Saturday, February 28, 2009

Remembering A Music Critic

Ricky Wright, a music critic, died at age 45, from complications of a stroke. You can read a little about him here, Obituaries: Rickey Wright, R.I.P.. I didn't know him, and I don't know many rock critics, but I saw his stuff on Amazon and Village Voice. There may have been other things as well, Harp comes to mine. Still it was his age that gets me thinking. That's how old I'll be in a few months.

Friday, February 27, 2009

10 Odd Motown Acts

Another Motown 50th Anniversary list. This time I found 10 acts that were signed to Motown that you may not think were on the label. Ranked by preference.

1. Bobby Darin
2. Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
3. Duane Eddy
4. T.G. Sheppard
5. Stoney & Meatloaf (yes that Meat Loaf)
6. Dorsey Burnette
7. Kiki Dee
8. Bruce Willis
9. Lindsay Lohan
10. Charlene

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why Chris Isaak?

He's made virtually the same album for the last 20 years, so why am I liking Chris Isaak's Mr. Lucky so much? It could be that it's his first album in 7 years. Or maybe the songs are better than on his last couple of studio albums. The time off seems to have been good for Isaak's songs, which while not touching on any new subjects, have at their core a punch that was lacking on his recent albums. Isaak's wry sense of humor comes off better on his TV appearances than they do on his albums, and I wish he'd just go and do a whole album of throwaways. Or maybe the reason this album sounds so good is that after all these years, no one does what he does best. I think Robert Christgau called it "Rockabilly AC" and if Orbison meets early Tom Petty (thanks, Newsday reviewer) sounds good to you than this is worth a listen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Playlist for 2/25

Gurf Morlix - Last Exit To Happyland
Marty Stuart - Compadres
Joe Lovano - Symphonica
Charlie Haden - Land of the Sun
Count Basie /Joe Williams - Basie Swings Williams Sings
Jacksons - Destiny/Triumph (reissues)
Erykah Badu - New Amerykah
Frontier Ruckus -Orion Songbook

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Top Debut Albums

Uncut did a list like this in 2006, so this latest one from Amazon on the 100 Greatest Debut albums is worth a look. No Beatles. Only acts that are available as MP3's. There are some surprising omissions. Crosby, Stills & Nash, Doors, Cars, Boston jump out at me. But it's not a bad list. How come no American magazine (hello Blender, Rolling Stone) thought of this, they think of every other list.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Proposing To 33 1/3

Years ago at the height of his Great American Songbook CD's, I sent in a proposal to the 33 1/3 book series to write one of their books on Every Picture Tells A Story. I still think it's a great idea for a book. Wasn't surprised that I never heard from them, but I looking over this list of their finalists 33 1/3: The Shortlist, I don't see it listed. In fact, I wonder if it's ever been shortlisted. I've only read a handful of these books. Most of the ones I've browsed through bored me. When I do find a book worth reading, it's usually on a artist/album that most critics don't overpraise. So, on the latest list the only titles I think I'd check out would be the Hall & Oates, Herb Alpert, Randy Travis and O'Jays. I also noted that among the 157 titles I counted 10 by Black artists. Well, 11 if you count USA For Africa. The O'Jays' Back Stabbers is a good idea. And the only Country artists I saw was Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks and Randy Travis. Unless you count Woody Guthrie. I guess they figure that Country can't sell. But there's a lot of Country titles that could sell. Merle Haggard's Okie From Muskogee or how about Dolly Parton's 1975 Greatest Hits, which I think somebody else brought up.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Artist Only XM Stations

Add Paul McCartney to XM's artist only channels. Limited time, I'm guessing. To be honest, of the ones they have the only one I go back to often is the Elvis one. But then he's my guy. Anyway the McCartney is good, they play rarities and album cuts. No Beatles songs with McCartney singing, though. A lot of stuff no terrestrial radio station would handle. An Internet station would, but you'll have to look for it. Well, this one's been on the air awhile Beatlesarama. And my local College Station plays all Beatles/Solo for 3 hours every morning. My point is that all artists with a huge catalog should have an internet radio station devoted to them. Stupid idea? If you're a fan of Elton John, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, etc., you might not listen to it all day, but you'd bookmark it and maybe tell your friends. Isn't that what can keep the music business going. Listen and buy.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

U.S. Magazine Saluting Motown's 50th

I'm also wondering if ANY U.S. music magazine will do what the U.K.'s Mojo did and devote most of its issue to Motown's 50th. But then I thought about it and got depressed. Because the only US one that could is Rolling Stone. What else do we have that would take a chance on the demographics that are the Motown fans. Spin? Blender? Paste? Down Beat? Goldmine (and Rolling Stone) are the only ones that would and should do a special tribute. But its depressing to think that there aren't many takers for Motown.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mojo's Motown 100

