Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jimmy Carter's Revenge Part Four: A New Hope For The Piano Man

Before 1982 I didn't buy much music that didn't have the words Star Wars in it so I had to wrack my brain to think of an album to give the Carter era High School Collection treatment to. Or in this case grade school collection. This was really my Mom's tape, but I played it on my own 'cause I liked Billy Joel. He was that middle of the road guy that kids and parents could agree on I guess. A little bit of yacht rock, a little bit of McCartney, a little bit of 50s revival given a 70's polish, Billy Joel had something for everyone. Time to roll back to the days of tube socks and t shirts, time for...

Billy Joel - 52nd Street (1978)

1. Big Shot

Before there was rap music, there was Billy Joel. That's not really a good comparison, what I mean is that "Big Shot" (or "Big Shit" depending on your mood) is a great song filled with self involved attitude. What's nice though is that there is a self effacing undercurrent as he mocks his own braggadocio. Joel directs the vitriol of the song towards himself, complaining he had to be the big shot that knew everyone and everything in front of others. Considering this was the first song on the record following his breakthru smash album The Stranger, this was a key moment as it humanized Joel and let his fans know that success wasn't going to his head. This was also the last appearance I can remember of what I'll call "Italian Billy Joel", when he used to sing alot about Italian things and sometimes put on a fake New Yawk Italian accent on like he does midway thru "Big Shot" (unless Billy Joel is Italian, in which case maybe it's a real accent for him). When I saw Joel live in '89, at the end of "Big Shot" he would climb on top of his piano and act like he was going to do a back flip and then simply climb down at the last second. Nice fake out :)
I remember pissing off my best friend by inserting his name in the lyrics in 1978, that was fun! Because that's what friends are for when you're young.

2. Honesty

Well, lets forget the irony of Joel writing this song when later he would be tagged with rumors of infidelity and stolen musical ideas. "Honesty" is a great song, a fine ballad pleading for truth. All he wanted was honesty, like Roy Neary in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. All Neary wanted was for the government to admit that it wasn't crazy to play with your mashed potatoes and that space aliens wanted to experience synthesizers with a light show really bad. That lyric "I can find a lover / I can find a friend / I can have security until the bitter end / Any one can comfort me with promises again / I know" has stuck with me thru the decades. There's an emotional vulnerability to "Honesty" that resonates with me, awesome awesome song.

Bosom Buddies! Joel's catchy declaration of independence will be forever tied to my memories of Tom back-before-people-died-in-every-movie-he-does Hanks and Peter Scolari ("This will make a great novel") dressing up like women in that classic tv show. I lived for three things in 1978: baseball, sci fi and television. Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Battlestar Galactica were some of the programs I worshipped. For some reason I dislike the keyboard sound on this song, what is that electric piano? In college I had a friend sing this song inserting the name of his brother who annoyed him. Billy Joel's music is just good for that sort of thing. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!

You know, I do remember this busy dramatic song yet I don't have much to say on it. It was OK filler. I got kind of a Barry Manalow "Copacabana" vibe when I used to hear the tape back in the day. You know, one of those late 70s night clubs where guest stars from The Love Boat and Fantasy Island hang out. Maybe it was because I watched a lot of tv in 1978. I guess it's considered a big deal that there was a certain trumpet player on "Zanzibar" and the song does have the feel of Joel fulfilling his artsy muso ideas. Maybe he was inspired by the Cantina scene in Star Wars?

Now we're back on track! Vampy pop rock about a dangerous woman, and he's Billy Joel so he knows danger. The pensive piano and urgent vocals push the drama over the top. You've got to like a song that compares relationship problems with a knife fight, she cuts you once she cuts you twice and still you believe. It's like Joel was dating Patty Hearst or something. See, even back then you needed sex and violence to entertain children. Maybe he was referring to someone tamely dangerous like Olivia Newton John at the end of Grease. I got chills, they're mulitplyin and I'm losing control!

Joel's adult contemporary instincts are rock solid as he gets all wistful on this number. Think I've heard this on the radio from time to time. Have a soft spot for this one, pleasant bubbly keyboard bit and fine melody. "Rosalinda's Eyes" is perfect music for late 70s shopping, you could browse at Sears listening to this to get you in a mellow mood with just enough beat to keep you from falling asleep. You need a groove to get into the shopping mood when looking for the perfect Star Wars doll. If only I could invent time travel so I could go back to 1978 and say "Mike, stop! Leave the Star Wars dolls in their original packaging people will actually pay $100s of dollars for this crap." What I really bought a lot of back then were baseball cards, I had to do a lot of wheeling and dealing to get a Nolan Ryan for the doubles and triples of bench warmers like Sixto Lezcano. Though when I think about it, I recall a lot of muzak back then. It's not like now where you can shop to the beat of new wave hits of the 80s.

I can't remember which song it was, maybe it was this one, that ABC used for it's New Fall Lineup theme in the late 70s. Pretty sure it was this one, I'll have to see if it's online anywhere. Nice upbeat pop rock, not the most memorable one he's done just gets the job done while it's on. It makes me think of sitting in the back seat of a car to visit relatives out of town for some reason. Update: I've looked online and can't find any networks using this song as a theme, looks like the 'ol memory is faulty. I think I got it confused with the usage of Orlean's "Still The One" for the network theme because I vividly remember swirling lights and the ABC logo. Then again, at this rate who knows what I remember?

I just played this song off you tube and have no memories, don't remember this one at all. Since the album is themed around New York and I'm looking at 1978, I'll instead mention one of my baseball heroes of this era was third baseman Graig Nettles of the Yankees. Seeing his glovework at the hot corner during the championships and World Series was inspirational. After watching Nettles on tv, when I would play baseball I would jump and slide over any ball that was just out of reach-including when playing on asphalt. I had never seen anyone play baseball like that before, though a few years later I would see films of Brooks Robinson (Baltimore Orioles) and be equally impressed.

I don't remember this song either, I must have stopped paying attention to the tape after "Half A Mile Away". Perhaps I was too focused on my Atari 2600, I logged countless hours trying to rescue falling humans in Defender. Hated when the planet blew up and the aliens floated all over the place. Stupid hyperspace always has me rematerializing inside an alien creature and exploding.

