November 26, 2006

The End Of The CD Era

My parents grew up listening to the 33 rpm vinyl album. Their parents bought music in little boxes of 45 rpm records. I grew up in the CD age, which died last month on October 7th.

Tower Records, the music industry's most famous retail brand, will be liquidated beginning tomorrow (Oct. 7).

After a 30-hour auction, the process was won by the lead-bidder, Great American, who put together a consortium of other suitors who were bidding on different components of the retailer. The winning bid was $134.3 million.

“It's a sad day for the music business and I feel badly for all Tower employees," says Jim Urie, president of Universal Music Group Distribution. "Tower was probably the greatest brand that will ever exist in music retail.”

The original Tower Records was (and still is, for a few more days) located south of Downtown Sacramento, next to the Tower Theater that gave the store its name. Here's a panoramic view of the famous corner, Broadway and Land Park Drive, where the world's greatest music store was born.

When I lived in San Francisco, I used to love walking to the Tower on Columbus and Bay, where the neighborhoods of Russian Hill, Fisherman's Wharf and North Beach all intersect, and where half my music collection was purchased. I can still remember the first time I saw Pulse's blinking red diode, it was in that store.

I was a senior in high school when I stood in the Coumbus and Bay store watching the overhead tv with REM's Monster in my hand, as Joe Montana (then a KC Chief) executed his most famous two-minute drill against John Elway.

The most famous Tower Records outlet is of course, the Tower on Sunset. My parents have a cartoony lithograph in their den, all in primary colors, of the Sunset Strip at night with Tower Records in the center under an Angelyne billboard. Tower Sunset was a music industry legend.

Bruce Willis spent $15,000 in one glorious shopping spree.

Elton John was practically a regular. Mick Jagger, Ella Fitzgerald and Jack Nicholson were known to drop by.

There’s never been anything quite like the Tower Records on LA’s Sunset Boulevard. It’s been an elemental part of the city’s music scene, a place where rock stars and record company executives came to shop, mingle and check how their records are selling.

This is where Tower became a global icon.

“Probably the most famous of all the record stores,” said music executive Miles Copeland, who has overseen the careers of such bands as R.E.M. and the Police.

I've been in that store once. I didn't see any celebrities, but I was probably there on an off night. Tower Sunset was a celebrity hangout, it seems.
In-store promotions at Tower Sunset – autograph sessions and short concerts by artists such as Lou Reed and Prince – became part of the Strip’s landscape. An appearance by rock singer David Lee Roth in the late ’80s clogged the street with thousands of fans.

Titans of Music shopped there

But employees say their favorite memories are of the celebrities who dropped by to shop: Bobby Darin, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and many others. Stan Goman said Brian Wilson, known for his battles with emotional demons, came in a bathrobe. Actor George Hamilton once wrote a personal check to pay for his purchase and was a bit miffed when the clerk made him produce a photo ID, Goman said.

A disheveled-looking Waylon Jennings showed up early one morning, hours before the store opened. “He was still recovering from his night’s activities,” said former manager Charlie Shaw.

When another former manager, Bob Feterl, transferred to Sunset from suburban West Covina in 1989, he got a hint of the store’s significance in his first week. “I see Ella Fitzgerald walking straight toward me, and I was totally blown away,” Feterl said.

Another time, he said, a stubble-faced Bruce Willis spent hours in the store, crawling on the floor to pore over the CDs that wouldn’t fit into the main stacks. By the time he was done, he’d spent $15,000.

Elton John probably was Tower Sunset’s most loyal fan. The store would open an hour early so he could shop in peace, often accompanied by a chauffeur or assistant.

“Elton would come in and he had an account,” said Howard Krumholtz, who recently was laid off after 34 years at Tower Sunset. “He would charge $5,000 worth of stuff. He had three houses, so he’d buy three of everything.”

In recent years celebrity sightings have become less frequent. But the stars haven’t forsaken Tower Sunset. On the outside of the building is a white billboard that says, “Shop the legend.” In the past few weeks, fans and industry types have been scribbling farewell messages on the board.

“37 years of music,” reads one of them. “This is so sad! Elton John.” Though the math was off – the store opened 36 years ago – store employees said the message is what counts.

What killed Tower Records is what killed the CD; I blame Steve Jobs. The personal computer, and now the iPod have made music store shopping irrelevant. Despite the crackdown on illegal downloading, is there anyone who can't spare .99¢ for iTunes when there's a song that you just gotta have? Adn why fight traffic and parking when you can hit Overstock.com and get what you want at a huge discount, delivered to your door? I've been doing that for years. Of course now I feel guilty; I always thought Tower would be there.

Tower Records always had the best selection and prices of all the chain stores, and when I did go out to buy music, I never shopped anywhere else. It was the only place to buy classical and jazz CDs, because that's the type of music where computer browsing just doesn't cut it. For classical especially, I really need to hold the jewel box in my hand so I can compare the different versions of the same works. And in the jazz section, I'd always check the endcaps first. Invariably, there'd be a previously unknown gem for me to discover, on sale. Try that at Borders, or Barnes and Noble. Their jazz section has what, 20 artists?

Now that Tower is gone, I think it's the symbolic end of the CD. The most annoying thing about CDs was having to buy a bunch of shitty songs along with the one or two good ones that you heard on the radio. (Vitalogy, anyone?)

But now, with iTunes, I'm afraid the pendulum will swing too far in the opposite direction. Who is going to download individual songs you've never heard of, based on the few seconds of preview that iTunes gives you? And how can you really appreciate that odd song within the artistic context of an album for which it was intended — imagine if Dark Side of the Moon were to come out today! No one would buy the instrumentals, even though they are essential to the whole album.

Well, it's a new era, and the music industry will have to figure something out. They've not been terribly good at understanding the market. But what really worries me is the fate of independent music, jazz and classical. Tower Records was their biggest ally, and I hope the music doesn't disappear from the face of the earth along with that great store.

Posted by: annika at 11:25 AM | Comments (24) | Add Comment
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November 20, 2006

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Here's a great idea for Thanksgiving desert.

pumpkin ice cream.jpg

1 cup half and half
2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
1/3 can of canned pumpkin, (about 5 ounces)
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground cloves
a pinch of ground ginger

Mix everything together in a bowl with a whisk, or I use an electric thing that Emeril calls the "boat motor." Chill overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning churn it in the ice cream maker of your choice. When that's done let it freeze for the rest of the day.

It's very pumpkiny. I'm still not satisfied with the texture of this ice cream, though. I've been experimenting with different proportions of heavy cream to milk, and this time I tried the heavy cream/half and half mixture. I think I may go back to the milk next time.

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November 15, 2006

Petula Clark Fest: The Pop Culture References

I want to draw your attention now to three pop culture references to Petula Clark's 1964 monster hit, "Downtown."

The first is found in one of the best Seinfeld episodes ever, "The Bottle Deposit." That's the one where Kramer and Newman concoct a scheme to redeem bottle deposits in Michigan for a profit, by using Newman's postal truck. This episode also involves a set of JFK's golf clubs and Brad Garrett as the crazy Saab mechanic.

The George subplot in that episode has George trying to figure out cryptic instructions from his boss at the Yankees. George, for some reason, doesn't want Mr. Wilhelm to know that he has no idea what this project is that he is supposed to be working on. We pick up the action here:

(George has his head down on his desk. Wilhelm walks jauntily along the corridor and enters the office.)

WILHELM: So...

(George snaps awake.)

WILHELM: ...did you go down to payroll?

GEORGE: (standing) Yes, payroll. Yes I did. Very productive. Payroll... paid off.

WILHELM: (pleased) Well then, I guess you'll be heading downtown then, huh?

GEORGE: Oh, yeah. Downtown. Definitely.

WILHELM: Well, I'm very interested to see how this thing turns out.

GEORGE: (to himself) Yeah, you said it. (to Wilhelm) Uh, excuse me, Mr. Wilhelm. Uh, do you really think... Well, is this downtown trip really necessary, you know, for the project?

WILHELM: Oh no, you've got to go downtown, George. It's all downtown. Just like the song says.

GEORGE: The song?

WILHELM: There's your answer. Downtown.

(Wilhelm leaves.)

GEORGE: (thoughtful) Downtown.

Now we move to Monk's Diner, as Jerry and George try to decipher what Mr. Wilhelm meant.
JERRY: The song Downtown? You mean the Petula Clark song?

GEORGE: Yeah.

JERRY: You sure he didn't just mention it because you happened to be going downtown?

