Sunday, December 23, 2012

Music Review: LIFE OF PI (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

The soundtrack of the film Life of Pi will invoke images of the beloved film, but is alas, only a movie soundtrack, wherein dramatic surges in the score only serve as plot advancements in the film, thereby leaving the isolated music naked without closure. It is a design of images, not composition.

In a new-age, meditation sort of way, Mychael Danna's score is a lovely piece of music, combining traditional Indian culture - as is the ethnicity of the film - with thunder-rousing movie music, complete with full angelic vocal choir. A simple minor piano chord serves as the theme obliging the oceanic orchestra and Indian indigenous instruments (mandolin, sitar, and a host of other Indian percussion instruments).

While there are vocal arrangements throughout, the first track, "Pi's Lullaby", is the only piece with lyrics (and is sung by classical vocalist Bombay Jayashree). Its soft melody and lingering refrain - very much a lullaby - will kindle fond memories of the film. "Are you a flower or the nectar? Are you the fruit or the sweetness?" the song asks as if to a sleepy child. It serves well as a singular song in a "world music" vein, with its European accordion accompanying the languid sound like a drift down The Riviera in a gondola.

Too often the musical passages are simply too short to serve as separate entities. Surging violins will lead the orchestra for all of 34 seconds before one track ends and the next piece begins. It makes for difficult, stop-and-go listening that only serve as bold reminders of the movie.

The music breathes in the longer tracks. "Back to the World" explores the music's theme with slowly vibrating strings ushering in the soft vocal choir and tinkling keyboard invoking the twinkling of the starry night sky. It sounds very much like an exhaustive journey's end. "Tiger Vision" sounds remarkably like a tiger's soft paws stalking through a night jungle, with its quiet, cautious percussive sounds, and mysterious conch shell woodwinds creating a jungle exotica aura.

The album is full of sounds and passages that are both peaceful and disarming, as is the nature of the film. As a single piece of music, it is a bit abrupt. For serious students of music who love the film, it is likely essential listening.

this article was first published by the author here:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Movie Review: Hitchcock

While Hitchcock, the new biographical film directed by Sacha Gervasi, gives us little insight into the mind of the "master of suspense", Alfred Hitchcock, it does provide an inside view of the making of his most celebrated film, Psycho. The creation of this classic horror film, depicted unsuccessfully here in a film-within-a-film concept, offers glitzy glamour, name-dropping pizazz, and the fascinating business and techniques of movie making. The creation, however negotiable, of Psycho's classic "shower scene", a movie scene that will be studied by film enthusiasts as long as there are movies to watch, makes the film an enjoyable if trivial entertainment.

The film goes to great lengths to define the relationship of "Hitch" (a rotund and seriously pouted Anthony Hopkins) and his wife/collaborator/editor, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren looking at least a decade younger than her 67 years), but fails to reveal them as anything but an aging and dear old couple, harboring the slightest suggestion of psychological abuse inflicted by Hitchcock regarding flirtations with his leading ladies. The relationship is coy and ill-defined. Separate single beds and late night chats in the bedroom do little to clarify it.

The movie fares better as a roving Hollywood eye detailing the business and trauma of the creation of Psycho. The movie-making backdrop scenes are the engine that keeps the film from being swallowed whole as a tepid Hollywood biopic. Excursions into character development lead down stray paths as movie moguls pressure Hitchcock to produce a money-making blockbuster, and the great director becomes increasingly obsessed with the real-life inspiration of Psycho, murderer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott). Here, as Hitchcock imagines consultation with the deceased Gein regarding the direction of the film, the movie loses momentum and only flirts with the motivation of Hitchcock's mind.

However, Hitchcock retains an entertaining value for the Hollywood, if not Hitchcock, subject matter alone. Scarlett Johansson is a pleasure to watch as Janet Leigh, playing the tragic anti-heroine of Psycho, Marion Crane. Johansson nails the look and manner of the sexy Leigh, and she does a dead-on impersonation of Leigh in the Psycho scene where Marion's stream-of-conscious thoughts are heard aloud, as she drives off to a date with death at Bate's Motel.

While Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are merely pacified caricatures of The Hitchcocks, their performances are splendid to watch. Hopkins boasts a solemn and thoughtless physical stance with searching, even greedy eyes, that capture Hitchcock's hunger for perfection. Mirren reveals a strong and secretive woman whose adoration and commitment to her husband is evident in longing and sad gestures. Jessica Biel as real life actress Vera Miles, and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, the original Norman Bates of Psycho, add to the fun of celebrity portrayals with perfected mannerisms.

While a genuine impression of Alfred Hitchcock may lean more towards a Hollywood Babylon expose than this celebrity biography, Hitchcock is still an enjoyable romp through Hollywood lore.

this review was first published at:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hit Shuffle - 10 Random iPod Tunes - Beatles, Badfinger, Lambchop ...

The Beatles showed up 5 times when I shuffled my iPod and listened to the first 10 songs. That's because I'm only as far as the letter 'B' in transferring selections from my album collection to my tiny metal device, and into my head, where I still save a space for a sweet melody.

1. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Regarded by most rock and roll enthusiasts as one of the finest rock albums ever produced, Sgt. Pepper was a milestone in cultural history ushering in a wave of psychedelic rock that still influences scores of musicians today. It brought rock and roll up to a higher artistic standing, comparable to the greatest book, the finest sculpture. The 1967 album was originally conceived to be a concept album regarding The Beatles' individual childhoods, but when McCartney wrote this song, he suggested it could serve as the theme to the entire album. The band agreed and magic ensued. This opening track's circus Big Top atmosphere is made horrid and macabre by the sound of an audience reacting to the music, as if coming from the very hollows of Hell.

2. Lambchop, 2B2

"Took the Christmas lights off the front porch", begins this sad lament from Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) that is about as quietly devastating as kicking through the rubble of the aftermath of a major flood. Wagner discovers bemused gloom in everything, and here in this gentle assessment of life, longs for an escape from the drudgery all existence possesses. The sound of soft spoken wooden knocks deep in the languid music finds me wondering if the sound is outside the headphones, or indeed, outside my sphere of being. From the 2012 album, Mr. M.

