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.

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My Favorite New Records Of 2013

Well, this list turned out to be easier than I expected. The way I compile these things every year is I go into my iTunes and organize the tracks by release year and then narrow down which albums deserve a spot on the list. 2013 was an interesting year because I not only cut back on my album purchases — almost all of which are done via Amazon’s MP3 site these days — but also apparently didn’t go for much in the way of new music because I only bought two records that came out in the 2013 calendar year! And, as it happens, I like them both very much. So, without further ado, here are both of my favorite records from 2013.

Volume 3 by She & Him (2013)

I feel like something of a broken record, but I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel since I first saw her in Elf. Several years later she and M. Ward started a group called She & Him. I was sold already because a major reason I like Elf so much is because of her singing voice. Since then they’ve release two more regular records and a Christmas album, which is one of a dozen such records I praised last year. In fact, She & Him Volume 2 made my list of favorite new records of 2010-, so it’s not much of a surprise that their next effort not only made its way into my collection but onto my list.

I didn’t go back and listen to the other records, but after giving this one a more recent listen, I want to say 3 might be my favorite She & Him offering. Deschanel doesn’t seem to be singing as many songs that don’t do her voice any favors and M. Ward is in there creating tracks that feel like what they are: updated girl group numbers. I especially like when he gets kind of twangy and noodley on tracks like “I Could Have Been Your Girl.”

These are just fun, nice, breezy pop songs about all the best pop song subjects: love, unrequited love and lost love. If you’re looking for a mellow record to relax with, I think She & Him Volume 3 is a pretty great option. But, it’s not like this record is all fluff. I actually really got into the heart of “Together” and a few other tracks that have themes I can easily tap into.

This album does something I kind of love, it reminds me of a party. You know how parties kick off loud and great with everyone having fun, hit a crescendo at some point and then end with a few tired/drunk people sitting around talking quietly? I like when albums share that similar progression. You’ve got a lot of the peppier pop songs in the beginning and then end with slower, even more mellow tracks like “Shadow Of Love” that I can easily imagine playing in the background of a clean-up scene at the end of a party movie.

Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy (2013)

My other favorite record of 2013 is another one that’s not much of a surprise. I’ve expressed my love of Fall Out Boy’s rock sensibilities before, so I was all over the idea of a new record from them after their hiatus (no one really believed they broke up, right?). Save Rock And Roll might have a pretty brazen title, but there is a bit of truth to it. I don’t want to be that guy, but as a very casual observer of pop music, I’m not seeing a lot of bands actually getting their music out between all the pop and hip hop tracks. And yet you’ve got FOB whose “The Phoenix” is already an instant sports stadium and commercial hit. How can you not get pumped up to this song? Between that and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” they’ve got two of the most prevalent guitar-based tracks I can remember in a while which is fantastic because I also happen to dig them both.

Also, I’m a huge sucker for songs about staying young and awesome like “Alone Together,” which clearly means there’s still a pretty large portion of my psyche that’s stuck in my more carefree days. But, hey, why not? Those days were a lot of fun and I like songs that remind me of them. I could easily go through track by track and talk about how I couldn’t stop stomping my foot while listening or how I love dancing around with the kiddo to this record, but I won’t (anymore than I already have, I guess).

Unlike the other records, this one actually features a number of guest appearances from Foxes, Big Sean, Courtney Love and Elton John. I don’t really know Foxes or Big Sean, but I thought they both worked well into “Just One Yesterday” and “The Mighty Fall” respectively. And, guys, Elton John and Fall Out Boy! It sounds crazy on paper but makes a lot of sense resulting in a pretty great title track.

My biggest problem with the record is that I really hate Courtney Love. I was far from excited when I heard she was on the record and while she’s as awful as always, she doesn’t really have much to do in “Rat A Tat” aside from some strange newscaster-esque rants and one bit towards the end that try to ruin the song, but don’t. I can’t tell you how glad I am that she’s not in the mix when it comes to that awesome chorus.

After a four year hiatus, I think FOB came out swinging with a collection of songs that stand up there with a lot of my favorites. Keep it up fellas! Aging dudes like myself still need music to rock out to and I hear the kids dig you too, so that’s good. While writing about Save, I was reading the Wiki page and realized I hadn’t picked up the short EP they did with Ryan Adams called PAX AM Days. I had some extra iTunes gift card scratch and picked it up, but haven’t actually listened to it yet, so maybe it’ll make next  year’s list!

Christmas Stories: The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Dig That Crazy Christmas

I know I’ve been severely lacking in Christmas Stories posts this year. It’s not because I’m not having trouble getting into the season, but I am having trouble writing posts about getting into the season. Also, turns out I’ve written about a lot of this stuff already, which makes sense because we watch most of the same movies and listen to the same records every single year.

But, I did get a few new Christmas discs that I’m pretty excited about. The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Dig That Crazy Christmas from 2005 has been on my radar since it came out, but it wasn’t until Amazon sold the digital version for $5 (it’s $8.99 now) that I added it to our collection. I’d been a fan of Setzer’s since the swing revival of the late 90s. After getting Dirty Boogie along with the rest of the world, I also went back and got Guitar Slinger and later picked up the one and only ’68 Comeback Special disc. I really dig the rockabilly sound Setzer produces and thinks he really utilized his band. There’s also a lot of surf rock elements that I really enjoy.

Thankfully, all of those elements are on Dig That Crazy Christmas and it makes for a really fun holiday sonic adventure. There’s a great mix of standards like “White Christmas” and “Let It Snow” as well as blues and swing based tunes I hadn’t heard before and even a couple of original songs.

One of my favorite tracks on the record is the noodly mostly instrumental version of “Angels We Have Heard On High.” It’s already such a big and powerful song, which is both exemplified and amplified by the combination of the Orchestra and Setzer’s chops. And that’s really what I’m looking for in new Christmas albums: new takes on old favorites. Usually I’m the guy that wants new inserted into most things and that’s occasionally the case when it comes to Christmas music, but I usually want to sing along and if you can’t do it better or in a different way than Bing Crosby, Dean Martin or Peggy Lee, don’t bother. Setzer and company make these songs their own and thus give a nice rocking take on the songs I know and love.

Casting Internets

I talked to Tim Seeley about taking over Witchblade, Jonathan Hickman about Feel Better Now, Erik Larsen about resurrecting Osama bin Laden in Savage Dragon and showed off some exclusive Walking Dead Board Game art by Charlie Adlard over on CBR.

Meanwhile, I wrote a piece about a Captain America comic for servicemen and women at Marvel.com. Just writing about it made me feel patriotic!

I even had time to write about a bunch of toys and collectibles for the latest issue of Wizard World.

Congrats to Janet Lee on being nominated for the Manning Award Spotlight. She’s the most interesting new comic artist around and everyone should read Return of the Dapper Men! (via The Beat)

Big Bang Theory fans should check out the full video for the Barenaked Ladies’ video for the show. Fun side fact, I’ve interviewed two people in said video! (via Pop Candy)
In other BBT news, Dean at Springfield Punx just drew Sheldon!

For some reason I thought David Browne’s Rolling Stone piece about the Beatles’ last day was super long. It was only two pages and pretty damn interesting.

I also finally read my first Cameron Crowe article from Rolling Stone. It’s an interview with Neil Young from the 70s and pretty damn good. This one’s been sitting around in the to-read queue for quite a while.

A Black Keys record inspired by the Clash? Hell yeah! (via Rolling Stone)

I really enjoyed reading James Floyd Kelly’s Geek Dad post about building his own video game cabinet. I hope to join his ranks some day when I have the time, space and money!

James Robinson is writing a 12-issue Shade series. Huh. Starman is in my top three all time favorite comic book runs, but Robinson has not been super impressive lately. Besides, how is the Shade–a JSA villains–supposed to exist in this new DC Universe that doesn’t seem to have a JSA? Eh I might still give it a shot. (via CBR)Matt Kaufenberg’s been doing some awesome toy entries over at An Illustration-A-Day Blog lately, I especially like the recent Kid-Vid one, based on the Burger King Kid’s Club leader!

Finally, did you know that character actor Stephen Tobolowsky recorded music with Stevie Ray Vaughan when he was in high school? You can check out proof and the songs here. I found out about this on Marc Maron’s amazing podcast, which you can check out here or on iTunes by search for WTF Podcast.

Totally 90s Video Trifecta

Now that my wife has gone back to work and I’m watching Lucy, I find myself getting up earlier, which means I get to watch music videos on MTV (if I’m up really early) and VH1 again. I had forgotten that watching Jump Start a few days in a row essentially means you’re seeing the exact same videos in pretty much the same order but it has made me notice that there’s a strong bit of 90s nostalgia in some pretty diverse videos. Here’s a quick rundown:

First up and probably most obscure is this Falling Down parody the Foo Fighters did for their latest single “Walk.” The Michael Douglas flick about a guy who loses his shit on a hot LA day and stops taking crap from everyone came out in 1993 but as far as I know wasn’t such a huge hit. It also doesn’t have a lot to do with the song, but nobody does fun, goofy videos better than the Foo Fighters.

Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” video doesn’t necessarily have any specific 90s references (except for that bitching Kenny G solo, I guess), but the vibe is totally early 90s. I just realized that the video above is a much longer version that has 80s stars like Corey Feldman and Debbie Gibson and Perry has said she was inspired by John Hughes movies. However, I still think that it looks like a 90s scene with the bright colors and what not. I guess it’s on the edge, but you get the idea. How they have Facebook and laptops though, I don’t know.

There’s a lot going on in Britney Spears’ new video “I Wanna Go” which pokes fun at the press, her past as a Mousketeer and the paparazzi. There’s also a Terminator ref, but the thing that drew my attention was the bit lifted from Half Baked–probably one of the best post-Cheech & Chong stoner comedies around. Making it all the better, Guillermo Diaz who played Scarface in the movie (and originally did the line Britney borrows) appears in the video. Fun stuff, but this song will always be the theme to Bravo’s summer shows and not it’s own, legitimate song to me.

Songs I Should Hate But Don’t: “Best Friend’s Brother” By Victoria Justice

It’s been a while since I did a SISHBD (rolls right off the tongue, right?). The long and short of it is that I have been paying even less attention to pop music lately and therefore hearing much less of it. Then yesterday, I got up early with the missus because the baby woke up, turned on the TV and was shocked to see music videos on MTV. Victoria Justice’s “Best Friend’s Brother” happened to be one of those videos. I have done zero research on her and have no idea who she is, but I feel like this song is kind of subversive, I just can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s because she’s dressed like a teenager, but has a woman’s voice? Maybe it’s all because of that Risky Business scene inserted for no real reason? Maybe it’s because the song mentions that the BFB in question is a punk rock drummer and the dude in the video looks like he fell out of OneRepublic’s tour bus? Maybe it’s because of that old dude fist pumps to the “BFB” chant? Maybe it’s because it seems like BFB could stand for something else I’m not cool enough to understand? Maybe it’s all of these things together making me think that this isn’t just your average teen pop song. Maybe I’m wrong, if so, she’s still got a good voice.

I have no idea what the video is flipped/backwards.

Music Musings: Foo Fighters

It’s funny, if you watch the below trailer for the recent Foo Fighters documentary called Back and Forth, Foo Fighters lead singer and guitar player Dave Grohl says something along the lines of there being  a lot of people who resented him for carrying on with the Foo Fighters when Nirvana ended. I was definitely one of those people. As a teenager, I couldn’t get past the idea that he should have just been the Nirvana drummer forever, as if all of his own dreams and aspirations would just disappear when Kurt Cobain did. So, initially, I wasn’t a fan and did my best to avoid the Foo Fighters as a band. I would occasionally see videos of theirs for songs like “Big Me” and “My Hero” among others, but didn’t think too much of them because they were so goofy. Even after my shortsightedness wore off, I had trouble getting past the goofiness and just moved on, leaving the Foo Fighters behind and moving on to other bands. I wish I hadn’t been so close-minded because, I missed out on really experiencing the evolution of a true rock and roll band.

Towards the end of high school and into college, Grohl showed up on my radar all over the place and my respect for him grew. Within a pretty short period of time I heard that he played drums in bands like Tenacious D, Queens of the Stone Age, Tony Iommi’s solo record which featured a series of different singers, a metal supergroup-ish project called Probot and a lot more. He was all over the place and for whatever reason those projects sparked my interest more than anything he did with the Foo Fighters. In fact, I love the Tenacious D record, couldn’t get into QOTSA’s Songs For The Deaf (though “No One Knows” is an excellent song all around) and also that Iommi record called, of course, Iommi though I have no idea what happened to that disc.

Then, in 2002 they released their fourth record One By One which included songs like “All My Life” and “Times Like These.” These songs absolutely captured my imagination and wouldn’t allow me to ignore the Foo Fighters any longer. Around the same time, the self-titled Nirvana record that served as a greatest hits disc came out. I have very distinct memories of being in the shower in college with the radio blaring and hearing “All My Life” and then the unreleased-until-then Nirvana track “You Know You’re Right” within moments of each other. Hearing the tracks so close to each other made me realize that Grohl was carrying on the legacy of Nirvana really well. Also, by then, I wasn’t so pigheaded, which also helped. I should have picked that record up, but to be honest, I was a poor college student and not really looking to spend what little money I had on something I didn’t know if I would like.

In 2005, they put out their double record In Your Honor and once again I was excited. This time, I had a better plan for getting into the band though. The extended family on my dad’s side does a Secret Santa every year now where the names of everyone who will be at the Christmas Eve celebration gets their name put in a hat along with a few things you might want under a certain dollar amount. That year I put something very simple: Any Foo Fighters CD(s). Since I didn’t have any of them, it’s not like I would have gotten a double and figured this would be a good way to start off. And it did. My grandpa got me and picked up In Your Honor and their second record The Colour And The Shape. I really enjoyed both records, though didn’t get into the mellower second disc from In Your Honor until recently.

There’s a very simple reason why I’m drawn to Foo Fighters now: they rock. That sounds pretty simple and not very descriptive, but they seem like one of the few 90s rock bands to still be around kicking ass and making relevant music. My other favorites from around that time include Nirvana (done), Red Hot Chili Peppers (currently lacking a guitar player, I believe and nowhere near as funky as they used to be) and Green Day who actually keeps making records I like, but that’s a different kind of music.

A few weeks back the missus and I caught the second half of the Back And Forth documentary on VH1. I had a strange feeling while watching it, as if I was watching a movie about some kids I went to school with, but didn’t really know who had made good. I knew the basics of the story, but not the details and felt a weird sense of pride for people I never really knew. I think a big part of that is how accessible Grohl seems. He might look like a crazy metal caveman, but he’s just as likely to write an ass kicking rocker as he is a mellow track that rivals some of my favorite more laid back artists. Then you watch the documentary and you see him getting up early to get his daughter cereal and it brings a human elements to everything. I was also really taken by the idea of the Fighters recording their latest record, Wasting Light, in Grohl’s garage. Mind you, it’s a garage packed with cool gear and producer Butch Vig (who did Nirvana’s Nevermind among others), but the family aspects of the proceedings appeal to my increased age and soon-to-be-a-dad mentality. I also liked that guitarist Pat Smear was brought back into the fold (he had been in Foo Fighters and Nirvana at different times) and also the inclusion of Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic on a track. It’s kind of like a tour down memory lane for grunge, but with a brand new tour guide taking a familiar but different route.

I recently purchased Wasting Light, but haven’t gotten all the way through it yet. I have loved what I heard and really like how the guys are playing with guitar lines and riffs and taking real advantage of Smear’s addition to the group. I will be keeping my eye out this flea market season for the Foo Fighters records I don’t have yet and also really want to see the first half of the doc because I’m most curious about the very early days of the band and what happened with the various personnel changes that I know almost nothing about. So, while I do regret not giving the band the time of day before the mid-2000s, I do find myself in the enviable position of having a good, but not overwhelming amount of material to track down as well as history to learn.