Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: Year In Review

Every critic from MTV to Rolling Stone has produced some sort of best of list for the year, so here's mine!

Best Songs of 2008

10. Bret Michaels - "Driven"

I love Bret's new solo album "Rock My World" and I would have bought it except half the songs are the same as one of his previous solo albums (which I have) called "Songs of Life". That's a great album too though. Anyway, this song is a return to a sexy style of rock 'n roll that's definitely missing amongst the Coldplays and Nickelbacks of the world.

9. Heidi Montag - "Fashion"

This song is absolutely ridiculous but somehow amazing. And that's all I can really say without embarrassing myself.

8. Seether - "Rise Above This"

Maybe an odd choice from me, but this song reminded me of an old favorite, "Memory" by Sugarcult, as well as long forgotten about bands like Orgy (who never got the recognition they deserved) and Chevelle (ok maybe no one remembers Chevelle for a reason). A solid rock song with far better than average lyrics and a strong emotional vocal.

7. Kid Rock - "All Summer Long"

This song was everywhere this summer and rightfully so. Kid Rock has reinvented his image many times over the years, but this is one song I heard on every type of station from hits formats to country stations. A classic summer song.

6. Toby Keith - "She Never Cried In Front Of Me"

This song reminds me of "Wedding Day" by Bon Jovi, largely for the similar story behind the lyrics than any musical similarity. A sad country song about a man who is watching a former love get married to another man. Toby Keith is extremely prolific, releasing an album about every year, but this is one of his strongest singles.

5. Garth Brooks - "More Than A Memory"

Another sad country song, this is one undoubtedly one of Garth Brooks' best. The lyrics are incredible; truly a song for any one who has ever had their heart broken.

Below embedded is a cover version by Lee Brice:

4. Taylor Swift - "Love Story"

A sweet and romantic song by Taylor, who has quickly become America's new sweetheart with two very successful albums (both in the Top 40 on the albums chart). Taylor's career is likely to be a long one due to the fact that she writes or co-writes all her music and appeals to both teenagers and adults. This ballad follows a Romeo-and-Juliet star-crossed couple from the beginning of their love to his proposal.

3. Hilary Duff - "Reach Out"

Although the Bermudez & Chico Remix is far superior to the album version, this song is undeniably catchy and a big upgrade from Hilary's earlier teenybopper songs like "Come Clean" and "So Yesterday". Hopefully Miley Cyrus will take a cue from Hilary when she reaches Hilary's age - largely avoiding the tabloids while managing to create great pop songs like this. I have a feeling that Miley will make racy videos like this one long before she is Hilary's age however. Unfortunately, Hilary's record label failed to allow her Greatest Hits CD to be downloaded on Itunes for a few months so this song never attained much chart success.

Original version:

Remix version:

2. Britney Spears - "If U Seek Amy"

This is one of the best songs Britney has done in years. This song finds her reuniting with her original producer Max Martin (who did "Baby One More Time", "You Drive Me Crazy", and "Oops I Did It Again") and recapturing some of her original sound. The lyrics are a clever pun that is in keeping with her new adult image however.

1. Kings of Leon - "Closer"

A haunting, harrowing song that is both beautiful and devastating. This song, and the album which it's from - Only By The Night - deserves more attention than it's getting. Hands down the best song of 2008.

Honorable Mentions:

Ashlee Simpson - "Little Miss Obsessive"
Katy Perry - "Use Your Love"
Miley Cyrus - "See You Again"
Jonas Brothers - "Burnin Up"
Leona Lewis - "Run"

Ne-Yo - "Closer"
Beyonce - "If I Were A Boy"
T.I. - "Whatever You Like"

Coldplay - "Viva La Vida"
Simple Plan - "Your Love Is A Lie"

Montgomery Gentry - "Roll With Me"

Honorable Mention: All American Rejects - "Gives You Hell"

Even though I enjoy The Zoo's cover ( of this song more than the original, this is one of the funniest and catchiest songs of the year. If only it were getting more attention!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Songs/albums I know I shouldn't like but I just can't help it......

Here's a list of a few ultimate guilty pleasures of mine...the list could go on and on but here are some notables....

Rick Astley - "Never Gonna Give You Up" (1987)
#1 Billboard Hot 100 hit

This song is just so addicting, I can't help but listen to it...over and over again. Apparently, 12 1/2 million people who have viewed the video on YouTube agree with me.

Of particular note is the mashup of this song's vocals with the music of Mika's "Happy Ending" the song and particularly its lyrics a haunting, visceral quality. (Listen to that version here:

REM - "Everybody Hurts" (1992)
#29 Billboard Hot 100

"When the day is long...and the night, the night is yours alone....." Man, this song just makes me want to cry sometimes...unless you just embrace it. I once used this song in a documentary in a post-modern ironic sort of way...and by ironic I mean it was half-serious. As I always say, never underestimate the power of Oprah. And this song. Because sometimes, everything is wrong.

Backstreet Boys - self titled (1997)
#4 Billboard Top 200 Albums, 14x platinum (diamond)

What a classic! It reminds me of being in the 6th grade and absolutely loving everything the Backstreet Boys put out. Highlights of this album are: "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" - a classic track that everyone can still do the dance to, "If You Want It To Be Good Girl (Get Yourself A Bad Boy)"....a sexual come on if I ever heard one, "Hey Mr. DJ (Keep Playing This Song)" and "All I Have To Give". There is no more rabid and loyal fanbase then teenage girls (witness the modern day success of the Jonas Brothers and Twilight) and in 1997, the BSB were the object of their desire...and would remain so for the next 5 years or so.

