Record Store Day 2015

by Dylan Looney

This past Saturday, independent record stores across the world celebrated the 8th annual Record Store Day. According to the official Record Store Day website, the event was created in 2007 by various record store owners and employees to “celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1400 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally.” The first Record Store Day was held on April 19, 2008 and has quickly become an event in the music industry, particularly due to vinyl’s return to popularity in recent years. This year, record stores in every continent besides Antarctica (sorry, vinyl-collecting penguins) stocked new recordings and special re-releases just for the occasion.

Some of the more interesting releases this year were from Metallica, who performed at the first-ever Record Store Day in San Francisco in ’08. The metal titans re-released their original 1982 demo tape, titled No Life ‘til Leather, on actual cassette tape, just as it was originally heard. Another metal band with a major release was Slayer, who debuted their first new recording since the death of founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman, a track titled “When the Stillness Comes.” On the lighter side of the spectrum, ’80s synth-poppers A-Ha produced a 7” picture disc of their hit single “Take on Me,” featuring images from the song’s iconic video. The biggest overall vinyl sellers of the day were the White Stripes’ “Get Behind Me Satan” on red-colored vinyl and hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, with their EP Bust No Moves .

As for me, I didn’t have the money to purchase any of the Record Store Day exclusives, especially now that many of those who bought them are selling them on the Internet for much more than the original price (some collectors will buy anything). However, I did decide to go out and support our local record store, Back Door Records. I bought the 2001 reissue of The Ramones’ Rocket to Russia on CD, which is my favorite Ramones album and was a steal at $8. I also got a free Roadrunner Records sampler CD containing tracks by Stone Sour, Slipknot, Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Black Stone Cherry, and several other hard rock and metal acts.

While the next Record Store Day isn’t until the next third Saturday in April, I highly encourage you to take a trip to a record store the next time your wallet and schedule allow it. I understand that in a world full of legal/illegal downloading, streaming services such as Spotify, and the ease of pulling a song up on YouTube, the physical copy seems outdated. However, there is definitely something to be said about flipping through a lyric booklet or looking at an album cover while listening to the CD/record/cassette/whatever that drags you into the world that the artist has created with the album. A little old school? Obviously, but judging by the growing popularity of things like Record Store Day, old school still has its place in the hearts (and headphones) of music-lovers in 2015.

AC/DC Return to Headline Coachella: A Fanboy’s Review

by Dylan Looney

acdc lasvegasweekly

Photo: lasvegasweekly.com

First things first, as the title implies, I am a huge fan of the band AC/DC. They are the band that made me want to play guitar, and I have dressed up in lead guitarist Angus Young’s trademark schoolboy suit on multiple occasions. Yes, I am that kind of fan. Needless to say, I was stunned at the announcement that rhythm guitarist and band leader Malcolm Young would be forced to retire due to complications from dementia, which had severely hindered his ability to play. Likewise, I was dismayed when it was reported that drummer Phil Rudd had been arrested for drug possession and for making death threats (as well as hiring a hitman, but that charge was soon dropped). It looked as if I was watching the band self-destruct before my very eyes.

However, AC/DC has faced similar situations before. Many thought the group was over after the death of legendary frontman Bon Scott in 1980, but that same year, the band recruited vocalist Brian Johnson and recorded the classic Back in Black, which has sold more copies than any other album besides Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In a similar move last year, the group brought in Angus and Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young on rhythm guitar as well as former drummer Chris Slade. Stevie has filled Malcolm’s shoes before, playing on the North American leg of their 1988 tour, which made a stop in Johnson City.

The band’s latest album, Rock or Bust, was released last December and is one of their strongest efforts since the ’80s. Tracks such as the title track and “Baptism by Fire” roar with an intensity and a hunger that may have been inspired by the group’s recent loss of Malcolm (Phil Rudd’s legal issues didn’t occur until after the album’s recording, but the band reports that his behavior at the time was quite erratic). The band debuted the new lineup to 24.8 million viewers at this year’s Grammy Awards, performing the new track “Rock or Bust,” followed by their 1979 classic “Highway to Hell”. Watching the performance, it was clear that the band I loved had no intentions of going away soon and that time did not hinder their ability to deliver a great performance. Soon afterward, it was announced that they would be headlining the Coachella music festival, which is usually an unwelcome place for acts of AC/DC’s ilk. Sure enough, many were unhappy with AC/DC’s presence at the festival usually reserved for the hipper-than-thou artists of EDM and indie rock. Again, it seemed the band had something to prove.

