Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Big Music Things Happening Online

Blink and You Could Miss It

They say celebrities die always die in groups of 3. Based on my inbox today, it seems like music-related news stories always land in groups of 4.

Music licensing company Rumblefish is offering a new service called Friendly Music, that lets you buy a song for $1.99 and have the rights to use that song in your non-commercial YouTube video. The initial selection of available songs is very small and it's not clear that people will pay 2 bucks to license music just so that they can post on YouTube (especially when there are other video sites that are not quite as zealous as the Google-owned YouTube about unlicensed music in videos). Just saying.

Indie Music Community and early online music store GarageBand.com is shutting down. Apple Computer's GarageBand software claims to have a good alibi, but I'm not sure.

Tired of carrying around clunky guitar effects pedals? Now all you need is your iPhone and a $40 piece of hardware.

And finally, the 50 Most Gimmicky Uses for the iPad.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Had the Flame But No Candle

It's a Gauntlet, You Gotta Run It

It wasn't supposed to turn out like this.

Graham Parker thought he should've been the next big thing when he was on Mercury Records and a lot of people agreed. He had a great pub-rock sound, amazing songs, the sneer that redefined "angry young man" for the era, and an incredibly strong backing band in the Rumour.

But Mercury didn't know how to put him over the top, so he left them (leaving behind one of the best bitter-record-company-kiss-off songs in rock history "Mercury Poisoning"), signed to Arista, and released the brilliant Squeezing Out Sparks. The album was adored by critics and expanded the cult audience he'd been building for years.

He was on the brink... and surely the next album would make him a superstar.

So the record company turned to Jimmy Iovine, who'd been an engineer on Springsteen's Born to Run album and had produced Tom Petty's breakthrough record Damn the Torpedoes.

The songs were strong. The Rumour was at their peak. And Bruce Springsteen publicly announced that Parker and the Rumour were the only band he would pay to see live. (Springsteen would duet with Parker on "Endless Night" for the new album -- hear it here.)

But the album didn't quite sound right. The performances on record were off and the production sounded muddy and flat.

Arista left "the Rumour" off of the cover and when they album wasn't enormous, the band was soon gone as well.

But the songs were great -- and the band still sounded amazing live.

Parker would chase the superstardom that should have been his for the next decade, signing with (and being dropped by) every major label in existence, making some great videos, and hiring superstar producers who never quite managed to capture lightning in a bottle.

In an alternate universe, Parker would have sold as many records as Springsteen or U2 or Prince. Or maybe he'd be hosting that talk show on the Sundance Channel instead of Elvis Costello.

Sadly, it wasn't to be... at least not in this universe. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

To Boldly Caffeinate Where No Man Has Gone Before

Soy Milk is Highly Illogical

Today, I was reminded of how surreal life in Los Angeles can be.

I was at a chain coffee shop (no, not that one -- the other one) behind one of the less well-known Star Trek actors who did not, despite the fact that this is Los Angeles, order his overpriced coffee concoction with soy milk.

So, for the record, overpriced coffee? Perfectly logical. Overpriced coffee with soy milk for an extra 25 cents? Completely illogical.

Which, as these things tend to do, made me want to hear the Star Trek theme played on a ukulele. So here it is:

I know that's not enough for you purists... so here's the theme played on Wii Theremin. (And, incidentally, the very existence of Wii Theremin is enough to make me rethink my whole attitude towards game systems.)

And here's a list of other weird covers of the theme. I'm partial to the Rubinoos surf-rock version and Utopia's unreleased disco version myself.

Friday, June 25, 2010

RIP Pete Quaife

As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset, I am in Paradise

Pete Quaife, bassist and founding member of the Kinks, died in Denmark at age 66.

He left the band after recording The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, which means he never got to experience their brief 1980s superstardom and subsequent arena tours all over the world.

Guess we'll have to settle for him being part of a signature sound.

And singing background vocals on "Waterloo Sunset," which may be the best song the Kinks ever recorded.

Here's a nice remembrance of Pete.

And here's where Terry meets Julie, but it's the sha-la-las that always get to me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Occultation of a Summer Sun

There's no point in asking, it was never enough.

