Thursday, December 13, 2012

Z is for Zebra

Looks like we made it! This took way too long; as a result, I'm abandoning the "DVDz from A to Z" series I was planning as a follow-up. I'm looking forward to finally posting some of the great stuff I keep talking about that sits in my Drafts folder: a piece about Estes model rockets, some new suggestions for inspirational movie clips at sporting events, and something titled "Calling All Nipples." Thanks for reading!

Dan Zanes - Cool Down Time
I've mentioned this fine record before, I believe. An album with well-written songs, expert musicianship, and smooth production, which distinguished it from 90% of the music I was listening to in 1995.

Frank Zappa - "Peaches en Regalia"
I'm listing this as a separate entity from Hot Rats because: 1) I traded in my Hot Rats CD for beer money in Providence, and 2) I'm a proud owner of the "Peaches en Regalia" CD3 issued by Ryko in 1987. This rare "mini-CD" release is one of the more valuable items in my collection, and I-- Well, looks like you can find it at just about any price you want at Discogs, eBay, Amazon, etc.

Either way, I love this song. They used to play it VH1's New Visions around 1986/87 all the time, along with lots of crappy "new age" and smooth jazz stuff. If you got lucky, you might catch a Lounge Lizards track or even Al Di Meola's "Sequencer" video, which was almost fair compensation for enduring hours of Spyro Gyra and Yellowjackets clips. 

Zebra - Zebra (1983)
If you threw up grew up on Long Island in the 70s/80s, you probably knew about Zebra. If you aren't familiar with the Cajun-cum-Commack trio, they were a cover band that finally got a deal and made a good record, then a not-so-good record, and then a record I've never heard, and apparently made one more that I just learned about. If I were actually a member of Zebra, I'd simply say, "OK, so we're just a derivative mixture of Led Zeppelin and Rush, but we're really fucking good at it!!! And since there's only three of us, we make shitloads of money playing the clubs!"

Someday will my son will wear this.
To be fair, I really loved my Zebra cassette. "When You Get There," "As I Said Before," and "Don't Walk Away" are as good as the bigger hits, and the bigger hits are really darn good. Watching the follow-up, No Tellin' Lies, hit the cut-out bins in real time was almost as depressing as actually listening to the album itself (except "Wait Until the Summer's Gone" and "Bears," I guess). At least they were on MTV for a while there.

*WAIT!!! Look at this incredible cruise concert on Zebra's site! Yes, U.K., Tangerine Dream, Saga, Carl Palmer, Nektar, and Zebra??!!! I feel seasick already...

John Zorn - Naked City (1989)
"Eh, excuse me... I believe this record should be categorized as an 'N' release, since Naked City was an actual band."
"Perhaps you're right (whoever you are), but in case you haven't noticed, the Zs are a bit lean in the artist department."

I'm certain that I've never successfully played this recording from start to finish when I wasn't alone. At least not that I can recall.

ZZ Top - Degüello (1979)
This is the ZZ Top record I've listened to more than any other. I used to crack myself up when I'd sneak "Manic Mechanic" onto a respectably indie rockish mix tape back when people still made mix tapes. Maybe we stopped making mix tapes because it was such a pain in the ass for people to fast forward past songs like "Manic Mechanic." I used to crack myself up thinking about the recipients of my mix tapes having to fast forward past songs like "Manic Mechanic." Again, I've listened to Degüello more than any other ZZ Top record.

ZZ Top - Eliminator (1983)
I'm told that I once declared that Eliminator "was the Kick of its time." This bizarre and ridiculous statement surely requires an explanation.

First, I was referring to the 1987 INXS album. This is immediately problematic, since 1983 and 1987 are chronological next-door neighbors by most standards; many older people would have difficulty making clear distinctions between the two "eras." But one can also argue that popular music in 1983 did sound different than popular music released in 1987, so let's move on.

If I meant that Eliminator and Kick each featured remarkable runs of hit singles that were unprecedented for their respective artists, then maybe I had a point. In hindsight (which is the only way I can interpret or understand many musical claims I made in the 90s), I was probably referring to the fact that both bands incorporated sequenced rhythm tracks to a greater degree than on previous recordings. I'm also pretty sure I was riffing on some slurred comments another friend once made about Kick, but that's beside the point. I stand by what I said.

I love when something I say seemed really stupid at the time, but actually turns out to be only a little stupid.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Y is for Yanni

"I complete you..."
Yanni - Live at the Acropolis (1994)
This clearly goes down as one of the Seven Wonders of World Music. God! I used to love watching this and Tribute on PBS on a slow night. Like an elite few artists (Zeppelin, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kris Humphries...), Yanni is at once sublime and absurd, mighty and mortal, profound and fucking stupid. Features the brilliant percussionist and music therapist Kalani.

Yazoo - "Don't Go" (1982)
"Holy shit, that sounds kinda like Keith Emerson! Whoa, that's definitely not Greg Lake singing! Jeez, these drums sound much tighter than Carl Palmer's and don't seem to be fluctuating in tempo! This is definitely not E.L.P.!" -me, in 1982

Yello - "Bostich" (1980/1981)
I didn't exactly know about this seminal cut by Boris, Carlos, and Dieter back when it was released, but I recall being fully aware of the influence (both direct and indirect) that European electronic music seemed to be exerting on the development of hip hop. I also loved going to Baskin-Robbins.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - "Computer Game" (1979)
That makes three electro/synthpop tracks in a row! So I used to take lessons at the L.I. Drum Center, and the first guy I had was all about chops and pretty much nothing else. I told him I didn't want to do paradiddles every week, and I was immediately reassigned to the "weird" guy they had on staff. My new instructor was awesome-- we bonded on Allmans, Jeff Beck, and Tangerine Dream (true!). Soon he started inviting me to jazz fusion shows in Queens (?), adding that we could see some friends of his before the show. I'm pretty sure he was into Sri Chinmoy, but... Oh yeah! He was really into Yellow Magic Orchestra too. Cool dude.

Too bad I drunk-dialed him on my birthday in 1993 (along with my grandmother and at least two girls much closer to my age) and slurred about my Tama kit that I was still playing and my Zildjians and record deals and all sorts of bullshit. Embarassing and ill-advised.

Yes - The Yes Album (1971)
scenario #1
THEM: "Fragile is the best Yes album ever made."
ME: "Well... The Yes Album is pretty darn good, too! In fact, I'll argue that it's more consistent than Fragile. Not a weak song on there, although "Perpetual Change" mostly succeeds due to one of the more insane moments in the group's entire catalog near the six-minute mark. "Starship Trooper" might be my favorite Yessong ever, you dig?! The triumphant "Würm" rises like a slow-motion psychedelic leviathan from the Atlantic, leaving Led Zep and CSNY treading in their respective acoustic tidepools. And of course, "Your Move" is one of the great singles of the early 70s."

scenario #2
THEM: "The Yes Album is the best Yes album ever made."
ME: "What are you, fucking crazy??!!!"

Yes - Fragile (1972)
If The Yes Album is pleasant, ambitious psychedelia, then its successor Fragile is a rocky trip on some speedy but strong acid Fragile is a bit more challenging than its predecessor, which is somewhat ironic considering its popularity. It's insane that we used to hear "Roundabout" all the time on the radio, right?! Fragile is certainly the best sounding Yes record (unless you're a friend or relative of Trevor Rabin), and I'd say the most daring as well (unless you consider how in the world they dared to release something as lousy as Tormato). I can listen to "Long Distance Runaround" at any imaginable moment under any possible circumstances and love it dearly. While "LDR" is supremely visionary in the halls of prog, "Heart of the Sunrise" has very, very few peers when it comes to sheer musicianship. Only three examples are coming to mind at the moment, and only one isn't by Rush or Al Di Meola.

