Monday, March 15, 2010

Induction Monday

It's that time of year again. Time for the media to pick apart a selection committee's snubs and whether those selected are worthy or not. No, I'm not talking about the NCAA tournament. (Syracuse? The West? What were they thinking?) I'm talking about tonight's 25th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. It'll also be broadcast live on Fuse at 8:30. Now, much talk has been made about the tonight's inductees. Let's give the rundown:

ABBA - Arguably the number 4 best-selling artist of all time with over 370 million records sold, the is group is currently taking its lumps by critics as not being rock and roll enough. You would think that figure I stated earlier would be enough to get a pass but some out there question how much of ABBA is rock. The truth is the line between rock and pop is so blurred, who really should care? How is ABBA any different from Paul McCartney's solo career which he was inducted for in 1999. ABBA was so big in the 1970s, they outsold Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd worldwide. They continue to sell 2 to 3 million records a year and have influenced pretty much every pop act that followed. Table the debate. It's also good for the Hall to recognize influential artists outside of The US and UK.

Genesis - Genesis has long been over due for induction. Always in the shadow of Pink Floyd and other progressive rock bands, Genesis was no less impressive, selling 150 millions albums worldwide. Not to mention launching two huge solo careers with Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Genesis also had the impressive feat of going from deep progressive rock to pop music in the transition from the 1970s to the 1980s. A great addition from a very underrepresented genre. While punk might have been to fight the bloat of prog rock, prog rock is still an influential part of rock history, spreading from jambands like Phish to metal bands like Coheed and Cambria.

The Hollies - This is the only selection I have a problem with. Many people go "Who are the fucking Hollies?," including this author and I even know tunes by the Hollies. They didn't sell a lot of records, especially in the United States. I didn't think them anymore influential especially when grouped with their peers in the British Invasion. Sure, without them, we might not have had Graham Nash or "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" but I'm not sure they're solid enough to be in the Rock Hall. If Don Mattingly isn't in the Baseball Hall of Fame, then the Hollies shouldn't be in the Rock Hall. I'm sure this was done just to placate Steven Van Zandt.

Jimmy Cliff - Another long overdue induction in my opinion. If Bob Marley is the worldwide face of reggae, Jimmy Cliff is the man who kicked open the door to lead the way. To use a rap analogy, Jimmy Cliff is reggae's Grandmaster Flash to Bob Marley's Run-DMC (And I guess that makes Eric Clapton the Blondie of reggae.) Cliff in his role in The Harder They Come pushed reggae worldwide as millions bought the soundtrack album fearturing the legendary title track, "You Can Get It If You Really Want," and "Many Rivers to Cross." Cliff continues to perform worldwide including a slot at the upcoming Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Another key step in the Rock Hall's move to show how rock and roll has influcenced the world.

The Stooges - In the words of Cameron Crowe's Lester Bangs character, "Iggy Pop! Amen!" And in the words of this writer, "About fucking time!" The Stooges have always been one of the Rock Hall's longest time snubs. In my opinion, there are three bands than influenced the alternative music of the 1970s (punk, glam, early new wave): The Velvet Underground, The Modern Lovers, and The Stooges (with MC5 very close). Seriously, do I need to say more? Just listen to Raw Power and you'll know why they belong.
All in all, I think a very good list that fills some Rock Hall holes. Again the only glaring problem I see is the Hollies really weren't that important to rock history. Please, if you know more, school me on it.

On to the snubs, who should maybe have usurped that Hollies position or maybe some of the other ones:
The Modern Lovers - Listen to their one album and tell me that isn't amazing for being from 1972. You could release that record today and it'd be a 10.0 on Pitchfork.
Joe Cocker - Highly influential singer one of the last great solo acts of the 1960s that can be let in without a debate.
Deep Purple - Early metal band that influenced the genre
Stevie Ray Vaughan - Kept blues guitar alive in the 1980s as Clapton was too busy fucking around.
Yes - Another hugely important progressive rock band.
Joe Tex - Great soul singer who should be right alongside Sam Cooke and Otis Redding
Darlene Love - One of Phil Spector's stars. As important as the Ronettes and Shirelles.
KISS - As much as I don't like them and think they really aren't great musically, you can't deny they love to rock writing such anthems as "Detroit Rock City" and "Rock and Roll All Night" plus their merchandising legacy is one that pervades our culture today.

Those are some glaring omissions I feel should be in consideration right now but we have our inductees. Enjoy the ceremony!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Best Music Video I've Seen in Years.

