What Rocked In 2017

1. Whistleblower Chelsea Manning was released from military prison after having her draconian 35-year sentence commuted by outgoing President Obama.  She should have never been convicted in the first place.

2. President Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans Pacific Partnership.  The only good thing he’s done for the working class.

3. Roy Moore did not become a Senator.  Unlike most observers, I wasn’t surprised at allHe doesn’t believe women should work, vote or become politicians.  He hates Muslims.  He doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state.  He waxed nostalgic for the slave era.  As the Washington Post reported, he enjoyed stalking, harassing and assaulting teenage girls in his 30s.  And he’s a sore loser.  As of this writing, he still hasn’t conceded to incoming Senator Doug Jones.  In fact, despite the vote being officially certified, he has falsely asserted the accurate results were fraudulent because of, wait for it, Black people.

4. JBL finally left the commentary table on Smackdown Live after being a dick to Mauro Ranallo who ended up being moved to NXT.  His weekly obnoxiousness won’t be missed.  Added bonus: JBL blocked me on Twitter along with a whole lot of other folks.  Why?  Because we all tweeted positive things about Ranallo.  What a snowflake.

5. Anthony Scaramucci’s impromptu phone interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker.  It cost him a communications job within the Trump Administration (he was fired before his first official day) but it was absolute gold.  Can Trump please re-hire him just for the material?

6. Martin Shkreli is in prison.  Too bad being a greedy asshole doesn’t result in a life sentence.

7. Queens Of The Stone Age’s Villains.  Still heavy and melodic but a lot funkier than usual.  Josh Homme emotes like no other.

8. Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News, but only after The New York Times revealed numerous multi-million dollar settlements he secretly made with women who accused him of sexual harassment and, in one case, verbal abuse, and ongoing pressure from a sort-of advertiser boycott (the ads were simply relocated to other Fox shows).  The once powerful bark has been reduced to an insignificant yelp.

9. The Festival Of Friendship on Monday Night Raw.  What does Chris Jericho get for humourously and touchingly work shooting his love and respect for “best friend” Kevin Owens?  A brutal beating and the loss of his US Championship at WrestleMania 33.  The high point of a very entertaining story.

10. Alien: Covenant.  Ridley Scott is incapable of making a bad Alien film.  Far scarier and gorier than its underappreciated predecessor, Prometheus.  Michael Fassbender impresses again, this time in two distinctive roles.  He should get nominated for an Oscar but won’t.

11. Coldplay’s Kaleidoscope EP.  In a year filled with so much bad news and haunting dread, leave it to Chris Martin and company to overwhelm you with their much needed inspirational beauty.  Your move, U2.

12. The new 280-character limit on Twitter.  How maddening it had been trying to précis your thoughts to one or several users with 140 and include a link so they would all fit in a single tweet.  I hate restrictions.  Now how about adding an Edit button?

13. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All push which attracted widespread support from Americans and even some prominent Democrats.  What was once considered impossible is now quite doable.  He would’ve won.

14. Raging racist Marine Le Pen did not become the President of France.  But she connected with more voters than her equally racist father.  The future might be more ominous.

15. “Who wants to walk with Elias?”  I pop every time.

16. The summer eclipse.  In some parts of Canada and the US, it was total.  In others, you could still see part of the sun.  The coolest part for my family was seeing it through a miniature light show in our downstairs bathroom.  Imagine seeing tiny circles shaped by growing then departing shadows off and on for hours.  Pretty nifty.

17. Project Veritas tried to fool The Washington Post into believing that one of their dopey undercover operatives had been impregnated by a young Roy Moore.  Not only were they not fooled, they exposed the inept scam in two viral articles.  The value of skeptical journalism writ large.

18. Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.  This overrated fascist supported heartless stings on vulnerable Muslims, secretly infilitrating Black Lives Matter and defended agents impersonating journalists.  Good riddance.

19. The two-part A&E Elizabeth Smart documentary.  A remarkable young woman and her loving family recall her nine months of torture as a teen in the captivity of a hypocritical rapist.  Despite all the horror, vividly retold in unflinching detail, the shocking story has a happy ending.  She’s blissfully married with two kids, wrote a best-selling, acclaimed book about her ordeal and advocates for victims while her attacker is in prison for life.  Justice.

20. Big Wreck’s Grace Street.  Their third rocking album since their welcome reunion.  Now middle-aged, Ian Thornley, the Canadian Chris Cornell, is still angst-ridden and heartbroken.  I wouldn’t want him any other way.

21. Jeremy Corbyn’s strong showing in the UK election.  He singlehandedly exposed the media and the Tories for what they really are:  substantially weakened, morally bankrupt neoliberals.  Theresa May’s poor judgment as Prime Minister (she thought it was a good idea to call this election well before she had to) has sealed her fate.  Her forthcoming resignation is an inevitability.  The future is Labour.

22. Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles at WrestleMania 33.  The opening match which had one of the weakest builds of the year still somehow ended up being the best encounter of the entire show, one of the better events in recent years.  Shane O’Mac has redeemed himself after putting over The Undertaker in that lousy Hell In A Cell match.

23. Leah Remini: Scientology & The Aftermath.  David Miscavige’s worst nightmare.  Season one won a much deserved Emmy.  Season two should nab one, as well.  (What a gut wrenching series of shows it showcased.)  It’s not a benign church, it’s a ruthless, capitalistic cult that ruins lives.

24. The President Show.  Forget Alec Baldwin.  Anthony Atamaniuk’s pitch perfect Trump impersonation is far superior and darker.  The media-hungry leader of America gets the comic drubbing he deserves in the form of a fake talk show co-hosted with his own ass-kissy sidekick, Vice President Mike Pence (wonderfully shameless and secretly conniving Peter Grosz holding his own).  So, when’s fake Bernie Sanders getting his own show?

25. Foo Fighters’ Concrete & Gold.  A welcome return to rollicking form after the disappointing Sonic Highways experiment.

26. The downfalls of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Mark Schwahn, Jeremy Piven, Dustin Hoffman, Jeffrey Tambor, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Mario Batali, Israel Horowitz, James Toback, Louis CK, Mark Halperin, Danny Masterson, Al Franken and many, many others thanks to numerous reported accusations of sexual harassment and assault by hundreds of women and dozens of men.  A long overdue reckoning.  This is only the beginning.

27. Bowe Bergdahl was released from military prison.

28. Split.  Proof that The Visit was not a fluke.  M. Night Shyamalan has indeed revitalized his creativity by focusing more on his own complex characters than getting lost in big budget special effects.  James McAvoy delivers a memorable performance as a deeply troubled man with two dozen distinctive personalities.  And Bjork doppelganger Anya Taylor-Joy is also good as one of his troubled, kidnapped victims.  Along with her very fine appearance in The Witch, she’s a star in the making.

29. All the other wonderful movies I screened this year:  The Skeleton Key, Dirty Wars, Citizenfour, Life Itself, Heavy Metal, Gimme Shelter, Jimi At Monterey, A Christmas Carol (2009), The Shining, The Adventures Of Milo & Otis, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, A View To A Kill, Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist, Purple Rain, Class Of 1984, Firestarter, Neil Young: Heart Of Gold, Neil Young Journeys, Rust Never Sleeps, Ladies & Gentlemen The Rolling Stones, Katy Perry: Part Of Me, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Jungle Book (1967), The Witch, The Last Waltz, The Stranger (1946), Hitchcock, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, Whirlpool, Interstellar, Rocky Balboa, Twilight Zone – The Movie, All Things Must Pass, Nosferatu The Vampyre, Metallica: Through The Never, Streets Of Fire and Eddie & The Cruisers.

30. The Arcade Fire’s Everything Now.  More moving, well-crafted brilliance from Canada’s best band.  My favourite album of the year.

31. A&E’s superb Drew Peterson docuseries.  Despite being a foolish philanderer, it seems highly improbable that he murdered his pregnant wife.  What a miscarriage of justice.  He must be freed.

32. #MeToo.

33. Don Meredith, a married anti-sex preacher, resigned from the Canadian Senate two years after being exposed by The Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail as both a serial sexual harasser and a predator of a young teenage girl.  Stephen Harper sure knows how to pick ’em, doesn’t he?

34. Once wrongly incarcerated at Gitmo for over a decade until his release last year, Mohamedou Slahi’s best-selling but heavily redacted Guantanamo Diary was finally released without the redactions.  I would like to read it.

