Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Violet Hill

Song: Violet Hill
Artist: Coldplay
Album: Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends

Initially thought to be “the next Radiohead,” Coldplay seemed to be gunning for U2 with the release of their last album, “X & Y” after the breakthrough of their sophomore set, “A Rush of Blood to the Head.” Continuing along that path, the band has teamed up with U2 super-producer Brian Eno for their fourth full length, “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends” which is set for release in June.

While a fan of “Yellow” from their debut “Parachutes,” it was until “Rush of Blood” that I really took notice and fell for the band. And despite the overall success the band had with “X & Y,” I felt like a bit of the spark was gone, and what had seemed so effortless (and amazing) on “Rush” seemed labored and forced on “X & Y.” There were definitely songs that I really liked, including “Talk” (in my opinion the most interesting song on the record) as well as first single “Speed of Sound,” despite it sounding so much like prior hit “Clocks.” But hit single “Fix You” kind of summed up how I felt about the record… as it seemed like they set out to write “this albums ‘The Scientist’” versus just letting songs come naturally. Most of the record felt like this and an article about the difficult recording of the album confirmed that lead Chris Martin basically wrote the songs by committee, trying to come up with the best possible track list to make the “best album ever.” It left the whole project feeling a bit cold.

So it is with much excitement that I get to hear first single “Violet Hill” off the new record, which is currently being offered as a free download on the bands website. Oddly for a single, the beginning of the song contains a quiet orchestral tone for thirty seconds before the song “kicks in.” Lyrically a bit obtuse, it seems to be telling a story about a wintery December, and a vague military presence… only to be infused with a direct line, “So if you love me, won’t you let me know?”

The song is a bit heavier than most Coldplay, and an odd song for initial single. But “Speed of Sound” took a while for me to get into, and “Violet Hill” is certainly intriguing. I’m very interested in hearing what they do for the whole album.

What do you think?


An “X & Y” favorite, “Talk”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miles Away

Song: Miles Away
Artist: Madonna
Album: Hard Candy

I keep thinking to myself… what is wrong with me? How could I think… what are the odds? I guess it’s just expectation, knowledge of the players involved, I don’t know… but I doubted Madonna. I doubted her hardcore. And I was totally wrong.

For her one billionth image change (And with Madonna it’s not just an ‘album’ but a complete over-hall, look – clothing, tour, hair, etc) Madonna decided to go hip-hop (which she had sort-of done on “Bedtime Stories”) or at least… that’s what we all decided she was doing. Like it or not, it’s been over twenty years that we’ve been getting new Madonna albums, and talk we will, talk we must. Talk is exactly what she wants… and she gets it EVERY time. But I guess that’s just part of being the most powerful woman in the world. (And come to think of it… I think it’s actually utterly debatable if Hillary Clinton, assuming she becomes President, will take that title from her. I think Madge just still has more pull.)

So the history goes like this, Madonna announces she is following up the very successful (at least everywhere else in the world) “Confessions” album and tour (which was the most successful for a female artist, ever) with a new record that will involve production from Timbaland and Pharrell. Immediately I cringed, for a couple reasons. First, should a pushing 50 white lady do a hip hop record? And second, in a career that has been typified by being a head of the curve and blazing new trails in pop music, has Madonna finally decided to just follow?

Well, I was slammed in an anonymous comment when I first discussed the leaked demo “Beat Goes On” for being “ageist” and it does occur to me that a) Madonna is not your average woman/human and b) she’s in better shape than I, some twenty years younger. “4 Minutes” (the first single) aside, “Hard Candy” isn’t really the Timbaland/Neptunes do Madonna… it’s a Madonna record first and foremost. And it’s pretty bloody great.

While I was not an initial fan of “4 Minutes,” the single has certainly won me over, and works within the context of the album really well. Instead of just giving Madonna some hot pop-hip-hop beats, we get a Madonna record that is equal parts a throwback to her 80’s “Material Girl” period, a continuation of the “Future-Disco” dance elements from “Confessions” mixed into a pop-hip-hop blender. It’s current, fun, and totally enjoyable. And for the heck of it, here’s a track by track review…

Candy Shop – A lot like the leaked version, which I thought was so-so. Again, this one is growing on me and kind of sets up the tone of the album. The lyrics are all over the album insert… and allude to the “theme” of the record which Madonna described as “The title is a juxtaposition of tough and sweetness, kind of like I'm gonna kick your ass but it's going to make you feel good.” Okay!

4 Minutes – Busy, busy, busy… and I guess what you’d expect from a Timbaland and Justin collaboration. It doesn’t represent the complete sound of the record like I thought it would, which is odd for a first single. But it’s not, because it is “hit sounding.” Like the album version much better than the radio edit because the intro is killer. Oh, also LOVE the video, see below.

Give It 2 Me – OMG, I’m in love. While certainly not groundbreaking lyrically, this is the most fun, and one of my huge favorites from the record. One of the best tracks the Neptunes have ever produced, up there with “Milkshake” and “Hollaback Girl,” though it should be noted that it sounds distinctly Madonna, vs. distinctly Neptunes. And that breakdown… how fun! “Get stupid?” okay!

