Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Request Line: “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Down at McDonnelzzz,” “Eenie Meenie,” “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 20, 2010

Reader MBI Writes:

Fuck it, I’ve waited long enough. It’ll be certainly years before you get to this, but here are my next four requests:

Gladys Knight and the Pips – Midnight Train to Georgia
Electric Six – Down at McDonnelzzz
Sean Kingston & Justin Bieber – Eenie Meenie
Ben Folds Five – One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces

I really like three of these songs, and if you try to guess which one I don’t, you’ll probably be right.

OoooooooK.

Well, my man, all I can say is that for your sake, I certainly hope this isn’t the one song you don’t like. I remember back in my more-prominent webboarding days I took part in a thread where everyone mentioned songs they thought were unimpeachable, and saw if the song could go 24 hours in the thread without someone else mentioning that they either disliked or had never heard the song. I can’t remember what, if anything, ended up actually winning–I do remember Herb Alpert’s “Spanish Flea” having an incredibly long run at it, oddly–but I do wonder if anyone had the foresight to mention “Midnight Train to Georgia.” I’d be fairly surprised if someone I knew mentioned it as one of their all-time favorite songs (unless they experienced their formative years in the early-mid 70s, anyway), but if someone told me they didn’t know it or didn’t like it, it’d be a fairly Gas Face-worthy exchange. Everyone likes “Midnight Train to Georgia.” I’m not even sure what it would say about you as a person if you didn’t.

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Commercial Break: Like a Good Advertising Campaign, State Farm is There

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 14, 2010

Like no other advertising campaign in recent memory, I feel like State Farm’s latest series–referred to as “Magic Jingle” spots in the YouTube titles, so I guess that’s what were going with as a title–was created almost entirely to my specifications. It’s all there–the ridiculous central concept taken to an overly-literal extreme, the inexplicable gaps in general logic, the memorable quotes that work fantastically as out-of-context catch-phrases, even the little details in production that make the clips richer upon repeat viewings. As far as I can tell, the only things missing are the appearances of That Guy character actors in main or supporting roles and/or the use of classic pop songs badly in need of a 21st-century second life as either a plot fixture or a soundtrack. Those minor details aside, these spots are about as close as we’re likely to get to an Intensities in Ten Suburbs-approved platonic ideal for what the basic template of a classic ad campaign should be.

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Request Line: “Sacramento,” “Rasputin,” “What Do All the People Know,” “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hands”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 11, 2010

Reader Erick writes:

I’ll add to your backlog as well…

Middle of the Road – Sacramento (ed. note: Originally “Hotel Indiscreet” by Sagittarius, but changed by the requestor when YouTubes were unavailable)
Boney M – Rasputin
The Monroes – What Do All the People Know
Primitive Radio Gods – Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand

Nice mix here, certainly. Hope to run through a couple of these this week.

Does this actually sound like ABBA, or is this just what all 70s European pop groups with blonde, chipper-yet-dispassionate female lead singers invariably end up sounding like? Chuck Klosterman wrote a long essay in Eating the Dinosaur about how ABBA were, against most odds, able to remain consistently beloved for decades primarily because they were always entirely peerless in sound, and thus could not be traced back to any specific point in time as being “dated.” Perhaps this was actually just an extremely North Americanized view to take of things, and in reality ABBA had dozens and dozens of soundalikes overseas that were simply unable to make the jump across the pound. In any event, Middle of the Road were from the very beginning of the decade (debut single “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep,” a UK #1 hit, was from ’71, whereas ABBA’s debut single was in ’72 and true breakthrough was all the way in ’74), so perhaps Anni-Frid, Bjorn, Benny and Agetha were just ripping them off the entire time.

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Ten Things I’m Hoping to See in LeBron James’s FA Decision Special

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 8, 2010

It had to end this way. Yeah, you can hem and haw about the morality of the whole thing–lord knows that Adrian Wojnarowski took his crack at it from that angle, and he was certainly well within his right to do so–but really, what’s the point in complaining at this point? If you had woken up groggily at 7:30 A.M. to an ESPN.com headline: “LeBron to Cleveland: ‘I’m Comin’ Home!'” or “LeBron James: In a New York State of Mind!”…it wouldn’t have felt right, would it? After two-plus years of media hype leading up to two-plus weeks of utter media freakout, it would have seemed anti-climactic to just say to yourself “Oh, huh, looks like LeBron decided to go with the Cavs/Knicks/Bulls/Nets/Heat/Mavs/Bafana Bafana/Monstars, how about that” and then go about your day’s business. No, it had to be a media event unto itself, happening at a specific time that everyone knew to anticipate–primetime, no less. It had to happen the day after most of the other high-profile free agents announced their upcoming teams–possibly unwittingly–to whet the public’s appetite for the main event. It had to end like this.