And that's the end of 52nd Street. Hope you liked how I tried to get those Suftjan Stevens brownie points by tying my world in 1978 to these songs. Hard to believe all this took place 32 years ago. Time flies!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jimmy Carter's Revenge Part Three: Revenge Of Col. Steve Austin

A man barely alive...we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better...stronger...faster...

Or something like that, man what child of the 70s didn't dig the Six Million Dollar Man? I mean, he cost six million dollars! Oh the adventures we shared with Steve Austin, tackling big foot, losing Jamie's love to a parachute accident, the decision whether or not to wear a mustache - such amazing times! And the Six Million Dollar Man doll with the see through eye and drug addict training arm (you rolled up the skin on the fore arm to plug cords into the bionics) was dy-no-mite!

Lee Majors, the fantastically craggy squinty eyed thespian who portrayed the cyborg Colonel, went on to more fame in the 80s as Colt Seaver resident Fall Guy. I think the theme song even became a Country hit, it certainly was memorable. And after that, he continued to work but his visibility went way down. So imagine my surprise when I saw him not once, but twice recently on network tv.

It took me a moment to recognize him as the community college boating teacher on the comedy Community. He played his character with perfect pitch of comedic sternness.

Then, Lee Majors struck again on the action drama The Human Target playing a mysterious body guard in flash back. He still has the crusty voice of rugged warrior bit down cold.

So welcome back Lee Majors, I didn't realize I missed you until you reminded me of your coolness. And hey, with green energy now focusing on nuclear power there may one more Six Million Dollar Man tv movie left in you yet. Maybe Steve Austin can run his atom powered legs on a treadmill and power New York or something. Think green! Dun-na-na-na (that's bionic leg sounds).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jimmy Carter's Revenge Part Two: Attack Of the Clones


A while back I posted a song from the group called Free Energy, the song being "Free Energy". It had that early 70s power pop rock sound down cold, like Big Star. Well, I liked the song enough to get the whole CD. And in a way that at once meets expectations and disappoints, Free Energy slugs through early 70s rock cliches with abandon.

The first three songs on the album Stuck On Nothing are winners: The cowbell driven "Free Energy" song is great stuff, all urgent with guitars that surge with power and then swirl like electric fireflies (geez, what am I on?). Track two is a rewrite of "Spirit In The Sky" named "Dream City" which would be insulting yet because this is a 70s pastiche band anyway it gets a pass. Things pick up again on the bopping "Bang Pop" with it's jerky beat and catchy onomatopoetic hook. Then...then...the album gets to be a bit of a snooze. The remaining seven songs go by almost anonymously, though a bit of guitar or melody will catch my ear from time to time. At least "Light Love" generates some pop rock heat and it's hard to miss the horn laden closer "Wild Winds".

I had high hopes for Free Energy and as a concept I still like them, they just need the songs to back their ideas up.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jimmy Carter's Revenge Part One: The Phantom Menace

I thought 70s retro was done after the 90s? Now it seems back with a vengeance and you know what, I can't complain. If more and more people want to worship at the temple of Angus Young, I'm totally cool with that. 70s retro hard rock without Lenny Kravitz may seem like a dirty phrase and yet I'm digging it down to my bell bottoms. (I just realized I keep acting like 70s retro is a new thing yet do a post about it every couple of months, what's up with that?)

So first up on the Carter Administration revival is a band called The Binges. Decked out in those generic football T shirts that everyone (including me) wore like Tommy on Eight Is Enough, this band made up of two sisters from Japan and two sleazy dudes play with a fire that's rarely seen these days. What's more impressive is the monster grooves they come up with has an authentic feel like it came from the 70s instead of aping it. This band has gotten some buzz thanks to That Metal Show, I found out about them because of the Rock It Out blog I've been following. I'm impressed by this band, definitely gonna check more of them out.

And while this next group, now on their second album, is as straight a rip as you can get off AC/DC without resurrecting the body of Bon Scott it's hard not to enjoy the simple pleasures of Airbourne.

And what the hell, may as well throw in the original...

Of all the concerts I've seen, AC/DC was by far the best show I'd witnessed ever!

One last note, an online well wish to Bret Michaels of Poison who is currently hospitalized and in critical condition. I'm not a huge fan of Poison itself but really enjoy his reality tv appearances.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Doesn't Somebody Want To Be Wanted?

The Year: 1978

The Date: April 28 or 30th

The Place: Tokyo, Japan

"I want you to I want you to want...ME!"

And with the kick off of a shuffling drum starts the next number in my favorite all time song list:

Cheap Trick "I Want You To Want Me" (1977 / 1979)

As big a hit song as this is, it took a while to grow on me. I had heard the song on the radio of course before I had bought a Cheap Trick record, but couldn't tell you at the time that I had. Just one of those songs on the radio that I didn't care who sang it or why. Before buying their stuff, the song I knew Cheap Trick for was "Surrender" aka "Mommy's alright, daddy's alright, they're just a little bit weird". It seemed like their best known song, even the ticket scalper in Fast Times At Ridgemont High sang "Surrender" when trying to sell Cheap Trick tickets. "Surrender" came with the record At Budokan and since it was the Nice Price (i.e. permanently discounted) I was motivated to buy it. Thanks to my two music bibles in high school (The Encyclopedia of Rock and The Rolling Stone Magazine Rock Encyclopedia) I knew their biggest hit was also from that album, "I Want You To Want Me". So I figured bonus, I get the song I want plus whatever their biggest hit was.

I've been Tricked!

So I bought the At Budokan record and when I got to "I Want You To Want Me" I listened intently. This was Cheap Trick's biggest hit! Shuffling drums, springy bass line, guy singer whining sort of like Marilyn Monroe with a shot of testosterone...sounds kind of familiar...really? This is the big hit? A song with like six lines or something, one of which makes a huge deal about wearing a brand new shirt?? What kind of guy likes clothes that much??? The live audience on the record seems to like it, some weird chanting going on after the singer says something about seeing him crying. Decent guitar solo, huh not a lot of pace changes in this just the same beat going til the very end.

In high school, I thought this song was sooo overrated. I'd play it off the record sometimes, but usually when spinning that tasty piece of vinyl I'd throw on "Surrender" or the racuous "Clock Strikes Ten". Later when I had the song on The Greatest Hits cd I got a little more used to the song but wouldn't say I loved it.

