December 2, 2013
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I’m happy to say that I met my goal, blogging every day in November and blogging about 30 different songs. I seem to be on the every-other-year plan as far as this goes as the last time I pulled of 30 consecutive days of blogging was in November of 2011. In many ways, it seems like a terrible month to try to do this, as it’s the month when holiday commitments (to the psych ward and otherwise) seem to ramp up. But I’m glad to be able to say that I did it.
A few thoughts:
- If I learned anything this month, it’s that everything I write doesn’t have to be brilliant. Sometimes I feel so much pressure to be profound or witty that I end up writing nothing. If what I write ends up being neither of those, it’s ok.
- Not surprisingly, I didn’t really notice that much of an uptick in visitors. This flies in the face of people saying that daily blogging increases your traffic.
- That said, I did notice a huge increase in traffic to my “Alone” post when my friend Keith tweeted about it and they it was subsequently retweeted by Ru-fucking-Paul!
- I had fun rediscovering some old favorites this month, as well as songs I’ve just recently discovered.
- A shout out to my friend Ingrid, without whom, “Groove Is In The Heart” would not have graced this month’s list.
It was a fun experience, but I have to say I’m happy to have the pressure off to produce something daily. I also look forward to writing about something other than music, although I think I did a good job of not just regurgitating what could be found at Wikipedia. Anyone can write a review, but it’s a different thing altogether to take the song and put it into the context of your life. To me, that’s what makes writing about music interesting – when you learn a little about the author based on something that everyone else in the world experienced as well.
Blogging will probably be lighter this month, but I’ve found renewed zeal in writing so hopefully not too light. As promised, here’s the Spotify playlist with all the songs from this month. Subscribe if you are so inclined!
November 30, 2013
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As a result of discovering The Essential Backstreet Boys on Spotify, I’ve been on a huge Backstreet Boys kick this month. Honestly, I can’t believe that it’s taken me until the last day of the month to write about one of their songs. But here we are at the end of November and not only have I managed to blog about 30 songs, but I’ve written something every day. And the last song I’m gonna write about is “I Want It That Way.”
I still remember this song premiering on radio – so fanatical was the build-up and hype for it. I was only moderately interested, having liked the singles from Backstreet Boys, but not much else. But all that changed when I heard the song. It managed to be a teeny-bopper boy band song while simultaneously leveling up from their previous album. I really loved it. They sounded good and the song appealed to my love of melodramatic songs. I think what I love about Backstreet Boys is that, while they are a boy band, they also can actually sing. They harmonize and sing a cappella. Milli Vanilli they are decidedly not. And, perhaps most importantly to me, they also know their way around a pop hook. “I Want It That Way” went on to be the most successful boy band single EVER and even today, it sounds pretty good.
All these years later, the group is still recording new material. To call them a boy band is probably accurate on a chromosomal level, but it’s been a long time since any of them were anything close to a “boy.” Nick Carter is the youngest of the group at 33, and Kevin Richardson, who always seemed a little bit awkwardly out of place, is older than me, although at 42, that’s kind of splitting hairs. Every once in a while when I was listening to this album, I wondered if it was disingenuous of the Backstreet Boys to continue recording this kind of music as many of them are in their late 30s/early 40s. Is it ridiculous for a group of grown men to be recording boy band pop at their age, even though the sound of their music has certainly altered with the times?
The answer to this question is a categorical NO. When I caught myself thinking this, I realized that a sentiment like that is no different than all the people telling “Granny Madonna” that she needs to retire. If they are getting joy out of singing and recording and performing, who the hell is anyone to tell them what to do and what not to do? Frankly, the fact that they’re still together after all these years (although Richardson did leave the group for a while and Carter put out a solo album) is pretty damn amazing. I hope that they all get along and have developed a level of intimacy with each other that being with a group of friends like that would hopefully foster over the years. It also helps that their new music isn’t half bad either.
And just so you know, you’ll never know how close this post came to being about “The Call.”
November 29, 2013
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My interest in Heart was really one of those right-place-right-time things. I didn’t really know anything they had done up until their mid 80s comeback. The first song of Heart’s that really caught my attention was “Nothin’ At All” – the fourth single off of their eponymous 1985 album. I was always drawn to Ann’s powerhouse of a voice – not many women in rock can belt like Ann Wilson. And thanks to a pretty awesome video, “Nothin’ At All” is one of those indelible songs of the summer of 1986. I bought the album on the strength of that song and ended up liking most of it. It took me a long time to warm up to the harder rocking songs, preferring the more pop-influenced songs that had been spun off as singles. Nevertheless, I was still pretty excited when a year later, Heart’s follow-up album, Bad Animals, was set for release.
