Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All I Want Is A Motorcycle Riding Stuntwoman With Frickin' Laser Beams On Her Head!

The best selling poster girl pin up of the Reagan era rides a plastic motorbike to glory in Cyclone.

Often when I watch movies, I like to analyze it and look at the artistry of what's happening. The cinematography, the lighting, the editing, the sound, shot all goes into the art of filmmaking which I am a big fan of. So I tend to watch movies that art kinda artsy fartsy with acting and stories and what not...but not today! Today I felt like watching the video equivalent of comfort food, so I sought out something that would match the sort of B level Cannon Films quality of action film. And then I found the perfect match: Cyclone!

Back in the day I saw this movie's cardboard box in just about every video store I went to. And it was always in the same condition-unrented. So today was the day, the day when I would finally get to see what was hiding on that little plastic strip of videotape. The Fall Guy's Heather Thomas. A motorcycle. A title that implies wind and excitement. Oh Hell Yeah, it's gonna be a winner of a movie!

Let's get to the story, a government scientist builds a secret room (referred to as a lab, I guess because it has a chalkboard and PC in it) in his house to create a motorcycle that can fire electric bolts and rockets. Also, the motorcycle helmet shoots lasers off the side of the head. But the lab rat doesn't trust the government he works for, there's leaks you see, and despite death threats the geek won't back down. His live in girlfriend Heather Thomas, fresh from working out at the gym and kung fu'ing some random thugs, talks him into going out to a club for a dance. At the club the geek gets iced by the late legendary stuntman Dar Robinson (playing a hitman along with a punk/retro chick assassin as a partner). Heather Thomas goes home and in the "lab" discovers a message from her boyfriend that auto plays if I guess the computer assumes he's dead. It tells her the super motorcycle's secrets including that it's weapons are powered by a box the size of a remote control that can generate enough power to run a battleship. She must get the Cyclone motorcycle with the power source to the one government agent he trusts, outwitting other corrupt government agents and the assassins. And the thrills begin!

Cyclone is an incredible monument to crap. But that's what makes it sooo great. Nobody in this movie is convincing, least of all Heather Thomas as the girlfriend. Her fight scenes are ridiculously staged, scenes where she is supposed to cry or show concern all get played out with the same air of husky stiltedness. Best of all there is a torture scene, where she first portrays getting electrocuted like someone poked her back with a stick and then gets a "hot" cup of coffee thrown in her face. The coffee part is really cool because it's so blatantly cold that she has a delayed reaction to it. It was like "Oh yeah, my face is supposed to be on fire right now after I've been given electrical torture I better do something." So she acts like someone slapped her. Classic stuff.

And after all the hype about the motorcycle there are only like two chase scenes. You have to wait to the final chase to see the gadgets go on the Cyclone. And in that type of physics that can only exist in B movies, the electric beams of Cyclone blows the hell out of a 70's American Car but can't hit a motorcycle driven by her nemesis, even with rockets. The rockets and beams would score a direct hit and the motorcycle baddy just kept rollin until it drove into a parked car. That was of course just an excuse for the main bad girl to play possum long enough for some final fight scene fu.

Movies like this are made to be torn apart and enjoyed as junk and by those standards Cyclone is phenomenal. What I like best is the logic of the supposed genius lab geek in the movie. This guy invents an endless energy source that would make fossil fuel and nuclear power obsolete. Instead of using this idea to end fuel crisis and revolutionize the power industry, he builds a weaponized motorcycle. A motorcycle with enough cheap grey boxy plastic on its coverings to make a years supply of Casio digital watches. A motorcycle, a vehicle that provides almost no protection from attack except for the bullet proof glass shield in the very front. Fortunately, everyone that shoots at the Cyclone aims for exactly that spot.

So if you ever find yourself thinking "I really wish there was a movie with Heather Thomas from The Fall Guy driving a missile launching motorcycle and firing laser beams from the side of her head" then this movie is for you. Below is a clip from this magnificent hunk of junk. Enjoy!

Flixster - Share Movies

Monday, April 27, 2009

Supergroup Retro Rock

Fear the 'fro! In a bizarre case of six degrees of separation, this man's daughter has been romantically linked with the actor / former wrestler The Rock! Wrap your head around that one.

The latest round of retro rock caught me by surprise, it was almost as shocking as completing a pass in electric football (how I miss electric football, with the buzzing football field and the players moving in the most random directions possible). Now I try to stay open to new music because it's fun, at the same time nothing satisfies like a straight shot of music done in the style of the late 70's / early 80's for me. And lately there's been some reason to be happy with people from the past bringing back those great days of antenna tv and tennis stars named Borg.

First up is the group Tinted Windows. To be honest, I keep feeling like I should like this band more than I do. They play in old school skinny tie power pop style, like The Knack. An eclectic mix of musicians, Tinted Windows features Cheap Trick's Bun E. Carlos, Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, Ex-Smashing Pumpkins James Iha and Hanson's (yes, I said "MmmBop" Hanson) Taylor Hanson. The lead single "Kind of a Girl" has that tight poppy sheen that worked wonders for The Cars. Even the video is done like something dug up from 1980. Power poppin' fun.

Second is Ernie and the Automatics, the latest effort from ex-Boston axe man Barry Goudreau. This time, he's roped in ex-Boston drummer Sib Hashian (though I'm sad to say the giant afro is gone), former members of RTZ and the sax player from John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. I got this song from an indie sampler by Paste magazine of all places! I put it on my IPod to check it out and was blown away. It will torque Tom Scholz shorts but where Boston has become increasingly antiseptic in their high tech approach Goudreau brings back the bar band boogie that made the band exciting. This track left me wanting to replay classic Boston songs like "Rock and Roll Band". Awesome awesome stuff.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Artist Spotlight Neil Young 1999 - 2009

Taking a look at the Old Man's life.

Most of my life I've been indifferent to Neil Young. I didn't have anything against him, I just didn't have anything for him either. I mean, except for "Rockin' In The Free World" and his collaborations with Pearl Jam there just wasn't that much to get excited about. My wife was a bigger fan than I was, as she used to listen to Harvest Moon (1992) frequently and later bought Harvest (1972) as well. Then in 2005 I saw Young perform at the Bridge School Benefit concert and found myself really enjoying his performance both solo and with Crosby, Stills and Nash. After that I delved into his recent catalog and became a fan, which is unusual for me because I normally drift towards a classic rocker's older material.

What I like about Neil Young' music is that it is full of life. His music can be chaotic and random or mellow and relaxed. He often writes about whatever inspires him at that moment. Sometimes he is fully focused, other times he is scattered-hitting on flashes of brilliance in between rough spots I guess you can say that about a lot of musicians, yet with Young it seems more noticeable.

Earlier today I spent about 90 minutes writing this post out only to have my computer not save 3/4ths of it! I had it all written out with nice detailed notes and my usual half assed analysis, I was quite happy with it. Now here's take two of that post.
Crosby Stills Nash and Young - Looking Forward (1999)

The Inspiration? - Revisiting old friends and hey, pay day!

Young regrouped with his legendary cohorts in 1999 for their self financed disc Looking Forward. As a whole, the album was real generic post hippie junk ("Stand And Be Counted" people!) with uninspired song writing. For Young's part, his title track was the lead single and gave the false impression that it was going to be a good album. It's weathered and measured tone allowed for them to harmonize in a setting that didn't force them to sing hard. At the other end of the spectrum was "Slowpoke", a lame rewrite of "Heart of Gold". His guitar keeps some life running through the shellac of crap on this record. Then they went on tour and made a buttload of moolah.

Silver and Gold (2000)

The Inspiration? - I dunno.

I didn't know this album existed until I read his discography, I've never heard it so I have no idea if this is any good or not. Lost classic or buried shame? I wonder.

Are You Passionate? (2002)

The Inspiration? - Neil loves his wife and old school Soul

Young gets his R&B groove on with this album a collection of songs that follow a semi story arc of disillusionment, hope and fulfillment of personal romantic love. A focus on the almighty beat rules this disc as horns pump, organs glide and guitars careen while never straying from the dance. Even the big political song, the patriotic 9/11 inspired "Let's Roll" keeps its eye on the love these heroes had for their families and America. What undercuts the album is forgettable songs, making the little nods to 60's party music the most enjoyable parts of Are You Passionate? (the song "Be With Me" had me thinking Four Tops while the opener "You Are My Lady" apes the guitar line from the R&B classic "Rescue Me".). There is one moment of awesomeness when Crazy Horse guests on the charging "Goin' Home". While you can't question Neil Young's passion, the execution is a little lacking here.

Greendale (2003)

The Inspiration? - Baby Boomer Fantasy

Young went for the gusto with an extremely ambitious concept record and film to match. Greendale is a dense concept record about...I've heard this a few times and never got a strong fix on what it was about. What I got out of it was there is this young hippie girl named Sun Green, the kind of young hippie girl that only exists in the imaginations of old guys that used to fight The Man and now write entertainment, and her surroundings of a conservative small town. I read on Wikipedia that its about a Police Officer's murder and its affects on the town's occupants. I totally did not get that, but maybe if I bothered to dissect this album closely I would have. Crazy Horse continues to give Young a strong foundation to work with, it was just way more story than I felt like absorbing.

