The French do a number of things much, much better than anybody else in the world. Their appreciation for wine is unprecedented, their use of butter unparalleled. They also do a nice job putting together an art museum. And when it comes to moody, low-fi pop sung by wispy people who seem to have visited here from Brigadoon, they have no equal. One of the best electronic pop albums of the end of the century was released on this date in 1998 in the form of Air's immortal full-length debut Moon Safari.
At the end of the '90s, just about everybody thought that "electronica" was going to be the next big thing. Though that promise was never fulfilled, it did allow for certain electronic microgenres to breathe and enjoy success. Such was the case with Moon Safari's chillout vibes, which borrowed heavily from psychedelia, lounge music, classic French pop and elaborate cinematic soundscapes (it makes perfect sense that Air later provided the score to the film "The Virgin Suicides"). The two hommes who made up Air — Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel — lent their easy soundscapes a mysterious, tossed-off vibe that was irresistible to most fans of fringe music.
Air (which was actually an acronym for "Amour, Imagination, Reve," which translates to "love, imagination, dream") also ended up making amazing videos (not shocking considering the cinematic opportunities embedded in the songs). Let the vibe wash over you early this morning with the lively, trippy clip for "Kelly, Watch the Stars!"
January is one of the best times to be a sports fan. The NFL playoffs are in full effect, with a march toward the Super Bowl. There is some top-shelf UFC violence coming up this weekend when Matt Mitrione slugs it out against Tim Hague on "UFC Fight For the Troops 2," while the NBA season is unveiling a series of fascinating story lines. And don't forget the college football bowls, the NHL's Winter Classic and the Australian Open. But by far the highlight of the sports (or rather, "sports entertainment") world in January is the annual WWE Royal Rumble, which was won by Ric Flair in a world-beating performance on this day in 1992.
The rules of the Royal Rumble are simple: Two wrestlers begin in the ring, and every minute or two another one is sent in based on a random drawing. Eliminations occur whenever somebody is thrown over the top rope and onto the floor, and once the final entrant hits the ring, the last man standing is declared the winner. The victor gets a title shot at WrestleMania, though in 1992, the winner went home with the championship belt (which had been held up months earlier after Flair interfered with a match between Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker).
Flair's performance in Albany, New York that day was remarkable, as he entered the match at number three (out of 30) and wrestled continuously for nearly an hour. In the end, he pushed Sid Justice over the top rope (with a bit of an inadvertent outside assist from Hogan) and claimed the belt in victory. It was truly one of the greatest performances of the man's incredible career.
Earlier this year, I referred to Kanye West as "the hip-hop Ric Flair" in reference to the greatness of "Power," but "Stronger" also makes a hell of a case for West's — and Flair's — place among the immortals.
Hindsight is always 20/20, especially in the world of rock and roll. Given the gift of access and the ease with which everything can be reconfigured in different contexts, fans and critics are always going back over rock history and re-creating narratives that may not have been obvious then but seem painfully trite now. It seems obvious now that the men of Van Halen would go their separate ways circa 1984 (and 1984), but on this day that year, it was simply an opportunity to launch a 103-date world tour that ended up being the last jaunt with frontman David Lee Roth for over two decades.
The year opened well for Van Halen, as they had just celebrated the release of 1984, the album that contained some of their biggest hits (including "Jump," "Hot for Teacher" and "Panama") and went on to sell over 10 million copies. The tour for that album was to be the group's biggest and most ambitious yet, and though it started off promisingly with a blistering opening in Jacksonville, Florida, the stress of the road began to wear on the band members, whose relationships were already frayed (especially between principal members David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen). The stories vary, but the tensions seemed to grow out of them being envious of the other one's work outside of the band — Roth was scoring solo success with the singles "California Girls" and "Just a Gigolo" (which came from his debut solo EP Crazy From the Heat, released in January 1985) and Eddie had lent his guitar skills to other artists, most notably to Michael Jackson (whose Thriller kept Van Halen's 1984 from reaching the top of the Billboard album chart, something that reported annoyed Roth).
In the end, Roth left the group to work on his solo career and the remaining members of Van Halen soldiered on with former Montrose singer Sammy Hagar behind the microphone. The members of Van Halen eventually kissed and made up with Roth (twice) and are reportedly working on a new album. There's no indication what the new material might sound like, though hopefully it's a lot like "Unchained."
Perfection is more or less impossible, even in the world of sports. Except for a select few instances, all streaks come to an end and all records fall. But in professional football, one accomplishment has stood the test of time, as the Miami Dolphins are the only team in the history of the NFL to have a completely undefeated season. On this day in 1973, the Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII to win the championship and finish their season with 17 wins and no losses.
