03 September, 2011

"Listen nitwit, the last thing we need is a trigger-happy lunatic in charge! No, Mr. President, I wasn't talking to you."

There must be someone in Martha's Vinyard that can afford a video camera. It would make Obama look capable and leader-like if he just recorded his plan now and gets back to work instead of trying to schedule an appearance before Congress and all the rigmarole that entails.

If he really wants to go up against the Republican primaries, why not do that literally? Show up at the primary (or with teleconference) and take questions from the candidates. What's the worst that can happen, they ask about green jobs or his promise to be at 7% unemployment by now or "Fast and Furious" or Solyndra? He's a former community organizer who got elected President, surely he can take questions from a half-dozen American citizens.

Either way, he’d better have some damned brilliant ideas for reducing unemployment in his speech, ideas that were worth saving until the final third of his term in office. Last month jobs growth was the same as Bluto Blutarsky’s grade point average. [According to the documentary of Faber College available on the Double Secret Probation Edition of Animal House, Senator Blutarsky did reach the White House, so maybe it’s not such a coincidence.]

Obama's Secretary of Labor says she believes "we're going the right direction on jobs" so you know this is the administration that believes in smart power.

For months after returning from deployment, I made CDs for the car stereo in lieu of listening to the radio. At first they were Jim Steinman but after another deployment, I grew weary of Steinman and wished to spice things up with songs I’d acquired since enlisting. Songs that, to my mind, I’d never heard previously in a serious way. I didn’t have much access to amazon.com before and now I could enlarge the music collection tremendously.

Call it an appreciation for the album as an aesthetic creation or the compact disc as a technological innovation, but I’ve a fondness for picking favorite playlists.

Anyway, to my mind I’ve heard the songs properly and have been jumbling them up into jukebox-like CDs for a while now. The only rules were that no Jim Steinman would be permitted unless I hadn’t heard it before (which wasn’t a rule, just a general decision that enough was enough; I play him at work and on the computer) and they had to qualify as song I didn’t completely own pre-enlistment. “Mix tapes” didn’t count, so if I taped it off the radio pre-enlistment, I could hear an internet copy burned to disc and repeated in my car. Keep in mind, it didn’t matter how many times I’d heard the song, even pre-enlistment, only this new listening qualified for serious music appreciation.

Recently I burned a new set of discs and a lot of old favorites left the playlist. Let’s see what remains.

The first CD is the first two albums by Rush. I listened to the entire Rush collection when I bought it on amazon, but now I want to give their body of work a chance to seep in through repetitions in a six-disc player. I haven’t bothered up-grading to an ipod player because that’s just the way I am.

A song from their forthcoming album is included on disc 2, a new addition along with Roger Waters’ “Each Small Candle” and Billy Joel’s “Invention in C Minor” Eddie Van Halen sings and plays keyboards with Gary Cherone’s lyrics and backing vocals for “How Many Say I”, so far the final track on the final Van Halen album. All three are effectively among the last embers of each men’s recording careers. The other new addition after previous material’s purging is Sammy Hagar’s live version of “Give To Live” because the original is awesome but I heard it pre-enlistment.

His last album with VH provides “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” and “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)”, and HSAS album just before he joined VH gave us a cover of “Whiter Shade of Pale” that has been among my favorite tracks. I just listened to it a couple of hours ago before I ever thought of writing this.

“Christmas Canon Rock” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra works all year around, with its anthemic rock orchestra sound and gorgeous female lead vocals. I couldn’t tell you which classical composer’s work they appropriated, but I like the result the way I like Queen and Jim Steinman’s work, and power ballads and much classic rock. The Damn Yankees mixed Ted Nugent and Styx singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw for a similar one-hit wonder called “High Enough” which I’ve been enjoying for well over a year and the copy comes from the ‘best of the 80’s compilation on sale at the PX or Wal-Mart. Gene Chandler sings the gorgeous “Duke of Earl”, Phil Spector brings us “He’s A Rebel” which has inspired musical interludes. Like these two, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” is another long-time pop favorite I had never appreciated before.

I’d always like Linda Perry’s 4 Non Blondes album, and “Life in a Bottle” comes from her solo album a few years ago. “Hey Girl” is a cover song by Billy Joel to fill out his third Greatest Hits album (the first two are a double-disc set that is one of the biggest selling records of all time). He dabbled in classical music after the River of Dreams but (according to regular tour co-star Elton John) has nothing else to say in music. I’ve played “Hey Girl” before. It was one of the songs I tired of early but didn’t erase from the “Make More CDs” file.

“Making Love Out of Nothing at All” is a Jim Steinman demo of his hit with Air Supply, and the vocals are in a tolerable register. The production is enjoyably raw while suggesting the heights that it reached with Air Supply’s recording budget, and it’s technically *new* Steinman which is always good.

“I’m a Boinger” was one of the two tracks released on flex-disc with the relevant Bloom County collection which I listened to when it came out. The other one is also on these discs, but “I’m a Boinger” has such an awesome lead vocal and hilarious lyrics that it’s my favorite. Remember when records were used to promote things like this?

On disc 3, Sammy Hagar is well-represented with his original version of Rick Springfield’s early-80’s hit “I’ve Done Everything For You” and Sammy’s own last big hit to date, 1999’s “Mas Tequila”. Chickenfoot is represented with the gorgeous ballad “Learning To Fall”. Also his cover of “Free Money” from his late-70’s solo album is the song where I truly realized how awesome Sammy was (except as a lyricist but even he’ll admit that). His early-21st century advertisement for his tequila-bar empire involves a cover of Kenny Chesney’s “I Love This Bar”.

I’d always liked Paul McCartney’s first ‘failed debut single’, “My Brave Face” from 1989, Bill Medley’s “Most Of All You” ballad that played at the end of the first Major Leagues movie, Petula Clark’s “Downtown", Tom Petty’s songwriting partnership with Bob Dylan “You’re Jammin’ Me”, Enya’s “Epona” and “Exile” (as heard in Steve Martin’s L.A. Story) and the Proclaimer’s weird-scottsmen-with-irrestistibly-catchy-melody “I’m Gonna Be (500) Miles)” doing what Dexy’s Midnight Runners did a decade before. All of these I have enjoyed for many months, since I first forsake old Steinman, and heard only in incomplete form before enlistement.

Post-enlistment first-hears, “Beautiful Dangerous” featuring Fergie continues to be a standout track from Slash’s self-titled debut album, and “Catcher in the Rye” retains its enjoyability and quality from Axl’s rival album. “Fall To Pieces” is an enjoyable song Slash co-wrote between G’n’R and what he’s doing now, and about the only listenable Scott Weiland singing I’ve ever heard. Linda Perry’s album gives us two more songs, “Fruitloop Daydream” and “Knock Me Out”.

I’ve recently become a big fan of guitarist Jeff Beck, who first came to prominence replacing Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds and hired Jimmy Page to replace him in turn. Beck and Page were and are longtime friends, and “Beck’s Bolero” is one of the fruits of that friendship. The two guitarists booked studio time to record something. They wanted the Who’s rhythm section of John Entwistle and Keith Moon, but could only get Moon so Page turned to session player John Paul Jones for bass duties. They even talked about forming a band, which Moon said would go down like a lead balloon, or zeppelin or something. Page formed his band, and Beck had an erratic career starting with the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart as the lead singer who went solo. “Beck’s Bolero” is still outstanding.

In the re-release of their catalogue, little looks promising in the way of unheard material from Queen. The a capella opera section from “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a stand-out that continues to amaze, but not much else of worth has been released so far. Steven Tyler’s debut single as a solo artist is a gorgeous ballad called “Love Lives” that justifies him as a singer and (almost) the years of silence we’ve heard since Aerosmith’s last album. He wants to do pop music, as his appearances on American Idol demonstrate and his power ballad stylings during the 80’s were no exception. He’s also the guy who wrote “Mama Kin”, so cut him some slack.

More of the final Van Hagar album gives us “Amsterdam” and “The Seventh Seal”, the latter of which is an awesomely atmospheric hurricane of sound. Eddie the keyboard player and guitar player and producer fights to overcome Sammy. (I think it’s a draw, but I’m not sure who called it). These are fairly new additions as is Sammy’s hilarious “Sam I Am” accounting of his career to date. “Up For Breakfast”, “It’s About Time” and “Learning to See” are the three completed tracks from a few short years later when they reunited with Hagar.

The b-side of Rush’s earlier single “BU2B” is new, as is “Waltz #1 (Nunley’s Carousel)” by Billy Joel, John Phillips Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” and “Suicide is Painless” from the original M*A*S*H movie. Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s new inclusion is “Wish Liszt”, where they play the musical piece,. Best known today from the scene where Daffy and Donald battle it out in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “Hungarian Rhapsody” by Liszt was favored in old Disney and Warners cartoons and although the TSO does a great job, it falls flat in places (nyuck nyuck). There are places where I think they would have done better to sound like, I dunno, “Christmas Canon”.

A remixed Elvis song became a big hit in England, “A Little Less Conversation” and helped promote 30 #1s in 30 years, Elvis’ anniversary celebrations. I bought the album in AIT and still enjoy “Conversation”. Axl Rose gives us the official “Street of Dreams”, which I’d heard prior to enlistment as “The Blues”. Still one of my favorites of his though. “Ghost” has Slash’s reunion with Izzy Stradlin and is awesome. SSG Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets” has featured exactly the sort of build-up I like in my popular music, and I have a personal connection to the unit it was written for. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” is a powerful bass voice of resentment and lament. Ellen Foley maneuvered her vocals on “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and girlfriendship to the Clash’s guitarist that she recorded a few solo albums with some quality material. “In the Killing Hour” is the one I haven’t grown tired of yet, a powerful bolero performance.

Oddly, I’d heard Roxette’s “Crash Boom Bang” pre-enlistment, but I’d never liked it before, so I qualify it as new. An awesome power ballad with a gorgeous vocal and atmospheric keyboards, it’s just a great pop song.

“The Night Chicago Died” is a quirky one-hit wonder, a retelling of a battle between the police and Al Capone with a great call-and-response vocal.

Queen’s rereleases also include the backing track from “You’re My Best Friend”, a standout hit in that it was written by their bass-player and the follow-up A-side to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I had always thought it a pleasant pop tune, but quite low on my list of favorite Queen songs. Now, hearing it without Freddie’s lead vocals reveals what an extremely talented band Queen were. It’s an outstanding performance and eventually I’ll get around to listening to Freddie’s vocal again. Probably not soon though.

Disc 5 has the two Red Hot Chili Peppers songs I’ve enjoyed since discovering they had a career before “Under the Bridge” (all pre-enlistment). “By the Way” and “Californication” demonstrate the singer’s ability as a lyricist to manage complicated rhymes. There aren’t a whole lot of tools available to the lyric writer, but ability to form coherent polysyllabic thoughts is one of them. I’d heard the songs when they were new, but now I could buy my own copies.

Elvis had “If I Can Dream” for his comeback, Sammy had “Silver Lights” for his start and “Returning of the Wish” from the same album as “Mas Tequila”, Queen also sold the instrumental tracks of “Seven Seas of Rhye” which I love for the same reason as “You’re My Best Friend”, and “Tie Your Mother Down” which is a brand-new addition to this series of discs that I haven’t yet heard properly. G’n’R has “There Was A Time”, Heart had “Stranded”, longtime favorites, there’s this awesome punk cover of “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” that still makes me sing “10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or more, the bloody Red Baron was rolling the score” every time it comes on as it has for months as well.

Two more Sammy songs, one of which I’ve listened to for a couple months is his acoustic rendition of “Dreams” post-VH, and a new one from the same album, “When It’s Love”. His HSAS album also gives us “Missing You” and “Top of the Rock”
Metallica’s “The Unforgiven” continues to be my favorite song of their since I was in high school. Years later, I hated what they did to it with “Unforgiven II”. Now that I can buy stuff legally, I might as well drop a buck on “Unforgiven III” from their latest album which has in common with its predecessors the chord sequences and the general Metallica sound which is worth a buck in my opinion. The Eagles give us “Live in the Fast Lane” which is one of the few songs from the band I really really like.

Billy Joel’s demo “The Prime Of Your Life” is extremely enjoyable. He doesn’t have the lyrics finished yet, although they’re surprisingly developed. It’s light years away from what was eventually released as the vocal-heavy “The Longest Time” with an entirely-different vocal melody and musical approach.

Disc 6 is mostly songs that have come into and dropped out of my listening habits lately. Linda Perry’s “Uninvited” and Sammy’s live “Right Now” are brand-new, as is Jeff Beck’s “Diamond Dust” instrumental (with George Martin’s production).

Def Leppard’s “Two Steps Behind” (about the only song post-Adrenalize I really liked), Queen+Paul Rodgers “We Believe” (my other favorite from the album, so far Brian May’s final Queen composition as far as I’m concerned. He can produce stuff for others, or play with Roger, but all of his other new songs are variations on the “Butterfly” chord sequence, as was the final song Queen recorded with John (for which I travelled to England for a copy), and make up a large part of bootleg Queen songs since “Save Me”. He may have written all the keyboard ballads there were in him.

The release from Roy Orbison’s album at the time he died was “I Drove All Night”, that’s brand new. “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” by Prince was absent for a number of discs before re-appearing (its video was directed by Spike Lee in exchange for funding the Malcom X movie, and probably Prince’s conflicts with Warner Bros’ demands for a single.

Slash’s “Starlight” and Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” have been fixtures since I first started burning these discs, as has the 80’s sounding remake of “Ballad of the Green Beret”. “Stray Cat Strut” was briefly included but not yet erased and appears again. Sammy’s iconic song “Red” is included, as is 1999’s “Red Voodoo”. 1989 brought us Brian May, Roger Taylor, David Gilmour, Tony Iommi and others for a guitar hero’s remake of “Smoke on the Water”, and I’ve enjoyed it for a couple months now, along with a previously-unreleased Steinman demo or a previously-unreleased Steinman song, “Train of Love” sounds like a Motown song. Weird Al’s new album has the Un-Steinman “Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me” which I’ve enjoyed since its release date. John Phillips Sousa was also paid to write something by the Washington Post, hence the name of the march.

That’s what I’m listening to these days. When I’ve burned out on a number of these tracks, I’ve made 2 more Rush CDs taking up more of their early career. By the time I get tired of these, I’ll have winnowed them down to a few favorite songs and making further compilations of their body of work will be manageable.

I have more live Sammy Hagar, but enough is enough on him as well in many ways. I also have a couple of songs by AC-DC that I’ve never liked, but they were big hits and it’s important to have them. There’s the first couple albums by Big Star, another one of those bands nobody’s ever heard of but became influential, they forged the ‘power pop’ sound prominent post-grunge and briefly flirted with being somebodies. They didn’t bear up to repeated listening and it’s only inertia that has kept me from erasing them.

I like to think my email to Jim@JimSteinman.com had something to do with the release of unheard demos, and I have a number of them yet unburned to disc. (including "Train of Love" with Steinman singing) I don’t even have all of Sammy’s albums, or VH’s and I’m running out of interest in burning what’s left. I’ve listened to it, and HSAS/Van Hagar will probably filter in to the disc sooner-or-later. Chickenfoot has a new album coming out and Joe Satriani’s first album will probably come back into my rotation as well. Most of the parodies on Weird Al’s album I wouldn’t recognize as parodies if I didn’t know it was Al. The original songs are certainly worth paying for. I had a yen to own much of John Phillips Sousa’s work and only a few tracks have been represented.

There are Sammy songs I like and will probably return to favor, stuff with Montrose or live versions of VH songs. Some of his covers are more annoying than others. There’s still more of Linda Perry’s solo album, and she’s since gone on to write for other chick singers. A few other Queen demos from their debut album which have great merit but I got tired of them. I got tired of Brian May’s young female singer more quickly, as I tired of Ellen Foley’s best songs (including a 3-song EP which I gather is quite recent). A few Bette Midler songs are charming, most of them written by Sammy. The original cast album tracks from Jesus Christ, Superstar remain as enjoyable now as when I was a kid.

Males using female vocalists are represented in work I’ve recently removed from the discs, tracks like Ike and Tina’s long-playing “Proud Mary” and “River Deep, Mountain High”. Ike’s own “Rocket 88” was removed early on, as were the Shangri-La’s “Remember (Walking In the Sand) - later remade awesomely by Aerosmith - , the Spanish version of “Crash Boom Bang” (Roxette is Swedish! It’s same instrumental tracks! Awesome!) and “Soy Una Mujer” (which topped the pop charts as “Fading Like A Flower” in my younger days). Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” may one day reappear, as might Linda Rondstadt and whoever’s “You’re No Good”. Phil Spector and whoever’s “And Then He Kissed Me” may return sooner. “Sowing the Seeds of Love” was a hit by Tears For Fears in the late 80’s that was on tapes I dubbed from the radio first, and maintained another impressive run rarely equaled in this collection of songs. There’s something so distinctly 1980’s and British about trying to be 1960s and American and inspired by 1960s English stars… But I enjoyed the song for all my misbegotten youth and for the last year as well. Dennis Wilson’s “Friday Night” gives a stark other side to the Beach Boy’s life and I like it very much, as does the other Enya track from L.A. Story that didn’t make the cut for this round of CD burnings. The rest are similar novelty tracks, show tunes, covers or mashes, funny or surprising.

I wish I could have included the tv theme songs but Windows seems to have some aversion to certain wmv files being burnt to CD. The long-version of the “Sanford and Son” theme is outstanding.

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