Tuesday, May 29, 2012

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1982

If 1981 found pop music in a cocoon, than in 1982 it slowly emerged. (The colorful butterfly was 1983, of course.) MTV was in its first full year, not yet at the cultural forefront but certainly gaining momentum and relevance. After three years under the radar, new wave was suddenly indistingushible from pop; the synthesizers and drum machines that dominated radio for much of the decade planted both feet in '82.  Thanks to Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, you also had two of the most important rap singles of all time.  The singer-songwriter subgenre experienced a short renaissance, courtesy of Bruce Springsteen's first solo album, John Mellancamp's breakout record, and two quarraling Britons (see album #3). Punk gave way to hardcore, and the ashes of disco seeped into soul and R&B.  The only question is, what holds up three decades on?

NOTE: I put the Violent Femmes' first album on my 1983 list two years ago. As such, it is omitted from this list.  My mistake.

1. Thriller, Michael Jackson. You're probably thinking the same thing I am: this album is 30 years old? Indeed it is, and as a pop album this still holds up. Using his 1979 smash Off The Wall as a blueprint, the soon-to-be King of Pop takes the genre-bending and pushes it: harder funk, harder rock, delicate ballads, silky-smooth soul. The centerpiece is the spooky title track, which later became a legendary music video and cultural phenomenon in its own right.
2. 1999, Prince. Speaking of funk, '82 was a breakout year for the little dude from Minnesota that always wore purple. A critics' darling in search of an audience, 1999 put Prince on the map, thanks to hit singles like the title track, "Little Red Corvette," and "D.M.S.R." Side A offers the hits, side B is experimental and challenging; never mind the computers, this is raw talent at full power.
3. Shoot Out The Lights, Richard and Linda Thompson. If Fleetwood Mac's Rumours is the greatest divorce rock album of all time, than this is the British folk tantamount. The irony is that most of the album wasn't written during Dick and Linda's breakup, but two years earlier. Alas, their penchant for songs about domestic squabbles and failing relationships took on a level of immediacy and gravitas the couple had never reached before.
4. Bad Brains, Bad Brains
5. Imperial Bedroom, Elvis Costello
6. Rio, Duran Duran
7. Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen
8. Night and Day, Joe Jackson
9. American Fool, John Cougar Mellancamp
10. Combat Rock, The Clash. In a just world, this would've been their last album; 1985's Cut the Crap did anything but. Sounding more like a jagged arena-rock act than their long-gone punk contemporaries, Combat depicts a band splitting in two: where Mick Jones is aspiring to be the next Pete Townshend, Joe Strummer keeps the band's DIY/funk/reggae influences in check. Another left-field hit in a year overflowing with them.

Honorable Mentions: The Lexicon of Love, ABC; The Message, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five; Pornography, The Cure; Love Over Gold, Dire Straits; Avalon, Roxy Music; English Settlement, XTC.

"Rosanna," Toto
"867-5309/Jenny," Tommy Tutone
"'65 Love Affair," Paul Davis
"Private Eyes," Hall & Oates
"Gloria," Laura Branigan
"Vacation," The Go-Gos
"I Want Candy," Bow Wow Wow
"Situation," Yaz
"Goodnight Saigon," Billy Joel
"Don't Change," INXS

"Run to the Hills," Iron Maiden
"You've Got Another Thing Comin'," Judas Priest
"We're Only Gonna Die," Bad Religion
"Alpha Romeo," Dangerous Birds
"I Always Call Her Back," The Del Fuegos
"Planet Rock," Afrika Bambaataa
"Sexual Healing," Marvin Gaye
"You Dropped a Bomb on Me," The Gap Band
"Forget-Me-Nots," Patrice Rushen
"Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" Culture Club

1. "Hungry Like The Wolf," Duran Duran. The first "big budget" video was also a game-changer, one of several clips to explore the boundaries of music promotion in MTV's early years. Shot in Sri Lanka, "Hungry" evokes Raiders of the Lost Ark and set the template for future globe-hopping videos by Simon LeBon and the boys.
2. "Never Say Never," Romeo Void. One might assume this video was directed by Jim Jarmusch, yet it wasn't. Regardless, this artsy clip is the yin the song's post-punk/funk yang.
3. "I Know what Boys Like," The Waitresses. One of the decades' great two-hit wonders (the other being the seasonal favorite "Christmas Wrapping"), this flirty and playful clip is both dated-looking yet incredibly hip.
4. "The Metro," Berlin. Nonchalantly grabbing eyes and ears in late '82, Berlin's first hit utilizes neo-noir and
homages to 1940s cinema to bolster a song about love and longing.
5. "Mickey Mouse," Sparks. Not a traditional music video by any means, nor was this song released as a single, this is probably one of the most bizarre (and underrated) performances in Saturday Night Live history.

