Top 10 best albums of 2013 (so far): Dawes, The Band Perry, Jamie Lidell and more

It was the busta rhymes, it was the wursta times…

The year in music is off to a promising start, including the return of Mr. Sexyback and Daft Punk (new album Random Access Memories drops May 21). Jurassic 5 reunited, and even PSY is back with “Gentleman,” managing to one-up the ridiculousness of last year’s inescapable “Gangnam Style.” If you haven’t been paying attention, your ears deserve to listen to some quality new music.

THE BEST: 2013’s TOP 10 ALBUMS (through April)
1. Dawes – Stories Don’t End
They’ve previously collaborated with Jackson Browne, whose chillout-and-be-groovy Americana sound fits this California band perfectly, and this new album is so captivating I had to listen to it all the way through — twice — before I could even check out anything else that came out that week.

2. The Band Perry – Pioneer
If you say “I like everything but country,” you haven’t listened to The Band Perry (and a dozen other great artists). Sibling trio Kimberley, Reed and Neil Perry drop some fantastic harmonies and infectious hooks that you’ll love to sing along with in the car. Remember that song “If I Die Young”? That was just a glimpse of how good they are.

3. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
You’ve heard this album by now. If it wasn’t JT, would we all think it’s so good? Perhaps not, but what I admire is that he and Timbaland didn’t fall into the trap of following popular music trends (i.e. dubstep or having David Guetta and Calvin Harris make the beats) and did their own thing. It’s groovy, and an expanded album (with 20 tracks, since it’s “20/20”) is due later this year.

4. Jamie Lidell – Jamie Lidell
If Beck were a British soul singer, he might sound like Jamie Lidell. Mix equal parts funk, soul, pop, dance, electronica and rock, let it simmer for 45 minutes, and then it’s bon appetit for your ears.

5. Eels – Wonderful, Glorious
Sometimes it’s hard to get in the mood to listen to Mark Oliver Everett, a.k.a. “E,” the one-man creative force behind Eels — because he makes so many different sounds. You’ve heard his songs in movies like Shrek, Knocked Up and Yes Man, but his entire genre-jumping discography is fantastic and mind-bogglingly unique. Check out the expanded edition of this album, too, for a few great B-sides and live versions of some of his past post-modern pop gems.

6. Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love
I may be biased because I knew several of the band’s members when they were students at Syracuse University where they first formed, but this is a solid album. Influenced in part by futurist thinker Ray Kurzweil, start with “Dance With Me” and enjoy.

7. Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll
While it seems unlikely that Patrick Stump, Pete Wentz and co. can “save rock and roll,” the title track featuring Elton John is fantastic. Skip “Young Volcanoes” and “Rat A Tat” (featuring Courtney Love), and you’ve got a great album that will make any emo/pop/punk fan glad to see FOB is back.

8. The Black Crowes – Wiser For The Time
I don’t like the Black Crowes, which should tell you just how good this live compilation is. The blues-tinged southern rock group is back stronger than ever after going on hiatus, shining the brightest on updated renditions of their ’90s material, plus covers of Bob Dylan (“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”) and the Blind Willie Johnson-inspired “Oh The Rain.”

9. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell – Love Has Come For You
The guy from The Jerk and the girl who sang “What I Am” in the late ’80s? There’s a new She & Him in town, and this one’s easier to listen to multiple times than Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. The banjo-playing comedian pairs up with the folk-singing wife of Paul Simon for a delightful mix of modern and traditional (“When you get to Asheville send me an email,” Brickell sings on the first track) that’s worth repeat listens.

10. Various Artists – The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver
I’ve always respected John Denver’s body of work, and these covers make me realize what a great songwriter he was. The world didn’t need another rendition of “Rocky Mountain High,” but check out fantastic contributions from Dave Matthews, Train, Brandi Carlile (“Take Me Home Country Roads”), Amos Lee, Old Crow Medicine Show and My Morning Jacket (“Leaving on a Jet Plane”).

