Friday, May 30, 2008

Elvis On Country Radio

I wonder why we don't hear more of Elvis on Country oldies stations. In the 70's Elvis charted higher Country than he did Pop. I mention this because one of my local Country stations that is of course pre-programmed from somewhere, played "Way Down" the last song that Elvis charted while he was alive. I haven't seen the playlists for the satellite channels, but when I have them on I never hear an Elvis song, maybe once did "Moody Blue" come on. It would be nice to hear his other Country hits get more play on oldies Country stations.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Old Soul vs. New Soul

Who told Usher that he could drop a 72 minute album? I'd say at half that he might've had a good followup to Confessions, but Here I Stand is a rather limp followup. The lead single stiff, the slow songs slow and the lyrics, well the lyrics. I knew I was in trouble when the album started with an Intro, a ploy that went out years ago, but is still being used by today's rapper's and soul singers. Usher is a better singer than Chris Brown or Ne-Yo, but he's been sidetracked here by playing it too safe. Right, we get it, you're 29 and want to grow up. But pack some songs next time.
Al Green's 3rd secular album of this decade gets by on his still elastic voice. Maybe you won't hear any future classics, and the album at times strives too hard to replicate his early 70's stuff, but give Green credit for at least putting forth a strong effort at this late date. One wonders if Usher and Co. will be around in 30 years to do the same.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Whatever Happened to Reggae?

Thanks to internet and satellite radio, it's easy to catch up with genres that you've given up on. Modern Blues? Not as good as the old stuff. Modern Reggae? Same as Blues. I've listened to more modern Blues than modern Reggae, but not much. Robert Christgau once wrote that he lost reggae when it went Dancehall. Just as some of us lost Rap when it went gangsta. So, I listened for an hour to the Sirius Reggae channel, and my ears perked when I heard modern reggae done old school style. But as soon as a dancehall song came up, I switched the channel. There's no prude in me. I like hearing new sounds from new singers. But some genres were better back in the day. I say Blues and Reggae are two of them.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hints Of The End Of Soul Train

Late night Saturday viewing. A best of episode of Soul Train from late 1983. The guests are the Dazz Band and Run DMC. The early hints that Rap will take over the R&B charts and the eventual demise of Soul Train. Don Corneilius interviews Run DMC and appears completely fascinated yet uninterested in the coming Hip Hop storm.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Playlist for 5/22

Old 97's - Blame It On Gravity
Duffy - Rockferry
Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs
Peter Cooper - Mission Door
Joe Satriani - Surfing With The Alien
John Stewart - California Bloodlines
Donna Summer - Crayons

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What The Music Biz Needs Every Year

I've watched every episode of American Idol since its inception and I feel no shame. That doesn't mean that I enjoy every thing about it. The auditions are now no longer fun. The endless dwindling of Top 24 to Top 10 shows is grating. One reason the show hasn't spawned tons of million sellers is because most people watching it, like me, view it as entertainment and have no reason to buy any product by the contestants. Why pay for something when you get it in your living room for free. There have been some talented people coming out of the show. Not many, though. I own a handful of their albums. But most are relegated to history. The show itself is a clunky affair. Terrible judges like Randy and Paula and the insufferable Ryan almost torpedo the show every week. Only Simon has a pulse. Without him the show is nothing. Who wins in 2008 isn't really the point. The music biz needs this show in all its egotistical glory. Desperate times indeed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

James Brown As Sympathetic Figure

By the end of The James Brown Reader (Plume), you'll feel more sympathy for him than elation. From the late 80's when he was thrown in jail for close to 2 years until his death, Brown seemed as bewildered by his plight as we are. A man who told kids not to do drugs, but did them. Put on a good face for the public, but had personal demons. And thanks to the IRS, lost most of his fortune. But the first half of the book is a joy ride into genius. Most of the early articles catch him at a peak, and don't touch on his troubles. By the mid-70's Brown's work goes downhill and only a brief spurt in the mid-80's keeps his recording career alive. But after that Brown became a touring act, bigger in Europe than the U.S. (they love our Soul singers). By the time of his death he was still fighting the Man for money and respect. The former we couldn't provide, but the latter was always there.

