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!

BEST SONGS OF 2012
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”

BEST POP/ETC. SONGS OF 2012
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. will.i.am – “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”

SONGS I LOVED AND WAS OBSESSED WITH FOR TWO WEEKS
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"

2012’s BEST ALBUMS
*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, will.i.am, Mark Foster, Nas, Nelly Furtado

BEST SHOWS I SAW LIVE IN 2012
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

THE YEAR’S BIGGEST MUSIC DISAPPOINTMENTS
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!

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Last Requests: 25 songs you need to hear before the world ends

Judgment Day, the Rapture and the end of the world may or may not take place starting May 21, 2011… But as long as humankind is mortal, all of us will see an end one day or another. So if you have a bucket list, I suggest you try and make a dent in it and do everything you want to do — start with exposing your ears to good music. Here are 25 amazing songs that, if you’ve never heard before, you need to listen to NOW:

1. Playing For Change – “Stand By Me”
One camera and one microphone captured street musicians around the world performing this Ben E. King cover. In a word? Amazing.

2. The Dears – “The Ballad of Human Kindness”
Possibly my favorite indie rock song of all time. The message is powerful and the lyrics are infectious.


3. Peter Malick Group – “Heart Of Mine” feat. Norah Jones

Bob Dylan is a fantastic songwriter but a terrible singer. So just let Norah Jones sing his songs and they’ll all be amazing.

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Holiday gift guide for the music lover in your life

Today is the busiest shipping day of the year for Christmas mail, but you’ve still got a little bit of time to send holiday packages out and make sure they get to your loved ones before December 24th. If you haven’t gotten something for the music lover in your life yet, here’s some suggestions:

Tape Express

You’ve already seen the USB Turntable ($160) that lets you record your favorite vinyl into mp3s on your computer, but did you know that you can easily do the same with your old mixtapes and early Boyz II Men cassettes? Get the Tape Express ($80) at Urban Outfitters and you can capture every hiss and pop on that mix your junior high girlfriend gave you.
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Getting married? 5 tips for picking your wedding music (from a DJ).

The Gloss came up with some great tips for wedding do’s and don’ts on Facebook, including how much information to post and how often.  So it made me think, where else could future brides and grooms use some advice?  Music.  I’ve DJed a good number of weddings, and here’s my advice to you:

1. For your first dance, pick a short song.
It doesn’t have to be a slow song, but you should be able to move to it. This is your first time dancing as a married couple, so the song should obviously have special meaning to you two – it doesn’t have to be “your song,” but pick something that represents you, your relationship, and your personalities.  If your first date was at a Green Day concert, that’s fine, but pick something a little more romantic.  Keep in mind that everyone at the wedding will be watching you, so try to pick something that’s 3 minutes or less – otherwise it’ll get boring (and awkward) for you, your partner, and everyone watching.  If your song is 4:15, talk to the DJ about editing the song to a shorter version – make a custom edit with one less verse or a fade out, especially if it’s a song most people won’t know. (I’ve seen people start clapping halfway through a five minute song all too often.)  And practice dancing to it – you don’t need to take lessons, but if you can do one or two little “moves” to entertain the people watching, that’s huge.

2. Mother/son and father/daughter dances should be short, too.
The first dance is special to the bride and groom, but it’s also special to everyone at the wedding – they’ll love taking pictures and gushing over how “in love” the newlyweds look. Most weddings will typically have a dance for the groom and his mother, as well as the bride and her father. For these, the crowd is again expected to stand around and watch, but let’s be honest – these moments are special only to the people in them.  The bride, the groom, their parents.  Here, it’s better to pick a song the crowd will know (and can sing along with) and even more important to pick a short song or make a custom edit.  2 minutes may sound short, but it’ll cover two verses and two choruses (usually) and will give everyone their “moment” without wearing the patience and attention of your audience.

3. Dinner music is for the background.
Obviously no dance music should occur when people are trying to eat, chat and (probably) have a few drinks to loosen up for dancing.  Here, more classics and romantic tunes would make the most sense, but don’t assume it should be all Frank Sinatra and Rod Stewart.  Picking songs for this part of the night isn’t as important as simply giving a few suggestions, and that’ll let the DJ know how much variety to throw in here.  This part is all about atmosphere, so sweet and gentle pop tunes work best.  Cliché songs like Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat’s “Lucky” are actually good here.

4. Pick music for everyone to enjoy – a little of this, a little of that.
At the average wedding, the guest list age range is from 2 months to 92 years old.  If you like one particular kind of music (say, country) that’s fine but make sure you’re still picking a few oldies that grandma will like, maybe a couple Disney-pop tunes for younger nieces and nephews.  In other words, play a little something for everybody – for different age groups, different genres; a little new, a little old; some fast, some slow.

5. Do NOT pick every song that you want played – let the DJ choose some music for the dancing hour.
Who’s the professional here?  You may love music (who doesn’t?) and make great iPod playlists for road trips, but how much experience do you have picking music for 100+ people?  Do you know what everyone wants to hear?  And when?  If you’ve hired a good DJ, they’ll know when to play Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson, if they’ll like swing, or if a new hip-hop song will work for the crowd.  A good rule of thumb is to come up with three lists – 1) songs you definitely want played, 2) songs you absolutely do not want played (i.e. “YMCA”), and 3) a general list of songs you’d like to have played. Then give the DJ the freedom to choose when to play the songs, take requests, and to read the crowd or play different music not on your lists – again, if you’ve hired a good DJ, they’ll know what to do to make you happy and entertain your guests.  It’s your day, but you want your friends and family to have fun on your day, too. There’s more to a good party than free food and drink.

