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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Ignored 70: Chicago (the band)

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2015 at 3:30 am

Me and my pal Adam take a deep dive into Chicago (the band) but not Chicago (the city). We also take a run at Sha Na Na, the Woodstock 1994 PPV broadcast, David Foster, Loose Joints and more.

Adam: “Feeling Stronger Everyday” by Chicago is an awesome song and a current “ear worm”!

Cam: Such a stark transition for that band. The gangly jazz rock to total Top 40 CHFI power ballads sung by a wuss who I bet was actually pretty tough.

A: Listening to Chicago’s Greatest Hits, I am again reflecting on just how different this music is from what I first learned to be Chicago. I wonder what the change was due to? Clearly, there’s a producer’s hand in the way that 1980s music sounds: “Hard Habit to Break”, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry|, etc.” It’s a cleaner, sanitized 1980s sound, I guess: synths and piano, big drums. Cetera’s voice sounds like it’s gone through a mixing panel in some way. The early stuff sounds like people singing into imperfect microphones. This is like Toto’s “Africa”. Going to look up the answers to my questions…

[pause]

A: Least surprising answer ever: David Foster was the producer to relegate the horn section and crank out the power ballads.Oh course it is now that I listen to it.

A: So let’s say you’re in Chicago, and it seems like your time has past. You’ve been dropped by Columbia and then, this new Canadian producer comes along. You put out this song, your biggest seller of all-time, vastly outselling anything to that point with a sound so different from the band’s sound. This power ballad tripe is the thing you’ll be known for forever, leaving little kids perplexed by who the hell the Chicago guys on the Greatest Hits album were. with that in mind, this song rocks…

C: Chicago had a totally fucked career arch. Admittedly, I don’t know a ton about the band but a great example of a 1960s/early 1970s outfit being totally modified to appeal to the two most lucrative demos of the 1980s: (1) aging baby boomers. (2) little kids. In other words, you and I plus our parents. Their 1980s songs aren’t necessarily bad but are really a weird microcosms of sounds made to not alienate anybody: the fake atmospherics of 10cc, the big ringing choruses of a Def Leppard or Twisted Sister, the inoffensive vocals of a Christopher Cross. All half baked with platitudes as not to spook any listeners since, y’know,, “Saturday in the Park” was a bit too edgy in a ’72 callback. Who the (eff) knows just WHAT the members of Chicago were doing in the park when it felt like it was the goddam 4th of July?!?

C: Is it fair to suggest Lighthouse were the Chicago of Canada???

C: Another theory: If Peter Cetera sung “November Rain” instead of Axl, could that have been an early 1990s Chicago track rather than a Guns N’ Roses track? Think about it. Stylistically and production-wise, “November Rain” and “You’re the Inspiration” aren’t that different.

C: Know the track “Stay the Night”?

C: This sounds like 1980s Chicago trying hard to sound like early 1970s Chicago but they’ve just been totally castrated by the era. A very hollow, half-baked song.
“Street Player”, on the other hand, is awesome! A total “makes sense” disco crossover. This totally works and doesn’t sound forced at all. This isn’t the Stones’ “Miss You” at all. Chicago meant it and they did it. Simple.

C: Personally, I think there’s a ton of disco that is wildly underrated artistically speaking. I’m largely just blowing smoke since I don’t know a ton about the era but a song like Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face?” is just great. I think the Nile Rodgers/Daft Punk tune from a couple of years ago made people revisit a lot of these old dance floor hits, which is cool. It’s glue for a lot of semi-weird stuff that hit the Top 40 and/or got notice pre- and post-. Yes, Chicago included but also Talking Heads, some Blondie, a very specific Stones period, Bowie (at times), New Order (if you think about it), early techno, beat-heavy NYC rap from 1982, 1983, 1984, Public Image Ltd, music from video games, etc. For sphere of influence, overall, I’d like to hear people talk less about Kraftwerk and more about disco.

C: This is another favourite of mine in the same “convo”: “Love is the Message”. This was a pretty massive hit but still a bit of a WTF for the Top 40. Just an absolutely fantastic tune and so expressive for an instrumental. The awesome horn-filled chorus. Speaks volumes with zero words.

A: That [“Stay the Night”] song and video are irredeemable.  Awful.

A: I had no idea “Street Player” was that song!  The bomb!  Amazing.  Disco Chicago!

A: I like disco. At least some of it.  It’s funk sped up, mixed with classical arrangements. “Get Lucky” was a perfect song. I love that tune! Last year, we welcomed a new guy on-site at work by playing “Get Lucky” as many times as we could before he said something. We got to 12 plays in a row before he said something.

A: Have I told you how much I like the War on Drugs album?

C: Yeah, I know we’ve talked about it a bit. There’s some mid-period Dire Straits and Petty in there, right?

A: I signed up for Apple Must over the holiday.  Actually listening to the album, not just under the pressure. Yes. Love Over Gold-era straits! I’ve figured out that I’m a bit of a hypocrite or at least inconsistent about derivative music. The Sheepdogs?  Rip-off artists.  But when it’s done in the same spirit of the music, it’s more palatable. The Black Crowes are amongst my favorites and are so Zeppelin. On … Money Maker, it’s unmistakable. And yet, it bothers me when it’s lazy.

