Monday, May 2, 2016

(Not) Crawdaddies in Space (Goo Goo Ga-Ga-Ga)

In a 2009 post in this Empoprise-MU music blog, I quoted from a Crawdaddy review of a band that achieved its initial fame in the 1970s.

Discarding theatrics for pure energy, Talking Heads undressed pretension and the expectations of typical CBGB fare, allowing each note to attack the flesh on its own....

When the Crawdaddy reviewer was writing this, the reviewer probably wasn't thinking of a Star Trek episode from the 1960s. Halfway through this clip, at about 1:30, Spock notes that something is fascinating, and then describes his observations in two words.



If YouTube is blocked in your home country, those two words are "pure energy."

And yes, you've heard those words before, if you were around in the late 1980s. (I'm jumping decades so much, I probably should have posted this to my tymshft blog.) The words (along with other Star Trek phrases) were incorporated into the Information Society song "What's on Your Mind."



Of course, something that is sampled can be sampled again, as a Pittsburgh radio station demonstrated. Often when radio stations change formats, they stop the old format, play a short snippet of audio on a loop over and over again until people go crazy, and then start the new format. That's what the Pittsburgh radio station did, as the station - then known as WYDD - prepared to change formats, and to change its call letters to WNRJ.

WYDD-FM started playing the song "What's on Your Mind" by Information Society at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and when it got to the phrase "pure energy," repeated it over and over until 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, when the station changed to its new format. Program director Rick Sklar made a tape loop that "just kept repeating, 'Pure energy, pure energy,' " said Bob Hank, station general manager. The new station's theme is "Energy 105," based on the new call letters, W-N-R-J.

Unfortunately for the station, the listeners panicked in an Orswellian sort of way.

But listeners hoping for the usual tunes became alarmed when regular music never came on and began phoning the station, the police, the 911 emergency number and the FBI....

And the Organians weren't around to stop them from doing it.

Once the station started its "energy" format, it apparently was playing Bon Jovi rather than Information Society, based upon this soundcheck.

And the format didn't last. In less than a year, WNRJ became easy listening station WEZE, and then switched two years after that to Christian talk as WORD. Today the 104.7 frequency is occupied by WPGB, which is currently a "new country" station.

Not a "big country" station, because then we will have gone full circle in this post - and I'm not talking Scotsmen.



(For a fun trick, play the Star Trek, Information Society, and Talking Heads videos all at once.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mr. Nelson's appearances in the Empoprise-MU music blog

So after hearing the news of Prince Rogers Nelson's untimely passing, I scanned this blog to see what I had said about him previously.

Back in 2008, I mentioned his religious beliefs. (As far as I can tell, he died a Jehovah's Witness.) This quote from Prince may be appropriate in this election year.

“So here’s how it is: you’ve got the Republicans, and basically they want to live according to this.” He pointed to a Bible. “But there’s the problem of interpretation, and you’ve got some churches, some people, basically doing things and saying it comes from here, but it doesn’t. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum you’ve got blue, you’ve got the Democrats, and they’re, like, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ Gay marriage, whatever. But neither of them is right.”

My 2009 reference was a little buried. In the course of admiring Eddie Murphy's song "My God Is Color Blind," I said the following:

It was Wednesday night (I guess that makes it alright) when I found that Steven Perez shared a video on FriendFeed. The video involved Prince's competitor Rick James, and a singer named Eddie Murphy.

The next reference, later in 2009, was made in the course of not admiring Michael Jackson.

...one would think that one would be celebrating the music of Jackson - and he was clearly musically talented - but the emphasis on superlative numbers that colored all perception of Jackson throughout his life continues to haunt him after his death. Sadly, part of this was Jackson's own fault - even Prince wouldn't name his best-of album "HIStory" with a capital "HIS."

A little later, I mentioned Prince along with other influencers and influencees, including Sylvester Stewart and Joni Mitchell:

Prince attended one of my concerts in Minnesota. I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young. He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat and he had unusually big eyes. He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn’t miss him—he was a little Prince-ling. [Laughs.] Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes. And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it!

By 2010, I had moved on to Sheila E., and (possibly) another Sheila:

Now I was never really impressed with Ready for the World back in the day, since they appeared to have Prince's smuttiness without the talent. "(pant) (pant) (pant) Oh Sheila," indeed.

Enter the Human League, and one of my favorite songs from the band, "Love on the Run." What does that have to do with Prince? This song is about the only song that escaped the clutches of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who had left The Time to strike out on their own. But before they left The Time, Jam & Lewis learned one thing from Prince - and it wasn't a good thing.

That's when the "hot producers" idea kicked in, and an agreement was reached to have Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produce the band. Jam and Lewis, ex-members of the Time, were the hot producers of the moment. Three facts about Jam and Lewis were pertinent:

First, they learned their chops under Prince, who was well known for his controlling nature over projects.

Second, they had just finished working with Janet Jackson on an album called "Control."

Third, the majority of the songwriting credits on the song "Control" were held by Jam and Lewis.

Even if you had never heard the story before, you can probably guess how it's going to end.


By December, I was quoting Bob Geldof to introduce the Billy Crystal parody song "I Am Also The World." The text of my post didn't explain why Crystal wrote the song, but let's just say that the star-studded recording of "We Are The World" was a little less star-studded than it could have been. Anyway, since I didn't talk about that in the post, I'll go ahead and quote what Bob Geldof said:

I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. One is Do They Know It’s Christmas? and the other one is We Are The World.

Any day soon, I will go to the supermarket, head to the meat counter and it will be playing. Every ****ing Christmas.


