her) and Starship's "Desperate Heart" (my favorite song from the Knee Deep In The Hoopla album).

After Michael Bolton (1983) dudded, Bolton had one of those "I'm goin' for it!!!" moments and tried hair metal on the album Everybody's Crazy in 1985. That's the second video here and all I can say is-on a cheese level this isn't American or Swiss but the whole Hickory Farms factory rolled up into 4 minute magic. If you can watch this and not bust out laughing you're a better person than me.

After a successful conversion to Adult Contemporary (initially aided by members of Journey) hard rock fans could stop sweating out whether or not Bolton would continue to abuse their genre. But while middle aged women were swooning about Bolton going the distance or wanting to touch you...there...he snuck in one more shot at hard rock. Bolton wrote the KISS power ballad "Forever", um, or is that "FOORR-EVVV-AHHHH!" which happens to be one of my favorite KISS songs (It's up there with "Let's Put The X In Sex").

Michael Bolton, you sir, get the last laugh.

Blackjack Promo Video

Michael Bolton - "Everybody's Crazy"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant school everyone on charm

"...and then the police officer pulled me over and I swore I was just giving the girl a ride to her house...have you heard this one before?"

Music and Lyrics is a standard issue rom com that came out around Valentines Day last year about a has been 80's pop star and a failed writer trying to write a song for a modern pop diva. The story is your average romantic comedy with the "meet cute", the montage of good times together, the inevitable obstacle to create a break up and then the big make up at the end. So why would I watch such a predictable movie? Well, with a title like Music and Lyrics I just feel obligated to view it. And how could I miss anything that gives a nod to the Reagan era? So I did and was surprisingly rewarded for it.

This movie is about acting charming and both Barrymore and Grant have that nailed down. Barrymore in particular does that space cadet thing she does so well (and as Jimmy Fallon noted in a previous rom com, she talks out of the side of her mouth like a stroke victim in a cute way). Grant doesn't seem to do the stammering thing he did earlier in his career but delivers his lines in a droll humorous fashion. While they don't have combustable chemestry together, they do feed off each other's schtick. Both Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Kristen Johnson (3rd Rock From The Sun) provide great backup as the comic relief.

Best of all, the movie takes a knowing jab at pop culture with terrific send ups of 8o's pop stars, modern pop divas and the life of a "has been". Below is the music video for the group POP, the Wham!-like group that Hugh Grant's character was supposed to have made it big with. Both the song and video fit perfectly as a send up of the era where new romantic clothing and shaking your bum equalled a teen girl following and probably would have been a hit if it was a real song at the time. Music and Lyrics is as light and airy as it aims to be, a pleasant diversion.

POP - "Pop! Goes My Heart"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Mr Mike's Highschool Record Collection: Chicago 18

For some reason I've had this album on my mind lately, which is funny because I don't have it anymore. So, I'll get it out of my system with a post to a classic. I'm talkin'...

Chicago 18 (1986)

Technically I bought this between high school and college, but oh well. I became a huge fan of Chicago when I was in high school. Peter Cetera's clinched jaw crooning over David Foster's bombastic production was magical to me. Chicago 17 was my favorite record for awhile back then. "Hard Habit To Break"? Thought it was the best song ever.

So you may be able to imagine my disappointment when his Ceteraness was given the boot from Chicago before the next album. I mean, who's gonna sing all the hits? And Cetera co wrote a lot of those hits, how were you gonna replace that? And have you seen the guy's hair?? Who else had a head that could hold that much hair gel??? My gawd, somebody think about the hair gel!

Needless to say, I went into Chicago 18 with some reservations. The band tried to get Martin Page to replace Cetera but he said, "Uh, I've got this band Mr. Mister. I think we're gonna be big some day." They tried to nab Mickey Thomas, he said "Uh, I've got this band Starship and I think we're gonna beat this Jefferson Starship lawsuit thing." Ok, they may not have said those things but the end result was hiring Jason Scheff, another blonde high pitched voiced bass player.

