Corey Hart blows my mind

The sheer coincidence of this is kind of ridiculous.

I just spent some time transferring the old magazine articles I had written onto my new blog, “Sound Insights.”  Now that the blog was up and ready, I told a friend I’d write something new when something moved me to write.  One of the slight disadvantages of magazine deadlines was the “assignment” aspect of it – I had to write about X by such-and-such a date.  I like that the blog is more of an “at will” scenario.  I think the posts will be more meaningful.

To that point, few could be more meaningful than this one.  Those of you who read we-got-the-beats facebook page know I posted just a few days ago that I wrote an email to Corey Hart, and he wrote back (within minutes, to my shock.)

I told him when I was a kid, I was a fan of his radio hits (he is best known in the USA as an 80’s artist/synth-pop act) and although I had considered it, I never went out and bought one of his first three full albums (it would have been on cassette at the time.)  The truth is, paper route money didn’t go very far in those days.

I went on to mention a summer at the Jersey Shore, where I would always play the Boardwalk games that let you win music.  I would usually win at least one, and usually for less than the price of going out and buying one.  On this trip, I got it in my head to finally take a chance on a Corey Hart album. 

As luck/fate would have it, they didn’t have any of Corey’s first three albums, with hits like “I Am By Your Side,” “Everything In My  Heart,” “Never Surrender,” etc.  They only had his latest called Young Man Running.  I had seen the first video from YMR on MTV, a song called “In Your Soul.”  I remember thinking, “Where’s the synth?” and other Americans must have thought the same thing, because the song tanked in the US, and that was pretty much the end of Corey’s chart success in the US – although he continued to do well in his native Canada.  (IMO, the album was a few years ahead of its time when everyone started to “unplug” en masse.)

I took YMR home, and the more I listened to it, the more I “got it.”  It became and still is one of the most important I have ever owned and still treasure.  (I have several copies in case anything ever happens to one.  I’ve given some to friends.  I have one in my spouse’s car CD player.)  In my mid-teens, “Young Man Running” – I don’t think there was a better description.  Songs like “Lone Wolf,” “So It Goes,” “No Love Lost,” and “Chase The Sun” totally fit where I was at the time.  His songs were different from a lot of what was on the radio, with intelligent lyrics, and solid musicianship.  It was not what I expected from a Corey Hart album.  It was much more.

I also told Corey that his song, “Truth Will Set You Free” from that album, while I loved it as much as the rest at that time, took on a more significant meaning as I began to wrestle with coming out in the mid-90’s.  I had read on his website recently that there was going to be a remix of it (random?) but was slightly hesitant to tell him exactly how and why I related to it.  I’m not one to ever hide who I am; I’ve come too far for that.  But part of me didn’t want to know if he wasn’t down with it.  It’s very disappointing to have someone you have admired for a long time reveal an anti-gay bias.  And I very consciously boycott artists like Eminem who have bad things to say about gay people.  (I don’t even carry Eminem in my store.)

As I mentioned, minutes later, there was a reply in my inbox:

“got your email tony. thanks for the very kind words. letters like yours makes it all worthwhile.   please check  may 31 on my web site.
i think it will mean a lot to u. one love,  corey hart”
Of course, May 31 (today) was the day Corey was going to release the news about the new remixed version of one of my favorite songs on one of the most important albums I’d ever heard:
‘Truth Will Set U Free’ is about honesty and my philosophic belief that ultimately being true to yourself is the key to happiness. Every individual’s inalienable right to be who they are without fear or recrimination.

But above these universal themes there is a message which in 1988 as a young 26 year old songwriter I obscured in veiled lyrical imagery. I have since rewritten some of those words to lift the veil.

‘Truth will Set U Free’ is also a song composed for those who were born gay. I am a straight man so I do not profess to understand or know what a LGBT person experiences. It is only through my observations that I created the song. But I have relatives, close friends, musical soul mates who are gay. I have often witnessed their plight for acceptance, dignity and recognition. I am not suggesting in any fashion that all gays are victimized. This would be disingenuous. However, Matthew Shepard´s story from Laramie, Wyoming in 1998 was about innocent victimization by cold callous prejudice. His tragic death for me epitomized the senseless cruelty still prevalent in so many small towns or cultured big cities of our society. I hope “Truth Will Set U Free” & 1Love’s story can offer some strength of empowerment for those who at times must journey down life’s harder road.

And there it was.  Nearly 25 years later, validation that I wasn’t just reading my own interpretation into that song, but that it was written for me, and others like me, by someone who “got it” way back in 1988 – even before I did.

