Friday, May 29, 2009
Just put on the White Album this morning. I've been thinking about the Beatles lately on my walks as I prepare, now, to break down this mix and begin at the 00:01 again. My criticisms of the music industry have been fairly well documented, but my specific concern about Apple, Capitol and the Beatles not so much. Nonetheless, I've found it absolutely shameful what Capitol/EMI has done with the Beatles' music. First, there was the sheer exhaustion over those Anthology pieces (three 2-disc sets) that retailed for almost $34.98 and still are near the same price some thirteen years later. There was the acoustic Lennon recordings which were forgettable at best. There was the limited (and numbered) repackage of the White Album which was really just a digipak with a few baseball-card sized pictures of the individual members. There was that dreaded version of Let It Be (the Naked version) which was completely unnecessary. There was the Grey Album fiasco when Danger Mouse mixed their White Album compositions with Jay-Z's Black Album acapellas. Sir Paul McCartney quietly but assuredly rushed to quell the leakage on that project even when Danger stood to make no profit from it. There was that horrid Love package where they let George Martin's son Giles obliterate the old recordings with his own sort-of "mash-up." I guess when it comes from the inside, Paul doesn't have a problem. Then they made a Vegas show out of it with people and pianos flying through the air. Then, there was Across the Universe. Whatever. The songs still aren't on iTunes which, I don't really care one way or another except for the fact that it's indicative of a model that has refused to move forward and, in today's market, either you move forward or move out.
In the Beatles case, it might be too late.
In the eyes of music distribution, there are few exceptions to the otherwise accepted truth that CDs are priced too high. And those exceptions have been traditionally Led Zeppelin, Metallica, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Pink Floyd and the Beatles. Over the last year, five of the six have been dealt quite aggressively...some at near 30% off of its everyday cost...in order to fuel sales at retail and to remain competitive with offerings at iTunes. Hell, that last Eagles album was an exclusive at Wal-Mart that was selling for $11.88 everyday. They're doing it, essentially, for survival of not only the physical good, but of the band themselves. Without the music, what are the Rolling Stones? The Beatles, however, are rarely dealt and, when they are, it's pennies and nickels in savings. The result, then, is the inability to price them cheaper than their tag price without losing money on every unit sold. In a market that has now proven that $9.99 is the going price on full albums, a $15.99 tag on Abbey Road is not only unreasonable, it's shameful. Hell, the White Album is still near a $35 tag price. You can get the first four Beastie Boys records for ten bucks cheaper than that including tax. The result is a hard and evident test of price elasticity. Look at the sales of CDs that have been "revalued" in the market place and dealt at aggressive prices to retailers so they can keep promotions healthy and those included titles go through incredible jumps. The aforementioned first four Beastie records were selling in our stores for $5.99 for a period of two months and the numbers we generated in that time frame outsold the previous four year-end totals...in just two months. When you hit the right price, people thank you with their pocketbook. Adversely, the Beatles are never promoted and the result is the opposite. Week-to-week sales are on a decline and Abbey Road is posting record lows every week. Is their reluctance to play along with the market going to inevitably ruin the Beatles? It could. And that's just the physical good. They're still not even available digitally (and legally) which means that Beatles fans have been hindered from fully making the leap into new technology because they're favorite group of all time are stubborn bastards who think they're better than everyone else and don't have to play nice.
