Posts Tagged ‘Eminem’

Our Spotlight Team’s examination of the lounge side of the moon concludes with an Englishman who is usually categorized as “blue-eyed soul” (like The Righteous Brothers) but who is actually a much more complicated man (like Shaft).

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Rock Swings: On the Wild Side of Swing released in 2006

Paul Young had several easy-listening hits in the U.K. in the 1980s and one in the U.S., “Every Time You Go Away,” a Hall & Oates cover, in 1985. Looking back, I can hear his expertise as an interpreter of pop and R&B, but in those years I paid no attention to him. I was probably too busy with Duran Duran.

Young has overcome health crises that at times robbed him of his voice. He’s been committed to his music for more than 40 years. (He also built a back-up career as a celebrity chef.) He seems to be the kind of person who lives to try something new, as in 2006 when he followed Paul Anka’s lead and recorded Vegas interpretations of rock songs.

Young has a beautiful voice that has significantly deepened since he was 29 and looked like a stunt double for somebody in Wham! or Spandau Ballet. His voice reminds me of Lou Rawls’, though it’s not as deep and smoky. He sings without trying to sound black; Paul Young is always Paul Young. And unlike Pat Boone, this man is built for a swingin’ set of rock ’n’ roll.

Unfortunately, on Rock Swings: On the Wild Side of Swing, Young can’t decide to love or laugh at these songs. He’s not a Richard Cheeseball, but most of these covers don’t work – for example, Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets,” which is like a marching band crashing a funeral, or Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” which is neither wild nor walkable.

Two songs redeemed this disc…

Pat Boone covered Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” on I’m in a Metal Mood, but he didn’t know what to do with this nightmare on Elm Street. Richard Cheese attacked it on Aperitif for Destruction, but I hit Skip inside the first minute. On Rock Swings, Young captures the horror. It’s an adolescent’s idea of horror – look who wrote it – but he captured it just the same.

(“Enter Sandman” ties “Black Hole Sun” for the most popular number among lounge singers – reinterpreted three times each. Why? The two songs are nothing like each other, except that all the people who originally performed them had terrible hair.)

Young also covers David Bowie’s “The Jean Genie.” He’s the only man in this foursome to try on some Bowie. (Cheese covered “Under Pressure,” but that’s a Queen song written by Bowie.) His cover swings like the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra commuting to work on jungle vines.

…and one song escaped it

I don’t spend much time listening to Eminem. In fact, I don’t spend any time listening to Eminem. “Lose Yourself,” an 800-word essay on becoming a star, was a blank to me.

On his cover of “Lose Yourself,” Young reimagines himself as the rapper, though they’re from radically different generations and cultures. The one man’s voice and the other man’s words had me at hello:

Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?

The arrangement is stellar, the kind of thing that Nelson Riddle would’ve whipped up for a Sinatra showstopper. The producer doubles Young’s stunning vocal so that he’s singing back-up for himself, but the producer also dropped words at random from this backing track. Young singing the lead while his duplicate appears and disappears behind him produces a staccato effect that makes it sound as if he’s singing and rapping the lyrics at the same time.

Eminem’s words must have spoken to something in Paul Young’s DNA:

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime

And when Young gets to the spoken-word part, you can believe it when he says “motherfuckin’.” This is so not Pat Boone observing, “Yeah, we’re runnin’ a little bit hot tonight,” while wandering aimlessly inside Van Halen’s “Panama.”

Young’s Rock Swings doesn’t have anywhere near the overall consistency of Paul Anka’s Rock Swings, but “Lose Yourself” is the brightest, sharpest gem of all the music I’ve been writing about this week.

Eminem’s original is not bad, but he’s no Paul Young.

Thanks for reading along, and I hope you now find yourself ready to engage with compelling Vegas-based content. Go easy on the martinis and don’t be a stranger in the night.

