Thursday, December 30, 2010

My 10 Favorite Tracks of 2010

#10. Mumford and Sons, "Sigh No More"

Terrific harmonies, and love the way it builds intensity towards the end. Great opening track on one of the best albums of the year (although.. if we are going to be technical... while it was released in the US in 2010, it came out in the UK in late 2009. But we'll let that pass.)



#9. Jónsi, "Animal Arithmetic"

This track makes me want to frolic around in a big green field on a beautiful, sunny Spring day. And I *don't* normally frolic. Just a feel-good song, big sweeping chorus and insane percussion. I love Jónsi's solo album more than anything he's done with Sigur Ros.



#8. LCD Soundsystem, "I Can Change"

Irresistible earworm that rattled around in my brain for about a week the first time I heard it. Love the old-school synth vibe, and terrific lyrics and vocal performance. The whole time he's going "I can change, i can change, I can change" I'm thinking, um, yeah right. That's what they all say.




#7. Scissor Sisters, "Sex and Violence"

I must see them at the 930 Club when they come in March.. but only if they promise to play this song. I love the "Night Work" album - its got that great trashy dark underground kinda seedy vibe to it. A little unhinged and dirty. What's not to love? This song is the high point for me. Ominous and just a little twisted, and most definitely inspired by some of the top 80s synth pop... which can only be a good thing.



#6. Drake w/ Nicki Minaj, "Up All Night"

I loved this track first time I heard it. Was the song of the summer for me... and after about 30 or so repeats in the car I had all the words down. Yes, I'm a rapping fool. [Only in the privacy of my own car, however - for which everyone will no doubt be very thankful.] This whole album is actually pretty great.



#5. Tame Impala, "Solitude is Bliss"

Great album, and this song is the high point. Trippy, psychedelic rock - - listen to it on the headphones.



#4. Goldfrapp, "Rocket"

Remind me not to piss off Alison Goldfrapp. Terrific album, but "Rocket" is the track that I can't get enough of. Still play it constantly. A perfect pop song.



#3. Marina and the Diamonds, "Shampain"

Killer video, amazing song, and one of the best albums of the year. You can definitely tell i'm a child of the 80s by this list... this is another track that has one wheel stuck in 1983.



#2. MGMT, "Flash Delirium"

This song was #1 for most of the year, until it got edged out in the end. I've played it a zillion times (as my other half will attest), and it gets better with each play. MGMT's "Congratulations" is one of those WTF??? albums that generates a sorta bewildered response upon its release, but I predict that in years to come it will be revered as one of the best of this era. It's psychedelic pop / prog rock / synth rock all whirled up into one extravagant and imaginative ball of goodness. And this video... yeah, the stuff that bad dreams are made of. Awesomeness!!



#1. Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. with Boy George and Andrew Wyatt, "Somebody to Love Me"

It's the colorful dream of Culture Club from the other side of the mirror. Beautiful and wrenching. A perfect vehicle for Boy George - still sounding great, if somewhat raspy - to look back. Musically it's got that pseudo-Caribbean vibe that Culture Club employed, but much darker. And they pulled off the video beautifully. Amazing track by arguably one of the top 2 or 3 producers working today.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

David Bowie - Rare - Dinah Shore 1975 - Stay - clip 1



This is a really cool clip, a good performance of the "Station to Station" track "Stay" from the Dinah Shore show. Bowie gives a terrific vocal and the band is grooving. This song always has such a sinister vibe to it, especially the live versions. The performance that just came out on the "Station to Station" box set from the Nassau Coliseaum is awesome.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Best of 2010

Albums:

1. MGMT – Congratulations
2. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
3. Tame Impala – InnerSpeaker
4. Jónsi - Go
5. Marina and the Diamonds – The Family Jewels
6. Kanye West – My Deep Dark Twisted Fantasy
7. Chromeo – Business Casual
8. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
9. Drake – Thank Me Later
10. Robyn – Body Talk
11. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
12. Neil Young – Le Noise
13. Eminem – Recovery
14. Goldfrapp – Head First
15. David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love
16. Scissor Sisters – Night Work
17. Robert Plant – Band of Joy
18. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
19. Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard
20. Sword – Warp Riders
21. Strand of Oaks – Pope Killdragon
22. Prince – 20ten
23. Massive Attack – Heligoland
24. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
25. Crowded House – Intriguer


Songs:

1.  Somebody to Love Me – Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. (featuring Andrew Wyatt and Boy George)
2.  Flash Delirium – MGMT
3. Shampain – Marina & The Diamonds
4. Rocket – Goldfrapp
5. Solitude is Bliss – Tame Impala
6. Up All Night – Drake & Nicki Minaj
7. Sex and Violence – Scissor Sisters
8. I Can Change – LCD Soundsystem
9. Animal Arithmetic – Jónsi
10. Sigh No More – Mumford and Sons
11. On Melancholy Hill – Gorillaz
12. Ambling Alp – Yeasayer
13. Soldier of Love – Sade
14. Love The Way You Lie – Eminem & Rihanna
15. Caravan – Rush
16. Archer’s Arrows – Crowded House
17. Night By Night – Chromeo
18. Ready To Start – Arcade Fire
19. Come Talk To Me – Bon Iver
20. Church of No Religion – Ed Harcourt
21. Tres Brujas – Sword
22. You’ll Be Taken Care Of – David Byrne & Fatboy Slim with Tori Amos
23. Astral Planes – Smashing Pumpkins
24. Not In Love – Crystal Castles with Robert Smith
25. Dancing on My Own – Robyn
26. Cold War – Janelle Monáe
27. Seven Sisters – Casey Stratton
28. One Life Stand – Hot Chip
29. Beginning Endlessly – Prince
30. All You Need is Now – Duran Duran

Friday, November 19, 2010

Patti Smith: Because The Night



The one and only Patti Smith, doing a Bruce Springsteen song far better than he could. I love Bruce, but this is Patti's song. She's always been gifted performing covers. Her cover of the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" a few years back was absolutely killer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Darkstar: "Gold"



How cool is this?   Darkstar covers the the old Human League b-side "You Remind Me of Gold," a terrific song that was sadly rarely heard.  Great to see someone unearthing it and introducing it to a new generation of fans. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sufjan Stevens: "John Wayne Gacy, Jr."



Beautiful and chilling song. 

Paul McCartney: "Ram"

I realize that Paul McCartney's 2nd post-Beatles album, "Ram," doesn't have the best reputation in the world.  John Lennon of course was famously derisive of it.  But I'm listening to it today for the first time in ages, and am really enjoying it.  It's not a major statement, nor is it trying to be.  Yeah many of the songs sound like throwaways, but so were many of the tracks like "Honey Pie" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" that populated many of the Beatles' later albums.  "Ram" has a fresh vibe to it, and is pleasingly lacking in pretension.   It's a collection of melodic, well-produced pop songs by one of the great pop songwriters in rock.   Nothing on here ranks among his best work, true.  But does it have to in order to be enjoyable?

