Monday, July 8, 2019

Song Of The Summer: Villagers' "Summer's Song"!

In a way, it seems kind of sad that this year's "summer song" should have to call itself that just to get the attention of those who were on the lookout. I'd like to think that if this song was called "Jupiter's Gambling Problem" or "Down At The Dive Bar Drinking", I'd still have found it in time to keep this summer from being less musically euphoric.

I grew up HATING Chicago (the band) because their music was everywhere and, even more importantly, they far exceeded my tolerance for facial hair in a rock band at the time.

Years later, hormones and constant radio airplay led me to romanticize the idea of killing an afternoon in the park with the one you love, a la Chicago's "Saturday In The Park".

What does any of this have to do with Villagers' "Summer's Song", you ask?

Well, truth be told, this is the first song to come along all bleeping year that actually manages to put me back in the park on the most beautiful day of the year with the most beautiful girl in the world and, for once, I don't hear Chicago's "Saturday In The Park" playing in the background.

Instead, I hear "Summer's Song"; a song that eloquently captures the false security of this temporary bliss, but chooses to proceed with open heart and arms anyway.
In other words, mission accomplished. Thank you, Villagers!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

In Defense Of Bob Stinson!

"If he'd lived, he'd be dead by now."

Those are the first words out of my mouth any time someone asks about, or mentions Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson, who, sadly, seems to be known only for being unceremoniously ousted from a band full of drunks for drinking too much.

In the words of Guster, the man was a one-man wrecking machine, but anyone with two eyes could tell that this was a fragile spirit not long for this world. On the outside, he looked like a grown-up eight-year-old with a mischievous look in his eye and energy to burn, but inside, compliments went ignored while even the faintest criticism pierced his soul.

The guitar was his only defense and he played as if fighting off a swarm of bees with a butter knife. That he lived as long as he did was a testament to his heart's desire to stick up for the rest of him when nobody else would.

Imagine a young Bob Stinson showing up to audition for your band and bringing his little brother along. As he sets up his ramshackle amp and fiddles with a guitar that has surely seen better days, you're already thinking up excuses for why he's not right for your band, but then you hear him play and suddenly you're considering letting his kid bro be in the band too.

Westerberg won the lottery the day Bob Stinson walked into his life. Without him, there would be no getting to the next level, or the next after that, or getting signed by fucking Sire Records. Grandpa Boy would be a janitor somewhere and we as a generation would never know what we missed.

As for Stinson, I see no scenario where he'd be alive today. If success hadn't killed him, failure sure as hell would have. Or maybe it did. It's hard to tell which is which sometimes.

The Mats albums I find myself reaching for, all things considered, are Let It Be and Tim; two albums where Stinson goes for broke and leaves no riff unplayed.

If some technical genius ever gets around to uploading isolated tracks of Stinson's guitar playing from either of those albums, a wave of newfound respect for Stinson's playing will sweep the hipster-verse like beard rash.

For all the loyalty he had shown his kid brother, and Westerberg, Stinson was shown very little in return.

You see, Bob had gone out of his way to not be the sort of older brother who abandons his younger sibling to go play with the big boys and his reward was getting kicked in his teeth by Tommy, loyalty be damned.

Was it tough love or a business decision?

Either way, "former major label rock star" Bob Stinson was left out-in-the-cold by the very band he helped create, left to walk the streets of his hometown to whispers from the locals who'd once greeted him with a smile everywhere he went.

Stinson wasn't the guy who'd founded the Mats anymore, he was the guy who somehow managed to get kicked out of the Mats. He may as well have had "I blew it" stamped on his forehead.

Thing was, he didn't blow it.

He'd actually managed to break out of the rut he'd been born into and managed to escape the Earth's atmosphere for a little while, which is a helluva lot more than can be said for those who mocked him in the days, weeks, and years following his dismissal.

If, by some miracle, he'd still been alive when the Replacements reunited, one would hope that he'd have been involved, seeing as how his replacement Slim Dunlap is no longer in any shape to do after suffering a debilitating stroke.

It would have been a nice pay-off for the fucking hassle of starting a band from scratch and making it into something special enough to still be talked about in glowing terms four decades later.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Song Of The Day: Blondie 'Rapture'!

