Tag: Charts

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

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This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

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This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 936: Number One With An Irreverent Bullet

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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.

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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…

Day 771: On Tonight’s Show… History.

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Once the collective click of a few million TV sets shutting off had resonated throughout North America in the shadowy hours of February 9, 1964, the pentimento of American culture as it existed before that day was almost invisible. This is the news blurb that kids – and I include here many in my generation, those who played their opening number on this earthly stage some years after the 60’s had taken their bow – will gloss over and ignore. Precisely one half of a century has elapsed since the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Trying to rationalize the significance of this broadcast to my children is a fruitless endeavor. Even in my limited history, the only television “events” that embedded a rusty touchstone in our shared timeline were series finales (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld), sporting events or news stories. The first two would get us talking, but eventually they’d meander under the covers of the past. And while the scope of our world might have shifted after we all watched O.J. race through the arteries of Los Angeles in a Ford Bronco or after we saw the towers fall a few years later, television was merely the window through which we’d all observed a salient chapter in history. When the Beatles splashed down into 74 million pairs of eyeballs for the first time, it was culture announcing through its own mouthpiece that everything was about to change.

There had never been an equivalent in the world of popular music. And given the splintered state of our popular tastes and the three-block buffet of media options at our disposal, such a singular jarring of our culture is not likely to ever occur again.

SammyDavis&Ella

First of all, there is no parallel to Ed Sullivan today. Sullivan’s show was a weekly stage for performers to hurl their skills at a national audience in hopes the exposure will crank their success meter up to the next notch. You’d see plate-spinners and dog trainers, classically-trained actors and world-renowned singers. The late-night talk show circuit is the closest to an equivalent today, but Ed’s show was about showing off his guests, not interviewing them to hear pre-rehearsed stories about the time George Clooney pranked them in the studio commissary. Sunday nights were our culture’s window into the wider world. Read more…

Day 762: Cuing Up The Fetid – Worst Music Part 3

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It’s time once again to clear the room of friends, family and suspicious strangers by cranking up the worst of the worst. You know, the most urethra-scrapingly awful thing about these terrible songs is the fact that they have each achieved a grotesque level of popularity. People who toil for eight, sometimes sixteen hours in a day, who often pay only the minimum payment on their Visa bill and who have likely contemplated buying the store-brand mayonnaise in order to save a little extra money for lottery tickets have nevertheless flushed some of that precious cash down the crusty-sewage-lined pipes of the recording industry to own these.

And we know these songs are awful – we all do. I’m not talking about stuff like Chicago’s “You’re The Inspiration”, which is more harmlessly schmaltzy than outright offensive, or “Ice Ice Baby”, which grew exponentially more ridiculous until Vanilla Ice turned Amish and the tune shifted into ironic-nostalgia country.

No, these are the inexcusables. I’m pulling off of Blender magazine’s “50 Worst Songs Ever” list, one which I’m loathe to trust, due to its inclusion of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence”, Huey Lewis’s “Heart of Rock & Roll” and The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” But despite these grievous errors, the list makes a few points. It also puts Starship’s “We Built This City” at #1, so kudos for that one.

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Number two on the list is inarguably more insipid, more soul-draining than Starship’s 1987 trudge through knee-deep fetid hoopla. Yes, I’m talking about Billy Ray Cyrus’s biggest single, a song so astoundingly wretched it is now considered to be an attempted mass murder in three states if someone tries to perform this as a karaoke number. “Achy Breaky Heart” is the song whose video introduced the 90’s fad of line dancing to popular culture. Remember when people used to make fun of the Ramones because their songs only contained three chords? This one features just two: A and E major. Read more…

Day 734: Cranking Up the Craptastic – Worst Music Part 2

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Whenever I’m feeling a little too happy, a little too comfortable within the overstuffed throw-pillows of our culture, I like to remind myself how easy it is to unzip those cushions and catch a whiff of the rancid stuffing inside. We may pride ourselves on our Breaking Bads, our Blue Jasmines, and our Elvis Costello & The Roots records, but this is the same twisted species that also spews out crap-heaps of TLC shows, a nonstop cavalcade of Madea movies, and… well, these musical offerings.

I have devoted 19 of my 733 days to exploring the crowd-roasted excrement that has squeezed through the virtual anus of our corporate culture-makers, only to be (usually) swallowed up by the masses in some deluded mass-hysterical case of collective scatophagia. Maybe I’m trying to understand why we persist in the dank shadow of quality. Why do we support drivel and detritus when the crests of artistic brilliance have showered us with so many more palatable alternatives?

There are questions of taste, and subjective preference should always be approached with a cautious and respectful gait. But then there’s crap. Pure crap. So much pure and loathsome crap.

CheekyGirls

Some artists can get away with songs that serve no other purpose than to introduce themselves. Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley” is a great tune with a magnetic rhythm. “(Theme From) The Monkees” was literally the theme song to the band’s TV show. But 80% of “Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)” by the Cheeky Girls involves the two lines: “We are the cheeky girls” and “You are the cheeky boys.” Seriously, those lines are repeated about sixty times. We get it. It’s a pun. Read more…

Day 687: The *INDISPUTABLE* Big Box O’ Juke – 80’s Edition

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I have, in the past, been accused of acute music snobbery, mostly by people whose names I never bothered to commit to memory. Yes, as an employee of Music World for the summer of 1993 I would regularly look down on customers who purchased music that I deemed to be weak and unworthy of sharing the New Release rack with the 20th anniversary re-issue of Dark Side of the Moon. But I’d only do so in my head and to co-workers after those customers had left the premises. Usually.

And while I hold my own artistic opinion as a more accurate barometer of objective quality than that of the Billboard chart-driven display of ludicrous public embracement, I would be the last to declare my tastes to be definitively correct. I am a child of the 1980’s, an era when music didn’t have to be musicologically intricate – or even necessarily good – to be a terrific record. I’m okay with this – if someone whose sense of auditory aesthetics tells me that Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” is a crap single, I will quietly acknowledge a perfectly valid crevice of opinion, even if I feel they are wrong.

But there are some songs that seem to be objectively inarguable – purely and unavoidably great pieces of music. These are tracks that even the neo-hipsters of that decade will tap their feet to, the ones that truly warrant the moniker of ‘classic’. I’ve written about 80’s music before, but with these songs I can’t imagine any dissent. Or, you could comment below and prove me wrong.

But you won’t.

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In 1984 there was no under-bed hidey-hole so remote it could not be penetrated by some portion of Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA album. It still holds the record (along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller) for having spawned seven top-10 hit singles; that’s seven massive hits off a twelve-track LP. And while perhaps you could uncover some twisted soul who’ll stick up their noses at “Dancing In The Dark” or “Glory Days”, I simply cannot fathom not cranking up the volume to “Cover Me.” Read more…

Day 574: The Big Box O’ Juke – 60s Edition

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The day after writing about someone’s horribly-botched circumcision and subsequent medical torture, I really need to punch that gearshift into a new socket and spend this gloriously overcast day in a happier, more uplifting place.

It is for this reason that we order up a shake, pull out that roll of quarters from our pocket that proves we’re not happy to see anybody, and saunter back over to the Big ol’ Box O’ Juke for another mini-binge on some of the great songs in history. Having jumped through the 70’s, the 80’s and the 90’s, I’m going to point my Flux Capacitor at the decade which produced the greatest classics-to-pap ratio in modern music history: the 1960’s.

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We may as well start at the beginning, with this attractive group who were known for deeply admiring mysterious things to their immediate left. That is, of course, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and the single that smashed its bubbly Dom over the hull of Motown, christening the label and launching it into the Billboard stratosphere was called “Shop Around.”

