LINK: The Longest Story Ever About A Band I Love That Everyone Else Who Doesn’t Love Them Should Read, But Won’t Because It’s So Long And It Might Not Change Their Minds

Screenshot 2015-04-21 15.25.21Tim Marchman has written something very long about The Mekons over at Deadspin (on the Concourse, whatever that is). It is a history of the band and an attempt to explain why they’re so great (and were so especially in the 80s), by discussing their elpees of that period in Tim’s order of preference.

I thoroughly enjoyed it because I learned some things about the band I didn’t know, there are good funny quotes from the band, and his song choices and clips are excellent and I enjoyed listening to them all.

On the other hand, the idea of convincing someone that a rock band is great because of the way they embody the moral ethos of failure, and embrace it like a lover or a murderer or something like that, seems kind of pretentious and beside the point. The reason a person might get into the Mekons and think about their history and the way they changed over the years and struggled with lack of sales but also wore that proudly as a badge of honor, is because you fell in love with the music. In other words, you heard a song, you went to a show, and it turned out to be one of the best shows you’ve ever seen. That’s when these other ideas start to have some importance.

I mention this because I think if you didn’t like/weren’t interested in the Mekons you might throw your computer at the wall as Marchman goes on and on, like this about the band’s album, Rock ‘n’ Roll:

“This is basically how the whole record plays out, as a very good and very bitter joke; there are reasons why many aficionados claim this is the Mekons’ best record, and why they may be right. They were certainly never tighter, more confident, more focused, or better engineered than they are here; the whole thing is just a straightforwardly great rock and roll record, which they seem to be uncomfortably aware of. It’s hard to think they meant lines like Throw another rock n’ roll song on the fire, or This song … is in a pretended family relationship with the others on this record and on the charts all that sincerely, and while they may have been mocking a gringo military fighting a rock and roll war, you know they had a little sympathy for them, too. The Mekons may not have wanted to be a great rock and roll band, but they were, and perhaps consequently, they were too honest to either moderate their view of rock and roll as an expression of imperial capitalism’s worst impulses or to take it at all seriously.”

Play the damn song! Fortunately he does.

LINK: The Boyhood Soundtrack

I finally saw the Richard Linklater movie over the weekend, though not in a theater, unfortunately. Which meant that living room distractions crept in, and we stopped a couple of times to eat dinner, and then later to eat dessert.

The movie has a shambling narrative that is anything but slack, but doesn’t turn on the classic arc. This is a movie about a boy becoming an older boy, tweaked by the healthy and impressive gimmick of being shot over the course of the 12 years it takes to get from there to here.

Linklater is a rock ‘n’ roll fan, of course. His second movie is named after a Led Zeppelin song, and his first movie became the name of a music streaming service. And as you might expect, there is music all over the place in Boyhood. For one thing, the boy’s dad is a musician, at least he is at the start, and lots of time is spent in bedrooms and cars, places where music plays.

What struck me after seeing the movie, however, was how little of the music I knew. Some of that is because the opening song was by Coldplay, who i’ve never really listened to much, and some is because I didn’t listen to that much indie rock and rap in the aughts. But the music is an important part of the film anyway, and I wasn’t bothered by it’s general unfamiliarity to me.

blackalbumJack Hamilton has a story in Slate today that, while somewhat pretentious, I think really gets to what’s so excellent about the Boyhood soundtrack. If you get past some of his “oooh-critical!” language, he comes to describe the scene where dad gives boy a copy of the Beatles’ Black Album powerfully and gets it exactly right.

If you haven’t seen the movie and that doesn’t make sense to you, you only have one option. Go see the movie. In a theater, if you can.

Big Macs, Nick Drake, Jellyfish and KISS

bmAs a result of my posting of Bruce Springsteen’s Prove it all Nighta discussion ensued that sort of points to not just the essence of art, but the packaging of said commodity.

Peter noted that indeed the E-Streeters were a well rehearsed machine, conveying the The Boss’s message, however he noted the message was indeed that of Bruce, and while Steve does give cred to Bruce’s early material, he did not think that much of the band live.

Fair enough.

In fact, Steve noted in addition that the Bruce and Co. had pretty much become mainstream–the stuff of “average Joe’s”–and that in general, that told him he was not interested.

Again, fair enough.

Personally, I agree with both of them, and I use the argument of McDonalds, for the company of the Big Mac is surely the most popular and successful food selling machine in our country, let alone on the planet.

