Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (soundtrack)

Welcome to another "Soundtrack Sunday" on this Oscar Night 2011, the night Hollywood honors the biggest films from the previous year. My choice for today's blog entry is from a film that is so far away from Oscar-worthy material, however it has some great music.

I'm speaking of the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a musical that starred Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, Frankie Howard, George Burns, Paul Nicholas, Sandy Farina, Dianne Steinberg, Steve Martin, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Earth Wind & Fire and Stargard. The story is told entirely in song, as Billy Shears (Frampton) and the Henderson brothers (the Bee Gees) leave Heartland to become a famous band - leaving the idealized town prey to corruption when magical instruments are stolen by evil forces. Yes, you read that right. It is kind of a wonky plot. It was actually an adaption of a 1974 off-Broadway production.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Big Star - #1 Record

#1 Record is the 1972 debut album of the band Big Star. Rolling Stone ranked at as #438 in their Top 500 Albums of All Time list. It also is on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list.

I'm actually listening to this album for the very first time tonight, as I got a copy of it on a CD as one of the birthday presents from my teenaged son earlier this week. I had picked out about a dozen CDs at the local Best Buy as possible gift choices; he picked three to give me. Big Star was one of them. One of my old friends from college suggested I check them out since this was the first band Alex Chilton was a part of. So, checking it out for this week's entry of "Seventies Saturday"...

Side one opens with "Feel", which feels a lot like a late 60's Beatles tune (a good thing). "The Ballad of El Goodo" follows - it reminds me a bit of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. "In The Street" is a tune I have heard before - I'm a fan of That 70's Show. I never knew who did that song (or bothered to check really) until tonight. Definitely a different version but I'm digging it. (Side note: one of the creators of that TV show - Mark Brazill - went to the same high school as me - graduated a few years before me. Some places in that show were based on places in our hometown.) "Thirteen" is next - I like this one a lot too. Reminds me of growing up in the 70's. "Don't Lie To Me" picks the pace back up in a style very popular by early 70's bands. The side ends with "The India Song", which is like a lot of early 70's soft rock like America and such.

Side two kicks off with "When My Baby's Beside Me" and "My Life Is Right", a pair of pop-rock songs. Of the two, I found the later to be a bit more appealing to me."Give Me Another Chance" and "Try Again" slow things down once more. "Watch the Sunrise" reminds me a little bit of Pure Prarie League with its strumming guitars and soothing harmonies. The album ends with "ST 100/6", a less than a minute track. It is sort of anti-climatic in some ways - feels like an after-thought if you will.

Not bad for a first time through it. I liked it well enough. I have a feeling it will grow on me more with subsequent listens, dropped into shuffle rotation on my iPod and coming up in the context of other 70's records.

Comic Books of the Week (2/23/11)

Green Arrow #9 - the mystery of the forest continues with an all-out battle with the Demon. Why the Phantom Stranger dropped for four panels and left I don't know. The rest of the issue was okay, even though it was all just a battle. Reminds me of when we used to play Champions (a majority of the game session was taken up by combat that in real life would have lasted about a minute or two tops).

Justice League: Generation Lost #20 (of 24) - Winick gives us another bit of past tweaking by shuffling up and filling in some holes on Max Lord's history. Not much else happened after the end of last issue - when Blue Beetle II was shot by Lord, just like his predecessor. Did history repeat itself? We'll have to see. I am looking forward to this mini ending as it has been a little uneven.

Justice Society of America #48 - my dislike of this storyline and Guggenheim's writing grows. I think issue 50 might be my jumping off point. I love the team but I hate what he is doing to them. This title deserves to be great. It is far from it.

Legion of Super-Heroes #10 - while the elected team leader is away, the deputy leader is in charge. And boy does Brainiac 5 get things done. Clearly he knows how to efficiently dispatch the team and get things under control. Will they stay that way? Nice to see Yera again. I had almost forgotten about her. This book is really a gem and I am glad it is back in great style.

