Archive for the Entertainment Category

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part V: Miscellaneous Debris…

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

In the fall of 1990, Alice in Chains released Facelift, preceding Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten by a year. Now, Nirvana had already released Bleach (1989), but that sold only about 40000 copies so, sure, you knew about Nirvana before “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit MTV. Right. Of course, there was also Soundgarden, who had released Ultramega OK (1988) and Louder Than Love (1989) so it’s important to understand that Seattle bands were already there, they just weren’t nationally known (don’t come at me with Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney – I know about them, too).

Alice in Chains definitely began changing the music scene. I remember walking into Marooned Records as a freshman at Texas A&M and seeing Facelift alongside Warrant’s Cherry Pie and thinking, damn, that album cover is freaky-looking. Then I bought Cherry Pie and AC/DC’s The Razor’s Edge and spent the next couple months rocking out to them. So, yeah, it took some time for my musical preferences to shift to grunge. Here’s a couple more obscure albums that kept me in hair metal my freshman year of college.

I KNOW I owned this album, but I also know I haven’t thought about this band since 1991. Then, about two months ago, Chauncey and Freddie were taking an internet break from their work in the school library, went down a wormhole and found an article listing the top 50 hair metal acts of all time (or some such). Kik Tracee came in at the upper 40s, I forget where. Before coming back to the album for this post, I only clearly recalled the single “Don’t Need Rules“, a fairly standard hair metal number. Listening to the rest of the album, I admit there’s not a lot more I do remember – maybe “Velvet Crush” and “Rattlesnake Eyes (Strawberry Jam)“. Stephen Shareaux’s voice suggests Axl Rose from time to time, particularly on “Big Western Sky“. Their cover of “Mrs. Robinson” does exactly what a cover should – put a new spin on the original – though I’m not sure it makes the song something I’d ever listen to again. Thinking about it, No Rules may very well have been the last hair metal debut album I bought, as by mid ’91 I was moving on to heavy metal and grunge.

This one’s a bit of a cheat, as Follow for Now isn’t hair metal. This album IS obscure and fits the time frame, though, so I’m throwing it in just so you can be introduced to/be reminded of the kick-ass “Milkbone“. Credit my twin brother for my finding this one, as I think he was working at a Hastings in Seguin at this point and was able to acquire basically anything he thought was cool, and this album’s cool. Combining a lot of different influences (rap, metal, blues, funk), the album never found a wide audience and was the band’s only release. Beyond “Milkbone”, the album boasts a cover of Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero” (in the words of Flavor Flav, “Daamn, Boy!”) and then there’s “Time“, reminiscent of Faith No More’s “Zombie Eaters”. “Fire N’ Snakes“, “6’s and 7’s” and “Evil Wheel” bring the funk. Listen to “White Hood” and “Trust” and maybe you’ll understand Colin Kaepernick wasn’t saying anything that Black Americans haven’t been saying, oh, forever.

I think if this album was released a couple years later than it was, it blows up.

My last year of teaching I’m going to do a unit on figurative language and use hair metal song lyrics as my examples, starting with Salty Dog’s “Come Along” (“Sweet little baby, she’s my hot dog bun”). Silly lyrics aside, “Come Along” still ROCKS – I can listen to that one ten times in a row. “Cats Got Nine“, “Ring My Bell” “Heave Hard (She Comes Easy)” – Every Dog Has Its Day is unabashedly crotch rock and it’s fun. Lead singer Jimmi Bleacher’s vocals wail (reminding me a bit of Cinderella’s Tom Kieffer, though Bleacher’s practically smirking in every song), and really highlights how having a distinctive singer makes the band. While there are plenty of riffs throughout the album (“Slow Daze“), they emphasize the blues rock with a cover of “Spoonful” and “Just Like a Woman“, and “Lonesome Fool” just has a great hook and banjo line.

Why just one album then? It’s actually pretty damned funny (to me, probably not to the band): the members apparently weren’t told they had to pay back their studio recording costs. And being on the tail-end of the genre, I don’t know that they ever got even. Still a damn good album.

Next time: I’m wrapping this series up.

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part IV: 1989 – 3 albums that WEREN’T Dr. Feelgood…

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

1989’s biggest hair metal release was inarguably Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood. It spent two weeks as Billboard’s number one album that year and includes at least five songs strip clubs still have on heavy rotation to this day. Er, so I’ve been told.

But odds are Feelgood isn’t the only hair metal album you remember from that year: Skid Row’s debut album was released in January (giving us “Youth Gone Wild“, “18 and Life” and “I Remember You“) and Warrant would follow with their Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (“Down Boys“, the ballads “Sometimes She Cries” and “Heaven“). Other established acts like White Lion, Tesla, and Great White offered up notable albums as well (like me, I’m sure you still have GW’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” imprinted on your brain despite all your best efforts).

But, as you know by now, I’m not here to tell you about stuff you remember. Here are three more albums I was listening to back in the summer of ’89:

Tora Tora’s Surprise Attack begins with a rocker, “Love’s a Bitch“, and demonstrates everything this band had going for it: their vocalist, Anthony Corder, has a high-pitched wail that rivals Vince Neil’s at times and their lead guitarist, Keith Douglas, just spits out riff after riff. Corder’s vocals, for me, distanced Tora Tora from other bands, and their Tennessee roots are prominent in bluesy numbers like “Hard Times” and “Walking Shoes“. “Guilty” and “Walking Shoes” were the singles that led me to buy the album – listen for the guitar stutter after the first chorus in “Guilty” to get an idea what I found awesome as a 17 year old non-guitar player (I still do, actually). “Walking Shoes” is just fun – if you don’t like this one do you even like music? Sure, some songs are pretty standard stuff – “She’s Good, She’s Bad“, “One For the Road“, I’m looking at you – though I’m finding I can still sing along to most tracks 30 years later.

