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Thursday, September 27, 2007

They can't stop messing with their danger zones

I ran across this tonight and had to share: Cyndi Lauper's She Bop video. Although I own this 45 I hadn't seen the video in ages.

It's very arresting visually. From the bizarre burger drive-in, to the bizarre cartoon segment, to the bizarre tap dance sequence, I can't take my eyes off it. Plus, it has Captain Lou Albano in curlers.

Monday, September 24, 2007

And instead I pour the milk

Suzanne Vega is coming to the Rex Theater on Friday. I haven't decided whether to go. I probably will if it's not too expensive.

Suzanne is best known for Luka, the abused child anthem from 1987, and a song we used to parody in middle school when we had a student teacher named Mr. DeLuca (My name's DeLuca... I teach on the second floor...)

My favorite Vega song is the DNA remix of Tom's Diner from 1990, the absurd song that is nothing more than a list of observations from a coffee shop. I didn't know until a couple years ago that the song was written about Tom's, the coffee shop at 112th & Broadway, the same one whose exterior is featured on Seinfeld. It was cool to sit in that diner and replay the song in my head, thinking that Suzanne was actually sitting here when she wrote it.

The video for the song is ridiculous. Imagine being the director - you have a song about nothing, and an artist who refuses to appear in the video. What do you do? Answer: You film synchronized hip hop dancing, silhouettes of hot women, and close-ups of an eagle. Duh!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I've found the new Mitch Hedberg

This is a music blog, but comedians put out CDs, so screw it, I'm talking about comedy.

Anyone who knows me knows I adore the late Mitch Hedberg. He is the funniest man I've ever heard, with his off-the-wall one-liners and bizarre manner of speaking, i.e. stressing of syllables that aren't supposed to be stressed. I believe I have heard every joke Mitch ever told, thanks to websites and YouTube videos, and I still treasure the bootlegged tape I made of his show at the Byham Theater a few months before he died...

Anyway... I'm finally able to get over Mitch thanks to Demetri Martin. This guy (who looks like an emo kid but is actually 34) tells the jokes that Mitch would be telling if he were alive today. In fact, he's actually stolen some of Mitch's jokes, but we'll let that slide and enjoy them:

My computer beat me at chess. But then I beat him at kickboxing...

Glitter doesn't go away. Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies...

I remember when I used to be into nostalgia...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Van Halen joins the fake reunion tour circuit

The original Van Halen are reuniting for a fall tour. Sorta.

David Lee Roth is back on board, but founding bassist Michael Anthony won't be there - his part is being filled by Eddie Van Halen's teenage son. This is yet another "reunion" that isn't real.

People are excited that Roth is playing with the band again, and he's certainly an upgrade over Gary Cherone, but -- I'm aware I may be the only one who feels this way -- I liked the band better with Sammy Hagar. When I think about the Roth days, I think about those bad '70s classic rock songs they play on WDVE. Aside from Jump and Hot for Teacher, most of the Roth stuff sounds too similar and it has never appealed to me.

The Hagar years, meanwhile, provided a ton of great mainstream pop songs, most notably Why Can't This Be Love, Love Comes Walking In, and Right Now. Plus, Hagar was a nice guy while Roth was a jackass.

Bring back Sammy!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The best & worst of Diane Warren

Diane Warren has written more pop hits over the past 20 years than anyone, much to the dismay of those with actual taste in music. Her bland, formulaic ballads have been giving mainstream music a bad name since 1985. But no one is all bad. So here are my choices for the best and worst Diane Warren songs.

1. "If I Could Turn Back Time," Cher, 1989
This song transcends its Diane Warren-ness to become a pop music classic, thanks to a great performance (and greater music video) from Cher.

2. "Everything Changes," Kathy Troccoli, 1992
This one makes the list because it's so completely inoffensive. It's like the lesser of several evils. While the song doesn't make me jump up and down and cheer, there is nothing to dislike about it. It's a catchy little dance-pop number performed by a singer with a great voice. Kathy Troccoli has gone on to become a hugely successful Christian artist, which makes me like this song even more - it's almost like enjoying the song is kind of a taboo thing because she's an artist in a genre that we are supposed to dislike. (I like Michael W. Smith's "Place in This World" for the same reason.)

3. "When I See You Smile," Bad English, 1989
One of my favorite power ballads ever. In another band's hands, maybe it wouldn't have been so impressive, but big-haired vocalist John Waite nails it. It's sweet and simple, which are the two most desirable elements in a love song, in my estimation.

