Without Sly Stone I Wouldn’t Be Here Today

When I was a teenager my mom told me the story about how she found out my dad really loved her. When they were dating my dad drove her all the way to Detroit — a two-and-a-half hour trip — to see Sly and the Family Stone in concert. But when they arrived at the venue they discovered that the show had been canceled. And she knew he really loved her because when the gig was rescheduled my dad was willing to drive her back across the state to see the make-up date. True love!

I’ve always loved this story. First of all, it shows my parents were hip enough to be into Sly back in the day. Then, as I got older I decided it would make a juicier story to claim that I had been conceived after a Sly and the Family Stone concert, which would also explain why I am so damn funky. It’s simple if slightly salacious to reinterpret my mom’s “I knew he loved me” by adding the unsaid “…enough to do it with him” to the end.

Besides, I had already figured out that there were only seven months between their wedding and my birthday, so although my grandma always insisted that “sometimes the first one comes earlier” than the standard nine months, I realized that when my dad proposed to my mom at Big Boy’s they had gotten themselves into a bit of a situation. My mom said that since my dad (who was 28 at the time) had been married and divorced twice already, he couldn’t ask his friends for another wedding present so they eloped in Las Vegas.

The story has a happy ending: I was born and turned out awesome, and my parents had a happy, loving marriage.

But I recently started wondering if my interpretation of the Sly Stone story might actually be true. So I tried to find out if there indeed had been a Sly show in Detroit approximately nine months before I was born. Sure enough, a December 1970 article by the AP’s Mary Campbell verified my mom’s story (“A November concert in Detroit was canceled about an hour before it was to start. […] A make-up concert in Detroit, a week after the canceled one, subsequently is held.”), and the timing fits my version of events.

So I guess that proves beyond reasonable doubt why I am so damn funky.

Continue reading Without Sly Stone I Wouldn’t Be Here Today

2015 Soundscan Data: Total Music Sales and Consumption

Last year Soundscan was rebranded as Nielsen Music. Whatever, I’m still going to call it Soundscan. I’m a fogey like that.

2015 was the year that streaming really took off. Apple finally got into it after acquiring Beats, which had acquired my beloved MOG. Apple Music still kinda sucks, but I renewed my subscription after my three month free preview ran out. I’ve gotten my money’s worth by downloading all those Velvet Underground box sets and a bunch of other stuff. Some of it I probably would have bought, some of it I probably wouldn’t have.

My favorite albums of the year were Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear, and Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. I also liked Craig Finn’s Faith In the Future, Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free, Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material, the Mountain Goats’ Beat the Champ, Wilco’s Star Wars, and I’m happy the Libertines got their shit together enough to pull off Anthems for Doomed Youth.

But the biggest story of 2015 was Adele who proved that there are still a bunch of people out there who are willing to pay for an album. Billboard’s Ed Christman points out, “By herself, Adele accounted for three percent of total album sales in the U.S.” Which is insane. 25 sold 7.44 million copies. That would have been bonkers in any year, but it’s especially crazy in these days of cultural fragmentation.

Anyway, here’s the data…

Total U.S. Album sales (physical + digital in millions)

Total Album Sales (physical + digital albums)

2015: 241.39 million
2014: 257.02 million
2013: 289.41 million
2012: 315.96 million
2011: 330.57 million
2010: 326.15 million
2009: 373.9 million
2008: 428.4 million
2007: 500.5 million
2006: 542.4 million
2005: 618.9 million
2004: 667 million
2003: 687 million
2002: 681 million
2001: 763 million
2000: 785 million
1999: 754.8 million
1998: 711 million
1997: 651.8 million
1996: 616.6 million
1995: 616.4 million (I’ve heard the figure is 616,957,000)
1994: 614.7 million (I’ve heard the figure is 615,266,000)
1993: ~573 million (1994 was 7.4% increase over 1993)

Continue reading 2015 Soundscan Data: Total Music Sales and Consumption

New Libertines video: You’re My Waterloo

Video: The Libertines – “You’re My Waterloo”

The Libs have released a video for the latest single off their reunion album Anthems for Doomed Youth. Pete handles lead vocals on this ballad, but he and his band mates do not appear in the video.

Continue reading New Libertines video: You’re My Waterloo

Overall Album Sales New Weekly Low: 3.51 Million (in September)

Bill boredJust over a year ago, Billboard announced a major change in the way it calculates its Billboard 200 album chart, incorporating streams and individual track sales. At the time I whined about it because I believe the main album chart should reflect which albums people are actually purchasing.

But the biggest bummer that I had not anticipated is that Keith Caulfield stopped reporting the overall album sales total in his weekly Chart Beat column. I loved that paragraph because it showed a bigger picture of the health of the album industry beyond the top ten or even the top 200 biggest sellers of the week. It was also morbidly fascinating to keep track of how low it could dip. The lowest I saw it go before the chart change was 4.05 million in July 2014.

Well it’s gone down even further since then as Caulfield revealed in an aside in his coverage of Adele’s historic sales week: “The lowest week in Nielsen history for album sales was the frame ending Sept. 17, when only 3.51 million albums were sold.”

That is not a lot of records.

Billboard’s Ed Christman has previously reported that “The highest one-week tally recorded during the Soundscan era is 45.4 million albums, in late December, 2000.” In the same article, Christman estimates that the lowest pre-Soundscan period was 1973 when weekly sales probably “totaled around 5.5 million units.”

So now the question becomes: When will weekly album sales dip below 3 million?

* * *

Another interesting fact in Caulfield’s piece is that last week’s overall album sales were 8.2 million of which 25 represented 41% (3.38 million). Numbers 2 through 100 sold 1.48 million, which leaves 3.34 million albums sold outside of the top 100. Those are all albums that sold less than 5,000 copies each. The long tail lives!

Adele’s Album Sales Are Historically Bonkers

Adele’s new album, 25, sold 3.38 million copies in its first week in the United States. This is bonkers. That’s more — way more — than any other album has sold in a week since Nielsen started tracking real sales in 1991.

Only one other album has sold more than two million albums in a week, and nobody’s sold three million. *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached sold 2.42 million in 2000. For the mathematically challenged, 25 sold 960,000 more copies than its closest rival which happened to be released at the absolute zenith of record sales. Billboard‘s Glenn Peoples has some crazy figures that claim that adjusted for inflation (or something) this would somehow be “equivalent to her selling 7.59 million units in 2000.” I don’t know about that, but I know that 3.38 million is a shitload of records in 2015 or any other year.

Pre-SoundScan data is unreliable at best, but it took Sgt. Pepper three months to sell 2.5 million copies according Bob Spitz’s Beatles biography. Beatles' Record-Busting LP (Rolling Stone Dec 21 1968)It took Meet the Beatles four years to sell 5.8 million copies, according to issue No. 24 of Rolling Stone. That same 1968 article points out that the top selling album of all time then was The Sound of Music soundtrack with 8 million. It was front page news that Capitol Records had shipped 3,301,275 copies of the White Album to stores.

So this is big news.

In addition to those 3.38 million “pure album sales” 25 also moved 96,000 “track equivalent album units” and another 8,000 “streaming equivalent album units” bringing its official Nielsen total to 3.48 million equivalent album units.

More sales details: 1.71 million compact discs, 1.64 million digital albums, 22,000 vinyl albums. Sorry hipsters, there was no official cassette release.

A year ago when Taylor Swift sold 1,287,000 copies of 1989, I pointed out how rare it’s always been to sell more than a million albums in a week. SoundScan began compiling its figures May 25, 1991, and for the first 8 years there were only two albums that achieved it. The year 2000 was insane when there were 5 albums that broke the million mark, but since then it’s been about one album per year despite the fact that album sales have been declining steadily. It’s obvious now that 2000 was a bubble.

But Adele is a force of nature. The question now is how long will 25 keep selling? I was mesmerized by the staying power of 21, which managed to sell 100,000 copies every week for what seemed like forever. Will 25 have those kinds of legs? We shall see.

