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Archive for the ‘Entertainment/Music/Sports’ Category

Given the requisite age of rock stars from the late 1960s, and early 1970s, it’s not really surprising that many of these pop culture icons are passing away.  This last week has seen two significant figures from the world of rock and roll step into the annals of music history.  Last week is was David Bowie, whose eclectic collection of musical styles, and personas, made him impossible to categorize.  If you’ve never listened to his music, here are ten cuts worth seeking out:

 

  1. Space Oddity (from the 1969 album, “Space Oddity”)
  2. Changes (from the 1971 album, “Hunky Dory”)
  3. Ziggy Stardust (from the 1972 album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars”)
  4. Suffragette City (from the 1972 album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars”)
  5. Rebel, Rebel (from the 1974 album, “Diamond Dogs”)
  6. Fame (from the 1975 album, “Young Americans”)
  7. Golden Years (from the 1976 album, “Station to Station”)
  8. Ashes to Ashes (from the 1980 album, “Scary Monsters”)
  9. Fashion (from the 1980 album, “Scary Monsters”)
  10. Under Pressure – w/Queen (released in 1981 as a single, and included on the 1982 Queen album, “Hot Spaces”)

 

in recent days, Glenn Frey, of the band “The Eagles”, also passed away.  After starting out as background singers for Linda Ronstadt, Frey and drummer Don Henley went on to form what became one of the most successful rock bands of all-time.  Though detractors have often criticized the groups soft-rock, country tinged sound, the music buying public devoured their records, and turned out in mass for their concerts.  If you’ve never listened to their music, here are ten cuts work seeking out:

 

  1. Peaceful Easy Feeling (from the 1972 album, “Eagles”)
  2. Desperado (from the 1973 album, “Desperado”)
  3. Bitter Creek (from the 1973 album, “Desperado”)
  4. Best of My Love (from the 1974 album, “On the Border”)
  5. One of These Nights (from the 1975 album, “One of These Nights”)
  6. Lyin’ Eyes (from the 1975 album, “One of These Nights”)
  7. Hotel California (from the 1976 album, “Hotel California”)
  8. Life in the Fast Lane (from the 1976 album, “Hotel California”)
  9. Wasted Time (from the 1976 album, “Hotel California”)
  10. Seven Bridges Road (from the 1980 album “Eagles Live”)

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With our two youngest (Andrew and Bekah) playing for their respective high school basketball teams, we spend a lot of time courtside.  As a matter of fact, we’re in the midst of a five day stretch where either the boy’s team, or the girl’s team, has a night-time away game.  And when you frequently hang around such venues it’s not uncommon to encounter people who think that “basketball is life”.  But from where I sit, it is life that is a lot like basketball.

 

Like basketball, life requires preparation.  You may get by for a while on natural ability, but at some point you have to invest yourself in it, if you hope to have sustained success.  Just like traversing the length of the floor, and getting to the rim, there will always be situations, scenarios, and obstacles, that stand in your way.  It requires patience, perseverance, and some amount of skill, to negotiate those hurdles.  It is only on rare occasions that you find yourself completely on the other side of these things, with a clear path to the goal.  When those openings come, you must be ready; because such windows of opportunity close quickly.  There are times when you need to press, and other times when you need to let the game come to you.  Sometimes you can simply cover a zone, but other times demand one-on-one attention.  Discerning those times is a significant key to victory.  Likewise, you will find that there are often fouls in life that never get called, times when your teammates won’t pass the ball, and moments when you inexplicably dribble the ball off your own foot, or shoot it over the backboard.  How you handle these moments of disappointment, frustration, and failure, will drastically impact your potential for future achievement.  Finally, there is the noise that surrounds the game.  The instructions of a coach, the cheers and jeers of the crowd, the call of a ref, the encouragement or chastening of a teammate, the trash talk of an opponent, and the little voice inside your head that responds to all of them.  Knowing which voices to listen to, and which ones to tune out, is a crucial skill that every player needs to develop.

