Book Report: Making Records By Phil Ramone & Charles L. Granata

making-records-by-phil-ramone-and-charles-l-granataI usually start a post like this commenting on where or when I got the book I’m reading, which is, in this case, Phil Ramone’s Making Records: The Scenes Behind The Music with Charles L. Granata. Honestly? I can’t remember in this case. The book came out in 2007 and I’ve had it in my garage for a while, so maybe it came from the discount area of Barnes & Noble or…who knows? What does matter, is that I moved this to the top of the To Read pile because, well, I wanted to.

I love reading books about music like Sonic Boom or Off My Rocker because everyone who was super into music has wildly unique stories about not just the making of records, but the people they worked with. As it happens, Phil Ramone not only helped revolutionize how records were made, but also worked on records by some of the most iconic and beloved musicians in the history of music including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Elton John and plenty of others.

Continue reading Book Report: Making Records By Phil Ramone & Charles L. Granata

Great In ’88 – A Few Memories Of The Year’s Top Pop Hits

I’m wrapping up this week looking back at 1988 with a few videos from that year that I have fond memories of. This was several years before I really got into music, but I was still of the world and hearing the pop hits of the day. I didn’t watch MTV back then, but I think there was a video show on Nickelodeon or maybe USA that catered to kid-friendly pop. I intended to write about an album from this year that I came to later in life like Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking or Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, but I’m not sure if I’ve absorbed either album enough to really write about them.

Back when I was 5, I didn’t know who George Harrison was. Heck, I probably didn’t even know who The Beatles were, but I knew that I liked “Got My Mind Set On You.” From doing the tiniest bit of research possible, I’ve discovered something else I didn’t know, this song was a cover. Harrison recorded in for his 1987 album Cloud Nine, but it wound up being the third most popular song on the Billboard Hot 100 the following year. I also had no idea that there were two versions of the video, the one above set in an arcade and the one below which finds everything coming alive in Harrison’s study like a far more lighthearted version of Evil Dead. It’s the latter I remember from being a kid.

The 45-year-old Harrison became an MTV star years after being in the biggest band the world has ever seen, which is pretty impressive. I specifically remember seeing this video while out visiting people with my Grandma in Cleveland. I’m sure I’d seen the video before or at least heard the song, but we were in a place that my memory tells me was like a huge log cabin house, but people lived there, people with teenaged children, so MTV was on. This was one of the videos playing…

And, as it happens, George Michael’s “Faith” was one of the others. That song was the number one most popular song that year, which makes sense ’cause it’s super catchy. The single helped Michael push Wham even further in the rear-view mirror and  transformed him into the “bad boy” sex symbol he would be know as for a decade or so.

When it came to the late 80s pop war between Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, my allegiances firmly lied with the latter. “I Think We’re Alone Now” is just impossible to beat. But that jam came out in ’87 and Tiff’s big hit of this year was “Could’ve Been” which is okay, but not as fun as Debbie’s “Shake Your Love.” The Billboard charts don’t agree with me, though, as Tiffany’s track clocked in at the 8 spot for the year while Gibson’s was at 22. Unlike the other videos on the list, I don’t remember this one was well, but that song was EVERYWHERE.

Finally, you can’t talk about the late 80s without talking about Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” off of Appetite For Destruction from the previous year. I eventually picked this record up at a used CD store in the late 90s, but even a decade later it hadn’t lost it’s punch and power. I try not to play “What if?” too often, but I can’t help wondering what this band could have evolved into had they kept the wheels on the bus (and their sanity) to make a prolonged go at it.

Listening to these songs and watching the videos was a huge trip down memory lane. Some of the things I wrote about in this week’s review of 1988 were familiar to me then like the Transformers toy commercial and playing Mario 2, but most were things I came to much later like Animal Man, Green Arrow, Not Of This Earth and Bloodsport. It’s kind of nice to end with some tunes like this that I remember so vividly from that year.

Kickin’ It Old School: 1988

kickin it old school logoWhen I first started blogging back in 2008, it was for the now-defunct Wizard website. Up to that point I wasn’t particularly interested in the format, but seeing some of the other staffers get into it made me think about what I could offer (if anything). I remember heading down to New York Comic Con with a bunch of the writers and editors and asked then-web guru Jim Gibbons about starting my own and he stopped me dead in my tracks with a simple question: what would it be about? I told him I’d think about it and before long I had my angle: Kicking It Old School, a series of posts about older comics, movies, TV shows and the like and why they’re still great. It’s a pretty common type of blog on the ol’ Internets, but Wizard wasn’t doing one at the time so I got the thumb’s up and started at it. When I realized the end was coming for me at the company — and wanted to break out and do my own thing blogging-wise — I copied all those old posts and they can now be read under the KIOS category here on UM.

In a lot of ways, I’ve continued that theme over the years with UM, but I figured it would be fun to jump back into those waters for a full week here on the site by focusing every post this week on media that came out in a particular year. This time around it’s 1988 and I’ve got a lot of fun posts planned that fall into the usual headings of Ad It Up, Toy Commercial Tuesday, Trade Post, Halloween Scene, Friday Fisticuffs and maybe a few others.

Here’s a little photo hodge podge of images to give you an idea of what’s to come!

Why go to all this trouble? First off, I love a good theme. Second, I find that something like this helps focus me when it comes to reading and watching. It’s also fun to start with one particular piece (in this case the first volume of Mike Grell’s Green Arrow ongoing) and then figure out what else I can write about from that same year. It’s also interesting seeing different themes that cross over from comics to movies to music in a particular year. I won’t be doing this all the time, but I hope you guys enjoy the week of posts which begins later today with the return of Ad It Up and one of the greatest comics of all time, which just so happens to have been released in ’88.

Halloween Scene: Fear No Evil (1981)

fear_no_evilWhen my buddy Rickey recommends I check out a movie, I do it. He also loved Housebound and also recommended I check out the excellent The Shortcut among many, many others over the years. So when he handed me a stack of horror DVDs, I decided to start immediately with Frank LaLoggia’s Fear No Evil.

I’d never heard of this film before, but it’s got elements of The Omen, Carrie, Night Of The Living Dead and even Grease. That might sound like rip-off-central, but the end result is a strangely unique, dark and creepy movie featuring the reincarnation of Lucifer as a high school nerd who raises the dead to help in his evil mission with a soundtrack featuring The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Talking Heads!

I went in knowing absolutely nothing about this film and unfamiliar with just about everyone involved, but was surprised by this tale of biblical epic that also marks LaLoggia’s very first directorial effort. I watched a DVD, but I can easily imagine a Blu-ray version that would look absolutely stunning (assuming there’s a good print bopping around somewhere).

Overall, there were just so many elements that I enjoyed about this film, that I’m just going to go through them for your reading pleasure. The main kid who plays Andrew-Lucifer (Stefan Arngrim) is just perfect in this part. He’s super weird and disconcerting, maybe a bit over-the-top, but we all knew a kid like that in high school. Speaking of the setting, it feels a little Grease-y (the main guy wears a leather jacket, his girlfriend an orange Pink Lady-esque shiny jacket). In fact, the boyfriend is a real piece of complicated work, with a macho pose, but an incredibly androgynous look. He even kisses Andrew in the shower in front of all of his friend at one point in one of the more surprising moments that could be unpacked for days. Oh, and again later after Andrew makes him grow breasts.

Other scenes that were surprising, but not in an exploitative way, include one where a baby starts bleeding during baptism, the use of a dog for an evil spell and the most bonkers dodge ball scene of all time. I’m not getting too far into the details of the film because I don’t quite remember everything, but I am very excited about it and want the world to get in on this train. Do yourself a favor and go check Fear No Evil out as soon as possible (or wait until a dark and stormy night).

The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books

comic pileLongtime readers might remember a time when I was reading so many books a week that I would simply take pictures of them in a stack and do a quick hit kind of report on them. Well, I’m not knocking down nearly as many books these days, but I did read through a good number from the library and figured I’d return to that form for this post. Let’s hit it! Continue reading The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books

Ambitious Summer Reading List 2015

ambitious summer reading list 2015The other day I was cleaning out the garage and came across a few boxes of unread books that I was able to combine, but only if I pulled a few out. I figured that was as good a reason as any to try my hand (and eyes) at another Ambitious Summer Reading list. There’s just something about the warm weather that makes me want to stay inside and read, I guess.

As usual, I’ve got a pretty eclectic selection here. From the top, Ghosts And Things is a spooky anthology from 1962 that includes stories by Henry James, Ambrose Bierce and others. I’m thinking about reading these stories in between other books, but the James story was SUPER boring, so I’m not sure if I’ll stick with that plan.

Below that is the 1979 Avengers novel The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by the awesome David Micheline. In the 90s I read a lot of superhero novels and am curious to see how this early example is. Then there’s Freddy Krueger’s Tales Of Terror #2: Fatal Games. My buddy Jesse sent me this and I’m pretty excited to read it because I love Freddy and this looks like the Christopher Pike novels I read in grade school.

You can also see Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I’ve heard a lot of different things about this series over the years and made sure to get the pre-revised version of this book, so we’ll see how this goes. Switching gears completely, I’ve also got Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. I listened to the audiobook version of Klosterman’s IV a few years back and picked this up not long after. I’m a sucker for music related autobios, so I’m sure this will be awesome.

I know absolutely nothing about Twilight Of The Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg other than the fact that it was like a dollar at one of all time favorite discount stores that’s no longer around. But, hey, it’s about superheroes, so it should be in my wheelhouse (I hope). At the bottom of the pile you’ll see another comic-related book, this one Mark Evanier’s column collection Comic Books And Other Necessities Of Life. For some reason I thought this was a collection of interviews, but I must be thinking of ANOTHER book in one of my boxes. Evanier’s one of the best comic historians around, so I’m sure this will be an interesting read.

That brings us to the last three books. Trevanian’s The Loo Sanction is the sequel to The Eiger Sanction, a book I read last year and really enjoyed. There’s also my first Raymond Chandler book Farewell, My Lovely and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. I must have read about that last one ten years ago and always wanted to check it out, but haven’t gotten around to it until now!

As you can probably tell, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to these selections. I tried to balance out longer books with shorter ones just to take it a little easy on myself. I haven’t been taking much time to read actual books lately, but I’m hoping that this will push me in that direction. I’m kicking off with The Loo Sanction because I actually started it like six months ago and want to finish it. I’m about halfway through and trying to spend more time with good books, so I’ll hopefully be posting about that one soon!

E-Book Triple Feature: The Devil In The Kitchen, Red Rain & Off My Rocker

the devil in the kitchen I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reason is that I’m a slow reader, part is that I love reading comics and part is that, thanks to having a pair of kiddos, I don’t have the time or attention span to devote to the hobby as I once did. However, I have discovered that my three-year-old daughter’s bedtime is a good time to get some reading done. After I read her books, I lay next to her bed in the dark until she doses off. So, as long as I have a solid book on my phone, I’m pretty good to go.

The first of the bunch in recent memory was Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing about White going into this book, but it looked like a British version of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, so I bit for a couple bucks (like most of my e-books, I got it on the cheap) and really enjoyed the experience.

White’s story begins as a child (as most do) and ventures on up through his development as a chef, to the leader of his own kitchen and ultimately a world-renowned figure in the world of food. He gave jobs to people like Gordon Ramsey and Curtis Stone  while creating award-winning, lavish restaurants in the 80s and beyond. While their stories are different in many ways, if you like Bourdain’s books, you’ll like this one.

Book Review Red RainRed Rain by R.L. Stine is one of the few fiction novels I’ve read all the way through on my phone. This was another discounted book that I grabbed. From the title and the cover, I assumed this was a vampire story, but was way off base. This one follows a woman who goes to a small island for her travel blog but after a devastating hurricane, seems changed to the point where she adopts a pair of creepy twin boys and brings them to live with her husband, daughter and son in New York.

This was an interesting story that never quite grabbed me. For some reason I was never able to zero in on what these kids look like which was a major barrier given plot points I don’t want to spoil. I also had a really hard time sympathizing with the mother character. The father becomes the punching bag, but while he’s getting dumped on, it felt like I was supposed to wonder more about the wife, but instead, I found her far too easy to write off and ignore. Because of that, I also found her to be a wildly annoying character to the point where I almost stopped reading.

But, I did wind up enjoying the end of the book which finally revealed what the kids were up to. I liked how all that played out, so while I didn’t necessarily enjoy all of this book, it ended in a way that I appreciated which is nice because I used to read Fear Street and Goosebumps books constantly as a kid. I don’t say this often, but after I was done, I felt like Red Rain would have made a better movie than a book.

off my rockerOff My Rocker: One Man’s Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music by Kenny Weissberg was another random purchase for a few bucks (the equivalent of the going through the Barnes & Noble discount table). I knew nothing about Weissberg or his deal, but when I read that he was a DJ, music writer and concert promoter, I was easily sold.

Right off the bat, this book reminded me of three others I’ve read since starting this blog. It’s got a little of The Real Animal House mixed with Sonic Boom and some of George Hamilton’s autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do in that it’s one man’s (mostly) fond remembrance of an important time in music, told from the inside. Like Hamilton, he used his confidence and skills to move from one part of life to another, often taking chances and risks that paid off.

To get into a bit more detail, Weissberg grew up a huge music fan on the East Coast and eventually wound up becoming one of the biggest freeform DJs in Colorado. Talking about music lead to interviewing musicians on the air and a career in concert and record reviews in print. When that work dried up, he fronted a band before moving to California to promote concerts, a gig that lasted him 20-something years. Along the way he met a variety of music professionals who he doesn’t mind writing about. Weissberg tells his stories with a good nature that brings you into the tales instead of feeling like you’re on the outside and also lets you in on previously unknown details without ever getting mean.

In addition to enjoying stories about people who make their own way in life, no matter how improbably, I also appreciated how Weissberg took this thing he loved and turned it into a series of careers that lasted several decades. That’s something I hope I can say down the line, though I just realized I’ve been doing what I do for about 10, so I guess I’m doing alright.