As we celebrate Blondie singer Debbie Harry's birthday today, allow us to turn back the clock to January 1981. With the murder of John Lennon still fresh in our collective consciousness, it would be a band from New York City that would take those first tentative steps towards lightening the mood.

In doing so, Blondie would also introduce rap music to middle America and enjoy the sort of success that most bands can only dream about, but not without a price.

The song put Ms. Harry squarely in the spotlight, with nary a fellow band member to be seen, leading new millions of new fans to presume that Harry was, in fact, Blondie. This rankled members of her band and tensions soon reached a fever pitch that resulted in the band breaking up.

But not before the band made one last album (The Hunter) and fought tooth-and-nail to also be pictured on the cover, like planets in Harry's orbit.

The band would soon break up, with Harry admirably sticking by Chris Stein's side through a life-threatening illness, even as her own star had never been brighter.

Looking back, the song will never be God's gift to rap music, but it remains a refreshing breath of sunshine in a cold, harsh world where nobody handles every situation perfectly, but if we just keep trying to win more than we lose, maybe we'll live to sing another day.

Dear Taylor Swift, Welcome To The Music Business!

A few days ago, Taylor Swift went to Instagram to vent about losing her entire back catalog to a douchebag with money who had previously bullied her.  Because this was Taylor Swift, the news swept like a lip gloss tidal wave across social media before penetrating mainstream media.

This is our response:

Dearest Taylor,

I'm very sorry for your loss.

I'm also sorry to hear that you crossed paths with anyone named Scooter.

Those kind douchebags are the reason why a lot of great music people are no longer in the music industry.

This "douche-bro" contingent arrived on the scene about the same time the Japanese started gobbling up American entertainment companies and staffing the A&R departments with the children of the American lawyers who'd helped make such deals possible.

Next thing you know, the corporate bean counters are flying in from Tokyo and meddling in artistic decisions.

The irony was not lost on me that the very country upon which we had dropped THE BOMB in WWII was now buying American entertainment companies and, in doing so, becoming owners of the masters to just about every premiere American rock band of the modern era: Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Springsteen, hell, even Loverboy.

"Lovin' every minute of having our crap owned by a
publicly-traded multi-national conglomerate!"

Thing is, I'll bet none of those rock & roll dreamers saw that coming when they signed the record deal they'd dreamed about their whole lives. 

You can picture the scene: The band, members of their management, the label's A&R staff, radio people, and marketing folks gather in some Manhattan conference room high above the clouds to sign 

At some point in the proceedings, the head of the label pops in with vodka already on his breath at 10AM to say a few words: 

"Welcome aboard!

While we've been blowing some serious Grade A smoke up your ass to get you to sign with us, now that you have, allow me to state for the record that we care about your masters only as much as they help us leverage a better deal when we eventually sell out to some foreign entity that cares even less about your art than we do.

Hell, you're shit could one day be owned by the same publicly-traded Japanese conglomerate that will force the CD format upon us, forcing everyone to re-buy their vinyl collections and setting in motion a wave of consumer resentment that, when combined with the global power of the internet digital typhoon known as Napster, creating the perfect storm that leads to the destruction of the entire music industry.

Isn't that exciting?"

While I know it can be painful to come face-to-face with the icky underbelly of the music business, your post on Instagram left me with one huge question:


I'm not privy to your financials, but I'm guessing you've got easy access to the money that would have been needed to buy back your catalog, even if it meant buying Big Machine Records outright.

I mean, even if you're cash strapped, the value of your catalog would make borrowing the money a breeze. Hell, you could have gone to the public with your desire to own your masters and started a GoFundMe page. You'd have had the necessary cash in half a day. Heck, even I would have chucked in a tenner.

Instead, you went public after you lost your masters. You, more than anyone, must recognize the power you wield.

There's another powerful artist who also lost the rights to his art. His name is Paul McCartney and he DEFINITELY had the cash, or access to it, yet took his eye off the ball and lost out on buying the rights to his very, very, very, very lucrative publishing catalog.

In fact, it was Paul's close friend Michael Jackson who bought Paul's publishing after McCartney had told Michael about it in the first place.

