Tag Archives: hi-fi fifteen

Even A Stopped Clock Is Right Twice A Day: Songs We Like by Artists We Don’t

There’s a whole lot of stuff out there in the music world that I do not care for…and I’m probably wrong. The widely-revered Sonic Youth, for example, is just not my cup of tea. (No, not even Daydream Nation.) I find Radiohead 20% tolerable background music, 80% powerful irritant. My contemporaries look at me like I’m a criminal when I say I find the Pixies a big fat “meh.” These are my own personal blind spots, and I own them.

Then there’s the artists that I know deep in my bones I’m right about not liking, and their legions of fans are wrong.

And I’ve tried. I’ve given some of these guys dozens of chances and re-listens. But at this point, no one is going to convince me that the spacey noodlings of Pink Floyd, stretched to ungodly lengths and anchored by a second-rate drummer and a third-rate keyboardist, are worth another minute of my time. Similarly, the “poetic” brain-dead bellows of noted jackass Jim Morrison, anchored by a second-rate keyboardist and third-rate drummer, are best left to those who peaked in high school.

But…there’s a couple of songs by those artists that, when they come on the radio, I find myself not reaching for the button. Not choosing a commercial, or static, or silence in their stead. Letting them play on. Maybe even deriving a modicum of pleasure from these aberrations from their usual plodding path of sub-mediocrity. It may not be the joyous surprise felt by those kids in that old cereal commercial (“He likes it!”), but it at least gives me a tiny insight into those misguided souls who think the usual stuff barfed up by the likes of the Grateful Dead is acceptable.

1. “Unchained” – Van Halen
from Fair Warning (1981)

2. “King of Pain” – The Police
from Synchronicity (1983)

3. “Jesus, etc.” – Wilco
from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001)

4. “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd
from Beauty Behind the Madness (2015)

5. “Friends in Low Places” – Garth Brooks
from No Fences (1990)

6. “Somebody To Love” – Jefferson Airplane
from Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

7. “Style” – Taylor Swift
from 1989 (2015)

8. “People Are Strange” – The Doors
from Strange Days (1967)

9. “The Scientist” – Coldplay
from A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

10. “Friend of the Devil” – The Grateful Dead
from American Beauty (1970)

11. “Wild World” – Cat Stevens
from Tea for the Tillerman (1970)

12. “Comfortably Numb” – Pink Floyd
from The Wall (1979)

13. “Boys of Summer” – Don Henley
from Building the Perfect Beast (1984)

14. “Suspicious Minds” – Elvis Presley
released as a single (1969)

15. “Hold On We’re Going Home” – Drake
from Nothing Was the Same (2013)

Hi-Fi Fifteen is a callback to the “5 in 5” playlist game that MMDG, holybee, and djlazybear used to play on their lunchbreak. They’re all in different professions now, and don’t even live in the same counties, but quickly throwing together playlists on rotating themes is still fun as hell.

Hi-Fi Fifteen: This Land Is Your Land

I have been so disheartened by the election results, and even more so every day since January 20th. I do not have the words to adequately articulate these times, so I turn to Idle Time favorite Joe Henry. He writes:

jhI have not read ‘Art Of The Deal,’ but have heard its synopsis by the “author,” and now witness its bizarre theatre enacted on our national stage: make an extravagant push of extremes –while flash pots deploy, distracting your negotiating advisory and leaving them to feel unmoored, hurried and vulnerable; and as the overreach is walked back, your advisory will believe themselves to have made “progress;” and will in the end gratefully settle for far less than they’d have ever first been willing even to imagine.

Is this what is happening to us now?

If so, we are about to learn whether ours truly is a country rooted by a constitution, or ruled by the whims of an autonomous regime, with its own moving agenda to which we are neither privy nor free to challenge –and of which we will never be beneficiaries.

