Friday, September 30, 2016

THE SOUNDS OF '76 (Still Sexy After All These Years!)

Still Sexy After All These Years!

It was a gentler, simpler time 
before cell phones and before
the Internet. A time before the
planet became contaminated
by hip hop nonsense. Sounds
magical, right? The year was
1976 — I was 13. I remember
it well — the historic events,
the fascinating people, all the
fun pop culture trends, and of
course, the sweet, sexy music.

1976 was significant and memorable on many levels. While America celebrated its Bicentennial, incumbent President, Gerald Ford, battled former Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, unsuccessfully in a bid for the White House. The Pittsburgh Steelers pummeled my beloved Dallas Cowboys (21-17) in Super Bowl X, and the Cincinnati Reds swept my New York Yankees (4-0) in the World Series.

Sports and political disappointments aside, '76 truly was an amazing year  especially if you were a teenager. 8-track tapes were the rage and citizens band radios were the craze. The Bad News Bears scored a home run at the box office, Saturday Night Live was new (and still funny), and that Farrah Fawcett poster graced the bedroom walls of every teenage boy from coast-to-coast including mine!

Yeah, that poster!
But for me, what made 1976 so special was — the music. R&B continued to be a personal flavor of choice, as the Ohio Players, the Brothers Johnson, Rufus and Stevie Wonder dominated my bedroom airwaves for much of the year, while such pop artists as John DenverABBA, Barry Manilow, the Bee Gees and The Captain and Tennille all created some of their finest work in '76. "Outlaw Country" also caught fire, making Waylon and Willie "overnight" household names by year's end. As for rock music, underground acts including the Ramones, Blondie, The Runaways and the Sex Pistols all dropped debuts during 1976. And while established chart-busters, the Eagles, checked into the famed Hotel California and newly-minted superstars, Queen, spent A Day at the Races, those records arrived so late in the year, that I believe fans associate them more with 1977 — I sure do.

Okay, so, which rock records were my absolute top favorites in 1976? Well, let's take a little peeksie, shall we?


- Boston -

Every bit as musically groundbreaking as
Van Halen I, all eight tracks from Boston's
debut have become classic rock staples.
Considered by many to be the "corporate
rock" blueprint that many other AOR acts
would follow in short order, the record has
gone on to sell nearly 20 million copies.

- Fly Like an Eagle -

Miller's ninth studio record serves
up a warm mix of rock, pop, country
and blues. The engaging 12-song set
soared to platinum status in '76 and
remains the crown jewel of Miller's
multi platinum-selling catalog. 

A Night on the Town -

Fueled by the chart-topping mega hit,
"Tonight's the Night," A Night on the
Town rocketed to #2 on the Billboard
album chart, and is the first Rod Stewart
record that I ever owned. At age 14, the
rather "adult" themes presented lyrically,
were rather eye-opening, to say the least.

- Night Moves -

Authentic, working man's rock and roll.
Live Bullet put Seger on the map, six
months later, Night Moves made him a star.

- Black and Blue -

Down and dirty, sweaty and a bit sticky.
Features the band's two all-time greatest
tracks — "Hot Stuff" and "Fool to Cry."

- Frampton Comes Alive -

The ULTIMATE live record ever!
Combines a great band and great songs,
with an energized, adoring audience,
PLUS an ever-kissable, iconic cover.

- Wings at the Speed of Sound -

McCartney at the top of his game. Songs
so incredible, I'd choose this slab over
Abbey Road any day. I said it. I meant it.
And I'll stand behind it.

- Fleetwood Mac -

Released in '75, this long-overdue,
multi platinum-selling breakout
record enjoyed its greatest success
in '76. Hence, it makes the list. If
Rumours had been just a little bit
stronger, it could have measured up
to this untouchable classic.

- Rocks -

The boys from Beantown faced a
completely unrealistic challenge in
1976 — following-up 1975's iconic
Toys in the Attic album with an even
more ferocious release. Simply put,
they succeeded with Rocks.

Destroyer -

In the old days, rock bands typically
punched-out new albums every nine
months — as was the case with this
pair of Top 20 classics. To attempt
separating them would be risky, and
require the skills of a world-class
neurosurgeon. As a result, I MUST
present them — conjoined!