But, that does not necessarily mean the “BM” either tastes good, or is good for us.

Truth is, I like a Big Mac once in a while for some perverse reason, which is indeed odd since I do all of our cooking and prepare almost exclusively from scratch.

But, I also suspect the had we gone to the original McDonalds in Southern California in 1957 and ordered a double cheeseburger, it would have been good like a burger at Burger Me, in Truckee, would nail it today. I think both would hit the spot, just as were Burger Me suddenly franchised, the animal I would eat today would probably not be like the sandwich I would get in ten years.

I think as part of the musical parallel I pointed to, I loved the Clash through their first albums, and even saw them four times during their early years. But, once Combat Rock became anthemic to the “average Joe’s,” I lost interest, no matter how good the album might have been (I have obviously heard some cuts from it, but I never owned it, unlike London Calling, or Give ”em Enough Rope, or the first Clash album).

But, I do pose the path of three artists, starting with the great British folker, the late Nick Drake, who died of an amphetamine overdose in 1974, but never got a chance to make it with the average Joe’s. Although, his great tune, Pink Moon was used as a soundtrack for an ATT commercial, and two of his tunes, Magic, and River Man, did make the charts 30 years after his death after the release of a compilation album (Made to Love Magic) and related tributes in 2004.

Had he lived, would Drake still be so dark, so moody, and to me so hauntingly accessible (we could ask the same about Buddy Holly, but please leave the over-rated James Dean out of the conversation)?

How about the bay area band Jellyfish, who had a killer debut album (Belly Button) in 1990 that fostered a big time signing, and three years later the over produced (Queen sang back-up) and under delivered Spilt Milk which resulted with poor revues and the dissolution of the band.  Heard of them, average Joe?

I thought not.

Then there is Steve’s childhood fave, KISS, whom he stands behind over their first few albums, who developed as dedicated a following, and as staged a performance as Springsteen et al. And, a band the average Joe’s love, it seems, as much as the Boss.

So, it seems the way of art is that bands or writers or painters or whatever do indeed start with a vision, and with the pain that was too much for Drake (who suffered from depression), and then either become another animal, as in Jellyfish and give up, or they simply evolve, succeed, and become boring and the apple of the average Joe eye?



Patti Smith on Aftermath, and the aftermath

jan1973-creemcoverThe second half of this piece is Patti Smith’s review of the Stones show at Madison Square Garden on July 25, 1972. The only time I saw the Stones live on stage was during that series of shows, with Stevie Wonder opening.

But the first half tells the story of the pubescent Patti hearing her dad yowl at the TV because the greatest rock band in the world are on the Ed Sullivan show, supporting their album Aftermath, an event which apparently brought Patti to climax and caused her to reevaluate her relationship to her dad.

In other words, she creamed in Creem. Back when rock writing mattered.

Night Music: Ian Dury & the Blockheads (with Mick Jones): “Sweet Gene Vincent”

220px-Gene_VincentAll this Wreckless Eric brouhaha is wonderful.

I so loved the punk movement. I was 25, and actually in London the week of the Stiffs Live. I remember getting on the Underground to go back to my Grandmother’s in Finchley and the punks who had been at the shows that featured Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, Larry Wallis, and Ian Dury and the Blockheads were on the same train.

Blue Mohawks-crap, any Mohawk on a white kid in the fall of 1977–and pierced tongues and such were still a little outrageous in the states where ELO and ABBA ruled. In fact Roxy Music, 801, The Tubes, and Queen were about as far as I could push the envelope before that fateful trip to London to visit my Granny and cousins for the first time on their turf.

What a great time I had! I remember sleeping on a boat hostile in Amsterdam with a bunch of other kids, and getting up in the morning to eat some yogurt and fruit and cheese (remember, I am in Holland) with Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See” blasting in the dining area.

As previously noted, that was the first time I heard the Sex Pistols:  in the tub in my Granny’s home, listening to my Aunt Hedda’s tinny transistor radio, tuned to John Peel and Top of the Pops. “Anarchy in the UK” blasted out and life would never be the same for me.

I came home hungry, riding the new wave as it broke here, a pierced (yep, did my ear the first time right after I got back), tattooed (long story, but that was actually a couple of years earlier) ever the long-hair who still fit right into his Berkeley community.

