2016: The Year That Sucked!!!

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I can’t do a top ten of 2016 music list. Actually, there just isn’t a Top Ten of anything list in me that represents this year. I can pop out a Christmas list because most of the music isn’t new, and somehow there is this imaginary space between the year and the season… but honestly, a real countdown just gets me too fucking depressed. 2016 feels like a giant obituary. There is a tragic element of the macabre when you giving posthumous kudos to work that is so full of life… even as it talks about death. Both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen were staring the reaper down in their final works. Gord Downie and the Hip releasing new material and touring even as the singer goes toe to toe with a terminal diagnosis. Glen Frey, Prince, Gordie Howe, Muhammad Ali all fell before we had even saw the first half of the year finish.

Then add in the state of the world. Syria, Brexit, the American election, lone wolf terrorists, populist politicians stirring racist rhetoric, polarization of the ‘other’ on all sides of the political spectrum and, well, damn… the whole planet appeared to be giving into hate.

And…

the lights just kept dimming…

Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire), Keith Emerson, Garry Shandling, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, Edward Albee, Harper Lee, Doris Roberts, Sharon Jones and then, even as I had begun to write this George Michael and Princess Leia herself Carrie Fisher. In fact, there are (many) more names, (many) more news events. So many more reasons why 2016 is indeed the year that sucked.

Worse

2017 isn’t looking at all hopeful. Unless you are a gay bashing, woman hating, racist asshole who wants to run every (insert any group that isn’t white here) out of town, there isn’t much to hope for. You see, people often look to music, sports and movies as a method to feel good in a world that doesn’t make much sense. However, the very people we have looked to for smiles are dropping all around us. Yes, new artists, athletes and entertainers are making us laugh, cry and even scream, but… we’ve lost so much.

So, I can’t write about “The Best Of 2016” because the bad has outweighed the good by so much it is hard to see anything good about it. I’d like to thank Michael Kiwanuka, Dressy Bessy, PUP and TUNS for some great distractions. Again, there are other artists who deserve congrats, but I just haven’t got it in me. The good is intertwined with the bad so tightly in 2016 that it is hard to zero in on highlights.

In other words, the best thing about 2016 is that it will end. And if 2017 is worse, we will still look at 2016 as the year the ‘shit-storm’ began. John Oliver said it best when he blew up the whole thing as a giant FU to the year. Best exclamation mark ever… and that was the only good thing I got to say about the year.

 

Soooooooo much to pick from… Record Store Day 2016 Preview

What a difference a few weeks makes. When the early Record Store Day (RSD) leaks started trickling in, there looked to be a bit of a “nothing to write about” syndrome. WELL – HOLY EMPTY THE FREAKIN’ WALLETS FOLKS… it’s gonna be a big one, particularly for those of you who enjoy classic, alternative or indie rock. Even pop music and jazz fans have a bit to cheer about here. That said, there are some discrepancies between the overall RSD preview list and the official RSD Canada list, so make sure you check both.

Ironically, the first difference between the official list and the Canadian version is the absence of this year’s RSD Ambassadors’ Metallica. For the annual physical medium celebration, the band are releasing a CD of their 2003 Bataclan performance entitled Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, Metallica, with proceeds going to the Give To France Charity for victims of the Paris attacks. Unfortunately, the CD set doesn’t make the list of Canadian releases. Other notable misses come in the form of Superchunk’s Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91) LP and a great looking Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention 7” for “My Guitar” and “Dog Breath.”

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However, absence from the list doesn’t mean you should give up hope. Like all RSD outings, the trick is to enjoy the experience of hanging out with a bunch of music geeks and going over the days’ spoils with like-minded friends. Sometimes things vary country to country and store to store; so as long as you don’t take any list as gospel, everything should be OK.

Here are a few of the days’ highlights.

For classic rock fans, there are releases coming to you from Bowie, Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, The Monkees, CCR, and The Kinks.