You look at Beatles Soundscan from last week against the same week from prior years, Abbey Road sold only 1600 units last week. This same time last year, it was selling 2300 units. Not a huge downturn considering that the economy is in the toilet, but that's among it's lowest volume week ever during the Soundscan era. The White Album only managed 850 units last week against 1400 a year ago. Dark Side of the Moon sold 3200 units last week against 3600 a year ago. People are still buying Floyd, but they're among the groups that are usually dealt at 30% off of cost so that retailers can generate traffic. Master of Puppets sold 2200 units last week against 1700 from a year ago--actually selling more this year. Again, fueled by discounting. Three other hits packages are posting significant units: Guns N Roses, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Fleetwood Mac sold 5800, 5000 and 4400 units respectively last week. All of which can be purchased at $10 or less. Korn's Greatest sold 2500 units last week. Typically $10. Beatles 1 managed 2900 units last week. Would we consider CCR's best songs more valuable than the Beatles?! Well almost twice as many people did. The most staggering of all is Bob Marley's Legend that, even with a downturn in sales, sold 7200 units last week. Against the Beatles best, that's almost three times as many. Not all too concidently, it's a title that even with an exhaustion of Marley product available, usually sells for under $10 at most retailers because it's usually dealt at levels to allow such a sale price. Is it possible that, in the worst recession in recent history that price will determine taste? It seems so.
And, on 9/9/09, the Beatles will reissue once again, digitally-remastered versions of all of their studio records and guess the price...that's right: $18.98. You will still pay full price. And the old "unmastered" versions will be made unavailable--not discounted. Which means, really, you don't have a choice. You'll have to buy revamped versions of the old records at full price and most ears won't really be able to tell the difference. At least those belonging to original fans who are now 60+ years old.
Just so you know, the going price on used versions of Sgt. Peppers is $5.00. Don't pay full price for that record ever again--remastered or not. Oh yeah. And to completely exhaust September with the Beatles, they're releasing the Beatles Rock Band so you can play along to songs that probably represent technically the simplest in the Rock Band song selection. They're scraping for everything they can get at this point.
I remember my uncle turning me onto Abbey Road when I was young. It blew my mind that, among all the garbage I had ever listened to, I never heard Abbey and it was pure love from there on. I suppose that was a long time ago. And not that Abbey is any less of the record it was then or decades before, but tastes change. Music changes. How long can one hour of recorded music sustain its greatness against social, political, economic and artistic change? Will people still regard Abbey the way they used to, say, twenty years from now? Will each generation pass it on to the next? Will my kid tell his kid about Abbey? Will I remember to pass it onto Parker? If I don't, will anyone else do it in my place?
I suppose I'm doing this Beatles mix as a protest. You won't get the Beatles doing Beatles because that's simply too costly. You'll just have to shell out market value for that. What you'll get for free is hopefully a superior product of others doing the Beatles. Yeah, I'm a prick like that. I will say this, I got some funky treasures for you. Some you might have heard along the way, others that will be fantastically fresh to you. It runs the gammut: funk, jazz, blues, reggae, dub, salsa. And, the paramount piece of the project, Ramsey Lewis. Hopefully proving to be an affordable and tasteful alternative to the real thing. Something Giles should've thought of.
It's Friday folks. Good for all of you. Make sure you get that Black Moon mix if you're so inclined. And have a good weekend. Cheers and a goo-goo-g'joob.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
On Saturday, we take Jackson and Tucker out to the dog park. As always, Jackson goes into patrol mode (like a pimp in a prison yard just col' walking the perimeter) and Tucker dives right into sniffing every unit and brown-eye in the mark. Two distinctively different behaviors, but neither definitively aggressive or troublesome.
The dog park is as much a mix of different dog owners as it is different dogs. You have the type who have very little control over their dogs, those who might have too much. Those who don't want their dog to experience any enjoyment at all and then those who think the dog park is just some lawless, unregulated plane where anything goes and "dogs will just sort it out themselves." My feeling is dogs need to enjoy themselves and I won't be overprotective of my dogs out there. I give them plenty of room to roam and don't crowd them like anxious parents. But make no mistake, Jackson and Tucker are never far out of view and control. They respond extremely well to my vocal commands and it takes minimal instruction for them to respond. Good for any dog, but especially good for beagles.
