2016: the year in music and movies

Since I’m not into Hamilton, this has been a poor year for music. Not much I was excited about came out this year, but the stuff I got that I was excited about, I was really excited about!  Let’s start with MUSIC.

MOST PLAYED ALBUMS of 2016

10. April Wine, Animal Grace. This is an anomaly album in April Wine’s catalog – the one that AW’s die-hard fans love to hate. It’s radio friendly, almost pop music, and I have loved this album since I first got it back in 1984. I freely admit I bought it because of the awesome cover and having heard “This Could Be the Right One” on the radio a couple of times. Fun album, and obviously I listen to it quite a bit. It does sound dated now, as the drum and keyboard sounds are stereotypical for the early 1980s.

9. Ghost, Meliora. Ghost (formerly Ghost B.C.) is a Swedish band that, visually, is taking the piss out of religion. The singer – Papa Emeritus – dresses as an anti-pope character, and nobody knows who anybody in the band is – except maybe for Dave Grohl, who has been known to don the outfit of a Nameless Ghoul and sit in with the band. The lyrics are vaguely Satanic, and I know some people are offended by that kind of thing, but I’ve been listening to Stryper since their first EP came out (The Yellow and Black Attack, 1984) and doing so hasn’t turned me into a Christian, so listening to a dark metal band isn’t going to turn me into a Satanist. Besides, I don’t really listen to the lyrics anyway. Meliora came out in 2015, but I don’t really pay close attention to stuff, so I didn’t get it until this year. It’s fantastic – Ghost’s metal is driven by a solid rhythm section, two guitars and a keyboard. It’s fun, peppy music that isn’t really all that “heavy” when it comes to heavy metal. I can’t even pick out standout tracks, because this is just a fantastic album. My favorite song is “He Is,” followed closely by “Mummy Dust,” which takes on the worship not of Satan, but of MONEY. Great song.

8. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun. This 2014 album was my #1 album of 2015 and has clearly fallen a few slots in the rotation. This is mostly because other stellar albums have come out since then that have distracted me. Still a great album, and IMO Mastodon’s best to date.

7. Cutting Crew, Broadcast. Last year’s #2 falls in the rankings as well, but this album remains one of my all-time favorites.

6. Black Label Society, Stronger Than Death. Zakk Wylde put out a new album this year, but it wasn’t what knocked last year’s #3 down a few notches on this year’s list.

5. AC/DC, For Those About To Rock. Last year’s #10 surges forward on this year’s list. This remains my favorite AC/DC album, and I still believe it’s a stronger disc than the more commercially successful Back in Black.

4. Fear Factory, Genexus. One of my Facebook friends posted the video for “Expiration Date” (which I am listening to as I write this) and I was hooked. It is a long, moody song that not just evokes Blade Runner (one of my favorite movies), but quotes two characters – played by Rutger Hauer and Edward James Olmos – in the song. An amazing song that caps off a really good (and extremely heavy) album. Fear Factory plays a brand of precise, grinding metal driven by the drummer’s double bass pedals. I also dig that the guitarist plays a 7-string, something I’ve been doing a lot since summer. He’s also a fat dude like me.

3. Baroness, Purple. Baroness continues naming their albums after colors, and Purple is their first album since getting a new drummer and bass player. The former drummer and bassist suffered broken backs in a bus crash and left the band to focus on their recovery. Their new drummer plays in a much more straightforward hard rock/heavy metal style than their previous drummer, which caused the band to lose a chunk of its progressive edge. Having said that, obviously I am enjoying this album, though it took me a while to get into it. I think I kept listening to it to decide if I liked it, then kept that streak going because I did.

2. Deftones, White Pony. After I gave myself a 7-string guitar for my birthday back in July, I started researching what bands use 7-string guitars. Deftones turned up, but I couldn’t decide which of their albums to get. My brother Jeremy said White Pony was the best one to start with, and he was absolutely right. One of the songs (“Passenger”) I thought sounded a lot like Tool – and then I discovered that Tool’s singer guested on the song.

anthraxforallkings1. Anthrax, For All Kings. Not just my #1 most-listened to album of the year, but absolutely hands-down my #1 album of 2016. Anthrax doesn’t always appeal to me, but holy shit is this album good. Like FREAKY GOOD. There isn’t a bad song on the album, and better than that, it is definitely “all killer, no filler” – there isn’t even a halfway-decent throwaway track here. Excellent disc from open to close.

Honorable mentions (i.e. #s 11 through 15) on this year’s most-played list are Gojira, From Mars to Sirius; Cake, Fashion Nugget (last year’s #7); Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind; Pink Floyd, Animals (last year’s #14 as well); and Racer X, Technical Difficulties.

My most disappointing purchase of 2016 was Lamb of God’s Ashes of the Wake. I really dig the music on this album – the band – but the singer’s growly vocals are a complete turn-off for me. Fear Factory has the growly vox as well, but they intersperse it with melodic singing, and frankly, I find FF’s music more compelling than LoG’s.

I bought 14 CDs in 2016, as follows (no year indicates it came out in 2016):