And I just happened to stumble onto his website and email him two days prior.  It’s hard to imagine a more meaningful reignition of my music column.

I still haven’t heard the new version, looking forward to finding it and the new lyrics asap!!!

Original lyrics:

Truth will set you free
Stood before the morning’s light
And ask myself am I trapped again
The more I try and see
More the circle follows me
Chasing empty signs of life
There’s something fightin’ me
‘O, ‘O, ‘O
So don’t take away, O-o, I cried
Don’t take away
Let water find it’s own level
So don’t take away, O-o, I cried
Don’t take away
Sometimes I wish the sky would gently
Guide its arm towards me, ‘O no
[No, no]
Think if one could ever really touch
The soul of the earth
No it wouldn’t crumble
Set you free
Set you free
Set you free
Truth will set you free
Don’t take away, O-o, I cried
Don’t take away
Sometimes I wish the sky would gently
Hold its arm towards me
Don’t take away, O-o, I cried
Don’t take away
Truth will set you free
When you can’t look no more
It will set you free
Sometimes I think I can really touch
The soul of the earth.

For a little context…

The posts you see below (from 2011) were all articles written by we-got-the-beats’ owner (and official music whore) Tony Cicalese for his “Sound Insights” column in a local magazine.  The magazine went under in July of that year (hmmm…) but we decided to start our blog off with them for some context.  In some cases Tony will post notes or updates to those old columns in italics like this.  We’ll go forward beginning in June 2012 with new reviews, rants, etc. as things happen that are worthy of comment.

WARNING:  Tony is opinionated (but usually correct.)  He enjoys sincere, intelligent debate, so feel free to agree or argue.  He is currently very uncomfortable referring to himself in the third person, but it seems the grammatically correct thing to do(?)

Rolling in the Bleep?


OK, I do not get the whole Adele thing.  Somebody needs to write in and explain it to me.  I really enjoyed her beautifully emotional first song, “Chasing Pavements.”  But when I hear “Rolling In The Deep” only one thing pops into my head: tomahawks.  It   makes me think of Native Americans with tomahawks, hunting or something.

And while I appreciate the sentiment “We could have had it all” (although Whitney Houston expressed it with more feeling and even Tiffany’s “Coulda Been” captured it better) what the heck does “rolling in the deep” actually mean?   (Bleep)ing in tall grass?

I also like the line, “You had my heart inside your hand – and you played it to the beat” because I love when a song references a music or another song or itself, like when Mariah Carey mentioned “the pain reflected in this song ain’t even half of what I’m feeling inside” and Right Said Fred said “I’m too sexy for this song.”  Well honey, I’m apparently too sexy for Rolling In The Deep because I don’t get it.

Side note to those of you who are not Adele:  please don’t try to sing it.  She at least nails her wail.  You all sound like an animal those Native Americans caught up to with their tomahawks.

Local Girl Does Us Proud

ImageOne woman I have no problem understanding is the amazingly energetic Beverly McClellan, one of the finalists on “The Voice.”  (By the time you read this, we may already know if she has won the whole shebang.)

What I somehow didn’t know until recently was that Beverly is our own hometown artist, performing at places like New Moon (hi Carol, love ya!) and J’s Hangout.  (Wow, I’ve been missing her shows all this time?  You girls really know how to keep a secret!)  According to local fan Ronni Dowd, “She’s been entertaining locally for over 20 years. Bev is just one of those people that always has a smile on her face and you just know she will never forget us even when she climbs to the top, which I am quite sure she is in the process of doing.”

I was impressed with Beverly from the beginning on “The Voice.”  She has a raw talent, fantastic vocal ability, and just this intense, almost urgency to her delivery.  Taking out Frenchie Davis in the semi-finals is no small feat, and I love Frenchie since her too-brief American Idol appearance, but I think Bev beat her fair and square.  I   thought Christina had a great concept taking Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” to its   logically gospelly heights, but I think Frenchie’s delivery was missing something – maybe she just hadn’t gotten comfortable with the idea yet.

Beverly’s performance of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” however, wasn’t missing a damned thing.

Congratulations so far Bev – we’re rooting for ya!

I Miss My Dance Radio Station

South Florida has been without a dance music radio station for a long time now, and I really miss it.

Remember Party 93.1?  I used to joke that they played the same 13 songs over and over again – and they kind of did – but it was great, especially in the summer, to drive around during the day and be able to hear stuff you normally would only hear in the clubs at night.

That was back when the crazy beeping and beats of Darude’s instrumental “Sandstorm” were ubiquitous, and the similarly sounding “The Launch” by DJ Jean and “Omnibus” by Laut Sprechter.  (My friend Amy used to say she hated that one because it sounded like somebody was honking their horn from behind when she was driving.)