I do quite a bit of people watching out at the dog park. I do it anywhere, really, but it's especially interesting out at the dog park. On Saturday, I keep my eye on this cat and his labrador. The lab looks young because of his awkward movements and overly playful behavior. The owner looks like Chris Parnell, has his socks pulled all the way up to his knees and talks in some weird combination of a whisper and a whine. He walks around like his undies are bunched up uncomfortably in his backside as he kinda shuffles his way around the vast dog park. Tucker, as we've seen many times, takes a keen interest in the most playful dogs in the park. He and the labrador begin dashing around the park, playfully jumping and leaping. This goes on for probably five minutes and then my lovely wife is alarmed when the labrador has essentially pinned Tucker on the ground and has put his mouth around Tucker's neck. Tucker begins to panic and vocalizes his distress. Jackson, who always has a watchful eye, stands nearby and begins barking at the labrador to defend Tucker. Jackson gets closer and is now barking directly into the ear of the labrador and appears ready to put a beatdown on the labrador. My lovely wife hurredly approaches the scene while Chris Parnell and his bunched panties waddles nearby. He only begins approaching the dogs when he sees my lovely wife doing so indicating that either he didn't know anything was happening or he did and didn't care. Either way, dude had no control of this dog. When they separate the labrador's jaws from Tucker's head, my lovely wife turns around and snaps at the cat, "Your dog is exhibiting very bad behavior!"
He kinda sits there swaying from side to side sucking on his thumb and my lovely wife turns to me and is obviously pissed. We leave. She explains to me the obvious and that is this: if a dog has his teeth on another dog, it's probably not desired behavior and is an exhibition of aggression that was not corrected at a young age. End Scene 1.
Fast forward to Sunday. We arrive again with Jackson and Tucker in tow. A new day. The dogs are ready to play. As we approach the scene, I notice a pit bull scurrying around. You remember the pit bull right? Mean as hell, preferred in dog fighting, banned or restricted in over eleven countries, involved in close to half of all dog-related fatalities and not a registered breed with the AKC.
I examine the behavior of the other dogs in the park and it appears that the pit is not disturbing the harmony at the park so I see no harm in at least giving it a run. Man, you can almost see where this going. I spot the owner fairly quickly. He's a scrawny, toothless man who had the dropout slouch. We enter the park and, as always, I keep a close eye, but I'm not suffocating my dogs' space. Just let them enjoy themselves.
I see my neighbor and his girlfriend/fiancee across the way. My lovely wife and I walk over and introduce ourselves. They're nice folk. They had a boxer puppy and a Boston terrier which, I was unaware, could reach land speeds of upwards of 30 MPH. Insane. We're talking for probably 15-20 minutes and I notice the pit taking a liking to, of all dogs, Tucker. At the time I take notice, it seems relatively playful. Some humping. Some jumping. Some chasing. Not really anything alarming. About five minutes or so pass and I've now recognized two things: 1) the pit ain't giving Tucker any room and, 2) the pit's owner has no control over him at all as exhibited by zero response to his name "Spike" which the dumbass owner has now been calling repeatedly for the last five minutes. I, myself, employ the command "leave it" to Tucker which essentially means to "leave the distraction and come directly to me." Sometimes it's a piece of food on the ground. Other times, it's leave the dog alone. Everytime I call him and tell him to leave it, he spins around towards me and begins coming my way...followed of course by a pit with both testicles still in tact.
I quickly take to walking around the perimeter of the park which usually will be followed by both Tucker and Jackson. Pack behavior...I'm the pack leader. Wouldn't you know it, Spike the moronic pit follows and is now snapping at Tucker and beginning to bark aggressively in Tucker's face. Jackson returns the bark, again, trying to divert the pit away from Tucker, but Tucker's bouncy behavior is communicating something else. At this point, it escalates quickly. I look over my shoulder to see my lovely wife about thirty yards back and, about twenty feet away from her, the pit owner all walking in the direction of the action, but really with no urgency.
"Spike! Spike! C'mere, Spike! Spike!"
Now irritated and in a evidently eruptive state, I spin around to the pit owner and walk directly towards him and yell, "Dude, do you not have any vocal control over your dog?!"
(pause the tape and rewind that)
Here's where, my lovely wife, who has worked in the prison system and now works with juvenile offenders would say I made my first mistake. She would later describe this behavior as too confrontative and probably the very reason it escalated so quickly. Regardless, the man snaps back at me whistling through his two teeth.
"You act like it's all my dog!"
I return, "Is that a pit, bro? Because those dogs are just beagles. They're not aggressive dogs."
He says, "Nah, it ain't a __ckin' pit, bro! I got papers out in the truck to prove it, asshole!"
Aight, now as a result of my idiotic comments, this dude's quick temper is immediately ignited and he's ready to fight. Probably because his mommy drank too much leaving him without the ability to control his impulses. His admittance that he has papers in the truck is pretty interesting. I know that I, personally, don't keep papers on my dogs in my automobile. Probably because I know I'd never need them. It's not like insurance papers. I don't expect to have to provide papers on my animal to, say, an animal control officer or police officer. I suppose he doesn't want to ever be far from papers prove that his dog is not the dog that everyone thinks it is (a pit) even though it is. Get that?
He snarls at me. "You think that just because it's a pit, it's a bad dog." Okay, yeah, you got me. I mean, I know I'm completely alone here. Everyone else thinks pits are great family dogs. I hate pit owners like this. Where it seems they own a pit just so they can fight the power and have some sort of protest in their otherwise meaningless life. C'mon, dude, go vote. Go save a whale. Start recycling. Work on a mission in Mexico. Buy a hybrid. Owning a pit so you can have that, "You think just because it's a pit, it's a bad dog" argument is so played and so thirteen years old.
And, dude, you said it wasn't a pit anyway. I wonder what those papers in his truck say. I mean, being that the AKC doesn't recognize the pit bull as a breed because there's really no standard for the breed. The papers probably are a handwritten note that says, "My dog ain't no pit, asshole."
We exchange pleasantries and I use probably the most publicly flagrant language I've used in probably the last ten to fifteen years. I come close enough to this dingleberry that he says, "You better get out of my __cking face, man!" Toothless Wonder actually thought I was gonna take a swing at him. I hate to tell you, homie, but I actually have income and a lovely wife. I'm not about to take a swing at some nincompoop at the dog park. Too much to lose.
As we approach the dogs, he says, "We're out here all the time! I never see you out here." That's probably because I actually have a job that makes it impossible to come right after the "Judge Judy." F'real, do I really need to tell this dude that I come out there weekly? I turn to him and say, "I just wanna leave, really. So can you pry your dog off of mine so I can go."
"Spike. Spike. Spike. Spike."
Eventually he grabs Spike by the collar and wrestles him to the ground so that my lovely wife can leash up Tucker and we can get out of there. I actually thanked the guy. Politely, even. I wave to our neighbors, quite embarrassed of my tirade. We head for the car and I can feel "the talk" coming on. My lovely wife, as good as she is to me, was not without comment. I knew I screwed up. She coached me on how to see myself through those circumstances.
I was such a dumbass. Why on earth did I do that? I never act like that. I usually have such control. I apologized to her. It was just stupid. We even laughed a little about it, but she thought that I was actually going to take a swing at this dude. Anyhow, when we get home, I know I'll have to apologize to my neighbor. As embarrassing as the whole thing was, I didn't want his girlfriend/fiancee thinking I was a wifebeater or, even worse, a beer-swilling Nascar fan. As they return from the park, I dash up to them and say, "I'm really sorry about what happened out there at the park. Normally, I don't act like that in public. Actually, I don't act like that in private either." Matt said, "I don't even know what happened. I just saw ya'll leaving." Yeah, right. I told them I'd make it up to them by cooking them dinner sometime. We scheduled something for middle of June.
No more dog park for us for a while. Especially since Jackson just went under the knife yesterday to have a small tumor/growth removed from his ear. The vet said it had "tentacles." Better than it having testicles, I guess.
Today, I'm listening to Roland Kirk and am a better person for it.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Just a little background here: Enta Da Stage released late in the year 1993 on Nervous Records which is now a terrible little dance/electronic label. Back in 1993, hip hop had already gone threw its widespread expansion. MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were already names of the past. NWA had disbanded, but a young 2Pac was beginning to take the place on the West Coast helping keep that strong pedigree of "gangsta rap" alive. The artists that not only defined New York hip hop in the mid-to-late 80s, but created it were on the back side of the careers if they even had one left. The Kool Gs, Run DMCs, De La Souls, BDPs, KMDs, PEs, EPMDs were all names of the past and no one was carrying the torch except for some relatively small commercial successes of groups like Das Efx and Tribe Called Quest to name a few. It was post-DMC and pre-Nas, pre-Biggie, pre-Wu Tang. Beasties were recording on the West Coast, the Beatnuts got no shine and artists like Tribe were still considered less New York hip hop artists and more just hip hop artists (at most they were given the dreaded "East Coast hip hop" tag) given the number of media avenues that had been opened up for hip hop. It was no longer a localized phenomenon and where you from or where you at really had very little meaning anymore. Enter Black Moon.
Enta da Stage was one of those records that had that definitive New York sound. The boom-bap. Those smokey jazz samples. The ruffneck delivery of Buckshot. The bass levels were dropped to a deafening level that most stereos in a Dodge Aries stationwagon could not survive. For those who thought that Low End Theory represented the very finest in blending jazz and funk with hip hop, Enta da Stage created new dimensions with the sounds. Similiarly, Digable Planets released their jazz-fused Reachin' only a month earlier and while both would draw on the same roots for their masterpieces, they achieved polarizing recordings. I envisioned that, by now, people would talk about "that Black Moon sound" because of its impact, but the truth is that even though they were at the helm of the New York rebirth of the early 90s, they're hardly recognized. They'd be followed shortly (and largely overshadowed) by Illmatic and Life After Death. Unfairly, Black Moon had become a footnote.
I suppose that's why I gravitate to the recording is its proverbial underdog appeal. And, for sometimes-elitists like myself, it makes for a great litmus test of who you're talking to and how much they know. If you mention "Black Moon" in a conversation about hip hop and you're met with a blank stare, you can pretty much move on to a discussion about Jay-Z or, as I sometimes do, just move on. Black Moon is like Organized Konfusion, Digable's Blowout Comb, the Beatnuts, KMD, Main Source, etc. There's that collection of recordings and groups for heads that are sick with the fascination of hip hop. It's like peeling back the onion...Black Moon is like when you peel that sucka back to the size of a golf ball and what you're left with is one stinky, repugnant muddah.
Enta da Stage, for all of my praises, echoes the magnificence of some of funk's greater achievements. It manages to blend beautifully the compelling sounds of CTI-era funk/jazz with Buckshot's gritty and sometimes hopeless assessment of street life. It's as hazy, claustrophobic and brutal as it's smooth, soulful and slick.
Here's the tracklisting for those who care. There's some incredible stuff in there namely Ten Wheel Drive's "Come Live With Me" and 9th Creation's "Rule of Mind" which, no doubt, I feel in love with after working with them in this mix. Dope stuff. Either click here to download or the cover art above.
Keni Burke "Risin' to the Top"
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
You know when a baby flips you off, you're gonna have a great Monday. Go Celtics. Go Sox. Come on rain.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
ERIC B. & RAKIM
"JUICE (KNOW THE LEDGE)"
JUICE MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK
"Sip the juice, I got enough to go around." Those words are burned deep in my memory and are as poignant as any phrase in my short history. Written for the film of the same name, "Juice" and Juice the film are both strong cautionary tales of how quickly inner-city youth get swept up in the crime game. Like the film, Rakim spits of a kid on the come-up, hustling and getting caught up in that paper chase. "Juice" in song and on film is a word for power and respect. And the title of the song with "know the ledge" parenthetically is almost a call and response as to say, if you want juice, you best know the ledge or, in short, use your head 'cause nothing comes easy.
