Coach Spector

So Kobe sets up on the perimeter and Shaq works the post. Fisher, I want you to backdoor your pass from the foul line over to Gasol. And please make sure you write a bridge!

As readers of some of my previous posts might already know, there is nothing I enjoy more than correlating music with sports. Today I would like to ask this profound-yet-absolutely-meaningless-question:  Just how important is the coach to a team or a record “producer” to an artist when it comes to success?

Is George Martin the greatest record producer ever because he happened to be in the room during all of those Beatles recordings or because of his influence in that room? Is Phil Jackson the greatest coach who ever lived because of the triangle offense and his ability to motivate or was he lucky to have Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe? Would George Martin be able to get the same results with, say, a band like Strawberry Alarm Clock?  Would Phil Jackson be able to win a slew of championships with Kevin Ebanks and Manute Bol?

Most people aren’t one hundred percent sure of what a record producer even does. I am not sure if any producer really knows either because the job is more akin to being a creative consultant.

Hey Producer, look at this product we have and tell us what you think about it. Maybe you can comment on its looks, colors, and shapes and present us with some additional options we might like. You can even carouse us to think of some new ideas ourselves. Since we really respect your thoughts and past works we will assume you know what you are talking about.

Or someone might be called a producer for the simple fact that they helped finance a project. Rick Rubin gets paid to produce Metallica records, he doesn’t finance them himself. But if you see a listing for an “Executive Producer” on a band’s record then more than likely that person was simply laundering money from the profits of their cocaine business.

There is no real question as to what a coach’s role on a sports team is. The coach is the boss. The coach makes the team rules, sets the teams goals, teaches the players how to run plays and schemes, and when really good at their jobs will shield the players from any external distractions, whether they be personal or professional. You often hear younger players refer to their beloved coaches in a paternal fashion.  Some athletes will go as far as comparing their coaches to generals in the field with whom they “go to war with” and “battle” alongside. You think John Lennon spent his time praising the greatness of George Martin?

I am not here to downplay the role of the producer when it comes to great music. A great producer (like a great coach) can take mediocre talent and extract greatness from it. Just listen to any Dr. Dre produced album: you might not like the songs or even the style of music but you will without a doubt respect how good it sounds (i.e. well produced). Would Dark Side of The Moon be the same legendary album had Alan Parson’s not help produce it? Probably, the same way those Jordan/Pippen teams of the 90’s probably would have still won championships without Phil Jackson. The 98 Yanks would’ve won the World Series with me as their manager.

What about when a good producer does a bad thing? I, of course, am referring to Clive lets-make-up-for-30-years-of-ignoring-the-classiest-most-interesting-guitar-player-on-the-planet-by-producing-a-made-for-the-masses-crossover-singles-album-with-today’s-young-pop-stars Davis. Supernatural sold 700 billion copies and made Santana a house hold name (…again…if it wasn’t already–which is a shame unto itself). Look, I love and respect Carlos Santana perhaps more than any other guitar player alive today but the fact that “The Academy” only got around to giving him Grammies for that Clive Davis-produced-shitfest vs. anything he did in the 70’s is ludicrous. Clive Davis has an amazing history of evaluating and discovering talent.  But Mr. Davis took an artist known for one thing (incredible musicianship and fusion of styles) and turned him into another (pop rock artist). And Carlos went along for the ride, so he should be called out on that to some degree as well.

I do feel that within the athletic world the role of a coach has a much more influential role than a good record producer might have. The band (usually) still writes their own songs, but players rarely draw up their own plays (unless they are the Brady, Mannings, and Kobes of the world). In this day-and-age you hear about the miraculous one-year-turnaround in sports rather frequently. A team is 4-12 one season, hires a new coach and go 12-4 the next with relatively the same talent. When was the last time Rick Rubin took a band that was horrible and made them great? He took a band that was on the cusp in the early 90’s and transformed them into megastars, but the band was good before he got there. He just made them better. Nigel Godrich has masterfully produced numerous Radiohead albums, but couldn’t do shit when presented with The Strokes.

The debate is never-ending and completely circumstantial. Sometimes a great coach can win with a good team and sometimes a producer can fail with a great band. And vice versa. The interesting aspect of all this is how the coach and the record producer share a very similar role in their respective fields: to collaborate and extract great performances. And in both fields each will sometimes get too much praise for success or too much ridicule for failure (athletes must execute plays and musicians must write good songs). In the end though, I would much rather sit in a control room with Macca discussing the merits of adding a french horn to the bridge than writing X’s and O’s on a chalkboard trying to figure out how to stop Aaron Rodgers from dissecting my secondary.

Hey the Chili Peppers Released Another Chili Peppers Album!

You’d think after selling around 65 million records that they might buy a couple of shirts.

Flea and Anthony Kiedis have been doing their freaky styley funk game dance on us for a quarter century. And we’ve all been on to them in varying degrees since they laid that one hot egg the first time guitarist John Frusciante left the group. After their wild early days, highlighted by 1989’s Mother’s Milk, they broke through with both a mainstream hit and a bona fide classic in 1991 with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Then they signed mismatched free agent guitarist Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction for One Hot Minute in 1995 and set the controls for autopilot.

Will Farrell stars as drummer Chad Smith (right) as Flea and Anthony Kiedis make Another Chili Peppers Album.

Californication, a good but probably overrated record was a nice hit album in 1999, proving that the Red Hot Chili Peppers on autopilot were still good enough to rule at the turn of the century. Three years later, By The Way worked the same formula like a speedbag, californicating itself into yet. Another. Chili Peppers Album.

And so it went, all-world bassist and general maniac Flea fired up the furious funk and Anthony Kiedis jumped around with different hairstyles and they never fucking wore shirts and it was all good. The underrated Chad Smith is an effortless badass of a drummer whose talents sometimes sound wasted in the tight album-version arrangements. They dropped a bloated double album five years ago that even their fans admitted was too long as they talked themselves into liking it.

But all the people who don’t love the Red Hot Chili Peppers pretty much hate them. And we all know it’s cuz Anthony Kiedis is annoying and while I’m sure he’s a great guy and he’s an essential element to their sound and “he is what he is” as they say… he still sucks. And that’s a shitty thing to say and I should delete it but fuck it, let’s leave it there.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to their new album, I’m With You. It’s got it’s moments, but it sounds like yet another bland reincarnation of that same album they’ve been making starting with Californication. A shell of a shell of a former band. And yet Flea still rips it, and even though they sorely miss the once-again departed Frusciante, new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer provides plenty of interesting moments (and space for Flea’s musicality).

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Process? We Talkin’ ‘Bout Process?

Over the last several years, as technology moves at hyperwarped speeds that we haven’t yet invented fancy enough new words to describe, there’s been a backlash of purists and throwbacks who prefer things how they used to be. That could be true of film, art, sports, journalism, lots of things. But it’s particularly interesting in how it pertains to music.

This is not what's inside a laptop.

I’m mostly talking about process. It’s not just the access, the fact that anyone can record their own “album” in their basement with a laptop (and seems like everyone has), but also how the technology at the high end affects the professional artists we know and love and the ones we’ll actually discover tomorrow. Somehow the process has become a bigger part of the back story for a particular album or group. “They uploaded their demos, went viral, and now they’re selling millions!” It’s the updated take on discovering the Next Dylan on a barstool at an open mic somewhere.

Nowadays, musicians are reclaiming some sort of authenticity in what seems a reaction to this technological explosion. One of the poster boys for this movement has been Jack White, using vintage gear, cherishing vinyl and launching a real full-service label, not to mention that scene where he strings together a homemade guitar in a cow field in the film It Might Get Loud (contrasted by tech wiz The Edge and all his pedals and effects). But these analog guys who take a similar approach to Jack White’s (with less memorable results) are too numerous to list. The point is, we tend to gravitate toward authenticity, and it’s also natural to yearn for “the old days” (again, no matter the genre or medium).

It’s also easy to tear down and rip on anything that could be painted as “synthetic” or simply created (faked?) through the use of computers. It stinks of money and, possibly, inauthenticity! But really, I don’t care how many laptops and how much fancy software you have, you can’t fake not having songs that suck. The songs don’t lie. Sure, they can trick you and maybe you might think they’re better looking in a certain light late at night, but the next morning always comes. The same holds true for Mr. Vintage Authentic who only records to tape and refuses modern technology. That’s fine, but he too still needs good songs.

