specials 2012

Supergroups

This week Jim and Greg ponder the history of the Supergroup. This is the rock phenomenon where musicians from different bands blend together to form a new group. Take one 1 guitar virtuoso, sprinkle in a legendary drummer and add a dash of star singing-sometimes this is a great success, and sometimes the ingredients just don't mix. Recently there have been a number of new supergroups such as The Good, the Bad and the Queen, Them Crooked Vultures, Tinted Windows, Dead Weather and Monsters of Folk. For Jim the keys to a winning supergroup are that the members be individually“super,”and that they have chemistry together. Greg adds that there needs to be something especially compelling about the super-union for it to be more than just business.

Here are some hits and misses throughout history:

Go to episode 369

Holiday Spectacular

Holiday music maven Andy Cirzan visits Sound Opinions every December to share with Jim and Greg a new collection of unique tunes for the season. From the weird to the wonderful, these are not your standard Christmas carols. By day Andy runs Jam Productions in Chicago. By night he searches through record stores, dustbins and basements to find gems for Sound Opinions and his annual compilation. This edition is called Santa Soul. You‘ll be treated to holiday soul comps of yesteryear. These are killer Xmas dusties from the ’60s and '70s -tracks by well-known artists like James Brown, as well as groovy underground acts. So light up the yule log and let the soul party begin! Cheers from everyone at Sound Opinions!

Go to episode 368

Buried Treasures

After three months of "Call Me Maybe" and "Somebody That I Used to Know" playing non-stop on commercial radio, Jim and Greg figure Sound Opinions listeners are due for an aural cleansing. This week, they dip into the wealth of great new music beyond the FM dial and play you some Buried Treasures. These artists might not be household names, but they're definitely worth adding to your collection.

Go to episode 355

The Elephant 6 Collective

The recent death of Olivia Tremor Control co-founder Bill Doss has Jim and Greg thinking about the legacy of the musical collective he was a part of: The Elephant 6 Recording Company. This week, they revisit their conversation about Elephant 6 with the collective's chief producer, Robert Schneider. For those new to this crazy universe, Elephant 6 was a label started by childhood friends from Ruston, Louisiana. The bands that came out of this group of music-lovers included some of the most beloved of the indie rock nineties: Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, and Apples in Stereo. Schneider was the chief songwriter, producer, and lead singer of Apples in Stereo. He explains how he and his friends first heard the psychedelic pop of the Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd hanging around Ruston's college radio station as kids. The collective's most important albums, among them The Olivia Tremor Control's Dusk at Cubist Castle and Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, bear the sonic mark of those early listening sessions.

Greg calls The Olivia Tremor Control the trippiest of the Elephant 6 groups. He and Jim discuss their debut release, Dusk at Cubist Castle, a double album whose subtitle,“Music from an Unrealized Film Script,”points to the music's psychedelic nature. Greg calls Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel the“soul child”of the collective. Jeff went for a stripped down approach that was moving and easily identifiable for many listeners. This is evident in the band's 1998 release In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, a concept album about tragedy, and at times, Anne Frank. The longest lasting of all the Elephant 6 acts is Apples in Stereo. In addition to being the collective's four-track guru, Schneider was always the“pop craftsman.”In 2007 Apples reformed and put out New Magnetic Wonder, a return to power pop form for the group, and one of their best recordings to date.

Go to episode 353

1977 - The Year Punk Broke

In the second and final installment of our series 1977: The Year Punk Broke, Jim and Greg explore the punk movement stateside with music writer Ira Robbins. Ira founded the music magazine Trouser Press in 1974. As a music journalist in New York, he was a fixture of the CBGBs scene, regularly "taking [his] life in his hands" to go to second avenue and hear bands like the Ramones, the Dictators, the Dead Boys, and Television play divey clubs. Whereas punk enjoyed a rapid rise in the U.K. in 1977, Ira describes the New York scene as more of a slow simmer. Fans gradually migrated from clubs like Max's Kansas City, where glam acts like The New York Dolls ruled, to clubs like CBGBs where a younger, rawer set of performers was defining the punk look and sound. Though the Ramones, with their simple song structures and leather jackets became emblematic of New York punk, Ira remembers a diverse scene. The Dead Boys, Television, and The Talking Heads may not have sounded the same, but in economically-depressed 70s-era New York, they shared an attitude that "life sucked, it's probably not going to get better, but so what."

