Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: One-Hit Wonder Soul Divas of the 80s

Bear with me this week, everybody. I'm heading down to New Orleans today to catch the jazz festival with my wife. I might give you some updates in this space on the great music we're going to catch, but new posts may also be spotty until I get back Sunday.

Anyway, back to today's post …

My tolerance for dance tunes is pretty low, I have to admit.

There's only so much I can take of the electronic beat boxes, droning rhythms and the repetitive choruses before I want to either head for the nearest exit door or switch to another station.

I do make a few exceptions, of course – most notably with these two tunes, which made a pretty significant dent on the charts during the 80s.

Why? I'd like to think that Jocelyn Brown and Gwen Guthrie have the pipes that their contemporaries on the 80s dance scene lacked.

Plus, behind that disco beat, are some pretty nifty hooks.

I'm particularly fond of Brown's "Somebody Else's Guy," which I'm always tempted to stick in with my retro-soul mix CDs despite its decade. She really slays me on this song, which hit #2 on the r&b charts but only #75 on the Hot 100 in 1984. Brown has mostly stayed in the background during her career, co-writing some songs with Boy George and touring with Culture Club for a spell.

Play "Somebody Else's Guy" by Jocelyn Brown

I'm less attached to Guthrie's "Ain't Nothing Going On But The Rent" (1986) – perhaps because it's less interesting musically. What is interesting is that unlike many of her contemporaries, Guthrie actually wrote her own songs – including this smash hit, a song that has become a feminist anthem in some circles. It hit #1 on the r&b charts and #45 on the Hot 100 to become Guthrie's biggest hit.

A sad note: Guthrie died at the age of 48 in 1999 of uterine cancer.

Play "Ain't Nothing Going On But The Rent" by Gwen Guthrie

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Soundtrack Sunday – "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai"

Harold Faltermeyer. Jan Hammer. Vangelis.

These are all composers who hit it big during the 80s with their synth-based scores.

Although he never made it to the Top 40, Michael Boddicker deserves to be added to the list – thanks to his memorable and unique score for the equally unique cult film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), more simply known in most circles as Buckaroo Banzai.

It was one of those films you either loved or hated when it first came out. Some people couldn't get into it because of the complex plot machinations and heavy pseudo-scientific devices (Beings from the 8th dimension? And why did some of the aliens look like Rastafarians?) I have to admit that I had to watch it a second time before I completely understood what was going on.

But that was besides the point. The film is big campy fun – kind of like a comic book for the big screen, which it was designed to resemble.

The cast also made the film entertaining by itself. What other movie includes the likes of Peter Weller, Jeff Goldbum, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin and Christopher Lloyd? You've also got the bed-ridden President of the United States being played by Ronald Lacey, the evil Nazi in Raiders of The Lost Ark, Yakov Smirnoff as his national security adviser and Billy Vera (Mr. "At This Moment") as a member of Banzai's group, the Hong Kong Cavaliers.

To summarize it briefly: Weller is a scientist, brain surgeon, comic book hero and rock musician who needs to stop evil aliens from escaping from the 8th dimension after one of his experiments accidentally lets them loose. Inexplicably, the film ties in these aliens to the fake "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast in 1939.

Back to the music: Boddicker, a synthesizer player who worked with Michael Jackson, was hired by music coordinator Bones Howe to provide the music and some of the ambiance for the movie. His equivalent of "Axel F" came during the end credits which finds Weller and the rest of the cast walking around a dry Los Angeles aqueduct. According to IMDB, the music wasn't ready yet so Boddicker told the film's producers to blare out "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel for the filming because it would have the same tempo.

The song for the end credits that Boddicker came up with never became a big hit (just like the film itself), but it has become almost as fondly remembered as the movie itself.

Play "Buckaroo Banzai (End Credits)" by Michael Boddicker

Here is that final scene.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cover of the Week – Radiohead "Nobody Does It Better"

I have to admit that this song is a rather sentimental choice because it was something I included on the wedding mix CD my wife and I handed out to our wedding guests last fall.

The reason: She loves Radiohead. Among other things, I love James Bond theme songs, Carly Simon and lots of 80s cheese she can't stand.

With this song, we're both happy.

In 1995, before launching into a live performance of the song, singer Thom Yorke decribed it ass the "sexiest song that was ever written."

I never would have thought that the song would have worked with a male singer, but in the case of Yorke, it sure does. You can almost picture him caressing the mike as he croons out every word, increasing the sensuousness of the lyrics with every verse. Vaguely homoerotic, but definitely a keeper, as far as I'm concerned.

Play "Nobody Does It Better" by Radiohead

Incidentally, I don't know how many of you caught the Rolling Stone article analyzing the financial success of Radiohead and other superstar bands that self-released their own albums in the last year. But according to the magazine's own math, despite the thousands of free downloads of In Rainbows (2007), the band likely netted $5 million – compared to $2 million from their last major album, Hail to the Thief (2003).

As a bonus, here's a music video of the band performing the cover.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday's Radio Show: The Name Game

Here's the playlist from Wednesday's radio show. As always, the underlined or highlighted represents songs that can be played.

