music friday: women

Earlier this week, NPR posted a list of the 150 greatest albums made by women. It's a discussion starter, and it definitely worked ... people are coming up with "the next 150", "150 albums by men that sucked", and the like.

The list was accompanied by a great essay by Ann Powers, "A New Canon: In Pop Music, Women Belong At The Center Of The Story", which I highly recommend. I was inspired to make a short list of my own. Here are ten songs by women ... according to Last.fm, these are songs I've listened to lately:

Fleetwood Mac, "I Don't Want to Know"

Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"

Aretha Franklin, "Chain of Fools"

Cowboy Junkies, "Sweet Jane"

Cyndi Lauper, "Time After Time"

The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"

Lucinda Williams, "Are You Alright?"

Sleater-Kinney, "Modern Girl"

Ella Fitzgerald, "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart"

Pink, "Just Give Me a Reason"

[Edited to add Spotify playlist]


music friday: covers

John Lennon, “Jealous Guy” and Elliott Smith, “Jealous Guy” and Roxy Music, “Jealous Guy

Dolly Parton, “Jolene” and The White Stripes, “Jolene” and Miley Cyrus, “Jolene

The Crickets, “I Fought the Law” and The Bobby Fuller Four, “I Fought the Law” and The Clash, “I Fought the Law

Arthur Crudup, “That’s All Right” and Elvis Presley, “That’s All Right” and Rod Stewart, “That’s All Right

Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Garth and Wayne, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Pink, “Bohemian Rhapsody


music friday: middle class streaming bandwidth

Hat tip for this week’s Music Friday goes to Nick Farruggia, who posted this in the Expert Witness FB group:

You die and go to Heaven. Things are pretty sweet, but the Koch brothers are still in charge. You're granted Middle Class Streaming Bandwidth, which means you can only listen to three artists from each decade, 1950-2010. "When you stop to consider it, that's unbelievably generous. 21 partial discographies!" Who ya got?

It’s something of a desert-island disc thing, only way more complicated. I’m not going to just pick my 21 favorites, because I have to consider that this is all I will listen to for eternity. I’ll want to mix things up a bit. Also, I’ll probably change my mind on a lot of these choices before this even gets posted. Here goes ...

1950s: Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. Sample: “Johnny B. Goode

1960s: The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, The Velvet Underground. Sample: “Dr. Feelgood”

1970s: Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, Patti Smith. Sample: “Because the Night” and “Because the Night

1980s: Prince, Hüsker Dü, Madonna. Sample: “Dirty Mind

1990s: Sleater-Kinney, Nirvana, Tupac. Sample: “One More Hour

2000s: Pink, Eminem, The Gossip. Sample: “Sober”

2010s: Kendrick Lamar, Adele, Chantel McGregor. Sample: “Voodoo Child


music friday: the last 12 months

This is a quickie … I got a Nexus 6 today, and that has taken up all of my time, with the exception of the two minutes I spent getting tickets to see Sleater-Kinney next May. (San Francisco must be big fans … another show has already been added, which we are thinking of attending.) I’ve seen several people post their top artists of the year, based on what Spotify or Last.fm told them, so I’ll do the same, even though it is embarrassingly predictable and dominated by artists from the 60s.

According to Last.fm, these are my top artists of the last 12 months:

1. The Rolling Stones

2. Sleater-Kinney

3. The Beatles

4. Bob Dylan

5. Elvis Presley/Jefferson Airplane (tie)

7. Bruce Springsteen/Jason Derulo (tie)

9. You+Me

10. Van Morrison/The Velvet Underground/Aretha Franklin/Perfume Genius (tie)

Honorable mention: The Roots, Paul McCartney, and the Temptations.

Not sure which is the most surprising … would be one of the newer artists, Derulo, You+Me, Perfume Genius. Here are songs from all three.