Also when I think of that station, “Silence” by Delerium featuring Sarah McLachlan comes to mind, and of course a pair of tracks by Ian Van Dahl: “Castles In The Sky,” and one of my favorites, “Will I.”  (“Will – I ever love you – again…”)  I love the way that song just explodes in the middle.  It was great to hear nice and loud at Boom at night, too.

And they still played relative “oldies” like “Sexual (Li Da Di)” by Amber which will forever remind me of Bill Hallquist at the Sea Monster.  That was long before that radio station came about, but I had the best time for awhile there every Sunday, first bartending the early shift at Alibi and then heading right over to the New River to dance all night.

Party 93.1 went on the air almost 10 years ago – New Year’s Eve 2001, and went off the air sometime in 2004.  It was replaced by an alternative rock station, which more recently became an ultra-lite station, playing stuff by Barry Manilow and Air Supply and the like (OK, I love it.  Guilty.)

But it’s not my dance music.

Well the good news is:  Party 93.1 is actually still on the air! (sort of.)  If you go to and click on “Listen Live” – presto!  Instant dance channel in the background while you work.  I have been listening all morning as I type this and loving it!! They still play some of those same 13 songs! (HA ha!) Actually there is a link where you can see everything they’ve played in the last 48 hours (which is great when you want to know, “Who sings this?”)  A quick scan of that page shows some of the old staples like “Heaven” by DJ Sammy and “Take Me Away” by 4 Strings, as well as brand new stuff (dance versions of course) like Rihanna’s “S&M” and J-Lo’s “On The Floor.”  WOO HOO!

With slightly more effort, you can also hear it on the radio – even a car radio.  How?  Simple – you just have to purchase an HD radio.  They make them for the car as well as regular portable radios.  They are not too expensive (I’ve seen them for around $50 on ebay – even less for the car radios) and unlike satellite radio there is no monthly subscription fee.  However they do have really nice “digital quality” sound as apposed to regular radio stations.  And you will get a bunch of other extra radio stations as well as the standard ones already on your dial.

Hmm…that just might be worth it for me to drive around listening to my favorite dance station again.  Party on!

Party 93.1’s Top 5 songs of 2002:

1. Silence – Delerium with Sarah Mclachlan
2. Gotta Get Through This – Daniel Bedingfield
3. Turn The Tide – Sylver
4. Days Go By – Dirty Vegas
5. Rapture (Tastes So Sweet) – IIO

We-Got-the-Beats Celebrates One Year in Business

We-Got-the-Beats – South Florida’s own “little gay record store” celebrates one year in business!

On June 15, 2010, we-got-the-beats opened with a party; and the music (and beer) have been flowing ever since.  We sat down with owner Tony Cicalese to discuss this unique venue.

David: Tony, what inspired this concept?

Tony: Well, I had already been selling music online for about twelve years.  I always focused on carrying the music I like, especially dance, pop, R&B, and CD singles (for the remixes.)  Over time, this has earned me a very loyal following of dance enthusiasts and DJ’s from around the world.

In all my years as a music fan, I would go to record stores only to find they very much marginalized dance music.  They didn’t stock much of it, they didn’t know anything about it, and there was some attitude about it because it wasn’t The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or Pearl Jam.  Some would outright make fun of you for buying Britney Spears CD’s.  There was a subtle (or not) anti-gay attitude in there somewhere, in my opinion.

I remember when I was first coming out in my early 20’s in New Jersey.  I went to a big chain store and looked at the “Gay” section of music.  I remember being nervous about doing that, and I remember the look I got from the guy at the counter when I finally bought something on the second or third trip there.

I wanted to create an environment that explicitly embraced those little gay music lovers and all gay music lovers – all the “old” queens looking for Sylvester and Donna Summer, all of Lady Gaga’s “Little Monster” types, and everyone in-between.  We put that music front and center.  We don’t generally carry the Beatles, or Metal, or polka – and we make no apologies for that.  We can and do special order just about anything   for everyone; but day-to-day, we are a dance music store.  Proudly.

David: How did you come up with the name?

We Got The Beats, was (perhaps ironically) inspired by the name of that very store I just mentioned in New Jersey:  Nobody Beats The Wiz.  (They’re out of business now.) (Grin.)  Of course, it is also a nod to the infectious pop hit by The Go-Go’s, and it makes our name stick in peoples’ heads.  (Go ahead, try to stop hearing “We Got The Beat” in your head right now…)

David: Do people still buy CD’s?