The Dolphins' unbeaten run was lead by coach Don Shula, quarterbacks Bob Griese and Earl Morrall (Griese hurt his ankle a third of the way through the season) and running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. None of those headliners were truly spectacular players, but their workmanlike approach under Shula's offensive system made them a formidable force on the field. They truly dominated on defense, as they recorded three shutout victories over the course of the season. Save for a 52-0 rout of the New England Patriots (more on them later), many of their wins were close affairs, and their run through the playoffs was even tighter. After finishing the season 14-0, the Dolphins toppled a strong Cleveland Browns team (lead by Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly), then slipped past a strong Pittsburgh Steelers squad (one of the few times the combination of Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris didn't win the Super Bowl in the 1970s). When the final game rolled around, the Washington Redskins put up a good fight but couldn't get their offense working (quarterback Billy Kilmer threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter, essentially sealing the team's fate).
Every year, members of the 1972 Dolphins squad have a champagne toast when the final undefeated team is beaten over the course of any season. A few squads have flirted with the record over the last three decades (both the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans brushed up against perfection in the past decade), but the closest anybody came was the 2007 Patriots team, which went undefeated during the regular season but lost Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants. In honor of the Dolphins and their perfect record, let DJ Khaled shout "We the best!" at you for a few minutes.
Elvis Presley's birthday was last weekend, and had the legendary rock and roller not tragically passed away back in 1977, he would have turned 76 years old on Saturday (January 8th). Presley's influence and importance still looms large, as traces of his music can be found on modern rock, country, pop and even hip-hop.
But it isn't just about the music. Sure, Presley is responsible for some incredible songs that represent the cornerstones of rock music (including gems like "Jailhouse Rock," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Hound Dog," "Heartbreak Hotel" and countless others), but his draw is also about style, attitude and mystique. He left behind a legacy of envelope-pushing fashion, sexual politics and the kind of swagger that many artists have attempted to replicate but few have really gotten right.
So it's not entirely surprising that on this day in 2005, a report showed that Elvis Presley has had more songs written about him than any other artist in history (take that, Mozart). The list of over 220 songs included tracks like Paul Simon's "Graceland," U2's "A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel," Frank Zappa's "Elvis Has Left the Building," Dire Straits' "Calling Elvis" and Loudon Wainwright III's "Happy Birthday Elvis." But it missed plenty of other tunes, including Alannah Myles' chart-topping hit "Black Velvet," Neil Young's "He Was the King" and slightly more obtuse songs like Bush's "Everything Zen."
For many artists, Elvis clearly embodies a sort of ideal of American culture (for better or for worse). That's no clearer than in Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," a track frontman Dave Gahan wrote after reading Priscilla Presley's book "Elvis and Me." It's a punchy way to start the day, and a great way to keep the King in mind.
Britney Spears just released another headline-grabbing single in "Hold It Against Me," and her upcoming seventh album (which still does not have a title or a concrete release date) will undoubtedly be one of the biggest releases of 2011. But back in 1999, Spears was merely another pop star hoping that her early buzz would carry her through her first album ...Baby One More Time, which hit stores on this day 12 years ago.
It was more or less certain that ...Baby One More Time was going to be a big hit, as the title track had already found its way into permanent rotation on radio, and the video (which featured the 16-year-old Spears dancing suggestively in a schoolgirl's outfit) was a dominant force on MTV (and had become a staple thanks to the then-new show "Total Request Live"). Following the success of "...Baby One More Time" (which went to number one in every single country in which it was released), the hits kept on coming, including the sweet ballads "Sometimes" and "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart." Even the non-singles offered up a certain brand of charm, including the island-inflected "Soda Pop," the millennial piano ballad "E-Mail My Heart" and her spy movie cover of "The Beat Goes On."
Spears' career arc is well known by now, as she has survived a number of personal and professional missteps to become a definitive worldwide pop sensation. Even 12 years later, the energy and image that ...Baby One More Time put forth still resonates, and there is no greater example than the video for "(You Drive Me) Crazy."
Say what you will about the current comedy content of "Saturday Night Live" (and you could easily say things like "The show hasn't been funny in 10 years" or "The show has never been funny" without getting into very many arguments), but the musical performances remain a vital part of the show (despite the fact that even after 35 years, the "SNL" technical team still can't quite get the sound mix right for most rock bands). This past weekend, the Black Keys certainly had a coming out party with their typically loud, scuzzy appearance on the show, and on this day in 1992, a little band named Nirvana celebrated their second album's ascent to the top of the Billboard album chart (where it displaced Michael Jackson's Dangerous) with an eye-popping, ear-splitting, equipment destroying performance.
Though Nevermind had been released four months earlier, the album experienced a slow burn until "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became an MTV and radio staple late in 1991. Aided by the potent "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video, Nevermind clawed its way up the album chart to settle at the top. As it happened, Nirvana happened to be booked on "Saturday Night Live" the week that Nevermind topped the chart, which meant that they had hundreds of thousands of brand-new fans who were getting their first chance to see the band perform live.
