Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Presented Without Comment: 5 Star Songs

This is a list of all songs I have rated five stars out of five on iTunes, corresponding to a 10/10 on a normal scale. Biased towards more recent songs 'cause that's what I have on my iTunes, biased against bands I already own albums of and haven't yet ripped (e.g. I have 0 Magnetic Fields mp3's. If I had ripped all their albums there would be at least 2 or 3 on here), etc.

A*Teens - "Floorfiller"
Adam & The Ants - "Stand and Deliver"
Alcazar - "This Is the World We Live In"
Aly & AJ - "Not This Year"
Aly & AJ - "Potential Break Up Song"
Aly & AJ - "Rush"
Amy Diamond - "Don't Cry Your Heart Out"
Amy Diamond - "All the Money in the World"
Amy Grant - "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)"
Anna Nalick - "Breathe (2 AM)"
Aqua - "Lollipop (Candyman)"
Ashlee Simpson - "Boyfriend"
Avril Lavigne - "The Best Damn Thing"
The Backstreet Boys - "I Want It That Way"
The Beatles - "Blackbird"
The Beatles - "Hello Goodbye"
Beyonce - "Irreplaceable"
Bicycle - "Female Urologist"
Big & Rich - "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy"
Big Star - "The Ballad of El Goodo"
Bis - "X-Defect"
Blackalicious - "If I May"
Bob Dylan - "Isis"
Bon Jovi - "You Give Love a Bad Name"
Britney Spears - "...Baby, One More Time"
Carrie Underwood - "Before He Cheats"
Cassie - "Turn the Lights Off"
Celine Dion - "It's All Coming Back to Me Now"
Charlie Rich - "Behind Closed Doors"
Cheap Trick - "Southern Girls"
Christina Aguilera - "Genie in a Bottle"
Daft Punk - "Digital Love"
Deana Carter - "Strawberry Wine"
Depeche Mode - "Just Can't Get Enough"
Destiny's Child - "Survivor"
Duran Duran - "Come Undone"
Dusty Springfield - "I Only Wanna Be With You"
The Eagles - "Take It to the Limit"
Eminem - "The Real Slim Shady"
Eminem - "Stan"
Eric Prydz - "Call On Me"
Fleetwood Mac - "Go Your Own Way"
Frank Sinatra - "Be Careful, It's My Heart"
Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out"
Fred Astaire - "Cheek to Cheek"
Garth Brooks - "The Thunder Rolls"
George McCrae - "Rock Your Baby"
Guided By Voices - "Echoes Myron"
Hilary Duff - "Come Clean"
The Human League - "Don't You Want Me"
The Human League - "Human"
Ivanushki International - "Gde Ti"
Ivanushki International - "Tucci"
Joe Jackson - "It's Different For Girls"
Jonathan Richman - "When Harpo Played His Harp"
Katrina & The Waves - "Walking on Sunshine"
Kelly Clarkson - "Behind These Hazel Eyes"
King Missile - "Jesus Was Way Cool"
Kylie Minogue - "Love at First Sight"
Led Zeppelin - "Black Dog"
Lee Ann Womack - "I'll Think of a Reason Later"
Lee Ann Womack - "I May Hate Myself in the Morning"
Len - "Steal My Sunshine"
Lillix - "Sweet Temptation (Hollow)"
Madonna - "Live to Tell"
Mariah Carey - "All I Want for Christmas Is You"
Martina McBride - "Independence Day"
Martina McBride - "This One's for the Girls"
Marvin Gaye - "T Plays It Cool"
Michelle Branch - "Everywhere"
Miley Cyrus - "See You Again"
Mint Royale - "Don't Falter"
Mint Royale ft. Pos - "Show Me"
Miranda Lambert - "Kerosene"
Monica - "The First Night"
The Mountain Goats - "Going to Georgia"
Mya - "My Love Is Like...Wo"
Nancy Sinatra - "These Boots Were Made for Walking"
Natalie Imbruglia - "Torn"
Natasha Bedingfield - "I Wanna Have Your Babies"
Natasha Bedingfield - "Unwritten"
The New Pornographers - "Letter from an Occupant"
Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
No Doubt - "Don't Speak"
Outkast - "Bombs Over Baghdad"
Paul Simon - "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard"
Pet Shop Boys - "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)"
Pink - "Just Like a Pill"
Prince - "Little Red Corvette"
Rachel Stevens - "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)"
Rachel Stevens - "Sweet Dreams My L.A. Ex"
Rancid - "Maxwell Murder"
The Rolling Stones - "Jumping Jack Flash"
Roxette - "Listen to Your Heart"
Sara Evans - "Suds in the Bucket"
Sean Paul - "Get Busy"
Sheryl Crow - "My Favorite Mistake"
Sheryl Crow - "If It Makes You Happy"
The Shirelles - "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"
Shooter Jennings - "4th of July"
Songs: Ohia - "Farewell Transmission"
Spoon - "The Underdog"
T-Rex - "Hot Love"
t.A.t.U. - "Cosmos (Outer Space)"
That Dog - "Minneapolis"
Thelma Houston - "Don't Leave Me This Way"
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - "Don't Come Around Here No More"
The Tornadoes - "Telstar"
Wham! ft. George Michael - "Careless Whisper"
The White Stripes - "Fell in Love with a Girl"
The Zombies - "Tell Her No"
50 Cent - "In Da Club"

