June 12, 2010

A couple weeks ago, I accepted the fact that it was time to replace the iPod.

After watching me mull it over for a few days, Paloma encouraged me to purchase a new device.

And I did opt for space, enough space to file most of all of the music I’ve gathered and have it at my fingertips.

The new iPod shows that there are 33,215 tracks loaded into it. The total is off by approximately 2,500 or so as there are 250 or so sides of albums ripped from vinyl and stored as a single track.

(laziness prompted me to rip each track individually when Paloma and I started buying vinyl two years ago)

Supposedly, it is 98 days of music.

It would require – give or take – one year to listen to all of it, provided I put in a 40-hour work week.

(I hashed out the math while having a smoke at my actual job)

I hold in my hands a small universe of music, yet I lack the power to gather enough time to listen to it all.

And, as Burgess Meredith learned in that acclaimed episode of The Twilight Zone, even time isn’t always enough.

So, here are four random tracks from the new iPod…

The Verve – Slide Away
from A Storm In Heaven

I’m not sure how I stumbled across the debut from The Verve in early ’94. It might have been from reading about the British quartet in Q or some other music magazine from the UK which was enthusiastic about the band.

I quickly became a fan of their dense, swirling psychedelic-styled modern rock and lead singer Richard Ashcroft struck me as a near-perfect representation of a rock star with his angular features, tousled hair, and indifferent swagger.

Unfortunately, aside from a brief bit of attention after Nike used the song Bittersweet Symphony from 1997’s Urban Hymns in a commercial, The Verve was generally ignored in the States and the masses missed out on one of the best bands of the ’90s.

The Equals – Just Me And You
from First Among Equals: The Greatest Hits

Sometime in the mid-’90s, I received a copy of a two-CD collection of The Equals as a promo. At the time, I had never heard the band’s lone US hit from the late ’60s, Baby Come Back, or even knew that it was their song Police On My Back that The Clash had covered a decade or so later on their epic Sandinista!

However, I had heard Casey Kasem mention repeatedly during the summer of ’83 that Eddy Grant, who was rockin’ down to Electric Avenue, had originally been in The Equals. It’s Grant who wrote and sings lead on the soulful, mid-tempo Just Me And You.

Stevie Wonder – Higher Ground
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I

And up pops one of those “tracks” which is actually a full album side – in this case, side three of the great Stevie Wonder’s 1982 two-album compilation Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I. In addition to the leadoff song – the shimmying funk of Higher Ground – that side also featured Sir Duke, Master Blaster (Jammin’), Boogie On Reggae Woman, and That Girl.

That single side alone would have made for an impressive career for most artists.

David Gray – Please Forgive Me
from White Ladder

Channel-surfing late one night, I stumbled across a video that immediately stopped me in my tracks. The frenetic images of a bustling city street matched the hyperactive twitch of the arresting melody. Above the cityscape a non-descript fellow sat playing a piano that seemingly hovered in mid-air.

At the end of the video, the tag identified the artist as David Gray. The name seemed familiar and, as I searched the memory banks, I realized that I had actually seen Gray, opening for Shawn Colvin a good six years earlier. I even owned an early album of his that I had filed and forgotten.

In 1999, a lot of people owned a copy of White Ladder (and rightfully so).

Who Wouldn’t Want To Live In A Treehouse?

May 29, 2010

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo of late surrounding the thirtieth anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back with one of the cable stations showing the original trilogy of Star Wars flicks last weekend.

I must have been one of the few people that didn’t see The Empire Strikes Back in the theater.

(at least among we humans who were present in 1980)

I saw Star Wars in the theater, but, when The Empire Strikes Back the masses descended on every multi-plex like locust. The nearest city for us to see the movie was an hour away and, on the few attempts that some friends and I made to see it, all showings were sold out.

The movie eventually arrived in our hometown theater, but, I don’t think I saw it there, either.

I honestly don’t remember where I saw it.

As for the final film in the trilogy – I didn’t even get around to seeing Return Of The Jedi when it was released in the late spring of ’83. In fact, I don’t think I saw it until it was re-released to theaters in the late ’90s.

Though I didn’t see that finale at the time, I do remember the angst caused by the Ewoks, the tribe of teddy bears that lived in the forest and helped the heroes bitchslap the empire.

The Ewoks were met with the kind of harsh disapproval usually reserved for those who club baby seals or toss dwarves.

“I hated them,” Paloma said flatly when I noted how poorly received the Ewoks had been.

As they frolicked across the screen, I understood why the masses were none too fond of these furry creatures.

The Ewoks do seem to have been designed with merchandising in mind and they were a bit precious.

However, the Ewoks were also quite resourceful, scrappy, and lived in a pretty cool village of treehouses.

And no one could accuse the Ewoks of not being green – no coastlines marinating in oil on Endor.

“So, you come across a homeless Ewok on the walk to work tomorrow, and you don’t bring it home?” I ask.

“It would upset the cats.”

(I still think that, hated or not, that Ewok would be coming to our treehouse – domestic harmony be damned)

Checking back over the music that was out during this time in 1983 – when the world was learning to hate Ewoks – there was some cool stuff. I was still listening to Top 40, but the album rock stations were an increasingly popular destination and friends were also turning me on to new music.

Here are four songs from then…

David Bowie – China Girl
from Let’s Dance

Did I even know any of David Bowie’s music at the time of Let’s Dance‘s release?

I suspect I didn’t.

Not that I wasn’t aware of Bowie. I vividly recall browsing through albums – years before I really became interested in music – and being intrigued by the cover art for albums like Diamond Dogs and Lodger.

But Let’s Dance would prove to be inescapable in ’83 and, while it was the title song that was the first single and most successful track, I much preferred the mesmerizing and mysterious China Girl that I was hearing on the album rock stations.

Tears For Fears – Change
from The Hurting

My friends and I wouldn’t acquire our driver’s licenses until the end of ’83 or early ’84, so, as the Ewoks were causing such consternation, we were more distressed by our lack of mobility.

Being stuck in our small town was underscored by the occasional visit of my friend Beej’s uncle from Cincinnati. The fellow had an enviable collection of New Wave albums, EPs, and twelve-inch singles by artists we often wouldn’t hear of until months later (or sometimes not at all).

I vividly remember Uncle Dave turning us onto Tears For Fears’ debut and I’m still puzzled as I recall him describing the duo as similar to Culture Club to us.

Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue
from Killer On The Rampage

Personally, there are few songs – if any – that I so completely and absolutely associate with summer as Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue.

Maybe it’s because it seemed to come out of nowhere as the season arrived in ’83 or because it seemed to be playing constantly – on every station almost regardless of format – throughout that summer before vanishing as we headed back to school.

Peter Gabriel – I Go Swimming
from Plays Live

I knew Peter Gabriel when he released his Plays Live set in ’83. He was the unusual singer that had implored us to “shock the monkey” during the previous winter.

As for everything else in Gabriel’s catalog – be it his work with Genesis or his previous solo efforts – I wouldn’t catch up for several more years.

But WEBN and 96Rock played the hell out of I Go Swimming and there was something about the song that resonated with me. Little did I know at the time how much of a Gabriel fan I would one day be.