Tuesday, May 24, 2005

You Oughta Buy: Classics #1 Michael Jackson Thriller (1982)

To inaugurate this new section, it is only fitting that Thriller is the first album to be featured here. Thriller was released in 1982 and has sold over 46 million copies worldwide (or 51 million, depending on your source), becoming the largest selling album of all time. It also won a ground-breaking 8 Grammy Awards, establishing Michael as the King of Pop.

Thriller contains an economical 9 tracks, and not a note is wasted. 7 of the 9 tracks were released as singles and all of them went to the Top 10. In fact, Thriller was the first album to post 7 Top Ten singles from a single album.

The first single off the album was The Girl Is Mine, a duet with Paul McCartney. It was a safe choice, and it had to be released first to "get it out of the way", since it was a duet. It reached #2 on the Hot 100. Michael would hit #1 with another Paul McCartney duet, Say Say Say, from McCartney's Pipes of Peace album.

After The Girl Is Mine, the magic was unleashed. Billie Jean was released and it went to the number one spot, spending 7 weeks at the summit. Michael also broke down the barriers of race, as the Billie Jean video was the first by a black artist to receive heavy rotation, paving the way for future generations.

A clever strategy by Sony led to Beat It being released while Billie Jean was still holding strong at number one. Beat It reached the top spot too and almost replaced Billie Jean. The sizzling track featured a blistering solo by Eddie Van Halen, and blurred the lines between pop and rock.

Perhaps the moment that created the most impact was the release of the Thriller video. The 14-minute short film was directed by John Landis and it featured Michael as a zombie (or wasn't he?) with snazzy dance moves. There was even a home video released, The Making of Thriller, which went on to become the best-selling home video of all time.

The Thriller video has been voted as the greatest video on MTV and VH1's 100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made and it legitimised the music video as an art form.

The accolades that Thriller received are simply too many to mention. Among the most notable are that it spent 37 weeks at #1, starting and ending the year 1983 in the number one spot. Billie Jean also spawned Michael's most famous dance move, the moonwalk, when he unveiled it to the world for the first time on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.

Thriller has been certified by the Guiness Book of World Records as the best-selling album of all time, yet many writers state wrongly that Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 is the best-selling album of the world.

The Eagles album did indeed sell more copies in the U.S. than Thriller did (28 million versus 26 million), but to suggest that U.S. sales represent worldwide sales is ludicrous and disrespectful. Moreover, the Eagles album was a collection of greatest hits, unlike Thriller, which was a studio album of new material.

However, it is easy to get carried away by all the sales figures and awards that Thriller has won. The most important thing is the music, and it delivers on every account. While my favourite MJ album is Off The Wall, Thriller offers more punch and variety, ranging from , R&B (Billie Jean), soul (Lady In My Life), pop (P.Y.T.), funk (Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'), rock (Beat It) and more.

There is a reason why it has sold so many copies worldwide, not just in the U.S. alone, and it proved that music does indeed unite people of different cultures and language. Thriller is a must-have for every decent music library.

Michael Jackson Thriller Specal Edition (2001)

Special Edition released in 2001. It includes interviews with Quincy Jones (the producer) and Rod Temperton, as well as a 1981 home demo of Billie Jean, providing a rare glimpse of Michael's creative process.

In this demo track, you can hear that Michael has the basic melody but he has not figured out the lyrics yet. He would just ad lib some of the lyrics, and a lot of it don't make sense. The demo is also remarkably close to the final version, a testament to Michael's vision and proving that Michael has a large role in the process of creating the song, and that Quincy Jones was merely the facilitator for the process.

Two rare tracks included in this package are Someone In The Dark and Carousel. The former was found on the E.T. children's album, but there were very limited copies available because the song was at the centre of a dispute between Michael's Sony label and the soundtrack label. In the end, Sony managed to prevent the song from being released. The song even includes E.T. saying "Thank yeeew". Quite a nice tune. Carousel is only 1:30 long, but it had a pleasant tune nonetheless.

