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Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Robert Earl Hughes Edition

Illinois has been the home of heavy rockers from Trouble to Big Black. But no one was heavier than Robert Earl Hughes, who for many years was listed as the heaviest man ever at…are you ready for this…1041 pounds. The behemoth of Baylis, in Pike County, Illinois, weighed 200 pounds at the age of six. Let’s honor this record setting Illinoisan in the only way we know — by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes.

  1. The Spinners — The Rubberband Man (The Very Best of The Spinners): Silly and addictive ’70s soul-funk from the Detroit vocal group with the Philly sound. This song is so darned catchy. But whenever I hear it, it conjures up an image of The Captain and Tennille performing it on their old variety show, and the cutaways to The Captain (Darryl Dragon) wearing rainbow five-toed socks, stretching a rubberband between his toes and plucking away at it. I hope that show never makes it to DVD.
  2. The Church — Almost With You (Under The Milky Way: The Best of The Church): I guess The Church is a one hit wonder (“Under the Milky Way”), but this Australian band is not as ephemeral as the one hit wonder tag usually implies. Indeed, they are still going strong with their blend of Byrds-y jangle and classic psychedelia. It’s an enduring sound that they do so well. This is more of a straight ahead jangler with a great acoustic guitar solo by Marty Willson-Piper.
  3. The Chills — I Love My Leather Jacket (Kaleidoscope World): One of the quintessential Chills songs, and thus, one of the quintessential Kiwi indie rock songs. Like so much New Zealand music from the ’80s, the influence of The Velvet Underground looms large. Chills leader Martin Phillips brings a unique melodic sensibility to the bouncy drone pop, along with a low key vocal charm. This is a laid back anthem.
  4. Myracle Brah — Action Reaction (Life on Planet Eartsnop): From the Brah’s classic debut, this is one of the 20 short, sharp shots of power pop perfection on this platter. The song works a Beatles/Badfinger styled riff with psychedelic undertones, keyed by a prominent bass line that the guitar seems to tether to. Andy Bopp doesn’t waste a note on this song, leaving one never more than 30 seconds away from a hook.
  5. Pulp — Trees (We Love Life): The final Pulp album was appropriately produced by Scott Walker, one of the few artists with a firmer sense of the dramatic than Jarvis Cocker. However, the album only has a couple of songs that take it to the hilt. Instead, most of the album is measured. On this song, which was a single, the layers of acoustic guitars and keyboards create a sense of resignation as Cocker sings of how he should have seen that his heart was going to be broken. A lovely and sad record.
  6. The Streets — Blinded By The Light (A Grand Don’t Come For Free): I suppose that it’s unfair to wonder if Mike Skinner can ever equal this album. On his second full length, he had perfected his blend of hip-hop with modern British minimalist dance sounds, and his tale of a geezer who has found a woman to love at the same time that he has lost 1,000 pounds is well rendered. This song has a pulse beat that Massive Attack might appreciate, while Skinner gets stuck in a club, waiting for his mates.
  7. Missy Elliot — The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) (Respect M.E.): This is not as earth shattering and innovative as Missy’s best work with Timbaland, but any song that uses Ann Peeble’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain” as the hook and lays down a mellow groove for Elliot to lay down her attitude has to be a good one.
  8. Jawbox — Send Down (Novelty): Not as angular as later Jawbox, this is more of an explosive guitar number with J. Robbins singing just loud enough to be heard above the din. In some respects, this song manages a combination of melody and muscle in the rhythm guitar playing that is reminiscent of Mission Of Burma and Naked Raygun.
  9. Loretta Lynn — Little Red Shoes (Van Lear Rose): Lynn frequently tells stories in concert with her band providing some musical accompaniment. Producer Jack White thought it would be cool for Loretta to record one of those stories. Hence, this song. There’s something remarkable about this, as Lynn is so conversational. This was an inspired decision by White and it makes a great album that much greater.
  10. Rockpile — You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine (Seconds Of Pleasure): The sole album by this long running band that featured both Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe is perhaps a step shy of classic, but the mix of Lowe’s pure pop and Edmunds’ ’50s rock mojo made for a fun LP. This is a pure rock ‘n’ roll song, Chuck Berry style. Some critics found the band too laid back, but their relaxed approach works because drummer Terry Williams really had a good sense of swing.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod

Shawn Campbell writesCHIRP Welcomes She & Him to Millennium Park

CHIRP is a proud supporter of the Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays series at Millennium Park, and we’re excited to welcome She & Him with special guests Hollows on Monday, June 7.

Showtime is 6:30PM. Be sure to stop by the community table and say hello to CHIRP staff. Also, listen all this week to CHIRP Radio to win VIP seating for the show!

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Categorized: Event Previews

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday John Fogerty Edition

For a few years in the ’60s, John Fogerty created a legacy. His mix of blues and country and the swampy vibe he added to it, along with a classic lyrical sensibility, resulted in quintessentially American music. But Fogerty was no flag waver — he commented on the Vietnam War with songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain”. He also filled pages in the Great American Songbook, creating a wedding staple with “Proud Mary”. And Fogerty is still performing today, with his equally distinctive voice and guitar playing. Let’s salute Mr. Fogerty by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes.

  1. Ed Kuepper — Nothing Changes In My House (The Butterfly Net):  Kuepper, the original guitarist for The Saints, left the band after the third album and stuck out to play intelligent high energy rock with The Laughing Clowns and The Aints.  When Kuepper is solo, the music is usually acoustic guitar centered and fits somewhere between The Go-Betweens and, oddly enough, the ’80s work of The Saints (led by singer Chris Bailey).  Kuepper is simply good at what he does.  This is a bouncy little number.
  2. Syd Barrett — Baby Lemonade (The Best of Syd Barrett):  The L.A. band who ultimately backed Arthur Lee in the latter day incarnation of Love was named after this song.  This is excellent psychedelic pop that is in line with Barrett’s classic Pink Floyd singles like “Arthur Layne” and “See Emily Play”.  Barrett’s amelodic vocals were a big influence on Robyn Hitchcock.  On this song, I can also hear where Brian Eno might have picked up an idea or two.
  3. Sly & The Family Stone – I Cannot Make It (The Essential Sly & The Family Stone):  Not only was Sly Stone a father of funk, but he also was an amazing pop writer with a great ear for melody.  This song balances strong melodic passages that could have come from a Four Tops song with rocking proto-funk, punctuated by horns.  So many things go into the mix on this track.
  4. Silvery — Revolving Sleepy Signs (Thunderer and Excelsior):  With the circus-style organ, this song sounds made for a fairground.  When it hits the chorus, it sounds a bit like an old Supergrass track.  This is fine over-the-top Brit pop which fell on deaf ears a couple of years.  I hope they stick it out.
  5. Jason & The Scorchers — Broken Whiskey Glass (Reckless Country Soul):  Original version of song that ended up on the band’s debut album.  This song skips the slow weepy country intro verse and goes right to the rocking country.  The sophisitication of the song, especially the melodic twist out of the chorus, comes through loud and clear, despite the low quality of the recording.
  6. Elvis Costello & The Attractions — Chemistry Class (Armed Forces):  Boy, was Elvis on a roll early in his career.  On his third album, he and Nick Lowe went with a more ornate pop direction, and Elvis whipped up songs that were perfect for the concept.  This song views romance as fraught with danger, and Elvis plays on chemistry terms as much as he can, and also slips in a reference to Hitler.  Yes, he was an angry young man.
  7. The Damned — Looking At You (Machine Gun Etiquette):  An energetic, ramshackle cover of a great MC5 tune (I played the original single version of it last week on my show on CHIRP Radio).  The band loosens up the arrangement a bit to allow for more guitar theatrics and to give it a feel akin to Damned winners like “Ignite”.  I presume this was, at some point, a staple of their live shows.
  8. Montage — I Shall Call Her Mary (Montage):  After The Left Banke broke, Michael Brown formed Montage.  He purveyed the same style of baroque pop that he used to pen classics like “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina”.  Perhaps the music was a tad less ornate, but there are still stylish piano parts and stacked harmony vocals and dramatic touches everywhere.  Hard to believe this didn’t succeed.
  9. Bob Dylan & The Band — Going To Acapulco (The Basement Tapes):  I love this album, as Bob and The Band are clearly just having a great time writing songs steeped in blues, folk and Americana, but still connected to rock.  Robbie Robertson takes the lead on this song, which certainly would have fit in on one The Band’s early albums.  Garth Hudson’s organ embellishes this perfectly.
  10. Los Campesinos! — Death To Los Campesinos! (Hold On Now Youngster…):  This is classic British indie pop, pumped up with tons of sugar and caffiene.  The underlying song is solid and relatively catchy, but nothing amazing.  However, the playing and performance take it up two or three notches, between the great vocals to the hopped up rhythm section to the active guitars.  One heck of a production.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod

Clarence Ewing: The Million Year Trip writesSplit Reel Podcast debuts on CHIRPradio.org

There are many types of geeks and most of us can find overlap within our many levels of geekiness. From music to comics to television and film we all find that special place where we spend a lot of our time and gain expertise. Kevin Fullam is a different type of geek. He goes in to the core of these mediums and talks how it relates to society as well as the personal experience. There isn’t a topic that relates to our pop culture driven society that he couldn’t get an amazing dialogue started on. He has talked about plethora of diverse issues on his long running show Under Surveillance and now brings his unique perspective to CHIRP this month in a new podcast called Split Reel where he will continue to blur the lines of sociology and pop culture. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin and asking him some questions about media, the importance of these discussions and his hypothetical dream discussion participant.

Your new podcast Split Reel according to your website says that it is “looking at the intersection of pop culture, politics and societal attitudes”. When I think of an actual intersection I think of it as always moving and changing. How do you perceive this?

I think the relationship between mass media and societal attitudes is a symbiotic one; while film and television reflect changes in how we think and behave, they also serve to impact our beliefs as well. One example that I often like to use is how popular culture highlights what we view as problems or concerns during each particular era and how they’ve evolved over time — for instance, back in the ’70s and early ’80s, we saw lots of dystopian films that were undoubtedly influenced by global crises involving both oil and also the proliferation of nuclear weapons. (A concern about energy in general has returned, but few worry about nuclear Armageddon anymore.)

The topic of race relations is another interesting one to track throughout the years — from the un-PC character of Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” (who was still using terms like “colored”) to the well-to-do Huxtable clan in “The Cosby Show,” a program that largely avoided discussing race because of NBC’s worry that a “black” family show would be marginalized. When a “Star Trek” episode featured one of TV’s first interracial kisses in the ’60s, some southern stations wouldn’t even air the show. But I bet that the pushing of boundaries nudged the public in the direction of being more tolerant, even if it might not have been cognizant of it at the time.

One of the ideas that will be explored on Split Reel is the sorts of mass media we choose to consume and how that defines us. In a nutshell how does the types of music, film and related media define an individual? Can you give an example?

Actually, while I’m endlessly curious about this notion (which I first heard Nick Hornby introduce in “High Fidelity”), I’m not sure exactly how much I’ll address this in my interviews. The Hornby philosophy seems to be that our preferences for certain types of culture are often important in terms of compatibility with others… I tend to agree more than disagree, but feel that certain forms of “art” are more telling than others. For instance, while I doubt I’d be compatible with a female that solely listened to metal, shared preferences for narratives (esp. comedy) are probably more telling than those for music? I think you’d likely find more common consensus on the subject of “great films” vs. “great albums,” because the latter seems to be more subjective. This doesn’t really answer your question, but I’m conflicted — I would hesitate to pigeonhole anyone based on the sorts of things they like, but at the same time… tastes are indeed reflective of our personas (or in some cases, at least the ones we try to project).

