Disco Lives!

Left of the Dial

Disco Lives!

Posted by on Jul 9, 2019

This Friday marks the 40th anniversary of “Disco Demolition Night” when an irreverent Chicago disc-jockey by the name of Steve Dahl tried to kill off an entire genre of music. The scene of the crime was Comiskey Park, where the White Sox were hosting a twi-night doubleheader on July 12, 1979. Dahl asked his listeners to come out to the ballpark with disco records so he could blow them up in center field between games.  What was supposed to be a silly and small radio promotion turned into national news when thousands of drunk and disorderly teenagers stormed the field chanting “disco sucks” and vandalized the grounds so much that the Sox had to cancel and forfeit the second game.

Photos and news footage of the melee went viral — as viral as 1979 could be — and it resonated with enough like-minded teenagers that a tidal wave of backlash against disco soon led to a decline in its popularity. Disco stations and discotheques disappeared over night, while groups like the Bee Gees and Chic suddenly found it hard to receive airplay or sell records.

But did Dahl really kill an entire genre of music? Nah. Record companies and radio stations banished the word “disco” from their vocabulary and instead rebranded it as “dance music,” which is all it really was in the first place.

Disco lives on well into the 21st century under many different names. Along with dance music, there’s also club, house, electropop, dance-punk, big beat, and naturally, Nu-Disco. All of these genres have their roots in the classic “four-on-the-floor” sounds of disco and all remain thriving to this day.

Join Rick McNulty for a special salute to the glory and cheese of new and classic disco on this Friday’s edition of Left Of The Dial. And remember, you can’t kill a good music genre.

For further background on the infamous Disco Demolition Night, watch the short ESPN recap:

Rick McNulty hosts Left of the Dial on Fridays 7-11pm and Uptown Saturday Night on Saturdays, 7-10 pm. Follow him on Twitter @Rick_Daddy

All Covers Weekend

KUTX Shows

All Covers Weekend

Posted by on Jul 23, 2018

Rick McNulty hosts Left of the Dial on Fridays 7-11pm  and Uptown Saturday Night on Saturdays, 7-10 pm. Follow him on Twitter @Rick_Daddy

What makes for a good cover? What makes somebody’s version of someone else’s song interesting? I think it’s the art of taking the familiar and obscuring it in such a way that it becomes a different experience. Think of Picasso making copies of his realistic Blue Period paintings by instead using his eccentric Cubist methods. Same painting, but a totally different experience.

A good cover reveals a good song. If the original is well-written and has a solid foundation, you can cut it in an entirely new fashion or a different genre and a good song will always stand up. It’s like the songwriter left a blueprint and all it takes is a good contractor to embellish the original plans to make something just as impressive.

We’re not talking about just copying a song note for note, like Gus Van Sant remade Hitchcock’s Psycho shot for shot. Who needs that? A good cover changes the arrangement or the timbre–the feel of a song–and shapes it into something new so the performer can make it their own.

Below are the playlists from the all-covers shows I recently hosted. The first is from Left Of The Dial, where you’ll hear covers done in all different styles. There’s every genre here from bluegrass to punk and from electronic to rockabilly.

The second playlist is for Uptown Saturday Night where I focused exclusively on R&B and Soul artists covering hits and remaking them in their own image. One of my favorites is Solomon Burke repurposing “Proud Mary” as a story about his black ancestors who worked on the riverboat as it rolled down the Mississippi River. You’ll also hear Aretha, Etta, Brother Ray, James Brown, and a host of other soul singers infuse familiar pop hits with a massive amount of soul. Put any one of these songs on a mixtape or a playlist, and you have a party on your hands. [Note that several tracks from this show are not available on Spotify or are simply out of print and undigitized as of 2018.]


Rick’s Picks for SXSW 2018

Left of the Dial

Rick’s Picks for SXSW 2018

Posted by on Mar 13, 2018

Rick McNulty hosts Left of the Dial on Fridays and Uptown Saturday Night on Saturdays, 7-11 pm. Follow him on Twitter @Rick_Daddy

After spending the past two weeks swimming through the morass of SXSW artists, I think I finally have my essential acts to see. [Note to our Austin bands: though I will no doubt catch some of you this week, I didn’t include you in this discussion since we can fortunately see you year-round.]

My first priority is to catch U.S. Girls, which is the moniker used by Meghan Remy. Her lyrics are subversive with a musical foundation that skews somewhere between Childish Gambino, Steely Dan, and a young Madonna. She just released her second album and may be primed for a breakout this year.

I’m also excited about the 20-year-old Sophie Allison, soon to be better known as Soccer Mommy. Clearly Allison comes from the school of Car Seat Headrest because A) she uses a ridiculous nom de plume; B) she’s barely old enough to vote; C) she knows her way around a guitar; and D) she writes songs that are as heartbreaking as they are cutting.

My third favorite pick for SXSW is a young British quartet known as Goat Girl. They have an elevated sense of humor (“Country Sleaze” and “Cracker Drool” are just two of their titles), are incredibly fun onstage, and speak to the malaise of our times. I hope they run into Kim Deal while they’re here — they’d have a lot to discuss.

More generally, if you’re on the prowl for straight up rock ‘n’ roll I recommend Naked GiantsMetzCanshaker Pi, or Ex-Girlfriends. And if you want something a little weirder, you’ll flip your wig with Superorganism, Sloppy Jane, Girlyboi, or De Lux.

Here’s a Spotify playlist with my 30 picks for this week. Good luck out there!

