AvX Contest: Week 4 Scoring Update

General Ross eats Russkie punks like you for breakfast.

Four weeks in on Idle Time’s Avengers vs. X-Men contest, and we already have our fourth one-on-one duel to officiate. This week, thanks to the first issue of the AvX Vs: mini-series, the judging is conveniently taken out of our hands, with “winner” clearly stated at the conclusion of each of the comic’s two battles.

The main card focuses on one of the off-camera contests from AvX 2. Tony Stark, man in the Iron Suit, versus Magneto, Master of Magnetism. No contest? You’d be right, if you picked the second-smartest guy in the Marvel U to take the day’s honors. Decision: Iron Man.

The Thing takes on a familiar foe in the back-up battle. Despite Namor’s homefield advantage, the ever-loving blue-eyed Ben Grimm emerges from the San Francisco bay after having been declared the winner, “for now…” Decision: The Thing.

Continue reading AvX Contest: Week 4 Scoring Update

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 11: Whoomp! There Goes My Summer

#89. “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” – Lenny Kravitz
#90. “No Rain” – Blind Melon

First day of summer! The noonday sun tried desperately to penetrate my bedroom blinds as I slept off Grad Night, but it was all for naught. My room remained dark as a tomb. If it wasn’t for the fact I had a hip-pocket full of Wherehouse gift certificates and graduation cash, I would have slept another two or three hours. But I crawled out of bed and drove to the Wherehouse, where I bought Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & The Dominoes, the Who’s double album Quadrophenia, and two albums of more recent vintage: Blind Melon’s self-titled debut, and Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way.

What a burn. Loved, loved, loved the Kravitz title song, so I bought the album…and there were no other good songs in evidence. Not a one. I would repeatedly fall into this trap until the dawn of the mp3 age. Kravitz would go on to never make a good song ever again. I deduced later that he never made any good songs before “AYGGMY,” either. I guess that proves that even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in his life.

The Blind Melon album fared much better. Known mostly for the massive hit single “No Rain” (and its iconic “Bee Girl” video), the rest of the album was solid and unpretentious, and has held up surprisingly well. The same could not be said of its follow-up, 1995’s Soup. Lead singer Shannon Hoon was a notorious drug ingestion machine, and it’s too bad the atrocious Soup was his last statement to the world before he went tits-up. (Note to aspiring musicians who are considering acquiring a My First Drug Habit kit: Drug use doesn’t always result in an Exile On Main Street or Appetite For Destruction. More often than not, it results in Soup.)

By the by, there’s nothing more boring than watching someone else negotiate to buy a car. While Stephanie was taking seventeen hours to trade in her old Datsun Z for a new Honda Civic del Sol at some point that June, I wandered over to the Underground to spend the last of my graduation cash on some alt-music roots: Primus’ live debut Suck On This, and Nirvana’s 1989 Sub Pop debut Bleach. Steph’s new vehicle reflected her new employment status as a medical records clerk for Chico Community Hospital. A real, adult-type job. The beginning of the tiniest crack in our relationship foundation. But she celebrated by buying me the Kinks’ Greatest Hits and the book The Films of Sean Connery, so it was all good. For now.

#91. “Two Princes” – The Spin Doctors

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Most Overplayed Song of 1993! Featured on movie soundtracks, movie trailers, a video that by federal law was played twice per hour for ten to twelve months, and as background music on dozens and dozens of MTV shows, including The Real World. I spent a lot of afternoons that summer glued to the groundbreaking “reality” series’ second season, the one in Los Angeles with the drunken Irish “music critic,” (he was shown fleetingly at a club show holding a notepad, so that makes him a music critic, right?), the obnoxious, glowering “stand-up comedian” who got kicked out of the house for general assholery, and didn’t seem to have a funny bone in his body (not a split-second of his stand-up act was ever shown to my recollection), and the stomach-churningly awful “country singer” (his act was shown — at least a half-dozen times — and it always consisted of one song: “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.”) Some argue that The Real World reached its peak with the next season in San Francisco (a.k.a. “Puck and the AIDS Guy”), but I was already growing bored with the format by then. 

