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 last.fm 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)
Caroline
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")

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Where's the revolution?

It's been about 12 years since a new Depeche Mode single really grabbed me (the last was "Precious" with the sonar sound pulsating throughout), but it's happening now with "Where's the Revolution," a rather clear and rousing political statement for those dismayed by how the country has recently gone off the rails.

Where's the revolution 
Come on, people 
You're letting me down

Indeed. 

I especially like the bridge, with the repeated lines of "the train is coming" and "the engine is humming," as the music literally mimics the sound of a locomotive bolting down the tracks. I'm definitely on board. For a political playlist, I'll suggest "Policy of Truth" as the next track …

Ouija: Origin of Evil

The bar has sunk rather low for the horror genre when this mediocrity is sitting at 82 percent critical approval on Rotten Tomatoes, wouldn't you say? I'll grant you that it starts out promisingly, and I found myself thinking in the early going that it could end up being a rare gem. But oh, how the moods of the spirits do change. On the positive side, the '60s time setting is quaint, and watching the mother and her daughters perpetrate their innocent little ouija board scam has its charms. The ouija board scenes generate a few chills, and those bits when the youngest daughter, who falls under the spirit's influence, whispers evil nothings into her older sister's ear in the dead of night are downright creepy. It all goes awry, however, about half-way through when a character is found hanging from the rafters and the movie descends into typical horror movie claptrap, losing all the cleverness of the first half. Ouija says "no." // Verdict: 2.5 out of 5. Now available on disc and digital.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A few words about NBC's giant parabola

After about 1990, game shows seemed to move away from one of the common elements of many of the best ones — a giant, flashy set piece (think Press Your Luck, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune). But NBC's big-money spectacle The Wall, while stealing a simple game concept from another show, gets the set piece right in a big way. Not only is its prop the centerpiece of the game, it impressively serves as a massive TV screen where Rice-A-Roni would probably love to be plugged as a parting gift. The Q&A aspect of the show is certainly nothing special, and it seems a bit absurd to watch someone answer two out of six questions correctly and walk away with more than a million dollars. I could also do without the sappy husband-and-wife contestant stories. But, in the end, everybody loves a little Plinko.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Goldfrapp's new single

I really wanted to love the new Goldfrapp single, "Anymore," because it appears this album will be one of the more uptempo ones, and the last one left me cold (Head First, Supernature and Seventh Tree are my favorites). I gave "Thea" some streams but never even bought Tales of Us. "Anymore," if we compare it to the past material, sounds like it could fit on Black Cherry, which is neither particularly a good or a bad thing, but the melody is lacking for me. Here's hoping the album, Silver Eye, sounds better.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The songs that moved me in 2016

Based on my monitored music-playing activity from last.fm, my 11 most-played songs of the year, limited to those released in or not too far from 2016:

Burn ~ Pet Shop Boys // From this year's Stuart Price-produced Super album, it's one of their best-ever stompers and the best track to emerge from the Boys' new hardcore dance phase. Not that the single choices matter much at this stage, but how was this not a single?

Living Inside My Heart ~ ABC // What a year to be an ABC fan, with the incredible Lexicon of Love II preceded by two amazing appetizers — this one from Fly (Songs Inspired by the Film: Eddie the Eagle) and the incredible Radiohead cover from the 80's Re:Covered album.

Blue ~ Marina and the Diamonds // Cannot get it out of my head and don't want to.

Say It to Me ~ Pet Shop Boys

Love Will Keep Us Together ~ Kim Wilde // Another gem from 80's Re:Covered.

Mine ~ Third Eye Blind // A stunning, unexpected, deconstructing cover … and those are the best kind. Better, to my ears, than Beyonce's original.

Twenty-Something ~ Pet Shop Boys // One of the best lyrical efforts of their last few albums.

I Can Fly ~ Lana Del Rey // Not much from Del Rey has caught my attention prior to this stunner from the closing credits of the great film Big Eyes about the artist Margaret Keane.

In Bits ~ Pet Shop Boys // The B-sides of the last three albums have not lived up to their impeccable track record, but the dour "In Bits" is a notable exception.

The Dictator Decides ~ Pet Shop Boys

Viva Love ~ ABC // From Lexicon II, it sounds like a natural extension of their run of '80s hits.

A few factoids on my year in music:

• Most played "oldies" of the year: "Blue Eyes" by Elton John, a single from 1982, and "The NeverEnding Story" by Limahl from 1984, prompted by the Spotify commercial. Forty of my 100 are from the 1980s.


• A look at Billboard's top 100 songs of the year is, as usual, a reminder of how far removed my tastes are now from the mainstream. My top 100 played songs of the year has only two crossovers with Billboard: "Sorry" by Justin Bieber (me #27, Billboard #2) and "Cheap Thrills" by Sia (not the Sean Paul version, please) (me #40, Billboard #11). If I had discovered it earlier in the year, "Stressed Out" by twenty one pilots would probably have joined those two — it's certainly one of the most interesting tunes to get radio play this year.


• Prince had gone a bit underappreciated in my playlists in recent years, resulting in a gradual slide down to #57 on the artists chart at the time of his death. I've since spent a lot of time revisiting his vast discography, resulting in a huge rebound to #21.


Go here for last year's recap and links to prior years.