Tuesday, December 20, 2011

That's Some Funky Body Paint

A Tribe Called Quest
Midnight Marauders
1993, Jive
produced by Large Professor
Ali Shaheed Muhammad - DJ
Phife Dawg - MC
Q-Tip - MC

  • Award Tour/ The Chase part 2
  • Oh My God/ Lyrics to Go
  • Electric Relaxation/ Midnight

This was a purchase after my friend in high school wouldn't stop talking about Q-tip.  This is the kind of hip hop I like.  Intelligent, laid back, clever, with a swagger and bounce that is missing from pop rap dance and party tracks.  Q-tip is also featured on a Beastie Boys track on Ill Communication, which is awesome.  The hip hop style of the '90s is definitely a centerpiece to this album, complete with intros and outros reminiscent of television bumpers.  This is the follow up to their Low End Theory album.  The best era for hip hop in my opinion was the early to mid '90s, and this album is a great example.  The cover art not only displays the same stylizaed figure that was on Low End Theory, but is also an homage to who the Tribe considered Hip Hop legends and revolutionaries.  The full illustration is below, and this page from Wikipedia lists all of the artists and producers featured.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Too Drunk to be a Dancing Nancy

Dave Matthews Band
Under the Table and Dreaming
1994, RCA
produced by Steve Lilywhite

Dave Matthews - guitars, vocals
Stephan Lessard - bass
Carter Beauford - drums
LeRoi Moore - saxophones, flute
Boyd Tinsley - violin

  • What Would You Say/ Recently
  • Satellite/ Christmas Song
  • Ants Marching
  • Typical Situation/ What Would You Say
  • Jimi Thing/ All Along the Watchtower/ Christmas Song
Dave Matthews definitely earned a bad reputation mostly because of his fan base... and his drinking. If it were drinking alone, Eddie Vedder would also be seen as an asshole. The people that attempt to discredit this band as being elitist and too popular, and over-played, or whatever, are probably the same people that contributed to the '90s backlash to Hootie and the Blowfish. This just proves that people are stupid when it comes to music. As if Justin Bieber wasn't enough proof.

Sometimes bands are unique and talented enough to warrant fame, even if it is given to them by hordes of drunk college kids whose parents paid for school. This is Dave's band's first album. They had an EP called Recently, but this was their actual full-length debut. They put jazz and big band back into rock in a way that few had done since the Grateful Dead, and it was refreshing. The tracks are sing-a-long friendly, and musically well put together. This is a great debut, and you can't take that away from them. No matter how much you hate them now.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

No One is Going to Kill Me Softly

The Fugees
The Score
1996, Ruffhouse
produced by Jerry Duplessis
Wyclef Jean
Lauryn Hill
Pras Michel
John Forte

  • Fu Gee La
  • Killing Me Softly
  • Ready or Not
  • No Woman No Cry
I don't own much rap stuff, most of the hip hop I own came out between 1986 and 1999. Apparently, to pop culture, this is the music of the ancients. This particular ancient album could be the best hip hop album of all time.  

Up until I heard this, I was not a fan of anything rap. Basically, my only exposure up until this album had been early Snoop, the I Like Big Butts song and popcorn rappers like Vanilla Ice and Kris Kross. None of which was appealing, and even the Run DMC/Aerosmith collaboration was pretty silly.  

I gave this album a chance though and it opened a huge door into a genre of music that I had previously dismissed. This is not just beats and rhymes and sexual lyrics and bravado. Wyclef Jean shows his brilliance, and Lauryn Hill has an amazing voice, and proves how clever and talented she is, despite being a woman in a male dominated genre (at the time). There is melody, intelligent banter, well constructed music, and definite homages to other older and well respected genres including reggae, the blues, and rock. I ate this up.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

nana nana nana nana (g g f# f# f f f# f#)


What a great character. Of all the super heroes created in the last 100 years, Batman is definitely the most intriguing. There are tons of other comic book superhero characters out there, some have more interesting premises and themes like the Wolverine, Hellboy, Spawn. Even lesser known characters from Batman's same publishing company (DC) on the surface have potential to be more interesting like Firestorm, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Doctor Midnite, and Deadman. However, Batman towers above everyone else in popularity in the comics universe, and in pop culture. The fact that until recently, Batman (Bruce Wayne) was one of the few DC heroes from the Golden Age (1938-1950) to not die or retire and be replaced by another younger character attests to his popularity and staying power. Boom Tron made him their Badass of the Week in July.

Batman's origin has been told by numerous writers in numerous mediums. Not only is Batman printed monthly in several comic titles, but he has also been the subject of 2 movie serials, a live action television show, 5 animated television shows, 5 animated films, 7 live action films, and 28 video games. Basically, a boy born into privilege has a traumatic experience when his parents are gunned down in front of him. Instead of spending decades in therapy, and for the rest of his life trying to recapture a ruined childhood, Bruce Wayne devotes himself to becoming the best crime fighter ever.

The ideals of justice, charity, community and intelligence coupled with individuality and kickass brute force appeal to everything that Americans hold dear. Bruce Wayne encompasses all of these things. I think the real reason the character is so well liked is this unwavering resolve for justice.  Batman is the darkest hero without crossing the line to become a killer. This is the one rule of Batman. Some would ask why. After all, even the State decides some criminals are better sent to death row. Batman gives a great answer in the comics, stating that he doesn't kill because it is too hard to take a life, but because it is too easy.

A Christian interpretation may be that Batman views all life, even the depraved, criminal, sociopathic kind of life to be sacred and redeemable. But I'd like to think that Batman would much rather toe the line at murder rather than cross over into the world of the very things he fights. Keep this idea in mind for later.

Bruce Wayne decides though, that it isn't enough to just bring criminals to justice. The police do that everyday. Striking terror into the hearts of villains while bringing them to justice is way more effective. And so, he dresses up like a bat, which is a pretty scary animal. The fact that a grown man dresses up like a flying rodent doesn't seem to bother anyone, the other traits mentioned above make his wardrobe less silly.

On top of all this, unlike his peers Superman, and the Green Lantern who also uphold law, order, and justice, Batman has no superpowers or magical energy paraphernalia. He is just a man, a man with more wealth than some small countries, a good education, and the gift of being a good detective.

Great heroes are often complimented by great villains. This very idea is often a central theme for the Joker, perhaps the greatest comic book villain of all time. Batman's villains do not stop with the Joker, however. The Batman villains have the potential to be the most depraved, insane, dark, and twisted villains ever conceived. Even the more goofy villains created during the campy Silver Age like Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy and Calender Man have been written in ways that reveal how disturbing obsession can become.

These guys are not like Spiderman's mostly animal themed villains, or Hellboy's fairytale monsters, or even Superman's mostly super powered Earth threatening alien adversaries (this doesn't count Luthor, in fact, he would make a great Batman villain). Batman fights not just criminals, but fractured human psyche at its worst. These villains are not cliche cookie-cutter hero opposites bent on doing bad things for badness sake, they come largely from places of virtue... virtue gone insane. Plain crazy people are bad enough, but most of these Batman villains are also very intelligent. These are the insane scientists, professors, and doctors.

Among the long list of villains, Batman faces a variety of: deranged psychologists (Hugo Strange, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow), twisted scientists (Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, ManBat, Blockbuster), evil doctors (Hush, Professor Pyg), terrorists (Ra's Al Ghul, Bane), mobsters (The Falcones, Scarface, Black Mask, Maxie Zuess, the Penguin), thieves (Catman, Catwoman, Cluemaster), a district attorney (Two-Face) and egomaniacal fanatics (Mad Hatter, the Riddler, Calendar Man)...

and this guy...

the Joker, who often fits into all of those categories. The Joker has become the most well known Batman villain. All heroes have at least one well known anti-thesis. Superman has Lex Luthor, Spider man has the Green Goblin, Sherlock Holmes has James Moriarty, James Bond has Ernst Blofeld, and Batman has the Joker. The Joker makes much of this relationship with Batman. The Joker has passed on killing Batman when given the chance, his explanation being what would the Joker be without a Batman? The Joker seems to be his own study in madness. However, recently in the mythos, it has been established that the Joker may not be insane after all, which makes his character all the more intriguing and evil.

As suggested above, Batman has embodied fairness, and justice, which are virtues. Batman battles what happens to virtues twisted by madness. There is a line somewhere that these villains have crossed, and Batman continues to refuse to go there, keeping his own madness at bay.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

If I Made Millions, I'd Dress Any Way You Want

So they NBA lockout is into it's 146th day. There are rumors that the two sides are meeting for the first time since the player's union decertified a few weeks ago. However, I'm not very hopeful. Mostly because I read Bill Simmons. The man that brought us all the Book of Basketball is a well known sports columnist for ESPN and has recently started his own blog/site Grantland, where he is the chief editor.

Simmons has recently published an article about the NBA lockout and has had some pretty interesting ideas about how the NBA ought to restructure itself. Mostly, I agree with Simmons. What I don't understand is his and others ideas and complaints about how owners deal with and treat players. According to Simmons, the commissioner of the NBA and the owners of the individual franchises have gone after players "like an overbearing principal". Now, I understand how people don't like being told what to do, however, Simmons gives a laundry list of things that David Stern has mandated in the last decade. These things include a dress code, showing up to work functions on time, taunting, and physical altercations (on the court, and in the stands). Apparently, players balk at these sorts of the things, and are basically defended by sports writers like Simmons, Mike Wise, and Bryant Gumbel. Gumbel even goes as far as to call these sorts of things racially motivated (which even Simmons has decided went too far).

The thing that I don't understand, and what most people who work for a living in real jobs probably don't understand either, is this... The owners employ the players to work for their franchise/organization. If the players are seen as employees, then they are so out of touch with how employee/employer relationships actually work. Even employees that have unions need to play by the employer's rules to a certain point. These unions help prevent unfair employment practices and gross misconduct by employers, but dress code, not allowing violence/harrassment, and being punctual don't seem to be issues for other unions.

NBA players have whined about the fines levied for showing up late for NBA functions like All-Star Weekend and NBA Cares events. Normal people with jobs are all expected to be on time for work. Dress Code was an issue that players didn't agree with either. Again, most jobs require employees to dress a certain way, including those sports broadcasters. Most have a uniform, others require certain types of dress so their employees look professional when representing their company/agency/organization.

Normal employers in normal occupations take "disciplinary action" if their employees show up late for work, don't dress appropriately, and conduct themselves unprofessionally on the job. Disciplinary action means consequences like docked pay, probationary employment status, and termination. NBA players get fined or get suspended, or banned from playing in a number of games.

The fact that NBA players are union members, contracted professionals, and/or free lance employees shouldn't make a difference. Other professions with unions who work on a contract play by similar rules like teachers, the police, and truckers. Each of these professions are required to dress appropriately, act appropriately, and come to work on time.

I have never heard of an NBA player getting fired. I don't think it's possible, and the thought of it actually being possible is a pretty interesting concept. However, that would probably turn into a strategy used to dump a bad investment, free up cap space, get out of a contract, or force a trade. On second thought, nevermind.

What is my point? Final summation? I think the overall attitude of the players is so out of touch with reality that even if this lockout ends in time to save a partial season, it will take a long time to bring back disillusioned fans who live on Earth and not planet Professional Athlete.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bitches Love Songs (named after them)

Yesterday I read a review by Liz Phair about Elvis Costello for Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists.  The thing that stood out for me the most was the line about how "his songs about women and girls are devastating".  Of course this made me think about Allison, which is probably his best known song about a girl.  It, of course, is about Allison, her name being the title of the song, much like many songs about girls.  This thought of course reminded me of this clip from Family Guy.  

To recap, the list is as follows...

