Friday, February 27, 2009

Artist Spotlight: Bruce Springsteen 1988 - 2009

Touchdown! Bruce Springsteen cements his place in rock & roll history with a triumphant set at the Super Bowl.

The first half of Bruce Springsteen's career 1972 - 1987 is the stuff of legend. His albums were practically flawless, his live shows were the Gold standard of endurance and entertainment and even his B Sides were better than most people's full records. In the mid - 80's, Springsteen was the musical equivalent of Superman: A dark haired, chiseled higher life form with the perfect life fighting for truth, justice and the American way. To many fans, Bbrruuucceee was the human embodiment of working class Americana. Bruce Springsteen was "The Boss".

Riding high on hits like "Born to Run", "Born in the U.S.A.", "Born in East L.A"-no wait, that last one was Cheech Marin, "Hungry Heart", Springsteen seemed unstoppable in 1987. His then recent marriage to pretty actress Julianne Phillips seemed to complete the picture of him being the ultimate American hero. But while on tour supporting his Tunnel of Love album (an album filled with romantic doubt, interestingly) pictures surfaced in the tabloids of Springsteen sitting with his background singer Patti Scialfa on his lap. Rumors flared about a steamy relationship between The Boss and his employee, rumors that proved to be true. Springsteen and Phillips divorced and the "perfect" public image of Springsteen was cracked. It was like finding out Superman was cheating on Lois Lane with Lana Lang. When talking to people at the time, many seemed to feel Springsteen could no longer claim the moral high ground he had touted in his music. In effect, The Boss had been fired by his public.

Springsteen married Scialfa in 1991 and moved to L.A., away from his famed Jersey roots. He broke up the E Street Band in search of a new sound and brought in session players to fill the gaps. By 1992 he was ready to return, armed with two simultaneous album releases a'la Guns N Roses. How would the public react?

Human Touch (1992)

The main record of the two being released was Human Touch, an album that continued Tunnel of Love's penchant for relationship songs. But where Tunnel dug in and had a sense of feeling and honesty, Human Touch sounds contrived and empty to me. There were some bright spots, the title track is a favorite of mine and the quiet With Every Wish was memorable if only for its parable like chorus. The rest of the album just kinda lays there, a slick sounding disc with pumped up guitars and a whopping beat (courtesy of the late Jeff Porcaro). 57 Channels is a risk that pays off with a spoken word delivery and throbbing bass line. Midway through recording, Springsteen brought in one former E Streeter Roy Bittan to help flesh out the music. His impact is noticeable, particularly on the near classic E Street sound of Roll of the Dice. But it also ends up being a cheat, Bittan's presence ties the sound so closely to Springsteen's previous work that the changes that are made hardly seem noticeable.

Lucky Town (1992)

The story is that Springsteen went back to the studio to record one more song for Human Touch and instead wrote a whole album. Though simultaenously released, it's considered Touch's junior and was virtually ignored. That was too bad, because Lucky Town was everything Human Touch wasn't: raw, relevant and a sense of honest feeling. It's Springsteen's most personal album, the one that I see get cited the most when fans relate their life events directly to his music. Lucky Town packs in the thrill of forbidden love (the title track), the pride of having children (Living Proof), the Scarlet letter shame of being found out (The Big Muddy), the loss of no longer being The Boss (Local Hero) and briefly casts an eye on the nihilism around him (Souls of the Departed). The stripped down rock sound of Lucky Town gives character that's missing in the haze of over production on its counterpart. It's not a GREAT record, but if you're a fan then this is a good one to hear.

Greatest Hits (1995)

Springsteen isn't an artist who lends himself well to single disc comp packages considering how many of his album tracks fans took to heart over the more promoted material. But the hit Streets of Philadelphia from the film Philadelphia demanded a cash in of some kind. That song, with its sparse mechanical drum beat and Springsteen mumbling over a wash of synths, was a huge hit song all over the radio and pointed into the direction he would take. For Greatest Hits, Springsteen reformed the E Street Band to record strong tracks like Murder Incorporated (one of my personal faves). Yet it was another sparsely arranged tune, Secret Garden, that hit the radio again and became the ersatz theme to the movie Jerry Maguire.

The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)

True to form, following the two CD rock sound of his 1992 releases Springsteen went back to an acoustic format for his following disc. The Ghost of Tom Joad was touted as a return to Nebraska like starkness and Joad is pretty darn stark. Maybe it was living in L.A., no longer having a mandate to comment directly on middle America Springsteen championed a new set of people - migrant workers and people on the fringe. The Ghost of Tom Joad is a folky album of downbeat tales about the poor having wealthy America kick them in the face and leaving them desperate, robbing, killing, dealing drugs and dying forgotten. This album was hard for me to take, not because it was poorly written but because it had almost no melody (the excellent title song and Youngstown are the exceptions). It's like a book on tape with some guitar and keyboards. Still, years later the fan in me wants to give this disc another chance. So I did. The power and detail of the storytelling is impressive. Now that I'm older, I can appreciate the stories better even with the lack of melody. This is sit-down-with-Bruce-at-the-campfire-and-hear-sad-stories, it's an album I appreciate a little bit more now. And it might give you something to think about next time you see a group of day laborers hanging out near the hardware store.

Tracks (1999)

After decades of hearing how great Springsteen's unreleased material was, he finally put together a four CD set of this stuff. Much like tracking his career, the quality of the material is uniformly strong until you get to the last disc (the 90's). Great songs like the Rosalita jr. that is Thundercrack, the high speed "Dollhouse" and the rollicking "Where The Bands Are" proves that the rumors were true-Springsteen's throwaways were better than most other artists prime material. And the acoustic version of Born in the U.S.A. impressed me much more than the full band version ever did. At this time Springsteen brought back together the E Street band and garnered a lot of ill will for writing the song American Skin (41 Shots) about the New York City killing of an innocent man by police mistaking the man for a criminal. A pivotal track, "Skin" was the first time Springsteen would take the moral high ground in song in over ten years.

The Rising (2002)

Even with the E Street Band back in tow and the scandal of his cheating erased by time and his stable marriage to Scialfa, Springsteen still was not quite The Boss again. Then, 9/11 happened and Springsteen came flying back to action with an album to address it. Focusing his songwriting about the terrorist attack, victims and its effects, The Rising takes a look at sacrifice, heroism, loss and the need for communication. Tracks like Empty Sky, You're Missing and Into The Fire go to the heart of the matter. The rousing title track brings becomes a call to arms for the country to rise up against a common enemy. My City of Ruins was originally written with New Jersey in mind, it's inclusion at the end of this album made it the "go-to" song for media covering wide spread disasters. Musically it's a decent album, the E Street Band sound a little stiff to me and thematically it doesn't flow as smoothly as I thought it should. The Rising is a strong disc though and it propelled Springsteen back into Bosshood, he was once again the voice of the People.

Devils & Dust (2005)

After John Kerry's Presidential bid bit the er, dust (Kerry was strongly supported by Springsteen) The Boss released not an acoustic album but a more subdued rock album sans E Street. The title track solidified Springsteen's latest direction, creating music that tries to capture the times from his perspective. In this case delving into the confusion of Iraq from the first person point of view of an imagined soldier. Like Ghost of Tom Joad, Devils went into a series of character studies but with his Boss status regained Springsteen could broaden his approach to almost anyone. A mix of love, sex, loss and mojo are shot through Springsteen's story telling here. Controversy was sparked by Reno, a sort of Leaving Las Vegas: the not Sheryl Crow song detailing sex with a prostitute. For me, the highpoint was the high voiced All I'm Thinkin About which trust me is a song you never want to hear me sing. Or any song for that matter, but this one definitely.