 

Greetings, Honorable Ones! It’s Christmas, so naturally I’m thinking about Pearl Jam. They have a new album, Lightning Bolt. Do I have to listen to more of their repetitious, snoozy arena rock? I haven’t liked a Pearl Jam album since their debut, Ten, and that was in 1991, before we had phones implanted in our heads. Why did they call their first album Ten? There are 11 songs on it. Why not 1 or First or We Wrote 11 Songs or Hey Hey We’re Pearl Jam? Ten has “Jeremy,” “Even Flow,” “Black,” and “Deep,” and that about does it for me. Aren’t they just AC/DC, except that they’ve read some books since leaving high school?

But it’s Christmas, and I don’t want to be visited by creepy ghosts, so let’s be positive here, OK? What is it with you people? Stand up right now, face in the direction of Seattle, and bow because Pearl Jam is the only band that ever went head-to-head with Ticketmaster over that company’s greedy service fees. The good guys lost, but they fought the law.

While I’m on the topic of Christmas, it’s equally natural that my thoughts would turn to Lady Gaga, who also has a new release, Artpop. Lady Gaga’s third album has been lauded for being “autobiographical” and “mature.” Stefani Germanotta is only 27 – how much autobiography does she have? As for the maturity of these songs, she started in a hole. She has a long way to go before she writes anything of interest to adults.

Artpop comes nowhere near the dance-floor success of The Fame Monster or Born This Way. The best songs on Artpop, “Applause” and “Gypsy,” are good, but they sound like refugees from Flashdance.

But it’s Christmas! Forget Artpop. I’ve been listening to “Born This Way” for two years now, and I have to say that this song is FN awesome. It’s the biggest pop anthem since “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” plus it’s easier to understand. (Both songs were wickedly parodied by Weird Al.) So wrap yourself in your feather boa to honor Lady Gaga’s achievement.

Did you know that it’s Christmas? It is, and that can only mean one thing: Boston! They have a new album, Life, Love & Hope. No no no no, I don’t care that it’s Christmas, I refuse to listen to anymore Boston. So how about instead: Paul McCartney!

McCartney has a new album. He calls it New. Come on, Macca, you could’ve done better there. On this release, Sir Paul imitates all the bands from the ’80s and ’90s who imitated him. Which is pretty much everyone. This exercise is pleasant, but on a handful of songs – “Queenie Eye,” “I Can Bet,” “Get Me Out of Here,” and especially “Hosanna” – he reminds me that this is Paul Fucking McCartney of the Major Fucking Leagues I’m listening to.

New was released in October, so it doesn’t qualify as holiday music, but this is the season for gratitude. Sir Paul is 71 and his voice is shot, but let’s give our Beatles bobbleheads a pat on their bobbly heads and be thankful that this man is still around to remind us that rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be fun, dammit.

I see by the calendar that it’s Christmas, and when it’s Christmas, who is never far behind? You’re right: Eminem! Et voilà: The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Poor little white rapper! Perpetually outraged that he’s gotten rich by making his life harder than it has to be. Yo, loyal readers around the world: If you can’t handle Eminem at Christmas, how about R. Kelly, who sets out his philosophy of life on the sensitively titled Black Panties. R. Kelly is a sex “Genius.” How do I know? Silly rabbit, he says so right in the song. Is “Genius” the kind of slow number where you hold your baby close and think of what you mean to each other? No.

Well, it turns out it’s the holidays, and because I don’t believe in making war on Christmas I give you: The Everly Brothers! Yes, though Don and Phil haven’t released any new material since 1989, they’re still just what the season calls for.

If you like The Everly Brothers, you’ll love the Everly Dad
I can’t claim I’m an Everlys fan. I like “I’m Not Angry,” “Burma Shave” (a rockabilly “Wipe Out”), and “Lord of the Manor,” their mid-’60s attempt at psychedelia. It was news to me that, in 1958, while riding the success of their 1957 debut (which featured “Wake Up Little Susie,” “I Wonder If I Care as Much,” and “Bye Bye Love”), the brothers returned to their roots and recorded Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.

The Everlys performed these songs with just their acoustic guitars and other-worldly voices. These are not songs I would play often; they’re Appalachian blues verging on gospel and country, in which the characters are bound for death or something close by. The one song I’m likely to replay is “Roving Gambler.” The first time I heard it, I felt I was listening to the birth of Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Meanwhile, here in 2013, we now have Foreverly, Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones’s loving tribute to Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. What attracted them to this set? The subject matter, surely; Armstrong is the son of Okies and Jones grew up in rural Texas. “These are songs about family,” Jones said in an interview. “Dead family.”

I haven’t much to say about Norah Jones, other than that she’s talented, sings beautifully, makes music too mild to interest me, and is pretty good in an interview.

Billie Joe Armstrong, I thought, was a typical singer in a punk band: a strong voice (a nasal voice), limited range, often resorts to shouting. I wasn’t into him or Green Day until they released their rock opera, American Idiot (2004), which is now a musical. (Those last five words are the most unreal words I’ve ever written.) I admit I’m a sucker for a rock opera. I still remember how excited I was after reading about Tommy in Rolling Stone. I remember bringing the LP home. I remember my Dad threatening to punch multiple big holes in it.

Tommy didn’t disappoint me and neither did American Idiot, though both suffer power failures in the middle. The highlight of American Idiot, for me, is “Jesus of Suburbia.” Green Day spends the first half of the song pretending to be a punk version of the ’50s, a punk version of Queen, and then they briefly do something horrible to Deep Purple. Starting at the 6:30 mark (this song is 9 minutes long) they swing into the tune from “Ring of Fire,” with their own words –

To live
and not to breathe
is to die
in tragedy
To run,
to run away,
to fight
what you believe

– and with a nod to “My Way” and a hint of Ravel’s Bolero, topped off with a guitar lick they stole from Yes. Jesus! Why don’t I ever hear this at Christmas instead of all the stupid Christmas songs written by Jews like me?

On Foreverly, this odd pairing of punker and crooner is dynamite on a china plate. Unlike the Everlys on Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, Armstrong and Jones bring a band to the studio. This gives the songs hope to go with their innate despair. (Some of the songs, anyway.) Their version of “Kentucky” is haunting, but now also with a touch of calypso, or maybe Los Lobos in their quieter moments. They turn “Oh So Many Years” into a hoedown, “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail” into a funeral march (OK, that’s not hopeful), and “Barbara Allen” into a track from Songs of the Civil War or a Camper Van Beethoven outtake.

There’s a lot of heartache in the love affair in “Roving Gambler,” a song that may be unique in having three points of view, the gambler, the mother, and her daughter:

Mother, oh dear mother, I’ll tell you if I can
If you ever see me comin’ back, I’ll be with the gambling man.
Be with the gambling man.
Be with the gambling man.

But in their performance, Armstrong and Jones give it an unexpected buoyancy. You finish the song thinking, sure, the gambler is goin’ down to George to gamble his last game, but maybe this will work out!

“Rockin’ Alone (in An Old Rockin’ Chair)” is a manipulative tear-jerker no matter how you slice it (“It wouldn’t take much to gladden her heart/just some small remembrance on somebody’s part”), and “Long Time Gone” and “Lightning Express” are way too country, but overall I rate Foreverly as a Buy – but ONLY if you also buy Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. Happy holidays, Don and Phil, and I hope you liked this gift from Billie Joe and Norah.

As for me, I’m still waiting to hear “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” on the radio, plus I suspect that R. Kelly is bluffing. I think I might give Norah Jones another try. Why not? I hear it’s Christmas.

RIP: Lou Reed, who I hope is taking one long walk on the wild side.

Postscript, 3 Jan 2014: RIP Phil Everly. Bye bye love.

 

Merriam-Webster defines ethnomusicology as “the study of music in a sociocultural context.” To pry into the social and cultural context of a musician’s life, students of ethnomusicology require a laboratory of specialized electronic equipment. This is why most ethnomusicologists are employees of the Department of Homeland Security. Notable ethnomusicologists to date include Charlemagne, Miley Cyrus, John Carter of Mars, the Dewey who invented decimals, the Dewey who beat Truman, the Dewey who beat the Spanish, Milli (but not, as is usually assumed, Vanilli), and Laurel Sercombe.

Here at Run-DMSteve we proudly support the sciences, however intrusive, which is why I am devoting today’s post to my sociocultural field notes on a peculiar tribe of male pop stars. Like me, they are known around the world by one name. Who are they and how did they get so mono? Let’s check the record.

