1/29/18: I made you a mixtape…

Do you remember cassette tapes?

They’re not making the kind of comeback that vinyl did, for a lot of reasons. Cassettes can get mangled pretty easily; the tape can get stuck in your tape player and then you have to get a pencil and wind it back up and hope the tape doesn’t get even more tangled. I was actually pretty good at reeling in unraveled tape (one of many skills I have that are no longer relevant).

But they were fun. They gave you the kind of control over the music that you don’t get on a CD or LP. You could tape stuff off the radio, or make mixtapes for your friends or latest crush. I don’t know what folks do now to impress potential dates – a Spotify playlist?

Bow Wow Wow put out a single about cassettes back when they were first introduced, about beating out big corporate record companies by recording music off the radio. They neglected to mention that artists don’t get any royalties when you do that, but it is a great song.

I was more a fan of buying the music and then making a cassette of it for my Walkman. And then I’d walk, man, all over town listening to the little audio universe I had created for myself.

I usually bought 90 minute tapes; you could fit an album on each side. You’d punch out the little plastic tabs at the top of the tape so you couldn’t record over it (when you did want to re-record, you put scotch tape over where the tabs used to be).

Generally there’s a little time left over at the end of the album so you can add two or three more songs. I remember on one tape, I put three different versions of “Around and Around” – here’s the Animals’ version, which has a really fun bass line.


Another tape had one of my favorite Madness tracks at the end:


And of course I made mixtapes. Generally I’d listen to the mix for a couple of months and then tape over it, but there was one I made in college that I loved. I think I still have it. I remember that it opened with Talking Heads:


Personally, I’m not done with cassettes. As part of my large unwieldy music collection, I have a milk crate filled with them, whittled down from at least 4 times that number of tapes. I still have a dual-cassette deck, and I have no plans to get rid of it. I even have my old Tascam 4-track recorder – I did a full album and many demos on that machine.

They may be out of date, but cassettes did contribute to a lot of happy hours of listening for me.




Image by stuart.childs
Creative Commons License 2.0


Working it

The past few weeks have been pretty busy, thanks to some wonderful wonderful work. I know everyone hates waking up in the morning to get ready for their jobs, but it’s so great to have a reason to hate waking up.

It seems like the best working songs have to do with not liking your job, just like the best love songs are usually about affairs that either haven’t begun yet or have ended badly. I was really psyched to have this project, but I suspect that if I wrote a song about it, it wouldn’t be very good.

So just in time for Labor Day, here are a few songs about not liking your job. Even if you do.



Photo by Matt MacGillivray. Creative Commons License 2.0.

7/10/17: US3 & Herbie Hancock

I was always a big fan of this song. I knew they were using samples from Blue Note recordings, but never bothered to track down the original source material.


But then it came and found me. I was listening to the radio, and some Herbie Hancock came on:


It’s great to listen to the original and compare it to US3’s interpretation. Both tracks are great, by the way, but right now I’m all about Herbie and his Cantaloupe Island.




Image by Larry Johnson, CC License 2.0


5/12/17: There’s Something Happening Here

I found out about this from Ken Michaels’s social media feed. Ken hosts the Beatles radio show “Every Little Thing,” which you should check out ASAP.

Eric Burdon of the Animals has released a cover of the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth.” Very appropriate, given the political crisis here in the U.S.


First of all, the drums. I love them. They’re just really interesting, and a nice sound.

And I like where Eric’s voice has gone. At 72, it’s only become more interesting. Of course, it’s always been unique. There’s a sternness to it, but he’s a good blues singer, too. He’s always kind of sounded like an old man. Here he is in 1965.

In 1970, Eric sat in with War for “Spill the Wine.” He is having so much fun in this video. I’m not sure it’s the original recording, but this is one of those songs where I think it really doesn’t matter too much as long as it’s a great performance, which it is.


And here’s the original “For What It’s Worth,” released in 1966 during a different time of political crisis. There are a lot of wonderful protest songs out there, but I wish there didn’t have to be any.


4/26/17: The happiest man on earth

There’s a game going around Facebook today where you list nine bands you saw and one you didn’t. Your friends have to guess which band you didn’t see. Music nerd that I am, I’m having a blast with this (incidentally, the answer to mine is “Queens of the Stone Age”).

Anyway, this leading to that, I started thinking about Iron Butterfly, a band I had the unlikely opportunity to see. As a Gen X-er, I’m too young to have seen them in their late 60’s/early 70’s heyday, but in 1988 they did a reunion show at Atlantic Records’s 40th anniversary celebration.

I guess as a warmup show, they played at the Chance in Poughkeepsie. And I went with some friends from college and we had a great time.

The Cult Brothers, which was two members of Blue Oyster Cult and two other guys, opened up the show. Their drummer was not a member of BOC, and looked like he was about 20. And while they were onstage, that guy was the happiest man on the planet. He was having a blast. He was twirling his sticks and throwing them up in the air and catching them, and he was playing with BLUE! OYSTER! CULT!!! it made me happy just to watch him being happy.

