Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is Glee the New Elvis?

Originally published in my "Aural Fixation" column on PopMatters.com on May 24, 2011. See original post here.

image from popmatters.com

Once upon a time there was young man who was attractive and charming. His teen followers swooned as he threatened to revolutionize their world by introducing them to his brand of music. While the kids embraced the Man, he rubbed some members of the Establishment the wrong way because his music was deemed a dangerous influence on the youth. I’m talking, of course, about Elvis Presley. No, wait. I mean, I’m talking about the basic plot line of Glee.

Elvis fans may cringe, but there are parallels between one of today’s most iconic television shows and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Much like the man from Tupelo, Mississippi, has become synonymous with American music in the ‘50s, Glee is a touchstone for the state of American music in 2011.

The Charts

The notion that Elvis and Glee even belong in the same musical discussion was sparked by a 16 February 2011 article in Billboard magazine, “‘Glee’ Cast Tops Elvis Presley for Most Hot 100 Hits” (by Gary Trust). The industry leader’s flagship US chart, the Hot 100, crowned a new king for most chart entries – and it wasn’t The King.

A television show that was nonexistent two years ago surpassed the 108 hits Elvis Presley accumulated over a two-decade career. This statistic is a little misleading. The Hot 100 launched in 1958, by which time Elvis had already spent two years racking up 31 hits on predecessors to the Hot 100 chart (see “Ask Billboard: Who Could Break “Glee”‘s Record?”, by Gary Trust, 18 February 2011). That boosts his total to 139 charted hits from 1956’s “Heartbreak Hotel” to the 2003 remix of “Rubberneckin’.” As of 14 May 2011, the Glee cast had amassed 137 Hot 100 hits. Give ‘em another week.

There’s still plenty of room for chart fanatics to cry foul, however. The average Glee chart entry is gone before the next episode airs. While the man who sang to a hound dog on Milton Berle’s show has left us with immortal songs like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Don’t Be Cruel”, the cast of Glee has graced us with gems like…uh, well, they did a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. Glee hasn’t left us with a treasure trove of immortal songs like “It’s Now Or Never” or “Suspicious Minds”. When the Glee cast passed Elvis’ record, they’d logged a wimpy 150 weeks total for all their chart entries, meaning about 80 percent of their “hits” logged a solitary week on the chart. By comparison, Elvis amassed 994 cumulative weeks. Only 700 or so more Glee hits and they’ll have caught up to the King!

Presley scores significantly better than Glee on other fronts, as well. According to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, Presley has gone top ten 38 times compared to a skimpy three such hits for Glee. The King has gone #118 times; Glee hasn’t done that, yet.

Still, the sheer number of chart entries for the Glee cast makes their achievement astonishing. More importantly, Glee taps into the state of today’s music industry much as Elvis did in his day.

Using Television as a Medium

In the ‘50s, television proved an important medium for marketing music. An appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show could send viewers straight to their radio station’s request lines or, more importantly, to their local shop which sold 45 RPM records.

Glee has blended adolescent hormones and the immediacy of digital music and poured its concoction into must-see prime time TV. Prior television-meets-music endeavors like the High School Musical movies and the Hannah Montana TV show had landed multiple chart entries in a single week, but only Glee has done it on a weekly basis.

Taking Advantage of the Digital Age

This has largely come from the ability of the Glee marketing machine to take full advantage of how young audiences consume music today. In Elvis’ time, a teen had to persuade Mom and Pop to take them shopping. In the 21st century, a teen’s impulsive need to add a just-heard song to his iPod is only a mouse click away, and it’s easy on his allowance.

As disposable as pop music has generally been, Glee has taken it to new heights. Week-in and week-out, iTunes drools over Gleeks desperate to own songs they heard for the first time just seconds before. The song that charts this week may be a distant memory next week. It may never get radio airplay and certainly won’t go down as a cherished classic, but it sold a hundred thousand or so downloads on its way toward obscurity.

Singles Over Albums

This sounds pretty negative, but there’s an upside. For years, the music industry greedily stuck its money-grubbing hands into the customer’s wallets by pushing albums when buyers often wanted individual songs. That power, however, has shifted back to the consumer.

The album format launched in the ‘40s and gained prominence in the ‘50s primarily as collections of previously-released material targeted to more serious fans. During the ‘60s, groups like the Beatles approached albums as artistic statements independent of singles. Thanks to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and similar ventures, the ‘70s launched classic rock groups like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin who could find massive success with barely a single to their names.

By the ‘80s, commercial juggernauts like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. bombarded the US market with single after single, but all in the name of pushing the album into multi-platinum sales figures. By the turn of the century, a new album by the Backstreet Boys or ‘N Sync was practically considered a failure if it didn’t move a million copies its first week out.

However, the digital age has ravaged the album industry, allowing customers to cherry-pick individual songs. Glee has fully embraced the practice, not even pushing albums on its public until its fans have had the chance to purchase the songs individually.

The Musical Climate

All of this hints at the greatest commonality between Elvis Presley and Glee. Both are at the forefront of their eras by tapping into the musical climate of the day. Before Elvis gyrated his pelvis into the musical spotlight, the American music scene was dominated by crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. These were singers who started out fronting big bands with repertoires comprised primarily of already-established standards. It was common in the first half of the 20th century to see multiple versions of the same song chart available simultaneously.

In the ‘50s, the birth of rock and roll wasn’t just about marrying R&B to country to birth a new genre. It was also about transforming how the music industry marketed itself. Suddenly the most successful singers no longer looked like they were headed to the office; they looked like they worked at the local filling station. Elvis Presley and his peers weren’t fronting orchestras but small combos of guitar, bass, drums, and piano. Performances were no longer about how effectively the singer nailed a laid-back vibe, but how manic he looked while swiveling his hips, terrorizing a defenseless piano, or strutting across the stage to the whoops and hollers of teenage girls.

The music industry of 2011 bears similarities to the music industry of 1956. Glee is more about the ensemble than the individual performer. In addition, Glee has lead to the industry to again embrace the idea of tapping into a hit song’s success by recycling it before it goes cold. In some cases, such as Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You”, the original got a boost because of the Glee version.

If Glee ever tackles the Elvis catalog, there’s no question which version of “Love Me Tender” or “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” will leave the greater imprint. However, Glee has mastered the premise of today’s musical landscape that longevity isn’t the goal. Sell and sell now. Worry about what history will say about it, later.

Journey’s Eclipse released

First posted 3/28/2011; updated 9/11/2020.



Released: May 24, 2011

Peak: 13 US, 33 UK, -- CN, -- AU

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

Genre: classic rock


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. City of Hope (2011, --)
  2. Edge of the Moment
  3. Chain of Love
  4. Tantra
  5. Anything Is Possible (2011, 21 AC)
  6. Resonate
  7. She’s a Mystery
  8. Human Feel (2011, --)
  9. Ritual
  10. To Whom It May Concern
  11. Someone
  12. Venus

Total Running Time: 66:20

The Players:

  • Arnel Pineda (vocals)
  • Neal Schon (guitar, backing vocals)
  • Jonathan Cain (keyboards, rhythm guitar, backing vocals)
  • Ross Valory (bass, backing vocals)
  • Deen Castronovo (drums, backing vocals)


3.188 out of 5.00 (average of 5 ratings)

About the Album:

This album is somewhat a return to form – just not the form that most Journey fans would want. “There is no ‘Separate Ways,’ no ‘Don’t Stop Believin,’’ no ‘Open Arms’ here because the emphasis is not on the song, it’s on the instrumental action.” AMG “This is music made for musicians.” AMG In other words, they sort of return to the progressive rock leanings that fueled the band on their first three albums before Steve Perry joined the fold and took Journey into the stratosphere of popularity.

This is an album where “the group carves soundscapes out of massive guitars, intricate rhythmic interplay, and cascades of synthesizers” AMG more than trying to capture their “arena rock heyday.” AMG “What they neglect to do is find hooks to have this play for an audience larger than the already devoted….That’s not to say that Eclipse is hook-less, because there are melodies for Arnel Pineda to sing and riffs for Neal Schon to churn out, but both certainly take a backseat to the overall sound Journey creates, one that is certainly classic rock without sounding particularly classic.” AMG

Keyboardist Jonathan Cain said this record is “very guitar-driven. This album has very little of me, keyboard-wise. Neal wanted to do a heavier rock album. So, this is kind of his baby.” BM He continued by sayig “It’s probably one of Neal’s best guitar albums. I think he’s on a mission on this album – to play, and he did.” BM

Cain did, however, co-write all the songs with Schon, with some collaboration from Pineda. As Cain said, “I wrote the lyrics on the thing and lots of the melodies that sit above the guitars.” BM He also said, “It’s a very hard-hitting record that has some conscience to it. It’s about lots of things – spirituality, sexuality. There’s a song called Tantra on it about tantric circles. I was fascinated with all of that. It’s definitely a departure from what we’ve done before.” BM

Resources and Related Links:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” hit #1

Rolling in the Deep


Writer(s):Adele/Paul Epworth (see lyrics here)

Released: November 29, 2010

First Charted: December 11, 2010

Peak: 17 US, 119 AC, 114 AAA, 61 RB, 21 MR, 2 UK, 13 CN, 3 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 8.06 US, 1.2 UK, 20.6 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 1986.0 video, 200.0 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

While touring North America in support of previous album, 19, Adele’s bus driver introduced her to Wanda Jackson via a greatest hits album. SF She was also drawn to American country music while touring the Southern states. SF Those influences come through on “Rolling in the Deep”, which has been described as having a “hint of Wanda Jackson’s dirty-blues growl.” WK Barry Walters of Rolling Stone commends the song for its “British knack for rejiggering the sound of American roots music” WK while All Music Guide’s Matt Collar calls it a “propulsive gospel fever-blues anthem.” AMG

Collar also proclaimed it “one of the best singles of any decade” AMG and Billboard said it was the biggest crossover tune from the last quarter century, with appearances on a dozen different charts. SF The song hit #1 in eleven countries and won Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. It also landed a nomination for Video of the Year from MTV.

Critics raved about Adele’s vocals on the cut. The Sun described it as something “you would expect from a veteran of 20 years on the road.” WK Reviewer Bill Lamb said her voice “can raise chills up the spine.” WK Adele credited producer Paul Epworth, who had worked with Bloc Party and Florence + the Machine, for getting notes out of her which she didn’t know she could hit. WK

Adele told Rolling Stone that the song title is an adaption of the UK slang term “roll deep” which means to always have someone who has your back. SF She said that’s how she originally felt in the relationship which is dissected on the song’s parent album, 21, but that “ended up not being the case.” SF A day after she split with her unfaithful boyfriend, she arrived at the studio wanting to write a lovelorn ballad, but was persuaded by Epworth to pen a feistier song. SF As she told Spinner, “I was really, really angry with my personal life…I’m not really willing to be walked all over.” SF


Related Links:

Last updated 8/16/2022.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Rainmakers Live at Knuckleheads: May 15, 2011

image from rainmakers.com

14 years after their last album, The Rainmakers returned with 25 On. In support of the reunion, they toured, including a hometown stint at Kansas City's Knuckleheads saloon on May 14 and 15, 2011. As part of the show, the group performed their 1986 eponymous debut in full. Here's the set list for the entire show:


1. Rockin’ at the T-Dance 1
2. Downstream 1
3. Let My People Go Go 1

4. Doomsville 1
5. Big Fat Blonde 1
6. Long Gone Long 1
7. The One That Got Away 1
8. Government Cheese 1
9. Drinkin’ on the Job 1
10. Nobody Knows 1
11. Information 1
12. Given Time 6
13. Half a Horse a Piece 6
14. Like Dogs 6

15. The Wages of Sin 2
16. Small Circles 2
17. Spend It on Love 3
18. The Lakeview Man 2
19. Missouri Girl 6
20. Another Guitar 4

21. You Remind Me of Someone 4
22. Reckoning Day 3
23. Shiny Shiny 3
24. Width of a Line 4
25. Hoo Dee Hoo 3
26. Go Down Swinging 6

27. Turpentine 6
28. Burning Love *
29. The Last Song of the Evening 6
30. One More Summer 2


1 The Rainmakers (1986)
2 Tornado (1987)
3 The Good News and the Bad News (1989)
4 Flirting with the Universe (1994)
5 Skin (1997)
6 25 On (2011)
* Elvis Presley cover

Sunday, May 8, 2011

50 years ago: Ben E. King charted with “Stand by Me"

Stand by Me

Ben E. King

Writer(s): Ben E. King/Elmo Glick/Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller (see lyrics here)

First Charted: May 8, 1961

Peak: 4 US, 3 CB, 2 GR, 6 HR, 16 RR, 10 AC, 14 RB, 13 UK, 11 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 7.0 radio, 492.2 video, 550.41 streaming

Awards (Ben E. King):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (U2 & Bruce Springsteen):

Awards (Playing for Change):

About the Song:

Regarding “one of the great pop songs of all time,” LW Ben E. King said he modified “Stand by Me” from Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers’ “Lord, I’m Standing By” TC but that his end result was completely different. “All the romantic bits came from me.” KL He wrote “Stand by Me” while he was still the lead singer for the Drifters, but their manager said, “not a bad song, but we don’t need it.” RS500 It didn’t resurface again until King went solo.

During the recording sessions for “Spanish Harlem,” producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller asked King if he had any more songs since they had some studio time left over. He played a piano version of “Stand by Me.” WK They did an arrangement on the spot, creating the song’s distinctive percussion by turning a snare drum over and stroking the springs against the drum skin. TC

The way the arrangement builds throughout, with more instruments added at each stage, was “pure Leiber-Stoller.” MA Author Alan Lewis said the songwriting pair “exemplify Tin Pan Alley rock ‘n’ roll,” LW a reference to the famed songwriting out of New York in the early part of the 20th century. Critic Greg Shaw said, “They were the true architects of pop/rock.” LW “Stand by Me” also offered a glimpse of the kind of work to come from Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland and Phil Spector, a Leiber-Stoller protégé. MA

Twenty-five years later, the song proved its timelessness. In the mid-‘80s, director Rob Reiner was working on a film and needed a song for the title sequence. He went through his old records and settled on “Stand by Me” not just for the opening, but for the name of his movie. KL

It didn’t just make for a bit of nostalgia, though; the song re-entered the top 10 on the pop charts and made its first appearance on the adult contemporary charts. It was also used in a Levi Jeans ad, helping it to top the UK singles chart, WK where it originally peaked at #27 in 1961.

The song has been covered multiple times. Personal favorites include a live version from 1987 featuring U2 with Bruce Springsteen and a version recorded in 2008 by a collaboration of artists around the world under the Playing for Change banner.


First posted 7/8/2012; last updated 11/23/2022.