Thursday, July 31, 2008

This One Goes to 11

Putting together the pieces of Star Trek 11
With the release of the posters for the upcoming Star Trek 11, I thought back to the most important television show I ever saw in my life and came up with a little retrospective. Trek 11 has some things going against it, the recasting of key roles always draws fan boys ire when the comparisons start and it's an odd numbered Trek film. While my fandom waned as the original crew went to pasture, I have seen all the Star Trek series (though not in their entirety). So here it goes, my recollections of Trek in order of preference.

1. Star Trek: The Original Series (1966 - 1969)

There's a book that says "Everything I needed to know in life I learned through Star Trek" or something like that, that book title pretty much sums up my experience. The original show had fantastic characters, great stories and a prescient cultural image. All of the characters were memorable, particularly "the big three" of William Shatner's swaggering Captain Kirk, Leonard Nimoy's analytical Mr Spock and Deforest Kelley's irascible Doctor McCoy. Great episodes like "Balance of Terror" and "City on the Edge of Forever" displayed action, space adventure and social commentary disguised as pure Sci Fi. But the biggest impact to me was the general concept, the idea that people of all races and cultures would be able to overcome differences to establish a unified Earth and explore the galaxy. And so much technology from our present has been clearly modeled after Trek whether they're communicators (cell phones) or phasers (stun guns). The Original Series had its cornball moments ("The Omega Glory") but was the strongest influence on my childhood outside of my family. That's because Kirk proved you CAN mix matter and anti-matter cold. I'm a blogger, not an engineer!

2. Star Trek - The Motion Picture thru Star Trek VI (1979 - 1991)

Sportin' the pajama uniform look from Star Trek-The Motion Picture

Despite having the same cast and characters, I consider The Original Series and the first six movies to be two separate things. That's for two reasons: There was a ten year gap between the two and the Great Bird of the Galaxy Gene Roddenberry saw his involvement reduced after the first movie. Star Trek - The Motion Picture was a staggering monument to the cerebral vision Roddenberry had of the future...and it was really boring. Starting with one of the greatest movies of all time Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan, The Federation moved with the times by becoming more militant ("Admiral on the Bridge!") and driven by the equivalent of nuclear fear ("What if Genesis was used where life exists? It would destroy such life, in favor of its new matrix"). Producer Harve Bennett and Directors Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy drove the films to Star Fleet magic. The rest of the series was all about Spock - Spock died, go get Spock to resurrect him, Spock gets funny, Spock takes a back seat to Kirk and then Spock solves the mystery of universal peace. All because the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.

3. Star Trek Voyager (1995 - 2001)

a fitting picture for Voyager, they look ready to throw down!

For me, one of the key components of Star Trek was exploration. Voyager excelled at this by getting tossed into the Delta quadrant with no Star Fleet to support them. Led by the strong willed Captain Janeway, the Voyager crew had a solid mix of characters and one breakout star-Borg babe Seven of Nine. I haven't seen all of the episodes so when I watch Voyager, its usually for the first time which is nice because there's always some new Trek to view. While Voyager lacked charismatic characters overall, they had the best adventures of any of the modern shows by wrestling with the quest to explore versus the need for survival. It was the scrappiest of the Star Treks and I enjoy watching the Voyager blow up one episode after another (it always turns out to be some time space continuum fake out). Other than Kirk, Janeway is the one Star Fleet Captain you don't want to mess with. Once you've hit her, she'll go through hell and back just to jack you up.

4. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 - 1994) and Star Trek: Generations thru Nemesis (1994 - 2002)

Looks like somebody bought Khan's line about rich Corinthian leather bucket seats.

When Roddenberry announced he was creating a new Star Trek series, ripples went through the Sci Fi community. How could it live up to the original? And so millions sat down for the much ballyhooed debut episode in 1987 - and watched a British sounding Frenchman Captain a new Enterprise that had the plush interior of a Chrystler LeBaron walk through a two hour episode that basically remade Star Trek - The Motion Picture. For a few seasons, Roddenberry got to give a full dose of what his vision entailed: Intellectual and caring people exploring the universe to gain knowledge and create peaceful relationships with other cultures from a moral and ethical position. When Roddenberry decreased his input after season two ended, the show changed a little to make the characters less perfect and more relatible. The Borg (resistance is futile), Data vs Lore, expanding the Klingon mythos were all great accomplishments in the Star Trek Universe.

Considered the best Trek by many, I just didn't like it as much as the originals or Voyager. For one thing, there was way too much technobabble - like I could complete this post if I reroute the Impulse engines on Deck 12 through the sensor array to create a tachyon field around the Dyson sphere unless I overload the Warp Core resulting in rerouting subcircuits through life like this just went on and on. I hate to think what engineering marvel they would have to pull off if the toilets jammed on Ten Forward. Also, they hardly explored anything. The Enterprise seemed to go to known parts of the Galaxy most of the time, more like a patrol boat than an exploratory vessel. And how many times do they need Data or Wesley Crusher to save them? If it wasn't for androids and children they would have been so screwed. To the show's credit, the characters were well drawn and acted. And the show continued the spirit of the original series in making modern social commentary among laser beams and funny costumes. And the movie First Contact was awesome. A special bonus was my wife and I were compared to Beverly Crusher and Picard while we were dating (mainly because I'm bald). Make it so!

5. Star Trek - The Animated Series (1973 - 1974)

The last two years of the five year mission were a little cartoonish. Oohh, that's bad.

Just when kids thought Star Trek was just the same three seasons of episodes repeating endlessly, we got a treat on Saturday mornings when the Sci Fi show was revived as a cartoon. They thoughtfully used the animation to show landscapes and characters not possible with the special effects of the day and struck a strong balance between kiddie tv and the show's serious nature. And no cartoon could contain the full power of Shatner! In the early 70's, these episodes made my day. And the episode where Spock is a kid and his pet dies is a classic.

6. Star Trek: Enterprise (2001 - 2005)

When ratings are low, logic dictates the girl's clothes should come off

The Star Trek that tried everything it could not to be Star Trek. Enterprise tried to have it both ways by playing with Trek lore of the formation of Star Fleet while acting like it was Babylon 5. Sexy Vulcans, the first transporter, the Quantum Leap guy as Captain and a Diane Warren theme song wasn't enough to hide the fact that there had been too many Treks at this point. The only new wrinkle on this show was the more desperate they got for ratings, the more often girls had to strip down to their skivvies to "decontaminate". With nothing new to do, the Enterprise seemed like a show in search of a mission. Time to jump out Sam.

7. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 - 1999)

Gold Press Latinum lovin' fiend!

There are many Trek fans who love this show and if they read this they'll probably not be too happy about my ranking. I can't stand Deep Space Nine, I find it relentlessly dull. If the original Trek was Wagon Train, Deep Six Nine was Gunsmoke with Captain Sisko as Sheriff.

Yes, there was a lot of characterization and they eventually added Worf. But the only character I truly liked on this show was Quark, the sleazy Ferengi whose blatant attempts at manipulation caused chaos - upsetting security officer Play Doh (Ono? Odo? Ohno? What was the guy from Benson's name?) . He always said Quark's name with the same amount of stuck up contempt he said Benson's. And then he would transform into a pool of Jello. Can I stand the excitement?

I don't know, it was like the Star Trek B players to me with a bunch of second stringers slapped together in a tiny little spot next to a wormhole. They had wars, some mystic mumbo jumbo about Sisko being "The One" or something...I just didn't watch enough to care. Miles O' Brien was robbed! He should have stayed on the Enterprise.

And this brings us full circle. Can Star Trek 11 live up to the legacy of past Treks? I'm skeptical. But then, that's how I go into any new Star Trek venture anyway. Beam me up, Scotty.

Additional Note: I just noticed the website that had the Captain Kirk inspirational poster above asked if a link to their site could be added if the poster is used-so here it is:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Starship - Knee Deep in the Hoopla (1985)

Mickey Thomas plotting his takeover of the Starship...all too easy... bwahaha!