  • Rosanna: Toto, Toto 4 (1982)
  • Roxanne: The Police, Outlandos dAmour (1978)
  • Michelle: Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965)
  • Allison: Elvis Costello, My Aim is True (1977)
  • Sarah
  1. Bob Dylan, Desire (1976)
  2. Fleetwood Mac, Tusk (1979)
  3. Thin Lizzy, Shades of a Blue Orphanage (1972)

  • Angie: Rolling Stones, Goats Head Soup (1973)
  • Brandy: Scott English, Scott English (1978)
  • Mandy: Barry Manilow, Mandy 7 inch (1974)
  • Gloria: Van Morrison, The Angry Young Them (1964)
  • Cecilia: Simon and Garfunkle, Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
  • Maggie Mae
  1. Beatles, Let it Be (1970)
  2. Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells a Story (1971)
  • Jessica: 
  1. Allman Brothers, Brothers and Sisters (1973)
  2. Elliot Minor, Elliot Minor (2007)
  3. Dir En Grey, Kisou (2001)
  4. Adam Green, Friends of Mine (2003)
  • Nancy (with the Laughing Face): Ray Charles, Dedicated to You (1961)
  • Barbara Ann: Beach Boys, Beach Boys' Party (1965)
  • Billie Jean: Michael Jackson, Thriller (1982)
  • Layla: Derek and the Dominos, Layla (1970)
  • Lola: Kinks, Lola Versus Powerman
  • Polly: 
  1. Kinks, Wonderboy single (1968)
  2. Nirvana, Nevermind (1991)
  • Helena
  1. Misfits, Famous Monsters (1999)
  2. My Chemical Romance, 3 Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004)
  3. Nicklecreek, Why Should the Fire Die (2005)
  4. Will Haven, Hierophant (2007)
  • Jenny from the Block: Jennifer Lopez, This is Me, Then (2002)
  • Sherry: The Four Seasons, Sherry and 11 (1962)
  • Laura
  1. Billy Joel, the Nylon Curtain (1982)
  2. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters (2004)
  3. Flogging Molly, Whiskey on a Sunday (2006)
  • Wendy: Beach Boys, All Summer Long (1964)
  • Maria
  1. Bernstein and Sondheim, West Side Story (1956)
  2. Rogers and Hammerstein, Sound of Music (1959)
  3. Ricky Martin, A Medio Vivir (1995)
  4. Wu Tang Clan, Wu Tang Forever (1997)
  5. Blondie, No Exit (1999)
  6. Rage Against the Machine, Battle of Los Angeles (1999)
  7. Santana, Supernatural (1999)
  • Peggy Sue: 
  1. Buddy Holly, Buddy Holly (1957)
  2. Blink 182, Cheshire Cat (1994)
  • Minnie the Moocher: Cab Calloway (1931)
  • Tracy: Mogwai, Mogwai Young Team (1997)
  • Jean: Oliver, Good Morning Starshine (1969)
  • Sweet Jane: Velvet Underground, Loaded (1970)
  • Mary Ann
  1. Alice Cooper, Billion Dollar Babies (1973)
  2. Bob Dylan, Dylan (1973)
  3. Black Lace, Mary Ann (1979)
  • Eleanor Rigby: Beatles, Revolver (1966)

The concept of this joke is so interesting.  There are tons of songs about women, not all are named after the women they are about, but many are, and as you can see from the list, many names are used by several different songwriters.  Enter a girl's name in Wikipedia some time and see if there is an entry for (song).  Here are a few more not mentioned in the clip, in case that wasn't enough...

  • Omie Wise: Doc Watson, Doc Watson (1964)
  • Melissa: Allman Brothers, Eat a Peach (1972)
  • Samantha: Margaret Berger, Pretty Scary Silver Fairy (2006)
  • Julia:
  1. Beatles, White Album (1968)
  2. Our Lady Peace, Naveed (1994)
  3. Goudie, Peep Show (2000)
  4. Conway Twitty, Borderline (1987)
  • Christine: Siouxsie and the Banshees, Kaleidoscope (1980)
  • Gina: Blues Traveler, Blues Traveler (1990)
  • Rosemary:
  1. Grateful Dead, Aoxomoxoa (1969)
  2. Gomez, Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline (2000)
  3. Katy Rose, Candyeyed (2007)
  • Emily:
  1. Bowling For Soup, Drunk Enough to Dance (2002)
  2. Dave Koz, Dave Koz (1990)
  3. Frank Sinatra, Softly as I Leave You (1964)
  • Delilah:
  1. Tom Jones, Delilah (1968)
  2. Dresden Dolls, Yes Virginia (2006)
  3. Queen, Innuendo (1991)
  4. Cranberries, Bury the Hatchet (1999)

This is pretty impressive, and just think, most of these songs are really good songs too.  and I only included titles of songs that are only names, which means titles with girl's names as part of the title aren't on here, like My Michelle by Guns n Roses, Hey There Delilah by the Plain White Ts, Jane Says by Jane's Addiction and Loose Lucy by the Grateful Dead.  Bob Dylan's song Lily, Rosemary the Jack of Hearts is a two-for.  I thought about putting links on each song, but I figure if anyone actually reads this and are curious, they can search for the songs themselves.

I guess Brian's comment to Stewie is true, naming songs after girls is a tired, unoriginal and lazy idea, but..  all girls want a song written about them, don't they?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

TV Party Tonight

Even since cable channels figured out they could air shows like HBO, television got way more interesting. The issue I have though, is that I never remember when certain shows come on during the week. I do enjoy certain television shows, and do my best to catch them when they are on.

Television, I believe, has outdone Hollywood and movie making, and I point to subject matter as proof. While Hollywood is busy remaking classic films like The Clash of the Titans, Straw Dogs, Flashdance, and the Crazies, television studios are making pretty amazing film quality series with original content, characters, and plotlines. Some are better than most new movies. A few shows I enjoy follow...

This showed premiered in September, 2008. Another in a long line of FX original shows, Sons of Anarchy could be said to be a spin-off from The Shield, however there are no connecting episodes, and no main characters from either show cross over. This show has romanticized the MC gang culture, and actually gang and organized crime culture in general. The third season ended a three season story arc, and the fourth season promises to begin another multiple season story arc. This show goes further than The Shield to create anti-heroes. There are no true good guys. Not only are the main protagonists criminals, gun runners and felons, but the law enforcement is also severely compromised. Each episode has moments of surprise, revulsion, and edge of the chair action, ending with me wishing I didn't have to wait for next week for a new episode.