Honorable Mentions: "I Ran (So Far Away)," A Flock of Seagulls; "The Message," Grandmaster Flash.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Through Another Freshman's Eyes

Last year, I wrote a blog post about "The Mindset List," the famed article published every year by the sociology department at Beloit College.  This year's college freshmen --or next year's sophomores, if you will-- were born mostly in 1992 or 1993, and I attempted to estimate their worldview. This year, most soon-to-be high school grads were born in late 1993 or early-to-mid 1994, right smack in the middle of Bill Clinton's first term in office.  Even though Prof. Ron Nief and his staff won't publish their annual list until early August, I thought I'd give it another stab. Some items didn't necessitate repeating, so here's a link to last year's list if you think you see anything omitted.

With that said, if you are an incoming college freshman...

...Martin Brodeur has always been the starting goalie for the New Jersey Devils.
...the World Series has never been cancelled, and relations between Major League Baseball and the Player's Union have been relatively peaceful.
...you only remember one Chicago Bulls three-peat.
...when you hear the name O.J. Simpson, you're much more likely to associate it with a triple homicide than with football.
...when you hear the term Alzheimer's Disease, you associate it with Ronald Reagan.
...the Summer and Winter Olympics have always been held in seperate, two-year alternating spans.
...Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, and Juwan Howard have always played in the NBA.
...Richard Nixon, Kurt Cobain, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Cesar Romero, Tip O'Neill, Bill Hicks, Dinah Shore, Telly Savalas, John Candy, John Wayne Gacy, Henry Mancini, Burt Lancaster, Raul Julia, and Jeffrey Dahmer have always been dead.
...Johnny Carson never appeared on TV in your lifetime.
...you have never attended a Nirvana or Uncle Tupelo concert.
...you never saw Phil Hartman on "Saturday Night Live."
...first-run episodes of "The Simpsons" have always aired on Sunday nights.
...People Weekly --er, I mean People-- has always been published in full color.
...the phrase "Don't touch that dial!" makes no sense whatsoever.
...kids raised in Chicago have never watched Bozo the Clown before heading to school.
...you have never ordered anything from the Sears "Big Book."
...you have never had a sip of Crystal Pepsi.
...Newt Gingrich has always been a major player in American politics.
...the Federal Assault Weapons Ban and the Brady Bill have always been in effect.
...there has always been a member of the Kardashian family in the news.
...Aldrich Ames has always been in prison.
...there have always been prisoners and refugees at Guantanamo Bay.
...Rwanda has always been synonymous with genocide.
...there have always been alter girls.

That's a lot to think about. If you have anything else to add, let me know. Next week I look at the year in music, 1982 so keep your nostalgia hats on.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rainbow Bridge

So President Obama has no problem with same-sex marriage? I had assumed as much for a while now; he alluded to being pro-LGBT during the '08 election, but he didn't specify his stance until last week. As a political manuever, it's just as risky as it is brilliant. The American LGBT population, a steady growing bloc of voters, are already wary of the GOP options. President Obama's endorsement wrangled the cattle back to the ranch. As such, Mitt Romney declared his preference for traditional marriage --which he awkwardly phrased as "a preference for women"-- in a rare reachout to social conservatives. As such, neither candidate will make a crossover appeal to new or undecided voters.

What frustrates me, however is that the gay marriage debate only further distracts voters and candidates alike from a much greater issue, the economy. Social issues keep getting pushed to the forefront, and with Biden's remark being the exception to the rule, it's been mostly social conservatives dropping the bombs.  If this election focused strictly on job growth and fiscal responsibility, Mitt Romney would win in November in a walk. The mere mention of abortion and gay marriage, however is only adding muscle to the Obama campaign. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum used social issues to undermine and distract Romney during the primaries and now it'll linger until the election. This has become an election of "values," even though I'm not sure that's the topic that needs debating, it is inadvertantly swinging the election in Obama's favor.

One other note:

+ Modern rock is back on Chicago radio... sort of. Earlier this month, Merlin Media --the same multimedia behemoth that killed Q101-- bought out a tiny "smooth jazz" station's signal and flipped it to alternative rock. Only problem is, that new signal is on 87.7 FM; older radios can't pick up that station, and the actual antenna is so far away from the city that it's difficult to listen to "Q87" on a car radio. This feels more like an unwieldy public relations ploy than an actual radio station (for now, anyway).