By 2011, I was talking about compelling songs, including one written by Prince that was made famous by someone else (without Prince's involvement, by the way):

After persusing Spinner's list of 25 very sad songs, you can definitely see some moving ones in the list. Here are my favorites:

"Nothing Compares 2 U." Start with the work that Prince put into the song, both musically and lyrically, and then add Sinead O'Connor's performance to it. Very downlifting....


And that 2011 mention is (unless I missed something) the last time that I mentioned Mr. Nelson in this blog until today. There are a number of reasons for this, but one major one is my age and his age. We are more inclined to talk about music that was popular in our younger years, and artists themselves are more likely to achieve massive popularity in their younger years. Note that my mentions of Prince were often paired with mentions of other artists who originally achieved fame decades ago - Rick James, Eddie Murphy, Michael Jackson, Sylvester Stewart, Joni Mitchell, Sheila E., Ready for the World, the Human League, Jam & Lewis, Bob Geldof, Billy Crystal, and Sinead O'Connor. I've just listed all of the guest stars in a bad VH-1 "Remember the 80s" special.

But look at the breadth of these artists. Now many good artists are inspired by, and inspire, a variety of other artists from different types of music. These varied inspirations create masterful syntheses of different types of music. Prince certainly had his share of inspirations. Take the "Purple Rain" album - I've never listened to the whole thing, but going from the gospel-ish "Purple Rain" to the minimalist "When Doves Cry" to the psychedelic "Take Me With U" -

Wait, let's hold it right there, because there's something that has to be said about the guy. And I know he just died, but - THE DUDE COULDN'T SPELL WORTH A WHATEVER. Joni Mitchell referenced his spelling tendencies, and I've encountered message boards where the mark of a true Prince fan is to spell just like he does. (Including the unpronounceable symbol.)

It turns out that there's a name for this spelling.

Princebonics.

I was going to reference an essay on Princebonics, but prince.org is unavailable at the moment. Perhaps by the time you see this post, you - and I - can read it.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Earworm rhymes with...appendix F?

[DISCLOSURE: I AM EMPLOYED IN THE BIOMETRIC INDUSTRY, AND MY CURRENT AND FORMER EMPLOYERS HAVE OFFERED FBI CERTIFIED PRODUCTS.]

This is a follow-up to my March 23 post Why two earworms burrowed my brain. You know how some people track their dreams? I track my earworms.



I was sitting at my desk on Thursday and noticed that the Duran Duran song "American Science" was passing through my brain. I love this song, because it exhibits the world-weariness of the band in their mid-20s (the same weariness that afflicted George Harrison before his 23rd birthday). Duran Duran had enjoyed immense worldwide popularity, but by the time the "Notorious" album was released, it was getting a bit tiresome (especially for two of the Taylors, who had left the band by that time). The album song sequencing begins with the title track, "Notorious" - with its funky sound and the "notorious" lyrics that suggest earlier triumphs. But then, beginning with "American Science," side 1 of the album (back then, albums had sides) has a decided adult feel, with mentions of megalomania and the like, and the kids probably wandered away and waited for Axl Rose to show up.

I seem to have digressed from my earlier topic - WHY was this song stuck in my head?

It turns out that while sitting at my desk, I had previously read a press release from a company known as AMREL. The press release described the FBI certification of the XP7-ID biometric handheld device. In essence, FBI certification means that under certain circumstances, fingerprints captured on the XP7-ID can be submitted to the FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) system.

The press release, however, failed to mention whether the XP7-ID had the more stringent "Appendix F" certification, or the less stringent "PIV" certification. To find this out, I had to go to a U.S. government website and find the page that actually discussed the certification. When I did so, I not only discovered that the device did have the more stringent Appendix F certification, but also that the official name of the company in question was not AMREL, but American Reliance, Inc.

American Reliance. Rhymes with American Science. Geddit?

I just hope that there isn't a biometric company with a product that sounds like "skin trade."

P.S. The APMP guy in me offers one suggestion - never, never, NEVER use the phrase "best of breed" in a press release to describe your product. It makes your product sound like a dog.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why two earworms burrowed my brain

Earworms fascinate me. A song will pop in my head, and I have no idea why.

But I was recently able to identify the sources for two earworms.

My employer's corporate parent, Safran, has an internal news service called Insite that provides information to employees of all of the Safran companies. After reading the latest Insite updates one day, I took my afternoon walk and found that the Depeche Mode song "Insight" had burrowed into my brain. This particular song includes lyrics such as "Wisdom of ages, enlighten me." While I obviously believe that my corporate parent provides important information, I would not characterize it as "wisdom of ages."

The next morning, I awoke to find that the iOS 9.3 update was awaiting on my phone. I read about the new features, and discovered that the Night Shift feature would now be available.

Too bad that Jackie and Marvin did not live to see it.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Megainnovation

If I were to use the word "bleeding" in association with Megadeth, most people would think of bleeding eardrums.

According to a LinkedIn post, the true association should be bleeding edge - and Dave Mustaine should be considered a technologist.

Heavy metal icons Megadeth have always been on the bleeding edge of technology when it comes to fusing their groundbreaking music with innovative marketing ideas to connect with their fans.

For example, Megadeth has a website. Now that may not seem shocking to most modern music fans, but Megadeth had a website before Microsoft had a web browser.

On October 31st, 1994 when the band’s critically acclaimed sixth studio album Youthanasia came out, they were the first band to ever have a website. “We can always sit back and say we were very first to do that,” says Mustaine. “We won tons of awards for our internet sites, the chat room, the bulletin boards, all of the graphics, the audio stuff. It just was mind blowing to people at the time.”

