Revisionist histories — EW’s “New Classics”, part 1

24 06 2008

It should come as no surprise that a pop culture-obsessed mind such as mine would drop some opinions on Entertainment Weekly’s recently published “New Classics” lists.

By some reasonable logic, the editors of the mag have submitted their picks for the best movies, albums, television shows, books, video games, plays/musicals, tech achievements and style moments of the past 25 years. They wind up batting about a .300. They get lots of hits…but still plenty of strikes.

The whole 25 years thing is arbitrary at best…I personally think it was done simply to keep Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” out of the top album spot — as it was released at the end of 1982.

So what takes that mammoth album’s place? Prince’s “Purple Rain” soundtrack from 1984. Now I happen to love Prince. I own “Purple Rain” on vinyl. It’s a solid record with no soft spots…definitely a top 10 record. But number one?!! Editors, you mean to tell us that “Purple Rain” was the greatest music put to tape over the past quarter century?

Is the album better than the mega-selling arena anthems of U2’s “The Joshua Tree” from 1987? Better than R.E.M.’s artful “Murmur” (1983), “Document” (1987) or “Automatic for the People” (1992)? Better than the crossover miracle of Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1998)? Better than the coked-up hard rock of Guns N’ Roses’ “Appitite for Destruction” (1987)? Better than Nirvana’s uber-influential “Nevermind” (1991)? Better than the Dr. Dre’s suburb-conquering “The Chronic” (1993)?

It’s a tough sell, in case you can’t tell.

There are lots of holes in the album list:

One R.E.M. album on the whole list?!! And it’s “Life’s Rich Pageant?” I dig that record, but it doesn’t boast the influence or the quality of “Murmur,” “Document” or “Automatic for the People.” It has been very uncool to like or even respect R.E.M. of late. Their last 15 or so years of output doesn’t help matters any. Their first 10 years remain undeniable.

Public Enemy doesn’t pop up until #55? The Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” ranks only at #43? No NWA at all?

Radiohead’s “OK Computer” comes in at #62?

Two albums from 2007 in the top ten (Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”) seems excessive. There are five in the entire top 100…also excessive.

The list also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of country music. Now I’m no country fanatic. But no Garth Brooks? The guy sold more albums than any other solo artist in the 20th century! Plus he redefined the whole country genre. The editors really missed the boat on this one. They only included two mainstream country artists: The Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain. Predictably, four alt-countryish acts found their way onto the list: Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Ryan Adams. I’m a big believer that the best that country has offered the world over the past 25 years typically does come from outside the mainstream…but, c’mon

More on movies and tv soon.


Introducing The Coldplays

20 06 2008

The oft-labeled “biggest band in the world” has a new album out. And it’s pretty dang good.

The thing about Coldplay is that they can write a helluva single; it’s their full-length albums that don’t always hold up to scrutiny. The breakthrough “A Rush of Blood to the Head” was pretty consistent, though nothing soared to the heights of “Clocks” or even “In My Place.” 2005’s “X & Y” is neat with its Kraftwerk and U2 nods, but nothing on the disc comes close to the epic single “Fix You.” And trying to stay awake through the band’s debut, “Parachutes,” is a daunting task. At least “Yellow” was good. Oh, that was mean. The record still trumped most that came out that year.

On “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends,” Chris Martin and company do their darnedest to craft an album — and they mostly succeed. The album is cohesive and consistent…yet somehow extremely eclectic. I mean, is that a hammered dulcimer I hear?

Brian Eno (not helping the U2-aping allegations much) jumped on board to produce the album. His touch is felt in some of the thick world music-influenced soundscapes on the record. The vocals are anthemic, the guitars are chiming and the lyrics are political. Well, Coldplay may never escape U2’s shadow, but I guess there’s enough of that soul-searching arena rock to go around.

Tight record or not, there are always some standout tracks…”42,” “Viva la Vida” and “Lost!” are my picks.

Elvis Costello: He’s a bad Momofuku.

22 04 2008

Originally Elvis’ new album was to be released on vinyl only — the LPs would come with a voucher to download the digital tracks. Sometime in the last few weeks, Elvis chickened out and decided he would go ahead and release the CD version as well…though a few weeks later.

All that being said, it’s been about 25 years or so since an Elvis album was mixed and mastered to be heard on vinyl first. No, this doesn’t mean he’s recaptured the magic of his heady early days on the new effort, “Momofuku.” The twelve tracks do rate as darn good late-period Elvis, though.

“American Gangster Time” is rocking and great. “Pardon Me, Madam, My Name is Eve,” written with Loretta Lynn, is amazing — as good a song as Elvis has done in the last 15 to 20 years.

Omnipresent session vocalist Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) pops up for a lot of harmony vocals. She is a welcome addition to the Imposters’ fold.

I’m a little disappointed that the record will be released on CD. I had hoped I would be in some kind of cool little club. Oh well.

Happy Record Store Day!!!

20 04 2008


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.


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.”

Michael Jackson Comeback Watch ’08!

21 03 2008

Here’s an update on the ongoing/impeding Michael Jackson comeback…

“Emo” popsters Fall Out Boy recently teamed up with John Mayer for a cover of MJ’s 1983 hit, “Beat It.” Front man Patrick Stump bares his silly putty soul and John Mayer apes Eddie Van Halen’s flawless guitar solo. It’s not half-bad. Then again, why not just listen to the original.

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.


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).