GEORGE: I think he was trying to tell me something, like it had some sort of a meaning.

JERRY: Okay, so how does it go?

GEORGE: 'When you're alone, and life is making you lonely, you can always go...'

JERRY: '... downtown.'

GEORGE: 'Maybe you know some little places to go, where they never close...'

JERRY: '...downtown.'

GEORGE: Wait a second. 'Little places to go, where they never close.' What's a little place that never closes?

JERRY: Seven-eleven?

GEORGE: 'Just listen to the music of the traffic, in the city. Linger on the sidewalk, where the neon lights are pretty.' Where the neon lights are pretty. The Broadway area?

JERRY: No, that's midtown.

GEORGE: 'The lights are much brighter there. You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, just go...'

JERRY: '...down town.'

GEORGE: 'Things'll be great, when you're...'

JERRY: '...downtown.'

GEORGE: I got nothing, Jerry. Nothing.

JERRY: Well, 'don't hang around and let your troubles surround you. There are movie shows...'

GEORGE: You think I should come clean? What d'you think, you think I should confess?

JERRY: How can you lose?

I love that scene.

The next pop culture reference is from just a few weeks ago. The opening scene of this season's Lost. It's interesting watching it again, because you can see subtle clues that Juliet is really the disgruntled employee in the whole "Other" hierarchy. I have no idea why they picked that particular song for the opening. Apparently their original choice was a Talking Heads song, but they couldn't get permission to use it, so they went with "Downtown" instead.

The third pop culture reference is the most obscure. It's from the 1993 art film Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, about the eccentric Canadian classical pianist. According to Wiki, Gould apparently thought that Petula Clark was "the best female vocalist of his generation" and he "published several essays praising her talent and achievements."

I've never seen 32 Films, have you? I went through my art film phase years ago, I don't know if I could sit through it anymore.

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Petula Clark Fest, The Beatles?

I really can't stand The Beatles. So this next video was already at a disadvantage from my point of view. It's from the October 17, 1967, episode of The Hollywood Palace (see below for a description of that show).

In this number, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band consists of Petula Clark on triangle, Lynn Redgrave on cymbals, and Noel Harrison on bass drum.

Noel Harrison is the son of legendary stage actor Rex Harrison. You probably know his father as professor Henry Higgins from the film My Fair Lady. Anyway, Noel Harrison did a lot of tv work, but he also sang "The Windmills of Your Mind" in one of my favorite Steve McQueen movies ever, The Thomas Crown Affair.

I found all this out, by the way, through skilled cross-referencing of IMDb and Wikipedia.

Anyways, the following video is most notable for the way they butcher Sgt. Pepper, which is a song that under the best of circumstances will cause me to change the radio station whenever it comes on. But do watch the intro, because I have more trivia to tell you about that.

Did you recognize the guy at the beginning? Yes, that was the one and only George Sanders. I will always remember him best for his portrayal of Addison DeWitt, the duplicitious Broadway gossip columnist in All About Eve. But he also stood out in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca, and as Lord Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray. George Sanders epitomized the sarcastically droll over-educated Englishman.

You might also know that George Sanders married two of the Gabor sisters. He famously commited suicide in 1972 near Barcelona, because he was simply bored. I don't doubt it, if he was taking jobs like the one in that video above.

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Petula Clark Fest, The Homestretch

It's now the evening of Petula Clark Fest day! Did you know that there are seven pages of YouTube videos that have been tagged "Petula?" Because I'm so awesome, I have sifted through many of them so that I can bring you only the best.

Just in case you haven't gone crazy today with the song "Downtown" running through your head like some inexorable virus, here's another pretty good video. It's most notable for the perfectly bored young ladies with their perfectly bouffanted hairdos, circa 1964. I swear one of them looks exactly like Barbra.

Or, skip over that one and check out Petula's medley with Dean on The Dean Martin Show. Petula was Dean's guest five times and she even helped him to roast the great William Conrad once.

Petula Clark appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twelve times. Here she is singing "My Love." This video is quite possibly her first appearance on the Sullivan show, March 14, 1965, since "My Love" hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 a month earlier.

It's a catchy tune, though not my favorite. I wonder if perhaps Petula was annoyed at having to stand in one spot the entire time.

