Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Primitive Radio Gods “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand”

Sampling. Are you For It or Against It? This track from the 90s pretty much makes your case. For either side of the argument.

The biggest Argument against sampling is that it’s lazy. You’re not talented enough of an artist, to come up with your own memorable hook, so you are relying on the listeners’ memory and love of an old hook, to make an emotional attachment to your song.

To wit: Primitive Radio Gods’ follow-up single, released a few months after this one, was called . . . anyone? . . . anyone ? . . . I didn’t think so.

But on the For It side, you have to admit that this is a pretty cleverly deployed sample of B.B. King’s “How Blue Can You Get.” In the story of the song, having King’s actual voice fits in perfectly as another detail of the vignette. Paired with the specificity of the song title, and the mood of the tune, it makes perfect sense, and justifies its sampled existence.

So maybe it works. Are you For It or Against It?

Hear Primitive Radio Gods “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand”

See the videos for the Sampler (PRG) and the Sampled (BB), here

Catherine MacLellan “Set This Heart On Fire”

How does a new song get into rotation on mvyradio?

It’s a complicated answer, honestly. Even after nearly a decade at mvyradio, I don’t think I can put into one clear sentence, how to describe “Our Sound.”

The closest I’ve come, in is our Philosophy Statement. But that is probably a fraction of the story.

Here are some things I CAN tell you.

mvyradio has a few thousand old songs in regular rotation. Meaning, a particular song gets played at least once every 3 weeks, all year round. These songs go back as far as the early-to-mid-60s, all the way up to about 6 months ago.

Anything in the last 6 months that you hear regularly on mvyradio, we call a “Current Song.” We keep about 50 Current Songs in rotation at once. If you were to listen to the station for 24 hours, you’d probably hear all of them at least once, a few of them twice, and the really, really popular ones might get three plays in twenty-four hours.

Every week, we take a couple of those Current Songs out of regular rotation. Sometimes they come out because they just don’t seem to be catching on. Often, it’s just because the song has run its course. And if the song was really popular, it can go into the regular rotation of older songs that might get played every couple of days, or every couple weeks.

And every week, we add a couple of new songs. If you go to the playlist page, you’ll see what’s been newly added to the Current Songs, on the right side of that page.

Two or three songs per week. It’s not many, considering all the choices out there.

I’m the station’s Music Director, which means I’m the last word on what we add. I take lots of input and suggestions from listeners, the other DJs, friends, the press, Record Labels and Promotions people. As a rule, I try to listen to anything someone asks me to seriously consider.

On an average week, I listen to anywhere from 50 to 100 songs, on my iTunes. Of all these tunes, only a couple per week make the cut.

Sure, we could add more, but the more you add, the less each one plays. So we settled on “about 50” as our target, thinking it was a pretty decent sized list, but was small enough to make sure that if you liked a song, you’d get to hear it enough.

There’s no real science to picking these songs, just a lot of factors. Starting with, Do I think it’s a good song? I can’t rely on that exclusively---lots of people like things that I don’t---but it’s a start.

Other questions include, “Are listeners asking for it? Is it an artist we regularly support? Is it finding success at other radio station around the country? Is it getting critical raves? Are people buying the record? What do the other DJs think?” and so much more.

And the big question is,“How does it fit into mvyradio?”

I ask myself, “Would this song sound good right after a Bruce Springsteen or Counting Crows or 10,000 Maniacs song?”

And then, I think about the playlist as a whole. A good, balanced list of Current Songs should include some very familiar artists like Bob Dylan, U2 and Sheryl Crow. And some new, up-and-coming artists in the same vein, like Catherine MacLellan or The Swell Season. There should be a few alternative artists, like The Decemberists and Bell X1, some blues musicians, like Robert Cray or Shemekia Copeland, and a few Americana acts like Neko Case and Levon Helm. It’s always nice to have an R&B tune, like something from Raphael Saddiq, and a good instrumental band, like Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

And the last question I ask is, “Do I think this song is good song? Good enough to keep people tuned to mvyradio?”

If the answer is Yes, then I’ll add it.

Lots of questions, not always clear answers, I know.

And here’s where you come in. Listener input makes a big difference. So let me pull back the curtain a little more.

Every Day I Write The Blog is mostly about the looking at songs from the past, and writing about what they make me think of.

But on a regular basis, I’m going to post new songs and ask you what YOU think.

Sometimes these songs will be tracks that have recently become Current Songs. Once a song gets into rotation, Listener Requests often determine if the song gets played a little or a lot.

