Monday, December 31, 2012

The Top 50 Songs of 2012

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Based on an aggregate of 39 best-of lists, these are the top 50 songs of 2012:

Call Me Maybe

1. Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”
2. Gotye with Kimbra “Somebody That I Used to Know”
3. Usher “Climax”
4. fun. with Janelle Monae “We Are Young”
5. Miguel “Adorn”

Somebody That I Used to Know

6. Taylor Swift “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
7. fun. “Some Nights”
8. Kanye West with Big Sean, Pusha T, & 2 Chainz “Mercy”
9. Maroon 5 with Wiz Khalifa “Payphone”
10. Japandroids “The House That Heaven Built”


11. One Direction “What Makes You Beautiful”
12. Psy “Gangnam Style”
13. The Lumineers “Ho Hey”
14. Grimes “Oblivion”
15. Fiona Apple “Every Single Night”

We Are Young

16. The Wanted “Glad You Came”
17. Nicki Minaj “Starships”
18. Kelly Clarkson “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”
19. Frank Ocean “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You”
20. Solange “Losing You”


21. Alabama Shakes “Hold On”
22. Beach House “Myth”
23. Adele “Set Fire to the Rain”
24. Icona Pop with Charli XCX “I Love It”
25. Alex Clare “Too Close”

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

26. Flo Rida with Sia “Wild Ones”
27. Kendrick Lamar “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
28. Jack White “Sixteen Saltines”
29. Katy Perry “Wide Awake”
30. Frank Ocean “Pyramids”


31. Grizzly Bear “Yet Again”
32. Jai Paul “Jasmine”
33. Katy Perry “Part of Me”
34. Of Monsters and Men “Little Talks”
35. Neon Trees “Everybody Talks”


36. Rihanna “Where Have You Been”
37. Jessie Ware “Wildest Moments”
38. First Aid Kit “Emmylou”
39. Bat for Lashes “Laura”
40. Ellie Goulding “Lights”

The House That Heaven Built

41. Kanye West with Jay-Z & Big Sean “Clique”
42. Muse “Madness”
43. Sky Ferreira “Everything Is Embarrassing”
44. Chairlift “I Belong in Your Arms”
45. Frank Ocean “Bad Religion”

What Makes You Beautiful

46. Father John Misty “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”
47. Train “Drive By”
48. Jason Mraz “I Won’t Give Up”
49. Jessie J “Domino”
50. Bruno Mars “It Will Rain”

Gangnam Style

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The Top 50 Albums of 2012

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Here, according to an aggregate of 30 best-of lists, are the top 50 albums of 2012. If a link to a publication follows the album title, that means the album was ranked #1 by that publication.

  1. Frank Ocean Channel Orange

    Grammy nominee for album of the year, #1:, Billboard – critics’ picks, DMDB, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, Paste, Pop Matters, Spin

  2. Kendrick Lamar Good Kid, M.a.a.d. City

    #1: Consequence of Sound, Pitchfork

  3. Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

    #1: Spinner, Time Magazine

  4. Tame Impala Lonerism

    #1: Obscure Sound

  5. Grizzly Bear Shields
  6. Beach House Bloom


  7. Jack White Blunderbuss

    Grammy nominee for album of the year, #1: Mojo

  8. Japandroids Celebration Rock
  9. Miguel Kaleidoscope Dream

    #1: USA Today

  10. Killer Mike R.A.P. Music
  11. Grimes Visions

    #1: All Music Guide

  12. Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan
  13. Mumford & Sons Babel

    Grammy nominee for album of the year, #1: NPR

  14. Cat Power Sun
  15. Swans The Seer
  16. Jessie Ware Devotion

    #1: Amazon

  17. Cloud Nothings Attack on Memory
  18. The XX Coexist
  19. Flying Lotus Until the Quiet Comes
  20. Leonard Cohen Old Ideas

    #1: Uncut

  21. Chromatics Kill for Love
  22. Godspeed You Black Emperor Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
  23. Bob Dylan Tempest
  24. Bat for Lashes The Haunted Man
  25. Django Django Django Django
  26. Alabama Shakes Boys & Girls
  27. Alt-J An Awesome Wave

    #1: Mercury Prize

  28. Taylor Swift Red

    #1: best seller of the year, Squidoo

  29. El-P Cancer 4 Cure
  30. Bruce Springsteen Wrecking Ball

    #1: Rolling Stone, my favorite of the year

  31. Fun. Some Nights

    Grammy nominee for album of the year

  32. Sharon Van Etten Tramp
  33. Dr. John Locked Down
  34. Spiritualized Sweet Heart Sweet Light
  35. Lana Del Rey Born to Die
  36. Hot Chip In Our Heads
  37. Father John Misty Fear Fun
  38. David Byrne with St. Vincent Love This Giant
  39. Bobby Womack The Bravest Man in the Universe

