Saturday, March 26, 2011

Various Artists - Entertainment Weekly Presents Maximum Dance (Discs 1 & 2)

In the mid-90s, I was a loyal subscriber to Entertainment Weekly magazine. Now normally, I'm not a committed reader of media/music rags. I have been known to pick up the occasional British music magazine (Uncut, Mojo, etc.) from time to time, but it's not like I'm pacing in front of the bookstore every month, breathlessly awaiting the next issue. I've never had much use for periodicals like Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Creem, Hit Parader or mainstream mags of that ilk.

The only other entertainment magazine I ever made the effort to subscribe to was SPIN, back in the early days of its existence (i.e., the late 1980s). In its early days, SPIN's music coverage was consistantly great, a lot better than the middle-of-the-road music dreck that Rolling Stone was putting out. The magazine was so good, in fact, that Mark E. Smith went out of his way to give a positive name-check to SPIN in song (in "Oswald Defense Lawyer", on the 1988 Fall album The Frenz Experiment). When Mad Mark is singing your praises, you KNOW you're doing something right.

But unfortunately, grunge came along and destroyed SPIN magazine. Not that I have anything against grunge - it's just that, suddenly, SPIN became the house organ for the whole movement, and the magazine's coverage became all-grunge, all the time. I liked SPIN for its FULL coverage of the alternative music scene, not just that tiny sliver. After a couple of years of this sort of tedium (I mean, hell, how many times can you write about Mudhoney and Pearl Jam, seriously?), I finally threw in the towel and failed to renew my subscription.

Now, Entertainment Weekly wasn't a substitute for what SPIN used to offer. The magazine wasn't exactly on the cutting edge of what was happening in music and movies, and I didn't have any burning love for Entertainment Weekly's prose either. The only reason I kept getting this periodical year after year was that, as part of your renewal, the magazine would provide free music compilations as part of your paid subscription. Sometimes the compilations were rock; sometimes they were disco; other times they were country. But all of them were superb overviews of their particular genre.

This compilation, Entertainment Weekly Presents Maximum Dance, was mailed to 1995 subscribers. I personally feel that this was the finest of all the magazine's music sets, as it provides an excellent overview of the state of dance music in the late '80s/early '90s. Most of the major hits from that period are included on this two-disc set: Haddaway's "What Is Love"; "I've Been Thinking About You" by London Beat; "O.P.P." by Naughty By Nature; and many, many more.

I'm not embarrassed to say that, back in the day, I spent many an hour getting down to these hits in dance clubs from Narvik, Norway to Valparaiso, Chile and points in between. Yeah, a lot of these tunes seem cheesy now (especially the ones that have moved into the realm of parody, like the Haddaway song and Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy"), but it helps to remember that, in their time, all of these songs were HUGE hits and dance-floor staples. Here's the lineup:

Disc 1:
1. What Is Love - Haddaway
2. A Deeper Love - Aretha Franklin
3. Don't Turn Around - Ace of Base
4. All Around The World - Lisa Stansfield
5. Ride On Time - Black Box
6. Flava In Ya Ear (Easy Mo Mix) - Craig Mack
7. I've Been Thinking About You (Eclipse Mix) - London Beat
8. Just Another Dream - Cathy Dennis
9. Whoomp! (There It Is) - Tag Team
10. Every Little Step - Bobby Brown
11. I'm Gonna Get You - Bizarre Inc.
12. O.P.P. - Naughty By Nature

Disc 2:
1. Mr. Vain - Culture Beat
2. Good Vibrations - Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch
3. I'm So Into You - SWV
4. Movin' On Up - M People
5. I'm Too Sexy - Right Said Fred
6. Summertime - DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
7. Jump Around - House of Pain
8. Show Me Love - Robin S.
9. keep It Street - R. Kelly
10. Humpty Dance - Digital Underground
11. Big Poppa - The Notorious B.I.G.
12. Froggy Style - Nuttin' Nyce

If you're still a fan of this sort of music, this compilation is a one-stop source for all of the good stuff from back then. If you're not a fan, then hell, at the very least this set is good for a laugh, and hearing what people thought was cool at that time. Either way, here you go. As always, enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Imperial Teen - What Is Not To Love

