Childhood Car Tunes – Bad Hair Day by “Weird Al” Yankovic

I’d like to take some time to explore my main method of music absorption when I was a kid.  I would rarely listen to music through my headphones on my portable cassette player.  The last time I remember doing that was listening to my copy of What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, and the batteries were running low.  For some reason, I assumed the tape had somehow become warped, and I never trusted that cassette player again.

For the majority of the time, I’d listen to cassettes with my family through the van’s tape deck.  My mom would keep a sleeve that would hold approximately 12 cassettes with us when we would go on summer road trips and vacation.  I’ve got plenty of tapes that were in the rotation that I would like to discuss, but I’ll focus on one at a time.  For this blog entry, I will discuss the album Bad Hair Day by “Weird Al” Yankovic.

I can’t remember exactly when I received this album, or how I was even introduced to Weird Al.  All I know is that I related to him instantly, and I can relate to him to this day.  I even dressed up as the man last year on Halloween. However, it has only been within the past year or so that I realized how much my music collection was lacking in Weird Al content.  While I like comedy albums and own a decent amount of stand-up albums, I don’t drive to collect it as much as I do other genres.  I bought Straight Outta Lynwood the year it came out, but it was several years later until I grabbed Dare To Be Stupid, and in recent weeks I’ve re-acquired Bad Hair Day (this time on CD).  This gives me a good opportunity to reflect on this one track-by-track.

“Amish Paradise” 

This is the most known song, but it’s probably among my least favourite on the album.  Part of that may be due to the over-exposure this song had at the time of release, and nowadays I tend to look out for music that flies a bit under the radar, avoiding the hit singles .  I liked it more when I was younger, but there are some stylistic choices that I can still appreciate.  Al opted to go with a more stiff rap style to keep in spirit with his caricaturing of an Amish man instead of imitating Coolio.  In case the original came out before your time, give it a listen here.

Favourite Lyric:

“Hitchin’ up the buggy, churnin’ lots of butter

Raised a barn on Monday, soon I’ll raise anutter”

I’m not sure when the term “humble brag” came into prominence, but this song has that spirit.  Most of what he’s talking about seem to be standard aspects of his daily life, which of course one of the chief sources of the humour.  The creative liberty taken in the misspelling of another is a nice touch, a technique that is often used and overused in hip-hop.

“Everything You Know Is Wrong”

Not a direct song parody, but one that was done in the style of They Might Be Giants. They aren’t a group I ever paid much attention to, but I remember really enjoying the “Particle Man” and their cover of novelty song “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” both of which featured on Tiny Toon Adventures.  They are perhaps most famous for performing the theme song to Malcolm In The Middle.  Perhaps if all of their songs had some sort of TV affiliation I’d know the band as well as I do Star Trek trivia.

This song is super catchy, more impressive considering the fast pace at which the words seem to fly from his mouth.  His voice seems to be pitched higher than normal, but I want to say that nasal tone is natural, and not something he tweaked for the recording.  Nonetheless, regardless of how he gets by in the studio, I hear the man really brings it live.

Favourite Lyric:

“And so I had them send me back to last Thursday night so I could pay my phone bill on time”

This request is very similar to the tired premise where you are granted three wishes from a genie, and you end up wasting them on frivolous, short-sighted things like a cold beer, dating a supermodel, or becoming Adolf Hitler.  I find extraterrestrial beings more fascinating than genies in a bottle, so that makes the score Weird Al: 1, Joke A Friend Of My Dad Would Tell Me: 0.

“Cavity Search” 

I’ve always liked the simple groove of this track, and Weird Al’s band do as good a job as always in nailing the sound of the band they are parodying.  That being said, I never really listened to U2 until relatively recently when I finally decided to grab a copy of The Joshua Tree.  The song “Cavity Search” is based on, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, is slightly obscure, with U2’s version having been on the soundtrack for Batman Forever, a film I remember more as my introduction to Nicole Kidman than anything else.   Also, it was within this time frame that I actually made my first visit to the dentist, making all the references seem so fresh to me.  The added drill sounds work well, though Paul Gilbert may have beat them to it by a few years.

Favourite Lyric:

“Listenin’ to the Muzak

Hearin’ people scream

Sittin’ in the waiting room

Readin’ crappy magazines”

I don’t believe my dentist office ever pumped out any music, nor can I recall any screams of terror pumping down the halls.  All I know is that all the copies of Good Housekeeping in the world couldn’t make up for the lack of a single Sports Illustrated.

“Callin’ In Sick” 

I could relate at the time from a student perspective. The chorus I could envision myself screaming over the phone at my teachers. They’d then ask if they could talk to my parents because I was only a minor without the ability to pull myself out of school, thus effectively bursting my bubble.

This song is apparently done as a grunge sound alike, with the verse sounding reminiscent of the riff in Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” or “Lithium”.  I didn’t really identify this as a grunge/alternative song when I was younger, which likely had to do with Weird Al’s voice not quite fitting the sound.

The song didn’t even necessarily have to refer to having a sick day. I’d think the objective of a fake sick day would be to do something more interesting than your job. Nothing he mentions sounds more appetizing than any job I’ve ever had.

Favourite Lyric:

“I could spend all day in my underwear watching Ernest Goes To Camp

That is sadly the most appealing thing of all his potential plans.  I’ve seen that particular B-movie more than once, so I’d likely dig for something I haven’t watched.  There’s plenty to choose from on my Letterboxd watchlist, but if I truly am sick, my fatigued state would likely lead me to pick Ricky Oh – The Story Of Ricky off the shelf for the umpteenth time.  If watching an underdog vanquish baddies in an endless montage of power punches couldn’t motivate me to get back to health, what would?

“Alternative Polka”

The beauty of listen to one of Weird Al’s medleys is trying to play Name That Tune as quickly as the band makes the transition.  It differs significantly than if you are seeing a rock band perform a medley of their own tunes due to the different arrangement

I had a very small music collection back in 1996, and didn’t listen to the radio that often, so some of these artists flew over my head. They are so masterfully woven together anyway that it feels as if I’m listening to only one composition, with lyrics that coming off as stream of consciousness.

Favourite Lyric:

The portion from “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. Leading into the section with an electronic beat, the slapstick censorship sound effects contrast magnificently with Trent Reznor blatantly lustful lyric.

“Since You’ve Been Gone” 

To keep it brief, this one is Weird Al’s barbershop / do-wop take on a love song.  This is a great “filler” track, and I’m not saying that based on the quality.  The vocals are nicely arranged, with no need to cram in any pesky musical instruments to overshadow them.  Al sings gross exaggerations of pain after what seems like a particularly rough breakup, but the end of the song reveals he still prefers how he feels to being in a bad relationship.

Favourite Lyric:

“Since you’ve been gone

It’s like I’ve got a great big mouthful of cod liver oil”

Cod liver oil is one of those things I hear of a lot, and get the general impression of what it is, but always forget exactly what it is.  Cod’s a fish, and fish tends to stink.  Liver sounds like something that should never be eaten by a civilized human being.  Oil, I’m neutral on, but when the three words are combined it seem that much more gross than each individual components.  The idea of it turns my stomach so much that I can’t even make my way through the brief Wikipedia page to know if my queasiness is justified.

“Gump” 

Yes!! I got right into this song at age 11, and it’s still a standout for me.  Forrest Gump was one of the first dramatic films I had the patience to sit through as I was still mostly into cartoons, comedy, and action movies.  The story was so compelling, and the scenes in Forrest’s life were so varied and adventurous in nature that they jumped right off the screen.  Perhaps Weird Al doesn’t share the most relevant details of the movie, but what fun would that be?  Think of it as trimming off the meat instead of trimming the fat.

Of further relevance to me was that The Presidents of The United States Of America’s debut (which featured “Lump”) was one of those albums in our family van’s tape deck rotation, so I’ll be sure to discuss that album in a future post.

Favourite Lyric:

“His girlfriend Jenny was kind of a slut

He went to the White House, showed LBJ his butt.”

