Category Archives: Articles

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.

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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

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?

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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

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.

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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

Photos: Gogol Bordello at Lollapalooza 2015

Gogol Bordello is a fun, fun band. It’s impossible to not get wrapped up in their enthusiasm. They played Lollapalooza in 2010 and my college-age cousin who was staying with us and watching our kid that summer highly recommended them. But like most grouchy older dudes, I stupidly dismissed the opinions of a young girl. But I ended up catching the last 15 minutes of their set that year which was enough to convince me that 1) Gogol Bordello is a hell of a band, and 2) young girls are way cooler than grouchy old dudes. I’m learning. It’s a process.

So this year they were near the top of my “must see” list. And they delivered. What a show. Frontman Eugene Hütz crashed onto the stage chugging and spilling a bottle of red wine, his guitar flailing around his body on the world’s flimsiest strap, and he sang in a thick Russian accent with conviction and charisma.

If you’re unfamiliar with their music check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert or just download “Wanderlust King” from a BBC session.

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

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Continue reading Photos: Gogol Bordello at Lollapalooza 2015

Watch video of John Lennon at the Hit Factory in 1980

Video: John Lennon – “I’m Losing You” 1980 The Hit Factory

This footage has become something of a Holy Grail for Lennon fans. We know that director Jay Dubin shot video footage at the Hit Factory recording studio in August of 1980 for promotional videos for “(Just Like) Starting Over” and “I’m Losing You.” Afterward, John was apparently unhappy with his appearance and allegedly destroyed the footage. (By September he had cut his hair short.) A brief clip of Yoko’s “I’m Moving On” from the same session later appeared in a 1984 A&E documentary (“Yoko Ono: Then & Now”), which offered hope that the rest of the video still existed somewhere.

The above video is a montage of some of this newly unearthed B-roll footage mixed together with the 1998 video featuring Cheap Trick that was made to promote the Lennon Anthology box set. Surely if the powers that be had access to this footage in 1998 they would have used it, which proves this is a new discovery. Hopefully, some of the A-roll footage survives as well; it would be great to see some closeups of John lip-syncing the song. Then again, I would guess the bootleggers who made this video would have used it if they had it.

Still, it’s cool to finally be able to see the last professionally shot video footage of John Lennon before he was killed on December 8. Look at that funky guitar!

Continue reading Watch video of John Lennon at the Hit Factory in 1980

Lollapalooza 2015: I Don’t Care, I Love It

Remember when Lollapalooza was alternative?

You’re forgiven if you don’t. They gave up on that idea by 1996 when they first booked Metallica as a headliner.

Remember when fests had their own identities? Bonnaroo was a rootsy jam band festival, etc. These days bands just rotate through the major summer music festivals, year by year. Cocahella last year, Bonnaroo this year, Lollapalooza next year. Repeat ad infinitum.

Just in Chicago if you attended Lolla, Pitchfork, and Riot Fest, you’d have the opportunity to see pretty much every band who’s currently touring. Sad you missed missed Run the Jewels and Courtney Barnett at Lolla last year? They both played P4k this year. Chances are they’ll both have a nice big font on the Riot Fest 2016 poster.

It’s quite a time to be a music fan. Then again you might ask yourself whether an outdoor music fest is the best way to experience live music. There are certainly a lot of hassles at these kinds of fests (comfort, sound, food, toilets, and on and on). But if you’re the type of person who likes to make a notch in your belt for every band you see, festivals can help you out with that.

I’ve always enjoyed Lollapalooza. It’s fun to enter into the mayhem for one weekend per year. For me, the fun has always outweighed the hassles. Then again I also don’t mind going to IKEA once in a while. Your mileage may vary.

Highlights this year were Paul McCartney, First Aid Kit, Charli XCX, and Gogol Bordello.

Surprises were Alabama Shakes (way more fun than I expected), Metallica (ditto), and Twin Peaks (I had avoided them because of their dumb name but they’re exactly the kind of band I love).

Disappointments were Father John Misty (grumpy), Lame Impala (I think I stole that joke from Twitter), Albert Hammond, Jr (sang like the guy from Midnight Oil), and the disappearance of the falafel vendor who kept me alive for the past seven or eight Lollas.

Scheduling conflicts made me miss Tove Lo, War on Drugs, Bully, and Shakey Graves.

Continue reading Lollapalooza 2015: I Don’t Care, I Love It