December 31, 2007

The Many Sons of Spector

A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector was released the day John F. Kennedy was shot. I'm not gonna blame Phil Spector for that. I'm not blaming him for commercializing the Christmas song; that distinction has to go to Bing Crosby's 1945 White Christmas or Elvis' 1957 Christmas Album, both of which better deserve a place on the RS list than A Christmas Gift... , at least in an historical sense. I'm not going to blame him for the over-produced holiday drivel like Trans-Siberian Orchestra or Mannheim Steamroller although I really want to. Hell, I'm not even going to blame him for breaking up the Beatles and messing up the Ramones.

What I want to blame Spector for is how his "Wall of Sound" over-production has infected hip-hop. How computer programs like Pro Tools and Fruity Loops have made it far too easy for Joe Hip Hop Producer to play mini-Phil. And how a legion of largely white male mini-Phils have descended locust-like onto an African-American art form and turned it into A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector.

That was the plan. Exhibit A was to be some song by the Runners. They are so Wall of Sound. Multiple sirens, mass overproduction, epic atmospherics, sound affects, lots of artists, and far too much song stimuli. Computer programs birthed these hit machines. I thought about what their newest hit track would be and guessed on the "I'm So Hood remix" (see above NSFW), which sounds pretty similar to their other hit songs, like "(Everyday I'm) Hustlin", "We Takin' Over", "Reppin' Time", etc...

It's gotten to the point where other people's songs sound just like theirs. See Exhibit B (see left), Rick Ross' (yes he of the Runners' "(Everyday I'm) Hustlin" fame) new single "Street Money"which evidently was produced by someone named J-Rock the Rock Monsta.

At this point the Phil Spector-The Runners' defense team would take the stand and show you Exhibit C: a chart of my browsing and youtube listening history from the past few hours. Multiple replays of all their tracks, searches for more tracks, and even a viewing of The Runners' themselves speaking on a Streets Talk DVD about their aim of becoming "super-producers". Was Phil Spector the first rock/r&b/rap super-producer? Probably.

They might even have hidden camera shots of me smiling, bobbing my head, and calling the wife over with "I can't believe how great the first four verses are." and continuing with "I love Young Jeezy." Decidedly something no man should ever tell his wife.

I would then be forced to admit that despite my sanctimonious orthodox-hip hop bluster I love the Runners' Wall of Sound and by extension have to grudgingly admit that there is a wonderful place in pop, rock, and rap for the many Sons of Spector be they Springsteen's "Born to Run", My Bloody Valentine's Loveless or Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. And you know what, I might enjoy the Arcade Fire every now and then. What's wrong with epic cinematic overblown overwrought wonderment. You can't listen to Pavement everyday, can you? Maybe Phil Spector isn't so bad. Sometimes more is more.

Ronny Spector's vocals...well, that's another story altogether.
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December 29, 2007

What's Past is Prologue

Gifts, indeed! The images and sensations that this album evokes for me are purely commercial. Instead of sugarplums, I start visioning malls, chain stores, poorly planned parking lots, bags of goodies in my back seat, stacks of receipts….And that’s ok. You see, I don’t really buy into the True Meaning of Christmas as the birth of baby Jesus. I’m not dissing baby Jesus; I just think that folks forget that an earlier version of this winter holiday was all about the presents. The celebration of the Roman feast Saturnalia was "marked by the making and giving of small presents (saturnalia et sigillaricia) and a special market (sigillaria)". Phil Spector has provided a perfect soundtrack not for Christmas, as many claim, but for Saturnalia.

To celebrate here is my free association between each song and the special market or activity that it calls to mind:

  • Darlene Love's "White Christmas" = Bath and Body Works
  • The Ronettes' "Frosty the Snowman" = Target
  • Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ The Bells of St. Mary = Navigating someplace stuffy that I never wanted to be. Boscovs?
  • The Crystals' "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" = Bed Bath and Beyond
  • The Ronettes' "Sleigh Ride" = CostCo
  • Darlene Love's "Marshmallow World" = Wegman's
  • The Ronettes' "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" = Circuit City
  • The Crystals' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" = Best Buy
  • Darlene Love's "Winter Wonderland" = Victoria’s Secret
  • The Crystals' "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" = Picking up last minute wrapping supplies at the Dollar Store
  • Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" =Sitting in a suburban parking lot trying to decide which route to take back to my apartment.
  • Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans' "Here Comes Santa Claus" = Borders
  • Phil Spector and Artists' "Silent Night" = I’ve never heard this before in my life.
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December 25, 2007

With the Beatles

With the Beatles, The Beatles, Rolling Stone Magazine's #420

exile staff consensus: Top 1000 album




the breakdown:
2.5 cannons - the angryyoungman
1.5 cannons - lenbarker and eurowags
1.0 cannon - venerableseed

the essays:
12/24 @ 3:00 p.m. - The Ancient Scientist bats clean up and knocks it out of the park once more ably answering his question: "What was it about the Beatles and this time - 1963/4 - when they took over the American imagination and launched themselves as icons of an era?" Read on to find out!

12/23 @ 6:00 p.m. - Len Barker encapsulates many of our feelings (at least me and the mrs.) about the Beatles. "We love 'em but why does Paul have to be so corny?" Want musical proof? Listen to his Music Man cover on these albums.

LB also brings us into the Christmas season with a rousing youtube video of Paul's Simply...Having...a Wonderful Christmas Time. You want to sing, you know you do!

Next week this blog moves onto the only Christmas album on the list. Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift From Me To You.

Happy Christmas everyone!

12/20 @ 9:00 a.m. - The Angry Young Man belies his name with a terrific, sweet post about his Beatlemania and what makes the Fab Four so great: the songs.

12/19 @ 9:00 a.m. - History and nostalgia have changed how we view the Beatles and their Ed Sullivan Show performance. The usual culprits being "it ended our post-JFK assassination malaise" and "it asserted the Baby Boomers place in the world." Let's read what the NY Times said the day before that famous show as well as the day after.

12/16 @ 9:00 a.m. - I wonder how Beatlemania happened? And what would Meet the Beatles! have been akin to if it had been released in 2007, 2000, or 1976.

***

the introduction (done with Meet the Beatles!):
On the surface Meet the Beatles! and With the Beatles appear to be the same album. The covers are nearly identical and a quick look at the track listing reveals nine duplicate songs. Meet the Beatles! was released in the United States in January, 1964 while With the Beatles saw a November 1963 UK release.

End of story, same two albums
, two different releases. Right? Wrong.

Now look through your Beatles CD collection. Odds are you have you UK release With the Beatles. How could that be? Well, when the Beatles albums were first released on CD in the 1980's Capitol standardized their CD output with only UK releases. Hence Meet the Beatles!' digital disappearance until 2005.

What did this CD standardization do for multiple generations of US music lovers? It erased the first great self-produced and self-written rock 'n roll album ever released on American soil from our memory and musical conscience. Meet the Beatles! is a juggernaut of Fab Four songs broken up by only one cover while With the Beatles trips and falls over seven non-Beatles tracks.

Does the "new" (to younger American ears) Meet the Beatles! belong in the Beatles pantheon alongside Rubber Soul and Revolver? Is it really the first great rock album Americans ever heard? And why exactly is With the Beatles on this list? Let's listen again and find out.
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Meet the Beatles

Meet the Beatles!, The Beatles, Rolling Stone Magazine's #59

exile staff consensus: Top 200 album




the breakdown:
4.0 cannons - venerableseed, polchic
3.5 cannons - the angryyoungman
2.5 cannons - lenbarker
2.0 cannons - eurowags

the essays:
12/24 @ 3:00 p.m. - The Ancient Scientist bats clean up and knocks it out of the park once more ably answering his question: "What was it about the Beatles and this time - 1963/4 - when they took over the American imagination and launched themselves as icons of an era?" Read on to find out!

