13 December 2007

CD Review: "I Still Have a Pony" by Steven Wright

I Still Have a Pony
Steven Wright
CD Release Date: 25 September 2007

I Still Have a Pony, one should know, is the exact same material performed by Steven Wright in his recent DVD, When the Leaves Blow Away. My brother and I caught Leaves on Comedy Central a few weeks before I purchased Still and I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed when I realized what I was hearing.

Still, Steven Wright has always been one of my favorite stand-up comedians, and his representation in my library has been disappointingly thin until now. The material is not quite as outlandish as it had been on I Have a Pony; there is no equivalent to the "Jiggs Casey" routine. In many ways, it feels as though the two volumes should have been one full-fledged performance, and that it had been distilled for the first release. Consequently, this second volume is noticeably thinner, though this is not to say it doesn't deliver. Lying in bed, listening to the album on my iPod, I know I interrupted my wife's reading of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl with laughter several times, and likely at very inappropriate moments for her.

For those looking to incorporate Steven Wright into their libraries, I Have a Pony is still the strongest, most rewarding release to date and an essential comedy album. For those who already have I Have a Pony, it's not necessary to supplement with both the Still CD and Leaves DVD; go with the DVD, if only to actually see Wright perform his material.

26 November 2007

2007 Greatest Hits

Since 2007 has seen so many hits packages in country music, I thought I'd take a blog to run 'em down.  Here goes, in original release order:

Gary Allan Greatest Hits (3/6/07)The problem here is that Gary Allan has always been a stronger album artist than he has been a singles artist. Smoke Rings in the DarkSee If I Care and Tough All Over stand strong as solid, rewarding albums as anyone has released in the same time period.  Yet, somehow, Greatest Hits, despite drawing chiefly from these three albums, is not greater than the sum of its parts.  Maybe the exclusion of singles that didn't fare well on the charts (like "From Where I'm Sitting") from his earlier works has to do with the perfunctory feel of this collection, given that in concert (where Allan really shines) he's still prone to playing album cuts.  Perhaps it's the generic quality of the two new recordings, "Feelin' Like That" and "As the Crow Flies" that has to do with the disappointment of this hits volume.  Recommended as an introduction to Gary's music only, and even then I would strongly advise one of the previously cited albums over this collection.

Alison Krauss A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection 4/3/07
Not strictly a hits collection, but rather a collection of recordings, A Hundred Miles or More is akin to Dwight Yoakam's Dwight's Used Records and In Others' Words compilations.  Essentially, these are songs that Krauss has recorded in recent years, but not for her own albums.  There's material from tribute albums, soundtracks, other people's albums...pretty much everything except commercial jingles, but that's probably because she hasn't recorded any.  Like those Yoakam collections, though, somehow the collection manages to work quite well.  Perhaps this is a reflection of the quality of work Krauss has turned in over the years that songs recorded entirely independent of one another can manage to feel like a solitary volume.  Still, if you're looking for an introduction to Krauss's material, or at least a primer in case you're going to see her in concert for the first time, look elsewhere.  This volume is really more of a companion piece to a Krauss library.

Sara Evans Greatest Hits 10/9/07Sara Evans has become a strong presence on radio in the last ten years, and a trip down memory lane via herGreatest Hits package makes one ask, "Has it really been ten years?"  Then one reflects on the decade since her debut and wonders how it is that in ten years' worth of singles, the absence of only one is even noticeable ("Backseat of a Greyhound Bus").  Upon closer inspection, though, like Gary Allan, several singles are missing from her earlier years, but one could argue against their inclusion based on their chart success (or lack thereof).  Unlike Gary Allan's missing early singles, hers aren't as keenly felt here, perhaps because her image and sound have transformed so radically over the course of five albums.  So the question remains, is this package intended for new fans making their first purchase of Sara Evans's music or the loyal fans who already own most of this volume?  With only fourteen tracks, and four of them new, this is one of those rare hits packages that manages to somehow cater to both demographics.

Garth Brooks The Ultimate Hits 11/6/07
I've written much about The Ultimate Hits already, but here I would like to note where this set addresses the two primary question of a hits collection: Is it better for new listeners or hardcore fans?  The answer is, honestly, either.  Fans new to Garth's music will be hard pressed to find a more economical way of surveying his entire career, though to be honest new fans should really start with The Entertainer DVD package since live shows were where Garth made his name.  Older fans will find four new recordings, each rewarding in its own, along with a hit-or-miss DVD with a music video for 33 of the 34 songs on the CD's ("Leave a Light On" is classified as a "bonus track" and therefore exempt from receiving a video).  The DVD collects nine music videos with a ton of concert special excerpts; it wears a little thin re-watching many of the same performances from the same specials again, but there are performances from two of CBS's three Garth Brooks Coast to Coast specials sprinkled throughout to spice things up.