  • Anthrax – For All Kings
  • David Bowie – Blackstar. Weird album, and weird listening to it after he died.
  • Deftones – White Pony (2000)
  • Rik Emmett & RESolution 9 – RES9. This is a fun, bluesy album that I enjoy but probably won’t get heavy rotation.
  • Fear Factory – Genexus
  • Ghost – Popestar. More a maxi single than an EP, this disc features one original song and five cover tunes, including the Eurhythmics’ “Missionary Man.”
  • Giraffe Tongue Orchestra – Broken Lines. The second Mastodon spinoff released this year, featuring guitar/vox from Brent Hinds. The main singer is Alice in Chains’ William DuVall and he does a great job here.
  • Gojira – From Mars to Sirius (2005). I resisted listening to this band for a long time, probably because of my irrational resistance to anything from France. Gojira is officially the only thing I like from France, and this album is excellent. Progressive metal at its best.
  • Gone Is Gone – Gone Is Gone. This was the first Mastodon spinoff album to come out, and GIG features bass/vox from Troy Sanders – arguably the raspiest of Mastodon’s three vocalists. GIG is a fun, quick listen that isn’t terribly challenging.
  • Hellyeah – Band of Brothers (2012) and Unden!able. This was a 2-for-1 deal; Hellyeah features Vinnie Paul, formerly the drummer for Pantera. This band is decent, but is not as good as Pantera.
  • Eric Johnson – Europe Live (2014). EJ went a long time without playing “Cliffs of Dover” in concert, but on this European tour he brought it back. It’s as fantastic as ever, as is Johnson’s playing and tone. Well worth the time to listen to this one.
  • Lamb of God – Ashes of the Wake (2004)
  • Slayer – Repentless (2015). My favorite Slayer album to date. Fantastic album! I think it didn’t make the list of my most played albums because I listen to it in the car, so since it’s not on my computer, there’s no count of how many times I listened to it. It should be in the Top 15, though.
  • Zakk Wylde – Book of Shadows II. Not a bad album, but doesn’t measure up to Pride and Glory or the first Book of Shadows. Lots of acoustic guitar and piano showing Zakk’s softer side.

Twenty-sixteen was a tough year for the music industry, with more notable deaths than I can remember occurring in any one year in the past. I even had to add somebody new to the list just this morning, as pioneering prog-rock bassist Greg Lake passed away last night. Here’s the list of 2016’s victims:

David Bowie, Glenn Frey (Eagles), George Martin (Beatles producer), Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Prince, Natalie Cole, Otis Clay, Clarence Reid aka Blowfly, Jimmy Bain (DIO, Rainbow), Maurice White (Earth Wind & Fire), Vanity, Sonny James, Lennie Baker (Sha-Na-Na), Phife Dawg (A Tribe Called Quest), Lonnie Mack, Nick Menza (Megadeth), Prince Be (PM Dawn), Ralph Stanley, Bernie Worrell (P-Funk), Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley’s guitarist), Ruby Wilson, James Woolley (NIN), Shawty Lo, Stanley Dural (Buckwheat Zydeco), Jean Shepard, Joan Marie Johnson (Dixie Cups), Pete Burns (Dead or Alive – he spun you right round), Bobby Vee, Eddie Harsch (Black Crowes), Jean-Jacques Perrey, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones and Greg Lake.

MOVIES

Of the 10 highest-grossing movies of 2016, I saw #9 – Doctor Strange. My wife and kid saw #10, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

We watched #3, Zootopia, on Netflix. It was funny – very typical Disney, though. Slick, pretty and a clear morality tale.

I haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War or Deadpool; I’m kind of burned out on superhero movies. I want to see Deadpool and I had to go see Doctor Strange because my wife thinks Benedict Cumberbatch is hot. Suicide Squad doesn’t interest me at all, nor did Batman vs. Superman.

Movies that came out and I saw in the theater

  • Central Intelligence – my daughter and I loved this comedy starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart.
  • Ghostbusters – more a reboot than a remake, and it was excellent.
  • Star Trek Beyond – good, but not great. Felt like a long episode of The Original Series, which isn’t a bad thing.
  • Doctor Strange – enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away.
  • Arrival – loved this movie AND was blown away. Easily my favorite movie of the year so far – but I haven’t seen Rogue One yet!

Movies that came out I wanted to see but didn’t

  • Jane Got a Gun
  • Hail Caesar! – I like George Clooney and this looked funny.
  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – I have an unhealthy obsession with Tina Fey.
  • Hardcore Henry – the idea of doing a movie that looked like a first-person shooter video game intrigues me
  • Pete’s Dragon – I don’t understand why Disney felt it had to do a live-action remake of what is one of my favorite animation/live action mix films, but they did and I wanted to see it. I love this story, we’ll see what the film does to it.
  • The Magnificent Seven – I have not only a weakness for Westerns, but for Denzel Washington as well. I’d watch him read the phone book.
  • Hacksaw Ridge – the only thing I like more than Westerns is WW2 films, and this story of a conscientious objector who refused to carry a weapon but went to war anyway seems like it would make a good movie.

Movies that came out and I saw on Netflix or Hulu

  • Now You See Me 2 – I didn’t see the first one, but liked this one well enough. It was a little predictable, but not a bad movie at all.

Of course, I will go see Rogue One when it comes out next week, I’m very much looking forward to it.

We lost some big film/tv entertainers in 2016 – man, it was a brutal year for pop culture. Twenty-sixteen claimed Alan Rickman, Dan Haggerty, Abe Vigoda, George Kennedy, Garry Handling, Ken Howard, Patty Duke, Doris Roberts, Guy Hamilton, Burt Kwouk, Anton Yeltsin (who got killed by his own car), Michael Cimino, Garry Marshall, Kenny Baker, Fyvush Finkel, Arthur Hiller, Tommy Ford, Kevin Meaney, Steven Hill, Gene Wilder, Robert Vaughn, Tony Burton, Florence Henderson and Ron Glass.

the year in music – 2015

There’s two albums that have gotten more play from me – by far – than any other albums. It’s two of the three discs in a John Williams (the guitarist, not the film score composer) collection – “The Soloist” and “The Romantic.” These are the albums I listen to nearly every night as I’m trying to fall asleep. Yay tinnitus! I think we have to discount them as a result.

I bought 18 new albums (and two concert DVDs) in 2015, up from 2014’s eight, but for many of them, I waited until they were on sale for under $10 – and that includes the DVDs.

Now, on to the rest of the story. Here are this year’s top 10 most played albums. If you read my 2014 music missive, the top 10 hasn’t changed much. Whether or not this is unfortunate or not is another story.

10. AC/DC: For Those About To Rock, We Salute You (1981) (did not chart in 2013, #10 in 2014)

  • This ancient (2nd oldest in this list!) hard rock album exists in the shadow of its predecessor, “Back in Black,” but in many ways it’s a superior album. The BiB songs were largely written before Brian Johnson joined the band, and though the songs are good – it is, after all, AC/DC’s most-purchased album (the #2 album of all time with 36 million million copies sold worldwide – and a distant 2nd to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – which has sold over 68 million copies worldwide) – FTATR is a more cohesive effort. BiB’s frumpy songs are super frumpy, and FTATR is all killer/no filler from start to finish. You’re only likely to ever hear one song from this album on the radio – the title track – but what a song it is!

9. Sarah Jarosz: Song up in Her Head (2009) (#4 in 2013, did not chart in 2014)

  • Even though I’ve got both of Jarosz’s other two albums, this one still blows me away every time I spin it. The raw, guttural emotions present and just utterly fantastic musicianship keeps this album in regular rotation. Her other two albums are good, don’t get me wrong, but this one is transcendent. Enjoying this album’s resurgence after a year of not listening to it much.

8. Dead Can Dance: A Passage in Time (1991) (did not chart in 2013 or 2014)

  • A greatest hits album of sorts for Dead Can Dance, a creative writing teacher introduced me to this album way back in college when it was only a year or two old. He used the song “The Host of Seraphim” to set an emotional state for a writing exercise. I don’t remember what I wrote or what his name was, but I went out immediately and bought this album.

7. Cake: Fashion Nugget (1996) (#8 in 2013, #6 in 2014)

  • From “Frank Sinatra” to “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” this is an album full of quirk. When it came out, it set the radio on fire with two singles – “The Distance” and “I Will Survive” – but few people then knew that three of the 14 tracks were cover tunes. Beyond the singles, the best track is probably “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” – one of the covers.

6. Kingdom Come: In Your Face (1989) (#7 in 2013, #8 in 2014)

  • What can I say? I still love this album after all these years. Good songwriting, fabulous playing, excellent guitar tone and Lenny Wolf’s great vocals! It’s like a time machine back to the days of big hair and concert pyrotechnics.

5. Joe Satriani: The Extremist (1997) (did not chart in 2013 or 2014)

  • While “Surfing With the Alien” brought Satriani to the forefront of rock/metal instrumental music a decade before this album came out, this one’s the top of his heap. Great, great album.

4. Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats: Mind Control (2013) (#10 in 2013, #4 in 2014)

  • This was my top album of 2013 (& #10 most played) and got tons of rotation in 2014 (#4 on the list).

3. Black Label Society: Stronger Than Death (2000) (#9 in 2013, #2 in 2014)

  • I still enjoy this album quite a lot (obviously), but it’s become that album that I measure all of Zakk Wylde’s other efforts against.  He hasn’t put out anything this good since this album – and he just might not ever again.

2. Cutting Crew: Broadcast (1986) (#6 in 2013, #3 in 2014)

  • This is another throwback album that still makes me happy. A great album to put on and just listen as it flows from one song to the next. The song sequencing is near perfect.

1. Mastodon: Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014) (#1 in 2014)

  • As in 2014, I just cannot get enough of this album. It is still averaging two plays a week and I’m not getting tired of it. Could be the sign of a modern metal classic!

Albums noticeably absent from my top 20 dating back to 2013: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle; George Thorogood, Baddest Hits; Black Sabbath, 13; Volbeat, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies.

Honorable mentions for 2015:

11. Baroness: Yellow & Green (2012)

  • My friend Jon (whom I used to play with in metal powerhouse CRASHLANDER!) turned me on to both Baroness and Ghost in 2015. I can’t thank him enough. This double-album contribution from Baroness is equal parts inspiring, prog, metal and bizarre. Baroness is probably my favorite band of 2015, and this may be my top-rated not-new album of the year.

12. Various Artists: Maiden Heaven (2008)

  • I had to resort to eBay to track down a copy of this CD that was originally included with the August 2008 issue of Kerrang!, a UK music magazine. It features bands you’ve heard of like Metallica and Dream Theater, along with popular but lesser-known bands like Black Tide, Avenged Sevenfold and Coheed & Cambria, as well as bands you’ve never heard of like DevilDriver and Fightstar. The best song is probably “Wrathchild” by Gallows. Holy crap is it good.

13. Luka Bloom: The Acoustic Motorbike (1992)

  • A really fun, spunky and emotional album from the Irish king of open-tuned sorta-pop songs.

14. Pink Floyd: Animals (2011 Remaster) (1977) (#13 in 2013, #10 in 2014)

  • Still my favorite PF album by far, and getting regular – though somewhat less – rotation.

15. Enigma: MCMXC A.D. (1990)

  • I went through a big Enigma phase this year, just grooving on their beats and melodies. Fun stuff. Their other three albums rank in the top 35, but their debut holds a special place in my mind.

16. KXM: KXM (2014) (#9 in 2014)

  • dUg Pinnick of King’s X, George Lynch of Dokken/Lynch Mob and Ray Luzier of Korn came together for this one-off collection in 2014, and it still melts faces and shreds speakers. Whoa. A much better offering than the album Lynch did with Michael Sweet, though that album isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. Also better than the Pinnick Gales Pridgen album, but I’m looking forward to their 2nd release.

17. Monte Montgomery: 1st & Repair (1998)

  • A singer/songwriter that many haven’t heard of, he plays the acoustic guitar like it owes him money. It’s a shame he’s not more popular than he is.

18. Cinderella: Long Cold Winter (1988)

  • More hair metal memories – way, way better than their debut album and with a lot more depth to the production and songwriting.

19. The Outfield: Voices of Babylon (1989)

  • Weird that this album got more attention than “Play Deep,” which is definitely my favorite Outfield album. I wonder why?

20. King Giant: Black Ocean Waves (2015)

  • One of my friends is a guitarist in KG, and this album is fan-fucking-tastic. If you dig Black Sabbath, you *will* like this album. Get it. Now!! http://kinggiant.bandcamp.com

Albums Released in 2015:

  • Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats: The Night Creeper (ok, but not as good as “Mind Control”)
  • Sweet & Lynch: Only To Rise (OK, but not amazing)
  • King Giant: Black Ocean Waves
  • Ghost B.C.: Meliora (HOLY SHIT THIS ALBUM IS FANTASTIC!)
  • Foo Fighters: Saint Cecelia (EP) (Good. Solid. As expected.)
  • Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (Good 2nd album from a quirky, female-fronted retro-rock band.)

