Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Recommendation Review - Hairspray: The Original Broadway Cast Recording

It's high time I started putting this blog back into use. I haven't put out an entry in far too long. I'm behind on new releases to share my thoughts on. And I haven't even started the project I entered into way back in the beginning of April, in which I promised to listen to and review the first ten records assigned to me.

No longer.

Today marks the start of Record Review Month. Throughout June (and I guess this last week of May), I'm going to put up 2-3 reviews a week. These will be a mix of the reviews that were promised and the shit I've been listening to in the meantime that I can't live without sharing.

To kick things off, I'm starting with the first record I listened to. This one comes from my friend Ethan.

Hairspray: The Original Broadway Cast Recording

The Tennessee Titans
The fact that "Fast & Furious" is still a thing
US Senator Angus King
Theater Music

This is a non-comprehensive list of things that I have no strong feelings about whatsoever. I technically know that they exist, and I'm aware that a fair number of people out in the nebulous "there" care passionately about them. But try as I might, I can't bring myself to either love them, hate them, or really give them any thought at all. Perhaps it's for this reason that Ethan decided to inflict Hairspray: The Original Broadway Cast Recording on me.

To give the uninitiated some background here, Hairspray is the story of a chubby girl from Baltimore who loves Rock n' Roll, loves dancing and really wants to be on the city's imitation of American Bandstand. Love plots and gratuitous dance routines ensue. Now, prior to this little "experiment", my only exposure to Hairspray was the 2007 film version, which I quite liked. But listening to the original cast recording without any of the play's simple, yet engaging story, I can't say that I've developed any new found passion for the medium. Hammy vocal performances, tropey songwriting and an undying devotion to the play's ridiculous caricature of early rock make this recording the audio embodiment of everything that turns me off about Broadway music.

Where to begin?

The first and most egregious mistake here is Marissa Jaret Winokour being front and center as the lead. She has that pitchy, sing-songy voice that's very typical of Broadway musicals. For those who listen to a great deal of this type of music, it's probably par for course. But I just find her unquantifiably irritating. The antagonist, portrayed by Linda Hart, isn't much better. With their powers combined, those two take up the vast majority of the record's 17 song tracklist. Tracks like "Good Morning Baltimore", "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now" and "I Can Hear Bells" are so bluntly saccharine that listening to them was almost physically painful.

Which brings me to the music. Like Chicago before it, Hairspray attempts to use the emergence of a controversial new music scene to drive the plot forward. Unlike Chicago, which truly did feature some excellent early jazz stylings, the 60s rock n' roll on display here is about as authentic as a plastic lawn flamingo. It tries to sound like a colorful version of the real thing, but never feels like anything but another collection of showtunes. What makes this particularly unforgiveable in this instance is that many of rock's early hits WERE re-imagined showtunes, so it's not as if the blueprint for a more genuine sound wasn't there. This lack of musical authenticity is only compounded by the cast's female vocalists, who simply are not singing early sixties rhythm and blues. The attempt to capture the spirit of early rock n' roll is obvious, but the individual elements that the record employs to do so seldom work well enough in tandem to be effective.

None of this is to say that there aren't moments of brilliance. To its credit, when Hairspray succeeds, it does so in marvelous fashion. "(You're) Timeless to Me" is a duet between Dick Latessa and Harvey Fierstein, the latter of whom is a hilarious show stealer throughout. Latessa sounds like a factory worker's imitation of Sinatra while Fierstein smacks of Tom Waits. It's cheekily executed, and funny, but also rings through with enough sincerity that you can't help but root for the couple. "Run and Tell That" is a wonderfully authentic slice of black R&B and is far and away the best track on the record. Corey Reynolds and Shayna Steele, the cast's primary black singers, are powerful and explosive, capturing soul music in a pre-Gordy era with utter perfection. The great tragedy of Hairspray is that the two appear in only four musical numbers combined. Their arc, which focuses on the struggle of black musicians to gain a white audience, is easily the best in terms of story and music. It leads me to conclude that this would have been a much better play if that had been the focus, rather than the chubby little white girl who wants to dance with all the hot kids. Finally, the jazzy track "The Big Dollhouse" has a comic noir vibe that complete sells the musical's prison sequence.

