30 December 2008

"tom's diner" || suzanne vega || 1987

A song that is incredibly fascinating in it's simple beauty, "Tom's Diner" is one of those songs that everyone on Earth has surely heard once in his or her life.

The track was originally recorded in 1981 and released in the January 1984 edition of Fast Folk Magazine. It was completely a cappella (only vocals and no music, for you n00bs). This single charted only in the UK and Ireland. She did, however, perform as the musical guest in a May 1987 episode of Saturday Night Live.

A cappella tracks are very ballsy moves by artists. They obviously require a vocal precision that is above that of the average singer. Vega's performance is most definitely solid, though. She delivers a memorable melody, a flawless vocal performance, and a narrative that non-native-New-Yorkers will find intriguing, and that natives will find familiar, but not banal.

Incidently, Tom's Diner is a real place, called Tom's Restaurant, at 112th Street and Broadway in New York City. Tom's is also famous for acting as the facade for Monk's Diner, the restaurant of choice of the main characters on Seinfeld.

This track scored its highest success in 1990, when it was remixed by the group DNA. Now a club-friendly downtempo house song, it took the charts of several countries by storm, including landing at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is the version that most will recognize.

Vega's voice is just so perfect for this song. It's flawlessly written and flawlessly executed. The DNA remix just took something that was perfect and made it perfect in a different world.

Here's an interesting bit of trivia that I found during my research for this post: The original track helped perfect the MP3! A computer scientist named Karlheinz Brandenburg was working on the compression techniques used in the MP3 file format to keep the file size small, without losing the quality of the music. According to this article, he heard a radio playing the song when he was working one night and decided that if his compression algorithm could work on her voice without making her sound bad, then he'd have a quality algorithm. The article notes, "When an MP3 player compresses music by anyone from Courtney Love to Kenny G, it is replicating the way that Brandenburg heard Suzanne Vega."

28 December 2008

"amarillo sky" || jason aldean || 2006

I honestly still can't figure out why I'm so moved by this song. It doesn't have anything to do with Aldean's voice, or really even much to do with the music, although the guitar buildup at the end of each chorus is nice. No, this is definitely a lyrical love.

This song is so striking to me because it offers the perspective of a struggling farmer, which is never offered in the kind of music that I normally listen to. The farmer is doing everything he can to raise his crops and achieve a profit, but he can't seem to do it. He's in desperation because he fears for his financial future.

And really, in a situation like that, who can you blame? Mother nature? Should you abandon the farm and find more lucrative work? Shutting down the farm seems like it would be more work than actually watering each acre of your farm by hand.

Clearly, I know nothing about this lifestyle. However, I most certainly appreciate a well-written song about pain, and that's what this is. Aldean does a fitting vocal delivery, and even though I'm not a fan of his voice, it does work well for this song. The guitar buildup that I mentioned earlier also adds to the desperate feelings that one gets when listening. It really makes you feel the poor farmer's struggle.

Plus, it's nice to hear a modern country song that isn't about religion, America, or lists of things that give the artist country cred.

Listen to this track in our new playlist, located in the right sidebar!

17 December 2008

the roxanne wars

I've contemplated making a post about this mid-'80s hip-hop anomaly for quite some time, and this recent post in my affiliate Kyleigh's Rare And Obscure Music blog made me decide that the time is right.

In 1984, hip-hop group UTFO released a single called "Hanging Out." The B-side was a track called "Roxanne, Roxanne," and the comical and very true-to-life nature of the song made it more popular than the single that it was intended to carry. A music video was shot for the song, and a young woman named Adelaida Martinez was cast in the role of "Roxanne."

The song is about the vocalist's failed attempts to catch the attention of "Roxanne," whom he dismisses as "stuck up" and "a crab." The single wasn't a shot at any actual person named Roxanne; it's just a silly mid-'80s hip-hop record.

Here's the story of the first Roxanne response record, as legend has it: One day, 14-year-old Lolita Shanté Gooden was walking down the street and overheard producer Marley Marl talking to radio deejay Mr. Magic. The two were discussing UTFO and how they'd recently cancelled a performance that Magic's radio station was promoting. (As a radio deejay myself, I completely understand why Magic would have been frustrated by such a maneuver.) Gooden told them that she'd make a record to get back at UTFO, and they accepted her offer. The result was a single called "Roxanne's Revenge," produced by Marley Marl and recorded by Gooden under the name Roxanne Shanté, released in late 1984:

Strong words for such a young girl, but the record was instantly noticed, because controversy always begets popularity. Notice that the beat is lifted directly from UTFO's song. That's because Shanté recorded the song in Marley Marl's bedroom, right over the instrumental cut of UTFO's song on their record. (Due to copyright infringement, the song was re-recorded with a different beat and cleaner lyrics and re-released in early 1985.)

The next player in this game was none other than Adelaida Martinez, who played "Roxanne" in UTFO's original music video. Donning the monkier The Real Roxanne, Martinez worked with UTFO to release a single also called "The Real Roxanne." Rather than directly lashing out at Shanté, The Real Roxanne's single was more of a response to UTFO's original single, told from the fictional Roxanne's perspective:

These three records seemed to open the floodgates for countless other emcees to take shots at either of the Roxannes. Here's one of my favorites, a track by an emcee who called herself Sparky D, entitled "Sparky's Turn (Roxanne You're Through)":

Totally fearless attack on the Roxannes. This is the stuff that emcee battles are made of.

Both Roxannes issued a second battle single (sort of). Here is Roxanne Shanté's, which was called "Queen Of Rox (Shanté Rocks On)":

The Real Roxanne's second single didn't really come from her, but from UTFO. It was called "Roxanne, Roxanne Part 2: Calling Her A Crab," and I can't find a copy of it to post here.

The Roxannes then turned focus to their respective careers. You can read about The Real Roxanne's career in this post in Kayleigh's blog. Roxanne Shanté released a couple of hardcore gangsta rap albums, but nothing too impressive. The Real Roxanne doesn't do music anymore, but the respect that she earned herself lives on in the rap community. Roxanne Shanté is still at it, releasing her latest album just two years ago.