Other Albums Purchased This Year:

  • Baroness: Purple (2015; arrives 18 Dec.)
  • Baroness: Red (2007)
  • Baroness: Blue (2009)
  • Ghost: If You Have Ghost (EP) (2013)
  • Ghost: Infestissumam (2013)
  • Ghost: Opus Eponymous (2011)
  • Sarah Jarosz: Build Me up From Bones (2013)
  • Al Di Meola: Splendido Hotel (1980)
  • Al Di Meola: Elegant Gypsy (1977)
  • Black Sabbath: Live Gathered in Their Masses DVD (2013)
  • DIO: Live in London, Hammersmith Apollo 1993 DVD (2014)
  • Lenny Kravitz: Strut (2014)
  • Poison: Native Tongue (1993)
  • Triumph: Live at Sweden Rock Festival (2002)

Mastodon_-_once_more_'round_the_sun

three albums even these band’s biggest fans don’t listen to – but I do!

I’m pretty picky when it comes to music. I don’t listen to new bands too much, and it takes me a long time to get interested in a group before I’ll start buying their albums. Even then, it’s likely that only one or two of their albums will make it into my rotation.

There are a lot of bands, then, that I simply don’t listen to. There are a small number of bands that I just don’t like, and that’s what I’m here to talk to you about today – the albums I listen to (and even love) by bands that I don’t particularly care for.

Poison. Anthrax. Mötley Crüe.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these bands, but I just never got into them in a big way. Each had a few songs here and there that I liked, but never enough to buy an album or go see in concert.

Poison had a good singer (Brett Michaels) and guitarist (CC Deville), but they were too far out on the pop edge for me to be interested in their music. Anthrax was huge at a time I wasn’t particularly into thrash metal, but to be perfectly honest, I just couldn’t get into the way their singer (Joey Belladonna) did his thing. With Mötley Crüe, it was more them than their music; I was just not into notorious drug users and people who seemed to revel in their excess. I’m definitely not a fan of their singer (Vince Neil) in either his singing abilities or his personal life. I’ve been touched too closely by death at the hands of a drunk driver to ever really give Neil a chance, seeing as how he killed somebody while driving drunk. Plus I think we can all agree that the production on their first couple of albums was abysmal.

So.

What’s significant about each of these bands is that they had an album (or in Anthrax’s case, four) with a replacement. Mötley Crüe parted ways with Neil in favor of John Corabi. Corabi stayed with the band from 1992 through 1996, recording one album titled Mötley Crüe. CC Deville left (or was fired from) Poison in 1991; he continued to struggle with drug and alcohol addictions even after his restoration a decade later. Richie Kotzen replaced Deville for the band’s 1993 album Native Tongue and one tour, but left after becoming romantically involved with the drummer’s fiancé. Anthrax fired Joey Belladonna in 1992, replacing him with John Bush. The band came back in 1993 with their album Sound of White Noise and continued with Bush as their singer until he left the band in 2005.

In each of these instances, there’s something about the altered chemistry of the respective bands with the swap of just one member that knocks it out of the park.

With Mötley Crüe, Corabi snaps off the polished edges of the band, leaving behind something that is surprisingly fierce and raw. Suddenly Tommy Lee is pounding the drums with passion and a rock-solid sense of timing. Mick Mars’ guitar work has the power and depth of a towering guitar giant. Even Nikki Sixx comes across as a thundering bassist, locked into the grooves and pushing the songs forward in a way that “Girls, Girls, Girls” never could.

Bush does exactly the opposite for Anthrax, rising up from the raw edginess of the Belladonna years, pulling the guitars of Dan Spitz and Scott Ian into a cohesive, blistering collective. Charlie Benante’s drums – well, they don’t really change. He plays the way he plays, and so does Frankie Bello on the bass. There’s a change in attitude and tone – a band that’s always been on the cusp of bitterness turns that into anger and power.

NativeTongueThe biggest change in all of these instances is the substitution of Richie Kotzen for CC Deville in Poison. When this happened back in 1992, the hair metal world was stunned and everybody wondered how long it would last. Nobody figured it would be a lover’s triangle that caused the destruction, everybody figured it would be musical incompatibility in the long run that did them in. The one album Poison recorded with Kotzen sounds so unlike their previous albums that it’s like listening to a completely different band. Not that Deville was a slouch as a guitarist, but Kotzen was more than just another guitar slinger – he was (is) a serious musician with serious chops. It was a transformation that made Brett Michaels into a voice to be taken seriously – a singer who could do pop and serious rock as well. Drummer Rikki Rocket and bass player Bobby Dall found themselves with a newfound sense of being taken seriously as instrumentalists, something that surprised a lot of people – especially me.

Let’s start with Poison’s Native Tongue album. It was the band’s fourth album, released in February 1993, and produced by Richie Zito. Native Tongue produced two popular singles, “Stand” and “Until You Suffer Some Fire and Ice,” both of which charted in the US and the UK with varying levels of success.

The overall pace of Native Tongue is slower, more languid and more … swampy than Poison’s previous offerings. There’s more focus on difficult emotions, injustice, and every person’s fight to stay afloat. Thought still primarily a guitar-driven album, the instrumentation expanded to include mandolin, piano and dobro. Kotzen’s soulful backing vocals prove a gritty foil to Michaels’ smoothness – not unlike the lead/backing vocal duos of Jon Bon Jovi/Richie Sambora and Gary Cherone/Nuno Bettencourt (of Extreme).

The riffs across the album are more complex and introduce influences from other genres, such as funk, R&B/soul, and even jazz. The songs demand to be taken seriously, and Kotzen’s guitar playing can’t be ignored as the force behind it all. This isn’t to say that Poison abandons fun – they still sing about getting laid, partying, and rock and roll.