But really, there was only one way to replace Cetera: Let David Foster put his "Fosters Freeze" production all over the record. All vocals will be processed, all sounds recorded with sonic clarity and mixed to the most antiseptic standards. And an army of outside songwriters will help too. It sounds bad and if I was a true rock critic it would be, but I have a thing for David Foster's 80's production style so track by track here's Chicago 18.

Niagra Falls - The opening track gets the album off to a moody start. Jason Scheff tackles the lead vocal effectively as he namechecks landmarks to descrive his love. Nice midtempo cut and the 4th single from the album

Forever - Robert Lamm's obligatory song on the album recorded just before he gave up on recording decent songs. Lamm's jazziness shines through the thick cloud of electronic drums and hazy synths. James Pankow cuts loose with a great extended trombone solo at the end. Good stuff.

If She Would Have Been Faithful... - My favorite from the album and the third single! Intended to be a sequel to "Hard Habit To Break", the smooth voice Scheff and the gruff voiced Bill Champlain trade off lead vocals while the song has those a capella breaks and classical music influence that made previous hits great. Best of all, the song has some of the worst love song lyrics ever written. It tells the convoluted story that if his first girlfriend hadn't cheated on him, he would not have found love with the second girlfriend. Is that even romantic? Here's some sample lyrics "It's a paradox/full of contradictions (yeah, that's what a paradox is)/ how I got from there to here/defys a logical expla-na-tttiiooonn!" Worst. Lyrics. Ever.

25 0r 6 to 4 '86 - You know the band must have been sick of this song to think "What we need is a slowed down dance version of our biggest hit!" And so it went, this awful mess of a song with it's repeititve beat, limp vocals and echoing horns. The first single from the album didn't make the Top 40. I think they just got tired of playing the song the way it was and wanted an excuse to play it a new way.

Will You Still Love Me? - Ah, Chicago. Love songs for co-dependants. The second single from the album was a Top 10 hit thanks to David Foster's superb production. Classical style piano, Foster style boom booms (like at the start, Da DA DAA Da...da) and winsome lyrics made for Adult Contemporary paradise. Scheff's vocal established him as the successful successor (say that thre times fast) to King Cetera.

Over and Over - Is exactly what this song does. I can't even remember who sang lead on this one. Maybe Robert Lamm.

It's Alright - Bill Champlain gets his R&B groove on with the sole uptempo track. As with most latter day Chicago, the Champlain cut gives the group a chance to swing a little and lay down a groove. Nice song.

Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now - Not to be confused with the Starship hit a year later, this Scheff penned ditty showed the new Cetera had some talent. Not great, but not bad either as far as Adult Contemporary goes.

FreeFlight -The Horn Section gets to do a little something. For about 30 seconds.

I Believe - More Adult Contemporary Heaven thanks to a more subdued vocal and production than normal. Champlain and Scheff again trade off vocals. The vocal gets a little whiny.

One More Day - James Pankow still wrote the occasional song and his contribution here is the closing track. The song mildly bounces to an "inspirational" chorus of asking to give the children of the World One More Day.

As you can see, the second side of the cassette got a little skimpier than the first side. Chicago got a Top 10 and Top 20 hit single plus a Gold record for Chicago 18. Following the four hit singles and triple Platinum status of Chicago 17 it was quite a comedown. The band proved they could carry on without Cetera, but just barely. The memories of solo Cetera and Ceteraless Chicago still stand out in my mind. They're forever linked to a time between highschool and college with memories of being out of the house for the first time in my lfe. To celebrate Chicago's independence twenty years later, here's "It's Alright" on what looks like Solid Gold!

Chicago - "It's Alright"

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Eagles Rollback to their Peaceful Easy Feeling

Nice picture of sand! MMmmmm...sand.
One of the keys to Marketing is knowing your audience. In the 70's, The Eagles figured out the public wanted to hear Country and Rock mashed together like Peanut Butter and Chocolate to make two great tastes that taste great together. It was a recipe that led to two of the best selling albums of all time and made millions fantasize about being Desperados or driving flat bed Fords with seven women on their mind.