So, whaddaya think? Care to share your own personal picks or stories? Feel free in the "Comment" section below. Thanks for stopping by — catch ya on the flip flop, good buddy!

-Christopher Long
(September 2016)

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

THE SOUNDS OF '96 (20 Years in the Rear View)

(20 Years in the Rear View)

Clinton was running for President.
KISS was out touring in makeup.
And Tom Hanks had a box office
smash. Uh, wait. What year was
it again? Oh yeah, it was  1996.

After surviving the infamous "grunge scare" of the early 1990s, popular music was finally becoming fun again back in '96 — well, sorta. Seems like only yesterday. Hard to believe it's actually been 20 years.

I opened an indie record shop in February 1996 Serious Sounds, in Palm Bay, Florida. With 13 years of personal, hands-on experience in the retail record business, I expected that my operation would "blow up" big time. And it did. But not in a good way. To say the least, times had changed (considerably) since my last days in the biz, just five years earlier. Simply put, my old school REO mentality made me ill-prepared to succeed in a modern-day Wu-Tang world. And honestly, I just never thought that the budding Internet craze would actually bring the entire industry to its knees in, 3-2-1 — BOOM! By the summer of 1997, I was out of business. As a result, I could probably write a bestseller BLINDSIDED: How to Burn Through $127,000 in Just 18 Months.

Although some light was beginning to peek through the cracks of popular music's crusty shell, I recognized that most of what was being produced in '96 was still aural refuse. But the records that did stand out at the time, continue to hold up nicely  20 years later. Here are a few of my personal picks from '96 — the records that remain among my go-to favorites.

Top 10 Picks of '96

- Load

The first Metallica record in five years
met with mixed reaction — to say the
least. It wasn't Kill 'Em All, but thank
goodness, it wasn't St. Anger, either.

Tiny Music - 

STP-meets-Cheap Trick at a methadone
clinic "Big Bang Baby" alone makes it
worth the current $3.99 thrift store price.

- 311 -

White boy hip hop / reggae — "all
mixed up" with '90s era, baggy pants
alterno rock. And it stills sounds fresh.

- First Band on the Moon -

Songs so sweet and so catchy, they'd make
Brian Wilson's chest swell with pride. One
of the most delightful soft pop records ever!

- Tidal -

Sexy-sounding earworms from an
artist who's likely nutty enough to
have been one of my ex-girlfriends.

- Heavy Petting Zoo -

The ultimate Warped Tour poster boys.
Raucous, rude and TOTALLY legit.
Holy crap, I (still) love this record! 

Garbage -

Great songs. Great production. Great band.
PLUS a pretty and pink cover! What all
'90s pop / rock should have sounded like.

-Three Snakes and One Charm -

An iconic American rock and roll
band at the top of its game. Arguably
the group's best work to date.

- Sparkle and Fade -

Singer / songwriter / guitarist / frontman,
Art Alexakis, is a freakin' genius! And this
is one of rock's most pockmarked and piss-
soaked records of all-time. Although it was
released technically in '95, it didn't blow
up fully until '96 — so it makes the list.

- Tragic Kingdom -

Crisp and catchy, poppy and punchy,
Tragic Kingdom provided a much-
needed breath of fresh air — just
when I needed it most. And it still
tastes as sweet, juicy and delicious
as the day it was first picked from
the O.C. citrus grove back in late
1995. This record will live forever!

I hope you enjoy my little rear view recap. And I encourage readers to chime in and offer your own thoughts, stories and personal picks in the "Comments Section" below.

-Christopher Long
(September 2016)

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Friday, September 23, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: Meat Loaf "Braver Than We Are"

Meat Loaf
Braver Than We Are

Hot patootie  bless my soul,
one of rock's all-time greats
has just released his latest.
So, what's the verdict? Let's
dive in and have a looksie.

My writing partner, Bryan Dumas, and I have been friends for more than 35 years. And ever since our crazed teenage party days, we've both maintained personal passions for the brilliant music created by the team of vocal powerhouse, Meat Loaf, and songwriting genius, Jim Steinman. In fact, when Bryan and I bought our first CD players back in '84, Meat Loaf's iconic, 30 million-selling, 1977 Bat Out of Hell record was the first disc that each of us purchased.