We also learn that the song Thriller was originally called "Starlight", thank goodness it was changed. Starlight just doesn't have the same impact as Thriller. Also, we get to listen to the second verse of Vincent Price's rap on the track, that didn't make it to the final cut. Pretty amazing stuff.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Guilty Pleasures #1: Hanson Middle Of Nowhere (1997)

Released in 1997, Middle Of Nowhere literally sprung out from the middle of nowhere, as the 3 Hanson brothers unleashed their brand of bubblegum pop onto the unsuspecting pop world. Fair enough, the boyband and girlband movement had already taken flight with the introduction of Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and Spice Girls a couple of years back, but Hanson were more than just a boyband. Comparisons to family bands such as the Jackson 5 and the Osmonds would be more appropriate, as the Hanson brothers played their instruments as well.

Comprised of Zachary (then 11), Taylor (13) and Isaac (16), Hanson released their first single MmmBop, which promptly went to #1 on the Billboard 100. MmmBop was bubblegum pop at its best, with a sing-a-long chorus that really didn't make much sense and Taylor's cutesy voice adding to its appeal.

Before dismissing them as one-hit wonders, Hanson returned to the Top 10 with their second single, Where's The Love. It was a up-tempo track that was edgier than its predecessor and rocked harder. In August, they posted another single in the Top 10, I Will Come To You. It was a ballad and it was supposedly to counter the bubblegum pop formula that crtics have panned them for. Two other singles, Weird and Thinking Of You, didn't create huge impacts on the charts.

Middle Of Nowhere is a guilty pleasure because being kids, most people did not take them seriously. However, the album does contain some very nice tunes and I get a kick out of listening to them and singing along to them.

Weird does contain some good lyrics, such as, "When you live in a cookie-cutter world, being different is a sin. So you don't stand out, and you don't fit in...weird."

My favourite track of the album is A Minute Without You, featuring Isaac on the leads, who surprisingly has quite a pleasant voice. Another gem is Yearbook, a haunting ballad about a guy called Johnny who is missing, with his "picture unavailable" on the yearbook.

Hanson were nominated for 3 Grammys in 1998 - Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (both for MmmBop). Sadly they won none. In all, Middle Of Nowhere is a good listen when you don't want to take things too seriously. Just sit back and enjoy the catchy tunes, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Rarities #4: Green Day American Idiot (2004)

Despite this being released only last year, it has become a Rarity in my books. Most Limited Edition releases are not really that limited, and you would still be able to find them at some CD shops more than a year after they are released, but in this case, they are completely sold out all over Singapore.

Of course, American Idiot is the album that catapulted Green Day back to the charts and made them relevant again, after being in the doldrums since the release of their last great album, Nimrod, in 1997. Since Nimrod, they have released the moderately successful Warning (2000), a greatest hits album, International Superhits! (2001), and a compilation of B-Sides, Shenanigans (2002).

American Idiot is a concept album and political statement that has its arrows pointing at the Bush administration, with the title track and lead single making a fool of the American idiot. No prizes for guessing who they're talking about.

This album is a great revival for Green Day and already, the first 3 singles have hit Number 1 on the Modern Rock chart, which is quite a remarkable feat. My favourite song off the album is Wake Me Up When September Ends, poised to be their 4th single. Expect it to hit Number 1 too.

This limited edition package comes in the size of a DVD case and includes a full-colour 52-page hardcover book housing the CD within it. The lyrics are written on a notebook style ala Kurt Cobain's Journals. If you see this being sold anywhere in Singapore, let me know. I'll buy it again.

You Oughta Listen: Hot Tracks To Listen Out For

1. Signs - Snoop Dogg featuring Justin Timberlake
2. Don't Phunk With My Heart - Black Eyed Peas
3. Girl - Destiny's Child
4. We Belong Together - Mariah Carey
5. Be Yourself - Audioslave

Signs is an irresistably-catchy pop/hip-hop song from Snoop Dogg featuring Justin, and it seems that everything Justin touches turns to gold. Really. I'm not a fan of Snoop Dogg but Signs is a winner mainly because of its catchy beat and falsetto chorus sung by the Prince of Pop Justin. Check it out.