Volatile as are these waters that toss around our little ship of state today, I assume it shall be revealed very soon whether or not our national craft is sustainable. But this much is clear right now: the storm threatening us is man-made, and means indeed to draw us silently under its loud and cold wave. We are at sea and at siege. Continue reading Hi-Fi Fifteen: This Land Is Your Land

Hi-Fi Fifteen: Catalina Wine Mixtape

220px-thebestofnickcaveIt must have been in early 2000. The first non-work related thing djlazybear ever said to me. “Have you heard Johhny Cash’s version of “The Mercy Seat”?

Hell, it was one of the first things he ever said to me, period. I remember, because it caught me completely off-guard. I probably gave him one of those fuck-you-talking-to expressions, like Mac and Dennis defensively reacting to their new neighbor in the burbs. I think I paused and spat back, “What?!”

Turns out, he saw the CD case for The Best of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds on the passenger seat of my car, and was eager to talk music. And talk music we did. That same year djlazybear’s buddy holybee joined our staff, and talking music took on a whole new meaning.

Our way of celebrating songs that we loved took the form of pen & paper lists, incessant arguments, halfass DJ sets, and burned CDs by the caseload. Anyone with musical ability, on the other hand, celebrates songs that he or she loves by covering those tunes. And when bands we love cover songs by other bands that we love… then it just feels like we’re all part of one big celebration. Even if I can’t carry a tune.

A great covers mix needed to be a little more focused. So, in honor of that very first interaction between djlazybear and myself, we set the following parameters for January’s Hi-Fi Fifteen: songs recorded during the Idle Time era (2001 to the present), covering songs originally released during our lifetimes, prior to meeting each other (so, 1972 – 2000). Plus, I’m a big fan of the Catalina Wine Mixer scene from Stepbrothers and was keeping my fingers crossed for some 80’s Joel renditions.

Interestingly enough, however, despite the inspiration from Horatio Sanz’s Uptown Girl, no Billy Joel covers appear on this mix.
Continue reading Hi-Fi Fifteen: Catalina Wine Mixtape

Hi-Fi Fifteen: Have Yourself an Idle Little Christmas

…and an eclectic one at that. How much variety can the three of us cram into one list that is ostensibly based around the same theme? Evidently, quite a lot. Prepare yourself for a bit of audio whiplash as we careen from traditional to revisionist to what-the-fuck?

But that’s as it should be. Christmas can be a complicated holiday. Some of us adhere to a belief system that rejects Christian dogma, but still want our tinsel and stockings and advent calendars. Some of us are trying to keep our holiday cheer in the face of health, economic, or social hardships that are always thrown into sharp relief during year-end festivities. Some of us are faced with dealing with the families of significant others who open all their presents on Christmas Eve instead of waiting for Christmas morning like normal people!! How screwed up is that?

Yes, lines can sometimes be drawn, and we can be a little defensive about our holiday turf. Christmas or Hanukkah or moon-worshipping Wiccan solstice hippie nonsense? Turkey or roast beef for the big dinner? Angel or star at the top of tree? Eggnog or never-in-a-million-years-eggnog? Is Die Hard really a Christmas movie? These questions can test the firmest of romantic or familial relationships.

But once the candles are lit, the drinks are poured, and the Festivus pole is retrieved from the crawlspace, only one issue really matters. Mel Torme or Galaxie 500? Music is one of the best things to come out of Christmas, and can be adapted to any style, performer, or genre. Luckily, there’s room for it all… except “Christmas Shoes.” “Christmas Shoes” can eat a bag of dicks.

So the holidays can be a little cracked, and I’m glad we have a list that reflects that. If these lists continue, I’m sure we’ll re-visit this theme come next December, because it’s a pretty deep well to draw from.
Continue reading Hi-Fi Fifteen: Have Yourself an Idle Little Christmas

Hi-Fi Fifteen: Over the Hill Gang

Does aging have an effect on creativity? The great poets seemed to peak in their late 20’s to early 30’s. This seems true as well with songwriters. Forty seems to be the age when songwriters lose the muse and start declining rapidly. Artists like Tom Waits, Joe Henry, and Neko Case seem to get better with age, but they are outliers. Bob Dylan, Brian Eno and (until his death) David Bowie remain relevant in their sixties, but this is because they are artists whose work is their highest priority. Search your library and see if you can find great songs/albums by the over-the-hill set.

