Music Archives

"Hear the Bells"

Every Christmas Eve, before the kids go to bed, we listen to Mannheim Steamroller’s "Silent Night" as the last thing in the day. Usually I’ll say a little something about remember family far away, or about soldiers deployed during this time. It’s usually short.

However this year, with the Newtown shooting, and getting some inspiration from different sources, I wrote this up. It gives us some perspective; how good most of us have it, how much some people are hurting, and how much God has for all of us.

And I dare you not to cry when you hear the toy piano plink out "Silent Night".

Merry Christmas.


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Review: Owl City, "The Midsummer Station"

Adam Young recently released his third CD, "The Midsummer Station", with a whirlwind tour of media appearances, including "America’s Got Talent" and the Today show. Taking on the band name "Owl City", this one-man band has already hit it big a couple of times now. You may have heard this on the radio.

And, if you watched the movie "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole" (yes, a movie about a city of owls), you might have heard this during the end credits.

Owl City’s previous CDs have had, as their hallmark, whimsical, imaginative lyrics, much like these hits. It’s not the sum-total of his work, but it’s certainly been what he’s best known for. Also, as a Christian, while his lyrics on released material are not overtly religious, he has used words that, understanding his religion, add further meaning to them. For example, the chorus from his song "Galaxies" (another imaginative song):

Dear God, I was terribly lost,
When the galaxies crossed,
And the Sun went dark.
Dear God, You’re the only North Star,
I would follow this far.

Where, elsewhere, the "Dear God" would be simply an interjection for emphasis, here it’s a prayer.

(I say the lyrics are not overtly religious "on release material", because he posted his rendition of "In Christ Alone" on his blog. I can’t find it there anywhere, but a YouTube video is here.)

With this as the backdrop, "The Midsummer Station" marks a few changes in the music of Owl City. First, there’s less of the one-man band aspect. His Wikipedia entry lists the current members as just "Adam Young – lead vocals, programming, keyboards, piano, synthesizers, guitars, bass guitar, drums, percussion, vibraphone". But on Midsummer, there is collaboration on vocal, writing and producing credits. On the vocal front, the first hit off the CD, "Good Times", pairs Young with Carly Rae "Call Me Maybe" Jepsen. Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus also appears for the track "Dementia".

Secondly, this CD moves Owl City towards more in the way of a rock sound and slightly away from the previous very-electronic sounding, synth-pop music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. My kids introduced me to Owl City, and I frankly loves the sound he put together on the previous CDs. So not moving too far from his roots is OK, as is his willingness to experiment with the sound and let go a little of the creative control.

Thirdly, the lyrics are less whimsical and more rooted in a concrete subject matter, even if the treatment is teenage-ish. Rather that musing about fireflies, Midsummer has two break-up songs, for example, in addition to the upbeat and uplifting songs. Adam said that the song "Dementia" was written when he was having some regrets. But not to leave it completely behind, "Metropolis" is a song that Superman might sing when he gets homesick.

There is one aspect of Owl City’s music that has not changed with this release; enunciation. Yeah, not something that you typically think of when listening to music. But hey, Mom and Dad (and I count myself as one of you), if you listen to this CD, you will not need a page of lyrics to know what’s being said. And yet, it doesn’t sound enunciated, not like a high school English teacher trying to get you to pronounce your words properly. It’s very natural and, with a combination of the sound mix and voicing, you always know the words. (Listen to one of the videos again to see what I mean.) I appreciate this, and even more so since he doesn’t try to drown out any Christian expression in the lyrics.

The song lyrics themselves might have felt at home in my high school years of the late 70s. And that may be why I like this CD; it’s a throwback to those fun days, where I can imaging blasting "Good Time" out the open windows cruising down the main drag with some buddies. It has cuts that would cause some teen being interviewed by Dick Clark on "American Bandstand" to say, "It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it; I give it a 90."

Some may find certain tracks a bit "cheesy", and I can understand that. But overall, I like this CD and would definitely recommend it to, well, friends of my kids, as well as old guys like me who did like the pop music scene in the late 70s/early 80s. It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it. I give it a 95.

The Old Fuddy-Duddy

I’ve been a bit of a techie for quite some time (I’m in the biz, so it comes with the territory). I’ve had e-mail in one form or another since the late 80s (using dial-up Unix machines). I keep up with what’s going on, even if I don’t buy the vast majority of it. I like what’s happening in the tech world, generally.