First aired in September 2005 and has run for 7 seasons, some may say this show saw success mostly due to school girl crushes over the two main characters. I would like to think it has more to do with the nature of the subject matter. Two dudes creep around and hunt monsters, demons, and other equally scary things. Eventually they get mixed up in the second coming of the devil and perhaps the beginning of Armageddon. In retrospect, the theme of characters selling their souls to save other characters repeatedly gets tired. And none of the characters seem to resolve their issues or grow and change between seasons. However, despite this, the show continues to be fun to watch.

One of a long list of Sci-Fi (Syfy) network's original shows, Warehouse 13 premiered July 7, 2009 and shares the same universe as Alphas, and Eureka which are both on the same network and have characters that crossover between the three shows. Warehouse 13 is about a government installation much like the warehouse shown at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The characters seek out objects of supernatural origin and add them to an already vast archive of similar dangerous artifacts. The main characters mirror the male/female partners duo made famous by X-Files and copied by other shows like Bones, and Fringe. The supporting cast is pretty good, and the entire show has an X-Files, MIB, Indiana Jones type of feel to it, even though the majority of the episodes follow a similar pattern. Most of the time the warehouse hears of strange occurrences, goes to find a new artifact, it gets complicated, but in the end they prevail and neutralize the danger. This doesn't matter however, the show is still interesting, clever, and fun to watch.

This show debuted on the BBC in 2006 and I watch it through Netflix. This particular version of the Robin Hood legend walks the line between gritty, serious period piece drama, and campy family fun romp through the forest. The Sheriff of Nottingham is an evil, sociopath bent on taking England in a coup with shadowy partners. Robin Hood is a jaded peacenik veteran of the crusades and has surrounded himself with the usual merry men of Little John, Will Scarlet, and Allan a Dale, with Much the miller's son bringing comedy relief, a saraqcen girl named Djak joining the gang in season 2, and Friar Tuck introduced in season 3 to round out the legendary gang of outlaws. Marian is played very well by Lucy Griffiths, however, she is replaced by Joanna Froggatt in the 3rd season. Sometimes I feel like the show leaves much to be desired, especially after seeing the Russel Crowe version in theaters, but it is definitely an improvement over the Robin of Sherwood series from the 1980s.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Where Have all the Piano Players Gone?

Billy Joel
Storm Front
1989, Columbia
produced by Mick Jones

  • We Didn't Start the Fire/ House of Blue Light
  • Leningrad/ Goodnight Saigon/ Scandinavian Skies
There hasn't been another Billy Joel, and probably won't be ever again.  The closest you can get, I think, is probably Ben Folds, as he is also a piano player, but Folds could never match up to Billy Joel's list of hits, media exposure, or talent.  This album showcases Joel's ability to create a pop hit.  We Didn't Start the Fire was a number one hit when released.  However, it is definitely not the best track on the album, and has over shadowed many of the better songs.  Mick Jones of Foreigner produced, and definitely delivered.  My favorite track is the last one, And So it Goes.  Joel's ability to write is astounding, and it puzzles me that he just all of a sudden stopped.  Such great talent can't possibly just disappear, and since he's not dead yet, where has he been?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Is that a Mutant Pineapple?

Jorma Kaukonen and Tom Hobson.  
1974, Grunt
produced by Jack Cassady

Jorma Kaukonen - guitars and vocals on all but Blue Prelude and Sweet Hawaiian Sunshine
Tom Hobson - guitar and vocals only on Blue Prelude and Sweet Hawaiian Sunshine

This album is so very cool.  Not only is it nearly perfect (including Tom Hobson tracks at the end nearly ruin it, he kinda sucks), but the producer is the other half of Hot Tuna, Jack Cassady.  RCA (Grunt's parent company) nixed the idea of a Kaukonen/Hobson split record because they didn't think Hobson would be accepted by the public.  And they were probably right.  Hobson's two tracks are pretty bad, he can't sing at all.  However, despite Hobson's shortcomings, the rest of the album is incredible.  Acoustic guitar awesomeness combined with a occasional cool string section.  This is not the usual blues standards Kaukonen is known for, if you like good acoustic guitar picking, check this one out.  I used a lyric from Hamar Promenade in my high school year book.

yellow vinyl!  #1131/2500

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Other Minor Threat

And Out Come the Wolves
1995, Epitaph
produced by Jerry Finn

  • Root Radicals/I Wanna Riot
  • Time Bomb/ Wars End/ Blast Em
  • Ruby Soho/ Thats Entertainment/ Disorder and Disarray
One might ask what could be better than Operation Ivy, or So Long and Thanks for all the Shoes? The answer, of course, is this album. Tim Armstrong and Matt Freedman from OpIvy and Lars Fredericksen united to bring us a ska influenced street punk band which would become my favorite punk sound.  

After finding NOFX, Rancid would be a next logical step, followed by countless other Epitaph signed bands, including the legendary Bad Religion. From a 14 year old's eyes, this was epic. I borrowed this album from my buddy for weeks. I also have the Time Bomb single/EP/ 7". Sometimes they still play it on the local radio station.

The cover art may look familiar. It is a homage to the Minor Threat EP cover, which is actually a photo of Alec MacKaye. I'm pretty sure this photo was taken by Henry Rollins, but I can't find any proof.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fat Mike, I Think I'm a Sofa

So Long and Thanks for all the Shoes
1997, Epitaph
produced by Ryan Greene

Fat Mike - vocals, bass
Smelly - drums
Eric Melvin - guitar
El Hefe - guitar, trumpet

singles --
  • All of Me/ Desperation's Gone
  • Timmy the Turtle/ The Plan
This band was pretty much my first look at punk rock.  Not a bad initiation.  This album is the height of their Ska era and fit right into the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less than Jake, Rancid trend.  I had seen friends wearing the t-shirts and decided to give it a shot.  I liked the rebellious fuck you attitude (I was 14, this was angsty and cool).  The album cover is neopolitan and the title is borrowed from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and references NOFX fans that throw shoes onstage, lost by crowd surfers, skankers, and assholes in the pit.  

