Monthly Archives: August 2011

Album Obsessions: The Alarm Clocks – Yeah!

alarm clocks

I was in a taxi a few years ago, and my cabbie was the coolest-looking-ever Jamaican dude. I was chatting with him whilst surreptitiously staring enviously at his outfit when the music he was playing filtered into my consciousness. “Dude, this is awesome, who is this?” I asked. He paused for a moment and looked at me in the mirror, sizing me up. “It’s the Alarm Clocks,” he said slowly. “You’ve probably never heard of them. They are…from a long time ago. 1960s”.

Although I am hardly a stranger to music recorded in the ‘60s, he was indeed correct. I had never heard of the Alarm Clocks, but as soon as I got home I went to the internets to find out more about them and download their music. If you’re already familiar with this band then you don’t need me to tell you that they were literally the textbook definition of garage rock, three high school students from Ohio who got together in 1966 and played in school gymnasiums and at local events. Eventually they decided to make a record, despite the fact that they only had one original song, ‘No Reason to Complain’ (the rest of their repertoire being covers of songs by bands such as the Rolling Stones, Kinks, and Beatles). As legend has it, on the day they went into the studio they realized that they needed a b-side for their single and so they wrote ‘Yeah!’ on the spot and recorded it live, in one take. They had only 300 copies pressed of their self-released 45, and then disbanded in 1967.

alarm clocks

It wasn’t until the late ‘70s that a couple of local musicians who collected old garage band records stumbled upon their 1966 recording and brought it to the attention of the owner of Crypt records, who liked the single so much that he included it on a compilation called Back from the Grave that was released in 1983. This brought the Alarm Clocks to the masses (or, at least, to a critical few) and ‘No Reason to Complain’ appeared on Mojo’s 1986 “Top 20 garage rock songs of all time” list.

The 45 was reissued in the ‘90s by New York’s Norton Records, and in 2000 they collected together and additional 10 songs recorded by the band in 1966 (all covers, including the requisite ‘Louie Louie’) to release a full-length LP titled ‘Yeah!’ If you haven’t heard this record, please go out and listen to it now. I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll love it. It’s hard not to be enchanted by the Alarm Clocks’ boisterously loose energy, and lead singer/bassist Mike Pierce has a truly awesome scream that, to me at least, sums up the joyful freedom and unfettered spontaneity that epitomizes this genre of music.

You can listen to ‘Yeah!’ and ‘No Reason to Complain’ here: (but their covers are pretty rad too so check ’em all out!)

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‘Hero’ FTW!

hero

After posting my Song of the Day on Friday, I was accused of having bad taste, a claim that is impossible to refute since I genuinely like the song and have indeed now outed myself as an Enrique Iglesias fan in general (which surely must be the epitome of questionable judgment).

However! I would like to share with you two examples of my Song of the Day, ‘Hero’ being employed satirically with highly amusing results. The people behind both ‘Scrubs’ (one of my favorite TV shows) and ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ (a great movie, with John Cusack in top Cusackian form**) clearly appreciate the over-the-top amazingness of this song, and I think you will be entertained by these topical clips. Enjoy!

**Please note that I am referring in this case to ‘Better Off Dead’-style Cusackian brilliance rather than ‘Say Anything’-style Cusackian charm.




Song of the Day: ‘Hero’ by Enrique Iglesias

enrique iglesias

Okay. I am about to tell you something that I’ve never told anyone except the Finn. It is kind of embarrassing. Here it is: I love Enrique Iglesias’ music. Like, I totally do. It’s poppy and it’s cheesy and it’s euro and it makes me happy. My song of the day for today was a toss-up between my two Enrique favourites. Option #1 was ‘Escape’ which yes, has lyrics that are slightly stalker-esque, but OMG ENRIQUE AND ANNA KOURNIKOVA MAKING OUT THE BATHROOM THAT IS HOT. I’m sorry, but I would totally watch the two of them having sex. Is that super pervy? I don’t care. I would. Don’t lie, you would too.

However, I ended up going with ‘Hero’ because this song is just amazing on so many levels. And by amazing I mean ridiculous. And by ridiculous I mean fantastic. First of all, I am kind of fascinated by the whole phenomenon of these over-the-top love ballads. There is no irony here. Enrique truly believes that love will conquer all, and when he sings “I can be your hero baby / I can kiss away the pain / I will stand by you forever / You can take my breath away” you know that this is meant as a grand romantic pledge. But what does any of it mean, actually? I had this conversation with some friends a while ago. I was telling them about an ex of mine who once professed to me that I was his “sun, moon and stars”. I was like “well that’s all very nice and good my friend, but WHAT DOES IT MEAN?” Nothing. They’re just empty words. You can say all the pretty things you want, but if there’s nothing backing them up then they are as flimsy as the proverbial house of cards. Anyway, these types of lyrics are used all the time in pop songs, and I know that love is a difficult thing to write about without sounding like an idiot, but surely we can do better than this? And yet…and yet…sometimes there is nothing better in the world than singing along to a ridiculous ballad with hideously cheesy lyrics (see also: Extreme’s ‘More than Words’). Because really, in the end, love IS cheesy. It makes you do stupid things and feel heightened emotions and take foolish leaps of faith. But we all need a little of that in our lives, don’t we? I mean, just to keep things fun? And if unabashedly maudlin love songs help us to connect with that part of ourselves, are they not helping to make the world a better place? Yes they are.