Then, of course, Jackson proceeded to go broke, thereby losing the catalog to, you guessed it, Sony Music.

That's right, the very same publicly-traded conglomerate mentioned above that owns the masters to some of the most important albums of the last 50 years without having ever been involved in their creation.

Sure, it'd be nice if those we entrusted with our life's work weren't complete whores to the almighty dollar, but when that entity goes by the name Big Machine Records, you sure as heck-fire can't say they didn't try to warn ya.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

How Movie Sequels Ruined Music!

I know what you're thinking, "Who's the dame?" That's
Second City alumnus Karla Devito.
Handed the future of pop culture on a shiny silver platter, today's enterprising young executives at Paramount, NBC, and even Pixar have chosen, not to give the world something unexpected, but to rob the grave of "Toy Story" for a phoned-in sequel that dulls the legacy of this esteemed franchise.

Sure, Hollywood can continue to make a nice little stack of cash by pumping out one new CGI Spidey cartoon every six months OR they could wait a few years and then bring back Tobey Maguire for the Spidey film we've all been waiting for, where the little fucker dies midway, the rest of the cast look dumbfounded, and then, BOOM, roll the credits.

We'd rightly still be talking about that movie ten or twenty years from now, which is more than will be said for Tom Holland's tenure as the least exciting superhero ever.

Sadly, this complete lack of imagination has been brought about by the entertainment industry's complete inability to ever leave money on the table (because "shareholders").

Why give the world something new when you can keep pimping out "Star Wars" and "Sharknado" sequels with equal disregard for consumers,.


Who here remembers Meatloaf?

Back in 1932 (I may be off by a few years, but it sure seems that long ago), a completely unknown singer recorded a little album by the name of Bat Out Of Hell and was suddenly all over the radio with hits like "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad" and "Paradise By Dashboard Light" then spent the rest of the '70s and '80s trying to match that success and failing miserably.

It wasn't that the albums were bad, but it did highlight the fact that Meatloaf now had the same problem as Peter Frampton, whose career-defining Frampton Comes Alive had torched all sales records back in 1929 (again, I may be off by a few years here), turning him from talented journeyman rocker to the "Farrah Fawcett of Rock & Roll" overnight. and then, BOOM, into a pumpkin.

Despite selling tens of millions of copies of those singularly iconic albums, nothing Meat or Pete did from that point on could convince folks to buy their music again.

It wasn't until someone in a position of power at a record label asked, "Why don't we make a sequel?"

Sadly, that executive worked for the once-esteemed alternative rock label I.R.S. Records, who proceeded to release Frampton Comes Alive! II

Of course, the idea was nothing new.

Two years earlier, Meatloaf had released Bat Out Of Hell 2: Back Into Hell, which reunited Mr. Loaf with original Bat Out Of Hell producer/writer/arranger Jim Steinman. Unsurprisingly, this sequel album went on to become the Loaf's first #1 album.

Once The Meat Man had tasted that rare air you can only huff at the top, it only took two more lackluster albums before MeLo made Bat Out of Hell 3: The Monster Is Loose and returning him to the Top 10.

Frankly, I don't understand why some enterprising up & comer doesn't call their next album Bat Out Of Hell 4: Suck On This and watch the world beat a path to their door.

The downside to doing so is that they, too, will become beholden to calling their albums Bat Out Of Hell if they ever want them to sell again, but that's a small price to pay for being able to afford to live in Wicker Park without roommates and sleep 'til noon sans guilt, just like God intended.

While the Killers have yet to make Hot Fuss 2 and Death Cab probably have no Plans 2 make a sequel to their best-selling album, rock stars do funny things when faced with the very real notion of not being able to afford the Malibu beach house any longer.

Thing is you and I both know that it would work because, A) It would give the lazy mainstream media a squirrel to chase when everything else you've thrown at them has fallen on deaf ears, and B) It would work, which means that as soon as Taylor Swift makes 1990, this whole sequel thing will get WAY out of hand, at which point I will nod knowingly to nobody in particular and go back to sleep until noon sans guilt.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Your Ordinary Average Guy's Guide To Van Halen!

I love Van Halen.

For those who need a reason, when Van Halen arrived on the scene, they weren't the "assless chaps and carnival patter" version that gave the world one of the all-time epic synth rockers ("Jump"), they were a young, brash, and insanely tight unit with the tenacity and of an East L.A. street gang.

Given access to the Warner Brothers distribution and promotional pipeline, these four heat-seeking missiles would detonate as one just high enough above Earth's atmosphere to reach everyone and let the chips fall where they may.

What this band had that few other bands ever have was the confidence that once the kids heard their music, they'd "run with the devil" to the nearest Honest Bob's Record & Tape Emporium.

How right where they, you ask?

Get this: One week, us kids is riding our Big Wheels in our Garanimals and, the next, we were chatting up the opposite sex in the high school parking lot, and EVERYBODY has a fucking Van Halen t-shirt, necklace, belt buckle, coke mirror, or other some such paraphernalia,.

Keep in mind that this was IN ADDITION to also owning that first album on vinyl, cassette, or 8-track tape. Then there were the singles and the bootleg copies of their Gene Simmons demos or early club shows that suddenly popped up at every head shop and flea market a week after "Running With The Devil" hit the radio airwaves.

  If Van Halen had only broken up after that first album everything would have been perfect.

After all, you can only ever be new and original once.

From that point on, you're expected to, at the very least, match that same level of success with the next album or be deemed a failure for only going gold.

Admittedly, most bands would kill to be in that position, but very few have the composure, OR THE MANAGEMENT, to weather the storm.

In addition to pressure from the record company, concert promoters, and the constant demands for a piece of your time from newspapers and radio stations, when a band gets that huge that fast, the roaches come out of the woodwork.

Especially when one member of the band is placed on a pedestal high above the rest of the band and whose playing is immediately mimicked by an entire generation of guitar players.

We've all seen some hot shot guitarists - SRV and Hendrix come quickest to mind - but who among them had to quite literally turn their back  to their audience for fear that one's licks n' tricks are suddenly copped by every guitar player on the Sunset Strip?

Mind you, that was gonna happen eventually, but Eddie wasn't about to let it happen before he and his band got signed. Meanwhile, the rest of the band is hoping someone doesn't come along and poach their guitarist before the band can land a deal.

Eddie could have been the new guitarist in Kiss if Gene Simmons had had his way.

Why else do you think an ego the size of David Lee Roth's went along with naming the band Van Halen?

We can only breathe a sigh of relief that Eddie's last name wasn't Lumbergh.

Make no mistake, Van Halen is not named after Alex in any way, shape or form and if Alex isn't nodding his head in agreement as he reads this, I'll eat my original Van Halen trucker hat from the '79 tour.

Having said that, if your guitar player's back is turned to the audience, then you, as a lead singer, must command just as much of the audience's attention when you know with absolute certainty that everyone there came to see "the guitar player that everybody's talking about".

Diamond Dave didn't just do that without even having to shift out of first gear, he brought in THE LADIES.

If Roth hadn't done so, those early club shows would have been total sausage fests and Van Halen would have never risen to the top of the bill at the Whisky, much less The Forum.

Roth is to be commended for being just as much a genius as Eddie by not falling into any of the usual cock rock poses that dominated the rock scene while also creating his own vocal style in the process.

In other words, when Dave sings, you know it.

But enough about the inner workings of the band, let's dig into the albums.

Much like the sequel to an unexpected box office smash, like "Star Wars", the material on Van Halen II feels a little rushed, as if it, too, could have benefited from a year or two of intensive club work.

The album's saving grace is that it sounds like the sort of album you could play all the way through at your average underage cornfield kegger and everyone in attendance would find at least one tune to groove along to whilst copping a buzz.

Like most second sequels, Women & Children First, is a big budget dud that shows the first cracks in the band's facade of unity. By this time, Roth's stardom has begun to eclipse that of "the guitarist for which the band is named" and a vague, unsettling darkness descends upon the sessions.

While "And The Cradle Will Rock" and "Everybody Wants Some" gained traction at album rock radio, there was no song with the crossover potential of a "You Really Got Me" or "Dance The Night Away".

As a result, Women & Children First only went double platinum.