Anyway, It reached a point where “Two Princes” seemed to saturate the very air itself that summer. You would be out for a quiet walk, and then suddenly…a whiff of patchouli, and Chris Barron’s lazy, beard-y voice would be carried faintly through the breeze: “One, two princes kneel before you, that’s-a what I said now…” And you would curl up on the sidewalk and wait for help to arrive. This album had been kicking around since ’91, and showed no signs of going away.

(But never fear, a follow-up was in the works. And if there was one follow-up that was worse than Soup, it was the Spin Doctors’ Turn It Upside Down. It’s a poorly-kept recording industry secret that most artists try to front load their albums with the stronger tracks. The Doctors’ idea of a superstrong lead-off track? A gem called “Big Fat Funky Booty,” followed by the single (!) “Cleopatra’s Cat,” an exercise in scat-singing so repugnant it would make Cab Calloway claw his own eyes out.)

#92. “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles” – The Proclaimers

Originally released by Scottish folk-rock duo the Proclaimers in 1988, and a fair-sized European hit at that time. As we all know, it’s not the 17th century anymore, and Europe has little to no importance to anything. (Keep playing soccer, guys. It’s riveting.) Therefore, the song remained unknown to American ears until its re-release and inclusion on the soundtrack of 1993’s Benny And Joon, a good-natured movie so slight that it dissolved in your mind upon viewing, like cotton candy, leaving only the sweet, sticky residue of Johnny Depp’s Buster Keaton imitations, and the Proclaimers singing over the closing credits in their thick Scottish burrs about “havering” and other nonsensical Euro notions that aren’t really words. The film was in theaters for about a day and a half, but the accompanying re-edited music video – now featuring clips from the film interspersed with the rather spastic Proclaimers (“Dah-DAH duh, dah-DAH duh”) – stayed in rotation for the rest of the summer.

I wanted to get hold of the song in an idle kind of way, not to the point of buying it or anything (still jobless, remember?). I resorted to an old trick from my younger days. I propped a cassette recorder against the television speaker and recorded the audio right off of MTV. In my formative years, I did this with the audio of George Carlin VHS tapes the clueless liquor store clerk would rent to me. (Remember when liquor stores rented movies?) Yes, I was the only twelve-year-old on the middle-school playground who had hours of George Carlin material memorized flawlessly. Explains a lot.

#93. “Slam” – Onyx

#94. “Push Th’ Little Daisies” – Ween

#95. “Thunderkiss ’65” – White Zombie

Three songs put on the map by being featured on MTV’s cartoon Beavis & Butthead, which debuted in the spring of ’93. Crude, shocking, and controversial at the time, B&B has been outpaced in terms of envelope-pushing content by later shows like South Park and Family Guy, but there was a time when B&B was truly Appointment Television. Later in college, I knew a couple who would stop having sex when they heard the distinctive opening riff of the B&B theme song in the next room, and come running in, frantically buttoning and tucking. The plot lines for each fifteen-minute episode were hit and miss, but the times when the two dim-witted title characters would sit and critique full-length music videos in their distinctive and often-imitated (by me and everyone I knew) voices were what kept me tuning in. Not everything was comedy gold, but there were frequent moments – you were guaranteed at least one in each episode –when a subtle turn of phrase or vocal nuance would bring down the house. (Butthead’s response to the Sting/Rod Stewart/Bryan Adams collaboration “All For Love” – a quick, nauseated “Oh dear Lord” – was a long-time favorite of mine, and like most of their antics, loses something in the translation into the written word. So just watch for it at about 3:11 in this clip.)

#96. “Creep” – Radiohead

Remember when Radiohead wrote songs? Sometimes really good ones. So if you ever get tired of Thom Yorke draaaaaaaaaaging out his vowwwwwwwwwwwels over minimalist keyboard plunking, which has characterized every Radiohead song since 2001, do yourself a favor and re-introduce yourself to 90’s Radiohead. The “Creep” single was originally issued in the fall of ’92, several months in advance of the Pablo Honey album, but it did not connect with a large listening audience. Capitol Records, savvy bastards that they are, put it out again in 1993, and ears were more attentive – alas, it was immediately lumped in with all the other post-grunge flash-in-the-pans like Bush, Everclear, and Dig. An unfair categorization, perhaps…but sales soared, and they proved their staying power with subsequent releases. (I was going to make a snide joke about the guy from Dig putting too much foam on my latte, but a quick Wiki shows that he’s currently a successful record producer and a highly-paid composer for commercials and the Discovery Channel, while I sit here and write a blog in my underwear for six semi-regular readers. And I may be overestimating my readership.)

