Sunday, May 27, 2007

Murky Words Music Mix #4: Summertime Singalong

I've never been one of these cats that thinks of Memorial Day weekend as the "unofficial start of summer." Growing up, summer always started when school ended, and in my neck of the woods it most certainly (and rather infuriatingly) did not conclude in May. However, now that I'm no longer a whipping boy for academia, I let the weather be the determining factor. And, as anyone living in the greater Boston area will attest, the sun God Ra (everyone's favorite pal), has indeed declared this years Memorial Day weekend to be the start of the season. Praise be.

Fittingly, I spent all of beautiful today in my car running errands, however, you'll get no gripe from me. Few things are as enjoyable as driving around in summer with the windows open and the music blaring. And, as I traveled to and fro, hither and yon, listening to the "Memorial Day Rewind" on the local radio station (they "rewound" to the year 1997 and made that the weekend theme - sounds lame, but I was in heaven, I assure you) I decided to scrap the original plans I had for this post (don't worry - I just postponed 'em until the next one) and throw up another music mix. After all, we haven't had one of those since Thanksgiving.

Looking at the post's title and ensuing two paragraphs, you won't have to think very hard to figure out this mix's theme - it is indeed 'summer song' related. However, it's MY summer songs that will be featured. That is to say, none of these tunes (or at least very few of them) have much to do with the actual summer season. Rather, they are all songs that, for me, bring back distinct summer memories, whether they were playing in the background during specific events, or just simply were popular in the summer of a specific year. In any event, they all strike some sort of chord with me, and I'm going to categorize them by 'era' - starting with the earliest and working my way up. Now, now - don't go running away just yet. I realize how self-centered all of this is, but cut me some slack. I just found out my 10 year college reunion is next week. 10 years!! Quite frankly, I feel I'm entitled to reminisce. This is my catharsis, dammit. Besides, I won't lead you astray. These are all good tunes (although I absolutely cringed with embarrassment upon hearing some of them again... you'll see what I mean.) Without further ado:

A quick refresher course on downloading these suckers is in order. If you simply click on the artist/song title link the tune will (most likely) play right in your browser. If you want to save the file to your computer, right mouse click the link and choose "Save Target As". If you want to download all of the songs at once without clicking on every single song, there's a link to a zip file at the very end of this post which contains all the tracks. Lastly, if you want more information about the album from which the song came from, or wish to purchase it, click the 'Buy It' link at the end of each paragraph. Have fun.

The Early Years: 1981 - 1986

Genesis - Abacab: In 1981, I was six years old and sharing a room with my brother, who is eight years my senior. As was typical, we had bunk beds, and he, lucky bastard, got the top, while I was sentenced to the bottom. This was significant because every night he would turn on the clock radio - located on the desk rather near my head - and fall asleep to the less than dulcet tones of 94.5 WCOZ-FM (which would later switch formats to urban music and eventually become Jam'n 94.5, which it remains to this day.) Anyway, the summer of '81 marks the earliest point at which I can remember rock music (and the Dr. Demento show - ugh) being played on the radio. This was one of two songs I remember being played with any consistency, and I absolutely loved it - largely because of the keyboards, and God knows what else. Quite frankly, I still think it sounds good. (Incidentally, the other song I remember from that time is Journey's 'Who's Crying Now.' I'll let you decide whether or not I posted the right track.) Buy It.

The Police - Invisible Sun: You can thank my brother for this tune, too. In the summer of '81 he brought this album home from Nuggets, the local record store, and pretty much wore out the groove in a month (YES! An actual LP!!!!) This track, along with 'Spirits in the Material World' were my favorites. Since this one is the lesser known, however, I decided to post it, and since the band has reunited and will be touring (in Fenway Park!) this summer, I though it all the more appropriate. Buy it.

(Note: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in 1983 my brother brought home yet another LP from Nuggets - this one being U2's 'War.' This album, without question, gave me a new appreciation for music. I simply couldn't get over how good it was. I became a U2 fan then, and was forever hooked. I'm not posting anything from the album here because - heh - this is a summer song mix, and he bought it in winter if I remember correctly. But fear not, there's some U2 a little further down.)