Fast forward a couple of decades, and Mustaine is talking specifics about virtual reality:

“Scott showed me the complete 360 thing and I said, this is great, but never did I see that filming format on a mobile buggy-cam like Mary did,” says Mustaine. He continues, “Mary and her team from CEEK had this 360 camera set up on top of this moving remote camera and it was going all around us while we were playing. It’s totally different from just standing there and you turn around and see the guy on this side and this guy on the other. You can't ever walk behind – now you can, now you can walk next to me on the right side or you walk next to me on my left side.”

Special attention was also paid to the audio. Apparently Mustaine learned his lessons from the quadrophonic craze of the early 1970s.

Mustaine explains, “So if you're looking at me from the front and the buggy-cam is creeping up, you are going to hear the drums in front of you. If the camera comes along to my side, and you are looking at my left side, the drums are naturally going to be on your right, even if you turn sideways. So, the whole point of view within and everything like that changes is, I think, is super, super awesome and adds to the realism.”

To think of the ramifications of this, consider American football. As Roone Arledge and other innovations modified the football viewing experience on TV, things changed so much - the multiple cameras, the superimposed graphics - that going to the stadium was inferior to watching the game on TV. Modern stadiums, such as the one in Santa Clara and the new one in Inglewood, are now trying to catch up.

Will the same thing happen in music? Will a Megadeth concert be inferior to Megadeth's new virtual reality experience? And will the concert experience have to change so that audiences will continue to buy tickets?

Monday, January 11, 2016

A quick comment on that last post

If you saw the post that I published this morning, you probably noticed that it began as follows:

Musical artists reinvent themselves all the time. Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines. David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust (and all sorts of people).

Needless to say, I drafted that post a couple of days ago, before Bowie changed to his latest persona.

Which puts me in the same league as the New York Times.

David Bowie just celebrated his 69th birthday, released an album, “Blackstar,” and has a show, “Lazarus,” running Off Broadway. Now he is to be honored at Carnegie Hall with a concert featuring the Roots, Cyndi Lauper and the Mountain Goats. The concert, presented by Michael Dorf, who runs City Winery, will take place on March 31.

The Times had to update their article with a blurb at the beginning...which just shows how all of us were surprised.

The necessity of reinvention - why Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was necessary

Musical artists reinvent themselves all the time. Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines. David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust (and all sorts of people). David Johansen became Buster Poindexter.

But one such reinvention mystified people at the time, because most people believed it wasn't necessary. After all, back in 1966, what could be better than being the Beatles? They had spent four years conquering the world, and were bigger than Elvis (when all four of their weights were combined). They were adored by teenagers, imitated by other musicians, and respected the world over.

But it sure looked different from the inside. In 1966, being a Beatle involved being sequestered in hotel rooms, driven in high security to huge concert halls (even sports stadiums), and playing 30 minute music sets that no one could hear because the entire audience was screaming. And the music? Not from their latest album Revolver, but mostly older songs such as "Baby's in Black" and "Long Tall Sally." Oh, and "Yesterday"; gotta play "Yesterday." No, they didn't play "Tomorrow Never Knows" on tour in 1966.

So the whole experience was frustrating - especially for George Harrison, who was constrained musically by the crowds surrounding him and by the older duo in the band itself who still treated him as the kid. He did get to play "If I Needed Someone" on tour, but that was it.

So being the Beatles wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

And that was on a good day.

It wasn't a good day that year in Manila when the Beatles' manager inadvertently offended the First Lady of the Philippines, and the security that traditionally protected the band mysteriously disappeared for a time. (Imelda apparently lost a shoe, and required all security forces in the Philippines to look for it.)

It wasn't a good day that year in Memphis when the band heard a loud pop and instantly turned to John Lennon, wondering if he had just been shot by a religious zealot. In 1966, Lennon hadn't been shot - it was just a firecracker.

After all of the trauma of the touring in 1966, the Beatles acted on their previous unanimous decision to quit touring - and began to wonder exactly who they were. If they weren't surrounded by screaming girls and security guards, then they obviously weren't Beatles any more. Who were they?

The answer came after a leisurely recording session. Since they weren't touring the world any more, they had time for leisurely recording sessions. The song that they happened to record that day was entitled "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and one of the Beatles - Paul, the cute one - thought that it would be a great idea for the four of them to record an entire album as Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

On the surface, it was an extremely dumb idea. Why would people associated with musical frontiers want to be associated with an old brass band? (OK, Paul the cute one would like that because of his father's musical background, but I don't know about the other three.) And, as Mae West observed, why would anyone who sparked sexual desire want to be associated with a lonely hearts club?

Yet it was better than the alternative of being the "moptops" or the "fab four," and the other three embraced the idea and carried through with an album, a religious treat, and a trippy movie. Whatever you may think of the resulting work, it clearly inspired the band (and all the other bands that imitated them) to do something brand new.

If you want to see a whole list of musical artist reinventions, including the ones mentioned above as well as many others (Slim Shady and Snoop Lion, anyone?), check this out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

So this happened - No Internet Connection Available on Spotify

I blame George. If his Hindu beliefs are correct, then he probably reincarnated himself as a router gremlin, or an application bug.

I added a wi-fi repeater to my house several days ago, and everything was initially working fine on the two devices that knew about the wi-fi repeater - my iPhone, and my Android tablet. And things are working fine on the device that doesn't know about the wi-fi repeater - an old desktop computer.

As of a couple of days ago, everything continued to work fine on all three devices - with the exception of one program.

Spotify.


With one brief exception on the Android tablet, Spotify is giving a "No Internet connection available" (or equivalent) message on all three devices - despite the fact that all three devices truly have Internet connections, and all other applications are working fine.