Two naughty phrases rhyming with each other, but still two memorable parts of the story (at least as a kid they were).  I’m slightly disappointing he didn’t reference Forrest’s ping-pong career, but questioning Weird Al’s songwriting?  Shame on me!  That’s like thinking Al would be less weird if he shaved his moustache and ditched the dorky glasses.  HE’S JUST AS WEIRD AS EVER!!

Thank god for that 🙂

“I’m So Sick Of You”

I almost forgot entirely about this track.  I was running through the tape by memory at first, and I caught myself remembering this by thinking about the outro of the previous track.

The chorus is one that I sort of found annoying with all that “I Yi Yi Yi Yi!!!” stuff, which is my main lasting memory of this one.  I don’t mind Elvis Costello, whom this is based off of, but perhaps this explains why I never really got into his work.  I also found it a little odd that there were two songs on the album with “sick” in the title, and it’s the second relationship song as well.  Not a standout, but by no means a bad song.

Favourite Lyric:

“You’ve got inhuman body odour

You’ve got the hair of a boxing promoter”

That is one reference that didn’t need explaining to anybody.  Everybody knew he was referring to Don King’s famous hairdo, but a kid stumbling upon this song may not know that.  You may picture a man with frizzy mop-top, but you probably are just as likely to picture hair slicked back with globs of gel or some cringe-worthy comb-overs.  Certain people may not even picture a male boxing promoter.  I can’t argue that, though a woman would need to whip up quite the ensemble to outshine the King.  If you’re hard up for ideas, watch some old reruns, and go with whatever Carol Brady happens to be wearing.

And speaking of reruns…

“Syndicated Inc.” 

I actually found this one to be a bit bland in comparison to other tracks.  Most of the song is basically listing off TV shows.  Part of it may be that I never got into Soul Asylum, but still, if I want to point somebody in a direction of a boob tube – themed track, I’d be more likely to play them “TV Party” by Black Flag.

On the positive side, the accordion solo is rather memorable, and when matched up with the original guitar lead in “Misery”, is faithful. I actually prefer hearing it on the accordion, but that could be my bias talking.

Favourite Lyric:

“Think I’m losing my sanity

I’m addicted to Regis & Kathy Lee”

That’s a true sign of having a TV addiction.  Daytime TV is one of the hardest watching experiences there is.  I remember being stuck on rainy days during summer vacation with not much on but Regis & Kathy Lee or soap operas in the afternoons.  Suddenly, being sent outside to pull weeds out of the garden didn’t seem like a chore.

“I Remember Larry”

This was a definite highlight for me.  A fantastically upbeat song with lyrics that go against a rather sinister lyrical theme, a balance that he has featured on several other songs throughout his discography (and even others on this album).  And I love the fade-out, which makes great use of multiple vocal tracks.  I’ll call this my favourite song on Bad Hair Day in spite of my lackluster explanation.

I was not aware of the original source material for this track at the time, and didn’t even explore it until a few months ago.  It’s based of the style of Hilly Michaels, and shares plenty of melodic similarities to “Calling All Girls”.

Favourite Lyric:

“You know I couldn’t help but laugh

Even though he treated me like slime

Remember when he cut my car in half?

Well, he really got me good that time”

That prank would push me over the edge as well, even though I drive around in a decade old Pontiac G5.  When I was younger, I would picture a guy with a gigantic pair of scissors cutting the car like it was the grand opening of a shopping mall.  Compared to other means of vehicular destruction, that doesn’t seem all that intimidating.

“Phony Calls” 

“Waterfalls” was a massively huge song for TLC.  So huge, in fact, that I’m surprised that Weird Al didn’t make a video for this song.  “Waterfalls” may not continue to be a radio staples or be considered a universal classic, but that actually helps this song, and many others on the album age rather well.  You don’t even need to have heard the originals to enjoy them.  Just go with the flow, and let Al’s words take you on a strange journey.

I wasn’t one of those kids who instigated this particular brand of annoyance.  Furthermore, I’ve never even been that drawn to the telephone, even with all it’s technological advancements during my lifetime.  Still, the concept of the prank call always makes for easy entertainment.  When listening to this song, my ears would perk up during Bart Simpson’s call to Moe’s Tavern.  Most of my exposure to The Simpsons at the time was the Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes, so this sample was fresh to my ears.

Favourite Lyric:

I have to choose the entire chorus. I know it follows the same melody, but I find this more singable than the original.  I guess “No Scrubs” was more in my wheelhouse.

“Don’t go makin’ phony calls

Please stick to the seven-digit numbers you’re used to

I know that you think it’s funny drivin’ folks right up the wall

But it’s really getting’ old fast”

There are a few variants of the chorus, but arbitrarily chose the first one.  I can actually remember being prank called a couple of times by some classmates who would pretend to be one of the girls in my class. Then one day, she actually did call, and I yelled at her assuming it was another prank. Good times.

“The Night Santa Went Crazy”

I’ve got a soft spot for Christmas songs, but there’s no need to tell you that if given the chance, Bing Crosby wouldn’t have touched this one with a ten-foot pole.  This track is strikingly similar to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama I’m Coming Home”, but who would have thought that the lyrics would be darker than those sung by The Prince of Darkness?  Perhaps this song could traumatize young children, but I was already aware that Santa was not real when I first obtained this album, so I was unscathed aside from my sides being split from laughter.

Favourite Lyric:

I’m spoiled for choice with this song, but I’ll go with

“And they say Mrs. Claus

she’s on the phone every night

With her lawyer negotiating the movie rights”

This may seem pretty heartless of the woman, but just consider the plethora of questionable or tasteless Christmas movies that had been released before and since.  Look towards Silent Night, Deadly Night, the needless Home Alone sequels,or any holiday film starring a wrestler as evidence.  I’d hate to see the pitches she would have rejected, but I hope she pours all that blood money back into the toy workshop in the North Pole, extending the elves’ work benefits beyond all the candy canes they can eat.

I definitely didn’t get a case of buyer’s remorse by grabbing this album for a second time.  It has even brought back some old memories of family vacations where this album served as a soundtrack towards our destination.  This has encouraged me to start compiling a master list of albums that my family had in our tape drawers, as I’d love to do this type of entry again.  Heck, maybe even my old Glo Friends tape had a song or two on it!

Dream Notes – “Stay Clean???”

My love of music often works its way into my dreams, occasionally in rather unusual ways.  I’ve talked about this type of thing previously in my old blog, and since this blog deals exclusively with music, I’m going to bring this idea over here.   If you’ll indulge me, here’s another mess my brain cobbled together.

This is one of those dreams where I am in some building that’s a hybrid of other types of buildings I have visited.  I’ve had similar dreams to this, including one where I discovered a hidden room in my grandparent’s house that led us on a Scooby Doo mystery to solve some vandalism case.  The graffiti in question was of Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) peeing on the wall, with a speech bubble saying “All Girls Are Lesbians” above him.  That image baffles me to this day, but the very idea I thought it up may help explain why I’m single.

Anyway, this dream began either at a high school or college/university I was attending, and my twin brother and I were walking the hallways.  It was a massive campus, we were a bit lost, but we had plenty of time to kill between classes.  I tell him, “Wait right here. I’ve gotta use the washroom” since we were right in front of the washroom signs.  That’s the last time I see my brother in this dream.  He probably stormed off due to a lack of patience, but I never even thought once to look for him.

As I walked through the passageway leading to the washroom, I noticed it more closely resembled the locker room of a public swimming pool.  It was like a big, communal shower, with water like an emergency sprinkler system raining down constantly from the ceiling.  I was in clothes, unlike those around me who were in swimwear or other states of near nudity.  Adding further oddity to the open room layout, there was a white line drawn down the middle of the room. The men were to stay on one side of the line and ladies on the other like a hackneyed sitcom plot device.  Of course, I stayed on the men’s side of the showers because it wasn’t that kind of dream.

