Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My 20 Favorite Songs of the
First Decade of the 2000s
(Part Two)

Loving the feedback I've been getting on Facebook and Twitter for the first half of the countdown - now if only I could get you guys to actually comment HERE...

But enough of my whining, let's finish up this countdown, shall we?

#10 - "Because I'm Awesome" by The Dollyrots (2007)
Kelly Ogden and her band The Dollyrots actually are awesome, and so is this song, which was the title cut from their second album (which also includes a killer cover of Melanie's "Brand New Key"). Getting national attention via airplay on Little Steven's Underground Garage, The Dollyrots have had their music turn up on TV shows ranging from CSI: NY to Ugly Betty. About time for a new album from them (pleasepleaseplease...)

#9 - "Lighten Up, Morrissey" by Sparks (2008)
A perfect example of what makes Sparks such an amazing band: an inherent sense of what a pop song should sound like coupled with an adamant refusal to write pop songs, and subject matter that no one else ever thought to tackle (here, the tribulations of dating a girl who is WAY too into the former Smiths singer) handled with some of the most brilliantly clever lyrics ever written. Recording since the early 1970s, Sparks show no signs of slowing down, thankfully. You can find this on last year's Exotic Creatures of the Deep album.

#8 - "Fell in Love with a Girl" by The White Stripes (2001)
Hard to believe this song is almost ten years old already! The White Stripes' brand of minimalistic lo-fi exhuberance is easy to spot, although the duo of Jack White and Meg White (who have claimed to be brother & sister, boyfriend & girlfriend, husband & wife, and divorced couple at various times throughout their career - they actually have been three of the four) have tried their hands at a number of genres. This, from White Blood Cells, is easily my favorite thing they ever did.

#7 - "Maneaters (Get Off the Road)" by Josie Cotton (2007)
Yep, the same Josie Cotton who had an underground hit back in the early 1980s with "Johnny, Are You Queer?" She's made something of a comeback this decade, releasing two albums. Most recent was Invasion of the B-Girls, from which comes this wonderful cover of the theme song from Herschell Gordon Lewis' 1968 cult classic She Devils on Wheels. Out-frickin'-standing!

#6 - "Too Bad About Your Girl" by The Donnas (2002)
It's easy to spot that these girls grew up listening to The Ramones, AC/DC and Kiss; it's also clear that they studied their Joan Jett records. Although they get lumped into the Punk and Alternative category, what The Donnas do is really just good ol' rawk 'n' roll with no apologies. Gotta love that! Annoyingly, they are also the band that I have had the most chances to see live but haven't yet seen - something always comes up! I will get to see them eventually; until then, their records, such as Spend the Night (where this song can be found), will have to do. Oh, and major props for the PJ Soles cameo in the clip!

Watch more Spend the Night videos on AOL Video

#5 - "Hot Night Crash" by Sahara Hotnights (2004)
If The Donnas represent the musical fruition of the seeds Joan Jett planted, then Sweden's Sahara Hotnights evolved directly from Suzi Quatro: a litle glammier, a little poppier, but every bit as tough. This song, which boasts one of the catchiest damn choruses of the decade, is one of those "any time it comes on the volume MUST be turned up" tunes. Pick up the Kiss and Tell album to hear more!

#4 - "Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple (2002/2005)
First thing you'll notice here is that there are two years given for this song. This represents the three-year wait that we had to endure before Fiona Apple's label would officially release the Extraordinary Machine album. Early (and, I believe, superior) demo versions of the album were leaked online and a grassroots "Free Fiona" campaign helped to finally get the songs released in some form. What was officially released was, of course, something closer to the polished, shiny radio product that the label wanted. But you cannot hide pure talent, which is what Fiona is. Here's hoping we don't have to wait so long or fight so hard for the next record!

#3 - "Maps" by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2003)
Majestic, soaring, hypnotic..."Maps" exploded onto college and alternative radio playlists in 2003, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have never looked back. Led by the fascinatingly exotic Karen O, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have released three albums of amazing music, ranging from tuneless shrieking to beautiful washes of melody, all of it demanding your attention in much the same way Karen herself does onstage. This, from their debut, Fever to Tell, remains their most awesome creation.

#2 - "Science Genius Girl" by Freezepop (2000)
It's hard to tell sometimes whether Bostonians Liz Enthusiasm, The Other Sean T. Drinkwater, and The Duke of Pannekoeken (collectively, Freezepop) are being serious or are doing a deadly-sharp parody of '80s synthpop. They've got the playbook down pat, and certainly are capable of writing great songs, but when those songs include odes to former Growing Pains star "Tracy Gold" and trendy '80s mall store "Chess King," you have to wonder how hard they're laughing while you're dancing. "Science Genius Girl," from their debut album Freezepop Forever, is a perfect example: catchy, undeniably danceable, but all done with a coy wink. Hmmm...

#1 - "Terminal Boredom" by The Cute Lepers (2008)
Ordering this list was difficult; picking the #1 song was easy. The Cute Lepers' Can't Stand Modern Music has seldom left my CD changer in the last year or so, and this song is the standout on that excellent album. No new ground being broken here - it's good ol' punk rock done the right way: power chords, a healthy dose of snarkiness, and chant-along lyrics about there ain't being nothin' to do. It's great from start to finish, a wonderful musical time machine. Perfect!

So there you have it - my picks for the Top 20 songs of the decade. I'm sure you have comments, or your own lists. Bring 'em on!

