Monthly Archives: June 2010

Michael Jack5on

It is already one year, since Michael Jackson passed away in a whirlwind of controversy and surprise. To mark this anniversary, Billboard magazine published a special issue entitled, ‘Rediscovering Michael Jackson’.

One of the things that struck my curiosity was their list of Jackson’s top-performing singles throughout his career on the Billboard charts. A seemingly complicated system was used to weigh the performance of each single he released, during his four decade career. The system took into account, the number of weeks at Number 1, the weeks spent in the Hot 100, the weeks in the Top 10, Top 20 and Top 40. The resulting Number 1 song was a surprise. The legend’s best-charting song was not ‘Billie Jean’, but the second duet, ‘Say Say Say’, recorded with Paul McCartney. The Top 5 songs were (in reverse order):

05. Rock With You
04. Beat It
03. I’ll Be There
02. Billie Jean
01. Say Say Say

‘Say Say Say’ was recorded at the end of 1982 and appeared on McCartney’s second solo LP, ‘Pipes Of Peace’ in 1983. The song was the second time that Mac and Jack worked together, after McCartney appeared on ‘The Girl Is Mine’ from Jackson’s seminal album ‘Thriller’. The song quickly shot to Number 1, became Jackson’s seventh Top 10 hit within a year and the video, featuring the duo as vaudeville performers who peddle a ‘miracle potion’, received a lot of airplay on MTV.

Follow this link to play play play a mix of Jackson’s five top-performing songs.

Remembering Michael Jackson

One year ago, I posted this after Michael Jackson passed away unexpectedly:

I would like to share with you some of my memories of Michael Jackson as I was growing up.

I remember seeing footage of Michael from the early 1970s performing with his brothers as the Jackson 5. His style and ability were years beyond his age. The only other person that I had ever seen dance like him was James Brown and Michael was one quarter of his age when he was doing it.

I remember hearing ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ and ‘Rock With You’ on the radio all of the time after the release of ‘Off The Wall’ in 1979. It was Michael’s first real taste of super stardom and an indicator of things to come.

I remember hearing the first single from ‘Thriller’, ‘The Girl Is Mine’ with Paul McCartney, released about a month before the album. It was very different from the songs I knew on ‘Off The Wall’. Critics and the media hated it. The song made everyone wonder what the album was going to be like and whether it could live up to the success of its predecessor. It did. Little did anyone know at the time what was about to be unleashed on the world in the form of the next single; ‘Billie Jean’.

I remember seeing Michael perform on a Motown TV special in March of 1983. It changed absolutely everything in the world of music. He sang ‘Billie Jean’ and danced in a way that no one had ever seen before. He performed the ‘moonwalk’ for the first time, appearing to glide, not across the stage but above the stage. My family and I watched in total astonishment. After that, the song ‘Billie Jean’ was on the radio constantly. Every single person I knew bought a copy of ‘Thriller’. My brother and I both had a copy on cassette and we played them continuously for over one year. My father bought it. My aunts and uncles bought it. My friends all bought it. Even people who thought they were too cool for Michael Jackson, had a copy of it somewhere in their collection. 1983 was THE year of Michael Jackson.

I remember cycling to my grandparent’s house during the summer of 1983 to watch MTV. I had developed a real passion for New Wave music and couldn’t get enough of all the music videos. Despite a strictly white (and predominantly English) play list during the first two years, MTV did an about-face and aired ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It’ numerous times a day throughout the spring and summer of that year. The songs opened the door for other black artists and MTV broadened its musical horizons.

I remember seeing the video for ‘Thriller’ for the first time on MTV at the end of 1983. The fourteen minute video had a world premiere like no other before it. The video was played at the top of the hour, every single hour, for the last few weeks of the year. It was like nothing neither I or anyone else had ever seen before. At the time, it was the most expensive video ever made (costing about $500,000.00) and contained nearly ten minutes of the best dancing in the world. And, of course, it had lots of zombies.

I remember Michael Jackson being EVERYWHERE in 1984. He sang on Paul McCartney’s song ‘Say Say Say’. He was a guest on the song ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ by Rockwell. He released the album ‘Victory’ with his brothers and embarked on a tour across the States, playing a lot of the songs from Thriller as well as the classic Jackson’s songs. He won eight Grammys for ‘Thriller’. He co-wrote and sang on the single ‘We Are The World’ for famine relief in Africa. He made TV commercials for Pepsi.  He was the biggest star in the entire world.

