Sunday, April 11, 2021

You are.. The WEAKEST LINK!!



Who was the weakest link in each of the following bands?

The Monkees - Peter (yet he's my favorite)

The Who - John (but only because the other three were absolute monsters)

CSNY - Bing (just kidding)

The Band - The wrong answer here could bring down the Steve Hoffman forum.

Fleetwood Mac (Tusk era) - Oof, tough one, its a tie between the two dudes the band is named after. YET they deserve gold medals for being humble enough to give Buckingham/Nicks the freedom (and the drugs) to do their thing. Anyone who says Christine better back it up with FACTS.

Original Stones - The magic is that the weakest link always changed from album to album...Starting out, I might even say Keith was the weakest link, but then it became Brian, then Bill...and so on.

The Cars - Easy to say Greg Hawkes, but take him out of the mix and these guys are just another power pop band from Boston. Plus, he gave short, geeky guys hope of being rock stars themselves one day.

R.E.M. (original four) - Every possible answer will get you shit.

Ramones (original four) - Tommy (but he was producing, so he gets a pass)

Ramones V2.0 w/ Marky - Dee Dee most of the time.

Smashing Pumpkins (original four) - Three-way tie, but perfect for the situation. We singer-songwriters who never found our "forever accomplices" should all be so lucky.

Kiss (original four) - Peter, but, then again, no REAL drummer would have gone along with the make-up thing at the time... AND, even though the band has had "better" drummers since, their feel on those Criss-era cuts has always been so heavy-handed that you don't mind Criss's playing so much. Even so, one dreams of what Destroyer/Love Gun (the best era) would have sounded like with a dude who swings like Steven Adler.

Which brings us to

GNR (appetite line-up) - WOW...think I hear my mom calling...

Aerosmith (classic line-up) - probably whichever guy you can't name off the top of your head...in my case, bassist Tom Hamilton.

Point being, as demonstrated by MOST of the above musicians, the weakest link in a great band is usually still a bad-ass.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Columbia Records Drops New "Paul & Oates" Covers Collection 'Crossroads'!


Many strange and unexpected new partnerships came together during the pandemic; none more unexpected than the collaboration between Paul Simon and John Oates that began after the pair were both prevented from riding a beloved rollercoaster due to height restrictions.

"We obviously bonded over the fact that neither of us was tall enough to ride this coaster," says Oates from his home in upstate New York. "Out of that shared experience came the inspiration for recording one of our favorite Randy Newman songs ("Short People") and, after that turned out so well, we just looked at each other and said, 'Let's do another one!'"

"It was one of the best recording experiences I've ever had," exclaims Paul Simon from his Upper East Side apartment before poking fun at his former partner by jokingly adding, "Art who?!"

The resulting album, Crossroads, will be released April 14th on vinyl, cassette and 8-track tape, with a North American tour slated for next summer, pandemic willing.

"It'll be great to get back out there and play for people again," remarks Simon, who hints at some special surprises in the set list. "There are some Paul & Art songs I haven't played for ages because Artie wouldn't go near them, but that John really loves singing on, so...buckle up!"

Monday, March 22, 2021

Why I Should Never Be Allowed To Meet My Heroes, Sigh: Carole King & Russell Mael Edition!



CAROLE KING

In 2002, I was attending some Grammy-week music industry shindig with an open bar (why else do you think anyone was there?).  where  they hand you a goofy name-tag at the sign-in desk that you reluctantly stick to yourself once they tell you that you can't get any free drinks without it. 

After a couple complimentary Harvey Wallbangers, I turned to my left and, BOOM, there was Carole King smiling at me. My heart rate went from a resting, booze-filled 75 bpm to well over a thousand and then the dream got even weirder when she said, "I loved your version of 'I'm Into Something Good'!"

But how did she know who I was? Oh, right, the name tag.

In my head, I was screaming "I can die now!" just before the imaginary, but oh-so-believable voice of my dad interjected, "Tell her who did most of the work."

And so I did.

"You know, I've gotta give all the credit to Rob Newhouse on that one," I replied to the living legend standing before me. "He played all the instruments AND sang all of the amazing backing vocals."

"OK..." Ms. King replied..."'Thank you' would have worked, too."

And, yes, the whole room winced just like you did just now.



RUSSELL MAEL (SPARKS)

So there I was doing my usual late, late, LATE night grocery shopping at the Studio City, CA "Ralphs" supermarket when I kept noticing this attractive redhead in an ornate mini dress woman with an oddly alluring tiki-wood purse walking around with a noticeably older dude in a vertical striped shirt the type new wave musicians wear.

We crossed paths numerous times as we made our way through the aisles and I never once paid any attention to the dude.