Jason Derulo, “Trumpets”:

OK, You+Me weren’t actually new … it’s Pink and Dallas Green. This is “You and Me”:

And Perfume Genius, “Queen”:

And a bonus:

http://youtu.be/zdNgHnLJWgw


music friday: janet jackson, "miss you much"

Today marks the 25th anniversary of The Earthquake, so I thought I’d choose the #1 song in the country on that date. “Miss You Much” was in the middle of a four-week run at #1 … it eventually sold 4 million copies worldwide. The song came from the Rhythm Nation 1814 album, which was the follow-up to Control, her breakthrough.

“Miss You Much,” like a lot of her material then, sounded a lot like a Prince record … perhaps ironic, given her famous brother. This was mostly due to the presence of producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, original members of The Time. It was a potent package: Janet, Jimmy, and Terry. A lot of hits ensued. The lyrics to “Miss You Much” don’t get much deeper than the title, and Jackson’s vocals are more a part of the overall sound than they are particularly soulful.

The video got a lot of attention, and has proven to be influential. Directed by Dominic Sena with choreography by Anthony Thomas, it seems a bit familiar now, but that’s partly because it has been copied so many times:

There have been homages and direct rips of the video over the years. It’s usually about the chairs, which is odd … they are only in the video for a second … the overall look of the video is also an inspiration to others. Here are a few of those who were inspired:

The Backstreet Boys, “As Long As You Love Me

Pink, Usher, and Mya, Medley (I didn’t think Pink had it in her … talking about her dancing here)

Britney Spears, “Stronger


music friday: favorites through the years

If I were to make a list of my favorite musicians over the years, the only easy selection would be Bruce Springsteen at the top. But I wonder if perhaps I could offer a chronology of favorites over the years.

One of my first memories (meaning it is entirely untrustworthy) is being a little boy and having to get a shot at the doctor’s office. I cried and ran around the room until my dad promised I could buy an Elvis Presley 45 after we left the office. My memory is it was “Hound Dog”, although that is probably the most untrustworthy part of this whole story. Since I’m trying to concoct a chronological list of favorites, I can’t really use this memory to place Elvis in first place. I didn’t have an Elvis fixation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was merely the only rock and roller I’d heard of at that young age. I lost interest in him after that, and only really started paying attention to him after Greil Marcus’ book Mystery Train. That book took me to the ‘68 TV special, and if you want a favorite, there you are … whenever I fill out one of those “if you could pick one moment in time, where would it be” memes, I choose to be sitting in the audience as The King and his friends played in the summer of 1968. From there, I went on to write my college honors thesis on Elvis, and I’ve never lost my fascination with him. Truthfully, though, it’s the ‘68 Elvis-and-Friends sessions that affect me emotionally … everything else for me is more academic. So Elvis is a favorite, to be sure, but it’s hard to place him chronologically … 1968, when I didn’t notice him? The mid-70s, when Mystery Train came out?

I had a few 45s when I was a kid … there was Bobby “Boris” Pickett with “The Monster Mash”, Link Wray and “Jack the Ripper”, a few more that are long forgotten. The first LPs I can recall (some gifts, some bought by me) include Herman’s Hermits On Tour, Bringing It All Back Home (for “Like a Rolling Stone”, the first Dylan to grab my attention … of course, that album did not include “Rolling Stone”), and the first two American Yardbirds albums, For Your Love and Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds. It would be accurate to say that The Yardbirds were my first “favorite” musicians. I put “favorite” in quotes because The Beatles ruled over everything by then, and I was not immune. (I can remember buying Revolver right when it came out, and someone asking me how I knew it was good before I’d even heard it. “It’s the Beatles!” was my reply.) Finally, to complete this time frame, I had an older brother who lived at home until 1964, and his tastes were very influential on me, plus he had lots of records.

The Yardbirds, “I Wish You Would” (Eric Clapton on guitar)

For the rest of the 60s, my favorites were identified more by albums than by artists, although the Beatles and Rolling Stones were always there. Representing the “San Francisco Sound” were Surrealistic Pillow, Children of the Future, Electric Music for the Mind and Body, and the first Quicksilver album. Oh, and the Firesign Theatre. But I don’t think any of these artists were favorites beyond their best albums. If I had to list a favorite, let it be Jack Casady. One album, though, made such an impression on me that it lifted the artist to a favored spot: Astral Weeks by Van Morrison. His first four solo albums (through His Band and the Street Choir) were often played, and there was plenty to like after that. I finally saw him live in 1998.

