Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Musicule breakdown the 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees (Part 1)

Hall worthy? Really?

I take pride in knowing a thing or two about music and knowing a thing or two about halls of fame. In college, I wrote a paper on the cultural significance of the Baseball Hall of Fame (it seemed worthy at the time). Once a week, for three months, I would hop in my little red Nissan Pulsar in the middle of a godawful Syracuse winter and drive nearly two hours to Cooperstown, NY to do research (pre-internet, folks). Armed with a pile of notes, I'd drive back to my little apartment in Syracuse and slowly cobble the paper together on an Apple IIC (green monochrome screen, folks).

Don't laugh...a car that looked just like this one survived me driving it through three Syracuse winters.
So, armed with that Hall of Fame expertise, my love of music and the fact that I've also visited the Basketball Hall of Fame, I thought it would be worth looking at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees for 2011, their legacies and their worthiness.

Alice Cooper
Layman's history: Best known for his hits in the 70s, gothy makeup and love of snakes

Notable songs I own: None, although in preparing for this article, I sorta wish I had School's Out and I'm Eighteen.

Factoid: Alice was involved in a bit of a rock urban legend: A la Ozzy Osbourne, he's credited with biting the head off of an animal on stage. The truth is a bit different. According to Wikipedia:
A chicken somehow made its way on stage during Cooper's performance; not having any experience around farm animals, Cooper presumed that, because the chicken had wings, it would be able to fly. He picked it up and threw it out over the crowd, expecting it to fly away. The chicken instead plummeted into the first few rows occupied by disabled people in wheelchairs, who reportedly proceeded to tear the bird to pieces.

The next day, the incident made the front page of national newspapers, and [Frank] Zappa phoned Cooper to ask if the story, which reported that he had bitten the head off the chicken and drunk its blood on stage, was true. Cooper denied the rumor, whereupon Zappa told him, "Well, whatever you do, don't tell anyone you didn't do it", obviously recognizing that such publicity would be priceless for the band.

Worthiness (on a scale from 1-10) and why: 1 He had a couple of good hits, but is mostly known for his persona, rather than his music. I'm not sure paving the way for Marilyn Manson warrants a pass into the Hall. Although I do give him points for his music being featured in Freaks and Geeks:



Beastie Boys
Layman's history: One of the earliest and most successful white rap acts with an amazing ability to adapt with the times and styles.

Notable songs I own: Hey Ladies, Fight For Your Right, Brass Monkey, Sabotage, So What'cha Want

Factoid: One of their early songs, Cooky Puss, is named after a Carvel ice cream cake.



Worthiness and why: 10 I have to confess that I missed the boat with these guys when they were starting to get big with License to Ill. I wrote them off as a novelty act, which they sort of were at the time, but they managed to put together a great career that has stood the test of time. If being innovative, successful and resourceful over a long period of time are significant criteria for admission into the hall, the Beastie Boys deserve to be there. In addition, they can rock out with Elvis Costello:



Bon Jovi

Layman's history: If you don't know Bon Jovi, you've been living under a rock for the last 25 years. For you rock dwellers, Bon Jovi came on the scene around the time of, and was lumped with, hair metal bands. They quickly transcended that musical fad to be New Jersey's second most important musical export.

Notable songs I own: Livin' on a Prayer, Wanted Dead or Alive, Bad Medicine, You Give Love A Bad Name. As an aside, I first heard of Bon Jovi in 1985, sitting in high school world history class...I sat next to a guy who doodled Bon Jovi's 7800 Fahrenheit album cover on his textbook book cover.

Factoid: I was never a fan of theirs, but my respect for them was iced when I saw this:


Triumph the insult comic dog - bon jovi
Uploaded by AC310DC. - Discover more animal videos.

Worthiness and why: 8 They go in based on an arsenal of catchy tunes, longevity and their ability to transcend the genre they started in.

Chic

Layman's history: Best known for their work in the late-70s, Chic brought to disco enough funk to bridge the gap between disco and pop into the 80s.

Songs I own: Le Freak, Good Times

Factoid: Originally, the "Awwwww, freak out!" lyric in Le Freak was recorded as "Awwwwww, fuck off!"


Worthiness and why: 7 I'd normally be loathe to put a band in the Hall based only on a handful of successful singles, but with so few disco songs that have stood the test of time, you have to give a bunch of credit to Chic for impacting disco, pop and early rap (a lot of Chic's music were faves for sampling DJs). Besides, Nile Rodgers produced some damn good Duran Duran songs.