Alex Chilton Replacements (1987)
Brian Wilson Barenaked Ladies (1992)

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone Sleater-Kinney (1996)
Velvet Underground Jonathan Richman (1992)

I Saw Nick Drake Robyn Hitchcock (1999)

Axl Rose SR-71 (2004)

Buddy Holly Weezer (1994)

Don Henley Must Die Mojo Nixon (1990)

Bessie Smith Bob Dylan & The Band (1975)

Frank Sinatra Cake (1996)
Sir Duke Stevie Wonder (1976)

The Late Great Johnny Ace Paul Simon (1983)

Elvis Presley Blues Gillian Welch (2001)

Jackie Wilson Said Van Morrison (1972)

Levi Stubbs' Tears Billy Bragg (1986)
Aretha, Sing One For Me Cat Power (2008)

Almost made it: "Gene & Eddie," Stray Cats; "Bob Dylan" Nine Days; "Richard Manuel is Dead" Counting Crows; "Hank Williams," Ry Cooder; "Blind Willie McTell," Bob Dylan; "Antonio Carlos Jobim," Heatmiser; "When Smokey Sings," ABC; "Pure Smokey," George Harrison.

No way: "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin" Scritti Politti

Just like last week's show, this idea has been brewing in my head for a while: Musicians singing about other musicians. Not just any musician, but specific ones. And (well, for the most part) great ones. The requirement: The song had to specifically mention that musician's name and hopefully not be just a tossaway line.

Also, just like last week, the best part of compiling this show was finding songs to fill in the gaps. It was always nice to have an excuse to play songs by unique talents such as Jonathan Richman, Robyn Hitchcock and Mojo Nixon.

Here are the notes:
  • As much as I like the BNL's original version of the song, I wanted to play Brian Wilson singing "Brian Wilson" on this show. Talk about a perfect Being John Malkovich moment. Alas, I couldn't track down a copy of his Live at the Roxy Theatre (2001) album, which features Brian and his backing band doing an a capella version of he song

  • Word is that Mojo Nixon has new lyrics for his viciously funny diatribe against the former Eagle, who "sings just like a wounded beagle." That's because in the middle of a performance in Austin, Texas, in 1992, Mr. Henley jumped on stage and provided Mojo with backing vocals. Said Nixon afterwards: "He has balls the size of church bells." Word on the net is that Phil Collins or Rick Astley became Nixon's target of ire in live concerts (or maybe both, I don't know)

  • Still brewing in my mind is a similar show with songs about actors and actresses. Such as: "Michael Caine" by Madness, "Grace Kelly" by Mika and "Steve McQueen" by Sheryl Crow. You guys will be the first to know whether I'm happy with what I ultimately collect.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: SR-71, the Smart A** Punks

So why exactly did her dreams go out the door when she turned 24?

Yeah, you remember that line. From Bowling for Soup's big hit from 2004, "1985," which I opted not to include during last week's "Reeling in the Years" radio show.

That's because if I was going to play any version of that song, I was going to play the original version by SR-71. Which does indeed answer that question in a line that probably wouldn't have made it onto Radio Disney or any Kidz Bop album.

Instead of SR-71, I went with Paul McCartney's "Nineteen Hundred Eighty Five," a lost classic from his Band on the Run (1973) album.

So I'm making up for it this week with a two-fer about this Baltimore band, whom I accidentally discovered when a friend gave me their debut CD Now You See Inside (2000) a few years back. It contained the semi-hits "Right Now" and "Politically Correct," which you might have heard in a couple of video games or teen movies. (Just to bring it full circle: The band makes fun of the former Beatle on a track called "Paul McCartney")

Yes, SR-71 has got really loud, crunching guitars. But really, the band is more of a power pop group with an ear for melody – and a smart-ass attitude, thanks to lead singer Mitch Allan's sarcastic lyrics.

A bit of trivia for you: That's Allan as the mailman shaking his head early on in the famous Bowling For Soup video of "1985," which you can see here

Now, here's the SR-71 version of the song.

Play "1985" by SR-71

A few years later, after the band had been dropped by RCA, Allan recorded another blast against living in the past – ironically, something we do every day at Play It And Be Damned. As you'll hear, this song makes even more fun of folks who can't live the present day– particularly those "still rockin' the ponytail." You'll find both this song "Axl Rose," and the original "1985" on Here We Go Again (2004), which was only released in Japan.

Play "Axl Rose" by SR-71

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Soundtrack – Really Rosie (1975)

How often do you find something that combines one of your favorites from your childhood with one of your more recent favorites of your adulthood?

The answer: Not often enough.

Years ago, when my kids were smaller, the limited amount of music they would enjoy during road trips would drive me crazy. I mean, how often can you hear the Mulan (1978) soundtrack without all those Matthew Wilder songs sounding the same? And all those Barney songs used to want me to drive into the nearest ditch …

Sure, there's Schoolhouse Rock. But truthfully, that's for kids who are a little farther along in their development. Let's face it: "Conjunction junction/What's Your function" has very limited entertainment value to a kindergartener.

Fortunately, at some point, I remembered one of my favorite albums from my childhood, found a CD of it – and managed to survive the era of little musical taste.

That album? Really Rosie (1975).

The soundtrack to an animated CBS-TV special, the half-hour show brought some of Maurice Sendak's characters to prime time: The Nutshell Kids, the characters in Sendak's pre-school books, The Nutshell Library. The series of mini-books include "Pierre," "Alligators All Around," "One Was Johnny" and "Chicken Soup With Rice."

