OnlineRock Blog

29 January 2012

Etta James Album Sales Off The Charts Since Her Passing

By Tomi Mendel

According to Billboard, sales of Etta James’ music have increased by 378% since the singer’s recent death on January 20th. Her greatest hits compilation The Best of Etta James - 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection has just become her highest charting album ever, rising to number forty-six. Meanwhile, her download numbers received an even greater boost, as fans purchased 118,000 songs for an astounding 1,091% increase from the previous week’s sales. This is not the first time a musician has found success after their passing. In fact, it seems to be almost a tradition for music buyers to honor fallen heroes in this manner, especially in our social-media driven music world, when having music at our fingertips means we are ready to start downloading whenever there is a scandal, death, or other breaking news. It’s the same reason Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” had a huge week in downloads after a video of President Obama’s performing it at a fundraiser went viral. 

Etta James is finding success in the afterlife.

Actually, this kind of trend occurred before the download era as well. When former Beatle George Harrison passed away in 2002, his solo hit “My Sweet Lord” topped the U.K. charts and re-entered the Hot 100 here in the U.S at number ninety-four. Interestingly, a re-recording of the same song was released just one year prior to commemorate the reissue of Harrison’s solo debut All Things Must Pass. That year, however, the song failed to chart. Unfortunately, it seems that it sometimes takes a death to make people interested, and it’s sad that fans were not able to show their appreciation for Harrison while he was still alive.

George was the first ex-Beatle to have a solo chart-topper.

The phenomenon is especially strong for those artists who have died tragically and suddenly while they were still in their prime. Another ex-Beatle, John Lennon, had his biggest American solo hit with “(Just Like) Starting Over” in late 1980, immediately following his horrific murder in December of that year. What had been a middling single prior to his death flew to the top of the charts as the world mourned, followed by “Woman” and, in the U.K., a re-release of “Imagine.” Otis Redding was the first artist to have a posthumous number one in the U.S., earning his only career chart-topper with “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay” in 1968, only a month after the soul singer tragically lost his life in a plane crash. Other artists who saw a big sales bump after their deaths were Jim Croce, Johnny Cash, Tupac Shakur, and recently, Amy Winehouse.

Otis’s final televized performance before his death.

Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 led to a sales increase so strong that it forced Billboard to make a change to the rules of their album charts. After his passing, in the first month alone, Jackson sold close to ten million albums worldwide. By year’s end, he was by far the top selling artist of the year both worldwide and domestically. Jackson’s greatest hits compilation, Number Ones, was the biggest seller for him that year. However, because it had been originally released in 2003, Billboard rules deemed it a “catalog album,” and as a result, it did not appear on the regular Billboard 200 album chart. Due to the incredible posthumous sales of Number Ones and other albums, Billboard announced that they were amending their rules to include both current and catalog albums on their weekly top 200 chart.

Number Ones sold big in 2009.

Clearly, the posthumous sales bump remains a significant force in popular music. In many ways, it’s a bit nonsensical. It may indicate that a song’s ability to “stand the test of time” has less to do with musical quality and more to do with pop culture relevance. While the state of affairs seems to reflect poorly on music fans, all too eager to throw an artist to the trash heap before suddenly relenting upon his or her death, it probably has more to do with the human instinct we all share to honor the dead. Sometimes a death or scandal, just like a song being featured in an advertisement or movie, can serve as a reminder of a tune or an artist many people had loved but forgotten. Still, it is always better to try and appreciate an artist to the fullest while they are still alive.

27 January 2012

Free Music Friday - January 28, 2012

Welcome to this week's edition of Free Music Friday, in which The Darcys tackle the gorgeous album by Steely Dan, Aja, adding enough of their own modern buzz to make it their own while respecting the original masterpiece. Check out two more that we've got for you, a Halloween-y fun one by Naked on the Vague and a classic songwriting gem by Diego Clare.

(free download with e-mail)


There was no way I couldn't post this album this week:

1) The Darcys are one of my new favorite bands out of Canada
2) Steely Dan are one of my favorite bands
3) Aja is one of my favorite albums.

So when The Darcys record a cover of Steely Dan's Aja, and give it away for free? It's like I don't even have a choice.