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It’s funny what people consider to be “classic”.  I suppose a lot of it comes down to what you grew up with.  For instance, I grew up watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, so it has always been a part of my holiday tradition.  Some of the shows on this list are “favorites”, but don’t necessarily qualify as “classics”, while there are some classics that didn’t make the list of favorites.  An example of this would be “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Because, while I love the message of that movie, and I think that Jimmy Stewart’s performance is outstanding, watching George Bailey’s life unravel on an annual basis is just too painful for me.  The productions included below are some of the shows that have become a part of our annual Christmas tradition. 

 

  1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947 movie, starring Edmund Gwenn): This heartwarming classic (featuring Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood) is ostensibly about whether to believe in Santa Claus; but it is the contrasts between the kind and generous Kris (Gwenn), and the cynical commercialism of a couple of large New York City department stores (Macy’s & Gimbels), and the oppressive pragmatism of Doris (O’Hara) and the spirited idealism of her neighbor Fred, that convey a more timeless, and transcendent, message.  Favorite scene: When Susan finds Kris’ cane at her dream house.

 

  1. White Christmas (1954 film, starring Bing Crosby): Though this big budgeted Hollywood musical is only loosely tied to Christmas, the opening scenes with soldiers on the battlefront taking a break for a little yuletide celebration, the closing scene with snow coming down around a picturesque Vermont Inn, and the inclusion of what is arguably the most successful Christmas song of all-time, make it an indelible part of the holiday season.  Favorite scenes: The surprise party for the General, and the eventual arrival of snow at the inn.

 

  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965 animated television special): Though the production value of this special is absolutely primitive by today’s standards, it retains a sweet innocence that is sadly missing from almost anything produced in the last 25 years.  Charlie is a type of every-man, who generally plays the role of underdog, but who aspires to do great things, and who searches for meaning within life’s mundane events.  The inclusion of a classic soundtrack, provided by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, has been a significant part of the show’s continued success.  Favorite scene: Linus’ speech on what Christmas is all about.

 

  1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966 television special, featuring Boris Karloff): Based on a book by Dr. Seuss, this story touches on themes (e.g. repentance and redemption) similar to those found within the classic Dickens story, “A Christmas Carol”.  The narration by horror film star, Boris Karloff, and the memorable song, “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” only add to the charm.  Favorite scene:  When the Grinch hears the Whos down in Whoville singing their joyous song.

 

  1. Scrooge (1970 musical, starring Albert Finney): Despite some very poor special effects (e.g. Scrooge flying over London), a bizarre performance by Sir Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley, and a forgettable scene where Scrooge descends into hell, this is still my favorite adaption of Charles Dicken’s classic tale.  Albert Finney is superb throughout, and the musical score manages to enhance the story.  Favorite scene – When Scrooge unwittingly comes upon his own funeral procession and thinks that the town is having a parade in his honor.

 

  1. The Homecoming (1971 movie, starring Patricia Neal): This movie became the de facto pilot for the long running television series, “The Waltons”.  It beautifully captures both the virtues and the struggles of the depression/war era it portrays.  It is both subtle and rich.  Favorite scenes – John Boy’s narration, as he recollects the events of his life on Walton’s mountain.

 

  1. Silent Night (2002 Hallmark TV movie, starring Linda Hamilton): This made for TV movie portrays a German woman (Hamilton) who takes her young son to a cabin in the woods to escape the advancing armies.  On the night of Christmas Eve, both American and German soldiers come to take refuge there, as they all wind up spending a tense night together.  Each of their stories unfolds throughout the evening, and in the light of Christmas day, they emerge from this experience changed.  Favorite scene – When the young German soldier (Peter) sings a Christmas carol for them, and they realize that he is only fourteen years old.

 

  1. The Polar Express (2004 animated movie, featuring Tom Hanks):  Like Miracle on 34th Street, this beautifully animated feature would seem to be about believing in Santa Claus; but when the kids in the film come face to face with the “Big Guy”, he reminds them that he is only a symbol of the true spirit of Christmas.  While the movie does take an occasional side trip to show off the special effects facilitated by the computer animation technology, it manages to keep the characters at the center of the story.  Along with some stunning visuals, the musical score by Alan Silvestri, and songs featuring the likes of Josh Groban, are top notch.  Favorite scene – The duet sung by the heroic young girl and the poor boy (Billy).

 

  1. Christmas in Canaan (2009 Hallmark TV movie, starring Billy Ray Cyrus): While this TV movie tackles broader themes (e.g. race relations, poverty, stereotypes, loyalty), it also maintains a strong enough connection to Christmas to be considered a holiday movie.  Favorite scene – When the impoverished family opens their presents, which are pictures from the catalog of what their father wanted to buy for them.   

 

  1. A Christmas Carol (2009 animated feature, starring Jim Carrey): There is a lot to like about this Robert Zemeckis film.  The computer animation is beautiful, and it solves the problems that most productions have with realistically portraying the supernatural elements of the story.  Carrey does an admirable job voicing Scrooge, and demonstrates his range by voicing several other characters as well.  Overall, the story sticks pretty close to Dickens original material.  Favorite scene – When an unseen Scrooge comes face to face (i.e. within inches) with a grieving Bob Cratchit.  As he stares deeply into his tear filled eyes, you can almost feel Scrooge’s heart break.  .

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One of the things I have appreciated about the Christmas season has been the opportunity to take a break from the relentless, cynical, rude, and sexualized rhetoric that seems to rule our everyday entertainment. Unfortunately, within the last couple of decades, those things have found their way into the seasons entertainment offerings. Many of which are listed below.

 

1. The Christmas Story (1983 movie, starring Peter Billingsley): Though Peter Billingsley is utterly charming throughout this movie, the rest of the cast, and the story, make it hard to watch.

 

2. Scrooged (1988 movie, starring Bill Murray): Little more than Bill Murray being obnoxious and trashing a classic story.

 

3. Die Hard (1988 movie, starring Bruce Willis): I actually enjoyed this movie, but the fact that the terrorists take over the building during the company Christmas party doesn’t really qualify it as a Christmas movie.

 

4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989 movie, starring Chevy Chase): If you like National Lampoon, Chevy Chase, and/or the other “Vacation” movies, you probably consider this a classic. But for someone like me, it’s everything I dislike in a comedy, wrapped in Christmas lights.

 

5. Home Alone (1990 movie, starring Macaulay Culkin): Though I’m not a fan of slap stick comedy, my main contention with this film is that it isn’t a Christmas movie at all. Christmas is just a plot element, and not a substantive part of the story.

 

6. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 animated feature from Tim Burton): Like all Tim Burton creations, this is a fascinating film to watch, but it’s eccentricities overwhelm any genuine sense of connection to Christmas.

 

7. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000 movie, featuring Jim Carrey): Jim Carrey goes way over the top in this overly long adaption of a beloved story. It’s painful to watch.

 

8. Elf (2003 movie, starring Will Ferrell): This is as close as Will Ferrell ever came to playing a role I could watch, but in the end it was just too ridiculous to be heartwarming.

 

9. Bad Santa (2003 movie, starring Billy Bob Thornton): Bad Santa = Bad Movie. The end.

 

10. Fred Claus (2007 movie, starring Vince Vaughn): This movie aspires to be something that it never quite achieves. All the rude, slap stick, Vince Vaughn mugging, buries whatever mild sentiment they may have been shooting for.

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The reason that most of us never experience the exhilaration of hitting the game winning shot is that so few of us are willing to risk shooting the ball when the game is on the line.