We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions (2006)

Another critically acclaimed move that left me cold, Springsteen swerved into some ancient sounding folk music here. Once again I gave his music another chance, I was put off by the old tymey vibe the first time around. Still, this is Springsteen's most jubilant effort. Even when singing sad songs he sounds really happy. Maybe it's knowing that this was a one-off that makes me a little less critical of this album now. I enjoyed this disc in parts, O Mary Don't You Weep was fun as well as Pay Me My Money Down and We Shall Overcome. The use of older songs gave The Boss an opportunity to dig into Civil Rights and protest music in a safe form for the public. A pleasant curio, makes me want to ride a horse in a bowler hat and shoot someone with a Derringer. I have caught you cheating at the gentlemanly game of Black Jack sir, you card sharp! You foul fiend!

Magic (2007)

I initially thought this disc was about middle age, turns out it was a diatribe against the Bush years. In any context, this was easily the best Springsteen disc I had heard in a long time. The E Street Band, given some time off for Devils & Dust and Seeger, return and are on target for Magic. They are relaxed and fired up for full tilt rockers like Radio Nowhere or Last to Die. Some classic boardwalk strut hits Living in the Future while the Boss croons a bit to the swirling Girls in their Summer Clothes. By putting politics into a relationship song format, Springsteen is able to have his cake and eat it too. I was a little disappointed at first because there was nothing as classic as say "Dancing in the Dark", yet I played this disc for over a year and found new insight the longer I played it. By the end I liked this album a lot. An album that grows in quality over time, Magic shows a man taking a hard look at his Country and bemoaning its lost values. Long Walk Home sums up his stance most effectively and is a kickin song to boot. He really was the Boss again.

Working On A Dream (2009)

With E Street organist Danny Federici passing away and the nation in a serious recession you would think Springsteen would be even more downbeat. But he had shown the misery last time, now it was time to bring in the promise. A bookend to Magic, Springsteen seemed to feel a little more positive this time out. Where the last three albums found The Boss in a mood to protest about the direction of the Country, Working placed Springsteen between 60's reverie and hope for the modern day. Couched in orchestral ambiance, Springsteen takes a trip to remind us of what is great about America with an audio tour of modified hippie idealism. The whistling solo of the title cut, squiggly guitar lines of Life Itself and the old school organ playing of Surprise Surprise recall a flower power world of Peace and Love. And if anyone forgot the Boss was once called "the new Dylan", he gets really Dylany on Tomorrow Never Knows in full on "I Want You" mode. A touch of domesticity is also celebrated on cuts like Kingdom of Days or Queen of the Supermarket. This is Springsteen's most open and optimistic album that I can remember, though it's not quite as good as Magic. Happy music is a tough sell in rock & roll, often undercutting some of its power. However, Springsteen's an artist able to rise to the challenge and has made an album that is a good fit for the new Obama administration's themes. Working On A Dream is a winning disc that will give a smile right from the start when you realize the orchestra is pumping Kiss's "I Was Made For Lovin' You" during the first song Outlaw Pete.

Bruce Springsteen's Super Bowl performance was the capper, his return to being spokesman / conscientious party guy for a generation was complete. Also riding high on a song for the film The Wrestler, Springsteen has performed the near impossible feat of remaining relevant while still retaining his classic rock status. Like Van Zandt shouted at the Bowl, it's Boss time!

Monday, February 23, 2009

American Comeback Story

Yes America votes on who wins this show, I still say she was robbed!

With the beginning of a new round of American Idol comes the annual wake of Idol alumni hoping you still remember them from whatever previous season they came from. Amid criticisms of Idol losing its mojo and the recent commercial demise of previous winners (except Carrie Underwood) it may seem like a bad time to be a former contestant, but this years crop has generated some listenable moments so far.

First up, Melinda Doolittle, the ace background singer that gave flawless vocal performances every week until she was unceremoniously booted in favor of the more teen appealing Jordan Sparks. Doolittle specialized in a Gladys Knight sort of soul, mature classic R&B with a warm groove to work with outstanding control and timing. Following her run on American Idol she kept a low profile and it seemed she would just disappear. Now Doolittle returns with a new song that is a pretty good piece of retro soul that is made better by her emotive voice.

Melinda Doolittle "It's Your Love"

Second is Kelly Clarkson's new single, the appropriately titled "My Life Would Suck Without You". After her failed bid to move from entertainer to Artiste' with the crash and burn that was My December, Clarkson is ready to play the pop star game again. Her first offering is a song that seems as much a plea to her fanbase as it is a love song, "My Life Would Suck Without You" breezes by on a "Since U Been Gone" beat. Sure it's a sequel, but it sticks in my head just the same.

Kelly Clarkson "My Life Would Suck Without You"

Everyone loves a comeback story and now we have two people lined up to reclaim national attention. Can they do it? Clarkson is creating a buzz with "Suck" setting chart records, let's hope Doolittle can get some deserving attention too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Midnight Madness - Steve Garvey Edition

You're outta there! Steve Garvey has seen his perfect image tarnished a bit over the years but I still see him through kids eyes.

Steve Garvey, first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 70's and first part of the 80's, was a childhood hero of mine. He seemed like a cleancut, straightforward guy with Popeye forearms that could hit home runs for my favorite baseball team. Garvey consistently made the All Star team and was part of the team's World Series franchise of that era. I used to model my batting stance after him right down to the occasional hitch at the start of the swing.

One of the great things about the 70's is that personal information was not quite as pervasive. So despite the fact that he ticked off 3rd baseman Ron Cey to the point he got a black eye I didn't know how many people thought Garvey was a jerk. He slept around on his wife and fathered illegitimate children. And yet my childhood programming kicks in and I still think of the guy as a hero. While I obviously like the internet, there is something to be said for life before the information age. A kid could live in blissful ignorance of reality.

And the Award Goes To... - Not Batman (except Heath Ledger of course). The Academy Awards is tonight, this year seems like a mostly uninspiring batch of films that are probably good but don't get my mojo going. Except The Wrestler, I would like to see that movie. One award that's going to be interesting is The Best Song category. Between Gabriel's boycott on performing his nominated song, M.I.A.'s recent delivery of a new baby and Springsteen's snub this has become the most contentious category this year. The only other drama I can think of ahead of time is will Hugh Jackman shoot himself in the foot career wise by giving broad exposure to his song and dance experience? Wolverine might seem less intimidating if he's singing "Show Boat" or something while attacking.

Leonard Skinner - The box for the new Guitar Hero: Metallica video game misspelled the already misspelled band name Lynyrd Skynyrd. A little trivia, the band's moniker came from a gym teacher's name that they didn't care much for. Oh, and yes at least Metallica was spelled correctly.

Whoever smelt it, dealt it - Twice this week the recording industry saw their music leaked out online through internal channels. Both Kelly Clarkson and U2's new albums hit the net early. See, it's not always music fans fault that this stuff happens.

The Smack Down Tour - is my name for the proposed pair up of Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction coming this year.

Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em - The word is MC Hammer is going to have a reality show featuring him and his family in a Cosby Show sort of way. I'll say one thing for Hammer, he's persistent.

Are you sure your name is Fortune? - J.D. Fortune was the homeless singer who became discovered through the Rock Star tv show to become frontman for the Australian band INXS. Following an album and a few tours, Fortune finds himself homeless again after being unceremoniously fired at an airport. Seems he spent all his money recording a solo album.

Mr. Blue Sky - ELO bassist Kelly Groucutt passed away from a heart attack at age 63.

Epic - The internet is saying Faith No More is regrouping. Wonder if Jim Martin is back too?

American Idol Update - The show picked three people for their final twelve this week: A belting Alexis Grace, an increasingly controversial Danny Gokey (accusations of milking his wife's death are spreading like wildfire) and a mediocre yet popular Michael Sarver. I agreed with the first two but felt Sarver's performance this week wasn't up to snuff. My favorite performance of the week bit the dust quickly in the eliminations, that dark haired girl who performed "Natural Woman" Carole King style. But of course all eyes were on drama queen Tatiana Del Toro, who after weeks of abrasive self adulation arrived at the show this week as blank as a Pod person from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Until she lost, then she bawled so bad the 16 year old standing next to her seemed embarrassed.

