June 30, 2010

I must help my mother stand up straight

Rush's 1984 album, Grace Under Pressure, continues in the evolution of their sound away from traditional hard rock toward a more synthetic style. For whatever reason, this album has always sounded different to me from other Rush offerings: whether it's because it presents a heavier "wall" of sound, or because its musical influences are a little more diverse, I can't say. It just strikes me as being somewhat outside of the natural evolution of Rush's trademark style.

The recurring theme in many of the tracks on this album is (as the title suggests) how we respond to various types of pressure. Neil Peart's lyrics to "Red Sector A" evoke impressions of an apocalyptic, futuristic wasteland. In fact they were inspired, in part, by Geddy Lee's mother's memories of her internment in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during WWII, and how she believed civilization must have been done in, even as the Allied liberators came for them.

This video is a live version, taken from the Grace Under Pressure tour in 1984.

"Red Sector A" is one of those songs that grew on me over the years. Back in 1984, this was my first impression of Rush, and at the time it really didn't do anything for me. I'm glad I gave it (and them) a fair shake.

June 29, 2010

Be cool or be cast out

Rush's next studio album after Moving Pictures was 1982's Signals. This album went even farther in the synthetic, electronic sound that would define the band's music for the next several years: synth-dominant songs, heavily processed guitar solos, and recurring themes of technology and progress.

The lead track, "Subdivisions," is typical: Alex Lifeson's guitar playing, while indispensable, plays second fiddle to Geddy Lee's synth chording. And, of course, parts of the video were shot in a video arcade at the height of the video game craze.

June 28, 2010

Catch the spirit, catch the spit

With Canada Day only three days away, it's time to turn the Summer of Nostalgia (as I always do, for at least one week) over to 100%, government-approved, Canadian Content.

This time, I thought, I would do something different. Who says "100%, government-approved, CanCon" better than - you guessed it - Rush? Seriously, these guys are so Canadian that they dropped a reference to Willowdale into a Tolkienesque fantasy epic, and were declared Canada's "ambassadors of music" in 1979. Rush couldn't be any more Canadian unless you painted them red and white, dipped them in maple syrup, then had Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles drag them behind their horses in the RCMP Musical Ride. (Come to think of it, Ricky tied Alex Lifeson up in duct tape and abducted him, so they're already part of the way there.) On top of that, they're just darn fine musicians and fun to listen to because they refuse to take themselves seriously. (Name another band who will balance the wall of amps on one side of the stage with random props, like coin-operated dryers or chicken rotisseries, on the other.)

And what better way to start a week of Rush than with their most identifiable song - Tom Sawyer? (Once again, embedding disabled. Sorry!)

The 1981 album Moving Pictures was a transitional album for Rush, marking a move away from album-side-length science-fiction or fantasy epics to shorter, more radio-friendly songs. The synthesizer also began to take a more prominent role - the first note you hear on Moving Pictures is "Tom Sawyer"'s distinctive snarl - and would dominate their music throughout the 80s.

June 27, 2010

I've travelled so far to change this lonely life

Wrapping up this (belated) week of a theme-that's-not-a-theme, it's only fitting on Sunday to end with a song that features the Montreal Jubilation Choir. Have fun.

Next week (well, tomorrow really): It's Canada Day on Thursday, and so it's Certified Canadian Content week. What will I choose? The world waits with bated breath . . .

June 26, 2010

I wander around in the Twilight Zone

It was inevitable that a band with a name like "Screaming Blue Messiahs" would show up on these pages sooner or later. How couldn't it?

June 25, 2010

Gotta find me a future, move outta my way

Continuing with this week's theme-that-isn't-a-theme: Queen, "I Want It All". "Embedding disabled by request." You can't have it all.

June 24, 2010

One that won't make my face break out

Another entry in the "should be self-evident soon" theme. Embedding is disabled (again) but "I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis and the News is viewable from YouTube directly. Enjoy.