Monday, May 19, 2008

ACM's vs. Everybody

Contrary to what people believe there aren't that many Country Award shows. There's the CMA, ACM and CMT awards. Maybe Rock has a couple more but that's it. In reality the only one of these that counts is the CMA's. It's the Grammy's to the ACM's American Music Awards. The 2008 version of the ACM's was a struggle to sit through. Some bad performances by Garth Brooks, Rodney Atkins, Trisha Yearwood, Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn/Reba McEntire were only part of the problem. The awards themselves, unlike the CMA's, seem beside the point. The need to fill 3 hours for so few awards makes for some staid performances. In the end these are just award shows. But given prime Network time to make its case, the mild Country music observer would wander where the wow factor is.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sinatra's Songbook

For the 10th anniversary of the death of Frank Sinatra, TCM ran 3 TV specials he did between 1966 and 67. 2 of the 3 were the best and the middle one mediocre. But these little seen specials do serve the purpose of showing how much the Sinatra sound mean to the American songbook. No one, outside of maybe Ella Fitzgerald, popularized it better, and between the 2 Sinatra has the edge on album quality. His late 50's peak includes his most essential music, before he began adding contemporary stuff that bogged down his late 60's work. I wrote after Sinatra died that the man hated Rock music, but Rock music didn't hate Sinatra. I love Rock music but I loved Sinatra's greatest work. The Great American Songbook. Man, that was a wonderful time.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mixing It Up

Rob Sheffield's Love Is A Mixtape is both a love story to his deceased wife and a love story to a recurring hobby. You can't make good mixtape's on CD. Cassettes were what made the mixtape famous. Now people put their own mixes on their Ipod, but the C-90 or C-60 was king with me. In the 80's, I made more of these tapes then I can remember. I'd put anything that would come to mind on a tape, and all genres. Last year I got rid of most of these tapes. I didn't have to listen to them, and most of the tapes had worn down. But when I looked at them they brought back lots of memories. Sheffield's book chronicles his marriage and her sudden death through the eyes of the tapes they made for each other. Like him, I can hear an old song and know exactly why it meant something in my life. Music does that to you. Whether you now mix it up on CD, Ipod or still make 'em on cassettes. You're making instant memories, and a lifetime of musical ones.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I'm Getting Older

Did you know that "More Than A Feeling" is now considered an Adult Contemporary song? This was news to me until I heard it on my local AC station. Should we be surprised when we hear Classic rock songs on AC channels? The core audience of for AC are over 50. If a 55 year old heard Boston in 1976 they would've been 23. A perfect age for the then booming FM rock stations. I wanted to find a playlist for this station to see if they are playing any other classic rock songs, but their website didn't have one. So, I went to a San Francisco one looking for Boston or something similar and came away with nothing. They did play "Brick House". Is that now an AC song? But outside of REO Speedwagon's "Take It On The Run", which gets played on my local Classic Rock station or "Hurts So Good", nothing stood out. Now, I doubt that "Carry On My Wayward Son" gets played AC, but I could be wrong. As those songs age, so do its first listeners.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Playlist for 5/15

Neil Diamond - Home Before Dark
Neil Diamond - Jazz Singer
Elvis Costello - Momofuku
Rolling Stones - Tattoo You
Nine Inch Nails - Slip
Dierks Bentley - Greatest Hits

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Don't Trust Your Idol's

The Warren Zevon you read about in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is a far cry from the musical genius whose records continue to inspire those looking for the perfect underground singer-songwriter of the 70's. He's a drunk, a woman beater and a generally nasty person to be around when you get on his bad side. But does such an unflattering portrait diminish the music that endures? It's hard for some fans to think that their idols have skeletons. Even near death, Zevon couldn't relinquish the bottle, after years of sobriety. But how much do you know about the people that occupy your record collection? I never knew Zevon was a wife-beater. I knew Ike Turner was. Turner was on drugs and Zevon was a drunk when they did what they did. But I've never thrown my Ike & Tina Turner records out and won't for Zevon. We have a tendency to think we're friends with our favorite singers. And when you read about something they did that is out of the character of their albums, it startles you. The genius of Warren Zevon was that he knew all of this, and it's why he asked his ex-wife to write his story (the bad and good) when he died. This book is nothing if not a caution to all fans who believe they've made a friend when they see their idol's in concert or buy their CD.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Color Her Happy