Kid Rock - "Only God Knows Why" (1999)
#19 Billboard Hot 100

OK this song is not quite as guilty of a guilty pleasure as the other songs I have compiled for this entry, but it was a song that I don't think people anticipated of Kid Rock at the time. He had already released "Batwitaba" and "Cowboy" off the album Devil Without A Cause (1998). Those two songs could not have been more different from "Only God Knows Why" - a country-tinged ballad about being on the road too long much in the vein of Jackson Browne.

I think this song attracted Kid Rock some fans that would follow him when he released "Picture" in 2002 and "All Summer Long" in 2008. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Devil Without a Cause is currently one of the three records with a parental advisory label to be certified Diamond, the other two being Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and The Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death."

Will Smith - "Will2K" (1999)
#25 Billboard Hot 100

This ode to the new millennium - it's here and I like it - still holds up to this day even if several New Year's Eves have passed since its release. This song reminds of me of a particularly memorable New Year's Eve party in New Jersey circa 2006 where this song was played about 5 times that night. This may be the world's catchiest song. Just try to resist. Why this song made it to Blender's 50 Worst Songs Ever list is beyond me, because it is Just. Awesome. So. There.

Ashlee Simpson - "Autobiography" album (2004)
#1 Billboard Top 200 Albums hit, 3x platinum

OK, this is a little embarrassing but I can still listen to this album start to finish. Ashlee may not have the best voice in the world, but the songs are catchy and creative. It's unfortunate that after this promising debut as sort of the anti-Jessica Simpson, her nose job, sexier clothes, and dyed hair made her look exactly like her sister. The highlights of this album are "Surrender", "LaLa", "Pieces Of Me", "Shadow" and the sadder ballad "Unreachable".

T-Pain featuring Yung Joc - "Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin')" (2007)
#1 Billboard Hot 100 hit

Anyone that knows me knows my odd obsession with singing this song...over and over. Enough said.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I can't live, if living is without you: A history of "Without You"

"Without You" is probably one of the most covered songs of all time, right up there with "Always On My Mind". Artists as varied as Mariah Carey to Clay Aiken have covered this song, and I am sure there is some post-modern pop-punk cover floating around somewhere out there.

So who sang it best?

Badfinger (1970)

The original singers/songwriters of this song, better known for their song "No Matter What". Their version is a bit clipped and has an unexpected intensity. The most unique version of any I've heard. Unfortunately for this group, Harry Nillson discovered the song on their album and covered it the following became a huge #1 hit and most people remember the Nillson version. Even more sadly, the two main songwriters of the group later committed suicide due to financial struggles and other problems. Gives their version a new poignancy that is heartbreaking.

Harry Nillson (1971)

Nillson's is perhaps the most emotional version of this song. When I hear this, I really do believe that Nillson will not live, if living is without you. By far and away the most tortured version of "Without You". It is easy to see why this became such a worldwide hit. Nillson performs a more sweeping and drawn out version than Badfinger, extending the words "live" and "you" for extra drama. Certainly a classic.

Mariah Carey (1994)

Mariah has a stunning voice, which she has chosen now to overshadow with guest appearances by a variety of rappers, whispering every word, and relying on thin material. But in the day, she was a superstar and her trademark was ballads like these. She does a beautiful job with the song, and probably has recorded the best known version of "Without You".

Kelly Clarkson (2002)

This cover of "Without You" may have been what propelled Kelly Clarkson to win the first season of American Idol, and become one of the most famous idols in 7 seasons. Her version is almost perfect and shows off her incredible voice. She also allows a sense of vunerability in the song that Mariah did not.

Clay Aiken (2006)

Clay does an OK job with the song, it is obvious he has a good voice. But there is something missing. I don't think Clay has as strong of an emotional connection with the song as some other artists, and it shows. His version is a little muted, he doesn't take as many vocal risks with the song as I would have expected. Clay is a very talented singer, just look to his cover of Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me", but this version just isn't doing it for me.

Carly Smithson (2008)

Another Idol performance. Although Smithson was one of my favorite contestants, and undoubtedly should have been Top 3 (we know she wasn't going to overcome Cook and Archuleta), this performance was a disappointment on Mariah Carey night. Even Jason Castro was superior (that hurts me to say!) Carly could have done so much better, she sounds as though she is straining a bit and doesn't do anything very memorable with the song.

And just for fun....

Valentina Hasan - "Ken Lee" (2008)

The infamous video where the singer (a contestant on Music Idol) clearly does not have a strong knowledge of the English language....the subtitles are hilarious! Instead of "I can't live", she sings "Ken Lee"...HAHAHA.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Today I decided to make a get-to-the-point list of my favorite songs and albums, just for fun.

