His Purple Majesty

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So, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted.  There’s been a lot going on.  I’ve been a little preoccupied.  It’s much more difficult to maintain a blog when you have regular freelance design projects, oh, and a newborn to help take care of.  More on that later… I couldn’t let the death of Prince go unacknowledged in my personal internet diatribe, though.  I’m not going to pretend that I have something important to say about him that every music journalist or musician hasn’t said. This is just an account of my relationship with his music – no matter how boring it might be.

Being born in 1978, and not having any older siblings (an important factor), I didn’t really get into Prince until later in life.  However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t grow up with his music.  My first sighting of him was due to a babysitter watching MTV – I believe it was the “Kiss” music video.  Every one my age, of course, remembers the Batman soundtrack.  His music was played at the dances I attended throughout my youth.  However, not even Prince could get me to retire from my permanent role of wallflower.  I had a cassette of his greatest hits.  Still, it wasn’t until my freshman/sophomore years in college that I purchased the Holy Trilogy of albums – 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign O’ the Times.  The genius was finally realized, and I never looked back.  I kept adding to my collection one at a time – very randomly… Parade… a pirated version of The Black Album… and so on.  Though I was looking backwards at his music at different eras, his latter day output felt much like running into an old friend you haven’t seen in years – Musicology is a fantastic album and should not be ignored.  Unfortunately, I never saw him live in concert.  I tried to purchase tickets to his show in Charlotte in 2011.  It proved to be more difficult than Radiohead tickets – and a bank breaker to boot.  

It’s been interesting this past week mourning him.  I had to relocate CDs that I haven’t listened to in ages.  There are very limited ways to stream anything by Prince (except for stupid Tidal).  Don’t get me wrong.  I actually love that!  I mean, I’m sure you can torrent his entire discography, but I love that some music fans out there are actually going to have to find a used copy of some of his post-WB era albums – if they’re interested.


It’s been a rough start to the year in the world of music.  Bowie, Haggard, now Prince. Bowie’s death was just as tragic.  In fact, it’s probably safe to say that I’m actually a bigger fan of a select part of Bowie’s discography.  But, Bowie wasn’t woven into the fabric of my youth.  I mean, sure, there was this.  But, we all try to forget that ever happened.  Even though I wasn’t an active participant in the contemporary music scene as a young child growing up in the 1980s, his music was still constantly surrounding me.  He was an icon – much in the same way as Michael Jackson.  I think that’s why I’m taking Prince’s death so much harder.  It’s as though something familiar, that was always supposed to be there, is now gone.  In that way, in my mind, Prince had transcended being an actual human being.  He was just part of life in the universe as we know it.  There are very few musicians/artists left on the earth that I view that way.  Maybe McCartney?  Hell, even I see Dylan and Springsteen as just men who will someday leave us – and that’s saying a lot.  Prince was different.

So… Here’s a playlist to download.  I know lots of people have already been listening to him over the past week.  His albums are at the top of almost every chart.  But, maybe one of the 5 people that read this will find it useful.

33 Vol. 5

This is the last ride.  The pop singer addresses the audience.  He lies about unrequited love.  We all scream for truth, but he denies us.  Please don’t put your life into the hands of a rock n roll band.  Reach out for me.  Hold me tight.  Hold that memory.  Feelings getting stronger with every embrace.  Give me the bones of what you believe.  I could show you incredible things.  Magic?  Madness?  Heaven?  Sin?  It’s a bad religion.  The father, son, and holy ghost?  They all turned away love when they needed it most.  I’ve been riding with the ghost and this is the last ride.

Download here, or click the image below.

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Hail, Hail… My King of Late Night

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There are a few television shows that really satisfied my thirst for music over the years.  Of course, there are the shows that purely focused on music – Austin City Limits (still to this day) and Sessions at W. 54th on PBS.  MTV brought me 120 Minutes.  Then, there were the talk and variety shows.  It was always a source of anticipation to see who would be on Saturday Night Live.  Hell, even the reruns on Comedy Central were responsible for me truly discovering Graceland, and giving me a true appreciation for folks like Randy Newman.

