Saturday, February 28, 2009

Orange you glad?

As my final, quota matching, post of the month, I would just like to mention my immense satisfaction over the return of the traditional Tropicana Orange Juice Carton. As a life long drinker of Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice, I shared the dismay and disappointment with my fellow drinkers when we came across the needless abomination of packing design that was the new Tropicana logo. I grew up with the timeless orange straw logo and even once attempted (with complete futility) to actually drink the juice out of an orange via straw. Instead of the classic straw speared orange that greeted us at the refrigerated juice aisle for all those years, we were exposed to a generic piece of re-branding gone wrong that failed to even clearly distinguish "no pulp" to "extra pulp" without effort.

The fact that, we the consumer were able to voice a strong enough opinion on these new packages to force a change by parent Pepsi Co. provided me with an encouraging glimmer of faith in our democracy and our capitalist system; two basic elements of the American experience that haven't seen the best of times in recent years. Perhaps this minor victory for the juice loving public will be the first of many momentum shifting victories that'll help turn the tide of these tough economic times to a better, brighter future. At the very least, we'll have a nice satisfying glass of orange juice before facing those challenges ahead.

Also, in addition to this week's defeat in the court of general juice opinion there was also the stunning revelation that the Obama team was clearly going the other way in the Pepsi challenge. These two defeats in one week for Pepsi Co should give some indication among the top brass that this major branding overhaul was just a worthless, expensive quagmire. Let's turn that logo back to its proper alignment!

Gold Digging, part 3: Top 40 Treasures

We officially enter the halfway mark as we wrap up the third and final disc of my first A.M. Gold box set. We've heard both "radio gems" and "pop classics", but Time-Life now enters unprecedented levels of non-specificity with "Top 40 Treasures"; thus opening the door to essentially every possible song that was a hit in the 60s and 70s. At least we can gleam from the ambiguous title that there won't be any non-top 40 hits (although that's not much of a shocker given that they have yet to include any songs that charted outside of the top ten).

All that glitters is gold!:

1. "I Can Help" - Billy Swan (1974) #1
This was one of those Country/Pop crossover hits that were surprisingly frequent in the 70s, and which made up a significant chunk of the A.M. Gold genre. It's a happy little A.M. pop nugget, nothing remarkably good or bad about it. I'll leave it on if it comes on the radio, but I won't crank it up. Also, am I the only one who construes the "it would sure do me good to do you good" to be dirtier than it should be?

2. "Jackie Blue" - Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1975) #3
Now here's a true A.M. Gold classic! A strange, country flavored, funk-light, smooth jam with a classically cool delivery. It's a wholly unique single that can only really be classified as a product of the diverse A.M. Gold era. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, in addition to having one of the most awesome band names ever, has one of the most distinct sounds of any band from the the period. While their technical label may have been "Southern Rock", songs like "Jackie Blue" gave them a unique, almost prog-rock edge. One of the better descriptions, given by wikipedia, is a "countrified Steely Dan".

3. "Green-Eyed Lady" - Sugarloaf (1970) #3
Here's another pop rock pillar of the A.M. Gold canon. The CD actually had the 3 plus minute radio edit of the song. It really should be enjoyed in its original 7 minute plus version. Any song with prominent jazz organs should be a minimum six minutes long (will someone please direct me to the "Walking on the Sun" 12 inch mix?). The length really sets it apart from most of its A.M. Gold contemporaries but once again that unique sound can only be categorized as pure gold.

4. "Sooner or Later" - The Grass Roots (1970) #9
I consider "Sooner or Later" to be one of the best, straight forward pop love songs of all time. There are no subtle innuendos or elaborate metaphors to muddy up the message. The whole effort is simplicity itself, with about 75% of the tune being the chorus hammering home the hypnotic mantra of capitulating to the inevitable power of love. I'm surprised this song never became a staple of generic romantic comedy soundtracks or trailers along the lines of Natalie Cole's "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)". It really sums up the entire premise of all romantic comedies that despite all efforts to resist, everyone falls in love in the end. It's a perfect capper of a song to play while they roll the end credits.

5. "Black and White" - Three Dog Night (1972) #1
You definitely can't have an A.M. Gold compilation without some Three Dog Night. I consider them to be the most successful pure A.M. Gold band of all time. Looking over their discography, I am surprised at how varied and successful they really were. "Black and White", their preachy public appeal for racial tolerance is just as relevant today as it was in 1972. Regarding the context of the song, I always wondered if they had the backup cred of actually being an integrated band. Any footage I've seen of them seem to show about a dozen people in the background and it's not far fetched to assume at least one of these guys was black thus fulfilling the unifying dreams of the song.

6. "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" - B.J. Thomas (1975) #1
It's another mid-70's crossover country pop number one. I must admit, not really a fan of the song. The whole thing just sounds so unmemorably generic that I wonder how it ever managed to become such a big crossover single. I also hate the unnecessarily long winded title with the confusing parentheses. My favorite B.J. Thomas song will forever always his duet with Jennifer Warnes for the theme to "Growing Pains".

7. "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" - Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (1974) #1
It's really interesting that, while this version and the Paper Lace version are not all that different, in America the Bo Donaldson version that went to number #1 while the Paper Lace single went nowhere and in the UK the the Paper Lace version went to #1 while the other faltered. Frankly I support the Bo Donaldson version out of outright patriotism. What right did a British band like Paper Lace have in recording pop songs co-opting events in American history? We've never had bands here writing about the Battle of Hastings or the signing of the Magna Carta. "The Night Chicago Died" was a wildly inaccurate (albeit endlessly entertaining) mess of a pop history song that made "The Battle of New Orleans" sound like a thoroughly researched historical lecture.

8. "The Entertainer" - Marvin Hamlisch (1974) #3
Nothing demonstrates the unparalleled variety of the A.M. Gold genre then the hit version of "The Entertainer" by "rock superstar" Marvin Hamlisch (although only the second person, along with Richard Rogers, to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and a Pulizter). The 70s was that sort of insane time when an adaptation of a turn of the century ragtime instrumental used in a movie would rocket up the charts to number 3. It's definitely one of the more interesting and unexplainable chart successes of the decade. I wonder if we'll be saying the same thing thirty years down the line when we try to explain "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" to our children.

9. "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" - Jim Croce (1972) #8
I would categorize this more along the lines of the 70's singer/songwriter realm rather than straight ahead A.M. Gold catagory. It's a just a bit too stripped down and folksy to be up there with the more lavishly produced pop records. With that being said, this song will always be the distant second to the ruckus, toe tapping joy of "Bad Bad Leroy Brown". Did anyone else notice that thematically the two songs are totally identical? They're both about titular bad asses from the wrong side of the tracks that learn a lesson by getting brutally beaten up by unexpected upstarts they push too far. Sort of a weird theme to coincidentally repeat if you ask me.

10. "Drift Away" - Dobie Gray (1973) #5
I hate, hate, hate this song. It's definitely up there as one of my all time least favorite songs. While I hate the Dobie Gray version, I really hate the Uncle Kracker version (a cover that somehow manages to provide absolutely no new take on the original whatsoever and exists merely to bring the song back to prominence). It's boring, it's slow, I don't care for the singing and the offensively stupid chorus ("I wanna get lost in your rock n' roll"? Barf!). I would consider it a little bit more tolerable if the chorus actually was "feed me the Beach Boys, and free my soul" which I misinterpreted it to be growing up.

11. "Little Green Apples" - O.C. Smith (1968) #2
This is one of those songs that a whole bunch of artists have covered, and O.C. Smith's version is considered the definitive one, but I really like the Roger Miller version. The Smith version's got a nice, smooth soul quality to it, but Miller's sparse recording just aches with a surprising display genuine heartfelt emotion that I never thought he was capable of. Also, the whimsical, yet clever lyrics seems to much more like a Roger Miller penned song than any other. Sorry, O.C., you'll always be, alas, a distant second.

12. "Hair" - The Cowsills (1969) #2
It's not really a song I would consider A.M. Gold. It would be a better fit in the show tunes category or 60's rock. I do concede it to be, hands down, the all time greatest song about hair ever written. They really get into all the details (or perhaps "hairy details"?): types of hair, conditions of hair, styles of hair, etc. They certainly don't mess around. This ode to the coif must be the bane of every bald music fan though. Overall, a good song, but a really unexpected and random choice to close out the CD (but then again that is sort of Time-Life's policy).

On the whole "Top 40 Treasures" really lived up to its extremely broad title. This was by far the most unexpected collection of tracks yet. As I've noted, some of the tracks may not even be considered true A.M. Gold songs. With the horrible exception of "Drift Away", every other song was okay to classic. Now that we've got the first box in the bag, we'll be looking ahead to the mysterious treasures hidden within my other three CD A.M. Gold box. What digitally remastered joys and horrors lies ahead, only time (Life) will tell.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Another generally ho-hum Oscar ceremony has come and gone. This year's recession special edition seemed even less memorable than most. There were no major surprises nor any really enduring moments from the participants. Out of my 12 predictions, I got a commendable 8, however I went a miserable 1 for 4 in the major acting categories (that's what I get for following my heart). In a way, I sort of mirrored "Slumdog Millionaire"'s performance, racking up all the major non-acting awards.

Probably the most memorable thing to take from the 81st Oscars was the whole bizarro "random past winners giving a monologue of the nominees" gimmick they did for all the major acting categories. While at times actually generating genuinely compelling sentiments, the shtick as a whole felt like an awkward and weird circle jerk of empty praise. It reminded me of creative writing classes in college where we all had to first go around and say something positive about a highlighted work. Also the fact that all the presenters, in reading their pre-scripted Oscar back patting praise, kept referring to the specific nominee they were lauding by their full name, didn't help to create a sense of authenticity. It felt like some sort of grand tribunal, where the past members of Oscardom passed judgement on their fellow Oscarless actors (of course that image is slightly altered when referring to a past winning nominee like Meryl Streep or Sean Penn). Was I the only one who thought the whole thing was eerily similar to the beginning of Superman II where the Kryptonians pass sentance on General Zod ("For your transgressions Mickey Rourke, we the five Oscars, sentence you to an eternity in the Phantom Zone")?

Despite how borderline creepy it came off, the whole thing was insane enough that I kind of want them to do it again next year, with even more random presenters. I mean when was I ever going to see Joel Grey on a prime time telecast? Maybe they'll extend it out to directors. I wouldn't mind seeing how John G. Avildsen and Milos Forman are holding up.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Everybody In the Pool: Oscar Edition 2009

Is that your final answer?

With the 81st Annual Academy Awards right around the corner, it's time for the second edition of my uninformed, hastily prepared, completely unscientific major Oscar picks! For my first time out last year, I ended up with a respectable 7 out of 11 (roughly 64%) correct predictions including the best picture winner so if you're one of those compulsive types or those easily overwhelmed by your Oscar party pool sheets, then look no further. Of course, keep in mind, when you're right 64% of the time, you're wrong 36% of the time.

One prediction, however, that you can take to the bank will be that this year's Academy Award will overtake last year's as the lowest rated Oscar telecast yet. I found last year's nominees to be probably the most interesting slate of nominated films in recent memory, which also in turn may have been a bit too weird for the general audience. In contrast, there seems to be so little buzz going around with little to no surprises outside of the usual Oscar bait. There also seems to be an anticlimactic feeling going around as the consensus seems to agree that the feel good film of the year, "Slumdog Millionaire" is set for a big night. How will it fare on my list?

Best Makeup

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Special random bonus prediction! I figured I'd throw out an extra prognostication to one of those less glamorous catagories where people who look like your next door neighbors go up and awkwardly accept trophies from fancy movie star presenters. While the two other films had more than admirable makeup work, "Benjamin Button"'s ambitious backwards aging work deserves some Oscar gold. That old man kid was freaky!

Best Animated Feature
Kung Fu Panda

Once again, why can't they nominate a couple extra films to round out the category? There are plenty of animated films out there and it'll make the creators of the two other films tremendously happy just to be brought in to lose to Pixar. "WALL-E" winning is probably the biggest lock of the evening. If Pixar keeps this up they'll just have to scrap the nomination process altogether and just give the award to them outright every time they make a big release.

Best Documentary Feature
Nerakhoon (The Betrayal)
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

This is the category where I have the least amount of substantive knowledge to base my picks on. Off the bat it really all comes down to "Encounters" and "Man on Wire", since those are the only two documentaries I have heard of. From a strictly objective standpoint I'd have probably gone with "Encounters" because it had the pedigree of being directed by a big name acclaimed director like Werner Herzog. However, I heard a lot of good second hand praise for "Man on Wire", so it gets the edge.

Best Cinematography
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

"Benjamin Button" has that vast, sweeping visual story that's prime territory for Oscar gold. Ironically if I went by the logic that since "Benjamin Button" is essentially the same film as "Forrest Gump" it should win all the categories that "Forrest Gump" won, then it would actually lose this catagory (while sweeping all the really big ones). The Dark Knight may be an upset candiate based on sympathy support for getting shafted on best picture.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

If I went by the Forrest Button formula, then "Benjamin Button" should win. However, I think this will be the first stepping stone to a potential big picture showdown for "Slumdog Millionaire". In many cases the best picture showdown ends up becoming a two horse race between the best adapted screenplay winner and the original screenplay winner. Cold logic would dictate at least one of the two films with the best scripts should be in theory the best picture.

Best Original Screenplay
Frozen River
In Bruges

If the Academy is looking for this year's Diablo Cody to give the statute to, then they need not look any further than Dustin Lance Black, the 29 year old writer of "Milk". He's young, he's gay, it's his first major film writing job (although he did write and co-produce a bunch of episodes of "Big Love"); it's a solid opportunity for the Academy to show how "with it" it is. The era of established, long time insider screenwriters is over; twentysomething, counter cultural, first time scribes please report to the dance floor!

Best Director
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Gust Van Sant - Milk

Actually I'd be happy to see Fincher or Van Sant win this award as well. Despite being some of the most unique and visionary directors of the last two decades, the three have been almost completely overlooked by the Academy (save for Van Sant's director nomination for "Good Will Hunting" in '98). Boyle's been racking up best director awards like a machine all award season long, so he appears to be the heavy favorite here. Best adapted screenplay? Best director? Are the stars lining up for "Slumdog Millionaire"?

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - Doubt
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Christina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler

This is probably the most wide open of all the acting races. I figured Adams and Davis end up splitting the voting between them. Penelope Cruz was just too damn good looking in the film to win since history has shown that the Academy rarely gives out awards to exceedingly beautiful actresses unless they hag it up (Charlize Theron, Nichole Kidman). Every Oscar nominated performance by Marisa Tomei seems to just be the same trashy woman character except older, more dire, and more naked. So, by default Henson comes away with an award winning performance as Sally Field in Forrest Gump.

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

Aside from "WALL-E", this is second biggest lock in an Oscar category. Could you imagine the awkward shock throughout the auditorium if somehow it went to someone else? It'd be the worst possible way to win a best supporting actor Oscar. Even though he is getting some support via the dead card, Ledger really does deserve the posthumous win, that Joker was a monster performance.

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Last year's best actress winner, Marion Cotillard, was a bit of an upset and I'm calling and hoping for another one this year. Anne Hatheway has been getting some serious buzz and acclaim for her performance so it wouldn't be totally unexpected for her to win (although she does have the good looking handicap on her). Melissa Leo reminds me of this year's Amy Ryan; she'll get plenty of buzz still won't win. Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep. Actually any other winner except Kate Winslet would be worth it just to see Kate's head explode in frustration after failing to win an Oscar for the 6th time.

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

If there is any justice in this universe, Mickey Rourke should get his much deserved Oscar, if only for the fact that there's probably no chance that he'll ever get to this point again. He'll probably never get another juicy role that is so perfectly made for him. He'll probably never make another choice for a role as wisely as this. Besides, if he wins we will get to see whatever insane acceptance speech he's got in the hopper AND we will get to see him present next year! It's win win!

Best Picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

I could say that all the supposed guilt over "Brokeback Mountain" losing and the passage of Prop 8 may compel enough Oscar voters to recruit "Milk" for an upset victory. I could say that enough Oscar voters will elect for the safety and security of the comfortable Oscar trap of "Benjamin Button". I could say that the highly cynical view of the process would lead to the always poignant Holocaust themes of "The Reader" giving it the dark horse win. I could also say that the impeccably detailed, thoroughly professional cinematic play that is "Frost/Nixon" would impress enough voters. However, I'm going to have to stick with the masses on this one with "Slumdog Millionaire". It's got the momentum, the positive vibes, the general appeal, and all other beneficial Oscar mojo working for it right now. Who am I to bet against it? It is written.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Detention for you, Mr. NYU Protesters

It looks like my old alma mater made it into the news this week. Now perhaps I've become more of a reactionary in my handful of years removed from my undergrad days or maybe I was always a bit of an establishment square in the first place, but I find this whole sit-in affair completely ridiculous and frankly does little to dispel the image of NYU students being privileged, self-indulgent, out of touch, faux radicals. I've seen my share of protest groups during my undergrad year; from Killer Coke marches to anti-affirmative action young conservative rallies. What I learned is that if you want your organization and your cause to come off to the general public as obnoxious and heavy handed as possible, then doing a loud, flashy protest is the way to go.

Now I'm not saying people don't have a right to protest. The ability to do a big annoying protest is a fundamental right and I'd have great reservations about any academic institution that would actively discourage it. However, a group turns to such protests after all available means of change have been depleted. Petitions, grass roots campaigning, letter writing, are just a few of the avenues that should be explored before resorting to such drastic action. As the former head of a student organization (NYU College Bowl, raise the roof) I've found that constantly nagging and annoying officials in the administration have proven to be a lot more effect than one would expect.

