Here’s the part where the guy twitching in the hungry crosshairs of 40 tells you how the music topping the charts these days won’t inspire so much as a quiver of his trigger finger. But really, who cares? The purveyors of popular song have no interest in capturing my iTunes money. Just as my parents wondered desperately who on earth would want anyone to Rock Them Amadeus, I can’t fathom why Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, a piece of simplistic monotony with a Clueless rip-off video, spent a month this summer at #1.
Ever since the end of the halcyon days of 80’s pop, the soundtrack that flipped the pages of my childhood, I have paid scant attention to the Billboard Hot 100 chart. While MC Hammer’s parachute pants flapped in the raucous wind of his success, my high school friends and I were discovering the mystical quests within the grooves of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd records. So I guess I haven’t been hip in about twenty-five years. I’m okay with that.
I’d always been a trifle suspicious of this chart anyway. What is it counting? Sales? Radio airplay? Likelihood of ending up as a parody on Weird Al’s next album? There is actually some math to this madness, and it’s far too complex for my mid-week brain to tabulate without a nap under its belt. But I’ll do my best.
For almost two decades prior to the Hot 100’s debut in the pages of Billboard (yes kids, Billboard was and is an actual magazine. A magazine is kind of like Buzzfeed.com made out of trees), the chart tabulators kept track of three separate stats: the best-sellers, the songs most played by disc jockeys and the songs most played in jukeboxes. That last one was key, as a disgraceful clump of radio stations were refusing to play rock ‘n roll in the mid-1950’s. Billboard had to track what was big with the kids. Read more…
While I’m anything but the most amateur of amateur historians, I’ve got a feeling that people went missing all the time in the 16th century. You dig yourself into some serious debt, maybe sleep with a nobleman’s wife or abscond with the goodies from the church collection plate, making yourself scarce would be a pretty easy feat. Got yourself murdered? Bad news for you – forensics don’t exist and if your killer knows even a little about properly hiding a body, you’ll simply make the ranks of the missing.
But how do 115 people disappear? Ruling out a violent attack (since there would be some leftover evidence of such) or a sudden collective yen for new surroundings, a mass vanishing of this scale has to turn some heads. Some four centuries later, we still don’t know for certain what became of the residents of the Roanoke Colony.
There are theories, of course. And investigators are trying to use modern scientific gadgetry to uncover the mystery, but it’s not easy reconstructing an event when your only crime scene photos are a handful of 400-year-old etchings and there’s a good chance your archeological data may be presently sitting beneath a Walmart parking lot. But historians love a good challenge, so chances are this hunt will remain at the forefront of someone’s life’s work for the foreseeable future.
Sir Walter Raleigh: Quite a flowery collar for such a stupid git. (yes, that’s a Beatles joke for you)
In March of 1584, Queen Elizabeth I decided it was time to slap down some English tootsies into the North American mud and start earning a profit and staking out some land. England was at war with Spain, and she thought North America would be a good vantage point from which they could mess with the Spanish treasure fleets. She put Sir Walter Raleigh on the job, which he immediately subcontracted because hey, Walter was a busy Sir and he had other things to do. Read more…
With practically the entirety of recorded music’s history available at the touch of a trackpad, it’s hard to find a lot of common ground among the masses. Back in the sepiatone days when I was in high school, there was certainly a cultural splintering effect afoot – some grooved to Hammer-time, others nodded angrily and forcefully to Nirvana, while still others begged C+C Music Factory to make them sweat upon a hormone-clogged dance floor – but there remained some sacred touchstones.
For whatever reason – and I pray a sociological study will one day uncover the mystery behind this collective madness – the girls in my high school were united under the secret thrill of ABBA. The boys, however discreetly some of them held back their own cravings for retro Swedish vocal-pop, united under an unwavering commitment to one of the greatest rock bands in ear-thumping history: Led Zeppelin.
Most of us had bands we liked more. For me, there was always the Beatles, while my other friends leaned toward Pink Floyd, Roxette or Extreme (yes, Josh, I’m talking about you). But we all sang along when Robert Plant belted out the first “Hey hey, mama” of their conspicuously untitled fourth album. Today Zep nets a kilograph, if for no other reason than as a thank you for the respite they provided after five straight listens of “More Than Words.”
The group’s origin story funnels straight back to this guy, one of the most awe-inspiring yet least well-known (among today’s younger rock-lovers) guitar gods of the 1960’s. Jeff Beck had joined up with the Yardbirds after Eric Clapton had left the group in frustration. Now Jeff was feeling the pull of sweet freedom, and his frustration led him to record his own thing, away from the rest of the group. He invited his buddy (and future Yardbirdian) Jimmy Page to play guitar. Read more…
Now a haven for reality shows and programming that has little or nothing to do with anything resembling music, MTV was once the go-to station for the ubiquitously 80’s art form known as the music video. But flipping one’s video rolodex back to the Buggles singing “Video Killed The Radio Star” is hardly an act of embracing the retro when it comes to the timeline of the music video.
You’ll have to travel farther back still than the pre-taped lip-sync videos the Beatles sent in to the Ed Sullivan Show when they no longer wanted to contend with the manic theater crowds to appear live. No, the music video is literally about as old as the medium of film itself.
As with any conceptual progress in the medium of film, the music video had to be squeezed through the skinny tube of innovation, and a quizzical defining of its language. But make no mistake – the music video was always about the music. In particular, about selling the music. Of course, in the beginning it wasn’t sex and sweat and slow-motion twerking that sold the music; it was the technology itself. This was some pretty sophisticated stuff.
In 1894, a button salesman/lyricist named Edward B. Marks and a necktie salesman/pianist named Joseph W. Stern teamed up to write a song called “The Lost Little Child.” It was a cute little folk story about a policeman finding a lost child who turns out to belong to his estranged wife who once traded a donkey to Grover Cleveland for a magic whistle that could summon Poseidon inside a special thimble she’d wear in her hair, but only on Tuesdays when the barometer displayed a curious lack of humidity. Or something – I haven’t actually listened to the entire thing. The point is, music promoter George H. Thomas knew how to sell this thing. Read more…
A survey of music lovers who possess even so much as a passing interest in the Beatles’ music will undoubtedly reveal “Come Together” to be one of the most universally beloved bullets in their melodic clip. From its swampy bass, its percussive “Shoot me” refrain to its absurdist and almost comically weird lyrics, the song righteously opens the gates to the magnificent Abbey Road album, tantalizing and gratifying most every pair of ears it meets.
It’s almost shocking to imagine the pretzel of nefarious backlash it provoked. “Come Together” may have begun its life as John Lennon’s attempt to pen a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s quest to unseat Ronald Reagan as governor of California, but it wound up inadvertently connecting Lennon with one of the most insidious corners of the music industry.
If only it were as simple as Lennon scribbling a new idea then slapping it onto vinyl with his buddies through the immaculate channel of producer George Martin. For the origin story of the madness that would follow, we need to travel back to 1956, back to when songs about cars were a veritable genre unto themselves. To a little single by rock ‘n roll’s illustrious grandpa, Chuck Berry.
In 1956, Chuck released a song called “You Can’t Catch Me”. Lennon’s song boasts a similar vocal melody and a set of lyrics (“Here come old flattop, he come goovin’ up slowly” to “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me”). The similarity ends there – Berry’s song is about driving quickly whereas Lennon’s is about something called ‘toe-jam football’ and some guy with feet below his knees. But it was enough to snag the ear of music publisher Morris Levy, who owned the rights to Berry’s song and promptly launched an infringement lawsuit against Lennon. Read more…