#97. “Whoomp! (There It Is)” – Tag Team

Like whatever “it” it was talking about (I’m assuming “booty” or some such generic raunchiness), this song was certainly “there” during the summer of ’93, taking up valuable airwaves with its pointlessness. I never paid much attention, though. Maybe there’s some deeper meaning I’m missing in the verses. [Goes to check lyrics.com.] Nope.

#98. “Runaway Train” – Soul Asylum

Call this the male version of 4 Non-Blondes’ “What’s Up?” Why is the singer so traumatized? Dunno. It doesn’t seem to matter, as songwriter Dave Pirner (hair tousled by a professional hair-tousler) frantically clutches your sleeve and pours out his tale of woe and tries to overcome you with his powerful earnestness rays, and never, ever gives you a clue as to what the fuck he’s talking about. And someone needs to buy the guy a rhyming dictionary, so he can get more options out of “train” beyond “pain” and “rain.”

The video for the song was something of a cause celebre at the time, done as a public service message, showing pictures and names of over thirty missing or runaway children.

#99. “Soul To Squeeze” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Remember back in Part 2 when I said I owned exactly one cassette single? This was it. Pretty much every CD in my expanding collection was transferred to cassette so it could be played in the Mattmobile. The Peppers’ late-’91 magnum opus Blood Sugar Sex Magick clocked in at an awkward seventy-five minutes. Too long to fit on one side of a 90-minute cassette, but not long enough to fill both sides. I padded the last fifteen minutes of my cassette’s Side Two with three non-album Chili Peppers tracks: “Sikamikanico” (from the Wayne’s World soundtrack, which I already owned), “Show Me Your Soul” (from the Pretty Woman soundtrack, borrowed), and this song from the Coneheads soundtrack. My anal-retentiveness forced me to pay three bucks for the cassingle so my Blood Sugar Sex Magick tape wouldn’t have five minutes of blank space at the end.

I almost sprung for the full soundtrack, because it was pretty good (R.E.M., Digable Planets, Paul Simon), but not quite good enough to justify a purchase. Still unemployed. But I was being proactive! I mailed in a resume in response to an ad for a new video rental store that was set to open in north Yuba City that August.

And hey, remember the Coneheads movie? Didn’t quite hit it out of the park cinematically, but it had its moments, and the cast featured a who’s-who of early-90’s comedy: almost a dozen past, present & future SNL cast members, people from Seinfeld, bit parts from Ellen DeGeneres and Drew Carey when they were still struggling stand-ups, three of the girls from Dazed and Confused (released the same year, and soon to become one of my favorite movies), and…uh, Sinbad. And Tom Arnold. Well, they can’t all be winners.

#100. “Cannonball” – The Breeders

“It’s on!” Stephanie yelled from her room one August afternoon, and I came running to see this new video, my introduction to the whimsical world of video director Spike Jonze, and to a lesser extent, former Pixies bassist Kim Deal and her new combo, the Breeders. Stephanie had caught the video the night before, and was struck by its overall visual coolness (and it’s a good song to boot). We kept kind of a half-assed vigil until it repeated itself the next day, which was exactly the type of shit we still had time for. Those days were rapidly ending.

I soon learned Ms. Deal was something of a cult figure amongst indie-rock fans. Allen Maxwell had a homemade sticker of her peeping slyly out of the rear window of his pickup. I was a little too young to get into the Pixies when they were at full force (’86-’90), and despite listening to them hundreds of times over the past fifteen years, I still don’t quite get why they were/are such a big deal (no pun intended.) That and my extreme distaste for the fucking Smiths are the gulf that divided me from my new college/coffee shop friends I was about to make.

But that was still a little ways ahead. I started college not long after seeing the Breeders video (both seem to have about equal weight in my memory). Yuba College was like any junior college – “high school with ashtrays” in the wordsof John Hughes. But unlike high school, you only had to be there for a few hours a day. And sometimes, if you played your cards right, not even every day! Holyshit! I loved college! I don’t know if I had a plan or program, but my first semester sure seems like beautiful randomness: Western Civilization, General Psychology, Intro to Mass Comm., Public Speaking, and Intro to Film. Higher education seemed like a complete cakewalk. Three Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes, a Tues-Thurs evening class, and a Thursday-only evening class.

