Tuesday, May 31, 2016

RECORD OF THE YEAR (2000-2016)

RECORD OF
THE YEAR
(2000-2016)
_____________________________

As a super-old dude, I'm a
proven survivor. Over the
last 50+ years I've survived
folk rock, acid rock, punk
rock, emo, screamo, dopey
dance trends, hair band high
jinx, a sea of Seattle sewage,
and troughs' worth of hip
hop slop. Hence, I'm uniquely
qualified to sniff out the
good stuffparticularly the
truly great records that
have dropped so far during
the new millennium.
_____________________________

Whether you download music from iTunes, shuffle archaic CDs, or spin vintage LPs, the term "record" merely implies a collection of recorded songs — regardless of the format. And the following list reflects my personal "Record of the Year" choices for each year so far during the 2000s. You may notice that my personal taste leans toward guitar-driven, crunchy pop / rock, with Buick-sized hooks  created by humans who play actual instruments and sing with their very own human voices. See what'cha think...

2000
Samantha 7

Proving he's (always been)
Poison's true musical MVP,
C.C. DeVille delivered 2000's
"Record of the Year" with the
debut from his short-lived side
project — a blistering record
packed with concise and
crunchy pop / rock songs.
His best work to date!

Listen to "I Wanna Be Famous"
____________________

2001
Conversations

The debut studio effort from the
millennium's most prolific singer /
songwriter would prove to be the
record that ultimately saved my
life a decade following its release.

Listen to "The Word"
____________________ 

2002
Left of Self-Centered

With his debut solo record, the
one-time hair metal heartthrob
rose from the ashes of his last
band project to establish himself
as a modern-day pop messiah.

Listen to "My Way"
____________________

2003
Rooney

From the opening of "Blueside,"
this So-Cal combo hooked me
with their Brian Wilson-like
songwriting at a time when I'd
all but given up on current pop
music. Other highlights include
"Stay Away" and "I'm Shakin'."

Listen to "I'm Shakin'"
____________________

2004
Where You Want to Be

A crazy girl turned me on to this
record in '08. Check it out for
yourself. If "Set the Phasers to
the Sun" and "New American
Classic" can't convince you that
it's one of the best rock records
ever, you might wanna have
your pulse checked.

Listen to
"Set Phasers to the Sun"
____________________

2005
Greetings from
Imrie House

Not since The Knack hit in 1979
had I crunched on such a tasty
treat. Featuring the hooky hits
"Just the Girl" and "Catch Your
Wave," this treasure landed in
the Top 20. Co-written by KISS
frontman,Paul Stanley, "Angel
to You (Devil to Me)" is another
of the record's many highlights.

Listen to "Just the Girl"
____________________

2006
Foiled

Simply put, Justin Furstenfeld
is a total genius. These songs
are so unique — so brilliantly
beautiful that it still hurts my
soul to listen to the record —
nearly a decade following its
release. The perfect testament
to the power of music. Bravo!

Listen to "Into the Ocean"
____________________

2007
Because of the Times

The last great KOL record before
Caleb Followill began enunciating
and subsequently being discovered
and embraced by Nickelback fans.

Listen to "Fans"
____________________

2008
Sycamore Meadows

With his fourth solo effort, singer
songwriter / producer / author,
Butch Walker, created a modern-
day equivalent of Born to Run.
The crown jewel of his impressive
career-spanning catalog.

Watch "The Weight of Her"
____________________

2009
For(n)ever

These lil' stankers first hooked me
with "The Reason" in 2004. Then, 
this record hit in 2009. To this day,
still wet myself every time I hear
it. "I Don't Think I Love You," "So
Close, So Far," "All About You,"
"The Letter," "Tears of Yesterday," 
"You're the One" — Fornever sure 
makes me happy not to be dead.

Listen to "Tears of Yesterday"
____________________

2010
Wake Me

Snappy and happy.
Catchy and crunchy.
THE greatest
record EVER!
____________________

2011
Invisible Empires

Groves' most "relaxed" record to date,
however, easily the best of 2011.

Listen to "Eyes on the Prize"
____________________

2012
This is Love

Read my official review HERE.

Watch "This is Love"
____________________

 2013
Volume 3

Read my official review HERE.

Watch "Clould've Been Your Girl"
____________________

 2014
All the Ways You
Let Me Down

Read my official review HERE.