George Strait 22 More Hits 11/13However impressive Garth Brooks's 34 song The Ultimate Hits is, perhaps even more impressive is Strait's 22 More Hits.  Is it twelve songs shorter?  Yes.  But consider that these 22 songs include staples such as "Unwound," "Amarillo by Morning" and "The Cowboy Rides Away"...and these were songs that didn't make it to Strait's previously issued 50 Number Ones by virtue of not having hit 1 on at least one major trade chart.  That's right...these are the "not good enoughs" of George Strait's illustrious career.

For most artists, a career spanning collection like this would be a monumental achievement.  For King George, it's just another reminder how consistently good he's been over the years.  Unlike 50 Number Ones22 More Hits is not sequenced chronologically, nor does it include any new material.  In fact, the album opening "How 'Bout Them Cowgirls" seems out of place as it's the only single Strait has issued since 50 Number Ones to be included.  Serious Strait fans already own these songs, but will probably appreciate having them remastered, as many of the older songs haven't been remastered since their initial issue on CD quite some time ago.  Newer Strait fans would benefit more from 50 Number Ones, but that's not to say 22 More Hits isn't just as good; it's just not as prolific.

Keith Urban Greatest Hits: 18 Kids 11/20
To be honest, I don't have this volume yet.  Still, I thought I'd remark that I am impressed by at least one part of it: They did not include the album versions of most songs, as nearly every other hits package has done over the years.  This is nice as an Urban fan, because when I do get around to buying a copy of his Greatest Hits, I won't be getting the exact same versions of most of these songs I already have on his albums.  And, given that Urban has become self-indulgent in regards to running times of his songs, radio edits are nice for someone who often makes his own playlist and would rather have four three-minute songs than three four-minute songs.  (Or, in Urban's case, four three-minute songs instead of two six-minute songs.)  That fact, plus the two new recordings and the option of buying a limited edition of the CD with accompanying DVD (with a video for each song that had one) means that new and old fans alike can find a reason to add 18 Kids to their Keith Urban library.

07 November 2007

Carrie Underwood - "Carnival Ride"

Carnival Ride
Carrie Underwood
Date of Release: 23 October 2007

Being that Carrie Underwood is a 24 year old living The Dream, it is really no surprise that Carnival Ride exudes youthful optimism and ideals. "Crazy Dream" and "Wheel of the World" are both celebrations of dreamers and the mysteries of life, and while neither necessarily says anything new about the subject, it is clear that is how they appear to Underwood and her audience. To say the songs are naive would be too harsh, but there is an element of innocence present, which is why two songs on this set really do stand out.

The first standout is "Last Name," a story song in which the point of view character goes out, gets drunk and runs off to Vegas with some guy. This easily recalls Alan Jackson's "I Don't Even Know Your Name," but somehow having the young woman who sang "Jesus, Take the Wheel" telling the story makes it all the more appealing. Hopefully, this one warrants commercial release as a single with accompanying video. Drunken Carrie Underwood is a sight the world needs, even if it's staged.

Much of Underwood's audience is probably too young to even know why the second standout song means so much, and the song is Randy Travis's "I Told You So." Travis originally wrote and recorded the song an astounding twenty years ago for his second album, Always & Forever. His original version's legacy isn't threatened by this pop-influenced arrangement, but that's not the point. Maybe Underwood grew up with Randy Travis and this just happened to be the song she picked, but if her next album could find some modern day "I Told You Sos" her already bright star will shine a little bit more.

Toby Keith - "Big Dog Daddy"

Big Dog Daddy
Toby Keith
CD Release Date: 12 June 2007

The artist who writes for himself lives and dies by his own hand.  Such is true of Toby Keith, who has written for himself since day one.  Starting with 1999's How Do You Like Me Now?! breakthrough, Keith's output has been almost staggering.  Big Doggy Daddy is the sixth studio album he's released since then, and that doesn't include his second greatest hits package or the soundtrack album to his film, Broken Bridges.  If nothing else, you have to hand it to Toby Keith for keeping new product out there on a pretty consistent basis.

And yet...There is a sense throughout Big Dog Daddy that Toby, the songwriter, has run out of things to say.  He has often spun a catchphrase into a song, scoring hits such as "Who's Your Daddy" in the process.  Which is why hearing him resort to a song built entirely around the phrase, "See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya" so disappointing.  "Get My Drink On,""Pump Jack" and "Hit It" are supposed to be club anthems, but they're too generic.  The title song, "Big Dog Daddy" is similarly generic, only the tune is a near-plagiarism of "Johnny B. Goode."  Perhaps now that Toby works for himself there's no one standing over his shoulder to say, "One more draft."  There should be, because the only song from this set that really seems to have taken Toby more than five minutes to make up in the shower is the second single, "Love Me If You Can."

