Archive for Tongue and Groove

Fünfundfünfzig

I probably don’t need to remind you of the Eighties classic “99 Luftballons” by Nena, which at the time was the name of a band headed by Gabriele Susanne Kerner, though she’d been using the nickname “Nena” since her teens. In the States, Epic released a single with the 1983 German version on one side and an English-language version on the other; the English lyrics are not a translation, but an interpretation, of the German original, which may or may not have had something to do with this cover.

After 1987, the band split up, and Nena reclaimed her name. Although she makes no chart noise on this side of the pond, she’s still making hits at home. Here’s a shot from a 2010 concert in Potsdam:

Nena in concert in Potsdam 2010

From her 2009 album Made in Germany, this is the lead single, “Wir sind wahr” (“We are true”):

As you may have figured, she’s 55 today.

(Photo source.)

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The corner of Hampton and Falmouth

Google Maps screenshot of southern BrooklynIn 2003, I found out this rather startling piece of news:

I knew that Michael Brown’s unrequited love was a real person — a real person named Renee, no less — but it never occurred to me that he was also thinking of a real sign that points one way.

It’s at the intersection of Falmouth Street and Hampton Avenue in Brooklyn.

Petite Powerhouse and pop princess Dawn Eden, now far better known as an advocate for Catholicism and chastity, was happy to pass on that bit of information, and I couldn’t possibly have resisted posting it here, inasmuch as Brown’s song for the Left Banke, “Walk Away Renee,” even now pouring into your head, ranks up there with the most indelible musical memories of my adolescent years, possibly even for reasons unrelated to its subject matter. I once called Michael Brown the “spiritual heir to both Johann Sebastian Bach and Brian Wilson,” and I wasn’t kidding.

So anything that happens to this man matters to me, especially his untimely passing:

Brown was sixteen when Renee walked away with his heart, and I’m pretty certain that she could still have laid claim to a piece of it when he was sixty-five. I’ve been there, and by “there” I don’t mean Brooklyn.

Addendum: A proper sendoff from Brown’s hometown paper.

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The once and future hybrid

The Telegraph sent off the late Terry Pratchett — may his soul repose with whatever God may find it — with a list of fifty first-class quotes, several of which I hadn’t heard before. This is the one that struck me hardest, though: “Personally, I think the best motto for an educational establishment is: ‘Or Would You Rather Be a Mule?'”

We turn now to an anonymous Wikipedian:

Songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen was at [Bing] Crosby’s house one evening for dinner, and to discuss a song for the movie Going My Way. During the meal one of the children began complaining about how he didn’t want to go to school the next day. The singer turned to his son and said to him, “If you don’t go to school, you might grow up to be a mule. Do you wanna do that?”

Van Heusen thought this clever rebuke would make a good song for the movie.

For “good,” read “Best Original Song” at the next Academy Awards. Bing cut it as a single, of course, and it was a hit. But “Swinging on a Star” has shown up several times since, perhaps most amusingly in a 1963 waxing by Big Dee Irwin, aided and abetted by Little Eva.

And if you don’t like that one, try the Hudson Hawk version:

Truth be told, though, if I burst into this particular song, I’m usually going into the adaptation used in the opening of Out of This World, a late-1980s TV series considered by some to be the Worst Sitcom Ever. I, of course, watched it religiously. Then again, critics reviled Hudson Hawk.

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Further illumination

The artist formerly known as Valerie Anne Poxleitner — she’s been simply “Lights” since she turned eighteen, about a decade ago — has been creeping into my playlists since I stumbled across “Second Go” a few years back.

Lights in a magazine photoshoot

Her 2014 album Little Machines won the Juno for Pop Album of the Year. This was the lead single:

And this is what she wore to pick up that Juno:

Lights at the 2015 Juno Awards

While “Up We Go” didn’t chart in the States, Little Machines did make it to #34 in Billboard, the best showing to date of any of her three albums.

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Genial in France

Even if you think, as I do, that Paris’ reputation as the City of Romance is horribly overstated — I might vote for Venice, but then I might vote for Duluth, because [reasons] — you might like this little number by a singer who’s currently putting together an EP:

I’m keeping an eye, and an ear, open for what she does next.