Greatest Hits (2004)

The Inspiration? - You will have a single disc Greatest Hits, oh yes, you WILL have one

Neil Young finally released a one CD Greatest Hits comp which offended some purists. Fortunately, I'm not a purist! I had the two CD Decades set already which naturally is more comprehensive and covers only his most famous period. Greatest Hits covers much of the same ground faster and with more consistency in terms of radio hits. This worked better for me because though I like his old stuff I actually prefer his more recent material, so a single disc gets me all the thrills without digging too hard into his past.

Prairie Wind (2005)

The Inspiration? - Happy to be here.

After a few albums of flexing his guitar hero muscles, Young reverted to his most popular sound-the reflective Country rocker. During the making of this album Young had an aneurysm which probably affected the mood of this piece. Prairie Wind is a sort of taking stock of his life, bits of childhood remembrances of family and Elvis come in with a sense of sentimentality. The point of view, as illustrated by "The Painter", is firmly in the present with a fond look back at the past. When I saw him perform "This Old Guitar" at the Bridge School Benefit with Emmylou Harris, I was hooked on the simple beauty of that tune. Even the hymn like "When God Made Me" was genuinely affecting. Prairie Wind is the Young album I've played the most, an album where the songwriting has enough focus to match the vision.
Living With War (2006)

The Inspiration? - A Love letter for President Bush

In 2006 the Iraq War was becoming increasingly unpopular and Young was apparently tired of waiting for the generation of Sun Greens to do anything. So Young quickly slapped together a full on shout down the establishment protest album. Fired up ragged guitar riffs back ranting lyrics about the evils of the Iraq War and Bush administration. There aren't quite songs to speak of, just a stream of righteous outrage that's pretty hit or miss, often in the same song. If you need an indicator to tell you which direction Young is leaning, one of the songs is called "Let's Impeach The President." Still, you've gotta give props for having the foresight to name check Obama in "Looking For A Leader" two years before the election. Living With War has some strong moments, yet it left me wishing for better songs to truly unleash the beast burning in this one.

Chrome Dreams II (2007)

The Inspiration? - A look backwards towards the future

While Prairie Wind dealt with a look into the past and Living With War the present, Chrome Dreams II gets ready for the future. Ironically, it does this by taking songs that were written in the past but previously unreleased. It gets off to a soft start with two slow numbers that focus a lot on birds, but after the 18 minute "Ordinary People" Young hits his stride. "Ordinary People", apparently recorded in the 80's, takes an inclusive look at folk of various walks of life. From there the "Dirty Old Man" takes the "Spirit Road" to uncover "The Way". Second only to Prairie Wind in quality from the last decade, Chrome Dreams II has Neil Young in all his ragged glory.

Fork In The Road (2009)

The Inspiration? - Plug In, Tune Out

Inspired by his personal electric car project of making a hybrid out of a 1959 Lincoln Continental, Fork In The Road takes an approach similar to Living With War. On Road, Young cranks up the guitars with muscular riffs and spits out whatever is on his mind. It also yields the same results, songs fly by with a great lyric or melody followed by rambling noodling. "Just Singing A Song" holds together well, but with three (count 'em, three!) songs ending with "The Road" in the title it seems a little lazy in the song writing department. Some of the good parts include the repetitive yet fun "Johnny Magic" and the acerbic "Cough Up The Bucks" taking to task the gatekeepers to the economy.

Like Springsteen, Neil Young is the rare kind of classic rocker that can put out new material that has relevance in today's world. Sure he's as scatter shot as a sprinkler missing it's head, that's actually part of his appeal for me. He creates music as lively and random as life.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Not Too Late To Phone In Your Support...

A few years after her third place showing on American Idol, former background singer Melinda Doolittle finally finally finally releases her debut album Coming Back To You. Anyone who watched in pain as Doolittle lost out to beatboxing Blake Lewis and teen spirit Jordan Sparks knows what to expect: Soulful vocals with power and feeling, "in the pocket" as Paula Abdul used to say and a whole lotta Gladys Knight. Despite these qualities, Doolittle lacked the youthful appeal that her competitors had which led to her dismissal in spite of her never giving a bad performance. If I remember right, Cowell often derided her for seeming "old" and "too nice".

Doolittle's other strike against her was her taste for old school R&B. The 60's and 70's rhythm and blues scene is her zone as Randy "Dawg" Jackson would put it. Coming Back to You plays straight to her strength - the arrangements and songs would have easily fit on any mid 70's soul disc. Hardly any electronic effects, the instrumentation is basic drums /bass/guitar/piano set up accented by pumping horns, ringing bells and swirling strings. Even with the wave of retro soul out there, no one's gonna confuse Doolittle with Amy Winehouse.

Being caught in a time warp can be a bad thing, yet if you accept that's what you're going to get it's not too bad. The songs are solid though unspectacular. Doolittle has snazzy bits of sleek soul (the title track), nice ballads ("The Best of Everything"), upbeat pre disco dance jams ("Declaration of Love") and orchestral prettiness ("I'll Never Stop Loving You"). Through it all, Doolittle does exactly what she did on the show - hit her marks with unerring accuracy. She can still tell a story with masterful pacing and range.

Simon Cowell is probably happy Doolittle didn't win the show, she lacks the charismatic Wow factor he's looking for. The benefit a win would have given her would probably be a more sizeable budget for production and marketing. The album feels slightly constricted and thin in terms of sound quality. But given a choice between a cheap disc and no disc, the former is preferable. So she won't sell as many CDs or downloads as Jordan Sparks, so what? Melinda Doolittle remains a consistent and talented performer that knows what works for her and works it well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This Island Earth

My favorite Elton John song is "Circle of Life", which I thought of often during this movie.

Today is Earth Day and to honor this annual eco friendly awareness we went out to see the new Disney film Earth. Intentionally released on Earth Day, each ticket sale for the first week goes to planting a new tree. I didn't know too much about this film before going to see it, my wife was very interested in Earth and the trees that are planted so we decided to go on opening day.

It's been a long time since I've seen a nature documentary on the silver screen and all I can say is WOW, what a difference. The images have a size and clarity to them that let the viewer become immersed in the settings. This film was clearly shot over a long period of time as seasons change and time lapse montages are employed regularly. The filming is done beautifully and with the amount of scope needed to do the planet justice. Visually, the only negative I can really say wasn't the film's fault but the movie theater, the print was scratchy and the first reel kept jittering up and down.

The movie takes us on a tour of wildlife up and down our big blue orb, the polar bears of the North Pole, the rainforests, the Elephants in Africa, the whales in the Ocean and the birds in the sky all get featured. Stunning vistas and crowded scenes of mass migrations across land, sea and air all impress. Close ups on the animals reveal a detail you can't see on a tv screen, even a HDTV screen. My personal favorite was a shot following melting glacial water flowing off a mountainside into a vast pit of mist.

In terms of story, it's all about the circle of life and the change of the seasons. Families and herds of animals, driven to migration by changes in the weather, face starvation and other predators for a shot at survival. Life and death figure greatly here. There are moments of humor mixed in though Earth keeps its eye firmly fixed on the big picture: Global warming combined with nature's already harsh conditions makes getting to the next day harder and harder. Solemnly narrated by James Earl Jones, Darth Vader lays out the situation with a nice mix of facts (1/3rd of the planet is desert!) compassion and occasional wry humor.

As a film, Earth does a good job of meeting and sometimes exceeding the expectations that come with this type of film. Like a grand encyclopedia, as James Earl Jones says at one point this brings to life a part of the world that many are disconnected from in urban life. He's right. And while the movie does fall short of amazement and can be slow in spots, it consistently entertains and fascinates. In addition, the more I watched it the more I saw how little differentiates us from other animals. The segment with the Elephants and Lions was both scary and impressive in the amount of intellect that goes into their interactions. In the end the message is clear: Earth is a beautiful place for everyone and it's up to the viewer to keep it that way.

If you watch this movie, I recommend sticking around for the ending credits which show funny bits from the filming of Earth.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mr Mike's AOR Project 1988

It was a concert I had wished I had gone to.

It's fitting after covering a whole lotta Zep that 1988 is the next year in my AOR Project because that was the year everyone wanted to be Zep. In the wake of Whitesnake's success a slew of bands took to the Zeppelin sound and interest renewed in the original members. On top of that Hair Metal went into overdrive. The Monsters of Rock tour was somewhere around this time led by the Hagar driven Van Halen. Everything was great in '88!

Disc 1:

Fate - Love On The Rox

When bands split up, it usually doesn't seem clean. So when Mercyful Fate divided and one half became Fate, well that was just pure genius.

Robert Plant - Heaven Knows

I debated with myself to include this or "Tall Cool One". Tough call to make, I went with the slower tempo number.

Cheap Trick - The Flame

Not just a great power ballad, one that seems to get a pass from people critical of this genre. Great acoustic guitar sound on this track.
Kingdom Come - Get It On

In one of the best marketing moves of the day, the band sent this record to radio stations without a mention of who it was. Rumors spread that this was Led Zeppelin's new song (because it sounded very "Kashmir") and it got all over the airwaves.