Music for '09 - is starting to shape up, Melinda Doolittle's new disc has a good buzz to it. Green Day and the Dave Matthews Band have new sets of music lined up as well.

Hey Steve Garv-ey is that a new cologne you're wearin'? - Another bit of nostalgia, remember when a guy could say that to another guy in a commercial and it didn't sound like a come on? I remember seeing this Aqua cologne commercial growing up so I thought I would share. If a commercial like this was made today it would probably end with an exchange of steroids.

Steve Garvey Aqua Cologne commercial

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mr. Mike Project 1982

Buda-Buda-Buda...on restrictions from watching Buck Rogers? Then find yourself some Rock & Roll on the radio.

1982, the year that essentially created this blog. I wasn't doing well in school and was restricted to staying indoors to do homework without access to television or baseball (my two childhood obsessions) to improve my grades. For entertainment the only thing I had was my clock radio, so I left it on while I did homework. Then I started to like some songs more than others, like Blondie's "The Tide is High" or Toto's "Rosanna". At the end of the year, Casey Kasem and America's Top 40 (Billboard) ran a program on New Years Eve counting down the Top 100 songs of the past 12 months. So I decided to sit down and record the whole program (it was hours long and took about all nite). The best songs of the year for free! I played those tapes incessantly afterwards, leading me to buying music resulting 27 years later with what we have in the present (me and a lot of music).

1982 was also the last year of true Arena Rock. The music industry was in a slump, sales were down and the industry complained about home copying as much as possible to anyone that would listen (sounds familiar?). MTV had just started the year before and was a channel dedicated to Rock music only (big controversy at the time) meaning music hadn't been Hollywood-ized yet. Rock bands didn't have to be pretty, just play music well. Michael Jackson's Thriller was released in '82, but it wouldn't be until the next year that there would be a push to put him on MTV and change music forever. But that was in the future, now it's 1982. Here's my picks for Arena Rock CDs for my car.

Disc 1:

Journey - Open Arms

The song most credited with starting the power ballad, Steve Perry makes the girls weep with his special brand of epic sensitivity and pre-American Idol melisma.

Steve Miller Band - Abracadabra

The Bay Area invasion continues, the 70's rocker got his last run at the pop charts in with this synthy dance cut. He heats up and can't cool down. I heard this was written about Diana Ross, wonder if that's true?

Survivor - Eye of the Tiger

Boxing gets a new theme song as this track from Rocky III scores a knockout. I remember the first time I heard it, got dragged into a friend's house after a baseball game because he wanted to play everyone a tape of the rockinist song ever.

Moving Pictures -What About Me

The Australian smash hit ballad did little business here in the U.S., but was a sign of the growing influence of Arena Rock worldwide.

38 Special - Caught Up In You

Don Barnes best vocal in my book, the 38's give Urban Cowboys something romantic to say to their best cowgirls.

Toronto - Your Daddy Don't Know

A kickin' track that...I can't figure out why it matters that your Daddy don't know what your Mama's gonna do tonight. I guess it means you're telling someone their Mom is sleeping around? Not the nicest thing to say! But it makes for a killer Canadian hit. I've read the New Pornographers covered this too.

Asia - Heat of the Moment

Take three of the greatest Prog bands of all time (Yes, ELP, King Crimson), pour into a cup add water and stir.

Spys - Don't Run My Life

While looking for songs for these CDs, I finally got an answer to a lifelong question: what happened to those dudes that were fired from Foreigner? Answer: they formed this band.

REO Speedwagon - Keep the Fire Burnin'

Did you know that there was a band called REO Speed Dealer? Too funny. Oh, this song is freakin' great in that "Roll With The Changes" kinda way.

Judas Priest - You Got Another Thing Comin'

Rob Halford drops another hint to his fans of what's what. And then sells burgers with it two decades later.

Fleetwood Mac - Hold Me

Lindsey Buckingham kicks his production skillz into overdrive for this overdub classic built on yet another sturdy Christine McVie tune.

Bad Company - Electric Land

You know what sucks? I can't find a cheap copy of "No Smoke Without A Fire" anywhere. Anyway, gotta represent the original lineup where I can, so all I got is "Electric Land".

Bryan Adams - Straight From The Heart

Bri Dog's first big hit was this ballad, maybe I should have went with "Lonely Nights"? I included "Heaven" later, did I really need two Adams ballads?

Dio - Rainbow in the Dark

Ronnie James throws his fists skyward and screams about rainbows.

Quarterflash - Harden My Heart

Swanky sax and a Pat Benatar vibe goes the distance on this big hit.

Alan Parsons Project - Eye in the Sky

I asked my wife to sing this song to me recently, it was beautiful. The song itself with it's Orwellian fears, so ahead of its time.

Joan Jett - I Love Rock and Roll

Snarling, simplistic and catchy as hell. Joan Jett "Ow!"s her way to greatness.

Headpins - Just One More Time

Another Canadian band to do decent business up North, I always liked the name of this group. They had this one video where their faces were on bowling pins, it was cool in that early 80's kinda way.

Disc 2:

Aldo Nova - Fantasy

Awesome futurism, I mean the guy's name is ALDO NOVA and he has helicopters and laser guns in his song. Like Buck Rogers with a guitar. Twiki rocks out.

Tane' Cain - Holdin On

Jon Cain's then wife shows Quarterflash a thing or two in the Pat Benatar copycat department. And then becomes a B movie actress appearing in movies like Illicit Dreams 2 and Bikini Academy. Speaking of futurism, she appeared and sang in the first Terminator movie too.

Supertramp - It's Raining Again

The group's final hit with Roger Hodgson was this sing songy confection complete with the children's rhyme at the end.

Axe' - Rock and Roll Party in the Streets

I heard if you take this record and spray it on you that chicks can't resist you.

Steel Breeze - You Don't Want Me Anymore

Blazin' keyboards and fired up guitar, this is what music is about! State of the Art rock for 1982. Where's my Rubik's cube?

Kiss - I Love it Loud

This is a song I got into from hearing it on Music Choice over the past few years instead of listening to it back then. But what the hell, may as well include some makeup era Kiss if I can.

Journey - Don't Stop Believin'

As Sammy Hagar once said, what is understood does not need to be discussed. A song for the ages.

Rainbow - Stone Cold

Downbeat dramatics rule as Joe Lynn Turner and Richie Blackmore get the cold shoulder. Oooh, ice cold.

Foreigner - Waiting For A Girl Like You

Upbeat dramatics rule as Lou Gramm and Mick Jones give a warm welcome. Having those cascading Thomas Dolby synthesizers didn't hurt either. You know that line in the verse "When we make love it's understood", who understands it? I would think the two people having sex already understand they are having sex. Are they having sex in public?

Toto - Rosanna

As I learned from Casey Kasem, that synthesizer solo took several passes of overdubbing to get the right sound. Rosanna Arquette, inspiration to all musicians everywhere.

Golden Earring - Twilight Zone

You know half of that song "Radar Love" kicks soooo much ass. Oh, this was their other hit.

J. Geils Band - Centerfold

So provocative back in the day, Peter Wolf shuffles his feet and fantasizes about girls in girlie magazines. Interesting compared to now where Centerfolds can have their own TV shows and what not. Not that I'm complaining.

Cheap Trick - She's Tight

The Tricksters lay down their last great rock song, Arena Rock with a touch of punky urgency and ribald sense of humor. No accident Green Day ripped off this song years later.

Eddie Money - I Think I'm in Love

A highlight from last Summer when we saw the Money man play at the Santa Cruz boardwalk, the staggering one stands and delivers a straight ahead shot of AOR.

Shooting Star - Hollywood

Before videos took hold, bands would occasionally get ambitious and tell their musical theater dreams on record only. Also ran AORsters Shooting Star were no exception, I bet Dennis DeYoung was ecstatic when he heard this.

Tommy TuTone - 867 5309 Jenny

Is there anything harsher than putting a real phone number in a hit song? And then making it about getting a girl's number off the wall? Burn!

