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

by Dylan Looney

Photo dredit:

Photo credit:

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.


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" (

The Shaggs’ 1969 album Philosophy of the World Photo:

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.

Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, 40 Years Later

by Dylan Looney


              Physical Graffiti (Deluxe Edition)             Photo:

Even though the group formally parted ways after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, the legacy of Led Zeppelin continues to reach a new generation of fans, many of whom were introduced to the band by their parents or even grandparents. Recently, one of the most celebrated pieces of their discography, Physical Graffiti, celebrated its 40th anniversary. Seeing as I own a copy of the album on CD, (purchased unscratched from a flea market for 50 cents, might I add) I decided to celebrate by giving it a listen.

One of the most remarkable things about the success of the album is that half the tracks are merely previously unreleased tracks left off the albums for which they were initially recorded. With most artists, this can be seen as scraping the bottom of the barrel, but Graffiti shows why Led Zeppelin isn’t like most artists. While the album was recorded over four years and during sessions for four different albums, the overall sound maintains a strange eclectic yet unified feel. This is a testament to the band’s musical diversity. For example, the straight rocker “Houses of the Holy” (which, oddly enough was cut from the band’s previous album, also titled Houses of the Holy) fits quite nicely between the eleven-minute, slide-driven blues epic “In My Time of Dying” and the positively funky “Trampled Under Foot.” In turn, “Trampled” gives way to the next track, the orchestral, larger than life “Kashmir,” which is arguably the centerpiece of the entire album. A listen to the looming riff of “Kashmir” shows that it’s no wonder Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs sampled it for the soundtrack of the 1998 Godzilla movie. It simply sounds huge.

My personal favorite from the album is the second track titled “The Rover.” In this track, the band shifts seamlessly from a swaggering, bluesy riff into an emotional chorus, in which Robert Plant sees “A new world rising/from the shambles of the old.” Other musical mood swings are found on other tracks on Graffiti, such as the excellent “Down by the Seaside,” which changes from a laid-back mellow vibe into a much darker tone and returns at the drop of a dime. Similarly, “In the Light” shows the band’s progressive side, as they nearly dip their toes into Pink Floyd territory. The track opens the second disc of the album with Plant’s voice and some keyboards for a very haunting effect before the rest of the band comes thundering in for yet another roller coaster of a song. All in all, I would have to say that what makes Physical Graffiti stand out to me is its ability to beautifully mix light and darkness, softness and heaviness, electric and acoustic (or major and minor for you musical people out there). Now that I think about it, it’s probably what makes Led Zeppelin stand out from their 70s rock peers and has allowed them to influence so many musicians throughout four decades.

Just like many other albums celebrating an important birthday, Physical Graffiti has been remastered and re-released with a deluxe package containing demos and rough versions of a few tracks, including “Kashmir” and “In the Light.” Even if the $120 price for the Super Deluxe Edition is a little steep, I would still recommend giving the album a listen for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of Led Zeppelin beyond classic rock radio staples like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Black Dog.”

Year in Review: 2004

by Dylan Looney


After over a week trapped indoors by cold, unforgiving Mother Nature, my mind has begun to wander off to a simpler, more innocent time. The year is 2004. Today’s college freshmen are barely in grade school, George W. Bush is still in his first term, and the FCC has tightened up on censorship after Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl halftime show. Lance Armstrong is still a national hero after beating cancer and winning his sixth Tour de France, and I’m probably just sitting on the couch watching Jimmy Neutron. It’s hard to believe, but all of that was eleven years ago.

Musically, 2004 had something for everyone. Possibly the biggest hit of the year was Usher, Ludacris, and Lil Jon’s “Yeah!” which was completely unavoidable and still gets regularly played by party DJs today. A then-up-and-coming group from L.A. called Maroon 5 landed a major hit with “This Love”. On the rock front, Nickelback was enjoying early success before the Internet made everyone hate them (seriously, somebody had to buy all those albums). Young emos were rocking out to Amy Lee’s Evanescence and Green Day’s huge crossover smash album American Idiot. Packed with hits such as the brash, cocky “Holiday,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” the album’s success is yet to be matched by the band. The album’s legacy continues on social media every year at the end of September, when someone is bound to post “Wake Me Up,” accompanied by a statement along the lines of “Somebody better wake up the guy from Green Day.”

Popular hip-hop was dominated by an influx of Southern artists, better known as “The Dirty South.” The aforementioned Lil Jon and fellow Atlanta-based rappers T.I., Ludacris, and the group OutKast were joined by other Southern rappers to give the more established East and West Coast artists a run for their money. In R&B, a young Beyoncé Knowles had recently left Destiny’s Child and was starting to assert herself as a solo artist with hits like “Me, Myself, and I” and “Naughty Girl.”