Other times, I’ll post songs that are being considered. I’ll share with you my thoughts on the tune, but I’d love to hear if a) you like the tune, and b) if you think the song really belongs on mvyradio (“Hey Ya” by Outkast is a great song, but not a great mvyradio song).

Thanks for your help!

Here’s your first assignment.

This week we officially added a new Catherine MacLellan song. We had a really great visit from the Nova Scotian this summer and her first song “Take A Break” had a nice run. What do you think about her follow up?

Hear Catherine MacLellan “Set This Heart On Fire”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Edie Brickell “Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"

Oh, it’s happened to you before. You hear a song. You know it. You can hum it. But you don’t know what it is.

One of the great joys of being a DJ, is being the search engine for listeners who are looking for “That Song!” Maybe I love it so much because it connects me to my heritage---my Grandfather was a Private Investigator, believe it or not.

People who call the station looking for “That Song” are often so apologetic. “Sorry to bother you . . .“ but I look forward to these calls. So if you are stuck on finding a tune, give me a call or shoot me an email.

I’ve got a bunch of questions for you, so, like searching for a missing person, the sooner you get to me, the more likely it is we’ll find “That Song.”

If you heard it on mvyradio, what time was it? Often, I can go back and simply look at a log of what has played. But the log is not comprehensive, so . . .

Can you give me any lyrics? The more words the better. I can often recognize it by ear, but I can do a word search to. Can’t remember a lyric?

Male or Female singer? Fast or slow? Folk or Blues or Reggae? The more details, the better.

I spent a couple of hours last week, helping a listener find a particular song. He wasn’t exactly sure what day he heard it, but he knew it had to have played between 10 and 2. He knew it was a female, with a depressed-sounding intonation. And he remembered the lyric “It’s Hard.”

At first I thought it might be Nanci Griffiths’ “It’s A Hard Life,” but I couldn’t find any evidence that it actually played during any of the times the listener had been tuned in.

So I landed upon Edie Brickell’s version of the Bob Dylan song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

This kind of thing happens with Dylan tunes quite a bit.

There are certainly folks who aren’t crazy about Dylan’s voice, and are likely to tune him out as soon as he comes on. And his catalogue is voluminous. So there are lots of Dylan tunes that maybe you’ve heard once or twice or three times, so they are just familiar enough that when Edie Brickell or Susan Tedeschi or Cassandra Wilson or Jeff Tweedy covers it, you can hum along, but your not sure how you even know the tune.

I’m not sure I got this one right, but it was my best guess. So check out this one, from the “Born On The 4th Of July” movie soundtrack, and see if it sounds familiar.

Hear Edie Brickell “Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"

See Dylan sing it, if you don't mind the voice, here

Friday, September 25, 2009

U2 “Beautiful Day”

I’ve been writing about seeing U2 live all week, so let me end the week of entries on a down note, and tell you about the guy who ruined the U2 show.

Oh, I bet you’ve seen this guy before. He’s the reason I rarely go to Stadium shows. Too many meatheads.

A backwards ball-cap wearing, text-message typing showboat.

He was in the seat right in front of us, hanging out with his buddies. He was a mega-U2 fan, and he wanted to be sure everyone in our area knew it.

He sang every word to every song. Loudly. I mean, U2 brings a pretty good sound system with them, but I could hear this jackass as clear as day.

When Bono was talking (and there was nothing for the Dude to sing), he held up his phone and text-messaged people.

He danced to every upbeat song. Which is great. I think you should dance at shows. But you shouldn’t dance if a) you keep crashing in to the stranger standing next to you, and b) if your only dance move is the Axl-Rose-serpentine move. Over and over again.

Will it surprise you to hear that he was sucking down beer after beer? So we at least got a respite from the snake dance and the singing, every third song, as he awkwardly disrupted everyone in his row to get a beer.

But it’s better! After finishing the beer, he’s put dip in his lip. So he’s singing at the top of his lungs, with big black ooze running over his lips. And he was kind enough to turn away from the band, every time he needed to spit in his plastic cup. Thank God Bono didn’t have to see that! Unfortunately, we did.

My wife and I were taking bets as to when the guy was going to puke.

But I really wanted to puke myself, when the band started to play “Beautiful Day.”

Instead of singing, he turned to face us, his eyes scanning the crowd behind us (to see how many people were watching him). He then raised his arms above his head, like a preacher praising God, closed his eyes, and just nodded his head for the rest of the song.

And now this is was I have to see in my mind, when I hear “Beautiful Day.” Thanks, Jerk.