After a long period of searching, I finally found the entrance to where the men’s toilets were.  The problem is that it was surrounded by four men in yellow raincoats, who were apparently security of some kind.  I walk up to them, assuming they’d step aside to grant me entrance, but they wouldn’t budge.  I can’t remember exactly what they said to me, but they didn’t let me in.  I go on to explain the absurdity of this entire situation.  Why am I dripping wet?  Was I supposed to check my clothes at the door before entering?  Couldn’t they at least loan out umbrellas at the door? They shrug off my concerns with a “Yeah, but what can ya do?”

Luckily, there’s an unguarded doorway to the left, which I proceed to enter.  Of course, I’m still not where I want to be.  I’m now in an apartment building.  But good news for you faithful readers, this is where the music theme finally rears it’s head.

I’m fed up at this point, my anger must have already taken the piss out of me as I don’t even care about the washroom I once searched for.  I’m soaked through to my underwear from the sprinklers, so if I went already I could hardly tell the difference.  All I wanted was a way out.

I stop at one of the first apartment doors, and I knock in hopes of getting directions. Who else but Lemmy of Motorhead answers the door!  AND he’s delighted to see me like I’m an old friend!  All this time, I thought Lemmy lived in apartment near The Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood, but no, he apparently lived in a monstrosity MC Escher wouldn’t dare to draw.

I asked Lemmy, “What’s the deal with this place?”

“I dunno, mate. Security are always assholes.”

That’s the only thing about his place of residence that seemed to bother him.  We chat for a bit, and he points me to the way out, which happens to be the same direction I just came from.  “Hopefully they don’t kick you out!” he says as I walk away.  Ironically, they’d be doing me a huge favour by doing this, but nonetheless I give Lemmy a thankful nod as I walk away.

Things change again.  That shower area had been partly converted to a department store in the five minutes since I last saw it. This doesn’t phase me at all anymore.  In fact, I even took a quick look through one of the shirt racks.  I quickly see a red exit sign with natural light illuminating the doorway, so I’m good to go.

As I’m walking home, obviously forgetting the class I was allegedly supposed to get to, I keep talking to Lemmy.  He’s still in his apartment, but we are still communicating.  This is where real life facts enters the dream world because I realize that Lemmy is dead. This made his Obi-Wan Kenobiing me with parting words of guidance make a slight bit of sense.

I get about 10-15 minutes away from the building, and he says to me “Oh, shit! I forgot to give you this.”

I ask “What is it?”

“A brick.”

I think he meant a literal brick, not slang for drugs as one may suspect from a hard-living rock icon.  I’m slightly annoyed, but it seemed important to him.  If Lemmy has a gift for me, who am I to turn up my nose at it?  I turned around and headed back towards the building, but I woke up before arriving. The last thing I remember is walking past the McDonald’s that was down the street from my high school, so at least there was some real-world consistency albeit a minor one.

Since most blogs seem a bit bland if you don’t include at least one photo, here is a crude artistic rendering of my encounter with Lemmy.  I won’t apologize for my lack of drawing skills, but I will apologize for how bland the décor of his apartment is.  I checked the RIAA web site, and unfortunately Motorhead did not have any certified platinum or gold records I could stick on his wall.  However, Lemmy was a collector of Nazi memorabilia.  I could have made an effort to illustrate this, but my amateur scribblings of swastikas on his wall would do nothing but confuse many of you.

Ways To Discover Music

I’ve been asked on a number of occasions how I go about discovering music.  Someone will learn that I went to a Peter Brotzmann concert, and wonder how the hell I ever heard of a guy like that, or someone might come to my apartment and see that I have an increasingly rare thing called a physical music collection, and become curious as to how I built it up.  When put on the spot, I often struggle to answer them.  Ever since my mid-teenage years (right around the time I took up a musical instrument), the quest for music never felt difficult.  I figured out early on that listening to the radio or watching MTV or MuchMusic, while useful at first, was rather limiting. That means I’ve had to find alternative means of addressing my hunger for music.  Here are some of the paths I’ve taken over the years.

Liner Notes

This was one of the earliest methods I’d use to learn about different bands.  If an album has extensive liner notes that go beyond lyrics or a list of musicians who perform on the record, you may even see a “Thank You” section where the band/artist express their gratitude to those who helped make the album possible or to give a shout out to friends and family.  On occasion, some will include a section that lists all the musicians that they toured with since the last album.

Notes from Entombed’s Left Hand Path album sleeve

Back in my school days, I’d view these listings as a potential goldmine.  One example that stands out to me is in Metallica’s Ride The Lightning sleevewhen they thank the band members of Mercyful Fate.  Their listing of the bassist as Tim “Dick” Grabber is still one of the funniest things I’ve read in a CD booklet.  You could turn to the liner notes of a Bay Area thrash band or Florida-based death metal in the late 80s – early 90s, and pretty much get a list of the entire scene since bands were so tight with one another.  I wish I could say the same about the Norwegian black metal scene, but I’ve heard there was some bad blood there.

I don’t read liner notes as much as I used to, but it seems to me that their content is being minimized as time goes on.  Even the lyrics aren’t always included, though it is sometimes made up for with gatefold artwork.  Because of the variety that exists in album packaging, this method of searching for artists is rather hit and miss.

YouTube

YouTube is a go-to source for all sorts of entertainment. On my own Youtube account, the scope of my subscriptions includes channels based around video gaming, political discussion, old sports highlights, and general merchandise reviews.  However, Youtube also tends to scratch my musical itch quite effectively.

Wondering if bands still make music videos?  They’re likely on YouTube.  Want to hear some reviews before buying an album?  YouTube has plenty of those.  Want to relive that concert the guy in front of you was filming on his iPad?  You may find it on YouTube, and you won’t have his bald spot blocking your view of the stage this time.  What I like about using the site is that people often upload long out-of-print music here, and for the most part, it will remain there for years to come.  Most artists are thankful enough for the exposure that they don’t wish to go on a witch hunt and take legal action against their own well-meaning fan base.

If you want to find something new, all you need is a starting point, often by typing in the name of artist you are already familiar with.  At that point, let the journey take you where it may!

The problem I sometimes have with this method is that when recommendations tend to dry out on the sidebar (i.e. you’ve already heard the artists in the recommended videos). At that point, you can simply start over by searching for another artist. Usually, my journeys can get pretty lengthy, so by the time my journey winds down, I should be getting to bed anyway.

Bandcamp (link)

To keep it brief, Bandcamp is a marketplace where musicians can sell their music directly to the public. This site is home to many artists that independently release their music, allowing them to avoid a record label to act as a distributor for their music. However, the format is also used by a variety of “indie” record labels to feature bands from their roster, among them some personal favourites in Relapse Records, Ipecac Recordings, and Dischord Records.  With that in mind, the trouble that some may have with the site is that it’s not a place you’re going to find all the hits from popular artists.  To me, that’s a positive and not a deterrent.  What better way to find something new than to dig underground?

Many artists post their music here with more of a tip jar philosophy, allowing the user to name their price so they can pay what they think the album is worth to them or what they can afford. I’ve taken advantage of their convenient pricing on digital recordings, and have ordered physical media through some of the band’s stores.  For instance, I found myself with a surprising surplus of money in my Paypal account, so I spent an afternoon spreading this“free money”around to different artists.  Not only did I throw a few bucks at some metal bands I was already acquainted with (Ulcerate, Sulaco), but I found the Seattle-based Monktail Creative Music Concern, an interesting collective of free jazz artists.  I’ve found plenty of interesting bands that have free music on the site, but I think I may do a separate post on that topic one day.

You can stream many of the songs before buying, so there’s little risk attached from a consumer standpoint.  Plus, if you are a fan of physical albums like I am, you may even find yourself directed to Bandcamp unexpectedly.  I’ve purchased vinyl records at concerts directly from the bands, and most of the time, the album will include a slip of paper featuring a download code entitling you to a bonus digital copy of the album through Bandcamp.

Last.fm (link)

I know that I could have saved a lot of words by simply saying to check the internet, but I find that really doesn’t garner more of a response than “No shit!!” The internet is a vast body of water, and not everyone takes to navigating across it naturally.

If you listen to music while on your personal computer, you can download a tool called the Last.fm Scrobbler, which will connect your media player to their site and track every song you have listened to.  In turn, they take your playlist, and provide you with further recommendations of other artists that you may like.  I know that other music resources such as Pandora do something similar, but this is what I am most familiar with.

10 Early Bladder Cancer Symptoms? Never heard of them.

The site provides several other tools regarding artists, including view-able listening trends worldwide, the ability to see how compatible your music tastes are with other site users, and lists of local concerts (However, I find the BandsInTown app is a more extensive tool for finding shows).

Music Magazines

I like reading, and for whatever reason, I have a slight proclivity to lean towards non-fiction over fiction. There’s something about gaining insight into the real lives of certain people of notoriety that I find appealing.  I don’t mean this from a Twitter or Instagram perspective (I don’t use either of those), but learning some back story about someone through a well-structured bio or a series of interviews.  While I have digested a good deal of authorized and unauthorized biographies in my day (I’ve got a Morrissey autobiography on my current reading stack), a fair amount of my music-based reading has come through magazines.

I had a Bass Player magazine subscription for a few years, and shared a Guitar World subscription with my brother when we were teenagers.  These, along with a sampling of other guitar/bass/drum specialty magazines, brought me my initial exposure of artists including Dream Theater, Steve Morse, and Tool.  They started out as a means of learning how to play riffs or full songs, but nowadays I find it more fulfilling to figure parts out by ear.

There have been a number of publications that would feature interviews and industry news that I would pick up at newsstands like Revolver or Hit Parader.  However, for a few extra dollars, I began to gravitate towards ones that would feature sampler CDs that showcase newer releases.  I remember buying issues of Metal Hammer and Classic Rock that bundled in CDs, but I discovered much more with Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles and Terrorizer.

My recent passion has been reading back issues of Musician magazine.  I have made good use of not only the featured articles and reviews, but even the advertisements make for great resources.  This magazine has so far exposed me to the quirky pop songwriting of Robyn Hitchock and jazz fusion combo Lost Tribe, but I’ve still got a stack of around 50 back issues to scan through in more detail (yes, I’m a bit mad!).

Opening Bands

For the most part, people will flock to a concert solely on the merit of the headlining band.  But if you read more than just the top of the marquee, you may find something pleasantly unexpected.

Back in the heyday of music from the 70s through to the 90s, you would often have gold and platinum-selling artists opening up for those who go triple-platinum or higher, so there is a good shot you would have already been exposed to the openers of yesterday.  Nowadays, you may not be as likely to have been exposed to the openers, particular the ones that get the 15-20 minute time slot just as the doors are opening.

Personally, I’ve found out about a number of great bands this way. Seeing Secret Chiefs 3 live became even more exciting when I discovered their opening act (Cleric), a highly anticipated Battles performance was proceeded by the unique instrumentation of Buke and Gase, and witnessing black metal band Enslaved led me to the powerfully heavy doom of Yob. Not every concert I attend has an opening act, but the majority of them do.  Even if a band comes through town that you can’t make it to see, do a bit of legwork on the opener to learn more about what you are missing.

T-Shirt Reading

Here is yet another method that involves you leaving your home.  You may catch a break if you spot a celebrity pic on Instagram ironically wearing a band shirt, but those sightings are few and far between.  I don’t see as many people walking the streets or shopping centers dressed in band shirts as I used to, but you may get lucky.  To increase the odds substantially, this activity is best accomplished at music concerts or festivals. It really depends greatly on the type of band you are going to see because printed tees aren’t always fashionable.  When I saw Joanna Newsom a few years ago, you could mistake half the crowd for pioneer re-enactors.

At the very least with many concerts, you’ll likely see an impressive variety of shirts of the headlining band.  I saw Iron Maiden in 2003, and I don’t recall many t-shirts aside from the Maiden ones.  This wasn’t just a case of everyone rushing to the merch vendors to buy their latest designs.  I saw some shirts for the No Prayer For The Dying, Somewhere In Time, and Piece of Mind tours, and while they were faded as hell and in some cases riddled with moth bites, seeing the old designs gives you an appreciation for the loyalty of their fanbase.  Granted, I’d still prefer getting a stronger sampling of different artists.

They mostly come in black. Mostly…

I’ve seen such a variety of shirts at shows, yet I can’t pinpoint an exact instance when I discovered a band directly from this method.  It likely worked the best when I was a bit younger.  At this point in my life I go to a metal show, when I do find something I’ve yet to hear, I’ll be damned if I can even decipher their logo.  It makes for a fun pastime, but I don’t rely heavily on it.

Check an Artist’s Family Tree

This habit stemmed from my natural curiousity.  Band members come and go.  When some leave a band, they may go on to lead somewhat ordinary lives, or they may try their hand at forming a new band or joining an already established one.  Furthermore, some people are members of a band, and take part in side-projects when they get time away from their main band.  This may be my favourite means of discovering something new because it is relatively easy, and the possibilities are almost limitless.

When getting into more extreme forms of metal, I’d often heard that the grindcore innovating band Napalm Death was an essential listen.  With that in mind, I was off to the local Sunrise Records, and grabbed their Noise For Music’s Sake 2-CD compilation.  Aside from being a great introduction to a band that remains one of my favorites in metal, the package encased the following family tree that traces projects involving Napalm band members past and present.

At first, I didn’t have a clue about most of what is shown, but would later learn how diverse this list really is.  Featured artists include the psychedelic doom metal of Cathedral, the dark industrial groove of Godflesh, grindcore-turned-melodic death metal act Carcass, and the avant-garde hardcore of Painkiller.  There’s lots to work from off this chart alone, and yet it doesn’t include the many collaborations these musicians have involved themselves in since (the compilation was released in 2003).

If you want to get into jazz, you can pick practically any Miles Davis album and expand outward from there.  A good place to start is one with Mile’s “Second Great Quintet” featuring pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams to accompany Miles Davis’ trumpet.  Through this lineup, you’d be sure to hit upon Weather Report or The Tony Williams Lifetime relatively quickly.  Futhermore, you are only one degree of separation from an impressive range of non-jazz artists including A Tribe Called Quest, Public Image Ltd., and Simple Minds.

Some of the above ideas may seem a bit obvious or perhaps archaic to some of you, but I hope this list may spark an idea or two for those wishing to expand their musical horizons.  Is there anything I’ve left out that you find to be a necessity for uncovering great music?  I’d love to know because I’m always searching.

Allan Holdsworth

This was not what I expected to see when logging into Facebook on Easter Sunday.  As soon as I saw Allan Holdsworth’s name in the “trending” section, I knew something was up.  I had the exact same feeling when I saw Charlie Haden‘s name listed in the same spot a few years earlier.  I knew another great musician had left us.

He was the ultimate guitar player’s guitar player.  A truly unique voice amongst the millions who have picked up the instrument, inspiring several to do so in the first place, and even (unfortunately) causing some to quit due to a sudden sense of inferiority.  I find it a bit unfortunate that as I see him eulogized online, he gets labelled along the lines of “Eddie Van Halen’s Favorite Guitarist” or “Without Allan Holdsworth, There would be no Eddie Van Halen”.  Anybody familiar with Allan’s work knows that it should stand well enough on it’s own without the need to shoehorn a household name into the conversation.  That’s probably more of my issue with more mainstream press and their handling of more obscure celebrity deaths in general.  I don’t mind if they list of a number of players that he influenced, but to focus too much on the Van Halen angle doesn’t really say who he was or how he sounded.  At least several media outlets found his passing to be newsworthy, which I’ll take over the alternative any day.

When I first heard about him, it was through a special issue of Guitar World magazine focusing on the Top 100 Guitarists of All-Time or a similarly titled feature.  He was one they selected, and listed his 1985 album Metal Fatigue as his essential album.  Based on the title, I imagined him to be some form of speed metal shredder without having ever heard or seen the man.  I suppose you could consider what he did as proto-shred due to his influence on guitar-based music.

Though they aren’t quite involved what some consider to be “shred” music (most may think closer to someone on Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records label), but his influence seems to fall quite heavily in metal music.  Look towards parts of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Calculating Infinity or some of Meshuggah guitarist Fredrik Thorendal’s fluid leads to see how his influence spread into unexpected directions.  I’d say that Allan Holdsworth and Al Di Meola are neck and neck when it comes to the most cited jazz/fusion guitarists who inspired those in the metal community.

However, unlike some of the shredders that broke out in the late 80’s and beyond, Allan left plenty of breathing room in his songs.  I’ve heard him in interviews state that he built his composition as vehicles for improvisation, which would explain their open structure.  While still the undisputed master of ceremonies on his own albums, those who listen gain great appreciation of those who surround him, be they Gary Husband, Jimmy Johnson, or Alan Pasqua, to name a few.

I’ve appreciated his work ever since first hearing him play, but it didn’t dawn on me until the day that he died that I didn’t own a single solo album of his.  My twin brother, being the guitar player to my bass player growing up, was the one who hustled to build up the Holdsworth collection.  Granted, I do have a number of recordings that feature some of his playing: Planet X’s Quantum, Pierre Morelin’s Gong’s Time Is The Key, The New Tony Willams Lifetime’s Million Dollar Legs, Bruford’s Feels Good To Me, Stanley Clarke’s If This Bass Could Only Talk, Chad Wackerman’s Forty Reasons, Jean-Luc Ponty’s Individual Choice (Before someone asks, I’ll definitely get my own copy of Enigmatic Ocean one day), and the first UK album.  I don’t know if guilt is the right word for not owning some of his solo album because there are many of them that had gone out of print. Besides that, I’m not even sure how much money he’d make off their sales. Probably none at all as I would likely have to find second-hand copies.

Just over a week before his passing, it turns out that there was a 12-CD box set featuring a number of his albums. The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever! got it’s title from the cover headline on the April 2008 issue of Guitar Player magazine.  It’s not quite career spanning, but it’s close. It may not include any of his work with Soft Machine, Tempest, or some of the previously mentioned gigs, but you get the lion’s share of his solo work, which due to his creative control over the content, is likely the best representation of who he was as an artist.  It leaves off Velvet Darkness, his first solo album, but he was apparently not a fan and wished it had never been released.  I actually dig it.  It features an impressive cast of musicians, and with some rare acoustic guitar pieces in “Floppy Hat”, “Kinder”, and “Karsey Key”, showcasing another side of Allan.  I only wish it didn’t take his passing to bring the box set to my attention.

I’m looking forward to getting this CD set in the mail because I can now explore the albums my brother and I never had the chance to fully explore: Wardenclyffe Tower (the title is a Nikola Tesla reference, a man my father greatly admires), Hard Hat Area, Flat Tire: Music For A Nonexistent Movie, and the live album Then! It breaks my heart to see some people selling this set at rather high prices. It goes against the reason of this release in the first place. Individually, prior releases of his albums weren’t exactly cheap, so this set lets people get their hands on them with more ease. Mine came to just over $150 CDN with the shipping, so spread out over 12 albums, I’d consider that a fair price. I’ve seen multiple sellers listing this set on eBay at over $200, one copy even going at around $500. I’d hate to think recent circumstances have anything to do with that price tag.  I remember stores stocking up on George Carlin CDs and DVDs when he died.  They likely arrived at their price of the box set by adding up the prices of each album individually on a site like Amazon, and going with that.  That doesn’t make the practice any less shady.

I count myself extremely fortunate to have seen him in concert five years ago. It was a rather low-key gig, which took place at Cosmo Music in Richmond Hill, Ontario (just north of Toronto). I’ve already stated that he’s a guitarist’s guitarist, so there’s no venue more appropriate for his performance than a store that sells musical instruments. On top of that, Canadian guitar hero Kim Mitchell was among those in the audience.  His trio that evening featured bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Virgil Donati.  Aside from a few complaints by Holdsworth over the bright lighting on the stage, the show went off without a hitch.  Some photos were uploaded on social media following the gig.  I’m not sure who took them, but I hope they don’t mind if I share a nice action shot of Allan from that night.

I was coming off a rather long day, so we (my dad, brother, and I) rushed out of the music hall towards the car. On the way out, we saw the start of what looked like a queue to meet the band.  At the time, we didn’t think much of it. My brother and I assumed the meet-and-greet privilege was reserved for those with a VIP ticket, much like it is in the case of many touring bands.  By the time we were kicking ourselves over the potentially missed opportunity, we were halfway home.

I can’t remember what kept us from inquiring any further about the lineup that had formed. I never know what to say when meeting someone who I admire, so maybe I was subliminally avoiding the situation, fearing that I’d say something incredibly stupid or (gasp!) annoy him somehow. Whatever the reason, I really wish I had reversed my decision. An autographed gig poster would have been a cool keepsake, but it’s the experience more than the signature that would have been special. I could have stood in that line and thought of something to tell him. Anything. He seemed a humble man, so perhaps I’d have to have found common ground with him and not just drop down and worship at his feet.  I’m a huge Star Trek fan, so a quick question relating to the TV show may have been appropriate (see “Mr. Spock” or his Atavachron album as to why).

At least I know that while I may never exchange words with some music idols of mine, the connection that Allan and those of his calibre can make with me through their art can more than compensate for it.  It appears that I’m not the only one that feels this way.  The comment section of the GoFundMe campaign started to help his family cover funeral costs makes for one of the most heartwarming reads I’ve seen in a long time.  Many people out there only passively listen to music, but for many others, music has the ability to enrich their lives at a deeper level.  Allan Holdsworth may not have been a musician that could pack stadiums with his tours or who would have his songs on mainstream radio, but for a man to persevere over a forty-plus year career, flying generally under the radar most of the time, while still managing to make such a positive impact on so many people, that’s one hell of a legacy to leave behind.

John Scofield “Loud Jazz” Contest (Musician Magazine)

This June, I’m going to have the pleasure of seeing guitarist John Scofield in concert for the third time in my life.  I usually don’t make habit of seeing an artist more than once to make opportunities for other concerts of interest.  However, I will make an exception if I deem the event to be special circumstances.  When it comes to jazz, the collaborative spirit of the artists involved make such special circumstances occur rather frequently.  In this case, Scofield is touring with a project called Hudson, which features an impressive ensemble of Hudson River Valley area musicians including keyboardist John Medeski, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

The first time I saw Scofield was at the Toronto Jazz Festival in 2014, where his Uberjam group co-headlined the evening with Dave Holland.  I saw him again later that year with Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood’s performance at Massey Hall.  My companions to this third Scofield sighting will be my twin brother (I have yet to see a concert without him), and our father.  I love taking my dad to a concert sometime near Father’s Day or his birthday (which, in his case, are two weeks apart) since, like most kids, my parents were my chief providers of (among basically everything else) music.  I was always overwhelmed by flipping through dad’s record collection when I was a kid.  I’d have no idea where to start, but he’d often be parked next to the turntable in the basement, with comically large headphones on, and foot tapping in perfect, metronomic rhythm.  I’d be pulled aside from play for minutes at a time and take my turn as listener, being treated to whatever my dad was interested in at the time, be it ELO, Herbie Hancock, or Pink Floyd.  It was my brother and I who turned dad on to John Scofield, which is a nice feeling being able to introduce different music to someone who helped to grow your interests in the first place.  We already saw Scofield together with Uberjam, and we know dad’s looking forward to seeing him again.

I’d like very much to take my mother to a concert one day once I find an appropriate show to take her to, fitting it in around her existing work schedule and her particular tastes.  She has never been the music consumer that my father is, but introduced me to music in different ways.  She was a nursery school teacher before becoming a stay-at-home mom, so she had a number of children’s songs she would sing to us, some from her childhood and others she would commit to memory while on the job.  She was responsible for loading up our early music collections with Raffi, Fred Penner, and Sharon, Lois & Bram along with other children’s entertainers.  I find her taste in music is generally built around songs that spread positive messages, ones that convey love, relationships, and enjoyment of life among the lyrical themes.  I greatly look forward to seeing the look on her face the moment we can share our first concert together.