One final note: Check out this very hilarious entry to the Roxanne series by rapper Ralph Rolle, which gives us a whole new spin on the Roxanne story:

13 November 2008

"breakaway" || big pig || 1988

Just a classic Aussie track post to prove that they've had it going on for quite some time.

I'm sad that "new beat" music didn't stay new for very long and subsequently tuckered out, because it was really neato stuff. It sounds like it was concocted by the Germans, but really, who the hell knows? It was acidic yet mellow music, which is most definitely an odd amalgamation, but it worked.

This song is one of the few gems of that era and that sound. Big Pig was a sizable band at six or seven members, but they certainly have a "big" sound, so the high member count makes sense. The remixed version that appears in the music video is exceptionally cool, and the 12" mixes of this song will blow your mind. If you dig bassy dance music with lots and lots of drums, this is right up your alley.

Although new beat music is few and far between, its better-known cousin big beat is very much alive and well. Groups like The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, and even Crystal Castles (on some of their songs) are very much a part of that style. In fact, "Breakaway" almost sounds more like a big beat song than a new beat song.

You decide.

NOTE: If you think you've heard this song before, you're probably remembering it from the opening credits of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.


12 November 2008

"paris is burning" || ladyhawke || 2008

Another Aussie that excites me!

Ladyhawke's sound is a perfect blend of '80s new wave and modern chick-indie rock. Her vocals and the drum rhythms are all modern, but the synth in her songs gives them a perfect retro tinge without being obnoxious. It's no wonder that she's captured the heart of every thirtysomething gay guy who listened to The Motels and 'Til Tuesday in middle school.

Again, my hat is off to you Australia. Please keep this great music coming our way!



"can't shake it" || kate miller heidke || 2008

Here's a lovely lady from Aussieland who's showing a lot of promise.

Whatever has inspired Australia to make such awesome music as of late, please, keep it up. I think the government must be adding something to the water that's giving them the ability to make fabulous danceable music, which is always something that the world needs.

I stumbled across Ms. Heidke online and fell in love with her gorgeous voice immediately. She is very obviously inspired by Cyndi Lauper in both voice and style (check out the clock in her hair!), but Lauper is an inspiring soul, so that's certainly not a criticism. Her latest single, "Can't Shake It," is a total college party song. It's about being self-conscious about one's own dancing ability; a spiritual successor to Genesis's famous 1992 hit, if you will. I heard it at about 9 a.m. one morning a few weeks ago, and it was in my station's rotation by lunchtime. Yes, it's that good.

According to anchor commentary before her live performance on the Aussie morning-TV show Sunrise, Heidke abandoned a folkier sound for this record. I've yet to hear her previous material, but I'm gonna take a leap of faith and say that this is a step in the right direction. Let's just hope she doesn't pull a Goldfrapp and improve her sound drastically for one album, only to return to completely inaccessible music on her next record.

I look forward to hearing lots more from her. And hey, check out her Sunrise performance to hear her do some super cool live vocals. This girl can sing!



08 October 2008

"surfin' bird" || the trashmen || 1964

Family Guy finally forced me to include this song in my blog. No complaints, though, because it was indeed a very important tune for rock n' roll music.

A glorious gem from the glorious era of surf rock, "Surfin' Bird" is just one of many examples of the genius thought put into pop music in the early 1960s. "Pop" was still a fairly new idea at the time, and I don't really believe that it was swallowed by other genres until the British Invasion happened in the mid-'60s. Really, before the boys from Liverpool came along to do their thing, pop music in the states was influenced by black jazz and r&b singers from the '40s. I once heard a record store clerk (who specializes in 45s from the 1950s) say that rock & roll was invented by black jazz musicians, and I agree with him.

Surf rock was a not-so-clear progression of that sound. I'm not just saying that because this song is the result of combining two '50s songs by The Rivingtons (a black r&b group from the '50s). Take a surf rock 45 and play it on the 33 rpm speed. You'll hear doo-wop music, the sound of which has a very clear correlation with early r&b music.

OK, enough of a music history / theory lesson.

Seriously, surf rock is really cool stuff. I also love that Family Guy's cultural influence extends as far as it does; as of this post, this tune is #9 on the Top Sellers in Rock on iTunes.


"everybody wants to rule the world" || tears for fears || 1986

This song is a bit mainstream for me to post about it, but it's earned its place here.

This is quite simply one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Hearing this on the radio tonight totally took me to another dimension. It's one of the first songs that I remember listening to very intently as a little kid; I had it on a mixtape that my dad made for me in his studio/office and I listened to it on the bus and in my little tape player at home. I remember the lyric "Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down / When they're through I'll be right behind you" totally blindsiding me with imagery even at that very young age.

Lyrically this song is very important. Right from the opening lyrics of "Welcome to your life / There's no turning back," you know you're dealing with some serious material. There is no fucking around. Congratulations, you're in charge of your own destiny. Now wake up, and get to work. So indicative of the mid-'80s Wall Street era.

The song could be about so many things! It could be about those annoying co-workers who kiss ass and act snidely appropriate at all the right times to get noticed by the boss. It could be an outcry about how capitalism creates greed. It could even simply be about the fact that everyone has a natural inclination to try to take over their own little worlds.

What I love so much about the vocals is how they follow a rigid, almost corporate-like structure in the first couple of verses, and then suddenly erupt into an almost volcanic outpour of emotion at the bridge. It's like the anarchy that breaks down the existing, structured society and restores power to the people. The vocals tone down again for the last verse, but not completely, the singer maintains the edge in his voice for the rest of the song.

It's simply a brilliantly crafted piece of music, and it needs to find its way into your collection.



29 September 2008

"boyfriend" || alphabeat || 2008

Hooray for well-crafted European pop music!

I'm sad that I haven't stumbled across Alphabeat before now. They've apparently been making records in Denmark for a few years now, but I just came across "Boyfriend" about a month ago. It took the song a few spins to stick with me, but now I'm addicted.