Standout tracks from Native Tongue include “Stand,” “Body Talk,” “Bring It Home,” “Theater of the Soul” (a stellar power ballad akin to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”), and “Ride Child Ride,” but there isn’t a truly bad song on the disc. The closest they come to the pre-Kotzen Poison sound is “Ain’t That the Truth,” and even then the resemblance is fleeting. The inclusion of a brief acoustic guitar instrumental seems indulgent, and “Richie’s Acoustic Thing” is the one track that could have been dumped without negatively affecting the flow of the album.

Notably, Native Tongue was the last Poison album to go Gold (certified 500,000 sales) in the US and Platinum in Canada (just 80,000 copies). These sales levels are nothing compared to Open Up and Say Ah! (1988), which went five times Platinum in the US (5 million sold) and Look What the Cat Dragged In (1986), which was a triple-Platinum-selling album, as was their 1990 disc, Flesh & Blood.

Poison replaced Kotzen with guitar phenom Blues Saraceno, but the two new songs on their 1996 greatest hits compilation (which featured only “Stand” from Native Tongue) didn’t have the same tension as when Kotzen was in the band. The 2000 album with Saraceno wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, either. Deville came back for the band’s 2002 album and his return has (so far) proven permanent. Poison is back to its lighter, fun fare, and the band hasn’t regularly played any songs from this album in its concerts since Kotzen left the band. By 1999, they were on a steady diet of the songs from their first two albums, and even on the tour after the album with Saraceno, they barely played any songs that weren’t from their first two albums.

WhiteNoiseAnthrax switched singers in 1992, firing Joey Belladonna and pinching John Bush from his interesting – but obscure – band, Armored Saint. Bush’s introduction into the band coincided with Anthrax switching record labels and brought about a change in their general sound. They pulled back from the pure, unadulterated thrash of their early albums as well as the thread of silliness that shot through much of their material. They moved more towards a straight-ahead rock/metal sound, albeit on the heavier end of such a sound.

Sound of White Noise was their first album with Bush and their last with longtime lead guitarist Dan Spitz (who left the band to become a watchmaker – and I’m not kidding about that). It’s the perfect meeting of tone, talent and attitude, and that’s exactly why this album has always resonated deeply with me.

The standout tracks on White Noise are “Only” and “Black Lodge,” of course – the two singles. “Black Lodge” is probably the closest thing Anthrax ever recorded to a ballad, and it’s a smoldering pressure cooker of a song that just seethes with depth and emotion. “Only” is the best song Anthrax ever wrote as far as I’m concerned. Other excellent songs on this disc are “Hy Pro Glo,” “ This Is Not an Exit,” “Room for One More,” and “Packaged Rebellion.” Unlike Poison’s Kotzen album, there’s no goofy acoustic instrumental that could be cut, but they do one thing that drives me crazy; the first full minute of the first track on the album (“Potter’s Field”) is …well, white noise. Static. I get it, it plays in with the album title, but it’s annoying. Too many bands do this, and it’s irritating EVERY time, even more so on a fantastic album.

Bush doesn’t just bring depth to the songs, he brings vocal harmonies as well, something that was either not done or done poorly on previous albums. Bush sings with a gritty style and has a nice, wide range that spans from deep, nearly guttural vocals to near screaming. The drums and bass tones are thick and full, and the twin guitar onslaught of Spitz and Ian feels just on the edge of chaos. What always appealed to me about this album is its more straight-ahead metal feel, rather than the outright punishing thrash of their first few albums. Even when it was Megadeth or Metallica, the thrashiest of songs never appealed to me – think “Damage, Inc.”

Anthrax packed their Bush-era tours with songs from his albums; the tour supporting White Noise featured “Potters Field,” “Room for One More,” “Hy Pro Glo,” “Packaged Rebellion,” “Black Lodge” and the set closer, “Only.” These last two songs would stay in their concert rotation throughout Bush’s time with the band, but disappeared when Belladonna returned to the fold in 2005.

Unlike Poison or Mötley Crüe, though, Bush stayed with Anthrax for another three albums after White Noise. They’re not bad albums by any means, but without Spitz on lead guitar, the bulk of the songwriting falls to Ian, and even with Bush contributing, a certain stagnation comes over the band. Bush later left, then returned, then left again, but Anthrax never captured the spark again like they did with Sound of White Noise. White Noise was the band’s fourth consecutive Gold album, reaching that level in just two months. It was also their last Gold album.

MotleyCrueLike with Kotzen joining Poison, John Corabi turned Mötley Crüe into a band to be taken seriously. They tried – and got close – with the 1989 album Dr. Feelgood, which had some darker, deeper tracks, but the eponymous 1994 album with Corabi hits it out of the park. Unfortunately, sales weren’t there to support the much improved musicianship; Dr. Feelgood was a #1 album and sold over 6 million copies, and Mötley Crüe struggled to achieve Gold certification (500,000 sold), debuting at #7 on the US charts but falling from there.

Bob Rock produced both Dr. Feelgood and Mötley Crüe, bringing his polished sensibilities to both records, but he wisely let Crüe go in a much heavier direction than they’d gone before. Corabi shook things up, though, coming to the band as both a lyricist and a guitarist. Bass player Nikki Sixx had pretty much handled all the lyric-writing duties up to that point, with guitarist Mick Mars handling most of the music. Now they had a true collaborator, and it shows; Mötley Crüe has clear influences from Corabi’s previous band, The Scream, and taking the band into more introspective directions and adding a note of social commentary to their songs.

What Corabi brought to the band along with some social awareness was a deeply powerful voice with grit and soul that Neil lacked. Standout tracks on the album are “Power to the Music,” “Uncle Jack,” “Hooligan’s Holiday” (the first single), “Misunderstood” (the 2nd), “Poison Apples,” and “Smoke the Sky.” The album features some truly crushing riffs, showing musical depth and power that isn’t obvious on the band’s other albums.

