Thursday, December 31, 2009

Billboard Top Pop Album Artists

image from

Based on the Billboard album chart, these are the top album artists in the history of the chart from 1955-2009:

1. Elvis Presley
2. Frank Sinatra
3. The Beatles
4. Barbra Stresiand
5. The Rolling Stones
6. Johnny Mathis
7. Elton John
8. Bob Dylan
9. Neil Diamond
10. The Temptations

11. Eric Clapton
12. The Beach Boys
13. Rod Stewart
14. Willie Nelson
15. Mantovani
16. Ray Charles
17. Neil Young
18. Ray Conniff
19. Prince
20. Paul McCartney

21. Aretha Franklin
22. George Strait
23. Jimmy Buffett
24. Pink Floyd
25. Chicago
26. David Bowie
27. James Brown
28. Bruce Springsteen
29. Andy Williams
30. The Bee Gees

31. Lawrence Welk
32. Van Morrison
33. Kenny Rogers
34. The Supremes
35. Grateful Dead
36. Henry Mancini
37. The Kingston Trio
38. Barry Manilow
39. Aerosmith
40. Jimi Hendrix

41. Michael Jackson
42. Herb Alpert
43. Stevie Wonder
44. Nat “King” Cole
45. Johnny Cash
46. Metallica
47. Madonna
48. Led Zeppelin
49. U2
50. Queen

51. Roger Williams
52. Kiss
53. Fleetwood Mac
54. Linda Ronstadt
55. The Ventures
56. Santana
57. Garth Brooks
58. Diana Ross
59. James Taylor
60. AC/DC

61. Rush
62. The Who
63. Billy Vaughn
64. Billy Joel
65. Alabama
66. Jefferson Airplane/Starship
67. Alan Jackson
68. Eagles
69. Dionne Warwick
70. Tony Bennett

71. Dave Matthews Band
72. Harry Belafonte
73. The Isley Brothers
74. The Doors
75. John Denver
76. Mitch Miller
77. Mariah Carey
78. Dean Martin
79. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
80. The Lettermen

81. Nancy Wilson
82. Journey
83. Marvin Gaye
84. Jethro Tull
85. Bon Jovi
86. Elvis Costello
87. Dolly Parton
88. Carly Simon
89. Bob Seger
90. The Kinks

91. Tupac Shakur
92. Gladys Knight & the Pips
93. Pearl Jam
94. Kenny G
95. Joan Baez
96. R.E.M.
97. Anne Murray
98. The Monkees
99. Glen Campbell
100. The Jackson 5/The Jacksons

  • Joel Whitburn (2010). Top Pop Albums (7th edition). Record Research: Menomonee Falls, WI. Page 951.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees

Last week, the 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees were announced. At the onset of the year, I inducted myself into the world of blogging by scrawling down my humble opinions about the 2009 crop of Rock Hall inductees (“How to Get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”). Obviously someone in high-up places at the Hall read my blog and made some adjustments, albeit minor ones.

A year ago I whined about an apparent bias against progressive rock. This year Genesis has finally broken down that door. Hopefully, Yes, Rush, King Crimson, and others will follow. Now, do we get to see Gabriel on stage with Collins, Rutherford, and Banks? Performing something from Lamb Lies Down on Broadway perhaps?

I also complained about an overemphasis on R&B acts and, lo and behold, this year there are no one-hit wonder doo wop groups from the ‘50s on the list. Instead we have Jimmy Cliff, a reggae artist who is best known for the soundtrack for The Harder They Come, not exactly a must-have for the average fan.

Then again, if it were just about the fans, the Stooges might have prolonged their decade-and-a-half overdue entrance into the Hall. Amongst this year’s batch, no act has more “rock cred.” As architects of what became the punk movement in the ‘70s, Iggy & Co. also can lay claim to being the godfathers of most of the alternative music that followed. The Nirvanas and Pearl Jams that are shoo-in inductees within the next-half decade wouldn’t be here if weren’t for the Stooges.

I also lamented a year ago that being a true rock and roll act doesn’t seem to be a requirement. The Rock Hall made it clear long ago that they were more about popular music of the rock era than actual rock. As such, Abba isn’t exactly what people have in mind when they utter the phrase “rock and roll,” but there’s no question they belong in a pop music hall of fame.

Finally, there’s The Hollies, which sort of straddle the line between pop and rock, but do so in such a way that they deserve being regarded as one of the important bands of the British Invasion.

On the nonperformer end of things, apparently there was an all-out effort to correct some gross oversights. David Geffen, the man who founded Geffen Records and signed artists like the Eagles; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Jackson Browne; and Linda Ronstadt, wasn’t in yet? How about Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, who helped define the “Brill Building” sound with classics such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” which alone should have been an automatic ticket to induction years ago. Similarly, the writing team of Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry, who crafted the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” have been astonishingly overlooked for years.

And when it comes to overlooked songwriters, how has Otis Blackwell been passed over for so long? Songs like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Don’t Be Cruel” are foundations of rock and roll and their creator wasn’t in the Hall yet? There’s also Mort Shuman, who along with Doc Pomus, wrote songs like “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “Viva Las Vegas.” Similarly, Jesse Stone crafted gems like “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” and “Money Honey.”

There’s still acts that need to be inducted (Kiss, Deep Purple, Rush, and more), especially in light of the head-scratching acts whose influence on rock and roll is questionable. Nonetheless, I tip my hat to some of the oversights which the Rock Hall has corrected this time around. I’m so glad I could be a voice of reason for you last year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Farewell, Eric Woolfson

It was the last week of March in 1984 that I became an Alan Parsons Project fan. “Don’t Answer Me” was climbing the charts, eventually becoming a top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. I knew of the Project before that – “Damned if I Do” and “Games People Play” were album rock staples and “Eye in the Sky” had been a huge pop hit (the biggest of the Project’s career) a couple years before. However, I hadn’t plunked down change for an APP album – until that week when I took the leap and grabbed up not just Ammonia Avenue, which featured “Don’t Answer Me,” but also The Best Of collection which had been released just a few months earlier.

A year later I would joyously plump for 1985’s Vulture Culture and a year after that for Stereotomy. As I was prone to do when discovering music in the ‘80s, I started dipping into the back catalog. Beyond the hits, I stumbled across gems like “Old and Wise” and “Turn of a Friendly Card.” Most amusingly though was, in May 1986 when I was anticipating a new album by Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung. I fell in love with this song on the radio that I thought was surely by him. I was wrong – it turned out to be “Breakdown,” from the nearly-decade old APP album I, Robot.

I learned the requisite back story necessary to claim a band as a new favorite. It turns out the Project’s namesake did engineering work on classic albums such as The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. However, Alan Parsons wasn’t alone in the creation of those prog-lite concept albums forged from 1976 to 1987 that sold over 40 million albums worldwide. The group owed as much to Eric Woolfson – a songwriter, keyboardist, singer, and manager who lent his chops to some of the group’s best-known songs such as the aforementioned “Eye in the Sky” and “Don’t Answer Me.”

