Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thank You

It's that time of the year again to start breaking out the things to be thankful for (to have an "attitude of gratitude" as I recall learning once back in Sunday school). While I'd be lying if I said 2010 thus far has been a banner year for Ole Vic and that my life is exactly where I'd want it to be right now, there is always an abundance of things to be thankful for at all times. The big things are a given and it would be superfluous and redundant to go over the major stuff like people who care about me, my freedoms, my health, my looks, etc, etc. Believe me I am super grateful for those things everyday as demonstrated by my occasional bouts of anxiety that any of those things will suddenly be taken from me. However aside from the aforementioned big stuff, I have traditionally (well I actually forgot to do it last year) taken to time to appreciate the more subtle, but still quite important details to be thankful for this year.

So what am I thankful for this year?:
  • Learning how to hide status updates from specific people from my Facebook News Feed. You just click on that box at the right hand corner and the option is right there! It's crazy that it took me to like the beginning of this year to figure it out. This perfectly solved my longtime conundrum of filtering out the most irritatingly asinine and disagreeable updates in my feed without resorting to the nuclear option of harshly cutting off all Facebook ties with someone (just because I find you annoying doesn't mean I want to cut off all avenues of communication with you). Of course I'm willing to live with the other of the coin: the possibility that some of my "friends" are filtering me out (but really who'd do that to me?).
  • Brandon Lloyd's fantastic season. Not to jinx it or anything with the playoffs looming next month but I am currently enjoying my best fantasy football season ever (totally jinxed it), thanks in no small part to the completely unexpected breakout play of Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd. The formerly inconsistent journeyman wide out has done nothing but produce (already over 1000 yds, 7 TDs, and averaging almost 20 Y/D) for every owner fortunate enough to have picked him off the waiver wire earlier in the year hoping for one or two more quality games before he regressed. It really covered up my terrible Mike Sims Walker draft pick. Minor thanks also to fellow wavier wire pickup Steve Johnson who has been catching touchdowns like a boss as of late.
  • The hour long 4th season finale of "The Venture Bros.". "The Venture Bros." is one of the fews shows left on TV that I actually make an effort to follow. With every agonizingly belated season the show has really grown more weirder and more ambitious in their style, storytelling, and pop culture non sequiturs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails; but you always have to appreciate the effort. That said, the extended hour long running time of "Operation: P.R.O.M." really should be the ideal length of most Venture episodes since there is often so much new stuff getting introduced every episode along with the progression of the current season arch that it often times feels rushed or packed together. Without going into a summary, I feel this episode really struck a nice balance between exposition and action. Also, bonus points for the borderline obscene explanations of what a "Rusty Venture" is, the extended "Mr. Wendell" references, and surprise use of "Just Like a Friend" by Pulp at the end.
  • Caffeine Pills. I guess if I want to get really specific I would say the 100 ct. Prolab Caffeine Supplements from Vitamin Shoppe. For the price of a few cups of coffee I got a convenient and steady caffeine supply for the whole year. These were the unofficial MVPs in passing the NY and NJ bar over the summer. Hey, we all need our fix somewhere, I like to get it in a no nonsense pill. Unfortunately pep pills users still live under the ugly stigma placed upon them by the infamous Saved by the Bell episode,"Jesse's Song". Hopefully one day it'll be just as normalized and acceptable as getting a cup of joe. When it happens I'll be so excited.
  • Far East Movement's "Like a G6" going to #1. As a lover of pop music and as a Korean American, it filled me with great pride last month to find "Like a G6" by Far East Movement (sort of like an Asian Black Eyed Peas with 2 out of the 4 members being Korean Americans) featuring The Cataracs, DEV topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart; the first US #1 hit by a Korean artist. It also didn't hurt that the song was a great pop record with equal parts terribly stupid and insidiously catchy. Of course we can't forget all the great Korean pop pioneers who came before that helped paved the way for "Like a G6" like Joseph Hahn, member of Linkin Park who went to #2 with "In the End" in 2001, (half-Korean) Amerie who had a top 10 hit with "1 Thing" in 2005 and, straight up K-Pop act, Wonder Girls who hit #76 with "Nobody" in 2009.
  • And, as always, another year of "Lockhorns" comics. My Lockhorn blog may be on extended hiatus until the end of the year, but that doesn't mean I still can't enjoy their hilarious daily battles. It looks like Loretta has ruined another Thanksgiving.