Favorite Songs

Bon Jovi (slow): "Always"
fast: "Bad Medicine"

Aerosmith (slow): "Crazy"
(fast): "Love In An Elevator"

Skid Row (slow): "I Remember You"
(fast): "Monkey Business"

Guns 'N Roses (slow): "November Rain"
(fast): "Paradise City"

Carrie Underwood: "Some Hearts"
Taylor Swift: "Should've Said No"

Garth Brooks (slow): "More Than A Memory"
(fast): "Friends In Low Places"

Melissa Etheridge: "Like The Way I Do"
Will Smith: "Wild Wild West"
Matchbox 20: "Back 2 Good"

Bruce Springsteen (slow): "The River"
(fast): "Cover Me"

Favorite Albums

Bruce Springsteen - The River
Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell
Carrie Underwood - Some Hearts
Melissa Etheridge - self titled
Bon Jovi - New Jersey, These Days, Lost Highway
Skid Row - self titled
Britney Spears - Baby One More Time, Oops I Did It Again!
Guns N Roses - Appetite For Destruction, Use Your Illusion II

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Melissa Etheridge - self titled

While driving home last night and listening to Sirius station #15 Classic Rewind, "Similar Features" by Melissa Etheridge came on the channel. I had absolutely forgotten how much I loved this song and really the entire album. It's from her debut self titled album, released in 1988. Interestingly, I just read that the album as it is sold now was re-recorded in 4 days, as her record label rejected the original cuts of the songs as being too polished.

Absolutely every song on this album is amazing and could have been released as a single. I'm (shockingly) not going to focus on Billboard chart positions or RIAA certifications in this post (although the album went multi-platinum [how vague!] if you're wondering).

Here's the tracklisting:
1. Similar Features
2. Chrome Plated Heart
3. Like The Way I Do
4. Precious Pain
5. Don't You Need
6. The Late September Dogs
7. Occasionally
8. Watching You
9. Bring Me Some Water
10. I Want You

Now that all that technical stuff is out of the way, here's my emotional take on it:

It's a raw, gritty album, packed with the real emotion that so called "singer songwriters" these days wish they could channel. The music itself is powerful, but never overshadows Etheridge's voice - a true instrument in itself for the way she can growl out a phrase or alternately sound completely vunerable. "Occasionally" relies mostly on Etheridge's voice as the only accompanying music is a percussion beat. Songs like "Watching You" are richly textured and evoke a clear picture of a cold night in which the subject of the song looks up at their lover's window (and pave the way for future songs like "An Unusual Kiss").

"Like The Way I Do" is the standout track on an album of standout tracks. It's a story of jealousy, desperation, and love that is unashamed. There is something very visceral about this song that I think resonated with many people - including me (way back in the year 2000... to the point where I still consider this one of the songs that defined me most at a certain time in my life). "Similar Features" is a song of similar subject material...

Go on and close your eyes
Go on imagine me there
She's got similar features with longer hair
And if that's what it takes to get you through
Close your eyes, it shouldn't bother you

The lyrics are just as intense on songs like "Bring Me Some Water" and "Don't You Need". What helps this album to succeed is a thread running between all the songs - they fit together almost like puzzle pieces of a story. "I Want You" is the tale of a one night stand in which one person refuses to acknowledge the former lover - a song incredibly chilling, the lyrics those that stay with you for a very long time.

This album is certainly almost completely forgotten by now, except by Etheridge fans who should count it as one of her best. Sadly on her 2005 greatest hits album, although three of the songs were included, they were all "remixed", whatever that means. Isn't it clear that the real power of these songs lies in the emotions laid bare in the lyrics, the tone, the music itself?

Out of the 4 Etheridge albums I own (self-titled, "Yes I Am", "Your Little Secret", and "Skin"), this one is the best.

The best compliment perhaps I can give the album is that 20 years later, it still retains its power, intensity, and sense of urgency.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2008: Single Reviews

Fall Out Boy - "I Don't Care"

This song is incredibly catchy, although like every other new song - the chorus gets a little repetitive by the end of the songs. Typical - but great - Fall Out Boy lyrics add some punch. It's truly unfortunate that Fall Out Boy are such sub-par live performers, as their studio recordings are so good. It's hard to predict how this song will perform on the charts [the only stat I could find was that it has hit #35 on the Canadian Hot 100] - but does it even matter? Their rabid fans will eat it up immediately, and they're probably guaranteed a #1 album debut when the album is released Dec. 16. It was pushed back from the original Nov. 4/Election Day release due to an esoteric statement from Pete Wentz....I'm sure their fans are angry about it. "These friends, they don't love you/They just love the hotel suites now"...this song is either a commentary on a specific individual or the state of Hollywood starlets in general. "I don't care what you think/as long as it's about me/The best of us can find happiness in misery" sings Patrick Stump, in what could easily be the egotist's anthem for a generation.

David Archuleta - "Crush"

This song seems to have already hit its peak with a week at #2, probably largely due to digital sales. Aren't all chart positions largely due to digital sales these days anyway? Archuleta has crafted a sweet ballad that could easily find a home on Radio Disney and the Adult Contemporary type charts. It appeals to both pre-teen and teen listeners, and probably also moms (who loved Clay Aiken!) "Is it real or just another crush?" Archuleta sings with such earnestness we have to believe him. It's a cute - but bland - song that comes off as a little generic, and the equally generic video won't help much either. But Archuleta is adorable and he will likely do well in the future with his debut album.

David Cook - "Light On"

This song is co-written by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame. I think this is a good first single for Cook, although it is very Daughtry-esque. Cook has a great voice and will most likely go on to be a great success, particularly if he writes his own music or lyrics. He could also translate that into writing for other artists which is usually lucrative. "Try to leave a light on when I’m gone/Something I rely on to get home/One I can feel at night," sings Cook. However, having watched Cook the entire season on American Idol, from the auditions to the finale, I feel he could have done more with a first single. It could have been a little bolder, a little more daring..."Light On" is playing it safe by sticking to the "Home"/"What About Now/"Feels Like Tonight" type song made so popular by Daughtry lately. Speaking of Daughtry, I think he has released 5 singles off that album!! Pretty unusual for an act these days, unless you are Rihanna. Then there is not a week that goes by without a single of yours in the Top 10.

T.I. - "Whatever You Like"

"Stacks on deck/Patron no ice/We could pop bottles all night/And baby you could have whatever you like", raps T.I. in his typical well-enunciated (comparatively) style. The song is basically an ode to giving a girl whatever she wants, whether it involves private jets around the world or Patron with no ice or "stacks on deck"...whatever that means. Hey, sounds good to me. It's catchy and vaguely features female background vocals during the chorus. Bottom line, it's probably one of T.I.'s best songs.

The song has already hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and set a record for largest jump to number one in one week (from #71 to #1)...a record he later broke a few weeks later with his single "Live Your Life" (featuring OF COURSE Rihanna) which jumped from #80 to #1. (Britney broke the record this week with a jump from #96-1.) I think these large jumps are completely influenced by digital sales (most people like to buy the song on Itunes the week it is released obviously...the week prior the chart standings were based solely on airplay, then the next week airplay + digital sales = huge jump in chart position.

"Whatever You Like" by T.I. is not to be confused with "Whatever U Like" (a song by the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls featuring T.I.) or the recent Weird Al parody of the song, also titled "Whatever You Like". Just a warning.

Monday, October 13, 2008

If I Was Your Vampire

After watching the full length trailer for the "Max Payne" movie (which coincidentally is playing on TV as I write this) I was enthralled by the song playing in the background. On a side note, "Max Payne" looks like a bigger budget rip off of "The Crow" (which will forever be associated with Brandon Lee's tragic death on the set...but what a performance, what a legacy he left everyone of the most haunting and visceral movies I have ever seen, it is amazing).

The song is a little known Marilyn Manson track called "If I Was Your Vampire" off a CD he released last year (that was released to little fanfare, as I hadn't heard anything about it, and it only sold 200,000 copies).

A link to watch a fan made video with the song in the background (the song's video is mysteriously not on YouTube):

Anyway, the song is gorgeous. It's dark and deep, and not exactly earthshattering material from Marylin Manson (who has done the same sort of thing with "Coma White" and "Coma Black")...but it is incredibly haunting. It's the type of song that shakes you to your very soul and resonates with you long after you've heard it. The type of song you'd listen to in the dark while running your fingers over a tattered photograph, the light of candles flickering in the background.

And something about me thinks it would be perfect for Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular Twilight series. If Twilight had a little more bite. Oh haha I am so funny! (For anyone living under a rock, the Twilight series is comprised of 4 novels that have sold millions of copies. The plot can be reduced to a love story between a teenage girl and a chillingly seductive vampire.) But the Twilight saga is a bit too PG rated for a song as brutal as this one, and that bothers me. I wish it was perfect for Twilight, but Twilight skims over the blood lust that has made vampire novels/movies/songs/stories so alluring for so many centuries.

"If I was your vampire, certain as the moon,
Instead of killing time,
We'll have each other until the sun.
If I was your vampire,
Death waits for no one.
Hold my hands across your face,
Because I think our time has come."

"You press the knife against your heart
And say, 'I love you so much you must kill me now'"

God, it is chilling. This song is much more suited to Anne Rice's incredible Vampire Chronicles series ("Interview With The Vampire", "The Vampire Lestat", "Queen of The Damned")...and by that I mean the BOOKS, not the movies. Or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in its darker moments, of which there were many.

Even though I love the Twilight series, I have to say that they are a little too tame for my taste, but they clearly appeal to the market to which they were written for. The above two "Twilight" posters were fan made, the actual movie poster is below....doesn't Bella look 13?? Tsk tsk, that movie poster looks cuddly in comparison to the above two.

I'm glad that "If I Was Your Vampire" is getting the attention it deserves after being included in the "Max Payne" trailer. If only it had been written 15 years ago, so it could have been on the already amazing "The Crow" soundtrack.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Guns' N Roses: Appetite For Destruction (Album Review)

I read on "Ask Billboard" today that "Appetite for Destruction" by Guns 'N Roses has surpassed Boston's self-titled album as best selling debut album of all time. Previously the RIAA had certified Appetite at 15 million copies, and Boston's album at 17 million, but just recently on September 23rd, "Appetite" was certified at an astonishing 18 million copies sold...and that's just in the US.

That's incredible. And what's more incredible is that this album is still selling, without the band touring today or even still existing. (I do not count Axl's weird version of GNR as the band existing...does anyone?? It really should be called Axl Rose is a Wacko...but that doesn't sound too catchy does it?)

Here's the tracklisting:

"Appetite for Destruction" (released July 1987)
1. Welcome to the Jungle 4:34
2. It's So Easy 3:23
3. Nightrain 4:29
4. Out Ta Get Me 4:24
5. Mr. Brownstone 3:49
6. Paradise City 6:46
7. My Michelle 3:40
8. Think About You 3:52
9. Sweet Child O'Mine 5:56
10. You're Crazy 3:17
11. Anything Goes 3:26
12. Rocket Queen 6:14

Sweet Child O'Mine was a #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit, "Welcome to the Jungle"went to #7, and "Paradise City" went to #5. And of course, the whole album went to #1, in both 1988 and 1990.

Even "Nightrain" (which I don't believe was officially released as a single) went to #93 on the Hot 100 and #26 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

But my point is, many of these songs get played on rock radio - 21 years later - even if they weren't released as singles. Because any of them could have been a single. Because they were just that good.

"Appetite" has been listed on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the Rolling Stone Best Albums of the 1980's, VH1's Greatest Albums of All Time, Q's 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time, and #1 on Kerrang's 100 Greatest Rock Albums Ever.

Songs like "Rocket Queen" and "Paradise City" are epics in and of themselves, rock anthems that still strike a chord today. "Anything Goes" and "Nightrain" are hard-hitting, like a 1-2 punch, fast and furious blasters of songs. "Sweet Child O'Mine" is a ballad - featuring a killer guitar intro - that allowed GNR to attract female rock fans while not alienating their male audience. "Mr. Brownstone" is sort of the sleeper hit on this album that should have been a single. Or maybe that's "Rocket Queen".

This was the album that catapulted GNR to stardom - for better or worse - and perhaps their only true "perfect" album. Lies, being an EP of half live songs, is hard to look at as a true GNR album. Same problem with "The Spaghetti Incident" because it is a mostly forgotten full-length album of cover songs (some of which are genius..."You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory", "Since I Don't Have You" and "Buick McKane/Big Dumb Sex" stand out as the best tracks).

Use Your Illusion I and II are magnificent, but there are flaws, as you could imagine that an album that took several years to complete might have. It seems as though the scope of Axl's vision was so wide it was hard to live up to in reality. The albums are incredible, but missteps like "My World" throw them off. (I am still hostile about the inclusion of this song of Axl psychobabble being included on II. According to Wikipedia, the other members of the band didn't even know about this song until it showed up on the album.) They ended up selling 7 million copies each anyway.

There's something about "Appetite" that's raw, it's actually dangerous, not just an imitation of it. "Use Your Illusion" doesn't have that same raw feeling, it's more polished, although it's evident that the band didn't lose their edge in the recording of it.

All in all, "Appetite For Destruction" is an incredible that changed the face of rock 'n roll at the time period and continues to influence both rock fans and musicians today.

Everyone should own it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Women In Music

Getting away from my commentary on the music industry, I decided I would review some of the newest songs by women being released to radio and discuss their likelihood of success.

Britney Spears - "Womanizer"

Arguably, this single is the most buzzed about of any released recently. Will Britney be able to finally make a comeback? This very well might be the song that allows her to do just that. It's repetitive but a little less so than "Gimme More" (the first single off her last album "Blackout"). It slinks along with a dance beat you'd expect to hear at an underground club. Britney's vocals are - as usual - computer-enhanced but she does seem to be singing with a bit more emotion than the Blackout album where her love songs were sung in the same manner as songs about sex in the back of a dingy club. (Or at least that was the image I got from them.) "Womanizer" is a bit more sassy, it's the sound of Britney standing up for herself. From the buzz surrounding this song, I say it makes Top 40 easily, and ends up Top 10.

Prediction: #2
Actual position (as of Oct. 15): #1...making a record jump from a #96 debut to #1, the highest one week jump to #1 EVER

Taylor Swift - "Love Story"

This single has already hit #5 on the Hot 100 (although this week it falls to #9 in its third week) so no predictions for its success here. I'm impressed that Swift has translated her country stardom into Hot 100 success. It's actually very difficult for country artists to crack the Hot 100, although clearly not for rappers who seem to dominate that chart lately. Swift's song is sweet and romantic, and her yearning vocal grows on the listener. This song is a Romeo and Juliet inspired tale of teenage love, because every teenager feels their love life is as dramatic as Shakespeare's play. I like this song and I like that Taylor writes or co-writes all of her songs. That's very impressive for a girl who just graduated high school!

Prediction: Peak at #5
As of Oct. 14, "Love Story" is at #13, falling from the #9 spot...meaning my prediction of peaking at #5 is likely to hold.

Katy Perry - "Hot N Cold"

This song is oddly catchy, although it honestly just lists opposites and makes them into a chorus (hot/cold, yes/no, up/down, in/out, wrong/right, black/white). This song has already hit #6 on the Hot 100. The question is will it make it to #1 like Perry's last single "I Kissed A Girl"? My bet is no. The song is stylistically very similar to "I Kissed A Girl" yet it lacks that lyrical flirtatiousness that benefited Perry the last time around. It also doesn't have the shock value that propelled the last song to the top of the charts. Yet "Hot N Cold" is a fun song in its own right and clearly has become a hit for Ms. Perry, firmly preventing her joining from the #1 Hit Wonder category.

Prediction: #4
As of Oct 14, "Hot N Cold" has peaked at #6.

Leona Lewis - "Better In Time"

This song has peaked at #18 yet I predict Top 10 success for this single. It's far more emotional and personal then the extremely repetitive "Bleeding Love", which actually kind of grossed me out with its discussion of blood and veins. I can actually respect Leona for this song and its message, about healing after a breakup or broken heart. It has a positive message, unlike "Bleeding Love" which always struck me as a pretty weak anthem.

Prediction: #9
As of Oct. 14, "Better In Time" is at a peak of #14, up from #18 the previous week. Looks like my prediction was a little too far reaching.

In a few days, hopefully I'll get around to reviewing some singles by men, like "Crush" by David Archuleta and "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Meat Loaf: Bat Out Of Hell (I - III)

I have to say that there is no other artist out there today who has consistently produced as amazing album covers as Meat Loaf, particularly the Bat into Hell Trilogy. I have to also say it makes me feel a little bit like a Lord of the Rings geek that I love these album covers so much, but there is no denying that they are really magnificent.

The covers are epic, they are tortured. They depict a moment at the end of the world, through the ashes of what has come before. They depict moments that are all-or-nothing, now-or-never, kill-or-be-killed. Just looking at them inspires me as a writer.

The first Bat out of Hell was released in 1977 and has gone on to sell approximately 43 million copies, including 200,000 per year to this day. It is just a classic album that really spans the generations, in my opinion. Plus songs like "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth" are still played constantly on classic rock stations. This album cover was illustrated by Richard Corben.

Again, Bat out of Hell II (released in 1993) was a wildly successful album which sold 14 million copies and won Meat Loaf a Grammy for probably the best song of his career "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)". Michael Whelan was the artist for this cover.

Julie Bell designed this album cover for the third installment of the Bat out of Hell trilogy, released in 2006. Interestingly, probably due to the changing radio station formatting and rise of illegal downloads, and just the collapse of the music industry in general, this album only sold 500,000 copies in the US, a far cry from the first two albums' sales. There was far more of a market for this type of unusual album in decades prior.

Yet this was the only album of the three not to feature Jim Steinman as producer of the album. Desmond Child (who has famously worked with Bon Jovi and many other successful groups) took over that role. However the album includes several previously written Jim Steinman songs.

Jim Steinman may be a little bit crazy, but he is also a genius. And his lyrics remain the most epic, most elaborate, and most over-the-top that I have ever enjoyed reading.

And behind these album covers is perhaps the perfect place to house his lyrics, coupled with Meat Loaf's always theatrical and dramatic voice and style of singing.

Best songs of the trilogy:

"I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)"
"Rock 'N Roll Dreams Come Through"
"Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad"
"Paradise by the Dashboard Light"
"You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bad Albums or Cheap Consumers?

Is the music industry a case of the chicken or the egg? In other words - does the poor quality of music these days cause consumers to only purchase a song or two off the album from Itunes? Or is it the consumers who have contributed to the low sales of albums by only buying a few songs instead of a full album?

So which came first: bad albums or cheap consumers?

Interestingly, the cost of a CD seems to be at an all time low. (In my not so scientific opinion, based on purchasing CDs since 1995, at the ripe age of 9)'s easy to find certain albums for $8 or $9. Yes, even new releases. I don't think I've paid more than $11 for a new release in the past few years...usually more like $9.99. It wasn't so long ago that I was willing to pay $15 or even - god forbid - $18 for an album by one of my favorite artists. Now I shop around on Amazon, WalMart, and Circuit City (by far the 3 cheapest places to buy a CD - FYE is a joke with ridiculous "sales", like $5 off an item everyone else has for $20 less...Best Buy, on the other hand, is tolerable).

I'm not sure I have an sales are the way of the future I guess. And established artists like The Eagles are still doing very well for themselves. How did "Long Road out of Eden" go on to sell 7 million copies in the past year, in a year when album sales are down by 25% (even used the word "whopping" in reference to this percentage)? Probably because fans of The Eagles tend to be older (although they do have fans of all ages I am sure) and older fans are more likely to want a physical copy rather than digital downloads. What 60 year old do you know with an Ipod?

How was the "High School Musical" soundtrack with 3.6 million copies sold the best selling album of 2006? Interestingly - that album was the first at the time to be a best selling album of the year with less than 4 million copies. Again, it comes back to the fans - who is buying the album? Parents for their kids and probably kids themselves (and 22 year old teenyboppers like me - actually I downloaded it. Whoops....). Parents and younger kids are not likely to download the music off websites or go to Itunes to buy the songs.

From Wikipedia, here are some interesting facts:
Josh Groban?? Who bought that album? Apparently 4 million people in 11 weeks. I never even knew he released a Christmas album, but I think the Oprah viewers went out to buy it in droves after watching the "Oprah's Favorite Things" episode he performed on. Never underestimate the power of Oprah. I don't.

So in closing, I will leave you with part of the lyrics to Bon Jovi's song "Last Man Standing":

His songs were more than music
They were pictures from the soul
So keep your pseudo-punk, hip-hop, pop-rock junk
And your digital downloads

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Declining Album Sales?

Searching through Billboard's website today, I noticed a question and answer column where a reader had inquired about the album sales of a few notable female artists. The response was:

That said, here are the to-date U.S. sales, through Sept. 7, of the most recent albums released by the artists listed above, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Duffy, "Rockferry" (462,000)
Estelle, "Shine" (110,000)
M.I.A., "Kala" (302,000)
Leona Lewis, "Spirit" (1,064,000)
Natasha Bedingfield, "Pocketful of Sunshine" (411,000)

If this was 10 years ago, or maybe even 5, the album sales would look more like this:

Duffy - 1 million

Duffy has that British soul singer appeal that is unparalleled in recent years. Oddly a crop of similar soul singers has emerged lately (ie: Amy Winehouse, Adele) but Duffy is by far the most appealing in appearance and voice. Although her performance of "Mercy" on a recent late night show (either Letterman or Leno) was absolutely horrible. She has an awesome voice but she desperately needs some stage presence.

Estelle - 500,000

Estelle is hardly a household name but in the past her album would have easily gone gold just based on the success of her song "American Boy" with Kanye West. It remains to be seen if she will prove herself with a second successful single.

M.I.A. - 500,000 at least

M.I.A.'s song "Paper Planes" forced her out of retirement when it became a hit (largely from its inclusion in the Pineapple Express trailer). In the past, a Top 10 single like M.I.A.'s largely guaranteed at least a gold album. It is actually hilarious that such a politically charged song would end up in a stoner movie, maybe because of the word "weed" being repeated a few times throughout the song.

Leona Lewis - 4 million

Leona Lewis has already had two huge songs - "Bleeding Love" (who could escape this song, even if they wanted to, which I certainly did) and the much more listenable "Better In Time". Of this group of new female artists, she has had the most success, but her album has barely gone platinum so far. 10 years ago, she would have sold at LEAST 4 million albums, maybe even 5 on the success of these two songs and all the buzz surrounding her. Her album became the first debut album by a British solo artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard chart.

Interestingly, the single "Bleeding Love" is certified 3x platinum by Billboard. Therefore 10 years ago 1 million physical album sales + 3 million digital sales = 4 million physical album sales...potentially.

Natasha Bedingfield - 3 million

"Love Like This" with Sean Kingston (a fairly catchy song) went to #11 on the Billboard chart. And the hideously irritating "Pocketful of Sunshine" went to #5 inexplicably. So two (basically) Top 10 singles, but the album has not even gone gold. At least these songs are better than "These Words" or "Unwritten" - a beloved song for drunken sorority girls to scream the lyrics to, drink clutched in one hand, at the latest dingy college club. Usually in my ear.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Matthew Good Band - "Beautiful Midnight"

"Beautiful Midnight" by Matthew Good Band is quite literally the best album no one remembers. Even though this album was a hit in Canada and they won two Juno awards (Canada's equivalent of the Grammys), it never quite caught on in the US. I remember some of their videos off this album being played on the now-defunct TV channel MuchMusic (now Fuse), which was a Canadian channel.

The music ranges on this album from slow, ethereal, and haunting to pounding and visceral. It showcases the versatility of the musicians. It is unapologetically hard rock music, yet it stands above many of their peers at the time due to the lyrics.

The lyrics stand firm as commentary on society, although at face value they could also describe romantic relationships or friendships gone wrong. "The Future Is X-Rated" attacks the disposable nature of the world today with lyrics such as "And now they've got drive through/And a video store where there used to be real live actors." Matthew Good snarls the lyrics through some kind of computerized synthesizer, adding a more menacing aspect to his words.

Interestingly, the title of each track on this album lists a specific time of the day before the name of the song, such as "06:00 PM Hello Time Bomb".

Track listing of the Canadian (original) version from 1999:

1. 05:00 PM Giant
2. 06:00 PM Hello Time Bomb
3. 07:00 PM Strange Days
4. 08:00 PM I Miss New Wave
5. 09:00 PM Load Me Up
6. 10:00 PM Failing The Rorschach Test
7. 11:00 PM Suburbia
8. 12:00 AM Let's Get It On
9. 01:00 AM Jenni's Song
10. 02:00 AM Going All The Way
11. 03:00 AM A Boy And His Machine Gun
12. 04:00 AM The Future Is X-Rated
13. 05:00 AM Born To Kill
14. Sun Up Running For Home

Some tracks included were different on the US version, released in 2001, the song "Deep Six" replaced "I Miss New Wave" and "Everything Is Automatic" replaced "Going All The Way". Also the song "Apparitions" replaced "Let's Get It On."

The song "Everything Is Automatic", much in the vein of "The Future Is X-Rated", criticizes the "skin-deep" view of society today: "Down a hole, up a rope/Down some pills, up some hope/This karma machine only takes quarters/New age soldier, new age soldier." I wonder if this album didn't catch on in America because it criticizes the shallow lifestyle so many are content to live. As a nation, we stereotypically enjoy gossip magazines, reality shows, and McDonald's, not post-modern critiques of a greedy society. It also may be the album's release date in America (2001) that doomed it. Songs such as "God Bless The USA" and Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" - in other words, patriotic songs - were quite popular towards the end of the year, after September 11th, and rightfully so. At that period in time, people might not have wanted to hear criticism from musicians. "Beautiful Midnight" was certainly not the hopeful message the country wanted - and needed to hear.

The album is actually phenomenal from start to finish, but the stand out tracks are "Hello Time Bomb", "Strange Days", "Suburbia", "Jenni's Song", and "The Future Is X-Rated". It's certainly worth a listen.