She wouldn't tell me where we were going. Said it was a surprise.

So I got in the car and she drove. And drove. And drove farther.

Eventually, she turned off the highway onto a dirt road.

Then, apologetically, she asked me to put on a blindfold. When I hesitated, she said it was a secret place. She wanted to share it with me, but also needed to keep it hidden.

And the world went dark.

She drove more. The road became bumpier and the air got colder.

We seemed to be turning back and forth, following switchbacks.

And then we stopped. She opened my door, took me by the hand, then led me through a wooded area. We walked a good 20 minutes before we stopped.

Only then did she take off the blindfold.

We were in a clearing. Forest surrounding us on three sides, a distant valley visible past a steep cliff on the fourth.

"This is a magical place," she said. "Nature and civilization are perfectly balanced. You stand here and can see both without being part of either."

I nodded. The breeze was greater there. The air was cool and I glanced at village lights far in the distance.

"I had to bring you here on the Solstice," she said. "For the balance. From here on in, the nights take over. The darkness gathers its strength until it dominates."

I looked up and saw a full, bright moon in the sky.

"The druids said when there was a full moon on the solstice it was particularly good luck. And if you make love under the full moon on the solstice, all the wonders of the world will be revealed."

Then she held out her hand. And I took it.

Because everyone wants to know all the wonders of the world. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

New Genre

More weird stuff I found on the web

Sometimes you just found stuff online that makes you smile even if it matters far less than you can say.

Along those lines, who knew there was an entire genre of foreign artists doing ska covers of Beatle songs?

From Mexico

From Switzerland

And from Japan

Friday, June 18, 2010

Smallest Giant Ever

You Could Power a City With This

The party was in full swing. Dozens of people. Most he knew through his ex-girlfriend.

And he was talking to this girl. A girl he wasn't really that interested in. They'd been talking a while. Not about anything important. And he thought she was amusing, but maybe not all that bright.

He knew what would happen. The party would dwindle. He'd go home with the girl he was talking to.

And not with the girl across the room. The one who made his toes tingle.

Years later, they'd meet again. She wouldn't remember being at the party and he wouldn't tell her about the not-so-bright girl.

But his toes would still tingle.

And, at the end of the day, that would make all the difference. (Even if the price he had to pay involved decapitated mimes and intersteller lizards wearing headphones.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Thinking Punk's Eric Carmen

This is the first time I realized I loved believing all your lies.

She dreamed only in shades of blue. Or so she said.

And her dreams were always of annhilation. Personal, political, and global.

"You'll bleed shades of deep purple," she'd say. "But don't worry, we all will."

And the blinding, snarling sounds of her nightmares would carry into the mornings and frequently into the afternoons. It was hard on her friends, but we didn't say anything because we imagined it was harder for her.

Stiv Bators grew up worshipping Iggy Pop, listening to classic garage rock, and dreaming about punk rock. When his band the Dead Boys imploded, he had to do something. It would be years before the goth-synth metal/new wave band Lords of the New Church, even longer before he'd date MTV VJ Martha Quinn, and long before he'd be killed by a speeding car in Paris.

It was time for a change.

So he turned away from punk (well, as far away from punk as he could turn) and back towards the music of his youth. Then he signed to L.A.'s Bomp! Records (home of 20/20) and announced that he wanted to be the "thinking punk's Eric Carmen." Punk meets power pop.

It didn't entirely work. The songs were uneven and the sessions were chaotic. Some of the songs were downright moronic. Stiv recorded vocals for one of the songs (which was filled with sophomoric sexual innuendo like "thanks for the mammaries") while he was getting a blow job. The resulting record, Disconnected, made almost no one happy, despite a handful of amazing songs.

How did Stiv's longtime fans react to his new musical direction? They saw it as nothing less than a sign of the impending apocalypse

She summoned us in a panicky voice at 3 in the morning. Said the world was about to end. So four of her friends gathered in her room to try to talk her out of dropping out of school.

She wouldn't listen, but talked in great detail about how she hadn't slept in over a week. She thought people were following her and insisted she could hear hidden messages in high-pitched sounds (that none of us could hear). Nuclear war was imminent.