I actually made my own custom version, adding the "Another Day" single and its bside, "Oh Woman Oh Why."    Fills out the album and makes it seem a bit more complete.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Leonard Cohen: "Songs from the Road"



Gotta give Leonard Cohen credit. One of the great songwriters of the last 40 years, and he's still out there touring at age 76. His voice is different as he's gotten older it's weakened/softened a little with a touch of raspiness, but he still sounds great and the voice suits the songs perfectly.

He just put out a new live album, "Songs from the Road" - terrific versions of "Famous Blue Raincoat," "Suzanne" and other classic tunes. Well worth picking up. It's a worthy representation of a master near the end of his career.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rush Live: Jiffy Lube Live, Bristow, VA, 9/18/10

Amazing performance by Rush last night. They sounded terrific, incredible light show and camera work, and very funny video clips shown. Any rock fan who has the chance to see Rush live should do so. A fantastic show, one of the best I've seen in recent years. It's a privilege to see such a legendary band performing so well - will always remember it. "Presto" in particular was great to hear, and the "Moving Pictures" performance was fantastic.

Set list:

*
1. The Spirit Of Radio
2. Time Stand Still
3. Presto
4. Stick It Out
5. Workin' Them Angels
6. Leave That Thing Alone
7. Faithless
8. BU2B
9. Free Will
10. Marathon
11. Subdivisions

12. Tom Sawyer
13. Red Barchetta
14. YYZ
15. Limelight
16. The Camera Eye
17. Witch Hunt
18. Vital Signs
19. Caravan
20. Drum Solo
21. Closer To The Heart
22. 2112 Part I: Overture
23. 2112 Part II: The Temples Of Syrinx
24. Far Cry

Encore:
25. La Villa Strangiato
26. Working Man

Here's their performance of "Presto" from Jiffy Lube Live:

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Kinks: Dont Forget To Dance



My friend Joe has been sending me some Kinks' videos tonight, and it reminded me of this gem. As a child of MTV's early days my first exposure to the Kinks was "Come Dancing," which was on heavy rotation. The follow-up "Don't Forget To Dance" wasn't as big a hit, but it got a fair amount of play as well. I always loved it - very poignant track, and a terrific vocal. Underrated.

Joe introduced me to this track, which is incredible... love it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gram Parsons: "The Return of the Grievous Angel"

 Enjoying this album a great deal tonight.  Bought a new sealed copy of at CD Cellar in Falls Church over the weekend, and finally played it tonight.   Sounds beautiful.   A timeless album.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Best Albums of the 70s

Here's my picks for Best Albums of the 70s

1. John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band (1970)
2. The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers (1972)
3. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
4. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
5. The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street (1971)

6. David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (1973)
7. Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (1977)
8. David Bowie - Low (1977)
9. Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks (1975)
10. Neil Young - On the Beach (1974)

11. Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)
12. Marvin Gaye - What's Goin' On (1971)
13. Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)
14. Iggy Pop - The Idiot (1977)
15. George Harrison - All Things Must Pass (1970)

16. David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars (1972)
17. David Bowie - Station to Station (1976)
18. The Clash - London Calling (1979)
19. Talking Heads - Fear of Music (1979)
20. Iggy & The Stooges - Fun House (1970)

21. Grateful Dead - American Beauty (1970)
22. Elton John - Honky Chateau (1972)
23. Nick Drake - Pink Moon (1972)
24. Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (1979)
25. Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

26. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Cosmo's Factory (1970)
27. Neil Young - After the Gold Rush (1970)
28. Wire - Pink Flag (1977)
29. John Lennon - Imagine (1971)
30. Blondie - Parallel Lines (1978)

31. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Zuma (1975)
32. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run (1975)
33. Paul McCartney & Wings - Band on the Run (1973)
34. Eagles - Desperado (1973)
35. Pink Floyd - Animals (1977)

36. Fleetwood Mac - Fleetwood Mac (1975)
37. Bob Marley & The Wailers - Exodus (1977)
38. Iggy & The Stooges - Raw Power (1973)
39. Lou Reed - Transformer (1972)
40. Neil Young - Time Fades Away (1973)

41. Chris Bell - I Am The Cosmos (1978)
42. Iggy Pop - Lust For Life (1977)
43. David Bowie - Diamond Dogs (1974)
44. Bob Dylan - Desire (1976)
45. Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance (1978)

46. Donna Summer - Bad Girls (1979)
47. Yoko Ono - Approximately Infinite Universe (1972)
48. David Bowie - Heroes (1977)
49. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
50. Roberta Flack - Killing Me Softly (1973)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Pretenders: Back On The Chain Gang



One of the great rock songs of the 80s. Incredibly moving, real emotion, beautiful lyrics and Chrissie's vocal is understated and perfect. And it rocks. Classic tune by a great band.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band: "Walk Don't Walk"

Terrific cover of Prince's tune "Walk Don't Walk" on the new Robert Randolph album.  It's an underrated tune from this "Diamonds & Pearls" album, and might have been a good single choice.   Randolph's version is incredibly soulful and has a much richer sound than Prince's original recording.  Brilliant job!  Also amazing is the cover of John Lennon's classic "Don't Wanna Be a Soldier."   I'm loving this record so far.   Unfortunately I don't see clips for either of these 2 songs on YouTube (yet).  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Starship: "I Don't Know Why"

I'm a huge, unapologetic 80s pop fan, and you can't think 80s pop without thinking Starship.   This is a band that was very much "of their time" over 3 decades - they were a prototypical late 60s protest/acid/folk rock band as Jefferson Airplane, and they landed 2 era-defining singles in "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love".   Then in the 70s, they mastered the AOR idiom and their astonishingly beautiful ballad "Miracles" was a #1 smash.  And in the 80s they dove headlong into the cheesiest aspects of the decade's pop artifice and thrived with THREE #1 singles.   Of course, the various incarnations of the group had little in common, but the common thread is their initial success and inability to sustain it without morphing into something else.