Billy Squier - Everybody Wants You

Squier brings the beats again on this zippy, bangin track. If it's good enough for the CW, it's good enough for me.

John Waite - Change

Proof that Pat Benatar had male copycats too, Waite hooked up with Benatar's guitarist for this rocker that was only a medium sized hit despite two attempts at chart success (in 1982 and then re-released as a single in 1985 for the Vision Quest soundtrack).

And that's it for the year that was 1982. Next up, MTV takes hold of the video and airwaves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Numbers 19 to 14

Bono saving the world one football stadium at a time

A lot of time has gone by since I’ve updated my 100 Favorite CD list, I missed all of January. To make up for lost time, I’m going to hit Numbers 19 thru 14 this round.

Number 19: U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2001)

My favorite U2 album, one that seemed destined to be. When U2 released this CD fans were buzzing about the reduced presence of techno that have pervaded their 90’s work. Beautiful Day was all over the place, a soaring upbeat piece of old school U2. Then 9/11 happened and though this was released before the tragedy, the times changed how I perceived the album. The slow healing in songs like Walk On and Stuck In A Moment and You Can’t Get Out Of It became the soundtrack to the weeks that followed. At the same time, the Lara Croft worthy Elevation brought a rush of disco rock to keep the album from becoming a ballad fest.

Number 18: AC / DC – Highway To Hell (1979)

The last album with the late Bon Scott, Highway To Hell was amped, driven sleaze streamlined and sharpened by super Producer Mutt Lange. The take no prisoners approach included the classic title track anthem (a song that meant a lot to us in Catholic school), the ultimate middle finger to the establishment at the time. Girls Got Rhythm, Beating Around The Bush and Touch Too Much brought hooks, humor and slamming power chords to the party. AC / DC would go on to further greatness, but they were never more dangerous than here.

Number 17: Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)

Billy Corgan went all Tom Scholz and took over the studio recordings, freezing bassist D’Arcy and second guitarist James Iha out of the creative process. Handling almost everything but the drums, Siamese Dream became the Alt rock answer to Boston: Tight, layered sonics with songs buried under mountains of guitar tracks. The Guitar Hero classic Cherub Rock took aim at Corgan’s detractors while the 120 minutes ready Today and the dramatic ballad Disarm tore up the MTV rotation. I bought the disc during a camping trip with my wife a few years later, who knew grungy riffola on cuts like Geek USA or Rocket would go so well with hot dogs and beer?

Number 16: Def Leppard – Pyromania (1983)

Mutt Lange (there’s that name again) followed up on his work with the prior record by taking an even more meticulous approach to recording. By the time recording finished, the band had switched lead guitarists and had a near perfect pop metal album when that idea was still new. Photograph made the Lep darlings of MTV as the follow up video singles Rock of Ages and Foolin’ became part of a generational vocabulary (Unta Gleebin Glossen Globen). Flamethrower rockers like Rock Rock Til You Drop and Comin Under Fire blazed through my little walkman as the ballad Too Late For Love got heavy radio play. Union Jack and snotty attitude ensured the Lep lots of coverage in Circus magazine as they dominated the Hard Rock field with their polished sound.

Number 15: Peter Gabriel – So (1986)

He seemed so unlikely to become a Pop star, yet that’s what happened when Gabriel made a stop motion video about his Sledgehammer. His combo of Progressive rock melodies with world beat rhythms, personal subject matter and atmospheric synths became irresistible. Big Time was the other big hit as slight a song as it is. What pushed he album over the top was In Your Eyes, a minor hit made into a pop culture phenomenon once John Cusack held a boombox over his head in the film Say Anything. This album was part of the backdrop to my college years that sounds as deep and fascinating now as it did then.

Number 14: Journey – Greatest Hits (1988)

One of the best selling albums of all time and with good reason, Steve Perry and crew collated their best soaring rock anthems and power ballads into a single set. Focused squarely on the bands peak period of 1978 to 1987, Greatest Hits serves up classics like Don’t Stop Believin and Faithfully alongside medium sized hits like Girl Can’t Help It and Send Her My Love. While fans like myself can quibble about what’s not there (No Stone in Love, no Anytime, no Line of Fire, etc) if you want a solid shot of what made this Bay Area band great you can’t do better.

And that’s it for this round, we’re getting close to the Top 10 of the list. I may actually finish this list this year. Yay!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Midnight Madness - The Rain

We've had a drought the past few months which has been a bummer (although it's made driving this time of year easier). This weekend the rain finally came, much needed rain, to California. It's supposed to rain into next week, hopefully it will help us get back on track. Our state is already out of money, it would be nice if we didn't have to sit through water rationing too (which some parts of the state already started on). We have some minor leaks on the back porch which sucks, but other than that we need water. So let it rain!

Disturbia - The more info that comes out about the Rihanna and Chris Brown episode, the worse it gets. I would say Brown is done professionally in the court of public opinion if it wasn't for posts I've seen on the net blaming Rihanna for pissing him off. Huh? Really?

You've got to have Faith, Faith, Faith - Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood have announced a US tour. May I suggest the Can't Find My Way Home tour as their tour name?

Sand Castles - Following their Grammy victory, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have announced plans for a second CD. Grammy hogs!

When Love Comes to Town - U2 will be kicking off the release of their new album No Line on the Horizon by appearing throughout the week of March 2nd on The Late Show with David Letterman.

What's My Age Again? - Blink 182 are getting back together. I'm now so old that bands who peaked in the late 90's are breaking up and then reforming. Oh Elizabeth, I'm coming to see you Elizabeth, this is the big one!

Human Rights Now! - Peter Gabriel has refused to play at the Academy Awards because he does not want to play his song "Down to Earth" as part of a medley. He would only get about a minute, it's understandable why Gabriel would not want to waste his time playing 60 seconds it just seems funny compared to the stuff he usually protests.

Ticketmaster and Live Nation merge - great, now we'll probably incur a service fee for their service fees.

Ryan Adams and Mandy Moore engage - it really pays to be a sad guy Alt rocker these days when it comes to marrying actresses.

Watch Me Shine - This season's American Idol contestant Joanna Pacitti kept crying every chance she got to the point she was like "The Crying Girl" part 2. Now she really has a reason to cry as she was DQ'd from the show due to having personal and professional links with the show's execs. I'd defend her but I didn't think her performances were particuarly strong anyway, particularly with the amount of professional experience she's had.

TV Roundup - catching up with the TV Shows I've been following:
  • Flight of the Conchords - The second season so far has continued with their silly antics, they still amuse but are not as sharp as the first season. There's been more focus on the supporting characters which is nice, the songs are pretty good just not up to the level of last year.

  • Chuck - My favorite show right now returned with an OK episode in 3D. The end of the episode where Chuck gets over the mid season break cliff hanger in less than 30 seconds of seeing his beloved agent Sarah kill an unarmed man was jarring and unconvincing.

  • American Idol - The giant shows signs of life as their old school approach begins to pay dividends. Their focus on the contestants personalities and building characters is working and they seemed to look for actual talent this year (which I'll credit to new judge Kara whose presence helps wake the others up). When you start to cringe every time that insanely self centered giggly girl shows up you know something is clicking.

  • Terminator - Coming off the first half of a sluggish season 2, the Terminator gang kicks it into high gear for the second half with a strong episode. Can they keep it up?
Perfect - A recent comment from lostinube caused me to look up some old wrestling and I stumbled across this match between the late grapplers Kerry Von Erich and Curt Hennig for the Intercontinental Belt in 1990. The timing in this match is dead on, when modern wrestlers
went back to this mat based style a few years ago it shows how sloppy they were in comparison.

The Texas Tornado vs Mr Perfect

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dave Grohl Will, Dave Grohl Will Rock You

Dave Grohl drops the irony and happily smells like teen spirit

It's just coincidence that while I'm binging on Arena Rock that a big portion of the Foo Fighter's recent DVD Live at Wembley Stadium popped up on cable tv. Being a fan of Grohl and his Foo Fighters I found watching this program an offer I couldn't refuse. And with Grohl announcing late last year that the band would be taking some time off, it seemed appropriate to take stock of what has become maybe THE Arena Rock band of the 21st Century.