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I originally wrote this piece when the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books were ruling the best seller list.  Now that the movie is being released, I find it sad to see how much further our society has progressed down this road.  Obviously, the “Grey” referred to in the title of the book is the name of the main character, but to be sure there is an intent of blurring the lines of what is reasonable and acceptable within the context of the story.  While the book tries to come on as some sort of psychological intrigue, the draw is ultimately the explicit sexual content.  It’s really just fluffed up porn, but we like to think of it as being somehow more sanitary and appropriate than renting videos from the local “Adult” superstore.  That seems to be the pattern in our culture.  We keep looking for ways to push the boundaries of what is acceptable, and then find ways to legitimize it in our minds.  We’ve got phenomenally popular artists like Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Nicki Minaj, who are trying to sell our young women on the idea that flaunting their anatomy will ultimately empower them, when in fact; it leads to the most ancient form of slavery known to mankind.  Check out the cover of the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.  We rationalize that this has something to do with sports or swimsuits, but it’s just another repackaging of the same old thing.  For most men (& boys), it will be the only Sports Illustrated they purchase this year.  All of these things are meant to activate the same trigger, and they do.  But like a patient who is provided with a button to dispense their own medication, we quickly find out that it never really gets us where we want to be.  We can convince ourselves that all of this is really harmless, but make no mistake; it’s carrying us, and more importantly our children, down a path that we are sure to regret.  The fruit of these things is already beginning to blossom, but we as a culture are unwilling to connect the dots.  There is no blindness as profound as the refusal to see.

 

50 Shades of Gray

There must be 50 shades of gray

Maybe even more

But they’re nothing more than shadows

And a place to lose our way

*

No one ever sets out to be a hypocrite, or a liar, or a cheat

Yet, every day we find a way

*

It’s not the things we call “evil” that so entangle us

It’s the things that we’ve justified as being “good”

*

It’s the pursuit of “having it all”, that so often costs us the things that matter most

*

*

There must be 50 shades of gray

Maybe even more

But they’re nothing more than shadows

And a place where we can hide

*

No one ever sets out to be an addict, or a prostitute, or a thief

Yet, every day we find a way

*

It’s not as much a question of our history

As it is the conclusions that we’ve drawn from it

*

It’s ultimately self-deception that paves the road to self-destruction

*

*

There must be 50 shades of gray

Maybe even more

But they’re nothing more than shadows

And a place for us to perish

*

No one ever sets out to be a pedophile, or a rapist, or a murderer

Yet, every day we find a way

*

Many of us choose to explore our dark side

But none of us ever finds the bottom of it

*

The poison gets harder to detect when you take it one drop at a time

*

*

There must be 50 shades of gray

Maybe even more

But they’re nothing more than shadows

And only the light can set us free

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1. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin: Originally hired as a bassist for the popular English band, “The Yardbirds”, Jimmy Page eventually came to share guitar duties with the legendary Jeff Beck. But as the group began to unravel, Page attempted to put together a new lineup, and tour as, “The New Yardbirds”. Allegedly, John Entwistle of “The Who” joked that this new band was going to go down like a lead balloon, so when the original band members forbade Page to use the Yardbirds name, “Led Zeppelin” was born. Despite the bumpy transition, Led Zeppelin’s debut album was an immediate success, and went on to become a rock classic.
2. Achtung Baby – U2: From the band’s debut album, “Boy” (released in 1980) until their classic 1987 release, “The Joshua Tree”, U2 had experienced a steady rise in both artistic and commercial success. It wasn’t until the release of their 1988 documentary, “Rattle and Hum”, that the band received its first notable criticism, with some describing it as, “bombastic” and “overly pretentious”. Disillusioned by the music industry in general, and bored with what had become their signature sound, the group’s 1991 album, “Achtung Baby” was a radical departure in almost every way.
3. Off the Wall – Michael Jackson: The Jackson Five’s departure from Motown records in 1975 seemed to mark the end of an era. Though the group continued to tour and release records, their popularity steadily dwindled. Because Michael was the main songwriter, and focal point of the band, there was no reason to believe that a new solo record would do much to change that trend. But the 1979 release of the album, “Off the Wall” set off a new era of stardom for the singer that eventually eclipsed everything that had come before it. An artistic leap forward, it laid the foundation for the phenomenal “Thriller” album, which was released just a few years later, and went on to become the biggest selling album of all time.
4. 1984 – Van Halen: The years that followed the band’s spectacular 1978 debut release, “Van Halen”, found the group steadily touring and recording. And though it would be difficult to argue their ongoing success, it was hard not to notice the progressively declining quality of their albums. Despite its commercial success, longtime fans couldn’t help but be dismayed by the remake filled album, “Diver Down” from 1982. Given those factors, there was no reason to expect the stunning return to form that “1984” represented. On many levels it was the band’s most successful album.
5. A Momentary Lapse of Reason – Pink Floyd: For long time fans, it didn’t seem possible to make a legitimate Pink Floyd record without founding member Roger Waters. But guitarist David Gilmour and company did just that with this 1987 release. Though not necessarily ranked with their best work, this album was highly successful, and proved to be a credible addition to the bands enduring legacy.
6. Fleetwood Mac (1975) – Fleetwood Mac: By the time that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks arrived, “Fleetwood Mac” had already been a band for almost a decade, and had released nine albums. But the addition of these two distinctive artists radically changed the chemistry within the group, and propelled them to a whole new level of popularity. This album not only topped the chart, it sold over 5 million copies, and produced three big radio hits (i.e. Rhiannon, Over My Head, and Say You Love Me). More importantly, it set the stage for the group’s next album, “Rumours”, which went on to be one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
7. Infinity – Journey: Originally formed in 1973, the band was made up of veteran players from the San Francisco bay area; including Santana alum Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon. But after the groups first three albums failed to consistently connect with a sizeable audience, their record company recommended a change in direction, including the incorporation of another vocalist. This shift from a jazz/rock to pop/rock style, and the addition of Steve Perry’s striking vocals, proved to be a winning combination, as their 1978 release, “Infinity” went on to achieve platinum status, and set off a string of highly successful albums.
8. Back in Black – AC/DC: The death of lead singer, Bon Scott, seemed to signal the end for Australian rock outfit AC/DC. His charisma, and distinctive growl, were at the heart of the band’s sound, and looked to be irreplaceable. At that time, few could have anticipated the emergence of new singer Brian Johnson, and the release of what is arguably the bands most complete album.
9. Third Stage – Boston: Though not considered to be on a par with the band’s first two albums (i.e. 1976’s “Boston” and 1978’s “Don’t Look Back”), this album is notable for the eight year span that preceded it’s 1986 release. Multiple law suits, and techno-wiz/guitarist/producer Tom Scholz’s constant tinkering, led to the delay. Despite the gap, this album did manage to continue the bands string of multi-platinum success.
10. Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath: Considering that Ozzy Osbourne was the face, the voice, and ultimately the stage persona of the band, it seemed unlikely that the group could be successful without him. But when his rampant drug & alcohol abuse caused the band to “fire” him in 1979, they decided to regroup with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Surprisingly, this new lineup reinvigorated the band’s music, and was well-received by die hard Sabbath fans. It’s interesting to note that it was the daughter of the band’s manager, Don Arden who recommended Dio as Ozzy’s replacement, and that years later she (Sharon Arden) became Mrs. Ozzy Osbourne.