In addition, if you're going to have a protest, make sure you actually have sufficient support of the public. A fringe group of sixty or so junior revolutionaries does not a movement make. Based on the internet reactions from the other 20,000 plus students, it doesn't appear that there is really an outpouring of support. Also, I don't think you're really going to form much of a student consensus in support of your outrageous list of demands (especially the whole donate excess supplies to the University of Gaza and arbitrary 13 annal scholarships to Palestinian students; have you even noticed who all the buildings are named after?).

This whole crazy affair reminds me of another group of young, starry eyed, students who in 1994 decided to become a bunch of paper protesters without understanding what the real ramifications of a protest were. You see in a season 2 episode of "Boy Meets World" Sean and Cory embarked on a similar course of action. Hip English teacher Mr. Turner promised Cory and the rest of the class that if everyone agreed to read and discuss "The Grapes of Wrath" he wouldn't give a test on it. Unfortunately when Mr. Turner is forced to break his promise to his students by Principal Feeny (who objects to this no test policy), Cory and Sean arrange a student strike in the cafeteria. The misguided protesters eventually start making more ridiculous demands like steak and lobster lunches. Feeny, sensing the situation getting out of hand, tests the strength of their defiance by playing hardball and threatening to cancel school activities like the dance (much to Sean's dismay). The hollow protest immediately collapses with leaders Cory and Sean holding the bag. At home, Mr. Turner arrives and gives them a lecture on the empty selfish nature of their protest was and how having to take a test is better than struggling to make enough money in the real world to support their families. Thus the boys learn another lesson about the titular "world."

The parallels are remarkable between the Matthews-Hunter Walkout of '94 and the TBNYU Kimmel Center Sit-In of '09. The comparison becomes more apt when you consider that after three or so days and in the face of stringent disciplinary measures by the school, all but a scant number of TBNYU protesters have left the building, demonstrating the hollowness of their "convictions". That's the last thing about protests that these fringe groups don't understand. If you're going to have a protest, you have to be willing to stand by the strength of your ideas and accept the consequences of your actions. People may disagree with your message, but if you're willing to stand up for it, they will atleast respect you. The students involved in this shoddy affair have won neither my viewpoint nor my respect. And I hope they have be subject to a stricter punishment than just listening to a lecture from Mr. Turner and making an apology to Mr. Feeny.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gold Digging, part 2: Pop Classics

Our decadent swim through the guilder filled Money Bin that is my recently purchased A.M. Gold box sets continues with the indistinguishably titled "Pop Classics" CD. What important distinctions are there between the carefully chosen tracks of "Pop Classics" and the cautiously arranged songs from the previous CD, "Radio Gems"? Only the compilation experts at Time-Life Music know the true answer.

Get ready for another dozen, classic, shimmering golden hits:

1. "Magic" - Pilot (1975) #5
For anyone around my age, your first exposure this song was while watching "Happy Gilmore" (it was also the first time I heard "Tuesday's Gone" by Lynard Skynard). I think AT&T also used it in a bunch of commercials a la "All Around the World". It's really one of the great A.M. Gold standards; a lighthearted, bouncy three minutes of fun with a really distinctive sound. 70's pop rock at its finest. Had the band just created a diluted copy single of "Magic" (aka the Ace of Base maneuver) it would have been enough to gotten them that elusive second U.S. hit.

2. "Rock Me Gently" - Andy Kim (1974) #1
First off, you wouldn't believe the disappointment I felt when I learned that Andy Kim was not a fellow Korean. You just can't go around with a last name like Kim (original name Andrew Youakim) and not expect some confusion; it's like that "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry thought Donna Chang was a Chinese woman. With that being said, the Candian Neil Diamond doppelganger certainly crafted one quality hit with "Rock Me Gently". I've really gotten into this song as of late. I love the funky bass, the cheesy not-so-subtle innuendo, the reckless use of "baby"s, and the awesome build up by the end. It's all pure gold. Those not previously familiar with the song may also recognize it from last year's psychedelic Jeep commercial.

3. "Delta Dawn" - Helen Reddy (1973) #1
Conventional wisdom would indicate that I should hate most of Helen Reddy's work. As an unrepentant misogynist I should be turned off by her female empowerment messages. As a non-fan of "traditional" female vocalists I should be turned off to her overall sound. However, despite those personal impediments, I still inexplicably enjoy "Delta Dawn". Country-fried, pseudo-gospel ballads always get to me. Also, on a more subtle level, this song always reminds me of the totally underrated entrance music to former WWE Female wrestling champion, the late Bertha Faye.

4. "Knock Three Times" - Tony Orlando and Dawn (1971) #1
What collection of 70's pop would be complete without at least one Tony Orlando and Dawn song. Oddly enough the CD only credits Dawn as the artists. What's not to absolutely love about this song? The tale of hopeful romance, the enthusiastic crooning of Tony Orlando, the ingenious call and response (a device so clearly lacking in today's modern pop songs); it all adds up to an intoxicating combination. Even without looking at the other cds, I am fairly sure that this won't be the last Tony Orlando and Dawn song to make the collection.

5. "Rhinestone Cowboy" - Glenn Campbell (1975) #1
I remember seeing the Jon Lovitz spoof "High School High" (in theaters no less!) and watching the scene where the white and nerdy Lovitz offers the DJ at the school dance his record of "Rhinestone Cowboy" and all the black youth being awkwardly frozen by the Glen Campbell tune. For years after that, "Rhinestone Cowboy" became for me the sonic embodiment of out of touch, comically lame, white guy music. That may very well still be the case. However, it still doesn't change the fact that it's a solid tune. Glen Campbell's legendary vocals, the soaring crescendos, the fact that this is probably the only top 40 hit with the word "rhinestone" in the title, all contribute to its glistening gold qualities.