Recorded live at London's Wembley Stadium, the Foo Fighters played two nights in June of '08. Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and the other guys and gal (because the band is really about those two main guys anyway) kick off the show in pure attack mode with their hit "The Pretender" and don't let up for the duration of the DVD. The Wembley crowd sings along heartily with anthems like "Breakout", "Monkey Wrench" and "Best of You" as they mosh and pump their fists in the air.

When Nirvana ended with Kurt Cobain's suicide, I just kinda assumed the two remaining members of the band would drift off into obscurity. And as good a drummer Dave Grohl is, with Cobain being the driving force in Nirvana nothing hinted that Grohl could be a front man himself. So it was sort of a surprise when Grohl released the first Foo Fighters album as a fully formed artist in his own right, writing and performing the disc almost single handedly. It was an even bigger surprise that it was really good.

In what was either canny strategy or just great timing, Grohl came in as the Grunge movement he helped usher in was losing steam. His ability to take Nirvana's soft / loud song structures and screamo vocals infuse it with Classic Rock sensibilities and massive song hooks set Grohl up to be the future of Arena Rock. Free to lead his own band, Grohl came up with a winning sound that was slightly formulaic, unsubtle and meant to be shouted and thrashed out by thousands of people. He became the Foreigner of the young generation (which on a lot of music blogs would be an insult but here it is high praise).

Which brings us back to a live setting, as I started to watch the program I wondered how the Foos would work out the issue of playing hits. On album, the Foo Fighters can be varied in the beat and melodies of their music. When it comes to their hits, they often work the same territory of breakneck punky post grunge or midtempo almost Tom Pettyish ditties. Wisely, Grohl finds a way to break down some of his hits, so while "Learn To Fly" gets the full band treatment other songs like "My Hero" gets acoustic and two thirds of "Everlong" is just Grohl by himself with an electric guitar. He works the crowd perfectly, going for every known "big gesture" (crouching low, running wild, arm extended in victory, etc). At the end of the DVD, they pull some stunt cameos by having John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page come out to jam on some Zeppelin with Grohl at the drums.

A great performance is just part of a music DVD though, it's a visual medium as well. Director Nick Wickham and whoever edited this thing has put together one of the best music concert DVDs I've seen. As animated as Dave Grohl is, watching the Foo Fighters is mainly watching one guy which can be deadly dull on a visual scale. Wickham's approach is to present a big Arena show as if it was a full contact sporting event. Cameras zoom, shake, bounce and lose focus as they move in and out of close ups of hammering hand movements and flying hair. Stage smoke adds atmosphere along with the big video screen as the camera catches every lighting flare it can. Then the robo cameras skim along the top of the crowd as they mosh or shout en masse. Editing moves quickly, at an almost Michael Bay level, so instead of two hours of looking at Grohl smile and grimace you get a range of shots and action. The elements help build the drama as it rains halfway through the show, making the sweaty performance seem more like you're watching grainy Super Bowl footage from the 70's. In this DVD, Grohl is like the star quarterback throwing a touch down pass before an enthusiastic crowd.

The excitement becomes palpable as the Foo Fighters tear through my favorite Foo song, "All My Life". For a moment, I felt like I was there rocking out with a throng of British fans. On their A game, backed with a stadium of 86,000 people and brilliant videographers, the Foo Fighters conquer the Arena Rock format. Now we'll have to wait to see what's next.

Valentine's Day

For my wife I say "I love you, will you be my Valentine?"

It's Valentine's Day! Some consider this to be a great romantic Holiday. Others consider this to be a day created by marketers of the florist, greeting card and chocolate industry. My personal experience has been if you're with someone it's a great day and if not, it just magnifys the fact that you're single. Sort of like a societal annual audit of your love life. Thankfully, I have been happily married to my wonderful wife for almost 15 years. 15 great years. I really couldn't be a luckier guy.

So I dedicate this song to my wife. It doesn't sound romantic, but she'll know what it means :)

Yes "And You And I"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thank You Some Kinda Wonderful!

Today I came home from work and my wife was very happy. She told me that Some Kinda Wonderful had sent us a Valentine's gift that included home made fudge. I had a taste of the four different types of fudge, Milk Chocolate Cherry Walnut, White Chocolate Cranberry Almond, Dark Chocolate Peppermint and White Chocolate Peppermint. They tasted fantastic! I seriously can't remember the last time I had fudge this good. Thank you Some Kinda Wonderful. This is a very nice gift. You're awesome!

I hope you and your husband have a great Valentine's Day. You've made ours very special.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mr Mike Project 1981

OK, we're up to 1981. A year that saw the people who practically invented the genre make their final significant contribution to their legacy (The Stones, The Who). Arena rock was in full swing with Styx, REO, Foreigner and Journey dominating the charts. A year to remember indeed.

One of the big debates I had with myself was where to draw the line between mainstream rock and Arena Rock. It was a tough call sometimes. I immediately removed anything that seemed hardcore Metal, so no Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, etc. New Wave artists who were considered Arena Rock later on, i.e. The Police and U2, didn't make the cut. Also, I had to rule out most Midwestern rock, so no John Mellencamp (though "Hurts So Good" came close to making my list), one Bob Seger song and no Tom Petty. The only major Midwest rocker I included was Bruce Springsteen, just because I've seen him twice and its hard to sit through a stadium of people sing along to "Hungry Heart" and not consider him a little Arena Rock. That and other people on my discs were heavily influenced by the Boss so it seems strange to not have him there.

What made it close even for Springsteen is what I consider to be the overriding element of Arena Rock: Cheese. There must be cheese. Not smooth, tasty cheese either. It must be government cheese, cheap and strong like a pimp's cologne. You can smell it a mile away. It must be overblown and a little pretentious to become real AOR. Like standing downwind from a sewage treatment plant, you must sense the overpowering nature of Arena Rock!

Disc 1:

Loverboy - Working For The Weekend

The Canadian rockers pumped up the wavy synths and came up with the all time anthem for weekend warriors everywhere. Get ready 'cause it's flag football time.

AC/DC - For Those About To Rock

No subtlety allowed in the land of Album Oriented Rock, you gotta give it up to a band that literally pulls out the canons to blow you away.

Rush - Tom Sawyer

It's probably my old age, but geekdom was tougher in the old days. You didn't have as many computers to do the thinking for you, games required dice and calculating imaginary statistics. Watching movies required going to a movie theater. And the bands you listened to had musical prowess and science fiction lyrics. Yet all the wisdom points in the medieval world couldn't match the awesome power of Rush. If you spent hours playing Star Raiders on Atari with a wore out joy stick then this is your jam.

Pat Benatar - Fire and Ice

Remember those old all weather tire advertisements that would put the tire through heat and cold? That has nothing to do with this song, Pat wails about those head playin' dudes.

Jefferson Starship - Find Your Way Back

Guitarist Craig Chaquico tears it up with this catchy rocker that plays well off of Mickey Thomas' soaring voice. Did Paul Kantner have a clue that he was losing control of his band? Hmmm...

38 Special - Hold on Loosely

What can I say about this song I haven't said already? How about calling this "Important dating tips from heavily bearded men."

Foreigner - Urgent

"You're not shy / You get around" Lou Gramm sets up the story early about his hard rock bootie call punctuated by Junior Walker's magnificent sax solo.

Rod Stewart - Young Turks

I couldn't fit "Infatuation" in on 1984, hated "Baby Jane" and didn't think "Lost in You" had enough impact so I settled for "Young Turks". My wife said I didn't like this song. Maybe I didn't, but it fits the bill in representin' Rod in the AOR 80's.

Rick Springfield - Jessie's Girl

Two words: Pure. Genius.

Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak

The Lep make the jump to the big time with this pounding ballad, can't you see...can't you see......No! No-oauh! Noooaahhhh! And then a decade later Mariah Carey would transform this song into an epic disaster.

