Tag Archives: rock ‘n’ roll

Da Sweet, Sweet Smell of Victory and da Agony of da Feet

If you’ve been following me on Facebook recently, you’ve been bombarded with pictures, videos and various calls to action. My favorite cover band, Puddin’ Head competed in “The One” cover band competition at Bourbon Street from October to December, 2015 in Merrionette Park, IL. A little background…Bourbon Street is the place every band wants to play. It’s really hard to get a gig there. This place is massive (used to be a Handy Andy store) with several large rooms in which bands or DJ’s perform.

The Rules: After an audition, 10 bands were selected to compete. Each week bands were given themes as described below. After performing, the band would be critiqued by 3 or 4 judges. Judges scores accounted for 25% of the total score, while 75% was based on audience votes. (Semi-finals and finals, the audience had 100% of the votes) Every week one band would be eliminated from the competition. No band could repeat a song throughout the contest, so it was in a band’s best interest to submit song choices early. Each audience member and band member was given 2 votes. Vote for the band you came to see and one other one. First prize: 10,000 smackers.

The One

If any of you thought this contest or even the process would be easy, you are completely mistaken. If I may be honest with you, the band was quite dysfunctional at the start of the contest and we were signing up for two months of intensive time together. The first week was a basic audition to enter the contest. Our first hurdle, choose two songs that all five of us could agree upon. Not an easy task, to say the least. We all finally agreed on “Blue Collar Man” by Styx and “I’m the Only One” by Melissa Etheridge. For this round, and every round after that, 3 to 4 judges would critique our performance. It’s always lots of fun to be publicly judged by others, especially when you don’t know the people. Were they qualified musicians who had mastered their craft and thereby able to offer constructive criticism? (Yes, that’s rhetorical.)

We made it through the audition round. Now, on to the real contest. Every week had a different theme. The first week each of the 10 bands were able to perform six minutes of whatever they wanted. Again, all five of us had to agree on two more songs. I have to admit at this point, I was feeling very nervous about blowing it for the entire band. I didn’t want to choose songs that were too challenging in case I messed up, but I didn’t want to choose songs that were boring. In the end, I went big and choose two strong songs, “Walk Away” by Kelly Clarkson and “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. We nailed it. Were the judges impressed? Not sure. They seemed to like my voice, but one judge told me I should use more vibrato. Strange observation. Another judge said we should interact more as a group. He was right about that. We made it through that round without a problem and set out to incorporate the changes required.

PH British 5

 

80s Night: We were all stressed about the contest, worrying about the time commitment and the song choices. We had to choose songs quickly and we had a tough time. We only needed two. It was interesting to find that we don’t have many 80s songs on our present set list. Much arguing via text and telephone occurred. Long-winded texts full of emotion. As I was reading one, another would come in. It was bananas. After choosing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Tom Petty and “Material Girl” by Madonna, we had a real gig to perform outside of the contest. Have you ever had to attend a family function while being angry at them all? You still have to smile and act like family. That was a tough gig and I was so glad when it was over.

For 80s night we decided to present a uniformed look. White shirts and neckties. It was a good choice. In later weeks, other bands tried to incorporate a more uniform look. 80s week was a success, although we did take some heat for performing a slower song.

Country Night: If you look at our current set list, you will find that there is not one country song. Not even a song that could pass for a country song. Here was our first big challenge: we had to learn two new songs from scratch from a genre in which we had zero experience. We picked “How Long” by The Eagles and “Stand Up” by Sugarland. Both are good songs that I actually like. Believe me when I tell you, we worked really hard on these two songs. I listened to them non-stop for almost two weeks. Honestly, country night wasn’t our strongest night, but we were very proud of our performance. The funny thing was most other bands didn’t authentically perform country songs. They did Southern rock songs or country songs in a rock arrangement. We thought we were supposed to do actual country songs in a country style. Hmmm…doubt setting in. This was the first time we were in the bottom three bands, meaning we were almost eliminated from the contest.

PH Country

Disco Night: I thought 80s songs were hard to choose. That was nothing compared to choosing two disco songs. After (too) much deliberation we decided to go with crowd favorites, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. Do you have any idea how many words are in “I Will Survive?” I can tell you, there are a lot. Okay, I flubbed one line…get off my back!! Just kidding, it was barely noticeable. The boys did an excellent job, as usual. The crowd was on their feet dancing and cheering. It was one of our best nights ever as a band. Much to our surprise, we were in the bottom three bands again. What? That just doesn’t make sense. Many of the other bands performed funk songs instead of disco songs and weren’t called out on that. Is there something fishy going on here?