This album does what I like in my favorite covers: it reveals new aspects of previously familiar songs. While it doesn't go as far as, say, Sun Kil Moon's Tiny Cities, where the songs are completely re-imagined, The Darcys' version of Aja is very much their own. None of the songs are the same tempo or length as the versions on the album and the instrumentation is much more droney and nowhere near as precise as Steely Dan's honed session musicians. I imagine that this is what Aja would sound like if Becker and Fagen had brought in Sonic Youth and Mogwai as session musicians. The end result is a completely different take on Aja that repeatedly touches on the original in small ways, while never giving into the temptation to merely recreate the original.


The standout track for me is "Peg," which I was anxious to hear to see what they did about the layers of Michael McDonald in the chorus. While they change the tempo and feel of the song (from a bouncy horn number in the original, they derive an indie rock anthem), they left in the focus on the layered vocals, to wonderful effect.



-By Andrew McNair


2. Naked on the Vague - "Clock of 12's"
(free download from Soundcloud) 

EP: Twelve Dark Noons
 

Naked on the Vague is an intriguing Australian group with no-wave roots. "Clock of 12's" is a song from their Twelve Dark Noons E.P., a collection of songs composed as a companion piece to an experimental film of the same name by a director named Jacqueline Castel. It's a totally crazy song that sounds like something you might hear out of a girl group starring in a 1970s exploitation horror movie. A cluttered, noisy affair with Halloween-y guitars and indecipherable lyrics, "Clock of 12's" is a tune full of vitality and raw energy. Like the sound of a room collapsing, it assaults your ears and never lets up. Definitely worth a listen. Learn more about Naked on the Vague here.

-Tomi Mendel
3. Diego Clare - "Claim Your Prize"
(click to stream or right click to save as)
 
LP: Even Now (Part Two)


Los Angeles native Diego Clare's sound is a throwback to the classic singer/songwriter spirit commonly associated with greats such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. While most 20 year olds are slaving away at college, Clare is devoting his sleepless nights to making highly appealing music with an air of sophistication. "Claim Your Prize" is off his sophomore effort, Even Now (Part Two). Check him out at diegoclare.net/.

-Ana Diaz

26 January 2012

Can the Looming Threat of Anti-Piracy Bills Alter the Internet’s Role in the Entertainment Industry?

By Ana Diaz

Last Wednesday, January 18th, was a day that will live in infamy as the day the internet went on strike in protest of the controversial SOPA/PIPA bills. Popular sites, such as Wikipedia and Wordpress, either completely blacked out their pages or had very noticeable alterations informing visitors of the two bills’ dangers. Though these bills aim to protect entertainment industries by punishing copyright violators, can they really alter our current system of consumption?

The 24 hour blackout: a story we will tell our grandkids.

The main issue giving rise to these bills is, of course, piracy. With the Internet becoming an intangible network of unlimited information an anonymity, illegall activities have become a regular part of the world wide web. Downloading and sharing is all but common among today’s Internet users. Some sources claim that one out of every four Internet users visit sites that illegally contain copyrighted materials. Considering these statistics, the SOPA/PIPA bills seek to cut down on illegal activity through some arguably drastic measures. Under these bills, websites could be held responsible for their users' content. Facebook and Youtube could be faced with the impossible task of policing user content to ensure legitimacy.

Under these bills, Justin Bieber’s adorable rise to fame via Youtube may have been a criminal act.

For the most part, the entertainment industry backs such bills because of their belief that piracy is a problem associated with billing and payment, rather than a problem with the product itself. Yet it seems as if the problem is something more akin to that of a distribution issue.

Drake does not seem to be having a “billing and payment” issue.

Today, a computer can connect anyone to everything. Despite having the world literally at their fingertips, the entertainment industry is fighting to keep an increasingly archaic distribution method afloat. For instance, despite the obvious preference for digital files, a consumer must purchase an album at a brick and mortar store to avoid a slew of cumbersome DRM restrictions commonly associated with the format of choice. 

