Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fan is short for fanatic - or fatale

I was driving around one afternoon and saw a car with writing on the windows. Since we just had graduation season, it isn't all that unusual to see that stuff.

The message on the window?

Honk if you (heart) Britney

Now this isn't necessarily a reference to Britney Spears, since (especially after her appearance) there are probably a number of people who spell their names "Britney."

Except that there was one other thing written on the window.

Femme Fatale

Now that just happens to be the name of an album by Britney Spears. And a tour. And for all I know a fragrance or a dessert topping or something.

"But John," you're saying to me, "you live in El-Lay where they do all sorts of weird promotions on Hollywood billboards."

Yes, but I was far away from Hollywood when I saw the car. Specifically, I was in an industrial park in Orange County.

Now perhaps the car belonged to the 2nd Vice President (Publicity) of the Orange County Britney Spears fan club, and the driver was going to her daddy to ask him to please please please get her tickets for a Britney show.

Or perhaps the 2nd Vice President actually works in the industrial park, and she was heading home because HER daughters were begging her to please please please get them tickets for a Britney show.

Either way, this again shows that "fan" is short for "fanatic."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Don't let your kids go to contemporary music concerts


Not on your life, child! It's too rowdy and dangerous. Go see a nice classical music performance instead.

In the early 21st century, a clear dividing line has been drawn between popular music and serious music. Popular music is where you wear your jeans and drink beer and shout at the top of your lungs, while serious music is where you wear an uncomfortable suit and walk very quietly and sit in a chair with a serious expression.


But so-called "avant-chamber music" is not always calm and sedate. The New York Times describes a recent evening of music in San Francisco, in which JHNO was performed "Untitled," a piece for viola and electronics.

Partway through the performance, someone began hissing at JHNO. Then the person began clapping inappropriately and causing other distractions.

Now if this were a standard rock concert, no one would even notice. But in the rareified atmosphere of a concert hall - kind of like golf, actually - the noises did stand out, and as a result JHNO became exasperated, threw down his viola and broke it (Pete Townshend couldn't have done it better), and stormed off the stage.

The heckler? An octogenarian viola player named Bernard M. Zaslav, who subsequently recounted his experience at being heckled himself in the late 1940s while performing a 12-tone piece with the Cleveland Symphony.

The reason for Zaslav's outburst? The song was too danged loud.

Well, at least some things are consistent.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

(empo-tymshft) Yeah, Mark Mothersbaugh was in a band

I was born at an interesting time - the early 1960s, which made me just a little bit young to experience Beatlemania. I remember hearing that there was a band that was just like the Monkees, only zanier, but it wasn't until the early 1970s that I really began to learn more about the band that the guy in Wings used to be in.

To most people, it's odd to discover someone who knew about the Monkees and Wings before the Beatles, but that's the way things turned out.

Of course, in my life (I've loved them - never mind) I'm now running into people who surprise me. To people of a certain age, this statement is shocking:

I had no idea Mark Mothersbaugh was in Devo!!

My jaw nearly dropped when I read that. For all intents and purposes, Mark Mothersbaugh was the public face of Devo. But then the commenter explained:

I became a fan through his soundtrack work, namely the Royal Tennenbaums score.

Once you read the comment, the original statement makes sense. Mothersbaugh has made a living for the last couple of decades writing music soundtracks, and has built up such a reputation in that regard that some people are not aware of his former career.

I'd be willing to bet that some people don't realize how movie star Will Smith got his start. Even those who know about his TV show may wonder how he got cast in the role. (For the record, Smith was a successful rapper who made the transition to television and eventually film.)

One other thing - the comment above came from Songfacts. I just discovered that Songfacts has an extensive set of interviews with various songwriters, including Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale. I highly recommend the interview with Thomas Dolby.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Do you love music like Liz at @1001albums loves music?

Last week I saw this tweet:

Are New Order known for any songs in particular? I feel like i've heard of them but i can think of a famous song of theirs

The tweet came from Liz and her @1001albums account. And if you know me, you'd know that I'd have to respond to that tweet. And despite my love for "Perfect Kiss," I chose to reference another of the New Order songs that I like - "Blue Monday."