This is one I've been putting off for a while, waiting for the right moment to spring an analysis on an album that's sort of become forgotten...and from one point of view rightfully so. I'm talkin' Starship...Jefferson Starship. Or Starship Jefferson. An group and album that unwittingly symbolizes the baby boomer culture of the mid 80's. In the 60's, Jefferson Airplane made its name as a groundbreaking psychedelic band led by guitarist Paul Kantner and the Acid queen-Grace Slick. Jefferson Airplane were one of the flagship bands espousing the liberal mind expanding counter culture. Make love, not war. But by the early 70's, the Airplane was out of gas and had to come in for a landing.

But Kantner still had something left to say so he took some members of the Airplane (including vocalists Grace Slick and Marty Balin) and mixed it with some new blood (including guitarist Craig Chaquico and bassist Pete Sears) to continue his hippie free love playing beautifully sappy soft rock. But by the end of the decade both Slick and Balin were gone and Kantner was looking for a way to adapt his band to fit the times. So Kantner recruited high voiced Elvin Bishop Band singer Anakin Skywalker, I mean, Mickey Thomas of Fooled Around and Fell in Love fame. Together, they transformed Jefferson Starship into a slick AOR band. And eventually, Grace Slick returned to add a dose of New Wave in the mix.

Through it all, Kantner used his band as a platform to push his political voice behind causes and politicians. But the free concerts and liberal politicking began to wear on Thomas and other members who were seeing their dreams of hit songs and big paydays disappear faster than hope for a Mondale Presidency. Soon, Kantner found himself the odd man out in his own band, so he left and took "Jefferson" with him. Like Obi Wan Kenobi, Paul Kantner was exiled to Tattoine while Thomas assumed his place as Sith Lord of the Galaxy (too harsh on Thomas? Probably, I don't think Thomas is an evil guy just someone who wanted his shot at the title of Pop Star). By 1985, the band was Mickey Thomas (vocals), Grace Slick (vocals), Craig Chaquico (guitars), Pete Sears (bass) and Donny Baldwin (drums) and they entered into the studio with Producer Pete Wolf (not the J Geils dude) to record their shiny new Pop album.

1. We Built This City - What does songwriter Bernie Taupin do when he's not working with Elton John? He writes stuff like Heart's These Dreams and this ditty, a song often considered one of the worst songs of the decade - "We Built This City". Considered arrogant by some fans who were tracing the evolution of the band (Slick's presence led people to think the statement "We Built This City on Rock and Roll" was referring to the San Francisco music scene and 60's rock) the song became Starship's first #1 hit single. Personally, I love this vapid Pop Rock joint that finds Thomas singing in a lower register than normal as he trades verses with Grace Slick. It's silly fun played with a big stiff beat and unintentional humor as Slick sings "Someones always playing corporation games / who cares they're always changing corporation names" with no apparent irony. This song validated the dropping of Kantner and effectively called out their hippie past and buried it with bags of money.

2. Sara - Peter Wolf had written No Way Out which was the hit off the previous Jefferson Starship album Nuclear Furniture (1983). This time, Wolf teamed up with his wife to put together another ballad that would become Starship's second #1 smash. Scoring a casting coup with snagging Rebecca DeMornay (Risky Business) for the video, the pleasant song with a harmonica sounding synth followed "We Built This City"'s momentum and increased the band's stock with Pop fans. The soft, bubbling synths provided Thomas the foundation for his soulful croon to soar.

3. Tomorrow Doesn't Matter Tonight - One of my favorite tracks on the album. The third single was a Top 40 hit, a snazzy taste of Pop Rock with Thomas again out front and delivering a fine vocal. I may knock Thomas a bit for leading the charge that caused Kantner's ouster, yet there's no doubt I prefer his version of Starship versus anything Kantner did. I enjoyed "Girl With The Hungry Eyes" from Freedom at Point Zero (1979) but for the most part skipped Kantner's songs on Jefferson Starship albums. And with Kantner gone, Thomas had the juice to pick songs that fit his voice perfectly.

4. Rock Myself to Sleep- I've covered this song before, it was one of those tunes that people in the music biz seemed convinced would be a smash. Written by Kimberly Rew (Katrina and the Waves), his hard rock ode to self love allowed Grace Slick her first full lead vocal on the record. Slick often seemed resigned to the song when interviewed about it, her vocal was suitable though it stood in stark contrast to her New Wave lovin' ways or at the very least her normally personable delivery.

5. Desperate Heart- Anytime it seems like Michael Bolton is a curse on all things tasteful in music, I think of this ballad he co-wrote with Randy Goodrum. Another of my favorites from this record, "Heart" gave Mickey Thomas some of that Michael Bolton room to dole out a splendidly strained vocal.

6. Private Room - Outside songwriters can often signal a lack of ideas or a determination to sell out. Or both, as the lone Thomas / Chaquico song is this jumpy useless track that pumps up the tempo for a second more than anything. If you can't tell, I despised this song. Ack!

7. Before I Go - The fourth single from the double Platinum record was this mid tempo ballad with a recurring synth hook and a subdued performance from Thomas. Like the glitzy shoulder padded blazers the band members wore, "Before I Go" is built to please and manages to make it to an acceptable level of Pop.

8.Hearts of the World (Will Understand) - Grace Slick gets her second lead vocal on this AOR cut. Some of Slick's animated personality shines through the glossy production but she is definitely hamstrung by the bland lyrics and melody. After 1987's No Protection the lack of substantial lyrics became Slick's chief complaint and led to her quitting. Still, I enjoy this sunny dose of movie soundtrack-ish Pop Rock.

9. Love Rusts - After opening with an uptempo duet, Knee Deep in the Hoopla closes with a quiet duet. A great AOR ballad with a lot of drama.

And so Starship cashed in, Thomas's soaring voice fit the same audience that enjoyed Steve Perry but had it's own character to distinguish it from Journey. Keeping Grace Slick allowed the group to vary their sound a bit and most importantly, give them a built in ability to perform duets. Guitarist Craig Chaquico found his part in the group pulled back a touch to stay out of the radio friendly way of the jams. Like the 80's itself, the band turned its back on liberalism and raked in the almighty dollar for their trouble - much like the Yuppie culture that was popular at that time. Not necessarily a bad thing as with Starship I think the slicker and less political the better, it's just Reaganomics at work. Slick's departure would cause Mickey Thomas to write a song slamming both Slick and Kantner that was the title of Starship's 1989 album, Love Among the Cannibals. Stay the Course Mickey Thomas!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Midnight Madness - Siskel and Ebert edition

The founding fathers of modern media criticism.

Mama said knock you out - Actor Christian Bale was arrested in England for verbally assaulting his Mother and sister.

Shine a Light - The Rolling Stones have moved labels from EMI to Universal. Which means nothing to you and me but hey, more money for them!

The Mob Rules - Heaven & Hell aka Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio are starting work on a new album. Yyeesssss.

Big Mac Attack - Lindsey Buckingham is saying Fleetwood Mac will start up again in 2009 but not with Sheryl Crow, who was rumored to possibly join the band. Nicks and Crow had teamed up a few times before, it could have been pretty good.

The Great Pretender - I don't know how long it will last, but a track from the upcoming Pretenders disc Breaking Up the Concrete is available as a free download here . Their website says to come back once a week for another track, not sure if those will be free also or not. It sounds like Chrissie Hynde is returning to her punky roots on the first download which is great!

That's the way love goes - The courts have overturned the FCC fine for the famous "Nipplegate" incident regarding Janet Jackson at the Superbowl a few years back.

Bumblebee where are you! - Transformers and Indy 4 star Shia LeBeouf allegedly caused a car accident while intoxicated.