Jim and Greg each choose a favorite track from the New York scene. Greg goes with the Talking Heads' "Don't Worry About the Government" from the band's self-titled debut. More than any other band, the Talking Heads epitomized New York punk's diversity. Their first gig may have been opening for the Ramones, but Greg contends the band's sound was more dance than punk. Still, Byrne's narrator in this song - a stressed, neurotic government bureaucrat - taps into the anxiety of the punk era. Jims goes with the ultimate American punk anthem, Richard Hell's "Blank Generation." The story goes that U.K. punk impresario Malcolm McLaren saw Hell perform the song in the U.S., then returned home and advised The Sex Pistols to write something "just like it, but your own."

Go to episode 351

1977 - The Year Punk Broke

This week, Jim and Greg kick off a two-part series about one seminal year in rock history, 1977: The Year Punk Broke. In this episode, they tackle the punk explosion in the U.K. with help from music writer Jon Savage. (Many consider Savage's England's Dreaming to be the definitive book on this period.) So what made punk explode in 1977? Jon chalks it up to a whole lot of rubbish pop music - songs like ABBA's“Fernando”and Elton John's“Don't Go Breaking My Heart”- that were marketed to kids but failed to address concerns about unemployment, consumerism, and of course, parents and other authority figures. More immediately, there was The Ramones playing their first London gig, and inspiring bands from The Buzzcocks to The Sex Pistols to The Damned. The Sex Pistols were the first to make a splash with their controversial single"God Save the Queen," banned across the British media. That Never Mind the Bullocks, Here's the Sex Pistols was still able to chart, Jon says, demonstrated the muscle of a nascent, independent youth media organized around fanzines and record shops like Rough Trade and Beggar's Banquet. For those who think all U.K. punk sounded the same, Jon points out some key differences. While The Sex Pistols“really had a dark heart,”The Clash had the social consciousness of a sixties band. Manchester's The Buzzcocks were into psychedelia. Regardless of any one band's take on the genre however, punk's message was the same. In Jon's words: "Pop music doesn't have to be something that oppresses you. It can actually liberate you."

Jim and Greg close out 1977 Part One by playing two favorite songs from this year. Greg goes out with The Adverts' "One Chord Wonder." Not only did The Adverts have the best names in punk - T.V. Advert, Gaye Advert, Howard Pickup, and Laurie Driver - they epitomized the genre's“no skill required”ethos. Jim goes with the Wire track "Ex-Lion Tamer" from one of his favorite records of all time, Pink Flag. This quartet of art students not only embodied the punk sound in 1977, they were also looking forward to the possibilities of post-punk.

Go to episode 350

Best Albums of 2012…So Far

Determining a year-end“Best of”album list is the highlight of a critic's year. Now that it's June, Jim and Greg get a jump on the winnowing down process with the Best Albums of 2012…So Far. Here are their mid-year best picks:

Go to episode 343

Alan Lomax Archive

With the recent passings of both Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson, Jim and Greg have been thinking about the importance of preserving the recorded legacy of America's roots music giants. No one has done it better than the Alan Lomax Archive. From the 1930's through the 1980's, Lomax travelled the country making field recordings of American folk musicians. And now all that tape has been transformed into ones and zeroes. Don Fleming, Executive Director of The Association for Cultural Equity, talks to Jim and Greg about making over 17,000 Lomax recordings available to stream online as part of the Global Jukebox project. Don hopes the expanded access will encourage more artists to sample and draw inspiration from Lomax recordings, not just heavy-hitters like Moby and The Boss.

Go to episode 340

Disco

"Disco Sucks!" some would have you believe. But not so, say Jim and Greg. The genre often gets a bad rap—silly songs, silly clothes, silly people. But, the music and the scene surrounding it were much more. Songs like "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer and "Good Times," by Chic are as artful and influential as anything pop music has produced. And, as opposed to the exclusive disco world of Studio 54, authentic discos and disco music gave a sense of community to many outsiders, much like punk did. You can hear this in tracks like "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," by drag performer Sylvester.