And maybe now, at a period in time where people are dissatisfied with the current government, the message of "Beautiful Midnight" may actually resonate more.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" & the male gaze

Katy Perry's song "I Kissed A Girl" has spent an impressive seven weeks in a row at number one this summer. Of course, similar feats have been accomplished by decidedly catchy but unimpressive songs like "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain (which spent 10 weeks at #1) and the infamous "Macarena" which spent a shocking 14 weeks at #1.

This song is incredibly catchy, that part is undeniable. It has just the right amount of computer-enhanced vocals to make it a hit, but just enough of Katy's voice to make her credible. I like the song well enough. Katy herself seems to be a mix of cute and tough, and she seemed likeable in her performance and hurried interview on The View recently. The small amount of controversy the song has generated probably has only added to its popularity (see Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus for example). But listening to it for the hundredth time today got me thinking:

Would this song be anywhere near as popular if it was a man singing about another man?

I believe the answer is no. The song comes off as sort of a bi-curious ode that fits in well with the Tila Tequila/MTV culture of 2008. But what if Tila Tequila were a guy? Would MTV's show have attracted the ratings it did and been brought back for a second (and possibly third) season? Would men and women have found the show so addicting as they did?

My point is: being lesbian seems to be more widely accepted than being gay. Katy Perry (an attractive girl) singing about kissing another girl "just to try it" helps fuel the ever-present male fantasy that two of their female friends might just start making out in the corner of the next grungy bar during one of those "heart-to-hearts" women always seem to be having. If a similar song called "I Kissed A Boy" about two men came on the radio, most men would cringe, as if to assert their hetero-status (in case you missed it the first time).

Jill Sobule (mostly known for the song "Supermodel" off the Clueless Soundtrack) had a mild hit in 1995 with a song called "I Kissed A Girl" (no similarity in music or lyrics to the Katy Perry song). The interesting thing is that both songs romanticize relationships with a female for their difference from relationships with men. Both songs emphasize the soft lips and skin of a woman, and the forbidden yet oh-so-right feeling of kissing a woman. Yet while dismissing and almost badmouthing men, these songs play into male who wins in the end?

Diamond Rings obsolete in the Music Industry

It is evident that long gone are the years of the Diamond album.

A Diamond album is one certified ten times platinum (10 million copies) by the RIAA. There are (by my count) 42 albums released in the 1990's that have achieved this status, as varied as Tom Petty & the Heartbreaker's Greatest Hits, the Titanic Soundtrack, and Kenny G's "Breathless". However, it is interesting to note that the two biggest sellers of the 1990's are both country albums: Garth Brooks' "Double Live" (21 million) and Shania Twain's "Come On Over" (20 million).

By contrast, in this decade, there are only 7 albums so far that have reached Diamond notification. One of these albums is the Beatles' incredibly popular "1" album, a 2002 compilation of all their #1 hits. In this sense, it is a compilation of previously released music that appeals to Beatles fans of all generations, not music that is a product of the changing trends of the new millennium. Also, these albums were all released in 2003 or earlier, with the majority from the year 2000 (Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again", NSYNC's "No Strings Attached", and Linkin Park's "Hybrid Theory"). These albums all appeal to a younger pop/rock audience and they were a continuance of the mid-to-late 90's teen pop trend. While Linkin Park was not a boy band or teen pop star, they had undeniable appeal to a similarly aged audience as those other groups (thus I include them in the trend). Rounding out the 7 albums are Shania Twain's "Up" (2002), Outkast's "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" (2003) and Norah Jones's "Come Away With Me" (2002). These three albums really have nothing discernible in common except for the fact that they all produced hit crossover singles.

Now it is 2008 and digital downloads seem to be the way of the future.
Physical album sales have been in decline for years and digital track sales jumped as much as 45 percent from 2006 to 2007 . Britney Spears's new album "Blackout" sold about 880,000 physical copies but the digital downloads off the album amounted to over 3.1 million in sales. Kid Rock interestingly enough, who had a wildly successful album in the late 90's, refuses to sell any of his music on ITunes or other digital music sites. His reasoning is that he wants his fans to experience his album as a whole, not just buy his Top 40 hit song "All Summer Long". His strategy seems to be successful as his album is currently in the Top 10, selling over 90,000 copies in a week where Mariah Carey and Madonna's recent albums only sold about 15,000 combined. Garth Brooks also made a similar statement and refuses to sell his music on Itunes. His recent album Ultimate Hits has sold 5 million copies in less than a year. This may be one of the few recently released album that has a shot at becoming diamond certified.

Yet, this strategy of shunning Itunes and similar websites surely would not be successful to a new artist who does not have an established fan base like Kid Rock or Brooks. New artist Katy Perry would certainly agree with this statement. It is only in the year 2008 that Katy Perry, whose song "I Kissed A Girl" was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for an unprecedented 7 weeks in a row, would NOT have a platinum or even gold album. The single (ostensibly from digital downloads, as singles do not seem to be released physically in the US anymore) has sold 2 million copies however. People seem to be eschewing the album in order to buy the single only.

It makes me wonder how many diamond albums that had a few hit singles but mostly filler tracks would have not gone diamond if released after the year 2003. How many of the 17 million people who bought the Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 would have simply downloaded "I Will Always Love You" on to their Ipod in 2005?

2 sites I used to help write this entry:

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