4. "Rhythm Of the Night," DeBarge, 1985
A classic fun '80s pop song, it was also one of Diane's first hits. Perhaps she should have stopped while she was ahead?

5. "Don't Turn Around," Ace of Base, 1994
I had no idea that the Ace of Base recording was the fifth different version of this song. Tina Turner actually sang it back in 1986, and Bonnie Tyler and Neil Diamond were among the others who gave it a shot before Ace of Base's quirky Tetris-like rendition became a smash hit.

1. "Music Of My Heart," *N Sync & Gloria Estefan, 1999

This one gets the nod because it’s not only a horrible song, the actual performance is just as bad. Gloria appears in the second verse and gives hope that maybe she can save the song, but then Justin and JC sing all over her verse and ruin it. I dare you to sit through the entire song/video.

2. "I Could Not Ask For More," Edwin McCain (also by Sara Evans), 1999
Sometimes a song comes along that you absolutely despise, even if you can't put your finger on why you despise it. This is such a song for me. I just can't stand Edwin McCain's voice on the song, which is odd because I liked Edwin's previous hit, "I'll Be." The fact that Sara Evans remade it the very same year and it became a country hit too just infuriated me more, because it got double the airplay.

3. "Completely," Michael Bolton, 1994
Michael Bolton has recorded a ton of Diane Warren songs, and I actually like a few ("How Can We Be Lovers," "Missing You Now.") But this one is the worst. It never really attempts to have any melody whatsoever, and the chorus is just Michael wailing away without any direction.

Video unavailable, dammit!

4. "Nothing Broken But My Heart," Celine Dion, 1992
Diane has always been Celine's go-to songwriter. They've had several hits together but this was one of the most unremarkable, a middling ballad that is almost exactly the same in melody and structure as one of Diane's previous songs, "If You Asked Me To." Some of Diane's songs at least have a catchy hook or an interesting lyric, but this one has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

5. "I'd Lie for You (And That's the Truth)," Meat Loaf, 1996
This isn't the worst song Diane wrote for Meat Loaf - that distinction goes to "Cry Over Me," a horrifying ballad from this Year's Bat Out Of Hell III. But "I'd Lie for You" is on the list because of the shameless way in which Diane wrote it to emulate the style of Meat Loaf's regular songwriter, Jim Steinman. It has signature Steinman elements, like the lead piano, male/female lead vocals, operatic background vocals, and even has a guitar solo - since when do Diane Warren songs have guitar solos? It's sorry that someone as accomplished as Diane would feel the need to ripoff someone else.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

2007 MTV Video Music Awards: Minute by Minute

Tonight at 9 pm are the 2007 Video Music Awards, from the Palms in Las Vegas, and I'm blogging as it happens. I've barely paid attention to the nominees, and I don't even know who's hosting, so I'll be going in cold, which I think is a good thing. I've seen pretty much every music awards show of the past 15 years so I'm pretty much obligated to watch...

7:19 pm
I just went to the Wikipedia page for the awards show and learned that all the genre-specific awards have been done away with. That means no Best Dance Video, Best Hip Hop Video, Best Rock Video, and, for fucks sake, no Viewers Choice Award! What in God's name is MTV thinking? There are only 12 awards now, including such bullshit categories as "Most Earthshattering Collaboration," "Monster Single of the Year," and "Quadruple Threat of the Year," which goes to someone who is in music, movies, TV, etc.

This is absurd. Now, I'm completely unable to take these awards seriously. I'm going to spend the next hour and 40 minutes bitching, until Britney takes the stage to open the show.

8:07 pm
Sway is interviewing Rihanna on the pre-show. I like Sway, he's a cool dude. I was never a huge Rihanna fan but "Umbrella" is undeniable and might be the single of the year. Sway throws it back to John Norris, who appears to have some sort of small rodent on his head. I like John though; I'm glad MTV has kept him around amidst all its new teenage VJs. John actually knows music and knows how to conduct an interview and ask questions other than "What are you most looking forward to tonight?"

9:00 pm
Britney is on stage and there's an extreme closeup. She looks cross-eyed. She doesn't even have a mic on - she's not even pretending to sing live this time. I kind of admire the honesty, I must say. Oh wait, there is a tiny mic under her hair. The track is decent but I'm quite underwhelmed by this performance. She's barely even dancing. It looks like she's going through the motions. I have to say, I don't think she looks too bad considering the craziness of the past year.

