Sunday, June 30, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Listen To What The Man Said"

They may be silly love songs, but Sir Paul McCartney has always had a knack for writing great ones.  This is a song that I always felt deserved more respect than it got at the time.  It was a big hit, but in 1975, we were still in that stage where people seemed to think that every effort by an ex-Beatle was going to approach the level of what they accomplished together.  You can't capture lightning in a bottle every day of the week, folks.

And look at him now - he's 70 years old, he looks great, he's got a great band behind them, and the song still sounds great.

"Listen To What The Man Said," Paul McCartney and Wings, from the summer of 1975.

Top 6 Albums of the First 6 Months of 2013

And trust me, it was hard to narrow it down to 6.  It's been the best six month stretch in quite a while, and I could easily have stretched it out to 10.  But we'll save that for a year end list.

Jake Bugg

A 19-year old kid, for crying out loud.  Sounds like he's ready to take over the world.

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

If you still listen to the car radio, good luck not hearing "Get Lucky" if your drive lasts more than 15 minutes.  Fortunately for all of us, it's one of those rare songs that just gets better with repeated listens.  But that's just the tip of the iceberg - this is a remarkable album, one that sounds fresh and new at the same time that it is paying homage to some of the most popular sounds of the seventies.  "Giorgio by Moroder" gives the great producer his due, and "Touch," featuring Paul Williams of all people, is a 9-minute epic that shouldn't work, but does - and to great effect.

John Fogerty - Wrote A Song For Everyone

Only two new songs, but when the covers are some of the best songs that the best American rock ban ever recorded, it's hard to quibble.  The best proof that Fogerty has come to peace with his days in Creedence shows up at the end of the record, when you realize that the opening to the new version of "Proud Mary" owes a lot more to the Ike and Tina version than it does the Creedence original.  The album is full of highlights, and Fogerty isn't afraid to tinker with the originals a bit.  It's hard for me to imagine anyone not liking this album.

Patty Griffin - American Kid

As I wrote a few weeks ago, definitely Griffin's best album since "1000 Kisses," her 2002 masterpiece.

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

I liked their debut a lot, the follow up quite a bit less.  But listening to the new album, unquestionably their best, it's obvious that they were stretching themselves on the second, and that without it the third might not have been possible.  Everything they try on this one - slow, mid-tempo, fast - works.

Yo La Tengo - Fade

Can an indie cult band make their best album after nearly 25 years in the business?  Apparently so.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "You Will Leave a Mark," A Silent Film

This may be stretching the boundaries of "summer song" a bit, but bear with me.

I tend to become a bit obsessive about songs.  If a song moves me, I'll listen to it over and over again, to the point of annoyance for anyone who has the misfortune of being in my vicinity.  This is one of those songs - it's not new, but I didn't discover it until the local radio station I listen to recently put it in heavy rotation.  Now I sit there in the car just hoping it will come on, so I can turn the radio up and just let it wash over me.

This is a live performance, a strong one, of the song.

So it may not have been released in the summer, but as far as I'm concerned, it's a summer song - summer of 2013.

"You Will Leave a Mark," A Silent Film.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Yummy Yummy Yummy," The Ohio Express

My dad walks in after a day at work, and says "I just heard the craziest song on the radio...I think they were singing "Yummy yummy yummy I got a baby in my tummy."

Well, close...but no cigar.  Sure it's a dumb song, but it's also one of the bubblegum classics that Lester Bangs defended so eloquently in the first edition of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock 'n Roll.

And regardless of what you think about the song, you gotta love the comment from my dad.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - Girls, Girls, Girls, Liz Phair

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the release of "Exile in Guyville," Liz Phair's pretty remarkable debut album.  So let this day-late post serve as a tribute both to the album, but to Phair as an artist.  In terms of critical acceptance, she's never scaled the heights she reached with the debut, although my favorite album of hers is 2003's "Liz Phair," which was only one of the most polarizing albums in the history of rock 'n roll.  When it came out, the Village Voice published three reviews of it - one mildly negative, one absolutely scathing, and a full-scale endorsement from Robert Christgau.

But back in the summer of '93, Liz could do no wrong.

"Girls, Girls, Girls," from the summer of 1993.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

5 Songs

Yesterday, I spent my lunch hour (actually, a little longer than that) as a guest on a new podcast that's just been started by Sacramento comedian, playwright and bon vivant Jack Gallagher and his buddy, veteran Sacramento musician Tommy Dunbar (I'd say some really nice things about him as well, but I don't know him as well as Jack).  The show is called "5 Songs," the website for which can be found here.

During the podcast (as described on the web site), "a guest brings 5 songs that serve as a springboard to discuss significant moments in their lives.  It's that simple." 