So what changed?

Have a Coke and a smile

The song started to show up in other media, delivered in a way that hit my easily influenced mind the right way. In other words, it was used in a soft drink commercial. Edited down to 20 or so seconds, "I Want You To Want Me" in a Diet Coke ad completely changed my mind on this one. Hearing the live recording played loud in the advertisement with some guy singing along in the shower or rocking out in his apartment seemed cool to me. And the hook drilled it's way into my brain and wouldn't let go. Damn you ad execs, you nailed it! But I still prefer Pepsi, so you do not attain total victory on me.

Then, my brother started playing the soundtrack to the film 10 Things I Hate About You every time we saw him and it included "I Want You To Want Me", except it was finally sung by an actual girl. The group was called Letters For Cleo and the cover wasn't bad. Sometimes I would see a video for this version, with the band playing on top of a roof. It was pretty much a straight cover, except the girl went the pixie alterna girl route instead of the cooing Robin Zander delivery. I got a copy of this song off my brother and played it semi regularly. Never did get into Letters For Cleo, this cover is my only true exposure to the band. And it seems the internet remembers this version coming from the band Save Ferris instead, so Letters For Cleo don't even get credit for their own work anymore. Wonder where they are now?

I wanted to play the original song on my own time, but I had sold off my Cheap Trick's greatest hits CD before any of this happened (I had really needed the money) and the only Cheap Trick version I had on a 70s rock compilation cassette and it sounded real different. REAL different.

WTF? Who put Billy Joel in there?

The Cheap Trick "I Want You To Want Me" I had was the studio version, presumably from the In Color album. It was a little slower, cleaner (natch) and lighter. The gritty slightly ragged guitar from the live take was replaced with a polite piano that would say "please" and "thank you" instead of "hell yeah!". Yeah, that metaphor made no sense but you know what I mean. There's even a piano solo at the end, what the hell is this from The Sting soundtrack? You ever notice Robert Redford always plays like, liars in his movies? Wait, there's echo on the word "cryin" in the chorus, that's what that weird chanting was! The fans were singing the echo. Wow, that echo sucks.

After hearing this version off the tape, I felt like I was in a mirror universe. Up was down, left was right, The Enterprise wanted to destroy the Halkan counsel instead of negotiate, Sulu wanted to bang was sheer utter unmitigated...wait for it...madness.

I needed to get the original live version. Needed it bad, so I bought The Complete Budokan Concert on two cds so I could have it. Bwa ha ha ha!

Mad About The Mouse

"I Want You To Want Me" has continued to hold sway over me after my reassesment of it. When I bought the Cheap Trick box set it came with a cool alternate studio take of the song that, interestingly, sounds a lot like the live version but with some studio polish. This version quickly ramped up into my favorites and is the one I like the most of the many, many various takes on what's become a well worn classic.

On top of this, "I Want You To Want Me" seems to have become a rite of passage for female Disney actresses. They're all over You Tube, there's Lindsey used to be hot Lohan, some blond girl from a movie called Bandslam and then a group called KSM that flail through it like a Noxema ad. For whatever the reason, the Mouse is lovin' this one for the kids. Oh, that sounded really wrong.

The Want Ads

So when it comes to "I Want You To Want Me" I went from indifference to thinking it's the stuff of genius. Simplicity at its finest. And to their credit, any attempts at making a copy of their own smash hit weren't memorable enough to stay in my memory. That takes guts to not remake their own song with different words to milk the sucker dry, it's not like Cheap Trick is necessarily above that sort of thing (play "The Flame" and "Can't Help Falling Into Love" back to back and see if you o.d. on power ballad ice). Even the recent Weezer song "If You're Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To)" owes a nod of debt to this sturdy classic. And now ladies and gentlemen, check out this dude Dr. K who sings the song with an Elvis styled voice. Awesome!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Lions Den

Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

What I consider to be the most influential tv show of the 90s wasn't Friends, it wasn't Seinfeld and it wasn't ER. No, it was a simple talk show hosted by a former city mayor that told easily digestible human interest stories. Stories that you and I, simple folk, can relate to on an everyday level. Stuff like who slept with who, who's related to whoever is being slept with, and why people are sleeping or suspected with sleeping with other people they shouldn't be sleeping with. You know, normal stuff. Followed by running attacks and clothes tearing wrasslin.

I can't remember a lot of tv from the Clinton era, I didn't watch X Files or much anything else with regularity that I can recall from that time. But Jerry Springer, that was on everywhere including work. This was what America truly wanted to see: real random fighting. No skill involved, no stuntmen, just people beating the holy hell out of each other cause they felt like it.

I wasn't a big fan of the show though I am just as guilty as anyone else of being mesmerized by the train wreck carnage of junior high style slugfests. As much as I would like to revel in the pure wrongness of the program, I get a little snooty when it comes to this low brow icon. The Jerry Springer show didn't push the envelope of taste, it took taste and buried it under a heaping pile of dung. Normally I like that sort of thing, I guess Springer just seemed too real for me to enjoy it. This wasn't making a statement about society, it was reflecting an ugly side of society I knew about and didn't care to see. The Springer Show's impact was pervasive, all of media was affected in the race to the bottom (and ironically I enjoyed some of that influence a lot, such as WWE's Attitude era of wrestling). Eventually the show had to pull back on its famous fights, just not before the damage was done.
If at this point you might say "Hey, wait, isn't this hypocritical when you consider the taste level of most everything else on this blog?" Well...yes, yes it is. For my excuse, accept one of the following pat answers: a.) I'm a complex human being with complex human emotions that you can't understand. b.) I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam. c.) Me? What about YOU! d.) My hypocracy is nothing compared to what the government gets away with. e.) That's not what I meant to say, what I meant to say is that this is an opinion from a certain point of view that may or may not be held by a select grouping of people that might include me. f.) I ate spicy food last night that caused heartburn g.) I didn't inhale h.) my other car is a Porche i.) I know you are but what am I? j.) You can't handle the truth! Now, back to the soap box...