During a phone conversation earlier this week, Bryan and I were actually discussing Meat Loaf and Steinman's perceived "Where are they now?" status. So imagine my surprise when I discovered Braver Than We Are tucked away in the "New Release" section of my local supercenter later that same day. I notified Bryan immediately, who in short order, located a few selected tracks online. His review? Not good. In fact, his critique was so honest (and by "honest," I mean "brutal") that I had to buy a copy and hear it for myself. I mean, how bad could it really be? But within seconds of popping the CD into my car Hi-Fi, it became painfully clear that Braver Than We Are actually is 17 times worse than Bryan had described. And suddenly, it was as if I could hear the voice of Nigel Tufnel  chiming in from the backseat — Is this a joke? Excuse me. Is this a joke?

The musicianship  impeccable. The backing vocals — superb. The production — top-notch. And the signature-style arrangements  world-class. So, how on earth can a record that warrants such a glowing endorsement be so patently bad? It's simple. Everyone involved with the project stepped up to the plate and hit home runs — everyone that is, except for the two legendary names printed on the cover.

Produced by Meat Loaf guitarist, Paul Crook, the record sounds fantastic. And while the music is certainly there, the songs are not — surprising and disappointing, given the level of expectation associated with purchasing a record with the words, All Songs by Jim Steinman emblazoned across the cover. Simply put, the compositions here are monolithic aural slabs meandering, while never arriving at a desirable destination. Lyrically, Braver Than We Are also delivers disappointing results. In "Speaking in Tongues," Steinman writes (in true Spın̈al Tap fashion), It's time to start a fire. And I know we'll make it good. We're overflowing with desire. You've got the spark, I got the wood. I expect that level of dopiness from Gene Simmons — not from the guy who wrote "For Crying Out Loud."

As I've learned from years' worth of first-hand experiences, rock stars simply can NOT handle the truth, and they need to be surrounded by "yes men" at all times. But holy cow, Meat Loaf really needed (and deserved) a dose of truth on this one. Vocally, the record is an embarrassing disaster embarrassing not only for the listener, but also for the one-time virtuoso. To say that Meat Loaf has lost his chops would understate his dreadful performance. The man who decimated fans worldwide 40 years ago with his chilling delivery of "Heaven Can Wait," now barely possesses tavern-type karaoke caliber ability — struggling even with spoken vocal parts.

Giving this misguided record a pass would be dishonest and misleading to fans who might be considering plunking down their hard-earned dollars based the duo's otherwise stellar reputation. Furthermore, ignoring the Emperor's extreme lack of clothing would impugn this team's truly magnificent past work. The cover, however, is magnificent! 

-Christopher Long
(September 2016)

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

SUMMER 2016: Hot Highlights from a Steamy Season

Hot Highlights from
a Steamy Season

Does anybody get amped
about working during the
summertime? Me neither. 

I'll bet that I've got publicists fuming from coast to coast  Hey, where's that freaking review we've been expecting for the last 12 weeks?! Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that I'm less than motivated to get much work done during the "dog days." Then again, who is? And with the season now officially in the rear view, I guess it's time to get cracking. But first, I wanted to take a moment to reflect, and to share a quick personal overview of some of the people, places and events that made my summer of 2016 so amazing and memorable.

I've never been much of a "beach bum." However, I do possess a particular passion for Daytona Beach. I always have — ever since first moving to Florida with my family during the mid '70s. 40-plus years later, I still try to visit "The World's Most Famous Beach" for at least a couple of days each summer — as I was blessed to do last July. Simply put, being in Daytona makes me feel like a kid again — transporting me back magically to a more carefree and innocent time in my life. After all these years, it still does.

"The World's Most Famous Beach"
I tend to live life in a delusional state where I'm eternally young. As a result, I often lose sight of the fact that I'm NOT 17 anymore. Fortunately, as part of Central Life Church (located on Florida's sunny Space Coast), I'm afforded the opportunity to remain connected to (actual) young people as an active "adult" member of the youth ministry leadership team. And as one of the world's oldest kids, I always look forward to participating in the church's summer youth camp program. To say the least, the camp experienced has "evolved" since my day, back in '70s. Billed as Forever Young, Central Life's 2016 summer getaway played out at a luxury high-rise hotel, just south of Cocoa Beach. Nearly 50 teenagers enjoyed a spirited week's worth of swimming, surfing, sand and sun — culminating in more than a dozen salvations. Now THAT'S truly big stuff! A fantastic experience  for all of us young people.