I mentioned Bang Tango in an earlier post when I explained funk metal. They still had one foot in the glam scene (see album cover) but their bass line-heavy tunes help differentiate them from, say, Poison. What I think will grab your attention is singer Joe Leste’s scream-like singing. The first track, “Attack of Life” will initially surprise with its vocals. Coming back to the album, many of these songs have incredibly catchy choruses – “Someone Like You” was the band’s single (and one I still listened to even before starting this series of posts), “Breaking Up a Heart of Stone“‘s makes up a bit for the Leste’s crooning lyrics, and just try NOT singing to “Wrap My Wings“. “Don’t Stop Now” (another fun one) and “Love Injection” (heh) are heavy on the funk and the album’s contributions to the crotch rock playlist. The band would release Dancin’ On Coals in 1991 but folded when their third album was shelved by their record company.

You probably don’t need to listen to this one.

THIS IS A SONG ABOUT A FISH! AND FISH ARE BAD! BAAAD!

Hair metal wasn’t all about girls and partying. It was also about juvenile humor. Lord Tracy combined all three into Deaf Gods of Babylon, an admittedly ridiculous album that combines any number of different styles into something that kind of works – kind of. Named for a popular porn star (er, so I’m told) it was led by former Pantera singer Terry Glaze and there’s not a song on the album that should be taken seriously. There’s guitar heroics (the 30 second “Barney’s Wank”) and anthem rockers (“Whatchadoin'” and “In Your Eyes”). AC/DC has an influence (“Submission” and “She’s A Bitch”) and even some bluesy numbers (“King of the Nighttime Cowboys” and “East Coast Rose”). “Out With the Boys” was their one real single, though you may have missed the one time it got played on the radio. They also venture into Beastie Boys/RUN DMC territory with “3 H.C.” “Piranha” is their thrash metal song about the existential dangers faced when we realize just how alone we are…wait, no, it’s just about the fish.

Hey, you want thoughtful lyrics, you’re reading the wrong blog. Go listen to “Jeremy” or something…

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part III: Sleazy Come, Sleazy Go…

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

“Sleaze Metal”, a reference to the genre’s devotion to excess, to decadence, doesn’t mean a whole lot when looking at hair metal bands and trying to tie any particular one to the term. Mötley Crüe, Warrant, Poison, Guns N’ Roses, Ratt, Skid Row, ad infinitum, all were “sleazy” in their own ways, whether you knew about their off-stage antics or were only familiar with the music. But if you’re over 40 you probably listened to Mötley Crüe, you remember singing along to Warrant’s “Cherry Pie,” and can probably name a handful of songs from each of the others. Here are some runners up you may not have thought about in a while, if at all.

In 1987, Faster Pussycat’s self-titled first album dropped two weeks before GNR’s Appetite. You don’t remember it. OK, that’s probably a bit unfair because the catchy “Bathroom Wall” had some airplay (why a song that contemplates fate and chance gets less attention than Tommy Tutone’s bathroom wall-inspired pop hit “867-5309/Jenny” is beyond me) and if you watched late night cable in 1989 you might have seen the band featured in “The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II“. For me though, the song I kept coming back to was “Babylon” a rap/rock hybrid (kinda) that preceded Anthrax’s ACTUAL hybrid “I’m the Man” by a year.

Their follow-up, 1989’s Wake Me When It’s Over went gold, so there’s a real chance readers will recall this one, if for nothing else than its single “House of Pain“, a ballad about growing up fatherless. This album also offered up the eminently listenable “Poison Ivy“, “Slip of the Tongue” and their ode to sadomasochism “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way“, all riff-heavy party rockers with choruses meant to sing along to (yeah, I can still sing all the lyrics). Moving away from their glam rock sound, there were a few more blues-inspired tunes, including “Tattoo” and “Cryin’ Shame“. They would put out one or two more albums in the 90s, one of which I remember including an uninspired cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”

I saw Faster Pussycat open for KISS at the Starplex Ampitheatre in 1990 (along with Slaughter, who was getting a lot of attention for their power ballad “Fly to the Angels“). Pussycat closed with “Babylon”, as I recall, and the frontman, Taime Down (yeah, that’s his name) came out with what I want to say was a BMW steering wheel on a big gold chain around his neck. Felt a little racist. My brother bought one of their concert shirts emblazoned with “WAKE THE F@$K UP, DICKHEAD!” on the back. Our mom saw it a couple weeks later and read him the riot act about how when he left the house he was representing our family. I, being St. Michael, had not bought that particular shirt.

Dangerous Toys’ mascot, Bill Z. Plenty of 40+ year old guys walking around with tattoos of this clown on their back.

Another band that sold a lot of copies of its first album (1989), Texas’ Dangerous Toys had one real hit, “Teas’n, Pleas’n“, a hard rock song with a riff that made me wish I could play the guitar. This song JAMS. They would later release “Scared” as another single, but nothing else matched “Teas’n, Pleas’n” for me: at the age of 17 I was of the opinion that any metal song including a deliberate tempo change (“I don’t even make my own rules…”) was an automatic winner. “Outlaw” saw the band incorporate the western/cowboy/Texas mythos, and is probably the most standard straight up rock song on the album, though not particularly memorable (“Ten Boots (Stompin’)“, though, has a huge bass line and may rival it). Lyrically, Toys often exhibited a deliberate sense of humor: “Sportin’ A Woody” and “Take Me Drunk” were drunken partiers. And what is maybe an unfair complaint: because of this strain of humor, most of the songs couldn’t be taken all that seriously. “Bones in the Gutter“, for instance, told from the perspective of a hired killer who worked on the cheap, is somewhat forgettable beyond the ridiculous premise of the song. Toys would put out a couple more albums, but like most hair metal bands couldn’t sustain a career as their sound just got tired/uninspiring.

Interesting to note that another Texas metal band, Pantera, after putting out a number of standard glam metal albums through the late 80s, would release its seminal Cowboys from Hell just a year later (1990). Bands needed to grow or they died out quick.

I might’ve included the Netherlands’ Sleeze Beez in my Scandinavian (ok fine, Magnus, northern Europe) metal blog, but their name dictated my placing them here. I bought Screwed, Blued and Tattooed (1990) solely on the strength of “Stranger Than Paradise“, a song with an inspired chorus even if the lyrics don’t make much sense. Buying music in the late 80s was always a crap shoot – you’d hear a song on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and go to the mall looking for the album at Camelot Music. Outside of that one song that brought you to the mall, you weren’t sure what you were going to get, and that led to a lot of tapes that would get a listen or two and then put back in the case in favor of, well, Extreme. Listening to Screwed…, it’s definitely got some catchy hooks here and there (“Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don’t“, the Bon Jovi-ish “Rock in the Western World“) but outside of two or three songs, musically and lyrically it’s the same old same old. The guitar heroics on the album aren’t anything you couldn’t hear on fifteen other albums that past year.

I’m going to close out this post with Love/Hate’s Black Out in the Red Room (1990). They had their roots in the LA glam scene, and finally got this album released just as the genre was in its death throes. Let me say this first: the title song is heavy and holds up to this day. DAMN. True confession time: my first semester at A&M I took a handball course as my required phys. ed. I entered a few tournaments and would blast this song in my dorm room before I made my way across campus to the courts. I may have written “LOVE” on one hand and “HATE” on the other at one point (gloves were part of the gear). Yeah, I love this song.

The rest of the album is absolute sleaze. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll all the way. The singer, Jizzy Pearl (I’m beginning to think a lot of these L.A. guys might’ve adopted some stage names) has this slurry, high pitched screech that utterly fits the subject matter – he sells every song. “Rock Queen” and “Tumbleweed” follow up “Black Out” – the album doesn’t slow down (helps that most songs clock in at 2:30 – 3:30 minutes – totaling about 40 minutes of in your face debauchery). “Why Do You Think They Call it Dope?” has a chorus I can still belt out today. “Fuel to Run“, “One More Round“, “Slutsy Tipsy“, “Mary Jane” – yeah, Love/Hate had a theme. What I think pulls this one away from other hair metal bands is that they didn’t seem to be aiming for hits/radio play – “Dope” got some play, but not much else beyond that. There are certainly no acoustic ballads here.

That attitude would come back and bite the band, but not how you might think. As the band members wrote songs for their second album, they aimed for MORE radio friendly fare. Their label told them they needed to keep their rough edges, and rejected everything they had written at that point. Maybe as a result of these differences, their second album, Wasted in America, ended up being a commercial failure and they soon got dropped by the label.

Live fast, die young, rock and roll.

Next time: Hair metal gets the blues. Maybe. I’m making this up as I go.

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, An Interlude – I Hope the Russians Love Their Hair Metal Too.

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

During my senior year in high school I had the opportunity to write for the DeSoto High School newspaper, The Eagle Eye. I’m a bit foggy on how that came about, though I must have taken journalism as an elective mainly because the alternative, a public speaking class, scared me to death.

ANYWAY, one of my contributions to the paper was a review of an album by Gorky Park, a hair metal band out of Russia which, in the Era of Glasnost, had made a small splash here in the States largely due to Jon Bon Jovi taking an interest and getting them a record deal. My review ended by suggesting the band was set up for more success, a testament to my musical tastes and business acumen.

Flash forward 30+ years and Russia is back to its “Evil Empire” ways, invading Ukraine and threatening nuclear strikes. So I thought it appropriate we take a look back at Gorky Park’s album and try to figure out why it didn’t lead to real change in Russia’s -isms.

The band’s logo is still pretty damn cool.

As alluded to above, this album was produced by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, and their influence is easily heard through most of the songs. But since we already had Bon Jovi doing Bon Jovi songs a lot better, the album suffers from never breaking new ground or possessing its own identity – listening to it again it’s clear any number of bands at the time could’ve put out this album.

The song that introduced the band to the States is “Bang“, an anthemic rocker reminiscent of some of Europe and Def Leppard’s radio pop. Pretty standard stuff – and easily forgettable. Other guitar-driven songs include “Hit Me With the News“, “Danger” and “Peace in Our Time” a song in which Bon Jovi, Sambora AND Bon Jovi’s drummer Tico Torres play; it’s got a catchy chorus and Sambora’s trademark guitar squeal, but the members of Gorky Park take a back seat entirely. Gorky Park’s cover of The Who’s “My Generation” is solid, though, and something off the album I probably listened to more than anything else when I was 17. Some bands are too beholden to the original to make cover songs their own – *cough*Weezer*cough* – but this one I still like.

Perhaps due to Bon Jovi and Sambora’s production, this album is overladen with ballads. “Try to Find Me” made it to the Billboard Top 100 in 1990, and it’s easy to understand why – it’s sentimental and easy to sway to on a dimly lit dance floor. Some readers of this blog may even remember it. “Within Your Eyes” and “Fortress” take a few cues from Whitesnake and Motley Crue’s power ballads, but again, nothing sticks.

And there it is: listening to the album, I’m recognizing how little of an impact this album had on me. Maybe it was just that there was a glut of hair metal at the time, and in three weeks I’d be on to the next band’s release. But there’s nothing outside of “Bang” that I clearly remember, and nothing I’d sing along to. There aren’t many 80s hair albums that I can actually say that about.

Anyway, here’s that 17 year old senior’s thoughts on the album. Shout out to Pam for sharing it on Facebook so many years ago…

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part II – The Scandinavian Invasion

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

In 1986 the Swedish band Europe released The Final Countdown, an album chock-full of pop metal hits and ballads including the eponymous single still heard in every stadium where professional sports are played. Right now you can hear the keyboard intro you attempted to plink out with one finger at least once on your best friend’s piano/keyboard until they told you to knock it off.

da-da-dah duh.. da-da-dah dah duh…

That album went triple platinum: five singles were released, including “Carrie“, which was probably single-handedly responsible for the rise in the teen pregnancy rate among the denim-wearing, hair teased-to-the-sky demographic of 1987:

Holy shit, I just made that up! You mean I was right?

The Final Countdown would be Europe’s biggest album, and even their guitarist thought it was too much and quit the band afterward. But they weren’t the only Scandinavian band to make it across the pond, just the biggest. And because, as I warned you, this blog series is about the more obscure albums I was listening to, here are three more.

D.A.D. is a Danish band whose album No Fuel Left For the Pilgrims saw some success here in the States, selling 100,000 copies (re: Wikipedia). Released in March of ’89, it was actually the band’s third album but first international one. D.A.D. stood for “Disneyland After Dark”, but the House of Mouse had problems with them using that name so the band simply abbreviated it. Of the three albums I’m going with today, this is the most straight forward rocker – “Rim of Hell” has a huge sing-along chorus and should’ve been a bigger hit. The other single, “Sleeping My Day Away“, caught more radio play and its sound is what you’ll get on most of the album’s tracks. “Jihad” and “Ill Will” (this one is a favorite) though, are thisclose to thrash metal – I’m willing to bet they felt like it live. Lead singer Jesper Binzer’s growly vocals were also a bit of a departure from most hair metal bands at the time, and as such there’s not a proper ballad on this album. This is not a complaint. Yeah, this BAND should’ve been bigger than they were.

“Scr-screamin’ gui-gui-guitar!” – if you were 17 in 1989 and heard the beginning of Shotgun Messiah’s “Shout it Out” and didn’t immediately crank the volume, well, you probably listened to country or Madonna. Listening to it again, it sounds like it took cues from the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right (to Party)” and KISS. Another band out of Sweden, Messiah were very much a glam band a la Poison and Crue. Their guitarist, Harry Cody was another gunslinger, as evidenced by the licks/riffs on every damn song and the instrumental on this album, “The Explorer” – epic. I remember reading in Rolling Stone that Cody refused to play it in concert – something about not wanting to be like other lead guitarists playing solos during shows, as I recall. The rest of the songs on the album didn’t offer much in the way of originality, but as alluded to before, originality wasn’t the genre’s selling point (hell, it sold about 500,000 copies in the US).

By 1989, some bands probably began realizing being labeled “hair metal” was limiting their appeal and started giving themselves other monikers. “Funk metal” was one such label used by bands like Extreme, Bang Tango (more on them in a later post, I think), and Electric Boys, yet another band out of Sweden. Funk metal tended to emphasize the bass guitar a bit more prominently and were often riff heavy, and Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride is a perfect example. This is a fun album, and one I listened well into freshmen year of college. Electric Boys’ singer, Conny Bloom, had a distinctive bluesy sound, getting away from the wailers more prominent on rock radio. Take a listen to “If I Had a Car” – definitely groove-driven. Their most popular song, “All Lips and Hips“, should’ve been bigger – it has an awesome riff and if you had some subwoofers in your car you’d get noticed playing this one. “Captain of my Soul” has a powerful chorus (I definitely hear some “Mississippi Queen” in that one) and then there’s “Rags to Riches,” the album’s best example of funk metal. The harmonies this band had – well, nothing compares to Van Halen’s Michael Anthony, but these are pretty damn good, too. “Into the Woods” closes out the album; I still bang my head to its riff, and the outro still gives me shivers (jump ahead to 2:50 as it moves just to full-on metal guitar). Electric Boys is still putting out albums, which makes me happy…

So, I’m not even trying to be exhaustive here, so if you’ve happened upon this blog and want to rail on me for forgetting some other European hair metal band, don’t be that person. Feel free, though, to remind me. Meanwhile, I’m going to go listen to “Ill Will” again.

Next week I think I’m going more sleezy.

The last years of 80s Hair Metal, Part I – Extreme: More Than “More Than Words”

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

“Extreme? Are you kidding? I thought you were going with bands I wouldn’t know!”

Yeah, I’m starting this series with a band most of you remember only for the single that shot their sophomore album, Pornograffitti (1990), to double platinum sales: “More Than Words”, the admittedly beautiful acoustic ballad highlighted by Gary Cherone’s vocals and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt’s harmonies (the video for the song memorably showed bassist Pat Badger and drummer Paul Geary sitting this one out). For reference, their follow up album, III Sides to Every Story (1992), only sold 700,000 copies (which would be followed by Waiting For the Punchline (1995) – I think I may be the only one who bought that one).

