The internet is buzzing about Taylor Swift’s “surprise” album “Folklore”, I felt I should take a listen. I own both her “Red” and “1989” albums, her biggest and most successful records. I have to admit I’m not a fan of what we call low key “indie” music but I’m going to try to listen with open eyes or ears. Long gone are the Swedish hit maker producers Max Martin and Shellback, who are replaced with Aaron Dressner of The National, he helms the album along with her long-time collaborator Jack Antonoff, her mainstay producer on her previous effort “Lover” and some of her biggest records. Let’s start with the good: I absolutely love the song “Betty”, I could definitely see it becoming my favorite Taylor song. The album’s opener “The 1”, “The last great American dynasty”, “Invisible strings” and “August” are all worthy of her fine repertoire and Taylor’s biggest asset her storytelling, so far all these songs would make a great album. The record plays like a soundtrack to a movie or TV show, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but most songs don’t have the hook or chorus for a huge radio hit or even to keep the listener intrigued. As for the production, I find Taylor’s voice is too drowned out by the music on most tracks. “Cardigan” for me is a really weak song as an album’s lead single and I’m not a fan of Bon Iver’s voice, the second single, the duet “Exile” is a no for me. At 16 songs this I find the album suffers from listening fatigue, I get that artists want to give their fans the most music for their money but this project needs pruning. Some songs were hard to listen all the way through including “Epiphany”, “This Is Me Trying”, “Peace” and Hoax” would all be cut on my list. Taylor can do anything, she is great at marketing and reinventing herself which is a great recipe for a long career, this album will definitely be talked about but is it worthy of the Grammy Album Of The Year as most are saying, I’m not convinced.
My favorite album of 2020 so far is Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia”. Superbly produced and conceived, you can tell a lot of thought and pruning went into this record. It steers away from trends and pays homage to the 1970’s and 1980’s dancefloor, think Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer and Kylie Minogue all rolled into one, but still sounding current. My favorite song is “Love Again” which includes a sample of Bing Crosby’s song “My Woman”, although some know Al Bowly’s version better , I’m hoping this track ends up as a single. Almost any song could be a radio hit, other standouts include “Break My Heart”, “Levitating”, the fun “Good in Bed” and “Hallucinate” which burns up the dancefloor with a Kylie Minogue electro-vibe reminiscent of her “Fever” album. A perfect album, the sonic quality of the cute transparent pink vinyl is fabulous, but I take off a few points for not including a download card, vinyls are expensive, I don’t think I should have to pay again to have the music on my phone when I’m out or at the gym.
As we enter 2020 here are my top 20 albums of the decade 2010-2019. It took a while to compile and I’m sure I missed a few great albums. I put them in numerical order but they aren’t written in stone and can change depending on my mood, is one album or type of music better then another? I was surprised at how man were from the last few years as opposed to the beginning of the decade. To my music loving fans out there what are your favorite albums of the last ten years?
My favorite albums of 2019
Every year I would compile my top ten favorite albums, year by year it’s become more difficult as the music scene changes to sounds and productions that just don’t ring with me, frankly I find it hard finding ten new albums that I love. 2019 brought a few surprises. Shakespears Sister comprising of Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit were one of the most intriguing bands of the late 80’s and early 90’s. After 27 year the girls reunite with a Greatest Hits package, a UK tour and a five song EP of new songs called “Ride Again”. The album picks up right where they left off in 1992 with their opus “Hormonally Yours”. “Ride Again” is a sly nostalgic return to greatness with touches of old school Motown and soul but ever so modern and timeless, check out “All The Queen’s Horses” and the Roy Orbison channelled “When She Finds You”. Siobhan’s ex bandmates from Bananarama, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward put out their own effort. The dance-tastic album “In Stereo” written and co-produced by Ian Masterson does what the Nana’s do best, burn up the dancefloor with pop gems, best tracks include “Tonight”, lead single “Stuff Like That” and the Sugababes penned song “In Stereo”. “Courage” is more than just a statement by Diva Celine Dion, after a few mediocre years this project is her best release since the early 2000’s. The album is her most current sounding piece; the 20 song deluxe edition is a bit much but the cut down 16 track regular CD is near perfect. I’m convinced had these songs been sung by a much younger artist they’d be hits all over radio. Songs to check out, the beautiful Skylar Grey penned “Falling In Love Again”, “Nobody’s” Watching, “Imperfections”, the title track, and the haunting “For The Lover That I Lost” co-written by Sam Smith. You can always depend on good ol’ Bruce Springsteen, even though the E Street Band is not along for this ride “Western Stars” delivers a mix of rock, country and class, check out “Tucson Train”, “The Wayfarer”, and the title cut.