Last day of summer! Just before I kicked off my collegiate career, I got called for a job interview. First Run Video, a six-outlet chain based out of Redding, California, was opening a Yuba City store…

Folks, I am proud to have been a professional educator for twelve years as of 2012…but I was born to be a video store clerk. Too bad it’s a dying breed…

Record Store Day 2012: Top 5 Exclusives

Tomorrow marks the first of my two favorite spring Saturdays. Since 2007, the third Saturday in April has celebrated independent record stores around the world with exclusive vinyl pressings, re-issues, and live performances. April 21, 2012, is Record Store Day. Dust off the turntables, and wake up early, because with runs as low as 1000 copies on some sexy seven-inches, there won’t be much left on the racks come April 22.

The next big brick-and-mortar blowout happens the first Saturday in May. Don’t worry: expect a post on Free Comic Book Day 2012 in the very near future.

Here are the five exclusives atop my wishlist:

5. M83 – “Mirror” (Mute) 7″ etched disc

M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming dropped in at eighth on Idle Time’s favorite records of 2011, and the standout single “Midnight City” was on the shortlist for Top 100 songs of the Idle Time Decade. The also great “Mirror,” a hidden track on Dreaming, gets the limited edition etched vinyl treatment tomorrow. Limited to 2000.

Continue reading Record Store Day 2012: Top 5 Exclusives

AvX Contest: Week 3 Scoring Update

Dented face, courtesy of Cap.

This week gives us three books under the AvX banner: Wolverine and the X-Men 9, Avengers 25, and the second “round” of the main series, Avengers vs. X-Men 2.

Check out those tie-in books, True Believers. Jason Aaron just might be the best there is at what he does. And what he does is write Wolverine. Bendis is united with a real legend on this Avengers book. Welcome back, Walt Simonson. I could make the same “best there is” comment about you and drawing Thor. But what we’re really waiting for is that second issue of the limited series and the expected showdown between Captain America and Cyclops.

The panel of judges has determined that the exchange between these two team captains qualifies as an official “bout” for contest scoring purposes. All that remains, then, is to decide on an outcome. Continue reading AvX Contest: Week 3 Scoring Update

AvX Contest: Week 2 Scoring Update

so close...

Only one book with the AvX banner this week, and New Avengers 24 is mostly flashback setting up the opening bell of last week’s Avengers vs. X-Men 1.

Even so, there’s a tense stretch of four or five pages featuring Luke Cage all riled up and dealing with a crowd of protesters outside Avengers Mansion. Come on, Luke… Say it… Say it…

But no. “In this house” is as close as he gets. Those of you who predicted that “Luke Cage yells “In MY house'” at some point during the event, are going to have to sit tight. No points scored this time around. But don’t worry: there’s a really good chance Cage is going to get pissed off again before this story wraps, and it could very well happen at home.

But for now, the points tally from last week hasn’t changed.

 

Beatle Battle! The Final Fight!

Over the last few months doing the Beatle Battles I’ve lived and breathed John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Can I possibly find any more to say about this band for this last Beatles Post*? Yeah, I think I can…. 

The Beatles are the greatest band that ever was or ever will be. Sure that’s just my opinion, but it also happens to be the truth. I could on for days about how their music influenced generation after generation, and how most likely your favorite band at the moment owes a debt to the Beatles, regardless of the genre. But you’ve heard it all before. I think instead I’ll talk about a word The Beatles sang about over and over. Love.

“All you need is love.” Absolutely goddamn right. If I’ve learned one thing in my 40 years on this planet is that love is the guiding force of human beings. It is what we are here for. Carl Jung said…

 “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

I believe that light he is talking about is love. Carl Sagan said…

“For small creatures such as we the vastness (of space) is bearable only through love.”

That’s my favorite quote of all time and one I want on my tombstone, because I believe 100% that it is the truth.  The Beatles sang this message to us countless times.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not praising the individual men of The Beatles and placing them in some sort of high pedestal next to Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, or Mohammad. Shit, I think John Lennon was kind of a prick for abandoning his son Julian. Ringo and George did more cocaine in the 70’s than Tony Montana in Scarface. And McCartney? I downright loathe the man. But together, these flawed guys made something important. Something lasting and significant. Human beings are not perfect – but we can create perfection in our art. That is the magic of our existence. The Miracle of us.

