Monday, June 29, 2009

Rebuttal No. 2: World popularity: Beatle songs have been done on panpipes ... have MJ's?

The debate continues...

When we posted the original link to Jamie Freedman's question about whether Michael Jackson was more popular than the Beatles or Elvis Presley, and then our rebuttal, we didn't anticipate the vigrous debate it would stir up in the comment sections of the two posts.

She has posted a second rebuttal, basically saying that while the Beatles were popular in many parts of the world, in some parts, such as Third World nations, Michael Jackson was more well known.

Here's a good question: How many cover albums of Michael Jackson songs are out there? A quick search on for "Michael Jackson tribute" brings up less than 10. Search for "Beatles tribute" and you come up with 156. And those are the ones still in print.

And the styles on Beatle cover albums available range from symphonic to reggae to bossa nova to bluegrass to acapella to soul to blues to classical guitar to jazz to pan pipes and even to church pipe organ. Given that range of styles, would you say the Beatles weren't known everywhere and much more so?

As Jamie said, she respects the Beatles and we, in turn, respect Michael Jackson and wish his family the best. .

But there will never be anything like the Beatles. Michael Jackson was certainly a dynamic talent to be reckoned with, no question.

Read more here...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Counter rebuttal: Michael Jackson vs. The Beatles in worldwide popularity

Frenimies: Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

I've heard many fantastic opinions and facts commenting on whether Michael Jackson was more popular worldwide than The Beatles.  I guess Elvis and, as one smart lady suggested, Frank Sinatra are out of the running.  Really, this is a ridiculous comparison since you can't compare the world music industry of the 80s to that of the 60s. The world is a different place, record distribution and radio/television is different and music is itself, of course, totally different.

Read my original post "Was Michael Jackson more popular worldwide than The Bealtes or Elvis?" here.

Read the counter rebuttal "No, Michael Jackson was not more popular than The Beatles" from The Beatles Examiner here.

My response to Beatles Examiner Steve Marinucci is this: you, and many others, have spent a lot of time quoting record sales and musical influence; unfortunately record sales equals popularity in this world of music we live in. I personally don't own any Michael Jackson records (I'm a much bigger Beatles fan by the way) and I know all of his hits. All of them, word by word.

Read more of my article and some of the fantastic comments that readers have left arguing one side or the other.

I'm pretty proud of the debate I started...  : )

Rebuttal: No, Michael Jackson was not more popular than the Beatles

Hey readers. 

What's so funny about this to me is that it was just a theory I had. I'm a HUGE Beatles fan. Anyone who knows me or has read my blog for a little bit knows this. I've taken University classes, I've written and given papers at conferences, I have lots of books and posters... hell, I've got a blog (and hopefully a book eventually) inspired by The Beatles.  I wrote my freaking undergraduate THESIS on The Beatles.

I love me some MJ, but not like I love me some John, Paul, George and Ringo. No way.

The comparison of MJ's popularity to The Beatles or Elvis (or Sinatra) is ridiculous. You can't compare the music industry of the 50s/60s to that of the 80s. Although many of you have brought up some terrific points.

My point was really that in the third world, where folks don't have the financial means to buy records, there is really no way to account for "fandom" and "popularity." So what is popularity if it's not based on numbers? Like I said you don't need to own any MJ to know his music, the same can be said about The Beatles.  Their music permeates every corner of our world.

Here are some of the comments I've gotten on the topic on facebook, check out for other (more colorful responses):

Michael *was* more popular. Past tense. That hasn't been true in almost 20 years, though.

I actually really agree with you. Or at least I scoff at the knee-jerk orthodoxy of the opposition. The fact is, the Beatles are much more hallowed among 1) older music critics and 2) white people. The rest of the world, I call it a wash.

Didn't MJ transform the 80s into HIS decade?

The other writer makes a big deal about MJ fading in his later period both in musical output and personal troubles, but post-heyday repertoire from former Beatles was often lackluster as well, and who gives a damn about his scandals? Or, is it all the more telling that we celebrate him so in spite of them?