Bonham - Wait For You

If anyone who was not a former member of Led Zep had a right to tackle that sound, it was Jason Bonham. The prodigal son gets his Physical Graffiti on with this ripping cut.

Toto - Pamela

Not to be outdone, Toto also sounded like Led, not really, Toto came off as very Toto with a jazzy retread of "Rosanna".

3 - Talkin' 'Bout

To this day I'm shocked they didn't force Robert Berry to legally change his name to something like Like so they could remain ELP. Emerson, Like and Palmer has a nice ring to it.

Mr. Big - Addicted To That Rush

A few years before they invented the campfire clap power ballad, the mini supergroup made up from former members of Eric Martin Band, David Lee Roth and Racer X fired up the fret work to a crazy fast beat.

Hurricane - I'm On To You

Current Foreigner frontman Kelly Hansen spent the 80's rocking like a, um Hurricane.

Shy - Break Down The Walls

I'm not even gonna front yo, I've got to admit I learned about this group through Melodicrock and had not heard of this group at the time. Not bad stuff.

Aerosmith - Angels

Power ballads are all about the cheese baby, and it's hard to top the fondue fountain that is "Angel".

Saraya - Love Has Taken It's Toll

One of my favorite lost bands, this song has so many memories of drunken games at the pool halls for me. It sucks this album is out of print, Sandi Saraya rocks!

Alice Cooper - Poison

In 1988 none could resist the power of Desmond Child and he revived the 70's Icon with this comeback jam.

Def Leppard - Pour Some Sugar On Me

The Lep seemed all washed up when the 5th single dropped a year after the album release. One of the first mainstream meldings of rap and metal after "Walk This Way", it became a legend of 80's rock.

Pat Benatar - All Fired Up

A few years before her unfortunate foray into Blues, Benatar came up with one more Arena Rock winner before heading off to the oldies circuit.

Guns N Roses - Sweet Child O Mine

The reason everyone knows this band was because of this uncharacteristically sweet midtempo rocker. A great song, though if I have to hear the story of how Slash came up with the opening riff again I'll go into convulsions.

Disc 2:

Glass Tiger - I'm Still Searching

The Tiger made a play for a lasting career but was caught looking on a fastball. How's that for mixed metaphors!

Poison - Every Rose Has It's Thorn

I'd put down Bret Michaels but the man has a dream life: He slaps on his weave and plays generic music to screaming fans and has VH1 act as his personal pimp every few months. Lame or not, Michaels did come up with one of the best known poems in the late 20th century. Every rose has its thorn, just like every day has its dawn, just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song.

Bon Jovi - Bad Medicine

An awesome, awesome hair band arena rock jam with a big ass chorus and rapidfire verses.

Van Halen - When It's Love

Things looked a little wussy in Van Halen land for a second with this lenghty ballad. "Unchained" this is not.

Queensryche - I Don't Believe In Love

Part of the classic Operation: Mindcrime album, the Seattle based unit brought the heat on this dramatic rocker.

Britny Fox - Girlschool

C'mon, it's Britny Fox! What else can I say?

Eddie Money - Walk On Water

Eddie was on the money with this amazing slice of AOR written by Sammy Hagar's ex-keyboardist Jesse Harms. I remember getting out of the hospital and buying the tape. And finding out this was the only good song on the whole freakin' tape.

Jimmy Page - Wasting My Time

Unable to get Robert Plant to stick around (sounds familiar), Page cut a fine solo album called Outrider that featured this hard rockin' cut.

Scorpions - Rhythm Of Love

I find it weird how sometimes a certain song title will become popular. Case in point, "Rhythm of Love" was released by Yes in '87 and the Scorps in '88 and the two songs have nothing to do with each other at all.

Europe - Superstitious

Hey, it turned out guitarist John Norum was the most important member of this group after all. When Norum left this was the last hit the group could generate.

Def Leppard - Love Bites

One of the most interesting power ballads in terms of lyrics ("Love Bites / Love Bleeds / It's what I need"). Probably goes over well with that Twilight crowd. Say it. Vampire. Ooh...

Kix - Don't Close Your Eyes

You know it's 1988 when it's another song, another power ballad.

White Lion - Wait

Maybe the best name in Hair Metal, Mike Tramp, led his group through the jungle with this winning melody.

Paul Dean - Sword and Stone

Loverboy guitarist Paul Dean cut a Paul Stanley song for his solo album with strong results.

AC / DC - Heatseeker

It's Ac/Dc. You either get it or you don't.

Bad Company - No Smoke Without A Fire

The radio station in Sacramento loved this song, I heard it a couple times a day for months. This chorus is forever jammed in my brain.

Sheriff - When I'm With You

In a strange turn of events, a failed band from 1983 got their song played on the radio by a DJ who liked this song in 1988 - years after the band had split up. Later the singer and guitarist would team up with former members of Heart to make Alias.
And that was 1988. Just one more year to go!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Midnight Madness - Record Store Day

This week is support your local record store week so today I will be doing my duty by going to the only store in town. While I don't purchase vinyl anymore and don't plan to today, Rasputin's is the local record store in my town (though I guess Best Buy counts too now that they've been pushing some vinyl for collectors). After starting to listen to a lot of music in my early teens, I have a lot of memories of going to record stores. I've been to Tower Records (now defunct) all over California and in Seattle, perusing through 45's of the Top 100 singles and latest releases of the day. The overpriced music chains Wherehouse, Musicland and Sam Goody, now all but extinct, also have a lot of hours of my time logged.

As much as I like digital music's convenience (I like it a lot), I also like the shopping and evaluating of the physical artifact. That's why one of my favorite things to do is to go to Rasputin's and shop through their $3.00 bin of used CDs. It's a thrill to sort through a pile of crap like Britney Spears or N'Sync Cds to find Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks or Steve Vai's Passion and Warfare hidden in the crowd. So support your local music store, because someday soon they will probably be gone.

Go Bunny! - My wife made her weight loss goal this week (as posted on her blog here). Great job Bunny! She is also doing really well on Wii Sports Tennis. Her score is now over 2000.

Close to the Edge - A Prog Rock fan's dream tour is coming up with Yes and Asia hitting the road together. It will be the original Asia lineup along with the Jon Anderson-less Yes. I should be more excited about this tour but having seen outstanding performances from both bands in the past coupled with my expectation that they couldn't top what I've already seen, I feel indifferent. That is, until the actual tour date in my area arrives at which time I'll regret not going but probably forget about it the next day.

American Idol Update - The judges finally exercised their "get out of jail free" card by sparing Matt Girard from elimination this week. My question is, why? Girard is likeable and has talent but I don't think he stands a chance of winning. They're going to feel real stupid if a front runner gets voted off next week. Performance wise for movie week Quintan Tarantino directed the singers and did a good job of it. Particularly with Anoop Desai, Tarantino gave direction to sound more like Bryan Adams on "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" which I thought was a huge mistake until I actually heard it sung. It was one of Desai's best performances. Underdog Kris Allen gave a committed, emotional performance of "Falling Slowly", my favorite performance of the night. The judges, or at least Simon, have their sights set on 'Lil Rounds after she gospelized "The Rose" and was accused of copying the original. I think it was a bad move to use the save this week because next week is Disco week. On that week anybody can burn baby burn their way out of the show.

Hogan Knows Best? - Hulk Hogan was recently quoted as saying he "understands O.J." after being asked about his ex-wife. Fortunately, I don't think Hogan would really do anything to his ex, it's just not a good thing to say though. But if Linda Hogan suffers an injury by a leg drop, we'll know who to point the finger at.

Live To Tell - Madonna was injured after falling from her horse when it was startled by photographers. I didn't know she rode horses, I thought horses...never mind.

The Spector of Guilt - Famous record producer Phil Spector was found guilty of murder after what seemed like a long trial. He can now add iron bars to his wall of sound.

Drunken Master - Jackie Chan offended a huge chunk of his own Country by saying that Chinese people "need to be controlled." If that were true, shouldn't China outsource it's government to another race of people then? Because the government there I assume is made up of Chinese people. Just doing the math here.

No Home On The Horizon - Malibu residents object to plans for a new home planned by U2's guitarist The Edge. The makers of MTV's Cribs begin crying in their sleep.

Passings - Bad week for superstars from the '70's. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, a Detroit Tigers pitcher who had a big start to his career before it tailed off, passed away this week. Also one of the first porn stars, Marilyn Chambers, met an untimely end.

Rule Brittania - Britain's Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle pulled off two amazing feats: Delivering a tremendous performance of a Les Miserable song and making a magic moment in reality tv.

Not Obsessed - The latest movie to saturate the television is Obsessed, the Beyonce' hatin' on cheaters film coming up. It's commercial is on like every ten minutes. What troubles me is apparently all movies must be one word titles now. Like we don't have the attention span left for a two or more word title.

Speaking of hatin' on cheaters...-Mel Gibson is in for an expensive divorce from his wife of 28 years and is rumored to have been a little on the unfaithful side. You know that point where a celebrity has had so many public embarrassments where they stop being funny and are just sad. I'm sorry to say Mad Mel has hit that point. Still like most of his movies though.