As luck would have it, my girlfriend and I wound up in the checkout line behind this couple, at which point I could overhear them talking about music industry bullshit. That's what was so unusual about the whole thing; you could be in line with one of the top Disney brass and never know it because they never talked shop in line at a grocery store.

Suddenly, like a fucking shot, it dawns on me that I was in the 10 Items Or Less lane with fookin' Russell Mael from Sparks, easily my second-favorite vocalist of all-time. Can you say "adrenaline spike"?

What happened next was, well...typical.

Imagine, if you will, a grocery checkout lane at 3AM...disinterested checkout lady scanning items without even looking at them, THE SINGER FROM SPARKS and his girlfriend are talking quietly about who-knows-what when I catch a snippet of them talking about some new UK buzz band or something, which makes me take my first real look at the dude.

"HOLY SHIT! ARE YOU RUSSELL MAEL FROM SPARKS?!" 

Oh no, I quickly realize, I am now saying exactly what I am thinking without any delay or buffer whatsoever.

"Why, yes I am," replies Mael, extending his hand, at which point, I squeeze past my girlfriend to shake his hand and I tell him what a huge fan of his music I have been. Then I just clam up. Total silence. 

It isn't that I can't think of anything else to say, but, rather, I have said all I ever needed to, yet the silence is unbearable as Russell and his lady finish their transaction and then just stand there, expectantly, before Russell asks, honest to God..."Is that it?"

My reply: "Yep."

It is a scene I have replayed in my mind a million times. We weren't at a gig surrounded by other adoring fans, but at a completely empty grocery store, neither couple in any hurry to get anywhere. Plus, I also had a stash of Sparks CD's in my glove box. I could have peppered him with all those nagging questions I had been accumulating since 1979. but, like a fucking idiot...

"Yep."


Friday, March 19, 2021

Overthinking Adam & The Ants!


For all that he accomplished during the '80s as a member of MTV's first wave of music video mega-stars, Adam Ant was perhaps the most prolific of them all, both musically and visually'.

Who else, in five years, Ant gave us just as many albums and, with each one, a stark visual transformation; from bondage den pin-up to Native American chic to swashbuckling rake and so on, until the only role left to play was ...(checks notes)..."space cowboy"? 

By the time Bob Geldof's mammoth concert endeavor Live-Aid took place in the summer of 1985, Ant's star was still perched high atop pop's Mt. Rushmore, yet the man was permitted only enough stage time to perform one song.

(As an aside, the Hooters got more songs than that despite Geldof' openly wondering how the Philly band even got on the Philly bill in the first place.)

Adam Ant couldn't very well tweet his displeasure, now, could he? No, he had to swallow his pride and gladly accept this opportunity to reach one BILLION people, 


We've all seen our fair share of exhausted musicians, but Ant was the first performer to ever look so desperate in that moment that, if he'd had the chance to pull the string on the bus, this writer is 100% sure Ant would have gotten off his Rock & Roll Rocket Ride at the very next stop.

After all, this was a man, who, in five short years, had already delivered a career's worth of music, lavish outfits (for not just himself, but the entire band), music videos, and extravagant live shows.  

Duran Duran were in much the same boat, with the added bonus of being sick of the sight of each other after a grueling five-year schedule of their own, but, for Ant, things had all begun so innocently:

1979: Bondage-obsessed punk band cutting tracks for a no-name indie label only to have Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren steal your whole band. What will become of young Adam Ant now?

1980: Lone copies of Kings of The Wild Frontier begin popping up in Kmart and Montgomery Ward record bins right next to AC/DC's Back In Black, yet somehow finding their way into the hot little hands of savvy suburban teenagers looking for fresh kicks.

What we savvy kids in the sticks heard was obviously punk-adjacent, but with a lyrical and rhythmic slant that no other band had gong on at the time. On that basis alone, Kings of The Wild Frontier proved be, for many, the perfect gateway to the wonderful world of punk rock, whereby dozens of other bands, both past and present, benefitted greatly from the association.

Let's be honest, why else would anyone own a Monochrome Set record?


Simply by re-tracing the many branches of Adam's musical "Family Tree" (info gathered and hand-written by the legendary Pete Frame), anyone could quickly find their way from Adam's Ants to Siouxsie's Banshees, Billy's Gen X, those dastardly devils in Bow Wow Wow, and ultimately to the Sex Pistols themselves.

Kings Of The Wild Frontier not only provided the gateway to punk that we rust belt rebels were seeking, but also introduced an entire generation of new wave kids to African Burundi drum rhythms - pretty heady stuff to be conversant about in eight-grade Algebra, if we do say so ourselves.

You see, beneath the period-specific Native American garb stood a preening, attention-grabbing singer/songwriter/bandleader with ambitions of absolute chart domination, but also a preconceived desire to attain such rare heights "his way" and with a flair for the unexpected.