Mojo's February '09 lists their Motown Top 100 singles, and "Dancing In The Street" is #1 with a surprise low showing at #* for Gaye's "Grapevine". It's a decent ranking of Motown, odd to see no Smokey solo stuff, and "Shotgun" shockingly low at #86, while "Don't Leave Me This Way" which might be the most underrated Motown #1 at a Disco-hating #97. Both are ranked behind Diana Ross' "Touch Me In Te Morning" and the Diana-less Supremes "Stoned Love".
Gaye's version of "Grapevine" seems to be my #1 at the moment, and "Dancing In The Street" would rank near the Top 10. But as the first Motown 50 list of the year, this is an issue worth checking out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sampling Modern R&B

Ne-Yo's "Miss Independent" is a good song, maybe a great one, as it grows on me. If I could, I would include it in m Top 10 singles of 2008 on some of the polls I vote for. But the moment I heard it, I thought to myself: "I wonder who he's sampling?"

Could this be the problem with how we think of today's R&B singers? You hear a song a wonder, like you do with rap artists, where they got that beat from. That John Legend song, isn't that a sample? Beyonce? All I had to was google "Miss Independent" and a youtube link to the original song came up. It turns out Ne-Yo took the music from a woman named Lil Bit and added his own lyrics. Yes, Ne-Yo's version is better, and it appears that Lil Bit's song just got lost in the shuffle.

Still, I wonder. It's the skeptic in me. Modern R&B chart toppers have had me wondering for years who they are getting their beats from.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Playlist for 2/18

Let Freedom Sing - (Time Life Box Set)
Motown Nuggets (Mojo 2/09)
Glasvegas - s/t
Heartless Bastards - Mountain
Yolanda Adams - Playlist
From The Heart Series From Epic/Legacy:
Babyface, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Definitive Half Decades

I don't contribute to many discussion boards. Just don't have the time for all the give and take that is required. But I occasionally do, and this one at poptimists Design of A Half Decade caught my eye. The songs that defined a half decade. Click on the link and you'll get the idea. I have no problem with most of these and suggested "Lovesick Blues" for 45-49. The UK only 70-74 goes over my head, so I was thinking for that half decade maybe "American Pie" or "What's Going On", something like that sounds definitive.

Monday, February 16, 2009

2008 Worldwide Best Selling CD's

Of all these albums below the only ones I haven't heard are #3, 8, 13, 17, 20
Remember this is a Worldwide year end Best Seller Chart. Still, interesting to think that Axl Rose sold better overseas than in the States.

The top 20 albums:1. Coldplay, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends2. AC/DC, Black Ice3. Various Artists, Mamma Mia! The Movie Soundtrack4. Duffy, Rockferry5. Metallica, Death Magnetic6. Leona Lewis, Spirit7. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black8. Various Artists, High School Musical 3: Senior Year9. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III10. Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad11. Madonna, Hard Candy12. Beyonce, I Am... Sasha Fierce13. P!nk, Funhouse14. Guns N' Roses, Chinese Democracy15. Britney Spears, Circus16. Jack Johnson, Sleep Through The Static17. Il Divo, The Promise18. Taylor Swift, Fearless19. Jonas Brothers, A Little Bit Longer20. Various Artists, Camp Rock OST

Sunday, February 15, 2009

American Idol 2009

This will be a 2 part post, the second coming near the end of the 2009 season. So far, despite the addition of a 4th judge and the promise of "tweaks" to spruce up the show, I've seen nothing different this year than in the past. Oh, by the way I watch this show every week. Should I turn in my rock critic credentials? It's entertainment, and we might get the next Carrie or Kelly from this batch. Admittedly, the hit to misses ratio has gotten wider. Most of these who finish Top 10 will fade into oblivion. The music biz needs Idol to succeed. So, no matter how irrelevant music critics say the show is, I'm not one of them. There are good vocalists here, but that never meant they would go on to chart heights. You just hope for one or two breakthroughs. And the industry needs all the help it can get.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

10 Greatest Love Songs Ever

Off the top of my head, this took me 10 minutes to come up with, so it's not definitive, but it captures a moment. Kind of like falling in love.

