Archive for the ‘On The Fence’ Category

On The Fence: Songs From A Room

13 March 2009

Early next month, Leonard Cohen will begin his first extended tour of the United States in more than 15 years. Cohen took a circuitous route into the music industry – he was an internationally-known poet and novelist before he began making music in his mid-30’s. He quickly became one of the most noted singer/songwriters of the late-60’s, and has since released sporadic albums to nearly universal critical acclaim. In honor of his latest foray back into the public eye, I’m opening up a discussion about his 1969 album Songs From A Room

Leonard Cohen | Songs From A Room

THUMBS UP: Leonard Cohen combines a literary pedigree that Bob Dylan can only fantasize about with a world-weary realism that brings to mind Lou Reed. Cohen barely sings these tales of war, drug abuse, love lost and personal failure, and Songs From A Room is an album with a low-key, almost narcotic ambience. ‘Bird On The Wire’ was famously covered by Johnny Cash, and the 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs Of Leonard Cohen featured performances by the Pixies, Nick Cave, and REM, and displayed the depth of Cohen’s influence on modern music – an influence that continues to the present, through musicians such as M. Ward and Devendra Banhart. An artist in every sense of the word, Leonard Cohen is a singular, unadorned voice, crying out in the wilderness of the modern world.

THUMBS DOWN: Songs From A Room is fairly morose, and walks the thin line between setting a mood and getting stuck in a single gear. But those are minor quibbles compared to the biggest issue with this album: Cohen really has trouble holding a tune throughout. His staccato delivery isn’t a problem in and of itself, but he rarely stays in time with the music, and after awhile this album starts to sound like open mic night at the local coffeehouse. It’s entirely possible that his wavering rhythm is an intentional artistic statement, but that doesn’t make it it any easier on the ear. He creates some mesmerizing images with his words, but Leonard Cohen’s difficulties with the mechanics of song only serve to highlight the vast expanse that exists between poetry and music.

Listen: Bird On The Wire

[Opinions wanted…]

On The Fence: Freak Out!

12 January 2009

Frank Zappa’s music is weird by design, and most of his albums sound like they were constructed to circumvent thoughtful appraisal. Delve too deeply into the meaning of Zappa’s music, or take any of this too seriously, and you run the risk of coming away with yellow snow on your nose.

Freak Out!, his 1966 debut with The Mothers Of Invention has been critically acclaimed as a pre-cursor to punk and art rock, cited as one of the first concept albums, and lauded as one of the most ambitious debuts ever released. To my ears it’s a confusing pastiche of noise, doo-wop, and coded cultural references, so once again I’m turning to you to help me sort out an album that has my head spun around…

Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention | Freak Out!

THUMBS UP: It’s impossible not to admire Zappa’s adventurous streak. He charted new, often strange, territory in music – an approach that was heralded from the first notes of Freak Out! The spectacle of the sounds here put basic song structures to shame, although there are some great individual songs to be found among these looney tunes – ‘Trouble Every Day’ is one of the greatest odes to civil unrest in America, and still rings true in its damning take on the media. You’ve also gotta love any album that comes with the offer of “a special map we have prepared for you: FREAK-OUT HOT-SPOTS” that highlights the locations of some of Los Angeles’ heppest spots and “shows where the heat has been busting frequently.” Freak Out! is more (and less) than a record album – it’s a way of life…

THUMBS DOWN: ‘Who Are The Brain Police?’ ‘Hungry Freaks Daddy’ and especially ‘Help I’m A Rock’ are just plain strange, and as Zappa gleefully and repeatedly mentions in the liner notes to the album, the music here has an “obvious lack of commercial potential.” Zappa has a great sense of humor, and there are some laugh-out-loud moments here, but cultural humor ages like a jug of milk, and most of the bits here have no context. Much of the album feels like a spoof on doo-wop, and if that phrase doesn’t define the concept of ‘dated’ I’m not sure what does it. Hot Rats or Strictly Commercial: The Best Of are albums that put the jokes in the background and the music up front, making them the perfect places to jump on the Zappa bandwagon. He was an incredibly prolific artist, but even though Freak Out! was Zappa’s first album, it isn’t a good introduction to his music.