Little did we know that, while we were devouring our first serving of "Ant Music for Ant People", Adam had already moved on to an entirely different musical phase first introduced via the music video for the UK-only single "Stand And Deliver", which was suddenly popping up daily on the brand-new MTV cable network.

While Kings had been just the album for the times - a mix of lo-fi angst and kink-based lyrics for the punk crowd and bubblegum hooks for the pop kids, nobody could have expected that the band's follow-up would be such an absolute work of art.

Revisiting Prince Charming all these years later only heightens the impact of the material, which marches to nobody's drum but its own from start to finish. Thankfully, the band's drummer was a crack producer as well, but, when forced to choose between the Ants and his burgeoning production career, Hughes (Merrick) found himself producing Tears for Fears' The Hurting and Songs From The Big Chair, among others.



Fortunately for us, the Prince Charming sessions occurred just as all involved were hitting their stride and, with the eyes and the expectations of the world upon them, actually surpassed all expectations.

Whereas the band could only reference Clint Eastwood on Kings, on Prince Charming, they were giving Herb Alpert a run for his money on the album opener "Scorpios" and, moments later, adding Ennio Morricone to the mix on the album's title cut and a song this writer suspects Wall of Voodoo wishes they'd written: "5 Guns West".

If there was any misstep on the album, one would have to argue that it was Ants' foray into rap on the aptly named "Ant Rap", which inexplicably became a Top 5 hit in the UK.

What such songs reveal now is just how driven Ant was to jump on any bandwagon that wasn't already crowded with poseurs and, in 1981, rap was still very much underground. While it remains the album's least essential track, its existence proves just how willing Ant was to experiment rather than deliver exactly what the fans or label execs wanted from him.

In that sense, there are very few superstar albums of the time as brave as Prince Charming. Even braver was Ant's decision to break up the Ants while at the top of their game.

Looking back, Ant's solo career was little more than a Cliff Notes version of the Ants for the millions of new fans whose full attention he had as MTV infiltrated more and more living rooms across America.

Friend Or Foe's cover art even sought to imitate the "captured video still" aesthetic of Kings while songs like "Goody Two Shoes" and "Desperate But Serious" seemed oddly familiar on first listen to Ant fans. In a way, it was almost as if Ant was trying to break the news of the break up to fans as gently as he could by proving that their absence would be almost undetectable.

This was made easier by Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni continuing to write, play, and co-produce while drummer Merrick would co-produce "Goody Two Shoes" before leaving the Ant family to produce the first two Tears for Fears albums (and co-writing "Everybody Wants To Rule The World").

Friday, March 12, 2021

Always The Opening Act, Never The Bride!



As a veteran musician, knowing what you know now, what ONE musical myth would you bust for your younger self in hopes of making the road easier for them?

Stay away from heroin. Sure, that one's probably number one with a bullet.

My friends in the studio engineering/production side of things would no doubt love to have back all that time spent rewinding and fast-forwarding, but, more importantly, all the actual human hours of mic'ing various amps and drum kits in various rooms over the years that can now all been boiled down to a few affordable plug-ins.

For me, it changes day to day, but today I find myself wishing I had never placed so much importance on opening for big name acts, as if doing so gave legitimacy to my little dog and pony show. 

Back in the day, so many motherfuckers thought it all boiled down to who you'd opened for or how many names you could drop in a single paragraph, but, at the end of the day, all we did was mow down an innocent forest and keep Kinko's in business another ten years past their natural sell-by date. 

In my own defense, you can actually book an entire national club tour, and drum up a little press too, without sending out a single promo pack, like I did back in 2008.

Back in the 80's/90s, doing so would have required spending endless hours trying to get the right person on the phone to deliver your sales pitch, but, with the advent of email, this grunt work was made SOOO much easier.

By 2000 or so, with the right email address and the ability to cut and paste a single paragraph of bullshit, you could get actual paying gigs. I found that club bookers are a lot like drummers. They want it simple.

In other words, "We've opened for The Fixx, Men at Work and Fastball" (stop laughing) was just an easier way of saying "We're a tad more savvy than nine out of ten other bands that want a gig at your joint" while still being ambiguous about your actual ability to draw a crowd. 

If you brought the motherfucking goods musically, most clubs didn't care if your following was only ten people, they'd book you again. I have seen bands play the same venue three or four times to nobody, but by the fifth time, they've all busted through and are able to draw a decent crowd on their own.
  
In other words, if the Metro doesn't want you back because you didn't give away enough free "Rock Against Depression" tickets with your band's name circled on them, then tell Joe Shanahan that he still owes you four more gigs.

It might work.