Bringing them all together was a little girl simply known as Really Rosie, who in her own words is "a great big deal." Or at least she thinks she is. Based on a little girl Sendak never personally knew but used to sketch endlessly from the window of his apartment, the author said the 10-year-old Rosie provided him with the boilerplate for his unique kid lit characters.

In the special, which Sendak wrote and directed, Rosie thinks she can become the big star that she always knew she would be by putting on a show. And she has her friends in the neighborhood audition. They audition by performing the stories in their books.

The books were great in their own right – more than worthy anchors to the Sendak collection that includes "Where The Wild Things Are." But set to the music of Carole King, they really take off.

Three years after the mega-success that was Tapestry (1971), King was in the midst of slump. Nothing she had put out since then had approached the wonderfulness of that album. But with Really Rosie, Sendak must have been a near-perfect muse. Not only did she compose the songs, but she sang all of them – with her daughters Sherry and Louise Goffin providing kid backing vocals.

Truly, King and Sendak were really meant to be together: Two Jewish kids who grew up in roughly the same Brooklyn neighborhood. King knew what was needed to capture Sendak's magic with her 11 songs – 12 if you include a reprise of the title track.

To this day, in the same way some folks can't help sing the preamble the constitution when they read it, I launch into an internal chorus of "Pierre" whenever I hear someone say "I don't care."

Play "Pierre" by Carole King

And I can't help grin whenever I enter the soup aisle at the supermarket.

Play "Chicken Soup With Rice" by Carole King

As Sendak himself said in the liner notes to the 1999 CD reissue, King's music is "an amazing incarnation of that tough, talented street kid … She was and, of course, will always be the most Really Rosie of them all." Which is why even though "Really Rosie" has morphed into a musical theater production (Patricia Birch of Grease fame directed the original off-Broadway production, which I also saw) that is still produced by kid theater groups around the country, Rosie just ain't the same without Carole behind the mic.

Play "Avenue P" by Carole King

Here's a treat for those who missed the original special and never saw the VHS tape (it has yet to be officially released on DVD). Someone recently posted, in three parts of ten minutes each, the entire Really Rosie special on YouTube. Yes, the animation isn't the greatest (rumors are that Sendak wasn't terribly hands-on with his direction and let others take charge of the show's look). But it truly beats a "Scooby Doo" episode any day.

Or an endlessly repeated "Barney" tape, for that matter.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cover of the Week: Nick Drake's "Day is Done" by the Charlie Hunter Group featuring Norah Jones

Are you a Norah Jones buff? Do yourself a favor. Don't just confine yourself to her solo work. You might find new and more interesting dimensions to this singer.

For example: Before she ever hit it big, Norah Jones got together with record producer and musician Peter Malick, who introduced Jones to the blues and invited her along to sing at some of his small gigs.

That collaboration ultimately resulted in a recording during the summer of 2000 that wasn't released until 2003, a little while after after Jones' debut Come Away With Me (2002) redefined what kind of music Americans bought.

For those looking for an earthier Jones, New York City (2003) is an excellent place to start. The title track, which I've already featured in Big Apple-themed radio show, is a looping number that encapsulates almost every native's love-hate relationship with the city.

Then there's the Charlie Hunter Quartet's Songs from the Analog Playground (2001), which features the jazz guitarist collaborating with a variety of guest vocalists. Jones is featured on two numbers. One is a rather forgettable version of "More Than This," which once again shows it's impossible to improve on the perfection of the Roxy Music original. The other is far more interesting: "Day is Done," the Nick Drake song, which (if possible) Hunter and Jones manage to give a starker sound than the already-bleak original.

Give it a spin. Tell me if you agree. In any case, it's a worthy addition to the Norah Jones canon.

Play "Day is Done" by Norah Jones with the Charlie Hunter Quartet

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wednesday's Radio Show: Reeling in the Years

Here is the playlist from Wednesday's radio show. As always, you can play the underlined or highlighted links.

1970 The Stooges (1970)
Kevin Danzig (2006)

1972 Josh Rouse (2005)
James Blunt (2007)

Ryan Adams (2003)

Hushpuppies (2004)

Grand Funk Railroad (1976)

The Clash (1977)

Salim Nourallah (2004)

Smashing Pumpkins (1995)

1980 Gil-Scott Heron (1980)
Public Image Ltd. (1984)

Randy Travis (2001)

John Mayer (2001)

David Bowie (1974)

Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five Paul McCartney (1973)
Discover America (2005)

Almost made it: "1969," Vines; "74-75" The Connells; "1975" Everclear; "1978" Gizmos; "1981 (Trip or Freak)" Angry Samoans; "1984" Eurythmics; "1985" SR-71

No way: "1985" Bowling for Soup

One of the great things about being back on the airwaves is that I have a chance to put together ambitious theme shows that have been germinating in my head for a while. Such is the case with this show, which has been loosely gathered together in my iTunes library for quite a while. The challenge, of course, was filling in the gaps on my year-by-year progression. But that was also part of the fun, as you'll read below.

By sheer coincidence (and time limitations), the years exactly mimic my non-adult school years: Kindergarten (in 1970) through college graduation (1986). Don't you love it when things work out that way?

Here are the notes:
  • Rockers are a nostalgic lot, aren't they? Of the 17 songs featured on this show, 11 look back on prior times – nine by 16 years or more. Several of the songs, I think, reflect the singer's birth date. That makes sense, considering it will always be the biggest year of their lives. right? It's also worth noting that the four songs set in the same year as they were released are the most politically-charged of the lot.