Following their disillusion in the early 80's, the group went into solo work. Their solo work bore little resemblance to the Eagles in that there was no more Country music influence. The 80's demanded electronic drums, synthesizers and saxophones. And instead of looking for Tequila Sunrises, Don Henley and Glenn Frey belonged to the city where the heat was on.

Ever the canny businessmen, when the solo hits dried up the Eagles reformed for what's been a 13 year reunion / farewell tour culminating in their first new album since 1979, Long Road Out of Eden. Sold exclusively at Wal Mart because the Eagles figured out their fans really want to buy their music while picking up laundry detergent and car batteries.

It's a moot yet fun point to make that the Eagles are more artiface than art, but I still enjoy their harmonies and inoffensive Country Rock sound. I got Long Road Out of Eden for Christmas so let's get down to business.

Long Road is a double disc set six years in the making. It functions as a loosely structured concept album like Hotel California did, still bemoaning the decay of western civilization. In a way it's like Pink Floyd's The Wall in that the first album is about isolation while the second album is about breaking out. Fortunately, as curmudgeonly as Don Henley gets in his old age he lacks the bile of Roger Waters. Could you imagine the Eagles singing Roger Water lyrics? I would love to hear them sing "You can't have any pudding if you don't beat your meat!" That would be...interesting.

Got off track there, the first disc starts off with old school Eagles a capella harmonizing about-I think it's about a Bear crapping in the woods or something. Whatever, it sounds good. The next song and first single is "How Long". Easily the best thing they've released since "The Long Run", "How Long' is a kicky piece of Country rock reminiscent of their early work. And how clever is that to have your first album in 28 years have a song called "How Long" as the single?

The rest of the disc goes into a pleasant state of mellowness that tackle familiar Eagles themes of jadedness ("Busy Being Fabulous"), lovelorn ("What Do I Do With My Heart") or with Timothy B Schmidt on board really lovelorn ("I Don't Want To Hear Anymore"). "Waiting In The Weeds" brings back some of the earthy Countryness and sounds great. Joe Walsh delivers a dose of friendly blues on "Guilty Of The Crime". The Adult Contemporary hit "No More Cloudy Days" also has a pleasant feel.

After the amusing "Do Something" (this song is so laid back it's funny when they croon "Doooo Soommethinggg") the first side ends with "You Are Not Alone" to set up the second disc.

The second disc starts with the apocalyptic title track obviously meant to be the successor to "Hotel California". The bands political side comes out with them dreaming of no war and Henley shouting down the establishment on "Frail Grasp of the Big Picture". The second uptempo track shows up with the 80's influenced rock of "Somebody". And Joe Walsh turns into Steely Dan for "Last Good Time In Town".

By the end of the second disc, the Eagles assure us that they're not the Center of the Universe and that it's our World now. As far as double albums go, this one's well structured and plays to the bands strengths. From the Countryish beginnings, the romantic middle section and political third act Long Road Out Of Eden reads like a summary of the band's career. A hello from an old friend and a goodbye. Long Road Out Of Eden isn't the greatest album of all time, but it is a fine addition to their storied career. If you don't mind being lectured about being a materialistic sell out by a bunch of materialistic sell outs. I still like 'em anyway.

Someone' put together a slide show to "Waiting In The Weeds", so I thought it would be cool to include it here. After "How Long", it's my favorite song on the new disc.

The Eagles - "Waiting in the Weeds"

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The countdown continues...Number 40

The Boss wants you to Kiss His Ass
Continuing my 100 favorite CD list is Number 40 - you know, when I started this list I imagined getting through it much faster. Guess I'm just a little slow...but anyway here's the latest entry:

Number 40 - Bruce Springsteen Born In The USA (1984)

Remember back when single albums were like greatest hits packages because MTV would promote 8 or 9 songs off a hit album? Prince Purple Rain, Wham Make it Big, Michael Jackson Thriller all fall in this category. After years of being called Rock's future, Springsteen decided it was time to cash in and become the demigod everyone wanted him to be. Thus, Born in the USA came to be.