Neil Diamond
Layman's history: A great songwriter, Neil is known for a variety of hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s....and writing a song on the back of a Dixie Cup:



Songs I own: Too many to mention here, but pretty much every one of his hits.  My favorite Neil Diamond song? It's a toss-up between Solitary Man and A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (a song he wrote for the Monkees). Speaking of Solitary Man, check out Chris Isaak's great cover:



Factoid: He may be the only person to have hits in more than three decades with the exact same hairstyle the whole time.

Worthiness and why: 11 C'mon! It's Neil Diamond...he gets a free pass. 

 

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Only Want to Be in Your Record Collection: Big Thing Revisited

(a/k/a An answer to the question "What does a band do after the shark's been jumped?")

Unexpectedly, it's a big month for Duran Duran fans.

(Full disclosure: If you're reading this blog, chances are you know this about me already, but it bears repeating... I'm one of the world's biggest Duran Duran fans. All things considered, it's pretty incredible that I've refrained from devoting a blog entry solely to Duran Duran up until now.)

So why the big week?:
It's this last item that I'd like to walk you through: The reissue of Duran Duran's Big Thing - their 1988 album that was anything but. By 1988, Duran Duran was in an interesting place. The 80s were nearly over; as a band they had already been through the 1985 implosion that saw both Andy and Roger Taylor leave the band and they had put out Notorious, their funkiest album to date that was a fairly drastic departure from their first three albums. These latter two developments, combined with the fact that their fan base from Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger no longer had screaming in the repertoire, put them at a point in their career where few bands get to, and even fewer bands rebound from.

Big Thing did not provide that rebound point, but it did put them at the the bravest point in their career. Whether out of necessity or desire to shake the foundation, they put together an album that didn't sell very well, but forced them to adjust to the changing music times. Big Thing also revealed a bigger input into the band's sound by guitarist Warren Cuccurullo... a welcome addition that would later reward the band with the hits Ordinary World and Come Undone.

And how your average 18 year old fan reacts to this album (that would be me, by the way) is very telling of the times, which I'll get into. Let's look track by track:
  1. Big Thing - This song sent a message...this isn't the Duran Duran you're familiar with (in fact, with this album, they made a short-lived branding shift, eliminating the space in their name, going with "Duranduran"...yeah, not one of their brightest decisions). In the first 30 seconds you hear screeching guitars, a bitter Simon and some female background vocals that wouldn't sound out of place on a classic Pink Floyd album.
  2. I Don't Want Your Love - The first single from Big Thing. How do I know this? Because I watched MTV ad nauseum the week it came out, waiting with my finger on the VCR pause button, hoping to catch the new video. 
  3. All She Wants Is - In my head, I have a running top ten of the worst Duran Duran songs ever. This isn't in the top three, but it's damn close. Duran Duran and house music don't mix.
  4. Too Late Marlene - This always sounded like a track that might have been leftover from the Arcadia sessions.
  5. Drug (It's Just A State Of Mind) - Remember that top ten of the worst Duran Duran songs ever? This is there too.
  6. Do You Believe In Shame? - A classic Duran Duran song that would have sounded strong on any of their albums...it's cut from the same cloth as Save a Prayer, Come Undone and Michael, You've Got a Lot to Answer For. There's only one slight problem with this song...it's a total ripoff of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Suzy-Q. Don't believe me? Have a look: 
  7. Palomino - This track, along with the rest of the album are the closest thing Duran Duran ever got to side 2 of The Beatles Abbey Road. It flows wonderfully even though each track is unique.
  8. Interlude One - The first of two "interludes" which are primarly Nick Rhodes dabbling in soundscapes. It's something he does very well. 
  9. Land - Land is mostly an acoustic track that's fits perfectly here.
  10. Flute Interlude - Nick's second soundscape from this album, and the better of the two.
  11. The Edge Of America - This is a track that wound up giving fans a taste of what to expect from the band in the future, particularly on The Wedding Album.
  12. Lake Shore Driving - This is the exclamation point that sends another strong message to fans that the Duran Duran you just heard is fueled by something other than yachts and flashy suits...gone is the Duran Duran that described itself as "Chic meets the Sex Pistols". In its place is a band willing to stack itself up against the hair metal, house and rap that its in competition with today (1988). It's the sound of Warren pushing the band to a different area. Overall it worked...the record didn't sell, and Duran Duran wandered for a few years after this, but to their credit, they stuck around and kept making music.
It's worth putting a few other things into perspective about this album:
  • Duran Duran promoted this album with a fairly heavy world tour and TV appearances. And where might a band in 1988 promote their album? Yep, that's right, on The Arsenio Hall Show (WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!) where they performed one of my favorite versions of Girls on Film:



