Monthly Archives: October 2010

Take Five: True Confessions About Phil Collins

When I was little, I had a strange affinity for the music video to Phil Collins’ “Do You Remember?”

Perhaps it was because it was a story of young love, and at that age I could identify with the affection between the paper boy and the neighbor girl. And, of course, I’m a giant, ballad-loving sap to begin with. Either way, that is the earliest date to which I can trace back my abnormal attraction to the work of Phil Collins.

I know I’m not supposed to be this way. I’m supposed to eschew Collins-led Genesis in favor of Gabriel-led Genesis (which I do appreciate). I’m supposed to forsake Phil because of his latter-day Disney schlock (which I do renounce) and dismiss the rest of his catalog as soft rock garbage. But when confronted with true talent, enduring songs and a stellar collection of music videos, there’s little I can do to resist. All I can do is sing along (and since some Collins hits have recently entered my list of karaoke standards, that is exactly what I do).

Phil Collins was the sleeping giant of the 1980s. While other artists may have been flashier or more chart-topping, Collins and his cunning pop sensibility — whether solo or fronting Genesis — modestly amassed a slew of hits that over time became standards. He helped define the 80s power ballad with songs like “One More Night,” “Groovy Kind of Love,” “Hold on my Heart” and “In Too Deep.” He got us snapping our fingers with “Sussudio,” “Don’t Lose my Number” and “Invisible Touch,” thinking with “Another Day in Paradise,” “No Son of Mine” and “Land of Confusion,” chuckling with “I Can’t Dance” and “Jesus He Knows Me.” Sure, there are songs that don’t do much for me, like “Two Hearts,” “Easy Lover” and “You Can’t Hurry Love,” but given the number of winners, that’s a small percentage. I’m convinced that everyone must have at least one Phil Collins song that they like.

Phil Collins, of course, enjoyed the height of his popularity during the glory days of the music video, and he embraced the medium wholeheartedly, never taking himself too seriously and often amping up the narrative or entertainment factor. From the epic and warped puppet video for “Land of Confusion” and the international-themed clip for “Take Me Home” to the dog’s eye view in “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” and the dream sequence of “I Wish It Would Rain Down,” Collins and Genesis always went all in when it came to videos.

So, why this post? While I have always had an abiding enjoyment of his catalog, my Collins karaoke fervor has given me reason to revisit it and truly appreciate the quality and depth of what he accomplished. Thus, I am becoming an evangelist. I want to rescue Phil Collins from the slag heap and get him the respect he deserves for his accomplishments. To that end, I’d like to post some of my favorite Collins songs and videos, sharing why I like them so much and giving you a chance to revisit them as well. And I’d love to hear your favorites in the comments.

Take Me Home

(Solo) Earnest and heartfelt, but less wispy than a ballad, with an awesome globetrotting video. Noteworthy: this song plays over the intercom at the departure gates in Las Vegas’ airport. In the same vein…

Follow You Follow Me

(Genesis) The delightful wash of keyboards that envelops this song, one of Genesis’ first mainstream hits (1978!), really make it stand out.

Something Happened on the Way to Heaven

(Solo) Lately, this is one of my favorite songs to perform in karaoke — I performed it once on a lark and it stuck. The video is so odd — no one seems to care that this dog is wandering around their set, peeing and crapping and eating their food. The show must go on, I suppose.

Land of Confusion

(Genesis) This video is still awesome, still bizarre– though sadly, the song is still ringing true in some respects. Either way, this video was an amazing application of the form,  using puppets from the UK show “Spitting Image.” It’s a shame it had to go up against “Sledgehammer” in the 1987 VMAs. But, come on, “Sledgehammer.”

Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)

(Solo) Ah, yes, my go-to karaoke ballad. You know, some of the best and most defining songs of the ’80s came from the soundtracks of utterly unmemorable movies. Here is a case in point.

I Wish It Would Rain Down

(Solo) In this vignette, Collins portrays a rehearsal pianist who gets his chance at playing lead in the big show, and while singing his song he dreams of stardom. Also, this video features Jeffrey Tambor as the neurotic director. Oh, right, the song — classic Collins balladry, with Eric Clapton shredding on the guitar and a chorus of “oooohs” raining down behind Collins’ voice.

