Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Simon Cowell Defect: Equating Talent Shows With Talent!

Back when we were in junior high school, every last one of us had the option to compete in a talent show. Since I had no marketable talent at the time, I didn't even think about entering.

That didn't stop a lot of my fellow students, however, and the winner of my junior high talent show wound up being some kid who put on on a wig, stuffed balloons down his (mom's) sweater and lip-synced to Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E".

The pay-off came at the chorus when he began thrust his elbows backwards and his chest forward to every letter..."D..I..V..O..R..C..E!"

Each time he did, his chest balloons would become, dare I say, more perky and pronounced, sending the entire auditorium of bored kids into a fit of laughter. Teachers who hadn't smiled in decades were doubled over in hysterics.

As "Tammy Parton" croned her way through the second verse, the kids began to titter and snicker excitedly, knowing that another chorus had to be coming along any second now... and when it did, they'd be ready.

Oh shit, here it comes.

"D (thrust) - I (thrust) -V (thrust) - O (thrust) - R (thrust) - C (thrust) - E (thrust)!"

The audience response to the second chorus was even louder than the first and unlike anything I've ever heard before or since.

About halfway through this riotous balloon boob spelling bee, I distinctly remember turning around and staring in utter fear at the faces of my fellow students in a state of absolute unguarded hysteria. By the last chorus, people were tearing their seats out of the damn floor.

Like Tiny Tim following Jimi Hendrix, the next performer came out and played a note-perfect rendition of "Tubular Bells" on wine glasses filled with water to thunderous indifference from the once-deafening crowd.

Of the two performers, I would go on-record any day of the year stating that the talent necessary to recreate "Tubular Bells" without the aid of a musical instrument is far superior to that needed to stuff a couple balloons down your (mom's) sweater and a lip-sync a country tune.

Thanks to "American Idol", "X Factor" and their ilk, we are now drowning in a "talent show" culture where the one with the most talent very rarely wins, consistently losing to the one contestant most capable of maintaining a TV audience's full attention. Throw in some flashy production values, a couple heartbreaking backstories and, BOOM, we have officially traded talent for spectacle.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, Im talking about "The Masked Singer".

I mean, how do you go back to just watching unknown attention-starved assholes vie for Simon Cowell's love after spending an hour trying to guess who was singing in that pink poodle outfit?

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Oddly Forgettable Existence of Golden Earring!

It's January. You're trying to sleep in the back of a van after a sweaty, riotous gig, but are awakened by the sound of the driver slapping themselves in the face and rolling down their window every five minutes, which immediately drops the cabin temperature by ten degrees.

Then comes the blur of radio stations as the driver searches for something, ANYTHING to help keep them conscious and on the right side of the yellow line.  Just as you're about to ask if they need any help slapping themselves in the face, you hear that monolithic bass line rising above the surface like a loch ness monster.

Is it?...Can it be?

YES, praise Jeebus!

It's "Radar Love".

For the next six minutes and twenty-six seconds, you can feel the van weaving to and fro, but only because the driver is also playing air guitar to a song that has probably saved more lives out on the highways and bi-ways of this great country than an entire team of EMT's.

As you drift between varying degrees of half consciousness, you ponder the question that has long plagued the greatest minds of the universe:

"Why weren't Golden Earring more popular in the States?"

Consider for a moment how much different your own musical career might have been had "Radar Love" been YOUR first U.S. single yet the band has done little to nothing in recent years to capitalize on the song's continuing popularity in the U.S. market.

Can you say "nostalgia bucks?"

If not for the band being Dutch and, therefore, not speaking English, one suspects Golden Earring would have made more of an effort, but if the prospect of screaming fans and suitcases full of cash isn't motivation to learn a language, I dunno what is.

Listening to the rest of their 1973 album Moontan (their ninth studio effort, but first to see release in the States), one is left scratching their head as to why "Candy's Going Bad" wasn't also a massive U.S. radio smash.

The only obvious strike against any of the album's FIVE songs is that the tunes themselves are just too damn long. Even back in the glory days of rock, commercial radio stations were resistant to playing longer songs, yet "Radar Love" almost seems not quite long enough, especially at 4AM when the only other option is to slap yourself silly for the next three hours.

The band could and should have ruled the U.S. with an iron fist, packing arenas with their Bic lighter-worthy anthems and giving the likes of Wings and Peter Frampton a run for their money.

Instead, "Radar Love" became an indelible part of '70s American pop culture while the band itself was reduced to the answer to a trivia question.

How could this have happened?

Oh, right! They were signed to MCA Records.

This makes their dramatic escape from One Hit Wonderdom all the more impressive than the initial fact that, almost ten years after the success of "Radar Love", the band reappears out of nowhere with "Twilight Zone" and, voila, they reclaim their crowns as rightful kings of '70s album-rock radio.

What was different this time around, however, was the fact that the band was now with Polygram in the U.S. and that a substantial amount of airplay came via the new kid in town, MTV.

As a result, "Twilight Zone" hit #10 on the Pop charts, making it a bigger hit than "Radar Love" but, alas, there were no further U.S. hits from the album Cut.