Thumbs Down - Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper have parted ways with At the Movies. That's a shame, particularly since I thought Roeper was partnering well with Michael Phillips on recent episodes. Though nothing compares to PBS era Siskel and Ebert, the fun was watching those two intellectually eviscerate each other publicly over foreign films nobody went to see. Watching them while growing up made me want to be a film critic, which is probably why I spend my spare time typing this stuff.

Golden Girl - Sadly, Estelle Getty passed away.

Talk Dirty to Me One More Time!!! - Bret Michaels has reportedly broken up with season 2 Rock of Love winner Ambre just in time for another round of reality TV dating.

Fake Movie Trailers - Here's a couple of trailers for movies that don't exist...and with good reason. But fun to watch just the same. The first is for if they made a movie of Tetris by Black20, which is pretty funny. The second is for a Green Lantern movie by sector 1014, it looks as real as a regular movie trailer and was very impressive.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Artist Spotlight: Dream Theater

It looks like the line for the mens room at a football game, but it's really Dream Theater!
It's been a mellow week which has been wonderfully relaxing but now it's time to get back to rockin'. So I thought I would highlight one of my favorite bands - Dream Theater. Now, out of laziness I will probably just call them DT for a lot of the post. DT was formed in New York at the Berklee School of Music in 1986. Originally named Majesty, the band was filled with technical proficiency and came up with a sound along the lines of Rush, Queensryche and Queen with some Metallica thrown in. After some line up fiddling, the first version of the band to record was the amazing John Petrucci (guitar), fleet fingered bassist John Myung, the awesome Mike Portnoy (drums), the tasteful Kevin Moore (keyboards) and a singer I haven't heard yet, Charlie Dominici. They released their debut album in 1989 to launch their career as one of the longest running Prog Metal bands around.
When Day and Dream Unite (1989)

...isn't that called a daydream? It just wouldn't be Prog if there wasn't an extended and elaborate way to say something. I've never heard this album or anything off it except the YTSE Jam which is an instrumental cut that shows off these guys chops. Other than that, all I can say is that the album cover was ahead of its time. That's me in the corner, that's me in the spot. light...

Images and Words (1991)

For the next album, the band switched labels and singers. Lead singer James LaBrie was brought in and I assume was a better fit than the other guy. LaBrie had a sort of Operatic hair band singer style that gave drama and oomph to their sound. At any rate, DT laid out my favorite disc of theirs, Images and Words. The perfect blend of late 80's hair metal anthems and proggy musical wankerism coalesce into a killer piece of work. Their lone hit, Pull Me Under was the perfect representation of the band. The shifts from chugging verses to thrashed out sections, dazzling solos and a hook based on Shakesphere. A ten minute Metropolis pt.1 again reflected the knotty arrangements and crafty musicality of the group. I think of the song as the equivalent to Yes' "Heart of the Sunrise" for DT. It was a prerequisite of any Metal band at this time to have a power ballad and the band delivered the life affirming Another Day , a song I think was inspired by a bandmember's dying father. One of my all time favorite power ballads, Petrucci delivers my favorite power ballad guitar solo of all time. And if that's not enough, Petrucci made Guitar magazine's top 500 guitar solos on Under a Glass Moon . Pretty soon I might have the whole album covered which just goes to show how much I like this one. One last song. Surrounded!

Awake (1994)

Dream Theater followed up their commercial break thru with a darker album, the band would alternate between light and dark sounds for the rest of their career. I'm not as much of a fan of their edgier, less melodic creations even though it lets the band cut loose harder. But there's still gold here with the bone crunching Lie , the folky The Silent Man and the pure Yes 90125 era Arena rock of Innocence Faded . The playing and arrangements are denser and trickier than anything they attempted before, leaving an impressive array of instrumental breaks and rapid fire riffing in their wake. Drummer Mike Portnoy really dominates on this disc, giving a clinic in Neal Peart inspired beats. Even though I've played this disc a few times, it just doesn't stick with me as a whole piece but as a bunch of little parts. Awake would represent an ongoing theme in the groups career, never settling down and pushing forward to create invigorating music.
A Change of Seasons (1995)

One of the things I like about DT is that they are more than willing to let their prog freak flag fly. Releasing a CD where the main track is a 23 minute epic of Yessian proportions does just that. A masterwork of instrumental excess and proggy goodness that easily ranks with anything ELP or early Genesis cranked out. Keyboardist Derek Sherinian replaced the departing Kevin Moore and immediately adds his own splashy flavor. And in case there's any doubt about who influences these guys, there's The Big Medley that slavishly references Pink Floyd, Journey, Kansas, Queen and Genesis. Dream Theater get Close to the Edge on this disc.

Falling into Infinity (1997)

I don't have this album but have heard some songs from it. The songs I've heard were OK but didn't quite blow me away. Hollow Years has a Sting quality to it and Burning My Soul thunders along with a strong Deep Purple style organ riff. But there seems to be a slight loss of character here, enjoyable but the songs I know from this album tend to be the ones I play the least. Too bad, I normally like albums produced by Kevin Shirley.

Metropolis pt 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999)

After a decade plus in the music biz, Dream Theater realized they hadn't made a concept album yet. So they went out to correct that by expanding on "Metropolis" from the Images and Words album. The album's concept is about a young woman who is murdered because I think she was dating two brothers and one of them kills her. Then a man in the present goes to see a psychiatrist about past lives and is hypnotized and relives the past. Or something like that. I used to love to listen to this disc during insomniac nights at 2 in the morning so my memory of the story is fuzzy. Yet that was probably the best time to hear it, the music just seemed to fit the mood of a late night dream. Jordan Rudess is brought in on keyboards in place of Sherinian and immediately displays his confident prowess with Rick Wakeman rivaling runs. My second favorite DT disc, when I'm paying attention I can follow the story and the music combined with sound effects and acting creates a mood of mystery and intrigue. My favorite song on the album was the longish Home with its mystic flavor and critical story point (this is the point where the girl cheats on one brother with the other) is a dizzying array of musical virtuosity. After seeing the live performance on tv, The Spirit Carries On has become a fave as well. But this album is really meant to be heard as a whole, it was DT's most ambitious effort and in reaching high they've created a minor classic.

Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002)

In 2001 the band released a live album that stirred some controversy because the cover art depicted their trademark flaming heart in barbed wire over the city of New York (where the concert was held) that happened to be released around 9/11. The most press the band ever received in their career was mostly negative and entirely unitentional. Still, at this phase in the band's career ambition was riding high and so they followed up their concept album with a two disc set. Not just any two disc set, one of the discs featured an eight movement 45 minute mini concept about the inner struggle of madness. Great tracks like The Test That Stumped The All and the Peter Gabrielish Solitary Shell combine to form one of the longest Prog pieces I've ever heard. Elsewhere, the band begins to infuse modern influences into harder edged pummeling rockers like The Glass Prison and the surprisingly political and catchy anti stem cell research anthem "The Great Debate". I've played these discs several times and still don't know all of it because there's so much to it. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

Train of Thought (2003)

The harder modern edge developed on Six Degrees is brought to fore on Train of Thought. So much so that I have a hard time remembering much about any keyboards to this album. What I got out of it was Petrucci, Petrucci, Petrucci. Not necessarily a bad thing since he's a blazin' guitar player but I can't listen to the whole thing in one sitting. It just has a dry crunchy vibe like eating cerial without milk. Anywho, taken as individual tracks its another great one in the DT library. The song I liked the most here was "Endless Sacrifice" which borrowed a bit from Evanescence's "Bring Me Back To Life" showing the increasing development of modern sounds in their songwriting. One of the cool things about You Tube is that you can find people singing along to their favorite songs, so here's a guy named Unflexible Grace singing along to Endless Sacrifice . Pretty cool! DT also makes their anti-war stance known on In the Name of God with it's very windy groove and impressive noodling. A great album that I listen to in halves to get through but is well worth the effort. I almost got to see them live on a double bill with Yes but couldn't get off work early enough to see them. Bummer.