The Best of What's Around - I don't know if it's still going, the Dave Matthews Band is giving away their first single from the new album as a free download on their website. "Funny The Way It Is" is a pretty good tune.

Passion and Warfare - Since buying it from the $3.00 bin, I've been playing Steve Vai's CD a lot because it's really really good. Great pick Bunny! So to wrap things up, here's a video for the best known song from the album, "For The Love Of God".

Steve Vai "For The Love Of God"

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Focus On...Over The Hills And Far Away

How can you decide to post about the career of Robert Plant and not mention Led Zeppelin in some detail at some point? How I ask you? Well, I guess if I was a bigger fan I would own all his solo albums and could do a post about that. But I'm not enough of a fan to have all those albums, so I'll have to post about Led Zeppelin. This poses a second question: what can I say about Led Zeppelin that hasn't already been said before? Their music has been studied, dissected and analyzed for decades. So the only thing I have left for me to say about Led Zeppelin is the effect their music has had on my life. Since I live Led Zeppelin but can't say I'm their #1 fan, this comes out like cliff notes - a smattering of incidents and memories here and there. As Steve Martin used to say, "And awwayyy we go!"
  • Early in life, Led Zeppelin rarely came up at all. When they came up, it was by reputation of being a Satanic rock band (it was the '70's, lots of bands were considered Satanic back then.)

  • The first Led Zeppelin song I have a distinct memory of hearing was "Kashmir" from the scene in 1982's movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High. I was such a newbie to Led Zep I didn't know when Damone says to play side 2 of Led Zeppelin IV that "Kashmir" isn't on there. But I didn't care, the image of cruising to that heavy groove with Jennifer Jason Leigh was a great cinematic moment.

  • In High School I learned Led Zep and Black Sabbath were the measuring stick for all other Hard Rock bands that followed. I notice Sabbath seems to have more influence on people with them writing "OZZY" on their knuckles but more bands sound like Zep.

  • In High School I mention to a group of friends I've never heard "Stairway to Heaven", only heard of it. I'm told the song has been played to death and is overrated.

  • After moving to Sacramento, I listen to more radio which includes a lot of Led Zep. "Over The Hills And Far Away" comes up often and becomes my favorite Led Zep song at the time.

  • I watch Atlantic Record's 40th Anniversary show which includes a performance by Led Zeppelin. At the time I was blown away by the performance and even transfer "Whole Lotta Love" to a cassette tape from the VHS tape. Earlier this week I found this performance on You Tube and found the performance lacking, but back then I was mesmerized.

  • Several bands copy or are inspired by the Led Zeppelin sound, causing Robert Plant to slam all of them. Around this time I listen to both Plant's solo album (the previous post) and Jimmy Page's Outrider.

  • My College fuels a taste for more Zep, first by seeing a tribute band play in one of the school cafeterias and then later in the year catching Dread Zeppelin outside of the Student Union lawn. Dread Zeppelin, a reggae band playing Led Zep covers fronted by an Elvis impersonator, is really entertaining and makes me a fan of "Heartbreaker" after hearing it combined with "Heartbreak Hotel".

  • I buy my first Led Zep CD with Led Zeppelin II because it has "Whole Lotta Love" and "Heartbreaker" from my local Rainbow Records store. I eventually buy the first four Led Zeppelin albums which includes "Stairway to Heaven". Finally got to hear it.

  • For a course in video production we are required to create a program based on a poem. I ask if song lyrics count and am told yes so I read "Stairway to Heaven" while displaying photographic images from a Life Magazine issue on the best photos of all time. Got a good grade on that one!

  • While dating my girlfriend who would later be my wife, I note that she likes Zeppelin and buy her the box set Remasters as a gift.

  • John Paul Jones arranges the strings for R.E.M.'s Automatic For The People disc and does a really good job!

  • While playing Led Zeppelin at me and my wife's first and only apartment together, some new neighbors move in. The girl remarks that her boyfriend thought it was cool we were playing Led Zeppelin. This turns out to be the only cool thing to ever happen with these people. Their drug parties and boyfriend's physical abuse come through loud and clear in the paper thin walls of the apartment. We call the Police on them a few times which fails to help at all except make enemies out of them. As a result the couple and their friends take to throwing eggs and/or peeing on our door. At least we suspect it was them. My wife puts shaving cream on their parked car while we move out (we weren't moving because of them though they were annoying).

  • In the mid 90's while listening to the box set, I get hooked on "Since I've Been Loving You" 'cause it's an awesome song.

  • The movie Dazed and Confused is really good and so I go binge on that song for awhile too.

  • Sheryl Crow covers "D'yer M'ker" which she reveals means "Did you make her?" which in turn means "Did you sleep with that girl?" I had no idea. Stone Temple Pilots cover "Dancing Days" about the same time, I like their version better than the original even though it's practically the same arrangement. Go figure.

  • Somewhere around this time I realize the song title is not "Misty Mountain Top" but "Misty Mountain Hop". D'oh!

  • Jimmy Page pairs up with Whitesnake singer David Coverdale to form Coverdale / Page. The combination of Zep and the 'Snake is pretty potent stuff, but Plant quickly pulls Page back to his side leaving Coverdale rejected.

  • Robert Plant and Jimmy Page re team sans John Paul Jones but their artsy groove fails to catch my ear, though I buy the CD for cheap a decade later anyway. Turns out it was a pretty good CD.

  • On the radio I hear a live version of Coverdale / Page's "Shake My Tree" from Plant and Page, the version kicks ass.

  • My wife includes "Nobody's Fault But Mine" on a mix tape and it becomes my new favorite Led Zeppelin song. The groove and expert timing on the drums is astounding. I become a big fan of John Bonham.

  • Around this time I realize my favorite Led Zeppelin album is Houses of the Holy and play "The Ocean" a lot.

  • I forget exactly how, but I get hooked on "Hey Hey What Can I Do?" in the late 90's.

  • Jimmy Page begins attaching himself to anything and everything remotely Zeppelin like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver, worst of which is a ridiculous version of "Kashmir" he makes with Puff Daddy/Diddy/Don't he/Whatever where the lyrics are changed to something like "Come to Me" for the Godzilla soundtrack.

  • A good thing comes out of Page's renewed obsession with his old band, he teams up with the Black Crowes for a live album and tour performing Led Zeppelin songs. They sound great! I listen to a lot of their take on "What is and What Should Never Be" at this time.

  • One of my favorite films, Almost Famous, is revealed to draw some inspiration from Cameron Crowe's experiences with Led Zeppelin. As well as The Eagles and of course, Heart.

  • I borrow the Led Zeppelin DVD from a friend and enjoy watching footage of live Led Zep from the 70's.

  • "The Immigrant Song" begins to appear in movies, first in Jack Black's comedy School of Rock and then later in a Shrek movie. I now associate the song with birds attacking after the Shrek movie.

  • Led Zeppelin reunites for a one off performance. I patiently wait to see if it comes out on DVD. Rumors of a tour are squashed by Robert Plant's refusal to get involved due to his artistic integrity, which I respect.
That brings us to the present. I bought the Led Zeppelin CD Mothership last Christmas and enjoyed it a lot, what can I say, their music is timeless. I can't say I play Led Zeppelin regularly, but this is a good reminder to play them a little more than I do right now.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Robert Plant - Now and Zen (1988)

The Zen master at work or a bad episode of Stargate SG1, either way an image to grab interest.

I've been giving this type of a post a rest because of the AOR project posts I've been doing, it seemed a little redundant and lazy. Then I thought- Hey, that's what I do best! And so it goes, looking back to 'ol '88 for the first Robert Plant disc I ever had. It was the start of the second semester of College and this dude moved in down the hall of my dorm who really liked Rock. So we got along pretty well on that level and he recommended I check out his new Robert Plant tape. I liked the first single so I had it for a week and liked it enough to get it on my own.

1. Heaven Knows

The first single is so Robert Plantish that I can never believe my eyes when I read the writing credit and don't see his name there. It has that other worldly touch that he excels at. Jimmy Page supplies the guitar solo, which was kind of funny in that Plant and Page were not getting along in the press at the time if I remember right. One of my favorite Plant songs, I've always liked the lyric "You were pumping iron when I was pumping irony." This was a song that sounded great blasting in the dorms.

2. Dance On My Own

Nothing says solo album like a song about being on your own, eh? Keyboardist Phil Johnstone was Plant's primary collaborator and so I attribute a big chunk of the sound to him. On half this disc there is almost a Simple Minds / Tears For Fears art pop atmosphere and this is one of it's strongest examples. Not a bad song though.

3. Tall Cool One

This was the song that I really liked a lot and definitely the best known track here, a lively rocker with a great hook ("lighten up baby I'm in luv wit you") that really let's Plant rock out. Page makes another guest appearance with a charged guitar solo while Johnstone's piano keeps the beat going. In a nod to the then new sampling of songs for rap that included a bit of past Zep, Plant samples a bit of Zep bits at the end of the track with a distorted voice saying "lighten up". The song was so good it was actually used (along with Plant himself) to sell soft drinks back in the day. Even a friend of mine who liked a lot of rap music back then had to admit this was a catchy song.