C: That’s a great topic!! What do you think of Roxy Music? I love their weird 1972-1975 intro (but not in a snobby “Oh, they were more interested in the Brian Eno days” type fashion). I quite like their easy listening “More than This”/”Avalon” era stuff too. Bryan Ferry is the coolest.

A: I loved “More Than This and “Avalon”. “Take a Chance with Me”, too. Ferry did a great Dylan cover album.  There’s a GREAT “Positively 4th Street” on there.

A: Have I also told you how much I hate the term dad Rock?  Fuck that. How dismissive is that. We called it classic rock. We were reverential. They’re dismissive.

C: Ever seen [Roxy Music’s] cover of “Like a Hurricane”? Strangely effective. Repurposed with hand drums, synth, sax and back-up singers.

A: OK, getting back to Chicago. According to the radio ads, Chicago has sold more than 100 million album. And I was talking to my mom (who loves Chicago and introduced us to it as kids) about the change in Chicago’s sound. She says “you know what, I’ve never noticed the difference before.”  What???

C: Oh mom!

A: She also prefers bubble gum Beatles to serious artist Beatles. She was there at the time. Didn’t like their turn as much as we love it now.

C: Did you see some dude from Sha Na Na died recently? That was a weird band. Kind of the Village People crossed with The Stooges? Very strange they were one of the last bands to play at Woodstock. They represent something I’m very interested in in music: the point when revivalists emerge, people start celebrating the past. Sha Na Na: playing Woodstock and playing 1950s “classics”, sorta tongue in cheek but not really. We weren’t alive to verify but can only imagine they were a total WTF for the long hairs at the time. Stoned hippies, I assume, didn’t want to hear what was happening “down at the Hop”.

A: Bowser? And when they played “At the Hop” at Woodstock, they were dressed as 50s greasers and everything!

C: It’s like they were trying to kill the 1960s by bringing back the 1950s. I feel like I need to watch Woodstock again. Saw it as a little kid (didn’t make sense), maybe again in early 20s (liked some of it but just seemed old) and maybe 7-8 years ago when I was exclusively listening to Kinks, Zombies, Van Morrison, Animals, surf, Pet Sounds, etc. Seems like w/o that movie, the entire trajectory of 1960s music would’ve been remembered differently. Gimme Shelter put the dark spin on things but Woodstock had just about everything. The freaky stuff, mud, drugs, violence (the Who pushing Abbie Hoffman around, etc). It will never stop being mythologized. In a class w/ Kurt Cobain, 2pac and Biggie, the “assassination” of John Lennon.. shit that transcends music in the culture.

C: Curious… do you remember the PPV airing of Woodstock 1994? At 16, that seemed really important culturally. A moment. In retrospect, it wasn’t really. Later, got the double cassette from the BMG Record Club.

C: Aside: I listened to the Marc Maron podcast with Richard Thompson recently. RT went silent when Maron asked about Knopfler. I get It’s been suggested a lot over the years that Thompson copped Mark’s style. Even though RT greatly pre-dated him. Quite strange. A good listen if you can carve out the time. Not super familiar with Thompson but seems like somebody I’d dig if I gave it a chance.

A: I was at camp for Woodstock 1994 and I remember seeing stuff about it in the paper. Love Woodstock. Got the four disc box set when it was released. Price Club CDs. Best deals around for good stuff.

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Ignored 67: 100,000,000 records sold

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2015 at 12:07 am

ignored67a

Ignored 8: The mediums are dead or dying

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2013 at 2:14 am

Ignored8

It’s about three decades too late to be fishing for cred by quoting Marshall McLuhen, right?

Nevertheless, his “medium is the message” concept continues to ring true across all phases of society. And in the case of popular music, the mediums kinda suck when you think about it.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Whether you get squirrelly over vinyl, CDs, 8-tracks or cassette tapes (we’ve been hearing about this supposedly-pending cassette renaissance for forever), the reality is physical manifestations of music have always been mere vehicles. Accordingly, the message is the message and the medium is just something you store on your BENNO.

Now, this is the stage in the essay where vinyl purists tell me how music sounds “warmer” when played on a turntable. That’s fine. Have your moment….

(pause)

Ok. So speaking personally (and from the heart), the music lover in me has no issue whatsoever acknowledging the fact I haven’t purchased music in hard copy form for at least 3-4 years as of this writing. And really, I have no imminent plans to do so any time soon… or ever again.

Sure, I do miss trolling the stinky walkways of Sonic Boom or shoehorning visits to Amoeba Music during every California pit stop. However, progress is progress and I now revel in making iPod playlists and wondering where the (heck) all the MP3s are on my hard drive.

So I’m positioning this as a eulogy of sorts to every record, cassette and CD I ever owned. To effectively put bookends on an era lasting (ballpark) from 1984 to 2009, here are my best recollections as to my first and last albums in each medium and some self-inflicted nostalgia with regards to the ownership of each.