Thermodynamic Miracles…

Events with odds against so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive, meeting, siring this precise son, that exact daughter…

Until your mother loves a man, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged.

To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold, that is the crowning unlikelihood.

The thermodynamic miracle.

-Alan Moore

The miracle of The Beatles will last forever. It started with my father’s generation. My Dad bought the White Album when it came out in 1968. Almost 20 years later his son would discover that record in his collection and place it on the turntable and listen as the music changed his life. Another 20 years pass and my 13 year old daughter is singing “Penny Lane” with me in the car as we drive down the highway and I can see her smile as the same music that moved me and her grandfather is now moving her. And in another 20 years, perhaps her own child will dig out some old mp3’s of their Mom’s and hit play and hear what those four boys from Liverpool created all those years ago.

The message will always be the same – all you need is love. Without love we are lost. The Beatles preached this to us all time and time again. For this reason alone, The Beatles are my favorite band of all time.

*yes Mike, this is the last Beatles post ever.

Top 5 Comic Book Events of All Time

The current Avengers vs. X-Men event seems like a pretty big deal. In reality, it’s just the latest in a long line of summer superhero spectaculars. These character-heavy, game-changing crossovers have been annual staples for Marvel and DC for decades, and in recent years the Big Two have made promotion of these events a top priority. In 2008, Marvel ran a TV commercial heralding their Secret Invasion, and just last year DC went viral with their promo for the New 52 reboot, even securing space in the advance screenings blocks of major movie auditoriums.

Marketing gimmicks and overused superlatives aside, there have been some genuinely entertaining superhero events that have stood the test of time. The best of these may be important in relation to continuity, or how they change the way comic book stories and characters are handled, but first and foremost they’re meant to be fun, like good Hollywood blockbusters. For this reason you won’t see DC’s seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths on this list. Yes, it was important and ground-breaking, but it was never meant for casual readership. Quite the opposite in fact. Personally, I could give a shit about justifying decades of continuity; just tell a good story and rattle the cages once in a while. These are four-color soap operas, not scrolls of apocrypha.

I’ve also disqualified storylines that were developed specifically within the confines of regular monthly titles. Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse had “event-like” gravity and ramifications, and was a damn good yarn, but it really was just a massive crossover. The events on this list, like this summer’s Avengers vs. X-Men, are built around a central limited series, with story extensions crossing over and tying in with existing books. And hopefully, like the central blocks of each of the events on this list, AvX will be a damn good yarn all by itself.

5. Avengers Disassembled / House of M (Marvel, 2004-2005)

I’m already breaking rule number two. Sort of. The “Disassembled” story was an Avengers family crossover, incorporating the main book’s storyline with plots in Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. The real event took place when series author Brian Michael Bendis connected this story to 2005’s House of M limited series.

Hard to believe now, but there was a time not too very long ago that The Avengers was a struggling, stagnant book. In fact, a decade ago, had you asked the average pop culture enthusiast to name teams of superheroes, you probably wouldn’t get further than The Justice League and The X-Men, maybe Fantastic Four and Teen Titans. What Bendis did for this team, by destroying and rebuilding them, was revelatory. Marvel today features four groups of Avengers, each with its own monthly title, and two monthlies for each of the three aforementioned primary characters (although Journey into Mystery is more Loki’s book than Thor’s). And of course the upcoming movie, and the five Marvel Studios films that have led up to it, have made The Avengers a household word. It started with Bendis.

Bendis displayed a penchant for dialogue, and sharp stories, with a pair of crime series for Caliber in the 90’s. He earned his superhero stripes with Ultimate Spider-Man beginning in 2000. What he hadn’t demonstrated prior to this Avengers stint, was an incredible ability to script team books. It’s not an easy task juggling great dialogue with clever plots all while respecting the ensemble dynamic. Some of the best comic book writers have failed miserably when trying to work with a big cast of big personalities (I’m looking at you, Geoff Johns). The Avengers have had some great stories since Stan Lee first assembled this team back in 1963, but some of the most memorable have come courtesy of Brian Michael Bendis.