Thanksgiving Break: This contest ran every Thursday night from October to December, so we had Thanksgiving week off. During this time, the remaining six bands were asked to make a one minute promotional video. The instructions I heard were, “Be creative. Promote the contest. Promote your band and showcase your personalities.” Also, we were told would be given “points” based on our video. On Black Friday I coerced the band to take part in filming a silly video. The concept was wacky, but they were good sports about it. My brother even came over to help film. We were also told that these videos would be on Bourbon Street’s Facebook page to promote the contest, but that didn’t happen. What did happen is that most of the other bands made a video to promote their band. Some were better than others, of course. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who’s really good at editing. Each video was played before each band’s performance during the next round of competition. Everyone else’s video went off without a hitch, but when it came time for ours, the last 10 seconds got cut off. That was the funniest part. While we were greatly disappointed the entire video didn’t get played, we still won for best video. No points were awarded to anyone. Hmm…glad we went through all that trouble.

British Invasion Night and Video Unveiling Night: Here’s a genre we can really sink our teeth into. Let’s play some rocky roll! We selected “Pinball Wizard” by The Who, “She’s Not There” by The Zombies and “Help” by The Beatles. Not only did we have a good time playing these songs, it was one of our best performances of the contest. While most of the judges praised our promo video, one judge said he didn’t like it. He said he wouldn’t book our band based on that video. Steve promptly retorted that the point of the video wasn’t to get a gig, but to promote the contest, per Bourbon Street’s instructions. For the most part, the judges liked our set and we received many compliments from the crowd. Oh, and the judges really liked my pants. Well, that’s nice. Guess what? We were in the bottom three bands again. What’s going on here? How can that be? We brought dozens of friends and family members out every single week to vote for us. Is this thing fixed? The band who was eliminated that night was not Puddin’ Head, thankfully. It was another band of guys we really liked from Milwaukee. The judges saved them at the last minute, moving them forward to the semi-finals.

Before I move on the semi-finals, I’d like to point out a few things. Every band in this competition was talented. It really was a pleasure to hear each band’s performance. That being said, there was one band that was the alleged front-runner from week one. No matter what this band did, the judges just ate it up. They could do no wrong. Even when other bands had stronger performances, this band was still set up by the judges as “the band to beat.” Here’s the thing though, this band didn’t have nearly as many people as other bands did, but they were NEVER in the bottom three bands. Never. Not even for a second. Is it possible everyone loved this band, so EVERYONE used their second vote on them? It’s possible, sure. Still seems a bit odd, though. Every other band was in the bottom three at some point, but not this band.

Semi-Finals: For this night, the judges picked songs for each band to do. We all blindly drew a song from the 80s, 90s and 00s. Some bands got some really terrible songs. We did alright. It could have been way worse. We performed, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard, “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears and “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift. The guys hadn’t even heard the two girl songs and I had never heard the Taylor Swift song. Did I mention we had to put these three songs into medley form? Different keys and different genres in a medley. We had less than a week to put it together. Karl really came through on this one. With help from all of us, he was able to craft a seamless medley. It was quite good. The bad news was I had 8 minutes of lyrics to memorize. Have you ever listened to “Pour Some Sugar?” Those words are jacked up. As a group we did a really good job. We played songs we didn’t like that we had just learned in front of a big crowd. And we did it with gusto. Many of the other bands didn’t even perform their songs in a medley, as required, but the judges seemed okay with some bands bending the rules. This night two bands would be eliminated since the judges saved a band from the week before. This is where the curtain dropped on Puddin’ Head.

We were disappointed. Well, I was disappointed and angry. It was such a weird night and it’s where a lot of realizations hit home for me. After our performance, one of the judges said we sounded sloppy. That simply wasn’t true. We heard other bands totally screw up and they were fawned over by the judges. The only bands that received criticism were the two bands that were cut. It was almost like the judges knew who was going to be eliminated, so they had to give just cause, whether it was true or not. Also, when it came time for voting, you wouldn’t have believed how many people were suddenly in attendance. It seemed like an extra hundred people showed up right at the end to vote. It was bizarre.

Needless to say, the finals went on without us. It was a stressful seven weeks. Scrambling to learn songs, practicing non-stop and being nervous for seven weeks straight can really take a toll on a person. While I was sad Puddin’ Head didn’t make it to the finals, I was a bit relieved to be done with the drama of it. Hey, remember that band that the judges picked to win back at week one? They didn’t win. Was this contest fixed the whole time? Did a few bands get a free pass to the finals, while others had to coerce their fans to show up every single Thursday night for 3 months? I think that’s possible.

