Nerd alert — The sequel!

1 07 2008

This weekend I attended the Driven Conference…it’s for young adults in the Grace Brethren Church…sort of…

Anyway, aside from all of the Christ-centric things I took away from the weekend, I discovered this little nugget of a website (thanks to James Joiner for the word):

http://www.mapsofwar.com

Here’s a taste:

It’s completely rad. Check it out.

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Happy Record Store Day!!!

20 04 2008

4.19.08

Today is Record Store Day. It’s a heckuva concept — hundreds of independent record stores across the country celebrating, well, themselves and their customers. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, you’re likely part of the reason record stores are disappearing.

Once upon a time, you could find a record store in any town of middling size. These days independent record stores (or record stores at all, really — when was the last time anyone even saw a Sam Goody’s?) are mostly found near large-ish college campuses or hip neighborhoods. And even then only if the stores are lucky enough to have a devoted customer base. Sadly, for most Americans, music shopping is already done in a world where only Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Apple exist.

For a lot of record shop purists, this day is about vinyl. Yep, those big black platters actually do hold music. Don’t get me wrong, I love LPs — filled with art and lyrics sheets and needles dropping and sitting on the floor and romance and crackling tones through speakers — a ton. For me, though, the day is much bigger than any individual music format. It’s about the store.

I love the ease and affordability of iTunes as much as anyone, but I miss the experience…the thrill of the hunt. For all its conveniences, it’s hard to call buying music on iTunes an experience.

Now I was never one of those guys who sat with the store clerk talking shop about new releases, imports and bootlegs. I’m far too introverted for that. There is something about being in the record store, though. You’re sifting through bins and you’re up to your arms in music. You see music you’d likely never be exposed to otherwise. You’re hearing musical conversations around you. In a way, record stores are an education of sorts — full of experimentation, discovery, evaluation and even history.

I have a lot of memories wrapped up in record stores. Silly memories to some people but essential in my development, both musically and personally.

…back in junior high we had a tiny record store in Marietta called Street Beat. Horrible name aside, I got a lot of great releases there. It’s really where I started buying my own music for the first time. I started snapping up the stuff a 13-year-old boy was supposed to buy in ’91 or ’92. Pearl Jam. Nirvana. Guns N’ Roses. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Some classic rock like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. All great releases that fed my infant love of rock. I also bought some stuff that just looked cool. Sometimes that paid off, sometimes it didn’t.

…The Sound Exchange is still as close to a real-deal record store as you’re gonna get in Parkersburg, WV. I spent too much of my meager cash there during my high school years. Everything from The Smiths to Barenaked Ladies and The Flaming Lips to Ben Folds Five. I remember visiting the store for a number of CDs on the very first day they came out. Weezer’s “Pinkerton.” R.E.M.’s “Monster.” A few more. The store also had a nice vinyl selection. I starting buying some cheapies to add to the collection I had been given by my Dad.

…I still think School Kids in Athens was the greatest indie record store ever. Killer vinyl selection. Tons of import and bootleg CDs. Knowledgeable yet unpretentious staff. I found so much amazing music there that it hurts. Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Jimmy Eat World, Neutral Milk Hotel, Belle & Sebastian.

…Haffa’s was rad as well. Plus, it’s still open.

…In Bowling Green there is this amazing record shop called Finder’s. It’s open until midnight and I’ve bought two of my favorite CDs there — The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” and Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

…Now I’m pretty blessed to live in Columbus. It manages to support no less than seven great independent record stores. I really like Singing Dog and Used Kids near the OSU campus. Lost Weekend Records in Clintonville is rad, as is Sour Records in Westerville.

Long live the independent record store!





Squeeze: Way more than just “Tempted”

4 04 2008

You should probably be listening to Squeeze right now.

Unfortunately, maybe you’ve only heard “Tempted.” Sure, it’s a pretty good song, but they had much better at their early ’80s peak. The obsession of advertising folks and DJs with “Tempted” completely misrepresents the band as a shallow one-hit wonder. Besides being huge in England, they were just freakin’ great.

Start with “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” or “Another Nail in My Heart.” Then, move on to just buying their singles collection.

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They could just craft an amazing pop single. Like, really amazing.

Perhaps most amazingly, they were one of the few acts to whom the modifier “beatlesque” could accurately be ascribed. The vocals, the guitars, the songwriting…the whole package.

Oh, and “Black Coffee in Bed” does the whole retro-soul thing much better than “Tempted.”





The man who sold the world

14 03 2008

I probably don’t listen to enough David Bowie. He’s obviously celebrated as a rock chameleon…but that’s just the half of it. Bowie should be regarded as one of the greatest artists of the rock era.

He made a great, underrated prog rock/proto-metal record with 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World before moving on to kick-start glam rock with several subsequent albums. On his late ’70s records he helped provide a vocabulary for New Wave and post-punk.

