Chicago woman has mixed feelings upon hearing B96 blasting from child’s room

A Lincoln Square mom reported today that she was both horrified and heartened that her 10-year-old son was cranking B96, a station heavy on artists like 5 Seconds of Summer and Ariana Grande, on his clock radio.

“At first I wondered if it was some car rolling by, but then I realized that the sound of auto-tune was coming from upstairs,” she said. “When I opened my son’s door, I found him lounging on his left side propped up on his elbow, reading Minecraft: The Essential Handbook and tapping his foot every-so-slightly to a salsa beat.”

Though her son told her he was listening specifically for “Blame” by Calvin Harris because the station was known to play it on an hourly basis, the middle-aged woman, who prefers to the term “midlife,” suspected peer influence. According to her, B96, which she vaguely remembers being called “Party Radio” a few decades back, has never been included on their car’s radio presets.

Son with Little Martin.

Three chords and beyond…

The 40-something GenXer says that she has spent years preparing her son to study rock’s canon as a teenager, fully expecting him to develop an interest in Radiohead or even Rush at some point in his adolescence. Already he showed promise by regularly differentiating between Paul McCartney, after whom he was named, and John Lennon, and correctly identifying the masterful guitar work of Eddie Van Halen. Every once in a while he hums the opening notes of “The Immigrant Song.” She had recently introduced Prince to his educational repertoire.

But the rock-obsessed mom admits to going through a “Killer B phase” when she attended college in Northwest Indiana and was exposed to Chicago’s diverse radio market.

“Sure, back when they were playing ‘Rhythm Nation’ and Dead or Alive, I listened,” she said. “I guess I should be happy that he is recognizing the current trend of producers taking the credit for songs, because being able to hear a producer’s touch is a pretty advanced listening skill.”

She added that maybe it’s time to teach him about the influence of Mutt Lange through his work with AC/DC and Rick Rubin’s ground-breaking cross-genre vision on the landmark Run-DMC album “Raisin’ Hell,” which she notes she owns on vinyl and CD.

“Do not get me started on the Aerosmith vs. Run-DMC ‘Walk This Way’ thing unless you have a half an hour at least to talk,” said the self-proclaimed amateur rock music analyst whose husband has shared his differing opinion on the topic. “We are never coming to an agreement on that around here. But at least we can present both sides to our son and let him make his own decision, which I know if he’s listening to me will be the right one.”

Grammy Highs, Lows, Questions and Folly

Grammy AwardOh, the Grammys. Yes, I know they don’t necessarily award the best in music. Yes, I suspect that they plant certain nominations to raise their television ratings. But yes, I am loyal, as often the Grammys deliver on something interesting to see, even if it’s a train wreck.

As the saying goes, “if you can’t say anything nice…” But I can say something nice, so I’ll start with that.

Beck had a big night — two awards and a great performance with Chris Martin of Coldplay. His award was announced by Prince, and even Kanye graced him with attention.

Thumbs up to the Grammy broadcast producers, too, for pairing Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige. His earnestness and her passion were a good combination, not to mention how well their voices sound together. I was getting a little tired of that song by the end of the night, but that was only because the clip was played those zillions of times Smith walked on stage to collect yet another award.

Lady Gaga proved herself to be a master of reinvention, and she didn’t even wait for her AARP card to show off her chops with the standards.

AC/DC? It’s been a tough year for these guys. Their opener dragged a bit, but they redeemed themselves with “Highway to Hell.” (The devil horns in the audience, though, didn’t help.) It was a female country artist who really rocked it — Miranda Lambert with “Little Red Wagon.” She was even bleeped.

And Annie Lennox. If you didn’t see it, I hope you have it DVRd.

But the Grammys always leave me with questions and curiosities and deliver more than a hint of folly, especially when Kanye West is around. Here are a few I had last night.

Since when are novelty songs nominated for Record of the Year? “How was it that “All About That Bass” was treated as a serious contender? It’s not as if this subject hasn’t been covered before. Off the top of my head Sir Mix-a-Lot and Queen come to mind as having honored the more robust female physique decades ago. Of course, that was a case of men, not women, sexualizing more ample female bodies. Perhaps that’s why those songs tend to elicit snickers and not Grammy nominations.