So assuming we’re only talking about our own personal vision of “good songs” and quality artists, we’re back to process. Does it matter to you when you hear someone “recorded his new album on a 4-track in a remote cabin in the woods” vs. “layed down tracks in various professional studios in L.A. and NYC”? The end result is all that should really matter, but subconsciously I think we all assign certain imagery and associations with the process. “Oh I heard he got sober and found god and had his yoga instructor in the studio with him” or “They locked themselves in the basement and rocked out live and recorded it all in one or two takes.”

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Rick Rubin’s Resume

Actually, Rick Rubin’s Resume would be a cool name for a band, assuming he didn’t sue you. Anyway, wow. He not only has produced influential debuts from the Beastie Boys to LL Cool J to Run DMC to Public Enemy, but in the process proved that rock and rap could co-exist. He’s pretty much responsible for Johnny Cash’s late-career comeback and produced the flourish of albums at the end of Cash’s life. He produced a mid-career masterpiece for Tom Petty, almost all of the Slayer albums, and I think every Chili Peppers record since and starting with the classic Blood Sugar Sex Magik. He’s done solo/acoustic records for Neil Diamond and Jakob Dylan, alt-rock stuff like Slipknot, and produced the album that contains “Baby Got Back.” Most recently he got the unfocused and feuding Metallica to stop putting out crap and make a classic-sounding Metallica album and then produced a great rootsy folksy ditty for indie favorites the Avett Brothers. That kind of variety is what makes him incredible. He’s done everything at every end of every spectrum and everywhere in between and most of it is great. Sometimes all within the same year.

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Best Albums of the Decade 2000’s

Originally, I set out to compile my list of the Top 20 Albums of the Decade. The 2000’s. Or the Aughts. Yea, I guess we never got around to naming this decade and now it’s already ending. I thought I was realistic by not even attempting a Top 10 Best Albums of the 2000’s, but it turns out even 20 proved difficult. And once I passed 20, the albums just kept flowing and then I thought “okay, Top 40 would be good, since “Top 40” is sort of a tried and true phrase in popular music. Then I hit 50. OK, I’ll do a Top 50, why not! Then I got to 52 and beyond and finally just gave up and let myself list all the great albums I loved this decade and not worry about cutting any out just to keep the list at 20, 40 or 50. So I ended up with 65. Seems a bit excessive, sure. But it’s still only about 6 or 7 per year. And I easily could have added a few more. Actually, I could just call this a Top 50 Best Albums of the Decade list because they’re not numbered, and if you actually read through it and count the exact number of albums, I’m just glad you’re reading our blog.

Please add your Top 5, 10, or 65 favorite albums of the decade (or point out my glaring omissions) in the comments section. Now, on with the list…

Mos Def – Black on Both Sides (1999)
First album on the list and I’m already cheating. This one came out just a couple months before 2000, and is such a great album. One of the best hip-hop albums of all time, even if you don’t see it on such lists in the mainstream media. So why not kick off this list with the last great album of the previous century?

2000

Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R

OutKast – Stankonia

Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2, or the last remains of the dodo

Talib Kweli & Hi Tek – Reflection Eternal

Radiohead – Kid A

U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind
It’s pretty easy to hate on these grandiose mega-stars, but this was and is a truly great U2 album made several years after most of us figured they’d never do it again.

D’Angelo – Voodoo

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele

2001

Bob Dylan – Love and Theft

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
This one would probably make the list even there were only 5 albums on it. Songwriting, atmosphere, and using the studio as an instrument without getting too cute or overdoing it. It’s all here, a classic peak from a great band.

Tool – Lateralus

Jay Z – The Blueprint

Whiskeytown – Pneumonia

2002

Sonic Youth – Murray Street
This is how I love my Sonic Youth. This album and the three that have followed are all really good. I actually like this (and those other recent ones) more than their old classics. Blasphemy for hardcore SY fans and a nation of hipsters, I know.

Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel

Bright Eyes – Lifted, Or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground

The Roots – Phrenology
A bit all over the place stylistically and a bit long, but still mostly brilliant. It’s like their White Album.

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