Saturday, January 27, 2007

Michael Anthony -- the glue

Jefito has a brilliant post challenging our conceptions of rock music by making an astonishing point: Van Halen is not Van Halen without Michael Anthony?

"Who?" you ask. The bass player. The one not named Sammy, David or Van Halen. For the first time, Van Halen will conduct business without him on an upcoming tour or album or whatever they think they're attempting.

Jefito says that's a stupid idea. I agree, but for slightly different reasons.

Jefito's argument is musical. He's not impressed with Anthony as a bass player but argues that his backing vocals were a key part of the band's sound.

That's one reason to keep him around. I'll argue that there's more to it.

The comments on Jefito's post hint at my point -- in a band full of high-strung people, he was the glue that held things together. He kept the band functioning as a unit and was important to its personality. In a band like Van Halen, that's important.

His departure says everything about why he was needed in the first place. Jefito's summation:

"I’m speaking specifically to Eddie’s decision to go public on Howard Stern’s show with the news that Michael Anthony had been dumped. The reason for this seems to be Anthony’s willingness to go on making music with Hagar, which is a little like a divorced mother tossing her kid out of the house after he has dinner with his dad."

It's worth adding here that Van Halen toured with Hagar just 18 months ago.

Eddie has always been adept at spinning Van Halen's revolving door as the singers' faults. At some point, when you're no longer able to keep a lead singer and you're no longer seeing eye-to-eye with the bass player who kept things from imploding all those years, maybe it's time to look in the mirror.

A lot of bands have a guy who served as the glue ...

- John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin. It's always irritated me that Jones never gets his due. First of all, he was damn good on the bass. (Best example: Immigrant Song.) Second of all, he was clearly the only guy in the band who could be counted on to be somewhat coherent through the haze of the '70s.

- Adam Clayton, U2. Sometimes, being the "glue" means that you're willing to take a supporting role. The bass line in With or Without You is four notes. Period. And the song would not work any other way. He knows he has had a great ride with one of the world's greatest bands. And you get the feeling he helps Bono stay grounded. I may be totally off on this, but I picture him filling the "lukewarm water between two visionaries" role posited by Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap.

Malcolm Young, AC/DC. Kind of a bland rhythm guitarist on stage, but very much in charge.

The new Van Halen will feature Eddie, Alex and Eddie's son Wolfgang, with David Lee Roth singing. Never have I felt more sympathy for David Lee Roth.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Back after a seven-year absence

Apparently, that's the case with Luscious Jackson, which is good to hear.

Not coincidentally, the "Luscious Jackson Source" is updating its "news" page, with no apologies for the gap between 1999 and 2006.

And bloggers apologize for skipping a couple of days.

Al Against the Machine

Weird Al isn't known for his original songs. Way back when, he would occasionally do a video for one of his more inspired efforts, which generally parody a style or a band rather than a particular song. (Best examples: A couple of movie themes, the Devo-flavored Dare to be Stupid, the doo-wop One More Minute, which hits its peak when the background singers soulfully repeat the last word of the line "I'd rather have my blood sucked out by leeches.)

Al seems to be rare form now, hitting an Aerosmith-esque second wind more than 25 years into hit career. White and Nerdy, a parody of Chamillionaire's Ridin' (no, I hadn't heard it until Al's version came out), is a trip. And apparently his highest-charting single ever ... yes, higher than Eat It or Like a Surgeon.

And then there's this one, which takes the overblown anger of Rage Against the Machine and says what's really on the mind of the American people: I'll Sue Ya!

The animated video works well:

Al's Wikipedia entry is a must-read. Things you may not have known:

- He once opened for Missing Persons. It didn't go well.

- Keyboardist Ruben Valtierra is the "new guy" in Al's band. He joined in 1991. No one has ever left the band -- drummer Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz joined in 1980, bassist Steve Jay joined in 1982 and brought guitarist Jim West with him. Off the top of my head, the only band I can think of with that kind of stability is Rush (one personnel change in 1974), and they only have three guys.

- Chamillionaire was so happy with Al's parody that it popped up on the rapper's MySpace page before Al had it out. Al's not exactly a technophobe, so that's saying something.

- Al's fans forced Wikipedia to protect the Atlantic Records entry. You have to read the discussion to see why. I can't do it justice. Colbert's got nothing on this guy.