Too bad most of the rest of the cuts stink. The bass guitar and guitar "showcase" tracks are the only ones I'll even consider listening to, so just put on the second side and cut your losses.

Yo La Tengo - President Yo La Tengo (1989)
This was the first thing I bought by the hobos from Hoboken, and boy did I like it. I liked their next record too, but it seemed just a little bit boring compared to the one before it. I liked their next record too, but it seemed just a little bit boring compared to the one before it. I liked their next record too, but it seemed just a little bit boring compared to the one before it... You get the idea.

As their records became more and more boring, my behavior at their shows became more and more outrageous. I've been thrown out of at least three Yo La shows, all in different clubs for different reasons: 1) throwing up on bar and trying to order another drink right away, 2) falsely lumped in with group of people that were heckling James McNew, and 3) extreme intoxication. Hey! I've also seen them lots of other times and behaved like a perfect gentleman, so back off.

Neil Young - Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)
Somehow this was never one of my favorite Neil albums, even though I'd consider nearly every song it contains to be among my favorites. I'm an asshole.

Neil Young - After the Gold Rush (1970)
This is the one that really blew my mind. I still believe that the entire album is from outer space, with the exception of "Southern Man." I added the exception when I introduced my theory at a party years ago, knowing that wisdom on the fringes usually needs to be reeled in a bit for the masses. Point is, the album is extraordinary.

Neil Young - Tonight's the Night (1975)
One of the first Neil records I owned. Honestly never thought it was that depressing until I was old enough to puke from drinking, and even then I could still rock out to it. OK, I've never danced to "Tired Eyes," but I've sure as hell boogied down to the likes of "Lookout Joe" a few times. Just a few tracks shy of a freaking party album.
Neil Young - Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
This has always been my favorite, start to finish. "Thrasher," "Pocahontas," "Sail Away," and "Powderfinger" are every bit as important to me as protein, baseball, prescription drugs, and crossword puzzles. Can't count the number of times I reached for this one when nothing at all sounds interesting.

Neil Young - Ragged Glory (1990)
I was crawling in the swamps of grunge when this baby dropped, and it was damn fine to finally remember how to walk again. Neil and crew had good songs, took their time without wasting it, and had fun. One of the best album intros ever.

YoungBloodZ - "85" (1999)
Lord, did I groove to this joint when it came out... The whole "Southern rap" thing was either totally happening (for most of us) or totally played out already (for Southern hipsters), but who gives a shit?! This song was IT for me, even more than Outkast. Funny, since Big Boi delivers the bomb verse of the whole tune, somehow avoiding a single downbeat for the duration. Spacejace, you still out there? You know you loved this one!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

X is for X

X - Los Angeles (1980)
They truly broke the mold...
Tough for me to separate this record (or the band itself) from The Decline of Western Civilization, a film in which X totally outperforms a handful of other classic L.A. punk bands like Black Flag, Fear, and the Circle Jerks (exempt are The Germs, who defy conventions of musical criticism/appreciation). DJ Bonebrake taught me that there was nothing cooler than being a really good drummer in a punk rock band.

X - Wild Gift (1981)
"We're Desperate" and "White Girl" rule, but I still like the debut better.

X - Under the Big Black Sun (1982)
I can't find my copy of this one.

X - More Fun in the New World (1983)
Great songs, but lacks the danger of the earlier sides. That's what happens when punks get old, right?

XTC - English Settlement (1982)
How many great major label British pop-rock records came out in 1982? Tons!!! You couldn't show your face in public if you weren't a reverent fan of this one, although I always wondered how many "fans" could actually make it through the whole thing in one sitting.

XTC - Skylarking (1986)
I tried to call "bullshit" on this one, and completely missed the point. "Earn Enough For Us" is awesome.

XTC - Oranges and Lemons (1989)
Think it's tough to make it through English Settlement? Try listening to this one soup to nuts with a hangover! Better to call it quits at track 7.

X-Ray Spex - Obsessed With You: The Early Years (1991)
This is my wife's CD. I like the handful of songs I actually know...

Xymox - "Phoenix Of My Heart" (1991)
Also my wife's CD. Back when we still though we were cool/young enough to go to rock shows in Brooklyn, we spent a night giggling on the side of the stage at North Six watching bands rip off LCD Soundsystem. We giggled so much that we ended up popping a few Ambiens and "walking around" Williamsburg after the show. We somehow made it home, and discovered that we each purchased (hopefully) two used CDs at some point that night. One of mine was Freestyle Greatest Beats, Volume 10, which has "Body Rock" on it. If it sounds like I'm bragging, I'm not; I still don't know what my other CD was, or is.

My wife scored a cracked Xymox single and a horrible Ofra Haza CD (also cracked). Don't do drugs.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

W is for Weather Report

Scott Walker - Scott 3 (1969)
One of my favorite moments from my first wedding was my friend blasting Scott Walker in his car by himself in the hotel parking lot. I guess I should have taken that as a bad sign.

Weather Report - Black Market (1976)
Groove like uranium
When you're a kid listening to cassettes, liner notes aren't always much help. I bought the cheap-looking white and red Columbia tape of this one, saying to myself as I rode my bike home, "Cool, this is the one with Jaco and Chester Thompson..." I was right about that, sort of.
Barely a teenager, the idea that different guys might play on different songs on the same album wasn't exactly familiar to me. So when I popped this one in and got my mind completely blown by the opening song, "Black Market," I naturally imagined Messrs Pastorius and Thompson steering the ship. No big deal, except that we're talking about one of the heaviest grooves ever waxed, period. Waxed by Alphonso Johnson and the insane Narada Michael Walden, not Jaco and Chester. Imagine going through your formative years thinking Jimmy Page sang "Black Dog." That's what I was up against as a teenager.

Ween - The Mollusk (1997)
Maybe not the best one (or maybe it is), but certainly my favorite to listen to. They nail British prog & folk to the wall like the Edict of Nantes, demanding the right to respectfully issue musical grievances to the pretentious.

Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator) (2001)
This one grabs and doesn't let go. More than enough beauty to keep you from hanging yourself.

The White Stripes - The White Stripes (1999)
I dismissed these two until I actually listened to their records. Now I dismiss those that still dismiss these two.

Chris Whitley - Dirt Floor (1998)
I've already talked about this one in the context of "bargain bin" finds, which is a little insulting to the power of the recording itself.

The Who - Tommy (1969)
I could easily be writing about any of the first eight Who albums here, but I'm gonna stick with the juicy middle of the Moon era. Tommy still captures the lads in their discovery period, yet reaps the rewards of experience in instrumental prowess and studio chops. Plus, the '96 remaster is insanely good.

The Who - Live at Leeds (1970)
Pretty tough to top this one as a live document. I used to ramble about the Allmans' Fillmore East spanning the entire expanse of American popular music in the 20th century (except showtunes and doo-wop, maybe?), but Live at Leeds hints at genres uninvented in its time. I've also rambled about this being the best Who record, period.
Speaking of uninvented genres, I still prefer the brutal original to the awesome remastered repackaged version. Then again, I also prefer the crappy original of Who By Numbers to the far superior remaster, so don't listen to me. 

The Who - Who's Next (1971)
When I'm not rambling (whatever that means), I'll tell you that this is the best Who record, period. The innocence of Tommy is long gone (after only two years!), replaced by sheer mastery and a dark feeling that's hard to describe. Townshend's all-consuming frustration with the sprawling Lifehouse project(s)? Mounting equipment/rehab expenses? Anyway, this HAS to be one of the five best classic rock records.

Hank Williams - 40 Greatest Hits (1978)
Hey, who cares if it's just a "collection?!" The man was a singles machine, so let's hear 'em!
About twenty years ago (!) I put both discs of this set and my Ray & Pete CD in my changer, and taped a shuffled mix of the three. I thought it was utter genius, but the other two people driving around the country in a van with me didn't exactly share my lust for depravity.

Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
I was right in the middle of a multi-layered personal disaster when this miraculous record came out in the summer of '98. To be precise, I was pulling myself out of the first pile of wreckage and a few months away from being completely blindsided by the second phase of the disaster. By the middle of '99, I was finally heading in the right direction and only months away from getting my ass kicked on a daily basis... and loving every second of it.
Car Wheels got me from point A to point F and back again. She knew exactly what I'd lost, exactly where I ended up, and exactly what I was trying to find. Thank you, Miss Williams.

Wire - Pink Flag (1977)
Wow. That's all I can say about this one.

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions (1973)
I'll put Talking Book right beside this one, but Innervisions gets more plays.

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers (1993)
I used to love buying rap records on Thayer St. in early '90s Providence, RI. I could count on (1) finding a cheap promo of what I was looking for (because nobody ever bought rap records there), and (2) being stared at like a had a screwdriver sticking out of my forehead (especially by record clerks I knew!).It took me a month or two to fully dig this record; the songs I loved immediately were "Can It Be..." and "Tearz." Understand that I was essentially listening to it by myself, as I was stuck with the same two people on tour that didn't exactly correspond to the Wu. As soon as I had another head to bob with, the hits kept coming.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

V is for Venom

Some guy told me that products with names starting with the letter V never sell as well as competing "non-V" brands. I always preferred Vivarin to NoDoz, and it's my understanding that Vagisil is the industry standard of the yeast infection world, but I believed the guy. I made a solemn vow to never name one of my bands with a V first letter-- a vow I've kept to this day.

Van Halen - Fair Warning (1981)
I've already written about this record at least twice (#1, #2), so I'll spare you. I like Van Halen, Diver Down, and 1984 almost as much for lots of reasons, but Fair Warning is the best.

Townes Van Zandt - Live at the Old Quarter (1977)
My first favorite Townes record was Live and Obscure, which I've since lost. I still tell myself that the L & O versions are better than the Old Quarter ones, which doesn't seem possible but sure is fun to believe.

The Vaselines - The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History (1992)
Me and my friends I lived with in Providence once found an unidentified mixed tape in our house. The cassette was mysteriously and beautifully labelled white hot bee shot through flesh. Either (1) it belonged to former tenants of the house, (2) it was accidentally left behind by a girl that came over, or (3) it was a gift from a girl that came over. We knew it was made by a girl because the label on the tape was exquisitely written in very cool lowercase letters no male would be capable of rendering. Scenario (1) seemed ridiculous, so it had to be (2) or (3). Since we were drunk at least 85% of the time we lived at this particular house, (3) was the clear-cut winner.

Anyway, side A of white hot bee opened with "Son of a Gun," as I'm sure thousands of other cool tapes have opened across the world. The frightening thing about this mix was the B side, which featured an ambient "song" featuring what we believed to be a young child whimpering, possibly while being tortured. The "crying song" was so terrifying that I almost had a nervous breakdown listening to it one morning while I was deathly hung over. We never tried very hard to solve the mystery of the tape, probably out of mortal fear.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood (1983)
So fucking good.

Velvet Crush - In The Presence Of Greatness (1991)
So fu Here's a record that just feels right. I (barely) remember staggering around pushing this one on anyone forced to listen, calling it "what the new Fanclub should sound like." Unfortunately, when Velvet Crush got their turn to make a "studio" album, they just couldn't make it stick. Too bad, because Teenage Symphonies... is really good too.

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
I made a name for myself for a while with asinine jukebox hijinks, like playing the Scorps' "Ветер перемен" (the Russian version of "Wind of Change") three times in a row at a bar in Montreal, or pulling the "00" trick to play awful albums like Jagged Little Pill in their entirety. I was nearly thrown out/beat up for delivering another three-fer at a joint in Kenai, AK: the Velvets' "All Tomorrow's Parties" with two encores.

The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat (1968)

If the third VU made me want to write my own songs, this one made me want to record them. Myself, that is. I had to play "Sister Ray" at least three times in a row the first time I heard it, just to make sure I was hearing what I thought I was hearing. One of the most important things I've ever listened to.

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground (1969)

If the second VU made me want to record my own songs, this one made me want to write the songs first. Tough to make an album this perfect, especially when it contains nine minutes of embarassing garbage.

The Velvet Underground - Loaded (1970)

I've slagged this record so many times, it's a bit surprising that I have any friends left at all. Of course it's great! I just thought it should've been their best record instead of their worst. And if it's not their worst, which of the other three is it better than?

Venom - Black Metal (1982)
Drawn by Satan?
OK, I've never even heard this record, but I believe it's the one to have if you're interested in Venom (it features a song called "Countess Bathory," OK?). There was a weird guy named Vinnie at my high school that was pretty much the biggest Venom fan on Earth, or any other realm. I figured Vinnie listened to Venom because they were the only metal band that had yet to disappoint him; perhaps no other group of men could possibly live up to his unspeakably evil standards. Slayer? Used to like 'em. Metallica? Fucking sellouts. Maiden? Please!!!
Vinnie had lots of Venom shirts (at least five, anyway), but the Black Metal one stuck with me. Not that I ever let Vinnie know that I was looking at it or him, of course.

The Verlaines - Bird Dog (1987)
A great record to listen to by yourself.

Versus - "Let's Electrify" EP (1993)
I can't find my copy. Probably lost in the "take whatever the fuck you want as long as I can keep the computer" portion of my divorce. Pretty hard to find, but has to be their finest release. Recorded at the legendary Studio Red in Philly, pre-flood.

V-3 - Photograph Burns (1996)
I think Joey Pants gave me a promo of this, but maybe not. Dark, great, and tragic.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Game Changers"

One of my favorite games to play with friends is something we call "Roll the Bones." To play, one distributes ten fair dice (ten-sided dragon dice are optimal, but not required) amongst all players (as equally as possible), and the players roll all ten dice simultaneously. Each player creates their own distinct ten-digit number sequence (not starting with "0" or "1") using the digits randomly generated by the dice, and then enters their unique sequence into their cellular phone. The players depress their "call" buttons at the same time, and upon connection with a receiving party begin screaming at maximum volume into their phones. The player that keeps their target receiver on the phone the longest wins that particular round.

Another fun game is to create specific musical criteria for bands, albums, musicians, etc., and name as many examples as possible that satisfy or exemplify the conditions. Example: Bands whose second album was generally considered to be their finest, or Bands named after a member other than the lead singer, or "Good" bands whose album catalogs contain a majority of releases that are "not good."

