Archive for the ‘50/50 Albums’ Category

[50/50] Album #14: “The Cars”

Friday, March 28th, 2014

[50/50] Album #14: “The Cars” — The Cars (1978).

The_Cars_-_The_CarsEven when you try and leave the past behind, it has a way of chasing after you. For the last few weeks I’ve been followed around by 1978 and 1979 like a pair of imprinted geese, honking with joy at every rediscovery. Today is the 35th anniversary of Three Mile Island, for instance, and I’ve already seen a half-dozen posts about it from friends on facebook. I heard recently that the boy’s basketball team from my old high school went to the state finals, just like they did in March of ’79. No doubt the school took bus loads of students to see the championship game, just like they did for us 35 years ago, and there’s a good chance a kid like me met a cute girl on the ride out to arena, and got to make out with her on the way back. Considering the finals were held in Pittsburgh, four hours away, that makes it one of the Best. Roadtrips. Ever.

And a short time ago when I was back for a visit to central Pennsylvania, poking around in my parent’s attic looking for something for my brother, I stumbled upon the motherload, the grand prize, The Holy Grail: a box of Super8 movies that has been missing for decades. Most of the reels were animated shorts Brent and I made in 1978 and 1979, and haven’t seen since. I was so excited, I made a detour through Baltimore on my way home to North Carolina to drop off the box at his place, where he planned to inspect and digitalize the aging film.

When I walked in the house, he already had one of our old vinyl records on a restored turntable, and my trip to the past was complete:

While the Cars’ first album peaked on Billboard in March, 1979, it stayed on the charts for the next two years, and spawn numerous singles that are still, no doubt, in heavy rotation somewhere. (It also gets points for having the greatest sampled snippet in a movie soundtrack.)

Anyway, here’s the whole album. “The Cars” by  The Cars:

[50/50] Album #15: “Watermark”

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Album #15: “Watermark” — Enya (1988)

Enya-1988-WatermarkIf all goes according to plan, I’ll be catching Julianna Barwick tonight at the Carrack. Moody and ethereal, her music has been described as Enya for the Indie crowd.

Enya herself has been an ambient darling since her breakthru album “Watermark” in 1988. It’s understandable people might be wary of the record, thanks to the overexposure of its big hit, the overwrought “Orinoco Flow,” but this would be a mistake, like avoiding Led Zep IV because of “Stairway to Heaven.” From the beautiful and haunting opening title track to the Irish lament “Na Laetha Geal M’óige” (Days of My Youth) that closes out the record, this is a perfect album for the dead of winter. “Watermark” is all the more impressive because Enya plays all the instruments and sings all the tracks herself, looping vocals to create a chorus of backup singers from her solitary voice.

February, Enya and looping go back a quarter century for me as well. At the time, I had one of those boom boxes that would continuously play a cassette tape, flipping from one side to the other automatically when it reached the end. If you didn’t hit stop, an album would repeat forever. I was in my first apartment, soon after my roommate had left to move in with his girlfriend. I’d also recently heard from my ex-girlfriend, which put me right back in the metaphysical crater where she’d left me. Alone, broke, and feeling a wee bit sorry for myself one bitterly cold evening, I put on “Watermark” and plopped down on the couch to read. I lost track, but sometime after hearing the click of the cassette flipping over for probably the dozenth time, I finally found the energy to get up and eject the tape. By then, Enya and her moody, ethereal voice were forever burned into my head.

[50/50] Between a rock and a hard place

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

SomeGirls78This entry is about the oddest concert experience I ever had. This is also the only opportunity I’ll have to write about the Rolling Stones as (spoiler alert) they don’t appear anywhere in my Top 50, songs or albums. (Although, it should be noted, “Some Girls” came close to making the cut, and I always had a soft spot for their oddball hit “Emotional Rescue,” if only because I remember my friend Monty mocking Mick Jagger’s soliloquy at the end of the song, endlessly repeating “I will be your knight in shiiiiiinning aaaaaaaaaaamour …. on a fine aaaaaaaarab chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarger” as we played D&D in the Link’s basement.)