And, wherever or however you are celebrating New Year's Eve this year, please be safe, and have a happy, healthy, and joyous 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My 20 Favorite Songs of the
First Decade of the 2000s
(Part One)

Hey, look at the calendar! Just a couple days left in the last year of the first decade of the century! (Before we go any further - peace to all of you who insist that the new decade doesn't start until 2011, and that the century didn't start until 2001, because there was no year "0", yadda yadda yadda...I hear you, and I follow your logic, but I gotta go with aesthetics. Plus, I'm ready to do this post NOW - don't make me wait another year!)

Anyway, seems like everyone loves to make year-end and decade-end lists, and I'm no exception. So I put together a list of the best songs of the past ten years. It was tough to pare it down to just the top 20, but I managed, and now I count them down for you, Casey Kasem-style, in two posts. Today we'll cover songs 20 through 11; tomorrow, Part Two will count down from 10 to 1.

Lists like this, subjective as they are, are always fodder for rousing debate. Feel free to comment accordingly. Here we go kids!

#20 - "Goodnight, Goodnight" by Hot Hot Heat (2005)
Bursting out of Victoria, British Columbia as part of the mid-decade New Wave "revival" scene, Hot Hot Heat offered this wickedly chirpy little break-up song. They seldom stray far from this sound, which is a good thing. From the album Elevator.

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#19 - "On the Radio" by Regina Spektor (2006)
The self-described "Bronx girl by way of Moscow who writes songs for piano, voice, drum stick and guitar," wrote a particularly nifty one here, with some wonderfully brilliant lyrics: "And on the radio you'll hear 'November Rain'/That solo's awfully long, but it's a good refrain/You'll listen to it twice, because the DJ is asleep..." The song can be found on Regina's excellent Begin to Hope album.

#18 - "It's Not Right" by DEVA (2007)
The only non-officially-released song in the countdown, but so very deserving of being here, for concept as much as for execution. "NYC's femme-fronted Devo cover band," DEVA (think about how that's pronounced for a moment...genius!) has been playing live for several years and getting their music out through YouTube and their MySpace page. Their take on the Spudboy's "It's Not Right" blurs the line wonderfully between tribute and parody.

#17 - "Ocean Breathes Salty" by Modest Mouse (2004)
Cross The Pixies with Talking Heads, and the result would not be far from Modest Mouse. In fact, it's not difficult to imagine either Frank Black or David Byrne singing this one, although neither would imbue it with quite the level of visceral emotion Isaac Brock manages. This was the second single from the album Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

#16 - "Lights Out" by Santogold (2008)
It's not often when I discover a song thanks to a beer commercial, but when Santogold's ethereal bop turned up in a series of Bud Light commercials last year, I was hooked. Those who are old enough to remember the campy late '70s Santo Gold jewelry infomercials will smile at the name Santi White chose for herself; those same jewelers sued, and she had to change it to the current Santigold. The album was self-titled, and can be found under both names as well.

#15 - "Donut Man" by The Dickies (2001)
The Dickies will always be one of my all-time favorite bands. They're hyperspeed California cartoon punk is always fun stuff. Still going strong after three decades! Find this one on their 2001 release, All This and Puppet Stew.

#14 - "Eight Easy Steps" by Alanis Morissette (2004)
There are those who don't understand how Alanis Morissette fits into my musical universe, while others who know me well say it makes perfect sense that she would be one of my three favorite artists of all time (along with Bow Wow Wow and Sparks - twist your head around THAT triumverate!) Her more recent material has been hit and miss, but she never hit as dead on as she did with this one. From the otherwise disappointing So-Called Chaos album.

#13 - "I Love You 'Cause I Have To" by Dogs Die in Hot Cars (2004)
Great band name, funny lyrics, insistently catchy hooks - how can you go wrong? Scotland's Dogs Die in Hot Cars may come across sounding like they nicked it all from their collection of XTC records (close your eyes and you'll swear that's Andy Partridge singing the chorus), but at least they chose their source material well. From the album Please Describe Yourself.

#12 - "Relator" by Scarlett Johansson & Pete Yorn (2009)
This song is so much better than it has any right to be. Pete Yorn is from the cookie-cutter school of sensitive indie guys with guitars, and Scarlett Johannson is a whole lot easier on the eyes than she is on the ears, but together they made this incredibly wonderful song. Johannson purrs over top of a chug-a-chug melody that just brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. From the album Break Up.

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#11 - "Miss Take" by HorrorPops (2004)
Tattoos, piercings, B-movie shock make-up, punky psychobilly sounds, go-go dancers and a girl with a stand up bass. That describes the wonderful world of the Danish band HorrorPops, whose Hell Yeah! may have been the most criminally unsung album of the year back in 2004. Go out and buy it now!

Stay tuned for Part Two...

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

True Friends, Amazing Coincidences, and How 15 Years Melted Away in One Day

"Tonight I'll dream while I'm in bed
When silly thoughts go through my head
About the bugs and alphabet
And when I wake tomorrow I'll bet
That you and I will walk together again
I can tell that we are going to be friends..."

- "We Are Going To Be Friends" by White Stripes

Have you ever had one of those days when the Universe reminds you in some amazing way that everything is interconnected, that things happen the way they do for reasons and not at random, and that the truly important people in your life will always be the truly important people, no matter what? That was the Christmas present the Universe gave me this past Saturday.

True Friends

Saturday morning I logged on to Facebook, and immediately got an IM from my friend Aimee. She had told me earlier that she was planning to be in town and we had decided to try to get together; until we found each other on Facebook about a month ago, we had not heard from one another in nearly fifteen years.