Teen Titans #92 - since I didn't pick up the crossover issue with Red Robin I was a little out of sorts. Krul caught me up well enough. Good to see Tim Drake back with the gang but I'm not sure how I feel about the ending. Having Damian on the team was a wildcard, one I didn't know well. With him out and Tim in (? not clear on that.) is this book more of the same old/same old? I hope it doesn't get that way. At least Krul is tying up some loose ends from former runs (dealing with the death of Marvin and the missing Kid Eternity). Points for that.

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America volume 5 - classic b/w reprints of the team from 1970 to 1973. This was the era I discovered the JLA. The first issue reprinted (#84) was the first one I ever remember owning as a kid. The run goes sequentially all the way through issues 105 and 106, when Elongated Man and Red Tornado join the League respectively. Dick Dillin's art evolves nicely over these issues - you can see the progression of his style. He was the League artist for me as a kid. Hopefully they can put out one more volume in this line (taking us to the late 70's).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Prince - 1999

1999 was Prince's fifth album (and first double-album to book), released on October 27th of 1982. This was the album that really helped Prince cross over into the mainstream. A lot of that had to do with the start of MTV and the videos released for key singles. The multi-Platinum album went to number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 200, number 25 in Canada, number 30 in the UK, number 35 in Australia, and number 6 in New Zealand.

The album is on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list and appears on two Rolling Stone magazine lists (number 212 on the Top 500 Albums of All-Time, and number 16 of the Top 100 Albums of the 80's). If you were a teen of the 80's, I know you have/had this one in your collection. If you didn't, I bet you knew someone who did.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book Review: Talking To Girls About Duran Duran

Earlier in the month I posted my review of Rob Sheffield's Love Is A Mix Tape which I enjoyed quite a bit. As soon as I finished reading that, I ordered his 2010 book Talking To Girls About Duran Duran: One Man's Quest For True Love and a Cooler Haircut. Like his first book, this second one is also autobiographical. It is actually a "prequel" of sorts, as he talks about mostly events from the period of 1980 through 1989 - the decade where he went from 13 to 23 - and how music of those years serve as audio reminders of events that occured there-in.

What I enjoyed about his first book was that Rob uses music to set the tone/framework for his chapters. He does the same thing here with each of the twenty-five chapters titled by a song. I liked that. I also like the song choices as many reflect my own musical tastes. He and I have a few other things in common: we're close to the same age (I'm two years older than he), we both were raised Catholic (he being Irish, me being Italian), we both worked a summer in the ice cream biz (he driving a truck, me in the freezers) and we both started the decade of the 80's as young men seeking to understand the female mind and ending the decade with a person we'd marry. I'm a bit jealous of him though - he actually went on to become a writer/journalist; that was always a dream of mine back then but instead I went to college and got a practical degree in computer science. But I digress...

Back to the book, I like how it started out. Not having sisters of my own (the closest was my aunt's daughters), the insights into how Rob and his relationship with his sisters was interested. Irish females sound a lot like Catholic females. And I like how it ended, with the beginnings of Rob and Renee's relationship that was chronicled in detail in Love Is A Mix Tape. The middle of the book though was like a roller-coaster for me - some high points where I was enjoying the ride and some low points where I was lulled by slow, flat sections of track. Focusing on the positives, I loved the chapters that included clubbing in Europe, Haysi Fantayzee and one-hit wonders, Ray Parker Jr., stalking Debbie Gibson, cassingles, working on the highway crew and as an ice-cream man, karoake (even though those events fell outside the decade period as they were more current stuff) and Duran Duran. It think I liked these chapters more because the interweaving of the music and the narrative was much more seamless (it didn't seem forced or an after-thought like a few of the other chapters).

For folks like me who went from awkward teen to more assured adult in the 80's, this is a good read. I would recommend it to my peer group from high school and college easily. Others older or younger might not "get it" as much.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rest In Peace, Dwayne McDuffie

My Twitter stream was full of the breaking news this afternoon. African-American comic book creator and animation producer Dwayne McDuffie had died suddenly. As evidenced by how quickly this news became a trending-topic, it is very clear how much this man and his work meant to so many people.