Van Morrison, “Cypress Avenue

Not sure I had a favorite for the next few years. Listened to a lot of The Moody Blues in the late-60s. Allman Brothers. Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me a Dime”. No, the next My Favorite came when I re-discovered Bob Dylan around about the time of Planet Waves. I had liked him since long before that, of course, and The Band was always thisclose to being a favorite … in hindsight, I don’t know if there is a double whammy I love more than Big Pink and the second album. Robin and I saw them on the Before the Flood tour, our first concert together after we were married … we saw Dylan twice more over the years, The Band once more (they were/are a favorite of hers, as well). I buried myself in Dylanology, reading everything I could find, going back to the earlier albums. Then Blood on the Tracks and The Basement Tapes followed … it was a great time to be a Dylan fan. Things went downhill after that … we saw him on the Street Legal tour, and it wasn’t the same … we didn’t see him in concert again for 20 years. It’s hard to get mid-70s Dylan on YouTube (The Band is easy to find), so here’s what I (along, I’m sure) consider the best use ever of “All Along the Watchtower”, the culmination of its use in Battlestar Galactica:

BSG, Starbuck

Then came Bruce … do I really need to say more? My various stories are scattered throughout this blog. My favorite of his songs after all these years is still “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”, and it was 1978 that cemented his place forever in my heart. So here’s “Rosie” from 1978:

Bruce Springsteen, “Rosalita

Punk was probably the musical movement I most loved. Patti Smith could be on this list. But my true favorites were The Clash … it’s really not even close.

The Clash, “Safe European Home

Lou Reed is in there, too … we saw him quite a few times then. The Velvet Underground belongs on this list, but as with Elvis, I don’t know where to place them. We listened to the first album all the time when it came out, and I was aware of the other albums. But it took a long time for me to realize that they were my favorite band, by which point they had long since broken up. The real favorites of the … what do I call it, post-punk era? College rock? Anyway, the favorites were Hüsker Dü. I would vote for the Velvets over the Hüskers overall, but in the context of this post, Hüsker Dü is the right choice. And my favorite of their songs is an easy choice. “So now sit around staring at the walls. We don't do anything at all. Take out the garbage, maybe, BUT THE DISHES DON’T GET DONE!”

Hüsker Dü, “I Apologize

Predating Hüsker Dü by a bit (and thus throwing off the chronology a bit, but I wanted Hüsker Dü in with the punks) was their fellow Minnesotan, Prince. He would be the frontrunner if I decided I had to pick a #2 favorite. Seeing him in a small club in 1981 ranks as one of the finest concert moments of my life. For most of the 80s, he was crucial, and he has never really gone away … saw him in concert just a few years ago.

Prince, “Uptown

Don’t think I haven’t noticed that the above are all guys. I’ve loved many women rockers over the years, going back at least as far as Aretha in the 60s. I mentioned Patti Smith earlier … and there’s Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams, and more. But they weren’t my favorites the same way acts like Bruce and Prince were.