I've always had a soft spot for the Grace Slick power ballad "I Don't Know Why" on their "No Protection" album.   It has a lovely vibe to it and a terrific vocal by Slick, and a nice vocal arrangement.  An underrated gem from a period in which Starship gets little love these days ("We Built This City" has routinely been cited as one of the ghastliest lapses of taste to ever hit #1, and considering the many examples of bad taste in the 80s this was quite an accomplishment.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

U2: "Achtung Baby"

 Probably nothing I can say about this album that hasn't already been said, but damn it still sounds great.  Picked it up a vinyl copy last night for a really decent price, and falling in love with it again.  Every freaking song on this album is killer - no exceptions, no filler.   Absolutely amazing songwriting, and the perfect production for the time and the material.   It's dark, shadowed, exciting, electronic, guitar rock..  but the real strength is the feeling and meaning of each song.    One of the all-time classic albums in rock history, no question.   And although they have had many stellar moments, I have a feeling "Achtung Baby!" will end up being their greatest single achievement when all is said and done. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rush: "Presto"

Found a good vinyl copy of this overlooked gem at Record and Tape Exchange tonight.   Listening to it now and as always am amazed by this bands' musicianship.    They are simply extraordinary.   "Counterparts" and "Roll The Bones" were bigger hits and get more attention, but I've always had a HUGE soft spot for "Presto".    2 of my favorite Rush tunes are on this album - - "The Pass" and the title track.   "Show Don't Tell" is a killer opening track and great first single - bringing them back to tight and powerful rock after the murky and meandering MOR synth-rock of most of "Hold Your Fire."   "Presto" is far more incisive and was a definite return to form.   It was an effect u-turn for a band that badly needed one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Best Tracks of the 70s: My Picks

1. John Lennon - Imagine
Very few songs transcend like "Imagine."   It's simplistic beauty and gleaming sincerity make it an ageless anthem that is instantly recognizable and almost universally revered.   It seems naive but is so earnestly hopeful that you think, just maybe, it could be true.  

2. Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven
The rock epic of epics.  A generation was riveted by this song.  It's lilting, folky melody, mystical lyrics and eventual eruption into an avalanche of molten rock captured the imagination of listeners since it's debut.   It's become an almost holy relic of rock and roll.   Everything about it comes together perfectly, especially Page's incendiary solo and Robert Plant's slowly building drama and voice-searing wail during the climax.  
 
3. Neil Young - Heart of Gold
There is a reason "Heart of Gold" was Neil Young's one and only ascent to the #1 spot on the pop charts.  It all comes together here.  Young's odd, high and wavery voice, a yearning melody, and ghostly steel guitar played by the great Ben Keith that will glide all in, out and around your brain.  

4. David Bowie - "Heroes"
Bowie looked like an alien anyway, and this was music beamed directly from whatever planet spawned him.  His Berlin period - "Low" "Heroes and "Lodger" - were the fuel that led to countless new wave imitators.  It's a dark, industrial, spooky and intense soundscape, and "Heroes" is the moment where it all soars.   In the shadows of one of the great mars on humanity, the Berlin Wall, "Heroes" is the human spirit - however dim - peering through the muck and daring to hope. 

5. Fleetwood Mac - Landslide


6. The Temptations - Just My Imagination
7. 10cc - I'm Not In Love
8. Marvin Gaye - What's Goin On
9. Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
10. Donna Summer - I Feel Love

11. Janis Joplin - Me and Bobby McGee
12. Jefferson Starship - Miracles
13. David Bowie - Life on Mars?
14. The Beatles - The Long and Winding Road
15. Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road

16. Rod Stewart - Maggie May
17. Elton John - Daniel
18. Pere Ubu - Final Solution
19. Chris Bell - Speed of Sound
20. The Clash - London Calling

21. Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
22. Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
23. Blondie - Heart of Glass
24. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
25. Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

26. Paul McCartney & Wings - Jet
27. Roberta Flack - Killing Me Softly With His Song
28. Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water
29. CCR - Have You Ever Seen The Rain
30. Santana - Black Magic Woman

31. Kiss - Hard Luck Woman
32. Ike & Tina Turner - Proud Mary
33. Bob Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue
34. Fleetwood Mac - Dreams
35. Pink Floyd - Sheep

36. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
37. Joy Division - Transmission
38. Neil Young - After The Gold Rush
39. Climax Blues Band - Couldn't Get It Right
40. The Cure - Boys Don't Cry

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Strand of Oaks: "Pope Killdragon"

Made a wonderful discovery on emusic today.   Strand of Oaks is the project by songwriter/musician Tim Showalter, and it's a stunner.   It was just released and is available for now only at emusic.com.   It's a taut, incredibly tense collection of haunting acoustic-based tracks, with the occasional release into gripping electric rock.   Showalter's voice is expressive and beautiful, and musically he incorporates just enough color and unexpected twists to add the right flair of drama and feeling to the songs.   Truly imaginative production.

"Alex Kona" is an immediate standout for me.  Definitely a Neil Young "On the Beach" vibe.   The lyrics are sparse and enigmatic, but powerful.  They hint at horrible things untold.   "You don't understand what it's like growing up here" is the ending refrain, repeated forlornly... before the burst of Crazy Horse-style feedback called "Giant's Despair" provides release. 


Even on first listen, I have the feeling I will be spending a great deal of time with this record.  It's exceptionally well done;  vocally, lyrically, musically - and a gorgeous, rich production that is warm and immediate.

Get this album.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Prince: "Lotusflow3er"

Been in something of a Prince mood lately, since his new album "20ten" hit newsstands.   Ordered the "Lotusflow3r" 2-LP set on vinyl from Amazon.com.  It arrived yesterday, and getting a chance to listen to it now.

Sounds remarkably rich and full.   In my view, "Lotusflow3r" has been criminally underrated, and it may be Prince's best album of the last decade.   It has a very warm, vibey sound to it that gives it more depth than some of his other work, which can sometimes sound overly clean and sterile to me.   The songwriting on this record also seems to be at a higher level than other recent albums.   This album lends itself to the advantages of vinyl, for sure.  Another interesting thing about listening to the vinyl version is envisioning the album in "sides".    Growing up listening to vinyl (and even cassettes), there was always a distinct impression about a particular side of an album.  That has been lost with the ascension of first CDs, and then the digital mp3 takeover.   But to me its part of the whole process of absorbing an album.

I do prefer "The Morning After" in place of "Crimson & Clover", though.  It sounds evident to me that "Crimson & Clover" was a late addition to the record.  It sounds a bit out of place and less natural than "The Morning After", and mars the record a little in my opinion.    Maybe at the last minute Prince decided he needed something with more commercial spark, but at this stage in his career he should just focus on putting out the best records possible.   His days of having multiple Top 40 hits from each album are sadly over.

Not that there aren't some strongly commercial tunes on this record.  "Dance 4 Me", "Dreamer", "Feel Good, Feel Better Feel Wonderful", "$" and others - - all would have been potential major singles if Prince still had the commercial appeal as in the 80s.   "Dance 4 Me" in particular has the sound of a classic Prince hit - - very funky, groovin' tune.  Nowadays the only Prince songs radio stations play are his classics, and it's mostly the die-hard fans (of which there are still plenty) paying much attention to his more recent work.