Don't Phunk With My Heart is the lead single off Black Eyed Peas' second album, Monkey Business, set for release on June 7. It is more of the same Peas that was so successful on their previous album. Catchy beat, nice Fergie vocals and a fun music video. The Fergie part of the song can get a little irritating at times though.

Girl is the third single off Destiny Fulfilled, following Lose My Breath and Soldier. I didn't really like Soldier that much but I think Girl is a much stronger single. It is laid back and as usual, features beautiful harmonies by the girls.

We Belong Together is the second single from The Emancipation Of Mimi, released hot on the heels of It's Like That. It's a good strategy to release it so soon as it builds the momentum achieved by the former single and keeps her in the spotlight (and charts for that matter). Already, this track is Number 3 on the Billboard 100, marking Mariah's return to the Top 10. It's a pretty good urban song, and gladly, she exercises restraint here.

Be Yourself is from Audioslave's upcoming album, Out Of Exile. This track has already reached Number 1 on both the Mainstream and Modern Rock Tracks charts. It's reminiscent of their earlier hit, Like A Stone, with the same tempo and feel. Just as nice too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

You Oughta Know: Kylie Diagnosed with Breast Cancer; S'pore Concert Postponed

Kylie Minogue has been diagnosed with breast cancer! As a result, the Australian and Asian legs of her highly-anticipated Showgirls Tour has been postponed.

This is indeed shocking news, it came out of the blue. As for the concert, I think it is more likely that it is cancelled rather than postponed. I don't expect her to recover fully so soon and take the road in the next couple of years. Good thing I have not bought tickets yet.

That aside, Kylie is the second young pop star to be diagnosed with a disease that is predominantly of older women. The other was US singer Anastacia, who recently recovered from it. Kylie is 36 and Anastacia was 29 when she got it.

Sigh, this is bad news for Kylie's fans and fans of pop music in general. Let's pray that Kylie will recover soon and wiggle her bum to us once more!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Collectibles #1: Madonna Music (2000)

There are 2 special editions of the album - the initial release fabric cover edition and the 2-CD special edition released to promote Madonna's Drowned World Tour.

The fabric cover edition:

The 2-CD special edition:

The initial release US version of Madonna's Music album comes in a limited edition, fabric digipack packaging. There are 4 colours available: Pink, Gray, Light Blue and Black. I only have the pink and the gray versions. Apparently, the black version is the rarest.

As it is the US version, it only has 10 tracks and does not include American Pie, which was a bonus track on the European and Asian editions. It's alright, I don't find American Pie a particularly outstanding track anyway.

The first single off the album was the title track, and I remember listening to it for the first time on Perfect 10 on the way to VJC one morning. My first reaction was that it was horrible and I hated it.

Madonna had already given us a hint of her new musical direction with her previous album, Ray Of Light, on which she paired up with producer William Orbit. On Music, she worked with Orbit again and roped in French DJ and producer Mirwais. The album delved even deeper into the dance/electronica territory that she established on Ray Of Light and broke new ground once again.

The single, Music, reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, displacing Janet Jackson's Doesn't Really Matter from the summit. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 too. The other hit singles from the album are Don't Tell Me and What It Feels Like For A Girl.

To promote the Drowned World Tour, a special 2-CD edition of the album was released. The bonus CD contained 7 tracks - remixes of Music, Don't Tell Me, What It Feels Like For A Girl plus a Spanish version of that song, and the music video for the letter track.

The music video for What It Feels Like For A Girl drew a considerable amount of controversy because of its supposed violence. It was directed by hubby Guy Ritchie and features Madonna blowing up a gas station and crashing her car at full speed into a pole, among other things. It was banned by MTV and VH1 and several channels.