Point Blank - Nicole

Two fisted drinking bar band sound with a slight California polish. Makes me want to grab Janet and Chrissy for a drink at the Regal Beagle.

Triumph - Fight The Good Fight

The poor man's Rush set their flash pots for kill on this, er, triumphant salute to power rock. Oh, and I totally mean that as a compliment, I love Triumph!

Styx - Too Much Time On My Hands

Tommy Shaw's sardonic tale of unemployment blues strikes a chord as much now as it did then.

Rainbow - I Surrender

Restraint has never been Richie Blackmore's strong suit, but here he stays out of wailin' Joe Lynn Turner's way.

Spider - New Romance

Would you believe this early 80's band wrote and performed John Waite's "Change" and Tina Turner's "Better Be Good To Me" first? I couldn't either but it's true. Classic upbeat 80's power pop dressed up as AOR.

Santana - Winning

One of the great sports montage tracks of the time, I remember a local commercial featuring a lot of jogging in slo mo to the tune of this track.

Bruce Springsteen - Hungry Heart

Really this came from '80 but I decided to place the Boss on my discs at the last second. Would you believe this was originally written with The Ramones in mind?

Kansas - Hold On

Another 1980 track, I just had to have some classic lineup Kansas thrown in if I could.

Disc 2:

The Rolling Stones - Start Me Up

Is that the sound of Window's '95 loading? The last great Stones rip gets their swagger on in a big way. I'm still curious about how this sounded when they tried to make it reggae.

Chilliwack - My Girl

Always loved this bands name. Alternating between sunny and dark as the girl in question stone cold leaves Chilliwack in the dust.

REO Speedwagon - Take It On The Run

Arguably the Illinois band's best known track, we all took the "Heard it from a friend who" section hook line and sinker.

April Wine - Just Between You and Me

Myles Goodwin gets all sentimental and French thinkin' misty eyed thoughts.

Journey - Who's Cryin' Now

The addition of keyboardist Jon Cain gave vocalist Steve Perry the writing partner he needed to sell heartfelt ballads to the muscle T masses.

Blue Oyster Cult - Burnin For You

You know you want to throw on some shades and drive your El Dorado to the park to chug a lug some brew when you hear this song. Admit it!

Peter Frampton - Breaking All The Rules

Because I wasn't covering the 70's I was really worried I would have nothing to represent the guy who ushered in the Arena Rock era in earnest. Then I found this cut on ITUNES. I was so freakin' happy.

Night - Hot Summer Nights

I found out about this group on ITUNES too. Never heard of them before that, but you can't beat this laid back good time rock with a quintessential 80's band name.

Red Rider - Lunatic Fringe

This is one of those songs that hung around all decade long but never seemed to become a big hit.

Van Halen - Unchained

My all time favorite Van Halen track, monster guitars and David Lee Roth throwin' attitude all over. Hey hey, one break comin' up!

Prism - Don't Let Him Know

Another of Canada's finest serves up electro hand claps and razzle dazzle keyboards to a marching beat.

Sammy Hagar - There's Only One Way To Rock

...and it's Sammy's way.

Genesis - Abacab

I don't know much about playing musical instruments, but I was blown away when it was revealed the title is a chord progression.

ELO - Hold On Tight

A great song. So why have all my memories of this cut been obliterated by a commercial for pain relievers?

Stevie Nicks - Edge of Seventeen

My favorite witchy woman let's her white winged dove loose to a jittering guitar riff.

The Cars - Shake It Up

Is it mainstream rock or is it New Wave? We'll never know, The Cars were the only band to straddle that line perfectly.

The Who - You Better You Bet

How many CSI shows do you think they'll have to make before this gets made a theme song? You Better (shine a flashlight on a dead body) You Better (look constipated viewing through a microscope lens) You Bet (act like a big shot at a crime scene). CSI Tacoma anyone?

The Little River Band - The Night Owls

When the bass player sang lead on this track, little did they know that it would eventually result in his taking over the band. He wasn't even an original member! But Little River Band still tours to this day, the bass player is the only guy that was there for the hitmaking years.

That's 1981, my next set of CDs go to the year that got me hooked on music - 1982.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Random Musings On The Grammy Awards

I hate to say it, but I really don't know a single thing about Lil Wayne or his music. He was funny on Letterman though.

I wanted to do a post about the Grammys but I couldn't come up with a firm theme so I'm going random here. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss won a bunch of awards including Album of the Year. Although the Golden God and my favorite Country singer make a good pair I just haven't felt strongly about getting their CD Raising Sand. Guess I'll have to change that. I'm such a sucker for award winning stuff.

This meant Radiohead was denied their chance to win the big award that some thought would go their way. Oh well, lets face it if they were big winners it would undermine their whole "I'm a creep I'm a weirdo" vibe. Coldplay won for Song of the Year for the excellent "Viva La Vida" which is pretty awesome. I'm sure Joe Satriani was sitting there with a calculator figuring out how much more he was gonna sue for.

Adele won Best New Artist which would be cool if it wasn't for the curse attached to that award (Milli Vanilli anyone?). I read Radiohead and Jennifer Hudson gave good performances, I'll have to look around online to check them out. And that's all I got out of the Grammys this year. All the attention quickly went off the Grammys anyway as the Chris Brown and maybe Rihanna debacle has sucked up all the drama. If the rumors are true, all I can say is that's sad. How do I wrap up a random post like this?

I know, I'd like to thank - (music starts and my mike cuts out to tell me to get off the stage).

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Mr. Mike Project

I haven't been posting much lately, mainly because my free time has been spent burning CDs for my car. Burning CDs for car stereo playing should be an easy task - unless you're a music obsessed person who likes to hear things a certain specific anal retentive way. In my case, for a long time I've wanted a set of CDs to play that focus on my favorite genre of Rock music: Arena Rock.

Arena Rock aka AOR for Album Oriented Rock is the ultimate expression of Rock music for me. Rock music stripped of deep meaning, endlessly hooky with flashy instrumentation and choruses meant to be shouted in basketball stadiums and hockey rinks. This is the least respected of all Rock music genres. It's referred to as Corporate Rock, Commercial, Lowest Common Denominator Appeal, the list goes on. Heavy Metal, Punk, Alternative rock all have nice shiny well researched box sets to sum up their styles nicely. But Arena Rock? Arena Rock gets clumsily slapped together comps from Time Life or what not, endlessly repackaging Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" with Warrant's "Cherry Pie" in every way conceivable. Plugged, unplugged, original recording, re-recording - so many different ways to do the same thing over. So I've set out to make my own box set of sorts, a bunch of CDs that follow the evolution of Arena Rock from it's early 80's zeitgeist to it's evolution into Hair Metal with bits of Soft Rock, Hard Rock and Prog Rock thrown in. And yes, "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" is included.

I debated on if it was worthwhile to blog about this, but dammit if you can't be excessively self indulgent on your own blog then where can you do it? I burned two CDs for each year in the 80's and to kick this thing off is the magical year 1980. The Seventies had just ended, Disco was dead, Punk and the New Wave were threatening to become the main voice of Rock as 70's Arena Rockers steamlined their sonics to include comfy synthesizers. To represent this wonderful time of tube socks and George Brett chasing a .400 batting average, here's my two CDs of 1980.

Disc 1:

The Tubes - Talk To Ya Later

Fee Waybill and his Bay Area gang of theatrical misfits tried to have it both ways by selling out and being ironic simultaneously. With the help of Producer David Foster and axe man Steve Lukather, they made it work for two albums.

Santana - All I Ever Wanted

I didn't hear this blazing track until I bought the Greatest Hits CD, my wife was sooo happy she knew a song that I didn't.

Jefferson Starship - Girl With The Hungry Eyes

A Bay Area trifecta, Paul Kantner lays down his last decent song about the girl with the perfect lips.

The Sherbs - I Have The Skill

Cheap guitars and cheaper synths make the magic on this ditty with the brain dead lyric "If there's a chance, I'll take my chances". And yet this song's hook sticks in my head for days.

