Monday, December 21, 2020

All I Want For Christmas Is An Eco-Friendly Physical Format!

If you're one of the few, but many, who go about the experience of listening to vinyl albums in much the same way Steve Carell's "40 Year-Old Virgin" went about preparing to dig into the ginormous "box o' porn" he'd been gifted, then you've probably also wondered why, with the planet teetering on the very brink of no return, there is not yet an eco-friendly alternative to all current physical music formats, which rely upon fossil fuels, to varying degrees, for their production.

Like you, I presume, my love affair with vinyl records is downright Pavlovian: The crackle of the needle touching down alone can make the hairs on the back of my arse stand right on end. There is no greater joy than hearing those speakers coming to life as you grab the album cover and immerse yourself in the visual representation of the musical journey you are about to take.

Sit back, relax, but don't get too comfortable, though, because you'll need to flip the album over in about fifteen minutes or so.

Also, is there any other product where the exterior packaging was retained after opening and considered a vital part of the overall experience? I ask only because, when it came to CD long boxes later on, we couldn't wait to chuck those things in the trash. 

Yet there are many who cannot truly enjoy Pink Floyd's The Wall, Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run, or, for that matter, Starz's Attention Shoppers, without holding the album cover and assorted contents in our hot little hands.

Hell, half the reason I find myself cheering on the continuing comebacks of vinyl is so that I can READ THE FUCKING LINER NOTES.

So why, some fifty years after we first put a man on the damn moon and The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" on the back of a cereal box, are we not up to our naughty bits in eco-friendly physical music formats? 

That would be at least some small consolation for the compete absence of flying cars in the 21st Century, which we were also promised!

While I applaud those traditional pressing plants that are now "attempting to make their process as eco-friendly as possible", he/she who finds a sustainable physical format will determine the course of modern music.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Derp Thoughts: Are Most Bands Only As Big As Their Influences?

 "You're only ever gonna become as big as your influences."

It was 1985 and my dad had just said something that I knew would stick with me after I had just pleaded my case for taking a semester off from college just to see how far the band could get with everyone making it their sole focus. To him, being in a moderately popular local band was one thing, but even aspiring to be one of the bands played on MTV was a whole other enchilada. To prove his point, he pointed to the nearest stack of records: "Near as I can tell, your influences are Platinum Blonde, The Jam, Angel City and Off Broadway so you might have a tough go of it if you're expecting to be the next Beatles." Hey, I'm not greedy, I thought at the time, just the one or two Top 40 hits will do. In and out, bada-boom, bada-bing, then just stick to playing street fairs and rib fests every summer. But, for the most part, my dad was absolutely right: If your biggest influence is Clan of Xymox, you should probably not be disappointed if your band didn't get any bigger than Clan of Xymox. A band like R.E.M. is a rare exception, though, comprised of four individuals all coming from completely different directions, musically, with the two guiding forces (Stipe and Buck) being heavily influenced by... Big Star and Velvet Underground? Excuse me while I still remain completely surprised that R.E.M. was able to become one of the biggest bands in the world on their own terms while everybody else was out buying synthesizers and skinny ties. Obviously, R.E.M. was that rare exception where the band's odd nature and obscure cultural and literary references were a big part of who they were as a band. As great as Chronic Town may have been, nobody who heard it could have possibly foreseen the band's gradual rise to the fourth most popular band in the world (or was it third?) just a few short years later.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Beatle Battle: 'Help!' Vs. 'A Hard Day's Night' (And Why 'Help!' is The Better Movie)!

Enter any music forum, ask "Which movie is better, 'Help!' or 'A Hard Day's Night'?" and you will inevitably be flooded with responses declaring the latter to be the better film. Those people are WRONG!

Once and for all, why "Help!" is the better movie:

- Just like the truly magical part of "The Wizard of Oz", it's in COLOR! 

- The old man (Paul's grandfather, played by 52-year-old character actor Wilfrid Brambell) ruins "A Hard Day's Night" because he's either a) brilliant and, thus, upstages the fabs, or b) he's an annoyingly obvious comedic prop that hints at the fact that the filmmakers did not have faith in the fabs to be able to act or be funny. They were dead wrong on both counts

- As far as shear innovation goes, how can you not be transfixed by THE BED IN THE FLOOR (my sole inspiration for becoming a musician at the age of 5) much less a functioning recording studio ON A BATTLEFIELD?