And then came Sleater-Kinney. I saw them for the first time in 1998, after Janet had joined the band and Dig Me Out was their most recent album. The first S-K song I can remember loving was “Good Things” from the second album, but Dig Me Out was and remains iconic for me, especially “Words + Guitar” and even more especially “One More Hour”. I don’t think I knew right away how much I would love them. It had been more than a decade since I truly obsessed over a new act … I was 45 years old in 1998, I had Bruce, I didn’t need more. But there was something about Sleater-Kinney. Their concerts were very interesting … I want to tell you what a great live act they were, but the truth is, I could barely distinguish a lot of the noise (Janet’s drums always came through, though). It’s the way they formed a real group out of three women with distinct personalities on stage. In the earlier years, Corin tended to be relatively calm, letting her colossal vocals do the work of expanding her presence to the audience. Janet was simply the best rock drummer since Keith Moon. Meanwhile, Carrie took care of the rock star charisma, and she had it in abundance, her bangs always in her eyes, her energy at once coiled and explosive. On record, Corin’s voice got my attention, and I had a fan’s crush on Janet’s drumming. But the fact was, I could barely take my eyes off of Carrie. They made seven albums, and all of them were good (sample: Christgau gave the albums grades of A-, A, A, A, A-, A, A). I made an S-K playlist for a friend … I ended up including more than 40 songs. The last album, The Woods, was arguably their best, as they released their inner Blue Cheer. And the concerts rolled on … over the course of just under eight years, I saw them 12 times. There was the time they played “Promised Land” on Bruce’s birthday, the many times they would man their own merch tables and I’d get tongue-tied in the presence of Janet.

And then they went on “hiatus” … that was in 2006, and I just about cry every time I think of it. By that point, I was 53 years old, and this time I was sure of it, I would never love another new act the way I loved Sleater-Kinney. “One More Hour” was the last song they ever played together … “i know it's hard for you to let it go, i know it's hard for you to say goodbye, i know you need a little more time”.

Sleater-Kinney, “One More Hour

Another woman has snuck in, though … I don’t obsess over her the way I did with Sleater-Kinney, those days are indeed probably gone. But I’ve seen her five times (the second at the Fillmore, two years after I’d seen S-K there) … she’s just about the only person left not named Bruce who can get my now-61-year-old ass to a show. Pink.

Pink, “So What

So, there’s my slightly botched timeline of my favorite musicians over the years:

  • The Yardbirds
  • Van Morrison
  • Bob Dylan
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • The Clash
  • Hüsker Dü
  • Prince
  • Sleater-Kinney
  • Pink

music top ten of 2013

There’s no point in my creating a top ten list for 2013. I listen to music in what I might call Organized Shuffle … I have lots of playlists with semi-coherent themes, but I listen to them on shuffle play. And I don’t pay attention to what year each track is from. I’d also say I’m getting a bit old to pass myself off as an expert at current pop music, but I’m only 60, which makes me 11 years younger than Bob Christgau, who manages to keep up. So let’s call this a reality check, wherein my pretenses towards the contemporary meet up with the actuality of my listening.

According to Last.fm, here are the ten artists I have listened to the most over the past 12 months, with the song I played the most by them during that time:

  1. The Beatles, “Get Back
  2. Pink, “Just Give Me a Reason
  3. The Rolling Stones, “Bye Bye Johnny
  4. Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue
  5. Sleater-Kinney, “Youth Decay
  6. Ray Charles, “Hit the Road Jack
  7. Lou Reed, “Waves of Fear
  8. Jefferson Airplane, “Meadowlands
  9. The Who, “The Kids Are Alright
  10. James Brown, “Think

Kind of embarrassing … the only ones who come from anytime after the 60s are Pink and Sleater-Kinney.

Just to cover my ass, here are some 2013 tracks I liked, in no particular order:

Icona Pop, “I Love It”.

M.I.A., “Bring the Noise”.

Sleigh Bells, “Bitter Rivals”.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Despair”.

Katy Perry, “Roar”.

Regina Spektor, “You’ve Got Time”.

Pharrell Williams, “Happy”.


music friday: pink concert #5

I set aside this Music Friday to talk about the Pink concert from last night, but since it’s the second time we’ve seen her on The Truth About Love Tour, there’s not much I can add to what I wrote in February. The show was the same in its essence. She added a cover (“Time After Time”), accompanied herself on the piano (“The Great Escape”, which she hadn’t sung last time), and dropped a couple of songs from the earlier set list.

She screwed up several times on “The Great Escape”, which was pretty charming, although if you search YouTube, you’ll find that she screws up on that one almost every night. The crowd loves her for it, which gets to the core of why her fans find her so appealing: no matter how big a star she becomes, no matter how many jaw-dropping acrobatics she performs, she still seems just like us reg’lar folks in the audience.