Cue the song!:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gold Digging, part 6: Mellow Hits

Your eyes are not fooling you, dear reader, after over a year and a half long delay from my last A.M Gold digging exploration, I have finally come around to concluding what really should have been a week-long six-part series about some 70s compilation CDs I randomly bought. For those of you who are unfamiliar or have just plain forgotten, you can brush up at the archives. For those of you who've been eagerly waiting all these months upon months with bated breath and hopeful eyes, I am horrified beyond words. This disc is the third and final disc from the three CD box set entitled "Radio Hits '69-'74". I've noted in the review of the last CD that, even with the seemingly straightforward premise of creating a compilation of songs that were popular on the radio between the years 1969 and 1974, Time Life managed to include two songs released post-1974; you will notice as you make your way through this breakdown that it wasn't an isolated incident. As for the title of the disc itself, it's something called "Mellow Hits"; I'm not sure how much of a nuanced difference it is from the previous CD "Easy Hits".

It's the final countdown!:

1. "Sky High" - Jigsaw (1975) #3
There are at least two things that are completely wrong about the inclusion of "Sky High" on this CD. The obvious first error is that it doesn't qualify has a 1969-1974 radio hit since it was released in 1975. The second more subtle yet more egregious mistake is that there is no way any listener is going to qualify the song as anything close to "mellow". In a tight, just under three minute, package, the song soars higher and higher with a funky immediacy; euphorically rising with each successive chorus, but never quite leveling off. I also always thought it kind of sounded like a weird pop rock Bond theme and, as it turned out, the song itself was originally written for a 70s Hong Kong action thriller (with George Lazenby no less!). Given all that, it's hardly the kind of tune one would sit back in his basement beanbag and mellow out to. Terrible categorization aside, the song itself is an all time A.M. Gold classic; one of those amazing, totally unique hit songs that turns their artists into one hit wonders since they can never replicate the sound.

2. "Hitchin' a Ride" - Vanity Fare (1969) #5
"Hitchin' a Ride" will always remind me of the nostalgic 1995 coming of age movie "Now and Then", a movie I watched an inordinate amount of times in middle school, which then, oddly enough, makes me nostalgic for the 90s. It's quite weird considering how it's one of those classic songs that lazy movie and television producers often use to immediately signal that it's the 60s. Additionally there already is another "Hitchin' a Ride" from the 90s that really should make me nostalgic for the decade. Wild. As for the song itself, it's another great pop tune: fun, light, with an excellent use of flute (really more pop artists today should utilize the flute; reclaim it back from all those pretentious prog rockers who sucked all the fun out of it over the decades). It's almost impossible not to feel a little happier after listening to the song.

3. "The Night Chicago Died" - Paper Lace (1974) #1
I briefly mentioned "The Night Chicago Died" when I wrote about Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods' cover of the Paper Lace song "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" on disc 3; basically about the endearingly egregious inaccuracy of the song with regards to Chicago gangland history. In addition to the historical inaccuracy, the story is overblown and borderline nonsensical and the upbeat tone is in absurd contrast with the supposedly dire subject matter of the song, however all these elements work to make this a standout ridiculous story song in what was the greatest decade for ridiculous story songs ever. To change all these unique parts of the song would be to ruin it. Who would want to listen to a slow, somber dirge that accurately recounts how Al Capone was quietly arrested for income tax evasion? When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

4. "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" - Jim Croce (1973) #1
One cannot talk about "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" without also mentioning Jim Croce's earlier 1972 hit "You Don't Mess Around With Jim". Depending on who you're asking, "Leroy Brown" is at best a spiritual sequel to "Jim" and at worst a lazy, inferior, clone. Lyrically they're essentially the same song: a story about the titular, supposed, badass, who eventually gets his ass kicked by some new stranger that's an even bigger badass (I guess the lesson is that there is always someone better than you so don't get to high on yourself?). Earlier this year, friend of the blog Andrew U. wrote the most definitive statement thus far on which was the superior song and I was cited as an authority. While "Jim" narrowly edged "Leroy Brown" as the better song, I still stand by my roughly paraphrased quote:
"Uh, I guess Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. It's a little bit's got the piano...You Don't Mess Around with Jim, eh, it's a little more stripped, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown was my first love. They're basically the exact same song, though."
5. "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" - Dawn featuring Tony Orlando (1973) #1
Here's a weird observation. For the group's first #1 hit "Knock Three Times" (included in Gold Digging, part 2) in 1971, they were credited as "Tony Orlando and Dawn". By the time of their second #1 hit, the above titled song, they were now credited as "Dawn featuring Tony Orlando" and by their last #1 "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)" the group was back to "Tony Orlando and Dawn". I wonder what happened during that middle period where Tony got relegated to mere feature player status? Maybe it was like "Careless Whisper" where it was clearly a George Michael solo song but was credited as "Wham! featuring George Michael". Alas, I didn't catch the Tony Orlando "Behind the Music" back in the day. Like I mentioned when I wrote about, Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together", both that song and this have that unique quality of overt cheesiness and never sounding modern or cool even in their own periods. Oddly though, it's that unique anachronistic sound that also sort of makes the song kinda timeless. It's so unambiguously hokey and lacking in irony that it almost comes around to cool. And as long as there are veterans returning home from war or prisoners getting paroled, this gem will continue to live on.