Even after this physical and legitimate purchase, a consumer does not necessarily own the content. For the RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, a CD purchase only means the consumer can use the product rather than granting ownership. The same applies for software. Instead of exchanging money for goods, a consumer is exchanging money for a service that can be retracted or altered at anytime. Illegal downloading, on the other hand, is a very convenient method of acquisition that grants unlimited ownership. It bypasses all the middle men. Many claim to pirate music because of these technicalities.

Pictured: something you spent tons of money on but don’t own.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, digital sales have surpassed physical sales. The Internet has turned the digital into something as commonplace as water. Therefore, it is unlikely that altering the convenience of the Internet will lead to substantial retroactive change. Digital files are not assets but commodities, in a sense. Piracy is likely rampant not because consumers stubbornly refuse to pay but because the legal means of acquisition are becoming increasingly inconvenient. Proper compensation is obviously of upmost importance but ignoring the constantly changing means of dispersal or distribution is an unrealistic approach in a progressively intangible world.

22 January 2012

Can Musicians Be Politicians? Youssou N'Dour Is Willing to Try

By Tomi Mendel

Internationally renowned singer and musician Youssou N’Dour is ready to take a step away from music and enter the world of politics. He has recently announced his candidacy for the office of president in his native country of Senegal. The 52-year-old, extremely popular throughout the African continent, is quite confident that he can succeed, saying in a BBC interview, "I'm going to win this election in the first round. Definitely. No question." Unfortunately for N’Dour, there is a fairly mixed track record for musicians entering into politics, especially when compared with their acting brethren. Thespians like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger famously had a lot of success in government here in the United States, rising to offices of considerable power. Meanwhile, overseas, actors Joseph Estrada (Phillippines) and Lech & Jaroslaw Kaczynski (Poland) earned governing positions in their own nations.

Mid-’90s hit for Presidential Candidate Youssou N’Dour

As far as musicians go, however, Congressman Sonny Bono is probably the only notable example in the United States. Although Dead Kennedy’s frontman Jello Biafra ran for Mayor of San Francisco in 1979 (coming in fourth) and was second place to Ralph Nader in the 2000 race for Presidential Candidate of the Green Party, his valiant efforts have never resulted in any sort of position of power. Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean’s unsuccessful 2010 bid for the Presidency in Haiti is another discouraging example for Youssou.


Jello Biafra: Leader of the Free World?

On the other hand, history is not completely unkind to politically ambitious musicians. Tropicalia pioneer Gilberto Gil, for instance, has had a fairly successful career outside of music. From the extremely low point of political exile from his native Brazil in the late 1960s due to the content of his music, Gil climbed all the way back to achieve the office of Minister of Culture in his homeland, a post which he held for five years. He has continued to release new music throughout his political career. Peter Garrett, former vocalist for Midnight Oil, is a similar example, currently the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth in Australia.


He’s gotta be the coolest of all politicians.

Strangely, politicians may in fact have had more success as musicians than the other way around. One of former-President Bill Clinton’s most memorable moments was his sunglasses-clad saxophone performance on The Arsenio Hall Show, and former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice was actually a standout pianist as a teenager, even later showcasing her skills in a performance for Queen Elizabeth II. Another U.S. President, Richard Nixon, was also a highly accomplished musician from a very young age, and a little digging on Youtube reveals a performance of an original piano concerto on The Jack Paar Show. He also made a special appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville only months before resigning from office in 1974. 

A thoroughly fascinating video.

Perhaps the oddest story of musical success for a politician comes from Charles Dawes, who, before serving as Vice President under Calvin Coolidge, had a minor hit with a composition entitled “Melody in A Major.” Unfortunately, Dawes, who died in 1951, did not survive to see his tune transformed into a major pop hit, with a version by Tommy Edwards (featuring lyrics by Carl Sigman) known as “It’s All in the Game” hitting number one on U.S. and U.K. charts in 1958. Dawes’ many other accomplishments include a Nobel Peace Prize and a tour of duty as a Brigadier General during World War I. 