Anyway, I’m drifting here.  I want to talk about Sco!  In particular, the following relic from the July 1988 issue of Musician magazine:

This is an intriguing contest in many ways.  I’m used to seeing contest forms of this nature in music magazines.  I definitely remember entering a contest to win bassist Billy Sheehan’s gear as a promotion for his first solo album, Compression, in one of the first issues of Bass Player magazine that I ever purchased.  However, I can’t recall seeing many that use drawings of the artist involved in place of a photograph. It makes me think of something straight out of a comic book from 1958 rather than 1988, perhaps in place of an advertisement for Grit newspaper or some Charles Atlas muscle-building program.

I own a number of Scofield albums, but I do not own Loud Jazz or any of his Gramavision albums that preceded it.  I do have Flat Out, which came out the following year.  If this contest had started today, I’d have no overlap in my collection if I was one of the lucky five finalists.  Though if that were the case, I guess Flat Out would be included, or a different record label would be backing the contest altogether.  Why worry about this anyway?  It’s not like my hypothetical prize-winning matters.  I was a three-year old when this contest launched, thus ineligible to enter.  Granted, I think my siblings and I could have killed it with some free-form on the Fisher Price Crazy Combo Horn.

The “One-Of-A-Kind” guitar promise may be a stretch of the term.  I view the expression as if you’d be getting a musical instrument custom-made straight from a luthier’s shop, but it’s rarely used in that context.  It’s modelled after his own Ibanez guitar, but it most likely wouldn’t have been exactly like the one he plays.  That’s based off my limited knowledge of so-called signature series guitars and basses.  There’s usually something, be it the pickups used, the wood that it’s made out of, the machine heads, or something else, that keep it from being 100% like the artist’s personal instrument.  But that’s just me being extremely nit-picky.  I wouldn’t mind if one of these fell into my lap.

The biggest thing that captures my imagination is the outcome of this contest.  Seemingly, Gramavision had ingeniously used this not only as a promotional tool for both John Scofield and the label, but as an inventive recruiting opportunity to find some fresh sounds.  My curiousity is bringing up so many questions!

Who won the grand prize?  Was it anybody I may have heard of?

Did any musician of note submit an entry that was ultimately rejected?

Did they publish the results in a future issue of the magazine, or did they keep it on the down low?

If I were to scan through Gramavision’s release history, would I find the winner or any other contestants?

Did the session even happen?  If so, did Scofield actually attend it?

Scofield was set to pick the winner himself, so maybe I’d need to go right to the source and ask him.  I’ll keep my eyes open, but if anyone knows the answer, please let me know in the comments.

Brockum Rock Cards

Collectable trading cards have been in existence for over 100 years, with some of the earliest examples being ones that came with tobacco products or Cracker Jack snacks.  By the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, the hobby expanded at a seemingly exponential rate as the marketplace was flooded with product.  It seemed like just about anything you could think of had a trading card set attached to it, ranging from major Hollywood films to popular television shows, from scratch-offs of video games to knock-offs of the Garbage Pail Kids,  from military operations to…  whatever this is…

Motivational Homo-Eroticism?

If you looked through all the excess supply of trading cards, anybody could find a set they would take a liking to.  For me, one set I look back fondly on was the Rock Cards set, produced by rock merchandise manufacturer Brockum in 1991.

I remember being introduced to these cards when Christmas shopping when I was around 7 or 8 years old.  My siblings and I would usually buy gifts for each other at a nearby dollar store.  As I was searching for presents at Mighty Dollar, my own interests got the better of me, as I spotted a bin filled with assorted trading card packs priced at two for a dollar.  What mostly caught my eye were the baseball packs, which consisted of cards from an assortment of sets that had been re-packaged in transparent wrapping.  My twin brother also expressed interest in these cards, which got me thinking that if I bought two packs of baseball cards for my brother, surely he’d buy two packs for me.  It’s an unwritten twin law that exists between us to this day. The interests of one twin will overlap the other, so we can shop for one another accordingly.  But this time, it didn’t quite work out.

On Christmas morning, I opened the trading card-sized gift my brother left under the tree.  It had a pack of baseball cards in it, and another pack of cards with a holographic wrapper.  It wasn’t more baseball, so I was rather let down.  ROCK CARDS?  WHAT THE HELL IS THIS??  How could my DNA-equivalent get my signals crossed this badly?  After I cooled down a little, I opened the pack.

The cards were GREAT!!!!  I’m sorry for ever doubting you, Alex!  Nice sharp photos (though my scans may not reflect that), colourful borders, and lots of information listed on the card backs.  These cards opened myself up to a completely unexplored world.  I didn’t even own much music at this age, and now I had some of the bigger names in the business at my fingertips.  It made me forget all about the baseball pack, which I’m pretty sure didn’t contain anybody of note.  With the Rock Cards, though, I can still remember several of the cards I pulled out of that package.

Here’s the first card that I remember seeing, so I guess I’ll begrudgingly say that things started of with a bang.  This was as good an introduction to AC/DC as I could ask for.  Without having even heard a note of their music, this staged shot let me know his band would be nothing but a fun time.  A grown man in a schoolboy uniform?  Who is this guy?  It was like getting a card of the Three Stooges, a Sunday morning staple of mine at the time.

These next two cards I found particularly disturbing.  Here’s Tom Keifer from Cinderella, and David Coverdale of Whitesnake.

 In spite of what their names should have led me to believe, my gut was telling me that they were women.  Not pretty women, mind you, thus my disturbance.  With Coverdale, I think it was the hoop earrings that were distracting me from his chest hair, so I got that straightened out relatively quickly.  I have no defense for the Tom Keifer mix-up.  He had his shirt wide open, for crying out loud!  Still, being unfamiliar with  many rock musicians at the time, maybe this was the norm.  Maybe (s)he was doing it for empowerment or to be risque.  It’s not my place to judge!

Here’s a David Ellefson card I pulled.  With the long, blonde hair, and unbuttoned dress shirt, I was more reminded of Michael Bolton or a guy on the cover of a romance novel than a guy in a thrash metal band.  It gave me a different impression of Megadeth than I might have gained had I instead owned one of his cards where he’s shown playing live.   Would that have made me want to buy Rust In Peace sooner than I did?  Who knows.

Most people around my age’s introduction to Tommy Lee was his sex tape with Pamela Anderson.  Mine also had a lot of nudity.  Here he is, likely at the end of one of his signature drum solos.

And to get a bit of a nude streak going, here’s another one I remember from the pack. Telling Iggy Pop to put a shirt on is like telling Michael Jordan to pass up an open jump shot.

 

Some cards would show entire bands rather than just one musician.  One such card was the one I received of Testament.

This was a definite highlight for me.  I thought that the logo was bad-ass, and the band looked like a bunch of cool guys, with Alex Skolnick’s grey streaks of hair really standing out as unique.  Their name had me thinking that they were a Christian band, and the reference to them on The Simpsons (though possibly an unintentional one) didn’t help shake that from my mind.

Weirdly enough, I didn’t actually get a musical introduction to the band until around ten years later when I was in my last year of high school, with the airing of the “Over The Wall” video on the Metal Mania program on VH1 Classics.  A great band for sure, but they weren’t exactly the talk of the playground.

While the men above were complete strangers to me, I did get one card of a guy I had actually heard of.

I knew Bon Jovi!  I also had a card of their drummer, but this is the guy they named the band after, therefore a more significant human being as a whole.   In spite of the awkward wide-legged pose, the vest-without-a-shirt look, and that he’s standing in front of what may be a garage door, a storage locker, or he’s waiting in front of the Foot Locker in the mall before it opens, I thought this one was pretty cool.  It must have been the tattoos.

