Archive forFebruary, 2003

2002 MUSIC TOP 10s

    One day after the Grammys and a week after the Village Voice critics’ poll, I offer my top 10 albums and singles of 2002.

For those of you still thinking about 2002’s best albums and singles, I have finally posted my own top 10 lists. As with my Oscar picks a couple of weeks ago, the full text is on my website, with pretty pictures.

I already apologized for the tardiness of my Oscar picks, and so I won’t belabor my regrets again now. Suffice it to say that I usually prefer to have these lists out well before the Grammys and the Village Voice’s “Pazz and Jop” poll.

Briefly, for you busy types, here are my picks:

    1. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

    2. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head
    3. N*E*R*D, In Search of…
    4. The Streets, Original Pirate Material
    5. Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf
    6. Ben Kweller, Sha Sha
    7. Neko Case, Blacklisted
    8. Blackalicious, Blazing Arrow
    9. Bright Eyes, Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
    10. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight

    Honorable Mention:
    Clinic, Walking with Thee
    Beck, Sea Change
    Foo Fighters, One by One
    Felix da Housecat, Kittenz and Thee Glitz
    DJ Shadow, The Private Press
    The Vines, Highly Evolved


    1. The Hives, “Hate to Say I Told You So

    2. Missy Elliott, “Work It
    3. Kylie Minogue, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
    4. Vanessa Carlton, “A Thousand Miles
    5. Nirvana, “You Know You’re Right
    6. Justin Timberlake, “Cry Me a River
    7. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “By the Way
    8. The Clipse, “Grindin’
    9. Dixie Chicks, “Long Time Gone
    10. Norah Jones, “Don’t Know Why

    Music Videos (Bonus list – LiveJournal only)

    1. Elton John featuring Justin Timberlake, “This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore”

    2. Missy Elliott, “Work It”
    3. The Hives, “Hate to Say I Told You So”
    4. White Stripes, “Fell in Love with a Girl”
    5. Dirty Vegas, “Days Go By”

Finally, for those who watched the Grammys last night and wondered what I thought of the telecast, I thought it was a fine show, but the Norah Jones landslide was kind of ridiculous. Norah herself looked appropriately freaked. If I could talk to Norah today, I’d offer her my congratulations but also a two-word warning: Christopher Cross.

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    With just hours to spare, here are my predictions for the five Best Picture nominees at this year’s Academy Awards.

For those who are movie or pop-culture junkies, my annual predictions of the five Best Picture Oscar nominees are up for your reading pleasure at Here’s the full essay, offering my five picks plus the reasons I think others might miss the winners’ circle.

To sum up, my totally unscientific prediction of the five Best Picture nominees at this year’s Academy Awards are:

1. Chicago
2. The Hours
3. The Pianist
4. Gangs of New York
5. Adaptation

Nominees will be announced tomorrow (Tues, 12 Feb) at about 8:30 a.m. EST.

Last year, I went 5 for 5. I’m feeling particularly un-confident of my picks this year, but then, I was feeling that way last year, too. Anyway, please write back with your own picks if you like. And thanks for reading…

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    It sucks to be Phil Spector right now – accused of murder, and even the Beatles are dumping on him. But karma-wise, the little Bronx genius had it coming.

There’s plenty of coverage out there on the murder allegation against legendary record producer Phil Spector. The latest reports have him out on bail but imply that he’s the easy, obvious suspect. As usual, this is swift media justice, and it’s turning into a feeding frenzy, centered around a man whose name few average Americans are likely to recognize. Even when told the names of the phenomenal recordings he wrote and produced or reminded of his well-known “Wall of Sound,” folks who aren’t record geeks are unlikely to have much of an opinion about him. It seems sad that the majority of Americans will now form an opinion of his legacy based around a sordid event late in his life.

The thing is, whether Spector is guilty or not, the shit that’s rolling down on top of him is karmically well earned. He’s been raining shit down on the people he’s worked with, been romantically involved with, and just wandered past for four decades. He’s brought new meaning to the term “control freak,” and he has a discordant love of firearms and violent threats that suggests overcompensation for perceived shortcomings. And except for Ike Turner, no rock husband has been more vilified than Spector, who abused wife and collaborator Ronnie both mentally and physically and bilked her out of years of royalties.

Still, the music business – notoriously tolerant of bad-boy behavior – has showered Spector with praise, rightly separating his clearly dysfunctional personality from his towering gifts to rock n’ roll. He may have given a rambling, foul-mouthed, vaguely threatening speech at his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction a decade ago, but the Hall’s members probably didn’t allow that to color their respect for him or their willingness to reward him. His body of work, it seemed, had always been beyond criticism.

Now even that’s up for grabs. Spector’s murder rap appears the same week Rolling Stone offers a cover story on the imminent release of a “Spector-less” version of Let it Be. Surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are approving the release of a version of the 1970 album that removes all the production touches Spector added to their songs. Unabashedly, they’re on the record as hating what he did to their music.

The story in brief: Let it Be was originally supposed to be titled Get Back and was to feature the Beatles, at the beginning of 1969, writing new material – while being filmed, reality-show style – and then immediately taking it on the road. A soundtrack album was to capture the band’s raw songs sans the heavy studio production for which they were becoming famous. The reality: cameras rolled and the band rehearsed, but they also bickered, and the tour never happened; miles of tape were recorded in the sessions, but no one could bear to shape the aborted project into an album. So months after the project was shelved, Phil Spector – by 1969 already an eminent legend in rock circles – was brought in, largely on John Lennon’s recommendation, to salvage the material and make an album out of it. The controversy: Phil didn’t just edit the best takes, he went production-crazy, overdubbing choirs and orchestras over what were supposed to be unadorned songs. McCartney, who reportedly never wanted Spector in the first place, was particularly disgusted with what Spector had done to his delicate ballad “The Long and Winding Road.”