For my birthday in 2002, my girlfriend gave me two tickets to see The Breeders play at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City later that month. Rob, one of my New Zealand buddies, was over in the States that summer, working as a swim instructor at a summer camp for underprivileged urban children in Vermont (his normal gig is as an actor and print and TV model in NZ - here's his website if you're interested: So I invited him to come along (my girl wasn't a big Breeders fan). Rob was pretty psyched to learn about our upcoming trip; he'd been stuck up at that ramshackle camp for weeks, and was itching to get away and get back to New York, a place he had visited only one time previously but instantly fell in love with.

The only issue was that I had to schlepp my way up to Vermont to get him, as he had no transportation. I didn't see that as a major issue. On the week of the show, I was to be away in Atlanta until early Friday afternoon. The plan was that I would fly back to Providence, drive home to pack my stuff, then shoot up to Vermont to pick Rob up en route to NYC. The camp managers had only given him two days off, so it was going to be a quick trip. Up to that point in my life, I had never been to Vermont - really didn't have any reason to. But it looked small on the map, so how long could it take to get there?

[Well, I found out EXACTLY how long it took to drive through that stultifyingly boring state. I'll spare you the details of that journey - a tragicomedy of plane delays, traffic jams and assorted errors that began in Atlanta and didn't end for another 18 hours or so. Let me just say that, no offense to the good citizens of Vermont, but I'll live just as long and die just as happy never having to visit that boring-ass state ever again . . .]

By the time we finally got to New York in the very wee hours of that Saturday morning, we were dead beat. But we were also starving, so we threw our stuff down at the Helmsley and went to the Carnegie Deli (which is open until 4 am) for a feed (even at that late hour, there were famous faces there - Tommy Lasorda sat gorging himself at the table next to us) before stumbling back to the hotel and collapsing exhaustedly into our beds.

We were up fairly early the next morning - I was worn out from all of the traveling and delays, but Rob only had 48 hours of leave from the camp, and didn't want to waste it sleeping. The show didn't start until 8-ish, so we killed the day running around town, from Central Park to Canal Street and points in between. Rob hit the city wearing his "party/concert" attire, which consisted of bright orange jeans with cargo pockets and a black mesh shirt . . . I nearly collapsed with laughter. His outfit looked like something the Festrunk Brothers from SNL would wear in New York to look 'hip'.

[Of course, I ended up eating my words and guffaws - as we walked around Soho that afternoon, a guy with a camera came up to us, told Rob he was a professional photographer for a nationally-known men's fashion magazine, and asked to take his picture for an upcoming issue (the bastard completely ignored me - guess I wasn't dressed 'hip' enough). And sure enough, a couple of months later, a small shot of Rob sporting his 'look' appeared in the magazine. So that shows how much I know . . .]

After a few drinks (at the Cub Room on Sullivan St. - great place) and some chow (at Blue Ribbon Sushi just down the street - highly recommended), we hopped a taxi for the show, soon arriving in front of the venue. I was really looking forward to seeing the reformed Breeders, with both Kim and Kelley Deal back in the band (they were touring on Title TK, their first new album in nine years). In the years since the last show I saw with them together (in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1995 (detailed in my previous Kelley Deal 6000 post)), I'd seen Kelley's band play several times all over the country. And in 1997, I was part of a very disappointed packed house at DC's 9:30 Club listening to a set performed by what was touted as a "Breeders" band fronted by Kim, but stocked with lame, no-name musicians playing lame, no-name songs (I discovered later that most of those ersatz Breeders were actually members of Kim's more recent band The Amps). In both cases, some of the spark and chemistry was missing; it just wasn't the same as seeing the sisters perform together. So I was pretty jazzed (I was also secretly hoping that Kelley would remember me, her old friend from years past, and take the time to say hello - but I wasn't going to press the issue). Rob and I went up the stairs to the main stage area of the Bowery Ballroom, got a couple of drinks, and milled around waiting for the show to start.