Tony: CD sales are still strong.  When you can buy a used CD for $4, or a discounted new CD for $5, that is typically a savings vs. downloading them, and you will always have the CD to keep.  Plus there are a lot of things we carry that you won’t find on itunes.  And of course, there is gift giving and the collector market.

David: So is this like one of those DJ stores?

Tony:  Not really.  We do carry some of what they carry, but lean more mainstream – much more full length CD’s, more variety, and much better pricing.  We stock the new releases each week from Britney Spears, Gaga, Kylie Minogue, and even Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks.  Basically the store is divided into three rooms, and the whole front room is meant for newer releases, all brand new items.

The back room is what we call “the retro room.” It’s all decorated in fun 70’s style and colors, kind of the opposite of the front room which is intentionally a white-on-white, fuzzy walls and silver glitter affair.  All of the decor was done on a crazy low budget, finding things on craigslist, refinishing things from thrift stores (you have to see the yellow and orange cabinet with the crushed red velvet doors!!)  We have no investors, no business loans, so we had to keep these costs to an absolute minimum.  At the same time, I really wanted the store to look nice – not a cluttered, dusty bunch of boxes.  As I designed everything from the layout to the angle of the CD bins, I   remembered everything I liked and didn’t like about other record stores I’ve seen all across the country.

David: Fuzzy walls and crushed red velvet doors?

Tony:  I wanted to be the Willy Wonka of dance music.  Not quite there yet, but on our way. (Smile.)

David: What else is in the back room?

Tony: This is really the heart of the store.  You have the pride and dance compilations, and some budget import CD’s that are an outstanding value.  You also have the used racks – one of individual artists like Mariah, New Order, and Janet, and the other is completely filled with used dance compilations.  And then we have a ton of stuff in   our dollar bins as well.

There is an entire wall of CD singles, which I love.  And my pride and joy, the retro re-release section.  There are things in this section I can pretty much guarantee you will never find at Wal-Mart or Target or anyplace else in town, probably in all of South Florida.  There are gems like re-released versions of CD’s by Gloria Gaynor, Kim Wilde, Brenda K Starr, etc.  These are not bland greatest hits compilations –   they are original full length albums on CD – and almost all come with a good number of bonus tracks, extra remixes, stuff that has never been on CD before!  They are awesome and I absolutely adore them.

David: What has been your best selling item to date?

Tony:  It’s from that retro section I just mentioned – a 2-CD re-release of Rick Astley’s “Whenever You Need Somebody.”  It has one and a half discs of bonus tracks and remixes.  It’s amazing.

David:  This is starting to sound expensive.

Tony: Not at all.  That Rick Astley 2 disc set and most others sell in the $15 range or less.  Very affordable.  Customers have often commented how they were surprised at our competitive pricing vs. the “big box stores.”  We are not “boutique-y” or overpriced.  Very friendly, very welcoming, love to talk about the music.

David: And you carry vinyl, too?

Yes, one whole room is all vinyl – mostly 12″ singles – new & used, classic house and freestyle from the 80’s and 90’s, brand new collector’s picture discs by Lady Gaga, the latest Madonna 12″ remix singles.

David: Do you buy from the public as well?

Tony: Yes, and again this is where our specialization comes in handy.  If you take a collection of “gay music” or dance music to most record stores, chances are they won’t pay well for it because they don’t consider it to be “the good stuff.”  We do.  Most will never pay you for your CD singles.  We seek them out in particular.  So we can pay   more for these items than anywhere else will pay.

David: What about your odd location and odd hours?

Tony:  Our location – everyone in town knows this building, many pass by it every day.  But up until last year, it was all offices and a chiropractor, so you wouldn’t expect to look for a store there.  It’s called the Trestle Building.  It’s that wooden building with all the trees on Dixie just south of Oakland Park Blvd., between Peter Pan Diner and that little car dealership with the gay flags, almost directly across the street from U-Haul.  A lot of people use our parking lot to make illegal U-turns on Dixie. (Ha ha.)

As for our hours of operation, as business increases we continue to tweak and increase them, and I often meet people by appointment outside regular store hours.  My husband, Brian, and I live only a few blocks away, so I can easily pop over there at any time.

David: What is most rewarding for you about this venture?

Tony:  I love the fact that 90% of the people who walk through the door “get it.”  They really seem to be tickled by it.  I have guys who drive down from West Palm Beach and up from Miami because there is nothing like this where they live, and I appreciate that so much.  I also love it when people find a CD or a record they love and gasp out   loud because they never thought they’d find it.  (I know that feeling!)  And I appreciate the opportunity to help out with local charities as much as I can.  I would love for more of them to contact me so we can come up with ideas to raise money for them.