The music has a ska influence.  In fact, it is different than anything else they have done since.  Musically diverse, lyrically clever, I would argue this was, and continues to be, their best album.  Shortly after, they released a song called We Don't Play Ska Anymore, but they were pretty good at it.  Murder the Government, and I'm Telling Tim are reworked tracks from their Fuck the Kids EP, which was released the year previous.  

The band photos for the album are pictures of other guys from other bands.  Howard Stern is included at the end of the album telling his DJ that they should be called No Talent.  The liner notes are pretty clever too.  

I love this album, and it's definitely on my top punk albums of all time list.

punk can be pink too

Friday, October 7, 2011

No, It's Not a Metal Band

Death Cab for Cutie
2003, Barsuk
produced by Chris Walla

Ben Gibbard - vocals, guitar, piano
Chris Walla - guitar, keyboards
Nick Harmer - bass
Jason McGerr - drums
Mike Kezner - sitar


  • New Year
  • Sound of Settling
  • Title and Registration

If hipsters gave out awards, this band would get one just for their name...  you see, it's not a goth emo metal band from Pittsburgh, it's a folksy rock band from Washington state.  That's irony!  I like this band.  They don't rock as hard, but the Pixies and Radiohead can definitely be heard as influences.  Ben Gibbard helped give rise to the new folk rock scene and hipster/indie music explosion in the early part of the new millennium, a refreshing change to the staleness of pop punk bands and post grunge rockers of the previous decade.  
It is fun to mention that Chris Walla is a band member and producer.  And Ben Gibbard divorced Zooey Deschannel, the prettiest girl next door on television. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

He also has Diamonds on the Soles of his Shoes

Ben Harper
Diamonds on the Inside
2003, Virgin
produced by Ben Harper

Ben Harper - guitars, vocals, organ, bass, drums
Nikki Panicci - guitars
Greg Kurstin - keyboards, pianos
Leon Mobley - drums, percussion
Juan Nelson - bass

  • Diamonds on the Inside

This is my favorite Ben Harper album so far. This is the first album Ben Harper has produced by himself without JD Plunier. I've always been amazed why established artists need producers, most of the time the musician has a shared producer credit anyway. Why not just cut out the middle man altogether?

Diamonds on the Inside appears to be Ben Harper's homage to Paul Simon's Graceland. Not only is the title track reminiscent of Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes (and an inversion), but both albums share similar rhythms and harmonies. Also, The Ladysmith Black Mombaso makes an appearance on Picture of Jesus, just like they appear on Simon's Homeless.

There is an obvious Christian theme to this record, as seen on several tracks, including Amen Omen, Blessed to be a Witness, and Picture of Jesus. This album is fantastic from start to finish. No song is skippable. Each track has its own beauty, and while some may be turned off by religious messages, I believe that regardless of your belief system, some lyrical messages are more about being a good human, rather than a good Christian/ Muslim/ Buddhist/ or whatever. Plus, it would be a gross denial to not understand how much of an impact religion has made on social norms, personal morals, and shared cultural experience, even among those who don't practice or worship any theological expression. The gospel influence in Ben Harper's music separates it from other neo-blues forms. 

On a side note, this is another one of those Ben Harper albums that I no longer own. I have to stop loaning things to bitches.  

An adendem 12/26/17: I did pick up a second copy of this record, replacing the one that was stolen. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I May Have to Turn in my Man Card

Pieces of You
1995, Atlantic
produced by Ben Keith

  • Who Will Save Your Soul
  • You were Meant for Me
  • Foolish Games
I think by now, if you've been reading the rest of my posts, it is no secret that I like folk music. With that being said, this a pretty good folk album. This is Jewel's debut album, and probably her best. I'm not sure, because I only bought this one.

I'm sure most people would write about the honesty of the music. I'm pretty sure that's an abstract term used by critics who like the music and can't tell people why. I really don't know what honest music is, basically because if music can be honest, than it can also lie, and that's not possible. Instead, I would describe this album as being sweet, and moving. Her voice disarms, making even everyday things sound beautiful, and I think that is where this honesty thing comes from. You believe, when listening, that not only is Jewel revealing a part of herself in these songs, but also opening a window into the struggle of what it is like to be a girl, and what it's like to be disenfranchised in America. This is an album for feminist scholars everywhere. I'm sure they appreciate it, and hate it at the same time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Hope You Enjoy Your Stay

Ben Harper
Welcome to the Cruel World
1994, Virgin
produced by JP Plunier


  • Like a King/ Whipping Boy

I like this guy a lot.  This is his first album and has a softer folk sound to it than some of his later albums.  This album helps usher in a new era of the blues and American folk.  The songs speak to the multiracial working class unlike hip hop, r&b, or country music could.  Honestly, those genres probably still can't.  This music had quiet desperation, power in sadness.  Harper had a realness about his music, unlike other '90s acts that seemed to force their pain out in order to make hit records.  Rolling Stone called him the man who inherited the Blues.  I think I agree.  

Speaking of being welcomed to the Cruel World... I don't own this album anymore.  I lent it to a guy who lived across the hall from me in college, and he stole it.  Not only did he steal it, but he came up to me and handed me the empty case, telling me that he was returning it.  I didn't open it to look.  So, not only did he steal from me, he lied also.  This is actually not the last time I lent a Ben Harper album to someone who didn't return it.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

They Can't all be Winners

Neil Young
Living with War
2006, Reprise
produced by Nick Bolas and LA Johnson

  • Let's Impeach the President
This sounded like a good idea.  Coming from the man who wrote Ohio and Rockin' in the Free World, an album of Bush era protest music sounded like a great thing, epic even.  However, this album falls so far short, I gave it another listen just to make sure it wasn't me.  It wasn't.

I heard it was rushed to completion and distribution, and it sounds like it.  The fact that the album cover is just a stenciled paper bag should have tipped me off.  It sounds like Young wrote the songs on Monday, recorded on Tuesday, and then handed it in on Wednesday, like some college kid completing a term paper that was supposed to take a month.  The lyrics are predictable, and overly simplified.  The music is nothing to write home about, compared to his other work.  If someone told me it was all improv, I think I'd have more respect for it.  Even the album cover looks like the brown paper bags I used to use to cover my school textbooks.  Recycling is a great idea.  Just not for album cover art.