  • As I said, part of the fun of this show was tracking down music to fill in the gaps. Gil-Scott Heron had nearly left my consciousness until I was pointed to the title track of his 1980 (1980) album. Truly a man ahead of his time, I would say. Apparently, not too many musicians look back fondly on 1971, yet I did manage to find folkie Kevin Danzig's little Beatles tribute. But my favorite find had to be Salim Nourallah, an artist I had never even heard of until I came across this song and video.

    Compare it to "1973" by James Blunt, whom Nourallah more than slightly resembles. Kind of spooky, huh?

  • How do you like my curveball of the week? I've got to admit that Randy Travis ain't exactly my cup of tea, but I couldn't resist the segueway. I mean, on what other show will you find a Gil-Scott Heron, followed by PiL, and then Mr. "Forever and Ever Amen?"

  • Of all the nostalgic songs on this show, I get the biggest kick out of Mayer's "'83" because of his lyrical wordplay. Who hasn't felt this way about returning to one's childhood haunts? "Kind of like my life is like a sequel to a movie/Where the actor's names have changed/Oh well." Thomas Wolfe was right. You can't go home again.

  • Before you make fun of Grand Funk Railroad, you should know that the track comes from their final full-fledged album, which was produced by none other than Frank Zappa. No kidding.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: Joe Jackson, the A&M sessionman

In interviews, Joe Jackson has described the mid-80's as his "workaholic" phase.

Right after the breakthrough success of Night and Day (1982), Jackson went on his intense quest to record the perfect pop album – a route led him through the jazz-influenced Body and Soul (1984) and the semi-live Big World (1986), as well as the film scores for both Mike's Murder (1983) and Tucker (1988).

Somehow, he found the time to play on other people's records as well – including two female artists who were on Jackson's then-label, A&M Records: Suzanne Vega and Joan Armatrading.

I'm not sure how this came about since I've never heard that Jackson was a great admirer of either artist's work. But I like the idea of this imaginary scene where he's called into some label executive's office.
"Mr. Jackson, we really appreciate what you've done for this company," the exec might begin by saying in a matter-of-fact tone. "But we need something more from you."
"But didn't you see?" Jackson might protest, his voice tightening as he spoke. " The album went multi-platinum. 'Stepping Out' was a huge hit. Heck, I even made a few videos for you guys."
"Yes, well..." the exec might continue, while staring uncomfortably at the gold records on his wall. "Joe, we really need you to be more of a team player for A&M."
Pure ridiculousness, I know. And Jackson didn't exactly sell out. The up-and-coming Vega and the veteran Armatrading were not Rick Astley or the Spice Girls. They were musicians who deserved respect – and some musical help from Jackson, who has only made a handful of musical cameos during his career.

Let's start with Armatrading, who really was armed with big guns for what the label hoped would be the record that would make her more than a cult artist, Secret Secrets (1985). Fresh off of producing hit albums for A Flock of Seagulls, OMD and Berlin, Mike Howlett took charge behind the boards. And an all-star backing band was assembled that included the great bass player Pino Palladino, Simple Minds drummer Mel Gaynor and Go West guitarist Alan Murphy.

And did I mention that the smashing looking cover was photographed by a guy named Robert Mapplethorpe?

Jackson plays on the final two songs of the first side: Accompanying Armatrading on the solo piano ballad "Love By You" and "Talking to the Wall."

While Jackson is more integral to the former piece, it's the latter piece that remains a personal favorite of mine. The song is musically adventurous, morphing from a smoky ballad to a brassy salsa number that could be a Night & Day outtake. All with surprising ease. It also allows Armatrading to showcase her flexible talents as a formidable singer.

Play "Talking to the Wall" by Joan Armatrading

Jackson has a larger presence on the Vega song, which I showcased last week during my radio show on the music in John Hughes movies. (It appeared on 1986's Pretty in Pink soundtrack)

In fact, as you can see at left Jackson received almost equal billing on the single that was released (though the anti-video Jackson, predictably, did not appear in the video of the song).

I've always thought that his performance on this song is rather tasty – and Vega's live performances of the song (usually just with her and the bass player) suffer because of its absence. There aren't many great piano solos during the 80s. But this is definitely one of them.

Play "Left of Center" by Suzanne Vega (featuring Joe Jackson on piano)

A Postscript: Eleven years later, Vega would return the favor by appearing on Jackson's symphonic Heaven & Hell (1997) album as the "fallen angel," contributing vocals to the song "Angel."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mondo Monday -- Tom Jobim and Edu Lobo

As a composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim – known better as Tom Jobim in Brazil – has almost no equal in 20th century music.

Often called his country's George Gershwin, one could argue the impact of this incredible composer during his 67 years on earth was greater . While Gershwin was able to bridge classical music and jazz, and thus bring more respect to this uniquely American art form, Jobim accomplished a far more difficult task. He not only invented Bossa Nova, but was almost singlehandedly responsible for popularizing this genre within a American musical culture almost totally closed off to foreigners. And he did it without compromising his vision as a composer.

I know. I know. You've already heard this before.

