My 6 Favorite Compilations, Soundtracks & Greatest Hits Records Of 2012

As it turns out, most of the music I bought this year came from Amazon and their awesome $5 album (and under) deals. I’m a sucker for a deal and an even bigger sucker for paying a little for what I consider to be a lot. That’s the case for most of the five records on this particular list which features a soundtrack, the complete recording of a particular artist from one record label and three greatest hits packages. This is a good way to mainline lots of music from a particular artist on the cheap. muppet soundtrackI wrote about how much I enjoyed The Muppets earlier this year. That love translated into the purchase of the soundtrack as well, something that hasn’t happened in years. This one is a great mix of soundbites from the movie, original songs and a few known songs like Starship’s “We Built This City” and Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyeard.” I would have probably bought this record just for the amazing “Life’s A Happy Song,” the fact that the rest is so awesome is gravy. ZZ Top Rancho TexicanI only really know ZZ Top from their singles, a greatest hits collection my dad had and seeing them live also with my dad. I do have one of their early records, but have to admit, it gets a little slow and I tend to lose interest. So, when I saw Rancho Texicano: The Very Best of ZZ Top — which features 38 tracks! — on Amazon for a fin? That was an easy purchase. The great thing about this collection is that it’s not just all the songs you know like “Tush,” “Cheap Sunglasses” and “Gimme All Your Lovin'” but also some deeper cuts that flesh this record out. A great example of what a greatest hits collection can be when not limited to a physical disc. Also, proof that this is one of the greatest damn bands around. aretha franklin 30 greatest hitsSometimes you just need some soul in your life. That’s why I snatched up Aretha Franklin’s 30 Greatest Hits. Also, Lu likes listening to music with some swing and jazz to it, so this was an easy buy. Listening through these tracks was an interesting experience because I didn’t realize that some of these songs were hers. That’s probably a reflection on my ignorance of Franklin’s career, but I enjoy getting educated. willie nelson complete atlantic sessionsOne of the reasons I shied away from greatest hits records in the past is because I like discovering some of the deep cuts on records, the ones you don’t hear on the radio. Now that I’m getting older though, I find myself becoming more “Get to the hits!” It’s not a feeling I like and one I’m trying to work beyond. Anyway, Willie Nelson’s Complete Atlantic Sessions is like the antithesis of those hits records I avoided as it contains all 61 tracks Willie recorded for them. I haven’t gotten all the way through this one yet, but I like what I’ve head enough to warrant the purchase and its spot in this list. beach boys 50 big onesFor years and years I heard how great the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was. When I finally picked it up, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. It’s a great record, don’t get me wrong, but it lacks the fun, surf rock songs I love (for the most part). It just wasn’t what I was expecting. So, when I saw The Beach Boys’ 50 Big Ones: Greatest Hits, it was another no-brainer. The beauty of this collection is that it literally has every Beach Boys song I know of. I’m sure it’s missing the deep cuts I talked about above, but I’m okay with that. The one downside to having so many tracks, though, is that I realized I’m not built to listen to 25 Beach Boys tracks in a short period of time, let alone 50. Those amazing harmonies they do can get a little annoying when listened to in a short period of time. However, I’m still glad I have this record because I can listen to what I want, in small chunks, whenever I want.

pitch perfect soundtrackThe Pitch Perfect soundtrack is exactly why I don’t post these list before the end of the year. I actually wrote the first draft of this post a week or so back, but saved it as a draft. I’m glad I did because my wife and I watched Pitch Perfect for the first (and then second) time recently and I kind of fell in love. As I mentioned in my post about the film, I was something of an a cappella fan in college, so this brought back some memories. It also reminded me of how good that B.O.B/Rivers Cuomo song “Magic” is, which I really appreciate. I’ve had that and a few of the other songs from the film in my head since watching the movie and I actually don’t mind it, so that’s a pretty good sign.

Party On: Pajama Party (1964) & Ski Party (1965)

After watching and really enjoying Bikini Beach, I’ve been on an Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon kick. Pajama Game is not part of the surf movie series as Annette plays a different character and Frankie’s barely in it. However, the motorcycle gang called The Rats does show up, so maybe this is a Mallrats/Chasing Amy kind of thing and different actors just play different characters in the same universe. Anyway, this time around, a group of kids hang out at the beach and at nice houses with pools. Anette’s boyfriend is more interested in volleyball than anything else (clearly asexual) so she winds up falling for a new boy in town named George. Meanwhile, a neighbor wants to break into a widow’s house and steal all the money her husband left, so he convinces her to have a pajama party to cause a distraction.

Oh, by the way, George is actually a Martian played by Tommy Kirk who also played Biff in The Absent Minded Professor (an often played film in my house growing up, his dad in that movie was the old guy in Bikini Beach!). He’s supposed to be paving the way for an alien invasion, but winds up falling for Annette which works out fine because her boyfriend would rather bump balls.

Oddly, the trailer for the film isn’t on YouTube, so here’s one of the musical numbers:

This movie was very high on fun and hijinks. I love the elaborate way the widow has to go about getting her money. I love the low tech way they set up a teleporter to bring in more Martians for the invasion. I love how instead of relying on either one of the two storylines (breaking into the old lady’s house, alien invasion) they went with both of them along with all the teen drama that usually surrounds these story. I love the cameos by Dorothy Lamour, Buster Keaton, Avalon, Don Rickles and a couple of background dancers/actresses better known as Teri Garr and Toni Basil.  Really, I just loved this movie.

In the following year’s Ski Party, Annette plays a cameo as a professor while Frankie and a fellow college student pal go off to a ski resort to pick up chicks. To get really close to the ladies, they decide to dress in drag to infiltrate their ski class…and maybe learn a little something along the way.

While this film might have been far less complicated than the previous one, I was impressed with how funny it was. Sure there’s the goofy, campy stuff like Frankie inflating his ski coat to go further on a ski jump and accidentally flying all over the place, but there were also some really funny jokes that are still funny today.

One the stereotypes people might have about these kinds of films is that they’re tame by today’s standards. And yeah, that’s true from an on-the-nose perspective. You’re not going to see any topless women or kids randomly hooking up, but that’s more because that kind of stuff wasn’t sold in teen films back then. But all that stuff is still there below the surface. I was surprised with the use of the word “sex” in these movies because it was like they were actually admitting the teenagers want to have sex (shocking!). A lot of creative types say that rules and regulations actually push them to be more creative when it comes to bawdy jokes and dealing with sex and I think that shows in these movies.

Oh, that reminds me of something. As you might expect, homosexuality isn’t mentioned whatsoever in these movies, but I think elements of it can definitely be seen on screen. Pajama had the boyfriend who was more interested in volleyball, which doesn’t really mean anything, but in this one, Frankie’s pal dresses up like a girl and it actually works for him. When, as his guy self, he calls up a girl and gets shot down, he dresses up like his girl self again, calls up a boy who was flirting with him earlier and they go out. And have a wonderful time. Heck, he spends the rest of the movie talking about how great this guy is and that he things he can make a marriage work with him, forget about that whole being a man thing. I guess you could argue this was played for laughs (“This would NEVER happen, so it’s funny!”) or if something got slipped past the censors. I can’t remember how Frankie’s pal ended the movie, but I thought that was a really interesting subplot. For what it’s worth, Frankie did not support his friend.

Another great thing about these movies is the music. While Pajama Party didn’t have anyone I recognized, Ski Party featured none other than the God Father of Soul, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, Mr. James Brown! AS A SNOW RESCUE GUY! He literally rolls into a lodge on skis with cocktail carrying German shepherds, says a few jokes and busts into “I Got You (I Feel Good).” Holy poop! Oh, Leslie Gore sings “Sunshine, Rainbows and Lollipops” too, but that’s nowhere near as cool as James Brown. Double oh, Yvonne Craig — TV’s Batgirl — stars as one of the objects of affection. I think she was my first ever crush.

So, I just spent a great deal of time bestowing the virtues of these films, but I think the most important thing to take away is that they are silly fun with a real “Up With Kids” vibe to them. It’s funny to think that, right now as I watch these movies, I’m older than the characters in the film (though probably the same age as some of the actors). Even as a burgeoning fogey, I still relate to the themes in these flicks and can’t imagine living in an even more buttoned-up society. Remember, the sexual revolution was still a few years away from really blowing up, so this was the best kids had of seeing even the remotest, nicest form of rebellion on screen (I haven no idea if this is completely factual but it sounds good, doesn’t it?).

Surfin’ Safari: Bikini Beach (1964)

Even now I’m not sure why I added Bikini Beach to my Netflix Instant queue. I think the site might have suggested the film after seeing how many teen-oriented summer flicks I’ve watched, but most of those have been from the 80s. The other day I thought about watching Hannibal, but figured it would be a bit too intense for my daughter (who tricked me on Tuesday by making me think that two hour naps were the new norm, tricky baby). When that idea fell through, I saw this Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello flick at the top of the queue and went for it.

I’ve never seen one of their flicks (though research tells me there were seven total films in this series, of which BB is the third installment), but it wound up being a really fun and goofy movie that was perfect for paying limited attention while doing work and watching the kid. The idea is that a group of surfer kids sets up shop on a stretch of beach that happens to be right next to a famous Beatles-esque pop star called The Potato Bug AND near the property of a stodgy old guy who owns a nearby retirement home. This causes two sets of problems as Bug woos Annette away from Frankie AND the old guy tries to get rid of the kids by writing editorials in the newspaper he owns about how animalistic they are. How does he prove this? Well, he’s trained his ape to do all the things the kids do: surf, dance and drive. Why he’s not writing stories about this incredibly scientific breakthrough, I do not know.

After some of those goofy looking surfing scenes we’ve all seen on clip shows and whatnot, the tide turns a bit as Potato Bug shows proficiency at drag racing which makes Frankie want to take it up as well so they can race. There’s also a bunch of stuff with Don Rickles as a guy who owns both the racetrack and the local teen hang out (which doesn’t sell hard liquor because it’s for the kids, but does serve beer…) as well as a biker gang whose leader is a total goofball who allies himself with the old guy even though the old guys is not down with all that. There’s also a werewolf for no reason other than someone won a contest.

There’s also a good deal of musical numbers including one by Little Stevie Wonder at the end. I’m a fan of surf rock, though I’m admittedly ignorant of most of it. I dig the Ventures, Jan & Dean, the Dick Dale stuff I’ve heard and Link Wray (just barely surf, but in the same vein). The stuff in this flick isn’t nearly as good as any of that, but it’s still fun. And that’s really what this movie is about: having fun, even in the face of jerky old people who want to stiffle your fun. It’s kind of cool knowing that this plot goes so far back in film. Think about it, our parents were watching these movies and thinking, “Yeah, man, screw that old guy, I just want to SURF!” I suggest checking out all seven movies and reminding your parents of them when they start giving you a hard time (assuming your folks are still giving you static when you’re nearing 30).

Music To Read To: Man Or Astro-man? & Zot!

I don’t normally listen to music while I read. Mostly because I have trouble concentrating. So, when I do, it’s usually something without words like jazz or instrumental rock and roll (Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien, John Paul Jones’ Zooma, that kind of thing). Back when I was working at Wizard I got my hands on a copy of Scott McCloud’s Zot! The Complete Black And White Collection 1987-1991 from Harper Collins. It had been sitting in the to read long boxes in my closet since then and I recently picked it up to see how it is. And it’s great. I’m only 336 into the 576 page book, but I feel like I’m enjoying it along with the commentary that McCloud gives after each story arc.

The real point of this post though, is to talk about music accentuating the reading material. I was sitting in bed one night, reading this volume when it popped into my head that the brightness and sci-fi leanings of Zot’s earth would go really well with my favorite modern surf rock band Man Or Astro-man? (for what it’s worth, my all time favorite surf rock group is The Ventures). I went out into the living room, popped a reading light on, turned my iPod to the correct Artist and read for quite a while.

And I gotta say, it was a near perfect fit. It was kind of eerie actually. When the story slowed down, the record did so too. Kind of like discovering that Wizard Of Oz and Darkside Of The Moon fit together, but of course, dependent on the speed with which the reader can read. I first listened to EEVIAC Operational Index and Reference Guide, Including Other Modern Computational Devices (1999) and then Project Infinity (1995) because that’s the order they’re in on my iPod. The mix of surf rock and old sci-fi movies was like whatever kind of wine goes with whatever kind of steak, it just happened to work.

My experience with Man or Astro-man? goes back a while. I happened to see the following video for “Theme From Eeviac” along with the video for “Denise” by Fountains of Wayne on 120 Minutes and I was sold (on both bands). I would go on to purchase both Project Infinity and A Spectrum Of Infinite Scale (2000) at my beloved Boogie Records (used and new respectively). Soon after they broke up, which is a bummer, but I’ve still got a few other albums to check out if I ever get the urge. Anyway, here’s the first video I ever saw, along with a few others I found on YouTube that show off their goodness and weirdness.

I highly recommend checking them out if you have even a remote inkling that you might like surf rock or are a big fan of old sci-fi movies or if you just like to read a lot of sci-fi. I used to actually turn Man or Astro-man? on when I played video games. This was back in the PS1 days, before games scores and dialogue were important. Do yourself a favor and check them out!

Book Review: Sonic Boom by Peter Blecha

For the majority of my active music absorbing career, I’ve felt like I’ve been playing catch up. I guess that’s what happen when you’ve got 40 or so years of rock and roll (not to mention blues, jazz, folk and whatever else you might eventually get interested in) with dozens and dozens of sub genres with their big hitmakers, indie darlings and one hit wonders. It’s a lot to take in and as a result I had a problem understanding how so many bands fed off of each other in a fairly short period of time to create all kinds of classics bands.

Peter Blecha’s Sonic Boom which came out earlier this year, does an amazing job of cataloguing all of that albeit in the specific area of Northwest America. Thanks to the cover, which features a shot of Mudhoney, I kind of figured Sonic Boom would be mostly about the grunge scene, but I couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, my one complaint about the book is that Blecha didn’t give this highly influential era comparably few pages. The section focusing on the intricacies of the scene from the late 50s through the 80s takes up roughly 229 pages while the 70s-90s get the remaining 50 pages. The funny thing is that it doesn’t come off as though Blecha dislikes that music, he just kind of breezes through it, which feels rushed after reading about bands you’ve never heard of like The Fleetwoods.

But, like I said, this book really educated me on an era of rock and roll that I was mostly unfamiliar with and, better yet, and entire sub genre of music I didn’t know. I learned about bands like The Sonics, The Wailers, The Frantics, learned more about The Ventures (whose surf rock records blew me away when I stumbled upon my dad’s uncle’s discs when I first got my own record player for Christmas in high school) and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Plus there were just so many ins and outs to the scene that it played out like a soap opera more often than not. Plus, it’s fun to read about real life events that informed one of the all time best rock and roll movies That Thing You Do.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book was getting an understanding as to how different the record industry used to be. First off, records were sold regionally, so you might record a single on 45 and sell it in your area, but it might not do a anything anywhere else in the country. I’ve been saying for a while that it’s interesting to me that the music industry seems to be turning back to this single format that dominated the industry for so long. Now, we’re just buying them on iTunes instead of rolling down to the record store and picking up a record. Another aspect of the scene I found fascinating was the focus int he early to mid 60s of teen dances that would be held at school gyms or VFW halls put on by anyone who could rent the place out. I never experienced any dances like that in my day, but it sounds like local politics really got in the way.

It made me think how cool it would be to open some kind of club that would foster young/new bands. You could record the live shows and put them out as a podcast. Then, considering how easy it is to record with Garage Band, start a little recording studio in the back and then just release them through iTunes. That would work right? Who wants to open a club?

Anyway, I recommend Sonic Boom for any fans of rock who are looking for a detailed history before the Beatles came and changed everything (including focus on plenty of bands who influenced them and just about every other band that would come after). Like I said, it’s definitely light on the 90s grunge stuff, but if you’re in the mood, I highly recommend checking out a movie about that revolution called Hype. I haven’t seen it since high school (when I got into grunge, again, after the fact finishing my Nirvana CD collection, picking up Badmotorfinger to go along with Superunknown and giving TAD and Mudhoney a shot thanks to my beloved used record store Boogie).