Category Archives: Music

Band Aid Turns 30!

It’s that time of the decade again (years ending in “4” or “9” since 1984), and, unfortunately, there is still reason for money to be sent to help people in Africa. This time the ebola epidemic is the cause. Despite some lyrical changes and your usual onslaught of today’s artists of note, Bono is still singing the money line, thirty years later. Sinead O’Connor does her part by providing the unintentional comedy and curious wonderment as to why she received the invite.

Let’s Get a Few Links Off My Chest: The Challenge Hibernation Edition

To my few loyal readers who may not be as interested in the minutia and the “inside the competitor’s studio” unrelenting coverage of all things The Challenge, do not fear: my pop culture and sports identity has not lost its mojo (a fair presumption). The reality of covering the “Fifth Major American Professional Sport” (that also happens to be a TV show) full-time is that other writing takes a little bit of a backseat. With so much going on (NBA Playoffs! Game of Thrones! Colbert taking over Late NightThe remarkable cultural ascendancy of Billy on the Street!), I thought I could at least send you to the right places.

Without further ado, let us get a few links off my chest…

I am not sure I would call this the “greatest shot in playoff history” as some have suggested…

(greatness demands higher stakes than Game 2 of a first round series), but I would be hard pressed to find a more incredible basketball play and the replays only make it look better.

Beno Udrih’s reaction non-reaction (at 0:18) says everything.

For the record, this remains my favorite playoff basketball play that I ever seen (you are really watching what greatness is all about)…

Speaking of Larry Legend, Jalen and Bill have an interesting chat about LeBron’s place in the “greatest forward of all-time conversation…

They both reluctantly argue (and subsequently mourn) that if LeBron wins his third championship this season, he passes Bird on the all-time forward list. I may not be there yet, but this is not an erroneous argument by any means. LeBron, beginning the playoffs in his eleventh season, is already right there. Incredible.

While were still in the land of Larry, somebody finally got into a fistfight with Lance Stephenson, and, not so surprisingly, it was Evan Turner (not exactly anyone’s favorite teammate). Despite a decisive game 2 victory against the Hawks, Pacers championship aspirations are in a whole lot of trouble. At least Roy Hibbert isn’t for sale on Amazon.Roy-Hibbert-Cover

I had the pleasure of watching the epic game 1 showdown between Houston and Portland. Is there a more fun glue guy/crowd pleaser/enforcer in the league right now than Patrick Beverley? This is his response to being hit with a Mo Williams flagrant foul.

Thunder fans may object, but you have to love what this guys brings to the table.

If Patrick Beverley had played in 1980s, he would have been a perfect insertion to the Pistons. I certainly loathed the “yellow, gutless way” they did things, but it is hard not have some respect for the Bad Boys of Detroit as a compelling and dynamic basketball team (I had forgotten how eloquent Isiah Thomas is and how bizarre Adrian Dantley seems to be).

There have been many great 30 for 30 documentaries, but I am not sure one resonated (or provided a greater opportunity to relive and reminisce) more than this one.

Thank goodness for Robert Parish’s revenge enactment (start at 0:17). Amazingly, he was not ejected. Respect.

That’s what you do, Paul Pierce. That’s why the Celtics miss you so much.

On to the other spectrum popular culture, Season 4 of Game of Thrones has already been responsible for its share of reactions (SPOILER ALERT!) and has further proved why Westeros is apparently the worst place to have a wedding. This week brought out some mixed opinions about the transfer of a book scene to television. I am still ruminating on the ramifications of the scene in question and as a television viewer first and foremost (I have only read the first book and aim to stay at least two books behind because I enjoy watching the television show too much), I will wait to see where Mr. Weiss and Benioff take me, but for now, if you are watching, read Andy Greenwald because he writes amazing things about an amazing television show.

My feeling after watching this video: I think we may be witnessing the birth of a political star…

The future of late night is bright with these two. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight debuts Sunday night on HBO. I remember his final The Daily Show with a nostalgic fondness.