    #1: Q Magazine

  40. First Aid Kit The Lion’s Roar
  41. Death Grips The Money Store
  42. Julia Holter Ekstasis
  43. Purity Ring Shrines
  44. Scott Walker Bish Bosch
  45. Andy Stott Bish Bosch
  46. Divine Fits A Thing Called Divine Fits
  47. The Walkmen Heaven
  48. The Men Open Your Heart
  49. The Maccabees Given to the Wild
  50. Neil Young Psychedelic Pill

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The Monkees’ hit #1 with “I’m a Believer”: December 31, 1966

Originally posted 3/1/12, updated 7/31/14.

Jeff Barry discovered Neil Diamond singing in a coffee house in Greenwich Village. BR1 They became two of the biggest talents for the hit-making machine known as the Brill Building. Diamond has become one of the most successful singer/songwriters, ranking #3 all-time on the adult contemporary charts and in the top 25 for the pop charts. However, his biggest success came via a made-for-television group.

That group, the Monkees, were modeled after the playful spirit of the Beatles’ movies. JA-95 While they fought to play their own songs, producers limited the Monkees to singing and brought in session musicians for the instruments. SF The show, which aired from 1966 to 1968, propelled the Monkees to the top of the charts with debut single “Last Train to Clarksville.”

When publisher Don Kirshner was seeking a million-selling follow-up, he turned to Barry and Elle Greenwich, Diamond’s producers, after hearing Diamond’s top 10 hit “Cherry Cherry” on the radio. BR1 Kirshner picked out several songs Diamond was prepping for his next album, among them “I’m a Believer.” The head of Diamond’s record company couldn’t believe he’d give away potential number ones, but, as Diamond says, “I couldn’t have cared less because I had to pay the rent.” SF After all, Diamond intended to give the song to country artist Eddy Arnold. KL

In the Monkees’ hands, the song became the biggest hit of 1966 WHC and “one of the Hot 100’s finest specimens of pure pop genius.” BB100 The song went to #1 for 7 weeks in the U.S. and sold 10 million copies worldwide, making it one of the world’s all-time best-selling songs. Diamond still recorded the song, releasing it on his 1967 album Just for You and as a single in 1971, peaking at #51. The song resurfaced in 2001 when the alternative rock group Smash Mouth recorded it for the movie Shrek and took it to #25 on the pop charts.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Top 25 Christmas Songs of All Time

As of 12/25/11, these are the top 25 Christmas songs according to Dave’s Music Database, which compiles multiple lists as well as chart performances, sales figures, and awards for songs. Only the version with the highest point total is listed. The top 10 are also in the DMDB list of the top 1000 songs of all time.

1. Bing Crosby “White Christmas” (1942)
2. Bing Crosby “Silent Night” (1935)
3. Gene Autry “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1949)
4. Harry Simeone Chorale “The Little Drummer Boy” (1958)
5. Nat “King” Cole “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” (1946)

6. Band Aid “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (1984)
7. Vaughn Monroe “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (1945)
8. Guy Lombardo “Winter Wonderland” (1934)
9. Jimmy Boyd “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (1952)
10. George Hall “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (1952)

11. Gene Autry “Frosty the Snowman” (1950)
12. David Seville & The Chipmunks “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” (1958)
13. Bing Crosby “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (1943)
14. Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters “Jingle Bells” (1943)
15. Judy Garland “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (1944)

16. Gene Autry “Here Comes Santa Claus” (1947)
17. Trinity Choir “Joy to the World” (1911)
18. Spike Jones “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (1948)
19. Brenda Lee “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (1958)
20. Bobby Helms “Jingle Bell Rock” (1957)

21. Perry Como “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” (1954)
22. Bing Crosby “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (1945)
23. Perry Como “Silver Bells” (1950)
24. Trinity Choir “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (1912)
25. Boston Pops Orchestra “Sleigh Ride” (1949)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Popular Music Hall of Fame

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This Hall seems to be defunct now. Web searches only turn up the more recent America’s Pop Music Hall of Fame and the link is now dead. The Hall had 25 inductees from the pre-rock era:

  • Andrews Sisters
  • Tony Bennett
  • Irving Berlin
  • Hoagy Carmichael
  • Rosemary Clooney
  • Nat “King” Cole
  • Perry Como
  • Bing Crosby
  • Dr. Lee DeForest
  • Walt Disney
  • Tommy Dorsey
  • Thomas Edison
  • Judy Garland
  • George Gershwin
  • Benny Goodman
  • Al Jolson
  • Jerome Kern
  • Glenn Miller
  • Mills Brothers
  • Patti Page
  • Cole Porter
  • David Sarnoff
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Kate Smith
  • Ed Sullivan