Heartbeat – This initially sounded like a throw-away track to me, except I can’t stop listening to it. Like “Get Together” from “Confessions,” this is a track that fits the theme and tone of the record completely, but isn’t loud or attention grabbing enough to be talked about a lot. I really dig it though.

Miles Away – A true standout. This, out of all the other songs on the record I feel has the potential to be a huge cross-over hit. It’s not a ballad, but it’s not a club song… it’s the “Say it Right” of the album. (a song I never would have thought would be a hit.) It’s beautiful and just very Madonna.

She’s Not Me – This song is so strange, it’s long, shifts in places unexpectedly, and is palatably sassy. It goes all “Beautiful Stranger” out of nowhere in the middle, and then sounds like it’s over only to start up again at the end. It sounds like a mess, yet all of these things work for it… and it segues you nicely into the second half of the record.

Incredible – This is album filler straight up. Remember “Future Lovers” from “Confessions?” This is the “hard Candy” equivalent. Not offensive by any means, just not really noteworthy.

Beat Goes On – I’m torn on this one. I really liked the demo, and was looking forward to hearing a fully produced and mixed album version. It’s almost unrecognizable from the demo, adds in a lot of bells and whistles, including a possibly unnecessary Kanye West cameo. I think this one might be a single… maybe after I spend enough time mourning the death of the songs melody I’ll learn to like it. Because I’ve listened to the demo so much it sounds like a remix in the middle of the album.

Dance 2night – When Timbaland produces the majority of a record for someone it seems he has a checklist that includes a beat heavy mid-tempo ballad, about two or three killer singles, and then a total lark. On Nelly Furtado’s record, that lark was “Do it,” a fun slice of upbeat dance-pop, and here it’s “Dance 2night,” a total late 70’s/early 80’s throwback that sounds like a lost classic. For those that complain “4 Minutes” is too loud, complicated, and messy here is a true dance classic. Doesn’t sound like much at first, but soon you’ll never be skipping it to go to the next track.

Spanish Lessons – More album filler that fun and/or harmless. People say that it reminds them of “La Isla Bonita,” but I think it’s just because she sings in Spanish. It’s a fun song that literally has Madonna saying some sweet nothings in Spanish, and then telling you what it means in English. I wish, just for fun, she has slipped in the Spanish for “last night I dreamt of some bagels.”

Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You – The big Timbaland drama moment. It’s got rain effects, a slow crawling beat, and some pretty raw lyrics. Sound like someone got one over on Madonna, she didn’t see it coming, and is shocked enough by the deception that she claims the Devil himself wouldn’t have seen it coming. So is it a case of empowerment, or a defense against her actions? Either way… it’s a great song that’s only debt is just how much it sounds like “Cry Me a River.” Some are saying it surpasses it. We’ll see.

Voices – A great album closer, something Madge knows how to do well. It fits nicely with the last tracks off the last three records, “Gone,” “Easy Ride,” and “Like it or Not.” It shoots for the synth-driven lushness of “Bedtime Story.” Though not nearly as strange. (Then again, Bjork didn’t co-write it)

In a way I think this album closes a big chapter for Madonna. It’s her last record with Warner Brothers, whom she’s been with since the beginning. It gave her enough top ten hit singles (37) to surpass Elvis’ record for the top spot, and pretty much secures her as someone future generations will know about… if they didn’t already. It’s clearly aimed at commercial success, and especially here in America. After the sales disappointment of “American Life,” it seemed Madonna had her sights set at world domination again. “Confessions” did it everywhere else, and “Hard Candy” should do it here.

As a trailblazer of pop music, sexual politics, and social change Madonna has certainly received her fair share of flack. So much so that I think we’re just USED to it. And I fell into the trap, ready to question and criticize her before hearing things as a whole. It’s a lesson for the internet and blog age, and really proof positive that this girl achieved her goal she set forth in 1983 on “American Bandstand.” After performing “Holiday” on Dick Clark’s program 25 years ago he asked what she wanted next… and without hesitation she said “to rule the world.” Check.


4 Minutes

Monday, April 28, 2008

You'll Find A Way (Switch & Sinden Remix)

Song: You'll Find A Way (Switch & Sinden Remix)
Artist: Santogold
Album: Santogold

I had first heard of Santogold several months ago and had listened to a few released tracks but wanted to wait until hearing her full debut record to really put forth an opinion. I wasn’t sure why I did this… I really liked what I had heard thus far, but I’m glad I did. After months and month of hype, the Philadelphia born ‘Santogold’ (born Santi White) has her self-titled debut being released tomorrow, April 29th.

I am glad I waited because while I liked what I initially heard, it sounded like an M.I.A. rip-off. Oddly, it was confirmed that the two women were actually friends, and that Switch and Diplo, M.I.A. collaborators, also worked on the record. Well it turns out that while songs like “Creator” bite M.I.A.’s style, the rest of the album is a wildly eclectic set of dancehall, dub, hip hop, and indie-rock. It’s quite something.

I really loved the early leaked track “You’ll Find a Way,” though it turns out it was actually a remix by Switch & Sinden. The album version is straight up indie-rock, which I really dug too. “Lights Out” sounds like a slice of mid 90’s alt-pop-rock (a-la Madder Rose) and “I’m a Lady” is Liz Phair meets Sinead O’Conner. “Shove it” is a fun slice of dancehall… the record is certainly a mix of a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

On paper I’m sure this sounds like a mess, but it only goes to show what a talent we’re dealing with. So I guess you can file it under “eponymous,” but just listen to it. It’s pretty thrilling. She has a killer voice too.


L.E.S. Artists

Here she is “killing it”

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Song: Discipline
Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Album: ?

So this is what we can begin to expect… yesterday a new song became available on Nine Inch Nails Website for free download. This came two weeks after a cryptic message came up on the site that simply read “two weeks.” Also with the new download (which you can also remix yourself) was a message that something else was coming on May 5th. So mysterious!

After Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” digital download stunt (and rumored wild success) Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails announced that he soon would be following their lead and moving into a more digital way of releasing material. (As well as operate sans record deal.) He was most likely tired of the way his records have been leaking and wanted a bit more control. Reznor wants more control? So out of character right? Well he’s certainly taken the bull by the horns, already releasing a download-it-first from his website instrumental “album” entitles “Ghosts I-IV,” that contains 36 tracks broken up into four “divisions.” It was $5 for the download, $10 for a double CD, $75 for a deluxe set, and then $300 for an ‘Ultra Deluxe’ set with a limited run of 2500 copies. (That sold out immediately when it was announced… do the math on just that. Bling!)

So it sounds like an entire new NIN album is just weeks away… and with the complicated marketing plan for “Year Zero,” the last album, he is fully embracing the web as a way to sell music but more importantly getting the listener directly involved with the music, and in “Year Zero’s” case… the actual concept of the album.

But is it any good?

Well after a few listens to “Discipline,” it sound like… well another Nine Inch Nails tune. I liked “Year Zero” and “With Teeth” before it, but it certainly didn’t grab me the way that his first three records did. Is that a product of youthful adoration, or the actual quality of the music? I’m really not sure. And while I don’t have time to follow the labyrinth of websites and MP3’s found in bathrooms like he’s done recently… I am very interested in how he is selling his music, without a record label. This seems like the future!


An example of the “Ghost” work:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Set Your Heart

Song: Set Your Heart
Artist; Cyndi Lauper
Album: Bring Ya to the Brink

With high profile projects from 80’s female pop acts such as Janet Jackson and Madonna have recently, and soon-to-be released, I am happy another former chart topper is getting back to some new original material. Cyndi Lauper is set to release her 9th album, “Bring Ya to the Brink” on May 17th. The album is a return to her dance roots after her covers album “At Last” and her acoustic greatest hits set called “The Body Acoustic.” What’s shocking is that this is her first full album of new material released here in the U.S. since 1996’s “Sisters of Avalon.” (I am of course omitting the EP “Shine” which was released here after the full album fell apart post the closing of her then label, Edel America Records. The full record was subsequently released in Japan only and is a big collector’s item here.)

While I’m a fan of Cyndi’s hits, I haven’t spent that much time with her full albums. Unlike Janet and Madonna, Cyndi had a sales slump through the 90’s and has never really fully recovered. She’s worked consistently, don’t get me wrong, and frankly I think she’s an artist that does things from her heart, and not her wallet. With that in mind, it is no surprise to me that the first single of the new album, “Set Your Heart,” is a big disco-infused romp. Cyndi is once again playing the True Colors Tour this summer, a benefit for Human Rights sponsored by Logo, MTV’s gay and lesbian channel this summer and has no doubt re-connected with her gay fans across the country. As a rule, gay fans are typically loyal and possibly Cyndi has just decided to put her energy and efforts into music that will speak to the people that love and support her.

I say that because based on “Set Your Heart,” there really isn’t a chance of reaching beyond this niche audience. It’s way more “disco” than even Madonna’s last record, and music like this just isn’t finding top 40 success. (And part of the reason Madonna has most recently gone Hip Hop.) All that said though, I really like “Set Your Heart.” It’s a hands in the air dance and sing-a-long that showcases, once again, how powerful Cyndi’s voice is. The horns remind me of the Saint Etienne’s “Nothing Can Stop Us,” albeit with a pulsing house beat. Fun stuff!

Looking forward to hear what else the album holds for us.


Here’s Cyndi performing the song at the White Party last November

And one of my favorite songs of hers, which was CRIMINALLY left off of her hits collection… The Goonies 'R' Good Enough!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pork & Beans

Song: Pork & Beans
Artist: Weezer
Album: Weezer (The Red Album)

I read an article in Rolling Stone about Weezer, can’t remember if it was leading up to 2002’s “Maladroit” or 2005’s “Make Believe,” but I remember thinking that Rivers Cuomo, the bands leader and chief songwriter, came across as a total weirdo. He was strangely arrogant, mixed with equal doses of insecurity, and straight out bonkers. But the most annoying part… I felt it was an act. Weezer is releasing their sixth album in June entitled… get this, “Weezer.” The name of their first and third albums. This time they are going with a red motif, as you can see with the album cover above.