In the realm of hard rock, Velvet Revolver, the successful, yet short-lived union of Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland and 3/5 of Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion lineup, released their solid debut, Contraband. Many important metal albums were issued in 2004, such as Slipknot’s Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) and Lamb of God’s Ashes of the Wake, both considered modern-day classics by many metalheads. In theaters, viewers saw the members of Metallica, arguably the biggest heavy metal band in the world, expose the arduous and emotional process behind the making of their poorly-received album St. Anger. The film, Some Kind of Monster, was directed by the late Bruce Sinofsky. In December, former Pantera guitarist “Dimebag Darrell” Abbott was tragically killed by a deranged gunman while performing with his new group Damageplan. This incident shocked not only the metal community, but all of the music world.

At this time, most of the music I was exposed to was country. In the early 2000s, the country charts were filled with slightly different lyrical content than the “Hey Girl, get in my truck and drink this beer” theme in much of today’s country hits. This is not to say the seeds of bro-country weren’t being sown with hits like Big & Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.” However, the lyrical content of 2004’s country music relished in telling stories of the everyday middle-American (Lonestar’s “Mr. Mom,” Tim McGraw’s “Back When,” etc.) or dark tales of desperation (such as Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss’s “Whiskey Lullaby” or Rachel Proctor’s “Me and Emily”). With the nation still reeling from 9/11 and headed into Iraq, several artists reflected and capitalized on the public’s patriotic sentiments with songs in support of either the troops or of the conflict, depending on how you look at it. Even songs not directly about the war, like “Awful Beautiful Life” by Daryl Worley, who had a massive post-9/11 hit with “Have You Forgotten,” contained the lines “We said a prayer for Cousin Michael in Iraq/ We’re all aware that may never make it back.” While all this patriotic sentiment may seem like pandering to a nation dealing with tragedy, it addressed people’s heartaches, worries, and disappointments like only country music could.

In 2004, people listened to music on iPods, a band’s MySpace page, or even through ancient devices called “compact discs” (ask your parents, kids). Every now and then, MTV or VH1 would still play a music video or two, though they were pretty much in the same reality-show-centric mindset that they are now and have been for a very, very long time. YouTube wasn’t around, and many still simply listened to local radio, waiting for the DJ to play that OutKast song everybody loved so they could “shake it like a Polaroid picture.”

So, there’s my look back at 2004. I sure hope you enjoyed this spin in the DeLorean with me (again, ask your parents). I tried to cover all the major areas of popular music the best I could, and I’m sorry if I might have missed anything you thought was important. Please comment below if you have any suggestions for future album reviews. Thanks for reading. You’re all awesome!

Billboard Top 10 Review

by Dylan Looney

Art for Marc Ronson's no. 1 single "Uptown Funk"

Art for Mark Ronson’s no. 1 single “Uptown Funk”

Hey there! You’re reading the first post of my new music blog. I’ve been writing, playing, listening to, and analyzing music most of my life, and I appreciate everyone at the East Tennessean for giving me this outlet. I look forward to writing this weekly blog, and I’ll try my best to keep it informative and entertaining. For my first entry, I’ll be reviewing the current top ten songs on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s funny to imagine my fourteen-year-old “metal-or-nothing” self analyzing the current hits, but as I’ve grown older and matured, my musical horizons have broadened. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always a time and place for some Megadeth, but I’ve learned to recognize a good pop song when I hear one. So, here’s the Top Ten for the week of February 21, 2015.

  1. “Uptown Funk!”- Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars

I’m not going to beat around the bush here, this song JAMS! From the a capella bass opening to the song’s climax, “Uptown Funk!” is destined to be a party-starter and a dance-floor filler for many years to come. While many pop collaborations turn into either a big mess or one artist carrying the other(s), Ronson’s instrumentation and production are flawless, while Bruno Mars delivers vocals with all the energy and swagger of a young James Brown. Mars sings, “Don’t believe me? Just watch!” followed by an instrumental hook that may have been designed in a NASA laboratory to get a body moving. Last year, Daft Punk channeled a similar 70s disco sound for their excellent mega-hit, “Get Lucky.” Ronson and Mars build on that formula and create something much more energetic and fun.
My Score: 5/5

  1. “Thinking Out Loud”- Ed Sheeran

British pop star Ed Sheeran has gone through quite the metamorphosis, hasn’t he? From the softer-than-Charmin “Lego House” to last year’s “Don’t” is quite a change. His current hit “Thinking Out Loud” seems to split the difference between the two. The blues-light instrumentation is a welcome change of pace from the cold, synth-heavy sounds of much of pop radio. In fact, it reminds me of something 90s blues phenom Jonny Lang would do. While I mentioned “Uptown Funk!” filling dance floors, “Thinking Out Loud” has that capability, too. However, this time, I see it as the soundtrack to many a middle school and high school slow dance. While they certainly couldn’t be kissed “under the light of a thousand stars,” they can still awkwardly sway at arm’s length.
My Score: 3.5/5

  1. “Take Me to Church”- Hozier

Irish songwriter Hozier’s debut smash “Take Me to Church” adds a slight Gothic flavor to the typical 2010s indie-pop hit formula. The loud and prominent beat competes with a choir to create some shaky production. All the while, Hozier delivers lyrics full of religious imagery that sound more like he wants you to believe it’s about something deep instead of actually being meaningful. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not really a great one either. I found it rather boring.
My Score: 2.5/5

4. “Sugar”- Maroon 5

In the past few years, it seems that Maroon 5 has gone from a band to an Adam Levine solo project. Both musically and visually, the rest of the band has taken a very distant backseat to their reality-star frontman. Although I would like for the band to have a bigger presence, “Sugar” proves that Levine is a talented singer and pop songwriter. The laid-back, mid-tempo groove mixes well with The Voice judge’s vocals, which can get pretty high into the falsetto range. “Sugar” is a solid pop song and is better than most of the group’s recent output.
My Score: 3.5/5

  1. “Blank Space”- Taylor Swift

I don’t think I’m the right person to review this. Many of my female friends see Taylor’s 1989 like it’s Sgt. Pepper’s rolled in Back in Black and deep-fried in The Wall. I just don’t get it. Then again, I’m pretty sure I’m not in her primary target audience. On her single, “Blank Space,” Ms. Swift discusses how she could “show you incredible things” to a well-crafted melody on the verses over one of those cold, basic, 2010s pop instrumentals I discussed earlier. The sound is much different than her early days as a teen country artist, but the lyrical content is still the same ol’ Taylor. It seems like it’s her eternally-in-high-school lyrics that keep her fans coming back for more.
My Score: 2.5/5

  1. “FourFiveSeconds”- Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Kanye West

While I’m sure Kanye jumped at the chance to further inflate his ego with this collaboration, Mr. Kardashian really seems to be out this element on this track. Sir Paul’s stamp is all over the melody and the tasteful acoustic guitar, and Rihanna’s voice sounds better than I’ve ever heard it. In fact, it absolutely shines. However, Kanye should’ve just handled production or even rapped a verse. It’s strange how while West wants to be seen along with the greats, he doesn’t even put his best foot forward. His awkward, auto-tuned vocals come across like a guy singing Usher at a failed American Idol audition and weighs down an otherwise good song.
My Score: 3.5/5

  1. “Lips are Movin’”- Meghan Trainor

Trainor’s attempt at a follow-up to her debut hit seems to be doing well on the charts, but it isn’t matching the huge success of “All About that Bass,” which is unfortunate but not surprising. While “Lips Are Movin’” is similar in style to “Bass,” (even down to referencing it in the chorus) it lacks the novelty value that skyrocketed the song into success. Meghan has a very soulful voice, giving great tone with the track’s catchy “deny-ny-ny”s, but it’s a shame to waste her energy on the downright cringe-worthy introductory “rap” portion. I hate to say it, but it seems she’s setting herself up to be a one-hit wonder.
My Score: 2/5

  1. “I’m Not the Only One”- Sam Smith

Propelled by critical acclaim and hits like “I’m Not the Only One” and “Stay with Me,” Sam Smith was a big winner at the Grammys earlier this month. “I’m Not the Only One” has some wonderful, relaxing instrumentation that reminds me of the classic Motown sound, while the melody and chord progressions bring to mind Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” Smith’s voice tends to be a little too soft and blubbery at times on this song, but he is greatly helped when the backing vocals kick in about two-thirds into the track. Overall, it’s a nice follow-up to “Stay with Me.”
My Score: 3/5

9.  “Love Me Like You Do”- Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding’s contribution to the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack is what Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” would sound like if it were completely boring. Goulding herself sounds bored as she sings accompanied by what sounds like elevator music. “Love Me Like You Do” is uninspired, repetitive, and most likely wouldn’t be nearly as prominent on the charts if it weren’t attached to a movie packed with hype and controversy. Definitely my personal least favorite on the Top Ten.
My Score: 1.5/5

  1. “Shake it Off”- Taylor Swift

Wow. This song has been on the charts for a whopping 25 weeks. Even as Taylor’s third single from her new album makes its way onto the charts, the first single remains in the Top Ten. If you’ve interacted with society at all in the past six months, you’ve undoubtedly heard Swift’s ultra-catchy smash. As a matter of fact, when conducting research for this review, this is the only song I didn’t listen to because I didn’t want it stuck in my head again. Love it or hate it, you can’t forget it. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate… Oh boy, here we go again…
My Score: 3.5/5

Phoning it in

I don’t know about you guys, but things are pretty busy for us this time of year studying for finals and whatnot. Aaron ended up getting called into work (he’s helping revive Poor Richards!), so I’m filling in the best I can. And in this case, the best I can just means randomly throwing up some of my favorite internet-isms late.

BY THE WAY, April was our best month ever for views on this blog, so thank you guys so much for all your support! We’d all be writing anyway, so it’s nice to have someone who reads it.

He sure did

He sure did

I'm pretty sure these are the kind of parties my parents go to.

I’m pretty sure these are the kind of parties my parents go to.

Two of my favorite things in one meme.

Two of my favorite things in one meme.

The only one of these I've ever approved of

The only one of these I’ve ever approved of

Ron Swanson is my hero

Ron Swanson is my hero

This hamster makes me laugh more than anything else. Just look at it... look at it.

This hamster makes me laugh more than anything else. Just look at it… look at it.

Now laughing my way to class,

Executive Editor

Dead week survival skills

Dead week is death week and one of the only reasons we trudge through it is so we can have our summer and then do everything all over again until we get our degrees and work until we die. At least, that’s the way it feels right now.

So to all you fellow procrastinators who did not want to start that final project at the beginning of the semester when it was assigned, here are some recommendations that might be useful for surviving dead week.

  1. Go to the Humane Society — Unless you are soulless or are allergic to animals (in which case, God have mercy on your soul because that sucks, and the only thing worse than that would be to be allergic to both chocolate and animals), playing with animals can be pretty therapeutic. Plus you would be benefitting animals that really need attention and care. Overall, it’s a win-win situation.
  2. Exercise — Exercising is also a good stress reliever. It’s good for your brain, as well as for your body. I’ve found that running can help me to clear my mind when I’m stuck on homework. It’s also good just to get out and do something different. Studying is good, but you have to mix it up a little. Unless you’re one of those people who can sit down and finish a project in a single sitting (in which case I hate you), it helps to take a break every now and then and do something that’s not Facebook or TV.
  3. Go Outside — The weather has been wonderful lately. Well, minus the days when it was raining…. Okay, so it hasn’t been completely wonderful, but hey, on the days when it is nice and you don’t run the risk of drowning by being outside for more than five minutes, then you should go outside. You don’t necessarily have to do anything, just soak up some vitamin D. I think it’s healthy, or something.
  4. Sleep — Yes. It does still exist during this time; you’re just not entitled to it. Even if you don’t get an optimal amount of sleep at night, try napping during the day to make up for a little of what you lost at night. I usually crash when I get back from classes because my baby flying squirrel escapes from her cage at night and I have to spend parts of my nights catching her. That and I have other more important things to do than sleep (not really, but they seem important until I have to wake up in the morning). But really, naps are wonderful. Naptime should have been postponed until college. No one needed it in kindergarten. It’s just a sadistic way of reminding us that we did, at one point, have the opportunity to get more than six hours of sleep.
  5. Cook — It’s better than eating fast food (well, depending on how good of a cook you are) and it’s usually cheaper. I’m not much of a cook, but I love baking (mainly because I like bread dough and cookie dough and brownie batter. I give the cooked stuff away, because it’s not nearly as good as the raw stuff), which is an acceptable substitute (I think). It’s also a good way to keep your mind occupied and hopefully off of schoolwork. Plus you can eat the results. You probably can’t (or hopefully won’t) say the same of your homework.
  6. Fly a Kite — LET’S GO FLY A KITE! UP TO THE HIGHEST HEIGHT! LET’S GO FLY A KITE AND SENNNDDD IT SOAAAARINGGGGGG!!! There is no explanation for this one… just… kites. I like them.
  7. Hang Out With Friends — Or really anyone, for that matter (friends, enemies, second cousins three times removed, random people on the street….). You need to have some social interaction to keep you sane and to remind you that there are things outside of school. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
  8. Get Rid of Unnecessary Assignments — If you don’t need them anymore, get rid of them. Creatively, of course. Or aggressively. That chemistry homework that you spent hours on? Tear it up into little pieces and vacuum it up (I’ve actually done this before). Bury it. Burn it (***in a safe place using proper safety precautions so I don’t get in trouble for saying this***). Eat it. I don’t particularly care. If you can think of a really good way, let me know. There are a few assignments that I no longer want to exist (and never wanted to exist, for that matter). This tip is particularly therapeutic for some reason. Really, it’s nice.
  9. Bathe — Yes, it is still necessary. For the sake of the rest of us who are already suffering, please bathe.
  10. Actually Finish Your Assignments — Hoping that your finals will finish themselves doesn’t actually work. At some point, you will actually have to sit down and do them (please let me know if you find another way to do this. I’ve tried several different things… the results are pending). Not finishing finals doesn’t count as surviving dead week (it’s like being zombiefied. You didn’t actually survive the zombie apocalypse, you… this analogy is going nowhere. Hopefully you get the point).

Good luck! You will need it.

Scene Editor