I think, Jamie, for those born after 1970, Michael was almost unquestionably bigger. for the boomers, The Beatles were bigger. I do believe it's a generational thing.
Great shot of Paul and Michael, though.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson the most popular artist in the world?

I have a theory that Michael Jackson is the most popular musician in the world, more popular than Elvis and The Beatles.

I'm not saying that more people have heard of him than The Beatles or Elvis, but that he has more DIEHARD fans across the world that LOVE his music and idolize him.


I once read a story (and now the image is left in my memory) of a man somewhere in the world on a camel with a huge boombox blasting some MJ. I wish I could remember where I read that.

I also heard a story on NPR yesterday that a reporter was at a party with people who were too cool to dance. The DJ, desperate to get the party started, played an MJ track and everyone started dancing. Then he played another and another and another and worked the crowd into a frenzy.

You know, something like this...

Even if you don't own any MJ, you will know it.

Please let me know what you think of this theory. Especially if you do not live in the Western/first world. I'm interested to know.

One thing is for sure, the guy led a tough and misunderstood existence. But he brought the world some amazing music and will be greatly missed.

Thanks for the grooves Michael!

Please share any stories that you might have of being far away from Motown and seeing or hearing some Michael Jackson in a unexpected place. I'd like to know.


So after I posted the original article on, the Beatles Examiner posted this rebuttal. What I noticed about all of the folks who disagreed with me is that no one really understood what I was saying: record sales, money, music industry stuff and ratings prove NOTHING when we're talking about third world and non-western countries. But folks kept quoting numbers and charts.

So I wrote this counter-rebuttal and then the Beatles examiner wrote this second rebuttal. It was fun. My post received a lot of hits and many many of people yelling at me and each other.

I still hold true that Michael Jackson is the most well loved entertainer in the world at this moment. We can look at this topic again in ten years and re-evaluate.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Aretha and Sharon: two amazing women

I am not meaning to compare Sharon (Jones) to Aretha, but I love both of these woman. Thank you Aretha for paving the way for women like Sharon and thank you Sharon, and her Dap-Kings, for picking it up and funking it out.

Thanks to Milena for inspiring me to post this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More hilarious videos: Buzz Aldrin & Snoop and David Bowie & Mick Jagger

Buzz Arldrin's "Rocket Experience" with Snoop Dogg and Talib Kweli : this guy is such a good sport.

"Dancing in the Street" David Bowie & Mick Jagger: The most hilarious video ever of our two favorites dancing around like the lunatics we know they were in the 80s.

David Bowie Mick Jagger - Dancing In The Street

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pass on this video and help save this amazing archive of music

Paul Mawhinney was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Over the years he has amassed what has become the world's largest record collection. Due to health issues and a struggling record industry Paul is being forced to sell his collection.

This is the story of a man and his records. I hope you enjoy it.

The Archive from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

This comes from one of the commentors:

Being about the same age as Mr. Mawhinney, I can tell you that there is quite a bit of music from my younger years that is not available on CD or any format except vinyl. The first flat record came out in 1881 and CDs didn't come around until the early eighties. Some of the stuff from that first 100 years has been released on CD and MP3; but MOST of it hasn't been. Without a turntable, you ain't listening to it!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sonoma County's Harmony Festival, a cross section of all things North Bay

Let's just say that the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, California is all things Northern California: eco-friendly, hippie, spiritual, healthy, organic, liberal, pot-smoking, laid back, dread-locked and free form dancing. Some have compared it to Burning Man, but it's way too wholesome and crunchy for that. It really reminded me more of the H.O.R.D.E. festival from the 1990s but with a larger and diverse audience and vendor base.

The 2009 Harmony Festival took place on June 12th-14th on the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds, it featured vendors of all walks of life from organic cosmetics and food to artists and costume makers. In 1978, the then called Health and Harmony Festival was founded as a way to "feature the cutting-edge lifestyle options that were arising at the time" in Sonoma County. From my one day in attendance of the festival, I can positively say that it still does just that. What's so great is that it now has expanded its appeal to the next generation, including skateboarding and folks that might not be as "granola" as their parents and grandparents might be. Read more about the festival's history .