The band played it smart by sticking to the exact same formula for their next two albums N.E.W.S. (1984) and The Hole (1986).

Unfortunately, of the three worst major labels in the U.S. during the '70s and '80s, the band had been signed to two of them, thus ensuring that whatever success they attained was short-lived.

Things worked out just fine for the band otherwise, as they remain ginormous in their homeland of The Netherlands, where the same line-up that first formed in 1970 continues to play to sold out audiences and has just released a new single called "Say When" to commemorate their 50th anniversary.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Had They Lived: Jimi Hendrix Edition!

Photo credit: Ethan Russell

It seems the minute that Jim Hendrix died in 1970, a cottage industry sprang up overnight in order to a) profit, which it has done to the tune of $7 million per year as recently as 2011, and b) by reducing the man's entire existence down to two songs ("Purple Haze" and "The Star-Spangled Banner") and a headband.

Foregoing the raging drug addiction that killed him, where do we see Hendrix going after the psych-rock movement peters out at the tail-end of the Sixties?

It was obvious to anyone that Hendrix was well over the Experience (mostly bassist Noel Redding) and eager to find the right combination of players to help him reach the heights he was hearing in his head.

Little could Hendrix have known that the 1970s was already destined to become the decade of amplified virility, recognized the world over by the fiery pose of the almighty Guitar Hero.

What's most interesting is that Hendrix had just put the finishing touches on a custom-built state-of-the-art recording studio in the heart of Greenwich Village (Electric Lady Studios) that he only ever got to use for few months before his death.

Photo credit: Ethan Russell

While just about every major artist, from the Stones and Bowie to Lennon and Zappa, wound up recording there in the '70s and '80s anyway, how many great jam sessions, collaborations, and culture-defining moments would Hendrix have been a part of within those hallowed walls that are still home to the studio to this day.

Would he have been one of many sixties acts who enjoyed an '80s resurgence, you query?

Trust me, if the Moody Blues could be pried from their crypts for a multi-year mid-80's chart run, Hendrix could have had that entire decade wrapped around his musical finger.

Sadly, instead of having the opportunity to grow with Hendrix as his tastes and artistic vision developed in ways his early material barely hinted at, all we got was that first blinding glimpse of a star coming into existence.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

2019: The Year We Stopped Buying Music?

The only person who buys more records than we do: Sir Elton. 
As a voracious music consumer, I thought that I was what the music business coveted: Easy money.

With no wife, kids, or mortgage, I could easily drop $300-400 a month on new CD purchases alone. When you add in the mountain of used product, numerous rock magazines (many available via import only and, therefore, quite costly), concert merch, and ticket stubs, it is a miracle that the rent check never bounced.

Around the turn of the century, though, there was a noticeable sea change when the industry seemed to suddenly stop giving a shit about that trusty Male, Aged 25-34 demo that still dropped substantial sums on physical product.

Meanwhile, the same Napster that had given everyone with a wi-fi connection access to free music was costing me more money than ever because I could now hear all the albums that I'd been staring at in the bins over the years. Plus, I could hear new releases without having to touch a sticky set of broken headphones down at the Tower or Virgin Megastore. Those albums that met my strict criteria for "not sucking" were duly purchased.

For another decade or so, all this free music, combined with my proximity to an Amoeba Records location (L.A., baby), was putting a serious dent in the amount of money I was able to spend on overpriced coffee.

As a musician, myself, I always prided myself on either buying directly from the artist or, at the very least, buying a new retail copy so the label and, to a much lesser degree, the artist got paid. Hell, I could walk into a store called "Second Spin" or "Recycled Records" and still only buy new releases.

After all, it was what I, the aspiring artist, would want others to do if the shoe was on the other foot, yet there I was, standing in front of a ginormous Amoeba new releases display featuring a full-priced Weezer CD for $14.99 while, on the other side of the same store, I could grab that same disc from the used section and pay $6.99 or less.

I fought it for as along as I could, but the debate that took place on my shoulders between the angel and the devil was not even close. Ultimately, being able to buy twice as much music eventually won me over to the dark side of used titles.

Even so, I was still buying a considerable amount of new releases at regular price or worse. Fer instance, If I happened to be killing time while my girlfriend browsed for books, I might go home with a copy of Summerteeth purchased at absolute "Why in the hell are you buying music in a big box bookstore?" retail.

Or I'd see a movie at the art theatre on Ssunset Blvd. and walk directly across the concourse to a Virgin Megastore to buy the soundtrack, price be damned.

Then came Spotify, Youtube, and all the rest, which, again, provided a gateway to free sounds.

This time, though, these popular streaming sites are operating with the music industry's full blessing, leading those of us who still buy music to feel as if we're going well out of our way to preserve a business model that even the music business itself does not want.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Six Degrees Of Bowie: Roger C. Reale & Rue Morgue Featuring Mick Ronson!

Those of us who feel fortunate to have experienced the shit-hot musical year 1979 first-hand consider it a year of numerous musical explosions, with the most notable being the power pop movement, which momentarily overshadowed the post-punk and new wave movements.