What are the folks behind the Grammys broadcast going to say about the problem with McCartney’s microphone? I can’t wait to hear the excuses. Maybe they’ll just ignore it, hoping it goes away, like that disastrous performance when they paired Taylor Swift with Stevie Nicks in 2010 for “Rhiannon.” Who knows. But McCartney handled it like a pro. I can’t imagine what kind of tantrum Kanye West would have thrown had his mic been silenced. (We might look to the toy aisles at Target for an answer to that question.)

Speaking of looks, what do you think Prince’s expression was when Kanye indulged himself in a flashback moment and began to take the stage when Beck won Album of the Year? We couldn’t see behind his shades.

Maybe it was just more of this.

Prince

 

 

 

Also, do we need to stop referring to him as the Purple One and begin calling him Orange Julius?

Why was Best Rock Performance not televised? Every artist in that category is well-known, and there is a whole lot more creativity going on among them than the Record of the Year or Song of the Year nominees. (It might have been nice for one of those songs to have been included in these cross-genre categories… break the cycle of “girl power” anthems.)

Maybe these guys just weren’t interested in showing up. Can you blame them? The 2015 Grammys may have been a lot of things, but it wasn’t rockin’ (Miranda Lambert excepted).

 

Meeting the Beatles for the Non-Believer

The Beatles Later YearsAnyone interested in parting with roughly $190 US for the new Oasis deluxe box set? Me neither. Nor is my fellow blogger at everyrecordtellsastory.com. He has issued a Vinyl Challenge to see how else he might spend the equivalent in British pounds. He’s set out to build the best record collection he can for a friend who needs to get hooked on vinyl. Check out his last few posts to see how he’s accomplishing this. If you haven’t shopped for vinyl in a while — or say 20 years — you’ll be surprised at how things have changed.

Every Record Tells a Story has inspired me. I’m not in the market for an Oasis deluxe box set, either, so I’ve thought about what else I could do with the money… some way that I could help out a friend… some way that I could build a package of the best the world of music has to offer. And, coincidentally, you could say it was inspired by Oasis in reverse.

But really it was motivated by an incident that took place a few weeks ago at a party we hosted. There I learned that one of our guests does not like the Beatles. Like most people who say this, he seemed to imply that the band is overrated.

A shrug for the Beatles? This is quite curable.

With people one knows well, the remedy can be achieved over time and a paced series of recommendations. But in the case of a person one sees occasionally and at social events that primarily revolve around their children’s school, it’s a bit trickier as people aren’t so receptive when one dominates the conversation with talk about bands. (Trust me, I’ve been down that road before.)

So the challenge I have undertaken is this — find a way to budget the $190.00 to develop my own “box set” that provides the critical education necessary for enlightenment and enhanced musical pleasure, because, after all, life is so much better when you have the Beatles around to enjoy.

You might ask, “Can’t you just download some hits from iTunes and be done with it?”

The key here, though, is context. My friend probably has already heard most, if not all, of the Beatles chart-toppers and a handful of B-sides. Somewhere along the line, their brilliance was not absorbed. (In fact, I argue that the prevalence of things like The Beatles 1, etc., does more to inhibit understanding of the Beatles than develop it.)

Like the Oasis box set, my collection includes more than just music. In order to appreciate the Beatles, a person needs to understand their role in the development of the rock and popular music canon, how they transcended boundaries — the disappearance of which we take for granted, and the foundation they established for the artists who emerged with them and afterwards.

I don’t know said friend well enough to spend $190 on him, regardless of how life-changing this gift would be, so this is fact-based but fictitious. So, let me introduce to you…

THE GENXATMIDLIFE.COM BEATLES ENLIGHTENMENT BOX SET

IMG_2083Hard Days Write ($9.98 at Barnes & Noble) — The Beatles were prolific. Maybe it was the 10,000 hours of practice, the intensity of Hamburg, the early years spent in hotel rooms sheltered from mobs of teenage girls bent on plucking the hairs from their growth follicles — but few bands (or none) have produced so much, so good in such a limited amount of time. It probably helped that they didn’t tour after 1965 — more time for songwriting and working in the studio.

This book does a great job of illustrating the bridge between the Beatles’ early years — simpler songs, “innocent” subjects — and the more sophisticated compositions of their later years. These guys could write about anything… from pets to prostitutes… and make it awesome. In fact, if they were sitting in my house right now, they could probably craft a Top 10 hit about how much I’d like new granite in my kitchen.


revolver

Rubber Soul ($19.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($19.99 on amazon.com) on vinyl. Post Hard Days Night the title for “the Beatles’ Best Album” is up for grabs. Is there really a consensus? Each has it merits, but in my opinion, these two are the most important for the non-believer, as they are likely the ones they don’t know that well. (This observation is based only on conversations I’ve had with said people and is in no way quantifiable or scientific.)

You can’t have one without the other. The transition began before Rubber Soul, but it’s at this point that it is fully emerged. With Revolver, it is fully realized, and there is no turning back (even with the stripped-down efforts of Let It Be). By this time, the Beatles had obviously matured significantly as musicians, songwriters and observers of the world.

This is one case where I insist on vinyl. There is something about the act of placing the needle on the record, the shiny outer strip that marks the anticipation of the first notes, that prepares the listener for the power of what they are about to hear. It’s like a ritual, paying homage to those first listeners who slid the vinyl disc from its dust cover, delicately securing its edges between the pads of their middle fingers and thumbs, placing the hole on the center spindle, setting the speed to 33 1/3 and switching on the turntable. If my friend is going to really listen to these albums for the first time, this is how it needs to be done. (And if they don’t have a working turntable, they can come to our house where we will be happy to provide educational commentary between sides.)

Rubber Soul ($12.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($13.88 on amazon.com) on CD. For practical reasons.

Let It Be RooftopAbbey Road ($12.99), Let It Be ($16.29), The White Album ($19.88), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ($13.88), Magical Mystery Tour($13.88), Help! ($16.29) on CD from amazon.com*. Why CDs and not iTunes? Each of these need to be understood as a collection. On iTunes, it is too easy to perceive each song as a single, and that is no way to consider the works of the Beatles. You need to hear “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” roll into “A Day in the Life. You need to witness the range of “Rocky Racoon,” “Glass Onion” and “Julia” within a single (double) album. Worst of all is how iTunes severs The Medley.

With a CD, you can open the jewel case, check out the cover, hold the evolution in your hand. On iTunes, it’s too easy for very special music to get lost among the shuffle of Ratt’s first album, the Timberlake stuff you have for parties and that Edwin McCain song you downloaded for your friend at 12:03 a.m. last Saturday night after that second appletini.

If I had more money to work with — or was a better bargain shopper — I’d buy all the way back to Meet the Beatles. But given the limitations of my imaginary budget and, most likely, my friend’s willingness to listen, I can’t push it. Anyway, I want to leave something for the “new” Beatles fan to discover, so they can come back to me again and again and tell me how right I was.

IMG_2089Hard Days Night” DVD ($18.99 at Laurie’s Planet of Sound) — It’s easy to think of a band that recorded, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” as dismissible in the post-60s musical era. In fact, this is the song people (though they are few) bring up when I express my shock that they don’t care for the Beatles. These people need to be reminded that the Beatles had a lot of work to do before they could unleash “A Day in the Life,” and even “Help,” on the world. They had to chip away at the barriers of convention that dominated popular music.

In the movie, “A Hard Days Night,” the world was introduced to four young men from Liverpool, of all places, whom you could see right away had a kind of humor and humanity that gave hint to their staying power. After seeing this, how would anyone be able to resist?

Without tax*, I have spent $189.03, just shy of my $190.00 goal. Converting a non-believer for less than $200.00? As Master Card would say — Priceless.

* I know that shopping at markets and independent record stores is much more fun. But with Amazon Prime, shipping is free, it comes in two days and I don’t pay tax, which I have conveniently left off the B&N and Laurie’s “purchases.” Plus, it’s a bit cheaper than our local indy shop.

The Beatles Anniversary Special Celebrated More Than Just 1964

The Beatles in 1964I have to admit that even as a Beatles fan, I was slightly skeptical of the 50th anniversary special commemorating their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It’s not that I didn’t think it’d be filled with good performances. Rather, I was wary of it not capturing the essence of The Beatles, which means something very different, I’m sure, to a fan born several years after 1964 versus someone who watched the Ed Sullivan Show live that February 9th.

When I talk with other people about The Beatles, those who aren’t fans — and there are many more than I expect– automatically bring up “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or another one of their early hits. (It’s probably much like what Beach Boys fans hear from people who mention “I Get Around”.) They think of Beatlemania and the screaming girls and the matching suits. This is a far place from where I am, having “discovered” The Beatles through Sgt. Pepper and The White Album.

Rather than rehash that early period, last night’s show transcended that time of frenzy and wove many aspects of The Beatles’ contributions in a way that paid homage to the foundation of their influence on music. It didn’t all begin 50 years ago, and it has continued long after, but that event from 1964 made all that came after possible.

Wow — FIFTY years ago. That’s incredible when you see how relevant The Beatles still are — as last night’s special showed — and the degree to which they remain an influence on pop and rock music. Not every artist handled their assignments well, but there were some highlights, and it was in those that love for the music really shone. Maybe you agree with some of these:

Imagine Dragons did an incredible rendition of “Revolution”. They chose a more R&B treatment, kind of like what the skiffle bands of The Beatles’ origins would have done. It was interesting to see a young band use an old sound for a truly fresh take that didn’t stray too far from the originals.

Ed Sheeran paid beautiful tribute to “In My Life,” a song so amazing that everyone should learn the words and melodies the way we know Happy Birthday. Few have expressed love of any and every kind so well.

Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh and Gary Clark, Jr., really warmed up the theater with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” before Ringo Starr came out as the lead-in to the finale featuring him and Paul. By then, everyone was loose and moving. Usually when you see televised performances like this (the Grammys, etc.), only a few of the artists get up and really enjoy the music. Last night, we saw no stiff faces or self-conscious masks of boredom.

Both Ringo and Paul McCartney turned out solid performances. While Ringo was never known for his singing voice, he’s clearly an entertainer in front of and behind the drums. McCartney is always amazing. He may not have the vocal range he once did, but he is present for every minute of every song.

The (remaining) Beatles showed tonight why they are, in fact, The Beatles… why they occupy that echelon above all others. By the end of the evening, the audience was engrossed. Almost every performer who played one of their songs displayed a sense of gratitude to the music. (My one criticism about the evening was that artists who clearly weren’t inspired had the opportunity to perform. With all the talent available, they could have found an alternative to Alicia Keys, who seemed almost dismissive.) Not only have The Beatles inspired people to love their music, they’ve inspired people to love all kinds of music. Who can deny this after seeing that whole theater under the influence of “Yellow Submarine”?

Drill down to a single person sitting on her couch in Illinois. My opening Facebook comment about the performance was that I did a better job singing “Ticket To Ride” on my couch than Adam Levine. I don’t think that I am a better singer than him. Rather, there’s a passion in loving a song, in having sung a song thousands of times (quite possibly more than Adam Levine) that makes the difference.

That is The Beatles’ legacy. And to my surprise, the 50th anniversary special captured it. Click here for a great recap from Billboard, including the set list.

Songs That Shaped A Life — Anniversary Week

justmarriedHere’s something that one can hardly fathom on their wedding day (or when they embark on any similar long-term commitment) — how much you will share with the other person to the point where your lives are so mingled, it’s as if your combined life becomes its own entity.

My original idea for this post was to recount a difficult experience my husband and I shared earlier this year where we were of the same mind, committed to seeing a problem through to the end… one that did not result in a resolution, but rather a decision to leave something behind. Instead, what inspires me is a different experience of unspoken collective thought. It came in the form of a conversation between my husband and the service manager at our dealership about the repair of a broken side mirror.

Overhearing one side of this phone call, the timeline of all our years together scrolled by. Why? We were reunited with this dealership after years of being disappointed in the service at the former one. It’s a small thing… not one that would inspire the romance associated with a love. What made this moment poignant is that I sensed my husband was sharing my feelings at that same moment. We had that sigh of, “Finally! Good service!” without having to express it beyond our minds.

How does it feel to share so much in your life, from the simplest pleasures (like good service at the car dealer) to the most complex (like facing an obstacle with a thoroughly united front)? If you’ve ever unraveled a piece of origami, you know how each fold is shaped by another that often isn’t visible in the final product. It’s the layers that stack and meld and reconstruct your life and your spirit.

My song for this anniversary is one we considered for our first dance. Since this is a blog post 16 years later, I can forego the necessity for the slow groove and choose something that is simple honesty. Happy Anniversary to My Best Friend.

The Song That Changed Everything

Venus and Mars were all right that night.

Venus and Mars were all right that night.

In July of 1994, I was a young lady in the latter half of her 20s building a career, hanging out with friends, playing volleyball at North Avenue Beach and packing up her apartment to move across the alley from a studio to a one-bedroom.

One Friday evening that month, I took a break from the boxes and newspaper to meet a friend whose friend’s band was playing at a bar two blocks away. Something felt very different about that evening. I told myself it was buzz about the move.

At the bar, I was introduced to a guy who was cute, seemed nice and was a friend of a friend of a friend, which was considered something along the lines of an endorsement. We struck up a conversation that was very much like many others I’d had in bars on Friday nights… until a song came on that I would never expect to hear in a crowded Halsted Street drinking establishment, “Listen To What The Man Said,” by Paul McCartney.

In that moment, when the bouncy beat launched into, “Anytime, any day, you can hear the people say,” something changed. We were no longer two kids in a bar in Lincoln Park having a superficial conversation about how much we liked the Bulls. We connected on a deeper level.

I felt safe revealing my music nerd self and told him how much I loved Paul McCartney. He said that although he wasn’t a Beatles fan (I made sure that changed), he did like songs from Wings because they reminded him of his childhood. Was this love at first sight?

Maybe it was love at first discussion about rock music, a pastime that continues to this day. One of my favorite things is to talk about music with my husband. It probably always will be. The other day I asked if I was really going to be 72 years old sitting around listening to 1984 and talking to him about Van Halen. He confirm that, yeah, I probably would.

When we married three years later, we actually chose different McCartney songs for our first and final dances. This one was too tied to the magic of that first chance meeting. There was something so spontaneous about how it happened, and it is at its most perfect left as the song that brought us together.

My once and future favorites

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

I knew lyrics to Beatles songs before I could understand them. When I was three years old, I was weaned on a steady musical diet of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songs on this album are the soundtrack of some of my life’s first memories (along with “I Think I Love You” and “Sugar, Sugar”), and I believe that my views of the world were formed, in part, by what I heard in the music and lyrics.

I distinctly remember being three or four and cycling the lyrics to “She’s Leaving Home” through my mind, which was not at all prepared to understand the meaning of the song. I stumbled over the line, “She breaks down and cries to her husband, ‘Daddy, our baby’s gone.’” I wondered what in the world a husband-daddy was, and when it became too complex to imagine, I gave up and just sang along. I was probably ten before I reconsidered those words and then understood. That was about the time my interest in The Beatles was reignited and being mature enough to comprehend what they were saying was akin to finding hidden treasure under my swing set… it was always there but just waiting for the right moment.

The Beatles exposed my young mind to all kinds of other questions, such as:

  • Why would a banker wear a guy named Mac when it rains?
  • What spooky things were going on at that benefit for Mr. Kite?
  • Why did Eleanor Rigby wear a mask? I muddled this with Halloween and trick-or-treating and came up with a very odd image that perhaps I’ll share with Tim Burton if I ever meet him.

Early exposure to The Beatles is a beautiful thing. I can think of no collection of modern artists more appropriate to provide a lifelong love of popular music. When my children were born, I picked songs for each of them from the Lennon & McCartney collection, In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere”.

They will always be my favorite band.