Without a Doubt, Raspberries’ ‘Pop Art Live’ Is My Favorite Special Release of 2017

12.28 raspberries - pop art live

Howdy folks! I know I said that I would not be back here for the rest of 2017, but I did not expect to receive an awesome Christmas from my long-time buddy Bondo. Back on Black Friday Record Store Day, I had called him to see if he could find the new Cheap Trick Christmas album that had been released on vinyl for that special day. My record store had only received one copy, and some young lady had pilfered the copy before I could get my hands on it. Of course, the whole situation was quite assuming to my two adult boys. Anyway, Bondo, who is always up for these kind of escapades, kindly visited his local record store and picked up a copy of said Yuletide Cheap Trick album. But, while on the phone, Bondo asked me if I bought a copy of the Raspberries’ vinyl version their Pop Art Live CD that I loved so much. I told him that it was too expensive for my pocketbook. So, unbeknownst to me, he purchased a copy of the album for me.

12.28 pop art live advert

So, when I opened the package Bondo sent me, I was totally expecting to find my vinyl copy of Cheap Trick’s Christmas Christmas album. And, when I looked closely, I noticed a second vinyl album wrapped in bubble wrap with Cheap Trick. When I separated the two albums, much to my surprise was a triple 180g colored vinyl album version of my beloved Raspberries’ Pop Art Live. Now, the vinyl album contains two extra songs not found on the CD version, plus the songs are in a completely different order than they were on the double CD release. Now, instead of the CD ending with the band’s biggest hit song, “Go All the Way”, the album ends with the two songs unavailable on the CD version, “Drivin’ Around/Cruisin’ Music” and “I Don’t Know What I Want”. Each record is a different color, as each side holds five songs. Record A is translucent red vinyl, Record B is translucent blue vinyl, and Record C is translucent orange vinyl, though it was advertised as being yellow.

Both the CD and vinyl versions were released by Omnivore Recordings, a record company who has built its reputation by releasing excellent music by critically-acclaimed artists who were not the biggest sellers on the planet. The company has taken much care with each and every released that I have purchased, such as their brilliant triple-double album set commemorating Big Star’s Third album, in addition to others.

12.28 raspberries in concert

Now, this Raspberries vinyl version of Pop Art Live is a revelation when compared to the CD version. Now, I am discovering the power pop forefather band not only prospered from the excellent songwriting of frontman Eric Carmen, this band is not short of excellent musicians. But, it is their undoctored vocal harmonies that most jumps out at me. It’s as though this band has copped the live playing ability of the latter-day Beatles and combined it with Beach Boys- or Hollies-like harmonies, the reckless rocking abandon of early The Who and the terrific pop songsmiths of the Beatles or Motown. The world really missed out on a talented band when they ignored the Raspberries between 1972 and 1974.

If you listen to this live album, their influence on such seminal power poppers as The Knack, Cheap Trick, Jellyfish, Material Issue and the Velvet Crush becomes clearer upon multiple listens. In the live setting, the band’s songs not have that magical pop that may have been missing a bit in their studio albums from the Seventies. Sure, the subject matter is strictly for the teen-angst sufferers and survivors alike, but it is the depth at which Carmen attacks the lyrics that separates the Raspberries from the other so-called teen idols of the Seventies like David Cassidy and Donnie Osmond. Once again, this is due to the brilliant literary mind of Eric Carmen. And whenever one of the other band members, such as “classic lineup” Raspberries Wally Bryson (lead guitar and vocals), David Smalley (bass and vocals) and Jim Bonfanti (drums), or latter-day members like Scott McCarl (guitar and vocals) and Michael McBride (drums), becomes involved in the songwriting, the band never misfires. Every one of their songs sounds as if they were written during the classic days of the Sixties.

12.28 raspberries - pop art live back cover

Raspberries, unfortunately, arrived on the scene when it was cool to be a rock band with the ability to extend their playing to new-found lengths and improvised heights. Today, many of those bands would be lumped with Phish into a category known as the jam bands. From Skynyrd to Zeppelin, Allmans to Zappa, everyone was jamming back then. Then, slowly, these artists who were more taken with the pop sounds of mid-Sixties artists like The Beatles, the Hollies, Beach Boys, The Who and The Kinks, to list a few, began to take their favorite aspects of each band and mixing those attributes from each band into their own sounds. And, thus the beginnings of the sound of Power Pop, of which Raspberries were one of the first practitioners.

On Pop Art Live, Raspberries deftly intersperse cover versions of songs by The Beatles (“No Reply” and “Ticket to Ride”) and The Who (“I Can’t Explain”) with their own originals with nary a drop in the quality of the basic songwriting. And, never once, while listening to all six sides of music did I ever bore. The energy level of the band was maintained at a level that most twenty-somethings would have difficulty. Let’s just say that the four members of Raspberries have ripened individually, as well as a unit, even though the band had taken a thirty-year break.

12.28 raspberries back in the 70s

Now that I have played this album several times in the past couple of weeks, I hope the Raspberries will re-form in order to create some new music. Who cares if the public buys it! Hell, few did back in their heyday. But, at least I now have their definitive version of their last hit song “Overnite Sensation (Hit Record)”. Sure, that plea has been unfulfilled for now over 40 years, but at least the band could show the up and coming Power Pop bands what a REAL Power Pop band sounds like.

If this is the last gasp of a once great band, then Pop Art Live will stand the test of time as an excellent introduction to the world of Raspberries.

Here’s 50 Christmas Albums That I Think Are a Delight!

12.21 Dr. Demento Christmas

Despite the events of the past six weeks or so, I still feel as though I have lived a blessed life. Even though I complain often about the current attack on intelligence here in the States and a lack of regards to what an inflexible definition there is for the word “fact”, I did receive a “Golden Ticket” to have been born in Western Culture. Where else could I spend my time writing about the seemingly trivial matters in the world of rock & roll. Yet, if it were not for this beautiful thing called rock & roll, I do not know about which topic I would have spent hours learning: track, basketball, microbiology? I would have been interesting to picture a world without rock music. But, I am so thankful that I did not grow up in that culture.

12.21 A_Christmas_Gift_For_You_From_Philles_Records_cover

Today, I am giving in to my other Christmas obsession, and that is the Christmas album. Now, anyone can write a single song about Christmas. Ask The Royal Guardsmen. In the mid-Sixties, that band scored a hit with their song “Snoopy vs. The Red Barron”. Yet, few probably remember that song. But, if you hear “Snoopy’s Christmas” during the Yuletide season, you are hearing that band’s one truly enduring hit song. As a songwriter back in the immediate post-World War II era of 1945 through 1970, those people knew that if they could write a Christmas hit song, that one song will make them some money EVERY year during the month of December. So, songwriters put a premium on Christmas music because that song would put money in their pockets each year afterwards.

12.21 A Very Special Christmas

Then, the cynical Seventies rolled around, and Christmas music was considered “uncool” and childish. And, unfortunately, that attitude was prevalent for nearly two decades. That is, until 1984, when the Feed Africa project “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by the one-off supergroup Band Aid produced a lasting song, along with Wham!’s big hit Christmas song from the same year “Last Christmas”. After those two landmark Christmas songs, the floodgates reopened. The final indication that Christmas music was cool again happened in 1987, when super-producer Jimmy Iovine asked several of the best artists at that moment to record a Christmas song for a compilation he was putting together to raise money for the Special Olympics with the now-classic album A Very Special Christmas. Unfortunately, that album relied on new versions of old Christmas songs, with nothing new to add to the cannon. Yet, the album sold and spawned a whole series of albums that presently stands at nine albums.

12.21 Mariah Carey - Merry Christmas

I got hooked on one particular Christmas album back in the Sixties when I was a wee lad at the babysitter’s house. During the days leading up to Christmas, she would play Christmas music for us kids. But, when she played The Ventures’ Christmas Album, I fell for that album hard. I totally loved how this surf guitar group would begin each Christmas song with the guitar lick from a popular rock song of the day. It was so cool to me to hear “I Feel Fine” sharing with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Tequila” and “Walk Don’t Run” mashed with “Frosty the Snowman”. When I finally got my own copy of that album, I played the hell out of it, playing it day or night, 12 months a year.

12.21 cheap trick christmas christmas

So, today, may I present, in alphabetical order by artist, my 50 Favorite Christmas Albums of All Time. I hope you will find some your favorites in my list, as well as possibly piquing your interest for some other expressions of your Yuletide happiness.

  1. Ariana Grande – Christmas & Chill (2015). This EP is an interesting artistic turn for this teen star.
  2. Band of Merrymakers – Welcome to Our Christmas Party (2016). These power pop all-stars made one helluva Christmas album.
  3. Bob Dylan – Christmas in the Heart (2009). This works better than you would think.
  4. Boyz II Men – Christmas Interpretations (1993). Even Santa loves to slow dance with Mrs. Claus.
  5. Cee Lo Green – Magic Moment (2012). I cannot believe that this album is NOT a modern day Christmas classic. Don’t be scared! Jump on the bandwagon.
  6. Cheap Trick – Christmas Christmas (2017). At first, I hated it. But, now, it’s my favorite Christmas album of 2017.
  7. Chicago – Chicago 25: The Christmas Album (1998). Chicago was really created to make this album.
  8. Darlene Love – It’s Christmas, Of Course (2009). THE star of Phil Spector’s coterie of singers makes her own Christmas album…finally! She was David Letterman’s favorite Christmas singer.
  9. Daryl Hall & John Oates – Home for Christmas (2006). Hall & Oates made a great Christmas album that has their sound running throughout.
  10. David Crowder* Band – Oh for Joy (2011). My favorite Christian rock band made one great Christmas EP.
  11. Dwight Twilley – Have a Twilley Christmas (2008). The power popper of the Seventies and Eighties scored a great Christmas album.
  12. Elvis Presley – Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957). Elvis’ first Christmas album is still his best.
  13. Gwen Stefani – You Make It Feel like Christmas (2017). Sure, I am tired of the whole Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani show. But, this album does have a couple cool originals.
  14. Hanson – Finally It’s Christmas (2017). Please, don’t write these guys off as teeny bopper has-beens. They are becoming one of their generation’s finest power pop bands, and this album proves my point.
  15. Jacob Miller – Natty Christmas (1978). Want an album of reggae Christmas tunes with overt ganja references? This is your album.
  16. James Brown – Funky Christmas (1995). The Godfather of Soul released several Christmas albums, and this is a compilation of them. And, this album has all the funk one needs for Christmas.
  17. Johnny Cash – Christmas with Johnny Cash (2003). The Man in Black could sure sing Christmas carols too.
  18. Kacey Musgraves – A Very Kacey Christmas (2016). This is one of the funnest Christmas albums of the 21st century.
  19. Kylie Minogue – Kylie Christmas (2013). I love Kylie Minogue, and she is suited for the Yuletide season.
  20. Lisa Mychols – Lost Winter’s Dream (1992). This album is a power pop classic, that also happens to be a Christmas classic.
  21. Mariah Carey – Merry Christmas (1994). What can I say? Except, Mariah looks so young on the cover.
  22. Merle Haggard – Hag’s Christmas (1973). Want some realism in your Christmas music? Put this one on your turntable.
  23. R. Kelly – 12 Nights of Christmas (2016). Yep, it is just what you thought it would be. Next!
  24. Ray Charles – The Spirit of Christmas (1985). You gotta have some Brother Ray for Christmas.
  25. Relient K – Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer (2007). This Christian pop punk band actually made a fun Christmas album.
  26. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – It’s a Holiday Soul Party (2015). We just lost this “last of the great soul singers” recently, but she left us with this soul/funk party album so we could dance around the Christmas tree.
  27. She & Him – Christmas Party (2016). Ironically titled, this duo has made a great moody Christmas album.
  28. Sia – Everyday Is Christmas (2017). Everyone’s current weirdo pop singer has recorded mostly new songs for her first, highly anticipated Christmas album. And, it nearly rises to the hype.
  29. South Park – Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics (1999). Yes, this is a classic!
  30. Sufjan Stevens – Silver & Gold (2012). For his relatives, Sufjan Stevens recorded an EP of Christmas tunes as gifts. Then, he decided to release those EPs in two collections of five. And, this neo-folkie hit the jackpot with these two collections.
  31. Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas (2006). See #30. This is the better collection, I might add.
  32. The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964). It shouldn’t surprise you that the Beach Boys made one great Christmas album. Everything they did back then was great.
  33. The dB’s & Friends – Christmas Time Again (2006). Power pop aces, The dB’s, gathered power pop versions of Christmas songs and originals from the friends, like Marshall Crenshaw and Alex Chilton, and released this great compilation. Power pop and Christmas music are the perfect mix, in my opinion.
  34. The Grip Weeds – Under the Influence of Christmas (2011). Another power pop group makes a great Christmas album.
  35. The Smithereens – Christmas with The Smithereens (2007). We just lost the lead singer of The Smithereens within the past week. But, their Christmas album always makes me smile. You can comfortably place this album with the rest of the band’s catalog without embarrassment.
  36. The Ventures – The Ventures’ Christmas Album (1965). Read the article and you’ll know how I feel about this album.
  37. Various Artists – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (1963). Unquestionably the greatest Christmas album of all time.
  38. Various Artists – A Motown Christmas (1972). This might be the second best Christmas album ever, as the best songs from Motown’s best artists’ Christmas albums are collected on this double-album classic.
  39. Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas (1987). This album woke up Generation X to the greatness of good Christmas music.
  40. Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas 2 (1992). The second album in this series is nearly up to the quality of the first one. Except, this one has a Tom Petty original Christmas classic!
  41. Various Artists – Christmas on Death Row (1997). Want some Nineties Christmas rap? Well, you came to the right place.
  42. Various Artists – Christmas Rap (1987). The first Christmas rap compilation that I could find to a terrific ode not only to the holiday season but to Eighties rap as well.
  43. Various Artists – Demento Presents the Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time (1989). A Dr. Demento collection is a must! Where else could you find Christmas comedy classics by Cheech & Chong, the Singing Dogs, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Bob & Doug McKenzie, and so many other Christmas comedy classics.
  44. Various Artists – Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Xmas (1996). Take the best Christmas songs recorded during the height of New Wave by the genre’s best artists and you have a great Yuletide classic.
  45. Various Artists – NOW That’s What I Call Christmas [3 CDs] (2013). The British versions of the NOW album series make the best compilations of Christmas music. These compilations are almost the only albums you need.
  46. Various Artists – The Christmas Rock Album (1986). I discovered this album at a record store in December 1987, and it has been a great find ever since. What with Elton John’s “Step into Christmas” and Billy Squier’s “Christmas Is the Time to Say ‘I Love You'”, the rest of the album is just icing on the cake.
  47. Various Artists – Yuletunes (1991). Yet, another classic power pop compilation, with Bill Lloyd and Material Issue, leading the way on this one.
  48. Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). What else can I possibly say about this soundtrack of minimal jazz to one of TV’s greatest animated Christmas specials of all time?
  49. Weezer – Christmas with Weezer (2008). Yes, Weezer really did release a Christmas album, and it’s a dandy.
  50. Willie Nelson – Pretty Paper (1979). Willie Nelson’s natural mix of bewilderment and cynicism works perfectly with the great material he chose for this album. This was made when Willie was at the height of his powers, and it shows.

Yes, 50 Christmas albums are a bit much. But, they will make for a great, well-rounded view of Christmas. I do want to mention three more Christmas albums that are worth owning that did not make by Top 50. They are MercyMe’s The Christmas Sessions, Third Day’s Christmas Offerings Collection, and a compilation of contemporary Christian artists from 1991 entitled Our Christmas, which has recordings by Amy Grant, Sandi Patty and Al Green, among others. Those three each transcend the contemporary Christian moniker and could easily have taken a spot in my Top 50 countdown. Simply put, I wanted you to know about them as well.

12.18 Christmas-Rap-1987

And, there you have it. There really are 50 Christmas Albums worth owning. You can use me as a recommendation for these Christmas albums. And, then again, if you think they suck, you can blame me too. I just won’t pay you back if you hate the album. I recommend them, not buy them for you. See you in the new year! I thought I’d take the rest of the year off. Merry Christmas to all! And to all, reduced hearing in your left ear, as I am developing. Peace!

The Top 40 Christmas Songs That Made Me a Man, 1963-1983

12.20 the boss snl 2015
To me, there is nothing like seeing The Boss perform “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”, like I did in Indianapolis back in 1985. This photo is from the SNL Christmas show in 2015.

Yes, that headline is sarcasm, as I roll my eyes at the thought of needing to explain this blog entry. I thought I had cleaned up all of my dogs’ solid waste materials in our neighbors’ yards this morning. And, now I am placing it on the net?

12.20 hall and oates christmas
Daryl Hall & John Oates and their crack band filmed one of the greatest Christmas song videos of all time. Parody and Sarcasm were the top words for the video.

During the discourse of yesterday’s “brilliant” blog entry, I told you that I had something of an epiphany while watching a mid-Seventies Christmas episode of American Bandstand and being blown away by an original Christmas song by Elton John, called “Step into Christmas”, which is now ubiquitous. But, it was at that moment that I discovered a pop music niche of yuletide delights. While I did have trouble finding this contemporary Christmas music in the States at the time, I have been trying to make up for lost time during the months of November and December in my attempt to make a very small contemporary Christmas music collection.

12.20 Crosby and Bowie
This 1977 Christmas Special of Bing’s signified my grandfather’s favorite singer performing with one of my favorite, David Bowie, in 1977.

