Tuesday, August 25, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1969

With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and the moon landing in the rear-view mirrors of our minds, this month's musical lovefest drops down on 1969. It's difficult to find fault with the waning days of the '60s --Altamont notwithstanding-- if only because so many major acts were running on all cylinders. It was the last great year for Motown and all things psychedelic, the first great year for hard rock and the singer-songwriter era, and AM radio bubblegum was at its apex. Alas, this year was jam-packed with so much good stuff that I couldn't squeeze it down to ten songs and ten albums, so this month I decided to double up.


1. Abbey Road, The Beatles. The Fab Four's last studio effort --and their penultimate release as a band-- is a case example of brilliance under duress. There was little questioning the fact that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were barely on speaking terms at this point, with Ringo Starr at the eye of the storm. The album itself is a continuation of the themes set by The White Album and strongly foreshadows the entire band's varying solo careers. Several ideas, including the "Sun King" medley on Side B, feel unfinished or half-hearted yet mesh well together. Harrison steals the show, however with two of the finest songs he ever wrote, "Something" and "Here Comes The Sun."
2. Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin. Where the first album was 45 minutes of compelling, hard-charging acid-blues, the sequel found Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones moving towards a sound that would be distinctly their own. "Whole Lotta Love" sets the tone and it never lets up.
3. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground. Of the Velvets' four proper albums this is arguably my favorite. They're all masterpieces in their own right, but there's something about their third full-player that I keep coming back to. Most rock historians judge this album as the one that single-handedly turned folk-rock upside down, an argument that's hard to dispute; it's a mostly acoustic affair flavored by the nihilistic weirdness of the Velvets' first two efforts. Purists often deride Doug Yule's presence on the disc (he replaced founding member John Cale) but he only factors on two tracks; Lou Reed is the undisputed star here.
4. Tommy, The Who
5. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Neil Young
6. The Band, The Band
7. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin
8. Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire), The Kinks
9. Let It Bleed, The Rolling Stones
10. Willy and the Poor Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival. In this day and age, a band releasing two new studio albums in one calendar year is unheard of. In 1969, CCR released three LPs, and third of that bunch rivals Cosmo's Factory as one of their strongest efforts. The beautifully haunting "Effigy" notwithstanding it's also their breeziest album, 30+ minutes of country-blues-rockabilly fun.

11. In a Silent Way, Miles Davis. If there's an album in the legendary Davis oeurve that parallels The Beatles' Rubber Soul as a turning point in the artist's style and dynamic, this is probably it. Muted and ambient, In a Silent Way was a farewell of sorts to the bebop-tinged jazz that put Miles on the map and the beginning of a hard push into avant-garde and the fusion sound that dominated his early-70s work.
12. In The Court of the Crimson King, King Crimson
13. Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan
14. Blind Faith, Blind Faith
15. Santana, Santana
16. Unhalfbricking, Fairport Convention
17. Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago
18. Karma, Pharoah Sanders
19. Volunteers, Jefferson Airplane
20. Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. Upon listening to this album for the first time, one could call this double-LP a bizarre, unlistenable mess; after all, it's five "musicians" that can barely play their instruments as a white Howlin' Wolf imitator recites stream-of-consciousness poetry. Then you peel away the layers; the sound was orchestrated to be abstract, the arrangements carefully scripted and manicured by Beefheart himself, Don Van Vliet, and his partner in crime Frank Zappa. A highly influential album in the punk/new wave era, not as a literal musical starting point but as a catalyst of do-it-yourself experimentation.

"Dizzy," Tommy Roe
"Suspicious Minds," Elvis Presley
"Sweet Caroline," Neil Diamond
"In The Year 2525," Zager and Evans
"(Theme from) Hawaii Five-O," The Ventures
"Tracy," The Cuff Links
"One," Three Dog Night
"You've Made Me So Very Happy," Blood, Sweat & Tears
"Polk Salad Annie," Tony Joe White
"Get Together," The Youngbloods

"Get Ready," Rare Earth
"Baby It's You," Smith
"What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)," Jr. Walker & The All-Stars
"Compared to What," Les McCann and Eddie Harris
"Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In," The 5th Dimension
"With a Little Help From My Friends," Joe Cocker
"Spirit in the Sky," Norman Greenbaum
"Touch Me," The Doors
"Space Oddity," David Bowie
"Pictures of Matchstick Men," Status Quo