Aimee and I worked together at The Marion Court Room Restaurant here in Lancaster, PA, in the early-to-mid '90s, and we became very good friends during that time. Our shared love of staying up until all hours of the night discussing life and philosophy over a bottle of wine (or several) was the launching point for a friendship that saw much laughter, a few tears, a lot of advice given and taken, and the security of knowing that, even if we occasionally ticked each other off or had to sometimes call each other on poor choices, we each had a friend out there who would always be supportive and non-judgmental.

Eventually, Aimee's life took her to Rochester, NY, and though I did go to visit her once shortly after she moved, the years have a way of piling up without you realizing it. And now, fifteen years later, we were going to be getting together again.

We wound up meeting for drinks at Iron Hill Brewery. I was a bit worried going in - we've all been in those situations where you get together with someone you've not seen in quite awhile, only to discover you no longer have much at all in common. You suffer through seemingly endless awkward silences, furiously wracking your brain for a believable excuse to get away, and after parting with a half-hearted "We'll have to do this again sometime," you head home wondering how you ever were friends in the first place. What if that was the situation we'd be faced with?

From the first moment of our reunion those worries vanished in the warm hug of old friends who were so happy to see each other again. After some initial standard questions (married? kids? what kind of work are you doing?), we fell into our old familiar rhythm of conversation. The Aimee sitting across from me Saturday was still the Aimee I knew and loved all those years ago, and it was so good to hear her laugh again, to listen to her dreams for her future, and to reminisce a little bit about the good friends we worked with so many years ago.

Over the course of almost three and a half hours, it was as if the years and distance were never there. We both remarked during the conversation how it felt as if we had just seen each other the day before. As I noted on my Facebook page, I believe that's how you know your truest friends: when you can get together after even years apart and pick right up like no time has passed. It was a wonderful, happy feeling.

That evening, I had plans to head out to The Chameleon for a CD release show for the band Slimfit, who were co-headlining with my favorite local band, Perkasie. I invited Aimee, but she was hitting the road early the next morning and so she had to pass. As it turned out, she missed out on the most amazing part of the entire day.

Amazing Coincidences

The group of us that met up at The Chameleon was made up of several of Lancaster's local Twitter users. The Twitterati, as we have been blanket-labeled, are a great group of folks, many of whom I have become very good friends with in real life as well as online. We share the ups and downs of our individual experiences, and my get-together with a friend I hadn't seen in so long was a topic of conversation early on. Everyone agreed that friends who can reunite and pick up where they left off in that way are the very best friends to have, and they are rare and valuable indeed.

Among the "where are they now?" reminiscences that Aimee and I pondered that afternoon were a couple that we worked with and were each also very good friends with, Ski and Sara. They were two of the kindest, warmest souls you would ever care to meet. They embraced the hippie lifestyle, but in a very real way, not as part of the "hippie fad" of the nineties. Ski's long red hair, mustache and beard and tie-dyed wardrobe, and Sara's free-spirited bohemian ways always made it seem like they had somehow been transported through time from the heart of 1967 Haight-Ashbury; it surprised no one that they eventually found one another and married. We knew they had also left Lancaster years ago, but weren't sure where they wound up. Aimee thought they might have gone to Colorado, while I somehow had it in my head that they were in New England.

As the night drew to a close and Perkasie were launching into the last song of their set, I happened to glance over and catch the sight of two hippie-ish looking folks dancing joyously to the music. They, looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place them at first. When I realized I was looking at Ski and Sara, I was literally dumbstruck. I made my way over to them, but found myself unable to say anything. Sara saw me first, and her infectious smile snapped me back to my senses. Ski saw me too, and just began laughing, and I was quickly swallowed into a tremedous embrace by the both of them. "Sara thought that was you!" Ski told me, "We weren't sure though, we couldn't get a good look at you!"

How amazing: Ski and Sara weren't in Colorado or New England - they were in Lancaster, PA, at The Chameleon, on the very day that Aimee and I had reunited and wondered aloud what had ever happened to them. When I shared that I had seen Aimee just that afternoon, Sara's mouth dropped: "We were just talking about her!" Sadly, we weren't able to spend much time together, but we did exchange contact info and have made plans to catch up with each other the next time they are in town, whenever that may be. And, much as I had with Aimee, I found myself falling right back into the old familiar rhythms of conversation with Ski and Sara, as if they had been there the day before. Ski's hair has changed from red to grey and Sara's wearing hers much shorter now, but they were still the Ski and Sara I knew and loved.

15 Years Melted Away

And that is how, in the span of roughly 12 hours, three of my dearest friends from my past, none of whom I had seen in nearly fifteen years, came back into my world, and how the Universe reminded me that the connections we make throughout our lives - the important ones anyway - always remain. It made this one of the best Christmases ever.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #47

Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns a...Image via Wikipedia

I often mention to friends that one day I would love to put together a compilation CD of artists who really seem to be enjoying themselves and flat out having fun making the music they make. Jonathan Richman would make the cut, based on one college friend of mine declaring him "the happiest man in rock and roll." Because you can pretty much bet that whatever you are doing at any given moment, somewhere in the world David Lee Roth is having more fun than you are, he'd be in the mix as well.

Featured in such a mix would be Joe "King" Carrasco. He always looked and sounded like he was having a blast!