After doing a little research, it turns out that this problem has been...um...spottily occurring since 2012, with a big rash of problems in September 2015.

The people who have encountered and fixed the problem have done so in a variety of ways:

The problem what was cause to Spotify not to work correctly was that in my phone's Internet setup I was using WAP-connection. I didn't know that because everything else than Spotify was working correctly. In the store they installed me the setups for mobile Internet- connection and Spotify started working instantly.

I have a Galaxy SII and after trying to log out and log in again everything worked fine.

Whats seems to work for me is going to my WiFi settings and go to advanced en tap the WiFi frequency box, I put it from automatic to 2,4Ghz and spotify instantly worked (HTC One M8)

Download v2.8 from apkmirror dot com and disable automatic updates and all your problems will be solved

Same on my Arc S, force stopping spotify and then rebooting the phone seems to cure it, but still quite far from ideal

An uninstall and reinstall of spotify solved the issue.


Note the variety of responses, including reverting to an older version of Spotify and not getting the newer ones. Oh, and the last person (who uninstalled and reinstalled the program) subsequently posted an update:

Unfortunately I just discovered that only temporarily solved the problem. The app is doing it again...

I'm just starting to try things, and the only thing that I've done so far is to nuke the cache on my tablet and log in again - or TRY to log in again.

The workaround on the phone is to turn off wi-fi and use cellular, but that is not a desirable solution for many reasons. And that does me no good on my tablet and desktop computer.

So far, the most helpful advice that I've found is not a technical solution, but a business solution, courtesy foxmajik.

There is no solution to this problem.

Spotify Support knows what causes the problem but they will not tell anyone.

This has been a problem for as long as Spotify Mobile has existed.

Whenever it happens I just switch to Grooveshark for a week or two until Spotify gets done **bleep**ting itself, trying Spotify once every few days until it starts working again.

Then I email Support and say "it happened again, can I have a credit please" and they usually give me a month of free service.


In my case, I don't need credits, since I use Spotify Free. (And after this, I have no inclination to PAY for Spotify.) And foxmajik wrote his solution in 2012, before Grooveshark shut down, and before Josh Greenberg died.

My big question regarding all of this - if all of my other applications, including YouTube, continue to work fine, why is Spotify having this problem?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

So this happened - #BeatlesOnSpotify (and everywhere else)

After Taylor Swift, Neil Young, Adele, and others withdrew all or part of their music from Spotify, it became clear that Spotify really needed some good news.

And Spotify - and other services - got it.

In a series of tweets and retweets from Twitter's @thebeatles account, it was announced that the Beatles' catalog - whoops, catalogue - is now available for streaming on Spotify. And Google Play. And Prime Music. And Slacker. And Deezer. And Tidal. And Apple Music (the computer company, not the record company). And probably some other services.

Needless to say, this is a major win for streaming. And presumably the deals got done when the price was right.

Perhaps this won't sway Taylor or Adele, and Neil Young certainly marches to his own drummer, but this is obviously a major break for the streaming companies.

So now that that's over with, will the artists attack the companies that are TRULY ripping off the artists?

Namely...radio stations.

Radio airplay is considered a public performance. Public performances generate performance royalties for songwriters, which are collected by the PROs (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC). In the US, terrestrial broadcasters (AM or FM stations) do not pay performers or sound recording copyright owners; they only pay the songwriters.

So, for every time “…Baby One More Time” plays on the radio – Max Martin and his publisher receive performance royalties from ASCAP (Max’s PRO). However, the performer Britney does not earn any royalties.


Yet Taylor, Adele, and the others happily promote radio stations playing their music even though they don't get a cent from the radio stations - well, other than songwriting royalties.

Now you know why Elvis insisted on songwriter's credits even when he didn't write the songs - Colonel Tom Parker wanted to make some money for his boy, and for himself.

Monday, September 14, 2015

(empo-caalii) New York Dreamin? (When the associations don't go that deep)

Songs can work on many levels, and sometimes the superficial understanding of a song is opposite of its underlying meaning. The two most famous examples are the rah-rah patriotic song "Born in the U.S.A." and the love song "When a Man Loves a Woman." If you take half a moment to examine the lyrics to either song, you will realize that the flip interpretations of the song titles have nothing to with the actual songs. (In that regard, Cheech & Chong's "Born in East L.A." is a true representation of the meaning of Springsteen's original.)

But let's look at another song - one that I talked about two years ago. "California Dreamin'" was written by John and Michelle Phillips and has been recorded by many, most famously by their own group The Mamas and the Papas. As I noted in 2013, the song has become closely associated with California, to the point that it's used in Powerball commercials from the California Lottery. (You know, dreaming of hundreds of millions of dollars...or something.)

But is it a California song?

Back in 2010, this blog included a series of posts on California songs. With the exception of a post about the town of California, Maryland, most of the posts had to do with the state of California. The posts talked about people ranging from Roy Rogers and Lawrence Welk to Devo and Ed Crawford, people who came from Ohio and other places and contributed to the California music scene.

The first post in the "empo-caallii" series discussed some ways to define California music.

But what exactly is California music? I can think of three possible definitions.

First, you can look at musicians and bands who use their songs to comment, explicitly or implicitly, on California. Whether you're singing about a "Hotel California," singing a song that lists a number of California surfing locations, or singing the praises of Compton and the LBC, you can definitely identify lyrical content that relates to California.

But what of musical content? Is there a "California sound"? Certainly there are Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Bakersfield-based musicians who have a clearly identifiable sound. Perhaps the Byrds, Buck Owens, Glen Campbell, Dick Dale, any of Phil Spector's bands, X, and the aforementioned Tupac Shakur never played a gig together, but there are certainly musical elements in all of their works that can be tied to the Golden State. (When speaking of Glen Campbell, I'm not only thinking of his solo work, but also his session work; he was, after all, a touring member of the Beach Boys for a while.)