Fear not, I burned all my notebooks (what good are notebooks?) after interviewing Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute.

Liberace
Real name: Wladziu Valentino Liberace
Country of origin: USA
Superpowers: Piano, costumes
Gemstone: All of them

Mr. Showmanship loved the simple things: a solid-gold candelabra, a fur-lined cape studded with diamonds, a piano built to look like a Cadillac. He gave Barbra Streisand an early boost, which is bad, but he also served as an inspiration to Elton John, which is worse. For decades you never knew when this smiling terror was going to pop up on TV and race across the keys like the Pony Express.

But if you pay attention to Liberace’s music rather than the cheap theatrics, you’ll find that the man could flat out play. He usually played inoffensive crap (“You Made Me Love You,” “Somewhere My Love,” “Born Free”), but when he turned to the classics, particularly Chopin, you got a glimpse of the little boy who was hailed as a piano prodigy.

While I’m not going to buy the Liberace boxed set (if such a thing existed, it would be too heavy to lift), I must conclude that Liberace was better than his reputation. He was certainly a lot more honest than his tuxedo-wearing, piano-playing contemporaries Ferrante & Teicher, who peddled a lite-beer version of classical music as if it were the real thing.

Verdict: When I was a kid, every grandmother I knew loved Liberace. That’s not a bad epitaph. Reluctant thumbs up.

Donovan
Real name: Donovan Philips Leitch
Country of origin: Scotland
Superpowers: Voice, beads, scarves, bells
Gemstone: A pyramid

If Donovan had been a one-hit wonder and if “Season of the Witch” had been his one hit, I would revere his name. The song is a pioneering, mind-blowing merger of folk, psychedelia, and the blues. If you’re looking for the place where metal began, “Season of the Witch” is an excellent candidate.

Unfortunately, Donovan was not a one-hit wonder. Amid the hippie bell-bottom antics and the odes to Atlantis and the girl he named for a shrub, we had to contend with “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” which was also the theme from a 1960s perfume commercial, and “Mellow Yellow,” which was a rip-off of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

However, I must admit that there are two reasons besides “Season of the Witch” to listen to Donovan:

1)      “Sunshine Superman” is somewhat funky. There are bongos in there somewhere. True, Donovan sings about women having “little minds,” but that fits right in with today’s War on Women.

2)      “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is one of the funniest songs ever recorded. It sounds like a parody of the entire Psychedelic Sixties. It’s closest musical kin is Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” – you could easily trade vocals.

Verdict: Donovan couldn’t rock if he was strapped into a rocking chair that was sliding downhill on an avalanche of ball bearings, but “Donovan” is a great name. And then there’s “Season of the Witch.” Embarrassed thumbs up.

Yanni
Real name: Yiànnis Hrysomàllis
Country of origin: Greece
Superpowers: Classified
Gemstone: Moon rock

In 1988 I went to work at a newspaper where one of our senior writers was in lust with Yanni. Roger didn’t care about Yanni’s music. He didn’t even know if Yanni played an instrument. When a Yanni record came in for review, Roger threw away the LP and kept the album cover (like the Joe Morton character in The Brother From Another Planet). He was particularly taken with Chameleon Days, on the cover of which our prodigiously mustached hero, dressed in synthetic fibers, is hugging a white rock.

Then Yanni took up with Dynasty actress Linda Evans. Roger was disgusted. “I’m throwing him out of the nest,” he told me after he banished all images of Yanni from the office.

Verdict: I tried listening to Chameleon Days. The cover really is the best part. Thumbs down, if not broken.

Sting
Real name: Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
Country of origin: England
Superpower: Unknown
Gemstone: Pb (atomic number 82)

In the late 1960s the Red Sox had a relief ace named Lee Stange. The press nicknamed him “The Stinger.” Once, during a rain delay, while the Red Sox radio announcers were stalling for time by reading their fan mail, they had to reassure an aggrieved lady that they were not calling her favorite pitcher “The Stinker.”