6. "Baby Come Back" - Player (1978) #1
The song is a bit too plodding for my taste and I find myself waiting too eagerly for the pay off chorus, but overall it's a decent single. I do however give much praise to the ingenious use of the song in a series of recent advertisements for Swiffer products. The ads (deemed the 70th best pop culture item of 2008 by Utz) really are the perfect example of how to make a ubiquitous, overplayed, campaign for a unremarkable product without annoying everyone. They're short, they show the product, and are clever without being obnoxiously snarky. I for one will now forever associate this song with sad looking brooms and mops.

7. "Hot Child in the City" - Nick Gilder (1978) #1
Seriously, how many people after hearing this song thought that the singer was a chick? I still have to remind myself occasionally that Nick Gilder is a man (a particularly effeminate looking man, but a man no less). In the vein of Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight", it's one of those songs with a pop sound that belies its darker subject matter (something about runaway children turning tricks I think). Like "Afternoon Delight", it's also a spectacular golden one hit wonder.

8. "Sad Eyes" - Robert John (1979) #1
The parade of number one hits continues! They should have just replaced the trace non-number one songs with a few more chart toppers and renamed the cd "Number One Hits". For a song called "Sad Eyes" I feel like it could have been sadder. There was a great opportunity for some real emotional power given the set up. Unfortunately I wasn't buying the sadness as much as I should have. This song sort of a more subdued, less enthusiastic, watered down version of "Lights" by Journey.

9. "Sentimental Lady" - Bob Welch (1978) #8
Bob Welch's musical ties with Fleetwood Mac (one of my least favorite bands of all time) and the carry over that sound into "Sentimental Lady" (which was originally recorded by the band) is the main reason, I find it to be a forgettable record. I haven't heard the rest of his work, but until I come across something better, he will maintain his firm position behind 1990 AL Cy Young Award winner Bob Welch in my "Famous Bob Welches" depth chart.

10. "Come Back When You Grow Up" - Bobby Vee and the Strangers (1967) #3
A classic tune from Bobby Vee's large collection of top 40 hits, but it seems a bit too old sounding in tone to be considered a true A.M. Gold single. Despite the date of its release, there's an earnest, innocent sound to it that seems more like a pre-Beatles pop tune, like something Bobby Vinton or a Ricky Nelson would have put out. I'm not saying its bad or anything, it just seems a bit out of place.

11. "Traces" - Classics IV (1969) #2
Here's a broken heart pop song with a sufficient amount of emotional gravitas. While an extra helping of gravitas would have done nothing but improve it, it still featured enough feeling to make it a keeper in my book. It was a smooth trip throughout and I especially dug the sexy sax coming in to drive the point home. A quality effort from the band with one of the worst names in all of rock (honestly, it comes off like "Leonard Part VI").

12. "Honey" - Bobby Goldsboro (1968) #1
The cd concludes with another number one hit and, boy, did they ever pick a number one to end with! "Honey" is one of those bombastic train wrecks of a song that somehow manages to simultaneously be both one of the worst pop songs ever made and a outrageous smashing success (think "MacArthur Park"). Of course, knowing my peculiar tastes, this song is right up my alley. The lyrics are ridiculously detailed, yet meaningless. The story is contrived and manipulative. The music is overwrought and pretentiously inflated. The singing is, in contrast, oddly cold and almost robotic in its lack of emotions. It all adds up to one of the biggest hits of 1968 and one of the most fascinating songs I've ever heard.

The final conclusion about "Pop Classics" is that it's essentially a tale of two sides. Roughly the first half of the cd is for me all killer Gold. By the time it rolls around to the last half it sort of dips into a forgettable, overly weepy prom night 1979 territory. I was however impressed by the high amount of number one singles. It's nice to know Time-Live Music likes to put in the big hits of the era. Combining the two contrasting halves of the album, I have to call it a push and say it was an average disc overall.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gold Digging, part 1: Radio Gems

You can call me Yukon Cornelius because I love gold...A.M. Gold to be specific. Now whether "A.M. Gold" is the official nomenclature for the genre or it's just a made up title for the Time-Life series; all I know is it's one of my all time favorite genres of music. For those not really familiar with the term, the definition of A.M. Gold is pretty broad and ambiguous as it covers multiple decades and a wide variety of musical styles. The simplest way to describe it is mainstream, radio friendly, pop music from the sixties and seventies. However, despite this description you wouldn't really count the Beatles, or Motown, or hard rock, or most songs of the classic rock canon as A.M. Gold. While the framework for identifying an A.M. Gold song may be confusing, to paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous definition of obscenity (you'd be surprised how many times I paraphrase it in everyday life): "I'll know it when I hear it."

A true A.M. Gold single has a unique feeling all its own. In the 60s and 70s, men were men and pop was pop. The recording industry was at the peak of its success and pop music was manufactured with the scale and efficiency of an assembly line. Straight pop artists knew their role and were unabashedly creating the most mainstream, conventional, melodic, satisfyingly accessible music ever made under four minutes. There seemed to be an understood dichotomy. One one hand, album based music was king and you had "artists" creating ten minute long epics, ambitious concept albums, and expanding the boundaries of popular music. The success of the record industry allowed for a level of unparalleled freedom and artistic autonomy that is impossible in today's desperate hit driven marketplace. On the other side you had A.M. Gold artist with their business like approach to crafting straight ahead hits, long before the term "sell out" entered the musical vernacular. They weren't interested in making a statement or in many cases even looking cool (in fact, I can't imagine many of these artists being thought of as cool even in their prime). They just were looking to make music that appealed to the most people. To listen to a A.M. Gold is to listen to pop in its purest form.

Having given my little rant about my love of A.M. Gold, imagine my wonderful surprise when I recently came across not one but two box sets of random Time-Life A.M. Gold compilations in the deep clearance bin at my local FYE! When the dust settled, I found myself with six cds worth of classic gold for around eight dollars.

After the gold rush...