In hindsight, Fair Warning was a brave album to make after their first commercial stumble. Usually, when album sales start slipping, the label starts making strong suggestions for possible singles for the next album. If you're not careful, you could wind up writing with Desmond Child or Holly Knight.

Instead, Van Halen made the sort of album you almost expect to come packaged in a brown paper bag with three X's stamped on it.

With song titles like "Mean Street", "Dirty Movies", and "Sinner's Swing", Fair Warning is Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" given a Hollywood spit shine. That no rock critics saw the connection could be the straw that led Diamond Dave to opine that the main reason rock critics chose to write about Elvis Costello instead of Van Halen was because most rock critics looked like Elvis Costello.

Despite Fair Warning being their second album in a row without a crossover single, the band's popularity as a live act continues to skyrocket, the question on everyone's mind is "What does Van Halen do next?"

As thinly-veiled a cash-grab as Diver Down was, this writer must admit that the band's inspired renditions of "Pretty Woman" and "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" alone are worth the price of admission.

By now, of course, the Eddie guitar interludes that used to inspire generations of metal guitarists have become the tracks we skip over? Also, could it be possible that perhaps Eddie Van Halen, himself, was getting bored with his own guitar playing?!

No, that's not possible.

One listen to "1984" and "Jump" from the album 1984 practically screamed, "Yes, that's possible!", leaving Diamond Dave to suck it up and front Starship for the foreseeable future.

In between the synth-heavy explorations, 1984 actually manages to reclaim the band's rocker cred while also being insanely commercial with an actual surplus of single contenders in  "Panama", "Hot For Teacher", "Top Jimmy" and "House Of Pain".

At least publicly, the boys had gotten their groove back, but, behind the scenes, Eddie was turning the rest of the band against Roth, whose solo ambitions were inevitable. Hell, Michael Anthony could have released a solo album and it would have gone gold in '85, so why the hell shouldn't Roth do a throwback EP full of favorite covers?

Sadly, while Eddie was dabbling in soundtrack work, the blossoming keyboardist viewed Roth's own desire to stretch his legs artistically as enough of a threat to drown his sorrows and frustrations in a myriad of booze and drugs, destroying the band in the process.

Monday, June 17, 2019

5 Albums That Can't Possibly Be Turning 30 This Year!

It's hard to believe that 1989 was thirty years ago. While, at the time, you could feel that the peak day-glo, Swatch-watch-wearing, yuppie dreams of the early '80s were long gone and in their place an even more jaded set of aspirations lacking in all subtlety and nuance. 

Commercially speaking, we'd traded Missing Persons and Duran Duran for Warrant and White Lion, A Flock of Seagulls for a Motley Crue, and "Don't You Want Me Baby" for "Girl You Know Its True". 

R.E.M. had signed to the Bunny, the B-52's were strangely mainstream all of a sudden, and the biggest band out of New Jersey wasn't named after a street.

Even the stuff most of us liked back then sounds hilariously dated, production-wise, but there are at least five albums that haven't aged a day in thirty years, it seems. 

De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising

I'm not gonna lie, De La Soul helped me get into hip hop. As a musician, I was just a wee bit insulted by most of what passed for hip hop because all it did was steal from white music. Ironic, that, but if I wanted to hear somebody talk over Foreigner riffs, I could pretty much attend any backyard kegger and at least be treated to much better rhyming.

In the case of De La Soul, I recall reading one or two reviews that mentioned the trio's psychedelic influences, took one look at the cover art, and dropped the needle on the gateway drug of hip hop.

Listening to the album today is lot like watching "The Blues Brothers" movie, where you find yourself thinking time and time again that there is NO F'ING WAY that movie could be made today.

In much the same way, 3 Feet High And Rising is so chock-full of easily recognizable samples - whether they be a bass line lifted from an O'Jays tune or dialogue from a kids' cereal commercial -that they couldn't afford the manpower to clear all samples, much less pay for them.

Debbie Harry - Def, Dumb & Blonde

In a perfect world, Blondie should have been signed to Sire Records, but we'll take Debbie Harry signing to Seymour Stein's label as a consolation prize because it showed that albums with multiple producers and a cavalcade of name-brand session players doesn't always have to suck.

