It's A Valid Question, Mr. Hunter!

Today's blog topic was planned to be analysis of the NFL's 1-2 Punch theory, but I'm invoking my Second Rule of BI: check your work. Stakeholder resistance to a result is directly proportionate to how strongly that result contradicts the stakeholder's expected result.* So, when the outcome is dramatically different from "common knowledge," it pays to spend some time double-checking. Not to mention prepping a presentation, because you're going to have to go in-depth to reassure your audience.

So, I'm going to postpone the results of the 1-2 Punch analysis and post an article I started last fall, before life was derailed for a few months. This'll give me some time** to explore the NFL analysis more in-depth, so I don't present something that truly is flawed.

Alan Hunter is one of my favorite people to listen to, whether it's on SiriusXM or Twitter. In case you're not familiar, Hunter was one of the original MTV VJs, and is now a host on two of my favorite Sirius channels, 80's on 8 and Classic Rewind. He's a prolific Twitterer or Tweeter or whatever the hell we call it, and seems to be a genuinely nice guy, and the world could use a few more of those.

He's also very responsive to his fans on Twitter.*** Last fall, when I was giving some serious consideration to buying a ticket for the 2018 80's on 8 Cruise, I tweeted a question: would Fee Waybill be on the cruise? I think Mr. Hunter's response was giving me a small dose of good-natured sarcasm. (Like I said, genuinely nice guy.)

Still, it elicited some good-natured indignation from me. I know Fee Waybill is the lead singer for The Tubes.**** It's still a valid question. This is 2018, after all. If you buy tickets for an "80's band" concert, you'd better check the lineup closely.

Tubes Tweet.png

Case in point: a few years ago I saw Yes at WinStar Casino...and walked out thoroughly disappointed. The performance was excellent -- but they played almost none of my favorite songs. No "Leave It." No "It Can Happen." No "Love Will Find a Way." Why? Because there are two different Yes configurations today. If you're seeing Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, and Jon Davison, you're going to get a totally different set list than if you see Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman. 

Or how about Fleetwood Mac? I remember being really excited a few years ago to see Fleetwood Mac tickets on pre-sale (a year ahead of time) until I read that Stevie Nicks wasn't in the lineup. I'm sure it was still an awesome concert, but to me, just not the same.

The Cars, Styx, A Flock of Seagulls, Journey...fair to say, whenever you see any 80's band today, you should ask, "Who exactly IS Styx today?" Or in the case of Van Halen, "So, who's singing this month?"

That in mind, I can't wait to see Jeff Lynn's ELO in August. Yes, this is a very different lineup from ELO Part II. (But at least in this case each version of the group performs the original ELO catalog, as far as I know. If I don't hear Jeff Lynn singing "Can't Get It Out Of My Head," I want my money back.)

Mr. Hunter, maybe I'll run into you at the United Center for the Bon Jovi concert in April? But I won't ask you if Jon Bon Jovi is going to be there.  :)

* Irony: when the analysis supports the pre-supposition, everyone's happy to say, "Looks good. It's just like we thought!" Contradict the assumptions, though, and the first argument is that either the data or the analysis is wrong. Or both.

** I don't actually have time for this. I've got job applications to fill out, a screenplay to finish writing, and an iOS development tutorial that I really want to complete. But this NFL data is so intriguing...

*** I find this particularly cool. Too many celebrities forget that without the're not really a celebrity.

**** If you didn't know this, don't be embarrassed. It just means you haven't spent enough time on music trivia with me. To impress and enlighten your other friends, just reference Waybill's excellent solo contribution to the St. Elmo's Fire soundtrack, "Saved My Life."

Do You Need More Boss?

During my summer travels I spent a couple of days with Abacus, and as always with Abacus, many interesting topics came up.* One such subject: Bruce Springsteen. I am, of course, a devoted Springsteen fan.** Abacus is familiar with and a fan of some of Mr. Springsteen's catalog. Turns out that Abacus is mostly familiar with The Boss's massive chart hits, which isn't surprising -- considering that he has 18 singles that peaked in Billboard's Top 40, it's easy to have heard a bunch o' Boss on the radio while hardly penetrating his ~300 song catalog.

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Somehow we came up with the idea that I should write a list of "Springsteen Songs You Should Listen To For More Depth," or something like that. (I just remember there were a lot of capital letters.) Hence, the following list.