Of course the answers are highly subjective, which is why the game is so fun. Anyway, here's a new one I thought of a few nights ago... It expands on an earlier topic I came up with: Bands that were successful in two different incarnations, each featuring a different lead singer.

[note: You might have some better ideas than the ones I'm suggesting-- please share/discuss via comments! It's really fun!]

"Game Changers"
Bands that replaced or added a member(s) and reached new levels of success.
The band must have a minimum of two proper full-length releases before the addition/replacement, and the new member must be an integral part of the newfound success. So, no Peart for Rutsey.

Fleetwood Mac - Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham replace Bob Welch (1975)
Tough to beat this one. Bob Welch was a major Mac member, but the Buckingham/Nicks upgrade was like getting Ruth/Gehrig for Jimmy Dykes. Or like getting Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton for Bob Welch...

Journey - Steve Perry replaces Robert Fleischman (1977)
Perry really was recruited to augment the existing vocalists Neil Schon and Gregg Rolie-- a job Fleischman apparently couldn't hack. Have you ever heard Gregg Rolie sing "Open Arms?" Me neither.

AC/DC - Brian Johnson replaces Bon Scott (1980)
Before you accuse me of blasphemy, I love Bon Scott. It's just that Back In Black is one of the biggest selling albums in the history of mankind, so I think this qualifies.

Doobie Brothers - Michael McDonald replaces Tom Johnston (1975)
That's gotta suck... "Hey bro, sorry about your ulcer. Listen, Mike's just gonna fill in for a while."

Faith No More - Mike Patton replaces Chuck Mosley (1988)
I owned records by these guys both before and after the above switch, and I can attest to the fact that Faith No More became a better and more popular band as a result.

Genesis - Phil Collins replaces John Mayhew (1970)
'Nuff said.

More Drummers:
Sleater-Kinney - Janet Weiss replaces Laura Macfarlane (1996)
Completed the new definition of power trrrio with vocals, style, and kick-ass drums.

Flaming Lips - Steven Drozd replaces Nathan Roberts (1991)
They just happened to start selling lots of records when this guy starts playing drums? Hmm...

Simple Minds
- Mel Gaynor replaces Mike Ogletree (1982)
Listen to "Don't You (Forget About Me)" and report back to me. Don't forget.

Sort of:
Red Hot Chili Peppers - John Frusciante replaces DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight (1988)
Tough one. They've gotten so big it doesn't seem to matter who plays guitar at this point.

Survivor - Jimi Jamison replaces Dave Bickler (1984)
Most people think "Eye of the Tiger" when Survivor comes up, and that's Bickler. On the other hand, I think of "High On You," "The Search Is Over," "I Can't Hold Back," and other hit singles featuring vocalist Jimi Jamison.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Men's Water Polo (United States v. Romania)

Here we are live from the, um, pool with the Americans' prelim against Romania. Pretty sure these guys will be tougher than Montenegro, whom we barely beat on Sunday.

It's tough to imagine a more boring sport than water polo. Boring to watch, that is. Fourteen hulking men (or women, who are probably hulking as well) tread water in a giant pool for what seems like forever and try to throw a ball into each other's goal. Torture for both viewer and participant.

The commentators opened today's segment by repeatedly reminding their likely novice viewers that water polo is the most difficult sport in the world to play. Every sport (except baseball and golf) claims to be the most physically demanding sport in the world. Ironically, the two hardest things to do in sports are (1) hitting a major league curveball, and (2) hitting a golf ball near crowds of people without killing anyone.

If you're actually interested in the rules of water polo, check out this idiotic guide courtesy of ESPN. I learned that the goalies are about half as large as the other players, and that the playing area is marked by lines of "bouys."

My college roommate was on the school water polo and swim teams, and my buddies and I would often cheer him on at home meets. There was a particularly buxom freshman girl on the swim team that was legendary for causing epileptic seizure epidemics simply by climbing out of the pool after a race. Boy, do I miss college.

Speaking of miracles of science, I had a particularly grueling MRI done last week. I was back at the __________ Imaging Center, the same place I've had this kind of thing done in the past. I reprised one of my earlier performances by enduring a brain-spine-thoracic scan, which most industry insiders consider the Iron Man Triathlon of MRIs. This particular combination usually takes almost an hour to complete, and can last well over 75 minutes with contrast injections. The three components of the examination are rarely administered consecutively, except perhaps with patients in vegetative states, medically induced comas, etc. Unless, of course, that patient is none other than The Ice Pop.

The ____________ Imaging Center is absolutely top-notch, with state-of-the-art equipment and a wonderful staff. I've developed a bit of a name for myself at this particular facility for my ability to endure long periods of time "inside the tube." I scrawl my signature on the required forms and releases, skipping most of the minutae I imagine most clients are asked to complete. An annoying man on a cell phone jabbers away next to me as his partner (girlfriend? paid escort?) fills out his paperwork. Apparently he had a meeting later in the afternoon and was annoyed at waiting so long. You think this is a long time? You're about to learn all about time, my friend...

A nurse materializes from the special elevator, and summons me to come "down to the center." She also summons the phone guy and his companion, which struck me as odd. Before I could think much about it, the jackass bounds past me and almost knocks me off my fucking walker. The nurse stammers an apology (for him), and escorts the three of us into the elevator.

The jerk was still yelling into his phone as we descended two floors beneath the earth. The nurse says, "Sir, you can't use your phone now. There's no reception down here anyway!" The guy, who looked like Kelsey Grammer after ten twists in a vertical head-vise, loses his signal and growls at the nurse. We finally arrive at the facility proper.

Again, this place usually runs with as smooth and efficient as a Swiss train. But something is a bit off today, which is both concerning and a bit depressing. The waiting area, always a calming oasis with tons of room, was completely packed. A guy with a yarmulke rocked an infant in an enormous stroller while his wife waited for her exam to begin. Grammer keeps arguing with the escort nurse, and I calmly wait for my own personal nurse to show me the changing room, outfit my catheter, and present me to the awaiting team of imaging technicians.

My suspicions were validated right away, as the escort nurse fumbled around with a few plastic jugs of barium sulfate for Grammer. He was slated ahead of me (I guess?), but still hadn't drank his barium for whatever the hell he was having done. She says they can fit me in ahead of him as soon as I'm changed, and hands me a plastic keychain. I say, "Shorts and shoes off, robe tied in front?" and she says, "No, just put your bag in the locker, and don't take off your shoes." I say, "OK, but shorts off, right?" and she says, "Leave them on, and don't take off your shoes." I imagined my shorts ripping off my body and through the tube by their metal snap, but didn't argue. As I made my way over to the changing lockers, a new nurse (named "Nimh") hops out of the imaging rooms and asks if I'm ready. I say, "Just putting my bag away," and Nimh says, "Shorts off. Keep your shoes on." WTF?

I came out of the locker area, and asshole was slurping barium sulfate like a kid at the soda shoppe. The guy with the baby has his black shoes off and seems to be nodding off, while his wife was already in room #2. Nimh leads me in to the tubes and I ask about my arm catheter, since I'm being scanned with and without contrast. She mutters something about not having time we'll do it later blah blah 20 minutes barium OK let's go! and I'm going in.

