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They may be out of date, but cassettes did contribute to a lot of happy hours of listening for me.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

6/14/17: Walking the Blues

At the age of 15, I was listening to Culture Club and ABC and Prince and Heaven 17 and Sheila E. Everything was shiny and clean and super-produced.

But I also listened to the Rolling Stones, and that led me down a really interesting musical path.

My nature, when I run into a new band or style of music, is to learn everything I can about it. So when I got into the Stones at the age of 13, I got every book and magazine article I could find. I knew how Keith strung his guitar, I knew about the sleazy apartment he and Brian and Mick lived in, I knew Mick went to the London School of Economics, I knew Charlie Watts didn’t drive and collected Civil War memorabilia.

I also read about what kind of music they had been into. That’s where I first heard the names Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson and Willie Dixon.

We had cassette tapes back then, and cassette Walkmen, and I took my cassette Walkman on very long walks listening to the blues or maybe some Culture Club or Fun Boy Three. I think comparing the two kinds of music really got me interested in the blues; I’d rather hear the comparatively simple production value of a Muddy Water or Sonny Boy Williamson album than the shiny, shiny highly produced sound of Eighties Pop.

I’m not talking abut that hissy sound you get from all old recordings. I’m talking about remarkable songs, beautifully performed, and recorded simply. That’s what got me.

Ebeth fun fact: My uncle, Pete Welding, had a blues-based record label called Testament Records. That’s not why I got into the blues, but it was always cool to look on the back of an album and see liner notes written by Uncle Pete.

“Blind” Connie Williams: “Trouble in Mind”:


This is from Uncle Pete’s label. Williams, an extraordinarily talented guitarist and accordion player, attended the same school for the blind as Ray Charles (that’s according to Uncle Pete’s liner notes). The song itself has been recorded by a lot of folks; I know Nina Simone does a great version.

To many people, “Rollin’ Stone” is is the “Stairway to Heaven” of blues music, but I love it. I can remember walking around the suburbs of northern New Jersey with this on my headphones.


There’s a whole Rolling Stones subtext to this post (as with my life), and if you ever wondered where the album title “Get Yer Yas Yas Out,” ask Blind Boy Fuller. Holy cow, listen to that playing.


If you let it, music will take you on some amazing journeys – this is where being a Stones fan has brought me. And there’s so much more to know! I’ll never know everything about music, and that what makes it so magical. Every day, it’s something new.



Image provided by Kevin Dooley, CC License 2.0.

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.

1/16/17: Monday Funday Dance Party

Way back in 2005, a man named Dr. Cliff Arnall looked at things like weather, debts following the holidays, and all those New Years resolutions we haven’t been following, and came up with a date for the most Depressing Day of the Year. It’s the third Monday in January, if you want to mark your calendar.

You can find out more in The Telegraph:

Blue Monday 2017 could be bluest ever, says expert behind equation

This year is slated to be extra depressing, what with Trump and Brexit, and all those celebrities who died in the past year.

Anyway, in my mind, that’s all hooey. I am a lady with depression, and although the illness and the mood are different things, I know a thing or two about both of them. Let’s all decide to make today the most awesome Monday of 2017 – until next Monday, of course.

Also marking the third Monday in January in the U.S. is a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He died before I was born, and oh God, I wish he was still here with us today.


Photo: The Seattle Times

9/26/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

It’s one of those rough allergy mornings, the kind where you feel like all the sinus cavities in your head have been filled with cement.

In times like these, all I can say is: thank goodness for Gloria Estefan.

The video’s fun, too. Yes, ladies really had hair like that back in the 80’s. And grumpy foreign ambassadors could always be relied on to fall prey to the seductive rhythms of a Miami evening.

Image: Royalty-free, courtesy of British Museum

09/06/16: Personal motivation and audio cleanliness

Way back in 2011-12, I was unemployed, and it was really rough out there in the job market. Nobody was hiring. For anything.

It was easy to get discouraged, after sending out resume after resume after resume. And yes, cheesy as it sounds, there were songs I would listen to during that time specifically to encourage myself to keep going. This is one of them:

Featuring the late great Bernie Worrell. And note that David Byrne has solved the problem of what a lead singer can do during instrumental parts – just take a couple laps around the stage.