"Love Me If You Can" might just be the best written song Toby has had in a few albums now; certainly, its novelty lies in that it's not a novelty song.  His earlier career was full of songs like "Dream Walkin'," "Who's That Man" and "Me Too," and while there's nothing to complain about his vocals, the quality of the songs just hasn't been there for a while now.  "Love Me" is a strong step back in that direction, even if the rest of the album takes nine steps back afterward.

Mary Gauthier - "Between Daylight and Dark"

Between Daylight and Dark
Mary Gauthier
CD Release Date: 18 September 2007

Between Daylight and Dark, as a title, calls to mind twilight, that unusual part of the day when the daily grind gives way to night life.  Oddly, none of the ten songs of this set really explore either.  "Snakebit" is a swampy sounding song with very dark lyrics about a life of seediness and violence.  That it opens the album is interesting, because it's the sort of thing that would be quietly tucked away in the interior of most albums.  Whomever sequenced the album need not have worried that "Snakebit" would have been lost elsewhere in the album; it's the only song of the ten that has its own sound.

It's not that the acoustic, folk nature of the album is unappealing.  It's not that Mary Guathier's scratchy Louisiana vocals are monotonous.  The problem is that the songs just don't seem to be different from one another.  Part of the problem may be that six of the ten songs have a running time of at least five minutes.  Perhaps the old standard of three minutes for commercial airplay is unnecessarily restrictive, but there does come a point as a listener when the importance of editing becomes apparent.  Simply put, there is nothing about any of these songs that really demands to keep going.  They just...do.

Between Daylight and Dark is hardly an album designed for driving or hosting friends.  It does, however, lend itself to a quiet night by yourself, perhaps with a bourbon and Coke, and maybe a cigar.  There is clear promise at work throughout the album, though.  Gauthier's vocals never try to strongarm the lyrics, and the arrangements are inviting.  Perhaps on her next album, though, she will explore more sounds and moods and give us an album that takes us different places.

Note: I received this CD free as a member of the Lost Highway Street Team.

06 November 2007

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - "Follow the Lights" EP

Follow the Lights
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
EP Release Date: 23 October 2007 
List Price: $7.85

Follow the Lights is something of a filler EP for Ryan Adams.  Released just months after the full album Easy TigerFollow the Lights is neither an extension of that album nor does it feel like a precursor to his next.  Rather, this EP plays out like a brief little album all its own.  This feels like a jam session or garage band practice, only done by a completely professional band.  The songs are all fairly consistent in mood and sound, and like a middle school dance, it's hard to know when one song has ended and another begun.  Perhaps the most noticeable element of Follow the Lights is Brad Pemberton's drum kit.  It's front and center, not muted the way drums usually are on albums, and this has the effect of bringing to mind an intimate bar setting, dimly lit and probably not smokey because, well, no one can smoke in bars anymore, it seems.

This is the kind of music you want to hear while you're on your fifth screwdriver of the night and your buddies are all into something off to the side and all you want to do is just get lost in the music...  And then, just as it would happen in real life, the moment is ruined.  Only it's not your drunk buddies who won't shut up that ruin it, it's the fact that at only seven songs, you just don't get that much music in which to lose yourself.

Note: I received this CD free as a member of the Lost Highway Street Team.

Bon Jovi - "Lost Highway"

Lost Highway
Bon Jovi
CD Release Date: 19 June 2007

Lost Highway is Bon Jovi's first album explicitly marketed as a country release.  A title straight from Hank Williams isn't a bad start, and while Bon Jovi's album bears little resemblance to Lovesick, it easily holds its own against modern Nashville.  In fact, what becomes unclear is just how much Bon Jovi "went country" and how much country has "gone rock" in the last couple of decades.  Certainly, any of the songs on this album would have been comfortable fits for artists such as Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban.

Maybe that's what makes Lost Highway simultaneously an enjoyable listen and a disappointment.  While there are no songs whose lyrics demand particularly close inspection, they do reflect maturely on life (especially on the album opener, "Lost Highway") and love (the particularly well crafted duet with LeAnn Rimes, "Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore").  The arrangements are all fairly clear and don't overwhelm; the one cut on the album where the production is conspicuous is "We Got It Going On," which features Big & Rich, so it's perfectly natural that the song burst at the seams with instrumentation and distractions.  Commercially, there is absolutely no reason each and every song on Lost Highway couldn't reach the top of the country radio charts.

