Mixed Up Tape

Cassette TapeBy now, you’re probably well aware of that vinyl albums have continued to sell (and gain popularity) even in this post-MP3, streaming music era. But a new report from FastCompany titled Music’s Weird Cassette Tape Revival Is Paying Off, recently noted that there’s been an odd resurgence in sales of cassette tape-based music in the past year. In the article, John Paul Titlow is quick to attempt to dispel the notion that the renewed interest in this fossil is simply analog hipsterism, citing that the format offers very real, practical benefits for budding artists as well as being embracing anew by well-established artists.

But I’m just as quick to call BS on this. I believe it is all about hipsterism.

Ok, ok, vinyl, I sorta get. Many audiophiles have long favored LPs over other formats, arguing that vinyl albums boast more warmth or a “rounder” sound due to the inclusion of super- and sub-frequencies that may be more perceived than actually heard. I suspect that most of those die-hard vinyl fans are really clinging to the format for mostly non-qualitative reasons. Nostalgia. Tactility. The cover art. Especially for us digital immigrants, LP music imparts more of a “wholeness” to it because it is concrete thing — you can feel, care for, and respectfully handle a vinyl album. There’s something to be said for the physicality of placing a record on the turntable and setting the needle — listening to an LP evoked a connection to your music that I’m not sure you can get with digital, regardless of how enjoyable the actual content is.

Mark Browm suggested that the revived interest in vinyl has more to do with the absence of DRM than anything else. But the motivation for studios to make the effort to encrypt their music has almost entirely waned, especially with streaming becoming the main way so many people get their music now. Once a very hot button issue, music “ownership” is no longer something most listeners even think about.

And really, digital media bests vinyl recordings soundly (rimshot!) by any objective criteria, including dynamic range, frequency response, noise floor, and channel separation, to name a few. Certainly, cassette tapes never even approached the audio quality of vinyl, much less digital music.

One undeniably cool thing about cassettes was making mixtapes. I remember fondly my first “boombox” portable player that had dual cassettes! Recording a mixtape required considerable effort, a lot of forethought, and a dash of skill. I made boatloads of mixtapes — often with accompanying custom J-cards for the cassette box — and it was a very personal thing. A mixtape was a labor of love. And because of the sequential nature of cassettes, the listener was all but forced to listen to your custom music compilation in the order that you intended.

In the post-cassette years, I burned CD versions of mixtapes. (Yeah, the term “mixdisc” does exist, but it never caught on.) Most of my CDs featured carefully-affixed custom labels (‘cuz scrawling across the disc with a Sharpie was just plain lazy) and the artwork of my home-brewed discs rivaled commercially-produced CDs. Certainly, the mixdisc offered the opportunity for lots more artwork, both on the media itself and the jewel case inner and front inserts. And with a physical disc, while there was less assurance that the listener would do so, it was still fairly likely that your carefully-selected anthology would be experienced in the intended sequence at least once.

However, in the MP3 era, this all went right out the window. Sure, you could still compile an assortment of files for your friends, but it lacked the same creative punch that a carefully-curated mixtape had. And with purely digital music, there’s nothing to force or even encourage the listener to play the tracks in any prescribed order. Gone too is any physical vestiges of music — digital music isn’t a thing, but more of an abstract concept.

So, FastCompany’s article posits that mixtapes are a viable way for up and coming musicians to cheaply produce small batches of their albums. But I insist that creating a CD is easier, less expensive, and the resulting product is far more accessible — how long has it been since you owned a car or home stereo equipped with a cassette player? Or maybe you’re still lovingly clinging to your circa-1979 Sony WalkMan?

For that matter, who among us still has a DiscMan?


So, I’m sticking with “hipsterism” as the key motivator for those stuck on tape.

What do you think?

iTunes Hero

Wurlitzer jukebox image on an iPhoneThinking back on the song “Juke Box Hero,” I started wondering if that has any context with today’s music fans. I mean really, a jukebox? In this age of white earbuds, how many Gen Y or Zers have ever even touched a jukebox?

I fondly recall plunking coins into a flashy old Wurlitzer, watching the machine magically come to life, clicking and whirring as the Rube Goldberg-esqe mechanism selected then whisked the 45 RPM records off the rack and plopped them gingerly down on the turntable, and finally hearing the slight hiss & crackle as the diamond needle met the black vinyl. Man, that was something special!

(And who didn’t envy Fonzie’s special gift for knocking a temperamental jukebox back into action with a quick, cool snap of the wrist?)

What got me thinking about this is a new album by Foreigner called Can’t Slow Down that was released just a few weeks ago. It’s another Wal-Mart exclusive 3-disc set like last year’s Journey “Revelations.” Like the Journey release, this one features one disc of new material, a disc of 10 refreshed versions of some of the band’s classics (including “Juke Box Hero”), and a live concert DVD.

But the parallels don’t end there. Foreigner’s new lead singer Kelly Hansen is to that band’s original frontman Lou Gramm what Journey’s new Arnel Pineda is to Steve Perry. Really. He’s that close. No he’s not exactly Lou any more than Arnel is a true Xerox of Steve, but the vocal style & flavor is so strikingly similar (especially on the studio recordings) that it’ll easily pass as the original singer’s sound for casual listeners. Don’t believe me? Compare the following classic hits as performed then vs. now:

Hot Blooded – 1993
Hot Blooded – 2009
Urgent – 1981
Urgent – 2009

Yeah, it is a little freaky for a guy who looks like he could be Steven Tyler’s cousin to sound like Lou Gramm. And continuing the comparisons to Journey, doesn’t rhythm guitarist & sax player Tom Gimbel (who coincidentally, used to tour with Steven Tyler’s Aerosmith!) look an awful lot like Neal Schon?

Anyway, the new material is good! It may not be quite as punchy & raw as the late 70s / early 80s stuff when Foreigner first landed on the radio (and in jukeboxes!), but the new songs are certainly on-par with much of the group’s mid to late 80s stuff. Several of these could easily be hits if the label works them right. If you were a fan of Mick Jones & the boys back then, you’re going to air-drumming & whistling along with most of the songs on this new album. Of course, it might’ve made more sense for them to remake "Juke Box Hero" as "iTunes Hero" — except that you can’t get the new album on iTunes…

If you give the new Foreigner a listen, post a comment!

By the way, bonus points go out to anyone who saw Foreigner’s original tour in ’85 that actually featured a giant inflatable jukebox. Were you there?

Gitar

We often fondly think back to our time in Moscow in Dec. ’07 when we first met Liam.   Our driver / translator / guide for that first trip to Russia was a great fellow named Pashe (pronounced Pasha).   Among other things, I got a big kick out of his ghetto cell phone ("Bluetooth?!   No, my phone doesn’t have Bluetooth; it has duct tape.") that he used almost continuously. When we met up with him on our 2nd trip to Moscow in Feb. ’08, he was quite proud of his new cell phone and the funny ringtone he had at the time. In fact, Pashe and Liam danced to the ringtone.

I asked Pashe to write down the artist & name of the song and a few months later finally remembered to look it up.   "Gitar" is a homemade handicam video by 26 year old former architecture student Peter Nalitch.   We haul this out to show people from time to time, so I finally decided to just post it here.   Rob calls it an "earworm," because it’s so cheesy-fun & infectious that you’ll have it stuck in your head for days.   So, in honor of Pashe, enjoy:

Five Little Monkeys With a Tragic Ending

Since moving up into Ms. Gloria’s 3-4 Year Olds class at daycare this month, Liam has been learning a whole new set of songs.   I think we’ve heard Five Little Monkeys Swinging In a Tree about 20 times every day this week.   And the practice is paying off, because he’s nearly got all the words memorized — and has even started embellishing it with other details as you’ll see in the video below.   Enjoy!

A Monkee Becomes a Penguin

In the past year we’ve gathered quite a library of children’s books that we like to read to Liam but we’re especially fond of the Sandra Boynton board books.