So yes, I’ll be watching tomorrow at 9:00 when LeBron James goes live on ESPN to announce the team he will be signing with as a free agent (and possibly dictating the next ten years of the NBA in the process). I can’t wait, really. But in the interest of accepting this event in the spirit that it was given–that of straight-faced crassness and a severe distrust of moderation–I have a couple ideas of elements for the event itself, to allow it to best reach its maximum potential. (By the way, this max potential does not include LBJ buzz-killingly giving the game away in the first ten minutes, as he’s bone-headedly suggested he will do, so I’ve ignored that bit entirely.) After all, I’m gonna want to see this event marathoned endlessly on NBA Classic in the weeks leading up to July of 2015 or 2016, when we doubtless will be going through all this glorious nonsense once again.

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Request Line: “That’s What Love Can Do,” “Murder Reigns,” “Elvira,” “Life is Life”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 2, 2010

Reader Keith writes:

Hate to add to the backlog of requests, but I’d love to see what you do with an absurdly random song selection :)

Boy Krazy – That’s What Love Can Do
Ja Rule – Murder Reigns
Oak Ridge Boys – Elvira
Laibach – Life is Life

That is…impressively random. I’ll see what I can do.

It blows my mind a little bit that this was a hit in the year 1993. When listening to “That’s What Love Can Do” in preparation (I had it in my mp3 collection already so I must have heard it before, but had no particular memories) I assumed it was late-80s, or maybe from the very beginning of the pre-C&C Music Factory/EMF 90s. But 1993? I mean…this was the year of Ugly Kid Joe and Soul Asylum. Did we really still have room for these supernaturally chipper, synth-horn and cheesy piano-led dance pop tunes from the whitest of white chicks? Well, of course we did–Ace of Base was just around the corner, after all–but even still, Boy Krazy seems like they should have been one of the hundreds of acts whose faces were instantly melted, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style, by the opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” If only pop music was truly like it was in Behind the Music, I suppose.

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Request Line: “So Lonely,” “Devil Town,” “Road to Zion”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 23, 2010

I decided why not push my luck and hope that Andrew answers a second of my request

New request:

“Devil Town” – Bright Eyes
“Another Girl, Another Planet” – The Only Ones
“So Lonely” – The Police
“Road to Zion” – Damian Marley ft. Nas

Yeah, why not. Already took a shot at “Another Girl, Another Planet” though, so it’s gotta just be the other three.

Will admit–I had no idea this was a cover. The first time I remember hearing the song was during a montage in season one of Friday Night Lights (though Wikipedia tells me this was not the Bright Eyes version, but rather another cover by some folky scrub named Tony Lucca–they basically sound interchangeable so I’m going to talk about them as such). Heard it here and there for a little while, and again in the awful promos for season three, before looking into it before writing this article, where I found of course that the original was by cult hero Daniel Johnston. I don’t really know nothing about Johnston, aside from the awesome “Casper” off the Kids soundtrack and the fact that you’re contractually obligated to use the word “cult” at least once per sentence when talking about his music, but it seemed to make a decent amount of sense as being his song, and it made me wonder if hearing the original would diminish whatever respect I had for the Bright Eyes version.

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Request Line: “Maxine,” “Peg”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 11, 2010

Reader James Kushner e-mails:

Andrew–

Friday request:

“Maxine” by Donald Fagen

Thirty or so years later, I’m still blown away by the whole Nightfly album– how the prince of hip cynicism released an album that looked back on his hopes for maturity and sophistication from when he was a kid, and did so with no irony or cynicism at all. The frustrated adolescent sexuality and dreamy longing of “Maxine” is the high point of that album. And oh, those close harmonies.

Or, you might have a stab at “Peg” by Steely Dan. I regard this as the defining Studio Pop Construction of its era, in the same way that “Good Vibrations” was the defining Studio Pop Construction of the ’60s. (Rick Marotta is the hero of that recording.)

P.S. Re “Jessie’s Girl”: I remember reading, long ago, that that song did not have any bass guitar in it. Listening to it closely through my crappy computer speakers, I couldn’t tell if that was true or not. If so, that would be remarkable for a radio-friendly rock hit, no?

I think I can probably make time for a stab at both.  One I know extremely well and one I don’t really know at all, so hopefully they’ll balance out.

I’ve heard about The Nightfly for a while, and I think I even had it downloaded at one point, but all I’d really heard from it before this point was the hit single “I.G.Y.,” a delightfully breezy number that I always assumed carried some seething undercurrent of regret and/or resentment. Of course, the more I read about The Nightfly (and from your request itself), I gather that this may have been the one time in his career when Donald Fagen’s snazzy pop songs didn’t disguise sordid tales of gang rapes and last-stand benders, and weren’t delivered through a sneer and a double-scotch, but were rather just straight-faced, wide-eyed takes on the era of his adolescence. A little weird for me to think about–Fagen (and by proxy, Steely Dan) without the snide wit seems like it would make as much sense as an Andrew W.K. album with only a mild sense of enthusiasm. An interesting experiment, though, so let’s see.