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Guilty Pleasures: Amy Grant

I almost always rail against the concept of a guilty pleasure. After all, I like what I like, and if I do like it that's cause I think it has merit and is good. If somebody asks me what I like I answer honestly. I'm not ashamed of my tastes. Nevertheless, even I fall prey to the guilty pleasure siren sometimes. There are some things that are just so far that even I feel guilty for liking them. In this new (possibly) ongoing feature, I will explore the things that make even me, an avowed lover of teen pop and romantic comedies guilty for liking. This feature has 2 main purposes:

1) Admitting what I love so that I can get the big secret off my chest.
2) Trying to convince other people to like them, so I don't have to feel guilty about them.

Up first is AMY GRANT.

Amy Grant is one of my favorite singers of all time. I've liked Amy Grant so much and for so long that I've almost forgotten that I'm supposed to feel guilty about it. Nevertheless, I would never admit to somebody in real life that I like her, and I don't really feel comfortable stating it on this blog. But it's all coming out right now.

Back in high school when I used to listen to a lot of Christian music Amy Grant was one of my favorites, and she's one of the only artists who I feel has held up well today. Even though it's her pop music phase that would probably have the most cred among pop fans today, actually it's still her religious music that I like the most. Her first three albums consisted of kind of incredibly cheesy Nashville type production, and overwrought lyrics and vocals. They are truly horrible. A typical example is "My Father's Eyes", which is today known (by me) to be the worst song ever put to record.

Just listen to the incredible cheesiness to this, the horrible pop-country backing, etc. This is the type of song that I believe people think of when they think about Amy Grant and contemporary Christian music in general, and it's so unfair! Even though it's not like the rest of her career is a bastion of non-cheesy music, she has many other better songs than this.
Her career turned around, from a quality standpoint, starting with 1982's Age to Age, her most successful and best album she had released to date (the fact that it was released on the year of my birth is probably a coincidence). For example, listen to this song from the album, "I Have Decided", which manages to incorporate country elements and be explictly religious in a much less cheesy way than "My Father's Eyes". The key is, the lyrics here focus on her religious beliefs themselves, rather than her and others' reactions to those beliefs. By a huge margin, I prefer that variety of Christian song. And vocally, she just cuts loose and does the song well.

But not just that song, there are several other all time classics on this album, which remains one of my favorites of the 1980's. "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" incorporates classical and hymn elements to make a raucously catchy praise songs. "Thy Word" has very cheesy production but it has lyrics that are earnest in a good way and Amy knocks the vocals right out of the park. She's one of the all time great pop singers and I think this one demonstrates why. She's got a great tone to her voice and she shows good restraint for somebody with her abilities. I just love the way the song charges along. (Correction: "Thy Word" is on Straight Ahead not Age to Age. I should have broken out the albums before I wrote this!) But the album's real classic, is "El Shaddai". It's just so pretty, with the strings and the melody and what not!

I mean, the fact that the lyrics to all these songs are explictly Christian doesn't even really register with me at all. I just love the fact that they have classically great melodies and that Amy is a great singer who really sells what she's singing because she believes it. Whether I also believe it or not is basically immaterial, as far as I am concerned.

Even though Age to Age is my favorite Amy Grant album, by no means does it represent all of her good work. 1988's Lead Me On is frequently praised as her best album. It's a very good album that features great songs throughout and is great for having in the background while working and whatnot and great for listening to and relaxing. It just doesn't have much to compare to the hits that Age to Age. What it does have is "Saved By Love", arguably her best song, with its very catchy layered melody on the chorus and increasingly more countryish production. The title song also soars, in a way many pop songs attempt but few succeed at, though the electric guitars are so 80's. It's not hard to tell, though, that this is much more of a pop crossover album than Age to Age was. It's more of just a general pop album which happens to have Christian lyrics, and it lacks much of the originality and great variety of Age to Age. I think it sacrifices a lot of what I love about her for a slicker pop sound, and it loses something for that, though it is a great pop album on its own merits.

(Her other very successful song from this era is "Find a Way", which is a very cheesy and big pop song that doesn't hold up very well at all, though it's not a bad song I suppose.)

After Lead Me On, then, came Heart in Motion, which is her successful secular cross-over album that basically changed everything. I mean, it's not that "Baby Baby", "Every Heartbeat", and "Good For Me" are bad songs (I like all three, especially "Every Heartbeat"), it's just that there's nothing "Amy Grant" about them. They just sound like generic late 80's/early 90's pop hits and they could just as easily have been sung by Taylor Dayne. I mean, where's the country edge, the earnest lyrics, the fearless delivery? It's all gone, replaced by sheen and gloss and boringness. It's right back to the cheesy semi-religious dross of "My Father's Eyes", though dressed up by better songs. I don't want to sound too negative here, I mean Heart In Motion is one of the best if not THE actual best albums of its type. "Every Heartbeat" was on the 90's hits mix CD I made a couple months ago. It's just that it's not what I know she's capable of. (But, yes, it's better than Grace).

After all this, years later, she has now returned to both her country and her religious roots, by releasing a couple of albums of country arrangements of classic hymns. They are extremely beautiful and I highly recommend them. I even once won a Poptimists orga-fun contest with one of them ("Come Thou Font Of Every Blessing"), which is probably my best accomplishment on that group.

All of this is not even mentioning 1992's Home for Christmas, which is my favorite Christmas album of all time and which features "Breath of Heaven", possibly my favorite Christmas song of all time. I mean, one amazing original, and Amy's beautiful voice dressing up a surprisingly good selection of Christmas carols? Yes, please. It's also packed with some of the best production and arrangements of her career. It's far better than any of the stuff I reviewed last X-mas. In fact, in many ways this is the best Amy Grant album.

So, why Amy Grant? Why does she hold up so much better than other religious music? It's the earnestness, the smoothness of Amy's voice, the great pop melodies, and the light touches of country. And also, it's that she's singing about her beliefs and God directly rather than cheesy stuff about how happy she is and how much she loves God and etc., etc. It's just somebody stating their beliefs. I find the music relaxing and comforting and beautiful. But yet, I just can't admit that I like a contemporary Christian music artist.

List of Greg's 5 Favorite Amy Grant Songs:

1. "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)" - This is one of my 100 favorite songs of all time, thanks to a killer piano hook and an extremely pretty melodies and a great vocal performance.
2. "Saved By Love" - One of her best pure melodies, and the arrangement for once isn't too cheesy. And the lyrics are really beautiful. Has been known to make me tear up. Just not as pretty as the above.
3. "El Shaddai" - Her biggest classic and like "Breath of Heaven" it's a really pretty song with a nice piano sound.
4. "I Have Decided" - A real stomper with a great pounding rhythm and tempo in the chorus.
5. "Every Hearbeat" - OK, I have a soft spot for it.
Bonus #6: "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" - Her catchiest song, but not as moving as her best work.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Top 10 TV Shows of 2007

Based only on their televised output during the calendar year 2007.