Bourbon Street runs a vocal “The One” contest a couple of times a year. This was their first time running a cover band competition. Granted, there will be some hiccups, I get that. Rules were changed as the contest went on. Seemed like they were making things up as they went along. People got preferential treatment, seemingly. Some bands were able to hang out after the show to drink with the judges and the folks who organized the contest. Is this appropriate when $10,000 was on the line? Maybe not. Also, the number of votes each band received on a weekly basis was never shared. So it was really up to the venue/judges which bands would move forward. There was no proof shared about the number of votes cast or counted.

Meanwhile, we learned late in the process that some bands had made deals with each other to eliminate other bands. They would get their fans to vote for each other, thereby removing the fairness of the vote. Bands worked together to get rid of other bands they perceived as a threat. Things got a little ugly because of it. As you may know, in a competition people can get emotional about whom they “like” or “don’t like.” Honestly, I feel like our fans were kind and generous. They watched every band and clapped for every band. There was one night where I noticed that a whole side of the room wouldn’t clap for us or engage at all. It was so sad to see. Someone had told these people not to support other bands and those people did exactly that. They clapped and cheered only for their band. That’s pretty awful.

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Alright, it wasn’t all bad. We had the opportunity to perform on a nice big stage several times (for free.) Bourbon Street provided cool lights and a sound company to make us sound our best. We have really cool videos to share and we have beautiful photographs of the event. Although we were all frustrated with the process and the outcome, we are very proud of the work we did together. We learned a lot of songs in a short amount of time and we bonded again as a group. Plus, we received a lot of support from our family and friends. That made us feel great. We also feel good that we played by the rules the entire time we participated. We always kept it classy. We didn’t flip off the judges, like some did and we never schemed to get rid of another band. I’m also glad we met a lot of kind, generous and talented musicians. Am I glad we did it? Yeah. Would I do it again? No.

This was not a contest about musicianship. In the end, it didn’t matter if the winning band was the best band. It was a contest about how many people a band could convince to come out and vote. I’m sure the venue made a ton of money every single week and that was probably the point, right? I know our friends and family spent a boatload of cash there. If Puddin’ Head brought 200 people every week, we would have won no matter how good or bad we performed. If any other band had done that, they would have won. Talent got us all into the competition, but talent did not rule the day. Art shouldn’t be pitted against art. This contest did not support local music at all. It actually reminded me how shitty this business can be. Any band, good or bad, can play a gig anywhere they want if they can bring 100 people with them. It’s that simple. An excellent band that can only bring 20 people? Sorry, no gig for you. Why is this so? Because we’ve all let that happen. All of us…bands, bar owners and fans. We’ve allowed venues to treat us this way for years and now we can’t back out of it. It’s frustrating and wrong, and it seems unfixable at this point. To drive this point home, Bourbon Street did not even announce the winner on their Facebook page. Is it because the band they were rooting for the whole time didn’t win? How rude to not congratulate the band that, not only played at your venue for several weeks for free, but also got a ton of people to hang out at your establishment for all of those weeks. Not a professional or kind way to handle that.

But hey, don’t let me tell you what to think. You can find out for yourself. Take a peek at Bourbon Street’s Facebook page. You can see for yourself how much promotion they did on their end, which was very little compared to the promotion the individual bands provided. Also, check out the other bands that participated. And while you’re at it, like their pages and support what they do. They are all talented musicians who have invested time and money into their craft. Here are the bands in no particular order: Evolution, Take Cover, Me & The Fellas, Blue Sky Blind, The Heart Sutra, LAVA Rock, Party Anthem, Reverend “T” & The Soul Shakers, Jailbreak Chicago and of course, Puddin’ Head.

I’d like to show some love to my band. Karl, Steve, Otto and Art…you guys are the best. I’m so glad we did this together. You’re like a second family to me. It’s been an honor and privilege to share the stage with you. If the Village People taught us anything, it’s that you can’t stop the music. And the YMCA is a creepy place to hang out.

Village People

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Everyone Says Hi

It’s so weird to me that when someone we love dies, the world just keeps moving. I feel like everything should stop while we all process the sad news, but it simply doesn’t work that way. Monday morning when I found out David Bowie had passed away I felt like I had been punched in the stomach by a schoolyard bully. He took my lunch money, too. I was left alone by the monkey bars with tears in my eyes. During the weekly staff meeting, I reported that I was sad. A few of my co-workers said they thought of me right away when they heard the news, while other co-workers looked at me like I was a crazy person. Well, crazier than usual. They just don’t get it.

I have learned that some people just don’t give a shit about music. I have read that “pop music of today is disposable.” Have you listened to what’s popular today? A lot of repetition…verse and chorus sound the same…weird topics about nothing at all. No wonder we only hear it in the background while we’re twerking in the club and then walk away, discarding the wasted tracks. It’s like a deep kiss from a sultry lover followed up by a stinging backhand slap to the face. I’m not saying music can’t be fun. There’s a time and a place for upbeat, dance/pop/country music that regales a summer evening at the beach drinking beer out of a plastic cup with one’s friends. But the non-stop, constant barrage of this stuff is enough to make an authentic music lover sad.