Octavarium (2005)

In their back and forth approach, Dream Theater lightens the sound and brings back more melody while reining in some of their heavier instincts on Octavarium. Proggy as ever, I read that the album was set up where each song was a different octive or something like that. I don't have the musical ear to decypher that but can say I enjoyed this one a lot. Two of the songs seemed to have been set up for potential crossover marketing with the U2 styled I Walk Beside You and the somewhat dull ballad The Answer Lies Within . But if you think these guys went soft, you'd be wrong as Panic Attack thrashes through heavy riffs and intense singing. My all time favorite Dream Theater song, the 23 minute title track, sits at the end of this disc. Backed by an orchestra, the title song goes all over the map from Floydian grace to Kansas groovin to Metallica S&M grandeur. Here it is in parts One ,Two, and Three . The guitar solo with orchestra backing at the close of the song is a thing of beauty. DT had built up enough of a fan base to play at Radio City Music Hall with an orchestra in 2006.

Systematic Chaos (2007)

Apparently Octavarium was too soft for the band to handle because not only did they dive back to the darkness but they jumped back into it with both feet. Drummer Portnoy announced his intention was for the band to release an album with balls, extremely hard edged. Unique in its dogged commitment to the tough guy approach, Chaos overplays its hand a bit to the point of comedy and would be challenging to take seriously if it wasn't for the impressive talent they possess. Monster man vocals, lyrics about ministries of lost souls and an unrelenting mood of hard bitten intensity characterize the album. I would literally get a headache listening to it when I first bought it because it was so dang heavy! Or it just means I'm getting old. The urgent single Constant Motion points to the band's direction as does the awesome ballad Forsaken . After years of listening to DT it's easy to take their talent for granted, which is why I'm glad there's an in studio video for The Dark Eternal Night . Another fine effort from the 80's prog metal band that isn't Queensryche (who is also great).

Dream Theater continues to this day and I hope will continue for years to come. The rare band that wears its heart on its sleeve so to speak, their influences now span from the classic rock era to the present and mix together to create a sound that is both unique and relatable to anyone familiar with rock music from the past 40 years. Or to put it bluntly, they kick ass!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Night Videos - AM Gold

I never noticed before but Stretch Armstrong looks a little constipated. No wonder why he could stretch so far! Lots of fluid in there, lots of fluid.

Many of my cherished car memories growing up was listening to the radio while I bounced and slid all over the car seats (it was the 70's, seat belts weren't the law yet) of my Mom's light blue Volvo. Like any kid, I would shout and carry on randomly while I played with my toys. What car could deny the power of Stretch Armstrong! He was unbreakable (until he actually broke which was quite easy to do, then this smelly goo would come out that I think was toxic)!! But while this was going on, the cool soft rock tunes of the 70's would flow through that old Volvo for it...a summer breeze.

Which brings me to the first song, Seals & Crofts "Summer Breeze". Lots of times this song would play with the windows rolled down, the rancid scent of the local Lake in the air (for decades it's smelled like rotting garbage) and for some reason I thought "jasmine in my mind" would cause physical pain. Ah yes, beautiful memories of stinky pain. But it's a great song, Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw recently covered it to great effect. So, let's Seal and Croft this bad boy with another round of "Summer's Eve"! No, that's actually "Summer Breeze"!

The second song had to equal the first song in AM brilliance, so there's only one band who can fit the bill: Ambrosia. The awe inspiring David Pack would take his high voiced shaggy headed soft rock to new heights on songs like "Biggest Part of Me" and "How Much I Feel". "Feel" is my favorite of the Ambrosia bunch, a nice cushy piece of harmonious sweet talk for young ladies to cuddle up to on the 45 record player. You know, the kind of record player you could carry around like a suit case until you unlatched it and plugged in. That's what us old folk used to call portable music. IPod? How many transitors can you fit in that? (note-I looked this up after posting, there are transistors in IPods. There are probably transistors in lots of things still, so this just goes to show I know nothing about electronic circuitry).

Both of these clips happened to come from The Midnight Special, an awesome thing in itself. But that's for another time. Until then, turn the antenna towards the southwest to get good reception on Different Strokes, play some electric football and dial for dollars because we're going back to the 70's!

(One more note-I always found it funny that "How Much I Feel" has this part towards the end where the singer says he's married but sometimes sees the face of his old girlfriend during sex. It's supposed to be this 70's sensitive guy and then he says "By the way, I'm married now but still think of you while in bed with my wife." Nice!)

Seals & Croft "Summer Breeze"

Ambrosia "How Much I Feel"

Thursday, July 24, 2008

After 15 Years, Chicago finally passes a Stone

Chicago rolls the stone of sippy us, er, symphony, uh...I give up.

I've been listening to the new/old Chicago album Stone of Sisyphus aka Chicago 32 lately, the legendary "lost" album of the classic Horn band. It's hard to believe a group that's released over thirty albums could have a "lost" record, but they did. It was 1993, after being a horn rock institution in the 70's the band fell out of favor with listeners by the end of the Me decade. The band reinvented themselves as high class balladeers minus the horns, a strategy that paid off until the start of the 90's. Chicago 21 was a pretty good disc but was met with mild indifference from the public. Forced to re assess their situation, Chicago decided that it was time to move out of their self imposed power ballad limits and bring back the horns. The record company balked at the Stone of Sisyphus and so the band took their ball and went home.

Now, in 2008, their recordings see the light of day. Was it worth the wait? Well, yes, but it's not quite as good as I had hoped. With the horns the Jazz is also back in the beat, but not the classic jazz style they exerted on their 70's phase. Instead, it's more of a late 80's Spyro Gyra / Kenny G vibe that overtakes the disc. However, the jazzy arrangements sound natural even as they retain their 80's sense of melody. The soft ballad "Let's Take A Lifetime" is the highlight, a gentle song that allows the horns to carry the muted feeling of the song amid wafting vocals. This song had the potential to be a massive hit had it been released in the 90's. "Mah-Jong" is their Spyro Gyra song and like many other tracks have the infectous feeling of a band stretching out. The title cut is Toto worthy with it's bracing anthem and punchy groove. Even the slighly overdone gang vocals to Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed reflect the inspired jamming Chicago had fallen into. Another cut, The Pull, is melodic rock nirvana.

Despite these strong points, Stone of Sisyphus falls short of classic just by nature of what the band had become: a weakened version of the original Chicago. Although many originals remained (Robert Lamm-keyboards & vocals, Lee Loughnane - trumpet, Walt Parazieder-saxophone and James Pankow-trombone) and some fine replacements were brought in (Jason Scheff-bass & vocals, Bill Champlain-keyboards & vocals, Tris Imboden-drums and DeWayne Bailey-guitars) it just wasn't as good as the Terry Kath / Peter Cetera era. For the most part, the band's vaunted penchant for overblown arrangements performed with alchemic grace was replaced with sturdy professionalism.

While the band flexed its horn muscles, Chicago could not deny their fans at least one sappy song. This time out, it's "Bigger Than Elvis" which takes the band's trademark power ballad format and sticks in heartfelt mush about Jason Scheff loving his dad to the point it was bigger than Elvis. Scheff's father had played bass with the King. This much saccharine in one four minute block is dangerous! Look out for the cavity creeps.

Still, this band of long worn pros had a fire in the belly this time out. Easily the most inspired of the latter day Chicago albums, Stone of Syphillus, I mean sissy fists, um, Sisyphus-that new record is good. Even Axl Rose wanna be DeWayne Bailey (guitars) reins in his "rocker" instincts (Bailey rocked but seemed out of place, fans would be visibly mystified by his 80's guitar hero theatrics during solos for "Stay The Night") to put his best playing on tape. If you're a fan of 80's Chicago, Stone is a must have because it's far and away their most musically satisfying effort in eons. If not, then I can only recommend it for lovers of lite jazz pop. Since I'm the former, I like it a lot.

