Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Retro Video of the Week: "We Are The World" by USA for Africa

Thirty years ago tonight, around 50 musicians and entertainers, collectively calling themselves USA for Africa, gathered at A&M Studios in Hollywood to record "We Are The World."  As any fellow child of the '80s knows, this song was massive.  Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, it is a philanthropic anthem to provide food and other support to several countries in Africa that had been ravaged by famine.  I won't bother going through a list of everyone who sang on the song, but you can click here to see the list.  It's a veritable who's who of '80s pop/rock stars and actors.  Of the 43 singers (soloists and chorus members), 20 are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or Country Music Hall of Fame.  I remember watching the video as a kid and being amazed that all of these gigantic stars got together in one room.  The song hit #1 in 17 countries and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.  More importantly, it has helped raise over $60 million for African humanitarian relief.  I think my favorite part is the back and forth between Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder starting around the 4:55 mark.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday Top Ten: Concerts of 2014

I didn't go to as many shows in 2014 as I have in previous years, but it was still a pretty solid year in live music for me.  The year started out slow.  There wasn't much of interest in the first quarter of the year, and I didn't go to my first concert until mid April.  But the middle and end of the year made up for it, with a cadre of great live performances.  With tickets purchased for Billy Idol, Neil Diamond, and Foo Fighters thus far, 2015 is also shaping up to be a good one.  But before 2014 gets too far from us, here is how I would rank the twelve concerts I attended in 2014 (not including the shows I saw at Lollapalooza, which are separately ranked here):

12.  Wolfmother, Metro, May 2
I have been waiting for a Wolfmother tour for several years after I saw them at Lolla many years ago (and since I enjoy their music).  This was a great show with a lot of energy.

11.  The Gaslight Anthem, Aragon, October 16
TGA is a favorite of mine, and they always put on a good show.  The Aragon is the largest venue I've seen them in, and they adequately rocked the house.

10.  Foxy Shazam and Larry's Flask, Lincoln Hall, June 21
Opener Larry's Flask was a pleasant surprise, as kind of a folk punk type outfit that tore the roof off the place, just in time for headliner Foxy Shazam to do the same.  I have seen Foxy Shazam a few times, and each time they have not disappointed, proving that rock and roll is still alive and can still save your soul.

9.  Cage the Elephant and Foals, Aragon, May 14
We actually went to this show to see J. Roddy Walston & The Business, who was the first opener, but we received incorrect information about when the show was supposed to start, so Foals was on when we got there.  It was a bummer, but Cage the Elephant made up for it.  Between opening for other bands, seeing them at Lollapalooza, and this show, I have now seen them probably four or five times, and I feel like they get better every time I see them.  They know how to work a crowd into a frenzy.

8.  Ghost and King Dude, The Vic, April 19
Swedish metal band Ghost (also known as Ghost B.C. in the US) is a must-see, even if you don't like metal.  If you aren't familiar, the identities of the band members are unknowns.  The lead singer, Papa Emeritus II, dresses up as what I would call an evil pope, wearing clerical robes and skeleton face paint.  The rest of the band members are referred to as Nameless Ghouls, and they wear black robes and black masks.  Papa is charismatic, and talks to the crowd in a polite Swedish manner in between songs, even if many of his songs are about Satan.

7.  Jack White, Auditorium Theatre, July 24
My only other concert experience at the Auditorium Theatre was seeing Smashing Pumpkins in probably 2009 or 2010, and I left with a sour taste in my mouth, mainly due to Billy Corgan's uneven performance.  While weird and musically talented in his own ways, Jack White is not Billy Corgan.  Thus, this show was great.  Its luster was a little bit diminished by the fact that he played for three and a half hours the night before, but only played for two hours when we saw him.  Nonetheless, it was nice mix of his solo stuff, White Stripes, Raconteurs, and covers, ending the encore with Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene."

6.  J. Roddy Walston & The Business and Pujol, Metro, September 18
5.  J. Roddy Walston & The Business and Pujol, Schuba's, July 31
I'm just going to count these two shows as one for purposes of this list.  The July show was a Lollapalooza "aftershow," even though it was technically the night before Lolla started.  Schuba's is one of my favorite venues in Chicago, and J. Roddy Walston & The Business is one of my favorite newer bands, so the combination was perfect.  The opener, Pujol, was also pretty damn good, which was an added bonus.  In fact, we liked the line-up so much we saw them again a month and a half later at the Metro.  Pujol got a haircut.  
Here's a video of an excerpt of "Brave Man's Death" from the July show.

4.  Def Leppard and KISS, First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, August 16
Two of the best live acts of the last 30-40 years and two of my favorite bands in one venue?  Yes, please.  Both bands played for 90 minutes, which was perfect.

3.  Mötley Crüe and Alice Cooper, First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, August 8
Due to the tardiness of a limo a few years ago, I missed all but one song of Alice Cooper's set when they opened for Iron Maiden.  We took no chances this year and arrived in plenty of time.  Alice Cooper was as good as I had hoped.  His stage show is a wonderfully macabre mixture of music, art, theater, and guillotines.  And he was just the opener!  Mötley Crüe did not disappoint on their final tour as a band.  They have put on a great show every time I've seen them, and they went overboard for their final tour.  Most impressive was Tommy Lee's Crüecifly, which is basically a giant rollercoaster track that carries Lee and his drum set into the crowd, while constantly rotating him forward.  I took a video of Tommy's entire 10-minute drum solo ride on the Crüecifly, but it would take about a day to upload to YouTube, so I can't share it with you.  It's rare to see a sellout crowd of 25,000+ at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre (at least with the bands I see there), but this one was packed to the gills, which I think is a testament to both of the bands.

2.  The Hold Steady, Concord Hall, July 2
These guys have been one of my favorite bands for nearly a decade, and thanks to a charity pledge drive the band spearheaded, drummer Bobby Drake (who is also a certified mechanic) came to my house the day of the show and changed my oil, or at least he would have if I had the right tools.  
And then we got backstage passes for the show.  The show was great (as every Hold Steady show is).  I've never had backstage passes before, so I was geeked.  Despite the best efforts of a security guy at Concord Hall (who tried to tell us that, because it was an all-ages show, everyone had to leave the venue right after the show), we got to drink some beers backstage with the band after the show.  
Even better, we went down the block to a bar called the Green Eye, where we talked with Craig Finn for a few minutes.  Jessie was ecstatic.
This show was going to top my list until . . .

1.  KISS, The Joint (Las Vegas), November 14
Paul Stanley took my picture.  Game over.

Monday, January 26, 2015

New Book: Bowie: A Biography by Marc Spitz

Before the New Year, I finished reading Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan.  Predictably, it was funny.  It was about Gaffigan's plight as a father of five, living in a two-bedroom apartment in New York.  If you are a parent of small children and enjoy laughing, I recommend it.

After the New Year, I started Bowie:  A Biography by Marc Spitz.  As the title implies, it is a biography of David Bowie.  It seems appropriate and timely after I went to the Bowie Is exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the beginning of the month.  Thus far, it's pretty good.  Even though I'm a fan of his music, I admittedly don't know much about Bowie's personal life, aside from the fact that he was bisexual and married Iman.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Bad Lip Reading NFL 2015 Edition

If you've ever seen any of the NFL "bad lip reading" videos before, then you know how funny they are.  Here is the 2015 edition.  Enjoy.  Don't drink anything while you're watching this.

Listen to Hair Band Friday - 1/23/15

Hair Band Friday - 01/23/15 by GMYH on Grooveshark

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Midwestern Eavesdropping

Thirtysomething female teacher, to someone with an upset stomach:  "Do you have Montessori's Revenge?"
--Chicago
Eavesdropper:  The Loose-Lipped Lithuanian

Retro Video of the Week: "Sell Out" by Reel Big Fish

I heard "Sell Out" by Reel Big Fish the other day on the radio for the first time in probably five years, so that seems like as good a reason as any to use it as this week's Retro Video of the Week.  For you youngsters, the genre of music this falls into is called "ska," which is characterized by a fusion of punk and reggae/dub, horn sections, and large bands often including one guy whose role is just to dance.  For approximately a year or so in the mid '90s, ska pressed itself into the mainstream, led by Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt (kind of), Sublime, Less Than Jake, and Reel Big Fish.  The latter's "Sell Out" managed to get to #10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks charts in 1997.  It's still catchy.  Here's the video.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday Top Ten: Jokes Only Simpsons Will Find Funny

Sorry for the lack of posting over the last week.  I spent most of the last six days traveling via monorail to and from the Osaka Seafood Concern, where I visited a couple of my friends, both named Bort.  With all the kalkalash stands we hit, I didn't have time to come up with my own Tuesday Top Ten.  Thankfully, I found something better than anything I would have created.  

Earlier today, I saw an article entitled "29 Jokes Only Simpsons Fans Will Find Funny" on The Facebook.  It's quite good.  I have chuckled audibly several times today thinking about the last one.

I know what you're thinking:  "But GMYH, what other Simpsons-related pictures or situations would you like to see?"  Here you go:  (1) an actual "I choo choo choose you" Valentine's Day card; (2) a picture of a rotund blond German child in lederhosen with a face covered in chocolate sitting next to the remains of a science fair project; (3) a hymn book with a hymn entitled "In the Garden of Eden" by I. Ron Butterfly; (4) someone playing the word "Kwyjibo" during a game of Scrabble; (5) left handed scissors; and (6) crab juice next to Mountain Dew.  There's your answer, fish bulb.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday Top Ten: Cover Songs The Cover Artist Made Its Own

As you probably know, Joe Cocker died a couple weeks ago.  Cocker made a career out of transforming other artists' songs into his own, scoring Top 40 hits in the U.S. and/or UK with his covers of "With a Little Help From My Friends" (The Beatles), "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" (The Beatles), "The Letter" (The Box Tops), "Cry Me a River" (Julie London), "Feeling Alright" (Traffic), "Midnight Rider" (The Allman Brothers Band), "You Are So Beautiful" (Billy Preston), and "Unchain My Heart" (Ray Charles), among others.

He was able to add his own arrangements, style, and flair to most of those songs to essentially make them into his own.  Cocker's death got me thinking about songs that have been covered so successfully that the cover version of the song is what most people think of when they hear the song title.  Hence, this Tuesday Top Ten:  cover songs that the cover artists made their own.  These are songs that might make you say, "I didn't even know that was a cover!"  And yes, you will say it with enough enthusiasm to merit an exclamation mark.

Before I get to my list, I would like to make a few explanatory comments:

1.  I'm excluding covers of blues songs, since there are so many of them, and I've already done a Tuesday Top Ten about blues covers.  Likewise, I'm excluding "traditional" songs or new takes on old standards or pre-rock-and-roll-era songs ("Just a Gigolo" or "House of the Rising Sun," for example)

2.  This list will only include well-known covers that have been recorded and released by the cover artist.  Sure, when I hear "So Lonely" by The Police, I think of the fantastic cover version often played live by my favorite college band, King Konga, but you probably don't make that connection.

3.  This list will not include songs where the original version is just as famous as the cover version.  Songs that come to mind that would fall into this category would be "Mony Mony," which was a #3 song in the US and #1 song in the UK for Tommy James and the Shondells 13 years before it was a Billboard #1 song for Billy Idol.  Chart success of the original or cover isn't necessarily the deciding factor, but the cover should be the song that people of all ages overwhelmingly think of when they see the song title.  In this respect, even though I think "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston is far more recognizable than Dolly Parton's original, I put it in the honorable mention category, rather than the Top Ten, since Parton's version hit #1 twice on the Billboard country charts and was featured in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

4.  This isn't a list of my favorite cover songs or cover songs that I necessarily think are better than the original (although if it's on this list, the cover version is probably better than the original).  Rather, it is my ranking of songs where I think the cover version is instantly more recognized and/or more iconic than the original version.

With that, here is my list, with the song and cover artist, along with the original artist in parentheses).  I'm just going alphabetically by artist.  In the playlist below, I am including both the original version and the cover version.  As you can see from the honorable mention, there were a lot of great songs to choose from, and narrowing the list down to ten was tough.

Honorable Mention:  "Twist and Shout" by The Beatles (The Isley Brothers); "Hard to Handle" by The Black Crowes (Otis Redding); "China Girl" by David Bowie (Iggy Pop); "Superstar" by The Carpenters (Delaney & Bonnie); "Hurt" by Johnny Cash (Nine Inch Nails); "Crazy" by Patsy Cline (Willie Nelson); "Killing Me Softly With His Song" by Roberta Flack (Lori Lieberman); "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye or Creedence Clearwater Revival (The Miracles); "Got My Mind Set On You" by George Harrison (James Ray); "Alone" by Heart (I-Ten); "Hey Joe" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (The Leaves); "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston (Dolly Parton); "Me and Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin (Kris Kristofferson); "Love Hurts" by Nazareth (The Everly Brothers); "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor (The Family); "Mustang Sally" by Wilson Pickett (Mack Rice); "Blue Suede Shoes" by Elvis Presley (Carl Perkins); "Cum On Feel the Noize" by Quiet Riot (Slade); "Unchained Melody" by The Righteous Brothers (Todd Duncan); "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell (Gloria Jones); "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" by The Temptations (The Undisputed Truth); "Wild Thing" by The Troggs (The Wild Ones); "Proud Mary" by Ike and Tina Turner (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

1.  "Piece of My Heart" by Big Brother and The Holding Company (Erma Franklin)
In 1967, Erma Franklin released "Piece of My Heart" and had moderate success, as the song cracked the Top Ten of the U.S. R&B charts.  Perhaps as karmic repayment for her sister's transformation of "Respect" (see below), in 1968, Big Brother and The Holding Company took "Piece of My Heart" and turned it into a masterpiece for the ages, with Janis Joplin, in my opinion, putting forth one of the greatest vocal performances in rock and roll history.  When you think of Janis Joplin, this is one of the two of three songs you think of.  Unfortunately for Erma Franklin, I'd venture to say that very few people know (or care) she sang the original version.

2.  "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash (Anita Carter)
This one was a shocker.  Until yesterday, I had no idea "Ring of Fire" was a cover song, but alas, it was recorded first by Cash's future sister-in-law, Anita Carter.  The original version is a folky, ethereal acoustic song.  The legend goes that Cash had a dream in which he heard the song accompanied by horns.  He gave Carter's original song a few months and, when it wasn't a hit, he recorded his now-instantly-recognizable version.

3.  "The Twist" by Chubby Checker (Hank Ballard & The Midnighters)
"The Twist" is a tale of kismet if you've ever heard one.  In 1959, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters released "The Twist" as a B-side, and it nonetheless got up to #28 on the Billboard charts in 1960.  When Dick Clark wanted to book the group to sing the song on American Bandstand, they were unavailable.  Clark then searched for a local artist to sing the song on the show, finding Cubby Checker because his voice was similar to Ballard's.  Checker sang the song on the show, then recorded it, and it shot up to #1.  "The Twist" was the number one song on Billboard's list of songs from the Hot 100's first 50 years.  I remember hearing or reading a story about Ballard hearing the song on the radio and thinking it was him singing, but it was actually Checker.  It wasn't all bad news for Ballard, though, since he is the man who wrote it, so he could thank Checker for plenty of royalty checks.

4.  "With a Little Help From My Friends" by Joe Cocker (The Beatles)
This list was inspired by Cocker, and more narrowly, by Cocker's cover of The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends."  The original version was the second track on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, with Ringo tackling the vocals (as Billy Shears).  It's an under-three-minute, clean poppy song.  A year later, Cocker completely changed the song, slowing it down, stretching it to over five minutes, and adding soul, backing vocals, and that now famous organ-and-guitar intro (featuring Jimmy Page on guitar!).  His most famous song -– at least for anyone who has ever seen the Woodstock film or The Wonder Years –- is spectacular.  I'm hard-pressed to say anything ill about The Beatles, but Cocker's version just blows the original out of the water.  It makes me want to try to make out with Winnie Cooper, but then blow it because I'm too nervous, so instead I'll say something stupid and my voice will crack.

5.  "Respect" by Aretha Franklin (Otis Redding)
"R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Find out what it means to me."  That now-instantly-recognizable line is not in Otis Redding's 1965 original version, which is more of a standard, Stax/Volt Memphis soul song than what Aretha Franklin turned the song into in 1967.  It went from a song sung from the point of view of a desperate man asking his woman for respect to a song sung from the point of view of a strong woman demanding respect from her man (and getting it).  This song is Aretha.

6.  "All Along the Watchtower" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Bob Dylan)
It would be impossible to have a list about cover songs that are more recognizable than the original without including "All Along the Watchtower," which is arguably Hendrix's most popular song.  Hendrix took a folky song, rearranged it a little (in the musical sense, not spatially), and electrified it as only he could, with blistering guitars and soulful vocals.  Hendrix's version is so good that you forget that arguably the best songwriter ever wrote the lyrics.

7.  "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (Arrows)
Until doing some research for this post, I had no idea this was a cover song.  I was a little surprised, since this is essentially Jett's anthem.  Originally recorded in 1975 by British rock band Arrows, it was written in response to the Rolling Stones' "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)."  Jett heard the song while touring with the Runaways in 1976, and recorded it in 1981, when it shot to #1 on the Billboard charts for seven weeks.  I honestly can't imagine anyone but Joan Jett singing this song.

8.  "Blinded By The Light" by Manfred Mann (Bruce Springsteen)
"Wrapped up like a douche," or so it sounds like.  With that garbled line, Manfred Mann turned an unsuccessful Springsteen single from his 1973 debut album into a #1 song in 1977.  In case you're wondering -– and I know you are –- the actual line is "revved up like a deuce," which Manfred Mann changed from Springsteen's original line, "cut loose like a deuce."  Aside from that, Manfred Mann extends the song and fills it out considerably with bigger vocals and more instruments.

9.  "Black Magic Woman" by Santana (Fleetwood Mac)
Before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac was a British '60s blues band, born out of the ashes of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.  In 1968, they recorded and released "Black Magic Woman," which became a minor hit in the UK.  Two years later, Santana recorded the funky, Latin rock version song that you now know to be "Black Magic Woman," which was on their fantastic third album, Abraxas.  Santana's version climbed all the way up to #4 on the Billboard charts, making it Santana's highest-charting single until the 1999 megahit collaboration with Rob Thomas, "Smooth."

10.  "Red Red Wine" by UB40 (Neil Diamond)
Did you even know this was a Neil Diamond song?  For many years, I sure didn't.  UB40, like Joe Cocker, was another one of those acts that made a living off of cover songs, with a reggae flavor, which usually meant that they added a distinctive take on the song (unlike a traditional cover).  More than any other UB40 song, "Red Red Wine" stands out, not only because it went to #1 on the Billboard charts, but also because, unlike many of their other successful covers ("(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You," "I Got You Babe" (with Chrissie Hynde), "The Way You Do the Things You Do," and "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)"), the cover version is far more popular and recognizable than the original.  Even Neil Diamond has said that this is one of his favorite cover versions of his songs.
Top Ten Cover Songs The Cover Artist Made Its Own by GMYH on Grooveshark