3. The Beatles, Yer Blues

Credited as a Lennon/McCartney composition, but written by John Lennon while in India, this raw blues song from The Beatles (The White Album), 1968, was recorded in the "annexe" of EMI Studio 2, a large closet in the control room, and sounds as if coming from an echoed chamber. A crude production that allowed Lennon an opportunity to exorcise his demons in an hard-edged guitar blues rant. The Beatles can be heard shouting drunkenly to one another as Lennon belts out primitive psyche statements like, "I want to die!".


4. The Bee Gees, Stayin' Alive

Ain't too proud to dig disco. This record is one of the finest hit singles ever produced. From the soundtrack to the enormously successful 1977 film, Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta, this Bee Gees composition transverses being a fashion conscious dance fad to becoming a teen angst classic rock recording. The unchanging rhythm of the drums is credited to drummer Bernard Lupe, but the name is an alias made up by The Bee Gees when they "looped" the drums from another song on the album - "Night Fever". That didn't stop the unreal Bernard Lupe from becoming an in-demand session drummer, much to The Bee Gees amusement. Dig the awful clothes in The Bee Gees video of the song at the link below.

5. The Beatles, And I Love Her

From the soundtrack to A Hard Days Night, this McCartney composition, credited to Lennon/McCartney, is the pre-psychedelic Beatles at their most romantic. A Spanish guitar gives the song an exotic drunken appeal like the soft oceanic morning light after a night of cocktails. Both Lennon and McCartney vowed credit for the middle verse break in the song - a love like ours, will never die - which the first recording of the song did not include, as heard on The Beatles' Anthology album.

6. The Beatles, Don't Pass Me By

From The Beatles (The White Album), this is drummer Ringo Starr's first recorded composition. It's a simple three chord blues song with a country "fiddle" by violinist Jack Fallon and a rinky-dink piano that gives the song a cosmic moonshine-y feel.

7. Pink Floyd, Young Lust

A gem from Pink Floyd's 1979 classic The Wall, this hard rock song sounds like a seismograph shaking crack coming up through the floorboards. A hammering of monolithic audio technique gives this rocker an antiquated sound like a far-out '60s experimental jam. The spoken word phone conversation that closes the song, a Floyd signature moment, is in reality an unsuspecting AT&T operator the band recorded while trying to make an impossible call to London from America. I've always wondered if she received any royalty for her contribution.

8. The Handsome Family, So Much Wine

The second song on this list which mentions the Christmas holidays. The cosmos must be aligned! It's a soft and tragic bluegrass folk ballad from the band's 2000 In The Air album with a haunting refrain that is as warm as a jug of spirit - Listen to me Butterfly, there's only so much wine, you can drink in one life, but it will never be enough, to save you from the bottom of your glass.

9. The Beatles, Revolution 1

The Beatles (The White Album) version of "Revolution" is very different from the hit single on the flip side of "Hey Jude" the band released in 1968. This album version is the one John Lennon preferred be released as a single. While the original song is a fired up rocker, this album cut is a bluesy, no-holds-barred affair that ends with the unmistakable grunts and groans of lovemaking. The radical left felt betrayed by Lennon's lyric in the original single - But when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out -. By the time the album's version was released months later, the lyric was more ambiguous - about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out (in).

10. Badfinger, Baby Blue

Love this record by The Beatles' Apple Records prodigy band, Badfinger. A big hit in America in 1972, it was never released by Apple as a single in its UK homeland, due to the upheaval and corporate changes at Apple Records in the early '70s. It was written by Badfinger front man, Peter Ham, who also wrote Harry Nilsson's smash hit, "Without You". Ham ended Badfinger uncerimoniosly with his suicide by hanging in 1975. It's just a rocker with a shiny fuzz-tone guitar, cutting riffs, and Beatlesque harmony that cut a knife in me at a very young age leaving a wound that has been lovingly festering ever since. From the 1971 album, Straight Up.


Monday, November 26, 2012


Word is that Mohawk Place, Buffalo, New York's hole-in-the-wall and legendary rock and roll club, is closing on January 12. A message on their Facebook page announced the closing due to "circumstances beyond our control". I touted the club often on this blog. Keep supporting local music, and go tip a final beer at Mohawk during the holidays. And hope against hope that the club will be somehow saved.

Saw a rockabilly show with Canadian rockabilly kingpins The Royal Crowns and Buffalo's own Blue Ribbon Bastards at The Tralfamodore Cafe (The Tralf) on Saturday night. Treated my brother and sister-in-law to the show - they are huge rockabilly fans and they just happened to be in town when I acquired the tickets compliments of The Tralph's mailing list. The Blue Ribbon Bastards are a young 5-man outfit who are just finding their rockabilly sea legs and whose set I thoroughly enjoyed. My bro and his wife were just a tad snobbish (critical is a more apt word), about the band, and they've been known to cross the continent just to see a rockabilly show. "Seeds of promise", I think was the phrase loosely thrown about our table. I thought they were mighty fine and I especially liked lead/singer Wade Witczak's tempting invites to go full blown pshyco-billy with loose rolling eyeballs and euphoric moonshine yelps. And I appreciated guitarist Steve Cryan's easy and repetitious riffs dominating the music like an old funk jam. 


Pictured above left The Royal Crowns, right Wade Witczak of Blue Ribbon Bastards
The three man "The Royal Crowns", celebrating 20 years as Canada's premier rockabilly act, duked out a fine set of accomplished and confident rockabilly with particular attention to guitarist Danny Bartley masterful riffs. The set included classic covers of blues and rockabilly, original songs, and one beautiful ballad that sounded like the drunken morning-after effects of rocking - a slow meditative and melodic song that lulled me away. Didn't catch the title. The trio consists of original guitarist Bartley, original drummer Teddy Fury and Buffalo, NY recruit Jason Adams on bass.
From rockabilly to Happy Trails! I was driving down the road and I saw an Estate Sale sign so I pulled in to check it out. Weird coincidence that the manager of the sale, running it for an elderly woman who was moving out of her home, happened to by my cousin's husband. He gave me an excellent deal on a horde of Old West magazines from the 1950s and '60s that I found buried in a box. I'm prairie packin' -

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Movie Review: Life of Pi

Somehow I wasn't expecting to be handed a pair of 3-D glasses - a good, sturdy collectible pair - when I viewed Ang Lee's new film, Life of Pi in 3-D. I hadn't seen a 3-D film since Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974), and I would have guessed the technology to be more advanced by now.