Other new releases worth a listen: Free Energy’s Love Sign, Cold War Kids’ Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s We the Common, Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock and Roll (the title track featuring Elton John is fantastic) and Michael Buble’s To Be Loved (featuring a duet with Reese Witherspoon). Kid Cudi’s Indicud isn’t bad either, and I also still love New Kids On The Block’s single “Remix (I Like The).”

And the worst albums of 2013 (so far): Some musicians have been either mailing it in (we’re looking at you, Lil Wayne and or completely disappointing us. Avoid at all costs listening to the latest from Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, They Might Be Giants, Orianthi (remember her?) and Limp Bizkit. Brad Paisley and LL Cool J managed to insult anyone with taste on “Accidental Racist,” but it’s not all LL’s fault — the rest of Paisley’s album is equally terrible, especially “Facebook Friends” and “Those Crazy Christians.” I still don’t understand why critics like Frank Turner so much (though I like a couple songs on his new “folk-punk” album Tape Deck Heart) and the latest from Phoenix doesn’t hold a candle to their previous gems like “1901,” “If It’s Not With You” and “Too Young.”

Also, Snoop Dogg, who’s been “reincarnated” as reggae artist Snoop Lion, appears to have proved that you can overdose on marijuana.

But on the bright side, there’s still plenty of artists with music coming out later this year. Keep your eyes (and ears) open for new material from Jimmy Eat World, Daft Punk, Lady Antebellum, Deltron 3030 (!), Goo Goo Dolls, Eminem, Hanson, KT Tunstall and Britney Spears. Chali 2NA released a new EP in March, so hopefully he and/or the rest of Jurassic 5 will also have more on the way. And on their upcoming third album, maybe Vampire Weekend will finally live up to the hype started 5 years ago. Maybe.

Have I missed anything? What are your favorite releases of 2013 so far? Let me know!

Turn It Up 2012: My top 10 songs, albums of the year (and then some)

For some, 2012 was the year “Twilight” ended but the world didn’t. For me, it was another chance to discover great music from surprising sources — when I was obsessed with ’90s big beat like The Chemical Brothers, who would’ve guessed that 15 years later I’d become a fan of alt country (Drive-By Truckers! Tift Merritt!) or folk rock (Brandi Carlile!) or Swedish indie pop (Jens Lekman! First Aid Kit!)?? My tastes have changed, evolved, and broadened over the years — perhaps even more so now that I don’t work in radio and my hunger for finding great new artists is just as strong as ever. I love reading year-end music lists, and then comparing them to my own. Below are my favorite songs, albums (and then some) of 2012. Tune in and turn it up, kids!

10. R. Kelly – “Fool For You”
9. Missy Higgins – “If I’m Honest”
8. The Shins – “Simple Song”
7. Elle Varner – “So Fly”
6. Shearwater – “You As You Were”
5. The Coup – “Magic Clap”
4. Frank Ocean – “Bad Religion”
3. Regina Spektor – “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”
2. Blackberry Smoke – “Everybody Knows She’s Mine”
1. Jason Mraz – “I Won’t Give Up”

10. Usher – “Climax” (Flosstradamus and Diplo Remix)
9. Nas – “Reach Out” f/ Mary J. Blige
8. Little Mix – “Wings”
7. Rita Ora – “How We Do (Party)”
6. – “Scream and Shout” f/ Britney Spears
5. Ellie Goulding – “Anything Could Happen”
4. fun. – “Some Nights”
3. Gotye – “Somebody That I Used To Know” f/ Kimbra
2. One Direction – “What Makes You Beautiful”
1. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe”

10. Lana Del Rey vs. Notorious B.I.G. – “Notorious Origin”
9. Adele – “Skyfall”
8. Kid Koala – “3 Bit Blues” <— blues meets hip-hop turntablism
7. Jackson 5 – "If The Shoe Don't Fit"
6. The Rolling Stones – "Doom and Gloom"
5. Chiddy Bang – "Ray Charles"
4. Rye Rye – "Never Will Be Mine" f/ Robyn
3. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – "Mayla"
2. Carolina Chocolate Drops – "You Be Illin'" <— Run DMC cover for Record Store Day
1. Masters in France – "Playing With My Friends"