Most Springsteen fans and many 80's general music fans will probably say, "Hold the phone. These aren't obscure songs at all," but that's okay. I classify this list as songs that you may have heard on the radio (or should have seen on MTV) but didn't hear nearly as often as Hungry Heart, Dancing in the Dark, and Born in the U.S.A.

  1. Girls In Their Summer Clothes. This may be my favorite Springsteen song. It's from the album Magic, 2007. As poetry goes, the lyrics are very concrete imagery, about a guy who realizes that he's fairly far through life, is still working uphill to be successful with his business and romance, but is hanging on to some optimism.*** It's a beautiful song, with excellent music, even better lyrics, and a lot of feeling. I'm going to keep hitting Springsteen concerts until I hear it live.
  2. For You. For this one to be on your radar, you have be a) a Springsteen fan, b) around in the early 70's when it was a staple, or c) reading this list. You may have heard the electronified Manfred Mann version.**** This song must be one of the reasons critics hailed Bruce's talent as a poet early in his career. (But please don't use the "he's the next Bob Dylan" comparison. He wasn't the next Bob Dylan, he was the first Bruce Springsteen.)
  3. No Surrender. How do you make an awesome song somewhat obscure? By including it on the album Born in the U.S.A. If No Surrender had been on a less successful album, it might have been a bigger radio hit. However, my theory is that the massive Born overload kept No Surrender from getting more airplay -- there were already a half dozen other songs popping up once per hour on FM stations nationwide. 
  4. Bobby Jean. It goes hand in hand with No Surrender. Both songs evoke the memories of your best childhood friends, with Bobby Jean being a bit more on the bittersweet side -- the friend in this case is gone, seeking his/her way elsewhere, and the narrator is hopeful that one day they'll talk again. If John Irving novels had soundtracks, Bobby Jean would be one of the first songs listed.
  5. My Lucky Day. This one's from Working on a Dream, in 2009. Many Springsteen songs are about hope. (Yes, many are about cars, too, but hope is also a prevalent theme.) This is a favorite in the hope category. It's very specific: things really suck, but because I have you, I have reason to hope. 
  6. Drive All Night. Some of my Boss-fan friends will roll their eyes that I included this ballad from The River, and sure, it's a little sappy, but I think it's pretty awesomely sappy. Like My Lucky Day, the theme is pretty direct and concrete: the subject of the lyrics is the only person who matters in the singer's world, and you can easily replace "sappiness" with "devotion" if you give it a chance.
  7. Santa Claus is Comin' To Town. Oh, yeah. It's hands-down my favorite rock Christmas song. Besides being a great version of the song, it was the first song my youngest daughter ever requested in the car. She heard it once, and for the next two years asked me to play it every time we got in the car. During the song someone "ho-ho-ho's" a few times in the background; I'm pretty sure it's Clarence Clemens. However, my daughter was convinced it was Santa Claus himself, and she wanted to hear it over and over again. For someone who loves music, that bonding experience with your kid is priceless. 

There you go -- seven slightly lesser known Springsteen songs for you to start your music appreciation lesson. Give these in a try, and next time I blog about The Boss, I'll reach a lot deeper into the catalog and share some more recommendations.

*Sure, anyone in the vicinity is probably bored to tears listening to what we find interesting, but if you choose to hang out in said vicinity, you get whatever we're serving up. We don't write custom content for non-paying audiences, you know.

**After all, I'm reasonably civilized, and I like good music.

*** My interpretation. I haven't finished Springsteen's autobiography yet, and if he goes into detail about Girls... I haven't gotten to that part. Also, he's never called me to discuss the song, but I'm keeping the phone lines clear, just in case.

**** Trivia time! Name three Manfred Mann covers of Springsteen songs!  (For You, Blinded By The Light, Spirit in the Night.)

Technology - Screwing Me Up Faster and Easier

First, a kinda apology for the blog hiatus. I've had two vacations* in the past month, plus general busy-ness with various "Is this what I'm going to do for my next job?" projects, and I just haven't taken the time to blog. I've been writing during that time, though, so I should have a veritable slew of blogs coming out soon. Fear not, my three loyal readers, there's more to come.

Maybe I should get a smaller music device...

Maybe I should get a smaller music device...