As someone who continually explores the Bay Area and all of its diverse events and communities, I was drawn to the festival's variety of musical acts (I am a music writer after all): The Dead Kennedys, Cake, india.arie, Matisyahu, Balkan Beat Box, Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars... as my co-worker said "it's a bizarre lineup, but there's certainly something for everybody." It came to my attention, however, that Saturday was the reggae, except for the hard rocking San Franciscan ladies of Zepparella who I could hear wailing as I waited in the endless line to pick up my tickets. I'm sad that I missed them, I must catch a local show sometime soon!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chunk from "the Goonies" singing and dancing

I just came across a site called Mortified: angst ridden that is "a comic excavation of the strange and extraordinary things we created as kids. Witness adults sharing their own adolescent journals, letters, poems, lyrics, home movies, stories and more."

Check it out. 

It's blog features a video of Jeff Cohen from the Goonies doing a singing and dancing number. The writer says:
What we love most about this clip is how much fun he seems to be having.

For those keeping score, Chunk (aka: Jeff Cohen) did somewhat end up pursuing a career in music. Today, he's a successful entertainment lawyer. And according to the Hollywood Reporter, he's a damn good one. His firm reps lots of big name entertainers including, yep... songwriters, labels and music publishers.

I love this guy. I also heard at one point that Jeff was on the cheer squad at UC Berkeley, the crowd wanted him to do the truffle shuffle. I don't know if he did or not, but he was thin by then, and it wouldn't have made any sense.

I have an urge to watch the Goonies. Right now.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

University of Michigan Music School alumni rockin' it in the real world of theater

I always get a wave of pride when I hear of a fellow Michigan Music School alum making music in the big bad world successfully. Being a professional musician is not easy and I know many people, including myself, who have decided that was not the route for them. So those that have taken that route get much respect from me.

My favorite success stories right now are that of Lauren Molina and Leah Dexter. Both of these fine ladies were voice students with me at the University Michigan. Molina started off an opera major and then switched over to musical theater. Between you and me, she could have been an opera singer, she has a gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice. But the girl can sing, dance and act, which makes her a prime music theater suspect. And she's been working it on Broadway.

Right now Molina is in the hit production of Rock of Ages with American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis. I randomly caught this clip of the show on the Today Show the other day. Molina plays the character Regina, you can spot her as the curly blonde with the big glasses and a long green flowy skirt.

She was recently in the Broadway production and the touring production of Sweeney Todd and originated the role of Johanna where she also played the cello. Chances are, if you caught this production while it was in town, she was in it.

Molina is also a singer/songwriter and has a CD album out called Do-Bee-Do . which is full of quirky folk/pop songs like "Marriott on Wheels" and "Rollerskate"

Check out her website, myspace, and CDbaby

Leah Dexter on the other hand has gone the opera route. Also a mezzo-soprano, she was a vocal performance undergraduate and master's student at the U of M and has since performed all over the United States and Europe. Dexter has travelled the country singing recitals of pieces by female African American composer and is currently preparing for her next project and dream role, Carmen.

Currently she is in the San Francisco production of Gershwin's Porgy & Bess . Check out my article about the San Francisco production of Porgy and Bess , Dexter helped me fill in some of the holes.

I know a bunch of other people that are working it out in the real world. This could be a fun column to do every now and then to help support my peeps.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You too can enjoy opera: Tosca, Porgy & Bess and Il Trovatore

San Francisco's home of the Giants AT&T park

Opera is not a cheap art form. Performed traditionally (in an opera house with sets, costumes, etc.), it is very expensive to produce and it is not cheap to attend. Fortunately for Bay Area residents, there are cheaper ways to enjoy opera: we've got free telecasted operas at AT&T park and standing room at the War Memorial Opera House.

Last Friday, 27,000 of my best friends and I attended Puccini's Tosca shown live by telecast at the AT&T ballpark in San Francisco from the Opera House. This is the most people that have ever attended this event. What a unique and bizarre way to watch an opera: blankets, beer, soda, wine, seagulls sandwiches, popcorn, scarves, hotdogs, whatever. It was even weirder noticing that right above the center of the huge 1920x1080 high definition digital screen was a Budweiser ad.

The audience booed the villain, cheered the heroine and tried not to yell at people who were talking too loud (Some didn't do so well, you know who you are!) This is the way opera was meant to be seen and how theater was experience hundreds of years ago. Watch out though, the sound system is so good that you might need earplugs for some of those high notes!

The next live telecast will be on September 19th at 8pm and the opera will be Il Trovatore by Verdi. I HIGHLY recommend that you check it out if you can, even if you're not sure if you like opera. Maybe combined with the ballpark experience, you can ease your way into it.

Over the weekend I also had the privilege to get a sneak preview of the new Porgy & Bess production. This is an amazing production and a gorgeous show all together. I had seen it in Los Angeles when I was a child and really didn't fully understand the story. Knowing more about the history of the opera and Gershwin I, obviously, enjoyed it much more.

One of the things I learned about Porgy & Bess is that when it was first premiered in New York in 1935, it was not well received. People liked it, but it did not have enough staying power to become an immediate classic. While it was performed in pieces in years after, it was not until 1976 when the Houston Grand Opera resurrected the opera mostly in it's entirety. Porgy & Bess has now joined the canon as one of the most popular American operas of all time. It was not well received in the 30s due to the African American stereotypes of some of the main characters: the cripple/begger, the "loose" woman, the drug dealer and the violent man. This makes sense considering the ideals during the Harlem Renaissance to "lift the race through art". It seems that by the 70s, the white and black artistic communties felt comfortable enough to perform the opera and that enough time had passed for audiences all over the country and the world to see it as more than just a racial stereotype.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Oona's "Tore My Heart Out" Featured on So You Think you Can Dance

The Bay Area's own singer/songwriter/pianist/soulsista Oona Garthwaite was featured on "So You Think You Can Dance" last week with her song "Tore My Heart." Kelsea Taylor used this tune for her Lyrical Contemporary audition and called a "beautifully disaterous weirdo" and "slightly crazy" by judges.

Oona says on her iLike blog:
dear new friends,

thanks to the SYTYCD appearance, we've received a veritable onslaught of friend requests and new fans on myspace and facebook, twitter, ourstage, ilike...

i would like to thank each and all of you for listening to our music! we love making it, and sharing it with you is a real honor.

so if a tree falls in a forest and no one's there to hear it, does it still get broadcast on a network reality show? you betcha :) one. lucky. tree.
Oona is no stranger to being a featured artists on "So You Think You Can Dance"...

Read the rest of my article


Sunday, June 7, 2009

An a cappella arrangement of Heart's "All I Want to Do is Make Love to You"

This morning I sang at a recording session for a demo of Heart's "All I Want to Do is Make Love to You" in 4-part harmony. Do you remember this from 1990?  A film director in LA wants to put this tune in her movie with an all female a cappella group and hired a guy I know in San Francisco (same guy who did the "Good Night Bush" arrangement) to arrange it for her. He wanted to put a quick demo together for her so that she could get an idea of what it would sound like.

Imagine a 4-part a cappella arrangement of this song. The best line is:
So we found this hotel, it was a place I knew well.
It was hard not to bust out laughing during the recording session... oh wait, I did, several times. It was so fun.

Check out Ann Wilson's outfit and Nancy' Wilson's moves. The hair is pretty awesome too.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Opera in the Ball Park

Last night I went to see the opera Tosca shown live by telecast at the AT&T ballpark in San Francisco. The production was actually taking place live in the San Francisco Opera House. Several times a year, the ballpark opens its doors to thousands of people FREE OF CHARGE to watch a live opera. I heard this year 27,000 people showed up, the most people attending this event since it's inception a couple years ago.

What a unique and bizarre way to watch a show: blankets, beers, wine, sandwiches, popcorn, scarves, whatever. It was even weirder noticing that right above the huge digital screen was a Budweiser ad.

The audience booed at the villain, cheered with the heroine and tried not to yell at people who were talking to loud.

The next live telecast will be on September 19th at 8pm. The opera will be Il Trovatore by Verdi. I HIGHLY recommend that you check it out if you can. Even if you're not sure if you like opera. Maybe combined with the ball experience, you will ease your way into it.

Go to the SF Opera website for more information.