It worried me that author Yann Martel's 2001 novel of the same name, a book I concluded could never be adequately adapted to film when I read it years ago, was being given the kind of pre-publicity campaign treatment I'd expect from a new Transformers movie. My Facebook page has been deluged with promotion for the film (my own fault when I "liked" it), and Life of Pi collectible figurines have been popping up all over the internet. I even received an email inviting me to an online auction of props and artifacts from the making of the film.

So as I adjusted my large, awkward and just a tad humiliating 3-D glasses, I was convinced my favorite novel of the last twenty years had been ambushed by Hollywood's expectation of eternal profit. But then the movie began like a quiet symphony and roared to its destination with the kind of grace reserved for opera and ballet. Director Lee has captured the very soul of the book.

The story concerns a family in India who own and operate a small and quaint zoo, which looks, thanks to the gorgeous 3-D photography, like a suburban Eden oasis with gentle animals roaming and birds fluttering from the heavens. Due to financial conditions in India, the family - the parents and two teenage sons -decide to emigrate to Canada on a shipping vessel with a small horde of their animals in cages. The ship is ravaged by a severe storm, and the younger son, Piscine (Pi) is thrust into the ocean on a lifeboat that can barely stay afloat in the violent storm. As the storm breaks and the delirious Pi drifts further into an oceanic abyss, he finds he is sharing his boat with an orangutan, a spotted hyena, a zebra, and one very large and scary Bengal tiger. In little time the tiger makes quick dinner of the surviving animals, and thus begins the journey of Pi - how he stayed alive for 227 days on a small lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a hungry Bengal tiger.

It seemed to me the biggest difficulty in filming Life of Pi was director Lee's task of making the animals as genuine and ferocious as they are in the book. He succeeds by allowing the computer graphic design to define the subjects with biological accuracy while leaving just a little space for artistic whimsy. The CGI gives the fable a surrealistic appearance by clarifying the godliness and might of the tiger, and the comical and tragic plight of the other animals, through subtle touches of design.

Even more impressive is Lee's cinematic beauty. In one memorable scene, the starry ocean night sky illuminates phosphorus sea creatures as the lifeboat drifts on the calm surface. The scene is the very image of "being" or godhead, with the night stars, the illuminated ocean and the small boat looking like a single entity in the great cosmic universe. The beguiling 3-D technology is at times, like looking into a magnified aquarelle of color and light with each passing image presenting itself like a living artwork of great depth. While awe-striking, the film's beauty is never overbearing and is strictly aligned with the telling of the story.

And what a beautiful adventure it is, with a commanding philosophical narrative that seems to encompass all philosophical and religious decree. You can view this movie on several levels - as excellent entertainment, or as intellectual fodder for mind provocation. It is also emotionally exhausting. Pi's relationship with the tiger is an uplifting and joyous experience to witness.

Actor Suraj Sharma as Pi, delivers a most understated and empowered performance. Standing amidst the superlative effects and astounding imagery, Sharma is the lifeblood of the movie, adding the human equation to the majesty of the elements of nature.

If possible, Life of Pi should be seen while wearing the ridiculous 3-D glasses. You'll soon forget you're wearing them.

this review was first published by me here -
Movie Review: Life of Pi - Blogcritics Video

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Music Review: Gary Lewis and The Playboys - The Complete Liberty Singles

Cynicism may be the reaction to the hit singles of mid-late 1960s pop band, Gary Lewis and The Playboys . As son of the famous comedienne Jerry Lewis, Gary and his Playboys were fortunate with the luxury of the Lewis family bank account to line the grooves of their first hit single, "This Diamond Ring", a 1965 number one smash hit helmed by ace producer Snuff Garrett, and arranged by in-demand session producer/musician Leon Russell.

"The Playboys" were Allan Ramsay, David Costello, David Walker, and John West. Because they relinquished their garage band playing to the expertise of renowned session players for the recording of "This Diamond Ring", and Lewis' lead vocals were made velvety smooth by blending them into session vocalist Ron Hicklin's voice (singer of countless TV commercial jingles and the "voice" of those wonderful Partridge Family records) Gary Lewis and The Playboys were as artificial as the corporate-controlled "The Monkees" (who amazingly were the headlining act to Jimi Hendrix in 1967).

The small arsenal of producers, arrangers, and players that were Gary Lewis and The Playboys had an amazing and successful run of the pop charts in 1965 and '66, placing seven consecutive records into Billboard's Top Ten Singles chart. While they mock-played their instruments to pre-recorded music on TV's showcase, The Ed Sullivan Show (where Lewis' lead vocals were sung live at Sullivan's insistence), their records blazed the radio airwaves with sunshiny pop that boasted a recognizable shadowy anchor of off-key baritone and complex arrangements.

Real Gone Music's reissue of The Complete Liberty Singles is a comprehensive account of their career: a two-disc, 45 track CD set that includes all their hits and every B-side, cover and miss-hit, making it more Gary Lewis and The Playboys that you may ever want to hear. It ultimately traces a cultural history of playful teen-inspired '60s pop music abruptly altered with the induction of Lewis into the Vietnam conflict in 1967, which fairly ended his career.

The group's records seduced their young audience's budding sexual glands with romantic, lulling invitation while reaching into their pockets for allowance change. Their debut hit, "This Diamond Ring"is a fiery blueprint for hit-making success, with an exotic mid-Eastern flair of tampini, tambourine, and bass drum that stirs up a delicious concoction of dark pop melody. "Save Your Heart For Me" is a dopey warm summer ballad that is as addictive and disposable as a pre-teen wad of bubble gum. The circus atmospheric "Everybody Loves A Clown" a Leon Russell composition, has a piano-driven bouncy rhythm that will have its listener helplessly playing and singing along. And the Flamenco-inspired "Sure Gonna Miss Her" lights up a Tijuana sunset in a gliding melody highlighted by a gorgeous Spanish guitar by Tommy Tedesco.

The non-hit tracks offer more interest and enjoyment than I would have supposed. Changing musical tastes bringing a more radical agenda alongside bubble gum pop in Top 40 radio, finds the band scrambling through genres to reclaim their hit-making status with flourishes into The Turtles psyche baroque ("Jill"), The Archies kiddie jangle ("Hayride"), and straight-up rock and roll ("I Saw Elvis Presley Last Night").