Bursting out of Dumas, TX, first with his band El Molino and later - and more widely recognized - as frontman for Joe "King" Carrasco & The Crowns, Carrasco's songs center mainly on having a good time and dancing your cares away. Clad in crazy neon outfits and often sporting an Imperial Margarine-styled crown, Joe and his band staked out a unique corner of the New Wave universe in the early '80s with their Tex-Mex sound.

Good-time, not-a-care-in-the-world lyrics that would occasionally transition unexpectedly between English and Spanish, irresistibly catchy dance beats, and reedy Farfisa organ riffs were Carrasco's calling cards; he and his band were a modern version of Sam the Sham & The Pharoahs (whose "Wooly Bully" Carrasco eventually, inevitably, covered). They were spotted early on by Elvis Costello, whose support helped them become one of the first American bands to sign with the legendary Stiff Records label.

Carrasco was also one of the early artists to adapt to the then-new music video format. As a result, Carrasco saw his greatest exposure during the first year or so of MTV, with clips for "Person-Person", "Buena," "Current Events (Are Making Me Tense)" and "Party Weekend" seeing regular airplay.

It's awfully hard not to smile when listening to Joe "King" Carrasco & The Crowns. Their happy-go-lucky music is downright infectious, so it was difficult for me to choose just one clip. Plus, it's the Christmas season, so I'm in a giving mood. This week, you get three - count 'em, three! - clips: the goofily giddy "Person-Person," the wildly exuberant "Party Weekend", and, in the spirit of the holidays, Joe "King" Carrasco & The Crowns' live in-studio MTV Christmas song from 1981, "It's A Party Christmas." Well, what else would you expect a Joe Carrasco Christmas song to be called? Enjoy!

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Monday, December 14, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #46

One of those bits of music trivia that virtually everyone knows is the answer to the question, "What was the first song ever played on MTV?" Altogether now: "Video Killed The Radio Star" by The Buggles. But, do you know the answer to this one: "Who recorded 'Video Killed The Radio Star' first?"

Wait, what? Who recorded it first? You mean it wasn't The Buggles' song to begin with? It's a COVER?!?

Well, yes and no. The song was co-written by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, the duo who would go on to record as The Buggles, and a third person. That third songwriter was named Bruce Woolley.

Woolley actually wrote most of the music, while Horn and Downes collaborated on the lyrics (although it was Woolley who added the memorable but now-dated line, "Put the blame on VTR.") And it was Woolley and his band, The Camera Club, who released the original version of the song in early 1979. Moving about a half-step more quickly and sounding slightly less polished than the more-familiar Buggles version (which they released later that year), and ironically having no video clip to promote it, the Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club version is preferable to my ears:

The Camera Club's lone, self-titled album is a wonderful artifact from the early New Wave era. (In the UK, the album was called English Garden and featured different artwork.) A second single, the fantastic "English Garden," followed on the heels of "Video Killed The Radio Star," and it seemed like Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club were well on their way to New Wave stardom. And then...nothing.

Apparently, battles between the band and their record label (the usual creative direction vs. commercial viability struggles) caused an irreconcilable rift before a second album could be completed, and The Camera Club was no more. Woolley formed a new band, Firmament & The Elements, who released one minor EP before disbanding, and then took a behind-the-scenes role writing and producing for other artists. New Wave stardom did come, briefly, to one member of The Camera Club, however: the keyboard player would go on to have an unlikely yet massive worldwide hit in 1982 as a solo artist, "She Blinded Me With Science." His name was Thomas Dolby.

Our NW4NW entry this week is an appearance by Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club on The Old Grey Whistle Test, performing "English Garden" and "Clean Clean," another song co-written with, and later recorded by, The Buggles. Watch for a young Thomas Dolby behind the synths:

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

One Year in the Blogosphere!

Despite the gray skies and freezing rain pummeling the windows, it's a festive day here in the posh yet understated home office of That's What I Was Going To Say. One year ago today, I set up shop here in my little corner of the Internet. On December 13, 2008, my inaugural post, The Maddening Crowds - 10 Rules for Crowded Aisle Etiquette, was greeted with appreciation and supportive comments from the few who read it. The rest of the blogosphere barely flinched at my arrival.

As they say, from tiny acorns grow mighty oaks. That's What I Was Going To Say may not yet be a mighty oak, but I am proud to say the blog has come quite a way in the past 365 days. Almost 4000 unique visitors have dropped by since that first post, and many of you have become regular readers. I thank you! I hope I can continue to keep you entertained and informed here, and that you will continue to suggest the blog to your friends. Word-of-mouth is, after all, the greatest advertising!

I use a couple different services to keep up with my blog's stats: Feedjit is outstanding for real-time traffic info, and Google Analytics and BlogTracker/IceRocket combined give me an easily understandable picture of how the blog is performing overall, as well as what content garners the most attention. These tools, as well as the feedback I receive from you who read the blog regularly, help me continue to refine and improve what I'm doing. They also allow me to look back over the first year of That's What I Was Going To Say. And so, here is the past year around these parts, by the numbers:

Blog Ranking
According to BlogTracker, That's What I Was Going To Say currently ranks #3123 out of 23,420 registered blogs. That puts us in the top 15% - not too shabby!