As has usually been the case, several David Bowie collector items are being released for RSD as exclusives, including one 7” and two 12” records. The 7” continues Bowie’s 40th anniversary picture disc single series with “TVC15.” In addition, two of Bowie’s earlier works are getting special treatment. I Dig Everything – 1966: The Pye Singles is coming out as a 12” LP (limited to 7500 copies) and The Man Who Sold The World (limited to 5000 copies) is being released as a 12” picture disc featuring the rare German artwork.

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The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Smash Hits is getting a new lease on life from a rare cover. The original “cowboy cover” is being restored for this LP, which is numbered and limited to 5000 copies.

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Perhaps the coolest release of RSD will be Cheap Trick’s At Budokan: The Complete Concert. The original 1979 album contained 10 songs including the classic “I Want You to Want Me”, which sold over 3 million copies and peaked at number 4 on Billboard’s Top 200. The Complete Concert will contain those ten originals plus an additional nine songs played from the legendary show. It will be pressed onto two 150 gram LPs and limited to 5000 copies.

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If you want something unique, look no further than the Monkees. In addition to their complete Classic Album Collection box set, containing all 9 studio LPs plus a bonus B-sides grouping, they are releasing a 7”picture disc of “Saturday’s Child” shaped like a guitar.

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For ‘Spirit of Radio Fans’ there is much to look at. Early alt-rock pioneers The Sonics are checking in with Live On Easy Street, a live LP from their recent reunion tour.

Simple Minds, who also toured last year, are releasing a 2XLP red vinyl set entitled Big Music Tour 2015. Sex Pistols will have Never Mind The Bollocks… released on a 12” picture disc featuring artwork reversing the colours from the original North American release.

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90’s alt-rock kids are also getting quite a selection. Leading the charge is Matthew Sweet, with his alternate take on the classic Girlfriend LP – Goodfriend. This collection of home demos, live performances and session recordings will be split onto two 12” inch records and limited to 4000 copies.

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Soul Asylum’s Grave Dancers Union is also getting the double LP treatment for RSD that includes one red translucent and one green translucent wax that is being numbered and again, limited to 4000 copies.

In addition, there will be releases from Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star), a vinyl box from Lush, a 7” split single between Faith No More and the Bee Gees, and a 12” single from Manic Street Preachers.

For modern alt-rock and indie fans there is a great selection to enjoy. Ezra Furman is releasing a 12” EP – Songs By Other with covers of songs by Beck, Arcade Fire, The Replacements and more.

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Frank Turner has an acoustic version of his album Positive Songs For Negative People on 12”black wax limited to 3000 copies.

Florence & the Machine are putting out a 12” single of “Delilah” on 180 gram coloured vinyl. In addition, the B-side is a cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”

There will also be 7” and 12” singles from Chvrches, Best Coast, Hozier, 21 Pilots, and Wolf Alice to round things out.

For those of you with more ‘pop’ sensibilities, Ed Sheeran has several EP’s coming out, Justin Beiber is releasing 7000 picture disc copies of Purpose, and The Weeknd has a 12” remix of “The Hills.”

Even aging pop fans can look forward to Madonna’s Like A Virgin & other hits on 180 gram pink vinyl and Alanis Morissette’s Demo’s 1994 -1998 on 180 gram translucent splatter wax.

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Check out the official lists and see if there is something worth lining up for.  Trust me, I’m saving my nickels and hoping to get Big Star’s Complete Columbia: Live at the University Of Missouri 4/25/93. You know… just sayin’, because we can all find something to look forward too.

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A personal reflection on David Bowie!

Recently, I lost a childhood friend. Going through his online memorials I was struck by a thought. The relationships we have when we’re young always seem to be the most powerful; having influence far beyond nights spent looking at stars. The memories linger as a reminder of who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

Like the news of my friend, the news of David Bowie’s passing hit me with a great deal of force. Through a challenging adolescence, his music had been a soundtrack, a lifeline, a confidant and a means of reassurance to me that things could get better. Like many, Ziggy Stardust had been my entry point; it was a record steeped in mythology, despair, futility and ultimately, hope. Although, I fully admit that I projected my own life’s trials onto his music, like the best albums, you connect to it on some kind of transcendent level. It didn’t matter that I really didn’t understand Bowie’s depth at this point, it only mattered that somehow I didn’t feel alone for those minutes the cassette was running through my Sony Walkman or the crappy 80’s tape deck on a no-name 60’s stereo.

