It Makes No Sense at All: Hüsker Dü Drummer Grant Hart Dead at 56

9.14 grant hart drums

Things like this should not be happening yet. I keep hearing that being in your fifties is the new forties. What does that mean? Seriously, are you kidding me? Personally, I feel every year of my life on Earth, all 54 years of them. For some reason, I have heard that our generation is going to outlive our parents’ generation and all others that came before us. If that were so, then nobody told George Michael or Chris Cornell. And, now, add another name to the Rock and Roll Heaven List, as the former songwriter/drummer/vocalist of seminal eighties hardcore band Hüsker Dü Grant Hart passed away at the age of 56. That’s right, I said 56.

This death has hit me harder than any other rock star since Prince. Why? Well, I discovered Hüsker Dü back in college. They were just beginning to make some noise on the college rock underground scene. Back in 1984, that alternative scene was just beginning, with HD and some other bands leading the way. The other bands included R.E.M., The Replacements, Minutemen, Dead Kennedys, Camper Van Beethoven, Black Flag, X, Fear, Butthole Surfers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, among many other disaffected college students from the beginning of Generation X. Back then, musicians my age either went and bought cases of Aqua Net in order to become a metal artist or began wearing ratty clothing and started playing noise as loud and fast as they could, becoming part of the college rock scene.

9.14 husker du live

Hüsker Dü never scored a Top 40 hit song or album. Yet, they gained a small cult following that has grown over the years. When HD started, they came of the gates playing as loud and fast as they could. Where a song by Ramones would last two-and-a-half minutes, Hüsker Dü would fly through it in a minute, 30 seconds. As the band gained experience, they began incorporating pop melodies deep within their thrashing exterior. By the time I discovered them in 1984, HD released their first masterpiece with the double album, punk rock/thrash rock opera Zen Arcade, which was a coming of age story about a boy who left home and had to face the harsh realities of life of a young adult in the cruel world of Reaganomics. This album put the band on the map.

9.14 Husker Du Zen Arcade

Then, in 1985, Hüsker Dü had an unparalleled year of creativity not seen since the early Beatles years. HD release not one but two albums of maturing punk music that was short on the thrash but long on the melodies, thanks to songwriters Grant Hart and Bob Mould. These two albums, also considered to be classics are Flip Your Wig and New Day Rising. Additionally, the band recorded and released a classic 7-inch single thrashing punk remake of The Byrds’ classic “Eight Miles High”, with the B-side being a punk cover of theme song of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Love Is All Around”. But, once again, the band did not sell. Yet, for me, it was a case of the right band being in the right place for me. There lyrics were challenging as they were barked out by Hart or Mould over a thrashing guitars and a driving rhythm section that was playing at warp speed. Never before had music been so cathartic to me. Their music was like cutting oneself, in that the music was a joyful pain to experience. Plus, all that I was harming was my ears due to the decibel level needed to fully experience Hüsker Dü.

9.14 Huskerdu_flipyourwig9.14 HuskerDuNewDayRising

After that explosion of creativity, the band only released two more albums. In 1986, Hüsker Dü released Candy Apple Grey, another aural assault that could take away one’s mental anguish for a moment. That album, while still good, was missing something. At this point, the trio were no longer on the independent label SST but had signed on with Warner Brothers. But, the tensions between the newly clean Bob Mould, who was exerting more of a leadership role, and the mercurial and not-so-clean Grant Hart were increasing so much that quiet bassist Greg Norton began to ignore the others. The guys held it together long enough to record their second double album in three years with the 1987 release Warehouse: Songs and Stories. The new album only added to their impeccable legacy, but the songs were the only way the band was communicating with each other. So, instead of lasting into the grunge and alternative rock era of the Nineties and being widely recognized as the forefathers of the whole scene, the band quietly split, with Mould and Hart pursuing solo careers, and Norton going to chef school.

9.14 Huskerdu_candyapplegrey9.14 Husker_Du_Warehouse_Songs_and_Stories

Things have continued to be horrible between the trio that Hüsker Dü’s catalog has been neglected over the years. All of these classic albums of sonic assaults have never been remastered using the latest technologies that could clean up a little of the analog murkiness of the original recordings. So, instead of celebrating the brilliance of this once great band, Hüsker Dü lives in the collective minds of their fans. At least, until recently.

Recently, it was announced that Hüsker Dü would be releasing a long overdue box set covering their whole career. It seem as though the tensions were thawing, leading the band’s fans to wonder if there would be a Hüsker Dü reunion. Unfortunately, it will no longer happen. Grant Hill has left us to wonder what could have been.

9.14 husker du logo

I guess what hurts so much is not due to some fanboy’s lost dream of a reunion. No, it’s more of a sad reminder of my own mortality, my lost youth that was not as idyllic as what others may have experienced or thought I was experiencing, and the existing problems between three former friends will never be resolved. On the other hand, Hüsker Dü left us a vital catalog of terrific punk rock that will stand the test of time and will continue to influence new young fans to start bands and make lots of noise. Hopefully, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will recognize this band for the foundation they built for the rise of the whole Lollapalooza Nation in the Nineties whose spirit continues to be felt today.

9.14 grant hart

So, here’s to you, Grant Hart! May you finally find the peace that you aggressively searched for through your art. And, may his passing soften the hearts of Bob Mould and Greg Norton so they can come together to polish up their legacy of Hüsker Dü so the world can finally hear how great this band was. Viva Grant Hart! Viva Hüsker Dü!!!

9.14 husker du

What About My 20 Favorite Songs by Beck?

9.13 beck lucas oil stadium

The fall of 2017 is shaping up to be quite a nice time for new music releases. Since the week before Labor Day, the following artists have either released or are planning to release new albums: LCD Soundsystem, Neil Young (the long-awaited release of his mid-Seventies folk album Hitchhiker), Foo Fighters, The Prophets of Rage (rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy, rapper B-Real of Cypress Hill, the musicians of Rage Against the Machine [guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk] and DJ Lord of Public Enemy), Queens of the Stone Age, U2, Beck, St. Vincent, Miley Cyrus, The Killers, Morrissey, The National, Ariel Pink, Robert Plant, Margo Price, Weezer, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Taylor Swift (will it be more crying about how many bad boyfriends she has over the past couple of years…again?).

Personally, I am excited about most of the artists listed, including U2 (of course) and Beck (my new obsession). I hope to fill out the blog with information about many of these artists, except I will personally stay away from Taylor Swift. Is it just me or does she just use guys to dump her so she can write more he-used-me-for-sex-and-then-dumped-me-I’ll-write-a-song-and-break-confidentiality-of-our-relationship songs that middle school girls will devour? Oh well, she needs to quit letting those guys take rides on her rollercoaster, then she won’t feel used so often. Or, maybe that’s her plan. Regardless, I really don’t care. Let’s move on to a real artist. Today, I present to you the artist with whom I am currently hyperfocused, and we all know the artist I am talking about is Beck!

