We Interview Author Joe Bonomo!

Writer of great books about The Fleshtones, AC/DC's "Highway To Hell", and Jerry Lee Lewis talks to Heartbreak Beat!

Top 10 BEST and WORST Bass Players in Rock!

Paul McCartney nabs the top spot but what surprises are there to be found on our list?

Top 10 BEST and WORST Drummers in Rock!

While it's no surprise that Keith Moon is #1, there are wildcards aplenty to be found on our list!

The Year In Rock: 1985

Hop in the DeLorean and take a wild ride with us through this magical year in music!

The Return of Platinum Blonde!

Canadian rockers return with great new CD "Now and Never"!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Song Of The Day: "Don't Let Me Fall Behind" by Jukebox The Ghost

By Darren

If, like me, you can always find time to dig some new music when it comes from the same "school of rock", if you will, as Nada Surf, Death Cab, Slow Runner, and Guster, then you will want to check out the new single, "Don't Let Me Fall Behind" from NYC trio Jukebox The Ghost {website}.

The tune is from their new album, Safe Travels, which comes to us from the fine folks at Yep Roc Records. It's the kind of song that can help you forget about the days and weeks of crap music you've had to endure blaring out of neighboring cubicles.  You try not to judge, but, seriously, who fucking listens to Kid Rock by choice?  Sigh.

We hope this song cleanses your palette and brings your smile back like it did ours. :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Interview With Author Joe Bonomo, Writer of "Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones"!

As a kid growing up in the '80s, the Fleshtones were one of many great bands whose energy and verve caught our attention.  They, like I.R.S. label-mates R.E.M. and Wall of Voodoo, seemed to have arrived on the music scene fully-formed, with a confidence and aura that belied their newcomer status.  While those bands both went on to varying degrees of mainstream commercial success, the Fleshtones' tenure at I.R.S. (for which they are most remembered) comprises but a fraction of a career that spans five decades.  Imagine our joyous surprise when we stumbled upon Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band in a local bookstore and not only fell in love with the band all over again, but also with the writing of author Joe Bonomo, who was gracious enough to say yes to our interview request. 

Q: Since first discovering Sweat, we've have been voraciously consuming as much of your previous work as possible. How did you come to write a book about the Fleshtones?

Thanks, I’m grateful. I’d been seeing Fleshtones shows since 1983, and sometime in the late 1990s it dawned on me what a great rock and roll story they are. They’re the only band that debuted at CBGB's in the mid-1970s without a single inactive year, and they’ve maintained incredible live shows and have released albums for decades without burning out.  I thought that it was such a cool, and unique, story about perseverance against enormous odds, about living as an invisible cult band for decades, and about having to redefine what “success” means.  In 1998 or ’99, I caught the band in Athens, Ohio and pitched the book idea to them. They said, “Sure, yeah, great, good luck, you’ll need it!”— or words to that effect.  I just hit the ground running, not really knowing what I was doing.

Q: How long did it take to write the book, including the interviews?

I started writing in 2000, the year that I took the first of four trips to New York City to live for month-long stretches.  I hung out with the guys, all of whom were living in Brooklyn at the time, did lots of interviews with them and with ex-members, associates, and industry folk, researched and soaked up Lower East Side rock and roll history, and climbed in a van for a five-city tour with the band in 2001.  I finished the book in 2006.  I worked mostly in the summers, being an academic, but nibbled at it all year, every year, really.  If I had known how big and sprawling the book was going to get — and how many dozens of rejections I was going to have to stomach from editors and agents — I might have had major reservations when I started.  Luckily I didn’t, and just dug in, though it was lonely and tough and expensive at times.  I should have known that writing a book about a cult rock and roll band that’s been around since the Carter administration was gonna be a long haul.

Q: Did your opinion of the band and/or their music change at all over the course of researching and writing the book?

When you hang out with anyone over a long period of time he’ll reveal himself as a round character — to borrow from novelist E.M. Forster — that is, as a complex individual with plenty of contradictions, some unpleasant.  A lot of what I learned about the guys I was prepared for, some I wasn’t.  My respect for them as rock and rollers only grew as I observed and wrote about them in the context of pop history, a history from which they were continually threatened to be erased.  These guys are rock and roll heroes to me, for fighting the fight against great odds, for believing in the value of fun as a kind of tonic.  I also grew to better understand and appreciate their songs, especially their material from the last fifteen or so years when they started grappling as men with life’s sometimes diminishing returns.  They’re not simply a “party band.”

Q: What's your favorite Fleshtones story?

Oh, there are too many to name just one:  The time they ended a show on the coast of Italy by swimming away. Another time, they ended a gig by climbing into a cab out front of the bar — and once a bus — and driving away into the night, still playing their wireless gear.  In Sweat I mention a time in the 1990's when they showed up to a club and only the owner and his wife were there.  The band proceeded to play for three hours.

Q: You also recently wrote the latest addition to the 33 1/3 book series on AC/DC's Highway To Hell. How did you approach writing a 33 1/3 book and how did it differ from your previous projects?

It was a very different process because in the 33 1/3 book I focused on one album, obviously. With Sweat I was writing about three decades and dozens of records. My book on Jerry Lee Lewis (Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found) began as a rejected 33 1/3 pitch about Lewis’s Live! At The Star-Club album.  David Barker, the series editor, asked me if I was interested in expanding the pitch into a larger book that looked at the Killer’s career while focusing on the circumstances of the Star-Club recording.  So, with that book, and with Highway to Hell, I wrote bookend chapters but kept the focus on a specific album in each case.

The other main difference is that I had no access to Lewis or to the guys in AC/DC, and I didn’t expect any.  They’re so big and iconic, they don’t need to talk.  While writing Sweat I’d been crashing with the Fleshtones on floors in houses and motels and drinking with them in bars and their homes.  So the level of intimacy with my subjects was much different.  But that was OK for both the Lewis and 33 1/3 books.  I was listening to the music and trying to make sense of it personally and in a the larger context of culture and history.

I supplanted interviews with Lewis and the Young brothers with interviews with, in the case of the former, musicians and fans who were at the Star-Club show, Siggi Loch, the producer of the album, musicians who worked with Lewis, and music critics and contemporary musicians, and in the case of the latter, with critics and musicians and a handful of kids with whom I graduated from school as a young teenager when Highway to Hell came out.  I asked them why that album mattered to them then and if it matters to them now.

I had a lot of fun writing both of those books.  Any chance you have to blast “Mean Woman Blues” or “Girls Got Rhythm” all day and write about it is pretty great.