*Honorable mentions: Alabama Shakes, Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, Plan B, Bettye LaVette, The Little Willies, Jason Mraz, Fatboy Slim
10. Joss Stone – The Soul Sessions Vol. 2
9. Green Day – Uno!, Dos!, !Tre! <— yes, that's three albums
8. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
7. Melanie Fiona – The MF Life
6. Grace Potter – The Lion The Beast The Beat
5. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
4. Brandi Carlile – Bear Creek
3. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
2. Solange – True (EP)
1. K’Naan – Country, God or the Girl <— guests incl. Bono, Keith Richards,, Mark Foster, Nas, Nelly Furtado

5. Arrested Development / Sophistafunk
4. ‘Here Lies Love’ (musical written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim)
3. Yellow Dubmarine
2. LL Cool J / DJ Z-Trip
1. DJ Shadow

5. Re: Generation (collaborations like Skrillex with The Doors, Pretty Lights with Ralph Stanley & LeAnn Rimes? Good, fun concept but bad sounds.)
4. The Avalanches (still no new album yet! Again!)
3. Dubstep (the genre’s already starting to sound played out)
2. The Civil Wars (everyone just discovered how awesome they are, and they broke up)
1. The Ting Tings (their second album bombed… what happened to all those fun hand claps??!?)

What were your favorite songs/albums/etc of the year? Leave a comment below! I love listening to and discovering great new music!

Watch: Geoff ‘DeafGeoff’ Herbert speaks at TEDxBuffalo about being a deaf DJ

Geoff 'DeafGeoff' Herbert talks at TEDxBuffalo on Oct. 9, 2012

Geoff ‘DeafGeoff’ Herbert talks at TEDxBuffalo on Oct. 9, 2012 about being a deaf DJ and the importance of listening over hearing.

I was humbled and honored to be invited to speak at TEDxBuffalo, my first TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) event, about being a deaf DJ and the challenges I’ve faced in my life growing up mostly deaf. The event was held Tuesday, October 9, at Canisius College in Buffalo to an invite-only crowd and was also live-streamed online and recorded for future events.

In a speech titled “Listening Is More Important Than Hearing,” I shared how I was born with a profound binaural hearing loss and learned how to communicate through years of speech therapy. I demonstrated some of the challenges that come from lipreading, such as how “V” and “F” look identical but the sound is different by how much air comes out of your mouth and whether your voice box vibrates when saying it. I then talked about falling in love with music, and its transformative power that led me to pursuing a career in radio — and never once letting my “disability” stand in the way. I learned to appreciate music by listening to it, not just hearing it, and worked hard at radio stations in high school and college before landing a job at Clear Channel’s HOT 107.9 in Syracuse as a morning show producer and sidekick known as “DeafGeoff.” I worked with “Marty & Shannon in the Morning” for six years as possibly the only mostly deaf on-air personality in the country and our show was rated No. 1 in its target 18-34 demographic.

I’m now a producer/entertainment reporter at, the online affiliate of The Post-Standard newspaper but the challenges I face today are the same. At a radio station disc jockey (or as a club DJ), you have to listen to what your audience wants and respond to it. Social media users and website readers will often comment and/or share stories, and it’s the same thing — listening to the audience, responding to them, and continuing to inform and/or entertain.

I’m also still a DJ for parties, dances, weddings, events, etc. and I’m constantly listening to music and studying it, watching audiences to see how they react to songs. It’s amazing how hearing a favorite tune can change a person’s mood — or force them to start moonwalking (or shuffling or Gangnam-Styling or whatever) because the music is that infectious.

You can watch video of me speaking at TEDxBuffalo here, but please check out the other speakers as well. All had great, unique thoughts to bring to the event and I was happy to be a part of it.

Thank you to all who watched and tweeted me their thoughts afterwards, and thank you to Kevin Purdy for inviting me to speak at TEDxBuffalo. If anyone has any follow-up questions or would like to know more, please feel free to email me.