12/23 @ 6:00 p.m. - Len Barker encapsulates many of our feelings (at least me and the mrs.) about the Beatles. "We love 'em but why does Paul have to be so corny?" Want musical proof? Listen to his Music Man cover on these albums.

LB also brings us into the Christmas season with a rousing youtube video of Paul's Simply...Having...a Wonderful Christmas Time. You want to sing, you know you do!

Next week this blog moves onto the only Christmas album on the list. Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift From Me To You.

Happy Christmas everyone!

12/20 @ 9:00 a.m. - The Angry Young Man belies his name with a terrific, sweet post about his Beatlemania and what makes the Fab Four so great: the songs.

12/19 @ 9:00 a.m. - History and nostalgia have changed how we view the Beatles and their Ed Sullivan Show performance. The usual culprits being "it ended our post-JFK assassination malaise" and "it asserted the Baby Boomers place in the world." Let's read what the NY Times said the day before that famous show as well as the day after.

12/16 @ 9:00 a.m. - I wonder how Beatlemania happened? And what would Meet the Beatles! have been akin to if it had been released in 2007, 2000, or 1976.

***

the introduction (done with With the Beatles):
On the surface Meet the Beatles! and With the Beatles appear to be the same album. The covers are nearly identical and a quick look at the track listing reveals nine duplicate songs. Meet the Beatles! was released in the United States in January, 1964 while With the Beatles saw a November 1963 UK release.

End of story, same two albums
, two different releases. Right? Wrong.

Now look through your Beatles CD collection. Odds are you have you UK release With the Beatles. How could that be? Well, when the Beatles albums were first released on CD in the 1980's Capitol standardized their CD output with only UK releases. Hence Meet the Beatles!' digital disappearance until 2005.

What did this CD standardization do for multiple generations of US music lovers? It erased the first great self-produced and self-written rock 'n roll album ever released on American soil from our memory and musical conscience. Meet the Beatles! is a juggernaut of Fab Four songs broken up by only one cover while With the Beatles trips and falls over seven non-Beatles tracks.

Does the "new" (to younger American ears) Meet the Beatles! belong in the Beatles pantheon alongside Rubber Soul and Revolver? Is it really the first great rock album Americans ever heard? And why exactly is With the Beatles on this list? Let's listen again and find out.
click here to
read it all...

December 24, 2007

British Invasion

When that really bad 'Star Wars' prequel came out a few years ago... the one with Jar Jar Binks and all that horribleness... it caused people that weren't besotted completely with the brand nostalgia of George Lucas to hate not only the new piece of crap on the screen, but also to question whether their 'Star Wars' love of youth had really been because of some greatness inherent in the movies, as we had always assumed, or whether it was naive buying into hype in a more innocent time. Like LenBarker said in his musings on Macca, the later product inevitably went back and tarnished the long ago loved object of love and hope and excitement.

So the inevitable question is: were the Beatles great because of hype or because of their own genius? An examination of this question is done best when looking at their early material, when they burst on the scene.

What was it about the Beatles and this time - 1963/4 - when they took over the American imagination and launched themselves as icons of an era? Instead of looking at the Kennedy assassination and the needs of America for hope and all that nonsense, let's just look at what the Beatles offered in more musical/cultural terms.

First off, as has been noted, 'With the Beatles' and 'Meet the Beatles' are quite different: the former was the earlier UK release to a public already Beatle-crazy, featuring a lot more RnB covers, etc. 'Meet the Beatles' was a later release (Jan. 64) to the US market just getting its first real taste of the group, with more original songs. The titles are enough to tell you of the first major factor in the Beatles' stateside, rather than English, success. The English were already 'With the Beatles' but the Americans were meeting them for the first (real) time. This is important, a conscious part of their stateside marketing: the thing that the Fab 4 did so well was take that American love of personality and increase it by an order of 4. US rockstars had mostly been individuals, these great powerful figures that captured the imagination like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis and such. Sure, there were groups like Phil Spector's groups and the Coasters and stuff, but they did not peddle the same cult of personality that the Elvi of the world did. The Beatles, in the public appearances and on the record itself, were 4 distinct personalities, and the Americans loved it, talking about who was the cutest, etc. Whereas before these rockstar comets of personality, like Elvis, represented an undeniably cool hoodlum renegade, the bad kid in the back of the classroom throwing spitballs they could be contained, extinguished by their own dangerous desires like James Dean, locked up for bullshit like Chuck Berry, tragically killed like Buddy Holly, sent off to the Army like Elvis, and so on. Here were 4 of them - not an isolate-able hoodlum presence but, in their number, a veritable movement, un-containable. 4 individuals, coming together as one. This was the lesson of the English, who always excelled, quite logically, in the group dynamic of rock n' roll. They always have the better groups and we have the better individual stars (exceptions, like Bowie, exist of course). This was the first element of the British Invasion, and they KEY to the British Invasion if you ask me, that would continue even up until Led Zeppelin stomped around the stage like rock gods... gosh, only 6 years after this album. The social, lads-quality of the Beatles a path for a communal merging of egos, a first 1960's lesson.

As I said, this is not only reflected in their public appearances full of joshing and cheekiness, but also in their songs. John sang John songs; Paul sang Paul songs, and they already have that different feel. Both are exuberant, exciting young singers, but Paul has that sweetness, John that edge, already.

Then there is the other thing about their image. People have commented in the past about how the 1963-4 Beatles offered this watered-down, innocent version of rock n' roll sexuality, with the tepid covers (yeah, that's right) of Chuck Berry and others on the 'With the Beatles' and their originals saying stuff like 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' and shit like that, much more innocent than the clear-and-present danger of Elvis and Chuck Berry and Little Richard (for god's sake not him!) to the little girls and wannabe hoodlum boys of America. And, sure, that's there, these Beatles were a bit soft, palatable for the moms and pops watching Ed Sullivan. But at the same time you gotta remember that the seat cushions at a Beatles concert would be wet - such that they had to wiped off - from the adolescent pussy juice from the teenage girls screaming (and creaming) and bouncing in their seats as the boys sang about hand holding. "She was just 17... if you know what I mean..." Yeah, we know Paul, and so did the 17-year olds you were singing to. So the sexual power of rock music was there, in a different form, and the kids knew all about it even if their moms smiled and quietly thanked God Elvis and his hips weren't up there anymore. The sexual language of rock music had become so ingrained that the Beatles could send 2 messages at once: the innocent one to the world at large, and the sexual one to the kids craving it. This sort of double-voice message would be a feature of their music forever (Paul is a Gemini remember), they invited interpretation of their minds, their messages, there's always something going on. Paul's sweetness next to John's bullishness created a well-rounded artistic vision, making each of them much cooler than they would have been alone. How could they be so corny and yet so lovably sincere at the same time? How did it work?

And another key thing, more overlooked in the RnB-to-rock evolutionary history of rock n' roll that is over-emphasized. The Beatles took a lot of their energy not just from Elvis and Chuck Berry, but also from a different place. Look at that cover: 4 brooding, turtleneck-wearing beatniks! And that hair! If the Beatles were bringing a white-boy cultural quality to RnB, they weren't bringing a Ricky Nelson suburban thing, but a European-ish poet vibe as well. The Beats and the folk revivalists were also doing this, but hadn't plunged into the mainstream like the Beatles would with ease. This represented a new force in popular music, the voices of individual poets, subjectivities telling their piece to the listeners. Of course, previous rock music had had great, poetic lyrics (Chuck Berry was a master sound-smith), but this was different. This element would add a whole new dimension to rock music in the coming years, and the Beatles are making the world (relatively) safe for Beatniks and Freaks.