Watch "I Miss You"
____________________

 2015
Friendly Enemies

Read my official review HERE.

Watch "Light the Night"
____________________

 2016
Everybody Wants

Read my official review HERE.

Watch "Put Your Money on Me"
____________________

I hope that you've had fun with this feature. I sure had fun putting it together. I also hope that you may have discovered some great new music. And of course, feel free to share your personal choices and comments.

-Christopher Long
(May 2016)


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

Also from Christopher Long...
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Monday, May 30, 2016

GRADUATION DAY: The 35th Anniversary Edition

GRADUATION DAY
The 35th Anniversary Edition
_________________________

It's that time of year once again
when students from coast-to-
coast gear-up to celebrate their
greatest life achievement to
date — high school graduation.
And with all the related photos
and congratulatory messages
being posted currently across
social media, I was reminded
of a very special personal high
school experience. Get ready
Class of '81  'cuz Ima 'bout ta
start representin' all up in here!
_________________________

Memorial Day weekend, 1981. There we were  four wide-eyed teenagers piling into my parents' 1980 Pontiac, setting sail on what would become a "fantastic voyage." In a matter of days, the four of us Ray, Connie, Rich and myself would be graduating from the hallowed "party hardy" halls of Satellite High School. Located in the quaint little community of Satellite Beach, just south of Cocoa Beach on Florida's warm and sunny east coast, SHS was known throughout the area as "The Home of the Stinging Scorpions." How I ever managed to wrangle my mom and dad into allowing me to borrow the family station wagon for a bi-coastal "Sunshine State" excursion such as this, escapes me still. Perhaps they deserved more credit than I gave them at the time. This would be our last HURRAH  our final gasp of high school life. And I guess that my "un-hip" folks actually recognized and appreciated the potential immeasurable value in the experience.

It possessed all the key characters of a classic John Hughes blockbuster — the "jock," the "princess," the "model student" and me — the wannabe "rocker." We were an unlikely, mismatched crew random teens with seemingly little in common. At least that would have been true in today's super-sensitive, hyper-critical iGadget universe. But this was 1981 — the glorious days before communication "advancements" built up the walls that have pushed people away from each other. It was an age of innocence when being different, being unique was endearing. Back then, humans actually communicated with each other, face to face, and with real words that formed complete sentences. OMG! Yes, back in the stone age days of the early 1980s, schoolmates often endeavored to grasp onto the common threads that hold us together, rather than clinging to the differences that tear modern-day peers apart.

Our fantastic voyage would
require a fantastic vessel.
In today's "enlightened" culture, Ray and I would be the last two guys who would discover common ground. Destined for greatness, Ray was good-looking, well-dressed and well-liked — an athletic over-achiever who had amassed impressive academic stats. I, on the other hand, was a rather unkempt, long-haired rock dude who typically sported slightly stretched-out bootleg concert T-shirts. My personal academic schedule included two student aide classes, two drum classes and a student government class. A bona fide under-achiever, I was destined for a certain future filled with professional disappointments, personal heartbreak and an endless string of low-paying beer joint gigs.

But Ray and I did have one thing in common — our love for music — particularly our passion for R&B. As a kid growing up in Springfield, Missouri during the truly enlightened, shag-cover early '70s, I couldn't "hear" race. As a result, I identified with such classic R&B artists as the Ohio Players, Marvin Gaye and Rufus as much as I did with the chart-busting rock acts of the day, including The Doobie Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Although by my senior year, I'd fully embraced hard rock — Van Halen, Ted Nugent and KISS, Ray had been reigniting my past R&B fire through blasting the latest cassettes by Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool and the Gang and the Commodores on his boombox while hanging out in the practice room during our daily chorus class. As a result, when he suggested that we venture across the state to see his current favorite R&B flavor, Shalamar, live in concert at the famed Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg, it actually was an easy sell. "I'M IN," I confessed to Ray, with little persuasion.


When I refer to Connie as a "princess," I mean it in the sweetest, most heartfelt context. With her long flowing brown hair and piercing green eyes, she was a stunning beauty who I'd fallen hopelessly in love with the very first moment I laid eyes on her  the first day I arrived as "the new kid" at DeLaura Junior High, midway through eighth grade. The fact that she could belt out ballads better than Babs only enhanced her allure. But Connie was the "IT" girl, and was the "NOT" guy — admiring her from afar. So when we also connected in chorus class during senior year, I was over the moon. Fortunately, Ray and Connie were chums, and when he also pitched her on our little road trip, she too was sold. And then there were three.