And that's the rub.  Somehow, Lost Highway is so perfectly crafted as a mainstream country album that it leaves one wondering how much Bon Jovi went into it.  There's something a little too familiar to a country audience to this album that begs the question why Bon Jovi had to be the artist.  It's the musical equivalent of an A-list actor being cast in an adaptation of a well known book and you want to see something special in his performance, but then he plays it straight and you think, "Well, anyone could've done it that way.  I wanted to see you do something more...you."  Still, this is a minor caveat.  On the whole, the album is enjoyable and if Bon Jovi is interested in pursuing a crossover career, Lost Highway makes an impressive inroads.

05 November 2007

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band - "It's Not Big It's Large"

It's Not Big, It's Large
Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
CD Release Date: 28 August 2007
List Price: $11.98 (Deluxe Edition: $16.98)

Perhaps no album in the history of recorded music has been more accurately titled than It's Not Big, It's Large.  Including Lyle Lovett, the Large Band numbers nineteen musicians (counting from those pictured in the booklet and promotional material), and that doesn't include guest artist Guy Clark.  The album opens with an instrumental number, "Tickle Toe," which is fun, loose and energetic.  That full sound and enthusiasm is sustained throughout most of the album, making for an easy-to-get-into listening experience.

Throughout the album, Lovett explores coming of age in Texas ("South Texas Girl"), love ("Up in Indiana"), spirituality ("I Will Rise Up/Ain't No More Cane") and the prospect that things might have peaked ("All Downhill").  Lovett's vocals are relaxed, yet raspy, and slide comfortably through the varying moods of the album.  It's Not Big, It's Large was recorded in a studio, and yet one can't help but wish to hear this material performed in concert live, in album sequence.

It's Not Big, It's Large is perfectly suited for anything from a wine party to doing housework in the middle of the afternoon.  Its energy and thoughtful lyrics are engaging throughout, and the only real problem with the album is that it ends.  Fortunately, it takes little effort to simply hit "play" again.

Note: I received this CD free as a member of the Lost Highway Street Team.

Norah Jones - "Not Too Late"

Not Too Late
Norah Jones
Original release date: 30 January 2007
CD list price: $18.98

Not Too Late may as well have been called Corpse Bride: Alternate Soundtrack.  Between the melancholy, often morose lyrics and the alternatively dreary and bombastic arrangements, this album feels as though it were Jones' tribute to Danny Elfman more than an artistic outgrowth of her own.  The album's opening number, "Wish I Could," tells of a woman who has not only lost her love to time and another woman, but to war.  It is a peculiar album opener, in that it does not instantly draw one's ear to the album.  In truth, on nearly any other album, this kind of song would be toward the middle or end.  The fact that Jones starts with it is telling; this is not an album meant for the background while you do housework.  This is a work of art and much as one cannot appreciate Claude Monet's efforts to create a snapshot with paint in one glance, one must truly listen to connect with Not Too Late.

Lyrically, as mentioned above, Not Too Late walks the line between melancholy and morose.  Indeed, one of the most upbeat lines from the entire album is on "Little Room": "There's bars on the window and if there was a fire, we'd burn up for sure/But that's just fine by me because we would be together ever more."  "My Dear Country" starts with a description of the ghosts of Halloween, and how quickly they were overshadowed by something far more sinister: Election Day.  It's at first unclear whether the song is in jest, but soon  Jones scathingly takes the media to task, remarking that they "know less than what they say," and bemoans the absence of a hero candidate.

If there is one chief complaint about Not Too Late, it might be that by its conclusion, the album feels dark.  Sometimes, a darker album makes sense in an artist's career (a perfect example being Gary Allan's Tough All Over, made in response to his wife's suicide).  Not Too Late leaves one wondering not what Jones was feeling or thinking while producing this album, but rather where she will go next.  Will she continue down this darker path, or will this album excise whatever demons rattled around in her this go-round?

For dedicated fans, there is a deluxe edition with an accompanying DVD, and you can also purchase five live tracks from iTunes.

10 October 2007

Nintendo Small Fine Print

Over the years, I have observed with humor various pieces of "small fine print."  This morning, I encountered a new favorite, this time from Nintendo.  If you order from Nintendo's website, you will be asked to check a box agreeing with their terms.  I elected to read the terms, not expecting to find...

Nintendo Power Subscriptions Refund
If you would like to request a refund for you Nintendo Power subscription, you will need to return the free gift (e.g. player's guide, t-shirt, etc.) you received with your subscription(s). Once the free gift is received, we will proces your refund. You will be refunded the subrscription price less the cost of any issues already sent or in the mail at the time of refund request.