You could say Jerry Springer was just continuing what Geraldo Rivera started. You could say all this was inevitable, that You Tube and other forms of social media would have magnified the cruel vicious side of youth on an openly national level without Springer. Still I view The Jerry Springer Show as a breaking point in media history, where basic human decency was declared OK to do without. For me electronic media is more a reflection of where society is than an influence so I don't blame Jerry Springer for the destruction of decency. That's our choice. I just don't like to look at it in it's raw, uncut form. And that's my final thought for today. Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Turn My Camera Down


Spoon! One of the nice finds during my short lived EMusic account was Spoon, the minimalist funky indie band. I enjoyed the album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga with it's limber grooves and odd noise aesthetics, particuarly when their music started getting featured on Chuck (always a plus with me). This year Spoon is back with more stripped down rhythms on Transference.

To me Transference is like playing the board game Scramble. You go into the game with all these grand designs and plans to get big words/big points and not box yourself in where you can't build more. And by the end of the game your biggest word is "Sugar" and there is only a small corner to build three letter words left. Spoon retains their distinct ability to take off kilter noises that shouldn't fit together but do. Awesomely weird echo, piano runs that don't match the beat, left turn riffs all held together by the singer's sort of deadpan voice. They have an immediacy that rivals The Police in their hey day.

And there's lots to like on Transference, none of the songs sound like copies of each other with a variety of paces and melodies to keep it fresh. The toughest song to get to like is the clunky lead single "Written In Reverse" which seems like a grade school music class on first blush. Eventually it gels together after multiple spins. "The Mystery Zone" is easily my favorite on the album, with Spoon hitting that funky poppin' groove I like that gets me doing my dork dance in the kitchen.

In spite of these benefits, much of Transference fails to make an impact once the CD is over. These songs sound great when playing, but don't stick the way Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga did. On that album, about four or five songs stuck with me for months. None of the songs on Transference come close to being that good.

In the end, Spoon remain a distinct and vital band - one of the few fun ones left around. Transference is just a sampler of what Spoon can do, it fails to hold together as a complete statement and none of the songs hit the "awesomely unbelieveable" level. Instead, I got consistency which isn't bad - just expected a little more from the mighty Spoon.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Paranoia Will Destroy Ya

DiCaprio and Winslet go down with the sinking ship again in Revolutionary Road

All movies here rated:
and a half

Time for another rap up of three movies I've seen recently.

Moon (2009) - Ground control to Major Tom, David Bowie's son has come up with a brilliant sci fi flick about a guy who is stuck with the loneliest job in the universe: engineer on a mostly automated moon base. The base exists to generate clean energy for the Earth's population from materials found on the moon. Near the end of a three year contract, the engineer begins to hallucinate and has a serious accident. The aftermath of the accident sets off a chain reaction of events that question sanity, identity and social morality. Duncan Jones (Bowie's son who came up with the story and directed) brings back pre Star Wars sci fi by focusing on characters, intellectual ideas and that infamous slow burn pace that made films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, Outland or Solaris film school classics. Well, maybe Outland is not a classic but it's influence is felt here. Moon wrapped me up in the character's internal struggle and builds tension without gimmicks.

I was really digging this flick, Sam Rockwell kicks ass in multiple roles making each separate character believable in their own right. The special effects look digital but also have the cheapness of early 70s sci fi which works well enough because that's not really what the movie's about anyway. Oh, enjoyed Kevin Spacey voicing a HAL like robot too.

Revolutionary Road (2008) - The much bally-hooed rematch between Titantic co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. A sort of "what if those two people got married after Titantic" captures two idealists marrying and making each other miserable in the suburbs. No question both are acting heavy hitters and they bring the heat in this sort of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? update. Like Woolf? the Road can get a little stagey in scenes, but it has strong dramatic impact nonetheless. Directed in that clean, poetic Sam Mendes style even though the ending seemed a little rote for him.

Hey, no one needs a reminder that Kate Winslet is one of the best working actresses around. She's getting good at that American accent too. Winslet can always be counted on for that thwarted hopes and dreams bubbling under the surface of Western culture perfection thing. DiCaprio excels too in that half bull shit half bravado persona he does. It's all about the dramatic arguments in this movie and like a pro wrestling pay per view there are some nice matches here. .

The Page Turner (2006) - A French film that does psychological thrillers right. No Hand That Rocks The Cradle theatrics here, just sustained mind games as a young woman takes revenge on a famous pianist who she blames for ending her music career. Menacing while keeping a hint of realism, The Page Turner keeps its scope modest and benefits from it.

Loved the ending to this movie, if only because instead of the usual Hollywood ending of people running around some building with guns or knives the climactic violence is just emotional.

And that's all for this round.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

All That Glitters Is Gold...

No more drama! Mary J Blige boldly takes on an iconic classic rock song.
Stairway To Heaven

In the classic rock oevere (is that a word? I think I see it now and then used to mean like a set of something) there are certain songs that are considered sacred cows. One of those songs is the Led Zeppelin classic, maybe their best known jam, "Stairway To Heaven".

Hard to believe I didn't hear "Stairway To Heaven" until almost a decade in to my listening to rock music. This and "Free Bird" I only knew of by reputation. When I heard Led Zeppelin on the radio, it was almost always "D'yer Mak'er". Or "Rock and Roll". Sometimes "The Battle Of Evermore". It was about 1989 when I went thru a Led Zep phase and bought Led Zep IV which contained the legendary tune. I liked it enough to use the song in a video production class I was taking, got a decent grade for it too.

Sometimes a song starts showing up on my radar for no real reason. It just happens. While searching Itunes for interesting cover versions of well known songs, I came across an Imix that included "Stairway To Heaven" by Dolly Parton. My first reaction was this had to be a joke. Dolly Parton? Really?? After playing it, while the song had a certain kitchy appeal I had to admit that Dolly sounded real commited to the performance of the song. I could actually take her version seriously and enjoy it while at the same time poke fun. Can't pass up a song like that can I?

If you answered "No, he can't" then you would be right. About a week later I went to Itunes again and could not believe my eyes. Mary J Blige, an excellent R&B artist (one of the few modern R&B performers I consistently like even though I only have a handful of her songs) covered both "Stairway To Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love". "Whole Lotta Love" is a bit of a mish mash between guitar rock and dance beats that doesn't quite fit together. Her "Stairway To Heaven" was more of a straight ahead cover, a little respectable although definitely karaoke. Gonna give her credit for taking this one on at least.