Here’s a taste of what you and I have possibly forgotten about, from the glam years to the pop years and from Philly soul to the Eno collaborations.

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1. “Space Oddity” from Space Oddity (1969) – A great space song! It’s got counting! Rick Wakeman sits in on mellotron!

2. “Black Country Rock” from The Man Who Sold the World (1970) – This tune’s as heavy as heck without being overbearing (ala Black Sabbath of the same era). It’s also a freaked-out psychedelic-country-prog-jam. Weird, huh?

3. “Queen Bitch” from Hunky Dory (1971) – Bowie’s melodic gifts are nearly at their peak here. I also love the mouth percussion at the start of the song. Wes Anderson used this track with great effect in his film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Oh, and the band The Killers owe their career to this song. Listen closely.

4. “Changes” from Hunky Dory (1971) – Bowie’s melodic gifts are at their peak here. Bowie presented himself as a pop successor to The Beatles with this tune. In fact, for a brief moment in 1971, we missed the Beatles a little less because of this song.

5. “Hang On to Yourself” from The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) – The hand claps alone are reason enough to love this fast-paced track.

6. “Suffragette City” from The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) – Bowie channels the spirit of Little Richard on this song. It a perfect rock and roll rave-up.

7. “The Jean Genie” from Aladdin Sane (1973) – Bowie somehow evokes the best of bluesy R&B and The Velvet Underground simultaneously.

8. “Young Americans” from Young Americans (1975) – Some great plastic soul. This tune rightly made Bowie a star in the U.S.

9. “Golden Years” from Station to Station (1976) – At this point it seemed “golden” meant “coked out of your mind.” This song is creepily funky.

10. “What in the World” from Low (1977) – On this track and the rest of Low, Bowie and Brian Eno create a whole new soundscape. And it strangely sounds like a precursor to early ’80s video game music. In all seriousness, this experimental album has gone on to inspire everyone from Philip Glass to Radiohead.

11. “Heroes” from “Heroes” (1977) – This is an awesomely atmospheric song without sacrificing an ounce of melody. It’s been too easily commandeered for commercials and the like in the years since, but it remains an incredible song. Eno on synths and Robert Fripp on guitar don’t hurt the situation.

12. “Look Back in Anger” from Lodger (1979) – A frenetic song from the last album in Bowie’s Eno-influenced “Berlin Trilogy.” Adrian Belew steps in on some great guitar.

13. “Modern Love” from Let’s Dance (1983) – From an album that is often shunned by rock critics, “Modern Love” is actually a slice of ingenious pop pastiche. You can’t tell, but that’s Stevie Ray Vaughn playing guitar on this track (and the rest of the album).





Killer Queen

12 02 2008

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Fact: Queen kicked far more ass than they’re ever given credit for. Even theatrical ass.

I’ve been listening to them a good bit lately after a long break from their flamboyantly rocking music. And yes, it does sort of bring me back to 1992 when “Wayne’s World” came out and I heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the first time. So sue me — I wasn’t alive in 1976 when the band was at its peak.

They weren’t an album band. They couldn’t sustain the quality of their singles over whole records (especially when band members other than Freddie Mercury sang lead). But, boy those singles! (To be fair, the albums had some pretty good deep cuts as well.)

Here’s some proof of all that ass-kicking — if you need it.

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1. “Tie Your Mother Down” from A Day at the Races (1976) – A solid rocker all the way through. As with many Queen tunes, I’m not sure I want to know what it’s about.

2. “Killer Queen” from Sheer Heart Attack (1974) – One helluva vaudeville sounding track. This song served as the band’s first big hit. Killer harmonies throughout.

3. “Fat Bottomed Girls” from Jazz (1978) – The band does a pretty darn good take on American southern rock with this ode to, well, you know. Put this on a mix sometime with Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom.”

4. “Bicycle Race” from Jazz (1978) – Freddie Mercury wrote this (intentionally) hilarious song after watching part of the Tour de France. Forget you’ve ever heard the song before and listen to it again. I dare you to not laugh.

5. “Crazy Little Thing Called Live” from The Game (1980) – Freddie does his (and maybe anyone’s) best Elvis impression.

6. “We Will Rock You” from News of the World (1977) – A myriad of sporting events can’t ruin this song. Brian May’s perfect entrance on guitar is reason enough to include this classic.

7. “Bohemian Rhapsody” from A Night at the Opera (1975) – Folks in the UK have voted this song the best rock song ever time and time again. Ignore its pervasiveness and just listen…you’ll be blown away. What else sounds like this song?!

8. “Keep Yourself Alive” from Queen (1973) – Another rocker opens up my side 2. This tune opened the band’s unsung debut album. They managed to sound proggy without using any synths.

9. “Stone Cold Crazy” from Sheer Heart Attack (1974) – Probably the band’s heaviest song — leading Metallica to cover this piece of proto-speed metal in 1990.