As a recording artist, however, Jobim was a bit more iffy. His late 60s collaborations with Frank Sinatra were wonderful. As was his 1974 album with Elis Regina, Elis & Tom. Otherwise, if you were a Bossa Nova purist (like me), Jobim could be a frustrating artist. While some really dig his collaborations with arrangers such as Claus Ogerman, beginning with 1963's The Composer of "Desafinado" Plays…, I'm more lukewarm. The strings and the horns always seem a little over the top and schmaltzy. It's stuff like this that has made many Americans wrongly equate Bossa Nova with elevator music.

For my taste, the purest and best Bossa Nova always exists in an acoustic jazz format – three to four musicians at most to show off the pure simplicity of this wonderful music. Sadly, Jobim didn't record too many of these kind of albums.

There is one CD, however, that has gained a hallowed place on my iPod: Edú & Tom (1981), an album recorded 13 years before Jobim's death in 1994. As the title states, it's a collaboration between Jobim and the guitarist Edú Lobo, best known for co-authoring the Bossa Nova hit "Arrastão" with Vinicius de Moraes.

It's a warm and intimate session – one that sounds like Lobo and Jobim got together one Saturday morning and jammed. Not that there's anything hot and heavy here. This is the soft and gentle Bossa Nova that Jobim made famous. And both Lobo and Jobim get a chance to perform some of their better known songs with just a piano, drums, guitar and bass – and the occasional flugelhorn solo from the great Márcio Montarroyos. You can hear Montarroyos, who died this past December, in fine form in a softly swinging remake of "Chovendo na Roseira" ("Double Rainbow") that features Lobo singing Jobim's poetic lyrics.

Play "Chovendo Na Roseira" by Edu Lobo and Tom Jobim

The two also take on one of Lobo's best known pieces, "Pra Dizer Adeus," ("To Say Goodbye"), a subdued ballad bathed in melancholy.

Play "Pra Dizer Adeus" by Edu Lobo and Tom Jobim

My favorite track on the album is the rollicking opener, "Ai Quem Me Dera," (roughly "He Who Gives To Me") ,an almost always overlooked Jobim classic that deserves to be accorded the same acclaim as "The Girl From Ipanema," "Aguas de Março," "Desafinado" and "Agua de Beber."

Play "Ai Quem Me Dera" by Edu Lobo and Tom Jobim

Because it never was released in the United States, you have to really hunt for this album – or be prepared to shell out more than $30, as on Amazon. But believe me. It's well worth it for Bossa Nova purists like me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Soundtrack Sunday: Love, Actually

I don't know why, but Love, Actually (2003) perpetually makes the list whenever I talk about my favorite movies.

Frankly, I didn't have high expectations before I watched it. The only reason I wound up seeing it was the superstar British cast (Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant) that for once wasn't up to its necks in waistcoats and pinafores. Sure, I liked Richard Curtis' Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999). But this film sounded too chick flicky.

Much to my surprise, I really dug it. Sure, people have complained about too many story lines – and none of them quite deep enough. And all those neat coincidences at the end. But to me, the whole movie struck a really good balance.

Sure, all the romantic stuff was a little bit over the top. But that was the point, right? I think Curtis set out to make everything so over-the-top that you can't help but step back and laugh. Furthermore, all that sappiness was also counterbalanced by the heartbreaking story lines of Thompson and Laura Linney.

You also had to love all the slapsticky ridiculousness thrown in. After all, Curtis got his big break writing for Rowan Atkinson's Black Adder (1983-89). Vestiges of that show's silliness can be seen in the storylines involving the aging rocker played by Bill Nighy (the antithesis of the officious bureaucrat he usually plays) and the blossoming love affair of the two nude stand-ins. Yep, the chicks may lap up this stuff. But we guys know better. This Curtis guy really is a Three Stooges fan at heart.

One more thing about the film: The music.

Sure, there are a few songs that you really don't want to touch (The only reason "Wherever You Will Go" by the Calling is included is probably to drive up U.S. sales) and too many of the songs are available elsewhere. But as a whole, the 17-song collection works.

I no longer have to include Mariah Carey on any of my holiday mixes because the incredibly talented Olivia Olson blows the former Mrs. Mottola away with her version of the Carey co-written ditty, "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (Curtis says on the DVD commentary that the ten-year-old's singing was so perfect they had to ask to sing more like a kid).

Play "All I Want for Christmas Is You" By Olivia Olson

The soundtrack plays like an eclectic mix tape. You have Joni Mitchell's haunting "cover" of her own "Both Sides Now," Otis Redding doing "White Christmas," the Pointer Sisters' campy classic "Jump (For My Love)" and "Songbird," a Fleetwood Mac cover from the late Eva Cassidy. Just like the movie itself, it manages to juggle the happy and the sad with aplomb.

Play "Take Me As I Am" by Wyclef Jean Featuring Sharissa

Play "Here With Me" by Dido

I'm also quite fond of the score from Craig Armstrong, a Scottish musician who has quietly carved a reputation for himself as a composer of understated yet beautiful and memorable film scores. The main theme – which appropriately plays amid all the over-the-top happy endings at the film's conclusion – is a little to schmaltzy for my taste. So instead, I'll post his other score snippet on the CD, the more elegantly simple "Glasgow Love Theme."

Play "Glasgow Love Theme" by Craig Armstrong

So yes, I like this "chick flick." But shhhh. It will be our little secret.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cover of the Week: Nelly Furtado "Crazy"

You know what? I never really got all the hoopla over "Crazy."

Sure, it was a pretty good song for the first few listens. And it was pretty different. But different doesn't always make a great record. In any case, I had heard better.

