Jun 102014

Over the years I’ve thought I wanted to delve more deeply into George Harrison’s solo catalog. I know what the general feeling has been but All Things Must Pass is a classic by almost anyone’s standards. And Living in the Material World has enough charms that I bought the reissue a few yeas back to supplant the old vinyl copy. And I bought the big comeback, Cloud Nine, way back when and remember liking it well enough (even if I don’t remember too much of it very well now).

Over the last several decades I thought I should try some of the maligned records that came out between Material World and Cloud Nine but never had; after all, how bad could they be? Back a decade ago after George died a box set of all the Dark Horse material came out and that tempted me.

Thank the music gods that I resisted!

I recently borrowed the one disc Best of Dark Horse, 1976-1989, and it is stunningly pedestrian. There’s one cut that would deserve to go on a true Harrison best of, “Blow Away,” thanks to a stellar chorus. And I’d listen to “Got My Mind Set On You,” “Crackerbox Palace,” “When We Was Fab,” and “All Those Years Ago” all the way through if they came on the car radio (although “When We Was Fab” belongs more on an ELO album – and not a greatest hits ELO album).

And the other 10 tracks, well, if that’s the best of the Dark Horse albums then they must be horrible. I won’t subject any of you to any of them here; seek them out at your own risk.

Am I being too harsh? Why did he even bother putting out this dreck? And is there a worse Best of than this? No cheating on that last question; we all know Christopher CrossBest of sucks (at least I presume it does).

Mar 132014


If you could only listen to 10 albums for the rest of your life/were stranded on a desert island with 10 albums of your choosing, what would they be? To me, this is a different question from “favorite albums,” because I’d try for more variation on this list. Compilations generally don’t count, but they could in some cases.

Jan 102014
(AKA Hey Jude.)

(AKA Hey Jude.)

I don’t think you can buy The Beatles Again (aka Hey Jude), a vinyl collection of non-album tracks, as a distinct CD. It may have changed in recent years, but there was a long stretch when you also could not buy a distinct CD of Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ similar odds & sods collection, Taking Liberties. Soon, when all physical media are done away with, none of this will matter whatsoever and I’ll be grumpier than ever. Before this worse day comes, let me me bemoan the fact that not all the odds & sods collections of my youth are available as distinct packages in the digital age. I don’t like having those tracks split up as bonus tracks on various albums.

I’m pretty sure, meanwhile, that The Who’s Odds & Sods has always survived the digital age as a distinct product, right?

What odds & sods collections from the vinyl age do you most regret seeing broken up over the reissues of various original albums?

May 082013

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed the hits of Steve Miller Band. I never got around to buying a single record by the guy, not even a 45, but Miller’s hits bridged the leap I was making from AM to FM radio. Compared with so much of the sludge I found myself wading through in the new (to me) world of FM rock, Miller’s music was catchy, fun, and kind of old-fashioned. Even when he mixed in the occasional long space jam intro, his songs eventually got down to the simple business of hammering home a couple of meaty hooks and some off-hand lyrics that espoused only the slightest trace of cool. Steve Miller wasn’t that cool, mind you, but his level of cool was attainable.

When I was in my 20s, fully reveling in my role as a rock iconoclast, I found opportunities to pump up my mild teenage enjoyment of this artist. As mainstream rock got more ponderous and underground rock became less disciplined and hook conscious, the humble strengths of Miller’s big hits suddenly shined. I held onto this perspective for the next 10 to 15 years.

Then, for a few years, I toyed with officially upgrading Miller, holding him in the same regard I hold for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: rock-solid radio fare that’s always worth letting play out when flipping the dial. I seriously considered picking up Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits.

About 2 years ago, however, seemingly overnight, I found myself recoiling when Steve Miller Band songs came on the radio. My wife still digs him for all the reasonable reasons anyone could dig him. She wants to let the songs play through, but his lyrics are so dumb and his delivery so devoid of anything but the lowest-level sense of cool and self-deprecating humor that I feel it beneath me to expect so little of any artist. I’ve had it with Steve Miller. I think there’s only a single lyric from all of his hits that still resonates with me in any way, that “really like your peaches, want to shake your tree” line from “The Joker.” I like the “midnight toker” line, too. They are both so evocative of a type of feeling that was in the air at that time with some kids at my school that they mean something to me. They’re like the musical equivalent of Spicoli. The rest of Miller’s lyrics and delivery can go to hell. I’m not buying his Greatest Hits. I’m no longer considering him for a Critical Upgrade. I’m not even going to play the “Steve Miller is actually great” card to piss some rock snob off. It’s not worth it.