“I hope you guys like rock ‘n’ roll,” quipped Johnson after thundering off the first song in their Coachella set, “’cause that’s all we do.” Surely enough, the band was aware of their detractors, and was determined to silence them, or at least drown them out. For their first full live performance in six years, the band put on an amazing show, with Johnson’s vocals and Angus’s guitar sounding better than they have in years as they pounded out classic after classic. Tracks from the new album made an appearance as well, albeit a little shaky in parts due to not being rehearsed and played for as many years as, say, “Back in Black” or “T.N.T.” Possibly the biggest surprise of the night was the revival of a couple songs that have been left off the set list for years, such as “Have a Drink on Me” and “Sin City.” Both were executed perfectly and were a big treat for the die-hard fans.

As Young head-banged and duck-walked all over the stage, blood dripping from his skinned knees, it seemed as if the band were winning over the Coachella crowd. This impression was driven home as Angus emerged from a confetti-spraying platform in the middle of the audience and later ran through the masses on his way back to the stage, all the while playing the guitar solos for “Let There Be Rock.” It must have been an amazing experience for those in attendance, as I could even feel the excitement coming through my laptop screen and earphones while watching fan-recorded videos on YouTube (usually, I despise people holding up their phones all throughout a concert, but in this case, I had to make an exception). If I were to have any complaints, it would be the aforementioned shakiness of the newer tracks, but I’m sure they will get ironed out throughout the tour. I also miss Malcolm’s presence on stage. While Stevie does a fine job at his uncle’s guitar-playing, his backing vocals leave much to be desired and lack the signature eerie, croaking tone of Malcolm’s. Altogether, the performance showed a band with a new fire underneath them, and it made me very proud to be a fan.

A Beginner’s Guide to Music Awards

by Dylan Looney

These days, it seems like every major (and every other minor) network has its own music awards show. While it’s always fun to get some musical performances on TV, the awards themselves often take a backseat, appearing as an afterthought. To help clear up this swirling mass of bright lights and teary-eyed speeches, I have highlighted the major award shows, as well as a few of the less-popular ones.

  • Grammys (1959)

Network: CBS

Who Votes: Submitted by record companies and individuals for nomination, voted for by members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS)

The Grammys (short for Gramophone Awards) are considered the granddaddy of all music awards and are typically the most high-profile. While the selections of the NARAS are often controversial, much prestige comes with a Grammy win or even a nomination. For this year’s awards, a 30-second advertisement cost one million dollars, even though ratings have been declining for the past few years.

 

  • Academy of Country Music Awards (1966)

Network: CBS

Who Votes: Members of the Academy of Country Music Awards

As the oldest of the several country music awards, the ACMs are the genre’s equivalent to the Grammys. Shortly after its creation in 1966, the ACMs were followed by the similarly-named CMAs (which are voted by broadcasters) in 1968. Afterwards came the CMT Music Awards (country’s version of the VMAs) and recently, the American Country Awards in 2010 (Now the American Country Countdown Awards). While all these claim to be the biggest night for country music, the ACM awards remain the most prestigious, especially the coveted “Entertainer of the Year Award.”

 

  • Dove Awards (1969)

Network: Up

Who Votes: The Gospel Music Association (GMA)

Founded by famous gospel singer Bill Gaither, the Dove Awards recognize accomplishments in the world of Christian music. Awards are given in a wide variety of genres, from pop to country and from rock to Southern gospel. Even Christmas and Instrumental performance awards are given. Although the awards have been hit with some controversy, particularly with the GMA’s definition of what qualifies as “gospel music,” the awards have been taking place almost as long as its secular equivalent, the Grammys.

 

  • Juno Awards (1970)

Network: CTV (Canada)

Who Votes: Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS)/Expert Panel

The Juno Awards is the Grammys to our friends north of the border in Canada. They keep it almost exclusively Canadian too; only Canadian citizens who have also lived in Canada for the last six months of the eligibility period are eligible (This rule is lifted for the aptly-named “International Album of the Year” award.) The Juno Awards also doubles as the induction ceremony for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. No word yet on how many awards were won by Robin Sparkles for her smash hit, “Let’s Go to the Mall.”