Finally I see my old friend, Anton LaVey. "Anton" (not really his name) is the tech that's done all my MRIs at this place, and a great guy. I'm debating between high five and handshake when Anton totally disses me-- he's just too busy with tube #2! What's even weirder is that there's a new assistant that looks like an imitation of Anton, with the shaved head, pointy beard, but not nearly as cool as his mentor. The minion, as I immediately dub him, doesn't seem to be doing much of anything.

I'm crushed that Anton won't be twirling the knobs on my scan. I had a whole back-and-forth planned out between us, after my MRI tech friend from Cali told me they were able to play music for patients while in the tubes! Something like this:

ME: "Hey man, any chance you can pipe in some tunes for me during round one? I'm thinking Cluster's Sowiesoso would be pretty sweet, if you got it."
ANTON: "Negative. We have Floyd Wish You Were Here, cool?"
ANTON: "I said, we have Floyd..."
ME: "Yeah, I heard you."
ME: "Nah, forget it."

Instead, I get Nimh herself doing the setup and the controls for my MRI. I'm imagining results weeks later looking like an Etch-a-Sketch drawing, and a report stating, "Results inconclusive..." But Nimh was alright, deftly inserting my earplugs and packing my head tightly into the plastic helmet. She packs more foam next to my ears so that I literally can't hear anything (great!), but then explains what the first round would entail while I'm halfway inside the tube (bmfft mwar bmffa mwrlla wrrmf... mmkay?!).

With my head as cozy as a cotton clam, I'm totally in the zone within minutes. I like to keep my eyes barely open while in the tube, like a really stoned frankfurter. I'm about 20 minutes in and feeling like I can do 25 to life when I'm yanked out of the machine. Nimh tells me they have to fit in another client because his barium only works for so long and he's been waiting and I'll have to finish the other parts of my MRI when he's done in about 30 minutes. Fucking Grammer!

I make the walk of shame back out to the lounge, and Grammer's in his robe like some kind of perv waiting to pounce. The magazine table looks like the common area of an upstate SUNY dorm, with shit all over the place. The dad is full on passed out now, and still has his damn shoes off. Why does he get to take his shoes off?!! His child is now awake, and getting restless in his enormous stroller. Making matters worse, my iPod and crossword puzzle are locked in the damn locker, and I can't get to the magazines because of the stroller and the barium bottles. Plus my balls are totally squeezing out of my boxer briefs.

Any questions?

At least I have a front row seat for Grammer's X-ray! I can't tell if it's his head or his stomach, but I can make out what looks like a giant scorpion on the screen. Doesn't look good. Anton's minion is assisting on Grammer's imaging, but is really just fucking around on the side computer. The snoring dad is subconsciously rocking the stroller every time his kid starts fussing. I'm fucking pissed off for almost an hour.

Well, I finally got back in there with the minion running my MRI. He turned out to be an OK guy, and nothing of any interest occurred. The contrast went into my vein like metallic Tussin, and I didn't complain much. All in all, I was down on the imaging floor for a total of three hours.

The U.S. beat Romania in water polo 10-8.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Women's Volleyball (United States v. Brazil)

"Ladies, let's not get ugly out there..."
I missed the entire first set because my son fell in the toilet.

Hey, I caught I nice chunk of the Serbia-Korea match this morning, which was thoroughly entertaining. The Serbian Ivana Đerisilo caught my eye, mainly because I was so busy averting my eyes from the rest of the players on the court (don't bother trying Đerisilo's personal website-- it diverts to a diabetic supply company (?!)). That's not sexism, because I hate watching ugly guys like Mike Miller play in the NBA too, and my other favorite sports all mandate the wearing of helmets. The Serbian coach, Zoran Terzić, was like Aidan Quinn trapped in some kind of fetishistic nightmare. Let's just say they won't be appearing nude in an ESPN photo essay.

Perhaps the Serbs would have fared better against a team not featuring the superhuman Kim Yeon-Koung. I thought she was at least 6'8", but my depth perception was a bit off while I peeked through my hands. Apparently she is known as the "Asian Gamova," which means about as much to me as calling her "Funicular Hedge." My research did reveal that Yeon-Koung is one of the only members of her national team that doesn't play for a team called Korean Highway Corp. Either way, she dominated the game.

As for teams that did appear
nude in an ESPN photo essay, the Americans seem to be in control here. Destinee Hooker is literally blasting the ball down the throats of her opponents, which is pretty awesome! I don't see how they can lose with her at the net. I'm assuming the rest of the team is at least competent. One of the commentators keeps calling the U.S. women "workmanlike." Like, multiple times.

Brazil is making a comeback. Sheilla is mind-blowingly good-- I'm wondering why I don't watch Brazilian volleyball more often. Powerhouse Paula Pequeno seems strong enough to deforest a sizable chunk of the Amazonian rainforest with her bare hands. My third or fourth favorite part of Team Brazil is the diminutive libero Fabiana, who has the appearance of a South American Jerri Blank (she can't possibly be confused with their other Fabiana, who is 6-4 and stunningly beautiful). Fabiana scurries on and off the court like she has absolutely no idea what she's doing, or so I thought until I learned that her position requires her to scurry on and off the court depending on who's serving.

OK, Brazil took the third set and trails 2-1. [zzzzzzzzzzzzz... zzzzzzzzzzz...] Whoops, the U.S. won! [zzzzzzzzz... zzzzzzzzz...]

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Women's Soccer (New Zealand v. Brazil)

This isn't going to be easy.

I've been planning my coverage of the 2012 Olympics since I first learned that London would be hosting the games (about a month ago). The challenges are myriad: time zone differences, children, confusing broadcast programming, lack of prescription drugs... But here we are.

I've decided to go with NBC Sports (channel 122), since it sounds more appropriate than CNBC, MSNBC or Bravo. NBC proper is showing cycling, which I can watch right outside my living room window.

The last 15 minutes of the first half were pretty good. Nil-nil. The Brazilians are absolutely manhandling abusing the Kiwis. Blatant shoves on the sidelines, brutal kicks to the gut on the ground, and even what appeared to be a flat-out insult by Marta. No shit, I saw one of the players standing directly behind a blonde New Zealander during a free kick, rubbing her hands vigorously up and down her opponent's chest and stomach. This is way more exciting than men's cycling.

Still no scoring at the 60-minute mark. Totally into it. Fabiana's pretty dope! Worried that I'm not gonna make it through this whole game...
My wife dragged our shrieking children across the street to the playground about a half hour ago, so I don't have much time here. Last time out the boy kept telling some kid named John that he "looked like a girl," and some adult intervention was required. I told Jr. later on that it's not nice to tell boys that they look like girls, and he said that this one might have been a "boy-girl." Since I wasn't actually at the playground for the incident, I just said, "Well, all Johns are boys," and changed the subject.

We're at 75:00 now. Hey, the opening ceremony was sort of cool! Helped that I was buzzed on some kind of 7.2% weird red beer (Dog-Snake? Dogbite?) and pretty loose after the drubbing of the Red Sox. We didn't really have the sound on, so I had no idea what was going on most of the time, or any sense of what things "meant." That was a big plus.

I was transfixed by the beige-clad escorts of each nation's athletes, and the mysterious objects they were holding. I thought they were either autoharps or personal spittoons (for olive pits?)-- turned out they were components of the massive torch-piece for the finale. Even the Pink Floyd thing worked for me, but I just couldn't sit still for "Hey Jude." Total downer! "Get Back" would've been awesome but a bit confusing... I don't know.