One of her books, "Your Personal Penguin" has a companion song that’s sung by none other than my favorite Monkee, Davy Jones!   Davy is featured in the book and on the CD, singing the title song.   Reportedly, Davy & Boyton have become close friends as a result of the project.

And here’s a fun behind-the-scenes look at Davy Jones & Michael Ford composing & recording this infectious little tune:


(Note: Requires Apple’s QuickTime player.)

Visit Workman Publishing to see other behind-the-scenes videos and listen to more Boynton songs.   Rob thinks Opus would approve!
 

Have You Heard the News?

Huey Lewis in a Permian High School jerseyWell, we sure have!

Huey Lewis and the News, that is!

Huey Lewis and the News really rocked the house and raised the roof at the Ector County Colisuem to raise money for the 8th annual ECISD Education Foundation fundraiser, with all of the proceeds going to provide grants for local teachers.   All in all, it was a great concert for a great cause!

Better still, we found out that Huey is a Mojo fan!

If you’d like to see more of Dede’s fantastic photos from the concert, just follow this link!

And here’s a couple of interesting dabs o’ trivia about Hugh Anthony Cregg III, a.k.a. Huey Lewis:

  • He had a cameo in "Back To the Future," where he played one of the talent show judges at the high school in the fictitious California town of Hill Valley.   Although he was born in New York City, Huey grew up in the non-fictitious California town of Mill Valley.
  • In the talent show scene in "Back To the Future," he’s the judge who dismisses Marty’s (Michael J. Fox) audition as "…just too darn loud." — and the music in question was a heavy metal rendition of the intro to Huey’s own hit song "Power of Love."

Back In Black

Brian, Angus, & the boys are back in black.   “Black Ice,” that is.   AC/DC’s first new album in eight years is due (exclusively!) at Wal-Mart & Sam’s Club stores on October 20th.   But the first hard-hitting single "Rock ’N’ Roll Train" hit the band’s official website today.

Austin Scaggs at Rolling Stone magazine got a sneak preview listen and proclaims the album to be nothing less than earthshaking.

Just click the banner below to go to the official AC/DC website and give the new "Rock ’N’ Roll Train" single a listen.   While you’re there, you can even pre-order the new album or pick up some other cool new swag.

AC/DC banner

A Journey of Discovery, Revelation, & Trivia

Journey logo

Legendary rock band Journey released a new 3-disc album this week aptly titled that contains a CD of 11 new songs, a CD with 11 re-recorded classics, and a DVD of Journey’s Las Vegas concert in March ’08.

The surprising revelation is that this release features the band’s new lead singer, Arnel Pineda, formerly of the band “The Zoo” from Manila, Philippines.   And amazingly, the talented singer was discovered by Journey’s lead guitarist Neal Schon via a YouTube video!   CBS aired the amazing story of the Arnel Pineda’s unconventional discovery on their Sunday Morning show last weekend.

What may be most amazing is just how much Pineda’s soaring tenor captures not only the sound of Journey’s most well-known frontman, Steve Perry, but also much of the same texture & character.   Some say that Pineda lacks Perry’s fire on some of the re-recorded classics but they sound great to me and his vocals definitely shine on most of the 11 new tracks.   Regardless, the similarity of the two singers is uncanny.   I’d wager that most people won’t catch that the new songs are not sung by Steve Perry on the first few listens.   What, not convinced?   Compare the following classic hits as performed then vs. now:

  Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) – 1982

  Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) – 2008

  Faithfully – 1983

  Faithfully – 2008

After hearing those songs, what do ya think?

By the way, I was a huge fan throughout the ’80s and was well-versed on all things Journey, but there’s at least one lingering trivia question I can’t answer:

Their iconic logo first appeared on the Infinity album cover and has carried forward on every album in the 30 years since, but I’ve never heard whose idea it originally was.   Anybody know where or who the scarab-like futuristic insect with bird-like wings logo came from?