Hey gang, welcome back. I’ve been traveling, but am now safely ensconced back in Philly – good to feel the heat and humidity of the East Coast summer again. I saw some cool stuff while on the road, and it led me to want to riff on two rock music legends: the Beatles and David Bowie. Let me explain. But sit down – this is going to take a while.
I was chilling out in a hotel and came across a really good documentary movie about the Beatles, with its focus on the band as a touring act. It’s a Ron Howard film, which in my mind equates to “oh, this is going to be good.” Howard is a great story, right? There aren’t a lot of childhood stars that can morph into productive adults, but Howard did it. From childhood TV star as Opie to a director with many financially successful and Academy Award-winning films, the guy has had an astonishing career in Hollywood. If this were a movie blog, I would go on and on, but suffice to say, I’m a fan.
Anyway, Opie did a film in 2016 called “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years,” and it is worth seeing. It was done with the cooperation of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, so there is great interview and private material throughout. It has fantastic footage of the Beatles playing live, much of which was restored and enhanced, and a lot of it that I had never seen before. You get to see the band as a club act in the Cavern Club in Liverpool all the way through their final public concert, a stadium gig at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. After San Francisco, the group only performed live one more time – on the rooftop of the Apple Records building in London – and there was ample footage of that event, too, including people on the street listening and gawking. The live action is just super. Their first US concert at the decrepit Washington Coliseum is covered, as is the massive Shea Stadium show (which used the stadium’s existing PA system – hahaha – and kept the band at bay from the fans by not allowing anyone on the infield), and clips from many other performances.
I remain a huge Beatles fan and have chosen some of my all-time Beatles song to accompany this post. But sometimes I forget just how important the band is to rock ‘n roll. They are basically like the older sibling to every band that followed them: they cut the path, showed the direction, gave the example. For instance, they are the first band to have a fold out album (Sgt. Pepper’s) and the first to do a stadium tour. The film explains that local public officials almost pushed them to do stadiums as the police otherwise would have to deal with thousands of teens in the streets without tickets. And the band did it to make money – George Harrison explains that they didn’t make much money on records, and were forced to tour to bring in the bucks. Sounds familiar, right?
What struck me watching “Eight Days a Week” was how often the Beatles performed live during their early years. I just wasn’t aware of that. They were basically on the road for five straight years traveling all over the globe, and only taking time off to cut yet another number one record.
There are few bands that evolved like the Beatles did without losing their audience or importance. I can still remember as a kid anxiously awaiting the newest Beatles single to be released. I have a very strong memory of first hearing the song “Rain” and listening to it in my Dad’s VW bug on WEAM, the AM rock radio station that we kids insisted upon. Beatlemania in its many forms – the screaming teens, the movies, the Ed Sullivan shows - was powerful stuff and shared among an entire generation in a way that just couldn’t happen in today’s world. We were all focused on these four young guys and what they were doing.
In other words, the Beatles were the first mega-phenomenon of the baby-boom generation. The film shows them traveling into cities all over the globe and being greeted by mobs of screaming, crying, and fainting teenagers (some professing their undying love), then being whisked off by local law enforcement to a press conference covered by all the major news organizations of the era. And then how charming, cool and funny the four lads were with the press! They were a bunch of teens themselves when the whole thing blew up, and they basically grew up in front of the world.
There were a lot of uncomfortable questions hurled at the band, like “what are you going to do when all of this comes to an end?” and “how long do you think this will continue?” The guys handled it all with aplomb, giving off mature answers or deferring with humor and wit. Can you imagine the situation? Four working class kids from Liverpool thrust first into Hamburg, perhaps the most decadent city of the post-war era, and then exploding onto the national and international scene. They were just kids, but they were talented, confident, innocent and optimistic, and their charm is certainly part of why they were so universally embraced. Moreover, they liked each other. There is a clip where they say that thank god there were four of them going through the same thing together, how lucky that they had friends in the same boat, and how hard it must have been for Elvis to go through something similar all by himself.
Getting back to the story, they have a huge first album. What next? A string of number one albums year after year. Given how much time they were on the road, making movies, appearing on TV shows, and doing myriad other activities demanded of them under an incredible public spotlight, when did they get the chance to write and record? These aren’t just any old songs, either. They are the rock ‘n roll bible produced by rock’s Founding Fathers. Through some strange confluence of luck, these four youthful personalities from a second-tier British city, form the greatest rock band of all time and change the world.
The film ultimately follows the story to its well-documented conclusion. John Lennon compares the Beatles popularity among young people to Jesus, controversy erupts, the band is worn down by the relentless touring and from being the Beatles (“Help!”), love interests are pursued, and the band quits touring and becomes a studio act that produces five more iconic albums. They break up and never regroup. The music grows from being simple but amazing love songs (which I still adore) to songs of introspection, perspective, exploration and depth (which I also love). They were prodigies: a lifetime of music done in less than 10 years that still reverberates throughout western culture. God bless ‘em.
Two days later, I find myself in Seattle at the Museum of Pop Culture housed in a funky Frank Gehry-designed building.
The brainchild of Paul Allen (he of Microsoft founding fame), it features exhibits on all kinds of popular culture themes, from fantasy, to horror, to Star Trek, to rock music There are entire sections just on the Princess Bride, and t-shirts that you can buy that say “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, You killed my father, prepare to die.”
The Man has paired me up with a guy who reminds me of Inigo Montoya, and I am constantly suppressing thoughts of Inigo while interacting with this dude.
Check out this sculpture of mostly-guitars:
And some of the amazing guitars on display at the museum, top to bottom, left to right: Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Kurt Cobain and Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons (the axe!) of Kiss:
There was an ongoing exhibit of Mick Rock’s photos of David Bowie during Bowie’s early 1970s Ziggy Stardust period. How the music scene went from the Beatles to Ziggy Stardust in about 5 years is mind-blowing. I don’t know and I’m not going to even attempt an explanation. Nor am I going to try and figure out why the British Isles produce so many great rock bands and performers, second only to the French. These are just facts.
Bowie was a complex guy. The pictures in the exhibit focus on many of his outrageous stage performance costumes, some private backstage and home photos, photos of his actual concerts, and a selection of music videos, all of which were shot by Rock. Rock was given exclusive access to Bowie, and his photos capture David in shots both familiar and intimate. There are also pics of Bowie with Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, and Iggy Pop, as well as photos shot by Rock of Iggy, Debbie Harry, Freddie Mercury, and others.
I took some pictures of Rock’s pictures that showed live concert stills of Bowie and his fans:
Check out the fans in these shots – those must have been some badass shows to get interaction like that. Bowie shared my belief that a rock concert should be the music and more: entertainment. He trained with a mime to get certain stage effects just right, and studied theatrical costumes for inspiration. Here is a quote from Bowie: “I like to keep my group well dressed, not like some other people I could mention. I’m out to bloody well entertain, not just get up onstage and knock out a few songs.” Right on! I bet he didn’t talk politics, either.
It was fun to watch the kids and the old people (well, by that I mean older than me, which is saying something) go through the exhibit. Bowie was dressing so outrageously even in common situations, like taking a Brit Rail train to Manchester. What were the kids thinking when they looked at those pictures? Probably things like, “Dad, is that how you dressed in the 70s?” How about the Greatest Generation? “I fought for THIS?” I was thinking, “where do you buy stuff like that” and “Mick Ronson [Bowie’s Ziggy-era guitarist] dressed crazier than Bowie.” And the makeup and hair! Great rock ‘n roll stuff, no doubt.
The pictures were fun and provocative, but the music videos brought it back to the music. Some were really spare, with Rock commenting that having little time and money sometimes results in great creativeness. Space Oddity, John, I’m Only Dancing, The Jean Genie – great songs all and cool videos. And Bowie’s tune Rebel Rebel is one of my all-time favorite songs, from the fuzzed out guitar to the rock ‘n roll rebel theme. Bowie didn’t evolve, he morphed, going chrysalis-like from persona to persona, emerging yet again as something new, but always using the music to underpin the visual and thematic experimentation. Perhaps he was the original glam rocker during the Ziggy years, but he was also the Thin White Duke, looking like a well-dressed and coiffed lounge singer, and many other things in between.
It was cool to see this stuff in a hot-shot architect’s building located in the city that almost single-handedly revived a flagging rock scene through grunge. Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana – thank you for saving rock and making it aggressive, loud and hard/edgy again. And Beatles and Bowie, thanks for laying the groundwork and leaving plenty to continue to explore in your amazing output.
I’ll be back with much, much more. You spin some good tunes while I’m working on the next post. And remember, believe everything you read on BRP because it’s all TRUE. Then again, if the situation where we find ourselves is that I am the voice of truth and reason, we are in a bad place. Give me some feedback and feed me the crap that I deserve. Keep the faith, be good to your fellow humans, listen to some good music, and enjoy a world that is wonderful and struggling every day to get better. XOXO.
Hey Team BRP, I told you a bit ago that I got a GoPro. Well, here's some proof. Below is a video of some zip-lining in the fog at Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I think it's pretty cool. I have to figure out how to put music to the video, and will do so, but this one is just the raw footage.
And here's my very first Go Pro video: a car wash with Dick Dale playing over the car's sound system. Be sure to watch all the way to the end as ... nothing happens! Hahaha, thanks for putting up with me while I experiment a bit. I'm going to try and get my GoPro into the Sheer Mag show tonight, and put up some live music (assuming success). And tomorrow, I go live with a Beatles/Bowie homage that you just won't want to miss. Have a good evening and check back for more as the weekend progresses. Love you, rockers.
Here’s the cool thing about this blog: when I go see a show or some art, I get to write about it. It makes me take the time to find out a bit about what I am seeing, study the show/art while I am there, and then coalesce my thoughts into something stupid and insipid to write. Ready for the trite? Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times and off we go.
I recently saw two remarkable things a continent apart from each other, but both tied together through gardens. Let’s begin with the recently refurbished 5 acre fountain display at Longwood Gardens. Longwood Gardens is a world-class cultural spot in the Philadelphia area, right up there with the Museum of Art, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, and BRP. The brainchild of Pierre DuPont, LG is a huge complex of fantastic gardens, greenhouses and fountains. Inspired by great European gardens in France and Italy, DuPont came home to the Brandywine Valley and created his own version.
Unlike the European gardens, LG was always open to the public and designed to be shared with the entire populace and not just the small ruling elite. That’s cool! And it’s truly beautiful, a “can’t miss” if you’re in the area. But after nearly a century of use, the fountains needed to be refurbished. Now, this wasn’t a job for the faint-hearted. It took years of planning, hundreds of people, and $90 million to get the job done. Yes, NINETY MILLION CLAMS! For more on the entire story, there is a great PBS documentary on the project called Flowing Water. It’s worth seeing if you are going to visit, or even if you aren’t.
What do you get for $90 million? Some pretty cool stuff. The LG leaders didn’t just restore, but enhanced, the fountains. I like the fact that LG didn’t feel bound by the founder’s original design, but embraced his spirit of using the newest and best technology to put on the best display possible. So there are water cannons that literally blast water up to 170 feet in the air, computer designed displays that are remarkably precise, LED lights that allow for marvelous nighttime performances, and even fountains that pump gas to the top of the water and somehow ignite so that fire appears to be floating on top of the water.
We watched the daytime display of the fountains, which was great. Then we stuck around for the nighttime display. It’s not often that you get to view a garden at night and have it blow you away (although REM did write a song called Gardening at Night).
We checked out the nighttime display from the mid-view wall, which is super cool because you are right there where the biggest fountains are, literally blasting the water way up into the air. It’s like being up front at the Low Cut Connie show. But be careful up there – some of those fountains spin and spray, and some people close to us got SOAKED. I guess it’s more like being up front at the Titus Andronicus show and getting a bit moshed. Because we had the luck of the BRP, we emerged high and dry.
There is little to complain about, but I have two musically-related small gripes. They do play music during the show, but they are such vanilla-selections that it makes you groan a bit. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World and portions of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, among others. You get it right? Be a little more creative, ok? The second gripe is that the music is only piped in for those that stand outside the greenhouses, and not for those who are located elsewhere around the five acre display, including the many who, like me, were in the mid-view wall location.
But those are small issues. I am here to tell you that the fountains are really cool, well worth seeing, and allow for the appropriate use of the word “spectacular.” Do yourself a favor: go and see them. You won’t be disappointed. And tell them BRP sent you – they’ll smile, turn to their co-workers and say “what the hell is BRP?”
Now let’s jump a few thousand miles to Seattle for the next garden-themed show. Dale Chihuly is probably the best known glass artist in the US other than Louis Comfort Tiffany. Chihuly has been working with glass as a medium since he attended college at the University of Washington, and then got a Fulbright Scholarship and spent a year in Moreno, Italy studying Venetian glassblowing. If you aren’t familiar with Chihuly, you may have seen his glass art anyway. Like to gamble? Ever been to the Bellagio in Vegas? That huge glass display above the reception area in the hotel is all Chihuly glass. Once you start looking for it, you’ll see it in many places.
Chihuly is from the Pacific Northwest, and at the foot of the Space Needle, there is a great little museum and garden devoted solely to the hometown hero. Chihuly is a bit like Rubens and other artistic masters who ran studios using others to labor on their works, but providing oversight and inspiration for all of the output. The museum captures different periods of his career. Here are glass “baskets” inspired by those of the First Nations peoples from the PNW:
And then there are the garden- and nature-inspired items, both indoors and outside:
This is some great stuff, right? Colorful, crafted with skill, blending with nature or inspired by nature (or respectful anthropogenic creations), and all reflecting an American master’s vision.
It’s damn hard to improve on nature as these pictures of roses demonstrate:
But the human observation and careful study of nature, something often lost in today’s high-tech world, allows for artistic production that also touches the soul. DuPont and Chihuly are very different people with very different inspirations, but they both have left a creative American legacy that is thrilling and accessible.
I hope you were ok with that art/garden detour. Not every visual experience is worth discussing, and some are almost instantly forgettable. But there are others that grab you and keep tugging at your brain for days afterward, and those should be shared. I’ll get back to all things rock ‘n roll soon enough, but figured this short jog over to another creative path was worth it. Talk to you soon.
Can we do a couple of good/bad song comparisons? We can! Thanks for letting me go here. I tried to do fifty of these, but my first post was of 5 good/bads, and Weebly butchered it. I lost a bunch of work with that software snafu, and it kind of took my heart out of it. But I had some other stuff already in the works, and so I’m just going to drop them on you as I think about them. Here’s a couple of selections chosen just for you.
Awful Alcohol Song: Escape (The Pina Colada Song), Rupert Holmes
Good Alcohol Song: Tequila, The Champs
Yeah, it’s a weird place to start for a guy who doesn’t drink anymore. But I used to drink, and I’ll betcha that I’m still many drinks ahead of you even after 5 years of sobriety. And I just heard that Escape song a bit ago, and the bile built up so much that I had to do something before I turned back to drink, haha.
Let’s go awful here first. Rupert Holmes, whoever the hell he is, sang a song about a couple who break up. They then each write a personals ad looking for a new lover. And lo and behold, they answer each other’s ads and rediscover each other. Awww, isn’t that sweet? I didn’t know cheese was used in Pina Coladas, but Rupert ruined Pina Coladas for me forever. Well, that and the fact that I don’t like coconut and don’t drink alcohol anymore, but hey, I’m still blaming Rupert. The song is stupid – if you couldn’t make it work the first time what makes you think a pina colada will solve the problem - but it also has an earworm quality found in only the absolute worst songs. And it was heavily played – you can still hear it from time to time, like I just did, and invariably, one of your friends will say “I love this song.” Two things on that: if this is your friend’s first mistake, ok, so be it, but if they are otherwise musical nitwits, defriend them. Second, be careful, because if you do hear this song, you are going to quickly steer the car toward that cliff that Thelma and Louise used to deadly effect.
Whew. That was ugly. Now, for a good alcohol song, how about Tequila? Everyone knows it, and after one listen, everyone has memorized all of its lyrics. You can dance to it. It’s not cheesy, nor does it contain coconut. And you can sign it drunk because you know all the words! Of course, there are other good alcohol songs, such as Beer by Reel Big Fish (or Snortin’ Whiskey by Pat Travers, but that one actually gets drugs in, too). And when I did drink, I was a beer guy, not a tequila guy. But Tequila the song is just fun, bouncy and cool. It’s my antidote to Rupert Holmes.
Good Teenage Song: Teenage Kicks, The Undertones
Awful Teenage Song: 17, Janis Ian
Rock has always had a strong youthful bent to it, and there are bands that have explored the teen/first love/growing up stuff to very great effect. Those are all terrible, wonderful, mysterious and difficult years, and some of the scars are still there years later. Even if you aren’t a teenager, you might still act like one, and great teen songs can bring you back. Listen to Fun Fun Fun by the Beach Boys, and if you aren’t transformed back into a youthful, carefree, somewhat rebellious youth, well, you have no soul.
On this one, I have to start with the good. The Undertones are the best punk/new wave band that no one has heard of. They featured Feargal Sharkey on vocals, and his voice is one that works, but is unlike any other in rock. This song has a great guitar sound, was the favorite of BBC DJ John Peel (a man who knew his punk and new wave), and was voted the second best “indie” song of all time. Its lyrics sum up teen love, angst and horniness better than any out there. Listen and you will find clairvoyance.
And then there is 17. It’s a folk song, never a good thing here at BRP. It’s whiny. It’s condemning of everyone out there except for the vocalist. Hey, if you can’t get no lovin’, try fixing your own house before you start throwing rocks at those of your neighbors. And it’s an earworm. Eric Cartman of South Park should sing this song. It should be a parody, and then maybe people might like it better. But, unfortunately, it’s not a parody. The one thing that you can say about this song is that it beat out a ton of other bad teen songs for the worst of the worst here at BRP. That’s quite an honor.
Good Supertramp Song: None
Awful Supertramp Song: All
Did you think that I hate Supertramp? Well, hate is a very strong word and I use it sparingly. But, now that I think about it, yes, I HATE Supertramp. There is not one Supertramp song that I can truthfully say that I like. In this instance, I despise their entire catalog. They epitomize everything that is typical of bad rock: cloying songs; annoying lead vocals; too much acoustic guitar; grandiosity; stupid lyrics; and lack of pop snap. I’m not in favor of burning books but I am in favor of burning Supertramp albums. Look this up: the international court of justice in the Hague charged Supertramp with crimes against humanity after listening to Take The Long Way Home two times in a row. The worst thing about the digital revolution is that these songs are now preserved for eternity. Who says there isn’t a hell? Here it is, and welcome to it:
That does it for now. I have a lot of stuff that I've been working on, and a lot of shows coming up. Fall is going to be smoking hot here, so check back often and don't miss a thing. If you like what you see here, tell your friends. If you don't like it, tell your enemies. Just flap those gums, ok? See you soon, my friend.
Welcome back, loyal readers. Well ... welcome back Jonathan. Thanks for taking the time to check out the latest here at the rock ‘n roll capital of the Main Line (hahahaha)! If you have been reading recently, you know I’ve been on a jag all about Philly’s artists and songs. I love great rock ‘n roll – it is base and emotional, but when the lyrics are good, it is also emotional and moving. It can be just plain fun, it can be tragic, it can be loving, and it can do all of that while at the same time rocking you out. Here we go with Part Three of some of the best that Philly has to offer – and not all of it is rock ‘n roll per se, but it’s still wonderful. Parts One and Two are already posted – you don’t need to read them first in order for this one to make sense, but it would be cool if you read them all. Que?
Patti LaBelle “Lady Marmalade”
It’s hard to sit here in 2017 and measure an artist who was massive about 40 years ago, but doesn’t seem to get much mention in our modern era. Patti LaBelle was huge, sort of like the female version of Teddy Pendergrass. She was on the cover of Rolling Stone back when that magazine actually covered music! She has sold more than 50 million records, a number that is mind-boggling. Patti is a Philly native, and burst on the national scene with a disco song that has been in the BRP home repertoire for many years: Lady Marmalade. It’s a silly song that you can camp up quite a bit, and I’m nothing if not campy – I even own a tent! Here you go in all its glory:
Teddy Pendergrass “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
Yes, you savvy fans know that this track was actually performed by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, but who sang lead for them? Teddy. Teddy is another Philly native who had a towering career with the Blue Notes and then an even bigger solo career. I love this song, so I dug back into the archives and decided to use it for your Philly listening pleasure. Teddy’s story has a tragic side to it as he was involved in a bad car accident in Philly that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He was a young dude, too, only in his mid-30s. Following the accident, Teddy started a foundation to assist others with spinal cord injuries, but ended up dying at age 59 in Bryn Mawr. We still remember you, man, and we have your recordings to continue to appreciate your artistry:
Modern Baseball “Your Graduation”
Let’s get back to the modern age, and there is nothing better to do so than with Modern Baseball. While it’s unclear if the band is still viable, they have put out three albums of emo/pop, punk/folk, and punk that appeals to those of us who like their rock with an edge. The song? Your Graduation is the post-teen relationship song of all songs, where you bump into the ex and go through the whole thing again in your head. Yeah, sure you miss me, bullshit! The guitars are urgent, the drums pound the angst on, and the lyrics are just fantastically brutal in their honesty and evaluation of the entire situation. Remember the teen struggles? (Are they limited to teens?) This song snaps them back into focus so intensely that it’s scary. But, yes, I like it, and the video rocks as it features shots of skateboarding, a teen obsession of BRP, from the skate park under I-95 in South Philly:
The Menzingers “Bad Catholics”
Scranton is not really a suburb of Philly. But these punkers play so often in Philly that they qualify as honorables since they were basically smart enough to associate themselves with our fair city. As you know, I love punk rock. I love the rebel heart, the snarl, the attitude, the biting lyrics, the guitar ferocity and the anarchical posture of the genre. If you tell somebody you are a punk, it means you are a bit out of step, and that you want attention so that you can tell someone to screw off. You want things changed, but you’re not absolutely sure what you want to take its place. You just know that the status quo ain’t happening for you. And you want to express that opinion in the loudest way possible. Tear it down, goddamit! Here’s a track called Bad Catholics, and man, can I relate to these lyrics about being a crappy catholic boy:
The Wonder Years “Came Out Swinging”
From Lansdale, PA, the Wonder Years have been a Philly mainstay since 2005. Basically a power pop band, they have about five albums out. Power pop/pop punk is a tradition here at BRP, and so I’ve been grooving on TWY for a while. But it wasn’t always such. In fact, I remember a running joke with Ryan. We used to use them as a reference point for bands that we had heard of but never taken the time to listen to. Then, bam, they play three consecutive sold out shows at Union Transfer. That got my lazy rear in motion. I checked them out after that, and it was all upside. Here’s a track called “Came Out Swinging” that will prove to you that power pop is one of the best every genres within the rock spectrum:
Kurt Vile and the Violators “Pretty Pimpin’”
Kurt has been around the Philly music scene for a long time now, first as lead guitarist with the War on Drugs and now as a solo artist and frontman with the Violators. How can you not like a guy who cites Pavement, Neil Young and Tom Petty as some of his biggest influences? And who has a backup band with one of the greatest names ever – wouldn’t it be cool to be a Violator? Kurt has 5 solo albums out, and his style is all over the place, from quiet acoustic-only tracks to rave-ups. The track I picked, “Pretty Pimpin’”, seems to be about aging. Or maybe mental illness. Or maybe being on drugs. Well, it’s about something, and it will make you think. It’s a somewhat spare arrangement that allows the lyrics to be front and center, but the tune still carries on and drives the song. The video is great:
Man, part three is done, but there is more. It’s like Philly is a densely populated, important American city or something. Oh yeah, that’s right, it IS one of America’s great cities, and it sports one of America’s best music scenes. Dick Clark helped to launch rock ‘n roll from Philly, and the beat has never stopped here. I will definitely be back with more, but there are other things that are grabbing my attention right now. C’mon back when you need a little BRP, and I’ll be here, like always, waiting on a friend.
Yo, dudes and dudettes, here is part two in my ongoing musical homage to Philly. It struck me as I was going through this list that It’s been a long time since there was a “Philly Sound.” There are lots of great artists and tunes in this town, but a long time since there was a definitive signature sound in this city, like grunge from Seattle, 80s punk from LA, hip hop from Atlanta, etc. I think that’s good, but it doesn’t help with generating press and attention on the artists that are still hard at work here. But isn’t that par for Philly? A city that often sits in the shadows of other cities, but that has authenticity, grit and heart to go along with its inferiority complex.
Enough of this citywide psychoanalysis by a lawyer who did not sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night. On to the tunes!
The Roots “The Seed”
Doesn’t everyone know the Roots by now? Questlove and Black Thought met at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and went on to massive fame. Jimmy Fallon was smart enough to grab these guys as the house band for his Late Night show, and then brilliantly move them with him to the Tonight Show. Marvelously talented musicians, they are also hugely influential in the Philly scene – they sponsor the Roots Picnic each year to highlight great talent and bring them to the city. I’m not the biggest hip-hop fan in the world, but I can dig it, and the genre is so broad that the label covers a lot of acts across a sizeable spectrum. The Roots, in particular, deserve their acclaim. Here’s a great song by them that I’m sure you’ve heard before: “The Seed”:
Marah “My Heart Is The Bums On The Street”
Marah has been around for many moons. Hailing out of Conshohocken, PA, these guys are what you would call a rock ‘n roll band. Dave Bielanko and his brother Serge front the band. Terrific live performers, they have received tons of national acclaim and put out some really strong albums. They did a Christmas show at Underground Arts last December, complete with fake snow, female singers dressed in holiday garb, a dude playing the bagpipes, and tons of fans (well, hundreds?) who seemed to know every lyric to every song. The rollicking show, part Philly revival, part house party, and part rock concert, went on for 3 hours. Needless to say, BRP was there and was impressed enough to put this on the list of annual holiday traditions. The track selected for your listening entertainment is from the Kids in Philly album, which I bought shortly after relocating to the city. Rock it:
Pink “Get The Party Started”
Hailing from Doylestown, Pink is a huge international star. She has won a ton of Grammy’s, MTV video awards, blah blah, and has sold about 45 million records. I can’t say that I’m much of a fan, but I do like some of her tunes. L.A. Reid, a really cool record company executive (check out the Sound Opinions interview with him – it’s very good), was the guy who signed Pink to her first record contract, and the rest is history. There is no denying her influence on a lot of younger female artists. Here’s a really good track called “Get The Party Started” which was a humongous hit and that sports a great title:
Hop Along “The Knock”
Enough of these older acts and established stars for a bit. But what is it with the sibling bands in Philly? Hop Along has Frances Quinlan up front, and her brother Mark in the back pounding the skins. While they started with a folk bent, a big no-no here at BRP, they moved on to more acceptable indie-rock terrain. I was into a female-singer thing about a year or so ago (after discovering Bully and Chumped), and came across Hop Along. Frances’s voice isn’t for everyone, but it’s nothing if not earnest. I really like this track, and since it’s kinda new and bad-ass, I figured I would flash it on you, too. “The witness just wants to talk to you!” That sings to a lawyer. Ready, steady, go:
Boyz II Men “End Of The Road”
More mega-stars hailing from Philly, Boyz II Men hit it absolutely huge with this track. They leveraged it into a massive career focused on ballads and acappella songs. Not exactly BRP material, right? Right! But again, this isn’t about me, it’s about Philly. I wasn’t aware of this, but just last month, a section of Broad Street (from Christian to Carpenter Streets) was renamed "Boyz II Men Boulevard." And the Boyz, like Questlove and Black Thought from the Roots, attended Philly’s own High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Cooooool. Let’s get jiggy with this track:
The Trammps “Disco Inferno”
Disco sucks! Not! This musical format on the 8 beat has held up a lot better than a number of other musical fads that rip through the popular musical landscape. And this track by Philly’s own Trammps is one of the classics. Burn, baby, burn, an expression that was used to devastating effect during the Watts riots in the 60s, became a lyric used to get you onto the dance floor in the 70s. How’s that for cultural restructuring? BRP will venture out onto that dance floor, especially when this song comes on, but if it were the Gong Show, they would be grabbing quickly for that mallet once they see BRP bust a move. This song was on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, and has been covered by Tina Turner and Cyndi Lauper. But for me, it’s the original that is the gold standard, and let’s give it a spin, ok? Fantastic video on this one!
Alright, that does it for Part Two. Do you think I’m done? Well, there ain’t no way! Philly has been busting its seams with musical talent for decades, and we have barely scratched the surface. I’m going to be back real soon to give you more from the broad shoulders of brotherly love. You be sure to check back in to get your ya-ya’s out!
Heidy ho, BRP readers. I hope each and every one of you is good. And if you aren’t good, I hope it’s because you are bad to the bone. But that reference is from a Delaware song, an almost-Philly sound, but not quite the real deal. This post is dedicated to my adopted hometown, and the city that I have come to embrace. To celebrate Philly, this post is all about bands/artists that hail from Philly (which I’m defining to include not only the city itself but also its ample suburbs), or that currently call the place home. Just so you know, the Philly scene is so lengthy and dynamic that I’m going to need to do a few posts on this for the sake of justice. Are you with me? Good. Without further ado, let’s get going on Part One.