  • This reissue includes a second disc full of bonus tracks, most of which are remixes. It's worth noting that I own all of these on cassingles...that's right, cassingles, one of the most annoying music formats in existence: one cassette, two songs and the most flimsy of cardboard cases.
  • Wait a second, I owned these tracks both in cassingle and CD3, the second-most annoying music formats in existence! They however, cannot compete with my unopened Rio 8-Track:
The Chauffeur suffers the indignity of straddling programs 3 and 4
  • The reissue also includes a grand Duran Duran tradition, a b-side track that is better than some of those that appeared on the actual album. In this case, I Believe/All I Need to Know.
  • You know how else I know this album was issued in 1988? The bonus disc has two "spoken word" selections from Simon LeBon. We know better now, right?
    Does the album hold up 22 years later? Despite a few dodgy house music-influenced tracks, I think it does. In fact, I think it's aged quite well. It's no Rio, but then again, what is? I certainly enjoy owning it in MP3 form, rather than on one CD, several cassingles and a few CD3s.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Jo, jo! My favorite foreign songs

    WARNING: Contains a heavy dose of German and YouTube clips

    It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a song that isn't sung in English makes its way into the mainstream music waters in the US and UK. You've got your Macarenas, your Luftballons, your Kommisars and even Amadeus (what is it about songs in German?) that force their way into your ears.

    Granted, I don't have a lot of non-English language songs in my collection, but the ones I do have usually get fairly heavy rotation. Here are some of my more favorites:

    Waterloo - Abba: Everyone knows the English version of this song, but for some reason, this version has a bit more kick to it. This theory doesn't always apply with Abba, however...their Swedish version of Honey, Honey sounds like they phoned it in...I blame the satin hot pants.



    La Mer - Charles Trenet: Most of you will definitely know the English version of this song...Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea. What's interesting is that both songs have quite different meanings. Here's an interesting case...if you don't know French and hear Trenet's version for the first time, you would think that the singer is pining away for his far flung love even more than Bobby does in Beyond the Sea. In reality, Charles isn't pining away for his lost love...he's singing about the sea's ever-changing moods. Go figure.

    Foux Du Fafa - Flight of the Conchords: Sometimes the formula for a great song is two Kiwis spouting off random French words:



    Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst) - Peter Schilling: Here's one you don't see every day - a sequel for a song by someone else...in another language! Peter apparently decided that David Bowie didn't adequately delve into Major Tom's story when he recorded Space Oddity in 1969. To his credit, Bowie didn't either, considering he recorded two other Major Tom-themed songs: Ashes to Ashes and Hallo Spaceboy. And of course let's not forget Flight of the Conchord's Bowie's in Space:



    Ça Plane Pour Moi - Plastic Bertrand:  This song is delightfully nonsensical when translated into English, but the light punk motif blended with the Beach Boysian ooo-ee-oooh-oohs just works for me. Elton Motello liked it enough to record an English version that's equally catchy with new lyrics, although slightly different in meaning. Let's see how Wikipedia describes the song:
    "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" is a risqué song by Elton Motello about a 15-year-old boy's sexual relationship with an older man, who then rejects him for a girl. With its chorus of "ooh ooh ooh ooh, he gives me head," it has been embraced as something of a gay punk anthem."
    Yep, your classic "boy meets boy, boy loses boy" story.

    By the way, I know this blog posting is German heavy, but if you want to see a German version of cover of this song Ça Plane Pour Moi, check out Benny's video (and some snazzy leather pants!):



    Da Da Da - Trio: I know, more German...but I unabashedly love this song. I loved it when it came out, loved it when it was used for a Volkswagen commercial and I'm almost, but not quite embarrassed to admit that I owned the little Casio keyboard predominantly used throughout this song and could play a mean Da Da Da keyboard solo on it in the early 80s (at 1:33 in the below video).