I don't recall how Rich had been recruited for our mission, especially since he was the one non-chorus member in our crew. A guy who I will label fondly as the "model student" of our voyage, I remember Rich being rather conservative and very academic-minded — likely one of Ray's buddies. However, after engaging in a spirited four-way conversation during our three-hour journey. I discovered that Rich and I shared many of the same life goals and interests. Go figure.

When we finally arrived at the Bayfront Center, our lifelong "reality" was turned upside down in very short order. The concert was a high profile showcase for SOLAR's (The Sound Of Los Angeles Records) hottest new artists, including Carrie LucasLakeside, Shalamar, and The Whispers. 7,000 enthusiasts were in attendance for this indoor "Woodstock" of current R&B — 6,996 black teens and 20-somethings from a less-than privileged area on Florida's west coast, and 4 white kids from a rather affluent community on Florida's east coast. While there were several African-American students who attended Satellite High, the sudden leap from being in the 99% majority to instantly being in the 1% minority provided quite a culture shock. 

Lakeside
I recall being overwhelmed by a sense of panic as I felt the four of us being crushed up against a security barricade just prior to the venue's doors being opened at around 6pm. "This ain't no Who concert!" the linebacker-sized black man announced to the crowd of early bird fans who were pressing in behind us. Like a mother hen protecting her four little (white) chicks, he then commanded the crowd, "Ya'll back up, now!" Thanks to our "mother hen," we all made it into the arena without incident.

Despite the enormous turnout, our east coast mini gang somehow managed to shuck our way into four front row center seats. At one point, I remember being "invited" to "shotgun" a joint by the "Beat It"-era Michael Jackson look-alike who was seated next to me. Simply put, I did it all wrong and wound up blowing smoke all up in the dude's face. Fortunately, he was cool about my naivete regarding proper dope-smoking decorum and he shared the rest of his weed with me.

Within minutes, Lakeside had taken the stage. Promoting their successful Fantastic Voyage album, the band members were all adorned in outrageous pirate costumes, while delivering a blistering, high energy, pirate-themed production. Boasting near-non-stop Hendrix-style guitar solos, the Lakeside show was almost more metal than Motown.

Although I'd discovered a new favorite band in Lakeside — a band that was every bit as "down-and-dirty" as the Ohio Players, and more "dangerous" than the Commodores or Earth Wind & Fire, Ray remained absolutely enraptured by the comparatively more commercial sound and polished performance of Shalamar. Ooozing supermodel-caliber eye candy appeal, Shalamar's co-lead vocalist, Jody Watley was simply stunning in her white, skintight, floor-length gown, while Howard Hewett's powerhouse vocals and Jeffrey Daniel's pre-Thriller moon waklin' and poppin'-type dance moves provided Ray with indescribable, long-lasting inspiration.

Shalamar
Looking back, I still can't fathom how on earth we ever made it home that night. Without the benefit of today's GPS technology, and still reeling a bit from "Michael Jackson's" dope, I'd gotten us COMPLETELY lost, out in the middle of nowhere at 3am. Our three-hour departure time turned into a four-hour return. But we did all finally make it home safely. Even the family Pontiac made it back onto my parents' driveway without a scratch. And the next day, the four of us were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed — revved-up and ready for the ensuing week's worth of graduation festivities — with endless stories to tell of our triumphant final HURRAH.

Our excursion proved to be a magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience. As we shared several first-ever truly adult-type conversations along the way, I realized, perhaps for the first time that night, that we were no longer kids. We'd grown up and we were now moving on with our lives. And with only a few days remaining 'til graduation, I reasoned that I had nothing to lose, and I finally confessed my heart to Connie during our adventure — an awkward, vulnerable moment, to say the least. Seemingly less creeped-out by my revelation than I had expected, she revealed that the only reason we'd never connected was because I'd never asked her out. DOH! A rather late, albeit valuable life lesson. I've thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting and reminiscing with both Ray and Connie at various class reunions since 1981. Connie is still beautiful, and Ray has become a man who I still admire. And even after all these years, we'll never forget our "fantastic voyage."