Each pack also contained one of 18 different stickers featuring artwork by notable album cover artists.  Here are some of my favourites.

The sticker in the middle was in that first pack of mine.  I didn’t know what that was (it’s a picture of Megadeth mascot Vic Rattlehead), but I was blown away by Ed Repka’s artwork.  I couldn’t exactly do a reverse image search on the internet in 1993, so I had no idea that this had any Megadeth affiliation.  The illustration was used on the Megadeth single “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due”, which would have likely blown my head clean off my shoulders had I heard the song at such a young age.

I acquired more of these cards throughout the years, but never had the whole base set until about a month ago.  However, I’d appreciate them whenever I stumbled across them at flea markets.  Many of them became the first source of my knowledge for random trivia facts about musicians.  It was through this set that I learned that I share a birthday with Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord (June 9, in case you want to send a gift), that Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach is Canadian (from Peterborough, Ontario, though the card lists Toronto), and that Anthrax bassist Frank Bello once tried to win Madonna’s heart with a limo ride and backstage tickets to their concert.  I’d never dream that inviting a girl to a thrash metal show would impress her, I don’t care if you are in the band.

Besides the sticker inserts (the Motley Crue “Ball and Chain” art is the only one I still need), there were two additional types of cards randomly inserted into packs.  One of these sets consists of holographic band logos, but I currently don’t have any of them to show.  To see what some of them look like, as well as the entire 288-card base set, click here.

The other insert set is a tribute to the Grateful Dead, all of which proudly list on their backs “This product is printed on recycled paper. Save the rain forest.”  I’ve yet to explore much of their music (I’m open to suggestions on where to start), but I still can’t resist the temptation of chasing down this set.  It consists of ten cards, one of each of the six band members (current photos on fronts, and vintage black and white image on the back), two band photos (one current and one from 1967), and two that feature poster art.  I currently own the following three from the set.

The first two came packaged with the complete main set that I purchased.  The Phil Lesh, a fellow bassist, I found through an eBay search.  The same query also turned up an old credit card that allegedly belonged to him, just in case any Dead Head out there is looking for some obscure, one-of-a-kind memorabilia.  I’m willing to bet it will still be there by the time you read this.

A reminder to cut up expired credit cards

Now that I’ve reacquainted myself with these cards, what’s my overall impression? It’s still favorable. They seem to be reasonably priced online for the most part (mine was just under $15 CDN minus shipping), but with some patience you can likely get it for dirt cheap at a flea market or yard sale.  I think it’s worth the pocket change if you’re into music of the era.

While the bulk of the set consists of thrash and hair metal artists, they manage to make some interesting choices to fill up the rest of the set.  Among them are some progressive rock content with Yes, some goth rock with The Sisters of Mercy, and some contemporary bands that time forgot such as Warrior Soul.  They even threw in a blues guy with a Stevie Ray Vaughan card to commemorate his recent passing.

 In spite of my nostalgia for this set, I can acknowledge that there is room for improvement.  Like many mass produced card sets (I’m looking at you, 1990-91 Pro Set Hockey!), some errors slipped past quality control.  Most notably, look at the back of these two cards.

They mixed up the photos of two members of Exodus, bassist Rob McKillop and guitarist Gary Holt.  Granted, they do look fairly similar.  However, in retrospect it seems to be quite a slap in the face to Holt.  He’s easily the most recognizable member of the band as the one constant in Exodus since their debut album, Bonded By Blood, whereas McKillop would be out of the band the following year.

Here’s the main thing I think could turn away people from the set.  Here are three cards of Kip Winger, each one with unique photos and varied border colour schemes.

However, looking at the backs of these cards show no difference other than the card number in the bottom-left corner.

This makes me wonder how they obtained the information to fill out the backs of these cards.  I’d be fine with the content having only one of these cards, but couldn’t  Brockum representatives have sent out a slightly more extensive survey for them to fill out or do some more research?  I’d be more than willing to let the identical back photos slide if we could learn just a little bit more about the bands.  However, I think the fact they pulled the back pictures off of the same band photo was another of the nice features.  Had I obtained more of these as a young kid, I would have got a kick out of laying them across the floor of my room, overlapping the images like a miniature puzzle.

Finally, I think there was good opportunity for to squeeze a couple more bands into this set.  They could have achieved this by shaving off a few cards from some of the major bands that had three cards per band member (I’d suggest Poison or Warrant), or they could simply expand the set by a few cards.  Why end it at such an ugly number of 288? Why not 300, 350, or 400 cards?  I’ve seen some pre-release promotional cards of Aerosmith (who weren’t included in the final edition), so odds are they intended on a larger set.

Who would I include that isn’t featured?  This set looks to have been issued in early 1991, right before grunge exploded, so it would have been unrealistic to expect to find any Nirvana or Pearl Jam cards.  There’s probably some licensing issues involved in keeping many of the bigger names out, but it’s lacking some huge bands of the time like Metallica, U2, Guns N Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and R.E.M.  Though not household names, bands like Queensryche and Faith No More were nearing their commercial peak around this time, and could have easily fit into this assortment.  They did include, in my opinion, a few puzzling choices such as The Dan Reed Network and Junkyard (who featured ex-Minor Threat and current Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker), so I don’t think any of my suggestions are too far out in left field.

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That’s all I can think of for now.  There are definitely more music-related trading cards I wouldn’t mind discussing, so I may go over more of them in future posts.

Mount Rockmore

In the music industry, artists are often honoured late in their careers with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  However, to the criticism of many, they’ve let in a number of artists (such as Madonna, or practically any hip-hop artists) that people don’t deem to “rock”, leaving many to conclude the hall has become somewhat diluted.

So that got me thinking: What would be the ultimate way to honour famous rock musicians?  A monument!  Since it is rock music, let’s make it out of rock.  How about a Rock Rushmore?  No, a Mount Rockmore!

For those who are unaware, Mount Rushmore is a landmark in South Dakota depicting the busts of four Presidents of the United States of notable importance.  As an ignorant Canadian who hasn’t brushed up on their history, I couldn’t begin to tell you all the little nuanced reasoning that went into each man’s selection.  From what little I read, I learned the artist who designed it (Gutzom Borglum) chose the presidents himself.  I’ll take as much artistic freedom myself, though I highly doubt I’d find anybody willing to cough up the land for such an endeavour.

Before starting this blog, I attempted to make a Youtube series where I focused solely on music discussion, but I came to realize while editing a video that I hate watching myself talk, and my voice is about as sleep-inducing as white noise.  While somewhat of a silly concept, this topic would have made up the first video.  It seemed like a fun enough concept that I thought could lead to interesting discussion or debate.

Now let me get on with my selections.  To take away some of the suspense a little, here are a few honorable mentions.

The Beatles

They’re The Fab Four, so it’s hard to leave any of them out. So I’ll settle it by leaving all of them out. Maybe you can mash up their faces into one so they don’t take up too much space, but that would probably just confuse people.

Elvis Presley

He may be The So-Called King Of Rock and Roll, but I never really got his appeal.  He seemed kind of cool when I was little kid, but back then I also thought that about Pee Wee Herman and Ernest P. Worrel.  Time changes a man’s mind is all I’m sayin’!

Freddie Mercury

Easily one of the best rock singers of all-time. He was right on the borderline for me.  A great showman with a voice that could move you to tears.  Many an artist spend their careers trying to right a song as majestic as Bohemian Rhapsody, but fail.

Angus Young

If only for his rather rare status as both a band member and mascot rolled into one.  If AC/DC were hard pressed for an album cover, they could throw him on there, and it could still sell like hot cakes.

James Brown

Highly imitated, but never duplicated.  Set the bar high with his intense level of showmanship, and you can’t get much funkier than him even today.

Bob Dylan

I’ve heard that it’s illegal in eighteen states to form a rock band without covering at least one Dylan tune.

Frank Zappa

Introduced many avant-garde concepts to a mainstream audience, and assembled some of the most talented musicians within a rock music context.  Plus, he fought vocally against the PMRC and music censorship.