Finally, for next month's annual musical salute, I was thinking of doing a people's choice. I'd like to cover the year 1999, but I've only listened to five or six albums from that year (not counting the Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys CDs that my sister nearly played to death). Feel free to PM me your suggestions.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stuart Matthew Allard, the First 9,131 Days or So: A Self-Indulgent 25th Birthday Celebration

Last week, in the span of 24 hours I achieved three milestones at TV.com: 25,000 forum posts, 300 forum topics created, and 14,900 approved submissions. Either this cements my status as one of the most prolific contributors in the unofficial nine-year history of the site or makes a statement about my fledging social life, take your pick. On top of that, today's my 25th birthday and we're entering what is considered the "slow" part of the year in terms of current events*. So how should I take advantage of this unusual alignment of stars? Why, some top five lists, of course!

Five Trendy Dog Names That Could Easily Be Confused for Skin Disorders:

1. "Frengle"
2. "Zena"
3. "Taz"
4. "Rosacea"
5. "Spot"

Five Elements on the Periodic Table and Their Long-Hidden Criminal Records:

1. Strontium (held up a White Hen Pantry)
2. Bismuth (37 parking tickets dating back to 1998)
3. Praseodymium (allegedly instigated a Lanthanoid-Actinoid gang war)
4. Ununoctium (two counts of graft, three counts of mail fraud; walked on a technicality)
5. Krypton (no explanation necessary)

Five Unhelpful Sentences Used by Spelling Bee Judges to Derive the Meaning of the Word:

1. "_________ is the word you are trying to spell."
2. "_________ is one of my favorite words."
3. "_________ is a word that will never come out of Spencer Pratt's mouth."
4. "There is a single word that could alter the course of your life, that if spelled correctly will give you the personal validation and respect of your peers that you've been largely denied in your brief lifetime, and if answered incorrectly will not only further your social ostracization but hinder any future human interaction and subject you to a long, miserable life of silent anguish... and that word is _________."
5. "If you don't spell _________, I will lose fifty dollars. Let's be honest- this whole thing is rigged."

My Five Favorite Current Pittsburgh Pirates:

1. That guy
2. The other guy
3. That dude, you know, with the moustache?
4. The bullpen catcher
5. Andrew McCutchen

*Yes, I realize President Obama is backpedaling on universal health care, but there's really nothing I can add to the subject that I didn't already say two weeks ago. Plus, today's my birthday!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Capricious Card Collector Conundrum

As some of my longtime readers know, I have a large collection of sports cards and memorabilia. One of the more peculiar trends in recent years is the insertion of cards featuring famous non-athletes, stars from unrelated sports, or cards commemorating historical events. Case in point: in any pack of 2009 Upper Deck Heroes football, you are just as likely to pull a Jay Cutler or Ladainian Tomlinson card as you would Thomas Edison or Davy Crockett. In one pack of 2009 Spectrum baseball (another UD brand) that I bought earlier this year, I pulled an authentic Kendra Wilkinson autograph card, made all the more impressive because I had no idea she could read or write. But I digress.

I mention this because Upper Deck is just about to take this fad to a peculiar extreme. This week, the California-based company will release Goodwin Champions, a faux-retro set depicting modern-day players on an obscure 19th-century card design. The prospect of seeing sepia-toned trading cards of Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter is nothing new, if brands like Topps Heritage and the rejuvinated O-Pee-Chee are any indicator. The key issue is what will be inserted in packs of Goodwin. This product will feature an insert set called Landmarks (elements from notable locations, like sand from the Gobi Desert and salt from the Dead Sea, in clear plastic casing), Thoroughbred Haircut cards (swatches of hair from Smarty Jones and Funny Cide, among others), and perhaps most interestingly, cards celebrating the field of entomology featuring actual specimens. Yes folks, dead bugs in a pack of baseball cards. Whoever handles product development at Upper Deck has clearly lost their mind, and we shall suffer for their insanity. For more information, plus a scanned image of a dead bug card, click here.