Speaking of Late Night television, I admittedly have never been a Letterman guy. This is entirely a byproduct of my age (too young), my sensibility (I appreciate a different type of comedic irreverence), and my late night habits during formative late night habit-forming years (I have been a loyal follower of The Daily Show, an affinity that first awakened to the brilliant laughter and learning combination in college). Notwithstanding, I get it. I get why and how Letterman inspired a generation and why he is justifiably a comedic and television legend. Bill Simmons carves out a beautiful piece of prose to put all in perspective. Stephen Colbert (a Daily Show disciple on his own right) is the worthiest of replacements and will add to the already thriving renaissance of the medium.

Yes, they may not be the most incredible pre-publicity images I have seen, but they are still images from Jurassic World!Jurassic World

Bryce-Dallas-Howard Director-Chair

While on the subject of Steven Spielberg properties…will a collaboration with Tony Kushner be his next project or will it be a collaboration with Tom Hanks? I will gladly take both.

Coldplay is making me very excited for their new album, Ghost Stories, out May 19-20. Every song they have put out thus far simultaneously sounds entirely unique and yet eerily connected to one another as if from some carefully constructed masterwork. The latest release (as a live BBC performance) of “Oceans” furthers this trend:

I have tried and failed to read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter follow up, The Casual Vacancy, four times now. The “right timing” stars have never aligned. Maybe this just announced HBO miniseries will quell the trend.

The Leftovers debuts this summer on HBO and has Damon Lindelof’s stamp written all over it. The long awaited return to television by The Lost showrunner presents something extraordinary.

Finally, two games in, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s 2014 postseason is OUT OF CONTROL. Whether the Blazers win the series or not (Houston is heading back to Portland down 2-0), Aldridge’s rise to one of the game’s elite players (and mid-range jumper master) has already happened.

World: Meet Sam Smith

Saturday Night Live has been the platform for many a star creation. Belushi. Murray. Murphy. Myers. Farley. Ferrell. Fey. Fallon. Poehler. Meyers. Piscopo (Well, maybe not Joe Piscopo). The most successful guest hosts (Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin) take advantage of the freedom of the sketch comedy show institution (and frequently the highest rated NBC show not associated with “Sunday” and “Football”)  to showcase their comedic range and acting chops. SNL musical acts are always a little bit of a wild card. You have your legends coming on to promote their longevity and boost ratings (Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger), legends who provide the nation a way to grieve (Paul Simon’s incredible rendition of “The Boxer” on the first SNL show after 9/11), musical heavyweights promoting a record (U2, Coldplay, Kanye), musical acts who host (Justin Timberlake, Drake, Britney), artists on the verge of arriving (The Lumineers), and artists who provide incredible unintentional comedy opportunities (Just watch this The Crash Test Dummies – mind you, this was a hit). The final category of musical acts, the almost complete unknowns to most viewers coming into their potentially career altering SNL appearance, either make something special of it (YouTube created Karmin came out of relative obscurity to perform on a 2012 SNL show and subsequently made themselves into a viable commercial success) or fall to even greater obscurity (where did you go, Alabama Shakes?).

This past weekendLouis C. K. hosted a show with a musical act from the latter category. When I first heard that “Sam Smith” would be appearing alongside my fellow Newton North Tiger alumnus, Louis C.K., the following questions came to mind:
1) Who is Sam Smith?
2) What other musical act cancelled in order for SNL producers to choose someone no one had heard of?
3) Is this the same Sam Smith as the long-time Chicago sports columnist?
4) If so, did Louis C.K. select him as some kind of off-beat extension of his standup act?
5) Will they actually have him perform twice?
6) What other things can I fit into my day now that my DVR re-watch will go that much faster after having skipped Sam Smith’s performances?
7) Again, who is Sam Smith?

Thankfully, I decided to give Sam Smith a shot and my future musical listening experiences will always be the better for it. This soulful, passionate, gorgeous vocalist is part Adele, part David Gray (in his majestic, ethereal tone), part dead ringer for early Culture Club Boy George, and all kinds of awesome. If you missed SNL this past weekend and were as in the dark as I was, let me introduce you to the light that is Sam Smith.

Watch to behold the majesty that is…

St. Patrick’s Day Bliss: Jimmy Fallon and Kermit the Frog

There are many ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

For my Dad, Danny Ainge, and Rob Lowe, it is a birthday celebration.

For NBA teams with a red and black color schemes, it is an excuse to wear green.


For others, St. Patrick’s Day is a reason for parades and excessive (and frankly, unnecessary) inebriation.

After last night, I am not sure I could think of two better individuals to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with than Jimmy Fallon and a green icon in his own right, Kermit the Frog.

Their interview is one thing…

…But this performance of “Bein’ Green” is something else entirely. Classic Fallon. Classic Kermit. Classic.

RANK EVERYTHING: Versions of “Say Something” on YouTube

This is the first installment of a new features series called RANK EVERYTHING.  In each installment, I will take a topic or category from pop culture and sports, no matter how essential (all-time favorite NBA players, a Lost character fantasy draft), random (best use of the name Walter), or essentially random (the third tracks off every U2 album a.k.a. The “With or Without You/One” Battle to the death), and make a ranking on a given scale or set of criteria.  Some rankings will be of manageable length (10-20), some rankings may be of a slightly unmanageable length (if I ever get around to my Top 100 movies, albums, or TV show lists), and some rankings may feature only one or two items (For example – Best/Strangest Use of “World” when an NBA player changes his name: 2. Metta World Peace [formally Ron Artest]; 1. World B Free [formally Lloyd Free]).  The goal: to rank everything.

One additional note: rankings will always count down: the lower the number, the [insert given adjective/qualifer here] the item.

RANK EVERYTHING: Versions of the song “Say Something” on YouTube

“Say Something” versions will be ranked on a subjective “best of” scale.  Both the musical content and the visuals will be taken into account.

The why: On my way to work this morning, I heard a compelling version of “Say Something” for first time (it ended up ranked first on this list after I concluded my research).  If you have been hibernating or have conscientiously objected to listen to any form of music since the fall, than you might have missed the “Say Something” phenomenon.  Otherwise however overplayed it may be (a fire I am admittedly fueling), it is hard to get this simple, yet so emotionally, melodically, and lyrically gratifying ballad out of your system.  Written by pop duo A Great Big World, “Say Something” reached a tipping point of success when it was featured on the So You Think You Can Dance finale last September.  Christina Aguilera heard the song, reached out to band members Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, and like a girl who gets what a girl wants, recorded it as a duet.  A The Voice performance, a memorable X Factor cover, and a whole lot of radio play later, “Say Something” has been saturated into our collective listening souls.  After this morning’s new version watch and listen, I wanted to determine the definitive (from this subjective commentator) “Best of” list of versions of “Say Something” on YouTube.

11) Trinh and Lily Li – I have included this version primarily for the unintentional comedy – the unnecessary riffing at the beginning, anytime Trinh or Lily touch hair, any time time they force harmony and intonation problems arise, any time Lily closes her eyes, the twitter handles included at the bottom, the potential that they are not actually in the same room – and Trinh and Lily to not disappoint.

10) Boy Epic – Four things I have learned from Boy Epic’s version of “Say Something”: 1) Boy Epic’s voice is more boy than epic; 2) I think that Boy Epic really believes that the visual story he tells in the video is totally epic; 3) I hope the woman in this video was paid; 4) Boy Epic may want to “give up” on the kind of riffing he does from the 3:11 to 3:16 mark.

9) Victoria Justice and Max – This video gets special recognition for going for an Alfonso Cuarón one-take approach (which is well-executed).  Unfortunately, the xylophone guy is a bit of a distraction and does not provide enough underscoring dynamics to justify inclusion.

8) Jackson’s Emotional Reaction – Poor Jackson.  “Say Something” really is a sad song and it was on Daddy’s computer too.  Hang in there, little guy.

7) Kait Weston and Brandon Skeie – Sound advice: buy stock in Kait Weston.  Her YouTube channel is the real deal and continues to impress. Brandon Skeie is a captain of his own reverberation domain and boy band phrasing aspirations.  The visuals are little less than and don’t make a whole lot of sense on this video, but the vocals grow on me with each new listen.

6) Jasmine Thompson – Oh my.  Her accent is everything.  Her “indie rocker chick” phrasing is delicate bliss.  I love when she “conducts” her own dynamics and versing.  This sounds like it could have been the original version of this song that all subsequent versions were based upon.

5) Alex and Sierra from The X Factor – The US X Factor experience had its share of low points (Khloe! Britney! Steve Jones!), but this performance may have been its shining moment.

4) A Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera – This is the definitive version of this song (thank you Christina for suggesting your participation) and still holds up after all these months.  The physical chemistry between Ian Axel and Christina does not really work (nor does the director when he asks Christina to “act it out”), but their voices are a most beautiful blend.  Credit to Christina for knowing that less is more for this song.

3) PS22 Chorus – I didn’t know such a melancholic, sad song could produce so much joy.  The PS22 Chorus of Public School 22 in Staten Island takes some talented fifth graders and makes musical magic.  These kids are simply amazing.

2) A Great Big World from the Billboard Sessions – I have to give Ian Axel credit.  In a sea of so many great performances of this airtight, lyrical melodic-melding of a song, it is the songwriter who understands it best.  His piano to voice to lyric connections are the strongest of any iteration I have seen.  I appreciate the Christina duet version, but hearing Ian here gives the clearest voice of how the song was intended to be performed.  Incredible.

1) Pentatonix – …for the win.  I am speechless.

What do you all think?  Are there any versions I missed?  How would your rankings differ?

The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon begins!

The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon began in the same way Late Night with Jimmy Fallon ended.  Yes, it is a new studio, a new set, and a more realistic live viewing time slot.  Yes, The Tonight Show is a more prestigious and honored cultural institution than Late Night (with all due respect to Conan and Letterman before him), a legacy that Johnny Carson built in his thirty years as host. This is absolutely a big deal, but as Jimmy Fallon’s first pre-monologue graciously gave reverence to his Mom and Dad sitting in the audience, to the Roots and their adaptive musical brilliance, to “announcer” Steve Higgins and his great friendship, to the lineage of hosts that came before him, to his wife Nancy and his baby daughter, Winnie Rose, and to both his loyal viewing audience and to those that may find their way to him now that he is on at an earlier time, it was Jimmy’s emotional generosity that once again set the tone.

From his beautiful Muppets performance of “The Weight” to end Late Night to this gracious and personal opening act, Jimmy Fallon’s greatness stems from his unabashed willingness to open his heart to his audience.  In his first Tonight Show couch interview with Will Smith, Jimmy was his usual, self-effacing self.  Discussing the incredible line of friends (more on this in a  bit) who lost a faux $100 bet that Jimmy would never host The Tonight Show, Will Smith, perhaps the last real movie star still standing, turned to a humbled Fallon and said, “People are coming because of your heart.”  Amen, Fresh Prince.

Some highlights from night one of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon:

• An incredible array of friends came to wish Jimmy well (and pay up for doubting the possibility of his new hosting duties). Robert De Niro. Tina Fey. Joe Namath. Rudy Giuliani. Mariah Carey. Tracey Morgan. Joan Rivers. Kim Kardashian. Seth Rogen. Lindsay Lohan. Sarah Jessica Parker. Mike Tyson. Lady Gaga. Stephen Colbert.  Could there possibly ever be a more diversified group of honored guests?

• Jimmy Fallon and Will Smith presented “The Evolution of Hip Hop Dancing.”  The degree of sweating says everything.

• If you are going to begin your time on The Tonight Show with a big musical guest, book U2.  The high point comes at 9:16 when the Edge begins an acoustic performance of the wrong song.

Tonight’s show features Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig, and Lady Gaga, so there’s pretty much every reason to watch. I am rooting for Jimmy Fallon.