- Two words: Better songs. Singles "Help!", "Yesterday", and the movie debuts of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" and "Ticket To Ride" show a new level of artistry and musicianship without sacrificing any of the immediacy of their early hits.

- Mo' betta quotes! "Go to the window" has been a "go-to quote in any band I've ever been in...what does ADHN have? "He's very clean"? Again, the crusty old man ruins it.

- The fabs in The Bahamas. On Bikes!

- Did I mention that it's in COLOR??

- Last but not least, miniature Macca!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

How Famous Did You Want To Be?: Live From The Ramada Inn Lounge!

When my first serious band began to go in search gigs in our little corner of the American rust belt, circa 1985, the thought of spending even one evening in a Ramada Inn lounge scared us straight and convinced us that the only way to avoid such a fate was by writing and performing our own material. 

A few short years later, there I was as a solo artist playing "TBA" opening slots for any number of major label acts on the hockey rink circuit.

Glamorous? Sure, but once the stage lights go down, all any high riding rock star who happens to find themselves spending the night in Boise, Idaho can do is head back to the local Ramada Inn, stop off in your room for a bit, and, you guessed it, wander down to the fucking lounge until closing time.

I recognized the irony immediately and fell into a momentary pit of despair as it dawned on me that my highly ambitious and costly quest for fame and fortune beyond my wildest dreams had led me back to the one place I was trying to avoid most of all.

It was in many a dark lounge, however, that I enjoyed numerous heart-to-heart conversations with rock stars both big and small, asking as many as I could the question that I always found most interesting:

"How famous did you want to be?"

On one occasion, there was a guitarist for a band that I very much liked as a kid whose hard exterior had made connecting with him after shows near-impossible. One night, though, with everyone sloshed and feeling no pain, I hit him with the question and he didn't stop talking until sun up.

It is the one question that no musician seems fully prepared to answer without first having to swirl it around in their minds for a little while.

The obvious reply is to state that you simply wanted nothing more than to be bigger than the Beatles as a kid, but as you commit more and more of yourself to this crazy dream, some of us revise our answers while others never seem to revisit the subject ever again, yet, in hindsight, there is no greater question a musician can ask themselves first thing every morning.

Especially if waking up to a fistful of phone numbers scrawled on Ramada Inn drink napkins.

So, how famous did I want to be?

As hilarious as it sounds, I was always shooting for a level of fame no higher than, say, the Hooters or the Outfield. You know, a couple nice radio hits to keep the royalty checks rolling in long after that first blast of MTV fame recedes. 

Truth be told, all I ever wanted was just a taste of the rare air and, lets face it, when was the last time Rob Hyman had to worry about being accosted by fans everywhere he went? 

Meanwhile, two decades after her last big hit, Madonna still needs a security team to run out and grab a gallon of milk at the corner store.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Soundcheck: Where The Real Performance Takes Place!

You can tell a lot about a band by the way they soundcheck.

While others pay good money to marvel at the finished product, some of us get endless kicks out of watching true artists conduct themselves in those moments before the stage lights go up and how a concrete lump of clay (your average sports arena) can be molded into a mind-blowing audio-visual experience for every single person in that arena, nosebleed section included.

Of course, soundchecks differ greatly depending on the level of venue and/or band.

Take your average fledgling middle-of-the-bill indie singer-songwriter who is backed by an ever-changing rag-tag team of nitwits and hired guns who approach their brief soundcheck as an opportunity to run through the one song everyone completely fucked up during the one and only rehearsal for this particular show because each member is juggling a minimum of four other bands. 

Your more stable line-ups are smart enough to have their shit down cold, musically, but scarred enough by past nightmare gigs to all but take matters into their own hands to ensure their stage monitor levels are dead on the fucking money. 

Once you reach the level of, say, a Schuba's or Metro, you're probably also finding your way onto the occasional concert stage from time to time, which is where soundchecks become an altogether different beast.

The first time a baby band soundchecks in an arena can be a little intimidating, but highly entertaining for who keep their eyes on the drummer, for whom that first arena soundcheck can be a near-orgasmic experience. 