The Rolling Stone feature is practically a meeting of the I Hate Phil Spector club, with everybody – including original engineer Glyn Johns – dumping on him, prattling on about how he wrecked a perfectly good album. Never mind that there might not have been an album if Spector hadn’t plowed through the tape. What Spector did to Let it Be is not his best work, to say the least, but the stories of his heavy hand are rather exaggerated; for all he did to ruin “Winding Road” (which was always a pretty schlocky song, even in its acoustic form), he brought shape and clarity to songs like George Harrison’s “I, Me, Mine” and McCartney’s far superior composition “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

Still, I have a hard time feeling too sorry for Phil Spector. He’s earned his fame and his money, and like so many artists that were bastards in life, he will probably, rightly remain enshrined in the record books as a genius. As for my own perceptions, Phil will be brightening my Decembers for years to come with his A Christmas Gift for You album, the greatest holiday album ever (and one of the greatest rock n’ roll albums, period). I’ll just be trying not to think about whether he got those amazing performances from Darlene Love and the Crystals at gunpoint.



    I am writing a book. Don’t get too excited – it’s a glorified picture book. And it’s the umpteenth book about Kurt Cobain.

Well, it’s official – I went on Friday to sign a contract with Barnes & Noble Publishers, making me the writer of a book with the working title A Pictorial History of Kurt Cobain.

Yes, I am going to be the author of a book. It will be sold nationwide, and it will be “By Chris Molanphy.” That’s the exciting part.

What tempers my enthusiasm is that I’m a gun for hire. Less than three weeks ago, an all-points bulletin went out to a few Internet forums, including one music-related e-mail list to which I belong. In sum, the message was that a boutique publisher needed someone, with decent rock-crit or music-industry credentials, willing to write a few thousand words about Kurt Cobain on a tight deadline. “Hey, I can do that,” I thought. In fact, I thanks to LiveJournal, I already sort of had.

Rather idly, I sent an e-mail back, describing myself and linking to my Cobain-related LJ post. To my great shock, the editor at B&N got back to me within the day. I guess my willingness to do the job for the rather meager sum they were offering (and, no surprise, no royalties) made me the immediate front-runner.

There are other catches to my agreeing to this arrangement. As its name suggests, Barnes & Noble Publishing is a unit of the nationwide book-retail chain, and as such, I can forget about this book ever being carried by any competing book outlet. That includes, sadly, Amazon. (No obsessively tracking minute-by-minute Amazon sales rankings for me.) Thank goodness B&N has their own well-appointed web retail operation.

And then, of course, there’s the subject matter, and its utter lack of freshness. A quick search on Amazon under “Books” and “Kurt Cobain” turns up about 10 books actively in print and another 10 or so on record but out of printor out of stock. Like books about the Beatles, Nirvana books are a cottage industry. My editor readily admits that the publisher has jumped on this bandwagon following the resurgence in interest in Nirvana, as both their greatest hits album and Kurt Cobain: Journals sold well through the holidays. The book will be part of their ongoing series of coffee-table books (insert Kramer/Seinfeld joke here) about pop-culture icons. They did a rather nice, and thorough, book about the Who a couple of years ago, as well as one that more closely approximates the size and length of my project on (gulp) Princess Diana. There’s plenty of text in these books, but they are each dominated by more than 100 pictures about their respective subjects.

That’s what I hope will distinguish this book from the myriad others about Cobain – the pictures angle. My main text will take up only one-third of the book; the other two-thirds of what I write will be in the form of photo captions. And the pictures will drive the “story,” such as it is. I have seen a couple of the photos they’ve acquired, and some are really cool. It means my narrative text will be brief, and this is a relief – not to have to retell the story of Kurt and Aberdeen and Olympia and the rotating drummers and the drugs and the breakthrough and the sad end. I don’t have a research budget, and anyway, it’s already been better chronicled than I ever could (most impressively by Charles Cross, in the definitive biography Heavier Than Heaven; I’m in the middle of reading it now).

My thesis for the book – motivated by convenience, I admit – is that images of Kurt Cobain may be the purest representation we have of him, besides his songs. Millions of fans’ abiding love of Kurt resides primarily in his knotted, perverse, strangely beautiful lyrics, because they explain him in a way his interviews – and the absurd legends that have grown up around the band – cannot. To me, images of Cobain are similarly fascinating, and if, rather than just presenting them in an isn’t-this-rock-star-cool kind of way, I can navigate a story through them, I will have made a teeny-tiny contribution to the vast body of work about him. Still, it’s going to be tough coming up with new angles on the most praised, examined musician of the past decade.

Anyway, between this project and a major piece of consulting business that kicked off a month ago, I am fairly choking with work right now. The good news is the financial remuneration. (Even the Cobain project comes with a nice hunk of change.) The bad news is I have less time for other writing I love, including this blog. So if I have seemed distant for the past couple of weeks, I offer apologies and ask for your patience – this condition will persist for a few weeks longer.

I’m just happy that in the end, I’ll have a very tangible thing to show for all this labor. And it’ll be on-sale at a superstore near you for $9.98.

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