Album Challenge Day 4: John Grant’s “Pale Green Ghosts”

John Grant Pale Green Ghosts

My fourth choice for the album challenge has me jumping forward in time, but spotlighting a hugely impactful album, John Grant’s “Pale Green Ghosts”. This was a tough one since I absolutely adore “Queen of Denmark” but the follow-up “Pale Green Ghosts” contains some of Grant’s very best songs plus shows his eclectic nature, spotlighting not only his contrasting musical interests but his lyrics that veer from wallowing sadness to laugh out loud comedy. And what a grand voice!

The title song opens the album, immediately breaking with the previous album’s honeyed California sound, using insinuating electronic bleets, painting a haunting picture of growing up in the Midwest (I assume, but I’m never great at interpreting lyrics). “GMF” stands for Greatest Mother Fucker and is both hilarious and a great sing-along. And then there are songs addressing the same guy he obsessed about in “Queen of Denmark” (they apparently went out for only six months, but took years for Grant to get over). The album ends with “Glacier”, a transcendent and transfixing song that is better not described. There was no video made, but here’s the audio. Beautiful!

Grant’s got a fascinating bio, having had a career with The Czars before losing it all to drugs and alcohol, then making a miraculous resurrection after getting cleaned up and returning as a solo artist with “Queen of Denmark” while also dealing with being HIV-positive. Beyond the drama, he has a huge talent for languages and currently lives in Iceland (we went to Reykjavik to stalk him), loves his 80s music (yay Icehouse!) and is a great interview; much more will be revealed in a book he’s contracted to write about his life. We’ve seen him live four times and had tickets to see him again two weeks from now in London, but of course, that’s been called off and we’re home, but we can listen to his records and watch his videos and wait for the day we can see him live again.

Album Challenge Day 3: “Grease”

Grease

“Grease” is the Word. If you don’t love this movie and don’t feel compelled to sing-along, you may be dead inside. Check with your doctor.

Picture It: Hawaii 1978. At the time, I was a teen living in Japan on an Army base where we usually got movies and TV shows from the States a year late, but luckily I got a rare trip back to the Motherland where I was able to actually participate in late ’70s pop culture instead of reading about it (I still haven’t gotten over the year or so that it took me to finally see “Star Wars”). I also saw “Airplane” on that trip and although that was amazing, it didn’t rock my world the way “Grease” did.

Wow, who didn’t want to be Olivia Newton-John in those tight spandex pants and dance with John Travolta (before we knew the truth)? And there was the incredible cast including Stockard Channing, Didi Conn, Dinah Manoff, Eve Arden, Joan Blondell, Dody Goodman, and of course Frankie Avalon as The Teen Angel.

By some kind of miracle, it all worked. You see what a feat it was considering all the flop musicals that followed, trying to capture the magic, like “Xanadu”, “Can’t Stop the Music”, and even “Grease 2”.

And the songs! Along with the remarkable songs from the original musical such as “Summer Nights”, “Greased Lightning”, “Beauty School Dropout”, “Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee”, “Born To Hand Jive”, and of course “We Go Together”, the new songs made it even better: “You’re the One That I Want”, “Grease”, “Hopelessly Devoted To You”, and “Sandy”.

With the recent announcement of a “Grease” TV show, one can see the desire to recapture/extend/recreate the magic. But there’ll only be one “Grease”.

Album Challenge Day 2: Gary Numan’s “Telekon”

Telekon

My second choice for the album challenge is Gary Numan’s “Telekon”. No, this does not contain “Cars”, which is pretty much the only Numan song that Americans know despite the fact that he has a raft of hits and most recently hit No. 2 on the U.K. album charts. That was “Pleasure Principle”. “Tekelon” is the follow-up album, the first one of Numan’s that I bought, 40 years ago, which hooked me for a lifetime.

Although it’s the third album in his “machine” phase (after “Relicas” and “The Pleasure Principle”) and on the surface seems cold and wallowing in alienation, it’s got a very emotional, intimate feel to it. The songs are less hooky than the previous album, more complex and textured, with guitars (banned before) and more nuanced synths. The standouts are “This Wreckage”, “The Aircrash Bureau”, ‘Remind Me to Smile”, the glorious “I Dream of Wires” and “The Joy Circuit”, along with non-album single “We Are Glass” and a fabulous cover of Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies (First Movement)”.