"Maybe you just need to relax," someone said. "Things always look better after you get some sleep."

"That's what you said to me in my dream last night," she said. "Then you killed me."

We stopped for a minute, trying to figure out what to do.

Then someone said "you dreamed that last night?" She nodded. "But you said you haven't slept in over a week."

And then it unraveled. And she admitted she'd made up the whole thing. She'd been sleeping fine. She wasn't hearing high-pitched noises. She didn't really think anyone was following her.

And she didn't only dream in blue. In fact, she admitted, she rarely remembered her dreams at all.

So what was it all about? "I was lonely," she said.

"Why didn't you just tell us you were lonely and wanted to see us?"

And she stared at the wall. Smiled. And said "I didn't want to bother you guys."

The others wandered off. Grumbling. More disgusted than angry.

Two of the people who came over that night never spoke to her again. Too much trouble, they said. Looking back, they may have been right.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New (to me) XTC Videos

Real friends drive you to the airport. Facebook friends virtually drive you to the cyber-airport.

One of my Facebook friends started posting a bunch of XTC videos I'd never seen before. (And isn't that the true beauty of the internets?)

A little background before I share:

XTC, a great live band and an even better studio band, stopped touring in 1982 after Andy Partridge had a mental breakdown and developed a crippling case of stage fright. The band would play occasionally in the years that followed at a few radio stations and on TV.

After their April-Fools-Day psychedlic joke EP 25 O'Clock (released under the pseudonym the Dukes of Stratosphear) sold better than their regular albums in 1985, Virgin (XTC's record company) told the band they wanted them to have a big-name producer for their next album. Virgin gave the band a list of names and they chose the only one they recognized: Todd Rundgren. The band flew off to Woodstock, NY where they clashed with Rundgren almost from the start. The album that resulted, the "life in a day" song cycle Skylarking, which manages to sound simultaneously lush and tossed off, would become a huge hit thanks to "Dear God," which was a B-side that wasn't even on the first pressings of the record.

These two videos date from 1987 -- an appearance on the British TV show The Tube, hosted at the time by former Squeeze keyboardist Jules Holland. (The show would be cancelled soon thereafter when Holland used the word "fuck" in a live promo for the show.)

The songs are both from Skylarking, which featured both the megahit "Dear God" and the insanely catch "Earn Enough For Us." But XTC didn't play the song people knew or the catchy song. Nope. They played two dense album tracks that fans would leave fans ecstatic and leave everyone else scratching their heads.

Still, the videos are pretty cool -- and if you haven't seen 'em, they're new to you.

"The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul":

"The Meeting Place":

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Another Perfect Pop Song

Second in a (very) occasional series.

I had a business meeting recently at one of those big chain coffee shops that rename their drink sizes to make them seem more exotic and play Norah Jones incessantly to make them seem hip. I was early, so I got a cup of tea and sat down to wait. One of the baristas walked to the back grinning and carrying a CD. A moment later, Norah Jones stopped and "A Million Miles Away" by the Plimsouls started blasting out of the sound system.

And, as everyone in the coffee shop started to smile, I realized again that "A Million Miles Away" is a perfect pop song.

There's a lot of reasons for this... here's just a few:

  • The drums are propulsive (even after being filtered through cheesy 80s production filters).

  • It's about longing and distance... which is something everyone can relate to. And the distance in the lyric is underscored by just a touch of echo.

  • Maybe the next generation won't realize it, but there really was a time when songs would come on the radio and they'd so perfectly capture moods and memories that it would make you stop and think.

  • The vocals perfectly capture longing and just a glimmer of hope, but the hope is pushed way down to let you know that it's probably not going to pay off. Similarly, the harmonies are sweet, but edgy -- they keep you coming back, but there's a melancholy deeply embedded with the joy.

  • The guitar riffs are simple, but amazingly memorable.

  • We've all been at the wrong end of the looking glass (even if what the song really refers to is being at the wrong end of a telescope).

  • The best songs really do make you drift away until you really feel like you are falling off the edge of (someone's) world and you'll never get back.

  • The nostalgia of the lyric and the delivery -- is he trying to hold onto the past or to the girl? And in the end, does it really matter?