Let's be real, though, more impressive though than the lyrical content of the song is the Eric B's track. Launching into it with that paralyzing bass line and then assaulting your ears with series of saxophones, guitars, trumpets and that flute. What's remarkable about the track is that every sound, both fragment and long sample, all work toward the same rhythmic framework. Nothing distracts against the persistant, headsplitting tempo. The instrumental of "Juice" perfectly illustrates it. There's close to 15-20 individual sounds within the track and all of them are acting as a drum track. Highlighted, of course, by the chorus of deafening scratches which act in their own as snare hits. Man, they just don't make 'em like they used to.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Lee Fields had a fair but relatively quiet career as a soul man and a funkmaster. He's one of those cats that unfortunately flew under the shadows of a JB, Sly and Otis in his brief prime, but listening back now, it's clear this dude had mad skills. I was listening to Da Pocket Prophet a few months ago and admist my browsing, I hear this blazing funk that completely rattles my drums and then proceeds to melt my face off. The singer has the fury and fire of James Brown and the frantic drum track propels the song to places rarely realized by funkateers outside of JB and Sly. It's Lee Field's "Steam Train" and come to find out that it's from his 1999 release "Let's Get a Groove On." I'm thinking, "People still record stuff like this?" This is the funk comparable of hearing some new band record in the style of "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" in 2009. People don't do this anymore! People don't know that anymore.
Monday, May 04, 2009
THE BIG-ASS CUSTOMIZED-TO-DEATH DODGE RAM WIDOWMAKERS
If ever there was an automobile that catered to the little man, it's the Dodge Ram pickup. With it's exaggerated front end and Cadillac grill to it's monstrous frame and endless customization opportunities, the possibilities for a little man to prove himself on the road when he has difficulty doing so at work, at home or elsewhere in society are virtually infinite. Like the above example, this man evidently thinks that not by its sheer stature alone does the Dodge make him the man he is, so he customizes it to the level of absurdity. And he'll justify such a wasteful investment with the one time he has to pull a horse trailer or the yearly July 4th parade where he has the local softball team sit in the back and throw Dubble Bubble to onlookers. Why is that almost every Dodge Ram I see is spit-shined? Doesn't anyone use trucks for work anymore? Admittedly, my hate for this truck is as much a hate for the owner. With few exceptions, I make the attachment of a "work vehicle" because the all I ever see driving them are tools. Around here, no customization is complete without a Texas Longhorn decal and a pissing Calvin.
THE PEON NEON
If there was ever a car that absolutely screams unfulfilled potential and a lifelong struggle for respect, it's the Neon. Even the name sucks. Sorry, Jacko. The Neon is like the afterbirth of the Dodge Ram truck. It's the Dodge Dingleberry. They probably only keep it on the line so they can offer an automobile that gets more than 22 miles to the gallon. It's like the equal-opportunity employee in that way. It just helps them meet the quota. When you look at it that way, it's even sillier when you see them customized beyond the point of reason. Like the one above, the only word that comes to mind as I see the Lamborghini doors rise upward is, "why?" Remember, you can put a ribbon around a turd and it's still a turd. Nothing you can do to this automobile will make any difference in the fact (and it is a fact) that this automobile is the easily the biggest waste of plastic the world has ever seen. Lowering it and putting those shiny rims on it only makes it that much more of a poignant punchline. Stop trying, duke.
The next in a long line of Chevy's that are quickly adopted by the lower-middle class as the po' boy's Cadillac. First, it was the Caprice Classic, the Lumina and now the Impala. The new Impala is such a far cry from the original that, years ago, was eternalized by the likes of Dre and Cube that it makes you wonder what the point in making this automobile still is. Just call them a Malibu and move on. In the Yellow, it's fairly typical to see these in black or in navy and always with the windows tinted. No one drives the white, un-tinted version corn fields like the one above. The new Impala enables for any one from a thuggery influence to drive an automobile with a wheelbase longer than a Honda CRX without having to shell out the cash for a new Altima. Turn the music down, kid. It's still just a Chevy.