Top 10 TV Shows of 2007

1. Friday Night Lights (NBC)
2. Pushing Daisies (ABC)
3. How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
4. The 4400 (USA)
5. House (Fox)
6. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
7. Unfabulous (Nickelodeon)
8. Greek (ABC Family)
9. 30 Rock (NBC)
10. The World Series of Pop Culture (VH1)

Comments: I do not get Showtime or HBO and have not seen any of their shows except Entourage, which everybody including me agrees has gone way downhill. I don't like Lost, although I've seen every episode of the show. It has some weird grip on me. My relationship to that show is complicated and I'm not getting into it here. Suffice to say it was not close to making the list. Heroes WAS close to making the list, but its fate was sealed by a mediocre first season finale and a mediocre start to season 2. It's been a weak stretch for reality shows. This has been a pretty boring season of The Real World, excepting Isaac, and have Made or True Life even made any new episodes? I don't buy that American Idol is losing its spark, I still like it but it just didn't quite make the cut. How Do I Look, on the other hand, has totally lost its spark. Hannah Montana just not quite good enough to make the cut, I've been a little disappointed by it lately, though it is cute. I enjoy all of the original series on USA. Burn Notice was the closest to making the list, with its slick and easy charm. Call it number 11 or number 12. Psych is a funny show with no substance that has managed to leave absolutely no lasting impact on me. I like the show more than what Monk has become anyways, though I'm still loving Traylor Howard and looking forward to seeing what she does after she leaves the sinking ship.

Now, as to what did make the list: I agree that FNL has gone a slight bit downhill this season, but it had a big perch to fall from, and the amazing second half of season 1 plus a still good first half of season 2 are good enough to push it to the top. Pushing Daisies is my favorite new show in a while and it only isn't #1 because it's had half as many episodes as FNL. If it can hold it up it will climb to the top. As of right now, I'm completely and totally enamored of almost every aspect of the show. A similar reaction as the one I had to Joan of Arcadia, though obviously of a much smaller magnitude. How I Met Your Mother might have topped this list had "Slap Bet" been released during 2007. Alas, it's December 2006. Still, though, the second half of season 2 and first half of season 3 have been amazing, far better than season 1 was.

The 4400 topped this list last year and fell 3 slots. Actually, I thought this was the best season yet, ending on an awesome cliffhanger (if it gets canceled I'll cut somebody), probably the best episode of any show during 2007. Unless the FNL finale was better. Hmm. It was simply passed up by a show I had never seen at year end 2006, a show that didn't exist yet at year end 2006, and a show that has leaped to the next level since year end 2006. No shame in that. House followed up a mediocre/bad third season with a fourth season that has been a huge step up. Probably my favorite show right now, but those terrible third season episodes were during this year too. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues to be the funniest show on TV, but this season was spottier than the previous 2 and it's possible the formula is starting to wear a bit thin.

The last season of Unfabulous did the show proud. It went out on a bang and I'm very happy for that. Greek was a really awesome trashy summer show. It's one of the most entertaining shows on TV, with truly likable characters and fun plots. Nothing could make me happier than seeing it gain an audience. 30 Rock is a very funny show that I rarely take the effort to watch for some reason. I always like it when I watch it but it has failed to have a lasting impact. Still, I like what I've seen enough to rank it here. The World Series of Pop Culture is an immensely entertaining game show, even if they did leave team Cheaper By The Cousin in the cold.

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Top 10 Movies of 2007

Here is my completely meaningless top 10 movies of 2007 list.

Top 10 Movies of 2007

1. Enchanted
2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
3. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
4. The Bourne Ultimatum
5. No Country for Old Men
6. Catch and Release
7. Superbad
8. The Mist
9. Nancy Drew
10. Music & Lyrics

Comments: I still have not seen literally any movie that will contend for an Oscar except No Country For Old Men. I usually like a few of the Oscar contenders, so take this with a grain of salt. Basically if you are wondering where almost any movie on this list is, there's a pretty good chance I have not seen it.