35. Robyn Doolittle’s Unfounded series in The Globe & Mail.  Sexual assault has not been taken seriously by Canada’s police departments for far too long.  And now, thanks to Doolittle’s dogged reporting, a number of them, including the RCMP, are re-examining their decision to drop so many investigations based on flimsy, sexist assumptions.  We’ll see if victims will finally see justice now.

36. Nine Inch Nails’ Add Violence EP.  Tortured emotions you can dance to.

37. The fall of Milo, the billionaire-financed racist transphobic dickwad who was one of the architects of the long discredited and dangerous GamerGate.  He got turfed from Twitter, lost his book deal (it was released independently and instantly bombed) and got fired from Breitbart (the far right website that launched him) because he condones predatory behaviour of underage boys.  He also couldn’t properly organize a “free speech” event featuring similar right-wing dopes, doesn’t write his own garbage (he has a team of ghostwriters, the lazy cunt), does karaoke with Nazis and his book editor’s harsh comments about his trashed book publicly surfaced.  The sooner he goes away forever, the better.

38. Toronto FC won their first MLS Championship.  The franchise isn’t even a decade old.

39. Impractical Jokers.  The Moronic Beatles of hardcore hidden camera improv.  Even the reruns are funny.  Larry!

40. Braun Strowman, especially when he was beating down Roman Reigns on Raw.  A monster heel with extreme agility who’s on the verge of being world champion some day soon.

41. Ariana Grande’s kindness towards the surviving victims who attended her Manchester show and were shot by a mass shooter.  And that tender moment where she stepped in for a young girl who was overcome with emotion while singing with a choir during a benefit concert following the tragedy.  Compassion is good.  We need a lot more of it.

42. The women of the Canadian Home Shopping Channel.  They should rename it The Milf Channel.  Oh my!

43. Colin Kaepernick’s quiet protest against police brutality.  He might no longer be a quarterback in the NFL but his kneeling during the national anthem has become a powerful statement against white supremacy.  We haven’t heard the last from him.

44. Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg at WrestleMania 33.  They accomplished more in five minutes than the entirety of their hesitant, meaningless encounter at Wrestlemania 20.

45. Michael Flynn, Omarosa, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Tom Price all left The Trump Administration, some in absolute disgrace.  Expect more exits and embarrassing revelations in 2018.

46. Omar Khadr finally got compensation and an apology from the Canadian government for his wrongful incarceration at Gitmo and the horrific abuse he suffered for a decade.  May he live the rest of his life in peace.

47. Christy Clark is no longer the Premier of British Columbia.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 31, 2017
7:20 p.m.

Published in: on December 31, 2017 at 7:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

5 Rock Songs That Slyly Reference 5 Other Rock Songs

Before they were rock stars, they were fans:  impressionable kids who scoured the racks at their local record shops looking for something, a single or an album that would change their lives.  Once they found it, they took it home and played it to death while obsessing over every detail of the packaging until it was all committed to memory.  Then they would return to find something new and repeat the process all over again.

Even after they started their own bands and achieved their own level of success, they never stopped being fans.  From time to time, they even recorded their own versions of their childhood favourites with varying results.

But sometimes the best way to pay tribute to a classic song is to be subtle.  Instead of doing a full throttle remake, why not just make a quick passing reference in one of your originals?  Like a direct lyric lift or a sample.

These five bands did just that:

1. Rush honours Simon & Garfunkel in The Spirit Of Radio (1980)

Drummer Neil Peart was a fan of CFNY, the tiny FM alternative rock station that would introduce the likes of Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols, U2 and countless other cutting edge acts to Toronto-area listeners beginning in 1978 while also playing the latest from Neil Young and The Who, two revered influences on the burgeoning movement.

As a tribute to the station, Peart wrote the lyrics to The Spirit Of Radio, one of CFNY’s early ad slogans, which became one of the key singles from the 1980 album, Permanent Waves.

In the final reggae section of the song, singer/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee sings:

“For the words of the profits are written on the studio walls/Concert hall”

That’s a sly reference to this lyric from Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sounds Of Silence:

“And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/And tenement halls”

Peart was mocking the corroding influence of the commercial music business on individual creativity.

Ironically, The Spirit Of Radio would only receive sporadic airplay on CFNY, much to Rush’s disappointment.  It would be spun far more often on local competing classic rock stations.  In fact, it still is.  It wasn’t until Catherine Wheel was commissioned by the station to do a cover for the Spirit Of The Edge Vol. 2 compilation in 1996 that the song, albeit in this remade form, was finally put in high rotation.

2. Bush references David Bowie in Everything Zen (1994)

Ultimately derided as Nirvana clones (they were really trying to sound like The Pixies), this English foursome couldn’t produce enough modern rock hits to ever win over their increasingly unimpressed critics.

Their first album, Sixteen Stone, quietly debuted just before Christmas in late 1994 and would go on to spawn five singles which flooded alt-rock stations for the next two years.  (The last one, Machinehead, continues to be a jock anthem at numerous sporting events today, most notably hockey.)

Of all the Sixteen Stone hits, none was better than their debut offering, Everything Zen.  At the start of the second verse, singer Gavin Rossdale sings:

“Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow/Dave’s on sale again”

After the massive UK success of his fifth album, The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars in 1972, David Bowie’s record company RCA decided to release a single from his previous LP, Hunky Dory, in order to cash in on his sudden fame the following year.

Smart move.  Life On Mars? went on to become a Top 5 smash despite being two years old.  (Strangely, it was never released as a single in North America.)  At the start of the second verse, Bowie sings:

“It’s on America’s tortured brow/Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow/Now the workers have struck for fame/Cause Lennon’s on sale again”

Bowie was referencing future close pal John Lennon who would release the Imagine album in 1971.  (Four years later, they would collaborate on Bowie’s first US number one smash, Fame, which gives that portion of the lyric unintentional prescience.)  In turn, Rossdale was giving a tip of the hat to Bowie who actually didn’t release any new CDs in 1994.  Presumably, the Bush frontman is referring to his 1993 solo comeback, Black Tie White Noise.

Interestingly enough, Bowie himself referenced another song in Life On Mars?  While the female protagonist is watching the fictional, unnamed film in the chorus, he sings “look at those cavemen go”.  As noted by Wikipedia, that’s a direct reference to a 1960 song called Alley Oop by a forgotten band called The Hollywood Argyles.  (“Look at that caveman go!“)

3. The Tea Party pays homage to Joy Division in Fire In The Head (1995)

Another band who knows a thing or two about having their egos bruised by the critics is this Windsor, Ontario trio.  Often dismissed as “Jim Morrison fronting Led Zeppelin”, which is only partially correct (the band has freely admitted deriving inspiration from the English metal pioneers), The Tea Party were actually more influenced by Joy Division.

Case in point:  the 1995 single Fire In The Head from their third album, The Edges Of Twilight.  At the end of every verse, deep-voiced frontman Jeff Martin croons with his higher-voiced self:

“This is the way/Step inside”

That just happens to be the chorus for Joy Division’s Atrocity Exhibition, the opening track from their second album, Closer.  (Atrocity Exhibition was also the name of an experimental J.G. Ballard novel.)

Tired of comparisons to The Doors, The Tea Party named their fourth album Transmission (also the name of an early non-album Joy Division single) and added keyboards to their already unique sound.  By the end of the decade, they were one of the most successful bands in Canada, half-accurate critical descriptions be damned.

4. Garbage quietly samples R.E.M. for Stupid Girl (1995)

The fourth single from the first Garbage album was their Top 40 breakthrough.  The drum hook that plays throughout the track is from The Clash’s Train In Vain which, curiously enough, was their first Top 40 achievement.

But there’s another unoriginal drum part not credited in the liner notes that pops up during several instrumental breaks.  If you listen closely, you’ll notice a quick rat-a-tat-tat sample from R.E.M.’s Orange Crush.

So, why wasn’t this noted?  A number of quick web searches didn’t provide any answers.  (My guess:  a secret financial deal was reached without the need for credit which, as Alan Cross has noted, is pretty standard for the industry.)  Maybe when the 20th Anniversary edition of Garbage, the band’s self-titled debut, comes out later this year, we’ll get the full scoop.

5. The Killers tip their hat to David Bowie in Mr. Brightside (2004)

This one I just noticed recently after buying the Hunky Dory CD.