Other notes:

+ In case you hadn't already heard...

+ I caught a preview of the new NBC comedy "Community," and to be honest it doesn't look half-bad. As much as I enjoyed "My Name Is Earl," the tone of this new show fits better with the remaining Thursday night comedies.

+ As of yesterday, both of my fantasy baseball teams are in fifth place. I'm still debating in my head whether or not to drop Scott Rolen; if all else fails, I'll keep him on my bench until he recovers from "concussion-like symptoms."

+ A woman in New York State became the first American recipient of a wireless pacemaker that will allow her doctor to monitor her heartbeat via the internet. I wonder what would happen if she wandered into a dead zone...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The First 6 1/2 Months

Last week, President Obama held a press conference to announce that ecomonic growth is moving faster than previously expected. While we're not quite out of the recession just yet, it was a minor highlight in what has been an otherwise hit-and-miss first six months for the Obama administration. Though his approval rating might be just below 60%, it's not necessarily nose-diving. While the first 100 days might set the tone for an administration, it's not an indicator of where a president's public support will be in six months, much less a year down the road. (for more number-crunching, check out this article from RealClearPolitics.) Considering my reputation for just-left-of-center political posturing, one might wonder what my thoughts are toward President Obama at this point in time. Well...

With the Dow Jones back in the 9000s and unemployment holding steady --not rising, not shrinking, just there-- it seems that the worst aspects of the recession are behind us. Even so, I'll admit that Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package is off to a slow start. I guess the confusion begins at the speed of which the money is spent; it'd be foolish to spend it all in the matter of a year, though the rate at which the $787 billion is actually being spent keeps accelerating. I haven't a clue as to how much the economy really has been affected by the stimulus, though if it really is skimming over unrelated policy goals, it won't be the monsterous long-term debt that most conservatives have feared.

On a related note, and I say this with great trepidation, I don't think the president's attempts at health care reform are going to pull through; not because of the expense, but because of Obama's inattentiveness towards the small details. In other words, how universal is universal health care? Will surplus money really go towards lowering the costs of medicine? He's not aggressively pushing the fix, yet strangely reluctant to compromise, which has resulted in bickering between moderate Democrats and the party core. The moderates and conservatives are obstructing reform, and while I don't necessarily blame them, their greatest nitpick seems to be the price tag and not in the outline. Health care reform is not hopeless, though it may appear that way; what isn't repaired now will have ramifications for years to come, no matter how flawed Obama's proposal might be.

Sadly, I can't avoid the subject of race. Before Obama took office, I'd hoped that this topic would be largely avoided, but both sides of the political spectrum keep dragging it out for a debate that nobody wants to join in. The Skip Gates controversy should be water under the bridge by now, and I'm not convinced that Sonia Sotomayor is any more racist than Antonin Scalia. Unfortnately, there's a stereotypical public perception that the majority of America's black population gravitiates towards socialism and that Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are leading the movement. That's pure ignorance for a variety of reasons. One of the smartest things Obama has done, however is keeping Jackson and Sharpton's influence to a minimum; he's still playing to the center and they'd just be far-left deadweight. These three man are community leaders, but they are not the faces of Black America.

A red-blooded conservative will look at this and think I'm an Obama apologist, but I'm not writing this to paint a rosy picture. With power comes responsibility, and responsibility begats risk. That was probably the hardest-fought lesson I learned from the Bush administration, the only difference is Bush seemed far more content working by himself and doing things his way, regardless of what the GOP core had in mind. There's no question that the policies that President Obama has put into effect these past few months have been drastic and polarizing, but I'm still guardedly optimistic that there will be long-term benefits. Rome wasn't built in a day, and America won't be rebuilt overnight.

Other notes:

+ If I still had my black '98 Taurus, I'm pretty sure it'd be eligible for that "cash for clunkers" program.

+ The weekend before last, I completed and passed Improv Level A at Second City. I start Level B this coming Sunday.

+ My Royals did next to nothing at the trade deadline, picking up a utility outfielder from Detroit for cash considerations. I don't think .500 is feasible at this point, but 75 wins is not out of reach.

+ I started up a fantasy football league over at Yahoo just for TV.com members. If you're interested, PM me as soon as possible.