It would appear that Nintendo and I disagree on what the term "free gift" means.  Since I have never held a Nintendo Power subscription, and do not anticipate this changing, I have no real investment in this policy.  Still, I find it...bizarre.  Perhaps I find it bizarre because what led me to this fine print in the first place was a very generous offer from Nintendo to provide to me, free of charge, up to four Wii remote control sleeves since they are now standard with the purchase of a Wii.  I was pleasantly surprised that Nintendo would go to such lengths, since the things cost about $8 in stores, and to be honest, the offer reminded me of all the warm feelings I've had for Nintendo over the years.  To find out they require you return your "free gift" to refund a Nintendo Power subscription...Baffling.  Truly baffling.

Speaking of Nintendo Power, I'd like to give Nintendo props here for not changing the logo in the entire time they've offered the magazine.  The same logo that seemed just short of exciting in the 8-bit NES days is still here for the Wii days, and I say, "God bless 'em."

28 August 2007

What He Left Behind

It's funny, growing up and being told how similar you are to a person you never met. All my life, my family has told me how much I remind them of my deceased uncle, Stuart, who drowned a few years before I was born. Characteristics in common (from what I'm told) include our ability to enjoy being by ourselves, our apprehension to confrontations (although I seem to handle that apprehension differently), an interest in comic books and the arts in general, and a studious, thoughtful level of consciousness.

Recently, I cataloged Stuart's records. Mostly, I've done this because, as a historian, I have a compulsion to do such things, but I also wanted to get a sense of what I could glean from him through what he left behind.

At first glance, I see that Stuart's favorites apparently included Pink Floyd (4 albums), the Beatles (5 albums, plus John Lennon's Imagine and Paul & Linda McCartney's Ram), Jefferson Airplane (5 albums) and the Rolling Stones (9 albums). Not being someone who ever "got" the Beatles' music, I'm not sure how much alike he and I really could have been.

Still, I've never really listened to the albums, so for all I know I'll discover something there that I never found in the singles on radio. Never been all that drawn to the Stones, either, but this is clearly the place to start. Always liked "Satisfaction," which I mentioned in my blog comment yesterday about enjoying Vanilla Ice's cover on his Extremely Live album. Yeah, that's right, I was ga-ga over Vanilla Ice and never "got" the Beatles. Go figure.

I couldn't help but notice as I rummaged through that box of LP's how eye-catching most of the album jackets were. One of the Jefferson Airplane albums was packaged inside what amounted to a big brown paper sack. Grand Funk Railroad's self-titled album is in a round jacket patterned after the quarter; they even rounded the entire thing, making getting the record in and out actually easier than it is with the normal square shaped ones. And that's not even mentioning the colorful artwork (my favorite being Jethro Tull's Aqualung, whose blatantly religious imagery visually compels me to want to play the record).

I also happen to think that the first reason Stuart felt the need to own the Shocking Blue's self-titled album is that the foursome appear to be naked on the cover and the chick in the group makes up for the three guys. In truth, they're probably all in swimsuits or whatever, but you can't determine that from what's actually shown, and when I consider that he was still in high school at the time of the album's release and I consider that he and I might have been somewhat similar, I'm pretty sure she's the reason he owned that record. Of course, as mentioned in another blog of mine, I still haven't bought Mariah Carey's Christmas album despite being drawn to its cover for, what? A decade now?

The only country album in Stuart's library was Glen Campbell's By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Technically, the only country album jacket in his library was that one, since the record is absent. I immediately thought of the fact that that album won the Album of the Year Grammy award in 1969 and wondered whether he had that as a curiosity. Kind of the way that I've owned some non-country albums over the years but never felt comfortable exploring that musical world.

I can't quite say what it is that keeps me from delving into more popular, non-country, music other than this sense that maybe I don't belong in that world. Maybe that's how he felt about country. Makes me wonder what he would make of my musical taste had he been around. For that matter, it makes me wonder what my musical taste might have been had he been around. Hell, I might have turned out to be the biggest Beatles fan of my generation had he been there to influence me.

27 August 2007

Rolling Stone's Coolest Albums of All Time

While in ear-X-tacy this afternoon, I saw a poster that reprinted a Rolling Stone cover that included their list of the "Coolest Albums of All Time."  So, naturally, going along with my list hunting & gathering, I have found the list and repost here the top 20 of the 50.

1. Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat
2. Rolling Stones - Aftermath
3. James Brown - Live at the Apollo
4. Chuck Berry - The Great Twenty-Eight
5. Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique
6. Blondie - Parallel Lines
7. Aretha Franklin - Spirit in the Dark
8. Massive Attack - Protection
9. Dusty Springfield - Dusty in Memphis
10. The Beatles - Revolver
11. Sly & the Family Stone - Fresh
12. Pavement - Wowee Zowee!
13. Steely Dan - Countdown to Ecstasy
14. Prince - 1999
15. Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding
16. Bjork - Vespertine
17. Various - Heavyweight Sound: Blood and Fire Sampler
18. Otis Redding - The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul
19. Eric B. & Rakim - Paid in Full
20. Chic - Real People

Hey, look!  I don't own ANY of the coolest albums!  I would like to give a shout out to Merle Haggard, though, for placing 42 with "Songs I'll Always Sing."  Not even the mythically revered J.R. Cash placed an album on this list.  And I thought for sure At Folsom Prison would be on there.  Hell, I expected it to be among the top three.  I certainly never expected it to not even be among the top 50.

Cowboys & Indians Greatest Country Songs of All Time

Whilst rummaging through my magazine library (mostly because I knocked some off a coffee table chasing the cat), I was reminded of an issue of Cowboys & Indians published in 2004 that included the "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time."  So, without further adieu, the top 20 were:

1. "Your Cheatin' Heart" by Hank Williams
2. "Crazy" by Patsy Cline
3. "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Jones
4. "Stand by Your Man" by Tammy Wynette
5. "El Paso" by Marty Robbins
6. "Can the Circle Be Unbroken" by The Carter Family
7. "Sweet Dreams" by Patsy Cline
8. "Help Me Make It Through the Night" by Sammi Smith
9. "Wabash Cannonball" by Roy Acuff
10. "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson
11. "You Don't Know Me" by Eddy Arnold
12. "Coal Miner's Daughter" by Loretta Lynn
13. "Hey Good Lookin'" by Hank Williams
14. "Coat of Many Colors" by Dolly Parton
15. "Tennessee Waltz" by Patti Page
16. "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" by Kitty Wells
17. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" by Hank Williams
18. "Rose Garden" by Lynn Anderson
19. "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" by Willie Nelson
20. "She Thinks I Still Care" by George Jones

Like the Rolling Stone list of greatest songs, I'm sure the actual title of this list should be, "Greatest Country Recordings of All Time," but, again, it's their list, not mine.  I have several thoughts as I peruse this list, the first of which being how many recordings I don't think I have.  If I have "Wabash Cannonball" or "You Don't Know Me," I'm unaware of them.  The second thought I have is how the issue in which this list appeared featured a cover article on the passing of Johnny Cash, who didn't even hit in the top 20.  Finally, I'm reminded just how badassed Hank Williams was (or is, depending on your perspective).  I mean, the guy placed three songs in this list, wrote all three by himself, and I don't know that I could argue with any of them being on this list.

Rolling Stone Greatest Songs

Another list from the editors of The Rolling Stone.  This time, they ranked the 500 greatest songs of all time.  Once more, I will only post the top 20, but I encourage you to visit their website to view the complete list.

1."Like a Rolling Stone," Bob Dylan
2. "Satisfaction," The Rolling Stones
3. "Imagine," John Lennon
4."What's Going On," Marvin Gaye
5. "Respect," Aretha Franklin
6."Good Vibrations," The Beach Boys
7."Johnny B. Goode," Chuck Berry
8."Hey Jude," The Beatles
9."Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
10."What'd I Say," Ray Charles
11."My Generation," The Who
12."A Change Is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke
13."Yesterday," The Beatles
14."Blowin' in the Wind," Bob Dylan
15."London Calling," The Clash
16."I Want to Hold Your Hand," The Beatles
17."Purple Haze," Jimi Hendrix
18."Maybellene," Chuck Berry
19."Hound Dog," Elvis Presley
20."Let It Be," The Beatles

You know, I have made no secret of not "getting" The Beatles, but can even a Beatles fan explain to me what makes "I Want to Hold Your Hand" a greater song than "Let It Be?"  I'd also like to note that it seems the RS editors really meant to call this a list of Greatest Song Recordings, because there are several songs on the list that are the same song, but recorded by different artists.  Whether Elvis sings "Hound Dog" or I do, the song is still "Hound Dog."  His iconic recording, however, will probably stand out more to the average listener than mine.  And, I will confess right now that there is about an entire quarter of the top 20 that I don't even know how the song goes, including "Like a Rolling Stone."By my count, I think I have five of the top 20 in my personal library.  Maybe.  I can't say for sure about "Respect" or "What'd I Say," but I know I have "Good Vibrations,""Johnny B. Goode" and "Hound Dog."

American Film Institute Top Movie Songs of All Time

I just found the next two lists, each from the American Film Institute.  This one ranks the Top Movie Songs of All Time.  Now, as I understand it, the song may have been previously recorded, so long as it was employed in a significant manner within the film in which it appeared.  Their list only credits the song and the film; where I know the actual performer in question, I have provided it.  I will endeavour to revise this list at some point to give the complete artist information.

1. "Over the Rainbow" The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. "As Time Goes By" 
Casablanca (1942)
3. "Singin' in the Rain" 
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
4. "Moon River" 
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
5. "White Christmas" 
Holiday Inn (1942)
6. "Mrs. Robinson" 
The Graduate (1967)
7. "When You Wish Upon a Star" 
Pinocchio (1940)
8. "The Way We Were" 
The Way We Were (1973)
9. "Stayin' Alive" 
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
10. "The Sound of Music" 
The Sound of Music (1965)
11. "The Man That Got Away" 
A Star Is Born (1954)
12. "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" 
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
13. "People" 
Funny Girl (1968)
14. "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion from 
Titanic (1997)
15. "Cheek to Cheek" 
Top Hat (1935)
16. "Evergreen (Love Theme from 
A Star Is Born)" A Star Is Born (1976)
17. "I Could Have Danced All Night" 
My Fair Lady (1964)
18. "Cabaret" 
Cabaret (1972)
19. "Some Day My Prince Will Come" 
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
20. "Somewhere" 
West Side Story (1961)

I've seen five of the films cited.  I can't really say I have anything to say about this list, other than I was kinda surprised that "I Need a Hero" didn't make the 100.  I never saw the film it was from (Footloose, maybe?) but I remember back in the late 90's, Paramount strung together a promo spot at the beginning of several of their VHS action titles setting clips from the movies to that song.  It was pretty cool, actually.  Made me want to watch Serpico.  Still haven't, mind you, but that montage made me want to.

American Film Institute Top Film Scores of All Time

Another AFI list, this one ranks the greatest film scores of all time.  Since the original list only ran to 25, I will only include the top 10 here.  (I don't want to steal the AFI's thunder.)  The complete list can be retreived from the AFI website simply by registering (which is free, anyway).  I highly recommend you do this, because it's a neat website from what I've seen.

Star Wars Main Theme sheet music
1. Star Wars (John Williams)
2. Gone with the Wind (Max Steiner)
3. Lawrence of Arabia (Maurice Jarre)
4. Psycho (1960) (Bernard Herrmann)
5. The Godfather (Nino Rota)
6. Jaws (John Williams)
7. Laura (David Raksin)
8. The Magnificent Seven (Elmer Bernstein)
9. Chinatown (Jerry Goldsmith)
10. High Noon (Dimitri Tiomkin)

At one point, I owned soundtrack albums of three of these ten (Star Wars, Jaws and The Godfather).  I don't even remember what happened to Jaws and The Godfather, but I currently have the 2004 re-mastered release of Star Wars as well as two copies of the original LP double album.  I've looked off and on for Maurice Jarre's score to Lawrence of Arabia, because it really is a very strongly composed score with great themes, but it seems the only copies that are affordable are new recordings of his score.  The original recordings were lost in a fire or flood or swarm of locusts or some such disaster.  Maybe I'll track it down on LP if and when I get the new computer-ready turntable I'm thinking about getting in the fall.  I have Jarre's Doctor Zhivago on LP.

Also, I'd like to observe that you could really do an entire list of just John Williams film scores.  How his scores to Jurassic Park and Schindler's List failed to make this list is beyond me.  Maybe Star Wars and Jaws were considered the iconic ones, which would be impossible to dispute, but I think those other two are probably even better.  Surely, had the list been longer than 25, they would have made at least the 50-26 range.  I've also always loved James Horner's score for Glory, which is an oft-overlooked masterpiece.

25 August 2007

Country Weekly's Greatest Albums

One more subjective list against which to check your own library.  This list was compiled by the editorial staff of Country Weekly and was published in their 10th anniversary issue.  I should note that they only ranked albums released during their publication run, which began in 1994.  The cover date of the issue in which the list appeared was March 16, 2004.

1. Fly, Dixie Chicks
2. Double Live, Garth Brooks
3. Drive, Alan Jackson
4. The Woman in Me, Shania Twain
5. Not a Moment Too Soon, Tim McGraw
6. O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack
7. Blue Clear Sky, George Strait
8. Breathe, Faith Hill
9. American Recordings, Johnny Cash
10. How Do You Like Me Now?! Toby Keith
11. Blue, LeAnn Rimes
12. Red Dirt Road, Brooks & Dunn
13. New Favorite, Alison Kraus + Union Station
14. Did I Shave My Legs for This? Deana Carter
15. The Key, Vince Gill
16. Wide Open Spaces, Dixie Chicks
17. Come on Over, Shania Twain
18. No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems, Kenny Chesney
19. Unleashed, Toby Keith
20. Nothin' but the Taillights, Clint Black

The only one I don't have is Vince Gill's The Key.  I've got the rest of the list if anyone wants to see it and can't find it online.

23 August 2007

Rolling Stone's Greatest Albums

The following are the top twenty albums according to The Rolling Stone.  Check to see if the critics like what you own!  Please note that the list shamefully includes hits compilations.  Check The Rolling Stone's website for the complete 500 album list!
  1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
  2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys
  3. Revolver, The Beatles
  4. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan
  5. Rubber Soul, The Beatles
  6. What's Going On, Marvin Gaye
  7. Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones
  8. London Calling, The Clash
  9. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan
  10. The Beatles ("The White Album"), The Beatles
  11. The Sun Sessions, Elvis Presley
  12. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
  13. Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground
  14. Abbey Road, The Beatles
  15. Are You Experienced?, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  16. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan
  17. Nevermind, Nirvana
  18. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
  19. Astral Weeks, Van Morrison
  20. Thriller, Michael Jackson
Somewhere I think I have a copy of Born to Run...and that's it for me.  Stupid Rolling Stone critics and their Beatles obsession.  Give me one good reason that William Shatner's Has Been isn't better than Abbey Road!

RIAA Top Selling Albums of All Time

The RIAA has certified the following albums as the best selling of all time.  Check to see if the masses agree with what you've bought!  These are the top 20, and unfortunately, the RIAA does not exclude hits compilations from their albums list.  Check with RIAA.org to see the entire list of albums certified for 5 million or more units!
  1. The Eagles, Their Greatest Hits (29m)
  2. Michael Jackson, Thriller (27m)
  3. Pink Floyd, The Wall (23m)
  4. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV (23m)
  5. AC/DC, Back in Black (21m)
  6. Billy Joel, Greatest Hits, Volume I & Volume II (21m)
  7. Garth Brooks, Double Live (20m)
  8. Shania Twain, Come on Over (20m)
  9. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (19m)
  10. The Beatles, The Beatles (19m)
  11. Boston, Boston (17m)
  12. Whitney Houston, The Bodyguard (Soundtrack) (17m)
  13. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (16m)
  14. Garth Brooks, No Fences (16m)
  15. The Eagles, Hotel California (16m)
  16. Elton John, Greatest Hits (16m)
  17. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (16m)
  18. The Beatles, The Beatles 1967-1970 (16m)
  19. Hootie & the Blowfish, Cracked Rear View (16m)
  20. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (15m)
Put me down for 5, believe it or not!  I have the two by Garth, Shania and Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II and, as I recently discovered, I have the greatest selling "album" of all time!

19 June 2007

Crohn’s Stamp...One Day

Crohns & Me, a wonderful online resource for us Crohnies, has an article up in their current newsletter about Gideon Sofer. Sofer is a 22-year old Crohnie with a stamp-collecting habit who stopped and asked if the Post Office could issue breast cancer awareness stamps to raise funds for that cause, why it couldn't do the same for IBD. He's working now to demonstrate to the USPS Postmaster General that there is sufficient demand for such a stamp, and you and I can help him out. Click on the link below and add your picture to show your support for this effort. Kudos to Gideon for his work. I've thought myself that we needed a stamp, but I never took it past thinking about it and saying so to my wife; he's done the legwork and should be commended for doing so.

11 May 2007

Jimmy Buffett - "Take the Weather with You When You Go"

Take the Weather with You
Jimmy Buffett
Release Date: 10 October 2006

Originally published on MySpace

Released after Hurricane Katrina, 
Take the Weather with You was sort of the official musical statement from the region's official musician.  Unfortunately, the extent of Jimmy Buffett's comment seems to be, "Well, that sucked; let's keep the party going."  There is no outrage, no political commentary, not even really much of pause to reflect on the lives lost.  In short, Take the Weather with You was made by a man in denial.The songs that acknowledge the destruction ("Bama Breeze," "Party at the End of the World," "Wheel Inside the Wheel") persist with this "the show must go on" mentality.

"Wheel Inside the Wheel" is written specifically about New Orleans, namechecking Satchmo and the Saints, but somehow fails to even turn those figures into heroic symbols.  The rest of the album meanders from reflecting on Elvis Presley ("Elvis Presley Blues") to celebrating "Cinco de Mayo in Memphis" to covering Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings."  Even outside the context of being a post-Katrina album from a figure one would expect to have a lot to say about the subject, there is little cohesion to the album.

In fact, some songs not only fail to seem to belong on the album together, but it's hard to understand how they made the album at all.  "Everybody's on the Phone" is a 4:27 lament over how techno-addicted we've become.  The idea is nothing new, but more importantly, Buffett fails to say anything new about it.  Which is disappointing, since I recall he was the one who infamously lost his cell phone at a club nearly two years ago, leading to the guy who found it crank calling former President Clinton.  If anyone had an opportunity to spin an engaging song out of our current cell phone addicted culture, it was Jimmy Buffett.  That he missed the mark is just another in the disappointments of this album.