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Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Mad Men" starting in less than an hour...and other stuff

Hi folks!  How are you all doing?

Sorry it's been awhile since I've written in here.  I've been consumed with March Madness lately, and have now just resurfaced after my guys, the MSU Spartans, bowed out of the tournament.

So what's new with me, you ask?  Well, I'm looking forward to the start of one of my favorite TV shows, Mad Men, which finally starts its new season at 9:00 PM.  It's been a long wait for the new season, so I am excited.

I'm still plugging along on my "Bargain Bin Finds" post.  I thought I'd get it done earlier, but it's turned into a monster.  I worked on it a bit today and hope to get it out there within the next week--but we'll see how that goes.

Next week is Spring Break, and we've decided to take the kids to North Carolina, where we'll be spending time in Asheville and then driving across the state towards Durham and Chapel Hill.  I had hoped to make it all the way over to Kitty Hawk, but don't think that's going to happen.  I'm hoping to have my picture taken in front of Cameron Indoor Stadium while decked out in MSU gear.

Well, gotta run.  I'll catch you later.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My early "music criticism", 1986-style

As I was rummaging through some old college notebooks, I excavated this archaeological find, ca. 1986. It's a list of music videos I'd seen on what was probably one of the first episodes of MTV's 120 Minutes.  This was the time that, as a college freshman, I was discovering what was then referred to as "college music".  I can distinctly remember being home from Michigan State, perhaps for either Thanksgiving or Christmas break '86, and staying up late in my parent's den watching this particular music video program, all the while feverishly writing down my (now) laughable observations.  Many of the bands on this particular program are artifacts of the '80s, and are now simply footnotes in musical history.

Unfortunately, I only wrote down the artists' names, and not the song titles (with the exception of New Model Army's "51st State").  Maybe I only had time to write the artist name and didn't bother with the song title--I don't remember.  I also used a grading system from 1-10 for each tune. Apparently, I was a tough critic because none of the artists received a "10"--not even my then-beloved General Public.

Here is the list, and if anyone can do some "History Detectives"-level research and tell me what show this track list is from, I'd appreciate it.  Meanwhile, I'll keep digging on my end.  Try not to laugh too loud at my vague and not particularly deep analysis.

1. They Might be Called Giants [sic] Lead singer has an interesting voice. Nice accordion. 6


2. Hunters and Collectors Decent. 5

3. The Dead Milkmen Decent guitars, weird voices, funny but stupid lyrics. 6

4. The Lucy Show Very British sounding voices, nice beat, non-synth, respectable guitars. 7

5. Crowded House Good bass, twangy guitars, soulful screaming lead vocals. 6

6. Dumptruck Guitar-based, the "Texas R.E.M.", excellent bass. 8

7. Angst  Monotone lead vocal, guitar annoying in some parts. 5

8. New Model Army British. Song about missiles in Britain. "51st State". Angry. 7

9. The Bolshoi Very good. 8

10. New Order Good synth, nice song. 8

11. Depeche Mode Not bad, typical DM synth overload. 6

12. General Public Already have the album. These guys are great. 9

13. Love and Rockets Average. 5


Okay, where to start?  First of all, I have no idea what I meant by "decent guitars", or why exactly Angst's guitar sound was "annoying".  Secondly, I get a chuckle over my assessment of They Might Be Giants' "nice accordion"--like I'm some sort of accordion connoisseur--and why only "nice"? Oh yeah, nice whiff on the band name, too. It's hard to imagine Crowded House as having "screaming" vocals, and I'm trying to think of what song it could have possibly been.  I suppose it was probably "Don't Dream it's Over" and, if anything, Neil Finn croons on that song rather than screams.

I don't know why I wrote that Dumptruck was the "Texas R.E.M.", as Wikipedia informs me that they were from Boston, Massachusetts.  However, they do have an R.E.M. feel, as by the mid-eighties about half of all indie "college rock" bands were embarrassingly indebted to those guys from Athens, Georgia.

I find it funny, and just a little embarrassing, that the only band I rave about is General Public.  Based on my own Sherlock Holmes detective work, the GP song that was in rotation in late '86 was "Come Again" off of their second album, Hand to Mouth, (which I still own on vinyl but have not listened to in at least 15 years--the album quickly lost its luster, but I've never had the heart to get rid of it.  Maybe it's time to give it another listen).  Of all the bands in this list, General Public may be the most dated, though I did recently pick up their first album ...All the Rage on CD, and though it's certainly aged--lots of drum machines and synth--it's still a fun listen with good songwriting. (...All the Rage was found in my own personal Kryptonite, a CD bargain bin--though unlike Superman's relationship with Kryptonite, I don't try exceptionally hard to avoid CD bargain bins).

My intention when writing this list was most likely for future music purchasing, in my attempt to transform from small town hayseed to college hipster.  I could sort through some of the big hitters of "college rock" and decide what I did and did not like.  The days before the World Wide Web where all of this stuff would be accessible with the click of a few buttons--I kinda miss those days.  Of all the artists listed here, General Public, New Order, and Love and Rockets (who received one of my lowest rankings) are the only ones that ever ended up in my music collection, and my cassette copy of Love and Rockets' Earth Sun Moon bit the dust years ago. (For what it's worth, it's most likely that whatever L&R song that was played was from their first album Express).

Looking at the extant 120 Minutes playlists from late '86, these songs, by a few of the artists in my list, were in rotation in the latter half of that year.  Thanks to the wonder that is known as YouTube, I have posted videos for these songs.  You can judge for yourselves whether I was correct, or just an ill-informed 18-year-old, in my assessment of their value:












So, you might be wondering what I think of these songs now, or maybe you weren't wondering? Regardless, I'll let you know.  I've not swayed on my judgement of the Hunters and Collectors' tune, it's merely "decent".  "51st State" still holds up well as a bit of Billy Bragg-ish agitprop.  The Lucy Show is prototypical '80s jangle pop, and yes, they have "very British voices" (they were from London) and I judge their guitar sound as not just "respectable", but maybe actually "pretty good".  And, last but certainly not least, the General Public tune is more effervescent and bubbly than I remember it. It holds up better than expected.