Jesus He Knows Me

(Genesis) I will admit that, while I like this song, I’m adding this one purely for the video. It’s sharp, snappy and highly entertaining. It comes off of 1991’s “We Can’t Dance,” the band’s last major album, which also spawned the great tracks “No Son Of Mine” and the infamous “I Can’t Dance.” After this album, both Genesis and Collins began to enter the twilight of their careers, but they sure as hell went out with a bang.

Want more? You can buy Phil Collins’ greatest hits or Genesis’ greatest hits (affiliate links).

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Take Five: Music Hack Day

So, in case you hadn’t guessed, I’m a nerd. Yes, I’m a music nerd and a web nerd. But I also have a healthy appreciation for the more techie side of things — perhaps it comes from doing a large portion of my growing up on a BBS and being friends with numerous programmers over the years. While my early indulgence in HTML and CSS didn’t serve as a gateway drug into actual programming, I can still understand the principles and appreciate what goes into some quality hacking.

That said, when I realized that this year’s Music Hack Day would auspiciously fall during my one free weekend in October, I knew I had to be there, bad cold be damned. The stated goal of the event is “to explore and build the next generation of music applications,” which gets me right in the core of my geeky heart.

While the developers spent the whole weekend hacking (and not so much sleeping), I only showed up for the demos on Sunday afternoon. In just over an hour and a half, the hackers sped through 2-minute Ignite-style presentations of their hacks — 40, altogether. Here are some of the video highlights:

DIY Cee-Lo Video

Toscanini Gestural Control Interface

PseudoConvolver (playing the bass with your voice, and vice versa)

Some of my favorite hacks (full list):

  • sQRatchLive – A scrobbler that not only tweets what’s playing currently, but generates a QR code that can be projected on a screen so people can buy the song.
  • On The Fly – dynamic setlist generator
  • hazMash – Create your own mashups!
  • Scrobbyl – Allows you to scrobble tracks from vinyl, cassette and CD
  • MusicSeeder – Music recommendations based on your Facebook “likes”
  • TwitterPlay – “TwitterPlay takes the top Twitter trends of the day, searches for songs with those keywords as lyrical content, and generates a playlist based on those results.”
  • Danceability Index – This one was really cool. You can invest in the stock market based on the danceability of popular songs. “Dancing without moderation suggests a peak of irrational exuberance,” said hacker Joe Rothermich. Awesome.
  • Jennie’s Ultimate Road Trip – Create a road trip itinerary based on music recommendations.
  • Show Preview – Helps you determine whether you should come early to see an opening act you’ve never heard of by aggregating band info and song clips.
  • Twitter for Music – A way of publishing “disposable” music in the form of tweet-sized (60-90 second) clips. People can follow or unfollow.
  • WeJayy – a collaborative realtime playlist generator.

The creativity, ingenuity and stamina on display were amazing. The event was organized by The Echo Nest, a company I’m proud to say is based in Somerville, which develops platforms for music app development. Many of the apps above were built using various elements of The Echo Nest API. The list of additional sponsors is quite impressive, as well.

Much like Rock Shop Boston, events like this are helping fans and musicians alike enter a new era for the music industry. Can’t wait to see which of these hacks makes it into the next release of iTunes… or hell, becomes the next iTunes.

Take Five: The Cal Ripken Edition

So. I’ve kept up my weekly Take Five publication schedule on Safe Digression for MONTHS. And I’m not about to let a Friday wedged between two out-of-state conferences (plus a cold) stop me. This post may not be as in depth as past ones, and I honestly have not had time to listen to the new music I’ve been collecting, but I did want to share some of my favorite links from the past few weeks:

Around the Web

In the News

New Music

Killing Radio Stars

A new category for video fun! Here is a reimagining of the “Mad Men” theme song, incorporating Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” alongside RJD2’s “A Beautiful Mine.”
Also, via the folks at xtranormal: Oh Hell, I Married an Indiepop Girl.

SECOND THOUGHTS

If you know me, you know that I love karaoke. It’s the Leo in me — I love performing in front of a crowd. Combine that with a love of music and a penchant for singing, and karaoke is tailor made for me. Who needs alcohol? Just give me the mic.