Definitely a throwback to mid-'80s pop music (no complaints from me), "Boyfriend" almost sounds like it was written by a modern girl-pop group in a "write an '80s song" contest.

When the song started, I was digging the groove of the music, and then I was thrown off-kilter by the singer's vocals. They were warbly, just like all modern female pop singers, but not warbly enough to make me turn off the song. (Warbly girl vocals almost always make me immediately shut off a song during the first listen.) The song is also in a minor key, which gives it a very moden touch.

The Europeans are masters of melodic pop music. I'm absolutely exhausted with American pop, because it's all spawned from R&B music, which I've had enough of, and the vocals all suck. Europe seems to put more emphasis on vocal ability, but more importantly they spotlight producers and bands who know how to write quality pop music. That's why Europop doesn't suck.

One final point I'd like to say about modern USA pop vs. modern Europop: If you hear a pop single by a European group and then go buy the album, you're likely to find an album filled with quality songs. This doesn't seem to hold true with modern USA pop albums. For an example, compare Alphabeat's album alongside Madonna's latest Hard Candy. I can get through MAYBE two songs on Hard Candy, but I can find something redeemable about every song on this album.


23 September 2008

"i'm always manic (when i'm around you)" || a big yes and a small no || 2008

Another song that falls into this "college pop" genre that I discussed in the previous post.

This is a surefire college radio classic. The first time I heard this tune, I complimented our station's music director on what I thought was the best song she'd chosen since taking the position four months ago.

College radio is built for tunes like this one. You'd never hear this on MTV, or on your local Top 40 station, but for college radio, it's a superhit. (If you're looking for another great example of college radio superhit, check out the song "Beard Lust" by Natalie Portman's Shaved Head from just a few posts back.)

Another tune that falls somewhere between indie rock and ska, "Manic" leaves you feeling sugary and delightful. It almost sounds like a tune that would have played in the background during an episode of Ren & Stimpy. I could just be saying that, however, because it makes me think of angular furniture, cookouts, and shag carpeting, but in a totally cool way.

If I were making compilations of college radio classics about 10 years from now, I'd include this track on my first release. I think it's a perfect milestone for this moment in modern music, and a song that should be tucked in the backs of anyone's mind who works in college radio during this era.

A final thought: The title of their album will make you smile.


"makeup artist" || marching band || 2008

Songs like this serve as reminders why college radio is the place to find the coolest music that you'll never hear anywhere else.

"Makeup Artist" is deliciously infectious, from its agreeable drumline and guitar riff to its dainty sing-along hook. There's definitely a heavy ska influence, but without the undertone of douchiness that usually comes with ska tunes.

I must admit that I feel a bit dirty liking the song, because liking it puts me on the fringe of indie hipster territory (to use a scientific term). The song is carefully crafted to be neither a ska song nor an indie rock song, instead landing safely in the middle. It's one of those tunes that's cool enough for the skater crowd and mellow enough for the singer-songwriter acoustic crowd. It sounds like a college party.

I'm glad that this is one of the prevalent sounds in college radio, because it's taking the idea of "pop" to a new dimension. When examined alongside another trend in college radio, rock music with powerful electronics (mainly drum machines and synths), I'd say that the whole lot could be grouped into a "college pop" category. This stuff is today what the Spin Doctors and 4 Non Blondes were in the '90s.


Buy it here

31 August 2008

"i know ur girlfriend hates me" || annie || 2008

While Crystal Castles' "Crimewave" remains my favorite song of the year thus far overall, I think this is now my favorite pop song.

A friend of mine sent this to me about two months ago, and I started playing it on my club/dance radio show. It's now very easily my most-requested song.

Annie has a knack for making songs that seem to spill over you like cool milk. She's cute, she's sleek, she's Swedish. What's not to love?

"Girlfriend" is a perfect follow-up single to "Chewing Gum," from her last album, which has a similar feel, but is slower. This song cranks it up a bit, making it more likely to hit club floors across the countries. It's about having a guy friend with an overprotective girlfriend, a topic to which I was even able to relate as a male. Nobody likes a bitchy girlfriend.

For some reason, I can't help but make a comparison between this tune and the so-called "sophisti-pop" sound that was cool in the '80s for acts like Swing Out Sister and Scritti Politti. I feel like if those groups were to make modern electropop, it would sound like this.

This song will land in the annals of music as an underground electropop classic. It's just too cute not to love.


Available On:
I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates MeCD5"Buy It Here

22 August 2008

the traxx that defined my summer

Enjoy these songs that were critical in defining my summer. Some have received previous Traxx entries, so if the title is a link, it'll take you back to the post where it was previously featured. Enjoy! Lots more Traxx coming in the next few days!

  • "Crimewave" by Crystal Castles
  • I got this CD right at the beginning of summer, and it didn't leave my car stereo until mid-June. It's the most solid album I've heard in years. It remains consistent from start to finish, but not too consistent, as is the fatal flaw of many electronic albums. There's enough variation in the tracks to establish a mood and a character for each song, yet they all share similar qualities that tie them together as an album. "Crimewave" is the masterwork, and I know that any time I hear it for the rest of my life, I'll be instantly transported back to this summer.


  • "Breakout" by Swing Out Sister
  • A friend of mine asked me about this song toward the beginning of summer, and although I've known this song since I was a little kid, I hadn't thought about it in a long time. It's a really great tune, and I'm glad that it re-entered the forefront of my mind.

    Swing Out Sister is an exceptionally unique group. They took the "sophisi-pop" sound that brits like Scritti Politti and Spandau Ballet had been playing for years and gave it a more jazzy twinge. They also have very colorful outfits and crazy, stylish music videos. "Breakout" is the shining star of their first album, It's Better To Travel, but if you did contemporary jazz that uses electronics without becoming smooth jazz, then you'll like the entire album. I don't think American audiences were open at the time to swallowing jazzy pop music, which is probably why Swing Out Sister stuck to their guns in the UK and not here. With modern acts like Norah Jones and Colbie Caillait though, who knows? Maybe they should give it another crack.