The unifying factor behind the successes is that they all have possess a distinctive character that separates them from the rest of the songs. Instead of horns screaming at me, as they do throughout most of the record, these tracks create an atmosphere that thematically ties the action in the lyrics to the music behind them. And that's really where my problem with this record lies. Chicago didn't lovingly recreate the era's musical styles just to do it. The music and effect it had on the characters were as integral to the experience as the characters themselves, and each individual song utilized a different, era relevant style to emphasize the story being told. The genres of the songs were all tailored to frame the conflict between the jazz obsessed leading ladies and everyone else in society who exists outside the subculture.  In Hairspray, however, the heart of the story is about finding inner beauty and following one's heart. It's a typical teen story that we've heard a thousand times before, and the music scene serves no other purpose than to provide an excuse for the story and the dance routines. This musical could just as easily have happened in 30s or 70s. The music is really just a bunch of loud fucking noise that vaguely resembles early rock n' roll. If you rearranged many of the compositions, you'd lose practically nothing of value because most of these songs have no individual character. One of the great strengths of rock n' roll is the diversity its fundamental elements can produce, and the complexity of its influences. Yet all the music here feels indistinguishable.

As musicals go, Hairspray is probably a perfectly good one, and the critical and commercial success it's enjoyed certainly seems to indicate as much. But at the end of the day, I just don't have any stomach for this sort of music. One would think that showtunes framed around early rock n' roll would do more for me, but Hairspray fails at imitating that music so spectacularly that I can't take it seriously in that context. It's possible that I'm just being a historic music snob, which I am wont to do. And it's possible that the production's costume design, dance routines and story helped strengthen the atmosphere that Hairspray was clearly aiming for. I wouldn't know, because I'm simply listening to the recording of the songs. But the music taken it and of itself rings hallow for me. At best, it's a passable imitation of great music that I can go listen to any time and at its worst, a cliche collection of obnoxious Broadway song tropes. Either way, it has no place in my collection.

I'd say something mean to you right now, Ethan, but I already forced you to endure Movie 43. I'd say that's punishment enough.

If you liked this, try:
Chicago: A Musical Vaudville - I already mentioned this a few times. Chicago sets out to do many of the same things that Hairspray did but actually manages to succeed in doing them. I'd go with the 1976 original cast recording because it has a few gems that got cut from the revival. It's a fun story with great musical numbers and memorable characters.

Miss Saigon: The Orignal London Cast - A lesser known musical by those of us who don't ever pay attention to them, this is another modern period piece (post-invasion Vietnam, specifically). The difference here is that the music is geared more toward traditional Asian folk than something that Americans would recognize as historic. It also has a lot of interesting things to say about the corrupting influences of capitalism and foreign intervention on the third world cultures they butt up against. Miss Saigon is definitely worth checking out if you're looking into musicals with a more intellectually stimulating side.

40 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti - Less for those looking to discover a newfound taste for Broadway and more for anyone interested in golden era rock n' roll. American Graffiti is a film classic, and is completely saturated with wonderful songs from rock's formative years. If you want an easy primer of the best rock n' roll of the late 50s and early 60s, you can't do much better than this soundtrack.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lyrics Quiz 1

Every now and then, I like to quiz people on lyrics that I find nifty. And seeing as my writing, both for music and in general has "stalled" a bit lately, I thought this would be a fun way to utilize a blog that's otherwise been growing dust. The rules are simple; I'll post a number of song lyrics, and you can take a guess at the song and performer. Each song will be assigned a point score based on my infallible assessment of its difficulty. There will be some points rewarded for the song title (the first number listed) and some bonus points if you can give me the original recording artist. For example:

"Take me now baby as I am
Hold me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is the banquet on which we feed"

Obviously the song is "Because the Night", which most folks are pretty familiar with. Guessing that would earn you 2 points. However, if you can tell me that Bruce Springsteen wrote and recorded that song before Patti Smith got her hands on it, you'd get an additional 5 points for a total of seven.

It goes without saying that all of these lyrics can be Googled easily. So don't do that. The purpose of the game is broken if everyone solves the whole thing in less than 5 minutes with Google searches.

1. (4/4)
"I hate Chao En Lai and I hope he dies
 but I think you gotta see
That someone's gotta go over there, And that someone isn't me
So I wish you well, Sarge, give em' hell
Kill me a Thousand or So
And if you ever get a war without blood and gore, well I'll be the first to go"

2. (5/5)
"You better stay aloof when the troops move
Or suicide booths sooth
The who's who of looters shoot
The bullets go zoom zoom"

3. (4/1)
"The keeper of the city keys
Put shutters on the dreams
I wait outside the pilgrim's door
With insufficient schemes
The Black Queen chants the funeral march
The cracked brass bells will ring
To summon back the fire witch"

4. (1/5)

"Just take it from me
I'm just as free as an daughter
I do what I like, just as I like
And how I love it!"