By the way, there was a fantastic essay written about this general topic by Clive Thompson in the New York Times back in 2008 — the subject is the set of Netflix algorithms used to predict the sorts of films you’ll like based on what you’ve already rated. It’s called “If You Liked This, You’re Sure to Love That.”

Your show has covered many topics that are part of American culture. Are there topics that you look forward to exploring and/or topics you feel are better to avoid?

I’ve always got ideas for shows! With the recent “Inglorious Basterds” and oft-mentioned “Downfall” parodies, I’d like to look at the depictions of Nazis throughout the years — they’ve long been Hollywood’s “go-to” villain, but I also wonder whether the lampooning of the Germans (which was also done decades ago in “Hogan’s Heroes,” a startling show to watch today) has de-sensitized us re: Hitler. In addition, I’d want to look at how technology is shaping the sorts of social interactions we see on screen (we’re in an age now where kids text more than actually talk on the phone)… youth-oriented film is a good topic to continually re-visit (I’ve discussed this in the past with professor Tim Shary of Oklahoma) because trends in this genre shift incredibly quickly.

Another subject I’d want to explore is the portrayal of prison life in film — obviously, things have evolved since the days of Paul Newman’s “Cool Hand Luke.” More recent depictions that come to mind are “The Shawshank Redemption” and HBO’s “Oz,” but one of the best films I’ve ever seen on the topic is a 1979 British film called “Scum,” about nightmarish life in a British borstal (basically a juvenile detention center). The movie actually prompted a government investigation of these facilities — an example of how cinema can shine a spotlight on real-world problems. [Another unrelated example — the Oscar-winner “Braveheart” resulted in the resurrection of the concept of Scottish independence from Great Britain! Pretty heady stuff.]

Why is it important to talk about how popular culture and politics effects society? What would happen if we didn’t?

This is a very good question, and actually one that also speaks to the goal of the aforementioned class. There are two big reasons:

  1. Film, TV, and music are excellent snapshots of life — they tell us how we lived, what we cared about during each era, and how we interacted. (Of course, much was whitewashed in the early days of TV — case in point, the difference between actual ’60s programs and a period piece like the excellent “Mad Men.”)
  2. Narrative fiction is much more influential than many of us likely give it credit for; our guard is down, in a sense, when we’re exposed to political messages in popular culture — as opposed to our natural state of skepticism when we listen to a campaign speech or commercial.

The following quotes do a much better job of explaining the importance than I could, and although they refer to a classroom environment, they’re in fact pertinent to all of us in the viewing public:

“The question is not therefore whether film [and television] is going to appear in the classroom: it may do so directly; it will certainly do so indirectly through the experience and attitudes as well as the intellectual baggage students bring with them. Given these facts we have an obligation to help students learn to deal with this omnipresent and discriminating judgment to the study of film that we expect them to use in evaluating more traditional sources.”

— Patricia-Ann Lee, in Image As Artifact, 1990

(Responding to above) “Lee’s encouragement becomes even more pointed when one considers how television campaign ads influence emotions and perceptions through many of the same rhetorical techniques that come into play in dramatic productions for television and film. American democracy itself may be hanging in the balance of whether viewers (i.e. voters) can learn to view film and television critically.”

— Staci Beavers, in The West Wing, 2003

“Teachers should be less concerned with identifying factual mistakes on the screen and more with alerting students to the characteristic ways popular film and television productions often manipulate and trivialize historical issues… the feelings [we] get from watching a film are not coincidental.”

— John O’ Connor, in Teaching History with Film and Television, 1987

Our world and culture is made up of so many different elements it seems like there is a never ending supply of topics. How do you choose what you feel is important to discuss?