    And the obligatory VW video....




    Irgendwie Irgendwo Irgendwann - Nena and Kim Wilde: I'd be entirely remiss by excluding Nena from this list. I steadfastly maintain that I'm the only person in the US who has a non-99 Luftballon song of hers in my collection (full disclosure, I have 78 Nena tracks that have nothing to do with balloons, luft, red or otherwise). This song is actually a rerecording of a Nena song from the early 80s, with the edition of some English verses and Kim Wilde.

    Here's my theory about this song: Some 'C' level record executive invented a time machine with the intention of going back to my 1982 bedroom to throw two darts on my postered walls, with those darts deciding who in 2008 would record a duet together. That exec's darts landed on my Nena and Kim Wilde posters.

    I guess the world is very lucky we didn't end up with a KISS/Duran Duran duet.

    Here's the video of that meeting of the musical minds (note that Nena looks even more like Shane from The L World here than normal:




    Warning: Steer clear of the updated version of Keep Me Hangin' On also with Nena and Kim Wilde. No one needs to hear Nena sing auf Englisch in anything other than 99 Red Balloons.
     
    Donne Moi Ton Amour - Sylvie Vartan: This is a French cover of the Spencer Davis Group's Gimme Some Lovin'. This version has a strong female on lead, great horns and a driving beat. It's probably even more funky than the original and it comes from an album you can download for free online here called Swinging Mademoiselles.


    Schön Schön Schön - Nena: Yeah, more Nena...sorry. I can't resist. This is actually recent Nena music, from last year's Made in Germany album. It's a pretty good album, but what I adore about this song are the influences...or rather the influence. Clearly Nena had Goldfrapp on heavy rotation when she wrote this one.

    Ya Soshla S Uma - t.A.t.U: We started with Swedish, so let's end with a track from the world's best Russian faux underage lesbians duo. This is the Russian version of All the Things She Said.



    Nothing like a little planted controversy to sell records in two languages!

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    99 Problems but a Luftballon ain't one

    So...this is how my mind works, and how I find things that once I see them, can't be unseen. And of course I feel compelled to share with you.

    Driving to work, I start to wonder if anyone's done a mash-up of Jay-Z's 99 Problems with Nena's 99 Luftballons. It seemed like an obvious mash up. And yes, someone has.

    But that's not the sharable discovery. On Youtube, I also found this during my search:



    Who the hell wouldn't want to be at that party?!?!

    So, Lamont, where's Elvis when you need him?

    Sorry for the delay...I've been struggling with a longer piece that I hope to wrap up this week. In the meantime, here's what I've added to my music collection so far this month....and why:

    The Theme from Sanford and Son - Quincy Jones:  Did you know this song is actually titled The Streetbeater? I only learned this after buying the song on iTunes. I purchased it after having the opening notes in my head for about a month. That in itself isn't a problem, because it's a funky song. My problem is that I would invariably go into my own internal Redd Foxx impersonation...and there is something very wrong with one of the whitest men on the planet walking around growling, "You big dummy", "Aunt Esther, you so ugly!" and "How 'bout five cross yo' lip?". I figured if I bought the whole song, I'd get my Redd Foxx envy out of my system. No such luck.

    Kaleidoscope Heart - Sara Bareilles: It took a little prodding from a fellow Sara Bareilles fan for me to download this album last week, but I'm glad I did. When someone suggests music to me, especially someone who has a taste in music I respect, I've learned to just do it and ask questions later. I enjoyed Sara's last album, Little Voice. It came out of nowhere and delivered simple, catchy tunes. I haven't listened to this one enough to judge whether I like it as much, but what I've heard so far leads me to believe that she's got something here worth listening to.

    So - Peter Gabriel: Have you ever had an album so deeply embedded in your head that you thought you had it in your music collection? Peter Gabriel's So is that album for me. When this came out in 1986, I know I wore through the cassette I had it on. Somewhere between wearing out the cassette and last week, I migrated to CDs then to MP3s and in those processes, I never got around to buying this album in either of those formats. I rectified that this week after writing my piece on bands reuniting and realizing that I had a bunch of Peter Gabriel tracks, but not So in it's entirety. I have a friend from high school who had a theory (I hope he still has that theory) that for a great album to be a great album, it has to have one clunker of a tune on it. A couple of examples: The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper (Within You, Without You), The Police's Synchronicity (Mother). Peter enters the rarefied air of great albums here thanks to his collaboration with Laurie Anderson on This is the Picture (Excellent Birds).