  • The scariest ghosts are the ones that continue to haunt us from past relationships.

  • Two words: Valley Girl (the movie, not the song).

But here's the best reason that this is a perfect pop song:

Back at the coffee shop, the manager yelled at the clerk to turn off the Plimsouls and put back on the corporate-approved jazzy compilation featuring Norah Jones. The clerk shouted above the roar of the espresso machine "But 'A Million Miles Away' is, like, the national anthem of Los Angeles."

And as I looked around the coffee shop, three people nodded their heads in agreement.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Jim Boggia's Open Letter to Taylor Swift

From the Things I Wish I'd Written Department

I'm a bit late to the party with this... but Jim Boggia, whom I've mentioned before, wrote a great open letter to Taylor Swift that sums up everything that's wrong with the music industry these days.

Speaking of Jim Boggia, a while ago on For the Love of Harry posted Jim's great 2002 "The Harry Nilsson Song."

If you love pure pop music (along the lines of Matthew Sweet and Richard X. Heyman), check out more Jim Boggia on his MySpace page -- particularly "8 Track."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

50,000 Watts and a Big Acoustic Tower

From the Should've Been Huge Department

Sheila was supposed to be a star. Everyone in High School knew it.

While others walked, she ran. And when others ran, she flew, long ponytale of blonde hair shaking from side to side until there was nothing left but dust and memories.

She won ribbons at every track meet. Made the State team. And kicked ass at the Nationals. Until everyone began to talk about how she'd be a shoo-in to make the Olympic team. And win a few medals.

In her final race (shown live in primetime, naturally), Sheila would fall behind some trash-talking runner from Lithuania, but spot some of her friends and neighbors in the stands, reach down for some extra energy, and kick it up a few notches so she could come from behind and win the gold.

That was what was supposed to happen.


Rockpile was supposed to be huge, too.

A supergroup that never quite was called a supergroup, Rockpile was home to two superstars-in-waiting. Dave Edmunds, the guitar virtuoso formerly with Love Sculpture, was obsessed with 50s rock and roll. Nick Lowe, aka "Basher," came out of the pub-rock of Brinsley Schwartz, but was adored by punks and new wavers (thanks to his role as de facto staff producer for Stiff Records).

They recruited guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams and set out to take over the world. Except that Edmunds and Lowe were signed to different labels and couldn't record as Rockpile. So, for several years, Rockpile acted as the backing band (live and on record) for both Lowe and Edmunds, supporting whoever had a new record out, but really functioning as a single band with two leaders. This worked well for three years and resulted in great albums like Repeat When Necessary and Labour of Lust. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

A month before the Olympic trials, Sheila was riding her bike and she got hit by a car that ran a stop sign. She was knocked to the ground and broke a small bone in her left foot. It healed, but her stride was never quite the same.

She competed in the Olympic trials but wasn't quite fast enough. This was a shock to all of us who knew her.

All the ribbons, all the victories, didn't add up to an Olympic medal. And our entire school (and in a way, most of the town) was disappointed.


Three years after first working together, Rockpile was finally free to make their own album under their own name. The record that came out Seconds of Pleasure was a delight -- not quite a great rock record, but filled with terrific moments. There were great Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds songs, obscure covers of rock old (Chuck Berry) and new (a wonderful Difford/Tilbrook song Squeeze somehow didn't want to record).

But the tensions of actually being a band (instead of being a backing band) quickly proved to be too much. Edmunds and Lowe clashed constantly during the recording and the tour that followed. A few months later, Rockpile was no more. The band, so great when it was in the background with Lowe and Edmunds sharing the spotlight (and each alternately dictating what the sound should be), fell apart when they had to define who and what they really were. Having one foot in the 50s, one foot in the pub, and one foot straddling the line between punk and new wave made it all but impossible for the band to stay standing.

Here's what we never knew about Sheila. She had one foot in sports and the other academics. When she didn't make the Olympic team, it wasn't as disappointing for her as it was for the rest of us. She had another path in mind.

So she cut her hair, dyed it brown, and hit the books.

And she thrived, finishing near the top of our High School class, getting into a small prestigious New England college, and going to an Ivy League law school. She took to running late at night in the local woods -- not quite as fast, but uncomplicated by the expectations of an entire town.

