What the Hell Were They Thinking?!

Nothing major, just a little exercise in hardcore head scratching courtesy of some of the biggest pop culture blunders of all time. Here's five of 'em in chronological order:

1. After disco and its backlash had both passed on to musical history, Sylvester Stallone is chosen to direct a sequel to Saturday Night Fever, the dreadful Staying Alive, which killed John Travolta's career until Quentin Tarantino miraculously brought it back to life more than a decade later with Pulp Fiction. (Which he tanked again 6 years later with Battlefield Earth also destroying Barry Pepper's chances of ever being a leading man again.) [1983]

2. As if their US fans weren't already non-plussed by the band's new found affinity for dance music, Queen dress in drag for the "I Want to Break Free" video. Downhill in North America as far as record sales after that. [1984]

3. Thinking she's ready for greener pastures Shelley Long leaves Cheers. The show continues for 6 more successful seasons. Meanwhile, Long has a couple of Brady Bunch flicks as the highlights of her post-Cheers resume. (Recently, she's been on a few episodes of the current hit show Modern Family.) [1987]

4. '80s and '90s king of network TV Stephen Bochco--the man who gave us Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue--decides it is time to combine police drama with musical theatre on the small screen and thus Cop Rock is born. Yes, Broadway + badges. Excellent formula.
(It's no. 8 on TV Guide's 2002 list of "The 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time.") [1990]

5. Chris Cornell decides to record Scream and hires Timbaland to produce. The less said... [2009]


2012: The Year in Review (sort of)

As has been the case over the last few years, we've been quite underwhelmed by the world of pop culture in general, so once again this wrap up is an abridged and personalized version of what we would normally put together at this point of the year. Basically, just a bunch of faves from the past 12 months. So, with that in mind, dig in and enjoy!

Van Halen A Different Kind of Truth [Interscope]

"[It] might not be an all-time Van Halen album...[b]ut after so many years of fumbling dysfunction that reduced the once-proud Van Halen name to a laughingstock, [this album] matters because it’s a reminder of why this band mattered...For whatever reason, when Roth is in the band, Eddie Van Halen plays guitar like the world wants him to play guitar....Together, Eddie and Diamond Dave have achieved a simple yet hard-to-pull-off goal with 'A Different Kind Of Truth': Sounding like the Van Halen we (want to) remember."

- Steven Hyden, The AV Club.

Runner up:
Nada Surf The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy [Barsuk]

It’s quite something to see a band rise from the ashes of a doomed career and re-establish themselves as one of the main purveyors of their style of music. Many had left these guys for dead after “Popular” had supposedly condemned them to ‘90s one-hit-wonder status, but they bounced back and released one of the best records of the past decade, 2003’s Let it Go. And on their most recent one the Brooklyn-based trio did not disappoint. Ridiculously early in the year we had a feeling it would be our fave album of the year. If we could only predict lottery numbers in the same way...

David Myrh Soundshine [LoJinx]

Myrh was half of Swedish power poppers The Merrymakers, so it's not a stretch to assume  that his solo debut would be a strong collection of '60s-influenced power pop not unlike his former band's. Unsurprisingly, The Merrymakers were also Jellyfish acolytes--that band's Andy Sturmer produced their Bubblegun album--which would explain why this platter recalls the late lamented San Francisco quartet and at times could pass for their long lost third album. (Hell, even the cover art is reminiscent of Bellybutton, Jellyfish's debut album.) Regardless, it's pretty solid and one of the best records of its kind in a long while.

Bob Mould Silver Age [Merge]

So, what's in store for aging indie/underground/alt-rock heroes? Uncle Bob decided to face the other side of 50 by putting out his most vital sounding rock record since Copper Blue, that's what.

Honorable Mention:
Lee Ranaldo Between the Times and the Tides [Matador]

The man behind a handful of Sonic Youth fan favorites has never been the go-to guy on any of their albums. So, would his first ever singer/songwriter album be a bunch of filler? Actually, it's quite good. And Ranaldo's lead vocals--normally a minor distraction, at best--are in surprisingly solid form here; slightly reminiscent of Michael Stipe, in fact. (Oh, and the album's not folky, but an accurate representation of its basic description: a member of Sonic Youth making a singer/songwriter record.) It took SY's future to become a question mark for this non-expected career reinvention to take place but it's a welcome development, nonetheless.