Smokey wrote the song with Motown honcho Barry Gordy, recording a slower, bluesier version that found itself dispatched through Detroit airwaves, receiving a fairly solid response from the locals. But Gordy had his sights set on conquering the world, so one night at 3:00AM he brought the Miracles in to record the more upbeat pop number we all know. Presumably members of the Funk Brothers, the Motown house band that never received any credit from the Motown PR corps, despite their performances having truly defined the label’s signature sound, were also called in to the session. Read more…

Day 473 – The Big Box O’ Juke – 90s Edition

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Once again it’s time to twist that volume knob all the way to the right, wrap yourself in your favorite flannel shirt, bring your old Tamagotchi back to life, and ease into the latest batch of vintage tuneage from the Big Box ‘O Juke. Today we’re dipping into the music of the 1990’s, a decade that brought us mainstream music we called “alternative”, the death of so many record stores who sold actual records, and the birth of the mighty mp3.

The 90’s was the end of populist popular music. Where once a band like the Scorpions could share the same top-ten audience as Cyndi Lauper, now listeners were becoming more fragmented. Rock music hit a wall it still has yet to climb over – apart from a handful of trends (like the forgettable rap-rock phase), guitar-based rock, or at least the stuff that hit the radio, simply stopped growing.

Pop music became computer-based, and the best stuff was wading through an increasingly deeper pool of pap and fluff. But it was still out there. Depending on your tastes, this may or may not be a sampling of some of it.

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I don’t think it’s a shameful confession, but I was never really a fan of Meat Loaf. Nothing against the guy, but his sense of musical-theatre-rock drama just never hit me in my groovocampus, the part of the brain that stores memories of the funky licks that get one’s boogie on. His song “I’ll Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” was a monster hit for him in ’93, the first single off that Bat Out Of Hell II album I had to play ad nauseum when I worked at MusicWorld. Read more…

Day 434: 50 Years Of Feeling My Boner In Her Hair

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Not a lot of songs are so generously packed full of interesting tidbittery to warrant a thousand words. Three-hundred fifty-one days ago, I devoted an article to what I have yet to be convinced is not the worst song of the 1980’s, “We Built This City” by Starship. Today’s song is even more mired in infamy, though not due to a question of quality. “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen may be the most notorious record in the annals of rock ‘n roll history, spawning an FBI investigation, a number of local bans, and an incalculable bounty of inspiration to future rockers.

The song was written in 1955 as a Jamaican love ballad by a very non-Jamaican guy named Richard Berry. His version received a fair amount of airplay on the west coast, but never cracked the Billboard charts. He sold his rights to the song for $750 in 1959. At the time, that probably seemed like a great deal. A 1961 version by the Wailers became a big hit in the Seattle area.

In case the photo is not clear, this is *not* Bob Marley's band.

In case the photo is not clear, this is *not* Bob Marley’s band.

On the evening of April 5, 1963, Seattle band the Kingsmen, fronted by guitarist Jack Ely, performed a 90-minute version of “Louie Louie” at a local gig. This predates the era of jam rock, so either these guys were ahead of their time and skillful enough to keep this groove interesting for an hour and a half, or they wanted to drive the patrons out the door. The fact that they devoted a chunk of their recording session the next day to laying their cover down on wax would suggest the former. Read more…

Day 422: The Big Box O’ Juke – 70s Edition

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It’s time to dial up some tuneage from the distant past, back when cheese was king and fashions looked like rainbows had thrown up onto a jelly bean factory. Yes, it’s another edition of the Big Box O’ Juke, where you learn the stories behind the hits, and probably end up with one of these damn songs ricocheting off the inside of your skull for the rest of the day. I make no apologies; I suffer along with you.

Last month I strolled through the hot-pink neon glow of 80’s hits. I’m not sure if I have more readers who were kids in the 70s or the 90s, but I’m erring on the side of disco balls, ‘ludes and shag carpeting so thick it can trip a rhino.

LeFreak

On New Year’s Eve, 1977, Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and bass player Bernard Edwards were denied entrance to New York City’s famous Studio 54. They had been invited to join Grace Jones inside, but Grace had forgotten to let the goons running the doors know she was expecting guests. Rodgers and Edwards were pissed, so they did what any self-respecting musicians would do… they wrote a revenge song. Read more…