I also think one of the reasons why this album doesn't get more acclaim is lingering fan resentment over the website fiasco that accompanied this album's release.  $77.00 for a years membership that basically got you the album (which could be purchased at Target for $12.00), the ability to navigate a few videos, and pictures.  That's about it.   Huge scam, and a miracle Prince didn't get hit with a suit of some sort. 

Anyway, it's a true shame this album is so neglected.  "Lotusflow3r" (with "MPLSound" comprising the 2nd disc), is a terrific Prince record, and I'm definitely enjoying it tonight.

Smashing Pumpkins: "Gish" & "Siamese Dream"


Hit the CD Cellar in Falls Church this weekend for a little record shopping.  They didn't have what I was looking for, but I ended up with an excellent alternative - sealed vinyl copies of the Pumpkins' stellar debut "Gish" and the monumental "Siamese Dream."   Played them both back to back and enjoyed the swirling guitars, the immense, psychedelic sound.

Melissa Etheridge: July 20, 2010, The Strathmore in Bethesda.

Saw Melissa Etheridge last night at the Strathmore.  It was my first time seeing her, and my first time at that venus.  Had a terrific time.   Melissa's voice is incredibly strong and she played for about 2 hours, 40 minutes.   Most of her new album "Fearless Love" was performed, as well as many old classics.  I was a little disappointed that so many of the songs were drawn out with long segments in the middle that seemed unnecessary, especially since she could have fit in some tracks from albums that were completely ignored (especially the stellar "Breakdown").   But that minor quibble aside, it was a great show.

Set list:

We Are The Ones
Fearless Love
Miss California
If I Only Wanted To
Yes I Am
Company
I Want To Come Over
The Wanting of You
Nowhere To Go
Come To My Window
To Be Loved
No Souvenirs
Indiana
I Run For Life
Drag Me Away
Nervous
I'm The Only One
Bring Me Some Water
Like The Way I Do

Encore:

Gently We Row

Friday, July 9, 2010

Prince: "20ten"

Prince releases his latest studio album, "20Ten", tomorrow via a unique distribution method that he's used before.   It will appear free in various magazines throughout Europe - in the UK, it's the Daily Record.   He used a similar tactic with his "Planet Earth" album, although it was released via more traditional means in the US.   No word yet on a US distribution of "20Ten", but diehard fans who care enough about Prince's music will no doubt have little trouble getting their hands on a copy.

Prince has taken some heat and been the object of some scorn lately for his comments that seemed to suggest the internet is "dead."   Well, let's examine what he is doing here.   He is getting paid upfront by these magazines - presumably huge sums.   He then walks away.   The magazines have the burden of promotion, and they are the ones on the line for production costs and making their sales goals.  Let's face it, Prince is no longer selling huge numbers through traditional music outlets (nor is most everybody else.)   He gets paid without the risk of having a flop album, he gets music to the fans, and is free from the shackles of a major label deal.    He's making far more $$$ on "20ten" by doing this than if he had released it via more traditional means.  If you're Prince, or a Prince fan, what's not to like?  

So from his perspective, maybe the internet IS dead.   He's getting "20ten" into the homes of far more people this way than if he'd released it on iTunes or in record stores.   People who wouldn't bother surfing the web to pay for and download the newest Prince album, or go to the mall and spend $14.99 at FYE, or who may only know Prince from "Purple Rain" will see stacks of the album in their daily newsstand.   It has a far greater reach.    It's really quite a brilliant move.

The paradigm has shifted and the music industry is forever changed.   Prince has been able to successfully manuever through the different landscapes in this industry for 30 years.  He releases what he wants, when he wants, on his own terms.   

It's good to be Prince.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

a-ha: "Scoundrel Days"

Now is the perfect time to discover one of the great, undervalued albums of the 80s.   a-ha is mostly known in the US for "Take On Me", but they've had an incredible run of hits internationally.   They recently decided to call it quits - they are touring, releasing a 2-disc compilation, and just put out their first 2 albums in deluxe, 2-disc remastered form.

"Scoundrel Days" is a brilliant collection of 80s pop - dark, atmospheric, edgy and strongly melodic.  The songwriting and production is top notch, and it benefits mightily from the new remastering.  It sounds fuller and more alive than the original pressing, and I've been hearing details I had missed previously.   Great to hear this classic record in such terrific sound.

And if you're a fan of 80s pop at all, this is an album worth checking out.    It was a flop in the US.  First single "I've Been Losing You" didn't catch on.  Only one single, "Cry Wolf," had any amount of American success, but not enough to make the Top 40.  "Scoundrel Days" spawned 3 hits internationally (the 2 above plus the wonderful hyper-dramatic "Manhattan Skyline," and has remained a fan favorite.   I was a huge fan of this album from the early days, and it's remained one of my favorites of the decade.   

No question, a-ha's best album - but many of their others are stellar as well.   I'll be picking up the deluxe reissue of their debut, "Hunting High and Low."   And hopefully later albums like "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" will be reissued.

Bob Dylan: "Dylan" (1973)

Yes, I realize "Dylan" is widely regarded as the worst album of the man's career.   As Dylan fans know, it was released without the artist's consent by Columbia Records after Dylan made the move to Asylum Records.    Made up of outtakes from "Self Portrait" and "New Morning" - not 2 of his most acclaimed works - "Dylan" is basically a collection of rejected tracks.  

But for me in a weird way it works.  It's not ever gonna be mistaken for "Highway 61 Revisited" or "Blonde on Blonde" or "Oh Mercy" - or even lesser albums such as "Infidels."   But, still, there is a certain charm to it.   It's listenable, and even interesting in its way.  

In particular, the performance on "Lily of the West" is enjoyable.

Listening to this album tonight, and the kitschy background vocals are annoying at times, to be sure... but at the same time it adds to the overall out-of-place peculiarity of this album.   If this album had never been released but leaked, its tracks would have greedily been circulated by traders.  

It's not the place to start, and will never ever be considered one of Dylan's essential works, but "Dylan" doesn't deserve all the hate and disdain it receives.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

this is me

Blue Groove Soundz - Arlington, VA

Last day before going back to work, so I thought I'd do a little record shopping while I still have the opportunity.


First went to the CD Cellar in Falls Church, VA.  I had been a big fan of this place back in my CD-buying days, but I hadn't been back in a while - and actually thought they had closed.   They are very much open, and in fact now have a large vinyl section, so I'm very happy about that. 

I picked up the following:

Eurythmics - Touch.  Yes, already have this but they had a nice UK pressing with a Tour Book as an added extra for $10.00.   Very cool.















Robert Fripp - Exposure
 
















Warren Zevon - Sentimental Hygiene


We then headed to Blue Groove Soundz in Arlington, the newest local record shop.    It was my first time there, and I quite liked it.  It's a fairly small shop in a basement store area, but they had a nice sized collection.   Certainly comparable to a couple of the DC stores.   I ended up getting Prince's "Rave un2 The Joy Fantastic" LP.   Not his best work, but it does have some good stuff, and I'd never seen in on vinyl before.

