Tuesday, February 24, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1973

For this month's yearly musical tribute I chose 1973, a year where the last remnants of '60s psychedelia and the Motown sound played out while the seeds of the disco, funk, punk and new wave movements were first planted. I've made no secret of my classic rock bias --after all, I used to disc jockey in a '70s rock format-- but on this special occasion I've doubled the size of my usual best-of lists just to give you the sense of how loaded '73 was. When I think of '70s music in general, the first year that comes to mind is always 1973. Here's twenty reasons why:

1. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John. A sprawling double-album that encompasses Sir Elton's transition from thoughtful, cerebral pianist to flamboyant '70s pop star. Mega-hits like "Bennie & The Jets" and the title track flow effortlessly with deep tracks like "Grey Seal" and "All The Girls Love Alice."
2. Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan. Walter Becker has a zillion great guitar solos on this album. Heck, there's a zillion great guitar solos on "My Old School" alone.
3. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd. The first CD I ever owned, but that's almost beside the point. You can criticize the Floyd all you want for being stoner heroes, but this was a well-crafted concept album that proved there's more to space-rock than repetitive droning and cryptic lyrics.
4. New York Dolls, New York Dolls
5. The Wild, The Innocent, & the E-Street Shuffle, Bruce Springsteen
6. Quadrophenia, The Who
7. Raw Power, The Stooges
8. For Your Pleasure, Roxy Music
9. A Wizard, a True Star, Todd Rundgren
10. Paris 1919, John Cale
11. Berlin, Lou Reed. Like Cale's album, this is a solo career high point from a former member of the Velvet Underground. Where Cale put together a string of pretty, plaintive short stories, Reed created an opera of debauchery, a fascinating concept album about the pitfalls of drug abuse.
12. Innervisions, Stevie Wonder
13. Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin
14. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, Bruce Springsteen
15. Headhunters, Herbie Hancock
16. Stranded, Roxy Music
17. There Goes Rhymin' Simon, Paul Simon
18. Brain Salad Surgery, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
19. The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, Joe Walsh. The first twelve seconds of "Meadows" pretty much sums up everything you ever wanted to know about Joe as a person. Plus, this is the album with "Rocky Mountain Way."
20. Band on the Run, Paul McCartney & Wings. This is not a perfect album by any means --"Let Me Roll It" is a blatant rewrite of "Don't Let Me Down"-- but it captures Paul McCartney's oft-vilified side project at its tightest and most focused.

I also had a difficult time whittling down my ten favorite songs from that year (not including songs from the albums listed above), so I broke it down to two lists: here's the tops in pop and rock...

"You're So Vain," Carly Simon (the song's about Warren Beatty... I think)
"Frankenstein," The Edgar Winter Group
"She's Gone," Hall & Oates
"Tubular Bells," Mike Oldfield
"Heartbreaker (Do Do Do Do Do)," The Rolling Stones
"Captain Jack," Billy Joel (yes, I like this song more than "Piano Man")
"Ecstasy," The Raspberries
"Right Place, Wrong Time," Dr. John
"Dancing in the Moonlight," King Harvest
"The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia," Vicki Lawrence

...and soul and R&B:

"Killing Me Softly (With His Song)," Roberta Flack
"Love Train," The O-Jays
"Let's Get It On," Marvin Gaye
"Midnight Train to Georgia," Gladys Knight & The Pips
"Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," Al Green
"Stir It Up," Johnny Nash
"Drift Away," Dobie Gray
"One of a Kind Love Affair," Spinners
"Keep on Truckin'," Eddie Kendricks
"Masterpiece," The Temptations

Before I go, I have two pieces of news. First off, my article "The Night They Stole the Stanley Cup!" will be published in the Spring 2009 issue of Nostalgia Digest; this is my third contribution to the magazine since 2006. Secondly, make sure to check out my eulogy for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (one of my few non-SNL reviews at TV.com) here. It should be third from the top.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Random Notes, February 2009

+ I don't know about you, but I miss analog TV signals already. ;)

+ Being a history buff, I get a kick out of those lists where historians rank the US presidents. The latest list (courtesy of C-SPAN, released yesterday) doesn't reveal that many surprises; much like their 2000 survey Lincoln, Washington, and FDR cracked the top three while James Buchanan finished dead last. It should be noted that this is the first list of presidential rankings to include George W. Bush (as a rule, the sitting president is always excluded), who finished 36th out of 42. In determining Dubya's place in history --four weeks after leaving office, anyway-- this group of historians gave our 43rd president points for pursuing equal justice for all and crisis leadership, but demerits for international relations and economic management. The list was a bit more generous to President Bush's last five predecessors: Ronald Reagan cracked the top ten, while Gerald Ford finished 22nd, Jimmy Carter 25th, Bush 41 was 18th, and Bill Clinton coming in at 15th.