The other thing I love about this song is that the video for it is literally AMAZE x 1,000,000 for so many reasons, including:

  • – Mickey Rourke as the villain
  • – Jennifer Love Hewitt in the only role I’ve ever seen her in that didn’t make me want to punch her in the face
  • – The scenes of them driving with the money flying out of the car. This makes me crazy. Yeah yeah I know, the (not at all subtle) point is that money means nothing compared to their undying love. But every time I see it I want to leap into the screen and run after the money because IT IS A LOT OF MONEY!!!! I need some. Send it over here Enrique!
  • – How everyone in this video is so well lit. J.Lo.Hew looks like a million bucks.
  • – The storyline that has absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics of the song. I mean, how exactly is Enrique being a “hero” in this scenario? I guess if being heroic means stealing money from a shady drug lord (?) and putting the lives of yourself and the woman you love in danger, then yeah…a hero you are, sir. ???? None of it makes any sense.
  • – The best, best, BEST ever dying scene at the end of the video. When I die I hope it is lying on a street in the rain with the Finn clutching at his chest and sobbing like J.Lo.Hew. Probably the most overwrought piece of acting I’ve ever seen. In fact, everything about this video is completely overwrought, which is what makes it SO GOOD.

So that’s my Song of the Day. Happy Friday to you all! Now enjoy one of the best videos of all time:


Song of the Day: ‘Express Yourself’ by N.W.A.

nwa

So, I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly aggressive person. But lately I’ve realized that there are actually a lot of things that I rant about, and my rants seem to be increasing in their rate of occurence. I hung out with Donkeysuit last night and he agreed that I seem more fired up than usual. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I think it might have something to do with the fact that I’m writing more which in turn is making me think more, about everything (not just music). It’s not entirely unpleasant, to be honest with you. I’m enjoying having an outlet for my thoughts, and if it’s spilling over into my daily life (i.e. when I’m talking to actual humans rather than banging away on a computer keyboard) then that’s cool too.

Anyway, here are a few of my current rants:

  • Phil Spector
    Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t know why anyone out there is remotely surprised that it came to this. Phil Spector had been pulling guns on people for years, people. YEARS. And then he finally went and murdered someone. Yeah, law enforcement officials, couldn’t have seen that one coming. Why didn’t someone lock this man up before he started offing people? The signs were all there. A LIFE COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED.
  • The TTC (Toronto Transit Commision)
    I don’t care that it costs more to take the subway in Toronto than in New York freaking City. I don’t even care that sometimes I’ll be waiting for a streetcar in the freezing cold depths of winter for over half an hour, and then 10 will show up in a row. Those things annoy me, sure, but not as much as the complete lack of customer service exhibited by some of the TTC’s operators, some of whom are honestly so unpleasant that I don’t even know what to say about it. Look, I get it, TTC drivers — you’re exposed to the drooling, unwashed masses all day. I don’t doubt that can be extremely annoying. But it is, in the end, part of the job.
  • People Who Wear Sweat Pants
    Here’s the deal: when you see someone wearing sweat pants, it is a sure sign that they have pretty much given up on life. I’m not talking about the cute Lululemon exercise pants or those flashy Adidas track pants & whatnot. I’m talking about the grey sweatpants, the ones with elastic around the ankles. These are only acceptable on little kids and very old people (on whom they look awesome). When it comes to everyone else…c’mon, just pull your lives together, people. Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad. Tell your friend Spencer about it, maybe I can help. Just stay away from the sweat pants.
  • The Toronto Waterfront
    In the past few years I’ve been to Chicago and Boston. You know what those two cities have in common? Amazing waterfronts. I would like to know who the jackass was that totally screwed up the planning of the Toronto waterfront. It doesn’t even feel like we live in a city on a lake. Seriously. There is so much wasted potential here it makes me want to cry.
  • Sidenote: I know it seems like I’m complaining a lot about my city. I don’t hate it here, in fact I love it, which is why it frustrates me to see a few major areas of city life that are sorely in need of improvement.