[What’s your take? Genius or nonsense? Enquiring minds want to know…]

On The Fence: Black & Blue

18 October 2008

Between 1968 and 1973, The Rolling Stones enjoyed a nearly unprecedented run of artistic success, releasing Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main St, and Goat’s Head Soup. But by the early/mid-70’s, Keith Richards’ drug problems were finally starting to get the best of him, and Mick Jagger began assuming more control of the day-to-day direction of the group. Throw in the fact that they were breaking in Ron Wood as a replacement for the vastly underrated Mick Taylor, and there are plenty of reasons why Black & Blue could be a disaster. It’s not, but neither is it one of their best albums.

So I ask you: is this a worthwhile album that sits unfairly near the rear of the Stones’ catalogue, or an album that merely suffers in comparison with the gems that came before it?

THUMBS UP: The best defense for Black & Blue might also be the simplest: it’s the Rolling Stones, dammit. This might not be the sharpest arrow in the band’s quiver, but it scores points for being different. The most noticeable departure from their general body of work is the tempo – here they’re moving at about 3/4’s their usual speed. ‘Fool To Cry’ was the requisite hit, but ‘Hey Negrita’ is the album’s best song – a savage, funky stomp that is unforgivably catchy. ‘Crazy Mama’ is vintage Stones – a snarling rocker that’s all about Miss Behavin’. This album features a few numbers that have a reggae inflectional and a handful of effective ballads, making it perhaps their most tropical album. Nobody would claim this is The Stones’ best, but if you’re looking for an album to play on a hot summer day, you could do a lot worse than Black & Blue.

THUMBS DOWN: Lester Bangs opined that “This is the first meaningless Stones album” but it’s hard to be too critical of Black & Blue. The album’s obvious shortcoming is that it doesn’t play to the group’s strengths, dominated as it is by ballads and reggae-lite that sounds 20,000 light years removed from the swamp gas of Exile On Main St. ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ is perhaps the most embarrassing song in the group’s storied history – a turgid, lifeless interpretation of reggae that highlighted Keith Richards’ waning influence within his own group. And finally (as if it didn’t have enough issues), Black & Blue is tainted by the stink of one of the most odious marketing campaigns in the history of popular music. A billboard on Sunset Strip featured a battered and bruised woman under the caption “I’m black and blue from the Rolling Stones and I love it.” Yuck.

[I know it’s only rock and roll, but I don’t know if I like it. What about you? All opinions welcomed…]

On The Fence: John Denver’s Greatest Hits

19 September 2008

John Denver had three of the 100 best-selling albums of the 1970’s. To put that in context, it’s the same number achieved by The Rolling Stones, and one more than a singer/songwriter by the name of Bob Dylan. John Denver! I’m not sure if this reflects poorly on the taste-makers of that decade, or if it means that Denver is wildly underappreciated and forgotten in an era of irony. Let’s find out…

THUMBS UP: John Denver is such a benign musical character that working up an active dislike for him is sort of like despising the Muppets or someone’s kindly grandparents. Two songs on this collection stand out, and cannot be denied as musical bellweathers of the 1970’s – ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and ‘Rocky Mountain High’. Love ’em or hate ’em, those songs – and much of the rest of this album – represent the authentic sound of their times. It might sound like macrame, bell bottoms, and peaceful easy feelings, but John Denver’s Greatest Hits would be one of the most appropriate albums you could pull out of a time capsule from the 1970’s.

THUMBS DOWN: My wife is visibly annoyed with me for having the audacity to drop John Denver’s Greatest Hits on the turntable. In between grunts, snorts, and rolling of the eyes, she has asked me if I’m feeling ok and if I’m depressed. Next she’ll probably be taking my temperature and calling the doctor. I can hardly blame her. Like anything else, good cheer and sunshine can be administered in lethal doses, and John Denver takes happiness to an extremely uncomfortable level. I can appreciate the spirit behind his music, and one or two songs at a time is OK, but an album side? Well, that’s enough to get you banished to the sofa for the night…

[How does John Denver rate with you? Good times or bad flashback? Enquiring minds want to know…]

On The Fence: Rebel Yell

5 September 2008

Rebel Yell is an album that baffles me. Some of it sounds great, some of it sounds cheesy. Sometimes the great songs sound cheesy, and sometimes the cheesy songs sound great. Steve Stevens’ guitar was an 80’s benchmark, but is that a good thing? Aside from Aerosmith, nobody mined pop/metal like Billy Idol, but again, is this an achievement worth praising? As usual, the answer probably depends on what year you graduated from high school multiplied by how many beers you’ve consumed.

When I find myself staring blankly at an album cover with a big cartoon question mark over my head, I’m inclined to turn the discussion over to the readership and see what happens. With a rebel yell, he cried more, more, more…

THUMBS UP: Rebel Yell featured a number of hits, including the title track, ‘Flesh For Fantasy’ and ‘Eyes Without A Face’. But it’s the lesser known gems that really make this an album worth owning: ‘Blue Highway’ is the best song here, and the better-built twin of ‘Rebel Yell’. ‘The Dead Next Door’ is a mournful dirge unlike anything else in Idol’s repetoire. Steve Stevens’ guitar licks sound pretty dated, but dude could shred. On even the most cliched numbers here, his guitar work stands out. And while Billy Idol’s sneer is a first class postage stamp to the MTV of the Reagan years, he could sing a bit. ‘Catch My Fall’ is pure 80’s gold: driving synthesizer, obligatory saxophones, faux empowerment, catchy as hell. In a nutshell, much of what makes Billy Idol enjoyable for me.

THUMBS DOWN: Billy Idol is pretty cool, but Rebel Yell is a roller coaster ride of epic proportions. Do three or four really good songs make the rest of an album worth owning? And is this even a conversation in the era of iTunes and take-only-what-you-like MP3 players? It’s telling that there is no lyric sheet attached to this album – I believe that most of the words here are some brand of rhyming gibberish (punctuated by a fist pump every verse or so). Here’s a tasty snippet from ‘Crank Call’: “They want love they want a pantomime/To cut you in two that’s a sexual crime/They dig the dirt they deal in/They dig the dirt they feed on.” I’m not looking to Billy Idol for poetry, but it illustrates the essential problem with this album: the more attention you pay, the less interesting it gets.

[I defy you to not have an opinion about Billy Idol – it’s not possible. C’mon now…]

On The Fence: 20 Verdicts

27 August 2008

I was leafing through the ‘On The Fence’ archive for this blog recently, and I realized that I’ve drawn pretty strong conclusions about many of the albums in question there. In the course of writing those posts, I spent a LOT of time with the albums (nearly drove The P nuts with some of them) and really gave each of them a fair chance to win me over. Some did – others, not so much.

It’s also worth repeating (for the Hall & Oates and Billy Joel fans out there) that I was genuinely torn about these albums, and these weren’t just convenient excuses to rip popular music from the 70’s and 80’s. These posts weren’t exactly scientific enquiries, but they did produce some interesting results, in the form of lively comments.

After listening to the albums and weighing those comments, here are my verdicts on 20 of the albums that I’ve placed On The Fence. And because my opinion doesn’t necessarily reflect the collective verdict of the commentors, I’m including a “Key Comment” for each album – please enjoy the wit and wisdom of my esteemed readers.

Here we go. Again…

The Album: David Byrne & Brian Eno | My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

The Argument: Musical genius or dated techno?

Key Comment: “Essentially, the meaning of the album is religious. To be submerged in the music is to be engaged in an act of faith. I know that must sound like sheer wackiness, but the best songs on the album are riffs off religious music, and the ultimate effect is one of trance-like devotion to a superior being or vast ephemeral, untouchable truth.” – Aldo Velasco

My Verdict: Thumbs up. How can you argue with comments like that?

The Album: Journey | Greatest Hits

The Argument: 80’s schlock or golden oldies?

Key Comment: “No, the music isn’t especially good. But for me, it’s a direct conduit to very specific places and times. Nice places to visit, but I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.” – JD

My Verdict: Thumbs up. Hey, nostalgia’s powerful stuff.

The Album: Michael Jackson | Thriller

The Argument: Jacko or wacko?

Key Comment: “Even weirdos can bust out some dopeness and when they do, they ought to be recognized for it… which, in this case, would be the astronimical sale of 26 million units… that’s a lot of worn out tape decks and needles, people…” – Arlo Chingaderas

My Verdict: Thumbs down. Too much weirdness under the bridge.

The Album: Miles Davis | Sketches Of Spain

The Argument: Classic jazz or classical music dressed as jazz?

Key Comment: “I, for one, think you should take Sketches Of Spain off your turntable and head to your nearest frisbee golf course. Miles gets kudos for trying, but not much more.” – Cordell

My Verdict: Thumbs down. I’m sure it’s brilliant, but I just don’t get it.

The Album: KISS | Kiss Alive II

The Argument: Good memories or bad music?

Key Comment: “While I’ll fully admit that KISS is not a band with any kind of earth-shattering music talent, twere it not for them, there might never have been a Poison, a Slaughter, a Twisted Sister. Without those bands, I might not have had the high school realization that I, myself, like to rock.” – Cindy

My Verdict: I’m still up in the air on this one.

The Album: The Police | Synchronicity

The Argument: Smart pop or pretentious poppycock?

Key Comment: “Many of the songs even seemed annoying to my wide eyed teenage self then. Now, they just plain suck. However, the packaging and marketing of that album would pave the way for fetishism of the rock brand, rather than the rock band.” – Mikel Chase

My Verdict: Thumbs down. Some good moments, but sheesh…

The Album: Jethro Tull | Original Masters

The Argument: Prog rock or hard rock?

Key Comment: “All in all, I remember a lot worse shit in the late 60’s early 70’s than Jethro Tull.” – HB

My Verdict: Thumbs down. Hard to take that flute too seriously.

The Album: Ted Nugent | Great Gonzos: The Best Of

The Argument: Juvenile knucklehead or guitar god?

Key Comment: “I was pretty wasted that day but I may well have been the guy that threw the frisbee.” – Bill

My Verdict: Thumbs up. Barely.

The Album: Beastie Boys | The Mix Up

The Argument: Funky good times or funky muzak?

Key Comment: “In their catalog, it will prove insignificant over time, but when the songs are included on their next greatest hits, they’ll sit rightfully beside the rest of their music without missing a beat.” – jkg

My Verdict: Thumbs up. Not their best, but still pretty good.

The Album: Eric Clapton | Journeyman

The Argument: Classic comeback or mediocre misfire?

Key Comment: “Boring. So very very boring. I’m pretty sure Eric Clapton was replaced by a soulless cyborg around 1981. Bark bark.” – James Osterberg

My Verdict: Thumbs down. Boooooooring.

The Album: Neil Young | Tonight’s The Night

The Argument: Sloppy gem or unlistenable mess?

Key Comment: “Oh goodness… feedback & slop = a few of my favorite things…” – Devil Dick

My Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s messy, but it’s Neil.

The Album: MC5 | Kick Out The Jams

The Argument: Sloppy gem or unlistenable mess?

Key Comment: “FYI – The vocalist on Ramblin’ Rose wasn’t Rob Tyner, it was Wayne Kramer.” – D.D. Banter

My Verdict: Thumbs up. Noisy, but well worth the earache.

The Album: Peter Gabriel | ‘Melt’

The Argument: Smart pop or pretentious poppycock?

Key Comment: “I agree with Devil Dick (and I like to type and say ‘Devil Dick’). PG has some goofy stuff out there, but I wouldn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.” – Foo

My Verdict: Thumbs down. Peter Gabriel makes me laugh, but not in a good way.

The Album: Chicago | Greatest Hits

The Argument: 70’s fluff or pop perfection?

Key Comment: “It all depends on your sitch. Swanky dinner party? Cetera’s falsetto ain’t gonna cut it. Barbecued hot dogs in the backyard? That horn section sounds awesome. Sometimes smoked cheddar from Hickory Farms just tastes güd.” – shelbydee

My Verdict: Thumbs up. Tough to deny those horns.

The Album: Abba | Gold

The Argument: Good cheese or bad cheese?

Key Comment: “Fuck Abba! – P.S. My Mom’s from Fon du Lac.” – Furr

Key Comment II: “Fucking ABBA rocks my face. And I will kick anyone’s ass who says differently.” – Kdubbie

My Verdict: Thumbs down. I and I is annoyed.

The Album: Ray Charles | Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music

The Argument: Pure genius or dated relic?

Key Comment: “Country Music with strings? What’s next: Mandolin Metal, Goth Tuba, Xylaphone Blues, Harpsichord Funk or Yanni Does Zeppelin? I have no problems with experimental music as long as my lunch stays where it belongs.” – heavy g

My Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s dated and dusty, but it’s Ray Charles dammit!

The Album: Grateful Dead | American Beauty

The Argument: Classic Dead or lifeless dud?

Key Comment: “Every song is good or great and shouldn’t be compared to their live recordings to determine if it is good or not. It is simply, a good record. Frankly, I am a bit annoyed this is even up for debate.” – James Cabral

My Verdict: Thumbs up. Thumbs down. Do such things matter when you’re dancing with cartoon bears?

The Album: Crosby Stills Nash & Young | Deja Vu

The Argument: Timeless classic or cotton candy?

Key Comment: “Is this the CSN and sometimes Y album that has the track ‘Impregnating Lesbians’ on it? Oh wait, that came later.” – bert

Key Comment II: “Now I’ve got ‘Our House’ stuck in my head. Thanks a lot.” – Aldo Velasco

My Verdict: Thumbs down. Yawn…

The Album: Billy Joel | The Stranger

The Argument: Blast from the past or pointless pop?

Key Comment: “One stint in rehab does not destroy a lifetime of quality work. And being the top-selling catalogue artist on a record label like Columbia is not merely “a bunch of downloads”. This is the same record company that markets Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Billy Joel outsells all their other legacy artists – COMBINED. Methinks you are another gullible victim of the tabloids. Do a little research before you post stuff like that.” – Bob

Key Comment II: “I also find it hard to believe that in 10 years all you heard about him was ‘drunken shenanigans’. He has toured constantly with and without Elton John during those years, wrote and released an album of piano compositions, had a Tony Award-winning hit musical on Broadway that is still being produced on the road, wrote an anti-war song for a new young artist, donated much time and money to numerous good causes, and done an extensive tour of colleges around the world speaking to students of music and music business. He even designed a boat which has become a successful business in itself.” – Bob

Key Comment III: “I’m more of a ‘Glass Houses’ kinda guy…” – Devil Dick

Key Comment IV: “Wow, I want three of whatever Bob’s drinking. Good show, man. While I still maintain that box office draw is hardly a measure of artistic merit (or ‘substantive music’), Billy Joel is lucky to have admirers like Bob.” – James Osterberg

My Verdict: Thumbs up. Bob’s comments convinced me…

The Album: Hall & Oates | Rock ‘N’ Soul Part 1

The Argument: Awful or awesome?

Key Comment: “God! I’ve had it with the pompous windbags telling what music they think is cool and worthwhile and what is shite. Who died and made you blowhard fuckers king?” – Pricklee Pete

My Verdict: Thumbs up. 4 out of 5 pompous windbags prefer Hall & Oates.

On The Fence: The Velvet Underground & Nico

20 August 2008

In August of 2006, Uncut magazine counted down their take on ‘The 100 Greatest Debuts’ in rock. Perched atop their list was The Velvet Underground & Nico. The article claimed that “…its No 171 placing on the Billboard chart belied its subsequent influence” and went on to mention Brian Eno’s oft-cited quote that “Only five thousand people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every single one of them started a band.”

Today I wonder: were VU really as influential as Eno would have us believe? And if so, does this album’s subsequent influence make it any more enjoyable? As always, because I’m a tone-deaf imbecile, I’m hoping that you, the enlightened reader, will help me solve this puzzle with your insightful and humorous comments…

THUMBS UP: Velvet Underground is like foreign cinema – if you enjoy it, bonus, but its main purpose is to expand the scope of your experience. Indeed, much of VU’s music seems like it is intended NOT to be enjoyed, but to be passively observed, like art. Lou Reed was a brilliant noir songwriter, and his character sketches of transvestites, junkies, and losers are every bit as brilliant as the beat writings of the 50’s. ‘Heroin’ was a bold and alarming take on drug abuse, and the group makes every moment of the song’s 7-minute, 9-second running time count. ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ sees Reed in Harlem chasing down drugs and fielding suspicious questions from the locals. VU’s 1967 debut shined a light on the down-and-out, and opened the field of rock music to more interesting topics than sun and surf and boys and girls.

THUMBS DOWN: Nico’s addition to the group was one of Andy Warhol’s conditions for managing them, and it’s easy to see why Lou Reed and John Cale were less than thrilled about the proposition. Her icy demeanor and Cale’s shredding viola are enough to drive an even-tempered person mad. Velvet Underground & Nico has some undeniable moments of brilliance, but much of it is unfit for regular listening. ‘Femme Fatale’ sounds vapid – as does everything else Nico croons on – and she ruins a perfectly great tune in ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’. Meanwhile, ‘Black Angel’s Death Song’ pretty much sounds like the title – an alley full of feral cats is more tuneful than this. A lot of people mention VU&N as a great album, but I’m guessing that only a fraction of them regularly drop it on the turntable and suffer the consequences.

[What do you think? Is Velvet Underground & Nico the greatest debut album of all-time, or an artsy-fartsy mess that punishes the ears? As always, your opinion is kindly appreciated…]

On The Fence: Rumours

12 July 2008

One of the great soap operas in the history of rock & roll, the Rumours-era lineup of Fleetwood Mac – Mick Fleetwood, John & Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, and Stevie Nicks – spent an inordinate amount of time snorting cocaine and having sex with one another. They also managed to put together one of the most successful albums of all-time.

It has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, and features a number of big hits, but is Rumours an album that deserves a place in a contemporary music collection? And could it be that this version of the Mac is actually outshined by an earlier lineup of the band? Let’s find out…

THUMBS UP: My parents and 20 million of their friends played Rumours endlessly, making it a hallmark of the 70’s, and establishing it as one of the all-time great albums. It boasts some of the best songs of its era: ‘Second Hand News’ ‘You Make Loving Fun’ and ‘The Chain’ are finely cut diamonds of pop songcraft, and provide plausible argument that the album’s gaudy sales were well-earned. And as much as I’d like to claim otherwise, the intra-band squabbling and screwing give this album a real-life edge that adds to its appeal. If somebody wanted to know what the 70’s (or a bad breakup) sounded like, they could do a lot worse than listening to Rumours.

THUMBS DOWN: To those who wonder how I can possibly question such a classic, please listen to the second half of side one [go ahead, do it now… I’ll wait]. It’s a dreadful experience: ‘Don’t Stop’ ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘Songbird’ are enough to take the will out of any listener. The former songs suffer from massive over-exposure, while the latter suffers from Christine McVie. And while Rumours does have some undeniable bright spots, it sounds too slick by half to my ears. It’s polished, and how. But the biggest argument against it can be summed up in two words: Peter Green. The former lead guitarist of the 60’s incarnation of the group led a bluesy, ballsier version of this band, and any discerning listener would grab Then Play On 99 times before grabbing Rumours once.