Gary Lewis and The Playboys, while forever labeled a "producer's band", delivered a solid package of fun hit records that still demand attention today when heard on oldies radio. Lewis, who may have been a better producer, promoter, and manager than he ever was a musician, was a likable and unassuming pop star. He looked like the tall geeky kid without a date at the school dance, when all around him were pin-up boys and British invaders. He possessed a simple but effective enunciation that placed itself squarely into the listener's psyche like a friendly dumbed-down mantra.

This CD package is a nostalgic joy to listen to. It comes with a 12-paged booklet of liner notes and pics.

this review was first published here, per agreement, and lots of cool free stuff -

Music Review: Gary Lewis and The Playboys - The Complete Liberty Singles - Music - Blogcritics

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

EASY AUTUMN - Fiona Apple, Smoking Popes, Baseball Hall of Fame

O Autumn, laden with fruit and stain'd
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof, there thou mays't rest
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe -
                                                     William Blake in one of his funnier moods

Nothing to say on Election Day. The two American cheer leaders fall silent. America buzzes like a swarm of bees. And then fall dead again. Twiddle-dee-dee or Twiddle-dee-dum, one is all empathy and one is no fun.

At least if I vote for The Socialist Party, I'll have entertaining delusions that the CIA is watching me.

My older bro', cool insider to all things show, gave me 4 tickets to the Fiona Apple concert at Kleinhans Music Hall. He called me up the morning before the show and said, "Do you want tickets for the Fiona Apple show?", I said, "Sure, get me two tickets", he said, "I can't get you two , I can only get you four", I said, "OK, give me four".

So I held a  lottery with an intimate group of friends and made them jump for the tickets like sharks to a dangling hunk of chicken. What cruel fun four tickets were for five friends.

The show was fantastic with Apple cruising us through sound waves of minor chord extravagance guided with a hard positive power edge by her flashy lead guitarist and solo opening act, Blake Mills.

                                                                       Fiona Apple

Exactly one week later, I caught Smoking Popes at Mohawk Place in Buffalo. They played a Tuesday night gig with Screaming Jeans and Roll the Tanks, a power pop night of  rock 'n roll delight. The Popes played their classic 1994 album, Born To Quit in its entirety and were a fast and tight outfit of guitar and drum syncopation, highlighted by electrified fave songs from that beloved album - "Just Broke Up" and "Need You Around". Screaming Jeans played a grungy and entertaining set that recalled the power pop of late 60s American bands The Blues Magoos with a hint of ancient Jay and The Americans boy-singer-with-a-trill swagger, and Roll The Tanks, from California, borrowed some Smoking Popes riffs to introduce a fantastic set that found addictive and complex vocal arrangements snugly fitting into the guitar dominating scenario of intelligent power pop. It was a great show that played for a ridiculously paltry crowd of about 25 people.

Smoking Popes Need You Around Video - YouTube

                                                                    Smoking Popes

Did a Saratoga weekend and drove up to Cooperstown, NY to visit The Baseball Hall of Fame, on the eve of the disappointing and drab World Series.

Cool museum, if a little stiff. Could get lost spending an entire day laboring over the artifacts and history of America's favorite past time. Bought some mementos and cards and watched old film footage in the Babe Ruth room and did the Abbott and Costello "Who's On First?" routine.

Took a day trip to Vermont and took this pic of a covered wooden bridge along the way. I neglected to note exactly what bridge it is or what town I was in.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Buffalo based REV, - Al Kryszak - guitar, keyboards, Mike Brydalski - percussion, Rob Mazurkiewicz - bass, have been creating bright and brainy prog minded post-punk rock music out of the recording studio attic of Kryszak's home since 2000. Their third album, the self-released The Restless Are Natives, is straight up modern rock serving as a template to dazzling excursions into  Euro-folk-psych balladry, shoe-gazey electronica and David Byrne rock-and-mull contemplation.

Paving the way with unexpected, but never jaunting turns in the road, is a primal mystical theme of American indigenous culture rising through the music like a moon casting a pale light over a howling wolf. Guitars wail away to an infinite and diminishing point as if vainly struggling against a wind, and tom-tom percussion lowers and taunts the barometric soundscape to a certain downpour of rain wind and hail.

"Hail" is indeed, track 8. It recalls pre-pop Fleetwood Mac Bare Trees era cerebral prog with its rainy day guitars and druggy Astral Weeks philosophical gaze as a hailstorm threatens the narrative's very being - Is it cracking on you, the thunder that you feel? ... Is it coming down? It's a striking and mind numbingly upright song.

Mystery Beat, is the defining sound in shoe-gaze psych - a term used to describe 90s post-punk bands with a penchant for dreamy, luscious trance-like musical passages - as disembodied harmonic vocals drift aimlessly about, tinkering acoustic guitar glitters like a hallucinogenic diamond over a dance floor, and a chug-chug maraca beat battles with anchoring guitar for closure. It will find you staring at your shoes as if contemplating mysterious ancient script.

Opener Played, could well serve as the first single although my choice would be the dreamy Mystery Beat. It's a driving rocker with aggressive guitar and catchy anguished-artist-in-anticipation lyrics - I stand in line with you, I sleep on the floor past visiting hours -. Rhythmic time signature guitar adds a pent up anger to this passive-aggressive sentiment.

 Angelfish is another catchy radio friendly song with plenty of accommodating guitar, in which the singer is - in the tank with the angelfish - who are not rocking in the free world.  She's In Your Blind Spot merges late '60s Byrds-Buffalo Springfield folk rock with acoustic Euro balladry in a lovely song that lingers like a forgotten early '70s Jethro Tull track.

The Restless Are Natives offers several avenues to rock and shoe-gaze by. It's appeal only grows with each listen as even the slightest rocker evolves to a depth of evolving imagery. Composer, lyricist Kryszak isn't satisfied with writing a modern rock hit single, which he is certainly capable of. His songs strive to break the barrier between digestible pop music and true exploration of the psyche.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Searching For Sugar Man

True story: in the early 1970s, two record company executives received a tip to go to a dingy club in downtown Chicago to see a musician perform, purportedly a creative genius and a promising new talent. Inside the small smoky club against the wall in the back of the room, they saw a guy singing and strumming an acoustic guitar with his back facing the audience, too shy to look at the audience directly. Believing they had discovered what could be the next big thing in popular music, or possibly "the next Dylan", they signed the artist, known only as Rodriguez, to a contract.