4. The Way I Feel

And now it is back to Tears For Fears land, this song really makes me want to shout, shout, shout it all out. The angular, shimmering guitars backed thin flat drums and echoing keyboards were all hallmarks of that era. Plant gets his other worldly groove on again while guitarist Doug Boyle finally gets to stretch out a bit. "The Way I Feel" has that spiritual traveller vibe, like you're in the desert and a mysterious person hands you a flaming playing card and other random crap happens like you're in a David Lynch movie or something. You know, that vibe.

5. Helen Of Troy

Most of his solo career Plant seemed to want to distance himself from Led Zep, on this album he seemed to edge a little closer to his famous band's sound. Just a little, not alot. "Troy" rocks a little harder though the soft instrument sound isn't going to bring back the Hammer of the Gods.

6. Billy's Revenge

Robert Plant's side project The Honeydrippers reflected an apparent love for 50's rock which made this Elvis style rocker stand out a little more. With half the songs on Now and Zen putting Plant in above-it-all shaman mode, it was cool to hear him cut loose like he does here. A little reminiscent of his cover of "Rockin At Midnight" with the Honeydrippers. Good stuff. Between this and Phil Collin's "Don't Lose My Number", Billy had a lot to do back then.

7. Ship Of Fools

My wife's favorite off this album, Plant goes into what American Idol Judge Randy Jackson would refer to as "his zone, something in his wheelhouse". Pensive yearning while feeling like a Viking, that's Plant's zone. Well, that and wailing like a Banshee. But he doesn't do that on this nice quiet tune. I couldn't find the original track but there's some guy who recorded himself playing it on You Tube and it wasn't bad. It had a sort of Johnny Cash feel to me.

8. Why

Yeah, that 80's art pop thang keeps coming back. This one reminds me a lot of The Fixx. Remember "One Thing Leads To Another"? When I saw The Fixx live in '83 they had to play before The Police and fill time to let the sun go down before Sting and crew took the stage. So they played "One Thing Leads To Another" three times in a row. I know this has nothing to do with Robert Plant, but time has not been kind to his attempts at this pop sound. "Why" is a snoozer.

9. White, Clean and Neat

To the most distinguishable beat on the CD, a beat that sounds like a car that won't start, Plant seems to look back to a more innocent time or frame of mind. Probably the most arty thing on the disc, it even has a sort of sideshow voice over in it. To be honest, back in the day I usually skipped this song so I don't have much to say about it.

10. Walking Towards Paradise

The bonus track! Back when the record industry was determined to kill off vinyl records, they would place bonus tracks on cassettes and CDs to make vinyl purchasers feel like they missed out on something. A decent cut and gotta love those Miami Vice popping percussion bits.

Robert Plant's Now and Zen is still a classy solo album with some real strong cuts even though some of the art pop bits don't work for me as much now as it did then. But hey, that's life and listening to this has been fun as I had forgotten all about "Billy's Revenge". And I don't know why but his pose on the cover reminds me of Bea Arthur. And then there's Maude!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Feeling Lucky

Admitted Grammy whore that I am, I thought I would dedicate this week to the dynamic duo of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. So I am going to take what may be the shortest Flashback (in terms of years) ever and look back fondly at...2001. We had lived in our home for about two years, closely following WWF (not WWE, WWF pal) wrestling and our little dog (she was little once) Dixie had loads of energy to spare. I roamed around the Bay Area in my 1988 Honda CRX while sporting a mildly groomed beard. Also I recall playing a lot of Tomb Raider. And the only music channel we had was CMT, which led to me discovering my favorite Country artist and Country song. One of my all time favorite songs, really. "The Lucky One" by Alison Krauss. A real pleasant song with a nice melody, expert musicianship and a sweet vocal by Ms. Krauss. 2001, so far away yet so close.

Alison Krauss and Union Station "The Lucky One"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Robert Plant Paradox and Raising Sand

What if Led Zep had reformed with both Plant and Krauss as singers? I'd love to hear Country siren Alison Krauss take on "Black Dog".

Robert Plant is beyond a shout of a doubt one of the greatest rock singers of all time. He fronted arguably the greatest hard rock band in history, his vocal style has been imitated by a multitude of singers and he packs charisma into every performance. And yet with all that pedigree and talent, I am almost always initially put off by any music he records. It's funny, I can get into say Whitesnake like a duck to water. But when I hear the Robert Plantisms from the original source, my first instinct is to shut it out. Maybe it's because in the first half of the 80's I despised songs like "Big Log", "Little By Little" or "Sea of Love". I like these songs now, but back then when these tunes came up on the video channels or radio it was like fingernails on a chalk board.

The tide finally started to turn with his Now and Zen album, which I borrowed from a guy down the hall from my college dorm and was impressed enough to buy it on my own. A few years later, Led Zep reformed for Atlantic Records anniversary show where they performed a stunning set (note, I went on You Tube to find these performances and it didn't live up to my memory of them at all. Guess it will have to stay a memory). I was starting to like Plant a little, even though that gut reaction still tells me to run when I hear his voice.

So you may understand if I was less than enthusiastic that Plant paired up with my favorite Country singer, Alison Krauss. Even though I liked Gone Gone Gone I wasn't sold on this weird team up. It took that manipulative sales tool known as the Grammy Awards to sell me on this duo. A little while after the Grammy Awards ended, I picked up the duo's CD Raising Sand.

Initially, I had a hard time getting into Sand. It was slow, at times it seemed dragging on to infinity. The Robert Plant Paradox at work! I decided to make it a late night CD, something soft to listen to at the end of the day.

This strategy worked, after multiple listens the album came alive for me. The carefully reined in arrangements and spacious atmosphere fit the night time mood well. Plant and Krauss' voices intertwined in a way that fit both their strengths, the elastic power of Plant's tone and the soft soothing style of Krauss. As American Idol says song selection is crucial, Plant and Krauss dipped into some old songbooks to cover sturdy material. Songs like the yearning "Through The Morning, Through The Night" or "Please Read The Letter" resonated sharply. Despite the lack of bouncy material, the mature feel added to the appeal of Raising Sand.

It's easy to see why this disc run the Grammy for Album of the Year. It's exactly the type of material they go for. Raising Sand has the purest of artistic intentions and is well executed. Sand comes from an established artist too, another thing the Grammys love. Robert Plant is still not one of my all time favorites, but I respect his iconoclastic approach and ability to personalize his music regardless if it is the thunderous Led Zep, the textured solo albums or this fine collaboration. Raising Sand doesn't reinvent the wheel, it just helps it spin better.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss "Please Read The Letter"

Midnight Madness - Easter Bunny Edition

Today is Easter, so Happy Easter everyone! While this day has religious meaning for many, for me it is the day of the Easter Bunny. As I like to call my wife Bunny, this is her day! Love you Bunny!!

Don't Mess With The Lohan - A rough week for Lindsey Lohan, Stevie Nicks publicly denounced Lohan's repeated attempts to get the rights to Nicks' life story. Presumably to portray the famed singer on film. Because if it's one thing Nicks can't relate to, it's a young person indulging in sex and drugs to the point of self destruction.
Worst. Movie Title. Ever. - There's a movie being heavily advertised right now called Fighting. Wow, how many months did they agonize over that movie title? One thing if for sure, you can't say the advertising is misleading for this film.

We Pay - It had to happen sooner or later, ITunes went to a tiered pricing system with some songs now costing $1.29 per track. Will ITunes jump the shark boosting prices in the middle of a recession?

American Idol update - Adam Lambert kicked out the jams again with a stunning rendition of Tears For Fears "Mad World" while my fave Alison Iraheta gave a strong version of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me". While Scott MacIntyre may have had the burning heart, his sloppy take on Survivor's "The Search Is Over" left him down for the count.

Zombies! - Actor Woody Harrelson's recent attack on a member of the paprazzi he explained was due to his mistaking the photographer for a zombie after recently wrapping a film where he fought the undead. I'll have to remember that excuse if I ever attack someone. "I'm sorry officer, I hit that man because I thought the dead had come back to life and wanted to eat my brains. It won't happen again."

The Big Muddy? - Bruce Springsteen is accused of cheating again, this time by an ex-husband in a divorce case. Both Springsteen and the ex-wife deny the accusation.

Real, Real, Real - Of the multitude of Real Housewives of... Tv series it looks like New York is the one that is catching on the most. We've watched the show and enjoy the fun of seeing rich people whose egos are bigger than their substantial bank accounts. And now with a Countess losing her Count and rumors of A Rod dating a cast member there could be even more drama coming up.

Terminated? - The Sarah Connor Chronicles saw its rating dwindle this season and had to switch from Monday to Friday nights, partially because of a boring second season. Then, in the final two episodes they upped their game by killing off people and finally, finally bringing in some excitement. But is it too little too late? With a cliffhanger season ender, if the show gets cancelled we'll never know what happens...other than what comes up in Terminator: Salvation of course.

Wanted Dead or Alive - The band Bon Jovi is suing an all girl tribute band for naming themselves Blonde Jovi over the name. Really? Good thing I didn't title this blog "Blog Jovi".