Admittedly, by 1989, I had come to really miss the presence of Ms. Harry, whose voice is as recognizable (and necessary for survival) to this writer as oxygen is to human lungs.

Of course, I wasn't expecting something that sounded like early Blondie or, for that matter, later Blondie, but, please let it be better than Koo-Koo (Harry's ill-fated solo debut produced by the normally solid Nile Rodgers.and Bernard Edwards) or Rockbird (whose sole US single was penned by "Big Bang Theory" and "Two & A Half Men" creator Chuck Lorre, which tells you all you need to know about said album).

Sure, Def, Dumb & Blonde is a fluffy pop confection that doesn't claim to be anything else, but it is a pure delight seeing the Chapman-produced Harry-Stein tracks out-kick the Thompson Twins crap this album was built around and how this album was a necessary step in getting Blondie back together.

In fact, Chris Stein's "Lovelight" is a stylistic tour de force that makes you wonder how long he's been holding onto such a track and which Blondie album it could have saved (The Hunter, perhaps?).

Danny Wilde - Danny Wilde

In those pre-internet days of the late 1980's, when bands got dropped, unless you were very tenacious in keeping up with their careers, you never knew what happened to them.

Thus, when power pop act Great Buildings disappeared in the early '80s after one album for Columbia, this fan was left to wonder what happened to its members until a copy of this album landed in the cut-out bins alongside a copy of his previous Geffen release, Any Man's Hunger.
Considering that I would also find his very first solo record, The Boyfriend, in yet another cut-out bin a week or so later, I not only caught up on Wilde's activities for the past seven years, but I also procured his entire solo output (three albums) for the princely sum of $8.

Considering that acts like Henry Lee Summer and other heartland rockers were all over the charts in those days, one is left wondering how the hell Danny Wilde (the album) failed to even chart.

Sure, the songs will never appeal to the Pazz and Jop crowd, but if a tune like "California Sunshine" (that, with lines like "Go to jail, make bail, have another cocktail", celebrated '80s Cali debauchery in all its wholesome glory) doesn't at least dent the Top 40, then something is definitely wrong with this picture.

I'll be the first to admit that I skip right past "Velvet Chains" every time - not because it's an awful song, but because its chorus sticks in my head for months afterwards. I can't even risk posting the song here for fear of that sticky hook burrowing its way into my head.

The rest of the album is as solid as it gets though, but good luck hearing for yourself, as this album isn't on Spotify and not all tracks can be found on YouTube.

Perhaps try your local cut-out bin. :)

Hoodoo Gurus - Magnum Cum Louder

Beginning with 1984's Stoneage Romeos, one would listen to a Hoodoo Gurus record and marvel at the stunning pop craftsmanship, the flawless production, the spirited performances, and think that there was no way the same band could surpass it, then they'd release Mars Needs Guitars and prove themselves capable of improving upon perfection.

Third album Blow Your Cool saw Elektra looking for ways to sneak the band into the Top 40, like inviting the Bangles to sing back-up on "Good Times" and "Party Machine", but all that did was get the band dropped when it didn't work.

Oh, it did one more thing by firing the band up to make one more damn perfect album in Magnum Cum Louder; a record whose only mistake was being released in the States by RCA Records.

The lead-off cut "Come Anytime" is the sort of song that guys like Burt Bacharach dream about writing, yet, despite a shit-ton of modern rock radio airplay, didn't chart as a commercial pop single.

That's right, it didn't even chart, leading the band them,selves to ask by album's end "Where's That Hit?"

Chris Isaak - Heart Shaped World

At the time of this album's release, I wasn't what you might call a Chris Isaak fan, but I appreciated what he was trying to do on his self-titled debut effort and made a mental note to keep up with his new music.

To my ears, Isaak had arrived almost fully developed on his first record while his second record actually managed to fulfill any leftover promise from the first, leaving him with nothing to do on his third album but repeat himself, right?


Turns out Mr. Isaak wasn't as much of a one-trick pony as we suspected and actually managed to write one of the great songs of the 20th century, "Wicked Game".

Remove "Wicked Game" from this album and Chris Isaak's career goes a completely different direction, but that's no fault of Isaak, who wrote his fucking ass off for this record and, for once, the world actually listened.