Still, it was just weird how in a few weeks "Stairway To Heaven" covers have just been popping up in front of me, so that folks is my KRQR double shot for today. Well, maybe I should throw in the original too.

And she's buy-yuy-ying a stair-air-way. To heave-ennnnn....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Catching Up With...Your Oakland Athletics!

Man on the run: Rajai Davis ignites the A's with stolen bases

Baseball season has begun and with it a new year of Oakland A's baseball. Last year, my wife and I became fans of the local team and started attending games. They weren't a very good team (if you think of "good" as translating into more wins than losses) but they were ours.

First Place A's! - Yes the season is only like two weeks old, but the A's are in first place. No significant players have been injured in those two weeks. Rajai Davis and Daric Barton are producing runs. Hope is alive!

It's pronounced Su Skee? Sah Skay? Shawshank? - Ultimate obstacle race program Ninja Warrior released footage of it's most recent tournament, an exciting one which saw many players go to the second round (there's four rounds/courses to beat). I was bummed to see my favorite who is always introduced as "gas station manager Shingo Yamamoto" go down in the third round because of a recurring dislocated shoulder injury (an injury that started years ago when competing in the final round of a prior Ninja Warrior). Controversy abounds when fan favorite Makoto Nagano got an unprecedented do over on round one because of equipment malfunction (this is a show where in previous tournaments equipment malfunctions were considered an additional obstacle to overcome. This included when you're gripping a rolling log and the log rolls off the tracks!). With the do -over, Nagano made it to the final round and came within a second of reclaiming his grand champion title. Brooks was here.

Undercover Lovers - After 3 years of sexual tension, spies Chuck and Sarah finally, uh, slipped each other the secret password on Chuck. They delayed this as long as they could because as anyone on previous shows driven by sexual tension can tell you, the partys over shortly after the lovin' begins (see Moonlighting). My favorite tv show still may have enough tricks up their sleeve to keep things entertaining, but combining this with having Chuck's sidekick Morgan turn from Buy More manager to goof ball spy reeks of "jumping the shark". Having said that, the story arc leading up to Chuck and Sarah connecting in Paris was awesome bro!

Jammin On The One - Musical luminaries Daryl Hall and Beck have formed separate loose knit groups of musicians to jam with on the internet. Hall (usually assisted by the late T Bone Wolk) has jammed with people like Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy), Todd Rundgren and Diane Birch at his web site Live At Daryls House. Meanwhile, Beck and friends decide to cover an album at a time at Beck's Record Club. Currently, they're covering INXS' classic Kick album. These sites give us music fans the rare chance to be a fly on the wall of these jam sessions we normally read about online or in magazines. Cool stuff.

Send Me Some Pizza Rolls Please! - VH1 News tipped me off to Red Letter Media, a You Tube channel that among other things makes detailed reviews of Star Wars and Star Trek movies. But the reviews aren't just some talking head going on and on, it's done like a video essay acted from the perspective of an elderly homicidal serial killer. The insightful criticism mixed with Saw like impulses and craggy impatience make for demented fun. Included below is part one of the seven part Phantom Menace review.

How Many Roads Must A Man Walk Down, Before You Call Him A Man? - I was watching tv and saw footage of Jakob Dylan at SXSW, totally blown away how much he sounds like his old man as he gets older. This song "Nothing But The Whole Wide World" is nice.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weezy, We're Movin On Up

Now for a post that's been months in the making, my overview of the career to Weezer. This was a tough one for me because although I like Weezer a lot, I really don't know their music that well. I usually liked certain songs, well, just about every single or video they release, so when I bought their music I would buy the whole album just cuz it was only a few dollars more than the songs I was gonna buy anyway. I've done minimal research in this post, mainly because I enjoy being ignorant of the minutiae about Weezer so I can react just to the music the way I perceive it. I just got Rivers Cuomo's Alone: The Home Recordings and am listening to it right now. What a talented song writer this dude is! Anyway, on with the show this is it.

Weezer (blue album) - 1994

What's the big deal?

Lots of music for slackers, but what about the Nerds? A passing of the torch from 80s nerd rocker Ric Ocasek (The Cars) producing for the Weeze. Hello, hello again.

What were the hits / videos?

Aayyy! Everyone who saw MTV in the mid 90s remembers "Buddy Holly" with its Arnold lovin' Fonzie dancin' awesomeness. And thanks to the liner notes to the Rivers Cuomo cd I now know what it's about, the other band members making fun of his then girl friend. Their breakout hit was the disjointed "Undone (The Sweater Song)" with a clever video featuring unravelling fabric during band performance. The chunky "Say It Ain't So" was alt rock magic as well.

What about the rest of the album?

Last year I played this album for a month straight in my car to get better acquainted with this disc. And my findings are this is practically a flawless album from start to finish. Too bad I was burnt out on "new" bands by '94 (little did I know of the rap rock apocalypse that would soon begin), even though I liked "Buddy Holly" I wrote Weezer off as a flash in the pan. So I missed out on a band whose grungy guitars, hooky pop melodies and geek loser lyrics communicated some real angst. I found it easy to relate to jams like the obsessive/possessive "No One Else", the alienation of 'The World Has Turned And Left Me Here" or the silliness of "Surf Wax America". And after Guitar Hero how could I not enjoy "My Name Is Jonas", I can practically see those red and yellow discs flying at my plastic guitar now.

Pinkerton - 1997

What's the big deal?

It's not Pinkerton. Oh, wait it is Pinkerton. The birth of emo, let the whining begin.

What's the hits/videos?

"The Good Life" has a good beat and you can dance to it, amid an album of dreary toned musings it was the happiest track they could find. The video about a pizza delivery girl reeked of slacker baiting.

What about the emo?

This album is easily the most worshipped of the band's catalog. Weezer can't so much as blink at the internet without comments piling in about how "It's not Pinkerton". To me, Pinkerton is good but not as enjoyable as their debut. It is interesting, lots of introspective lyrics about a loneliness that fame, random sex and Asian girl fantasies can't fulfill. This album more than any other in their pantheon makes me feel like I'm meeting a person through music. The band does a good job of keeping the energy up despite the downer mood of these songs. As good as it is, I prefer Weezer when their happier and daffier as opposed to sad. My memory remembers this album as being a dud commercially, so at the time I felt like my assessment that they were a flash in the pan was correct.