Looking for a DJ? I’d love to DJ your event, and I’d also be happy to answer any questions or make suggestions to make your wedding the best possible experience for both you and your guests.

100 Worst Songs Ever

AOL Radio posted their list of the 100 Worst Songs Ever and most of it is easy enough to agree with.  However, I actually like about 15 songs on the list (denoted in bold) – which songs do you like?  Which songs aren’t on the list that should be?

100 Worst Songs Ever
1. DJ Pauly D – “Beat Dat Beat”
2. Baha Men – “Who Let The Dogs Out”
3. Vanilla Ice – “Ice Ice Baby”
4. Ricky Martin – “She Bangs”
5. Aqua – “Barbie Girl”
6. MC Hammer – “U Can’t Touch This”
7. Helen Reddy – ” I Am Woman”
8. Right Said Fred – “I’m Too Sexy”
9. Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder – “Ebony & Ivory”
10. Los Del Rio – “Macarena”
11. Celine Dion – “My Heart Will Go On”
12. Spice Girls – “Wannabe”
13. Creed – “With Arms Wide Open”
14. C.W. McCall – “Convoy”
15. Gerardo – “Rico Suave”
16. Gwen Stefani – “Hollaback Girl”
17. Hanson – “MMMBop”
18. Billy Ray Cyrus – “Achy Breaky Heart”
19. Will Smith – “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”
20. 4 Non Blondes – “What’s Up?”
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Playing For Change “Stand By Me”

My friend (and fellow net nerd) Julie showed me this cool video of different unknown musicians around the world singing “Stand By Me” – mixed entirely by the use of a microphone, a video camera and headphones.  Not a studio.  Watch this and try, just try, to tell me it’s not one of the most amazing things you’ve ever seen and heard:

Playing For Change is a ten year project of Grammy-winning music producer/engineer Mark Johnson.  He recorded little-known street musicians around the world in New Orleans, South Africa, Paris, Italy, and more using (essentially) a microphone and a video camera.  The end result is a multimedia movement created to “inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music.”  Read more about the project and get involved at www.playingforchange.com.

Concert Review: N.E.R.D., Secondhand Serenade, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

I always dug the Neptunes sound, Pharell’s falsetto, and was a big fan of all three N.E.R.D. albums that have been released thus far.  I am now officially a hardcore N.E.R.D. fan.  Last night’s show at SUNY Oswego was flippin’ awesome.  At first, I was nervous because Pharell came out on stage (finally at 11:10pm after SIX opening acts) with one arm in a sling and the other in serious bandages (apparently he got tattoos removed from his arms by “extra crispy” lasers, ouch) but then he smiled and invited as many people on stage as he could allow with his 5-piece backing band.  Then they tore the roof off, dancing, singing, shouting, jumping, rapping and rockin’ so hard that my face melted off.  I still have the songs “Brain,” “She Wants To Move” and “Everyone Nose (All The Girls Standing In Line…)” stuck in my head and I love it:

:::makes the vulcan sign with his hand, the official N.E.R.D. salute:::

Seriously, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen and if I had just paid to see N.E.R.D., it would’ve totally been worth it.

But no.  There were six opening acts that, to tell the truth, really didn’t fit well together (who books punk bands to open for Secondhand Serenade, I mean, really?) but definitely added more bang for our bucks.  The first band Drive A was disappointing, playing like a fourth rate Anti-Flag (and looking a bit like the Jonas Brothers) with an embarassingly mid-90s-esque logo that incorporated an Anarchy symbol into a flag.  I was surprised to say that I actually did like the second band, Madina Lake – great energy, they kicked giant beach balls into the crowd, and had fun on stage.  It was just weird to hear yet another hardcore band that would’ve fit better on the Family Values Tour than in a college spring concert.  Check out their music at www.myspace.com/madinalake.

Red Jumpsuit Apparatus was the first big name to take the stage and they sounded great but looked… well, like Bo Bice’s inbred cousins.  They weren’t exciting to watch on stage, either, but if you closed your eyes it was a damn good show.  They played great versions of “Face Down” and “Guardian Angel” – click here to watch their HOT 107.9 exclusive stripped performance of “Face Down” and two other songs.

Then the energy level was shot to hell with Secondhand Serenade taking the stage, whom I’ve always had a problem with.  Are they a Dashboard Confessional tribute band or what?  By the way, I’m talking about Dashboard’s post-“Vindicated” material, too.  Secondhand Serenade sounded great, but in a 45-minute set I couldn’t tell the difference between one song and the next.  Are they singing “Vulnerable,” “Fall For You” or a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You”?  I couldn’t tell.  It was cool, however, how the lead singer and the keyboardist both hung out on the main floor for autographs and pictures after the show and were totally relaxed about it.

I could’ve done without MC Mr. Napkin, the Jewish comedian rapper who actually compared smoothies to manual gratification… but I did like DJ Don Juan who managed to keep the crowd’s spirits high between all the acts, mixing everything from Snoop Dogg and flavorful twists on Top 40 hits to Jay-Z/The Verve mashups.

What a great show – serious props to SUNY Oswego for putting together a great lineup.  No one Ever Really Dies, truly.

N.E.R.D. performed Sunday, April 26th, 2009 at SUNY Oswego with Madina Lake, Drive A, Secondhand Serenade and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.