Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ten years of scrobbling

Back in September, I reached my 10-year anniversary of using the scrobbler to record statistics on my music listening habits. At the beginning, it imported my iTunes history, so the statistics actually go back a bit farther than 10 years, and it also includes my Spotify activity. It's an irresistible thing for those of us who have the chart disease — I think people with a certain amount of OCD are predisposed to an unhealthy interest in the ebb and flow of popular music up and down the charts, and there's an added allure when it's limited to your own musical tastes. 

A few statistical highlights:

Number of songs played: 58,866
#1 artist: Pet Shop Boys (4,046 plays, about twice the number of second place)
#1 album: Yes by Pet Shop Boys
#1 song: "A&E" by Goldfrapp
#2 song: "Dancing On My Own" by Robyn. It's a crime against music that neither of these songs even cracked the Hot 100.
Highest-ranked '80s song: (tie) "One on One" by Hall & Oates and "This Is the Time" by Billy Joel at #8. I'm a little surprised to find that the two most-played from that decade are ballads, because when I think of my love for '80s music, I think of upbeat, synthy stuff. 
Highest-ranked '90s song: "I've Tried Everything" by the Eurythmics at #6
Highest ranked instrumental track: "Crockett's Theme" by Jan Hammer at #14. I've listened to a lot of Hammer's scoring for Miami Vice in recent years.
Most songs in the top 50: Pet Shop Boys, with eight. Next is Goldfrapp with five.
Most played '80s album: Autumnal Park by Pseudo Echo at #6. Ironically, I didn't own this synth pop classic until 2011.

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RIP John Hillerman

"Ohhhh, myyyyyyy God!"

In the last few years, I've enjoyed switching the tube onto Magnum, P.I. on The Starz Encore Classic channel in the late afternoons when I get home from work early enough to catch it. It's not a great show, but what it lacks in sophistication is made up for with style and a killer '80s theme. It has a noir-ish charm, particularly Magnum's narration (I know what you're thinking …), and a fine cast highlighted by John Hillerman as Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, the stuffy and suave caretaker of the Robin's Nest, the estate of potboiler novelist Robin Masters. Hillerman, who died Thursday (Nov. 9), was a Texan, but he played British flawlessly, and the ongoing tease of whether Higgins was actually Robin Masters was bloody good fun.

It was a fine turn, and Hillerman will always be Higgins to me.

"I say, Magnum …"

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Up the Creek with Tori Amos

Tori Amos' "Up the Creek" is the most striking song I've heard from her since the whirling dervish that is "Raspberry Swirl" from 1998. Springing from the fertile ground of resistance to today's asinine politics, it immediately takes hold with the unshakable refrain of "Good lord willing and the creek don't rise," a Southern expression that perfectly plays into the environmental theme and the struggle against "those climate blind." I haven't absorbed the full Native Invader album yet, but this is the clear standout, sounding both a tad folky and a tad electronic as her daughter joins in on vocals. It's a likely number one on my chart.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

George Michael's "Fantasy" reworked for new single

George Michael's first posthumous single isn't a new tune at all but instead a rework of a shelved track from the Listen Without Prejudice era. "Fantasy," which was previously released on the expanded reissue of Faith (and elsewhere), is transformed by Nile Rodgers into something that sounds current but also more of a piece with the smooth style of the song "Faith" than "Too Funky" and other later dance tracks. Michael's knack for killer hooks and beautifully layered vocals is evident here; it's a shame we didn't get another album full of this kind of exuberant pop music from him before much of his output became serious and stuffy. There's room for debate as to whether Rodgers has improved "Fantasy." The vocal distortions in the opening of the track and again about mid-way through are grating and nearly sink it right out of the gate, but the new rhythmic underpinnings are appealing.

Tori Amos' lost album gets release

I think the only time I ever heard a song by the one-and-done band Y Kant Tori Read during the campaign for their self-titled album in the late '80s (and until very recently) was on the old radio show "Future Hits." I distinctly remember hearing the odd name of this band, which featured a then-unknown Tori Amos. I had no memory of the song, though, which surely was the first single, "The Big Picture."

Timing is a funny thing sometimes. A couple of months ago, something got me thinking about Y Kant Tori Read and that long out-of-print album — might have been news of Tori's upcoming (now released) album — and the fact that I had no idea what it sounded like. Over to YouTube I went to check some of it out. Then, on Sept. 1, with little to no fanfare, it showed up as a digital release among the week's new music. Spotify failed to point me to it on my Release Radar playlist; I happened to come across a blog item about it. So, now I'm getting to absorb all of it.