Extreme is a bit different from the other bands I’m going to end up featuring here as “More Than Words” actually made them a (somewhat) household name for a couple years, and the band survived well into the 90s (and even released a fifth album in 2008, Saudades de Rock, which, yes, I bought). But Pornograffitti was set up by their self-titled first album (1989), and it’s that album I’m going to be addressing here as it made Extreme my favorite band for the remainder of my teenage years.

Yeah, this first album cover didn’t really help differentiate them from other hair acts at the time. Their logo, though, would be drawn on my spiral notebook covers my entire senior year.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) actually introduced me to Extreme – a portion of their single “Play With Me” played during a scene where several figures from history run amok at the local mall. Now, if this were Poison, a song entitled “Play With Me” would’ve gone an entirely different direction. And, sure, the title is loaded with connotation, but the lyrics demonstrate a cleverness that would manifest itself throughout this album – check out “Flesh N Blood” (a very much tongue-in-cheek song about cannibalism) and “Smoke Signals” (like “Play With Me”, the lyrics were more a compilation of phrases, this time about warnings).

Sure, Extreme had its share of crotch-rock songs: “Wind Me Up“, “Teacher’s Pet” and “Little Girls” were all fairly boilerplate women-appreciation numbers. Know your audience. But all of them were catchy tunes (I admit I still know ALL the lyrics – this tape rarely left my player that summer), and the lyrics at times seemed to be sung with a knowing wink. Admittedly listening to “Little Girls” is a bit cringey now, but maybe that was the point. KISS practically made a living on songs about underage girls, and in ’88 Winger’s “Seventeen” had been a huge hit. With “Little Girls”, Extreme cranks that sentiment up to eleven.

Now, the only musical instrument I ever learned how to play was the cornet during my middle school years, so I can’t speak intelligently on the musical arrangements of the songs or anything like that. But I can say Nuno Bettencourt was/is a guitar GOD. “Play With Me” is an obvious example of his guitar-slinging, and I put him on par with EVH at the time, skill-wise (clearly Nuno was influenced by Eddie, as most guitarists of the time were). More than that, Bettencourt was just a consummate musician; reading the liner notes I was amazed at everything Bettencourt did for that album: instruments beyond the guitar, the orchestration, he had a hand in everything. Showcasing his guitar-chops, there were two solo tracks on this first album, one introducing another of the album’s singles, “Mutha (Don’t Want to Go to School Today)” and one closing out “Rock a Bye Bye“, a song commenting on abortion.

It’s “Rock a Bye Bye” and another, “Watching, Waiting” that, for me, separated Extreme from most other hair bands I was listening to. Cherone and Bettencourt took some risks with their song-writing – I’m fairly confident in saying no other metal bands at the time were addressing abortion in their songs. And then there’s “Watching, Waiting” – a song about Christ’s crucifixion told from the point of view of one of the criminals on a cross and a Roman soldier. Don’t get me wrong, these songs weren’t “preachy” – Extreme wasn’t Stryper. But they suggested what I alluded to in this series’ introduction: bands unable to offer up something new at this point were pretty much doomed. A secular-focused band in every other aspect, these two songs made an impression on 16 year old me, and even if I wasn’t aware at the time of Martin Luther’s comment about it being better to think of the church while in the tavern, rather than thinking about the tavern while in church, these songs suggest Cherone was.

Finally, there’s the first album’s anthem, and my personal anthem that summer, “Kid Ego“. I imagine this is the song that got the band signed, as it’s just a rocker with a huge fist-pounding riff. This was Extreme’s “Down Boys” (Warrant) or “Youth Gone Wild” (Skid Row), though it didn’t have the popularity of either of those songs. Cherone apparently says the song makes him cringe now, but what does he know, anyway?

I never was able to see Extreme in concert – the closest I came was watching the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert back in 1992 (I think MTV televised it?). Their medley of Queen songs blew every other act away, and reaffirmed to me that they were a special talent in a era glutted with look-alikes. If you haven’t seen it, maybe it will convince you too.

“O Captain! my Captain!…”

Posted in Comics, Entertainment with tags , , , , , , on May 26, 2016 by Mike

Yesterday, Marvel’s “Steve Rogers: Captain America” #1 arrived at shops.  This is an issue I had been eagerly looking forward to for months, ever since it was first announced, as by anyone’s definition I’m a Captain America super-fan and reading about an aged Steve Rogers who had lost the Super-Soldier serum (a 90+ year old who commands other superheroes?) and former-Falcon Sam Wilson as the new Captain America just was not working for me (I had the same opinion when Bucky took on the mantle a few years ago). It just wasn’t the same.

So I was thrilled to hear that the rejuvenated Steve Rogers was coming back, and when he was restored in the pages of “Captain America: Sam Wilson” #7 all was right in the Marvel Universe for me.

Cap is Back

No kidding!

But then yesterday came, and while at work I saw a headline posted on comicbookmovies.com: “Today’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #1 Features A Shocking Twist Marvel Knows You’ll Hate.”  So, yeah, out of curiosity I clicked on the article, thinking that there’s nothing that the writers could do to NOT make me get the issue.

And then I saw the panel:

CA_SR_1_panel_2

If you haven’t heard about it by now, the powers-that-be at Marvel are running with a story line that establishes Cap as a double-agent for HYDRA, the organization that has its roots in Nazism and has been Cap’s main nemesis for…well, forever. And to clarify that this isn’t misdirection or some simple trick, the writer (Nick Spencer) spoke to Entertainment Weekly: “This is not a clone, not an impostor, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.”

Forget “a slap in the face” as Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort suggested the reaction would be – the news broke my heart.