That being said, it’s easy to see why many people don’t care about music. I guess I was lucky that I grew up in a family that thrived on creativity. My Mom is a wonderful writer and can make up funny stories. Although she claims to have no musical ability, she is above and beyond, a music supporter. In a previous blog I told you about my brother and me listening to my Mom’s 45’s from the magical striped box in the closet. Paul and I listened to her records before we listened to anything we picked. The Beatles, The Doors, Neil Diamond, John Denver, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Herman’s Hermits…we heard them first through Mom. And you know my brother Paul is about the most musical person I know. (See previous blogs.) He is also the biggest David Bowie fan I know. I may have only been a casual Bowie fan, if not for Paul. Luckily, Paul encouraged me to listen beyond “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” to hear what Bowie was really about.

And what was Bowie really about, you ask? He was about life. He was a lover and a fighter. He was happy and he was angry. He was one of us. He wasn’t perfect or conventionally beautiful. He wrote and sang about what we all were living every single day. He showed us that it was cool to be different. It was okay to love yourself, no matter what. Fuck what those other people say!

Although it’s sad to see him go, we are all so lucky to be able to share in his life. And just think of all the people after us who will continue to celebrate his catalog of creation. It’s special to us because we were here when it happened and that’s why we are so shocked and sad. He told us to be heroes and now we have to be. We have to keep talking about music and art and fashion and innovation. Let’s inspire each other just like Bowie inspired us. Those people who don’t care about music…or just don’t understand it, leave them be. Wish them well and put on your headphones. You get it. Remember, you’re not alone. There are others just like you and we accept you just as you are, because that’s how it’s supposed to be. ‘Don’t stay in a sad place where no one cares how you are. Everyone says hi.’

 One time with me….Awwwww….WHAM, BAM THANK YOU MA’AM!!!!!!!

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Beautiful animation by Helen Green

I’m Just a Singer in a Rock ‘n Roll Band

Being in a band is cool. You get backstage access, tons of drugs, free drinks and people just keep handing you money. Everyone tells you how great you are and the phone is ringing off the hook. Legions of fans come to every gig to cheer you on. They get tattoos of your band logo and wear the band’s T-shirt every day. Private jets, limos and fabulous vacations. “That ain’t working! That’s the way you do it; get your money for nothing and your chicks for free,” (Money For Nothing, Dire Straits, 1985).

Alright, back to installing microwave ovens and moving color TV’s. In reality, being in a local rock ‘n roll band is not like that at all. Maybe life is like that for The Eagles or The Rolling Stones. They’ve certainly earned it. But for the struggling musician, it ain’t so easy.

First, you have to find a group of musicians that you’d like to spend the next several years with. I’ve spent almost 8 years with the four men in my band. There has to be some sort of friendship there right from the start. Luckily for me, there was. I’ve spent countless hours with these four dudes creating a four-hour rock ‘n roll cover show. They are like a second family to me. We do every gig together, for better or for worse. All for one and all that stuff. Every member is crucial to the band and it just wouldn’t be the same without them. That being said, it’s not always sunshine and flowers. There are five different band members and that means five different opinions, five different schedules and five different personalities. Have you ever stood in front of jukebox with a friend trying to pick one song to play? It can be a full-blown argument! Try choosing 40 songs that will be performed over and over, gig after gig. I’ve picked songs to perform that no one else is interested in and vice versa. One must be careful about choosing a beloved song. Of course, our band’s version won’t sound the same as the original and hearing a song repeatedly for years can erase that loving feeling, if you get what I’m saying.

Great! You’ve got some guys and you’ve learned some songs, let’s get out there and play! Before you pack your gear in the car, there are some things you need to do first. It’s important to have fans. How do you get fans? You need to talk about your band non-stop to your family, your friends and even the nice young man bagging your groceries. You definitely need business cards, an email address and a Facebook page. Oh yeah, you also need a demo CD and a press kit. Here’s a tip: get a guy in your band that knows how to record a band, has the recording equipment and loves recording and mixing. Studio time is crazy expensive. You have to play the songs correctly, no perfectly, and then pay someone to mix it all together for you. Then, you have to pay someone to make a lot of copies. You need several paying gigs to pay for your studio time, but no one will book you without hearing your band first. That’s kind of how things work. You should probably keep your day job a bit longer. Okay, the CD is done and sounds great. Get those tunes out on Facebook, Reverb Nation and any other site you can think of. Don’t forget to write a riveting bio of your band for everyone to read. Hopefully someone in your band is a good writer. (Yeah, that’s me.) Someone also needs to pay for a website and update your social media outlets regularly. You need to keep your fans interested and engaged.

Alright, you’ve got your press kit, Facebook page and demo CD. Time to call, email and visit bars in your area. Guess what? Most bar owners and promoters don’t have time to talk to you on the phone. They may or may not return your email and they definitely don’t have time to listen to your CD, but they won’t book you without that CD. (I know, it’s really frustrating!) Maybe they’ll take a quick look at your Facebook page and see how many “Likes” you have and read what kind of band you are. The first question most bar owners/promoters ask is, “How many people can you bring?” If your band can bring 100 people, you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you sound horrible and your guitar player barely knows how to play. If your lead singer forgets all the words and just jumps around the stage spitting water on the crowd, that’s fine, as long as you bring 100 people to the bar. Yeah, that’s right, all that practicing, recording and arguing about song choices…it doesn’t matter nowadays. Many local bands talk about this problem. Bar owners want the band to be responsible for filling the bar and making the bar a ton of money. A lot of bands think that bar owners are responsible for getting people to their bar. The band is the entertainment provided for the bar patrons. I feel that if a band is talented and entertaining, people will stay, at least that’s what I hope for. Sometimes two or three bands will do a show together to get more people to come out. If you’re a cover band, you have a better chance because people will recognize your songs, sing along, have a good time and drink a lot. People have a low tolerance for original music in the suburbs. Playing original music is a whole different blog. Let’s stick to cover bands.

A bar owner has agreed to book your band, now let’s talk about payment. Let’s see…if we charge a $5 cover, the band gets $3 and the promoter gets $2. The band brought 30 people to the gig, which comes out to $150 total. That’s $90 for the band! Hooray! You loaded up your car with all of your heavy gear, set up the PA, did a sound check, performed for 3 hours, bought your own drinks, tore down everything and loaded up the car again. You take home $18! Good job! Those 30 friends you brought drank beer all night and probably spent at least $30 each on drinks. So, that’s about $900 for the bar. Yep, that’s the reality of it, my friends. My band doesn’t play bars too often anymore. It’s tough to do. It’s a ton of work on stage and off. You can be a marketing wizard and it’s still difficult to get people to see the band. Private parties and summer outdoor festivals are ideal, but those are hard to get. You have to play shows to get private parties and people who book outdoor fests need to have at least heard of you. How can they hear of you if you don’t ever play out? Well, you can offer to play benefit shows. It’s rare that we are paid for a benefit show, but it’s rare that we’re paid for a bar show. At least you’re helping to raise money for a good cause and people are appreciative of your talents. Most of the time, we even get to eat some food for free! That’s a nice perk.

Let’s talk about other bands for a moment. My band has had the opportunity to meet and perform with quite a few other local bands. You always hope that everyone will be respectful and supportive. And some people are exactly that. Our friends’ band, Convoy (http://www.facebook.com/convoyinsanity) has always been a pleasure to deal with. We’ve played several shows together. They are gracious people who have no problem sharing a stage with other talented musicians. We can share a drum kit or a bass rig with them without a problem. When they are performing, we are there to listen and support them and vice versa. For the most part, this is a rare situation. I think that we are all in this together and if we could all be nice to each other and work together maybe we could affect some real change in how things are done. One band can’t play every single gig in every single bar/venue every night. It’s not a competition. I don’t really see a reason to be rude or condescending to another band ever. Even if they suck. (No, I’m not naming names.)

So what’s the point? Why bother? Well, it’s important to realize one’s goals and share them with the band. If the goal is to make money, that band will fail. If the goal is to get famous, that takes a lot of work. You’d probably have to quit your day job and focus on playing, recording and getting gigs wherever you can. It’s a hard life, but some people are on board for that. What it really comes down to is love of music and love of performing. It takes a lot of courage to play or sing in front of a room of strangers or friends, so you really have to love what you’re doing. It is a rush to perform a song perfectly and hear applause at the end. It’s fun to watch people dance and sing along and then tell you what a great time they had, especially if it’s someone you’ve never met before. I am lucky enough to be in a band with my husband which makes performing even more special. It’s a unique experience that we are able to share together, the good times and the bad. When a gig goes well, the entire band is invigorated and the sense of togetherness is moving. It’s a special kind of love that is shared with my bandmates and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

That being said, are you looking for a band for your next event? 4th of July party? Do you know someone planning a benefit? Do you know of a bar that books talented bands? Well, I’ve got the perfect band for you… http://www.facebook.com/puddinheadband and http://www.sonicbids.com/puddinhead. ;D 

10 Songs That Changed My Life

When I meet someone new I always ask them what kind of music they like. It shocks and troubles me when a person says, “I don’t know, I don’t really listen to music.” WHAT?? That two-second answer forces me to reevaluate this potential friendship. How does a person even get through their life without listening to music?? That just makes me sad. I have spent countless hours listening to music and discussing music. I suppose being a singer in a band forces one to talk about music, but so many friendships and memories have been made through music. I can’t imagine my life without it. Not even for a second.