David: What’s new at the store since last year?

Tony: Well, we finally put in a record player with a USB port so we can transfer records to digital.  We are just beginning to dabble in carrying DVD’s.  We are working on starting a section for all the local DJ’s and singers to leave their CD’s on consignment.  And there are some big facebook promotions in mind.  Then of course – there is the new fridge for the beer.

David: What’s up with the beer?

Tony: I have to admit, I stole that idea from a place called “Barbers  & Beer.”  They cut your hair, and they have a little fridge of beer so you can have a drink while you wait.  I loved that idea.  Plus I used to bartend at Boom and Alibi, so it’s kind of second nature.  We have people who come in and sometimes spend 1 or 2 hours browsing – they might as well have a beer (or soda, etc.)

David: Well congratulations on your first year in business.

Tony: Thanks!  I am very grateful to be able to do this.

Expose – Free(style) Concert in the Park!

I know there are a lot of freestyle fans here in South Florida.  Whether you grew up here or you transplanted from the New Jersey/New York area like I did, freestyle was a big part of our dance music scene back in the day.

One group that made it past the dance stations and clubs and into phenomenal mainstream success – breaking records set by no less than Diana Ross and the Supremes along the way – was the trio of women known as Expose.

Well, Gioia Bruno, Ann Curless, and Jeanette Jurado are back.  They are performing a free concert at the Grand Opening of the ArtsPark Ampitheatre at Young Circle in Hollywood this Friday night!  How can you not go to that? (I am so there.)

They are already in town for rehearsals, and I asked Gioia what we could expect from this show – after all, the group has had 10 top 10 hits like “Point Of No Return,” “Seasons Change,” and “Let Me Be The One.”  And what about anything new?

She enthusiastically replied, “We’re so pumped up we can’t sit still and we’ll be premiering a new song called “Shine On” as well as singing all of the classics!!!”

WOO HOO!  I am very psyched to see this show.  And Gioia and the girls are longtime friends of the gay community, having performed at Pride Events over the years.

WHEN:  Friday, June 3rd at 8:00PM
WHERE: ArtsPark @ One Young Circle, Hollywood Blvd & US-1
WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: (get it?) According to Gioia’s facebook page, “Bring a blanket for your hiney’s cuz it’s all happening on the grass!!”
CHAT ABOUT IT and make arrangements: on our facebook page “we-got-the-beats” COME GO WITH ME: See you there!

Idol / Glee / Gaga

“Told ya so!  Told ya so!  Told ya so!”

Channeling my inner Debra Messing…because two issues back, in this very column, I predicted the following: “If the two country singers make the [American Idol] finale, it will be the lowest rated finale ever.”

Don’t ever doubt Uncle Tony.  This was, in fact, the lowest rated American Idol finale ever.

The only CD I even slightly look forward to from this season with very moderate expectations would be that of Casey Abrams.

Gleekbook?  Glitter?

Speaking of CD’s I would anticipate, can we start a facebook or twitter campaign or something to get a CD out of Lea Michele (Rachel) of Glee?  Now there is an amazing voice.  I really don’t feel like buying 6 Glee CD’s to get one or two songs from her on each.  Puck put out his own CD (it tanked.)  Mr. Schu put out his own CD.  Even the Warblers put out their own CD.  I’m waiting, Lea…

In the meantime, if you don’t watch the show or haven’t watched it lately, and you like anything resembling Barbra Streisand or Linda Eder (hello, you’re reading David magazine) get on youtube and look up “Glee Jar Of Hearts.”  Then watch “Glee Get It Right.”  Then pour yourself a glass of something and finish it up with “Glee Don’t Rain On My Parade.”  You’ll thank me later.

The Monster In The Room

OK, what will any review matter when it comes to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way?”   You’ve probably already purchased the CD or downloaded it from Amazon for 99 cents.

I love the Gaga for many reasons.  But I didn’t take to her right off the bat.  I heard her first few songs on the radio and thought, “So what?”  I wondered why she, doing what our beloved dance floor divas have been doing for many years, was able to break the magic pop barrier so thoroughly and consistently.  Why was she any better than the chick from Cascada or the chick from iio?  Why were tweens across the heartland holding her up in Bieber-esque fashion?

And then I started to catch her performing live on several awards shows, right about the time “The Fame Monster” was released.  I was instantly impressed and I “got it.”  She has real talent, and her performances are the most theatrically edgy without gimmickery since Freddie Mercury and David Bowie.

At that point, I sat down and listened to the 2-disc version of “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster.”  And again I kinda thought, “So what?”  OK, some artists are tough to capture in a recording.  I chalked it up to that.  But the more I heard her other stuff on the radio, the more it grew on me.

