awbvious | New Kid in Town

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New Kid in Town

by awbvious

Cover of The Eagles, all vocals and instrumentation by awbvious, a Californian who has had his spirit here since 1979.
Genre: Rock: Classic Rock
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  Song Share Time Download
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1. New Kid in Town
5:06 $0.99
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
I keep trying to write this and ending up ranting on the music industry, which is only slightly on topic.

Even though “New Kid in Town” was, according to Wikipedia, “a number-one hit in the US.” I swear I don’t remember hearing it until about five or six years ago. Then suddenly: everywhere (comparatively). The week it topped the Billboard Hot 100 was 2/26/1977. Rather coincidentally, I heard a repeat of Casey Kasem’s Top 40 for that week (or maybe the week before or after) about a month ago on Sirius XM. Not counting what I heard in that episode, I know 16 in total of the top 29 from that week. And of songs by bands with heavy rotation, I know every single one—with the possible exception of KISS and the song “Hard Luck Woman,” but really only one of their songs gets heavy rotation (“Rock and Roll All Night”). However, I’ve heard about 15 songs by The Eagles my entire life, a band with heavy, heavy rotation in SoCal, many of them never reaching number one, and yet I hadn’t heard this song.

When I first heard it on the radio, it was a bit like when I heard “Another Day” by Paul McCartney for the first time, which is a very catchy song. How have I never heard this? And how come I’m hearing it so often now? I’d never heard it for about 4/5ths of my life, then suddenly quite often for the rest of it. But, it is true that I know my 60s better than my 70s. And, coincidentally, they are both fairly non-rockin’ songs (still good, though) by rockers, and that might say a lot more about the changing tastes of their fans than anything else.

By the way, I decided to look up every Hot 100 that happened on February 26th, XXX7 and see how many I knew out of the top 29 (going by title alone). It doesn’t go back to 1957, so I took the first Hot 100 that came out in 1958. And, indeed, the results did come out as bell-curved as I expected:

8/4/1958 – 14 total – 1, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23-25 (mostly r&b, no surprise)

2/24/1967 – 27 total – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 (I didn’t know 13 Ed Ames; nor 24 “Epistle To Dippy” by Donovan, which is strange as I know at least forty Donovan songs)

2/24/1977 – 16 total – 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 26, 29 (I know 8 “Night Moves” like the back of my hand, 23 only recently)

2/24/1987 – 8 total – 1, 3, 8, 13, 15, 19, 22, 28 (mostly r&b, again, no surprise)

2/24/1997 – 7 total – 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 16, 27

2/24/2007 – 1 total – 23 (“Lost Without You,” good song)

2/24/2017 – 3 total – 1, 13, 25 (note, all of these songs I’ve only heard inadvertently, never intentionally, 1 is especially impossible to escape)

I don’t suppose this has much to do with the song. I mean, sure, the Hot 100 does have to do with the subject matter. The idea that one day you’re “hot” and the next, you’re not. And I always suspected there were references to the music business behind the young romance veneer, which Wikipedia confirmed. But the fact that I’m not following what it is currently hot… Well, it’s not that I don’t like popular music. That bell curve fairly correlates to what I actually like as well, not necessarily those songs, but the rough quantities. I definitely like what was popular and well-liked 50 years ago. I guess, it suggests that even if “he’s holding her,” even if it is because he is new and popular, and even if most people love him, not “everybody loves him.” Further, it’s not just people with strange tastes who prefer the previous kids. Sometimes the new kids on the block are just terrible because they are the new kids on the block.

Cough.

I recently heard “Video Killed the Radio Star” on one of my streaming phone apps. I remarked to myself that “there’s another song that no one would know if it weren’t for the video.” Then somewhere into the second verse the stream crashed. Glitches happen. But I was able to actually read some of the lyrics to “Video Killed the Radio Star” before the song died. And they were surprisingly good. I mean, they even predicted, or at least conveyed the prediction, that computers would be composing music!

I actually had very little exposure to music videos because our house did not have cable. I entertained myself with network television, public television, and hot chicks in bikinis on the Spanish stations. I didn’t get cable until college, which was coincidentally during the heyday of BET Uncut. When I hear a song that is popular from the 80s that is, well, not terrible, but not all that great, I simply have to ask myself, “was there an entertaining-visually music video for that song?” Sure enough, there is.

“Video Killed the Radio Star” is actually a good example. It’s not a terrible song. In fact, I’d argue that if you got rid of the cloying chorus, it’s actually pretty decent—good even. The chorus (in my opinion) is unfortunately an example of why one should “never go full” satire. The subjects of satire are usually bad on a number fronts including lack of entertainment value. Perfectly executed satire is likely, then, to be extremely annoying or boring. From reading the Wikipedia on the song, The Buggles intended to make a chorus that sounds like a jingle, and they definitely succeeded. I think people who enjoy jingles are people who don’t realize ear-worms repeat in your brain for reasons completely different than you find them aesthetically pleasing. Ear-worms can also be aesthetically pleasing, but take the ear-worm out of a jingle, and you’ll find it extremely irritating. I just listened to and prefer the original version of this song by Whooley that did not have the cloying chorus. However, The Buggles version has a lot of other very nice things to it that aren’t in the Whooley version. You know, when they aren’t singing the eponymous line—which is honestly the only part I dislike. It has a very “Winchester Cathedral” vibe, a song I mentioned in the notes to “Life in the Fast Lane,” even a bit of “Honey Pie.” (Of course, mentioning “Honey Pie” makes my mind think of a far more dramatic reversal of entertainment first and art second with the inclusion of a certain track on that album, which I am neither saying is good nor bad.)

I then watched the video to the Buggles. And it is, indeed, visually entertaining. This, I suspect, alleviated the jingle detraction, and thus made it popular in its time. But when listened to without the video, especially now, then you’re relying on nostalgia from when you experienced in a different form. I’m not going to denigrate nostalgia. The Eagles are nostalgia for me, just twice removed, like I mention in the “Hotel California” notes.

And, believe me, I’m victim too. Remember how I said I was in college during the BET Uncut heyday? A lot of my favorite rap songs originally had really good music videos that they’d play on that station. I’d like to think they’d stand alone without the video too. But I don’t know. “Uh-huh (Money in a Zip-Lock Bag)” by Joker the Bailbondsman is an extremely entertaining and, dare I say, artful video with a gritty cinema verité style that got a lot of play on Uncut (and coincidentally features Bizzy Bone, also mentioned in the “Hotel California” notes). As a result, I’d be entertained and able to find parts of the audio I liked.

Video creates a vector that is appreciable when there is visual and audio, but to anyone not watching the visual, or familiar with the visual, the song is perhaps not as good as others that can stand alone. Again, it might not just be nostalgia, it could simply be that video allows for appreciation of the audio that otherwise would not have happened if presented only with audio. In fact, one could argue that if the music video existed during the turn of the century, we might never have had rock and roll, or at least the 60s would have been a pale imitation of what happened.

I think the worst thing to happen to music during the 50s and early 60s was “teen idols.” Thank goodness we no longer listen to Mouseketeers!

Oh wait, what was number 25 from the 2/24/2017?

Hey man, I'm not going to hate on anybody making money making music. Certainly not musicians. Not the Mouseketeers then nor the surprising number of them in popular music now. I'm jealous as f--- that they can make money that way and not doing all the jobs I've hated all my life.

And, I like a lot of Ricky Nelson songs, he could play a garden party for me any day. But a lot of those teen idols were pretty bad. Pretty, but bad. TV was getting more popular sure, but not everyone had a TV. Today, both Ozzy and Harriet can fit in your pocket. Forget cable, there were just two or three channels to choose from. But, there were tons of record labels to choose from. Some of them could afford to pander to a niche—granted a large niche—of young people; TV could not. Of course, the channels/labels ratio would eventually reverse. But since it was almost purely an auditory experience, it gave a lot of opportunity to black musicians. Further, if you sounded good but weren’t conventionally attractive you had a lot better shot than you do nowadays—especially if you’re female. Name one, popular, truly-plus-sized female singer today. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly wasn’t completely egalitarian, hence “teen idols” lasted as long as they did, but all they had were Tiger Beat precursors, not Total Request Live. If they had video, perhaps “teen idols” wouldn’t get relegated to the footnote for the music that came after. And perhaps the music that came after would never have come.

Anyway, I used to think video killed the radio star. It had been my prevailing theory for most of my life.

I’m now thinking maybe video didn’t kill the radio star. Maybe Reagan did. In fact, I think one could make a good argument that the quality of American music is inversely proportional to the American income/wealth disparity. Video is just a technology. I’m far more inclined to think it’s about who is in control of technology. Video doesn’t kill radio stars; people kill radio stars. And, unlike what is defended by other similarly worded arguments, video can actually do a lot more positive things for society. The same is true for other technological advances.

Around the turn of the century, technology definitely helped music. Music became cheaper to produce and record. Vinyl was a huge improvement on easily breakable shellac. But it’s tech plus wealth distribution. There was a “we’ve got the numbers” (to quote a later act) demographic that was more keen of race integration than the last. They were a baby boom that came from an economic-boom in post-war America, an economic boom that was not just for the super rich. Remember, at one point the highest earners could be taxed as much as 90%—a number that could make Reagan-lovin’ politicians want to cry, but that’s okay by me because their policies make me want to cry constantly. These economically flush teens could afford to spend their nickels on these new vinyl 45s. They bought Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino, who in turn brought a much needed change to popular music.

