Monday, June 27, 2011

Embarrassing Musical Moments

I was 10.  In my hands I held an 8-track I was supremely excited to own.  The Christmas Gods had bestowed it upon me.  I wanted it for ELO.  Years later, looking back on it, the Xanadu soundtrack is probably a lot better than I give it credit for now.

We all have these releases we were thrilled to get and then, as time passes, we wonder what the hell we were thinking.  If you don't have some embarrassing musical tragedy, you are lying.  I'm laying mine out on the table, like an autopsy gone haywire.  Xanadu 8-track.  A soundtrack to a movie that I found to be god-awful even back then.  (I know it has developed a fevered fan/cult following, but that doesn't give the film any real kind of value or integrity.)  I wouldn't buy this now.  I shouldn't have wanted it then, but I wasn't the only one who wanted it, either.  That thing sold like GHB at a frat party.

There are other albums I've owned that are equally perplexing.  This one, however, takes the cake.  I can't explain it, other than I've always had a soft spot for ELO.  I can't justify it.  And, if put under torture, I can't remember any songs other than the popular ones (and even those memories are sketchy).  I loved it, though.  I played that thing over and over on my stereo and portable 8-track player.  I whispered its name as I fell asleep.  "Xanadu ..."  It sounds almost like a spell or a DC comic book.  (In reality, Marvel put out the comic book, and DC has a character called "Madame Xanadu."  Tell me, though, that it doesn't sound like it should be a DC comic.)

I've come clean on my shameful moment.  Now I'd like to hear from some of my readers.  What releases are/were you embarrassed to own?

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link could get me a small commission.  I promise to use my money to only buy worthy releases that I won't mock thirty years from now.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Skinhead Justice and a Lion's Heart

Youth on the Street, Pressure Point's 1998 release, holds up pretty damn good.  It is a solid release filled with angry and inspiring street punk performed by a multi-racial band of misfits and skins.  That's important to note because when one hears a song like "Skinhead Justice" and "Strength Thru Oi!" (a horrible song title) the alarms go off.

"Heart Like a Lion" opens the CD with what has become an iconic line "See that girl walking down the street/Boots and braces, she looks so sweet."  It's a great song about a woman who sticks by the singer "no matter what [he's] done."  With a "heart like a lion," this girl is "always there when the others hide."  If singer Mike Erickson is growling about one woman in particular, he doesn't call it out.  Based on his description, it's obviously a skin chick, and having known several of those females throughout my life, I would say "heart like a lion" is a fairly accurate description.

The second track is a cover of "Never 'Ad Nothin'" by the Angelic Upstarts.  The final track on the CD, "So Ends Our Night," is also a cover.  This time by Last Rights.  Both are competent songs, but the Sacramento-based Pressure Point really shines when it does its own songs.  Oddly enough, "Blue Collar" is not indicated as a cover song, but it sounds like it is.  I believe I've heard this before (perhaps it's the traditional Jamaican sound throughout the song that can also be briefly heard on "Youth on the Street"), but can find no indication it isn't an original Pressure Point tune.  It is so unlike anything else on the release, yet it fits right in.  

"Skinhead Justice," "Guts Alone," "Pride & Glory," and "Strength Thru Oi!" all have titles that invoke the feeling that people get when they hear of skinheads.  These songs have zero to do with race, and everything to do with honor, the working class, unity and how the classes are played against each other.  "Pride & Glory" is the most blatant when it comes to pointing these issues out.  "When we fight each other/We're just pawns in their game/Black versus white/They treat us all the same/You can fight me, and I can fight you/When we fight each other/We do what they want us to do."  It continues, "Right wing, left wing, I got no choice/The bastards in power give me no voice/Token promises are never kept/Working class souls finance their debt."

Pressure Point is liberty spikes and shaved heads united against hypocrisy and deceit.  It's a hard order to fill, but this release shows the band is more than capable of putting up a fight against it.  It speaks some hard truths, and its only fault is that it can be easily ignored by people who come to the table with their prejudices already firmly in place.  Yes, the lyrics speak of violence, but not the violence you expect, and that is probably the most pleasant surprise of Youth on the Street.  It is intelligent and thought-provoking while at the same time avoiding all the stereotypes far too many people associate with this brand of music.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Yeah, I got this to review (for free) way back when it came out.  I reviewed it at the time in my 'zine, and decided to revisit it here to see if it held up.  It does.  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission, too.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Out of Step (With the World)

I don't download a lot of music.  Sure, I'll buy a song here and there on Amazon, but it's usually songs I already have on vinyl or cassette.  I guess I'm helping the artists since I know there are scads of "pirates" downloading their shit for free because, you know, musicians should just serve the people and not get paid for their efforts.  In that case, I don't mind paying for something I already have because it's usually only a buck, and I believe people should be compensated for their efforts.

This isn't about the ethics of stealing music, however, this is about the days of my youth.  In particularly, what it was like trying to find new music.

Before the Internet gave you everything from bestiality to revolution with the click of a mouse, if you wanted new music you had to search for it.  This wasn't easy for a true music lover, a person who wanted to go beyond what was on the radio and MTV (back when it played videos).  This meant going on an expedition where everything avenue was explored.

I spent countless hours talking to music store employees, friends who had the same taste in music I did, and going through interviews with the bands I liked hoping a name would be dropped.  Not only did I read the interviews, but I read the thank you lists on releases and looked at photos of the band hoping someone would be wearing a t-shirt I didn't recognize.  (How many people found out about the Misfits because Metallica wore the band's shirts?  Cee Lo wasn't the first to wear one, you know.)  I read 'zines and traded tapes through the mail.  This was how I found out about new music.  I lived in an area that didn't have good record stores.  I relied on outside sources for just about everything I liked.  It was a lot harder than jumping online, but there was also something more satisfying about it.  It made the music mean something to me.  It added a sense of wonder to everything.  It's not like that now.

The Internet is a double-edged sword when it comes to music.  More people around the world can hear your band, but look at what shit is still sought after.  It's the same garbage that polluted the airwaves before.  Those who truly love music will still go out of their way to seek out quality material, but most of what gets mentioned is Ok Go.  If it weren't for an "amusing" Youtube video would anyone care about this band?  Unlikely.  This is what the Internet has done.

The good music is still out there.  Finding it now, however, means you have to swim through a sea of crap to get to it.  You have to go onto crowded Myspace pages, click on questionable links, and scour forums. You can still find the stuff if you try, but it seems like part of the thrill is gone.  When something is so easily obtained, does it hold any value for the listener?  Sadly, I think not, which is another reason stealing music irritates me.  The music has become what the major labels have been trying to make it for years -- product.  A product to be stolen and disposed of as easily as a pair of threadbare socks.

Enjoy the crap.