I was honored to serve alongside
these incredible men and women as
a member of the 2016 Forever Young
summer youth camp leadership team.
The tagline is direct and to the point  “No instruments. Just voices.” And it's always a pleasure getting to spend one-on-one time with members of the New Jersey-based rock-appella group, The RockNRoll Chorus. Comprised of more than two dozen high school-age performers, the RNRC has become an acknowledged national touring act since first forming, ten years ago. And I still get jazzed when the group comes to Florida each summer. I recounted my personal 2016 experience in an exclusive Ink 19 feature story in August. Read it HERE.

Chillaxin' backstage in Orlando with
members of The RockNRoll Chorus.
What summer season is complete without at least a few live concert experiences? I took in a slew of live shows over the summer — some proved more satisfying than others. While I personally had difficulty choking down the soulless performance from current flavor of the week, Halsey, thousands of adoring (predominantly female) teenage disciples did connect with her painfully synthetic style. However, I was wowed MORE than sufficiently by opening rock act, Bad Suns. And although this year's multi-act Vans Warped Tour and the August Orlando performance by Butch Walker both packed tremendous punch, the mismatched triple-bill onslaught of In This MomentHellyeah and  Shaman's Harvest left me feeling victimized, shivering under a blanket at the scene of the crime.

After-show with Palaye Royale
at Vans Warped Tour in July 2016.
Many impressive and noteworthy records made it to my Hi-Fi set this summer, including Clean Your Clock, the sizzling new live offering from MotörheadThe Boom Boom Room served as a mighty, must-hear debut for newly-minted rock poster boys, Palaye Royale. And I thoroughly enjoyed getting "baked" at the beach with Vol. II, the sensational sophomore release from Miami's super-crunk, pop-punk combo, Geezer. Featuring the outrageous remake of Katy Perry's, "I Kissed a Girl," it was THE feel-good record of the summer!

Terrific tunes for troubled teens!
I have a hard time shelling-out wads of cash only to ingest the same trash that, as a nightclub DJ, I get paid to endure. And recently, cineplexes have been flooded with more lowbrow stinkers than ever before. Hence, I find myself going to the movies less and less frequently these days. However, I did venture out to see a few flicks this summer. Popstar shoulda and coulda been great, but the quality control bar was set so low that I actually stubbed my toe on it as I made my way to my seat. Delivering a familiar storyline, Finding Dory was an engaging and entertaining sequel to the 2003 blockbuster, Finding Nemo  good family fun, for sure. And although it's reflective of the type of content that usually keeps me away from theaters, I will admit that Bad Moms had me laughing out loud — a lot.

Bad Moms could have been
titled, Almost Fabulous.
Fortunately, I found time this summer to dive into several compelling new books. Brett Weiss' Encyclopedia of KISS was quite entertaining, while God's Path Toward a Resurrected Marriage by Sharon Migala and Dr. Larry Ollison's Unlocking the Mysteries of the Holy Spirit were both incredibly inspirational. I was also delighted to discover author Violet Favero's second children's book, Sunday Dinner at Silly Yaya's. And in the final days of the season, I was thrilled to receive a copy of Scary Close, the latest memoir from one of my all-time favorite authors, Donald Miller. Focusing on dropping our "guard" and getting "real" in our personal relationships, it's been hailed as Miller's best work. Look for my official review, coming soon.

Much thanks to my longtime
friend and creative collaborator,
Chris Dillon, for sending me a
copy of Donald Miller's latest.
There ya go — another summer's worth of memories for the ol' scrapbook. And I'd also really like to hear about your summer experiences. So, feel free to share your personal stories in the "Comment" section below. But for now, I just want to say "thanks" for stopping by and taking the time to read my stuff. Get ready, Christmas is right around the corner!

-Christopher Long
(September 2016)

The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

Also from Christopher Long...
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