WE HATE HURRICANES Comedy Benefit For AmeriCares

Back in 1994, during the heady days of Gen X exerting its power by joining the budding Alternative Nation, attending its traveling circus called Lollapalooza and buying grunge rock, gangsta rap and nu metal CDs, a young artist burst onto the scene with a song that either defined Gen X or parodied the stereotypes of Gen X. That artist was Beck with his Nineties anthem “Loser”. Today, casual rock fans will remember that song, probably not fully comprehending the sarcasm that was dripping from the lyrics. And, although Kanye West has no idea of the breadth of Beck’s career (Kanye said that Beck should give his Album of the Year Grammy to the more deserving Beyonce for her tedious Lemonade album; sorry, Kanye, learn a little about musical history and hear how rich and diverse Beck’s catalog is compared to yours, since you are stuck in the hip hop genre). It is very unfortunate that a young artist has a song that captures the public’s imagination so thoroughly that they have forgotten what a fantastic artist Beck is.

Over the years, Beck has amalgamated so many diverse genres into his sound that you can only describe Beck’s music as being Beck’s music. When he started, he was taking folk, rap and alternative rock and mixing and blending them into the sound of his debut album, Mellow Gold. He continued that aural journey on Odelay, arguably his masterpiece. Odelay was full of folk, hip hop, rock, country and samples galore, earning him a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. His musicality is unparalleled by current artists’ standards, including Kanye West. Heck, his other masterpiece is a slice of updated folk music (Sea Change), and it’s spiritual twin (Morning Phase) that earned him the Grammy that got Kanye whining again.

Next month, Beck’s latest album, Colors, is scheduled to be released. Over the past two years, Beck has released two outstanding singles that will be included on this album. Both of the singles were performed at the concert I attended Sunday, the big alternative hit from 2015 “Dreams” and the Talking Heads-ian electro-funk workout from 2016 “Wow”.

With that said, let’s take a look at My 20 Favorite Songs by Beck.

20. “We Are Sex Bob-Omb” (2010)

19. “Go It Alone” (2006)

18. “Think I’m in Love” (2005)

17. “Tropicalia” (1998)

16. “Defriended” (2013)

15. “Blue Moon” (2014)

14. “Strange Apparition” (2006)

13. “Lost Cause” (2002)

12. “Whiskeyclone, Hotel 1997” (1994)

11. “Jack-Ass” (1996)

10. “Gamma Ray” (2008)

9. “e-Pro” (2008)

8. “Debra” (1999)

7. “Guess I’m Doing Fine” (2002)

6. “Sexx Laws” (1999)

9.13 Beck - Dreams

5. “Dreams” (2015)

9.13 Beck - Devils_Haicut

4. “Devil’s Haircut” (1996)

9.13 Beck - Where_It's_At

3. “Where It’s At” (1996)

9.13 beck loser

2. “Loser” (1994)

9.13 beck wow

1. “Wow” (2016)

That’s it, fans! That is my Beck playlist that I have been using since the concert. Until tomorrow, keep on rockin’ in the free world!

How About My 20 Favorite U2 Songs?

9.12 U2 at end of Joshua Tree

As I write this, I am still reminiscing about the U2/Beck concert that I attended this past Sunday night. Right now, I am going through my Beck library in an effort to bathe aurally in all the sounds he has created over the years that I had totally pushed aside the last couple of years. And as far as U2 is concerned, you all should know that I have been a fan for a very long time. So, it is always fun to have this type of concert. Lately, I have not enjoyed too many opening acts like I did Beck.

9.12 U2 montage

Some of the better opening acts I have seen over the years include AC/DC with Bon Scott as the lead singer (1979) opened for Ted Nugent (his concert helped me cut his music from my diet), The Babys opened for Journey back in the day (1980), Daryl Hall & John Oates (1981, for ELO), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1982, for The Police), INXS (1983, for Men at Work!), John Mellencamp (1982, for Heart) The dB’s (1987, for R.E.M.), Radiohead (1995, for R.E.M.), Green Day (2000, for blink-182!), Robert Plant (2002, for The Who), Cheap Trick (2004, for Aerosmith, but we all know who I was there for), Steve Winwood (2009, for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), and Capital Cities (2013, for Fitz & the Tantrums). Check out the number of Rock & Roll Hall of Famers I have seen as an opening act over the years (AC/DC, Hall & Oates, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, John Mellencamp, Green Day, Cheap Trick, Steve Winwood (Traffic), Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), and I expect Beck and Radiohead to join those ranks in the near future. A great opening act always makes for a terrific concert, in addition to making you feel as though you got more bang for your bucks.

But, enough of the opening act Beck, let’s focus on the headliner of the concert, U2. Now, U2 may be THE band of my generation. If you think about the transcendent artists at the beginning of the Eighties, one could pick from The Clash, The Police, Dire Straits, Talking Heads and Pretenders as the artists who would be making compelling music well into the 21st century. But, while all of those bands faltered for one reason or another, those four friends from Ireland stepped into the vacuum and lead rock through rest of the eighties, throughout the Nineties and Aughts, and into the Twenty-teens. U2 faced welcome artistic challenges from R.E.M. and Nirvana, but again those stubborn Irishmen stared down them and all other challengers on their way to become the biggest draw on the tour calendar. And, the way U2 did that was through artistic integrity, laser-focused vision and the will to accept the pressure to become the biggest rock artist on the face of the earth.

9.12 U2 on big screen

Millennials can complain, because the good Lord knows I complained about The Rollings Stones not having much new to say in the mid-Eighties and beyond. But, U2 is still bringing it. They are not the cold war artifact that one particular millennial write once put it. Nor are they a symbol of world peace or some other love-based hippy ideal. Sure, the espouse loving thy neighbor, as taught by Jesus. But, they maintain an indignation toward a consumer-based society that nearly every punk band from that late Seventies scene found on BOTH sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Sure, every generation should question the motives of the biggest band of the previous generation, only if they have an artist ready to take the previous artist’s place on the mountain top. But, sorry millennials! You don’t have that one transcendent artist prepared to take U2’s place. It could be Foo Fighters, Green Day or Pearl Jam, but, let’s be honest, they all belong to the Gen X-ers. Beyonce? Rihanna? Lady Gaga? Kanye? Please. Maybe Gaga, but she still has only been on the scene for a decade. U2 has been around since 1980; that’s 37 years, with 30 spent on the mountain top. Oh, I almost forgot! Didn’t Kendrick Lamar cut a song on his latest brilliant album called D.A.M.N.? Uh, yes he did! ‘Nuff said!

9.12 U2 pics

Enough of this! Here are My 20 Favorite U2 Songs. Let me know what yours are.

20. “Even Better Than the Real Thing” (Achtung Baby, 1991)

19. “Red Hill Mining Town” (The Joshua Tree, 1987)

18. “Staring at the Sun” (Pop, 1997)

17. “Every Breaking Wave” (Songs of Innocence, 2014)

16. “Vertigo” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004)

15. “Sweetest Thing” (The Best of U2, 1980-1990, 1998)

14. “Mysterious Ways” (Achtung Baby, 1991)

13. “Elevation” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000)

12. “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (No Line on the Horizon, 2009)

11. “Ordinary Love” (single, 2013)

10. “New Year’s Day” (War, 1983)

9. “Numb” (Zooropa, 1993)

8. “Desire” (Rattle and Hum, 1988)

7. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)

6. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (War, 1983)

5. “With or Without You” (The Joshua Tree, 1987)

4. “Beautiful Day” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000)

3. “One” (Achtung Baby, 1991)

2. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (The Joshua Tree, 1987)

1. “Where the Streets Have No Name” (The Joshua Tree, 1987)

And, there it is! My 20 Favorite U2 Songs. Let me know what think. I have included some more photos from the concert. Peace!