OK, Brazil finally scores after 85 minutes of slogging away. Looks like Fabiana's hurt, or simply exhausted. Put this one in the ledger.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

U is for Urban Dance Squad

Cross-eyed and painful
I looked through my vast subset of CDs by artists beginning with the letter U, and made the extraordinary discovery that many of my personal favorites were all released in the same year! Utopia's Oops! Wrong Planet, Uriah Heep's Innocent Victim, and Ultravox's Ha!-Ha!-Ha! were all born in 1977, and used lots of exclamation points!!! Instead of alienating the shrinking fan base this blog is very fortunate to still have, I've decided to focus on a slightly more contemporary time period...

The early '90s were a marvelous 1000+ days to be alive, especially if you weren't busy overdosing or listening to Michael Bolton. Here are some of the very best records from 1990-1993, all found in the ubiquitous U section.

Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (1990)

Most people I know felt like they'd been waiting to hear this record for most of their life. Not literally waiting for this specific release (like the new MBV?), but waiting for something to sound like this. When everyone on earth was slogging their way through Ragged Glory (myself included), these boys from Belleville took Neil somewhere completely fresh and new. The first three songs alone were responsible for thousands of drunken fights, follies, and promises in my circle of friends, and that's well before "Whiskey Bottle" and "Outdone" hit the stereo.

The first time I met these guys, I told them they reminded me of Metallica. That was the highest praise I could possibly give, but I don't believe it came across that way. In fact, I might as well have said they sounded like Michael Bolton.

Urban Dance Squad - "Deeper Shade of Soul" (1990)

Very little is known about a trip I made with two (three?) of my buddies to see Urban Dance Squad at [unknown club] in New York.
We're sure that we were forcibly removed from the club before the band began, and at least two of us were wearing "U.D.S." promotional goggles/sunglasses for the event.
We think that tequila was consumed on the LIRR trip in, and one of us puked generously at Penn Station after the event, prompting the following exchange:
Cop: "Are you sick or just drunk?"
One of us: "Both!"
We fear that the three (four?) of us ordered Chinese food somewhere near 34th St., sat at a table with our food, dumped the food out on the table, ate some food, and then spat on the floor.

Ultra Vivid Scene - "Special One" promo CD (1990)

No puking or Chinese food associated with this one. Features samples of "Funky Drummer," "When the Levee Breaks," and vocals by Kim Deal. Pure '90s.

U2 - Achtung Baby (1991)

A completely underappreciated album. Five singles, a consistent sound and concept, and just plain fun. I mean, when's the last time someone had a meaningful discussion about how great Achtung Baby is?! Wait, it sold well over twenty million copies worldwide? Still underappreciated.

I stole the CD single for "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" at Walt Whitman mall right before seeing Glengarry Glen Ross with a veritable drunken posse. I passed out at the beginning of the film, and woke up amongst my cackling friends, utterly confused and lonely.

Urge Overkill - The Supersonic Storybook (1991)

I wasn't right-away hip to the first two UO joints, but this one totally did it for me. Nothing more fun than indie rockers acting like megastars and pulling it off. Pretty fucking cool.

My friend Kong and I had an ecclesiastical listen to "The Candidate" on about 1/3 malt liquor, 1/2 weed, and 1/6 cough syrup. We then agreed it was as trippy a song as we could remember, and we still agree to this day.

Unrest - Imperial f.f.r.r. (1992)

Unrest was the opposite of Urge Overkill: shrewdly calculating indie rockers acting like indie rockers and pulling it off. They played their cards perfectly with well-placed 7" releases, deft steps along the indie label landscape, and finally a masterful full-length in the Imperial release. Irresistable high-energy pop ("Suki"), pretty drone songs (title track), perfect synthesis of the two ("I Do Believe You Are Blushing"), experimental/ragtag interludes ("Champion Nines," "Sugarshack"), gorgeous balladry ("Isabel"), and full-circle breakneck pop ("Cherry Cream On"). It really holds up, even if you're totally over the label hipster scene.

Uncle Tupelo - March 16-20, 1992 (1992)

No confusing this release with the label hipster scene, unless devastatingly depressing acoustic numbers about coal miners and bulldog gravy are your idea of "indie pop." The Tweedy numbers on this collection are like sprawling daydream-nightmares of America-- the musical equivalent of being crucified. That said, it's actually an enjoyable and even uplifting record ("Sandusky") that carries fond memories for me. Let's ignore the fact that we substituted the word "tussin" into key verses throughout nearly every selection on the album ("Lookin' for a sip of tussin... maybe a sip of mine..."). A nice record to pass out to with all the lights on.

Urge Overkill - Saturation (1993)

Geffen finally gave the UO their big chance, and the rockstar act became reality... for a short while. This record sounds incredible, and there's at least four picture-perfect rockers on here. "Sister Havana" and "Positive Bleeding" were everywhere, and the hipsters that Urge used to have in their hip pockets started looking elsewhere.

Maybe that's why "Dropout" was always my favorite on this record. It's a classic chillout number, kinda sounds like a demo, everyone holds up their lighters (not phones!), etc. I interpreted it as the end of the indie rock era, but that's just me.

US3 - "Cantaloop" (1993)I just couldn't escape this god-forsaken song, everywhere I went. I even pocketed a promo of the damn thing hoping it might provide some sort of protection. Commercials, MTV shows, supermarkets, aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!

I went to a friend's house for dinner (he will remain nameless, for several reasons), and he fucking put this song on just as we sat down to eat! In fact, he put on the whole damn record! When it happened a second time a few months later, I knew the US3 conspiracy was terrifyingly real.

U2 - Zooropa (1993)
I was way too fucked up on several families of intoxicants during the summer this came out to say anything worthwhile about this album, but I know that I loved it to death. I had one of those 5-CD changers, and I used to sneak this one in there along with weirder instrumental stuff. Zooropa always held its own. At least, I think that's what I was listening to.

Uncle Tupelo - Anodyne (1993)

Let's close things out with this one, the swan song for our beloved UT. I told anyone that still listened to me that this was their very best record, and I became so obsessed that I allegedly demanded that a future band of mine record our only proper studio record live in deference to Anodyne (I lost the banjo argument, but did manage to get violin on a few tunes).

Once Uncle Tupelo lost the three-piece thing, they became something else. What exactly they became depends on whom you ask, but I'll just say "something else." I saw them at least four times on this tour, and I saw their very last regular set in Columbia, MO before the final pair at Mississippi Nights. Sounded like Jay was diddle-soloing over Jeff's verses, but I'll say for sure that the guys were ready to move on.

I guess I was ready to move on, too. I quit my own three-piece band a few months later, and I did it at Cicero's in St. Louis, MO.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

T is for Trip Shakespeare

"You will find a weapon..."
Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
Not the one most people pick, which (I can't deny) makes me like it even more. I like the fact that it still sounds like a live band, except we've got Eno floating around overhead. He's kind of just observing, but occasionally breathes a cloud of synth-mist when he deems it appropriate.
These guys were absolutely ahead of their time, but also very much in their time.

Talking Heads - Remain in Light (1980)

So fucking good... This is the one topping most lists. Hotshots galore (Belew, Nona Hendryx, Jon Hassell, Robert Palmer (!)), but that's just fine. A party album for wiseass dorks, but also a dark sonic tunnel for dopeheads. James Murphy was listening.