And, of course, you can have musicians who don't sing about California, and who don't sound like California, but they happen to live in California. Are they part of the California sound? I've been mulling over this third question the most, and may end up posting some additional thoughts on this later. (Hence the blog label, should I care to revisit this, or any other California-related topic.)


Now if you look at the first of my three criteria, "California Dreamin" is clearly a California song. After all, the singer is dreaming about California.

But the circumstances in which "California Dreamin" was composed suggest something altogether different. Michelle Phillips has shared her thoughts regarding the composition of the song:

Michelle PHILLIPS remembers 1963 as a year of bone-chill and profound homesickness. The Long Beach native, then 19, had married John Phillips in late 1962 and the two had shuttled off to New York to seek fame with their folk group, the New Frontiersmen.

This brings to mind the first important fact about "California Dreamin" - it was written in New York City. The Phillipses were living near Washington Square at the time. Why? Because they were folk musicians, and folk musicians gravitated to Greenwich Village. Bob Dylan left Minnesota and went to Greenwich Village. John Phillips took his woman and went to Greenwich Village.

Homesick Michelle explained the incident that subsequently formed a major part of the song.

One blustery day, the couple were strolling by the marble spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral. "I wanted to go in just to see what it looked like, but John wouldn't go with me," Michelle recalled. "He had been sent off to a parochial school when he was 7 and, well, he just had very strong negative feelings about the church. So I went in alone."

So if you have a song, composed in the center of the worldwide folk movement (several years before "folk rock" became a thing), focused on St. Patrick's Cathedral, would that be a California song, or a New York song?

Perhaps the song is more at home at Coney Island than it is in Disney's California Adventure.

And it clearly doesn't have much to do with a Californian winning the Powerball lottery.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

For Simone, Jimmy, Josie, Julie, Isaac, Christina, and everyone else in Hollywood - My views on the Psychedelic Furs

I've blogged in various places for over a decade, and during that time I have expressed many incontestable truths.

Clifford is a big red dog.

Joan Jett loves rock and roll.

"Pleasure, Little Treasure" is the worst song of the 20th century - even worse than "Macarena."

But I don't think I've gotten around to one of my other truths.

It's time.

Why now? Because my cousin Simone, her husband Jimmy, her friend Josie, an unrelated tweeter named Christina, and Loren's girlfriend have all converged on the Hollywood Bowl to see the B-52s (formerly known as the B-52's) and the Psychedelic Furs.

So it's time for another incontestable truth - the Psychedelic Furs are the worst band of the 20th century - even worse than Los del Rio.

Now it's hard to say that, since the Furs were one of the bands that emerged from the United Kingdom in the early 1980s, and had some interesting musical backing (for the most part). But for me, the whole effect was ruined by Richard Butler's voice, a voice that makes Bob Dylan sound like an operatic baritone. Take "Love My Way" - interesting instruments, but Butler ruins it for me.

To be fair, others have described Butler's voice differently.

As front man for the Psychedelic Furs, Richard Butler made a permanent mark on the music world with his instantly recognizable voice, which was – and is – dark and melancholy but always full of emotion.

But they are wrong. Yet I could survive hearing a Furs song, since everything else on the records was always top notch.

But then, you see, this movie came out, and you had a song that was terrible on every level.

First off, Butler was singing it again - if you can call that singing.

At the same time, the music went down a few million notches, with the most irritating repetitive guitar solo during the chorus of the song.
\
And the chorus itself - here it is, in full:

Pretty in pink
Isn't she
Pretty in pink
Isn't she


As part of my exhaustive research for this post, I made a harrowing discovery - the soundtrack version of "Pretty in Pink" is actually a remake, and the movie itself was based upon the original version of the song, which was recorded BEFORE "Love My Way."

Now I'm wondering if the original version has all of the same irritating features found in the soundtrack version.

But I'm afraid to find out.

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I actually like the voice of the male singer from the other band on the bill, Fred Schneider. His is another "instantly recognizable" voice, and one that has been instantly parodied.

Fred Schneider Gets A Day Job from thepit-nyc on Vimeo.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Major Tom has been identified (and yes, he's alive)

You know that you're old when you read a question that starts like this:

Anyone into retro music knows the song Major Tom by Peter Schilling.

Considering that today's oldies stations play Nirvana, it's understandable that someone considered the song "Major Tom" to be retro. The person goes on to say:

Did you know there's a David Bowie song that also talks about Major Tom?

I can't be too harsh on the person that asked the question - I'll personally admit that I was listening to Wings before I was listening to the Beatles. I had heard of the Beatles, of course - they were just like the Monkees, only wackier!

For the benefit of those who are not as ancient as myself, Major Tom is a fascinating character who has popped up in music several times. The previously linked Straight Dope post recounts the good major's history, from Bowie's original 1969 song "Space Oddity," to a subsequent 1980 mention by Bowie in "Ashes to Ashes," to Schilling's 1983 continuation of the story. I haven't really written about this before (I mentioned "Space Oddity" in passing once), but Major Tom is a fascinating fictional character.

Or so I thought.



Those who are familiar with the Major Tom story know the details - composed in 1969 and rush-released to take advantage of the Apollo 11 moon launch in America, the first song's official title "Space Oddity" is an obvious play on the previous year's blockbuster film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Or is it?

The subsequent references to Major Tom in "Ashes to Ashes" indicate the Bowie considered Major Tom to be, to some extent, autobiographical.

Or did he?