The Top 10 Most-Read Posts
1. RIP Sam Lugar (450 hits)
2. Boston Radio Great Steve LeVeille Taken Off the Air (424 hits)
3. My Own "Special Comment" (170 hits)
4. The Revolution Will Be Downloaded (140 hits)
5. Favorite Five Comedy Routines (136 hits)
6. Lancaster Then and Now: Water & Orange (131 hits)
7. Favorite Five Places to Find Great New Music for FREE! (93 hits)
8. Perkasie! (79 hits)
9. That'll Do, Keyboard Cat. That'll Do. (66 hits)
10. RIP Jim Carroll (8/1/50 - 9/11/09)/New Wave for the New Week #27 (65 hits)

The Top Five "New Wave for the New Week" Entries
1. Jim Carroll (65 hits)
2. Virgin Prunes (52 hits)
3. Abba/Air Supply (28 hits - no, I'm not kidding!)
4. Klark Kent (26 hits)
5. The Quick (25 hits)

You know, out of the 148 posts I've written in the past year, those 14 listed above (the Jim Carroll post made both lists) make a pretty good retrospective of what this blog is all about: mostly the music I love, but a smattering of commentary about other things as well. I'm pleased that two posts about local Lancaster, PA bands, The French Revolution and Perkasie, were among the most popular pieces I've written. I strongly believe in supporting your local music scene wherever you happen to be!

But enough about me...what about you?

Where in the World ARE My Readers?
1. USA (85.52%)
2. UK (2.33%)
3. Canada (2.29%)
4. Belgium (1.26%)
5. France (1.19%)

How Did You Find Me?
1. Direct link (27.65%)
2. Google search (21.95%)
3. Facebook (12.46%)
4. StumbleUpon (7.94%)
5. Twitter (4.49%)

The overwhelming majority of you are using Firefox as your browser (47.70%). 75.47% are Windows users (sorry, Macheads - only 16.59% of you are here), and over half (52.73%) are using cable Internet connections. Surprisingly, there is still a small segment out there (1.05%) who get here using dial-up! How long does it take you to make the trip?!?

Finally, the most telling (and most unsettling!) stats about my readership:

The Oddest Search Terms That Brought You Here (in no particular order)
- "that's not what I was going to say" (Someone searching for my evil alter-identity blog, perhaps?)
- "was going to" (Perhaps the most vague search ever attempted)
- "imaginary friend social networking" (Who is searching for a way to meet imaginary friends online?)
- "zappityzap" (Um, what?)
- "Cole Hamels naked" (OK, that's really going a bit too far, don't you think?)

And my favorite:
- "piss" (Yep. Someone searched online for "piss". And, somehow, that brought them here.)

Well, you may be a strange group, but I am thankful for your readership, and hope that the coming year will be a great one for us all. If you've enjoyed the blog, would you consider leaving a few words in the comments section below? I don't hear from you as much as I'd like, you know! But for now, let the 1st Anniversary celebrations commence!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Crowd of People Stood and Stared

Lennon signing Chapman's Double Fantasy album.Image via Wikipedia

29 years ago today, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon. To this day I can clearly remember waking up for school the next morning, and my mom telling me, "They killed John Lennon."

Although I knew at the time that Lennon's death deeply affected people around the world, I don't know that anyone appreciated how profoundly his music touched those who heard it - even those who perhaps didn't care for him or his message of peace. (I will never forget, some years later, watching with jaw agape as Pat Robertson went on TV to explain why Lennon's "Imagine" was such an "evil" song. He went through all of the lyrics, sharing his twisted interpretation of them, and when he got to the line "Imagine all the people sharing all the world," Robertson cried, "Well, that's Communism!")

Here is a fascinating time capsule I found online - the news of Lennon's death being reported the next day by Walter Cronkite. The voice of trust reporting the loss of the voice of peace:

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Monday, December 7, 2009

For Nan, Ten Years Later

Where does the time go?

Today is tenth anniversary of my grandmother's passing. It's hard to believe ten years have come and gone since that day; it seems like only yesterday that we were together.

Roseine Troop was quite a lady. She was an independent working woman and a single mom in a time when neither identity was readily accepted by society. Nan, as my brother and I called her, worked at the Hamilton Watch Factory here in Lancaster (now the site of Clock Towers Apartments) for nearly 40 years until her retirement in 1981.

Born in 1916, she was a child of The Great Depression and so always respected the value of a dollar. While she always wanted the best for her family, she seldom if ever allowed herself extravagances. She watched a tiny black and white TV with no cable for as long as I can remember, and refused any suggestion of buying a color TV or having cable put in until around the time I went to college. Even then, her only concession was the color set. "I don't need cable, I don't really watch that much TV," she'd say, even though the television was on from the time she awoke until the time she went to bed. "I just have it on for company." The car she drove, a 1969 Chevy Nova, had no radio and no air conditioning - a car doesn't need those things to get you from point A to point B. She saw the world in a very utilitarian way.

For every one of her 83 years, she lived her life on her own terms, sometimes frustrating the rest of us. She insisted that she had never had a headache in her life, and that all she needed in her medicine cabinet was aspirin for when she was achy and peppermint for when her stomach was upset. When the doctors told her that she had had a heart attack, she simply chose not to believe them. "How do they know?" she'd ask. "I feel fine!" And if she ever had to wait in a line more than two people long, everyone would hear about it! "Oh, come on!" she'd sigh loudly, tapping her foot impatiently. When she passed, my mom, brother and I chuckled to think that there better not have been a line at Heaven's Gates, or St. Peter would have gotten an earful!