This phoenix-esque Avengers burnout sees The Scarlet Witch go crazy and break down her former teammates in every way imaginable. Tony Stark has a drunken meltdown; Vision helps demolish the mansion; and characters like Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Jack of Hearts perish (comic book deaths, which are famously temporary, but still…) Then comes the Scarlet Witchhunt. And House of M.

The Avengers and X-Men may be dueling this summer, but in the summer of 2005 they were united to deal with a common problem: the reality-warping powers of Wanda Maximoff and her less than tenuous grip on reality. Wolverine’s solution: kill the bitch. Cap: now wait a second. But before either has a chance to sway popular opinion, the Witch shows off the full extent of her powers and reshapes the universe into a world in which mutants are dominant, and daddy dearest Magneto rules the roost as the head of the House of M. The epic climax includes the famous last words, “No more mutants,” which has had repercussions in the Marvel universe ever since. Cyclops’s current state of violent mania in Avengers vs. X-Men, actually, has everything to do with mutants’ current position as an endangered species.

The tie-in series and crossovers are fairly worthless, although House of M: Spider-Man focuses on the fun fact that Peter Parker is a celebrity, secretly pretending that he, too, is a mutant and part of the ruling class.

Read: Avengers Disassembled (Bendis and David Finch) and House of M (Bendis and Olivier Coipel) Continue reading Top 5 Comic Book Events of All Time

Beatle Battle! The Division WINNERS!

64 Beatles songs went in, only 4 came out. Here they are, the winners for each Division:

Winner of Division 1: The Clean Cut Years (songs written between 1961 and 1964)

“Hard Days Night”

My thoughts on the song:

I’m just gonna get this out-of-the-way here first – I’m not the biggest fan of The Beatles work during this period of their career. “Love, love me do…” come on, pretty trite lyrics and simple melodies, but such was all the rage in popular music in these years – and popular music was just learning to crawl at this time in history. Before Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, and others burst onto the scene in the 1950’s, music was dominated by the “doo bee doo bee doo” crooner’s and the death rattle of classical music. Rock and Roll showed up with three cords and a southern back beat – it showed everyone that music could be much more than they ever thought it could. This was music people grew to love. This kind of music was a hit. It was popular. This was birth of “POP” music.

Over in Liverpool the kids were eating this popular music up. John Lennon and Paul McCartney spent their days and nights playing covers of these tunes. Honing their skills as musicians playing covers of “Be Bop A Lula” and “Long Tall Sally” – like I said, simple songs but ones that people loved to hear. This shit was new and fresh and made you tap your foot. This music spoke to generation that had previously only been given what their parents listened to. Finally, there was a movement for the youth to latch onto – and latch onto it they did. Beatlemania was a result of this. A result of the birth of Popular Music and rebellion that followed. Beatlemania was not about the “songs” – it was about the message being delivered across the airwaves. The song “A Hard Days Night” is a by the numbers pop song with some hints at things to come from these four guys. That opening cord to the song is one of those hints. Check it out…..

That one single cord blows the doors off anything Elvis or Richard or Holly had ever done. It opened the flood gates and made us all turn our heads and take notice. But the best was yet to come.

Winner of Division 2: The Shaggy Years (songs written between 1965 and 1966)

 “In My Life”

My thoughts on the song:

Drugs are bad mmmmkay. But there was a time when drugs helped the musicians in the mid 60’s look beyond those 3 cords they were playing over and over again and try something “different”. When The Beatles met Bob Dylan and smoked weed with him, brand new doors were opening in the heads of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Doors that would have stayed shut if not for the drugs influence on them. McCartney in interviews today is reluctant to talk about the things they did back then because of what drugs have become in our society today. It was a  more innocent time back then and Paul doesn’t want to send out the wrong message – that doing drugs will make you write songs like The Beatles. It won’t. Believe me I tried. McCartney is completely right – things were different then and weed did indeed cause these dudes to write songs that they never would have even attempted before. Songs that were about more than just holding hands. Dylan should be given full credit for putting The Beatles on the path to better songwriting – well that, and the ganja.