I saw as many of the English and New York bands as they arrived as I could, and being near San Francisco, that was pretty easy to do, and it was cheap, too. $3.50 or $4.00 to see three bands at a great venue.

Anyway, Gene commenting on (I’d go the) Whole Wide World, that “punk opened things up” suggesting Eric would not have happened in 1972 is so dead on. But, with the Pistols and Malcolm McLaren and the Clash, all bets were off.

Never prior to John Lydon did any band ever seem to consider that there was the radical difference between singing harmoniously and being an effective vocalist had suddenly fallen away. In fact, I remember arguing similarly with my life-long friend Karen Clayton at the time about Elvis Costello. Karen called Elvis a lousy vocalist, and I noted that maybe he was a lousy elocutionist, but he was a great lyricist and voclalist.

Enter Ian Dury, and Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll, a really wonderful song: funny, self deprecating, and yet brutally honest.

But, because Sex and Drugs… seemed more like a gimmick song, it was hard to take much else by the Blockheads seriously. In fact it was hard to take Sex and Drugs… seriously.

Too bad, because they were a pretty tight band, and if you know the song Sweet Gene Vincent, you know this to be true. Not just a great song that links the same attitude of Little Richard and Chuck Berry to that of the punks, the song moves to that place using Vincent–Mr. Be-Bop-A-Lula and maybe THE original punk–as a vehicle.

This version of the song is from the The Concert for Kampuchia, and joining in the Blockheads is the Clash’s Mick Jones, by the way. And, let me tell you, we are far from done with the subject.


Beatles vs. Stones: A Soundcheck Smackdown

I went to the recording of the radio show, Soundcheck, tonight, at the NY Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Dubbed Soundcheck Smackdown, the program was something of a debate about who was/is better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

Hosted and refereed by Soundcheck host John Schaefer, who wore the zebra stripes and had a yellow penalty flag that he threw once, and a whistle that went unemployed, maybe because he swallowed it when Ophira Eisenberg popped the f-word into her argument for the Stones, as in the Beatles asked to hold your hand, but who didn’t imagine fucking all of the Stones. Round to Stones.

Eisenberg’s partner on the Stones team was Bill Janovitz, who wrote a highly-praised essay about Exile on Main Street in the 33 1/3 book series and another book about the 50 most meaningful Stones songs.

Team Beatles was Paul Myers, who is an author and musician and the older brother of his partner, Mike Myers, who is known as the keen wit and lover of language who created Wayne’s World and Austin Powers. Notably the Myers brother have very similar body types, wore matching black t-shirts with the words “John&Paul&Ringo&George” on them, but had dramatically different hair colors (Paul pure white, Mike pure brown).

I don’t know when the show will air, but you can check the Soundcheck site for the airdate.

Before the show we were all handed index cards and pencils and asked to write in 20 words or less why we liked the Beatles or the Stones. I think the Beatles are more important culturally, but after thinking about this more than I had earlier in the week, I came up with this:

“The Beatles were the soundtrack of my life in middle school. The Stones were the soundtrack of my life in high school. I have to go with the Stones.” (What I actually wrote on the card was only 19 words, and probably better).

I think you might enjoy the show, so I’m not going to go into much detail here. But SPOILER ALERT, there was one thing to talk about that gives away who won. Sort of.

Before the show John Schaefer asked how many people favored the Stones. My sense was that all of us who went Stones knew that the Beatles were really better/more important, and our applause was half-hearted, lacking confidence.

The debate had many jabs and ripostes and good theater, but it was clear as it went along that the Ophira and Bill’s argument that the Stones were all rock ‘n’ roll-y, good for sex and burning stuff down, was a better argument than the Myers’s argument that the Beatles changed all of culture riff (even though that is almost certainly true, in a way).

At the end of the show, John Schaefer polled the crowd again about their favorites. This time, the Stones fans, buoyed by Team Stones excellent performance, cheered robustly and with confidence. But the Beatles fans were still louder. No minds were changed, but a rollicking good time was had by all.

The following two songs are the one’s each team chose as their band’s most emblematic:

Each team was also asked to name the other band’s worst song. Team Stones did quite well, though the song they cite is terribly catchy, while Team Beatles latched onto some obvious flaws in a Stones’ tune that time has embiggened. Or, at least, revealed virtues that overcome some of the disco silliness.