The magic of Bowie was that his genius wasn’t temporary or fleeting. Not only did he reinvent himself every few years, but his artistic vision remained intact. Even when he went in directions that were less accessible for many fans to follow, no one ever believed it was due to a loss of talent. He was the king of ‘other’, a person who revelled in the fringe and gave voice to the weird and disenfranchised with heroic nobility; his personas all broken and in vivid technicolour. He took influences from all directions and warped them into something very much his own. Sure, he was a sponge, taking the sounds of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and mixing them with soul, funk and tunes that were genre defining in the moment; but he also added colours and textures that outshone his contemporaries.

For my part, the best example of this was found not in those classic albums hailed as the greatest LP’s of all time, but in his covers record Pin Ups. Bowie took the artists who had inspired him and turned their songs into something new. While most covers done today retain much of the tone of the original, Bowie sought only to capture their energy while honouring the artists with a piece of his own vision. The original Kinks version of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” is full of angst and confusion. Bowie turns it on its head, adding a sense of vitriol and sarcasm. If the original was despair, Bowie brought to it a sense of sanctimonious anger. It was the last line used against the person who made you feel like shit in the first place.

In the last few hours, I’ve found myself reading the memorials to David Bowie; articles bestowing accolades on the importance of his artistic achievements. They mention his music, his style, his accomplishments; all playing into the personification of a genius. It is well deserved and you’ll get no argument from me. However, as I sit back, those things are not what draw my hand toward the volume on the stereo. They are not what I think of as I watch the record spin. When I listen to Bowie, I hear the possibility of individual growth. I see the idea that even the most fucked up amongst us can accomplish something meaningful… beautiful even. Listening to Bowie, I’m not content to look at the stars. I want to reach for them. And should I fall, then let it be spectacular. Let it be epic. Let it be with that sly smile, a wink, and the gracious goodbye that one has after a life well lived. I mean come on… did you see “Lazarus”. How can you not be inspired?

Thank You David, for just sharing a bit of your life with us.

Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People or The Ballad Of The Distracted Squirrel

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The wheels roll on as I jerk my car to my left to avoid a squirrel bouncing across the road without it giving a thought to its near death experience. I’m not sure if it was too busy to notice me or it simply didn’t give a shit, but it just kept hopping along without so much as a casual look in my direction.

Ezra Furman reminds me of that damned squirrel, and I’m happy about it. Shock, surprise, and from out of seemingly nowhere (ok, it’s his third record… so nowhere is somewhere) he arrives with a record that is cohesive and yet genre hops. The influences are recognizable but like smoke you can see them but never hold it.

His vocal phrasing is like a cross between Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes) and David Bowie while musically there is a whimsical quality that seems to cross early rock ‘n’ roll with the soundtrack for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Add to this the kind of playful lyrics that would make Jonathon Richman, David Lowery (Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven) or Paul Westerberg swoon, and you get an idea of how difficult it is to place Furman within a defining genre box.

He has a maddening ability to be so direct you don’t know whether to laugh, cry or throw your arms up in rage as his observational storytelling is seemingly both turned inward towards his anger/humour, and outward at people who can’t seem to mind their own frickin’ business.

Take “Body Was Made”, it is both empowering for those who can grasp his refrain and angry at people who judge based on body image. It begins with an understated Modern Lovers vibe and then rips into a solo sax reminiscent of the Spiders From Mars as Furman sings “My body was made this particular way / There’s really nothing any old patrician can say / You social police can just get out of my face / My body was made.”

Like early Bowie, Furman seems to relish changes in identity, except rather than do it from album to album Perpetual Motion People is a record that does it from song to song, and sometimes, within a single song. “Haunted Head” deals with one’s own self inflicted torment. “Can I Sleep In Your Brain” seeks respite from torment with a wish to become co-dependent. In turn, “Lousy Connection” hides themes of emotional distance behind old sounds of Doo-Wop and killer saxophone leads. To a certain extent, Furman makes being screwed up sound fun in his unique version of a poetic stream of consciousness.