For this month’s Hi-Fi Fifteen, the three of us contributed songs written and recorded by artists in the 40th year of age or older.
Continue reading Hi-Fi Fifteen: Over the Hill Gang

Hi-Fi Fifteen: Ghosts & Goblins

halloweenAlthough many of the albums in my dad’s record collection had a marked influence on the music I gravitated towards later in life, and a good portion of those LPs now live in my house, without a doubt the record that spent the most time spinning on my bedroom turntable was an anthology of spooky sound effects entitled Halloween Horrors. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is that he bought it for some Halloween party in the late 70’s, my mom hated it, and, as with Playboys, fake insects, and poker chips, if I hadn’t squirreled it away in my closet, it would have ended up in the trash.

And while the neighbor kids and myself would look forward to our favorite sound effect (for me, that was the foghorn/storm at sea sequence), the real highlight of this record was the introductory story. The fifteen-minute “Story of Halloween Horror” is burned into my memory to this day. On windy October nights, when the fog rolls uphill, swallowing up streetlights and transforming them into shimmery, luminescent specters on every corner, I can clearly hear that mournful hush of “my baby… have you seen my baby…”

Also, October makes me want to play this:

Continue reading Hi-Fi Fifteen: Ghosts & Goblins

Hi-Fi Fifteen: There Stands the Glass

“There stands the glass…
That will ease all my pain
That will settle my brain
It’s my first one today.”

Those words floated into my head randomly one evening, probably as I was doing the dinner dishes, and I suddenly had the theme for this month’s Hi-Fi Fifteen. And although cleaning the crockery may have provided the initial inspiration, the theme has a special resonance for me, since I have a bit of a relationship with ol’ John Barleycorn, everyone’s favorite frien-emy.

Alcohol is the great social lubricant, and music goes hand in hand with our social interactions. Whether it’s a tear-in-the-beer weeper, or a good-time party anthem about pissing the night away, drinking songs have probably been around ever since the first time a caveman got buzzed on a fistful of fermented berries.

A few early, sneaky sips aside, I started drinking on my 21st birthday, and never looked back. A tumbler of something cold and potent within arm’s reach is one of life’s small delights. To quote Winston Churchill, I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me. It transforms me from an awkward, needy Jerry Lewis to a breezy, don’t-give-a-shit Dean Martin. It is vital in overcoming my natural aversion to human contact, and dammit, it just tastes good. Continue reading Hi-Fi Fifteen: There Stands the Glass

Hi-Fi Fifteen: Geography

What makes a person feel a strong connection to a strip of land? The Olympics are here, and I’m doing my best to root for the USA. I’ve never been very patriotic and am not particularly proud of my dusty little Northern California hometown.

Still, I am constantly moved by artists paying tribute to their beloved geography. For this month’s Hi-Fi Fifteen, the three of us contributed songs titled and about the love of neighborhood, state, and country. We follow the moon, moving west to east from our Pacific coastline to the valley of the Himalayas.


Continue reading Hi-Fi Fifteen: Geography

Hi-Fi Fifteen: Little Black Book

I’ve been keeping a little black book. It’s filled with ladies’ names, and contact information. The phone numbers – wherever I’ve invented them – are superfluous, but the band or artist responsible, sometimes even the release year, are often indispensable.

dianaFor better or worse, rock and roll has permanently distorted perceptions of a good many women in my life. I’d say one in eight. I used to work with a Diana who was undeniably Dirty. I couldn’t say Caroline’s name without hearing those three trumpet notes in my head. My college chemistry TA, Bonita Somethingorother… I don’t think I ever knew her real last name. I know what I called her. And I know that I muttered “gotta put me on” under my breath while watching the centrifuge buzz around.

Our favorite songs invariably become a part of our lives. When those songs immortalize individuals – whether real or fictional – those people take up residence in our psyche as well. For this month’s Hi-Fi Fifteen, the three of us contributed songs titled after women we’ve never met in real life, but feel an unforgettable connection to regardless.

Continue reading Hi-Fi Fifteen: Little Black Book