Sometimes I’ve gone with topical subjects — for instance, in the midst of the financial meltdown in early 2009, I did a show about the depiction of wealth and finance in popular culture, where we talked about everything from “The Grapes of Wrath” to “Wall Street.” I recently recorded an interview for the inaugural edition of Split Reel that focuses on the impact of 9/11 and the “War on Terror” and cinema. Whenever I’m stuck, I also check around to see what’s being published in academia — I’ll soon be talking to a professor who just authored a book about Generation X in film.

You have discussed a variety of topics with many people in different areas of expertise from Mental Health Professionals, to Political Science Professors to Pop Culture Critics. Who would you sell your soul to have a discussion with on your show? What you discuss with them and what would make it amazing or possibly anti-climatic?

I would have loved to have been able to sit down with the late David Foster Wallace (my favorite non-fiction writer, who probably was one of the sharpest dudes on the planet) — there’s a great essay that he wrote on “The Terminator” franchise called “F/X Porn” that wasn’t included in any of his collections. However, being a great writer doesn’t mean that you’ll make an entertaining radio guest, and vice versa. It’s entirely possible that he wouldn’t have been nearly as eloquent when asked to spit out insight off the top of his head, which would have been somewhat of a Major Downer.

Music is a huge part of pop culture as well as a huge part of most people’s lives. Will there be more of a focus on how music effects our culture when Split Reel premieres on CHIRP?

See, I wonder about the current impact of music on culture, specifically because tastes have become more and more splintered in the internet age. Even if you primarily listened to indie-rock in the ’80s and ’90s, you were still likely aware of Top 40 radio — whereas I don’t know how many stations even use that term today. The internet (and stations like CHIRP) are a boon for bands in that they no longer need to rely on a corporate PR machine to reach an audience. But at the same time, the fragmentation of tastes means that it will be much tougher for a particular movement in music to have a great impact, especially when compared with the likes of folk music in the early 20th century or the Woodstock-related artists of the 1960s.

If you could pick three songs that you feel have impacted popular culture the most, what would you say they are and why?

A music historian would have a much better answer to this question than I would, to be sure! Two that jump to mind within the last 30 years, though, are “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are the World,” simply because they were insanely-popular tunes that attracted millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa. But I’m sure we could come up with lots of notable songs. This is just off the top of my head and post-1980:

U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (war in Northern Ireland, and put U2 on the map as a “socially conscious” band)

Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed a Girl” (much like Star Trek and the interracial kiss, some stations in rural America wouldn’t play this tune, which was a pop hit in the mid-90s)

Sinead O’ Connor — not necessarily for her tunes, but for her ripping up of the Pope’s picture on SNLBIG news in its day;
Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution” — not a hit at all, but prompted a parental scare about the impact of metal on malleable youth (completely overblown, of course);

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USAwas a hit, of course, but few of the people listening cared enough to pay attention to the lyrics, as evidenced by the fact that many viewed it as a patriotic anthem. In fact, the song — critical of the U.S. government — was trotted out by Ronald Reagan during his re-election campaign;

As far as hip-hop goes, Body Count’s “Cop Killer” in the ’90s comes to mind because it predictably scared white folks, though I’m sure it was never played on commercial radio; sadly, I don’t know that Public Enemy was ever big enough to impact mainstream America;

Prince’s “Darling Nikki” — this song (featuring references to sex and masturbation) indirectly resulted in the introduction of “Parental Advisory Stickers” after Tipper Gore heard her daughter listening to it in the mid-‘80s;

Another tune that comes to mind is Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” — the burning crosses involved in the video certainly created a big hubbub with the Catholic Church. That’s another thing we’ve lost in 2010 — the impact of music videos! They’re still around, but pretty much only on YouTube, right? Again, the fragmentation of audiences — which probably the reason why I can’t think of any influential song in the past decade…