Night Music: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “TKO Boxing Day”

The 1983 Punch the Clock album, along with it’s follow up, Goodbye Cruel World, were the first Costello albums that didn’t deliver fully. One had the impression that after the art move of Imperial Bedroom, the decision was made to get commercial. New producers added horns, there were 12″ dance mixes, and to tell the truth a lot of really good songs on both records. But on Boxing Day every year I wake up singing this song, because it’s the only one I know about Boxing Day.

It has a driving beat and driven insistent horns, and it feels like it should get you jumping, but like many of the less successful tunes on this album, there is a lack of warmth and a brittleness to the arrangements. What sounds like it should be rollicking, like Dexy’s Midnight Runners, sounds mechanical and a little heartless. But I hear, with a little more relaxed groove and a suppler beat, a song with a hard groove and an appealing hook. Until they do it that way we have it this way.

60 Minutes: My name is Prince!

by Eugene Freedman

Most of Prince’s music is not on Youtube, but if you add kroyte AT to your Google+ profile you should get access to a playlist of all these songs. Good luck. You will not be spammed.

Prince-highcontrastWhen Peter suggested that I write a 60-minute playlist for Prince I immediately balked. I thought it would be far too hard to condense Prince’s material into only 60 minutes. I was already working on ranking his top 200 songs—for my own personal edification—but that too proved very difficult.

Prince can’t be easily categorized. He started off as an R&B artist with mainly ballads and dance tracks for his first few albums. As he grew as an artist he started adding in a lot more funk, synth-pop, and ultimately hard rock style guitar. Before he became a headliner in his own right he opened for Rick James on one tour and the Rolling Stones on another.

Peter placed Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain #26 on his Essential Remnants list. I immediately pointed out that Sign O’ the Times is Prince’s best studio album. It shows the greatest depth and breadth of his skill—many of the tracks were written, produced, and performed exclusively by Prince. I started there in putting together my 60 minutes of Prince—but alas Sign itself is longer than 60 minutes, it was a double LP when it was released.

I didn’t include a lot of Prince’s longer tracks even though some are my favorites, because when you’ve only got 60 minutes, you have to go for variety and quantity in my mind, not necessarily the best. I also only included album or primary release format versions of the songs avoiding longer live versions in order to cram as much as I could into 60 minutes. I kept everything under six minutes and most under five in order to include more tracks. So, with all due respect to Days of Wild, Come, and Adore, here are my 60 minutes of Prince:

Head, Dirty Mind (4:45): Head is one of Prince’s most directly sexual songs on his most sexual album; I once told a friend that Prince’s songs were either about sex or God. If you listened to Dirty Mind you’d believe that they were all about sex. Tipper Gore would not approve.

When Doves Cry, Purple Rain (5:54): Q- When does an R&B track not include bass? A- When Prince is experimenting with his first major guitar riff driven album. It was Prince’s first Billboard hot 100 No. 1 and hit No. 1 on the Black Singles chart and the Dance/Disco chart. It was the No. 1 song of 1984, and Prince had the No. 1 Movie, Album, and Single in the country at the same time. Yet, listen to this song, or almost any song from the Purple Rain album, and you will not accuse it of being pop. Before 1999 almost all of Prince’s songs were bass and drum driven or slick synth-pop, with rhythm guitar in the background. On 1999 Prince started integrating rock guitar with limited solos on some of his tracks, but they were still bass and drum driven. The Purple Rain album was the first album that had guitar driven tracks. And, with When Doves Cry, he completely eliminated the bass line.

Another Lonely Christmas, B-Side of I Would Die 4 U (4:52): Although sex or God are consistent themes in Prince’s catalog, some of his best songs are are lamentations, and this is the best of those. The song begins, “Last night, I spent another lonely Christmas,” and Prince played this song only once live—appropriately on December 26, 1984. Prince conveys real pain from loss on this track.

Raspberry Beret, Around the World In a Day (3:33): Now, this song has a pop groove. Yet, it manages to tell a good story. Only charted as No. 2, yet I include it on the list as Prince’s truest pop song. Bear in mind the Prince released this single only four months after his last single from Purple Rain was released. Unlike other “pop” artists, Prince never took breaks. He wrote multiple albums per year, condensing them down, and releasing only about one third of his work because of Warner Bros. fears about saturating the marketplace with his work. It’s also why there are so many bootlegs and vault compilations out there from about 1982-2000. Meanwhile, he was writing and performing everything for The Time, except lead vocals, plus writing and playing on all of his own side acts—Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Andre Cymone, The Family, Madhouse, plus many of the tracks on Sheila E.’s albums during that period.

Sign O’ the Times, Sign O’ the Times (4:57): Another lamentation. This one about social ills affecting the world in 1987. Yet, it does not sound dated today. “In France a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name, by chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same. At home there were 17 year old boys and their idea of fun, was being in a gang called the Disciples, high on crack, and toting a machine gun.”

The Ballad of Dorothy Parker, Sign O’ the Times (4:02): Sign was a double album culled from the triple album Crystal Ball (not to be confused with the release under the same name) which had combined the projects Dream Factory and Camille written for Prince’s female alter-ego of the same name. Warner Bros. balked at a triple album and couldn’t release a non-pop, genre-less track as a single. Prince selected this song to be the fourth cut on every iteration of the album and this song should not be missed.

Forever in My Life, Sign O’ the Times (3:30): This is not one of Prince’s famous falsetto R&B songs. It’s another in-between song that doesn’t really have a category. Maybe those are my favorites. They are not R&B, funk, pop, or rock; they are Prince songs. My wife and I printed the lyrics to this song on the back of our wedding program.

Shockadelica, B-side of If I Was Your Girlfriend (3:31): Both this and it’s A-Side were from the Camille project. I could have selected anything from that un-released album, but this is my favorite track. The track is so funk laced it’s got you in a trance. ‘Cause when this woman say dance, you dance.

The Cross, Sign O’ the Times (4:46): Prince has a lot of music about his spirituality and religious beliefs. I picked this one because of the imagery it conjures as it describes religion as escape from everyday problems—from a believer’s perspective. But, it also contains a great guitar solo. The main riff was later used in “7” on the O(+> album.

Alphabet St., Lovesexy (5:39): Prince lays down a funky groove in this song that is almost unfair. There’s research showing that people who listen to certain classical music have better ability to perform special temporal tasks immediately after listening. It’s referred to as the Mozart Effect. While it doesn’t change people in the long term, when I learned about that effect, I thought of Prince, and his songs like Alphabet St. The songs are so complex musically, or at least seem that way to someone untrained like me, they sound three-dimensional, whereas most songs are only two-dimensional. This song has a musical depth.

Joy in Repetition, Graffiti Bridge (4:54): My favorite song. Another Prince song without the ability to categorize it otherwise. Another song originally from Crystal Ball recorded during the Dream Factory sessions. Sometimes things recorded in 1986 show up on albums released as late as 1990. That’s the nature of having too much material. The song is a story, written as a riddle—at least the first time you hear it. Joy in Repetition has a terrific guitar solo and is even better live, especially when Prince doesn’t ruin the riddle too soon in the performance.

Call My Name, Musicology (5:16): Many think that Prince stopped creating great music in the 90’s. That’s not true. He keeps cranking it out today. Call My Name is another one of his falsetto classics and it’s not from the back catalog. It’s from 2004.

Fury, 3121 (4:02): Fury is a driving, guitar driven track from Prince’s most recent masterwork album. Prince’s pace has slowed in recent years. He no longer writes three full-length albums a year. And, he no longer releases one album a year. It’s a bit disappointing. But, when he puts together a perfect album like 3121 he covers all of his range and leaves you wanting more. Fury is my favorite track from this 2006 album.

If I were to put together a list of my favorite Prince works, it would not be the same list. This list attempted to cover all of Prince’s different styles, eras, and fit within the format of 60-minutes of essential Prince. Ask a different question and you would get a different answer.

POP MUSIC: How is 2013 Like 1974



Has pop music radio gone to hell? Or have the young whippersnappers who used to find gold in the charts turned into crusty old farts who just simply prefer the things they’ve always liked. Here’s a look at the 1974 Top 10 of the Hot 100, compared to this year’s Top 10.


One Hell of a Woman, Mac Davis.
Format: Adult Contemporary. Mac Davis was a singer songwriter and this is a professional song with a Middle of the Road appeal. “She’s soft when she loves me, like a kitten in my hand, and she makes me feel like a hell of a man.”

Roar, Kary Perry.
Format: From Wikipedia: “An empowerment song, “Roar” is styled in power pop, and incorporates folk, glam and arena rock elements. The lyrics address standing up for oneself.” A standard modern pop tune, written by Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Cirkut. Martin and Dr. Luke have written scores of pop songs like this one, which use big bold hooky choruses and a mashup of tempos and sounds to entertain. This is pure formula. “You’re gonna hear me roar.”

BATTLE: Two professional pop songs ably delivered. Unbearably dull. NO WINNER.


Bennie and the Jets, Elton John.
Format: Weird, kind of show biz story mashing up pianoman jazz with surreal storytelling. Noted for it’s stuttering refrain. “Oh this is weird and wonderful, oh Bennie she’s really kean, she has a electric boots a mohair suit you know I read it in a magazine.” Totally catchy and fairly irritating, by the end this is a dance groove thing harkening to glam but fairly genre busting.

Cruise, Florida Georgia Line.
Format: Modern country. Two dudes with guitars tell the story of meeting a hot chick. “Baby you’re a song make me want to roll my windows down and cruise.” Poppy standard guitar solo, percussive banjo backup with a twang.

BATTLE: Quirky if klinky tinkly dance tune wins over absolutely mind-bogglingly boring dumb fake country tune. Winner: 1974


The Streak, Ray Stevens.
Format: Country comedy. Standard pedal steel riff over a series of vignettes about a dude who runs nekkid through the supermarket and the gas station. “They call him the streak, likes to turn the other cheek.” Ripped from the headlines of the day. Total drivel.

When I Was Your Man, Bruno Mars.
Format: Pop ballad. Mars is known as a professional singer in a variety of styles. This is a missing you type of ballad, a man looks back and regrets. Pure treacle. “I should have bought you flowers and held your hand, shoulda give you all my hours when I had the chance.” Compare to 1974’s The Way We Were.

BATTLE: Unfunny novelty against unconvincing formulaic ballad. NO WINNER


TSOP: The Sound of Philadelphia, MFSB.
Format: Dance groove instrumental. Insipid elevator music.

Just Give Me a Reason, Pink featuring Nate Reuss.
Format: Power ballad duet. Pretty stock format, with big drums and catchy chorus. I like Pink’s voice and Nate Reuss, from fun., is good. “Now you’ve been talking in my sleep, things you never say to me, that now you’ve had enough of our love.” Professional pop song, likeable and assertive enough to get really irritating after you’ve heard it enough times.

BATTLE: Insipid dance track versus formulaic duet with excellent singing. Winner: 2013


The Locomotion, Grand Funk Railroad.
Format: Dance novelty sludge. Grand Funk was known for headbanging muddy rock, bad playing, worse singing, but scored a most surprising hit with Little Eva and Carole King’s dance novelty of the early 60s. “A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul.” Genre busting in its way, would seem to appeal to no one but instead piqued everyone’s interest. Really terrible.

Mirrors, Justin Timberlake.
Format: Michael Jackson imitation. Danceable ballad, Timberlake’s producer layers the sounds deep, with the noticeable effect being the handclap rhythm track. “Show me how to fight for now and I’ll show you it was easy coming back to you once I fought my way out of it.” Terrible whiny pop dreck.

BATTLE: Terrible undanceable heavy rock band does have a tune with an excellent hook and they bring a fairly amusing guitar solo, while the other is just bad. Winner: 1974.


Dancing Machine, Jackson 5.
Format: Dance. This is pretty standard Funk Brothers groove music, sounding as much like the Bee Gees as the Jacksons. “She’s a dancing dancing dancing machine, why don’t ya get down.” Pleasant, decidedly minor. Notable because it’s rhythm is just a bit slower and more wavery than what will become disco.

Can’t Hold Us, Macklemore and Ryan, featuring Ray Dalton.
Format: Inspirational tribal dance pop. Modern dance sounds, including lots of layers of sound, plus the clear rapping of Macklemore leading the way. This sounds autobiographical and grandiose and inspirational. No part of it but the beat lasts for long, with arrangement changes, sonic changes, but the rhythm persisting. “Now they can’t tell me nothing, we give it to the people.” Ray Dalton’s singing of the chorus/hook, is very catchy, but then so is most everything in this insistent pop collage. Not so much a song as an earnest and engaging sales pitch for a story and some ideas.

BATTLE: Both are okay, neither is very good. Today I’d rather hear Can’t Hold Us because of the hooky refrain, but I don’t want to vote for it. TIE


Come and Get Your Love, Redbone.
Format: Blue eyed soul/rock. Sounds like it should be a Philadelphia soul song, a Van McCoy joint, but instead it was the biggest hit of America’s first Native American rock band. “If you want want some take some. Get it together baby. Come and get your love.” Funny guitar sounds and fake strings say all you need to know about this irksome bit of ear candy.