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  1. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen:  Lead singer, Freddie Mercury was an unprecedented showman, and his unique persona made its mark on all of the band’s music; but this epic recording stands alone in its innovation and originality.  Even decades later, with all of the advances in music technology, there is nothing like it.
  2. December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) – The Four Seasons:  Also known as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, their string of 1960s hits made them one of the most successful vocal groups of all-time, eventually propelling them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  And while the signature falsetto of lead singer Frankie Valli was at the forefront of almost every big hit, it was drummer Gerry Polci who sang lead on this 1975 hit, which went on to become the group’s biggest selling single.
  3. Owner of a Lonely Heart – Yes:  Through ten albums, and more than a decade, art rock band “Yes” habitually produced 8 -10 minute opuses that didn’t fit well into the pop radio format.  But all of that changed with the 1983 release of the album “90125”.  This pop music gem went on to become the band’s one and only #1 single.
  4. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana:  In the early nineties there was nothing on pop radio that sounded remotely like Nirvana’s brand of rock, which was ultimately dubbed, “grunge”.  Even their record company was caught completely off guard by the meteoric rise of the band, their single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and its corresponding album, “Nevermind”.
  5. Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia) – Us3:  This Jazz/Hip-Hop fusion from 1993 was revolutionary for it’s day, and it’s mass appeal helped drive the Rap/Hip-Hop genre from the fringe of popular music to the heart of popular culture.
  6. Beth – Kiss:  By the mid-seventies, the band, “Kiss” had risen to stardom on the strength of their spectacular stage shows, and their hard rock sound.  In keeping with what had brought them success, the band released the single, “Detroit Rock City” in 1976.  But to the surprise of everyone associated with the band, it was the B-side of that record, the ballad, “Beth”, that went on to become one of the groups most successful songs.
  7. Jane – Jefferson Starship:  Founding member, Paul Kantner, and his band, had a string of soft rock hits (e.g. Miracles, With Your Love, Count on Me) following their transition from the original “Jefferson Airplane” lineup.  But with the 1978 departure of lead singers, Grace Slick, and Marty Balin, they found themselves at yet another crossroad.  Then, the addition of “Fooled Around & Fell in Love” singer, Mickey Thomas, and a new harder rock sound, propelled their surprising 1979 single, “Jane” up the charts; beginning a new chapter in the bands long and diverse history.
  8. Tusk – Fleetwood Mac:  Following up on the phenomenal success of the classic album “Rumours”, with its four top ten singles, was a daunting task.  But the 1979 album, “Tusk” provided twenty new songs to choose from.  Of those, the unusual title track seemed to be the least likely candidate for release as a single.  Nonetheless, this pop music oddity reached the top ten later that year.
  9. Because the Night – The Patti Smith Group:  Nothing in Patti Smith’s eclectic artistic history would have indicated that a Top 40 record was anywhere in her future, but her reworking of this Bruce Springsteen composition ruled the airwaves upon its 1978 release.
  10. Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby & David Bowie:  In what had to be one of the most unlikely pairings in pop music history, 1940’s crooner Bing Crosby, and 1970’s glam rocker David Bowie teamed for this Christmas medley, which was included as a part of Crosby’s 1977 television Christmas special.

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  1. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin:  From the opening notes of the first track (Good Times, Bad Times), Zeppelin’s debut album hailed the coming of one of rock-n-rolls greatest bands.  Mixing bruising rock with heavy blues, and sprinkling in a touch of folk, it was an instant hit that set off a string of now classic albums (e.g. Led Zeppelin II, III, IV, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti).  Cuts like “Dazed and Confused”, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Communication Breakdown” stand amongst the best in Zeppelin’s catalog.
  2. The Cars – The Cars:  On the front of what was aptly called the, “New Wave”, the Cars debut record was a heady blend of synthesizers, crunchy guitars and quirky lyrics.  Though the band went on to score numerous radio hits, no album in their catalog ever approached the consistent quality of this one.
  3. Appetite for Destruction – Guns N’ Roses:  Looking back, it’s hard to remember that this record didn’t initially sell very well.  It wasn’t until the radio got a hold of “Sweet Child o Mine”, that sales began to take off.  Along with the popularity of tracks like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City”, the album went on to sell almost 30 million copies worldwide.
  4. Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills and Nash:  Despite their notable success with other bands, David Crosby (The Byrds), Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield) and Graham Nash (The Hollies) never sounded better than when they joined their voices together in this super-group.  Their 1969 debut album stands as one of the greatest records of that turbulent era.
  5. Van Halen – Van Halen:  The Van Halen brothers arrived with a bang on their 1978 debut record.  Featuring tight rhythms, David Lee Roth’s distinctive howl, and Eddie’s virtuoso guitar work, it was a gritty counterpoint to the synth-pop sounds that ruled the airwaves.  For die-hard fans, this album still represents the pinnacle of their catalog.
  6. Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston:  Though originally released in 1985, it took almost a year for this landmark debut album to reach a worldwide audience.  But Whitney Houston’s dazzling voice and stunning beauty were impossible to ignore; as the record went on to produce three #1 singles.  It was a remarkable beginning for one of pop music’s most amazing voices.
  7. Boston – Boston:  Though their debut album seemed to explode onto the music scene in 1976, it was actually years in the making.  Techno wiz Tom Scholz essentially began the process of recording with the core of the band in the early 1970’s, repeatedly reworking the demos until he felt they were ready.  The finished product became one of the biggest selling debut albums of all time, and nearly forty years after its release, songs from this record can still be regularly heard on rock radio.
  8. The Pretenders – The Pretenders:  Though formed in England, the creative core of the group was primary songwriter, and singer, Chrissie Hynde; who was originally from Akron Ohio.  More gritty than the typical New Wave band, and more accessible than the average Punk band, their music was a compelling blend of influences.  Even decades removed from the context of the early 1980’s, this record still sounds fresh and relevant.
  9. Ten – Pearl Jam:  Just as band mates Stone Goassard and Jeff Ament’s previous group (Mother Love Bone) was set to release their debut album, lead singer Andrew Wood died of a drug overdose.  Just a year later, they regrouped with a new lead singer (Eddie Vedder), renamed the band (Pearl Jam), and released their ground-breaking debut album “Ten”.  Despite it’s rather dark themes, rock radio gravitated to cuts like, “Alive”, “Evenflow”, “Jeremy”, and “Black”; as the album went on to sell over 13 million copies.
  10. The Doors – The Doors:  1967 proved to be a pivotal year in Rock-n-Roll history, and the release of The Doors self-titled debut record proved to be a significant part of that.  Whether it was the irresistible keyboard hook of “Light My Fire”, the rocking “Break On Through”, or the haunting, “The End”, this record was an instant classic.

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I’m a huge fan of Charles Dickens novella, “A Christmas Carol”. Since its first publishing in 1843, it has never been out of print, and the story has been adapted many times for film, the stage, and even opera.  Its timeless theme of redemption has made it an indispensable part of our family’s Christmas tradition.  But with so many versions of the story available, it’s hard to know which way to turn.  After watching many of the popular adaptions, I have yet to find one that I would consider to be the definitive version.  Even so, several of them are very worthwhile.  As someone who values the original story, I offer the following insights.

 

“Mickey’s Christmas Carol” / “The Muppet Christmas Carol”

Though Dickens ode to Christmas ultimately ends on a hopeful note, much of the journey to get there can be dark, and may not be suitable for younger children. A couple of great ways to introduce this classic tale to the younger generation are Disney’s “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (featuring Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit), or the Muppet’s version (featuring Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit).  Though the newer Disney version (2009 – featuring Jim Carrey) is animated, the darker elements of the story are retained, and in some cases even highlighted.

 

“Scrooge” (1935 – Featuring Seymour Hicks as Scrooge)

One of the biggest challenges that any production of this material faces is realistically portraying the supernatural elements of the story. The 1935 film version worked around this problem by simply allowing the audience to hear the spirits voices, without actually attempting to show their forms.  While this avoided the ultra-cheesy effects that hamper many adaptions, it also managed to detract from the overall story, and almost made it seem as though Scrooge might be slipping into dementia.