But there’s one thing I’ve not figured out. I’ve always preferred CDs that I can buy and hold. I can play them on a CD player or in my car. Anytime, anywhere. Sure, I’ve had MP3 players for a long time , but I’ve always pulled the audio from the CD first and then copied it to my player; first an old RIO player, then a Sansa, and these days an iPod Touch. Never an issue.

But for some reason, huge music publishers are trying to figure out a way to do exactly that; the same thing I’ve been doing for a decade.

Apple Inc. (AAPL) is in talks with record companies to give iTunes music buyers easier access to their songs on multiple devices, three people with knowledge of the plans said.

Apple is negotiating with music companies, including Vivendi SA (VIV)’s Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group Corp. (WMG) and EMI Group Ltd., said the people, who asked for anonymity because the talks are private. An agreement may be announced by midyear, two of the people said.

The arrangement would give users more flexibility in how they access purchased music. Apple and the record labels are eager to maintain demand for digital downloading amid rising popularity for Internet services such as Pandora Media Inc., which don’t sell tracks and instead let users stream songs from the Web, whatever the device.

Talk of streaming music providers aside (and I love Pandora), I already have access to my music on multiple devices. This is because I have the physical media and can do with it what I want. Today, not 4 months from now. It’s for this reason I don’t even intend to buy any music from the iTunes store.

I like the concept of buying just single songs that you like rather than a whole album that you might not like the rest of, but if it requires Apple and at least 5 other music publishing houses to figure out how to get the music you buy onto multiple platforms, did you really buy it in the first place?

Where’s the Line To See Jesus?

A song inspired by a 4-year-old’s question, after seeing the line to see Santa.  From the website:

While at the mall a couple of years ago, my then four year old nephew, Spencer, saw kids lined up to see Santa Claus. Having been taught as a toddler that Christmas is the holiday that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, he asked his mom, "where’s the line to see Jesus"? My sister mentioned this to my dad, who immediately became inspired and jotted words down to a song in just a few minutes.

And thus began a year-long try to get someone in the music industry interested.  Failing that, Becky Kelley recorded it herself and the family created their own video for it

Since then, they’ve done the recording up better, with full instrumentation, and created a new video for it.

And now you can buy it in iTunes.  Wonderful song.

Need a Little More Life In My Day

This song has been going through my head the past week, so now I’m sticking it in yours.  🙂

"Life in My Day"
More Life (2003)

Stevie Wonder Turns 60

When I was a teenager, I remember when my dad would marvel at how old some of the band leaders and performers of the Big Band era had gotten.  "[So-and-so] turns [some magic age]?  Wow."

Yeah, well now it’s my turn.

Little Stevie Wonder turns 60 today?  Wow.  Scott Johnson over at Powerline has a nice retrospective of his recording career and some good videos.  Steve Wonder hit the music scene when I was just 1 year old, so suffice to say that I didn’t catch his early career, but my musical interests were formed in the 70s when he had a number of hits in the top 40, all of which I enjoyed.

Do you remember the group "Stars on 45"?  In 1981 they came out with a Beatles medley, done by sound-alikes but very good ones.  In 1982 they recorded "A Tribute to Stevie Wonder", a medley of his biggest hits and (mostly) without the disco beat behind it that had become their trademark up until that point.  Folks came up to Stevie congratulating him on his new hit, because the singer sounded so much like the original.  I read in a magazine article that Steve had heard the song on the radio and was suitably impressed.

It’s a wonderful tribute, in that you realize how many songs of his you remember because you’re singing along with everything, and there are a lot of songs in this almost-8-minute medley.  (Click here for all the lyrics.)  And just before the final bit (of his first hit "Fingertips") are these lines from "A Place in the Sun".

There’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for everyone
Where my poor restless heart’s gotta run
There’s a place in the sun
And before my life is done
Got to find me a place in the sun

I believe he has. The video won’t embed, so click here to listen to some great musical history.

The Secret of Christmas

We had many Christmas music albums growing up.  Every time the Firestone or Goodyear companies put one out, or another compilation hit the stores, my dad (a self-described “Christmas-aholic”) would get it.  The first one home each evening would put a stack of LPs on the record player spindle and get it started.

We knew each version of the songs, which song by which artist followed which (we’d start singing or humming the next cut immediately after the previous one finished), and we even knew where to expect a skip in the record.  The pops and crackles became as much a part of the song as the singer, the arrangement and the lyrics were.

We had our favorites, and we also laughed at some of the awful renditions.  (You haven’t lived until you’ve suffered through John Wayne singing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”.  We love it just for how awful it is.)  One of my dad’s favorite secular Christmas songs from our LP collection is this little-known song done by Bing Crosby, “The Secret of Christmas”.  He liked it so much that I remember one afternoon he sat us down in the living room and had us write down the lyrics (one kids listened to the first line and started writing what he heard while the next kid was listening to the second line, etc.).  For a secular song, it really does a wonderful job of driving home the point that Christmas is not just a December 25th thing, and that one of the secrets of Christmas is not just smoothing things over at the end of the year, but it’s what you do the other 364 days that really matters.

Now, as a Christian, I have my own thoughts on how best to do this (and with who’s help I am able), but Christian or not, this is a song for everyone, and a message for us all.

It’s not the glow you feel when snow appears.
It’s not the Christmas card you’ve sent for years.
Not the joyful sound when sleigh bells ring,
Or the merry songs children sing.

That little gift you send on Christmas Day,
Will not bring back the friend you’ve turned away,
So may I suggest the secret of Christmas
Is not the things you do at Christmas time,
But the Christmas things you do all year through.

I found out recently that this song was done in a movie (“Say One For Me”, 1959).  This is a YouTube clip from the movie with Bing singing the tune.  It’s not the version that was on our LP, but I like the video for this one better.

The Secret of Christmas

(The LP version is also on YouTube, as well as many other versions including those by Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Andrews, and a fantastic acapella version where one guy sings all 4 parts.)

And, for those of you who know my dad, this is one of the reasons he’ll tell you “Merry Christmas” just about anytime;   Christ came to redeem the whole year.

Merry Christmas!

Shire Network News #166 – Bruce Bawer

Shire Network News #166 has been released. The feature interview is with Bruce Bawer, the Oslo-based US author of "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within" and Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom about his experiences as a gay man in what he thought would be a more tolerant European society, and what happened when he ran into radical Islam on the streets of Amsterdam one night. Click here for the show notes, links, and ways to listen to the show; directly from the web site, by downloading the mp3 file, or by subscribing with your podcatcher of choice.

Below is the text of my commentary.

News coverage this week

Hi, this is Doug Payton for Shire Network News asking you to "Consider This!"

I’ve heard this sentiment many times.  "Why do we pay pro athletes millions of dollars a year, but pay teachers so little?  Which is more important?"  Indeed, it is true that occupations like teachers, fire fighters, and police aren’t paid in accordance with their importance in our society.  Instead football, basketball and baseball players, who strut and fret their hour upon the field and then are heard no more, are lavished with huge salaries and signing bonuses.  Who decided that was how society should remunerate people?

Frankly, we did.  We pay the athletes when we pay big ticket prices at games, when we watch the Super Bowl commercials, and when we buy sport memorabilia.  And we pay our teachers when we give their jobs over to the government, when we vote for politicians who waste our tax money on pork barrel projects instead of salaries and when we cheer while spending ourselves into huge debt.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying professional sports, but if you want to know why the disparity, there it is.

Here’s another, similar sentiment.  When Private William Long was gunned down by a Muslim who was upset about US military actions, it garnered a bit of coverage.  The Commander-in-Chief did come out with a statement on the incident, 2 days after the fact.  But aside from some conservative blogs, it was soon forgotten.  Here was essentially a kid, who’d hadn’t yet seen combat, killed in his prime.  He was willing to lay down his life for his country, and he wound up doing just that soon after finishing basic training.  This was a kid worthy of having the country hear his story; worthy of mourning.

When singer Michael Jackson died…well, you know what happened.  Here was essentially a man who was obsessed with his appearance to the point of overindulging in plastic surgery, and was taking a cocktail of pain killers as a result (and a cocktail of mood enhancers, hinting at the cause of the indulgence in plastic surgery).  Here’s a guy who dangled his child over a balcony, although the lineage of his children is now in question.  Speaking of children, here’s a guy who has had very questionable relationships with young boys.  And, oh yes, he had some hit songs in the 70s and 80s.  Since his death, there’s been non-stop coverage of it and its aftermath.  Who decided this is how news coverage should be doled out?

Frankly, we did.  We decided when people flocked the Apollo Theater and Neverland Ranch.  We did when we conferred on him the title of "King of Pop".  We did when we did all this while ignoring or brushing off his Howard-Hughes-like behavior, becoming no better than the codependent Yes-men and Yes-women he surrounded himself with.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a song on the radio or buying a vintage copy of the "Thriller" album.  But if you want to know why the disparity, there it is.

I don’t know, maybe I’m turning into my dad, who didn’t quite get the whole deal made over the death of John Lennon.  Or perhaps I’ve always been him; I didn’t quite get it either.  Yeah, the Beatles were music legends, but really.  You see video of girls crying when the Beatles came on stage, but just recently, as news of the release of Michael Jackson’s last rehearsal tape leaking hit all the evening cable news outlets, one channel was replaying a concert that the Jacksons did just a few years ago.  Yup, crying girls. 

This isn’t a generational thing; it’s a celebrity thing.  It’s image and packaging, and it’s ignoring what’s important to elevate that which is, essentially, a facade.

It’s kind of like electing a President who promises change, and then doesn’t, or who promises fiscal responsibility while spending us into a level of debt previously unimaginable.  But he says the right things and makes a good speech, and the Left in this country just drools over it.  You can almost hear the teenage girls crying in the audience, and the teenage boy on the old "American Bandstand" show saying, "Well it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it; I give it a 95."

If we don’t watch it, we might look right past obvious problems, buy into the image and elect a Michael Jackson, or a John Lennon…or a Vladimir Lenin.  Some might say we already have. 

Oh, and as a public service, and in case you missed it while watching the Michael Jackson coverage; there are reports that North Korea will be testing an ICBM and more nuclear devices soon.  Y’know, you may want to consider this.

25 Random Things About Me

This is a meme that blazing through Facebook; you write 25 random things about you and tag 25 other people to do it themselves.  Usually these are short, 1-sentence items, but, hey, I blog; I can’t just do a quick list.

For your information, here’s what I wrote:

Personal note: This is probably longer than the usual response to this meme. I’m like that (and it’s one of the 25 items below).

I’m a Christian, I love Jesus, and I don’t apologize for it. I won’t beat you over the head with it, but I certainly won’t hide it, either. If you ask, I’ll answer.

The way I met my wife Susan is one of those small-world stories. While working at a summer camp after my senior year of high school, I met her sister, Joy, who was also a counselor. She was going to be a senior at the same college I would be a freshman at; Asbury College. So I got to know her to find out more about Asbury. Then, my senior year, as I was bringing my sister to the school (her freshman year) I saw Susan and though, “I either know her, or someone related to her.” They looked very much alike. Separately, I got to know a guy named Kevin who was also a freshman and was taking computer classes (as was I). Turned out that Susan and he went to the same missionary boarding school in Malaysia (Dalat International School).

My first car was a 1976 Dodge Coronet Crestwood station wagon, which was already rather old by the time I purchased it in 1983 from Zikakus Chevrolet (Ithaca, NY). It was so big, I named it the Battlestar Galactica. Its size came in handy, from carting a carload for camp staff breaks, to hauling all the luggage back to school after a van accident at an Asbury College SASF retreat, to hauling everything I owned in the world to my first job in Atlanta, GA. Sometimes, in order to start it, I had to take the air filter cover off, put something in the “butterfly” flap to keep it open (like a stick), and then it would crank up. Susan and I went on our honeymoon in it because the Ford Escort I had purchased in Atlanta was stolen shortly before the wedding. More and more started going out on it (power steering pump, radiator) that, in 1987, I finally gave it to the auto mechanic who’d worked on it for so long so he could scrap it for parts.

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What Would We Do Without Studies?

They spent money on this?

Sexual content on television is strongly associated with teen pregnancy, a new study from the RAND Corporation shows.

Researchers at the nonprofit organization found that adolescents with a high level of exposure to television shows with sexual content are twice as likely to get pregnant or impregnate someone as those who saw fewer programs of this kind over a period of three years. It is the first study to demonstrate this association, RAND said.

Next week, RAND comes out with their study that gravity leads to falling.

The suggested remedy is equally obvious.

A central message from the study is that there needs to be more dialogue about sex in the media, particularly among parents and their children, said Anita Chandra, the study’s lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND.

Although the Hollywood culture is certainly a major contributor to the oversexualization of the media (and they could do their part, but won’t, and will whine publicly and loudly if you suggest they do), parents still need to be the gatekeeper.

As my kids would say, "Thank you, Captain Obvious!"

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