(Return of) THE BLENDER ’50 WORST SONGS’ BUSKING EXPERIMENT

Seeing 4 NonBlondes’ name pop up a bunch of times on Twitter over the last few days (not gonna try and figure out why) reminded me of this thing I did for Blender 8 years ago.
Given that 8 years is approximately 32 generations in blog years, I’ll just remind you that Blender was a music magazine. The “print” kind.
Also, get off my lawn.

Anyway, this is something I wrote on my old web site back then, when this thing that happened happened (and I want to apologize for how I trashed Starship’s entire catalog, but…):

FEBRUARY 26, 2004


The Blender 50 Worst Songs of All Time
So I did this thing this afternoon — Blender Magazine is putting out an issue of what their staff decided are the 50 worst songs of all time. I differ with them on a few, and would have added some others if I was asked, but I wasn’t. What I WAS asked to do, however, was to learn 5 of them and go busk them in Union Square this afternoon. The writers would assess crowd reactions, change earned, take photos, etc., for the article. I didn’t exactly jump at the chance, but after a few hours consideration, it started sounding funnier and funnier, so I decided to go for it. It was, actually, really funny (and fun). Here’s my take on the set:

WE BUILT THIS CITY (Starship)
Strategy: Open with a bang!
My assessment:
Feeble attempt at youth rebellion by an aging band that was always the most cartoony, and thus least credible of the SF psych scene in the 60s, and went on to bring us even MORE clunkers in the 80s, the only bright exception to an otherwise completely horrible catalog being the pretty cool song, “Find Your Way Back.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t asked to play their one “pretty cool song,” so I got to stare passersby in the eyes today and belt out lines like, “Who drives the wrecking ball into our guitars???” and “Say you don’t know me or recognize my face/Say you don’t care who goes, to THAT kind of place!” Huh?
Crowd reaction:
No one stopped for this one. I think it’s still a little too commonly heard on the radio for it to have registered as strong a question in people’s minds as some of the others. The general reaction seemed to be side-long glances with crooked smiles and a slight shake of the head, as if to say, “Oh no, that poor fool playing Starship in Union Square on such a chilly day…”
Change received during song: $0.00

I WANNA SEX YOU UP (Color Me Badd)
Strategy: Keep ‘em dancing.
My assessment:
What can be said? At least they were better than 98 Degrees. Best/worst line: “Let me light a candle so we can make it better/Makin’ love until we drown.” Now what liquid medium, exactly, are they making love in that puts them in danger of drowning? The world will never know…
Crowd reaction:
Again, a little less enthusiastic/vitriolic than I had hoped for. Apparently, in Jonah’s crowd interviews, he found that a lot of people actually didn’t remember the song at all (I tried to do as traditional a version as could be done with only ONE white dude and an acoustic guitar, but…). Even my blatant attempts to goad reactions by making creepy eye contact with both ladies and gentlemen while singing the chorus, “I wanna sex you up,” was met with indifference. Oh well. Even so, I got a little change on this one.
Change received during song: approx. $1.25

FROM A DISTANCE (Bette Midler)
Strategy: Take it down a notch.
My assessment:
This should maybe have been in the number one worst slot — melodramatic pap with a vaguely Christian social conscience that pushes no buttons whatsoever. Mountains, oceans, eagles, no hunger, only friends, etc. A lot of people don’t recognize the fangs that John Lennon’s “Imagine” actually has. This is what that song would be completely de-fanged and de-venomed, with music written by the lady who played the church organ at funerals at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey in 1982.
Crowd reaction:
There were more sideways glances with broader crooked smiles for this one, and even a few seemingly awe-struck listeners who actually backed away, but couldn’t take their eyes off of me — I felt like they didn’t know if they were watching something serious and holy, or the train-wreck that it actually was. I witnessed a few faces that evinced real confusion on this one. The question was answered when, in the middle of my second time through this song, god seemingly WAS watching us, and let the cold pop my E-string just as I invoked his name. A fitting end.
Change received during song: approx. $1.00