10. “Under Pressure” from Hot Space (1981) – Even Vanilla Ice couldn’t kill this classic duet with David Bowie. The recording was actually the product of an impromptu studio jam!

11. “You’re My Best Friend” from A Night at the Opera (1975) – Before numerous television commericals commandeered this song for filthy lucre, it was a nice love song. The Wurlitzer electric piano is a great touch.

12. “Somebody to Love” from A Day at the Races (1976) – Somehow white British boys sell this gospel-tinged song of soul-searching. It features more of the kind unbelievably thick harmonies that were featured on “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

13. “Seven Seas of Rhye” from Queen II (1974) – This is the standout track from unsung prog rock-ish second record from the band. How can you argue with a song title like “Ogre Battle?”

14. “Don’t Stop Me Now” from Jazz (1978) – Queen at their theatrical best. It’s hard to qualify this as a rock song, but somehow it still is. Maybe it’s because Freddie calls himself a “sex machine” in the middle of the song. Hmm. At the very least, this is a great mixtape closer when I want to forgo the next track…

15. “Flash’s Theme” from Flash Gordon (1981) – Why did Queen write and perform the soundtrack to a film as horrible as “Flash Gordon?” Maybe so we could laugh at this song 25 years later.





Politics schmolitics

28 01 2008

A while back I stumbled upon an indispensable tool for nerdily wasting time. At http://uselectionatlas.org/, you can view detailed maps tracking the voting patterns in presidential elections since 1789 (Senatorial and gubernatorial results are included too, but not as far back). The site breaks the country down into individual states — you can even see county-by-county results!

Where else can you so easily find out that John Jay garnered 9 electoral votes in 1789?

…Or that voter turnout hasn’t been above 55.3% since 1968?

…Or that Progressive Party candidate Robert LaFollette, a man who uttered the words “the will of the people shall be the law of the land,” received 16.61% of the popular vote in 1924? Those were heady days, friends!

Educate thyself!

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Red=Democratic; Blue=Republican; Green=Progressive





The quiet Beatle

24 01 2008

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My current obsession is George Harrison’s contributions to the Beatles’ canon. He may not have been as talented or prolific as John and Paul — or even as goofy as Ringo. I mean, it had to be hard competing for album space. Lennon/McCartney were churning out hits like “We Can Work it Out” and “A Day in the Life” faster than the rest of us write grocery lists. And at least Ringo had a role to play. He got to sing genuinely fun tunes that John and Paul wrote just for him — “Yellow Submarine,” “With a Little Help from My Friends.” C’mon!

The fact is, aside from being a innovative musician and awesome guitar player, George wrote a string of great tunes for the Beatles…and a few amazing ones that compete with anything Lennon/McCartney came up with. Most people know what the most covered Beatles song happens to be: “Yesterday.” It was Paul’s first masterpiece. Most people forget what the second most-covered tune is. It’s Harrison’s “Something.” Even Sinatra liked it!

Anyway, here’s my George Harrison Mixtape. It’s arranged chronologically to show how Harrison developed into a formidable songwriter. I’d argue his prowess grew significantly with each album.

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1. “You Like Me Too Much” from Help! (1965) – This is pretty harmless but it is George’s first song that can be called good.

2. “Think for Yourself” from Rubber Soul (1965) – George actually sings one of his own compositions with confidence for the first time. The nice melody doesn’t hurt any either.

3. “Taxman” from Revolver (1966) – His first great song. As raw as the Beatles would get until “Revolution” two years later.

4. “Love You To” from Revolver (1966) – Forget the sitar on “Norwegian Wood.” The band’s first real foray into Indian-influenced music.

5. “Within You Without You” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (1967) – A groundbreaking sound that owes little to the band’s pop roots.

6. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps from The Beatles (1968) – With Eric Clapton guesting on guitar, it was hard to miss.

7. “Piggies” from The Beatles (1968) – Probably, the most “British”-sounding song the band ever recorded. It’s funnier than most of the “funny” songs on the White Album. Really hip, like a Kinks tune or something.

8. “Long, Long, Long” from The Beatles (1968) – Quiet-loud dynamics drive this pensive song.

9. “The Inner Light” B-side to “Lady Madonna” single (1968) – George’s last (and best) Indian-infused song with the Beatles.

10. “Old Brown Shoe” B-side to “Ballad of John and Yoko” single (1969) – This is just a great shuffling little number.

11. “Something” from Abbey Road (1969) – Beautiful.

12. “Here Comes the Sun” from Abbey Road (1969) – The band was insane to not release this as a single. Easily the catchiest song on Abbey Road.

13. “I Me Mine” from Let It Be (1970) – This song holds the dubious honor of being the last song the Beatles recorded. I’m not even sure if it counts since Lennon was no where to be found. Anyway, it’s a great, plodding, haunting number.