Double Trouble - The Arc Angels have returned, Charlie Sexton, Doyle Bramhall II and Chris Layton have come back. Cool! To wrap things up, here's some Arc Angels for ya.

Arc Angels

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mr Mike AOR Project 1987

I had this poster up on my wall back in the day, right next to James Bond.

1987, the year that will live in infamy. It lives in infamy because it was the year that Arena Rock's most infamous incarnation took hold of the mainstream. Hair Bands! Spandex, hairspray, makeup, party hearty anthems to work up a sweat and mushy ballads to make mascara run, went for middle America's jugular and took first blood. So flick your bic and hold it high because we're rocking like Amadeus into 1987 (and yes, "Rock Me Amadeus" was 1986).

Disc 1:

Sammy Hagar - Give to Live

The Red Rocker was feeling very "peace on earth and goodwill to men" on his contractually obligated solo album a year after joining Van Halen.

Whitesnake - Here I Go Again

Remember back when Tawny Kitaen wasn't all jacked up? Doing cartwheels on fancy cars seemed so simple then. She gave David Coverdale a reason to twirl his mic stand.

Guns N Roses - Welcome to the Jungle

One of the definitive rock anthems of the decade, Axl Rose's screeching over Slash's rampaging riff is 80's rock magic. It's still often used as a story telling device when a show or movie wants to introduce urban blight. As for me, I thought of this song often when I worked at a Marine animal theme park a year later.

Survivor - Is This Love

The last Top 10 hit for the AOR legends was this spiffy pop rocker with a Steve Perry style vocal hook. Love the cascading keyboards on this one.

Yes - Rhythm of Love

Guitarist Trevor Rabin thought it would be funny to make a Yes song about sex. And in that context, it is pretty funny.

Genesis - Tonight Tonight Tonight

What started as an eight minute prog album track turned into a 30 second beer commercial phenomenon which led to a three minute pop hit. They don't call Progressive Rock "Math Rock" for nothing!

Bonfire - Sleeping All Alone

Cutout bin classics Bonfire generate some heat.

Europe - Carrie

Swedish meatballs Europe wipe away the tears with sheer power balladry.

Bob Seger - Shakedown

What was supposed to be Glenn Frey turned into Bob Seger's monster hit to the Beverly Hills Cop 2 soundtrack. Shakedown...take're busted!

Heart - Alone

One of the best remembered of all the power ballads, Heart's dramatic take on I Ten's song raised the bar on glossy theatrics. That's why it gets sung every year on American Idol.

Patty Smyth - Downtown Train

Before an, er, trainload of people got the idea to cover this Tom Waits song the ex Scandal singer had her take on it.

Bon Jovi - Wanted Dead or Alive

Ok, there's such a thing as too much ego and Jon Bon Jovi's comparisons of this song to "Stairway to Heaven" back in the day is a clear example. It's a great song, who doesn't want to be a cowboy on a steel horse or see a million faces and rock them all ?

Motley Crue - Girls Girls Girls

Some magazine had a caption for this song I can't beat. It said something like "L.A. Rockers ode to the titty bars they love." That's downright poetic.

Bryan Adams - Heat of the Night

A guaranteed hit song as the first single of a new album following Reckless, Adams hits a heavy groove that he would never touch again in the years of movie soundtrack love songs that would come later.

Aerosmith - (Dude) Looks Like A Lady

And with one fell swoop, Aerosmith replaced the Dallas Cowboys as "America's Team" with a fired up declaration to transgender issues.

Cutting Crew - (I Just) Died in Your Arms

A big year for (parenthesis), I was watching VH1's one hit wonders of the 80's and everyone came to the conclusion that this song is about sexual climax. Huh huh, I said "came". I still think that guitar lick was pilfered from "Der Kommisar".

Andy Taylor - Take it Easy

Barney, Opie and the gang get together for one last song on the porch before Otis stumbles in and eats Aunt Bea's Apple Pie. Ex-Duran Duran guitarist took his shot at Arena Rock glory and came up with this decent nugget for Mitch Gaylord's American Anthem movie.

Disc 2:

Dokken - Dream Warriors

One, two Dokken's after you. Guitarist George Lynch tries to outshred Freddy Kruger and wins.

The Outfield - Since You've Been Gone

I saw the band perform this live before the second album dropped, I was so sure this was going to be a big hit. Little did I know the public had enough Outfield from the first record.

Tesla - Little Suzi

It was practically Sacramento, CA's theme song in the late 80's as the local boys made good. Last year during MTV's celebration of their channels launch I found out this was originally a new wave song by a different band. Had no idea!

Cinderella - Nobody's Fool

You know, that girl's tilted clock hat fad never really took off. Cinderella started with flash and glam before bloozing things up a few years later.

Night Ranger - The Secret of My Success

Nothing says Flashback like a theme song to a Michael J Fox movie co-written and produced by David Foster. Throw in the synth horns and this is like Chicago on steroids.

Bon Jovi - Livin On A Prayer

Jon Bon Jovi delivers his masterpiece, a brilliant mix of talk box effects and escalating chorus vocals. I watched this interview with Desmond Child one time, he said he gave this song a Latin flair. Another one of those things I would have never guessed.

Georgia Satellites - Keep Your Hands To Yourself

The Satellites gave Southern Rock a good name and for a second seemed to have a strong future.

Ace Frehley - Into The Night

Space Ace took his leave of KISS to record some decent songs including this sly rocker. Last night the video came on VH1 Classics, it's powerful stuff.

Great White - Rock Me

Maybe one of the best song titles in Arena Rock, this long cut stealthily sneaks up on you and then shifts into overdrive. So sad what happened at that club years later.

Boston - We're Ready

A sort of forgotten hit even though it made the Top 10, it is almost never included in Boston's greatest hits comps. I have no idea why, it's wicked awesome.

Jet Boy - Feel The Shake

A great 80's rock band name if there ever was one, Jet Boy hit the afterburners on this anthemic tune.

REO Speedwagon - That Ain't Love

It threw everyone for a loop, Kevin Cronin grew a mustache! He looked all old and goofy with that thing on, made it hard to take him seriously. Ironically, with a bitter song like "That Ain't Love" Cronin was asking to be taken seriously. He looked like a snake oil salesman.

Pink Floyd - Learning To Fly

This was all over the radio back then, it was the first Pink Floyd song to be listenable since The Wall in 1980. Tongue tied and twisted just an Earth bound misfit, I.

Foreigner - Say You Will

No more head games, Foreigner made one of their patented midtempo pop rock jams the first single. A game of wordplay reigns supreme, say you will, say you won't, say you do, say you don't...damn, they've got a lot to say.

Rick Springfield - Rock of Life

It was rough not being able to squeeze more Genius into these CDs, but fortunately '87 was a weak year for AOR. Springfield takes a Sting like quality in the verses before slamming into the shifting chorus.

Fleetwood Mac - Big Love

I was so convinced it was Stevie Nicks making those little gasps countering Lindsey Buckingham's. Turned out both gasp noises were Buckingham, he just sped up his voice on the second set.

Starship - Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now

You may think being in love with a Mannequin is wrong, but who are you to judge? You can't put limits on love! The heart wants what it wants.

Looks like we're heading towards the end, just two more years to go in this magnificent decade. Don't hate '88, it's almost here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Speed Racer Places In Third With Flying Colors

Speed and Trixie suit up for high velocity action in Speed Racer
Last year's movie Speed Racer finally hit a format cheap enough for me to bother to watch the cinematic adaptation of a childhood favorite. The Wachowski bros. (The Matrix Trilogy) bring their flashy, zippy flair to the classic anime tv series to create a movie that stands somewhere between slavish re-creation and a hot mess. With many adaptations of a tv series to a movie there are often concerns about being faithful to source material. Suprisingly that's not an issue here, in fact much of the tv show is including its weaknesses are all brought to the show.

Speed Racer is well cast with Emile Hirsch as a capable Speed, a game Christina Ricci as Trixie and a perfectly suited John Goodman as Pops helps keeps things watchable. The story is classic Speed Racer, Speed takes on corruption among the businessmen backing racing by driving his tricked out Mach 5 through a series of dangerous races backed by his racing family. The Mach 5 is very similar to the original make up of the tv show, right down to the buzzsaw blades in the front. It sounds like a good start, but things fall apart shortly from there.

First, the story IS classic Speed Racer. Meaning the sketchy characters aren't fleshed out at all save some mumbo jumbo about Speed searching for what drives him. A kid friendly angle is taken with some emphasis on younger brother Spridle and Chim Chim's (the chimp) antics. The action is cartoonish and nobody dies (well, almost nobody). While the mystique of Racer X is employed, it's not as exciting as his presence in the old cartoon.

What Speed Racer really is about is the Wachowski brothers. They move the story at light speed and take a definite anime tact in their direction. Speed's "Oh!" reactions while racing, the long monologues by characters while heads and background flashbacks scroll in all kinds of directions and even Speed's famous leap out of the car and pose move is all here. Where they shift gears from the original show is adding a hyperactive candy colored digital world for Speed to play in. Everything looks fake and CGI as every color of the rainbow swirls around, flashing, streaking and smearing every which way.