The first single is “Pork and Beans,” which sounds very “Beverly Hills”-ish, yet with an angry/cathartic “Since You’ve Been Gone”-ish vibe. Apparently it was written after the band had a meeting with Geffen and they told them they needed to be more commercial. (Evidence by the line; “Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the charts, Maybe if I work with him I can perfect the art.”) So what “Pork and Beans” turns out to be is a very ‘Weezer sounding’ bouncy track that finds the front man, possibly for the first time a bit comfortable with himself. (I’m finally dandy with the me inside, One look in the mirror and I’m tickled pink, I don’t give a hoot about what you think.”) Or is he?

Despite having fans worldwide that adore each move, Rivers is a pretty depressed and insecure guy. After their debut made them instant rock stars, their follow up “Pinkerton” failed to match the success… and Rivers went inward, almost disbanding the group. But fans loved “Pinkerton,” and once he realized the album had many admirers, he finally started to re-play the songs live. (He had famously refused to play any of the tracks live when it didn’t do well commercially.) So he was built up enough to get back recording and the end result was The Green Album (Weezer) in which they returned to the artwork style of their debut. The Green Album was a hit, and restored the band to prominence. But their follow ups didn’t do as well… so now we’re back with the Red Album. Okay.

So I’m not overly impressed with “Pork and Beans,” as it fits in with some of Weezer’s more goofy song territory, and it really doesn’t show them doing anything new and exciting. There has been a lot of talk about their work with Rick Rubin, and how he was developing their sound and that Rivers was writing some challenging material that was “out there.” That was back for “Make Believe,” which I think is their weakest album, and a surprise to me because it was so straight forward and… well boring. Rubin is working on the new album, and has started that it’s more experimental, with drum machines, synths, and “Southern Rap.” Really? None of which seem to find their way onto lead single “Pork & Beans.” (Which incidentally was produced by Jackknife Lee, the guy behind the new R.E.M. record.)

What do you think of this new song?


Monday, April 21, 2008

Booming Back at You

Song: Booming Back at You
Artist: Junkie XL
Album: Booming Back at You

This is a little aggro for a Monday, but I’ve been really digging this album, and specifically the title track. “Booming Back at You” is a solid collection of Big Beat floor fillers from a true King of the remix, Junkie XL. Junkie XL is Dutch producer and remixer whom got his start in a number of bands, some multi-instrumental, and another industrial rock. His career really exploded after his remix of Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation” for a Nike commercial. The single took off, and JXL (what he refers to himself as when “junkie” is deemed offensive) found himself with a number one hit in more than twenty countries.

Since then he has made a name for himself as one of the most sought-after remixers of the day, having officially done the club remixes for a wide variety of artists including Fischerpooner, Rammstein, Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay, Scissor Sisters, and most recently, Madonna. (I really love his two Scissor Sisters remixes for “Mary” and “Land of a Thousand Words,” taking the soaring ballads to the dancefloor.)

“Booming Back at You,” the title track, is all stomping aggression and heady breakdowns. This one is built for the treadmill, when you just don’t think you can push on. I’ve been putting it on in the AM as I walk to work… it just GETS me there. The rest of the album bounces along on some admittedly dated beats, but they work. The vocals are unspectacular, but his cover of Siouxie & the Banshees’ 1985 single “Cities In Dust” hits all the right notes (errr… beats.) Actually, the vocals are so unremarkable it makes me wish he just remixed Siouxie’s version. Or got her to re-record the vocals. The third track, “You Make Me Feel So Good” is a sexy trance number that seems made for those on ecstasy.

I must note that while I have been enjoying this record, it really just reminds me of Fatboy Slim’s better work. Junkie XL knows where the beats need to hit to make that killer stomper, but there is a repetitiveness to his work that can’t really elevate it. At its backbone Fatboy Slim’s music has always had his love of soul that grounded his manic beats into something more. I think if Junkie finds this (or something else) for himself his music could go to a whole new level.



Friday, April 18, 2008

The Promise

Song: The Promise
Artist: When in Rome
Album: When in Rome

You know what’s funny? For the longest time I thought this song was Depeche Mode. And once I found out it WAS NOT in fact Depeche Mode, I was totally embarrassed. While it sounds more like Depeche Mode than say… Rick Astley, it still really doesn’t sound much like Dave Gahan, and lyrically is NOT their style. But because I got the song from big bad Napster back in the day, and P2P services are notorious for idiots guessing info and uploading, it was wrong for some time.