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Fresh from Lake Minnetonka

“That ain’t Lake Minnetonka,” said Prince, and didn’t take off on his motorcycle without the dripping-wet Apollonia Kotero, second-billed in Prince’s film Purple Rain back in 1984. She had, shall we say, a certain visual appeal:

Apollonia in the 1980s

And she could sing, kinda sorta. The ad hoc group Apollonia 6 performed a song called “Sex Shooter” in the film; a separate music video was issued to promote both the film and the one and only Apollonia 6 LP.

Apollonia 6, the album, might be more famous for the songs that were left off than for the seven that were included. (“Sex Shooter,” released as a single on Warner Bros. 29182, managed to clamber to #85 in Billboard.) All left on the cutting-room floor: “Manic Monday,” later a Bangles hit; “The Glamorous Life,” subsequently a hit for Sheila E.; and “17 Days,” cut by Prince himself and stuck on the B-side of the “When Doves Cry” single.

After leaving Prince behind, Apollonia appeared in the TV series Falcon Crest, cut a solo album, and set up a production company. She’s 55 now. And apart from a touch of the usual middle-age spread, she doesn’t seem to have changed much:

Oh, and she was nominated for a Razzie for Worst New Star, but lost to Olivia d’Abo.

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They can’t go for that

No can do, say the plaintiffs:

Hall and Oates are suing a Brooklyn-based cereal firm, claiming its granola Haulin’ Oats infringes their trademark.

The case accuses Early Bird Foods & Co of breaking the law with its “phonetic play on Daryl Hall and John Oates’ well-known brand name”.

Lawyers for the singers filed the case in Brooklyn federal court.

The duo claim the company is attempting “to trade off of the fame and notoriety associated with the artist’s and plaintiff’s well-known marks”.

This would seem to be at least slightly inconsistent with the duo’s thinking. Said John Oates a few years back:

There isn’t one album that says Hall and Oates. It’s always Daryl Hall and John Oates. From the very beginning. People never note that. The idea of “Hall and Oates,” this two-headed monster, this thing, is not anything we’ve ever wanted or liked.

Yet it’s something they’re willing to protect. I’m thinking maybe I’m just out of touch.

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No longer just a maybe

Eventually, the record industry is going to shift from dropping new titles on Tuesday to shoveling them out on Friday. (Guess who’s already done that?)

I was hanging around the iTunes Store trying to snag Charlie Puth’s song “Marvin Gaye” (which you just might have seen here), when the usual Applehype™ called my attention to a new track, only just released by, um, Carly Rae Jepsen.

Yes, the “Call Me Maybe” singer. And if you thought that was an earworm, get a whiff of this:

Already purchased. I have no shame.

Update: Actual video replaces the placeholder.

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As slowly the doctor wakes

Someone had to try it, of course:

Call me in the morning.

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Obligatory Cat pictures

“What’s a Website,” asks Francis W. Porretto, “without a few cat pictures?” As it happens, while I was reading that passage, Cat Power came up on the shuffle, and, well, I can read an omen as well as the next guy.

“Cat Power” started out as the name of Chan Mitchell’s band; when she and the band went their separate ways, she kept the name for subsequent projects. She’s been recording now for over two decades; her most recent album, Sun, came out in 2012.

Chan Mitchell not standing

Cat Power on stage

At her best, Mitchell redefines “languorous,” and there’s no more languid version of a Rolling Stones classic than this, from Cat Power’s The Covers Record of 2000:

Yet somehow she’s not lethargic. Go figure.

I mention in passing that she used to date Giovanni Ribisi, but when they broke up, she cut off most of her hair.

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Making it mo’ better

The big viral video this week has been a performance by the Louisville Leopard Percussionists of two classic Led Zeppelin songs, “Kashmir” and “Immigrant Song,” which actually drew the attention of Jimmy Page. I, of course, was curious as to what else these kids have done, and found the beginning class (second and third grade) working out on Branford Marsalis’ title theme from Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues:

This clip is identified as a rehearsal, but I have no doubt that the finished product was superb.