1. Can't Help Falling In Love - Elvis Presley
2. At Last - Etta James
3. Avalon - Roxy Music
4. Let's Get It On - Marvin Gaye
5. This Magic Moment - Drifters
6. I Only Have Eyes For You - Flamingos
7. Always and Forever - Heatwave
8. Cruisin' - Smokey Robinson
9. That's The Way Love Goes - Lefty Frizzell or Merle Haggard
10. A Natural Woman - Aretha Franklin

Friday, February 13, 2009

From The Heart

I got to listen to a lot of Sony's From The Heart series, which is tailored for Valentine's Day. The best of the bunch is the one on Etta James. Although it baits you with the original "At Last" after that it goes into James' mid 90's to early 00's records. All these songs are covers, but James shows her Jazz and Pop and Soul chops here. She's older, wiser and her voice is strong.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


The word Muzak was an oft-used punchline for music critics when describing the lower depths of artistry. So, some may find cheerful news in this:

Muzak, the company that put pop, string-filled arrangements of rock songs in your elevator, filed bankruptcy papers Tuesday after it missed a $105 million payment to creditors.

But I don't find this surprising. In fact, the days of muzak filling department stores, drug stores, dentist and doctor offices, etc. seemed to have passed a long time ago. When I go to these places the music I hear piped in is not "elevator music" but plain old Pop music.

If there's a reason Muzak goes under I think the above testimony is it. But let's fact it, wasn't there moments when you'd hear a muzak version of a song and you had to smile or just listen to it real close to see where they were going with it. Yeah, you did.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Secret Tribute Shows

Why aren't things like the 2009 MusicCares tribute to Neil Diamond broadcast? Do you remember when the Songwriters Hall of Fame awards were on Bravo? Why aren't all of these special tributes that the music biz does all year long available on TV or online? This is 2009, where every little musical thing is instantly got, so why wouldn't the music industry put these types of tributes out there for the public to watch? Or maybe there's no audience for these types of things. The 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has gone from VH1 to VH1 Classic to Fuse. Has viewership for it been so bad for VH1 that they'd rather show reruns of one of their 100 Greatest shows.
Still, there has to be an outlet for these types of shows. Come on, Tim McGraw covering "Hello Again", the Jonas Brothers doing "Forever in Blue Jeans". Who wouldn't want to see that?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Magazine Update

Seems like a good month to go over music magazines that I read. Some I subscribe to, some I buy when they look interesting.

Rolling Stone
Under The Radar
Performing Songwriter
American Songwriter
Record Collector
Down Beat
Jazz Times
Texas Music

Monday, February 09, 2009

2009 Grammy's

The Grammy Awards? Right, the last word is highlighted because I stopped caring who actually won one of these years ago. I agree that for some artists it's a boost in their album sales. Last year's Herbie Hancock sold many more copies after it won. Also, receiving your award on the show can move units. But that's just it. This year only 10 awards were handed out over 3 1/2 hours. If you hate the Oscars for all their meaningless awards over 3 hours than this might not bother you.

And at least we did get a lot of music and it was pretty good. Best of the night: Carrie Underwood, Al Green/Justin Timberlake, Bo Diddley Tribute, the end of Jennifer Hudson's not so good song, Katy Perry, Sugarland/Adele, Chris Martin's we're not Rock Joke and the "Rap Pack".
But there were no transcendent moments. Nothing for the Grammy time capsule, e.g. Prince/Beyonce duet, Streisand/Diamond duet or the Joe Strummer tribute.
But at least for 3 1/2 hours the music biz showed some pulse.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

More On The Country Hall Of Fame

I should add that my list of acts that should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame was weak on mid to late 80's acts. You know, the new traditionalists that gave Nashville a look of Classic Country authenticity. The strongest contenders from that era that I think will get in are Randy Travis and Ricky Skaggs, with John Anderson, Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell underrated wild card's. The Judds and Patty Loveless are strong contenders as is Dwight Yoakam. Of 60's/70's acts I missed Johnny Paycheck, Don Williams, Ray Stevens, Jerry Reed and Dottie West.
On to the 90's and Garth Brooks is a cinch, as is Alison Krauss, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Brooks & Dunn

Saturday, February 07, 2009

2009 Country Music Hall of Fame

The 2009 Country Hall of Fame inductees are no surprise: Roy Clark, Barbara Mandrell adn Charlie McCoy. The inductions of Alabama, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and George Strait in recent years means they are now starting to look at the 80's and mid-70's for inductees. Which means Reba McEntire will go in soon. Other names that will eventually get in: Oak Ridge Boys, Hank Williams Jr., Ronnie Milsap, Tanya Tucker. Connie Smith and Jean Shepherd seem like wildcards. And it may make critics cringe, but Kenny Rogers belongs as well. I once thought they'd make room for Ray Charles or Jerry Lee Lewis, but I'm having my doubts. Also Producer Billy Sherrill who helped shape the sounds of George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Charlie Rich among others in the 70's and mid-80's. And what about Charlie Rich? Are the CMA's still ticked at him for showing up drunk at the '75 awards? Most of these will get in. Unlike the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country one does a good job of getting fan favorites in as well as some overlooked ones.

