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They may be out of date, but cassettes did contribute to a lot of happy hours of listening for me.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


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/


2/29/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

Once upon a time, there was a 21 and under club called “Phil’s Bongo Room.” It doesn’t matter where it was; it’s been gone for a long time anyway. It was lost to an unfortunate infestation of luxury condos.

Anyhoo, it was fun and they had live bands and a floor that lit up like the one in “Saturday Night Fever.” I went there one night with two girlfriends; we were all about 13 or 14. They had a cover band that played “Jungle Love.”

Of course it was nowhere near what Morris & Co could do, but the band played really well and were a lot of fun to dance to.

The next song that the cover band played was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps.” Also a lot of fun, but not necessarily how I would follow up Morris Day & the Time. How about a little Sheila E instead?


Photo Credit: “Dancing With the Storms” by JD Hancock, via Creative Commons


December 9, 2015

It’s been a super crazy couple of weeks. I just got a new job, which I adore, and have been transitioning from my old job, which I also adored. It’s a really happy time, but also a busy one.

So here’s a couple of tracks in honor of working folk.

“Working in a Coal Mine” was a hit for Lee Dorsey in 1966:

Until just now, when I looked up the song, I only really knew the Devo version. I’m surprised by how similar it is to the original.

Not that I’m complaining; they’re both great. And so is this:

Nobody sings like Roy Orbison. Nobody. Bruce Springsteen agrees with me, so it must be true.



November 4, 2015

The first concert I ever went to was the Alarm, at the Beacon Theater in New York. Three of us drove into the city in a tiny little convertible that may or may not have been made out of fiberglass.

I actually don’t remember anything about the show, except that I enjoyed it. Actually, my dominant memory of that evening is my two friends doing impersonations of DJ Scott Muni.

This was a time when U2 was The Big Deal, and any band that even kind of sounded like them had a good shot at having a hit. The Alarm were angry in a good way, and had awesome hair and cool fringe-y suede jackets, just like Bono.

And they were actually a good band. They played well, they had some good songs, and they had the right music at the right time.

My second concert was at the Pier, again in NYC. I was a lot more into the bands that played that night; it was the Cure, with 10,000 Maniacs opening.

That was a really fun night – I was with a bunch of friends, and we drove into the city in nice, safe sedans and station wagons.

Photo of the Alarm by Helge Øverås.

“Alarm kalvoya 01071984 10 500” by Helge Øverås – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons