Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is Super Bowl XLVI a Preview of the 2012 Presidential Election?

A few Sundays ago, I tried to make a joke comparing the New England Patriots, who play in Foxborough, Massachusetts, to the former governor of that state and current presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. The Patriots were playing in the AFC Championship without really beating anybody; to that point, they hadn’t had a victory over a team with a regular season record better than 8-8. Like Mitt Romney, I chided, who currently leads a field of potential candidates who even Republicans will admit is less than stellar, the Patriots were paving their way to victory more on the inadequacies of others than on their own talents.

It was supposed to just be a lame joke that unfairly wrote off a team I admittedly don’t like. But the more I thought about it, the more similarities I noticed between the political landscape of the last twelve years and occurrences in the NFL.  The fact that this will be the third consecutive time the American people will elect a new president in the same year that they watch the Patriots play in the Super Bowl is intriguing enough … but does it have any significance? I don’t really think so. But at least it gives me an excuse to write about both sports and politics in the same column.

Consider this: the New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady and hired Bill Belichick in 2000, the same year George W. Bush was elected president. The following year Bush signed the Patriot Act, Tom Brady became the starting quarterback in the NFL, and the Patriots won the Super Bowl for that 2001 season. The Patriots and Bush would both win together in 2004, both by a narrow margin, the Patriots against the St. Louis Rams, Bush against John Kerry.

After winning again in 2005, the next Super Bowl the Patriots would play in would be in 2008. Despite being the dominant team for most of the last decade, the Patriots were upset by the much less experienced New York Giants, aptly nicknamed “Big Blue,” led by newcomer and relatively unseasoned quarterback Eli Manning.  Sound familiar?  

If the Patriots represent an embattled Republican candidate from a mediocre field looking to recapture the throne, there is also quite the uncanny resemblance between the Giants and presidential incumbent Barack Obama, who despite his success in 2008 has not quite been able to deliver on the potential we saw four years ago. However, the Giants and Obama may be surging at the right time, and may be able to capitalize on good timing and an uninspiring opponent to achieve their victory. The Giants are finally healthy and coming off of wins against arguably the two best teams in the NFL, the Packers and the 49ers.  In the last year Obama has been able to claim the paramount victory in the war on terror with the death of Osama bin Laden, he’s ended the war in Iraq, and in the last several months unemployment has declined significantly.

So what does that mean for tonight? Like I said before, probably nothing, although I have a feeling the odd similarities will continue to play themselves out this year. What do I mean by that? I’ll spare you my political opinion, but let’s just say I have a good feeling about the Giants.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bryan Cranston & Gordon Lightfoot

For anyone born after 1975, Gordon Lightfoot was a popular Canadian folk singer in the '60s and '70s. Before slowly slipping into obscurity as heavier rock genres grew into prominence, he scored a few hits in his day, including "Rainy Day People," "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," and "If You Could Read My Mind."  Perhaps his most lasting claim to fame is the similarity between the chorus of that last song and Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All," which was the cause of a lawsuit in the 1980s.

Anyway, I bring it up because I can never get over the similarity in appearance of Lightfoot to modern actor Bryan Cranston, currently star of the TV show Breaking Bad and also well known for his role as the father on Malcolm in the Middle. It's really an uncanny resemblance. Uncanny, and a completely useless observation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Burt Bacharach: Synthpop Sensation?

I was once again shocked to learn this week that another 1980's hit is in fact a cover of a 1960's soul/R&B song (see below for Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," originally by Gloria Jones). This time it's Naked Eyes' "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me." The song was in fact originally recorded by Dionne Warwick as a demo in 1963, before Lou Johnson released it virtually the exact same track with his vocals in 1964, with that version charting at #49 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Like virtually all of Warwick's songs recorded in her career, the song was composed by Burt Bacharach with lyrics by Hal David. It's just a bit funny to think that the brooding, snythpop hit of the 80's was in fact composed by Bacharach, known for his loungy love songs in a bygone era (for some perspective, Bacharach's biggest hit he composed in the 80's was the cheesy "That's What Friends Are For," as performed by Warwick). It also just makes you wonder: if all these latter day hits are recycled from yesterday's B-sides, is that a testament to the versatility of the tracks or does it indicate that music was, in fact, better then?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tainted Tainted Love

I had no idea until just now that the 1981 Soft Cell hit "Tainted Love" is actually a cover of a 1965 Gloria Jones song.  For those of you who don't know, Gloria Jones was also the longtime girlfriend of T-Rex frontman and (arguably) founder of glam rock, Marc Bolan, and was behind the wheel of their Mini when it struck a sycamore tree on September 16, 1977 (also the day before my parents got married) causing Bolan to meet his untimely death. It's a small world?

On a side note, this makes me a little less upset about Rihanna sampling the 1981 version of "Tainted Love" for her 2006 song "SOS."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NYTimes Picks Top Ten Composers

For those interested in classical music, the New York Times ran a pretty interesting piece last month discussing history's top composers with the ultimate goal of creating a list of the greatest ten.  Spoiler alert: Bach wins.

Though I have a strong appreciation for classical music, by no means am I an expert in the field, so I'll refrain from providing much of any type of critique of the author's inevitable opinion.  I will say however, that I was a bit dissapointed not to see Chopin on the list (call it a pianist's bias... he did write the Opus 28, aka the Preludes, of which one music historian said, "if all piano music in the world were to be destroyed, excepting one collection, my vote should be cast for Chopin's Preludes).  I was also surprised to see Debussy make it all the way to number five.  Although, he was French, afterall. Damn Times and their liberal bias...

You can find the complete collection of articles here:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Barack Obama on Being Smooth

You may not agree with his politics, but you can't argue with his taste in music:

You should probably listen to the man - not only is he the President, but he landed the beautiful and intelligent Michelle. Clearly he knows what he's talking about.

Youtube won't let me embed the video for the original version of Dionne Warwick's "Walk on By," but if you haven't heard it, you can copy and paste the below url into your browser.

Friday, December 31, 2010

A Few More Great Albums of the Aughts, Pt. 2: 2003-2009

I thought it was about time I get this out there...

20 Adam Green, Friends of Mine [Rough Trade, 2003]

You get the feeling that everyone listening to Adam Green for the first time goes through the same state of confusion where they ask themselves “Wait a minute, is he kidding?” With the masculine croon of a ‘50s lounge singer, Green delivers vulgar and absurd lyrics with an earnestness that allows you to find meaning in them whether they're rational or not.

Key Track: "Jessica"

21 The Books, The Lemon of Pink [Tomlab, 2003]

Considering that during their prolific first four years of existence The Books virtually owned the indie avant-garde scene, it's amazing how little they are discussed now or were mentioned on "Top" lists at the end of the decade.  Once the darlings of hipster sites like Pitchfork, they have sine been forgotten; only their first album, Thought for Food, made Pitchfork's list, and all the way down at the #125 spot.  Frankly all The Books' albums, which are basically audiophiliac ecstacy and textbooks on excellent production, deserve a thorough listen.

Key Track:  "Tokyo"

22 Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place [Temporary Residence, 2003]

Key Track: "First Breath After Coma"

23 Fruit Bats, Mouthfuls [Sub Pop, 2003]

Key Track: "A Bit of Wind"

24 Kaki King, Everybody Loves You [Velour Recordings, 2003]

Key Track: "Night After Sidewalk"

25 Album Leaf, In a Safe Place [Sub Pop, 2003]

Key Track: "Over the Pond"

26 Ambulance LTD, LP [TVT Records, 2004]

Key Track: "Stay Where You Are"

27 Black Moth Super Rainbow, Start a People [70's Gymnastics, 2004]

Key Track: "Early 70's Gymnastics"

28 Elliott Smith, From a Basement on a Hill [Anti, 2004]

While many of Elliott Smith’s albums could be characterized as haunting, From a Basement on a Hill has the unfortunate distinction of fitting that description most literally. Released almost a year to the day after Smith’s grisly suicide, it contains some of his darkest, most schizophrenic work, though still distinctly Smith.

Key Track: "King's Crossing"

29 Johann Johannsson, Viroulegu Forsetar [Touch, 2004]

Key Track: N/A

30 Kings of Convenience, Riot on an Empty Street [Astralwerks/Source 360/EMI, 2004]

Key Track: "Homesick"

*31 Midlake, The Trials of Bamnan and Slivercork [Bella Union, 2004]

Key Track: "Balloon Maker"

32 Sondre Lerche, Two Way Monologues [Astralwerks, 2003]

Key Track: "Two Way Monologue"

33 Wilco, A Ghost Is Born [Rhino, 2004]

Key Track: "At Least That's What You Said"

34 The Books, Lost and Safe [Tomlab, 2005]

Key Track: "Vogt Dig for Kloppervok"

*35 The Headphones, The Headphones [Suicide Squeeze, 2005]

Key Track: "I Never Wanted You"

36 Jose Gonzalez, Veneer [Peacefrog Records, 2005]

Key Track: "Heartbeats"

37 13 & God, 13 & 13 & God [Anticon, 2005]

Key Track: "If"

38 Sean Lennon, Friendly Fire [Capitol/EMI, 2006]

Key Track: "Parachute"

39 Thom Yorke, The Eraser, XL [XL, 2006]

Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke may not have the most audibly pleasing voice in the world, but that hasn’t prevented him from establishing his larynx as one of the most iconic in rock history. His vocals bare a sense of desolation that is both startling and penetrating, with an alternatively uncanny ability to galvanize any sound that dares to occupy the same time and space. On his first solo album, his resolute but ill-at-ease intonations play perfectly off of ominous and minimalistic electronics to create a tone as bleak and awe-inspiring as deep space. It might be tempting to crown The Eraser as Radiohead’s sixth and a half studio album; afterall, it’s produced by Nigel Godrich, and relies at least partially on sampling the band’s unreleased recordings. But granting such a distinction would ignore the extent to which Yorke’s voice, both literally and figuratively, overwhelm this album.

Key Track: “Cymbal Rush”

40 Endless Boogie, Focus Level [No Quarter, 2008]

Key Track: "Executive Focus"

41 The Horrors, Primary Colours [XL, 2009]

Rarely is a new band able to invoke a past style with this type of inspired originality as opposed to overzealous emulation. The last time 80's post-punk was done this well was when Interpol convinced us that they had genuinely resurrected Ian Curtis on 2001’s Turn on the Bright Lights (which well may have been my #1, had I made a list). The Horrors are equally gloomy and effective; perhaps this is what it would have sounded like had Billy Idol and Richard Smith ever made a baby – and yes I mean the sound of actually making the baby.

Key Track: "Sea Within a Sea"