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.

Take it from me, Keith Ward Trio’s music rocks – want a free copy of the Syracuse grad’s new album?

Keith Ward's first album, '3 Days Till Next Year,' was recorded at Syracuse University in 2005.

I’ve been a fan of Keith Ward‘s music ever since he and I were in the same class in Syracuse University’s music industry program six, seven years ago. While I was more interested in the marketing, production and management side of the business (I can’t sing or play an instrument besides the turntables), he was more interested in simply making the music. And he does it well.

If you’ve ever been a fan of the gentler side of Ben Folds’ piano rock or wanted to hear a slightly jazzier version of Matt Nathanson, then his adult pop-rock sound is right up your alley.

His 2005 debut, 3 Days Till Next Year, was recorded at Syracuse University and includes my personal favorite track “#1.” It was downloaded more than 70,000 times when iTunes featured it as the Free Download of The Week. After graduating from SU, he recorded his second album Take Your Time and took it to prestigious venues such as New York City’s Bowery Ballroom and Sullivan Hall as well as The Troubadour in London.

On Tuesday, the singer-songwriter released his third opus, Take It From Me, with bassist Mike Chiavaro and drummer Jared Schonig backing him up as the Keith Ward Trio. Co-produced by Ward and Justin King at King’s Vinegar Hill Sound in Brooklyn, NY, you can get the album on iTunes and Spotify Worldwide or preview it at keithwardmusic.com.

Or you can get your own copy for free…

First Run Records is holding a “Tell your friends giveaway!” The first 50 people who click the Facebook ‘like’ button at the bottom of keithwardmusic.com will get a free copy of the new album. Just email firstrunrecords@gmail.com afterwards to tell them where you would like your copy sent to.

Here’s Keith Ward performing “What It’s Like” from the new album, live at London’s Half Moon Putney:

Please support Keith by checking out his music. He’s a Central New York native and a graduate of Fayetteville-Manlius High School and Syracuse University. Also, not only is it important to support independent music (especially the artists making GOOD music!) but he’s always been an awesome, humble guy with a great sense of humor and a friendly smile for everyone. Happy listening!

Fatboy Slim sings along with ‘Praise You’ – this video made me smile so much

I am a huge fan of Fatboy Slim, aka Norman Cook (aka The BPA, aka Beats International, aka Pizzaman, aka Freakpower, and so on…).

The 48-year-old musician has been somewhat reluctant to embrace social media, but he’s always open to trying new fun things. So when he was performing at Electro Venice Festival in June with Deadmau5, he asked if he could borrow the mouse-headed DJ’s helmet-strap camera. Fatboy put it on, and recorded himself kicking off his set with “Praise You,” even singing along (albeit not as well as the vocalist) with the record.

That’s the way music performances should be: fun, full of life, and a little ridiculous. This made me smile so hard, and I admit, when I’m DJing, I have trouble sometimes not getting caught up in the music and singing (or dancing) along.

Best 4th of July songs? My favorite music for watching fireworks on Independence Day

What's on your 4th of July soundtrack?

It’s Independence Day – what songs do you want to hear while watching fireworks light the night sky? You can listen to patriotic songs like “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA” if you want, or even country anthems like Toby Keith’s “Courtesy Of The Red White & Blue” but I prefer a more varied mix for my soundtrack to seeing those beautiful explosions in the sky*. Yes, 4th of July is the celebration of our nation’s birthday (we’re 235 years young!) but a lot of the songs I prefer on this holiday are about the whimsy and romance of sharing the view with someone special — or the heartbreak of watching those bottle rockets alone. Here’s what I listen to on this holiday:

Soundgarden – “4th of July”
If the world were really going to end on July 4th like aliens tried to do in Will Smith’s Independence Day, this would definitely be an appropriate track to hear.

Martina McBride – “Independence Day”
The only country song I enjoy on 4th of July, though McBride’s brand of the genre and most modern country isn’t really true “country” anyway.

Mariah Carey – “4th Of July”
“Truly I have never felt the same inside like that Fourth of July…” This song makes me the saddest on this list, but it’s a beautiful track and I could listen to it all day.

Katy Perry – “Firework”
This song has nothing to do with the holiday, and it’s the only time I’ve ever heard anyone refer to fireworks in the singular, but I love the overall message and the lyrically fist-pumping chorus.

Aimee Mann – “4th of July”
“Today’s the fourth of July, another June has gone by, and when they light up our town I just think ‘what a waste of gunpowder and sky,’ I’m certain that I am alone in harboring thoughts of our home…”

Plain White T’s – “Fireworks”
Probably the happiest song on this list: “Fireworks flyin’ whenever we’re together, I know, you know, that I know you love me.”

Bruce Springsteen – “Independence Day”
A troubled, quiet song representing the Boss’s many mixed emotions regarding patriotism.

Jimmy Eat World – “Just Watch The Fireworks”
Jim’s promise to see the fireworks with a lost love is an anthem for who’s ever been riddled with insomnia, waiting for them to come back.

Elliott Smith – “Independence Day”

“Gonna spend the day higher than high…” Elliott Smith truly was a Roman candle that blazed brightly and briefly on the music scene (he won an Oscar for Best Original Song with “Miss Misery” in Good Will Hunting) for a short time before his tragic suicide.

What songs do you have on your 4th of July soundtrack? Leave a comment!

*Note: There is also a band called Explosions In The Sky, which is worth checking out if you dig rock-based instrumental landscapes. Their music isn’t bad, but it’s better as background music than on your iPod workout mix, which is why so much of their stuff has appeared on the TV show “Friday Night Lights.”

Chillin’ like a villain: My all-time top 5 Bob Dylan songs

Today is Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. It may surprise you, but my first concert was actually Bob Dylan when I was 12 (which would mean he was 56). Being 12, I didn’t know any Bob Dylan songs except for “that ‘everybody must get stoned’ song” and the one from Dangerous Minds, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” (It was 1996.)

He didn’t play either song, which meant the concert was hard to enjoy but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized what an expansive catalog the guy has — hundreds of songs. I still don’t get the movie I’m Not There and I still think he’s a crap singer and a weak electric guitar player, but the man is undeniably a genius and has written some fantastic songs. Here are my five (plus one) favorite tracks by the troubadour himself:

1. “The Man In Me”
You gotta love the scene in The Big Lebowski when the Dude trips out to this song:

2. “Trouble In Mind”
Dylan didn’t write this blues classic, but I love his version — it’s sadly not on YouTube. Here’s a version by Leon Russell, Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt:

3. “The Times Are A-Changin'”
A timeless classic. I especially love the way it was used in the opening scene of Watchmen.

4. “Heart Of Mine”
Dylan wrote this great song, but Peter Malick Group and Norah Jones do it better.

5. “Like A Rolling Stone”
Another Dylan classic that’ll still be relevant in 50 years.

6. “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” – Mark Ronson Remix
Honorable mention — I love the modernization and the funky horns added by Ronson.

Happy birthday, Bob! Keep on chillin’ like a villain, Mr. Dylan.