The Beatles, then, were particularly interesting because they plugged effortlessly into a marketing formula that worked. Safe, English, cult-of-personality rock for celebrity-consuming culture, but with enough integrity and real edge to pull it off without flaming out quickly. The hype was real, it came from a real sense of novelty and personality that the boys represented, and what was really interesting is that they didn't get crushed under the hype machine and the powerful brand identity that they knew they had cornered, they actually built off of it and got better as the years went on. Too bad George Lucas couldn't figure that one out.
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December 23, 2007

Macca Moment

I do not love the Beatles as completely and unconditionally as I should, and I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Paul McCartney. Yes, I have plenty of Beatles albums, and even a decent collection of live and unreleased material, so it’s not like I despise them, far from it. Rather, I’ve gained a grudging love for them over the years as the guys who did it first and, arguably, best as fully in evidence on the brilliant, energetic With the Beatles/Meet the Beatles!, despite the cognitive dissonance that still disrupts my affection at times due to Paul’s ridiculous crap since the disbandment.

Exhibit A: Since the holidays are upon us now, I might as well be seasonal and bring up this ridiculous turd first, “Wonderful Christmas Time”.



Why, Paul? We already had a great Beatles Christmas song! Lennon had already taken care of that. Were you just trying to one up him? Well, thanks for ruining a few minutes of my holiday season every year when I have to hear this stinker!

Exhibit B: Maybe it was Linda’s fault. Since we are now a marriage removed from her undeniably sad, untimely passing, I guess that it’s safe to deliver criticism without sounding like an asshole: she had no business being on stage with you. She has forever ruined “Hey Jude” for anyone who cared. Bad call, man.

Exhibit C: “Say, Say, Say”, “The Girl Is Mine”, and “Ebony and Ivory”. The Jacko duets are awful enough, and “Ebony and Ivory” may have ruined Stevie Wonder for me, if In Square Circle hadn’t nearly completely destroyed my respect for him later. I’m just glad that you could never managed to line up studio time with Kiki Dee.

Exhibit D: Still trying to be “The Cute One”, aren’t we? That’s always grossed me out.

Rock stars, please guard your legacies better than this. You may think that you should not have to worry about it, that you can have your wife in the band, even if she doesn’t have musical ability, because it will make things easier at home, that you can appear with Hanson or Puffy just because you think it’s fun, that you can appear on Oprah, because it may help you sell tens of thousands more albums, even though you really don’t need the money, but it can and will be used against you in the court of youth. Your old fans may forgive you, since they’re already hooked, but, if you don’t maintain your integrity, then the kids will smell bullshit and turn on you, endangering that unimpeachable immortality that you’ve been striving for since you first strapped on a Hofner.

A long time ago, a friend of mine pointed out that you always hear music differently once you know that an artist is deceased, that it colors the experience to some degree, no matter how absorbed you may become in the music. I have always found this to be true to some degree, but Paul’s cheesiness continues to overwhelm my Beatles experience, even in the wake of Lennon and George’s deaths. I envy those who are able to overlook it.
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December 20, 2007

It All Starts With the Songs. Those Great Songs.

I had Beatlemania when I was little. It was years after the fact and I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, but from the moment I first heard 8 Days a Week, I was hooked. My friend and I used to take wooden tennis raquets, hold them like guitars and play along to that and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, with a little Can't Buy Me Love thrown in. He always pretended to be John. I pretended to be Ringo. I had no idea Ringo was the drummer, I just thought his name was cool. To this day I have no idea what we were listening to. 45s? LPs? An 8-track? And if it was an LP or an 8-track, what album? A hits compilation of some kind? The songs I remember singing are not all on the same album. Or any album in some cases. I would love to know.

Some years later, my family and I frequented Chuck E. Cheese. In one dining room that had no video games there were 4 large, animatronic dogs dressed as the Beatles on Ed Sullivan only in red sequined jackets. Put some quarters in a machine on the wall and an Ed-Sullivanesque voice introduced The Beagles, who sprang to life and pretended to play instruments and sing as early Beatles tunes played. I was sorely disappointed when, after only a year or so, the Beagles were replaced by The Beach Bowsers. (As you might guess, they were the exact same dogs, just in different clothes). I never took to Help Me Rhonda and Surfin USA the way I did to All My Loving.

Even now I feel like getting up grabbing a fake guitar and belting out I Saw Her Standing There. Which is really the difference between Bealtemania and most of the phenomena Kid Seed has tried to compare it too...with Beatlemania, it all started with those great, simple songs. It was about a lot more but it was always the songs that roped you in. Or so it seemed to me jumping around in my friend's basement and strumming my tennis raquet and dreaming of being Ringo Starr.

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December 19, 2007

Beatlemania Reviewed

Quartet Continues to Agitate the Faithful

By JACK GOULD
NY Times
February 10, 1964, Monday
Section: BUSINESS FINANCIAL, Page 53

The cyclical turnover in teen-age trauma received recognition last night in the businesslike appearance of the Beatles on the "Ed Sullivan Show" over the Columbia Broadcasting System. The boys hardly did for daughter what Elvis Presley did for older sister or Frank Sinatra for mother.

The Liverpool quartet, borrowing the square hairdo used every morning on televisions by Captain Kangaroo, was composed of conservative conformists. In furthering Britain's comeback as an international influence, they followed established procedure for encouraging self-determination in underdeveloped areas.

The pretext of a connection with the world of music, a matter left to separate consideration below, was perfunctorily sustained by the Beatles. But in the quick intelligence beneath their bangs, there appeared to be a bemused awareness that they might qualify as the world's highest paid recreation directors.

In their sophisticated understanding that the life of a fad depends on the performance of the audience and not on the stage, the Beatles were decidedly effective. In their two sets of numbers, they allowed the healing effect of group therapy to run its course under the discipline of Mr. Sullivan, the chaperon of the year.

Televised Beatlemania appeared to be a fine mass placebo, and thanks undoubtedly are due Britain for a recess in winter's routine. Last night's sedate anticlimax speaks well for continuing British-American understanding. The British always were much more strict with children.

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Beatlemania in the NY Times

3,000 FANS GREET BRITISH BEATLES
4 Rock 'n' Roll Performers Hailed by Teen-Agers,
3,000 Screaming Teen-Agers Greet the Beatles (Yeah, Yeah)

By PAUL GARDNER
New York Times
February 8, 1964, Saturday
Section: food fashions family furnishings, Page 25

The Beatles were met by 200 reporters and photographers from newspapers, magazines, foreign publications, radio and televisions stations, and teen-age fan magazines. A press conference was bedlam.

While the Beatles stood quietly on a platform, smoking and smiling, photographers cried: "Down in front...gimme some room...whatsa matter...I can't see...please, down...more...no more...be a sport...hey, Beatles, looky over here..."

Brian Somerville, their press agent said, "Would the photographers please be quiet now so the reporters can ask questions? Please." This was met by cries of anger. Finally, Mr. Somerville grabbed a microphone. "All right. Shut up! Just shut up!."

The Beatles joined in. "Yeah, yeah, everybody shut up." Reporters applauded. Someone asked, "Will you sing for us?"

