The Golden Days of AM Radio and Cereal Box Records

Whenever summer rolls around, it annually evokes fond memories of youthful days I’d eagerly spend counting down until the school year would finally end. The anticipation of long, lazy summer days, extended car rides, and family vacations was always palpable. That was the era of AM radio hits which often turned into road trip sing-alongs which served as a much needed reprieve from being cooped up for hours on end in the car. I’m referring to a time when portable electronics were almost non-existent and the only access to music was the standard AM radio that came factory installed in the family owned American automobile.

Summertime also reminds me of how excited I’d get about routine trips to the grocery store when I was a kid. Yes, the grocery store, because back in those days, they used to print records right on the backs of cereal boxes, similar to flexi discs often found in music publications or instructional books. Nothing made me happier than picking out a brand of cereal I’d pretend to like just so I could get a new record by The Archies, The Monkees, or The Jackson 5. I can still recall being mesmerized and oddly entertained as I’d watch the phonograph stylus play over the faces of Betty, Veronica, Archie, Reggie, Jughead, and Hot Dog as I carefully memorized every word of “Everything’s Archie” and “Nursery Rhyme.” [Read Full Feature]

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Harry Styles Emerges as Rock Star on Solo Debut Album

Harry Styles: Harry Styles

What do you do in your spare time while on hiatus from one of the world’s biggest-selling and most successful boy bands? If you’re Harry Styles you use that time wisely by dropping a debut album so commanding that it makes you an instant rock star. If you disregard preconceived notions concerning boy bands, as well as stop trying to decipher if lyrical subtexts may or may not allude to Taylor Swift, you will hear the emerging talent of an undeniably credible solo artist. Harry Styles effectually straddles the line between do-it-yourself production qualities and cock rock.

Harry Styles won’t stop Directioners from wondering if and when the notorious boy band will reunite, but it certainly affirms Styles has the goods to become a major solo star. It’s also utterly refreshing to hear a young artist embrace the use of organic elements such as strings, guitar, and choir instead of opting for the exhausted generic sounding beat-driven production gimmicks currently permeating the musical landscape. [Read Full Review]

Watch the “Sign of the Times” Music Video:

The Serious Genius of Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy

Father John Misty: Pure Comedy

At first glance, Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy might sound like the recorded version of a clergyman moonlighting as a stand-up comic, but in actuality it’s the latest studio album from the former Fleet Foxes drummer. Try to imagine Elton John as an American folk artist with lyrics penned by Randy Newman or Conor Oberst, and you’ll have an entry point into the sardonic, acid-tongued, yet filmic world of singer-songwriter Father John Misty (née Josh Tillman).

While Pure Comedy periodically sounds like the type of luciferous debut album Aimee Mann or Kate Bush might’ve composed had they been born male, only time and perspective will ultimately determine if this turns out to be Father John Misty’s career-defining album, although he’s undeniably grabbed our attention.

[Read Full Review]

 

Days of AM Gold

Whenever springtime rolls around, it annually evokes fond memories of youthful days eagerly counting down to the end of the school year. The anticipation of long, lazy summer days, extended car rides, and family vacations was always palpable. That was the era of AM radio hits which often turned into road trip sing-alongs which served as a much needed reprieve from being cooped up for hours on end in the car. I’m referring to a time when portable electronics were almost non-existent and the only access to music was the standard AM radio that came factory installed in the family owned American automobile. Back then, most everyone subsisted on the familiar sounds of the most popular Top 40 radio hits of the day.

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It also reminds me how I’d get excited about going to the grocery store when I was a kid. Yes, the grocery store, because back in those days they used to put records on the backs of cereal boxes. Nothing made me happier than picking out a brand of cereal I’d pretend to like just so I could get a new record by The Archies, The Monkees, or The Jackson 5.

This was the very beginning of my record buying addiction that has lasted since my adolescence and continued throughout my adult life. I can still recall being mesmerized as I’d watch the record player needle play over the faces of Betty, Veronica, Archie, Reggie, Jughead, and Hot Dog as I memorized every word of “Sugar Sugar” and “Jingle Jangle.”