Sheila graduated near the top of her law school class and had offers with top firms in 12 cities around the world. But that wasn't her path, either.

Today, she works for a variety of non-profit groups, doing her part to make the world a better place. She says with a playful smile that she never gets paid enough -- and sometimes doesn't even get paid at all.

I asked her recently if she ever thought about what might have been. She sighed. Then told me that sometimes, very late at night, when the stars are out and the wind is cold, she thinks about marching into an Olympic stadium, and competing against the best in the world. "But," she added, "that feeling goes away when the sun comes up. Then I look around, see everything I need to do, roll up my sleeves, and get to work."

Sounds good to me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Craigslist Ads and the New Wave Songs That Love Them #3

Number 3 in a delusional Los Angeles-based series.

Missed Connections -- Hollywood

I was puking off the bridge and you were driving on the 101 North.

Your car was beautiful, not ostentatious. You were well-dressed, but had a touch of wildness in your hair. You drove with quiet confidence and the traffic parted to let you through.

A little bit of vomit hit your windshield and you looked up.

Our eyes met and I knew then and there you were the one.

You could have hit the windshield washer, but you didn't. Did you want a souvenir of our brief, magical moment together? Did you dream of holding my hair the next time I have to boot?

I'm taking a chance, I'm putting myself out there. Since that day, I wait every morning on the bridge, but I haven't seen your car again.

Maybe you're taking surface streets... looking for me.

Link for Gmail subscribers.

Friday, June 4, 2010

In Which Harry Nilsson Invents the Mashup

Old School.

These days, producers with computers strip vocals from one song, add beats, take samples from another song, add new vocals, and come up with something "new" (or at least new-ish).

(And if you're not sure you understand what a mashup is, listen to this. I'll wait.)

Harry Nilsson did the same thing. In 1967. With no computers or studio tricks.

Instead, Nilsson took a single Beatle song as a spine and wrapped around it vocal and instrumental licks from more than a dozen other songs. With no producers with computers to fix all his shitty tracks. The result was different from lame TV-show medleys and was fun and memorable (and a great way to respond to John Lennon's statement that Nilsson was his "favorite American band"). Not bad for a guy who was doing computer work for a bank and trying to peddle his songs to established acts. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Thirteen years later, Ringo Starr was in the middle of recording an album that would ultimately be retitled Stop and Smell the Roses. (John Lennon, 12 days before he was killed, gave Ringo demos of 2 new songs Lennon wrote for Ringo, including "Nobody Told Me." They made arrangements for Lennon to produce a session for Ringo to record the songs in early January 1981. When Lennon was killed in December 1980, Ringo couldn't bring himself to record the songs. An enhanced version of Lennon's demo would surface a few years later on the posthumous Milk and Honey album.)

For Stop and Smell the Roses, Harry Nilsson decided to revisit the technique he'd used for "You Can't Do That": with Nilsson producing (and singing background vocals) Ringo re-recorded his 1972 hit "Back Off Boogaloo" (now featuring the intro from "It Don't Come Easy" and more of a funk feel). Nilsson used "Back Off Boogaloo" as a structure from which he hung sections from a half-dozen other songs by Ringo and the Beatles. The result was mixed; mostly it worked, but it felt like it probably should have gone a lot farther. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

So offering these examples from the years before Pro Tools and sophisticated music software, I put forth this simple idea:

Harry Nilsson invented the mashup.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Go Here, Read This, Listen to That

A Touch of Miscellany in the Night

Hey Dullblog, the self-proclaimed blog by and for "people who think about the Beatles maybe a little too much," has a couple of fascinating posts on the psychology of the Beatles: How John and Paul Reacted to the death of Brian Epstein (and why) and an alternate theory on the real sad reason the band broke up.

Peter's Power Pop presents Jane vs. World (featuring what might be a cautionary tale about star-crossed long-distance love in the internet age).

For the Love of Harry is giving away CDs in a spiffy contest.

Craig Ferguson explains everything to you.

And finally, Rooney (my favorite band named after a character from Ferris Bueller's Day Off) has a new album coming out next week. Here's a taste: