The Importance of Live Aid

Freddie Mercury at LiveAid

Live Aid was a seminal day and event in rock and roll history that has been discussed and analyzed numerous times over the 35 years since it took place. What is amazing to me about Live Aid is that it went from hair-brained idea to seminal, once in a lifetime event in just about a year.

Live Aid, which took place on July 13, 1985 for a global audience of 1.9 billion people, was a massive, bi-continental pop concert created to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief. It was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, leader of the Irish new wave band The Boomtown Rats. Geldof was spurred to philanthropic action after seeing a BBC report in October 1984 that featured footage of starving children. His first thought was to make a charity single.

Of course, Live Aid wasn’t just about fundraising. It also had to be a great show—or else why would people bother to watch it in the first place? As it happened, the day was filled with memorable performances on both sides of the Atlantic. The consensus pick for Live Aid MVP is Queen, whose 21-minute Wembley set included “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We are the Champions.” Mercury “strutted and preened, carrying his microphone on a metal pole that he treated as a vaudevillian’s cane, an air guitar, and, of course, a phallus,” The New York Times wrote of Mercury’s performance. “He was a rock star playing a rock star, leather-lunged and imperious but also grinning to let everyone share the joke … For 21 minutes, Freddie Mercury undeniably made the world his stadium.” In 2005, Queen’s Live Aid set was voted the greatest rock gig in history by a panel of music industry experts.

The diversity of the acts that performed during the Live Aid concerts in Philly and London was a downfall of the event, but it was not for a lack of trying. While it was an important day for artists like Run-DMC, other larger black artists such as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and Prince declined to participate. Hindsight is 20/20 and I am sure there were things that could have been done to get a more diverse palette of artists to perform. The impact that the event had on Run-DMC was real and was an important opportunity to expose a worldwide audience to the emerging ‘hip hop’ genre of music.

As a teenager in the middle of high school when this event took place, I will never forget spending that Saturday watching the concert unfold. It was an amazing thing to witness live and I only wish I could have been there in person in Philadelphia.

Who Is Neil Young?

This is a question that I have pondered off and on over the many years I have been listening to music, and a question that the folks on the Polyphonic YouTube channel documented in a video essay . There is something about Mr. Young and his vast influence on the music world that is really hard to pin down.

From my perspective, my favorite work from Mr. Young’s illustrious career is his solo albums – specifically “Harvest”, “Harvest Moon”. What people forget is that he is from Canada, even though he had a massive influence on United States politics, history, music, and popular culture.

Similar to Johnny Cash – whom I never really appreciated until he was gone – I do make sure to fire up a set of Neil Young songs every once in awhile just to enjoy the unique sounds and cadence of his music.

Freddie Mercury, Comic Book Hero

Image source: Butcher Billy on Behance (link below)

From artist Butcher Billy, a fantastic collection of ‘pulp’ comic book cover illustrations honoring Freddie Mercury. Each one depicts a comic styled illustration themed off of one of Queen’s classic songs or lyrics.

Similarly, screenwriter Todd Alcott developed a series honoring the late, great David Bowie. You can even purchase prints of the Bowie series on Alcott’s Etsy page!

The Internet never ceases to amaze.

Restored Version of Queen At Live Aid

A beautifully restored version of the quintessential Queen performance at LiveAid in July of 1985. If you are curious, you can see a comparison of the original video and the new one just to see the improvement.

From Chief Mouse, the person who did the restoration:

Fixed the line interference issues, microphony or however you want to call it. This Queen performance deserves to be viewed at its best, so naturally I did my best to bring this project to fruition. Also included the introductory parts. The audio is BBC FM broadcast for everything except for ending of CLTCL, WWRY (I like the loud audience in the DVD mix) and ITTWWC due to feedback and technical issues.

Chief Mouse

Queen has been receiving a lot of love recently as a result of the release of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rami Malek’s Oscar nominated winning performance portraying Freddie Mercury, and I think it is well deserved. Queen is one of the great bands in rock and roll history that were never fully appreciated.

Songs of Summer

The folks over at NPR have compiled a list of the top sings from each of the past 50 summers (1962-2012). They were inspired by a similar list over on Billboard Magazine’s site that listed the top summer songs from 1985-2011. There are more than a few songs in this list that I just shake my head at, and wonder what the collective ‘we’ were thinking. Ah, hindsight.

Both of these fine journalistic institutions kinda missed the musical boat on this one by not including a Spotify playlist of each of these lists. So, in about 20 minutes I was able to pull together the Spotify playlist for many of the songs from the NPR list, with a few additional songs from the Billboard list added for good measure.

Spotify Songs of Summer: 1962-2012 Playlist

While the Macarana was included in the top summer songs of 1996 by both Billboard and NPR, I refused to include it in Spotify playlist just on principle.