Q: So, is it safe to presume that you prefer the Bon Scott-era AC/DC to the Brian Johnson-era?

Oh yeah, without a doubt.  Johnson is — was — a great rock and roll singer, but he lacks Bon’s humor and weirdness, at least on the albums.  Johnson’s lyrics are pretty generic next to Bon’s, who when he tried wrote incisive portraits of men and women and sex, and self-portraits of a "juvie" with a grin and joie de vivre.  Brian Johnson seems more like a hard rock singer out of central casting, whereas after Bon the mold was shattered.  These are general observations, as I’ve never met Johnson.  He may well have as large and quirky and off-the-wall funny a personality as Bon did, but it doesn’t come through as manically on the albums. Bon was special.  Of course, he’s also frozen in time. Who knows what kind of performer and man he would’ve turned out to be had he lived.  Maybe he would’ve shrunk as a series of clichĂ©s over time.

Q: What are your top 5 favorite AC/DC tunes?

“Girls Got Rhythm.” “Sin City.” “Highway to Hell.” “Jailbreak.” “If You Want Blood.” (On Brian Johnson days, “Back in Black” and “Shoot to Thrill” get in.)

Q: So, what awesome new book are you working on now and when can we get our grubby hands on it?

I edited Conversations With Greil Marcus, which just came out with the University Press of Mississippi.  And my book of essays, This Must Be Where My Obsession With Infinity Began, is coming out with Orphan Press next spring.  There’s also my blog No Such Thing As Was, where I write about rock 'n' roll and memory and autobiography and essays and art and photos and whatever else is getting to me.

Q: When are you gonna finally drop that dead-end day gig (Bonomo teaches creative nonfiction and literature at Northern Illinois University) and write about music full time?

Ha, if only.  Actually, I’m grateful for my job.  I teach creative nonfiction and autobiography as well as contemporary American literature, and I’m really lucky to be able to continually discuss art and writing with smart students and colleagues.  There are a lot of intersections between what I write and what I teach.

Q: If you could write a book on any band/artist/etc., who would it be and why?

I think that I have a book in me about Martin Scorsese, my favorite film director, though I’m not sure what form it will take yet.  I’d like to write at length about Bo Diddley’s career.  That hasn’t been done very well, I don’t think. I’d like to try and get at that Beat, its timelessness, the rigors and ups-and-downs he endured over the decades, tethered stubbornly to that primal kind of music arrangement, and the influence he had.  I’d like to write about the fiction writer Andre Dubus and the painter Eric Fischl, and my appellative doppelganger Joe Bonomo.  I’d also love to write something about abandoned buildings, which have haunted me since I was a kid.

Q: So, if I may ask, how DID you cope with the rejection in trying to find a publisher for the book?

Well, I coped by not coping, then by brutally compartmentalizing.  I can’t count the number of devastating conversations I had with my wife, who’s also a writer, about the difficulties of getting the book published.  She was a fantastic source of support.  At one point I had to convince myself that if Sweat ended up as a manuscript that I copied for the band and for a few friends, then I had to be OK with that.

That was tough to swallow, but after countless rejections from agents and editors — and after having agents try hard to sell the book but failing — and after hearing “No”’s from magazine editors who I tried to talk into serializing the book late in the game, I had to say, “OK, it was really fun to work on and to write, I had some great experiences and met some great people, many of whom are now good friends, and if it’s never coming out, so be it, I’ll spread it around to friends, and move on.”

That way I emphasized the work and the process, not the endgame of publication, over which ultimately a young writer has very little to no control.  I also had to regularly remind myself that it wasn’t the quality of writing that publishers were rejecting, but the subject and its low commercial value.  I borrowed a page from the Fleshtones career.  So many times they were told by labels, We love you guys!  We’d love to sign you!  But you won’t sell any records, so we can’t!  Luckily for me, David Barker at Continuum stepped in, and said, We’ll give it a shot, we believe in it.

Q: Despite the staggering amount of detail you managed to fit into Sweat, what didn't make the cut? 

Oh there’s enough for another volume, at least.  Every time I see the guys at a show or in New York there’s some outrageous but true story from the past that comes up that would’ve been great for Sweat.  There are far too many stories over thirty-plus years.  As a writer I had to take the long view, and winnow and choose those that I felt characterized the band in the fullest and most dramatic way, stories that kind of summarize the band’s position in each of their phases.  So a lot of tales that didn’t get in either I couldn’t corroborate fully, or they took away from the story in some way.  But a common refrain from the guys when I see them is, “That’s a story for Volume 2!”

Q: The most surprising thing I learned about the Fleshtones was how large a factor alcohol and drugs played. Even by rock & roll standards, their consumption is shocking What were your thoughts (not to mention the band's thoughts) on sharing so much detail about that side of the band?

Well, I had to detail that side, and knew I had to going in.  To understate things, alcohol has been a vital presence in the Fleshtones’ career.  They are indeed legendary imbibers, and to tell their story without emphasizing their drinking and drugging and the consequences would be foolish, not to mention wildly inaccurate.  They throw a lot of parties.  They’ve learned over the decades to balance recklessness with professionalism, and how to stay alive and kicking while enjoying drinking.  Their drug use has all but disappeared, and as I show in the book they’ve learned to a man how and when to pull back on the beer and the booze.

Their wildly drunken shows, when things would actually fall apart on stage or sometimes before the show, are a thing of the past.  Luckily for me, the guys were honest from the start about the drinking and drug use.  Some members and ex-members needed some time to warm up to talking to me candidly.  Once he got to know me well, Keith Streng talked frankly about his heroin addiction and alcoholism, because he knew that the best book about the Fleshtones would have to cover that aspect honestly, and Marek, the original bass player, was very open about his past.  I was grateful to them.

Q: What's your favorite Fleshtones record (and why)?

I think it’s a tie between Hexbreaker! (1983) and Take A Good Look (2008).  Hexbreaker! because that was the only album on I.R.S. over which they felt some measure of control, even if their ultimately lost it, that had a real “Super Rock” vision behind it.  They’ve cooled on the album in retrospect somewhat, if only because the sessions went over-budget and because the final mixes were pretty clean relative to the early mixes which were wilder, apparently, though I’ve never heard them.  And Take A Good Look is not just a great latter-day Fleshtones album, it’s a great rock and roll record, period.  It’s get some of their strongest songs, a real cohesive sound, great, organic energy, and a wonderful, crunchy, junky production job by New York legend Ivan Julian.  It’s a really well-sung and well-played album.  I’d tell newcomers to toss a coin and start with either of those two albums.  They can’t lose.

Q: What's your opinion on the current state of rock & roll journalism?

It’s overwhelming, since so much of it has moved online or now begins and lives exclusively online.  As in any opinion industry, you have to do a tremendous amount of work to keep up and to discern the good writing from the garbage.  It takes a lot of time and energy, and I can’t claim that I have purchase enough on rock & roll journalism to give an expert opinion.  What bothers me is the shrinking space devoted to reviews in magazines like Rolling Stone, although MOJO hasn’t limited their reviews much.  Isn’t SPIN reviewing most albums on Twitter now? I understand the exodus to the digital domain — it’s the future.

But paradoxically, as there’s more “space” than ever before, we have less and less time to read as our attentions move among so many sources of information.  As a result of compromised attention spans, thoughtfulness is becoming compressed, which is a kind of contradiction in terms, in my book.  But there is a lot of good, insightful, challenging, passionate stuff out there to wade through, and links and streaming and YouTube and Vimeo clips only make the arguments more interesting and lively.  Trust your instincts and your friends to hip you to writers and sites that you’re missing.

Q: Who are some of your favorite rock & roll writers?

I’m always afraid I’ll leave people out when I answer this.  Lester Bangs above all.  Nick Tosches, Colin Escott (whom I think more people should know and talk about), Jim DeRogatis (his bio of Bangs, Let It Blurt, was an early influence on Sweat), Greg Kot, Greil Marcus, Alex Ross, Sasha Frere-Jones, David Fricke, Peter Guralnick, Ian MacDonald, Jon Pareles, Eric Weisbard.  Robert Palmer and Greg Shaw and Ellen Wills were great.  I love the work and writing that Billy Miller and Miriam Linna do over at Norton Records.  I always liked Fred Mills. Ugly Things, PopMatters, No Depression, The Rumpus, Stereogum and The Big Takeover all have great music writing in one form or another.

Q: To take my last question a step further, perhaps, what writers most influenced you, either in deciding to become a writer yourself or in developing your own style and voice?

I don’t really know how a writer influences me, so I don’t know who they are.  I know who I love, and who I return to again and again:  Montaigne, William Hazlitt, Roger Ebert, Andre Dubus, Phillip Lopate, Patricia Hampl, Lester Bangs, Anthony Lane, Larry Brown, Flannery O’Connor….

Buy Joe Bonomo's books on Amazon!

Now And Never: The Return Of Platinum Blonde!

The year was 1983.

A kid lies "asleep" in his bed, transistor radio plastered to his ear, trying to keep the faint radio station from seemingly a million miles away tuned in long enough to hear the strange alien sounds of bands that no radio stations in his neck of the woods can be bothered to play. For the past few weeks, the DJ has been playing a great new song called "Not In Love" and it is those few minutes of musical bliss that make the struggle to listen past the static all worthwhile.

On this week's show, though, the DJ plays a song called "Doesn't Really Matter". The kid sits upright in bed, transfixed by the song's propulsive chorus and pulled into a whole new musical rabbit hole. The next day, he's killing time in a hardware store when what should he see staring back at him from the store's minuscule music section but an album with the words "Platinum Blonde" on the cover.

No, it can't be, he thinks to himself. He flips the album over and sees "Not In Love" and "It Doesn't Really Matter" listed on the back cover. Half a minute later, he leaves the store with album in-hand and heads home to give it a listen. For the next two months, the other records in his collection sit neglected as he spins Platinum Blonde's "Standing In The Dark" album over and over until his father finally pokes his head in the room to ask the name of the album that has been reverberating through the house the past several weeks.

"Do you want me to turn it down," asks the kid?

"No," responds his father. "Turn it up!"

For Platinum Blonde, success in their native Canada came quickly and, for a time, rivaled that of mega-bands Duran Duran and The Police. Still, for the entire time I've been aware of their existence, they've remained the most well-kept of secrets despite my own ability to keep this particular one to myself. Back in the day, I would play their music at parties or during my semester-long stint as a college radio DJ and each time I did, I'd be besieged by friends and strangers asking me "Who is that?".

Fast-forward to the year 2012.

The kid is no longer a kid and, for a large part of the past three decades, Platinum Blonde has been little more than a memory of those carefree, halcyon days of youth. Every so often, a rumor of a reunion manages to rear its head, but it wasn't until 2010 that such talk led to a number of live gigs around Canada. Quite unexpectedly, a new band called Crystal Castles scored a big hit with their cover of "Not In Love" (with none other than Robert Smith from The Cure) and exposed Platinum Blonde to a new generation of fans.

Building on that momentum, the band (featuring original members Mark Holmes and Sergio Galli) has now returned with their first album of new material in over 20 years, Now & Never. Unlike most reunions that fail to live up to the promise of past glories, the new album by Platinum Blonde actually manages to pick up where the band left off in their heyday. In fact, Now & Never sounds like the proper follow-up to "Standing In The Dark", paving the way for the futuristic concept album that was "Alien Shores".

Of course, the production is just modern enough to sound fresh and relevent while, at the same time, not trying too hard to be trendy. If radio was still a factor here in the U.S., it's easy to imagine the first single, "Beautiful", getting boatloads of airplay, its elegiac strings and hypnotic chorus working their way into our collective consciousness.

Yet despite the immediacy of the internet and its ability to deliver music from around the world to our desktop in the click of a mouse (how strange that sentence would have sounded in 1983), Platinum Blonde remain a well-kept secret in America.

Until now, that is.

Canada's CBC is streaming the band's new album, Now & Never, in its entirety.


Take a listen and, if so inclined, drop a few bucks in the tip jar (i.e., BUY the album) and then tell your friends about this great "new" band you just discovered. Who knows, if enough of us flip for the new record, maybe the band will venture "down south" for a gig or two.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rihanna Lets Her "Talent" Speak For Itself Again!

(Photo by Dario)

Well, it appears Rihanna has made the news again. This time, she went out to dinner with her gal pals, but "forgot" to wear a bra under her see-through mesh top. Let's see, doing an image search of the term "rihanna breasts" reveals that this girl seems to think she has an all-star set of milk jugs when, in fact, she's barely out of flapjack territory.

I mean, what goes through a girl's mind before she goes out for the evening in a get-up like that? I've seen street walkers who showed more restraint. It's as if Rihanna doesn't think she can cut it on sheer talent alone.