Chicago "Let's Take A Lifetime"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Top 10 Favorite Mellow 90's Jams

I figured out the reason I haven't covered the 90's a lot is because of the last five decades that was the time that rocked the least for me. The first half went OK, but after 1995 Rock music fell into a black hole of rap rock and, uh, that was pretty much it. Because I couldn't relate to the Limp Bizkits and Korn's of the world I listened to more Classic Rock. But the music of the time that had the most impact to me was...mellow Adult Contemporary. Whooping hyperactive divas, old Rockers vying for their last few CD sales of new material and sensitive lovermen pitching woo to their women couched in mushy synths and streamlined production was the backdrop to much of my life during the Clinton Presidency.

Help! I'm lost in a haze of signature coffee brands and Macarena line dancing. So let's get it started with the Masters of Mellow!

10. Dave Matthews Band - Crash Into Me (1996)

The DMB was one of the most successful bands of the 90's and their biggest hit was this nursery rhyme styled acoustic ballad. "Crash Into Me" brings back memories of spending time with my wife driving around the Bay Area or going bowling with friends. A few years ago I saw Dave Matthews perform, his voice was tore up from an admitted partying binge that left him hoarse and raspy. The song itself is one of Dave Matthews Band's finest moments, a nice blend of strummy guitars and tasteful percussion. If it wasn't for Phish, DMB would have been the jam band to take up the mantle of the Grateful Dead, bong pipe, hackeysack and all.

9. Jewel - You Were Meant For Me (1995)

Oh Jewel, your music made waiting rooms and lobbies bearable for me! Though I've never been a super fan of the Alaskan busker, I've always enjoyed the folky pleasantness of her melodies and tunes. My wife liked the first album which included this track back in the day, this is one of the songs I liked (though I prefer the single mix not included on the CD). It has a simplistic purity and bounciness to it.

8. The Verve Pipe - Freshmen (1997)

I have no freakin' idea what this song is about. Is it about, I guess, being a Freshman in school? I don't know, but the song has a nice marching beat and that "I'm so worldly with my straining vocal" tone that was popular at the time. Personally, I associate this song with going camping with my wife in Lake County. Driving with the windows down on an unlit street going through the warm Summer air. One of those "moment in time" kind of memories backed by this song, which played often on the radio that summer.

7. Lisa Loeb - Stay (1994)

When you look up "One Hit Wonders of the 1990s", there's a good chance a picture of this girl with cats eye glasses will be staring back at you. Launched from the soundtrack to the film Reality Bites, Loeb's talky ode to co-dependency had an awesome circular melody and played out like an internal dialogue arguement. The song was omnipresent and recalls the first apartment my wife and I had (it was just on all the time, no specific thing happened). Please stay Winona! No, you can't take that with you, leave it here you clepto!

6. Sting - When We Dance (1994)
At one of my first full time jobs we used to play the local Adult Contemporary stations and this song was on often. So I often think of working in that specific building, watching the rain hit the windows while carrying on with business inside a warm room. It was a pleasant feeling with a slight touch of freedom that comes from the chorus. One of my favorite Sting songs, there is also a pensiveness like something great is going to happen.

5. R.E.M. - Man On The Moon (1993)

A song from before I was married, in the early 90's R.E.M. were unstoppable and were considered the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel after unspooling classic songs like "Losing My Religion", "Everybody Hurts" and this song. One of R.E.M.'s catchiest and upbeat songs that seemed to be about late comedian Andy Kaufman. A wonderfully obtuse nostalgia piece that inspires hope and positivity.

4. Babyface - When Can I See You Again (1994)

In the early 90's Babyface hit the guitar and wrote two mushy acoustic MOR classics. The first was "Change The World" which he gave to Eric Clapton. The second was this little number, an effective coffee house folk guitar plea filled with longing and bolstered by a sparse beat. Another work song, I used to work in a back area of a store that was sort of like a cave - I often think of missing my wife while at work when I hear this song. What can I say, back then my workday was a little long.

3. Fleetwood Mac "Silver Springs" (1997)

They said it could never happen, but in 1997 the Rumours era lineup of Fleetwood Mac regrouped for a live album and tour. One of the stand out moments of the live album was a revival of this lost 70's B side, Stevie Nicks "Silver Springs". The song stands out to me as one of the defining moments of the reunion, the songwriting and passion for the music reach its peak as Nicks berates the final moments of the song at Lindsey Buckingham as he hides behind his microphone. It was great to see this song finally get its deserved audience after 30 years. I never thought the five members would reteam so The Dance was a rare treat. I went to my parents house just to watch the live MTV showing of their first concert in over a decade.

2. Journey - When You Love A Woman (1996)

Extreme bias? You betcha! Steve Perry's last great moment with Journey came from the lead single to the reunion album Trial By Fire. In the days before internet became pervasive, it was tough to get music news so I had no idea that the Escape era lineup was regrouping. My wife says I asked her to be quiet when I first heard this song at the laundromat. To a Journey fan that hadn't heard any new material since 1986, "When You Love A Woman" was water to a dehydrated man. Majestic and fantastic, no comparisons to Bryan Adams "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" will stop me. I recall driving to Tower Records with my wife to buy the cassette single as soon as it came out. It was Beatlemana for me all over again.

1. Seal - Kiss From A Rose (1995)

Timely considering the Batman context, this swooping and delicate ballad comes from the Batman Forever film. Seal outdid himself creating this elegant piece of music, with the soft overdubbed vocals, feeling of discovery and skillful piano playing. "Kiss From A Rose" is a stone cold classic to me and one of my favorite songs. Seal's overdubbed vocals almost answer each other to build up the emotion of the piece. A great piece of music! And all this before he married Heidi Klum. Completely unexpected from the guy that plays "crazy".

And that's it for my mellow jams of the 90's. Maybe I'll be able to dig up enough rock music to make a 90's list. Until then, feel free to enjoy the sights and sound of a mellow mood in the caffeine obsessed decade of Friends.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Ninja Warrior Effect / Goin' Gladiator

The latest television addiction for me and my wife is watching Hulk Hogan's American Gladiators which led me to think about how that show seemed to come back on the air. The following is my train of thought on it.

For any old timers like me, you may remember a program called Wide World of Sports that espoused "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Now, in the days of mass media and multiple channels, the Wide World of Sports no longer exists because all the sports in the world can be seen in their entirety in a multitude of ways. And one of those ways has managed to cross over from cable networks to broadcast television: The obstacle course.

Spike TV was the cable network that started the trend. Even though ESPN ran some of this type of programming, it didn't catch hold of people's attention. Spike began with a program called MXC-Most Extreme Elimination Challenge which was an edited version of a show called Takeshi's Castle in Japan. MXC featured contestants as they went through tough physical obstacles like getting shot by soccer balls from an air gun while on a narrow rope bridge or swinging across a muddy pit to try to land on a raised platform. The program was dubbed into English by comedy writers and was kind of funny in a juvenile way with its renaming obstacles into "sinkers and floaters" or recaping the contestants biggest spills as "Kenny's eliminations". I was addicted to this show until it ran out of good footage of people getting crushed by plastic boulders. Yet, the popularity of the show set up Spike's next Japanese import-Ninja Warrior.

Ninja Warrior is a Japanese obstacle course show that has been around for over a decade and debuted on Spike a little over a year ago. It's a multi stage event with about four different courses of increasing difficulty. Unlike MXC, Ninja Warrior was not redubbed as a joke but into something easily digestible for American audiences while retaining the original intent of the show. Ninja Warrior, known as Sasuke in Japan, caught on with viewers and became Spike's best rated show. The show became successful to the point that recurring competitors, known as All Stars, began to grow an American fan base. I've even seen people become friends through their fandom of the show, which is a nice thing (some of whom are nice enough to post here :) But even with over 20 competitions to display the show eventually ran to reruns which begged the question - what if there was new programming of this type to show on a regular basis?