What you have here, is an artist who is so into his music that you’re not sure if there is any attention being placed in the here and now. And really… who cares? If he keeps putting out music as fulfilling as Perpetual Motion People, you’ll prefer geek dancing over analysis of muse.

Oh Come On Now! Or David Bowie – Five Years 1969 – 1973

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Just a couple days since I wrote a piece on David Bowie’s Pin Ups and bang! The Big Announcement!

Bowie is releasing a giant box set entitled Five Years 1969 – 1973. The first in a series of new sets, this one will be a 10 albums featuring his first 6 studio records, 2 live albums, plus The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars 2003 Ken Scott Mix. In addition there will be a companion book featuring memorabilia, rare photos, hand written lyrics, press reviews and essays from the original album producers. It will all be available on CD and 180 gram audiophile vinyl.

Just to spell it out, you get:

David Bowie (aka Space Oddity), The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Live Santa Monica ’72, and Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture Soundtrack.

It will be released on September 28.

Not that I know anything about these things, but if he follows Springsteen’s example, but you can expect the newly remastered Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory and Pin Ups to get individual releases on Black Friday/Record Store Day. Either way, start saving now folks!

Like Green Eggs and Ham… or David Bowie – Pin Ups

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Funny how some albums by the world’s biggest artists just don’t get given the respect they are entitled; or funny that some records can find reverence in one place and not another. Then there are those that are outright discarded or left out of the conversation because they don’t fit the mystique and narrative created by the artist themselves. Pin Ups is just such a record on all those levels. It was merely considered adequate by critics, and casual fans of Ziggy and Aladdin just seemed confused. It charted on three different occasions in the UK, but did little (by Bowie standards) in North America. Bowie’s  grand design to record two covers albums with songs from first the U.K. (Pin Ups) and then the U.S.(Bowie-ing Out) fizzled and the second record never materialized.

This might explain why as a teen I had avoided the record. Sure, I was a Bowie fan but I didn’t have cash for something I wasn’t going to really like. However, during a visit to my trusted used record store I picked up a copy, and found out that – I really do like this record. Like Green Eggs and Ham, I guess I should have tried it.

Now I find myself wondering if I can get my hands on a “collectible version.” The copy I purchased came from a batch of regular black vinyl that was released in unison with that new technology, the compact disc back in 1984. But… it wasn’t the only vinyl Bowie released that year. A series of limited edition and numbered picture discs also came out. The series included Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups and Diamond Dogs. Amazingly, you can get mint copies of it still for about $60 American and used copies around $40. (However, Ziggy has asking prices over $250 in case you started thinking about it.)

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The next remaster did not occur until 1990 and things got a little complicated at this point. Pin Ups was released worldwide by EMI, but in North America RYKO got hold of the remaster job, and they did things a little differently. Rather than the black vinyl with gatefold cover as EMI had done, RYCO released a limited edition numbered copy in clear vinyl. For comparison sake, you can get the EMI version for about $30 but the RYCO vinyl will set you back about $100 plus shipping on the reseller market.

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Of course, any crate digger out there will tell you they can get an original in decent shape for a fraction of all those prices… so, give it a listen on whatever handy device you have. Then you can decide on a budget, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll want a copy.

Proclamation, Explanation, Reclamation! or Barenaked Ladies – Silverball

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The first person narrative has long been a device in rock music. So whether it is self proclamation (“Get Back Up”) or explanation (“Say What You Want”) or reclamation (“Piece Of Cake”) the only question to ask:  Is the Barenaked Ladies road still worth travelling?

It sort of depends on where your music tastes start and stop. Silverball leans heavily on the pleasant sounds of the eighties, happily playing in a mix of Huey Lewis & the News, Katrina & the Waves, and the Live Aid era pop that saw the dangerous (Jagger & Bowie) become outrageous as they danced in the streets. Sure, “Get Back Up” is a song that looks at the band as having nothing left to prove, but that doesn’t mean nothing left to say.