If you watched the interaction between Dean and Petula in the video above, you might have asked yourself, as I did: I wonder if he's bangin' her? Well, I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that they did end up in bed together. See below.

That was really cute.

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Petula Clark On ABC's The Hollywood Palace

Here's a lovely production of the bilingual tune "This Is My Song." The clip is from the late 60's variety show The Hollywood Palace, of which Wiki says:

The Hollywood Palace was an hour-long television variety show produced by Nick Vanoff. It was broadcast weekly (generally on Saturday night) on ABC from January 4, 1964 to February 7, 1970. It began as a mid-season replacement for the short-lived Jerry Lewis Show, another variety show which had lasted only 3 months. It was staged at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles, which was renamed The Hollywood Palace during the show's duration.

Unlike similar programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show, guest hosts were used instead of a permanent one. Among the performers and hosts on the show were Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Sammy Davis Jr., Sid Caesar, The Rolling Stones, Groucho Marx, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, The Supremes, Ginger Rogers, The Temptations, Phyllis Diller, and many other famous faces. The off-screen announcer for each program was Dick Tufeld.

A number of popular music performers got their start on the show. For example, The Rolling Stones made their first US television appearance June 13 1964, and The Jackson 5 made their first national television appearance on the October 14, 1969 episode of the show.

In a famous June 1964 telecast, controversy ensued when The Rolling Stones, upset with guest host Dean Martin's sarcastic comments directed at them throughout the program, refused to perform a second scheduled musical number. [links omitted]

Sounds like that was appointment tv, Sixties style.

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Petula Clark Fest: Sign Of The Times

Fans of British roadsters, goofy choreography, 60's mod fashion, and lip-synching will love this one.

The dancing is like a characature of an Austin Powers number. But I have an even more outlandishly choreographed YouTube clip in the queue, stay tuned.

I love 60's fashion. It reminds me of that movie Blow Up. Did you ever see it? I saw it a few months ago on TCM. It's a wild movie about a British fashion photographer in the 60's. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to be young and hip in the early 60's. There was this veneer of innocence and exhuberance, yet under the surface was all this shit that exploded later on in the decade. Sign of the times.

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Petula Clark Fest!

Not only is today Poetry Wednesday, but it's Petula Clark's birthday! She turns 74 today, and she's still performing and just released a Christmas album.

Wiki says:

Petula Clark . . . is an English singer, actress and composer, best known for her upbeat popular international hits of the 1960s. With nearly 70 million recordings sold worldwide, she is the most successful British female solo recording artist to date. She also holds the distinction of having the longest span on the international pop charts of any artist—51 years—from 1954, when "The Little Shoemaker" made the UK Top Twenty, through 2005, when her CD "L'essentiel - 20 Succès Inoubliables" charted in Belgium. [links omitted]
So today is Petula Clark Fest day at Annika's Journal. In lieu of balloons, cotton candy and rides for the kiddies, I will just post some YouTube videos. Plus, today's poem is the one and only poem written by Petula Clark, and I have a very special guest blogger to introduce it!

So lets start the festivities with Downtown, from the British variety show Top of the Pops:

Two things impress me about that clip. One, no lip-synching and the band rocks! And two, the male dancers are frikkin' hilarious! They're like George Michael meets James Bond. (Actually if you think those dancers were funny, wait til you see what I got for you later today.)

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November 01, 2006

First DWTS Post Of The Season

eands.jpg

Just because I haven't posted about Dancing With The Stars this season doesn't mean that I haven't been as obsessed as ever with the show.

I have a question about last night's competition. Did you see it? During Emmitt and Cheryl's rumba, didn't Cheryl's hand land squarely on Emmitt's little umpire at one point? And didn't Cheryl suddenly realize where it was and then move it quickly to the side? And wasn't Emmitt's little umpire signaling touchdown at that very moment?

I think so.

I also think Mrs. Smith is probably not going to let Emmitt and Cheryl spend another 13 days together "rehearsing."

Okay I'm off to watch the rest of the results show.

Update: When they announced that Il Divo would be performing tonight, I honestly expected them to sing "Whip It."

Update 2: I'm sorry to see Monique and Louie go. Monique really was fun to watch and the judges weren't always fair to her. Next week's elimination will be impossible, because the final three teams are all so good.

Update 3: YouTube just posted the Rumba, check it out for yourself.

Posted by: annika at 09:37 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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