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You’re never supposed to hear this

“Tom’s Diner,” the a cappella song by Suzanne Vega, was used for testing the original MP3 encoding system. Says Dr. Karlheinz Brandenburg, whose idea it was:

I was ready to fine-tune my compression algorithm … somewhere down the corridor, a radio was playing “Tom’s Diner.” I was electrified. I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice.

Brandenburg persisted. But in 2009, he reported:

I was finishing my PhD thesis, and then I was reading some hi-fi magazine and found that they had used this song to test loudspeakers. I said “OK, let’s test what this song does to my sound system, to mp3″. And the result was, at bit rates where everything else sounded quite nice, Suzanne Vega’s voice sounded horrible.

Now MP3 is a lossy compression scheme: to obtain the file-size shrinkage desired, the algorithm throws away some of the original sound, parts you presumably would not hear anyway.

So what happens if you invert the circuit, throw away the sections you’d ordinarily keep and retain the parts that would normally be thrown away? This happens. It’s fascinating — and it will make you wonder just how much you’re giving up by buying the download instead of the CD (or, heaven help us, the vinyl).

(Via Jesse Emspak.)

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An AM act?

Meet Chantal Claret, lead singer of the band Morningwood:

Chantal Claret on stage

For contrast, an offstage picture:

Chantal Claret offstage

Morningwood (seriously) released two albums. “Nth Degree” is one of the few songs I can recall in which the name of the band is repeatedly spelled out, in case you didn’t know who they were. The video, however, is wretchedly clever: I actually spent $2 to get a permanent-ish copy.

After the second album, the band split up, though they reunited briefly in 2012 for a tour with Mindless Self Indulgence. (As it happens, Chantal had married MSI’s frontman Jimmy Urine in 2008.) Her debut solo recording, “Pop Pop Bang Bang,” also appeared in 2012. Today she turns 33.

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We never owned her

What a life Lesley Gore had: a #1 hit while she was still in secondary school, production by the peerless Quincy Jones, a guest slot on the Batman TV series, an actual album for Motown, and finally true love.

“It’s My Party” was the big hit, but this was her anthem:

The fact that the song was written by a couple of guys — John Madara and David White, also composers of such tumultuous tunes as “442 Glenwood Avenue” by the Pixies Three — didn’t matter in the least; nor did the blatant patriarchy-ness of Lesley’s followup, “That’s the Way Boys Are,” by two different guys (Mark Barkan and Ben Raleigh).

Lesley’s official coming-out was about ten years ago, but before that there was Grace of My Heart, a grievously undernoticed Brill Building saga from 1996, written and directed by Allison Anders, to which Gore contributed a lyric. “My Secret Love,” sung by Miss Lily Banquette, then of Combustible Edison, is as blatant as anything in the k. d. lang songbook, and it even sounds like Gore.

I reviewed “Ever Since,” her most recent album, in 2005. I never imagined it would be her last.

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You gotta have Heart

Actress Heart Evangelista stands five foot two. I mention this because she played a dwarf on a Filipino TV series titled Dwarfina back in 2011. A promotional photo from the show:

Heart Evangelista as Dwarfina, 2011

We concede that Heart, born Love Marie Payawal Ongpauco on this very date thirty years ago, is Not Particularly Tall.

Not that this matters, really:

Heart Evangelista's 2013 Esquire cover

Back in ought-three, she cut an album called, natch, Heart. This is a track therefrom:

Very Eighties-looking video for some reason.

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What’s going on here?

Well, I’ll be doggone. If any singer deserves to be a verb, it’s Marvin Gaye, right?

How sweet it is. And it ain’t that peculiar at all, really.

(Via PopCrush.)

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Too old to rock and roll

If ever I had a reason to reject that particular description — and I’m pretty sure I did — it’s stronger, not to mention louder, now.

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Not a happy song

Apparently there exists a band called NǽnøĉÿbbŒrğ VbëřřĦōlökäävsŦ, a name I’m not about to convert to proper HTML entities, so this may look even funnier in your browser.

Discogs says about them:

Also known by the more optically-appealing and readable name of “Nanocyborg Uberholocaust”, NǽnøĉÿbbŒrğ VbëřřĦōlökäävsŦ claim to be an “ambient cosmic extreme funeral drone doom metal band” consisting of one Canadian and one British individual known as Wavanova and Dark Dude.