I've been steadily making my way through the collection by listening to them in the optimum environment: from my portable cd player via cassette adapter in the car while driving. As I make it through each cd, I will give my individual commentary on the track listings. So as the first of my running six part series I present: AM Gold - Radio Gems*

*One thing you'll notice with future posts is that, as the case with all Time-Life CD compilations, the titles of the individual CDs are all completely generic and have no relevance in describing what type of songs are on the CD. The track list for each CD is totally random and any song could be mixed around any of the other five CDs.

1. "Brother Louie" - Stories (1973) #1
It took me my second listening to realize the song was all about interracial romance. Not really the best song to kick off the CD but then again there is little rhyme or reason assigned to the ordering. It was a okay song, but it didn't really do much for me, the singer had a poor man's Rod Stewart thing going. For a number one hit, I could not recall having heard this song before.

2. "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" - Looking Glass (1972) #1
Now here's a song, I'm all too familiar with; one of the finest examples of A.M.Gold. What's not to love? The smooth, polished, light rock sound; the harmonies; compelling narrative; all pure gold. This song is the standard by which all A.M. Gold rock tunes should be judged against. Looking Glass also fills out one of the unofficial criteria for being a classic 70s A.M. Gold band and that's being uniformly ugly.

3. "These Eyes" - The Guess Who (1969) #6
I think the Guess Who are a criminally underrated band. Most people associate them with their biggest hit, the fairly uncompelling, "American Woman"; but they have one of the most diverse group of hits of any band I know (and all while overcoming their Canadian handicap). I still find it hard to believe that the same band who did "American Woman" also did "These Eyes" and "Undun". "These Eyes" is another slice of smooth rock, best enjoyed while night driving. Also, I think it was a bizarre yet strangely inspired choice to be featured in "Superbad".

4. "Sara Smile" - Hall and Oates (1976) #4
While 95% of the material on a "Hits" compilation is made up of either one hit wonders or mostly forgotten former hit artists, the other 5% is made up of one randomly selected hit from the singles collection of a immensely successful artist with numerous hits to their name. In this case, the good people at Time-Life decided to include this early Hall and Oates among the others. No complaints here, it's definitely one of my top 5 Hall and Oates song. I've always preferred their pre-80s synthesizer, straight up blue eyed soul material.

5. "Afternoon Delight" - Starland Vocal Band (1976) #1
What else can I say about this definitive ode to boning in the daytime. It's filthy, it's lurid, it's wrong, it's diabolically catchy. Did people just not get what the song was about? I mean the metaphors were pretty weak. The song was so popular that they gave the Starland Vocal Band their own short lived variety show, which sort of puts "Afternoon Delight" in the category of 70s songs that become TV shows or movies (a category that is much larger than you'd think).

6. "One Toke Over the Line" - Brewer and Shipley (1971) #10
I found myself surprisingly enjoying this crunchy piece of folk rock. The gospel-like chorus really gets into your head. As my friend Andrew U. pointed out in conversation, a great percentage of pop songs from the early 70s era either fell into songs about God, songs about drugs, or both. I'm pretty sure this one's about both. Apparently the covering artists on the conservative "Lawrence Welk Show" though it was about God.

7. "Put Your Hand in the Hand" - Ocean (1971) #2
This is a song that definitely fits into the "songs about God" part of the early 70s rock dichotomy. Overall, the song is fairly tolerable. It just seems to sound like a watered down version "One Toke Over the Line". Nothing beats gospel inspired pop rock to give you a momentary sense of life affirmation though.

8. "Brand New Key" - Melanie (1971) #1
The 1971 hit parade continues. For me, "Brand New Key" will always remind me of Heather Graham's Rollergirl in "Boogie Nights", a defining moment of my teenage sexual development. As for the song itself, I find it to be infinitely cute and sexy but held back by the somewhat irritating voice of Melanie. I think there are some cute, twee voiced pop sirens that can really go to town with a cover. Lisa Loeb if you're reading this, get to work!

9. "Seasons in the Sun" - Terry Jacks (1974) #1
I used to not be a fan of this song on account of the annoying chorus. After giving it a closer listen, I still don't really like the chorus, but I found myself enjoying the overlooked verses. I knew the song had a melancholy subject matter in contrast to the sound, but these lyrics are really fascinatingly in their casual moroseness, like a Smiths song. In spite of the chorus, the songs back on my approved list.

10. "Wildfire" - Michael Martin Murphey (1975) #3
As it turned out the experience I had with "Wildfire" was the exact opposite of "Seasons in the Sun". I came into the song with a positive attitude towards "Wildfire" based mainly on my recollection of the chorus, but a detailed listening to the verses made be realize how ridiculous this song was. It's literally about a ghost horse named "Wildfire" that I guess haunts the plains of Nebraska. Now every time I hear it the image I get in my head is of a psychedelic Lisa Frank poster. According to the wikipedia article, David Letterman shared my baffling view of the song in 2007 and actually ended up inviting Murphey on the show to perform. So in contrast to the previous song, "Wildfire" is now on my unapproved list.

11. "Wedding Bell Blues" - The 5th Dimension (1969) #1
Until just recently, my perception of the 5th Dimension was entirely based on "Age of Aquarious/Let the Sunshine In". I assumed they were just this ridiculous, psychedelic, R&B outfit in the vein of Earth, Wind, and Fire or Sly and the Family Stone. I also assumed they were strict one hit wonders. Apparently none of this is the case. They are a pretty straight ahead suit and dress R&B group with a considerable collection of top 40 hits that span over a decade. As for the song, I really enjoyed it. I found it quite charming and sweet. It's also the perfect song for anyone who wants to get a guy named Bill to marry them.

12. "Everybody's Talkin'" - Harry Nilsson (1969) #6
I noted earlier the diverse sounds of The Guess Who, but that is nothing compared to Harry Nilsson, an artist that truly defies strict categorization. If you want to hear one of the most fascinating pop albums of all time, you've got to get yourself a copy of "Nilsson Schmilsson", every song is stylistically independent of the other. As for "Everybody's Talkin"", it's my second favorite Nilsson song (I still can't resist the gravitas of "Without You"). I have yet to see "Midnight Cowboy" but, on the surface, the light, breezy tone seems fairly at odds with the dark subject matter of the movie.

