Aimee Mann: She isn’t the Ramones… but she is pretty damn cool! (A first concert story)

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Back in university there was only one major thing I was envious about regarding my roommate/friend – his first concert. The first band he ever saw live was the Ramones; only the ‘coolest’ band to have ever graced the planet earth. Oh, you can mention ‘better’ or ‘more popular’ bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Smiths, the Cure, etc and so forth… but unless you can tell me you saw James Brown live at the Apollo, or the B 52’s in an Athens dive as your first show, he had you beat.

Of course, his first concert outshone mine easily. I’m embarrassed to say, but that first for me was in the freezing cold at Nathan Phillips Square featuring Platinum Blonde. Sure, there are many bands that could rank worse as a first show, and it wasn’t a bad night either, but “It Doesn’t Really Matter” isn’t exactly “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” A few years later, with one four year old at my feet, and another child on the way, I vowed to make sure that my kids would get a cool first concert; something ‘worthy’ of telling college roommates about in a childish game of ‘mine is better than yours.’

So it was that in 2008, a couple things had lined themselves up. Local record store Sonic Boom (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World filmed a couple scenes in there) had acoustic concerts every so often in the basement of their Bloor Street location. I attended a Nada Surf show with the ‘former roomy’ and when it finished I saw the bands singer/songwriter Matthew Caws hanging out with some kids. Not ‘kids’ as in a middle-aged definition of people of the teenaged variety… but honest to goodness children. Not being the most perceptive of individuals, it only dawned on me right then, that… well, um, a record store is a safe and… dare I add, perhaps even ‘cool’ place to see a concert.

!!!LIGHTBULB!!!!

Five months after watching Nada Surf, and barely 8 weeks after my second child was born a quick e-mail announced that Aimee Mann was going to be playing a set at Sonic Boom. Since the early 90’s I had become a pretty big fan of Mann’s music. She had put together a consistent string of outstanding records that caught a great balance between power-pop (Big Star), new-wave (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe), and the alt-rock scene of the times. Bachelor #2 was a staple in my house as the new millennium began and 2005’s concept album The Forgotten Arm seemed to be just more proof that she should be a household name. In other words, Mann had become an essential part of my life’s soundtrack. Alas, critical praise doesn’t always result in record sales. Of course, and from a purely selfish perspective, it also meant that seeing a ‘bucket list’ artist in a strange different style venue was about to happen.

So it was that during the early evening May 9th, 08 my wife and I took the boys out to see Aimee Mann. Needless to say, the youngest was in a car seat hanging out with my wife just in case he expressed any discomfort with the noise level. However, my 4 year old and I were sitting cross-legged in front of the small riser where he began to ask me a thousand questions about the small soundboard and the instruments on stage. He had a poster clutched in his hands and was smiling from ear to ear. Since his birth he had seen me playing guitar and singing songs and was now completely enthralled by the prospect of seeing a real music artist. Mann didn’t disappoint. Playing a few selections from @#%&*! Smilers, which was due for release a couple weeks later, she had everyone in a great mood. By the end of the set my son was convinced that Mann was the world’s greatest songwriter, and that she was smiling at him between songs. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him she was looking at where she was placing the capo on her guitar… and that the neck of the instrument was pointed in his direction.)

After the set, we waited around for about 30 minutes to see if we could get the poster signed. I’m not usually one for signatures, but I figured a momentous occasion like a first concert would be a great opportunity for my kids to have a keepsake. So we looked at the vinyl and cassettes which shared the basement with the stage, and kept an eye on the door for her exit. Unfortunately, whoever was interviewing her after the show was getting a really good chat, because she just never came out of the backroom in time for my son to get it signed. The baby needed to get home, and so we jumped into the rusty old minivan with a poster, our memories and a great first concert story.

Eighteen months later, my first born would get his second concert poster signed by a confused looking J. Mascis and a very gracious Lou Barlow after a Dinosaur Jr. acoustic set at Sonic Boom. (I mean come on, how many times do alt-rock legends get five year-olds walking up for an autograph.) Since then we’ve been to a bunch of small sets or shows. Both my boys (now just about to turn 12 and 8) enjoy going to shows at Sugar Beach where they can play in the sand before a band breaks into song.

Over the years, I’ve seen Mann perform a couple times, each time more impressive than the last and yet she still remains on my bucket list for a couple reasons. One, I’d eventually like to get to one of her annual Christmas shows. But, even more importantly, I’d like to have the kids go to a full concert that they’ll actually remember without daddy reminding them of when playing music on the stereo. When she last came to Toronto with The Both we were away on holidays and missed the chance. All joking about bragging rights aside, taking my kids to a concert isn’t about bravado, it is about bonding. Doing those things that allow memories to grow and be sustained.

So my old roommate has the Ramones… and that is pretty cool. But, on some future day when they’re at college and a friend asks “what was your first show?” both my children will be able to give a sly grin and reply – “Aimee Mann… and I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.” The older one can even add “and, it’s on youtube. You can see my dad and I on the floor waiting for the music to start.”

Thanks for the memory Aimee

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Ten Anti-Christmas Blasts (that will make you laugh, weep or see red…)

http://www.edge.ca/2015/12/23/ten-anti-christmas-songs/

Everyone has a holiday saturation point; that place where good cheer can turn to outright hostility.  Perhaps it is the crowds, or maybe someone stole that long awaited parking spot. It could be that you’ve heard “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” just a tad too much; whatever the case, it’s at that moment when something… anything… is needed to shake up the insanity of the season before you just scream and possibly punch someone in the nose. When things have come to that particular breaking point, I put on the anti-Christmas songs guaranteed to get you on the naughty list.

Holly Golighly – Christmas Tree On Fire

Released a couple of years ago, “Christmas Tree On Fire” tells the story of someone just too damn lazy to throw out that old, dried up holiday kindling. Essentially the tree is ablaze and the whole frickin’ house burns down around them. Golightly sings in a first person tale filled with humour, horror and little chance of a happy ending.

Clarence Carter – Back Door Santa

Nothing ends goodwill quite like having a back-stabbing, marriage-ending friend sneaking in to make your significant other happy while you’re out at work. It’s one thing to catch ‘mommy kissing Santa Claus’, but it’s a whole different issue to be caught up in this kind of soap opera.

Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)

Sure you want chestnuts roasting by the open fire, but chances are good that X-mas stress will bring out the worst in someone you know. So take some advice from the Ramones and just try your best to de-escalate the situation with a good mix of music and begging.

Aimee Mann – You’re A Mean One Mister Grinch

Take the animation away and this song is rather sinister. Taken from Aimee Mann’s One More Drifter in the Snow, the combination of Grant Lee Philips narration and Mann’s near croon has “You’re A Mean One Mister Grinch” sounding downright diabolical.

De La Soul – Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa

Christmas 1991 was gifted the hip hop horror story of “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa.” Not for the faint of heart, it’s the fictional account of a girl facing down… well, I don’t want to give away the whole story if you haven’t heard it. Let’s just say it’s as far away from the holiday spirit as one can get.

Sufjan Stevens – That Was The Worst Christmas Ever

The magic of the holiday season loses a bit of luster when expectations are met with earth shattering reality. Stevens has the Christmas music matched with that depressing moment your dreams crash into the earth.

Pogues (featuring Kirsty MacColl) – Fairytale of New York

Nothing brings out the anti-Christmas spirit quite like a duet between a drunken couple throwing nasty barbs at one another on the streets of New York. You know what ‘they’ say about the very fine line between love and hate…

Neko Case – Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis

Some Christmas cards have more than sentiment; and when you’re dealing with the dreams of the down and out… well, they can be both beautiful and heartbreaking. Covering the classic Tom Waits “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis”, Neko Case will haunt your dreams.

Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa

Santa catches a serial killer who begs for his life. Only The Killers could come up with such a demented little saga of holiday destruction. Funny thing is, the song is so twisted, you’re kind of hoping neither Santa nor ‘the killer’ gets out alive.

 

Oscar The Grouch – I Hate Christmas

No Christmas list is complete without an appearance from a muppet… even an anti-Christmas list. With that in mind I give you Oscar the Grouch doing his best to destroy the holidays on Sesame Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Open Up You Heart And Let The Sunshine In” or Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits

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The 90’s may have a lot of detractors, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t put out a nice bundle of compilation records. Near the top of my list was a whole ton of great artists giving a giant nod to my childhood – Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits. Featuring the Ramones, Liz Phair, Violent Femmes, Matthew Sweet, Juliana Hatfield and a host of others, Saturday Morning featured covers of some of cartoons finest moments.

Frente! covers the Flintstones “Open Up You Heart And Let The Sunshine In.” The duo of Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly blast through “Josie and the Pussycats” and the Ramones tackle my personal favorite “Spider-Man.”

The biggest problem is that there has been no reissue since its 1995 release, meaning that it can be a bit difficult to find and, in some cases, resellers have asked outrageous amounts of money for a disc. Getting it on vinyl is that much worse. Saturday Morning was released as a two disc wax set, but it is difficult to find anywhere close to home. Discogs has two on the resale market, but they are in Japan and Australia respectively. In these cases the asking price is near $50.00 plus shipping.

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Then you get others asking over $200.00 for the cassette.

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While I would love to get my hands on the vinyl, I guess my kids and I will have to dance around the house to the CD for the time being.

Hey Ho… Really, That’s all I have To Pay… Let’s Go! – Ramones (Coloured vinyl studio records)

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Paying money for a Ramones record any time at any price will never be questioned by this guy. You see, you can talk about best and greatest and define this thing and that, but – without question or argument, if you ask me who was or is, the “Coolest Band” to have ever graced the planet, one word folks – Ramones.

By themselves they could never sell out a stadium. They did not create actual “hit” records that saw airplay on major radio stations resulting in huge sales. They didn’t own a jet, blow millions and become a Spinal Tap influence. Nope, these guys played in bars and earned their fan base one gig at a time, and in the end became recognized as the first and greatest of all punk bands. People know the songs; they jump up and play air guitar, dance or pogo when any number of their tunes gets played. They can’t name the tune but they sing along all the same. Ramones defy logic, and we love them for it. My own children aged seven and eleven can identify only two bands with just a couple notes – The Beatles and Ramones. Which makes perfect sense if you consider that in a 2002 Spin magazine edition listing the 50 Greatest Bands of All-Time; those two bands were ranked one and two. Well that, and the fact that both bands see an ample amount of time on the stereo.

So how do you build a vinyl altar worthy of the all time “Coolest Band?”

For me, it’s pretty simple – you collect something as visually stunning as the music they played.

Starting in 2000, Sire started releasing remastered copies of the Ramones records on 180 gram red translucent vinyl. The first was their self titled. Resellers are asking for $25.00 or more FOR STILL SEALED COPIES.

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Road To Ruin was also released in 2000 and will set you back a minimum of $20.00

Leave Home was the next album released (2001). Resellers are asking less than $20.00 in some cases. Then Rocket To Russia and End Of The Century saw 2005 as their release dates with both records hovering around the $20 mark. Again remember, these prices are for sealed copies of audiophile vinyl, and I’m only covering the first five studio albums.

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Other coloured versions of these records have been released since in limited quantity, but the resale asking prices on these starts to get a little more ‘pricey.’ There are a virtual ton of options open for collecting Ramones wax, but if you play your cards right, you can find really cool things for pretty reasonable prices. Then again, I could spend the kids college fund… and… oh come on, it was just a thought!

TAKE THAT, FOUR OF A KIND! or Queens Of The Stone Age – … Like Clockwork

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To say that …Like Clockwork was a loved record would be an understatement, it was pretty much universally praised as a great record. In hindsight Josh Homme was screaming to the world that Queens Of The Stone Age were now the greatest hard rock band since “fill in your own blank.” Almost two years since its release and “I Sat By The Ocean” can be heard almost daily on the radio. Josh Homme must have had an inkling it was great before it was even released because he handed fans an abundance of options to not only purchase it in multi formats, but four different vinyl versions as well. Three of those wax options were on the very day of release.

1) 2x vinyl 12” that plays at 45rpm with a red cover

2) 2x vinyl 12” limited edition (10000 copies) 150 gram vinyl plays at 45 rpm with a blue album cover

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3) 2x vinyl 12” limited edition 180 gram vinyl plays at 45rpm with an oversized gatefold cover containing a 20 page book

Then, with the album already selling very well came Record Store Day/Black Friday and the band put out option #4; the so called Black On Black Friday Edition. Limited to 2400 copies the cover art was in black and inside was a 180 gram vinyl record.