The year was 1987 I was deeply in love with Madonna, George Michael and Michael Jackson, but my girls were Sara, Keren & Siobhan better known as the UK girl group Bananarama. I was also a huge Motown fan having grown up with The Jacksons, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross & The Supremes. I loved the current music trends but I also loved discovering older music. Who came before, I would ask, who set the standard? Bananarama first hit my radar with the song “Cruel Summer”, and later “Venus”, but it was their Stock, Aitken & Waterman produced album simply called “Wow!” that cemented my idolization for years to come. “Wow!” produced the big hits “I Heard A Rumour”, “I Want You Back”, and “Love In The First Degree” the song that Berry Gordy the founder of Motown went on record saying was the closest anybody had ever come to the Motown recipe. My attention was caught by a little song towards the end of side two called “Nathan Jones”, although I thought the production was a bit odd and quirky I just loved it. It was the only song on the album that neither the girls nor Stock Aitken & Waterman wrote, written by Leonard Caston and Kathy Wakefield, it was apparently a cover.
In 1988 Bananarama were at the height of their success but many changes were to come, the first being Siobhan Fahey announced she was leaving the group and was replaced by newcomer Jacquie O’Sullivan. Not unlike 1967 when original Supremes member Florence Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. In 1988 the Supremes were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, that same year by coincidence, Bananarama were entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as “the most successful female band worldwide with the most charting singles”. They released a Greatest Hits package which included a newly recorded and better produced version of “Nathan Jones” with Jacquie’s vocals. I still remember reading the liner notes to my cassette, “This is a spirited version of a somewhat forgotten 1971 single by the Supremes, forgotten because the glitteringly famous Miss Diana Ross didn’t sing on it thus it never turns up on Supremes compilation albums. Showing imperishably good taste, Bananarama have revived a marvelous song, it lives again.” I was very confused, I loved the Supremes, however I only knew their hits via radio and a two cassette Best of compilation. What I didn’t understand is how could Diana Ross have never sung on a Supremes song?
This discovery opened a floodgate of new music and history I never knew, imagine unearthing 8 new Beatles albums. I was shocked to discover over the years that the Supremes did not end but continued for 7 years after Miss Ross left in 1970. Founding member Mary Wilson along with Cindy Birdsong continued with new lead singer Jean Terrell, initially they had more success than Diana’s first solo efforts. “Up The Latter To The Roof” and “Stoned Love” went top ten and you guessed it “Nathan Jones” was a top 20 US/Canadian single and a top 5 UK smash. The Group put out stellar albums including the Smokey Robinson produced “Floy Joy” and Jean’s final album “The Supremes Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Webb”. One final single was recorded before Jean left, the funky and fabulous Stevie Wonder penned “Bad Weather”, in another era this would have been a huge hit. In between a few albums Cindy Birdsong left on maternity leave and was replaced with Lynda Laurence but it didn’t stop there, the incredible voice of Scherrie Payne was brought in to replace Jean, her first album with them simply called “The Supremes” is absolutely fabulous and glamorous. Check out the album’s songs “He’s My Man” and Color My World Blue”. Sadly Cindy left again but then came sassy and brassy Susaye Greene who moved them into the disco years with the “High Energy” album. The title track with Susaye’s angelic voice layering over the song is a timeless piece of funky R&B groove, not unlike Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” released the year before but “Energy” was never a hit. The lead single “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking”, is in my opinion, one of the greatest lost classics. Unfortunately the next album titled “Mary, Scherrie & Susaye” would be their final one as Mary Wilson decided it was time to leave and go solo. The Supremes were to continue on with Scherrie, Susaye and a new member but ultimately Motown decided that without any original members left the group should fold. The songs that Scherrie & Susaye had already written in anticipation ended up their own album called “Partners”.
If you’re a fan of the Supremes or the Motown era and only know the standards check out some of theses fabulous albums and songs. From Bananarama to The Supremes and a little song called “Nathan Jones”, I discovered a treasure trove of lost gems….“Nathan Jones you’ve been gone too long”.
The Jean Terrell Years with Mary Wilson, Cindy Birdsong and Lynda Laurence
- Right On (1970)
- New Ways but Love Stays (1970)
- Touch (1971)
- Floy Joy (1972)
- The Supremes Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Webb (1972)
Mary Wilson, Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene with Cindy Birdsong
- The Supremes (1975)
- High Energy (1976)
- Mary, Scherrie & Susaye (1976)
The one that started it all
I never experienced the phenomenon or the hysteria. I was born the year Sgt. Peppers came out, but I knew growing up the importance of the Beatles in the history of pop music. How did I become aware of this “old group”? You would think it would be easier to listen to and find music in the modern age of streaming, YouTube and downloading, but back in the day of vinyl and radio plays you could hear all sorts of genres, styles from oldies to new releases. In the late 70’s and early 80’s there seemed to be more of an importance placed on pop music, song writing, chart placements and album production. Nowadays, it all style, presence and look, everything is rehearsed, prepared, the music in many cases is but an afterthought to sell tickets, perfume or becoming an influencer. Music is just something you stream or don’t pay for, why should you? It’s no longer the center of a rock or pop star’s life.
Some of my first memories of the Beatles were through my brother’s friend Victor. My brother was 8 years older than me, Victor was somewhere in between us, he had three brothers and they all owned an incredible collection of vinyl including the entire Beatles catalog. I spent my summers as a kid at my mother cottage in the Laurentien Mountains just outside of Montreal. Victor played guitar and would take out his Beatles Guitar book and play for me, I still remember the black cover book with just the words “Beatles Complete” written on it. I sometimes wonder if this was the first time I heard some of those lesser known album tracks. I remember memorising the lyrics and trying to (horribly) sing along with him. I had my own ghetto blaster/cassette deck and Victor would often make me mix tapes of songs I wanted, he would also throw in some recent music he liked including Paul McCartney. I distinctly remember one tape had “Goodnight Tonight” and “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”, those along with the huge 1980 #1 hit “Coming Up” were probably the first McCartney solo songs I knew, I still love them all, a shame they were not on the concert set list.
In 1980 I made $265 at my Bar Mitzvah, that’s the party where you supposedly become a man and people give you money. Growing up without a dad my mom struggled and that amount of money for me was huge. I knew right away what I wanted to invest it in, a full stereo system. My uncle was a top salesman for Lloyd’s electronic and I asked him for a tuner, a belt drive record player, two speakers and a cassette deck to make my own mix tapes. I had just enough money to buy the whole system. I remember being so proud to be able to buy this myself. My mom went record shopping afterwards and asked what record I wanted, I was a huge BeeGee’s fan, I remember asking for the “BeeGees Greatest” double vinyl and painstakingly describing the logo on the cover so she would get the right record. She returned with not one but three records the other two being John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy”, and the classic “Meet The Beatles”, which I wore out, for me it the beginning of a “Pop Music” history lesson.
From then on music was my passion, I moved on from the Beatles to the new wave and dance of the 1980’s and the explosion of new sounds and video’s on MTV and Much Music. As vinyl faded away I started collecting The Beatles entire discography on CD. I started attending concerts in 1984; I kept going and never looked back. I’m not sure why I never saw McCartney until recently perhaps he didn’t tour much in my hometown or the opportunity didn’t arise. When I heard he was coming this July to Vancouver I knew it was now or never. I didn’t think there would be a chance of getting a ticket but Ticketmaster announced a special lottery to detract bots and scalpers. They would send registered fans a special code the night before, to log in the day of the fan pre -sale. I tried for fun, not having any expectations, besides there are no more line ups at the tickets booth, it’s now all virtual. When I logged on there were 1000 people online in queue, I kept checking periodically as it went down to 100…75…. then I got in. Best ticket was the floor of BC Stadium section A9 all the way on the side but row 3? I later checked and tickets next to me in a section over and even higher up in the stands were double or triple the price. Could this incredible ticket be true?
Before I get into the absolutely incredible show, let’s talk about my ticket. I thought my 3rd row tickets was the Holy Grail, but I soon realized why there was three empty seats next to me. Paul’s stage was like a box, enclosed with two huge screens upfront on either side. When he was playing guitar or base at the front of the stage I could see him, but once he moved to the back of the stage on the black piano to sing his iconic hits like “Let It Be” and “Live Or Let Die”, I couldn’t see him at all, in fact I never really saw the drummer or keyboardist except on screen. Ticketmaster should not be selling tickets at that far of an angle or they should at least mention “obstructed view”. There could have been an easy fix had Paul’s stage been opened with no walls and the screens at the back, why not have this set up?
At 77 years old, Paul does a 5-10 minutes shy of a 3 hour show, 38 songs and he never sweats or gets tired. Despite some saying his vocals are diminished I thought he sounded great, and was never out of breath. Unlike most concerts I attend I decided to not peak at the set list, besides I know all the Beatles songs (or so I thought) and the Hits from Wings. I was on a forum recently where McCartney fans were moaning that Paul only does the same hit songs in concert over and over, that he never deviates or never does any recent material or deep cuts. How surprised was I in the first half of the show, I was unaware of at least 8 songs. The first was after the opener “Hard Days Night”, although a hit I was unfamiliar with “Junior’s Farm”. He also sang “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” from the “Band On The Run” album and the lesser known single “Letting Go”, as a beautiful tribute to Linda. The biggest surprise came with the Quarrymen song “In Spite of All the Danger”, the group that Paul and John belonged to before the Beatles. Other oddities including “Quennie Eye from his previous studio effort in 2013, “My Valentine” for his recent wife Nancy, and “Dance Tonight” from his 2007 album “Memory Almost Full”. Three new songs were included from his recent fantastic album “Egypt Station” including “Who Cares” a favorite of mine that Paul wrote about the uprising of bullying. Even some of the Beatles choices seem a bit of an oddity, including “I Got A Feeling” from the “Let It Be” album, and “For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”, not the song I would have chosen from Sgt. Peppers.