Also in my defense, once you learn how to weasel your way into a respectable opening slot, you realize just how fucking meaningless such slots are to venue booking agents because, at the end of the day, any club booker worth their salt could fill every decent opening slot vacancy with just those bands they know personally  (and, trust me, club bookers know a lotta bands, whether they want to or not) so the fact that your podunk parade band got a gig opening for Los Lobos or the Replacements is a story well worth plastering all over your press kit. 

Everybody else who got to open for Grand Funk at Sumerset Junction County Fair back in 1985 because their uncle was on the entertainment committee, shut it.

The other bad thing about opening for big name acts at the large club and small theatre level is that you can get addicted to the lifestyle of the headliner life without actually being a headliner. You still get the dressing room, the comped booze, the VIP passes, soundcheck, and, yes, groupies with the added bonus of only having to play for forty-five minutes.

Yep, the perfect job.

Just think, if Jimi Hendrix had been happy just to open for the Monkees, maybe he'd still be alive.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Keep It Short & Beat Spotify At Its Own Game!


In one of those weird things that happens in the digital realm, when CD Baby sent my music out to Spotify et al, the moment of silence that had been inserted between my CD's last track and the ever-present "hidden track" (sorry, it was the '90s) was uploaded as its own digital track for streaming.

Unfortunately, it got flip-flopped with one of my actual songs so one of the tracks from that album is actually just a minute of silence.

Naturally, I was a tad upset when I realized that this had occurred, but then I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to test a theory.

That theory: Short songs are the future of digital music

To test this theory, I streamed one of my actual songs, running three minutes in length, for a full hour. In that hour, the song streamed twenty times.

I then streamed the one minute of silence on repeat for one hour, during which time it streamed sixty times.

Yes, just as I had suspected, the minute of silence had streamed more times per hour than my three-minute pop song.

Amazing!

All kidding aside, what motivation is there for me as an artist to knock myself out writing three minute compositions when I can get paid three times as much for a song (or silence) that is only one-third the length?

In other words, playing by THEIR rules, the only logical path forward is to deliver one-minute (or shorter) pop songs with the intent of delivering everything the listener should need for a full song experience: One intro, one verse, one chorus, and maybe bridge (or saxophone solo) if you're feeing ambitious.


If the listener wants a second or third verse, they can simply stream the track again, seamlessly, and, in doing so, you, the artist, have had your track streamed multiple times instead of just once.

Those who've glanced at their analytics also know that very few listeners ever listen o an entire track ALL THE WAY THROUGH, so why not use such listening habits to your advantage?

Hilariously, this little moment of silence has become mre profitable than anything I actually wrote and that's without having to bug anybody to even listen to it. 

The Math:

One minute track x 60 minutes = 60 streams per hour.

60 streams x 24 hours in a day = 1,440 streams per day per device.

2 devices = 2,880 streams per day or 86,400 streams per month.

Naturally, you can double all of those numbers with a thirty-second track.

Now, if you're like me, you're starting to re-think you're whole approach to Spotify, Youtube, etc. and, with the popularity of playlists, a new landscape is beginning to form.

Instead of uploading one full song, one could realistically upload three separate files (Verse/Chrous 1, Verse Chorus 2, Bridge/Chorus 3, etc) that, when streamed back-to-back in a playlist, make for one seamless song.

OR you could start releasing shorter versions of full length songs to those sites that pay by the stream with the goal of driving people to your label or Bandcamp page, where the full versions can be found/purchased.

The Morality:

Is it gaming the system? Sure, but, when you really get down to brass tacks, every musician should be streaming their music from every available device 24/7 as it stands.  Why? Why not? Any money is better than no money and, by doing so, you also drive up your numbers, giving your music a sense of legitimacy to those who place importance on such things. 

You see, some people can never realize greatness unless they first recognize that a million others recognized it first. We artists need to pay close attention to these people, for they may constitute a majority of listeners.

Also, when a booking agent whose club you wish to play asks why they should book a band with only six Twitter followers, you can direct them to your impressive Spotify numbers. Congratulations, the gig is yours!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Quick Blurb: Three Things I Learned From The New Gordon Lightfoot Documentary (Now on Prime)!


What did I NOT know about Gordon Lightfoot before I watched this documentary, "If You Could Read My Mind" (streaming now on Amazon Prime)?

- One of the great loves of his life was the same woman who, for lack of a better description, killed John Belushi.
- If he and Dylan were at the same party, which they were on more than one occasion, there would be some words between the two and then the guitars would come out.
- The breadth of artists who've covered his material over the years is stunning. I'm guessing that when Elvis does one of your songs, well, there might be a check or two coming your way. If Lightfoot still owns his songwriting share of the publishing (there was no mention to the contrary in the film), he should have more money than Jeff Bezos.