The style is tough to label. It's had all kinds thrown at it — synthpop, hair metal, something like Pat Benatar — none of which are correct. It's really just pop rock with heavier themes that sounds very much of its time in terms of production; comparisons could be drawn to dozens of artists. One that crossed my mind is Jane Child. There is little foreshadowing of the piano-driven Little Earthquakes to come, but the closing title, "Etienne Trilogy: The Highlands, Etienne, Skyeboat Song," clearly signals the rather cryptic lyrical path Amos would choose.

The cover art is a hoot, with Amos done up like a weaponized dominatrix.

Released Jan. 6, 1988, the album Y Kant Tori Read saw its first two tracks, "The Big Picture" and "Cool on Your Island," become singles. My early impression is that these are the best tracks, perhaps followed by "Fayth" and "Floating City." So far, it seems like a 3 or 3.5 out of 5 stars album — a pleasant curiosity that Amos followed with a masterwork.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What's so hot about the Hot 100? (chart week of May 6, 2017)

In 1987, I obsessively listened to the radio and probably could easily have identified about 80 songs on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. But it's not 1987 anymore …

Here's the first of an occasional stroll through the nation's definitive music chart to see if there is any crossover with my current rolling chart and to see what snark might emerge:

#1 Humble. by Kendrick Lamar // Another chart-topper that I've never heard …

#2 Shape of You by Ed Sheeran // There's something about the combination of Ed Sheeran's voice and enunciation that grates. Plus, this seems almost intentionally derivative of Justin Bieber's much superior "Sorry."

#11 Body Like a Back Road by Sam Hunt // I haven't heard it and can only imagine how atrocious this song must be, but there's no denying the cleverness of the title.

#22 Sign of the Times by Harry Styles // An 18-point drop in week two? Ouch. It's a pretty good and mature effort that is poised to reach my chart, though. I just hope he knew there is already a classic "Sign of the Times."

#31 Love on the Brain by Rihanna // A close call, as this one sits just outside my own top 100. I gave it a few spins because it sounded interesting, but then it suddenly didn't seem as interesting, and I'd like people to quit using "bae." It's even more obnoxious than "shawty." Getting back to Rihanna, it's impressive that she can still get this many singles deep into an album campaign.

#39 The Cure by Lady Gaga // Crossover! This surprise single sits at #75 on my own chart, and I haven't yet decided if I really like it. What I do know with certainty is I didn't like the direction of Joanne, although I don't begrudge her the urge to do something different.

#69 Any Ol' Barstool by Jason Aldean // I once did a phone interview with this guy to promote a small-town concert in a time before he had such a long list of hits. I'm sure he doesn't remember it, and I barely do.

So, Gaga's new single is the only instance of crossover between my chart (which includes many non-current tunes) and the Hot 100. Currently #1 on my chart is "Move Your Body" by Sia, her sixth chart-topper if we include the David Guetta collaboration "Titanium." And I say we shall.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Albums resequenced: Fleetwood Mac's Tango in the Night

Since Fleetwood Mac's 1987 classic Tango in the Night finally got the "super deluxe" treatment, I've been having fun creating my own alternate version of the album, which is one of my favorite things to do with good music. I've always enjoyed good remixes and alternate versions, and I love to plug them into the album. 

Thanks to a generous amount of material, we are able to replace all but three Tango album tracks ("Caroline," "Welcome to the Room... Sara" and "When Will I See You Again") with either a demo, an alternate version or a dance remix, while also extending the track listing with B-sides and demos of songs that didn't get released. For those remaining three tracks, we at least have the new remasters, although I'll reserve judgment on the merits of those results. As for the remixes, the treatments of "Little Lies" and "Everywhere" are among the best of their type from the late '80s, with excellent embellishments — would have been nice to get remix/edits of those as we did for "Big Love." The b-sides and demos are, by and large, fun additions.

For my alternate version, I've excised my least favorite track from the album, "When I See You Again," and added the best of the extras. I've made the instrumental demo of "Mystified" the album opener. It's got a wonderfully creepy vibe; it sounds like it should play in a scene of a movie like The Wicker Man or The Stepford Wives.

Here's my track listing, with a total run time of 1 hour, 19 minutes:

Mystified (Instrumental Demo)
Down Endless Street (B-side of "Family Man")
Big Love (Remix/Edit)
Seven Wonders (Early Version)
Everywhere (12" Version)
Special Kind of Love (Demo)
Tango in the Night (Demo)
Mystified (Alternate Version)
Little Lies (Extended Version)
Ooh My Love (Demo)
Family Man (Extended Guitar Version)
Welcome to the Room... Sara
Isn't It Midnight (Alternate Mix)
You and I, Part II (Full Version)
Book of Miracles (Instrumental)
Where We Belong (Demo)
Ricky (B-side of "Little Lies")