I try to shy away from conspiracy theories, but there are several data points, scattered through the years, that are just too powerful to ignore. After extensive research, I have concluded that "Space Oddity" is not about the moon at all, but is about another "Oddity" that the culturally-attuned Bowie learned about.

Around the time that Bowie's song was being released, a young man was preparing to begin his second year of college. Although he was in Boston, he wasn't going to Harvard or MIT. He was attending a junior college - Grahm Junior College - planning to study radio and television. Now many people who study radio and television in junior college do so with the goal of becoming a star - say, a star on a hit TV sitcom. This student, however, was clearly marching to the beat of his own drummer. A few months after "Space Oddity" was released in Britain, the student mounted his first college play. The topic? God. His earnings? Five dollars...five dollars. (His wallet hurts a lot.)

Over the next few years, as Bowie himself went through ch-ch-ch-changes, the student continued his own oddity odyssey. After leaving junior college, he began performing routines that...um...challenged the audience. People would cringe at the failures of his routines, and of his jokes, until he blew them away with a surprise ending.



Word got around, and eventually the "stand up comic" found material success as a star on a hit TV sitcom.

You know the rest of the story - how he hated the sitcom, how his alter ego Tony Clifton got fired from the sitcom, how he began to wrestle women, how he lost a vote to remain on one of the few shows ("Saturday Night Live") that could fully use his talents, and how he surprised everyone by dying. (Maybe.)

Let's observe a moment of silence.

Now listen to "Space Oddity" again, and consider this unescapable fact - Bowie wrote the song about a not-yet-to-emerge performing genius from America. Someone whom the industry tried to put into a mold, but who found a way to break out of the mold in so many ways. The "foreign man" who disappeared from the airwaves.

Now I'm sure that many can poke holes in my theory. Why would Peter Schilling take the trouble to say "he's alive" BEFORE Andy Kaufman's purported death? Why did the first recorded visit of Bowie to America take place in 1970, not 1969?

Yet I can see no other explanation for the song. And when you look at the people involved in the subsequent conspiracy - Bowie, Michael Stipe, Jim Carrey - it all makes sense.



If you believed they put a man on the moon
Man on the moon
If you believe there's nothing up his sleeve
Then nothing is cool


(Additional reading)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What is @modernwest ?

On March 2, 1964, four young men reported to a train station in England that was being used as a movie set. The four men were stars of a film that was eventually going to be called "A Hard Day's Night."

The four men were not chosen for their acting ability, and if they had been given a say in the matter, they probably wouldn't have made a film at all. They were making this film because they - the Beatles - were extremely popular musicians, and making a film was an easy way for pop stars to make extra pounds or dollars or whatever. (Elvis Presley made both, when you think about it.) In fact, the film itself may not have been the major product - United Artists had the rights to release the film soundtrack in the United States, gaining a number one album hit in the process.

The four men would act in several other films, both playing "The Beatles" and playing other roles, but only Ringo Starr made a significant number of non-Beatle non-vanity movies (although George Harrison became a film producer).

Which brings us to Folsom, California, on Saturday, August 8, 2015. I had spent the week in nearby Sacramento at the International Association for Identification conference, and was visiting relatives over the weekend. We all went to see a musical artist on Saturday night - not Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, but Modern West at the Harris Center at Folsom Lake College. The Harris Center has three stages, and Modern West played on the largest of the three stages. But before the band played, we in the audience saw a whole bunch of movie clips. The movie clips were from films such as "Dances with Wolves," "Field of Dreams," "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "Thirteen Days," "Waterworld," and "Wyatt Earp."

So why would this band show film clips from a whole bunch of unrelated films? And why would the audience sit through these film clips?

Whoops, I guess I forgot to mention something. The lead singer of Modern West is a guy named Kevin Costner. Perhaps you've heard of him through his film work.


Yeah, we were in the Uecker seats. "Field of Dreams," indeed.

In one respect, this is the reverse of the Beatles' situation. Rather than having musicians dabbling in film, you have an actor dabbling in music. But in another respect, it's very different. Costner chose to pursue this.

But it was always more than just an idea for me. It was a feeling that I had been unable to articulate. For a long time now I have felt the need to connect with people in a more meaningful way than just the autograph. I have found myself here and around the world in different situations where the only exchange has been just that…a quick signature on the run usually followed by a “gee, he’s taller than I thought.”

I always thought that music could build a stronger, more personal moment for me. It would create the opportunity for a genuine exchange much greater than the movie, TV interview or magazine. It would be real, full of mistakes and without apology. But most of all there would be the chance to have some fun. The question was, would it work? I thought it could but I wasn’t really sure.


Did it work? One of my relatives was not impressed at all, but I enjoyed myself. If I had to compare Kevin Costner and Modern West to someone else, the best comparison would be to a kinder and gentler Kris Kristofferson (who happens to be a musician who has dabbled in acting). The songs are delivered well and touch on some interesting subjects - "Famous for Killing Each Other" is a personal favorite - but I don't know that Janis Joplin is going to cover any of them (especially in her present state).



If you're in the Solana Beach area, you can hear the band tonight (August 11) at the Belly Up Tavern.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Two different evangelical album efforts in the early 1970s

We love to pigeonhole people, and as a result artists such as U2 and Bob Marley are generally considered to be "secular" artists, while artists such as Amy Grant are generally considered to be "religious" artists. The truth is much more complex - as complex as people themselves, as a matter of fact.

In the early 1970s, two musical acts straddled this imaginary divided. Both Johnny Cash and the Osmonds were considered to be secular artists, but both were known for their religious beliefs. And in the early 1970s, both released ambitious musical efforts on the "religious" side of the spectrum.