Kurt Cobain and company certainly lived up to their reputation, burning through a sped-up version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" before playing the caustic, jagged "Territorial Pissings." With the final notes of their second song still echoing in the speakers, Nirvana trashed their entire set, destroyed the equipment and generally looked like the most dangerous band in the world.
There are a few great pieces of trivia surrounding Nirvana's first "SNL" performance. Rob Morrow (he of "Northern Exposure" fame) was the host that night (Charles Barkley hosted the show that featured Nirvana's second and final appearance on the show), and each band member wore T-shirts from other bands: Cobain wore a homemade Flipper shirt, bassist Krist Novoselic expressed his love for the Melvins and drummer Dave Grohl endorsed L7, whose "Stuck Here Again" helps us celebrate one of the best "SNL" performances of all time.
The general accepted belief is that rock albums don't hit the top spot on the Billboard album chart any more, though Linkin Park, Godsmack, Vampire Weekend, Avenged Sevenfold and Arcade Fire all pulled off that accomplishment in 2010. But could any of those bands sell enough to hit number one even after essentially giving their album away? It seems like it should be an impossible accomplishment, and yet that's exactly what Radiohead did. On this day in 2008, the revolutionary English band's seventh album In Rainbows entered the Billboard album chart at the pinnacle, despite the fact that the band had made the album available for download for whatever people wanted to pay several months before.
The release of In Rainbows was one of the biggest news stories of 2007. Only the most hardcore Radiohead fans even knew the band was in the studio working on an album, and then randomly everybody woke up one morning to find out that the band was not only releasing a new album, but it would also be made available immediately and for whatever price the listener deemed fit. The band sold hundreds of thousands of downloads, many for as little as a single penny. But when the group announced the digital release of In Rainbows, they let the world know that there would also be a physical version that would come out in a few months (and also a limited-edition deluxe version, which sold out in minutes). So when In Rainbows finally hit stores, people still came out and bought it, even though many of them had the opportunity to download it for next-to-nothing for months.
What's more, In Rainbows is an extremely weird album, even for Radiohead. Though the buzz was that it might be their return to the roots of rock and roll, the album was made up mostly of moody electronic soundscapes like "Reckoner."
The next presidential election in America isn't until November of 2012 (that's a full 23 months away), but there is already talk of who will challenge Barack Obama and what the campaign issues might end up being. Choosing the person who will sit in the Oval Office has become a farcical fiasco, but it began with the best of intentions. On this day in 1789, the nascent United States of America held its first presidential election, which was won by George Washington, the commander in chief of the armed forces during the American Revolution. In his victory, he became the first and only president to nab 100 percent of all the electoral votes. The man he defeated, Continental Congress hero John Adams, took on the office of Vice President.
Of course, even the idealized version of Washington's election isn't perfect. After all, the only people allowed to vote in the very first election were white men who owned property (racial limits on voting weren't lifted until 1870, and women weren't given the right to vote until 1920, a shameful precedent if there ever was one).
Still, Washington himself set a number of precedents that are still held to this day. For example, he insisted that he be referred to as "Mr. President," which simultaneously cut out the regal formality of English courts and put the power of the office above the individual currently holding it. He also refused to run for a third term, which created passive term limits long before there was specific legislation limiting presidents to two terms. He also initially passed up a salary of $25,000 (a fortune at the time) because he was already rich, though took it so as not to create a precedent that would only allow independently wealthy people from holding the office (though that still ends up happening anyway).
In honor of the first presidential election, enjoy Wyclef Jean's "If I Was President."
On Wednesday night (January 5) at the TD Garden in Boston, the Boston Celtics toppled the San Antonio Spurs by a score of 105-103. Rajon Rondo turned in a triple-double, Ray Allen dropped in 31 points and Paul Pierce hit the go-ahead shot with less than a second to go to seal the victory. It was a good night in the arena, but on this day in 1975, the results were less positive. While waiting outside to purchase tickets to a Led Zeppelin concert, approximately 2,000 fans managed to pry open the doors of the old Boston Garden and wreak havoc on the inside.
Some time shortly after midnight, the rowdy group of fans got inside the building and began to run amok, throwing bottles and destroying property inside the essentially empty venue. The fans got so out of control that management decided to open the ticket windows hours before they were supposed to begin selling seats for Led Zeppelin's 1975 tour of America (which ended up being the group's penultimate trip to the United States). Within a few hours, all 9,000 tickets were completely sold and the riot had calmed down, but not before a total of $50,000 worth of damage had been done to the building. (Luckily, neither the Celtics nor the NHL's Boston Bruins were in town that night.)
After learning about the incident, Boston mayor Kevin White was so angry that he banned Led Zeppelin from the city for five years. The concert on February 4 (for which tickets had just been sold) was canceled, and the band was forced to skip the city on what would become its final American tour in 1977. In honor of the band who could inspire a riot without even being in the building, crank up Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," which comes from their 1975 album Physical Graffiti.