She loved to laugh and sing and play cards and do crossword puzzles (in ink!). She was extremely generous with those she loved, both family and friends; she was, however, a very private person. It was not often that she'd let someone new into her world, but once you were in, you were both genuinely loved and fiercely protected by her. And oh, could she cook! She made the most delicious potato soup, chicken pot pie, and oyster filling (not "stuffing," mind you - filling!), the likes of which I'll never taste again. Even when cooking wasn't involved, she had that special "grandmother's touch": her sandwiches were legendary, piled high with cold cuts, lettuce, onion, tomato. How is it that neither I nor anyone else can replicate her sandwiches, even using the same ingredients?

Ten years on, it's still hard to fathom that she's not here, although in many, many ways she is. She often shows up in dreams I have, singing one of her songs or playing a game of gin rummy with me. That she passed at this time of year adds a certain feeling to how a view the holidays, but it's not a sad feeling; I still laugh out loud thinking of some of her quirks, and I celebrate the life she led.

Merry Christmas, Nan. I miss you.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #45

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries have been based on requests made by you, dear readers. I want to take a moment to thank all of you who submitted requests. I hope that you were pleased with my efforts. The NW4NW series will resume its regularly once-a-week schedule in December. Although NW4NW All Request Month comes to a conclusion with this post, I am always open to your suggestions and requests for future entries - your feedback is greatly valued!]

New Hope for the Wretched album coverImage via Wikipedia

The final entry in NW4NW All Request Month comes from an old friend, Dave Demmin. Dave's was the last request I received, but I don't know that I could have chosen a better band to end the month on myself!

The Plasmatics were formed in New York City in 1977 by Yale Art School graduate Rod Swenson and the inimitable and highly confrontational Wendy O. Williams (which actually was her given name: Wendy Orleans Williams). They began auditioning band members for what was initially a conceptual art project that quickly evolved into one of the most controversial bands in any genre, much less the burgeoning Punk Rock scene. By mid-1978, the earliest incarnation of the band, which included guitarist Wes Beech (who, along with Williams, would be the only band members to be there from the beginning to the end of The Plasmatics), were regularly selling out CBGBs with their stunningly antagonistic performances. By 1979, they had amassed so large a following that CBGBs was no longer a large enough venue. In the fall of that year, The Plasmatics sold out the legendary Palladium Theater in NYC, becoming the first band to ever do so at full ticket price. That show was also where Wendy first blew up a car onstage.

Destructive visuals were part and parcel of The Plasmatics' live shows: exploding cars, chainsawing guitars in half, taking sledgehammers to walls of television sets, and blowing up amplifiers were regular occurrences, and were actually integral parts of many of their songs. They scared the bejeesus out of the mainstream media, and more and more clubs refused to allow them to perform. In fact, at one point the were banned completely from playing in England, where they were branded as anarchists. Williams would often explain that the message behind the destruction was that these things were just that - things, and things should not be worshiped. We have become too materialistic, but at the end of the show, despite all of the destruction of things, the world goes on.

Williams herself quickly became infamous as much for her onstage attire - or, often, lack thereof - as for her terrifying vocals. Sporting a mohawk and often appearing dressed in little more than a g-string and some strategically-placed duct tape, Williams pushed the boundaries of acceptability. She found herself arrested after a show in Milwaukee for allegedly simulating a sex act on stage with a sledgehammer; two nights later she was arrested in Cleveland for appearing onstage wearing nothing but shaving cream.

Their 1980 debut album, New Hope For The Wretched, remains one of the most jaw-droppingly fantastic Punk Rock albums ever recorded. Whipping along at hyper-speed, the band is remarkably tight and powerful. Songs like "Monkey Suit," "Living Dead," "Sometimes I...," and the first single from the album, "Butcher Baby," stand up remarkably well 30 years later. The only time the band falls apart is intentional: during the middle section of their cover of Bobby Darin's "Dream Lover," each band member was locked in a separate room, unable to hear what the other band members were playing. It's a moment of brilliant hilarity as the otherwise perfectly synced musicians suddenly sound like a roomful of chimpanzees slashing and pounding on tuneless instruments!

By the time their second album, Beyond The Valley Of 1984, was issued a year later, the band had gone through numerous legal battles, defenses of their image, and rotations of band members, and the wear and tear showed. Also, the band's overall sound was moving more towards heavy metal, a transformation that was fully realized with 1982's Coup D'Etat.

Williams released a remarkably good solo album, WOW, in 1984, but the final Plasmatics album, Maggots: The Record, released two years later, was a sad footnote to a once awesome band. Over the next several years Williams would make occasional appearances, but despite the urging of many, a Plasmatics reunion tour never materialized. Sadly, Williams committed suicide in 1998.

Many people hated The Plasmatics in their day, but many more loved them - and continue to do so. That first album remains one of my all-time favorites, and still sees regular airplay in my household. So, my thanks to Dave for this request - a fantastic call, and a great way to bring the month to a close. Our final entry in NW4NW All Request Month is The Plasmatics appearing on the TV show Fridays in January of 1981, performing "Butcher Baby" complete with chainsaw-guitar solo. Enjoy!

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #44

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries are based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests received, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun!]

Throwing MusesThrowing Muses via

Two more requests to fill in what has been a very successful NW4NW All Request Month! Up next comes a request from Jay Marshall, who submitted the only request I received for neither a specific band nor a specific song, but for a record label! Jay suggested any of the 4AD bands, and listed a couple of his favorites. From his list, I chose one of mine.

