Monday, October 29, 2018

FRANK ZAPPA: The "Muffin Man" Lives On

FRANK ZAPPA
The "Muffin Man" Lives On
___________

Summertime, 1980. A breathtaking
sunrise was just peeking out atop the
rugged Ozark mountains when my
wily crew finally rolled in after a
long night of teenage exploits. And
as our car raced up to my buddy's
parents' house — tires and engine
smoldering, the prophetic words
of the Central Scrutinizer blasted
from the Jensen Triaxial speakers.
___________

One of the coolest aspects of growing up during the simpler, pre-Internet era of the 1970s was living in a world seemingly free of musical borders. From such popular TV shows as The Midnight Special and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert to Casey's weekly Top 40 radio countdown, young enthusiasts like myself were exposed to a constant, eclectic array of music artists. As a result, to this day I still can't hear genres — I simply hear music as my personal iGadget shuffles randomly from Carly Simon and Motörhead to Loretta Lynn and Buddy Guy to King Crimson and Debbie Gibson. And that's probably what spoke to me the loudest when I first discovered the music of Frank Zappa — his artistry knew no boundaries.


I recall first seeing Zappa performing on Saturday Night Live in late 1976. I was only 14 at the time, but I took note, for sure. However, it wasn't until we received a promotional, in-store copy of Sheik Yerbouti at the Florida record shop where I worked in 1979 that I truly became obsessed.

Clearly, the compositions contained within the two-record set were orchestrated meticulously. Yet to me, the music felt dangerously spontaneous. The blistering urgency of Zappa's guitar playing on "I'm So Cute," "Rat Tomago," "The Sheik Yerbouti" and "Yo Mama" was unlike anything I'd heard before. As an aspiring drummer, Terry Bozzio's heart-stopping tracks also made a profound impact on me — they still do. And it was Sheik Yerboouti that first introduced me to a young up-and-coming guitar phenom, Adrian Belew, and bassist, Patrick O'Hearn. All of these components added up to a magical musical statement. And I can't even count the hours I spent holed up in my bedroom during the summer of '79, processing, analyzing and savoring every delicious lick. Why don't you take it down to C-sharp, Ernie?


By the fall of 1979, Joe's Garage Acts I, II & III had arrived. Telling the compelling tale of troubled wannabe rock star, Joe and his groupie-in-training girlfriend, Lucille, Zappa's three-record rock opera also educated me about the correlation between music, heartbreak and (unpronounceable) diseases. Assuming the role of the story's prophetic narrator, "the Central Scrutinizer," Zappa cautioned listeners how the government ultimately would criminalize music, while also explaining in graphic detail everything a kid needed (or didn't need) to know about "alternative lifestyles." Hey man, what the heck is a "golden shower," anyway?

Joe's Garage further introduced me to several of my future all-time favorite musicians, including guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, vocalist / guitarist Ike Willis, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and an exciting new blond bombshell vocalist by the name of Dale Bozzio.


Subsequent Zappa records, such as Tinsel Town RebellionYou Are What You IsShip Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch and Broadway the Hard Way all would find loving homes in my ever-expanding music library over the next few years.

Simply put, I've always been fascinated by language — spoken words, written words, brave words, well-crafted words. As a result, it's Zappa's words that have captivated me most since my youth. From poking at politics and religion to addressing the sexual revolution, popular drug culture and beyond, no subject was taboo for Zappa. Although my personal perspectives often are 180° from Zappa's, I've never perceived his lyrics as "dirty" or "offensive." I found his brutally honest lyrics to be articulate, intelligent and inspiring. And it still annoys me when Zappa's work is described (dismissed) by some as "novelty" songs. In fact, as an established Christian author, now in my 50s, I can't imagine how my communication skill level would be sagging, had I not had Frank Zappa's influence to "challenge" me along the way.


I've found myself reflecting recently on Zappa's work and his life, as the 25th anniversary of his death will arrive in just a few weeks. Truth be told, I can't imagine we'd be living in such a sissified, hypersensitive, politically correct world if he still was around to keep society in check.

Of his many career highlights, I'd point to Joe's Garage Act I as his grandest album achievement. My favorite Zappa song — I'm torn between "I'm the Slime" from Over-Nite Sensation and "Jones Crusher" from Sheik Yerboouti — or maybe "Watermelon in Easter Hay" from Joe's Garage Act II & III. His most powerful moment — taking on the PMRC in 1985. My all-time favorite Zappa quote is one I defer to still on an almost daily basis — There's a big difference between kneeling down and bending over.

The "Muffin Man" lives on, indeed!

-Christopher Long
(October 2018)
__________

Score the latest books from author
Christopher Long NOW on Amazon!

(2014)

C'MON! -
(2012)

- SUPERSTAR -
(Coming April 7, 2019)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

RECORD REVIEW: Lady Gaga - "Joanne"

RECORD REVIEW
Lady Gaga
Joanne
(Interscope Records)
__________

Okay, I get it — really. Reviewing
this record, a full two years after
its original release is kinda like
showing up to a house party, six
hours late  and without a bottle.
But if all the "little monsters" will
offer me a bit of grace here, I'd
still like to join the party. And if
they're super-cool to me, I might
even order us a couple of pizzas.
Domino's delivers!
__________

As a longtime nightclub DJ, I remember spinning all the early Lady Gaga hits ad nauseam —  infectious chart-busters, such as "Just Dance," "Poker Face" and "Bad Romance." However, it was just part of the job, and like so many millennial "Pop Tarts," she just never landed fully on my personal radar. Truth be told, for the longest time, I didn't even realize Lady Gaga was a real person — I merely thought she was just some sort of computer-generated cartoon image — kinda like a souped-up version of Hello Kitty with a Bowie-flavored pop soundtrack.

I'm not sure exactly how my newfound passion for Lady Gaga was fueled. Perhaps it stemmed from my friend turning me on recently to the Cheek to Cheek record — Gaga's dazzling 2014 collaboration with iconic crooner, Tony Bennett. Maybe it's due to Gaga's current world-class performance in the blockbuster film, A Star Is Born. Or, it might be the result of my discovering her riveting 2017 Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two.

In my defense, I must confess that I never was sent a press copy of Joanne when it first arrived back in October 2016 — and I get promo copies of just about EVERYBODY'S new releases. So, when I have to discover and then actually go out and purchase an artist's new record myself  well, sometimes it can take a (long) while to get around to sharing a critique with my faithful followers. But I did finally discover Joanne. And what a delightful treasure it is. Better late than never, for sure.

Produced by Lady Gaga and acclaimed songwriter / musician, Mark Ronson, Joanne was recorded in various studio locales from 2015 through 2016. More magical than a fabulous aural bowl of Skittles, Gaga and Ronson use an enormous palette to paint this vivid musical portrait. 


Bathed in the warmth of Ronson's Fender Rhodes piano track, "Diamond Heart" is brimming with passion — honest and pure, while "A-Yo" is a libido-drenched, high-octane slice of guitar-driven go-go pop enhanced by snappy horns (and mirrors on the ceiling). The pulsating dance beat of "Perfect Illusion," along with its familiar-feeling chorus melody, makes this lead-off single particularly contagious. Dripping with authentic Americana allure, "Sinner's Prayer" is one of the record's most interesting standouts — a tune that sounds as if it fell crashing from the soundtrack of the latest Tarantino epic. A genuine call for social kindness, compassion and understanding, "Come to Mama" is another irresistible treat.

What I find most appealing about Lady Gaga is NOT her outrageous, fashion-forward, rock star persona, her undeniable, razor-sharp ability to shock and enthrall the masses, or even her hypnotic, techno-style pop sound (definitely not that one). What thwacks me hardest is when Gaga strips away all the synthetic distractions and leans entirely on her heart-stopping songwriting. And to that, Joanne owns a couple of particularly powerful cuts. Beautifully delicate and transparent, the title track is a brutally personal tribute to Gaga's late aunt  a heartfelt gift to her grandmother. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll reveal openly that this song transforms me instantly into a blubbering fool every time. And the chorus is so infectious, it took a couple of cinder blocks and a beefy dude named Randy to knock this gorgeous earworm out of my consciousness. 

Another golden highlight, "Million Reasons" offers a passionate plea for a dysfunctional romance on the skids — a song that would have made for a comfy fit on a certain current movie soundtrack that everybody's raving about. Equally powerful, "Angel Down" delivers a compelling social commentary and serves as a strong record closer.

In sum, I'm thrilled to finally have "discovered" Lady Gaga. So, am I gonna now go rush out to Walmart and gobble up copies of The Fame Monster and Artpop? Eh, we'll see. But holy cow, Joanne truly is a refreshing and satisfying record. And I don't see it falling off my preferred iTunes personal playlist any time soon. (8 / 10)

-Christopher Long
(October 2018)
__________


Score the latest books from author
Christopher Long NOW on Amazon!

(2014)

C'MON! -
(2012)

- SUPERSTAR -
(Coming April 7, 2019)

Monday, October 15, 2018

AMAZING AUTHOR APPEARANCES (Fall 2018)

AMAZING AUTHOR
APPEARANCES
(Fall 2018)
__________

Meeting amazing new people
and reconnecting with long-
time friends  it's been quite
a fantastic fall season already.
__________

My fiction debut, SUPERSTAR, arrives finally
next spring via Moonshine Cove Publishing.
As a result, I'm thrilled to currently be making
a slew of pre-release personal appearances 
connecting with folks and spreading the word,
in preparation for the book's official debut.

Appearing with Don Jamieson at the "Rock Con"
meet-and-greet - September 2018.
In September, I had the distinct pleasure of
appearing along with popular comedian and
well-known TV personality, Don Jamieson,
at the "Rock Con" meet-and-greet event
during the annual outdoor '80s In The Park
music festival held in Palm Bay, Florida.

I had a blast meeting ten-year-old guitar wiz,
Dallas Knight at the recent "Rock Con" event.
In October, I was privileged to participate in
a lively discussion panel with Brent Jensen,
at the Sunshine State Author Expo held in
Melbourne, Florida. Following an informative
audience Q&A session, I enjoyed connecting
with readers during the event's meet-and-greet.

The October 2018 Melbourne, Florida
Sunshine State Author Expo.

WOW! I got to reconnect with in-demand
area photographer, Crystal Behringer, at
a recent benefit concert in Palm Bay, FL.
Finally, just last weekend, I hosted a hugely
successful charity benefit concert at Siggy's
in Palm Bay, Florida. I was so honored to
reconnect with so many longtime friends
while helping to raise thousands of dollars
to help a wonderful local family in need.

Stay tuned for further author updates 
as I'll be appearing all over the country
in the months ahead!

-Christopher Long
(October 2018)

__________


Score the latest books from author
Christopher Long NOW on Amazon!

(2014)

C'MON! -
(2012)

- SUPERSTAR -
(Coming April 7, 2019)

Friday, October 12, 2018

RECORD REVIEW: Steve Perry - "Traces"

RECORD REVIEW
Steve Perry
Traces
(Fantasy Records)
__________

Welcome back, Steve.
You've been missed.
__________

For many dedicated longtime fans, the eagerly-anticipated 2018 release from iconic singer / songwriter and former Journey frontman, Steve Perry, might feel like a comforting hug from a long-lost friend.

Produced by Perry, Traces marks his third solo effort — his first since 1994's Top 20, gold-selling For the Love of Strange Medicine. Pointing to Perry's personal passion for smooth-sounding, adult contemporary-style pop, this sparkling ten-song set is brimming with noteworthy highlights.

Reflecting fondly on a love from the past, the record's lead-off single, "No Erasin'" is engaging and upbeat  a radio-friendly track in a stylistic vein similar to Perry's much-loved hits from Journey's 1986 smash, Raised on Radio.


Bursting with bluesy allure, "No More Cryin'" is an irresistible, pop-flavored seduction, while "Sun Shines Gray" buzzes with rock-ribbed energy provided by an unlikely guest contribution from legendary Marilyn Manson / Rob Zombie guitarist, John 5. The delicate Fender Rhodes-driven remake of the George Harrison-penned 1965 Beatles classic, "I Need You" makes for another golden moment. However, it's Perry's signature-style ballad, "You Belong to Me" that may deliver the record's most heartfelt payoff.

In sum, with Traces, Steve Perry offers his legions of worldwide admirers a beautiful treasure — at a time it likely is needed most. Welcome back, Steve. You've been missed, indeed.

-Christopher Long
(October 2018)
__________


Score the latest books from author
Christopher Long NOW on Amazon!

(2014)

C'MON! -
(2012)

- SUPERSTAR -
(Coming April 7, 2019)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

MOVIE REVIEW: A Star Is Born (2018)

MOVIE REVIEW
A Star Is Born
(2018) 
Warner Bros. Pictures
R | 2 hr 15 min
__________

Of all the trailers I screened
last summer, this is the film
that piqued my interest most.
One senior's discount ticket
for "A Star Is Born," please!
__________

It's the movie everyone seems to be buzzing about right now. And you can believe the hype. Simply put, acclaimed Oscar-nominated actor, Bradley Cooper, has succeeded in delivering a solid slam dunk with his directorial debut.