Cap, for me, has always been a representation of how truly noble and good a person can and should be.  I don’t look at him as a representation of the United States, but the ideals that represent the best of what humanity should be (but in reality often falls all too short of): liberty and equality for all; an indomitable spirit in the face of fascism and injustice. The image that introduced him to the world was him punching Hitler in the face, for God’s sake, conceived and created by two Jewish kids who recognized a need for America to DO SOMETHING in the face of evil.

And now Marvel is telling me he has his roots in HYDRA?

It’s insulting and stomach-turning.

Look, I understand how comics work – I’ve been reading them since 1983 – this first issue obviously doesn’t tell the entire story. But no matter how this story line plays out, no matter how it’s explained, to associate Cap with the organization that is the ANTITHESIS to what Cap has symbolized and fought against for 75 years is wrong-headed and a betrayal to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and a betrayal to who Captain America is and always has been.

I said the news broke my heart. It did. I loved superheroes because of Captain America.

But after reading that article,  I went to my comic book shop that afternoon and ended my pull-lists. I left the store comic-less, something that hasn’t happened in 15 years, and I won’t be going back.

There’s no real reason for me anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading nerds: The Literature Draft

Posted in Entertainment, Novels, teaching, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2014 by Mike

A few weeks ago I was watching the NFL draft waiting to see where Johnny Football would be drafted when I started thinking (it’s a problem – it usually leads to all sorts of work for me). My initial thought was what a literature draft would look like; that is, if a group of people were drafting works of literature, who would pick what first, and how would those choices be justified? I mean, James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered by many to be the single most important work of the 20th century, but I wouldn’t take it in a draft because it’s nigh-unreadable (I tried once). Okay, maybe that’s a little unfair to Joyce, but there are other novels higher on my list.

It was this thought that led me to, on a whim, post to my “Books” Facebook group (a cadre of English teachers who post about what they’ve been reading) the following:

Silly idea: let’s have a novel draft. We could use, say, Time’s Top 100 list (or something better) and compile our own squad of books, then read them (if we haven’t already).

This might have been the end of it, as it got only 4 “likes”, but then eLaffint commented with

Yes let’s do that. But please explain more.

So eLaffint forced me to think about this some more, and closer to the end of the school year I woke up one morning with the following rules in my head:

1) There’s a $10 entry fee – this will be important later.

2) We will each choose 4 works from one of two lists: either the AP title list or the “Top 100 Works in World Literature” (http://www.infoplease.com/ipea/A0934958.html).

3) The four works must include a) an American author b) a female author c) an author whose original language is not English and d) a play. None of the choices may be a work taught at the school or something you have already read (you’re on your honor).

4) The draft will be done by email – the order will be pre-determined and everyone in the group will “reply all” when it’s your turn. It doesn’t matter what order you “draft” your works, but no repeats are allowed.

5) Once your list (“team”) is complete, you have pretty much the rest of the year to read them.

6) Once finished, you must write a brief essay (3-5 pages) that reflects on what you’ve read. 10 point font, Times New Roman, double spaced.

7) These essays are due to me by December 12, 2014.

8) An independent panel of three judges (three people not in the draft) will read these essays and determine the winner. All essays will be published to this site, as well as to any blogs the participants might have, with the “winning” essay designated as such.

9) The winning essay’s writer will receive all the money collected from the entry fees. There is no second place. If we have 10 people enter, the winner will receive $100.

A couple notes: I decided on the AP list because it’s quality literature and diverse.  Selecting from that list could also benefit teachers who are looking for literature for their class libraries and want to branch out from young adult fiction and the more common works that most high schools already have on their reading lists (I’m looking at you, Gatsby).  Plus, it’s a pleasure to read. [bonus points for identifying the allusion]. The other list I found through Google, and thought it might help find works that help fulfill requirement “c” on number 3.

The essay requirement was a bit of a worry as I thought that might turn off possible participants, but I wanted something more to happen than “I read it, and it was _____” posts on Facebook. The opportunity to reflect on what you’ve read is an important part of the reading process, and I wanted to give everyone a chance to demonstrate their writing chops.  Hell, it’s something we ask of our students all the time, so, physician, heal thyself, IMO. Let’s put ourselves in our students’ shoes a bit, but also show off what we can do. We’re English teachers for a reason (okay, one of our group is not, but J-ROY’s a reader).

Eight of us decided to give this a shot.  We held our draft on Saturday, and, after a bit of delay due to J-ROY’s travelling, we each have our four works selected:

READER AMERICAN WOMAN NON-ENGLISH DRAMA
RAINY Invisible Man The Color Purple In the Time of Butterflies Glass Menagerie
E-E-RON House Made of Dawn When the Emperor was Divine History (Elsa Morante) Zoot Suit
JAX A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Handmaid’s Tale Purple Hibiscus Trifles
DEE-DEE Love Medicine Alias Grace A Thousand Splendid Suns Hamlet
eLaffint Cat on A Hot Tin Roof Wide Sargasso Sea Lysistrata Equus
J-ROY All the Pretty Horses Cat’s Eye The Trial Mother Courage and Her Children
BRP In the Lake of the Woods Member of the Wedding Gargantua and Pantagruel No Exit
ME Old School – Wolff God of Small Things Blindness Doctor Faustus

I think we’re all looking forward to reading our selections, but I’m particularly anxious to read their essays.

I’ll periodically post on my progress here.