Even taking as a given that “authenticity” is a problematic concept in popular music, Pink walks a fascinating line between performance and “real”. She never reverts to Alecia Moore on stage … she is always Pink … it’s as if “Pink” is the real Alecia. (When she appears as an actress in Thanks for Sharing, she is billed as Alecia Moore … when she plays someone else, she does it as Alecia, when she plays “herself”, she does it as Pink.) The show is too tightly constructed for her to take requests, and there are too many set pieces to allow for changing the set list from one night to the next. But I can attest, after seeing basically the same show twice in eight months, that the production is very satisfying. The big production numbers still astonish, the emotional ballads still reach your heart, the flat-out rockers still fill the arena, and there are so many more women in the audience than men that the men’s room I used before the show had already been taken over, guerilla style, by women who weren’t going to stand in a long line just because the people at the Coliseum hadn’t though to convert a few men’s rooms to women’s to deal with the female/male ratio for the how.

The crowd is wonderful. I felt like an honored visitor. The show isn’t for me, a 60-year-old white guy, but for all the girls (and girls who have become women during Pink’s career) who relate on a more specific level to the songs Pink sings. It’s a joy to see that connection between the audience and the performer, and it points to the ways Pink is a role model, whether she intends it or not. I’m not a fan of artists being role models … I’d rather they made they art without worrying about being an exemplar … but in Pink’s case, her art comes first, yet it also establishes her as a model.

There is one area where I wish she wasn’t so conscious of this. I couldn’t make out all of the words, but she gave a little speech prior to performing “Fuckin’ Perfect” that explained why she wouldn’t be saying the f-word. Sure enough, we got the “clean” version, and to be honest, it’s one of the better clean versions of a song, but I don’t like the idea of a clean version in the first place, and I was disappointed. (Of course, the performance was great, no matter my thoughts on the matter.)

Perhaps it’s just another way Pink constructs her reg’lar gal persona. I’ve long thought that she tosses in an occasional, audible deep breath when doing some of the acrobatics, just to prove the mic is live and she is really singing. And most of her fans are well aware that Pink is a mom, but she makes it part of her act of authenticity when she says she won’t sing the f-word because the kid might hear it. In this way, she is able to use the original “Fuckin’ Perfect” to show she’s the kind of “real” artist that puts the word “fuck” into a song title, and then later can use the song to show that she’s the kind of “real” mom who tries not to curse so much.

Part of what makes her so winning, though, is that thoughts like these seem irrelevant when you are watching her. Of course “Pink” is a construction, of course we’re watching a “show”, but she shifts so easily between pop star and human being that we are charmed … we root for her to succeed, and then she succeeds beyond our wildest dreams, and somehow all of us are raised up.

For this reason, I love “Try”, a ballad that might normally strike me as a bit over the top, but which, in concert, lives up to its message that we must get off the floor once again and try. As she so often does, she uses the acrobatics not just to impress us, but to extend the point of the song. As she floats above the stage without a harness, we get a fuller understanding of how a person can “try”. Similarly, the various versions of “Sober” she has presented always result in her being in the air, which matches perfectly with the lyrics of the song.


music friday, robin's birthday edition

Since it’s Robin’s 60th birthday today, I thought Music Friday should have a Robin connection. These are all artists we have seen live over the years.

Bob Dylan and the Band, “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”. The first concert we attended together was Bob Dylan and The Band in 1974. This was the opening number.

Patti Smith, “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together”. We saw Patti for the first time in 1976. This was the opening number.

The Who, “I Can’t Explain”. We saw them in 1976, when Moonie was still alive. The link is to the actual show we attended, which means the audio sux. Yes, this was the opening number.

Lou Reed, “Coney Island Baby”. We saw Lou a bunch of times over the years. Robin once made me a Coney Island Baby t-shirt.

Talking Heads, “Take Me To the River”. We saw them in 1978. The audio is from the show we attended. This time the sound is good.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, “Like a Hurricane”. We saw them at the concert which became the movie Rust Never Sleeps.