Todd Rundgren “I Saw The Light”
Todd Rundgren is from Upper Darby, which is now a bit of a down-on-its-heels suburb of Philly. He has long since moved on to other geographies (I think he lives in Hawaii). But he has deep roots in Philly, so he is highlighted here. Todd is an underrated artist and producer. Did you know that he produced The Band's Stage Fright (1970), Badfinger's Straight Up (1971), Grand Funk Railroad's We're an American Band (1973), the New York Dolls' New York Dolls (1973), Hall & Oates's War Babies (1974), Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell (1977), and XTC's Skylarking (1986)? Holy Toledo, Batman, that’s a career in and of itself! But he is also a great original artist in his own right. “I Saw the Light” is my personal favorite song by Todd. It came out in 1972 and I have loved it since the day I first heard it. In fact, it’s in that short list of songs that I can play over and over and never grow tired of hearing. Why? It’s a sentimental song about the belated recognition of a deep love that is triggered by looking into the eyes of the other person, and hoping that that recognition of love is transmitted by the light cast from your own eye. “But I love you best/it’s not something that I say in jest/’cause you’re different girl from all the rest/in my eyes.” Can’t you see the light in my eyes, please? Did I blow it with the love of my life? Damn, that’s good stuff, particularly when wrapped around an amazing number of hooks and Todd’s emotional and passionate vocal rendition of the tender lyrics. It’s appropriate to start off with this fantastic song. I hope you enjoy it:
The Dead Milkmen “Punk Rock Girl”
Long before I moved to Philly, this song blasted onto the national scene. OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but I remember watching the video at the 9:30 Club in DC while waiting for the Fleshtones to come on stage. I also remember hearing about it right after it came out from a non-Philly buddy I met in 1984 when I was spending the summer in Miami (which was a super-interesting time to hang in that city, let me tell you – watch the movie Cocaine Cowboys to get a small taste). I would call this song a new wave hit, but listening to it now, it sounds like something we would call pop-punk. Blink 182 or Fall Out Boy could have done it. But they didn’t – instead, it was Philly’s own Dead Milkmen who put this out (on the album Beelzebubba, which is perhaps the funniest name for an album ever). Its references to places like Zipperhead, a now defunct eccentric clothing store on South Street, make it even more Philly than usual. The lyrics are silly and funny. “We got into a car/away we started rollin’/I said how much didja pay for this/she said nothin’ man it’s stolen.” Hahaha, the girl punk of my dreams! I can’t say that I think the Milkmen did much beyond this song (although they did routinely bash frat boys and Harvard pricks, yeah!), but this track is just great, atonal vocal delivery and crappy lead guitar riff notwithstanding. Here she blows:
The O’Jays “Love Train”
OK, I know, the O’Jays are from Ohio. But this song has to be included in Philly’s best because it came out on the Philadelphia International label run by the great producer/songwriting team of Gamble and Huff. And Gamble and Huff, who are from Philly, wrote the damn thing. As they say in DC, that’s good enough for government work. Isn’t this song just the best? You can dance to it, but its lyrics are anti-war and about getting everyone all over the world to hop on the love train. And I’m totally into that these days, aren’t you? It’s catchy as hell, too. And it’s a song that won’t die – cover versions abound, and I’ve been to many live shows where bands play it. It’s joyous and infectious and makes me want to join a conga line. All aboard:
Low Cut Connie “Boozophilia”
If you read BRP often, and you better damn sure do it, you know that I love this band based out of Philly. Great live performers, they have fun bar-band rave-ups that make you want to get up and dance. I’ve embarrassed myself dancing a time or two listening to these guys rip it, and Boozophilia is both a great jamming song and one with lyrics that reference Philly. If you never see LCC, you will have done yourself a great disservice. Former President Obama famously has this track on his iPod, but hang on, that doesn’t mean it sucks – it does mean that someone on his staff was probably from Philly, however. Give it a listen:
Sheer Mag “Nobody’s Baby”
Elevator going up! I’m going to let you in on this hot new band: a punky sound, hailing from Philly, and with a clear affinity for classic rock. They have just released a full length LP that got a good review on Pitchfork. In the meantime, they are developing quite a reputation as a live act (I’ll check and see at the end of August and dutifully report back). This is a chance to get in on the ground floor and tell your friends “yeah, I saw Sheer Mag when they were still playing clubs.” Dig this video:
Hall and Oates “Las Vegas Turnaround”
Hall of famers. Still selling out crowds 40 years after they broke on the scene. Purveyors of the Philly rock ‘n soul movement. What can you say that hasn’t been said about Hall and Oates? A great duet who met at Temple, they are huge stars with many a top-40 hit. Rather than retread all the songs you know by heart, I dug a little deeper into a track from their woefully-underrated Abandoned Luncheonette album. This is a cool little song that is catchy as hell … and refers to Sara, a name used many times in their songs. I hope you like-y like-y:
That’s enough for Part One, but check back soon for yet another segment in this ongoing Philly tribute. In the meantime, if I missed a band or song that you want highlighted, well, you know how to do: shoot me an email or send a comment. Keep bustin’ it all night long, my friends.
Hey team BRP, how ya doin? I’m on a packed flight heading from Chicago to Philly. The Man decided that it was time for me to earn some frequent flier miles, so he graciously stuffed me into an 18 inch coach seat with no leg room next to a bunch of smelly, but friendly, tourists. The Man is nothing if not thoughtful! It’s all cool because I have some of those nifty Bose headphones that both block out the sound of tourist-babble and plug into my old-school iPod (yup, the one with the flywheel that holds tens of thousands of songs and that Apple doesn’t make anymore).
I love these headphones. They are pricey and a splurge. But they are so choice. They have extended my music-listening to virtually every flight, which is a wonderful luxury. The only bad thing about these headphones is that I sometimes forget to bring them with me when I travel. I then gnash my teeth, cuss myself out, and turn to my unsuspecting seatmate who is trying to sleep and crawl into their ear for the duration of the flight to regale them with my charming and thought-provoking stream-of-consciousness babble. They love it!