 

  • American Music Awards (1973)

Network: ABC

Who Votes: A poll of the public and music-buyers

Created by Dick Clark for ABC after losing their contract with the Grammys, the AMAs differ from the Grammys by selecting winners based on public opinion.  Because of this, the AMAs have less categories and do not focus on less mainstream genres such as classical, jazz, world music, or heavy metal.

  • MTV Video Music Awards (1984)

Network: MTV

Who Votes: Fans via online polls

While the Grammys may be the most established awards program, the VMAs are certainly just as prolific. The VMA ceremonies are often less of a black-tie affair and are more geared to the youth demographic. The wild events have often led to iconic moments, such as Madonna’s wedding dress-clad performance of “Like a Virgin,” as well as conflict and controversy (Miley, anyone?) Another unique feature of the VMA is that the awards go towards music videos instead of the music itself, making it the only awards show of its kind.

 

  • Billboard Music Awards (1990)

Network: ABC

Who Votes: No one. Winners are decided based on Nielsen data for album sales, downloads, and airplay.

Originally airing on the Fox network, the awards were cancelled in 2007 before being resurrected in 2011 on ABC. The new version of the BBMAs brought a new statuette and award name changes from “____ of the Year” to “Top ____.” What makes the Billboard Awards stand out is their use of cold, hard statistics to determine winners instead of votes of fans or academy members. To quote an Adidas shirt, “Stats Don’t Lie.”

  • Revolver Golden Gods Awards (2009)

Network: VH1 Classic

Who Votes: Fans via web polls

Fans of hard rock and heavy metal have always felt spurned by mainstream awards shows. Many claim the voters are ignorant of the genre, citing controversial wins in the Grammys “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance” category by flute-rockers Jethro Tull in 1989, as well as last year’s victory by comedy-metal group Tenacious D’s performance of Dio’s “The Last in Line.” The Golden Gods Awards is the only awards show centered on hard rock and metal, featuring extended performances by some of the biggest names in classic and modern metal. However, some fans still claim the show focuses too much on classic metal and metalcore artists. Go figure.

 

  • iHeartRadio Music Awards (2014)

Network: NBC

Who Votes: Fans on iHeartRadio.com, except the Instagram Award, in which voting takes place on, well, Instagram.

The iHeartRadio Music Awards is a newcomer to the awards show scene. The show primarily focuses on pop music, although some country artists, such as Luke Bryan and Brantley Gilbert, have been nominated and won awards as well. The awards have unique categories, like “Best Lyrics” and “Best Fan Army.” The show is the lone music awards show on the NBC network and can be seen as NBC’s attempts to compete with monsters like the Grammys and the AMAs.

 

Well, there you have it. I hope this shed some light on your awards season. I’m sorry if I missed any important awards shows (as well as the How I Met Your Mother reference).

By the way, if you have any suggestions for albums, songs, etc. for me to review, feel free to put it in the comment section. See you all next week!

Interviews with T-Pain, DEV

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by Dylan Looney

Last Saturday night, The ETSU Student Government Association welcomed multi-platinum hip-hop/R&B artist T-Pain, who performed live at Freedom Hall.

Accompanied by his talented backing band (all decked out in ETSU gear), T-Pain worked the crowd into a frenzy, playing such hits as “Low,” “All I Do is Win” and “Bartender.” The supporting act, DEV, warmed up the audience with tracks from her new release, “Bittersweet July,” and hits from the past, notably “Bass Down Low” and “Like a G6,” from her collaboration with Far East Movement. Throughout both sets, the energy in the building was palpable, creating a fun atmosphere in which a good time was almost certain.

Between DEV and T-Pain’s sets, I was fortunate enough to get backstage and interview each one separately, asking questions submitted by ETSU students.

First, I interviewed T-Pain. On his experience working with comedy hip-hop group The Lonely Island on “I’m on a Boat,” he said he enjoyed “venturing out,” and due to previously working with Andy Samberg and Co., “at that point it was kind of normal.”

When asked what inspires him to make music, T-Pain laughed and responded “Usually pooping,” before explaining that, “anything can,” even the very conversation we were having that moment.

I asked about his experience with Johnson City, and T-Pain said he had been here once before, when his bus driver needed a place to sleep. “We didn’t do anything,” he said. “We went to some bars … well, a bar.”

T-Pain couldn’t remember the name of the establishment, only that is was “the smallest place we could find.” On his signature use of auto-tune, he said began to use it because, “It made me different … I didn’t want to get mixed up in just being another R&B singer.”