After having mics thrust into air holes that had never been mic'ed before, the sound guy will invariably ask the drummer to give him some kick drum. Seconds later, the kick drum that has gone mostly unnoticed during years of sweaty basement rehearsals is suddenly transformed into a deep and thunderous beast.  

That's when the drummer's entire demeanor changes and they begin viewing themselves through the audience's eyes. Thankfully, soundcheck ends before the newly emboldened drummer can unleash yet another tom-heavy ode to "In The Air Tonight".

At that point, all the openers can do now is watch how the headliners carry themselves as they arrive at the venue in a fleet of stretch limos.

That's when it becomes gloriously obvious that one of the many fringe benefits of being an arena-level rock star is that you don't have to carry jack-shit.

Also, unlike you and your "Les Paul in a gig bag", the headliners have road cases for




Also, each member has their own stage tech and dozens of roadies at their beck and call. 

The more frantically a band's roadies run about the stage with flashlights and gaffer tape in preparation for their band's performance, the more casually and nonchalant that band's members will saunter onstage, one by one, completely oblivious to the apparent coup attempt that their crew successfully thwarted. 

The next thing you'll notice is that guys like Keef, or Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers haven't strapped on their own guitar in at least forty years. That, my friend, is living the dream.

Some say life on the road is glamorous for about a week and then it becomes an endless slog, but, if you happen to find yourself opening an entire tour  for a well-known band - say, 30 or 40 shows - that band's soundcheck will become your daily soap opera.

Not only might you be lucky enough to watch them casually jam out on some of their well-known cuts, but you might even catch Slayer bust into an impromptu "Tush" in shorts and flip flops.

For bands with two or three decades of hits, entire soundchecks are often devoted to songs they would never think of playing live for fear that one of those hits wouldn't be played.

It was widely known for decades that the Stones would go on lengthy blues jams or dive into all sorts of deep cuts during rehearsals for their own amusement and, for those die-hard fans who were as sick of hearing the hits as the band was of playing them, VIP access to a Stones soundcheck became a sort of holy grail.  

The coin flip was whether Mick would soundcheck at all. 

Nothing against Keith as a singer, but if you called in a huge favor to land a "now we're even" VIP pass and Mick was a no-show at soundcheck, but then you hear through the grapevine that the next night's soundcheck at the same venue was a Mick, Keith and Bobby Keys delta blues tour de force, you'd be rightly disappointed.

My biggest thrill was watching bands work up new material during soundcheck over a period of several weeks that you just knew was going to be their next big hit, or, at the very least, the musical high point of their next album.  

For other bands, soundcheck can be a bit of a mixed bag.

Take your average '80s new wave act caught in a seemingly endless tsunami of nostalgia-themed pleasure cruises. 

Resigned to the fact that nobody gives a flying fuck about their latest album, but thousands will actually plan their vacations around hearing just the one hit from 1982 in a booze cruise, members of The Fixx or Naked Eyes will run through their songs in a manner that is as spiteful as it is detached, with little to no acknowledgment of their fellow bandmates.

Of course, my favorite soundcheck cliche of sorts is the guitarist who has played a million shows with the exact same set-up, yet wander onstage and fiddle endlessly with his dozens and dozen of stomp boxes, as if having never seen or used them before.  

Also, is it federal law that all lead singers have to be the last to show up, whether they play an instrument or not?

The true oddity of the rock world, however, remains the band that is uniformly horrible at soundcheck - to the point that other people are starting to catch eyes with one another as if to say "Can you believe these guys are famous?" yet always manage to pull it all together by showtime. 

One thing is for sure, while the shows themselves might be choreographed and scripted right down to the "Hello Cleveland" after the first song, no two soundchecks are ever the same.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

20 Cool Potential Band Names Taken From Guided By Voices Song Titles!

When my ass is king, there will be an immediate and strictly-enforced five-year moratorium on band names not taken from Robert Pollard/Guided By Voices songs.

Let's face it, as someone who has tried and miserably failed to ever come up with a truly great band name, myself, the music of Robert Pollard may be too much for the mainstream to wrap its tiny, "Housewives of Madison County" brain around. then perhaps Pollard's greatest gift to society (what's left of it, anyway) will be to inject the Top 40 rock charts (what's left of them, anyway) with some fucking style and pizazz.