One of the most poignant moments of the evening was when the front of the stage started moving upwards, lifting Paul to the sky of the Stadium as he was playing “Blackbird”. Paul explained he wrote the song when the Beatles toured the US after they witnessed the segregation of the Deep South. The stage was surrounded with a screen that lit up like a starry night, it was subtle but beautiful. He then went into “Here And Today” from the “Tug Of War” album, it was the first song he wrote for John after he passed. My favorite section was the back to back “Band on the Run” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.” although as I looked around I seemed to be the only one dancing and rocking out. I was elated that he did “Eleanor Rigby”, while it did sound different with no string section Paul Wickens did a fine job replicating them on the keyboards. I came close to tearing up a few times but the fact I could not see him during “Let It Be” annoyed me a bit. I don’t think most were prepared for flames and fireworks during “Live And Let Die”, I almost had a heart attack, you could feel the heat on your face, a shame I could only see Paul on the screen at this point. “Hey Jude” brought the house down, but wait there was the encore that took about another half hour. From “Birthday”, “Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”, “Helter Skelter” and the incredible “Abbey Road” medley of “Golden Slumber’s”, Carry That Weight and “The End”. My few disappointments in the set list were not hearing “Penny Lane”, which is at the top of my favorite Beatles tunes and “Day Tripper”.
Funny how some trends do a 360, by 1990 you could not find one piece of new vinyl in the shops, now I’m collecting it again, old and new. I’ll never get to see the Beatles but this past Saturday I got to go back in time and glimpse into a little piece of history and witness one of pop music’s greatest songwriters, let it be indeed.
The Set List
1. A Hard Day’s Night
2. Junior’s Farm
3. All My Loving
4. Letting Go
5. Who Cares
6. Got to Get You Into My Life
7. Come On to Me
8. Let Me Roll It
9. I’ve Got a Feeling
10. Let ‘Em In
11. My Valentine
12. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
13. Maybe I’m Amazed
14. I’ve Just Seen a Face
15. In Spite of All the Danger
16. From Me to You
17. Dance Tonight
18. Love Me Do
20. Here Today
21. Queenie Eye
22. Lady Madonna
23. Eleanor Rigby
24. Fuh You
25. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
27. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
28. Band on the Run
29. Back in the U.S.S.R.
30. Let It Be
31. Live and Let Die
32. Hey Jude
34. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
35. Helter Skelter
36. Golden Slumbers
37. Carry That Weight
38. The End
From an early age I was fascinated by pop music and the Billboard charts. I would sit down every Sunday at 10:00 AM and listen to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 and wouldn’t leave till he got to #1. I remember being at my mother’s cottage in the Laurentien Mountain’s just outside of Montreal. It was the summer of 1984 and I was faithfully listening to the Top 40. Kasey would often talk about certain artists just before playing their song and then announce radio stations from across the country. I remember him getting up to the top ten and saying….”On great radio stations like Montreal’s CKGM and here is Montreal native Corey Hart at #7 with Sunglasses At Night”. While there are many Canadians currently dominating the American pop music scene, back then there were very few, it was quite difficult for a Canadian to have a hit. Hearing a Canadian station mentioned was even rarer, especially the local one I was listening to. That was the start of Corey’s huge career. His debut album “First Offence” spawned three other hits “It Ain’t Enough” which landed at #17 on the Hot 100, and the Canadian hits “Lamp At Midnight” and my favorite at the time “She Got The Radio”. I got to see Corey at my first ever concert, as the opening act for Culture Club in March of 1984.
1985 was the year that turned Corey into a superstar. His album “Boy In The Box” broke all records, selling 1 million copies in Canada, reaching Diamond status which was quite a rare feat. “Never Surrender” became his anthem and his biggest hit going all the way to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 in Canada and many other countries. The follow up singles “Everything In My Heart” the title track, and “Eurasian Eyes” continued the success, with Corey being mobbed by fans and selling out arenas.
There are certain periods in every artist career that I enjoy more than others and 1986 for me was Corey’s best. His third release “Fields Of Fire” is my favorite album. It spawned 5 top 30 singles in Canada, including the top 10’s “I Am By Your Side” and the Elvis song “Can’t Help Falling In Love” which went to #1. My favorite singles were his less popular ones, the rockin’ “Dancing With My Mirror”, the beautiful melodic “Take My Heart” and “Angry Young Man”. Unfortunately in the US this would be the start of his chart decline as “I Am By Your Side” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love” charted at #18 and #24 respectively but the rest of the album gained little momentum after that. The summer of 1986 was the first summer I worked in Montreal, while my mother stayed up at the cottage. I would go up to visit her on the weekends, the bus ride was long, there was no ipods or cell phones in those days but I did have a Walkman and played my “Fields Of Fire” cassette, track number five “I’m….Goin’ Home” always got me a bit emotional.