    We Were So Turned On - A Tribute to David Bowie: If you don't know this about me, by reading this blog you'll quickly discover that I'm a sucker for a good cover song. Hell, I'm a sucker for any cover...good or bad. I always love seeing how other artists see how they can improve on a song that's well known or, as Paula Abdul used to say on American Idol, "make it their own". I'm a Bowie fan, so when I saw this album was coming out, I knew I was going to buy it...of course the main motivation was Duran Duran's cover of Boys Keep Swinging, but that's a given. As an aside, I know I'm biased, but I do think it's the best track on the album. Besides my bias, another reason may have something to do with the fact that of the 43 (!!!) songs on this collection, I only recognized three of the bands on there. To make matters worse, the bands I didn't recognize all had names that sounded like failed emo bands. Yes, I'm talking to you, Pizza! (really, who names their band Pizza! [with an exclamation mark]?? Forty-three Bowie covers on one collection is ambitious to say the least, but I'd think Bowie would find it a fitting tribute, since most of the covers show initiative and creativity. Besides, anything's better than this:



    Elvis Costello's Visa Signature Sampler: One look at the photo should answer why I have this one:

    And I honestly thought the first album Visa would put out would have been a spoken word piece by Morgan Freeman. Go Visa! I couldn't say no to a free Elvis Costello CD sitting in the lobby of my office building.

    Intermission - Senator & The New Republic: I'm a longtime fan of iTunes' free featured Single of the Week. I may not like all of them, but I'll try to give them a shot. I'm giving the Senator and The New Republic a shot, despite having a name that makes me think of Hootie and the Blowfish. This was iTunes' Single of the Week a couple of weeks ago

    And finally, while I didn't add these to my collection recently, there are two songs I wanted to highlight:

    The first, just a great song that I wish more people knew: One Night on Earth by The Veils. If you don't have it, download it...it's just a great song for blaring. I first heard it a couple of years ago on a VERY short-lived TV show called New Amsterdam, and it's been on heavy rotation on my iPod ever since. It answers the question, "What song would John Hughes put in a teenager movie today (were he alive and still making movies, 'natch)?"



    ...and from heavy rotation to no rotation...driving to work last week I heard a song on my iPod that I a) didn't know I had; b) couldn't for the life of me identify who was performing it and c) wondered "Why the hell does this sound like Joe Walsh's Life's Been Good meets Visage's Fade to Grey?" It turns out it was The Human League's Being Boiled. Listen for yourself, and I hope you hear what I mean...at least at the beginning.



    I turns out I have this song as the result of a Duran Duran-related cash grab: A collection that was put out a few years back titled Nick Rhodes and John Taylor Present Only After Dark. They marketed it as a selection of songs that were playing around them as they were becoming famous:


    This is the musical equivalent of George Foreman and his grill: You know George has nothing to do with grilling, but you're going to buy the grill anyway. I knew Duran Duran had nothing to do with album other than two of its members slapping their names on it, but did I buy it?

    Of course I did.

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Peter Gabriel - That Voice Again

    Reunited, and it feels so good?

    This article from Paste reminded me of a thought I had on Saturday while listening to a Peter Gabriel song. The article posted a list of ten bands they'd really love to see reunited. Personally, I only agree with two of them, but it's a very subjective topic.

    Which leads me to today's question: When is a band getting back together a good thing?

    Let's look at Peter Gabriel. About a year or two ago there were rumors of Peter Gabriel thawing to the idea of reforming with the remaining three members of Genesis (and by other three members, I mean Phil Collins, the Mike and the Mechanics guy and the other guy who kinda looks like Tony Blair. Not Ray Wilson, who was their lead singer for what felt like ten minutes in 1997). It never happened, but it would have been an interesting "What if?", especially considering that the Peter Gabriel-fronted Genesis was so drastically different musically from the more commercially popular Phil Collins-fronted version. From a music logistics standpoint, I can't fathom what a Peter Gabriel and Genesis reunion concert would sound like. Invisible Touch meets Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? Shudder!