Anyway, I am now crammed into my seat – check that, sitting back and relaxing as I was told to do by the flight attendants – listening to music, and I thought about what to listen to during the rest of my flight. And that led me to thinking about flights I’ve taken and what my listening habits are when I fly. It may sound odd to you (maybe not - it’s BRP, after all, so everything is a bit odd), but I find myself doing thematic things when I fly. For instance, I was lucky enough to go to Japan one time, and during the long flight over, I listened to every song that I had that either (a) is about Japan or has Japan in the title – an example being Graham Parker’s Discovering Japan or Cheap Trick’s Live at Buddakan; (b) that is related to Japan but doesn’t have Japan in the title, like Blue Oyster Cult’s Godzilla (“oh no, there goes Tokyo, Godzilla!”) or Weezer’s Across The Sea (“You are an 18 year old girl who lives in small city in Japan”); (c) that are by bands that have something Japanese in their name, like Half Japanese; or (d) that talk about Asia in general, such as the Stones Some Girls (“you never know what they’re thinking inside those silky sleeves”) or Steely Dan’s Aja.
So you get the gist, right? On other flights, I do things like listen to every punk song that I love. Thus I tear through songs by the Clash, Government Issue, Minor Threat, the Minutemen, Black Flag, the Buzzcocks, etc. I ended that particular flight with a sore neck and my ears ringing, and a seat mate who seemed like she had shared the music but wasn’t as keen on it as me. Oops, so sorry little mama! I’ve done the mellow thing (shhh, don’t tell anyone that occasionally I’m a mellow dude, but 6 am flights will do that to you). What’s mellow? I’m a huge sucker for songs by Burt Bacharach who not only is an American god because of his songs but also because he married Angie Dickinson. And I put the Rascals into mellow land, and I love ‘em, too. Good stuff at 6 in the morning. Country? Been there, done that, mainly of the outlaw or alt variety, but some just straight up, like Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam, two long-time BRP favorites.
And then there are times when I do the artist focus. On the way to Chicago, I went post-punk with Fugazi, who know a thing or two about attitude readjustment. Right now, I’m in a Graham Parker mood, and lo and behold, I have 105 GP songs on my iPod. If you don’t know GP, well, you should. He was one of the trio of young, angry Brits who, along with Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, burst onto the new wave scene in the early 80s, just in time for BRP to grab hold and enjoy the ride. He put out a number of great albums, got tons of critical acclaim, wrote songs with great social commentary and depth of personal feeling, and never made it big commercially. I was a super fan for a while, seeing him every time he came to town, which was pretty often. I’ve seen him with the Figgs, solo, and best of all, with The Rumour. So it’s tribute time at 35,000 feet for Mr. Parker.
How about just being in the moment and reflecting on the state of air travel? You can do it musically. Have you ever had a rude flight attendant? Well, you put on The Replacements Waitress in the Sky and smile mischievously as the bastard comes around to take your empty cup, which you accidentally spit on and stuffed to overflowing with that plastic wrap from your sticky granola bar. How about the person traveling with the High Sierra bag who is the size of a mountain himself, and just so happens to be holding a ticket for the middle seat next to you – and who sits down and spreads his legs like he owns the place, thus crushing you and violating your personal space? Put on Move Mountains by Jesus Jones. The yappy woman in the seat behind you? Holly and the Italians Tell That Girl to Shut Up is apropos, right? Wistfully looking down at the skyline of a city at night and wondering what that visit is going to be like? Joe Ely’s Dallas is all about just that experience.
Here’s another good one. You’re on your way to someplace special, say the Caribbean. It’s time for some calypso (try anything by the Mighty Sparrow), soca (When The World Turns Around by Nelson or Spring Garden on Fire by Ras Iley), ska (anything by the Skaatellites), and Reggae (no, please not Bob Marley again! I love him, but unless it’s Trenchtown Rock, it’s just been played to death. How about something by Steel Pulse or Black Uhuru instead? You won’t be sorry). One sad thing: on your flight to Hawaii, you should not, never, no way, try to do a Hawaiian music themed trip. This is true: Hawaii is beautiful, heaven on earth, but since it’s on earth, it isn’t perfect. And its native music, well, sucks.
And then there are flights of discovery. I know that sounds like some cheesy overpriced wine thing at your nearby osteria, but what I mean is to turn on the iPod and scroll through it. Listen to whatever is new, you haven’t heard in a long time, or that you’ve been meaning to hear but never got around to it. I was on a flight and remembered that I had downloaded a few albums by Yo La Tengo that I hadn’t yet experienced. So I put them on and I got stuck on the song Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind from the wonderfully-titled LP I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. Pass the Hatchet is a long song, has a driving bass riff and superb feedback-laden lead guitar, and has fuzzed-out lyrics that just caught my fancy while en route to someplace I can’t remember. It’s become something of a go-to song for me when I’m flying, and I can’t quite explain why. Try it sometime when you feel like jamming and dancing in your seat.
I’ve done the classic rock thing, too. It happened to me recently. It all started with Aaron and his love of Foghat’s Slow Ride, a song that I also love. I posted it on BRP once as a tribute to my man, and was traveling soon after. It was still stuck in my brain, so I listened to it in the air, and the next thing you know I was playing Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back in Town, BOC’s Don’t Fear The Reaper, Bad Company’s Good Lovin’ Gone Bad, ZZ Top’s Tush, and on and on. I left the plane 25 years younger with dark hair full and thick on my head, and told the flight attendant “take it easy” when I exited. Not really, but it made me remember the days when those songs were new and I did have a thick head of dark hair and said “take it easy” to everyone. And while I still have plenty of hair, it’s not as full and thick as it used to be, has a developing silvery tone to it, and seems more abundant in my nose and ears than ever (yet another reason to wear the headphones – try to be kind to your seat mate by covering that birds nest of wirey mess. Sorry, I don’t have a socially acceptable solution for the nose hair yet.).