Isaac Hayes brings us the sexiest - and definitely the least Vice-Presidential - rendition of “It’s All In The Game” 

Overall, there is not a great precedent for musicians like Youssou N’Dour when it comes to gaining political office. At the same time, no one with this strong of a local fan base has ever really given it a try. It is unclear whether his fame can translate to votes, but if examples like that of President Reagan are any indication, it certainly won’t hurt. Current President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, is in hot water after attempting to modify electoral laws in his favor, so there might be room for an unexpected candidate to triumph. For a country that has remained relatively stable amid many troubled neighbors, these elections are a big deal, and the voting, which takes place in February, should prove quite interesting. Perhaps we’ll get to see, for the first time ever, a musician rise to an extremely powerful governing role.

Lana Del Rey Keeps Critics Buzzing with TV Debut

By Ana Diaz

Last weekend Lana Del Rey, the blogosphere’s current topic of choice, made her American television debut on Saturday Night Live with a performance of “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans.” Blame it on the bright lights or the live TV jitters but the performances were admittedly less than stellar as Del Rey struggled to recreate the atmosphere of her studio recordings.



SNL perfomance of “Video Games”

For those unfamiliar with Del Rey, she is one of 2011’s most talked about new comers (
though, after Saturday’s performance those numbers are fast decreasing). She made a noticeable stir in the indie music scene towards the end of 2011 when the release of her now highly popular single “Video Games” created a polarized buzz online.

  
SNL Performance of “Blue Jeans”

Del Rey originally entered the music scene in 2008 with the release of an EP titled Kill Kill under her previous moniker of Lizzy Grant. In 2010 she released another EP titled Lana Del Rey under that same stage name. These two initial releases introduced Del Rey with a classic lounge sound that, although enjoyable in their own respect, lack the sultry sex appeal that captivated fans in 2011. Unfortunately, the album was only available for purchase for a short time before it was pulled, most likely by her management to avoid confusion as they revamped and renamed her to the artist we now know as Lana Del Rey.
 
So why exactly is there so much buzz about Lana Del Rey? It obviously goes beyond the simple fact that she performed less than favorably on live TV. Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine is often viewed as a hugely talented singer and even she had an off day on SNL. Let’s not forget Ashlee Simpson’s mishap. At least Del Rey was singing in her performance.
 
The Hipster Runoff’s current banner. 
The Internet literally cannot get enough of LDR.
  
It seems as if her transformation from Lizzy Grant to LDR is what’s bothering her critics the most while simultaneously inspiring her fans. Many see this as a tangible example of how she is supposedly manufactured and artificial. The idea of reinvention is incredibly frightening and alluring in the world of modern independent music. There exists a deep fissure in the music community when it comes to this topic. A makeover is potentially the best way to capture a new audience but it’s also the easiest way to get accused of selling out. Despite Bob Dylan’s current stance as a music legend, his switch from a folk protest singer to an electric guitar wielding rock star was also met with loud criticism and heavy accusations of selling out.

Regardless of whether Lana Del Rey’s reemergence as a “gangster Nancy Sinatra” is an act or not, it has achieved its purpose. People are talking about her, but more importantly they are listening to her music. Chances are this botched live performance will incite more people to listen to, if not buy, her upcoming album, even if it’s just to criticize. 

Born to Die will be released at the end of this month.

Editor's Note:  The ironic thing is that LDR would not be nearly as popular without her critics, who contribute to her buzz as they rip her apart for being unbuzzworthy. In fact, her critics and detractors probably contribute more to her popularity than her fans, bringing attention to her for the very things they say shouldn't be a part of an "authentic indie equation" - her style, sex appeal, marketing and media presence (all the while strengthening all of these things).

If nothing else, Lana Del Ray is an icon of the times, a case study in the unfolding properties of independent music making, mainstream marketing strategies and the immense power of the Internet to popularize -and capitalize- on trends. More importantly, no matter what anyone thinks of her or her music, she has undoubtedly transcended her own art to become a blurry battlefield of ideologies for the people who have an opinion on her - Lana Del Rey reveals more about our society by the heated reactions to her than through her actual music.

And her story begs the question -not a new question, but asked in a new context- where is the line drawn between authenticity and plasticity? It's hard to say with Lana Del Rey, but nevertheless, she has become a symbol that we each internally measure our values against. In that sense, there's no reason not to at least appreciate, it not hail, Lana Del Rey as the accidental torchbearer of our current confusion, drawn out by so many different voices in an increasingly digitalized world, who are able to express themselves through more platforms than ever before.