June 23, 2010

Riding on the chuckwagon, following my man

Oops. It actually took me 3 days to realize I forgot to move this week's 80s crap out of drafts and schedule it as usual. OK, one quick fox later, and Week 3 of the Summer of Nostalgia just runs from Wednesday to Sunday for a change.

This week's theme is . . . well, you figure it out. Bonus points for suggesting further songs in the set in advance.

I'm still trying to figure out how this one got airplay. So suffer.

Why I love Ottawa (or, Shaken, not stirred)

Amongst the best reasons to live in Ottawa:

  • Beautiful, historic buildings, like the neo-Gothic edifices on Parliament Hill.
  • It's the only place in Canada where national news and local news are almost always the same thing.
  • Occasional sightings of various heads of state (Hu Jintao is in fact arriving in Ottawa today).
  • Lots of beautiful parkland.
  • A massive street party every July 1.
  • Regular earthquakes for your comfort and entertainment.

After today, I join the elite few who have stood within a stone's throw of a 5.0-magnitude eathquake's epicentre and lived to tell the tale. No damage - just a glass that fell off my desk and didn't break. Plenty of excitement.

June 20, 2010

And now . . . this - June 20/10

I'm neither English nor a soccer fan, but if you're both, then here's a real moral dilemma for you.

On the one hand:

More than 1,200 workers have been banned from flying England flags on their own cars by managers - over fears they could deemed as racist.

Employees at the housing association were sent a group e-mail warning that decking out their personal vehicles with the St George's flags could "discriminate" against those who don't support England during the World Cup.

Managers at Bolton At Home in Greater Manchester, which manages 18,200 council houses in Bolton, insist cars owned by their workforce must remain "neutral" in order to treat all its "customers with respect and without discrimination."

[Full Story]

OK, so soccer is a race now. Who knew?

But on the other hand, just up the road in Scotland:

High street retailer HMV has withdrawn "Anyone But England" World Cup posters and T-shirts from its Scottish stores following complaints they were racist. . . .

The Campaign for an English Parliament (CEP) contacted police about the "insensitive and provocative" items which, their website claimed were "criminally irresponsible."

The CEP said: "We understand HMV have agreed to withdraw their insensitive and provocative 'Anyone but England' window displays and T-shirts from their Scottish stores following complaints from members of the public and a complaint by the CEP to Fife Police for incitement to racial hatred."

[Full Story]

So, in a nutshell:

  • If you support England in the World Cup, you're a racist.
  • If you oppose England in the World Cup, you're a racist.

I guess the only racially sensitive thing to do is to declare, "A pox on both your houses."

But when soccer fans become the moral equivalent of an identifiable ethnic group, political correctness has gone to seed. I don't think this sort of thing would ever fly in Canada during hockey season. But shhh - don't give the HRCs any ideas.

June 18, 2010

The moon . . . beautiful

And you knew this one was coming.

June 17, 2010

And now . . . this - June 17/10

Now here's a sentence you're not going to read every day:

A young man in Bavaria who reportedly forgot to take his medication taunted a group of Hells Angels at their clubhouse over the weekend by dropping his pants, throwing a puppy at the bikers, and then making his getaway in a stolen front loader.

[Full Story]

I am speechless at how simply awesome that sentence is. In fact, it's so fantastic that I am going to repeat it:

A young man in Bavaria who reportedly forgot to take his medication taunted a group of Hells Angels at their clubhouse over the weekend by dropping his pants, throwing a puppy at the bikers, and then making his getaway in a stolen front loader.

That is all.


It's fitting that Miami Vice, a TV show that is said to have begun its life as a memo at NBC reading simply "MTV cops," would not only be influenced by, but influence, 1980s pop/New Wave culture. The producers spent huge wads of cash on the rights to use original recordings of hits on the show: the program's soundtrack was a veritable Who's Who of 80s performers. Miami Vice was also scored by legendary keyboardist Jan Hammer, and when his theme song was released as a single in 1985, it went straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. To this day it remains the last instrumental #1.

Once again, YouTube doesn't allow embedding. Watch it anyway.