5. (5/5)

"I danced with a girl to the tune of a waltz
That was written to be danced an the battlefield
I danced to the tune of of the voice of a girl
A voice that called, 'Stand till we fall.'
'Stand till' all the boys fall'"

6. (2/2)

"Hits like a Phillip's head into my brain
It's gonna be too dark to sleep again"

7. (4/4)

"I remember only for an hour'
Move right through me, can you feel the power
I don't know what's going on
Scares me, but it won't be long"

8. (4/1)

"Brain dead, total amnesia
Get some mental anesthesia
Don't move, I'll shut the door and kill the lights
And if I can't be wrong, I could be right" 

9. (4/4)

"I know it's strange, another way to get to know you
You'll never know unless we go, so let me show you
I know it's strange, another way to get to know you
We've got till noon, here comes the moon
So let it show you"

10. (2/2)

"I know karate
Voodoo, too
I wanna make myself available to you
I don't need no makeup
I got real scars
I got hair on my chest,
I look a good without a shirt"

11. (3/3)

"And now it's 55 years later
We've had the romance of the century
After all these years wrestling gators
I still feel like cryin' when I think of what you said to me"

12. (4/4)

"My big brother told me when I was 14
'It's time I showed you what love really means,'
'Girls like kissin' and romance too'
'And a boy's got to know what a man's got to do'
He gave me a book, the cover was plain
Written by a doctor with a German name
It had glossy features, serious stuff
I read it seven times, then I knew it will enough"

13. (5/5)

"I kissed America
When she was fleecing me
She knows I understand
That she needs to be free
And I miss America
And sometimes she does too
And sometimes I think of her
When she is fucking you"

14. (4/2)

"Who count the money in the neighborhood?
But we spendin' money to no end, lookin' for a friend
In a war to the core, rippin up the poor in the stores
Til they got a brotha kickin' down doors"

15. (5/5)

"You wouldn't need the book
You'd own both slave and master
If you just had looked
But now the bank's all closed"

16. (3/3)

"The darkness is falling
The sky has turned grey
The hound in the distance is starting to bay
I wonder, I wonder what she's thinking of
Forsaken, forgotten without any love"

17. (2/2)

"Hot sticky scenes
You know what I mean
Like a desert sun that burns my skin
I've been waiting for her
For so long
Open up the sky
And let her come down"

18. (3/3)

"Hey street boy, what's your style?
Your dead end dreams can't make you smile?
I'll give you somethin' to live for
Have ya, grab ya, til you score"

19. (4/4)

"She gets confused
Fliyin' over the date line
Her hands turn red
Cause the days change at night
Change in an instant"

20. (2/2)

"Well your fingers weave quick minarets
Speaking secret alphabets
I light another cigarette
Learn to forget"

21. (3/3)

"You're makin' out with schoolkids
Winos and heads of state
You even made with the lady
Who puts the little plastic bobins on her Christmas cakes"

22. (4/4)

"I can hardly bare the sight of lipstick
On the cigarettes there in the ashtray
Lying cold the way you left them
But at least your lips caressed them while you packed
And a lip print on a half filled cup of coffee
That you poured but didn't drink
But at least you thought you wanted it
That's so much more than I can say for me"

23. (1/5)

"Along its southbound Odyssey
The train rolls out of Kankakee
And moves along past houses, farms and fields
Passing trains that have no name
And switchyards full of old black men
And graveyards full of rusted automobiles"

24. (3/3)

"Men just aren't the same today
I've heard every mother say
'They just don't appreciate that you get tired'
'They're so hard to satisfy'
You can tranquilize your mind"

25. (2/2)

"And I've been a fool and I've been blind
And I could never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I'm always dragging that horse around
All of his questions, such a mornful sound
Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground"

Friday, January 24, 2014

The 2014 Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards suck.

I like to think that I can talk about and/or listen to music with some degree of objectivity, including the lists and awards handed out by critics and institutions. But in a year that saw the release of albums like Aeroplane Over the Sea, Hello Nasty and Mermaid Avenue, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" won recording of the year. Only in an alternative universe in which corporate shills act as God would the theme for Titanic be considered a superior recording to "Holland, 1945" or "Ingrid Bergman". Hell, last year, Mumford & Sons' turd of a sophomore album beat out Jack White, the Black Keys and Frank Ocean for Album of the Year, insuring that "The Grammy Awards suck" should be treated by music lovers as a statement of universal truth to which religious reverence should be lent.


I could go on and on, but the problems that audiophiles have with the Grammys are as oft repeated as they are patently obvious. It's a waste of your time as well as mine to rehash them here. What I'd like to do instead is go over some of the categories to give my opinion on who should win the award and who I'd give it to in the ideal world in which I was responsible for such things.

The Grammys have a lot of categories, and I'm not so pretentious that I'd claim to know the right choice for every one of them. In a ceremony that gifts an award for "Best Regional Mexican Music Album" (which to me seems to have at least two redundant phrases in it), there are some categories that I don't even understand, much less have any knowledge of. I mean, what the hell is a "Contemporary Urban Album" suppose to be anyway?

So instead, I'll be focusing on the (admittedly quite large) handful of categories that I do have some authority to talk about. For your convenience, I'm using the list provided by the Grammy Awards themselves, which can be found here. That will give you some idea of what the hell I'm talking about when I throw numbers out there. According to the website, nominees qualify between October of 2012 and September of 2013, so I'll follow that guideline as well. It shouldn't exclude anything I'd nominate, in any case.

#68. Producer of the Year, Nonclassical


Rob Cavallo• All That Echoes (Josh Groban) (A) • Bright Lights (Gary Clark Jr.) (T) • ¡Dos! (Green Day) (A) • If I Loved You (Delta Rae Featuring Lindsey Buckingham) (S) • Love They Say (Tegan And Sara) (T) • Things Are Changin' (Gary Clark Jr.) (T) • ¡Tré! (Green Day) (A) • When My Train Pulls In (Gary Clark Jr.) (T) • You've Got Time (Regina Spektor) (S)

Dr. Luke

• Bounce It (Juicy J Featuring Wale & Trey Songz) (S) • Crazy Kids (Kesha) (S) • Fall Down ( Featuring Miley Cyrus) (S) • Give It 2 U (Robin Thicke Featuring Kendrick Lamar) (S) • Play It Again (Becky G) (S) • Roar (Katy Perry) (S) • Rock Me (One Direction) (T) • Wrecking Ball (Miley Cyrus) (S)

Ariel Rechtshaid• Days Are Gone (Haim) (A) • Everything Is Embarrassing (Sky Ferreira) (T) • Lost In My Bedroom (Sky Ferreira) (T) • Modern Vampires Of The City (Vampire Weekend) (A) • Reincarnated (Snoop Lion) (A) • True Romance (Charli XCX) (A) • You're No Good (Major Lazer Featuring Santigold, Vybz Kartel, Danielle Haim & Yasmin) (T)

Jeff Tweedy
• The Invisible Way (Low) (A) • One True Vine (Mavis Staples) (A) • Wassaic Way (Sarah Lee Guthrie And Johnny Irion) (A)

Pharrell Williams• BBC (Jay Z) (T) • Blurred Lines (Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell) (S) • Happy (Pharrell Williams) (T) • I Can't Describe (The Way I Feel) (Jennifer Hudson Featuring T.I.) (S) • Nuclear (Destiny's Child) (T) • Oceans (Jay Z Featuring Frank Ocean) (T) • Reach Out Richard (Mayer Hawthorne) (T) • The Stars Are Ours (Mayer Hawthorne) (T)

My Pick: The Grammy Awards themselves never start with the biggest categories, and neither will I. Rechtshaid and Cavallo's work listed are cavalcades of mediocrity and Dr. Luke's list represents almost everyone in the music industry that I'd like to set on fire, so I can eliminate them easily. That leaves Tweedy and Pharrell. While I have nothing but undying respect for Tweedy, and while his is probably the better body of work represented, it's extremely difficult to argue for anyone but Pharrell Williams. Williams is a genius in his own right, and his ability to make fantastic melodies out of a minimalist approach to instrumentation is actively changing the way pop music sounds for the better. On top of that, this was clearly the year his approach asserted its dominance through hits like "Blurred Lines", "Happy" and "Get Lucky". It's Pharell's year, and the award should (and will) go to him.

And if I had it my way: Probably the same, although there's really no excuse for Dan Aurbauch not being on this list. Aurbauch has become one of the preeminent talent scouts of the music industry, and the flashy sheen that his production puts on records is making those finds palatable to wider audiences.

#64 Best Boxed or Special Edition Package

The Brussels Affair (Charles Dooher & Scott Sandler, art directors (The Rolling Stones)

How Do You Do (Limited Edition Box Set)

The Road To Red Rocks (Special Edition)

The Smith Tapes

Wings Over America (Deluxe Edition)

My Pick: Probably Smith Tapes just because it's interesting. This is a weak field though. And can someone please explain to me how the hell Mumford & Sons feel that they warrant a box set after the release of just 2 albums? You're not the fucking Sex Pistols, so let's cool it on the legacy hunting.

And if I had it my way: Paramont Records Wonder-Cabinet. The set features the very best of music from one of the first major labels 15 years (1917 to 1932), and seeing as they were the first label to take a serious interest in recording American roots music, that makes this a hell of an intriguing find. Every tune has been remastered by Jack White's Third Man Records, the company releasing it. At a cost of just under $500, I can only dream of this box set. But I would do things to get my hands on it. Cruel, potentially unforgivable things.

#57 Best Soundtrack for Visual Media

Django Unchained

The Great Gatsby (Deluxe Edition)

Les Misérables (Deluxe Edition)

Muscle Shoals

Sound City: Real To Reel

My Pick: This is a strong category, masturbatory inclusion of Great Gatsby notwithstanding. My pick would go to Django Unchained. It's a great soundtrack, and QT's penchant for interspersing the best bits of dialogue from the film throughout the soundtrack works as magically as ever.