Weezer (green album) - 2001

What's the big deal?

Weezy returns armed with a new attitude...

What were the hits/videos?

Doop doop, "Island In The Sun" was a big mellow hit with radio listeners everywhere. But the comeback song with the killer video was the Sumo throwin' "Hash Pipe", even if it did start an annoying trend of blatant drug songs in the group's song book. My personal favorite was the catchy "Photograph" and I wasn't the only one liking it, the song was later adapted for a series of camera commercials.

What about the rest of this thang?

And here is the point where I started to get into Weezer. Maybe it was out of desperation, rock music was really sucking at this point. I would see Korn and Limp Bizkit all over the charts and just feel old, unable to relate to the non melodic repetitiveness of rap / rock. In flew Weezer with a batch of fresh, peppy pop rock backed by tight production. The hits are what sold me on it, the rest of the album isn't quite as strong but is carried by the momentum of quality tunes at the beginning. I think at this point Matt Sharp wasn't in the band, I have no idea what his artistic contribution was to Weezer it just seemed like the press made it a big deal that he wasn't there. Think he had another band called The Rentals? Anyway, while not their greatest effort the green album came across as relaxed and happy, a real pleasure to listen to.

Maladroit - 2002

What's the big deal?

Kiss meets the Phantom Of The Park

What were the hits/videos?

The hits weren't that big from Maladroit, yet the videos were some of their best work. Lead single "Dope Nose" (again with the drug songs) showed the band shredding to a Japanese biker gang. "Keep Fishin" had Muppets. Can't go wrong there.

Was the rest of the album well adjusted?

Lots of buzz surrounded the release of Maladroit about how a 70s guitar rock influence would be heavily featured. And it was. Maladroit is probably the hardest, heaviest release they've had. Too bad the six string sting overtakes the songs, leaving a lot of good playing without solid songs to stick to. So a lot happens yet it leaves me cold. I put it on the CD player and spent the whole time leaving the room because I didn't care.

Make Believe - 2005

What's the big deal?

It's 2005, we all want to be Hugh Hefner.

What were the hits/videos?

No brainer, "Beverly Hills" was one of the biggest rock hits of the past decade. It was sort of a "We Will Rock You" for the 21st Century with its boom-boom-bap backbeat and Frampton Comes Alive worthy talk box guitar. And having a video with a bunch of Playboy Bunnies don't hurt either. Funner still was the clip for the excellent "Perfect Situation" with that girl from The Girl Next Door playing a Courtney Love type front woman for Weezer until sky lil Rivers Cuomo steps up and takes over. And of course there's "We Are All On Drugs" continuing Weezer's streak of dope driven numbers. Seem to remember some controversy over this song when it was released as a single.

Is the rest Make Believe?

Make Believe was produced by Rick Rubin who usually strips people's sound bare. Here he doesn't, Make Believe is the opposite in that it has a full sound with a smooth sheen. There's a workman like feel with songs that are consistently good and a conventional running time (45 minutes). Tunes like "This Is Such A Pity" and "The Damage In your Heart" stand out from the pack. I'd say this is the most mainstream they've sounded, but we're not up to Raditude yet. It is their most solid effort since their debut though.

Weezer (red album) - 2008

What's the big deal?

Why are the Village People on the cover? Why does the singer's voice keep changing?? What's going on???

What are the hits / videos?

First single "Pork and Beans" went viral by mashing in just about every viral You Tube clip in history into their video. At the same time, they were able to thumb their nose at DA MAN by writing about record company pressure to have a hit. Second single "Troublemaker" was fun pop rock even though it started to show Weezer's age. While it dudded on the charts, "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived" was freakin' magnificent. Successfully combining rock, rap, choir, punk and a bunch of other styles into a cuisinarted blend made for a wild mix.

What about the rest?

Multiple producers, songwriters and lead singers make for the most schizoid outing in Weezer history. Other than the sappy "Heart Songs" it's not bad, just not great. I was hooked on the bonus track "Miss Sweeney" for a while which humorously juxtaposes a dictation type verse with a soaring chorus to illustrate a businessman's pathetic crush on his secretary. All in all, the red album comes across as one of those self indulgent things long running bands do to keep their mojo going. Interesting, but not essential.

Raditude - 2009

What's the big deal?

The older you are, the younger you feel.

What's the hits/videos?

The Butch Walker co-write "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To" was slick, snappy fun. The video about a bobble headed band members maiming themselves over a girl was OK.

Is there anything Rad about Raditude?

Sort of. The red album hinted at Weezer trying to reach for a fountain of youth on energetic tracks like "Everybody Get Dangerous" and "Troublemaker". That feeling takes hold on Raditude as the aging rockers aim for the tween set with polished empty cuts like "I'm Your Daddy" or "The Girl Got Hot". Worst of all, the band tries to go hip hop even roping in Lil Wayme (Weezer and Weezy!) for the ridiculous "Can't Stop Partying". Weezer is so hard up for exposure, they appeared in a commercial for the video game Rock Band as Taylor Swift's backing performers. There's a smell of desperation and flop sweat on Raditude, but taken in modest doses with lowered expectations tracks like the Thin Lizzy-ish "In The Mall" and the jaunty "Trippin On The Freeway" deliver fair entertainment.

Is That All?

Weezer is definitely one of my favorite geek rock bands and it's interesting to see how they bounce back and forth between what sells and what's arty. Though Raditude isn't my favorite disc, I hope one of those songs can catch on with the public anyway. If not, maybe it's time for a Snuggie!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

190 Random Favorite Songs - Something In The Air

This is the inaugural post of what will be, in no specific order, my favorite songs of all time. They're in random order because, to be honest, I looked at my list of 190 songs and thought "I do not feel like putting these songs in a specific order, it's just too much damn work." Since I had organized on a playlist, I hit the "shuffle" button and now will post the songs in the order ITUNES placed it. I do have a favorite song and when I get to that one I will highlight it, otherwise get ready for some random action.