6. "Without You" - Nilsson (1972) #1
Few songs reach the soaring peaks of gravitas and bombast as Nilsson's cover of Badfinger's "Without You". Given what a totally eccentric, weirdo, pop genius Harry Nilsson was, I wonder if he was being totally sincere in his over the top heartbreak or just cleverly pulling the listener's chain. Either way it is one of my all time favorite songs to karaoke, albeit a little hard on the vocal chords if sung towards the end of the night. My one minor complaint is that for such an epic sounding operatic number it really should be longer; by the time the song clocks out at just about quarter after three minutes I'm left wondering: it's over already? Song with this sort of Jim Steinman-esque grandness to them really should have a baseline of at least four minutes and work from there. Then again Nilsson was never much for fixed conventions.

7. "Light My Fire" - Jose Feliciano (1968) #3
Way back when I first found out that Jose Feliciano, writer and performer of my all-time favorite Christmas song "Feliz Navidad", had other hit songs and a prolific multi-decade long career, it was a bit of a surprise. I had always assumed that nearly all holiday song writers existed in a genre vacuum and, for the most part, were strictly one hit wonders (seriously how many other Elmo & Patsy hits can you name?). Felicicano's "Light My Fire" is a solid enough cover. It's definitely not one of those exemplary covers that overwhelm the popularity of the original, but it's also not just a lazy retread either, it contributes something as well. It's interesting to note that Felicano's version went to #3 just a year after the Doors went to #1. I think more up and coming artists should learn from this; forget covering old tunes, take the most current popular chart topper and immediately capitalize on its current fame by knocking out a cover of it as soon as possible. It still has to be sort of good but at least you have the benefit of the current wave of popularity.

8. "Shannon" - Henry Gross (1976) #6
The urban legend about the Barry Manilow song "Mandy" was that its overly romantic, heartfelt lyrics were actually about the songwriter's dog rather than a woman named Mandy, the story turned out to be was false. "Shannon" by Henry Gross, however, is apparently totally about a dog. In fact, it's not just any dog, it's about the death of Beach Boy Carl Wilson's Irish Setter. It's hard to tell through Gross's falsetto delivery of the chorus ("Shannon is gone I hope she's drifting out to sea") but when actually reading the lyrics, it does seem more obvious that the titular "Shannon" was a dog. It also makes me question the methods the family possibly used to dispose of poor Shannon; did they just dump her in the ocean? Dog or woman, the song still has a wonderful baroque melancholy to it that pulls off that difficult trick of being sad yet still pop. Also, Time Life, don't think I forget that this song is 2 years past 1974, pretty weak.

9. "One Less Bell to Answer" - The 5th Dimension (1970) #2
I have always considered this song to be the sad sequel to The 5th Dimension's "Wedding Bell Blues" (reviewed all the way back in Gold Digging, part 1). It would appear that commitment-phobic "Bill" from "Wedding Bell Blues" has rejected the singer's ultimatum to marry her and has left their home leaving the singer in the titular situation of having "one less bell to answer". It's actually quite depressing to think that the endless love and exuberance of the former song has given way to the daily crying and remorse of the latter, but then again I've always been a consummate pessimist. Despite the different tones, both songs are excellent and lead vocalist Marilyn McCoo really knocks it out of the park here.

10. "Everybody Plays the Fool" - The Main Ingredient (1972) #3
If you can't feel the slightest bit happier and positive about the state of your life after hearing this song, you must really be in some seriously dire straits. The whole song exudes an infectious air of "we've all been there before, let's dust ourselves off an look forward to tomorrow" positivity from the comforting lyrics to the perky flutes (once again, behold the power of the flute!). It goes along the same poppy "keep your head up" route as Billy Joel's "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" but while Joel's song was almost explicitly anti-suicide, this has a more implied approach. I always wondered what kinds of songs prevented more suicides: deliriously upbeat songs that expounded the pros of life or relentlessly dark and emotionally raw songs that sought to provide catharsis. I think it could go either way.