I hope that guy had a long happy career in music, and I’m dedicating these two songs to him.



Image courtesy of the British Library.


4/10/17: Monday Funday Dance Party

My favorite things about this song? Inez Foxx’s fabulous voice, first of all. It’s like honey, but is so powerful. And she’s got great vocal control.


The rhythm track is great, too. There’s so much going on, you just get pulled into the music. And the next thing you know, you’re dancing on top of your desk while you sing into a fake mic made out of a paper towel holder. Then you have to have a meeting with your boss, but it all turns out okay because he also loves the Foxx siblings, and he has his own fake mic/paper towel holder.

Sometimes, it all works out.


8/17/16: The King

I can’t believe I missed August 16th. Elvis Presley’s death day.

We’ve always had some kind of ironic celebration to the great man. There’s a bar in Manhattan that did an Elvis death day celebration every year – there would be Elvis food (gummy bears, peanut butter and banana sandwiches), Elvis movies on TV, an Elvis impersonator. One year an Ann Margret impersonator stopped by.

At the very least there would be a toast to Elvis on the day in question.

My generation (X) is probably the last one that will have any kind of first-hand knowledge of him. From childhood, I mostly remember the existence of Elvis in that both he and Pope Paul VI died in August 1977.

This is, in fact, not true, something I’ve only learned just now when I went to check my facts. The Pope died in 1978, to be shortly followed by his successor, John Paul II, who died in September of that year. But I do remember when Elvis died.

Getting back to non-papal Elvis memories, there was, sadly, so much joke material about his life: the silly movies, the karate stuff, the bedazzled jumpsuits. Graceland. Unfortunately, all of this masked a man who made remarkable music, and whose life was also out of control.

Here are just a few of my Elvis favorites, with no silliness included.





Requiesce in pace, my friend.


7/26/16: Playing favorites

A lot of the decisions I made as a teenager are burned into my memory. I guess it’s because this is such an intense time in your life; everything is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.

For example, there’s boys. When I was in junior high school, Duran Duran were The Thing. Of course, my girlfriends and I all had crushes on them. Everyone had a crush on a different guy – mine was Simon LeBon.

I mention this because since then, whenever I hear about him, I recall that he’s my “official” favorite member of Duran Duran. This is in fact not true – John Taylor is my favorite, because he is a KICKASS bass player. But, like the Supreme Court Justices, Simon LeBon seems to have the title for life, as determined by my 13 year-old self.

I mention this because it’s Mick Jagger’s birthday today, and by the same preteen reasoning, the Rolling Stones are my favorite band. Starting at the age of 13, I was hooked.

I immersed myself in the Stones as only a nerd with excellent research skills can. I knew that (at the time) Keith played a 5-string tuned to an open chord. I knew that Charlie collects cars, but can’t actually drive. I knew about the 1967 bust at Redlands and the untimely death of Brian Jones.

Nowadays, I’m still a huge fan. Of their music. I’ll still go and listen to Stones albums with headphones on and pick apart the songs and figure out how they were recorded. But I don’t really follow the boys’ personal lives or look up how Charlie’s drums were mic’ed on a particular track. Still, like Simon LeBon, the Rolling Stones retain their title as my Favorite Band Ever.

So here are a few favorites from the official Best Band Ever as Determined by a 13 Year-Old Girl, chosen by the lady she grew into.


Photo by Steve Denenberg (Creative Commons license 2.0)


June 27, 2016: Monday Funday Dance Party!

Guaranteed to get you up and moving before the boss notices you’re late (Actually, it’s 11:00 AM my time right now, so I think that ship has sailed).

Chris Kenner wrote “I Like It Like That,” and while both versions are great, Kenner’s version charted higher on Billboard’s Hot 100 than the Dave Clark Five’s 1965 cover version did (#2 vs #7).

Now you go on and dance until you lose your shoes.




Image courtesy of the British Library.



I was looking at the Facepagething, and someone posted this:

Despite the fact that I owned Super Session for many years, I only listened to it once or twice, and didn’t remember “Season of the Witch.”

Donovan wrote and recorded the original.

Donovan fun fact: That’s Jimi Page (of the Firm and also Led Zeppelin) on lead guitar. He was a session musician back in the mid sixties.

A lot of other artists also covered “SOTW,” including Lou Rawls …

… and Joan Jett.

I think this is my favorite.

Part of the appeal of this song, of course, is that kind of cool witchy vibe. You feel a little bit sexy when this song is playing, and what audience doesn’t like that?

Plus, it’s super easy to play. Two chords for most of the song. But since there isn’t a whole lot going on instrumentally, there has to be something to be keep the audience engaged. You need a great storyteller, or a great vocal improviser on the mic. Trust me, the right vocalist makes all the difference in the world between an amazing shared musical journey and a dreary 5 minutes of flowery nonsense.


Image by Plaisanter; distributed under Creative Commons License 2.0.