For me Corey’s peak was 1988’s “Young Man Running”. To this day “In Your Soul” is still my favorite Corey composition and one of my all-time favorite songs. If ever I was to become a songwriter this would be the song I’d want to write. The song reminds me of my childhood, of not fitting in, and of my mom, to quote Corey her “words of wonder”. The song peaked at #2 in Canada and made the top 40 in the US at #38. Other favorite tracks from the album include “Spot You In A Coalmine” which should have been a bigger hit, “Chase The Sun”, and “So it Goes”. Young Man Running along with the albums Fields Of Fire and Attitude and Virtue form my trinity, my favorite top three Corey Hart albums.
“Starting Over” was Corey’s motto in 1990 with the release of the “Bang!” album. The rockin’ and fantastic lead single “A Little Love” went top ten in Canada at #8 and would be his last top 40 single in the US stalling at #37. Sadly this comeback would not last, the 80’s were over, the music scene was changing and from what I understand Corey was disappointed with his record label and promotion. He left Aquarius Records and EMI and singed with Sire Records and Warner Brothers. He only produced one album with them but 1992’s “Attitude & Virtue” is one of his most outstanding from start to finish, his most solid album. From the stand out opening track “Back In The Hand”, “Love and Money” to what I consider his best ballad “Baby When I Call Your Name”. The album spawned 4 top 30 hits in Canada including “92 Days Of Rain” “Always” and I “Want (Cool Cool Love)”, other great tracks include the song “Poster” a personal favorite of mine. Despite the success of some of the songs it remains one of his least successful and known albums, only one of two that isn’t certified Gold or Platinum. Being the only album he did for Sire Records and not a huge seller it’s unfortunately hard to find on physical formats.
I can’t remember the exact season but there was no snow, it was probably the autumn of 1995, I was working in Montreal in small art supply store on Sherbrooke and Decarie. The art store was separated from the framing shop and the other employees by a doorway up the stairs, my manager had left for lunch and I was oddly alone. I remember pricing tubes of paint when suddenly a couple entered the shop. The man was holding a car seat with a baby in it. I went over to ask if they needed help, I remember they were looking for Sennellier pastels, which unfortunately we didn’t sell. As I returned to the cash desk I had an eerie feeling that the cute husband with spikey hair and a little earing looked mighty familiar, then it hit me “OMG was that Corey Hart?” I get very nervous when meeting celebrities especially pop stars so the rest is a bit of a blur and interpretation. I returned to the couple and as I was about to ask “Are you…” I could see Corey coming over and then standing between me and his wife Julie Masse. At the time Julie was the big pop star in Quebec, I’m assuming he thought I was a huge fan and was about to chat her up, but when my sentenced of “Are you…” finished with “…Corey Hart, I’m a huge fan”, he completely lightened up and became super friendly. I went on about how much his music and lyrics meant to me, he then asked me what my favorite song was, I was so nervous, I could barely think and blurt out the answer “….In Your Soul”, I said the song meant a lot to me and that it reminded me of my mom. I told him his fans miss his music, and wondered if he was going to ever release another album. He said he was working on a new one to be released the next year, that album became his self-titled Sony release from 1996. He was an absolute gentleman and genuinely interested in what I was saying, he even introduced me to his little baby girl “India”. I remember briefly turning to his wife and saying “You’re Julie Masse right?”, and then turning right back to Corey, it looked like I snubbed her, I felt awful about that afterwards but it was just me being nervous. In those days there was no cell phone camera’s, I did not ask for an autograph, I felt like that would be intruding. He asked me to write him a fan letter, I started writing one, but before the internet and e-mails I was not someone who was big on writing or posting a letter.
Corey made good on his promise and released the self-titled album “Corey Hart” in 1996. The album was a huge successful comeback. Four songs made Canada’s top 40 including the #2 hit “Black Cloud Rain”, his beautiful ode to Julie “Third Of June” and my favorite track “Tell Me”. Corey played an absolutely fabulous show at the Theatre St-Denis which I attended. I remember at one point towards the end of the show, he played without the band, solo on the piano, he asked the audience what they wanted to hear and played anything and everything we screamed out, I remember him doing a beautiful rendition of the deep cut “Jenny Fey” from his debut album. Two years later he released what was to be his final album called “Jade” and then he faded away. His name would occasionally pop up as a songwriter on songs for other artists like Celine Dion, but Corey retreated from the crazy fame of recording and touring. Corey and I are similar in a few ways. I’m not a singer or songwriter, but we are both from Montreal and we were raised by two incredible moms without a dad. Corey did not want his kids to be raised without a dad so he decided to put his family above his career and say goodbye.
In 2014 Corey decided to do one last farewell show in Montreal but I was not able to attend. I thought that was the last we would see of him but last year he announced that he was working on new music and a country wide Canadian tour, this past April he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame at the Junos. This past week he released his new album “Dreaming Time Again” which debut at #3 on the Billboard Canadian album chart. On June 24th I will see Corey again in Victoria at the Save on Food Memorial Center.