In the Barenaked Ladies world growing older doesn’t mean much more than gaining perspective. When Robertson sings “maybe we got much better at looking at the others heart” on “Hold My Hand” it’s a gentle reminder to a partner that not only is everything golden, but that he wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s these kinds of personal reflections that give the record a good natured charm.

Silverball is good, really good in fact. It’s well produced, the lyrics are meaningful and you can play it in the background on a Saturday afternoon with a few friends gathered in your backyard as the bbq burns a few hot dogs. Which really, if Silverball has a point, it’s that after all these years it’s just fine to live for the little things.

Black Gold For The Masses or Lou Reed – Transformer

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Commercial success and critical acclaim together or apart are not really the true measure of an artist’s work. History and public acceptance can ‘transform’ the perspective and create a re-evaluation, or revisionist history towards how the art is viewed. No other work quite typifies this more than Lou Reed and his second solo effort Transformer.

With the Velvet Underground, Reed became a beacon to the outsider experience and while album sales were low, critics and musicians had found a kind of anti-hero on whom to heap praise. Once the Velvets broke up, Reed continued his stories and of counter-culture misfits but to a more commercialized effect on Transformer. Produced by David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson, Transformer would be heavily influenced by Bowie’s ‘glam’ movement and blur the same androgynous lines. However, Reed would use his own brand of wry observation and deadpan delivery to create characters that lived with and amongst his crowd as opposed to embodying the characters space as Bowie did with Ziggy and Aladdin.

Oddly, it was “Walk On The Wild Side” a song that spoke of transsexuality, oral sex and drug use that propelled the album to heights neither seen by the Velvet Underground or Reed himself in previous efforts. It wouldn’t be until the 1990’s that “Perfect Day” would become an underground hit.

On its release in 1972, Transformer was given mixed reviews by critics who claimed it was overly “art-y” and overly sexual. History of course has shed new light and Transformer has made just about every magazines ‘Best All-Time’ list.

Despite, or maybe due to its recognition, finding vinyl editions of Transformer is pretty easy, but figuring out what works best for you might get a little more difficult. You can find used copies pretty much anywhere. I’m sure a lot of people bought Transformer to get similar material to “Walk On The Wild Side” only to find that it wasn’t like that. As for new, eight official vinyl editions have come out since 2004 with four in just the last three years. On RSD 2012 a straight re-issue was put out in record stores, and is still the most common new copy you will find. In 2013 – 2014 unofficial green and blue versions were released in the UK. Finally, a few weeks ago Newbury Comics put out a Limited Edition half black and half gold version. There were 1200 copies printed and each was gold stamp numbered.

Due to the sheer amount of what is available, you can get most copies of Transformer for less than $30.00 (including the unofficial UK copies). Only the Newbury edition is commanding high prices on the resale market, and that’s pretty damn silly, because you can still get a copy from Newbury for less than $30.00. The split colour looks awesome and indeed sounds great.

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You can get it here. Anyway, with his recent induction into the “Rock Hall” you can expect some renewed interest and copies of Transformer may begin to disappear. You might want to give that some thought if you’ve been sitting on the fence.

 

Always lookin’ good! David Bowie and RSD 2015

Having just written about Bowie a couple weeks back I didn’t think I’d be mentioning him again so soon, but here we are. With only a week until RSD 2015 it seems he notes another little column, so to speak.

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As early as February it was announced that Bowie would be contributing two 7” singles for Record Store day in the form of a “Changes” picture disc, and a split single with Tom Verlaine on the song “Kingdom Come.” These releases are cool, but somewhat expected as David Bowie has been releasing a series of 7”picture discs over the years to commemorate the various 40th anniversaries of his work as they come up.

However, a limited release of his first album has also popped up in the most recent North American lists for Record Store Day. However, there also seems to be some confusion. I’ve seen some web sites refer to his debut album which was recorded in ’66 but released in ’67, while others have referred to the ep 1966, which contained some early rare tracks by Bowie. It seems more likely that the ep is what is being released as the source gave far more details in explaining that it was re-mastered comes in white vinyl and limited to 2000 copies.