You know what’s NOT funny? Napoleon Dynamite. Okay, I know that that movie was this crazy sleeper hit and I’ve met people that have watched it over and over… but, it’s AWFUL. It’s a movie like this that makes me think I might be completely out of step with a huge portion of the population… and don’t care. Like Ace Ventura before it, Napoleon Dynamite is an example of something almost outrageously stupid that somehow catches on. Like snap bracelets, jelly shoes, and George W. Bush.

I bring up Napoleon Dynamite sort of randomly… I hadn’t remembered that the song was used in that bloody awful film, but found it important to mention because my impetus for writing about “The Promise” is that it’s one of those songs that seems destined for some movie moment. Preferably when the characters have gone through whatever they went through, and had their final moment together, a song will then pop up… noting the emotional resolve, if you hadn’t felt it already. For a while there was a lot of movies using 80’s tunes to score these moments, which oddly were usually about new millennium teens. Did it mean that no current bands were writing these mid-tempo emotional tracks? Nah… probably the filmmakers themselves are 80’s children and/or they just wanted something kind of recognizable. (I loved the use of Yaz’s [Yazoo] “Only You” in “Can’t Hardly Wait.”)

So who the heck ARE When in Rome? Well their a Manchester, UK based band that initially was called “Beau Leisure” (LOVE that name) until singer Corinne Drewery left to form the jazz-pop band Swing Out Sister. The guys were signed to a Virgin subsidiary label until “The Promise” started getting buzz and Virgin ordered a full album. The song went to #11 on the U.S. charts and #1 on the Dance chart, yet despite the hit… they never did a sophomore album. (The follow up single “Heaven Knows” went to #95… gosh, do you remember that one? Yeah… neither do I.)


I (heart) the 80’s!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Song: Parenthesis
Artist: The Blow
Album: Paper Television

I had listened to The Blow’s album “Paper Television” (which was released in 2006) about a little over a year ago and wasn’t so much impressed. (Not really a Lo-Fi fan for the most part.) But my friend Lizzy has been pretty persistent on giving them another listen and she sent me their latest single “Parenthesis.” So I have been throwing the song into my playlist randomly over the past few days and the song at least has totally grown on me. But maybe I’m just a sucker for a punctuation metaphor. (?!)

The Blow is actually Khaela Maricich, based in Portland by way of Seattle and Olympia. Her former bands have been called “The Microphone,” “Get the Hell Out of the Way of the Volcano,” and “Get the Hell Out of the Way of the Wave.” Khaela was joined by Jona Bechtolt, a programmer whom made up “The Blow.” But Jona left to focus on his band “YACHT” so… no more Blow.

Regardless, this is a cute song. Thanks Lizzy!


The Blow Live

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Shed Your Love

Song: Shed Your Love
Artist: The Helio Sequence
Album: Keep Your Eyes Ahead

I often say that I don’t care much for ballads… and it’s true, I loathe most of them, but sometimes I find a simple song that really gets under my skin. Maybe I should clarify and say that I don’t care for “soaring ballads,” you know the ones Celine and Mariah have made their bread and butter. Not that I dislike everything that Mariah has done… I just don’t care for those emotional ballads that are so straightforward and simple, it’s hard for me to believe anyone would fall for something so… transparent. (For the record, to me… Celine has yet to do anything of worth, note, or quality. But people love her… and I officially feel sorry for people.) [cranky hipster]

My friend Scott sent me an e-mail a couple months ago recommending The Helio Sequence and specifically a song on their most recent album, “Keep Your Eyes Ahead.” I listened to the record once, thought it was sort of standard electronic-infused indie-rock, and moved on. And the song he recommended, “Shed Your Love” didn’t grab me. Oh well. Cut to a week ago and I gave the album another listen, and “Shed Your Love” twice… liked it a bit more, nothing special.

So early Saturday morning I was walking the dog, up very early as I was going to plant trees in Queens, still waking up but listening to the iPod as I walked the quiet morning streets with very little on my mind. I think I had my “Recently Played” smart playlist on random and “Shed Your Love” came on two songs in. Well it hit me then… this simple (and you could say straightforward) contemplative ballad just HAD me. Its equal parts sad and hopeful, and ode to finding yourself and what you might lose in the process. Beautiful, hypnotic… might be you’re new favorite 3 AM ballad.

Why hasn’t Grey’s Anatomy gotten this one yet?


“Don’t Look Away” from their 2004 album “Love and Distance”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Burning for You

Song: Burning for You
Artist: The Blue Oyster Cult
Album: Fire of Unknown Origin

I can’t really confess to be a Blue Oyster Cult FAN per say, but I think they have two songs that truly belong in every music fan’s library. The first, probably without question, is “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and the other, in my opinion, is “Burning For You” from their album “Fire of Unknown Origin.” Thanks to Saturday Night Live, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” has become a bit of a joke, thanks to the Will Ferrall/Christopher Walken skit in which the band was recording the song and the producer’s (Walken) insistence on “more cowbell.” Hardy har. It’s a great song, moody, and was used to amazing effect in the opening credits sequence of the TV Miniseries “The Stand,” based on Stephen King’s epic book about a virus outbreak.

Check it out…

“Burning for You” was released in 1981 from the last album the Blue Oyster Cult did with their original lineup. It went to #1 on the rock charts and #40 on the pop charts. I really dig this song, and it’s just a reminder how much rock music has changed in the past couple years. For one, a lot of classic rock and 80’s metal that was hard core shit at the time has now been moved over to Lite FM stations, how crazy. At this rate we’ll be hearing Nine Inch Nails “Closer” paired up next to “Hungry Like the Wolf.” But then again in the day that was pretty racy. Times change.

Incidentally, many of the remaining songs on “Fire of Unknown Origin” were written for the animated, now cult classic film “Heavy Metal” (though only one made the cut) and continued with the Blue Oyster Cult’s tendency at very odd subject matter for their songs.


Burning For You

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tony Adams

Song: Tony Adams
Artist: Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
Album: Rock Art and the X-Ray Style

While I have always been a fan of The Clash I hadn’t really followed Joe Strummer’s solo work. I have listened to Big Audio Dynamite (Mick Jones post-Clash band) a bit… but didn’t know what Strummer was up to. An ex co-worker of mine about six months ago asked me if I knew the song “Tony Adams” as he had heard it out at a bar in Long Island and he really dug it. I hadn’t, but thanks to Google found out that it was the lead track off of Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros’ debut 1999 album “Rock Art and the X-Ray Style,” which turned out to be a return to music for Strummer whom hadn’t released any material since 1989’s “Earthquake Weather.”

I got the album, and while “Tony Adams” has been a favorite, the whole album is really great, a mix of reggae-tinged guitar, electronic drums, and a lazy, easy-going vibe. It’s a great mood record, and “Tony Adams” is a really fun song, despite being about some sort of catastrophe hitting New York City. Actually… while I’m on the subject, why on earth does New York always seem to be hit with this stuff? From The Day After Tomorrow to Cloverfield, it’s always good old New York. Why? (But I digress)

Strummer unfortunately passed away in 2002 due to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. A third Mescaleros album was released posthumously in 2003 which I haven’t heard, nor have I heard the second album, “Global A Go-Go” which apparently made a bigger dent than “Rock Art” did. I’m going to have to look for that one… the lead track off that album, “Johnny Appleseed” was the theme to the HBO series “John from Cincinnati.” But I haven’t watched that either…

Why do you even listen to me?


Tony Adams live

Global a Go-Go

Friday, April 11, 2008

It Should Have Been Me

Song: It Should Have Been Me
Artist: Yvonne Fair
Album: The Bitch is Black

I think we need a little DRAMA for this Friday. And there is no better drama than that which can be found on the dancefloor. I’ve been feeling a bit random this week, which is probably obvious given my selections, and this is no different. Yvonne Fair’s “It Should Have Been Me” popped into my head this morning out of nowhere and I felt compelled to play it. It occurred to me that this is such an obscure little classic that I should give it some props on my little ol’ blog here.

A few years ago I met a woman in my then company’s Finance department whom was a former hairstylist and a native New Yorker. She told me crazy tales of all night dancing at some of New York’s best underground clubs in the 70’s and what the scene was like. As our conversations grew we began to share music back and forth and first and foremost she said I MUST get to know this song. Since then I have found many a fan of this song and for good reason… its HOT!

While not a huge hit in terms of radio, the song, which was recorded prior by Kim Weston and Gladys Knight, became a club classic here and managed to hit #5 in the UK where is stayed on the charts for eleven weeks. Now I don’t know much about Yvonne Fair… but there is so much passion in her voice, so much fire, that you BELIEVE this woman is standing up in the church and taking her former man to town. (If that wasn’t enough evidence, she named her album “The Bitch is Black.” I mean… girl don’t play.)

I always envisioned a large black drag queen doing this song in a torn up wedding dress, cigarette hanging out of the mouth, just a hot hot mess. But through the streaking mascara the hurt pours through… it’s songs like these, these broken heart anthems that can be so cathartic. Sometimes I think a night on the dancefloor can do as much for you as an hour on the doctors couch. But then again… I’m not Freud.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm a Man

Song: I’m a Man
Artist: The Yardbirds
Album: Having a Rave Up!

If I had to own up to it, I would say that my love of music has a lot to do with familiarity. For me, the enjoyment I get out of music can be a drunken (or driving in the car, sober of course) sing-a-long, an excellently executed dance move because I know when a particular squirrely beat hits, or just the immediate joy when I hear the first few bars of a song I know. This particular quirk in my personality is probably at the root of why I can take or leave seeing music live. A lot of the time I don’t know the words (I can’t sing along!), especially if it’s a band I am unfamiliar with. This also happens sometimes when I listen to new music by artists I know and love. There are the expectations, the unfamiliarity… and sometimes it’s just a bit challenging and I’m not up for it. Bands like 10,000 Maniacs and Radiohead come to mind with this… as initially I might scratch my head (‘O.K. Computer’ & ‘In Rainbows’) only to end up loving them. And in the Maniacs instance… I literally disliked every record of theirs I heard until the fifth listen. But then I was sold. I don’t know.

