Top 10 Albums of 2014 (in no particular order)

2014 might have been kind of blah for pop music (I MISS U RIHANNA PLEASE RELEASE NEW MUSIC) except for the kween of pop Taylor Swift who released a synthpop lite record that turned out to be quite great (except SHAKE IT OFF, I legit do not fuck with that song).

2014 was killer for r&b and dance music, including surprising releases from D’Angelo and Aphex Twin, who maybe only tru 90s kids remember (ie: us old people). Mainstream rock music was boring as ever, and the indie releases that were hyped up didn’t really do much for me other that put me to sleep, so uh, I will be over here bopping to “Get On Your Knees” by Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande while male music critics continue to pretend that indie rock is going to save the world or whatever.

THE LIST:

  1. Caribou- Our Love
  2. The Juan Maclean- In a Dream
  3. FKA Twigs- LP1
  4. Aphex Twin- Syro
  5. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib- Pinata
  6. Run The Jewels- Run The Jewels 2
  7. Katy B- Little Red
  8. D’Angelo- The Black Messiah
  9. Taylor Swift- 1989
  10. Tinashe- Aquarius

Honorable Mentions: Nicki Minaj- The Pinkprint, Charli XCX- Sucker, One Direction- Four, YG- My Krazy Life, White Lung- Deep Fantasy

10 Underrated Michael Jackson Songs

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[All songs from his solo career only.]

1. Baby Be Mine [Thriller, 1982]

I know what you’re thinking; how can a song from an album that sold 30 million copies in the US alone be underrated? Well in an album with so many iconic songs, “Baby Be Mine” consistently gets overlooked. It is the best jam on that album, no doubt. I play it all the time at my DJ nights and people bop every time.

2. Stranger in Moscow [HIStory, 1995]

One of Michael’s most powerful and emotional songs. It flopped in America and was a moderate hit around the rest of the world. The HIStory period was not well-regarded by the press and most of the songs on the album were greatly overlooked, in my opinion. The melody to this song is beautiful and as usual, Michael’s vocals are transcendent and also very vulnerable. The “how does it feel” part gets me every time, man. Tame Impala recognized the genius and did a rad cover of this song earlier this year.

3. Give In To Me [Dangerous, 1991]

Michael always tried to do one rock song on each album and this is one of his most passionate and filled with sexual tension. Slash from Guns and Roses plays guitar.

4. Girlfriend [Off The Wall, 1979]

Paul McCartney allegedly wrote this song for Michael but ended up recording it with Wings first. Michael’s version is far superior and is a nice mid-tempo breezy number on an album full of dance floor bangers.

5. They Don’t Care About Us [HIStory, 1995]

Another song from this era that was big worldwide but barely made a blip in the US due to some controversial lyrics and bad press at the time. I really like all of MJ’s songs about his haterz and this song in particular always had a killer military inspired dance routine when he performed it live.

6. Another Part of Me [Bad, 1987]

Some people may remember this song from the Captain EO 3D film at Disney World and it’s a jam!! As you can see in the link above, it was a killer song to perform and Michael really got into it. The vocals on this song are flawless.

7. Who Is It [Dangerous, 1991]

A rare song where Michael sings in his lower register, giving it a very sultry energy. The Dangerous album had five Top 20 singles and this was one that was overshadowed by the media hoopla surrounding the others.

8. Dangerous [Dangerous, 1991]

I love that Michael always tried to keep in touch with music trends, and for the Dangerous album he worked with new jack swing producer Teddy Riley to keep things “fresh.” This song is the prime example of MJ incorporating those modern r&b and hip hop elements into his music but still making it “his.”

9. You Rock My World [Invincible, 2001]

This whole era was pretty much written off by the critics, but I think this song is a nod to MJ’s Off The Wall album but modernizing it for what was then the “TRL audience” of the early 2000s. And the chorus is catchy as hell.

10. Dirty Diana [from Bad, 1987]

I just think this is his greatest song ever and should be on ALL THE LISTS EVER.

What do you think are Michael’s most underrated songs?

Davy Jones is the best teen idol of all time.

remembering davy jones

Sure, Ricky Nelson, Frank Sinatra and Elvis predated Davy, and yeah, maybe Leif Garrett and David Cassidy had better hair, and Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake had more solo success, but Davy is still the best.

Davy Jones represented all that’s great about teen idols. Physically, Davy was all you could ever ask for in a fave rave. Small in stature as to not scare away the young girls, with the prerequisite Beatle haircut (or Prince Valiant do, depending on the year), a youthful face, big doe eyes, and a toothy grin. But he had something that other teen idols of the time didn’t have: a cheeky mischievous sparkle behind those eyes and a rebellious spirit.

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Nostalgia and Pastiche in Music: Being Derivative Isn’t Always Bad

manufactured

“Now everyone has to be derived from somebody or something. Nothing new is born without parents. Poets stand on the shoulders of earlier poets and musicians, from the long-hair classicists to the long-hair popists, are also links in a chain of influence”

This is one of the best responses I’ve read about the concept of “manufactured” music being inferior to “real music” (what is real music and who decides, I wonder).

A lot of bands are criticized for being manufactured now, but the Monkees got much of the same critique when they came out. I’ve never understood who it was that decided that in order for music to be good and valued it had to completely break from the norms of what went before, so it’s nice to see a music critic in that era say the same thing.

I believe that nostalgia is just as powerful as something totally new. The Monkees obviously borrowed a lot from the Beatles and other successful British Invasion bands, but they also had an undefinable something that made them seem new and fresh, and stand out. That X-Factor, if you will.

A lot of great bands used nostalgia and derivative imagery and sounds in the development of their music and did it with 100% full intent and purpose.

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Why New Wave Isn’t Considered Classic Rock

New Wave Band Duran Duran“Classic rock” and classic rock radio is an extension of what was known as AOR radio formatting in the late 70s/early 80s [AOR= album oriented rock].

AOR program directors back then were almost always white men who thought their listeners wanted a radio rotation with a similar demographic, and generally played music by mostly white male artists in the rock n roll vein. They would also seemingly play “Stairway to Heaven” on the hour for no real reason. And were obsessed with the band Boston.

MTV was founded by people who previously worked at top AOR radio stations which is why it was a rock oriented TV station AT FIRST, though once they realized that hardly any classic rock bands had music videos, they were forced to play videos by unknown British art bands who wore makeup and weird outfits to fill the 24 hours in a day.

Which is why new wave/new romantic/synthpop took over in the 80s and things got interesting again.

By 1983 MTV was basically forced into playing music by black artists, mainly because of Michael Jackson and CBS Records. Until then they didn’t play any black music unless it was jazz or rock oriented.

Classic rock radio has gotten slightly better, I occasionally will hear new wave stuff like Blondie, The Pretenders, and Elvis Costello, sometimes the Clash. Never anything with synthesizers unless it’s in the prog-rock vein or maybe “Owner of a Lonely Heart”

Current classic rock radio stations mirror these narrow-minded attitudes of only grouping certain bands in the classic rock genre, leaving out all bands who are synth based, glam rock, funk based, or dance oriented, and that’s fine and dandy.

I think a lot of why these bands [the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, Slade, Sweet, Adam Ant, Duran Duran, Gary Numan, Ultravox, Japan, Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, and T Rex] aren’t allowed in the classic rock radio world is because the male program directions were not comfortable with the makeup and the femme qualities of many of these musicians, but maybe that’s just me.

[BOWIE DIGRESSION]

We have to remember that even someone like Bowie didn’t become a mega-star in the US until his 1983 album Let’s Dance [his only real ‘hit’ in America in the 70s was “Fame”, which was a disco track basically]. His 70s output was still considered fairly fringe in America. Now obviously, classic rock radio plays Bowie a lot, but I think at a certain point in the 80s, he became so big they kind of had to. But Bowie was not considered classic rock in the 70s in America AT ALL.

Classic Rockers and Hip Hoppers: A love/hate relationship?

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Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Chris Stein, and an unidentified woman. 1981 NYC

Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Chris Stein, and an unidentified woman. 1981 NYC

I saw two things online today that reminded me of the old tired question: Can you appreciate both classic rock and hip hop?

Of course, we all know by now that you can be a fan of both genres of music. But a stereotype still persists amongst young people especially that you are either in one camp or another. Or that classic rockers and hip hop players feel the same way.

The big news today is that Lou Reed, the moody L’enfant terrible of the Velvet Underground wrote a fawning review of Kanye West’s new album Yeezus, describing it as “Majestic and inspiring” and “nothing short of spectacular.” A lot of people were surprised because well, Lou Reed typically doesn’t like anything. And a lot of performers from the classic rock era are unfairly critical of anything in hip hop. At least once a week I see someone reblog that quote from the late George Harrison saying “all rap is crap.”

On the flip side, yesterday Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Doggfather, Calvin Broadaus) was asked his favorite heavy metal/rock bands in a reddit AMA and answered, “beatles rolling stones ramones tha list goes on.”

The fact that Snoop Lion openly admits to liking rock n roll based music is no real surprise, as anyone that knows about the formation and history of hip hop and rapping knows that MCs have long-since shown their appreciation of rock music by sampling bands like Led Zeppelin, Mountain, and the Turtles.

The misconception that rappers don’t show appreciation for rock music is getting really tired. If anything, it’s been the old timers who clearly didn’t understand rap or hip hop culture when it first arrived, and never bothered to dig deeper to learn what it’s all about.

I should add that some people in the rock genre were accepting and appreciative of hip hop in the early days, most notably the new wave and punk musicians in NYC in the late 70s (the first rap song to top the charts was Blondie’s Rapture in 1981), like the Talking Heads and Blondie. In the UK, Malcolm McLaren (always one to cash in on the new hot thing) made some classic electro-hip hop songs in the early 80s. Adam and the Ants’ “Ant Rap” hit in the top 5 on the UK charts in the fall of 1981.

But while a few of these musicians embraced hip hop, most did not. Hip hop culture was founded on the inclusion of all types of music; funk, soul, jazz, Afro, Latin, disco, rock n roll, etc. Hip hop’s ability to be inspired by the best of all musical cultures and constantly change to include these elements in their art is perhaps why hip hop has been the dominant music on the pop charts since the early 1990s, whereas rock has remained fairly stagnant for years.

The basic gist? Hip hop has always had love for rock n roll.

DJ Kool Herc, the pioneer for hip hop in the US in the mid 1970s played songs by James Brown and funk artists, but also dropped lost rock gems like “The Mexican” by Babe Ruth; songs that never even charted in America. The band Mountain has been sampled nearly 200 times in hip hop. You can hear the drum break of “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin on songs by the Beastie Boys, Ice-T, Eminem, and nearly 80 other tracks. Hip hop producers and rappers were also fond of “The Big Beat” by Billy Squier, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust’, “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, Van Halen, and Aerosmith.

Recently hip hop has shown genius ways of incorporating rock. MIA’s anthem “Paper Planes” brought freshness to “Straight to Hell” by the Clash for a new generation (The Clash were another rock oriented band that was early to hype hip hop). Kanye West always samples obscure rock tracks, including King Crimson’s “21st Century Schzoid Man”
on his song “Power.”

Adam Ant tells a story about visiting NYC in 1981 and seeing breakdancers doing routines to songs by synth pioneer Gary Numan. Afrika Bambaataa, the famous DJ and creator of many of hip hop’s enduring traditions, was a huge fan of Numan, as well as Yellow Magic Orchestra and would spin these white new wave artists at his DJ and breakdancing battles. He didn’t care that they were “rock” based acts. Those records sounded flawless. The kids didn’t care either, whether music was black or white, r&b based or rock based, or made by an awkward German band of robots named Kraftwerk.

Kraftwerk, incidentally, became a huge influence on hip hop culture because of Afrika Bambaata, who sampled them on his first big hit “Planet Rock.”

The most famous instance of rock inspiring rap was when Run D.M.C, were freestyling verses over the song “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith, not knowing who Aerosmith was, but knowing it was a dope song. They ended up remaking the song with Aerosmith, which had an enormous impact on how rap was viewed in the pop realm and also brought Aerosmith back into favor ability after many years out of the spotlight.

Hip hop has always embraced and been inspired by rock music. And yes, a fair amount of rock acts have shown appreciation for hip hop. It’s OK to only like classic rock. It’s OK to only like hip hop. But to act like these two genres can’t coexist peacefully in your life or my life is an extremely outdated and wrong assumption, and I’m really tired of hearing it.

Random Thoughts About Music While Listening to Adam Ant

Adam Ant the Ants- Kings of the Wild Frontier (Top of the Pops 1981)

A lot of people who I follow on Tumblr are teenagers who are beholden to the music of the 1960s and 1970s, and I get that. It was an amazing time in music. And I’m sure that it might seem odd to people that I post about the Monkees and then a band like Oasis or Adam Ant or Tame Impala. But to me, all of these bands are very connected and important in their own way.

Music is so interconnected that to me, liking something outside of that small parameter of time isn’t that weird. Adam obviously named the Ants as an homage to the Beatles, and his influences are clearly T. Rex, Roxy Music, Motown records, and the same music of the 50s that influenced people like the Beatles.

This particular song uses two drummers playing the Burundi style of drumming made popular by Bo Diddley in the 50s, and the guitar riffs not just on this song, but on their first album are a direct nod to “Rumble” by Link Wray, which is also, as we all know, a favorite track of Jimmy Page.

Adam’s fashion sense is also a mix of the sort of freak clothes that the GTOs and the dandies in the UK in the 60s wore, but obviously with more of a punk/ugly aesthetic.

I don’t really know my point except to say that there is good, fun, well-crafted music from every decade. The 60s gets a lot of press for being an amazing decade, but every decade has valid cultural movements that make society change for the better.

Like Syd Barrett wearing eyeliner in the 60s and then David Bowie and the glam kids following his lead, and then Adam Ant and the punks doing the same but twisting it so it was “ugly/pretty”, and then Adam Ant influencing people like Boy George to feel comfortable enough with himself to wear makeup, etc. It’s all important. If the 60s was a renaissance for the women’s movement and civil rights, I’d like to think that these male popstars being so open about their sexuality and wearing makeup and still being considered sexy and desirable and that it was OK to be a little femme was helpful in the major movement in the 80s, the gay rights movement.

And then Adam influenced the next generation of British musicians like Suede and Blur who definitely took a similar approach to gender roles in the 90s.

But like all of our 60s heroes, these are still catchy three and a half minute pop songs. This is still a person who has the same influences and background as many people from the 60s. All he was doing was just modernizing it for the times and twisting it around a bit.

I know it’s easy to get stuck in one frame of mind in terms of music, but when you really think about it, whether it’s Jimmy Page in the 70s or Adam Ant in the 80s or Blur in the 90s or Jack White, all of these dudes are all musical peers who are worthy of attention, in my opinion.

Bad Song Requests

I’ve been a DJ for over six years now, and I feel like it is finally time to make a public service announcement for the benefit of DJs and dance club enthusiasts everywhere. I have compiled a list of the most common, most annoying, and most bizarre song requests that I get when I DJ. In preparation for this list, I have also informally consulted with my fellow DJs in the Lawrence and Chicago area and we surprisingly were in agreement on most of these terrible requests.

Most Requested Songs
Every time we DJ, we get requests for one or all of the following: Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. Most often we get those requests right after playing one of the songs by the aforementioned artists, and I’m sorry dancers, but I am not playing two Madonna songs in a row. Inevitably it’s a frat boy that requests Michael Jackson, and it tends to be “Thriller”, which is a good song, but I will only play it on Halloween. No exceptions. When it comes to Madonna, I am not playing Like a Virgin, so don’t bother asking. She has way better dance songs.

Annoying Requests
Almost every time we DJ, we get requests to play Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” We usually have a pretty solid gay following on our dance nights, but the usual suspect of the Abba request tends to be a girl who is celebrating a birthday or there for a bachelorette party. I’m not going to be too harsh on Abba, they have some decent songs. I do not believe “Dancing Queen” is one of them. That song also is not very danceable, especially on a weekend night when we’re in the middle of a banging hip hop set. And you know what, I’m never playing an Abba song when I DJ. It’s never going to happen. Can people please stop requesting this stuff?

It seems like lately people have been requesting Girl Talk a lot. PLEASE DO NOT ASK A DJ TO PLAY GIRL TALK.
A) Most DJs hate Girl Talk.
I find Girl Talk to be an offensive use of sampling and I do not understand why someone would want to hear snippets of a shitty 1980s Steve Winwood song mixed up with a shitty Billy Idol song, or whatever the hell Girl Talk does.
B) Girl Talk is a bunch of crappy song snippets mixed together. Who wants to listen to that when they could just hear the whole song? Why do I want to hear 8 seconds of a badass Lil Wayne/Birdman song mixed with a shitty song when I could just play the whole Lil Wayne song by itself?

It’s All About Timing
DJing is usually a progression throughout the night. Good DJs tend to have a general plan of action for the night, usually beginning with music that’s chill, slower, and essentially good for people to talk over while they get drunk. DJs usually save their absolute bangers for the end of the night. If the bar closes at 2am, you can expect the DJ to play their absolute jams from 12:45 to last call. Therefore, I will not be playing your Ludacris request at 10pm. I will not be playing “Back That Ass Up” for your drunk ass at 9:45pm right when I get to the bar and set up. Those are songs we save until the absolute crowd peak at 1:15 am. Why would I waste a good song on three drunk people early in the night?

On the flip side, if it is 1:30am and we only have three songs to play before the night is over, I am not playing Al Green. Most likely, I played Al Green much earlier in the night when it went with the rest of my set.

There is a method to our madness when we DJ. Most DJs, unless they are specialized and only play Northern Soul or African funk or House music or what not, end the night with songs that they known are proven crowd pleasers. A lot of these songs tend of be of the dirty hip hop variety. Please do not request Culture Club at 1:40am, because Culture Club is a terrible request and it does not fit in with the Spank Rock/Trina/Salt-N-Pepa booty shakin vibe that is obviously happening right now.

And Finally…
-I will not play Britney Spears. Showing your breasts to the DJ in order for them to play your Britney Spears song will not help your case.
-I am not playing the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. I had someone request this last time we DJed. WTF?
-We have retired M.I.A’s “Paper Planes.” We will possibly bring it back around 2015 for nostalgia purposes.
-If you are obviously attending a weekend DANCE PARTY, please keep in mind that we are playing songs to DANCE TO. Therefore, requesting Yello’s “Oh Yeah” (aka the song from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) is just bizarre.
-Not all 80s songs are created equal. We love requests for hot 80s songs, like “Pull Up To The Bumper” or “Nasty” or “Genius of Love”. We do not like requests for bad 80s music, like Belinda Carlisle (are her songs even danceable or memorable in any way?), Milli Vanilli, or 2 Legit 2 Quit.