There is a general rule about tv programming I learned in college - if something is successful then copy it. Either your copy will be successful too or you will saturate the market with so much of the same thing that people will get tired of it and drag down the ratings of your once successful competitors. Usually cable networks don't set trends for network tv, but Spike seems to have made the exception to the rule. People want to see other people take hard hits while competing for prizes or pride. Because now there are three programs that closely mimic the ethos of the Spike programs.

ABC has Wipeout which follows the format of MXC. The program is as its title says, it's an obstacle course where the focus is on the big spills and flameouts that happen when you ask people to jump on fast spinning discs or dodge mechanized boxing gloves. Wipeout is hosted by two comedians and the tone is light with very little drama. The emphasis in on fun in the sun. It's not as fun as MXC, you can't get away with as much making fun of people who live in the same country as you (MXC goes into all kinds of sophomoric sexual innuendo that Wipeout can only hint at). But it's fine for what it is, a chance to watch people eat it on national television and look silly.

ABC also has I Survived A Japanese Game Show which combines the typical reality show format of a team of contestants who are eliminated weekly after challenges, teams, etc. It tries to capture the flighty fun of Japanese Game Shows but in attempting to make the whole thing understandable to a general audience it loses its charm. Most of the program seems to revolve around standard reality show drama of who likes whom, who has pacts and so on. Nice travelogue of Japan though.

NBC revived American Gladiators which I initially ignored because I thought it was lame to revive yet another franchise (like Bionic Woman or the upcoming Knight Rider it's weird to watch tv and see the same program titles I saw 20 years ago). But two weeks ago we were bored and so we flipped on Gladiators. To my surprise, they put in the money to expand on the classic show with bigger events (like the Thunderdome-ish Rocketball) added on to the good old stuff (Atlasphere!). Contestants run, fly, swim and dive around obstacles and opponents to score points against a WWE worthy set of Gladiators with great names like Justice and Phoenix. Maybe it's Hulk Hogan's presence, but both the Gladiators and contestants bark their promos like seasoned wrestlers. In fact, the much hyped Gladiator named Beast is ex WWE wrestler Matt Morgan.

There's competitive tension, big physical hits and athletic fun from watching American Gladiators. Plus, updated digital effects for the performers intros. I even enjoy it more than watching WWE Raw because the action is better and you get the same amount of trash talk. Of the three Spike influenced shows, Gladiators is the one I like the most as it has the advantage of being based on a classic format. As Hulk Hogan would say, whatcha gonna do when Gladiatormania runs wild on you!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Midnight Madness - Clone Wars Edition

Begun, the Midnight Madness has. A look at the poster from the upcoming Star Wars.

Shooting at the walls of heartache, Bang Bang - Most of the original lineup of Scandal is reuniting to record music and tour including Mrs. McEnroe herself Patty Smyth. Looking forward to hearing more Warrior-ific jams!

He wants to know what love is - Former Foreigner front man Lou Gramm is releasing a Christian Rock album soon. Gramm's gettin' hot blooded for the big man upstairs.

Mr. Brownstone - Former Guns N Roses drummer Steven Adler has been arrested for drugs. He's already O.D.'d before, so this is just sad.

Helplessly Hoping - Crosby Stills and Nash are reportedly going into the studio with Rick Rubin. If anyone can wake Steven Stills up, it's gotta be Rubin. Bring lots of coffee Rubin. LOTS of coffee.

Truth or Dare - Everything in the media right now is Madonna, Madonna, Madonna. Is she hittin' home runs with A-Rod, is she sticking the Shanghai Surprise to Guy Richie, why does her brother write a whole book just to reveal she's stuck on many questions we really don't need an answer to. It's called midlife crisis people! And it's not like she's had a track record for fidelity.

For Those About To Rock - was it predictable to say that? Early word is AC/DC's new disc is set to drop in October.

More money than Bruce Wayne - The Dark Knight has had a huge opening weekend. Something like $155 million. Time to buy stock in Wayne Enterprises.

Brenda's back - Shannen Doherty returns to the zip code that made her famous on the new 90210. No word yet on if Brian Austin Green will come back to do some more of his spectacular 90's rapping. One Stop Carnival! U Can't Touch This!!

It's been One Week - ...and 13 years since anyone's cared about the Barenaked Ladies. One of them got arrested for drugs recently.

Who Are You - William Petersen is said to be ready to leave C.S.I. Apparently, Petersen has never had a conversation with the red headed dude from the other C.S.I. show. What was his name? The guy that was skinny and pasty and always wore dark shades from NYPD Blue. Oh yeah, David Caruso. That's what his name was. Or is.

Is the Force with us? - Hype for the upcoming animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars is starting up which I'm sure I'll find irresistible to watch but am wary of because I usually like my Star Wars with live actors. But the Cartoon Network series wasn't bad so there's hope yet.

Guitar Lord Jeb - one of my favorite blogs has disappeared. Bummer.

Entertainment Weekly - brought my attention to this great clip about the Journey to the Center of the Earth where it's been mashed up with the rock band Journey. Very funny!

Journey with Steve Perry to the Center of the Earth

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Artist Spotlight - Rick Springfield (Pure Genius) 1980 - 1989

Glow in the dark Genius-the Tao of Rick Springfield

One of the things I've really enjoyed about writing this blog has been finding things in common with other people. To my surprise, one of those things is an appreciation for the musical talent of Rick Springfield, or as I used to call him, The Genius. Now, to get it out of the way, I'll cop to some (or a lot) of hero worship for the guy when I was in High School. He made great music and got all the girls while doing it. I used to call him The Genius because he was able to take the Pop/Rock sound which usually had very general sentiments and put a singer/songwriter spin on it. Because of his teen idol image, his music was often written off as fluff but what I heard was a substantial artist. Since I covered Living in Oz already I thought I would do a little career retrospective. I became a fan after hearing the song "Souls" and bought his records back to his 1981 release Working Class Dog. So, I'll start there.

Working Class Dog (1981)

After finding success in his native Australia in the early 70's in a band called Zoot, Rick Springfield came to America looking for success. Despite scoring a Top 20 single Speak to the Sky his career ran into issues and fizzled. Springfield would spend the 70's releasing music sporadically to a small audience and took up acting as a fall back career.

After signing onto the soap opera General Hospital, Springfield found his fall back career taking off which put him in a position to do what he wanted to do: music. Now armed with an ardent fan base of soap fans, Springfield was ready to rock!

Working Class Dog is a model of early 80's Pop/Rock. Production that was smooth, hooky choruses and tight playing with a slight emphasis on musicianship. His first single, the immortal Jessie's Girl, was a #1 single. Great memories of that song, particularly because I had a friend named Jesse who hated that song (he got a lot of crap for it and called Springfield "Dick Springfield" because of it). The Genius was also given the Sammy Hagar penned "I've Done Everything For You" which he rode into the Top 10 (I have to admit, I like Sammy's version more). And then he piled on even more power pop glory with Love Is Alright Tonite which hit the Top 20 (I seem to remember fellow soap actor John Stamos playing this song in a short lived TV series with I think Jami Gertz). But for me, the two classic songs were the spiraling riffs in "Carry Me Away" and the midnight luv balladry of "Inside Sylvia".

Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet (1982)

The success of Dog increased Springfield's visibility all over, meaning he had to work double time to keep going. Springfield said Success was recorded while simultaneously working on General Hospital. That might explain the sort of patchwork feel to this record, though the individual cuts are fine. The Genius was able to mine the jealousy theme further with his third Top 10 hit, Don't Talk To Strangers. Two other singles, the "Jessie's Girl"ish I Get Excited and the poor boy ballad What Kind of Fool Am I also hit the Top 40. But the two memorable cuts for me was the rocker Kristina with it's Yes "Roundabout" keyboards and the Police style reggae rock of How Do You Talk To Girls. Back then, the "Girls" song was the one we all related to. Towards the end of the record is "April 21, 1981" which was about the passing of his father.

