REM on Letterman in 1983

REM performing “So. Central Rain” and “Radio Free Europe” on Late Show with David Letterman

Amazing time capsule video of R.E.M. making their national TV debut on the Late Show with David Letterman in October 1983. On this appearance, they played two of their earliest hits – ‘Radio Free Europe’ (off of their first album Murmur) and ‘So. Central Rain’ (off of their second album Reckoning). The performance of ‘So. Central Rain’ was such an early cut of the song that they actually had not given it a name – it was the song’s national premier! What is even more unique is that they actually played two songs on the show. On most late shows (SNL being the exception), bands only play one song, a trend that generally conveys to this day.

First – look at how young they all look! From Letterman to the band itself. This was from a time when R.E.M. was literally just getting started and had just released the aforementioned album “Murmur”. Michael Stipe was so shy in those days that he did not even engage with Letterman when he greeted the band after playing ‘Radio Free Europe’. Second – look at the set of the Letterman show where they played! It looked like someone’s basement – which was probably in keeping with the venues they were playing in at the time!

I think everyone has ‘concert regrets’ – shows that you had the opportunity to go to but did not attend for any number of reasons – apathy, conflict, punishment, etc. For me, one of several concert regrets is not going to see R.E.M. at Drew University’s Baldwin Gym in 1985. Look at that set list. Amazing! I had just moved to a new town in New Jersey at the time and for whatever reason, I did not go to this show. They were gaining in popularity and on the verge of exploding, but were just not there yet. It was *the perfect time* to see them.

R.E.M. continues to be one of my all time favorite bands. Listening to R.E.M. today brings back a flood of smiles and memories that are attached to their songs. If you are a fan, Michael Stipe just sat down for an interview on the podcast Smartless.

Tony Bennett Dies at age 96

A legend amongst legends. His appeal crossed generations for over 70 years as he sang with everyone from Celine Dion to Amy Winehouse to Lady Gaga. Reading his obituary is like a time capsule of the past 97 years. I knew he served in World War II but had no idea that he was on the front line of troops to liberate the German concentration camps. And I had no idea the story behind how he decided on his stage name:

At night he performed at amateur shows and worked as a singing waiter. He had just begun to get paying work as a singer, using the stage name Joe Bari, when he was drafted.

He arrived in Europe toward the end of World War II, serving in Germany in the infantry. He spent time on the front lines, an experience he described as “a front-row seat in hell,” and was among the troops who arrived to liberate the prisoners at the Landsberg concentration camp, a subcamp of Dachau.

After Germany surrendered, Mr. Bennett was part of the occupying forces, assigned to special services, where he ended up as a singer with Army bands and for a time was featured in a ragtag version of the musical “On the Town” — directed by Arthur Penn, who would go on to direct “Bonnie and Clyde” and other notable movies — in the opera house in Wiesbaden.

He returned to New York in August 1946 and set about beginning a career as a musician. On the G.I. Bill, he took classes at the American Theater Wing, which he later said helped teach him how to tell a story in song. He sang in nightclubs in Manhattan and Queens.

A series of breaks followed. He appeared on the radio show “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” the “American Idol” of its day. (The competition was won by Rosemary Clooney.) There are different versions of the biggest break in Mr. Bennett’s early career, but as he told it in “The Good Life,” he had been singing occasionally at a club in Greenwich Village where the owner had offered Pearl Bailey a gig as the headliner; she agreed, but only on the condition that Joe Bari stayed on the bill.

When Bob Hope came down to take in Ms. Bailey’s act, he liked Joe Bari so much that he asked him to open for him at the Paramount Theater. Hope had a condition, however: He didn’t like the name Joe Bari, and insisted it be changed. Dismissing the name Anthony Benedetto as too long to fit on a marquee, Hope christened the young singer Tony Bennett.

NY Times

Here are two snippets of an interview he did with Howard Stern back in 2011. The first one talks more about his time serving in World War II and how that experience impacted him. The second talked about his own trouble with drugs, how Frank Sinatra gave him a warning, and how he wished he did the same to Amy Winehouse.

Bowie in the USSR

Photo Credit: Leee Black Childers via Wende Museum

We lost rock legend David Bowie way too soon, however there is not a shortage of footage of the rock icon to remind us how supremely cool and influential he was. At the Wende Museum in Culver City, CA is a very intimate collection of photos of Bowie as he traveled by train, boat and automobile from Japan to Europe because he was not comfortable flying:

In 1973, after performing in Japan as part of his Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane tour, Bowie headed home to Europe through the Soviet Union. He was fearful of flying and journeyed by boat, car and train with a close childhood friend, Geoff MacCormack, a percussionist and backup vocalist on the concert tour. The trip included a week on the Trans-Siberian Express from the city of Khabarovskto Moscow, where they stayed for two days.

Before they embarked on their trip, Bowie bought a 16mm movie camera in Japan and MacCormack, who later made a living as a songwriter and producer in advertising for 20 years, bought a Nikkormat camera. They documented their journey on and off the train, capturing the landscapes whizzing by, their fellow travelers and each other, both posing for the camera and in candid moments. Footage from Bowie’s “The Long Way Home” film is also on view at the Wende.