Anyway, back to the concert. After years of listening to my friend Rusty go on and on about how awesome the Stones’ famous 1981 tour was, and, having never seen them play live —[ Fun Fact Aside! One of the very first shows the Stones ever played in the U.S. was at the FARM SHOW ARENA in Harrisburg … in 1964! ]— my brother got us tickets to the 1989 Steel Wheels tour. This tour was notable in that a) it was the first band stage so tall it required FAA lights at the top of the structure so planes wouldn’t hit it and b) it was widely reported that this would be the Rolling Stones final tour.

… I’ll give you a minute so you can stop laughing…

So there we were, in Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia with 100,000 people before a structure the size of an aircraft carrier, with stories-high blowup dolls flanking the stage and swaying back and forth as Mick and Keith played the hits. They veered into stuff off their latest album and had just broken into a number called “Rock and a Hard Place” when a fight broke out in the row in front of us. Stadium security quickly appeared, but instead of coming down the aisle, they decided to swarm over the seats of our section and make a beeline for the brawl. Suddenly, my brother and I were in the middle of a huge scrum between the frat boys, still throwing punches, and overzealous guards grabbing over our heads. The crush of people carried us back and forth like a rugby ball as the chorus reached its crescendo and Jagger yelled repeatedly “Between a ROCK” and the backup singers replied “and a HARD PLACE.”

I looked at my brother and shouted out something like, “oh the irony.”

As the song ended the cops swept down the aisle and dragged the perps out. The guards wanted to clear the whole section and tried to throw everyone out, but the police stopped them. I don’t remember much after that except that we now had a much better view of the stage. Regardless, I wanted to thank the Rolling Stones for giving me my most literal rock-n-roll experience ever.

[50/50] Album #17: “Gimme Fiction”

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Album #17: “Gimme Fiction” — Spoon (2005)

220px-Spoon_Gimme_FictionThe first time I heard this album, it jumped into my all-time top 20 favorites and stayed there. Which is surprising because, the first time I heard Spoon, on one of their earlier records found in the freebee pile at the paper, I wrote them off and sold it …. guess I wasn’t ready for Brit Daniel’s genius yet. Since then I’ve hunted down everything Spoon has done (no doubt buying back the very record I’d sold years before). Oh the irony.

[50/50] Album #18: “Purple Rain”

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Album #18: “Purple Rain” — Prince (1984)


I’m just going to leave this here


[50/50] Album #19: “Patsy Cline—12 Greatest Hits”

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Album #19: “Patsy Cline—12 Greatest Hits” (1962)

newyearseveMy friends from high school have been throwing a New Year’s Eve party every year since, well, high school. Sometimes it was just five or six of us, sometimes 50 or 60, but we usually made a effort to dress up (rare for my friends, believe me). The job of hosting it has been handed off from one friend to another over the decades, and during the years we were throwing it at the Belvedere, “Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits” finished every party, as we danced into the dawn. It was a good way to start the new year.

[50/50] A Bridge Too Far

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Book #5: “A Bridge Too Far” — Cornelius Ryan (1974)
Computer Game #5: “V for Victory: Operation Market-Garden” (1993)

A_Bridge_Too_Far_-_1974_Book_CoverFlush with success after D-Day, the Allies had the Nazis on the run in the fall of 1944. Thinking he could end the war early, a British general came up with an overly-ambitious plan to hopscotch across the Netherlands and sweep around the German defenses. The attack involved the largest air drop of troops in history, and was bigger than the invasion of Normandy — which took over a year to plan — and was launched within a week. The effort to simultaneously seize seven key bridges in seven cities became one of the biggest disasters of WWII.

In fact, Operation Market-Garden nearly cost the allies the war.

It wasn’t just poor planning that doomed the attack. Hubris on the part of allied commanders lead them to believe they could punch through any enemy resistance, and misplaced assumptions lead them to ignore crucial intelligence from partisan forces. In one case, allied troops were dropped right in front of elite SS units, who promptly mowed them down. The ambitious invasion turned into a rescue operation to save as many men as possible, and “A Bridge Too Far” quickly became shorthand for over-reaching. Of course, disasters make for compelling stories, and journalist Cornelius Ryan’s oral history of the battle became one of the best books on WWII. (It is also three times as long as “The Longest Day,” his earlier book about the — very successful — D-Day invasion.) As infuriating as it is to read, it is a fascinating look at how not to fight a war.

Curiously enough, “A Bridge Too Far” was also the last of those epic star-studded war movies that Hollywood used to make. It was expected to be the biggest box office hit of 1977 … until it opened opposite of a little sci-fi flick called “Star Wars” … whoops

# # #

victoryTwenty years later, in time for the 50th anniversary of WWII, Atomic Games came out with a series of exceptional wargames focusing on the biggest battles of the war. “V for Victory: Operation Market-Garden” is the only wargame I’ve ever played every scenario and variation of, and it provided even greater insight into how not to fight a war.

The game is all the more interesting because it is impossible for the allies to win. Even if everything had gone according to plan, even under the most optimal conditions, the allies would have still failed in their attack. This is the sort of lesson that should be — and is — taught at military academies, and every politician who ever used the word “cakewalk” should be beaten about the head and neck with the game box.


[50/50] Beach music

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Album #23: “Standing on a Beach” — The Cure (1986) and
Album #22: “Oh No, Not Them Again!” Surf Punks (1987)

Standing_covIt’s been Indian Summer the last week, and the heat put me in mind of the shore. The best time to go to the beach is the off season, and the best time I ever had in Ocean City was the two weeks I stayed beyond Labor Day in 1987, after my job drawing caricatures on the boardwalk was over. The soundtrack for that summer was comprised of the odd one-hit wonder of T’Pau (the only top 40 band ever named after a Star Trek character), Camper Van Beethoven, Hoodoo Gurus and The Cure. Someone in the dockside apartment (there was at least nine of us there, sleeping in shifts) had the cassette of “Standing on a Beach,” a collection of all The Cure’s singles, and it always seemed to be on. At least that’s how I remember it…

The Surf Punks are best remembered — at least outside of LA — for a fun remake of Sweet‘s “Ballroom Blitz.” At least that’s how I found them. But the rest of “Oh No! Not Them Again” was even better, a flippant idiosyncratic collection of surf music by a band that cared more about actual surfing. Yet somehow, by not giving a shit, it freed them up to make a great record.

[50/50] Album #24: Earth Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Album #24: “The Best of Earth Wind & Fire Vol. 1” — Earth Wind & Fire (1978)

albumArtBest Of albums are usually, at best, a sign a band is done — little more than a ploy to squeeze more money out of old songs. (Even my favorite band of all, The Cars, is guilty of this; they put out five “greatest hits” records, yet only have seven albums of original material.) At worst, it is an excuse to trick listeners into buying crap that didn’t sell the first time by repackaging it with a few bone fide winners (I’m looking at you, Heart). For the casual consumer, however, the appeal is obvious: they only want the top 40 hits they heard on the radio, and this is the fastest, easiest way to get them.

Every rule has its exception, and in this case the exception is Earth Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1. It really is all that and a bag of chips, yes indeed. It was one of Lisa D’s favorite albums, and was in constant rotation the year we lived on Esch 1. (“Reasons” also ranked high on friend Darrell Smith’s list of favorites, and got a lot of play in high school.) Beyond any personal sentimentality I might have, “The Best of EWF, Vol. 1” is a perfect encapsulation of a band at the height of its powers, and a nearly flawless jem that has only become more polished over time.

[50/50] Album #25: “Leave Home”

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Album #25: “Leave Home” — Ramones (1977)


I actually own my cousin an apology. When we were out to visit the family in Ohio, I dunno what year now, sometime in late 70s, she told me about the Ramones. And I made fun of her because I thought it was a stupid name for a band. I’m sorry, Shannon, I was so, so SO wrong.

One of the best shows I ever saw, if not the best show, was the Ramones. The summer I worked at the beach, they played some club in Ocean City, Md., in an old warehouse down a sandy road. It was stuffy and hot and yet Joey Ramone still wouldn’t take off his leather jacket.  It was my first time in a real mosh pit. By the time the show was over, and we were waiting for our ride, I was vibrating. I wasn’t just wrung out — I felt cleansed.