I played this endlessly on my Walkman, using it as the soundtrack for sci-fi movies conjured in my heads inspired by his futuristic lyrics.

Anyhow, if you want to check out the rest of Numan’s discography, definitely get “Replicas” and “The Pleasure Principle” but also check out his recent “Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)” which has a harder, more goth feel than he started out with but displays his singular, unique talent.

Album Challenge Day 1: “Mary Poppins”

Mary Poppins Songs

I got challenged on Facebook by my friend Ibo Yilmaz to name 10 albums that have influenced my musical taste and upbringing.

One record per day over a 10 day period. No explanations (usually), no reviews, just the cover art. Well, because I’m posting it here, I’ll give some explanation. Each day, I have to nominate someone else, although haven’t decided if I will.

I’ve chosen “Mary Poppins” although it’s not the movie soundtrack with Julie Andrews but instead the version I grew up, called “10 Songs From Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins”. For some reason, this was not sung by Ms. Andrews but by Marni Nixon, famous for being the singing voice behind many a famous performance including Deborah Kerr in “The King and I”, Natalie Wood in “West Side Story”, and Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady”. However, Marni did appear lipsyncing her own voice, as Sister Sophia in “The Sound of Music”.

Whatever it was, I adored this album, playing it on our stereo console, a beautiful piece of furniture that had record player, reel-to-reel, and radio. Ah, why don’t they make these any longer?

I’d love to get one of these but replace the guts with new equipment.

And the songs, of course, are timeless: “Spoonful of Sugar”, “Jolly Holiday”, “Super-Cali-Fragil-Istic-Expi-Ali-Docious”, “Chim Chim Cheree”, “Step in Time”, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” and especially the haunting “Feed the Birds”.

This record instilled in me at an early age my love for musical theatre, or at least that style of music, given that I didn’t see a musical on stage until I was in high school.

I have a specific – somewhat sad – memory of playing this album when I was seven years old, dancing around the living room, turning it up hoping someone from outside would notice it and me and join in. But no one did – not for another 12 or so years when I came out of the closet. Well, a fabulously appointed closet filled with music.

So nine more albums to go.

HBO’s “Avenue 5”, A Scarily Prescient Comedy About A Fake, Incompetent Leader and His Death Wish Mob

Hugh Laurie in Avenue 5

To be honest, I wasn’t that interested in seeing “Avenue 5” despite the fact that it was created by the brilliant Armando Iannucci who birthed “Veep” and starred a raft of top actors including Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, and Himesh Patel, but decided to try one episode. And wow, I was surprised – but shouldn’t have been – that it’s good. Scarily good.

It starts out as a smart but goofy comedy, chronicling an eight-week space cruise that due to a malfunction turns into a three-year+ ordeal, riffing off the incompetence and arrogance of those “in charge” – much like “Veep”. However, as it continues, it moves beyond even “Veep” by showing the devastating and deadly consequences of clueless leadership and the deranged conspiracy-obsessed mob that follows them.

It comes to a head in Episode 8, “This Is Physically Hurting Me”, where the stupidity of the mob results in pointless death. Well, suicide, really.

Watching this episode, I immediately thought about the brainless Coronavirus parties, the pastors continuing to hold services thinking God will save them, the Spring Breakers who have come back from vacation and who are surprised they are now sick, the President’s cult members who believe the media is inflating death stats all in an effort to hurt their deity, and the Red State governors still refusing to give stay-at-home orders because there aren’t a lot of “China-men” or liberals in their states.

Iannucci is a genius. Yes, I’ll throw that out there! Who else could have shown – long before there was any whiff of a pandemic truly manifesting itself – the logical consequences of a fake, incompetent leader who has no clue what to do when a disaster happens nor is equipped to care about his followers who run like lemmings off a cliff, insisting gravity is a hoax.

Look, I do not wish for people to die just because they’re dumb. I just don’t like the fact their ignorance is allowing the virus to spread and endangering me and other people who actually believe in science.

Alright, here’s the (devastating) mob-scene clip from Episode 8, but I would recommend seeing the series from the beginning to see the entire disaster unfold. And Season Two is coming!