Iris DeMent, “Let the Mystery Be”. We saw Iris a few times.

Van Morrison, “Jackie Wilson Said”. We finally got to see him in 1998.

Sleater-Kinney, “Little Babies”. Robin actually went with us three times to see S-K, although I’m not sure she ever liked it.

Prince, “Purple Rain”. We saw him a few times. I wish he let folks put more of his stuff on YouTube.

Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run”. We’ve seen him together more than 30 times. We’re not alone in thinking of this as “our song”.

Pink, “So What”. Normally, Bruce would close the show. But we’re going to see Pink again next week, so she gets the honored spot.


music friday: rock & rap confidential

The invaluable Rock & Rap Confidential newsletter arrived in my email box yesterday. An occasional feature offers “downloading prospects”, brief reviews of current music written by intelligent listeners. This time, they wrote,  “Every time we set out to concoct one of our musical surveys, each of us is always knocked out by how much wonderful music is out there and how many different kinds of music make the grade. When our picks come together, with an absolute minimum of overlap (and not by assignment), the impression is deepened and reinforced.”

What follows is a list of music suggested in that most recent list of downloading prospects. I have nothing to say, since with many of these tunes, I’m listening for the first time myself, so I’ll quote a bit from the newsletter. Each newsletter includes the following note, which I’ll cut-and-paste here: “Please feel free to forward or post this issue widely, in whole or in part. We only ask that you include the information that anyone can subscribe free of charge by sending their email address to rockrap@aol.com.”

1. Beth Hart, “I’d Rather Go Blind”. “[S]he does a rendition of Etta’s ‘I’d Rather Go Blind,’ a task that I ordinarily wouldn't wish on any singer I loved, especially alongside Jeff Beck at his best. Hart turns on the power gradually, creating a slow burn where a lesser singer would flame out after a chorus. She does it with the same clarity of vision that drives the rest of the album. Beck's guitar solo feels like an ovation for the depth she's touched. Or maybe I'm projecting.” – Dave Marsh

2. Laura Tsaggaris, “Ask for It”. “On the rocking centerpiece, ‘Ask For It,’ Tsaggaris chides, ‘Ain’t no good reason why people should read your mind,’ before calling her listeners to come on up and stake their claim.”

3. Mic Crenshaw, “Free My Mind”. “He’s the guy who takes the likes of Billy Squire and Bachman Turner Overdrive and crams it into tracks until it mutates into a perfect bed for his skilled flow at the mic while adding his own engaging pop sensibility in order to help him convey blistering revolutionary manifestos with a love of family and fun, especially riding Harleys.”

4. Patty Griffin, “Ohio”. “Robert Plant sings on a few songs, but that ain’t the point. He’s there because Patty Griffin is one of our great musical treasures, as writer and singer. That’s why you should be there, too.”

5. La Maquinaria Nortena, “Ya Nada Paso”. “[T]he whole wide world of causes feels quietly understated throughout, nowhere more poignantly than the album centerpiece, ‘Ya Nada Paso.’”

6. Shannon McNally, “Love in the Worst Degree”. “[J]ust like that, Shannon McNally finally has an album as good as her live performances.”

7. Pink, “All We Are We Are”. “Reasons to live come up front with the opening rocker, ‘Are We All We Are,’ which delivers an expansive, energized and rowdy sense of community (followed, appropriately enough, by the anthem ‘Blow Me’).”

8. Mavis Staples, “Jesus Wept”. “She may be the finest traditional gospel voice we have left—depending on how Aretha’s feeling this minute.”

9. Wet Willie, “Keep on Smilin’”. “Wet Willie stands as a clear number four in the Southern rock pantheon which ain’t bad when you’re sitting behind only Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, and the Allman Brothers.”

10. The Del-Lords, “Me and the Lord Blues”. “As a whole, this extraordinary album benefits from Eric Ambel’s deep crunching production, nowhere pushed to greater limits than the working class fever dreams of ‘Me and the Lord Blues.’”