April 29, 1992: Sublime’s lyrics still a powerful time capsule of Rodney King beating, L.A. riots 20 years later

April 29, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the day that a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of beating Rodney King, despite a video that clearly showed otherwise. According to CNN, four white cops yelled racial slurs as they hit the 25-year-old black man more than 50 times with their wooden batons and shocked him with an electric stun gun, and outrage over the not guilty verdict caused nearly a week’s worth of insanity in the streets. “Can’t we all get along?” King famously asked, but the L.A. riots and violence in other cities led to more than 50 deaths and $1 billion in property damage.

The incident has been immortalized in several songs, but perhaps none more so than Sublime’s “April 29, 1992 (Miami)” from their 1996 self-titled album. Lead singer Bradley Nowell, who overdosed on heroin just months before the band’s breakout release, adds to the confusion of those riots by singing the wrong date in the lyrics — indeed, on the album most fans of the ska/punk/reggae group have, Nowell sings “April 26, 1992” which is clearly a mistake but the band supposedly kept it because it was the strongest take. (He sings the correct lyric in the “April 29, 1992 (Leary)” version that appears on 2006’s 10th anniversary two-disc deluxe edition of the album, produced by Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary. Sublime with Rome sings it as “April 29,” also.)

The song includes samples of southern California police radios, scratched clips from rappers Doug E. Fresh and Mobb Deep, and describes a list of towns and cities where riots took place that week (starting with Miami). Though the pseudo-anthem troubles one writer 20 years later, Nowell brags about looting his local liquor store and stealing equipment from a music shop, “’cause everybody in the hood has had it up to here.”

“April 29th, 1992 (Miami)” lyrics:

(SAMPLE: “I don’t know if you can, but can you get an order for Ons, that’s O-N-S, Junior Market, the address is 1934 East Anaheim, all the windows are busted out, and it’s like a free for all here, and uh, the owner should maybe come down here and see if he can secure his business, if he wants to”)

April 26th, 1992
There was a riot on streets
Tell me where were you?
You were sittin’ home watchin’ your TV
While I was participating in some anarchy
First spot we hit it was my liquor store
I finally got all that alcohol I can’t afford
With red lights flashin’, time to retire
And then we turned that liquor store into a structure fire
Next stop we hit, it was the music shop,
It only took one brick to make the window drop
Finally we got our own P.A.
Where do you think I got this guitar that you’re hearing today?

(SAMPLE: “Call fire and tell them respond local station out to meet us at Anaheim. It’s uh, flaming up good.” “10-4 Alamidos at Anaheim”)

When we returned to the pad to unload everything
It dawned on me that I need new home furnishings
So once again we filled the van until it was full
Since that day my livin’ room’s been much more comfortable
‘Cause everybody in the hood has had it up to here
It’s getting harder, and harder, and harder each and every year
Some kids went in a store with their mother
I saw her when she came out she was gettin’ some Pampers
They said it was for the black man
They said it was for the Mexican
And not for the white man
But if you look at the streets, it wasn’t about Rodney King
In this f*cked-up situation and these f*cked-up police
It’s about comin’ up and stayin’ on top
And screamin’ 1-8-7 on a mother f*ckin’ cop
It’s not in the paper, it’s on the wall
National Guard
Smoke from all around

(SAMPLE: “Units, units be advised of an attempted 211 to arrest now at 938 Temple, 9-3-8 Temple,
thirty subjects with bats trying to get inside the CP’s house…he thinks out there trying to kill him”)

‘Cause as long as I’m alive, I’ma live illegal

Let it burn
Wanna let it burn, wanna let it burn
Wanna wanna let it burn
(I feel insanity)
Riots on the streets of Miami
Whoa, riots on the streets of Chicago
On the streets of Long Beach
In San Francisco
Riots on the streets of Kansas City
Tuskaloosa, Alabama
Cleveland, Ohio
Fountain Valley, Paramount, Victorville
Eugene, Oregon
Eureka, California
Santa Barbara
Winnemucca, Nevada
Phoenix, Arizona
San Diego
Lakeland, Florida
f*ckin’ 29 Palms

(SAMPLE: “Any unit to assist Frank-74, Willow at Caspian… structure fire and numerous subjects looting)
(10-15 to get rid of this looter”)