I think the violence in there is mild compared to what we see on TV nowadays anyway, so I think it's over-rated. At the end of the day, all publicity is good publicity, and I think Maddy got what she wanted to achieve with the video - create hype and attention for the album and the tour.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Rarities #3: Garbage Push It Promo Single (1998)

As you can see from the second pic, this is a promotional (promo) item. It is a 1-track CD and it is usually sent to radio stations for airplay before the album or actual single is released. Needless to say, promo CDs are very rare as they are not meant to be sold, so those copies that you have are actually leaked from radio stations somehow, or you have connections with people in the industry.

Push It was the first single off Garbage's second album, aptly titled Version 2.0. The 2.0 figure came about because the album relied heavily on computers. I like the video for Push It. It is in black-and-white and I remember it being really quirky, with a person having a lamp for his head. Strange, but nice. The song's nice too.

Version 2.0 is my favourite Garbage album so far (haven't heard Bleed Like Me yet though), and it was nominated for Best Rock Album and also scored a surprise nomination for the big prize, Album of the Year, at the 1999 Grammy Awards.

It received 2 more nominations in the 2000 Grammy Awards: Best Rock Song and Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, both for the song Special. However, they won none.

With their latest album, Bleed Like Me, Garbage is returning to their roots of guitar-based melodies for a more raw sound, ditching the gloss and computerisation used for Version 2.0 and beautifulgarbage (2001). It's a welcome return I must say, especially for fans who loved their debut album.

However, at that time, Version 2.0 was a breakthrough for them and its high production values under uber producer/drummer Butch Vig (who produced Nirvana's landmark Nevermind album) ensured that Garbage was a force to be reckoned with. Version 2.0 still ranks among one of my favourite CDs to this day.

Monday, May 09, 2005

You Oughta Listen: Hot Tunes Today

1. Best Of You - Foo Fighters
2. The Hand That Feeds - Nine Inch Nails
3. Getting Smaller - Nine Inch Nails
4. With One Look - Glenn Close (from Sunset Boulevard)
5. As If We Never Said Goodbye - Glenn Close
6. Hella Good - No Doubt

Is The Hand That Feeds the hookiest song ever? No, but it sure catches on you fast. Give it a spin, and you'll be amazed how quickly you'll get addicted to it. Getting Smaller features superb drumming by Dave Grohl, one of my idols. He's really the best and most all-rounded rock musician around. His drumming is tight and exciting and inventive. You won't be disappointed.

Of course, Dave Grohl is the frontman of Foo Fighters, and they have a new album coming out in June, led by their first single, Best Of You. I didn't like it at first as it is a bit repetitive, but as with all Foos songs, they grow on you. And it is a typical Foos song that starts off serene but builds up in intensity as the track goes. Feel the power man!

The 2 Glenn Close songs are from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Sunset Boulevard. It is one of his lower-profile works, but in my opinion, the music is better than Cats. The tunes are more contemporary, reflecting its storyline of a faded Hollywood actress. The 2 songs here are the centrepieces, and they feature Glenn Close's (yes, the actress!) powerful vocals, delivered with heart-wrenching emotion.

Barbara Streisand did a version of With One Look, that appeared on The Very Best Of Andrew Lloyd Webber CD, but it pales in comparison. So make sure you listen to Glenn Close's version.

Hella Good is the opening song for No Doubt's last studio album, Rock Steady, and it is one of my favourite No Doubt songs. It simply is hella good, with its cool bass line and Billie Jean drum beat. Check it out!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Rarities #2: Michael Jackson Ghosts Box Set (1997)

This Deluxe Collector Box Set was released in 1997 as a limited edition release, to feature Michael Jackson's new "ground-breaking" mini-movie, Ghosts. The contents of the box set are listed and shown in the photograph below.

With Ghosts, MJ was trying to update his revolutionary Thriller video (or short film, as he likes to call it), hiring animatronics wizard Stan Winston (who did the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and terminators in well, Terminator) to direct it and create the make-up for the film.

The King of Pop teamed up with the king of horror stories, Stephen King, to come up with the concept for the film. In it, MJ even plays 5 characters: the Maestro, Mayor, Ghoul Mayor, Superghoul and Skeleton.

The film itself is uninspired, and for all the pomp and pagentry that MJ had at his disposal compared to 1983 when he made the landmark Thriller video, Ghosts fails to match its predecessor in terms of the impact the video had on the pop music world.

Back then, Thriller revolutionised the music video industry and showed the world how videos are made. It gave birth to the mini-movie idea instead of just showing the singers miming to the lyrics of the song. It elevated music videos to a whole new level, to be taken seriously as an art form.

The songs featured in Ghosts (the title track, 2Bad and Is It Scary) are not as good as the single track, Thriller, and the dance here is choppy and not continuous, which frustrates me because I love MJ for his dance. So I was rather disappointed with the short film Ghosts.

That aside, I only bought this box set second-hand last year, having regretted not buying it first-hand when it was first released. As such, the box itself is not in superb condition, with a little wear and tear at the edges.

The programme booklet is lavish and glossy, and contains many photographs as well. The Blood On The Dance Floor CD really is an unnecessary addition to the box as it is commercially available outside. As for the video-cassette of the Ghosts short film, who watches VHS tapes nowadays anyway?! Besides, it is available on VCD now.

The real gem here is the limited edition minimax CD single, which includes the previously unreleased song, On The Line, written by Babyface. It is a decent ballad I must say, but it does not rank among MJ's great works. It also contains a remix each of Ghosts and Is It Scary. However, the cool part is that the underside of the CD itself is yellow instead of silver, so it is pretty nice.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Rarities #1: Nirvana Singles Box Set (1995)

I've been busy over the past few days documenting my music collection. It's not complete yet, but I at least have some photographs now to showcase on this site. The stuff that will be featured here are many of my prized possessions and I hope to share them with you.

There will be 2 types of items featured here: Rarities and Collectibles. Rarities are, as the name implies, stuff that are rare and you cannot find them for sale anywhere in Singapore now, and I mean, anywhere in Singapore. Trust me, I've walked the whole Singapore to find out. Collectibles are stuff that are quite rare, but not that rare that you cannot find them now.

With that in mind, here's the first Rarity: the Nirvana Singles Box Set, released in 1995. As you know, Nirvana is the biggest grunge band ever and they marked the transition from pop to grunge with their Nevermind album in 1991, famously kicking Michael Jackson's Dangerous album off the #1 spot.

This box set contains 6 of the singles from their Nevermind and In Utero (1993) albums: Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are, In Bloom, Lithium (all from Nevermind), Heart-Shaped Box and All Apologies (from In Utero).

Of course, this box set is value-for-money as the singles contain previously-unreleased material and live tracks, unlike many of the singles today, which often contain dance remixes or B-sides that really deserve not to be released. Nirvana are at their best when they perform live, and here we get live versions of School, Drain You, Sliver, Polly and Been A Son.

There are also unreleased cuts of Even In His Youth, Aneurysm (then-unreleased), Curmudgeon, Marigold (written by Dave Grohl) and yes, Moist Vagina (code-named MV). In fact, the All Apologies single was banned in Singapore I believe as it contains the aforementioned track (MV) as well as the song Rape Me. Rape Me appeared on the In Utero album and likewise, the album was banned in Singapore for many years.

Of course, many of the tracks are now available on the With The Lights Out box set (2004), which takes a complete look at Nirvana's history, including a DVD of super rare performances.

This Singles box set contains Nirvana's biggest hits and it is one of my most treasured possessions, thus explaining it being the first featured item here. Nirvana was the first band that I listened to seriously and it's a pity Kurt Cobain committed suicide in April 1994. Who knows what the music scene would be like if they're still around now?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

You Oughta Listen: Hot Picks This Week

Here are the hot tunes that are rocking my Zen Touch this week:

1. Little Sister - Queens of the Stone Age
2. Why Do You Love Me? - Garbage
3. Bad Boyfriend - Garbage
4. American Baby - Dave Matthews Band
5. #41 - Dave Matthews Band
6. The Hand That Feeds - Nine Inch Nails