Greg Kihn - The Break Up Song

Bay Area rock continues with this Kihntageous track. they don't write 'em like this anymore. They also don't write "Jeapordy" or allow it for download either. WTF!

Ted Nugent - Wango Tango

Well, had to include something from the Motor City Madman even if the 80's weren't kind to him. Wango Tango has a good dose of the wild crazy Nuge that he's famous for.

Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight

The first single from Phil Collins as a solo artist suggested he would be keeping a Genesis based prog pop approach, but a few years later he was bopping to Su-Su-Suddio and lamenting every social cause under the Sun.

Alan Parsons Project - Games People Play

Before Dr Evil had them create the "LASER", Alan Parsons had this driving ode to empty nest syndrome.

Meat Loaf - Dead Ringer For Love

The follow up to Bat Out Of Hell didn't disappoint, other than in terms of popularity, song quality and record sales. But still, this manic riff on "Summertime Blues" is outrageous fun with a game Cher throwin' 'tude to boot.

AC/DC - You Shook Me All Night Long

It's now a rock & roll standard, AC/DC's biggest hit delivers a monster hook with all their sleazy urgency intact.

Black Sabbath - Heaven & Hell

C'mon, it's Sabbath with Dio. How can anyone say no?

Joe Walsh - All Night Long

Another oddball (same disc as Ted Nugent), Joe Walsh's struttin' rocker is a classic good time jam.

Journey - Any Way You Want It

The definitive Arena Rock band kicks out the definitive Arena Rock anthem or at least a killer ring tone.

Queen - Another One Bites The Dust

Freddie Mercury and co. find a way to make a slightly menacing dance song with a disco beat. Probably one of the best remembered songs of my generation.

J. Geils Band - Love Stinks

The Boston rockers serve up Stonesy swagger with a biting sense of humor to create an anti-love song.

Pat Benatar - Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Pat in her original sexed up body suit wearin' tough chick persona, taunting the object of her affection backed by future husband Neil Geraldo's slashing guitar.

Kenny Loggins - I'm Alright

The beginning of his Soundtrack God reign started with this feel good classic that broke him out of his Yacht Rock shell and powered the film Caddyshack.

Rossington Collins Band - Don't Misunderstand Me

Surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd initally formed this unit, showing that while Ronnie Van Zant's charismatic story telling was gone they could still stir up a commotion.

Disc 2:

Yes - Tempus Fugit

The only Yes album to not feature spacey singer Jon Anderson showed the aging proggers in a more punky, new wavey form.

Donnie Iris - Ah Leah!

He looked like Buddy Holly while bringing a unique personal touch to anthem rock.

AC/DC - Back in Black

The Aussie rockers bring down a burgeoning riff that makes every man, woman and child believe they're a badass.

Loverboy - Turn Me Loose

Like a Reeses Peanut Butter cup, this Canadian quintet mashed together Arena Rock with New Wave in an innovative way. And they even brought tha funk too.

Genesis - Turn It On Again

Nobody writes concert opening tracks like Arena Rock bands and Genesis fired up rock geek nation with proggy classiness.

REO Speedwagon - Keep On Loving You

One of the original power ballads, REO drove to the top of the charts with this love song for guys who like to hear their voice echo and the girls who like to hear them.

Ozzy Osbourne - Crazy Train

Randy Rhoads plays on this. You do the math.

Touch - Don't You Know What Love Is

I didn't find out about this band until a few years ago, they're fondly remembered among the melodic rock crowd. I've got to admit after hearing this song for a week, I'm hooked.

Angel - I Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out

Still not sure if this is from 1980 or 1978 but I figured what the hell, gotta have some Angel. Mainly known as the dorky band that wore all white and tried to rip off Van Halen's version of "You Really Got Me" a few months before VH's debut, Angel keyboardist Gregg Giuffria would go on to form a group I really liked, Giuffria.

Michael Stanley Band - He Don't Love You

Remember when hard working bar bands could write clean cut good time rock & roll and sell it to people?

Judas Priest - Living After Midnight

A headbanging party anthem for the ages all done up in spikes and leather.

April Wine - I Like To Rock

Canada strikes again, no other country (not even the States) had an appreciation for meat and potatoes Arena Rock quite like our neighbors to the North. Watch in awe as the Myles Goodwin simply states his case and then interpolates the Beatles "Daytripper" towards the end.

Heart - Even It Up

The last gasp of classic era boogie rock Heart, when the public would see them again they would have gaudy clothes and hair teased up to the stratosphere.

The Babys - Back On My Feet Again

Just before joining Journey, keyboardist Jon Cain teamed up with AOR mainstay John Waite for two albums of strong Arena Rock. This clean, anthemic ballad hinted at what was to come.

Jackson Browne - Boulevard

Browne was still trying to keep up with the times in the 80s as he applied his literate lyrics to straight ahead pop rock like this tune.

707 - I Could Be Good For You

I just wrote about this song recently, a sleek piece of pop rock straight from the Bay.

Billy Squier - The Stroke

'Ol Billy dominated Arena Rock for a few short years, kicking it off with this inventive ode to, uh, rowing his boat?

Rush - The Spirit of Radio

"But glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah." Is there a better lyric in 1980? I think not!

That's it, my first two CDs of my Car CDs are done. Of course I couldn't fit in nearly all the songs I wanted to, but if I did include all those songs I would end up burning probably 100 CDs instead of just 20. Next time this story continues, we'll be in 1981!

Midnight Madness - Super Bowl Edition

"The Catch" part 2: The Steeler's make a touchdown pass reminscent of the 49ers famous snag.

We Will We Will Rock You! Just warming up for the...oh, that was last week? Yeah it was, the first Super Bowl I've watched in about 20 years or so went pretty well. I don't really follow sports or watch it on tv much, I enjoyed playing the games more than observing them (a victim of my short attention span, I love highlight reels because you see the exciting parts without all the strategy and what not) and can't recall watching a Bowl game since that one with Da Bears. You know the one, the one where Jim McMahon tried to show off early on with a bootleg and got turned inside out on the tackle. Anywho, this Super Bowl was an exciting game where the Arizona Cardinals (still St Louis to me) was narrowly beaten by the...jeez, I can't remember who won. The Pittsburgh Steelers, that's who. Glad to see the Terrible Towels are still around. I forgot his name already, but I can't recall seeing a quarterback as big as a lineman before (the Steelers guy) who was mobile as hell. My wife and I had a friendly wager that resulted in me winning a "pamper day" (not the diaper) and yesterday we had a nice day of pizza and DVD watching :) Thank you Bunny! Now, on to the Madness!

Cranked Up? - The famed Super Bowl commercials didn't really impress me much this year, what stuck the most is the one with Jason Stratham going Grand Theft Auto through a series of decades. That wasn't bad, the "I'm Good" beer commercial I can see catching on too. My favorite was the hip hop astronauts getting their moon buggy's tires stripped while they were collecting moon rocks.

Save Jack - Which reminds me, the current series of ads that started at the Super Bowl of Jack from Jack in the Box being in a major accident is a major bummer. He's my favorite fast food pitchman, it's like they're blowing up the clown all over again.

It's Boss Time! - Bruce Springsteen pulled out the stops for his half time show, scampering around, sliding into cameras and slinging his guitar around with a big grin on his face. And the way Ticketmaster is selling his tour tickets, the Super Bowl coverage is probably the best seats anyone will score for seeing him live this year.

Devils & Dust- The Boss' business blues continued with regretting his Wal - Mart deal following a backlash from fans. At least his new CD Working On A Dream went to #1 on the charts.

Going Bat Sh*t - First, Batman gets no respect from the Oscars with hardly any major noms. Then a tape recording of Christian Bale going all Hollywood tantrum on a lighting guy from the set of Terminator: Salvation hits the media. The fit Bale threw was so extreme the actor could barely defend his own "I'm in character" excuse. Any other working person would be fired for the behavior Bale displayed. Ah the perks of being a movie star.