You don't even have to like Guided By Voices to see the genius of a man who, if we have anything to say about it, will go down in history as a one-man band name generator, so, before you name that next band of yours after your favorite childhood cat, check out these ten cool band names taken from Guided By Voices songs! 

Keep in mind that any one of these is ripe for the can thank me (and Bob, of course) in the liner notes.

1. Dead Liquor Store

2. Alex & The Omegas

3. The Bone Church

4. Cinnamon Flavored Skulls

5. High Five Hall Of Famers

6. Cul de Sac Kids

7. Angelic Weirdness

8. Look, It's Baseball!

9. Bomb The Bee-Hive

10. Delayed Reaction Brats

If you've read this far and haven't already run to see if the dot com is available on some of these names, then perhaps this next batch will pinken your bottom.

11. The Caterpillar Workforce (better hop on this one before Robyn Hitchcock does)

12. Nightmare Jamboree (the name alone will get you booked at The Hideout, no questions asked) 

13. Cold War Water Sports

14. Laundry and Lasers

15. Temporary Shakedown

16. Cheap Buttons

17. Low Flying Perfection

18. The Candyland Riots

19. Some Drilling Implied 

20. Short On Posters (I mean, back when you could hang posters, this would have been funny to see...on a poster.)

Friday, October 30, 2020

End Of Days: Defending Europe's "The Final Countdown"!

When one thinks about how many times hair metal heavyweights Bon Jovi have been the top-grossing concert act in the United States, yet they've never given us a tune even half as catchy as Europe's "The Final Countdown", it becomes glaringly obvious that we as a people have lost our way.

Don't pretend you don't find yourself singing that song's majestic synthesizer riff long after hearing it at the supermarket, yet, more times than not, the song is treated as a punchline to a joke more and more people think is funny.

Based on that song alone, Europe should be playing stadiums in this country where all they do is riff out on "The Final Countdown" for half an hour, take a fifteen-minute  intermission, and then come back out to play "The Final Countdown" because we haven't waved our Bic lighters apps on our cell phones for a half an hour.

And for an encore, they perform "The Final Countdown" with a full symphony orchestra!

Can you say "eargasm"? I knew you could. 

Next day at school, every kid with ears and/or legs would be wearing their brand new "The FINAL Final Countdown, We Promise IV" tour shirt. Those who don't are socially shunned, and rightfully so. 

Now, you're probably wondering if there are any opening acts at a Europe show. The answer is, thankfully, No. 

Not only do the members of Europe recognize their place in the pantheon of rock & roll, they also don't want to keep us out past our bedtimes on a school night.

This is, after all, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN and it pays to be well-rested.

In reality, the last time I heard anyone but me talking about "The Final Countdown", it was a group of teenage kids making fun of it as it played at concert volume in a Dave & Buster's.

Even as the very synth riff for which the word "elegiac" had been invented drowned out the seductive ring-a-ding-dinging of a thousand arcade machines, I could still barely hear the song over them arguing back-and-forth about which band actually performed the song.

With ever-present cell phones in front of them, they still managed to come up with a frightening range of incorrect guesses, from Billy Squier to Poison to Nelson (!) before deciding as a group that it must have been ... BON JOVI.

I hate to admit it, but those crazy kids did get it half right.

You see, Europe are Sweden's Bon Jovi, driving up sales of hair spray for five decades, while scoring a career run of nine Top 10 albums, eight Top 10 singles, and sold-out stadiums for just as long as Bon Jovi have been doing the same here in the States. 

Over yonder der in Sveden, doh, "The Final Countdown" went to #1", whereas it only got to #18 in the States. Can you believe that nonsense?

Wait, it gets worse. 

Did you also know that "The Final Countdown" wasn't even Europe's biggest U.S. hit?

I won't even tell you which song actually made it to #9 because, hey, why dig up a memory that you've successfully repressed? 

Hint: It wasn't "Carrie" or "Rock The Night", which both went Top 40 in the U.S., which raises the question: "If Europe scored four Top 40 hits in the U.S., two of which went Top 20, why the hell aren't they playing U.S. stadiums to this day?"

I'll tell you why: Because there can only be one Bon Jovi in this country and we already have ours, gosh darn it. Maybe we can work out a trade with Sweden, just for a few years to mix things up a bit.