Music 2016: The Half Way Point

2016 has been a year to remember so far. So much, both good and bad. There has been quite a bit of good music released this year. There has also been some cheesy music released as well. Even worse, the rock world has lost many major artists that rivals the major movie star losses of 1976. Let’s take a quick look back at the music world of 2016 at the halfway point.

The year began with the news of the death of David Bowie. And, just as we were beginning to get over our grief came word that Glenn Frey of the Eagles had passed away too. Then, it seemed like we started loosing rock stars each week as we heard of the deaths of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, Jefferson Airplane/Starship guitar Paul Kantner, former Prince protege and leader of Vanity 6 Vanity, Beatles producer/studio father figure George Martin, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), country outlaw Merle Haggard, His Royal Badness Prince, soul singer Billy (“Me & Mrs. Jones”) Paul, influential guitarist Guy Clark, PM Dawn mastermind Attrell “Prince Be” Cordes and Parliament/Funkadelic and Talking Heads keyboardist Bennie Worrell, to name but a few.

Still, 2016 has been a fairly strong year for music. Many of our favorite artists have released great albums thus far this year, such as Cheap Trick, Santana, ABC, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ace Frehley (formerly of KISS), Weezer, Paul Simon, former J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf, The Monkees, Tom Petty’s other band Mudcrutch and former Hüsker Dü leader Bob Mould. Throw in new albums by current artists such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Radiohead, Kanye West and Chance the Rapper.

With that said, here are my 20 favorite albums of the year to this point. Away we go, with the albums listed in artist alphabetical order. Enjoy!

  1. Beyoncé – Lemonade (R&B/Pop)
  2. David Bowie – Blackstar (Rock)
  3. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (Hip Hop)
  4. Cheap Trick – Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello (Rock)
  5. Fitz & the Tantrums – Fitz & the Tantrums (Pop)
  6. Ace Frehley – Origins Vol. 1 (Hard Rock)
  7. Honey Island Swamp Band – Demolition Day (Rock)
  8. The Monkees – Good Times! (Power Pop)
  9. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky (Alternative)
  10. Mudcrutch – 2 (Country Rock)
  11. Anderson.Paak – Malibu (R&B)
  12. Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Getaway (Alternative)
  13. The Shelters – The Shelters (Rock, produced by Tom Petty)
  14. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger (Rock)
  15. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Country)
  16. The Suffers – The Suffers (R&B)
  17. Those Pretty Wrongs – Those Pretty Wrongs (Indie Rock)
  18. Weezer – Weezer (“The White Album”) (Power Pop)
  19. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (Hip Hop)
  20. Peter Wolf – A Cure for Loneliness (Rock)

Here’s to the hope that the music of 2016 continues to be of high quality, but the deaths could stop. Also, here’s to great next six months! Rock on!

The Summer HBO Unleashed ‘Eddie & the Cruisers’

eddie and the cruisers

My album collection screams 1980 through 1984. Those were my college years, back when I was a budding “adult” with no parental guidance and little to do but take classes. During the Summer of 1984, I was preparing for my upcoming graduation and the stress of applying for medical technology school. I was taking three courses over the summer in order to have my prerequisites done for med tech school so I could finish a degree in biology, which was an “almost microbiology” degree. See, my alma mater only had biology degrees back then, through which you could emphasize your coursework in a particular area of biology. I must admit, though, that I rarely let my academic life interfere with my social agenda, especially when it came to the Summer of 1984.

That summer got off to a stellar start as I was one of three frat brothers who took a fourth brother to near New Orleans where his parents had just purchased a new home. So, the week before summer classes began, I was having a great time down in the Big Easy. When I finally got back to the House, all the guys had moved in. That summer was the the summer of Prince’s Purple Rain, The Boss’ Born in the USA, The Jacksons’ Victory, and the original version of Ghostbusters. Springsteen was so big that summer that little “Springsteens” were popping up everywhere, like Huey Lewis & the News and John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band.

Remember John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band? Their hit was “On the Dark Side”. Still doesn’t jog your memory? Okay, do you remember the movie Eddie & the Cruisers? Yep, during the Summer of 1984, HBO had its first major hit movie when it began showing the 1983 box office flop Eddie & the Cruisers. And, for some reason, the movie struck a chord with the early members of Generation X.

This movie was about a fictitious New Jersey (does anyone else smell Springsteen?) bar band that hit the big time. Then, as they were recording their masterpiece album, their lead singer/guitarist and mastermind disappeared forever, leaving the band broken and confused. You know, this is the plot of stuff that should be taught in every high school…NOT!

For some reason, I am not sure why – it was a very hot summer that year – that movie connected with us. I think it was due to the fact that everyone was so Springsteen-crazy that summer that when we heard bands and artists that sounded similar, we wanted it. So, that great song, “On the Dark Side” was a perfect distillation of the E Street Band sound in a three-minute pop song. That song was able to do what the great “Dancing in the Dark” almost did: wrap up Bruce’s career into that three-minute burst of energy. And, for a moment, John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band had a Top 10 hit.

The band released a second single from the soundtrack called “Tender Years”, which was a strong ballad, but only peaked at #31. Cafferty and his band released another album that stalled quickly, and then they were gone, almost like Eddie in the movie.

The Summer of 1984 was a glorious three-month period of time where my life converged perfectly with the pop culture of the moment to leave a beautiful lasting memory. Perhaps the greatest thing that came about that summer was a little “summer fling” with a beautiful woman that has lasted to this day. Truly, that was the best part of the summer.

So, I met Jill that summer. But remember this too. The Celtics beat the Lakers in a great seven-game series that was arguably the best pro basketball I ever experienced.

Naw, hands down, the summer of 1984 was about m’lady Jill. What a summer!

Back In The Day, Who Didn’t Want To Join This Club

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By 1983, MTV had blown the lid off of popular music, bringing us such acts as Men at Work, Stray Cats and Eurythmics. We, in the Midwest, were dancing to the sounds of Billy Idol, INXS and Duran Duran. But, when you wanted a new wave act for your slow jam mixtape, you had to turn to a band fronted by a gay man bent on turning sexual perceptions on its head by making fun of them. That band, which some critics said was fronted by the Eighties version of Smokey Robinson, unfortunately, could only hold it together for two white hot successful years before imploding. Today, I come to shout the praises of Culture Club. That’s what I said! For 1983 and 1984, Culture Club was able to meld Motown, soft reggae and a sweet voiced white soul singer into a cultural phenomenon.

Remember the first time you saw them on MTV? A friend of mine and I could not decide if the sweet-voiced singer in their “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” video was male or female. As the song continued, I suddenly realized that I didn’t care. I knew that song was a hit! I went out and bought their first album, based on that first hit of theirs. What I heard on that Kissing to Be Clever album was a band trying to find their sound. From the heartache relationship lament of “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” to the fun dance-lite “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” to the Motown-styled ballad of the great “Time (Clock of My Heart)” was mixed in with several decent attempts at reggae or dub. But when the band focused on that rich Motown vein of songwriting, no other band at the time brought blue-eyed to the masses as they did.

24. culture club - kissing to be clever

Now, technically, that first album of Culture Club’s was released in the UK in 1982, but we in the States did not catch on to it until early in 1983. By the summer of 1983, while I was working in Wisconsin, “Time” was a huge hit. Whenever the workers at the resort would frequent the local tavern on Thursdays, someone would punch “Time” in the jukebox and all of the patrons at the tavern would be singing the song together. Who knew that a drag queen could bring together rednecks, ruffians and college students together like Boy George. It WAS a site, yet it really did happen. I’m sure glad that social media did not exist back then. While working at that resort, halfway through the summer, the resort would hire a dozen or so kids from England to work at the resort, which was pretty cool to talk to them, not because of their accents but for their experiences.

One night, after a singing “Time” at yet another bar with the others from the resort, this English man told me right there at the bar that if I liked “Time”, then I will love the stuff that Culture Club was just releasing in the UK before he left. That night was when I learned of new songs “Church of the Poison Mind” and “Karma Chameleon”. Unfortunately, I had to wait a few months before those songs and the new album, Colour by Numbers would be released.

So, I waited. We all lived through “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” ‘s run up and down the charts. During this song’s run, the best thing that happened was when some drunk freshman took a scary but very drunken fall of nearly five stories down the middle of the stairwell in my dormitory, only to come away with several stitches in the back of his head (10, if my memory serves me well) and a slight concussion. I just remember how after he was released from the hospital, people would serenade him for the next month with a round of “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” in the dining room. Sad, yet still kind of funny memory.

24. Culture_Club_-_Colour_by_Numbers

Well, finally, in October 1983, Culture Club released their now classic album Colour by Numbers. Finally, the band discovered their wheelhouse was really in the Motown-vein. And, since the movie The Big Chill had brought back Motown music to prominence with many of the people around me that the sound became popular as well when performed by new artists, like my beloved Culture Club. “Church of the Poisoned Mind” was the first single released, and it shot straight into the Top 10. During that time, that album spent many hours on my turntable. I played the heck out of the album, devouring the music and lyrics. There were several bands from England who were mining that Motown sound at the time, but none of them had refined it into their own sound as much as the Club had.

Several weeks later, the best song on the album, “Karma Chameleon” was dropped on us as the band’s next single. The song, which could be used by musicologists as an excellent representative song of what music sounded like in the 1980s. It was a perfect song that touch the masses so much that it was reported in a Rolling Stone magazine article about Bob Dylan that he was messing around playing his guitar when all of a sudden he began singing “Karma Chameleon”, saying how great of a song it is. The song streak to Number One on Billboard‘s Hot 100, setting off a small case of Culture Club-mania that should have signaled to us that Culture Club’s ride was going to be like a child’s grocery purchased firework and not last long.

Sure, the band was able to pull more hits off the album as 1983 gave way to 1984. “Miss You Much” and “It’s a Miracle” were both pulled off the album as singles and both became Top 10 hits. I contend that two other songs could have been big hits, but then the band could have run the risk of being compared to Barry Manilow or Elton John if they have been released. These two songs were BIG ballads who lyrical emotions were matched by huge production work. Those song that could have sent the band further into the stratosphere were “Victims” and “That the Way (I’m Only Trying to Help You)”. “Victims” is a Manilow dead ringer of a song, while “That’s the Way” has Elton written all over it. But, for some reason, the band’s record company, Epic, felt the group needed to go back into the studio to cut another album.

24. Culture Club - Waking Up with the House on Fire

The problem was that the boys didn’t have any songs. Plus, Boy George and drummer Jon Moss’s romantic relationship was ending, sending the singer spiraling out of control mentally. The two were strong when the first two albums had be made. But, after recording two albums and touring in between had strained the lovers’ relationship to a breaking point. Guitarist Roy Hay and bassist Mikey Craig were left out in the cold watching half of their band disintegrate. With Boy George being the main lyricist, when he goes toward a bad lyric, his lyrics suffer. So, in a futile effort to keep is attitude good in order to write positive lyrics, Boy turned to drugs. which was a disaster. Boy George was not built to be a recreational user who was able to take drugs for inspiration. On the contrary, Boy George was an addict waiting to happen, in other words a ticking time bomb that exploded during the recording of their third album.

Unfortunately, instead of suspending the work on that third album and letting the boys get some rest and drug help, Epic Records pushed the group for more product, which was obvious after one listen to Waking Up with the House on Fire that Culture Club was creatively toast. The album bombed, as did the lead single, the very underappreciated “The War Song”, a very simple child-like anti-war song. As the album continued to fail, Boy George’s addiction problems increased to the point that he was arrested multiple times.

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Over the subsequent years, the band called it a day and disbanded. Then, Boy George was in and out of rehab and prison. But, when he is in a good place, he is highly creative. Today, the band has reunited to a long deserved victory lap tour of clubs. So, here’s to Boy George and his finding happiness in this world and spreading his unique brand of joy to the music lovers of the world. And, here’s to drummer Jon Moss, hoping that he has found happiness in a heterosexual life and not giving in to social convention. And, here’s to the musical backbone of the band, Mikey Craig and Roy Hays, knowing that you two were put on this earth to play this great music that their band, Culture Club, created. And, finally, here’s my personal toast to four men who taught the world about racial and sexual tolerance with the joyfulness of their music.

That was a magic moment between 1982 and 1984. And Culture Club was right up there with The Boss, The Police, Prince, Michael and Madonna, giving us some of the most beautiful and innovative music that we had the privilege to experience in our youth.

Yowsah! Yowsah! Yowsah! These Are The Good Times

22. Chic promo shot

Wow! Jill & I had three of our niece’s four kids over for the past couple of days. I understand why we had our kids when we were younger. I’m too old for this stuff. But, it’s all about making memories. I just never realized that those memories were going to wipe me out so much. I miss the days before my back issues, when I was always a little more hyperactive than the normal person may age. Then again, if the back issues weren’t around, then I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Unfortunately, I’ll never win a Coach of the Year award for this blog.

Today, I come to you to praise the musical genius of one Nile Rodgers and his late musical partner Bernard Edwards, who, for our purposes, were Chic. Sure, drummer Tony Thompson was a member, as well as a revolving door of female singers, but when you have two of the most gifted musicians for their instrument, Rodgers had the guitar, and Edwards handled the bass, there may not be room for anyone else but the best session musicians available.

22. CHIC in concert

Okay, many of you rockers out there are howling and cursing my love of Chic. Yes, get over it! Chic played disco. But, what did black artists get mostly pigeon-holed to play in the mid-to-late-Seventies, but jazz, funk, or a combination of the two called disco. Black artists were, ironically enough, blackballed from playing rock music, though many of them would have preferred to, like Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.The duo was influenced by England’s brand of Glam Rock in the early-Seventies, especially the seemingly sophisticated looking, acting and playing Roxy Music. They were also influenced by the many jazz artists for whom they played on record and on tour. Additionally, Edwards and Rodgers were part of the house band at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, where they had to be good enough to be a backing band for any artist who might show up for a gig, from jazz, rock, soul, blues and pop artists from the Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. Their dream was to created a band whose playing, sound and dress all added up to sophistication, playing a disco-based music that did not have the instrumentation interplay of funk and rock bands that had been removed from much of the disco music of the time. This band would be able to play the notes straight up OR take it into an extended jam in a live concert. In other words, Edwards and Rodgers wanted Chic to, very unknowingly, to become the Steely Dan of black music.

22. Chic - Risque

Now, where Steely Dan is continuously praised for the complexity of their music while maintaining a sense of melody, or while melding elements of jazz with their rock music, Chic has not been likewise praised. Also, Steely Dan is known for the clever lyrics, littered with sexual double entendre, wisecracks and a running lyrical feud with the Eagles, Chic’s lyrics, which are bent in a similar manner, are totally overlooked by the public. Let’s take their huge hit song “Good Times”. Besides being the music bedrock of Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, “Good Times” was written at a time of extreme economic recession, near depression. The songwriting brainpower was attempting to bring back a modernized version of the Depression era song “Happy Days Are Here Again”. Instead of heaping praising for this song that is parodying the times, rather was written off as a crass, self-serving song. To me, much of the criticism of the band is racially motivated, when they were accomplishing similar things with their music that 2001 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Steely Dan have been continually praised for. All the while, the greatest disco band of all time, Chic, remains not inducted for ten consecutive years.

The crazy thing where the Steely Dan/Chic comparison diverges is outside production work. The guys in the Dan have done very little outside production work. Whereas, the Chic Organization is known for it production work and it’s single-handed influence on the music of the Eighties. As disco waned, so did Chic’s hits, as they were swept up in the anti-disco fever that blow through the musical winds in the States. But, Edwards and Rodgers struck back in their production work. Just take a glance at a few of the artists with whom the duo worked: Diana Ross’ diana (“Upside Down”, “Coming Out”), INXS Swing (“Original Sin”), the David Bowie hit machine Let’s Dance and Duran Duran’s songs “The Reflex” and “The Wild Boys” and the LP Notorious.  And, let’s not forget that Rodgers produced Like a Virgin by Madonna and Family Style by the Vaughan Brothers, just before Stevie Ray Vaughan’s untimely death. And, I should point out that the dynamic duo also produced the classic disco album We Are Family by Sister Sledge.

When Duran Duran was just beginning, the members have been quoted as saying that they hoped their sound would be a cross between the Sex Pistols and Chic. And, when you get to work with one of your heroes as a producer for some of your music, you know that you must be succeeding. Recently, I read that Nile Rodgers feels he is an extra member of Duran Duran. FYI: Nile Rodgers did some production work on Duran Duran’s excellent 2015 album, Paper Gods. You can always tell when Rodgers is involved, because of his distinctive guitar sound. Just listen to Daft Punk’s huge Summer of 2013 hit song, “Get Lucky”. There was Nile’s guitar holding down the disco rhythm as a testament to the Seventies’ disco days.

22. Nile-Rodgers-Presents-The-Chic-Organization-Up-All-Night

My recommendation for the best overview of Chic’s work as a band, as well as their production work, go get the double-CD set Nile Rodgers Presents The Chic Organization: Up All Night Long – Their Greatest Hits. The set is attributed to both Nile Rodgers and Chic, but the music represents some of the greatest dance tunes ever. The collection would have been better if it included INXS and Duran Duran, as well as some Vaughan Brothers and The B-52’s, if nothing else to show the depth of their influence.

So, enough of this tomfoolery, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! It is past time to induct Chic. Let’s induct them in 2017.

Yes, I Am A Wham! Fan! What’s It To Ya?

21. Wham!_Make_It_Big_album_art

I am a fan of Wham! and George Michael, so get over it!

Yes, I will cop a little attitude when it come to the two. To my ears, Wham! was the teenage-version of Daryl Hall & John Oates, bringing sophisticated R&B/pop sounds to the relationship lyrics that George Michael was conjuring up. To the early Gen X-ers at the time, those two artists could no wrong. As a matter of fact, some critics were predicting a Michael Jackson-career trajectory for George Michael after he followed up his last two Wham! albums with his brilliant debut solo album, Faith.

As I have said time and time again, to my ears, nothing beats a solid pop solid with a memorable melody. That song could have come from the Motown brain trust, a Beatles nugget, a rare pop record by a metal band like Grand Funk or a stupendous sample of a previous hit song made into a hip hop classic like “Mo More, Mo Problems”. A pop song seems simple to create, a strong melody, a memorable hook and earnest lyrics; but, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

21. Whamfantastic

Back in 1983, Wham! released their tentative debut Fantastic. George Michael and Andrew Ridgely were indecisive in which direction they would travel. They created a decent early entry in the white boy rap sweepstakes with “Wham Rap”. Additionally, they showed some prowess with a couple of alternative song and a couple of those soul-based pop songs that Culture Club was mining at the time for big success.

21. Wham-Choose Life

It was not until late 1984, when the duo released their long-playing masterpiece, Make It Big. The great thing about a band from the UK is that they have always had the capability of making their US album compilations of their UK hits from albums, singles and 12″ dance single releases. That meant their USA releases were streamlined and packed with potential hits. And no artist did it better than Wham! did with their second album, Make It Big.

You can say what you want, how this album should in NO WAY be compare with the Metallica album of the day, Ride the Lightning, or the hardcore standard, Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade or The Smiths’ self-titled debut for the album’s long-lasting influence. And, I would say, “Poppycock!” As long as there are teens, there will be teenybopper pop bands such as Wham! But, once again, it is the maturity and sincerity in Michaels’ lyrics that will always set Wham! and Michaels’ solo career apart from the rest. Sure, one could make an argument that Wham! lead to *N’SYNC, and the argument would be correct. Once again, the different will always be with the lyrics.

Very few Britney Spears, Rihanna, Christiana Aguilera or any of the other teen idols being shoved down our throats will have the lyrical depth that George Michael put into his lyrics. Just from Make It Big, you can find “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, “Everything She Wants”, “Freedom” or “Careless Whisper” to find examples of the lyrical depth that Michael invests into his little pop songs.

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Then, right before the duo split, they released another compilation album for the US of various stray UK singles called Music from the Edge of Heaven. Now, not every one of those songs were the soul/pop gems from as the previous album had proven to be. Still, the duo left many pop gems for the American fan. This hodge podge of an album still had “The Edge of Heaven”, “I’m Your Man”, “A Different Corner” and “Last Christmas” to anchor it. The problem is that neither of these albums, nor the debut album gave us any indication to the depths that George Michael would travel on his debut album, which I will discuss at a later date.

When word came that the boyhood friends of Wham! were breaking up, it came as no surprise. Most everyone acknowledged George Michael as the musical visionary. Still, try to tell me that you always remain in a bad mood after hearing “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”. Or, that if you are caught in the right moon that “Careless Whisper” doesn’t make you tear up.

As we all heard older people say when we were the young people, “Things are changing too quickly”. I’m sure some of you have said that when you discover that “our music” is now being played on an oldies station. Oh well, the circle of life. My words to you are to NEVER be so embarassed by Wham! that you can’t admit your allegiance to them as the musical geniuses they always were.

Hot Summer Days Mean Hall & Oates To Me

20. Hall Oates Abandoned Luncheonette

Does anyone out there remember when Daryl Hall & John Oates first started having hit songs? As a reminder, their first two hits were the big summer ballads of 1975 and again in 1976. In 1975, it was “Sarah Smile”, and the following year, it was a re-release of “She’s Gone”, a song the duo had recorded back in 1973. For some reason, stepping outside in the blistering heat this morning reminded of the summers that I bought those two albums. To be perfectly honest, I was too young and too-without-a-girlfriend-in-my-life at the time to understand those albums. I distinctly remember the sale price on the “Silver Album” from 1975 being $3.99 at AirWay. Remember that department store? Then, the following year, that same store put Abandoned Luncheonette on sale for $4.99. Remember those prices? Man, this opening paragraph is way too “old guy reminiscing”. Let’s get on with the blog.

20. Hall Oates Shes Gone

I remember both of those summers being hot as blazes as it is today. And, we could be playing baseball with my boombox blaring a radio station that was playing one of these two songs. Or, we could be on my parents’ porch, blasting Hall & Oates because I thought I was a cool middle school kid. Or, I could have been down at one of the neighbors, bugging one of the girls down the street while they were sunbathing. As a matter of fact, it seemed not to matter what was going on, but I could always find one of those two Hall & Oates summer songs. Sure, neither song says the word “summer” in it, but I just remember hearing those songs during the summer.

20 Hall Oates 1970s publicity shot

Now that I have been a Hall & Oates fan for 40 years, I find that listening to their music today is soothing. I can go back to my music room, and when I am feeling beat up from the pain I have been experiencing, I can always put on Hall & Oates and their albums NEVER fail me. Those albums are therapeutic for me.

Hall & Oates
Daryl Hall and John Oates 1978 on Midnight Special

I am having a very bad day pain-wise, so I will be going through my Hall & Oates collection and try to read a book while I can focus. I hope Hall & Oates will help you jog your memories of one of your first slow dances or maybe even of one of your first kisses. Me? More the former than the latter. I was too much of a geek who could not read social cues. But, then again, when have I ever been able to read social cues?

Something Unusual Happened To Me When I Heard The Bangles One Day

17. TheBanglesLiveinSydney2010

I was never totally happy as a medical technologist. When I was getting close to graduation time, I knew that I did not want to get into research work, so I began to research science jobs. Toward the end of my junior year, I had a Cell Biology class that was significant for two reasons. The first was that ironically enough the Research Assistant in charge of our lab class was Jeff Mathison, the former PHHS grad from the Class of 1978 and a long-time friend. The other reason was that two of my three lab partners were med techs from Ball Memorial Hospital who were beginning to work on advanced degrees. It was during that class that I learned about medical technology and decided to shift my major from Biology with an emphasis in Microbiology by adding a second major that only required me to take a couple of extra classes in chemistry, which helped me qualify for a chemistry minor.

Unfortunately, I was never happy as a medical technologist. The work simply felt stifling to me. I had a nagging feeling that I was meant to do something else. I tried all kinds of positions in the labs. Initially, I worked as a generalist during the evening and night shifts, I tried to work, or as a specialist during the day, in the Hematology Depart at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati and in the Microbiology department at St. John’s Hospital in Anderson, Indiana. Finally, I tried the old entry level management position at the Hospital Formerly Known As St. John’s on second and third shifts. Unfortunately, no matter what I tried, the bottom line was always the same: I did not belong in medical technology field.

17. The_Bangles_-_Everything

It was then, in the Spring of 1988 that God stepped in. Jill came home from teaching that day wanting to go to Talawanda Middle School for the big Spring Talent Show. Most of the acts were groups of girls who were going to sing one particular hit of the day, The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame”. Now, I had always felt that as though “Eternal Flame” was a long-lost Beatles’ song from their Rubber Soul or Revolver albums. That’s just my way of complementing the Bangles. But, the directors of the Talent Show let anyone who wanted to perform to take part in the show. Unfortunately, they did not limit which songs were going to be performed, since we got to see six or seven groups of girls perform this song. I am not kidding! When I got home, I put away my Bangles’ album so I couldn’t hear that song for a couple of weeks.

17. The_Bangles_-_Different_Light

But, what happened that night at the Talent Show was I got my calling to teach. As the third group of girls, and the best, by the way, were singing “Eternal Flame”, a bright light came shining through the gymnasium’s large window and shined on me during their performance. Then, maybe because I had been listening to Prince’s Lovesexy album prior to going to the show, I heard a crazy electronically altered voice saying to me, “I want you here.” I took it to mean that I was to become a teacher and a coach. I kid you not! My wife, who was sitting next to me, was unaware of this epiphany that was happening to me. Afterwards, I felt both confident AND scared. And, I am telling you the truth. I heard that deep, electronically-altered, disembodied voice telling me “I want you here.” A plain and simple command.

So, a year later, I signed up for my first education class that Miami of Ohio, knowing which Miami classes would transfer to Ball State, where I could become a teacher the fastest at the time. So what do you think? To this day, I still think it’s crazy how I received my calling to teach. Yet, oddly enough, it sure seems appropriate. Plus, I am reminded of that day each time I hear the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame”.

Let Me Clear My Throat!

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First off, I just have to complain about my internet provider, Frontier. I know that I am not the only person around here who has been having trouble with them. But, for the last month or so their service has been intermittent at best. Although, the service, or lack there of, has been the reason that I have not been the net much. But to be honest, I have had some really bad days that have coincided with these days that it might be difficult to know where the stupid internet is the problem for a lack of blog entries or was it my back. To be honest, it’s been a combination. But, when I don’t have the net, I have to go ‘Old Skool’ with my research with my now-dated rock reference books.

Back around this time in the year, I was getting ready to graduate from St. John’s School of Medical Technology. The Class of 1986 was going to be the last class to graduate from the class, as the hospital was closing its door. It was bittersweet to say the least. When you spend a year of your life going through such intense training, that when you got into the “real world” of hospital lab work, you could not believe how prepared you were to work with nearly any instrumentation your new employer used. So, after graduation, in July of 1986, Jill, Graham and I all moved to Oxford, Ohio, where I had just accepted my first job to work in the lab at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital, which was tiny.

16. Beastie Boys 1986

Often, I have referenced our time in Oxford, mainly for two reasons: 97-X WOXY FM and Looney T Bird’s Records. Between those two, my musical horizons grew exponentially. Besides all of the alternative music to which I was being exposed, rap music was just becoming an album genre thanks to Run-DMC’s Raising Hell and today’s subject, the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill.

Where Run-DMC were the one of the first rap artists to incorporate rock rhythms in the music, even “covering” Aerosmith’s classic rock nugget “Walk This Way”. All of a sudden, rap was no longer a bunch of novelty records, but the next logical step for rock music to take. Now, at the point, all of Run-DMC’s albums had been produced by a budding record producer Rick Rubin, who at the time, was doing his work in his college dorm room, or at least that’s what the legend says. As Raising Hell was changing what the teens and college students listened to, Rubin was readying another rap album that would take the rap-rock hybrid to it’s next level. That album was by three Jewish MCs who collectively called themselves the Beastie Boys, and that album was the now classic Licensed to Ill.

Rubin and the Beasties did not just work with rock beats or a whole song of a funky rock song. No, these guys took drum samples from Led Zeppelin in order to construct a whole new sound for hip hop. And, the Beasties themselves did their best Run-DMC-style of rapping, by trading lines or phrases within a line, but with the snotty accents of white punks on dope. Funky, the songs where, but totally based in the honky culture. All of a sudden, like Elvis Presley in the Fifties, the Beastie Boys were making hip hop palatable for the white suburban kids to join in the hip hop nation. Now, hip hop of all styles were reaching all corners of the Earth. But, to me, the Beasties were still paying homage to their rap forefathers and were finding acceptance from kids of all races.

As a matter of fact, I knew rap had arrived when I was out at my in-laws for a family outing. I was always trying to ask my older nephews what music they were into, when on that day, they were blasting Licensed to Ill. Now, I was sitting with the adults, when one of the nephews’ fathers said that this music was a fad. I tried to point out why I disagreed with him as the Beasties were making use of new technology by taking parts of different songs to put those parts into a new context. That sampler was becoming as important to our generation as the guitar was to the Baby Boomers. Additionally, I said that this band was not afraid to add a real thrash metal guitar solo by Slayer’s Kerry King to the song “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”.

I quit my defense when it was very apparent that the young Gen X-ers really were going to piss off their parents with hip hop like their parents had with the music of the British Invasion. Still, in the Beastie’s music, you could hear all kinds of sampled references to white suburban culture, like the Green Acres TV show theme song or a short CCR snippet. Everywhere you listened, you heard more and more that white suburbanite could relate to. And, all of it was wrapped in the HUGE beats and DEEP base that hip hop was becoming known for. And, then, you listened to the lyrics, and you heard the in-your-face Run-DMC-esque rhymes delivery of three snotty punks who somehow ended up in a frat house in college. Sure, the rhymes could be misogynist, but show me a guy in their teens and twenties who have their world view worked out.

16. BeastieBoysPaul'sBoutique

What was cool about the Beastie Boys is that they were able to continually grow and become one of the most appreciated hip hop acts of all-time. In 1989, they dropped the whole Ill shtick for their second album, Paul’s Boutique, where they worked with the Dust Brothers to created a sound out of the tiniest of samples seemingly thrown on top of each other to create a claustrophobic sound that caught the public off guard and did not sell well.

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Then, in 1992, the Boys reached back to their punk days to play their own instruments along with samples and beats taken from the rock world to create their third album Check Your Head. On this album, they were growing up. They were concerned about society and the plight of Earth. Out, was the lyrics of the snotty frat boys, and in was the lyrics of more mature young men nearing the age of thirty. From this point onward, the band became one of the immortals of rock music. They appealed equally to the inner city kid as the college kid or the young working adult in a hospital lab in southwest Ohio.

16. BeastieBoysHelloNasty

If you are going to dive into the Beastie Boys’ catalog, simply follow their music chronologically to get the full story. For better or worse, my boys grew up listening to the Beastie Boys. As a matter of fact, we were at Disney World in 1998 when they dropped their fifth album, Hello Nasty. We got in line at Virgin Music Mega-Store (RIP) just to hear the album the day it was released. Of course, I bought it. The CD looks like hell now since it went through three people in the house all listening to it. And, then, we all mourned in 2012, the year the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, when Adam Yauch, known as MCA, passed away after a battle with cancer. The band had just released another brilliant album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the year before, with MCA’s weakening voice heard alongside Mike D (Mike Diamond) and Ad-Rock (Adam Horowitz).

16. Hot_Sauce_Committee_Part_Two

Besides their brilliant music, the Beastie Boys created some of rock’s most iconic videos, such as “Fight for Your Right” and “Sabotage”. Their collective creative was second-to-none, as they were involved deeply in both their music and videos.

But since Yauch’s passing, the Beastie’s voice has been closed. He died too young, as did the Beastie Boys. But that was one helluva ride they took us on.

Has Devo Really Been Correct All Along?

14. devosnl

Everything literally changed in my high school’s Chemistry class’ infamous back row’s musical discussions during the Fall of 1978. You see, upon an unsuspecting group of teenagers was thrust a little band of five apparently nerdy rock anti-gods from Akron, Ohio, when Devo were the musical guest on the Saturday Night Live episode that was hosted by the great Fred Willard. That’s right! I said “Devo!”

If there was one band that was prepared to be on television in the post-David Bowie/KISS/Village People days, it was Devo. This band of art students burst out of Kent State, first to sign with England’s pioneering independent recording label Stiff Records. Then, they were signed by Warner Brothers in the States. But, Devo was more than a band with performance art tendencies. You see, we had that with KISS or The Tubes. What Devo did is took the whole performance art aspect to its completion by developing their theory of “De-evolution”, where man had developed so far that they were regressing, or devolving, back into man’s unsophisticated self after giving into marketing slogans designed to replace a true education. So, when you are a teenager and fancy yourself to be a little smarter than most of society, you seek out others like you. That is why we were all in the back row of that first (AND second) year of Chemistry.

Of course, this band of renaissance men and women, many of us jocks who really did not fit into the classic jock mode, while others were strong in the arts, all banded together with humor with a touch of cynicism in a class that was much more difficult than any chemistry class during my teaching years. Anyway, this group fell in love with Devo that weekend, and all we could do for several weeks was to reenact Devo’s performances in the hallways before school and between classes, (for the guys) in the locker room before and after practices, and at lunch. Who knew that this little new wave band with a great gimmick would move a coterie of teenagers to the point that many of us continue to be fans of the band to this day.

14. Are_We_Not_Men_We_Are_Devo!

Devo’s first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo, hooked us all. It is a nearly perfect combination of Kraftwerk’s synthesizer work set to David Bowie’s energetic Berlin Trilogy’s angular music. But, to us, the early Gen X-er, it was sarcastic heaven with a rocking dance beat. The album’s classic tracks included the anthemic “Uncontrollable Urge” and “Jocko Homo”. But the song that separate Devo from their peers was how they dismantled one of the Baby Boomers’ sacred cows, “Satisfaction”. Yes, I am talking about The Rolling Stones’ classic 1965 hit, considered to be one of the five greatest tunes of all time, according to Rolling Stone‘s Top 500 Songs of All-Time. What Devo did was to reset the lyrics to a herky-jerky beat of synthesizers and other mechanical-sounding instruments, all the while lead singer Mark Motherspaugh sang the lyrics like Don Pardo used to read his commercials on the air. In other words, Devo had taken the sexual tension out of the song and turned it into an exercise of advertisement, like it would read on today’s Craig’s List. Sure, the joke is more realistic today than in 1978, but that’s what made Devo so great. They were well ahead of Main Street, America.

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Although the band never commercially lived up to the promise of their first album, Devo continue to do a great job parodying the Eighties and the whole Reagan Era, though the jokes fell upon deaf ears. In 1980, Devo scored their biggest hit when “Whip It” hit the Top Twenty. Once again, the song was taken solely as a comment on sex, but it was also a message about advertisement once again. If Devo had begun their careers ten years ago, everyone would be in on the joke, and they’d be more popular today. Instead, they are true visionaries.

Fortunately, for me, I got to see them “In Concert” via a 3-D closed circuit television broadcast to the big theater on my college’s campus. No other band had tried this before, and this was during the Fall of 1982. Only a small portion of the concert was in 3-D, during which Devo performed a couple of songs, while throwing things at the camera trying to make their audiences duck. The rest of the concert was the traditional 2-D thing, but at least Devo made the experiment. Now, movies are being released often in 3-D.

Up to the mid-Eighties, Devo was still making compelling music. In 1980, they released Freedom of Choice which contained “Whip It”, followed by New Traditionalists in 1981, where they became one of the first groups to skewer Reaganomics, and, in 1982, they released Oh, No! It’s Devo. After that, their creative juices dried up. After five or so more years of releasing lackluster albums, Devo made a triumphant return in 2010, when they released Something for Everyone. On that album, the band brought in a group of their fans to listen to their new music and vote for their favorite songs. The songs that made it on that album had received the most votes, which meant that the band had finally succumbed to de-evolution themselves. Surprisingly, the album was inspired and more successful than any of their albums since Oh, No! It’s Devo.

14. DEVO_Something For Eeveryone

Since getting back together, the band has released an album of outtakes from the Something for Everyone sessions, called Something Else for Everyone, which displayed how inspired the band was during that session. Then, in 2013, Devo followed up that album with a live album from their 1981 New Traditionalists Tour called Live 1981 Seattle, which was a hugely successful tour, both for artistry and attendance. Finally, at the end of 2013, Devo released a double-CD collection of their outtakes from their early years entitled Hardcore Devo. If you are a fan of the band, you really need these in your collection.

14. devo something else for everybody14. Live 1981 Seattle

To me, Devo does not represent a nostalgia trip. No, they still sound relevant and fresh, just like they originally did nearly 40 years ago. Wow! That number seems staggering. Oh well, nerds never age. We were preserved through those Dungeons and Dragons youth spells.

Never Forget The Cars!


13. the-cars-moving-in-stereo-email-640x640If you were a teenager in 1978 and 1979, you fell in love with a new wave band from Boston called The Cars. Their self-titled debut album from 1978 was so full of that new sound called new wave but still based in the album-oriented rock sound that was popular at the time that the Cars immediately became a huge band with my age group. C’mon! Their first three singles were “Just What I Needed”, “Good Times Roll” and “My Best Friend’s Girl”. What band wouldn’t pray for a beginning like that? But, that album was a slow cooker overall. Although those songs hit the Top 40, The Cars never got close to the Top 10 on the singles chart, and neither did their first album. But, the album was a steady seller.

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Then, in 1979, they released their second album, just as their debut was only slightly begin to wane in sales. That second album, Candy-O, did go Top 10. And, even though several of their songs were ubiquitous on the radio, none of the singles went Top 10, though “Let’s Go” was close when it peaked at number 11.

The thing I found so great about The Cars was the AOR sensibilities melded with new wave touches, some artful aloofness in the lyrics, a deadpan singing delivery, straight-up pop sensibilities and an obvious influence from the Velvet Underground. To a kid in the Midwest who was sick of the Foreigner/Bad Company/REO/Skynyrd crap that was being played by all of his friends, The Cars were a breath of fresh air, as well as an entry group into the punk and new wave scene on both coasts and overseas.

As I right this, I am listening to The Cars’ new compilation called Moving in Stereo: The Best of The Cars, and I am being reminded of their greatness. Although it was so cool that they had been nominated for the RRHOF this past year, I was not fully on board. But, now I am! Sure, they tried a reunion back in 2011, when The Cars released their Move Like This album. But after bassist/vocalist Benjamin Orr passed away in the early 2000s, I felt that leader Ric Ocasek could not really carry all of the vocals for a whole album. Even though their voices were similar, Orr’s vocals held a human side whereas Ocasek’s voice was more deadpan. The two singers worked well together when they were able to trade lead vocals on songs on an album. To my ears, that was exactly what their Move Like This album was missing.

Now, after The Cars came out hot on their first two albums, the group lost some ground on their third album, Panorama. Personally, that is one of my personal favorites in their catalog, but I do understand why it lost the group some momentum. The reason is that The Cars were influenced by the new post-punk sounds, but had not discovered a way to incorporate that sound into their radio-friendly sound.

13. The_Cars_-_Shake_It_Up

During my freshman year in college, The Cars made a little comeback of sorts as their fourth album, Shake It Up, made some inroads with the experimentation in their sound. The big hit, their first Top 10 song, was the title track. If you listened carefully, you could tell the band was on the verge of something big when they reconvened in the studio in 1983. During 1982, Ric Ocasek, lead guitarist Elliott Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes all recorded solo albums. After that break, The Cars teamed with legendary produced “Mutt” Lange to create 1984’s creative peak Heartbeat City.

13. The_Cars_-_Heartbeat_City

When The Cars released their biggest-selling album in 1984, their popularity skyrocketed. The band not only created a record with state-of-the-art sound, but they were creating some of the most creative music videos for their songs, especially the first computer-generated images used in the music video for “You Might Think”. Additionally, their song “Drive” was used in a money-drive video for Africa during Live Aid in 1985.

During August of 1984, my now-wife and I saw The Cars in concert at old Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. I had always heard that the band rarely interacted with the audience, but I was NOT prepared for what happened that night. The only words uttered by the band was by Ric Ocasek, when he said “Hello” to the crowd after the third song in the set. Then, after the last song of the night, he spoke up to say “Goodnight” after the last song of the main set. I could tell the band was squabbling, as they came back for a three-song encore where no one said a thing to the crowd or each other. And when they were done, they all waved goodbye and left. That was it.

The music was fantastic, but the aura the band was giving off that night told me that they were not long for this world as a band. Sure, at the end of 1985, they released their first Greatest Hits compilation and had a Top 10 song with “Tonight She Comes”, but it seemed as though the band was spent. They did come back in 1986 with the lackluster Door to Door. By the time that album had been released the band was done.

Recently, I read a review of a re-release of their classic debut album on Pitchfork, which has many millennials writing for them. The critic was just blasting the album out of the water. Unfortunately, I think many young people have a difficult time putting much of our music into context. I always tell young people who are into music to go back and listen to the radio on a Sunday to an old classic re-run of a Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 show in order to hear all of the middle-of-the-road crap that was being played at the time: Juice Newton, Kenny Rogers, DeBarge, and much more! I love a good slow song like anyone, but when half of the Top 40 was slow, cheesy songs, you knew how important The Cars were to our age group! Sure, they never were Cheap Trick, but who is? The Cars did, however, play a very important role in the lives of music lovers between the years 1978 and 1985.

So, now that Cheap Trick is in the RRHOF, I have decided to put my loud mouth behind two groups: The Cars and The Jam. Those are my main rockers that I feel need to be inducted to represent our age group’s musical tastes. Also, I still maintain that the voters better quit screwing over Chic for induction! But, I save that rant for another day. Let me end this by saying thank goodness the internet is back up here in my area. It was down Friday, Saturday and part of the day on Sunday. That’s why I didn’t write very many entries last week. So, here’s to internet access to all!