“Alone” is one of those songs that everyone knows, whether you like it or not. I happen to like it quite a bit, but if I recall correctly, Heart really doesn’t all these years later. I think that it’s unfairly maligned – it’s a product of 1987 if there ever was one. And true to form, Ann wails on this. It spent 3 weeks at #1 in the summer of 87 – Heart’s biggest hit by far. Like most songs of this era, it is inextricably linked with its music video, which MTV played practically every hour. Despite that, it took me until today to realize that Nancy Wilson is sporting some very Stevie Nicks hair at the beginning of the video.
“Alone” has been covered a handful of times – probably most notably by Celine Dion. She couldn’t repeat Heart’s success with the song though, probably because she did nothing but a karaoke cover of the song. Also, much like “Open Your Heart” is owned by Madonna, Ann Wilson made “Alone” all her own. No one can wail like she can, and this song demands wailing – just not the Celine version of wailing.
Perhaps my favorite version of “Alone” (apart from the original) is a bizarre remix I discovered somewhere in a dusty corner of the Internet several years ago. It turns the song on its ear, giving it a driving EDM beat and uses only little snippets of Ann Wilson’s original vocal. In a way, it’s almost like “Alone” was sampled into a completely different song, rather than it being a remix of “Alone.” I always have a little bit of a soft spot for those dance songs that use a sample of something over and over again (see also Eric Prydz’ “Call On Me” or Moon Boots’ “Off My Mind”) so it’s not surprising that this remix resonated with me.
Sad to say, Heart really haven’t made a good album in ages. But for me, their bombastic 80s version will always represent the hardest rocking music I liked during my teenage years.
November 28, 2013
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This is kind of an obvious choice for a song on this Thanksgiving Day. It was either this one or Dido. What I probably should have done is chosen Eminem’s “Stan” but I thought that a little too obscure as far as a “thank you” type reference. So Alanis it is, because I like it more than the other two.
I discovered Alanis Morissette a little earlier than most because she was on Madonna’s vanity label, Maverick. They talked about her all the time on the Madonna listserv I was on at the time, and eventually, I picked up the CD used at Record Collector in Iowa City having heard virtually none of it. Jagged Little Pill went on to be massive selling an amazing number of copies and launching Alanis’ career into the stratosphere.
Expectations were impossibly high for the follow-up album, and not surprisingly, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie failed to meet them. Heidi and I listened to it at Blockbuster Music in Cedar Rapids – one of our favorite date places as you could listen to any CD in the store – and we were unimpressed. Still, I kind of liked “Thank U” if only for the line – “how ’bout getting off all these antibiotics?” It was so random and yet, so true (unless we want to be living in a post-antibiotic age.)
People have been doing the 30 days of thankful on various social media and it’s been fun to read but that kind of thing is not really how I roll. But I am thankful for many of the things Alanis sings about in “Thank U”, even the things you might not think I’d be thankful for – disillusionment, frailty and transparent dangling carrots.
November 27, 2013
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(PSA: This post is neither about the Del Shannon song nor the Janet Jackson song.)
The Corrs album Forgiven…Not Forgotten was one of those albums that I never would have discovered had it not been for the double influence of my wife and Madonna. Obviously, Heidi was the more direct influence. She had picked the CD up from the Iowa City Public Library and got me to listen to it, saying that I would really like it. This was 1997-98 and Titanic mania was at its zenith and anything that had that Irish feel to it appealed to us. Madonna’s influence was a little less direct. Fresh off seeing Evita in the theater four times, I always wondered about the voice that plays Juan Peron’s mistress – her voice was so clear and distinctive. Turns out it was Andrea Corr, the lead singer from the Corrs. I’ll always wonder what it would have been like to have her sing “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” instead of having the song rudely taken from her by Madonna.
Anyway, when I first listened to this album, I recognized “Runaway” right away. A single in 1995, it got some traction on the adult contemporary chart so that’s probably why I recognized it. It marries a solid pop hook to traditional Irish sounds so flawlessly. And the great thing is that it was pretty representative of the whole album – there’s only a couple duds on Forgiven…Not Forgotten. I really love the way The Corrs mixed in instrumentals with vocal selections, making a very satisfying listen from so many angles.