I was first exposed to Dwayne's work when he co-founded Milestone Media in 1992, a comic company whose focus was to bring ethnically diverse titles to the market. He served as editor-in-chief for the line as well as co-creator to many characters.

In 2000, he helped move one of those creations to the fore-front with Static Shock, a very successful cartoon on the Kids WB network. I recall often watching that show every Saturday morning with my elementary school-aged son. He enjoyed the show as much as I did. Like the comics where Static appeared before, the show was about presenting a diverse cast.

In 2001, Justice League debuted as an animated series on Cartoon Network. Dwayne was involved in that series in many aspects: writer, producer, story-editor on 69 of the 91 episodes total. Again, this was a show that my son and I watched religiously and enjoyed immensely. Through Dwayne's direction, so many great DC Comics characters got a chance to make their animated debuts.

The last comic work of Dwayne's I read was his short but very enjoyable run on Justice League of America a few years ago. Like so many of his other projects, he again helped to prevent a diverse League membership and even had Vixen doing a stint as the team leader in his run.

His work in all these fields are a legacy, albeit an abruptly shortned one, that will not soon be forgotten by fans of comic books and animation alike. The DC Universe is a little bit dimmer today.

Rest in peace, Dwayne.

Thompson Twins - Side Kicks

On January of 1983, the Thompson Twins released their third album Quick Step and Side Kick in the UK. Here in the US, the album came out on February 18th of that year under the simplified title of Side Kicks (their second release here). It went to number 2 on the UK charts and number 34 on the US Billboard Hot 200.

The US track listing is a bit different than the UK order; I'm going to review the tracks on the album in the order I know them (apologies to all my International readers).

Monday, February 21, 2011

the Belle Stars - the Belle Stars

In 1980, an all female British rock band formed in London when a ska band called the Bodysnatchers broke up. The group included Jennie Matthias on lead vocals, Sarah Jane Owen on lead guitar, Stella Barker on rhythm guitar, Miranda Joyce on alto saxophone, Clare Hirst on tenor saxophone and keyboards, Lesley Shone on bass and Judy Parsons on drums.

It would take a few years of hard work playing locally, a half dozen singles released on Stiff Records, and a four song EP called Another Latin Love Song (click here for that review) before they'd put out their only full long-playing record. That album was the self-titled the Belle Stars which was released on January 28th, 1983, and reached number 15 in the UK charts on February 15th, 1983.

The Beatles - Meet the Beatles

I was at my parents' house last weekend, thumbing through my older brother's vinyl collection, and ran across our old copy of Meet the Beatles. This was the 1964 US release (the second US album) by the Fab Four and took a lot from their UK release With the Beatles, right down to a slighly different version of front covers. Meet... ranked number 59 on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list while With... came in at 420. With... does appear on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list though.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Footloose (soundtrack)

Welcome to another edition of "Soundtrack Sunday".

On January 31st of 1984, the cold chill of the winter was driven away by the red-hot energy of the film Footloose. This film (with stars Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest, John Lithgow, Christopher Penn and Sarah Jessica Parker) was the story of a Chicago teen coming to a smalltown in the Bible-belt and discovering that music and dancing are pretty much forbidden. The message of the film - the power and importance of music (and dance) was a strong one, and the key to part of that was a kick-butt soundtrack album.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

the Police - Outlandos d'Amour

Welcome to another "Seventies Saturday", music lovers.

Outlandos d'Amour is the November 2nd, 1978, debut album of the Police. The trio of British rockers is made up of Sting (bass, vocals and harmonica), Stewart Copeland (drums), and Andy Summers (guitar). This Platinum selling album charted at number 23 on the US Billboard Hot 200, number 22 in Canada, number 15 in Australia, number 6 in New Zealand and the UK, and number 2 in France and the Netherlands. It holds the number 434 position on Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Albums of All-Time" list.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tom Tom Club - Tom Tom Club

Tom Tom Club is the 1981 self-titled debut album from Talking Heads band members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, and it charted at number 78 in the UK, number 23 on the US Billboard Album chart and number 18 in New Zealand. The husband and wife team decided to to this side project with a number of other musicians, and the album earned them a place in the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list. The mix of percussion, guitars, keyboard and vocals by Weymouth and her three sisters form a creative musical explosion.