It all adds up to what may be the most expensive live action anime film ever. There are moments of excitement yet the all digital look of Speed Racer makes it difficult to get fully engaged in any sense of realism. That and a bizarre decision to make the racing scenes look like cars flying down a water slide as they swerve up and down curves like a marble on a roulette wheel. As a fan of the original tv show I enjoyed Speed Racer a bit though as a film it's an empty experience. If you watch the 60's cartoon through a kaledoscope, you'd get the same effect. I can't say I regret seeing Speed Racer, just glad I didn't spend much to do it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Wrestlemania 25

Today we did our annual duty to support the economy by ordering Wrestlemania on pay per view. The Super Bowl of wrestling, this year was stacked with guests and stunts and everything you've come to expect from the WWE. Match by Match, here's how it went down:

The Money in the Bank match was first. There's been a couple of these so we kinda knew what to expect - ladder match madness with big spots and big bumps. I saw they stacked the deck by bringing in the more acrobatic wrestlers Kofi Kingston, Shelton Benjamin and CM Punk in. Those three did not disappoint, particularly Shelton Benjamin who has taken the biggest stunts and spills of the past few Money in the Bank at Wrestlemania matches. Tonight he did a swanton bomb worthy dive off a tall ladder into a crowd of opponents. There were some knew wrinkles added, particularly the addition of big guys Kane and Mark Henry. I have never seen so much ladder throwing in one of these matches before. Finley dominated the middle section and even did an out of the ring dive himself. CM Punk came out on top to the disappointment of the crowd who seemed to want Christian to get it. This was one of the best lead off matches I've seen at a Wrestlemania, they all worked hard on this one.

Kid Rock then played a concert which was just modestly entertaining since I'm not a big fan. Then the Divas Battle Royal kicked in. It should have been exciting but the way it was covered it really was just a cluster of moving hair and bodies. Hardly any fanfare was given to Divas past that returned including Sunny, Tori and one of my faves Molly Holly. Santino Marella won in dressed in drag as Santina Marella. Should have been great but it really was just space filler in the end.

I think Chris Jericho versus the Legends of Wrestling was next. Jimmy Superfly Snuka, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Ricky Steamboat faced off against Y2J. Piper and Snuka did OK considering their age and Piper's prior health issues. Steamboat was a revelation, showing he still could crank out a good match well into his 50's. He even performed a diving cross body from the top rope that cleared half the ring! Ric Flair was on hand ringside to get into it a bit with Y2J too, but the Walls of Jericho proved too much for the old timers. Then Jericho called out actor Mickey Rourke and got a left hook from the actor for his trouble.

The all talent no speaky Hardy Boyz took their sibling rivalry extreme rules match seriously despite the labored storyline. You killed my dog, Matt! They had some decent spots, especially the part where Jeff Hardy dives through two stacked tables with Matt in the middle. Ultimately it fell short of the hype in comparison to the Money in the Bank match. Oh yeah, Matt won.

After that some comedy was needed so JBL faced off against Rey Mysterio for the Intercontinental Title. Mysterio came out in Joker garb and fired up the crowd. He then defeated blowhard JBL in 21 seconds upsetting the millionaire so much he quit.

And with that out of the way came the match of the night. Wrestling is said to be morality plays of good versus evil and with two babyface wrestlers against each other that angle was worked mercilessly. Shawn Michaels versus the Undertaker, two veterans who have given some of the best matches in WWE history. Michael's aim was to break Undertaker's undefeated streak. He failed to beat the streak. Yet what they accomplished was amazing. A long, dramatic match of two future legends. Each got in their signature moves multiple times and their see saw battle drove the crowd into a frenzy. A model of pacing and working the audience, it really doesn't get much better than this match.

Speaking of legends, the Hall of Fame class of 2009 rolled out next led by The Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin drove an ATV down to the ring for an old fashioned beer bash just like old times. Oh Hell Yeah!

What could follow these huge events? The weakest of the matches on the card, Edge versus Big Show versus John Cena for the WWE Heavyweight Championship. To be honest, I didn't watch all of this and decided to eat a little dinner instead. What I did catch was OK but nothing show stopping. Cena won the belt again.

Last was the big storyline, Randy Orton versus Triple HHH for the WWE I forget it's exact title but equal to Heavyweight Championship belt. The two took a deliberate, slow pace to build the drama and ensure the audience felt every blow and reversal of momentum. It was pretty good and the pace helped distinguish it from other matches. Trips got his revenge in the end, retaining the belt.

Wrestlemania was pretty good this year, on a scale of 1 to 10 I'd say it was a 7.5. The Taker versus HBK is going to go down as a classic I'm sure. And while no Stunners were handed out, it was great to see Stone Cold again. The Money in the Bank match was the other highlight.

Midnight Madness - Alison Iraheta Edition

Rock rock til you drop: 16 year old Alison Iraheta has shown potential on American Idol but will probably get kicked off the show soon.

It's been a few weeks since I've felt like a Midnight Madness, tonight I think I have enough to post about. This week's post goes to Alison Iraheta, American Idol is continuing it's tradition of raspy voiced rocker girls who have no shot of winning but are fun to watch. She's sort of like a coherent version of Amanda Overmeyer from last year. Iraheta's been in the bottom three twice already, so enjoy watching her while it lasts. On with the Madness!

American Idol Update - Country and Motown weeks went over well, the singers picked up their game and delivered solid to outstanding performances. Then this week the whole group suddenly sucked big time when they got the chance to select whatever song they wanted. Really not sure what happened, but here's what we've got so far: Adam Lambert is schooling the other contestants, particularly with his soft take on "Tracks Of My Tears". Meanwhile, my favorite Alison Iraheta has been underperforming except for a strong rendition of "Papa Was A Rolling Stone". Pixie soul belter Alexis Grace was surprisingly booted a few weeks back followed by roughneck Michael Sarver and bird cawing Megan Joy. Can the singer's rebound this week?

This Is Not A Test - A few weeks ago former WWE wrestler Test died. Pretty shocking because he was a young guy. Test was a featured player and occasionally got big pushes, having on screen relationships with the McMahons as well as the tag team T&A. Sad to see another grappler go.

...And Justice For All - Metallica officially was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cool! Run D.M.C. was inducted too. Why? For one half of a rock song?

Gone Gone Gone - Bad Company is reuniting for a few shows on the Eastern side of the U.S. so they can keep their band name. C'mon, no love for the West Coast? What's up with that?

You Are Gold - Spandau Ballet is reuniting for a tour. Their four remaining American fans get excited, busting out the hair gel and trenchcoats for all to see. You know this much is true.

Pumpkin Patch - Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain has quit the Smashing Pumpkins leaving Billy Corgan the sole Pumpkin left in the group. Now we'll have to see if Corgan's antics causes enough pressure to make himself quit. Then he'll probably bad mouth himself in the press and file lawsuits against himself too.

It's not Cameltoe, it's...- Chickenfoot, the supergroup featuring Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith are getting a lot of attention for their upcoming CD. Can it live up to the hype? Sounds promising so far.

Rorschach Test - Jackie Earle Haley will star as Freddy Kruger in a Nightmare On Elm Street reboot. You know, they really should try to get enough money together for a Johnny Depp cameo if they're gonna do this thing right. Or put him up against Jodie Foster for a Bad News Bears On Elm Street combo reboot.

Chicago's Last Hope - The long running TV series ER wrapped things up this week, I've recorded the finale so I'll get to see all those old faces return. For many years a quality program worth watching in reruns (that's how I saw the show anyway), we can finally declare ER the winner of the hospital show wars once and for all (when ER debuted it was up against Chicago Hope, another hospital show drama set in Chicago. Many wondered who would win out of two similar programs. That's how old this show is, I have to explain my bad jokes with trivia).

The Fast and the Superfluous - Does anyone care about the latest reunion movie sequel in the Fast & the Furious franchise? It's the #1 movie this weekend, so I guess the answer is yes. He's the beast from the east he's the best from the west he's the Vin man. Bonus points if anyone can name the 80's movie that's from.

Web Slinging Insanity - When reading a recent issue of Rolling Stone, I read that Bono and Edge of U2 have written music for a stage musical about Spider Man. Now I've read online that they're starting to have casting calls for this thing so I guess it's not a joke. I shouldn't judge it without hearing anything first, but it's so hard when you read about something this bad.

Natasha Richardson - I realize it happened a few weeks ago, still it was sad to see talented actress Natasha Richarson pass away. I remembered her best from the film The Handmaid's Tale way back when.

Mini Movie Reviews:

  • The Visitor - A slow moving film about a closed off College prof who encounters and befriends illegal immigrants living in his New York Apartment. Well acted and relatively realistic. It tries to show the human side of the immigration experience post 9/11 but is only modestly affecting to me. It's not bad but skippable.

  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall - Decent comedy about a TV music writer who gets dumped by his TV star girlfriend and ends up in Hawaii at the same time as her. Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother) wrote and stars as the dorky guy crushed by the rejection and is ably assisted by Mila Kunis (That 70's Show) and Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) as the women in his life. It's not non stop fun but it does create likeable characters and has a good sense of humor. I guess this is the film that made British comedian Russell Brand a name here, he's amusing but overrated in my opinion.