Mr. Lennon replied, "We need money first." More applause.

"How do you account for your success?" Mr. Lennon again: "We have a press agent."

Mr. Starr was asked what he thought of Beethoven. "I love him," he said, "especially his poems."

A reporter cried: "Hey you're keeping kids outa school!"

"That's a dirty lie," Mr. Lennon said, laughing.

Mr. McCartney beamed. "We have a message," he said. Suddenly there was a moment of silence. "Our message is," he began, "buy more Beatle records!"
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December 16, 2007

Meet the Beatlemania!


When 1962 ended the Beatles were a mildly successful, extraordinarily hard-working, primarily local band. When they won Liverpool's most popular band award, given by Liverpool-based Mersey Beat magazine, for two years in a row it should have come as no surprise. That year they played over 400 live shows, 160 shows at the Cavern Club alone. Nevertheless they still hadn't found widespread success. Their first single, "Love Me Do", peaked at #21, its sales buoyed by rumors of mass purchases done by manager Brian Epstein.

It was a different story when 1963 ended. With the Beatles was released in the U.K. on November 22, 1963 and shot to #1, displacing the Beatles' first album, Please, Please, Me. With the Beatles stayed at #1 for 21 weeks. Beatlemania was running rampant through England.

The U.S. release of Meet the Beatles! on January 20, 1964 was stage two in Beatlemania's American conquest. Stage one was the late-December, early-January release of their first U.S. single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand". The single jolted to number one selling 250,000 copies in the first three days and one million by January 13. Stage three came on February 9 with the legendary taping of The Ed Sullivan Show and a U.S. audience of 73 million people, at the time the most watched television program in history.

But how did it all happen and why? What was it about the Beatles that seduced the U.S. and the U.K. that winter? How could anyone's popularity mushroom at such an alarming pace, especially in a pre-internet, pre-cable TV, newspaper and radio-centric world?

The short answer is: I have no idea. Their amazing success is unimaginable to me today. The framework they worked in feels so foreign to me. They worked without corporate sponsorship, without an iTunes commercial, and without major monetary backing. In today's terms I could see them as a grass roots myspace phenomenon that an audience takes to. A Lily Allen, a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, or an Arctic Monkeys. But these musicians don't sell one million copies in one week. 73 million people do not clamor to watch their television performances. They will never change the face of music and/or the world. Are their tunes as good? Maybe. Are the personalities there? Perhaps. Could we ever see another Beatles? Probably not.

Or have we already?

During the boy band craze of the early millennium 'N Sync, the Backstreet Boys, and even the Spice Girls garnered comparisons to the Fab Four. They sold mass records and they had screaming, adoring fans. The Spice Girls made an A Hard Day's Night-style movie, and the others surely claimed to be "bigger than the Beatles". Like the early Beatles, they all toured at a manic pace, flooded the world with publicity, and had ubiquitous catchy tunes. But they also carried a sheen of plastic professionalism; a non-organic distaste. They were never cuddly. They were a focus group-tested product aimed to be bought, consumed, and ingested by the 73 million.

You were going to like them and you had no choice. And we did. And we still do. We clamor for Justin Timberlake's faux-Michael Jackson, intoxicated stardom trip. We vote for Mel B on Dancing With the Stars and sell out a reunited Spice Girls tour in seconds. We wonder, "what happened to the Backstreet Boys"while we read article after article about their female artist doppelganger Britney Spears.

In January of 1964 did we really have a choice with the Beatles? Were we just sheep to Brian Epstein's master plan or should we just admit that our baby boomer parents had good taste and uncanny buying power. That winter, were the Beatles' tunes that irresistible and that perfect? Were they more Backstreet or more Arctic Monkeys?

The magical opening chords of Meet the Beatles! song one, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" answers that question. Neither. It's goofy, it's poppy, it's perfect, it's real. It's the product of years of constant touring and constant work. It's an amazing album and, at least now, my favorite in the Beatles famed discography. It's full of boundless energy, terrific tunes, and a remarkable succinctness. The album it most reminds me of? The Ramones. Sonically, historically, and emotionally. The fast songs, the great melodies, their seminal importance, and their nostalgic sweetness. Just shows how much the world changed from 1964 to 1976.
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December 10, 2007

Radio

Radio, LL Cool J, Rolling Stone Magazine's #478

exile staff consensus: Top 300 album




the breakdown:
4.0 cannons - venerableseed and polchic
3.0 cannons - lenbarker
2.0 cannons - eurowags
1.0 cannons - angry young man

the essays:
CONGRATULATIONS
to our own LB, who became the proud papa of LB, Jr. on 11/28/07. The little guy will be a lead guitarist in no time!

12/10 @ 9:00 a.m. - It's good to see that fatherhood hasn't dimmed LB's fiery analysis. He's back with an open letter to will.i.am of all people.

In summary: will.i.am, you're no LL.

Perhaps Mr. Black Eyed Peas' PA will find this site on his/her daily google-my-boss rounds. And if that happens : will.i.am, you're no OK Krupka.

In other quasi-LL Radio sound bites here's a link to Stones Throw records BADD Santa Mixtape. Song two uses LL's "Rock the Bells" beat and will surely get you into the Yuletide spirit. Yes, it's "Rock the Christmas Bells" and it must be heard to be believed.

12/7 @ 9:00 a.m. - Wags drops knowledge on LL's Radio giving the seminal album its just due while ably placing the album in its proper (and often forgotten) historical context.

11/26 @ 9:00 a.m. - A celebrity sighting and near riot in NYC! Was it Johnny, LL, or the Chili Peppers? Click here to find out.

11/20 @ 4:00 p.m. - I'm up first and I'm going in chronological order. Here are my memories of LL and of radios.

the introduction (done with Johnny Cash's American Recordings and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik):
LL, the Chili Peppers, and Johnny Cash. Their Rolling Stone connection: Rick Rubin. Yes, all three albums were produced by that genre defying, Def Jam creating, minimalist producing workhorse. Two more of his hip hop albums and another Chili Peppers album appear on the list. That's right. No Slayer, no Danzig, and no System of a Down. Nevertheless seven ain't bad on such a 60's and 70's-centric list. And the man shows no signs of stopping. In the last two years he's recorded with eight more artists who made the RS500 list: Neil Diamond, U2, Green Day, Nas, KRS-One, Metallica, Weezer, and Jay-Z. Are those eight more disparate than the three albums we're about to hear? Let's see. click here to
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Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rolling Stone Magazine's #310

exile staff consensus: Top 500 album




the breakdown:
2.5 cannons - venerableseed
2.0 cannons - polchic and the angry young man
1.5 cannons - lenbarker and eurowags

the essays:
CONGRATULATIONS
to our own LB, who became the proud papa of LB, Jr. on 11/28/07. The little guy will be a lead guitarist in no time!

12/3 @ 9:00 a.m. - polchic speaks on the wear and tear of her precious Blood Sugar Sex Magik tape.

11/29 @ 9:00 a.m. - I'm up with some memories from the bridge.

11/27 @ 9:00 a.m. - Len wishes for more brevity in Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Would that be less blood, less sugar, less sex, or less magik? He also managed a dig at The Joshua Tree. On its 20th anniversary no less!

the introduction (done with LL Cool J's Radio and Johnny Cash's American Recordings):
LL, the Chili Peppers, and Johnny Cash. Their Rolling Stone connection: Rick Rubin. Yes, all three albums were produced by that genre defying, Def Jam creating, minimalist producing workhorse. Two more of his hip hop albums and another Chili Peppers album appear on the list. That's right. No Slayer, no Danzig, and no System of a Down. Nevertheless seven ain't bad on such a 60's and 70's-centric list. And the man shows no signs of stopping. In the last two years he's recorded with eight more artists who made the RS500 list: Neil Diamond, U2, Green Day, Nas, KRS-One, Metallica, Weezer, and Jay-Z. Are those eight more disparate than the three albums we're about to hear? Let's see.

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American Recordings

American Recordings, Johnny Cash, Rolling Stone Magazine's #364

exile staff consensus: Why is this on the list?




the breakdown:
1.5 cannons - venerableseed
1.0 cannon - angryyoungman, eurowags, and lenbarker

the essays:
12/9 @ 9:00 a.m. - LB's back with a lukewarm reception of American Recordings

12/8 @ 9:00 a.m. - National Geographic, Helen Mirren, and fellating Rick Rubin. Who would have thought those three images could be used in the same post?

12/4 @ 9:00 a.m. - Am I the only one who made it through American Recordings? If so, that's fine. I don't want to bring anyone else down.

the introduction (done with LL Cool J's Radio and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik):
LL, the Chili Peppers, and Johnny Cash. Their Rolling Stone connection: Rick Rubin. Yes, all three albums were produced by that genre defying, Def Jam creating, minimalist producing workhorse. Two more of his hip hop albums and another Chili Peppers album appear on the list. That's right. No Slayer, no Danzig, and no System of a Down. Nevertheless seven ain't bad on such a 60's and 70's-centric list. And the man shows no signs of stopping. In the last two years he's recorded with eight more artists who made the RS500 list: Neil Diamond, U2, Green Day, Nas, KRS-One, Metallica, Weezer, and Jay-Z. Are those eight more disparate than the three albums we're about to hear? Let's see.

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Open Letter to will.i.am

Dear will.i.am,

I saw recently where you had a beef with record buyers because your solo debut, Songs About Girls, registered “only” 20,000 albums sold in Sound Scan in the first week of its release, and that, since you founded the Black Eyed Peas and introduced the world to Fergie, you figured that you deserved to sell a comparable number of albums to what one of their releases would.

Dude, get real. What did Black Eyed Peas sell before you fired that other gal for Fergie? I’m sure that it was well short of 20,000 a week! And when I say “get real,” I don’t just mean it that logical sense, I also mean it in the musical sense. With all of the great emcees and producers out there, do you, really, really think that you measure up well enough to “deserve” better album sales than 20,000 in a week on your solo debut?

I was listening to L.L. Cool J’s classic Radio last week, and nothing that you have put out can compare to what happens on that 22-year-old album recorded by a teenager! You don’t have the passion, chops, taste, or coolness in evidence to touch a work like that.

There’s only one weak track on that album, “I Want You”, and that’s fine, because it’s the last one on there, and L.L. has already sold everyone on his greatness by then; your albums are full of filler crap like that with only a few hits. On Radio, he’s the type of guy who lays it all out there with no gussied up production and just kills, and you’re the type of guy with no qualms about just trying to sell as many albums as possible by dancing like a pussy on Best Buy commercials and shit.

Yeah, that’s fine, if that’s where your coming from, since L.L. obviously later went all sitcom star and shit, whoring himself out as much as you do these days, but the critical distinction is that you don’t have an album like Radio in your past in order to have earned sufficient respect from enough music fans to where you would give them a reason to check out anything from you without Fergie (or an equally huge star) on the cover.

Man, I would be stoked to sell 20,000 albums in a week! Do you think that Radio sold 20,000 in its first week?

Enjoy it while it lasts,

LenBarker
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December 9, 2007

Not Just Cashing In Before He Checked Out

From the time of its release, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings has been hailed by many as a brilliant collaboration between Cash and Rubin and now stands as Cash’s most legendary “studio” album, as evidenced by it being Cash’s lone studio album to place on the Rolling Stone list driving this blog. Disappointingly, this album falls a bit short of being worthy of such recognition in particular and greatness in general.

I love Johnny Cash as much as most other American music fans, particularly the two prison albums and other live material from throughout his career that I have heard. His studio work with Sun was good, too, but is somewhat stale in terms of performance and dynamics when compared to his live work; the live versions of many of the tunes found on the prison albums easily surpass the earlier Sun studio renditions. American Recordings suffers from some of the same problems: much like his Sun work, it feels like Cash is holding back here, and the material is not all superb.

There are some strong aspects of this album that have earned justifiable praise, and I definitely agree with those who praise Rick Rubin for his work on the album. In particular, Cash’s acoustic guitar on the album sounds amazing, and could provide a huge service to many aspiring musicians by showing them what an acoustic guitar is supposed to sound like.

I have grown so weary of hearing people try to play acoustic guitars over PA systems and have it sound so thin and lifeless that it makes me want to go get a Strat for the person to play instead. There was a reason why the electric guitar was invented: in order to compensate for the difficulty in capturing and reproducing the sound of an acoustic guitar in a live setting. This difficulty has remained a significant hurdle for decades now, so many people seem to have grown accustomed to that thin sound, and some artists, particularly Dave Matthews, have done a pretty good job of embracing and making it work for them.

This has also had the unfortunate side effect of leaving plenty of strummers with the impression that it can work for them, too, leading to far too many dreary sounding players, who would solidly benefit from the judicious use of electric guitars, which are so much easier to mix properly in a live setting. However, if those strummers on their Takamines and Ovations* still find themselves unable to overcome their misguided acoustic fetish, then they should give serious thought to how much better and lifelike the acoustic guitar on this album sounds than their inane plinking. Yes, I get that it is hard to overcome feedback issues in a live setting, but if feedback leaves a guitarist compromising their tone to the degree that they are unable to approach the tone found on this popular and widely available album, then I urge them to consider rolling with an electric instead.

Rubin does a fine job of capturing Cash’s voice, too. Wow, does it sound cool when he hits those low notes on Nick Lowe’s “The Beast in Me”, which is one of several inspired selections for covers that Rubin chose here. With choices like that and Cash’s unbelievable talent, Rubin and Cash came pretty close to making a great album here, and, honestly, upon my first listen, I was starting to think that the album was going to blow me away. I had seen the video for “Delia’s Gone” numerous times on MTV when the album was originally released, so I already knew that it was a really good tune, and it gets the album off to a strong start. The next tune “Let the Train Blow the Whistle” is fine as well, and the third song, “The Beast in Me”, as I have already mentioned, works great due to Cash’s standout vocal performance. Then, unfortunately, the album hits a roadblock: Cash seems uninterested throughout much of his own “Drive On”, leading to about as long and boring of a sub-2:30 song from a brilliant artist as I could imagine, and the problems continue on the next groaner, “Why Me Lord?”, too. From there, despite several strong covers and a couple of decent originals, the album never really recovers the momentum that it has lost.

Yes, American Recordings is a pretty good album that helped restore Cash’s career to deserved prominence. Yet, since it is not an album that I ever bothered to listen to until driven to do so because of my participation in this blog based on the Rolling Stone list, I can’t help but judge it within that context, and I have to say that it seems to have earned its spot on the list more for historical and/or sentimental reasons than its artistic merits. Now, historical merit is a critical component of the greatness of many albums on the Rolling Stone list, so, while I can understand why Rolling Stone rated this album so high, it isn’t great enough overall for me to agree with that decision.

*While both of those companies make some excellent instruments, I list them here solely because I often see them in the hands of the worst offenders. I do not mean to knock those brands for the popularity that they have earned by making good instruments that people enjoy playing; it’s not their fault that people don’t bother to dial them in properly.
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December 8, 2007

American Recordings: Not Good, But Good For You

I tried to listen to Radio for this blog. I really did. Couldn't make it through the album. And the overplay of "Under the Bridge" ruined BSSM for me for all time. So I'll just talk about Johnny Cash, whom I came to like, along with the masses, when the movie came out. American Recordings has no business on the top 500 list. It's flat, it's depressing, it's not remotely JC's best stuff. Other than his rendition of Leonard Cohen's Bird on a Wire --which is actually a perfect match for Johnny in terms of what he had the range to cover-- this album has few redeeming qualities. I really don't see the attraction to it.

I think it's inclusion on the list is really just the result of the desire for the list to have broad horizons beyond straight rock. In that way it reminds me of when People puts out its 50 Most Beautiful People issue and there are random 70 year-old National Geographic photographers who nobody has ever heard of on it. Or Helen Mirren.

Sure they're good looking for 70 year-olds but everyone knows they really have no place on a list of the 50 most beautiful people in the world. People is just trying to be broadly inclusive because a list of the actual 50 most beautiful hot actresses, singers and athletes all under the age of 45 would be monotonous. I feel like Rolling Stone is just overreaching to say, "See, we're not just about rock and roll. We dig Johnny Cash's late stuff."

Or maybe AR is on the list just out of the desire of the compilers of the list to fellate Rick Rubin.
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December 7, 2007

Radio Nexus

LL Cool J’s Radio deserves the proverbial rock critic label of classic mainly from a historical point of view as it provides a concise summary of rap of the Old School variety at a time when Old School was reaching its commercial and artistic peak. Indeed, Radio effectively encapsulates the themes and musical stylings that made Old School so vibrant for a time and provides a chronological and musical bridge between the bubbling popularity of Old School in 1983-84 and the megastardom of 1986, namely with Run DMC’s Raising Hell.

Radio is strong, concise, and consistent statement of its time, an album that was rooted deeply in the urban geography of the boroughs of New York, where rap was essential born and nurtured, yet one that seemed to reach beyond its geographic scope and offer a boldness that went well beyond the simple, provincial bravado spewings that so characterized this period of hip hop.

The strength of the artistic work is due in part with the urgency and hunger of the charismatic voice, that of LL Cool J, a teenage phenom of sorts. The chiselled, taut, and semi-angered vocal delivery (contrasted with the more silky R&B style of later LL Cool J years) cuts through the stern minimalist beats and meshes well with rockier edge of the musical production of Rick Rubin, the another key element in the validity of the album. Indeed, Rubin’s production give Radio an overall artistic seriousness and endurance that outsizes novelty or one-trick pony acts of the time (think Fat Boys, Doug E Fresh) and outpaces most albums from contemporary Old School stalwarts. Put simply, Radio has weight and substance: a hearty beef stew versus the beef broth and tomato soup of many other artists of the time.

The greatness of the album should not be overstated, however. Musically, it is clearly a product of its time. While it does foreshadow some of the sound that would make Run DMC’s Raising Hell a tremendous success, certain musical and thematic elements – namely the Rubin influences – would quickly become obnoxiously cliché and overused. In other words, the artistic foresight of Radio ultimately displayed a small time window. Even within the album, there is a notable gulf between the truly classic tracks and some of the rest. While this is not particularly surprising since rap albums of this time were clearly in a middle development stage, these musical setbacks are not easy to forget or overlook.

Despite its dated elements, Radio does display great historical importance as it marks a clear and coherent nexus between the best that came before it and best that was soon to come. With regards to its Old School foundations, Radio is clearly employs the DJ mode of the scratch as one of its key sonic weapons. As for beats, the album does not hesitate to borrow inspiration from Run DMC classics “Hard Times” and “It’s Like That” in songs like “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” (intro and foundation beat) and “You Can’t Dance” (a sped up “It’s Like That” beat). Rubin also seems particularly fond of the rockier elements of DMC first two albums and does not hesitate to use them to a minor degree in Radio and, of course, to a greater degree in his later collaborations with DMC and with The Beastie Boys on tracks like “Brass Monkey”. We see the Old School vibe in the thematic area as well. In numerous tracks, the jocular dis/cut/snap method prevails in several songs. And, “Dear Yvette” provides the humorous, although arguably semi-misogynous track that follows in the footsteps of UTFO’s classic “Roxanne, Roxanne”.

With its Old School roots and identity in tact, Radio effectively branches out and offers several musical statements that would provide a partial blueprint for one of Rick Rubin’s subsequent blockbusters. “Rock the Bells” is an obvious stand-out track thanks in large part to its devastating, arse-shaking polyrhythmic beat – a rhythmic structure that would foreshadow Run DMC’s stunning “Peter Piper” on Raising Hell. The only thing missing from the former track to make almost identical to the latter one is the cowbell rhythm slice, an element that is curiously found in the background of “It’s a Lie”, a track that also seemingly foreshadows another element of DMC’s megahit album. Put simply, “It’s a Lie” sounds a lot like “You Be Illin’” both musically and in terms of the comedic nature of the theme.

So, Radio is reverent and uniquely imaginative and bold at the same time. It is well aware of tradition, yet has a vision for the future. In this way, the oft-used label of “Middle School” for describing LL Cool J is appropriate as early albums like Radio helped cement him as a link between the recent past and fast growing future of rap. Still, I think it is unfair to exclude LL from the Old School moniker, especially when used in highlighting historical importance. Radio is one of the handful of albums that truly approach the classic level – mind you, classic singles abound in the pre 1986 period – and that so precisely summarize the feel and growth of a musical genre that was soon to explode both commercially and artistically. Unfortunately for LL and the artistic longevity of the album, the fast and dynamic changes in the hip hop spectrum, particularly with regards to the development of the album concept, would make LL’s and Radio’s impact on the scene somewhat blunted and short lived.
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December 4, 2007

Redemption Songs

I'm no stranger to the American Recording's America. I live there. It's so many members of my family. It's the bars I go to. It's the people that I live among. I've been to its physical and emotional prisons. This album isn't cultural tourism for me (as I suspect it is for the live audiences in tracks 9 and 13). I understand the redemption-centric philosophies the personal demons and the anger and the pain.

I can appreciate the stark absolute beauty of Cash's wise, gentle voice but there's no part of me that wants to ever listen to this album again. I don't want to hear his stories of wallowing self-pity and endless regret. Who needs that? Perhaps to some his sentiment is reaffirming or cathartic or relaxing or even beautiful. But my tastes lean more towards life-affirming and daring and adventurous and even beautiful. Listening to music should not equate to attending an AA meeting.

I'm not denying American Recordings place on the Rolling Stone 500. It's infinitely interesting and representative of our America. Just like the Man in Black it's full of quirks and emotional power and contradictions and grace. However, the path it takes is laden in darkness and horror; a misery the album concludes that only Christ can solve.

And that's not a path I'm willing to take.
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December 3, 2007

She Meant You No Harm

I can't empathize with Len Barker's need for brevity in Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Not because I disagree with his insightful post, but because my version of the recording has already truncated itself.

Poor little battered cassette tape. Heavy usage in my parent's minivan, my friend Sarah's trusty Honder and numerous unforgiving, tape-chewing portable stereos has turned the Chili Pepper's alleged manifesto (though I would argue Mother's Milk is the superior work) from a 17-song album that is "just too damn long with too much filler" to an eleven song teaser. Maybe. On a good day.