    The video for this song is a riot. The way my friend describes it, it's as if two well-dressed mobsters kidnap a seamstress and put her in a fashion show. I think my favorite part about it is the extremely uncomfortable look on singer Corinne Drewery's face when her bandmates shuffle in from either side to help her sing the song's chorus. Priceless!


  • "Johnny & June" by Heidi Newfield
  • This was one of the first tunes that I latched onto when I started working at a country radio station at the beginning of summer. I still think it's a timeless love song that will become a country classic.


  • "That Song In My Head" by Julianne Hough
  • Another song that I know because of country radio, but that doesn't stop it from being a quality pop tune. I remember playing this on the jukebox at Froggy's one night, and all the waitresses were quite shocked that this was my choice, but I think they thought it was cute.


  • "Beard Lust" by Natalie Portman's Shaved Head
  • This is Revolution 91.7's superhit of the summer. This goofy little indie electro band has come up with a catchy tune about facial hair, and you could not ask for anything more perfect for college radio. The lyrics revolve around the singer's lamenting the costliness of maintaining quality facial hair, an issue which never occurred to me, but I suppose it's true. Who wants to look at a nasty, scraggly beard or a moustache that's unkempt and has food stuck in it?

    These guys will probably never have another superhit, but this one is worth it. They've created a college radio classic, and I hope every college kid drops their Weezer disc and buys this album, even if they just buy it to have this song. The band has earned it.


  • "I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry
  • This song should be on everyone's summer 2008 playlist, if they were awake. Every summer has this song. Summer 2007's song was Rihanna's "Umbrella," and this was our song this summer.

    I'm really proud of Katy Perry. I first heard her last October or November, when the station got a copy of her "Ur So Gay" single. I found the title track and its remixes atrocious, but her cover of The Outfield's song "Your Love" was incredible, and I hoped that she'd do more great things like that.

    She did, and now she has a #1 single to her name. In fact, here's a random bit of music trivia: "I Kissed A Girl" is the 1,000th song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. I think that's pretty freaking cool.

    And hey, extra cool points to Katy for bringing some lesbian action to the mainstream.


  • "Downtown" by One 2 Many
  • This is one of the many artists to which I was alerted by my good buddy Nasty G over at The Isle Of Failed Pop Stars. I snagged this album from his blog because it was a later project of one of the members of Norwegian powerhouse a-ha (yes, the "Take On Me" guys). When I heard this song, I was in love.

    "Downtown" combines all the best elements of power pop, pop rock, and a general '80s pop sound, all while remaining very Norwegian. It starts with a bright piano riff, but very quickly builds up and makes you want to slam your foot up and down to the beat. The rest of the album is pretty synth heavy, which is great, but this single was obviously the band's shining moment. It's a shame there wasn't a follow-up album.


  • "All I Need Is A Miracle" by Mike + The Mechanics
  • A few weeks ago I was with some friends in a very southern bar. I was tired of hearing Skynyrd and Soundgarden playing from the jukebox, and for some reason, I had this song caught in my head. After looking through 50 CDs (no exaggeration), I found it. After thirty minutes of other requests, it played, and we all sang along happily.

    I've since tracked down Mike + The Mechanics' first two albums, which are much more heavily into the synth-pop/power pop sound than I would have guessed. In my mind, they were always a lite rock band with a couple of uptempo tunes, but the opposite turned out to be true. It just so happens that a few of their lighter tunes ("Silent Running" and "The Living Years") were released as singles. The albums as a whole are actually quite danceable.

    As an added bonus, the song has a story music video that I'm sure you'll enjoy.


As summer comes to an end, this is always a very important reflection. Now, I turn to you.

What were your traxx for summer 2008? What traxx will you hear in 20 years and remember this summer?

23 July 2008

"live to tell" || madonna || 1986

I realize that it's kind of unusual for me to be posting an entry about such a well-known song, but I heard this tune earlier today and suddenly appreciated it in a way that I never had before.

I can't say that I related it to a particular event, situation or instance in my life. It's really just a beautiful song. Madonna gets to show off her voice, and ballads for her are somewhat of a rarity. In fact, this one, "Rain," and "Crazy For You" were the only ballads released as singles until 1998's "You Must Love Me."

Madonna really does perform a hell of a ballad, as is shown on her I'm Breathless album, so I love catching her in this (somewhat) rare form. The lyrics are poppy enough to be accessible, but still offer what may or may not be an interesting window into Madonna's soul. She did, after all, write the song with producer Patrick Leonard.

What's your secret? Will you live to tell it? If not, how will they know?


Available On:
The Immaculate CollectionSire7599-26440-2CD

19 July 2008

"ride captain ride" || blues image || 1970

I'm not a fan of most music from the '70s. In fact, I once made the argument to my brother that one is very hard pressed to find a hit song from the '70s that wasn't campy or ridiculous in some way. Obviously, there are exceptions ("Imagine" by John Lennon, I suppose), and I don't really consider this one of them.

British music was really really really really really cool in the early '70s, so I think it's neato that this little band from Tampa was able to pull off a hit song amidst all the Brit-hype. Singer Mike Pinera has a very unusual voice for this kind of music. He almost sounds like an aging blues singer who can't fully break from his gutteral nature to sing a rock song. The really cool thing, though, is that it totally works.

I read this quote from Pinera about the process of writing this song, and I absolutely need to share it here:

"I went into the bathroom, and I shut the door, and I just meditated. I calmed my mind, and I started hearing music. I went out and sat at the piano, which was a Rhodes Model No. 73, which had 73 keys. So I say, 'Okay, I need a first word.' And what came into my head was 73. I liked the rhythm, and I went, '73 men sailed in, from the San Francisco Bay.' The song sort of just wrote itself from there." (Source)

It's a cool little story that matches one of the coolest, if not the coolest song from that era.

It's a shame that Blues Image was never able to match the success of their hit song, but really, did they need to? This song is still an icon of the '70s, and it still often appears in '70s flashbacks in popular movies and television shows. And if that doesn't tell you that you wrote a cool song, I don't know what does.


Available On:
Anchorman (Soundtrack)UniversalB0002864-02CD

07 July 2008

"bandages" || hot hot heat || 2002

Indie rock meets jumpy jangle rock in this cool tune from the earlier half of our fine decade.

Hot Hot Heat are an indie rock band from Canada. They have a huge fan base, but to me they're just one of the many indie bands that managed to write one or two absolutely killer songs (the other being "Goodnight, Goodnight") and then failed to deliver anything else nearly as cool. Their latest album, Happiness Ltd. was pretty disappointing after hearing those two killer singles from previous albums.

"Bandages" is the kind of song that you hear on the radio for the first time, and do everything in your power to find out who's singing it, because you know you'll be dying to hear it again.

I wish indie rock would lean more in this direction: Catchy, cutesy rock songs, as opposed to wanky bullshit that no one cares about (read: From First To Last). I think songs like this are pushes in the right direction for modern rock music.


Available On:
Make Up The BreakdownSub PopSPCD 599CD

05 July 2008

traxxlisting #3: A Review Of 7 Current Country Hits

One genre of music that I've certainly neglected thus far in my blog is country. However, a couple of months ago I started working at a country radio station, so now I'm pretty much an expert in the current music of a genre about which I had previously known next to nothing.

In an effort to expand horizons in all ways possible, I now offer you:

A Review Of 7 Current Country Hits

  1. "Johnny & June" by Heidi Newfield
  2. I'll start with one of my favorites from our rotation. This is Heidi's lead-off single; she's been the vocalist for country group Trick Pony since 1996 and has just launched her solo career. As you may have deduced from the title, it's (sort of) about Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. The singer expresses a desire to have a "love like [theirs]," complete with "rings of fire, burning with you." She even adds that "when you're gone, I wanna go too."

    What makes the song extra cool is to know that it isn't written from a distant perspective. Newfield was actually a friend of both Johnny and June in the last few years of their lives, so she witnessed their relationship firsthand. She then wrote the song with two other songwriters.

    The lyrics and guitars are both a little strong for a country song, making them an interesting contrast to Newfield's very soft vocals. The song almost sounds as if it were written as the most-definitely-necessary power ballad on an '80s hard rock album. Don't be mistaken though: It's definitely a country song.

    This is a hell of a lead-off single for Heidi, and I sure hope to hear more from her in the years to come.


  3. "Good Time" by Alan Jackson
  4. He's the king of honky-tonk and has been for years, thanks to songs like "Chatahoochee" and "Don't Rock The Jukebox." Alan's latest single certainly isn't about anything serious; he's just looking for a party when he's off work. The song does wonders to capture the spirit of being off work on a Friday night and wanting to nothing more than kick back and hang out with friends. We've all been there, right?

    I do have a problem with one of this song's lyrics: "...beer on ice / Just like 'ol Hank taught us about." I mean...did Hank Williams really have to clue you in to the fact that beer is better cold? How did that conversation happen?

    Extra cool points to Alan for shooting the video on the Kentucky / Tennessee border, right near where I live!


  5. "All I Want To Do" by Sugarland
  6. This song would be cuter if the vocals weren't so annoying. It appears to be the summer song of choice for fans of country radio, so I guess I can't argue with that. It's not about anything, in the sense that it's about a desire to do nothing. No depth here, so this one gets a short review.


  7. "Every Other Weekend" by Reba McEntire & Skip Ewing/Kenny Chesney
  8. Reba's latest album is a collection of duets. On the album she sings this one with Kenny Chesney, but the single version (with which I am familiar) is done with Skip Ewing, who co-wrote the song. It's about a divorced couple who see each other only every other weekend, when their children transition from one house to the other.

    I have a really hard time relating to country music of this nature. I guess I can't comprehend not expressing my feelings for someone if they were as strong as these folks' seem to be. It's still a well-written song, and it does seem to make many callers happy, so obviously there are plenty of people out there relating to it. For that reason, I'm glad it was written, and I hope that it's giving hope to someone who may have lost hope.

    Listen<--This is the Kenny Chesney version.

  9. "In Color" by Jamey Johnson
  10. It's no secret that country singers (males especially) love to write about old shit. They love to sing of the way things used to be, the way things were when they were kids, or when their kids were kids. Country music has an overwhelming longing for the past, which makes sense considering the primary listening audience.

    This Jamey Johnson tune seems like a nice diamond in the rough among those other songs of that nature. The tune begins when the singer comes across an old picture of his grandpa as a young teenager. The grandpa proceeds to explain to him what life was like back then, down to small details like what the weather was on his wedding day. Each set of details concludes with, "You should have seen it in color."

    I'm just glad to know that I'm not the only person who has deeply pondered on what the world used to look like, complete with vivid colors. I think it's a really interesting thought, and I'm glad someone else agreed enough to write a song about it.


  11. "International Harvester" by Craig Morgan
  12. I'm trying really, really hard to like this song. It seems like it should be likeable, and I should sure as heck like Craig Morgan for all the charity work that he does. I'll be honest though; I'm struggling.

    Craig is a veteran of the US Army; he served in the 101st Airborne Division (same as my grandpa!), and he still helps raise money for veterans' affairs organizations. So what's the problem? I think his songs are annoying as fuck.

    This one, to me, is a total takeoff of Dolly Parton's "9 To 5." Maybe it's intentional, but I haven't seen documentation anywhere to prove it. And, I mean, come on: Does Morgan really look like he's a combine driver who drives a p-p-p-p-plower? I'm just not buying it, dude. If I watched the video and saw a guy who looked like a farmer, maybe I'd be more in on the joke, but Craig just looks like a manager at Hollister to me.

    The song is cute for what it is, I guess.


  13. "Last Name" by Carrie Underwood
  14. After "Before He Cheats," I never thought that Carrie would release another single that would make me smile. I was wrong.

    This song is sort of a spiritual predecessor to "Before He Cheats," telling the story of how she met the dude whose 4-wheel drive she'd later beat to pieces. What makes the song so cute is the subtlety with which the story is told. Pop songs are usually spelled out as if they were written for a child (because, I mean, they usually are), but this one isn't quite as insulting to the listener, and I certainly appreciate that about it.

    Having said that, it's still a Nashville pop song, which distances it from "true country music" to most fans of the genre. I totally understand this sentiment, but I can't really wag a finger for it. Carrie, like other Nashville poppers (Taylor Swift, Ashton Shepard, even Sugarland, etc.) is just trying to appeal to a wider audience. Who knows? Country music may gain a new listener from hearing a song like this and doing some deeper digging into the genre.


That's the list! Hope you enjoyed!

27 June 2008

"strange but true" || times two || 1988

This is a lost gem from the era of late '80s power-pop.

Times Two evidently hit it big with their cover of the Simon & Garfunkel song "Cecilia," but after hearing this track I'm not really sure why this wasn't a bigger success. It's a much better song, with a catchier hook and a sound that was more fitting to that time. This has powerful bass & synth and sounds more like a rock song than "Cecilia," which leans toward a poppy reggae sound.

The songs on this album were very obviously written with a lot of care. The songwriters and producers really took their time to produce something special, and for that reason it stands out to me as more than a silly pop album. They were trying to appeal to several different crowds of listeners, and the result that they created is somewhat of a pop music smorgasbord. In addition to the power-pop of this track, "Hey Mr. D.J.," and "3 Into 2," and the reggae tones of "Cecilia," we hear glorious pop ballads that are quite soulful in "Only My Pillow Knows" and "L.O.D." They even tap into youthful electro energy on "Romeo," which could have easily been a floorfiller at school dances.

The album is very obviously geared toward emotional youth, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant. It's incredibly well written and well produced, and I'm sad that we never got to see a followup.

Maybe "Strange But True" was a big radio hit on the coasts, as I hadn't ever heard it until I got this single in a lot of 7-inch singles that I bought on eBay about a year ago. I'm honestly surprised that it's not heard on the radio today on '80s flashback stations, as it seems like a perfect sign of the times, in addition to being a quality pop song.


Available On:
X2Reprise9 25624-2CD

19 June 2008

traxxlisting #2 :: albums that need to be (re)released on cd

I will preface this Traxxlisting by saying this: If you know something that I don't, and any of these albums listed below are actually on CD somewhere (except Ta Mara), PLEASE drop a comment and let me know!

Top 7 Albums That Should Be Released On CD

  1. 10¢ A Dance by The Flirts
  2. I'm actually surprised that this album hasn't ever made it to CD. It contains the classic track "Passion," which has been sampled by countless DJs, including the legendary Felix da Housecat. "Jukebox" is a classic as well, but it's been released on a bunch of compilation CDs, as it's somewhat of an '80s radio classic. The rest of the album is beachy surf-party-rock fun, but "Jukebox" and "Passion" alone justify a CD release of this album.

  3. Einzelhaft by Falco
  4. If It weren't for an old friend of mine, I never would have appreciated Falco's musical talent. Everybody who knows '80s music is familiar with his track "Rock Me Amadeus," but few remember that he originally recorded the song "Der Kommissar" before it was made famous by the group After The Fire just one year later. Aside from that track though, there are several golden early rap numbers on this LP. My personal favorite is "Zuviel Hitze" (German for "Too Much Heat").

  5. Flashbeagle
  6. An absolute favorite from my childhood! Snoopy goes flashdance as he sneaks out at night and breakdances in the local discotheque. Mega '80s and totally tubular! The title track would have fit right into Top 40 radio in 1983. The female vocals on it (and the other songs on this record) are sung by Desiree Goyette, who also holds a special place in my heart for doing music for some Garfield specials as well. She's a talented lady with a beautiful voice. She now runs her own publishing company.

    This record is an absolute piece of '80s gold and needs to be preserved forever in a digital format. DO IT, WARNER BROS.!

  7. Trans-Atlantic by Jon St. James
  8. A classic synthpop record, and one of St. James' two solo albums, both of which are genius. This one sticks more to a solid synthpop/new wave sound, while his second album, Fast Impressions, was more of an exploration in MIDI programming and instrumentals. This one sports some killer vocals and melodies, and an awesome version of the Q classic "Playback," sung as a duet with Miss Q herself.

    I'm not surprised that this one hasn't made it to CD, but I think it's time.

  9. Ta Mara & The Seen by Ta Mara & The Seen
  10. I'm cheating a bit on this one, as it has indeed been pressed on a CD, but only in Japan. When it's on eBay it sells for ridiculous amounts of money.

    That's simply not right! This is a classic piece of Minneapolis funk, and it deserves a re-release. The fact that Jesse Johnson produced it merits a re-release automatically!

    "Everybody Dance" is available on a couple of compilations, but I've never seen "Affecttion" on one, and people seem to remember it just as much. "U Turn Me Up" is another great tune. These all need to be on a CD!

  11. Wolf & Wolf by Wolf & Wolf
  12. Every single track on this record is brilliant. It's from the golden era of new wave. It's a perfect blend of electronic new wave and new wave rock. Bottom line, it makes you want to dance your ass off. I'd love to have this one on CD so I can crank it super loud without hearing "s" distortion, and so I can hear the full instrumental quality of "Talk Of The Town," "Katmandu," and "Don't Take The Candy."

  13. Playback by SSQ
  14. Executives at EMI Records, heed my words: If you re-release this album on CD, it will fly off of the shelves. This album has such a cult following that I'm stunned that it's never been pressed on a CD. Maybe I'm biased because I consider it to be the soundtrack of my life, but I'm not going to accept that that's the only reason I want this on a CD. I think these songs deserve to be heard by today's ears again, because they're the masterwork of the artists that worked on them.

There you have it!

16 June 2008

"i love you cause i have to" || dogs die in hot cars || 2004

The title of this one already makes you want to hear it, no?