So with somewhat lowered expectations, I took a listen to Born This Way, and thought her best would again be left on TV appearances and stages across the nation.  I have to say, overall, I found Born This Way to be a better listen than the first two.  That said, so far I haven’t found any one track to stand out for me as much as “Speechless,” which I adore, or “Bad Romance,” which is truly anthemic.  I qualify that with “so far” because I haven’t listened to each song 30 times yet, and with Gaga’s stuff, it seems to be sometime between the 20th and 30th listen that something begins to click in my head.

I’ve already discussed the first two singles, “Born This Way” and “Judas” in previous columns.  After the first few listens, so far my favorites are ScheiBe (“I don’t speak German, but I can if you like…”) “Bloody Mary,” and “Bad Kids,” which happen to be all in a row in the middle of the CD. The beginning of “Americano” (“I met a girl in East L.A…”) reminds me of the middle of Liza’s “Cabaret” (“I used to have a girlfriend known as Elsie…”)  I can’t help it, that’s how my brain works.  (I was born this way.)

Overall, while this is a dance-pop CD, she heavily layers in a kind of techno-metal vibe.  That’s different, but it makes me miss the more “direct from the dance floor” sounds as put out lately by Britney Spears, Enrique Iglesias, etc.  There’s no denying Gaga’s vocals, her voice, her talent, or her heart.  But “The Edge Of Glory” isn’t knocking me out yet.  I qualify that with “yet” because I haven’t listened to it 30 times.  If you were on the edge of buying this CD, I’d say go ahead, you can’t go wrong.

Upcoming New Releases:

Cascada – “Original Me” June 20
Vanessa Carlton – “Rabbits On The Run” June 21

This week in gay music history:

1998 – Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell leaves the Spice Girls.  You can find her two solo CD’s in clearance bins everywhere.

Dive In the Pool

Dive In The Pool

[Tony’s note 5/29/12:  While I considered this probably my most “lightweight” column, it got more responses than any other that was published.]

Inspired by our fabulous swimsuit issue, I thought I’d focus this week on summer music.  Great summer songs can be irreverent, simple, energetic – like “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark featuring the late Loleatta Holloway, “It Takes Two” by Rob Base & DJ EZ-Rock, or “Don’t Give Up” by Chicane featuring Bryan Adams (gotta do what you wanna do…)

They can be obvious like “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, “Summergirls” by Dino, and “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince – or almost anything by Donna, um, Summer.

And I realized some are just random memories triggered when I sat down and thought, “What are some great summer songs?”

The first that popped into my head were “Magic” by Pilot (that’s from the 70’s, twinks) which made me think of riding in the back seat of mom’s sky blue Maverick as we headed to the Jersey Shore.  “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” by Elton John & Kiki Dee reminded me of the big pool at the hotel as I floated on a Donald Duck inflatable tube and mom watched from the lounge chair.   And a few years later, “Stand Back”   by Stevie Nicks was my summer jam.  I took my clunky tape recorder with a homemade recording of it and rode my bike around the neighborhood, basking in that song as much as the warm sun on my little 11-year old shoulders.

Then I thought of the time I went to the beach at Wildwood, NJ and my cousin Maria (who was a few years older and already going to teen clubs) put a mixtape in the boom box. The first song on it was the original “Point Of No Return” by Expose.  Something about that synth riff  drove me nuts, and still does to this day.  As soon as I hear it, it brings me back to that moment in Jersey (pre-Snooki.)

As I got older, I remember driving to Sandy Hook’s beaches as often as I could (but never often enough) and without fail, “Strike It Up” by Black Box featuring Martha Wash would come on the radio during the drive down every single time. Those big, powerful vocals combined with a gorgeous sunny day and the knowledge that I would soon be flat on my back, er, my beach towel with toes in the sand – made me high.

A few years later, a new dance radio station emerged out of NYC.  I remember arriving at Belmar beach one day, and as I searched for the perfect spot to set up camp, I noticed every single radio I passed had that new station on, all playing “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey. (Surprise – it was the gay beach.)

So you can see a lot of my “summer song memories” are tied to the Jersey Shore where I grew up.  These songs and this season together created some of the happiest feelings in my life.  It was a fix I wanted to capture more often than just weekends in July and   August.  And that was the reason I moved to Fort Lauderdale over 13 years ago.  It’s almost always summer here, at least to me.  And it makes all the great songs sound better.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite summer songs and the memories attached to them.  Write me at, or post them on our facebook page, we-got-the-beats.