Comic Books of the Week (2/16/11)

Due to a shortage in shipping to my local comic shop, no Legion of Super-Heroes or Doom Patrol this week. Hopefully next week. Meanwhile, on to the books that did arrive:

Brightest Day #20 (of 24) - the "Aquawar" continues here with a full issue focusing on Aquaman and his cast. The art and story worked great here, setting up clearly some plot threads for after this mini is over. Aquaman has benefitted greatly from these spotlights. I would love to see this creative team continue with the character in an ongoing series.

Booster Gold #41 - it was announced last week that Dan Jurgens is returning to do writing and art with issue 44. I can't wait! Given that, it feels like Giffen and DeMatteis are phoning it in on this final arc. The whole Dr. Nishtikeit stuff felt rushed and the whole imprisoned in the 25th century seems very contrived. Wake me up when 44 gets here.

Green Lantern #62 - not a big fan of this issue. I think it might have been Mahnke's art. The whole arc has been a bit drawn up - just to set up the "War of the Green Lanterns" arc which begins next issue. I hope it picks up a bit. GL needs to be big and exciting with the film coming out this summer. Right now, not so much for me (exciting).

Justice League of America #54 - good thing the heroes were on the cover and the first two pages, because otherwise I would have thought I picked up the wrong book. Given that, I love Eclipso and love the idea of taking an issue to give his background to those unfamiliar. But I do hope next issue we get to see the stars of this book as the vile villain puts his plan into effect (with help of his shadow warriors).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Human League - Dare

The third album by the British synthpop band called the Human League is Dare, released in the UK in late 1981 and in the US in mid-1982. It appears on both the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list and Rolling Stone's "Top 100 Albums of the 80's" list (appearing at number 78 on the later list). This album marks the band's change from an avant garde form of music to a more pop-centric approach. It is said to be a cornerstone of the new trend in pop music of the 80's and an influence to a lot of acts since.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Goonies (soundtrack)

Welcome to another edition of "Soundtrack Sunday".

It was the summer of 1985 and I was living in Dover, NJ, while working a college co-op job for an information processing company. Since I knew very few people outside of work, I spent a lot of my free time on the weekend at the movies - often seeing two to four new films each weekend. One film that came out during that time was the Goonies, an action-comedy written by Chris Columbus, directed by Richard Donner and executive-produced by Steven Spielberg.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Psychedelic Furs - Talk Talk Talk

Talk Talk Talk from 1981 was the second studio album from the Psychedelic Furs. It reached number 30 on the UK album charts and number 89 on the US Billboard Album chart. The album appears on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list.

The UK album/CD release has a different track listing order than the US version. I'll take a look at this album in its US format.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Cosmo's Factory

In the summer of 1970, the Fogerty brothers (John and Tom) along with Stu Cook and Doug "Cosmo" Clifford put out their fifth studio album, the classic Cosmo's Factory. This platter includes some of their most famous work - including three top-10 singles - and it appears on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before Dying" list as well as Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Albums of All-Time" (at position number 265). The band infused blues with a downhome, southern spin to create a musical masterpiece.

I am sure I heard a lot of this album growing up in the 70's - on AM radio, classic rock stations on FM radio, and from my older brother. I remember too getting into CCR a lot too when I went off to college in the early 80's. This was one rock album that seemed universally liked and enjoyed by all people. And rightly so - it is some great stuff. This is one of those albums that most likely is (and very well should be) in your music library.