Last Night, U2 and Beck Showed Indy That Rock Is Still Alive

9.10 Lucas Oil Stadium

Well, folks, the little lady and I were spontaneous yesterday. Wait a second! Keep your minds out of the gutter! We had a chance to see U2 play last night, and we took it. And, since Son #1 and his beautiful wife just moved back to the area the last couple of weeks, we took them with us. Unfortunately, Son #2 had to work, and his beautiful finance was tired from her shift at work, so they couldn’t joined us. But, we soldiered on down to Indianapolis to see U2 with guest Beck at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Now, the last time U2 played in Indianapolis was 2001, after the release of their All You Can’t Leave Behind album. And, back in 2011, my gorgeous wife (us Keller men are lucky guys with our women) and I ventured to St. Louis to see U2 at Bush Stadium because my long-time rock buddy Bondo scored some extra tickets for us at the last minute. So, when it comes to U2, we have a history of seeing them on short notice. That concert was the hottest concert, temperature-wise, that I had ever been to. When the opening act, Interpol (whom I love!) took the stage, the temperature was a blistering 99 degrees. And, since it was the Midwest, the humidity had to be 70% or greater. I was absolutely miserable. Yet, by the time U2 took the stage, day had turned to night, so the temperature had dropped to 94 degrees. Still, U2 rose to the occasion and made us forget, for a moment, that the temperature was unbearable. They blasted through all of their hits that left me in awe of their ability to make such a large venue seem intimate.

A little Keller history is needed at this point. First, I have been following U2 from the beginning. I bought Boy, their first album, back in late-1980. As much as I tried, I could not really get any of my high school friends to stop listening to Molly Hatchet long enough to give U2 a spin. I followed their career, buying each album along the way, including changing to CDs when vinyl pressing was temporarily halted. I remember watching MTV during the Spring of 1983 and seeing a young Bono climb the scaffolding on the stage as the band performed at the US Festival that year. Then, the band poised itself for greatness by delivering one of the two best sets at Live Aid (the other was by Queen).

9.10 u2 the joshua tree

Finally, in the Spring of 1987, an extremely outstanding year for music releases, U2 released their first masterpiece, The Joshua Tree. Back then, I always had Thursday off from my first career as a medical technologist. So, Son #1 (who had yet to turn 2 years old at the time) and I ventured to the independent record store in Oxford, Ohio, to buy that album on release day. When we got to the counter, I plopped my one-and-a-half year-old on the counter, and he said, “New U2, pwease.” The owner laughed and handed him that copy of The Joshua Tree album that I still own to this day. Of course, I paid, and Son #1 carried it home in the car. Then, he reluctantly gave it to me, and we listened to it as we played.

Fast forward to last night. As the four of us walked up to the entrance, I had to go around the X-ray machine since I have two implanted electronic devices in me. I got a quick frisk, we were on our way to our seats. When we arrived, we were amazed by our seats that were cheaply priced due to having an obstructed view of the stage that was actually non-existent. We basically got two hundred dollar seats for thirty dollars a piece! Even though we were essentially a football field away from the stage, our seats were excellent.

9.10 Beck opener

The opening act was Beck, the innovative funk-rock-punk-folkateer who burst into the collective conscience in the first half of the Nineties with the Generation X anthem “Loser”. Now, to be honest, although I had been collecting his electronic files throughout his career, I had only been giving his material a cursory listen. Now, after seeing his stellar opening act last night, I will be spending much time going back through his stuff, so be ready for some blog entries covering this critically acclaimed artist.

9.10 Beck bigscreen

A couple of things about Beck’s performance. First, his touring band is outstanding, especially the rhythm section. But, on the surprising side, Beck had half of Jellyfish’s original lineup in his band: guitarist Jason Falkner and keyboardist Roger Manning Jr. Anyway, the band was hot, tight and diverse in their influences. And, the group brought Beck’s songs to life. My favorite of his set was the funky single that he released a couple of years ago called “Wow”, which is all I could say upon its conclusion. Of course, most of the crowd would have stated that their favorite song was “Loser”. But, since I am a contrarian, I like to find other songs to latch onto, and my pick is “Wow”. Below is Beck’s setlist from last night.

  1. Devils Haircut
  2. Black Tambourine
  3. Think I’m in Love (with I Feel Love snippet)
  4. Go It Alone
  5. Lost Cause
  6. Heart Is a Drum
  7. Dreams
  8. Girl
  9. Wow
  10. Loser
  11. E-Pro
  12. Where It’s At (with band intros)
  13. Band Intros Medley (snippets Good Times, Miss You, Rock Lobster, Taking it to the Streets, In the Air Tonight)
  14. One Foot in the Grave
  15. Where It’s At (reprise)

9.10 U2 opener

Then, after a quick half-break, U2 took the stage, only they opened their set with four songs performed on a circular extension from the main stage. They opened with their two War album anthems “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Years Day”, followed by “Bad”/”America” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)”. Then, they moved to their main stage  that took up the whole end zone at the other end of the field. Once in place, they performed The Joshua Tree in its entirety in celebration of the album’s thirtieth birthday. The band’s performance of that landmark album was stunning, as well as moving, bringing to life songs that the band had not played in concert before, as well as conjuring new life out of the old horses from that album. Then, after a quick break, U2 returned for a six-song encore that was focused on their 21st century hits, as well as a new song “You’re the Best Thing About Me” from their upcoming new album. To me, the best performance of the night was U2’s rendition of “Red Hill Mining Town”, although “Beautiful Day”, “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You” were outstanding as they always are. Take a look at the setlist below.

9.10 U2 Where the Streets Have No Names

  1. Sunday Bloody Sunday
  2. New Year’s Day
  3. Bad / America (snippet)
  4. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
  5. Where The Streets Have No Name / California (There Is No End To Love) (snippet)
  6. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  7. With Or Without You
  8. Bullet The Blue Sky / War (snippet) / America (snippet)
  9. Running To Stand Still
  10. Red Hill Mining Town
  11. In God’s Country
  12. Trip Through Your Wires
  13. One Tree Hill
  14. Exit / Wise Blood (snippet) / Eeny Meeny Miny Moe (snippet)
  15. Mothers of the Disappeared

encore(s):

  1. Beautiful Day / Starman (snippet)
  2. Elevation
  3. Vertigo / It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) (snippet)
  4. You’re the Best Thing About Me
  5. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
  6. One / Drowning Man (snippet)

9.10 U2.I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Overall, it was a “Beautiful Day” to spend a night at a concert with most of my family. The night was so beautiful that they even had the roof open at Lucas Oil Stadium, which helped the sound and the ambience of the concert. I really cannot compare the two concerts to each other, since one was focused on the hits while the other celebrated an important album in their career. Thank God we still have U2 to show the world that a rock band can give crowd a transcendent performance.