One of my friends encouraged me to write a music blog as I’m always talking about my band or music in general. Ok, not “always”, but regularly. That got me thinking. What can I write about music? There are only a zillion topics to choose from. I decided to keep it simple and offer a list of 10 songs that have changed my life. You’d think this would be an easy task, but I must correct you there. Sure, it’s really easy to think of songs I love that are meaningful, but they may not have changed my life. Hmmm…this requires some thought. After much debate, here is my list. I hope you find it interesting and insightful. Perhaps it will encourage you to make your own list enabling you to revisit some important milestones in your life. I’d love to hear your list, too. Don’t be shy about sharing. Here goes!

These aren’t necessarily in any particular order.

1. “More Than A Feeling” by Boston. When CDs first became available, I didn’t have any. I was still marveling over the dual cassette option on my boombox. You mean I can make my own mixes and record songs off the radio? That’s so cool! My older brother Paul was a rabid music fan. I think he has listened to just about everything that’s out there at least once. Of course he had CDs. These were the early days when he only had 10 or 20. I’m sure he owns thousands of discs at this point. One of the first CDs my brother owned was the debut album from Boston. “More Than A Feeling” was track 1. I carefully placed a bookmark in my brother’s CD pile so I could put Boston back in the right place. Of course he would notice it was moved; he had a little sister. Can you hear the acoustic guitar fading in? I can. Tom Scholz wrote the song and played all of those harmonic guitars. And then Brad Delp came in with first a quiet pleasant-sounding voice to explode into those super-high notes that are nearly impossible to duplicate. My mind was blown. After spending my girlhood listening to The Muppets and Strawberry Shortcake, I finally heard real rock ‘n roll. I was never the same again. There’s a whole album after that song, too! “More Than A Feeling” taught me what rock ‘n roll sounded like. It’s an album I’ve never gotten tired of hearing and my brother never knew I frequently “borrowed” his CD. (Well, he does now.) He eventually made me a cassette copy, God bless him. I’m sure it wasn’t to be nice, but to keep me away from his stuff.

2. “Leave It” by Yes. I remember watching the world premiere of the video of this song on MTV. I thought Yes was a new 80’s band and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was their first hit. Oh, the fun of being an ignorant kid. Being a girl who loved singing, “Leave It” was a jaw-dropping song in my book. Listen to all those harmonies! I didn’t know much about recording back then, so I assumed everyone sang the song all together at one time. One take. You practice until you get it right, right? Over the years I have tried to learn everyone’s part in case they need me to fill in. What a fun piece to learn! I listened to it over and over. “90125” is still one of my favorite albums. When I started hanging around with my husband, I told him I loved that song hoping he wouldn’t think I was a dork. He produced a surround sound version of the album with a version of “Leave It” featuring vocals only. Wow! That is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. This song taught me about harmonizing and that singing with a group can be a rewarding challenge. How could I not be a singer after hearing that gem?

3. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette. I know, I know…quit groaning. It’s not what you think. I know this is the 90’s anthem for girl power and the ultimate break-up song, but that’s not why it changed my life. When this song came out, I wasn’t particularly sad or depressed, but I really liked Alanis’s sound. She could sing quiet and pretty and then melodically yell some biting lyrics. That was pretty cool. Not a lot of chicks were doing that at that time. I seem to remember a lot of Shania Twain going around at that time. She has a beautiful voice, but not very rock ‘n roll. In my early 20’s I started hanging out at karaoke bars. You see, I loved to sing and wanted to try singing in front of people. Drunk people are pretty forgiving audiences. So, I decided to try, “You Oughta Know.” Why not? I had sung it in my bedroom a hundred times. Guess what? I totally rocked it out. My choir/musical theater training was doing me some good. When I finished hollering my song at a room full of strangers, they actually clapped. As I shyly walked back to my seat, people were stopping me to tell me how great I sounded. To quote Keanu Reeves, “Wo.” I loved the attention and I loved knowing that I had the power to do something great. Although I could never sing this song in front of my Mom, I did record it for my very first demo. (I changed the bad word so my Mom could listen to it.) So, Alanis Morissette in all of her anger and bitterness kindly ushered me into the spotlight. That was really nice of her.