And if I had it my way: It's high time that this category, which was obviously left open ended to include more than film, if the need arose, start accepting video game entries. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few games that deserved inclusion at least as nominees, and two that should have won outright. The first was Rockstar's flawless soundtrack for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City from 2002, and the other is Bioshock: Infinite from this year. I've discussed it in two of my previous posts, so I won't bore you with the details, but the game's soundtrack is both imaginative, thematically perfect and extraordinarily well performed. There's only ever been one Grammy nod for a video game score, but Bioshock: Infinite should absolutely be granted the honor as well.

This is where the big jump happens. While best World Music, Gospel, Bluegrass, Blues and Roots Music albums are all categories I'm capable of playing in, I don't know enough to have a deep understanding of the nominees present. It's unfortunate too, because to me, those are the most interesting Grammy Awards. Taylor Swift will continue to get country music nomination nods for her perpetually shitty to mediocre music every year she craps out an album. That's because she sells millions of records and the corporate interests who run this award ceremony shoe-horn her in. These categories? No such fame and fortune. These are breeds of music with limited audiences, and Grammy awards and nominations here really do tend to go to the people who deserve them most. I'd go so far as to argue that the Grammy Awards represent a better gauge for artists in these categories than more prestigious institutions like the Pazz and Jop Poll, because they at least take the time to focus on them in the first place. Next year, instead of doing this, I think I'll do a write up of all the music present in the lesser known categories and rate that. But for now, I'm going to jump past them.

#29 Best Country Album

Night Train by Jason Aldean

Two Lanes of Freedom by Tim McGraw

Same Trailer, Different Park by Kacey Musgraves

Based on a True Story by Blake Shelton

Red by Taylor Swift

My Pick:  Those of you who've read me for a while know that I was very impressed by the work of newcomer Kacey Musgraves, and this collection of crappy pop artists gives her no competition in my eyes. I can't tell you how many years Tim McGraw has been turning out generic Nashville nonsense, but Musgraves' lyrical themes and the various bluegrass, blues and rock flavors have allowed her to blow the likes of him out of the water with her very first release. Musgraves represents a refreshing change of pace for the country world, and I hope her attitudes and style catch on.

And if I had it my way: Since the Grammy Awards seem to file anything that's not popular under "alternative" (a musical term that lost any meaning eons ago), I'll switch up the order a bit. For me, Neko Case is alternative country, and that means I'd give her the Grammy for Country Album. I'll go ahead and skip a step in giving her Best Country Song for "Man" too, while I'm at it. I've talked about Case's recent album extensively, so I'll spare you.

#25 Best Rap Album

Nothing was the Same by Drake

Magna Carta...Holy Grail by Jay-Z

Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick Lamar

The Heist by Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis

Yeezus by Kanye West

My Pick: I've stated many times that I've thought this was a weak year for hip-hop, and boy howdy is that reflected in this crop of nominees. Of these records, two are stinking turds, one is purely mediocre and only Mackelmore and Kendrick Lamar are particularly good. I'll pick Mackelmore for at least coming to the table with a fresh approach, but none of these records are exactly masterworks.

If I had it my way: Run the Jewels by Run the Jewels. Killer Mike and El-P combining to form a duo is about as dynamic and inspiring a rap collaboration as one could ask for. El-P is, for my money, the best beat master short of the Roots and Killer Mike throws down a fast-and-furious, hard pounding style of rap that's a joy to listen to. With their powers combined, the pair's debut collaboration is a relentless, fun masterpiece of street rap tragically ignored by the likes of the Grammys.

#24 Best Rap Song

Every one of the songs nominated in this category sucks, so I'm not even going to bother. I guess I'd go with "Thrift Shop" by Mackelmore for the win if you put a gun to my head, but it's just heartbreaking that a joke song is better than the other nominees.

If I had it My Way: "Walk us Uptown" by the Elvis Costello & the Roots. I've again written pretty extensively about this song and the album on which it appears. The Roots are the best.

#16 Best Alternative Music Album

The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight. The Harder I Fight, the More I Love You by Neko Case

Trouble Will Find Me by the National

Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails

Lonerism by Tame Impala

Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend

My Pick: I had initially planned to do a list of the ten most disappointing releases of 2013, but nixed the idea based on the sagely advice from Nelson Mandela that if you can't say something nice, it's best not to say anything at all (citation needed). I bring this up because no less than three of these five nominees were on that list, and one of the remainders was in serious contention for it. I won't  point any fingers as to which ones drew my ire, but here's a hint: it's everyone not named Neko Case. 