As it stands, The Corrs have yet to equal the quality of music found on their debut. I bought the follow-up Talk on Corners completely on faith and was pretty disappointed. Aside from a handful of good songs, it was a mere shadow of Forgiven…Not Forgotten. After this album, I definitely picked and chose my Corrs songs. “Breathless” was pretty awesome, as was 2004′s “Summer Sunshine.” I remember an Entertainment Weekly review criticizing their 2000 album In Blue as having jettisoned all their Irish influence, referring to them as “Wilson O’Phillips.” Although this morning, after having listened to the bulk of Forgiven…Not Forgotten, I want to go back and try Talk on Corners again.
“Runaway” is one of those songs that will always remind me of the early days of our marriage, being broke as hell in grad school but knowing that we would make it if we just stuck together. A decade and a half later, I think we’ve done pretty well. I’m never gonna stop falling in love with you.
November 26, 2013
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The second of today’s songs was picked by my friend Ingrid, without whom high school band would have been much less interesting. We had a shared dislike of poorly played clarinets as the resultant squeak would find the base of your spine and travel all the way up it. I met up with her and a bunch of other high school classmates last summer after many years of not seeing them and it was great fun. So yesterday, when I said on Facebook that I wasn’t going to post a song because I was exhausted an not able to string words together into a sentence, she asked me if one of those songs today would be Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.” I hadn’t thought of that song in a million years (never really liked it all that much – that man ruined Whitney!) but I did tell her that she could pick one of today’s songs. My only condition was that it had to be one that I could write something about because I wasn’t sure how much our musical tastes overlapped.
She chose Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” – one of the all time best dance songs. The fact that it came out just prior to the onset of grunge makes it all the more awesome. My friend Kelly had Deee-Lite’s album my freshman year of college. I had heard “Groove Is In The Heart” and liked it enough, but I knew I wasn’t willing to commit to the whole album. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I bit the bullet and downloaded World Clique from eMusic because “Groove Is In The Heart” was shockingly absent from my music library.
I kind of put this song in with all the Technotronic/C+C Music Factory songs that were popular at about the same time. I don’t listen to either of those groups with any regularity, although what exactly possessed me to buy the Technotronic album back in the day is kind of beyond me. I wonder if when Dee-Lite recorded it they realized that they were recording what Slant Magazine would eventually name the #2 Greatest Dance Song – ahead of “Vogue” and behind “I Feel Love.” Those are some very powerful neighbors. Not bad work, I’d say for their first single. Listening to it today makes me think of Friday nights in college, those nights when class was over for the week and the weekend lay ahead full of endless possibilities. Mine usually involved going to the library, but that was the case for a lot of my classmates as well.
Dee-Lite was never able to quite replicate the success of “Groove Is In The Heart” although they continued to have hits on the dance chart. I’m going to have to go check out those dance hits one of these days.
November 26, 2013
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I’ve always been more fond of No Doubt’s singles than their albums. I even bought Tragic Kingdom when it was popular but it ended up getting sold to a used CD store. I kind of learned my lesson that I’m better off just downloading the songs that I like rather than put down cash for the entire album.
This was true of Rock Steady, No Doubt’s 2001 album. I really loved the song “Hey Baby.” I vividly remember having family pictures taken in early 2002 at church and I said “I’m just sippin’ on chamomile” and my sister-in-law, not missing a beat, followed up with “I’m watchin’ boys and girls and their sex appeal.” Hardly appropriate for church, but then again, I’m not really appropriate for church either.
“Hella Good” was the follow up single to “Hey Baby.” Much like “Intuition”, I acquired both of these songs via file sharing, this time Audiogalaxy. Napster was an awesome service, but the entire time that it was around I was on dial-up. When I switched to Audiogalaxy, we had updated to DSL and instead of taking 15 minutes to download, a song took 2-3 minutes. Bear in mind, all this was before legitimate digital music – the Wild West days of the Internet. I feel a little bit bad about all the music I downloaded back then. I’ve purchased a metric shit ton of music over the years but I definitely took advantage of the Internet music free-for-all.
Perhaps in some sort of karmic payback, the first copy of “Hella Good” I tried to download from Audiogalaxy was nothing but a loop. All it did was repeat the lines “You got me feeling hella good/So let’s just keep on dancing.” Four minutes of it. Not really knowing the song all that well, it took me a while to realize I’d been had. I eventually found the real song, but time after time yielded the same looped track.
After Audiogalaxy was shuttered, it was kind of the end of me and file sharing. I still used Kazaa (probably got a ton of viruses in the process), but it was never the same. I’m glad that they finally figured out a way to make digital music work, at least for consumers. Sounds like they’re still working on making it work for the artists though.
November 25, 2013
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Today kicked my ass into next week and my day starts insanely early tomorrow. I’ll do two tomorrow.