If you haven't seen OK Go's "This Too Shall Pass" video, here it is. A Must See.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review - Gorillaz : Plastic Beach

Plastic Beach
March 9th, 2010
Rating: 84/100
Tracks not to Miss: "Superfast Jellyfish", Some Kind of Nature", "Plastic Beach", "White Flag"

Like anyone else tuned into music in the 21st century, I immediately went to and began listening to their streaming preview of Gorillaz's latest album Plastic Beach. For those living under a rock since 2001 (and for that I might not blame you), Gorillaz is a band conceived by Damon Albarn, most notably of the British rock band Blur, and Jaime Hewlett, the graphic novel artist known for Tank Girl. Albarn would fill the music content and Hewlett created a band of cartoon characters that put the Banana Splits and Archies to shame. 2D, Noodlez, Murdoc, and Russel hit the ground running with the cutting edge track "Clint Eastwood" and haven't look back since. Their self-titled debut was produced by Dan the Automator and second album Demon Days was produced by the red-hot Danger Mouse. For Plastic Beach, Albarn has kept the reins to himself and his collaborators. Speaking of collaborators, the new album is just as powerful as the group's past two records. Joing the Gorillaz are Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, formerly of the Clash, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Snoop Dogg, and probably a meeting of cosmic proportions, Lou Fucking Reed.
Enough of the backlog, let's get to the point of this rambling. Plastic Beach, on first listen, is the first real ALBUM of 2010. 2010 already has some solid releases (Contra, Teen Dream, Astro Coast) but this is the first that really hits like all the tracks flow from one to the other like a classic rock concept album. Each track, no matter is tone, feels like it belongs together. They all have the odd quirky electronic flourishes that characterize a Gorillaz record. It also has a stong pop feel to it. Albarn leans heavy on an synthesizer sound that feels like Brian Wilson would have used it if he could have. Albarn's constant presence on the album also gives it more of a cohesive feel than other Gorillaz records. He doesn't lean heavy on his guests too often. Two tracks that do this are "Some Kind of Nature" with Lou Reed and "Sweepstakes" with Mos Def. "Sweepstakes" is a great track but it sounds like it might have been a leftover from Def's amazing recent album The Ecstatic. "Some Kind of Nature" is the perfect blend of Albarn and Reed though with Lou singing the verses and Albarn on the chorus.
Plastic Beach is also a great chill party record. You can put it on and have it either fall into the background or turn it up and dance to it. It'll start conversations and fill wordless voids. If I still lived in New York, I could guarantee I'd hear it at many parties all around Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Washington Heights and the like. The only downfall of the album, there's no singular strong track like Gorillaz had "Clint Eastwood" or Demon Days had "Feel Good, Inc." "Stylo," the lead single with Mos Def and Bobby Womack is a hot subtle 80s-eqsue groove with a killer vocal line by Womack but I can't see it selling iPods or blaring in a store. The second single "Superfast Jellyfish" could be out there with it's super catchy dreamlike chorus. Either way, it's a super fun record that will probably become a sound of the summer for hipsters and music dorks everywhere. Don't say you weren't warned.

I leave you with the Hewlett-ized image of Lou Reed. AMAZING.

Jukebox of Win Selection 1A: The Pretender by Jackson Browne

I'm back. I know I have this long list of blog posts to follow up on and I was trying to get this started but here I am. Enough bullshit. Let's light this candle.

Everyone has phases of music. Artists and bands have their phases. No one can say Bruce Springsteen recent phase touches that unusual hot streak from 1975-1985. More personally though, everyone has their periods which could be box sets of their own lives. Artists and bands come and go in your musical consciousness at will, either totally saturating your listening patterns or lost deep in your record or iTunes collection collecting dust. I definitely don't listen to as much Guster as I did in high school. The Beatles come and go as they please. My favorite moments though are when artists that have been around for a long time stroll in and knock you on your ass.
Recently, that artist has been Jackson Browne. Maybe it was his songwriting for the Eagles that turned me off earlier or I just hadn't reached a maturity to really enjoy his songs. I mean there was that one time in 1994 when I pulled out my dad's copy of Running on Empty after hearing it during Forrest Gump's Run Across America and played it on end but that was the end of that dalliance. Or again in high school when my friend Jeff loved to play his cover of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' "Stay" again another cut from Running. Of course, no one will forget Jennifer Jason Leigh getting busy to "Somebody's Baby" over and over again in Fast Times in Ridgemont High. Thanks a lot, Cameron Crowe.
There's one track in particular that has been on constant repeat in my mind that I hadn't really listened to until now. That track is arguably his most famous, "The Pretender". Browne so gloriously pines about probably the biggest choice in modern American life that caught in the crossroads you can feel as if he's singing right to you. To myself, being 27, right around the age Browne wrote and released "The Pretender," I can see through the eyes of the song's protagonist. I've felt a definite change in the last few years. I was once ready to strike out on my own. With Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" as my anthem I wanted to be "pulling out of here to win" but now with a job creeping on 4 years this October, I can feel "caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender." Do I stay in it for the money and comfort or leave it all behind for my dreams? Browne's protagonist sells out for the money as most people do. It's the only way the song can end effectively. It has to be tragic. If he didn't, the whole story would be pointless of course.
The struggle of money vs. happiness also couldn't have been wrapped in such a lush song. As expected with a Jackson Browne song, the piano is the lead instrument but it locks in with a tight band. Fred Tackett plays a guitar texture lost on many recordings and Jeff Porcaro strikes a delicate balance, driving the song when needed and laying back not to over power. The main coup though is David Crosby and Graham Nash providing tight harmonies, giving the vocals a full sound that hammer home the words to the listener. A string provides some sophistication to the track but are not necessarily a must have on the track.
Either way, the song is very moving and if you're at a crossroads in your life, I highly recommend some headphones and taking a listen. Oddly, the song is not on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" but the album did make #391. I'd give it another go and see if it makes the list.