So my overall impression was generally favorable. It was a pretty diverse collection of late 60s, early 70s fair, a little folky in the middle. It was a fine introduction into collection. There were plenty of number ones hits and nothing out of the top 10, so I guess the album fulfilled its broad promise of "Radio Gems", whatever that may mean.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


So as it turns out the day after my "Subway Five Dollar Footlong" post, the good people at Subway HQ decide to apply (for a limited time) the five dollar footlong policy to all the regular subs (I'd like to delusionally believe that it was due to the mass reaction from all the readers of this blog). Until this promotion ends, my previous power rankings should be taken (like the emerging majority of major league baseball statistics for the past decade and a half) with a large asterisk since they were only referring to the pre-promotion five dollar footlongs. In the mean time, if you even wanted to explore all the wild, uncharted boundaries of the subway sandwich menu, now is the time to do it on the cheap. I for one like the Subway Club. Just go into your local Subway and non-verbally flash a five sign and then hold your hands about a foot apart; they'll take care of the rest.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Power Rankings!: Subway Five Dollar Footlongs

I'm sure all you regulars have already noticed that the blogs haven't been flowing as freely as they once were (which isn't to say that the blogs were all that freely flowing to begin with). It's been less than a month since school started up again and, alas, the daily nuisances of classes and summer job mining have really gotten in the way. Besides, overall, nothing really interesting goes on in January anyway. The year is still new and still struggling to establish its identity.

One thing about going back to school in the boondocks of Jamaica, Queens is that I once again resume my regular schedule of eating Subway footlongs. One part of my reason for kicking it Jared style is preference. If you broke down what my favorite food was, it would be basically any piece of meat between two pieces of bread. Also from a cost/fullness ratio, the five dollar footlong is pretty much the best option out there. In addition, it's marginally healthier than all the other fast food options available. That sort of goes to my other reason for Subway, and that is that there's NO OTHER FUCKING PLACE AROUND CAMPUS. Seriously, you'd think a rather large and diverse university would draw healty variety of food options surrounding the campus. Maybe there's some obscure town ordinance that prevents new restaurants from opening up in the area, but it is as if the college just fell out of the sky and right in the middle of a quiet suburb with no other major businesses in sight. Without actually driving out onto the highway to other places; between the Subway, a pizza place or two, and generic campus dinning your options are pretty slim. I should just quit school now and open up a Jamba Juice or something. It'd be a license to print money.

Regardless of the sad state of affairs around the school, I still enjoy the wide varieties of Subway five dollar footlongs. So since the grand purpose of all Internet blogs are to assign subjective personal rankings of things, I've decided to provide my overall power ranking of the eight five dollar footlongs on Subway's everyday value menu. You can keep your fancy regular menu items like Roast Beef and Chicken Teriyaki, it's time for a value priced five dollar throw down!:

8. Veggie Delight
I don't even consider this pretender to even be a sandwich at all. Masquerading itself as the "vegetarian alternative" sandwich, it's just a standard sub without the meat. So they take out one of the essential elements that make a sandwich a sandwich and charge you the same as an actual sandwich. I'd be like a bar offering light beer by giving you only half a glass of regular beer. I'm actually all for options for vegetarians, but this is obviously a scam. Couldn't they have put in some tofu meat alternative or chickpeas or something?

Add Image7. Tuna
I am actually a big tuna fan myself, but Subway's attempts at the classic tuna salad sandwich is a bit lacking. I don't know if it is all that possible to make a distinctively sub par tuna salad sandwich, but Subway manages to bring out the boring tuna. On top of it being sort of bland, it's actually the second worst thing you can order, calorie wise, on the menu; so it even loses the potential "healthy" appeal.

6. Oven Roasted Chicken Breast
Oven roasted is a bit of a misnomer. I guess those chicken breast slabs were cooked in an oven at some point in their lifetimes; how else can you explain the suspicious grill marks? As for the in store cooking, the whole "freshness" appeal is lost when you see them being thrown in and out of commercial microwaves before being put on your sandwich. The chicken pieces themselves may look like unappetizing rubber chicken parts, but overall the taste is alright, although I find them a bit dry.

5. Meatball Marinara
The meatball marinara is defiantly the most interesting of the sandwich choices. A true iconoclast: it cares not for caloric restraint, is incompatible with nearly all fixings and condiments, only comes in hot, and is terribly messy and inconvenient to eat. You have to really be in a specific meatball marinara mood to get this option. If you come in considering any other sandwich, it's quite unlikely you'll make a radical switch to the marinara as your second option. I for one have found myself in many a situtaitons where I found myself with a specific hankering for the big M.

4. Cold Cut Combo
This sandwich is best remembered for its featured role as Happy Gilmore's preferred choice of footlong. It's essentially a poorman's Subway Club with the higher end ham, roast beef, and turkey being replaced by the cheaper turkey bologna, turkey ham, and turkey salami. For these lean economic times, it's a solid, frugal substitute to the relatively extravagant Subway Club. I think the whole thing might actually qualify as a Giffen good.

3. Ham
Sometime you've got to eschew all those fancy gimmicks and meat combinations and just go back to basics; and it just doesn't get any more basic than a ham sandwich. From the Earl of Sandwich to Mamma Cass, who doesn't appreciate a nice ham sandwich? While I'm more of a beef man, when it comes to sandwiches, ham is definitely the go to meat.

2. Spicy Italian
Pound for pound, the spicy Italian is most likely the best deal among the five dollar footlongs. Unlike the cold cut combo which cold cuts its corners to provide its multiple meats, the spicy Italian gives you two quality cuts (Genoa salami and pepperoni) for the value price. The spicy Italian's condescending bigger brother is the Italian BMT which throws in an extra addition of ham to up the ante. I sometimes find that extra ham to be a touch too decadent though.