As anyone who knows me could have figured out in a split second, picking 5 songs for that purpose was a bit of a challenge for me.  I'm not going to give away what they are, but in choosing them I tried to cover some of the major eras of my life, from going up in Fair Oaks, to my college experience, to becoming an adult (I think I've passed that test, right?) and then experiencing music introduced to me by my now grown-up kids.  It was a heck of a lot of fun, and I couldn't have asked for better hosts.

When my edition is posted on the website, I'll provide an update here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Leaving Las Vegas," Sheryl Crow

When Sheryl Crow began her career, I felt like the sky was the limit.  It was the same sort of feeling that one gets when watching an extraordinary athlete in their rookie season who sets the league (whatever league, whatever sport) on absolute fire.  Will they build on that early success?  Will they squander their opportunity?  Did they only have that great first season/record in them?

It's perhaps a harsh judgment, but I feel as if Crow failed to realize the potential that she established with that great first album.  The second, eponymously titled album was very good, and the third, "The Globe Sessions," was probably her masterpiece - a great album by almost any measure.  But after that, things petered out, to the point where a couple of her efforts have been so saccharine and uninspired that it's difficult to believe they came from the same person who topped the charts back in the 1990s.

But make no bones about it, "Tuesday Night Music Club" was one of the great debut albums of all time.  And it was with "Leaving Las Vegas" that she first made her mark, way back in the summer of 1993.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Spinning Wheel"

"What goes up, must come down."

No doubt about it, one of the most recognizable opening lines in pop music history.

More than 40 years later, it's hard to believe that there were discussions about whether Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago would leave a more lasting imprint on the pop music scene.  BST had this huge hit, plus a couple of others, and that was about it.  Chicago ruled the airwaves for a good portion of the 70s, gradually morphing from a harder-edged sound to an MOR hit-making machine.

But whether or not they won the battle, BST will always have this song to look back on.

"Spinning Wheel," Blood, Sweat and Tears," from the summer of 1969.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - Bob Seger, "Against the Wind"

Back in the days when Rolling Stone Magazine actually published negative music reviews, Dave Marsh - a longtime fan - just savaged "Against the Wind," calling it "heartless and mediocre," and writing that "all that Seger risks here is his credibility, and that accidentally."

I agree that the production is a little too slick for my taste, but I still like the album - songs like "You'll Accompany Me," Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight" still sound fresh today, as does this tune, the title track.  Marsh's review didn't stop the album from becoming a monster hit, and I'd venture a guess that it was his biggest seller.  It certainly dominated the airwaves during the summer of 1980.

Bob Seger, "Against the Wind," from the summer of 1980

Friday, June 21, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "San Francisco"

This will fall into one of two categories - "triumphant return," or "dumbest idea I ever had."

But...ladies and's 95 MORE SONGS OF SUMMER!

We kick off today with a really medicore performance of a song that I thought was really cool when I was 7 years old and can appreciate today for its naivete (at the same time I'm chuckling at how goofy it is).  It takes a while in this clip for the band to figure out what tempo Scott McKenzie wants to sing the song, but after a while it does kick in to a reasonably entertaining groove.

Now mind you, "San Francisco" will never go down as one of the great songs in history - there's a reason you don't hear it played at Giants and 49ers games - but it is an artifact of the times, no doubt.

"San Francisco," Scott McKenzie, from the early summer of 1967. 

Instant Classic

But do you know what this feels like? To see one of your idols succeed at the expense of another? To see a team that deserved it so much lose to another that deserved it just as much? To see both teams go from miles ahead to inches ahead to, ultimately, just enough to cross the finish line? Somebody has to lose. And, somehow, that is why we all win.

- Patricia Lee, Grantland

And that pretty much says it all.  There is nothing more exciting than watching two elite teams play at the top of their respective games for a championship trophy.  And even though each individual game was not a classic, the series definitely was.  It's probably too early to opine on where the 2013 NBA Finals stands in the pantheon of great NBA series (the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Kings and Lakers is tough to top for sheer drama), but there's no question it was one of the best of my lifetime.  Off the top of my head, the only one that comes to mind as a competitor for the crown is the 1984 classic between the Lakers and the Celtics.

What the 1984 and 2013 series have in common is that they both felt like a classic heavyweight fight - two great champions beating the living daylights out of each other in the center of the ring, with neither being able to sustain momentum for very long.  I've watched the Thrilla in Manila (the third Ali-Frazier fight, for those not steeped in sports history) many times on YouTube, and there is a classic moment early in that fight that tells the entire story.  Ali has come out blazing, clearly thinking that he needs to get this thing over with and get the hell out of Dodge before the oppressive heat and Mr. Frazier expose the fact that most of his skills have eroded to the point where he is barely recognizable from the unbeatable legend sent into exile 8 years earlier.  And he is absolutely pummeling Frazier, and Frazier is doing nothing in return.  Until a moment at the end of the third round, when Frazier uncorks one of his patented left hooks right onto Ali's chin, making Ali step back with the pain, and suddenly you see a look on Ali's face that says "oh my God, this guy isn't going away."  And thus ensued what remains to this day perhaps the most savage beating that two boxers have ever inflicted on each other - in all likelihood, changing the trajectories of both lives.