- On the other hand, there are so many imitators in this day of easy uploading that we need a "Not Al" page to list songs that he did NOT record.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Convenient but predictable

Loyal reader Fred passes along a great read about a music professor who has traced the history of how recordings have changed our perceptions of music.

Hard to believe that just a few generations ago, anyone who wanted to hear music had to go to a local hall or play it on a piano. Then we had fragile vinyl for a couple of generations. Then 8-tracks, the goofiest invention I can remember in my lifetime. And now the CD age has come ... and possibly gone already.

Funny how the most convenient music becomes, the more disposable it seems.

Monday, January 22, 2007

What we miss as radio dies

Marc Fisher is an erratic Washington Post columnist, clearly out of his element when he starts talking about things beyond his immediate sphere of knowledge (soccer, the Virginia suburbs, etc.). But at his best, he's very good. And he's best when writing about radio, which he did in this week's Post Magazine, taking us behind the scenes of a focus group.

It's mildly depressing, yes, to see that actual human beings can't stand Motown, and that's why Big 100.3 no longer plays it. You may find yourself shifting blame from faceless radio programmers and big companies to your fellow human being and his tin ear.

Highly recommended read.

The timing, as it turns out, was particularly interesting. One day later, which would be today, the 11th-ranked radio station in Washington flipped formats to the "George" format -- '70s, '80s, '90s, whatever.

Here are the odd aspects of the deal:

- A radio station chain (Bonneville) is cooperating with a public-radio giant (WETA). Bonneville is basically handing over its music library, and there will be more cooperation down the road.

- WETA is junking a talk format (one or two local shows, lots of NPR/PRI syndication, BBC, etc.) that it picked up only a couple of years ago, somewhat controversially.

- Have we mentioned that the format in question here is classical?

Here are the sad aspects of the deal:

- The station that flipped, WGMS, has been broadcasting classical music for nearly 60 years.

- WETA is flipping from one extreme to another. They've gone from classical with a little talk to all-talk to all-classical, aside from hourly NPR news bulletins and a one-hour simulcast of NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, which is produced nearby. (I once interviewed at NewsHour.) The reactions at WETA's blog hint at the resulting mess -- some people are thrilled that WETA is back and claim WGMS never played their favorites, but a lot of people don't like being jerked around. And WETA won't even play the NPR standards like All Things Considered and Prairie Home Companion -- though the folks at WAMU are surely thrilled to be Washington's only over-the-air source of such programming. (To folks who'll miss all that programming -- get an iPod. NPR and PRI do great podcasts.)

- For amusement, read about WETA's decision to flip two years ago, then read today's press release.

- We've had WGMS on the radio in the baby's room. It's a soothing, friendly presence -- the music, the announcers, the ads for things like investing in gold. There's an atmosphere to it you just don't get on faceless XM. (And we only have one XM receiver, which we're not lugging into the baby's room.) I didn't just listen to it because it's classical. Even as a music major, I think classical these days is basically background music. I listened to it because it's local, friendly classical. A couple of commenters on WETA's blog make the same point -- they'll miss the WGMS announcers.

- Twelve staffers -- many of them Washington radio institutions -- are in limbo, though they will have opportunities to interview at Bonneville. (To do what? It's hard to picture the same soothing voices that introduced Bach chattering between cuts from Seal and Poison, the artists Mrs. MMM heard back-to-back as she listened in shock this afternoon.) And what happens to the folks who produced WETA's news program, Intersection? And shouldn't a powerful public radio station in the nation's capital produce more content?

- WGMS was a great station, well-liked. The demographics are just wrong.

- Just listen to the signoff. It's heartbreaking, even as they spin it as a good day for classical music because it gets a more powerful signal and so forth.

The demographics are the killer. I'm a good little capitalist and all, but seeing another demonstration that advertisers (and therefore programmers) don't care about you when your brand loyalties are established bodes ill for everyone's future, doesn't it?

Hope I die before I get old, I suppose. Oh wait -- the three classic rock stations don't play that song anymore. Too old.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Weirdest pop hits, No. 1

Well, maybe not No. 1, but it's the first one I've written about. And it's apparently the only No. 1 song Bruce Springsteen ever wrote, and it's not even his recording of the song.

If you grew up in the '70s, you heard Manfred Mann's Earth Band's version of Bruce Springsteen's (my, what a lot of possessives) Blinded by the Light a couple hundred times. And you were probably too young to appreciate what a strange freaking song it is.

First of all, the Springsteen song itself is a convoluted mess. Picture the song Rosalita with a clumsier arrangement and a vocal straight from the John Fogerty "Bathroom on the Right" school of enunciation.

What it had going for it was a collection of enigmatic lyrics with cool rhyming hooks that stick in your head. That must be what Manfred Mann and whoever was in his band that week heard and decided to build upon. (Best tangent from the band's history: One-time drummer Chris Slade, who can be heard on Thunderstruck, was let go from AC/DC even though he was considered the best musician in the group. He's a tad more inventive than Phil Rudd.)

So Mann and vocalist Chris Thompson gave it a go, tossing the song in a completely new arrangement and rejumbling the lyrics. There's no coherent narrative in place, so why not?

The song has earned a wonderful Wikipedia entry -- one of the best I've ever seen for a single song. But it only skims the surface of the inherent oddities in the song:

1. Not many songs are built on a spacey keyboard riff that keeps reappearing as the rest of the band abruptly shuts down.

1a. The band abruptly shuts down a lot. The verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus structure does not apply whatsover. This is a hodgepodge of partial verses and one-line choruses popping up at random.

2. Somewhere about two-thirds of the way through the song, Mann (presumably) plays Chopsticks on the piano.

3. Thompson's delivery makes "deuce" sound like "douche." But in the Springsteen version, I have no freaking clue what he's saying. "UPPPP ooos veh neh doooze, guh behna dunner inna nyyy!" Of course, I'm the one who thinks The Rising sounds like "come on up, fertilizer."

4. An ex-girlfriend once insisted to me that this song was a gay anthem. That interpretation hinges on hearing the much-misheard line as "slipped up like a douche" and taking "middle of the night" to be, well, where the sun don't shine. My guess is this is wishful thinking from a dormmate of ours who insisted every guy was gay. Even if that were true, Springsteen would've been way out of his league.

In any case, that would be a new twist on Wikipedia's note that the title is a reference to Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. In fact, everything I found on a search for "blinded by the light homosexuality" led me to some sort of theological debate.

Manfred Mann had a knack for covers. An earlier incarnation of the band had success with Dylan's Mighty Quinn, and he later recorded a version of the Police's Demolition Man. If you think that's strange, check out the other artist to record that song in the early '80s. That's right -- Grace Jones.

See, this is why I find today's music scene so boring. You just don't have anything this bizarre. In my day, the guy who did Doo Wah Diddy Diddy could hit No. 1 with a twisted keyboard reconstruction of a Springsteen tune, a snarling androgynous woman could speak-sing her way through a Police classic, and ELP was covering Aaron Copland. Those were the days.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

When TV shows go bad ...

Mrs. MMM recently read me something (which is why I don't have a link) in which a bubbly writer suggested that Scrubs fans are hoping Zach Braff and Donald Faison continue to be regular fixtures in our prime-time lineup for years to come.

One Scrubs fan -- this one -- would like to object. Especially after tonight's episode, which was every cutesy affectation you hate about the show wrapped up into one nauseating collection of musical numbers. In Season 6, it's no longer funny that J.D. likes appletinis. And it's not believable that Turk doesn't know Carla's Dominican rather than Puerto Rican.

Scrubs has now run longer than NewsRadio. They've produced more than twice as many episodes as Monty Python's Flying Circus. Most BBC sitcoms run a couple of six-episode seasons -- The Office and Fawlty Towers were 12 episodes each. (The Office added a holiday special.)

Sure, 12 isn't enough. There's always the Absolutely Fabulous approach -- do a couple of six-episode seasons, add the occasional special, then do another season if the muse strikes. That's why we've seen five seasons over 12 years.

Sometimes, jokes get run into the ground (Scrubs). Dramas have a different problem. They're usually contingent on characters facing some sort of crisis. After a while, you hit crisis fatigue (ER).

Which brings us to Friday Night Lights.

I was thrilled that the show got picked up for the whole season. But if it's not renewed, I'm OK with that. I'd rather have 22 great shows than 44 shows of gradually decline. I want closure, not more tragedy. (What else could they possibly do to Street?)

Networks are going all reality these days, anyway, because it's cheaper to produce. So why not save money by producing fewer seasons and shorter seasons, boosting the incentive to make those shows better?

Profound thoughts on the Web

I have to share with you the most earth-shattering, mind-blowing, vision-changing, perception-challenging statement ever uttered on the Web. I should warn you that reading this simple statement may be the equivalent of Jim Morrison's first experimentation with LSD, taking you down roads you never envisioned before, forcing you to quote Rimbaud and Aldous Huxley while channeling dead Native Americans and borrowing heavily from the blues.

This revelation can be found in response to a YouTube clip of Maria Sharapova dropping an f-bomb during the Australian Open (in her defense, it was 375 degrees on the court, and she was clearly done). Our wise man (or possibly woman) uses the pseudonym "whosyourdado7," surely to evade capture by government agents who would seek to use his knowledge to plot the overthrow of Switzerland. (They're next, you know.)

The statement follows. If you are unwilling or unable to have your life forever changed, read no further. The comment is ...

I'd tap that

I'll pause to let that soak in ...

I can only hope Sharapova herself is able to see this. I'm sure she often sits around thinking, "Sure, I'm good at tennis. But would an anonymous guy on the Web sleep with me if I gave him the choice?"

We all can name Sharapova's major victories, and I'm sure that's the first thing everyone thinks about when searching for her on the Web. But at last we have an answer to the question, "Is Maria Sharapova hot?"

So thank you, whosyourdado7, for sharing this invaluable knowledge. The world is a brighter place now that we know there is at least one man who, if presented with the option of a brief, ramification-free tryst with Maria Sharapova, would "tap that."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

'American Idol': Taxonomy

Perhaps I should hate myself for it, but I do indeed watch the audition stages of American Idol. Last year, they were in my old hometown, so I had to see it as a matter of regional interest. But I'm addicted to it, I'll admit.

I don't watch it after that. I can't suspend disbelief long enough to see Simon and company turn against the 12 people they plucked out of 100,000 hapless auditioners, the product placement is ridiculous, etc.

Sure, the auditions are ridiculous, too. They'll show someone go through a horrible audition and stalk off, but he/she will show up in a montage a few minutes later. So they either recorded that bit ahead of time or somehow enticed back the person to quit cussing out Simon and bemoaning the gaping hole in American pop music that their failure will leave. I realize people really are that desperate for their 15 minutes of TV fame, but ...

And yeah, they're absolutely cruel at times. I was stunned that they opened last night with a sweet girl who does impressive makeovers, giving us her whole back story and making her seem likable, only to crush her like a bug after a mediocre audition. If this was your first time watching American Idol, you'd conclude that these people are assholes, and you'd flip over to Food Network.

Which would be a shame, because then you'd miss the real reason we watch: Delusional wackos with a perverse sense of entitlement getting a righteous smackdown from Simon and occasionally Randy.

(I'll never find the link, but some writer once suggested a spinoff in which Simon visits corporate boardrooms, listens to about 10 minutes of a meeting, then proceeds to tell the executives that they should quit their jobs, get refunds on their MBAs and take up taxidermy.)

I wonder, though, how much longer they can keep this up. The people we see now usually fall into one of these classes:

1. The Enabled. The show is kind enough to show us this group along with their enablers -- usually a vocal parent but sometimes a quiet boyfriend -- who has convinced them they're destined for stardom. The parents speak about their kids' school recitals like they're freaking Debbie Gibson concerts circa 1988. The boyfriends are often a little less emphatic, nodding and saying vague things that will ensure some consolation snuggling after the audition.

2. The Would-Be Clones. "Hey, I'm prematurely gray, just like Taylor Hicks!" "Hey, I'm geeky, just like Clay Aiken!" "Hey, I like Fuel, just like Chris Daughtry!" "Hey, I'm cute and perky, just like Kelly Clarkson!"

3. The Drama Geeks. I liked Gene Simmons' stint as guest judge because he spelled out for people the difference between being a good singer and a good performer. He was the only judge capable of reaching the Goth-cabaret dude who auditioned last year. "You're eccentric. That's not a bad thing. I'm eccentric, and I've made a pretty good living at it." Most kids don't get it.

4. The Hollywood Underside. "Oh, you WILL see Deena Smith one day on TV!" Yeah. Today, when they show your crap-ass audition on American Idol. And maybe 10 years from now on Cops (suspect) or Behind the Music (groupie).

5. The Music Majors. I can shed some light here. I majored in music. (Philosophy, too, but that's not relevant here.) I had to sight-read and sing various parts in four-part fugal harmony under the watchful ears of demanding faculty members. But if I auditioned for American Idol, Simon would tell me to get my tuition back. You can learn technique and become a competent chorus member, but you won't necessarily get the right style and tone to be a pop singer. The tete-a-tete between Randy and the uppity vocal teacher this year was worth the wait.

6. The Excuse Makers. I'm nervous. I'm sick. I need water. The last contestant punched me in the throat on his way out. I'm normally Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Hicks put together.

7. The Jokesters. You know some of these people are kidding. Even Chris Wylde got into the act.

8. The Psychos. No explanation needed.

Just one more thing to point out from Opening Week: If I see two doors leading out and neither one is obstructed, I'm going to assume I can proceed through either one. That doesn't mean I'm an idiot. If one door doesn't open, it really means you're an idiot. You, the one who locked one of the doors. Or it means you're going out of your way to make other people look like idiots. And these people don't need the help.

(Oh, and is Jewel a Stephen Colbert fan? "Pitchiness"? I don't think that's a word, but she looked fabulous.)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Monday oddities

Things I discovered while fiddling with my template (not happy with it at the moment):

- The guitarist for Elastica has found Jesus. Surprising in the sense that you don't think "evangelical" and "English," but my memory of Elastica is that they had one bold, brassy lead singer and two other women who looked scared of the spotlight.

- Someone has actually gone to the trouble to come up with the 500 greatest guitar riffs. It would take me weeks just to give that the VH1 treatment, much less come up with it myself.

- Is guitar tab legal again? Or are these guys just braver than Olga? (Can't blame the Olga folks -- who'd have the money to take that to court?)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Actual auto review

Warren Brown, The Washington Post's version of Denis Leary. (Except that Leary was kidding):

Vehicles such as car-based tall wagons, which are combination station wagons and minivans masquerading as SUVs, have more seating and cargo space than the 4.4-liter, 300-horsepower V-8, four-wheel-drive Range Rover Sport HSE. The tall wagons generally are more fuel-efficient and city-friendly, especially in terms of parking, than the Range Rover or other truck-based sport-utility models.

But none of that matters when pride and lust for power take hold.

The 2007 Behemoth. Because invading a neighboring country and drinking the blood of the infidel is illegal these days.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

"And I'd join the movement if there was one I could believe in"

Attention Spynotebook-ers -- note two bits of Athens and Athens Academy content below ...

One of the frustrations I have with the blogosphere is that there's little respect for good old-fashioned intellectual back-and-forth.

In academia, here's how it's supposed to work: Someone raises a hypothesis and tests it. Others test it as well, perhaps offering refinements or even outright refutations. The person who raised the hypothesis then answers, conceding some points and defending others. Ideally, this is all done with mutual respect and honesty.

I can't say how often this actually happens in academia -- maybe Quinn can answer, since we share an alma mater and all. All I know is that it never happens in the blogosphere.

Two examples, both coincidentally linked from Down With Snark. (Michael does none of the damage here -- I agree with what he posted about each of these.)

1. The Noka chocolate controversy. Michael sums it up well. A food blogger (mmmm ... food blog ...) started to wonder how this relatively new chocolate company could get away with outrageous prices on its chocolate, and he wrote a 10-part series that could double as a business-school course (BUS 302: Intro to Chocolate). Criminals are put away for life with less evidence than he compiles here.

And yet I have some sympathy for the company here. I could just imagine a happy couple enjoying the holidays, then coming back and finding that a blogger has destroyed their business. Besides, they're hardly the first entrepreneurs to trump up their products with creative marketing. What the hell is "Corinthian leather," anyway, other than something nice for Ricardo Montalban to pronounce?

That hasn't happened, as far as I can tell. The only mention of Noka in the news is that they offering new keepsake packaging. That's also the newest info on their official site and the only news posted since an August photo of the owners with Michael Gross. (Yes, the dad from Family Ties.)

In the blogosphere, you'll find some discussion of an exuberant defender of the Noka brand who has since been hired by the Noka brand. Perhaps that's shady, but you'd have to concede he's being open about the ethical issues.

Up to a point, the discussion remains civil. The blogger -- who doesn't have comments on his blog but does run a messy message board -- gives Noka a chance to defend itself.

Inevitably, the comments descend to the "gotcha" level, and I can't help wondering why anyone would take such delight in taking these people down a peg.

The original investigation is impressive and informative. But Noka doesn't owe anyone a retraction, an apology or an out-of-court settlement. I don't see anything Noka's doing here that differs from typical luxury branding. I'm sure someone could do the same investigation on Prada, finding that they use the same components as cheaper competitors. For better or for worse, creating status around a brand is a skill. The message behind Noka never really was "I care so much about you that I bought chocolate 10 times better than Godiva's." The message is, "I have money and will spend it on you."

Besides, it's chocolate. It's subjective. Some people like Special Dark; some like Krackel.

(And yes, someone made a comparison of Krackel and Nestle Crunch, though it's a little less serious.)

2. Goatse-ing the MySpace crowd. I'd never heard of "Goatse" until today, having wandered onto the Internet for the first time in 1995, just after the Usenet craze. If I had ever seen that word in the past, I would have assumed it was a misspelling of Goetze -- Vicki Goetze, a schoolmate of mine and possibly the best amateur golfer of the past 30 years.

The link above is a safe Wikipedia entry, but if you'd rather skip any and all description, we'll just say it's a disgusting image that you'd have to be tricked into seeing. Unless you're preparing it for someone else to see, which is a variant of the Teabaggers' Dilemma -- why should the teabagging recipient be any more embarrassed than the the teabagger?

So it seems one Jason Scott got ticked that a MySpace template was nicking one of his images. His post is full of techie condescension, but he has a point. He pays to host his images, and his bill ran up quickly when a template-maker made it available for MySpace users.

His solution: Substitute the "Goetse" image for his own. That'll show 'em.

We'd all agree the response was hysterical. The people who made the template told him he should take down the image.

Let's repeat and recast: The people who "borrowed" his image without permission are asking him to change it. That's like Vanilla Ice asking Queen to remix Under Pressure for better sampling.

Funny stuff. But when you read the comments on his site and at Digg, it's easy to jump off the bandwagon. A sample:

If you have a child who browses MySpace... Kill them. You've made a terrible
mistake bringing them into the world, and society as a whole should not have to
pay for that mistake. Just stuff them in a burlap sack with a few bricks and
drop them in a river. No law enforcement agency would begrudge you. You've taken
a future scumbag off the streets and in so doing have saved them a lot of work.


In this case, Scott set the tone. He compares pre-1993 (in other words, pre-AOL newbie avalanche) Internet usage to the early days of air travel, when most people on a plane knew how to fly it. Today, he says, most people are like airline passengers and have no clue. Isn't that a bit like saying the cavemen who invented the wheel should be the best race-car drivers?

Besides, MySpace isn't totally useless, even if you can blame it for the decline of Dane Cook's career. Just today, I found a nice archive of a great forgotten Athens band, Dreams So Real. (You may not find a better four-song blast of '80s guitar pop than this.)

So once again, I'm stuck with reservations that keep me from joining the fun. I'm like the guy at the party who's worried the cops are going to show up. (One day, I'll tell the story of how a couple of us back in the office with the police scanner saved half my newspaper's staff from certain arrest.)

Limit the blogosphere to a few safe areas, and I'm fine. I'm perfectly happy talking music with the music bloggers listed here and talking parenting with a few others. Like Earth in the Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy, we're mostly harmless. I don't see Blender going out of business because of my last few posts.

Does anyone else feel the same way? Is it "the more, the messier" on the Web?

Friday, January 05, 2007

De-snarking Blender, Part 3

For the top 20 of the 50 Worst Artists, I may need to pile on in one or two cases. Snarky critics can't be wrong all the time.

20. Howard Jones. Again, rock critics have a serious problem with positivity. Rock is supposed to be rebellion, we're told. And hip-hop is supposed to be rebellion combined with re-claiming an image, or something like that. And pop is supposed to be ... well, they haven't decided. But apparently, it's OK to be pop as long as it's about sex. Jones gave people other reasons to feel good, and he wrote some decent hooks. Worst you can say about him is that the synth sounds are dated.

19. Dan Fogelberg. For one thing, this isn't "earnestly strummed acoustic guitar." A lot of Fogelberg stuff is damn fine finger-picking. Back in the days when I was competent at such things, I played the guitar part for Longer while the three girls who passed for my school's "chorus" sang. Worst I can say here is that it didn't improve my chances of dating any of them. Soft rock is what it is -- and if it didn't exist, Jason's blog wouldn't be so much fun.

(Coincidentally, I'm listening to some expert finger-picking as I type. It's Lindsey Buckingham's To Try for the Sun. Kind of a flimsy song, but he's such a good guitarist that it hardly matters.)

18. Pat Boone. Yes and no. I've heard it said that black musicians never would have stood a chance in U.S. pop culture if guys like Boone hadn't borrowed it first. So perhaps it's a necessary evil, and perhaps it's evil that such an evil would be a necessary evil. But Boone himself wasn't evil, even if he ticked off his religious crowd with his metal album. I get the feeling he's a little confused deep down, seeing good and evil in both Hollywood and the evangelical movement. That'll lead him to some odd choices, but it's not fundamentally bad. (Pardon the pun.)

17. Benzino. Who?

16. Oingo Boingo. Not a great band, but Dead Man's Party alone should keep them off this list. And Danny Elfman wrote the Simpsons theme, for Pete's sake.

15. Yanni. As a former viewer of VH1's New Age/jazz fusion show ... whose name I've now forgotten ... I can see why he's listed here. But is Blender right in thinking that "Midwestern matrons" buy his stuff? I can't picture that.

14. Yngwie Malmsteen. Well, at least he can play. Just because he has bad taste in songs ...

13. Mick Jagger. Has he really done enough solo work to qualify?

12. Tin Machine. Bowie's side project was oddly interesting. Fun appearance on SNL.

11. Latoya Jackson. Easy target. Doesn't count.

10. Air Supply. OK, fine. I can apologize for Fogelberg, but not these guys.

9. Lee Greenwood. Fair enough, and the line about patriotism being "the ultimate meal ticket for a Nashville hack," is the best line in this whole list.

8. Vanilla Ice. Yeah, it's hard to disagree with that one.

7. Asia. "Hey, Blender snark guy?" "Yeah, what is it, fellow Blender snark guy." "We need some prog-rock bands for the top 10 here." "Oh, yeah! Prog-rock SUCKS!" "I know! All those nerds actually practicing their instruments." "Yeah, tell me about it. So which bands do we pick?" "Does it matter?"

Why yes, it does. Pick early Genesis. Pick Dream Theater. Don't pick the guys who managed to pack their chops into some pop-rock classics. Sure, some of the lyrics were clunkers ("And when your looks have gone and you're alone"), but this is riff rock at its best.

6. Kansas. Dust in the Wind and Carry On My Wayward Son are the two best Christian rock songs written by anyone not in U2. And the guys in Kansas hadn't even become Christians yet.

5. Starship. To be fair, they did a few good songs before dropping the "Jefferson" part of the name.

4. Kenny G. I'll pile on here. Even I can hear the technical flaws in this guy's playing (hello, register break!). If you want to hear soprano sax at its best, listen to Branford Marsalis. Solo, with Sting, with The Samples -- it doesn't matter.

3. Michael Bolton. The other pile-on. But I'm not quite sure he was serious. The overwrought dynamics, the herniated strain on the high notes -- are we sure his entire career isn't a parody of bad soul singing?

2. Emerson, Lake & Palmer. So it's OK for every crap band in the world to bash through Louie Louie, yet re-interpreting classical music on a bank of synthesizers, a bass and a drum kit is a nightmare? Again with the prog-rock bashing.

1. Insane Clown Posse. I don't remember enough about these guys to end on an up note.

But they were kind enough to tack on a b.s. "Are you in the worst band in the world?" quiz that is clearly nonsense. They hint that multiple drummers qualifies as "sucking." The only bands with multiple drummers that spring to mind are .38 Special and the Allman Brothers. Funny how they're not on this list.

And it becomes clear from the quiz that Steely Dan qualifies as a "good" band. Not because they have a jazz influence, because that's clearly a "bad" thing. Not the fact that they could play -- also "bad." So it must be because they're named after a dildo. Which tells you more about the Blender staff than you ever needed to know.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

De-snarking Blender, Part 2

Picking up from yesterday on Blender's 50 Worst Artists, in which a few snarky writers are clearly upset that someone wrote 50 Worst Rock and Roll Records before they did.

40. Blind Melon. Conceded. Shannon Hoon was one of the first in a long line of alt-pop singers whose voice could drive me to violence.

39. Bob Geldof. Odd one to include here. No one has heard Geldof's solo work. You could say that about thousands of artists, some of whom are quite bad. So why pick on the guy who did Live Aid and Live 8, along with some fine songs with The Boomtown Rats?