9.10 U2 More Joshua Tree

They Are More Than “Don’t Stop Believin'”: My Ranking of Journey’s Albums

9.8 Journey1980

Back in the Spring of 1980, I saw Journey with their special guest The Babys in concert. At the time, I liked Journey, especially their hits like “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”, “Lights” and “Just the Same Way”. But, at that time, I like The Babys even more. The Babys were running on the momentum of two Top 10 hits, “Every Time I Think of You” and “Isn’t It Time”, along with some album cuts like “Head First”, “Back on My Feet Again” and “Midnight Rendezvous”.

However, upon the completion of the concert, I was a Journey fan. The band was solid, with spectacular guitar pyrotechnics. But, the true star of Journey’s performance was lead singer Steve Perry. His vocals were so pure and strong, with very little enhancements used. The former turkey farmer was Journey’s secret weapon.

Perry joined the band on their fourth album. Before Perry, Journey was something of a jazz-rock fusion band that had a touch of blues. But, when the San Francisco band added Perry to the line-up, the band’s sound turned toward an album oriented hard rock sound that was popular in the late-70s and early-80s. As a matter of fact, Journey is the best example of this sound. Because of that, they have rightfully been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just this past spring.

So, I bring to everyone, including the ladies to join me as I rank all fourteen Journey albums from weakest to best.

9.8 14.Trial by Fire

14. Trial by Fire (1996). This short-lived reunion between the band and Perry. Unfortunately, the songs were weak and sounded as if everyone was just going through the motions. This is a total sleep-fest.

13. Journey (1975). Did you know that guitarist Neil Schon and original keyboardist Greg Rolie were members of Santana when they left to create Journey with bassist Ross Valory, guitarist George Tickner (who left quickly) and drummer Prairie Prince (who left to join the Tubes and replaced by Aynsley Dunbar). And the name Journey? They got it from a radio contest. The album was just a tentative jazz-fusion mess.

12. Look into the Future (1976). This was the sophomore release of a nondescript jazz-fusion band.

9.8 11.Generations

11. Generations (2005). This was the second album for Steve Perry-soundalike Steve Augeri, who could do yeoman’s work in concert covering Perry’s songs, but lacked Perry’s soulfulness. And, this albums sounds like the Augeri experiment was ending.

10. Arrival (2001). This was Augeri’s first album as the lead singer, and the album displayed his promise. But, his shortcoming were soon to be exposed on tour.

9. Eclipse (2011). This is guitarist Neil Schon’s album. His guitar is fiery and lively. It also exposed Perry’s second replacement, Arnel Pineda’s second album. Unfortunately, the album exposed Pineda’s lack of soul in his voice that made Perry such a unique singer.

8. Next (1977). This was the best album of the original vision of Journey. But, since it was not a big seller, the label was able to push the band to hire a lead singer, which lead to their greatest decision – Steve Perry.

9.8 7.Revelation

7. Revelation (2008). Neil Schon discovered Arnel Pineda singing Journey songs on YouTube. That video influenced Schon to travel to the Philippines to offer Pineda the lead singing job. What Pineda gave Journey was another karaoke singer who could replicate Perry voice in concert. Unfortunately, the band made him record all of Perry’s hits, which was a bad move because it exposed Pineda’s vocal weaknesses.

9.8 6.Raised on Radio

6. Raised on Radio (1986). By 1986, Journey was one of the most successful bands in the world. They had many hit songs, albums, tours and pinball machines. Unfortunately, drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory left the band due to the stress of the charging train. So, Journey, knocked down to a trio, records a soft rock album that lacked the hard rock beauty of Journey’s finest albums and really sounded like a follow-up to Steve Perry’s first solo album. Outside of the hits, this album was the last gasp of a once great band.

9.8 5.Frontiers

5. Frontiers (1983). This may have been the band’s finest commercial moment, but the cracks were being to sound, especially on the second side of the album. The hit songs were great, but they were surrounded by some real clunkers.

9.8 4.Infinity

4. Infinity (1978). Here is the debut of Steve Perry and a total change in the futures of Journey. This represents the last appearance of drummer Aynsley Dunbar. But, the formula for success was in place.

9.8 3.Departure

3. Departure (1980). This album is Journey’s most underrated album. They are just beginning to hit their stride as a band. This album includes “Anyway You Want It” and a great blues song that was a minor hit called “Walks like a Lady”.

9.8 2.Evolution

2. Evolution (1979). The album is known for “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”, but it showcases how a band can become more solid by replacing a virtuoso drummer in Dunbar with a solid, workman-like drummer in Steve Smith. This album is the last appearance of Greg Rolie, who will be replaced by the keyboard player from The Babys who opened for Journey on the Departure tour. Jonathan Cain. Once Cain joins, the band will be able to smooth the rough edges to become pop-rock gods.

9.8 1.Escape

1. Escape (1981). This is the breakthrough album, and the band’s first number one album. Jonathan Cain joined the band and helped shaped the songs with a pop savvy. Now, Journey’s version of soul-based hard rock will take over the world. This was the perfect line-up to complete the vision that Neil Schon had when he left Santana nearly a decade earlier. And, this album has more than the ubiquitous “Don’t Stop Believin'”. The hits also included “Who’s Cryin’ Now”, “Stone in Love” and the number one hit “Open Arms”. This album made Journey a household name. This is a classic AOR album.

I am certain that this list surprised no one. But, I do wanted to honor this band and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

With that said, have a great weekend!

Here’s a Birthday Present for Megan: I Ranked Springsteen’s Albums

9.7 bruce-springsteen-and-the-e-street-band-performing-2009-billboard-650

I bet you did not realize this, but I love making lists. When I coached, I would plan my practices down to the second, and I used to compile those practice lists with notes about the successes and/or failures of various drills and workouts. Since my lovely wife believes that I may very lie on the autism scale in some highly functioning area, I thought I would list my seven favorite artists. In numerology, seven is allegedly a whole number, which means something I’m sure. But, since I don’t really believe in that crap, I don’t know why I even mentioned it.

So, enough of my ramblings! Let me introduce you to my Seven Favorite Rock Artists, all of whom have complete album discographies in my collection. At number seven are Talking Heads. Number six are Daryl Hall and John Oates. In the fifth position are R.E.M. In what very well may be a surprise to you all is that Bruce Springsteen is my fourth favorite artist. Which means, that my top three artists in descending order are (3) Tom Petty, (2) Cheap Trick and (1) Prince, though I feel that you all may have surmised those three from my past entries in this blog.

The one artist of whom I have written little is “The Boss”. That is due mainly that I really have nothing to add to the knowledge base of his rabid fanbase. Although I am not a “nuts-o” Springsteen fan, I will go through periods of time during which I will read everything that I can get my hands on, though I seem to have left most of those days back in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties.

Now, I do have a very vivid memory of first hearing Springsteen’s music. It was early December 1975, on a Sunday morning, during which my family, in its last Christmas as a family intact family before Dad left to divorce Mom, we were decorating the house for the upcoming yuletide season. Mom always loved Christmas and would always decorate the house’s interior to reflect her love of the season. For some reason, maybe it had to do with getting in late from a basketball game the night before, but we did not go to church that day. Instead, we decorated the house. And, while doing so, my parents allowed me to listen to American Top 40 on the family room stereo.

