I had a devil of a time with eMusic. Their basic plan furnishes customers with 30 downloads a month, and I used up 22 of them this month on a Jackie Wilson compilation. Since most albums have 10-20 tracks, what to do with the remaining eight? Browsing eMusic for individual songs is an interesting experience. Overall they’re very strong on Indie/Alternative rock and not so strong in other genres — but persistent digging around reveals a lot of little treasures (one could get lost for hours exploring the weirdness of the Folkways catalog alone). Here’s what I found:
- The Stone Canyon — “MacArthur Park” (from MacArthur Park, late ’60s) I was craving a new version of this Jimmy Webb chestnut, and luckily eMusic had 31 versions to choose from. I might have picked the wrong one, however. The Stone Canyon must have been one of those phantom groups that record labels created to sell cheap records in drugstores; their rendition has a loose ‘n funky Blood, Sweat & Tears vibe but it’s generic and badly arranged. Paging Richard Harris!
- Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings — “Tell Me” (from 100 Days, 100 Nights, 2007) The first time I heard a Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings song, I thought it was some undiscovered soul nugget from the ’60s. The fact that they’re a group very much in the here and now astonished me. The band also backed Amy Winehouse on her critically adored recent album, but I enjoy Sharon Jones’ voice even more since it seems more “real” in a way I can’t really pinpoint. Among the songs on 100 Days, 100 Nights, “Tell Me” was my favorite; they go for an Aretha-’67 sound here and totally succeed.
- Jens Lekman — “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” and “Sipping On Sweet Nectar” (from Night Falls Over Kortedala, 2007) Lekman must be the flavor-of-the-month indie pop artist at eMusic, since this album is getting the big push at the site. I was pleasantly surprised; his wry lyrics and cute melodies come across like the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt with a serious ’60s pop fixation (notice a pattern here?). I picked “Leaving You” for its ingenious production which neatly quotes the piano riff from the Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Nectar” for its amiable disco-ish swirl. Good stuff.
- Jaye P. Morgan — “Fascinated” (from Jaye P. Morgan Lately!, 2005 reissue of a 1983 LP) How could I resist a song that the All Music Guide descibes as “a textbook summary of soft rock clichés of the early ’80s, from the trebly, over-mic’ed synths to a guitar solo that was almost certainly recorded by a man with feathered hair and aviator sunglasses wearing an open-collared shirt and designer jeans.” Ms. Morgan actually delivers a fun performance on a pop-lite confection with definite retro-’60s shadings (think the Pointer Sisters’ “He’s So Shy”).
- Planet 3 featuring Jay Graydon — “I Don’t Want to Say Goodnight” (from Music from the Planet, 2005) Generic Hollywood Power Ballad to the rescue! A super-slick production that reminds me of unsubtle late ’80s Kenny Loggins or Chicago — with screaming guitars, big percussion and an overly histrionic singer who unfortunately lacks the personality of a Loggins or Cetera. This tune was recorded in 1989, but until recently Planet 3’s accompanying album only came out in Japan, where they appreciate stuff like this apparently. So, so awesome. I could imagine this song playing at the Beverly Hills 90210 senior prom, say, or during the climax of some fist-pumping action movie (actually it did appear on the Navy Seals soundtrack).
- Michael Sembello — “Automatic Man” (from Bossa Nova Hotel, 1983) Sembello’s follow up single to his monster hit “Maniac” didn’t do quite as well chartwise, but I can remember enjoying this one even more than the hit back in ’83. Now it seems like a quaint yet bland little piece of electro-funk, but there ya go.
- Bettye Swann — “Make Me Yours” (from Make Me Yours, 1967) A good song and an R&B chart-topper, although eMusic’s version suffers from sound quality issues. I don’t think I’ve heard this one before, surprisingly enough. The production has a nice Motown-like swing and Swann’s honey-like voice is very appealing. I’ll have to check out more of her stuff.
Trying to find a place to share some illustrations scanned from a 1966 issue of Fortune magazine, I started a new flickr group called Vintage Industry. I’m hoping the group members will make this into a virtual storehouse of great vintage industrial imagery — like the two below, which have that gross/cool “messy” painting technique so popular back then:
Tonight I turn over the weblog to ask an important question — whatever happened to those completely unironic TV commercials that emulated movie musicals? Sure, they were corny, but 20-plus years later I still remember them which has to count for something. The mid-’80s jingle for Better Cheddars crackers, for example, is a song that I sometimes use to torment my s.o. (along with My Buddy and Figurines). The actor in this commercial deserved some kind of award for being able to perform this fabulously dorky tune straight-faced:
Although Kelloggs’ usage of the Broadway chestnut “Great Day” as a jingle back in the late ’70s/early ’80s is something I remember well, I almost forgot about this mini extravaganza utilizing the company’s kiddie cereal mascots. The animation is clearly a notch above the Saturday morning cartoons it once accompanied. I especially dug revisiting Tusk, the Cocoa Krispies elephant:
The old Toffifay candy commercial jingle is something that really offended me as a kid. “Too good for kids”? Whatever. The one I recall had a sparring old codger and little boy, but this one (featuring actress Tracey Gold before her Growing Pains fame) will suffice. Boy, what a shrieky, unappealing song. In the end, perhaps it’s better off that we’ve moved on:
Can’t say it’s much of a surprise: Viva Laughlin became the first scripted TV show of the new season to get the axe. I tuned into the pilot episode out of curiosity, but couldn’t get past the first 15 minutes or so — the show was so wrong on so many levels. The producers could have exploited the uniqueness of having characters burst out in song, but instead they seemed to be embarrassed by the thought of coming across as campy instead of embracing it wholeheartedly. The numbers came across as half-assed karaoke with actors singing along with pre-recorded pop hits — hey, at least Cop Rock had original songs. I also thought the main guy was a jerk, his kids were brats, and I couldn’t get past the casting of Twin Peaks cutie Madchen Amick as a mom with teenagers (although it does fit in with Hollywood’s latest screwy mandate that all moms must be young, thin and hot). Even Hugh Jackman’s big number was all boring, flashy editing.
Most of the Viva Laughlin criticism I’ve read centers on how much worse it came off than its British original, Viva Blackpool. That’s one show I’ll have to look into.
Michael Perry’s Hand Job: A Catalog of Type gathers the work of 55 artists who, in rebellion against computers, excel in hand-drawn typography and design. I remember first noticing this trend in the opening credits to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, with cast and crew names floating around in lettering mimicking the loopy and unpolished writing on a high school girl’s notebook. The designer of that sequence, Geoff McFetridge, appropriately enough counts among those featured in this book — a group that collectively draw their inspiration from vernacular sources like graffiti, homemade signage and, yep, notebook scribblings. The resulting pieces are a mixed bag, however. Some of the work is truly awe-inspiring or appealing in a scruffy way; others have the lunatic aimlessness of mental patient drawings. By and large, I liked it. It makes me wonder what I can do with just a pen or pencil and a scrap of paper. Judge for yourself — Perry’s website contains several spreads from the book.
Hand Job: A Catalog of Type is available now from Princeton Architectural Press. Buy at Amazon here.
What’s your opinion on videogames and patience? The culmination of months of saving has finally happened — I’m getting a Nintendo Wii! It’s mind boggling that, 11 months later, those things are still hard to come by (unless you’re willing to pay $100 more on eBay, which I’m not). Not a fan of camping out in front of stores, I used the Wii Tracker to find something online. It took several days of reloads and several failed attempts, but on Friday morning a small window opened where Circuit City had a bundled package available. It included a Wii console, remote, nunchuck controller and a choice of game. I furiously completed my order before it closed 10 minutes later — success! The package should be shipping early next week.
The bundled games Circuit City had to pick from were WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Madden NFL 07, Mario Party 8, some soccer game and a Pokémon game. I picked WarioWare since it looked like the most fun, easy to learn and best reviewed. What kind of (Wii or not) games do you like? Out of the ones available, I could think of only a few I’d want to own — The Simpsons Game and Lego Star Wars: The Complete Trilogy both look really cool. I think I’d want to check out Ninjabread Man because it has the greatest name and concept ever. Suggestions, anyone?