+ I wish I could say I was excited about this year's Academy Awards, but I'm still convinced that this is the weakest crop of nominees in recent memory. There were a handful of great performances this year (there's no way Heath Ledger is losing this Sunday) but the best picture category leaves something to be desired. The Reader has a 60% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, far and away the lowest of the five nominated movies; the film is a showcase (physically and literally) for Kate Winslet and she's the odds-on favorite to win best actress, but there's not much else about this Holocaust drama to merit being one of the top five movies of 2008. Harvey Weinstein is at least partially to blame; his smooth operating and one-man publicity blitz pushed The Reader ahead of Gran Torino and The Dark Knight for that final slot. On that note, I'm picking Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture, Danny Boyle for Best Director, and Rourke, Winslet, Ledger, and Davis in the acting categories.

+ Finally, after some internal debate I've decided to dip my feet back into the the cutthroat, no-holds-barred world of fantasy baseball. I signed up for the TV.com league at Yahoo! last week and we're holding our draft on March 14th. After finishing 5th out of 8 last year and losing consecutive playoff series to two "ghost" teams, I felt an uncontrollable urge for redemption. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gettin' Schooled

Am I shocked by Alex Rodriguez' confession to using steroids? Yes. Am I suprised? No. Yesterday's fess-up brings us to two sad conclusions: that virtually every above-average hitter in baseball between 1995 and 2005 used performance-enhancing drugs at some point in their career, and that Jose Canseco is a sage in spite of being a jealous, money-grubbing douchebag. My disappointment is tempered by my assumption that the other shoe was bound to drop, and the timing couldn't have been worse, considering that pitchers and catchers report at the end of the week. In the end, A-Rod put his public image first and admitted to something that Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens have refused to declare in spite of overwhelming evidence against them. To me Rodriguez is an anti-hero, the man who didn't do the right thing until it was almost too late, two parts noble and smarmy.

Meanwhile... last weekend I attended my first high school basketball game in seven years. I did this almost at the spur of the moment; last week, a fellow member of the Downers Grove North Class of 2003 sent me a Facebook invite to last Saturday's game, and I spent the next days debating whether or not to go. This old schoolmate of mine was the daughter of the former head football coach, and at halftime he was going to be inducted into our school's athletic hall of fame. With hours to spare I decided to go to the game, if only to see a few people that I haven't crossed paths with in almost six years. It was "pack the house" night, so I left early to find decent parking.

With extra time to kill and no interest whatsoever in watching the junior varsity game, I decided to wander around my old stomping grounds. It was almost pure chance that I stumbled across one of my old teachers grading papers in his classroom. We chatted for about 15-20 minutes, discussing current events and whatnot. I apologized if I was at any time smug and arrogant in class --which I was-- and he mostly shrugged it off. I was also flattered to discover that he kept my copy of our AP U.S. History textbook from six years ago. Considering that Downers North lost by 5, and I didn't see as many ex-classmates as I thought I would, running into an old teacher certainly made this experience worth the trip.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You Ain't Seen Nothing Like the Mighty Quinn

It took seven weeks, but he's finally gone... or so we thought. My governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, was kicked out of office last Thursday on a unanimous vote by the Illinois State Senate. To further salt his imaginary wounds, the senate also voted 59-0 to forbid him from ever running for public office in our state again. What ultimately torpedoed Blagojevich was that he never admitted to any wrongdoing nor specifically addressed the charges against him. In his closing statement to the senate, he apologized for being too pushy at times, stated that he was only looking out for the state's best interests, but it was clear that he didn't take the accusations all that seriously. As a result, his last four or five allies in the senate turned their back on him.

Hopefully this view of Blago doesn't clash with the image most non-Illinoisans are familiar with, the one where he pops up on any talk show that will book him so he can declare himself a victim and a pariah. His latest stop will be on Letterman, where he'll sit down for his first post-impeachment interview tonight. I can only hope that Dave will grill the ex-gov tonight, and that this experience discourages Blagojevich from stating his case with an apathetic public that neither voted for him nor heard of him prior to December 9th. His newfound articulation and awkward urges to recite 19th-century poetry did nothing to conceal his status as a hustler, a raging egomaniac, and a cog in the Chicago political machine, and I tip my hat to our state senate for making the brave decision to throw his sorry ass out of office. On that note, I send my regards to our new governor Patrick Quinn, a moderate-left reformer type who washed his hands clean of Blago a long time ago. Quinn has yet to accomplish anything of consequence, but he's already the best state executive we've had since Jim Edgar left office ten years ago.

Other notes:

+ I was disappointed to learn last week that my entire office is taking a 5% pay cut to further soften the edge of our company's financial struggles. Considering that we had layoffs back in November, I worry that this might be a slippery slope but I realize that this is the current state of the radio industry. I can only hope that things stabilize, and the sooner the better.

+ Here's an interesting article regarding Obama's effect on the culture wars. I was fascinated by how it goes into great detail about church-state seperation and the need for religious liberty.

+ Speaking of our 44th president- I'll admit that his first two weeks in office have been a mixed bag. Obama made the wise decision to close Guantanemo Bay, but I'm not fully convinced that his economic stimulus plan was nonpartisan or ready to make an immediate impact. I guess the objective is to spend money now to make money later, as this withdrawal of cash would go towards energy, education, and infrastructure, but it's still another heaping of government spending.

+ Today marks the 6th anniversary of when I launched my account at TV Tome (the precursor to TV.com). Thank you again to everyone that has made all of this possible.