Next week: the 2012 memory list.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Seventh Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot

Is it May sweeps already? The 2011-12 TV season just flew by. There doesn't seem to be any speculation yet for the 64th Annual Emmy Awards, and even though the nominations won't be announced for another two months, I'd love to get the ball rolling. (By my best estimate, tvguide.com will post theirs around Memorial day.) With only a few familar faces gone ("Friday Night Lights," Steve Carell) and a weak crop of new shows, I'm predicting very little turnover from last year.

With that said, here is my 2012 Fantasy Emmy Ballot:

Writing in a Variety/Comedy/Music Series: (name listed is head writer) Barry Julien, The Colbert Report; Mike Sweeney, Conan; Steve Bodow, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; A.D. Miles, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher; Seth Meyers, Saturday Night Live.
Outstanding Variety/Comedy/Music Series: "The Colbert Report," Comedy Central; "Conan," TBS; "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Comedy Central; "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," NBC; "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," CBS; "Saturday Night Live," NBC.

Supporting Actress in a Drama: Christine Baranski, The Good Wife; Christina Hendricks, Mad Men; Jessica Lange, American Horror Story; Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men; Archie Punjabi, The Good Wife; Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones.
Supporting Actor in a Drama: Alan Cumming, The Good Wife; Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones; Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad; Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad; Michael Shannon, Boardwalk Empire; John Slattery, Mad Men.
Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Julie Bowen, Modern Family; Alison Brie, Community; Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock; Jane Lynch, Glee; Sofia Vergara, Modern Family; Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live.
Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Ty Burrell, Modern Family; Chris Coifer, Glee; Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men; Nick Offerman, Parks & Recreation; Danny Pudi, Community; Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family.

Lead Actress in a Drama: Kathy Bates, Harry's Law; Mirielle Enos, The Killing; Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU; Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife; Kelly Macdonald, Boardwalk Empire; Jessica Pare, Mad Men.
Lead Actor in a Drama: Jim Caviezel, Person of Interest; Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; Michael C. Hall, Dexter; Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Hugh Laurie, House; Timothy Olyphant, Justified.
Lead Actress in a Comedy: Zooey Deschanel, New Girl; Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie; Tina Fey, 30 Rock; Laura Linney, The Big C; Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly; Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation.
Lead Actor in a Comedy: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock; Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm; Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory; Joel McHale, Community;  Ed O'Neill, Modern Family; Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory.

Outstanding Drama Series: "American Horror Story," FX; "Breaking Bad," AMC; "Dexter," Showtime; "Game of Thrones," HBO; "The Good Wife," CBS; "Mad Men," AMC.
Outstanding Comedy Series: "30 Rock," NBC; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS; "Community," NBC; "Louie," FX;  "Modern Family," ABC; "Parks & Recreation," NBC.

Let the debate begin!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Announcement & Random Notes

This week marks the second anniversary of when I was ignobly replaced at Salem Communications' Chicago branch. After 24 months of soul-searching and unemployment-inflicted neurosis I may have found something stable in the least likely of places. Effective later this week, I will be an independent contractor for the College of DuPage. Specifically, I will be selling underwriting for WDCB-FM, the radio station I worked at from 2003 to 2006. I don't have an office, and the position pays entirely in commission, but I'm glad to be back in WDCB's good graces. Of course, I never entirely went away; I have volunteered intermittently at the station, usually during their quarterly pledge drives, for the past six-plus years. I might be back at square one, but I'm glad to be back in the radio industry regardless.

Other notes:

+ April was not a great month for sports, at least from my perspective.  My Royals dropped their first ten home games --during one extended homestand, no less-- as young up-and-comers like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustaskas struggled at the plate. Closer to home, the Blackhawks were eliminated by the Coyotes in the NHL quarterfinals, with Raffi Torres' hit on Marian Hossa being the "highlight" of the series. Late last week, Illinois State basketball head coach Tim Jankovich bolted for Southern Methodist, where he'll be reunited with mentor Larry Brown. The month ended with Derrick Rose blowing out his ACL in the Bulls' first playoff game against Philadelphia, seriously endangering a potential championship run. Hopefully May brings better fortunes to the teams I root for.

+ Do any cable channels air what they're supposed to air anymore?  IFC --short for Independent Film Channel, mind you-- has been airing "Malcolm in the Middle" reruns since late last year. VH1 Classic is now mixing its '80s/'90s music video lineup with old episodes of "Married... with Children." Reelz (a smaller channel that emphasizes movie talk and airs bad '80s flicks) is now dabbling into original scripted programming. It's more than just MTV not airing music videos anymore. Didn't any of this  mean something to anyone?

+ Finally, my ex-roommate made the Huffington Post! (The reporter, not the spitting lady.)

Next week: my seventh annual fantasy Emmy ballot.