At Last - Etta James goes off on both Beyonce and President Obama following the Bootylicious One's performance of "At Last" during the Presidential Inauguration. She went as far as to say Beyonce was going to get her ass beat, which would be a threat if it wasn't for her age. Ah the perks of being unable to carry out threats.

Passings - Both keyboardist Billy Powell (Lynyrd Skynyrd) and drummer Dewey Martin (Buffalo Springfield) passed away over the last two weeks :(

Year of the Dragon - is the name of my favorite Mickey Rourke movie, a brutal cop film in which he plays a detective that's racist against Asians while working a case in Chinatown. It's one of those movies that's so awesomely bad it's good. Speaking of Rourke, he dropped out of Wrestlemania as quickly as he announced his participation in it. Someone must have tipped him off that Best Actor nominees don't win if their next career move is actual wrestling.

A plot to take over the world? - Pearl Jam, Van Halen and Spinal Tap - yes, THE Spinal Tap, are either working on or planning to work on new music. It could be the perfect storm of hard rock thunder.

Bikini Wax - The most notable contestant so far in this year's American Idol, Bikini Girl, ran her 10 seconds of fame right down to it's annoying end this week. Too soon to tell if anyone truly talented is in this year though there are flashes of promise.

Bridgestone Tires Ad

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Take That You Tree Hugging Hippie!

Kenny Rogers is back! Oh wait, that's Jackson Browne. Rock's other eternal teenager grows a grey beard covering his trademark youthful appearance.

Last year a new Jackson Browne disc hit the streets so I snapped it up after Christmas. His recent Solo Acoustic series garnered some attention and made fans like me reappreciate his talent for matching literate lyrics to a peaceful easy feeling. He got a little boost in visibility last year when he sued John McCain for usage of his song "Running on Empty". After taking some time to take in the sounds of the great mellow one I've reflected on the reflections of the famed So Cal singer / songwriter.

When a rock & roller reaches old age they have a choice: modernize their trademark sound to prove relevance attempting to reach new fans or relax and sink in to what made them great. Browne has chosen to do the second option and is all the better for it. Time the Conqueror is classic Jackson Browne with comfortable beats, tasteful guitars, pleasant harmonies and dramatic piano topped with a layer of organ. In familiar surroundings, Browne's voice continues to evoke longing and hesitant weariness.

Even with a good sound Browne's only as strong as his songwriting. Time the Conqueror finds him in fine form, hitting his familiar targets of lefty politics decrying the right wing, wistful recollections of hippie freedom and the knotty nature of relationships. There is an added layer of mortality as the title track shows with its suspended folk guitar riff. Browne calmly reads the riot act to the Bush era in the urgent Drums of War. And if you missed old school Browne, before national politics became the centerpiece of his writing, Just Say Yeah provides fine detail of the changing of a relationship from friend to lover. Or if you just want a nice melody, Giving That Heaven Away fits the bill nicely. Just to show he's not always Mr. Dour, Browne has a little fun with the absurdist Going Down to Cuba.

To much of the public, Jackson Browne will remain someone who peaked before 1980. But Time the Conqueror shows that if you stick around, he still has some good music to offer. Based on that, if you like Jackson Browne this is a really good record, um disc. Sorry, slipping into the 70's again. If not, it's still good stuff if you're open to his little diatribes. No longer running on empty, Jackson Browne reveals a man still late for the sky.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Midnight Special

When the MTV boom hit in the early 80's, non cable channels started to scramble for music programming that wasn't exclusive to the big M. One of the programs to benefit from that was The Midnight Special, a music program from the 70's and early 80's that had stopped just before MTV happened. The program had great performances by Hall & Oates, Journey, The Doobie Brothers and many others. I spent many hours watching these episodes over and over, particularly the Journey ones. It was an awesome awesome show.

This came to mind because I've been hooked on an oldie by the group 707, the song is called "I Could Be Good For You". The best video I could find online was from The Midnight Special. Check out the guitarist in this video, he goes all out on the rock guitar posturing in a way you just don't see anymore. So kick back, drink a beer and get ready to party. It's Mullet Time!

707 "I Could Be Good For You"

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Liam Neeson Hit's 'Em Back With A Two Fisted Ring Tone

Your minutes are up! Liam Neeson adds an optional extra to his cell phone's Family Plan, killing and torturing to find his daughter.

Is there anything cooler than hearing a guy with a refined European accent calmly talk a bunch of smack to an opponent? Decades of James Bond movies have proven there isn't, so the marketers of the new movie Taken used a clever attention grabbing gimmick for their TV advertisements: put up uncut almost 2 minutes of the movie where Liam Neeson's daughter is kidnapped followed by Neeson threatening the kidnapper over a cell phone. It's a great stunt, the ad comes on TV in a way that you think maybe the station is playing the wrong show and the scene totally hooks you. "I don't know what you want, if it's ransom you want I don't have any money. But what I do have is a particular set of skills, skills from a long career of being a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go, that will be the end of it. I will not pursue you. But if you don't let my daughter go, I will pursue you, I will find you and I will kill you." That's not a word for word transcription, what I just typed is entirely based on memory from the ads and seeing the movie yesterday. That's how kick ass hearing Liam Neeson in his Irish accent is when he's talking sh*t to an evil opponent. The scene was so good that during the movie you could feel the audience excitement swell when it happened and some people cheered after Neeson reeled off his fancy trash talk.

This hook explains why the movie theater was crowded when my wife and I saw Taken. While the rest of the movie doesn't hit the high that the trailer scene does, it is a fun if implausible action romp. The set up is simple, ex-spy Liam Neeson is trying to build a relationship with his estranged daughter. The seventeen year old daughter asks for permission to visit Paris with a friend. Reluctantly, Neeson agrees and the daughter gets kidnapped the first day she's in the city of lights. The ex-spy uses his old contacts and "particular set of skills" to try to rescue his daughter knowing that after 96 hours the trail will be too cold to ever find her.

Like the trailer, the movie Taken does not have much to offer in way of substance. This type of story has been done many times before, Schwartzenneger, Seagal, Norris, Ford and a multitude of other action heroes have rescued their loved ones from harms way. There are plenty of holes in the story along with a cluster of only-in-the-movies coincidences that favor the hero. And while the movie does go into the seamy underworld of sex slave trading and prostitution, it exists as a backdrop more than social commentary. Hand to hand combat, vehicle chases and automatic weapons fire have been done on screen for ages. So what does Taken have to offer?

Well, a "particular set of skills". Mainly, Liam Neeson. After years of playing the Voice of Conscience and getting his butt whupped by Darth Maul on Naboo its a thrill to see Neeson finally get to kick ass. Taken is all about identifying with Neeson and he makes the movie work. Neeson's seething rage and inconsolable worry hidden under a mask of mental focus and spy trained strategies takes the audience along for a good ride. As the audience we want Neeson, the unapologetic American hero with an Irish accent, kill and torture as many bad guys as possible to find his daughter because he makes us feel the pain.

Director Pierre Morel wisely keeps Neeson in every scene so you see things strictly from his character's point of view. Morel keeps the story moving at warp speed to glaze over the script's deficiencies and does Neeson a huge solid by using quick cuts in the action segments to put his character over as a middle aged Jason Bourne type (every time Neeson goes into hand to hand the editing goes cut cut cut in rapid succession to make it seem fast). The clockwork timing on fake outs and lightning fast martial arts moves are all there. Good money gets spent creating realistic looking sets allowing Morel to delve into the grit.

Taken is a B action movie dressed up with a decent budget. But it works, works pretty well in fact. All that trash Neeson talks in the trailer gets backed up to satisfaction and I found it more effective than the recent James Bond movie to boot. As far as action films go, Taken is good stuff that will pump you up with adrenalin. Creatively, this is Neeson setting up retirement plan options- he can continue doing this type of character for years on made for basic cable movies if he wants to now. Talk that fancy smack Liam!

Taken Trailer