Stew and the Negro Problem / "Curse", from the album Making It [Tight Natural]

Released in advance of their first album after the Passing Strange adventure, Stew and musical partner Heidi Rodewold summarize the dissolution of their romance in a sad, brilliantly executed, four minute pop song. Excellent.

Sugar Copper Blue [Merge]

Merge released remastered and expanded versions (2 CD+2 DVD) of the 2 albums and Beaster EP Sugar released on Rykodisc but, on its 20th anniversary, no less, we want to single out the classic debut album; an indie rock classic and the commercial and musical highlight of Bob Mould's post Hüsker Dü career.


We saw a couple of decent flicks (Argo, Flight, The Amazing Spiderman, Two Days in New York) but nothing rocked our world.

The massive flop of the Adam Sandler/Andy Samberg vehicle That's My Boy. Unlike the movie, THAT was funny.

Veep [HBO]

When it comes to TV shows, our heart belongs to cable. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the insecure, conniving, and sometimes clueless Vice-President of the United States, is our respective sweetheart this year. Yes, Veep is cringe comedy a la Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Office, but when the writing is tightwhich is oftenit can give those shows a run for their money.

Runner up:
House of Lies [Showtime]
The Newsroom [HBO]

The always watchable Don Cheadle leads a team of cutthroat business consultants in the highly stylized dramedy House of Lies, while the great Aaron Sorkin returns to TV with another big-time drama. And if the former is practically flawless in all departments, the latter can hold its own, even if it tends to occasionally slip in a manner routinely decried by Sorkin's many detractors. Yeah, it gets heavy, but it's Sorkin, so...

"No One Will Ever Love You"

Performed by Connie Britton and Charles Esten from the cast of ABC's Nashville, if this heartfelt ballad with more hooks than a bait shop is where country music is headed, we want in.

NRBQ drummer Tom Ardolino; Soul Train honcho Don Cornelius; funkmeister Jimmy Castor; Mothers of Invention vocalist Ray Collins, legendary bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn; Bee Gee Robin Gibb; Men at Work's Greg Ham; vocalist/drummer Levon Helm; the inimitable Whitney Houston; the one and only Etta James; The Monkees' Davy Jones; jazz drummer Pete La Roca (Art Farmer, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean); Jim Marshall, creator of the iconic amps that bear his name; jazz pianist, composer, and arranger Mike Melvoin, father of Wendy (Prince, Wendy and Lisa, Girl Bros.) and Jonathan Melvoin (The Dickies, Smashing Pumpkins); hard rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose; Argentine rock icon, singer/songwriter/guitarist Luis Alberto Spinetta; the legendary Ravi Shankar; Donna Summer; Rich Teeter, drummer for The Dictators; "King of the cuatro", the great Yomo Toro; former Fleetwood Mac vocalist/guitarists Bob Welch and Bob Weston; Beastie Boy Adam "MCA" Yauch.


Goodbye, Cruel World

Need a playlist to get you in that end of the world kinda mood? Here's ten tunes to get you started (in alphabetical order by artist):

1. AC/DC "Highway to Hell" from the album Highway to Hell [Atlantic-1979]
2. Black Sabbath "Electric Funeral" from the album Paranoid [Warner Bros-1970]
3. Blue Oyster Cult "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" from the album Agents of Fortune [Columbia-1976]
4. Jeff Buckley "The Sky is a Landfill" from the album Sketches from 'My Sweetheart the Drunk' [Epic-1998]
5. Chris Cornell "Preaching the End of The World" from the album Euphoria Morning [A&M-1999]
6. The Doors "When the Music's Over" from the album Strange Days [Elektra-1967]
7. The Police "When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around" from the album Zenyatta Mondatta [A&M-1980]
8. R.E.M. "It's the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)" from the album Document [I.R.S.-1987]
9. Smashing Pumpkins "Doomsday Clock" from the album Zeitgeist [Reprise-2007]
10. U2 "Until the End of the World" from the album Achtung Baby [Island-1990]


Yes - "Astral Traveller" (1970)

Before it got bloated and full of itself--right around the time the punks showed up, more or less--prog was an innovative and often transcendent expression of rock's polar opposites: accessible and inviting melodies coupled with an impressionistic reliance on instrumental virtuosity. But when it worked, as it often did in its '70s heyday...oh!

"Astral Traveller" is from Yes' sophomore album Time and a Word [Atlantic].


1978-1982: The Lost Half Decade

As the bland part of the '70s was coming to a end, most of the big names of the decade were on a crappy record-making binge (the Stones' Some Girls being one exception). And despite the mighty Ramones' ground-breaking albums, punk was a fringe, underground thing here in the colonies. In the midst of this was a window before mass consumption-intended "new wave" and "hair" metal took over, one in which some really cool rock and roll managed to sneak in. Actually, some of it has become down right legendary. Those records have always gotten their deserved accolades but it seems like the particular time period in which they were released does not. Perhaps this is due to overlap between decades. Regardless, we think recognition is long overdue.

A baker's dozen of notable releases from the era:

AC/DC Back in Black [Atlantic-1980], The Cars (self-titled debut) [Elektra-1978], Cheap Trick At Budokan [Epic-1979], The Clash London Calling [Epic-1980], Elvis Costello This Year's Model [Columbia-1978], Iron Maiden Number of the Beast [Capitol-1982], Joe Jackson Look Sharp! [A&M-1979], Ozzy Osbourne Blizzard of Ozz [Jet-1980], Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Damn the Torpedoes! [Backstreet-1978], The Pretenders (self-titled debut) [Sire-1980], The Police Regatta de Blanc [A&M-1978], Van Halen (self-titled debut) [Warner Bros-1978], XTC Drums and Wires [Geffen-1979].


Digital Band: Rush

It's widely accepted that MTV by virtue of the video clip becoming a very powerful promotional tool, rendered obsolete "faceless" artists and those who the camera was not fond of, so to speak. Yet, by late 1982 this venerable trio of non-matinee idols managed to reach Billboard's Top 10 and sell a million copies of Signals [Mercury-1982], their most recent album. More importantly, it's one of those rare examples of an artist modernizing their sound--the influence of another trio with a singing bassist was keenly felt: the middle section in "Digital Man" is reminiscent of "Walking on the Moon"; and there are some other "new wave" flourishes throughout the album--without becoming dated and stale over the years.

Unfortunately, this was unacceptable for the band's long-time producer Terry Brown who resisted the band's departure from the more prog-rock inclined material of the band's past, a move championed in particular by vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee. The shift in direction paid off both artistically and commercially and paved the way for Rush enjoying a successful run on both fronts that stretched thru the first half of the '80s.


2012 Milestones

As 2012 comes to an end we thought we'd look back and take stock of a few albums, movies, etc. that celebrate significant anniversaries. Here we go:

- The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan all debuted in 1962, 50 years ago. And although the latter two are still active, it's also the golden anniversary of Paul McCartney's musical career.

- Three legendary debut albums had milestones in 2012: Are You Experienced? [Reprise-1967], Never Mind the Bollocks, It's The Sex Pistols [Warner Bros-1977] and Appetite for Destruction [Geffen-1987], turned 45, 35, and 25, respectively. And lest we forget: The Doors' debut platter [Elektra-1967]. Meanwhile, Radiohead's landmark OK Computer [Parlophone-1997] turned 15, and two lauded records of the 21st century celebrated 10th anniversaries: Beck's Sea Change [DGC-2002] and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [Nonsuch-2002].

- Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt (Green Day), Melissa Auf Der Mar (Hole), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), and Wyclef Jean (Fugees), all turned 40 this year. So did a couple of power pop classics, Big Star’s #1 Record [Stax], and Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything? [Bearsville], as well as, arguably, prog rock's finest recorded moment: Close to the Edge [Atlantic] by Yes.

Our annual recap, is right around the corner...