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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is Glee the New Elvis?

Originally published in my "Aural Fixation" column on PopMatters.com on May 24, 2011. See original post here.

image from popmatters.com

Once upon a time there was young man who was attractive and charming. His teen followers swooned as he threatened to revolutionize their world by introducing them to his brand of music. While the kids embraced the Man, he rubbed some members of the Establishment the wrong way because his music was deemed a dangerous influence on the youth. I’m talking, of course, about Elvis Presley. No, wait. I mean, I’m talking about the basic plot line of Glee.

Elvis fans may cringe, but there are parallels between one of today’s most iconic television shows and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Much like the man from Tupelo, Mississippi, has become synonymous with American music in the ‘50s, Glee is a touchstone for the state of American music in 2011.

The Charts

The notion that Elvis and Glee even belong in the same musical discussion was sparked by a 16 February 2011 article in Billboard magazine, “‘Glee’ Cast Tops Elvis Presley for Most Hot 100 Hits” (by Gary Trust). The industry leader’s flagship US chart, the Hot 100, crowned a new king for most chart entries – and it wasn’t The King.

A television show that was nonexistent two years ago surpassed the 108 hits Elvis Presley accumulated over a two-decade career. This statistic is a little misleading. The Hot 100 launched in 1958, by which time Elvis had already spent two years racking up 31 hits on predecessors to the Hot 100 chart (see “Ask Billboard: Who Could Break “Glee”‘s Record?”, by Gary Trust, 18 February 2011). That boosts his total to 139 charted hits from 1956’s “Heartbreak Hotel” to the 2003 remix of “Rubberneckin’.” As of 14 May 2011, the Glee cast had amassed 137 Hot 100 hits. Give ‘em another week.

There’s still plenty of room for chart fanatics to cry foul, however. The average Glee chart entry is gone before the next episode airs. While the man who sang to a hound dog on Milton Berle’s show has left us with immortal songs like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Don’t Be Cruel”, the cast of Glee has graced us with gems like…uh, well, they did a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. Glee hasn’t left us with a treasure trove of immortal songs like “It’s Now Or Never” or “Suspicious Minds”. When the Glee cast passed Elvis’ record, they’d logged a wimpy 150 weeks total for all their chart entries, meaning about 80 percent of their “hits” logged a solitary week on the chart. By comparison, Elvis amassed 994 cumulative weeks. Only 700 or so more Glee hits and they’ll have caught up to the King!

Presley scores significantly better than Glee on other fronts, as well. According to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, Presley has gone top ten 38 times compared to a skimpy three such hits for Glee. The King has gone #118 times; Glee hasn’t done that, yet.

Still, the sheer number of chart entries for the Glee cast makes their achievement astonishing. More importantly, Glee taps into the state of today’s music industry much as Elvis did in his day.

Using Television as a Medium

In the ‘50s, television proved an important medium for marketing music. An appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show could send viewers straight to their radio station’s request lines or, more importantly, to their local shop which sold 45 RPM records.

Glee has blended adolescent hormones and the immediacy of digital music and poured its concoction into must-see prime time TV. Prior television-meets-music endeavors like the High School Musical movies and the Hannah Montana TV show had landed multiple chart entries in a single week, but only Glee has done it on a weekly basis.

Taking Advantage of the Digital Age

This has largely come from the ability of the Glee marketing machine to take full advantage of how young audiences consume music today. In Elvis’ time, a teen had to persuade Mom and Pop to take them shopping. In the 21st century, a teen’s impulsive need to add a just-heard song to his iPod is only a mouse click away, and it’s easy on his allowance.

As disposable as pop music has generally been, Glee has taken it to new heights. Week-in and week-out, iTunes drools over Gleeks desperate to own songs they heard for the first time just seconds before. The song that charts this week may be a distant memory next week. It may never get radio airplay and certainly won’t go down as a cherished classic, but it sold a hundred thousand or so downloads on its way toward obscurity.

Singles Over Albums

This sounds pretty negative, but there’s an upside. For years, the music industry greedily stuck its money-grubbing hands into the customer’s wallets by pushing albums when buyers often wanted individual songs. That power, however, has shifted back to the consumer.

The album format launched in the ‘40s and gained prominence in the ‘50s primarily as collections of previously-released material targeted to more serious fans. During the ‘60s, groups like the Beatles approached albums as artistic statements independent of singles. Thanks to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and similar ventures, the ‘70s launched classic rock groups like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin who could find massive success with barely a single to their names.

By the ‘80s, commercial juggernauts like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. bombarded the US market with single after single, but all in the name of pushing the album into multi-platinum sales figures. By the turn of the century, a new album by the Backstreet Boys or ‘N Sync was practically considered a failure if it didn’t move a million copies its first week out.

However, the digital age has ravaged the album industry, allowing customers to cherry-pick individual songs. Glee has fully embraced the practice, not even pushing albums on its public until its fans have had the chance to purchase the songs individually.

The Musical Climate

All of this hints at the greatest commonality between Elvis Presley and Glee. Both are at the forefront of their eras by tapping into the musical climate of the day. Before Elvis gyrated his pelvis into the musical spotlight, the American music scene was dominated by crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. These were singers who started out fronting big bands with repertoires comprised primarily of already-established standards. It was common in the first half of the 20th century to see multiple versions of the same song chart available simultaneously.

In the ‘50s, the birth of rock and roll wasn’t just about marrying R&B to country to birth a new genre. It was also about transforming how the music industry marketed itself. Suddenly the most successful singers no longer looked like they were headed to the office; they looked like they worked at the local filling station. Elvis Presley and his peers weren’t fronting orchestras but small combos of guitar, bass, drums, and piano. Performances were no longer about how effectively the singer nailed a laid-back vibe, but how manic he looked while swiveling his hips, terrorizing a defenseless piano, or strutting across the stage to the whoops and hollers of teenage girls.

The music industry of 2011 bears similarities to the music industry of 1956. Glee is more about the ensemble than the individual performer. In addition, Glee has lead to the industry to again embrace the idea of tapping into a hit song’s success by recycling it before it goes cold. In some cases, such as Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You”, the original got a boost because of the Glee version.

If Glee ever tackles the Elvis catalog, there’s no question which version of “Love Me Tender” or “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” will leave the greater imprint. However, Glee has mastered the premise of today’s musical landscape that longevity isn’t the goal. Sell and sell now. Worry about what history will say about it, later.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Rainmakers Live at Knuckleheads: May 15, 2011

image from rainmakers.com

14 years after their last album, The Rainmakers returned with 25 On. In support of the reunion, they toured, including a hometown stint at Kansas City's Knuckleheads saloon on May 14 and 15, 2011. As part of the show, the group performed their 1986 eponymous debut in full. Here's the set list for the entire show:


THE SET LIST

1. Rockin’ at the T-Dance 1
2. Downstream 1
3. Let My People Go Go 1

4. Doomsville 1
5. Big Fat Blonde 1
6. Long Gone Long 1
7. The One That Got Away 1
8. Government Cheese 1
9. Drinkin’ on the Job 1
10. Nobody Knows 1
11. Information 1
12. Given Time 6
13. Half a Horse a Piece 6
14. Like Dogs 6

15. The Wages of Sin 2
16. Small Circles 2
17. Spend It on Love 3
18. The Lakeview Man 2
19. Missouri Girl 6
20. Another Guitar 4

21. You Remind Me of Someone 4
22. Reckoning Day 3
23. Shiny Shiny 3
24. Width of a Line 4
25. Hoo Dee Hoo 3
26. Go Down Swinging 6

ENCORE:
27. Turpentine 6
28. Burning Love *
29. The Last Song of the Evening 6
30. One More Summer 2


THE ALBUMS

1 The Rainmakers (1986)
2 Tornado (1987)
3 The Good News and the Bad News (1989)
4 Flirting with the Universe (1994)
5 Skin (1997)
6 25 On (2011)
* Elvis Presley cover


Monday, May 9, 2011

The Top 100 Albums of the 1970s

You can check out the top albums of all time or for other decades by clicking here.

These are the top 100 albums of the 1970s according to Dave’s Music Database. Is there any doubt that the best albums of all time were dominated by ‘70s output? All 100 of these albums make the DMDB’s list of the top 1000 albums of all time (see here). 41 of them make the DMDB’s top 100 list (see here). This list was originally posted on the DMDB Facebook page.

1. Pink Floyd...Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
2. Led Zeppelin...Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
3. Fleetwood Mac...Rumours (1977)
4. David Bowie...The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
5. The Rolling Stones...Exile on Main Street (1972)
6. The Clash...London Calling (1979)
7. The Sex Pistols...Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)
8. Bruce Springsteen...Born to Run (1975)
9. Marvin Gaye...What's Going On (1971)
10. Pink Floyd...The Wall (1979)

11. Eagles...Hotel California (1976)
12. The Who...Who’s Next (1971)
13. Bee Gees/various artists...Saturday Night Fever (soundtrack, 1977)
14. Simon & Garfunkel...Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
15. Bob Dylan...Blood on the Tracks (1975)
16. Carole King...Tapestry (1971)
17. Stevie Wonder...Songs in the Key of Life (1976)
18. Pink Floyd...Wish You Were Here (1975)
19. The Rolling Stones...Sticky Fingers (1971)
20. Elton John...Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

21. Led Zeppelin...Physical Graffiti (1975)
22. Neil Young...After the Gold Rush (1970)
23. Patti Smith...Horses (1975)
24. Joni Mitchell...Blue (1971)
25. Stevie Wonder...Innervisions (1973)
26. Television...Marquee Moon (1977)
27. Ramones...Ramones (1976)
28. Derek and the Dominos...Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
29. Neil Young...Harvest (1972)
30. Meat Loaf...Bat Out of Hell (1977)

31. Van Morrison...Moondance (1970)
32. David Bowie...Hunky Dory (1971)
33. Queen...A Night at the Opera (1975)
34. Black Sabbath...Paranoid (1970)
35. Van Halen...Van Halen (1978)
36. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young...Déjà Vu (1970)
37. Blondie...Parallel Lines (1978)
38. The Clash...The Clash (1977)
39. John Lennon...Plastic Ono Band (1970)
40. Olivia Newton-John/John Travolta/various artists…Grease (soundtrack, 1978)

41. The Allman Brothers Band...At Fillmore East (1971)
42. John Lennon...Imagine (1971)
43. Boston...Boston (1976)
44. Lou Reed...Transformer (1972)
45. Joy Division...Unknown Pleasures (1979)
46. Elvis Costello...This Year’s Model (1978)
47. Santana...Abraxas (1970)
48. Elvis Costello...My Aim Is True (1977)
49. Miles Davis...Bitches Brew (1970)
50. Bruce Springsteen...Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)

51. Michael Jackson...Off the Wall (1979)
52. Sly & the Family Stone...There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971)
53. Eagles...Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (1976)
54. Joni Mitchell...Court and Spark (1974)
55. Gram Parsons...Grievous Angel (1974)
56. Led Zeppelin...Houses of the Holy (1973)
57. Roxy Music...For Your Pleasure (1973)
58. Stevie Wonder...Talking Book (1972)
59. Aerosmith...Toys in the Attic (1975)
60. David Bowie...Low (1977)

61. Peter Frampton...Frampton Comes Alive! (1976)
62. Supertramp...Breakfast in America (1979)
63. Jethro Tull...Aqualung (1971)
64. AC/DC...Highway to Hell (1979)
65. The Doors...L.A. Woman (1971)
66. Elton John...Greatest Hits (1974)
67. Janis Joplin...Pearl (1971)
68. Grateful Dead...American Beauty (1970)
69. Mike Oldfield...Tubular Bells (1973)
70. Deep Purple...Machine Head (1972)

71. The Stooges...Fun House (1970)
72. Paul McCartney & Wings...Band on the Run (1973)
73. George Harrison...All Things Must Pass (1970)
74. Curtis Mayfield...Superfly (1972)
75. The Stooges...Raw Power (1973)
76. The Rolling Stones...Some Girls (1978)
77. Neil Young...Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
78. Steely Dan...Aja (1977)
79. Billy Joel...The Stranger (1977)
80. Kraftwerk...Trans-Europa Express (1977)

81. Rod Stewart...Every Picture Tells a Story (1971)
82. Bob Marley & the Wailers...Exodus (1977)
83. T-Rex...Electric Warrior (1971)
84. Genesis...The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
85. Bob Marley & the Wailers...Natty Dread (1974)
86. Bob Marley & the Wailers...Catch a Fire (1973)
87. The Who...Quadrophenia (1973)
88. Marvin Gaye...Let’s Get It On (1973)
89. Neil Young...Tonight’s the Night (1975)
90. James Taylor...Sweet Baby James (1970)

91. The Modern Lovers...The Modern Lovers (1976)
92. Creedence Clearwater Revival...Cosmo’s Factory (1970)
93. Yes...Fragile (1970)
94. David Bowie...Heroes (1977)
95. Led Zeppelin...Led Zeppelin III (1970)
96. The Beatles...Let It Be (1970)
97. Nick Drake...Bryter Layter (1970)
98. Lou Reed...Berlin (1973)
99. David Bowie...Station to Station (1976)
100. Public Image Ltd....Metal Box (aka “Second Edition”) (1979)


Monday, May 2, 2011

Classical Works – Top 50

Originally posted as a top 10 on the DMDB Facebook page on 2/21/10. Expanded to a top 50 on 5/2/11. List is an aggregate of 14 other best-of lists whose focus is on classical music. Here’s the top classical works (which includes operas, symphonies, concertos, etc.) according to the DMDB:

1. Johann Sebastian Bach...Goldberg Variations (1741)
2. Igor Stravinsky...The Rite of Spring (1913)
3. Antonio Vivaldi...The Four Seasons (1725)
4. George Friedrich Handel...Messiah (1741)
5. Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky...Piano Concerto No. 1 (1874)
6. Ludwig van Beethoven...Violin Concerto in D Major (1806)
7. Johann Sebastian Bach...6 Cello Suites (1723)
8. Ludwig van Beethoven...Symphony No. 5 (1808)
9. Johann Sebastian Bach...Brandenburg Concertos (1721)
10. Ludwig van Beethoven...Symphony No. 9 (1824)

11. Ludwig van Beethoven...Piano Concerto No. 5 (1809)
12. Mario Lanza...The Student Prince (1954)
13. George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, and Dubose Heyward...Porgy and Bess (1935)
14. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...Piano Concerto No. 20 (1785)
15. Bela Bartok...Concerto for Orchestra (1944)
16. Ludwig van Beethoven...Symphony No. 7 (1812)
17. Modest Mussorgsky...Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)
18. Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky...Symphony No. 6 (1893)
19. Richard Wagner...Der Ring Des Nibelungen (The Ring Cycle) (1874)
20. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...Requiem (1791)

21. Richard Wagner...Tristan Und Isolde (1859)
22. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...Don Giovani (1787)
23. Antonin Dvorak...Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) (1893)
24. Georges Bizet...Carmen (1875)
25. Antonin Dvorak...Cello Concerto in B Minor (1895)
26. Johann Sebastian Bach...Mass in B Minor (1749)
27. Aaron Copland...Appalachian Spring (1944)
28. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...Symphony No. 40 (1788)
29. Giuseppe Verdi...Requiem Mass (1874)
30. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”) (1788)

31. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...Piano Concerto No. 21 (1785)
32. Ludwig van Beethoven...Piano Sonata No. 14 (“Moonlight”) (1798)
33. Franz Schubert...Symphony No. 8 (“Unfinished”) (1865)
34. Sergei Rachmaninov...Piano Concerto No. 3 (1909)
35. Andrea Bocelli...Romanza (1997)
36. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...Le Nozze di Figaro (“The Marriage of Figaro”) (1786)
37. George Gershwin...An American in Paris (1951)
38. Ludwig van Beethoven...Symphony No. 6 (“Pastorale”) (1808)
39. Giacomo Puccini...La Boheme (1896)
40. Hector Berlioz...Symphonie Fantastique (1830)

41. George Friedrich Handel...Water Music (1717)
42. Claudio Monteverdi...Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (1610)
43. Ludwig van Beethoven...Piano Concerto No. 3 (1800)
44. Dmitri Shostakovich...Symphony No. 5 (1937)
45. Igor Stravinsky...L’Oiseau de Feu (“The Firebird”) (1910)
46. Bela Bartok...The String Quartets (1939)
47. John Williams…Star Wars (1977)
48. Gioacchino Rossini...Il Barbiere di Siviglia (“The Barber of Seville”) (1816)
49. Ludwig van Beethoven...Piano Sonata No. 23 (“Appassionata”) (1805)
50. Franz Liszt...Piano Sonata in B Minor (1853)

Note: names are those of the composers. Years are when the work premiered.