» Video: Rodney King looks back without anger
» Al Sharpton, Trayvon Martin family urge peace on 20th anniversary of L.A. race riots

Social media #fail: How AARP’s Notorious B.I.G. tweets lost sight of their audience

The Notorious AARP

Social media fail: The Notorious AARP

March 9, 2012, was the 15th anniversary of Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace’s death. “R.I.P. Notorious B.I.G.” was a trending topic throughout most of the day as fans mourned the loss of one of rap music’s most loved artists in the ’90s and the voice of hip-hop gems like “Hypnotize,” “Mo Money Mo Problems” and “Juicy.”

Some brands choose to capitalize on social media trends by joining the conversation and attempt to draw some attention. That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it’s so easy to do it in the wrong way (See: Kenneth Cole) and anger thousands of customers.

AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, touts itself as “leading a revolution in the way people view & live life after 50.” In other words, they’re an organization that helps retired people — older people, mostly senior citizens. (Seriously, in this economy, how many retired people do you know between the ages of 50 and 65?)

Yesterday, AARP joined the conversation with #NotoriousAARP tweets and requests for fans (plus artists like Jay-Z, MC Hammer, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg) to submit ideas for #AARPrapsongs. “We miss you, Biggie,” their official account posted Friday morning, sparking a conversation that was dubious at best.

“That tweet makes me forgive you for being on your mailing list for the past decade, although I’m under 40,” @macvitula responded. @NickReisman added, “Clearly this is designed to make my father feel less old when getting membership offers.”

As one blog pointed out, it sounded like someone’s grandson was running the association’s official Twitter account instead of their target older audience (who may or may not still be having trouble with webcams). That’s when social media is making a mistake — know your brand’s voice and, perhaps more importantly, know your audience.

Notorious B.I.G. would have turned 40 this year. Even if the AARP really has a significant number of members that are in their early 50s, a 50-year-old still would have been 34 when the single “Big Poppa” earned the rapper his first Grammy nomination in 1996 — already out of the age demographic of MTV and radio stations that would have played his songs.

Luckily, AARP hasn’t seemed to spark much of a furor — yet. Most of their members may still be figuring out this “Facebook thing” and haven’t even heard about what’s going on Twitter. And in case you were wondering, their Facebook page has zero mentions of Biggie. All they posted yesterday was pictures of a puppy contest called “Mutt Madness” and a link for members to get 10% off from exercise equipment from Smooth Fitness, which bears repeating my other point: keep your social media voice consistent.

By the way, for those hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel, @AARP still thinks their audience is a twentysomething (or even thirtysomething) hipster. “Working on a Storify curating the top #SXSW news, ideas and info for 50+… Tweet us if you hear something cool,” their Twitter account posted on Saturday morning.

Why DJ Earworm’s ‘United State of Pop 2011’ mashup mix goes BOOM — in a bad way

He’s back. DJ Earworm, who has famously released a USOP (“United State of Pop”) mega-mashup mix of the year’s top 25 Billboard hits for the past four years, has released his epic 2011 mashup, titled “World Go Boom.” And it really does go boom — in a bad way.

First of all, I give credit to him for trying — the timeliness of the mix is a lot of pressure on a DJ (he basically has the last three weeks of December to really put it together or else it’d be 2012 and no one would care about 2011 anymore). Plus, the task is heavy. His USOP mixes 25 completely different Top 40 songs into a 5-minute song with accompanying music video — it’s hard to represent 25 songs in such a short amount of time, and it’s especially difficult considering the source material ranges from pop, rock, dance, hip-hop, R&B, and soul music, all at different tempos.

But while the first mix in 2008 had the element of surprise to it (I instantly loved it), criticizing Earworm’s mixes gets easier each year. This year’s mix is much more listenable than 2010’s “Don’t Stop The Pop,” but it fails to live up to what the mix’s goal is — to mix the year’s top songs into one mega mashup that resembles the year in music. DJ Earworm himself admits that he ignored Billboard’s actual top 25 songs of 2011 list (he cut Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are” and Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now,” for example) but the real problem is this: His mix doesn’t sound very much like the year in music 2011. There’s a lot of Katy Perry and Rihanna, sure, but Adele is barely included and she’s easily the #1 artist of the year (her two singles sold more than 8 million copes in the U.S. alone). I didn’t even notice a few of the songs Earworm claimed to include, either, like Jeremih’s “Down On Me” and Black Eyed Peas’ “Just Can’t Get Enough.”

