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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

This morning I accidentally caught part of ABC’s morning show The View, whose hostesses including Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters. I’m not a big fan, even of the network itself, but I happened to see Dolly Parton on the couch while channel surfing and stopped to see what she had to say. Apparently a Broadway musical had opened, based on the popular 1980 movie Nine to Five which starred Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda and Dolly was on The View to speak up for the musical and her related album. I’m also not a big fan of musicals so my attention drifted to how disconcerting it was that Dolly Parton and Joan Rivers are beginning to look more and more alike. Then something perked my ears up again.

I think it was Joy Behar who made the remark, something about the major record labels not picking Dolly up for her latest album. “What?” I thought. “She’s Dolly Parton … how do you not sign Dolly Parton?” Granted, I’ve never bought one of her albums and think her best days were spent with Porter Wagoner (and yes, I realize a staggering number of readers will not recognize the name of Porter … a shameful thing in and of itself) but Dolly is music royalty. She was there when the foundations of modern country music were being laid down and put in more than a few good bricks of her own. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2001. She’s won several Grammy Awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song … twice. Her voice has been on the radio since 1955 and her recording career spans five decades … but she’s not good enough for Columbia? Arista wouldn’t have her? It’s ludicrous. And since no major music recording label would sign her, she started her own: Dolly Records.

But this all seems eerily familiar. For the last decade of his life, Johnny Cash was shunned by major record labels. A living legend in his own right, John had written over a thousand songs, released dozens of albums, been on the top of the Billboard charts more times than anyone could remember … and no one wanted to sign him. In typical Johnny Cash style, he gave them the finger and signed with Rick Rubin at American Recordings, a small label better known for hard rock and rap. From 1994 to 2002 (and one posthumously in 2006), John released five extremely successful albums with American, winning Grammies, other music awards, and gushing critical acclaim. They are among his best-selling albums.

It seems to me there are several similarities here. I’m not saying Dolly’s albums would be as successful as John’s but to shut the door in her face seems … petty. And greedy. And just plain wrong. Well after P. Diddy and 50 Cent are forgotten, long after the Jonas Brothers go the way of Hanson and the Pussycat Dolls make like Spice Girls and split, the name of Dolly Parton will be going strong. That’s something to be harnessed and capitalized on, not shoved aside and ignored.

And ask yourself this … would those same companies have turned down Cher? Did they pull the rug on Michael Jackson or refuse Madonna? Same stature, different genre, and the only difference is money money money. Madonna is a proven cash cow. Jackson was, too. And while Dolly will likely never hit those heights of dividend for her label, I could never be convinced she would lose their money, either. At any rate, it’s the big recording companies who will lose in the end. It’s just a shame that some of their listening base will lose, too.

On an aside, it was at the Grand Ole Opry, while still in her teens, that Dolly Parton first met Johnny Cash. And he encouraged her to go where her heart took her, and not to care what others thought. For John and George and Loretta and Porter and all the other great voices of our musical past who are overlooked and often outright forgotten … go Dolly.

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As you probably heard, Michael Jackson died yesterday. The proclaimed “King of Pop” suffered a cardiac arrest and could not be revived. Flowers and memorials crowd the Hollywood Walk of Fame near his star and headlines around the world pay him tribute.

But why all the fuss? I liked Thriller, too, but let’s face it, Michael Jackson was a mess. The biggest surprise, for me, was that he didn’t die on an operating table getting yet another cosmetic surgery of some kind. For the last decade or so he’s looked like death warmed over and, I don’t care what his fans say, there was something inherently wrong with him.

I never wished him harm, and certainly never wished him dead, but I honestly don’t think it’s that great of a loss. He recorded some good songs and… Well that’s really all I can come up with on the “pro” side of things. As for the “con” side, well, that’s a little easier, isn’t it? He was so emotionally and psychologically unstable that he bleached his skin, had numerous cosmetic surgeries on his lips and face, and changed his nose more than a Mr. Potato Head toy. He was implicated in molestation cases, endangered his own son by dangling him over a balcony railing, and perhaps worst of all, married Lisa Marie Presley.

If not for his singing career, if he were just a “normal” man wandering the streets of say Topeka, Kansas, he would likely have been institutionalized. I’m sure a lot of people called him a freak, a pedophile, maybe even an abomination … but whatever your thoughts, it is clear that he had serious issues. And it was perhaps his very stardom that kept him from getting the medical treatment he needed. He was too accepted, too revered, his sometimes grotesque eccentricities too quickly disregarded. The news reported that Michael Jackson had recently passed a thorough physical in preparation for his planned tour, but when was the last time he passed a thorough rundown with an objective psychiatrist? When did he last speak with a psychologist or therapist who wasn’t star-struck or paid to not make waves? Never, I would venture. I don’t think he could have spoken truthfully to any decent medical professional in the last thirty years and not been hospitalized or committed.

And now he’s dead. His heart stopped. And, you know, it’s probably better for him that the CPR didn’t work, that the hospital couldn’t revive him. He’s been killing himself for years anyway. If anything, it’s probably overdue. But maybe wherever he ends up will finally satisfy him, comfort him, and he’ll find peace without screaming crowds and flashing cameras.

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I don’t keep up with many recording artists. The pool of popular people changes too rapidly for me to notice even half of them, and most of the half I do notice have little to offer. But there are, of course, exceptions.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or so, you’ve heard of Pink and listened to her songs on the radio. From her 2000 debut song “There You Go” to her latest and biggest hit yet, “So What,” Pink has belted out noteworthy songs across five albums. In 2001, with Missundaztood, arguably her most well-known album, and a slice of the global hit “Lady Marmalade” in her pocket, she seemed to find her voice and hit her stride. Between 2002 and 2007 two more albums came out and she was married in 2006 to motocross racer Carey Hart. (They separated in 2008 and are “trying to work it out”). And then last fall came her latest album, Funhouse, producing her biggest hit to date (also the first of her albums I actually bought).

[Please note: the unedited album contains some explicit lyrics; the edited version does not but is still not suitable for children or “tweens.”]

Pink has gathered quite a following with her pull-no-punches attitude and songs to match. Perhaps more interesting are the chinks in her armor where she displays surprising vulnerability without drifting into the maudlin. Funhouse is a great mix of the two, a step up I believe, while retaining all the bite that appealed in her previous albums.

“So… So what! I’m still a rock star. I got my rock moves, And I don’t need you. And guess what? I’m having more fun… And you’re a tool…”

her wonderfully rough voice announces in track #1, “So What.” If you haven’t seen the music video, you’re missing a good thing.

As for the album tracks that follow “So What,” well they certainly don’t disappoint.

“I don’t wanna be the girl that has to fill the silence. The quiet scares me ’cause it screams the truth.” [Sober]

“I’m drinking wine and thinking bliss Is on the other side of this… I’ve had my chances and I’ve taken them all, Just to end up right back here on the floor…” [Crystal Ball]

“If the darkest hour comes before the light, Where is the light? Where is the light?” [Ave Mary A]

“Have you ever wished for an endless night? …Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself will it ever get better than tonight?” [Glitter In the Air]

It’s a good mix of fun and serious and is, I think, by far her best album. There you go.

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I was passed the meme torch recently, by Lofter over at Life At the Foot of the Stairs. The instructions were simple: 1) think of “the most depressing song of all time, which we still love to hear”; 2) post a video and the lyrics (if applicable); and 3) tag three others to do the same. There are a plethora of songs to choose from, and I spent days trying to decide on what I thought would be a good one for this meme. And while my choice is likely not the most depressing song of all time, it’s sad and awesome and perfectly good for a black-themed meme.

And while in the theme of black, I decided to go old school. (All the great tragedies have already been written, I think.) The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, came to mind and I eventually settled on “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.”

Lyrics:
A young cowboy named Billy Joe grew restless on the farm
A boy filled with wanderlust who really meant no harm
He changed his clothes and shined his boots
And combed his dark hair down
And his mother cried as he walked out
[Chorus]
Don’t take your guns to town son
Leave your guns at home Bill
Don’t take your guns to town

He laughed and kissed his mom
And said your Billy Joe’s a man
I can shoot as quick and straight as anybody can
But I wouldn’t shoot without a cause
I’d gun nobody down
But she cried again as he rode away
[Chorus]
He sang a song as on he rode
His guns hung at his hips
He rode into a cattle town
A smile upon his lips
He stopped and walked into a bar
And laid his money down
But his mother’s words echoed again
[Chorus]
He drank his first strong liquor then to calm his shaking hand
And tried to tell himself he had become a man
A dusty cowpoke at his side began to laugh him down
And he heard again his mothers words
[Chorus]
Filled with rage then
Billy Joe reached for his gun to draw
But the stranger drew his gun and fired
Before he even saw
As Billy Joe fell to the floor
The crowd all gathered ’round
And wondered at his final words-
Don’t take your guns to town son
Leave your guns at home Bill
Don’t take your guns to town.

One of the things I like best is that it’s a very straightforward song about the brashness of youth and the consequences of poor decisions. But there is so much more to it than that. Billie Joe’s a farmboy, but a young man wanting to stretch his legs and knock off some of that farm dust. I can just see him deciding to go to town, a bit full of himself, a hair cocky, and no one to try and stop him but his mother who cries for him to leave the guns at home. But he’s sure of himself and ignores her request. At the bar, an older and more experienced man sees him for what he is – a greenhorn, a kid still wet behind the ears, a hayseed farmboy playing grown-up gunslinger – and pokes fun at him, probably voicing quite publicly Billie Joe’s own quiet fears and doubts. Which doesn’t sit well with Billie Joe, of course, and which prompts him to make the last in a string of bad decisions. For an insult, a boy dies. A boy filled with wanderlust who really meant no harm.

His death is needless, senseless, and leaves me feeling helpless. A perfectly depressing song that I still love for its true-to-life story, its simple melody, and Johnny Cash’s bass voice cleaving the air into song.

Leave it to The Man in Black.

