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Monday, Aug 31, 2009
Pop Heroism, Two Songs at a Time

“Heartbreak Hotel” - The Jacksons
Written by Michael Jackson
from Triumph (CBS/Epic, 1980)



“Bless His Soul” - The Jacksons
Written by Tito Jackson, Jackie Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Michael Jackson, and Randy Jackson
from Destiny (CBS/Epic, 1979)



This entry was originally written in the spring of ‘09. It has been slightly edited since Michael Jackson’s untimely passing.


The first arena concert I ever attended was the Jacksons’ concert in support of their 1980 album, Triumph. The concert began with a film/music video for their hit “Can You Feel It?” which showed the brothers, in superhuman/angelic form, spreading goodwill and brotherhood through the power of song and light. Especially to the eyes and ears of a young musician, it was a stunning opening to an unforgettable experience.


“Heartbreak Hotel” was a highlight of the Triumph tour, and like many of Michael Jackson’s songs which explore the terror of high anxiety, it is kind of like an aural horror film, with fear, paranoia, and emotional claustrophobia replacing blood and gore as the central affrighting components. The song opens with a lonely string section which ably sets the foreboding tone, then, with an eerie scream, it kicks into an archetypal Jackson groove, with wicked rhythm guitar and funky-bump marauding bass. The lyrics describe a hotel occupied by evil, vengeful women who murmur imprecations and hurl accusations at the men who visit.The second half of the first verse delves into the devilish details of the nightmarish scene Jackson wishes to show us: “As we walked into the room /  There were faces staring, glaring, tearing through me / Someone said welcome to your doom / Then they smiled with eyes that looked as if they knew me / This is scaring me!”


“Heartbreak Hotel” is peppered with classic Jackson yelps, squawks, and screams, a countermelody voiced on a theremin-like instrument, and a myriad of strange and scary sound effects, all of which add to the “scary-movie” vibe. The bridge is literally out of this world, with a chugging electro-beat, an insistent high-pitched tone taking the place of the snare hit, and weird multilayered vocals. Of course, MJ being the future “King of Pop”,  the chorus breaks wide open into a sky-high catchy hook after all that weirdness.


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Saturday, Aug 29, 2009

Guitarist and chief songwriter Noel Gallagher has quit Britpop survivors Oasis, reportedly due to an “altercation” just before the group was set to take the stage at the Rock en Seine festival in Paris, France, on Friday night. According to a statement he posted on the band’s website, Gallagher said he “could not go on” working with vocalist/younger brother Liam Gallagher a single day longer. Despite the suddenness of the split, the news would carry a far greater impact if Gallagher hadn’t done the same thing several times before, only to rejoin soon thereafter.


Gallagher has exited Oasis over disagreements with his brother so often it has become a running joke. The first such incident occurred following a September 1994 concert in Los Angeles, California, where Noel took exception to Liam’s drug-fueled stage antics and subsequently fought his kin backstage.  The siblings made up shortly thereafter; meanwhile Noel was inspired by his post-breakup exodus to Las Vegas to write the strong Oasis b-side “Talk Tonight”. Noel left the group again in May 1995 during the production of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?; this incident involved an in-studio showdown between cricket bat-wielding Noel and a furniture-tossing Liam.  The elder Gallagher’s next exit came in 1996 at the height of his band’s popularity, when he opted to return home to the UK in the midst of an increasingly disappointing American tour. Despite brief talk of continuing the tour without their leader, Liam and the rest of the band shortly returned to Britain, where the Gallaghers duly patched things up amid a media panic.  In the new millennium, Noel made another mid-tour exit in 2000, allegedly precipitated by his brother’s rude comments about his wife.


It is possible that Noel Gallagher has finally had it with his brothers behavior and could not longer carry on in Oasis In interviews in recent years, Noel has painted a picture of Liam as a stubborn, inconsiderate loudmouth who calls at four in the morning just to berate him (in contrast, Liam is not above chastising his brother in the press as well). Still, given the elder Gallagher’s past behavior, post-mortems on the life of Oasis are premature. If Noel Gallagher has not returned to the group in six months’ time, then readers can surely expect an Oasis career retrospective by this author here at Sound Affects. Until then, wait and see if he cools off a bit.


Tagged as: oasis
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Friday, Aug 28, 2009
Even now, "She's Like the Wind" remains one of the better love songs of the 1980s.

Pop history is littered with the remains of singles released by actors desperately craving careers in music, from the strained vocals of Don Johnson searching for a “Heartbeat” to the featherweight vocals of “Don’t Give Up on Us”, the cheesy (yet oddly touching) plea from David Soul. Eddie Murphy had two Top 40 hits, the instantly forgettable “Put Your Mouth on Me” and the major smash “Party All the Time”, both of which came across as bad vanity projects. Leighton Meester, Blair on Gossip Girl (The O.C. 2.0), is currently featured on the Top 10 hit “Good Girls Go Bad”, a Cobra Starship song that sounded dated five seconds after it first played on the radio.


It’s almost a rite of passage for actors. Once they’ve found success appearing in a television series or in movies, many of them immediately want to prove that they are more than just actors. So we get Bruce Willis recording a cover of “Respect Yourself” and John Schneider remaking “It’s Now Or Never” – not bad songs, per se, just not particularly memorable either.


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Thursday, Aug 27, 2009
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mall-Rock

I get a lot of flack for loving My Chemical Romance. As a 37-year-old woman who runs with a decidedly indie-rock-snob crowd, there is no end to the taunts when someone spots The Black Parade in between the Mudhoney and New Pornographers CDs. Not for nothing is there little mention of MCR on PopMatters, and not even the release that broke them worldwide, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, rates a review. “Real” music fans simply do not acknowledge such adolescent pablum, and rarely will they even deign to ridicule it. Mall-rock, they call it. Any band with bags full of Warner Brothers’ money behind it, that can fill stadiums with teenagers the world over and sell T-shirts hand over fist at Hot Topic, forfeits any right to serious appraisal. Even my hairstylist calls them My Chemical Tightpants.


So what happened to me? I heard “Helena” on the radio back when it was released in 2004, and found the chorus stuck in my head at all hours of the day and night. Later on, a friend, whose indie rock cred is airtight in my book, divulged (gasp!) that she was a fan. I bought the aforementioned Three Cheers, and that was all she wrote. I bought a car over a year ago that’s never seen another disc in slot #3 of it’s stereo. I have to wrestle with my nine-year-old son and my four-year-old daughter over who gets to wear which My Chem shirt on any given day.


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Wednesday, Aug 26, 2009

Music does not always cost money these days, but it always costs time, something just as disappointing when it’s wasted. On occasion I’ve found myself listening to a CD of interesting sonic experiments, yet concurrently wondered if it occurred to the artist to ensure the record was an entertaining experience.

The concept of entertainment in music is one that is often outweighed by the quest for artistic exploration, but it’s one that should not be forgotten. The journey should be as rewarding as the destination. Unless there’s something provided during the listening experience to make it a rewarding sensation, chances are repeat plays will be few.


Consider that most albums will take an hour out of your day; this is especially important if you’re the sort to tune out the world to the detriment of everything else going one around you during the recording’s run-time. Live gigs have even more of an imperative to give you sufficient entertainment value. Depending on the type of show you are attending, you pay anywhere from pocket change to a small fortune to get a look at your latest sonic infatuation, and if you’re going to be there for an hour and a half (not counting finding parking, entrance queues, the opening acts, and trying to leave at the same time everybody else does) you should come away with a feeling a bit more satisfied than “Ehh, it was alright”. No matter what kind of musician and regardless of genre, at the end of the day, you have to ask: has the artist made an effort to entertain you, and can you honestly say that you were entertained?


One group whose chief goal it always was to deliver an entertaining spectacle was Queen, rock’s consummate showmen.


Tagged as: queen
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