In the past, when attending karaoke nights, I tended to exist in a state of eager excitement until it was my turn, unable to wait to grab the mic and hog the crowd’s attention for a few minutes. But this past week, when I was in Cincinnati for a conference with the best people ever and we organized a karaoke outing, I found myself more than content to sit back and watch friends new and old take the stage and rock the mic, from standards like “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Baby Got Back” to awesome versions of “The Israelites” and “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” Here’s a group singalong to “Yellow Submarine”:

Maybe I’m growing up. Maybe I was just in awesome company. Either way, it was an amazing time of mostly hanging out in the crowd, dancing like a fool and cheering on my friends. And that’s what karaoke is about — good times and good people.

So, next time you’re in Cincinnati, head over to Hamburger Mary‘s for karaoke. Tell ’em HighEdWeb sent you.

Take Five: Rock Shop #8 – A Social Media Experiment

On Oct. 6, I attended the eighth installment of the Rock Shop series of music biz/promotion workshops for Boston bands. This event (cosponsored by JitterJam) was part of the FutureM series of events taking place across the metro Boston area this week, focused on the future of marketing.

Aaron Perrino of The Sheila Divine/Dear Leader, Keith Freund of RIBS, Michael J. Epstein of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling and Jake of Lagoon shared a stage with organizers/sponsors Charles McEnerney (Well-Rounded Radio), Clay N. Ferno (Middle East), Steve Theo (Pirate!) and Marty Watts (JitterJam) to talk about how they use social media.

Here are the band’s social media backgrounds:

  • Aaron – With the funds they’ve raised via Kickstarter to support the recording of a new album, they plan to Ustream weekly recording sessions and interact with fans during that time, and the fans could affect the ultimate product. A crowdsourced recording effort – pretty cool. Note: Aaron also works at Barbarian Group.
  • Keith – Reddit, of all places, gave the band their start, via  a personal post he made as an afterthought. That led to the band having the top rock release on Bandcamp, getting played on mainstream radio in Canada and selling 600 copies of their debut EP in the first week of release. The key, both Keith and Michael agreed, was posting as Keith, not as RIBS (such as Amanda Palmer tweets as herself and not as Dresden Dolls).
  • Michael – Since Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (from their name to their songs) is inspired largely by the old 60s TV show “The Prisoner,” the band identified the places where fans of the show hung out on the web and reached out to them. That led to press interest in England (where the show was quite popular) before they had even played any shows. Connect with audiences that will respond in a unique way to what you’re creating, Michael advised.
  • Jake – Lagoon acquired a rather large but scattershot international Twitter following, for reasons unknown, and they have had to try to balance this against the need to cultivate a IRL presence in the local scene.

Aaron Perrino (performing my favorite Dear Leader song, “My Life as a Wrestler”)

And here are some of the key points made during the panel discussion:

  • Charlie – Every band needs to manage themselves like a small business.
  • Clay – Use social media for immediacy, to get info (like new ticket availability) out to fans quickly and directly
  • Michael – Balancing both sides of music – the creative side and the business side – takes time and hard work, and if you don’t like it, you may be doing the wrong thing.
  • Keith – In RIBS, they keep a standard list of administrative tasks that need to be performed, so that whoever is available — whether it’s a band member or a friend — can take care of them.
  • Keith and Jake evangelized for Google Docs and Google Calendar. It was odd to hear such testimonies on the Middle East stage.
  • Michael: “There used to be an obvious path, but there is no correct path anymore.”
  • Jake – The music scene is thriving on collaboration, not competition. Examples: Michael made a video of bands he shared a bill with to help promote a show; Clay gives band members admin access to events he created on Facebook.
  • Jake – Content is key, but don’t share unless it’s meaningful, and be consistent and stick with it — success and results do not come instantly.
  • Keith – RIBS mobilized their Reddit fans into quality connections who became ambassadors for the band.
  • Everyone agrees Bandcamp is the best thing ever.
  • In the website vs. Facebook/MySpace/etc. domain, the group was split. Aaron said he only uses Facebook, whereas Michael said it is important to have a website (which is the point of view I share).
  • Prior to the event, Michael blogged a social media manifesto, which is really quite a good overview of the basic principles of social media. You should definitely read it.

Lagoon

So, my thoughts:

The points made here echoed much of what I’d heard at previous rock shops on pitching to music bloggers and getting played on local radio: if you work hard and work smart, things will happen, and the music industry is ours for the reinvention. I was impressed by the savvy some of the musicians showed in their understanding of the social media landscape, particularly Michael J. Epstein. They echoed much of what I hear everyday from people who make a living in that field, so good on them.