1. Turkey Breast and Ham
If you've been paying close attention you've probably noticed that this particular sandwich is not included in the official website's everyday value menu. Through some distinctive franchise quirk, my local Subway has this sub instead of the standard BLT on its everyday value menu. It's no doubt a conservative choice, but I've always been adamant that the best sandwich combination is turkey breast and ham. Sure there are more adventurous and interesting sandwiches out there and I appreciate them all; however when it comes down to a sandwich that never disappoints you've got to go with this classic duo.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Oh Baby That's What I Like!

Today was actually the 50th Anniversary of the tragic airplane crash that look the lives of 50's rock and roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson aka "The Big Bopper", popularly known as "The Day the Music Died". While I don't have has intimate a connection to this event as Don McLean and his generation of retirement age baby boomers (even my parents were barely alive for this), I still feel a pang of melancholy over the enormity of the disaster and how much potential was lost. Through the hindsight of history, American Rock and Roll lost on that fateful, chilly night in Iowa: an all time iconic innovator (Holly), a racial barrier defying young star (Valens), and a larger than life novelty character (Bopper). If you put that in today's relative hip hop terms it may be something like losing Lil' Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, and Soulja Boy respectively in some freak touring accident.

While there have been plenty of musician related airplane fatalities from Otis Redding to Aaliyah (sort of makes you wonder why so many hit artists prefer travel by unreliable single engine planes over let's say a commercial jet; with the exception of former Billboard #1 artist Kyu Sakamoto), there has never been a fatal pop music disaster of this magnitude (we did however dodge a close one, when Travis Barker and DJ AM managed somehow to become the sole survivors their plane crash.

While all three late artists are forever tied to the whole epic tragedy of the "Day the Music Died" mythos that has grown, the Bopper has gotten the slightly shorter of end of the stick when it comes to respect. I guess it isn't all that unexpected considering the Bopper was just a goofy novelty artist (remember he's the Soulja Boy) while Holly was one of the pioneering giants of early rock and Ritchie Valens will be remembered for his youth and limitless potential. While I agree with that view and acknowledge that both were superior artists overall to the Bopper, I still have to admit in terms of pure enjoyment, the Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" is the best single song out of all three artists. It's one of the most unique songs in all of rock history; a silly blend of early rock and rockabilly mixed with the subtle bawdiness of the Bopper's crude, booming 50s phone sex routine (where would R. Kelly's later career be without the Bopper's pioneering efforts?). That single alone shows that the Bopper was a formidable artist in his own right and that it wasn't just dumb luck (or bad luck depending on the perspective) that he will be forever associated with the other two Hall of Fame icons.

The Bopper's smaller stature in the eyes of history also stems in significant part from the fact that no one has made a major motion picture based on his life. Buddy Holly had the "The Buddy Holly Story" with the title role played by the improbable Gary Busey (who gained an equally improbable "Best Actor" Oscar nomination), while Ritchie Valens had "La Bomba" which gave Lou Diamond Phillips his best known role and Los Lobos a number one single. While the Bopper had been represented as side characters in both films, no single feature film captures the man himself. Seeing as how a proper Big Bopper Biopic would go a long way in attempting to close the respectability gap between the big man and the other two stars, here are five potential candidates for the star making role of the Bopper (not counting his son "Big Bopper Jr" who has obviously long go given up on having any sort of independent life of his own and devoted his whole existence to being an exploitative living tribute to his father):

Kevin James
He is currently the star of the biggest hit film of 2009 thus far, so has definitely proven that he has what it takes to carry a movie as a leading man. The guy fits the body type, age maybe a bit off (he's 43, Bopper died at 29) but it doesn't appear noticeable, and they're both comedic talents. James has yet to find an opportunity to demonstrate if he has any real singing talent so they'll have to check on that. I think motivation wise, he would be pretty down with the whole production. It'd be a great way to expand his range and biopics are traditionally one of the juiciest of Oscar bait roles.

Steve Harwell
The Smash Mouth frontman can at the very least be able to sing at a comparable level and actually has almost two full decades of on stage rock and roll experience. Acting wise, aside from is cameo with Smash Mouth at the end of "Rat Race", he is pretty new to the whole thing. They'll have to see how difficult it is to make a transition from playing a rock star in real life to a rock star in a feature film. In terms of looks, he's got the heavyset features down and he's two years younger than Kevin James (42), which always helps. He also seems to have a vintage oldies rock vibe to him.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Casting Hoffman would mean that "Untitled Big Bopper Project" would not be fucking around about competing for some major award show hardware. He's definitely by far the most talented and established potential choice for the role. When he loses this year's Best Supporting Oscar to Heath Ledger and possibly sees Sean Penn rack up another Best Actor statue for "Milk", he'll be itching for a ride back on the Oscar biopic gravy train. He might have to bulk up a little bit and maybe brush up on his singing, but the guy's a consummate pro. At age 41 he's also a bit old but manageable.

Elden Henson
Probably most well known to many for his childhood role as hockey goon Fulton Reed from the Mighty Ducks Series, along with later supporting roles in teen flicks like "She's All That" and "Idle Hands", Henson actually has some good qualities going for him. He's got a similar build, he's by far the closest in terms of age (he's currently 31), and while he's young the guy's a seasoned actor who has been in the game for 20 years. He definitely has the least sizzle to his name compared to the others but maybe that's just the type of under the radar casting that this production needs. Who knows, the role may make him the next Jackie Earle Haley.

Jon Tester
Okay, so perhaps the junior Democratic senator from Montana may be an extreme dark horse candidate. He's 52 years old. He has absolutely no acting experience nor rock and roll experience (although apparently he was briefly a music teacher). He probably has absolutely no inclination to get into acting. He doesn't have a middle, index, and ring finger on his left hand from a childhood accident. However, you can't deny he's got a killer Big Bopper flattop haircut!