When I was a kid, there was this girl who hung out with my friends and I. To be honest, we thought she was kind of clingy and starved for attention. Sure enough, we go down to the lake to cool off one hot summer night and there she was taking off her clothes. I mean ALL of her clothes. Unlike the rest of us, she'd conveniently forgotten her swimsuit, but thought nothing of stripping down to nothing with about ten dudes pretending not to notice.

It wasn't long before she was in the water,then she and one of the guys disappeared, but we could hear them going at it behind a pontoon boat.

Afterwards, I asked her what the heck she was thinking by getting naked around a bunch of guys she barely knows and her reply caught me completely off-guard. "I was just making friends," she said. After I wrapped my head around that one, I asked her if she'd ever thought about, you know, not using her tits and ass to make friends. She looked at me as if I was the crazy one. I can't help think Rihanna would, too. I mean, why take the time to develop actual social skills, develop good character traits, and steer clear of bad boys when you can just flash your pancakes and be worshipped at every turn?

Friday, April 20, 2012

We Over-Analyze The New Maroon 5 Single "Payphone"!

There is something inherently sad about the new Maroon 5 song, "Payphone". The first thing that catches the ear is Adam Levine's cheesily auto-tuned vocals. Levine's voice, even without auto-tune, has a certain "treated" quality to it and he can actually sing, so his reliance upon this studio trickery isn't necessary, buuuut since it is used on all the latest hit tunes, the M5 guys can't help but join in the fun.

Of course, having known the M5 guys since they were Kara's Flowers, a teeny bop L.A. band whose first album came and went with little fanfare, I am continually amazed at Levine's transformation from clean cut poster into a tattooed douchebag. I mean, he can't be both so one of the two is a total pose. Can you guess which one? Seeing a guy like him with arms full of tats is a lot like seeing some stupid jock with his ear pierced back in high school. Of course, tats are gross, so the fact that Levine is so desperate to be seen as "cool" that he'll let some freak show with a cock ring draw on him in permanent ink smacks of desperation. Sure, he lives in the mansion where "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air" was filmed (sucker!) and I live in a van down by the river, but that doesn't make me any less right.

What makes me sad when I listen to this song is that there will be people out in the world who come to embrace the song because it speaks to them in some significant way. That, in and of itself, is pretty sad. How shallow must your life be to be moved by a song such as this; one that so obviously panders in hopes of attracting that younger demo that thinks their drama is somehow more sophisticated than the drama they see on Jerry Springer.

Never mind that the first time they heard the song was on the drive up to the local prison. As she talked to her boyfriend - sorry, "fiancé" - the symmetry between song and scene are completely missed.

There's a comfort she feels talking to him about the future while separated by a sheet of bulletproof glass. What they have is about as real as the sentiment expressed in lines like:

"I know it's hard to remember/The people we used to be
It's even harder to picture/That you’re not here with me
You say it's too late to make it/But is it too late to try?
And in the time that you wasted/All of our bridges burned down."

It sounds real, substantive even, but it's a house made of cotton candy. The minute he gets out, she can't romanticize his good nature when the truth is right in front of her complaining about how he can't find a good job, or take care of the baby, or fix the car. As long as he's in " the Big House", what she has is real.

Maroon 5 have tapped into that demographic, of course. It's the main demo that drives all of pop culture at the moment. After all, this is the demo that made Snooki a millionaire and Khloe Kardashian a household name. If that doesn't make you sad, then you might just be one of them.

Monday, April 02, 2012

We Name The Top 10 SOFT ROCK JAMZ Of All-Time!

Since we aren't one to play favorites, we're posting our quintessential list of the Top 20 SOFT ROCK JAMZ of All-Time in no particular order. Enjoy!

Hall & Oates "Rich Girl"

Wait, did they just say "bitch girl"? That was the raging controversy on the school bus anytime this song came on the radio, which was often. While "Sara Smile" is a great track, this is REALLY the soft rock jam that put Hall & Oates on the map.

Of course, H2O would have a helluva run of hits in the '80s, but it's this song that evokes that innocent era of the '70s when the radio was all most of us had.

Little River Band "Lady"

In 1978, Australian acts were still quite the novelty in the US, but few even realized that Little River Band were from a different country as their sound was so decidedly American, allowing them to fit seamlessly into Top 40 radio playlists with previous hits "Help Is On The Way" and "Happy Anniversary". With each new album, it seemed, the band was putting the pieces together that would ultimately lead to the monster hits "Reminiscing" and "Lady" that would make Sleeper Catcher their first Top 20 album.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band "Blinded By The Light"

Manfred Mann first came to prominence in the 60's with such hits as "The Mighty Quinn", but by 1976, he was a man on a mission. The band he had formed in 1971, Manfred Mann's Earth Band", had released six albums - five of which had failed to break the Top 100 in America - and were still looking for their first hit. With an unlikely cover of a Bruce Springsteen song, the band soon found themselves at #1 on the singles charts. The single would also hit the Top 10 in five other countries and help the band sell over three million copies of their seventh album, The Roaring Silence.

Pilot "Magic"

If every one-hit wonder could be this good...

For bands such as Manfred Mann and Little River Band, success in the US had taken a few albums, but Pilot shot right into the Top 5 in the US with their first single, "Magic". The Scottish band's 1974 debut album had been produced by Alan Parsons. Sadly, their initial success would be short-lived and the core of the band would eventually go on to join the Alan Parsons Project by 1978.

Bob Welch "Sentimental Lady"

Ask most people who Bob Welch and you'll get mostly blank stares, but play them this song and you'll see most folks smile and say "I love that song! Who does it?" Bob Welch does. In fact, he had quite the string of memorable '70s hits - "Ebony Eyes", "Precious Love" and "Hot Love, Cold World" - but damn if most people can remember who did them. Many people don't realize that Welch has recorded a version of "Sentimental Lady" while still a member of Fleetwood Mac. The song had appeared on their Bare Trees album, but the single failed to chart.

Oddly enough, while he had left the band prior to Lindsey Buckingham joining, Buckingham would produce the re-recorded version. with he and Christine McVie singing the backing harmonies.

John Waite "Missing You"

While Waite had hit the charts multiple times with The Babys, after a handful of ambitious albums, the band still found themselves an opening act for the likes of Journey. When keyboardist Jonathan Cain was recruited by Journey to replace Gregg Rolie, Waite took it as a sign and went solo. His first album, Ignition, had been a barrel-house rocker that featured the sorely underrated "Change", but on his next effort, Waite made sure to deliver the goods. The album's first single was a little song called "Missing You" that went to #1 and forever put Waite on the map.