Then it was played. And played again. The summer of 2005 was all about "Crazy."


I'm telling you this because I wanted you to know why I appreciate Nelly Furtado's breathy acoustic rendition of the Gnarls Barkley song, which was recorded for BBC 1's "Live Lounge" in May 2006. The fact that she was able to take a song I had grown to despise – and redefine it to the point of making it likable again. Hell, that's talent for you.

Furtado has since officially released this as a B-side, which says even more about this Canadian vocalist's taste.

Play "Crazy" by Nelly Furtado.

Here's a video of Furtado playing the song live. I don't think it quite captures the intimacy of the original recording, but it still works for me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wednesday's Radio Show: Coming of Age with John Hughes

Here's the playlist from Wednesday's radio show. As always, the highlighted and/or underlined links are songs that can be played.

Eighties Killing Joke Weird Science (1985)
Oh Yeah Yello Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Holiday Road Lindsey Buckingham National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
The Edge Of Forever Dream Academy Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Left of Center Suzanne Vega Pretty in Pink (1986)
Beat City The Flowerpot Men Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Hang Up The Phone Annie Golden Sixteen Candles (1984)
If You Were Here Thompson Twins Sixteen Candles (1984)
Geek Boogie Ira Newborn and the Geeks Sixteen Candles (1984)
March Of The Swivelheads English Beat Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Can't Help Falling in love Lick The Tins Some Kind Of Wonderful (1987)
Turn To The Sky The March Violets Some Kind Of Wonderful (1987)
Shellshock New Order Pretty in Pink (1986)
Fire In the Twilight Wang Chung Breakfast Club (1985)
She's Having A Baby Dave Wakeling She's Having A Baby (1988)
Crazy Love Bryan Ferry She's Having A Baby (1988)
Sixteen Candles Stray Cats Sixteen Candles (1984)

Almost made it: "Apron Strings" Everything But the Girl, "Lenny" Stevie Ray Vaughan, "Twist and Shout" Beatles, Furniture "Brilliant Mind," Pete Shelley "Do Anything"

No way (see below): OMD "If You Leave," Simple Minds "Don't You Forget About Me," Oingo Boingo "Weird Science", Psychedelic Furs "Pretty in Pink," Flesh for Lulu "I Go Crazy"

I'm very proud of myself. I managed to put to get an hour-plus show on music from John Hughes films without relying on either the biggest or the most overplayed songs associated with the films. What you few people remember is that these Hughes soundtracks definitely included some pop gems.

I don't know about you, but my personal favorite John Hughes soundtracks are Some Kind of Wonderful and Ferris Bueller's Day Off – the first being his least successful film from the period, the second not even having an official soundtrack because Hughes felt the music from Ferris Bueller was too diverse to collect in one place. My least favorite ones? His most successful ones, Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. I don't know what that says about me. But it goes back to what I said on an earlier "Soundtrack Sunday" post. The most successful soundtracks are ones where its songs evoke specific scenes. That's what songs like "Beat City," "Turn To The Sky" and "Oh Yeah" do for me.

Anyway, Hughes has gotten a bad rap in recent years for the commercialization of the "alternative" sound. And Jon Cummings of Popdose.com recently put together an interesting post on how contributing to a Hughes film was the death knell for bands such as Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs and OMD.

I would argue, however, that by putting together films that appealed to teenagers with music that was somewhat on the cutting edge, Hughes helped widen American tastebuds. Perhaps not in the same way that MTV, IRS Records and college radio did. But I remember the time it was inconceivable that Simple Minds would be played on Top 40 radio, let alone have a No. 1 hit. A popular movie that taps into teen angst will do that. Plus, look at the musical chances that Hughes took on his later "coming of age" movies. You have Jesus & Mary Chain and Pete Shelley on Some Kind of Wonderful and XTC, Kate Bush and Bryan Ferry populating the She's Having A Baby CD. No way have any of these artists sold out to the mainstream.

By the way, you might not have noticed, but the reclusive Hughes has a credit on a newly released movie. Drillbit Taylor (2008) is based on a story that Hughes wrote years ago. Somewhat appropriately, the film is co-written by Seth Rogen, who may wind up being this generation's Hughes.

Onward to the notes:
  • I have a special fondness for the Thompson Twins "If You Were Here," the closing song from Candles. One of their most beautiful and haunting songs. Plus, I promised my friends at Popdose that I would post the complete song one of these days. So there you go.
  • You know the way John Williams has always been George Lucas' and Steven Spielberg's personal composer? Or how Tim Burton always seems to use Danny Elfman? Well, for a few films at least, Ira Newborn was Hughes' musical maestro, scoring Sixteen Candles, Weird Science and Uncle Buck before going on to compose music for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) and the Naked Gun series.
  • Good luck finding anything about the Flowerpot Men. And don't confuse them with the similarly named late 60s hippie group. "Beat City" can only be found on the group's hard-to-find Peel Sessions (1994) CD.
  • Lindsay Buckingham has a new version of "Holiday Road" on his recently released double CD, Live at the Performance Hall (2008), and it sounds pretty faithful to the totally indispensable original.
  • Suzanne Vega, who was so shy and humorless during the 80s, loosened up more in the next decade. One sign: These days, when she plays "Left of Center" in concert, she tells the audience "This is where Joe Jackson is supposed to play his piano solo." By the way, let's clear up some Internet misinformation about this song. This was not released on any Vega album prior to Pretty in Pink.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: Mixing Things Up

I know. I know. I seem to always preface our little get-togethers on Tuesday by saying we'll do things a little differently this week.