Entry #1: Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight (1981)

The song that may contain the greatest drum break in modern pop history and arguably Phil Collin's best tune. A dark, atmospheric song with distorted vocals, "In The Air Tonight" is relatively unique in Collin's song book for its tone. A similar song that I liked more than "Tonight" initially is Genesis' "Man On The Corner" which is a close match in tone and pattern. "Man On The Corner" was the first Genesis song I liked and used to play often for a little while.

The song starts out slow as Collin's sings about watching someone drown (not based on a true story as alleged by some) ending each line with the phrase "Oh Lord" (which for decades I thought he was singing "Oh no" until I read the lyrics). Phil Collin's voice gets increasingly echoey/ distorted like someone surfacing through water, building the tension until the cathartic drums come crashing in. In what would become his trademark, the drums have the famous "gated reverb" sound where they come across very loud and boxy. The rest of the song rides on a slightly lurching beat as Collin's goes on about feeling it calling (or is it comin'? I can't remember the lyric sheet) in the air tonight.

"In The Air Tonight" is a favorite song for me because of it's intensely quiet mood, it's kinda a creepy song - in a good way. One of my good friends in high school was a huge fan of Phil Collins, so for some random reason when I think of this jam I recall my friend saying there was a song called "Like China" from Collin's second solo album where he kept hearing the word "Vagina" instead. Heh, high school.

A Lonely Man There On The Corner

A predecessor to "In the Air Tonight", "Man On The Corner" has a similar structure of starting off with a muted keyboard and rippling percussion. Collins sings in a mysterious tone until 2/3rd of the way the drums kick in. In other words, the two songs are very similar. A bit of a precursor to "Another Day In Paradise" too with the homeless theme. Just "In The Air Tonight" is more downbeat and the cavernous guitars add atmosphere. "Man In The Corner" came from Genesis' Abacab album released a few months after Face Value, Collin's solo debut featuring "In The Air Tonight".

MTV Cops

When the song initially was released, I heard it a few times and it stood out in memory but I didn't think that much about it. It wasn't until the song was prominently used in the debut episode of Miami Vice that "In The Air Tonight" became a widely known hit by people, including me. Like the rest of America, I really dug the song in that setting of cool cops in cool cars driving in the night. Through Crockett and Tubbs, "Tonight" developed a cache of cool that it would never lose. The song would tie Collins to the NBC show long term, other Collins songs like "Take Me Home" would appear there. Eventually, Collins put his child acting skills to work in making an appearance as a character on Miami Vice. I didn't watch those episodes, just was aware that they happened. I did see the movie Buster, which is where his acting gigs led him to. It was a snoozer to say the least.

Live In The Air

When I saw Phil Collins perform live in 1985, I found him fairly boring in concert. "In The Air Tonight" still translated well for me, it was a highlight of the concert. He also performed the song with a piano at Live Aid.

Legacy of "Tonight"

After Collin's had his peak run as a solo performer, "In The Air Tonight" continued to be a cultural touchstone. Of the many samples and references to the song, the two that stand out in my mind are the Family Guy episode where Stewie is stuck inside the tv like Poltergeist and with his voice electronically fading in and out while singing this song and the Mike Tyson punch to the beat on another dude in The Hangover.

"In The Air Tonight" has had a second life in hip hop according to Wikipedia, being sampled and covered. The song has been remade and sampled by rappers like 2 Pac and Lil Kim. Eminem referenced the song and myth about the tune in rapping that Collins had witnessed a murder (thus inspiring the song) and fingered the killer at a concert. Collins has flatly denied this story for decades.

In addition, the song is popular at sporting events and commercials. While looking for a picture to put in this post, I came across a Wonderbra advert using the song. Because nothing says lift and support like Phil Collins.

I never understood why Collin's didn't re-release the single in the mid 80s to capitalize on the song's second lease on life. Guess he had enough charting hits that he didn't need the money. Nonetheless, "In The Air Tonight" is a modern classic and one of my favorite songs of all time.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Muse Is Not Amused



I recently snapped up last years Muse CD The Resistance and can now say from experience that it is a killer album. The British trio I thought sounded like Radiohead with a more proggy side at first so I was OK with them just not a huge fan. After seeing the video for the title song my perspective changed , suddenly everything they did clicked with me. That led me to buying their album.

And yes, there are bits of Radiohead in the Muse sound with the yearning, quavery lead vocals and wall of guitars approach. Where Muse differs is a willingness to go for the BIG STATEMENT, the GRAND GESTURE. Muse plays towards a more anthemic sound, where the music surges and vocals get heroic. And a progressive / classic rock influence helps pump up the volume louder with flashes of Queen and Bowie to boot. The last three songs are a suite in the grand tradition of prog with the title "Exogenesis: Symphony Part etc" (complete with orchestra) for each title.

Other than the Radiohead / U2 styled rocker "Resistance", my favorite track is "Undisclosed Desires" which is a slow song reminiscent of Depeche Mode in style. Sort of like "Shake The Disease" in style but not melody.

Lyrically, The Resistance puts me in a slightly Nine Inch Nails mood with it's paranoic outlook of being controlled by THE MAN. And being real angry and sad about it. Interesting in that it presents a world where governments keep people in line through meaningless wars and distractions to keep them from realizing that no matter what country they live in, the general population is in the same boat of control and ignorance.

With all these reference points it may seem like Muse is a hodge podge of other bands, what they do successfully is blend their influences into something unique and identifiable for them. The Resistance is the best album I've heard in a while, if it wasn't for W.E.T. I'd say the best in a year. Don't resist The Resistance, because resistance is futile.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Get That Little Runt

The ever popular crazy guy effect

This started with part of a Meat Loaf song and a Def Lep Behind The Album doc. Last week I was thinking about how much I liked the song "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad", one of the funniest power ballads ever. Hearing the Loaf sweetly croon "I want you, I need you but I'm never ever gonna love you" to an imaginary girl is killer, I'm cryin' icicles instead of tears! There's a part of the song that goes "I'll never be able yada yada yada" that has a layered vocal and slightly sways. That part is a trademark sound of the Runt, Todd Rundgren. Obsessing on that part, I remembered something Joe Elliot of Def Lep said of Jim Steinman's attempt to produce the band, "Jim Steinman didn't produce Bat Out Of Hell, he wrote it. Todd Rundgren produced it."