Tears For Fears - Everybody Wants To Rule The World: This tune hit the scene in the Summer of '84. I will forever associate it - along with 'What's Love Got To Do With It' by Tina Turner - with my very first Red Sox game because both of those tunes were inexplicably played over the loudspeakers between innings (Don't ask me why. I don't know what the hell they were thinking.) What else do I remember about the game? It was against the Milwaukee Brewers (who were an American League team back then) and Cecil Cooper - my brother's former favorite Red Sox player - played for them. Also, in the later innings, Brewers pitcher Rick Searage took a line drive to the face off the bat of (I think) Dwight Evans. I, however, missed most of the game's action because I was so fixated on the pulsating neon Citgo sign located directly over the Green Monster, across the park from where we were sitting. Oh yeah, this is a good tune, too. Buy It.

Nu Shooz - I Can't Wait: I'm not in the least bit embarrassed to say I love this song. It is so ridiculously bad, it's good. In 1985 my cousin Brian and I would ride our bikes to Kenmore Square (I realize now that my parents would have killed me if they'd known this) and go to a roller skating rink called Spinoffs (which is now the 3rd floor of Jillian's.) This tune was ALWAYS played as people skated around (and tripped over each other - which is why Brian and I often went. We couldn't skate so instead we liked to point and laugh.) This song was also pretty huge in Germany in the summer of '86 - a trip I took with my family. I still think of it as having a 'European feel' as a result. Buy It.

The Awkward Years: 1987 - 1995

The years 1987 - 1991 were not exactly kind in terms of musical appreciation - to me or anyone else. In Junior High we were seemingly faced with only two options - one-hit wonder after one-hit wonder or Guns N' Roses (if I remember correctly, one of the biggest songs in this time period was a remake of Bill Withers' classic 'Lean On Me' by some act called Club Nouveau. It was a complete and utter bastardization of the original that heard the maestros repeating "We Be Jammin'!" over and over again in the bridge. This is your #1 song in the late 80's. Good Christ.) I actually really liked Guns N' Roses, but so did every punk in Junior High who picked on me, and there was no way in hell I was going to express my musical solidarity with them. Instead, I listened to U2 constantly, and also regressed back to a period I'd never known and started immersing myself in classic rock (Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, etc...) But then 1991 came along, and with it came Nirvana's 'Nevermind' (a staple for any teenager at that time and the album that knocked the music industry on its ass) as did U2's Achtung Baby. I also attended my very first live show which was...

Pixies - Subbacultcha: I'd love to sit here and tell you that I was ultra hip in 1991, and that I was a Pixies fan when most people hadn't heard of them. In point of fact, I discovered them by accident. A cousin of mine had two tickets to their live show at the Orpheum in the winter of '91, and the owner of the 2nd ticket backed out. I got roped in as the replacement. I say 'roped in' because I didn't really want to go. I had heard of the band only in passing, and I wasn't to keen on seeing them - not with a name like 'Pixies', but for whatever reason, I decided to give them a shot. I walked into the Orpheum with a grumble and walked out a changed man - and they weren't even a very good live act. I latched on to them immediately, and their album Trompe Le Monde was an integral part of my Summer of '92. This was also the album I was listening to when, for the first time, my father opened my bedroom door and expressed his concern at the type of music I was listening to - something that made me immensely proud and decide to buy the rest of their albums (my father would do this again a few months later while I was listening to the first track of The The's 'Mind Bomb.') Incidentally, my 2nd live show? U2 at the Boston Garden on St. Patrick's Day of 1992. Opening Act? Pixies. Talk about a date that will live in infamy. Buy It.

Digable Planets - Pacifics: Rap entered the fray that was my musical mind around '92/'93 (although for the most part, it didn't stay very long.) Although I kind of liked mainstream poppy type rap, it didn't fit into the alternative and rebellious image of myself that I was trying to project to the rest of the world. Digable Planets, however, were an exception. At the time I thought of them as 'jazzy rap' and I liked them not only because they were played on the alternative rock station, but because their bass lines were of such mellow funk and groove they it was impossible to not enjoy them. This song takes me back to hot summer days in Allston while just hanging out - smoking cigarettes and eating pizza. Buy It.

The The - Dogs of Lust: 1993 was kind of the year that the cover got blown off for me in terms of musical taste. I could listen to anything and pretty much enjoy it. The The released their album Dusk in the summer of that year, and having heard one of the tracks on the radio, I went out and bought the album. The original cassette I bought has long since worn out, as did two CD's after that. Buy It.

U2 - Lemon: I know, I know, I know. I'm in for a ration of shit for posting this one. Of all possible U2 tunes I could throw up here, I had to pick this one? Well, yeah. (Sorry, A.K.) It's been my experience that most U2 fans like to forget that the Zooropa & Pop albums ever happened. Well, I'm here to tell you that they DID in fact happen, and if you would just pull your head out of your ass, you'll see that they are actually both GOOD. Yeah, I said it! Do yourself a favor and try to listen to them without any preconceived notions of what you think U2 should sound like, and I bet you'll be surprised. Oh, summer of '93 on this one, by the way - right before I started college. I associate this song with the overwhelming yet incredibly exciting enormity of it all. Buy It.