June 16, 2010

The Chameleon goes to Cantaloupe Isle and beats da drum

Herbie Hancock is my favourite jazz artists: one of the few (along with Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald) of whose work I've tried to collect as much as possible, instead of just a broad and representative sample.

In 1983 Hancock had a decidedly non-jazzy hit in the dancy single "Rockit," which was also one of the first songs to prominently feature scratch and turntablism. (Despite his jazz roots, Hancock was a seminal synthesizer artist, and famously appeared with Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, and Stevie Wonder at the 1985 Grammy Awards to perform a synthesizer medley.)

YouTube has blocked embedding of this video, but you can always watch it over there.

June 15, 2010

Brothers and sisters!

I don't remember hearing British band M|A|R|R|S' 1987 number "Pump Up the Volume" on the radio, but it certainly got a lot of play over mall PA systams in the late 80s.

"Pump Up the Volume" is an early house music number (one of the singles that helped house go mainstream). As such, its four-on-the-floor beat, synthetic bass line and repetitive structure contrast considerably with the more traditional song structure of, say, "Close (To the Edit)." But, as they used to say, it's still got a nice beat and you can dance to it.

June 14, 2010

To be in England in the summertime with my love

Whoops, just realized I scheduled this post for 7 pm rather than am.

For the next few weeks in June and early July, the Crusty Curmudgeon is celebrating, as I often do, the Summer of Nostalgia: reliving my fleeting youth with the music I listened to in high school and thereabouts. For this week's theme, I decided to go with instrumental dance or electronic singles. With synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, and MIDI becoming commonplace, there were a fair number of such tracks, as you can well understand.

Since I closed off last week with a Prince cover by The Art of Noise, it seemed fitting to kick off this week with their second single and the one that brought them to prominence: "Close (To the Edit)." The name is apparently a pun on the Yes album Close to the Edge, and the track itself samples the drum sounds of a later Yes single, "Leave It" (not coincidentally, both the Art of Noise and Yes singles were produced by Trevor Horn).

This video was one of the weirdest things I had ever seen when I first saw it aired on TV (anyone in Canada remember Video Hits with Samantha Taylor? She loved it). Needless to say I loved it, and it's still my favorite music video. It was not without controversy: it was banned in New Zealand for supposedly promoting violence against children, a clearly false accusation as the little girl in punk clothing is clearly encouraging the destruction of the musical instruments.

June 12, 2010

Announcing a new blog

If you've been reading this blog for the last couple of years, you know that there are months at a time with nothing to read. *rim shot*

But in between those, occasionally I've talked about my groaning, nearly-7-year-old PC, and specifically, my occasional adventures with Linux, with which I've extended my computer's life because its computing power demands are usually considerably less than the current Windows. (Also, I'm cheap).

Rather than turn this into a nerd blog, I've elected to offload most Linux-talk to The Perpetual Newbie. Why perpetual? Because I find myself constantly playing catchup trying to learn how to make things work and never getting to he level of "expert" or "power user." I'm a live Xeno's paradox.

Posts will hopefully be about weekly, and a facelift will get into the to-do list with all the other blog facelifts. Meantime, keep your safety shoes on and enjoy.

June 11, 2010

Dana Key (1953-2010)

Dana Key, contemporary Christian music pioneer, died this past Sunday at the age of 56, of complications following a blood clot.

Key was the former lead singer of the Christian rock duo Degarmo & Key, formed in 1978 with his lifelong friend Eddie DeGarmo. After D&K disbanded in the mid-90s, Key continued for a while in the music industry and became the senior pastor of a church in Tennessee.

D&K had the distinction of being the first Christian band with a video in rotation at MTVL, for their single "Six, Six, Six." Because of its apocalyptic imagery, it was soon pulled from rotation for being too violent, until the producers realized they had removed a Christian video by mistake (the band was invited to resubmit it). Granted, the "cheese factor" in some of their music was pretty high: not only did the Swirling Eddies parody two of their songs on their Sacred Cows album, but Steve Taylor also inserted a snarky rap into the Newsboys' cover of "Boycott Hell" as a commentary on the quality of the words. But even if their lyrical quality was sometimes wanting, their earnestness for sharing the Gospel never was. And as an older teen, the album The Pledge struck just the right note with me at the right time.

You finished your race well, Dana. Now, rest.

Think I better dance now

To close off this first week, how about an 80s cover done in the 80s?

"Kiss" was released in 1986 and became Prince's third #1 hit. A scant two-and-a-half years later, the seminal synth-pop group The Art of Noise released their own version of the song, featuring British pop legend Tom Jones on vocals. Thus "Kiss" became the Noise's biggest hit to date (it outperformed Prince's original in the UK), and also revived Jones' career.

Unlike Prince's straight funk, this cover is done in the Art of Noise's typical style: it's sampler heaven. The arrangement also includes numerous musical shout-outs to their previous singles, including "Legs," "Paranoimia," "Peter Gunn," "Dragnet," and "Close (To the Edit)."

June 10, 2010

Choicers roasting on an open fire

Oh, brother:

A newly revealed poster picturing the ultrasound of an unborn Jesus with a halo is adding fuel to the abortion ad uproar in the United Kingdom.

ChurchAds.Net’s “Baby-Scan Jesus” poster, which will be used for a 2010 Christmas campaign, has already started stirring debate months before the holiday season. Although the poster’s creators say it is meant to spark conversation about the meaning of Christmas, critics of the poster say it is too political and see it as a counterattack on the recent first-ever TV ad for abortion services.

[Full Story]

According to the poster creators:

the poster idea came from the 21st-century convention that proud parents-to-be show the ultrasound of their baby to family and friends.

“Our new Baby-scan Jesus poster uses this convention to place the birth of Christ in an ultra-contemporary context,” the group explained. “It is highly impactful. It has a sense of immediacy. It creates anticipation. And theologically it speaks of both the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ.”

But some British (presumably pro-choice) secularists believe otherwise: “The image is too specifically associated with pro-lifers to be seen in a benign context," says Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society.

Poor pro-choice secularists. Someone ought to tell these fossils that their rhetoric is well outdated. Sonograms have been commonplace for years; it's practically a given that an expectant mother will have some taken during her pregnancy. As the ChurchAds.Net folks point out, moms-to-be like to show them off. I've been to homes where they were hanging on the fridge. As Albert Mohler has pointed out, ultrasound has had an enormous impact on the current generation of young voters and their perception of the abortion issues: these older teens are "the first to grow up with ultrasound images taped to the refrigerator door. . . . This generation understands the issue in terms of infant human life. They do not see a mere fetus. They recognize a baby." Indeed, sometimes these kids take for granted that the ultrasound on the fridge is just another, earlier kind of baby picture.

But the post-menopausal remnant of militant pro-choice "secularists" misses the point. Instead of the familiar image of an anticipated new life, they see the abortion that never was. Instead of the anticipated hope of life eternal, they continue their quixotic struggle against the death of their dusty rhetoric. Well, good riddance.

(H/T: Big Blue Wave.)

National Gratuitous Drink Promotion Day

So I heard through the grapevine that June 10 is National Iced Tea Day. While I strongly suspect that this is a conspiracy concocted by the Lipton, Redpath, and Realemon companies, I do have to admit that iced tea is my one weakness. So hey, why not celebrate?

And, in any case, I don't believe I've ever had occasion to post my favourite recipe for iced tea, so this is as good an excuse as any.

You will need:

  • 2 L boiling water
  • 4 bags of Rooibos tea, or equivalent loose, or to taste
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 can Five Alive concentrate, i.e. the original five-citrus-fruit flavour
  • Ice (or some other way of cooling hot tea)


  1. Normally, I would start a recipe by inviting you to pour a beer. However, this recipe is so good that it will make your favourite beer taste like rancid hippo urine by comparison, so don't waste your time.
  2. In an appropriately-sized pitcher, brew the tea to the desired strength. (Remember that ice will obviously dilute the tea considerably, so plan accordingly.) Remove the teabags.
  3. Stir in the sugar to dissolve it.
  4. Stir in enough ice cubes to bring the tea down to room temperature (or cooler, if you like).
  5. Add half of the Five Alive concentrate and mix it thoroughly. Save the other half for the next batch.