    With that, let's look at how a few bands did and didn't reunite and their reasons for doing so or not doing so:


    The Eagles - The Very Long Run: Ah yes, the prototype for the band that breaks up and declares that they'll get back together when hell freezes over. True to their word, they did get back together under the "Hell Freezes Over Tour" banner. In fact, they've been together longer as a reunited act than their first version. Formed in 1972, broke up in 1980 and then reformed in 1994 and are still together today. The only problem, and it's probably not a problem for them since they're rolling in reunion tour money, is that none of what they recording post-reunion was close in quality to their earlier stuff. The Dude has a much stronger opinion on The Eagles...whatever the incarnation:



    The Beatles - Possibly one of the biggest "what ifs?" out there, and no, the 1995 Anthology reunion of Paul, George and Ringo to basically pump up two of John Lennon's voicemail messages doesn't count. They broke up in 1970 at the top of their game, never to reform. Their music defined a decade and an era and although there were mythical stories of John and Paul pondering bringing the boys back together, it didn't happen. One of my favorite Beatles reunion stories involves Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live. Apparently Paul was hanging out with John in New York watching Saturday Night Live when this aired and seriously pondered taking the offer.

    The Police - When I was growing up, The Police were one of my favorite bands. I'd still put Ghost in the Machine as one of my favorite albums, and if you told 1988 me that Sting would deign to get The Police back together for a tour, I would have been one of the first on line for tickets (yes, on line, not online... one couldn't buy a major concert ticket in 1988 without having to wait in line. In fact, I remember waiting in a very long and cold line for Sting concert tickets in Syracuse in 1988). When Sting, Stewart and Andy got back together a couple of years ago, I couldn't care less. Too much time had passed and they were bringing nothing new to the scene...the love was gone and it felt like an Eagles-esque cash grab.

    Yaz/Yazoo - Sometimes even a cash grab is a positive. Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke made some great early-80s synth pop on two very good albums...and then split without a word. While very similar to The Police, Yaz (or Yazoo, as they're known outside the US) reformed in 2008 for a mini-reunion tour...no new music, yet it felt more sincere (I shudder typing that word, but that's what it felt like). I saw one of their reunion shows in Oakland and it was great.



    Duran Duran - (I wear my bias on my sleeve writing this one, as I am one of the biggest Duran Duran fans out there) Some bands break up, disappear, reform and continue. Others, like Duran Duran, only seem to disappear. That's what happened to them for most people after the 80s. Here's the short version of what happened: At the top of their popularity (1985), Duran Duran took a break to form two splinter groups (Arcadia and The Power Station), with the intention of getting back together after those one-offs energized and ready to ride into the 90s. That didn't happen. Of the original five (Simon, Nick, John, Andy and Roger), only Simon, Nick and John stayed on to make records through 2000 (although John did leave briefly, but came back). After an 18-year absence, in 2003, the original five members of Duran Duran got back together for a tour and new record. I'm not sure it was the best way of doing things, but they went on tour and put out an album (Astronaut) that sounded like a band evolved, but were in touch with their core sound. It only lasted for one album/tour and the album didn't sell well, but from one fan's perspective, it was a welcome and rewarding comeback.

    A reunion so great, it deserved its own cake!


     
    Pink Floyd/Led Zeppelin - Both fall in the dinosaur category of reunions: They're both talked about, but like what happened in Jurassic Park, maybe bringing them back isn't the brightest idea in the world. Let's take Pink Floyd, for example. I remember when Pink Floyd (without Roger Waters), got back together to record Momentary Lapse of Reason, which is actually a pretty good album. It's missing Roger's classic storylines, but it brought what the Eagles didn't - a trademark sound fans could identify with. On the other hand, Led Zeppelin will never have what fans will consider a proper reunion (unless they pull a Beatles and find some lost Bonham tapes to record over). The best they can hope for is the occasional Plant and Page collaboration, which seems to happen every few year. Maybe Zeppelin has the formula right...never actually reform, but put out Zeppelin-like projects out there to keep the flame alive. And in the end...that's what Floyd is doing too: Roger Waters and David Gilmour put their differences aside every few years to put on a Pink Floyd cameo.

    INXS - INXS took an approach I was hoping would take off. Since they couldn't exist in their original form (because of Michael Hutchence's death), let's put on a reality show to find a new singer! For those of you who watched Rockstar INXS, it was a good format and a great way for a band to air out its back catalog. The other strong point about the show was that the contestants were talented, road-tested singers - some of them had already had recording contracts. The person who won, JD Fortune was a respectable facsimile...he brought some new blood to the band while being faithful to Michael's songs.