Still, I think I had misguided expectations for this event. Dubbed a “Social Media Experiment,” I was hoping for crazy things to happen, like bands crowdsourcing cover song requests via Twitter, live streaming video, digital EPs or free MP3s distributed via QR code — activities that would demonstrate the way new media are changing the music business. None of this — aside from some iPhone UStreaming and my failed attempts to use Qik — took place. People shot videos and took/tweeted pictures, sure, and folks like Trish tweeted from the panel, but none of that to me really qualifies as an experiment. Also, while e-mails preceding the event implored attendees to check in to Foursquare and use the #rockshopboston hashtag, none of this was reinforced during the event. And hashtags, nowadays, are really the backbone of any initiative on the social web.

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

Initially, I was fairly disappointed by the way things turned out, but now I realize my expectations were probably unrealistic. I would, however, love to see a performance that encouraged this kind of social media experimentation and a breaking-down of the conventional walls between consumption and creation. You’d probably need to do more work ahead of time to get people invested in the idea, but I think it’d be worthwhile — a true experiment.

I was also disappointed in the turnout. Four really, really amazing bands gave their time and put on awesome performances — for free. And by the time RIBS came on, the place was nearly empty. I have no idea why that was the case. But I consider myself lucky I was there.

RIBS

Steve Theo has done a great job with the Rock Shop events. They are an incredibly valuable resource for the local music community. My effort in chronicling the ones I have attended is in the hopes that musicians who didn’t have the opportunity to attend may come across these recaps and gain a few tips that will help them better navigate these self-charted waters.

Take Five: Compilation Nation

Last week, I surprised myself by waxing rhapsodical on two formative compilations released during my teenage years: No Alternative and DGC Rarities vol. 1. Digging into my memories of those two collections made me recall how compilation albums in general have helped stoke and sate my music fandom over the years.

Back in the late ’90s/early 2000s, when Napster was prevalent but digital music was not yet as pervasive as it is today, compilations served me two purposes: they were the main way I obtained hard-to-find songs, and they were one of my main conduits of exposure to new bands. I would spend hours combing the used compilation racks at CD Spins and Nuggets — a labor of love and a task that I savored, bargain-hunter that I am — often snagging a comp for a buck or two with the song I’d been looking for. Of course, each comp a dozen more songs — a few of which were often gems that sent me down an entirely different path. There were also certain epic compilations that, much like No Alternative, laid the groundwork for bands I would soon fall for while providing complete experiences in and of themselves. Label promos aside, comps are basically mass-marketed mixtapes. The same rules of serendipity apply.

Here are some of my favorites from each category. I’ll start with the cheap snags — the real treasures. (All links are Amazon affiliate links)

Atlantic’s Year in Review 1994: A simple record label promo disc, but it had Lucas’ “Lucas With the Lid Off,” which I’d been wanting for years. Other gems on the disc include All-4-One’s “I Swear,” two versions of Collective Soul’s “Shine” and Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down.” Yeah. Although it does have Frente!’s cover of “Bizarre Love Triangle,” which was a nice bonus find. Cost: $2

Over the Edge: I bought this at Target for $6 or $7, mainly for the Refreshments’ “Banditos,” but I also got… well, not much. Some cruddy songs by Tonic, Orbit, Dishawalla and 311. But “Banditos” might just be worth it. Cost: $6-7

Leather and Lace: The 80s Greatest Rock Hits: I bought this at the old Planet Records in Kenmore Square (before it burned down), mainly for Pat Benetar’s “We Belong,” but I also got “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Bette Davis Eyes,” “Only the Lonely,” “We Got the Beat” mand a bunch of other rock and pop anthems sung by women. Pretty badass. Cost: $4

Action Figures Sold Separately: I only bought this for R.E.M.’s “Wall of Death,” a Richard Thompson cover, but I also got some Mazzy Star, Radiohead and Dinosaur Jr. Not bad for… Cost: $1

Hits Post Modern Syndrome: The Death of Rock ‘N’ Roll: I remember where I bought this one, too: the In Your Ear in Comm Ave. I bought this for Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money In My Hand” (still an awesome song), but I believe this compilation kicked off my Paul Westerberg obsession, thank to the inclusion of “Love Untold.” Another gem: Superdrag’s “Sucked Out.” Cost: $6