Even though the song had nothing to do with Jesus’ birthday celebration, I was listening intently for Casey Kasem to tell me where in the Top 40 Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” had landed. So, while anxiously awaiting Kiss, I heard a song at number 22 that totally blew me away. It was the anthemic “Born to Run” by some guy named Bruce Springsteen, who apparently had recently appeared on the covers of both Newsweek AND Time magazines during the same week during the previous month.

What I was hearing was like nothing I had ever heard both, yet it was eerily familiar in some manner. As the song plowed ahead through the static of AM radio through the mono speakers of the console stereo. Nothing had really prepared me for the aural onslaught I was receiving during this song. I felt like it was some call to arms to break loose of the constrictions of my hometown. I was ready to rebel, although I had yet discovered my cause. That song spoke to me during that moment, though I was not mature enough at 12 to understand exactly what The Boss was telling me. So, that song entered my DNA, without any reaction.

Three years later, again I heard another Springsteen song on Casey’s Countdown, “Prove It All Night”. Once again, I felt moved but unprepared to respond. Finally, in 1980, everything came together when I heard “Hungry Heart”. I then acted upon it and bought The River, and the rest is history. I was now a Springsteen disciple of sorts. And by the time I graduated from college for the first time in 1985, I had every Springsteen album on vinyl, as well as several of his singles, both 7″ and 12″.

Today, my boys and their wife/wife-to-be are Springsteen fans, much like their mother and father. Back in the Fall of 1985, my wife and I saw Bruce on his Born in the USA Stadium Tour when it stopped at the old Hoosier Dome. So, today, in honor of Son #2’s fiancee’s birthday, I am ranking all 20 of Bruce Springsteen’s albums.

20. Human Touch (1992). What was Bruce thinking by recording an album with studio musicians with sub-par material?

19. Lucky Town (1992). What was Bruce thinking by recording TWO albums of sub-standard material without the E Street Band’s mojo to fix everything? Just because Guns N’ Roses did this doesn’t mean that Springsteen should have. Put together the two albums’ best material and we would have gotten a decent six-song EP out of it.

18. Devils and Dust (2005). The Boss attempts to find the demo folk magic of Nebraska on an album that is only note-worthy because it contains a song during which The Boss records his first F-bomb. Like I said, who cares?

17. Working on a Dream (2009). I really don’t know Springsteen on a personal level, so I do not know the ages of his children. But, the lyrics on this album sound like a parent who is about to send his kids off to college and he is trying to hold onto them as children. At least, that’s what I was going through at the time, so I may have projected myself onto his lyrics. This is my present-day go-to Springsteen album because it speaks to me.

16. High Hopes (2014). I realize that this album is full of Springsteen re-imagining some of his older songs, but it’s not a bad album at all. Nor is it a lazy album. This album is just his attempt at giving those songs the proper life they deserve.

15. Magic (2007). So, Springsteen writes an album about adult themes and he is held up like the icon he deserves to be. Then, U2 does a similar thing AND gives the damn album away for free on iTunes and people bitch. Lesson? Sell the damn thing and be a capitalist.

14. The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995). In the mid-Nineties, Springsteen lost his way. So, when he decided to go full-on Nebraska-style folkie on this album, everyone remembered how he was one of the greatest rockers of all time and had one of the greatest rock backing bands ever. Once this was out of his system, he got the E Street Band back together and went through one of most prolific periods in his life.

13. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ (1973). The debut album that sounds like a debut album, tentative and unsure of the sound the artist wanted to follow. For some reason, critics were calling him the next Bob Dylan. With songs like “Growin’ Up” on here, it was obvious he was the first Bruce Springsteen.

12. Wrecking Ball (2012). This is a latter-day Springsteen classic. It only sounds better as it ages.

11. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006). The Boss brought to life a set of songs that should never be forgotten. And he set those songs to a sound reminiscent of The Band’s early days. I still love this album.

10. The Rising (2002). This album helped a nation heal from the wounds gained on 9/11. It will always hold a special place in people’s hearts for that.

9. The Promise (2010). This double-album was nearly released instead of Darkness. History would have been changed if Bruce had followed this path instead of making a direct statement toward punk that he made on Darkness. Who knows how his career would have turned out as The River would no longer have been necessary. Would he have gotten to mega-superstar status sooner? Or ever?

8. Tracks (1998). Personally, I LOVE previously unreleased material finally being collected and released to the public. This box set proves just how much quality music Springsteen has written and recorded. He and Prince are my favorites in this regard.

7. The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973). I remember my college roommate and me air jamming to this song like the concert video footage that MTV would play on occasion. I was always Bruce, and my roommate, Bruce, was Clarence. We always brought down parties when we would spontaneously break in to concert mode whenever we heard this song.

6. Tunnel of Love (1987). When my wife and I went to see Springsteen in concert back in 1985, Bruce had just gotten married to Julianne Phillips. During the concert, my wife leaned over to me and asked, “I wonder what Bruce’s background singer (Patti Sciafla) thinks about Springsteen being married? They seem like they have some chemistry between them.” Leave it to my wife to recognize that stuff before others do. By the way, she was correct! Oh, this album is about the break-up of Springsteen’s first marriage, before he was photographed with Scialfa in the tabloids.

9.7 5.the river

5. The River (1980). This is a double album’s worth of Springsteen’s ode to the frat rock of his youth. It is full of tales of men being beaten down by life searching for that ray of hope that will pull them through life.

9.7 4. Nebraska

4. Nebraska (1982). This is easily Springsteen’s darkest album. The songs were influenced by murder ballads and novels of the Depression-era America. And, The Boss discovered the bleakness at the dawn the Reagan-era.

9.7 3.Darkness on the Edge of Town

3. Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). The Boss heard punk rock and rose to the occasion by subjugating the fury of punk, both musically and lyrically, into his sound, making The Boss both important and vital. He was one of the first artists, along with the Stones and the Kinks to recognize kindred spirits in the punk movement.

9.7 2. Born in the usa

2. Born in the USA (1984). The Summer of ’84 was the summer of Purple Rain and Born in the USA. To me, it was perfect. Prince spoke to my optimistic side and Springsteen spoke to my pissed off side. Between the two, I was able to hold my life together because of these albums. This is a classic, that has angry lyrics set to anthemic music, giving one hope at the end of the day.

9.7 1. Born_to_Run_(Front_Cover)

1. Born to Run (1975). Born to Run is as nearly a perfect album as Prince’s Sign o’ the Times or The Clash’s London Calling. This album could have only been created by someone from the east coast of the US. The album reflects the claustrophobia and romanticism that only one from the New York City Tri-State are capable of experiencing. The only thing is that feeling of needing to break free of one’s hometown roles that is universal. Everyone feels that, even when you are in your fifties, as I am.

Happy birthday Megan! I hope you enjoyed reading about The Boss. Tell my son to play some Springsteen for you tonight.

Digging Through the Cut-Out Bins: My 50 Favorite Albums Forgotten by Time

A long-time friend of mine suggested a topic to me a few weeks ago. He suggested that I should do an entry about my favorite albums from a cut-out bin. I thought that was a great idea. That is, until I wanted to write about it. I have literally spent the past two days digging through my albums and CDs, scroll through my mp3s and looked all over the internet for the titles of these great pieces of work that have been lost over time.