Cereal final

Back then, AM radio ruled the airwaves with infectious bubblegum earworms and Casey Kasem’s weekly American Top 40 countdown. Prime time television also provided a moderate source of musical entertainment in those days with series such as The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Midnight Special, Donny & Marie, and The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Show. On Saturdays, I’d tune into American Bandstand, Solid Gold, the Grand Ole Opry Live, and Dolly, which starred Dolly Parton whom I became enamored with during my early boyhood days while watching The Porter Wagoner Show with my dad. He was initially upset Dolly Parton had replaced Norma Jean, but I was immediately won over and became a lifelong follower of Dolly’s illustrious career. This fact is something I still bring to my father’s attention and remind him of every chance I get.

TV show collage

As I grew older, I eventually began collecting vinyl records. During my early teenage years, I readily eschewed all things I thought of as “kid stuff” and began collecting my favorite radio hits on 7-inch 45 rpm. To this day I still associate many of my favorite artists with their associated record company labels. Hearing Elvis Presley or Dolly Parton vividly recalls spending hours watching Nipper spin ‘round and ‘round, as well as the multi-colored butterfly perched upon the big E on the labels of my Carly Simon and Queen records. Just as I perpetually see the rainbow label spinning in my mind’s eye whenever I listen to Elton John, or the spectral colors and palm trees of Casablanca while listening to KISS or Donna Summer.

Record logos (2)

Slowly I began to shift from 45s to LPs and the timing couldn’t have been better as my commencement of responsibility and commitment arrived in the guise of the Columbia House record club. Remember the ad in the newspaper or TV Guide boasting of getting 12 record albums for a penny? Many people consider them to have been the bane of their existence and the epitome of money scams, but if you were savvy enough, you could beat them at their own game. Anyway, they served their purpose and suited my needs just fine. This was long before I could drive, so being able to shop from home and have records delivered to my door was a real life saver. I can still remember the thrill of receiving a box full of LPs in the mail. Not only did I get a big, fat, pile of albums, but I didn’t even have to leave my house. I can’t count how many times I joined and re-joined that club, making sure to carefully fulfill my minimum commitment so I could cancel my membership, only to re-join and receive another stack of wax. This cycle continued for years, slowly building into an impressive music library, most of which I still have to this day.

Columbia House FINAL

 

 

 

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Sunflowers

It’s that time of year again when we find ourselves stretched between the realms of the past, present, and future. But before moving forward, it only seems fitting to consider those brilliantly talented souls we lost in 2015.

Sadly, the music world had to say goodbye to: country singer Lynn Anderson, British pop vocalist Cilla Black, soulful songstress Natalie Cole, gospel singer-songwriter-choir director Andraé Crouch, Grand Ole Opry icon Little Jimmy Dickens, Lesley “It’s My Party” Gore, Motörhead leader Lemmy Kilmister, legendary blues singer/guitarist B.B. King, prominent Nashville producer Billy Sherrill, soul legend Percy Sledge, and the inimitable frontman of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, Scott Weiland, just to name a few. They may be gone, but their momentous musical contributions will be eternal.

Although it’s painful to accept those who are no longer with us, a new year allows us to gleam into the future with great eagerness of what is yet to come. This year promises thrilling new releases from David Bowie (January 8), Panic! at the Disco (January 15), Elton John (February 5), Radiohead, The Cult, Green Day, Lady Gaga, Nine Inch Nails, Katy Perry, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gwen Stefani, Rooney, and Lucinda Williams.

So here’s to a new year, new music, and making new memories in 2016.

Apple Music: to Stream or Not to Stream Is no Longer the Question

Apple Music

By now everyone not suffering from chronic ennui is well aware Apple has just ventured into the world of music streaming with the newly launched Apple Music. Sadly, there’s no  point in denying that streaming is now the preferred format of choice for mass music consumption in the digital age. Apple’s latest undertaking officially kicked off on June 30 with star-studded Beats 1 radio shows featuring Elton John, Pharrell Williams, Drake, and a candid interview with Eminem. Even with all the swirling hyperbole and celebration, the real question you’re probably asking yourself right now is if it’s really worth changing your membership from your current streaming platform?

For a monthly subscription fee of $9.99 (or a six device family plan for $14.99 per month), Apple Music allows me access to its vast library of tens of thousands of tracks, coupled with my personal collection previously downloaded and/or ripped into iTunes. Alas, everything I already own in addition to Apples’ catalog live together in one place, without having to switch between multiple apps. Plus, there is a free three month trial period for new subscribers, which makes Apple Music a better bargain than Rhapsody, Spotify, Jay-Z’s Tidal, or Neil Young’s Pono.