Corabi participated in one tour that saw the band start in an arena and finish at a house party. There’s the typical blame placed on record labels failing to support/promote the band (and that has a sense of truth in this instance – Elektra, their label, was in the midst of a CEO changeover in 1994). There’s some fan backlash, of course, with many saying Crüe without Neil isn’t Crüe at all. Don’t forget, too, that grunge was on the upswing and metal was quickly being marginalized. Number-one albums in 1994 included Superunknown (Soundgarden), Nirvana’s unplugged album, and Vitalogy (Pearl Jam), along with a smattering of pop and hip-hop albums. The soundtrack for The Lion King was the top-selling album of the year.

The previous year wasn’t much better for metal; 1993’s top-selling album was Whitney Houston’s soundtrack album for her movie with Kevin Costner, The Bodyguard. Nirvana and Pearl Jam showed up at #1, as did U2, Aerosmith, Billy Joel and Garth Brooks. Kind of a depressing year for metal, actually.

At any rate, Corabi fired himself from Mötley Crüe, forcing the rest of the band to admit that the voice their fans wanted to hear was that of Vince Neil. They reinstated the ousted singer, put out the lackluster Generation Swine, which featured two songs co-written by Corabi and one co-written by Bryan “Summer of ‘69” Adams. Corabi later claimed he should have gotten more songwriting credits and royalties for the material on the album and sued the band for a hefty sum, pretty much guaranteeing he’d never get another shot at center stage for Crüe.

Mötley Crüe never played a single song from this album after Corabi left the band. When he was in the band, they added six songs from the album into their set, including the best cuts (“Hooligan’s Holiday,” “Misunderstood,” “Uncle Jack” and “Power to the Music”), but like the other bands discussed here, once he was out of the band, they pretend like his contributions never existed.

There’s something to be said for injecting new blood into an old body, and certainly Poison, Anthrax and Mötley Crüe proved that doing so could inspire them to produce some of the best music they’d ever recorded. One of the big differences between these three bands is that Anthrax fans embraced John Bush as the singer, while Poison and Mötley Crüe fans seemed to largely turn their backs on the bands during these one-album forays with other band members, seemingly without regard to the elevated quality of the music produced on these discs. It’s a shame, really, because of the three albums discussed here, Native Tongue is easily the most accessible and, led by its stellar single “Stand,” could have been a monster hit for the band. Mötley Crüe is easily the band’s most metal album, and Sound of White Noise signaled a tonal shift for Anthrax that should have widened their appeal outside the usual thrash/punk circles.

best (or most listened to) music of 2014

I’m in a pretty downward phase with music. Ever since I retired from playing in bands (the current upcoming show notwithstanding), I just don’t have the interest in music I used to.

To wit: in all of 2014, I only bought 8 new cds, and one of those sucked so bad (The Art of McCartney) that I returned it unopened.  (I heard all the tracks on a streaming preview after I ordered it, but before I received it.)

Here’s what I bought (and kept) in 2014:

  • Various, Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life
  • Prince & 3rd Eye Girl, Plectrum Electrum
  • DIO, Best of Dio (import from Germany)
  • Steve Hackett, Spectral Mornings
  • KXM, KXM
  • Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun
  • Queen, Queen Forever

That’s it, folks, and to be perfectly honest, I haven’t even listened to the Queen cds yet – I only got it to be sure I had the previously unreleased songs.  The rest of the 2 discs is material I’ve been listening to since I was 13 years old.

Out of that bunch, it’s hands-down easy to pick the best: Mastodon’s Once More ‘Round the Sun.  This album also tops my most-listened to, with an average of two listens per week since it came out in June.

The rest of my most listened top 10 is as follows, in order from 2 to 10:

  • Black Label Society, Stronger Than Death
  • Cutting Crew, Broadcast
  • Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Mind Control
  • John Williams, The Soloist
  • Cake, Fashion Nugget
  • AC/DC, For Those About To Rock, We Salute You
  • Kingdom Come, In Your Face
  • KXM, KXM
  • Pink Floyd, Animals

The new Prince/3rd Eye Girl album is excellent, but I’ve only had it for a few days – it came out months ago, but I watched the price & bought it at $5.99 last week. Best of Dio is getting regular rotation in the car, but I don’t spend much time in the car.

I picked up the Steve Hackett album because I remembered liking that album a lot in my younger days. After listening to it a few times over the weekend, I’m 99% sure I liked a different album and have forgotten which one it was.  Oof.

I think it’s a little telling that in my top 10 listened-to albums, 5 of them are decades old.  DECADES.  I’m just not connecting with new music much in the last few years.  The upside is that I haven’t bought (and kept) any albums that I really hate.  The McCartney tribute was just terrible, I’m really glad I got my $21 back on that deal.  Thanks, record label, for streaming it in its entirety!

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Beavis & Butt-Head issue statement on health of AC/DC’s Malcolm Young

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Beavis & Butt-Head express concern for concern about health of AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young

malcolmyoungReached in the bathroom between classes at Highland High School, both Beavis and Butt-Head expressed concern for the widespread concern over the health of AC/DC rhythm guitarist, songwriter and founding member, Malcolm Young.

“You said ‘member’,” Beavis said.

“Yeah,” Butt-Head added, continuing, “That was cool.”

Butt-Head stated, “I don’t know why everybody’s so upset he had a stroke. I had a stroke this morning and other than having to change my shorts after, I’m OK.”

“You said ‘stroke’,” Beavis said.

Butt-Head then shouted, “AC/DC ROCKS!” and both boys began headbanging while air-guitar-playing and grunting out the tune of “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”

At that point, Principal McVicker entered the boys’ bathroom and shouted that reporters weren’t allowed on school grounds, chasing representatives from the press out of the school.

notable deaths in 2013

3e8154f3d0164fb9c74d9212c54db126I hope I’m not jinxing this post by throwing it up more than 24 hours before the end of the year, but the death (yesterday) of Wojciech Kilar reminded me that I meant to do this.  I won’t comment on any of these folks except to note what they were most known as – musician includes singers, by the way!

I have friends who lost people special to them, including some close friends, and I went to a few funerals myself this year. It’s never a pleasant experience, but that kind of closure is important to us and how we deal with death and our families. My sympathies to anybody who lost somebody this year, and I hope your memories buoy you.