Enchanted should be an extremely unsurprising number one. The more I think about it the more the ending bothers me, but it has to be at #1 in deference to my reaction to the film on watching it. This is the film romance that's affected me the most of any film romance in a while. I don't expect other people to have the same reaction to it that I did, but I'm going with my gut here.

Sweeney Todd is one of my favorite musicals and Tim Burton is one of my favorite directors. I think most of his cuts and changes benefited the movie, though it was too gory for me at parts. I just looked away. The King of Kong was the most compelling story of the year, and there are accusations that it has played a little loose with the facts but they don't bother me. An extremely fascinating character story, and whatever changes they made ramped up the drama and entertainment so good for them. The Bourne Ultimatum was a very skillfully made and plotted action movie.

No Country For Old Men is over-rated but still very good. I still think the last half hour or so was boring and silly. Catch and Release was a bit of a missed opportunity, but it was well acted and had a good love story and made me laugh so it ranks high anyways. Superbad was very funny and easily the best of the recent Apatow comedies, even though the humor was frequently a bit too vulgar for my tastes. I never got the feeling that the movie had no point, which was the feeling I couldn't shake all throughout Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin. The Mist was a well made thriller with a fun anti-fundamentalist Christian message. It built suspense very well and paid the suspense off with well-designed demon creatures. Nancy Drew was an Emma Roberts showcase and I loved it for that if nothing else (OK, I definitely loved it for that and nothing else). The mystery part wasn't very interesting. Music and Lyrics was a fun throwaway romantic comedy. I like leaving slots open for all style no substance movies that entertained me and this was the best of those this year (depending on how much substance you attribute to Enchanted).

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Top 10 Albums of 2007

I'm positive that my top 10 albums and movies will change over the next couple months, as I finally get fully caught up with 2007 stuff. But that's life. I was going to do all 3 of these in one post but I'll split them out to pad my post count.

Top 10 Albums of 2007
1. Britney Spears - Blackout
2. Miranda Lambert - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
3. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
4. Aly & AJ - Insomniatic
5. Fall Out Boy - Infinity on High
6. Blake Shelton - Pure B.S.
7. Avril Lavigne - The Best Damn Thing
8. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
9. Jordan Pruitt - No Ordinary Girl
10. Kelly Clarkson - My December

Where is?:
Amy Diamond - Haven't absorbed the album enough to place it yet. Possible top 10 material, a step down from Still Me, Still Now.
Little Big Town, They Might Be Giants, Girls Aloud - Haven't heard
Tegan & Sara - 100x better than I expected, still not quite good enough. Late cut.
New Pornographers - I thought this album was extremely disappointing
Hannah/Miley - Just too much filler
Hilary Duff - Never got into it. Aside from "Play With Fire", nothing on here that grabbed me as especially memorable.
Rihanna, Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Great hits, too much filler
All indie albums except Spoon and LCD - I don't like indie music
Any rap or R&B - Just how it turned out this year. I loved Ciara last year and will probably love Cassie next year.

Comments: The Britney album stands up as extremely solid start to finish. Not only is almost every track very good (it tails off in the last few tracks), but it has a real personality as an album and it all adds up well. My favorite album since Come and Get It. I really thought Miranda would be my album of the year as I love every track on it, but it just doesn't have enough personality to push it over the top. I still think it's great.

LCD and Spoon are the indie favorites I really loved this year. Spoon especially is my favorite indie rock album in the last few years, much better than anticipated. Both are packed with great pop melodies. Is it possible to love an album and be really disappointed with it at the same time? That's my reaction to Insomniatic, where I love most of the tracks & the album so much better than I thought I would, but I don't love it in the way I'd hoped from Aly & AJ. Nothing here comes close to packing the emotional punch of "Rush" or "Not This Year", but it's great pop music anyways.

Fall Out Boy is a great pop album overlayed with electric guitar and sung by a great emo singer. Blake Shelton is hit or miss male country, but the hits ("The More I Drink", "She Don't Love Me", "This Can't Be Good") more than make up for the misses. Avril's album is my favorite by her yet, very fun. Jordan Pruitt still has an amazing singing voice and I still like the teen angst lyrics and the music is still blah. Kelly Clarkson was disappointing but very unfairly treated and still a very good album.

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