Cash's effort, "The Gospel Road," was the more ambitious of the two in some ways - "The Gospel Road" was a soundtrack to a movie of the same name, filmed in Israel no less. And in those pre-Camp David days, filming in Israel was about as daring an effort as filming in Israel in 2015. Add the fact that Cash had never produced a movie before, and you can see the difficulty involved.

Rather than look at the movie, I'm going to concentrate on the soundtrack. This is part of what Raise my Glass to the B-Side said:

Despite the endless number of tracks (76 on the CD issue, 77 on my LP), there are really only ten songs on here, several of which are drawn from Johnny’s back catalogue. Motifs from the tunes are used as background music throughout the film as well. Overall the music is what you would expect of Cash approaching gospel music in the early 70s. The Statler Brothers and Carter Family are featured frequently, providing a wall of harmonies. The backing is simple acoustic guitars on the quieter moments, and the tic-tock, boom-chicka-boom of the [Tennessee] Three (still with Carl Perkins) on the upbeat numbers.

While the reviewer praised certain songs, the final verdict was not so good.

Despite some excellent music, as a whole, the album doesn’t work. I find the mood changes too abrupt – the first LP is light and buoyant, gurgling along with Perkins guitar through the Gospel Road. The second LP is heavy with narrative of Jesus’ death, bogged down by overwrought musical backing. Listening to the full set in one listen is a long haul. What would have worked far better would be a true soundtrack: “Songs from The Gospel Road.” An abridged narration by Johnny (similar to Ride This Train or America) could have tied the songs together and told the story in a far more efficient manner than simply handing over the entire film’s dialogue. It would also allow us to hear each song in their entirety rather than chopped up verse by verse.

While the Osmonds didn't try to make a movie with their effort, it had ambitions of its own. Remember that the Osmonds music evolved over time; they started as a barbershop quartet (before Donny joined), and eventually evolved into a bubblegum pop act. But after a couple of albums, they began to branch out more, recording my favorite Osmonds song, "Crazy Horses." I always thought it was a reference to the Apocalypse, but the brothers claim that it's about evolution.

After "Crazy Horses," however, they did decide to cover the apocalypse - and just about everything else in Latter Day Saint theology - in "The Plan." But this was not only an ambitious lyrical effort. While Cash pretty much stuck with a Tennessee Three type sound, the Osmonds decided to go all White Album on the public.

The end result is a testament to the group's versatility and skills as musical craftsmen but The Plan ultimately doesn't work for a few important reasons. The first is that the songs are too serious and overblown for their own good: "Are You up There?" and "The Last Days" have solid melodies, but their preachy lyrics are too awkward and diffuse to convey the group's beliefs with any real power. The other big problem with The Plan is that it is overwhelmed by its own musical ambition: the abrupt jumps from fuzzy acid rock ("Traffic in My Mind") to orchestrated show tune-styled arias ("Before the Beginning") to frenetically bopping big band soul ("It's Alright") result in more genre-hopping than a single album can handle.

Well, except for the aforementioned White Album - and there are people who hate that album too.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Songs end up in the strangest places

If you find a song that you like, you may share a link to the song on your Twitter account, or your Facebook page, or your blog.

But over the weekend, Liz Ryan shared a "Your Woman" video (not "My Woman"; "Your Woman") on the LinkedIn feed.

Hey, social networks are social. And people still remember Jyoti Mishra (who has continued to release music, by the way).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pet sounds...if your pet is a pit bull

The song "John B. Sails," better known as "Sloop John B" after the Beach Boys' version, has been covered by a lot of artists.

One such artist is Devasted. Their version is here.



No, there aren't any multi-tracked harmonies on this one.

Monday, July 20, 2015

When pop radio stations break the shackles of the three-minute format

Last week I was driving to work, flipping through the radio stations, when I landed on K-EARTH 101.

For those of you who do not live within the range of Los Angeles radio, you should know that K-EARTH is an oldies station. Of course, the definition of an oldies station changes over time. When I moved to southern California in the 1980s, K-EARTH was playing songs from the 1950s and 1960s. Today, they play songs from the 1990s.

But that morning, the station was playing a 1980s song - "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell.

That happens to be a song that I enjoy, so I left my dial (actually, not a dial any more) on K-EARTH 101, knowing that I would enjoy that song. Of course, I knew that K-EARTH wouldn't play the excellent medley that included both "Tainted Love" and "Where Did Our Love Go." Why not? Because oldies stations, like other pop stations, strictly adhere to the three-minute format and play the shortest version possible of any song. If you want to hear the full versions of songs, you need to go to a station where Zeptember and Rocktober are celebrated.

So I listened to the end of "Tainted Love," wondering what K-EARTH would play next.

But the song didn't end. Miracle of miracles, they began playing the opening notes of "Where Did Our Love Go."

As I was reflecting about the monumental and historical nature of this...K-EARTH faded the second song about a minute into it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Two of our greatest singers on one...um, unforgettable song

No, this has nothing to do with Nat King and Natalie Cole. But it's unforgettable nonetheless.

Lately I've been leaning toward a Bob Dylan song from his Nashville Skyline album, the recorded collaboration between Dylan and Johnny Cash. As you listen to "Girl From the North Country," you are struck by something. Dylan sings in his Dylan voice. Cash sings in his Cash voice. And then, in one magical moment, the two voices unite together in unison.

Well, sort of unison.

Dylan and Cash have/had dominant personalities and distinctive singing and musical styles. But what they don't/didn't have was technical facility. So when those two cantankerous souls reach the part where they sing in unison, it isn't quite there.