It took over 25 years, Corey here is my fan letter,
Thank you for the music.
Bananarama releases “In Stereo”, their best album in over 20 years. Produced by Ian Masterson this 10 track record is one of 2019’s finest.
George Perez, if you’ve been a friend of mine you’ve certainly heard his name. After hearing of his retirement this week, like most fans, I was emotional, taken aback, devastated and happy at all the tributes pouring in. I can’t think of any other artist that has influenced me so much, while he never released a song and was not a songwriter, George’s illustrations, comic books and storytelling were music to my ears, the soundtrack to my childhood and teen years. His drawings taught me how to draw and made me want to be a better artist. You could tell that George poured every emotion into all of his drawings; everything glowed with empathy, power, energy, and vivaciousness. From his people to his cityscapes, even piles of rock or rubble had a fabulous quality to it. My first memories of George’s work was probably from the Justice League run in the late 70’s to early 80’s but it was an announcement back in the summer of 1980 that caught my eye, an ad for the returning Teen Titans comic book, a favorite of mine which was cancelled a year before. This time it was labeled as the “New Teen Titans” by writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez.
I was 12 that summer, living in Montreal when my sister sent me as a gift, tickets to visit her in Calgary, the same month the book was coming out. I remember being worried that I would miss it on the newsstands back home, in those days there was no comic book shops, I had to find my books at the local five and dime, corner store on a metal spinning rack, hoping there would be a copy of the issue I was looking for. If you missed an issue there was little chance of getting one as a back issue. I remember every day I would walk to the corner store in Calgary to find that #1 issue of the New Teen Titans but no luck. One day we were visiting Banff, up at the chalet in Lake Louise, there was store with a newsstand rack with one issue left, I couldn’t believe it, I still have that issue today. The New Teen Titans is probably George’s most important book, he only took the assignment because DC had offered him the Justice League but by issue #8 of the Titans with a story called “A Day In The Life” it was apparent that George along with writer Marv Wolfman stumbled upon a gold mine and an incredible collaboration that would last for many years. The book became DC comic’s biggest seller even outselling Marvel’s famous X-Men. This was the first comic where they allowed characters to evolve and grow up. No longer teenagers, Donna Troy’s Wonder Girl got married and had a kid. Dick Grayson’s Robin grew up and became Nightwing, Wally West’s Kid Flash, after much deliberation gave up his costume and quit the team (and soon took over the mantle as the Flash after Barry Allen died).
Marv and George created many new characters for the book including Starfire, Raven, Cyborg, Terra and Slade Wilson’s Deathstroke the Terminator, all have become iconic and are now seen on film or on TV in various incarnations.The book tackled important issues like runaways and drugs. They created some of the best stories including the Judas Contract which has been adapted for film.
My favorite issue will always be #38 “Who Is Donna Troy”, a touching tale about Donna’s heritage. In his last appearance as Robin, Dick Grayson finds Donna’s adoptive parents and discovers the mystery of her birth mother. Donna Troy would go on to become my all time favorite character, Marv and George gave Donna so much depth, emotion and sincerity that she would be the meter to which I would judge all other characters.
All good things must end and eventually George had to move away from the Titans because along with Marv they concocted one of the biggest and most daring comic series ever, 1985’s “Crisis On Infinite Earths”, a 12 part maxi-series that was meant to fix all of DC’s continuity problems, taking all the different eras and earths and fusing it into one. This was the mother book, the blueprint to which all others have copied. While it did create as many problems as it solved, it was a grand staking event featuring just about every character in the DC universe drawn by George like nobody else could. Barry Allen’s Flash and Supergirl both perished in some of the most emotional comic book scenes ever, with the exception of Marvel’s Jean Grey this just did not happen. Speaking of the X-Men, George’s Supergirl death pose cover being held by Superman, an homage to the Jean Grey X-men cover, became one of the most iconic comic book images. Sadly a lot of great continuity and characters suffered during this event including The JSA World War Two heroes and Wonder Woman who was reverted back to clay.
And speaking of Wonder Woman!
Another ad I’ll never forget was that one that listed George Perez as the new author and artist for a brand new Wonder Woman series coming out in 1986. I could not believe my eyes, my favorite artist was going to draw my favorite character, I was elated. It’s hard to imagine but by the late 70’s early 80’s the Woman Woman comic was probably one of DC’s worst sellers and on the verge of cancellation. DC decided to start fresh by removing her from the new universe in the Crisis book. They already had Frank Miller on Batman, John Byrne of Superman, so George was the obvious choice to rejuvenate Diana. Not trying to take away from her creator Charles Moulton Marston, but to this day much of Diana’s popularity on film or in pop culture is due to George’s take. His visual take on her is as gorgeous as Lynda Carter was portraying her, but most importantly he took her back to her roots, her Greek mythology origins, his version of the Olympic Gods are still my all time favorite. Diana now had a sense of rich history and an incredible new cast of diverse characters to support her including her mentor Julia Kapatelis, her daughter Vanessa and the wonderful but sad Myndi Mayer. The book tackled several difficult issues never talked about before including suicide and the murder of Myndi Mayer, these characters humanized a sometimes god like immortal figure like Wonder Woman. It dealt with women’s right with beautiful wisdom, Diana was more than a crime fighting superhero called Wonder Woman she was an ambassador of peace.