My top five formative albums

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2013 by Mike

The internet’s full of top-whatever-number greatest albums lists, most of which I disagree with.  I mean, Sgt. Pepper‘s is a great album and all, but it’s not one that would crack my top 10. “Well, yeah,” you might say, “but you listen to mostly heavy metal” (I’m assuming you know me a bit). Sure, but then there are also lists devoted to strictly metal albums, and I have to tell you, I don’t care too much about Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden’s Powerslave.  Again, some awesome songs on both (“Aces High” is on my workout music playlist) and influential to the genre, but they’re not albums that have any distinct resonance with me.

And I suppose that’s why those top-whatever ratings get argued over so often – musical taste is subjective and what blows your skirt up might not even…well, whatever the male equivalent of that previous expression is for me. Those putting together these kinds of lists try to avoid that by looking at the albums’ perceived quality, originality, and influence, and that’s why Sgt. Pepper‘s and Revolver end up being in every top 10 list out there. Meh.

Now, I’m not “meh”-ing The Beatles, so much as I am the nature of these lists. Look, no shit, the Beatles are one of the most, if not the most, influential rock bands ever, and to suggest otherwise illustrates some sort of petty bias against those boys from Liverpool.  It’s ignorant.  If you want to hate on a band, direct it toward the Black-Eyed Peas – they’re the ones ruining music. Usually, though, those lists tend to get those objective qualities meted out in the right order, unless they’re purposely trying to annoy people (Kanye West at number 9, Adele at 17, while Led Zeppelin IV is at 79 – are your editors collectively stupid, Entertainment Weekly?).

But more to the point, while those lists are good for message-board fights and blog posts, the magazine’s/website’s selections shouldn’t mean much to readers. I know I’m not terribly interested in listening to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul or The Clash’s London Calling just because Rolling Stone deemed them top 10 albums, but I can appreciate reading the justification RS writes up. The list sells the magazine, and will be modestly adjusted the next time the next-big-thing hits (though, if you look at RS‘s list, you’d have to go all the way to #17 to find a post-1970’s album : Nirvana’s Nevermind, which, while definitely an “important” album for what it meant for American rock, can it honestly be said that it should be ranked higher than EVERY Led Zeppelin album?).

Rock attained perfection...

“Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.”

So I’m not interested in message board debates about these kinds of lists. What I’d be more interested in, though, is an individual’s list of his/her top 5 albums that had a lasting impact on his/her musical tastes.  In other words, albums that are responsible for what you listen to today.  I don’t necessarily believe that these are albums made by your favorite artists, otherwise I’d list off 4 Anthrax albums and something by Ian Moore for variety’s sake. Nor do I think it’s as easy as saying, “When I first heard Led Zeppelin/The Beatles/Nirvana/[insert ‘important’ band here] it showed me everything I listened to previously was crap.” Bullshit. If you LIKE a band’s music, then what other bands have done either before or after shouldn’t matter. We’re talking about art and emotional response, not compare/contrast.  Certainly albums by those ‘important’ bands could be on someone’s list, but there’s nothing wrong with declaring “Gypsy Road” has more importance to you than “Penny Lane.”   Illustrating this a bit,  Chuck Klosterman,  in one section of his “holy-crap-why-didn’t-I-write-this-book?” Fargo Rock City, lists out his top-whatever albums and the amount of money it would take for him to never listen to the albums again (apparently there’s not enough money for him to never again  listen to Appetite for Destruction).  His reasoning is both hilarious and intensely personal,  the latter of which makes it such a great read for anyone who grew up listening to hair metal in the 80’s, and anyone else who didn’t but loves reading about music (seriously, he’s exactly one day younger than me; that book might as well be entitled DeSoto Rock City).

So these kinds of thoughts have led me to think about my top 5 formative albums – these albums are my best guess as to why I have the taste in music I do. These are not my top 5 of all time – that’s a different thing and I’m pretty sure none of the following would be on that list. But these albums can probably be blamed for the presets on my car stereo…

Pyromania

Pyromania is the first rock album that I remember owning. Think about all the singles off this album – songs that are now staples/classics of 80’s rock: “Foolin'”; “Photograph” (can you hear that one guitar note that begins the song and NOT listen to the rest?); “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”; “Too Late for Love”; and, of course, “Rock of Ages”.  In 6th grade some friends and I auditioned for a talent show doing an air guitar rendition of “Rock of Ages” (the school had a loose definition of “talent”, I guess). Every other group of kids auditioning “performed” Van Halen’s “Jump” – we were the only ones to get in (we had practiced our moves/lip-synching quite a bit, admittedly). This album was a gateway album to A LOT of late 80’s hair bands for me. Motley Crue, Warrant, Skid Row, Cinderella, Tesla, Extreme, hell, even the Sleeze Beez (/shudder) – I bought all those albums and memorized their lyrics because Def Leppard’s album showed me how awesome rock was.

Hooked on Classics

I’m not all about the metal these days (Sirius Pops is one of my presets), and I probably owe my taste in classical music at least in part to this damn album (Looney Tunes cartoons deserve some credit as well). I don’t know how well it holds up today, as the disco rhythm that’s tacked on to the classical music makes it sound a bit cheesy, but I know I couldn’t wait for it to get to the William Tell Overture (i.e., the “Lone Ranger” theme). You know what? Screw that – this album’s still great.