Harlem Shake, Baauer.
Format: Techno dubstep. Midtempo dance track built of disparate tracks of rhythms, clips and distortions. Utterly flat to my ear, but popularized by accompanying videos of people dancing to it, which went viral this past year. “Do the Harlem Shake.”

BATTLE: Both are irritating. NO WINNER


Love’s Theme, Love Unlimited Orchestra.
Format: Easy listening instrumental dance track. Incredibly repetitive groove built on soporific strings and a guitar looped through a flanger. Sound track for a trip to a wedding hotel. Awful.

Radioactive, Imagine Dragons.
Format: Rock Dubstep. Giant arena rock, with big heavy bass drums and mashing snares accompanying singalong chorus, connected with power ballad verses describing the apocalypse. “I’m radioactive, radioactive. All systems go, the sun hasn’t died. Deep in my bones, straight from inside.” Plus dubstep undertones and sound effects. Sneaky catchy, and pretty bleakly vacant.

BATTLE: Imagine Dragons get in my head, and while I’m not entirely happy about it, they earn it over Love’s Them. Winner: 2013


Seasons in the Sun, Terry Jacks.
Format: Singer songwriter oddity. Notable for white reggae carousel sound, about death. “Goodbye Michelle it’s hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky.” Weirdly morbid and bizarre, but of course it is a French song by Jacques Brel translated into English. “The stars in our reach are now starfish on the beach.” A musical revue about Brel was very popular back then.

Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell.
Format: Dance groove. One hook, over and over and over. Starts one place and never strays, with a sexual creepy vibe. “I know you want it, but your a good girl, but the way you grab me, want to do the nasty.” Awful.

BATTLE: Somewhat pretentious French lounge music versus appalling creepy dance music. Winner: 1974


The Way We Were, Barbra Streisand.
Format: Soundtrack tearjerker. Big strings, Marvin Hamlisch written mush. “Memories. Like the corners of my mind. Misty watercolored memories, of the way we were.” Classic.

Thrift Shop, Macklemore and Ryan featuring Wanz.
Format: Rap novelty. Incredibly hooky, genuinely funny, rap song. Clever saxophone. Like the other Macklemore, this is more essay than tune, more poem than dance track. “I’m gonna pop some tags, got 20 dollars in my pocket, I’m i’m hunting, looking for a come up, this is fucking awesome.”

BATTLE: The Way We Were is a horrible song, utter tripe, even though Barbra sings it wonderfully. That’s almost enough to call this one a tie, but I genuinely liked Thrift Shop the first 50 times I heard it. I’m over it now. Winner: 2013.


Popular songs are a mixed bag. There was always bad stuff and there will always be bad stuff, but there is some good stuff in the mix, too. Today’s sounds are definitely more highly-produced and engineered, but otherwise they’re making the same effort to engage the listener and worm their way into their head. Their aim is to please, and that is certainly a good enough reason to dismiss it all out of hand. Unless you’re into the Swedes.


1973: #20. Hooked on a Feeling, Blue Swede. Format: Caribbean groove, Lion Sleeps Tonight chanting, with Brill Building lyrics.

2013: #27. I Love It, Icona Pop. Mash up of thumping Eurodisco and thumping power pop nihilism, all fun.

Night Music: Beyonce, “XO”

This is a little more complicated than what I meant for Night Music to be, but so be it. Night Music was supposed to be music I was listening to in a bourbon mood, before the lights went out. What resonates, personal story and musical tune, in the dark.

Tonight I slide into Beyonce. She dropped a lot of tunes and video on the public this week. That seems to be good marketing, but really the test is does the product hold up.

Tonight I heard a song as I watched a video that was pretty good. My Remnants friends will complain, but they shouldn’t. The world is a big place, and this is a decent tune.

But it reminded me of a song I didn’t think of yesterday when I pledged my 2013 troth to Kanye. And that is Ellie Goulding’s Burn.

I’m not saying Beyonce was influenced by Ellie, but both songs have similar structures. And Ellie’s song burns Kanye and Beyonce both. And while it’s close, every time I hear Ellie Goulding’s Burn I tear up, because it hits the marks. Beautiful marks.

Beyonce’s excellent, in this case, Ellie is bigger. And bigger than Kanye. My fave tune of the year: