Career Killers: “Cyberpunk” by Billy Idol

As we’ve seen, bad concept albums can kill careers and destroy their creators in the time it takes to throw a CD into the garbage, send it to China to be used for road paving or sell it to a used record store for half-pennies on the dollar.

In Billy Idol’s case, it did that and then some. But it also set the stage for an interesting critical re-evaluation. Was 1993’s Cyberpunk, a bloated concept album about machines, technology and consumerism that also happened to be one of the first major studio releases recorded mostly on the computer, packaged with a floppy disk containing bonus content and marketed via the internet actually ahead of its time?

Yes, it was. Without question.

Content wise, Idol’s musings about technology proved to be prescient, while his recording and marketing methods established a blueprint that almost every artist of the mid-to-late 90s and early 00s would copy and emulate, right down to the bonus floppy (although CD and DVD-ROMs predictably replaced the floppy as the technology became more ubiquitous and affordable).

But that doesn’t mean the album is good or deserved to be successful. And it’s certainly no surprise that it ruined Billy Idol’s career.

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To Err is Human — And Sometimes Lucrative

As someone who collected baseball cards during the late 80s/early 90s, there were a few players who were always in demand. Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Ken Griffey Jr. Bo Jackson. Todd Van Poppel (no, seriously — one of my friends had a 1991 Upper Deck rookie card for the overhyped prospect who ended up with a career record of 40-52 and a 5.58 ERA and we all thought he had won Powerball).

But the guy everyone wanted a piece of was Gregg Jeffries. A can’t miss prospect for the New York Mets, Jeffries was the first player to win the Minor League Player of the Year Award from Baseball America twice (other players to have won the award include Dwight Gooden, Canseco, Frank Thomas, Derek Jeter, Mike Trout and the only other 2x winner: Andruw Jones). With his versatility in the field and undeniable talent at the plate, Jeffries started his pro career in 1987 with a bang and made an instant impact for the defending champion Mets. The hype train went into overdrive and his rookie cards became the hottest thing since Prometheus brought fire to the people.

So when I got the above Donruss card and noticed the coloring error, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Error cards can be extremely rare and valuable, so the fact that I had one for a player in such demand as Jeffries meant I’d never have to work a day in my life, right?

Obviously, things didn’t work out that way (for me or Gregg, who had a fine 14-year career, including some excellent seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-90s, but will never be voted into the Hall of Fame). The value of error cards, and baseball cards as a whole, depend on supply and demand. And once it was clear that Jeffries wasn’t the second coming, demand plummeted and everyone moved on to the next can’t miss kid (Jeter, Chipper Jones, A-Rod… there’s always someone).

Error coins are the same way. Whether or not you have a Griffey Jr. or a Jeffries depends on supply and demand. Here are a few of the error coins I’ve collected over the years:

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Career Killers: “Kilroy Was Here” by Styx

There have always been extremely successful artists that were so unlikeable, unappealing or unoriginal that it became fashionable to hate them. Nickelback, Creed, Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, Michael Bolton, Phil Collins, Limp Bizkit, Train, and more recently, Justin Bieber, Imagine Dragons and the Chainsmokers have generated significant amounts of vitriol from critics and the general public — all while stockpiling hits and performing sell-out shows before thousands of adoring fans. If anything, the widespread hatedom only makes their fans love them even more.

Before them, Styx was the one that it was cool to hate.

Critics, in particular, despised them and commonly referred to the band as “Stynx” (one memorable review compared their music to a parking lot full of whale vomit – something that may very have inspired the famous “Shit Sandwich” scene in This is Spinal Tap).

Despite that, Styx sold tons of records and performed countless sold out shows. From 1972 to 1982, the band amassed 11 Top 40 hits, including their sole #1 hit, the polarizing “Babe,” as well as four RIAA-certified gold and five platinum albums. Starting off as a progressive rock group, the band found success when it moved to a more arena-friendly (some would argue, “corporate”) sound, merging hard rock with synth pop while displaying a flair for the dramatic (or melodramatic, as their detractors might argue). Even as it found mainstream success, Styx retained some of its prog leanings, writing thematic, narrative style songs, while releasing a series of concept albums throughout the late 70s and early 80s.

With 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, Styx took on its most ambitious and risky project yet. A concept album about a dystopian future where religious and political fascists have outlawed rock music and use technology to enslave mankind, Styx planned an elaborate live show that would be part rock-opera, part concert, part multimedia spectacle. If the boys from Chicago could pull it off, they would set themselves up to be the spiritual successors to Pink Floyd or The Who.

They did not pull it off.

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Barber Coins: Were They Really ‘Beneath Contempt’?

When an 1891 contest to determine new designs for the dime, quarter and half-dollar went bust, it played right into Charles Barber’s hands. The Chief Engraver for the U.S. Mint had wanted to design the coins himself, and when the contest failed to yield any worthy designs, he got his wish.

Unfortunately for Barber, his victory would prove to be Pyrrhic. Be careful what you wish for.

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Career Killers: “Summer in Paradise” by the Beach Boys

To borrow a pro wrestling term, Mike Love has long been one of the best heels in rock ‘n roll.

Widely hated by critics, fans, media, liberals and even fellow Beach Boys (actual headline from Vice.com: “Mike Love is Kind of an Asshole”), Love is so despised that it’s arguably more rock ‘n roll to defend him rather than pile on with his many detractors. Indeed, if anyone could have an entire arena full of people chant “asshole” at him a la Vince McMahon or Roman Reigns, it’s Mike Love. A relentless self-aggrandizing self-promoter, the only thing you can say about him is that he’s not dripping with phoniness or fake sincerity like Brother Love.

In fact, like the best heels, he believes he’s justified in behaving the way he does — especially in his eternal quest for the credit he feels he deserves for the band’s success. Brian Wilson may have been the creative genius behind the band, but Love will argue that he should get as much, if not more credit than the erratic Wilson for keeping the band going and co-writing some of their best known songs. Whether it’s suing Wilson for royalties in court many times; inflating his role in the band’s great moments and minimizing his role in the less successful ones (sometimes doing both on the same thing – like criticizing Pet Sounds or Smile when they seemed like they’d be failures and then taking credit for both when they became acclaimed); or going Vince McMahon and firing Wilson and Al Jardine from the band in 2012 after what was otherwise a successful reunion tour, Love gets very little of his namesake emotion from critics, commentators and even fans of the Beach Boys. Heck, he once used the staid and formal atmosphere of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony to deliver a WWE-style promo talking trash about a bunch of bands and musicians that, until then, probably had nothing but respect for his band and everything it has accomplished.

And much like how WWE treats certain non-PG segments from the past like they never happened, that’s how the band views the Love-led 1992 album Summer in Paradise. I guess that’s understandable, considering Summer in Paradise ended the band as a creative force and turned it into a full-time touring/oldies act.

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We Are The Champions!

Very proud to win several Azbee Awards of Excellence from the American Society of Business Publication Editors this year. I think this might have been my biggest haul yet.

Career Killers: “Calling All Stations” by Genesis

In honor of Genesis’s recently announced reunion tour, let’s take a look at the band’s most recent (and in all likelihood, final) studio album, 1997’s Calling All Stations — an epic flop that broke up the band and is considered to be the red-headed stepchild of its discography. In other words, it’s no son, it’s no son of theirs. (Sorry. That’s the last pun, I promise. That’s all.)

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The Long Goodbye

“The photograph reflects. Every streetlight a reminder.” — “Nightswimming,” R.E.M.

“These wheels keep turning but they’re running out of steam. Keep me in your heart for a while.” — “Keep Me In Your Heart,” Warren Zevon

These are some of the last photographs I took of Bernie. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if he was saying a long goodbye by doing certain things one last time.

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Career Killers: “Turn It Upside Down” by The Spin Doctors

UPDATE (07/06/2021): Thanks to Todd in the Shadows for citing this review in his latest episode of Trainwreckords.

We may remember the 90s as a turbulent period in music, full of angsty grunge and alternative bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, introspective singer-songwriters like Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Jewel and Sarah McLachlan, gangsta rappers like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Biggie and 2Pac and superstars going through ironic and/or cynical stages like U2 and R.E.M.

But not everything was doom-and-gloom. Divas like Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Madonna and Shania Twain sold boatloads of records and dominated the pop and album charts. The 90s also brought us the extremely non-ironic and safe-for-mass-consumption Hootie and the Blowfish, who became a cultural phenomenon when they released Cracked Rear View, one of the best-selling debut albums of all time. The decade also saw 80s stars like Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Sting reach even greater heights. Even the hip hop world found room for decidedly non-gangsta acts like The Fugees, PM Dawn, Will Smith, Arrested Development and OutKast. And of course, by the end of the decade, the biggest-selling artists were bubblegum acts and boybands like NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.

Then there were the Spin Doctors.

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Career Killers: “Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya” by Boyz II Men

We’ve seen how splitting from hit-making songwriters or producers in an ill-fated bid for creative control can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how record label politics can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how failed musical makeovers in the face of changing times can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how deteriorating personal relationships can fester and kill an artist’s or band’s careers.

What happens when all of those things happen at once? You get Boyz II Men.

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The Finger of Destiny

What will you do when the finger of Destiny points at you?

For us, we decided to adopt her. Maybe it was destiny (pun intended) that she came to us. She arrived in Chicago the same week that Bernie passed. And she joined us right as we were about to embark on a particularly difficult period without him and helped us through it.

Plus, she’s been such a sweetheart that we just couldn’t let her go. She took to us from the moment she arrived home, and we definitely fell for her. Looks like we’ve failed as foster parents.

However, we just couldn’t abide by her name. So from henceforth, she will be known as Dessie Lisa Vito. First of her name. Queen of all she surveys. Barker at other dogs. Killer of rodents. Conquerer of bed space.

Welcome to the family, Dessie. Thank you for helping heal our broken hearts. Now if you’d only stop trying to kill all those possums.

George Washington Colonial Coins (UPDATED)

This won’t be one of my normal Coin Blog posts. I wanted to show off these coins but didn’t have too much to add that hasn’t already been written by others.

Anyway, I really like these George Washington colonial coins and I’m glad I made the investment in them. Understandably, Washington was a rock star after the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War, and there was a huge demand for merchandise bearing his image — think Notorious RBG (R.I.P.) but for the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Jack Bauer’s Greatest Hits (UPDATED)

Originally published in 2010 prior to the end of 24‘s original broadcast run. Updated to include 2014’s 24: Live Another Day, as well as some additional content.

“Nice work, Jack. Have you noticed that there’s always a body count wherever you go?” — George Mason

“He said you were a born killer. Is that true?” — Jonathan Wallace

During his time on 24, Jack Bauer killed a lot of people. Main characters. Supporting characters. Featured stars. Unnamed Extras. You name it, Jack has probably killed it. As such, it was very difficult to narrow down the list of Jack’s greatest moments. And let’s face it. He also had plenty of badass moments where he didn’t kill anyone – instead relying on his wit, charm, resourcefulness, and powers of persuasion.

So, in honor of one of my favorite shows, I give you “Jack Bauer’s Greatest Hits” (A/K/A “The Moments that Made Amnesty International Cringe”).

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