4. “It’s Too Late” by Carole King. When I was in my 20’s a tribute to “Tapestry” was produced. Amy Grant sang “It’s Too Late” and I loved it. I loved her voice on the song and the arrangement was smooth. I don’t mean to dis the original as I enjoy that, too. I used to scour the newspapers for audition notices. This was a bit before the internet was a go-to resource. There was a local church putting on a big production. I guess they had been producing this show every year for several years. Not really knowing what it was, I went to audition. I sang, “White Christmas” for about ten people. They asked me to sing a Christmas song. I was selected to be a part of the show. I would be performing at the main attraction which was a live band. There would be a group of about 8 of us who would all perform a song. The rest of us would sing background vocals. The rest of the group already knew each other and I was the outsider. Being a church production, most of the folks were pretty nice to me. I chose “It’s Too Late” to sing for my solo song. We practiced for several weeks and then the big day arrived. This would be the first time that I would sing as myself, not as a theatrical character, with a band in front of a large group of people, including my family. After a few songs, it was my turn to perform. As I was introduced, I walked up to the microphone and looked out among the 100+ people in the room. Once I got going, it was great! What a rush! When the song was over, everyone clapped and yelled and no one threw rotten vegetables. “It’s Too Late” will always hold a very special place in my heart.

5. “Paper Airplane” by Willy Porter. This may be a song that you’ve never heard. That’s okay. I hadn’t heard the song or even heard of Willy Porter until I met my husband. The beginning of our relationship was well, interesting. It was really an uphill climb to be together, but I was willing to fight for it. Apparently he was too. In my quest to show my amorous feelings I did what any normal girl would do and made him a mix CD. Everybody does that, right? I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it, but he made me one in return. Is there anything better than receiving a mix tape/CD from someone else? Most of the songs on his first CD to me were just songs he liked and wanted to share. No real hidden meanings, although I really tried to look for them. As I was getting worried that perhaps my feelings were unreciprocated, “Paper Airplane” played. This song was written and performed by Willy Porter who, in my opinion, is a very underrated musician. His guitar playing is intricate and masterful while his sweet voice could quiet an entire auditorium. You should listen to it for yourself. It’s the live version. There’s a line in the song that goes, “People say I’ve lost my footing, they should look into your eyes.” When that song ended, I knew Steve “like liked me” and my heart swelled. Aww…

6. “Wild Sex in the Working Class” by Oingo Boingo. Oddly enough, this song reminds me of my brother. Alright, alright, before you start gagging, it’s not like that. When I was a kid I looked up to my big brother. I wanted to do what he did, like what he liked and be wherever he thought was a cool place to be. We actually lived together in our 20’s/30’s and really got to know each other as adults. It’s a time I treasure. My brother is not an emotional person, I’m the emotional one. (No kidding??!!) After many years of an estranged relationship with our Dad, he told us that he was moving to California. He did not make arrangements to say good-bye to us, so we went to see him. My Dad bought us dinner and that was it. I said good-bye and walked to the door. I let my brother have his own moment as they have always been closer. Paul came to meet me totally upset. He did not get the farewell that he had hoped for. Their parting was rather cold, actually. I have never seen my brother that upset. Ever. We got into the car and drove away and that’s when “Wild Sex” came on the radio. It’s weird how sometimes the perfect song comes on the radio precisely when you need to hear it. Paul is a huge Oingo Boingo fan, so we turned up the song, rolled the windows down and rocked out. We drove away from the past and into the future with our heads held high and smiles on our faces. It was a side of my brother I had never seen before and I feel like it was a major event in our lives that only we could understand. It was a moving moment, for sure.

7. “Sweet Emotion” by Aersomith. Ok, stay with me. I know this song seems strange, but it will make sense momentarily. I can’t really say that I like this song and I wouldn’t say I’m an Aerosmith fan. I used to be a singer in a local Chicago band called Ruckus. This was actually the first band I was in. I learned a lot with those guys and we had some great times together. I was the last singer to come in after a long line of talented men and women, so the band’s song list was pretty set. Of course they let me choose a few songs of my own. Singing with Ruckus was a wonderful opportunity that I will always be grateful for. They believed in me and made me a member of their family. That being said, I was looking for another band to work with where we would perform more modern songs. I was planning to be in two bands at the same time. I started looking at ads on craigslist to find a band looking for a singer. I came across an ad that looked interesting and set up an audition. Over the phone, I agreed on audition songs with some guy named, Karl. He didn’t sound too creepy so I decided to meet him. I drove about an hour from my house to a stranger’s house to audition. To be honest, I didn’t really care if they liked me or not, because I was already in a band. I met the guys and we got set up in the “band room.” The first song we performed together was…wait for it…”Sweet Emotion.” I was stunned and pleased at how good these guys were. After a few more songs, they offered me the job. So many little details had to come together to get me to that audition to meet my future husband. If you have time someday I’ll tell you the whole story. It’s nearly magical. (As a point of interest, that audition was recorded and I can be heard laughing and joking with Steve, my husband. Pretty cool to have that.)