This brings us to Sting and his best-known album: …Nothing Like the Sun (1987). I’m listening to this thing from Sting as I type and it sounds like his old band, The Police, with a dash of Paul Simon, but with nowhere near the quality of either. All is calm on most of this record, as if the speakers only go to 4. The easy-listening hit for old people was “Be Still My Beating Heart.” The bright, bouncy hit for young people was “We’ll Be Together.” The song you fell asleep to was “They Dance Alone.” The thing from Sting that for me didn’t swing was his cover of “Little Wing.” The album I should’ve listened to was Simon’s Graceland (1986).

Verdict: If you’re going to call yourself Sting, you’d better sting something. Otherwise people might think they’re hearing the wrong word. Also, never pose nude in the desert. Even Morrissey never tried that. Two thumbs down.

Beck
Real name: As befits a titan, he has two: Bek David Campbell and Beck Hansen
Country of origin: USA
Superpower: Can remember every song he’s ever heard
Gemstone: Vinyl

I’ve written about Beck before. If I have any gods, two of them are Beck and John Updike. And what do you know – my favorite Updike character is Henry Bech. Is this a coincidence, or further proof that Oswald did not act alone? Neither – it simply proves that gods are not infallible. As a stage name, “Beck” is a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me. Besides confusing him with Updike’s monumentally lazy character, the name Beck makes me think of chickens, Glenn Beck, Jeff Beck, Jeff Beck’s album Beck-Ola, and bending it like Beck(ham).

Bek/Beck had the right idea – a solid Anglo-Saxon syllable that begins and ends with a strong consonant. It’s just the wrong syllable. One of his other names, “Hansen,” would’ve been an improvement, plus it might’ve stopped the three-brother teen menace that appeared later in the ’90s.

Verdict: Two thumbs up for his music, two down for his name.

Eminem
Real name: Marshall Bruce Mathers III
Country of origin: USA
Superpower: Surviving his childhood, teenhood, young adulthood, and his upcoming middle-agehood
Gemstone: Empty can of Red Bull

Eminem and I come from different historical eras. His first job was rapping. My first job was working 15 years on the Erie Canal. If I liked his music, he’d be in trouble. But I can appreciate him for his sneaky vocabulary, his ability to rap out a song while arguing with his back-up rappers about his raps, and the humor in his first full-length, The Slim Shady LP (1999).

My problem with Eminem is that I can’t take the Minnie Mouse quality of his voice. The man sounds as if he’s resting between tanks of helium, which is ironic for the star of the mega-gritty 8 Mile. There may be a rapper out there for me, but Eminem isn’t the guy. Nice name, though.

Verdict: The only thing I can think of that would be worse than an Eminem concert would be a Beach Boys concert. Two thumbs making gangsta gestures. Yo bring it on down.

Run-DMSteve
Real name: Steve
Country of origin: Massachusetts
Superpower: Can be wicked annoying
Gemstone: Bauxite

(All ethnomusicology research needs a control group. The control group for this study is Run-DMSteve. To guarantee our objectivity, I’m turning over this section to my dog, Storm Small.)

Steve has had a difficult time holding onto a nickname. I’m not counting the stuff his parents still call him.

When he worked at a restaurant in Harvard Square in the late ’70s, where he washed dishes and had a psychedelic experience at midnight in front of the griddle, they called him “Animal” and “Jaws” because he ate everything that wasn’t bacon. But he let his comrades down when they entered him in a muffin-eating contest and he couldn’t even break into double digits.

“Wolverine” stuck for about 2 minutes before Special D changed it to “Tangerine.”

Accused of Lurking dubbed him “Blue Pencil” for his skills as an editor who fights crime, but that name only works when Steve is actually employed.

In the late 1990s, Shawn, another co-worker, suggested “Run-DMSteve.” Though Shawn was employing a technique called “satire,” the nickname Run-DMSteve has turned out to be a winner in the electrifying world of blogging. Someone from Japan looked at this blog last week, and someone from Finland dropped by last month. Not bad for a guy who used to go to concerts in what he termed his “tough guy” sweater.

Verdict: Job or not, he keeps those kibbles coming. Four paws up!