You can find the track on Spotify or on your favorite music service. Or perhaps you can find a subsequent recording that the two made on Cash's TV show. Back in 2007, D.A.N. helpfully shared a video of that performance. Unfortunately, by the time I reached D.A.N.'s post in 2015, I saw this when I tried to play the video.


So I have to rely upon D.A.N.'s description of that performance:

This live version has a little more spontaneity in its feel than the album version that I think it adds another level of authenticity and although both singers are definite in their "country voices", there is still a bit of a contrast between the two....

This live duet does seem slightly tentative as well actually. Dylan idolized Cash and I think that really comes through in the performance as he does seem a little star struck by the man in black, even though they worked together before.


If you read between the lines of the euphemistic words "spontaneity," "authenticity," and "tentative," you can just picture how the live performance sounded.

Actually, the recorded version of the duet is available on YouTube. The true magic occurs at 1:51.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The truth about Larry Norman...and Robert Johnson

I ran across an April 8, 2014 post, written by Allen Flemming, at a site called "The Truth About Larry Norman." It began like this:

The United States Library of Congress has chosen Larry Norman’s album Only Visiting This Planet album to be deemed a National Treasure. The only other Rock album was U2’s Joshua Tree (an album depicting U2’s vision of America).

When I first read that, I questioned the statement's accuracy, since it was hard to believe that only two rock albums were culturally significant. It turns out that the statement was correct - sort of. These were the only two rock albums in the 2013 class of inductions (source: Variety). For the 2013 class, non-rock albums such as Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" were included, and rock songs such as Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Fortunate Son" were included.

If you look at the entire Recording Registry, however, you can find a lot of rock albums that were included in the years before and after 2013, ranging from "The Velvet Underground and Nico" to "OK Computer." And there's a lot of other stuff also.

So, why is Larry Norman in there? The Library of Congress explains:

"Only Visiting This Planet" is the key work in the early history of Christian rock. Norman was a veteran of the American rock scene of the 1960s (as well as a street corner evangelist) and his songs were musically assured and socially aware. Many earlier efforts in this genre concentrated on joyful affirmations of faith, but Norman also commented on the world as he saw it from his position as a passionate, idiosyncratic outsider to mainstream churches. "Only Visiting This Planet" was recorded at George Martin's AIR studio in London with a group of top studio musicians that included John Wetton of King Crimson (and, later, Asia) on bass. The album set new production standards for Christian music. For some, Norman and his work are still controversial, but, regardless, his influence remains strong. Selected for the 2013 registry.

On the other side of the spectrum is this culturally significant recording. This is another man who was only visiting this planet, but the common impression is that this man ended up in a different place than Norman did:

"The Complete Recordings." Robert Johnson. (1936-1937)

The recordings made by Delta bluesman Robert Johnson in 1936 and 1937 had a significant impact on fellow bluesmen, as well as on such rock musicians as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Considered by some to be the "King of the Delta Blues Singers," Johnson's emotive vocals, combined with his varied and masterful guitar playing, continue to influence blues and popular music performers to this day. Selected for the 2003 registry.


I encourage you to visit the registry list. I may revisit it again in this blog.

Friday, April 10, 2015

GWAR's Oderus Urungus sold his soul - well, his body - for rock and roll

This GWAR story is getting weirder and weirder.

I previously linked to a post that described how William Brockie, executor of the estate of his son Dave Brockie a/k/a Oderus Urungus, has sued the surviving members of GWAR, claiming (among other things) that GWAR withheld his son's ashes from him.

Well, GWAR has responded. This is part of what Courthouse News says about the case:

According to Gwar, Brockie signed his son's body over to the band, who then assumed the costs of funeral arrangements, including cremation, two services and a plot in Richmond's historic Hollywood Cemetery. Brockie did not attend any of his son's memorials, the band alleges, and that his father was only named executor of the estate by default.

The real battle, of course, isn't over Dave Brockie's ashes, but Dave Brockie's money. More here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A band is being sued over a former member's cremated ashes

I read Courthouse News Service regularly, and sometimes I come across some really interesting things.

For example, the father of a deceased lead singer of a band claims, among other things, that the band members stole the lead singer's cremated ashes.

You won't be surprised to learn that the band in question is GWAR - the costumed favorite band of Beavis and Butt-Head.

Details on the lawsuit can be found here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

At least the CSI people don't use Kinks songs for show musical themes

A long time ago, a couple of people were planning a new TV show called "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." I suspect that during one of those planning sessions, the following conversation took place:

Who do we want to use for the show's musical theme song?

THAT'S A GREAT IDEA!

No, I'm asking - who?

AND I'M SAYING THAT'S A GREAT IDEA!


Abbott and Costello never get old.

Throughout all of the various shows in the CSI franchise, one constant has been the use of a song from the Who as the theme song for each show. The producers choose a snippet from the song to use as the theme. For the first show, based in Las Vegas, "Who Are You" (without the profanities) was used. The Miami show used "Won't Get Fooled Again." The New York show ended up using "Baba O'Riley"; sadly, the excerpt didn't include the "teenage wasteland" part.

Well, a new CSI show is premiering this evening: CSI: Cyber. It was probably an effort to choose an appropriate song here, since much of the Who's heyday occurred before the advent of the personal computer. Townshend, to my knowledge, never wrote a song about inserting punched cards for an IBM System/360 to read.

But the song that they chose ended up fitting, in a way.



Presumably some of the bad guys will be infiltrating systems from distant countries, so "I Can See For Miles" works on that level.

How long will it be until we get the CSI: Junior Sleuths show? We need to get "My Generation" in here somehow.

P.S. If you're looking for my CSI post about "Alpha Beta Gaga," it's here.