8. “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel. Anyone who has known me for more than 10 minutes knows that Billy Joel is my all-time favorite musician. I have never wavered in my choice, even through New Kids on the Block, Madonna and N’Sync. When I was a little kid I suppose I knew who Billy Joel was because my Mom or Dad probably listened to him a bit. When I was about 9 years old, again I was watching MTV and saw the video for, “The Longest Time.” It was entertaining enough for a kid to watch, but the part that I loved was at the end of the video when Mark Goodman or Nina Blackwood told me that Billy Joel sang all of the parts himself. What??!! For some reason, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I had never heard of someone recording multiple vocal tracks. I didn’t think that was allowed. I assumed that Billy Joel had figured this out himself and was creating something brand new. I had to hear everything else this man sang. My Mom was joining Columbia House, if you remember that old mail-order music service, and she allowed my brother and me to choose a cassette or two. Here was my big chance to really dig into some Billy Joel. I picked “Innocent Man” and “Cold Spring Harbor.” I loved all of it. Kinda weird for a little kid, but I didn’t know that. I own every album on cassette and CD and I probably know those songs better than Billy does. His songbook has been the accompanying soundtrack to my life. Certain songs remind me of a time in my life or a certain event. I’m sure most people feel that way about an artist. When I visited New York, I carried around “Nylon Curtain” just in case I ran into Billy. I was hoping he would sign my CD. I never ran into him. I’m not even sure what I’d say to him, as he’s probably heard it all before. I hope I get the opportunity to meet him someday. “The Longest Time” is not my favorite song by Billy Joel, but it always reminds me of how I came to love his music. I’m still impressed that he did all of the vocals. In older brother style, Paul later told me that all artists do that, so that was nothing special. Way to poop on the magic, Paul. That’s okay; I still think it’s cool.

9. “Then” by Brad Paisley. Okay, it’s gonna get mushy here, so if that sort of stuff offends you, please proceed to number 10. If you’re still with me, I thank you. I’m not a country girl in the least bit. I can appreciate the country music world is full of talented musicians and songwriters, but it’s just not a style I can get with. My husband, then boyfriend, has a much higher tolerance for country. If there’s cool guitar playing, he’ll listen. Somehow he came across a special with Brad Paisley and heard the song “Then.” I was scheduled to have major surgery a few years ago, before we were married, and I was pretty scared. In fact, it was the scariest event in my life. I wasn’t sure if Steve was worried or concerned, as he is very good at keeping his feelings in-check. The night before my surgery, Steve told me that he wanted me to hear this great song he had heard. He plays a lot of cool songs for me, so I wasn’t expecting anything like “Then.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear Braid Paisley perform the song, followed by Steve telling me that’s how he feels about me. Basically, during the song Brad talks about meeting his wife. It’s kind of a timeline of their relationship. Paisley talks about events and ends each verse with, “I thought I loved you then,” meaning that he keeps loving her more and more as the years go by. This song was the first dance at our wedding a year after that surgery. It was the only country song played all night. I asked Steve to fade out the guitar solo, so we wouldn’t be dancing so long. As a guitar player, he found that idea to be rather disgusting. Being a non-dancer, he now regrets having to awkwardly sway back and forth during that long guitar solo. (I danced around him.) In any case, I still get choked up when I hear that song and it reminds me of how much Steve loves me. It’s a song that is near and dear to my heart.

10. “Wonderwall by Oasis. This is a tricky one. Although I do really like the Oasis version, it’s really my band’s (Puddin’ Head) version that’s special to me. This one is pretty simple. When the band first started playing this song, I always sang it with Steve in mind. “There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how,” and “Maybe you’re gonna be the one that saves me” are lines that are important to me. We eventually recorded this song and Steve and I had a great time recording it together. When we eventually got married a couple years later, I walked down the aisle to Puddin’ Head’s version of “Wonderwall.” It was a pretty cool experience to be hearing my own voice singing to me at my wedding. You can probably guess that this song changed my life, for it was the start of my wedding and married life. It’s still a song I love to sing and it’s even more special now.

Thanks for sticking with this blog. It did get rather long, didn’t it? I invite you to think about the songs that changed your life. I’ll bet you’ll remember happy and life-changing moments that will inspire you to listen to those songs again with fresh ears. I’ll bet you’ve changed and learned a lot since you first heard those songs. Are you a better person? Are you a different person? I’d like to think that I am both. Music and songs are experiences that are so individual, but universal as well. Have you ever been to a concert where the entire crowd was singing along? It’s pretty powerful. Why not get that CD Walkman out of the closet and drop in your favorite CD? Put on your headphones, close your eyes and really listen. What do you hear?