Well, Liz ended up blogging about New Order, but she blogged about the album that included "Perfect Kiss." Here's part of her post on "Low-Life":

Overall, this album was alright. As a bringer of dance music, I admire them, but it's more sleepy than peppy at times. "Love Vigilantes" and "The Perfect Kiss", among others, are fun songs that are great to listen to while you're studying.

Now in my case I was already an adult when "Low-Life" came out, but Liz is much younger than I am, and probably wasn't even born when "Blue Monday" came out.

So Liz listened to the album last week, and now is listening to a bunch of other albums this week. You see, she's on a mission:

There's a book out there that I've had on my shelf for years but never really touched. It's the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die". They start with Frank Sinatra's "In The Wee Small Hours" from 1955 and go all the way up to 2007.

And Liz plans to listen to all of the albums on the list. With "Low-Life," she's now over halfway through the list.

She's not going exactly in order, so I can't say exactly what albums she'll listen to this week, but her future listening will include artists ranging from the Beastie Boys to Paul Simon to Steve Earle. I'll have to weigh in when she gets to "Infected," "Music for the Masses," "Sign o the Times"...and "Moon Safari."

Monday, June 20, 2011

And yes, George Harrison liked spam, spam, spam, and spam.

As some of you may know, I formerly used the pseudonym "Ontario Emperor" (and still use it on my account). Apparently the pseudonym got popular enough for SEO experts to plug it into their pages.

For example, take this page filled with links to chi flat irons (whatever those are; I didn't follow the links). The page, styled as a blog post, purports to list 100 Chinese emperors. And guess who appears as number 28?

28. Northern and Southern Song Wendi (Liu Yilong) - has aggressively Ontario Emperor

Now you may be wondering why I'm writing about this in my music blog. Well, because it gives me the really bad excuse to repeat the phrase...

It's only a Northern Song

If you're not familiar with the phrase, see this page. For more about the REAL story of the dynasties (which does not include me), see this page.

These are not four Chinese emperors.

IMHO, "It's All Too Much" is better musically, although I'm sure that Harrison was heartfelt in the lyrics to "Northern." (And when you think of Beatle innovations, don't forget that Harrison was responsible for "Taxman" - something that was rarely if ever released publicly before.)

P.S. And yes, the title

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What makes for a compelling song?

On Thursday I blipped a live (sort of) performance of Michael Jackson's "Stranger in Moscow," offering the following comment:

Very paranoid song. Very good song.

Chris Willman, who reviews music for a living, put it this way:

And the album's best track, "Stranger in Moscow," is a step removed from the focused paranoia of much of the rest of the album, more akin to the deeper, fuzzier dread of a past perennial like "Billie Jean." Jackson imagines himself alone and adrift in a psychic Russia, pre- glasnost , hunted by an unseen KGB: "Fear abandonin' my faith / Armageddon of the brain," he sings in the somber, constricted verses, before a sweeping coda kicks up four minutes in and the stalkee suddenly breaks his cool to wail about a desolate, inconsolable loneliness. Here, in this song, is the real genius--and probably real personhood--of Michael Jackson, missing from so many of the rest of these Angry Young Man anthems.

Several have argued that this is Jackson's best ballad. Some have argued that this is Jackson's best song, period.

Why this one? Why not a happy one?

Why, when you consider the greatest hits of the Carpenters, does "Top of the World" not reside at the top of the list? Sure it's a good song, but when you think of the Carpenters, or perhaps more specifically of Karen, you think of "Rainy Days and Mondays" or something like that.

Then look at the Beatles. While some will argue that "She Loves You" is their greatest work, there are those who instead turn to "A Day in the Life" - a song that was primarily inspired by the death of Tara Browne.

While we can be emotionally uplifted by a positive song, the emotions that truly move us are the negative ones. As Elton John once said, Sasson says so much - whoops, you know what I mean. 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.

"Space Oddity." Perhaps it's debatable whether this is a sad song or not. Yes, Major Tom dies - or at least we think he dies - but the song almost sounds celebratory regarding Tom's union with the universe, except for the repeated "Can you hear me, Major Tom?" questions.

