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Thursday, Oct 8, 2009
Director Marc Webb's deft, nuanced use of pop music does more than just enhance an already great film.

While the summer has now passed us by, many theatres in my town are still playing the hit rom-com (500) Days of Summer. The story of young lovers Summer and Tom marks the feature-length directorial debut of music video director Marc Webb, and with his use of pop music in the film, his pedigree shows. The music isn’t just confined to the soundtrack—it colors the story to the point where it almost becomes another character in the script.


It seems no accident that Summer herself is played by an actor who is also a singer and songwriter, Zooey Deschanel. Her main musical vehicle is the duo She & Him, “Him” being indie troubadour M. Ward, and their debut CD,  Volume One was released to critical acclaim in 2007.


Summer is portrayed as the ultimate muse, and Deschanel, well… she just married Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. Girls like Summer/Zooey are worshipped by guys like Tom/Ben—intelligent, sensitive, slightly nerdy types possessed of depressive tendencies and more than a working knowledge of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s back catalogue. The kind of girl who can boost area sales of Belle and Sebastian’s The Boy with the Arab Strap CD single-handedly by quoting lyrics from it in her high school yearbook. Even at the karaoke bar, where even the best of us are reduced to Whitesnake’s greatest hits, Summer keeps her hipster cred intact with her winsome and incredibly charming take on Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town”. Summer is the thinking man’s heartthrob.


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Wednesday, Oct 7, 2009
Tom Waits isn't the only Pride of National City

“Angel Baby” by Rosie & the Originals should be the official song of National City, California, the way states have flowers or universities have mascots. The song reached #5 on the Billboard charts in late 1960, and most people don’t even know who sang it, even if they are familiar with the tune.  But for generations of kids who grew up in neighborhoods like mine, “Angel Baby” will always be the anthem of our childhood and an indelible part of the soundtrack of our lives. Other songs like “Always and Forever” by Heatwave and “Together” by Tierra round out the top spots on this chart, but “Angel Baby” is, without a doubt, number one.


The woman who wrote and sang the song at the tender age of 15, Rosie Hamlin, lived in National City during her elementary, junior high and high school years. I always knew this, and it was a point of pride for anyone who came out of our much-maligned little suburb of San Diego. We have Tom Waits, and we have Rosie. But I didn’t know until recently how far her influence reached, and that the likes of Robert Plant and even John Lennon were fans! In the Houses of the Holy liner notes, right after the lyrics to “D’yer Mak’er”, Led Zeppelin wrote “What ever happened to Rosie & the Originals?” And Lennon went so far as to call “Angel Baby” one of his “all-time favorite songs”, when he recorded a cover version in 1973.


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Tuesday, Oct 6, 2009
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

It begins with 40 ominous seconds, dangerous seconds; 40 instantly intriguing seconds that capture the imagination of listeners desperate to find out what happens. It begins with 40 seconds that are more warning than music and the sense of danger is real. When Mick Jagger sings of fire sweeping through the streets “like a red coal carpet” and Merry Clayton’s amazing background vocals crack on the words “rape” and “murder” two-thirds of the way through “Gimme Shelter” the danger seems very real. That’s what makes The Rolling Stones’ 1969 masterpiece Let It Bleed so riveting. Every note of it sounds so damn real.


In 1968, with the release of Beggar’s Banquet, The Stones proved that they were not just another rock band; they were masters of the form. Beggar’s Banquet was the first of what could quite possibly be the four best successive rock albums released by any band in the history of rock and roll. The album was a work of startling simplicity, a collection of songs built around American blues and roots music that invented the concept of what it meant to be “The Stones”. With 1969’s amazing follow up, Let It Bleed, The Stones began to add to this concept. If Beggar’s Banquet is a masterpiece of simplicity then Let It Bleed is a masterpiece of authenticity.


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Monday, Oct 5, 2009
Pop Heroism, One Song at a Time

“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” - Nirvana
Attributed to Huddie Ledbetter
From MTV Unplugged in New York (Geffen, 1994)


This V-C-V originally ran on August 23, 2005 on pcmunoz.com


I have a picture of Kurt Cobain on my desk. It’s a pretty well-known shot: a sort of sad close-up, with Cobain sporting a scruffy beard and looking directly into the camera, a few blonde locks falling over his face. At the bottom it says KURT COBAIN, 1967-1994. It serves to remind me that we never know from where our great artists will come, or when they will leave us.


I thought Kurt Cobain was an astonishingly expressive vocalist. I’d put his screaming up there with Prince, his emotional voice-breaks up there with Hank Williams, and his commanding way with a melody in there with any of the great pop singers. I liked his original songs quite a bit, especially “Come as You Are”, “All Apologies”, “Heart Shaped Box”, “In Bloom”, and the more recently released “You Know You’re Right, which has a great, unique vocal.


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Friday, Oct 2, 2009
Sometimes the best hit singles by "one-hit wonders" are the ones that have been forgotten over the years.

In some ways, a one-hit wonder is in the eye of the beholder (or more accurately, the memory). A-Ha peaked at #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “The Sun Always Shines on TV”, a great song that spent four months on the chart. But most people only remember “Take on Me” (and the phenomenal video that accompanied it), so A-Ha is mistakenly thought to be a one-hit wonder. Vanilla Ice fared no better. “Play That Funky Music” was on the chart for four months and peaked at #4, but the song was overshadowed by the enormous success of “Ice Ice Baby”, so he too is often labeled a one-hit wonder.


This bothers me. The geek part of me cringes when Katrina and the Waves, for instance, is labeled a one-hit wonder. They actually had three Top 40 hits, “Walking on Sunshine”, “Do You Want Crying”, and “That’s the Way”. And my love for music makes me feel sad that radio stations (and as a result, listeners) have completely forgotten that “Real, Real, Real” was almost as huge a hit as “Right Here, Right Now” for Jesus Jones and was, in fact, a great song too.


So today I want to talk about so-called one-hit wonders who actually had more than one hit. There are literally hundreds of singers and groups who are remembered primarily for the one hit among many that lived on, from the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back” was just one of four Top 40 hits for the female pop trio) to Spandau Ballet (“True” peaked at #4, but “Gold” and “Only When You Leave” were also Top 40 hits in the US). I thought it would be interesting to talk about “one-hit wonders” who released successful songs I personally liked more than the hits they’re remembered for.


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