Steve Miller, I’ve had it!

Mar 222013


As I may have mentioned a few times over the years, I HATED THE 1980s!

I hated ’80s style and culture in general, but as a music-obsessed person, I especially hated “’80s” music, which I typify as synth-pop featuring Yahmaha DX7s and strained vocals. I hated hair gel and guys with dyed hair. I hated asymmetric hairdos and shirt collars. I hated shirts with shoulder pads and epaulets. I hated puffy socks and women wearing jeans with high-riding waistbands. I even hated Madonna, although stripped of her iconic ’80s style she was my idea of a Hot Woman. Thankfully Madonna provided some opportunities to confirm that suspicion.

I hated what the ’80s did to Michael Jackson. I hated the bright colors. I never aspired to androgyny. I even hated much of the “cool” underground music of the ’80s: hardcore, shitcore, REM, that goth stuff like Bauhaus coming out of England… I even hated bands that were making music fairly similar to my own band’s aspirations because I was jealous of their relative success.

I think I hated myself as much as anything. I grew up in the 1970s, feeling pretty much out of place but certain that I would develop into a well-rounded hipster in my early ’80s college years only to be unleashed in a world where I fit in even less. Damn you, 1980s!

Today, my wiser, kinder, gentler self occasionally hears Human League‘s “Don’t You Want Me Baby” on the radio and thinks to himself, “At least I always liked that song. There must have been another 24 hit songs in the ’80s that I liked, right?”

Well, were there? I am calling on you, my trusted Townspeople, to help me recall whether I liked 25 hit songs from the 1980s. The rules for submission follow…after the jump!

Continue reading »

Oct 282012

I came across this 1981 performance of “When She Was My Girl” by The Four Tops, on Fridays, ABC’s failed answer to Saturday Night Live. I’d forgotten this single was released so late, during the period when the romantic grooves made popular by The Sound of Philadelphia and early disco had long turned to Germanic robo-funk and early rap. Someone with a better knowledge of release dates may shoot my thoughts down rightfully, but this song seems like it was released a good 2 or 3 years past its musical style’s expiration date. I would have thought that McFadden and Whitehead‘s 1979 hit “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” for instance, was the last of its kind. Smokey Robinson‘s “Cruisin'” is another 1979 single that I remember fitting in with the last run of mid-’70s soul. By 1981, I recall veteran soul artists moving into smooth jazz, stuff like Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers‘ “Just the Two of Us.” I suspect many of you won’t see the difference between that song and this Four Tops number. Oh well.

Can you think of other “last of its kind” hit songs, not retro-styled songs by a band like The Stray Cats or records by totally out-of-touch and unpopular local bar bands, but contemporary releases that came on the tail end of a certain movement and managed to make a splash on the charts? For instance, there must be a “last new wave song” or a “last hair metal song” or a “last psychedelic song.”

May 092012

I know we’ve discussed this guy before, how he’s an acquired taste for many of us, and for others one of the few examples of a musician who seems to improve with age.

It’s taken me years to develop a real of appreciation of Hitchcock. This is weird, given my love for many eccentric British songwriters. But I think I’m finally on my way, thanks to the most banal reason possible: A very basic, maybe even dumbed-down greatest hits album.

However, I have a request for those of you are already in the pro-Hitchcock camp. Recommend three (3) albums for me: one from the ’80s, one from the ’90s, and one from 2000 onward. I will listen to them on Spotify, and perhaps later purchase them.

Caveats: Don’t recommend any Soft Boys. I’m pretty sure those albums are already in our house somewhere. Also, I already have I Often Dream of Trains, so you can skip that one too. I used to have Jewels for Sophia. I thought it was pretty good.

I look forward to your responses.

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