In the last verse of Queen Bitch, his glammy tribute to Lou Reed, Bowie sings about being isolated, cold and envious in his hotel room.  At one point, while continuing to observe his male companion “down on the street”, he reports:

“So I throw both his bags down the hall/And I’m phoning a cab/Cause my stomach feels small”

In Mr. Brightside, frontman Brandon Flowers is tormented in the aftermath of an ended affair.  In the second half of the song’s only verse where he punishes himself by dreaming about his ex getting involved with another man, he sings:

“Now I’m falling asleep/And she’s calling a cab/While he’s having a smoke/And she’s taking a drag/Now they’re going to bed/And my stomach is sick”

Earlier, near the end of the first verse of Queen Bitch, Bowie sings:

“I just can’t see her letting him go.”

In Mr. Brightside, in the midst of his imaginary nightmare, Flowers observes:

“But she’s touching his chest now/he takes off her dress now/letting me go”

These similiarites between the two sets of lyrics (both songs deal with jealous lovers) are not a coincidence.  Flowers has openly declared his admiration for Bowie in the press for years.  In fact, in 2010, he said his music changed his lifeIn a 2013 interview with Entertainment Weekly, he admitted that the bassline for All The Things That I’ve Done was stolen from Slow Burn, an underrated Bowie single from 2002’s Heathen.  In that same interview, he revealed that as The Killers were starting to generate material, he was very much into 70s glam rock, Lou Reed’s Transformers & Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust in particular.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 26, 2015
10:18 p.m.

CORRECTION:  I can’t believe I screwed this up.  The Tea Party lyric stolen from Joy Division is “This is the way/step inside” not “aside”.  My apologies for this stupid mistake.  The text has finally been corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 8, 2017
4:17 a.m.

Published in: on July 26, 2015 at 10:18 pm  Comments (1)  

50 Things I Loved About 2014

1. Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt at the Royal Rumble.  Two stellar talents putting on a clinic in the first match of a pay-per-view that easily bested the disappointing WrestleMania 30.

2. Jake “The Snake” Roberts’ WWE Hall of Fame induction speech.  Poignant, cathartic, painfully honest & even funny.  A much deserved honour for a superior ring psychologist.  Thanks for “masturbating our emotions”.

3. Coldplay’s Ghost Stories.  Who knew a “conscious uncoupling” would lead to a lovely set of tunes?

4. Rob Ford is no longer the Mayor of Toronto & Doug Ford is no longer on Toronto City Council.

5. Dylan Farrow’s powerful statement on the New York Times website against her estranged father & childhood abuser, Woody Allen.  It opened up a wide ranging public conversation about sexual assault & the celebrity assailants who often get away with it.

6. The executive summary of the CIA torture report was finally released after multiple delays.  Despite excessive redactions, its shocking revelations should inspire worldwide pressure to prosecute all guilty parties, past and present, even though the Obama Administration is very reluctant to do so themselves, the fucking depraved cowards.

7. Bruce Springsteen’s long awaited studio recording of American Skin (41 Shots).  His timing couldn’t have better.  The song of the year.

8. Germany won the World Cup for the 4th time while defending 2010 champions Spain didn’t even get out of their own group.

9. Jian Ghomeshi & Bill Cosby were finally exposed for the serial predators they’ve secretly always been for decades.  More proof that “nice guy” images are powerfully deceptive.  May their many victims finally get justice after all these decades.

10. Glenn Greenwald’s thoroughly frightening No Place To Hide.  The book of the year.

11. The ending of the final Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.  Very funny homages to The Drew Carey Show, Newhart & The Sopranos.

12. “We’ll Meet Again”, the charming, strangely moving celebrity sing-a-long from the last Colbert Report.  The fake conservative pundit character might be resting in a coffin somewhere but the lid isn’t sealed.

13. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H at WrestleMania 30.  The match of the year.  The post-match steel chair beatdown by H on Bryan’s arm was brutality at its finest.

14. Daniel Bryan winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, his 4th such title, at that same event.  Despite a slow start, the Triple Threat match with Randy Orton & Batista ultimately evolved into an entertaining main event featuring the pinnacle of the most unlikely babyface superstar of all time.  The right guy went over that night.

15. Interpol’s El Pintor.  Still plumbing the darkness for sexual release, this time without Carlos D.  Let’s not take another four years for album number six, ok guys?

16. Being asked to become a Huffington Post Contributor.  Seven posted pieces, thus far, with hopefully many more to come.  Talk about a big career break.  If only it was a paying gig.

17. Robyn Doolittle’s Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story.  Just a small, fascinating taste of the insanity that is the Ford Family, plus a revealing look at how a difficult series of stories came together at The Toronto Star.  I’d love to see a sequel.  God knows there’s more than enough material for one.

18. Canada’s performance at the Winter Olympics.  Winning 25 medals four years after winning a record-setting 26 in Vancouver is pretty god damn impressive.

19. The eruption sequence in Pompeii.  Too bad the rest of the film isn’t as fun to watch.

20. U2’s Songs Of Innocence, the two-disc version.  There’s still plenty of vitality flowing through these middle aged bodies.

21. Weezer’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End.  The record Blue Album fans have been waiting 20 years to hear.  Rivers Cuomo’s voice hasn’t aged a day & he still has a trunkful of catchy melodies to share with the world.

22. Green Day is going into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame next year.  Fuck you, Johnny Rotten.

23. The astonishing fall of former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling.  What took so long?

24. Invisible Children is on the verge of extinction.  You won’t be missed, phony White Savours.  Kony 2012 was an absolute fucking failure.

25. The #BlackLivesMatter movement.  The spirit of Martin Luther King lives on in a peaceful yet rightfully pissed off community tired of systemic mistreatment & disrespect by governments & law enforcement.  May they succeed in their ongoing quest for real change.  A tip of the hat as well to protesting fast food workers, Canada’s native community for demanding an inquiry into missing women & girls as well as fighting against the construction of new gas & oil pipelines and Palestinians for fighting their evil Israeli occupiers.  Righteous, moral courage is contagious.  May we all catch it.

26. Sloan’s Commonwealth.  More melodic elegance from The Canadian Beatles.

27. Belle Knox.  Smart, honest, defiant, ballsy & incredibly sexy.  After being outed by an asshole schoolmate at Duke University, she made the absolute most of a scary situation.  An excellent writer whose young voice will only grow stronger & smarter over time.  She’s also very sweet.

28. Mr. T’s hilarious yet completely sincere WWE Hall of Fame speech, an incredible tribute to his mom.  He shouldn’t have been cut off, though.  Let the man get all his thoughts out, for Christ’s sake.

29. CNN’s explosive reports on Veteran Affairs hospitals in the US shamefully covering up long waiting lists for patients, an uncomfortable reminder that governments still don’t give a shit about the damaged people who implement their heartless & failed foreign policies.  Drew Griffin deserves much praise for his dogged work.

30. Edward Snowden’s prime time interview with NBC’s Brian Williams.  He is the strongest, living reason to impeach President Obama.

31. The continuing bombshell reports on the NSA’s illegal, immoral mass surveillance programs.  Snowden’s whistleblowing continues to reverberate around the world.  Keep sweating, President Obama.

32. Recreational marijuana became legally available for sale in Oregon & Washington State.  The beginning of the end of the war on pot.  How much longer before everyone wants a piece of this lucrative action?

33. Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL.  If only he had beaten up little kids & grown women, he’d be on a team right now.

34. The Intercept.  Finally rolling with regular updates, it’s the best new news site out there right now.  Fiercely adversarial & consistently revelatory.  Glenn Greenwald was absolutely right to leave The Guardian for this venture.

35. Kim Kardashian’s beautiful bare ass.  I like big butts & I cannot lie.

36. Damien Mizdow, The Miz’ stunt double.  Hilarious, despite being somewhat of a comedown from “The Intellectual Saviour of the Masses” gimmick.  On the plus side, however, he’s finally gotten a title push.

37. Big Wreck’s Ghosts.  Yes, Ian Thornley can scream like Chris Cornell but that’s part of the appeal.  Nearly 20 years after In Loving Memory Of…, they can still bring the rock.

38. Lana Del Rey’s inescapably dreamy West Coast.  I finally get it.

39. Police in Holland arrested a man they believed shamed & tormented Amanda Todd online to the point of suicide.  As CBC’s The Fifth Estate revealed, there are dozens more victims in multiple countries including Canada.  It is such a shame his arrest couldn’t have happened much sooner.  Todd may very well still be alive.  God knows it was possible.  But in a story full of so much tragedy, this very positive development may finally get us closer to understanding the full truth.

40. Antonio Cesaro bodyslamming The Big Show over the top rope to win the first ever Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 30.  Also, the handshake at the end was classy.  The Swiss Superman should’ve turned ‘face that night, one of the many fuck-ups the WWE made in 2014.

41. Barack Obama apologist Sophia Bush is still blocking me on Twitter, 18 months and counting.  My second proudest writing achievement next to becoming a Huffington Post Contributor.

42. Edward Snowden was given permission to stay in Russia for three more years, far away from the corrupt tentacles of Obama’s evil National Security State.  Plus, his girlfriend is now living with him.  Suck on that, Michael Hayden, you lying, spying, torturing, bald piece of shit.

43. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s numerous, growing political scandals including the now infamous George Washington Bridge closing.  May his political reputation continue to take the critical beating that it deserves.

44. Eric Cantor surprisingly lost a primary and resigned from Congress.  Now he can enjoy all the Britney Spears concerts he wants.

45. Eric Holder announced his forthcoming resignation as Attorney General.  His legacy will be decidedly mixed.  His constant hounding of whistleblowers & journalists, James Risen in particular, should not be forgotten or forgiven.

46. Egypt’s sham “justice system” which punishes critics, members of the Muslim Brotherhood & journalists doing their jobs like the Al Jazeera Three, & Obama’s continued financing of it.  Disgraceful on so many levels.

47. Lenny Kravitz’ Strut, which features some of his sexiest & most soulful arrangements.  Glad he’s still rocking out.  It’s not fair that he’s better looking than me, though.

48. Rachel Nichols’ welcome, adversarial grilling of serial woman beater Floyd Mayweather on CNN.  I wish every journalist treated him like the disgusting misogynist that he is.  Iron Mike Gallego’s stinging round-up of his criminal acts on DeadSpin deserves high praise, as well.

49. Sheldon Cooper telling his girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler that he loves her for the first time, then kicking her out of his bedroom because girls aren’t allowed in there on The Big Bang Theory.  Perfect.

50. Eugenie Bouchard & Milos Raonic’s grand slam breakthroughs.  How long before either of them take home a major championship for Canada?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 29, 2014
3:06 a.m.

What Sucked In 2013

1. Nelson Mandela died.

2. Roger Ebert died.

3. Lou Reed died.

4. Monday Night Raw became completely unwatchable.

5. Chelsea Manning was sentenced to military prison for 35 years because she exposed American war crimes.

6. CM Punk lost the WWE Championship to The Rock at The Royal Rumble in a match that did not live up to expectations.  Not even close.  Punk should still be the champion.

7. Evil Dead.  Not an improvement over Sam Raimi’s overrated original.

8. The Bella Twins returned to the WWE.

9. The Miz’ babyface run.  He gave you no reason to root for him.

10. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper hasn’t been prosecuted for lying to Congress.

11. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford didn’t resign his office and hasn’t been arrested for any of his publicly disclosed legally dubious transgressions.

12. Dolph Ziggler’s unfortunate concussion which led to an abbreviated World Heavyweight Championship reign.  His unpersuasive face turn is even worse.  Like The Miz, he hasn’t changed anything about his character.

13. The media’s blatant misrepresentation of Pope Francis.  He’s no liberal reformer.

14. Howard Stern’s misguided support for the NYPD’s discredited, discriminatory Stop and Frisk program, which is now thankfully on the decline.  Maybe if he was Black or Hispanic he would understand the outrage.

15. George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin.  A botched, overzealous prosecution got in the way of real justice.  We may never know the whole story.

16. My nasty migraine that lasted for weeks back in the late Spring.  (Thanks to my doctor for suggesting Aleve.  That shit works.)

17. U2’s next studio album didn’t get released.  (It’s out in March.)

18. Austin Aires wasn’t fired from TNA for being a sexist dick to ring announcer Christy Hemme on Impact Wrestling.

19. Paul Walker died.

20. Jeffrey Toobin’s dopey comments about Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald’s husband, David Miranda.  Why has he been taking the government’s side on the mass surveillance issue?  Is he really this ignorant about the importance of whistleblowers and respecting privacy?

21. The new WWE Championship belt.  It did the impossible.  It made me nostalgic for the Spinner strap.

22. Evan Bourne still hasn’t returned to the WWE.

23. The firing of Jim Ross.  Is it his fault Ric Flair can’t be muzzled?

24. Renee Young on Vintage.  She’s even more annoying than Matt Striker.  I can’t watch it anymore.

25. Gitmo remains open despite a mass hunger strike involving most of the unconvicted detainees that caused a firestorm of controversy for much of the year.  (It’s still active today but with fewer participants and no more military updates.  The truth makes America look bad, you see.)

26. The unlawful force feeding of many of those same detainees.  Obama loves torturing innocent people just as much as Bush and Cheney ever did.

27. Cory Monteith died.

28. Along with the aforementioned Evil Dead remake, all the other awful movies I screened this year:  Zero Dark Thirty, Grown-ups, Beastly, House At The End Of The Street, Friday After Next, 50 First Dates, Texas Chainsaw, Beetlejuice, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, The Three Stooges remake, Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke, No Time For Sargeants, Meet Monica Velour, The Gate, The Purge, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Hold Your Breath, The Apparition, Spice World, Paranormal Activity 4, A Haunted House, Nanny McPhee and all 7 Saw movies.

29. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West hooked up and are now procreating.  Please make it stop.

30. The American federal government shutdown.  Way to piss off America, Republicans.

31. Dennis Rodman’s bizarre friendship with ruthless North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un, a man who just had his uncle executed.

32. Curtis Axel.  Even the great Paul Heyman couldn’t get him over.

33. The Boston Marathon bombing.  Watching the footage of the bombs going off is still deeply unsettling.

34. The death of Paul Bearer.  Rest.  In.  Peace.

35. Tiger Woods started dating Lindsay Vonn.  She must have a bad memory.

36. James Gandolfini died.

37. The Egyptian military coup.  America truly doesn’t want Muslims to control their own destinies.  The Muslim Brotherhood are far from perfect but they were democratically elected.  How are they exactly “terrorists”?

38. The flood in Calgary.

39. The massive fire on the boardwalk on the Jersey Shore.  More heartbreak for citizens and business owners after the treachery of Superstorm Sandy last year.

40. Ted Cruz’ incredibly stupid filibuster against the Affordable Care Act.  A total waste of time and extremely self-serving.

41. An important element of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was struck down by the American Supreme Court.  It needs to be restored, pronto.

42. Despite winning the WWE Championship twice, Daniel Bryan never got a chance to have a lengthy title run.  Maybe in 2014.

43. The Bangladesh tragedy.  A jolting reminder of the importance of unions and the heartless indifference of greedy corporations.

44. The North American ice storm.  Shades of 1998 on a thankfully much smaller scale.

45. The tragic train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec.  Completely preventable.

46. Rolling Stone/Buzzfeed reporter and author Michael Hastings died.

47. Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

48. All the insane fuss over George, the Royal Baby.  Nobody cares.

49. The unfair prosecution of Justin Carter.  Drop it already.  He’s been punished enough.

50. The excessive coverage of the Jodi Arias murder trial.

51. Glenn Greenwald left The Guardian.

52. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ruthless crackdown on LGBT citizens in his own country.

53. The mysterious murder of American teen Kendrick Johnson.  Will it ever be solved?

54. Alberto Del Rio’s half-year run as a babyface.  It was botched from the start and never recovered.

55. Alec Baldwin still can’t keep his temper in check.

56. President Obama’s drones are still killing innocent civilians.  Where is the accountability?

57. The nine hour detention of David Miranda, Greenwald’s husband, by British airport authorities.  If they thought this would stop the former lawyer from continuing to report on the NSA’s bullshit, they completely miscalculated.

58. Omar Khadr and John Kiriakou are still in prison for doing absolutely nothing wrong.  Barrett Brown and Jeremy Hammond are also being punished but for committing honourable acts of civil disobedience.  Free and pardon them all.

59. The DVD player in my TV only loads discs when it wants to and rarely on the first attempt.  (I know.  Woe is me.)  Got to figure out how to upgrade to Blu-Ray.

60. All the thousands of Americans murdered and wounded by guns since Newtown.  When will the madness end?

61. The typhoon in the Philippines.

62. Rhianna reunited with Chris Brown.  Thankfully, it was short-lived.

63. Howard Stern’s cluelessness on Edward Snowden.  When you find yourself agreeing with Scott DePace, dog beater and inventor of the Video Caddy, there’s something wrong with you.

64. Jean Stapleton died.  We’ll miss you, dingbat.

65. The Canadian penny was discontinued.  A major pain in the ass for retailers.

66. The phony controversy over Rolling Stone putting one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers on its cover.  That same picture was used on the front of The New York Times earlier, so where was the anger then?