 

“A Christmas Carol” (1938 – Featuring Reginald Owen as Scrooge)

Not to be outdone by the 1935 British film, MGM commissioned an American production of the story just a few years later. This version is only noteworthy in that it was the first to include the spirits arriving at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 on the same night, while Dickens original story had them visiting on three successive nights.  This change was incorporated into most of the subsequent productions.

 

“A Christmas Carol” (1951 – Featuring Alastair Sim as Scrooge)

I’ve heard many critics refer to this as the definitive version, though I would certainly beg to differ. Something that does stand out about this film is that it includes numerous story elements that didn’t come from the original novel.  Some of these details are actually helpful (e.g. Ebenezer’s mother died giving birth to him, which is why his father doesn’t want him around, and his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred, which is why Ebenezer doesn’t want him around.), while others are simply a distraction (e.g. Ebenezer being wooed away from Fezziwig’s for more lucrative business ventures, which eventually include a company takeover, orchestrated by he and Marley.).  Fragments of this subplot involving Scrooge’s shrewd business dealings were later incorporated into other productions, most notably George C. Scott’s portrayal in the 1984, made for television version.

 

“Scrooge” (1970 Musical – Featuring Albert Finney as Scrooge)

In many ways this adaption represents the pinnacle of the available versions, though its flaws are also painfully obvious. Albert Finney’s award winning portrayal as both the young and old Scrooge is brilliant, and the overall production values of the film are light years beyond anything that preceded it.  The songs, and score, flow seamlessly with the story, and help to break up some of the drearier aspects of the tale.  On the other side of the coin, some of the special effects are embarrassingly bad.  The scenes featuring Sir Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley, and of Scrooge flying over the streets of London, are absolutely cringe-worthy; and Ebenezer’s side trip to hell is both bizarre and unnecessary.  Despite these shortcomings, Finney’s performance, and some impressive musical numbers, makes for a memorable retelling of the story.

 

“A Christmas Carol” (1984 – Featuring George C. Scott as Scrooge)

This version of the story seems to suffer from director Clive Donner’s involvement with the 1951 version of the film. Like that adaption, it incorporates elements that would indicate that Scrooge was a ruthless and shrewd business man, which fundamentally changes the character that Dickens portrayed in the original story.  In the novel, Ebenezer clings to his money like a security blanket, and uses it as a hedge against a world that largely terrifies him.  He lives like a pauper, unwilling to part with anything because of his fears of returning to a life of poverty.  Ultimately, he lords people’s indebtedness over them because it is the only sense of power he has.  Watching George C. Scott’s Scrooge swagger through the Royal Stock Exchange seems totally out of step with that characterization.  For me, Scott’s powerful stage presence actually works against him with this character, and manages to diffuse the sense of transformation at the end of the story.

 

“A Christmas Carol” (2009 – Featuring Jim Carrey as Scrooge)

There is a lot to like about this Robert Zemeckis film. The computer animation is beautiful, and it solves the problems that most productions have with realistically portraying the supernatural elements of the story.  Carrey does an admirable job voicing Scrooge, and demonstrates his range by voicing several other characters as well.  Overall, the story sticks pretty close to Dickens original material.  But at times the producers seem to get enamored of the technology, with extended sequences of dizzying effects.  These moments give the film a more cartoonish feel, and become tedious with repeated viewings.  Additionally, the gimmick of using Carrey’s likeness, and voice, in all its various incarnations, wears thin as the movie progresses.  Ultimately, the movie could have retained a more classic feel had filmmakers confined Carrey to the role of Scrooge, and let other talented voices inhabit the remaining roles.  One highlight of this film is a particularly poignant moment when an unseen Scrooge comes face to face (i.e. within inches) with a grieving Bob Cratchit.  As he stares deeply into his tear filled eyes, you can almost feel Scrooge’s heart break.  It is a surprisingly real moment, and better than I expected from an animated feature.

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