Nice day shopping.

Suzanne Vega

Listening to Suzanne Vega's self-titled debut album tonight.  Released in 1985, standout tracks are "Knight Moves", "Undertow", "Small Blue Thing" and "Marlene on the Wall."  Definitely enjoying it, although I think "Solitude Standing" is much stronger overall.

For some reason I thought "Left of Center" was on this album, but I guess it was only on the "Pretty and Pink" soundtrack.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tidewater, VA Record Stores

Down in Williamsburg, VA for a few days with the family, so while they drove to the Beach I decided to spend some quality time exploring the local record shops.

I found a couple stores online so drove out to the Tidewater area. First on the agenda was Birdland in Virginia Beach.




I loved the atmosphere right away. There were a couple guys just hanging out talking about music, and the place had a very laid-back, music-lover vibe to it. It's not really a vinyl specialty shop, though - - more CDs. But they did have some vinyl - all in stacks on the floor, completely out of order. The good news is they were cheap. I did find some gems:

David Lee Roth - Eat 'em & Smile
Steve Winwood - Back in the High Life & Roll With It
Sheila E. - The Glamorous Life
Jody Watley - Some Kind of Lover (12" single)
The Young Rascals - Groovin'
The Police - Ghost in the Machine
Suzanne Vega - self-titled


After Birdland, I headed over to Norfolk and found Skinnies Records. This was a real treat. Very easy to find, awesome vibe, great owner who is very helpful and knowledgeable about music. EXCELLENT vinyl selection - definitely top notch place. Cool atmosphere, and really a must stop if you're in the area. In addition to vinyl they have tons of CDs, t-shirts, and other cool stuff. They have a great selection of vinyl - classic rock, punk, new wave, metal, cool 45's - plenty of collectibles.



I picked up a couple gems that I'm very happy about:

The Cure: The Top
Nirvana: Unplugged in New York

Great to have both of these on vinyl. Both classic albums. Had a good time shopping and chatting with the owner - Skinnies is a MUST for any music fan if you're in the Tidewater area, especially vinyl lovers like me.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Neil Young: "Chrome Dreams II"



Checked the mail today and the package I've been eagerly awaiting was there - yay! Perfect ending to a loooong day at work. Neil Young's 2007 album "Chrome Dreams II" - a rather idiosyncratic album combining older material that had been unreleased, and newer material. For example, "Box Car" dates from the period before "Freedom" - it was originally part of an album called "Times Square" that was never released, although much of the material ended up on "Freedom." The epic "Ordinary People" dates from his time w/ the Bluenotes in the late 80s. Oddly enough the original "Chrome Dreams" is another unreleased album from the 70's... only Neil Young would release a sequel to an album that was never released in the first place.

As I've said many times, Neil marches to the beat of his own drummer. That's what makes him so great.

John Lennon reissues

Some very exciting news! John Lennon's complete solo catalog is being reissued in new deluxe editions, including a very interesting "stripped" version of "Double Fantasy". Really looking forward to this!!

Here's the basic information, with more details on Yoko's site.

* * *

JOHN LENNON – GIMME SOME TRUTH

Eight of John Lennon’s classic solo albums and other standout recordings have been digitally remastered from his original mixes for a global catalogue initiative commemorating the music legend’s 70th birthday, which falls on October 9, 2010.

Overseen by Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s GIMME SOME TRUTH campaign will launch on 4 October (5 October in North America) with the worldwide release of eight remastered studio albums and several newly-compiled titles.

Double Fantasy, 1980’s GRAMMY Award winner for Album of the Year, will be presented in a newly remixed ‘Stripped Down’ version remixed and produced by Yoko Ono and Jack Douglas, co-producers of the original mix with John Lennon. The new stripped down version of the album comes in an expanded 2CD and digital edition pairing the new version with Lennon’s original mix, remastered.

The campaign’s other new collections include:

A hits compilation in two editions titled Power To The People: The Hits
A 4CD set of themed discs titled Gimme Some Truth
A deluxe 11CD collectors box with the remastered albums, rarities, and non-album singles, titled The John Lennon Signature Box

Monday, June 28, 2010

Crowded House - Archer´s Arrows




I really dig this track from the new Crowded House album "Intriguer." Solid record, and "Archer's Arrows" is a high point.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

new EMUSIC purchases

Hurrah for emusic.com - a terrific service.   One of the great moments of each month is clicking on emusic and seeing that my downloads are renewed and ready to go. They have so much incredible stuff to choose from that it takes me very little time to use up my allotment.

I spent some quality time browsing last night, and this is what I ended up with.

Corey Dargel: "Someone Will Take Care of Me"


















A Facebook friend posted about this album, so I thought I'd check it out.   It's an intriguing mix of contemporary classical and pop, but it just didn't connect with me right away.  Seems a little more form over substance.  It's a little bit too twee for me.   I do think Corey is a supremely talented artist and has come up with some very original ideas, but the songs were not particularly compelling to me.   Perhaps its one of those records that requires repeated listens.  I suspect that Corey will continue to grow and will have many interesting things ahead.   It's all a little bit too clean and clinical and sterile for me, but I am interested to see how this artist continues to develop.    I'm not going to give up on this album...   perhaps part of the problem is that being a double album there is lots to absorb and none of the songs individually jump out.   Ambitious, but perhaps a more focused approach would have left a more powerful impression.

* * * 

How To Destroy Angels - self-titled





 













Trent Reznor's new project allows him to shed the Nine Inch Nails label and the expectations that go along with it - ultimately I think that will be a good thing, but this project isn't the most auspicious first step.   There are some interesting soundscapes - mostly mellow electronica with whispery female vocals.  It's a 6-track EP, and is mostly forgettable.   It's an interesting idea but the songs just aren't there.   There isn't enough power in the vocals to drive home the emotions behind the songs.   "A Drowning" is a perfect example... musically its sublime and builds intensity as it goes, but the limp vocals just fall flat.

* * * 

Cyndi Lauper:  "Memphis Blues"


















First she did an album of standards - "At Last" - and now Cyndi Lauper tries out Memphis Blues...  meh.   It just sounds like a genre exercise.   She doesn't have the vocal chops to pull this off believably.  Don't get me wrong, Cyndi is an exquisite singer... just not in this particular idiom.  The whole thing has a faintly pointless vibe to it.    Cyndi needs to get back to the quirky pop that made her the iconic artist that she is.

* * * 

Danzig:  "Deth Red Sabaoth"


















Danzig's return is a solid, murky-dark, wall-of-sound heavy rock album - what one would expect from Danzig.     My initial impressions are positive but not overwhelmed - - need a few more spins of this one.

