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

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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.

The Music Box: Nada Surf’s Let Go (2002) & The Drams’ Jubilee Drive (2006)

nada surf let go Picking discs out of a box and giving them an uninformed listen!

After a long pause between Music Box posts (the last one was in February), I’m back with not one, but two random listens to records I actually really enjoyed. This morning, I wasn’t feeling podcasts and wanted something to match the cool, cloudy day we’ve got going on here in New York. So, I plunged my hand into the box of CDs my buddy Jesse has sent me and pulled out Nada Surf’s 2002 album Let Go. Like many people in their 30s, I was familiar with the band from their 90s hit “Popular,” but that’s as far as my experience went, so listening to Let Go was basically like listening to a new band.

As it turned out, it was basically the perfect record for this mellow morning. While never getting morose or melodramatic, lead singer and guitarist Matthew Caws took me through a variety of songs that matched this morning’s mood perfectly. Check out the “Inside Of Love” video to see what I mean. Most songs feature his melodic voice over nicely strummed guitars, but things do get a little more rocking on tracks like “Hi-Speed Soul” and “The Way You Wear Your Head” which I appreciate. Those tracks kind of wake you up a little bit and make you pay attention to the record, which can very easily slip into background noise.

That might not sound like a big compliment, but it’s a huge one from me. Some days you just need a cool record to feel while you’re doing other things. I’ve listened to Let Go twice now while doing my morning writing and taking care of the kids. It never become obtrusive, but was always there keeping things calm. Sometimes when it comes to records like this, they can be easily forgotten because they don’t necessarily smack you in the face, but I think I’ll be utilizing Nada Surf’s Let Go plenty and will probably get even more listens out of it when I move it to my car. Yup, I still rock the CD wallet-visor thingy.

the drams jubilee dive Listening to and enjoying Let Go reminded me that I actually pulled out a record a week or so ago by a band called The Drams called Jubilee Drive that I also liked. Unlike Nada Surf, though, I’d never heard of these guys in my life. So, as I do, I just popped the disc in my computer and gave it a listen. According to Wikipedia, The Drams actually started out as another band I’d heard of but am not very familiar with called Slobberbone. As of now, Jubilee Drive is their one and only record.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who lead singer Brent Best sounded like and decided to give up the quest because he’s got a little Stephen Kellogg in him along with a variety of other elements. At the end of the day, though, he has his own unique thing going on and I like the sound of it. In other words, the record feels like a mix of post-Replacement, non-grunge 90s music with a few hints of 70s southern rock. Some of the more modern southern rock bands I’ve listened to get a little too droney and boring for me, but The Drams keep the tempos going at just the right speed for my taste.

All of which is a clumsy way of saying I probably haven’t heard a record quite like this before and I’m really glad I gave it a shot. While not nearly as mellow as Nada Surf’s record, this one will make for a great tooling around CD to keep in my car which will give me even more opportunities to absorb it. The driving beats and noodling on songs like “Unhinged” will always be the kind of thing I want to listen to over and over again.

Quick Movie Review: Airheads (1994)

airheads When it comes to mid 90s music-infused comedies, the two that were ridiculously influential in my world were Empire Records and Dazed And Confused. Both of those movies showed young me a world that not only involved more complex emotional relationships than I’d personally experienced up to that point, but also reflected my views on how important music could be.

Airheads has some of those themes, but is much more of a madcap comedy. Michael Lehmann (Heathers) directed this movie starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscmi and Adam Sandler as members of a band called The Lone Rangers desperate to make it big in the LA music scene. Through a series of misunderstandings and accidents while visiting a local radio station, everyone thinks they’re holding the DJs and other employees hostage. The band decides to roll with it in an effort to get people excited about their music.

Fraser’s Chazz is the true heart of the film. He wants to make great music his way, but it seems like the whole world’s against him. Buscemi’s less emotionally invested, but still into it. Think Mr. Pink with a bass. And then there’s Sandler who’s somewhere between Waterboy and Billy Madison on the Sandler Stupidity Scale. The cast also includes Michael McKean as the shifty station owner, Judd Nelson as the also-shifty record exec, Ernie Hudson and Chris Farley as cops, and DJs Joe Mantegna and David Arquette. Oh and Michael Richards is in here too, mostly crawling around like a worm.

I think the success of this movie for the individual viewer depends on what kind of films you dig. If you’re a fan of the comedies from this time like Dumb & Dumber and Tommy Boy, then I think you’ll be into this one. I wasn’t such a fan so it fell a little flat. They all just seemed a little silly to me, but I get the appeal if that’s your thing. I liked Airheads a bit more than those other movies though because Fraser is just so damn earnest and Mantegna gives it his all. Still, there’s a lot of dumbness going on that took me out of the story immediately following scenes I really enjoyed. Frankly, I winced and rolled me eyes any time Richards appeared because his role, while somewhat important to the story as it gets a real gun in the station, winds up being overly stupid and mostly pointless. In other words his involvement is a long way to go for a pretty basic plot point that could have been done in one scene.

At the end of the day, I felt like there was actually a really solid point behind this film, but the overall goofiness surrounding most of it doesn’t serve that story very well because it’s not much of a leap to feel like Lehmann is just making fun of Fraser’s Chazz, which is too bad because he’s probably the best part of this film.

Casting Internets

You might have noticed a lack of Casting Internets posts lately. That’s less because I kept forgetting to do them and more because I haven’t been going through my Pocket app for ,well, most of this year. Anyway, here’s a bunch of stories from the past few months that tickled my fancy. manziel browns draft

I’m pretty excited about Johnny Manziel heading to the Browns. They’re not my main team, but I have a special place in my heart for them because my mom’s from there and my grandma was a fan her whole life. (via ESPN)

Rivers Cuomo called Rolling Stone to talk about his love of Nirvana and how the band changed his brain. Fun read for Weezer fans, especially the ones who’ve been hearing for years that he converted Kurt Cobain’s songs into an equation and then wrote his own songs with that formula.

I’m not much of a Buzz Feed fan, but I really dug Kate Aurthur’s interview with Real World San Francisco‘s Rachel about her time on the show.

08-MosEisley

I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to go through this entire post of on StarWars.com about Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars art, but maybe you will!schleprock america's dirty little secret

My buddy Jesse sent me this link to Jason Heller’s AV Club piece on punk in the 90s because he talks about that band Schleprock I reviewed a while back. Even without that, it’s a really solid read on a subgenera of music I still love.

Esquire‘s Jennifer M. Wood talked to director Walter Hill about his classic The Warriors. As you might expect, this is a thing I love.

I’m a big fan of Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain, so when the former interviewed the latter about modern chefs on his blog, I was interested. Personally, I like how conflicted Bourdain is about things like authenticity. It points to the fact that these issues are trickier than some might otherwise present.

Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone that he’s going to start working on his second-ever solo album. Also, I fully support the idea of a Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck tour. Yardbirds Revisited?

80s Odyssey: Beach Balls (1988)

beach balls 1988

As anyone who reads the blog on a regular basis will know, I’m a big fan of 80s teen and college movies. If it’s goofy, wrought with sexual tension, set on a beach or during spring break, I’m probably on board. That’s basically everything I’ve watched and posted under the 80s Odyssey category and here’s another one.

Netflix is finally starting to understand what kind of movies I like to watch and immediately notified me of Beach Balls‘ presence on the streaming service. I didn’t even notice that it’s a Roger Corman-produced film until after the fact.  Frankly, I was on board when I read that, in addition to this being a movie about a kid pining over a girl, he also wanted to be in a band. That’s a subgenre of 80s teen comedies I didn’t even know I wanted, but I’m in!

The plot follows Charlie (Philip Paley), a beach kid who’s in love with Wendy (Heidi Helmer), but she only digs guys in bands. As it happens, Charlie is a solid musician, he’s just not in a band. At the same time, he’s also dealing with some legal problems after getting drunk one time and borrowing a car from some local toughs who stole the car and think Charlie turned on them when he got arrested. Because of this he’s got to deal with a recovering alcoholic parole officer, his already crazy, super religious mom and Young Republican sister who think he’s a much worse kid than he is. So, can Charlie throw a huge party, get the girl, get the band in front of a record producer and finally get in his own band? Watch the movie to find out.

 

A lot of this movie is pretty by the numbers, but there were some pretty interesting storytelling approaches I wanted to point out. For one thing, all of the car stuff happened before the movie starts, so we find out about it as it becomes relevant and not in one huge info dump. This actually surprised me considering these kinds of films tend to dispense with exposition in the most obvious way possible. I was also impressed by the ultimate reveal that Wendy doesn’t just date band dudes, which was Charlie’s assumption from the beginning. Those are the kinds of assumptions at the heart of plenty of movies like this, so to see it turned on its head in a realistic matter was fun. Plus, guys, I love movies about kids who want to be in bands, house party movies and bits where ultra religious weirdos get shown the error of their ways. So thumbs up all around.

The cast and crew did a solid job to the best of their relative abilities across the board. Cheapo 80s comedies like this tend to be 50/50 when it comes to seeing all kinds of recognizable faces, but this falls on the “not so much side.” There are a few interesting names on board. Director Joe Ritter was one of five writers on the original Toxic Avenger which had a far greater affect on me than I’d like to admit. Also, star Philip Paley apparently starred as Cha-Ka on Land Of The Lost as a kid. Oh and Steven Tash, who plays Charlie’s best friend Scully, was the kid in the beginning of Ghostbusters during the ESP test. I also thought it was interesting that screenwriter David Rocklin never worked on anything before or after this project.

Also, real quick, how weird is this poster/box art? If you look at it real quick, it looks like the woman is pregnant, right? Obviously, I get what they were going for, but I would have gone for a second draft on this one.

Anyway, if you’re like me and have a strange affinity for movies like Spring Break, Hunk or One Crazy Summer, then give Beach Balls a look.

The Music Box: Lotusflow3r & Tambourine

prince-lotusflower3-mplsound-elixer1 Prince is an artist I’ve never been overly interested in. I missed out on the Purple Rain-era (I knew the Milhouse line “So this is what it’s like when doves cry,” long before I knew the song) and by the time I was paying attention to pop music, he was in the middle of changing his name to a symbol and other silly activities I didn’t care about. A few years back, I found Purple Rain for a few bucks at a mall record store and decided to give it a shot. It’s been a while, but I wasn’t impressed. My memory is that the singles were as solid as they’ve always been, but the other tracks were pretty unimpressive.

So, when my pal Jesse sent me 2009’s three disc set of Lotusflow3r, MPLSound and Bria Valente Elixr for my birthday I wasn’t sure what to think. Then, I hit a point last week where I wasn’t feeling podcasts and figured I’d give it a shot, especially after seeing the artist’s recent appearance on New Girl. Holy crap, these are great records!

My problem with Purple Rain — again, if memory serves, which it only does about half the time — was that the non-hit songs felt stale, antiseptic and maybe too produced or electronic. I’ll give it another listen and see if those thoughts still hold up, but that’s what I went into these two records thinking. Instead, I was treated to an awesomely funky, guitar-filled pair of discs packed with songs I can see myself listening to over and over again. From the opening guitar calisthenics of the first track “From The Lotus” to the killer “Crimson & Clover” cover and beyond, I was sold right away and kept getting surprised by how much I loved these two records.

Originally, I skipped over Elixer, but after listening to these albums for a second time and writing most of this post, I figured I should give the third part of this trilogy a listen. Bria Valente has one of those classic female R&B voices that those of us who came up in the late 80s and early 90s remember as being super prominent. Those records weren’t my thing back then, but I found myself enjoying these tracks for their mix of quality vocals and diverse backing tracks that go from slow jams to funkadelic and back again. As far as I’m concerned, the funkier this record goes the better everyone sounds. I’m not sure how often I’ll be jonesing for this kind of listening experience, but I like keeping it around just in case.

tift merritt tamourine After intentionally listening to the Prince discs, I figured it would be a good time to reach into The Music Box and go the random route again. This time I pulled out Tift Merritt’s 2004 album Tambourine. As with many of the Music Box discs, I knew nothing about this going in, popped it on and gave it a listen.

Merritt’s sound reminded me a lot of Sheryl Crow. I’m not sure if that’s altogether fair but they’re both women singing country-tinged songs about their life experiences, so that’s where my head was at. With that comparison in mind — and the fact that they do sound sonically similar at times — I had trouble really getting into these songs. I think the person-playing-guitar-and-singing-quietly thing just isn’t all that interesting to me in the first place. I love that people do it, but it’s not always something I want to listen to unless the songs are super original, hit me in a truly emotional place or do something really interesting with the backing tracks.

When Merritt and company pick things up on tracks like “Wait It Out” and the title track, I’m in, but those wound up being a bit too far and few between for me to keep this one in the collection. Hopefully someone at the library will find it and dig the heck out of it though!