  • Kung Fu Panda - Jack Black's animated animal martial arts comedy is zippy fun from start to finish. Panda pulls every cliched martial arts movie storytelling device in the book which should make it dull. Instead the Panda team use hyperkinetic direction, celebrity voices and Jack Black's ritalin resistant jokes to keep things moving. A great ride for all ages.

I couldn't embed the video so I got an audio version of the song that my wife and I have been stuck on since seeing it on VH1's One Hit Wonders of the 80's. Oran Juice Jones. The Rain!

Oran "Juice" Jones - The Rain

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Mr. Mike AOR Project 1986

For a second, Samantha Fox was all over the Arena Rock sound thanks to her impressive talent. No, no, just kidding. It really was all about her looks.

Okay, we're up to 1986. Arena Rock's general popularity was fading. The sound of melodic rock had been co-opted to the point that it didn't carry as much power. Mainstream pop / rock rose at this time as artists who previously shied away from hard guitars and bracing choruses came up with a softer, more accessible version for the mass public. With dwindling interest in real Arena Rock, many of the bands fell back on Adult Contemporary to stay alive. Emphasizing power ballads as their single releases to make an impact on radio.

At the same time, MTV who had embraced Heavy Metal in '84 moved away from it in '85 following parental backlash. By '86 the softer version of Arena Rock was MTV's main rock sound. It looked like Arena Rock was going to go out to pasture until a guy named Jon found the magic formula of outside songwriters, marketable looks and hairspray to take Arena Rock to the next level: Hair Bands!

Disc 1:

Mr. Mister - Kyrie

My wife has been learning Japanese and there is a word in that language that sounds like "Kyrie" that means clean or pretty. I got to watch Mr. Mister perform this song at Grad Night in DisneyLand back in '86, you haven't lived until you've seen that.

Van Halen - Why Can't This Be Love

The first time I heard this, I was at a party when someone played the 45. An awesome song, I was blown away by how good Sammy Hagar sounded with VH. I ran out and bought the 45 the next day.

Giuffria - I Must Be Dreaming

At the time it seemed like a big mistake for Giuffria to not lead off with a big ballad for a single like their first album. Considering how this record stiffed in the marketplace, maybe I was right. It's still a great song though.

Daryl Hall - Dreamtime

Weird that a team up with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart would generate a pop rocker like this one. With no wild Oates to sow, Hall cranked up the guitars and psychedelia for his biggest solo hit.

Starship - Sara

It's not Stevie Wonder on the harmonica, it's a synthesizer pretending to be him that leads off this #1 hit. A pleasant wistful pop ballad given a big boost by Risky Business' Rebecca De Mornay starring in the video. A video that says Sara was a slutty drunk, but I still luv u baby!

Stryper - Honestly

Christian Rock presents its ultimate power ballad to the man upstairs, the yellow and black attack get their biggest chart hit as a reward.

Boston - Amanda

The shocker of '86, I was a huge fan of the first two Boston records and assumed the group would never record again (the previous album had been released in 1978). I played this sucker to death when I bought it.

Haywire - Standin' in Line

This band I found out about just this year, apparently they never made it out of Canada. Good clean Arena Rock, they don't make 'em like this anymore.

Eddie Money - Take Me Home Tonight

The Money Man figured out he needed a he tightened up his sound and brought in Ronnie Spector for a cameo. Wasn't this tune used in a burger commercial? It's a hunger....A HUNGEERRR!!!

Don Johnson - Heartbeat

You know, if Sonny Crockett sang to his perps instead of shot them he might have killed more criminals.

Stan Bush - You've Got The Touch

Not a big hit at the time, this jam has come to represent the cheesy excess of the Arena Rock sound. Next time you want some motivation, play this song loudly.

Kenny Loggins - Danger Zone

Let's be honest, the only thing dangerous about Kenny Loggins is how much nose hair gets on his finely manicured 'stache. Still couldn't stop the man from howling about riding into the Danger Zone with thunderous drum fills. Tom Cruise wouldn't have it any other way.

Mike and the Mechanics - All I Need Is A Miracle

Mike Rutherford's busmans holiday was shaping up to be a rival to his day job with a second Top 10 hit. This glossy rockers with a positive 'tude would make into the soundtrack of many a movie afterwards.

Robert Palmer - Addicted To Love

After the success of the Power Station, Palmer did some math. Having hits with three other guys means less money than having hits by yourself. So he dumped the Duranites and did the Power Station sound all by himself. And came up with a classic 80's smash backed by zombie beauty queens.

John Parr - St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)

The title song to my favorite Brat Pack movie. Oogata Boogata Boogata Ah Ha Ha!

Ozzy Osbourne - A Shot In The Dark

I used to think of this as Ozzy's sell out to the mainstream, but now the Prince of Darkness has a freakin' variety show.

Kansas - All I Wanted

No more violins, the wayward sons carried on to the AC charts with this shiny ballad.

Bon Jovi - You Give Love A Bad Name

The saviors of Arena Rock! Bon Jovi took the cheesy elements of the core sound and multiplied them by 100. Within a few months of this hit, all bands had teased hair and feel good anthems to pump your fist to. The Hair Metal era began it's run on the Pop audience.

Disc 2:

Emerson Lake and Powell - Touch and Go

What would have happened if Cozy Powell wasn't brought in to replace Carl Palmer? If they hired Mick Fleetwood they would have been ELF. If they got Russ Kunkel it would be ELK. Any other letter combination would have sucked even harder. It had to be Powell. Had to be.

ZZ Top - Sleeping Bag

This song kicks so much as that my head would explode if I even thought I knew what it was talking about. So you have a sleeping bag, so what?

The Outfield - Your Love

The British trio found a way to combine the sharpness of The Police with the anthemic ways of Arena Rock. Their style managed to transcend categories, scoring with Pop fans, Rock fans and College Rock. I saw them perform in the summer of '86, they performed a twelve minute sing a long version of "Your Love" that was excruciating to listen to. Put me off the song for a year.

Triumph - Somebody's Out There

Like letting air out of a tire, the Canadian power trio dropped the Metal and streamlined their sound for radio play. And yet they still came up with gems like this one.

GTR - When The Heart Rules The Mind

Proggers Steve Howe and Steve Hackett joined forces for one album and one hit song. "When The Heart..." is all about these two out noodling each other on the fret board to a Journey beat, making it one of the greatest songs ever!

Van Halen - Dreams

Maybe the signature song of the Van Hagar era, fighter pilots everywhere draw inspiration from the charged attitude and Blue Angels video.

Pat Benatar - We Belong

Tired of being pigeonholed as a Hard Rocker, Patty B mellows out with a clapping rhythm and heroic vocals.

Glass Tiger - Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)

Whenever I think of this band, I think of what would have happened if the "Gl" part of their name had come off before the record release. But that's just me. Oh yeah, Bryan Adams cameos on this...big year for cameos!

John Farnham - You're The Voice

This was a worldwide smash hit everywhere but here. Leaving LRB, John Farnham becomes an Australian Demi God with this "We Are The World" type of jam. Play this with "We Belong" and "You've Got The Touch" and you will find you can climb mountains and swim across seas.

Genesis - Invisible Touch

The Phil version of Genesis kicks into Pop overdrive starting with this song, electronic drums and swirly synths in tow. I often thought of this as a sort of horror movie song. Think about it, she has an invisible touch that can reach inside of your heart to tear it apart. Like a hollow point bullet or something.

Honeymoon Suite - Feel It Again

Much of my blog has been dedicated to the greatness of this song, so I won't elaborate much more. Other than to say it rules!

Moody Blues - Your Wildest Dreams

Talk about left field hits, nobody, and I mean nobody, was expecting 'ol "Nights in White Satin" to have a #1 Pop hit. Patrick Moraz says you're welcome.

Steve Miller Band - I Want To Make The World Turn Around

The Miller Man takes his Miller Band to pay tribute to Pink Floyd on this very Floydian song.

Journey - Be Good To Yourself

Some people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about a history changing event. When I first heard this song, I was with my Dad and brother in the car to go skiing in Nevada. After getting to the hotel, I sat with my tape recorder and waited patiently for this song to come back on the radio so I could record it. Journey was back!

Lou Gramm - Midnight Blue

Gramm's solo career started off with an emphasis on what he felt was a more Garage rock sound. I used to force my voice to sound all gravelly so I could imitate this song and sing along in the car.

Europe - The Final Countdown

Is there anything more excessive than a Pop Metal band imitating ELP? For a second it looked like Cozy Powell joined the wrong band. An evergreen of rock cheese, this song has seen a resurgence recently that is well deserved.

David Lee Roth - Yankee Rose

Like Robert Palmer, DLR did some math and figured out renting Eddie Van Halen was better than working with him. So Roth roped in up and comers Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan to go up against the Hagar fronted VH.

Samantha Fox - Touch Me (I Want Your Body)

Before there were Spice Girls there was just one girl, UK's famed page three beauty Samantha Fox. The Fox and her rough British accent brought a trashy tartiness to a silly slice of danceable pop rock.

Next up is 1987, Arena Rock launches into the next phase.