Following 1987’s Gaudi, the Project disappeared for three years, returning in 1990 with Freudiana. The thing confusingly was not credited to anyone, suggesting that it was a new group called Freudiana. However, this Eric Woolfson-helmed project was clearly the Project with Parsons producing and credits including longtime APP players Ian Bairnson on guitar, Stuart Elliott on drums, and orchestral arrangements from Andrew Powell. John Miles and Chris Rainbow, who’d warbled on past-Project tunes, also put in appearances.

There was something different, though. Peppered with far more guests and stretched to twice the length of the average APP album, this felt more like a musical cast album. Sure enough, there in the liner notes was the statement that “the first stage production of Freudiana has its world premiere in December 1990 in Vienna.” Hmm. This was definitely a new direction for the band.

It proved to be a new direction, but for Woolfson, not Parsons. While Woolfson was eager to explore musical theater, it was the jumping off point for Parsons. The Project was no more. Woolfson went on to craft the musicals Gaudi (1995), Gambler (1996), and Poe (recorded 2003, premiered 2009). He also wrote the music and lyrics for 2007’s Dancing Shadows, which won for Best Musical at the Korean Tony Awards.

This year, I was overjoyed to stumble across The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was, an album from Woolfson that combined some unreleased material from the Project days alongside songs crafted for his musicals. Sadly, it would be Woolfson’s finale. As I scanned the various comments on Facebook this morning about who was headed off to work and who needed coffee and who wasn’t enjoying the weather, I stopped sharply upon a fan notice: Eric Woolfson had died of cancer at the age of 64 on December 2, 2009 – a date that will now, sadly, overshadow that wonderful week in March 1984 when I became a fan. Farewell, Eric. You will be missed.

“Somewhere in the midst of time/ When they ask you if you knew me
Remember that you were a friend of mine
As the final curtain lifts before my eyes/ When I’m old and wise.”

- “Old and Wise” – Alan Parsons Project

Click here to hear an early version of the song that featured Eric Woolfson’s guide vocal.

Also check out my page on the detailed history of the Alan Parsons Project as well as the solo work of Parsons and Woolfson at

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Taylor Swift hits #1 on the AC charts with “You Belong with Me”

Updated 2/6/2018.

image from

Taylor Swift “You Belong with Me”

Writer(s): Taylor Swift, Liz Rose (see lyrics here)

Released: 4/18/2009, First charted: 11/22/2008

Peak: 2 US, 114 AC, 12 CW, 30 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 5.0 US, 0.2 UK, 5.64 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 0.7 Video Airplay (in millions): 805.0 Streaming (in millions): --

Review: Taylor Swift took the world by storm in 2008-2009. Her second album, Fearless, pulled off the astonishing feat of sending twelve of its 13 songs into the Billboard Hot 100. Four went top ten, with “You Belong with Me” being the biggest. The song also gave her a fourth trip to the top of the country charts and marked her second ascension to the pinnacle of the adult contemporary chart (following “Love Story”). It was also the first song in nearly a decade (the last being Faith Hill’s “Breathe” in 2000) to simultaneously chart in the top 5 of the Hot 100 and country charts. WK and the first country song to top the Billboard Hot 100 radio airplay chart AB’00

Swift somehow “made teen love, angst, and romance sound incredibly fresh again.” AB’00 She explained that she overheard a friend’s conversation and wrote the song’s first line, “You’re on the phone with your girlfriend/ She’s upset, going off about something that you said.” SF The song hit on the idea that, as she told MTV News, “somehow the popular girl gets the guy every time” even though she “doesn’t appreciate him at all.” WK She extended the idea “that I’m in love with him and he should be with me instead of her,” SF and highlighted the differences between the two women with lines like “She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts.” SF

The video for the song was shot at the high school in Hendersonville, Tennessee, where her brother went. SF Lucas Till, from Hannah Montana: The Movie, starred as her love interest and in case of life imitating art, the two dated for a short time after doing the video. SF The video’s director, Roman White, said the sparks between the two were evident to everyone on set. He joked, “How many kisses did we go through? I stopped counting at, like, 45.” SF

Swift became the first country artist to win an MTV Video Music Award, landing the prize for Best Female Video at the 2009 Awards. Her win was overshadowed when rapper Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech to proclaim his opinion that Beyoncé should have won the award. When Beyoncé won Video of the Year for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” she graciously invited Swift back on stage to finish her speech.

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Thrill of the New

I am a download junkie. There’s no denying it – the 28,000+ songs on my hard drive weren’t all ripped from my CD collection that now does little more than keep one of the basement walls from being bare. A healthy chunk of my music has known no other home but the computer and isn’t likely to find its way to disc. Occasionally I still buy a CD (they still make ‘em, can you believe it?), but generally out of necessity – some of the stuff is obscure enough that I can’t find it to download.

Still, I get nostalgic for my former music buying habits – paying for an actual, tangible object that might have even required unwrapping. Hmm…I guess a benefit of the mp3 is that you don’t have to wait for your fingernails to grow before you can get the shrink wrap off a CD. How about those awful plastic cases CDs and cassettes used to come in that required super human strength or a machete to open?

I’ve survived a few music formats. Beyond 45 records, my first-ever album music purchase was a K-Tel compilation eight track. That might evoke more than a few chuckles, but there’s even more ammo when it comes to the cassette department, considering my first venture into the tape world was the Xanadu soundtrack. I am proud of my first CD buy – Marillion’s Clutching at Straws, even if I didn’t own a CD player when I bought it. I already had the cassette, but the CD had a bonus track and my buddy across the hall in the dorm let me play it on his CD player.

In my pre-digital adult life, Tuesdays were weekly holidays since that’s when new releases came out. In my college days, the only game in town was (shudder) Wal-Mart, but I occasionally hopped a ride with a buddy to Streetside Records thirty minutes away. In post-college days, my musical hunts often took me to Westport. For those unfamiliar with the Kansas City area, Westport is the kind of neighborhood where, well, there were lots of used record shops. My favorite was Music Exchange. It was one of those places that smelled of dust from the crates of old records and whose door and windows were wallpapered with notices of when and where local bands were playing.

Once the CD dominated, my most frequent stop was Disc Traders. Neither would win a best-name contest, but at the latter they knew me by name, knew my tastes well enough to make recommendations, and weren’t wearing brightly-colored smocks and asking if I needed a shopping cart. It was a relief to know that even in suburbia, I could hit a store that didn’t have a TM after their logo – or even a logo for that matter.

Wrapped or unwrapped, once the acquisition was home or in the car, I’d check out the album packaging, read off song titles, peruse the liner notes and lyrics, and plop the thing in for that virgin listen. What really heightened the experience is when the tunes of choice were either 1) new stuff by a favorite act, or 2) a been-on-my-most-wanted-list-forever item.