   

20 January 2012

Free Music Friday - January 20, 2012

Okay peepers, because we are about to expedite ourselves to the hustling and bustling of NAMM, National Association of Music Merchandisers, convention in Anaheim, CA this weekend, we are sharing 4 rather than 5 picks with you this week. But in all fairness, two of those picks have a plethora of songs to fill a whole other blog post if we wanted to. One of them is a free long-awaited double album and another is a fantastic compilation of various artists from Paper Bag Records. In between, we see a return of the indie sensation Cloud Control and a stirring cover of one of Arthur Russell's best. 

We can't wait to see what NAMM has to offer in the way of new music gear (some of which we hope to share with our music-playing audience in the form of monthly giveaways). So stay tuned for some great stuff coming in the next few weeks. And enjoy.

1. Joseph Arthur - Redemption City
(free album download from artist)

Double album: Redemption City


Joseph Arthur is giving away his new double album, Redemption City, for free on his website. He's been working on it since 2009 and even built a studio for the express purpose of recording this album. Playing every instrument on the album himself, he gives each song a rich, multi-layered soundscape, often centered around a simple strummed guitar, with synthesizers, drum machines and other electronica swirling out around it, enveloping the guitar in pulsing and driving rhythms and accompanying vocals that skirt the boundary between talking and singing.

-Andrew McNair

2. Cloud Control – Meditation Song #2 (Why, Oh Why)
(click to stream or right click to save as)

LP: Bliss Release


Cloud Control is already a musical staple in their home county of Australia but are quickly on their way to achieving the same fame here in America. They blend the catchiness of pop with the lush auras of folk and psychedelic sounds. Their latest endeavor, Bliss Release, is out now.

-Ana Diaz

3. Arthur's Landing - "Don't Forget About Me (cover)"
(free download from Soundcloud)


Nirosta Steel, performer of "Don't Forget About Me," is the alias of Steven Hall, a member of a group known as Arthur's Landing. This band, which specializes in covers of late disco/experimental/classical genius Arthur Russell, consists entirely of musicians who were friends with Russell during his lifetime. "Don't Forget About Me" is another cover, and it's a beautiful rendition that embodies the elusive, touching nature of Russell's body of work perhaps even better than the country-leaning original version did (check it out below). Despite the stripped-down, bedroom recording feel, the tune is instantly gripping with Hall's fragile vocals doing justice to the delicately probing melody. Awash in atmospheric bass and slippery guitar licks, his harmonies bring to the fore the longing and naivete of the lyrics. Arthur's Landing's debut album came out earlier this week. Learn more here!

-Tomi Mendel


4. Various Artists - The Paper Bag Sessions Vol. 1
(free compilation download with email)
Once in a while, a record label or other music producing parent company releases a compilation of their best and brightest artists that they don't want the world to miss. Paper Bag Records, a label carrying some fantastic new artists, has done just that and the compilation is up for free. One of their artists, Austra, is one of my new personal favorites, and the two songs on this record are urgent renditions of a beautiful operatic female voice carried over precise piano. I seriously lose it over "Lose It." This group's other songs grow to include electronic beats and synth machines, and I might characterize them as dark electronic opera. Katie Stelmanis's voice is seriously out of this world.

After that, the whole album is a mellow compilation of some folk, some bluegrass-y and some pure feelings of longing expressed through guitar, harmonica and tambourine. PS I Love You delivers painfully plaintive vocals and The Rural Alberta Advantage produces no less than a modern regret ballad, and a song slightly reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel but with their own powerful lyrical spin.

The full track listing is as follows:
  1. Under The Knife – The Rural Alberta Advantage
  2. Lose It – Austra
  3. Lindsay – Elliott BROOD
  4. Facelove – PS I Love You
  5. Standing On The Edge – Cuff The Duke
  6. Tornado ’87 – The Rural Alberta Advantage
  7. Believe Me – Austra
  8. If I Get Old – Elliott BROOD
  9. Butterflies and Boners – PS I Love You
  10. Letting Go – Cuff The Duke
-Nancy Woo

19 January 2012

Win Some AKG Headphones & Your Ears Will Love You

By Nancy Woo

It's January. The beginning of the year. A time to regroup, recap and resolute. If improving your music listening experience is one of those things on your resolutions list, Online Rock may be able to help you actualize this one. (Unfortunately, we can't do anything about helping you lose that holiday weight...)