In sum, I want to congratulate all Class of  2016 grads everywhere — BRAVO! And as you now all go out into the world, I'd like to also encourage you to be bold, be confident, be successful, and be willing to take a few chances  but ALWAYS make wise choices. And remember, that while pursuing degrees, establishing careers and banking buttloads of cash certainly is important, it's the personal relationships that we build with people that add true value to our lives.

-Christopher Long
(May 2016)


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

Also from Christopher Long...
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Monday, May 23, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: The Struts - "Everybody Wants"

RECORD REVIEW
The Struts
Everybody Wants
(Interscope Records)
_____________________________

Dear God  Thank you
for sweet old grannies,
cuddly little puppies,
tasty peach cobbler,
lazy summer Sundays,
Skittles, rainbows and
The Struts. Amen.
_____________________________

We live in a truly messed-up, stressed-out, dark and angry world — a petri dish of dysfunction where life can often become difficult. Facing such daily dilemmas as breakups, meltdowns, what to wear to prom, which public bathroom to "identify" with, and reaching Level 12 on Immortal Baby Killer XI can certainly be overwhelming, for sure. And with the soundtrack to our fast-paced, fast-food, modern-day lives now seemingly being scored solely by an endless procession of filth-spewing rap goons, beer-guzzling good ol' boys, computer-generated pop tarts, and super-complicated, hyper-sensitive emo brats, it's enough to make ya wanna scream(o). As a result, I personally crave music that beams golden sunshine into my life  music that inspires me to seek intimacy with my girlfriend, as opposed to inspiring me to bury a body. I want songs that make me feel glad to be alive. I want songs that make me wanna sing and dance. Simply put, I want The Struts! (Doesn't everybody?)

The Struts
Arguably the strongest record of the millennium thus far, this debut release from Britain's pop / rock poster boys has passed through the hallowed halls of several less-than-capable European labels since its initial 2014 release. However, it recently found its way across "the pond" and into the seemingly quite capable hands of Interscope Records. And in 2016, Everybody Wants has been expanded, re-packaged and re-released, worldwide.

To merely lump The Struts in with the menagerie of (less effective) recent retro revivalists would be to diminish the band's world-class songwriting, impeccable musicianship and authentic image. Although they're clearly cut from the same stylistic fabric as such iconic artists as Queen, T. Rex, Slade and The Sweet, The Struts "borrow" so much from so many influences, that the end result sounds fresh and unique — especially when placed on today's dry and barren rock landscape. Had Queen's music remained this crisp, I wouldn't have been forced to jump ship following Jazz in '78!

The Struts - "Put Your Money on Me"
(Hear it AND see it NOW on YouTube)

With his powerhouse, Mercury-style vocals and a knack for engaging storytelling, frontman Luke Spiller captivates from start to finish. In fact, Spiller's marvelous appeal — his irresistible charm, honest swagger and delightful r-r-rolled R's oozes from the grooves of this record like super-sweet honey dripping from a sticky-sweet comb, while his co-founding songwriting partner, guitarist Adam Slack brings non-stop Ziggy-caliber cred throughout. Add to the mix, Jed Elliot's skin-tight bass lines and Gethin Davies' rib-cracking drum tracks, indelibly stamped across these Buick-sized sing-alongs, and you've got all the components necessary for a bona fide nut-buster that delivers ALL thriller, and NO filler.

The months surrounding the record's official re-release earlier this spring, found the super-charged singles, "Could Have Been Me" and "Kiss This," both generating significant U.S. radio airplay and garnering impressive Billboard chart stats. However, one could contend that these high-octane earworms aren't necessarily the ultimate picks of this infectious litter. The bass-driven "Dirty Sexy Money," the arena-worthy "These Times are Changing" and the uber-anthemic "Young Stars" are all equally catchy and radio-friendly, while "Mary Go Round" just might be rock's most powerful, well-written breakup ballad ever. And I'll gladly defend that statement to anybody. But for my money, it's the cocky, crunchy, Motown-tinged, "Put Your Money on Me" that shines brightest among this 13-gem treasure chest.

-Christopher Long
(May 2016)


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

Also from Christopher Long...
Get it on Amazon.

Currently in development...