"Eleanor Rigby." Perhaps "A Day in the Life" hinted about death, but this earlier song explicitly discussed it. McCartney made one major alteration in the lyric, at the suggestion of Pete Shotton, renaming the minister from "Father McCartney" to "Father McKenzie." Shotton undoubtedly realized the deeper meaning of the line, because Paul McCartney's real father was a widower - an underlying current which helped to shape the Beatle's musical output, most notably "Let It Be" and its references to a "mother Mary." (At the same time you have Lennon's "Julia," which refer to HIS deceased mother.)

"He Stopped Loving Her Today." If you were to devote a hall of fame to sad songs alone, country music would take up an entire wing. The genius of the lyrics is that you have to listen to a good chunk of the song before you realize what's going on. Imagine for the moment that you've never heard this song - and perhaps some of you haven't. You might not realize what's going to happen when the song begins:

He said I'll love you 'til I die
She told him you'll forget in time
As the years went slowly by
She still preyed upon his mind

The song continues, as George Jones' voice recounts the sad life of this man, and then a positive note appears:

I went to see him just today
Oh but I didn't see no tears
All dressed up to go away
First time I'd seen him smile in years

This is when we get to the chorus, which begins "He stopped loving her today":

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

Now let's face it - do you want to hear George Jones singing about Brussels sprouts, or do you want to hear George Jones singing about this?

I thought so.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Eating cars, literally

The one benefit of the whole Harold Camping brouhaha that occurred recently (and may or may not recur in October - we'll see if people are tired of him) is that it gave a lot of us an opportunity to revisit an old Blondie song. Of course, when Harold Camping is talking about the rapture, he's probably not envisioning the rapture as sung and rapped by Deborah Harry.

Now if you were to ask me to choose exactly two words from the lyrics, I know which two words I'd choose. I've chosen them before:

First, "Heart of Glass" was the first Blondie song that I ever heard, which is probably true of many people, so most people probably assumed that Blondie had been a disco band all along. Second, as time went on, it became more and more apparent that Blondie did not have a single musical style. And that they were into eating cars.

I know that there are a bunch of nonsensical lyrics in Harry's rap, but those two words "eating cars" have stuck with me, because obviously no one from Earth, Mars, or any other planet would actually eat cars.

Well, thanks to Jake Kuramoto, I stand corrected.

Back in the late 90s, I worked on a project at a metals reclamation plant in urban Detroit. They bought truckloads of shredded cars, sorted out the recyclable materials (aluminum, copper, etc.), and resold them to the automakers.

The machine in this video must be the guts of that glorious machine that eats cars and spits out pieces no bigger than a hardbound book.

To see the referenced video, go to Jake's post. And no, the video doesn't show any cars being crushed, although the machine makes quick work of pallets, blankets, cans, and (for some inexplicable reason) tampons.

Kuramoto's post also comments on the retro background music in the video, "which of course [wasn't] retro at the time this video was made." It's probably true that you can identify the production date of a video by its background music. Today, people are more likely to license (or not license) a current song for a video.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Don't label Martin Rushent

The Music's Over brings news of the passing of Martin Rushent. I was familiar with Rushent as the producer of the Human League's Dare album, but he worked with a wide variety of artists, according to T.M.O.:

Picking up the production bug while still in high school, Rushent found work soon after graduation, working as a tape operator alongside Tony Visconti on records by T-Rex, Jerry Lee Lewis, Yes, and Petula Clark.

Now THAT would make an interesting supergroup.

In a BBC interview earlier this year, Rushent described his method of working with the Human League:

Rushent sealed his reputation as a producer when he worked with The Human League on Dare, released in 1981, which featured the huge hit Don't You Want Me.

Rushent recalled how he made it clear who was boss: "They were under the impression that I was going to work on what they'd done so far and improve that and carry on.

"I said, 'no I'm not doing that, we're starting again', which was a bit of a shock for Phil [Oakey, lead singer]. He argued about that but I said, 'no, if I'm going to produce you, you're going to do what I tell you to do'. This is my attitude to everybody I produce, it's a sort of democratic dictatorship!"

But dictators can be overthrown. By the time Hysteria (with "The Lebanon") was released, Rushent was no longer working with the group. But Hysteria didn't equal the success of Dare, which resulted in a new set of producers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Don't label Martin Gore

The Vanity Fair website includes a brief interview with Martin Gore that discusses remixes and other topics. Toward the end of the interview, Gore made this statement:

It’s the end of our EMI period. With Sounds of the Universe we only signed for one album and a remix collection. After this we don’t have a label.

The remix collection is out now, longtime English Depeche Mode label Mute has again become independent of EMI itself, and things are sounding interesting.

Which led to Vanity Fair's next question:

Would you release music independently?

Gore was non-committal, but it's a fascinating question because of statements made by former bandmate Alan Wilder a few years ago. As I previously noted, Wilder was disheartened with what happened to Mute during the EMI years. In an essay for Side-Line, Wilder spoke of going label-less:

So why bother with a record deal at all? And that is what many artists are now asking themselves. Why wouldn't they when they are being told that their company just can't afford to spend any money? Or that the company wants a cut of the artist's live income to pay for marketing. This is why we see the mass exodus taking place, squeezing the already crippled record industry. The artists that find it easiest to walk away are those that are already highly successful, compounding the problem still further. Why? Because the likes of Radiohead and Prince can afford to give their music away as a cheap promotional gimmick in order to create publicity for their respective machines. They get noticed for doing so and benefit in other areas. So with everyone now expecting free music, all the other artists lose what little income they could expect from record sales, maybe leading to a low credit score, even though the love and money spent producing their product hasn't changed.

Wilder of course realizes that Recoil's music benefits to an extent from Wilder's previous success as a member of the Hitmen. Or whatever the name of that really famous band was.

Now that band's ability to remain with Mute may be questionable. Incidentally, I didn't mention Mute's re-independence when it happened, mainly because in my non-trendy way I didn't even know about it until recently. But here's what EMI said:

LONDON, 22 September 2010 — EMI Music and Mute founder Daniel Miller have reached a preliminary agreement that will see EMI support Miller in the establishment of his second record label, and the continuation of the Mute brand as an independent recorded music business.

Since he founded Mute in 1978, Miller has signed and developed some of the world’s most innovative and influential recording artists including Depeche Mode, Moby, Goldfrapp, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Erasure and Richard Hawley. He sold Mute to EMI in 2002 and has continued to lead the label since then.

Miller’s new label will operate under the trademark Mute which it is licensing from EMI. It will tap into EMI’s Label Services unit for sales, distribution, synch & licensing and merchandising in the US, UK, Canada and Ireland, and a network of independent record distributors elsewhere. The label will be controlled by Miller, with EMI taking a minority equity interest in the company. Miller will also take a consultancy role with EMI Music as part of the new agreement.

To help fund the label, EMI is licensing to Miller part of the Mute back catalogue. It is also providing Miller with operational support in areas such as royalty administration and business affairs.

Mute artists Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp, Richard Hawley, Kraftwerk and White Rabbits remain signed to and marketed worldwide by EMI Music, with Miller continuing to work with them in his A&R consultancy role with EMI. The remainder of the Mute roster will move over to Miller’s new independent label including Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Grinderman, Yeasayer, Erasure, Andy Bell, Liars, Polly Scattergood and A Place To Bury Strangers.

So if you combine EMI's statement from last year from Gore's statement in Vanity Fair, Mute didn't get Depeche Mode, and EMI doesn't necessarily have them either.

Now for people on my side of the pond this is all an academic discussion, because United States Depeche Mode releases have been issued by the Warner Music Group for decades. However, Warner didn't really shape the way that the music was actually produced - and even in more recent years, in which Depeche Mode has used producers other than Miller, he's always been a presence around the band.

Can you imagine Depeche Mode leaving the cocoon and being thrown into a more typical A&R process, in which a 25 year old guy is trying to convince Dave Gahan that auto-tune might be a good idea?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

At least I'm consistent in my likes (revisiting Alan Wilder, the metaphorical drummer)

I was surfing around, reading about Moby, which led me to reading about Mute Records (I didn't realize that it was independent again, kinda sorta), which led me to thinking about Alan Wilder, which led me to this 2009 post by Aircrash which quoted from another source. The other source had written about Alan Wilder, drummer for Depeche Mode. Here's part of what the other source said, as quoted by Aircrash:

...some of the groups which were even more heavily in thrall to the space-age world of the electronic keyboard - particularly New Order and Depeche Mode - either retained their drummers or, in the latter case, made Alan Wilder play the drums because the rest of the band didn't like Alan Wilder very much, they were jealous of him, standing there behind the keyboard, like Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys, but with leather trousers. Many groups have metaphorically made Alan Wilder play the metaphorical drums, although only one group has literally made Alan Wilder play the drums, that group being Depeche Mode, in which group Alan Wilder was in.

After that the piece got really weird.

The whole thing made me curious - what was the original source of the material quoted by Aircrash? All that Aircrash said was that the Wilder stuff was buried in a post about A Flock of Seagulls.

So I began searching for information on metaphorical drummers, and I was led to a post by a a little blog called the Ontario Empoblog, written in 2005. Perhaps you've heard of it. I know I have.

The post, which also mentions then-love of my life Helen Marine and the four times that individual Beatles quit the Beatles, includes a lengthy quote from the original post about Alan Wilder the metaphorical drummer. It also includes a link to the original post at Sadly, while there is still a website at, there is no seagulls.html post any more, so Aircrash and I are the only people who have preserved any portion of the original post.

Or perhaps not. After some searching, I found another copy of Ashley Pomeroy's original essay on A Flock of Seagulls. I'm going to skip over the parts about Rudolf Hess (yes, Pomeroy discusses several British bands) and put Ashley's statements about Wilder in context.

Four people manned the tank that was A Flock of Seagulls. Mike Seagull sang, and played the electronic synthesiser keyboard - and because this was the early 1980s, he almost certainly played a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 - whilst his brother Paul Seagull played the electric guitars, and ironically although Mike was a hairdresser, he was genetically predisposed to baldness, and indeed his brother Frank was losing his hair even at the height of the group's success, and both have lost their hair now. There were two other Seagulls, being Frank Seagull, who was also a hairdresser, and Ali Seagull, who respectively played the bass guitar and the drums and was the brother of Paul Seagull. A Flock of Seagulls did not pride themselves on their ownership and use of a drum machine. Frank is an uncommon name nowadays.

It is easy to forget, nowadays, that although so many bands of the early 1980s used synthesisers, the vast majority also used traditional electric instruments, and drums, which are not electric at all, although they are often amplified with electric currents and microphones and amplifiers and so forth. None of the aforementioned leading lights of the New Romantic movement entirely dispensed with their drummers, and indeed some of the groups which were even more heavily in thrall to the space-age world of the electronic keyboard - particularly New Order and Depeche Mode - either retained their drummers or, in the latter case, made Alan Wilder play the drums because the rest of the band didn't like Alan Wilder very much, they were jealous of him, standing there behind the keyboard, like Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys, but with leather trousers. Many groups have metaphorically made Alan Wilder play the metaphorical drums, although only one group has literally made Alan Wilder play the drums, that group being Depeche Mode, in which group Alan Wilder was in. He is like Jesus Christ; just as Depeche Mode in 1990 made Alan Wilder play the drums, so too did the society of wherever it was that Jesus Christ lived in BC 30 or whenever... that society made Jesus go from playing the keyboards to playing the drums, and then he left to do a solo project and was never heard of again. By the end of the 1980s the technology which powered the drum machine had advanced to such a state that it could also power musical synthesisers; the machines which had once held rhythm patterns could now hold melody as well, and poor Alan Wilder stroke Jesus Christ was left with nothing to do. But I digress.

After that the piece gets really weird.

P.S. Whenever I see a mention of Visage the band, I think of Kelly Osbourne.