Rodriguez released a folk rock album, Cold Fact on a subsidiary label of a major recording company. It sold, as one company executive half-jokingly recalls "about six copies". After giving his budding musical career a fairly good shake (a second album, a tour of England, and a move to California) Rodriguez abandoned his career and faded into obscurity.

Meanwhile in South Africa, a bootleg copy of Cold Fact was smuggled into the apartheid country of the early '70s, becoming a major success. The bootleg and subsequent pressings of it were circulated and sold to an estimated half million copies. In the two decades since its unofficial release in South Africa, Cold Fact had reached platinum sales level.

With precious little information available on Rodriguez, South Africans living in the media controlled apartheid country, believed Rodriguez to be akin to other western musical imports like The Rolling Stones or Dylan. One South African of the era recalls that Rodriguez' albums (a second album soon found its way to similar success) were as commonplace as The Beatles' Abbey Road in any given record collection. The music was "the soundtrack to our lives" and was embraced by an oppressed generation who heard it as their own voice speaking out against Apartheid.

The Swedish/British documentary film Searching For Sugar Man, directed by Malik Bendjelloul, currently playing the indie movie house circuit, follows two South African fans of Rodriguez - Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew - as they attempt to uncover what had become of Rodriguez, known as Sugar Man, from the title of one of his songs. With the unexpected realization that Rodriguez was unknown outside of South Africa, and nothing but a few albums as clues, the two fans, discovering each other searching for Rodriguez independently on the Internet, embark on a quest to find him.

One thing they were fairly certain of: he was dead. Rumors had long evolved into acceptance that in a state of severe depression Rodriguez had shot himself in the head on stage during a concert. Another story was that he had doused himself with gasoline and ignited. So solid was the belief in his demise that it was taken for granted by South African music listeners, that Rodriguez' death was one of the most sensational celebrity deaths ever.

But if you believe in music's ability to change the cultural landscape and pave the way to a brighter future, you'll want to see Searching For Sugar Man. The film is not only a quirky and impassioned detective story with a warm and wonderful payoff, but a joyous testimony to artistic triumph over adversity. After exhausting every avenue: record labels, retired executives, countless Internet inquiries, the two fans hit pay dirt from the music itself, after scrutinizing the lyrics of a Rodriguez song.

Rodriguez' haunting and uplifting music plays throughout the film and offers a gentle plea for tolerance in a hostile world. The film is often beautifully photographed with stunning vistas of South Africa's sunny blue skies and rising mountains, and raw and striking urban snowy landscapes of anonymous Chicago streets after dark.

The story of Rodriguez will leave you with a warm glow and a yearning to indulge in his once forgotten music.          

this review was first published by the author at blogcritics

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

DVD Review: 50's TV CLASSICS

This indiscriminate three-disc DVD package from Film Chest Media Group offers 14 copyright-free television episodes from the 1950s that are fascinating as broadcast and cultural history. Unfortunately, the programs are presented without any editorial or historical comment, and the product seems a hastily produced set of DVDs, similar to the one dollar copyright-free videos that once flooded bargain bins at places like Wal-Mart.

Given the impossibly poised and artificially mannered contestants on the game shows offered here, and the crude editorial removal of a racist segment from a 1956 episode of The Lawrence Welk Show (the edited song looks like it was cut out with scissors), 50's TV Classics would benefit from a higher regard for this era of television history and a brief but concerned commentary.

Most of the programs here were originally broadcast live, and the frantic immediacy of the productions and hyper pacing of the performers still offer an entertainment that is as forgotten as S&H Green Stamps and gas station attendants who clean the windshield. Commercials are incorporated directly into the programs and often serve as a comedic element of a sketch or monologue. Camel Cigarettes, for instance, are hawked as if they are hot dogs at the ballpark in a sketch in The Ed Wynn Whow (1950), that dubiously boasts Camel to be "less irritating to the throat as other brands".

Surprisingly, what would seem to be the blandest and most cliched offering here, the Chevrolet sponsored The Chevy Show with Dinah Shore (1956) a then popular musical variety hour with celebrity guests and comedic bits, is a jewel of television history. It's an Emmy-worthy blueprint of the variety show format, so prevalent in the 1950s, with elements of the fiercely dominating new musical wave - rock 'n roll - neatly fitted into the traditional style of Shore's soft and safe crooning. Guest star Betty Hutton, a largely forgotten movie star with an enormous music and comedic talent, provides ample zing and swing to this exceptional hour of programming.
The three game shows included on the disc - two episodes of Do You Trust Your Wife (1957), and one each of Name That Tune (1955) and Beat The Clock (1950), are artificially contrived and seem only an arm's length away from the quiz show scandal of the 1950s . One suspects such cheating was an industry standard. The contestants recite obviously scripted verbal interplay with the host as if they were just yanked off an actor's unemployment line. Of these, Beat The Clock is the most genuine and the most fun with amiable host Bud Collyer, guiding at break-neck speed, contestants performing simple stunts for cash.

The Bob Hope Show (1957) finds Hope performing his show for American troops stationed in French Morocco, with the extremely likable Gary Crosby - Bing's son - singing and looking very much like his namesake and providing Hope with a flurry of  Hope-Crosby jokes. Three episodes of Death Valley Days from 1953, are fine western dramas depicting actual history of the western expansion of the continental U.S. The episodes include the original iconic 20 Mule Team Borax commercials.

The Milton Berle Show (1956) offers an unlikely dramatic segment with guest star Mickey Rooney in a searing performance in a short boxing play reminiscent of Requiem For A Heavyweight. The Red Skelton Show (1954) finds the red-headed clown providing his own laughs to jokes that fall flat with the audience in a "Deadeye" cowboy sketch that offers an elaborate set design and complex stunts. Ed Sullivan guests doing a deadpan parody of himself.

No easy paycheck for The Three Stooges (Shemp, not Curly) as they guest and work hard for laughs in a workmen-like appearance on The Ed Wynn Show. They are as funny and seemingly spontaneous as they are in their classic filmed shorts. The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show, a ventriloquist Saturday morning kids show from 1950, seems only a commercial advertisement for its sponsor - Tootsie Roll - interrupted by rambunctious stunts and gags. It is, however, touching, in the pre-civil rights era to hear the initiation pledge into the Jerry Mahoney club for kids, spoken quite earnestly - to be kind to all kids regardless of race, creed or color.