WHAT’S UP? (4 Non-Blondes)
Strategy: Crescendo/Climax
My assessment:
The only thing that saves this song from the land of the unlistenable is that Linda Perry chose three good chords for the only three chords she plays in the whole song — A, Bm, and D — that’s a pretty hard progression to argue with. Sometimes, when I wonder how the hell she got where she is today, I have to remember that she at least knows those three good chords, and how to put them together. That said, I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed, just to get it all out, what’s in my head, and I’m… AAAAArgh! It’s this friggin’ song that’s still stuck in my head!! It seems that out of the five I chose, it’s the one that’s most stuck in other people’s heads, too. A few people actually stopped to listen to the entire song this time — some even bouncing and singing along. Lot’s of broad, un-crooked smiles from passersby — I think we discovered a widely held NON-guilty pleasure with this one.
Change received during song: approx. $1.75

PARTY ALL THE TIME (Eddie Murphy)
Strategy: Denouement
My assessment:
Rick James also knew a good chord progression when he found one. In this case, he didn’t even need to progress off the first chord, an Am (at least in the key I could best sing it), which doesn’t change for the entire, long verses of the song. This turned out to be the biggest crowd grabber, though — it seemed like it took a second to sink in with most people, but once they remembered it, they were into it. It was also during the first time through this song, though, that the crazies (craziers?) started gathering — the leather/goth dude eating chips and salsa, the well dressed young gentleman who emerged from the subway on my right and stood and stared until I finished, then walked toward me as if he were concealing a shiv to put us all out of my misery with, but instead dropped a bunch of coins in the guitar case, and the guy in the all-striped outfit (hat, sweater, pants, socks — all differently striped, unless my memory deceives me) who looked like a larger, stripier version of Jeff Daniels, etc. But the thing is, they, and all the young B-boys and B-girls, New Wave of Yuppie yuppies, frustrated service industry folks, and leisure-class skateboarders, all got a little extra shake in their step from this one, and that made me happy. I mean, we all empathize with both characters in this song — the guy who’s bummed that his girl parties all the time, and the girl who wants to party all the time — something for everyone — EVERYTHING for everyone!
Change received during this song: approx. $2.75

Actual total change received: $6.76 (given to the one homeless guy who sat there and watched the whole damn thing)
Lessons learned:
Only that outdoor busking in February is probably not as fun as it might be in May. Learning the songs taught me nothing, which is probably why I feel karmically o.k. about having participated!!

A STATEMENT FROM LOOKOUT! RECORDS

Intense couple of weeks, here on the internet! HERE is a statement from our friends at Lookout on the topic of their decision to finally cease all label operations:

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Hard to say goodbye

I’m not sure exactly where exactly to start but I guess it’s best to get the hard part out of the way. To put it simply, what was mentioned recently on Ted Leo’s website (and reported in by a number of other outlets online) is true. Lookout Records will be closing its doors over the next few months. Most people that are reading this know that the label stopped releasing material towards the end of 2005. It was then that Lookout ended its long relationships with Green Day, Operation Ivy and a few other artists. That development meant significantly scaling down the business, which included letting the staff go and moving from the label’s Berkeley headquarters and warehouse into a small office. It was a challenging time for everyone involved – bands, staff, and business partners. For myself and the other two owners at the time, Cathy and Molly, we resolved to put our limited resources into rectifying some of the issues and problems that had been Lookout’s undoing, return to a modest operation, with the hopes of first, getting things back on track, and hopefully doing more in the future.

To many, that would have been the perfect time to wind things up with Lookout Records, but we decided not to. Sure, sales were down across the board and Lookout no longer had many of its long-standing top sellers in its catalog. There were artists that were committed to sticking with the label and shared our hope of fixing the problems and being able to find our way through a difficult period and create new successes. This was the inspiration we needed and over the next few years, with hard work we were able to simplify label operations to a large extent. With the help of folks like Ali, Andy, and later, Spenser pitching in, we focused on playing catch-up and on top of new developments.