67. Storage Wars: Canada.  One spin-off too many.

68. John Cena and Randy Orton continue to get world title pushes.  Why?

69. Sophia Bush’s absolute refusal to criticize President Obama.  What will it take for her to wake up to reality and stop being such a big baby about my harsh comments?

70. I bought a new VCR/DVD combo player that was incompatible with my barely existing TV/DVD combo player.  Thankfully, it was returned for a full refund.  Still, what a huge disappointment.

71. Lara Logan wasn’t fired from 60 Minutes for her erroneous Benghazi report.

72. The return of Anthony Weiner’s penis.  Why is a married guy seeking other opinions?

73. Megyn Kelly of Fox News claiming she was just joking when she said Santa and Jesus are white.  No, you weren’t.

74. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson’s awful comments about blacks and gays, and his support for marrying underage teenage girls.  Maybe it’s time for him to go back on drugs.

75. Aaron Swartz killed himself.  Shame on you, Department of Justice, for pushing him into an awful decision.

76. Time Magazine and The Advocate naming Pope Francis Person Of The Year.  Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, respectively, were more deserving.

77. Careless Teens.  See what you did, Jackass?

78. The Mali mall massacre.

79. The crackdown on Turkish protestors.

80. Nia Moore on The Real World: Portland.  What a fucking psycho.

81. President Obama remains in office despite imprisoning whistleblowers, investigating journalists, force-feeding mostly innocent hunger striking Gitmo detainees, and ordering the murders of Muslims without proof of wrongdoing via drones.  Where is the outrage?

82. The awesome Reeva Steenkamp, so much more than just a beautiful woman, was tragically murdered by her boyfriend, the once inspiring Paralympian Oscar Pistorius.  Will he get away with it?

83. The Huffington Post’s Bob Cesca.  Why is he more critical of Glenn Greenwald than Barton Gellman when they’ve reported on the exact same things?  And why is he downplaying the significance of Edward Snowden’s revelations?

84. Crossfire returned.  Was it really missed these past nine years?

85. Rand Paul’s plagiarism scandal.  Absolutely no excuse for it.

86. Alex Rodriquez was able to keep playing for the New York Yankees despite being caught using performance enhancing drugs.  Again.

87. The relentless criticism levelled against Seth McFarlane regarding his performance as Oscar host.  Feminists, I love you.  You’ve done so much good for the world, even today, but you’re wrong about this one.  He wasn’t sexist.  He was funny and clever.  (When he said you wouldn’t let things go, you proved him right.)

88. The Edmonton Oilers.  I can’t even watch their televised regular season games anymore.  Too depressing.

89. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats lost to The Saskatchewan Rough Riders in The Grey Cup.

90. Sophia Bush complained that I criticized her charity work.  Wrong.  I criticized her chronic inability to hold her “hero” President Obama to the same standard on human rights abuses as convenient villain of the moment, Joseph Kony of the Congo.  Her paraphrasing of my words is grossly inaccurate and deeply insulting.

91. CNN’s Chris Cuomo’s embarrassing prime-time interview with Amanda Knox.  Why is he so obsessed with her sex life?

92. Knox and ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are being retried in Italy in the Meredith Kercher murder case despite already being cleared and the real culprit already serving his sentence.

93. The ongoing sequester in America.  Far more damaging than the three-week shutdown.

94. Nigella Lawson’s awful year.  Choked out by her soon-to-be-ex-husband in public, accused of being a cokehead in a lawsuit.

95. The Rock vs. John Cena at WrestleMania 29.  I thought it would be better than their WrestleMania 28 encounter.  I was wrong.

96. Manti Te’o got catfished and covered it up.  Many can relate but few will admit it.

97. The media overhype over the nonexistent “Knockout Game”.  Stop scaring people.  That’s the NSA’s job.

98. The shooting death of Sammy Yatim by police while he was having an episode on a TTC streetcar.  What happened to peaceful negotiations leading to surrender?

99. The murder of Tim Bosma.  And for what?  His pick-up truck?  Despicable.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 29, 2013
6:18 p.m.

Daniel Lanois Teases New Details About The Next U2 Record

It’s been four years since U2 released a proper studio album.  But the wait might soon be over.

Ever since the worldwide success of No Line On The Horizon in 2009, the band needlessly excited its supporters by announcing plans for an immediate follow-up in 2010, a more acoustic-sounding “companion piece” that would mark a departure from their more regular electric efforts.  For whatever reason, though, Songs Of Ascent hasn’t surfaced.

The following year, we were told that the foursome were working on three other projects:  a dance record that would presumably go further than the first three songs of Pop, a proper rock album being produced by Danger Mouse and a collection of all the songs written for the problem-plagued Broadway musical Spider-Man:  Turn Off The Dark re-recorded by the band themselves.  None of that material has seen the light of day.  (And don’t get me started on the shelved material they recorded with Rick Rubin sometime last decade.)

Back in January of this year (and I don’t know how I missed this), frontman Bono revealed one of the six working titles for the proper rock album I just mentioned:  10 Reasons To Exist, which I doubt will stick (but I’ve been wrong before).  And now, thanks to one of their longtime collaborators, we have something of a sense of what that particular album will sound like if it ends up being released in its current state (which is doubtful because the band are notorious perfectionists).

At the bottom of this new interview with The Globe & Mail, producer Daniel Lanois reveals that he’s heard 10 Reasons To Exist, thanks to a recent visit from Bono at his Los Angeles home.  Back in Canada to accept a lifetime achievement award from the Governor General, the one-time Hamiltonian had this to say about the new record:

“It sounded amazing.  Very, very big and powerful-sounding.  Some of it was adventurous.  There were shades of Achtung Baby.  A couple of songs I was familiar with, because we worked on them before but had not completed them.  Now they’re back on the burner.  Bono is very excited, and he’s singing beautifully.  He makes me jealous.  Those barrel-chested Irish tenors. ”

Sadly, regarding the older material, Lanois doesn’t mention any song titles or when these particular tracks were first being assembled under his watch.

When asked if he was disappointed not to be a part of the creative team this time around, Lanois replied thusly:

“I’m actually glad that I’m not making this record with them.  I don’t think I’d survive the experiment.  It’s hard work.  It’s two years, and it will be a character-building experience for Danger Mouse.  You really have to be physically fit to make a U2 record.  But, really, they’re all hard.  All records are hard to make.”

He’s not kidding about the difficulties of working with U2.  To cite one example, in his 1999 book, 20th Century Rock And Roll:  Alternative Rock, music historian Alan Cross mentions in passing that during the initial German sessions of Achtung Baby in 1990 Bono and Lanois had such creative differences that the “personal tensions” between them “sometimes descended into ugly shouting matches”.  It was only when Brian Eno finally arrived in early 1991 (he was too busy to participate at first) that everybody calmed down and the album slowly started to find its focus.  (It also helped that they moved back to Ireland to re-start the sessions.)

You know, it’s not unusual for U2 to present to the public brand new full-length offerings after working in the studio at a snail’s pace.  Three years separated The Unforgettable Fire (1984) and The Joshua Tree (1987) as well as Rattle & Hum (1988) and Achtung Baby (1991), and Pop (1997) and All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000).  How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004) came four years after that and half a decade went by before the unveiling of No Line On The Horizon (2009).  If it wasn’t for all these additional reissues, greatest hits packages, books and DVDs they released in between them, the waiting for new music would feel even longer than it already does.

But back to 10 Reasons To Exist (or whatever it will eventually be called).  Back in January, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. claimed on Irish radio station, 2FM, that they’re aiming to have it out this coming September with the hope of dropping another album of material next year.

Treat that announcement with the grain of salt it deserves.  The band’s history is littered with promised release dates that are cancelled again and again because the music is not quite there yet.  Sometimes in the past when a new record was released before they felt it was completely ready (think the much-delayed Pop), that solidifies their conviction in spending the extra time to get it right the next time.

At any event, it doesn’t matter to me how long it takes them to finally finish an album and ship it out to the world.  As long as the music makes me sing along repeatedly, I’m happy.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 1, 2013
8:05 p.m.

UPDATE:  Rolling Stone reports the new album is being mixed in New York.  Furthermore, bassist Adam Clayton told Hot Press Magazine, “We very much want to have a record out by the end of the year, September, October, November…”.  Here’s hoping for no more delays.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
1:45 a.m.

Published in: on June 1, 2013 at 8:05 pm  Comments (1)  

U2 Reissuing Achtung Baby

Four years ago, it was The Joshua Tree.  The year after that, it was Boy, October and War.  And last year, it was The Unforgettable Fire.