Notable deaths in 2013

  • Wojciech Kilar, composer
  • Kazuyoshi Kino, Buddhist scholar
  • Paul Blair, baseball player
  • Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor/engineer
  • Yusef Lateef, musician
  • Ricky Lawson, musician
  • Lord Infamous, musician
  • David Richards, music producer
  • Al Goldstein, pornographer
  • Hideo Kanaya, motorcycle racer
  • Ray Price, musician
  • Joan Fontaine, actress
  • Peter O’Toole, actor
  • Jang Sung-taek, politician – executed
  • Tom Laughlin, actor
  • Mac McGarry, quiz show host (It’s Academic!)
  • Nelson Mandela, politician & activist
  • Charles Grigg, cartoonist
  • Bill Lawrence, musician & guitar/bass pickup designer
  • Jim Hall, musician
  • Eleanor Parker, actress
  • Paul Walker, actor
  • Sylvia Brown, psychic
  • Frederick Sanger, scientist
  • Doris Lessing, author
  • John Tavener, musician & composer
  • Charlie Trotter, chef
  • Lou Reed, musician
  • Marcia Wallace, actress
  • Jovanka Broz, widow of Josip Broz
  • Ed Lauter, actor
  • Phil Chevron, musician
  • Vo Nguyen Giap, general
  • Tom Clancy, author
  • Hiroshi Yamauchi, video game legend
  • Ray Dolby, engineer
  • Frederick Pohl, author
  • Julie Harris, actress
  • Marian McPartland, musician
  • Elmore Leonard, author
  • Lee Thompson Young, actor
  • Lisa Robin Kelly, actress
  • Jack Germond, author/journalist
  • Jon Brookes, musician
  • Eydie Gorme, musician
  • Karen Black, actress
  • George Duke, musician
  • Michael Ansara, actor
  • Harry Byrd, Jr, politician
  • Eileen Brennan, actress
  • JJ Cale, musician
  • Virginia Johnson, scientist
  • Dennis Farina, actor
  • Helen Thomas, journalist
  • Cory Monteith, actor
  • Bernadette Nolan, musician
  • Jim Kelly, martial artist & actor
  • Alan Myers, musician
  • Douglas Engelbart, nerd (invented the computer mouse)
  • Bobby “Blue” Bland, musician
  • James Gandolfini, actor
  • Slim Whitman, musician
  • Chico Hamilton, musician
  • Wanda Coleman, poet
  • Doris Lessing, feminist
  • Todd Christensen, football player
  • Hal Needham, stunt man & film director
  • Scott Carpenter, astronaut
  • Ken Norton, Sr, boxer
  • Eiji Toyoda, auto executive
  • David Frost, journalist
  • Seamus Heaney, poet
  • Ruth Asawa, artist
  • Michael Hastings, journalist
  • Richard Ramirez, serial killer
  • David “Deacon” Jones, football player
  • Jean Stapleton, actress
  • Ed Shaughnessy, musician
  • Ray Manzarek, musician
  • Joyce Brothers, psychologist
  • Ray Harryhausen, film special effects wizard
  • Deanna Durbin, musician/actress
  • George Jones, musician
  • Richie Havens, musician
  • Pat Summerall, broadcaster
  • Frank Bank, actor
  • Maria Tallchief, dancer
  • Jonathan Winters, comedian & actor
  • Margaret Thatcher, politician
  • Annette Funicello, actress
  • Roger Ebert, film critic
  • Jack Pardee, football player
  • Phil Ramone, record producer
  • Richard Griffiths, actor
  • Rise Stevens, musician
  • Harry Reems, actor
  • Alvin Lee, musician
  • Hugo Chavez, politician
  • Bonnie Franklin, actress
  • Van Cliburn, musician
  • Roy Brown, automotive engineer/designer
  • C Everett Koop, physician
  • George Aratani, electronics executive
  • Mindy McCready, musician
  • Stuart Freeborn, film makeup/costuming legend
  • Andre Cassagnes, electrician & inventor
  • Ed Koch, politician
  • Patty Andrews, musician
  • Stan “The Man” Musial, baseball player
  • Earl Weaver, baseball player/manager
  • Gussy Moran, tennis player
  • Pauline “Dear Abby” Phillips, author
  • Aaron Swartz, nerd
  • Evan Connell, author & historian
  • Patti Page, musician
  • Kurt Caselli, motorcycle racer

the year in music (2013)

First, a lengthy quote:

     Doctor Labyrinth, like most people who read a great deal and who have too much time on their hands, had become convinced that our civilization was going the way of Rome. He saw, I think, the same cracks forming that had sundered the ancient world, the world of Greece and Rome; it was his conviction that presently, our world, our society, would pass away as their did, and a period of darkness would follow.

     Now Labyrinth, having thought this, began to brood over all the fine and lovely things that would be lost in the reshuffling of societies. He thought of the art, the literature, the manners, the music, everything that would be lost. It seemed to him that of all these grand and noble things, music would probably be the most lost, the quickest forgotten.

     Music is the most perishable of things, fragile and delicate, easily destroyed.  –Philip K. Dick, “The Preserving Machine,” 1953

It is with some measure of trepidation that I begin this post, knowing full well that my cynicism towards music this year has reached an epic level.  We were force-fed a steady (and putrid) diet of Miley Cyrus and The Voice, both of which are epic-level fails of quality music.

I mean, seriously. I loved the first Maroon 5 album, Songs About Jane. At this point I can’t even look at a photo of Adam Levine (the singer) without laughing.

Anyway.

I’ll include a list of all the new albums I bought in 2013, but I want to start with the BEST of what I got in 2013, including albums I got but weren’t put out in 2013.