Go to episode 339

Best Second Acts

Go ahead…"call it a comeback." This week Jim and Greg highlight some of rock and roll's best Second Acts. These artists either fell into obscurity or went down a bad path before reemerging successfully, perhaps better than before. Famous examples include Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen and Elvis Presley, who told the world he wasn‘t yet down for the count at his ’68 Comeback Special. There's also Santana, whose record Supernatural went 15 times platinum in 1999, decades after his heyday in the late ‘60s. And don’t forget about Cher, who at age 53 had the number one song "Believe." Here are Jim and Greg's favorite "Comeback Kids."

Go to episode 334

SXSW 2012

Streaming was also a big topic at this year's SXSW Music Conference in Austin, TX. Every year Jim, Greg and over 2000 bands converge upon the state capital for what proves to be the biggest music gathering in the country when it comes to bringing together industry professionals, fans and artists. At the "Pennies from the Celestial Jukebox" panel, representatives from streaming services and labels talked about this new revenue stream. It's not much, but pieced together could be significant. The problem is a lack of transparency when it comes to breaking down costs and revenues. So Greg wonders if the new boss is the same as the old boss.

And speaking of The Boss, Bruce Springsteen gave the SXSW keynote address this year. And it was an optimistic one, according to our hosts. He spoke alone for an hour, sharing wisdom and telling members of the music community that it doesn‘t matter what tools you use to make music, it’s all about having heart.

When not going to talks and panels, Jim and Greg are in the trenches-going to shows and listening for the next big thing. Here are their favorite discoveries of this year's fest:

Go to episode 330

The Monkees

Hey, hey it's The Monkees! Jim and Greg go ape on this episode with Eric Lefcowitz, author of Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made For TV Band. Monkees teen icon Davy Jones died last week at age 66, and so Jim and Greg return to this 2011 conversation. The three men talk about the band's history as a group manufactured to tap into Beatlemania. TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider brought bandmates Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones together, and their music was supervised by record producer Don Kirshner. This was the original pop model, giving way to N'Sync, Justin Bieber and Glee. But eventually, as often happens, The Monkees began to itch for independence. They went on to write and produce more of their own music and make the trippy cult classic Head. And of course, there were a number of reunion efforts in later decades. But, for many their legacy remains those wacky TV moments and classic pop songs.

Go to episode 328

1967

Recently Jim and Greg began an exploration of one of the great watershed years in Rock and Roll: 1967. First up was the birth of the album as art. Now, they look at the growth of the live music business and the industry, for better or worse, growing up. There's no better example of this maturation than the Monterey International Pop Festival. For 3 days in June, thousands of music fans descended on Monterey, California to see The Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, The Who and the spectacular debuts of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. They worked for free, with ticket proceeds going to charity, but the capitalist machine was not far behind. As Jim and Greg discuss with writer Harvey Kubernick, managers, promoters and label executives took notice of the festival's popularity and media attention, leading to new signings and savvy marketing plans. In terms of sound, the Monterey performers encapsulated the diversity of the psychedelic era. Rock, funk, jazz, country-it was all up for grabs. And artists like Otis Redding introduced a southern sound to white audiences, paving the way for landmark recordings like Aretha Franklin's I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.

Go to episode 325

1967

Not to make you feel old, but it's been 45 years since the "Summer of Love," the year of the hippie, and some of the most influential music in rock history. So Jim and Greg have decided to look back at the watershed year 1967. Television viewers were treated to memorable performances by The Who, The Doors and The Rolling Stones. Aretha Franklin recorded her famous Atlantic release "Respect." Fans from around the country gathered in California for the Monterey International Pop Music Festival. But during this episode Jim and Greg focus on the single LP's that changed the way people thought of the studio and a collection of songs. 1967 gave birth to the idea of album as art.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band is, of course, the most prominent example of studio innovation on album in '67. Recorded at Abbey Road by George Martin on mono, stereo and four-track recorders, Sgt. Pepper's was a critical and commercial success. But, as they stated during our Revolver Classic Album Dissection, Jim and Greg don‘t think it’s The Beatles‘ best. Nor is it the best album of that year. They’d point people to the landmark recordings The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd, Forever Changes by Love and The Velvet Underground and Nico by The Velvet Underground. Jim and Greg talk about these albums' innovations in terms of recording and artistic ambition. They also hear from Joe Boyd, who produced Pink Floyd's first single in 1967 and Jac Holzman, who discovered Love and signed them to Elektra.

Go to episode 323