50's TV Classics offers 495 minutes of television broadcast history that should be a delight for students of American broadcast and as nostalgia, should warm the hearts and rekindle fond memories of those familiar with the era. I hope Film Chest Media continues with the series, and offers a less loosely organized and more detailed account of this often neglected time in American history.

this review was first published at blogcritics

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

POST-OLYMPIC BLUES - the summer's too hot to handle

Summer is baking away like my attempt at souffle.

I keep reaching for the remote thinking the Olympics is a regularly scheduled TV show.

When I was forced at gunpoint to read Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN in high school, I scowled like the devil. What a pile of crap.

As a young more conscientious adult, I saw a televised production of OUR TOWN and hit the library the next day to secure a copy of it. I loved it. Oh impatient youth.

I spent the first half of the summer as Howie Newsome the milk man in The Amherst Players' production of OUR TOWN. It's a checkpoint on my bucket list - cast in "Our Town".

We had a great little run - two weekends - and I met a warm group of wonderful actors and theatre folk. Oh, and I won a bottle of wine in a basket raffle drawing at the theatre.
                                     The cast of "Our Town".  As always I am bottom left.

I'm cast as "Factotum" - all the bit parts - in The New Phoenix Theatre's Curtain Up production of Mr. and Mrs. Nobody, by renowned British writer Keith Waterhouse (novel: Billy Liar), and directed by his son, New Phoenix's Artistic Director Robert Waterhouse. I'm privileged to be part of the production.

My bro wires me shows he thinks I will like. He sent me HBO's Luck and I savored each of the nine episodes. I don't see a lot of tee-vee programs, but I loved this horse racing drama that was cancelled after one season when a third horse died during the production of the series. I'm fan-boy.

Is there any one else in all the world who can not find a reason to like Entourage?

I was crawling through the second floor of a junk store (a rapidly disappearing enterprise) when I found a rolled up tube of cardboard underneath a pile of rubble and reached in it to find a beautiful Van Gogh print of The Bridge in pristine condition. The cashier charged me 50 cents for it. I put it in a green frame and it is  -

I went to a lecture on antique glass bottles at a local library and afterwords they had a drawing for an antique milk bottle. I wish I was as lucky with Mega Millions.

Watched another Norwegian documentary about 1990s black metal music. Until The Light Takes Us is dark and cool and grim. It's available on Netflix instant viewing.

I'm listening to Saint-Saens' Carnival of The Animals.

And reading recently resurrected Magnet magazine issues.

And thinking about a quote from the recently passed Phyllis Diller: "I am such a bad cook, my TV dinners taste like radio."

Close 'er up big dummy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review: THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT PLAYS 2010-2011, edited by William W. Demastes

The latest in a long line of collected short plays of a given theatre season The Best American Short Plays 2010-2011 (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books) offers 21 short dramatic and comedic plays by generally unknown playwrights that all evolve - according to the editor, theatre writer William W. Demastes - around the theme of love. An argument may be offered that all literary work is thematically based on love. A bad pun may be suggested that given this diverse collection, love is a many splintered thing.

If love is in the air throughout these 21 works, it is coy in Lorin Howard's slight The Subtext of Texting, in which lovers fail to communicate their true feelings while texting cute cliches and smiley faces to each other. It is neurotic in G. Flores' The Coyote Stratagem, in which a chalk circle with imaginary barbed wire is drawn on a garage floor as a means of creating boundaries and communication between two parties in a dissolving relationship.

Love is strange in Janet Alward's amusing Creatures, in which a man confesses to his girlfriend at a drive-in movie (showing a horror film) that he is indeed a werewolf. And it is perverted, if not entirely absent in Lindsay Marianna Walker and Dawson Moore's creepy Six Dead Bodies Duct-Taped to a Merry-Go-Round, in which two guys traveling in a truck with a cargo of human corpses contemplate a lewd act.

Lisa Soland's Thread Count successfully bridges a modernist narrative with an old-fashioned corny tale of a country bumpkin on a sightseeing tour of New York City. It offers zippy Neil Simon-like exchanges between her and a Macy's Department store sales clerk. It's unabashedly romantic, while chartering a satisfying and emotional drive that proves a play need not be sappy to be wholesome.

The crowning offering is Gabriel Rivas Gomez's Scar Tissue. In this psychological, minimally staged extravagance - it includes percussive sounds, projected images and several scene changes - a renowned heart surgeon, coping with the death of her soldier daughter in Afghanistan, plans a life-saving and complicated operation on a returned soldier who suffers from post traumatic stress. The taut play reaches a fever pitch of emotion that is disturbing, even heart wrenching.

For a theatre director or producer looking for plays to fill the gaps in a production of one-acts, this collection is a bountiful of pleasing oddities. Each work offers something worthwhile, if at times only an amused notion. The collection runs the gamut of the most serious drama to the most irreverent topical trinkets like text messaging and active profiles of deceased people on Facebook.

While some come dangerously close to sitcom level, others may very well be the early work of an exciting new voice in the theatre.

this review was first published at blogcritics.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

ONE IN 20,000 MOVIES - #2

I take nearly 20,000 movie titles and I have a computer choose a random title, and then I seek that movie out and watch it. Why? No reason.

Drum roll, please ...

                                                      The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
                                                         A Warner Brothers Picture
                                                   Directed by The Wachowski Brothers
                                                Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne

The Matrix Revolutions, the third film in The Wachowski Brothers' Matrix trilogy was critically slashed, bashed and run out of town upon its release in 2003. It's outrageous $110 million budget yielded a slow and dismal return. Film critic Leonard Maltin smugly said of it: "BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY should not be the better sequel on Keanu Reeves resume.".

Being unfamiliar with the first two Matrix films - The Matrix (1999) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003) - I sort of enjoyed this third Matrix entry, a futuristic sci-fi thriller about a race of humans at war with a mechanized world (the "Machines"), for the rule of sacred but never clearly defined Zion. Apparently Zion is like the bar at the end of the universe where all the humanoids hang out.

While the good vs. evil simplicity is overly complicated by a league of sci-fi clutter, it's best to just go with a Flash Gordon mode of mind and enjoy this ride. The special effects are magnificent. The "war" in the second half of the film is dazzling in its claustrophobic vista of biological, mechanical and human warfare battling in a struggle for dominance.

Keanu Reeves as Neo sends this "man" to apparent fiery Hell with little more than a sucker punch in The Matrix Revolutions.

Elsewhere there are intriguing stark, mundane images of an abandoned subway station in glaring porcelain white, earthbound domesticated and hollow suburban homes with rooms that look like something David Lynch might feel comfortable lounging in, and a dormant industrialized nighttime world of skyscraper human design void of human existence.

As a visual palette it's like a good modern art gallery. As science fiction it's like Buck Rogers re-booted.

The eye-popping Monica Bellucci and some French guy prepare for battle in "The Matrix Revolutions".

There is an army of look-a-like clones dressed in business suit and tie savvy, who may or may not be the "Machines" posing as humans. I was a bit confused by who exactly they were, but certainly the "bad guys" given their habit of draining blood from a person with a single squeeze of their fist. I think you may have to be eight years old and big on Transformers to understand what is going on at any given point of the film.

There is an all-knowing mystical human known as "Oracle", a black woman who can be found smoking cigarettes in her ridiculously earthbound suburban kitchen baking cookies, as space travelers pop in to ask her vital "meaning of life" questions. Actress Gloria Foster played Oracle in the first two Matrix films but died before completion of The Matrix Revolutions and is replaced here by Mary Alice.

An army of clones gather to watch one of their own dancing in the rain in "The Matrix Revolutions".

My favorite quote of the movie comes from the evil leader of the look-a-like clone men who approaches Oracle in her strange kitchen and takes a plate of freshly baked cookies and smashes them against the wall. He then says: "Maybe you knew I was going to do that, maybe you didn't. If you did, that means you baked those cookies and set that plate deliberately, purposely, which means that you're sitting there also deliberately, purposely. Cookies need love like everything does."


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust, by Ken Scott and Bobby Owsinski

Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust is a fascinating rock 'n roll first person account by a guy who not only engineered The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles (The White Album), but as if that isn't enough crowning achievement, went on to produce some of the most highly acclaimed music from rock 'n roll's most exciting era, including David Bowie's The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.

Ken Scott's contribution to engineering and producing some of the finest music of the 20th Century is staggering. Add these titles to his resume: Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Pinups; Elton John's Madman Across The Water, Honky Chateau, and Don't Shoot Me I'm Only Piano Player; Jeff Beck's Truth; Lou Reed's Transformer; Supertramp's Crime Of The Century; The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers; the list goes on.

It's an inside "hands-on" book which offers casual and candid impressions of John, Paul, George, and Ringo bustling about Abbey Road Studios as if it's just another day at the office. The rock 'n roll dignitaries breezing through the pages of Scott's volume is like a stroll through the history of modern rock music. Any given page may find Elton John ringing up the author asking him to meet him in France to produce his next album. Frank Zappa knocks on the door to offer access to his home-built recording studio while he's away on tour. George Harrison calls just to chat and to persuade Scott to re-master All Things Must Pass.

Ken Scott grew up in a working class London family with a fascination for recording devices and a healthy lust for the girl singers on British TV. After a university stint, he secured an assistant sound engineer position at recording giant EMI, which led to his long association with The Beatles. Beginning with "pushing buttons" as assistant engineer on the soundtrack for A Hard Day's Night, Scott's relationship with The Beatles continues long after their breakup and is climaxed by his stay in George Harrison's castle during the final days of Harrison's life.

His wonderful fan-based story, which first finds him as an impressionable young lad encountering The Beatles in the hallways of EMI studios, where he is tempted to "scream like one of the girls" at the sight of them, is merged with his knowledge of sound technology which is as telling as his personal narrative, if you care to know, for instance, how they got that garage rock hollow sound in The Beatles' "Yer Blues". For true sound buffs, a more specified "tech talk" is included on separate highlighted pages of the book.

His anecdotes on the legion of rock 'n roll royalty offer a brand new history which finds Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney's presence in the Beatles' recording studio welcome and passive. He can't recall a single incident of agitation regarding the Beatles' wives. It is no surprise that John Lennon is depicted as a wonderful guy who could be a bit of an "arsehole".

My enthusiasm for the book is curbed a bit by the second half which isn't nearly as thrilling as the first, as Scott takes his career into the 1980s and '90s. Peculiar anecdotes still abound as Devo is described as "standoffish", Duran Duran are seen as foolishly extravagant with money, and medical emergency personal are summoned to Scott's posh Los Angeles pool party when a guest gets his "thingy" stuck in the Jacuzzi suction cup.

Far too many chapters (three!) are devoted to L.A. new wave band Missing Persons, a band that Scott managed, who scored a hit record with "Words" and quickly faded into obscurity. There is a significant number of testimonial letters from record label executives, musicians, and fellow producers and engineers, pasted throughout the book, attesting to Scott's value as a producer, that is gratuitous and leaves an air of insecurity.

But the importance of this documentation of the creation of such monumental music is not to be underestimated. It helps that Scott was strictly anti-drug while working, and his vital recollections are vivid and studious. His song for song account of The Beatles' White Album is historical.

this review was first published at blogcritics.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Music Review: Jim Coleman, TREES

Jim Coleman's Trees is a bit like those meditative "sounds of nature" CDs, wherein the sound of a babbling brook or the love call of a mating whale is intended to cleanse the mind and soothe the soul. This Coleman release, however soothing, is not quite tranquil, as there is an ominous and foreboding measure to the sound of trees, perfectly captured in this music that is omnipresent, lumbering and eternal. It is neo-classical Brian Eno-esque music for mood mongering.

Often, the music composes the spaces between trees as the wind gently passes through them. Soft percussive wind chimes via piano and keyboard, tinkle and glisten in a forest glade and a cello anchors the very breath and weight of an aged tree. The human voice morphs with violin and wind instrument to create an eerie sound as if ancient Druids are present to offer homage.

These ten tracks of meditative music is post-industrial noise with a hint of jazz accents. The sonic landscape paints a picture of nature repossessing an apocalyptic catastrophe. A synth keyboard crawls over a desolate landscape as the occasional horn, violin and voice enhance the emergence of the majestic trees. More like one piece of music over 10 tracks, the theme-titled songs - "Rain", "Dawn", "Summer Heat", etc - differentiate only slightly.