Side one starts off strong. But midway through "If You Have to Ask" the tape warps and a few seconds of a backwards "My Lovely Man" bleeds through. Don't worry, the previous song returns the favor if one is lucky enough to get to "My Lovely Man" on side two. Towards the end of "Funky Monks" the tape just stops. And somehow creates an immovable force which makes it impossible to either forward or rewind the tape. You are stuck in time. Wait a bit. Let the cellophane cool. Then try again. Don't even think about rewinding all the way back to "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" at the start of side two. That ain't gonna happen.

Like the mysterious Bermuda triangle-like spot in "Funky Monks," I get sucked back into a very specific point in time while listening to this Rick Rubin production. One that's filled with long drives between Providence and Harrisburg and Pittsburgh and Ocean City, often late at night and ill-advised. In fact, most of my decisions then were ill-advised. Reckless. Indulgent. Preoccupied with sex (although unlike Kiedis, I wasn't getting any). It was a phase with far too much filler that probably lasted a little longer than it should have.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik was the perfect soundtrack.
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November 30, 2007

The Bridge

I first heard the Chili Peppers on the radio. Local Harrisburg classic rock radio. 1991. "Under the Bridge". Yes, I was late to the game. But that didn't change my appreciation of its epic and accessible sadness. I listened. I became one with the elaborate but understanding bass line. The siren song of the call- and-response chorus sucked me in. I got it. I really did.

So when a high school classmate condescendingly asked "You know that song's about heroin, right?" I realized that I didn't really get it. This whole alt universe was new to me; I knew something outside my small-town world existed and I wanted to be there. Outside Harrisburg, and outside classic rock and into the libidinous world of college, edginess, and the big city. That was what I saw in "Under the Bridge", Nirvana, and anything else alt that snuck into my small world. Lyrics be damned.

My time was coming. Everything was set. My senior football year had just ended and I was scheduled to take a recruiting trip to Georgetown University. My nervousness was off the charts. What had I gotten myself into? The drinking, the girls, the big city, the alt-ness. Every part of me knew that I wasn't ready.

When I crossed the Key Bridge I saw the hilltop campus. It looked like a scary impenetrable fortress. The sky had a greenish-navy glow that spoke of doom. The parking lot I pulled into was nearly empty. There were no signs of life. No students. Just drifting leaves and the harsh glow of the parking lot lighting. I parked outside the McDonough Gym, the place where I was to meet the coaches, even more scared and more out-of-place than when I had left home.

I took a deep breath and headed up to the building's massive front doors. I gave a big tug. They were locked. I walked around the building. Lights all off. Every single door locked. I was all alone. A cold short lonely walk into campus revealed no more students. Everyone was gone. It was their winter break. The coaches had confused the dates. From a pay phone I contacted the necessaries (coach and parents) and decided to drive the two hours back home.

When I crossed the Key Bridge again "Under the Bridge" came on the radio and this time I really got it.
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November 27, 2007

Young, Dumb, and Full of Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik reminds me of U2’s Joshua Tree, not just in how these albums brought these already popular bands into the forefront of pop-cultural awareness, but also in how these albums let me down and proved to be the last albums that I would ever buy from either band.

Although I have found it nearly impossible to appreciate the post-superstardom work of either group, when I consider how enormously successful their careers have been since then, I realize that I probably should not hold it against either of them. Apparently, what really worked for them and most of their fans is precisely what doesn’t work for me.

So what went wrong?

For me and U2, it’s cut-and-dried: I don’t like the songs on The Joshua Tree; they don’t move or impress me, plus the production, despite the involvement of the genius Eno and the talented Lanois, makes everything sound washed out and dreary--just a few too many repeats and a touch too much reverb on the Edge throughout the album, I’m afraid. On the other hand, I share a more complicated relationship with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. There are some great songs on this album, and Rick Rubin’s production shines, really bringing out the best in every member of the band.

So what’s there not to like? Well, the major problem with Blood Sugar Sex Magik lies in the fact that it is just too damn long with too much filler. Pare it down to the essentials, and then you’d have one hell of an album:

Ditch the drab, mid-tempo “Funky Monks”. “Mellowship Slinky in B Major” is neither funky or punky enough to work for RHCP and just comes off as a lame attempt at hip hop, so we don’t need it on this “great” album. “The Righteous & The Wicked” is just Chili Peppers by numbers, and this band needs energy above all to be convincing, so this is a prime example of the chaff dragging this album down. Say “goodbye” to “The Greeting Song”, a weak riff on the same silliness that works so well on “Give it Away” but not here. Lose the pointless and terrible cover of “They’re Red Hot”, ‘cause when your cover can’t match the fun sexiness of an ancient, scratchy blues recording and “fun sexiness” is pretty much your whole game, you’ve obviously made a bad decision.

This leaves us with:

1. The Power of Equality. 2. If You Have to Ask. 3. Breaking the Girl. 4. Suck My Kiss 5. I Could Have Lied. 6. Give It Away. 7. Blood Sugar Sex Magic. 8. Under the Bridge. 9. Naked in the Rain. 10. Apache Rose Peacock. 11. My Lovely Man. 12. Sir Psycho Sexy.

That’s twelve strong songs culminating in the sickness of “Sir Psycho Sexy”! I never could wrap my head around Blood Sugar Sex Magik enough to really love it, but that looks like an album that would have blown my mind. Put the rest on an EP with “Soul to Squeeze”, and that would have sold millions, too.
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November 26, 2007

I CAN Live Without My Radio

It was a warm spring evening about nine years ago. I was in New York City on a date with the woman that would eventually become my wife. We were walking around Times Square in an attempt to try and find a good restaurant (something that I find to be surprisingly difficult in New York City).

The streets were crowded with tourists. As you walked towards an intersection you would begin to stand in a herd of people while everyone waitied for the beacon of safety known as the "Walk" sign.

As I walked across the street I was looking around. Instead of gazing up at the neon signs and flashing billboards I caught myself looking over at a flashy SUV that was caught at the red light. It was an immaculate black SUV which simply looked expensive.

As I walked closer I looked into the passenger seat. The window was open and the passenger was sitting with one arm hanging out the window. He was wearing sunglasses at night, which is always something that stands out to me.

Once I was within reach of the car I noticed that the passenger was LL Cool J. I was a fan of his music, but I do not think that I ever owned any of his albums. I liked his video for 'Doin' It', but that had nothing to do with him or his music. AS I stood there I realized that seeing LL Cool J was mildly interesting, but it simply did not call out to me or get me excited in any way.

I stood still for a moment in the middle of the crosswalk. LL Cool J slowly looked over at me and smiled. It was clear that I was the only person in the crosswalk that had noticed him. I could not quite tell if he smiled because someone finally recognized him or if he was simply entertained by seeing a goofy white dude staring at him.

After a brief pause I simply yelled out: "Hey, it's LL Cool J!". These simple words somehow broke through all of the commotion of New York City. The energy of the crowd completely shifted as everyone looked around. Moments later some girls could be heard shrieking. As I continued on my way to find dinner the beautiful new SUV was surrounded by a crowd of tourists as people all reached into the car to try and touch the celebrity that stood before them. The light turned green and it took a few moments for the crowd to clear enough room for LL Cool J to move on with his night.

The experience was enough to put a smile on my face. It also created a fun little story that I get to share with you today. I guess this also helps to describe how I feel about the three albums we are discussing this week. I can't get too excited about any of these albums. They are all by pretty good artists. They all contain some pretty good songs. They all fail to leave me with any type of lasting impression. They are all good enough that I would be able to recognize them, but I would just as soon let other people share their own excitement about these works. I would rather simply continue on my way and continue my quest to find a good restaurant in New York City.