Donna Summer's Crayons won't revive memories of her peak years. It won't make you turn in your copy of Bad Girls or the long forgotten The Wanderer. But it is on a par with She Works Hard For The Money and the last studio album she charted in 1989 Another Place Another Time. There's one too many faux reggae songs, not much R&B, but her dance fans will be pleased. It's odd that the best cut and lead single, "I'm A Fire" is buried near the end of the CD. Still, this is as good as we're likely to get from Summer, who sounds rejuvenated and happy to be dancing again.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Cut-Off Point

There comes a point in every artist's career where a cut-off point makes them cool or unhip. I'm sitting here listening to Sirius' limited time only Neil Diamond station and now realize why he isn't in the RRHOF. After 1970 Diamond got too serious and became a ballad singer. Even though the Brill Building hits of the 60's still shine, his latter work turned off the Hall's nominating committee.
The other day my lone classic rock radio station played "Someone Saved My Life Tonight", and I realized that this was the cut-off point for classic rock playing Elton John. Even though the followup album, Rock of the Westies, was his hardest rock album, it gets no play on classic rock stations. Every thing after 1975 is off limits for classic rock because Elton became a ballad singer.
The same goes for Phil Collins and Genesis. Everything after "That's All" is forgotten and Phil's solo stuff only gets one play for "In The Air Tonight". Sting's solo stuff? Never hear it on classic rock. Glenn Frey? No.
Collins and Diamond are deemed unhip and balladeer's who mean nothing to the Rock era that the Hall tries to covet. But Genesis and Diamond? They belong.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Too Smooth For The Hardcore

Eddy Arnold, who died today, was a huge star in the Country field, but time has not been good to his legacy. Joel Whitburn ranks him the #1 Country charted artist, yet Arnold's move to Pop music in the 60's ticked off hardcore Country fans and critics. While Ray Price did the same thing, he doesn't get the critical heat that Arnold does. What Arnold and Price did is no different than what later generation Country acts did. Turning off the steel guitars and pumping up the strings to reach a Pop audience. Today's Country singles charts are basically Pop music with Country voices.

Playlist for 5/8

Steve Winwood - Nine Lives
Madonna - Hard Candy
Gary Numan - Replicas

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Book Update

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead - Crystal Zevon
Love Is A Mixtape - Rob Sheffield
I'd Rather Be The Devil - Stephen Calt
Honky Tonk Angel - Ellis Nassour

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Long Drive Home

So, how do you like your Neil? The power pop of the 60's or the take me serious stage of the 70's? I used own 2 of the latter ones, but gave them away. Diamond's 60's stuff is still prime Brill Building pop. But by the early 70's he wanted to be taken seriously and the fun left his music. His albums were a challenge to get through, even though he could still reel off a good single, even though they were usually ballads.
So, along comes Rick Rubin's 12 songs from 2006 and Diamond starts to get critical respect for making the same type of music he made in the 70's. But gone were cheesy hits like "Heartlight" or "Yesterday's Songs". But 12 Songs wasn't an easy listen. It sounded like demos, but at least the cheese was gone and Rubin's steady hand salvaged what could've been a disaster. Now in 2008 Home Before Dark picks up where the former left off. Rubin is again producing and the demo quality is still there. But it's not as good as 12 Songs, because it drags on too long. Still, Diamond fanatics will find solace in "Pretty Amazing Grace" and a duet with Natalie Maines that's better than anything on 12 Songs. After 2 of these albums somebody tell Neil it's alright to add drums to his songs. We get the point: you're a great songwriter and you need acclaim. Even Rubin's Johnny Cash records had rockin' moments. As long as the cheese stays on the floor. And, yes, Neil Diamond belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Summer Songs?

Gathering Summer songs to put on an Ipod playlist, I've come to realization that no one makes singles for Summer anymore. Most of the songs that I put on the playlist are from the 70's, 60's and 50's, with only one Justin Timberlake song from the 00's. The Summer song used to be an event. But they had to be about the season. Now songs become hits in the summer and aren't thought of years later as having do with sun, beaches, vacations or hot weather.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Playlist for 5/1

Flight of the Conchords
Cachao - Master Sessions Vol. 1
Steve Earle - Exit O
David Bowie - Low
Andrew Hill - Point of Departure
Bill Evans - Finest Hour
Motorhead - Ace of Spades
Who - Sings My Generations
Ready For The World
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