Friday, February 06, 2009

I Don't Know What Going To Happen...

Epic/Legacy's reissues of the Jacksons' Destiny from 1978 and Triumph from 1980 are interesting documents in the maturation of Michael Jackson. Destiny gave the Jacksons a career boost. Like Triumph it was self-produced by the brothers, but its biggest hit, "Shake Your Body" predates the next year's Off The Wall sound that Quincy Jones supplied. "Things I Do For You" could almost come from Off The Wall. Although released at the height of Disco, Destiny has held up well, despite it being a mostly dance album. Triumph came one year after Off The Wall, and it too is a fascinating peak into what would come on Thriller. The nervous, paranoia of "Heartbreak Hotel" (here called "This Place Hotel") predates the lyrics in "Billie Jean". Overall I still like Destiny better, but Triumph's rhythms are its equal. And on the both, the maturity of Michael Jackson blossoms with each song. By Thriller he was ready, and never again worked with his brothers as close again.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Playlist for 2/5

Franz Ferdinand - Tonight
Bruce Springsteen - Working On A Dream
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
Conway Twitty - Lost In The Feeling
Marshall Tucker Band - Love Songs
Donna Ulisse - Walk This Mountain Down

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Day The Music Didn't Die

Leading up to the 50th anniversary of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper's death, I've come across Don McLean's most famous line. McLean was referencing the crash, for sure, but he was also referencing the end of adolescence. McLean was a young teenager at the time of the crash, and coming at the end of the 50's, it must have seemed like Rock and Roll would die as well.
Music never died. And I cringe when I see people try to name a year that they stopped listening to anything new. If you stopped in 1959, well, you know what came next. What happened in Clear Lake, Iowa, put an end to the 1950's rock and roll. But thankfully, the music didn't die. And in a strange way, 50 years later, neither have the songs of Holly, Valens or the Big Bopper.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Day The Music Died

50 years ago. A loss of innocence. And then comes the 60's. Regardless how you feel about Don McLean's sentiment, the deaths of Buddy Holly, Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens 50 years ago were Rock 'n' Roll tragedies.
Below are my favorite Buddy Holly Songs. Valens and the Big Bopper's catalog just wasn't big enough for their own Top 10.

1. Oh Boy
2. That'll Be The Day
3. Not Fade Away
4. Peggy Sue
5. True Love Ways
6. Everyday
7. Well All Right
8. Words of Love
9. Rave on
10. Raining In My Heart

Monday, February 02, 2009

Professionally Ragged

As I said in my initial post about what Springsteen would play, he's unpredictable, and thinks his new rockers measures up to his old rockers, only thing is that "Working On A Dream" is not a rocker and almost brought the set to depressing finale, but thankfully he recovered with a ragged "Glory Days". And that kind of summed up Springsteen's set, professionally ragged. His stage mannerisms are as old hat as any pro, and his voice was running away from him the whole set. But it was still a better 12 minutes than what's on Working On A Dream.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Marketing Yourself 101

“Fearless,” by contrast, has sold 2.4 million copies, less than half of what a hit album sold in 2000. That reflects the larger trend in record sales, which have declined 45 percent since 2000.

This from the NY Times' look at how Taylor Swift has garnered 8 weeks atop the Billboard album chart. 2.4 million, today, though, used to be 5 million at the pre-Itunes peak of the boy band era, the last time the music biz ruled the record stores.
Swift's biggest success, I believe, is that she's been everywhere since her record came out, a fact alluded to in the article. Hell, she even hosted GAC's year end video countdown show. All this saturation may not affect Swift, she's got the appearance and attitude of a normal life, and the showbiz mags haven't been chasing her around the Country.
But artists really do need to promote their product. The days of launching a video on MTV or doing a tour to sell your CD are over. Take a look at Rihanna. You talk about someone who's everywhere. This week she was at the Pepsi Super Bowl Bash concert. Name an event and she's been there. So, while her album didn't sell a ton, the singles did (she's a singles artist, eventually), and that and her market savvy will be enough to keep her in the game through her next album.
That's what we're talking about. Survival. Consumers are tight with their entertainment money. Musicians could learn a thing or two from 2 of Pop's biggest charters.
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