Souls of Mischief - '93 'Til Infinity: Despite this track's name, I actually didn't discover it until the summer of '94. I was in college by this point and again listening to anything and everything. I found this rap tune on some promotional music sampler that was being handed out on campus, and for whatever reason it stuck with me. Some songs just do that. Buy It.

Luscious Jackson - Citysong: I was a Luscious Jackson fan before this album was released, but there's something about this tune that just screams 'Summer in the City' (no, that tune will not be on this mix, although it's a good one.) The song's title helps. So does the ambient city noise in the background. So do the lyrics (when they make sense.) Enjoy it. You dig? Buy It.

The Golden Years: 1996 - 1998

The summers of '96, '97 & '98 were among the happiest of my entire life. Unfortunately, I remember little about them. However, consider the following facts. I was on my own for the first time in my life (I lived at home for the first two years of college.) I was living on the corner of Beacon St. and Mass Ave. smack in the middle of the Back Bay with tons of shops, bars, restaurants and live music venues within walking distance. I was working two jobs in radio (college station and commercial classic rock station) as well as holding a full time job at a local hotel - so I had plenty of spending money (yet still barely managed to make ends meet.) Throw it all together and you get a whirlwind of a few years which I can't quite believe I survived, yet I still look back on with extreme wistfulness. The music? There was nothing special about it when you compare it to other eras, but it always seems to bring me back to a time or place of such fond memories that I can't help but close my eyes and enjoy it.

Underworld - Born Slippy [Nuxx]: The film Trainspotting was released in the summer of '96 and it immediately became (and has remained) my favorite film. There are many reasons for this: the slick editing, the crazy story that I could somehow relate to (no, I was not, and never have been, a heroin addict but the themes of bottom dwelling low depths and ultimate, yet questionable redemption struck a chord), and, of course, the soundtrack. The songs chosen and their arrangement, quite simply, made the film, and this track was its centerpiece (despite the fact that it only appeared at the very end.) Further, it was impossible to enter a dance club in '96 or '97 and not hear this tune. (Note: The nit-pickers among you will note that this is the live version of the track which wasn't released on CD until many years later. Apologies for the white lie, but I think this version is just outstanding.) Buy It.

Duke Ellington & Coleman Hawkins - Mood Indigo: Way back when, I somehow managed to con the higher-ups at my college radio station into thinking I knew a little something about jazz music. They gave me a Tuesday DJ spot which I managed to keep for 3 1/2 years, and eventually, they put me in charge of the whole show. However, when I first started out I knew next to nothing about the genre, so I took it upon myself to research a ton and listen, listen, listen. Often times, I'd grab a random album from the stacks, pick a track, and let 'er rip. I did that with this tune, and immediately knew I'd struck gold. This should be listened to on a warm summer night with the windows open and a cool breeze blowing, preferably with someone special nearby. Buy It.

Sublime - Doin' Time: Perhaps the quintessential summer song of the 90's (if you don't count Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince which I kind of don't) this tune could just as easily have fit in the next section. However, since it was released in 1996 and I spent many a summer night with friends sippin' a 40 oz. and listening to this album, here it is. Buy It.

Oasis - D'You Know What I Mean: This tune recalls one of those not so happy moments that inevitably stick with you. On the day Princess Diana got into the car crash that would kill her, I was working the overnight shift at the commercial radio station mentioned earlier. At the time, it was known that she was in an accident, but her condition had not been reported on. After my shift was over, I walked in an exhausted stupor across the street to The Pour House - a Back Bay bar that, in mornings, served as a breakfast establishment. As I sat at the bar eating my omelet, I looked up to see MTV on the television, with this song's video playing. All of a sudden, the words "Diana, Princess of Wales, has died" scrolled across the bottom of the screen over and over again. Just surreal. Buy It. (Quick note: During a typical commercial radio on-air shift, the music that is played comes from a playlist, usually created (as was the case this time) days before the actual shift. Deviation from said playlist, at most stations, is STRICTLY forbidden, and if you purposely do so, it could mean suspension or even your job. By pure coincidence, 'Killer Queen' by Queen was on the playlist the night Princess Diana's car crashed, and I, not wanting to lose my job, played it. It did not go unnoticed. The following day, the local papers ripped the station for playing it. Oddly enough, my bosses never mentioned it.)