Edit: Maybe I spoke too soon, after seeing this photo:

9:05 pm
Sarah Silverman does some comedy... I'm not a fan of the new trend of award show hosts insulting the attendees, but she's not too inappropriate this time. Her best line is saying of 50 Cent, "It's so cute that he's still alive." She also says of Britney - "She is 25-years-old and she’s already accomplished everything she’s going to accomplish in her life." Alicia Keys comes out and cuts to Pete Wentz, whose microphone is off. Whoops!

9:12 pm
They're announcing the nominees for Monster Single of the Year. One of the 11 nominees is "Lip Gloss" by Lil Mama. I've never even heard of this song. The winner is Umbrella by Rihanna. This might be the only award I agree with all night.

9:21 pm
Seth Rogen and the other guy from Superbad make an appearance. It lasts all of ten seconds. Boo.

9:23 pm
The Quadruple Threat award goes to Justin Timberlake, who is in some other room partying. I don't get it.

9:25 pm
They're showing a 90-second clip of Fall Out Boy playing Thks Fr Th Mmrs, apparently sponsored by Rhapsody. Is this live, or is this a commercial? Why do they keep cutting to these mini-performances? It's like MTV is bringing the ADD vibe of TRL to its awards show now. This is about the tenth WTF? moment of the show, and we're only 25 minutes in.

9:35 pm
Kanye and 50 are onstage to give out the Collaboration award to Beyonce and Shakira. I thought that was a terrible song. MTV has been making a big deal about the fact that this year's awards will only air once; I'm starting to become incredibly grateful for that decision.

9:43 pm
Chris Brown is performing, even though I don't think he had any hits in the past year. He's not singing live, either. Apparently, you only get a full performance if you agree to lip sync.

9:46 pm
Rihanna comes out to join Chris Brown. I get my hopes up, thinking they'll do the remix of Umbrella where Chris sings a verse and changes the lyric to "Cinderella", but instead he starts dancing to Billie Jean. I don't have a fucking clue what's going on.

9:56 pm
Male Artist of the Year goes to Justin Timberlake. Now I'm thinking it's a good idea MTV had Kanye host a party in a separate room, so he can't rush the stage to interrupt other peoples' speeches.

10:07 pm
Short clip of Justin & 5o doing the new single "Ayo Technology." Stupid title, good song. Next up, Fergie wins female artist of the year. Um, ok.

10:09 pm
Kanye gets to play a full song. I like that he's performing from a balcony, several stories up in the Palms. That's one cool thing about having the show in this venue. I don't recognize the song, but there's a Snakes on a Plane reference, so it gets points in my book.

10:24 pm
Fall Out Boy win a moonman, and this qualifies as a major highlight to me, given how lousy the rest of the broadcast has been so far. A few minutes later, Rihanna is singing Shut Up and Drive with Fall Out Boy. This collaboration, I actually like.

10:34 pm
It's Alicia Keys' turn to perform. I don't like most of her stuff, but this song isn't bad. Still, it's a toss-up whether I want to keep watching this, or go to bed.

10:44 pm
It's back to the Fall Out Boy party, where Gym Class Heroes are playing Clothes Off!, allowing me to drop in another reference to Jermaine Stewart. Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner come out to present Best New Artist and it goes to Gym Class Heroes - no surprise, since their teen fans were likely to be the most active dialing up the phonelines.

10:49 pm
Miss Teen South Carolina ("some people don't have maps") makes an appearance and pokes fun at herself. Finally, a legitimately funny moment!

10:55 pm
Robin Thicke comes on for a 30-second performance. I take him about as seriously as I take Vanilla Ice. Am I the only one who thinks he is a joke?

10:57 pm
Dr. Dre gets the lifetime achievement award. OK, I can buy that. Wait, did he actually get an award, or did he just get a glowing introduction from Mary J. Blige? I don't see any award in his hand. Strange. Dre gives out Video of the Year, and it's Rihanna. It's not deserved at all, but I wasn't holding my breath they'd actually give it to Justice.

11:00 pm
Diddy is on stage and makes a reference to a fight between Kid Rock and Tommy Lee that happened earlier. This is a juicy story that we clearly need more details on. Diddy introduces the Timbaland medley, with my girl Nelly Furtado and Justin finishing it off with Give it to Me.

11:10 pm
Mercifully, it's over. This was quite possibly the least interesting MTV awards ever. I have nothing more to say. Only two months until the Billboard awards!