Hear U2 “Beautiful Day”

See a U2 live performance, sans obstructive-Losers, here

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

U2 “Breathe” & David Bowie “Space Oddity”

Travis came out to the theme from Rocky. The Reverend Horton Heat arrived to the strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from the movie “2001.” The Blues Brothers famously used an Otis Redding track.

What song a band uses, for their arrival on stage should say a lot about the band, and about the show they’re about to put on.

It has to be something that sets the mood. It probably shouldn’t be something by the band itself. Something familiar is nice, but you don’t want it to be a song that would suggest that you are on par with someone else’s level of fame or talent (i.e. Don’t come out to a Beatles song).

On the fan side, you are sitting there with great anticipation of seeing your favorite band. You’re waiting for the venue lights to go down, and the show to start. You know all your questions will be answered shortly (“Will they play my favorite song? What will they start with? What will they cover?”) And those questions begin to be answered with that introductory track.

Last Sunday at Gillette Stadium, we waited for, what seemed like forever. There must’ve been an hour between the supporting act’s set, and the beginning of U2’s set.

The enormous Space Station-looking set loomed large in the full stadium light, as the wife and I ate our popcorn dinner, asking those above questions.

U2 answered with David Bowie---an apt, but not immediately obvious influence.

Because yes, like Bowie, U2 have pulled of the successful trick of several re-inventions. They’ve achieved Stadium-level fame, iconic status. And they have both used their music to approach their fascination with space, the earth, and viewing humanity from within and without.

We captured this moment I’m talking about on video, here, where you can see the minutes before the show starts, the Bowie intro, a Larry Mullen drum solo, and the beginning of the opening U2 song, Breathe.

Hear the original Bowie song here

Hear the original U2 song here

And see the video we show at my sister-site blog, Every Day I Video The Blog

Monday, September 21, 2009

U2 “City Of Blinding Light”

I saw U2 for the first time, this past Sunday night, at Gillette Stadium. I can hardly believe it has taken me this long to see one of my long-time favorite bands, live.

I started listening to U2, as many folks my age did, when “Gloria” became a regular part of the rotation on the early days of MTV. I’ve followed them through the peaks and valleys of their career, listened to all the records, watched the music videos, and have seen them “In Concert” on VHS and DVD many times over.

So I wasn’t surprised to see Bono pull someone out of the crowd and onto the stage on Sunday night.

I can remember seeing them on TV at Live Aid back in 1985. I knew they had only a 20 minute set, and I couldn’t believe they were stretching out the song “Bad,” to epic proportions. But Bono had ventured into the crowd, and pulled out a young woman, with whom he slow danced.

The first time I watched it, I was bummed because they only were able to do 2 songs for their set. But I remember being struck by the image of him quietly slow dancing with this stranger, surrounded by a packed, screaming, Wembley Stadium crowd.

And on repeated viewings, I was moved by it. And I know it was a regular part of the U2 experience.

So when Bono pulled out the familiar trope on Sunday night, I felt like I had seen it. But then I saw the spin.

Up on the outer-rim catwalk of the stage, Bono was running with, and singing to, a young girl. I’m going to guess she was about 12 years old.

He was singing “City Of Blinding Light” to her. I’d heard that this was a love letter to New York City, written shortly after September 11th, 2001.

But as he was singing it, my wife turned to me and said “He’s giving her advice . . .”

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then than I do now

Bono had gone parental. He had been a peer, dancing with all of us. But now he’s a Dad, and his message can be recalibrated for a new generation.

Hear U2 “City Of Blinding Light”

See some pictures, take by the lovely Mrs. Finn, here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harry Nilsson, Sun Ra & His Arkestra, Medley 5 : "Pink Elephants On Parade" & "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"

Well this was a surprise to have pop up on the old player. And it brought an instant creepy feeling to my bones.

This is from a fairly bizarre project (bizarre for a major label, Disney-related release anyway) called “Stay Awake.” Modern interpretations of Disney classics.

I bought it solely for the Replacements cover of “Cruella De Ville,” but it’s full of small delights, and head-scratching curiousities. Bonnie Raitt doing “Baby Mine”? Absolutely. Tom Waits doing “Heigh Ho”? That’ll give the kids nightmares.

And that’s what immediately swept over me as “Pink Elephants On Parade” came up.

“Dumbo” was the first movie I ever saw. My Mom brought me to a theatre in my hometown, the kind of old palace that is now a furniture store. And I loved it, but the whole “Pink Elephants” drunken dream weirded me out. If I’d seen it as an adult, it would probably seem tame, but it was so unsettling as a kid, I’ve never rewatched it.

And Sun Ra’s take does nothing to make you feel the whimsical delight of Disney’s story of a flying elephant.

Hear Harry Nilsson, Sun Ra & His Arkestra, Medley 5 : "Pink Elephants On Parade" & "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"

If you're not too terrified, you can see the video, here

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Star "In The Streets"

Is this the "worst song ever"?!

When I pick up the request line at mvyradio, it's often a person with an opinion on the other end of the line. They want to let us know that they like, or they don't like something or other. But generally, the conversations are brief and to the point, especially if the caller has some negative feedback.

Last week, I was doing a Live Acoustic And Cover Tunes set of songs by the influential, but relatively obscure band Big Star. Their records were commercial failures in the early seventies, but they found a following among artists growing up in the eighties, who embraced power pop. R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, The Gin Blossoms and The Lemonheads have all sited Big Star as an important influence.

Most people aren't familiar with the band, but may know this song, because it was re-recorded by Cheap Trick, for the theme song to "That 70s Show," (albeit with drug reference removed).

So I played this track, a live version recorded at a radio station appearance, and I got a call.

Not only did the caller say that he didn't like the song, he told me it was the most horrible thing he'd ever heard. He hated the singer. He hated the guitar part. He hated the drumming. He hated the lyrics. He hated the quality of the recording.

In short, his sensibilities were completely offended.

He ended his call, back on Earth, saying, "I love mvy. I love what you do. But I hated that."

Certainly, this is not the best song, or the best recording ever. But is it that horrible?

Hear Big Star "In The Streets"

See a reunited Big Star on Jay Leno, here

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Section Quartet “Paranoid Android”

In an earlier post, I was talking about how I kept a Kevin Bacon song on my hard drive, not because I listened to it or even liked it, but more for the show and tell factor.

So if someone says in conversation, “What would some great modern rock songs sound like if they were rendered by a classical outfit?” I can point them to the Section Quartet.

Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” was perhaps the most unlikely radio/MTV success of the last 20 years. No chorus, no hook, indecipherable lyrics. It just wasn’t made for Pop consumption. But in spite of/because of its breathtaking, adventurous musicianship, it did achieve a level of mass popularity. And more so, it’s become a musician’s musician song.

One of the great, unposted outtakes from the mvyradio Archives is the band Moe taking on this song, acoustically. They did a tremendous job, and I sat slack-jawed in a crowded Louisville On-The-Road hotel room, as I watched them work through the twists and turns of the piece. And when it was over, one of the guys in the band said, “Well that sucked.” So we never got to use it.

On the album “Fuzzbox” The Section Quarter covers Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, and even The Postal Service. But this Radiohead track is the one that really lends itself to the violin-viola-cello instrumentation and the classical precision necessary to pull it off.

Hear The Section Quartet “Paranoid Android”

See the band, in the studio, creating the song, here

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Duhks "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding"

Everyday, the main page of mvyradio.com has The Lyric Of The Day. It's something we've been doing for years on our site. Just giving you a little thought, as you load up our page, explore the archives, see what's new.

I'm usually the one who posts the lyric, and, like so many things in life, doing the first several was really easy. We all have our favorites. But putting up a thoughtful, insightful and/or relevant lyric, every day, can be a challenge. You always keep your ears open for a great line. Especially if it's something that makes you hear the song differently, or that is hard to hear in the context of the song, but is potent on the page.

Today's lyric was written by Bob Dylan. Bless those Dylanophiles---his website contains every lyric he has ever published, and you can search by key word. So you can now answer the burning question, "How many songs by Bob Dylan, use the word chicken?" Three!

I was thinking of this song a couple of weeks back, when President Obama was visiting Martha's Vineyard. I always try to pick a lyric that relates to something that's happening in our world. A lyric from The Album Of The Week. A lyric relating to the weather or the holiday.

There's a great line in "It's Alright, Ma" that goes "But even The President Of The United States must sometimes have to stand naked." It's a pithy lyric about how, at the end of the day, we're all just fallible humans.

I thought about putting that line up, during the Obama visit, but I worried that, out of context, it sounds a little weird. Creepy even. Asking you to picture something you maybe weren't planning on picturing during your visit to mvyradio.com. So I skipped it.

But this past weekend at the Rhythm & Roots Festival, The Duhks did a fantastic version of it, so I had to go back to the original lyrics, and post a line from this tremendous song, for Wednesday's lyric of the day.

Was I too prudish, to hold back on the nude President line?

Hear The Duhks version "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding," recorded at Rhythm & Roots 2009.

Hear the whole set from The Duhks, plus other sets from Rhythm & Roots 2009, in mvyradio's Archives

See young Dylan perform the song, here