Living in Oz (1983)

Since I recently wrote a huge thing about this record, I'll be brief. Springfield indicated the record company wasn't tracking his career as strongly at this point because they thought his ride was close to over. Genius that he is, Springfield took the opportunity to toughen up his sound and grow stubble on his face. This was also longtime sideman Tim Pierce's chance to really make an impact with his guitar playing, which he does. My favorite record of Springfield's 'cause it was the hardest rocking one. This was the point where I became a fan of The Genius, it was all part of his master plan to make everyone his fan!

Hard To Hold (1984)

Like any actor / singer, Springfield felt the need to bring the two worlds together for a motion picture. And so the stupefyingly boring movie Hard to Hold was unleashed on the public, probably resulting in many people running back to a 10th viewing of Purple Rain to get the Springfield movie out of their heads. The Genius thought he could make up the bad film making with great songs. He couldn't, but it made for a good soundtrack!

After the opening salvo of his last huge hit, Love Somebody, Springfield continued to show growth while moving away from his trademark sound. Sure, the mid tempo drama Don't Walk Away was a Top 20 single and felt in line with his past work. But the third single, Bop Til You Drop , belied an increasing interest in dance beats and electronic noises. He was going to be Buck Rogers...or at least Duck Dodgers in the 21st and a half century! Taxi Dancing was the fourth single, a pleasant duet with Randy Crawford. The album also contained my favorite Springfield ballad, "The Great Lost Art of Conversation." The Genius earned a slot at Live Aid to play to his largest audience yet...The World! I also saw him live on this tour, it was really well staged. But my strongest memory was waiting in line to get some food, these girls behind me were going off on how they saw the girl Springfield was eating dinner with and how she wasn't all that and really skanky. Probably wasn't even true.

Around this same time, some Springfield recordings he had done in the 70's were re-recorded without his involvement while keeping his vocal. The result was the Beautiful Feelings record, something Springfield was against but still resulted in a Top 40 hit and one of my favorite Genius songs, "Bruce".

Tao (1985)

The Genius started to feel uneasy about his teen idol status and was battling depression, resulting in the somber tone of Tao. Like Yin and Yang, the album contained introspective lyrics with extroverted beats as he dived head long into synthesizers, vocoders and drum machines. Commercially, it was the beginning of the end but artistically it is a stand out album. The lead single Celebrate Youth picked up where "Bop Til You Drop" left off. But the real winner was State of the Heart, an awesomely sublime piece of melodic rock. At the time, my favorite song was the nuclear fear driven "Walking on the Edge" which my memory has placed as an almost Nine Inch Nails type song, though I'm sure I'm way off on that one. A third single, Dance This World Away , featured vocals from Martin Page (that's Mr. Mister to you buddy!) while the song that really sticks is the moving tribute to his father in My Father's Chair . Artistically, I thought this was the high point of his career though it hasn't aged well.

Rock of Life (1988)

Springfield's depression really started to show on Rock of Life. The whole disc had this sad haze over it. Still, the Sting-like single Rock of Life went Top 40. For a second single, Springfield's management tried to drum up hype by claiming Honeymoon in Beirut was a smash in that war torn country. Even if it was, it didn't exactly spur sales. Despite some good songs, the morose tone pretty much sank the album commercially. This was the disc I listened to a lot in college, the song "World Start Turning" was great as well as the slower "Soul To Soul". It ended with the sorta campy "If You Think You're Groovy". Oddly, of all the Rick Springfield discs this is the one I miss having the most. It accompanied me on a lot of long drives when I would visit home from college.

A year later, Springfield was injured in an ATV accident that contributed to an extended leave from the music scene. He wouldn't return until 1999 with the Karma album. The Genius is still going strong, he's releasing a new disc Venus in Overdrive and has a new single "What's Victoria's Secret". The new song is below, it is once again the work of a Genius.

Rick Springfield "What's Victoria's Secret"

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Night Videos - Who Made Who Edition

Mr Mike hears a Who

VH1 Classic has been showing their Rock Honors of the Who with great performances by Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, even Incubus. All this Who-ness made me decide to put up two Who songs I like. One of earliest memories was at my Patty B lovin' cousin's room miming to "Pinball Wizard" along with my other cousins (it was the early 70's, it was what kids did before Rock Band). Then my cousin told me about how Tommy lost his sight by having a light bulb blow up in his face and I had a fear of that happening to me ever since. Ironically, I used to work at a thrift store and a customer wanted me to test some Christmas light on sale that looked like a red and white striped rod with a flame shaped light bulb. When I plugged it in, it blew up in front of me. Luckily, I wasn't blinded.

For the two songs I decided to go back to the old days, when all of the band members were alive and their music didn't instantly recall dead bodies and lab rats poking them with test tubes while wearing expensive sun glasses. The first is "Pinball Wizard" from Tommy , sure it's overplayed but I have fond memories of it. Second is "Substitute", I just think it's catchy. The Who-one of the most explosive bands in Rock history. Time to revel in Pete Townsend's awesome songwriting, Roger Daltry's bold vocals, John Entwhistle's artful bass playing and Keith Moon's rapid fire drums. In other words, time to smash some guitars and crash some drums-it's The Who!

The Who "Pinball Wizard"

The Who "Substitute"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Pat Benatar - Get Nervous (1982)

Lipstick and Leather - Pat Benatar's looking for a stranger

This is the story of two cousins and the Girl Scouts. I have an older cousin who loved Pat Benatar, he painted her picture on his bedroom door and referred to her as "Patty B". I heard a lot of her records at my cousin's house. I also have a slightly younger cousin who was in the Girl Scouts and I think she had some type of deal where she had to convince people to buy records and tapes from a catalog. So my parents gave the OK to order one from her and I picked Pat Benatar's Get Nervous because it had a few songs I liked. And that's how I ended up with my first Pat Benatar tape.

Benatar was a huge rock star at that time. She wore short hair and tight outfits that were copied by young girls as pointed out in the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Benatar also was an Opera trained belter with an extremely powerful voice and great control. On Get Nervous, the last album of her big Arena Rock run, she added a little New Wave flava to her image.

1. Shadows of the Night - The blog Lost in the 80's had a story about how this song was originally recorded by a singer named Rachel Sweet. "Shadows" didn't go to far with Sweet and with Benatar's career momentum just about any song would have been a hit as her lead single. Fortunately, the song turns out to be really good anyway, Benatar's soaring vocal, Neil Geraldo's gnarled guitars and the first of many airy keyboard licks power the Grammy winning tune into overdrive. Best of all, the video included early appearances by actors Judge Reinhold (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and Bill Paxton (Twister, Aliens). Game over man, game over!

2. Looking For A Stranger - The third single was the upbeat "Stranger" with Benatar giving an appropriately pithy delivery. Keyboardist Charlie Giordano continues to earn his keep with his bubbly organ and flighty synths. In her personal life, Benatar married guitarist / producer Neil Geraldo before this record was released so it wasn't likely she was really "Looking For A Stranger" at that time.

3. Anxiety (Get Nervous) - My favorite track on the record, Benatar had dabbled in New Wave before ("We Live For Love" was an early new wavish single). For this record, Benatar modified her look to a straightjacket and lopsided windswept hair. The urgent almost helicopter sounding guitar riff and stabbing synths add to the tension while Benatar's processed voice creates a dissasociative effect.

4. Fight It Out - A perfect model of Benatar's, um, I mean Patty B's vocal control. She belts out the first half of the chorus and then pulls back to a quieter second half. Songwriter Billy Steinberg (half of the song duo Steinberg / Tom Kelley) co-writes about half the album but spares Benatar any of the oversexed lyrics he gave Madonna and The Divinyls (Steinberg / Kelley wrote "Like A Virgin" and "I Touch Myself" among other big 80's hits).

5. The Victim - Pat Benatar is a rock queen, let her rock I say! And rock she does on "The Victim", a big Arena Rock burst of frantic guitars, icy synths and rolling drums.

6. Little Too Late - My second favorite song and second single. Drummer Myron Grombacher shines with his crash and burn drumming while Patty delivers one of the biggest hooks on the album. I like how she dresses like the tough little New York girl she is in this video, lots of New Yawk 'tude coming through. Are you talkin' to me? Well you must be talkin' to me, I'm the only one here.

7. I'll Do It - A little nondescript on the Rock side, but when I do something I really don't want to the hook to this song sometimes pops in my head. I'll Do It! Poor Patty, always so put upon record after record.

8. I Want Out - ...and the song titles get more generic by the second. "Fire and Ice" this is not, but when I take my Dixie Dog to the bathroom I often imagine she's screaming like this. "I Want Out!!!"

9. Tell It To Her - The song is built on one of those Andy Summer's kind of riffs, where it's kind of light, shimmery and stabby. Not a lot too this song except for the guitar scrape in the verse that sounds kind of like what got used in Radiohead's "Creep". With not much to say, I'll mention the bassist in the band is Roger Capps.

10. Silent Partner - Written by drummer Myron Grombacher, "Partner" is easily the most challenging song on the record. The first verse is a little hesitant and new wavy but gives way to a rapid fire beat for the rest of the way. Very much a "band" song that sounds like one of those tunes where everyone has ideas to throw in to make a sort of group stew (sounds kinda sick, but you know what I mean).

And that wrapped up Get Nervous, yet another Platinum album in Pat Benatar's belt. The song quality falls off shortly after the second side begins but that's common of a lot of people's albums. Benatar would go Adult Contemporary shortly after this record for a few more hits, but the move ultimately undermined her career as an Arena Rocker. There are some generic moments in the record yet in the end you know you're hearing a record even a mother can love. Like Pat Benatar's mother in the advertisement below!

Pat Benatar Get Nervous commercial

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Batman and Me

You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
With all the hype going into the new Batman The Dark Knight movie, I thought I would take a look back at the caped crusader from a personal perspective. After all, like a lot of kids I grew up on various versions of Bruce Wayne's alter ego. The ultimate orphan loner, Batman was either the coolest vigilante or the dumbest dork on the planet depending on which phase you caught him.

Batman (1966-1968)

As a boy I wanted to be Batman. But not just any Batman...old...chum...but the Adam West Batman. The one with the Batarangs, Bat shields, Bat metal detector, Bat Dance, Bat Gut...probably had a Bat condom somewhere-Bat everything! He had the best Batmobile with the siren and red trim and I've heard it drives as fast as 30 mph. Well, when you're a kid you don't know these things so it all seemed amazing. The Villains were well cast with Burgess Merideth as the wah wah wah Penguin, Frank Gorshin's obnoxious Riddler and a multitude of Catwomen to Wong Foo for. And even as a young boy, I found Bat Girl very watchable. I can't watch the show now that I'm older, but when I was a kid it was Bat-tastic. Holy Childhood Batman!

The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

I used to read comic books but by 1986 I had pretty much stopped. My brother collected comics (and still does) and one he had was The Dark Knight Returns which stood out because it had a thicker cover than most comic books. I read it and was engrossed in this nihilistic view of the Detective. Made by Frank Miller whose work I appreciated from the Daredevil comic, the future was going to hell and the Joker was having a field day killing people left and right. An older Bruce Wayne / Batman had to struggle with battling evil in a place where moral and economic decay was standard order and Superman stood for the extremist right. This comic singlehandedly recast Batman from campy fool to brooding vigilante. I think it is the best comic I've ever read. Holy Dystopia Batman!

Batman (1989)

The Dark Knight comic spurred interest in 'ol Bats leading to the development of a new Batman movie helmed by Director Tim Burton (Pee Wee's Big Adventure). Burton's whimsical and Gothic influences added dark humor and showed a willingness to explore some of the darker psychiatric implications of the Bruce Wayne character. The action sequences were a little more cartoonish than I preferred (The Joker shoots down the Batplane with one bullet if I remember right) and Jack Nicholson pretty much ran away with the movie. A summer blockbuster, the media was saturated with Batman everywhere. But there were plenty of good points to keep the movie going, not least of which was Burton's distinct visual style and an excellent Michael Keaton (Mr. Mom) who was controversial for being to old and comedic to handle Batman when cast. Once Keaton was done, he had become the definitive actor for the role. I must have seen this movie a thousand times. The Prince and Danny Elfman soundtrack had some good songs too. Holy Mass Marketing Batman!

Batman Returns (1992)

The success of Batman meant it was time for a franchise. Burton and Keaton return and bring Michelle Pfeiffer in as Catwoman and Danny Devito along as Penguin. My favorite of the Batman movies, Pfeiffer does an outstanding Catwoman and has some heat with Keaton. Devito also gives a great performance, one of the few times he doesn't give that one note little guy with a grouchy attitude schtick. Burton allows space for character development and even builds some sympathy up for Penguin. Plus the awesome Christopher Walken. I liked that Batman seemed to have more presence in his own movie this time. Very good popcorn flick even if it retreads most of the ideas from the prior movie. Holy Reruns Batman!

Batman Forever (1995)

Both Burton and Keaton must have gotten tired of Bats, because neither one of them returned for the next movie. With Burton's direction guiding the franchise, the filmmakers thought they needed someone with a strong visual style. Instead, they got Joel Schumaker (Flatliners). Just kidding, Schumaker has a very strong splashy colorful visual style it's just depth he lacks (his big contribution? Bat Nipples. Uh, yeah). Iceman Val Kilmer (Top Gun) is brought in to be Bruce Wayne and while he's no Keaton, Kilmer is more believable in the action sequences because of his comparative build and youth. Nicole Kidman is accompanied by scenery chewing performances from Jim Carrey as the Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face. This was so-so Batman, just good enough to carry the momentum from the prior two movies. I stopped caring at this point even though Seal had a great song on the soundtrack. I actually didnt see this until after I had watched Batman and Robin. Holy dullsville Batman!

Batman and Robin (1997)

Can something possibly be worse on an artistic level than the TV show? The answer was a resounding Yes! Batman and Robin brought George Clooney into the role so he could put a mask over his best known asset. Schumaker seemed to have more creative control because there was even less plot and Alicia Silverstone is clueless as Batgirl. At least Uma Thurman seems to know what's going on, she pours on the sultry yet slightly awkward sex appeal and steals everyone elses' thunder. The Governator collects his paycheck as Mr Freeze. Dreary and dull, Clooney's I-stare-in-your-eyes-a-long-time-because-I'm-deep acting tic is even funnier with a Bat mask. Makes him look cross eyed. Holy Crap Batman!

Batman Begins (2005)

After eight years, the decision to start up Batman again was made and a Director who specializes in dark cerebral themes was brought in (Christopher Nolan of Memento and Insomnia fame). Nolan immediately doles out a dilapidated Gotham City for Bruce Wayne to lurk around in and tells an engaging origin story that includes Rahs A Ghuls (sp?) and Scarecrow. Dark in tone with a focused Christian Bale in the lead role, the new Batman has more gravitas and brooding than the Burton films while returning to the edgier themes of those films and the Dark Knight comic. A strong reboot to the series and a lot of fun to watch. Holy American Psycho Batman!

As you can see, Batman went in and out of favor with me during the years. But the appeal of the original concept, a gadgety masked man with unlimited resources and a cool car has it's appeal. He'll never outrun his campy image, but at his best Batman makes self pitying schizophrenic psychotic millionaires with a serious hard rubber fetish fun.