* * *

Ed Harcourt:  "Lustre"


















Ed Harcourt is a brilliant songwriter, vocalist and musician.   Jeff Buckley meets Nick Cave and Tom Waits.   He's capable of moments that are absolutely superb, but he's yet to put together a full albums worth of killer material.  "Lustre" is about what I've come to expect from Harcourt - entertaining and frequently excellent, but still lacking the originality and spark that would lead him to take that next step.    His melodies often tend toward the pedestrian side, and very little here really knocks me in the heart.   This is easily the best album listed on this blog entry (well, at least as far as the new releases are concerned), but Harcourt is so obviously talented and has such moments of sheer brilliance ("God Protect Your Soul", for instance), that I expect more.   I keep expecting the Ed Harcourt album that will finally bowl me over, but it hasn't happened yet.   But again - first impressions can sometimes lead the listener astray, and given how much new music I've been absorbing this weekend, I'll give this a few more spins.   Maybe it'll turn around for me.

* * * 

Gleaming Spires:  "Songs of the Spires"


















Ahhh I love the fact that you can find these obscure 80s oddities on emusic.   Interesting in that this is a vinyl rip - the faint clicks of the scratches are clearly audible.  But that's okay - it adds to the nostalgia.  "Are You Ready For the Sex Girls" is a forgotten gem.

* * * 

Sia:  "We Are Born"


















Meh...  nothing much to get excited about here.  I like the cover of Madonna's "Oh Father" but the original material is mostly forgettable and her vocals are too mannered throughout - she has a lovely, rich voice, and it's most effective when she keeps it simple.    The songs are faintly pleasant pop with an indie vibe, but it's all been done before, and better.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Cure: "Disintegration"

 I have been falling in love all over again with this album ever since the deluxe reissue came out a couple weeks back.   Well, I never fell *out* of love with it, it's always been among my favorite albums of all-time.   But the new reissue, with it's stellar sound quality and bevy of rarities, gives it added depth.   "Disintegration" is glorious, romantic, dark pop - an album that is one of a kind in rock history. 

When it came out, I was just learning to drive.  I remember playing the cassette in the car when I drove around my hometown with my dad.   The day it came out, I walked downtown on my lunch break from high school (in those days MHS had an open campus, not sure if that is still the case) and bought "Disintegration" from Backstreet Records (which, sadly, no longer exists.)   

I had already been hooked on 1st single "Fascination Street."  I had been a Cure fan for a few years, and eagerly recorded the premier of "Fascination Street" from the radio show "Future Hits" - an awesome syndicated show that played the newest music that was about to break onto the charts.   What a brilliant song... psychedelic, intense, building to an incredible climax...  I couldn't wait for the album to come out.

I played "Disintegration" like mad.  It was constantly in my car, on my walkman, on my stereo.  I'd lay in my room in the dark and listen to it from start to finish.   Hearing it now brings me back to that time;  but the thing is, the album has stood the test of time so well that it's beyond simple nostalgia.   It's just a killer record.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: "Mojo"


Finally starting to get into this album a bit.   Petty was due to record another album w/ the Heartbreakers - it's been a long time since "The Last DJ".   This album is much better - - completely different vibe.  "The Last DJ" was so serious and angry and darkly bitter... still had some good tunes but overall "Mojo" is far superior.  It's a raw, straightforward rock album. 

Musically opening track "Jefferson Jericho Blues" sounds very much inspired by something on Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" album - "Tombstone Blues" perhaps.   "First Flash of Freedom" is a more downtempo tempo tune with a prominent walking bass line and swirling organ; an almost hypnotic vibe.   Like the album as a whole, it's very retro and rootsy.   It's got a cool duet-guitar solo and the longer it goes, it sounds a bit like The Doors.  Very strong track.

"Running Man's Bible" is a driving blues-rocker with some killer guitar licks and a funky, stripped back sound.   It's a bit overlong.   "The Trip to Pirate's Cover" is a story-song, as the title suggests;  has a classic Petty sound to it, and again some great sounding organ. 

"Candy" is a throwaway blues-rocker that would be pleasant enough as a b-side but kinda throws the album for a loop.   But maybe there needed to be something lightweight here to counterbalance some of the other tunes..

"No Reason to Cry" is about as straight an acoustic country song that you'll hear from Mr. Petty.  He delves into the idiom with quite a bit of authenticity;  his voice suits the genre quite well. 

 "I Should Have Known It" is a riff-heavy rocker in classic Heartbreakers style;  it definitely hearkens back to their younger days.  

"U.S. 41" starts as an exercise in folk storytelling before building to a raucous blues stomper.   Doesn't really have the needed spark.  "Takin' My Time", another bluesy rocker, is better although it takes a while to get off the ground.

The rest of the album is similarly hit and miss.

Overall after a couple of listens, "Mojo" is clearly a solid record but it lacks a couple cornerstone classic songs that would make it really memorable.  There are no unforgettable Petty singles here... no "Mary Jane's Last Dance" or "Free Fallin" or "Just Got Lucky" or "Running Down a Dream" or....  there are many many more.   The sound gelled, but material-wise it sticks pretty close to blues/rock formula for the most part.   Will continue to absorb it, but I suspect my final verdict will be:  good, but not great, and a definite step up from Petty's last album w/ The Heartbreakers (but not as good as Petty's last solo album, the suberb "Highway Companion.")

new release Tuesday, June 22, 2010

picked up the following new releases (so far) today:

Kele, "The Boxer" Lead singer of Bloc Party with solo album.


 














Also, the new Macy Gray, "The Sell Out". Previously listened to it on Billboard.com, and it sounds like her best effort since her debut.



Picked up the new Laurie Anderson, "Homeland".   Anytime Laurie Anderson releases something new, it's an exciting day.