Sgt. Pepper’s Thunder & Lightning

Left of the Dial

Sgt. Pepper’s Thunder & Lightning

Posted by on Jun 1, 2017

Rick McNulty hosts Left of the Dial on Fridays and Uptown Saturday Night on Saturdays, 7-11 pm. Follow him on Twitter @Rick_Daddy

Peter-Blake-Sgt.-Pepper’s-Lonely-Hearts-Club-Band-19671For those who aren’t sure what all the fuss is about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, let me give you the crib notes: fifty years ago the biggest rock band of all-time decided they were finished with touring and exhausted of being fabulous for the rest of the world’s sake. They retreated to a famous recording studio and took their jolly time to make a seamless album (“jolly time” being roughly four and a half months). This album immediately became a cultural zeitgeist, signifying the glorious Sixties while sounding like nothing ever before or since. It’s a work of art and a masterpiece which changed the face of pop music forever. Get the picture? Oh, and the members of this band were all in their mid-twenties.

Timothy Leary freaks on the Beatles.

Timothy Leary freaks on the Beatles.

I know it sounds like hyperbole, but it’s all true. In the music world, time stopped in June of 1967 and began moving in an entirely different direction. Timothy Leary, the LSD-loving shaman of those heady days, put it this way: “I declare that The Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.” As ridiculous as it may sound fifty years later, Leary wasn’t that far off.

The problem with reconciling the grandeur attributed to Pepper is that for the last several decades, people only experienced the album in its original stereo version. Just about any Beatle fan will tell you that you haven’t heard Sgt. Pepper until you’ve listened to it in mono. This was a true statement until a week ago when Apple Records released the album with a new stereo mix to mark its 50th Anniversary.

General fanboy opinions are that the original stereo mix sounded anemic — the instruments and vocals were placed in wide stereo which often left a hole in the middle of your speakers. Part of the problem is that all four Beatles spent three weeks mixing the album to mono; when they finished they skedaddled and left it to producer George Martin and the engineers to make the stereo mix over a weekend. It wasn’t Martin’s fault that technology hadn’t caught up with the band — they had no choice but to bounce down piano, guitar and drums onto ONE track of a FOUR track recorder. In the Pepperland of 1967, they couldn’t separate each instrument onto its own track so the fidelity and placement suffered in the final mix — hence the disconnect between its legendary greatness and the actual paucity of the stereo record.

On the new stereo mix Giles Martin, son of George, was able to go back to the original four-track tapes and use the instruments before they were bounced down to one track. This means the fidelity will be sharper than anything we’ve ever heard before and that Giles can now place the separate tracks more “tastefully” in the stereo image.

"A young race of laughing freemen."

“A young race of laughing freemen.”

Before I get too Inside Baseball, let me tell you all you need to know about this 50th Anniversary remix: It’s explosive and it’s juicy. There’s a three-dimensional fleshiness to the sound that even the vaunted mono mix doesn’t quite capture. Whereas the original mono is a swift kick to the head and reveals the Beatles as a rock band, the new stereo version aims more at your chest with thunder, lightning, and all sorts of gravitas. The clarity of the instrumentation and vocals is astounding compared to what’s come before — which is discombobulating when you feel like you’re having an entirely new experience with an album you’ve already heard a thousand times.

Forget about the old version, unless yours is already in mono. The new release is essential to actually hear the majesty of what Sgt. Pepper was all about. And you gotta love the irony that it took fifty years for technology to finally catch up to those laughing freemen. 

A note for the hardcore collectors:

In addition to the new remix there’s plenty of outtakes and early versions in the 2-disc Deluxe Edition. More often than not they’re simply work tapes, which can be fascinating but not necessarily essential (with the exception of the first take of “Strawberry Fields Forever” which I demand to be played at my wake). In the Super Deluxe Edition there’s an excellent book, a thirty year old documentary, more outtakes, a bonus CD of the mono mix, and Surround Sound mixes of the entire album.

Marquee Moon 40th Anniversary

Left of the Dial

Marquee Moon 40th Anniversary

Posted by on Feb 23, 2017

Rick McNulty hosts Left of the Dial on Fridays, 7-11 pm. Follow him on Twitter @Rick_Daddy

What exactly is a “cult album?” To me, it’s a record that falls through the cracks and goes by largely unnoticed and sells poorly until several years later when scores of music nerds start talking about what a terrific album it was. We’re talking Pet Sounds, Da Capo, White Light/White Heat, Astral Weeks, Ram, Underwater Moonlight, and In An Aeroplane Over The Sea.

marquee moon med coverTelevision’s Marquee Moon is a quintessential cult favorite – it didn’t even crack the top 150 albums in the US – yet it’s had more staying power than most records that came out in the 1970s. And that’s because it’s timeless, it never sounds dated, and it was far ahead of its time when it came out in 1977. A lot of that has to do with Tom Verlaine’s songwriting (strong, forceful, elastic, and hooks galore) as well as the fevered guitar interplay between Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. Guitarists today still mine the album for inspiration and to decipher its code, as if scientists had developed the perfect DNA for the art of guitar weaving.

Like so many cult albums before it, Marquee Moon was a victim of being so far ahead of its time that their record label didn’t know how to market it and radio stations – beginning to succumb to corporate mentality of the late ‘70s – were afraid of it. Television toiled in obscurity; even the glowing reviews from the rock cognoscenti couldn’t save them. They’d break up eighteen months later.

If you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor. Listen to side 1, which in my mind is one of the greatest sides of music ever committed to vinyl. Four perfect songs in a row including an explosive, epic finish. It’s the real deal.

I remember how the darkness doubled
I recall lightning struck itself.