Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Picture is Worth...

About 864 words. I mentioned before that shortly after I bought my house I added insulation in the attic; R-42 over the existing R-15. I noticed an improvement immediately but haven't been able to calculate the benefit in an objective fashion, since I did it right after moving in and had no track record with which to compare before and after.

I do have some subjective ways, though. Yesterday morning I snapped a picture that includes my roof and my next-door neighbor's. It's not the best picture, but you can see that the frost on my side (left) is barely melting while his frost is almost entirely gone. The only variable is the amount of insulation in our attics. I wish I could measure it more precisely, but I can say anecdotally, with confidence, insulation works!

If a Tree Falls in the Office Park

Something looked different but it didn't really look wrong.
This tree looked a little larger than I remembered but nothing spectacular.
Oh.  Tree go boom. Gotchya.
Yeah, it probably was a lot taller and a little less wide a few days ago.
Hassenpfeffer seems to like it this way.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hello, Mr President

A year ago September I regaled you in my lack of success in seeing Barack Obama arrive in the Twin Cities on Air Force One.  I live under the westerly incoming flight path for the Minneapolis-St Paul airport.  That day, however, the winds were such that flights were coming in from one of the other compass directions. It happens.
Today, though, airplanes are being landed from the west and Air Force One was no exception.  I looked up Barack's schedule on-line, then sat out on my deck about 20 minutes prior to the wheels-down time.  I only had to wait a couple of minutes to know it was on its way.
It's kind of eerie just before Air Force One arrives.  The air traffic controllers clear the sky for the President.  You go from hearing an airplane about once a minute to hearing none for about eight minutes.  Today is cloudy, so the first sign of the plane was engine noise.  It came in much lower than your average jet.  And suddenly, it was right over me.
  Appearing from the clouds

The plane is so big that it seems to move really slow.  Almost as quickly as it appeared, it was surrounded by clouds again.  Then it moved directly over my house.  I could see it but the angle messed up my camera's auto focus.

After a few seconds, it moved past the roof line and I was able to snap pictures again.
Close enough to touch, almost
A better angle, but now farther away
And then it disappeared into the clouds again.

So I got my pictures of Air Force One.  Next, maybe I'll get invited for a ride.   (You realize I'm not actually expecting that, don't you?)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Some People Are Just Ridiculous

It's 55° right now. It got up to maybe 60 today. My neighbors from two doors down have their air conditioning running. It's been running every time I've been outside today (to and from work, home for lunch, et al). AND THEY'RE HOME RIGHT NOW! It ran all day yesterday, too. How hot could it be in that place - essentially identical to my unconditioned abode - that they need to cool it down that much? Ridiculous. I'm offended for no other reason than they are burning copious amounts of fossil fuel when they could have the same result by opening a window. Some people are just ridiculous.

Update Sunday, 8:43AM:  Their AC is finally off.  From Thursday morning to Saturday late, perhaps even this morning, their air conditioning ran constantly.  With their windows wide open all day Saturday.

My next-door neighbor (a sane guy) thinks it has to do with renovations they did last week, stinky paints and adhesives, etc.  If true, it's another argument for low VOC construction materials.

Baseball

Let's see. In the American League Championship Series, the most hated MLB team, the New York Yankees, play the Texas Rangers, a team once partly owned by George Dubya Bush.

I don't even know who is playing in the National League Championship Series this year, but this American League fan will be cheering for the NL champion this year.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 2

Welcome to The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 2.  Much like volume 1, I made this list for my sister, a - ahem - middle-aged woman from rural Minnesota whose musical horizons have been somewhat limited.  When I say "you've never heard," I'm literally speaking to her.  That becomes very relevant in the description for 'Amy's Song,' six titles in.  The more worldly of you may have heard a few of these tunes but generally, they are underappreciated.  I guarantee that even the most ravenous musicvore hasn't heard a few of these babies.

In The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 1, I mentioned that my sister had not asked for Volume 2.  Perhaps technically true, I now recall (with the help of an e-mail trail) that I  burned the CD, gave it to her and then forgot about it.  I'll have to ask if she's ever listened to it.  I know she's been awfully busy every single minute since the Summer of 2007 and may not yet have had a chance.

For the rest of you, I recognize the futility of describing music with only words, but it's all I have.  I looked for a widget that would allow me to play samples for you inside the blog but Blogspot doesn't have one.  As with volume 1, if I know you personally, I'll be happy to burn a CD for you.  Otherwise, use the internet or visit a record store.  One or more of these songs could change your life.

Update 11/9/11: When you're done here, be sure to click over to Volume 3.


Deborah Gibson - Butterflies Are Free (1997)
writer: Deborah Gibson
album: Deborah

Debbie Gibson had two songs on The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Vol 1.  'Butterflies Are Free' is different enough from the other two that I thought it deserved a slot on Volume 2.

Can Debbie Gibson give us an anthem?  Maybe.  'Butterflies' is a love song of sorts, maybe an ode, which starts slowly, almost hesitantly, then builds in mood, volume and intensity.  When the choral background singers break out in the final minute, the effect is like a church song where the entire congregation joins in singing along.  Not my church, but one of those you've seen on TV.


Marshall Crenshaw - Someday, Someway (1982)
writer: Marshall Crenshaw
album: Marshall Crenshaw

Marshall Crenshaw is hardly a secret but his music is rarely played on the radio.  From his first album, 'Someday, Someway' gives us a simple guitar-bass-drums arrangement and impossibly perfect lyrics.


Christopher Cross - Poor Shirley (1979)
writer: Christopher Cross
album: Christopher Cross

Everyone knows Christopher Cross, whether they want to go 'Sailing,' have to 'Ride Like the Wind,' or they get caught between the moon and New York City.  From his debut album, 'Poor Shirley' is a catchy tune that might be considered filler compared to the hits, but it's really good in its own right and, as this list was prepared with my sister in mind and her mother's name is Shirley, it's kind of an in-joke, as well as one of the best songs you've never heard.  Hi, Mom!


Quarterflash - Love Should Be So Kind (1981)
writer: Marv Ross
album: Quarterflash

Given that Quarterflash - the inspiration for my blog's URL - is considered, by the few people who consider them, to be a sax- and guitar-based pop band, I selected this ballad from their debut album to show Rindy Ross' great singing.  It's a slow, achy ballad that is ultimately hopeful.

If you listen to the album in order, this slow, calm ballad leads into an eight-minute, sax-laden rocker ('Williams Avenue') that closes the album.  It's as if Marv Ross wanted to slow you down for the penultimate song then whack you upside the ears for the finale.  It works.


Kylie Minogue - My Secret Heart (1989)
writer: Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman
album: Enjoy Yourself

Kylie and I go way back, to an Australian TV show produced in 1985 and imported to our shores by a cable channel a year later. Although she's not entirely life size, I was drawn to her, what with her exotic look and accent - as you know, Australian women have the world's sexiest accent.  I did my research on her, which wasn't easy, as search engines in 1987 consisted of index cards and magazine racks at the library.

When Kylie's first single, 'I Should be So Lucky,' arrived at the radio station, I was the only person who knew who she was and how to pronounce her name.  Her music is quite subjective, quality never having been a consideration for the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory, but I liked her first two albums nonetheless.  From the second side of her second album, Enjoy Yourself, comes 'My Secret Heart.'  It's a mid-tempo pop song told from the perspective of a woman in love with a guy she's never met.  I find it refreshing - even after hundreds of listens - to hear such a messed up viewpoint presented in a wall-of-sound mainstream pop song.


Chris Denardo - Amy's Song (2000)
writer: Chris Denardo

You won't find singer/songwriter Chris Denardo anywhere on the internet - he's not a professional musician.  He's the husband of my former co-worker Amy Melberg, and he wrote and recorded this song when he was a-courtin' Amy back in the 1990s.  While at work in 2006 or so, Amy mentioned that she had a cassette of songs that her husband recorded, was trying to digitize them and was failing miserably.  I took the cassette home for lunch and returned with a CD for her in less than an hour.  Don't mess with my skills, dude.




Dave Mason - Taking the Time to Find (1977)
writer: Dave Mason
album: Let it Flow

Dave Mason is a great songwriter ('Feeling Alright,' 'Only You Know and I Know'), was a member of Traffic, and was a good friend of Jimi Hendrix but never really hit it big as a solo artist.  In 1977, I heard a new single of his on the radio, 'So High (Rock Me Baby and Roll Me Away),' from the album Let it Flow.  When I saw the album at my local store for $3.99, I grabbed it right away (LPs generally cost $5.99 back then).  'So High' didn't get very high in the top 40, but the album is full of great songs.

I considered one of those songs to be kinda weak: 'We Just Disagree.'  It was in a different style than the rest of the album, it wasn't written by Mason, it just seemed odd.  So when I heard it on the top 40 a few months later, I was surprised.  I wondered why they didn't release one of the good songs as a single.  Well, I will defer to the judgment of history and 'We Just Disagree' becoming Mason's biggest hit.  I like the song just fine but I assure you it is the weakest song on the album (or close to it).

One of the better songs is 'Taking the Time to Find.'  It's a straight-forward pop song that starts with with a simple bass-solo intro followed by a scorching guitar riff that I can only describe as circular.  Mason's distinctive voice carries us through two verses and two choruses, then a longer guitar solo using the same circular riff.  It's magical.  Considering what we were listening to in 1977, I can't comprehend why 'Taking the Time to Find' wasn't the biggest song of the year.  Instead, it was never even released as a single.  That's why it's one of the best songs you've never heard.


Toto - Holyanna (1984)
writer: David Paich, Jeff Porcaro
album: Isolation

I spend a lot of time listening to Toto.  There is no single category that would accurately describe all of their music, but one type that they keep coming back to is highly produced power-pop.  In 'Holyanna,' they throw a lot of instruments into the mix - all played by top notch musicians - and match that to a catchy tune and irresistible lyrics.  Some consider that overkill but I've become rather attached to the style in general and to this song in particular.

'Holyanna' is a peppy pop song complete with horns and plenty of synthesizer.  David Paich's vocals cap it off perfectly.  Ironically, this happy-go-lucky sounding song is really a scold to a teenager who sneaks out to do who-knows-what instead of her homework.


Amy Holland - How Do I Survive? (1980)
writer: Paul Bliss
album: Amy Holland

'How Do I Survive?' is a funky pop tune, maybe influenced by the waning tide of disco, maybe not.  It was a top 30 hit in 1980 so you may have heard it, but probably not.  Amy has a cheerful but not overpowering voice.  She only put out one other album in the 1980s before retiring to session work, which is a shame.  'How Do I Survive?' is kind of a tease for potentially good future music that never came.


Pat Benatar - Somebody's Baby (1993)
writer: Pat Benatar, Neil Giraldo
album: Gravity's Rainbow

I read somewhere that Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds said that all of the songs he wrote were about women or money and the excess or lack of either.  Benatar and Giraldo did not rely on that metier to write 'Somebody's Baby.'  It's a sad, uptempo pop song about someone who is no longer wanted by society.

"He used to be somebody's baby
Someone used to hold him close, and rock him gently
He used to be the light in someone's eyes
He used to matter, he used to matter"

The song doesn't say who he is - I sometimes picture a homeless guy, sometimes a prison inmate.  Benatar nails the feeling of frustration and waste that goes along with a disposable human being.  It's a very sad yet beautiful song.

'Somebody's Baby' was released 15 years after Benatar first hit it big and her voice was as good as ever.  I also have her 2003 album and she sounded great then, too.


Dan Hartman - Second Nature (1984)
writer: Dan Hartman, Charlie Midnight
album: I Can Dream About You

From the same album that brought us the classic pop song 'I Can Dream About You' comes 'Second Nature.'  From its 100 MPH opening riff to its clean production to its perfect lyrics, 'Second Nature' is an infectiously catchy pop song and I have no comprehension why it wasn't a huge hit.

Hartman died in 1994, cutting short a fabulous producing career.  He wasn't the front man very often but when he was - 'Free Ride' ring a bell? - it was magic.


Dire Straits - Setting Me Up (1978)
writer: Mark Knopfler
album: Dire Straits

Everybody knows the hits 'Sultans of Swing' and 'Money for Nothing,' but those songs aren't very representative of Dire Straits.  From their first album, 'Setting Me Up' is a good example of their basic four-instrument production, catchy lyrics and Mark Knopfler's unmistakable voice.  Knopfler got more complicated as time passed, both with Dire Straits and his solo stuff, but he never got better than the simplicity of the band's first album.  Ooh, "Never got better..."  Is that a bad thing to say about a guy who's had a brilliant 30+ year career?  Hmm...


Donald Fagen - The Nightfly (1982)
writer: Donald Fagen
album: The Nightfly

When I worked at a radio station in the 1980s, I introduced Fagen's two hits from The Nightfly on-air hundreds of times ('I.G.Y.' and "New Frontier') and even mentioned the name of the album on occasion, but I never listened to the entire album until 2002 or thereabouts.  Boy, did I miss out.  I probably - no, definitely - wasn't ready for jazz in my 20s but I kind of wish I was.  The Nightfly is a blues-jazz hybrid and its title track is a peppy ditty told from the perspective of an overnight announcer for a public radio station ("WJAZ, with jazz and conversation, from the foot of Mt Belzoni").  It would be years before I was ready for public radio, too.

With surgically clean production and Fagen's unmistakable voice (the voice of Steely Dan), I could listen to The Nightfly - song and album - over and over.  And have.


Gerry Rafferty - Night Owl (1979)
writer: Gerry Rafferty
album: Night Owl

If you lived through the 1970s or listen to oldies radio today, you've heard Gerry Rafferty.  His two biggest hits were 'Baker Street' and, with Stealer's Wheel, 'Stuck in the Middle with You.'  You've probably only heard those hits, maybe one of his lesser ones.  You probably haven't heard 'Night Owl.'  I find it to be an infectious toe-tapper without the baggage of being overplayed for 30 years, like 'Baker Street.'  With great guitar licks and a steady beat, 'Night Owl' is a good song you've never heard.


Partland Brothers  - Soul City (1987)
writer: Chris Partland, GP Partland
album: Electric Honey

'Soul City' is a very funky mini-anthem whose only shortcoming is that it's too short.  I like to picture the singer singing the song as he begins a road trip to Vegas or wherever.

"Soul City, that's where we're headed
Dancing and singing til dawn.
Soul City, that's where we're going
And we won't be back until the money's all gone."

It's a feel-good song that could really use a couple more choruses at the end before you want to let the feeling go.


Sarah Shannon - When You Live Life Alone (2001)
writer: Blake Wescott
album: Sarah Shannon

From the first note, a single sustained piano note, to the fade out of a gentle french horn six and a half minutes later, 'When You Live Life Alone' is about as perfect a song as you can get.  Operatically trained Sarah Shannon has complete control of her pipes in a song that would befuddle a lesser singer.  'When You Live Life Alone' is a simple song, using a piano, some strings and horns, and Sarah's amazing voice.  For the first 80 seconds of the song, all you hear is her beautiful voice accompanied by Blake Wescott on piano.*

A ballad, I suppose, 'When You Live Life Alone' has no verses or chorus.  It is more of a missive, maybe a letter, sent to the singer's ex, recapping their relationship - how she was a loner when they met, then she completely gave herself to the relationship, and ends with her realizing he's the one who can't let anyone in.  It's a beautiful song and I can't help but get tears in my eyes when I listen to it.  I played it for my niece and nephew (ages 29 and 26) when we were hanging out this summer and they were enthralled.  I was enraptured, as usual, but they were enthralled.

As amazing a singer as Sarah is, she's only released two albums and neither sold well, but they are a mainstay of my collection.  It's hard to categorize her - while 'When You Live Life Alone' is a ballad - sort of - most of her stuff is peppy and lively.  She is easily one of the best singers you've never heard.

*Correction [12/4/10]: One of the hazards of blogging from memory is getting details wrong. Blake Wescott wrote and produced 'When You Live Life Alone,' but it was Casey Foubert who played the piano on the song. My apologies to all for the error.


Styx - Haven't We Been Here Before? (1984)
writer: Tommy Shaw
album: Kilroy Was Here

Styx is known mostly for a string of hits sung by Dennis DeYoung, including 'Come Sail Away,' 'Lady, and 'Babe.'  Kilroy Was Here was their eleventh album and it contained a career killer named 'Mr Roboto.'  While I like 'Mr Roboto,' its video was so overplayed on MTV - and so hokey, what with the robot masks and all - that Styx became a national joke.  With the bad, though, we also get the good.  Hidden on Kilroy was a little Tommy Shaw gem called 'Haven't We Been Here Before?'  You'll recognize Shaw's voice - he  was the lead singer on a few of Styx' hits, notably 'Renegade,' 'Fooling Yourself,' and "Too Much Time on My Hands.'

Usually a rocker, Shaw put together a melodic ditty in 'Haven't We Been Here Before?' that is so sweet that I can imagine ballerinas dancing to it.  It's a simple, rhythmic tune that he sings gracefully, and it becomes a counterpoint duet with DeYoung at the choruses, the first of which doesn't hit until about two minutes in.  Styx has made several beautiful ballads and some classic rock-boppers, but I declare that 'Haven't We Been Here Before?' is their most beautiful song.


The Derek Trucks Band - Baby, You're Right (2002)
writer: James Brown, Joe Tex
album: Joyful Noise

The Derek Trucks Band made an appearance on The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 1 and here they are again.  You won't confuse the two songs - they sound nothing alike, a comment frequently uttered when comparing DTB songs.  This one is sung by Mrs Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, who also made an appearance on volume 1.  'Baby, You're Right' has a groovin' blues beat and Susan's smooth voice on top.  At one point, Susan and Derek are doing a call & answer motif, she with her voice, he with the slide guitar.  'Baby, You're Right' is a great example of some highly talented musicians making great music.


Gregg Allman Band - Evidence of Love (1987)
writer: Chris Farren, Steve Diamond
album: I'm No Angel

The name Allman is well known to rock fans but Gregg had most of his success as a singer-songwriter for The Allman Brothers Band, not as a solo artist.  He put together his own band for those times when ABB was taking a break.  I'm No Angel was a solid offering of the pop-rock genre but didn't produce any monster hits.  A 45 of 'Evidence of Love' made it into my hands when the radio station dumped some promo copies on me.  As you can imagine, I picked up a lot of music that way.

Kind of slow but no ballad, 'Evidence of Love' features an amazing sax solo by Ed Callie.  There's also one other feature I think you'd like.  The song is set up as a male-male duet (no gay subtext that I hear, not that there's anything wrong with that) and who is the other singer?  None other than Don Johnson.  Yes, THAT Don Johnson, who was starring in Miami Vice at the time.  Don released an album himself a year earlier, which had a top-ten hit ('Heartbeat'), and a few years later, he'd have a minor hit duetting with Barbra Streisand ('Till I Loved You').  The Allman-Johnson duet won't usurp the Everly Brothers as the best male duet act in Rock 'n Roll history, but 'Evidence of Love' is a solid offering and, with that sax solo, becomes one of the best songs you've never heard.


So there you have it.  Seventy eight minutes of The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 2.  If you follow through and listen to each of these songs, you'll probably like only half of them - maybe - but what if you really, really like one or two of them?  Isn't that the fun of finding new music?  Even if it's sometimes decades old?

I'm working on The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 3 and will post it soon.  I'm still playing with the song selection, but I can guarantee you no Debbie Gibson next time.  Or Don Johnson, for that matter.  I thought about making it no music at all by artists who have appeared on Volumes 1 and 2, but there's this cool Quarterflash song from 2008...  And, hey, how would you like to hear a song in Russian?  It's on its way.

In case you missed it, here is where to find The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 1.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Forgetfulness

Forgetfulness bad: Leaving the dome light on in the car.

Forgetfulness good: Forgetting my iPod in the car so I have to make an extra trip to the garage to retrieve it and noticing that the dome light was on.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hello, I'm Not Johnny Cash

My iPod did it again! Today, the same song, the second one a cover of the first, played in succession.
I'm sure Apple's engineers are messing with me. Why? Because it's the kind of thing I would do if I were writing software for music players (I have a degree in Computer Science and a wicked sense of humor. Anyone hiring?).

How Does Comcast Stay in Business?

All I wanted to do was to see how much it would cost to upgrade my analog cable to digital and the CSR couldn't even do that without trying to transfer me to Tech Support.

If they can't even tell me how much it would cost, how the hell can they run the rest of their company?

Addendum: After I hung up on Comcast, I went to their web site to see if I could answer the question, even though I no longer have any desire to upgrade my cable.  The CSR told me a cable-card, necessary for my TiVo to get digital cable, would cost $7.50 a month.  Holy crap!  My reaction was that that was way too much.  It really is too much.  Turns out - according to their own web site - that the actual price of the cable card is $2.50 a month.

Again I ask, if the CSRs - the public face of the company - can't get the basics right, how bad are things inside Comcast?  I can't believe I'm saying this: the day Verizon's FIOS is available on the poor side of Minnetonka, I'm signing up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Homemade Marshmallows

Did you know you can make marshmallows at home?  It's not that difficult and they taste pretty good.  I shared some with a guy at work and he says they work better for Smores than store-bought.
You need patience and a high-speed mixer.  There are five basic ingredients but it's what you do with them that counts.  The first batch turned my kitchen into a sticky disaster zone, but with a few changes, the second one was neat and orderly.  Funny thing, that steep learning curve.

I got the recipe off the internet, but I wouldn't advise using any of the recipes out there (see disaster zone reference, above).  I'll post a recipe - and more importantly, a technique guide - when I work out a few details.

I'm going to try flavored ones next time, mint and chocolate being the likely choices.  I'll bring a bunch to our next family gathering, whenever that shall be.

Now I'm hungry.

Monday, August 23, 2010

If This Isn't Proof...

I've mentioned several times how I think that Apple's engineers put easter eggs in the software for iPods, eggs that play related artists or similar song titles in such a way as to defy the odds of a random playlist. Well, today they did it again.

I started out the day with 1385 songs in my daily playlist, set to play in random order. Not quite two hours into my workday, this happened:
These two Victims of Love (Victim of Loves?) have the same title but they are not the same song.  Yes, I know that the odds of two songs with some commonality playing together is the same as two songs with nothing in common but you can't tell me that there isn't something in the software making it happen more often than a truly random order would dictate.

Technically, this isn't proof that they're messing with me but it stokes the conspiracy theory part of my brain.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

7x7

I was watching Jeopardy! the other day and neither I nor any of the contestants could come up with the answer for the clue: What type of simple machine is a doorknob? Turns out, it's a wheel and axle.

That got me thinking how I might be lucky to name even four of the seven types of simple machines but I could easily remember all seven of the dirty words you can't say on TV. And I don't think it's just me. How many of us forget the basics but can remember irrelevancies in great detail?

Monday, August 9, 2010

20,000

It's been a long time since my last post. Some of that can be attributed to my computer dying on July 10 and not being functional again for two weeks. The rest can be blamed on good old-fashioned procrastination and sloth. Really, I've spent two weeks trying to get my computer to behave the way I like it and it still isn't quite.

So, here we are on August 9 with the post that was meant for July 10. On that nice Saturday, I travelled to a St Paul suburb to have Saturday breakfast with my parents. Saturday breakfast is kind of a tradition with us, although we don't do it every Saturday.

When I pulled into their parking lot, the odometer on my Goldwing registered 19,999. I snapped a picture after I parked.

A few hours later, I left to go back home. A few blocks down the road, the odometer rolled over to 20,000.

I pulled over to grab that shot, by the way. I may not be the brightest bulb, but I'm not silly enough to take a picture while moving.

You can see I have a digital odometer. They don't actual roll over. They sit at one value for a mile then change instantly to the next, so I couldn't exactly predict when the digits would change but as luck would have it, I was watching as 19,999 became 20,000. What can I say? I'm a numbers kind of guy.

And looky here! I found these pictures from June 14, 2006, when my cycle's miles rolled on a previous milestone.


Interestingly - or maybe slightly interestingly - my Goldwing rolled to 10,000 miles not far from my current residence. I pulled over to snap the 9999 and 10,000 pictures in the parking lot of an office building on Wayzata Blvd. The same office building I have to pass to get out of my current neighborhood. Interesting and meaningless at the same time.

Any bets on when my bike hits 30,000? Let's see, April 2004 to June 2006 for the first 10k, or 26 months. June 2006 to July 2010 for the second decalog, or 49 months - not quite double the time. Do I hear a guess of September 2018 from anyone for 30k?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Apple's Engineers Are Still Screwing with Us

I've mentioned in the past that I think Apple's software engineers have put some easter eggs in iTunes and iPods that mess with the artists and songs, even though the machines are set to play in random order.

To wit, here are two songs that played back-to-back today.




An obvious theme, don't you think? My playlist had over 1200 songs in it this morning. I forget how to calculate odds, but I think the chances that two songs in 1200 will play sequentially is 1200!-1198!, or 1:1,438,800 (that's 1200 factoral - 1198 factoral). Or maybe it's 1:600. Don't care at the moment. I'm just trying to say it's mind-boggling that these songs with the same word in the title played back-to-back.

As for some completely unpredictable song order, how about some haiku-esque poetry from the machine?




Day by day, gonna move, so far away.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I'm Old

I don't mind so much getting old because it beats the alternative but somedays it hits me pretty hard. For example, my nephew, when he has his next birthday in a couple of months, will officially be half my age.

My nephew is celebrating his first wedding anniversary today (One would assume his wife is also celebrating).

So this kid who was a baby only a few days ago - I'm sure of it - is now an old married man with a year of experience on his life resume. I'm so old.

Happy Anniversary, K & M.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Another Helping of Cherry Marmalade

Here is the other 33.3% of my autographed CD collection.



I will remind you that I bought this CD off of Amazon Marketplace - used - with no idea that it was autographed. If I had known, I would have paid exactly $0.00 more for the CD, but now that I've got it, I'm enjoying having it. And more importantly, listening to it.

XOXO

Hey, I found my scanner. It was on my desk. I will not admit to how high the stack of papers on it was (but - in my best Jon Stewart voice - it was a taaaallll stack).

Here are the latest additions to my music collection.


Wish on the Moon is Alison's 2007 album. It's the one that contains Crazy Game.



The title of this bad boy is a pun. It's an EP - eight songs - of cover versions. One of the songs she covers is by Paul Westerberg, the same guy this blog pays homage to in the Knowledge is Good section to the right.

Alison's Facebook page said she's having a release party for the new CD on September 11. Let me check my schedule. Yep, I'm free.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Alison Scott

My regular readers, both of you, may have noticed I have a little fixation on Shannon Curfman. Well, the fixation is on her first album and her amazing talent, which, for the last decade, has only seen the light of day a few times. That first album, Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions, was largely produced by Kevin Bowe, and ten of the fourteen songs were co-written by him. You probably haven't heard of Mr Bowe, but the man has chops. He worked with Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepard in the 1990s, has written and produced a ton of stuff since, and is rumored to have won a Grammy, although I can't find exactly what for.

Because of my devotion to the beautiful blues on Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions, I check in on Kevin Bowe once in a while. I visited his web site on June 24. It's not terribly up to date but on one page, he posted two songs by an artist for which he's writing and producing. Her name is Alison Scott. I downloaded the songs, put them on my iPod and started to listen. The first song I listened to was Crazy Game.

Do you ever have a life-changing moment and you know it's a life-changing moment? I did.

The song starts unpretentiously but Alison's voice caught my ear right away. When she got to the chorus and belted out "Craaaaa-zy game," I was intrigued. And when the fourth line of the chorus came by and she effortlessly hit a higher register singing, "Then we'd never even have to say it," I was hooked and realized that for the rest of my life, the music of Alison Scott will never be more than a couple of clicks away on my iPod. What, you thought my life-changing moment was that I was going to become Buddhist or something?

I listened to the other free song, Babymama, and was convinced she had plenty o' talent. I found some more songs floating around on the internet and for the last two weeks, I've been listening away. Good stuff.

I asked my buddy Joel, the all-knowing master of obscure music, if he had Alison's CDs. He didn't and had only a vague inkling that he'd heard of her before but wasn't sure where. I consider this moderate irony as when I once asked, years ago, if he'd ever heard of a guy named Kevin Bowe, he reached over to a stack of CDs about 100 high and pulled out one from the middle. It was Restoration by Kevin Bowe + the Okemah Prophets. It's going to be delicious to introduce him to Alison's music.

So I found a Facebook fan page for Alison and pushed the "Like" button. She posts pretty often and said the other day that she and Kevin were going to play a free concert at Augsburg Park in Richfield Thursday night. Actually, she said, "make some noise." Guess where I was tonight?

They had a three-person set-up going, with Alison on keyboards, Kevin on electric guitar and a guy whose full name I didn't get (sorry, James) on a second keyboard. It seemed like an acoustic set even though everything was amplified. Alison was in fine voice, playing a few songs that I recognized from her CDs and introducing a few from the third CD which, she said, they'll be putting the finishing touches on tomorrow. Pretty good stuff.

During the mid-point break, I went up and purchased her first two CDs (and you thought I would download the music and listen to it for free. Hah!). Alison even graciously autographed them for me, although the downside of that is that Kay Hanley's Cherry Marmalade will no longer be the only autographed CD I have on display. Gee, too bad.

I chatted with Kevin for a few minutes, as well. I asked him about his co-writer on I Don't Make Promises (I Can't Break). The guy was listed as Kostas and I wondered if he was the same Kostas who wrote songs on a few country records I own. He said it was the same person. Nice guy, Mr Bowe. Makes great music.

The mosquitos and I enjoyed the second half of the show and headed home. I, of course, was listening to my iPod on random. The random playlist had just under 1000 songs to choose from. Ten minutes down the road, a song from Kevin Bowe + the Okemah Prophets came on. Wait a minute! I just talked to that guy! That was a fun ride home. I enjoyed The Heart of the Everything before, but I love it now.

Alison and Kevin have a few more gigs scheduled in and around the Twin Cities in the near future. If you like hearing a good singer, a bluesy-soulful one at that, I recommend you check her out.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

PJ

I've been watching a show on TBS called My Boys (fourth and final season premiere: July 25). It's about a tomboy sports reporter named PJ. She has a rather girly first name, so she probably started using the initials as a way to blend better with her preferred companions, guys.

It's human nature to adopt a diminutive name for someone you know well. How would you shorten PJ? Well, in My Boys, they occasionally call her Peej. Two syllables down to one. Nicely done. Peej.

The simplicity of that nickname made me think that maybe I should adopt my initials and have my family start calling me by a one word nickname like Peej. That would be so cool. "Pat" is just too complicated.

Let's take a look at my initials and see what we can come up with.

Well, my first name is Patrick, so that's a P.

My middle name begins with J, so that means my new nickname is, uh, PJ.

Hmm...

That makes my new nickname Peej.

Hmm...

Well, that was easier than I thought it would be.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tiffany vs Debbie Gibson

I read a couple of "news" stories this week about a SyFy movie currently being filmed called Mega Python vs Gatoroid, starring Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. The stories all had a take on it as the ultimate showdown between Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.

Really?

That war was won by Debbie Gibson so long ago that she probably has no idea anyone ever thought otherwise.

The evidence: Tiffany was a teenage singer, 17 at the time, who released overly produced pop songs and had a one-year run in 1988-89. She had four top 40 singles, two of which hit number 1. 50% of her career output were dance remakes of songs that had become classics - for the Beatles and Tommy James - before she was born.

Debbie Gibson, 16 when she released her first album, had a three-year run from 1987-1990, with nine top 40 singles, six top 10s, including two number 1s. Tiffany may have sold a similar number of albums in the 80s, but lets look at the content of Debbie's albums.

Debbie, a musical prodigy from infancy and possessor of an amazing voice, wrote all of her own material. She played keyboards on her albums. With perfect pitch, she sang most of her own backing vocals. She produced or co-produced most of her own music. In 1989, she was given ASCAP's Songwriter of the Year award, but she had to share it with some guy named Bruce Springsteen.

Her seven studio albums contain over 80 songs, mostly well crafted, great sounding music of the pop and ballad genres, including some songs that must be considered some of the greatest tunes in the history of recorded music. True, she gets a few demerits for emphasizing dance music and remixes, but I'm not perfect either.

From a musical perspective, there is no comparison between Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Truth be told, though, I have nothing against Tiffany - I have all of her hits in my collection and enjoy listening to them. And in non-musical comparisons, all bets are off. For example, Tiffany's Playboy pictorial was more than adequate while Debbie's was...well, they went out of their way to make her look... unsexy.

Nonetheless, I think I'll slip on my headphones, crank the volume to 11, and listen to Lost in Your Eyes, Ode to a Would Be Lover and Wishing You Were Here before turning in. Ultimate showdown indeed.

Kathy Mattea in Concert

I attended a Kathy Mattea concert two weekends ago. It was pretty good. The lady certainly has pipes and, for my money, sounds better today than she did on some of her early albums.

The concert was at Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall, so it was acoustic, accompanied by a guitarist, a guy on mandolin and violin, and a guy on stand-up bass. You don't see a stand-up bass in pop music very often. Kathy herself played guitar on many tunes and is quite the accomplished player herself.

The set went just over two hours, excluding intermission. I was sitting in the front row, off to the right, about 10 feet from a speaker, so I heard everything perfectly, if not too loudly. My view of the musicians was almost in profile, so Kathy and the mandolin/violin player were backlit by a yellow key light that made it look like she was going gray.

As a group, they played extremely well and the accoustic arrangements suited her catalog very well. I enjoyed the music very much.

OK, now for the quibbles.

Orchestra Hall is a pit. Not an orchestra pit, but an old, decripit hovel. I was expecting seats similar to what I might find at a movie theater, but the seats were actually small, non-reclining, wooden framed, and uncomfortable. Think airline seats but not as nice. If I hadn't been in the front row, I would have had no leg-room at all. They also served alcohol in the lobby, so there were a bunch of tipsy people smelling of booze all around me. The whole place was dingy and dank.

I also had a fundamental disagreement with Orchestra Hall over the ticket price. There were originally two Kathy Mattea shows scheduled last November but one was cancelled, the other postponed. I thought I should get a refund for the cancelled show and a ticket to the postponed show but they thought it would be fair to give me two tickets to the single postponed show. I'm one guy - it's difficult to be in two seats at once. A ticket agent for the Orchestra tried to tell me how fair their refund policy was but when I asked for cash back for one of the tickets, she said they never return money. Fair for them, I guess. My front row seat, off to the side and too close to the speakers cost me a cool $130.

Kathy Mattea has an unhealthy obsession with coal. She released an album in 2008 compiled of folk songs about coal miners, coal towns, and mine disasters, so it was understandable that she'd hit songs from that album pretty heavily, but think about this: coal mining is a dirty business and mine disasters are, by their very nature, not pleasant events, so the songs are rather depressing. I would have preferred that she play more of the old hits. I will name three songs that I consider mandatory for a Kathy Mattea concert set that weren't included: Lonesome Standard Time, Love Travels and what would have to be a crowd-pleasing BFD. I would also have loved to hear her sing Quarter Moon live. Its arrangement is already mostly accoustic, so it should have been easy to play.

My final quibble. For her encore, a concept I have issues with in general, the band played an instrumental song. It was a fine song but not what I was looking for from a Grammy-award winning singer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

One Year of Music on the New Computer

On June 14, 2009, I loaded my music collection onto my new computer and started listening to songs in my random and seemingly aimless fashion. It took until December 2, 2009, to listen to every song at least once.

While I have a trouble-free, mostly random and constantly replenishing playlist that I use most of the time, I still listen to catchy songs whenever the spirit grabs me and I occasionally listen to albums or special playlists. That drives up the playcounts on some songs. In a moment, we'll take a look at the most often played songs for the past year. But first, let's do some numbers.

Songs loaded one year ago:  9574
            Current song count: 10151

Most recently added song: The Look of Love by Beverley Staunton. It's a cover of the 1967 Dusty Springfield song, from Beverley's 2001 jazz album. You may not know the name Beverley Staunton, but if you watch Dancing with the Stars, you've heard her voice. She's incredibly versatile and sings about 3/4ths of the female-lead songs on that show. I looked for music from her but could only find the 2001 album. You can bet that if she had released more albums, I would buy them.

The top three songs as they were moved from the old machine:

3) Kay Hanley - Mean Streak (Do You Miss Me, Too?) -- 41 plays
2) Debbie Gibson - Only in My Dreams -- 46 plays
1) Jim Capaldi - That's Love -- 53 plays

As of June 14, 2010, Debbie Gibson's Only in My Dreams is one of six songs tied for 7th place, with eight plays.

Three songs are tied for 4th with nine plays. They are Save it for a Rainy Day by The Jayhawks, Cherry Bomb by The Runaways, and What Becomes of the Brokenhearted? by Joan Osborne. The playcount of Cherry Bomb jumped when The Runaways movie came out a few months ago. The Joan Osborne song will be featured in The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 3.

And how consistent am I?

3) Jim Capaldi - That's Love -- 12 plays
2) Kay Hanley - Mean Streak (Do You Miss Me, Too?) -- 17 plays
1) Kay Hanley - Tell Him No -- 27 plays

(To see more about Jim Capaldi's song, see my recent post on the The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 1. To see more about Kay Hanley and especially about Mean Streak (Do You Miss Me, Too?), see my post on Cherry Marmalade)

I bought Kay's latest album, Weaponize, on September 18, 2009, so Tell Him No's 27 plays happened in only nine months. Weaponize is a decent album but only Tell Him No grabbed me viscerally. It's a peppy, guitar-laden song that feels like it's moving at 90 MPH. I'm not sure what the song is really about but I enjoy the heck out of it.

Weaponize also featured Don't Drop a Bomb, a duet with a female rapper, which was not to my taste, so I edited out the rap. The result is actually pretty good and doesn't sound too choppy. My edit of Cobra Starship's Snakes on a Plane (Bring It) is pretty choppy, but the song is so good, I put it up with it. The rap in both Don't Drop a Bomb and Snakes on a Plane (Bring It) makes them unlistenable otherwise, so editing is a requirement. And truth be told, fun.

Where will I be at this time next year? Who knows, but I'm sure I'll bore you at that time with more details than you could ever want to know.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Soccer

I don't think soccer will ever catch on.  First of all, the name.  It's futbol across the world but soccer in the States.  That's not helping.

I watched the US vs England match in the World Cup earlier today.  OK, I recorded it and fast forwarded through much of it, but still.  Nothing happened.  Almost 100 minutes of playing and there were just two goals.  Nothing happened.

Here's how futbol works.  The ball gets booted around for a minute, then someone tries to kick it into the goal.  The goalies are 95% effective at blocking shots.  Bounce-bounce-bounce-shoot.  Bounce-bounce-bounce-shoot.  Bounce-bounce-bounce-shoot.  For 100 minutes.  Every once in a while, the ref would call a penalty but I couldn't ever see why.  And the announcers, whose job it is to tell us what is going on, ignored the penalties and anything else of interest, but when someone would try to kick a goal, they'd get unreasonably excited.  Remember that 95% block percentage I mentioned?  Yeah, let's get excited about 25 attempted shots on goal for every one that goes in.

And what's with the varying clock? Futbol is supposed to be two halves of 45 minutes each, but at the end of each half, four extra minutes appeared on the clock.  The announcers didn't say anything about it, so it must be a common occurrence.  Stupid, but common.

And offsides?  A penalty that has no reason to exist.  The ball is in possession of one team on one side of the pitch and a penalty is called because a guy on the other team is a few inches too far away on the other side.  What the hell is that about?  Maybe they could have fewer penalties and more scoring.

I want to enjoy futbol really bad.  I loved Bend it Like Beckham and She's the Man is a favorite guilty pleasure, but futbol is better in the movies than real life.  Infinitely better.  The sport is never going to catch on.

Speaking of England, I found out two things today I did not know.  They have their own flag.  I thought the Union Jack - you know, the Austin Powers flag - was the flag of Britain.  Turns out, that's the flag of the United Kingdom.  England has their own flag for when they want to shun Scotland, Wales and Ireland. It's a red cross centered on a field of white.  Greedy bastards.  Do they really need two flags?

I also learned that the national anthem of England is "My Country 'Tis of Thee."  I always thought the sweet land of liberty and land of the pilgrims' pride that the song 'tissed about was the US of A, but I stand corrected.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 1

A few years ago, I was visiting my sister and listening to some music. As you may have read before, I use a random playlist on my iPod, one that excludes songs that have played in the previous four months. Out popped 'Angola' by Ambrosia, a song I had discovered in the early 2000s when I was filling out my music collection. I was surprised that I could go four months without listening to such a wonderful song. I played a little of it for my sister and regaled her in tales of Ambrosia and its main voice, David Pack. From that conversation sprang an idea for a CD.

My sister's main musical tastes were rather narrow - she was all about Elton John in high school and college, then slid over to country as an adult. There are thousands of hours of great music that she has not been exposed to. I decided to put together 75 minutes of good tunes that she hadn't heard but that might appreciate. Thus was born The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 1. The songs are in no particular order and not necessarily the best selection for each artist, but my target listener was a 50-year-old woman from rural Minnesota. It's just a good sample of the wonderfulness of music that is out there.

Update 11/9/11: When you're done here, be sure to click over to Volume 2 and Volume 3.


Ambrosia - Angola (1978)

Ambrosia started the 70s as an experimental rock band but finished a little more conventionally. You've certainly heard their hits 'Holding on to Yesterday' (1975), 'How Much I Feel' (1978), and 'You're the Only Woman' (1980). These songs were written and sung by David Pack, whom you'll hear more about in later entries.

'Angola' is a peppy song, set in the eponymous African country, which, in 1975, was populated mostly by subsistence farmers. The singer, perhaps an American ex-pat, reads the newspaper and finds it amusing to read about people upset about a recession when people in Angola seem happy with minimal creature comforts ("What you call poor, we call prosperity").

After the second verse, lead singer Joe Puerta's perfectly adequate vocals get a harmony accompaniment by Pack's creamy smooth, high register voice (How do you describe David Pack's voice? How do you describe a sunset?) which takes a perfectly good song and turns it into a phenomenally good song.


Kim Wilde - Four Letter Word (1988)

Kim Wilde was a fairly big deal on the other side of the pond in the 80s but only had two hits in the States: 'Kids in America' (1981) and 'You Keep Me Hanging On' (1987). Wilde's voice is kind of weak, even frail, which sounds odd to the American ear, but that trait worked perfectly with the style and content of this particular song, a plaintive up-tempo ballad, making the result somewhat transcendant. In case you're wondering, the four letter word she sings about is, of course, "love."


Steve Winwood - Valerie (1982)

This list was also influenced by a conversation I had with a co-worker, about the same time as my visit to my sister. She mentioned that she had taken a call from a client named Valerie and I off-handedly mentioned that I had two really good songs in my collection named 'Valerie.' I decided to kill two birds with one CD, and share The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 1 with my co-worker, and include both 'Valeries' from my collection.

This version is from Steve Winwood's album Arc of a Diver, which produced the hit 'While You See a Chance.' Winwood gets a little funky here. His signature synth is all over this song and 'Valerie' showcases his high register voice nicely.


Quarterflash - Valerie (1981)

The other 'Valerie' on this list. Quarterflash is often called a one-hit wonder but they had three Top 40 hits and released four wonderful albums. Bandleaders Marv and Rindy Ross are still working today, releasing a CD together in 2008.

Quarterflash's 'Valerie' is no simple song. At first glance it sounds like a college-lesbian experience, but in the third verse, the singer says that Valerie hangs in the student gallery, ala a portrait? I've never put my finger on the true meaning; I just like the song.


Susan Tedeschi - Alone (2002)

Susan Tedeschi is kind of like a female David Pack, with a beautiful, distinctive voice. 'Alone' is a soulful, hopeful pop song - complete with horns - featuring incredibly smooth, powerful vocals. Her normal style is the Blues and she does them well, but with 'Alone,' she's playing above her normal level.


Debbie Gibson - Think with Your Heart (1995)

Debbie Gibson had her biggest success before she was old enough to vote. Maybe because of her bubblegum princess image, she received no attention from the music-loving public after 1991. Shame. I have all of her albums and while I may quibble over some of her song choices and even her musical direction, I will never say anything bad about her voice. 'Think with Your Heart' is maybe the best example of Debbie's great voice. A simple piano ballad with strings, this song rates among the best songs ever recorded.


The Derek Trucks Band - I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to be Free) (2006)

I slept late on March 25, 2006. 7:46AM on a Saturday is late for me. When I got up, I walked through the kitchen and turned on the radio. I listen exclusively to National Public Radio's morning programs, which usually consist of newsmakers being interviewed by deep voiced, serious journalists. Stereotype aside, what came out of my radio that morning was anything but a stolid interview. My speakers erupted with a screaming slide guitar solo that went on for a good minute, then more of a song, the likes of which I had never heard before.

'I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to be Free)' is pretty much a negro spiritual (is that still a term I'm allowed to use?), but was written in 1967. The DTB version adds a powerful blues style to the spirituality and rocks out.

Not all of The Derek Trucks Band's music is to my taste but 'I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to be Free)' certainly is. I now have five different versions by DTB in my collection, including the NPR version that ripped up my speakers on that fateful day in 2006.


Deadstar - Run Baby Run (1999)

Deadstar is an Australian band that had modest, if any, success in their homeland and almost zero in the States. This song came to my attention on the soundtrack of Drive Me Crazy in 1999. Deadstar's lead singer has a very sweet voice, and 'Run Baby Run' is a gentle, even soothing ballad.


Gjallarhorn - Goddess of Spring (2000)

I accidentally discovered Gjallarhorn one day in 2001 when KTCA ran a live performance of 'Goddess of Spring' between requests for money. Gjallarhorn is a band from Finland that sings in Swedish and plays in a traditional folk style. 'Goddess of Spring' is a an uptempo song that blends traditional with amplified instruments and I swear there is an Australian didgeridoo in the mix as well. A very pleasing song, even if I can't understand a word they're saying.


David Pack - Tell Her Goodbye (2005)

Chronologically, I've gotten out of order, because David Pack will appear later with an older song but if you're listening to the CD, the music flows well with this order.

David Pack is an amazing singer. I could just stop there, but... 'Tell Her Goodbye,' from his first complete album in twenty years, is a marvel. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and bass, Pack sings a song with roots in the blues but fits into what some people might call the Smooth Jazz category. Harmonies - fantastic harmonies - are provided by Dewey Bunnell, late of the band America.

Pack's 2005 album The Secret of Moving On is wonderful as a whole; I just wish he'd put albums out more than once every twenty years.


Jim Capaldi - That's Love (1983)

Jim Capaldi did some good group work in the 60s with Traffic and tried for a solo career in the 70s. He never really took off but put out some good material nonetheless. He almost hit it big in 1976 with an up-tempo, happy version of 'Love Hurts,' but had the misfortune of releasing it the same time that Nazareth released their downbeat, power-ballad version.

'That's Love' is your basic Top 40 pop song, with a clean arrangement and good hooks. Steve Winwood plays keyboards. It is, in my opinion, Capaldi's best solo song.


Rush - Spirit of the Radio (1978)

Once again, I remind you that this list was originally prepared for someone who hasn't listened to rock radio since the 70s and whose interest in rock began and ended with Elton John. This staple of AOR (Album Oriented Rock) radio is a staple for a reason. It's melodically creative, has great hooks, Geddy Lee's extremely powerful, extremely high voice, and lyrics that say something. The commercialization of radio has only gotten worse since Rush recorded this song over 30 years ago.

Rush is an acquired taste so even if you listen to this song a few times it may not grab you. But if you're looking for a kick ass rock song, 'Spirit of the Radio' should get you.

Oh, about the name. It is officially 'The Spirit of Radio,' but back in my musically formative years, I never heard anyone - DJ, friend, stranger - say the title in the right order. I don't think the title is ever mentioned in the lyrics, so for me, and maybe everyone from Southwestern Minnesota, it will always be 'Spirit of the Radio.'


Benjamin Orr - This Time Around (1986)

Ben Orr was one of two singers for The Cars. It's his voice on the hits 'Just What I Needed' and 'Let's Go.' He released his only solo album, The Lace, the year after the monster success of The Cars album Heartbeat City, which included Orr singing the number 1 hit 'Drive.'

Benjamin Orr's solo style was tamer than the new wave-influenced Cars, more conventional pop. You may have heard The Lace's top 10 hit 'Stay the Night.' My favorite from the album is 'This Time Around,' a gentle pop song sung from the perspective of a guy ready to get things right.

[Update 9/29/10: I just watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High again and was reminded that Benjamin Orr sang lead on The Cars song 'Moving in Stereo.'  It's his voice you hear during the infamous Phoebe Cates bikini scene.]


Bob Welch - Lose Your... + Carolene (1977)

Bob Welch was the singer and guitar player for Fleetwood Mac before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined, so he's not very well known. A lot of his songs tend to sound alike, which is to say the songs feature his voice and guitar and no real frills. This is actually a good thing.

The year that Fleetwood Mac had their unprecedented success with Rumours, Welch released a little album called French Kiss. It had two hits, 'Sentimental Lady' and 'Ebony Eyes.' The remainder of the album was solid, if not terribly innovative. I pick 'Carolene' as the best of the non-hits.

Welch had a small theme in French Kiss. The last song of side one was 'Lose My Heart.' The last song on side two was 'Lose Your Heart.' Wedged in between the other four songs on side two, there was a 42-second teaser called 'Lose Your...' leading into 'Carolene.' Technically, 'Carolene' is a stand-alone song but I can't listen to one without the other.


Charlotte Grace - Picture of You (1998)

Like Deadstar, Charlotte Grace is an Australian who had no success in the States, and whom I found on the Drive Me Crazy soundtrack. I had to buy my copy of this song from a guy in Australia. Worth it. 'Picture of You' is pretty much a perfect song.


David Pack - Anywhere You Go (1985)

This is Pack's third entry on this list, if you include his backing vocals and songwriting on 'Angola.' 'Anywhere You Go' is the title track on Pack's first solo LP. It didn't sell terribly well - I didn't even buy mine at first - I took home a demo copy from the radio station I worked at in 1985 and I haven't stopped listening yet. I've since upgraded to a CD purchased at retail.

'Anywhere You Go' is my favorite song from the album but just barely. It's safe to say this song is a ten while all the other songs are nines.

Pack made a Grammy-winning career out of producing other artists and by listening to the Anywhere You Go album, you'll hear why. The songwriting is top notch, the sound is smooth and the music is played by virtuosos at their peak.


Deborah Gibson - I Can't (1997)

Debbie Gibson couldn't buy a hit in the 1990s or 2000s, but she hit a creative zenith with 1997's Deborah. Ten years after the pop perfection of Out of the Blue, she released an album with soulful maturity. Her songwriting had improved and her production was lush. 'I Can't' was one of maybe three songs that deserved to be hits, but alas, they ended up being some of the best songs you've never heard.


Shannon Curfman - I Don't Make Promises (I Can't Break) (1999)

Shannon Curfman's first album, Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions, was released in September, 1999. She received immediate acclaim by blues fans, complimenting the richness of her voice - comparing her to Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow - and her lightning in a bottle guitar playing.

Shannon was born in 1985. The year the album came out was 1999!  Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions was recorded when she was 13; released when she was 14. It sounds, however, from start to finish, like she was a journeyman blues player.

I saw Shannon play 'I Don't Make Promises (I Can't Break)' on a morning news show in 2000 and was blown away by the great music coming out if the teenybopper. I immediately bought the CD and still listen to songs from it as often as possible.


Toto - Rockmaker (1978)

Toto is one of the most amazing bands in music history. Saleswise, they peaked with 1982's Grammy winner for Album of the Year, Toto IV, and Song of the Year, 'Rosanna.' However, they put out consistently good music until they dissolved the band last year.

Toto's first album produced the classic rock hit 'Hold the Line,' which deservedly gets a lot of attention, but 'Rockmaker' was really the sign of Toto to come. Great songwriting, smooth vocals and the balance of Jeff Porcaro's drums, David Paich's keyboards and Steve Lukather's guitars. That formula produced dozens of great songs for Toto over the years.

[Update 9/28/10: I see the potential for confusion about the lead singers of Toto.  They've had, by my count, 10 lead singers on their 14 albums, usually 3-4 singers per album.  The lead singer of 'Rockmaker' is David Paich.  He was also the singer on Toto's megahit 'Africa.'  He is not the lead singer on the familiar hits 'Hold the Line,' 'Rosanna,' 'I'll Be Over You' or '99.'


The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volumes 2 and 3 are ready to go, but neither of the recipients of Volume 1 has asked for them. I'll post the song lists for Volumes 2 and 3 sometime in the near future. If you want to hear The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 1 and actually know me, I'll be happy to share a CD with you. Just ask.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Delicious Cherry Marmalade

I have a lot of music but not so many CDs. I never had a lot of LPs either, maybe 150 albums before I started tossing them. I made a quick inventory of my CDs the other day - only about 125. I have them all in rows in a media bookcase in my bedroom.
Only one CD is on display, on a shelf, opened like a V, so we can see the front and back. Cherry Marmalade by Kay Hanley.
Kay Hanley came into my life on April 13, 2001, while watching the movie Josie and the Pussycats. The movie, a fun little trifle, was about three musician friends, hence a lot of music in the movie. Josie was played by Minnesota-native Rachael Leigh Cook. Josie's singing voice was by Kay Hanley. I had never heard of Kay Hanley until I saw her name in the credits and I'm pretty sure I had never heard so much as one note of her music until the opening scene of Josie and the Pussycats.
I went home and downloaded the soundtrack to the movie (since upgraded to a purchased CD) and listened over and over. I soon craved more songs by that voice. I found out that in the 1990s, Kay was the lead singer of Letters to Cleo, a band I had never heard of, but whose CDs were in the collection of my buddy Joel. Who knew?
A little while later, I also used Kazaa, a now defunct file-sharing site, to search for more songs by Kay Hanley. I only found one and don't remember the name the file had when I downloaded it - it didn't seem to match the song - so I renamed it after a prominent phrase in the chorus, "Do You Miss Me, Too?" This song was recorded live, either at a bar or a sound check, and was over-driven - distorted - and contained some talking from Kay to the sound-board operator at the beginning and for about 30 seconds at the end. It was annoying to hear the non-music parts of the file, so I removed the song from my collection.
Still, I couldn't get the song out of my head. It was catchy and hooked me. A few years later, I had become proficient with soundwave editing software, which allows me to remove pops & clicks from vinyl recordings and delete extra silence from the beginnings and endings of songs as needed. I pulled "Do You Miss Me, Too?" from the archives - I never fully delete any song I possess, just throw them into a separate folder - and edited a few seconds from the front and half a minute from the back. I resaved the song and put it back into rotation.
Over the next three or four years, "Do You Miss Me, Too?" became one of my most listened to songs. The distortion bothered me a bit but Kay's powerful voice, a good beat and great lyrics kept me listening. That would be a happy-enough ending for this story but it's not THE ending.
In 2006 or 2007, I put the rest of Kay Hanley's discography that I didn't already have on my Amazon.com wishlist. I check the wishlist every day to see if something I desire drops to a reasonable price and then I buy. It's saved me hundreds of dollars over the years. One Kay album in particular, Cherry Marmalade, was rather expensive, bouncing around the $10-20 range for over a year. Too rich for my blood, I did nothing until March 3, 2008, when a used copy became available for $3.99. I pulled the trigger. On March 15, I had the CD in my hand. The case was a little dinged up but the disc and insert were mint.
I began to rip the CD into digital files so I could import the songs into iTunes and my iPod. While I was waiting for the rip to finish, the thrill of the hunt overpowered me. I figured that "Do You Miss Me, Too?" was probably more than a demo or club recording - it had to be from an album. I decided then and there to find the original version and to buy the album that day, whatever the cost. But how?
This being the Internet age, I used Google. I entered "do you miss me too" into the search engine. A plethora of lyrics-providing sites returned the same thing: the name of the song was apparently "Mean Streak." Odd. If so, the title didn't seem to match the song. Well, that would hardly be unique in the history of recorded music, so I moved on to the next logical
thing, and searched Kay Hanley's discography for an album that contained a song called "Mean Streak." Found it quickly. The song was on Kay's 2002 album...
Cherry Marmalade.
The same Cherry Marmalade I was holding in my left hand. Track 11. The same song that my software was ripping at that very moment. Fun coincidence.
When the album was loaded into iTunes, I cranked up what we will henceforth call Mean Streak (Do You Miss Me, Too?). It was different than the live/demo version, obviously. In addition to cleaner instrumentation, it was faster - maybe 10%, had a bit of synth in the background and a scorching guitar solo only hinted at in the garage version. I loved it. From that first listen in March, 2008, to when I built a new computer in June, 2009, it accumulated a play count of 41, far exceeding the rate at which I listened to any other song in my collection. It continues to accumulate playing time on the new computer - 17 plays since June 14, 2009.
Finding the studio version of Mean Streak (Do You Miss Me, Too?) would also be a happy ending for this story, but it's not THE ending.
When I moved into my house in 2008, I left my CD collection, meager as it is, unpacked in boxes in a closet. Earlier this year, I installed a new bookcase, mainly for my DVD collection, that had enough room for the CDs, so I removed all of them from their boxes and placed them on the new bookcase. When I picked up Cherry Marmalade, I noticed something for the first time. On the front of the case insert, right next to the picture of Kay, was a scribble from a Sharpie. K-something-y, H-a-something-y. Whoa.
I had a copy of a Kay Hanley CD signed by Kay Hanley! Very cool. It would be cooler if she had signed it in my presence FOR me, but close enough, man. I don't care that I acquired the CD through Amazon Marketplace, I just have a signed copy of a Kay Hanley CD. Period. Rather than hide the CD amidst the rest of my music, I gave it a place of honor on a separate shelf where anyone in the room can see it. It is the only CD in my collection so honored.
And THAT IS the happy ending of this long, but touching story.
If you're wondering what Kay Hanley is up to these days, well, even hard rockin', literate, indie musicians have to eat. For the last few years, she's been a back-up singer for Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana. No kidding. If you know where to look, you can spot her on stage in both Hannah Montana movies.
Oh, the title Mean Streak comes from a line in the song,

"It’s not beneath me to appreciate
the mean streak that’s inside me
when it’s so hard to miss you the way that I do."

The singer seems to be conflicted by having dumped a boyfriend (or having been dumped) and is engaging in a little passive aggressive behavior. Rock 'n Roll romance, kids.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Some People Need to be Supervised

My homeowner's association is sponsoring some maintenance this week.  On Tuesday, their contractor pressure washed the decks, stairs and landings.  Mondo improvement, at least to the unstained, unpainted wood.  Looks like it might even be cedar.  The painted surfaces lost a bit of paint, which is pretty much to be expected after a pressure-washing.

Today, I watched two young men dressed in painters garb go from house-to-house scraping and painting.  Since the pressure wash dislodged a lot of paint, that part makes sense. What doesn't make sense is that the washing brought into clear focus what each individual homeowner already knew: the painted parts of our decks and railings are rotting.  And not just a little.  Take a gander at my next-door neighbor's railing.



That's what parts of mine looked like this morning.  Now that some paint has been stripped and massive rot has been exposed, you'd think it would be time to repair and replace.  You'd be wrong.  Here's what it looks like now:



They painted over the rot!  Some people need to be supervised.

I don't know what's going on.  I asked one of the guys what they were doing about the rot.  He said a carpenter was going to come in and replace all the sections of railing that have rot.  Fine, but why paint over it?

I'm just going to sit back and see what happens.  Despite the observable inefficiency, I expect it will all work out but could be highly entertaining in the meantime.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Doctor

In 1989, the Doobie Brothers released a song proclaiming that "Music is the doctor."

Today, right about now, I get to say, "My nephew is the doctor."

Friday, April 30, 2010

Are Trees Flowers?

I first started noticing flowering trees when I lived in Georgia, circa 1997.  Every Spring, or every whatever time of year passes for Spring in Georgia's climate, all the dogwood trees would flower overnight.  Might not have been dogwoods but let's call them that.  For about a week, these medium-sized trees would be covered in white blossoms so thick you couldn't see any leaves, reminiscent of giant cotton balls.

I bought my house two years ago in Summer, so I thought nothing of the tree in my front yard.  Last Spring, surprisingly, it erupted in beautiful pink blossoms.  This year, I took pictures.

Here's a chronology of a bloom fortnight in my neighborhood.

April 16.  Red buds cover the tree, but it still looks pretty bare.

April 18.  Starting to flower.  I decided to take pictures around 8:00 AM, when the sun is behind the camera.

April 19.  Very pretty.

April 20.  Very few leaves visible.  Neighbor's garbage can included in background at no extra charge.

April 21.  Filling out nicely.

April 22.  Earth Day.  I mean Goldwing Day.

April 23.  About the same as yesterday, which is to say, very nice.

April 26.  It rained on April 24 & 35, so no pictures from those days.  Petals are starting to drop.

April 27.  Leaves are becoming much more visible. My neighbor's garbage can and recycling bin makes another cameo appearance.  Neighbor recycles mostly bottles, if you get my drift.

April 29.  The fun is almost over.

April 30.  Still some pink there but the leaves really want to take over.  Where did all the petals go?

There they are.  It looks like a hail storm but no, those are petals.

So Close

Last Fall, I put both of my two-wheeled vehicles in storage for the off-season.  I thought about hanging the motorcycle from the ceiling but later opted to park it on the floor and hang the bicycle.  Less fun but more practical.

Not wanting the two vehicles to interfere with other, I measured carefully and drilled hooks into the ceiling for the bike.  I parked the cycle and then hung the bike on the hooks.

While I measured carefully, I didn't take into consideration the motorcycle's cover.  Let's see how close I got.




Ouch.  While the bike's handlebars are still inches away from the motorcycle, with the cover in the mix, we're calling that zero clearance.  Very tight.  With my track record, I'm very happy to not be reporting major negative clearance.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day? No, Happy Goldwing Day

I brought home my Goldwing on his date in 2004.  I remember quite clearly the first song to eminate from the radio - "Peaceful, Easy Feeling" by The Eagles.  Whether you believe in omens or not, that was a good sign.  On my way to work this morning, it hit 19,000 miles.

I've been avoiding driving my truck this week, for reasons that may be explained in a later post, and Monday-Tuesday were lovely days.  Because they were lovely, and Wednesday morning was sunny, I didn't look at the thermometer before I left for work.  Wow: 43°.  That's a bit chilly when riding a machine that makes its own windchill.  My lower limit for cycling to work has usually been 55°.  A new and somewhat brisk low, and short-lived.  My commute is less than two miles.

I looked at the thermometer before I left this morning: 39°.  A second new low in as many days. Should be closer to 50° than 40° Friday morning.  I hope it's warm for the weekend, so I can see about fixing my truck.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Scoundrels

Denny Hecker is a prominent Twin Cities car dealer.  Or maybe I should use the past tense.  He's currently awaiting trial for fraud and is in the middle of both bankruptcy and divorce.  For all the salacious details, feel free to Google him.

I don't know if he's a con man or just an incompetent business person as he claims, but when he turned himself in for a few days in jail for contempt in the bankruptcy proceedings, he had $4000 in cash in his pocket.  You know, if you're on your way to serve a contempt sentence for hiding assets, you might want to leave your wallet at home if it contains some of the assets you've been hiding.  Ballsy and/or stupid.

For the last decade, the headquarters of Hecker's empire has been on my drive to work.  Four or five years ago, I noticed that he opened a mortgage lending office.  It makes sense, as car loans and home loans aren't all that different, and it was at the peak of the housing bubble.

I draw your attention to the signs on the building.


Let's see those signs in close-up.




In 1775, Samuel Johnson said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."  Naming your business "Freedom First Financial" and putting up red, white & blue signs, including one reminiscent of a waving flag, is definitely invoking patriotic imagery.  Denny Hecker is demonstrably a scoundrel, so there has to be a lesson in there somewhere.  I would even believe that "Freedom First Financial" wasn't the last choice of names; probably the first.

Minnesota Governor Timothy Pawlenty created a political action committee to raise money for his presidential bid.  The name of Pawlenty's political action committee?

Freedom First PAC.

Gotta be a lesson in there, as well.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wellstone!

When travelling the highways and byways of Minnesota, you will often see cars with little green bumper stickers that say "Wellstone!"  It's not at all uncommon to see cars with bumper stickers from elections past.

Paul Wellstone was a US Senator from 1991-2002 and a progressive icon.  He was a small man with fierce determination and proudly wore the "Liberal" label.  He died in October 2002, days before an election he would easily have won.  

Yesterday, while driving down my local freeway, I saw a car with a Wellstone! bumper sticker.  A 2009 Ford Focus.  A car manufactured a good seven years after Paul Wellstone left the mortal coil.

Seven years and Minnesotans are still claiming Wellstone, one bumper sticker at a time.

Kind of says it all.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cold as Ice, and Loud as a Foreigner Concert, Too

My refrigerator has been making noise lately, noise that indicates that it is not performing adequately. The bad kind of not adequately. After work today, while getting ready to watch a DVD in peace and quiet, I realized that the quiet wasn't quite peaceful enough, and I decided to forego seeing the lovely (and brown-eyed) Kate Beckinsale as Jane Austen's Emma long enough to fix the fridge.

Gathering the necessary tools took longer than taking off the back of the fridge. Once I had it opened, ironically, it stopped cycling but when it started up again, I could immediately see and hear the problem. The fan, a little 6- or 7-inch baby, was rubbing on its shroud. A little nosing around and I deduced that the bearing holding up the fan's output shaft was made of rubber or plastic and had worn over time. The shaft had dropped about 1/16”, which caused the blades to rub against the shroud and make an unpleasant racket.

A bearing made out of a material that wears out? That's lousy design, almost as if the manufacturer had planned a little obsolescence, something minor that would necessitate a visit by a repair person and quick replacement with a high-markup part. I wonder if there is a name for obsolescence that is planned? If not, there should be.

This little bearing that wore out looks like it should last about 10 years. The date of manufacture of my refrigerator was 2/19/2000. It started making noise about six weeks ago today, on Friday, Febuary 19, 2010. Something like that. Truth be told, it's been making noise for the last year, but until Friday, Febuary 19, only the kind that goes away when you whack the side of the fridge.

To fix my fridge, I didn't replace the bearing or the fan assembly. Instead, I attacked the next-most wearable surface, and used a utility knife to cut 1/8” off the end of each of the fan blades. When I plugged the unit back in, the blades spun free & clear and that should be the end of that problem until the bearing wears out another 1/16”.

Which brings us to the fun part. When I bought my garden-variety townhouse in the poor section of Minnesota's wealthiest city, I decided to get a few toys, namely an air compressor and a shop vac.

While I had the back of the refrigerator off, I used compressed air to clean off the coils and magic cooling parts underneath the unit. I had vacuumed them once, but 90 PSI makes quite a breeze and was a little more effective. I dislodged and redistributed all kinds of dust bunnies the size of, well, small rabbits. They created a debris field in my living room reminiscent of the Titanic's, as if rendered in dust.

Cleaning up these dust bunnies the size of small rabbits fell to my shop vac. It did the job so quickly and thoroughly, that there is no trace of dust in my kitchen or living room. Except on the dust mask I was wearing. It turned dark gray, just short of black. That's a lot of dust that didn't end up in my lungs. Good idea, wearing a dust mask.

If I'd known that I would use my shop vac toy as often as I do, I would have gotten the next size up. And a little unsolicited advice for you: if you use your shop vac in the house, like I have for several projects, using a HEPA-quality filter is mandatory. In fact, after my quick cleanup today, I can honestly say that the $30 HEPA filter would be cheap at twice the price.

Thus ends my refrigerator story, for now. When it started making noise, I thought I might need to get a new one, but not yet, it seems. As fun as getting a shiny new toy - with ice maker, of course - would be, I'll keep the cash in pocket a little longer. Maybe until the next part that is designed to fail fails. Has anyone come up with a name for obsolescence that is planned yet?