For four or five years as I began to discover the world of music, I listened to everything I could find (or hear) – from my father’s Soul records to Classic Rock stations on the radio to Pop music and New Wave on MTV. Nothing was disregarded. Everything deserved at least one listen. And Michael Jackson was at the forefront of all these genres and my musical tastes. During the time in my life I fell in love with music, he was the undisputed King of Pop.

This is how I will remember Michael Jackson.

RIP Michael.

For The Record – ‘Paperback Writer’

‘Paperback Writer’ was the eleventh single released by the Beatles, on this day in 1966 in the UK. The song went to straight to the Number 1 spot and stayed there for several weeks.

The single marks the beginning of the Beatles’ experimentation with sound and the use of studio equipment as additional instruments. Apparently, John had made some complaints about the low levels of bass on a lot of the Beatles’ records. So, they decided to use a loudspeaker as a microphone for Paul’s bass. The result, remarked one of the engineers, was that the bass sound was heard, “in all it’s excitement”.

The B-Side of ‘Paperback Writer’ was the song ‘Rain’, which utilised further experimentation. For this song, engineers recorded several tracks, including backing and lead vocals, faster or slower than normal. When played back at regular speeds, the tone was altered slightly. The song also contained, for the first time ever, backward vocals, which a tired John Lennon claimed happened by accident, when he unknowingly put a tape into a recorder that played the music backwards. He liked the sound so much that the technique was used for the last verse of the song.

The recording of both of these tracks was a hint at greater things to come, when the band moved into the studio to record their classic album ‘Revolver’ later that year.

Cleansed From The Inside

The great runner, George Sheehan, once said, “Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from places a shower will never reach.” If that is true, then after yesterday morning, I must have the cleanest insides in all of Hawaii.

I lined up for the Hibiscus Half Marathon yesterday morning, in Kapiolani Park at 5:25 in the morning, not really knowing what to expect. My training has been off for the last few weeks, I have not been sleeping well and I have struggled with the heat, when running for longer periods than about 1 hour 45 minutes.

With the early dawn light appearing from behind the clouds, the race director gave the instructions, the National Anthem was played and then, amidst a good bit of tension, the starting horn was blown. I began running and was immediately into my stride. I was feeling good and the first mile was completed in 6:45, well below my calculated pace for a sub-90 minute result. Everything was going well and I was in my comfort zone.

Then, the course quickly veered left and we began climbing up Diamond Head. My heart rate responded accordingly and started to creep up. I felt fine though because I have done this climb in training dozens of times and know the road very well. But, I found after three miles that I had lost nearly a minute on my goal pace and I had really started sweating. A lot. Buckets and buckets of sweat poured out of me. This continued until Mile 6, when I calculated that I was already almost three minutes off my pace, and I was beginning to really struggle.

I took water at every station and drank the full cup, but I was losing so much fluid that it wasn’t nearly enough. By the ninth mile, I had settled in to a better rhythm and maintained my three-minute deficit. I started thinking that I would continue with a steady pace, until the 11th mile and then run hard to try to take back some of the time I had lost. This sort of bartering helps pass the time and keeps your mind off the dull ache that engulfs your body and grows more tangible with every passing mile.

I continued, running in the shade wherever I could and drinking as much as I could at each aid station. Inevitably, the road shifted up again, as we approached the other side of Diamond Head and another climb. I picked up the pace and began to pull back a small group of runners that had been just ahead of me for most of the race. My pulse monitor displayed the effort – 181 beats per minute. The Mile 11 marker came into sight. I checked my watch and there was still only about three minutes that I needed to make up. I slowed slightly to take some more water and Gatorade at the approaching aid station. It was then that I felt my left thigh seize up. The cramp was so bad that I had to stop. I regrouped, drank the fluids, stretched slowly and began running again.

My legs were cooperating but they were now very sore and I knew that I was not going to be able to push the pace during the last few miles, as I had hoped. The road started to tilt upwards and I sensed the race and my goal time slipping away from me. My legs really started to hurt. I ran easy up the hill and back down the other side. At the bottom, I checked my watch again and saw that I had now conceded over six minutes on my goal pace time.