This album was so omnipresent at the time of its release that I really didn't care much for Springsteen. His music was everywhere on the radio, tv, the movies, print media (no internet back then) to the point that there was no escape. It wasn't until things cooled down a little with the next album that I became a fan and developed an appreciation for his music.

Born is an album where muscially I hear the bright shiny sheen of 80's prosperity collide with a dark lefty underpinning of disillusion in the lyrics. "Dancing in the Dark" won the pop audience over with it's big beat and anthemic synthesizers becoming a radio and MTV classic (and launched the career of Courtney Cox!) while it tackled the issue of selling out. "My Hometown" illustrated the devestating effects of trickle down economics and race clashes cushioned by soft, hazy synths. "Glory Days" took a good humored look at the aging process from a midlife perspective to a jaunty bar band groove.

The song most people know from the album is the title track. "Born in the USA", with it's hooky synth (again with the synths! They were all over this record.) and fist pumping back beat became the anthem for anyone with the slightest nationalistic urge. Republican's tried to claim the song as their own, not realizing the lyrics were more sarcastic than patriotic. Yet, despite Springsteen's own efforts to reduce the flag waving instinct the song triggers (lending the song to Luther Campbell definitely helped) the image will always be The Boss with his fist in the air while wearing a denim vest and a black bandana.

This was the peak of Springsteen's career and it carried him to temporary Sainthood in the public's eye until a scandalous affair tore it all down. That may have been for the better, career wise at least, Springsteen no longer had to live up the expectations set by this disc. For me, Born In The USA is an album both tied distinctly to it's mid 80's time and also removed from it because I wasn't a fan until after the fact. As such, it stands as a piece of music to me and a great set of songs from a superior artist.

Crazy Love

My Little Pony: The Next Generation

Recently I watched The Science of Sleep (2006), a fanciful film by Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Sleep tells the story of Stephanie, a French / Spanish guy who moves to France to be with his mother. He is an introverted artist who lives in an insular fantasy world made of cardboard and string. After moving, he meets his neighbor Stephanie who is a French girl who is also an artist. Initially, Stephanie (the guy) likes Stephaine's (the girl) friend but eventually falls for her. But his insular fantasy world becomes threatened and begins to blend with his waking life to the point he can no longer distinguish between the two.

The movie was involving and facinating, Gondry used special effects on par with what you would see on Sesame Street. Basic childlike tokens such as cardboard rooms and cars, cloth horses and spider legged typewriters appear. I can honestly say I've never seen a movie quite like this and the originality is very endearing.

Despite the charm of the film, I ultimately felt sorry for the girl Stephanie because it becomes obvious that the guy Stephanie has some type of mental illness. The movie doesn't come out and say this, but when the guy is arguing and running from imaginary people in the street it becomes pretty obvious. I won't give away anymore of the plot other than to say it is a bittersweet sort of love story. I appreciated the inventive approach to this movie and liked it overall.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Winds of Change

Sometimes things happen for a reason. Like now, it's the beginning of a new year which means a fresh start. The other day, my wife and I went shopping and wherever we went other people would fart near us and then walk away. Tonight my wife found a website that has old concerts online like Jefferson Starship in its early 80's faded glory. And its been awhile since I've done a Flashback with its original intention of reviving old rock videos of the parachute pants era.

You may ask yourself, "What the $#@% is Mr Mike gettin' at? It all adds up to "Winds of Change" my friends, the great lost Jefferson Starship song I can't find on I Tunes. Winds of change are blowing by, like 2007 or strangers with bad gas. Blowing as strong as Mickey Thomas' mustache.

Jefferson Starship - "Winds of Change"