Chill the pitcher in the fridge before serving. Better yet, why wait? For instant gratification, pour the tea into a glass over lots of ice and drink it now.

Warning: This is very very very addictive. Handle with care. Fortunately, Rooibos tea is caffeine-free. Also, unlike black tea, it actually tastes better the longer you steep it. Enjoy.

Doin' it from pole to pole

In 2007, a Volkswagen advert aired on TV that featured a punk cover of Men Without Hats' classic "The Safety Dance." It hadn't occurred to me that MWH had a bit of a punk vibe to them, but there was definitely something to say for it.

Naturally, I wanted to find out who had made the recording. Turned out it was a West Coast, all-female glam group called The Donnas. Enjoy.

June 09, 2010

I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad

In 1983 (an all-round good year for music; I'll have to do an entire theme week around it sometime) the British band Tears for Fears had its first chart hit, "Mad World," from their album The Hurting.

"Mad World" was an ironic song about teenage angst, with morbid lyrics set to a peppy dance beat. But in 2001, film score composer Michael Andrews and vocalist Gary Jules played the teen-angsty lyrics straight on their minimalist cover for the teen-angsty cult flick Donnie Darko. Instead of the lush synth arrangement of Tears, Andrews and Jules' cover is minimalist, featuring only piano, cello, and voice.

The 2001 version accomplished what Tears for Fears had not: a #1 hit that became ubiquitous: notably it was featured in an ad for the video game Gears of War, but was also used in dozens of TV programs, including CSI and Smallville.

June 08, 2010

You've got to work to succeed

In 1983, the progressive rock band Yes (which happened to bear a passing resemblance to the original lineup of Yes) released a surprisingly radio-friendly album titled 90125. Its lead track and first single, "Owner of a Lonely Heart," was Yes' first and only #1 hit.

Montreal-based deejay Max Graham released his own popular rendition of "Owner" in 2005. This is more remix than cover, but it's a notable improvement over the original song in one key area: its video has women dancing in bikinis.

June 07, 2010

You look like you're lots of fun

It's time once again for the Summer of Nostalgia. Since the music of the 1980s is officially retro now, what better way to celebrate the beginning of the summer season, the month leading up to Canada Day, and the beginning of my half-year slide to 40, than by feebly attempting to recapture my lost youth?

As in the past, each week I have organized my selections into themes. Last summer, I spent a week posting 80s covers of older tunes; this year, I figured I'd turn that around: these are covers of 80s tunes, done later.

So let's start with one of the most recognizable hits of the 80s: "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)." This dance number by Dead or Alive hit #1 in the UK and Canada in 1985. Not surprisingly, it has been covered numerous times - including several re-releases by Dead or Alive themselves, most notably in 1995 and 2003 (which recordings typify the worst and best qualities of dance music in their respective decades). A cover of "You Spin Me Round" in 2000, used in the soundtrack to the movie American Psycho, put the industrial band Dope on the map, although it is frequently misattributed to Marilyn Manson:

I can't think of a much sharper contrast than the original, Stock-Aiken-Waterman pop number and Dope's dark, gothic rendition. But they both work.

June 03, 2010

And now . . . this - Jun. 3/10

Protecting kids from excellence, part 6.022x1023

Oh, brother:

In yet another nod to the protection of fledgling self-esteem, an Ottawa children’s soccer league has introduced a rule that says any team that wins a game by more than five points will lose by default.

The Gloucester Dragons Recreational Soccer league’s newly implemented edict is intended to dissuade a runaway game in favour of sportsmanship. The rule replaces its five-point mercy regulation, whereby any points scored beyond a five-point differential would not be registered.

[Full Story]

I predict that this rule's life will be short. Even a six-year-old can figure out that if you're down by five points, an own goal is an instant win, without even trying.

Just-a good ol' boys, never meanin' no harm

This pretty much speaks for itself.