I didn't know anything at all about the supporting band, Imperial Teen, so I was sort of surprised when, in speaking with some of the other concert attendees before the show, a fairly good number of them were there to support this band. Although they were the opener, they were touring on their own new album, 2002's On. Others there were enthusiastic, but I honestly didn't know what to expect as Imperial Teen took the stage.

Imperial Teen was formed in late 1994/early 1995 by Roddy Bottum, keyboardist for Faith No More. Soon after the 1992 release of Faith No More's Angel Dust, the band's most commercially successful album, Bottum began going through a series of personal crises (including the death of his father and coming out of the closet) that significantly limited his input and activity with that band. After getting through his rough period, he started a band, Star 69, as a side project with another San Francisco-area musician, former Sister Double Happiness member Lynn Perko (they later changed their name to Imperial Teen). They were joined by Perko's friend and former bandmate Jone Stebbins and local rocker Will Schwartz.

Imperial Teen released their debut album, Seasick, in 1996, followed by What Is Not To Love in 1998. From what I understand, these albums, featuring alternative/college radio hits like "You're One", "Yoo Hoo" and "Lipstick", were very well received in certain quarters. And due to relentless touring (including opening for Courtney Love's band Hole in 1998), they had established a pretty strong following. I don't know why I was so clueless, and hadn't heard of them . . . (oh yeah, now I remember - I lived in Texas).

Well, that night in the Bowery, I discovered what I had been missing all of those years. Imperial Teen was absolutely FANTASTIC. The songs were all outstanding, but what really struck me was the dispositions of the four band members; it's nice to go to a show and see a band actually having fun up on stage, and enjoying one another. And they were all completely unpretentious and 'precious' regarding their musical input - I was stunned when, after a couple of songs, the band members switched off on instruments - Perko left the drum kit and grabbed Bottum's guitar, Schwartz moved from guitar to bass, Stubbins took over guitar and lead vocals, and Bottum settled behind the drums. During the course of the show, every band member played every instrument. But it didn't come off as a sort of musical circuit training - it seemed totally natural, and of course for every variation the band sounded great.

Combined with a great set by The Breeders (who were in perfect form that night - it was as if that nine-year hiatus never happened), the entire show was superb. I arrived there a big fan of one band, but left there that evening a big fan of two.

We had to leave NYC on Sunday mid-afternoon, in order to get Rob back up to his camp on time. But I used some of our remaining time in the city to track down all of the Imperial Teen music I could, and we left the city with all three albums in our possession. Listening to those tunes in the car eased the hateful trip back up to Vermont (somewhat). Rob was bumming about having to go back to that mosquito-infested hellhole and resume his camp duties with those sullen city kids. But I was glad that I had the opportunity to show him a bit of fun that summer. And of course, getting new tunes out of it made it all worthwhile for me as well.

So, here's Imperial Teen's second album, What Is Not To Love, released by Slash Records in 1998. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think:

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Clash - Return To Brixton EP [Extended Mixes]

It took me a long time to get into compact discs. I can remember when the Midshipmen's Store at Annapolis started stocking the things in 1985, a small area (basically, a little kiosk) within the store's already small music section. This was in the 'longbox' era, when CDs were packaged in 12" boxes so they would fit a music store's already in-place vinyl record racks. These long, thin things seemed strange and exotic back then, and there was a mystique about the technology behind those shiny little circles that mesmerized many people. However, the discs were also prohibitively expensive, as were CD players. And it's not like there was a huge selection of music, either new stuff or back catalogue items, available for sale in the early days (especially at the Mid Store, of all places . . . I'll be charitable, and just say that the CD albums they did have to offer at that time weren't exactly on the cutting edge). During my time at Annapolis I had managed to assemble an awesome collection of great tunes, the bulk of it (about 400-500 albums) on cassette tapes that I meticulously stored (alphabetically by artist and chronologically by release date - yes, I was (and am) that anal retentive . . .) in padded faux-leather cases. As much of a pain in the ass as it was to cart these bulky tape suitcases around with me hither and yon, I wasn't about to casually give up on my music treasures, compiled with much thought and at great expense over those years, and start over again.

