Thursday, 13 December 2012

Jumping the Rock and Roll Shark - The Top 10

I have long thought about the astounding creative heights that some musicians are able to achieve and how a once prolific output inevitably levels off and, unless you are Led Zeppelin, declines into a comfortable rut of everything after your greatest hits years. To put it in easy T.V. terms that those of us over 30 can relate to…they’ve jumped the shark. You know the story. The Fonz, in his leather jacket and short shorts, jumped over the shark tank and Happy Days had thusly reached its apex. It could go no higher, and anything after the fact was just a sad footnote which would eventually lead to Joanie Loves Chachi.
This happens time and again in the music world, where I suppose some artists have earned the right or perhaps feel compelled to year after year put out a bunch of less than stellar records. I refer to the type of release where there is one half decent single that gets some radio play, and the rest if simply filler.
 It does seem unrealistic for us to expect Exile on Main Street or Automatic for the People from our musical heroes year after year, but when exactly does this fall off in production occur and what precipitates it? I understand that one can only come up with the riff for Seven Nation Army or Sunshine of Your Love so many times in a career, but it begs the question of why does that creative well run dry?
In musical terms, bands often have a brilliant stretch of magic, where everything they produce turns to gold, and then inexplicably things go sideways. It happens to pop bands, metal bands, nut jobs like Michael Jackson- who spent the latter part of his career trying to make another Thriller -and everything in between. Hall and Oates must have had fans at one time, and then one day, those fans must have said, “This new record is crap. Give us more songs like Maneater.”                                                             
Point being, somewhere along the line, one expects that there will be no more “Thrillers” and we are forced to witness the slow descent into a mad world of plastic surgery and duets with your  sister Janet who looks eerily just like you.
The exact moment of jumping the shark is painfully obvious in certain cases, whereas in others the line is somewhat blurry. For example, I can’t quite pinpoint when the Tragically Hip stopped doing it for me. Sometime between Trouble at the Henhouse and Phantom Power. After that, I couldn’t be bothered to buy another CD. With each new release, my disinterest grew, forcing me back to my old favorites Road Apples, Up to Here and Fully Completely.
As a more abrupt departure, I could cite someone like David Bowie, who seemingly stopped dead in his tracks after 1983’s Lets Dance. Since then, Bowie has put out 10 albums and I defy you to name one of them. Exactly. So what happened? The man that gave us Heroes and Fame, has spent the last thirty years at work and is only able to offer up marginally entertaining schlock.
Also to be mentioned is the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Three men who between them practically invented rock and roll and all still perform to this day in varying degrees. Between 1955 and 1960 they had more hits than is believable and they created and perfected a musical genre that is still revered and copied to this day. Suffice it to say, if they all jumped the shark by 1960, it was due to extreme creative overload and awesomeness. We can’t fault them for that.
Not jumping the shark is possible, but it requires an impeccable sense of timing and strong fortitude to resist the public demand for more crap. This club includes such notables as The Police, C.C.R. and Blind Faith. Yes, occasionally musicians go out at the top of their game either by death or misadventure, such as Nirvana or Sam Cooke, but sadly, that list is too long to get into.
As a final note before the list, I’m not referring to a bands prowess at live performances either, but rather the act of songwriting and recording. Many bands are still able to absolutely kill it live, long past their recording due date. The Allman Brothers for example, can melt your brain on any given night yet it has been a long while since they released anything of consequence, other than live albums.
The following bands are my choices for major Shark Jumpers. To protect myself, as always, they are in no particular order
10.The Clash – Combat Rock 1982

The beginning of the end for a pioneering punk band. At least it was a short death, without lingering around the entire 80’s.  Can you imagine the Clash deteriorating into soppy ballads, new wave stylings or hair metal? They came, they saw, they kicked ass and when things started to get weird after Combat Rock, they shut it down. The one release after 1982, Cut the Crap, was not particularly well received and it was clear that their best days as a band were behind them. Combat Rock may not have been the second coming of London Calling, but it was damn good, and it marked the point after which the Clash were no longer relevant in an F@#$ You Punk sort of way.

 9. Rush – Signals 1982

Jack Black stated in the documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage, that “Rush is just one of those bands that has a deep reservoir of rocket sauce. A lot of bands - they've only got so much in the bottle. They use it up sometimes in one song. These guys were the real deal. Their bottle was so big and so filled to the brim, they were shaking it literally for decades. And still there was sauce coming out.”
While that may be partially true, I would have to counter that the sauce coming out as of late has been more like Mayonnaise Lite  than rocket sauce.
Rush has put out 11 studio releases since 1982’s Signals, the break off point for many fans. This is a divisive time period where many of the older fans decided that whatever was coming out of the bottle now was less palatable than before. A common argument one hears is that the band started using synthesisers around this time, but that is not accurate.  There are synthesizers in Moving Pictures and 2112, but they are also full of much better songs. The reason that people stopped buying later albums is because the songs on them are mediocre compared to what came before.
Rush did pick up many new fans throughout the 80’s and beyond, but it was often on the back of the older releases.
8. AC/DC  - Back in Black 1980

AC/DC was on a roll from its inception through to the death of Bon Scott in 1980, shortly after the release of his last effort with the band Highway to Hell.  Amazingly enough, this disastrous event did not reduce the band to rubble as would be expected but rather steered them in a different direction, with a new singer. Brian Johnson came on board and what happened next was pure serendipity. Back in Black was born, and things in the rock and roll world ain’t been the same since. It has sold an estimated 50 million copies and is second only behind only Thriller in all time sales, anywhere, ever, period.
 Unfortunately, a creation of this magnitude was more like jumping a flaming pit filled with sharks, crocodiles, and velociraptors, blindfolded, while riding a tricycle. That’s a big jump. 
1981’s For Those About to Rock was good, very good even by some standards but, look at what it was up against. Each subsequent release after 1980 has a great song or two on it, but nothing really to compare to Back in Black.  Fortunately, AC/DC proceeded to put on live spectacles that kept fans coming back year after year. Enjoy them for what they are, and don’t expect another masterpiece.

7. The Cult - Sonic Temple 1989

The Cult burst onto the scene in the mid-eighties as a sort of crossover band, appealing to all sorts of music lovers from rockers to punks and those in between. Their catalogue can basically be cut in half with whatever came before Sonic Temple being mostly great stuff and everything after being mostly not. Sonic Temple had the songs to carry it, the band wasn’t fighting, and Ian Astbury still had long hair. To date, there has been no monumental comeback album, and as such, if you have everything up to Sonic Temple on your iPod, you don’t need to panic.
6. U2 – Zooropa 1993

I can’t claim to be unbiased in the U2 department, having a rather strong preference for the first five or six releases, however, I have done my research on this band and the general consensus seems to be that Zooropa represents a turning point in their history. This is the start of the new U2, where they lean more on electronica and spectacle rather than a good old rock and roll band thrashing around songs of injustice. While U2 may have kept the gravy train going for the last 20 years, they have done it as a different kind of band. U2 the latter (1993 to present) somehow seems less relevant than U2 the former (1976-1992).
5. Stones – Tattoo You 1981

My first love. There was a time when I was all things Stones, blindly snatching up new releases such as 1984’s Undercover of the Night and the 1986 release Dirty Work. I even replaced Emotional Rescue on CD when the cassette wore out. Eventually I came to the realization that Emotional Rescue on CD, while better quality than Emotional Rescue on cassette, was still crap. The Stones weathered the disco storm and still had enough rocks to cobble together a really good bunch of songs on Tattoo You. Granted, many of them were extras from earlier recording sessions that had been collecting dust for years, but at least they saw the light of day. The Stones had a great run up until this point, and were able to cap off the 70’s as the greatest rock and roll band in the world. They certainly could have cruised through the 80’s and 90’s as a touring band without having to release any of the substandard stuff that they did.                                                                                 I said “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Whooo…they jumped the shark with Tattoo You.”
4. Tragically Hip – Phantom Power 1998

Two of my favorite Hip songs come from this release, which is one of main reasons I didn’t place it in the post shark jumping era. Poets is the first and the second, Bobcaygeon, has become a veritable Hip anthem. I think they’re still a great band, and I would see them live at the drop of a hat, but I’m cutting them off at Phantom Power in terms of the high point in their writing career.
3. Guns and Roses - Appetite for Destruction 1987

Guns and Roses in 100 words or less? First album was a groundbreaker, smashing all the existing hair metal bands to smithereens. Shortly thereafter, came the much anticipated, but less groundbreaking Use Your Illusion pair. Shortly thereafter, infighting, drugs and craziness led to The Spaghetti Incident. What followed was various incarnations of temporary band members led by the increasingly reclusive Axel Rose, producing the mostly disastrous and final release to date, Chinese Democracy. Talk about setting the bar high on your first jump.
2. Rod Stewart – Blondes Have More Fun 1978

Okay….wow. I picked the Rod Stewart album with a giant disco hit on it, and I’m not entirely sure this was his shark jumping moment, but here goes. From Rod’s tenure in the Faces up until 1978, we have a plethora of good material to choose from the early Stay With Me and Maggie May to Gasoline Alley and Mandolin Wind. Rods whiskey and cigarette tinged voice was complimented with an always great backing band and that made for some very memorable songs. The guy had a pretty good thing going for most of the 70’s and what a way to finish it off by stacking up a pretty good album that was Blondes, and top it off with a chart topping disco hit. There was much much more great stuff before this record but there was very little great stuff after it. Rod went on a spree of covers, ballads, adult contemporary, pop standards, Christmas songs, big band remakes and probably some other crap which I haven’t got the spine to look into. So there it is. You make some history with some killer songs, you jump the shark smack dab in the middle of the disco era, and you ride out your days singing Gershwin standards.
1.Elton John – Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy 1975

Before and up until Captain Fantastic, Elton would be remembered for the likes of Rocket Man, Yellow Brick Road, Tiny Dancer, and Candle in the Wind. After this prodigious period, he would be remembered for Don’t go Breaking My Heart, Can You Feel the Love Tonight and a remake of Candle in the Wind for Princess Di, which pretty much ruined it.  Similarly to Rod Stewart, a string of duets, Christmas songs and general schlock ensured that our man Elton jumped the shark long before his legend ever did.

Your homework should you choose to accept it:
Rod and The Faces leaning into a really great cover of Maybe I'm Amazed. Rod hits the mic at 1:10 and if you don't get a shiver...well, you ain't got ears.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Cleveland Rocks

Cleveland Rocks…
You may know it as the opening song from The Drew Carey Show, but an Englishman by the name of Ian Hunter belted this out way back in 1979, supposedly as a sign of affection for a city that was in need of a savior. Cleveland was long viewed as a dirty industrial town, home to a bunch of losing sports teams and not much else. Things got so bad that somewhere along the way, it earned the nickname, “the mistake on the lake”.
In the 80s it started a comeback of epic proportions and I’m here to tell you, that Cleveland does in fact rock. The downtown is clean, safe (in the manner that one can be called “safe” in a land of gun-toting civilians) and easily walkable. Within a small area is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Cavaliers arena, a theatre district and plenty of good restaurants and pubs in between.
Our party of six made the first stop at Flannery’s pub, because well… it has an Irish name and that means good beer.  Fortunately for us, the namesake didn’t let us down, as it turns out they have a boat load of cool beers on tap and a pretty decent menu as well. In the spirit of diversity, Mrs. Rock and Roll Librarian enjoyed a martini with her Guinness. Flannery’s, much like other bars in the area generally has entertainment on weekends although we left before the band came on, as we had other fish to fry. Stop number two was the infamous Cleveland House of Blues, where we enjoyed some more beer and spent a few bucks at the on-site shop.(Apparently they also make decent martini’s, as Mrs. Librarian enjoyed  one here as well.) There was a pretty good solo performer doing covers on the side stage which was nice background music.
When the waiter came back for the fifth time for our drink orders, my friend Minty thought it would be sensible to throw out one of John Candy’s famous lines from the Blues Brothers.
“Orange whip?” Orange whip?”, “Orange whip?” He asks, gesturing to us, and then signaling to the waitress, “Three orange whips”.
Apparently our waitress was unfamiliar with this particular gem from the Blues Brothers.
“What’s in an orange whip?”, she asked, to which we replied,
 “We don’t know….it’s from a movie.”
I think the general consensus is that an orange whip is a fictitious drink or at the very least, something they stopped making in 1982. Suffice it to say, we sure as hell didn’t intend to order one. Our girl however, had other ideas.
“I’ll go ask the bartender.” She said, and was off. We were all intrigued at the possibility of actually seeing an orange whip in real life and thus curiosity combined with the general euphoric demeanor of our group cemented the deal.  
And so it was, along with the next round of beer, came five orange whips (we did have one mother to be who was not indulging). In my best estimation, the recipe is one part melted creamsicle, two parts vodka and possibly some sort of cleaning product to give it a bit of a kick. Not bad if you wash it down with Thirsty Dog ale.
Sometime in later hours, en route back to the hotel, we passed a combination bar and ten pin bowling alley. The entire length of the lanes was visible for about a block down the sidewalk, as the building was framed in giant windows. We pressed our faces to the glass like orphans peering into the bakery on Christmas and saw all the happy people drinking $2 beer and bowling. It took all of three seconds to decide that ten pin bowling in Cleveland on a Friday was just what the doctor ordered, and if you think you can’t get a martini at the bowling alley you are sorely mistaken. Suffice it to say, Mrs. Librarian was not entirely steady on the walk home.
The next day of course, was devoted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which for me is the real attraction to the Cleve. I have completed two tours of this facility and the memorabilia is stunning to say the least. For anyone who considers themselves even slightly more than a casual fan of music, there is enough loot here to make you lose your mind. Like any world class museum, there is simply not enough time to take it all in in a day. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this facility is top notch.  Neil Young’s scrawling handwritten lyrics for Heart of Gold are mere steps from Michael Jackson’s worn out penny loafers from the Thriller Tour. Step to your left and it might be Joey Ramone’s leather jacket , the torn awning from CBGB’s or John Lennon’s ancient Rickenbacker guitar from the early days of the Beatles. Exhibits run from the earliest Blues that gave birth to rock and roll, right up to gold albums from the Black Keys . Buts it’s so very much more than just stuff formerly owned by musicians.
Janis Joplin’s hand-painted psychedelic Porsche is not, in my opinion, mere memorabilia. It is art, and history and a piece of musical culture that is surely more than just a pop footnote. The same goes for Elvis’ 1975 purple Lincoln Continental that sits regally amidst a slew of other Elvis goodies. And the guitars… my God the guitars. There are those of the Kurt Cobain and Pete Townshend smashed variety, early prototype homemade ones by Les Paul himself, and some that display such fine craftsmanship that they should be in the Luthier’s hall of fame, if such a thing exists. There are oddball shaped ones custom built for Bo Diddley, and the steam punk meets junkyard wars pair that Z.Z. Top displayed in the Rough Boys Video. It goes on and on until your head spins with an overdose of facts from the placards. Last but not least, the Grateful Dead exhibit was in its final days and that was a must see for me, as I seem to have a bit of a problem in that area of obsessiveness.
There are not enough words to describe even a fraction of the all the cool stuff in the Hall of Fame, so my advice is to get there yourself and check it out.
Your homework if you choose to accept it:

Thursday, 1 November 2012

An Open Offer to Sidney Crosby

Dear Sidney Crosby,

How is everything going during the lockout?

I was talking to some of the guys on my ball hockey team and we figured you were probably getting bored by now. Hopefully you have a good way of staying in shape such as running or perhaps even ball hockey.

 Long story short, if you’re not busy on Tuesday nights for the next five weeks my team could use an extra guy. It’s an over 30 league, but we’re allowed one player who is under age. Right now we have Vince Racconi, who is 22 but you could take his spot. He only shows up like half the time anyway, and he’s not putting up very good numbers.

There are a few things you should know, which hopefully won’t be a problem. First off, Jonesy already has number 87.  He’s being a bit difficult about it and says he’s not willing to give it up. He also has your name stitched on the back, and he insists his nickname is Sid, so maybe just go with it. We’ll call you “the kid” or Junior or something.

Secondly, is the McCarther brothers – they play for Stinson Septic Cleaners. I told them I was going to get you on my team and they laughed in my face. Then they said that you were a pussy and if you ever showed up at the rink they would beat you to a pulp. It would be great if you joined the team, then I would be the one laughing in their toothless faces. There is however, a good chance you would have to fight them. My advice is to watch out for Jimmy because he’s a lefty and he’s a dirty fighter.

Last is a bit of an awkward matter, but I feel we have to talk about it. We both know that you have a bit of a soft pumpkin, if you get my drift. I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job, you being a professional hockey player and all, but you’re not going to be much good to us in the playoffs if you get your bell rung again. Keep your head up is all I’m saying.

So…yeah… I guess that’s about it. You’re probably just going to fly in and out for the games, but you can stay at my house if you want. No pressure or anything, but next week would be great because we play Stinson Septic and we need a win.

P.S. If you can’t make it, can you get me a cel number for Ovechkin?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

North Tonawanda Fire Department

The following is an excerpt from a broadcasting class at North Tonawanda Community College.

Instructor: Okay, settle down everyone. We’ve got a lot of material to cover today. We’ll start with news then move on to sports and weather. First I’m going to give you a scenario where there’s breaking news and you give me your lead off line. Okay, let’s say…a fire.  Volunteers? Yes Mr. Riggs.
Riggs: Last night, North Tonawanda fire crews responded to a blaze on Erie Avenue.
Instructor: Excellent. Okay who’s next?  Jenkins?
Jenkins: The North Tonawanda fire department was kept busy this afternoon as they battled a fire in an abandoned warehouse. Wait… it was a warehouse full of kittens! No… seniors! Seniors with kittens!
Instructor: Very thorough Jenkins. Okay folks, how would you handle a car crash?
Riggs: Right here sir!
Instructor: Go ahead Riggs.
Riggs: North Tonawanda fire crews were called to the scene of an accident this morning and had to use the Jaws of Life to free several victims from a wreck. I mean, a fiery wreck.
Instructor: Very eloquent Riggs. How about Football?
Jenkins: Me sir! North Tonawanda fire fighters put out a blaze that started during a tailgating party at the Bills game this weekend.
Instructor. Okay, that’s good Jenkins, but don’t forget your adjectives. I mean what was the size of the blaze? Was it blistering? Were there any seniors or kittens to be rescued from the blaze?    What about you Jones?
Jones: How’s this sir? Firefighter Anthony Dabrowski of the North Tonawanda Fire Department stepped in for injured Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick late in the second half in yesterday’s game. He threw six touchdowns and then put out a small fire in the Bills change room.
Instructor: Very good Jones. Excellent delivery.
Jenkins: I’ve got one sir.  The North Tonawanda fire department was able to hold off the Cleveland Browns offensive line in Monday’s game to lead the Bills to a 48-0 victory. They then extinguished several car fires started by disgruntled Browns fans. Many seniors were comforted at the scene.
Instructor: Much better Jenkins.  What about weather?
Jones: Snow squalls off Lake Erie forced North Tonawanda Fire crews to evacuate the city of Buffalo, including all the Buffalo firefighters. The entire city of Buffalo then caught fire, but fortunately, the North Tonawanda crew put it out.
Perkins: Sir?
Instructor: What is it Perkins?
Perkins: Do we always have to use the Fire Department for our breaking news? And our sports…and weather?
Instructor: I don’t know Perkins. Did President Obama put out the fire at Riggs’ house last year? Did Newt Gingrich show up in the middle of the night when Jenkin’s house burned down last week? Did the Recession put out that inferno last night on Third Avenue?
Perkins: Sorry sir. I didn’t know there was a fire on Third last night.
Instructor: It’s North Tonawanda Perkins. There’s always a fire.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

And Then There Were Three

Verse One
I'm an advanced intermediate guitar player. By that I mean I have enough musical sense to recognize my failings and just enough apathy to ensure I don't rise above that comfortable level of mediocrity. I'll forever be relegated to hiding in the shadows of any lead guitar player worth his pickups. In my case, the guitar slinger in question is a dude named Ryan, who is markedly more gifted in his axe prowess, and carries much of the load at our weekly meetings in the jam room. I'm good at rhythm, and that’s what I do. I strum and keep the beat, and Ryan fills in the solos, riffs and noodly bits that make the songs come to life.
We have a pretty good working relationship, he and I. I know when he is about to really dig into a solo and I give him enough line to fling himself out into the nether regions of space where the higher order of musicians go when they’re doing what they do. But I’m the anchor, so I don’t let him float away. I just wait until he opens his eyes – the signal he is again aware of his surroundings- then I start reeling him back in and we move on.
We also sing. A least hurtful way to describe it would be mostly competently. Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that you wouldn’t cringe if you heard us, but neither would you be moved to call American Idol and demand we be given an audition. Since the beginning of our rehearsals, we had agreed that our sound was lacking a certain something. Guitars were good, singing was okay, and yet there was an element missing that was needed to push it over the top. Something to sweeten it up a little. Something….girlie. Yep…that’s the right term.
Verse Two
I texted Ryan one day - with some trepidation- and told him that I had just found out that a woman I had known for years was a singer, and should I invite her out to sing some harmonies? I was not entirely sure this was wise because, you see...the jam room (or rock and roll sanctum, as I like to call it) has traditionally been a place where a bunch of guys make a racket until my neighbour comes wandering over and tells us he has to work early in the morning. Then he sits down and drinks beer with us before we send him wobbling home hours later, only slightly worse for wear. In between songs, the talk turns to man stuff, like hockey, women and... I don't know...big block Chevy engines. That’s a thing right?
Suffice it to say, we have never been graced with the presence of a female musician. That may be partly because I have never invited any except once many years ago, but that was one time rehearsal for a one time thing, so it doesn't count. This was different. This was a possible permanent addition to the duo, instantly making it a three-o. My mind was flooded with questions. Was I going to have to get scented candles to cover the stale beer smell? Was I going to have to stock the fridge with a bunch of sissy coolers? Was I about to create some massive rift in the space time continuum?
Verse Three
Enter Meredith. She arrived first, and as we set up, I peered in fridge at the various assortment of obscure beers that populated it. Ryan and I had often referred to jam night as the “Gentlemen’s Beer Tasting Club” where it became a bit of a competition to see who could bring the most exotic brew to the table.
“Um…you want a beer Meredith?”
“I’m not a big beer drinker.” She says. “Have you got anything light?”
Uh oh. I sized her up at roughly 95 pounds soaking wet and ruled out the black 8% Scottish Ale, brewed in a whiskey cask. That might do her in.
“Weeell. I have Belgian Wheat Beer. It’s pretty cloudy, but it’s mild. It has coriander in it.”
Wrong answer. I cursed myself for not preparing with the coolers.
“Oh wait.” I said. “I’ve got red wine upstairs. How about that?”
Meredith consented to a small glass of red wine.
So there we were, the three of us, staring at each other expectantly, waiting for something to happen. I don’t remember what we played first, but she hung back from the microphone, not wanting to intrude on our already practiced routine. She sang quietly at first, too quietly. Eventually, Ryan and I both encouraged her to lean into it so we could hear her voice. That’s when it happened. Our normal raggedy harmonies were suddenly tied together with a sweet overtone that actually sounded the way it was supposed to. It was like pouring syrup all over the pancakes, smoothing out all the inconsistencies and turning something meh, into something good. By the end of the night Meredith had established herself as the harmony coach, assigning us our parts and helping us through the difficult spots using techniques from her church choir. Ryan and I were both grinning like fools whenever we nailed a three part harmony that before that night would have been unthinkable.
Verse Four
To date Meredith has not been put off by the endless guitar tuning and assorted technical problems that always seem to pop up each night. Nor is she horrified at our lack of singing ability, and in fact occasionally comments that we actually sound good. She still won’t drink robust Czechoslovakian ale, but one week she did have half a French beer, which is good progress on her part. That and we’ve grown kind of fond of her. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Top Ten "F____ you, old band" Albums

Bands can often be fragile organisms held together with the most tenuous of threads, waiting to collapse under the weight of accusations, creative differences, drugs, alcohol and general rock and roll craziness.  Sometimes the whole thing implodes and members go their separate ways and other times the restructuring consists of a single party either getting the boot or just walking away.  Once in a while, from the ashes will rise a creative effort from a solo member that is as good as, or better than anything done by the group as a whole. Something that garners “critical acclaim”. Something that sticks. Something where said former band member has the backing to say F@$% you old band, I don’t need you suckers.  The following list is in no particular order and rest assured does not contain the 1985 Mick Jagger release “She’s the Boss”.

10. Peter Gabriel – So

Apparently Peter Gabriel left Genesis on reasonably amicable terms, so perhaps he didn’t feel the need to say F@#$ you, and indeed “So” did not follow directly after his departure. It seems it took him a few years and a few albums to get warmed up. Before “So” there were sporadic bits of genius with Solsbury Hill, Je Sans Frontieres, Biko and Shock the Monkey, but it took “So” to pull things all together.  Top tracks on this one include Red Rain, In Your Eyes, Sledgehammer and Big Time. It was a commercial and critical success and lead to multi-platinum sales, video awards and Gabriel’s headlining the Amnesty International concerts. With “So” coming at a time when Genesis was in their “Invisible Touch” phase…it’s obvious that it wasn’t even really a fair fight.

9. John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band

John Lennon’s first solo release after the breakup of the Beatles does not contain the song Imagine.  While Imagine might be his legacy as a solo artist, this album shouldn’t be overlooked as a masterpiece in its absence. Here we get a real glimpse of Lennon and how great he could be without Paul McCartney as a writing partner. Stripped bare and void of any Beatles influence we are left with the real John Lennon.  It’s raw and at times painful as heard with Lennon screaming his guts out at the end of Mother. Other highlights are Working Class Hero, Well, Well, Well, and God . I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me...

8. Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive

Okay…this is a biggie, literally. Remember double albums?  Usually one of the records didn’t get played as much as you forged your allegiance to either side one and two or three and four.  This monster by Peter Frampton actually came several solo albums deep into his career after leaving Humble Pie. It is more of a greatest hits deal, with the most well-known tracks all having been previously released on studio albums. It took all of them together in one big concert package to take Peter Frampton to the top of the arenas, radio and high school parties everywhere in 1976.  Led by Show me the Way, Baby I Love Your Ways, and the iconic Do You Feel Like We Do, this defined his career, and in another sense ruined it, for the next 20 years.

7. Motorhead – Motorhead

Lemmy Kilmister was kicked out of Hawkwind in 1975 after being arrested for drugs at a border crossing from Detroit to Windsor. Two years later came the birth of Motorhead and the rest is history. Screw you Hawkwind…goddamn hippies.

6. Billy Idol – Billy Idol

Billy Idol said F@#$ U to the punk band Generation X and released his first solo album in 1982. From this solo effort came White Wedding, Hot in the City and Dancin’ With Myself (which was originally recorded for Generation X). Rebel Yell was released the following year and contained more hits, but it was the self-titled debut that originally cracked the market for Billy Idol.

6. John  Fogerty – Centerfield

After the acrimonious break up of CCR, John Fogerty released two low key albums in the seventies that did not chart well. He was embroiled in legal battles with his former band mates, and there was a third album that the record company refused to release. Then after a lengthy nine year recording hiatus, Centerfield appeared out of nowhere. It is filled with a collection of catchy  Fogerty-esque material including the The Old man down the Road, Rock and Roll Girls and the title track Centerfield.  Fogerty was vindicated when this went to #1 in the US.

5. Ozzy- Blizzard of Ozz

 Ozzy was kicked out of Black Sabbath in 1979 and went on to release Blizzard of Ozz the following year. With Ozzy, Black Sabbath had ruled the world of crunching doom rock for nearly a decade. Without him, they spiraled into a revolving door of lead singers and a whole bunch of forgettable albums. Ozzy teamed up Randy Rhoades and leapt out of the gates with what would eventually become a hard rock classic. Crazy Train, Mr. Crowley, and Goodbye to Romance provide the foundation to this monumental F@#% you.

4. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

Van Morrison quit the Belfast formed band Them in 1966, after scoring hits with Baby Please Don’t Go and Gloria. There was a solo album prior to Astral Weeks, but it was released without Van’s consent, so we’re going to ignore it. Astral Weeks never had mainstream success and remains somewhat obscure to most of the general listening public. It is sprawling and loose and the songs seem to meander aimlessly from one to the next. It can be overwhelming in its complexities as one searches for some type of grounding anchor. For some reason this makes it an absolute joy to listen to.

3. Janis Joplin – I Got Dem ol’  Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

Janis recorded two records as the lead singer with Big Brother and the Holding Company, but it wasn’t until Kozmic Blues that she took full control of her own band. Apparently members of Big Brother resented all the attention lavished on her and by her own account, Joplin wished to form her own soul music band. Whatever the reason, Kozmic Blues was the result and Big Brother essentially disappeared from the face of the earth. Kozmic Blues features the hits with Try (just a little bit harder), Kozmic Blues and To Love Somebody.

2. Neil Young – Neil Young, Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, After the Goldrush, Harvest

 In a creative burst of superhuman proportions,  Neil Young released these albums in rapid succession after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield. Take your pick.

1.Robbie Robertson – Robbie Robertson

 While I will never come to terms with Robbie Robertson putting an end to The Band, I must however give accolades to this release. The last couple of albums by The Band were a bit lackluster so this is a return to form by a great songwriter. Broken Arrow, Showdown at Big Sky, Somewhere Down That Crazy River and Testimony are among the highlights of this 1987 release.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Rockin' the "N" Word

Last week while driving to the cottage, I was on iPod compromise with the boy, meaning, I pick something from his iPod that I can stomach. Unfortunately, that leaves me with only two choices – Green Day and K’naan.  On that fine day, K’naan won out and so we cranked it up and rapped on down the highway. I'll have you know, I’m down with K’naan and I even know all the words to “I Come Prepared”. It has a filthy beat that hooks me in every time and before long, I get all gangsta yo, holding my imaginary gun sideways, pointing it at cars going in the opposite direction.
There are two “N” bombs in the song, and because the boy was in the car, I just left a pause where they would normally be sung. Kid’s in the back playing a video game, probably won’t even notice. Two problems here.
1.)    Never underestimate the ability of a ten year old boy to process 5 to 7 media applications at once.
2.)    Apparently the pause and ignore strategy only serves to highlight the word, because as soon as the song was over, it came up.
“Dad…isn’t n_ _ _ er a bad word?”
Oh lord, here we go. Maybe I can distract him and we’ll have the sex talk instead.
“Yes it’s a bad word. And if you want to refer to it, you should say the “N” word.”
“So why is it bad?”
 “Hmmm. Well way way back when African Americans were slaves in the US, white people used to refer to black people using that term. After that, it sort of stuck around and was used in a very hateful way by some white people. It’s a very insulting term and you should never use it.
“So why does K’naan say it? He’s from Africa you know. He’s African Canadian”
“Well son…it’s complicated. I think black people use it as a way of reclaiming the word.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know really. Hey, you want to know where babies come from?”
“Dad, c’mon…I already know that.”
“Okay… well, some black people feel it’s okay to use the “N” word to each other in a friendly way. Between black people, it would be like saying “buddy”, which kind of takes the sting out of the word.”
“Maybe they’re trying to make it into a good word?”
“No. Not exactly. Like I said it’s very complicated. You see, there is a bunch of white kids going around saying it now, but they think it’s okay because they don’t really know the history. In my books they’re still using a racist term and that’s not okay. Do you get it?”
“Sort of.”
“Well just don’t say it.”
And with that, we concluded round one of the “N” word life lessons. Talk about mixed messages for kids these days. When I was growing up, it was very cut and dry. If you said the “N” word, you were a giant racist. Run DMC weren’t dropping it fifty times in every song and you certainly didn’t see Theo Huxtable calling out his buddy coackroach with a “Whats up my n_ _ _a?”  I know kids have to sort these things out for themselves, but it ain’t easy in a time where hip hop culture is dominating the teens, tweens and beyond.
K’naan is pretty tame and let’s face it, radio friendly. I can hardly wait until he discovers the Wu Tang Clan.

Your homework, if you choose to accept it, is a radio friendly version of “I come Prepared.”

Monday, 11 June 2012

Prison Meeting

Sonny: Okay listen up guys…I’m calling this meeting of Cell Block Six to order.
Alright…first up I’d like to welcome back Mad Dog Morris, after his nearly successful release to the halfway house.

Mad Dog Morris:  Yeah…I had a hard time integrating back into society.

Sonny: You were only gone for 24 hours and you committed 17 parole violations.

Mad Dog Morris: I set fire to a photo hut too, but they didn’t pin that one on me.

Sonny: Well, better luck next time. Moving on, we say goodbye to Slick Jimmy who will be released tomorrow on condition that he stays away from retirement homes and the liquor store.

Slick Jimmy: Thanks Sonny, I’ve learned my lesson.

Sonny: Finally, we say goodbye to Johnny “The Snitch” Santicono, who unfortunately had that barbell fall on his throat last Thursday, may he rest in peace.
For this weeks door prize, Sergei and his crew have generously donated a jar of potato liquor and 10 cigarettes, so I’d like to call up Sergei to draw a name.

Sergei: We brew fresh in mop bucket. (Sergei pulls a name from the hat)
Winner is…Bam Bam.

Bam Bam: Wow…hey thanks guys. Sergei, no hard feelings about that incident in the yard last week?

Sergei: You stabbed Igor in thigh. Igor is very upset still, but I will talk with him.

Bam Bam: ‘preciate that comrade.

Sonny: Okay ladies let’s not get all mushy here. Okay, next we have the old trading post. (Pulls out list)
Lets see…Igor is requesting a shank, “suitable for stabbing in leg area”.
Sergei is looking for empty jars and is willing to trade 2 pounds of fertilizer and a homemade detonator.

Sergei: Jars must have lids.

Sonny: You heard the man. Lastly, Jodi is looking for some “strong cord, preferably piano wire”, and he’s willing to trade up to twenty five cigarettes for it.

Jodi: It’s actually J-Rock. Call me J-Rock.

Sonny: We’ve gone over this before Jodi. You can’t make up your own nickname. You have to wait until someone else starts calling you something other than Jodi.

Jodi: Dude…Sammy the Strangler has been calling me J-Rock for like, two weeks.

Sonny: (looks at Sammy) Did Jodi tell you he would get you piano wire if you would call him J-Rock?

Sammy: No, no...I ah…I just thought he’s a cool guy and I know he likes rocks so, you know…J-Rock.

Sonny: Whatever you say Sammy.
Right…last on the agenda is the suggestion box. I just want everyone to know that the suggestion box is a not a joke and it takes me a lot of time to go through all the notes each week. It is supposed to serve as a means of communication between prisoners and the warden, so when I get suggestions such as, “need fancier silverware in the dining room”, it’s not really helping anyone.

Sammy the Strangler: I was serious about that one. I hate using a spork.

Sonny: Well maybe if you hadn’t tried to shank Igor with your butter knife last year, you wouldn’t be in this predicament.

Igor: Why everyone always try to stab Igor?

Sonny: (pulls another suggestion from the box) Oh this one is good, I wonder who wrote it, “I think we should start calling Jodi, J-Rock, because he rocks hard. Hard as metal.”

Jodi: What? It was probably Sammy that wrote that.

Sonny: And what about this one? It just says, “Give me back my finger.”
That is not a constructive suggestion and P.S., Stumpy I know that was you.

Stumpy: I know one of you’se bastards picked it up off the wood shop floor that day.

Sonny: Look Stumpy, we’ve all lost a finger or two in the wood shop, but you’ve got to let it go. Okay, is there anything else? Mad Dog?

Mad Dog Morris: Yeah, well I was just wondering if I’m still on the schedule for bringing a door prize or did you take my name off when I was released.

Sonny: We knew you’d be back buddy.

Mad Dog Morris: (teary) Ah you guys…