For me, I'm rather partial "Travelin' Band", "Lookin' Out My Back Door" and "Run Through the Jungle" from side one, "Up Around the Bend", "Who'll Stop the Rain", and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (a smoking cover of Marvin Gaye's hit with that long, awesome drum-line played over and over) from side two.

Comic Books of the Week (2/9/11) part 2

Adventure Comics #523 - the title changes over from the Legion of Super-Heroes feature to the Legion Academy feature with this issue. Paul Levitz continues the writing of all things 31st Century and one of my favorite artists, Phil Jimenez, is on board for the art chores. I have to say I am loving this new feature and hope to see it for a long time. The Legion Academy is the training facility for young heroes - and the new crop of students looks very interesting. Old favorites from the LSH are around too - as instructors and such. If you are a fan of the LSH, you need to be getting this title too.

Birds of Prey #9 - "the Death of Oracle" story continues with Black Canary facing her biggest regrets (thanks to new villaness Mortis. Still, Dinah shows why she's the outstanding heroine that she is! The rest of the gals are in a tight spot too, but they can handle themselves (loving Lady Blackhawk in this series). And Hawk gets taken down a peg or two - always needed every now and again to keep that ego in check. I love what Gail Simone is doing on this title.

Flash #9 - "the Road to Flashpoint" begins here with major focus on Barry Allen, a vrey strange murder mystery and the introduction of a very interesting new biker character. All this is going to lead into the mega-event "Flashpoint" in a few months, when Professor Zoom decides to rewrite history and puts the entire DCU into a tailspin. Looking forward to that and the various crossovers that entail. Geoff Johns is doing outstanding work with this book and I have full faith in him for "Flashpoint" too.

John Byrne's Next Men #3 - where in the world is Bethany? This issue opens with that and allows Byrne to go light on the backgrounds (it does work for this environment though). We check in with the others lost in time too - Nathan in Nazi Germany, Jasmine in Victorian England, and Toni in Civil War South. There Byrne puts his artist talents to work, rendering each period well (clothes, backgrounds, etc.). The issue ends with a shocking reveal to Bethany, but we have to wait for next issue to see it. Looks like then we'll also get more on the "betrayal" her captor keeps alluding to. Good stuff.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Comic Books of the Week (2/9/11) part 1

Batman: the Brave and the Bold #4 - every issue since the relauch with a new number 1 has had a big name guest-star. This time out - Wonder Woman. This issue was a lot of fun with plenty of guest-stars and guest-villains. Clearly the creative team had a ball putting this one together. It was like a love-letter to the classic Silver-Age for both Batman and Wonder Woman, featuring the famous (and less famous) rogues from both their titles. I had to go to my Wonder Woman Encyclopeida to look up some of these folks - they're that obscure. A great issue and fun for both kids and the kid-at-heart (like me). It would have made a solid episode for the cartoon (which I hope returns soon - the show was a lot of fun too).

DCU Legacies #9 (of 10) - while the art was solid, I felt writer Len Wein was really stretching a bit to make this one work. It covers parts of the Final Night and Judgment Day minis from the late 90's, giving each story a huge Reader's Digest treatment. It does neither story much justice. The stuff with the pedestrian narrator and his family and friends didn't add much more to it. The back-up on the Marvel Family origins with art by Bill Sienkiewicz didn't work for me either. I'm kind of glad this one is wrapping up next month. It is probably helpful for a newcomer to the DCU, but this fan of over thirty five years was a little bored.

Justice League: Generation Lost #19 (of 24) - a nice focus issue on the Blue Beetle (Jaime) as he tries to escape from Max Lord's clutches. I liked everything about this issue - the art, the pacing, and even the homage to Countdown to Infinite Crisis of sorts. Should that final page "shocker" worry me? No, not really. I think a certain character is too good to meet a final fate at this time. Looking for a solid finish to this mini over the next couple months. The creative team needs to kick in the high octane from here on out.