When I first started listening to music closely, my neighbor (also named Mike) played a key role because he was already deep into it. At the time, he had this hero worship for his older brother. His older brother was a huge fan of Todd Rundgren. So as a result, Mike was always trying to get me into Todd Rundgren, giving me copies of Rundgren and Utopia tapes even when I didn't want them. I did give them a try but didn't enjoy them, Rundgren was too artsy for my taste back then. So I've heard a lot of his back catalog yet I can barely tell you anything about it.

Since that point, Rundgren has slowly creeped into my life. Mainly as a producer, the first song I got hooked on with his fingerprints was Cheap Trick's "I Can't Take It". Again, my neighbor Mike made me a copy of this record he had to have just because Rundgren produced it. I can definitely hear the Rundgren influence on this album, and since I was already a fan of the Trick it wasn't a stretch for me to like this. My same friend who hated Loverboy because his brother told him they suck, borrowed my Keep It Up tape for over a month because their ballad "It's Never Easy" sounded Rundgren-esque. The Runt kept popping up in my life here or there, as it surprised me when I read his producer credit for XTC when they delivered their atheistic epic "Dear God".

After that, Rundgren fell off my radar until last year. His music that had been covered, used in tv shows and movies a bit in the past decade. When I put together an AOR compilation cd for my car, I included Utopia's "Crybaby" and played that track to death. Then, I heard his ballad "Can We Still Be Friends" on some movie soundtrack and became hooked on it. The delicate, tenative sound of the song was engrossing. Then Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs featured not just one, but two Rundgren covers "Hello It's Me" and "Couldn't I Just Tell You". They were highlights on the duo's covers album. His music would pop up when I saw reruns of That 70's show, again "Hello It's Me" memorably used on a shot of Eric and Donna lying back on his car looking skyward. And lastly, during my final months at work a co-worker repeatedly put on a playlist that guessed it...."Hello It's Me".

All this exposure has led me to re-evaluate the Runt. Those swaying choruses, lush keyboards, plaintive first person ramblings developed meaning for me. Last week I downloaded The Very Best Of Todd Rundgren for my IPOD and couldn't be happier. In fact, one of my favorite songs right now is his version of "Couldn't I Just Tell You" thanks to Sweet/Hoffs memorable cover. So, nearly 30 years after my first Rundgren record I'm finally getting what it is he did. As my wife would be happy to tell you, I'm a little slow.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

No Foolin' Around

Today is one of the best holidays known to man, April Fools Day. I tried to think of something funny to say or a vid clip that could fit, but came up empty. So here's an off the cuff playlist of songs with the word "Fool" in it. As Scotty once said, "Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Just for the hell of it, I'll call this feature the Playlist Of Pooh.

  1. Def Leppard - Foolin'

  2. Chris Rea - Fool (If You Think its Over)

  3. The Beatles - Fool On The Hill

  4. Foreigner - A Fool For You Anyway

  5. Van Halen - Fools

  6. Tesla - Mama's Fool

  7. Elvin Bishop - Fooled Around And Fell in Love

  8. Michael Bolton - Fools Game

  9. The Cardigans - Lovefool

  10. The Doobie Brothers - What A Fool Believes

  11. Soul Asylum - April Fool

  12. Styx - Fooling Yourself

And of course...

If anyone out there in cyberspace can remember other songs with the word "Fool" in it, feel free to let me know. I've had a beer and this is all I can think of.
Took a walk with my wife and mentioned this post, she listed a bunch of real obvious ones that I didn't remember.
  1. Whitesnake - Fool For Your Loving
  2. Robert Plant - Ship Of Fools
  3. Foghat - Fool For the City
  4. Steve Perry - Foolish Heart

Yep, I missed some of my favorites including "The Voice". Doh!

The Kindness Of Strangers

City Heat: Clint Eastwood gets good, bad and ugly in his movie Gran Torino

The Blind Side Rating:

Gran Torino rating:

Two movies I watched while resting my injured leg had a common theme: helping strangers. In this age of identity theft and Judge Judy, helping strangers seems like a dicey proposition. Not a lot of trust in the world, which is maybe why movies now provide us with the fantasy of that valued commodity.

First up is Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock in the based on a true story flick The Blind Side. I guess the obvious question is: how good was Bullock's performance? Well, I'll say that for the first time since her debut I was willing to buy her as a character instead of an established personality and that she was genuinely affecting. It wasn't the most powerful performance that left me in awe or anything like that. Her performance slightly resembled fellow rom com darling Julia Robert's path to Oscar gold in Erin Brockovich, being all sassy and assertive towards men while shakin' her moneymaker. The rest of the movie would be Hallmark tv level in terms of tone and plausibility if it wasn't based on a true story. An affluent family takes in a teenager from the ghetto and gives the teen the support he needs to become a successful football player. It's all done ably and professionally, but taken as a whole The Blind Side is unremarkable as a piece of cinema (the fact that it's a true story is heartwarming though) save Bullock and the always entertaining Kathy Bates.

All this lovey dovey life is like a box of chocolates crap is enough to make Clint Eastwood cough up blood, so he does in Gran Torino. Directed and starring Clint, Eastwood does what Michael Douglas failed to do years earlier with Falling Down. That's making a portrait of an old school guy who sees his America disappearing into a sea of multi culturalism. But where Douglas' effort was a one note affair satirizing an attack against others, Eastwood illustrates how his character comes to care for other people beneath his gruff, racist exterior. He develops a relationship with his Hmong neighbors through a local gang problem, eventually mentoring the boy who tried to steal his prized possession- a 1972 Gran Torino. In his old age, Eastwood has excelled at giving vivid believable portrayals of aging bad asses. If I remember correctly, there was some controversy about how Asian Americans are depicted/addressed in the movie. Since the film is about the viewpoint of a military guy who fought in Korea and retained a pre-Civil Rights view of everyone (if you made a checklist of all the races that get slurred on in this movie, you'd hit just about all of them), I was able to let the rampant racism slide as part of dramatic license. In fact, I found Gran Torino moving. I damn near cried at the end but then I asked myself: Do I feel lucky? Well, do I punk?

Two movies that set out to repair the sense of community and trust that is lacking in the real world. Isn't it odd that the film of pure fiction was the most affecting?