This year, it’s Achtung Baby’s turn to get the deluxe reissue treatment.  Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the first appearance of U2’s magnificent follow-up to Rattle & Hum (speaking of which, how come that one hasn’t been updated?).  The album that pretty much kept me going during one of the worst times of my life is being re-released in no less than 5 different versions.  Let’s go through them one at a time:

For those who simply want a remastered version of the original CD without any extras, you can opt for the 12-track standard re-release.  From Zoo Station to Love Is Blindness, there are no bad songs.

Next is the two-disc Deluxe Edition.  Like the earlier reissues, it follows the same basic formula:  original album on disc one, B-Sides and rarities on disc two.  (If you’re a vinyl nut, you can go for the 4 LP box set which reportedly will include the same amount of tracks.) 

Although an official track listing has not been released, Universal Records has released a preliminary one that may change within the next few weeks.  Among the possible songs for the bonus disc:  the UV1 mix of Lady With The Spinning Head (which was ultimately reworked into three Achtung cuts including The Fly; an Extended Dance Mix previously appeared on The Best Of 1990-2000), Salome, Where Did It All Go Wrong, the single version of Even Better Than The Real Thing, the Temple Bar Remix of Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses (but not the Temple Bar Single Edit which was used in place of the album version for the video), Alex Descends Into Hell For A Bottle Of Milk/Cordova 1 (The Fly’s B-Side that also appeared on the Johnny Mneumonic soundtrack) and covers of Lou Reed’s Satellite Of Love, CCR’s Fortunate Son and The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black.

As good as that line-up sounds, the Deluxe Edition won’t be nearly as comprehensive as the Super Deluxe Edition.  Now, get a load of this.  Besides the original Achtung Baby (disc one), you also receive Zooropa (disc two), the underrated 1993 album, plus four bonus CDs.  

Disc three (“Uber Remixes”), features 11 dance reworkings including Bono’s cover of Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling In Love (his earlier take is on the Honeymoon In Vegas soundtrack) and the band’s remake of Cole Porter’s Night And Day most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra (a different version by U2 appeared on the Red Hot + Blue benefit album and disappointingly, is not part of any these reissues).

Disc four (“Unter Remixes”) features 11 more dance versions including the Zooromancer Remix of Salome as well as reworkings of the Zooropa singles, Lemon and Numb.  Each CD features three different re-dos of Mysterious Ways but not the Solar Plexus Club Mix, unfortunately.  And only half of the eight previously available Even Better Than The Real Thing remixes are expected to be included.  (If my math is good, all but five remixes in total from the Baby period will be a part of this particular release.)  Disc five is the B-Sides and Rarities disc from the Deluxe Edition.

The sixth and final disc is basically an alternate version of the original album nicknamed “Baby”.   (The unofficial track list for this massive set can be seen here.)

That’s not all.  You also get 4 DVDs including From The Sky Down, the documentary that recently screened at The Toronto International Film Festival (and apparently, isn’t getting a theatrical release), and the previously released Zoo TV concert from Sydney, Australia.  U2 made some of their most enduring, visually inventive videos during this period and they’re also included in the package.  It’s not yet known what else will be on the DVDs.

If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, you can always settle for the limited edition Uber Deluxe Edition, the biggest reissue of them all.  Combining the Vinyl Box Set with the contents of the Super Deluxe Edition, it also features 7″ records of each of the original album’s singles, individual blown up photos that collectively became Achtung Baby’s cover (also in the SDE), an edition of the band’s fan magazine, Propaganda, stickers, badges, a book (which oddly has 8 more pages than the SDE edition) and even a replica of Bono’s iconic Fly sunglasses.

After being mostly pleased with the Deluxe Editions of The Joshua Tree, Boy and October (I’m still looking for Unforgettable Fire and War), I’m wondering whether The Super Deluxe Edition, with all these remixes previously issued as Baby/Zooropa B-Sides, rather than the two-disc Deluxe Edition, is the version I most want.  God knows I could care less about overrated vinyl.  (I’m a CD die hard.)  While not offering every B-Side, The SDE offers a ton of extras nonetheless.

At any event, look for all these reissues on Halloween.  Start saving your pennies. 

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
1:12 a.m.

Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 1:12 am  Comments (1)  

10 Great Songs From The 1990s (Part Two)

“I’ll Stick Around” by FOO FIGHTERS (1995)

Written and recorded during some down time from his meal ticket, Dave Grohl, who played everything on the track, unravels the mystery of his turbulent relationship with Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain in this phenomenal rocker.  “I stand accused of all the methods you abused,” he shyly sings at one point, pointedly criticizing the singer’s endless heroin nightmare.  “I don’t owe you anything,” he eventually shouts during the chorus. 

Grohl made a stand with this material and it paid off handsomely, thanks to his one-man wizardry.  The then-underrated musician had something to prove on that first Foos album and while it took me ten years to move from a mixed assessment to a mostly positive one, there’s no question he could write cutting edge material with the best of them.  Cobain would’ve killed for a hook like this.

“Miss Sarajevo” by PASSENGERS (1995)

The only Luciano Pavarotti number ever heard on pop radio and it’s a dandy.  Inspired by an actual underground beauty pagent in the former Yugoslavia, the song is one long Bosnian Inquisition, so to speak.  “Is there a time for keeping your distance?”  Bono beautifully inquires as he poses one rhetorical question after another. 

Then, the pay off.  Pavarotti in all his Italian splendour, long past his prime but not giving a damn, delivers his most moving solo in years.  The only single released from U2 and Brian Eno’s marginally acceptable experimental Original Soundtracks 1 release, Miss Sarajevo is deeply profound in its sadness and it only takes one listen to appreciate your own fortunate existence.

“The Fly” by U2 (1991)

More than any other group, U2 had probably the most to lose in the 1990s.  If the long awaited follow-up to Rattle & Hum wasn’t extraordinary, they would’ve had a much harder time maintaining their much revered iconic status.  But a new ironic identity was effectively molded after much internal struggle thanks to the brilliant Achtung Baby. 

Many of the cuts on that record are superb but I want to single out the first single.  His voice electronically altered, Bono assumes the persona of a know-it-all barstool prophet offering various thoughts and opinions, all of them provocative, especially the artists and poets section.  (“Every artist is a cannibal/Every poet is a thief/All kill their inspiration/Then sing about their grief”)

If that weren’t enough to savour, The Edge is given yet another great showcase for his stellar guitar playing.  Why is he so consistently sharp?  He squeezes the most emotion out of the fewest notes.  As Juliana Hatfield once sang, Simplicity Is Beautiful.


It was a dismal decade for original film scores.  One of the few that were truly inspired was the one composed for the Arnold Schwarzenegger smash, Total Recall.  For this project, Jerry Goldsmith, best known for Alien and the main title theme for Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (later recycled for The Next Generation TV show and films), created some of the most exciting music ever heard in an action movie.  (Seek out the audio soundtrack.  It’s terrific.) 

The Dream is heard twice in Total Recall.  First, during the dazzling opening title sequence and again through most of the end credits.  It’s a classical piece with a rock mentality, heavy on the drums and emotion.  And it features a goose-pimply bridge that’ll knock your socks off.  Easily Goldsmith’s finest and most underrated moment as a composer and conductor.  The National Philharmonic Orchestra follows his lead beautifully here.  I can’t imagine the movie without this magical masterstroke.  Awesome.

“Clownmaster” by SUGAR (1993)

After he quit Husker Du in 1988 and went solo for a brief period, Bob Mould formed another power pop trio in the 1990s.  Sugar are one of my favourite groups from that decade and it’s a crime that this riveting instrumental was, for the most part, completely ignored by the mainstream. 

An outtake from the sessions that produced their fine debut album, Copper Blue, Clownmaster initially surfaced as a bonus track on the If I Can’t Change Your Mind CD single in 1993.   You can also find it on the 1995 Besides compilation. 

Most of the songs on this list grabbed me from the very first second I heard them.  Clownmaster is no exception.  Sometimes, words get in the way of a marvellous arrangement which might explain why this song went from being about John Wayne Gacy (hence the title) to having no lyrical content whatsoever.  As a result of this excellent decision, this has become one of my all-time favourite rock ‘n’ roll juggernauts.  It may now be wordless but the music speaks volumes.  It’s fast, electric, relentlessly exciting, and ends at the right moment, dead cold. 

Three minutes and fifteen seconds of non-stop jamming and I love it.  If only Mould would re-form the band again.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 30, 2011
10:42 p.m.