What I can't understand is how it was nominated for 3 Grammy awards.  Clearly the dude in control of nominations didn't actually listen to the music, he just saw "new Neil Young", and got excited.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Swinging with the Flappers

Cherry Poppin Daddies
Zoot Suit Riot
1997, Space Age Bachelor Pad
produced by Steve Perry (not the guy from Journey)

  • Zoot Suit Riot/No Mercy for Swine
  • Brown Derby Jump
  • Here Comes the Snake
This really wasn't my thing.  I had a buddy in high school who was into this sort of stuff, learned how to swing dance too.  The single was catchy, had radio play, so I bought the album.  I think it wasn't what I really was expecting and I shelved it for years.  But the album is well done.  A showcase of swing era sounds done by a ska band.  Picture smoke filled speak-easys, an energetic band with a horn section, wise guys from the Mob making deals in the corner, and perhaps Jim Carey dancing like a fool dressed like the Mask.  That's what this album sounds like.

Friday, September 2, 2011

and now... some nerdiness

I think I'm a closet nerd. A classic dork. This will make sense as I go on. The other day I had a conversation about how George Lucas missed an opportunity to make Star Wars more epic, and if he should reboot his prequel trilogy and forget the first one ever happened. There seems to be a rash of reboots and remakes in the film industry lately and if they can redo the Incredible Hulk, the Punisher, Superman, Spiderman, and even Star Trek, why not Star Wars episodes 1-3?

remember when this was cool?
There are plenty of problems with Star Wars as a science fiction franchise. It is probably the best example of the softest of soft science fiction. However, whether or not the physics and science actually makes sense is an argument for another time. This article is purely about story telling. The prequels are a classic example of poor storytelling.

I think the problems with the storytelling for these films has been documented enough online and perhaps the most comically and accurately by this guy right here. His review is in three parts for each of the three films. This guy touches on each of the big problems with these movies. First and foremost is the lack of character development.

There are an awful lot of throw-away characters. Because they are either in the original movies prominently, or at the very least alluded to, Anakin Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, Padme, Yoda and Palpatine are necessary for these prequel films. Just about every other character is not. Just because a character shows up in the original films doesn't mean they have to be in the prequels. So, these films would have survived without R2D2, C3PO, Boba Fett, and Chewbacca. Bringing in all these other characters from the other films causes questions of continuity, like why didn't Kenobi or Darth Vader recognize the droids decades later, especially since Vader created C3PO? Unnecessary things like this ruined the films.

It seems that Lucas has left character development and depth to the legion of fanfict writers that publish a ridiculous amount of pulp trash about this universe. I would think that the films, the basis for everything these books are about would be the best place for developing characters. Quigon Jinn and Darth Maul seem to be important characters and they are gone before being developed. This makes them pretty unnecessary.

unnecessary.  grow up.
Anakin Skywalker, specifically, was a poorly conceived character. He had to be in the film, as he is the fallen hero of the first original films. But, did we have to start with him as a bratty little boy? And did we have to find him on the same planet where we found Luke? It's pretty impressive that the Empire never went to Darth Vader's home planet to search for relatives. It also highlights Lucas's creative ineptitude. Anakin could have been from any planet in the universe, and Obi-wan Kenobi could have hidden Luke on any planet also. But Lucas chose the same planet twice. A much better idea would have been to skip the home planet stuff and begin with Skywalker already as a padawan.  Skip the freed slave, podracing, child with no father, midichlorian nonsensical backstory. There would be so much more to explore if Skywalker turned evil from inside the Jedi ranks, instead of him coming in from the outside and being some sort of  force-miracle baby who is already a little bent. Little boy Anakin failed to be a good protagonist.

Also, they never do explain this midichlorian stuff very well, and should have left it out. Part of the coolness of Jedi was the mystery surrounding the Force. Explaining it by creating microbial force-creating organisms takes away from that cool factor. Biology lessons in a sci-fi action film can be a turn-off.

So, right away, if the prequel were to be rebooted, the Phantom Menace needs to be skipped over completely.  Which lets us begin with....

Attack of the Clones:

Or some other, perhaps better sounding Star Wars name. First of all, establishing characters...
We need some better stronger characters. Comparing again the originals to the prequels, the cast of characters in the original did not change too much, unlike the prequels where there were new villains each time. I say, build up convincing villains like Count Dooku and Darth Maul, and Grievous and don't kill any of them until the third film. The only villain in the original films that died before Return of the Jedi was Grand Moff Tarkin. No loss there. If you really need to kill someone every film, fine, but introduce all your villains ahead of time. No surprises later on, no one sitting in the theater whispering, "who is that guy, and where did he come from?"

like father, like son?
What made Luke and Han such good characters is they are thrown together and you watch them grow on each other. The prequel trilogy never showed that happen with Anakin and Obi Wan, they just talk about it, reminiscing scenes we never saw. So... the beginning of this reboot ought to have padawan Anakin being paired with Obi Wan for the first time. In Return of the Jedi, Obi-Wan states that he thought he could train Anakin as well as Yoda and was mistaken, so this pairing has to happen.

The Anakin and Obi-wan relationship ought to be better established. Are they master and apprentice, or Jedi Knight peers, like police officer partners? The original films have already decided that they were master and apprentice, which is a completely different sort relationship than co-workers on equal footing. The reboot characters need to be developed accordingly.

In the first films, Anakin is described as a great pilot. Obi-wan tells Luke that Anakin was already "a great pilot" when they first meet. We see Anakin do some piloting in the prequels, but he isn't known in the prequels as a pilot. Anakin, the rebooted character, should be a well known fighter pilot. A Jedi commander of a Republic squadron, perhaps? I'm thinking much like a Roy Fokker character (yes, from Macross.  I told you I'm a bit of a dork).

Padme Amidala is a character that never really made sense. Is she Naboo royalty? Is she an elected Senator? Why change her character between films? In the reboot, let's just make her an elected official, the junior senator to Palpatine's senior and be done with it. No fancy weirdass outfits, no decoys, no weird age difference between Anakin and Padme that leaves questions about how Anakin mysteriously grows older between films and Padme does not. She ought to be a vehicle for Palpatine to take power by using her naivete, and be the vessel for Anakin's kids and that's it. Speaking of government...

The Phantom Menace is the movie where you wonder how any sort of government can function when they allow businesses to build and use their own private armies. For example, if Microsoft built a robot android army and tried to annex the state of Oregon, the United States government would probably have something to say about it. However, this is how Lucas pitches the beginning of the Clone Wars.

The Attack of the Clones goes even further to establish this ridiculous intergalactic system of government. It is not clear what, if any, authority the Senate has over the thousands of worlds it represents. And in this movie it makes it clear that aside from the Jedi, it has no means with which to enforce law and manage disputes (read: no standing army). There is no way that armed conflict disappeared from the known universe, even our own UN has peacekeeping forces donated from member nations.

For the reboot, these issues must be addressed. Timothy Zahn wrote the first Lucas approved Star Wars fiction in 1992.  The Zahn Trilogy, as it would be known, started with the Heir to the Empire, and established a few things in the Star Wars canon that had previously been hinted at, but not set in stone.  The Clone Wars, according to Zahn, were a period of war that devastated the universe, as both sides had an inexhaustible supply of soldiers and weapons.  Lucas liked to borrow familiar historical themes in the first films, why not this time?  Where in our history was there a war of universal devastation?

People understand the fundamental issues surrounding the American Civil War, and  World War 2, why not mirror one of those in the reboot? The audience shouldn't have to guess at why the galaxy is gearing up for war. It should be pretty obvious and easily understood. A section of the Republic wants to secede, why? Because they feel under represented and feel another government would treat them better. War starts because the Republic wants to keep itself together, preserve the thousand year old union, and the other government believes in slavery, or human sacrifice, or something equally disturbing and evil, and must be stopped. See? That was easy.
Imagine they're clones, and have lasers
Usually wars are fought between nations, or people. In movies, there is usually a good side, and a bad side. And they are usually easy to tell apart. The original movies did this easy.  The Empire was led by this big angry guy in black armor. The Empire does horrible things, like ambushes, torture, and blowing up entire planets just as a test. In the prequel films, the "bad guys" don't seem too bad. It's a bunch of bumbling goofy looking businessmen and their robotic army that somehow is a threat to an enormous well established intergalactic government protected by telekinetic kung-fu monks with laser swords. There needs to be an antagonist that truly horrifies with means and motive to do harm. Something bad enough that the people of the Republic would rather be kept safe under Imperial Rule than by the antagonist of the Clone Wars.

In fact, according to all of the Star Wars literature, there are plenty of bad guys you could start a war with...  like the Mandalorians (think an army of Boba Fetts), or the Nagai (failed Marvel comics antagonists), Yuuzhan Vong (if we plunder the literary mythos), or even the Hutts. Once again, it is a pretty big universe, you could make up a new evil, as long as Palpatine is still the most evil and takes control from the shadows. Much like the prequel, only better.

There could still be three films. The first sets up the conflict, the second brings you into the middle of the conflict, and the third nearly resolves the conflict with the Republic coming out on top, only to be toppled by Palpatine and Darth Vader when no one is paying attention. There should be no need of an animated series to bridge the films so they make sense.

There should be no obvious clues as to how Anakin falls until he falls. Pride, they say, goes before a fall. Instead of jealous love, a better turn would be Anakin's pride, pride in being a great pilot, a Jedi hero?  Perhaps Obi-Wan's pride in being a superior Jedi teacher to Yoda could help with Anakin's downfall? Anything is better than some star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet cliche. By the way, since when did Jedi not get married? I thought hate, fear, and anger were paths to the dark side, not friendship, love, and happy thoughts.

In short, the prequel left much to be desired. And even though it would be a miracle if Lucas actually decided to redo his prequel from scratch, I think everything would have to be rethought, rewritten, and built from nothing in order to make better movies. The only things that went well with the prequels were the way Palpatine/Darth Sidious manipulated everything to his design for domination. And the special effects. Everything else should be changed, and Lucas should give up his writing duties to an actual writer. Some of those pulp-fiction guys do write some good stories. Comic book writers know what they're doing most of the time too. A director not named George Lucas ought to direct also, with Lucas executive producing.

Perhaps these guys could do it?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Long Time to be Gone, and a Short Time to be There

I'm kind of impressed it took me this long to write about my favorite band of all time. For those of you who recognize the lyrics in the title, you know what's coming. For those who don't, the title is from a song called Box of Rain by the godfather of all hippie jam bands, the prototype to modern file sharing, the Ken Kesey house band, the Grateful Dead.

I figure, this band is so important to me, I could do what I did for Rage Against the Machine and Blues Traveler by writing about each album I own...  but that may take a while and would probably end up being pretty repetitive and boring. Also, studio albums do not do the band justice. They are a good way to be introduced and get familiar with the songs, but the Dead were special because of their live show.

I'm not that old... Jerry Garcia died on August 8, 1995. That was nearly two months before the Dead were supposed to close out the Boston Garden, one final live performance before they tore the old Garden down. I was twelve and planned on buying tickets. The year before was my first and only show, my parents bought me tickets for my birthday. I went with my father.  In comparison to other fans, known as Deadheads, I'm basically an infant. Heads were known for following the band, some seeing hundreds of shows between 1965 and 1995. The counter culture that grew around the touring band is a legendary and very interesting social phenomenon. The documentary film Tie Dyed does a very good job presenting the fan base. I recommend watching it if you're interested in this sort of thing.