Despite this silly way my mind works, what I want to talk about is when this DOESN’T happen… when something grabs you just because. I remember when I got “Automatic for The People” the day it came out, sat down to listen to it, and when I heard “Everybody Hurts” for the first time I cried. No other context but that song itself. It was before it was a single… it just had that impact. On the other hand, but the same… when I first heard Madonna’s singles “Music” and “Hung Up” for the first time I flipped. “Get me to the dancefloor now” I thought… “I need to tear this shit up.” (this may or may not have something to do with being gay.) But what I am trying to say is that a response to music can (and really should be) completely visceral. An immediate reaction.

Since my parents were semi-hippies, I grew up listening to a LOT of 60’s music, psychedelia, guitar rock, the Beatles, the Dead, whatever… so I knew of the Yardbirds in a sort of osmosis way. Familial Osmosis? I don’t know. It has only been recently though that I discovered the rocking “I’m a Man” a Bo Diddley cover that the band recorded live in 1964. At the time the band, who was English, saw their music heavily influenced by Delta-soaked Chicago blues. They are probably best known for their hit “For Your Love,” which sounds much more English than “I’m a Man.”

So the reason that I write this lengthy intro is that the very first time I heard this song (the specifics escape me) I had such a reaction to it… its groove was so all encompassing, the harmonica so entrancing, that it took me someplace… and specifically someplace I had never been. It’s just a song right? To me now the song means something specific to me and to a group of male friends I have. It will now always remind me of those times… as music often does.

Being a visual guy a lot of times a song will paint a picture to me, like a scene in a movie that doesn’t exist but because of the mood, vibe, and feeling of the song it becomes created. When I think of “I’m a Man” I imagine a smoke filled pool hall, or an old bar, stained in every crevasse, with a million spilled drinks and stories told. I see men who have seen it all and are there to tell the tale, I see a man… hopelessly cool walk into a room grabbing everyone’s attention, moving slow but purposeful…

If you’re lucky enough to have this tune as your theme song… you’re one bad motherfucker. ‘Nuff said.


“I’m a Man”

“For Your Love”

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Million Miles Away

Song: A Million Miles Away
Artist: David Byrne
Album: Uh Oh

Well the Talking Heads surely have a bunch of fans… I got the most feedback from yesterday’s post than I have in a while. Thank you! Because of that, I thought I would continue on and talk about a (possibly) little known song from the front man of the Heads himself, David Byrne. Since the unraveling of the Talking Heads, Byrne has been quite prolific in his solo work. He also formed the world music record label Luaka Bop which released a variety of records some more strictly traditional and others more modern using world music flourishes. (Cornershop, Zap Mama, Los Amigos Invisibles, and Os Mutantes.) He’s scored films and TV Shows (most recently the 2nd season of “Big Love”) as well as continued to release a flurry of solo albums. I’ll be honest and admit I don’t know a lot of Bryne’s solo work but have two of his albums, 1992’s “Uh Oh” and 1997’s “Feelings.” I like both, and both seem to be in the more pop direction that he explored with the Talking Heads.

One song of his that I absolutely LOVE is “A Million Miles Away” from “Uh Oh.” You might (but probably won’t) remember this song from the short lives Fox sitcom “Flying Blind” starring Corey Parker and Tea Leoni. Here’s the opening from the show to jog your memory:

Wow, that’s some video eh? My very good friend Heather and I were into this show at the time and fell in LOVE with Tea Leoni. This was a great character for her, and showed off her incredible comic timing. She is also SUPER great in “Flirting With Disaster.” [Clip] (but I digress)

“A Million Miles Away” is typical Byrne; upbeat, and fun, though just a touch off-kilter. The album as a whole is pretty good, though now that I have listened to every Talking Heads record in its entirety, I realize just how GREAT a band they were… and this full album as a whole doesn’t quite hold up in comparison, but if you’re a fan I am sure you will find a lot you will enjoy.

A bit random, but I found an interesting quote from Mr. Byrne regarding the state of the music industry. As a huge fan of music that has basically blown all of my extra money on tapes and/or CD’s since I was a tween, this new availability of music, and the moral/economic conundrum it causes is of much interest to me, and Byrne certainly has a distinct point of view…

“There was another piece in the Times today about yet another 20 percent drop in CD sales. (Are they running the same news piece every 4 months?) Jeez guys, the writing's on the wall. How long do the record execs think they'll have those offices and nice parking spaces? (Well, more than half of all record A&R and other execs are gone already, so there should be plenty of parking space). They, the big 4 or 5, should give the catalogues back to the artists or their heirs as a gesture before they close the office doors, as they sure don't know how to sell music anymore. (I have Talking Heads stuff on the shelf that I can't get Warner to release.) The "industry" had a nice 50-year ride, but it's time to move on. Luckily, music remains more or less unaffected — there is a lot of great music out there. A new model will emerge that includes rather than sues its own customers, that realizes that music is not a product in the sense of being a thing — it's closer to fashion, in that for music fans it tells them and their friends who they are, what they feel passionately about and to some extent what makes life fun and interesting. It's about a sense of community — a song ties a whole invisible disparate community together. It's not about selling the (often) shattered plastic case CDs used to come in.”