This is the first release from Coleman's own Wax and Wane recording label. It rises above the legion of independent, ambient, producer-on-a-laptop CDs that flood the market, by creating a distinct sound that is as intriguing as it is relaxing. In composing music encompassing the life history of trees, Coleman nails what a tree might convey in a musical language. Like the numbered rings designating age in the trunk of a fallen redwood, the music encircles and solidly defines its subject.

Interpretation aside, Trees is simply a pleasing sound experience. Meditative like a mantra, it is also thoughtful in its imagery of an ancient forest boldly advancing into the unknown. Or if you just want to kick back and groove to some cool sounds, it is absolute.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

HIT SHUFFLE - 10 Random iPod Songs

The Wicked Widget of The West has stolen my widget. I could direct traffic (both of you) to a playlist away from this page to hear some songs from my HIT SHUFFLE list, but I'll let it go for now. Widget be damned.

I get my iPod. I hit shuffle. I listen to the first 10 songs. I cower under the government sky as I plot to employ another illegal download device.

1. The Beatles, While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Eric Clapton plays lead guitar on this George Harrison composition from The Beatles (The White Album), although he is not credited on the album and it was years before The Beatles acknowledged Clapton's contribution. The word in my old neighborhood was, Harrison was not the most accomplished guitarist and he would often bring in session players to smooth out his rough edges. Clapton adds a fluidity of stinging guitar to this Indian music influenced song that is Number 7 on Rolling Stone Magazine's 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. It's the kind of familiar radio song that makes you obediently stop, listen, and gaze into the future whenever, wherever it is playing.

2. David Bowie, Eight Line Poem

A funky countrified guitar and Bowie's hard-edged, stop-and-go piano guide this eight line musical verse that is philosophical, poetic and utterly charming. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to decide which Bowie album is best, I think I'd cry out Hunky Dory.

3. The Beatles, When I'm Sixty-Four

Sixty-four doesn't sound so old anymore. Written by Paul McCartney when he was a mere 16 year-old, When I'm Sixty-Four is a passive little ditty about aging into that dark night with your lover who is "sincerely wasting away", as if its a pleasant stroll down a garden path. A trio of classical clarinets add a leisurely Sunday drive buoyancy to this ultra familiar song which surprisingly, was never released as a single. From Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

4. Pink Floyd, Nobody Home

An artless TV soundtrack including a sound bite from, of all things, Gomer Pyle USMC, crawls in the cellar on this haunting, orchestrated and piano driven song from Pink Floyd's classic, The Wall. A  ghostly narrative sings of a life, presumably just ended, that possessed "a bag, a toothbrush and a comb", and "a silver spoon on a chain". One pictures a hobo with a cocaine addiction in an afterlife. Said to be the final song written for Floyd's brilliant psychological odyssey which remains one of the best-selling albums of all time.

5. Pink Floyd, Goodbye Blue Sky

Monotone industrial sound waves, perfectly blended vocal harmonies, and a lightly plucked acoustic guitar combine effortlessly to paint a sedate, frightening and post-apocalyptic image of Germany's air attack on England (The Blitz), but any war torn zone would suffice. The song opens (after a staple Pink Floyd industrial introduction), with the young voice of bass player and Floyd founder Roger Waters son, Harry, observing, "Look mommy, there's an airplane up in the sky". And then, it would seem, everybody dies. The now grown-up adult Harry Waters has been playing keyboard on his father's The Wall Live tour since 2002. On the 2010-2012 Live tour, animated bombers dropped not bombs, but dollar signs, euro signs, religious symbols and corporate logos when this song was played. From The Wall.

6. The Bealtes, Martha My Dear

From The Beatles (The White Album), it's a lilting, jaunting, regal sounding song from Paul McCartney with Beatlesque brass and violins, that depicts a romantic impasse with just a tinge of subdued threat in its constant reference to "Martha" as "a silly girl". McCartney is the only Beatle heard on this recording.

7. The Association, Everything That Touches You

Pop heaven. A beautifully crafted and romantic 1968 hit single from a band that were just a shade darker than their easy listening peers The Letterman, even The Beach Boys. Echoic vocal chambers, a crystallized flute, and a complex multi-layered arrangement all combine to make this a perfect pop recording. Derided by rock fans for its deliberate Beatles' All You Need Is Love rip-off closing verse, the Beatles' reference is fitting for an American band that fought with the likes of The Fab Four and The Rolling Stones for a position in The Top Ten singles in 1968. I saw The Association live just a few years ago, (they joked that if they weren't at the concert playing, they'd be home watching Jeopardy), and the new, younger by comparison keyboardist (not sure of his identity), led a hard edged version of the song that rocked.

8. The Blues Magoos, We Ain't Got Nothing Yet

A downbeat upbeat garage rock classic from 1967 with a psychedelic Eastern influenced guitar, rip-off riff organ, and infectious drive. Its indebted to grass roots rock and sounds a bit like The Rolling stones, if the Stones were American and penniless. The hail from The Bronx (and sound it), and this is their one big hit. This year, The Blues Magoos have announced plans to release their first new album in 41 years, Psychedelic Resurrection.

9. Stevie Wonder, As

When I received an iPod for Christmas a few years ago I stared at if for several months thinking, "What the hell am I going to do with an iPod?". I had a strict music listening regiment that didn't include a tiny metal device stuck in my ears playing Led Zepplin, and causing me to be oblivious to all else around me.  I have an unreasonable latent paranoia of not being able to hear the cops busting down my door should they ever decide to do so. Stevie Wonder's As from Songs In The Key of Life, was the first track I downloaded. It seemed like a good headphone kind of song. It's a breezy bit of Wonder love-passion with snappy bongo and cymbal laden percussion, a modest electric piano, and a merry-go-round hand clapping vocal chorus, that evolves into a fever pitch, in which Wonder reaches into the far depths of his alarming and aggressive baritone, for peace, love, and the whole shebang. It's a great record.

10. Steely Dan, Bad Sneakers

Over decades of time, this song has quietly risen to the top of my favorite Steely Dan tracks. It sits rather passively among the great, bolder tracks from the Katy Lied album, but it is a subtle powerhouse of jazz influenced syncopation and pop killer melody. At 3:16 minutes, it accomplishes a lot with SD's signature guitar break solo, by session player Hugh McCracken, and beautiful rainy day psych imagery that boasts the lyric, "I'm going insane", as if its a desirable state of being. That's Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers on backing vocals.