This month, we are giving away a rocking pair of AKG headphones. AKG is a renowned personal audio company that produces top of the line headphones, microphones and wireless equipment. This pair of M80 MKII semi-open studio headphones will make you feel like you're listening to music as it's being played just for your ears. With comfy leatherette ear pads and breezy straps, it will be more like wearing pillows that play music than agonizing over awkward earbuds.



Check out the Musician's Friend product page or AKG website for more information.

Features
  • Semi-open circum-aural design
  • 1.57” driver
  • Adjustable headband
  • Leatherette earpads
  • Single-sided cable

There's no time to waste on bad audio quality, so just post a comment on our Facebook wall for your chance to win a pair of these puppies. You could be the next lucky duck.

14 January 2012

Jack White Invites Tom Jones to Record on Third Man Records

By Tomi Mendel

Music fans need to brace themselves for the March 5th arrival of a rather unusual collaboration. As a part of its so-called “Blue Series,” Jack White’s Third Man Records plans to release a new single featuring the former White Stripes frontman and famed “What’s New Pussycat?” crooner Tom Jones. While probably no one would describe this pairing as “long-awaited,” it’s an interesting, surprising collaboration that is almost certain to be a treat. 

Yep, that’s right.

Jack White is no stranger to unusual musical partners. According to the Third Man website, the concept of his “Blue Series” recordings is to invite musicians who pass through to “stop by and record a song or two.” These guest musicians have included acts as diverse as Wanda Jackson, Insane Clown Posse, Jeff The Brotherhood and actors John C. Reilly and Stephen Colbert. Their recordings, produced by White, are all released as 7” singles on vinyl, as well as made available digitally on iTunes. In this case, Jones and White have recorded a cover of “Evil” by blues legend Howlin’ Wolf, backed by a new version of “Jezebel,” a song from Jones’ 2002 album, Mr. Jones. 


Colbert’s contribution to the Blue Series.

The series’ numerous eclectic collaborations have tended toward many similarly hip blues, country and garage covers, helping Jack White continue to stake out his territory as the “go-to guy” for reviving all manner of rootsy, raw music from the past. To his credit, he has not been averse to tackling material that is often maligned in rock circles, including notable covers of “Jolene” by Dolly Parton and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. 


Jack White takes on Paul McCartney.

For his part, despite being generally associated with giddy old ladies and Vegas-style, powerhouse crooning, Tom Jones is, in fact, sneakily cooler than you thought he was. The seventy-one year old Welsh singer got his start in the mid-1960s, making some early recordings with legendary, innovative producer Joe Meek. It was the beginning of a career full of fascinating genre-bending and unique collaborations. 


“Little Lonely One,” an early singles with Joe Meek.

He went from topping the country charts in 1976 with “Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow” to later working with electronic music pioneers the Art of Noise on an unusual cover of Prince’s “Kiss.” Other surprising covers Jones has undertaken include “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” by Arctic Monkeys and “Burning Down The House” by Talking Heads. Outside of music, Jones managed to make self-mocking appearances on The Simpsons and in the movie Mars Attacks! His long, successful career has proven that there will always be a place for someone with a great sense of humor and a knockout singing voice. 


Jones singing the heck out of Orbison’s “In Dreams,” pre-Blue Velvet. Impressively, there’s no falsetto involved.

Interestingly, there were already some connections between Jack White and Tom Jones before this new collaboration. Coincidentally, two of Jones’ biggest hits involved some of White’s aforementioned reclamation projects, namely Bacharach/David (on “What’s New Pussycat”) and Dolly Parton (his U.K. chart-topping cover of “Islands in the Stream”). In addition, Jones has shown a predilection for the same kind of traditional blues music that White admires, covering blues standard “Motherless Child” with Portishead, for instance. Regarding the upcoming recordings, Jack White said that Jones “impressed the shit out of everybody.” Perhaps with a closer look at Jones’ long career, White might not have been quite so surprised.