I ran three miles this morning to sweat out some of last night's Johnnie Walker, and as I've mentioned before, I don't run without music. Running without music would be exercising, and since exercise is strenuous and tiring, I try to avoid it. My current Spotify playlist for running is "Dr. Usual's 5k Run." I know, very original. The song selection is important. Each song has a good tempo for my 5k running pace, and most have a running theme.**

Just over one mile in, Spotify jumped to Men At Work's, "Who Can It Be Now?" Now, I like Men At Work, but I know Colin Hay and friends are not on my running playlist. Somehow, Spotify had switched to radio mode, whereby deep data analysis, alchemy, and wild guessing, it attempts to serve up music I might like.

You know what music I'd like during my 5k run? That's right -- my 5k running playlist.

I fumbled around at the Spotify controls while trying to keep pace. Pace and heart rate are important. I definitely can't stop or walk. It takes about two walking strides for my legs to say, "Hell yeah, looks like we're done here! Let's go sit in front of the computer for a few hours!" So, while running at a consistent 165 BPM, watching for cars, and avoiding the massive Texas drains where Pennywise the Clown hangs out, I had to get Spotify out of radio mode and back to my playlist.

Mission accomplished -- or so I thought. Though the playlist was back up and running, my ear buds* were silent. While bumbling my way through the Spotify menus I apparently switched the playback device from "This iPhone" to "Dr's Tap." That's right, the Amazon Tap, sitting on my desk back at home. I'm sure my wife and daughter were delighted with Saga's "On The Loose" suddenly blasting from my vacant office.

I diverted into the park, where I at least didn't have to worry about traffic, and got my devices sorted out, then enj-- finished the run without any more technological assistance.

The next step in my fitness regimen is pretty obvious.  Design a new skin for Spotify with three and only two buttons: "Volume Up," and "Call 911." Make a note, Spotify. This stuff doesn't have to be complicated.

*How does one have a vacation when one is unemployed? Let me explain. I scheduled these trips before Microsoft decided to replace me and my team with outsourcers on the other side of the world. Therefore, on my calendar they're both still referred to as "vacation." Travel scheduled AFTER my former manager replaced us with contractors from his former company is referred to simply as "travel." See? Easy definitions.

**Here's a link to the Spotify playlist. Get running.

***That's right, ear buds. Screw you, Apple, I'm not paying for your Air Buds. Headphones shouldn't cost as much as a damned phone. Especially when there's a chance they'll fall out of my ears and roll down there with Pennywise.

Man, Motion, and More Music

Yesterday I mentioned in a tweet that John Parr's Man In Motion was on my running play list.  That song has been on my running list for a long time; besides the obvious theme, it's got a good beat for my stride length.  Also, I've loved the St. Elmo's Fire soundtrack since it came out in 1985.  After sending that tweet, though, I was a bit embarrassed* to realize that the only other John Parr song I could name was Naughty Naughty

(At one point during game development we played with the idea of adding music and soundtrack elements to Film Tycoons, but ultimately took that out; we just weren't finding a way to fit it into the game flow.  We might revisit that in future editions, since movie soundtracks account for some of the best music in the world.)

In fact, there were a number of artists with great songs on the St. Elmo's Fire soundtrack, a few of those artists were pretty much unknown to me beyond their soundtrack contribution.  Did some of them record one and only one song before moving on to a career as a database analyst somewhere?  Or have they had decade-spanning, prolific careers, and just somehow stayed under the collective radar of my demographic, geography, or social group?  I started out with a hypotheses that John Parr is similar to Cliff Richard** in that both are fantastic artists whose major body of work has managed to escape the ear of 40-something guys in Texas. 

Research time, starting with one of my favorite tools, Spotify.

Bingo.  To say "Parr is prolific" is somewhat akin to mentioning "water is wet."  But Spotify neatly summarizes (and unfortunately, perpetuates) the "American audience" versus "non-American audience" of many great artists.  Despite offering six John Parr albums, including the truly enjoyable Letter to America (with 29 tracks!) Spotify's "John Parr Top 5" songs actually shows only three songs: St. Elmo's Fire (twice), Naughty Naughty, and Restless Heart (twice).  Expand that to ten songs and you get six distinct songs.  What the hell, Spotify?

Side note: apparently Mr. Parr is touring the U.K. in November with two other favorites of mine, Foreigner and Asia.  Clearly, this is worth a trip to London.  Especially if Asia will play Days Like These and Don't Cry.