November 24, 2013
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Jewel was one of those artists that I always almost liked. “Who Will Save Your Soul” still grates on me. “You Were Meant For Me” was a vast improvement, and I liked “Foolish Games” the first 5 million times I heard it. I never bought a Jewel album because she could never sustain my interest for an entire album. I like confessional folk music, but generally in small doses and a whole Jewel album was definitely more than a small dose. But 2003′s 0304 piqued my interest because it was a whole different type of Jewel album. I’m not sure what possessed her to record a full-on dance-pop album, but she did. Surprisingly, it works better than you might expect.
“Intuition” was the kick-off single from the album, and I’m sure that I originally acquired it from Kazaa or Bearshare or whatever. Truth be told, I probably downloaded the whole album there – kind of bad form. “Intuition” was in heavy rotation for me in the summer of 2003. How many pop songs can convincingly work in an accordion? Well, Jewel does it pretty well here. Whenever I listen to “Intuition” I always think that I don’t want to listen to it, but if I just let it get started and get to that first chorus, I’m hooked. She scoops pretty badly here – “Follow your hearrrrrrrr-t/Your intuition” – but it’s actually kind of endearing.
There are a bunch of dance remixes of “Intuition” done by some of the usual suspects from the early 00s – Todd Terry, Gabriel & Dresden, among others – and only Todd Terry’s is streaming on Spotify. It’s not a bad remix. The song is actually set up pretty nicely for it. I do see that the remainder of the “Intuition” remixes are available on eMusic, so if I really want to gorge on “Intuition” I can go there. I will most assuredly be going to listen to the samples, hoping that they sampled from the middle of the remix and not the beginning which will surely be 30-60 seconds of generic drum beats.
I don’t know if Jewel took a lot of heat for this album or not. I imagine that die-hard Jewel fans probably perceive this as the album where she sold out. Maybe it is. But if she did sell out, I would have hoped for a better result than only 770,000 copies of the album sold to date and a #20 Hot 100 hit.
And since I have been enjoying the album so much on Spotify, I’ve done the right thing and bought the album on eMusic after all these years. I needed to use up my balance before it resets in a week and really, I should have purchased this Jewel album a long time ago. Now someone stop me before I go and blow the rest on “Intuition” remixes.
November 23, 2013
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You’d think that being both a Blondie fan and a Deborah (or Debbie, depending on which point in her career you’re talking about) Harry fan would be pretty easy. After all, Harry is the voice of the band. But it’s not quite as easy as you might think. Much like being a 10,000 Maniacs fan does not necessarily translate to being a fan of Natalie Merchant’s solo work, liking Blondie’s big hits doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to enjoy Debbie’s solo albums.
Every Debbie Harry solo album I’ve purchased I have almost immediately regretted. The exception to this was Def, Dumb & Blonde which I bought for $3.88 in the cut out bin at Camelot Music in Iowa City. For me, it is the high water mark in her solo material. But after that initial period of regret, I have grown to love pretty much all of them. The thing is, Harry’s solo work is not like her work with Blondie. While a handful of songs have the polished production of “Heart of Glass” and “The Tide Is High”, I feel like her solo albums are the places where Harry allowed herself to try on different styles of music. It makes it hard to get into if you’re expecting a Blondie album.
Probably one of the few Debbie Harry singles that really fits the Blondie mode is “French Kissin’.” It was the first Debbie Harry song that I remember outside of her work with Blondie, and honestly, at that point in my life, my knowledge of Blondie songs was pretty spotty. It was probably limited to “The Tide Is High” which I remember some kid on the bus trying to tell me was called “Silent Night” – as in “silent night and I’m holding on…” But “French Kissin’” has a fun pop sensibility about it and in the hands of just about anyone else, it would have surely been a Top 10 hit. For Harry, it petered out at #57.
Why was it not a hit in the US? Hard to say. I’ve always felt like her age at the time worked against her – she was 41 at the time of the release of “French Kissin’.” Not many female artists of her age were getting radio airplay at that time. I also felt like the record label didn’t really know how to market her – probably because her solo work was a bit off the beaten path. But it was solid dance-pop for the most part. Still, she’s never had a Top 40 solo hit, and for someone as musically influential as Harry, that seems like a shame.
I recall seeing the video for “French Kissin’” exactly once – when I was home sick from school one morning. So that’s how much play it got. But since then, it’s gotten a lot of play on my iPod, along with all of Debbie Harry’s solo work. And after seeing her with Blondie in 2011, she still has the voice even at nearly 70.