If the youth and the middle class didn’t have that economic power, there were no mom-and-pop labels, and rich, old people were the only people who could press or distribute a record, would there be a Little Richard, Chuck Berry, or Fats Domino?

Reagan’s tax cuts were just the start. With wealth concentration, came the need for those with that wealth to keep the system in place, which meant influencing politics, which meant passing politics that make sure politics would be even more influenced by wealth, making sure to disenfranchise the rest, concentrating wealth even more, and so forth and so on, until… Welcome to the Guilded Age. I’ll see you in the soup line soon enough.

One of the best tools for wealth concentration is the modern corporation. A modern corporation can do market manipulations about what gets shoved down your ear that can make payola look like piffle. The industry can scapegoat and strawman three-letter acronyms like p2p and mp3 all they want. If computers killed music any, I doubt it was in end users sharing, it was more with the big players using them in production and commerce. It’s teen idol era all over again. Say goodbye to the Sherman Antitrust act, and welcome back to Bobby Sherman. Except now Bobby Sherman has video, auto-tune, and a giant corporate label using AI to figure out how to best allow money to overcome meritocracy in charting. Corporations are definitely a lot slicker than a connected label “entrepreneur” giving a brown paper bag to a deejay. Deejays don’t exist anymore. There are only “radio personalities” who play what they are told. And what was once under the table is now “the Promotions Department.” And does any of it even matter when everything usually rains under the same giant corporate umbrella?

Don’t blame me, though, I voted for Walsh.

Anyway, this song was hard. For one, there were lots of very different versions of the chords online, and none that were easy to play. More importantly, I couldn’t tell which sounded best. I remember getting annoyed by how easy “Peaceful Easy Feeling” was by comparison. Simple chords and it was clear the chord version people thought was best. But I tried a similar tactic to “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” I’d play back the previous takes as I was doing a new take, and try doing it a little different so it would sound a bit like harmony. But this time, I figured I’d throw so many takes at it, the guitar would hide mistakes. I even leaned back in my chair and away from my microphone isolation shield. I did this partly as I was getting tired and annoyed, but partly because I thought the layers would hide errors. But, sure enough, the mistakes and background sounds stood out. So, I threw more just guitar takes at it. With the background sounds I’d just mute, but I think I also had to mute a couple bad chords/notes. Luckily with so many takes the mute holes aren’t so noticeable when place on top of each other. I put all the guitar mic takes on left at 50% and the guitar line in on right at 50%. The vocals, I used all but one, and place them 100% left, 70% left, 10% left, 50% right, 100% right.

There was, and still is, one chord that I never did fix. If you notice at 4:08 there's one chord that definitely doesn’t sound right. That’s because it’s a long song, and the auto-scroll on the tablature/chord site had a speed that was too slow to catch up to the last verse but the next speed was too fast. I eventually found I had to use the slower one, but start recording after it scrolled a bit. Further it’s not in a section that is a repeat of a section nearby and still displayed. And for one version, it’s a particularly hard chord at that. But it would have been extremely difficult to rerecord just that chord in so many takes and make it sound natural, especially as it is also in the vocal, so I just left it.

Also, one take I’m interrupted by the mailperson at the door who knocked during the outro. I muted my grumbling, but left the knock in, partly because it wasn’t to loud and partly because you know I love eponymous puns (e.g. the knock on the door is the new kid).

And so it was for a very long time. Then one day I’m listening to it and I decided to whistle the guitar break. I thought, that would be nice, let me add that, should be easy… Was not easy. First I did it following the original guitar, but it sounded empty and flat, partly because there’s not as much sustain in a whistle. So I did it without listening to the original and added a few notes, more like what I’d whistle to myself listening to it. Better but still flat. I then realized I needed to do couple versions that would work off the earlier takes and vary a little that would then be spread out like the vocals. That worked.

I probably could have stopped there, but then I decided I wanted to play around on my guitar like I had on “Already Gone,” just to try it. I liked it on the headphones and kept it. But then, sure enough, as I’d listen to it on speakers, the guitar noodling would annoy me. At first, I thought maybe it was too wall-to-wall carpet. So, I just removed anything that was over the vocals like I had in "Hotel California." But even then it wasn’t quite what I wanted. I heard too many bad notes. So, I finally went through and muted everything that didn’t sound good—that is the notes I played were wrong or sounded off. Of course, that meant that the places where you do hear it now are kind of arbitrary.

But I’m ultimately happy with it, even though it was such a struggle.

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