“In My Life” is one of my all time favorite Beatles songs. I sang it for my sister’s wedding. I’ve played it in my car countless times and cried a couple of those times. Not many songs can make me do that. It is absolutely and completely beautiful and true.  Lennon is writing his first true song here, and he knows it. You can feel Lennon’s spirit in the melody (even though Paul tried to take credit for writing the song). It is Lennon’s presence we are in when those opening notes played by Harrison ring out. It is Lennon’s touch we feel when the George Martin harpsichord solo shows up in the middle of the tune. And it is Lennon alone we hear when he sings the very last line of this song, by himself, with no music – in that stunning falsetto , “… in myyyyy life…I love you more.”  This is John Lennon’s gift to us all and he means every word. It is one of the greatest songs to ever be written. Ever. Thanks John.

take a listen one more time

Winner of Division 3: The Mustache Years (songs written between 1967 and 1968)

 “Strawberry Fields Forever”

My thoughts on the song:

George Martin has proclaimed the biggest mistake he ever made with The Beatles was leaving “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” off of the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Both of these songs were to be the foundation of this new album by a brand new “non-touring” Beatles. But the record company executives wanted a single out so Martin and the crew gave them these first two songs and left them off the album. Total fucking mistake.

As it is, Pepper is a great album – artistically it was ground-breaking and revolutionary. No other band had done anything like this before: a record as a piece of art. musically though I think it is a tad over-rated and not my favorite Beatles record. BUT, if “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” had been on the album, two of the greatest songs to ever been written by a human being, well shit dude, Pepper would be my favorite album of all time.

So for fun let’s see what Sgt Pepper would have looked like if George Martin hadn’t of fucked up:

SGT PEPPERS LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND

Side One

Track 1. “Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band”

Track 2. “With a Little Help From My Friends”

Track 3. “Penny Lane”

Track 4. “Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite”

Track 5. “She’s Leaving Home”

Track 6.  “Strawberry Fields Forever”

Side Two

Track 1. “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”

Track 2. “Getting Better”

Track 3. “Fixing a Hole”

Track 4. “Within You Without You”

Track 5. “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)”

Track 6. “A Day in the Life”

Open up your iTunes, pop in a blank CD and try it out for yourself. Pretty great album yeah?

It was during this time of change that Paul McCartney began to grab the reins of the band away from John Lennon, who had started The Beatles back in 1961. Lennon was becoming less and less interested in what a Pop Band was supposed to do and more interested in what they could get away with. McCartney on the other hand loved the attention and loved the spotlight. He pretty much kept The Beatles together after the “Bigger than Jesus” fall out, and Pepper was just the cure the band needed at the time. Pepper was a big “fuck you” wrapped in a colorful package.

As I talked about before, drugs played a big part in John Lennon’s development as a songwriter. Strawberry Fields has a very hallucinatory effect on the listener. The song is not about drugs, but its influence is felt in the construction of the tune. I ran across this awesome YouTube clip where it shows the complete evolution of the song. It shows that John had been thinking about the melody all the way back in 1964, but just didn’t know what to do with it. Years later and a couple of acid trips under his belt, Lennon began assembling his masterpiece. Check this shit out…

Pretty fucking awesome yeah? I love this song. I can remember the first time I heard it, around 1986. I was just getting into The Beatles thanks to my Dad’s record collection and was playing the shit out of the White Album. I took a quick trip to the local record store and picked up a cassette of Magical Mystery Tour. I played the tape in my parents Toyota Van driving around town and when Strawberry Fields came on I had to stop and listen. There are 3 moments in my life where music changed everything. The first was when my Mom was driving me to the dentist around 1981, after John Lennon had been murdered and his song “Watching The Wheels” was playing on the radio. And when Lennon gets to the part of the song where it goes, “No longer riding on the merry-go-round!” that was the first time I knew music could speak to me like nothing else. Another time was when I first heard Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit“. After years of hair bands dominating the radio and MTV, I couldn’t believe what my ears just heard coming out of the speakers. I immediately went to The Underground and bought a copy of Nevermind. But in between those two events, there was “Strawberry Fields Forever”. A single song that made me want to write music as beautiful as that. It made me feel alive in a way that I can never fully explain. It showed me the ultimate power of music and what it can do to your soul – fill it with wonder and restore your faith. In all intents and purposes, it was my first religious experience.

(side note: all these musical events took place in a car, which explains that to this day, there is nothing I like better than popping in a cd and driving.)