This time, however, we're doing Two-Fer-Tuesday with a pretty significant twist.

As I told you last week, I've become pretty comfortable with Garage Band, the great software program included on most new Macs. If you don't have a Mac yet and you're a music person, you're really missing out.

It's true you can make your own music with loops and the like. Which I will get around to doing more in the coming weeks. But what I really love about it is how I have a mixing board on my computer – one that allows me to put together crazy concoctions like the ones at the bottom of this post.

In preparing for Wednesday morning's radio show, which is dedicated to the best music from John Hughes movies, I decided to do something special with two of my favorite Hughes movies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) and Sixteen Candles (1984) by making mixes that incorporate sound clips from the movies into their signature instrumentals. For Ferris, it's "Oh Yeah" by Yello, seguing into "March of the Swivelheads" by the English Beat. For Sixteen, it's Miss Molly and company interacting with Ira Newborn's "Geek Boogie."

As I'll talk about tomorrow, I'm a little unsure about Sixteen Candles these days – particularly after recently listening to an NPR piece, saying how every Asian high school student during the 80s suffered under the stereotype of being clones of Long Duk Dong, the sex-crazed Chinese exchange student played by the very Japanese Gedde Watanabe. Yet the movie still makes me laugh. As, of course, does Ferris Bueller. An interesting note: My teenaged kids haven't watched Sixteen Candles yet, but they are totally addicted to Ferris Bueller and practically know it by heart. Every once in a while, I freak out my 11-year-old Nicholas by reminding him that Ferris Bueller is played by the same guy who is the adult Simba.

Anyway, here are are my musical tributes to both movies. Load them into your iPod and tell me what you think. Any kind of feedback would be appreciated.

Play Rob's "Sixteen Candles Mix"

Play Rob's "Ferris Bueller Mix"

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Soundtrack Sunday – Miami Vice "Stone's War" (1986)

Yes, I'm a true child of the 80s.

More than that, however, I truly enjoyed the left-leaning political thrillers that emerged from Hollywood during my teenage years: Missing (1982), Under Fire (1983), The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).

Every once in a while, TV would tread into that territory – most notably Miami Vice, which produced a harrowing episode called "Stone's War" in Oct. 1986.

Guest starring Bob Balaban (later better known for his contributions to Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and other Christopher Guest improv films), it revolved around a cameraman and former Crockett war buddy (Balaban) who possessed incriminating evidence of a U.S.-backed paramilitary group backing the Nicaraguan contras.

It was actually the second Miami Vice episode involving Ira Stone, Balaban's eccentric character who was obsessed with bringing down his nemesis Col. Maynard (former Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, in his acting debut). The songs in the first episode were all from the Doors. The second included two powerful songs that remind me of the episode whenever I hear them: The first was "Lives in the Balance" by Jackson Browne, a song I already knew.

Play "Lives in the Balance" by Jackson Browne

The second was this propulsive, dark song that seemed to be sung by this cross between Jim Morrison and Ian Astbury of The Cult. With no AllMusic.com or imdb.com in those days, there really was no way to find out who it was . Only much later did I discover what the song was and who sung it: "Mercy" by former Sex Pistol Steve Jones. A few months later, I performed the distressingly uncool act of buying the Miami Vice II Soundtrack album simply because it included that song.

Though the years have taken their toll on my fondness for the Miami Vice episode (too earnest and overdone, as is typical of the decade), I still love this song. I mean, it's so dark and moody that it perfectly portrayed the evil illustrated in that episode.

Play "Mercy" by Steve Jones

Even if reminds me too much of aviator sunglasses, loafers without socks and loose-fitting sportcoats.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Cover of the Week – "Baby Got Back" Jonathan Coulton

I'm actually not that big a fan of rap remakes from alternative artists. A classic example: I love Ben Folds, but his take on "Bitches Ain't Shit" from Dr. Dre leaves me completely cold. The irony of putting all those misogynistic lyrics into what sounds like a love song gets old after a few seconds.

But this one from 2005 is just inspired.

Perhaps it's because if you don't know what song it is, it takes you a while to figure it out. That's also what makes it all the more fun. Oh and all the little touches: The a capella opening, the gently plucked banjo and the James Taylor-type mellowness. It's all so incongruous – and so ingenious. It takes a true original to come up with something like this

Shake that butt, indeed.

Play "Baby Got Back" by Jonathan Coulton

Coulton is an interesting cat – a former Yale Whiffenpoof who once programmed computers for a living, Coulton recorded this piece during what was billed as his "Thing a Week" project. From September 2005 to September 2006, he managed to record a different song each week and release it through his web site, jonathancoulton.com

Here's a live acoustic performance of the song. I've got to say that I miss the extra bluegrass touches, as well as the singing monks in the background. (The audience does its best to address the latter shortcoming) It gives you a better sense of a guy worth getting to know better.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wednesday's Radio Show: On the Covers of the Rolling Stones

Here's the playlist from Wednesday's radio show. as always, underlined or highlighted links can be played and downloaded.

Jumpin' Jack Flash Aretha Franklin (1986)
Miss Amanda Jones The March Violets (1986)
Dandelion Miranda Lee Richards (2001)
Wild Horses Alicia Keys with Adam Levine (2005)
As Tears Go By Marianne Faithfull (1987)
Happy Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes (2005)
Miss You Etta James (2000)
Satisfaction Otis Redding (1966)
Honky Tonk Women Ike & Tina Turner (1971)
Street Fighting Man The Ramones (1985)
19th Nervous Breakdown Jason and The Scorchers (1986)
Start Me Up Toots & the Maytals (2002)
Beast Of Burden Buckwheat Zydeco (1990)
Gimme Shelter Angelique Kidjo (2007)
Tumbling Dice Linda Ronstadt (1977)
You Can't Always Get What You Want Neville Brothers (1994)

Almost made it: "Ruby Tuesday" Melanie,; "Angie" Tori Amos; "As Tears Go By", Marianne Faithfull; Paint It Black, U2 or Mighty Lemon Drops, "I'm Free," The Soup Dragons;
'Sympathy for the Devil/Symphony for the Devil,"Blood, Sweat & Tears

No way: Bette Midler, "Beast of Burden," David Bowie "Let's Spend The Night Together"

The genesis of this show derived from a painful admission that I made during this February post: The reason I am not a huge Stones fan has entirely to do with Mick's voice. The fact is, I am huge admirer of what the Stones have written. But due to a personal quirk or whatever, Jagger's voice just cuts through me like nails on a blackboard. The Alicia Keys and Southside Johnny covers really brought that home to me. They have become personal favorites in my collection.

In order to prove that point to myself, I decided to create this show to spotlight some of my favorite covers and highlight the diversity of artists who have made Stones' music part of their repertoire.

What struck me is how comfortable R&B artists are with the Stones. Which is no surprise, considering that the Stones are basically a band that made black music their own. Still, I get a certain sense of satisfaction (no pun intended) when I hear artists like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Etta James rip into Stones songs with such gusto.

Here are a few notes:
  • Some of you have heard this story before, but it bears repeating. Keith Richards always envisioned the key riff in "Satisfaction" being played by horns, instead of guitar. Therefore, he has always applauded Redding's version of the song – not only because Otis really sings the heck out of it, but he replaces the fuzz-box guitars with the great Muscle Shoals horn section.
  • Marianne Faithfull actually recorded "As Tears Go By" as a teenager, before the Stones went into the recording studio with it. About 20 years later, she included a new version on her 1987 collaboration with Hal Willner, Strange Weather. One of the reasons it sounds so different is that the drug-ravaged vocalist recorded it a full octave lower than her original version.
  • Some of the songs I included on today's show were completely new to me until this week. With the help of this excellent Rolling Stones cover songs web site, I was able to look up who recorded versions of my favorite Stones songs, then listen to snippets on iTunes to see if they were worth obtaining and including in the show. One of the most pleasant discoveries was Toots & the Maytals version of 1981's "Start Me Up," which really cooks. It's part of a 2002 album Paint It Black: A Reggae Tribute to the Rolling Stones. Not everything sounds like it works on this album, but I really like this track. And, of course, no one needs reminding that Mick and Keith really dig Reggae. So it's an appropriate inclusion.
  • I didn't include a number of songs that are personal favorites, mainly because either I much prefer the original versions or didn't find a cover worth including. "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Paint It Black" were two examples. Blood Sweat & Tears certainly did original and interesting things with the former song, but it was still not something that merited more than seven minutes of precious radio time. Hey, I only have about 60-75 minutes to play music each week…

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: Mike Mills Takes The Spotlight

Listening to the new R.E.M. album, Accelerate (which I reviewed Saturday), I was once again reminded of the importance of Mike Mills in the band's overall scheme of things. His backing vocals are once again absolute essential in creating R.E.M.'s sound, as is (of course) his innovative work on the bass.

Sure, Michael Stipe and Peter Buck get most of the press. But really, Mike Mills is the unsung hero of the group, in my opinion.

I remember the time my friend Andy, his future wife Katie and I took a roadtrip to Charlottesville, Va. to see R.E.M. perform during the Reckoning (1984) tour. We had actually watched the band perform the night before at George Washington University's Smith Center in Washington D.C., but for reasons I can't remember we were unable to get backstage in time to meet R.E.M and interview their opening act, the dB's, for our Georgetown University radio station, WGTB. (Katie was the GM, Andy was the program director and I was the music director). So we decided to head south.

This time, we were successful. Not only did we catch another great concert, but did a nice little interview with Peter Holsapple and introduced ourselves to three of the four members of R.E.M. Stipe politely declined to do a station ID for us, saying he didn't do it for any radio station. Buck was more forthcoming and did a great station ID where he acted the part of an early 70s AM DJ. (It's still in my tape collection and I may rip it for you guys some day, along with a lot of great goodies from my brushes with the great and not-so-great during my college radio years)

But the guy who seemed most down-to-earth was Mills and the three of us had a genuinely enjoyable conversation with him. Not sure what it was about, but I still rember how pleasant he was with us, despite the fact that we were lowly college kids.

Anyway, I thought I'd throw the spotlight on Mills today by highlighting two great R.E.M. songs that feature Mills on lead vocals. His voice goes with everyman persona: Nothing too special, but nothing too annoying, either. And yes, Stipe helps along both songs with his necessary contributions.

Anyway, here's to you Mike. Long may you play the bass. (And sing occasionally).

Play "Near Wild Heaven" by R.E.M.

Play "I Am Superman" by R.E.M.