Anyway! All of these thoughts rattling around in the old brain have gotten me thinking about the importance of being able to say what’s on our minds, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, especially when it’s critical or controversial. I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like in some ways there’s been a subtle constriction on freedom of speech in the last couple of years. Is it just me? I mean, why doesn’t facebook have a “dislike” button? Maybe sometimes I don’t like what you’re saying. I should have the right to tell you that, shouldn’t I? It’s not like I’m going to be a total jerk and argue with you about everything. We can handle it if we don’t agree, right? Can we? Maybe we can’t. Maybe that’s what all of this is leading to — people who get totally bent out of shape when they’re told “no” instead of “yes”. But if all we’re doing is going around patting each other on the back then we are not challenging one other and fostering critical thought.

Freedom of speech is important for our society. As Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.*

*Actually, this quote is often mistakenly attributed to Voltaire. It was, in fact, his biographer who said it about him, as an example of the beliefs that he espoused.

This is why I’ve chosen N.W.A.’s ‘Express Yourself’ as my Song of the Day. These guys obviously had no compunction about speaking their minds. Somewhat ironically, this is pretty much one of the only N.W.A. songs that doesn’t contain lyrics that are violent, mysogynistic or profane in nature, and thus wouldn’t have been censored for radio play. If I really wanted to drive home my point about freedom of speech then I guess I could have chosen ‘F*ck tha Police’ or something of that ilk, but y’know what, this is a great song and it speaks to the topic at hand.

*There’s no video for this one, obvs. But please enjoy this photo of N.W.A. posing with firearms.

And now, it’s your turn. What’s got you ranting these days? Tell us all about it.


Song of the Day: ‘Changes’ by Stars

stars

Have you ever felt so tired that you just want to lie your head down on your desk, feel the comforting coolness of the hard surface against your face, and close your eyes? Or maybe crawl into bed and lie in someone’s arms, so silent, so still and peaceful, all the noise and the static from the world and life and job gone, that blissfully comforting exhaustion you feel when your bodies fit perfectly together and everything just…stops. The knowledge that it’s only a short moment in time, and nothing lasts, ceases to really matter. All conscious thought derailed. Sometimes lying in someone’s arms really does feel, well, perfect…and yes I am fully aware of how supergross and cheesy that sounds. But it’s true.

Anyway, this song makes me think about all of that. So it’s my song of the day. Enjoy!

*Note: there is an official video for this song, which can be viewed here (NSFW), but I dunno, sometimes I just prefer fewer visuals.


Song of the Day: ‘Open Season’ by High Highs

high highs

I recently spent a weekend in Boston at a high school mini-reunion of sorts. It wasn’t an official school reunion — just a gathering of a group of friends. I attended two different high schools, both in Singapore (the tiny little island republic off the tip of Malaysia that is probably most famous for caning an American citizen, who was also a friend of mine). The first school I attended, United World College, was an international school. The second, Singapore American School, was also international but with a high concentration of Americans, as is probably no surprise given its name. Anyway! This was a UWC reunion, and my lovely friend Eija was kind enough to let us crash at her place all weekend, plying us with booze and BBQ and Moomins (she’s a Finn too. They’re all a bit demented. Although, to be fair, when I was little my mom used to tell us stories about a peanut named Penelope who wore an orange wig and a bikini and lived in the White House with Jimmy Carter and his family).

“Why I am supposed to care about any of this, Spencer?” you are asking yourself. Well, you’re not, really, except for this part: one of my friends who was at the reunion now lives in Brooklyn and is in a band, and it turns out they are insanely awesome. You guys, seriously. They’re called High Highs and they have four tracks available right now, either through iTunes or their website. They also have an album coming out in the fall.

So here’s my Song of the Day, ‘Open Season’ by High Highs. Enjoy!


Love Is a Battlefield, Part 2

broken heart

Well, well, well. Here we are in mid-August already. How did that happen? The Finn and I spent a blissful two weeks on vacation, but have sadly now returned to the daily grind. Y’know, I always laugh when I hear people say that they would keep working if they won the lottery because they like to keep busy, need to feel productive, blah blah blah. Like, are you for real? There are about a MILLION things I can think of that I would do if I hit the jackpot. Actually, my current life dream is to be able to sit around all day watching & blogging about ‘80s teen movies. There are SO MANY good ones!! Teen Wolf, for one (which I seem to be obsessed with lately). The Lost Boys, License to Drive, and Dream a Little Dream (all starring the two Coreys). Better off Dead (John Cusack) and Real Genius (Val Kilmer), only two of the best movies of all time. A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (River! *sob*) And I haven’t even gotten to any of the John Hughes (“a genius of our time”) classics.

Sigh. If there’s anyone out there reading this who wants to pay me to write about masterpieces of ‘80s cinema* such as these, please do let me know. I LOVE THE ‘80s SO MUCH.

*Yes, I do realize that some of these are regarded as fairly terrible movies, but that is only because the general public obviously has no taste.

Anyway, what better way to celebrate the return to reality with a dose of morose songs celebrating the death of love? Yes, that’s right —  I am finishing off my list of favourite breakup songs. Here are the next five:

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