Since then, his records have become sadly inconsistent and uninspired, but this song remains a testament to perseverance and determination, not to mention being one of the better kiss-offs ever set to music.

Sinead O'Connor "Nothing Compares 2 U"

Have you seen a pic of this gal lately? Sadly, she's got more tatoos on her chest than a member of the Hell's Angels. Back in 1989, though, she was still a mostly unknown entity covering a Prince song on her second record, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. Her first album, The Lion And The Cobra and songs such as "Mandinka" and "I Want Your Hands (On Me)" had brought much success on the underground and dance scenes, but it was her riveting vocal turn on Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" that made her a household name, even before the infamous Saturday Night Live performance.

Listening to the song now, there is a raw innocence to the performance that is oddly charming, as if staring into a time capsule of a time when strength and vulnerability could be found in the same voice.

Air Supply "All Out Of Love"

The door that fellow Australians Little River Band had knocked down gave Air Supply the opening they needed to storm the American pop charts in 1980 with three Top 10 hits, "Lost In Love", "Every Woman In The World" and arguably their best-known track "All Out Of Love".

Air Supply was the face of '80s pop until new wave swept in around 1982 and washed many of the soft rock giants from the playing field.

Christopher Cross "Sailing"

If you had ears in 1979, then you heard a whole lot of Christopher Cross that year as his debut album not only sold over five million copies, but also had a stranglehold on radio playlists across the country. He would also go on to beat out Pink Floyd for the Grammy for Album of The Year.

While "Ride Like The Wind" and "Never Be The Same" were big hits, "Sailing" was the only single to hit #1 and take home three Grammy awards of its own.

Toto "Rosanna"

Toto had made quite the splash with their first album, which included the hit "Hold The Line", but their second and third albums had come and gone with little fanfare. Would they be relegated to forgotten one-hit wonders or could they pull a rabbit out of their hat on their fourth album?

Of course, we all know the answer to that question, as the smash hit "Rosanna" was the first of many such rabbits to be pulled from the mega-platinum IV album. Considering the amount of airplay the song received and the fact that it won a Grammy for Record Of The year in 1983, the song itself only made it to #2 thanks to Joan Jett's "I Love Rock & Roll" being #1 for seven straight weeks. Toto would hit #1 in 1983 with "Africa".

The Police "Every Breath You Take"

1983 was the year that The Police went from being the little band that could to being Sting & The Hired Players, as Sting had finally gained complete artistic control of the band on what was to be their final studio album, Synchronicty. It's hard to argue with the results, though, as the album showed Sting's songwriting to be advancing beyond the faux-reggae sound that had initially put the band on the map. "Every Breath You Take", for example, was a classic soft pop song that any band would have been proud to call their own. For The Police, it launched their popularity into the stratosphere and they would spend the summer playing to sold-out stadium crowds all across North America.

Phil Collins "In The Air Tonight"

Sometimes limitations are great motivation. Depressed by the break-up of his first marriage, Collins holed up in his home studio and set out to exorcise some of the anger that he felt. Without a band to back him up, he relied upon a simple drum machine pattern and sparse, atmospheric instrumentation to create the ominously dark mood of the song. A live drum track would be the icing on the cake. The song would become a huge smash almost instantaneously upon its release, gaining heavy radio and MTV airplay and appearing in numerous TV shows and movies, such as "Miami Vice", "Risky Business", and "The Hangover", to name just a few.

U2 "One"

By the time U2 had released the film and accompanying soundtrack Rattle & Hum in 1989, the general consensus was that we'd all had about as much of U2 as we could stand for awhile. The band themselves had emerged from the success of 1987's Joshua Tree with a desire to distance themselves from a sound that they'd plundered for all its worth. Rattle & Hum was a portrait of a band finding solace in American roots music because their own music bored them. So, what was the band to do for their next studio album? Bono and The Edge had been enamored by techno and set out to make a futuristic record, but neither Adam Clayton or Larry Mullen Jr. shared their enthusiasm. It was a spontaneous jam session that quickly yielded the song "One" and gave the band the energy and ambition to complete Achtung Baby.

The song stands as almost a polar opposite to the rest of that album and, truth be told, it would not have sounded out of place on The Joshua Tree, or Rattle & Hum for that matter. In hindsight, it was the bridge the band needed to bring their fans with them into the '90s.

R.E.M. "Everybody Hurts"

This song has always sounded like the other bookend to U2's "One", as R.E.M. had enjoyed a similar upward trajectory through the '80s as U2. Both bands seemed to hit a sort of commercial and artistic ceiling at the tail end of that decade and fans and non-fans alike were curious to see in which direction each band would go. For U2, it was the future. For R.E.M., it was the past. "Everybody Hurts" is more "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" than anything they'd done prior, showing a great love of classic pop songwriting. Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones was responsible for the lush orchestral arrangement.

Evanescence "My Immortal"

It was hard tom come up with a lot of modern-day soft rock jams worthy of inclusion next to the great songs mentioned above, but "My Immortal" stands as one of the more ambitious - and successful - soft rock jams of the last decade. The song, which was almost entirely written by guitarist Ben Moody, provides a great showcase for Amy Lee's vocals to soar without having to fight for sonic space against the full-on sonic assault of a full-band arrangement.

Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"

It shouldn't have worked as well as it did, since Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty come from two different worlds, but Nicks had long been obsessive in her love of the band and had asked them on many occasions to write a song for her. Hilariously, Petty had agreed to let her have the song "Insider", but chose to keep it for himself after the track was recorded. As a consolation prize of sorts, he gave her "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around", which would go on to become a big enough hit that it outsold any single from Petty's Hard Promises album (which included "Insider").

Kim Carnes "Bette Davis Eyes"

Having bounced from one label and musical style to another since 1971, Carnes hit upon a winning combination when she covered the Jackie DeShannon/Donna Weiss song "Bette Davis Eyes". The decidedly modern arrangement, combined with her raspy vocal style, resulted in a song that would spend nine weeks at #1 in the US. It would also hit #1 in eight other countries. Bette Davis was so thrilled by the song's success that she would later thank Carnes, Weiss and DeShannon for making her a part of modern culture.

Tears For Fears "Everybody Wants To Rule The World"

Up until this song came out, the popular consensus was that synth pop acts like Tears For Fears just didn't have the goods in the songwriting department and were using synths and other electronic studio bells & whistles as a crutch. "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" puts all such criticism to rest and reveals TFF to be a band with some actual chops. After all, TFF was a six-piece band that boasted some real musical talent.