Shortly after my holiday discovery, I uncovered a second piece of information in my budding focus on this new yuletide celebration – musicians take great pride in having the number one single during the Christmas season in Great Britain. Now, why was that important? Well, I was a teenager during the cynical mid-Seventies to mid-Eighties, which meant here in the USA meant our artists thought it was so uncool to record Christmas music. So, outside of some country artists, the US was not producing much in Holiday music. But, they were in the UK! So, I would write down every UK Christmas hit song from the years of 1975 through 1984 and have been searching for them to this very day. So, I must extend a big “Thank you!” to my favorite British artists could kept this method of celebrating the holiday season current.

12.20 Bob & Doug Christmas
I hope no one has forgotten Bob & Doug McKenzie during their version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” which I first saw on SCTV back in 1981.

As the Seventies gave way to the Eighties, Christmas music found a home with the burgeoning New Wave and Hip Hop scenes popping up throughout the world. Now, music that was once denigrated as being lightweight or garbage was being embraced by the artists of these new musical genres. Sure, some the early Christmas music by these artists were recorded with their tongues firmly planted inside their cheeks. But, as sales increased, so did the solid quality of these new and covered Christmas songs. Dan Fogelberg gave us his transcendent “Same Old Lang Syne” while Kenny Loggins gave us his finest song to date, “Celebrate Me Home”. And while these songs never really mentioned the holiday itself, both did described fresh emotions being felt by millions of teens. And, that released the holiday genie who has never been put back into his bottle.

12.20 billy squier christmas is the time
Billy Squier performing on this new channel called MTV back in 1981. This became the video for his song “Christmas Is the Time to Say ‘I Love You'”.

As of this date in 2017, disparate artists such as Rob Halford, Sting, Twisted Sister, Billy Idol, REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, Gwen Stefani, Sia, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Jim Jones and many others have released Christmas albums and singles. And, now, there are so many compilations that I know of collectors who will purchase a multi-artist release just to obtain that ONE elusive song. And, while I have not gotten that bad, I definitely see the day during which I will succumb to that temptation. Until the, I will stick with my favorite artists’ Christmas releases and some of those special compilations that hold a large number of songs not in my physical collection.

12.20 elton john christmas
I DID step into Christmas with this guy, which jump-started this whole damn obsession. Thanks Elton!

Today, I would like to honor those Christmas songs that nourished my holiday celebrations as I grew to be the man I am now. This is my Top 40 Christmas songs of the first 20 years of my life. Some of these songs my old neighbors can attest to them actually being played on my porch during the dog days of those summer months. I guess I was practicing “Christmas in July” before I ever really remember hearing that phrase. What’s a kid to do?

12.20 waitresses christmas
New Wave entered the yuletide celebration with The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping”

Here’s my list of Christmas songs from my first 20 years of Christmases in alphabetical order. Enjoy!

Christmas of My Teens

  1. Alabama – “Christmas in Dixie” (1982)
  2. Billy Squier – “Christmas Is the Day to Say ‘I Love You’” (1981)
  3. Bing Crosby – “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (1963)
  4. Bing Crosby & David Bowie – “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” (1977)
  5. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (1981)
  6. Bruce Springsteen – “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (1975)
  7. Buck Owens – “Daddy Looked a Lot like Santa” (1965)
  8. Carpenters – “Merry Christmas Darling” (1970)
  9. Cheech & Chong – “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” (1971)
  10. Clarence Carter – “Back Door Santa” (1968)
  11. Dan Fogelberg – “Same Old Lang Syne” (1980)
  12. Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (1963)
  13. Daryl Hall & John Oates – “Jingle Bell Rock” (1980)
  14. Dolly Parton – “Hard Candy Christmas” (1982)
  15. Donny Hathaway – “This Christmas” (1970)
  16. Eagles – “Please Come Home for Christmas” (1978)
  17. Elmo & Patsy – “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (1979)
  18. Elton John – “Step into Christmas” (1973)
  19. Emmylou Harris – “Light of the Stable” (1975)
  20. George Thorogood & the Destroyers – “Rock & Roll Christmas” (1983)
  21. Greg Lake – “I Believe in Father Christmas” (1975)
  22. John Lennon & Yoko Ono – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (1970)
  23. Kenny Loggins – “Celebrate Me Home” (1977)
  24. Kurtis Blow – “Christmas Rappin’” (1980)
  25. Merle Haggard – “If We Make It Through December” (1973)
  26. Paul McCartney – “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979)
  27. Pretenders – “2000 Miles” (1983)
  28. Ray Parker Jr. – “Christmas Time Is Here” (1982)
  29. Slade – “Merry Xmas Everybody” (1973)
  30. Stevie Wonder – “Someday at Christmas” (1967)
  31. Stevie Wonder – “What Christmas Means to Me” (1967)
  32. The Band – “Christmas Must Be Tonight” (1977)
  33. The Beach Boys – “Little Saint Nick” (1964)
  34. The Beach Boys – “The Man with All the Toys” (1964)
  35. The Jackson 5 – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (1970)
  36. The Kinks – “Father Christmas” (1977)
  37. The Ronettes – “Sleigh Ride” (1963)
  38. The Royal Guardsmen – “Snoopy’s Christmas” (1967)
  39. The Waitresses – “Christmas Wrapping” (1981)
  40. Wizzard – “I Wish Everyday Could Be Christmas” (1973)

Remember any of these? Some of them may be annoying to you, possibly all of them. But, to the Christmas fanatics out there who are my age, these were our Merry Christmas reminders. Kick out the Jams, Santa Claus!

Christmas Music According Ryan Seacrest 2017

12.19 kylie-minogue-christmas-santa-holiday
Kylie Minogue

Wait a second! Christmas will be here in six days?!?! Are you frickin’ kidding me? Seriously! THE holiday of all holidays will be here in less than a week. And, while I have been working on my Christmas music collection since October 1, as I always do, the tragedies of the past month have tampered with my perception of time.

12.19 Cee-lo-all-i-need-is-love

Now, do you catch that I have been working on my Christmas music collection? That’s right, I am one of those rare weirdos that loves to collect digital files of Christmas music, particularly those recorded since 1970. Ever since I heard Elton John’s “Step into Christmas” back in 1974 or 1975 on American Bandstand, I have been intrigued by contemporary artists covering Christmas standards or recording their own originals. A couple of years ago, on a Black Friday Record Store Day, I purchased the documentary about the collectors of Christmas music called Jingle Bell Rocks! While watching it, I discovered that I was NOT the only weirdo who, in much more modest standards, had a Christmas music collection. Famous people in the movie who all have vast Christmas music collections include off-beat movie director John Waters, leader of indie pop greats The Flaming Lips Wayne Coyne and hip hop legend Joseph “Run” Simmons of Run-DMC.

12.19 katy perry christmas
Katy Perry

Thus far, my collection is small, very small, in fact, when compared to the massive collections of some depicted in the movie. Thus far, my collection tends to be mp3s. Still, I have amassed a nice collection. Christmas music seems to be a nice month-long diversion from the pop rock I listen to. Sure, much of the versions of “Have a Merry Little Christmas” are lame. Punk versions of these yuletide hits tend to be pretentious, which is counter intuitive since the punks were supposed to be keeping it real. On the other hand, pop and power pop artist consistently create the better versions of contemporary Christmas songs.

Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a 23-year dry spell for Christmas songs becoming big hits. The last big pop hit that was a Christmas song was Mariah Carey’s transcendent “All I Want for Christmas for You”. The song is so well-written that versions recorded by punk, alternative, metal and rap artists have all made very interesting covers. On the other hand, I think radio’s use of extremely small playlists are squeezing some would-be new Christmas standards from getting any airplay. Some great recent songs have been recorded recently by the likes of Cee Lo Green, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Leona Lewis, fun. and Fetty Wap. Yet, few have heard these songs, any of which would have made excellent new Yuletide standards. Then again, it did take 25 years before we started regularly hearing Vince Vance & the Valiants’ “All I Want for Christmas”. And, that song was released in 1989!

12.19 gwen-stefani-santa-baby
Gwen Stefani

Anyway, I have made a playlist of some of my favorite pop-oriented Christmas songs released primarily during the 2010s with a couple of older songs from the Aughties. Here are my Christmas 2017 pop playlist.

Christmas 2017: Christmas According to Ryan Seacrest

  1. Ariana Grande – “Santa Tell Me” (2013)
  2. Band Aid 30 – “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (2014)
  3. Bebe Rexha – “Count on Christmas” (2017)
  4. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Last Christmas” (2015)
  5. Cee Lo Green feat. The Muppets – “All I Need Is Love” (2012)
  6. Colbie Caillat feat. Gavin DeGraw – “Christmas in the Sand” (2012)
  7. Fetty Wap feat. Monty – “Merry Xmas” (2015)
  8. fun. – “Sleigh Ride” (2012)
  9. Girls Aloud – “Not Tonight Santa” (2005)
  10. Gwen Stefani feat. Blake Shelton – “You Make It Feel like Christmas” (2017)
  11. Justin Bieber – “Mistletoe” (2011)
  12. Katy Perry – “Everyday Is a Holiday” (2015)
  13. Kelly Clarkson – “Christmas Eve” (2017)
  14. Kylie Minogue – “Every Day’s like Christmas” (2015)
  15. Lady Gaga feat. Space Cowboy – “Christmas Tree” (2008)
  16. Liz Phair – “Ho Ho Ho” (2014)
  17. Mariah Carey – “Oh Santa!” (2010)
  18. Neon Trees – “Wish List” (2012)
  19. Oh, Hush! – “Disco Christmas” (2009)
  20. OneRepublic – “Christmas Without You” (2012)
  21. Sam Smith – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (2014)
  22. The Cheetah Girls – “The Perfect Christmas (2005)
  23. The Regrettes – “Marshmallow World” (2016)
  24. Tuxedo – “Wonderful Christmastime” (2014)
  25. Wonder Girls – “Best Christmas Ever” (2012)

There you have it! My list of some my favorite pop Christmas songs that have been released in the past decade or so. Check ’em out!

Christmas 2017: Christmas in da Ghetto

12.18 run-DMC Christmas_in_Hollis

Merry Christmas Everybody! Wow, I inadvertently quoted Slade. I guess I could have done worse. Sorry about the abrupt temporary break I took from writing this blog last week. You see, the past couple of months have held the deaths of three people in my life, both past and present. As I stated earlier, I lost my friend and former high school track and cross country coach to cancer in November. Then, last week, we put to rest the son of another very important friend of mine. There is nothing worse than watching your friends in pain, but this situation was made worse since his son’s death was due to murder. I cannot imagine a worse situation, one in which I hope to never experience directly. Finally, I discovered a friend of my from high school had taken her own life during the time that I had lost my old coach to cancer. Needless to say, the past four to six weeks has been rough.

12.18 de la soul - millie-pulled-a-pistol-cover

But, now we are exactly one week from Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s birth and a time during which my family gets to hang out and play games. Every year, when try to follow Clark Griswold’s goal of his family during Christmas Vacation: “We’re going to have more fun since Bob Hope tap-danced with Danny f***king Kaye”. We started this new tradition a couple years ago after my mother-in-law passed away. But, our new family tradition will only get better as my kids start building their families (I sure as hell hope it’s soon guys!).

12.18 Christmas-on-Death-Row-1996

This week, I plan to drop some Christmas music playlists intended to break from tradition and to change the holiday spirit in many different ways. Today, I bring to you my Christmas Hip Hop playlist that I have entitled “Christmas 2017:Christmas in da Ghetto”. Don’t forget to stop by every day this week for a different playlist. Here we go!

Christmas 2017: Christmas in da Ghetto

  1. Chingy – “Chingy’s Christmas” (2016)
  2. De La Soul – “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa” (1992)
  3. Eazy-E – “Merry Muthaf***in’ Xmas” (1992)
  4. Jim Jones – “Dipset X-Mas Time” (2006)
  5. Kanye West featuring Prynce Cy I & Teyana Taylor – “Christmas in Harlem” (2010)
  6. Killer Mike – “A Christmas Grind” (2003)
  7. Kurtis Blow – “Christmas Rappin’” (1980)
  8. Ludacris – “Ludacrismas” (2007)
  9. Master P featuring C-Murder – “Christmas in da Ghetto” (1994)
  10. Run the Jewels – “A Christmas F***ing Miracle” (2013)
  11. Run-D.M.C. – “Christmas in Hollis” (1987)
  12. Snoop Dogg featuring Nate Dogg – “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto” (1996)
  13. Sweet Tee – “Let the Jingle Bells Rock” (1987)
  14. The Cold Crew – “Rappin’ Christmas” (1982)
  15. The Treacherous Three – “Santa’s Rap” (1984)
  16. Whistle – “Santa Is a B-Boy” (1985)
  17. Ying Yang Twins – “Deck da Club” (2008)

12.18 Christmas-Rap-1987

There you go! Just when you thought Christmas music could NOT be made by rap artists, I blow that theory out of the water with this playlist. I hope you enjoy it! If you would like an album of old school rap yuletide songs then you might want to search for this compilation from 1987 called Christmas Raps. It contains many classic songs, including Run-D.M.C.’s classic “Christmas in Hollis”, which debuted as a track on the original A Very Special Christmas album in 1987.

I’ll return tomorrow with my next playlist of yuletide songs.

2017: The Albums According to Keller

Without going into detail, 2017 is ending in a very “sucky” way. Mom’s Alzheimer’s continues to worsen. A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine passed away. And, recently, the only son of a very good friend of mine died under suspicious circumstances. When these types of things hit so very close to you, it is a gut punch that completely knocks the wind out of you. So, instead of dragging this whole thing out for a week, like all of the critics on music sites and in magazines, I have created My Top 50 Albums of the Year. Do I own them all? Heck no! But, I have listened to them, as well as several others and picked my Top 50 for 2017.

I was surprised at how many of the artists that I listened to in high school and college made great albums this year. My list does not try to cater to the current flavors of the month. However, if an album got a good review, or was by an artist with a solid history with me over the years, I listened to the album. Occasionally, I would stumble across an album on my own. Before just like I used to tell my athletes, if you are good enough, the college coaches will find you. In this case, the music critics will find you.

I have many surprises on my list. Artists who tend to get all of the press they need did not make my list. While several artists who are not known quantities did. I do love an underdog! On with the countdown!

  1. Beck – Colors

Beck took four years to get this album out of his system, and quite honestly, the album gives off that impression. Still, the album contains a big hit from 2015 in “Dreams”, and one from last year, the updated take on his initial breakthrough hit “Loser” called “Wow.” Both fit comfortably within in catalog of hits.

49. Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black

The gospel/soul icon recently released her third album recorded with her present muse, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Tweedy is the perfect match for Staples as they have created a gospel album that comments on the status of today’s race relations in Trump’s America. This stands up nicely with her family’s masterpieces from the late-Sixties and early-Seventies.

  1. John Mellencamp – Sad Clowns & Hillbillies

Mellencamp has joined forces with T-Bone Burnett again to expand on the country blues into what Mellencamp is currently immersed. The voice of Indiana, with counterpoint vocals by country star Carlene Carter created another haunting album about the truth behind the deterioration of the American Dream, which often runs contrary to what FOX Noise is telling these same folks.


  1. Joey Bada$$ – All-American Bada$$

Joey woke up the day after election day pissed off and created an album during which he spews his frustrations of all the societal ills that frustrate inner city and set them to some of the illest beats this side of Dre.


  1. Jay-Z – 4:44

Whenever Mr. or Mrs. Beyoncé drops a new joint, the music world gets so excited that it collectively needs its Depends. Quite honestly, this is not one of Jay-Z’s better albums, but it still stood tall in a lukewarm year for music.


  1. Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie – Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie

After nearly two decades of a break from the main band Fleetwood Mac, Christine McVie decided it was time to come back to the fold. And her pristine vocals were welcomed throughout the band’s tour celebrating their creative and financial triumph Rumours. The aftermath was the creative mind and the soul of the Mac coming together to create the finest Fleetwood Mac-related album since Tango in the Night.



  1. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

I really never understood the music critics love of this band’s debut album. Oh, sure, the vocals were nice, but there was no melody or joy in the music. But, I always give this band’s new stuff another try, and this album is an improvement on their previous releases. Who knew that Sub Pop would go folkie after turning the world onto grunge.


  1. Future – HNDRXX

I always have to give Future a listen after I discovered him a few years back. This year, Future released two albums, a week or so apart. So, when I see that a hip hop artist names an album after Jimi Hendrix, I get intrigued. This is how experimental music should sound. Someone needs to Radiohead.


  1. Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy

Tyler, The Creator likes to mix things up. And, boy, did he ever mix things up on this album. And, I’m talking about his beats and rhymes and his notes on society. While not as angry as Joey Bada$$, the man is saying the same thing: Walk a mile in our shoes.


  1. Little Steven – Soulfire

The Boss’s right-hand man in the studio and on stage, made the E Street Band break a working break by releasing his most fun and Springsteen-like album in years. It reminds me so much of the album Steven and Bruce made in 1981 with Gary “U.S.” Bonds, that I almost believe that we partied to this album back in college.


  1. Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway

Giddens is the lead singer of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, whose Americana take on some famous songs, such as Run-DMC’s “You Be Illin’”, brought the band to some level of prominence. But, on her sophomore solo album, Giddens has made an inspired song set that transcends the folk and country worlds she lives in.


  1. Roger Waters – Is This the Life We Really Want?

We needed a Waters album this year to put things in perspective. Still, this solo album makes me wonder just how much greater this album would have been if the Floyd had played on it. Regardless, this album is the direct political statement that Floyd’s Animals almost was.


  1. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

Staples has become one of my favorite emcees, and this album further solidifies his status in my mind. This is just plain fun to listen to on all levels.


  1. Flamin’ Groovies – Fantastic Plastic

This year has been a crazy year, during which some of the artists from my teenage years have made some compelling albums. And, that’s where we find these power pop originators from San Francisco releasing their best album since their 1975 masterpiece Shake Some Action.


  1. Kehlani – Sweet Sexy Savage

This album totally took me by surprise. Just when I thought I was tired of the female R&B chanteuse, I put this one on and got totally knocked up the side of my head with the soulful brilliance of Kehlani’s musical vision.


  1. Fancey – Love Mirage

2017 has been a great year for Canadian power poppers extraordinaires, as you will see later in the countdown. So, when Seventies pop/disco lover Fancey quietly released his third solo album, I was not ready for what I heard. I swear I was transported to 1978 by the music on Love Mirage, and it was a great trip. If the sounds of Bee Gees, England Dan & John Ford Coley and Little River Band are up your alley, then this album is for you.


  1. Songhoy Blues – Résistance

The men from Mali couple world music and the blues into a rock sound all their own. And, this is a compelling new taken on the blues with the freshest sound since Stevie Ray popped on the scene in 1983.


  1. Ray Davies – Americana

The former voice of The Kinks finally released a great solo album by embracing not his English heritage as Davies had done throughout his career, but the sounds of America, much like his Sixties cohorts The Band did 50 years. And this fresh sound and approach has inspired Davies to his finest solo album, and his best since The Kinks released Low Budget in 1979.


  1. Bleachers – Gone Now

Jack Aronoff has found more success outside of fun. as the leader of his own band, Bleachers, and as a song doctor for the wealthy and talentless. But, he truly shines in the Bleachers. This is a power poppish punk rock band that hits the mark on the pop side of the power punk thang. Simply put, this is a fun album, without the pretensions.


  1. (tie) Chris Stapleton – From A Room, Volume 2


  1. (tie) Chris Stapleton – From A Room, Volume 1

These two volumes of outlaw country music only solidified Stapleton as the best thing in country music this side of Sturgill Simpson. Simply put, Stapleton has picked up the torch from Willie Nelson and is running with it to new levels.


  1. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

Jason Isbell, that brilliant former member of the Drive-By Truckers, is taking Americana to new levels. I have been enjoying his solo music ever since he went solo. And, watching him reach new heights as a solo artist is so encouraging to this aging rock fan.


  1. Robert Plant – Carry Fire

Robert Plant has been on a roll ever since his Grammy-winning album with Allison Kraus. And, this album only shows how beautifully Plant is aging as an artist, which is long way from his golden god days in Zep. And then again, it’s not that far away from Zeppelin III.


  1. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

This rap supergroup has released its third album, and they are only getting better. There is nothing like angry experimentalists in hip hop hitting their career peak. Run the Jewels are near the peak of the hip hop mountain.

  1. Halsey – Hopeless Fountain Comedy

Halsey is one of the best pop rockers around right now. And while she is in her early-Twenties, we can only expect her to improve upon her current sound, which might make her one of the greatest of all-time. Otherwise, she have this as her finest moment, which is pretty damn good.


  1. Warm Soda – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

On their last album together, Warm Soda proved that power pop was alive and well here in power pop’s fourth decade as genre. Here’s to another band who looks up to Cheap Trick for all the right reasons.


  1. Queens of the Stone Age – Villains

Queens of the Stone Age is NOT your brother’s favorite stoner metal band. QOTSA are now transcending the genre they ushered in back a decade or so ago. On their previous album, they teamed with Sir Elton John in an effort to move their sound along a bit. On Villains, band leader Josh Homme turned to current popmeister Mark Ronson to advance the band’s sound and not as a sign of selling out. This is much like Metallica turning to Bob Rock to produce their “Black Album”.


  1. Lorde – Melodrama

I much prefer Lorde over Taylor Swift, but I’m not sure why. I think it might be her Goth bent, but if I want a non-American view of pop music, Lorde is the artist for me,


  1. Styx – The Mission

Remember what I said about the Flaming Groovies? Well, I was even more surprised by this sci-fi rock opera and the magic that Styx rediscovered while creating it. And, if only for a moment, I thought Styx were back to their glory days.

  1. The National – Sleep Well Beast

It has taken years for my ears to warm to The National’s brand of alternative music. But, now I am a fan, and it has to do with this slickness of this album.


  1. Randy Newman – Dark Matter

During these uncertain times, isn’t it heart-warming to know that we still have t and he finest satirist and parodist in rock history still at the top of his game when he releases a rock album. Plus, this album is more than the greatness of the first single “Putin”, which sets Newman’s acerbic lyrics against early-Twentieth century Russian music, Newman reminded us of his spot-on observations of the ruling class is ripe for his kicks.

  1. The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions

Canada’s finest power pop band released their strongest album in the current decade. This band, consisting of some of the country’s finest solo artists (Americana Queen Neko Case is a member of the band), is showing the world that power pop is NOT dead and is a rather groovy in the hands of these expert exporters.


  1. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

The former drummer of Fleet Foxes is creating some of the most compelling folk-based rock these days. If you saw FJM on Saturday Night Live last spring, then you know this man is the real deal. When this album was first released, I was certain it might be my Album of the Year. Still, it is in the Top Twenty.

  1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar is THE man of all rap music right now. He has proven himself on his previous three albums, each of which were masterpieces, which this one is as well. Plus, he has Dr. Dre creating the musical landscape that is equal parts jazz and hip hop. We are witnessing the coronation of the new King of Rap. All hail the King!


  1. Paramore – After Laughter

This album represents the state of pop-rock in the Twenty-Teens. I honestly never thought this band would grow this much in stature, but much to my surprise, they have. Throughout this album, Paramore’s hooks are spot on and their rock is heavy and hard. It’s not power pop, but it’s close.

  1. John Mayer – The Search for Everything

Back in 2000, Mayer was every teen girl’s poster boys of folk pop. Then, slowly, we found out the man was a guitar hero. Then, we all watch as he vacillated between the blues, R&B and the folk-pop he used to announce himself to the world. But, over the course of the past two or three albums, Mayer has tied together all of these disparate sounds into his own sound…finally. He has been looking back to the Seventies’ California sound of Jackson Browne and the Eagles, all the while playing his blues rock. Finally, Mayer is a rock original.


  1. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Unfortunately, we lost the great Tom Petty upon the conclusion of his 40th Anniversary Tour. Fortunately, we have this great band, The War on Drugs, waiting in the wings to pick up Petty’s mantle. This is the band that all classic rock fans have been for years to hear. Seriously, classic rock, this is the rock band for today.

  1. Shake Some Action! – Crash Through or Crash

Shake Some Action! is a band to watch. They have a unique sound that is familiar yet totally new. They possess the same energy as Green Day and similar writing chops as Cheap Trick. Yet, SSA is NOT some throwback band. They are rock & roll for the second decade of the Twenty-First century.


  1. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul of a Woman

It wasn’t until Sharon Jones was in her fifties that she began to taste the success that had been predicted for her for decades. Jones was a throwback forceful voice that reminded fans of the heyday of R&B and funk. Unfortunately, Jones lost her long battle with cancer and this album represents the last of her musical output. Still, it remains a perfect epilogue on a career that should have been bigger.

  1. Nick Heyward – Woodland Echoes

Do any of you remember an English band from the early days of MTV called Haircut One Hundred? They were a great pop, new wave band in the early Eighties who only released one album of so brilliant pop dipped in Motown milk chocolate and a solid candy coating of Caribbean shadings. They were a delight! This year, that band’s lead singer and mastermind, Nick Heyward, released a terrific set of pop songs that adults everywhere should enjoy.


  1. Ryan Adams – Prisoner

Sure, Ryan Adams’ ex-wife is on a hot streak right now as Mandy Moore has a role on TV hottest drama This Is Us. Yet, when Adams is suffering, we become the benefactors of great music. Prisoner could be his greatest album, on which Adams makes his case to take Tom Petty’s spot as the voice of the disenfranchised.

  1. SZA – Ctrl

Did you see SZA on SNL this past Saturday? What a performance! This is the R&B Album of the Year. Just one listen, and you will be hooked!


  1. Squeeze – The Knowledge

Seriously, THE pop band of the Eighties is back with their second great album in a row since their reunion. Difford and Tillbrook are finally becoming the writing team that critics had predicted for them since the late Seventies.


  1. Kesha – Rainbow

Who knew Kesha was really a talented artist underneath that image of a disaster she was a few years back. But, she cleaned up, literally and figuratively, and created a terrific album that flips the bird at her critics and shows the confidence of the artist she always knew she was.


  1. Cheap Trick – We’re All Alright

Back a few years ago, Cheap Trick made the difficult decision to let drummer Bun E. Carlos go for the band’s first personnel change since 1988, when original bassist Tom Peterson returned to the fold. Then, the band signed with Big 3 Records, and Cheap Trick has been on a roll ever since. Finally, new drummer, and guitarist Rick Neilson’s son, Daxx has begun to fill the large shoes that Bun E. left behind. Now that the band is finally in the Hall of Fame, they have released two straight great albums of great Cheap Trick music.



If you have been missing some great new wave music like they made in the Eighties, then do I have an album for you! Take the lead singer from AFI and back him up with the musicians from No Doubt, and you have DREAMCAR, a pop-rock beauty of a band that may eclipse either of the original band’s success if they stick together and develop. Still, they have released one helluva album of new wave music.

  1. Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution

The Modfather is back with another great collection of songs. I cannot believe this man is NOT in the Hall of Fame. Seriously! The UK understands, but what the hell is wrong with the USA? This man has created a wealth of brilliant music over the past forty years with The Jam, The Style Council and as a solo artist. This man is ground zero for the whole Britpop phenomenon of the Nineties, all the while not resting on his laurels. And, A Kind Revolution is proof of all of my praise.


  1. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

James Murphy started LCD Soundsystem to fulfill his rock and electronica dreams. Then, after a few great albums, Murphy pulled a David Bowie and retired after a big sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden. Then, quietly, he returned with a 21st century Remain in Light-era Talking Heads album with American Dream, which might very well be his masterpiece.

  1. The xx – I See You

Just when you thought the whole post-punk revival had run out of steam, The xx comes along with a new album that blows that theory right out of the water. The xx is a trio that is equal parts dream pop, dance beats, post-punk and a touch of 80s new wave which made this band jump from the “oh they’re okay” to “this band just may become something.”


  1. St. Vincent – Masseducation

Over the course of three albums, New York City art rock impresario Annie Clark has moved from the underground to the mainstream. A couple of years ago, she recorded a great album with former Talking Head David Byrne. She followed that album with her biggest mainstream statement as St. Vincent to date. Now, in 2017, St. Vincent has released her most fully realized album that tiptoes the fine line between underground art and mainstream rock, much like the great artists of the past like Talking Heads and Roxy Music, two of her most obvious influences.

  1. U2 – Songs of Experience

Since U2 dropped this album on December 1, 2017, I have watched this album slowly move up this list after each time I played it. Their previous album, Songs of Innocence, was the sound of a band of 50-somethings coming to grips with their lost innocence and what it means to be a rock band as each member hit the half-century mark. This year, U2 dropped an album that not only was the sister album of that previous album, but Songs of Experience finds the members of U2 facing their mortality not only as individuals but also as a band. Instead of looking back, as the band did on the last album, U2 are looking forward on this album. Do they have all the answers? No. But, we have all gained enough experience to know that something wrong is in the water and air today that we better be prepared or our individual lives maybe lost forever. This is the sound of an experienced band of individuals who are musicians deciding that they are going down with a fight. And, that’s what separates U2 from all of their heroes, peers and followers. Sorry, millennials, this is an album that you won’t understand for another 20 to 30 years. And, that is why U2 remains vital artists at an age when the Stones started packing it in.

And, there you have it: 2017 according to Keller. Tell me below what album was your favorite this year. Peace!

More Than Just Grunge: My 20 Favorite Nirvana Songs

12.8 nirvana

From August 1986 through June 1990, I live in arguably the greatest college town ever, Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University of the Mid American Conference and known as the “Cradle of Coaches”. During that time period, Oxford, which normally has a population around 3,000 people with an extra 15,000 students who call the university home for nine months of the year, was the home to one of the nation’s legendary radio stations for alternative music, WOXY-FM, also known as “97X, The Future of Rock ‘n’ Roll!” Hands down, that station remains my all-time favorite radio station since it refused to be gobbled up by corporate radio and remained steadfast in its effort to expose the music of the underground, which was especially exciting to me.

During those years, hair metal was all the rage, but even a discerning listener as I try to be honestly could not discern whether I was hearing Motley Crue, Poison or Cinderella, let alone Warrant, Firehouse or Vixen. To me, they all sounded similar and that made the whole hair metal scene boring to me who loves diversity in his music. So, naturally, I migrated to the burgeoning alternative rock scene as described by 97X’s playlist.

During those years, I got to hear and fall in love with the music of the Replacements, Husker Du, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pixies and so many others that I continue to listen to today. Back in 1988, two new bands who both had just released their debut albums caught my ears. The bands were the little power trio from Seattle called Nirvana and a guy who played all of his instruments but gave himself a band’s name, Nine Inch Nails. I distinctly remember hearing these bands in the old 1978 Chevy Malibu Classic that we bought from my wife’s cousin who rebuilt cars as a hobby/business. This car had a 350 engine in it and could fly. But, since it was something of a back-up family car, the carburetor rarely got blown out. Her cousin had put this powerful stereo in the car, so they would nothing like hearing Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails blaring from those speakers. That’s my memory of hearing those bands back in the day.

Now, I have remained a fan of both bands, but like most Gen X-ers, I too love Nirvana. Yes, Kurt Cobain’s lyrics spoke to me. But, being a huge fan of the Pixies, I loved Nirvana’s application of the Pixies’ signature use of soft verses alternated with loud choruses. Then, throw in Nirvana’s ability to do this to songs with strong pop melodies and we are listening to a power pop band with the emphasis fully placed on the power. In other words, this was absolute manna to my ears.

And, as good as Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, was, and it IS a terrific album, nothing prepared me for the sonic onslaught of their Nevermind album. The songwriting was impeccable, as well as the playing. Everything was perfect. And, still I cannot add anything new to the whole status of this very album within the context of the rock world as well as what it means to a whole generation of people who were in their teens and twenties when the album was released in the Fall of 1991. It’s as if “Smells like Teen Spirit” marks a point in time where you can describe music as being pre-“Teen Spirit” and post-“Teen Spirit”.

Like I said earlier, I really cannot give you any more insight into Nirvana nor the significance of Nevermind or “Smells like Teen Spirit” except they all represent a moment in time where music went through a seismic shift, not unlike the aftermaths of TV appearances of Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Instead, I prefer to honor Nirvana with a list of My 20 Favorite Nirvana Songs. Let the countdown begin!

  1. “All Apologies” (In Utero, 1993)
  2. “Smells like Teen Spirit” (Nevermind, 1991)
  3. “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” (MTV Unplugged in New York, 1994)
  4. “Come as You Are” (Nevermind, 1991)
  5. “Lithium” (Nevermind, 1991)
  6. “About a Girl” (MTV Unplugged in New York, 1994)
  7. “Pennyroyal Tea” (In Utero, 1993)
  8. “Heart-Shaped Box” (In Utero, 1993)
  9. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” (MTV Unplugged in New York, 1994)
  10. “In Bloom” (Nevermind, 1991)
  11. “Rape Me” (In Utero, 1993)
  12. “Love Buzz” (Bleach, 1989)
  13. “You Know You’re Right” (Nirvana, 2002)
  14. “Serve the Servants” (In Utero, 1993)
  15. “The Man Who Sold the World” (MTV Unplugged in New York, 1994)
  16. “Aneurysm” (Incesticide, 1992)
  17. “Sliver” (single, 1990)
  18. “Verse Chorus Verse” (With the Lights Out, 2004)
  19. “Negative Creep” (Bleach, 1989)
  20. “School” (Bleach, 1989)

Here’s to Nirvana! And, here’s to hoping you have a great weekend! Peace out!

25 Reasons Why The J. Geils Band Has Always Been America’s Best Party Band

12.7 J Geils Band - rippin it live
The J. Geils Band live in the 70s.

I am not sure which is conspiring to drive me crazier, all of the troubles on a microsocietal level (personal things) or on a macrosocietal level. Either way, it can be amusing to watch people try to swim against Einstein’s reasoning about insanity, that repeating the same action but expecting a different outcome being insanity itself. I remember back in high school just wanting to beat my head against the walls in my history/government/economics classrooms when people think that reverting to the “way things were in the past” would lead to better things than they actually did in the past. I am always dumbfounded by that belief. Oh well, I guess I need the J. Geils Band worse than I thought I did.

For those of you who don’t remember the J. Geils Band, during the 70s and into the early 80s, the band from Boston was America’s premier party band. I think the best way to describe them would be to take Springsteen’s E-Street Band and have them back arguably the second best front man, behind The Boss himself, and have them play the music the Blue Brothers wish they could play. The front man, Peter Wolf, couples Springsteen’s energy and belief in the saving power of rock ‘n’ roll with the between song patter of those classic radio DJs from the early Sixties. Unfortunately, their live performances were rarely translated in the studio. Yet, when the band did capture that onstage magic in the studio, they hit huge hits, much like when lightning struck the band in 1981 with their now-classic album Freeze-Frame.

12.7 J Geils Band - 80s height
Our heroes, as MTV stars in the early 80s.

Every time the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominates them, I always grapple with whether they are worthy of induction. But, after 48 hours of the news reporting the antics of our country’s fearless leader, along with the wild fire tragedies in Southern California, in addition to some things happening surrounding one of my aging parents makes me want to crank Geils. So, for the past hour, I have been having a Geils Band jam session in the music room and make mood is lightening and my blood pressure is falling. So, I believe the J. Geils Band is deserving of induction in the RRHOF.

12.7 J Geils Band - 1974
The J. Geils, trying to be glam, in 1974. At least in the 80s, the band did try to be new wave, just incorporate some musical flourishes.

Let’s take a look at My 25 Favorite J. Geils Band Songs, and tell me I’m wrong! I’ll be like Robert Conrad daring you to knock a Geils album off my shoulder (Remember those EverReady battery commercials in the Seventies where Conrad dare the audience to knock the battery off his shoulder? That’s me in this situation!). Any of my Beta Sigma Psi brothers can attest to the party success of Geils’ music. Here’s a party playlist for you youngins out there.

  1. “Whammer Jammer” (“Live” Full House, 1972)
  2. “Flamethrower” (Freeze-Frame, 1981)
  3. “Love Stinks” (Love Stinks, 1980)
  4. “Centerfold” (Freeze-Frame, 1981)
  5. “Must of Got Lost” (Nightmares…and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, 1974)
  6. “(Ain’t Nothin’ but A) Houseparty” (Bloodshot, 1973)
  7. “Freeze-Frame” (Freeze-Frame, 1981)
  8. “Come Back” (Love Stinks, 1980)
  9. “Give It to Me” (Bloodshot, 1973)
  10. “One Last Kiss” (Sanctuary, 1978)
  11. “Till the Walls Come Tumblin’ Down” (Love Stinks, 1980)
  12. “Just Can’t Wait” (Love Stinks, 1980)
  13. “Looking for a Love” (The Morning After, 1971)
  14. “Detroit Breakdown” (Nightmares…and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, 1974)
  15. “I Do” (Monkey Island, 1977)
  16. “Givin’ It All Up” (Nightmares…and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, 1974)
  17. “Surrender” (Monkey Island, 1977)
  18. “First I Look at the Purse” (The J. Geils Band, 1970)
  19. “Raise Your Hand” (Blow Your Face Out, 1976)
  20. “Did You No Wrong” (Ladies Invited, 1973)
  21. “You’re the Only One” (Monkey Island, 1977)
  22. “Serves You Right to Suffer” (“Live” Full House, 1972)
  23. “Angel in Blue” (Freeze-Frame, 1981)
  24. “Where Did Our Love Go” (Blow Your Face Out, 1976)
  25. “Land of a Thousand Dances” (Showtime!, 1982)

Now that I’m in a better mood, maybe I am ready to start trolling some politicians out there. I am tired of pretending that I am someone that I’m not just to play nice. My cheeks are getting bruised and my neck’s sore from turning the other cheek. Even though I have always been a man of science, I have always been keenly interested in history/political science/government/economics. Looking back is for perspective, but you gotta look forward to win the race. I wonder why that advice was only used in track & field? Hmmmm.

I Am Not Ashamed! Here’s 30 from Heart!

28th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show

Back in the Summer of 1982, I was spending what would become my last summer at home, although I did not know that at the time. Back then, it was very difficult to find a summer job because Trickle-Down Economics was not trickling at all in the Rust Belt. So, I spent my summer doing the time-tested Corn Belt job of detassling corn. Back in the pre-automated days, a crew of 40 teenage boys or teenage girls would be dropped off in a cornfield where the company farmers were attempting to grow a pure breed of corn by essentially castrating the cornstalks by removing the tassles, or male parts, of the corn from the top of the stalk. This would keep the corn from incestuous breeding and allow for the proper crossbreeding of corn species in the cornfields of a surrounding area. We would be picked up at 6 AM, ride a school for an hour to the cornfields, get dropped off to work until our noon lunch break. Then, we would be back in the field by 12:30 PM until 4 PM.

12.6 ann & nancy wilson heart 2010s

The money wasn’t too bad, plus you would get a decent upper body workout. Plus, I liked it better than baling hay, which would always trigger my allergies. Plus, baling hay was way harder than detassling corn. Plus, when I got hired to detassle, I got made a crew boss since I was a college student, so I got more money, more leadership experience, and required less physical labor since I was just following my crew to make sure the younger guys were not missing many tassles. And, since I was living at home, most of the money I made was going into my bank account. Except for the albums I purchased that summer, and the two concerts I attended, that is. I got to see Queen for the second time that summer, with opening act Billy Squier, whom I saw for the second time as well. But, it was the second concert of the summer that had a life-changing effect on me.

When I heard that Heart was headlining an upcoming concert, I actually had no interest in the concert. At least, until I heard that their opening act would be none other than Indiana’s own newly anointed rock superstar John Cougar, as he was known then. Of course, I am talking about John Mellencamp. It was then that I decided to go to that concert. However, everything changed after the concert was over. First, Cougar came out and owned the crowd. This was his first arena concert in Indiana since his American Fool album had become the big summer hit album, and his first two Top 10 singles, “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane” dominated the radio airplay in Central Indiana. After his set, I  was prepared to leave Heart early. Well, that didn’t happen.

12.6 ann & nancy wilson heart 70s

Lest just say that Heart played one of the better shows I have ever seen. The band came out and simply blew me away with their musicianship. But, the best weapon the band had was (and is) lead singer’s Ann Wilson’s voice. No one in rock music can wail like she can. For my money, Ann Wilson is rock best vocalist. She can do a Robert Plant-in-Zeppelin banshee wail, then move into a soft, soulful Diana Ross-like ballad, sing in a ballsy blues-oriented voice not unlike Janis Joplin, all the while maintaining her own unique personality. Plus, the woman is down right beautiful and has a humble yet powerful stage presence. Then, there’s her sister, the guitarist extraordinaire Nancy Wilson. Her guitar playing is exceptional, whether she is playing a hippy-like acoustic folk lick or playing a balls-to-the-wall scorching guitar solo. Nancy has to be one of the most underrated guitarists in rock history.

So, why has Heart always gotten lost in rock history? Well, I have three intertwined theories. First off, it is the old sexist thing left over from the Seventies (and Eighties). Back in the day, those women were objectified as sexy objects. Rarely were their unparalleled talents ever given their due credit. And, when Ann began to gain weight, the critics were lining up to criticize her looks as opposed to praising her pipes. And, Nancy was always told to sell her sexuality without a word being dropped about her guitar playing. Then, in the mid-Eighties, the Wilsons’ music was not selling. So, instead of sticking to their guns to maintain their artistic integrity, they did the survival-thing and began to record songs written by outside writers. Sure, those initial songs helped re-invigorate the ladies of Heart, but then those songs became a crutch, as well as making the band lazier. Nancy’s great guitar work was suffering as she and Ann stuffed their bosoms into bustiers that accentuated their bodies and not their musicianship.

12.6 heart 80s

The great thing that saved the integrity of Heart came from an unlikely source. As the Eighties turned into the Nineties, the sound of Seattle – grunge – became the “now” sound. And all of those bands who were experiencing success, like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, were singing the praise of their Seattle fore-bearers, Heart. To those band members, Heart blazed their trail, and those men paid Seattle’s first women of rock back in full. It was during that heady time for the rock scene of Seattle to have Heart rediscovering their sound, as well as themselves.

Since the release of Jupiters Darling in the mid-2000s to today, Heart’s music has found its muse again. And, we, their fans, are the true benefactors of this. I have always loved how Heart has been able to deftly move from acoustic folk-based rock to hard rock power-chords and back to soulful ballads and Motown-infected pop ditties. Heart is one of the most underrated bands in rock history. So, get over it Baby Boomers! Women can rock out! And should be recognized for the talents and not their cup sizes. This is rock music, not some beauty pageant.

So, in honor of one of rock music’s most underrated rock bands, here is a list of My 30 Favorite Songs by Heart.

  1. “How Can I Refuse” (Passionworks, 1983)
  2. “This Man Is Mine” (Private Audition, 1982)
  3. “Crazy on You” (Dreamboat Annie, 1976)
  4. “Never” (Heart, 1985)
  5. “Barracuda” (Little Queen, 1977)
  6. “Magic Man” (Dreamboat Annie, 1976)
  7. “WTF” (Red Velvet Car, 2010)
  8. “Down on Me” (Beautiful Broken, 2016)
  9. “Dog & Butterfly” (Dog & Butterfly, 1979)
  10. “Straight On” (Dog & Butterfly, 1979)
  11. “Even It Up” (Bebe Le Strange, 1980)
  12. “Fanatic” (Fanatic, 2012)
  13. “City’s Burning” (Private Audition, 1982)
  14. “Dreamboat Annie” (Dreamboat Annie, 1976)
  15. “Heartless” (Magazine, 1978)
  16. “Kick It Out” (Little Queen, 1977)
  17. “Bebe Le Strange” (Bebe Le Strange, 1980)
  18. “These Dreams” (Heart, 1985)
  19. “Beautiful Broken” (Beautiful Broken, 2016)
  20. “Tell It like It Is” (Greatest Hits/Live, 1980)
  21. “Fallen Ones” (Jupiters Darling, 2004)
  22. “Down the Nile” (Jupiters Darling, 2004)
  23. “If Looks Could Kill” (Heart, 1985)
  24. “Love Alive” (Little Queen, 1977)
  25. “I Jump” (Beautiful Broken, 2016)
  26. “There’s the Girl” (Bad Animals, 1987)
  27. “Alone” (Bad Animals, 1987)
  28. “Who Will You Run To” (Bad Animals, 1987)
  29. “What About Love” (Heart, 1985)
  30. “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” (Brigade, 1990)

One final thought: several years ago, on CMT’s Crossroads TV show where the channel pulls together two disparate artists, one country and one rock, and turns them loose together on stage and lets the film roll. Well, one young country diva, Carrie Underwood, whose big voice has been praised as one of the greatest of the current generation. It seems that Carrie is a huge fan of Heart, especially Ann Wilson’s voice. So, the show gets to the point where the two artists sing a song together. Carrie is singing Heart’s 80s comeback hit “Alone”, which she apparently sang to victory on American Idol. Well, she’s singing a verse, then passes the mic to Ann. It was at that moment that I realized there was Ann Wilson’s vocals, and then everyone else’s. I’m certain that country fans around the world were totally deflated when their golden girl got totally schooled on their network by a woman with impeccable rock credentials, but still just a rock star in their minds. Sorry, no one compares to Ann Wilson. I would love to her a sing-off with Whitney Houston (RIP), Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera (just to prove my point to the millennials), as well as anyone else you can think of. My money is on the voice of Heart.

See you tomorrow!

Ashes to Ashes, Fun to Funky: Here’s a Bowie Top 40

12.5 david bowie the berlin years

Which art of the rock era has been the most influential? That is the question I heard the most back during my teaching days, in college and continues to vex me from time to time these days. Making a quick list, no doubt, would include Elvis Presley (for obvious reasons), Chuck Berry (hell, the Stones made a whole career out of riding on Mr. Berry’s coattails), The Beatles (from albums as an art form to innovations in the recording studio to power pop), Motown (does anyone remember the 80s?), Madonna (begot Britney, Christina, Gaga, Minaj, Katy & Taylor), Aretha Franklin (who begot Whitney who begot Mariah who begot Christina who begot JHud, etc.), Sex Pistols & Ramones (the two are intertwined so much that it’s difficult to separate them and their influences on punk, metal and thrash), Black Sabbath (who gave us metal, grunge and even some alternative forms of rap), Kraftwerk (and the world of Radio Shack-based electronics) and George Clinton’s funky empire (we’ve got the funk, the whole funk, nothin’ but da funk and rap of the 80s and 90s). Yes, all of them are worthy, as are hundreds of others. But, one artist does stand taller than the rest when you think about all of the influence this artist has had across the board. The artist I would like to nominate is Mr. David Bowie.

12.5 david bowie ashes to ashes

To begin with, the man was one of the first artists to popularize the changing of one’s image to go with an album’s or group of albums’ releases. We watched him take on Glam Rock with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Or, we danced to his mid-Seventies American blue-eyed soul singer as The Thin White Duke. Then, he spent the latter part of the Seventies in West Germany applying the icy feel of the electronica of Kraftwerk and other Krautrockers with his brilliant Berlin trilogy of albums, Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. Then, in 1980, Bowie returned to his native Britain to morphed into New Wave’s first New Romantic, only to leave that persona behind for the triumphant Thin Tanned Duke of the Eighties who loved his whole career and toured behind his whole career. And, although the new personas were running thin during the Nineties and Aughties, David Bowie did release two of his greatest albums during the last four years of his incomparable life.

Then, there was David Bowie, the cutting edge music video star, long before MTV ever blasted itself across cable television networks. Just go to YouTube to see all of his pre-1981 music videos that he created long before MTV joined the market on August 1, 1981. And, to further prove Bowie’s emphasis on his visual image, take a look at his performance on Saturday Night Live during the original cast’s run when he had a marionette’s body superimposed under his head as he and his background singers did some performance art movements while singing. It was a mind-blowing event at that moment.

12.5 david bowie ziggy

The changing of the personas, gave way to career paths for Madonna and Lady Gaga. While each of the aforementioned personas totally gave way to a whole musical movement. Sure, Ziggy and Aladdin may have been attempts by Bowie to join the whole Glam family, his other personas and musical directions kick-started new musical genres. For example, the whole Scary Monsters image was latched onto by the teens of England of the New Romantic movement that gave us Duran Duran, Adam & the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, among others. His Berlin period popularized the cutting edge synthesizer-based music of such diverse artists as Devo, The Human League and Prince. And, his greatest hits, stadium tour of 1983-84 lead to the hits-packed tours that many of our musical heroes utilize to this vary day. Just ask the Eagles, who have been on the same tour since they reunited over 20 songs ago.

12.5 david bowie 1980s

I became aware of David Bowie like most people my age: I heard him on the radio, during his initial brush with American radio success in the mid-Seventies with songs such as “Fame”, “Young Americans” and “Golden Years”. And, his albums Young Americans, Station to Station and Changesonebowie all found their way into the collections of my friends and me. Then, when I got to college, my Bowie world opened up and the Berlin trilogy, Scary Monsters and Let’s Dance became mandatory listening, while we searched for Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Space Oddity at the Used Record Stores.

12.5 david bowie blackstar

So, today, I present to you My Top 40 Favorite David Bowie Songs. Please, don’t burn me in effigy because I left your favorite song off my list. Simply remind me of that song in the comment section below. Enjoy!

  1. “Under Pressure” – Queen & David Bowie (Queen’s Greatest Hits, 1981). How could I NOT have this one at the top?
  2. “Suffragette City” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972). Wam, bam, thank you, ma’am!
  3. “Ashes to Ashes” (Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), 1980)
  4. “Fashion” (Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), 1980)
  5. “Space Oddity” (David Bowie, 1969)
  6. “Heroes” (“Heroes”, 1977)
  7. “Rebel Rebel” (Diamond Dogs, 1974)
  8. “Changes” (Hunky Dory, 1971)
  9. “Golden Years” (Station to Station, 1976)
  10. “Starman” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
  11. “Young Americans” (Young Americans, 1975)
  12. “Life on Mars?” (Hunky Dory, 1971)
  13. “Fame” (Young Americans, 1975)
  14. “The Jean Genie” (Aladdin Sane, 1973)
  15. “Lazarus” (Blackstar, 2016)
  16. “Boys Keep Swinging” (Lodger, 1979)
  17. “Loving the Alien” (Tonight, 1984)
  18. “China Girl” (Let’s Dance, 1983)
  19. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” (Let’s Dance, 1983)
  20. “Absolute Beginners” (single, 1985)
  21. “D.J.” (Lodger, 1979)
  22. “This Is Not America” – Pat Metheny Group Featuring David Bowie (The Falcon and the Snowman, 1985)
  23. “Blue Jean” (Tonight, 1984)
  24. “Hallo Spaceboy” – David Bowie Featuring Pet Shop Boys (Outside, 1995)
  25. “Modern Love” (Let’s Dance, 1983)
  26. “TVC 15” (Station to Station, 1976)
  27. “Ziggy Stardust” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
  28. “Moonage Daydream” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
  29. “Sound & Vision” (Low, 1977)
  30. “Beauty & the Beast” (“Heroes”, 1977)
  31. “John, I’m Only Dancing” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
  32. “The Man Who Sold the World” (The Man Who Sold the World, 1970)
  33. “Oh! You Pretty Things” (Hunky Dory, 1971)
  34. “Never Let Me Down” (Never Let Me Down, 1987)
  35. “I’m Afraid of Americans” – David Bowie & Nine Inch Nails (Showgirls OST, 1998)
  36. “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” – David Bowie Featuring Maria Schneider Orchestra (Blackstar, 2016)
  37. “Dancing in the Street” – Mick Jagger & David Bowie (single, 1985)
  38. “Look Back in Anger” (Lodger, 1979)
  39. “Warszawa” (Low, 1977)
  40. “Baby Universal” – Tin Machine (Tin Machine II, 1991)

Now, there’s some Bowie for you! Enjoy!