“This exhibition is basically holiday snapshots,” says Olya Sova, who guest-curated the Wende exhibition. “Not David Bowie in the studio, no makeup or posing with lights. It’s just two friends traveling together and having fun and exploring places that are really different from their reality.”

Deborah Vankin, The Los Angeles Times
Photo Credit: Geoff MacCormack via Wende Museum
Photo Credit: Geoff MacCormack via Wende Museum

I really love when candid, intimate photos of famous people surface in today’s world – photos from before they became really famous – and these few shots fit that bill. I would love to get out to LA to see the full collection before the exhibit closes!

h/t: Laura Olin

Long Live Vinyl

Via Statista

In an all digital world, vinyl records continue to make quite the comeback since the trend started to take hold in 2006. As a percentage of albums purchased, vinyl records share of sales continues to grow. Yet when you put it in the broader context of all digital consumption and downloads of single tracks, vinyl represents less than 5% of all sales. From Statista:

So how big is vinyl’s comeback really? Should we all dust off our old record players to prepare for the analog future of music? According to Luminate’s 2022 Year-End Music Report, LPs accounted for 43 percent of album sales in the United States last year, which is quite substantial. Factoring in streaming and downloads of single tracks, however, that number drops to less than 5 percent of album equivalent music consumption, which puts things in perspective.

Statista

Smashing Pumpkins, Before they were…

Before the Smashing Pumpkins were, well, The Smashing Pumpkins, they were a band out of Chicago trying to find their sound and looking to catch a break. This video (about 60 minutes in length) is from 1988 and was apparently filmed for a local Chicago cable access show (aka shows filmed out of people’s basements and broadcast on local cable before YouTube. Kids, ask your parents about it or go watch Wayne’s World) Pulse Basement Live. The sound of their music in this video is noticeably different than the sound that they developed in the later 1990s on albums like Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and Adore. I can hear and feel the influence of 1980s bands like The Smiths in some of the earlier songs in the video. It feels like in real time, you are seeing them test new sounds and try to figure out what their sound should be. Really amazing time capsule video of one of the more influential bands of the 1990s.

First Few Hours of MTV

It all started with “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles. This may not seem like much, but back in the early 1980s, MTV was an earth shattering shift in the music and pop culture landscape. We had never, ever seen anything like this before. And over the years from its debut through to the mid-late 1990s, MTV set the trends and made or broke music/pop culture stars. For me, the show 120 Minutes was a must watch. For others, Yo! MTV Raps was the vanguard. And all of that started with these few hours. What an amazing time!

h/t Austin Kleon

The Legacy of the Cassette tape

The inventor of the cassette tape, Lou Ottens, died earlier this week. From the NY Times:

In these digital days, it may be hard to appreciate how radically Lou Ottens changed the audio world when, in 1963, he and his team at Philips, the Dutch electronics company, introduced the cassette tape.

“As the story goes, Lou was home one night trying to listen to a reel-to-reel recording when the loose tape began to unravel from its reel,” Zack Taylor, who directed the 2017 film “Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape,” said by email.

Mr. Ottens was in charge of product development at the Philips plant in Hasselt, Belgium, at the time.

“The next morning,” Mr. Taylor continued, “a frustrated Lou Ottens gathered the engineers and designers from the Philips audio division and insisted that they create something foolproof: The tape had to be enclosed, and the player had to fit in his jacket pocket.”

The cassette was a way to play music in a portable fashion, something not easily done with vinyl, and to record it conveniently as well. Artists started using cassettes to record passing ideas. Bootleggers used them to record live concerts for the underground market. Young lovers used them to swap mix tapes of songs that expressed their feelings.

Soon record labels began releasing entire albums on cassettes and automakers were installing cassette players on dashboards.

Another portable technology, the bulkier 8-track cartridge, was introduced in the same period, but cassettes, smaller and recordable, quickly doomed those devices, and also cut into the vinyl market.

NY Times

To me, the juxtaposition of Mr. Ottens, an engineer from the Netherlands, and the up and coming urban rappers from NYC (and other cities) who used and embraced his invention to distribute their music, for the exact reasons that Mr. Ottens was frustrated with other formats of the time, can not be understated.

There is a great documentary on Amazon called Cassette: A Documentary Mix Tape. The trailer is below and you can also see several clips and deleted scenes on the documentary’s website.

The importance of Mr. Ottens’ creation across the globe is staggering, if you really think about it, especially in the context of the birth of rap music in the 1970s and the ability of the kids of a certain generation to make mix tapes as a method of expression.

Over the past several years, there has been a renewed interest in cassette tapes. Modern artists today regularly offer up their albums in the cassette format (vinyl too!). While cassettes clearly are not as popular today as they were ‘back in the day’, it seems obvious that the format will never really go away.

The Importance of Live Aid

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 a 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.

Peppermint Bee

Awesome video from my friends at Twink. Twink is a toy piano band and the brainchild of my former colleague at Lycos, Mike Langlie. Watch and listen…its addictive and catchy!

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.