Of course, it was the last song recorded for the hit album, Songs From The Big Chair and the shuffle beat upon which the song was built was quite a foreign thing to the band at the time. Roland Orzabal; admits to stealing the drum beat from the Simple Minds' "Waterfront" which was being recorded in the next studio.

Don Henley "Boys of Summer"

We could have mentioned any number of Eagles songs on this list, but ultimately felt that Henley's solo gem "Boys of Summer" was one of the most visually evocative songs to come from the Eagles camp. There are few songs that better encapsulate the feeling of yet another summer coming to an end before any of the promises it once held can come true. That such depth can be found in the sighting of "a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac" is a testament to Henley's lyrical prowess. He doesn't so much tell stories as give you fragments with which to build your own.

Joan Osborne "One Of Us"

If Joan Osborne doesn't send Eric Bazilian (best known as a member of Hooters and the writer of this song) a Christmas card every year, she darn well should. Producer Rick Chertoff hired him to play some guitar on Joan's first album, Relish, but Eric went one step further and brought in the song that would ultimately take Joan's career to the next level.

Without it, Relish would have been a hit-less hodge-podge showcasing the singer's immense talents, but lacking identity. "One Of Us", of course, gave Osborne a public identity that neither she nor Bazilian were able to replicate and, as a result, her popularity was short-lived.

Still, this song remains as poignant and undeniable as ever, offering a sentiment that is both touching and thought-provoking.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Failed musician?

The other day, someone called my music career a failure and I literally laughed so hard that a gummy bear I ate in 1987 flew out of my nose.

Sure, I never got to see my name on the Billboard Hot 100. Nor did I ever get to live in a palatial mansion just above Sunset Boulevard and throw parties full of people I don't even know.

But, when I think about it, I realize that I never dreamed about any of that stuff anyway.

See, I was the kid who went from being one of the popular kids in my small town in Indiana, to being a complete nobody when my family moved to a different small town in Michigan. We moved back because my grandfather was suffering from leukemia and my father had agreed to help run his business. We went in thinking the situation would be temporary, but when my grandfather succumbed to the illness, my dad transitioned from "just helping out" to "guess I'm here for good".

I don't know whether this came as a disappointment to him or not. He was a stoic man and we didn't have anything close to the sort of relationship where such feelings were shared. As much as I love and admire the man, he remains a stranger to me, for the most part.

Being the new kid in town, I quickly realized that I was stuck in a town full of meatheads. Rather than try to build friendships with kids I had absolutely nothing in common with, I lost myself in the music of The Beatles, whom I had just recently discovered.

As the years passed and the other kids' tastes shifted to Top 40 radio and old Led Zep and Pink Floyd records, I went in the opposite direction for no other reason, initially, than to keep my tastes completely separate from theirs. On my 13th birthday, my parents finally realized that it was just easier to give me money than to figure out what it was I might actually want. They then took me to Kmart.

That might sound like a shitty thing to do to a kid these days, but, back then, Kmart was a fucking wonderland to a small-town kid with limited retail options. I made a beeline for the music department and browsed the bins looking for something different. I was driven to walk out of the store with as many albums, by as many strange bands as my $20 would get me. A couple hours later, as the family piled back into our station wagon, I was the proud owner of the first two Police albums and "Kings Of The Wild Frontier" by Adam & The Ants.

A week later, I spiked and dyed my hair to match Sting's and got called a "fag" at school for the first time. It was fucking awesome.

Despite the fact that I didn't know how to play an instrument, or know anybody else who did either, I began formulating a plan in my head to become a rock musician. I spent countless hours turning album covers inside out and designing my own, coming up with outlandish logos for potential band names like X-Rayz and The Rebels, to name just a couple.

Meanwhile, my grades took a serious nosedive and, at one point, I had to repeat ninth grade math. At first, I was embarrassed to be the only tenth grader in the class, but then I began chatting with the nerdy dude named Jim Allen who sat in front of me who brought a Steve Walsh solo album to class one day. He'd brought it to play in music class, but it wouldn't fit in his locker so he had to carry it to every class. I loathed Kansas, but knew that a kid who would go to the trouble of actually buying a solo album by one of the members of such a band might be someone worth getting to know. He immediately took one look at the cover of my math book, upon which I had scrawled "DEVO" in huge letters and the battle was on. We spent the next week arguing about music in hushed whispers, repeatedly 'shhhh'ed' by the teacher and those students in our vicinity who actually wanted to learn something about math.

It was during one of these arguments that he mentioned that he played guitar. You could literally hear the needle skip in my brain. Wait, dude, back up. Did you say that you play guitar? Remember, I still didn't actually play an instrument, but by the end of class, I had actually managed to arrange the first rehearsal for my first band. In hindsight, this "plan it first, worry about how to pull it off later" method would be employed in order to reach every new plateau in my quest to be a rocker.

My younger brother had begun guitar lessons himself a year earlier, so he was immediately enlisted to join the band. It turns out Jim's brother played bass. Upon realizing that there was an almost complete drum set stashed in our basement, I christened myself a drummer and began hammering away at the poor things like they owed me money. The noise must have been unbearable to all who lived in the house, much less our closest neighbors. Our basement seemed perfectly engineered to amplify drums so, when dad came home after a long day of work, all drumming came to a screeching halt.

Sometimes, though, my drive to become the next Gene Krupa overtook common sense and I would begin rocking out for as long as I could before my dad would open the door to my bedroom and shoot me the universal "dude, seriously?" sign and I would call it a night.

At our first rehearsal, we wrote two original songs, "Heart Like A Chainsaw" and "Bellyflop Into Love". We also worked up a great instrumental version of Van Halen's "Dance The Night Away" that my mom absolutely loved. It remained an instrumental because we hadn't come to any consensus on who was actually going to be the singer in this band. I had sung the two originals only because I had written the lyrics.

Jim and I were totally gung-ho about the band, which we named The Allen-Robbins Approach. We went so far as to get some hats printed up with our band’s name on it. Back then, showing up at school with a hat that has your own band name on it was the cat's meow. Sadly, though, neither of our brothers seemed to share our enthusiasm and both drifted off to other things, taking our dreams of rock & roll world domination with them.