I can’t remember the last time I plopped down cash or credit card on an actual counter instead of clicking on the “Pay Now” button. While grabbing up 7 Worlds Collide on may not be the same as stumbling across that long-sought 3rd Matinee disc (complete with a “For Promotional Use Only” label) at whatever-the-name-of-that-place-was-on-75th-Street, both methods can still elicit joy.

Last Friday, two new Kevin Gilbert CDs greeted me in my mailbox. There hasn’t been a “new” KG album since 2002’s Kaviar Sessions. Of course, unless you’re Elvis, Hendrix, or 2pac, you aren’t moving a lot of product from the grave. To the credit of KG’s estate, they’ve released a handful of gems since his untimely passing in 1996, most notably The Shaming of the True in 2000 – my favorite album of the last decade. No worries if you don’t know the name – his solo stuff hasn’t even scraped the bottom of the Billboard charts. His greatest fame comes from his 1990 Toy Matinee project that sold a few hundred thousand shy of gold on the strength of minor album-rock hit “Last Plane Out” and his stint as one of the under-appreciated musicians behind Sheryl Crow’s success with Tuesday Night Music Club. If you’re curious about him, check out my Dave’s Music Database page on him or go straight to the official website.

However, I digress. The point of this blog wasn’t to convert you to KG’s music (well, maybe a little), but to simply relive those music buying experiences in era when phrases like “backmasking” and “dropping the needle on a stack of vinyl” dominated instead of “iTunes” and “synching up your musical device.” The names and formats in your own collection will vary, but there remains one constant among anyone who’s ever bought music – the elation of that perfect purchase, the discovery of a lost treasure, the arrival of a long-awaited must-have. Go ahead and break out that Xanadu soundtrack again – nobody has to know but you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Favorite 50 Albums of the Decade

My Favorite 50 Albums of the Decade, 9/20/09

Thanks to a Facebook invitation, I’m compelled to engage in one of the most inane and narcissistic endeavors – the compilation of a personal favorites list – and not a moment too soon – there’s barely 100 days left in the decade. Of course, I have a whole website ( devoted to music lists, but I’ve convinced myself that throwing in the occasional personal favorites list amongst bigger and more important lists passes for acceptable. A list entitled “The Biggest Selling Albums of All Time” just seems to carry more import than one called “The Best 50 Albums of the Decade – According to Me.”

It is hard to imagine why anyone would care what my #12 album is from the last 9 years and 9 months, so I won’t delude myself that the world is waiting with baited breath. It comes down to this – I just love music lists. I was drawn in to music charts and countdowns in my pre-teen years and my interest has yet to wane.

If you’ve read this far, I’ll assume you are mildly interested in my list – maybe not #49, but you might want to check out my top few faves. I’ll take this as a misguided sign that I can test your patience a bit more and offer some insights into my tastes of the past decade. If you’ve had enough already, you can scroll to the list below or just close this monster up and roll your eyes at my obsession. It’s not like I’ll know the difference.
First, there’s just no denying what drives tastes. I’m still enamored with the same acts I liked 25 years ago – and I won’t apologize for their decidedly mainstream leanings. I will, however, attempt to prop up my rep by saying my listening pleasures gravitate toward “intelligent pop” – what is largely referred to today as triple A or adult alternative music. What can I say – I fit perfectly into the demographic.

Unlike some of my forty-something peers, it isn’t that I can’t name a new band from the last quarter century – I’ll get to my discoveries in a minute – but like memories of long ago crushes, the albums from one’s youth just won’t go away. Hence my love of Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood (my favorite album of any era), Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. or U2’s The Joshua Tree hold lingering effects – those acts all register in my top 10 two decades after releasing what I consider their masterworks.

At least those acts and others such as John Mellencamp, Tori Amos, and Fish have steadily pumped out new product for 20 years or more. Others haven’t been quite so prolific. Amongst acts like the Hooters, Crowded House, the Eagles, Toni Childs, Tears for Fears, Guns N’ Roses, and the Who, the most recent pre-2000 release of new material was 1995. Not only had all those acts had at least nine year droughts since their last releases, but the well has dried up again since. The “one and done” comeback trend. Sigh.

My list isn’t devoid of new music, but the new stuff largely rehashes tastes I’ve had for years. The White Stripes, the Strokes, the Hives, and the Vines are all a return to the garage rock ethos of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, and Scissor Sisters recall the dance-oriented new wave stuff of the early ‘80s.Finally, I have to give props to the Tuesday Night Music Club. This may click for people as the name of Sheryl Crow’s 1993 debut (and indeed she makes the cut here with Detours), but I’m referring to the collective behind it. In a much publicized spat at the time, Crow took credit for music that had been created by the most underrated supergroup that ever wasn’t. Amongst that talent was Kevin Gilbert, whose posthumous Shaming of the True claims my top spot on this list, Gilbert’s Kaviar project, and David Baerwald. Believe me, this list would be saturated with their contributions if only there were more. Sadly, KG died in 1996 and Baerwald all but retired from the music industry by the close of the ‘90s. What does show up on this list are retreads of their mostly ‘90s work, but the official release dates qualifies them for this list.

Well, I’ve blabbered enough. Here’s the list. Roll those eyes, scratch your heads in puzzlement, and stare in disbelief. Then, just maybe, give a few albums on this list a spin. You’ve still got time to make it one of your favorites of the decade! Click on the links below to read more extensive reviews at

1. Kevin Gilbert The Shaming of the True (2000)
2. Bruce Springsteen The Rising (2002)
3. Hooters Time Stand Still (2007)
4. Crowded House Time on Earth (2007)
5. The Finn Brothers Everyone Is Here (2004)
6. Eagles Long Road Out of Eden (2007)
7. Marillion Marbles (2004)
8. Tori Amos Strange Little Girls (2001)
9. U2 How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)
10. Bruce Springsteen Magic (2007)
11. David Baerwald Here Comes the New Folk Underground (2002)
12. John Mellencamp Life, Death, Love & Freedom (2008)
13. U2 All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
14. Toni Childs Keep the Faith (2008)
15. Dennis DeYoung One Hundred Years from Now (2007)
16. Uncle Devil Show A Terrible Beauty (2004)
17. Bob Walkenhorst The Beginner (2003)
18. Styx Big Bang Theory (2005)
19. The White Stripes Elephant (2003)
20. The Strokes Is This It (2001)
21. Green Day American Idiot (2004)
22. Mika Life in Cartoon Motion (2007)
23. The White Stripes White Blood Cells (2001)
24. Kevin Gilbert/Kaviar The Kaviar Sessions (2002)
25. Tears for Fears Everybody Loves a Happy Ending (2004)
26. Keb’ Mo’ Peace - Back by Popular Demand (2004)
27. Lyle Lovett My Baby Don’t Tolerate (2003)
28. Amy Winehouse Back to Black (2006)
29. Styx Cylcorama (2003)
30. The Killers Hot Fuss (2004)
31. Sheryl Crow Detours (2008)
32. The Who Endless Wire (2006)
33. John Mellencamp Freedom’s Road (2007)
34. Fish Field of Crows (2004)
35. Glenn Tilbrook Transatlantic Ping Pong (2004)
36. Franz Ferdinand Franz Ferdinand (2004)
37. Ray Charles Genius Loves Company (2004)
38. Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy (2008)
39. Green Day 21st Century Breakdown (2009)
40. U2 No Line on the Horizon (2009)
41. Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)
42. Scissor Sisters Scissor Sisters (2004)
43. The Vines Highly Evolved (2002)
44. Arctic Monkeys Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)
45. The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
46. Eddie Vedder Into the Wild (2007)
47. Eric Clapton/B.B. King Riding with the King (2000)
48. Del Amitri Can You Do Me Good? (2002)
49. The Hives Veni Vidi Vicious (2000)
50. Eric Woolfson The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was (2009)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sept 18, 2009: Madonna released career-spanning Celebration

Last updated September 15, 2018.

Madonna Compilations

These are some of the most prominent Madonna collections released over the years.

  1. The Immaculate Collection
  2. GHV2
  3. Celebration

Click here to see all the album tracks featured on the above collections.

Genre: pop/dance

Related DMDB Link(s):

Madonna: The Immaculate Collection

Recorded: 1983-1990

Released: Nov. 9, 1990

Sales (in millions): US: 10.0, UK: 3.4, IFPI: --, World: 31.5

Peak: US: 2, UK: 19, Canada: 19, Australia: 15

Quotable: The Immaculate Collection…captures everything Madonna is about and it proves that she was one of the finest singles artists of the ‘80s” – Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide



“Yes, she’s a colossal star, one who has been both mall icon and cultural radical for almost two decades.” BL “Madonna was a change-agent of Hollywood-blockbuster proportions, embodying womanhood’s power while simultaneously upending musty notions of femininity. Whether she’s extolling escapism, wrestling with heartbreak, personalizing big issues or just breathing heavily, each listen shows that Madonna’s unerring musical instincts – let’s go ahead and call it genius – were as formidable as her more famous ambition.” BL

“On the surface, the single-disc hits compilation The Immaculate Collection appears to be a definitive retrospective of Madonna’s heyday in the ‘80s.” E-I In its October 2008 issue, Blender magazine went so far as to name it the #1 Greatest American Album, calling it “a flawless hits package.” BL “After all, it features 17 of Madonna's greatest hits, from Holiday and Like a Virgin to Like a Prayer and Vogue. However, looks can be deceiving.” E-I

The Immaculate Collection contains the bulk of Madonna’s hits, but there are several big hits that aren’t present, including ‘Angel,’ ‘Dress You Up,’ ‘True Blue,’ ‘Who’s That Girl,’ and ‘Causing a Commotion.’” E-I It still “remains a necessary purchase, because it captures everything Madonna is about” E-I – “whip-smart, mega-sexy, covertly dangerous and heart-stoppingly, ass-shakingly, world-shapingly fun.” BL “It proves that she was one of the finest singles artists of the ‘80s.” E-I

Madonna: GHV2

Recorded: 1991-2000

Released: Nov. 13, 2001

Sales (in millions): US: 1.48, UK: 0.8, IFPI: 2.0, World: 7.0

Peak: US: 11, UK: 2, Canada: 3, Australia: 8



“During the ‘90s, Madonna was a true album artist, even as she was making singles as tremendous as Take a Bow, Deeper and Deeper, Ray of Light, Don’t Tell Me, and the non-LP Beautiful Stranger.” E-G “These songs don't really hold together when taken together, since they were designed to be part of a bigger context – either their parent album or the airwaves of the time.” E-G

As such, the GHV2 collection, released to collect the hits from Madonna’s next decade, “seem[s] to have songs missing when it really doesn’t.” E-G In addition, “the non-chronological sequencing…tends to rob this collection of Madonna’s ‘90s hits of any momentum it might have had.” E-G Also, “the very presence of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, which simply does not feel comfortable next to the rest of the savvy, modern music here.” E-G

“Taken on their own, most of these are still pretty tremendous, but tossed together on GHV2, the end result is less than the sum of its parts, even if this is a good way to get all of Madge’s ‘90s hits at once.” E-G

Madonna: Celebration

Recorded: 1982-2009

Released: Sept. 18, 2009

Sales (in millions): US: 0.5, UK: 0.6, IFPI: 1.0, World: 4.0

Peak: US: 7, UK: 11, Canada: 11, Australia: 6




At the close of the century, Madonna released a career retrospective, making for a large overlap with Immaculate Collection and GHV2. The double-disc Celebration omitted some songs and added another eleven songs not included on either of the previous compilations, including eight songs released after GHV2. While her hits dwindled in that era, she still managed three top ten hits in the U.S. (Die Another Day, Hung Up, 4 Minutes). The latter two, as well as Sorry, were #1 hits in the U.K.

Among the post-2000 songs were two new cuts. Celebration was included on all versions of the album and released as the first single. It “became Madonna's 40th number-one song on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart.” WK Revolver was released as a second single and is included on the double-disc deluxe edition. WK The iTunes Store deluxe digital versions also included It’s So Cool as a bonus track. WK

Celebration was appreciated by contemporary critics, who noted the vastness of Madonna's back-catalogue. The album debuted at the top of the charts in Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Madonna became tied with Elvis Presley as the solo artist with the most number-one albums in the United Kingdom.” WK

Album Tracks – All Collections

Click here for the chart codes for singles/hit songs.

Check out the DMDB Beatles’ singles page for a complete singles discography.


  1. Everybody (10/6/82) C
  2. Burning Up (3/9/83) C
  3. Holiday (9/7/83, #16 US, #2 UK, #25 RB) IC, C
  4. Lucky Star (9/8/83, #3a US, #14 UK, #19 AC, #42 RB) IC, C
  5. Borderline (2/15/84, #10 US, #2 UK, #23 AC, sales: 0.5 m) IC, C
  6. Like a Virgin (11/6/84, #1 US, #3 UK, #29 AC, #9 RB, sales: 0.5 m) IC, C
  7. Material Girl (1/30/85, #2 US, #3 UK, #38 AC, #49 RB) IC, C
  8. Crazy for You (3/1/85, #1 US, #2 UK, #2 AC, #80 RB, sales: 0.5 m) IC, C
  9. Into the Groove (4/27/85, #1 UK, #19 RB. B-side of “Angel,” sales: 0.5 m) IC, C
  10. Dress You Up (7/24/85, #5 US, #5 UK, #32 AC, #64 RB) C
  11. Live to Tell (4/12/86, #1 US, #2 UK, #1 AC) IC, C
  12. Papa Don’t Preach (6/26/86, #1 US, #1 UK, #16 AC, sales: 0.5 m) IC, C
  13. Open Your Heart (12/6/86, #1 US, #4 UK, #12 AC) IC, C
  14. La Isla Bonita (3/21/87, #4 US, #1 UK, #1 AC) IC, C
  15. Who’s That Girl (6/30/87, #1 US, #1 UK, #5 AC, #78 RB) C
  16. Like a Prayer (3/18/89, #1 US, #1 UK, #20 RB, #3 AC, sales: 1.0 m) IC, C
  17. Express Yourself (6/3/89, #2 US, #5 UK, #12 AC, sales: 0.5 m) IC, C
  18. Cherish (8/19/89, #2 US, #3 UK, #1 AC) IC, C


  1. Vogue (4/14/90, #1 US, #1 UK, #23 AC, #16 RB, sales: 2.0 m) IC, C
  2. Justify My Love (11/17/90, #1 US, #2 UK, #42 RB, sales: 1.0 m) IC, C
  3. Rescue Me (3/2/91, #5a US, #3 UK, sales: 0.5 m) IC
  4. Erotica (10/17/92, #2a US, #3 UK, sales: 0.5 m) G2, C
  5. Deeper and Deeper (12/5/92, #7 US, #6 UK) G2
  6. Secret (10/8/94, #3 US, #5 UK, #2 AC, sales: 0.5 m) G2, C
  7. Take a Bow (12/17/94, #1 US, #16 UK, #1 AC, #40 RB, sales: 0.5 m) G2, C
  8. Bedtime Story (2/25/95, #42 US, #4 UK) G2, C
  9. Human Nature (6/24/95, #46 US, #8 UK, #57 RB) G2, C
  10. Don’t Cry for Me Argentina (12/28/96, #8 US, #3 UK, #21 AC) G2, C
  11. Frozen (2/28/98, #2 US, #1 UK, #8 AC, sales: 0.5 m) G2, C
  12. Ray of Light (5/16/98, #5 US, #2 UK, sales: 0.5 m) G2, C
  13. Drowned World / Substitute for Love (9/5/98, #10 UK) G2
  14. The Power of Goodbye (10/17/98, #11 US, #6 UK, #14 AC) G2
  15. Beautiful Stranger (6/12/99, #11a US, #2 UK, #23 AC) G2, C


  1. Music (8/12/00, #1 US, #1 UK, sales: 1.0 m) G2, C
  2. Don’t Tell Me (12/9/00, #4 US, #4 UK, sales: 0.5 m) G2, C
  3. What It Feels Like for a Girl (4/10/01, #23 US, #7 UK, #27 AC) G2
  4. Die Another Day (10/22/02, #8 US, #3 UK) C
  5. Hollywood (6/14/03, #2 UK) C
  6. Hung Up (10/17/05, #7 US, #1 UK, #29 AC, sales: 3.35 m) C
  7. Sorry (3/11/06, #58 US, #1 UK) C
  8. 4 Minutes (with Justin Timberlake, 3/17/08, #3 US, #1 UK, sales: 4.0 m) C
  9. Miles Away (10/17/08, #39 UK, sales: 0.8 m) C
  10. Celebration (8/22/09, #71 US, #3 UK) C
  11. Revolver (12/14/09) C

IC The Immaculate Collection
C Celebration

Review Source(s):

  • BL Blender Magazine’s “100 Greatest American Albums” (10/08) (Immaculate Collection)
  • E-I Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide (Immaculate Collection)
  • E-G Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide (GHV2)
  • WK Wikipedia (Celebration)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Forty Years Ago Today: Elvis Presley charts with “Suspicious Minds” (9/13/1969)

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Elvis Presley “Suspicious Minds”

Writer(s): Mark James (see lyrics here)

First charted: 9/13/1969

Peak: 11, 4 AC, 2 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 7.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 5.0 Video Airplay (in millions): 158.8

Review: The BBC called this song “the last great moment in the career of Elvis Presley” BBC while a 2002 readers poll in New Musical Express made the even bolder proclamation that it was the best song of Elvis’ career. TB-116 In 1969, the crown of the King of Rock and Roll had greatly tarnished thanks to a decade’s worth of poor choices both in song and film. CR-52 “Suspicious Minds” was more than just a symbolic return to the top – it also marked his first #1 on the U.S. pop charts in seven years.

This song emerged in the first recording sessions after Elvis’ NBC television special on December 3, 1968, which was largely seen as his comeback. BR1-260 The sessions brought him back to his Memphis roots JA-185 where he hadn’t recorded since his Sun sessions in July 1955. BR1-260

His renewed zest is evident in his vibrant singing backed by a “Stax-like chorus alternating with the slow-burning verses” BBC which find Elvis begging a lover not to derail their relationship with distrust. The song also sports the famous fake-out ending in which the song has nearly faded out, only to see Elvis jump back in to spit out the chorus repeatedly. BBC

Memphis singer Mark James wrote the song and recorded a version, but it went nowhere. Chips Moman, a soul producer in Memphis, SF produced the original AMG and brought it to Elvis in 1969. SF As had typically been the case in the past, Elvis’ manager Colonel Parker demanded that the song’s copyright owner hand over part of the publishing royalties. BBC However, Elvis weighed in with better judgment when his love of the song trumped The Colonel’s love of money. BBC

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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Confessions of a Non-Audiophile

In light of the much-celebrated remastered versions of the Beatles discography out today, I must make a confession that could ruin any chance I have at respectability in the music community. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is time to come clean.

I am not an audiophile.

Whew! That feels good to get that out, even if it means ridicule and scorn are destined to come my way. I know, I know. Any serious critic of music should be able to tout big statements like “the violins on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ are crisper on the remastered Revolver than ever before” or “the sound is so natural that you’ll feel like you were in Abbey Road Studios while the Beatles were recording.” I’m lucky if I can correctly pick “A” or “B” in a multiple choice test of “Identify the Newer Version.”

My affliction with sub-par sound goes back to my first experiences with music. In my elementary school days, I listened to music I’d recorded off the radio via a hand-held tape recorder shoved in front of a stereo speaker. For years, I didn’t know what the ending of Billy Joel’s “My Life” sounded like because I’d cut the song off early to cancel out the DJ chatter.

Of course, the transgressions of youth might be overlooked if I redeemed my mediocre ways in later years. Alas, when I tramped off to college, it was with crates full of cassettes and merely a ghetto blaster on which to play them.

When I’d overcome “poor college student” status, my music expenditures were predominantly on the music itself and rarely on the means by which to play it. So even while my CD collection grew to a four-digit number, my stereo never went beyond a three-digit price tag.

At one point, I ironically subscribed to Stereo Review, but only for the album reviews and even then I dismissed their recording quality ratings as irrelevant.

Even now, I am perfectly happy listening to my MP3’s on my computer while the stereo sits idle in anticipation of the occasional swish of the dust rag.

Perhaps the blame lies in my failure to learn an instrument. I was one of those grade schoolers for whom even the recorder was beyond my capabilities. I never grasped that when playing the violin, you were NOT supposed to saw away on all the strings at once.

Maybe it’s a hereditary thing. My mom likes show tunes but my dad proclaims marches to be his favorite kind of music. There really isn’t, to my knowledge, an audiophile contingent devoted to marches.

It could be my complete lack of rhythm. There’s no quicker way to make me feel like the dumbest person in the room than formal dance. Left foot here, right foot there…I need a GPS to navigate even the simplest of dance steps.

For those whose lingo is peppered with words like “woofer” and “tweeter,” it must be incomprehensible that I could enjoy listening to music so much, but at such low quality. Enroll me in AAA (Anti-Audiophiles Anonymous) or some other twelve-step program. I admit it - I have a problem and need help! Listen to my pleas carefully, though; they won't come through as loud and clear as your refined ears are used to.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Train charts with "Hey, Soul Sister": September 5, 2009

Originally posted September 5, 2011.

The group Train hadn’t had a hit in the U.S. in five years when they released “Hey, Soul Sister” as the debut single for their fifth album. In the UK, they hadn’t charted since 2001. The song became Columbia Records’ most downloaded song and is the eight most downloaded song in history. WK This lands the song on the DMDB’s list of the top 100 best-selling songs in the world.

The song also topped the charts in sixteen countries. WK Surprisingly, even with its massive sales in the U.S., it only peaked at #3. However, it stayed atop the adult contemporary charts for 22 weeks, making it one of the top 100 adult contemporary songs of all time according to Dave’s Music Database. The DMDB also rates it as one the top 100 songs of the 21st century.

The lyrics are about “a woman who’s got all the right moves.” SF Train’s lead singer and songwriter, Pat Monahan, was inspired by Burning Man, an annual event in the Nevada desert in which a wooden man is burned at the end of the festival and everyone dances around it naked. He had never been, but imagined beautiful women dancing around the fire. WK

He collaborated on the track with Espionage, a Norwegian production duo comprised of Espen Lind and Amund Bjørklund. Previous writing credits included Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” and Chris Brown’s “With You”. SF Monahan told the pair he wanted an INXS-style song, but after getting down the melody and singing it, decided it didn’t sound right. Espen tried it out with ukulele and Monahan, while initially reluctant, decided the approach “made my words dance.” WK He has also said that the use of the ukulele “made everybody happy…people gravitate towards that positive part of it.” SF

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lady Antebellum charted with “Need You Now”: August 29, 2009

Originally posted August 29, 2012.

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Lady Antebellum first made its mark in 2008 with its eponymous debut, an album which included the country chart-topping “I Run to You.” The country-pop trio had no problem battling the sophomore slump. The second album’s lead-off single, “Need You Now,” was a multi-format smash which first topped the Billboard country charts, but later reached the top slot of the adult contemporary and adult top 40 charts as well. It peaked at #2 on the pop charts.

The song also took home Grammys for Song and Record of the Year, as well as ACM Awards for Single and Song of the Year. It was named the #2 song of the year by Billboard, behind only Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok,” WK and the most-played song on jukeboxes in 2010. SF As of April 2011, it was one of the top ten most downloaded songs in history and the top country download of all time. WK

Lyrically, the song (which all three band members helped write) is basically a booty call. Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott said, “All three of us know what it’s like to get to that point where you feel lonely enough that you make a late night phone call that you very well could regret the next day.” SF Member Charles Kelley said record execs were leery about the line, “I’m a little drunk,” but were convinced to leave the line in. WK

Billboard’s Ken Tucker said the song “will connect with anyone who’s ever dumped a significant other and regretted it in the early morning hours.” WK Critics also commented on how Scott’s voice fit perfectly with the song’s dark tone (Jim Malec, the 9513). WK Roughstock’s Bobby Peacock said her traded-off lead vocals with, as Tucker said, “a soulful Kelley,” WK gave the song more depth. WK

Need You Now


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Friday, August 14, 2009

Woodstock "Remembered" - by Someone Who Wasn't There

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive. This essay is included in that book.

Note: the original 8/14/09 post was re-edited in August 2011 with images and videos added.

When the original Woodstock thrust itself upon the world four decades ago, I was all of two years old. Considering my parents were neither interested in rock & roll nor the counterculture, I have no great tale of toddling along in a diaper amidst the hippie masses. I didn’t behold Jimi Hendrix wailing on “The Star Spangled Banner” or witness Country Joe’s infamous – ahem – “FISH” chant (or any of the behavior it advocated). There will be no firsthand accounts from me of seeing people destined for the “freak out” tent or slithering nude through the mud. All I’ve got to “remember” what transpired at Yasgur’s farm on that August weekend in 1969 is a computer hard drive stocked with hours of live performances.

There’s an old joke that if all those who claimed to be there really were, then the 400,000+ official festival goers would swell to millions. Subtract those who may have been present physically but not necessarily otherwise, and there’s no telling how many people were or weren’t there. It begs the question of whether actually being there was a prerequisite to claiming the event as one’s own.

Perhaps more importantly is the question of whether it still matters. Certainly Woodstock has been co-opted as the definitive symbol of a generation’s passions, be they the more hedonistic pleasures of sex, drugs, and rock & roll or the more idealistic dreams of peace, love, and harmony in the face of the Viet Nam War and the draft. Interestingly, there isn’t complete agreement on the significance of Woodstock even among actual attendees. Some “treasured the festival as an adventure that changed their lives. Others found it nothing but a messy, dirty, disorganized debacle.” BWC

So what lasting effect can that “Aquarian Exposition” boast amidst debate over what it meant even then? In the USA Today article, writer Jerry Shriver asks if “Woodstock’s organic, peace-and-love-through-music legacy still resonates – and whether it’s relevant to young people living in a high-tech, marketing-driven era of splintered musical tastes, widely diverse political views and short attention spans.” JS

Festival co-founder Michael Lang asserts that “a lot of those seeds planted in the Woodstock era are beginning to flower…From the green movement to sustainable development and organic gardening, all these things seem to be coming back to us.” JS Sam Yasgur, whose father Max Yasgur offered up his farm as the festival grounds, says that Woodstock was about “the right to gather, the right to criticize, the right to dress funny, the right to listen to your own music.” JS That message resonates with the youth of any generation.

Max Yasgur

Then there’s the business model of Woodstock. As Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell points out, “the staging of Woodstock, haphazard as it was, remains important because it influences every large concert and festival staged today.” JS The original festival treated its guests to a bevy of inadequate conditions including lack of shelter, food, water, bathroom facilities, and parking. Today’s festivals have largely heeded those lessons – even if the variety of festival options has spread the audience thin enough that today’s festival planners are unlikely to face gate crashing on the scale of Woodstock.

Here’s the thing – even if you dismiss Woodstock as a symbol of ‘60s counterculture and the “make love, not war” ethos or as the how-to-make-a-buck-at-a-festival-gone-haywire business model, it mattered. It wasn’t just what ABC News called “the most celebrated rock festival of all time” SDJ for those reasons – it was also about the music, stupid! As Justin Gage, founder of the music blog Aquarium Drunkard, asks, “Were people going to Woodstock for change or to party and listen to music? I think it’s more of the latter.” JS

Creem magazine editor Dave Marsh cynically states, “It wasn’t utopian…Utopian has plumbing. It wasn’t idyllic. Woodstock is important because it was big.” JS Oddly, what generates the least press is the festival’s astounding lineup – Jimi Hendrix; the Who; the Grateful Dead; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Janis Joplin; Santana; Jefferson Airplane; Sly & the Family Stone; the Band; Joan Baez; Joe Cocker; Blood, Sweat & Tears and more. Oh sure, there were some “where are they now” performers thrown in the mix (the Keef Hartley Band? Quill? Bert Sommer?), but mostly the big names at Woodstock are still big names today.

So, in response to the question of whether or not Woodstock still matters, I can speak only from the perspective of a rock music fan who wasn’t among the throngs. I’ll be spending as much time as I can this weekend glued to my computer, downloading and listening to music while scouring the Internet for others’ reminiscing about the events of 40 years ago. Alas, there will be no mud or nudity involved in my exploit; I’ll be wearing a freshly-laundered tie-dye shirt.

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Les Is More

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Elvis gave rock and roll its swagger. The Beatles gave it pop. But Les Paul, dead at age 94, gave it its sound. Rolling Stone called him “the father of the electric guitar” and “the most influential rock guitarist ever” (Mark Kemp). MTV’s blog said “it’s impossible to overestimate the impact guitarist and inventor Les Paul…had on rock music.” Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards said, “without Les Paul, generations of flash little punks like us would be in jail or cleaning toilets” (Jay Lustig, New Jersey’s Star-Ledger).

As the inventor of the first solid-body electric guitar at a time when hollow-body guitars were the norm, Paul “revolutionized music and created rock ‘n’ roll as surely as Elvis Presley and the Beatles” (Nekesa Mumbi Moody, Associated Press release). That alone would have snared him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but in transforming “the way sound is recorded via innovations such as multi-tracking, reverb and close-miking” (Lustig), Paul also became an Inventors Hall of Fame inductee. Who knew?

While it wasn’t until 1952 that first issued a Les Paul solid-body guitar, Paul’s inclination for retooling the guitar dates back to 1929. Disappointed that he couldn’t get more sound from his guitar, a thirteen-year-old Paul placed a telephone receiver and later a phonograph needle in the guitar to amplify the sound (Moody), creating “a working prototype of the electric guitar” (Moody).

By 1936, he recorded as country act Rhubarb Red and appeared on records by blues singer Georgia White. He later formed a jazz trio and, in 1938, moved to New York to work with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians’ popular dance orchestra (Billboard). He also would work with Bing Crosby, Nat “King” Cole, and the Andrews Sisters. He and his wife Mary Ford landed a slew of hits on the pop charts in the ‘50s.

In 1947, Paul released “Lover,” “the first commercially available multi-track recording” (Lustig). The song “changed the course of popular music as much as Elvis Presley’s ‘Sun Sessions’…[Paul] layered eight guitar tracks on top of each other: he would record one part on a wax disc, then record himself playing along with the earlier recording. He kept doing that until all eight parts were on one disc” (Lustig).

At his death, he was still doing a weekly gig at a New York jazz club, despite arthritis that forced him to reinvent, yet again, how to use his guitar.

As Paul said when inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “I have been credited with inventing a few things you guys are using…About the most I can say is, ‘Have fun with my toys.’” Speaking on behalf of rock and roll fans everywhere, your toys have given us great joy. Thank you, Les Paul.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm with the Drummer

Some 30 years ago, a new family moved into the cul de sac where my family lived. One of the four kids, Matt, was a couple years younger than me and ended up being the kind of playmate whose phone number is still lodged in your brain decades later. He was your average kid - until he got his drum set. Then he became that guy everyone knows will make it big - the guy who will be the celebrity at his high school reunion, the guy whose name will be dropped by people writing entries in personal blogs.

Oh, Matt isn't a household name, but he sure plays with one. In 2001, after a stint with Blondie, he became a technician for Rod Stewart, eventually turning that into an onstage gig as a percussionist and drummer. In the last decade, Matt has logged hundreds of nights all over the world supporting rock music's most famous gravelly voiced icon. However, at Kansas City's Sprint Center on July 28, 2009, there was a sizable crowd gathered for more than just Rod. One need only look at the 30 or so people gathered afterward to go backstage as Matt's guests.

Matt and I recently did the reconnect on Facebook thing, but before tonight I'm not sure when I last saw him. However, seeing him tonight was a wonderful treat. On stage, the highlight of the evening was when Matt and the other drummer, Dave Palmer, got their spotlight during the "Downtown Train" drum solo (or, I guess, drum "dual"). It was the most emotionally moving moment I've ever had at a concert. I heard this guy playing drums in his basement as a kid!

However, this wasn't just about bragging rights to say "I knew him when." This was about the powerful experience of seeing someone do what he loves, what he's been dedicated to for years, and seeing him reach the level of success he deserves for his passion and dedication.

Matt doesn't just deserve to be where he is because he's good at hitting things. When my brother and I and the rest of the "Matt groupies" chatted with him afterward, he was gracious, humble, and appreciative. You gotta figure the Blondies and Rod Stewarts and anyone else on his resume are there because of those skills as well as Matt's talent. Bravo to you, Matt. You've come a long way from a basement on Baltimore Ct. - and deservedly so.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Steve Howe Show

After watching Steve Howe & Co. perform for three hours at Kansas City’s Uptown Theater, I know two things – Steve Howe is neither the centerpiece of Asia nor Yes. He may have been the most technically proficient performer of the night – he certainly has the most impressive resume – but rather than trolling the stage like any good classic rock axeman should, he stood guard over a square foot patch left of center. He occasionally bent his knees or lifted a leg in the air; hell, I think he jumped in the air once; but mostly his frail frame looked in need of a walker to prop him up. I swear he was leaning against the wall during the encore.

Okay, okay, I shouldn’t go to an Asia and Yes concert if I’m looking for young, energetic performances. Oh, wait, there was that, too – however sadly out of place. Unfortunately, Yes’ longtime frontman Jon Anderson was laid up by a respiratory illness and, in true dinosaur band fashion these days, the other members perused YouTube videos scouting out lead singers for Yes tribute bands until they found a guy young enough to date their granddaughters. In this case, Canadian Benoit David drew the lucky lottery ticket and figured if he pranced about enough on stage, the audience might forget he was a nobody. Let’s face it, though, other than Queen’s Freddie Mercury, no other rock singer has ever pulled off prancing. On top of that, David sported a mostly white outfit that certainly recalled the ‘70s – it just had the misfortunate of reminding one of Saturday Night Fever more than Yes’ dinosaur prog-rock.

Based on my tirades against Howe and David, one might think that I was dragged to this show against my will. Not the case. I went eager to appreciate these Gods of Prog. They kickstarted the genre forty years ago. They are the grand masters at stripping a record of every last bit of commercialism and leaving ten minutes of instrumental prowess behind. Howe’s guitar is still at the forefront of every memorable Yes song – and was highlighted midway through Yes’ set with a two-song solo – although Howe still wasn’t physically center stage.

And for all of David’s gyrations, give props to anyone who can tackle Jon Anderson’s vocal gymnastics. Add Howe and Chris Squire as a triple threat on the mike for gems like “I’ve Seen All Good People.” Speaking of Squire, he made a great case, at least in Anderson’s absence, for being the true heart of Yes (he is, after all, the only member to survive every incarnation of the band). His hulking figure towered over Benoit and, despite what seemed a perpetual fan blowing his wispy white hair, he appeared to be the only performer to break a sweat, drenching his shirt by the end of the night.

Anyone looking for Yes music from the last 25 years was out of luck. Their only post-1980 song was “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and, judging by the lukewarm response, they could have jettisoned it. In fact, other than “Owner” and a pair of songs from 1980’s Drama, perhaps the band’s low point yet well received in this concert, this could have been a tour to support 1972’s Close to the Edge album.

While Yes represented the original prog rockers, opening act Asia symbolized the next wave. Exploding on the scene in 1982, the members’ resumes included Yes; King Crimson; and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but instead of the second coming of prog rock, Asia delivered their brand of ‘80s corporate rock – slick, commercial, and arena ready. Here’s where my musical roots reveal themselves and I commit sacrilege – I enjoyed Asia more than Yes. Trot out all the 40 Year Old Virgin jokes you want, but there’s no denying one’s first musical love. I was born in 1967 and after surviving disco, was just grateful for pop radio hits that actually featured guitar solos. I would later become a classic rock junkie, but bands like Asia were still my gateway drug.

Seeing the original Asia lineup of John Wetton (vocals, bass), Steve Howe (guitar), Carl Palmer (drums), and Geoff Downes (keyboards) was more satisfying than a Jon-Anderson-copycat-fronted Yes lineup. And if we’re going to have a drum-off, Palmer would embarrass Yes’ Alan White, as the solo on “Fanfare for the Common Man” would attest. Then there’s the matter of keyboards. As the only man to play on every Asia album, Downes deservedly took his place near mid-stage. Rick Wakeman was featured as the keyboardist on nearly every Yes album, but his son Oliver takes the reigns here – and promptly fades into the background so much that they could have just put up a cardboard cut-out of Pops and piped in the music over the speakers.

Since the original Asia lineup lasted for only two albums (and last year’s 2008 reunion album Phoenix), they mixed in songs from the various members’ pre-Asia days. Palmer delivered the show’s highlight with the aforementioned “Fanfare,” which he’d previously done with Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Downes got a showcase with “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which he’d done with the Buggles. Wetton whetted the prog-rock crowd’s appetite with “In the Court of the Crimson King,” a 1969 gem from King Crimson, who Wetton joined four years later.

That may well have been the theme for the night – songs that had been made famous long before some of tonight’s players got their hands on them. Still, even with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman stand-ins, Yes championed the durability of their catalog. And even if Asia was largely forgotten a quarter century ago, they earned their title of super group, proving that sometimes the same players, such as a Steve Howe, can figure prominently in the story of two genres of rock and roll.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Birth of Rock and Roll - Not Quite So Black and White

A new book by Elijah Wald sports the instant-get-you-up-in-arms title How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’N’ Roll. An online Kansas City Star review (7/11/09) by James Brinfield ( asserts that the book "traces the strands of intermingling influences of black and white cultures upon popular music filtered through the marketplace." Brinfield says that "Wald's insights destroy one myth after another," most notably that "popular music was race-based." How the Beatles destroyed rock, as explained through Brinfield's interpretation of the book, appears to be a marketing issue. That is, the Beatles began to push their work as albums and the predominantly white critics began to accept that as the new direction for rock music.

It is not my intent to refute Wald's premise that the Beatles destroyed rock music. I'm sure I can bash that rant out in a blog after actually reading the book. For now, I am compelled to address the nagging question of "Daddy, where does rock and roll come from?" The Cliff Notes version of the birth of rock and roll purports that white and black music were mutually exclusive entities, growing, if you will, in separate gardens divided by a fence. It was only when whippersnappers like Elvis hopped the wall, stole some R&B goodies, and replanted them in the white garden that the masses gobbled them up.

Such an account gives a handful of artists too much credit for discovering what was already there and overlooks those who planted the original crop. Of course, musical genres are also not so tidy as to fit nicely into garden plots with R&B over here, country over there, and so on. Elvis didn't become the King of Rock and Roll because he did anything new or even because he was the best at doing it - his mix of crops simply was the best marketed.

My guess is that Wald doesn't hold the Beatles responsible for the destruction of rock and roll any more than Elvis should be crowned the undisputed father of the same genre. Wald's book needed a provocative title that would attract the widest possible audience, hopefully generating controversy for those focused only on the condensed version of the tale. The beginning - or end - of rock and roll just isn't that black and white.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Forty Years Ago Today: The Rolling Stones charted with “Honky Tonk Women” (7/12/1969)

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The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women”

Writer(s): Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (see lyrics here)

Released: 7/4/1969, First charted: 7/12/1969

Peak: 14 US, 15 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 5.0 Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: Nothing says surefire hit like highly suggestive lyrics about a prostitute. Luckily, the words were just subtle enough to avoid uniform banning by radio stations. SF Besides, this was really about the vibe. A sing-a-long chorus gives the song the feel of “mates at a bar or pub getting together for a bit of a shout,” AMG understandably making the tune a bar band favorite. AMG If the chorus didn’t accomplish that, surely the cowbell would. Added by producer Jimmy Miller, it helps shape the “strip-club bump and grind” RS500 feel of the song.

Perhaps the most revelatory aspect of “Honky Tonk Women” is how the Stones used it to essentially create “heavy metal country.” WI-142 In fact, the band thought enough of the more countrified version to release it a few months after the single as “Country Honk” on the Let It Bleed album.

The tune originated while Jagger and Richards were on vacation in South America. RS500 As Richards recalls, the pair were lounging on the front porch of a ranch house playing around with Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues” and “by some metamorphosis it suddenly went into this little swampy, black thing, a blues thing.’” SF

Also significant to the final performance was who was no longer there. With drug abuse rendering founding member Brian Jones virtually worthless, SF Mick Taylor stepped in for his Rolling Stones’ debut on “Honky Tonk.” The band drove to Jones’ house after they’d finished recording this song and fired him. SF Jones was found dead in his swimming pool on July 3, 1969. SF “Honky Tonk Women” was released as a single a day after the funeral. BR1-257

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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.