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Regardless, Bowie fans who insist on vinyl and collectors in general should be pretty happy… if they get their hands on it. I pretty much can guarantee you that they will sell out.

 

How Superstitious Are You? Playlist April 5/15

  1. “Slipin’ & Slidin’” – Little Richard

I read somewhere once that Here’s Little Richard is one of the most ‘essential’ records of all time. After listening a few dozen times in recent weeks, I believe that I agree. There is currently a special limited edition of it at Newbury Comics.

  1. “Livin’ For The City” – The Dirtbombs

Love this record and love this band. I highly recommend you give them a listen. You can order stuff from here.

  1. “Superstition” – Stevie Wonder

After reviewing The Dirtbombs, I couldn’t resist playing something from the legend himself. Wish he hadn’t lost his political edge for a bunch of wedding played syrup, but still, when he was at his creative peak, he couldn’t be touched.

  1. “Your Touch” – The Black Keys

Earlier Black Keys, they just frickin’ rock – no matter what Mr. White has to say.

  1. “Hold On” – Alabama Shakes

Something about this band just leaves me wanting more; looking forward to getting the new stuff.

  1. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs

A good Neil Young cover is always welcome around here. Besides it gives me another excuse to play something from those great cover albums by Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs.

  1. “Ballad of Big Nothing (Alternate Vocal)” – Elliot Smith

Another re-release from Newbury, … I love Smith’s music, I just wish it didn’t remind me of… well, less talk – more listen.

  1. “Punky’s Dilemma” – Simon & Garfunkel

Started writing a review that included a memory of this song; haven’t finished the review, but the song makes me smile all the same.

  1. “Blackbird” – Paul McCartney & Wings

Besides the recent re-master of Wings Over America, I actually have an old cassette copy I got back when I was about 15. Can’t believe this guy is still touring… can’t believe Kanye fans didn’t know who he was… actually…. I can believe that. Nevermind.

  1. “Magnet and Steel” – Walter Egan

Don’t own it on vinyl, but I really do love this song. For some reason I always thought this was a Buckingham – Nicks song and always pictured Lindsay & Stevie singing it together. For a billion years I’ve known the truth, but that image just never goes away.

  1. “Don’t Let Me Break Your Heart Again” – Turbo Fruits

Best Strokes sounding song not put out by the Strokes in a very long time; can’t wait to hear the whole record.

  1. “The Root” – Kim Deal & Morgan Nagler

Kim Deal is so frickin’ awesome it hurts. Don’t want to picture the Pixies without her – so I don’t. She has her own web store where she is selling her singles and posting videos. This video is pretty cool.

  1. “What Ever Happened?” – The Strokes

No, I’m not paid to promote Newbury! BUT – they do put out some cool collectible vinyl!

  1. “Disarm” – The Smashing Pumpkins

It is getting hard to find this edition of Siamese Dream that is 180 gram vinyl with a gatefold cover. Get it soon or wait for the next significant anniversary.

  1. “Positive Bleeding” – Urge Overkill

Yeah… I broke down and bought it! Probably use it as an example of how the poor exchange rate makes buying from south of the border a little on the expensive side.

  1. “Until The Sun Comes” – Rival Sons

Love this song, I’m just not sure about the band yet. I’ll let you know later.

  1. “If Only We Were Dogs” – Juliana Hatfield Three

Soon to be sold out from her web store, if you are thinking about it… you better get on it.

  1. “I Ain’t Superstitious” – The Jeff Beck Group

It just made it across the Atlantic, and it already seems hard to get. Good Luck!

  1. “Communication Breakdown” – Led Zeppelin

No problem finding this gem any and everywhere.

  1. “John, I’m Only Dancing (Sax Version, 2003)” – David Bowie

This record has become “My Precious” he says in his best Gollum voice. This is a great version of the classic “John, I’m Only Dancing.” Why do I love it so much – the answer is in the song.