I was so pleasantly surprised when I heard this song back in 2004. It reminds me of early-'90s alt rock, but the influence of a ska sound is absolutely undeniable. Odly enough, I've never heard a more pleasant combination of two SUCH different styles of rock music! It's such a healthy blend that I can't even say that it leans toward one sound over the other.

The song's lyrics are just precious. The guy is depressed over his crappy relationship, so how does he cope?

"Now I spend most of my time playing computer games"

Yes, you heard correctly.


I really wish these guys would pop out another album. I didn't really find any other winners on this record, but "Godhopping" isn't a bad tune. It definitely leans more toward that '90s alt rock influence.


Available On:
Please Describe YourselfV263881-27204-2CD

12 June 2008

"dancing on my grave" || ghostland observatory || 2008

Another cool modern track that fits nicely into this blog.

Ghostland Observatory are an indie electro group from Austin, TX. Robotique Majestique is their third album, and by far their most solid work.

This song sounds like it's the missing track from the soundtrack to The Return Of The Living Dead. It's part punk, part electro, part party, and definitely very '80s.

All in all, a fun song that I hope becomes a classic.


Available On:
Robotique MajestiqueTrashy MopedTMR-004CD

29 May 2008

"big butt" || bobby jimmy & the critters || 1985

Where do I even begin with this song?

It's an early hip-hop song about a guy with a fat ass.

I mean, is there really much analysis to be done here? Probably not, but that's what I do, so let's proceed.

Our giant-posteriored friend's first dilemma is the very small seat into which he must cram his fat ass when an attractive young woman (who seems inexplicably interested in our hero) asks him to "come have a seat." Our poor friend's giant ass shatters the chair. I suppose that's happened to all of us at some point, right?

Next, we learn of our friend's problems on the bus. Apparently, his wide posterior causes the very asympathetic driver to charge his giant ass for two seats. A relatable problem, I suppose.

Finally, we learn of his inability to squeeze out of the elevators at the stadium where the L.A. Raiders play. To make matters worse, the hot dogs he's purchased at the concessions stand are making him gassy! A typical quandary for all of us when we go to the ballpark.

Okay, enough of my overbearing and outdated sarcasm. Bobby Jimmy is hilarious. His tunes are indicative of an era when not all rappers took themselves so seriously and considered themselves either kings among men or social philosophers. Songs like this certainly help prove my point that today's rap is completely tainted by the narcissism of rappers. Seriously, why can't we have rap songs like this anymore?

Is anyone besides me ready for a revival of '80s electro? I've been ready for quite some time.

Come on rappers, if you're with me, start the revolution! I'll be on the front lines! Not as a rapper, of course, but I'll carry the torch with the best of you.


Available On:
West Coast Rap - The First Dynasty Vol. 3Rhino RecordsR2 70592CD

26 May 2008

"the honeythief" || hipsway || 1987

Hipsway produced two albums of unique funk-synth music in the later 1980s. They sound like a cross between a new wave band and a '50s/'60s blues tribute group. Like, imagine if Huey Lewis & the News teamed up with Scritti Politti.

Needless to say, the sound was (and still is) unique. In fact, the only other group I can ever think to compare them to is Black Britain, who are unfortunately equally obscure.

This one single received considerable radio airplay in California in 1987, so many folks who were in high school in that era will recognize it. It's a shame that their second album didn't do so well, or they might have continued to make music. In fact, the two original founding members of the band were gone before the second record hit shelves, so it appears that they had one foot out the door anyway.

This track is cool for what it is. It's another of the many lost gems of the 1980s that get buried under piles of ridiculous pop music.


Available On:
HipswayColumbiaCK 40522CD

25 May 2008

traxxography #1 :: the b-52's

My sincerest apologies for the lack of posts for these last few weeks. I've been collecting some new ideas for this blog. I plan to write different kinds of posts from now on, while continuing with my original intention to review specific tracks. This new feature, Traxxography, is one in which I will rate & review a band's entire discography. My only criterion is that the group have completed at least three studio albums.

The subject of my pilot post for this new type of entry will be one of my all-time favorite groups: The B-52's. I saw them in concert a few weeks back, and they were absolutely phenomenal. I consider them to be one of the most influential artists of modern music, so it is with a very humble nature that I approach this review of their discography.

NOTE: When I do a Traxxography post, the albums are rated purely on my personal feelings about how the album performs as a collective entity. It's not based on any sort of commercial success or critical acclaim. I don't rely on anyone's opinions but my own. ;-)

  1. Good Stuff (1992)
    This album ranks lowest on my list because it's the only LP that they did without Cindy Wilson. You can't have the B-52's without Cindy! They just weren't complete, and I think her creativity was missed on this record. Other than "Good Stuff," there really wasn't any single potential, and even it was too darn long to make a good song for radio airplay. It's totally effective as a party song, though, which is certainly what they're all about.
    "Bad Influence" is also a surprisingly good track, which is probably why it was chosen as the b-side to the aforementioned "Good Stuff." That track really allows Kate Pierson's powerful voice to have a few moments of glory.
    Altogether, the album just seems kind of slow and way too low key for everything that I'm used to about The B-52's. I consider it their career's lull, and considering it was followed by 16 years of silence before we got another album out of them, a lot of people probably agree with me.

    Favorite Traxx: "Good Stuff," "Bad Influence"

  2. Bouncing Off The Satellites (1986)
    This album produced what may be my favorite B-52's song of all time, "Summer Of Love," but it just falls short of being a solid album. I can't even really think of anything to write about it, other than I think it's worth owning for two reasons: 1.) It contains "Summer Of Love." 2.) It's an album by The B-52's.

    Favorite Traxx: "Summer Of Love"

  3. Mesopotamia (1982)
    I think the group was tapping into extra weirdness on this little EP. When I saw them, they surprised me by performing the title track as a member of their set. It's on this record that you'll hear them begin to transition from their surf-rock new wave sound to their louder, more in-your-face loud party rock sound that still carries them to this day.

