Friday, August 29, 2008

PODCAST #1!!!!

I've been toying with this idea for a while, and I've gone ahead and done it. I don't know if I'll continue this experiment, but will probably give another episode or two at least.

This is clearly a first attempt. The first few mic breaks expose the faults of a $10 microphone (though the last 2 breaks I played more with EQing that shit out).

I meant to break it up into two files, but forgot too - so sorry for the large download.

All of those disclaimers aside, this first episode is a musical celebration of Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson, all of whom turned 50 this summer.

If you give a listen, please comment with yer thoughts!

Gonzo's Music-O-Rama: Podcast #1

Friday Funk

Today, the so-called King of Pop turns 50. Everything else aside, he was once the greatest figure in pop and r&b music. Creatively and culturally, he's fallen pretty far from those graces. It's perhaps one of the most tragic tales in popular music. How did one man go from dominating popular music & culture to putting out irrelevant music and becoming beyond eccentric?

Like many, I have a history with Michael Jackson. I would venture to say that he's the first celebrity that I could identify. (I don't know this for a fact, but I can't see who would have preceded that in my youth.) I have many memories of listening to my mother's copy of Thriller growing up, including dancing in the basement with my sister and cracking my head open on the brick hearth.

Thriller was huge and important to me growing up, but Bad was where I really became an MJ maniac. It started when we went to Disney World in the summer of 1987. Captain E.O. blew my mind. (Note: some friends and I recently watched it thanks to the intertubes, and it was horrible.) I decided in the theater that MJ was my favorite recording artist ever.

Bad was the first tape I ever owned. I played the hell out of it. I remember seeing the long version of "Bad," the premiere of "Smooth Criminal," the Pepsi commercials, so desperately wanting to see MJ at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in 1988, feeling ripped off because the compact disc had an extra song, etc. etc.

Bad admittedly doesn't hold up well beyond a snapshot of 1987. Thriller and Off the Wall have stood the test of time and remain great pop records. Bad is a little more of a product of the late-80s production style. But still, it holds a special place in my heart.

I recently got a copy of the Yokohama broadcast of the Bad tour. There are a number of things interesting about this performance. First, the setlist. The only songs from Bad are "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" (featuring Sheryl Crow!) and the title track. The rest of the set is Thriller, Off the Wall and material from the Jacksons' catalog. It's a very funky set.

Secondly, no lip synching! I was astonished. It's very clear that he's singing live, as it's imperfect. Apparently the second leg of the tour was when he started relying more on lip synching and by the Dangerous tour, you could count the live vocal tracks on one hand (and probably have a remainder).

All of this led me to the conclusion that although Thriller is a record breaking cultural phenomenon, the Bad period was when MJ was at the top of his game. He was still incredibly cool. You could tell your friends at school that you liked MJ and nobody had a problem with it. His performances in this period were solid. He was still somewhat sexy. If he'd had no further plastic surgery, things would have panned out much better for him today. And although Bad sounds "so 1987," at the time it was still a great album, having 5 #1 singles, plus one at #11 and another at #7.

Just an observation.

But based on that, here are two videos from the era. Both are live. The first is the official video for "Another Part of Me," which I pulled because it's one of the less frequently mentioned songs from the album.

And lastly, from that Yokohama DVD, one of my favorite MJ songs - "Working Day and Night."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pandora May Pull Plug

Original article posted here.

Buckling under the weight of the Internet radio royalty hike that SoundExchange pushed through last July, Pandora may pull its own plug soon. Despite being one of the most popular Internet radio services, the company still isn't making money, and its founder, Tim Westergren, says it can't last beyond its first payment of the higher royalties.
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SoundExchange offered a potential reprieve from the royalty hikes, but that turned out to be a red herring to sneak DRM onto web radio. In the end, SoundExchange was able to initiate a massive (and retroactive) royalty hike on Internet radio stations, imposing per-user fees for each song. Adding insult to injury, the royalties on Internet radio will double for big stations by 2010, to an estimated 2.91 cents per hour per listener—far higher than the 1.6 cents that satellite stations would pay. Radio stations don't pay fees like these yet, but don't worry. SoundExchange is working on fixing that problem.

Pandora, its peers, and many of their collective users have petitioned SoundExchange and politicians multiple times, but nothing has worked. According to the Washington Post, Representative Howard L. Berman (D-CA) is attempting one more last-minute deal between webcasters and SoundExchange, one that could lower the per-song rate set last year, but he isn't optimistic. "If [the negotiations don't] get much more dramatic quickly, I will extricate myself from the process," Berman said.

If Berman is unsuccessful, Pandora will have to pay 70 percent of its projected 2008 revenues of $25 million. "At the moment we think this problem in Washington is not going to get solved," Pandora's founder Tim Westergren told the Post, "we have to pull the plug because all we're doing is wasting money."

While it's true that SoundExchange has had DRM and radio broadcast flags on its agenda for some time now, representatives of the company have also justified its stance on higher royalties from revenue and profit standpoints. Stations like Pandora, SoundExchange argues, have a higher profit margin and more value because they can broadcast an unlimited number of songs to their users. This dynamic ability stands in contrast to traditional and even satellite radio stations that broadcast a single song on a finite number of channels.

SoundExchange also argues that Internet radio stations could do a lot more to increase their revenue, become profitable, and pay their (arguably high) fees. As much as it pains us to say it, there may be a point here.

There's no doubt that SoundExchange has been strong-arming the Internet radio industry into oblivion. But most Internet radio stations like Pandora offer their services for free, or they offer accounts with more features at incredibly cheap prices. While some stations display ads on their website, Pandora hasn't done itself any favors by offering desktop clients and a wildly popular iPhone application that rake in millions of users without so much as a single ad. Perhaps, for now, the "just build it and we'll figure out the business model later" approach won't be enough to save this experiment in new media.

-David Chartier

I'm not as huge a fan of Pandora as some other folks (my channels always seemed to get pretty repetitive), but I do like the service and think it's a cool concept. And free. I spent many of my office hours at Iowa with Pandora on in the background.

In a way I'm upset, because Pandora is caving to the industry. Yet I totally understand why, and I can't blame them. It's just another example of how ridiculous the attempts to regulate Internet radio have become, not to mention a gauge of the contemporary music industry's insatiable greed. Ultimately something else will pop up in Pandora's place and in fact, some alternatives already exist.

Maybe if the music industry actually gave a damn about music, and maybe if they haven't been gouging consumers for the last 20 years, maybe if artists got more than a pittance of royalties from CD sales - maybe then I could *kind of* see where people like Sound Exchange and the RIAA are coming from. But I'm not telling you anything you haven't heard before.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Funk

In honor of getting my deposit back from the old apartment, and hoping that the student loan check comes soon:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Belated Birthday Tidings

I neglected to acknowledge Madonna's 50th birthday yesterday. Bad fanboy! But it was a draining day. 15 mile run, sealing the deal on a new car, and driving back to Baltimore. So apologies. I'll make up for it with a triple crown tribute to all 3 '80s pop stars celebrating golden anniversaries this year - give me a week or two.

For now, here's Miss Ciccone.

A forgotten blast from the past from the 1985 film Vision Quest:

And what is possibly my favorite Madonna song of all time:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Funk

We're admittedly sliding more to the soul end of the spectrum this week, but with the loss of Isaac Hayes, it only seems appropriate.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


A few years ago I was working crappy, mindless office jobs that paid next to nothing to do next to nothing. It was a pretty fulfilling existence, let me tell you. When I wasn't boring myself with data entry, I spent much time reading the news, browsing music sites, etc. One day on Rhino's website, I came across this interesting article on the Talking Heads' Fear of Music. Overall it's a well written examination of the album, but one claim struck me: "The path to 1980's Remain In Light led through Fear Of Music. If the former is Talking Heads' Sgt. Pepper, the latter is their Revolver."

I'd been familiar with the Talking Heads' catalog for a number of years, but had always brushed over Fear of Music. Sure, it has some great songs - "Life During Wartime," "I Zimbra," "Memories Can't Wait," "Heaven" - but as an album, Fear never really cohered for me. Giving the album a spin in light of the above review, I hypothesized that in general, the songs on Fear are great. Where the album suffers is simply in its sequencing of these songs.

That's when I decided to do a little experiment. I ripped the album to my computer and played around with the sequencing to see if there was a configuration that would make the album a more cohesive whole for me. And I did! Here's what I came up with:

Original Sequence:
1. I Zimbra
2. Mind
3. Paper
4. Cities
5. Life During Wartime
6. Memories Can't Wait
7. Air
8. Heaven
9. Animals
10. Electric Guitar
11. Drugs

Gonzo's Reconfigured Sequence:
1. Memories Can't Wait
2. Animals
3. Air
4. Electric Guitar
5. I Zimbra
6. Life During Wartime
7. Cities
8. Drugs
9. Paper
10. Mind
11. Heaven

For me, it works quite well. I admit that this still isn't the way that I normally listen to the album, but occasionally I'll program it in this sequence.

This little experiment made clear to me that sequencing is incredibly important in making an album. Just think of how sometimes hearing one of your favorite songs (say, "With a Little Help from My Friends") without it's neighboring album track ("Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds") seems slightly odd. (Even worse when there are songs that segue into each other - one of the reasons Pink Floyd's music just seems trite on the radio).

Fast forward a year or two. I had a similar inkling about Prince's 1985 album Around the World in a Day. The album has some of my very favorite Prince songs - "Pop Life," "Raspberry Beret," "Paisley Park," but somehow just doesn't rank highly as an album for me. I've been meaning to do a similar experiment on Prince's album for about 3 years, but only brought myself to do it last night.

Result: Yes! It works! Of course, so much of this is about the individual listener, and I by no means aim to put forth these sequences as fundamentally better or definitive. I also added in a couple of b-sides from the album's singles, which I think helped to even it out a bit more as well. I also used the 12" versions of "Raspberry Beret" and "She's Always in My Hair," because they rock. Some of Prince's 12" versions feel slapped together ("Kiss," for instance), but these are two of the best, and I see no reason to not include them. For me, they are the definitive versions of these songs. The 12" version of "America" is simply too long for an album cut (around 20 minutes as I recall) and I'm not a huge fan of the 12" mixes of "Pop Life." Anyway, here it is.

Original Sequence:
1. Around the World in a Day
2. Paisley Park
3. Condition of the Heart
4. Raspberry Beret
5. Tambourine
6. America
7. Pop Life
8. The Ladder
9. Temptation

Gonzo's Reconfigured Sequence:
1. Around the World in a Day (3:28)
2. Pop Life (3:43)
3. Condition of the Heart (6:48)
4. Girl (3:48)
5. Paisley Park (4:42)
6. Raspberry Beret (6:34)
7. The Ladder (5:29)
8. Tamborine (2:47)
9. America (3:42)
10. She's Always In My Hair (6:30)
11. Temptation (8:18)


So give these a whirl, and let me know what you think. More importantly, I'd love people to share their own resequencing of these or any other albums.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Santogold video!

I've mentioned it before, but let me emphatically restate that the self-titled album from Santogold is hands down my pick for album of the summer. I listen to it constantly, and its provided the perfect soundtrack for running, cleaning, cruising and moving over the last few months.

Peep her official web site our check her out at MySpace.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday Funk

Now that I'm in Baltimore, it seems only appropriate for Spank Rock to be featured this week.

Friday, August 1, 2008