So during the late '80s, while everyone else I knew forged ahead with their CD collections, I remained committed to cassettes, a musical Luddite clinging to a rapidly outdated format, the music industry equivalent of the buggy whip. In hindsight, I should have switched over sooner. But I guess in many ways, I was still intimidated by CD technology.

For example, I remember my first visit to England, in 1988. My ship docked in Portsmouth, and that first weekend there I caught British Rail and headed for London, Ground Zero for me as far as what was happening in the world musically. I arrived there coincidently on the same day as the historic Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday concert at Wembley Stadium. But I wasn't interested in any of that activity, I wanted to see things that resonated with me (like Kings Road, as seedy and awesome as I thought it would be, and Brixton, which was sort of scary and grim until I fell in with some locals). At one point during that trip, I HAD to go to the world-famous Virgin Records store near Piccadilly Circus. I bought tons of tapes while there, but the main thing I remember about the place was the "CD factory". There was a sublevel in the Virgin building that could be viewed through glass from the upper levels. On the sublevel floor was a compact disc production line, manned by workers wearing white hooded anti-static suits, smoked glasses and face masks. It was all very sterile, protected and futuristic, and it made quite an impression on me - the WRONG impression. I thought, "Shoot, CDs are so hard to make, no wonder they're so expensive!" If a tape broke on you, you could either go out and buy a replacement fairly cheaply, or else borrow a friend's cassette and make a new copy - with CDs so pricey and apparently fragile, what would happen if one of those discs broke? So I remained on the CD sidelines.

Finally, by the early 90's, the pressure to switch over to CDs was becoming unbearable. The final push over the line happened due to good old WHFS, the old alternative music station for Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington. I had just left the Norfolk area after three years and returned to the DC area to take a job in Arlington, and I was happy to be back in my old haunts and once again surrounded by 'good' music (the Tidewater area being a virtual backwater for that type of stuff, as I've mentioned in earlier posts). One of the first things that met my ears upon my return that spring was a very cool remix of The Clash's "The Guns Of Brixton", a song in semi-heavy rotation on 'HFS.

Now, not only is The Clash one of my all-time favorite bands, but "The Guns Of Brixton" (off of London Calling) is quite possibly my all-time favorite Clash song. So I went running to the old Tower Records at George Washington University to grab this remix . . . only to find that the EP wasn't available on tape, ONLY on CD.

I stood there in the record store with head bowed, pondering, holding that CD longbox in my hand for what seemed like several minutes. Finally I sighed, shrugged my shoulders, and walked to the counter to purchase it. They finally got me.

The next day, I bought a Sony portable CD player that came with a little doohickey that attached to the player and ran into the car's cassette tape slot, so I could listen to the CD while I drove (with skips and all - the anti-skip technology back then wasn't as advanced as it was now, necessitating careful driving and/or ingenious padding to enable you to hear an entire song without interruption). And the rest, as they say, is history . . .

So here's the one that started it all for me - the very first CD I ever bought, the Clash's Return To Brixton [Extended Mixes] EP, released by Epic Records back in 1990. Even after all of these years, I still enjoy these remixes, and I hope you all enjoy them too. Here you are - let me know what you think:

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(And sorry I've been away for so long - circumstances, you know . . .)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Poll Results - "On the Elevator To Hell, what sort of music is playing?"

Reggaeton, guys? Really?

I thought sure that either Gangsta Rap or Country (my personal choice) would win in a landslide . . . man, I didn't realize how deep the enmity is out there for reggaeton - wow!

Here are the results:

Rap - 1 vote
Bluegreas - 1 vote
Disco - 1 vote
Klezmer - 1 vote
Other (and don't ask me what that 'other' is) - 1 vote
Celtic - 2 votes
Jazz Flute (a la Ron Burgundy) - 2 votes
Country - 3 votes
Gangsta Rap - 3 votes
Reggaeton - 5 votes

Thanks to all who participated! I'll put up a new poll soon, just as soon as I can think of a new topic.