Back to St. Elmo's Fire.  After the discovery of so much more great John Parr music, I decided to have a closer look at each artist on the soundtrack.  Here's a summary for my other audiophile friends or 80's music lovers:

  1. St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion) by John Parr.  Covered above, right?
  2. Love Theme From St. Elmo's Fire, by David Foster.  I'm already familiar with the amazing David Foster, and trust me, you are, too.  He's written or produced a couple million hits.  If you're in a trivia contest and get the question, "Who (wrote/produced) this hit song from the 1980's" and you have no idea, just guess David Foster.  Good chance you'll win.  Incidentally, I think Foster wrote or co-wrote every song on this soundtrack.
  3. Shake Down, by Billy Squier.  I'm just going to classify Billy Squier as popular enough in the U.S. that if you don't recognize him, you need a more remedial music appreciation*** guide than my quick blog.
  4. This Time It Was Really Right, by Jon Anderson.  You probably recognize the voice -- he's the lead vocalist for Yes and responsible for some of my favorite Yes songs, like Leave It and It Can Happen.
  5. Saved My Life, by Fee Waybill.  Ah, yes.  If you grew up in the 80's, you know Fee Waybill without actually knowing Fee Waybill.  Remember She's a Beauty, by The Tubes?  That's Fee Waybill.  Every music device I've owned since fifth grade has included She's a Beauty.
  6. One Love, by David Foster. 
  7. Stressed Out (Close To The Edge) by Airplay.  First of the "I don't know who this is," groups on the soundtrack.  Turns out Airplay was David Foster and Jay Graydon, and was fairly short-lived.  However, listening to their offerings on Spotify, it's very clear that most of Toto is in the band, and you can easily hear the style that Foster brought to Earth, Wind, and Fire and Chicago.
  8. Young and Innocent, by Elefante.  One of the most evocative songs on the soundtrack, but who the heck is Elefante?  Apparently there are two Elefantes, John and Dino.  John was the frontman of Kansas for a time, but it looks like the brothers have spent more of their careers producing.
  9. If I Turn You Away, by Vikki Moss.  Wow, talk about weird coincidences.  First, Ms. Moss's singing career was apparently sadly short lived.  There isn't much available from her other than this excellent song.  While researching, though, I realized that I've actually seen her brother before, many times.  Joey Moss is a locker room attendant for the Edmonton Oilers and frequently appears on camera during the national anthem.  He has Down Syndrome, and of course, I love to discover positive examples of people with DS being accepted as happy members of society.  Very cool connection to stumble upon this morning.
  10. Into the Fire, by Todd Smallwood.  Looks like I'm stymied for the first time on this soundtrack.  From what I can find Smallwood has written for Mick Fleetwood and for some additional movie soundtracks, like Under Siege, but his web page is defunct, no Wikipedia page, and Spotify has very little.  Still, I found a number of songs that made it into my Spotify library -- particularly Funeral In Berlin and Leave The Radio.
  11. Give Her A Little Drop More, by Todd Smallwood.
  12. Respect, by Aretha Franklin. 
  13. For Just a Moment, by Amy Holland and Donny Gerrard. I think many people don't realize that there ARE lyrics to the soundtrack's love theme.  The instrumental version got massive airtime, and I don't recall ever hearing the lyric version on the radio.  But it's great; excellent lyrics and excellent performance.  First, Ms. Holland.  She's another long-time contributor to soundtracks, and she's married to Michael McDonald, with whom she's collaborated on some of her work.  This morning I listened to her 2016 album, Light on My Path.  She's got a great voice, it's nice to have finally found her "other work" after 30 years of listening to just one song. 

And finally, Donny Gerrard, the other voice from the love theme.  Need a definition of "smooth?"  Go grab his song Darlin' from Spotify.  Then you've got to listen to some 1970's Skylark.  (Which, not surprisingly, featured David Foster on keyboards.)  You might remember their best-known hit, Wildflower

And that's my music appreciation session for today.  After following St. Elmo's Fire a bit deeper I've got a fantastic new set of music to enjoy -- not to mention tickets to buy for November.

* Yes, it's possible to be embarrassed while alone.  I do it all the time.  Usually the embarrassment is accompanied by a mental image of Rob Garden saying, "Dude, really?"

** I love Cliff Richard's work, but face it, most Americans only recognize We Don't Talk Anymore and perhaps Devil Woman.  There are only a few of us with Suddenly on the Xanadu soundtrack, and I'm going to guess that nobody else reading this recognizes I'm No Hero or All I Ask of You.

*** I've always wondered what goes on in a music appreciation class.  Not having taken one, I'm going to assume that if you start to look behind the music a bit more, you're appreciating it.  Or maybe you just have to watch Pop Up Video marathons.