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

10 Great Songs From The 1990s (Part One)

After college graduation in the spring of 1996, my life didn’t quite take off like I had hoped.  There was no job waiting for me.  No women to date.  I still lived at home.  And I felt completely burned out after 16 straight years of working my way through the public and private education systems. 

Furthermore, my perfectionism, which had served me well all these years, was now turning against me.  For instance, it started to become quite difficult to enjoy (and properly critique) movies and music like I had so easily and effortlessly earlier in the decade.  And, for the most part, I was becoming more withdrawn from the world at large.  (I rarely socialized.)  Sadly, the second half of the decade was much less fun and productive than the first.  I regret that so much.

When 2000 arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But thankfully, despite some setbacks and disappointments, it was the beginning of a much better period, one of many in the last 11 years.  My ongoing love affair with entertainment was reignited and I was soon making up for so much lost time.

Near the end of the summer, with my confidence gradually returning, I decided to try to become a freelance writer.  Looking back, I was woefully unprepared for even thinking about the idea, let alone making it happen. 

Exactly one article was pitched to several magazines through the mail.  There were no takers.  Thank goodness I was able to get a full-time job the following month (which I quit 6 months later) or I’d have zero earning opportunities.  I give up way too easily, I know.  (By 2001, however, I would try again and have a bit more luck.)

Anyway, all of this is a way of introducing this previously unseen piece, the aforementioned freelance article.  It was originally entitled “The Top 10 Songs Of The 1990s” but I’ve dropped the title because I don’t believe these were the best of the best anymore.  If I were to compile the list again, there would likely be some changes.  As a result, it’s now called “10 Great Songs From The 1990s”. 

However, the order of the songs (from tenth best to the best of the decade minus the numbers) remain the same so you’ll still get to check out the original list.  (Because of length concerns, the piece has been split into two equal parts.  Songs 10 through 6 in Part One, 5 through 1 in Part Two.)

Naturally, because of the reworked concept there are numerous revisions but thankfully, the essence of the original work remains intact.  The intro is exactly the same but now includes a new paragraph at the end that you could say is a sneaky swerve on my part. 

There are some dropped lines that were either out-of-date, iffy or didn’t reflect my current feelings, others that have been slightly tinkered with for grammatical purposes and there’s some added material in certain sections to either beef up thin areas or, in the case of the U2 section in Part Two, to offer a replacement opinion. 

(Everything remains the same in The Fly section except for the interpretation of the lyrics.  Originally, I thought Bono was referencing The Edge’s marital troubles, particularly with the line “You know I don’t see you when she walks in the room.”.  But after reading U2 By U2 and writing about this song in my series on the greatest U2 singles in 2007, a more accurate assessment now replaces this erroneous one.)



While everyone was busy being distracted by the faux millennium advertising blitz of 1999, something important was ignored:  the 1990s.  With the exception of Billboard and Rolling Stone, there weren’t many in-depth music retrospectives of the last 10 years.  In fact, more attention was focused on the past 999 years.  That left little room for thorough analysis of the decade that gave us SoundScan, the commercial breakthrough of underground rock and all of the sub-genres of rap.

Compiling a Top 10 list of your favourite songs of any given decade is a pain in the ass.  Shortlisting individual standouts from the 1990s, however, was even more difficult.  Here’s why.  At the end of 1991, roughly 7000 new albums were issued.  By the time 1999 wrapped up there were 10 times as many new releases.  No one person could ever hear every single song available for purchase.  (Who would try?)  And therefore, any list you make is left wide open for complaints about inexcusable omissions and questionable selections.

A list like this has to be great.  Only the most memorable, the most exciting, the most surprising, and the most enduring songs should make the cut.  They can be singles, album cuts, B-sides, mystery tracks, even new, original music from a film or TV program, whether it’s pop or classical.  And they have to have been released between January 1, 1990 and December 31, 1999.  (Lust For Life, Da Da Da and other oldie cult hits that enjoyed new life in the 1990s are unfortunately disqualified.)

Which is why I’ve decided not to put together a Top 10 list of my own.  (I couldn’t possibly settle on two handfuls of choices.)  Instead, I’ve selected 10 of my personal favourites from the past 10 years.  Some are no-brainers, some are a bit obscure and some are likely to cause vehement disagreements.  I don’t care.

“You Get What You Give” by NEW RADICALS (1998)

Musical nomad Gregg Alexander went the David Coverdale route when he founded the New Radicals, a group made up of hired session players, in the middle of the decade. 

Born and raised in Detroit by a plumber, a Jehovah’s Witness, The MC5, R&B and the original British Invasion, Alexander (really Gregg Aiuto), the only permanent Radical, was responsible for one of the most uplifting singles of the ’90s:  a song about hope, disloyalty, vanity, greed, insincerity, charity, teenage vandalism and Judgment Day.  Even Kurt Cobain didn’t cram his songs with so many ideas. 

With an irresistible arrangement that grows on you more and more after repeated listenings, you can’t help but be swept up in its optimism and gospel-like euphoria.  I’m not the first person to compare them to Karl Wallinger’s World Party.  And I won’t be the last. 

However, this remarkable debut single was the Radicals’ peak.  Someday We’ll Know, the second release from their only album, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed, Too, despite some airplay, failed to make the same impression.  The band soon folded in 1999.  It’s too bad.  You Get What You Give was much admired by many including Joni Mitchell and Brian Wilson.  Easily, one of the best one-hit wonders of the decade.

“Perforation Problems” by IGGY POP (1993)

In the last decade “The Godfather Of Punk” continued to pummel us with his blunt tales of unrequited love, requited lust, political corruption and the idiots who run the music biz.  Brought back to life by Trainspotting, back catalogue sales, a surprise Top 40 hit (1990’s Candy) and all those TV ads that used Real Wild Child, Search & Destroy, Lust For Life and The Passenger, the former Jim Osterberg still produced some fresh, new albums. 

Perforation Problems is a largely underappreciated album cut from his 1993 release, American Caesar, which is best known for the great single, Wild America.  With its invigorating ascendant melody and honest lyrical tone Iggy delivers the goods with this smart rant against heroin addiction and how it can’t fill the holes of one’s soul.  

No doubt personal experience with the drug during his crazier, younger days paved the way for this insightful song.  Here’s hoping more people will “know the right way out”, stop “hangin’ on a needle” and acting like a “dirty slave” until it’s too late.

“Pay No Mind (Snoozer)” by BECK (1994) 

The second single from Mellow Gold, this follow-up to the ubiquitious Loser sounds like something a goofy stoner would sing around the campfire at summer camp.  If Weird Al decided to write something for Johnny Cash, this might be the result. 

With wonderfully surreal lines (“Give the finger to the rock and roll singer/As he’s dancing upon your paycheck”), Pay No Mind underscores Beck’s most consistent strength:  vivid lyrics.  And any song that has “a giant dildo crushing the sun” deserves special recognition.

“Ich Bin Ein Auslander” by POP WILL EAT ITSELF (1994)

The title comes directly from a famous speech made by President John F. Kennedy when he visited Germany in 1961.  It means “I am a stranger” and it’s the perfect title for this chilling yet hooky alt-rock smash.  Spawned from the Dos Dedos Mis Amigos album, it manages to combine two remarkably compatible elements – social commentary and industrial dance music – into a single track. 

Rightfully criticizing the Bosnian War, the song asks two uncomfortable questions:  “…when they come to ethnically cleanse me/Will you speak out?/Will you defend me?”.  In theory, a reasonable person would say yes.  As history has proven over and over again, however, reality’s a different story altogether.

“Firestarter” by PRODIGY (1996)

Released a year before landing on The Fat Of The Land CD, this song, thankfully, became a global blockbuster.  You may think it’s about pyromania, but then again, you might think George W. has brains.  It’s hard to write a great song, let alone one that perfectly describes the fire in the belly one feels inspired to write about.  Prodigy accomplished this goal quite nicely. 

“I’m the one invented twisted animator,” rap-sings the charismatic, spiky-haired Keith Flint at one point.  He has a lot of great lines and they suit the alternately frenetic and calming arrangement.  As a result, Firestarter thoroughly exhausts you.  You’re left with a dry throat and a deep sense of relief.  Listen for the little girl samples.  (“Hey!  Hey!  Hey!”)  They’re taken from an Art Of Noise single called Close To The Edit.  (The Breeders’ S.O.S. was also sampled.)  A song that sounds much better now than it did in 1996.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 30, 2011
10:27 p.m.

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2009 (Part Four)

Winner:  U2
It was another productive year for the greatest rock band of all time.  No Line On The Horizon, U2’s follow-up to the Grammy-winning How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, was another solid effort earning a 5-star review from Rolling Stone Magazine.  (Along with The New York Times and The Chicago Sun-Times, Rolling Stone also named it one of the best albums of the year.)  It was their first album to feature no bad songs since Pop.  To promote the record, the band played killer live versions of the first single, Get On Your Boots, on at least two awards shows including The Grammys (which they opened).  When the album was issued in March, the band played five straight Late Shows With David Letterman, offering a preview of all the singles from the record plus Beautiful Day which ended with Bono paying tribute to the much-missed New York punk legend Joey Ramone.  (A sixth song, which never aired, was performed especially for the audience in The Ed Sullivan Theater.)  In September, during the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, the band delivered another typically strong 3-song set.
In the fall, The Unforgettable Fire was reissued with a bonus disc of complete B-Sides and rarities which earned the band more good critical notices.  Bono and The Edge appeared on the second season premiere of Elvis Costello’s Spectacle.  Despite the mutual asskissing and lack of revelation, it was an entertaining interview.  Plus, there was a rare live performance of Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad, a moving track written for Frank Sinatra in the early 1990s who, sadly, never recorded it. (His daughter, Nancy, covered it on her self-titled 2004 album.  Canadian jazz artist Matt Dusk also did a rendition on his 2004 collection, Two Shots.)
Ending off another memorable year, the band contributed a new song called Winter to Jim Sheridan’s latest film, Brothers.  It was recently shortlisted for consideration in the Best Original Song category for the upcoming Academy Awards.  Plus, the band received three Grammy nominations.  No Line On The Horizon is up for Best Rock Album (it should’ve also received an Album Of The Year nomination but I digress) and I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight is competing in the Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals categories. 
Here’s hoping it won’t be another 5-year wait for the next studio record.
(January 2nd UPDATE:  There’s more good news.  Pollstar.com recently announced that the band were the top grossing concert act of 2009.)
Loser:  Jay Leno
After ending his 17-year stint hosting The Tonight Show on a weak note in May, the big-chinned comedian took a gamble on a new prime-time talk show in September.  Despite debuting with very strong ratings during his first week (roughly 18 million viewers caught the opener), reviews were less than stellar.  (Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly recently named The Jay Leno Show the worst TV program of the year.)  It also didn’t hurt that the show was initally competing against reruns. 
Once new episodes of other programs started airing, however, the ratings dropped significantly.  In the show’s second week, the average nightly viewership was between 6 and 7 million (slightly higher than his Tonight Show viewership).  Great numbers for a late night program but not for prime-time.  Unfortunately, local NBC affiliates noticed that the show was affecting the ratings of its 11 o’clock newscasts.  They’re down by between 20 and 30%.  Despite the hilarity of Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show, its ratings have been affected by Leno, as well.  (Late Show With David Letterman routinely beats it.)
If that weren’t bad enough, many in the entertainment industry are openly rooting for its cancellation.  Howard Stern, still steaming over how Leno lured Stuttering John over to The Tonight Show in 2003 as well as signature bits being stolen without credit (Jaywalking, for example, being a rip-off of The Homeless Game), has been revelling in its failure and ER producer John Wells (who’s also the President of The Writers Guild Of America, West) would rather see NBC go back to making episodic dramas at 10 p.m., a common refrain of creative colleagues.  Furthermore, a number of competing networks have banned many of their talent from doing the show.
With Comcast now a majority holder of NBC, how long will it stick with The Jay Leno Show?  If the ratings remain lousy for a prolonged period of time, don’t expect a renewal.  
Winner:  Lou Diamond Phillips
It takes a strong person to put up with Janice Dickinson, Heidi Montag, Spencer Pratt and two Baldwin brothers for any amount of time, but to do it on Television in a rainy and muggy Costa Rican jungle for many, many hours without completely losing your dignity, that’s impressive.  Although one could easily question his decision to appear on the show in the first place, this La Bamba actor (and Tony Award nominee) made the most of his 24-day stint on the second season of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!
A serious competitor from the start, the 16-day Camp Leader won 11 of the 24 “trials” and was declared the winner on the 24th and final broadcast, making his charity, Art Has Heart Foundation, very happy. 
But it was his remarkable run in The Main Event of The 2009 World Series Of Poker that garnered far more acclaim.  One of 19 celebrities in a field of nearly 3000 overall competitors, he outlasted every one of them finishing a respectable 186 with a cashout of $36,626.  (Not bad for a $10,000 investment, the event’s entry fee.)  To put this in perspective, he finished higher than long established poker greats like 1988 World Texas Hold ‘Em Champion Phil Hellmuth (436), 2000 Champ Chris Ferguson (561) and a whole slew of others with numerous WSOP bracelets to their names. 
Forget these silly reality shows, Lou.  Stick with poker.
Loser:  Robin Quivers and Gary Dell’Abate 
Howard Stern’s longtime sidekick/newswoman and producer have been embarrassed countless times on the long-running morning radio staple and 2009 was no exception. 
After beating Regis Philbin and Stephen King on a 1997 edition of Celebrity Jeopardy, the ageless Quivers was hoping for a repeat triumph twelve years later when she battled Julie Bowen and Jane Kaczmarek during an episode that aired in November.
No such luck.  Unlike her previous appearance, she had a hard time buzzing in first.  Although most of the few questions she did offer were correct, it was all for naught.  By the time the game got to Final Jeopardy, she lost all but one dollar on an answer related to Film Directors.  Instead of writing “Who is Frank Capra?” (which would’ve been right), she wrote “Who is Pon?”  That response was so out there Wikipedia has a brief entry for it.  (It’s under “Non-Fiction” in that link.)
The first half of 2009 was just as bad as the second.  In January, she claimed that Captain Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who safely landed a commercial airliner onto New York’s Hudson River without losing a single passenger, was just doing his job and didn’t deserve to be called a hero.  And in March, during a memorable appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Dr. Drew Pinsky revealed that Quivers scored so high on her narcissism test (which was part of a greater study of celebrity ego for his co-written book, The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America) that her results were higher than 99% of the population.  You can imagine how thrilled she was with that revelation. 
As for Baba Booey, he’d like to forget all about May 9th.  That was the day he threw out the ceremonial opening pitch at Citi Field before a game between The Mets and The Pittsburgh Pirates.  Worrying for weeks about how it was all going to turn out (he practiced relentlessly and consulted a sports psychologist), Dell’Abate’s nerves got the better of him as he threw the ball a little too far to the right.  The meaningless, bad pitch nonetheless ignited a comedic shitstorm.  Not only was he goofed on relentlessly by listeners and his work colleagues (especially Artie Lange), his infamous pitch was hammered repeatedly in numerous news and sports reports.  It is considered one of the worst opening pitches ever.
Par for the course when you’re Baba Booey.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 1, 2010
8:16 p.m.
Published in: on January 1, 2010 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

U2 Reissues Update

Two months ago, U2 made a big announcement on their official website.  Their first three studio albums are being re-released this summer.
As previously noted in this space, Boy, October and War will be available for purchase in three different formats.  What we didn’t know at the time were the contents of the bonus discs included in the special “Deluxe Editions” of each reissue.
Now we do.  Last week, U2.com revealed complete track listings for every edition of these early albums.  A quick glance at each one will make even the most hardcore fan very pleased.
Let’s start with Boy, their debut.  Disc two of the Deluxe Edition is loaded with goodies.  For the first time ever, two non-album singles, Another Day and 11 O’Clock Tick Tock, can be heard on this CD.  Not only that, the B-sides to those old 45s have been added, as well.  Plus, you get the original U23 EP from 1979, some live tracks and several previously unreleased numbers.  In total, you get 25 songs on 2 CDs.  Sounds fabulous.
Next is October.  The bonus material in this package includes more live tracks, A Celebration (the third and final non-album A-side never to be heard on CD before), some BBC sessions and a few B-sides (including J. Swallo).  There are 17 songs altogether on disc two.
Finally, there’s War.  Multiple versions of New Year’s Day and Two Hearts Beat As One, plus two B-sides and a never-before-heard rarity called Angels Too Tied To The Ground are what you can expect to hear on disc two of this set.
All three offerings are available July 22nd.  Let’s hope these Deluxe Editions will be available at your local record shop unlike the two-disc version of The Joshua Tree, which I’ve still yet to find.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
6:48 p.m.
Published in: on June 4, 2008 at 6:48 pm  Leave a Comment