    Favorite Traxx: "Mesopotamia"

  4. Wild Planet (1980)
    When you mention The B-52's in conversation, most people (those who aren't fanatics like myself, anyway) seem to remember them as "that 'Love Shack' band" or "that 'Rock Lobster' band." To someone like me, those represent the two major eras of The B-52's career. Wild Planet falls into the former.
    It's a very effective follow-up to their smashing and innovative self-titled debut, but as a whole in kinda ends up being more of the same stuff. In their case, though, that's (mostly) a good thing. This album contains a couple of classics that are still recognizable today by folks outside their fan base. The rest of the songs sound appropriate for a long drive on a hot desert road. A couple are almost eerie harbingers of The Raveonettes' distinctive sound.
    "Strobe Light" is one of this group's all-time greatest songs. It does appear to be at least mildly well known, and it's extremely deserving of all its new-wave street cred. Songs like that are what made new wave rock the entity that it became by 1981. What's amusing to me is that I don't believe that they set out to pioneer new wave music at all! They just wanted to write awesome party songs like "Strobe Light," and their influence ended up stretching farther than their expectations reached.
    Cindy's vocals on "Give Me Back My Man" will absolutely knock you on your ass. She owns that song, and it's a rare shining moment for her, almost to the level of her iconic "Tin roof, rusted!" in a famous track from a later album.

    Favorite Traxx: "Private Idaho," "Give Me Back My Man," "Strobe Light," "Quiche Lorraine," "Party Out Of Bounds"

  5. Funplex (2008)
    They showed the world that they've still got it. This LP starts off with a kick and ends on an equally high note. It left me with nothing but a giant smile on my face and the entire title track stuck in my head.
    I'm asking you kindly to buy this album from your music source of choice, because I think they deserve to sell millions upon thousands of copies of it. The fact that, thirty years after their debut, they can still turn out an album like this is absolutely wonderful! They might be the hardest-working party band of all time.

    Favorite Traxx: "Funplex," "Pump," "Juliet Of The Spirits"

  6. The B-52's (1979)
    Their legendary first album. Imagine being a kid in high school in 1979 and seeing this record on a shelf at the record store. You were bound to see it thanks to its tasty sunshine-yellow cover. Imagine being drawn to it and seeing those five cosmonoids on the front of it. Wouldn't you have bought it?
    Now imagine taking it home and putting it on your turntable. Would you have known what to do when you heard it?
    This album established the band's style, which still remains with them today. It was with this record that they invented and made cool that sort of retro, pastel, angular style that's cool for pool parties where you grill out with friends and watch television on one of those rounded-screen floor-model TV sets.
    "Rock Lobster" is obviously one of the most important songs in music history, and c'mon, you know you have a classic place in pop culture when you've been referenced on Family Guy. Anyone who has unwisely doubted that Kate Pierson is one of the greatest singers of all time should listen to her impersonation of a sea creature as she sings the word "lobster" during the bridge of the song, and they'll quickly be turned around. This track will be known for generations to come.
    "Planet Claire" is a great way to start this record. It was their introduction to the world, and they immediately established their cosmic presence with the first of many of their songs on the subject of space life and interplanetary travel. When they performed this live, Fred actually brought out a two-way radio or scanner of some sort and used the Call button to make the beeping noise during the first part of the song.

    Favorite Traxx: "Rock Lobster," "Planet Claire," "Dance This Mess Around"

  7. Party Mix! (1981)
    I debated whether or not to include Party Mix! on this list because it's an EP, much like Mesopotamia. Furthermore, it contains material that appeared on other albums. However, I chose to include it because it is indeed part of their discography, and it's a nice selection of songs. I'm not doing a "Favorite Traxx" section on this number because I like all of them too much to pick favorites!
    Incidentally, this was released on a CD with the tracks from Mesopotamia by Warner Bros./Reprise in 1991, and it's pretty easy to find. It's a great mix of a lot of their early songs.

  8. Cosmic Thing (1989)
    By far, this is their most well-known album. It contains "Love Shack," their infamous karaoke bar hit that's not at all indicative of their sound. While a great pop rock song and definitely a great party song, it's just not really them. It is fitting, though, that this song is seen as a party anthem, because partying is what these characters are all about. Their repertoire extends far beyond this, though, and it's a shame that a lot of bar patrons in the world won't ever realize that.
    "Deadbeat Club" is another of my all-time favorite B-52's song. It's youthful, carefree, and shining. Works for driving around with the top down or sweating on a barroom dancefloor as a jukebox plays.
    A rare moment in their discography appears on the track "Roam." It's a beautiful song, and I didn't notice the first several times I heard it that Fred is nowhere to be found. This one is all Kate & Cindy, and they own it hard. It was cool enough to make it into Rock Band!
    This record was their most successful, and probably deservedly so. They achieved party group superstardom thanks to it. Many artists are stuck with a one-album image to the public. This may be the case here, but luckily for The B-52's, this is a really solid record. It's not a bad memory to have stuck in people's minds.

    Favorite Traxx: "Deadbeat Club," "Roam," "Love Shack," "Channel Z," "Cosmic Thing," "Follow Your Bliss"

  9. Whammy! (1983)
    Their most solid album. It's a party from start to finish! From the beginning, with a song about making counterfeit money in your basement, to the skirt-smashing closer, and a random song about butter beans in the middle somewhere, this album is just fantastic for a night of partying, barbecuing, and dancing with close friends. It represents, to me, everything that this band is about.
    It's definitely a transitional album, which may be another reason that I like it. It has elements of their "Rock Lobster" sound, while very obviously moving forward into a more electronic new-wave sound, headed toward that Cosmic Thing in the sky that would allow them to achieve fame.
    "Song For A Future Generation" may be the most important song they've ever written. When I listen to it, I try to imagine kids 100 years from now hearing that song, and thinking about what people were like during this time. I trust The B-52's and that song to give them a proper image, don't you?

    Favorite Traxx: "Song For A Future Generation," "Legal Tender," "Whammy Kiss," "Butterbean"

That's it for my first-ever Traxxography! Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

Expect more new stuff soon!