    JD Fortune in action, live in Singapore with INXS
    The Beat/English Beat - For those of you who don't know The Beat (or The English Beat as they're known in the US), they were wedged in between the punk and the new wave eras. They had a unique sound that blended pop, early rap, ska and reggae all with some great vocals and jangly guitars. They broke up to form several groups, most notably General Public and Fine Young Cannibals. Seek out one of their greatest hits albums...it's worth having in your collection. What The English Beat is doing today can't really be called a reunion...it's more of the lead singer (Dave Wakeling) touring under the band name with new members. Normally I'd label this a cash grab, but Dave was (and is) the heart and soul of The English Beat, and if you attend one of their live shows (they're based in California, and play at least 10 concerts a year in the Bay Area), you'll see how much he loves playing and loves the music. The crowd has the same reaction.

    The Monkees - On the low end of the spectrum, we have The Monkees. Back in 1986, inspired by an MTV revival of old episodes of The Monkees' TV series, they released their first single since 1971 titled That Was Then, This is Now. It was horrible...weak production, didn't sound like them and was basically a watered down version of Grateful Dead's Touch of Gray meets The Beach Boys' Kokomo. Normally I'd embed the video for you to see here, but I'll spare you. And I'm a huge fan of The Monkees!

    So besides examples of bands that have reformed...here are a few I'd love to see get back together just for mostly trivial or comic value.... Wham!, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Howard Jones and the mime guy in chains:



    I'm curious to hear your thoughts on reunions. Any you've seen and liked? Any you'd like to see? Any that you wish didn't happen?

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    A Classic Lost in the Shuffle?

    I hope the iPod Classic doesn't fade away and radiate

    The iPod Classic - A classic in every sense


    Yesterday, I alluded to the importance of my iPod to my daily commute. Thanks to Volkswagen, for it to work on my stereo, it is hidden in the armrest where it's connected to the stereo. With set up, I have limited control...I can only advance or take a track back. By hiding it from me, Volkswagen has saved me countless car accidents. Dankeschön!

    The one major flaw in this setup is that I lose access to the display features of the iPod - I have no way of knowing what song is playing, unless I know what the song is. This annoyed me at first, but I have learned to embrace it. Car rides turn into my own personal game of "Name that Tune". If I can't name the tune in one minute, to Shazam I go to identify it. I often wonder if I'm the only person who uses Shazam to ID my own music.

    My car and my iPod are in perfect harmony. I'm convinced they were made for each other. I am also convinced the iPod was made just for me...it's the only iPod on the market that holds all of my music.

    Yes, I'm one of those dorks that wants all of my music at my fingertips at any given time.

    Which is why I was concerned yesterday when Apple made their big announcement about their current iPod lineup. Apple unveiled new iPods across the board...new Shuffles, new Nanos and new iPod Touches.

    But no love for the iPod Classic? This scares me.

    On the bright side, Steve Jobs didn't say they were discontinuing the iPod Classic. I'm clinging to that like Kate Winslet clung onto the door in "Titanic" and letting Leo sink instead of scootching over to share part of it.

    As much as I love my iPhone and iPad, both featuring, in effect, built in iPods, they don't compete with the iPod Classic. Maybe I'm becoming an old fuddy duddy, but I still like the click wheel interface over the the new touchscreen iPods. The Classic blows for watching movies, but in a pinch it's better than nothing, and back in the day when iPod/iPhone battery life was short, you could always throw a couple of movies on the iPod Classic to watch on the plane when your other devices' batteries crapped out.

    My current iPod Classic is my third "classic" iPod. The first one I owned was a 20 GB model that was one of the first generations of iPod. It was given to me by a friend who had only Windows-based computers and although this particular model was billed as one of the first Windows-compatible iPods, it wasn't. But it worked fine with my Mac, and was a HUGE improvement over my first MP3 player, the almost impressive at the time, Creative Nomad:

    It held 22 songs. We laugh now, but it was light-years ahead of anything available at the time

    The free iPod served me well for a couple of years, and then I graduated to the much larger black iPod, which was a workhorse. I think I got about three or four years out of it and even successfully put in a larger hard drive and replaced the battery myself. I was proud of my accomplishment in that regard, but I wouldn't recommend replacing an iPod hard drive on my worst enemy. It's not taking the old one out or putting the new one in that's difficult...it's putting everything back in that's the pain in the ass.