Legend has it that these two scientists met in 2006 at an Antarctic research station on Ross Island “while studying carnivorous Antarctic predators” where they “soon realized that they had very similar musical tastes and were both experienced bass players” and recorded “the sounds of the universe between its phases of life.”

Their 2014 album, Goodbye, Sol: A Voyage To The End Of Spacetime And Back, was released digitally only, perhaps because it runs 7:37. That’s seven hours and thirty-seven minutes. One track, “God Is A Systems Architect And The Multiverse Is An Infinitely Recursive Architectural Simulator,” is listed at 7:27:11; after looking at the other 32 tracks, I suspect this track is exactly as long as the similarly experimental “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” by Sly Stone, listed as 0:00. I don’t think I can possibly audition the whole seven-hour intravaganza at once, though I’m sure it’s up on YouTube; I did give a listen to “(The Sculptor),” from the 2009 EP (Supervoids) (parentheses as specified by the band), and it’s genuinely creepy in an inchoate sort of way.

(Provoked by this list of band names at Louder Than War.)

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I won’t back up

When word came down that Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” was sufficiently similar to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” to warrant cutting in Petty (and cowriter Jeff Lynne) on the songwriter royalties, I shrugged; it’s not like we’ve never heard this sort of thing before.

Just to aggravate the matter, consider the Nick Lowe composition “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock & Roll”), first recorded in 1977 by Dave Edmunds for his Get It album. Lowe put out his own version on The Rose of England in 1985; this video comes from Yep Roc, which issued a best-of compilation for Lowe a few years back.

Half Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” half Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” right?

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Could’ve been anticipated

You remember Tiffany, the singer, right?

This is a perfectly serviceable cover of the Tommy James hit, if maybe a tick or two behind the 2007 version by the Birthday Massacre. I bring this up because I wandered onto Tiff’s Facebook page, Tiffany (The Singer). (Extra amusement value: I got the link from Debbie Gibson.)

And I bring that up because if you start looking for Wikipedia hints and you type “Tiffany (singer)” thinking that well, it’s Tiffany (The Singer), you may well end up here:

Stephanie Young Hwang (born August 1, 1989), better known by the stage name Tiffany or by her Korean name Hwang Mi-young, is an American singer-songwriter and actress. She is a member of both the South Korean girl group, Girls’ Generation and its subgroup, TTS.

Of course, I went looking for some of her stuff, and found this solo track:

Our Tiffany, if I may be presumptuous for a moment, could sing that.

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The injured party

Paranoia has been the underpinning of many pop songs, though curiously not Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” an almost-coherent Ozzy lament about being misunderstood. Del Shannon was as good as anyone at this sort of thing: “Stranger in Town” (1965) is his masterpiece of mindfark.

This subgenre, if subgenre it be, reached some sort of azimuth in the early Eighties, following the breakup of ABBA:

Going through her divorce from [Benny] Andersson, Frida had heard Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight,” and then “listened to the album (Face Value) non-stop for eight months.” As Collins himself put it in a TV interview: “Frida and I had something in common as far as our divorces were concerned. We were both the injured party.”

Which led to this epic:

Collins produced, played drums, and sang some background vocals, but you can hear the quaver in every bar of Frida’s anguished, overprocessed vocals. (The LP track, which stretches out the fade for an extra minute and a half, still provides you no time to decompress.) How Russ Ballard (ex-Argent) came to write something like this, I’ll never know; I do know that Agnetha Fältskog, the other A in ABBA — Frida’s full given name was Anni-Frid — tapped Ballard for “Can’t Shake Loose” a year later, and it’s similarly drenched in suspicion.

And if you flipped the single of “I Know There’s Something Going On,” you found this:

Dorothy Parker, who died in 1967, would never have gotten to hear it, but I’m inclined to think she’d have liked it — after asking what the fresh hell Frida and composer Per Gessle were thinking.