Brooklyn Is Sleeping

So sad about the news of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys losing his fight with cancer. The Washington Post, of all places, (The Washington Post!) pulled together one of the best tributes I’ve seen yet:

A Tribute to Adam Yauch, Composed Entirely of Beastie Boys Lyrics

Born and bred Brooklyn U.S.A.
They call me Adam Yauch, but I’m M.C.A.
Like a lemon to a lime, a lime to a lemon
I sip the def ale with all the fly women (1)
I’m not James at 15 or Chachi in charge
I’m Adam and I’m adamant about living large (2)
I’ve got more rhymes than I’ve got gray hairs
And that’s a lot because I’ve got my share (3)
Now what do we have here, an outlaw and his beer
I run this land, you understand, I make myself clear. (4)
M.C. for what I am and do
the A is for Adam and the lyrics; true
so as pray and hope and the message is sent
and I am living in the dreams that I have dreamt (5)
I wish for peace between the races
Someday we shall all be one (6)
That’s right y’all
Don’t get uptight y’all (7)
I’m out and I’m gone
I tell you now I keep it on and on. (8)

via The Washington Post by way of Buzzfeed.

Move Pandora Favorites To Spotify

OK, so I’ve been using the free version of Spotify on my desktop since I got my invitation and have been impressed by the service…especially the playlist sharing and the overall social element of the service. However, I have not yet taken the plunge and forked over the $10/mo ($120/yr) for the upgraded/unlimited plan.

My logic has been that using a service like Pandora satisfies my music need to discover new albums, artists, and songs since I can listen to songs I’m familiar with and it also enables me to discover new music similar to what I’m familiar with. Plus, when I look at my music purchase history these days, I generally buy 8-10 MP3 albums a year which is roughly equivalent to the Spotify annual cost plus I already have several thousand songs already in my personal music library. In essence, it’s been:

MP3’s I Purchased/Owned + Pandora = Musically Happy Steve

However, my music world has now been thrown for a tizzy as I have just discovered via Buzzfeed an insanely cool plug in for the Chrome browser that may have tipped the scales towards Spotify. The plug in basically enables you to take all the songs you have “thumbed up” on your Pandora stations and import them into a Spotify playlist (click through to original post to see the details).

So for example, on Pandora, I have a Say Hi (To Your Mom) Pandora station (based on the awesome Seattle band of the same name) and, as with my other stations, regularly “Thumbs Up” several songs per session. Now, this plug in takes that curated list that has been compiled over time and puts it in your own Spotify playlist.

For those of you Spotify users, here is the link to the aforementioned playlist – Say Hi Favorites

I can now pump all the songs I’ve ever “liked” via Pandora into Spotify.  I can discover new songs, albums and artists by discovering shared and public playlists. No decisions have been made yet, but Spotify is moving to the head of the class really really quickly.

Plug-in discovery via Buzzfeed

Selling Out

I’m a little bothered that here in the NYC area, it seems that every other ad on TV has either Vampire Weekend’s “Holiday” or The Drum’s “Lets Go Surfing” as its backdrop music. In reality, the songs are being used for Honda, Tommy Hilfiger, and Volkswagen. The sad thing is that I really like both of these songs but now, when I listen to the radio, I don’t know if the station is actually playing the song or airing an ad.

Your Own Music Video

Caught this article on Techcrunch about how the band Arcade Fire teamed up with Google, Google Chrome and Google Streetview to show off what HTML5 can do as part of a Google Chrome Experiment.  After typing in your childhood home address, a “modular” video of Arcade Fire’s song “We Used to Wait” starts playing that includes a guy running through streets with a hoodie on.  And after a few minutes, the video brings in Google Streetview and Google Earth aerial views of your childhood neighborhood and then uses those visuals as the backdrop for the video.  Its really cool and an intensely personal way to connect you to the video/song and the band.

Here is my video using my childhood home in Boston as the address.  NOTE: Be sure to only have this browser open.  Its a very processor intensive app and video.

Spotisquare

This is an interesting mash up. Spotisquare brings together Foursquare and Spotify and it enables you to attach a song to a location/check in, thus enabling you to put some personality to your Foursquare check ins. They have a mobile app at m.spotisquare.com . Obviously, a big issue is that Spotify is not readily available in the USA. And do we really need another task to do when checking in using Foursquare?

An Open Letter to Skullcandy

Dear Skullcandy:

For the second time, I’m sending back your Ink’d in-ear headphones.

For the second time, they have #failed in the same manner – one of the earbuds stopped working.

On your site and in your customer service correspondence, you imply that your products can withstand “extreme listening”. My listening demands call for me to pull them out of my pocket, plug them into my Droid, put them in my ears, and listen when I commute to my job in NYC. I’ll concede that NYC can be a zoo sometimes, but it’s not like my usage patterns of your product is anything close to extreme.  With both Ink’d products that I have returned, one of the earbuds on the headphones has failed and I can only hear audio out of the other earbud.  In the first instance, my assessment was that the root cause was a frayed connection of the cable to the jack.  For my most recent instance, I’m really not sure what is happening that is causing the earbud to fail.

I’ll be honest here, I’m a little frustrated with your products, especially being that I’m not doing anything “extreme” when using your headphones. One time I can understand, but two times is troubling.

But wait, there’s more! I was in Best Buy the other day, looking at replacement headphones to purchase.  I happened to overhear two women who were also looking at headphones, where one of them was saying that her current headphones (which were in her hand) had failed. When I looked down at them, they were distinctively Skullcandy.  I struck up a conversation with them and we compared notes. The issue she had experienced was exactly what I have experienced, in that the cable connection to the jack had frayed and caused the audio and headphone to fail.

I don’t know if it’s a problem with the Ink’d line or a broader issue with your in-ear headphones, but I would look long and hard at how these are produced and figure out where the defect is.  I wanted to like your products, really I did. But I’ve lost my patience. And it appears the woman I spoke with in Best Buy did too.

The Internet Killed the Radio Star

MTV has released an online video site that houses all the videos that have ever run on the network (we won’t talk about its name – MTV Music or Music Television Music – or the fact that these days MTV is anything but Music Television).

Check out the very first video ever played on MTV, The Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star or this Internet classic or Devo’s Whip It or one of my favorites, the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl”.

The Most Popular area, which as of today looks like a retro 1980’s top video list with video “classics” like Dire Straits Money for Nothing, aHa’s Take on Me, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or – wait for it – Toto’s Africa.

Big hair is back, kids.

Grandmaster Flash

The other day I was coming home from work and I just happened to dial up the Fresh Air with Teri Gross podcast. It’s not a podcast I listen to regularly, however whenever there is a good interview on NPR, it always seems as though Teri Gross is the interviewer. In any case, the podcast I dialed up was from March 2 and it featured an interview with Grandmaster Flash, arguably the godfather and first true star of rap/hip hop music. Whether you are a fan of rap/hip hop or not, take a listen. It’s an amazing interview in that Grandmaster Flash is able to transport you back to the early 1980’s when he was honing his craft and just investigating how far he could push the limits. What was also amazing was when Teri Gross asks him to do a voice over of what he was doing (artistically) while they listen to his seminal “The Message” mix.

One Step Closer to Being A Mall

CBGB’s

Another big part of New York’s long music legacy was lost to the history books this past weekend when CBGB OMFUG (Country BlueGrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers is the long version of the name) unceremoniously closed its doors. And now, NYC is one big step closer to being a homogeneous plastic concrete Mall of America. I’m not going to claim to be anything close to a punk rocker, and I sadly never even set foot in the place. But I am aware of its place in music history, the legends it helped create, and the legend the venue itself became. In recent years, CBGB fell into some level of disrepair and the level of music innovation never did rival that time in the mid-to-late 1970’s when acts like the Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie, and others established themselves there. But you always knew that it was there as a living, breathing piece of NY and American music history. And now, it’s not there. Rumors are that they will try to take it apart and rebuild it in (gasp) Las Vegas, but obviously it will never be the same. What are they going to do next, close McSorley’s?

Via NY Times

“Metal” place

Over the past couple of weeks, on the commute home I have been putting aside my iPod at 6:30PM in favor of my mini-portable radio so I can listen to the NPR radio program Marketplace. When we were living in Boston, I’d always listen to it on the frequent weekend trips down to the NYC area and grew to become a great fan of the program.

And yesterday, a piece on the program just re-inforced why its just such a great program. The story led in talking about how toymaker Hasbro had a bad quarter, highlighting one cause being the influx of “non plastic” products into the market. The story then shifted to how people are willing to spend more on products made of metals and woods since such materials give the product extra cashé. They then profiled Motorola who is manufacturing a platinum phone, highlighting its hefty price, and ironically noting that you could buy a “metallic” ringtone for all of $1.50. And the “metallic” ringtone? None other than “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. They sampled the ringtone, and then faded into the actual song by Metallica! It was just a fantastic transition.

Now I am hardly a fan of Metallica (However “Enter Sandman” is one song of theirs that I actually do like), however my point is that Marketplace has always had a fun, irreverent, “tongue in cheek” perspective to its business reporting which makes the show so unique. And only Marketplace would be able to get away with fading out from a story into “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.

Its Not the Song, Its the Song Part

Over on retroCRUSH is a great page that highlights the top song parts in music. This page so accurately points out that there are so many songs out there that are exceedling average, or the band that created them was exceedingly average, but there are elements of a specific song they created that are timeless. Snippets like the opening rift in One Step Beyond by Madness or the opening of Anarchy in the U.K. by the Sex Pistols are highlighted and appropriately so. However, the biggest issue I have with this fine compilation is the fact that they listed Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight as the #1 Cool Song Moment. Anyone who votes for Phil Collins at the top of any music related list (other than the list of top most annoying singers of the 1980’s) in any way has some serious musical issues. But even with that major jugmental flaw, its still a great list worth checking out.