One cannot talk about George without mentioning the Avengers or the Justice League of America. Back in the early 80’s there was a huge announcement that he would be drawing this iconic company cross over event. Sadly many editorial problems hampered the book and even after he had drawn many pages, it was completely cancelled, never to see the light of day, leaving many fan wondering what this book would have looked like. That is until 2003, the dream became a reality, with the help of writer Kurt Busiek, George and his fans finally got their wish. This 4 part graphic novel remains another milestone in his career.
Another comic book of note was his involvement in the Infinity Gauntlet series with Jim Starlin, he unfortunately had to quit before completing it, but it became the basis of the Avengers movie series. I’ve only highlighted some of George’s biggest moments but he has drawn so many pages and books that it would a year long blog or more to cover them all.
After 25 years of admiring his work I’ve always wanted to meet George and in 2004 I got my wish. I heard George was appearing at Fan Expo in Toronto. I had planned a trip for the first time to New York City just beforehand and I remember arriving back in Montreal just in time to drop my luggage and take a bus out the next day to Toronto. I decided to visit his booth on the Friday night when it would be less busy. I asked George if I could take a picture of him, he said sure and asked if I wanted to be in the picture, I was there alone but luckily another fan agreed to take my camera and the pic. He noticed as I went up to pose with him and put my arm around him, that I was shaking, and he asked if I was OK, I told him that for me, meeting him, was like meeting the Beatles, I knew George was a big Beatles fan, and he totally understood. Unfortunately that picture was taken with my old film camera, something went wrong and the shot didn’t come out. Luckily I got to meet him again in 2006 back in Toronto at Fan Expo and got a picture with my new digital camera. Sometimes you meet your idol and they are not who you expected them to be, sometimes they can disappoint you but George surpassed all my expectations. He was the nicest guy, gracious and spent most of his time drawing for charity that weekend. I could kick myself for not asking for a commission all those years ago what I wouldn’t give for one now.
I’m still crying and devastated to hear of George’s retirement, I can’t imagine not seeing another comic drawn by the master but I’m happy to hear that he is doing financially OK and happy to retire. Thank you George for all those wonderful years of comic books that filled my childhood with joy, you created a magical escape when sometimes school can be cruel. To this day when I draw I still ask, “How would George draw that?” Happy retirement George, it’s well deserved!
From the sexy rocker to the smalltown farm boy. I saw two shows just weeks apart at the Save On Food Memorial Center in Victoria BC, they seemed like a good combo for a comparison and a blog.
First off was Rod Stewart’s October 30th show. Be prompt if you plan on seeing him, the show had a very early start at 7:30, no opening act, the lights went down and the “shower” type black and white curtain which went around the stage just dropped. From the way he walked onstage I didn’t notice that Rod was wearing a boot cast on his foot. He explained that he was playing footy or soccer with his sons and got a hairline “fucking” (his words) fracture, and hoped we didn’t mind if he had to sit now and again. While he sat a few times for the slower songs, he was still up roaming and rocking like nothing was wrong. Rod was surrounded by a fabulous 10 piece band 5 guys and 5 women. The guys were great but the women really outshined them, one lady played violin and a fabulous mandolin on Maggie May, another played violin and banjo, one played the harp. While Rod was changing outfits, the one lady from New York did the most outstanding tribute to Tina Turner singing “Nutbush City Limits”. His voice sounded great especially at 73, and the setlist was outstanding. Rod has so many hits and such a large repertoire that I didn’t notice till after the show that he didn’t sing a few huge ones like “Tonight I’m Yours”, “Young Turks” or “Baby Jane”, but he dug deep into his catalogue with a few oldies and one from his old group the Faces with great renditions of “You wear It Well”, Stay With Me”, and “Handbags and Gladrags”. While I don’t go to shows to just watch a screen I have to say that out of all the thousands of shows I’ve seen, Rod had the best screens ever, 3 large ones so clear it seemed like 3D or Imax.