Monday, June 21, 2010

My Picks: Best Albums of the 00s

1. Radiohead - Kid A
2. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
3. Bob Dylan - Modern Times
4. Arcade Fire - Funeral
5. David Bowie - Heathen
6. U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
7. Tori Amos - Scarlet's Walk
8. Rufus Wainwright - Poses
9. Radiohead - In Rainbows
10. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
11. Editors - Back Room
12. Metric - Fantasies
13. Pedro The Lion - Control
14. Radiohead - Amnesiac
15. Kate Bush - Aerial
16. The Dears - No Cities Left
17. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
18. Annie Lennox - Songs of Mass Destruction
19. U2 - How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
20. Bob Dylan - Love and Theft

Full list on Last.FM

My Picks: Best Albums of the 80's

1. The Cure - Disintegration (1989)
2. Prince - Sign o' The Times (1987)
3. Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (are made of this) (1983)
4. Kate Bush - Hounds of Love (1985)
5. The Police - Synchronicity (1983)
6. Peter Gabriel - So (1986)
7. Prince & The Revolution - Purple Rain (1984)
8. Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking (1988)
9. Eurythmics - Savage (1987)
10. Kate Bush - The Dreaming (1982)
11. Bob Dylan - Oh Mercy (1989)
12. U2 - The Joshua Tree (1987)
13. Joy Division - Closer (1980)
14. The Cure - Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
15. Madonna - Like a Prayer (1989)
16. Prince - 1999 (1982)
17. Eurythmics - Touch (1983)
18. XTC - Skylarking (1986)
19. David Bowie - Scary Monsters (1980)
20. Michael Jackson - Thriller (1982)

Full List on Last.FM

My Picks: Best Albums of the 90's

1. Radiohead - OK Computer
2. U2 - Achtung Baby
3. Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
4. Tori Amos - Boys for Pele
5. Nirvana - In Utero
6. Annie Lennox - Diva
7. Nirvana - Nevermind
8. Radiohead - The Bends
9. Pet Shop Boys - Very
10. Pearl Jam - Vs.
11. Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual
12. Sinead O'Connor - I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got
13. Alice in Chains - Dirt
14. R.E.M. - Automatic For the People
15. Depeche Mode - Violator
16. Edie Brickell & New Bohemians - Ghost of a Dog
17. The Cure - Wish
18. Tori Amos - From The Choirgirl Hotel
19. Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
20. Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill

Full List on Last.FM

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yoko Ono: "Fly"

Finally picked up a vinyl copy of Yoko's 2-LP "Fly" - got it from eBay for $30.00. Pretty good price considering I've seen it going for much higher.




It's one of the most fascinating albums of the 70s, in my opinion.

Joe's Record Paradise - 6/20/10

Very nice trip to Silver Spring and Joe's Record Paradise today. It's only my 2nd time there and I have a feeling I'll be going back more frequently. Terrific selection and some great rarities.


Picked up the following:

10CC's "The Original Soundtrack" which, of course, features their masterpiece "I'm Not in Love."



Prince's "Kiss" 12" single. Exclusive extended mixes of both "Kiss" and it's stellar b-side, "Love or Money" - one of Prince's best obscure tracks.



The Records self-titled 1979 album featuring their classic single "Starry Eyes"




The Chameleon's amazing "Strange Times" LP



and a sealed copy of The Dead Boys "We Have Come For Your Children"




very happy with my haul today.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thomas Dolby: "Amerikana"

Thomas Dolby has just released a new 3-track EP called "Amerikana", available only at his website. The tracks are a preview of his upcoming album, "A Map of the Floating City." Earlier this year he had released the preview track "Love is a Loaded Pistol."

It's amazing to hear new TD music after so many years, and the new material sounds terrific. Evidently he will release 2 more EPs and then later in 2010 the full album. Looking forward to it.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kele: "Tenderoni"

Just picked up the new single from Bloc Party vocalist Kele. It's called "Tenderoni" from his upcoming album "The Boxer."

It definitely continues in the more dance/electronic vibe that Bloc Party had been exploring on their last album. Not sure yet if I'm crazy about it, need to give it some more spins.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

new music Tuesday

picked up some new releases today:

Steve Miller Band: "Bingo!"
Drake: "Thank Me Later"
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: "Mojo"
Morcheeba: "Blood Like Lemonade"

Friday, June 11, 2010

Robin Trower - Bridge of Sighs

ahh... how great it is to hear this album. Robin Trower's "Bridge of Sighs." Definite underrated gem from the 70's.



Here is the amazing title track, with vocals by the great James Dewar, who recorded an incredible song himself: "Stumbledown Romancer"

Bellydancing-ish @ Substix

Stumbled upon a music blog called Substix, which is really cool.

Especially this stellar mix called Bellydancing-ish - I highly recommend checking it out.




---Tracklisting---
1. Siouxsie and the Banshees - "Follow the Sun"
2. Shocking Blue - "Love Buzz"
3. Nine Inch Nails - "14 Ghosts II"
4. Damon Albarn - "Reedz"
5. Danielle Dax - "Timber Tongue"
6. Beastie Boys - "Eugene's Lament"
7. Ratatat - "Mumtaz Khan"
8. David Bowie - "Yassassin"
9. The Who - "Disguises"
10. The Fall - "Theme From Error-Orror!"
11. Koji Kondo - "Marina Research Laboratory"
12. Danielle Dax - "Ostrich"
13. Ananda Shankar - "Dance Indra"
14. Siouxsie and the Banshees - "Silly Thing"
15. Ofra Haza - "Im Nin Alu"
16. Dead Can Dance - "Indus"
17. Nico - "Into the Arena"
18. Siouxsie and the Banshees - "Lunar Camel"
19. Koji Kondo - "Lethal Lava Land"
20. Dead Can Dance - "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove"

Record and Tape Exchange - June 10, 2010

Hit my local music shop in Fairfax last night, Record and Tape Exchange. They have done some rearranging of the vinyl and I found it very confusing... hopefully it's just the start of an ongoing reorganization process.

The gem I picked up was an excellent copy of The Dream Syndicate's 1982 album "The Days of Wine and Roses." I noticed when I got it home and looked it up on Wikipedia that the cover was different, so I did some research and realized that I got the French pressing issued on Closer Records. I paid $20.00 for it, and the only listing I found online for the French version was on Gemm.Com for $119.00. Seems like I got a pretty good deal.

I listened to the album last night and thought it was terrific.



Also picked up a number of other vinyl goodies:

Roberta Flack: "First Take"
Roberta Flack: "Feel Like Making Love"
The Cult: "Love"
The Cult: "Dreamtime"
Pet Shop Boys: "Actually"
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: "Nine Tonight"
Robin Trower: "Bridge of Sighs"

a Washington-DC Area Go-Go compilation called "Go Go Crankin' - Paint The White House Black"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Prince: "Sign o' The Times"





Prince recently announced that he will release 2 new albums, ‘Lotusflow3r’ and ‘MPLSound’ later this month exclusively at Target department stores. These days Prince makes more news for his marketing innovations – and sending angry missives via his attorneys to fan sites – than his music. But while he might not be shaking the foundations of pop music with every new album like he did in the 80s, new Prince music is still cause for excitement. He’s waxed and waned and waxed again over the years in terms of commercial and artistic success; he’s capable of producing both dreadful misfires (‘New Power Soul’, anyone?) as well as stone-cold classics. Only time will tell where the new albums will rank amongst the pantheon of Princedom, but in the meantime he has a peerless back catalog brimming with amazing tunes that can tide fans over until the new albums arrive.