The catalog in my music collection is as follows:

The Ship of the Sun is Piloted by the Grateful Dead
Warner Brothers, 1967
produced by David Hassinger
Pig Pen - vocals, organ, harmonica
Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass guitar, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann - drums

  • Stealin'/Don't Ease me In
  • The Golden Road/Cream Puff War
  • Viola Lee Blues

Anthem of the Sun
Warner Brothers, 1968
produced by David Hassinger

Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, trumpet, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, vocals, percussion
Tom Constanten - piano
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion

  • Dark Star/Born Cross Eyed

Warner Brothers, 1969
produced by Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor

Pig Pen - vocals, harmonica, organ
Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Tom Constanten - organ
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion

Workingman's Dead
Warner Brothers, 1970
produced by Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor

Jerry Garcia - guitars, pedal steel, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, piano, vocals, harmonica
Bob Weir - guiatrs, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion

  • Uncle John's Band/New Speedway Boogie
  • Casey Jones

American Beauty
Warner Brothers, 1970
produced by Steve Barncard

Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, pedal steel, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, piano, vocals, harmonica
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion

  • Truckin'/Ripple
Vintage Dead
Sunflower, 1970
produced by Robert Cohen

Pig Pen - organ, harmonica, vocals
Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann - drums

Grateful Dead (Skulls and Roses)(Skull Fuck)
Warner Brothers, 1971
produced by Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor

Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, piano, harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Bill Kreutzmann - drums
Merl Sanders - organ

  • Johnny B Goode/Truckin'
Europe '72
Warner Brothers, 1972
Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, harmonica, vocals
Keith Godchaux - piano
Bill Kreutzmann - drums
Donna Jean Godchaux - vocals

  • One More Saturday Night/Bertha
  • Sugar Magnolia/Mr Charlie
Bear's Choice
Warner Brothers, 1973
produced by Owsley Stanley
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Pig Pen - organ, harmonica, guitar, vocals, percussion

Wake of the Flood
Grateful Dead, 1973
Jerry Garcia - guitar, pedal steel guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Donna Jean Godchaux - vocals
Keith Godchaux - piano, vocals

  • Let me Sing your Blues Away/ Here Comes Sunshine
  • Eyes of the World/Weather Report Suite
Shakedown Street
Arista, 1978
produced by Lowell George
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Donna Jean Godchaux - vocals
Keith Godchaux - piano, vocals

  • Good Lovin'/Stagger Lee
  • Shakedown Street/France
Arista, 1981
produced by Dan Healy and Betty Candor-Jackson
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion

  • Dire Wolf
Without A Net
Arista, 1990
produced by John Cutler
Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Branford Marsalis - tenor saxophone

Two From the Vault
Grateful Dead, 1992
produced by Dan Healy
recorded August 24, 1968 at Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals
Pig Pen - keyboards, harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion

Hundred Year Hall
Grateful Dead, 1995
produced by John Cutler
recorded April 26, 1972 at Jahrhunderthalle, Frankfurt
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Pig Pen - harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars
Phil Lesh - bass
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Donna jean Godchaux - vocals
Keith Godchaux - piano

Dozin at the Knick
Grateful Dead, 1996
produced by John Cutler
recorded March 24-26, 1990 at Kickerbocker Arena, Albany

Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion

Fallout from the Phil Zone
Grateful Dead, 1997
produced by Phil Lesh
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Tom Constanten - organ
Keith Godchaux - piano

Good Morning Little School Girl
Grateful Dead, 1997
produced by John Cutler
recorded February 11, 1969 at the Fillmore East, New York
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Pig Pen - harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Tom Constanten - organ, prepared piano

Nightfall of Diamonds
Grateful Dead, 2001
produced by John Cutler
recorded October 16, 1989 at the Meadowlands
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion

One can see that quite a few of the albums I own are newer posthumous releases of live shows. I did have a few tapes from random shows from the 70s courtesy of my hippie dentist. But, the quality wasn't very good, as most of them were copied from another master tape. My father had the entire catalog of Grateful Dead releases, up until Built to Last. He even had Infrared Roses, which is a bizarre collection of "space" jam sessions from live shows. So, I've heard everything released through a record company, except for the Dick's Picks releases (there must be like thirty of them), and now Dave's Picks (Dick died in 1999).

The Grateful Dead took up much of my adolescence. I read several books and interviews about them, including The Grateful Dead Family Album by Jerilyn Lee Brandelius, One More Saturday Night by Sandy Troy, Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh, the Annotated Lyrics by David Dodd, Box of Rain by Robert Hunter, and even Harrington Street by Jerry Garcia. I have copies of the People Magazine and Guitar Player special Jerry Garcia editions, and the Rolling Stone tribute. It was kind of an obsession.

The music is unlike anything I've ever heard, unique for a few reasons. The first is the blending of genres never done quite the same. Its like that Osmonds song, a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll... a little bit blues, a little bit jazz, a little bit bluegrass. Lenny Kaye once said that they touch "on ground that most other groups don't even know exists".

Second, the individual members are fantastic musicians and they aren't like conventional rock stars learning how to play in the garage. Phil Lesh, the bass player, is a Berkley grad who studied classic piano and trumpet. Jerry Garcia was a well known Bay Area bluegrass banjo picker and this influences his style of guitar playing.  Mickey Hart studied percussion in a variety of different countries and cultures, and he plays with Bill Kruetsman, sometimes drumming in-sync, and sometimes blending different beats together. Add to this a young garage taught guitar player (Bob Weir), a crusty blues front man who also played harmonica and the organ (PigPen) and you have an interesting band.

Also noteworthy: the musicians rarely wrote lyrics. Robert Hunter and John Barlow wrote most of the lyrics in the Grateful Dead catalog. This means the other members had more time devoted to actually writing music, and usually the music writer would sing. Because of this, there is actually no true lead singer, as Garcia, Weir, PigPen and even Phil Lesh led songs, and most contributing backing vocals.

These things coupled with the drug induced '60s spirit of discovery, craziness, and experimentation leads to a unique live sound that really can't be truly described. In fact, the Grateful Dead sound changes (evolves?) as the band changes. This is pretty understandable, as they played constantly for 25 years and kept changing organ/piano players.

I like acoustic Dead, and when they kick out the blues with Pig Pen, or Brent and Bobby. They're also the best band Bob Dylan ever had. Some claim the best Dead era is the early '70s, specifically the Europe tour in 1972. I definitely recommend this band to anyone. Skip the first few albums and stay away from any 'best of' compilations. Start with the 1970 self title album (also known as Skulls and Roses, or Skull Fuck), Live Dead (live, duh), American Beauty, Workingman's Dead (acoustic), Europe '72 (live), Reckoning (acoustic and live, its a double whammy), Deadset (live), In the Dark (the album with their only hit Touch of Grey).

There is so much to be said about this band... but I've gone on long enough.