The end was near though and I had to push on. With a bit of luck and a slight burst of speed, I could still try to come in under 95 minutes, That would be a very good time for a very difficult course on a very hot day. I completed Mile 12 and was concentrating on nothing else but crossing the finish line. I found that, in doing so, my pace had picked up somewhat and I was running hard again. My legs, however, objected to this increase in speed. Several meters past the Mile 12 marker I began cramping again and, once more, had to stop. This time it was more difficult to relax the cramps. I stretched for a minute or two and started running again very, very slowly. I was inside the last mile but there was no strength left in my legs. It felt like I was moving and yet it seemed that I was staying in the same place. I could see the finish line and yet it seemed that I was not drawing any closer to it. The sweat just kept pouring out of me, cleansing the inside.

In the end, I crossed the line in 1:39:20. A good time, but far short of the goal that I had set for myself. I finished 53rd overall (out of 815 finishers) and eighth in the Male 40-44 age group (out of 41 finishers), which are both very respectable. It’s a result that I wish was better but I can accept it. I have learned from the race and am one step closer in the constant process of understanding what I can and can not do. Adjustments will be made and I shall be back to fight another day.

Digital Kicks 050 – The ‘Pure Imagination’ Mix

Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three…

With this mix, the Digital Kicks musical journey is coming to a close. After fifty episodes, I have decided that it is time to move on. From the very first mix I did in a plane, traveling from Madrid to Dublin in March 2006 all the way through to this month’s ‘Pure Imagination’ mix, I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to,  compiling, recording and posting all of my favourite tunes from each month’s new batch of music.

Fifty is a milestone, so I figured now was a good time to change direction. But, fear not faithful listeners, because I am going to begin a brand new series of podcasts next month and embark on an entirely new musical journey. And you will all be invited.

In the meantime, come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination, as we listen to this month’s mix and the very last Digital Kicks.

The tracklisting is:

01. Pure Imagination – Willy Wonka
02. Spacelab – Kraftwerk
03. Good Life (7″ Edit) – Inner City
04. The Light – Common
05. A Love Bizarre (Single Edit Version) – Sheila E ft Prince
06. Maniac (Instrumental Version) – Michael Sembello
07. You Came Out (Album Version) – We Have Band
08. In Focus (Extended Mix) – DJ Inxx
09. Slippage – Land Shark
10. Detroit Moments – John Beltran
11. True (Extended Remix) – Spandau Ballet
12. Why Can’t We Live Together (Lasting Peace Remix) – Timmy Thomas
13. Unicorn – Dizzy Gillespie
14. Theme From Shaft – The Chosen Few
15. Boom Boom – John Lee Hooker
16. You’re Gonna Miss Me – Muddy Waters

Thank you for all of your support and for lending me your ears each and every month.

Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.


For The Record – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’

It was 43 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…

Like it or loathe it, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was an important album. It embraced the infantile Psychedelic Rock scene, ushered in the Summer Of Love and pushed the boundaries of studio recording practices and techniques.

The idea for Sgt. Pepper came from the band’s growing contempt towards touring. They were the world’s most successful Rock group and travelled the entire world, playing to constant sold-out crowds. Tired and worn-out, they decided they would record an album that they hoped, in effect, tour for them. Hence the fictious name of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – an alias they could hide behind and experiment under.

During the six months of recording, the Beatles made use of numerous known recording techniques such as echo, reverberation and reverse tape looping. They also employed many modular effects, which included; bouncing down (mixing multiple four track recordings into one), the use of wah-wah pedals and a fuzz box, running their voices and instruments through a special loudspeaker (for distortion), and varispeeding (combining various tracks on a multi-track tape with different speeds).

But the Beatles not only made the album sound good, they made it look good too. The front cover featured the band (in disguise) standing among more than 70 cardboard cut-outs of famous people, ranging from Sigmund Freud to Marilyn Monroe. They also, for the first time in Britain, printed all of the songs’ lyrics on the back cover.

The result was nearly universal popular and critical acclaim, when the album hit the shelves on June 1, 1967. The record went to Number 1 in countries all over the world and spent almost 200 weeks in both the UK and US Album Charts. Since then, it has appeared near the top in almost every single popularity poll and ‘Greatest Album Of All Time’ list that has ever been published.

Sadly, it was the last time the Beatles shared a common, collective sense of purpose on a recording. Afterwards they began to pursue different agendas and, although ‘The Beatles’ and ‘Abbey Road’ were still ahead of them, the band never functioned as well together in the studio as they did during the first half of 1967.