The players on Miami and San Antonio probably feel the same way this morning.  After that fight in Manila, Ali was heard to say that the experience was "the closest thing to dying that I can think of."  One can only imagine what must be going through the heads of Tim Duncan - who has made that little hook shot a million times, except last night it wouldn't go down in the desperate closing moments - and Manu Ginobli, whose flashes of typical brilliance were, in the end, washed away by horrible shots and horrible lapses in judgment that led to turnovers.  And yet, there was Ginobli near the end, still shooting when others like Danny Green appeared to be scared to even touch the ball, dropping a rainbow three that was like a spear through the hearts of the Miami fans.

One thing I can say with certainty is that those last two games were absolute classics.  In past years, I've rooted against the Spurs in the Finals, for no particular reason except that they were the prohibitive favorite.  I've never rooted for this version of the Heat, although I've come to terms with what Lebron did and have the utmost respect for him, as well as guys like Shane Battier, Eric Spoelstra, and Pat Riley.  So it's not as if I had any real stake in the outcome.  But watching those two games was excruciating in the same way that watching the Giants in the World Series and the 49ers in the Super Bowl was excruciating.  There was never time to even take a breath - those two games were never over, not until the final buzzer sounded.  Body blow followed by body blow - two of the greatest players of my lifetime, along with at least four other future Hall of Famers, spiced up with a dash of young studs like Kawhi Leonard (talk about poise) and old geezers like Battier, somehow pulling a performance for the ages out of his hat when, unless I missed something, he hadn't contributed a single thing to the Heat effort in Games 1 through 6.

The two best teams.  The two best coaches.  Two of the greatest players.  Wonderful competition.  It really doesn't get much better than that.  And if you asked them today, they'd probably be open to making it a Best of 11...or 13.  The only thing that would stop them in the end would be their bodies.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Random know, running through my head

So Google Reader is going away on July 1.  It's aggravating, but for me it may be a blessing in disguise.  I logged on today, and there were 685 new blog posts just screaming out at me to read them.  216 from Ann Althouse alone.  Sure, there are probably some real gems in there, but in the end how much time does one really have to read blog posts?  So moving forward, I'll be severely reducing the number of blogs I read - whatever platform I end up reading them on.

This is shaping up to be an awesome year for music, at least the music that I like.  In some recent years, I've had trouble coming up with a 10-best list because I couldn't think of that many albums worthy of the designation.  But this year, we've already had:

- Patty Griffin's "American Kid"
- Vampire Weekend's "Modern Vampires of the City"
- John Fogerty's "Wrote a Song For Everyone"
- The National's "Trouble Will Find Me"
- Jake Bugg's debut

John Fogerty...simply impossible to dislike his new album, methinks.

Not to mention the new efforts from Pistol Annies, Kacey Musgrave, Deerhunter's "Monomania," plus Emmylou & Rodney, Phoenix, Dawes, and Yo La Tengo, which I already wrote about.  Good stuff.  And Arcade Fire yet to come this year.

I really enjoyed "Looper," and thought it was the best time-travel movie I've ever seen.  It all worked for me.

Of the summer blockbusters, we've already seen "Iron Man 3" (almost as good as the original, much better than "2"), "The Hangover 3" (I admit I enjoyed it, even though I agree that it probably has no reason to exist), and "Star Trek Into Darkness" (already on record as saying that I think what JJ Abrams has done with the canon is absolutely brilliant, and I loved most of what they did here).

Being extended to 7 games by the Indiana Pacers doesn't do much for the Heat's argument to be considered in the debate for best team ever.

Bill Simmons' "The Basketball Book" is nearly 700 pages of absolute nirvana for a sports fan.  My favorite quote comes from Bill Walton, in explaining what it takes to reach the elite level in the game: "Can you make the choice that your happiness comes from someone else's success?"

Worked my way through "the three Cs" - Connelly, Crais, and Coben.  Of the three, Crais' "Suspect" is the best, and I promise to write more about it at some point.  It's his best work since his masterpiece, "LA Requiem."   And since that was only one of the greatest detective novels ever written, that is saying something.

Admit it - right now, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" is stuck in your head, and you can't get it out.

Happy 35th birthday, "Darkness on the Edge of Town."

I could watch "Lost In Translation" every week for the rest of my life, and I don't think I'd get tired of it.

"Chronicle" was really good - every time I see a movie like that, I think "watch that director - going to be a big deal."

More to come...eventually.