Teenage Fanclub - A Catholic Education (1990)
Not the one most people pick, which (I can't deny) has gotten me into more than a few ridiculous fights. "Everything Flows" is the best and most important song of '90s indie rock. Period.
I never thought of this as a pop record, despite coming from indie pop's "next big thing." When this record came out, I was blissfully slogging around in the sludgy morass of the day: anything from Seattle, Ragged Glory, Goo, as well as MBV, Ride, etc. The murkier the better.
"Everything Flows" emerged from the swamp like a beast of enlightenment, still a creature of the mud but clearly headed somewhere better. It also carried an entire album on its back, giving brilliant context to a collection of occasionally very good songs. We listen to the rest of A Catholic Education to reconcile our silly lives with the opening track.

Teenage Fanclub - Bandwagonesque (1991)
I popped in an advance cassette of this album sometime early in the fall of '91.
I was amongst friends and fans (not of me, of music), and sat seething in my chair as the pretty outro of "The Concept" slowly faded away. I then took the tape out and threw it across the room (did I really do that? not exactly sure) in disgust. What the fuck were the Fanclub doing? I proclaimed their new album to be "worse than The King" and drank myself stupid (did I really do that? probably). I even suggested that we were being duped by yet another throwaway album, and that the "real" new Teenage Fanclub record is still out there somewhere.
I eventually calmed down and learned that Bandwagonesque was almost perfect (except for the first two songs, since I still can't listen to "The Concept" with a straight mind). "I Don't Know" and "Star Sign" are all-time greats, and "Alcoholiday" became a life-anthem for my tightest group of friends at the time, albeit in a slightly revised form ("We've got nothin', let's drink tussin...").

Television - Marquee Moon (1977)
I was kinda young when I bought this one, and scrambled for reference points when I first heard it. I was certainly no stranger to guitar records, but this was from another universe. I was still under the impression that the Allmans Fillmore stuff was as far as two guitars could go, and the title track changed my mind. Funny, "Marquee Moon" and "You Don't Love Me" are more similar than anyone might imagine.

Richard & Linda Thompson - Shoot Out the Lights (1982)
I bought the cassette of Across a Crowded Room right when it came out, after seeing the video for "When the Spell is Broken" (great fucking song). I wanted more, and some quick research (a book!) led me to Shoot Out the Lights. Blown away, I vowed never to buy another Dire Straits record after Brothers In Arms, which I had just bought.

Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)This is as much clean fun as one can possibly have with a clear conscience while listening to absurd math/post-rock from Chicago. I used to pronounce the pastiched masterpiece opening track ("Djed") as "JED" but with a slight hint of the D, kind of like DJIBOUTI. I am an idiot.

Trip Shakespeare - Are You Shakespearienced? (1989)
This was the unanimous theme of a life-changing summer voyage seven of us took to the largest state in the union. Most people don't really like this record, let alone love it like I always will. Guess you had to be there.

Pete Townshend - Empty Glass (1980)
I listened to this one on headphones on an early '80s family trip to California. Hearing "I Am an Animal" while driving up the coast was a profoundly formative experience, both musically and personally. Great songs, exquisite musicianship, and Pete's arrival as a vocalist. Oh yeah, the terrifying baring of a pained human soul as well.

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991)
It wasn't exactly a challenge to find a great rap record in 1991, but this one slammed like an upright bass over the back of your head. Not many got the "jazz" thing right in '90s hip-hop, and these guys nailed it down first and best.
Me and the "Alcoholiday" crew I referenced earlier blew the roof off a party in Providence with this joint. Our band had just moved to town, and we were slowly getting to know the local scenesters. We were finally invited to a party, and decided to bring this CD along with a few 40s. Not exactly revolutionary from our parts, but our party hosts eyed our entrance as if we'd walked in with Uzis and a pitbull.
What happened? Whaddya think-- we rocked the house, met some ladyfriends, and I think I walked home in the snow at six-in-tha-moooornin'.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

S is for Stinking Lizaveta

Oh Canada!!!

This is getting ridiculous... I have way too many "S" albums. How 'bout I just pick ten of 'em?

Wait! Check out this hilarious Saga "coupon" that came with my remastered CD of Worlds Apart! Can you imagine collecting 10 different Saga coupons?!! That would mean buying 10 different Saga albums.

So instead of ten Saga albums, here's ten great albums. No coupons, but I'll personally guarantee each one:

DJ Shadow - The Private Press (2002)
Maybe Endtroducing... is the better record, but I've listened to this one a lot more. Along with N*E*R*D's In Search Of..., some codeine and a few Ambiens, I made The Private Press an integral part of my "Shot Nights" in the wonderful summer of 2002. Both records seemed to magically change over the last few tracks (hmm...) and always mellowed me out (aaahhh...). Still waiting for Shadow to come back to Earth and make some great records again.

Sonny Sharrock - Ask The Ages (1991)
Beautiful, terrifying, and not the best record to spin when you're trying to get laid. Let's leave it at that.

Paul Simon - Greatest Hits, Etc. (1977)
I thought this was about the coolest record I'd ever seen when I was a kid. Something about the soothing browns, the nice font with all the musicians on every song, and the amazing opening track that made me love it. I had no idea what Tony Levin or Steve Gadd even looked like at this point (thankfully), but I knew they were cool for sure.
My grandmother was a piano teacher at Manhattan School of Music, but didn't know diddly about 70s modern pop/rock. That didn't stop her from gently banging out tunes from the Greatest Hits, Etc. songbook while I tried to sing like Paulie. She even thought a few of the tunes were pretty good, but I can't remember which ones.

Slayer - Reign In Blood (1986)
A strong candidate for the greatest record ever made. Name me another album that features a band tearing apart a six-pack of Stella Artois on the back cover. Oh, you actually found another one?! Now try to tell me it's better than Reign In Blood.

Sly - There's a Riot Goin' On (1971)
Sometimes it's annoying when a really depressing record is hailed a masterpiece because it's so depressing, right? I never found this one even remotely depressing, which is probably why I'm not a successful music critic. I boogied my cracker ass off listening to this masterpiece on a cassette Walkman next to some god-forsaken river in Alaska after drinking a full bottle of cough syrup for the first time... how's that for depressing?!

Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love (1987)
This one's absolutely perfect. If I ever made a record this good I'd probably eat a live raccoon and puke in my pants. Five, count 'em, five hit singles!

Spoon - A Series of Sneaks (1998)

Squeeze - Singles 45's and Under (1982)
When's the last time you listened to this whole thing start to finish? Do it and report back to me, please.

Steely Dan - The Royal Scam (1976)
Yeah, yeah, fucking Aja, blah blah, Can't Buy A Thrill, yeah, yeah, I love 'em all. But this one has "Kid Charlemagne" and "Green Earrings" on it.

The Stooges - Fun House (1970)

Me and my buddy Kong woke up on the floor in the early morning after a house party in Westchester, and immediately started drinking the leftover beer. We cranked Fun House and started stumbling/slamming into each other, infuriating dozens of hungover former friends. Punk rock.

Friday, May 11, 2012

R is for Red Hot Chili Peppers

"Lee, why don't you write any more?"

County Fair, Watertown, NY
Well, I ran out of drugs. I can't write for shit unless I'm a little tickled under the old hood, y'know? Wish it wasn't true, but it is. I've never written a decent song without a little help from me frenz, and same goes for whatever they call this sort of baloney. Anyway...