Here’s the list of songs he included in this year’s mix, released Christmas Day 2011, and you tell me if you really hear all of them:

Adele – Rolling In The Deep
Adele – Someone Like You
Black Eyed Peas – Just Can’t Get Enough
Bruno Mars – Grenade
Bruno Mars – The Lazy Song
Britney Spears – Till The World Ends
Cee Lo Green – F* You
Enrique Iglesias – Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You)
Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks
Jennifer Lopez – On The Floor
Jeremih feat. 50 Cent – Down On Me
Katy Perry – Firework
Katy Perry – E.T.
Katy Perry – Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
Lady Gaga – Born This Way
LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem
LMFAO – Sexy and I Know It
Lupe Fiasco – The Show Goes On
Maroon 5 – Moves Like Jagger
Nicki Minaj – Super Bass
OneRepublic – Good Life
Pink – Raise Your Glass
Pitbull – Give Me Everything
Rihanna – S&M
Rihanna – We Found Love

Instead, all I hear is a fun dance beat with a lot of “Boom boom” that would’ve been better suited for a year when Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” came out. There’s some fun snippets of 2011’s most popular songs, sure, but I think Earworm’s biting off more than he can chew with each subsequent year-end mix and should consider trying something new. After all, I’ve listened to the song once — and I don’t feel any desire to hear it a second time.

Click here to download the United State of Pop 2011 (World Go Boom) mashup mix mp3 from DJ Earworm and analyze it yourself. Feel free to disagree.

Deaf The Halls: DeafGeoff’s hilarious album of Christmas songs and holiday parodies, revisited

Deaf The Halls, DeafGeoff's holiday parody album

'Deaf The Halls' is a holiday album featuring Christmas and Hanukkah songs, plus parodies sung and rapped (badly) by DeafGeoff. Be careful when listening in the car, you may drive off the road laughing.

In my radio days at HOT 107.9, I recorded songs as DeafGeoff on my own holiday albums called “Deaf The Halls.” I sang and rapped so badly that everyone seemed to get a kick out of it (and I enjoyed having fun with it), so I couldn’t resist doing it for four years straight. I did my own versions of some Christmas classics, a couple tunes for the Hanukkah crowd, and even wrote a few parodies of popular songs by Kanye West, Mystikal, and Bing Crosby. I put together a sort of “greatest hits” in 2008, and for those that would like to hear it again — or have never heard it! — here’s the track listing, a free .zip download of the mp3 files, and four music videos from Deaf The Halls. Enjoy!

Deaf The Halls: The Deaf-initive Collection
1. Toy Lockdown (parody of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”)
2. Deaf The Halls, Part 1
3. Deaf In A Box
4. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
5. Party Like Santa Claus (parody of Shop Boyz’ “Party Like A Rock Star”)
6. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
7. I Have A Little Dreidel
8. Ho Ho Ho f/ Marty & Sugarcane Chris (parody of Hurricane Chris’ “A Bay Bay”)
9. Jingle Bell Rock
10. Deaf The Halls, Part Deux (parody of Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass”)
11. The Chipmunk Song f/ Marty & Shannon
12. Deaf Christmas
13. Santa Baby
14. Do You Hear What I Hear?
15. Cholla At Ya Boy (Happy Chanukah) f/ Jus Mic
16. Baby It’s Cold Outside w/ Marty the One Man Party
17. The Christmas Song
18. Last Christmas
19. Silent Night
20. Auld Lang Syne

» Click here to download the “Deaf The Halls” collection in mp3 format [.zip file]

Deaf The Halls, the music videos:

Merry Chrismukkah and Happy Festivus (for the rest of us)!

Happy 11/11/11: Here’s 11 of my favorite songs to turn it up to 11

In the spirit of Spinal Tap, who famously added a notch to the volume control for awesome music to be turned up to 11, and inspired by NPR’s 11/11/11 list, here are 11 of my favorite songs that I love to listen to loud. (For the record, being hard-of-hearing, I like to listen to all music loud but I enjoy these tracks especially at full volume.)

1. Hall & Oates – “You Make My Dreams”
This song is dancefloor kryptonite for me. I cannot help but giddily dance to it every time I hear it, and I always want to hear it loud.

2. Led Zeppelin – “Kashmir”
Ha, or you could turn up Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me” featuring Jimmy Page.

3. The Dears – “Battle of Human Kindness”
My favorite indie rock/pop song of all time; I love the drums and it’s got such a great message. “I’m gonna change, I’m gonna change…”

4. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Free Falling”
Even before Jerry Maguire, we were all screaming along off-key with this track.

5. A Tribe Called Quest – “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo (Vampire Mix by Fatboy Slim)”
My favorite ATCQ song, made even better by Norman Cook himself. Lil Wayne sampled it to make “A Milli.”

6. The Beta Band – “Dry The Rain”
At 1:30, John Cusack plays the best part of this song. If you haven’t seen High Fidelity (or read the book), you really need to. Now. Go. I’ll wait.

7. Queen – “I Want to Break Free”
Of course, any Queen song is fantastic loud, but I love the guitar solos in this one especially.

8. Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs – “Beg, Steal or Borrow”
This dude’s voice is amazing. I could listen to this song especially all day, every day.

9. The Beatles – “Oh! Darling” / “Revolution” / “Don’t Let Me Down”
The Beatles pumped out so many great songs in such a short amount of time, but these three are especially great at full volume. Here’s Yellow Dubmarine, an awesome reggae Beatles tribute band, performing “Oh! Darling” live in Syracuse:

10. Jason Mraz – “I’m Yours”

I’m not sure I’ll ever get sick of this song, and every live performance of it is fantastic.

11. DJ Z-Trip – “Motown Breakdown, Pt. 1”
Anything by Z-Trip should be played loud, but here he takes you through Jackson 5, The Temptations, Boyz II Men, Marvin Gaye and more Motown legends in just 9 minutes.

A few of you sent in your own suggestions for songs to turn it up to 11 via Twitter, including The Police’s “Synchronity,” Rush’s “Limelight,” the “Jock Jams Megamix,” U2’s “Pride,” even boy bands and Simon & Garfunkel. If you have more songs to add that should be turned up to 11, leave a comment below!

Happy 11/11/11 Day, kids, and remember: TURN IT UP & GO DEAF.

Happy birthday, Freddie Mercury: My top 10 Queen songs

September 5, 2011 would have been Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday. (Happy birfday, Freddie!) The enigmatic Queen singer was 45 when he died of AIDS in 1991, twenty years ago, but he left behind an awesome library of music that few bands have been able to even measure up to. Whether you want to call it operatic rock, vocal metal, or just straight-up classic rock, the music of Queen from 1973 to 1989 was just phenomenal.

Have you ever met someone who says they don’t like Queen? Or doesn’t know their music?? I hope not. If you ever do, you have two options — either shun them for life and never speak to them again, or have them listen to a dozen songs and show them the error of their ways. Start with these ten songs…

My Top 10 Queen Songs:
1. I Want To Break Free
2. Bohemian Rhapsody
3. Under Pressure (with David Bowie)
4. Somebody To Love
5. We Will Rock You
6. Fat Bottomed Girls
7. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
8. Don’t Stop Me Now
9. I Was Born To Love You
10. Stone Cold Crazy

Mercury wrote or co-wrote seven of those ten songs. Of course, usually I write top 5 lists but it’s hard enough to reduce Queen’s music to just 10 great songs. I’d be much more comfortable with a top 25 list, so I could include classics like “Another One Bites The Dust” and “We Are The Champions” and “Let Me Live” and “Killer Queen” and… you get the idea. (I’m not a fan of the Queen + Paul Rodgers or the Queen + Robbie Williams material, but I still respect the musicians’ efforts. It’s just not the same without Freddie.)