Chuck Berry

Most music fans should know by now that he just recently passed away. Though I’m not as familiar with his work as I should be aside from a few songs, I have to mention him out of respect for one of the world’s first rock stars. A true innovator, despite Marty McFly’s attempt to steal his thunder.

There’s so many more that I can mention, so I’ll just get to my first pick.

Mick Jagger

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He was one of the first rock stars that I remember having some exposure to, so that probably has a lot to do with my selection.  I remember by my aunt being really into the Stones, and had this huge black and white head-shot of him hanging up in her house.  I think it hung in the bathroom, which I found weirdly comforting for some reason.  Additionally, my parents saw them during their Voodoo Lounge tour, so that album was in my childhood rotation as well as some of their more popular material.

When I see Mick Jagger, I think of him as a prototypical classic rock star.  He just has this swagger about him delivered through a confident, cool, and somewhat posh-sounding British accent.  I may be confusing parts of his character with some of the members of Spinal Tap or Austin Powers, but when I think of how he publicly presented himself, he exuded a combination of charm, sexuality, a bit of an ego, and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.  Gladly, it didn’t take long to find interview footage to back some of this up.  Another key trait was that he always had a beautiful woman on his arm, which alone can inspire in it’s own way.

As part of The Rolling Stones, he’s an early inspiration to those modern musicians of advanced age.  The band has been the butt of jokes for years for sticking to it at an old age.  Their late-80s tour was jokingly referred to as the Steel Wheelchairs tour, and most of the band was only in their mid-forties.  Nowadays, it’s seemingly rare for an established band to quit (permanently) before they hit 50 as long as people are showing up to their concerts.  They were one of the leading examples out there saying rock and roll doesn’t have a retirement age, and Mick’s the one out there front and centre, pouting those signature lips of his.

He’s no doubt a songwriting talent (paired with “Glimmer Twin” Keith Richards), with an unmistakable voice that could handle the rockers, blues tunes, and the ballads with equal authenticity.  He’s still a ball of energy whenever he hits the stage, and seems to genuinely love what he’s doing, maybe more now than ever.

And as much as it pains me to say it, he’s my only selection that’s still with us today.  Which leads me into pick No. 2…

Jimi Hendrix

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I feel like he’s the one on here that needs the least defending, but I’ll go ahead with my explanation.

I felt that this list needed someone primarily known for playing a musical instrument, so I figure with Jimi, you can’t go wrong.  It’s difficult to argue against him being the most iconic guitar player ever.  He’s in many guitar player’s top five, and he has seemed to inspire pretty much any type of musician through any genre to some degree.  Hendrix is as synonymous with the guitar as John Coltrane is with the sax.

It’s hard to say whether it was him or Eric Clapton would be called rock’s first big guitar hero, but Jimi certainly was a more revolutionary entertainer.  His passionate performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” would become the template for every guitarist who performed it prior to sporting events.  He didn’t invent all of his guitar moves, but he gets credit for popularizing many of them.  Picking the strings with his teeth, playing behind his back, and even the iconic, Who-esque spectacle lighting of his guitar on fire at the Montery Pop Festival are among his most notable stunts.

He wrote many classic rock hits in such a short span, “Little Wing”, “Voodoo Child”, “Purple Haze”, “Fire”, “Foxy Lady”, “Manic Depression”, “The Wind Cries Mary”, and I’m likely leaving off a few obvious ones.  And then there’s his more famous than the original “All Along The Watchtower”, a great example of making a cover song his own, and it continues to get more airplay than Bob Dylan’s version.  To top it all off, he could sing them pretty well too, and had some interesting lyrics, even if occasionally misheard.  “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” would’ve been quite ahead of it’s time.

And I’m not a superstitious guy or anything, but I feel it’s almost mandatory I include one member of the infamous 27 club on this list.  Going off that list from memory, I think he had the biggest impact of all of them in the long run.  You could arguably make a case for Kurt Cobain, but as famous as he was at his peak, he was certainly a more polarizing figure.

David Bowie

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I view David Bowie as the rock star who helped elevate the genre into more of an art form, or at least the best representative of this to the general public.  This arm form was not solely in stretching out musically, but he did well to market himself on a visual level.  Some people may not know his music, but they would recognize him.  Like many my age, his role in the movie Labyrinth was my introduction to him.  Perhaps his acting career many have little to do with the music he produced, but it just gave a better picture of the artist’s desire to express himself through different mediums (he also painted).

Bowie never seemed content to just ride out a sound for a given time period.  He’ll find different collaborators constantly (Mick Ronson, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Reeve Gabrels, etc.) to help him realize his vision.  Aside from possibly his Ziggy Stardust era, where he held that sound and band for around four albums, he’d tweak the band or producer frequently enough to keep things fresh.  Even if you watch his A Reality Tour DVD, while he may be playing a good chunk of his “hits”, he surrounds himself with musicians that have the ability to inject a freshness into the material while leaving the spirit of their original recorded versions in tact.

A sign of a good artist is that you could ask five different people for their favourite Bowie album and you’ll have five different answers. You may not like every musical direction he took (his work with Tin Machine, for instance, doesn’t always get much praise), but at least he was willing to take chances.  He did this right up to the end of his life, with many people saying his swansong Blackstar was his best album in decades.

On that note, Bowie seemed to be one of the old guard of rock stars out there that people genuinely still looked forward to his releases towards the end of his career.  Had he not ceased touring in 2004, I don’t believe fans would be showing up expecting the hits.  I know that if I had the opportunity to see him live, I certainly wouldn’t have run off to the to the beer line if he played tracks from more recent albums like Heathen or Outside.

Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister

lemmy

Lemmy, I feel, can check off a number of boxes within the spectrum of rock.  His brand of music, with copious amounts of speed and aggression, married the newly-emerging punk rock of the mid-70s with the heavier brand of rock that arose in the late-60s (soon dubbed metal) when he founded Motorhead.  In the process, he united two types of music fans, both of which were often viewed as outcasts in an era when disco and ballad-saturated arena rock was dominating the airwaves.

There are many people who only know of Motorhead through the song “Ace of Spades” so he’s sort of a one-hit wonder, but still recognize Lemmy as a god among men.  That’s a big part of what makes him a legend.  He gained notoriety on his own terms with little to no compromise musically, churning out album after album of hard hitting rock and not a ton of variance.  In that regard, he’s sort of the yin to Bowie’s yang (or is it the other way round?).

Though parents may not like their children admiring long-haired rockers, he set a good example for them by showing that hard work can pay off.  Much of his early music career included serving as a roadie for bands (including The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Nice), then spending some time with Hawkwind before doing his own thing by being the main man in Motorhead.  Not exactly that job in a law firm you parents hoped for, but a decent paycheque nonetheless.

The man just brought it to the people, an absolute road warrior that performed until he couldn’t any longer.  I saw Motorhead twice live, including at Riotfest Toronto in 2015 parked right in front of the stage.  I believe it was his final Toronto show as he was dealing with health issues on a consistent basis.  It looked like he could barely move, and guitarist Phil Campbell was doing a good portion of the crowd work, but he still performed his ass off, was in good humour when he spoke, and the crowd was absolutely loving it.

A good point to end on is that he may seem like a rough dude from the exterior, but by most accounts was a very warm and welcoming man, a major factor of what makes him highly respected by musical peers even outside the hard rock circle.  That being said, if Mount Rockmore was to include arms, Lemmy would still be the one flashing the middle finger.

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Now, with the magic of my horrific photo editing skills, I present my Mount Rockmore:

Rushmore_Final

I think I’ve included a pretty good balance of musicians with diverse contributions to rock, but of course I don’t expect you all to agree with me. So how did I do? What would your four choices be? Would you keep any of my choices? Would you go in an entirely different direction? Or, if you want to push it further and add a fifth guy to the mountain like Deep Purple did on their iconic In Rock album cover, there’s plenty of room on Lemmy’s mole to squeeze that person on.