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Stargazing

Once in a while, it’s nice to pick up an old, and I do mean old song, and make it new for yourself. Fillyjonk reports on “When You Wish Upon a Star”:

I like the song. Most of us, I think, mainly associate it with Jiminy Cricket, but some years back I had an album of Disney songs redone/reimagined by various pop/rock/alt/country stars. Ringo Starr (with his “All-Starr Band”) did a version of “When You Wish …” It was a creditable version, or at any rate, I liked it.

Then there’s that Academy Award for Best Original Song (1940).

The version I’ve been listening to of late — since I have no discernible musical talent of my own, I’m not in a position to play it myself — is a sweet cover by a couple of youngsters associated with that pony stuff: Andrew “MandoPony” Stein, from out of the fandom, and Michelle Creber, the voice of Apple Bloom. I bought the single; the YouTube version contains a couple of promotional voiceovers that don’t quite wreck the mood.

Anyway, I like “When You Wish Upon a Star” because it’s such a hopeful song. For one thing, it presupposes the existence of a dream … that there is something you long for, something you want. And then it expresses confidence that that dream can be fulfilled. (And of course, not all dreams ARE, though I would argue that the ones that are, to not get too theological, in “accordance with how the world should work out,” are.)

But of course, though the song does talk of wishing on a star, as I have learned as an adult, if you have a dream, as much as the fulfillment of that dream is up to you, you have to WORK to make it happen.

True that. If you’re waiting for something to just drop in your lap — well, you’re wasting your time sitting.

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Attendance will be taken

Tuesday, May 19: Brady Theater, Tulsa

Wednesday, May 20: Hudson Performance Hall, Oklahoma City

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You’re hearing this

The Tulsa Sound, says Wikipedia, is “a musical style that originated in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was a mix of rockabilly, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and blues sounds of the late 1950s and early 1960s.”

What's This I Hear cover artThere are occasional references to the Tulsa Sound in state publications, but this is the first compilation of recordings I’ve seen pop up. The prospectus:

From this vantage point, some 60 years later, and with so much water under the bridge, it’s hard to imagine just how much of a shockwave the emergence of Elvis Presley shot through the youth of America. This was no less true for the collection of young wannabe musicians who called Tulsa, Oklahoma, their home in the period of time the “Tupelo Tornado” twisted his way across the USA, leaving a trail of devastation and inspiration in his wake.

The “Tulsa Sound” would become one of the most influential strands of American Rock music in the 1970s, and beyond, and on this collection we take a detailed look at the early years of the artists that would go on to put Tulsa on the musical atlas. Featuring highlights from Tulsa pioneers like Clyde Stacy and David Gates, who would find fame as the lead-singer and chief songwriter for the massively popular Bread, this release also includes, for the first time, all 8 of the songs that the great JJ Cale recorded in his formative years in his hometown, before heading out to LA with other Tulsa friends, in search of glory.

Cale was recording as “Johnny Cale” in those days; by the time he’d signed to Liberty in the middle 1960s, he’d become JJ. (Birth name: John Weldon Cale.)

What’s This I Hear?, named for a pre-Bread song by David Gates, is due out from England’s Cherry Red label in February.

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That one moment in the sun

Then again, we’re talking Yuma, Arizona, which gets a lot of sun. Curtis Lee was born in Yuma in 1939; in the middle 1960s he joined his father’s construction business, took it over entirely in 1969, and ran it well into the 21st century. Cancer got him this last week at the age of 75.

Why are we talking about an Arizona homebuilder? Because of this:

This was Lee’s third single for Ray Peterson’s Dunes label. Lee wrote the song with Tommy Boyce, before Boyce and Bobby Hart were a name-brand songwriting duo; Phil Spector (!) produced. In the background were the Halos, a doo-wop group from the Bronx who sang on another famed Spector production, Gene Pitney’s stirring “Every Breath I Take.”

Spector also produced the follow-up, “Under the Moon of Love,” another Boyce/Lee collaboration, which just missed the Top 40. (And the B-side, “Beverly Jean,” is a gem.) Further recordings went nowhere, and Lee went back home to Yuma to, yes, build houses.