Starring Cooper as fast-living rock star, Jackson Maine, and pop superstar, Lady Gaga, as aspiring singer / songwriter, Ally, A Star Is Born 4.0 is the latest incarnation of the 1937 silver screen classic.

Written by Cooper, the 2018 edition of this iconic saga drips with irresistible appeal. A tortured soul wrestling with his personal demons, Maine discovers Ally while she's performing a late-night set at a popular drag club. Their undeniable, immediate connection rings true — riveting and real. And as their fiery relationship ensues, moviegoers experience the heart-breaking tension between the two, while also being awash in the heart-stopping music created by the unlikely couple.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper delivering one of several
chilling, authentic live performances in A Star Is Born.
Truth be told, Lady Gaga lost me way back at the meat dress. However, her acting chops and musical performances in the film are both superb — proving her to be an even mightier talent than I could ever have imagined — a world-class artist in a league of her own. As for Cooper, his portrayal of Maine can be described best as gripping and authentic.

The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is nothing short of magical. The onscreen passion between their characters feels honest and pure — the romantic tension often is almost too painful to watch. In fact, at times, you might lose sight that you're watching a movie, and actually have become a "fly on the wall," witnessing real life conflict — You're just fucking ugly.

Cooper and Gaga sizzle in A Star Is Born.
Despite the storyline suggesting they have different mothers, the 30-year age gap between Cooper and celebrated actor, Sam Elliott, makes buying their characters' brotherhood a bit of a tough sell. But he's Sam Elliot, so whatever he's selling, I'm buying. Additional props also are due to Andrew Dice Clay, as Ally's father, Lorenzo, Rafi Gavron as Ally's abrasive music producer / manager, Rez, and  Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real who appear throughout the film as Maine's band.

It's a tale we've heard a few times before. However, the 2018 edition zings with freshness. The story is crisp and compelling. The cast is incredible. And the film's soundtrack album is a musical treasure. In sum, A Star Is Born ranks as one of the most exciting, engaging and entertaining films I've seen in a VERY long time.

-Christopher Long
(October 2018)
__________


Score the latest books from author
Christopher Long NOW on Amazon!

(2014)

C'MON! -
(2012)

- SUPERSTAR -
(Coming April 7, 2019)

Monday, October 8, 2018

TOP 11 GREATEST KISS ALBUMS

TOP 11 GREATEST
KISS ALBUMS
_______________

As an admitted 40-year
KISS junkie, I still enjoy
the personal analysis and
open (fun) discussion of the
"Hottest Band in the Land."
________________

Strip away the cosmetic trappings, and at the core, KISS is simply an honest and pure, song-based rock and roll band. If you can let go of any personal baggage you might be carrying — hangups over rock vs. pop, metal vs. rock, make-up vs. non-make-up or the Spaceman vs. the Impostor and focus on the songs, you might have some fun with this little feature. I sure did.

11
Asylum

Asylum is one of the most song-based records in the KISS catalog, and one the strongest of the band's post-make-up era. I remember vividly, crawling through my local shopping mall to the record store, on my hands and knees (with a broken foot) to buy this record on the day it was released in September 1985. "King of the Mountain," "Who Wants to be Lonely," "Tears are Falling" and "Uh! All Night" all are Rock and Roll Over-worthy. After 30 years, the songs still hold up.

10
Lick it Up

Packing more punch than a heavy-weight prizefighter, Lick it Up oozes as much cred as any previous KISS collection, and it returned the band to a rightful place of rock prominence — after a three-year dry spell. Even sans make-up, the band members' look was as legit as the music. "Exciter," "Young and Wasted," "Gimme More," and "Fits Like a Glove" still are all top shelf skull-crushers, and the title track remains a Classic-Rock radio staple.

9
Alive II

The fact that the three live sides of this platinum-selling smash possess all the authentic spontaneity and sincerity of a Hilary Clinton press conference is irrelevant. It's the studio cuts on Side Four that make Alive II a standout in the KISS catalog. Despite the continued debate regarding who exactly played what on the tracks, "All American Man," "Rockin' in the U.S.A.," "Larger Than Life" and "Rocket Ride" are still regarded by many as crème de la crème classics.

8
Love Gun

Bursting with late '70s-era super rock star swagger, this anthem-packed, teen-targeted set captured KISS at its creative apex. 40+ years later, Love Gun remains a timeless, heart-stopping treasure. Gloriously raw and in-your-face  BANG!