Prince was arguably at his creative peak in 1986 as he wrote and assembled the wildly diverse collection of songs that would end up on his acclaimed 1987 double-album ‘Sign o’ the Times.’ It was a cobbled together patchwork of songs that had originally been recorded for various unreleased projects - the aborted ‘Dream Factory’ LP, an album to be credited to the alter-ego “Camille” featuring Prince’s vocals manipulated and sped-up, and the proposed 3-LP set ‘Crystal Ball’ which was whittled down to 2 discs at the record company’s insistence. Many of the tracks recorded during this period remain unreleased but have been widely bootlegged, so in some respects the mystique of ‘Sign o’ the Times’ has always suffered a bit for imaging what it might have been. But while diehard fans will continue to pine for the release of outtakes from the era, it hardly seems fair to judge an album by what it doesn’t include – and without question ‘Sign o’ The Times’ is still a phenomenal record. The diversity, perhaps owing to the unfocused nature of its genesis, is its greatest strength. The title track opens the album on a stark and somber note. With lyrics about AIDS, drugs, violence and poverty over a stripped-down dark funk backdrop, “Sign o’ The Times” was a bold choice for debut single. Mostly known in the past for sweat-drenched and lascivious funk-rock like “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss” and “Little Red Corvette,” this was something unlike anything Prince had ever released. Despite its heavy subject matter, and its lack of a video in an age when MTV was all-powerful, it became an instant smash.


From that starting point, the album whirls and twists in almost every direction imaginable. “Housequake,” with its shout-and-response vocals, rapid-fire horn blasts and kinetic rhythm is a certifiable Prince classic. “Hot Thing” is blistering funk. The off-kilter “Ballad of Dorothy Parker” is a comically obtuse take on a one-night stand. The semi-psychedelic “Starfish and Coffee” is an oddly touching song about a young girl with developmental disabilities. It showed a sentimentality in Prince’s songwriting largely missing from past records. Then there’s the sweet soul of “Slow Love,” an unabashedly lush old-school ballad with romantic strings, horns and a sweeping vocal performance. Disc one closes with the bluesy “Forever In My Life,” a song of naked devotion that doesn’t fall into the usual mode of the slow, weepy ballad. It’s basically Prince just singing over a slightly discordant drum machine pattern with a few strands of guitar at the end, but the vocal performance is so emotive and powerful that more instrumentation would have smothered it.


Disc two is, if anything, even stronger. “U Got the Look,” a wickedly clever pop song with a killer hook provided by Sheena Easton, was the album’s biggest hit single. Another smash was the rocker “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” with an extended instrumental ending giving Prince free reign on his blistering guitar. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is arguably one of Prince’s greatest accomplishments. Twisted and funky, it’s a sly take on the dynamics within a relationship, with distorted vocals and an insistent, creeping rhythm and a serpentine keyboard riff that crawls into your brain and takes hold. “The Cross” morphs from a solemn devotional ballad into a thundering blues-rock finale. “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night,” mixing a live backing track with studio overdubs, is 9 minutes of hip shaking funk that is irrepressibly joyous. The album closes with perhaps Prince’s most famous ballad, the achingly beautiful “Adore.” Prince’s soaring falsetto never sounded better. When “until the end of time, I’ll be there for you…” eases out of the speakers, lights suddenly dim and candles light all of their own accord.


Prince has released tons of great music since ‘Sign o’ the Times,’ including some solid work this decade, but he never again over the course of an entire record reached the dizzying heights achieved on this masterwork. It showed his seemingly effortless versatility in full display, and has become the benchmark by which every new Prince album is judged. Experimental while still being accessible, ‘Sign o’ The Times’ is the type of extraordinary album that shows the limitless possibilities of pop music.


Bob Dylan: "Highway 61 Revisited"




















Bob Dylan is about to release his latest album “Together Through Life” at the end of April, which is of course cause for celebration. Now 67, Dylan is still touring almost continuously despite his time-ravaged voice and recent health scares. He had hinted that his last album, the phenomenal “Modern Times,” might be his last, but luckily for us all Dylan is evidently still driven to create. His last few albums have been among the strongest of his career, and from the early reviews “Together Through Life” seems destined to continue his late-era renaissance.

Bob Dylan’s vast and diverse catalogue can be a daunting prospect for those seeking to learn more about his music. Where to start? The easy answer is “Highway 61 Revisited,” released in August 1965. If you picture Bob Dylan as wheezing his way through strident, atonal folk songs while forlornly strumming on an acoustic guitar, “Highway 61 Revisited” is a blast of freezing water to the face. It’s Dylan at his most vitriolic and incisive; and most importantly, it ROCKS. The picture of a young Dylan glaring balefully at the camera on the cover captures the spirit of the record perfectly.

Everybody knows (or should know) “Like a Rolling Stone.” It’s 6+ minutes of gleeful malevolence, schadenfreude in its most derisive form. “Like a Rolling Stone” grasps hold of someone at their lowest point, cowering in a pool of desperation on the sidewalk, and delivers a few well-aimed kicks with steel-toed boots. Dylan sneers the lyrics with icy disdain while his band rollicks and riffs so loosely that it seems like they may fall apart at any moment, but never do. Rock ‘n’ roll had never been this nasty before and it opened up new horizons that resonate to this day.

The rest of the album is just as great. “Ballad of a Thin Man” is another withering torrent of purest loathing, this time aimed at a clueless journalist or perhaps a record company executive. The title track is an aural nightmare, with haunting doomsday imagery. The bleary-eyed shuffle “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” is a sordid tale of drink, drugs, and women in the corrupt Mexican border city of Juarez. And of course there’s the epic “Desolation Row,” poetic and surreal, and miles away from anything else being recorded at the time.


To understand the nuclear impact made by “Highway 61 Revisited,” it’s worthwhile looking at what else was on the scene during the summer of 1965. The Beatles were riding high with innocuous pop songs like “Help!” and “Yesterday” - timeless classics and great in their way, but juvenile and trite compared to something like “Tombstone Blues.” The Rolling Stones were still mostly recording ragged covers of old blues songs. Pop radio was dominated by friendly crooners. “Highway 61 Revisited,” with Dylan’s groundbreaking lyrics, sandpaper vocals, and searing backing band, upped the ante for everyone. Anybody who claims that Dylan can’t sing needs to be immersed in this record immediately. It’s the ultimate reminder of why Dylan is untouched in rock music lore. For longtime fans or newcomers to Dylan’s music, delving into “Highway 61 Revisited” is a good way to while away the weeks until “Together Through Life” hits stores on April 28.

Side one

Like a Rolling Stone 6:09
Tombstone Blues 5:58
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry
From a Buick 6
Ballad of a Thin Man

Side two
Queen Jane Approximately
Highway 61 Revisited
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
Desolation Row

Originally posted on NBC-4 on March 30, 2009