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Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Styx Defense


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Sparked by a Facebook post, I gloriously came to the defense of my first favorite band – Styx. In the world of musical journalism, professing a love of Styx is somewhat akin to telling the science world that evolutionism is bogus.

To be fair, in his original post on his Todays Song Is ... fan page, Michael Crawley acknowledges the dichotomy of fan love vs. critical drubbing. In picking Styx’s “Suite Madame Blue” as the song of the day, he says it “is steeped in the Yes/Zeppelin fusion that was attractive early on but got old right about the time ‘Blue Collar Man’ hit the airwaves. I do love this song, but it’s sorta like an old girlfriend who later went around the block a few too many times.”



My response: “Critics be damned. Styx was my first favorite band and I’ll always like them.” I’d posted a similar sentiment as far back as September 5, 2009: “Styx may get mocked for being at the forefront of the late-‘70s/early ‘80s stadium rock movement, but they were my first favorite band and Paradise Theater was my first favorite album. You never get that out of your system!”


Click photo for more about ‘Paradise Theater’.


Michael was one of my first fans when I started my Dave’s Music Database Facebook page. Between our comments on each other’s pages, I’ve probably shared more musical dialogue with Michael than anyone in the last six months. We share a mutual respect for passion over music and, so far, have not come to cyberspace blows over musical opinions.

Having said all that, I still felt like a dagger had been plunged into my soul (okay, in reality I only winced slightly) with his comment that “from Pieces of Eight on they kinda sucked IMHO.” I declined retaliating that “Babe”, off the follow-up 1979 Cornerstone album, was my first “official” favorite song. Such an admission would have required 1) confessing that I liked such an unabashedly saccharine song and, 2) acknowledging that oh-so-many-years-ago I launched my own weekly music chart and that “Babe” was the maiden chart topper.



Iinstead I boldly and loudly proclaimed that Paradise Theater was one of my top 5 favorite albums. Okay, truth be told, I followed my declaration with “bows head in shame.”

I didn’t advocate that “The Best of Times”, “Too Much Time on My Hands”, and “Rockin’ the Paradise” have become deserved album rock classics since airplay doesn’t equal critical acclaim. I didn’t respond that this was a #1 album (their solitary chart-topper, in fact) and fourth consecutive triple-platinum album. That might win an argument over the album’s commercial success, but it doesn’t go far in proving its critical worth.

Since great artwork doesn’t equal great music, I also didn’t gush about the album packaging with a front picture of Chicago’s Paradise Theater in its prime paired with a back cover of it long past its glory days. Similarly, while I was originally intrigued by the album’s theme – a lament about abandoning the old in favor of the new – I realize now how loose and unoriginal the concept was.

Instead, I quoted from Steve Almond’s Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, a book from a self-proclaimed “Drooling Fanatic” and an inspiration for a previous DMDB blog entry (“The Musical Hierarchy Ladder”). Among his humorous essays is a defense of Paradise Theater in which he admits “I loved Styx and...still love Styx and not ironically either.” He says that even though “Styx has become the mullet of bands”, he still feels good when he listens to Paradise Theater.


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So do I. That’s the thing about loving a band – you love them regardless of their critical status or commercial clout. You love them because – well, just because you love them. Almond suggests that critics would do well to be more open-minded, stating that “if the human ear is given a chance, not cowed into snobbery, it can find rewards in almost any form of music.”

The discussion Michael and I started on his Facebook page carried over to mine when I professed my love of Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair. In defending the album, I said I’d use “the Styx defense”, my earlier declaration that one likes what one likes, critics be damned. On Michael’s page, I originally quoted another Almond line, which should be the mantra for all people ever faced with defending music that they love: “you can’t tell someone his or her ears are wrong.”

To Michael’s credit, this was his response on his page to my defense of Styx: “I close this with a tidbit from Cole or Dylan Sprouse when they played Julian on the movie Big Daddy – Styx is the greatest band in the world and they only got a bad rep because most critics are cynical A$$holes!”

That’s good enough for me. I’ll close with that, too.

This essay, “The Musical Hierarchy Ladder”, and more are included in the book ‘No One Needs 21 Versions of ‘Purple Haze’…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive’. Click for more info..




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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Musical Hierarchy Ladder


Check out these books by Dave Whitaker available through DavesMusicDatabase.com or Amazon.


Also check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts.



Thanks to Steve Almond’s book Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, I’ve pondered my status as what Almond calls a “Drooling Fanatic.” Almond describes them as people “who walk around with songs ringing in our ears at all hours, who acquire albums compulsively, …and cannot resist telling other people – people frankly not that interested – what they should be listening to and why.”

This got me pondering. “Drooling Fanatics” or music geeks, have heads full of knowledge that no one else wants. They obsess about albums that no one else owns and blabber about bands no one has heard of. They may even play an instrument – although poorly enough that no one has ever paid money to hear them. However, this person may have made money as – horror of horrors, a music critic.

Even with all those strikes against them, the music geek is NOT the bottom of the barrel. But before railing on those who don’t even deserve the DF’s respect, let’s “oooh” and “aaah” at those on top of the musical hierarchy ladder. This ladder falls into four basic categories, which, in my true music geek nature, I will then subcategorize.


Those Who Create Music

The Star. Has had actual success making a living as a musician – and we’re not talking the weekly 7:00 Friday slot at some local pub while making one’s true living at a print shop. No, no. This is someone who can actually feed, clothe, and house him or herself based entirely on money made from playing music.

The Performer. Okay, these are the guys who still work at the print shop while moonlighting at that local pub. They’ve never made it big and probably never will, but they can boast to having done paying gigs, even if it all got blown on beer before the night was through (or the payment actually was beer).

The Instrumentalist. Whether by piano lessons that Mom insisted would build character or by noodling around on a guitar for hours while other high schoolers were going to football games and proms and generally pursuing some semblance of a social life, this person can play some kind of instrument in such a manner that another human being can actually identify what is being played.

The Singer. This isn’t as simple as the person who warbled in the shower or performed concerts to an audience comprised only of oneself in the bathroom mirror. No, this person pretty much has to be credentialed in some manner – they’ve had formal training, they can boast of getting a 1 at state, they were in a choir, something. Building up alcohol-inspired courage to get on stage at karaoke night on a bet does NOT qualify one as a singer.


Those Who Possess the Ability to Pass on Music

The Teacher. You know those piano lessons you took for three years from about age 8 to 11? This was your torturer, the person who made you do scales while you dreamed of being the next Elton John or Billy Joel. This was also that choir teacher in 10th grade who coached your way to state while you were forced to approximate Celine Dion with your vocal gymnastics.

The Scenester. This person not only knows who’s performing at every local dive in town, but they’ve been to all of them. They boast of number one status for some local band that is so local that anyone beyond a 25-mile radius has never heard of them. For that matter, most people within that radius don’t known anything of the band, either.

The DJ. This could be either a radio disc jockey or the turntable spinner at a dance club. These people probably began as scenesters and, most likely, are continuing to build that cred but now getting paid while they do it. I’m not sure the wedding DJ fits here, however. The person who thrusts “The Chicken Dance” on the world over and over has to suffer by dropping a few more notches on the musical hierarchy ladder.


Those Who Possess the Ability to Trivialize Music to Death

The Musicologist. This person may not be able to tell you the difference between a bass clef and a treble clef, but they will be able to dissect in great detail a bootleg of a 1995 Phish concert in which the band played a 15-minute rendition of “Split Open and Melt.”

The Collector. It’s all about the numbers, folks. While the musicologist may have 125 bootlegs of the Grateful Dead and little else, the Collector is more prone to boast of an album collection of at least four figures. This person has probably also made more than a few mix tapes over the years.

For sake of full disclosure, this is basically where I, your humble author, would fall. I have no musical ability or talent and can be dumbfounded by even the simplest of music theory discussions. I can, however, generally point out a CD or two in most friends’ and family members’ collections which I made for them. I also have more Marillion and Kevin Gilbert albums than most people you’ll ever meet. Who are they, you ask? Exactly.


Those Who Possess the Ability to Strip Music of All Enjoyment Whatsoever

The Critic. Likely a wannabe performer, instrumentalist, or singer. Almost definitely a scenester, musicologist and collector all rolled into one. However, the critic has destroyed any status any of these higher states might have afforded him by presuming, and pretentiously so, to have an opinion on music far greater than, well, anyone else’s. They relish in pointing out others’ poor tastes while touting the merits of their favorite indie-rock band flavor of the month. The worst kind of critic even gets paid to do this.

The music geek is generally a mix of the three elements above. Maybe this person has dabbled in teaching or even performing, thus lifting his or her status even higher. However, all credibility is gone and the music geek becomes the absolute bottom of the barrel if he or she should stoop so low as to become…

The Executive. The only person more loathed in the music world than a critic is the suit – the person paid the big bucks by some major record company to be a tastemaker. This generally means plugging into the next big thing which basically means finding what can best be marketed to a tween, teen, and/or adult market. If you are over 30, your musical dollar means nothing to the music exec, but the concert promoter will happily take your dough whenever your favorite geezer act trots its twenty-third trek across the United States in support of their eight-album discography – of which the last album was released six years ago.

Digital Haters. This is a special breed, generally a mix of the critic and the executive. This is NOT an assessment of those capable of lengthy rants about how much warmer and cleaner music sounds on LP; that’s more musicologist territory. Similarly, those independent record companies and music stores who still actually love music more than money are exempt from this category.

No, digital haters are those industry folks who continuously whine about how digital music is destroying the music industry. They rail on fans (or in the case of the RIAA, even sue them) for ruining the industry by picking and choosing only certain songs by artists (and often downloading them for free) instead of buying the long-overpriced album that the record companies shoved down people’s throats for so many years. Check your bank accounts – if your pockets are lined with money made from blockbuster albums forced on the public in the ‘90s, then hush. You “stole” a lot more money from fans than they’ve taken from you.


And on that happy note, we come to an end of this, no doubt, inspiring guide to those who pump music full of soul and those who suck it back out again. Worthy of note – I started this essay while midway through Almond’s Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life and later stumbled across his own chapter (“On the Varieites of Fanatical Experience”) which charts similar territory. Of course, you’ll have to shell out some bucks to read his opinion, while my musical brain droppings are, for now, still completely free. Someday, I too hope to reach the level of a Steve Almond where people willingly fork over their hard-earned cash for my musical opinions and observations. Beware – the world will probably come to an end shortly after.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Katy Perry hit #1 with “California Gurls”: June 19, 2010

Originally posted June 19, 2011.

June 19, 2010: Katy Perry hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “California Gurls.” As the first single from her second album, Teenage Dream, it suggested that she would not be a one-album-and-done success story. “I Kissed a Girl” and “Hot N Cold”, from her 2008 album One of the Boys, were inescapable hits, but many thought she was just another pop flash-in-the-pan.

The song was allegedly written as a response to Jay-Z’s New York tribute song “Empire State of Mind”. Perry joked with Rolling Stone that “it’s been a minute since we’ve had a California song and especially from a girl’s perspective.” WK She also tapped West coast rapper Snoop Dogg as a guest artist. Perry’s manager suggested the misspelled title as an ode to Big Star’s “September Gurls”.



MTV News’ James Montgomery called “California Gurls” “a big, bright, decidedly beach-friendly pop tune.” WK The song debuted at #2 on the Hot 100 the week ending May 29, 2010. Within seven weeks, it sold more than two million digital downloads.

The song was followed to the top by “Teenage Dream”, “Firework”, and “E.T.” That made the Teenage Dream album only the ninth in the 52-year history of the Hot 100 to produce four chart toppers. It was last done in 2004 with Usher’s Confessions.

Those four songs also gave Perry the unprecedented feat of spending a full 52 weeks in the top ten. As of the June 18, 2011 issue of Billboard, the streak is still alive as “E.T.” sits at #3. Meanwhile, fifth single “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” started its chart climb the same week.




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