I don't like Radiohead at all. I hated "Creep" and never gave the poor blokes a fair shake from then on. I'm more than willing to classify them as a good band, but I just don't like them. I've called OK Computer a piece of shit at least a hundred times, and I meant it every time.

That's what's so great about music (and movies, TV, sports, and most other things), right? We can hate stuff that we know is "good" and not look like complete idiots. This is what separates us from primates and computers, from what I understand.

That said, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is one of the very best records of the '90s. I couldn't wait for this one to arrive back in 1995, and I was lucky enough to snag a CD promo of "Criminology"/"Glaciers of Ice" a bit early. This single kicked my faggotty ass in such a profound way that I'm still in artists' therapy. The A-side is like nothing I've heard before or since-- way off the map in every which way.

"Criminology" opens with standard Sosa/Montana shit, soon followed by a musical stampede of elephants and rhinoceroses. The majestic chorus of horns and drums brings us to late 19th century Africa, something like a Mingus interpretation of the ivory trade. Before we can say "pith hat" we're rudely shifted into a completely different world for the first verse.

Rae's hilarious "Julio Iglesias" scat provides little comfort, as a stark, tubularly metallic riff ("Hell's xylophone," I originally dubbed it) threatens to suck out our souls. Imagine an Escher-style escalator with razor blades for steps, and you're getting warmer (meaning colder). Dorothy, we're not in the Belgian Congo anymore. Ghostface reacts appropriately with a ferocious verse that I'm not sure I understand, which is more than fine with me.

But the quick fade from Africa to Hell reveals the true horror of this track: the underlying drum track. The elephant stampede beat is solid as a rock, but the escalator beat staggers along like a three-legged baby okapi. It's downright pathetic. RZA made sure the kick don't quite fall on the one, and the snare most definitely misses the three. This beat's certainly not safari-worthy, and might not even make it down the driveway to pick up the mail.

The elephants return when Ghost finishes, but seconds later they're gone. Rae's verse kicks in, with enough classic lines to generate an entire Mobb Deep album's worth of choruses. By now we're settling in somewhat, resigned to the back-and-forth between stampedes and verses. We're gonna make it!

Unfortunately, there is no third chorus. Instead, RZA makes one of the more profane arranger/producer decisions since Todd Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star: he actually "gives the drummer some." Problem is, he goes with the crippled okapi drummer instead of the elephants! This guy can't even see straight, let alone get people on the dance floor. Yes, the first single off Raekwon's debut album contains a drum solo. Too bad his kick drum's flamming like an old sneaker and his snare sounds like a box of cereal.

The track mercifully starts winding down at around 3:10, reaching some sort of musical resolution. All track elements are reunited for the fadeout, as the stampede of horns charges side by side with the metallic nightmare and disabled drummer, who throws in some fancy syncopation with two seconds left... certainly too little, too late.

Don't even get me started on "Glaciers of Ice."

Wanna sound like an idiot? Tell people that you like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I mean, tell your hipster "music" friends you like 'em or even just liked 'em. With few exceptions, you'll be kicked out of the conversation or abandoned completely.

Like Phil Collins, the Chili Peppers have dug their own undeserved grave. I suppose one might say they deserve the grave because they chose to dig it themselves, but in truth the plot was already reserved for them long before they broke ground. In other words, they were destined for hatred and didn't really give a shit. The fact that they actually became worldwide superstars despite their... OK, this isn't making sense.

RHCP were one of the best bands in the world in the mid-80s. If you saw them play a club with less than 500 people inside, you're not arguing with me. Maybe a dozen bands combined punk rock and musicianship to the degree we're talking about here: Bad Brains, Minutemen, Gang of Four (maybe)... but how many were all about fun? Like, partying fun. No politics, no rules, and definitely no clams onstage.Flea made the Red Hot Chili Peppers great, and not just fun. I know he's like a cartoon character at this point, but you had to take him absolutely seriously as a musician and force of nature back then. Were the songs good? Not really. Were things done in good taste? Never. What about the vocals? Easily top 5 technically worst singers of all time. But Flea (and by extension, the rest of the band) played so well that you couldn't ignore it, but so hard that you'd get knocked on your ass if you stopped to watch. Charles fucking Barkley.

Crowds at Chili Peppers shows got a bit dangerous. Before you begin lecturing on your high horse, I'm talking about the crossover factor; the whole frat punk thing. You had lots of drunk guys going to their first "punk rock" show, and losing their shit when some sweaty dude with a shaved head knocked their ass on the floor while they were trying to watch some music and maybe get laid. The "code" was lost and stupid fights replaced the occasional elbow in the back of your head. Oops.

Regardless, Flea's more than OK in my book. Mike Watt's cool for cool people; Flea's cool for himself.

So everyone knows about Raymond and Peter now, but there was actually a time when Shut Up Little Man! was considered underground. Easily one of the best recordings of the early '90s... I enjoyed the holy hell out of this thing with HSPussy for countless hours. If you want to learn something about the depths of humanity, here's a good place to start.

Luck of the Draw
by Bonnie Raitt contains two of my favorite songs of all time. I've attempted both on karaoke stages, much to Brooklyn's chagrin.


Umm, I'm noticing that people talk about Otis Redding a bit less each year. Go buy something by the man (in a store!) and do something about this disturbing trend.

Now I get to talk about Lou Reed. What a fucking wacko. His records are as infuriating as the Velvets' stuff is great. I've come to the conclusion that Lou has ingeniously calculated and executed his entire career with the sole intention of frustrating his listeners. Sorry, but his "challenging" works along with his outright garbage just aren't outweighed by the rewards. I own pretty much all of his rock records, and I'll listen to Blue Mask, Rock'n'Roll Animal if I'm drunk, and about seven other cuts from the rest of his catalogue. The rest can go to hell.

Hey, don't forget about Pop Beloved by the Reivers!

I can still listen to either of R.E.M.'s first two records (or Chronic Town) at any moment and love them as much as ever. Fables sort of pisses me off, and Pageant is great but I don't really enjoy it as much as I used to. The rest can go to hell.

I love people that get wasted and start fights at parties talking shit about the Replacements. I truly adore this small subset of my address book.
I'm fairly certain that I once accidentally played Romantic Warrior by Return to Forever while trying to hook up with a girl and completely blew the gig. Like, I never saw the girl again.

I could bore the boxers off everyone on earth if I went on and on about how and why DJ Pete Rock makes my day, but I probably shouldn't. If you still don't believe that rap's the most innovative genre of our lifetimes, maybe you should spend a little time with this man.

Christ, the Stones too? I thought Big Hits... and Out of Our Heads were the coolest records ever when I was about 9 or 10 years old (I didn't realize the former was a collection). I used to stare at those album covers for hours.

I stared at a few Roxy Music album covers too, but not in quite the same way. My wife and I rarely actually listen to them together, but they're kind of an intense musical bond for us. Just the idea and sound of them is something we'll always understand and share.

I hope I don't need to explain my feelings about
Rush to everyone reading this. Every once in a while I get a request to reprint my lost review of Signals, which I simply cannot do. I accidentally erased it while writing "live" on MySpace, or so I assume. The only thing left from that Friday night disaster was a piece of looseleaf with some scrawled notes and what appear to be forgery attempts of Andre Dawson's signature. This I can't explain.