Continue reading Adele’s Album Sales Are Historically Bonkers

Live: Tav Falco at the Tip Top Deluxe

What year was it? Must’ve been 93, right? My senior year of college, because Amy and Sarah were already living down there. I still can’t believe we found them. It was Mardi Gras and me and my ridiculous friends drove from Kalamazoo to New Orleans with one phone number and no real plan. Nobody answered the first several times we called and we were all shitfaced on Bourbon Street when we decided we’d try one more payphone before crashing in the car. Thankfully, Sarah answered and gave us their address so we could sleep on the floor. The next morning the girls introduced us to their pals from the Royal Pendletons and we all went to the Zulu Parade together. Later (much later) we ended up in Uptown at a funky little club called Muddy Waters. The headliner was Tav Falco and his glorious Panther Burns. The last thing I remember was “It’s Only Make Believe.” There are photos of me passed out in the back seat of the Pendletons’ Ford Fairlane.

That was a long time ago. But that trip changed my life. I’ve learned a lot more about the history of rock and roll since I was a dopey college kid, and now I appreciate how lucky we were to get to experience that. So when I found out that Tav Falco would be playing a show in my hometown I knew I had to go. And to make it even more irresistible, Mike fucking Watt is now a touring member of the Panther Burns! Watt is a hero. For his ethics and his spiel as well as his mighty musicianship. And last night at the Tip Top Deluxe I got to stand six feet away from him as he worked his bass. And man oh man, what a sight that is!

It might seem like a weird fit, Watt playing in a rockabilly band, but neither Watt nor Falco should be pigeonholed so simply. They’re both far more complex than that. And yet it was pretty crazy to see Watt in a suit playing a violin bass when the band came on to “Green Onions.” But he was awesome.

Tav Falco was not happy with the sound system at the Tip Top. Poor Cliff (or was it Clyde?) the soundman got an earful from the stage. There was horrible feedback and apparently never enough vocals in the monitors. Despite that, Falco was never less than a captivating performer. He is a Southern gentleman and an elegant dancer. He is a survivor of the fucked up 70s Memphis art/music scene that included Alex Chilton, William Eggleston, Jim Dickinson, et al. In fact, the original Panther Burns were a collaboration with Chilton.

The set was mostly pulled from the new album, Command Performance. Lots of great songs, including one that featured a psychedelic Mike Watt bass solo. I was a little disappointed not to hear my faves like “Girl After Girl” and of course “It’s Only Make Believe” but when a guy’s been making music since 1979 you can’t expect to hear everything.

Grand Rapids is a funny little city and the Tip Top is a funny little bar. It’s in the middle of a rundown residential area on the city’s west side, and it feels like you’re hanging out in somebody’s rec room. The stage is a six-inch riser in the corner of the room with barely enough square footage to contain Falco, Watt, drummer Toby Dammit, guitarist Mario Monterosso, and keyboard player Francesco D’Agnolo. I saw Wayne Hancock here a few years ago. Still it felt like a coup for this venue to be able to book a Panther Burns show, and when they first announced this tour back in August, Grand Rapids was the only stop above the Mason-Dixon line. (They ultimately added Detroit and Chicago dates.)

After the set, I was sure to thank Falco for coming to Grand Rapids and he sold me his new CD for $20. Seems like a lot but he signed it for me. I always feel a little awkward approaching musicians after a show. The band had stepped off the little stage and scattered into seats at tables around the club. I know that some touring folks don’t like shaking hands for fear of catching cold on the road, so I asked Mike Watt if I could have a handshake or a hug. He immediately shook my hand and I leaned in to thank him for playing a great set, but as I did he stood up to give me a hug and I accidentally knocked his glasses right off his face! I felt terrible but he was nice about it.

Continue reading Live: Tav Falco at the Tip Top Deluxe

New Libertines is better than you’d expect

Video: The Libertines – “Heart Of The Matter”

I’m a big Libertines fan. Their 2002 debut Up the Bracket is one of my favorite albums of the millennium so far, and their 2004 self-titled follow up is pretty good, too. Back in the day, I saw the Peteless touring version of the band twice. And while their solo careers haven’t always lived up to their potential, I’ve always held out hope that if they got back together they could rekindle the magic. But realistically, I knew that after this long it was probably going to suck.

Anthems for Doomed Youth doesn’t suck. There are moments that are great, and plenty more that are all right. I need to spend more time with it before I can be sure whether to file it (in my mind) up with the first two albums or down there next to the Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things albums.

“Heart Of The Matter” is one of the immediate highlights. With Pete and Carl trading off verses and self-mythologizing/demonizing lyrics, it takes the classic Libs formula and updates it with 10+ years of life experience. The video is corny and the “twist” ending is obvious, but it’s still fun to see these guys go all Reservoir Dogs in a peep show booth. Get it? The audience demands to see celebrities acting badly! Deep as a puddle, but hey, at least it looks pretty cool.

Image via Albion Rooms.

Continue reading New Libertines is better than you’d expect

New Willie Nelson and Kacey Musgraves video: Are You Sure?

Video: Kacey Musgraves – “Are You Sure?” (ft. Willie Nelson)

Is there anything prettier in the whole wide world than Willie Nelson’s guitar tone? No, I don’t think there is.

“Are You Sure?” is a “hidden track” on Musgraves’ latest album, Pageant Material. I suppose the uncommerciality of making a video for a hidden track is pretty much “on-brand” for this outsider country singer, but she’s gotta follow her arrow wherever it goes, right? No matter what, she’s got a great voice and the song is awesome and ragged old Willie is just a bonus.

Here’s Willie’s original from his 1965 album, Country Willie: His Own Songs.

Country Willie - His Own Songs

Photos: Father John Misty at Lollapalooza 2015

Father John Misty is one of my favorite artists of the past several years. His two albums are both awesome, and he played my favorite set at Lollapalooza 2013. I already bought my tickets to (finally) see him in a non-festival environment in September. So I was definitely excited for his set this year. But he was in a foul mood and I left disappointed.

In 2013 he was mean but funny, making fun of meatheads in the back of the crowd as well as the douchebags in the VIP sections. This year his shtick was more of a whiny crybaby, bitching about his lousy time slot (Friday at 2:30, an hour earlier than in 2013 and on a crappier stage — the Petrillo shell has no jumbotrons) and griping about how he doesn’t sell a lot of albums. He just seemed grouchy. And we knew he had abandoned “the demonic clown thing” but it was a bummer to watch him half-ass his way around some ironic “robot” moves. He just didn’t appear to be having any fun.

You used to be able to watch three songs from the livestream, but those have been unceremoniously yanked. No idea why. Maybe because he was such a grumpalumpagus.

I’m hoping he’s in a better mood on his tour in September. In the meanwhile, check out some of GLONO photographer Jolie Brown’s pictures of the set.

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Continue reading Photos: Father John Misty at Lollapalooza 2015

Photos: Charli XCX at Lollapalooza 2015

Charli XCX is a rock star. Or at least she should be. She’s got a badass all-girl band who stole their look from the Runaways and play crunchy power pop to match. Charli looks and acts like a snotty club kid. Her records have the glossy sheen to sneak into mainstream pop radio, but live in concert, her sound is way more tough. Either way, I love it. Her music is rebellious and dangerous in the classic way that makes parents shudder but is ultimately harmless. “Oh dad, it’s just a song.” Whatever kid, just stick to the Kidz Bop version.

She played Schubas in 2013 (capacity: ~165), which would have been great to see. But even in the bright daylight of a packed Lollapalooza field she controlled the crowd, demanding more people up on shoulders. The crowd complied. It was awesome.

You can watch a couple of songs from the official livestream:

Video: Charli XCX – “I Love It” (live at Lollapalooza)

Video: Charli XCX – “Break the Rules” (live at Lollapalooza)

GLONO photographer Jolie Brown got a bunch of great pictures of the set. Here are some of the best.

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Continue reading Photos: Charli XCX at Lollapalooza 2015