Lastly, I asked him which artist he would most like to collaborate with. (T-Pain has worked with a “who’s-who” of hip-hop, including Lil Wayne, Ludacris and Kanye West.) His response was Andre 3000 of OutKast fame, which I admittedly think would be a great combination. Unfortunately, the interview was cut short due to time restraints, and T-Pain went straight from our interview to the stage.

After speaking with T-Pain, I also had the pleasure of interviewing DEV. This was her first time in Johnson City, and she said the town “has a really cool vibe.” She revealed that she performed about three years ago with T-Pain in the most Un-Johnson City-like of locations, Dubai, and said their sets “flow together.” Currently, DEV is trying to record new material “whenever [she] possibly can,” and is working on a tour of her own for later this year.

I would like to thank both T-Pain and DEV for being so friendly and open to these interviews, as well as the people from 92.3 Jamz and The Soundboxx for their courtesy, not to mention the SGA and everyone at the East Tennessean for helping to make my music blog and these interviews possible. You all rock!

An Open Letter to Queen’s “Bring Back that Leroy Brown”

by Dylan Looney

First off, I know I promised a T-Pain interview this week, but it has been rescheduled for the day of the concert. Sorry for the inconvenience, but you can expect it April 3. Until then, I hope you enjoy this week’s installment. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get something off my chest ….

Dear “Bring Back that Leroy Brown,”

I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. I know you’re a tribute to the then recently departed songwriter Jim Croce and that the sweet reward of “She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos)” awaits on the other side, but I can’t bring myself to tolerate your presence on the otherwise phenomenal Sheer Heart Attack album.

What was Queen thinking when they decided to put you on the album? Did they think the world was just begging for a classic rock album to feature a ukulele-banjo? Look to your brethren, “Leroy Brown.” Just listen to how “Tenement Funster” transitions so seamlessly into “Flick of the Wrist,” which in turn falls into “Lilly of the Valley.” How about tracks like “Brighton Rock,” “Stone Cold Crazy” or “Now I’m Here”? Listen to the way Freddy Mercury’s melodies and vocals work so well even with Brian May’s most savage and distorted of guitar riffs.

See how all these songs are sublime and wonderful? Why would you think I’d want my listening enjoyment to be interrupted by your loud, jangly attack on my eardrums? Get it together, man. You sound more at home in the soundtrack to a Charlie Chaplin movie than this otherwise amazing album. Queen and Jim Croce deserve better.

Maybe if you turned down the tempo and May switched banjo/uke for an acoustic guitar, I would be more apt to give you a listen. Heck, simply being relocated to the very end of the album would make a world of difference. Until then, however, I will continue to skip ahead to “She Makes Me” and bow my head and hold a moment of silence for those who had this album on cassette.

Sincerely,

Dylan Looney

You can listen to Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack here. Do you feel the same about “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” or am I just closed-minded? Are there any tracks that make you feel the same way? Feel free to comment your response as well as any requests for music you would like me to review. Like I said, I’ll be back on April 3 with the T-Pain interview!

From Five Buttons to Six Strings: How Guitar Hero and Rock Band Affected Music

by Dylan Looney

Photo dredit: Amazon.com

Photo credit: Amazon.com

Recently, Harmonix, the maker of the music video game Rock Band, announced a fourth installment of the once massively popular series five years after the release of Rock Band 3. Like many in my generation, I have fond memories of playing the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games. I remember them being the must-have video games every holiday season for a few years. I never actually owned either game, but as a music nerd, I played them every opportunity I got. However, as my skill on an actual wood-and-metal guitar began to flourish, I found its plastic counterpart much less fulfilling. Strangely enough, it seems that many others began to lose interest as well, and the games began to fade from the limelight and eventually disappeared by the beginning of the 2010s.

While many musicians dismissed the games for being unlike playing a real instrument, the popularity of the games exposed gamers to new artists, as well as creating a new audience for older bands. Let’s be honest, many fewer people would have heard of DragonForce if “Through the Fire and Flames” weren’t featured in Guitar Hero III as the game’s over-the-top, finger-twisting finisher. For a brief time in the 2000s, the British power metal band was in the consciousness of countless kids all over Middle America.