The 4AD Records label started up in in England in 1980, originally as Axis Records, an offshoot of the successful Beggar's Banquet label. After releasing a handful of singles, they discovered another label was already called Axis, and so changed their name to 4AD Records, from the caption on a poster that label founder Ivo Watts-Russell had seen.

4AD swiftly became one of the top UK indie labels, signing bands like Dead Can Dance, The Wolfgang Press, The The, Dif Juz, and Cocteau Twins. Their signature sound was what you might call goth-light: swirling, ethereal, and melancholy. The label often sent their bands out on packaged tours and developed an almost cult-like following. It wasn't until 1986 that 4AD reached across the pond to sign their first American bands, snatching up The Pixies, who have been covered in this series here, and the band I picked to fill Jay's request, Throwing Muses.

Stepsisters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donnelly had formed the band five years earlier when they were in high school in Newport, RI, and had even managed to self-release an EP in 1984. With the name-value of the 4AD label behind them, though, Throwing Muses quickly became darlings of college radio. Their sound was a little more jagged than the typical 4AD band to that point in time, and their melodies and arrangements tended toward the unorthodox. Singing songs about alienation, distress and psychosis, Throwing Muses found an audience who adored them.

1989's Hunkpapa album saw the band hit their apex, with the single "Dizzy" reaching the Top Ten on Billboard's Modern Rock charts; they maintained that momentum through 1991's The Real Ramona, which contained their finest moment, "Not Too Soon." Tanya Donnelly was swiftly becoming the "star" of the band. Her adorable alterna-chick image was played up by the media; that image coupled with her poppier melodic tendencies made her of the early 1990s' alternative music scene's icons. Having already begun to do some side-project work (including joining Pixies' guitarist Kim Deal in The Breeders), Donnelly split from Throwing Muses after 1991. Eventually, she would form her own band, Belly, who had a minor hit in 1994, "Feed The Tree."

Kristen Hersh and the rest of Throwing Muses soldiered on through three more albums before calling it a day in 1996, but with Donnelly gone it wasn't the same. Occasional reunion shows popped up now and again, becoming more frequent in 2000-2001. Donnelly even appeared onstage with the band at one point, and in 2003 a new self-titled Throwing Muses album appeared. Donnelly was not officially part of the band, but did provide some backing vocals on the LP. Nothing more has been heard from the band since then.

Thank you, Jay, for your request! I hope you will enjoy my pick for this NW4NW entry, Throwing Muses' clip for "Not Too Soon" (with Tanya Donnelly on vocals).

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Friday, November 27, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #43

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries are based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests received, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun!]

DevoDevo via

NW4NW All Request Month heads into the last weekend of the month with a final flurry of three requests, the first of which comes from Luke Bunting.

There are certain bands that seem to come to everybody's mind when you mention New Wave, bands who even the most casual mainstream listener associates with the term. Some people immediately think of The B-52's while others immediately start mimicking Gary Numan's "Cars." But everyone's short list of New Wave bands includes the world's favorite Spudboys from Akron Ohio!

Clad in matching yellow radiation suits, matching red flowerpot hats, or matching Ken-doll plastic hairpieces, Devo has epitomized New Wave for most people since they first achieved national notoriety cranking out their spastic rendition of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" on Saturday Night Live in 1978. Within two years they would be bringing De-Evolution to the masses via their worldwide hit, "Whip It."

Sadly, most people only remember Devo for those two songs (plus "Jocko Homo," which most folks don't know by title - they just remember the chorus of "Are we not men?/We are Devo/Are we not men?/D-E-V-O"), and in mainstream history they have been relegated to novelty-band status. Even though they never again hit the charts, Devo recorded several excellent albums, as well as a few toward the end of the 1980's that might have been better left unreleased. After taking a hiatus following the Smooth Noodle Maps LP in 1990, Devo reunited a few years back to tour. They have even begun recording again, with their first album of new material in two decades, Fresh, set for a 2010 release.

Devo's influence on contemporaries and on those who came after can hardly be overstated: they helped to pioneer the music video, especially the long video format, via their 1974 production In the Beginning Was the End: The Truth About De-Evolution; they staked out early synthesizer territory from the start and continued to use electronic instruments in new ways throughout their career; they have been the direct impetus for two sequel bands: Dev2.0, an all-kid band; and DEVA, a female-fronted take on the Spudboys' music. Not a bad run for a band of art-school geeks who have been going since 1973, always looking and sounding quite unlike anyone else.

In his request, Luke wrote, "Devo will always be the new wave kings for me." You're not alone in that, Luke - we're ALL Devo! Here they are as the current entry in NW4NW All Request Month performing "Secret Agent Man" from The Truth About De-Evolution (try to ignore the goofy kid intro-ing the clip):

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I am continually thankful for my Family and Friends, and the love, support, and friendship you all bring. Whether we get to talk daily or whether we rarely communicate outside of the occasional email, whether you are part of my Family, or I know you through Visions Marketing Services, online, or wherever, know that you and yours are in my thoughts this Thanksgiving. If you are traveling this weekend, please be safe. May your Thanksgiving be a happy one indeed!

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #42

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries are based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests received, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun!]

Gayle Fedele, who authors the always entertaining snapshot-of-life blog mom 3 crazy girls, has been a very good friend since our days as undergrads at the University of Richmond, where we became "big brother" and "little sister" to one another through my fraternity, KA. One of Gayle's most endearing qualities is her sometimes dry but often mischievous sense of humor, which is apparent in the exchange we had on Facebook regarding her *ahem* request:

As you can see by my closing admonition, I knew immediately that I would have to figure a way to appropriately respond to this request. I determined there to be only three possible ways to do so:

1. Do a completely straight NW4NW entry, completely ignoring the fact that neither band she asked for have anything remotely to do with New Wave or Punk. Now - confession time - I could do that for ABBA because I actually do like some of their songs: "S.O.S." is one of the catchiest songs ever written. Also, Agnetha and Frida's tendency towards miniskirts is a major plus for the band in my book. But, there is no way I could bring myself to write about Air Supply without tasting bile. Their wimpy soft-rock is, to me, the very antithesis of what music should be. I also imagined the backlash from other readers if I were to write a straightforward post about either band, and quickly decided this was not going to be an option.

2. Write up what appeared to be a straightforward NW4NW entry, but was actually a "rickroll." Don't ask me why, but I always thought the whole rickrolling meme was funny - you expect one thing, but instead get this awful, cheesy '80s video of one of the more insipid songs ever written, and hilarity ensues. But, rickrolling had its moment in the sun and is now kind of passé. If this were 2007, maybe I'd go with this option; since it's almost 2010, I voted against it.

3. Find appropriate cover versions of each band's songs to post, thereby filling Gayle's request while maintaining the integrity of the NW4NW series. Aha! Here was my out of this jam! I knew that there were plenty of excellent covers of ABBA tunes, but I didn't know if I'd be able to find any for Air Supply. As luck would have it, I did find an exceedingly rare Air Supply cover!

So, for my little sister, Gayle, I present the newest entries in NW4NW All Request Month: First, psychedelic power-pop punks Redd Kross covering ABBA's "Dancing Queen;" and then, very rare footage of Blondie performing Air Supply's "All Out of Love!" Hope you enjoy these, Gayle, and thanks for your request!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #41

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries are based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests received, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun!]

NW4NW All Request Month continues with our first "repeat performance." When Tom Quinn submitted his request for The Plastics, I replied that it was a fantastic choice! So good of a choice, in fact, that I had already done an entry on them - in fact, they were the very first entry in the series! So, I gave Tom the choice - either he could pick another band, or we'd make them not only the first band covered in the series, but also the first band repeated in the series.

"Go ahead and replay the Plastics." Tom wrote. "They are worthy."

Indeed they are, Tom. Indeed they are! No need to rewrite background info - you can read the original post here, or check out their MySpace page . Instead, here's a variety of Plastics clips to enjoy, including "Copy," "Good," and "Peace":

Now then, didn't they make you smile? Thanks, Tom, for a great request!

(By the way, Tom makes some music himself, as one half of The Mud Pie Sun. Check out their site and their music, especially their cover of X-Ray Spex's classic "Germ Free Adolescents" - great stuff!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #40

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries are based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests received, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun!]

Pixies_Doolittle_034Image by Slick Vic via Flickr

NW4NW All Request Month has hit the halfway mark! My thanks again to all of you who have contributed - many great choices already posted, and many more to come before we're done! We kick off the second half with a request from Jay Sweeney, who asked for what is, to this point, the most recent band to make the NW4NW series.

A fresh blast of musical ideas came out of Boston in the mid-1980s via Charles Thompson IV's band. Along with his University of Massachusetts Amherst roommate, Joey Santiago, Charles began writing songs and creating a band who would become one of the most influential acts on the blossoming college rock/indie scene of the late '80s and early '90s. Charles changed his name to Black Francis, and he and Joey posted an ad looking to hire a bass player who enjoyed both Peter, Paul & Mary and Hüsker Dü. Exactly one person responded to the ad, and even though Kim Deal showed up without a bass guitar (and had never played one before), she was in the band. The addition of drummer David Lovering completed the group, who initially called themselves Pixies in Panoply.

Soon enough, the name was shortened to The Pixies, and before long Francis' choppy, shrieking, aggressive music and Deal's poppier-yet-still-askew melodies were gaining a lot of interest. An initial salvo of three records between 1987 and 1989, Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa, and Doolittle, traced the bands ascension to underground icon status. Juxtaposing loud-and-scratchy with soft-and-gentle years before Nirvana smelled the teen spirit, their sound was startling different from just about everyone else making records at the time. Indeed, Kurt Cobain cited The Pixies as a strong influence on Nirvana's sound; it's hard to imagine much of the 1990s grunge/alternative sound existing without the first three Pixies' records having been recorded.

The Pixies continued on into the '90s themselves, but the working relationship between Francis and Deal soured quickly. Both began exploring side projects: Black Francis underwent another name change, becoming Frank Black and releasing some excellent solo records; Kim Deal formed The Breeders with her sister Kelley Deal and Tanya Donnelly of The Throwing Muses and recorded some fantastic material. But they frankly just didn't like each other very much, and the fractures showed on subsequent Pixies records. In 1993, Francis dissolved the band.

Because their rabid fan base demanded it, The Pixies reunited around 2005 and played intermittently over the next two or three years before splintering again, having not recorded any new material.

Jay's specific request was for one of The Pixies finest songs, the wonderful "Where Is My Mind?" from the must-have Surfer Rosa album. Not only a great song, "Where Is My Mind?" is also an excellent representation of the The Pixies basic sound: electric and acoustic guitars clashing in a scratchy melody, Black Francis howling out alienated image-heavy lyrics, Kim Deal keeping whole thing from careening off into an atonal mess. And so, I present it here as the current NW4NW All Request Month entry. Thank you for this pick, Jay - good choice!

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