Sunday, July 29, 2007

CosmicBen & Wilson Kick Around Jazz

After years of swapping long e-mails about music, fellow amateur critic CosmicBen and I finally got around to writing up a Point/Counterpoint discussion on the general topic of "Jazz: Worth The Trouble?" We plan to continue these conversations as a semi-regular feature; the first one is available now on
CosmicBen's blog.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Amy Winehouse, "Rehab" (2006)

I don't know why we've got all these blue-eyed soul British women all of a sudden, but Winehouse is the latest. She comes off like Joss Stone's unwed mother, a drunken, tattoo-covered hard luck woman singing in an Etta James-influenced croak over pseudo-Motown loops, desperate to show us what a bad girl she really is. Her second album Back To Black became a major hit behind this single, supposedly prompted by a management company's suggestion that she get treatment for alcoholism. If you think her response ("I said no, no, no") is clever, you probably also have a closet full of "I don't have a drinking problem: I drink, I get drunk, I fall down, no problem" T-shirts.

What bugs me about the song, though, isn't the banality of the sentiment or the execution (do we need anyone reviving Soul II Soul's schtick?): it's the missed opportunity. The substance abuse rehabilitation industry has mushroomed in recent years, with remarkable media support, and no one's holding it accountable. Judges routinely sentence offenders to attend rehab or AA meetings (or attach it as a condition to parole, which amounts to the same thing), celebrities vanish into rehab after any embarrassing public episode, and who knows how many regular people are following their example. But does rehab actually work?

It's difficult to get decent statistics on the success of rehab programs, because the nature of success is difficult to define - what period of time do you cover? do you count people who dropped out of the program? - and because the for-profit rehab centers have little incentive to participate in controlled studies. Certainly the anecdotal evidence from reality TV shows (Intervention is addictsploitation at its most gripping) and the aforementioned troubled celebrities is not promising. I'm sure they work for some people, and I'm sure they work better for people who actually want to give up the addictive behavior, but I'm also sure that, like prisons, rehab facilities often just teach you more about how to enjoy your addiction than how to give it up. I would love to hear a follow-up from Winehouse along the lines of "They tried to make me go to rehab, I said 'Heck yeah! Those dudes know how to party!!'"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rick Dees and His Cast Of Idiots, "Barely White (That'll Get It Baby)" (1977)

I intend to use the blog mostly to discuss songs I like, but this time I wanted to call your attention to this forgotten flop single from the creator of "Disco Duck." Ostensibly a parody of a certain R&B singer, with the Caucasian-American Dees performing both the egotistical seducer and his reluctant female prey in mock "black" accents, it manages to be at once incredibly offensive and totally unfunny... a magic combination. It's definitely worth a spin just to hear how ill-conceived and clueless an attempt at humor can be: the concluding watermelon reference is jaw-dropping.

The thing that strikes me, though, is that Rick Dees, a working DJ at the time the song was released, emerged unscathed from the experience, and is working in radio to this day. (The song was banned, allegedly, though I can't believe it would have gotten significant airplay in any case.) Thirty years later, one-time Dees competitor Don Imus was tossed out on his ear for racist comments which were rather milder and unpremeditated: unlike Imus, Dees wrote, recorded, released and distributed his song with the knowledge and consent of his corporate masters. Now make no mistake, I'm glad Imus is no longer on the radio, and I hope he never comes back. But why do you think the reaction is so different today than it was thirty years ago? Because we've become overly sensitive and quick to take umbrage? Hardly: in 70s terms, the disc was offensive to anyone who wasn't a George Wallace voter. Because there are no more significant examples of racism left to confront? Guess again. Because the opportunists who've been annointed by the media as "spokesmen for the African-American community" are more interested in cheap stunts than any meaningful attempts to critique the prevailing power structures? You're getting warmer.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

"That Summer Song With The Huge Guitar Hook" (1999?)

Is anyone working on a search engine that identifies a scrap of melody? Let's say with a piano-like interface where you tap in a melody, it plays back to confirm you entered it right, and then it searches a database? I would use a site like that constantly. For years I've been trying to find a song that was all over the radio in the summer of 1999 or maybe 2000. I think it was a one-hit wonder, a pop-rock band with a guy singer, and the hook went more or less like this:


Catchy as viral meningitis, as I recall. I might want to pick up their album, if I knew who they were...