Likewise, many classic rock and metal artists with a guitar-heavy sound seemed to get a second wind from the games. AC/DC, Motley Crue, KISS, Metallica and other rockers released albums during the games’ heyday of 2006-2009. After a thirteen-year wait, Guns N’ Roses released their album Chinese Democracy around this time as well. Newer rock bands also made waves on the pop charts with what can best be described as 21st century equivalents of 80s power ballads. Three Days Grace, Hinder, Buckcherry and even everybody’s favorite musical punching bag, Nickelback, all crossed over to Top 40 radio with softer numbers, while rock radio often handled the groups’ heavier tracks.

Speaking of groups such as Buckcherry and Hinder, the Rock Band/Guitar Hero era also coincided with the rise of many “throwback” bands. Some, including the aforementioned Buckcherry and Hinder, utilized an aesthetic that brought to mind the sleaze and decadence of 1980s glam metal. At the same time, Wolfmother (whose song “Woman” was featured in ads for Guitar Hero II) and Priestess (who contributed the excellent track “Lay Down” to Guitar Hero III) went for a more 70s vibe. While I’m not suggesting these groups were playing electronic dance music before these video games surfaced, they certainly were able to benefit from the sudden demand for guitar rock.

Looking back, it seems that the mid-to-late 2000s were a pretty great time to be a rock fan. While many, including myself, complained at the dominance of pop acts, it appears that the presence of hard rock has all but disappeared from the mainstream today. As indie and alternative began to infiltrate pop radio, it began to phase out harder rocking acts, much in the same way grunge overtook the likes of Ratt and Warrant about twenty-five years ago. Will the release of Rock Band 4 later this year reverse this trend? I have no idea, but it will be interesting to see what happens if the game is successful.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

Next week, I will be interviewing T-Pain, who will be performing for the SGA Spring Concert on March 28. I will be asking him questions gathered from ETSU students, so feel free to post a question below in the comments.

The Shaggs: “Better than the Beatles”

by Dylan Looney

The Shaggs' 1969 album "Philosophy of the World" (en.wikipedia.org)

The Shaggs’ 1969 album Philosophy of the World Photo: en.wikipedia.org

In Fremont, New Hampshire in the 1960s, a rock group emerged that consisted of three preteen sisters: Dorothy “Dot” Wiggin on lead vocals and lead guitar, Betty Wiggin on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Helen Wiggin on drums. The band was named The Shaggs after the popular “shag” haircut of the time. They were given this name by their father, Austin Wiggin, who forced his daughters to start the group after his mother read his palm and predicted that the girls would form the world’s most popular music group. Despite their grandmother’s prediction, the girls had little natural musical talent, and did not show any interest in pursuing music whatsoever. Regardless, the girls were ordered to rehearse for hours on end, day after day, playing their original compositions for their father until he was pleased with their performance.

Eventually, Mr. Wiggin decided it was time for his girls to record their first album, titled Philosophy of the World. The album was initially either ignored by the masses or ridiculed by the locals who heard it. It eventually faded into obscurity as The Shaggs disbanded in 1975 following the death of Austin Wiggin. Years later, however, the album was picked up by the underground radio DJ Dr. Demento, who also helped spark the career of “Weird Al” Yankovic. Eventually, the music and legacy of the Wiggin sisters spread to high profile names such as Kurt Cobain and Frank Zappa, who called The Shaggs “better than the Beatles.” Today, The Shaggs have attracted a cult following, especially among fans of the avant-garde. Their late success has led to an off-Broadway musical based on their story. Frontwoman Dot Wiggin has even recently launched a solo career.

Listening to The Shaggs’ music is a surreal experience. The sisters play out of sync, out of tune, and out of touch with any outside musical influences. Dot and Betty sing off key through thick New England accents on topics such as a pet cat (“My Pal Foot Foot”), the wonders of the 31st day of October (“It’s Halloween”), and the general dissatisfaction of society (“Philosophy of the World”). All throughout, it seems the girls are each making up their own song as they play it. At first, their music comes across as merely grating noise, but after a while, I found it began to slowly grow on me. While I still suspect much of their following is ironic, there is a certain charm to The Shaggs’ music. When you were a little kid, did you ever mess around with a musical instrument you didn’t know how to play? Listening to Philosophy of the World is likely to remind you of that feeling. While the band hated every minute of it, there is still a playful feeling to their songs. While I would disagree with Zappa on The Shaggs being superior to the Beatles, I would definitely recommend listening to a few songs to anyone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

Listen to the full Philosophy of the World album here.