I'm the Man

I would love to be able to say that Among the Living is what turned me onto my favorite band. I can’t. Instead, I first heard Anthrax in my friend Mike’s garage when someone put on the I’m the Man EP.  I was laughing all damn night. One, the title song’s hilarious, and illustrates a sense of humor that really no other metal band cared to exhibit at the time (Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth: SERIOUS AND ANGRY – they wore all black.  Anthrax band members wore Jams on stage). Two, holy crap, “Caught in a Mosh” is fast and live (and recorded in Dallas!). Three, they wrote a song about a comic book character (Judge Dredd) and Danny Spitz’s guitar had the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on it.  Then, come to find out, the band members were reading the same books I was (Stephen King’s The Stand, “Apt Pupil”, and Misery all inspired songs).  I have to say that the “I’m the Man” lyrics “They cut their crack, they offer joints, We don’t do drugs, do you get our meaning? [POINT]” also drew my attention/appreciation [side note: years later Scott Ian would say that he had tried marijuana and had an allergic reaction to it.  I don’t know…then there was Charlie Benante’s point about buying toys rather than drugs]. It was the perfect storm of music and personality, and if it was Pyromania that led me to more hair metal, it was I’m the Man that opened up Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, etc. to me, which would later lead to Pantera and Machine Head and so on.

Graceland

I remember when my parents forced this album on me and my brothers – they were playing the cassette constantly: when they picked us up from school; when we went to the store; when we were being driven to a  friend’s house; when we took vacations.  All the time – at least that’s how I remember it.  But the album grew on me, more so than on my brothers, I think, for whatever reason. Paul Simon is a hell of a musician (my Dad holds the not-so-uncommon opinion that Art Garfunkel was lucky to have known Simon), and the songs on this record are surprisingly catchy, especially for a 15 year old kid who was into rock and metal exclusively. Then there was the song/video for “You Can Call Me Al” – Chevy Chase was still a bankable star at that time and the interaction between Simon and Chase was fun to watch. My favorite song ended up being “I Know What I Know“, though. The use of South African musicians/music also demonstrated a social conscience as apartheid was still in effect (many felt, though, that Simon had broken a boycott toward S. Africa by doing so). So maybe I attribute to this album the reminder that good music is good music, no matter the genre. I ended up buying the CD, and was still listening to it right up until 2000 when it disappeared along with my stereo when my car was broken into out in Phoenix. Maybe the album had the same effect on the thief.  : /

Licensed to Ill

Any rap I’ve ever listened to can be attributed to this album.  Yes, I agree, it’s an extraordinary shame that I trace my appreciation for a musical genre that was created by urban blacks back to three Jews from New York, but, damn, this album is extraordinarily fun and stands the test of time.  Just try NOT listening to “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” or “Paul Revere“. Of course, it’s got “You’ve Got to Fight, etc..”, which I’ve always considered more rock than anything else, but above all this album was accessible (it didn’t hurt that Slayer’s Kerry King made an appearance). This album led me to, among others, Run-DMC and, later, Ice-T’s O.G. Original Gangster (no kidding!), along with Del the Funky Homosapien, Jurassic-5, and, of course, Eminem. Rap/Hip-hop’s never been a genre I’ve listened to consistently, but it was Licensed to Ill that opened that door.

Some random thoughts about a Demi Lovato song…

Posted in Entertainment with tags , , on November 27, 2012 by Mike

First, a preface, because I have two brothers (and, hell, BRP will jump in, too) who are going to rag on me mercilessly for this post: I don’t normally listen to pop music, but with two little girls, one ten and the other six, it’s at times difficult to get away from the Disney Channel on Sirius. No, I’m more of  a classic rock guy (who has a tendency to listen to very loud metal) and I’ve got the hardware to prove it.

Anyway, Demi Lovato’s (I looked up the spelling) song “Give Your Heart a Break” has been in heavy rotation since, well, forever, it seems. Admittedly, it’s a catchy song – and there’s where I catch hell from my brothers – but I listen to and value lyrics more than I probably should. It’s why I can’t stand what Metallica has been churning out the past two decades (OHMYGOD, HAS IT BEEN THAT LONG SINCE “…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL”? WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, JAMES HETFIELD?) – I mean, have you LISTENED to “My Apocalypse”? “The Day that Never Comes”? Friggin’ “Frantic”?! They’re crap! My God, James, get back on the cocaine and write another “Blackened”!…

Uh, pardon me.

OK, back to Lovato’s song. The lyrics, as sung by Ms. Lovato, tell the story of a girl who is trying to coax a guy into loving her, but the guy is hesitant because his heart has been broken once too often. And every guy who read that last sentence just rolled their eyes.  And that’s my point.

This song was not meant to be sung by a female.

This is not to knock Ms. Lovato’s rendition, because she does have an amazing voice, but the male this song is supposed to center around would have to be the most effeminate man on earth, and this type of man does not attract pop-star divas. For instance:

The day I first met you
You told me you’d never fall in love
But now that I get you
I know fear is what it really was

OK – a GUY is AFRAID of falling in love, and it’s not suggested at all that it involves a fear of losing his man cave with beer tap and 60″ LG?  Right. But let’s give it the benefit of the doubt here.  Moving on to the chorus:

Don’t wanna break your heart
Wanna give your heart a break
I know you’re scared it’s wrong
Like you might make a mistake

There it is again – the fear – and the girl is the one who’s trying to reassure him that he’s not making a mistake.  At this point this guy’s got some serious esteem issues, or is a bit of a milquetoast. And the kicker comes in the next verse:

On Sunday you went home alone
There were tears in your eyes
I called your cell phone, my love
But you did not reply

Come on, people! He left with tears in his eyes, and his favorite team didn’t just lose the national championship game? I’m sorry, I just can’t suspend my disbelief that much.  Despite the popularity of Lovato’s song, despite its catchiness, despite the fact that  it just makes you feel like singing along when taking your younger daughter to school (erm, so I’ve heard), the song, when sung by a female, is fairly nonsensical.

Oh, and there’s the fact that it was written by two men.