American Idol vs. The Voice

I knew I was going to do an American Idol column, but I thought it would have been closer to the finale.  Since the top 3 mostly suck, I may as well do it now.  Warning: this may turn out to be a rant.

Here is my issue:  “The Voice” matters.  No, not the other singing competition reality show starring Christina Aguilera, but the actual vocal ability of each contestant.

People were blowing up facebook crying about James Durbin going home because they liked him.  I politely (as ever) pointed out the boy’s routine trouble hitting the proper notes.  Some folks seem to think notes don’t matter because he can go through the motions on stage.  That’s like saying spelling doesn’t matter when you write a novel.

There are those artists I would call “vocalists:”  Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, George Michael, Whitney Houston (until Bobby Brown got a hold of her) and of course, Barbra Streisand, to name several.  (Don’t be offended if I skipped your pet diva.)

Then there are those I would call “performers,” people who can sing well enough to cut a record (but may require a smidge of studio enhancement) and are carried more by their music, writing, personality, style, videos, or some other je ne sais quoi: Britney Spears, Madonna, Janet Jackson, etc.

As I mentioned last week, there is plenty of room for the Britneys of the world, and I still get all into it when I hear “Circus” on the radio.  (It’s better than anything on her latest CD.)  But would Britney have won American Idol?  Maybe…perhaps more for being cute and likeable (when she was) than for her singing ability.  Should she or someone with comparable vocal ability win it?  I guess that depends on how you interpret the intent of the show.

Simon Cowell always used to remind fellow judges, “This is a singing commm-petition.”  Simon is gone (although returning via “The X-Factor” with Idol alum Paula Abdul in September) and apparently his mantra has been forgotten.  The judges on Idol this year have been overly gushy, and very short on constructive criticism by comparison.  This has not served the contestants or the show well.  By not placing enough emphasis on the voice, better contestants have gone home before their time, and the top 3 are lackluster at best, left to get by on their personal appeal or their barely-honed showmanship.

I have great respect for Steven Tyler as the frontman for Aerosmith.  But more often than not, his “advice” is 100% pure fluff, a la the aforementioned Abdul’s first few years on Idol.

J-Lo, while I like her, is not a “vocalist.”  She is a “performer.”  So when she hears someone like Pia Toscano (who many thought was wronged when she got the boot) on some level she has to think, “Wow, I can’t even sing like that.”  But here is where the less-focused-on-proper-notes crowd have a point: it’s not JUST about the voice.  The delivery is equally important.  That means stage presence and emotion – which does not mean dancing or growling or raising your eyebrows while holding the microphone like a flute.  Pia was technically good.  She would be great to lay down demo tracks or sing backup for someone with more personality who puts BALLS into a song; since she doesn’t do that herself.

On the other hand, people who are pitchy all over the place but deliver with conviction do not carry equal validity as “singers.”  You have to have more than just the voice, but you have to have at least the voice.  James acted more like a teenager jumping around his bedroom and mimicking his favorite bands than an actual artist.  He did have at least one solid performance: during Carole King week, his take on “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was uncharacteristically error-free.  But most of his songs were very uneven.  He and the recently discarded Jacob Lusk (who I wanted to like and reminded me of Sylvester) seemed to have the same formula: pick a great song, sing it all pitchy throughout, hit a big (but off-key) note really loudly and hold it (to inexplicable applause) and then take the lack of correction by the judges as a sign to do it again next time.

Even Seth Rogen – I mean, Casey Abrams with the big fat bass (hi, Britney!) – who I liked and appreciated for his musicianship, risk-taking and odd charm, was overrated in my opinion.  He was not vocally consistent.  When he was off on a riff, he could tear it up.  But when he was trying to nail a particular note, it was hit-or-miss.  A baseball player can’t just keep hitting foul balls, he (or she) has to really connect to be considered “good.”  (Whoa, did butchie just make a sports reference?  Happy anniversary, Sidelines!)  I did enjoy many of Casey’s performances, and especially his few duets with Haley.  Haley has emerged as the one I would find least offensive as the winner.  She, like Casey, needs to stop the stupid growling, or at least minimize it.  She is the most consistent of the finalists (oh come on, I don’t even count the country people anymore.  But that’s a whole other column.  However I will predict, if the two country singers make the finale, it will be the lowest rated finale ever.)

Aretha Franklin doesn’t dance.  She doesn’t have a gimmick.  She doesn’t need either.  When you can really sing, when you convey emotion with your voice, when you possess natural stage presence, you don’t need enhancements.  You don’t even need backup dancers.

No matter who wins, American Idol has lost “The Voice” this year.

If you agree, or if this pisses you off, all feedback is welcome at, and we may even quote you in a future column.