If I had it my way: This would be an entirely different list of nominees, for starters. Where is Savages? Where is Parquet Court? Why is Neko Case not in country? Trying to unravel the mystery that is the Grammy's categorization/nomination process leaves me with more questions than answers, so I'll cut to the chase and give this award to Parquet Court for Light up Gold.

#12 Best Rock Album

13 by Black Sabbath

The Next Day by David Bowie

Celebration Day by Led Zepplin

...Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stoneage

Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

My Pick: Uffda. I though the alternative selection was bad. 13 and Psychedelic Pill completely suck, The Next Day is strictly okay and Celebration Day was both a movie and a collection of old live footage rather than an album. I'll pick Clockwork, not for being one of the years best albums, but for being the only redeeming factor of this list.

If I had it my way: Burn them all. And then give the award to Richard Thompson for Electric

#12 Best Rock Song

"Ain't Messin Round" by Guy Clark

"Cut Me Some Slack" by Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney

"Doom and Gloom" by the Rolling Stones

"Panic Station" by Matthew Bellamy

My Pick: Just when I'd given up hope of seeing a well rounded category again, I find this. This is a pretty damn good list of songs. I mean, the right choice is "Doom and Gloom" by a thousand, thousand miles, but still...good on you, Grammys.

If I had it my way: The Rolling Stones deserve a ton of credit for creating one of the hardest rocking, most dynamic tunes of their career 50 years into it. Jagger and Richards were 69 years old when this song was recorded, and they sound just as badass as they ever did. Since it counts for this ceremony, I will absolutely double down on this choice.

I'll summarize pop here to save you all time

The pop categories at the Grammys are a total mess. There are too many variations to the Pop and dance music for me to cover them all, and there isn't a great album in between the lot of them. Pure Heroine is the closest thing to a complete package, and writing about how I like that one ten times is just going to get tedious. So instead, I'm going to write the ones I see appearing the most here.

"Get Lucky" by Daft Punk

"Royals" by Lorde

"Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke

"Roar" by Katy Perry

"Locked out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars

My Pick: I gotta say, this is a hell of a list. "Roar" is the only song on here I outright dislike, and even that one's entirely tolerable. Granted, I'm cherry picking, but even the songs that surrounded these ones in the eight odd pop categories are all pretty good. I'd probably have to give Lorde the nod here, although Daft Punk is seriously tempting. I've never been a fan, but Pharelle did a phenomenal job with "Get Lucky". Still, "Royals" competes very well with "Get Lucky"'s sound and ultimately has more interesting things to say. I'll go with it.

If I had it My Way: Chvrches would be nominated, and it would win. That's the more innovative pop record, no question.

#4 Best New Artist

James Blake

Kendrick Lamar

Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis

Kacey Musgraves

Ed Sheeran

My Pick: At this point, it would be no surprise to you that I'd take Musgraves. I've been over the reasoning for that repeatedly.

If it were up to me: This is one of those categories that irks me. What the Grammys mean when they say "best new artist" is "best artist that got insanely popular during this last fiscal year". Well, two can play at that game, Grammys! I'd like to nominate Chvrches and Bombino to replace Sheeran and Mackelmore. Bombino takes it for me, simply for being the single best guitar player making music today. Technically his breakout album Nomad was not his first, but Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis aren't exactly newcomers either. Failing that, then, I'd give Chvrches the nod. They're one of the most exciting bands to emerge this last year, and I'm eagerly anticipating their next step.

I'm not going to dignify the Grammy's album of the year list with a response. I'm not entirely sure why there's a distinction between the song and recording of the years, as those seem like synonymous concepts. So I'll skip to recording of the year to tally this off.

#1 Record of the Year

"Get Lucky" by Daft Punk

"Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons

"Royals" by Lorde

"Locked out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars

"Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke

My Pick: I should probably select "Royals" again, but for the sake of variety, let's go with "Radioactive". It's a great song that I still love, despite the shockingly brief time it took for Imagine Dragons to piss away their potential.

If it were up to me: This is a tough one, actually. I picked a favorite song of the year easily enough, but that was my personal favorite. To pick a recording that is great from a more universal perspective is a tougher choice. For the period presented, I choose "Doom and Gloom" by the Rolling Stones. Someday, when the Stones die/retire, "Doom and Gloom" will be remembered as the exclamation mark at the end of of the most legendary band in hard rock history. I like to think that the Stones' greatness really began with 1963's "Satisfaction" and if it ended with "Doom and Gloom", it would make for the best bookend singles in rock history. "Doom and Gloom" for the win!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Playlist: Post Drinking Songs

I don't get drunk often. But I do imbibe fairly regularly, and whenever I do, I get cravings. I tend to crave sweets (bad), food (worse) and, as you could probably guess by now, music. Typically speaking, my musical binges follow a logical line, in which I listen to entire albums, or at the very least have sensible transitions from one artist to another. Today at work, for instance, the musical progression went as follows:

1. Pet Shop Boys' 3rd Album
2. Talking Heads' Greatest Hits
3. A handful of David Byrne songs
4. King of America by Elvis Costello

See? Looking at that, it's entirely understandable how I got from point 1 to point 4.

Not so when I've had a few drinks in me. The cravings start, and that strong sense of order flies right out the window. The really sad part is that there are only about a couple dozen songs I ever get around to listening to when I come home after a night out, and the order in which I do them is a total crap shoot. They also have about as much in common as apples, oranges, baseballs and firecrackers. I won't share the full list for you, but here's a little sample of the songs that keep happening to me when I'm under the influence, and I suppose, in an inadvertent sort of way, what my brain must look like when that happens.

1. Dead Man's Party by Oingo Boingo

Will I play it drunk?: Undoubtedly. In fact, this will probably be the first song I play drunk. And the second. And the third...

Will I sing along?: Please. This is right there at the top of the list of songs that make me pretend I'm a rock star.

Will I dance to it?: That depends on one's perspective. I like to call it dancing, but those stuffy labcoats keep insisting that its the advanced symptoms of a seizure.

I've already written about my thoughts on this song, so I'll spare you this time.

Here's a tip for those of you who follow me on Spotify: you can always tell when I've been drinking because this song will have been played about five or six times in a row. I'm not proud of it, but the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.

Drink Pairing: Dark and Stormy

Supposedly dark, but ultimately sweet and kinda fruity. It's damn good, though, and packs quite a punch.

2. Love is Strange by Mickey and Silvia

Play: This one is sort of mood dependent, but the odds that I'll get around to it are fairly good

Sing: Naturally, and always Mickey's parts. Who doesn't enjoy the pretend notion of being in a duet?

Dance: Energetically and without shame, like I'm Patrick fucking Swayze

This one's similar to the previous entry, but without any of the attached shame. I can even put this one on in public, if I want to. On top of it being a classic, I find Mickey Baker to be one of the 1950s' more underrated guitarists. Despite being released firmly in the area of mopey doo-wop recorded for teens to make out to, this song has a lot of swing to it. So much swing that my hips are possessed by the disembodied spirit of Chuck Berry every single time I hear it, drunk or sober.

Drink Pairing: Gin Rickey

An American classic guaranteed to get you into that party spirit ahead of the sock-hop.

3. Body of an American by the Pogues

Play: Always. Gotta respect me roots

Sing: Yes. Because Anyone can sing along to the Pogues. No matter how much you've indulged, you'll never be as drunk as McGowan was when he recorded the song in the first place.

Dance: This isn't exactly a danceable track. Enthusiastic fist pumping, however, is always encouraged.

My friends who've endured this inevitable jukebox pick can thank David Simon and the folks at HBO for it. This has always been one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands, but it wasn't until I first saw its use in the ever marvelous detective wake scenes that I truly became addicted. "Body of an American" is one of the quintessential Irish American anthems by the quintessential Irish folk rock band. Play at high volumes only.

Drink Pairing: Jameson Irish Whiskey

"The fuck did I do?"
It's moments like this, when a bar echoes to the crooning  (slobbering) of Shane McGowan backed by proud, Irish folk music that you must ask yourself; what would Jimmy McNulty do? And Jameson is always the answer to that question.

4. Always on my Mind by the Pet Shop Boys

Play: Whether or not I get around to this one before I fall asleep is a real crapshoot.

Sing: Hooo, yeah. Ridiculous English accent and all.

Dance: Absolutely not. I barely dance in the first place, and I don't club dance ever.

On almost every album, the Pet Shop Boys include a cover of a song that an English synthpop band has no earthly business recording. And somehow, it's always one of the best tracks on the record. For their 1988 Introspective album, it was Elvis Presley's "You Were Always on my Mind", which they recorded to honor the tenth anniversary of his death. A great electronic song should be a deep experience with many layers of sound to get lost in, and this classic is no exception. For the Saturday night drunk, getting lost in electronica is awesome and the song's a classic, so you probably know the words. Best of all, it's 9 minutes long. So if you happen to pass out for part of it, it's no big deal. Fun Fact: I finished this entry in the time it took for this song to play through once.

Drink Pairing: A martini

You need a club drink for a song like this. That is what they drink in clubs, right?

5. Dixie Fried by Carl Perkins

Play: Maybe not on a normal night, but if I'm drinking in my hometown, I will absolutely play this song.

Sing: If I stick to the amazing Neimerg Winery, probably not. But if I venture down to the dive bar that all my high school classmates still hang out at, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be belting this song out through the streets on the walk home.

Dance: The Ozarks don't still enough moonshine

I am completely convinced that this Sun Records classic is one of the greatest drinking songs ever conceived by man. At least that's true if you're going to be drinking in some rural shithole. As glad as I am that the government has cracked down on drunk driving, I can't help but feel a little disappointed that I missed out on honky tonkin' while it was still a thing.

Drink Paring: Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonsine

It's gotta be original, and straight out of the jar like your grandpappy would have, but there is no better pairing for the anthem or rural debauchery than Ole Smoky. It's got that stilled-in-the-hills flavor without all that stilled-in-the-hills tainted liquor blindness.

Now, so far, we've only gone over good songs that I listen to when I've been drinking. But it's not really a bender until you start listening to the shitty ones that you can only admit you enjoy when you've got three or four drinks in your system. So let's get to that.

6. Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down

Play: Probably. I like this song much more than I care to admit, and under the influence is the only time I can listen to it without hating myself for it.

Sing: No way. Even guiltily indulging in something like this, I'm too proud to sing it out loud.

Dance: If there's a dance that goes with this song, I don't want to see what it looks like.

My brother and I developed the H-Rock theory. It details a genre of music that, while difficult to define, can always be determined by the unnecessary H added at the start of every other syllable. You know the type; Creed, 3 Doors Down, Chevelle, Nickelback...they all have the same jock vocalist, the same sound and a general lack of technical talent all around. And while I hate all of those artists almost as much as I've ever loved anything, I do like this song way, way more than I should.

Drink Pairing: Coors Light

Cheap, obviously mass produced and readily available at any frat party, this will still surprise you by being entirely decent.

7. I've Told Every Little Star by Linda Scott

Play?: Beyond question. This one's a perennial drunk Zack favorite.

Sing?: Let's just say that someday, the authorities are going to be called to my place because my neighbors keep hearing someone belt out "DUM! DA DUM! DA DA DA DA DA DA DA..." at 3 AM.

Dance?: I'm a man and I still have my dignity. No way on this one.

I'm being a little unfair to Linda Scott here. Guilty pleasures are supposed to suck, and this song is actually pretty good. Scott was a great singer, and the guitarist playing behind her is quite talented. The guilt, however, comes from how much I enjoy it. It's saccharine, poppy and hyper feminine, but goddamn if I don't love it anyway.

Ideal Pairing: Strawberry Daiquiri

It's way too sweet, and extremely girly, but ultimately goes down very pleasantly. For reasons of pride, you'd never order it in public, and you wouldn't want your friends to know how much you enjoyed it.

8. Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt

Play?: The odds aren't great that I'll play this, but if I do, it'll probably play about 5 times before I'm done.

Sing or Dance?: Not only have I never wanted to do either of these things, but I'm fairly sure that the Roman Pontiff declared it a mortal sin for other men to, as well.

My hatred of Christmas music is well documented, and it doesn't get much more kitschy than this. None the less, Kitt is a fantastic singer, even when she's putting on the baby voice. Musically, it's the exactly same kind of late 40s, early 50s jazz that I know many of you enjoyed in Fallout 3. So, really, there's a lot going on here, despite this song being pure Velveeta cheese.

Drink Pairing: Eggnog

On top of being seasonal, it's extremely bad for you in large doses. So if you're caught enjoying it outside of the 2.5-3 months out of the year in which it's socially acceptable, prepared to be frowned upon.

9. Homies by ICP

Play?: Not unless I'm with the Rude Dudes. If I am, then oh my God, yes!

Sing?: I have a full set of teeth, so no.

Dance?: .....

Like the Space Jam Theme and Nicholas Cage films, this song is wonderful for exactly the wrong reasons. And like those things, I can only truly enjoy them with a certain class of people. And awesome class of people. I am, of course, talking about the Rude Dudes; that wonderful band of college buddies with whom I enjoy drinking, chatting and watching the St. Louis Rams kick the shit out of the Saints. And apparently objectively terrible pop culture. Listening to this one brings back the best memories.

Drink Pairing: Colt .45 Malt Liquor

To partake, you must either be joking or very, very sad.

10. Captain Jack by Captain Jack

Play?: If I'm loopy enough, sure.

Sing?: Sheeeeiiiiit, there's video evidence out there of me doing that much sober.

Dance?: It would be an insult to the 90s if I didn't

If one were to tally up all the guilty pleasures I have out there, I would be willing to bet real cash that over half of them would be 90s dance pop songs. I love that music. And when it comes to goofy ass 90s songs, none is goofier, assier or 90sier that the 1996 classic (and I use that word pretty loosely, here) "Captain Jack". If this song doesn't at least make you smile, I'm not sure I want to know you.

Drink Pairing: Admiral Nelson Rum

A bottom shelf imitation of its counterparts that still manages to taste pretty good when you mix it. Also, that naval rank is bullshit.

That was a fun list. I think I'll do it again sometime.