First vinyl record: Van Halen – “Jump” 7″
Purchase year and retailer: 1984, A&A Records at The Shops on Steeles and 404 (ne: Markham Place)
My family did enjoy deep cuts from Sandra Beech and Sharon, Lois & Bram back in the day (note: the former’s performance at German Mills Co-op Nursery School Play Day 1983 was worthy of an At Budokan-type box set) but I will always “Jump” as the first piece of recorded adult music I ever owned. Which is ironic since the lyrics to “Jump” are pretty juvenile (especially the “Go ahead jump/Might as well jump” part).  More background: my sister was heavily into Cyndi Lauper at the time and requested a 7″ of the noted women empowerment anthem “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. As a means of keeping the peace for my folks, I was able to choose a record as well and opted for “Jump” for some reason. A curious choice because while I thought the tune was completely OK and was fairly impressed with David Lee Roth’s dexterity in its video, I don’t really remember being completely in love with the song. In hindsight, I perhaps should have opted for the Cars’ “You Might Think” although in fairness, that probably would’ve been largely based on the fact that Ric Ocasek turned into a lipstick during the video.

Last vinyl owned: Talking Heads – More Songs about Buildings and Food
Purchase year and retailer: 1999, Cheapies in downtown Hamilton
The vinyl resurgence hadn’t quite kicked into full force in the late 1990s and thusly, you could still get a ton of nicked-up old records for next to nothing during this time. I really wanted to own the song “Artists Only” so I picked up this album for less than $1, even though I didn’t own a record player. Years later, I splurged on the CD and gave this vinyl version to my friend Mike although I seem to remember this record and Teenage Head’s self-titled debut sitting in my office for at least a year. Beside some office supplies.

First cassette: Rick Astley – Whenever You Need Somebody
Purchase year and retailer: 1988, Columbia Record and Tape Club
I’m going to write a full essay or two about record and tape clubs someday. They were kind of ubiquitous at the time and no doubt were responsible for a bulk of the Spin Doctors’ records sold, in general terms. The 12-for-a-penny deal was tantalizing although obviously a bit of a scam that preyed upon the lazy and dim-witted, since you were on the hook to buy 8-12 more albums (at wildly inflated prices) over the next year. Letting your kids enter a record club was somewhat comparable to letting your kids own a pet: they would promise to do the legwork  but ultimately, you’d end up with a whole lot of dog crap. Case in the point: the unexpected comedy of my Dad unsuspectingly receiving a cassette of Robert Palmer’s Heavy Nova on cassette plus a bill for $18.43. Oops! Me and my sister shared a club membership in 1988. Because she was a year and a half older, she got to choose all the cool records: Def Leppard’s Hysteria, INXS’ Kick, U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, etc. From what I recall, I chose such gems as Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life (was this album about drugs BTW?!?), Steve Winwood’s Roll With It (could you imagine a 10-year old listening to this in 2013?!?… different times) plus Rick Astley’s blue-eyed soul masterstroke Whenever You Need Somebody. Not sure why I didn’t get Chicago 19 as one of my choices, as I quite enjoyed the power ballad “Look Away”. I still do, actually.

Last cassette owned: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy
Purchase year and retailer: 1998, Cheapies in downtown Hamilton
As mentioned, Cheapies had a ton of cheap vinyl and it also had a bin (some would call it a garbage can) full of orphaned cassette tapes that were missing their liner notes, cases or both. These retailed from anywhere between $0.10 and $0.50 although I bet if you asked REALLY nicely, you probably could’ve had them for free. I managed to fish the incredible debut from the Jesus and Mary Chain out of this rubbish pile and to this day, it remains in my Top 10 albums of all-time True story: I once listened to this cassette on a speeding motorboat. Please email me for the extended version of THAT extended version of that exciting story.

First CD: Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Purchase year and retailer: 1995, Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street, downtown Toronto
I was fairly late to the CD game but I did eventually get a five-disc changer in advance of Sonic Youth’s 1995 show at the Warehouse in Toronto. I purchased Washing Machine alongside Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral (fairly cool) and Sponge’s Rotting Piñata (uncool) to christen the device. The album was pretty solid and the concert was great. Helium opened, much moshing ensued and me and my buddies chatted briefly with Brendan Canning (then of hHead, later of Broken Social Scene).

Last CD: The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir – Shyfolk
Purchase year and retailer: 2009, eBay
Early 1990s CanCon indie is a weird black hole in the Internet. Some cool YouTube videos have surfaced but there is a ton of cool music from that era that now seems wildly obscure considering it was fairly popular at the time. Ergo, the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. These guys’ good-to-great albums lapsed out-of-print rather quickly so their music is a bit challenging to track down in hard copy form. I’ve managed to acquire three of these (1992’s Superior Cackling Hen, 1995’s Shyfolk and 2000’s best-of/rarities set 1985-1995). Shyfolk was the last of the three I purchased, on eBay for around $4.95 and quite possibly the last piece of physical music I ever own. Bye.