Winner of Division 4: The Beard Years (songs written between 1968 and 1970)

“Come Together”

My thoughts on the song:

Well, whatta know – it’s a John Lennon Sweep. All the songs that won their division were written exclusively by Lennon (with a little help from his friends to be sure). One of his last contributions to the band before its break up was “Come Together” – a mind fuck of a tune, and more than any other Lennon song, has stood the test of time and feels like it could be released today and still hit number one. It is a timeless composition and one that kicks off Side One of possibly the greatest Beatles album of them all, Abbey Road.

But I didn’t always feel this way about this song. In fact there was a time when I fast forwarded it to get to the next song on the album “Something”. I blame this on Michael Jackson. Behold….

Jackson covered this song back in 1995 for his “HIStory” album, and for some reason every time I heard the REAL “Come Together”, I couldn’t get Jacko grabbing himself out of my head. So for years I avoided the song like the plague, for fear of visions of crotches dancing in my head. Then one day in 2006 I ran across the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil show of Love, which was set to the songs of The Beatles. It was like listening to a brand new Beatles album. George Martin and his son Giles poured over the orignal master Abbey Road recordings and “reassembled” brand new versions of the songs we loved, using only stuff recorded by The Beatles – no outside recordings were used. The result is pretty goddamn awesome.

Here is what George Martin had to say about the song while working on this album…

“Listening again to all these great tracks in such detail you can’t help but be knocked out by the band’s writing and performances. “Come Together” is such a simple song but it stands out because of the sheer brilliance of the performers. Paul’s bass riff makes a fantastic foundation for Ringo’s imaginative drumming, and John’s vocal with heavy tape echo has a marvelous effect when he claps his hands and hisses into the microphone. George’s guitar is equally distinctive, and altogether I believe this is one of the Beatles greatest tracks.” – from the liner notes of Love, the soundtrack

And as usual, he is absolutely right. Take a listen to the song here….

That is motherfucking bad ass. I love it when after years of hearing a song you rediscover it in some new way, the album Love did that for me with “Come Together”.  To quote Macaulay Culkin, “I’m glad I got the Micheal Jackson stain off me.”

Poliça – Give You the Ghost

In 2003, longtime Friend of the Program Jeremy L. commented that, while he enjoyed the hell out of the Best of ’03 compilation, there was nary a female vocalist in the batch. Ten cycles later, a quarter through 2012, and I’m in love with a half-dozen recordings featuring the fairer sex, not a one of whom is Swedish, Japanese, or even Swedish-Japanese.

Atop the list is the debut LP from Poliça, Give You the Ghost (Totally Gross National Product). The Minneapolis group is dueling drums, haunting synths, and slick basslines, all stitched together by the hypnotic vocals of Channy Leaneagh. Had you told me before I listened to this album that every track would feature varying degrees of auto-tunage, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Instead, I’m blown away by the dichotomy. Frenetic percussion Pinocchio wants so desperately to be a real boy. It breathes and yells and runs around the stage… and is then soothed by a tender voice reverb-ed into robot binary. Check out “Dark Star” and fall under the spell.

Continue reading Poliça – Give You the Ghost

AvX Contest: Week 1 Scoring Update

Eat it, kid.

It didn’t take long for the scoring opportunities to pop up in our AvX Pick ’em Points Pool. Even before the actual “versus” action unfolds, Cyclops gives that bratty Hope kid an optic blast to the gut.

The following contest entrants, who all successfully predicted that “Cyclops optic-blasts a fellow X-Man,” are up 5 points after just one week and a single issue. Remember: everyone can score an easy two points just by liking The Institute and our partner in this endeavor, Comics & Collectibles, on Facebook. And if you’re heading over to the C&C Facebook page, you can check out pictures from Tuesday’s Avengers vs. X-Men Launch Party. Thanks to Gene, Pam, Rex, and Erik for making it happen!

  • Devin T. 5 pts
  • Brien B. 5 pts
  • Josh D. 5 pts
  • Maricus C. 5 pts
  • Kyle D. 5 pts
  • Rob O. 5 pts
  • Brian H. 5 pts
  • Reg Y. 5 pts
  • Josh M. 5 pts
  • Ricky V. 5 pts
  • Daniel S. 5 pts
  • Tony K. 5 pts
  • Chris B. 5 pts
  • James R. 5 pts