BEST OF THE NON-2013 ALBUMS

MD.45, The Craving.  I have always been a fair-weather Megadeth fan, in that I love love love the music they play but really wish Dave Mustaine was a better (more melodic) singer. He’s got a gruff voice that is good for metal, but he’s just not a good singer.  You can’t deny the guitar skills, though, and Megadeth is still one of the best (if not most relevant) metal bands around.  The Craving came out in 1996 during a time when Mustaine was disillusioned with Megadeth, and he got Lee Ving (of Fear) to do all the singing.  What it became was a punk/metal extravaganza and it’s an excellent album, even with the harmonica solos.  Be careful tracking down a copy of this album, though, as Mustaine remastered his entire back catalog and says he couldn’t find Ving’s vocal or harmonica tracks when it came time to redo The Craving, so he replaced Ving’s voice with his and the harmonica with guitar. As little as I like harmonica solos, they work in this context, and Mustaine’s vocals turn this album into just another ho-hum old metal record.

Leon Redbone, Up a Lazy River.  If you watch reruns of Saturday Night Live episodes from the 1970s, sooner or late you’ll come across a white-suited, Panama-hatted dapper fellow called Leon Redbone. Many of the songs he played on SNL were done with just him and an acoustic guitar, and he has a rich, oddly soothing – yet occasionally disconcerting – baritone voice.  Nowadays what he plays is called “Americana.”  I wanted one of his albums, so I dug through reviews & discussions of his music and came across Up a Lazy River, which many of his fans say is his best recent album. I haven’t heard any of his other albums, recent or otherwise, but I have truly enjoyed this disc.

Huey Lewis and The News, Greatest Hits.  Duh.  Why didn’t I have this album already?  Chock full of toe-tapping, finger-snapping hits you already know, plus some other songs that you could graciously call “filler.”

Andres Segovia, The Art of Segovia.  Two discs stuffed full of some of the most amazing classical guitar playing you’ll ever hear.  If you’ve listened to classical guitar in the last 50 years, you’ve heard Segovia, somebody taught by Segovia, or somebody influenced by Segovia. This is the master at his finest.

John Fogerty, Centerfield (25th Anniversary Edition).  You can get tired of hearing a great song over and over. I worked at a minor league baseball stadium (selling beer, flipping burgers, etc.) for four years starting in 1988. I probably heard the song “Centerfield” a thousand times – at least the beginning of it, anyway.  I will admit that I sometimes skip that tune when I play this album, but I never heard the rest of this record until buying it this past summer.  It’s a terrific record from start to finish.

Now that we’ve done that, here’s

BEST OF THE 2013 ALBUMS

Black Sabbath, 13.  When I heard Black Sabbath was reuniting for an album and a tour, I was pretty excited.  Then I heard the original drummer wasn’t included, but they were getting the drummer from Rage Against the Machine.  See, I was never a Sabbath purist, and I didn’t get into them until I was in my 30s, and I’m not a die-hard fan.  I only have one album plus the Greatest Hits compilation – until now.  I don’t miss the original drummer, and I find the new album compelling and a fitting close to what has been a very long career as the godfathers of heavy metal.

Rodrigo y Gabriela, 11:11. Above I mention Andres Segovia. Rodrigo y Gabriela is what you’d get if you took Segovia and made him listen to Metallica for years.  This is an album where they pay tribute to their influences, which range from piano players to Pink Floyd.

Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats, Mind Control.  A Facebook friend turned me on to this album, and I got it almost on a lark.  Totally. Blown. Away.  This album is the most Sabbathy-sounding non-Sabbath album I’ve ever heard.  I suppose it helps that they’re English and using instruments, amps & recording gear made in the 1960s & 70s.  This album is filled with dark, sludgy, wonderful songs.  Buy it.  Note that I also picked up Blood Lust, the album they put out in 2012. It’s OK, but not as good as this one.

Volbeat, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies.  This was the first great album of 2013.  It opens with a goofy (and pointless) instrumental and has a couple of real clunkers that feature the singer’s overuse of auto-tuning, but all the other songs are catchy, heavy, well written, and exceptionally well played.  An excellent album.

Rush, Vapor Trails (Remixed).  This is the Rush album I always wanted to love but couldn’t, simply because it was basically impossible to listen to.  The original version of this album was completely brick-wall limited – with the levels just slammed to the max.  It was so …tiring… to listen to that after a couple of spins, I put it away.  Rush listened to their fans and not only remixed the album, but had it properly mastered to put the dynamics back in this excellent collection of songs.  The new version is a joy to listen to.

There you have it, folks, my top 10 albums of 2013.  Here’s a list of all the albums I bought in 2013, then, in alphabetical order, with non-2013s first.

  • Andres Segovia, Art of Segovia (1969)
  • Charlie Daniels Band, A Decade of Hits (1983)
  • John Fogerty, Centerfield (25th Anniversary Edition) (1985/2010)
  • Rush, Presto (Re-Issue) (1989/2013)
  • Daryl Hall & John Oates, The Very Best Of Daryl Hall & John Oates (1990)
  • MD.45, Craving (1996)
  • John Williams, Great Paraguayan: Solo Guitar Works By Barrios (2004)
  • Huey Lewis & the News, Greatest Hits (2006)
  • White Wolf, Victim of the Spotlight (2007)
  • Tom Lehrer, The Tom Lehrer Collection (2010)
  • Leon Redbone, Up a Lazy River (2011)
  • John Williams, Guitarist (2011)
  • The Nightwatchman, World Wide Rebel Songs (2011)
  • Halestorm, The Strange Case of… (2012)
  • Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Blood Lust (2012)
  • Black Sabbath, 13 (2013)
  • Ray Charles, Forever (2013)
  • John Fogerty, Wrote a Song For Everyone (2013)
  • Iron Maiden, Maiden England ’88 (DVD) (2013)
  • Pinnick Gales Pridgen, Pinnick Gales Pridgen (2013)
  • The Quill, Tiger Blood (2013)
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela, 11:11 (2013)
  • Rush, Vapor Trails (Remixed) (2013)
  • Scale the Summit, The Migration (2013)
  • Shawn Smith, So the Heart Can See (2013)
  • Stryper, Second Coming (2013)
  • Stryper, No More Hell to Pay (2013)
  • Roger Taylor, Fun on Earth (2013)
  • Thicker Than Water, Coming Soon! Side 1 (2013)
  • Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Mind Control (2013)
  • Volbeat, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies (2013)

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