Some of these are the albums containing a single hit song, while others are albums that were hailed back in the day of their release, only to be push aside as the years past by. Some were given hugely successful, others were given big reviews in Rolling Stone or Creem back in the day. Some were those unfortunate albums released in the aftermath of big selling albums. Some were considered to be disappointments. But, what they all share was they ended up in a cut-out bin in some record store.

Still, they all ended up in my collection, and I love ’em all! So, here’s My 50 Favorite Forgotten Albums. My list is in alphabetic album.

  1. 5th Dimension – The Magic Garden (1967). The Carpenters are getting kudos these days. Now, it’s time for the 5th Dimension to get their due for their smooth R&B.
  2. Bananarama – Deep Sea Skiving (1983). Madonna gets all the credit for making girl power/Motown-influenced pop all the rage in the ’80s. But, this trio deserves more credit for their contributions.
  3. Bangles – Different Light (1986). The Go-Go’s or Bangles? As much as I loved The Go-Go’s, Bangles are the talented lot.
  4. Bill Withers – Still Bill (1972). I’ve seen Withers described as a black Paul Simon. I thought that was a good description, until I remembered that there was a time when I thought Simon was black and Withers was white.
  5. Billy Joel – Songs from the Attic (1981). Take a bunch of songs from Joel’s early albums and record them live, the way they should be played.
  6. Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006). Every time I start missing The Band, someone puts out an album that reminds me of them. This time The Boss gave me an album that sounded just like Robbie Robertson, et. al.
  7. Cee-Lo Green – …Is the Soul Machine (2004) – This is the album that should have made Cee-Lo the star. Unfortunately, the album did not have the single like “Forget You”.
  8. Dire Straits – Love over Gold (1982). Does anyone remember Dire Straits? C’mon! They were one of the finest guitar bands of the era. And, this album sounded like a soundtrack to some unreleased movie.
  9. Doobie Brothers – What We’re Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974). Here, the Doobies began a small reign in the rock world.
  10. Electric Light Orchestra – Zoom (2001). ELO made a comeback with a terrific album that recalled the glory days, only to be unleashed on an uncaring public.
  11. Faith No More – Epic (1989). Yes, this one sold. A bundle. But, then the buyers found out the band was way more than a heavy metal band. And, that was way too much for the public that only wanted metal.
  12. Fleetwood Mac – Tusk (1979). At the time, the Mac was coming off one of the greatest albums of all time. And, they decided to retain their artistic sanity. So, this was what they released. And everyone seemed disappointed. But, if you listened to it a few more times, you would find a brilliant album that pushed the boundaries.
  13. Gladys Knight & the Pips – Imagination (1973). When an album has a hit like “Midnight Train to Georgia”, it doesn’t need much else. But, this is full of songs that made Knight and the Pips great soul singers.
  14. Haircut One Hundred – Pelican West (1982). Haircut One Hundred was a brilliant pop band that only held together long enough to give us this wonderful pop album. Check out singer Nick Heywood’s solo career for more timeless pop music.
  15. Holly & the Italians – The Right to Be Italian (1981). This is another one-hit wonder of new wave/power pop classics.
  16. Jeff Beck Group – Beck-Ola (1969). Everything that Led Zeppelin did, they stole it from the Jeff Beck Group’s debut album. This is Rod Stewart at his best.
  17. Jesse Johnson – Shockadelica (1986). The former guitarist for The Time, Prince’s proteges, actually came up with the name of his album BEFORE Prince wrote his brilliant song of the same name. When I heard this album during the heady days of his former boss’s purple reign, I thought Johnson would break free to make good on this album’s promise of a Sly Stone for the ’80s. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
  18. John Hiatt – Bring the Family (1987). This is the cult hero, and native Hoosier, released this collection of stripped down songs that he recorded with the crack line up of Ry Cooder on guitar, Nick Lowe on bass and Jim Keltner on drums. This is basic rock and roll at his post-fifties best.
  19. Journey – Departure (1980). Few remember much about Journey before their big hit Escape in 1981. But, Departure was the last album done with original keyboardist Greg Rolie and the band never sounded better. Everything else in the band’s catalog pales in comparison.
  20. Keith Whitley – I Wonder Do You Think of Me  (1989). Whitley was poised to become the next big country artist just as this whiskey-soaked album was about to be released. Unfortunately, he passed away around the release date and the album never got the push it needed to find its audience.
  21. Los Lobos – By the Light of the Moon (1987). Right before Los Lobos did their remake of Richie Valens’ hit “La Bamba”, they released this excellent album that fully showcased their whole talent and influences, from Tex Mex to rock & roll.
  22. Love – Forever Changes (1967). During the summer of love, L.A.’s original interracial rock madmen released this journey into one’s psyche. For some reason, it never found an audience, though fans of The Doors settled for a lesser version of Love’s vision.
  23. Malcolm McLaren – Duck Rock (1983). When the Sex Pistols’ former manager announced the release of his debut album, people snickered. When he said it was the sound of a punk being influenced by New York City’s hip hop sound, people were horrified. Until they heard the singles, the title song and “Buffalo Gals”, then they knew it was an early hip hop classic.
  24. MGMT – Congratulations (2010). MGMT proved on their sophomore album that they were so much more than new wave wannabes. They were new wave originals.
  25. Outkast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994). On this album, Outkast proved they were the heirs to the Parliafunkadelicment Thang sound.
  26. Paul McCartney – Flowers in the Dirt (1989). McCartney teamed with Elvis Costello to write the best McCartney album in over a decade. And, if you couple it with Costello’s Spike, we would have gotten one of the greatest albums of the ’80s, if not all time.
  27. Rainy Day – Rainy Day (1984). This one-off of a Paisley Underground supergroup (members of the Three O’Clock and Bangles and some hangers-on) created THE sound of the scene.
  28. Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones (1979). When Jones arrived on the scene in 1979 with this debut album, she was hailed as the female version of Tom Waits. And why not? She wrote songs that were similar to his in sound and point-of-view. But, they lacked the self-destructive bent Waits included.
  29. Rush – Signals (1982). Rush went all in with synthesizers on this release. And they kept their unique sound intact. Now, subsequent electronica experiments failed because they lost the humanity in their lyrics and vocals. But, here, it all works.
  30. Simply Red – A New Flame (1989). Released at the peak of the whole hair metal crap, this ode to Philly soul and the Motown sound quietly reminded those who cared about what was good about music.
  31. Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes – I Don’t Want to Go Home (1976). This is the Springsteen sound set to a horn section. At the time, Johnny & the Jukes were the only band that could match the E Street Band’s ferocity in concert.
  32. Stone Temple Pilots – Tiny Music…Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop (1996). STP were always being pigeonholed as a band without its own sound. That is, until they released this non-grunge, Beatlesque album to a tepid reception. This might be the band’s masterpiece.
  33. Ta Mara & the Seen – Ta Mara & the Seen (1985). One of the lesser known artists from Minneapolis, they rocked as well as any of them, including his Royal Purple Highness. Then, they disappeared. We barely knew ya!
  34. Television – Marquee Moon (1977). Upon the release of this album, Television was being hailed as THE band from the CBGBs scene. Unfortunately, the band’s chemistry was volatile and the blew up. But, we are left asking what could have been.
  35. The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen (1993). The first non-Seattle band on Sub Pop, Cincinnati’s Whigs were just the perfect band to follow in Nirvana’s footsteps with a hard rocking sound steeped in pop structures. Unfortunately, they never got their place in the sun where the whole grunge thing imploded upon Cobain’s suicide.
  36. The Cars – Panorama (1980). On this album, the Cars played up their Velvet Underground vibe while downplaying their bubblegum side. Most did not like it. I loved it!
  37. The Jacksons – Triumph (1980). Go put this album on now and tell me this does not sound like a run-through for Michael’s solo career.
  38. The Kinks – Low Budget (1979). The Kinks realized they were the godfathers of punk and acted like it on this album.
  39. The Police – Regatta de Blanc (1979). The Police went dark for a whole album and gave us this beautiful slice of new wave.
  40. The Replacements – Don’t Tell a Soul (1989). This is the sound of what the Replacements can do if they are sober AND focused. This a simply a fun album.
  41. The Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (1974). The title says it all! If the Stones could just stick to that mantra.
  42. The Staple Singers – Let’s Do It Again (1975). Curtis Mayfield produced this social statement of inner city blues at the height of his powers. And he used the brilliant Staple Singers to paint that picture with their unparalleled vocals.
  43. The Undisputed Truth – The Undisputed Truth (1971). Motown went psychedelic on this release.
  44. The Vaughan Brothers – Family Style (1990). What better way to put brothers Stevie Ray and Jimmie’s careers in perspective than this one-off duo. This showed their soulful side.
  45. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Southern Accents (1985). Yes, this is not a perfect Petty album. He has Damn the Torpedoes for that. But, the trip they take us on Southern Accents is much more rewarding.
  46. U2 – Zooropa (1993). In the past, U2 would follow a classic with a clunker. So, when they released this album after the sublime Achtung Baby, I was expecting the worst. Instead, they gave us more dadaist alternative rock music that pushed the whole world forward.
  47. Various Artists – Concerts for the People of Kampuchea (1981). This is what George Harrison meant to do for Bangladesh a decade earlier. On this collection, you can hear The Clash, The Who, McCartney, Costello and others whipping the crowd in a frenzy to raise money for Kampuchea. This concert set the stage for Live Aid.
  48. Various Artists – The Great White Hype Soundtrack (1996). If this album only had Wu-Tang Clan OR Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, but both? This is an overlooked hip hop classic.
  49. Various Artists – Times Square Soundtrack (1980). Yes, the movie sucked. But, there is no denying that Robert Stigwood has once again produced a wonderfully stacked offering of new wave gods. This was his best soundtrack, not Saturday Night Fever, Grease OR Sgt. Pepper. This has cuts from Talking Heads, XTC, Joe Jackson, Gary Numan and Squeeze a good year before they all started having US hits.
  50. Weezer – Weezer (“The Green Album”) (2001). This comeback album was brushed off as being crap. But after a group releases classics like The Blue Album or Pinkerton, it is difficult to live up to that, but Weezer did.

Let me know how many you are familiar with. Here are some of the albums that did not make the final list: Foreigner – Head Games; Bobby Womack – Understanding; Grace Jones – Nightclubbing; Jackson Browne – Hold Out; The Hudson Brothers – Hollywood Situation; Styx – Crystal Ball; Rod Stewart – A Night on the Town; Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak; Game Theory – The Big Shot Chronicles; Phil Collins – Hello, I Must Be Going!

Anyone else have suggestions? Leave in the comment section. See you tomorrow! Peace out!

Welcome to Rock & Roll Heaven Walter Becker

During the Spring of 1973, I was finishing up my fourth grade year in school. I am not sure if I was precocious or just a pain in the butt to the older kids in the neighborhood, but I was constantly picked to play basketball with those high school kids. Sure, I got roughed up, but I was finding that I could get my shot off against the bigger kids. Plus, I could dribble so well that I could make myself difficult to guard off the dribble. And, I know those guys were not holding back by the number of times I would make the cuss when I made someone look bad with a no look pass here or a behind-the-back dribble there. But, that was NOT the important thing about playing hoops with high school boys at such a young age. Nope, there were two other things: great rock music and high school girls.

Sure, I was only ten, but I knew a good-looking girl when I saw one, and those guys attracted them by the car loads. After a while, I got to know the girls, and I could impress my buddies whenever one of them would see me away from those driveway courts and say “Hi!” to me. Yes, it was an advantage to have “friends” who were older. But, in addition to the young ladies, I learn much about rock music that summer from all those older teens. They would play the Doobie Brothers, Seals & Croft, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple and Elton John, among many others. From them I also learned that the cool radio stations were on the FM dial or AM Chicago stations at night.

Yet, the biggest thing I learn about with those guys was Steely Dan. That band had debuted the year before with the album Can’t Buy a Thrill. Those guys would tell me that chicks loved the Dan, and laugh while giving themselves five. Me? I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but I made a mental note about Steely Dan. Now, at the time that Spring of 1974, I was hooked by the soaring guitar played during the Steely Dan classic “Reelin’ in the Years”. That song was brilliant to me for not just one awesome solo during the song, but three of them! I was hooked by Steely Dan through that one song; however, the hook was fleeting, because I did not understand much of those others songs that were as smooth as any R&B and sophisticated as any jazz song, but it was totally rooted in rock and roll.

Well, one of the creative minds of Steely Dan, bassist Walter Becker, passed away over the weekend to the shock of many. I was totally caught off guard, but I was also happy knowing of all the enjoyable times I have had over the years with Steely Dan’s music in the background. They made the perfect music, in that it was smooth and sophisticated as stated earlier, so it made for excellent music over which you could talk with people or romantic enough that it made for good make out music during those single years. But, if you wanted to take the Dan’s music on a deeper level just read the lyrics sheet. Those lyrics will make sly references to other bands and artists, as well as some of the most sexually risque lyrics this side of Prince. But, the key in the band getting away with those lyrics was the smooth, deadpan vocal delivery of Donald Fagin and the smooth, nearly jazz musical landscape to which those lyrics are set.

When Becker and Fagin first began to form bands, their drummer was Chevy Chase. That’s right! The very same Chevy Chase who hit the big time as a Not Ready for Prime Time Player in the original cast of Saturday Night Live. But, as the duo’s musical ambitions grew, so did their need to find the best musicians available. And, although that first album contained an actual set line-up, subsequent releases were simply Becker and Fagin leading some of Los Angeles’ top session musicians through the recording of their music. By the time the band, whose name came from the name of an oversized, steam-powered name “Steely Dan III from Yokohama” from the book Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. As you can see, the band was little off-kilter from the start.

By 1977 and 1978, Steely Dan reached their commercial and artistic peak with the sublime Aja album. That album yielded four Top 40 hits in the title song, “Peg”, “Josie” and “Deacon Blues”. But, all of the songs from that album are Classic Rock standards today. It was during this “hot streak” that Becker and Fagin recorded the theme song to a little-known movie with an outstanding classic rock soundtrack. The movie was FM, and the hit song was “FM (No Static at All)”. Both the song and movie were an ode to the free-form radio formats of the late-Sixties and early-Seventies that had been found on the FM bandwidth that were quickly being changed into the radio we hear today with tightened playlists that make it seem as though one can hear “Free Bird” every day at 9 PM on your favorite classic rock station.