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November 20, 2007

Hip Hop Lives in Our Memory


LL Cool J was 16 years old when he recorded Radio. But when we listen to the album aren't we all?

I first heard Radio when I was 13. Just one of a number of hip hop tapes providing background music in my next door neighbor's basement during epic battles of Double Dribble and Mike Tyson's Punch Out. It wasn't Radio in particular but this exciting music, hip hop, made me feel older. Maybe not quite 16 but not a mere 13.

This new music was ours. It wasn't made for our parents or our teachers. It was made for us. For our pleasure and for our fun. We knew that they didn't "get it". Sure, they might try to listen and see what this new rage was but they never stayed. They would never put our tapes in when we weren't there. They could never understand. Just like our Nintendo. It was a separation that I cherished.

So when I listened to Radio again I was overjoyed to hear LL's youthful defiance and his charming innocence. Overjoyed because I wasn't sure it was going to be there.

It's been a 20 years since 1987. LL's had dozens of feature films, a sitcom, a workout book, and like three greatest hits albums.

Was my memory of a furious sucker-MC-stomping rhymer accurate? A teenager so angry at the status quo, at pop music, that the targets of his lead single weren't other rappers but Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson. Musicians that adults listened to and understood; music that was played on the radio.

Of course that's the irony of the album's title: in 1986 hip hop wasn't played on the radio. OK, maybe it was played in New York late at night and in other cities on small AM stations, like LA and even Harrisburg!, but that was it. Heck, pulling in the Harrisburg station was so difficult that I never even tried.

Back in 1987 the words "Hip Hop Lives" were graffitied on a brick wall that faced the Harrisburg midget football practice field. Our team practiced there once daylight savings ended; they had lights. The graffiti was so declarative but at the same time so desperate and defiant. It screamed that hip hop was not a fad and would never die out. But at the same time only those in the know would ever understand.

It didn't turn out that way. In fact it was going to be just like rock and roll. Yes, I had just seen La Bamba, Peggy Sue Got Married, Back to the Future. They were just out on VHS. Their parents didn't get rock and roll either. They said it would die. It didn't.

Now hip hop is everywhere. And so is LL. When you listen to Radio you know it's LL just like you know it's hip hop. LL's rhyme flow and voice are still shockingly similar. It's the same inflections that same cockiness and the same self-assuredness. The rhyme subject matter is a different story. On Radio he's so young and so innocent so sweet and just a little bit corny. His rhymes could only come from a 16-year-old...in 1986. There's no cursing and the malice is playful. Not that LL ever changed, he just grew up. Just like hip hop.

In 2007 LL's album title, Radio, is no longer ironic it's anachronistic. The boombox has become a dinosaur and FM radio is close behind. Hip hop isn't a music of defiance and youth, it's the stuff of McDonalds commercials and big business. I can't hate the route LL and hip hop took; it was only natural. I'm just happy I can cue up my mp3 player, hear the booming bass of "Rock the Bells", and be instantly transported to my neighbor's basement, his Nintendo, and a welcome generation gap.
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November 19, 2007

Tunnel of Love

Tunnel of Love, Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stone Magazine's #475

Tunnel of Loveexile staff consensus: Top 1000 album




the breakdown:
1.5 cannons - , venerableseed, polchic, and eurowags
1.0 cannon - lenbarker and the angryyoungman

the essays:
11/15 @ 1:00 p.m. - Eurowags captures the general malaise all but one of us have had regarding Tunnel of Love. We all really wanted to like it; we really did.

11/13 @ 8:00 a.m. - It seems there is someone else who is not enamored by Tunnel of Love; the album is too reminiscent of the Colonial Park Mall food court.

11/11 - A dissenting view from Len Barker. If he didn't like Tunnel of Love than what will he say about Don Henley's contribution. We shudder to think.

11/9 - Jahidi Hoya counters the doubts (but then adds to them in the comment section of post 1!). Oh, Julianne, poor Julianne.

11/9 - In our last poll, Bowie beat Bruce by a 2 to 1 count. Anglophiles all of you! We now have two retrospective poll on the albums listened to thus far. One question positive one negative. Just look to your right and vote.

11/8 - I'm up first, wondering about the veracity of Bruce's personal Tunnel of Love. (Note that in less than 14 hours! Springsteen's diligent cyber-sleuths found and removed the embedded Tunnel of Love music video from this site. If you wish to watch the video follow this link to youtube.)

the introduction (done with Don Henley's End of the Innocence):
It's 1985 and two 70's classic rock heroes had just found staggering success on the MTV and with a new generation of fans.

Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. and its remarkable string of seven top 10 singles were ubiquitous on radio and television.

Don Henley's single, Boys of Summer, seemed to usher in an era of artistry to the fledgling video network. Its constant play and VMA Video of the Year only cemented this fact. So how did our heroes respond?

Both released albums adored by critics but met with modest comparative commercial success. Springsteen strayed from his usual themes of social and political despair and moved onto a personal vision of love while Henley moved away from love and towards a message of political and social despair. Neither recorded their next album with their familiar band; Bruce's minimalist tracks featured few E-Streeters and Don continued Eagle-less (but not Axl-less) for at least the time being.

But most importantly, on their album cover both artists beckon the listener longingly with steely glares, "I'm the more sensitive one." "No, I'M the more sensitive one!" Do we still like these albums? Or better yet, which one is the most sensitive.


click here to
read it all...

The End of the Innocence

The End of the Innocence, Don Henley, Rolling Stone Magazine's #389

End of the Innocenceexile staff consensus: Why is this on the list?




the breakdown:
1.5 cannons - angryyoungman
1.0 cannon - polchic, lenbarker, venerableseed, and eurowags

the essays:
11/19 @ 9:00 a.m.
- Hold up. Wait a minute. Just when you thought it was over Len lends us another fitting tribute to the end of The End of the Innocence. Can he bring himself to listen to the album? Let's see.

11/17 @ 9:00 a.m. - A Don Henley supporter? Amazing! Even more amazing is that someone named the Angry Young Man is calling for an end to the hate.

11/14 @ 9:00 a.m. - Is this the end of The End of the Innocence? It's hard to believe how much discussion old Don has stirred up and at this point my post just feels like piling on.

11/13 @ 2:00 p.m. - The Ancient Scientist gives The End of the Innocence its just due.

11/12 @ 1:00 p.m. - Jahidi Hoya discusses his many memorable Don Henley concerts.

11/12 @ 8:00 a.m. - Newcomer JB is the first to capture the essence of the Walden Pond warrior's most acclaimed album.

the introduction (done with Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love):
It's 1985 and two 70's classic rock heroes had just found staggering success on the MTV and with a new generation of fans.

Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. and its remarkable string of seven top 10 singles were ubiquitous on radio and television.

Don Henley's single, Boys of Summer, seemed to usher in an era of artistry to the fledgling video network. Its constant play and VMA Video of the Year only cemented this fact. So how did our heroes respond?

Both released albums adored by critics but met with modest comparative commercial success. Springsteen strayed from his usual themes of social and political despair and moved onto a personal vision of love while Henley moved away from love and towards a message of political and social despair. Neither recorded their next album with their familiar band; Bruce's minimalist tracks featured few E-Streeters and Don continued Eagle-less (but not Axl-less) for at least the time being.

But most importantly, on their album cover both artists beckon the listener longingly with steely glares, "I'm the more sensitive one." "No, I'M the more sensitive one!" Do we still like these albums? Or better yet, which one is the most sensitive.

click here to
read it all...