“She’s Mad” also from “Uh Oh”

“Miss America” from “Feelings”

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

City of Dreams

Song: City of Dreams
Artist: Talking Heads
Album: True Stories

I could still count how old I was on one hand when I entered the 80’s, I didn’t have MTV, and I literally grew up in the woods. So how was it then, that I had the Talking Heads on my radar… they certainly didn’t have huge chart success. (“Burning Down the House” was their biggest hit here, which went to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100.) Whatever it was, they were just always there in a way, but I only probably knew a song here and a song there. It wasn’t until I was in college that I finally got some Heads… their two disc career retrospective “Sand in the Vaseline: Popular Favorites” which was a great primer to an amazing band. I recently obtained their entire discography, and listened to it all the way through… which was daunting, but totally enjoyable.

If you’re not familiar, the Talking Heads were an American rock band formed in New York City in the late 70’s. They, along with the Ramones and Blondie, were early figureheads at CBGB’s, and the band is widely regarded as one of the best new wave bands of the day. They broke up in 1991, but their legacy and music have lived on. Their mix of punk rock, funk, world music, and art rock was before its time and no doubt helped forge the ground that Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and the recent Vampire Weekend debut used in melding rock, art, and world rhythms together.

After listening to their entire discography for the first time I have become more impressed, and more of a fan. Their really isn’t a bad album within their canon and REALLY recommend getting into their music if you haven’t done so yet. There are literally four choices in which to have yourself introduced to the band, depending on the size of your wallet.

For a cheap, single disc collection that skims their entire career you should pick up “The Best of Talking Heads.” But I would seriously think of spending just a bit more and getting the double-disc “Sand in the Vaseline.” It worked for me. Though if you think you have even more interest in the band, but aren’t up for getting every disc, the three disc plus DVD collection “Once in a Lifetime” which includes some rarities, an expanded version of their music video collection, and well… just MORE. But if you really want to dive into this amazing band you can get all eight albums in the “Brickbox set which included all of their studio albums.

“True Stories” is an odd album for Talking Heads as it is sort of a soundtrack to lead Head David Byrne’s directorial debut of the same name. Though in the movie the actors sing the songs themselves, where the band performs the record themselves. Because of the context, I would say of all of their album sit is the least focus… though contains some of my favorite songs. “Wild Wild Life” is pure pop joy, “People Like Us” is Byrne’s idea of a country and western epic ballad, and “Radio Head,” aside from being the origin of that big band from the UK, is also a world party sing-a-long that seems to include everyone.

For me the highlight is the album closer “City of Dreams,” which seems to be about history, and the acknowledgement (or denial) of those that came before you. It’s a beautiful, beautiful song that gets under your skin, and one that changes for me. At times I have heard this as a call to survival in a difficult urban environment, or simply just about America, its vast highways and repeated insistence to disregard the past and those we have left behind to build our own “now.”

This song certainly doesn’t sum up the band in any way; it’s just a killer song.

“We live in the city of dreams, and we drive on this highway of fire.”


Once in a Lifetime

Burning Down the House

What the film is like…

I love the lying woman.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Song: Cupid
Artist: Sam Cooke
Album: Greatest Hits

I didn’t really know that much about Sam Cooke, the legendary soul singer from Mississippi, but I randomly heard his first # 1 song “You Send Me” late last night and got thinking about him. I am a huge fan of his 1961 hit single “Cupid” and if I’m honest… it’s for the dorkiest of reasons. The song was prominently featured in 1987 action comedy “Innerspace” starring Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, and Meg Ryan. The movie was directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg and was inspired by the classic sci-fi tale “Fantastic Voyage.”

In “Innerspace,” alcoholic pilot Quaid has recently split for good with on and off girlfriend/reporter Ryan, and signs up to be miniaturized and injected into a rabbit for a government experiment. As you can image things do not go to plan and he is accidentally injected into hypochondriac Short, whom is convinced (once Quaid begins to communicate to him from INSIDE him) that he has become processed. It’s silly, ridiculous, and one of my favorite movies. (At least the inner twelve year old boy in me.)

For reasons that don’t actually seem plausible (despite it being a movie about miniaturization) Quaid accidentally gets inside Ryan and can only communicate by driving his body vehicle to her inner ear and blast their song… Sam Cooke’s “Cupid!” Awwwww.

It wasn’t until doing a little research that I found that Cooke was killed at the young age of 33 under “mysterious circumstances.” I won’t bother getting into the details, but you can read about it here and here.

Cooke is also well know for his hits “I’ll Come Running Back to You,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” (also used in “Innerspace,” though the Rod Stewart version) “Another Saturday Night,” and “Frankie & Johnny.” Recently British soul singer (and part-time mess) Amy Winehouse covered “Cupid” which can be found on the deluxe edition of her latest album “Back to Black.”