Today is the Tomorrow: More fuel for the Westerberg fire, this time with “Lookin’ Out Forever,” but what made this a must-buy at the time was Ben Lee’s “Cigarettes Will Kill You.” This has a bunch of great songs, including Jimmy Eat World’s “Lucky Denver Mint” and Liz Phair’s “Johnny Feelgood.” This may have been my Sparklehorse introduction, as well, with “Sick of Goodbyes.” Cost: $1

KCRW Rare on Air vol. 4: I came for Joan Osborne’s “St. Teresa,” but I was captivated by Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” more Mazzy Star, Jeff Buckley’s “So Real” and an amazing version of Sarah McLachlan’s “Good Enough.” This may have been my introduction to the world of Neil Finn, owing to his duet with Tim on “Only Talking Sense.” Cost: $8

Calvin Klein Jeans: The Rock Your Pants Off Collection: This one, I actually tracked down on eBay. I had been hunting for Peter Murphy’s “The Scarlet Thing in You” (one of my vaunted songs of 1995) for years, and thanks to Calvin Klein, I was finally able to acquire it. This comp is a real mixed back, with Jewel and Skid Row thrown in alongside Poe and The Charlatans UK. I didn’t care. I was just happy to have my beloved “Scarlet Thing in You.” Cost: ???

Born to Choose: R.E.M. and Natalie Merchant joining forces on “Photograph” is enough to make me plunk down a few bucks, but this awesome comp also had songs by Matthew Sweet, Sugar and Lucinda Williams. Sweet. Cost: $3

And here are some of the comps that I pursued and enjoyed on their own merits:

VH1 Crossroads: Remember that brief, glorious period of time — in between its adult contemporary beginnings and reality TV present — when VH1 was awesome? This album represents the best of that, with incredible live versions of “Run-Around” by Blues Traveler, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something, “I’m On Fire” by Tori Amos, “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself)” by Pete Droge and Gin Blossoms’ “‘Til I Hear It From You,” just to name a few. The standout, though, is Chris Isaak’s “Somebody’s Crying,” which showed me that behind the softcore porn drek of “Wicked Game,” there was an awesome singer-songwriter.

Women and Songs: I think I got this at the old Tower Records,  and it definitely played to my folky sensibilities. K.D. Lang’s “Constant Craving” was a hook, but I also heard the Corrs, Emmylou Harris, Kacy Crowley, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Jann Arden for the first time. Some bigger hits like Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and Everything But the Girl’s “Missing” enable this compilation to offer something for everybody.

Newbury Comics: the Early Years vols. 1 & 2: In 2003, Newbury Comics released two amazing compilations — one of 18 EMI-Capitol songs from 1977-1984, the other of 18 Rhino tracks from 1977-1986 — and sold them for $5 apiece. They never went beyond volume 2, but I consider myself lucky to have these amazing albums that include classic cuts by Iggy Pop, Devo, Talk Talk, The Misfits, XTC, the Specials, the Buzzcocks, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, Joy Division, Madness, Husker Du and so much more.

Listen to What the Man Said: This 2001 tribute album to Paul McCartney recruited the likes of Owsley, Robyn Hitchcock, the Finn Brothers, the Minus 5, Matthew Sweet and They Might Be Giants to tackled the catalog of the elder statesman of pop. It’s a delightful listen that, nearly ten years later, hasn’t lost its appeal or value.

No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees: So much good stuff on this benefit compilation, including Pearl Jam’s (then-overplayed) cover of “Last Kiss,” Peter Gabriel’s “Black Paintings,” Ben Folds’ “Leather Jacket” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Mary.” Yeah, there’s KORN and Bush and Rage Against the Machine, but since it’s a benefit record, you can’t complain too much.

The Unplugged Collection, vol. 1: Much like VH1 Crossroads, this comp represents the best of the best. So many epic performances are represented here, including Soul Asylum’s “Somebody to Shove,” Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” Elvis Costello’s “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” and Paul McCartney doing “We Can Work it Out.” The crowning point, of course, is the final track, R.E.M. performing “Half a World Away.” Pure magic.

What are your favorite compilations?