He only did one song from his new album, his rendition of the Irish song “Grace”, it was the most poignant and beautiful moment of the evening, Rod sat with his band surrounding him while the big screen in the back told the sad story with pictures and lyrics. The song is about Joseph Plunkett an Irish nationalist, poet, journalist and revolutionary leader of the 1916 Easter Rising. Joseph was about to marry his love Grace when the protest to overthrow British rule in Ireland had commenced, in the end most were sentenced to death, Joseph was allowed to marry Grace before his execution. It’s so controversial, that the BBC has banned the song, not unlike “The Killing Of Georgie”, one of my favorite Rod Stewart songs which tells the tale of the life and tragic killing of a gay man in the 70’s. I was hoping “Georgie” would be part of the set list since he did it on tour in Hollywood recently, but it was not to be.
I never thought the highlight of the show would have been the 80’s kitschy disco classic “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”. It was a fabulous extended rocking dance version with an explosion of gigantic balloons floating across the venue. Just like the prompt start the encore was quick, the curtain rose up and down twice with hardly a chance to applaud, he did “Sailing” and “Sweet Little Rock & Roller” to close the show at exactly 2 hours in. I was happy that I finally got to see Rod the mod, and I can only imagine with a show this good what he must have been in his prime.
I believe there is an art to putting on a show, while some just sing their hearts out; it takes more than a band and a voice to keep the audience captive for an hour and a half to two hours. The John Mellencamp November 12th show did not start off great. We were told to promptly be seated at 8:00, but the show started with a 30 minute documentary on Mellencamp and the crowd got very restless and verbal about it. I could hear right behind me a guy screaming “I didn’t pay $100 to watch a fucking documentary” another lady chimed in with the same, the audience was booing throughout the documentary bellowing for John to get on stage, I could barely hear the last 5 minutes of the film. The film itself might have been a good watch on TV while lounging on the couch but it was quite boring with scenes of landscapes and cities with John’s voice overdubbed, it didn’t help that it seemed to be projected without a screen against the venue back wall which has some sort of graffiti, it was hard to see, I almost fell asleep. Mellencamp really needed to come on with a huge rocking hit song, but instead he started off the show with 3 lesser known songs, while I love hearing the deeper cuts like Scarecrows’ track “Minute To Memories”, after that long documentary it just didn’t work. “Smalltown” finally got people up, but it was up and down for a while. He seemed to be phoning in the acoustic version of Jack & Diane where it was mostly the audience that sang. His blue-sy grass rendition of “Stones in My Passway” worked well with his voice which is a lot more grittier then it used to be, gone is a bit of his range. There seemed to be very little else in extras, no screen to see his face and the lighting was kept very dark almost demonic in some songs. Sometimes and audience can make a show and sometimes they can drag it down to a black hole. John sat down with his guitar to tell a story about his grandmother before breaking into the song “Longest Days” but his story was long, 3 and half minutes, I taped it, the crowd was getting restless, John had to tell some of them “If you are going to yell and shit go out in the hallway”. I have to say this is the first time I’ve seen this at a concert but then again I don’t usually go to such as redneck show.
Like Rod he had a poignant moment in the evening with “Easy Target” the anti-racism song off his new album, followed by the instrumental “Overture” from his album “Mr Happy Go Lucky” played solo by the superb violinist. This was a perfect example of where to do a deeper cut or slower song in the show, it worked quite well.
My favorite Mellencamp song “Rain On The Scarecrow” finally kicked the show into high gear with the last 7 tracks. “Crumblin’ Down and “Authority Song” got the whole house shaking. There didn’t seem to be an encore, he didn’t leave the stage, but perhaps he was annoyed with the audience or it was running late, he finished just after ten with “Cherry Bomb” and “Hurts So Good”. It’s a bit unfair to compare shows both Rod and John are unique artists and great in their own right but Rod is definitely the showman. I’m happy I finally got to see Mellencamp and hear the songs I grew up with but I hope for his next tour he rethinks his show, the flow of the songs, the interactions, the visuals, like making a movie it’s more than just a script, speaking of movies, keep the documentaries for the theaters or TV. One more thing, “R.O.C.K. in the USA” needs to be put back in the setlist, a real shame the song was missing.
- Soul Finger (The Bar‐Kays cover) (band only)
- Love Train (The O’Jays cover)
- Some Guys Have All the Luck
- Rhythm of My Heart
- Can’t Stop Me Now
- You Wear It Well
- Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)
- Forever Young
- Maggie May
- I’d Rather Go Blind (Etta James cover)
- Downtown Train
- The First Cut Is the Deepest
- You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)
- Handbags and Gladrags
- Nutbush City Limits (Ike & Tina Turner cover) (band only)
- Stay With Me (Faces song)
- Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?
- Sweet Little Rock & Roller
- Lawless Times
- John Cockers
- Minutes to Memories
- Small Town
- Stones in My Passway (Robert Johnson cover)
- Lonely Ol’ Night
- Check It Out
- Longest Days
- Jack & Diane (acoustic performance)
- The Full Catastrophe
- Easy Target
- Rain on the Scarecrow
- Paper in Fire
- Crumblin’ Down
- Authority Song / Land of 1000 Dances
- Pink Houses
- Cherry Bomb
- Hurts So Good