Thursday, December 13, 2012

The 12-12-12 Hurricane Sandy Benefit Concert

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The nearly six-hour concert to raise relief funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy was held 12/12/12 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Tickets ranged in price from $150 to $2500. More than $30 million was raised just on ticket sales. HP Millions in the New York and New Jersey areas were left without heat or electricity for weeks and more than 300,000 homes were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. HP

The show was televised, streamed, and aired on radio all over the world. It was shown on 37 television stations in the U.S. and over 200 worldwide. HP Producers said as many as 2 billion people might tune in. HP Locals dominated the show with performances from Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi and New Yorkers’ Billy Joel and Alicia Keys. Live sets consisted of about 30 minutes with celebrities, including Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Adam Sandler, and Brian Williams, making pleas for pledges and introducing acts.

Springsteen opened with a set including “Land of Hope and Dreams,” “Wrecking Ball,” “My City in Ruins,” and a cover of the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.” Jon Bon Jovi joined him for “Born to Run.” Bon Jovi returned later with his band for a set with another hook-up with Springsteen on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.”

Roger Waters, whose tour for The Wall is the highest grossing of the year, performed a scaled down version of that show with a set featuring classics like “Another Brick in the Wall Part II,” “Money,” and, with Eddie Vedder as a guest vocalist, “Comfortably Numb.”

Eric Clapton was up next with a three-song set of “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out,” the obscure Derek and the Dominos’ song “Got to Get Better in a Little While,” and “Crossroads.” The Rolling Stones, in the midst of celebrating their 50th anniversary, followed with just two songs – “You Got Me Rocking” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Mick Jagger joked about it being “the world’s biggest collection of aged British rock stars,” BB a reference to other legendary performers on the bill such as Clapton, The Who, Paul McCartney, and Roger Waters.

The Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, image from

Alicia Keys performed a more intimate two-song set with new song “Brand New Me” and “No One.” She returned at the end of the show with a performance of “Empire State of Mind,” originally a #1 song she recorded with Jay-Z.

The Who, currently touring behind their classic Quadrophenia album, did a limited version of that tour and included favorites like “Who Are You,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Love Reign O’er Me.” It was one of the weaker performances of the night as Roger Daltrey’s voice was not in stellar form. By the way, Mr. Daltrey, you are in great shape for a 68-year-old man, but please button up your shirt.

The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, image from

Kanye West seemed out of place, being “stuck representing youth and the hip-hop community on the bill.” BB His shortened versions of his songs didn’t allow his “music to develop a dynamic quality on par with the rock acts.” BB

Billy Joel performed a set of several favorites, including the appropriately-themed “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” and “New York State of Mind” before Coldplay’s Chris Martin took the stage. He performed a couple songs solo and brought out R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe as a surprise guest on a duet of “Losing My Religion.”

In the most anticipated performance of the night, Paul McCartney performed a set heavier on Wings-era material than Beatles before being joined by former Nirvana members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear for a new song, “Cut Me Some Slack.”

The full set for all the night’s performers is available at

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2013 Inductees Announced

clockwise, from top left: Public Enemy, Albert King, Randy Newman, Rush, Heart, Donna Summer; image from Billboard

The 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees were announced on December 11, 2012 by Flea, the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (a 2012 inductee). The announcement was made at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theater where the induction ceremony will be held April 18. The inductees are Lou Adler, Heart, Quincy Jones, Albert King, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Rush, and Donna Summer.

Lou Adler Induction category: Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement

Adler was an American record producer (Sam Cooke, Carole King, The Mamas & the Papas), manager (Jan & Dean), director, and an owner of the famous Roxy Theater. He founded Dunhill Records in 1964 and Ode Records in 1967. He helped produce the Monterey International Pop Festival and cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Carole King’s Tapestry, which he produced, won the Grammy for Album of the Year and rates as one of the top 100 albums of all time. See DMDB music maker encyclopedia entry for more.

Heart Induction category: Performer

Heart was a rarity in the male-dominated world of classic rock in the ‘70s – a band led by women – sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. Ann said, “Some people have an idea of what the shape of rock & roll is supposed to look like. We’re not really it. Personally that’s why I think it’s taken quite a while…So this kind of acknowledgement is really sweet.” RS The band made a name for themselves with classic-rock staples like “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” and “Barracuda” before getting a second life in the mid-‘80s as a mainstream pop group with #1 hits “These Dreams” and “Alone.” See DMDB music maker encyclopedia entry for more.

Quincy Jones Induction category: Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement

Jones started as an R&B/jazz musician and bandleader, but made his name as a producer. He ranks as one of the top 50 producers of all time. His most notable work was with Michael Jackson on Thriller, which tops the list of the best-selling albums of all time. That album, as well as Jones’ own Back on the Block, snagged Grammys for Album of the Year. See DMDB music maker encyclopedia entry for more.

Albert King Induction category: Performer

One of two posthumous inductees (the other is Donna Summer), King already ranked as one of the top 100 blues acts of all time and one of the top 100 greatest guitarists. He was previously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. His 1967 album Born Under a Bad Sign ranks as one of the top 1000 albums of all time. See DMDB music maker encyclopedia entry for more.

Randy Newman Induction category: Performer

Newman is already an inductee in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and ranks as oe of the top 100 songwriters of the rock era. Of his induction into the Rock Hall, he said, “I thought maybe I’d have to die before they let me in.” RS He also said, “They’re always a little doctinate about what’s rock & roll and what isn’t rock & roll. It’s nice they opened up a little to let me in.” RS His albums 12 Songs (1970) and Sail Away (1972) rank in the top 1000 albums of all time list. See DMDB music maker encyclopedia entry for more.

Public Enemy Induction category: Performer

They are the fourth hip-hop act to be inducted into the Hall, following Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five (2007), Run-D.M.C. (2009), and the Beastie Boys (2012). Their songs “Rebel without a Pause” and “Fight the Power” both rank in the top 100 rap songs of all time; the latter is also in the top 1000 songs of all time list. Their 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back ranks as one of the top 100 albums of all time. See DMDB music maker encyclopedia entry for more.

Rush Induction category: Performer

Fan loyalty for this classic prog-rock Canadian trio is rivaled only by KISS fans when it comes to lobbying for enshrinement into the Hall. This year, fans were allowed to vote and the results were counted as one of the six-hundred-something ballots. Rush was the overwhelming favorite. Geddy Lee, th band’s singer and bassist, expressed gratitude to the band’s hardcore fans. “It was a cause they championed. I’m very relieved for them and we share this honor with them, for sure.” RS Alex Lifeson, the band’s guitarist, said, “It’s a privilege to be able to play music…and it’s an even greater privilege to have such a fantastic audience.” BB The band’s albums 2112 (1976), Permanent Waves (1980), and Moving Pictures all rank in the top 1000 albums of all time list. Among their best-known songs are “Closer to the Heart,” “The Trees,” “Freewill,” “Limelight,” and “Tom Sawyer,” a song ranked as one of the top 100 classic rock songs of all time. See DMDB music maker encyclopedia entry for more.

Donna Summer Induction category: Performer

Sometimes known as the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer was hugely successful in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Her songs “Last Dance” and “Hot Stuff” rank in the DMDB’s top 1000 songs of all time. When she died last May, the DMDB blog featured a tribute to her in which her top 20 songs were ranked (“Last Dance for Donna Summer, the Queen of Disco: May 17, 2012”). See DMDB music maker encyclopedia entry for more.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Music Lessons from The Pit: The Playlist

Music Lessons from The Pit is my in-progress novel set in the 1980s. The story follows Gil through college as he navigates the trek from youth to adulthood, accompanied by the era's burgeoning college-rock movement. In fact, Gil's life is so tied to music that each chapter is named after a song and the subsequent reflections that ensue in that chapter are inspired by that song.

What follows is a playlist of songs referenced in the book. You can watch the video, buy it via Amazon, or check out the lyrics.

Chapter 1: Should I Stay Or Should I Go

The Clash “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (1982) went to #45 in the U.S. and #17 in the UK in the summer of 1982. In 1991, the song was revived in the UK thanks to a Levi’s commercial and went to #1. In the U.S., “Rock the Casbah,” another cut from the Combat Rock album, gave The Clash mainstream American success, going top ten. However, the group only released one more album before calling it quits.

U2 “40” (1983) was never released as a single, but became a concert favorite for U2. It hails from their War album which became the group’s American breakthrough and one of the early staples of the burgeoning college rock movement.

Chapter 2: Blue Monday

New Order “Blue Monday” (1983) was first released in March 1983 in the UK. It reached #12 despite exceeding 7 minutes in length and being available only as a 12” single. The song reached #68 in the US and was rereleased multiple times in the UK. The 1988 remix got to #3. With sales exceeding 1 million in the UK, the song became the biggest 12” single of all time.

Chapter 3: Like a Virgin

Madonna “Like a Virgin” (1984) was the song that lifted her to the ranks of superstardom and spawned Madonna-wannabes everywhere who copied her style. She’d built a following with her eponymous debut from 1982 to ’84 on the strength of her hits “Holiday,” “Borderline,” and “Lucky Star.” However, “Virgin” became her first of many #1’s in the U.S. and peaked at #3 in the U.K.

Psychedelic Furs “Love My Way” (1982) was a minor hit in both the U.S. and UK, peaking at #44 and #42 respectively. However, the group was one of the early favorites of the college-rock movement, also having success with songs like “Pretty in Pink,” “The Ghost in You,” and “Heartbreak Beat.”

Violent Femmes “Add It Up” (1983) did not chart, but was a favorite in dance clubs and on college-rock radio. The group’s debut album, from which this song comes, also produced the college-rock staple “Blister in the Sun.”

Split Enz “I Got You” (1980) was another college-rock favorite which failed to chart stateside. It went to #12 in the UK. The group was an early MTV staple with their wacky and colorful videos. The group’s leader, Tim Finn, went on to a solo career and his brother and bandmate, Neil Finn (who sings lead on “I Got You”), went on to form Crowded House.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Rolling Stones released Beggars Banquet: December 6, 1968

Released: 6 December 2012

Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Sympathy for the Devil / No Expectations / Dear Doctor / Parachute Woman / Jigsaw Puzzle / Street Fighting Man (9/7/68; #48 US, #21 UK) / Prodigal Son / Stray Cat Blues / Factory Girl / Salt of the Earth

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 3.0 world

Peak: 5 US, 3 UK


Review: “Despite the series of drug-related arrests that had plagued the group,” RS Beggars Banquet"marked the return of the Rolling Stones.” RS “Their previous LP, Their Santanic Majesties Request, had been mired in psychedelic experimentation of a sort for which the band had little genuine feeling,” RS but Beggars Banquet “was immediately acclaimed as one of their landmark achievements.” AMG “The Stones had stopped following trends and were back at full force” RS “playing fast and loose.” RS

Beggars Banquet was “rooted in rhythm & blues” RS as evidenced by the “strong acoustic Delta blues flavor [that] colors much of the material, particularly ‘Salt of the Earth’ and ‘No Expectations.’” AMG However, the album was also a return to “basic, hard-edged rock & roll,” RS especially apparent on “propulsive tracks like ‘Street Fighting Man,’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ ‘Stray Cat Blues,’ and ‘Parachute Woman.’” RS

“The album signified ‘the Rolling Stones’ coming of age,’ says Glyn Johns, who engineered the record and had worked with the Stones since their earliest days. ‘I think that the material was far better than anything they'd ever done before. The whole mood of the record was far stronger to me musically.’” RS

“Producer Jimmy Miller describes Keith Richards as having been ‘A real workhorse’ on the album, largely because Brian Jones rarely made it in to the studio and when he did, he behaved erratically, due to his drug use and emotional problems…Miller says. ‘He'd show up occasionally when he was in the mood to play…He'd walk in with a sitar, which was totally irrelevant to what we were doing…The others, particularly Mick and Keith, would often say to me, ‘Just tell him to piss off and get the hell out of here.’” RS

Street Fighting Man

“Richards’ record collection led the Rolling Stones back to their version of America: country music on Dear Doctor, the blues on Prodigal Son and urban riots on Street Fighting Man” (Rolling Stone 500). As he said, “‘When we had been in the States between 1964 and '66, I had gathered together this enormous collection of records, but I never had any time to listen to them…In late 1966 and '67 I unwrapped them and actually played them’” (Rolling Stone 500).

In regards to the latter song, ‘Street Fighting Man’ was “a reflection of the political turbulence of 1968 [and] one of their most innovative singles.” AMG “The driving basic track…was recorded on a cassette deck at Keith's house, with Keith on acoustic guitar and Charlie Watts on a toy drum kit.” RS “The political correctness of [the song] – with its ambivalent lines ‘What can a poor boy do/'Cept sing in a rock and roll band’ – was debated intensely and at great length in the underground media.” RS

Sympathy for the Devil (live at Altamont)

Sympathy for the Devil, “with its fire-dancing guitar licks, leering Jagger vocals, African rhythms, and explicitly satanic lyrics, was an image-defining epic” AMG – “an anthem for the darkness in every human heart.” RS500

Despite Brian Jones’ problems, No Expectations “features some beautiful slide guitar work” AMG from him, as did “‘Parachute Woman’ and ‘Jigsw Puzzle’ His sitar – and tamboura, as well – can be heard on ‘Street Fighting Man.’” RS

“On Stray Cat Blues, Jagger and crew began to explore the kind of decadent sexual sleaze that they would take to the point of self-parody by the mid-'70s. At the time, though, the approach was still fresh.” AMG

“The album's original cover art, depicting a bathroom wall covered with graffiti, was banned. The Stones attempted unsuccessfully to fight their record company's decision – and from today's perspective, the cover seems quite harmless. Nevertheless, the dispute held up the album’s release for months.” RS

With their return to raw and raunchy blues-rock and “the lyrical bite of most of the material,” AMG the Stones had redeemed themselves as the world’s greatest rock & roll band. Their next three albums would be gems as well, but Beggars Banquet will stand as “one of the top blues-based rock records of all time.” AMG

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Grammy Nominations 2013

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The nominations for the 2013 Grammy Awards were announced in conjunction with a live CBS broadcast in Nashville, Tennessee, which featured performances from Maroon 5, The Who, Fun., Hunter Hayes, The Band Perry, Dierks Bentley, and Luke Bryan. Taylor Swift and LL Cool J hosted. The Grammys will be awarded February 10, 2013. Here were the nominations for the biggest categories:


  • The Black Keys El Camino
  • Fun. Some Nights
  • Mumford & Sons Babel
  • Frank Ocean Channel Orange
  • Jack White Blunderbuss

RECORD OF THE YEAR: (goes to the performers)

  • The Black Keys “Lonely Boy”
  • Kelly Clarkson “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”
  • Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe “We Are Young”
  • Gotye featuring Kimbra “Somebody That I Used to Know”
  • Frank Ocean “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You”
  • Taylor Swift “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

Somebody That I Used to Know

SONG OF THE YEAR: (goes to the songwriters)

  • Kelly Clarkson “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”
  • Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe “We Are Young”
  • Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”
  • Miguel “Adorn”
  • Ed Sheeran “The A Team”

We Are Young


  • Alabama Shakes
  • Fun.
  • Hunter Hayes
  • The Lumineers
  • Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean, Mumford & Sons, fun., Jay-Z, and Kanye West each scored six nominations. The Black Keys landed five and member Dan Auerbach also got one as producer. Miguel and Chick Corea each nabbed five noms. Among other artists scoring more than one nomination are Kelly Clarkson (4), Taylor Swift (3), Gotye (3), Jack White (3), Bruce Springsteen (3), Hunter Hayes (3), Alabama Shakes (3), Carly Rae Jepsen (2), Maroon 5 (2), Coldplay (2), Muse (2), and the Lumineers (2).
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Monday, December 3, 2012

Kennedy Center Honors: December 2, 2012

image from

On December 2, 2012, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts held its 35th annual Kennedy Center Honors gala to celebrate contributors to the arts. Actor Dustin Hoffman, TV show host David Letterman, and ballerina Natalia Makarova were honored alongside blues musician Buddy Guy and rock band Led Zeppelin. Chairman David M. Rubenstein said of the honorees that they “have contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world.” KC

Rubenstein said, “Buddy Guy is a titan of the blues and has been a tremendous influence on virtually everone who has picked up an electric guitar in the last half century.” KC President Barack Obama teased Guy making his first guitar strings from the wire from a window screen, saying, “That worked until his parents started wondering how all the mosquitoes were getting in.” AP

Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page (two on left), and Robert Plant (far right) with Buddy Guy (center); image from

In regards to Led Zeppelin, Rubenstein said the band “transformed the sound of rock and roll with their lyricism and innovative song structures, infusing blues into the sound of rock and roll and layering the foundation for countless rock bands.” KC Obama jokingly thanked them for being on their best behavior at the White House considering their history “of hotel rooms trashed and mayhem all around.” AP Actor Jack Black called them “the greatest rock and roll band of all time.” AP

The honors, given to those who have made significant lifetime contributions to American culture and performing arts, have been an annual event since 1978. They are awarded by the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This year’s gala will be broadcast on television on CBS on December 26, 2012.

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The Beatles released Rubber Soul: December 3, 1965

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Tracks (original UK listing): (Click for codes to singles charts.) Drive My Car / Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) / You Won’t See Me / Nowhere Man (2/21/66, #3 US) / Think for Yourself / The Word / Michelle / What Goes On (2/21/66, #81) / Girl / I’m Looking Through You / In My Life / Wait / If I Needed Someone / Run for Your Life

Sales (in millions): 6.5 US, 0.75 UK, 13.9 world

Peak: 16 US, 19 UK


Review: Rubber Soul is without a doubt the first album to definitively put the Fab Four in the running for Greatest Band Ever.” CDU It was ”the best ‘60s rock album produced up to this point, which is saying a lot – there was…some stiff competition (e.g., The Beach Boys’ Today).” AMG2 “Written and recorded in just over a month,” AD Rubber Soul was “the opening volley of the album era.” IB “While the Beatles didn’t totally eschew the two-minute pop ditties on Rubber Soul,” DV “the songs started to get more serious” KN and “more than the traditional radio fodder.” DV This was really “the first set of rock ‘n’ roll originals written, recorded and packaged as an album.” IB It was “important historically [for] pushing The Beach Boys, The Beatles themselves and countless others” AD “away from singles” AD and “into a more considered album-making approach.” AD It would become “the foundation upon which the music industry would be based for the next 15 years.” IB

The album “was well-timed, well put together and is very easy to listen to…thanks to clever sequencing.” AD “Musically, too, it was a substantial leap forward” AMG2 as this “was the first disc…to give the Beatles room to experiment musically.” DV ”Virtually every aspect of the Liverpool quartet’s incredibly diverse sound is in evidence here.” CDU “Intricate folk-rock arrangements…reflected the increasing influence of Dylan and the Byrds” AMG2 and the “burgeoning folk rock movement.” AD “The group and George Martin were also beginning to expand the conventional instrumental parameters of the rock group.” AMG2 The album is “peppered with nasty fuzz bass, exotic sitar, cartoonishly sped-up piano that sounds like harpsichord, and elements of country, Motown, and classical music, the album reveals a creative scope and willingness to experiment so revolutionary it can now only be termed ‘Beatlesque.’” CDU

“The lyrics represented a quantum leap in terms of thoughtfulness, maturity, and complex ambiguities.” AMG2 “The band sounds far more intelligent…(and stoned) than on their early records.” MU They “finally gave in to their urge to grow and released their first introspective work” RV and “John and Paul were beginning to carve separate songwriting identities” AMG2 with John “perhaps…at his absolute best.” KN

In My Life

With In My Life, John “wrap[s] up a lifetime’s worth of reminiscing and maturity in a manner that is rarely achieved in any art form.” DV It is “emotionally devastating and beautiful” AD and “marked out by timeless lyrics.” MU It may “be the best Beatles song ever written.” DV

Norwegian Wood

Similarly, John’s Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) is “highly personal [marked by] almost diary-like sketches that rank among his most popular work.” JA It was “the first prominent rock record to feature a sitar.” JA

Nowhere Man

On Nowhere Man, John “compositionally [takes] things…a further step forward” AD as “the first Beatle song to move beyond romantic themes entirely,” AMG2 “creating something of a minor masterpiece.” AD

Drive My Car

“The punchy R&B” IB of Drive My Car, is a “relatively straightforward pop/rock opener” AD “rooted in their early cute phase,” TL showing “the lads could still rock, but with a little more substance.” RV


Michelle, Paul’s best contribution,” KN “is typical McCartney;” AD “a simple but sweet ballad” KN which “raises a smile” AD with lyrics like “These are words that go together well.” “McCartney does exactly that with his lyric writing,” AD “opposed to the lyrically more thoughtful John.” AD

Rubber Soul “is perhaps the Beatles’ most finely crafted and accessible work.” CDU This is “not a raft for a few hits or a soundtrack to a wacky film, but something to be listened to and contemplated from start to finish.” TL Songs like “‘Drive My Car’ and…‘In My Life’ are lasting classics of such different styles you can hardly believe one band recorded them. Only one band could have.” IB In short, this record is “virtually flawless,” IB an “undeniable pivot point in the Fab Four’s varied discography” AZ “and consequently many fans’ and critics’ favorite.” CDU

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rock Memoirs Aren’t All About the Rich and Famous

Originally written for my "Aural Fixation" column, but not published.

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Summary: This fall several superstars added their autobiographies to the ever-increasing market of rock memoirs. However, there’s a lesser-told story deserving of an audience as well: the life of working-class musicians who travel by van instead of private jet, tour clubs instead of stadiums, and are staying in dives instead of suites. Here’s one of their tales.
Music fans salivating for self-penned tales of debauchery and stardom from their favorite rock gods can dive into recent autobiographies from Pete Townshend (Who I Am: A Memoir, Harper), Neil Young (Waging Heavy Peace, Blue Rider Press), and Rod Stewart (Rod: The Autobiography, Crown Archetype). There’s an understandable appeal to getting a (hopefully) unguarded glimpse into the life of a legend. These are musical giants who have lived lives we mere mortals cannot imagine and likely could not have survived.

The bigger the star and the more sordid the life, the better. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Keith Richards’ Life did as well as it did. The guy personifies rock-n-roll at its baddest and best – arguably better than anyone else in history.

When unpacking the personal accounts of a superstar, however, fans aren’t just curious about how these legends achieved immortal status. Readers also want to peak behind the mask to see larger-than-life superheroes drop their oversized personas and reveal their humanity. People want to know that those who have attained unfathomable success have been plagued by fear and failure along the way.

A few months ago, Rob Sheffield put together a list for Rolling Stone on the best rock tomes (“The 25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time,” 13 August 2012). Sheffield acknowledged the all-too-familiar rags-to-riches (and sometimes back to rags) blueprint of the rock memoir.

Unsurprisingly Sheffield’s list is populated with books on Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, and David Bowie. The more intriguing titles, however, are those about more unfamiliar names like Nick Kent and Kristin Hersch. As Sheffield says, “Great rock memoirs don’t always come from great artists: sometimes it takes one-hit wonders, losers, hacks, junkies, crooks.”

In that spirit, the book which caught my attention was Black Postcards (Penguin Books, 2008) by Dean Wareham.


Exactly. Readers keyed in to the indie-rock scene of the 1980s and ‘90s may know him as the frontman of Galaxie 500 and Luna, but if you’re like me you’d heard of him or his bands.

This seemed like more fertile soil than digging through the conventional bio of one of rock’s elite. For every superstar living a life of stadium tours, private jets, and hotel suites, there are hundreds of working-class musicians gigging in dives, traveling in cramped vans, and crashing in cheap motels.

Wareham actually achieved a measure of success many would be overjoyed to have – albums with tens of thousands in sales, appearances on national talk shows, and videos aired on MTV, even if only on a limited basis.

Still, there’s something which differentiates the Dean Warehams from the Keith Richards of the world. What motivates the musicians who have to keep their day jobs to keep slogging it out? Do they still believe they’ll make it big someday? Did they never dream of stardom in the first place?

For the uninitiated, here’s a brief overview of Wareham’s career. He tells how in the summer of 1987 he was in New York playing with Speedy and the Castanets. “There I was under the lights at CBGB for the first time in my life, just now realizing that I was onstage with a fool and that I needed to quit the band immediately” (p. 32).

After a summer of moping over a lost girlfriend and listening to Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers’ Back in your Life, he hooked up with Damon and Naomi, a pair of Harvard grad students who had dated since high school. As Wareham says, “You can spend your time placing ads…and sifting through messages left on your answering machine by idiot musicians…but the best thing is to start a band with your friends” (33). Galaxie 500, named after an old car, was born. As stated in their All Music bio, “their minimalist dirges presaged the rise of both the shoegazer and slowcore movements of the 1990s.”

However, when Wareham tired of butting heads with the voting block of his coupled rhythm section, he dissolved the band in 1990. After a solo EP in 1991, he formed Luna. With musical influences like Wire, Joy Division, New Order, and Sonic Youth, Wareham wasn’t exactly going to overcome what he cited as one of the dream-pop outfit’s biggest obstacles: they weren’t grunge. Nonetheless, Luna survived personnel changes over a twelve-year career which saw the release of seven studio albums.

I sought out a compilation and was a click away from buying it before opting to explore YouTube first. With apologies to Wareham disciples, I was unimpressed and the album remained on the virtual shelf.

The book left me with a similar dissatisfaction. Wareham chronicles nearly two decades of a life of touring small clubs in the U.S. and Europe. While there are the requisite tales of sexual conquests and drug binges, they are delivered with an aloofness suggesting nothing really excites him. The book cover says it all – a head shot of Wareham with a blank look on his face.

He reports celebrity run-ins with rapper Flavor Flav and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lead singer Anthony Kiedis with a ho-hum detachment and a mere paragraph or two when seemingly a chapter’s worth of insight could be offered.

There’s also a quality of self-absorption. He was in New York in 2001 when terrorists brought down the twin towers. However, instead of offering moving insight into the immense tragedy happening right in front of him, he focuses on the personal turmoil of leaving his wife for Britta, the bassist in Luna.

The distance Wareham puts between himself and his lifestyle does provide the benefit of preventing this book from becoming a why-didn’t-we-make-it-big whine fest. Wareham confesses he’d “never lain awake at night dreaming of being a big rock star” (106) and that he wasn’t interested in shoehorning catchy choruses into his songs in return for radio airplay. He relayed a meeting in which he said, to the disappointment of the record executive, that he just wanted to make records. “It never occurred to me to want to be a household name.”

Dean Wareham lacked the necessary ambition and possibly talent to ever make it big. He was never destined to be a Pete Townshend, Neil Young, or Rod Stewart. He never dreamed of stardom, but Black Postcards offers an account of someone who succeeded. His life wasn’t necessarily one filled with passion, but Wareham seemed to live the life he wanted – and that’s all anyone can hope for.