REBELS #25 - round two of the battle between the space-heroes and Starro's forces continues in this one. Most of the cast gets touched upon, which is hard to do with a book like this with many players. Lobo of course gets in some of the best stuff, including the issue ending fight between he and Storm Daughter. I hear this book's sales keep dropping, so I have to wonder how many more months we'll have before the plug gets pulled. Time will tell. Enjoy it while you can, readers.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Who - Who's Next

Taking a jump back to 1971(40 years!!!) to a classic in every sense of the word - Who's Next by the Who. It was the fifth album by the classic Brit quartet of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. This album appears on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list as well as ranked number 28 in Rolling Stone's "500 Best Albums of All-Time" list and number 13 on the VH-1 countdown of greatest albums ever.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pretty In Pink (soundtrack)

Welcome to Soundtrack Sunday, another feature I want to try here on my blog. Each weekend (for awhile at least) I'll pick an album that served as a soundtrack for a film, giving you my thoughts on the music that makes it up.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Architecture and Morality

The November 8th of 1981 release Architecture and Morality by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD, for short) was their third album release and one of their most successful commercially and critically. The Platinum seller went to number 144 on the US Billboard charts, number 22 in New Zealand, number 8 in Germany, number 3 in the UK and number 1 in the Netherlands. It also appears on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Rolling Stones - Some Girls

Welcome to Seventies Saturday.

This week, I've picked the Rolling Stones and their 1978 album Some Girls to kick things off (which was released on June 9th). Now, this is not one I had on vinyl myself, but I heard it plenty thanks to my older brother who was a huge Rolling Stones fan. He played this one often on his turn-table in his room as well as having a cassette recording of the tracks to play in his car. I remember too how the inside sleeve slid into the outer album jacket, allowing you to align different images of Mick and the band members with wigs for funny combinations. That's not something you get when you have the CD version. As for the music, it was pretty popular stuff with most of the tracks being played on the album rock stations. The album also appears at spot number 269 on Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Albums of All Time" list.

Comic Books of the Week (2/2/11)

Brightest Day #19 (of 24) - First, Deadman questions the white ring after what happened at the shocking end of last issue, and he doesn't like the answer. Then the Aquawar is here! The rest of the issue is devoted to Aquaman and Aqualad as they face Siren's army and Black Manta. And this issue ends with a shocker as well! The third act is looking good so far as we race to the conclusion. Bravo to Johns, Tomasi, Reis and Prado on a well done book.

JSA All-Stars #15 - part two of this arc introduces the menace of the Puzzlemen, a weird and wacky ancient threat. I think Matthew Sturges and Freddie Williams II are hitting their stride now with this book. I hope they continue, especially with the character growing subplots.

Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1 - While I have been loving all things LSH since the book's relaunch last year, including the use of Adventure Comics as a second outlet for the group, I just didn't feel this annual. While Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen made a great team on this group back in the day, today it didn't work. Paul's story was all right, and Keith's layouts were fine but where it broke down was Keith's finishing on the art. It seemed to "blocky" and "unattractive", something that happens a lot when he does full art on books. It sort of ruined the epicness of the story of this latest Emerald Empress for me. I did like the presentation of the LSH history via a board game (cute idea) and the Interlac A To Z feature.

Secret Six #30 - a nice part 1 of a two-part crossover with the Doom Patrol. Unlike last month's crossover with Action Comics, this one really worked for me. Gail had the team back to their usual form, and the introduction of Eric and his "rat-pack of crime" mentality was fun. This is Gail at her best. Calafiore's art was great too. I'll definitely be seeking out part two in Doom Patrol later in the month.

Time Masters: Vanishing Point #6 (of 6) - Dan Jurgnes ends this mini series on a strong note. The whole "search for Batman" thing was sort of secondary as an excuse for Dan to get Rip Hunter, Booster and some guests in for a good time travel adventure. I love how this mini brought in 70's characters like Claw the Unconquered and Starfire (a sci-fi heroine) into the mix along with menaces like Professor Zoom and the Black Beetle. And, of course, the best part is that the fun doesn't stop here. It continues in Booster Gold #44 and Flashpoint #1. The icing on the cake would be if Jurgens would return to story and art on Booster's title. He really does these characters proud.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gang of Four - Entertainment!