A year or so later, I would befriend another lonely soul in biology class, discover that he played bass, and give Jim Allen a call. In doing so, I would create the band that would get me to the very fucking edge of the big-time. Of course, my definition of "big-time" wasn't shaped by the likes of KISS, Led Zep and Pink Floyd, but by bands like Chameleons UK, House Of Love, Platinum Blonde and 20/20. The most mainstream band I liked was Cheap Trick, but by the time I started really liking them, their Budokan fame was long gone and other kids had come to regard them as old news.

I guess, in a sense, I was a lover of lost causes. I loved the new Lords Of The New Church record, tried valiantly to get the band to cover "Russian Roulette", but couldn't close the deal. We did manage to cover three Platinum Blonde songs (who?!), so it wasn't a complete wash.

We called ourselves Montserrat (named after the location in the West Indies where George Martin's Air Studios was located) and proceeded to book ourselves into local Top 40 clubs and treat unsuspecting redneck crowds to an evening of obscure new wave covers and a healthy dose of our own original material. Looking back on it now, and having seen other bands try the same thing and fail miserably, I am amazed that we didn't get our asses kicked. But, see, we not only didn't get our asses kicked, we got people to freakin' dance. To songs they'd never heard before.

You may not think that's a big deal, but when you see a 50-year-old farmer and his wife cutting a rug to a band playing an Alarm B-side called "Reason 36", that's something you will not soon forget. Those who saw us blow away crowd after crowd continually told us that we needed to leave this town as far behind as we could and head to Chicago.

So, in 1986, I enrolled at DePaul University for the sole purpose of eventually bringing the rest of the band to Chicago. Our first Chicago gig would take place a few weeks later at a show sponsored by the university's radio station. Nobody knew us from jack, but by the end of the night, you could not fit another soul into the room. Our two-song encore turned into a maniacal ten-song set that ended with the police shutting down the establishment. In Monday's edition of the Chicago Tribune, there was a small article detailing the fact that WDPU's annual fund-raising event had been shut down by police during a performance by the band "Monster Rat".

From there, we befriended other bands like Jim Ellison & Material Issue, the Elvis Brothers, and began gigging as often as we could. I would skip classes in order to be well-rested for a full day of pestering local booking agents for gigs. I knew we were making headway when I called one club, told them who I was, and the booking agent not only gave me a show, but offered a guarantee of $250 because he'd already heard of us.

Then one day my phone rang and Jim told me that he was getting married and that his wife didn't want him playing in a rock band. Just like that, it was over.

By then, we'd accumulated at least six album-quality demos, recorded with the help of Graham Elvis from the Elvis Brothers. As singer on those tracks, I decided then and there that those tracks were now the foundation for my first solo album. A friend of mine formed a record label and gave me the money to finish the album. I called Graham, enlisted the Elvis Brothers as my backing band, and went down to Champaign-Urbana to finish my record.

With the CD format still a relatively new development, our decision to release the album on CD only was a pretty nervy decision, but it brought us a lot of attention, as most indie band's did not have the wherewithal to put out a CD. Sure, we'd have probably (okay, definitely) sold more if we'd put it out on vinyl and cassette, but my friend who ran the label was adamant on being a CD-only label. To further differentiate us from the rest of the pack, we advertised on TV, a la Slim Whitman, making a commercial that was supposed to be dead serious, but turned into a total zany spot once the camera started rolling. When the commercial would air, the operators would get just as many calls asking if the commercial was for real as calls to buy the CD.

Then one of my heroes, Ira Robbins (no relation) of Trouser Press fame, reviewed my album in Musician magazine. Having grown up reading and re-reading every page of every Trouser Press magazine I could get my hands on, having Ira Robbins review my record was an immense thrill. I could have retired from music right then and there and been completely happy.

One of the results of getting reviewed in a major rock magazine was that the phone in our humble record label office, which doubled as my friend's apartment, was now ringing off the hook. Clubs from L.A. and New York wanted to book the band, other publications wanted a promo copy of the record, and, best of all, major record labels were now interested in signing me.

This, of course, was all part of my friend's master plan. He had agreed to finance my record for the sole purpose of selling the rights to a major label. So when they started calling the office, he began playing one against the other, driving the bids higher and higher.

Meanwhile, I was off playing rock star as my new-found notoriety gained me entry into VIP rooms around the city and put me in direct contact with "the beautiful people", for lack of a better term. Women who seemingly crawled from out of the pages of fashion magazines were now interested in me. I distinctly recall hanging out in this exclusive club that I had previously not known existed when Rachel Hunter walked past me. I complimented her on her hat and, amazingly, she came to a dead stop, said "thank you", and engaged me in an extended conversation about god-knows-what. The entire time she was talking to me, all I could hear was my inner voice saying, "Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit!!!"

My buddy Graham was off trying to schmooze his way past a bodyguard in order to talk to Rod Stewart, who had an entire wing of the club to himself. Rachel grabbed my hand and told me to come with her. She and I breezed past the bodyguard and immediately sat down at Rod's table. In the center of the table was a dish of coke, right there out in the open like a plate of freakin' mozzarella sticks, which may or may not have been invented yet, I don't know.

Rachel proceeded to ply me with alcohol whilst running her hand up my leg while Rod continued to sit like a statue, saying nothing to nobody. The guy came across like a total wet blanket on this particular evening, seemingly bored to tears by all that the city, and this particular club, had to offer. Rachel, of course, thought it would be a smashing idea if Rod's producer would produce my record and told me that she would put him in touch with me. I was new to such high-class surroundings, but even I knew that such promises were quickly forgotten, but, sure enough, a few days later, Rod's producer called me and then went on to call a few labels on my behalf, as we were still in the negotiating stages.

The next several months were a blur of negotiations, signings, meetings with prospective managers, booking agents, recording sessions at famous recording studios, and being whisked past the unwashed masses as if I really were a “somebody”. A deal was inked and I deposited a six-figure check into a bank account that had never seen more than a hundred dollars at any given time. The look on the teller's face as I handed her the check remains forever etched in my memory.

Other dreams that came true along the way:

Shared the stage with my idols Cheap Trick. Did I mention that it was a revolving stage? How cool is that?

Toured Europe with Chameleons UK. Got to see one of my favorite bands every night, for free. All I had to do in exchange was perform before they did each night.

Recorded at the esteemed Record Plant. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were in the next studio.

Got to hear Ahmet Ertegun tell me that I was a great songwriter and that I had a bright future ahead of me.

Stayed at the Chateau Marmont on somebody else’s dime. Ordered room service.

Had tons of sex with women completely out of my league, some famous, some insanely beautiful, some both.

Went at least five years without ever having to pay for a drink or a cover charge.