7
Hotter Than Hell

Despite arguably being compromised by less than stellar production, Hotter Than Hell is a hard-rocking, ten-song collection  an incredible, timeless showcase for a hungry, hard-working band that soon would rule the world. In sum, each track is a bona fide classic.

6
KISS

KISS' 1974 debut is a reasonably hard-hitting showcase for such enduring fan favorites as "Deuce," "Strutter," "Firehouse," "Cold Gin," "100,000 Years" and "Black Diamond." It may have been flawed somewhat by its rather sterile-sounding production, but you never forget your first "kiss." And this one will forever rank among the band's all-time best.

5
Creatures of the Night

At the time of its release in late 1982, Creatures of the Night was the most exciting and authentic-sounding album to don the iconic crest in several years. Marking the end of the band's glorious original make-up era, the bone-crunching songs are as ferocious as the production. Even if whittled-down to just the title track and the arena-sized power ballad, "I Still Love You," this album would still stand up as one of the mightiest KISS albums ever. 

4
Dressed to Kill

Simply put, Dressed to Kill is a Simmons-driven classic. So crisp. So clean. So punchy. A superb, cohesive collection of concise, super-tight, get-to-the-hook, golden nuggets. Along with Rock and Roll Over, it's one of the last KISS records where you knew for certain that the four guys on the cover actually were the same four guys cutting the tracks. Had Neil Bogart also produced the first two KISS albums, the band might have broken out sooner.

3
Alive!

Arguably the definitive KISS record, Alive! proved to be both a band and industry game-changer. It likely would have clinched the #1 spot here had it not become such common knowledge in recent years that it's more or less a fabricated live album. But you still can't deny the concert vibe. The "live" energy of "Firehouse," "Parasite," "100,000 Years," "Rock Bottom" and "Let Me Go Rock and Roll" is so authentic, that as a kid, I actually could (sorta) smell the sulfur from the detonating stage pyro permeating from my 8-Track H-Fi set. And the personal hand-written notes printed inside the LP's gate fold sleeve and the souvenir, concert-style program insert were absolutely epic.

2
Destroyer

Over the course of the last 39 years, I've worn out three copies of Destroyer — on 8-Track. I've also bought two different vinyl versions (one black, one red), two different CD versions (one original pressing, one remastered) and I destroyed one cassette copy. Destroyer was a must-have treasure trove of youth-oriented rock anthems targeted at teens (like me) who felt misunderstood and out of place at home, at church and at school. Paul Stanley understood me. And although (at the time) I didn't personally own "7-inch leather heels," I felt like I understood him, too. Despite achieving icon status, "Detroit Rock City," "God of Thunder" and "Beth" are NOT the true gems of this set. As an awkward 7th grader, I personally connected best with "King of the Night Time World," "Shout it Out Loud" and "Flaming Youth." Even at 13, I "got" the strip show vibe of Peter Criss' sexy-sounding drum track on "Do You Love Me?" — but I was kinda uncertain as to why Gene Simmons always had a whip beside him, and how on earth, pain could be sweet. Lessons learned. Looks like we're gonna have ourselves a rawk and roll pawty! 

1
Rock and Roll Over

The look, the image, the songs, the sound  the KISS "machine" now had become perfected by the fall of 1976. Paul Stanley's "I Want You" is a magically delicious opener to what is THE perfect KISS album. I remember first hearing "Calling Dr. Love" — the dirty guitar distortion along with driving cowbell, and thinking that it was the crunchiest sound ever. But as a naive 13-year-old church boy, I was sorta perplexed by exactly what kinda "stuff" the gal was showing Gene Simmons in the ladies Room. Ace Frehley shined throughout as rock's newly-minted golden guitar god, while Peter Criss' Rod Stewart-like vocal charm helped propel "Hard Luck Woman" into the Top 20 — and his seemingly 18-minute-long drum fill on "Makin' Love" still gets me a bit "chubby." But for my money, it's still hard to beat "Take Me" and "Mr. Speed."

Alrighty, Privates, Corporals, Sergeants, Generals and all other ranking members of the KISS Army — I hope you all enjoyed my retrospective analysis. As always, I welcome and encourage everyone to share your own comments, insights and personal experiences. And most of all — thanks for stopping by!

-Christopher Long
(October 2018)
_______________

More KISS-related
features from
Christopher Long
HERE
_______________



Score the latest books from author
Christopher Long NOW on Amazon!

(2014)

C'MON! -
(2012)

- SUPERSTAR -
(Coming April 7, 2019)