Tuesday, July 31, 2007

That Old Time Rock & Roll

Every now and then, when I walk into a store, I feel like I live in the 80's again. It could be any store, really. For example, I was in Target the other day, shopping for clothes with my wife. I actually saw leg warmers for sale. (And yes, they still look as ugly as they did back then. Heaven help us if we go back to the whole "big hair" thing.) We walked past the toy section which was crowded with displays of Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and G.I. Joe. The girls clothing had My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, and Care Bears stamped all over them. And as we left to go to the movie theatre, the marquee reflected titles like "Transformers," "Die Hard," "Underdog" and "The Simpsons" at us.

But nowhere does it feel more like old times than in the record section. (For those of you born in the mid-90's or later, that's where they sell music. It's a record section. Get over it.) More and more, I'm seeing titles from bands that I thought went out of style at the same time as bell-bottoms or at the very least neon suspenders. But they're there. They are either coming back or have just been here all along without us noticing it until now. And it looks like that trend isn't going to change anytime soon.

I found out The Eagles are back in the studio. Word is they're producing their first full-length studio set since 1979's "The Long Run." And while Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Tim Schmit are all so old that they fart dust, I still find myself anxious to hear the album, so much so that I've pulled out my "Hotel California" CD for the morning commute tomorrow. I'm excited at the chance to possibly catch them on tour too.

Then I saw that Guns N' Roses members were contemplating a reunion, and got the sudden urge to grow a mullet. I remember quite clearly riding a BMX bike with a huge boombox on the handlebars blasting out "Welcome to the Jungle" much to the consternation of local residents who didn't have the musical sophistication to know that Axl Rose and Slash were musical geniuses, at least for a couple of albums. I remember also when MTV featured, supposedly, a special appearance by GNR on the VMAs, only to disappoint me by showing me a band made up of Axl Rose and these other guys. (I do love Buckethead, but not as a member of GNR.)

Led Zeppelin isn't far behind in this trend, with three new releases of old and rare material in the month of November. Hmm. Spend my money on a new Maroon 5 CD or Fall Out Boy album, or get to listen to freshly printed versions of "Black Dog" and "Misty Mountain Hop?" I think the choice is clear.

Last year, I hit the roof when I heard that Queensryche had released "Operation Mindcrime II," a follow-up to one of my favorite heavy-metal albums of all time. Now, they're getting ready to hit the road in September with Alice Cooper, as well as releasing a "best of" 2-disc compilation, with rare tracks from Geoff Tate's previous band, "Myth." Queensryche, ever the masters of social commentary, have managed to stay spectacularly relevant.

Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers will be releasing his new album. Suddenly visions of Demi Moore, a clay pot, and "Unchained Melody" are visiting my brain again.

And of course, as a Memphian, I couldn't help but notice that Elvis is still making money hand over posthumous fist, so much so that CKX is planning to overhaul Graceland's neighborhood, which was just short of a demilitarized zone last time I checked.

With all the proven goodness from "classic" rock still making waves on the current music scene, it must be even more difficult these days to break through. I doubt much that it has anything to do with the old-timers' refusal to go away. I rather think it's more apt to say that current and up-and-coming artists are having a hard time, given the current system, creating new music that in any way equals their predecessors artistically.

And quite frankly, with the graduate class still around, who needs the upstart freshmen? There are certainly notable exceptions, but on the whole, today's artists are becoming more and more difficult to relate to, at least within the circus of the mainstream. Who cares if Eminem sues iTunes?? Tupac Shakur will always be releasing underground material. What do I care if he's been dead for more than 10 years? Does it really matter if Mindy McCready gets arrested?? I still have my Reba McEntire. So Kelly Clarkson is suffering from depression after having been thrown butt first into the lap of luxury? So what! I can get all of that from Pat Benatar or The Bangles. They're still around. When I think of having to deal with the likes of Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears, I find myself more drawn to KISS, even if Paul Stanley had to miss a couple of shows due to heart problems.

Why do we love the oldies but goodies so? Maybe it's because we grew up with them. But I submit that there's another factor, also. The fact is this: music was fun back then. I don't care if you were into the most goth punk rock or death metal or whatever, it was STILL a lot less stressful being a music fan back then. Bootlegging wasn't a crime; it was actually encouraged! Different radio stations around the dial played different music and weren't all owned by one huge megacorporation. The DJs who spun the music weren't digitally recorded and interspersed into the music by computer. They actually sat there, took your requests, and occasionally introduced you to something that you needed to hear. Music was great. You met up with your friends and swapped tapes, or you went over to their house and sat and listened to their latest vinyl. You pretended you were with them on stage, played air guitar, and sang along.

Seriously, when's the last time you played air guitar? Check on that, okay?

One word on comebacks, though: Backstreet Boys... you might want to wait another decade or two. That way, people who grew up with you will be hitting their stride in nostalgia. For now, give me my re-issued Sex Pistols debut, and crank up the Seger. I want my old time rock n' roll!


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