This is from the live movie “Stop Making Sense,” one of the great moments in rock cinema. Why? It’s just a bunch of really good musicians doing a live show and it’s one of those great nights where everything works out perfectly and it’s just magical.

As a rule, I’m not a big fan of live albums. I love when things are beautifully recorded in the studio and you can hear what’s going on. Like you hear on any Talking Heads studio album:

And the studio version of “Life During Wartime” is a great track:

But for me, the energy of the live version, along with the additional musicians, just takes the song to a whole new level. And that energy makes the lyrics have that much more impact – it goes from kind of ironically detached in the studio version to serving up the emotional equivalent of a punch to the stomach in the live one. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s recorded really well.

Of course, I can’t get too precious about pristine studio recordings. First of all, it’s so easy to go too far with that, in which case you wind up with a sound that’s overly sterile (see: The Eighties). Secondly, I’m a big jazz fan, and the stuff I listen to is generally either a live concert, or an album that was entirely recorded in one day.

Here’s “Samba Triste” from Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd’s “Jazz Samba,” an album that was recorded in its entirety in just one day. It went on to hit #1 on the Billboard Album charts, and won Getz a Grammy. It also reminds me of autumn, which is coming up way too soon:


Image by Jean-Luc Ourlin, CC License 2.0

May 10, 2016

There used to be a record store on St. Mark’s place called Sounds. I went there pretty regularly for at least a decade. When I was first allowed to go to “the city” as a teenager, this was one of the spots my girlfriends and I would hit, along with Flip and Unique Boutique and a few other places.

My old method of choosing records was pretty good. I didn’t know anything about music, outside of classical and classic rock and other classic things. And most of the records were a dollar or two. So I’d buy albums based on their cover art.

This worked pretty well, based on the concept that the cover art of the album should reflect the music within. I definitely got some clunkers, but I also wound up with an EP by the Legendary Golden Vampires, a great promo disc for Robert Fripp’s first solo album, and an album by the band Matthew Sweet was in before he went solo.

And I found this one. I knew who Brian Eno was, but not Cluster.

One confession – I didn’t actually know the title of the album when I sat down to write this. I don’t have access to most of my albums right now, and none of them are in my home. (Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, we moved to a wonderful but much smaller place, and many things have had to stay in storage.)

But I managed to track it down, thanks to Marty McSorley on WFMU. It’s called “Old Land,” and it’s on Relativity records.

Listening to it for the first time, it was one of those records that’s like someone opened a door for you and said “Look! There’s all this awesome music through here that you’ve never experienced!” I love it when that happens.

There’s a track on the record, “Tzima N’Arki,” where the vocals are in reverse. I remember running the vinyl backwards manually to hear what they were; it’s actually part of the chorus for Eno’s song “King’s Lead Hat.”

These days it would be nothing to hear the vocals; just throw it into Audacity. But I don’t want to. It’s just not the same.


Photo by Steven Pisano: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenpisano/
Creative Commons License 2.0: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

4/1/2016: No April Fool’s joke, just a regular old article about music.

I love listening to different versions of the same song, especially when both are terrific.

A couple of my favorites are “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which was recorded by both Gladys Night & the Pips and Marvin Gaye (of course, a lot of other bands have covered it, too). Interesting that both artists were on Motown, and both released the song as a single.

Gladys released it first in 1967, and it went to #2 on the charts.

And Marvin released his version a year later; it went to #1.

Marvin Gaye’s version of “Grapevine” is more famous, but I love both of them. I don’t think I could pick out a favorite. He takes the sexy route on his version, and Gladys rocks out more on hers.

And then there’s “Viva Las Vegas.” I got to know the Dead Kennedys’ version first:

But then there’s Elvis. I love Elvis Presley, in a totally non-ironic way.

How can you possibly pick a favorite?

Listening to both versions back-to-back, I was struck by how similar they are. The tempos are almost the same, the arrangements aren’t all that different, and both Elvis and Jello Biafra really sell the vocals.

And speaking of Las Vegas …