Sunday, June 14, 2009

iTunes Running Diary – June 14, 2009

This week's artists.

Since it got a good response last week judging from the hit numbers, and because someone from Twitter and Blogger found me specifically because I mentioned Collective Soul, I thought I would make this a weekly feature. I also enjoyed making that weird cover graphic. So, every Sunday, expect to see an iTunes running diary, unless I get very bored with this or too busy one week.

1) "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure... or Goldfinger. Yeah, that's right, the guys who did "Here In Your Bedroom" and "Superman" and "I Really Missed You" covered "Just Like Heaven," and it was shockingly good, at least to my ear. They are pop punk, so it kind of makes sense that "Just Like Heaven" would be a good song for them to cover. The original lyrics by The Cure are evocative of longing and wanting, which is always a good pop punk subject.

That being said, the original is clearly the superior song, and one that I can always listen to. It strikes a great tempo balance, allowing it to feel like a ballad and just a good song in general. I remember being upset at some point because it was 22 on a VH1 1980s countdown, behind iffy songs by Hall and Oates, and "Come On Eileen". I think songs should get extra points if they are still being listened to 20 years later without irony, and "Just Like Heaven" fits the bill for me.

2) "Everything to Everyone" by Everclear. When this song first came out, I didn't like it. I'm not sure why, but I distinctly recall not being a fan. It might have been way overplayed when it debuted, but I've softened on it, unlike "Father of Mine," which I still dislike.

If I had to guess a reason why I disliked this song besides it being overplayed, my guess would probably be its ambling feel. Sparkle and Fade, Everclear's great debut success, is in my Top 10 of all-time. This is initially surprising to people, but really, have you listened to it?

From top to bottom, there is some diversity in the offering, but the majority of the tracks are hard-driving rock. "Santa Monica," the big radio success from the album, is actually one of the more mellow songs on the album. More customary are "Heroin Girl," a song with soaring vocals and driving guitar about its obvious subject matter, and “Chemical Smile,” a chaotically-fast guitar song that still features the smooth vocals of Art Alexakis.

"Everything to Everyone" is OK, but after the greatness of Sparkle and Fade, everything else that Everclear did feels muted to me. The only songs I heard on the radio that reminded me of their debut greatness are "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom" (funny video btw) and "So Much For The Afterglow." The band definitely made more money with songs like "Father of Mine," but the casual fans that flooded to them didn't have staying power, at least in my opinion, and Art's live performances – from watching some YouTube clips, and seeing and reviewing him for the Cigar a few years ago – leave a lot to be desired.

The other part of the equation here is that Art got clean at some point, and stopped writing every song about doing smack and abandoning / being abandoned by family members. I don't think his addiction is what made him creative, but rather, that his music was probably the only thing that allowed him to eventually get clean. The Beatles were a lot better before John Lennon did nothing but heroin with his friend and my celebrity double Harry Nilsson on the West Coast. And Kurt Cobain probably lasted as long as he did before completely bottoming because he had the music outlet.

3) "Dance With Me" by The Sounds. Honestly, I can't tell you much of anything about this band by cheating and looking them up on Wikipedia, which I won't do. The only reason I have this song downloaded is because it was good bumper music for a VH1 commercial at some point. I remember a few people being happy that I identified it on my old blog, because they also wanted to download it. (Other great semi-unknown commercial hits: "Huddle Formation" by The Go! Team and "Don't Want To Hurt You" also by The Sounds and "Start!" by The Jam.)

However, this song coming up gives me a good opportunity to rant about VH1. Specifically, what the F happened to you, VH1? Once upon a time, I remember being charmed by shows like I Love and Pop-Up Video. However, their current shows just seem like a dumping ground for snark and irony by Z-list comedians, and low and non-talent celebrities (Danny Bonaduce).

For example, I Love The 80s and 90s worked because they had the bigger stars of those decades commenting seriously about their roles in that decade. Sir Mix-A-Lot talking about the best booty of the 90s works great, because he would obviously have strong opinions on the subject and he has enough personality to make it work.

The celebrity guests also made more sense, and were better cast in general. While Chris Jericho is a professional wrestler (and I obviously have a soft spot for him), he grew up in the 80s, and he's an entertaining interview, so it makes sense to ask him about the influence of hair metal. Having Bill Simmons comment on sports and pop culture for the 90s made sense, as did inviting Rich Eisen and Stu Scott, since they were both heavily involved in the defining sports program of the decade. Michael Ian Black was a relative unknown when he started the show, but he had years of experience as a stand-up and doing improv, and it showed.

I was dismayed when VH1 essentially decided, "Hey, why don't we just run this S everyday?" Hence, we now have Best Week Ever, which is just quasi-celebrities dumping on actual celebrities. It would work if most of the people involved were more likable, but instead, it feels like a snarkfest reminiscent of the “Bitch please!” blogger spoof on Saturday Night Live.

It doesn't have to be like this, VH1. Hire some decent people for your shows. If E! can successfully revive Talk Soup as The Soup by casting Joel McHale (and believe me, they have), then you can loosen up the purse strings a bit and hire some actual talent for your shows.

4) "History Repeating" by The Propellerheads. (Weird, old school video too, that juxtaposes 1960s and 1990s culture amusingly.) This band belongs on the short list of artists that have one incredible album, then never came out with anything else again. If I recall correctly, the Propellerheads big CD, Decksanddrumsandrockandroll, came out just as the big beat techno movement started by The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim was cresting.

It's a shame, because this album is a strong effort from top-to-bottom whose tracks blend nicely into one another. Samples from old spy movies and Bill Cosby (seriously) create some bouncy tracks, and since its release, I've heard tracks from Decksanddrumsandrockandroll on the soundtracks for plenty of spy movies, appropriately enough.

The standout track is "History Repeating," which features the vocal work of Shirley Bassey and got some mainstream media play for a bit. I believe Bassey did some lounge singing and also was a big vocalist for the James Bond movies. Both make perfect sense when you hear her booming vocals on "History Repeating." It's not exactly techno or alternative rock or lounge, it's just good in general.

After this CD, the Propellerheads did some remixes and DJ work for various artists, but they didn't ever come out with another full-length album, which is a shame.

5) "You Get What You Give" by the New Radicals. Sticking along the lines of the previous song, although at a micro level. I don't know anyone who dislikes this song; maybe some A-hole really into Marilyn Manson or Hanson might find offense with it. But if I had to pick the pinnacle of pop rock / alternative from my formative years (1991 to 2002), this is my pick.

The odd thing is that the song didn't even sound "new" or fresh when it was first released in 1998. The first time I heard it, I thought, "Oh this song is great! I've gotta remember to download it, this is a classic, it's been a while since I've heard it..."

Well, except that the song was new. Yet there is something so familiar about the general sound of the song that instantly makes it resonate. If I was forced to give a reason for its success, I would argue that it is the ultimate refinement of the 1980s pop started by artists like Wham and Paula Abdul. While those bands were over the top gay (somewhat literal in George Michaels' case), "You Get What You Give" has a slight rock or Ben Folds feel to it that gives it some edge.

6) "Bang, Bang" by Nancy Sinatra. This song will no doubt forever be associated with Kill Bill, and for good reason. The song itself is incredibly simplistic, featuring just Sinatra's distorted voice and the somber tune of an instrument I honestly can't identify. However, when it is linked with the credits of the first volume of Kill Bill, and as you make connections on second viewing of first installment, the whole song is strengthened.

RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan did all of the music for Kill Bill, in consultation with Quentin Tarantino, I'm sure. It is probably my favorite movie soundtrack of all-time, because of how perfectly the action on-screen syncs with the inherent sound effects and tone of the music. Other standouts include "Ironside" by Quincy Jones (the robotic tone The Bride hears when she sees a target), "Crane and White Lightning" by RZA (plays as The Bride sizes up the hundred man gang standing between her and O-Ren Ishii), all of the smoky, Western-esque music during The Bride's triumphant scenes, and the general atmosphere music on the soundtrack like "Run Fay Run" by Issac Hayes.

Tarantino is a film nut, and it shows in the movies he has made. Kill Bill is a throwback to the "hero gets revenge" Westerns, and the only way it would have been better is if Eastwood had managed to sneak in somewhere.

At a certain point, Hollywood directors decided that you had to have heroes or main characters who didn't get a perfect resolution. I blame The Godfather movies somewhat; the first two were unquestionably great, but after them, every movie seemed to have some sort of nuanced, conflicted character. It wasn't OK for your film's hero to just kill and destroy without some severe consequences, unless it was some sort of mindless summer blockbuster.

Two great, semi-recent movies immediately spring to mind that buck this convention, the first obviously being Kill Bill. And because I mentioned Eastwood earlier, the other is Unforgiven. Yeah, Morgan Freeman dies in it. So what? At the end of that movie, Eastwood is an unquestioned bad ass, and Gene Hackman looks like a bitch.


  1. I hardly watch VH1 now unfortunately. I loved all their countdown shows, celebrity gossip shows [esp. celebrity eye candy] and I use to like Best Week Ever before they made that really unfunny guy the like "host" of it and now it sucks. But now most of VH1 sucks because it's all horrible reality tv shows that no one should ever watch.

  2. The VH1 reality shows do suck, yeah. I understand the "train wreck" appeal of Bus of Love and whatever else, but people eventually get sick of it and move on. They had some good franchises and just let them decay for cheap reality shows.

  3. I wish we could have done an e-mail exchange on this entry!
    Pop punk is typically my musical guilty pleasure, but goddamnit, Goldfinger, you have no business messing around with The Cure (whom I have a longstanding musical love affair with). Wish, Disintegration & Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me are some of my favorite albums.

    Speaking of favorite albums: Everclear. I have a soft spot for So Much For The Afterglow, because it was the first album I heard from them, and it became one of those albums that fits your feelings & life so well at the time that you latch on to it forever. That being said, Sparkle & Fade is definitely better. And just in case you're wondering, my favorite tracks: Heartspark Dollarsign, My Sexual Life, You Make Me Feel Like A Whore
    I feel like everyone has more or less forgotten about them, but I will always love them for being one of the bands that was a catalyst for changing my taste in music.
    Before I get into VH1, let me say: I like The Sounds! Check out their song Rock 'N Roll.

    As Danielle can attest, I have a bizarre love for terrible reality television. I can't explain why I find it so entertaining. I'd like to think it's the psychologist in me that enjoys this perverse experiment in human behavior/obedience to authority. And strangely- I don't get sick of it. I have watched Rock of Love 1/2/bus, Flavor of Love 1 & 2, I Love New York, New York Goes to Work, Daisy of Love, Tough Love, My New BFF, Celebrity Rehab, My Fair Brady, Strange Love, Surreal Life & Tool Academy. I know, that sound I heard was your respect for me disappearing. I also find it interesting that it's better to be the runner up on these shows (the dating ones, I mean). The winner obviously never engages in any kind of post-show relationship with the star [I assume some tabloid would at least have mentioned it], and they fade into obscurity [unless you're a total loser like David "12 Pack" Amerman, and you go on YET ANOTHER VH1 REALITY DATING SHOW] while the runner up inevitably gets their own show. So these people, clearly teeming with psychological issues, are trying to toe the line- stay on the show, be entertaining, but ultimately: don’t be chosen. On an early episode of Daisy of Love, Day “Cable Guy” Won actually mentioned the producers telling him to “be himself, but be MORE himself”- a concept he didn’t appear to understand, and was subsequently eliminated. Heighten every trait you have, never turn down an opportunity for controversy, and please take advantage of our alcohol-friendly environment. I keep watching, but at the same time, wondering when these people are going to hit the ceiling of how big they can make themselves (or rather, their characters). Every person knows that if they want to have a prayer of being remembered, they have to top everything done before them. With VH1 alone pumping out reality shows every 15 minutes, it’s a tall order. So they pound shots, and each others faces, strip naked, put themselves in the hospital, go after wild animals…I just keep waiting for the first contestant to die of some freak accident. And the sad thing is their death, that we are most assuredly barreling towards, won’t be what brings reality TV crashing down. No, it’ll only lead to the next slew of people somehow trying to top THAT. The best we can hope for is the public shames the networks into backing off for a few years until most people have forgotten about it.
    Damn. I think I just convinced myself not to watch those shows anymore.


Try not to be too much of an ass, unless completely necessary. You are subject to tyrannical moderation.


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