But, as far talk shows, none was more fulfilling than David Letterman.  I didn’t become an avid Letterman viewer until he took on the Late Show at CBS.  But, it was clear who was truly with it when it came to music.  The guy with the bad jokes and gargantuan chin had Bette Midler, Mariah Carey, and Richard Marx.  David Letterman had the bands that I listened to.  The Tonight Show came through every once in awhile, but The Late Show was always on point.

The most important factor was that you could tell that Letterman was a fan of music.  He might not be into all the acts that were booked each night, but if he was into it, he let you know.  He most certainly had a thing for drums.

I rarely discovered anyone on Letterman’s stage, but I most certainly did my best to know at certain times over the years who would be performing on it that night.

Below are many of my favorite performances over the years, or at the very least, the ones I can remember off hand.

“We’re on Letterman, who cares.”

Sponsor-free

There’s accordion in that?

Dude… Burt Bacharach is cool.

British Invasion of other sorts

His favorite bands performing his favorite songs

Beginning new incarnations

They came and destroyed

They came in tuxedoes and then destroyed

Sometimes an artist would make their mark

Sometimes they came “all the way from Brooklyn”

Sometimes it would be the King of New York

Paul would make the drinks

He’ll take all of that you got

Sometimes they would abandon him

Sometimes they would surprise him

Sometimes they would surprise me

Sometimes they would prompt a road trip

They would play my favorite songs

It would be my favorite band

They would stop by to say their own goodbyes

They would become his favorites and perform fitting tributes

This is for you Dave…

This Pop Thing…

TAYLOR SWIFT

This Pop Thing is Starting to Make Sense

So, it finally happened.

I actually discovered that I like a Taylor Swift song.

One day while Taylor and I were on a road trip, I fell asleep in the car.  I woke up, and heard this song on the radio… I asked, “What is this?!”

Taylor started laughing… “Really?!”

“Yes!  Really!  Who is this?  I really like it.”

“It’s Taylor Swift!”

I was stunned.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’ve heard other Taylor Swift songs.  None of them have ever impressed me or even grabbed me.  However… “Blank Space” is absolutely incredible.  I’ve been obsessed with the song ever since.

Anyway… They say it happens to folks all the time…  I, however, did not suffer an episode of vertigo.


This Pop Thing Is Getting Really Really Really Really Out of Control

I’m a regular reader of Pitchfork.  Recently a friend of mine sent me this write-up on the latest “gem” by Carly Rae Jepsen.

The amount of time and depth of discussion about this song is simply laughable.  The fact that these folks get paid to pontificate about Carly Rae Jepsen is really really really hilarious.  CRJ (as the kids refer to her) doesn’t represent any change in feminism.  CRJ doesn’t represent any populist movement in today’s music landscape.  CRJ does not represent anything on a larger cultural scale.  If you even think about arguing with me, please do not utter the words “gender roles,” or I will probably hurt you.

This is a formulaic pop song.  That’s it.

And this song really, really, really, really, really lacks substance.  It sounds like it was written by a female contestant on The Bachelor.    

Give me Haim.

Give me Chvrches.

Give me Twin Shadow trying to recreate Foreigner’s greatest moment.

Give me “Blank Space.”

Give me this.  Or, yes, even this.

I have a feeling that two years from now, I’ll hear this song in a shopping mall somewhere and ask aloud, “Is that the new Carly Rae Jepsen song?”  And my wife will say, “Ummm… No.  That’s the one she put out two years ago.”  And then we’ll argue about it for ten minutes because that’s how really, really, really, really, really forgettable this track is to me.


This Pop Thing Is a Science

No.  Apparently, it really is science…

Listen to this feature from Studio 360 (it begins at the 22 minute mark)…


This Pop Thing Is Art

Todd Rundgren… 

Randy Newman… 

Father John Misty.

I’ve really been enjoying his new album – I Love You, Honeybear.  It’s definitely one of the finest releases so far this year.