[Well… what of it??]

On The Fence: Slippery When Wet

22 June 2008

Bon Jovi’s brand of pop-metal has proven to be surprisingly durable in the marketplace. This group seemed like the flavor of the week in the late 80’s, but they’ve gone on to enjoy a long and successful career. Their biggest album by far was 1986’s Slippery When Wet, which spawned two number one hits (‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ and ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’) and another that reached the top ten (‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’). With more than 9 million copies sold, this wasn’t just the biggest hit of Bon Jovi’s career, it was one of the best-selling albums of the 1980’s.

The question: is this a worthwhile blast from the past, or an annoying reminder of a forgettable, bygone era?

Bon Jovi - album

THUMBS UP: Slippery When Wet has one extremely powerful factor in its favor: nostalgia. I was a junior in high school when this album was released, and I spent countless hours driving around Springfield in my VW bug, exploring every dilapidated corner of town and dreaming of the time when I could leave the sawmills and taverns behind for a piece of the bigger world. Slippery When Wet was (along with AC/DC, Prince, INXS, and a few others) one of the soundtracks of those long drives. And even though the songs sound extremely corny today, I’m not embarrassed to say that I once did my daydreaming to this album. Corn like this was made for young, stupid dreamers – and all my hopes came true, so I’ve got reason to smile when I hear it…

THUMBS DOWN: Warm fuzzies can only take you so far before common sense kicks in. It’s easy enough to poke fun at the pretty-boy, MTV glam image of the group (Jon Bon Jovi sure could rock a scarf), but my beef with them is strictly musical. Bon Jovi was pioneering in the dubious field of power balladry, and for that they shall forever live on my shit list. One of metal’s endearing characteristics was its tougher-than-hell, take-no-prisoners swagger. But after Slippery When Wet, power ballads became ubiquitous radio fare, and 80’s metal would never regain its air of danger. I did a lot of dumb things during my teenage years that seemed really fun at the time. Listening to Bon Jovi was far from the most dangerous among them, but it certainly makes the list.

[If you have ears, and were past diapers by the onset of the Reagan Administration, chances are you have an opinion of Bon Jovi. So let’s hear it…]

On The Fence: Rock ‘N Soul Part 1

18 May 2008

Daryl Hall. John Oates. Two men, one aircraft carrier full of hit songs. Their 1983 greatest hits package Rock ‘N Soul Part 1 was a summation of their chart dominance to that point, with five songs that had previously hit Billboard #1. Still and all, is this an album for the iPod, or one that deserves its dusty corner of the collection?

Hall & Oates - album

THUMBS UP: Hall & Oates practically define the term guilty pleasure: catchy hooks, mindless lyrics, songs that take you back in time. They owned the airwaves in the early 80’s to the tune of 6 Billboard #1s, earned entry into the songwriters hall of fame, and sold enough records that the Recording Industry Association of America named them the most successful duo in the history of recorded music. And believe it or not, they’ve been sampled by hip-hoppers as diverse as Kanye West and De La Soul – proving that you don’t have to be a square to dig Hall & Oates.

THUMBS DOWN: If the entire recorded works of Daryl Hall and John Oates suddenly disappeared into some kind of music wormhole, would anyone even notice? Rock ‘N Soul Part 1 just might be the sound of one hand clapping – while the other hand rings the cash register as quickly as possible. I like some of their stuff very much, but high chart position doesn’t make tunes like ‘Rich Girl’ ‘Maneater’ or ‘Adult Education’ any more enduring or enjoyable. As of 1983, the Hall & Oates fan club could be reached at (800) 626-9000. Operators are standing by.

[Enquiring minds would like to know what you think of Hall & Oates’ Rock & Soul Part 1…]

Album info:

Release date
Fall, 1983



Side One
Say It Isn’t So
Sara Smile
She’s Gone
Rich Girl
Kiss On My List
You Make My Dreams
Private Eyes

Side Two
Adult Education
I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)
One On One
Wait For Me [live]