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Categorized: Movies

Topics: chirpradio, podcast, split reel

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Kevin Shields Edition

The weather is getting warmer and the spring is bringing big thunderstorms. Which brings to mind the music of My Bloody Valentine, who mixed warm fluid undercurrents with ear shattering volume to create a tremendously influential sound. The main architect of that sound was (is?) Kevin Shields. The man who inspired tons of shoegazers and guitar players in general deserves a shuffle-riffic celebration. So grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. Brian Eno & John Cale — The River (Wrong Way Up): A collaboration between two renaissance men yields a really smart pop record. This album highlights the places where their respective genius intersects, and had this come out as either a John Cale or Brian Eno solo record, it would have sounded consistent with their individual bodies of work. This is a nifty, spacious song with a bit of a Western feel, primarily utilizing electronic instruments.
  2. Mano Negra — Indios de Barcelona (Puta’s Fever): These guys, led by Manu Chao, were godfathers of the rock en espanol movement, even though they were French. Chao was of Basque origin, however, and he and his mates cheerfully blended rock ‘n’ roll, ska, traditional ethnic music, folk, rap and anything else in their radar screen into high energy music. This song has military horns and crazy percussion and is a highlight of their incredible second album.
  3. Eleventh Dream Day — Southern Pacific (Prairie School Freakout): The great Chicago band topped off their debut full length by tipping the ol’ hat to a big influence, Mr. Neil Young. But they weren’t content to go with a standard. Instead, they went with the sole single pulled from Neil’s Reactor album. It’s a train song with a chugging riff. Eleventh Dream Day’s version is looser and adds a paranoid edge to the more straightforward original. An outstanding cover.
  4. Poor Luther’s Bones — Devil’s Broth (Next To Nowhere): A Pennsylvania band who moves from roots music to Tom Waits oddball stylings to wicked psychedelia from album to album. This is from a psych-blues work, with nasty guitar and sleazy vocals. Great stuff.
  5. Micachu — Vulture (Jewellry): The opening track from the fantastic 2009 debut album from Mica Lewis, a/k/a Micachu. She apparently learned a lot from the current British electronic scene, which accounts for the way she cuts and pastes sounds. But the dissonant song structures and odd shifts also owe a lot to classic post-punk. And she manages to twist these concoctions into catchy tunes. Can’t wait for the follow up.
  6. Los Bravos — Coca Cola jingle (Things Go Better With Coke): The Spanish beat group who had a #2 smash with “Black Is Black” sold their souls to do an ad for Coke.
  7. Jim Basnight — Tonight (Yellow Pills Volume 3): Basnight led The Moberlys, a Seattle power pop outfit, and since then has led the Rockingtons and done his own solo thing. His music is best compared to The Plimsouls and Tom Petty. It mines great ’60s and ’70s sources and is played with tons of passion. A cult figure in the Pacific Northwest.
  8. Nat King Cole and Dean Martin — Open Up The Doghouse (The Nat King Cole Story): Cole was so effortlessly cool, a naturally swinging singer and pianist, whose mix of jazz, pop and blues was perfect for the post-war era. Of course, add Dean Martin to the mix and the cool factor goes off the charts. On this number, Nat and Dean trade stories about screwing up with their ladies and ending up in the you know where. Not sure about Nat saying that you need to treat women “rough” and “slap ‘em” to show them who’s boss.
  9. ABBA — Super Trouper (Gold): Not one of there mega gigantic worldwide hits, just an international hit. Overall, not as melodically rewarding as the best ABBA singles, but the vocal arrangements are fantastic, making a decent chorus sound much more special.
  10. Foghat — Stone Blue (Stone Blue): The last rocking hit single for the British boogie band. Foghat was a pretty limited band, but they eventually got to a point where you could count on them to whip up two or three really catchy rock ‘n’ roll numbers (three or four if they had the sense to throw in a Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley cover). This song has some pretty cool bottleneck guitar leads.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod

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