Watch this brilliant performance from last year…  It’s equal parts Don McLean and Andy Kaufman.

Auld Acquaintance Thought Upon… Regulators! Mount Up!

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So, as the year ends, I have decided to write about twenty years ago…

1994.

This was a pivotal year in music for folks my age.  “Alternative” music had peaked, and not only that, but it was sharing equal time on MTV with hip-hop stars like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2-Pac, and Biggie.  All the while, the Beastie Boys straddled both genres with yet another masterpiece of their own.  “Grunge” was officially dead.  Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell were declaring the death of a genre they never liked being categorized under, and bands like Pavement and Weezer were calling for you to “cut your hair” and wear glasses “like Buddy Holly.”  Rock and roll hasn’t been the same since.  I argue that 1994 was it’s last banner year.  Where in 1991, bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana broke through to the mainstream, “jam bands” like Dave Matthews Band and R.E.M.-influenced Hootie and Blowfish created a world where frat-boys all across America could get in touch with their sensitive side.  Twenty years into his career, one of rock and roll’s greats released his second solo album, and The Man in Black found a new creative spark.  Finally, 1994 was a year of second comings.  A second British Invasion, a second Woodstock, and for the second time, punk became a “new” religion to America’s youth.

Just look at some of the albums that were released in 1994…

1994 albums covers


When I think back on the music of 1994, I think about my younger brother.  That year, we actually had really similar taste in music.  The main reason being that in 1994, they actually played the music that I liked on the radio.  You see, there was an actual “alternative music” radio station then.  Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Oasis, Soundgarden, etc. – all played in regular rotation on a radio station in Greenville, South Carolina.  I listened to that station, so naturally – my brother did as well.  We heard the same songs, and bought the same music at the record store.  We didn’t exactly own the copies of all the same albums.  There were bands that I bought into, and bands that he bought into.  I was mostly reacting to what I saw on 120 Minutes on MTV.  He was reacting to what he heard on the radio.  We both bought some outright shit back then.  But, when I think back on some of the albums that he selected that I didn’t?  He did a pretty damn good job for a 12-13 year-old kid.  As I graduated high school, and he ventured through it, our taste in music saw some divergence.  Our Osmond duet would say he was “a little more Goodie Mob, and I was a little more Alternative Country (whatever that is).”  Our musical paths have crossed more recently over the last 10 years.  I was thinking the other day how interesting it would be if we gathered up our 1994 CD collection together.  It would be pretty amazing.


I feel that I should mention how important soundtracks were in 1994.  They were a huge tool for the music industry and generating an audience for the film.  Soundtracks were also a source of discovering new bands.  There were some classic soundtracks in 1994.  The Crow.  Pulp Fiction.  Natural Born Killers.  Reality Bites.  Forrest Gump taught the kids about the classics.  Above the Rim brought us “Regulate.”  And, of course… Who could forget this?


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Some people ask me… “Jon, how did you amass such a large music collection?”  The truth is, it has multiplied as my income has multiplied.  So, you do the math.  However, from 1992-1995… I was apart of this exclusive music club.  You might have heard of it.  Columbia House?  Yeah.  So, here’s the trick to amassing a large CD collection at a young age with no source of personal income – it’s a step-by-step process.  Cut out a Columbia House subscription card out of a magazine, or fill out a Columbia House subscription card that comes in the mail.  My parents may have called it junk mail, but I promise you, it was pure gold.  Select 12 CD’s that you want, and mail it in.  It only cost 1 penny!  (Again, this might not be how my parents recall it.)  Anyway, sign up two, maybe eight different times (under different aliases), and you are off to a wonderland of musical delight.  Just stay on top of those monthly selections, folks!  Nobody wants to get stuck with a copy of Bigger, Better, Faster, More! that they didn’t ask for.


Today we live in an age of immediate access to just about any source of media you could want.  If you’re a music geek like myself, it’s very easy to just get stuck in the now.  “It’s 2014, I don’t have time to listen to anything from 2013.  No, I’ve moved on.”  Luckily, I’m not like that, but I see that in a lot of today’s youth.  In 1994, we still had songs from 1991 or 1992 in heavy rotation.  It existed that way on MTV, as well as on the radio.  Even though Siamese Dream came out in 1993, that didn’t mean I wasn’t listening to it all the time in 1995.  It was because of the limited access that we had as consumers.  This was pre-Napster – pre-BitTorrent.  You got the most out of the CDs that you owned.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes I find it hard to keep up with my own listening habits in today’s music-consuming culture.  The early-90s had many of their own classics, but, the albums that were released in 1994 had greater staying-power.  Hell, I remember introducing folks in college or even after college that to Jeff Buckley for the first time – as much as 10 years after Grace had been released.  They didn’t even remember “Last Goodbye” being a Buzz Clip on MTV.  There are so many memories that I have attached to these albums.  I remember friends and I gathering together in a circle to listen to our friend Emily sing “Dreaming My Dreams” long after that album had been released.  I remember late-night drunken sing-alongs to Weezer’s “Blue Album” on my friend Jon’s porch.  I was at least a freshman in college then.  Sure.  I got rid of my copy of The Offspring’s Smash long ago, but Ill Communication?  No.  A constant fixture in the background of house parties all through college.  I talked earlier about my younger brother… He might not even realize it, but his first dance at his wedding was to a song from 1994.


I’m including a 1994 mix with this post.  It’s 3 discs worth.  You can download here.  I’ll have a streaming version available later.  The following albums and songs will not be featured, but at some point in 1994 played a prominent role in my life.

Under the Table and Dreaming – Dave Matthews Band

Hitchhike to Rome – Old 97’s

Sixteen Stone – Bush

Throwing Copper – Live

Pisces Iscariot – Smashing Pumpkins

Welcome to the Cruel World – Ben Harper

Smash – The Offspring

Purple – Stone Temple Pilots

Under the Pink – Tori Amos

Jar of Flies – Alice in Chains

Live Through This – Hole

Four – Blues Traveler

Day for Night – The Tragically Hip

American Thighs – Veruca Salt

Stranger Than Fiction – Bad Religion

Betty – Helmet

“Little Bastard” by The Ass Ponys

“Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow

“Secret” by Madonna

“Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories

“Regulate” by Warren G feat. Nate Dogg


The early 1990s was a time for serious people.  The excess of the 1980s had turned into a long apathetic hangover.  “What now?” so many asked.  It was an even more interesting time be a teenager.  The music of 1994 was a soundtrack to all those mixed-emotions.  The longing.  A longing to belong.  A longing to be a part of something more.  A longing to be loved.  There was a lot of longing back then.  I don’t long for much of anything anymore, except maybe a nap.  So, here I sit.  New Year’s Eve 2014.  Yet, I’m writing about twenty years ago.  It’s not that I’m avoiding 2014.  It was a great year.  A great year in music.  There were a couple of classics released this year that I will probably share with my grandchildren.  I’m not avoiding 2014 for personal reasons, either.  This year has been one of my favorites, personally.  My first wedding anniversary.  My first home (mortgage).  It’s been a busy year with some great surprises.  Maybe that’s why I am so inspired by this eve by my past.  Maybe because I can’t believe where I find myself now.  Maybe it’s because at 36 years-old I’m actually happier now than I ever could have been at 16.  That’s probably why the music sounds even better now.

‘Tis the Season

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Annually, I make a mix of songs from my favorite albums released that year.  I usually make it for just a few friends who really like them.  I used to make full-fledged CD’s with actual packaged artwork.  The last couple of years, I’ve scaled back to digital releases only.  This year, I’m only posting via Spotify.  I will, however, make it available for download via special request only.

I purchased either digital or physical copies of about 50 albums this year.  Below are cuts from my favorite ten albums of the year.  Following that you’ll find my Best of 2014 Spotify playlist.

Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else

Spoon – They Want My Soul

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack

Real Estate – Atlas

Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

The War on Drugs – Lost In the Dream

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

The Best of 2014