Sneaker Pimps - 6 Underground: The trip-hop genre was huge back in '96 and this was one of the one-hit wonders that exemplified it. I've always loved this song. Mellow, yet nice and darkly menacing. Listening to this made me feel like I was up to no good, which is funny because I often was. Buy It.

Faithless - God Is A DJ: Another club-thumper. You could always count on Faithless to deliver the goods. While their track Insomnia was, without question, one of the definitive club tracks of the late 90's, this often overlooked track is, in my mind at least, just as enjoyable. This one hits you hard for about three minutes, lets you drop, and then quickly disappears. Head bop or jump around. Take your pick. Buy It.

The Santa Barbara Years: 1999 - 2002

I did not, as the line above might indicate, live in Santa Barbara from '99 to '02, however I did have to travel there a goodly amount for work - making about six trips in three years. While there, I became quite the connoisseur of jukeboxes in open-air bars (of which the band Sublime is a permanent fixture.) This section is a little deceiving, simply because it's always summer in Santa Barbara, so even though I may have originally come across some of these tunes in winter, I always associate them with summer, regardless. Still, this was a strange few years for me, and the tunes kind of reflect that. Santa Barbara locals will, I'm sure, scoff at these selections thinking them poor representations of the area, and they'd be right, but they're still damn good tunes.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Scar Tissue: The Chili Peps are one of my favorite bands of all time, and they took a good deal of heat in the late 90's for "straying from their roots." Whatever. This may not be the funk they're known for, but, if anything, they showed their diversity with this tune. One of SoCal's finest. Buy It.

LEN - Steal My Sunshine: Alright, now this song? I'm embarrassed by it. Talk about a shameful one-hit wonder. There is no reason on God's green Earth why I should ever admit to finding enjoyment from this little ditty. But, it is what it is , and in 1999 this was the unofficial song of summer. Buy It.

Stone Temple Pilots - Sour Girl: I was lucky enough to see STP in the summer of 2000 at Avalon. This was their big hit at the time, not to mention one of maybe two good songs off the album they were touring in support of - and it's very unlike them. Yes, their best years were definitely behind them, and realizing this, they played most of their hits from previous albums. It was, perhaps, one of the tightest live shows I've ever seen, and I was incredibly fortunate to have caught it at all. Two days later, lead singer Scott Weiland was arrested for the umpteenth time for heroin possession. Idiot. Buy It.

Beastie Boys - The Negotiation Limerick File: I'm not quite sure why this song made the mix. I mean, I know WHY it made the mix - because in the summer of '99 I couldn't stop listening to it - but why this song? Got me. I'm not really a fan of the Beastie's, and this tune - well, it's slightly infectious, and has a decent beat. So, why the hell is it so addcitive?? Answer me, dammit! Buy It.

The Now: 2002 - Present

And, finally, we get to the here and now. I know what you're thinking. Only TWO songs representing the past five years? Yep. But, there's a few good reasons. First of all, this mix is more about remembrance of summers past than celebration of summer present. Songs from the past five years don't particularly make me nostalgic for anything - yet. Secondly, nothing from the past five years has really stuck out. Sad to say, but entirely true. However, I can say, with near 100% certainty, that some summer a few years from now, I'll be listening to these two tracks and thinking "Remember when?" Lastly, I think 22 songs and associated paragraphs is quite enough, don't you? In fact, I'm betting only three of you have made it to this sentence. Thanks for stickin' around.

Gorillaz - Feel Good, Inc: I've wasted way too many pixels writing about the Gorillaz on this blog, but this tune exploded over the airwaves last summer (I only heard Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' more often, which is a shame because I really don't like that song.) You can't go wrong when the guy from Blur decides to create a cartoon band. The perfect mix of rap and bouncy alternative rock, this is a good ol' summertime tune. Buy It.

Peter Bjorn & John - Young Folks: Perhaps it's the '60's pop feel. Perhaps it's because one of the band members is named Bjorn. Perhaps it's the whistle. Actually, scratch that. It's DEFINITELY the whistle. This is this year's musical equivalent of a cool breeze on a hot summer day. Don't take it too seriously. Just whistle along and enjoy... Buy It.

And there we have it. What else can I say except, "Welcome to my summer!" Hopefully, at least some of these tracks will bring back that good time summer vibe for a little bit. If not, well, can't say I didn't try. In any event, I wish a pleasant Memorial Day weekend to you all.

Happy Summer, everyone! Live it up.

Download: Summer

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Monday, May 21, 2007

"Great, Kid. Don't Get Cocky."

A little less than three weeks ago, the first ever high-wire championship was staged in the South Korean capital of Seoul. Eighteen contestants from nine countries competed over the course of three days for the $15,000 prize, awarded to the acrobat who could most quickly cross a tightrope spanning the Han River. It being the longest tightrope ever strung, any contestant to make it across would also break the record for distance (well... technically, the first person to cross would break the record. The rest would simply tie, but you know...)

Among the contestants were Jade Kindar-Martin of Shelburne, Vt., a former Cirque du Soleil performer who once crossed London's River Thames at a height of 150 feet, Colombia's Alan Martinez, who ambled across the Amazon, and Adili Wuxiuer of China - the world record-holder for distance who walked on a wire nearly a half-mile across the Chongqing Cliff at a height of 2,250 feet in 2003.

So, who won? Um... I have no idea, actually. Why did I bother to bring it up then? Because it allowed the Associated Press (and affiliated outlets) to print what must surely be the headline of the year, if not the millennium...

P.S. Thanks for being patient, folks. There'll be another post within a couple days....

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wheel Stealer? Stealers Wheel? Wheel Monster? Cookie Stealer?

Crazy couple of weeks here in Eric's world, and although posting has been the last thing on my mind, I figure I'd try to get back in the swing of things again. What better way to do that than with a little YouTube clip and commentary?

You all know where I stand with Sesame Street - or at least, those of you who read this blog regularly do. Fantastic show. Unfortunately, however, I can't remember the last time I saw it on TV. I was probably just a mere youngin'. When my two sisters had children of their own (two girls for one, two boys for the other - deuces wild!) I figured I'd get a steady dose of the stuff. Not so. I don't think my nieces and nephews have even the slightest idea of what Sesame Street is. They're too busy watching Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, J.J. the Jet Plane, Barney (oh, the horror), Caillou (let me know if you can pronounce this), and whatever else, and quite frankly, I feel like they're missing out. A childhood without Grover, Oscar, Snuffleupagus (and I want to go on record as saying Snuffy should NEVER have been 'discovered' by the adults in the mid-80's - I'm still angry about that one), Big Bird, and Cookie Monster is a deprived one. And fine, so I'm a 31 year old male who pines for Sesame Street. All I can say is, watch it sometime. It's just as funny now as it was then. The Muppeteers (Henson/Oz et al.) did a wonderful job of making the show enjoyable for both children and adults.

And it's with that in mind that I present this next clip - Coffee Break Machine. Your first thought upon seeing it might very well be, "Wait a minute - Cookie Monster doesn't have any teeth", and you'd be correct. He doesn't have green fur either. In fact, the monster featured isn't Cookie Monster at all, but his predecessor - a monster named Wheel Stealer.

From Wikipedia:

"The book Jim Henson's Designs and Doodles explains Cookie Monster's origin as follows: "In 1966, Henson drew three monsters that ate cookies and appeared in a General Foods commercial that featured three crunch snack foods: Wheels, Crowns and Flutes. Each snack was represented by a different monster. The Wheel-Stealer was a short, fuzzy monster with wonky eyes and sharply pointed teeth. The Flute-Snatcher was a speed demon with a long, sharp nose and windblown hair. The Crown-Grabber was a hulk of a monster with a Boris Karloff accent and teeth that resembled giant knitting needles.

In 1967, Henson used the "Wheel-Stealer" puppet for an IBM training film called "Coffee Break Machine". In the sketch, the monster (with frightening eyes and fangs) devours a complex machine as the machine describes its purpose and construction.

Two years later, Henson pulled the puppet out of the box again for three commercials selling Munchos, a Frito-Lay potato chip. This time, the puppet was called Arnold, the Munching Monster. After the three ads were produced, Henson had the opportunity to renew the contract. He chose not to, because at that point he was working on Sesame Street — and that monster puppet was moving on to the next stage in his career. Cookie Monster, still unnamed, made his Sesame Street debut in the first episode, interfering with Kermit the Frog's "famous W lecture" by eating a model "W" bit by bit (turning it into an "N", a "V", and finally an "I", to Kermit's frustration)."

Interesting facts for you the next time you play Trivial Pursuit: Sesame Street Edition. And, as someone who works with computers for a living, I can fully appreciate Wheel Stealer's actions. Computers.... ahm ahm ahm mmmm...!! (last sentence provided courtesy of Miss Goofus.) Have fun. This is a lost classic, this is.

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