Friday, September 7, 2007

And I'm so, whoa oh oh ooh oh ooh oh

"The guy in the flannel shirt is the pianist!" I'm pretty sure tonight was the first time I ever uttered that sentence. I just saw the White Rabbits, one of my favorites from Lollapalooza, at Club Cafe. I like this band and their catchy, punchy rock songs. They are unique in that they have two drummers, sometimes three, depending on the song, and they do a lot of freelancing - sometimes the bassist will play drums, sometimes a drummer helps out on keyboards.

They have some shows lined up with Tokyo Police Club - that would be an awesome pairing - but tonight they headlined alone. It was a quality performance, and the single The Plot sounded great. I love the group sing along at the end of Kid on my Shoulders too.

They seemed pretty accessible and stayed afterwards to chat with people. I wanted to join in but when I go to shows by myself I feel a little silly talking to the bands, don't ask me why. I guess that's just another reason for me to launch this Pittsburgh music website that I've been kicking around in my head for years, so that I can actually interview bands before they get to town...

I'm not feeling very verbose tonight so I'll leave it at that, and link to their recent performance of The Plot on Letterman:

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

September 5: Thumbs up/ Thumbs down

Brad Paisley. It took me a LONG time to warm up to this guy. He's a traditionalist, and I remember hearing some quotes from him early in his career that ticked me off. Specifically, while onstage at an awards ceremony, he said, "I have no desire to be played anywhere other than country radio," which was a slap in the face to artists like Faith, Shania and the Dixie Chicks who had branched out into pop. It made me think he was full of himself. That feeling started to wear off with 2002's "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)," which revealed a side of Paisley I hadn't seen - the funny side. Now, with the humorous single "Online" and his acclaimed new album 5th Gear, I'm firmly in the Paisley camp - he's a breath of fresh air from the other men ruling the genre. Toby Keith's a pompous ass, Kenny Chesney's a fraud-committing wacko, but Paisley is genuine.

Kanye West. By moving up the release date of his album, Kanye created a September 11 showdown with 50 Cent, and in turn got people talking about rap music again. His new song Stronger samples Daft Punk and shows that he is still trying to break new ground and provide something fresh. Like Brad Paisley, I used to hate Kanye, but eventually I had to give in and accept his brilliance.

Backstreet Boys
. Please give it up guys! They've lost Kevin, but the other four Boys are carrying on, and their new single Inconsolable sucks. Just like everything they've done since 2001. Except for "Just Want You to Know" - the video for that was excellent. A fluke, I must say...

The MTV Video Music Awards. I give them thumbs down because they actually did something right - they included an obscure song among the nominations for Video of the Year - Justice's "D.A.N.C.E." I was disappointed because now the whole friggin' world knows about an awesome band that I was hoping would stay a small, little-known indie act. See, even when they do something right, there's reason to be mad at MTV. (It'll probably lose to Beyonce, anyway...)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Strange iTunes bedfellows

My iTunes is arranged alphabetically, and I love when this results in crazy transitions between disparate genres. Here are some of the best transitions on my iTunes:

Velvet Underground "Sweet Jane" > Venga Boys "We Like to Party!"
Classic grime rock from Andy Warhol's band of freaks, transitioning into cartoonish Eurodance pop. This is one of two equally ridiculous transitions for Lou Reed on my iTunes - the other is when his "Walk on the Wild Side" plays right after Los Del Rio's "Macarena."

USA For Africa "We are the World" > Usher & Ludacris "Yeah!"
Which song did more to make the world a better place? You decide.

Cranberries "Salvation" > Culture Club "Church of the Poison Mind"
If salvation is possible at the church of the poison mind, they should just combine the two songs.

Christopher Cross "Sailing" > Chumbawamba "Tubthumping"
The first is the most elitist pop song in history, the second is just plain stupid. And I love them both.

Peter Gabriel "Solsbury Hill" > Phil Collins "I Wish It Would Rain"
Ex-bandmates reunite. Phil gets the edge because "Wish" opens with an emotional guitar solo. I admire that. How many songs open with a guitar solo? "Sweet Child Of Mine," that's the only other one that immediately comes to mind.

Silk "Freak Me" > Silverchair "Freak"
A brilliant transition because the song titles are almost the same, even if the lyrical content is totally different. "Let me lick you up and down" vs. "Body and soul, I'm a freak."

Peabo Bryson & Roberta Flack "Tonight I Celebrate My Love" > Peaches "Stick it to The Pimp"
A sweet, sappy love ballad, followed by a trashy electroclash song. The same thing happens in reverse when I go from Lords of Acid to Loretta Lynn.

2Pac "Changes > AFI "Miss Murder"
Dude who was murdered, and song about murder.