11. "In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)" - Zager and Evans (1969) #1
I could probably write a lengthy blog post alone on "In the Year 2525". In an era of weird and unusual hit songs, I don't think it gets any weirder or more unusual than this insane and poorly reasoned vision of the future. The whole song reads like almost intentionally awful amateur science fiction, journeying through 1010 year intervals (except for a brief stop in 7510 and 8510; I guess they didn't have enough lines that rhymed with five) of increasingly bizarre and awkwardly assembled rhyming couplets about man's increasing dehumanization; all through the contrastingly un-sci-fi medium of folk guitar and horns. Whatever attempts at deep questions of the future of mankind and its place in the universe are lost in the sublime ridiculousness. The whole thing really isn't for everybody, in fact, I know people who consider this song, hands down, their least favorite song of all time. For me, the mess sort of works. I like its earnest, albeit kinda awful, attempt at something different. It's an original.

12. "Oh Happy Day" - The Edwin Hawkins Singers (1969) #4
I initially thought this was weird choice for a closer, going with a hit R&B Gospel arrangement of an 18th century hymn; but in retrospect religious pop music was unusually popular in the A.M. Gold era. Although these 6 CDs didn't have too many on them, I've learned from my overall A.M. Gold listening experiences that there were a shocking number of nonsecular chart hits (one of these days I may do an entire post about "The Lord's Prayer" by Sister Janet Mead; a funky rock version of the Lord's Prayer that went to #4 in 1974 and which I couldn't get out of my head for days). Overall, I don't have much of a strong opinion about "Oh Happy Day", it's uplifting and well sung but really most gospel songs start to blend together for me. I do always find the sound of a gospel choir to be pleasing though (Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" would be nothing without the New Jersey Mass Choir).

Well, with that our long national nightmare is over. As for the CD overall, despite that fact I found almost none of the songs to fit into Time Life's ill defined concept of "Mellow Hits", song quality wise it was probably the strongest of all six CDs I've listened to (the best for last; it oddly worked out that way). On the flip side of that however is the fact that there weren't too many real discoveries here compared to the other CDs. Most of the songs were songs that I knew and enjoyed prior, but I can't really fault them for that. So in conclusion, I just want to say that I'm as surprised as you are that I actually managed to finish out the string; a year and a half long hiatus is liable to make anyone pessimistic. Interestingly in the time between the last CD and this one, I actually procured the entirety Rhino Record's Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day series; that's 25 discs worth of 70s AM classics. Maybe I'll start on that if I need something to do for the next 50 years.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lock(horn) Out

There is an old saying we have in the year long daily Lockhorn comic critical analysis project business: "better to end a year long daily Lockhorn comic critical analysis project a year early than a year late". Unfortunately I should have headed that old axiom after I somehow miraculously managed to complete the inaugural run of "Lockhorns vs. Lockhorns" in 2009. Perhaps drunk on champagne and hubris or perhaps hoping to see if Leroy could mount a comeback year, I decided to tempt fate again and go for another round.

Eleven months later, with the year rapidly coming to a close, and the blog hopelessly mired all the way back in the ides of May, I'm afraid I'll have to take the decisive move of putting the blog on hiatus for the remainder of the year. I know but a mere three months and five posts ago I promised I would endeavor to see my initial mission to catch up through, but it doesn't take any complicated number crunching to realize how overwhelming a task it would be to catch up on over 6 months of Lockhorn squabbling, spite, and scorn by the end of December.

So dear readers, it appears I have let you down and for this I apologize. However, while the Lockhorn project will be scrapped for the remainder of 2010, I am currently conceptualizing a new format for the blog that I will debut in the coming year (a sort of a Lockhorns 2.0 if you will). I don't want to over hype it or anything but let's just say it'll be the best year long daily Lockhorn comic critical analysis project of 2011. Tune in next year.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Tale of Two Johns (technically Jon and John)

Considering how this blog is so often cited as one of the most trusted and respected sources of breaking political news and commentary, I just wanted to note one particularly interesting pair of developments involving candidates with previous pop culture professions from last night's election results.

Down the parkway in New Jersey's Third Congressional District, former Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jon Runyan running as the Republican candidate defeated incumbent John Adler. If his congressional career is similar to his football career he will prove to be a scrappy yet solid legislator with a reputation for an occasional dirty play or two and will post an impressive consecutive appearances streak, before injuries prematurely end his career. Additionally fellow former NFLer, Representative Heath Shuler, won reelection in North Carolina as well so at least he has someone who'll get his more esoteric football analogies.

Meanwhile in the next state over in New York's 19th District, Representative John Hall, a founding member of 70s rock group "Orleans" lost his hard fought bid for re-election to challenger Nan Hayworth. While the loss was obviously a disappointment for Hall and one of many setbacks for the democrats last night, the fact that anyone involved in that legendarily awful cover to "Waking and Dreaming" could live it down enough to get elected to Congress in the first place is an amazing feat on to itself.

Additional point: While I was writing this I just remembered that current ESPN commercial featuring the a fan of the Eagles (Runyan's signature team) and "Still the One" (Orleans' signature song). Cosmic coincidence?