It wasn’t easy to keep catalog items in print and that became especially challenging when our primary compact disc manufacturer and our distribution partner Lumberjack-Mordam went out of business unexpectedly. Having our physical distributor and a manufacturer go belly up disrupted our sales, meant a significant loss of income, and caused inventory and accounting problems. The next year when our mail order partner, Little Type, went out of business, Lookout was also dealt another significant blow. We did our best to resolve the issued caused by these developments but both ultimately amounted to a lot more work and severely impacted income.

By this time, it was primarily Cathy and myself overseeing Lookout’s business. This was done in whatever spare time we could find, as both of us had other jobs. Molly had minimized her involvement with the label, remaining a valued and trusted adviser. The label’s sole employee was Spenser, who came in to our small office space in Oakland to handle day to day stuff a couple times a week.

Last summer, we began tentatively discussing what it might mean to let Lookout end. It was a strange and scary to talk about at first and hard for either of us to imagine what it would be like. Lookout Records had been part of my life for over 20 years and Cathy is a label veteran with over 15 years of experience at Lookout. We considered all options but kept coming back to realization that the best use of our energies would be to shut the doors once and for all – for the legacy of the label, for the bands, and for benefit of the relationships and friendships with artists, partners, and stakeholders. After some soul searching, hat’s what we decided to do.

Right now, we are in the process of going through years and years of archives and figuring out what to do with things that have no obvious home. Inventory, masters, artwork – that’s all going back to the artists. We’ve talked to some bands but not all of them. If you were in a band and haven’t heard from Cathy or myself, definitely get in touch. Our efforts to close out Lookout’s remaining business reflect the same intentions we’ve had for the past few years – to do the best we can by the bands. It’s our hope that this could be an opportunity for the artists themselves to revisit their Lookout releases, with interesting and cool results. It’s time to let Lookout Records really and truly become history.

Thank you. Thanks for listening to the music, going to shows, coming in our store, forming bands, sending us demos, buying records from our mail order, signing to our label, wearing a t-shirt, playing our records on your radio show, putting us up on your living room floor, writing fan mail, interviewing us for your zine, putting on a show, for inspiring us, for being inspired by Lookout, for your hard work, for just being there, and for ALL of the memories (there are so many). Thank you. Here’s to you, and to whatever comes next…

Thanks, Chris

P.S. We’ll continue to update this site from time to time, with stories, information or anything cool that we come across that seems worth sharing. You’re welcome to come back and visit.
——–

And there you have it. Sad, it is; but so many of those who have worked there over the years remain my friends and I wish all of them the best in all their future endeavors. I’m proud and honored to have been able to be part of the history of Lookout Records.

LOOKOUT! IST KAPUTT.

I’ve been getting a lot of Twitter questions about why a bunch of my records have disappeared from all the digital services (Sportify, iDudes, Mandora, etc.). It’s because our beloved Lookout Records, which ceased releasing new material in 2006, but carried on keeping the catalog in print until this past December, has, sadly, shuttered it’s windows for good. A better eulogy should be forthcoming, but just to answer these questions, this means that these records have reverted to my complete ownership, which is kind of cool in some ways, I guess, except that it also means I have to basically run my own label for them now unless I wind up licensing them to someone else in the future. In the immediate, I have to go through some legal stuff with the digital services to get the records back up online, and I’m hoping to have that all taken care of very soon. Physical records are now officially out of print and will likely not be repressed for a while (but I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually). I do have a bunch of stock laying around with no plans to tour for quite a while, so if there’s interest, maybe I’ll set up a web-store so you can buy direct from me if you want. Please feel free to email or tweet me with ideas for that. All entertaining ideas will be entertained!
And thank you, seriously, for giving a crap. I’m not happy to see Lookout gone, but having complete rights of usage and total and direct revenue from sales now, can ultimately turn this into a positive situation. I just have to get creative about it. Might try to bang one out more special
Tyranny of Distance event before the 10th anniversary year is over this spring…