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Now the funny thing about these options, are the crazy prices that vinyl resellers are asking for them.  In some cases, sealed copies of the black cover and the blue cover editions have asking prices of over a $100.00 but used copies can be found for under $35.00. Funnier still were that I found people asking $35.00 for a new copy of the standard red cover edition and the deluxe book set for another $100.00. The reason I find this funny is that the bands own website still has these for sale for less money. WAY LESS! The standard vinyl is $19.99 and the deluxe is $44.99 American.

Honestly, if you’re looking at purchasing …Like Clockwork on vinyl, go to your local record store before you start thinking about the online re-sellers. Great sounding new records are still available. I’ve even seen a couple of the blue covers kickin’ around at regular prices.

Beyond Classic… Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard

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Some music transcends genres in both its artistry and influence. It stands out as a pillar that helps construct everything that comes after. This may sound like hyperbole but when it comes to those artists in the 1950’s that built the foundations of what would be both today’s popular music and rock ‘n’ roll, most descriptions come off as mere euphemisms.

One can point at Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly and a few others and pontificate for days about the significance of these artists. Yet they may never capture the real depth and importance.

Then you have Little Richard.

It just isn’t enough to say he laid down the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll, because he works on so many more levels. It’s rock, r&b, soul, funk,  and subsequently how pop music has sounded for the last 60 years.

When I listen to Richard I hear Motown and Stax a couple years before they even existed. I see Elton John’s glitter, James Brown dance and the Ramones screaming out a four count. Oh and let us not even get started on the all out performance.

This is why I say that this record is beyond classic.

Had Richard’s not left Rock ‘n’ Roll for religion immediately following this record, his reputation might very well have risen into the upper echelon of “Rock Gods”, instead of a guy standing around  schlepping fast food deals for Taco Bell.

Forget for a moment that Rolling Stone has this album ranked at #50 in it’s top 500 all-time, and that it made the list of 1001 Albums you must hear before you die. The only important thing is the music itself.

This album is early rock at its most powerful and a blue print to almost every sub-genre off rock since. Yes, it is that good.

Luckily, it is readily available across all formats right now with new re-mastered vinyl editions being released just back in December 2014.

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You can pick up a 180 gram black vinyl edition at your better record retailers, or a limited edition opaque orange (only 500 copies made) copy here.

Where To Buy Shi… Stuff #2 – Let Them Eat Vinyl

Birthdays are awesome! Or at least, my birthday is pretty awesome. There is people you love and food and if you’re lucky, cool presents too. Sometimes the gifts can even surprise you. For instance, one of my most awesome sisters gave me the gift of records – which I love, AND, it was one I didn’t even know existed – even cooler!

Which brings me to this edition of Cool Places to Buy Sh… Stuff…

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The gift I got was the Ramones The Cretin Hop manufactured by the good people at Let Them Eat Vinyl. The Cretin Hop itself is a bootleg taken from a 1979 radio broadcast with a couple tunes added on from appearances on Letterman and the Tonight Show. This printing is a 180 gram yellow translucent double album housed in a pretty cool gatefold sleeve and limited to 1000 copies with further albums to be made in black vinyl thereafter. The quality of sound is exactly what one should expect from a live show. It is rough around the edges, but sounds exactly like a Ramones concert should be without the frills and clutter of overdubs and tinkering sounds that plague most major artists live albums. (Honestly, if you flub a part, leave it or pick a different night.)

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It also seems to be part of a loosely based series of albums taken from various radio broadcasts of different acts in their prime. Along with the Ramones you’ll find Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Flying Burrito Brothers, Pixies, Patti Smith, Lemonheads and many others all in similar black and white gatefold sleeve covers. In addition to the Ramones I also have Joe Walsh’s All Night Long which is on 140 gram vinyl and limited to 500 copies. The sound on this one is great, and seems to be a pretty perfect example of Walsh live. (Oddly, whoever wrote the liner notes for the Walsh album needs to Google a little more often as they mix song appearances from the movie soundtrack of The Warriors.)

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The story doesn’t end there. Besides putting out some quality bootlegs, Let Them Eat Vinyl has been responsible for putting the Ramones re-issues out on vinyl for a few years now. It looks like their first wave was all 180 gram limited edition coloured vinyl while the further editions were released on the more standard 180 gram black vinyl.

If you are looking for some quality bootlegs from an assortment of great artists, you should check out the Let Them Eat Vinyl catalogue. You might find something you like. (Can’t wait for my birthday this year.)

http://www.letthemeatvinyl.com/catalogue.htm