Now, when I am listening to great songs at volume, I can’t help but move my skinny little butt. And the plane is no exception. I must look like a fool, but I’m nodding the head, pumping the foot, moving the shoulders, and grinding High Sierra mountain man when he crushes me on his way to blow out the restroom. The consolation is that I generally don’t know anyone else on the plane and will never see them again. That makes me feel free to act like a foolish ass. Shake that groove thang!
One more odd thing: I don’t find myself doing the theme thing in the car. Never. Nope. Instead, I am much more artist-focused, generally listening to complete albums. Well, not always. Sometimes I play one song over and over because it is stuck in my head ala Slow Ride. Lately, that song has been Rock ‘n Roll Pest Control by the Young Fresh Fellows. And on the train, I usually forget to bring the headphones. Who knows why (other than I’m stupid, which, you must admit, is what you are thinking), but I never seem to bring them with me when I’m riding the rails. So I just sit there, dumb as ever, looking out the window. At least the countryside is lovely between Philly and New York.
The next time The Man decides that you need to be someplace other than your home, grab your tunes and phones and plug in. Let me know about your thematic explorations so that I can replicate them on my next journey. I’ve got to shut down now as only small electronics can be used while we are landing. Travel on, rockers.
Why, hello there. I thought you might be swinging by and figured I needed something new to tell you. Let’s go with a live music review of Coldplay. I just saw them at MetLife Stadium in north Jersey. It was a spectacle.
Upon arrival, each fan was given a bracelet that we were told would light up in time with the music. I’ll get to that in a minute, but it was an interesting start to the night. We got to our seats, and quickly enough, the lights went down. But after the lights went down, Coldplay didn’t just appear. Instead, we listened to piped-in opera music. I can appreciate the beauty and majesty of the operatic vocal, and this was no exception: the female voice singing in Italian was gorgeous, but I didn’t know the artist, the opera, or the reason why the concert started in such a way. No matter, because the main event came on soon enough.
If you’re Rip Van Winkle, let me quickly introduce you to Coldplay. They are a British rock band who have become huge international stars. Led by Chris Martin, a superb front man, they have crashed the Billboard Top 100 many times and their songs are played all over the globe. Coldplay regularly sells out stadiums. In fact, they are one of the few acts, along with U2, Metallica, Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen, that can do so on a routine basis. In other words, they are HUGE.
Let’s get one thing straight. I like Coldplay. Everyone likes Coldplay. Their music is catchy, poppy, radio ready and heard all over the place. They have sold tens of millions of records, won grammys and MTV music awards by the gross (and I think that those awards are deserved), and headlined all the big festivals. However, I’m not a Coldplay fanatic, like Mike and Laurie here:
Rather, I listened to their early music and thought, oh wow, these guys are going to be great if they push themselves. I mean, like U2 or Clash or Stones great. Pantheons. Mount Olympus types. But…. While they are good, I think they deviated down the path, opted for safe, and ended up as just good. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that they shouldn’t be selling out stadiums, but it does mean that I was more blasé about attending this show than for others like Springsteen and Metallica, two stadium bands that I have recently seen at MetLife.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but had been told that their past tours had used tremendous light shows as part of the performance. Last night was no exception, but it was way more than lights. Like all bands that fill stadiums, Coldplay has a huge stage complete with big video boards, a runway that extends about 50 yards to a secondary “center” stage, and lights galore. They also brought walls of speakers that were skillfully placed in different parts of the stadium to ensure good sound everywhere. And they had yet another small stage in the other end zone that the band used for a few songs, including a cover of a Linkin Park tune that paid homage to their recently deceased singer, Chester Bennington.
But Coldplay doesn’t stop with lights and a big stage. Oh no, far from it. They used the light-up wristbands throughout the night to thematically fit their songs: yellow lights during the song Yellow, various colors during Paradise, and flashing and changing colors during more lively songs like Viva la Vida. Here are some pictures, but they don’t do it justice because the lights flashed, changed colors, and made for a “wow” factor when you looked across the 60,000 fans packed into the stadium.
So far we have flashing wristbands, a huge and lighted stage, and video boards. What else? How about fireworks? Yes, here they are:
Flames? Yes, but unfortunately, I didn’t time the pictures right to capture them, so you’re just going to have to trust me on that.
Huge balloons? Yup:
Confetti! It’s not a rock show without tons of confetti, right?
Now, none of this is meant to degrade the performance of the band. Martin is one talented front man, with a pitch perfect voice and a work ethic that is amazing. He was running up and down the stage runway half the night, lying on his back singing, engaging the crowd at every turn, and being both humbled and awed by his own giant success. He made a short statement of thanks to the crowd where he acknowledged what a pain in the butt it was to get to a north Jersey stadium on a Tuesday night, fight the traffic and crowds, park far away, and sign a mortgage on your house to pay for a couple of beers, and that the band was truly thankful that everyone had made that effort. That was gracious and I think it was heartfelt. Prior to another song, he asked that everyone put down their cell phones and bounce and dance with the band just for that one song. It was a great “in the moment” plea for our increasingly-phone addicted selves, and it worked.
And the band is talented, well-rehearsed and clearly enjoying themselves. This is one fine-tuned musical ensemble playing sold-out stadiums night after night. It must be hard to get pumped up for these shows, do the same thing nightly, and come across as genuine and righteous, but Coldplay did just that. They are professionals. They gave their adoring fans exactly what they wanted, and those fans will be back for more.
This show was more than just the music. It was a pop-rock spectacle. It worked and was highly entertaining. I would recommend seeing a Coldplay show at least once with the expectation of being dazzled. On a warm and beautiful night in the former swamps of Jersey, I had a very good evening with Coldplay.
What’s next? Well, no more shows for a few weeks, so I’ll keep you entertained with other things. I’ve been working hard on a few fun posts that I hope you will enjoy, and I’ll be popping them up every few days. August is a time for some dog-days enjoyment, and I hope you take the time to grad a cold one, kick off your shoes, and amuse yourself here at BRP. Be safe and enjoy!
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.