Just in time for Halloween: MJ’s “Thriller”

30 10 2011

You late 30’s/early 40’s folks probably remember the massive hoopla over the debut on MTV of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.  It was the first million dollar video in the MTV era, and was massively popular.  It was like a mini-Superbowl Sunday the night that it was released, and it didn’t disappoint.


Unchained in HD

28 10 2011

I was somewhat surprised to run across a couple of Van Halen CD’s at one of the local independent record stores (Dearborn Music) that were part of the “Warner Remasters” series, Diver Down and Fair Warning specifically.  I probably, quite foolishly, assumed that there was no money in remastering and reissuing albums (on CD, as opposed to downloadable format) from the 80’s, especially albums like Fair Warning which were not massive commercial success. (It did go platinum, though.)

Arguably, recording technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last 30 years.  But albums from the 80’s were recorded on equipment far superior to that off the 60’s and 70’s (unless you think 4 track analog produces the purest of sounds.)  I wouldn’t think there would be much to gain from remastering something from 1981.

Of course, before I re-buy CD’s that I already own, I want to know I’m getting something better with the new purchase.  If this “Unchained” in HD is any indication of what the remasters might sound like, I will probably have to go out and scoop up Van Halen’s 80’s catalog.


“Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds” soars

28 10 2011

When I first fell in love with Oasis’s music, I was largely drawn to Liam’s vocals.  I don’t think there’s ever been a lead man quite like him, and his voice was one of a kind. But as the band rolled on, sliding out of their spot as most popular band in the world, Noel began to assert himself more as a vocalist (and less as a writer.)  He seemed to save some of the best songs for himself to sing.  Oasis’s best work was often b-sides and bonus tracks found on EP’s and the like; the work that never made the LP’s.  Most of those gems were sung by Noel.

In the meantime, Liam’s vocal work, with some exception, seemed to steadily decline in the 2000’s.  Frankly, his voice is shot, probably from too many cigarettes, Guinness and all night partying.  Sometimes it’s hard to listen to him, as is the case on Beady Eye’s debut album.  What became of Muhammad Ali’s body is kind of what happened to Liam’s voice.  If he could write great songs, perhaps that wouldn’t matter.

All that meant that the best work on the last few Oasis albums was created and sung by Noel.  It became inevitable, I think, that he would break away from the band and put out superior work.  That is what he has done.

On Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Noel put together a collection of songs stronger than the last couple of Oasis records.  His first solo album is much what you expect from him.  It sounds like a compilation of sorts of all the great Noel-sung b-sides and bonus tracks.   Admittedly, High Flying Birds sounds a bit like an Oasis album.  But it’s an album full of songs that are reminiscent of “Falling Down” and “The Importance of Being Idle,” and tunes of that quality.

His vocals are superb!  In some spots, unfortunately, he double tracks them, distorts them or obscures them with layers of other sounds.  If Noel weren’t a good singer, that would make sense.

“Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks” and “The Death of You and Me” have that jaunty bounce of a Kinks pop tune.  “The Death of You and Me” is quite similar to “The Importance of Being Idle,” mostly due to the heavy falsetto vocals.  “If I Had a Gun” channels “Wonderwall.”

“AKA…What A Life” is a bass heavy with a neo-disco beat.  You might hear it in a Eurotrash club someday. “(Stranded On) the Wrong Beach” is a nice mid-tempo rocker, with a bit of gritty guitar.  “Everbody’s on the Run” and has some oomph but relies heavily on sounds effects and psychedelic-tinged backing vocals.  It has a power and passion that makes it irresistible.  “AKA…Broken Arrow” is another track that borrows something from “Wonderwall,” though it’s a bit more uptempo.  It’s one of the weaker tracks.

The two most disappointing tracks are “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine” and “Stop the Clocks.”  Both were demo’d for Oasis and leaked to the internet after Dig Out Your Soul was released.  To me, “Record Machine,” at least in demo form, was one of Noel’s top 5 best songs.  On High Flying Birds, he blunted the edge of the song by cluttering it with choir-like background vocals and swirly organs.  I hoped he would do something different with it for the album — we already had the demo to enjoy.  But he cluttered it in much the same way Phil Spector heaped vocals and layers of instrumentation on “Let it Be.”  “Stop the Clocks” is…well…a bit sad and dull.  He’d have been better off to bury that one or put it out as a bonus track.

Keep your ears peeled for the b-sides, “The Good Rebel” and “A Simple of Game of Genius.”  “Good Rebel’s” respectable and “Genius” should have displaced “Stop the Clocks” or “AKA…Broken Arrow.”  It has a stomping beat, nice slippery bass lines, nice rock guitar and solid vocal work.  It’s a happier “Let’s All Make Believe.”

All in all, this is a really nice disk.  It’s hard to say whether it will stand the test of time, as they say.  But it will almost surely sound better than “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” and “Heathen Chemistry” sound today.  And, for what it’s worth, it beats the living daylights out of Beady Eye’s thing.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds



Noel at the Q Awards

26 10 2011

Funny as always

“Elvis and Us” exhibition in Liverpool

13 10 2011

The “Elvis and Us” exhibition is a combined Elvis-Beatles affair soon set to hit Liverpool.  A number of Elvis artifacts which have never left Graceland will be on display.  The overall themes of the exhibit are the ways in which Elvis and the Beatles changed music and popular culture, and the ways in which they influenced each other as artists.  It looks like it’s a first class production for fans of both The King and The Fabs.



Paul weds on John’s birthday

10 10 2011

In what was an obvious trip down memory lane, on several fronts, for Sir Paul McCartney, he married Nancy Shevell at the Old Marylebone Town Hall in London yesterday.  It can’t be an accident that he got married on what would have been John Lennon’s 71st birthday.  Hopefully Paul has found a mate for the rest of his life.


Brian Wilson on Smile

7 10 2011

After 44 years, the Beach Boys are set to release the most famous (and infamous) unreleased album of all time, Smile.  Brian has been talking to the press lately about Smile, both its past and where it stands at present.  Here are some bits from one of his most recent interviews:

When you listen to “Smile” now, what words come to mind?

Childhood. Freedom. A rejection of adult rules and adult conformity. Our message was, “Adults keep out. This is about the spirit of youth.”

What’s the best way to describe the album?

A teenage symphony to God. That’s how Van Dyke, my collaborator, described it. It’s a teen’s expression of joy and amazement. It’s unrestrained. We thought of ourselves as teens then, even though we were in our 20s.

Was “Smile” an American response to English rock?

Not at all. We weren’t in competition with anyone on “Smile.” I was on heavy drugs—LSD and marijuana. We had no idea what people would expect. There was a lot going on.

What was the “Smile” concept?

Van Dyke and I wanted “Smile” to be a musical tour of America through the eyes of kids—from Plymouth Rock to Diamond Head. We wanted to show people how American music had evolved over the years.


Marc Myers: What was your obsession with youth on Smile?
Brian Wilson: We lose our childhood spirit as we grow older. When you hear this music, it takes you back to your childhood. That’s one of the reasons why we released all the tapes now. We want people to get a taste of what we were into. We want them to flash back to their youth.

MM: Smile was originally going to be called Dumb Angel?
BW: Yes. I was stoned one night sitting in my office in my home in Beverly Hills. I said to myself, “Dumb Angel. Hmmm, hey that’s going to be the name of the album.” I told [lyricist] Van Dyke Parks. He said, “No way. We’re going to call it Smile. I said, “Alright you win.” He said, “Alright, I win.”

MM: You didn’t put up a fight?
BW: Nah. Smile was better. More happier. No one would have understood Dumb Angel anyway.

MM: Do you hear Smile on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s?

MM: You don’t hear Surf’s Up in Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane?
BW: No, no way.*


*It’s hard to imagine that “Surf’s Up” could have been an influence on “Strawberry Fields Forever” considering that recording for both songs began in November 1966.  SFF was completed by the beginning of 1967 and “Surf’s Up” was shelved about the same time, not to see the light of day for several more years.  This seems like a very odd question to have asked in light of that.