Steely Dan will be one of those unique aberrations in rock history. Unfortunately, few artists have the guts to move in the direction of Steely Dan’s wake. I have yet to hear them. Most artists that move to an avant-garde beat attempt to emulate Captain Beefheart’s noise-based blues or Frank Zappa’s classical musical freak-outs. But no one attempts the rock/R&B/jazz triumvirate that Steely Dan perfected.

Walter Becker, I’m certain that your family will miss you more than the fans of your music, which is only proper. But, I will miss your vision and courage to try to fulfill that vision in the field of rock music. Thank you for a lifetime of great memories, and may you find peace in the eternity. May Steely Dan live forever!

The Big Pay-Off: My Top 20 Favorite Alternative Songs of the Aughts

As I begin this last post about my favorite alternative songs throughout history, a large part of me feels nothing but relief. Relief that this demon has be exorcised, so to speak. Some days it is so very easy to write this thing, and others it feels as though I literally have run out of things to say. And, to be honest, writing is beginning to take the place that sports held for me in my life. In my pre-Failed Back Surgery Syndrome days, I went to play basketball to compete, not just exercise. And when I ran, I was competing with myself. I loved competition because it made me feel alive and at one with the world.

But, now, my body fails me. So, I have been on a search for a replacement. Now, does writing have a feeling like competition? No. Not at all. But, there is something about it that helps me keep the darkness from swallowing me whole. Thus, I am beginning to switch from competition to this thing called writing. And, I prefer not to write much about this chronic pain thing I have. I prefer to turn to music, something that helped me through some terrible times over the years to find the good in the world.

And, I feel that all good art does that: converts the pain of the artist into the collective release of pain to his/her audience. At least, that’s what rock music has done for me. So, I celebrate this release by listening to it (even though I think the volume is catching up to me in my left ear – thanks Brian May and Anne Wilson for your concerts!). So, let’s celebrate these relatively new artists and their outstanding songs from the latest complete decade that we have lived through.

As the prophet Casey Kasem once would say, “The numbers get smaller, but the hits get larger. Now, back to the countdown!” Here’s my Top 20 Favorite Alternative Songs of the 2000s.

9.1 Daft Punk_OneMoreTime

1. Daft Punk – “One More Time” (2001). That’s right! Here’s a surprise for you! I still love disco, especially when it’s done well, like Daft Punk did here. I thought for a moment that I was back in the late Seventies when I first heard this song.

9.1 My Morning Jacket - I'm_Amazed

2. My Morning Jacket – “I’m Amazed” (2008). I long thought MMJ would become the 21st century version of The Band. But, after this great song and the album from which it comes, Evil Urges, they are something more. Something like a modern Grateful Dead/Prince/Talking Heads/Phish amalgamation. In other words, something I totally dig.

9.1 m.i.a. - paper planes

3. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes” (2007). Seriously, who bases a smash hit song on The Clash’s funk-punk freak-out from Combat Rock “Straight to Hell”? Well, M.I.A. did, along with the innovative use of cash register and gun shot sound effects as hooks. I heard this song blaring from students’ cars in the school parking lot for the better part of a year. That says something.

9.1 Modest_Mouse-Float_on-_album_cover

4. Modest Mouse – “Float On” (2004). I always love it when a long-time underground band has a hit song, because that song usually lives on forever, much like this song does. And, no, it has NOTHING to do with that soul hit from 1977 by The Floaters.

9.1 jimmy eat world - the middle

5. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle” (2001). This song, along with Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacey’s Mom” are the power pop anthems of the decade. Need I say more?

6. U2 – “Beautiful Day” (2000). As the new millennium rolled around, U2 rediscovered their youthful enthusiasm and came up with another timeless anthem.

7. Johnny Cash – “Hurt” (2002). What Seventy-something take a Nine Inch Nails song and make it own, and an alternative standard as well? If that person is Johnny Cash, nothing is impossible. This is Cash’s last testament to his talent and genius. Every musician should go out this way.

8. The Strokes – “Last Nite” (2001). For a brief time at the beginning of the Aughts, the NYC music scene was alive again, like it was 1977 again. And, The Strokes were leading the way. Then, the whole thing was over quicker than the lights came back on during the NYC blackout in the Seventies.

9. MGMT – “Kids” (2007). No band sounded like they were having fun as much as MGMT did on their debut album, from which “Kids”, their best song, comes. Their recipe was a little alternative music here, some punk there, throw in a little disco, and some synth-pop and new wave. Cook for three to four minutes. And, presto! MGMT gave us “Kids”.

10. Cheap Trick – “Sick Man of Europe” (2009). C’mon Keller! Who are you kidding?!?! Cheap Trick? That’s right! The band rediscovered their inner-garage band/punk rock band to create one of their greatest songs. If you don’t believe ask Little Steven Van Zandt.

11. Arcade Fire – “Wake Up” (2004). I think this band may never live up to the potential of this anthem, but who cares? Dan Patrick uses it every Friday coming out of his last break to pump up everyone for the weekend.

12. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire” (2008). For a moment in time, KOL seemed like the saviors of rock music. I was wrong, but this song reminds of that though every time I hear it.

13. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside” (2004). I miss The Cars. But, The Killers helped on that count a couple of times, such as this song.

14. Gnarls Barkley – “Crazy” (2006). THE song of 2006, it was nearly everywhere. I heard it on all radio formats except for Country and Classic Rock, though it does belong in the latter now.

15. Bob Dylan – “Mississippi” (2001). What’s with all the older artists on this countdown? Well, it proves that old-timers were the talented ones who were timeless. Will we be able to say that about the others on this list. Probably not!

16. Ryan Adams – “To Be Young” (2000). I still hold on to the hope that Adams will become this generation’s Neil Young, like he seemed destined to become when this song was released.

17. Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out” (2004). Franz Ferdinand woke up the sleeping giant of Duran Duran with this song. D-squared has since recorded three of their better albums since “Take Me Out” was released to remind everyone that we need teen idols who rock. Too bad FF weren’t those idols.

18. Pearl Jam – “Just Breathe” (2009). The Nineties alternative gods return to top form on this song, and there’s nothing better than Pearl Jam when they are focused.

19. Crazy Town – “Butterfly” (2001). These one-hit-wonders took an obscure Red Hot Chili Peppers’ riff and created a whole new haunting funk-rock song in the process. The song still gives me chills to this very day.

20. The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army” (2003). This song contains THE guitar riff of the Aughts. The song is everywhere now. You can hear it at sporting arenas. College and high school bands are playing it at football and basketball games. Hell, even the crowds will chant the riff in an attempt to rally their team. It is timeless, but I knocked it down a few notches because it is so ubiquitous.

And there you have it, friends! That wraps up my favorite alternative rock songs throughout the decades. From the garage bands playing proto-punk in the Sixties to today’s indie rock bands, alternative music will live on, evolving into a viable music.