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Don’t sing with your mouth full

Last night, I was stocking up on $5 MP3 albums from Amazon — a couple of which, admittedly, could be had on CD for $4.99 — and this scurrilous tune was found in the downloads:

I have no idea how old this track is, though it has to be from before 2005; Dr. Demento has played it once. Composition is credited to “Kaniger,” so this must be Marty Kaniger and the other members of Big Daddy, who have a sort of ad hoc compilation called Cruisin’ Through the Rhino Years, stuff ostensibly recorded for that label, though obviously “It’s Hard to Say I Love You” came out on Muff-Tone (MT-069, of course). The B-side? Don’t ask.

Incidentally, this is hardly the first song on this particular topic, though arguably the most famous one in the post-78 rpm era was almost immediately banned once its subject heard it.

(You might not want to play these in the company of people who are easily offended.)

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Jimmy the Kid

How little was Jimmy Dickens? Officially, four foot eleven. He didn’t adopt the adjective, though, until he’d signed with Columbia in 1948 — he was then twenty-eight — and joined the Grand Ole Opry.

Pop audiences were scarcely aware of Dickens until 1965, when songwriter Neal Merritt, having seen too many segments of Carnac the Magnificent, penned a silly ditty called “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” Dickens waxed it for Columbia, watched it go to #1 on the country chart and #15 pop, and was still singing it in 2008.

The next Dickens hit followed the old rule: just like the last one, but different. “When the Ship Hit the Sand” had the same tempo, the same style, and probably the same Grady Martin guitar work. The title might have been a trifle risqué for the period: “Ship” hove to at #27, and never cracked the Hot 100.

When Hank Locklin (1918-2009) died, Dickens became the oldest living member of the Opry. He was still inclined to poke fun at the rest of the world. From the Country Music Awards in 2009:

By this time, the little guy had shrunk to four foot nine. And he made a pretty good Justin Bieber, too. You can’t get away with stuff like this unless you have a big, big heart, the kind that will carry you all the way to age 94.

Addendum: The oldest surviving member of the Opry now appears to be Jean Shepard, who was invited to join the Opry in 1955; she turned 81 in November.

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Stuck on replay

My working definition of a classic-rock station was, and is, one that plays BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business” unironically. This is just one of forty songs that, says Yeoman Lowbrow, have been ruined by American classic-rock radio:

Can any of you out there even remember how you felt when you first heard “Stairway to Heaven”? It’s been played so many times by classic rock stations that I can’t bear to hear it any more… I take that back. I no longer hate it; instead it has become almost a “non song” — no surprises, every note tired and stale.

Of course, it has the advantage of being eight minutes long, giving the DJ, assuming there is a DJ, a chance to go to the john, or to do, um, other things.

The tragedy is that this has happened to so many other brilliant songs which have been literally played to death over the decades. Sadly, it doesn’t have to be this way. Oftentimes, these artists have huge catalogs of songs to choose from, but the stations pick the same shit over and over. Why? Will people turn away if they hear a song they aren’t instantly familiar with?

I understand, you can’t just play obscure B-sides and expect big audiences. But would it kill these classic rock stations to slip in Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude” instead of “Do It Again”?

Heck, I’d settle for “Bodhisattva.”

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Thirty days of juke

A suitable introduction:

It’s like those “#1 on your birthday” sites, except this gives you only ten songs for the whole month. But you can hear all ten of them by pushing the appropriate buttons. The list runs out at December 1989, and if the World Wide Web were in existence in 1989, this page would look like it was that old; but don’t let that stop you.

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Not to be confused with Ten Years After

Roger sent this along, and I couldn’t possibly resist putting it up here: an analysis of decade-specific words in song titles listed in Billboard.

Some of these may seem obvious: if you hear a song with “twist” or some variation thereof in the title, it’s almost certainly from the 1960s. I ran a search on the database on my desktop, and between 1960 and 1988, there were 54 chart items containing “twist” — but 46 of them were before 1965. More startling: “you” doesn’t place in the top five of any decade until the 1990s, and “love” is a factor only in the 1980s, a gentle rebuke to those who think we’ve had enough of silly love songs.

And if we’re going to play pronouns, in the 90s “you” lives cheek by jowl with “u,” and “u” persists into the new century while “you” drops below threshold, though “ya” makes a top-five appearance. After 2010, all those variations on “you” are gone — but “we” is preeminent. Sociologists ought to have a field day with that one.

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