My first exposure to the Gang of Four was through their 1982 song "I Love A Man In a Uniform" from the album Songs Of the Free. I liked that song a lot. So, when I got my first CD player in 1990 I happened upon two earlier disks by the band in a bargain bin. I figured I might like them so I picked them up. One was their 1979 debut Entertainment!.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Non-Stop Soft Cell

I have been a big fan of the English synthpop duo Soft Cell (Marc Almond on vocals, David Ball on instruments) since my Junior year of high school (almost 30 years ago). It was likely their number 1 hit "Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go" that first hooked me (this song is still one of my favorite 80's tunes today, especially as an extended mix version) and hearing other tracks by them on the nearby SUNY Fredonia college radio station that lead me to seek out their music on vinyl. It also helped that my best friend at the time (John P.) was also into the band - he too picked up a few disks of theirs and we often listened to them when hanging out at his house.

Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret was their first album released in late 1981 and ended up on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list as well as College Music Journal's "Top 25 College Radio Albums of All Time" list. While I had some of these tracks on greatest hits collections, I didn't complete my MP3 collection of them until a few years ago. It was kind of cool being able to "discover" some of the songs I was missing after all these years - like a familiar voice from the past on the other end of the phone saying "hello" (but not waving goodbye - these songs are here to stay in my collection).

Book Review: Love Is A Mix Tape

In late December, I picked up a copy of Rob Sheffield's 2007 autobiographical book Love Is A Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. Rob is a frequent contributing columnist to Rolling Stone magazine and a lover of all kinds of music. Through this book, he details the story of his courtship and marriage to Renee Crist, a fellow DJ and mix tape aficionado. The romantic tale takes a turn, though, as Rob lets us into a very personal time of his life - his dealing with love lost and moving forward after Renee's tragic, untimely death at a very young age.

What I found appealing about Love Is A Mix Tape is how quickly Rob pulled me into his world, using a easy-going, conversational voice to his narrative. It was like you were sitting across the table from him over dinner and he was telling you the story of he and Renee. This made the book one that you want to keep reading and not want to put down. I managed to finish it over the course of a couple nights rather than my usual week plus. As someone who loves a lot of different genres music, I also enjoy how Rob peppered the narrative with lyrical references along with other pop-culture allusions.

And, of course, the use of the mix-tapes (actual tapes from his own personal collection) to frame each chapter was a nice style point too. I would look over the list of songs before starting the chapter, mentally drawing some connections based on artists and titles to see how they might fit. Then I would enjoy what Rob had to say about the songs as they applied to the aspects of his life at the time.

Now, who among us hasn't made mix-tapes some time in their lives? I used to do it all the time back in Junior High, high school and even some in college. Back then I used to tape songs off of the radio or sequence together songs from my 45's and albums to listen to on the tape deck on my stereo, my boom-box or in my car (first an 8-track deck, later a cassette deck). Even today, I do the mix-tape thing a lot with my MP3s - using iTunes to craft together playlists based around themes or Genius-suggested groupings of songs. It is fun and it allows you to occasionally see songs in a different light when juxtaposed with songs by different artists or in different styles.

I strong recommend this book to anyone who loves music as well as anyone who has ever truly been in love. The story will capture your heart, make you think about your own life, and maybe encourage you to dig out an old mix-tape from that shoebox in the back your of the closet or bring up your iTunes to create a new playlist.

You can also follow Rob on Twitter at @robsheff - if you're so inclined. I find his tweets to be both informative and entertaining.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Adam and the Ants - Kings of the Wild Frontier

I have my older brother to thank for my first exposure to Adam and the Ants and, in particular, this album - Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980). Besides being one of "the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die", it happens to be my favorite by the group. It was the second of three albums the band did before Adam went off to his solo career. The combination of the dual drums, the driving guitars and, of course, Adam Ant's unique vocal styling make for an early new wave masterpiece.