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I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I watch VH1 JumpStart almost every morning as I get ready for work.   I find it much more invigorating to roll out of bed to than, say, the weather or local news (both of which I often find depressing and more likely to make me want to stay in bed).   And since I don’t own a radio anymore (my last was donated to my employer so we could have tunes to work by) VH1 is the next best thing.   Some of my favorite vids on repeat include the following:

“Chasing Pavements”  —  Adele  —  a beautiful song about the choices we make in life and where they ultimately lead us, and one of the more remarkable videos I’ve seen in a while.  I was really blown away the first time I saw it, not only by Adele’s pipes but by the innovative ideas behind the video and how beautifully executed they were.  Interpretive dance lying down, mixing shadow partners with real ones, all backed with beautiful lyrics.  The premise is quite simple –- a very honest question of ‘where do I go from here?’ –- but the results are so much more intricate and interesting.  This was my introduction to Adele, a British songstress, but I hope we hear a lot more from her; she has a great voice and obvious songwriting talent.

“I Kissed a Girl”  —  Katy Perry  —  let your liberal streak run wild and forget the hullabaloo about girl-on-girl action, this is pop song perfection: it’s catchy, it’s memorable, and it’s both totally irrelevant and irreverent.  Perfect.  The imagery in the video is beautiful (think burlesque, not Debbie Does Dallas) and compliments the frank but playful nature of the song.  It’s not to be taken very seriously -– this is hardly an overt declaration of lesbian love –- but is meant to push some buttons because that’s half the fun.  Dig it, baby.  I know you secretly know the words; crank Miss Kate and belt it out with her just for the hell of it.

“Viva la Vida”  —  Coldplay  —  okay, despite the cheesy video bordering on painfully awkward at points, I really like this song.  I’ve liked Coldplay since I first heard them and think they just get more interesting with time.  In the lyrics I love the imagery of a fallen king (“I used to rule the world…”); I mean, who hasn’t felt that jolt of euphoric power at least once in their life.  But I think my favorite part is the betrayal (“It was never an honest world…”), the loss of innocence, the painful awakening.  As alluded to in the song, I think it’s amazing how we define our lives by those we allow into it and how it shapes us when things turn unexpectedly.  It’s a very good song; just close your eyes when the music video comes on.  🙂

My “honorable mentions” for this list include the newest metal-rific release from Metallica, “The Day That Never Comes,” as well as the loose, beachy tune “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz.  M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” Pink’s “So What,” and Rihanna’s graphically gorgeous “Disturbia” also come extremely high on my list.  It may not be the best line-up I’ve ever heard but it sure beats New Kids on the Block.  (Sorry if you’re a fan.  I hated them in the 80’s and I don’t like them any better now.)

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Like so many people, I have music in my blood.  Silence has its place, and I love it as well, but it’s music that sifts into my bloodstream and sets the rhythm of my heartbeat.  When stuck in a musical void, I will sing, hum, even whistle to fill the gap.  In the car, I scan local radio stations with an open ear for new and interesting music.  And in that spirit, I offer the five best songs you may or may not have heard on the radio but should listen to nonetheless.

#1.  Shadow of the Day   –   Linkin Park   –   Though I’ve enjoyed this band since they hit the big-time several years ago, I’m increasingly impressed with their music.  Some fans are always disappointed when a group’s sound changes, but I think they are going in a more mature direction and sound great.

#2.  Apologize   –   OneRepublic and Timbaland   –   It would have been a good song anyway, but the beat Timbaland dropped into this track really gets to you.  This is a great one to crank up and belt out (but if your voice is anything like mine, you might want to wait until you’re alone).  😉

#3.  Stop And Stare   –   OneRepublic   –   I think this is the first time I’ve really enjoyed two songs from one band that received airplay at the same time.  I find this one more lyrically interesting but just as addictive as Apologize.  If these songs are any indication, OneRepublic is definitely a group to keep an eye on.

#4.  How Far We’ve Come   –   Matchbox Twenty   –   Already widely touted, I felt the compulsion to include this song simply because I think it deserves the hype.  With optimisticly dark-hearted lyrics and a strong beat that never lags, this is another great song to crank and belt.

#5.  Out of My Head   –   Ashlee Simpson   –   While perhaps not the most original artist out there, she still manages to come up with some pretty interesting songs, this one included.  It’s catchy and quirky enough to get my attention and just weird enough to keep it.  I doubt it’ll be one of the year’s best but for the moment it’s one of the songs I turn up instead of tuning out.

Honorable mentions to my oh-so-glamorous line-up (look out, Grammies, there’s a new list in town) include Wyclef Jean and Akon with Sweetest Thing; Alicia Keys with No One; Taylor Swift for her cross-over Teardrops On My Guitar (specifically for the line “she’s got everything that I have to live without”); Fergie with Clumsy; and, to my own surprise, Duran Duran with Falling Down

All are worth closer auditory inspection than the average, run-of-the-mill noise usually offered up.  Enjoy, get an earful, and feel free to comment on some of your favorites as well.

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