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Request Line: Sam Cooke Pandora Station

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 9, 2010

Friend of the blog Kyle writes:

Step 1 – Create a Pandora station with “Sam Cooke” as the only criteria.
Step 2 – Listen to it for an hour
Step 3 – Tell us how much better your life is

I can definitely do at least two of those, Kyle. Tell you about the third in a bit.

I should say that my experience with Pandora is rather limited. I’ve only used it once, really, and signing into my long-dormant Pandora account months after reveals that when I did, I created three stations, each based on single songs: Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust,” The Meters’ “Cissy Strut” and (surprise) Icehouse’s “Electric Blue.” I vaguely remember them all being vaguely unsatisfying for largely the same reason–they were all too random, and yet not random enough. As someone who tends to eschew traditional LP listening for more of a song-oriented, varied approach in his personal music-listening time, and as someone who invariably spends many time-killing hours in front of a computer a day, it would seem that Pandora would be perfect for me. But little things about its uncontrolled atmosphere end up irking me–the way it would opt for live versions of songs instead of their obvious studio counterparts, the way it would repeat artists with precious little discretion, the way it chose songs that were either superficially similar but conceptually very different, or the other way around. For whatever reason, I guess I need a human element in my random music listening–the feeling that someone who knows what they’re doing is programming or at least overseeing the schedule to make sure that it never gets homogeneous, and never devolves into complete chaos.

Anyway, despite not opting to use Pandora much on my own time, for such business as this, I could certainly think of worse ways to spend an hour. Here’s what Pandora came up with for a Sam Cooke-themed station, from 12:16-1:16 AM EST on June 9th, 2010:

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Request Line: “Breaking Glass,” “Stevie Nix,” “The Obvioius Child,” “Only Wanna Be With You”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 8, 2010

Reader Justin writes:

Ok, as a long time reader, occasional commenter, here are my four carefully chosen picks:

Breaking Glass – David Bowie
Stevie Nix – The Hold Steady
The Obvious Child – Paul Simon
Only Wanna be with You – Hootie

Carefully chosen. I respect that.

The best song on Low, perhaps? Certainly the most underappreciated. I guess Low made its reputation largely on the weirdness of its instrumental second side, but it’s the crazy new wave stuff on side one that actually holds up as really being ahead of its time, and as some of Bowie’s most purely badass work. “Baby, I’ve been / Breaking glass in your room again.” Fantastic opening line for any number of reasons, mostly that it implies so much resignment and truly pathetic desperation without actually saying anything particularly damning–Bowie was never the type to dwell in self-pity, so he just kind of lays it out there in one mundane but surreal detail and lets you draw your own conclusions. Combined with the last line, in which Bowie appears to give the game away by suddenly blurting out “YOU’RE SUCH A WONDERFUL PERSON!!!,” but holds on to add the tempering qualifier “…but you got problems!“–it’s really a wonderfully snide, cutting, fucking funny little song.

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That Guy Salute: Jim Joyce, Umpire of Baseball’s Credibility

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 3, 2010

Over the next few days, you’re going to hear a whole lot of hubbub about a controversial call that took place in last night’s game between the Tigers and Indians. Facing catcher Jason Donald with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one retired batter away from a perfect game, a feat to ensure his place in baseball immortality. As Donald grounded sharply to first and Galarraga rushed to cover the bag and take infielder Miguel Cabrera’s throw for the sure put-out, the accomplishment looked to be in the books. But umpire Jim Joyce ruled Donald to have beaten the throw, granting him a base hit to ruin the perfecto. Showers of boos rained from the Comerica Park stands as what at first looked to be a questionable ruling turned out, upon replay, to be just a straight-up blown call, as the ball clearly beat Donald by a good half-step. Tigers color man Rod Allen (always one of MLB broadcasting’s more entertaining figures) memorably lamented upon review: “Oh! my! goodness! Jim Joyce, nooooo!!!!

Instantaneously, Jim Joyce reached such a level of infamy that quizzes like “Detroit Tiger Fans Worst Umpire,” “The Worst Umpire in the World,” and my personal favorite, “Perfect Games that Jim Joyce Has Blown,” all popped up on Sporcle within about a half-hour, and the comparisons to Don Denkinger ran so rampant that the Denk briefly became a trending Twitter topic. And as much as we’d like to defend his ruling–that it was a bang-bang play, that Donald wasn’t that far off, that maybe it was close enough to a tie and the tie always goes to the runner–there’s really no sugarcoating it: Dude blew the call. But while Joyce may have destroyed what should have been a career-making night for Armando Galarraga, he ended up saving (whether consciously or not) something much more important: The integrity of the Major League Baseball perfect game.

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