By the way, did you know that Freddie’s real name was Farrokh Bulsara? He spent the vast majority of his life in London, England, but he was born in Zanzibar and lived in India for some time. In 2000, when I was 16, I visited London with my family and one of the places we saw was Freddie Mercury’s home where fans have spray-painted the powerful messages of his lyrics along the gate surrounding the house. Here’s a picture of me standing in front of it, next to the title of my favorite Queen song, “I Want To Break Free”:

Freddie Mercury's London home

16-year-old Geoff standing outside Freddie Mercury's London home in 2000. Were those shorts ever fashionable?

Bruno Mars vs. Lady Antebellum: How did a pop artist get a bigger crowd than country at the NYS Fair?

Bruno Mars drew a record 35,000 fans to New York State Fair's Chevy Court on Wednesday, August 31, 2011.

On September 1, 2010, rising country act Lady Antebellum drew a record crowd of 30,000 at the New York State Fair‘s Chevy Court. Almost exactly a year later on August 31, 2011, pop/R&B singer Bruno Mars broke the record with an estimated 35,000 watching him perform on the same stage.

How?? And why doesn’t anyone believe a pop act could get a bigger crowd than a country artist at the NYS Fair?

Let me give you some background information, for those not familiar. The New York State Fair is one of the largest state fairs in the U.S., drawing about 1.1 million people over the 12-day event in Syracuse. The concerts held at the fair are always a hot topic and a crowd magnet (besides the fried food, wine, animals, rides, games and people-watching) and traditionally country artists like Rascal Flatts have pulled in the biggest audiences.

There are two main concert stages at the NYS Fair. The Mohegan Sun Grandstand tends to host the big-name artists and requires paid admission (tickets ranged from $35 to $65 this year though prices were reduced for two underselling concerts to $15), seating 17,000 people. The Chevrolet Court stage (also known as Chevy Court and formerly known as Muffler Court) has two different acts daily, free with admission to the fair, and has seating for 5,000 people — but many more can stand in the aisles and pack the surrounding area. The Grandstand used to have entertainment on all 12 nights of the fair but officials changed that to 7 concerts recently and put more emphasis on getting bigger acts at Chevy Court.

When Lady Antebellum played at Chevy Court last year, they were on their fourth consecutive #1 country song and chart-smasher “Need You Now” had just recently crossed over to pop and adult contemporary radio. So it surprised absolutely no one when Hilary Scott, Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley drew 30,000 fans and set a record for crowd attendance.

Bruno Mars, on the other hand, has six top 5 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 all within the past 15 months, including “Grenade,” “Just The Way You Are” and his appearances on B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire.” He’s sold more than 15 million singles, wowed everyone at the Grammys this year with his lively doo-wop rock performance, and made headlines again this week with his soulful tribute to Amy Winehouse, performing “Valerie” at the MTV Video Music Awards (even though it’s actually a Zutons song that Amy covered on a Mark Ronson record). It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he drew 35,000 fans but it did. Why?

Here’s the rub. When Lady A was on the Chevy Court stage last year, two things limited their crowd from being bigger than it was — one, Justin Bieber was performing a sold-out show on the Grandstand stage at the same time that night; and two, anticipation for the record crowd at the fair that day may have drove some people to avoid the mob and stay home altogether. No one was on the Grandstand stage when Bruno Mars performed Wednesday, so he had no competition for an audience. Also, media didn’t fuel as much hype so very few people expected a crowd so large that some might want to avoid.

Plus, country fans (like any genre-specific group of fans) tend to think their music is bigger than it is. Yes, country music is hugely popular and has a lot of loyal fans, but pop music is more popular because that’s the very nature of the genre — it’s for the mainstream masses. And for further perspective, Lady Antebellum played at the New York State Fair Grandstand again this year, drawing only 9,800 people. Four other Grandstand concerts this year pulled in bigger crowds — Train/Maroon 5, Journey/Foreigner, Selena Gomez and Sugarland/Sara Bareilles — three of which had pop acts on the bill. Just saying.