New music review: Stevie Nicks – In Your dreams


For the record, I am very fond of Stevie Nicks.  I’m a big fan of just about everything she’s ever put on the radio, be it solo or with Fleetwood Mac.  But thus far it has pretty much ended there.  I have never purchased one of her solo CD’s until this one.  Up to now, we’ve had a strictly “radio relationship.”

With that established, my first impression of In Your Dreams was that it is a little bit monotonous.  The songs and the singing are pretty similar throughout (especially on the first few tracks.)  They’re nice songs, so that’s not so bad, but I was waiting for her voice to soar here and there like on some of my favorite Stevie tracks such as “Edge Of Seventeen” or “If You Ever Did Believe.”

She also makes a ton of references to vampires, angels, ghosts, witches, and magic.  I guess that makes sense – if you think of her outfits going back forever, you could call Stevie the original “goth chick.”  Long before it was a fad and every third show on TV was about vampires, she more or less dressed the part.  Still, I couldn’t help wondering if she isn’t trying to shop any of these little ditties with titles like “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)” for the soundtrack of the next “Twilight” movie.

I would be remiss to not mention the contribution of Dave Stewart, best known for his work with Annie Lennox as half of The Eurythmics.  He produced and wrote the music for most of the album, while Stevie wrote most of the lyrics.  (No, this is not Eurythmics featuring Stevie Nicks.  Don’t expect synthesizers.)

The highlight of the album, and something obviously very important to Stevie, is a track called “Soldier’s Angel.”  First, there is the “music history” feel of it – Stevie invited her ex-lover and bandmate Lindsey Buckingham at the last minute to come and sing and play guitar on the track.  He only comes in on the chorus, but his vocal adds an even more haunting quality to an already haunting song.

This song was inspired by the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where our wounded soldiers recover when they come home from war.  Stevie has visited there a lot, and started a program in the mid 2000’s where she would personally load ipods with songs of her choosing to leave with each soldier, to make them feel better.  Other artists have gotten on board and contributed as well.  I find that exceptionally commendable and amazing.  How do you not love a woman like that?

Those experiences inspired these words:  “I am a soldier’s angel – through the eyes of a soldier – I am a soldier’s mother – through the eyes of an angel – I am a soldier myself – and no one walks away from this battle”

“I am a soldier’s memory – as I write down these words – I try to write their stories – and explain them to the world – I float through the halls of the hospitals…”

If you don’t buy the whole CD, get on youtube right now and listen to “Soldier’s Angel.”

The track immediately following that one is an interesting contrast.  In the same way Lindsey Buckingham came in on the chorus and brought a more haunting quality to “Soldier’s Angel,” Dave Stewart comes in only on the chorus of “Everybody Loves You” and adds a level of cold detachment to a song about the same, in defiance of its title.  “Everybody loves you – but you’re so alone.”

Another favorite that I find fascinating is “Wide Sargasso Sea.”  It’s about a volatile relationship that eventually burns itself out – literally.  “She burned his house down saying – You may have forgotten me – but you’ll remember this.”  Wow.  I didn’t know Stevie had that in her.  I love it.

“New Orleans” is a nice tribute to the city, and pretty catchy once you get to the chorus.  You know she’s telling the truth (and channeling her inner drag queen?) when she says, “I wanna dress up – I wanna wear beads – I wanna wear feathers and lace.”  And “Annabel Lee” is an adaptation of the famous poem by Edgar Allen Poe, and it works.

“Ghosts Are Gone” is the only real rock-ish track, but I don’t understand what it means.  If anybody knows, by all means shoot me an email.  And “You May Be The One” is a poetic rebuke of a doomed relationship, almost as she’s realizing it’s doomed.  “You think you’ll understand – but you don’t understand – you may be my love – but you’ll never be my love…You broke my heart…I used to love you…”

Not a lot of sappy love songs here.  That’s fine; these songs exploring two people unable to reconcile are deeper and more intricate than the average love song.  I wondered as I listened if they were about her famously tumultuous relationship with Buckingham, or some other affair.  (She also was with Don Henley of The Eagles for awhile, and had a brief marriage to the husband of a friend of hers after the friend died of leukemia.)

The bottom line: is this a CD I’m going to take in the car with me and listen straight through, singing along?  I doubt it.  I just don’t relate to a good chunk of it.  On the day it was released, glee aired their “Fleetwood Mac – Rumours” episode, which only amplified what I felt were weak spots on this album.  But I appreciate it musically, and I’d love to hear “Soldier’s Angel” on the radio.

If any of this rings true, or pisses you off, all feedback is welcome at!