38. There is no 38. These guys can't even bloody count.

37. The Doors. I understand the need to deflate the Doors mystique, but they did too many good songs to merit a complete dismissal here. You may think The End goes overboard, but it's a piece of music you simply have to hear and ponder at least once or twice in your life if you take music or pop culture seriously. Or Vietnam-era movies.

36. 98 Degrees. Boy bands are easy targets. No points awarded.

35. Paul Oakenfold. Heard of him, but I'm having trouble placing his songs.

34. Live. They were on MTV in '91 and the radio in 2003. You can't dismiss their career as "brief." It's easy to ridicule ambitious bands because they sometimes fail. 50 Worst Rock and Roll Records had a classic line on U2: "If U2 weren't full of shit, they wouldn't be as brilliant as they frequently are." Live haven't been brilliant as often as U2, but that's a high bar to set. Every now and then, they get it right.

33. Japan. Who?

32. The Hooters. Harmless.

31. Arrested Development. Ridiculous to include them here. Tennessee has one of the best melodic hooks you'll ever hear in hip-hop, and Mr. Wendel and People Everyday were fine for innocent pop songs with a message. The chatter in Blender says it all: "Too positive." Heaven forbid.

30. Richard Marx. Conceded.

29. Skinny Puppy. Vague memory.

28. Crash Test Dummies. A solid one-hit wonder. I know some people can't get past the voice, but that's a simple matter of taste.

27. Color Me Badd. Blech.

26. Celine Dion. Easy targets continue.

25. Jamiroquai. Jay Kay is white? And what's wrong with sounding like Stevie Wonder?

24. Bad English. OK, sure. Not a great supergroup.

23. Creed. Agreed.

22. Primus. If you can't get past the voice or the quirky bass riffs, fine. But they threw everything at the wall, and some of it stuck.

21. The Alan Parsons Project. The use of their song in the coolest player introductions in sports history is an "appalling fact"? Something tells me these guys don't "get" sports.

We'll pick up tomorrow, though the top 10 or so are mostly deserving of their places.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A positive start to the New Year

Actually, I'm not sure if it's positive or double-negative. But to start the new year, I'm going to deflate some snark.

The subject is Blender's 50 Worst Artists in Music History. I see J.D. Considine contributed, so it won't be horrible. For those who don't J.D. -- he's the guy who used to do the witty "Short Takes" reviews in the late lamented Musician magazine, and he's best-known for a three-letter review of GTR. The review: SHT.

Off we go ...

50. Iron Butterfly. Hands up if you've heard anything other than Inna Gadda da Vida. OK, that's ... none of you. I think the only people who've heard more than that are reviewers who dump on them. Maybe they're right, or maybe they're just not particularly substantial.

49. Toad the Wet Sprocket. Not my favorite, but in this era of post-emo whining (The Fray and every other Grey's Anatomy band, I'm looking in your direction), they're going to dump on Toad? At least they can sing and write a few guitar riffs. (Aside: Mrs. MMM is en route to New York to smite the Blender staff.)

48. Master P. I don't listen to enough hip-hop to judge.

47. Goo Goo Dolls. It's a pity that they've trended soft since Iris, but they're always listenable and occasionally good.

46. Spin Doctors. They don't like jam bands, and yet the Grateful Dead isn't on the list. That's gutless. If you hate the genre, take down the generals. Not the guys following in their footsteps who distilled the experimentation down to some digestible pop singles. Pocket Full of Kryptonite is a solid album. Aside from, yes, Two Princes. That was a little repetitive. It tended to repeat itself. It used the same riff over and over. It was repetitive. But the actual "jam" on the album was a good one.

45. Gipsy Kings. Oh, they just put this in to annoy people over 35.

44. Manowar. I'll take their word for it, but frankly, a bass solo version of Flight of the Bumblebee sounds like something I need to hear.

43. Mike + The Mechanics. I'll grant them The Living Years, which is a messy compilation of father-son cliches.

42. Rick Wakeman. Let's get something straight right now. Rock critics feel threatened by rock musicians who can play classical music well. Period. Feel free to skip some of Wakeman's solo epics if they're not up your alley, but don't hate him 'cause he's skilled. Just hate the capes he used to wear.

41. Whitesnake. Conceded.

I'll get back to this. I'll end up conceding some of the top 40, because some hatreds are universal. But staying positive isn't about the end result. It's about the journey. (Journey, incidentally, not listed here. But they're referenced.)