Power pop's chart reign lasted only long enough to cause a signing frenzy that saw any band with a skinny tie signed to a long-term major label record deal. When the Knack's third single stiffed and even members of the band were wearing "Knuke The Knack" t-shirts in public, these same labels quickly realized they were stuck with a bunch of power pop bands that "nobody wanted".

A great number of retrospective publications and record labels have covered the scene in microscopic detail, chronicling the wealth of power pop albums and bands that came and went during that time with little fanfare.

But what about the stuff that, for whatever reason, never saw the light of day?

Like a Connecticut band by the name of Roger C. Reale and Rue Morgue, who were joined by none other than Mick Ronson (yes, THAT Mick Ronson) for their second album, Reptiles In Motion. and then their label just decided not to put it out.

The tapes languished on a shelf for 40 years, during which time "power pop" enjoyed a handful of healthy resurgences and still no mention of this album's existence.

Even as Mick Ronson's name came to be spoken in reverent tones, especially after his untimely passing, an album that he'd not only played on, but demanded to play on remained buried even deeper, it would seem.

What heinous circumstances could possibly lead to such an album being shelved for four decades?

While the loooooong overdue arrival of Roger C. Reale & Rue Morgue's second album Reptiles In Motion is short on answers, luckily, it is long on caffeinated riffage and battle-ram hooks delivered with Elvis Costello & The Attractions-level intensity.

Comprising the last half of the newly released digital comp The Collection, the tracks that form Reptiles In Motion bristle with an urgency and sophistication that feels like an opportunity lost - until now, that is.

Those who read the words "power pop" and immediately think of an album full of same-sounding paeans to lost love, think again. What makes Reptiles such a must-hear is the way the band is able to don many hats; from CBGB punk ("Pros And Cons") to edgy blues stomp ("Debutante Ball") to Bowie-esque glam ("Make It be Over"), without any of them watering down the band's identity.

That was never got to hear this album until now isn't just a great loss, it's a crime.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Who Should Get In First, Thin Lizzy or Bryan Adams?

Now before you tear my head off for asking such a thing, hear me out.

On one hand, you have the band that gave us "The Boys Are Back In Town", a.k.a. the greatest roller rink song ever recorded. The album from which the song came, Jailbreak, is an arena rock concept album that should have been bigger than "Jesus Christ Superstar" and, judging by the heavy radio play that "Jailbreak", "The Boys Are Back In Town" and "Cowboy Song" were getting at the time, how the hell wasn't it?

With an album cover that looked like it could have just as easily been a Kiss album, again, how did this album not shift past "double platinum" with ease?

Oh, right, the band had the unfortunate luck of being signed to Mercury Records in the US.

Next to MCA Records, Mercury is perhaps responsible for destroying more careers than alcohol and airplanes combined. Aside from Def Leppard and John Cougar, there are no Mercury Records rock & roll success stories. 

Thanks to Mercury's ineptitude, the band's only Top 20 single here in the States was the aforementioned roller rink favorite and Jailbreak (the album) never got any higher on the charts than #18, which is pretty damn remarkable considering everyone I knew owned a copy.

Heck, some of the cool kids had a copy on vinyl for the bedroom and an 8-track for the Shaggin' Wagon so perhaps an audit of Mercury's books during that time frame is in order.

Meanwhile, we have a Canadian kid by the name of Bryan Adams with not one Top 40 it, but TWENTY-TWO of them. Sure, maybe you only liked two of 'em, but you've got to admit that twenty-two is just a wee bit more than one.

So why do I still suspect that many reading this would still vote for Thin Lizzy to be inducted into the Rock Hall before Bryan Adams?

Still No Go-Go's: Whitney Houston, Biggie Smalls, and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Shame Game!

With today's announcement that, among many other artists, Notorious B.I.G. and Whitney Houston have been nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall fo Fame, somebody should probably ask those in charge "Do you actually know what qualifies as rock & roll?"

I ask only because when I see a Janet Jackson or a Whitney Houston nominated, all I really see is an all-white committee in some conference room worrying that someone might call them "racist" and/or "sexist" for inducting a bunch of white, male rock acts AGAIN.

Also, allow me to say that if we were talking about the Pop Music Hall of Fame or the R&B Hall of Fame, I would wholeheartedly agree that both Janet and Whitney deserve to be nominated.

But we're not.

We're talking about rock & roll here and if we can't stick to that simple criteria of nominating worthy rock acts, then change the fucking name to The Nervous Hand Wringers Hall of Fame and be done with it.

If the folks in charge of the Rock Hall really, truly wanted to do justice to rock and dispense with any chatter of sexism, the Go-Go's would be on this latest list of nominees, but, instead, we got a gangsta rapper and a soft pop songstress.

As it stands, the folks behind these hallowed halls have done such a shitty job of curating the Rock Hall that most of us who would make a beeline to such a place re, instead, turned off by the incessant desire to appease everyone except those of us who want to celebrate rock & roll.

That's exactly what happens when you allow the seeds of doubt to take root and fuck with your party.

By trying to make everyone happy, the Rock Hall seems perfectly intent on pissing off their core demographic.

In this day and age of inclusiveness, why not just let everyone into the Rock Hall?

Well, everyone but the Go-Go's, that is.