    There's a reason an iPod is so tiny...they really pack the electronics in. There's no wiggle room in there. And when I replaced the hard drive, I may have had left over padding that I couldn't fit back in. That's when I realized I will never replace an iPod hard drive again.

    I'm all for progress...I won't bemoan new technology, but I really hope the iPod Classic doesn't become the Concorde of iPod players... far more advanced than anything out there, but of limited appeal to the point they won't make them anymore.

    Here's hoping Apple continues to make the iPod Classic or at least introduce an heir apparent for it.

    And while I'm on the subject of Apple, am I the only person who finds it odd that Apple can make the new Apple TV and only charge $99 for it, yet the iPod Classic, which does much less that the Apple TV, costs $234?

    I can bemoan it, but I'd still run out and buy another one the second my current one dies. I'm the iPod junkie and Apple's my dealer.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Grace Jones - La Vie en Rose

    Part One of what I'm sure will be several parts of "What the hell was I thinking?"



    I raise my eyebrows quite a bit on my drives to work. My iPod (more about that in my next entry) is hidden from me when I drive, but connected to my car stereo so that I can skip tracks. That's about the only level of control I have: If I don't like the song, I can skip it, or if I want to hear it again, I can take it back. And the joy of having access to 10,000 songs at any given time means I never know what's coming, since I have it on full shuffle.

    Murphy's Law goes into effect with my iPod when I have passengers...whatever song you don't want to hear, will indeed come up. "This song is on your iPod?" or "Wait, you own this?" are questions I often get while driving. I'm not ashamed of my taste in music, but that doesn't mean I am not without clunkers in my iPod.

    Sometimes I'm the one asking, "Wait, I own this?". Today was one of those days. And today's song was Grace Jones' cover of "La Vie en Rose".

    Just saying that and posting the video above doesn't do the song justice. No, the version of the song I have isn't the 3:33 version you see above. The one I have is like seven minutes long, with a bossanova-like intro that lasts for more than half the song.

    So there I am, bopping along to a bossanova beat along I-280, not exactly knowing what I'm listening to, because I honestly don't remember ever buying this song, downloading this song or adding this song to my collection, when about three minutes in, someone muttering/mumbling/singing in French whispers into the mic for about a minute. At about this point, I'm wondering, not in a bad way, "Who the hell is this?". I'm taking guessess: Roxy Music (the opening sounds a bit Avalon-era Bryan Ferry)? Donna Summer? Labelle? Donna and LaBelle qualify as possible candidates in my mind because of the production style of the song (sounded late-70s to me) and I guessed Labelle, thinking the French thing was a shout out to Lady Marmalade (also known as the "Voulez Vous Coucher Avec Moi?" song).

    From the look of the video, it appears Lady Marmalade hung out with the Spiders from Mars or KISS:



    But, I was wrong. Thanks to Shazam and some post-driving research, I discovered it was the Divine Miss Grace singing in 1977 was her first hit.

    So, where do we put Grace Jones into the context of musical history? Those of you who know me know that I have a mind full of useless trivia. Sadly, I don't have much in the data banks on Grace Jones, but here's what I knew going into hearing this song this morning.
    • She covered the Police's "Demolition Man" (I'm not saying here whether or not she did a good job of it...I just knew she covered it...that's all I got)
    • She shared a haircut with Carl Lewis
    • She sang what was probably contained the least subtle innuendo in a song about sex ever written ("Pull Up to the Bumper" makes Prince's early work look like something you'd find on Sesame Street)
    • She was one of the bad guys in the James Bond "A View to a Kill" movie, the worst Bond movie I've watched repeatedly (for reasons many of you know).
    It looking over her career, one might say she paved the way for Lady Gaga (extreme looks combined with danceable hooks). One might also say she's the George Hamilton of late-70s/early 80s music: famous for being famous, but no one's really sure why. I might put her somewhere in the middle of that. She had a few hits and style-wise, she did make an impact (she had the 'do long before Carl Lewis did).

    As for "La Vie En Rose", you'd be hard-pressed to top the Edith Piaf original, but at least musically, it's an interesting interpretation of the song.

    I'm still wondering how in the hell this ended up in my music collection, but I'll keep it.