The app consists of five major sections:

1) My Music – Here you can save music and playlists from songs within your own collection as well as Apple’s catalog of streaming tracks, all of which can be saved for on-the-go offline listening.

2) For You – This section goes beyond mere algorithms. It utilizes suggestions made by real music people including editors of Apple Music, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork to help pick noteworthy music. It also retains your recently played tracks and uses them to create a custom made playlist. Also, you can ask Siri to locate and play specific songs and top 10 lists.

3) Connect – This social platform section is where you’ll connect directly with artists to find new and exclusive content including music, lyrics, pictures, commentaries, and videos. This is a great place to find new and unsigned artists.

4) Radio –  Apple’s new radio station, Beats 1, features DJ Zane Love, broadcasting from London, New York, and Los Angeles. The station is a live, ad free broadcast Monday through Friday, with special events on the weekends.

5) New – Here you’ll find new releases, singles, and chart-topping hits, all  compiled for you in one area. This is basically iTunes’ weekly update for new and recently released titles.

All of Apple Music’s features integrate seamlessly with iOS and Siri, allowing me complete access to both music libraries (mine plus iTunes) without wasting additional space through an external application. This reason alone was worth canceling my subscription to other streaming services as it freed up approximately two gigabytes of memory storage. Not to mention nearly 75% of my monthly fee is funneled directly back into the music industry, which is a higher percentage than other streaming companies.

Since Apple announced its new streaming service, I’ve read numerous comments attempting to cavil every speculated detail, as well as various malarkey concerning Apple’s perceived lack of innovation, causing me to ponder what exactly people were expecting. Perhaps the naysayers were waiting for Apple to reinvent music, or design a streaming app that’s capable of feeding them, wiping their asses and tucking them into bed!? Ultimately, Apple has once again succeeded in doing what Apple does best, which is smoothing out all the rough edges and limitations found in previous apps. In my opinion, a new streaming option that allows users to combine their already existing libraries and supports offline listening seems like a win-win scenario for Apple and its customers.

Creating and customizing personal playlists has never been this easy on other streaming apps, and I’ve tried them all from the worst (Rhapsody) to the best (Beats Music). It’s as if someone at Apple read my mind and added all the intuitive features I’d been wishing other music streaming services had included, i.e.: the color scheme of the album artwork incorporates into the now playing screen , the equalizer is already an innate part of the iPhone which negates wasting time maneuvering through an additional platform, plus gapless playback is actually gapless without sputtering, pauses, or hiccups. Ultimately, not only did a subscription service finally get it right, but as an iPhone user it makes perfect sense to convert to Apple Music considering the two were made for each other.

Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

EJ goodbye 40

Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

You know that rare moment when an album makes an impact so great, not only do you never forget it, but manage to remember every word to every song throughout the remainder of your life? Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is that album for me.

Although it’s been 41 years since Elton John released his seminal double LP, this classic album has been revisited and reissued as a super deluxe, 5-disc ultimate edition to commemorate its 40th anniversary. I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical about another remaster (as this is not the first time GYBR has been cleaned up), but this is truly the best this album has ever sounded. I’ve probably listened to this record hundreds of times, and I can honestly say this new remaster brings out new details and a clarity like I’ve never before heard. If this is one of your favorite Elton albums, you owe it to yourself to own this, as it is without a doubt the definitive version.

With its iconic cover and sales of over 31 million copies to date, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is Elton John’s best-selling studio album and considered by many to be his landmark, career-defining masterpiece. The 17-track set includes many of John’s most famous songs, including: “Bennie and the Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Candle in the Wind,” and the hit title track.

This lavishly produced package includes an all new remastered version of the original album, B-sides, demos, the complete Live at Hammersmith concert from 1973, a DVD of Bryan Forbes’ film Elton John and Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye to Norma Jean and Other Things, a 100-page illustrated hardcover book, as well as newly recorded cover versions by Ed Sheeran, Hunter Hayes, Miguel, Emili Sande, John Grant, The Band Perry, Imelda May, Fall Out Boy, and Zac Brown Band.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th Anniversary Edition also available on HD pure audio Blu-ray, and 2-LP limited edition heavyweight 180-gram yellow vinyl.