Saw my name up in lights, in magazines, and heard my songs played on the radio.

As a result of so many dreams coming true in such a short time, the rush of exhilaration that pulsed through my veins was stronger than any drug known to man and propelled me to continue on with my musical ambitions long after I had any real interest in making music. I remember reading a Todd Marinovich interview where he said that by the time he made it to the NFL, he'd realized every dream he'd ever had. When that happens, you lose your fire, your intensity, your desire to prove yourself. For me, the result was that my first album for a major label would never see the light of day. I had blown my advance on a new BMW and endless partying, which was a lousy combination that ended with my car being wrapped around a gasoline tanker and me being pronounced dead on the local morning news.

I survived, of course, only to see my label drop me for my erratic behavior, and went right back to playing gigs and trying to get another deal. I hated being a solo artist, working with hired guns, and feeling like a cog in the machine, but I just couldn't bring myself to admit that I was done with music. My whole life up until now had been about music. Music had been my only friend in school when I'd been surrounded by meatheads. It had gained me access to places and people I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to rub shoulders with, and that alone was an intoxicant that my body could not walk away from. Mentally, my whole identity was based on being a musician. Most people have a back-up plan in case their rock & roll dreams crash & burn. Very few have a back-up plan for when every dream comes true and then you realize your heart's no longer in it.

I should have walked away, but my mind could think of nothing to match the glamour and the rush that came with rock & roll. Although it took years of saving up my cash to do so, I released three more albums over a fifteen year span, each one an exercise in stubborn commitment to an already realized dream. I liken it to a runner who wins a 10K race and then proceeds to run another 500 miles instead of just crossing the finish line and going home.

Instead of going home, hanging with my girl, and living a normal life, I've been running and running and running, during which time I've neglected every other aspect of my life. Every job I've ever had has been a necessary evil, there for the sole purpose of funding my music. As a result, I have bounced from company to company, and one entry-level job after another.

Did I fail at music?

No, I completely succeeded at music. I mean, I faked my way into my first band, having never played drums or sung in my life. The minute I cashed that big check, the word "failure" was rendered moot. I would go on to not only exceed my own expectations, but everybody else's. Not only did the dreams I had come true, several dreams I didn't even know I had came true along the way, as well.

If I failed at anything, it was realizing that there was no shame in walking away the minute my heart was no longer in it. It doesn't undo the fact that I would go on to sell over 50,000 copies of my albums at the indie level when more than a few of my musical heroes sold less than that with the help of a major label.

I still get fan mail from people as far away as Australia, and Japan. Considering I've never been to Australia, I think it's cool that my music has and that someone I have never met thought enough of it to welcome something I created into their world.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Heartbreak Beat Say: Top 5 Bands Of The '90s

Call us crazy, but we at Heartbreak Beat are of the general mindset that "the '90s" was a weird decade. It started cool enough with Nirvana unleashing the "sound heard 'round the world" via their landmark album, Nevermind, forever slaying the hair metal dragon, but then by 1994-1995 you had Hootie & The Blowfish, jam bands, and the beginning of a prolonged ska and swing music revival.

By the time the '90s came to an end, most, if not all of us were left with a bad taste in our mouths and a bewildered look on our faces, as if to say "What the HELL was THAT?!"

Having said that, the decade wasn't a complete and total waste. While it did take us some serious soul-searching (and head-scratching), we were able to come up with our Top 5 Favorite '90s Bands. Our criteria: In order for a band to be considered, they needed to originate in the '90s. That means that R.E.M., for example, would be excluded from the list because they originated and gained popularity in the '80s.

5. Foo Fighters

A pretty convincing argument can be made that Kurt Cobain died so that Dave Grohl could live. While Cobain's "suicide" had nothing to do with furthering Grohl's career, one must give Grohl accolades up the wazoo for turning some serious lemons into some serious lemonade. In truth, we dig Grohl a heckuva lot more as a personality than we actually dig his music. Sure, we dug the hell out of the first Foo Fighters album, but, after that, it became a little too "corporate rock" for us. The above clip shows the band making their "network TV debut" and is a reminder that they weren't always the overly-slick and Pro-Tooled edgy rock band they've been for the past decade or so.

4. Nada Surf

The crazy thing about Nada Surf being on this list is that we actually HATED them during the '90s. After buying their debut Elektra effort, High/Low, on the strength of seeing the words "Produced by Ric Ocasek" on the back of said album, we were totally let down by the Weezer-lite crap we heard once we played it. But then a strange thing happened: the band got dropped and turned into this really amazing indie rock band that released the AMAZING album Let Go in 2002, which was such a musical about-face that we still can't believe this is the same band that recorded that dreadful novelty hit "Popular".

3. School Of Fish

Wanna feel old? This past April marks the 20th anniversary of the release of School Of Fish's self-titled debut album, which featured the hit "3 Strange Days". If there is any one band we wish we could go see on the nostalgia circuit, iut would be these guys, but, sadly, singer Josh Clayton-Felt passed away in 2000, rendering any such future endeavors impossible. Guitarist Michael Ward has gone on to play with everyone from the Wallflowers to Ben Harper and John Hiatt, all the while ensuring he is able to bring his bicycle on the road with him.

2. Material Issue

My love for this band is well-documented on this blog, so I will not bore you with another long rant about how great these guys are, or how cool it was to have Mike & Ted play with me in the final Time Bomb Symphony line-up. I will say that they did the unthinkable by reforming this summer despite that fact that, much like School Of Fish, their singer passed away. Normally, that would stop a band in their tracks, and, granted, it did for twenty years, but Mike & Ted finally put the music first and blew the dust off of Jim Ellison's catalog opf great pop songs and played select shows in Chicago and Wisconsin, proving that great songs should always take top priority over whether it's cool or not to continue. Of course, it also helped that Hip-O Select released a 20th Anniversary deluxe version of their awesome debut effort, International Pop Overthrow in April.

1. Dandy Warhols

While I didn't really dig their debut all that much - it just felt a little too gimmicky - their second album, The Dandy Warhols Come Down, literally stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it. Their hazy, psychedelic jams have a way of slowly drawing you in and then putting you in a headlock so that you are unable to escape their grasp. Granted, not everybody gets them - my best friend took one listen to this album and called them "gay ZZ Top", which still cracks me up, but I've still got a huge amount of love for that album, not to mention Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. That love is enough to continue my love affair despite the fact that every album since seems to have stunk just a little more than the one before it. I'm hopeful they'll right the ship at some point.