OPINION: Mary J. Blige records Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” for new album

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(photograph by Andrew McLeod)

When I read this article from the Los Angeles Times, I cringed somewhat. A part of me wants to hold to the goofy “sacred cows” of rock’n’roll, but a part of me is also thinking cool, someone is trying something different from their norm, but I have a few mixed feelings about this.

The article by Shirley Halperin states that as Mary J. Blige was in Los Angeles to record the updated version of “We Are The World” to raise relief funds for Haiti, she was recording music for her forthcoming album. In this case it was a recording session that featured guitarists Steve Vai and Orianthi, drummer Travis Barker, and bassist Randy Jackson, all handled by producer Ron Fair. The song is Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway To Heaven”.

Pause.

I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan and I respect the power of that song. I grew up with it, loved it, understand the Wayne’s World joke, and now it’s a classic rock staple, the staple of all staples to where if it’s on the radio, I turn it off. I’ll listen to it every few months, but that’s it. When people talk about Led Zeppelin, it eventually leads to discussion of “Stairway To Heaven”, it is their epic song from one of the biggest selling hard rock albums of all time.

However, as someone who calls herself a longtime rock’n’roll fan, it just seems so cliche to do that song. I can already see it: the hard rock/heavy metal kids will hate it. Some of Mary’s fans will say “oh no, she’s gone off the deep end now”. Blige was criticized years ago for working with Elton John and George Michael, that’s fairly tame compared to what this song will do because there are people who still feel Led Zeppelin are monarchs of hell, with Satan found in their music, artwork, and mysterious demonic symbols on the cover with the band carrying a bundle of sticks. There will no doubt be some minster who will reverse the Blige version and say “now listen, the evil shared by England’s Led Zeppelin has been modernized to talk about gang warfare, crack cocaine, the Talbian, and Lil’ Wayne”. Blige will become the new Satan, and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Personally, it would have been cooler to hear Blige cover something not-so-obvious:

King Crimson‘s “Epitaph”
Whitesnake‘s “Slow And Easy”
Y&T‘s “Eyes Of A Stranger”
Queensryche “I Don’t Believe In Love”
Aerosmith‘s “Nobody’s Fault”
Metallica‘s “The Things That Should Not Be”
Kiss‘ “Do You Love Me”
Black Sabbath‘s “Solitude” or “Children Of The Grave”
Metal Church‘s “Watch The Children Pray”
Mudhoney‘s “This Gift”
Tad‘s “Stumblin’ Man”

Since I’m mentioning Mudhoney and Tad, imagine if you will, a Mary J. Blige cover of Mercyful Fate‘s “Gypsy”:

If “Stairway To Heaven” will turn Blige to Satan for some people, I can’t imagine what would happen if Blige was open enough to cover something sung by the almighty King Diamond.

I don’t know, I would not mind hearing Blige cover more rock and pop, no harm in that. Yet out of all the songs to do, “Stairway To Heaven”? I’m sure some of the people involved are thinking “fuck a sacred cow” but… how about “Thank You”, “The Rain Song”, “That’s The Way”, “In The Light”, or “Since I’ve Been Loving You”? The choice of “Stairway To Heaven” is similar to saying “I love rock, but only what I heard on the radio. What are the big rock hits?”

We’ll have to wait a few more months to see what will happen. If this moves Keri Hilson to cover Black Sabbath‘s “Sign Of The Southern Cross”, I’ll throw up my devil horns. In truth, hard rock and heavy metal has always been a means of debate between those who have seen the music and creators as evil, and fans who know of the music as a means of escape and dealing with the realities of the world. A lot of hard rock and heavy metal have “heavy” subject matter, but we all know countless bands, especially the ugly ones (you know who I’m talking about), have done songs on everything from love, loss, fears, and hopes. Could be a Maxwell or Raphael Saadiq album. Maybe next time, when a soul/R&B vocalist covers a rock song, I hope it’s one that challenges them, the original song, and the fans.

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REVIEW: American Idol, Season 8 Season Premiere Part 2 (January 14, 2009)

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For part 2 of the season premiere, American Idol went to Kansas City, Missouri. What happened? Well, I will say there were some good singers, names I don’t remember right now. There were of course the bad ones, and they sucked.

You know what seems fake? When they have a segment dedicated to one particular song and you hear the rejected people sing lines, edited with those who were in the crowd waiting. It just seems random, and kind of Disney-like. Pfftt.

I’m not going to watch anything past the auditions, but I read somewhere that in order to bring in and keep viewers, people will be able to see footage of the primary contestants get “catty” in the house they stay at. In other words, The Real World but 50 times worse, because instead of seeing anyone be themselves, everyone will be “on” and “in the act”, because “every opportunity can become THE opportunity”. Phony bologna, that’s all I have to say.

The Los Angeles Times came out with an article stating ratings for the first part of the season premiere are down by 10 percent.

I know, not exactly a bangin’ review but maybe (keyword: ‘maybe’) next week.

What I hope to see in the future: a show hosted and produced by Kara DioGuardi.

REVIEW: American Idol, Season 8 Season Premiere Part 1 (January 13, 2009)

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If you are coming to this review after doing a Google search for anything and everything American Idol, let me warn you that this is not a website that tries to be nice or trendy, even though I do give positive reviews on things. I can be very opinionated, and therefore use language that can be harsh for some readers. I will say for the last time, if you are offended by profanities, please click away. I mean this sincerely as I know the show has many young viewers so take this as a warning. Ready? Let’s begin.

First off, those of you who are regular visitors to my site or know of my work are probably asking “John, WTF? American Idol? That’s bullshit.” Let me tell you the truth. I am not an American Idol devotee, but with that said, I had watched the last show of the first season and thought it was interesting. That lead me to watch Seasons 2 and 3, and then I realized it was a fricken dog show with better howls. Why did I watch it in the first place? I love music, first and foremost, I love talent and people who show and share it. But what the show presented was something that was not quite accurate. The auditions for the show are based on talent and a bit of exploitation, but as I’ve said before in other circles, all musical artists sign the dotted line in order to be “exploited”, and it’s done in the form of promotion. You go on tour, the label funds it (or you find a company that is willing to sponsor it), you go into the studio, it is funded, and if you do not make up the money they gave you, the music you have will be worked until there is nothing more to work. If the song is a success, you’ll hear it even more. You want to hear “Who Let The Dogs Out” for the nthteenth time? Sure you do.

Another thing not accurate: that’s not how the music industry really works, but then again American Idol doesn’t exactly represent the music industry. It’s about entertainment, and what they want is an “American Idol”, someone who not only sings, but has the looks, charisma, and maybe likability to make it possible for the winner to appear in television and film. Sometimes there is someone whose only agenda is to make good music, and I prefer those. I do realize in these troubled times, people are doing what they can in order to survive, whether it’s a little suck and blow action or selling their virginity on eBay, you know how it is, but I want the music. Most of the audience for this show could care less about the music, and in many ways the music is secondary, for the most part it sounds like it. It’s a bunch of half-assed people who can carry the voice but emulate a bit too much without showing their flavor.

What makes this new season any different? I watched the season premiere of Season 8 and I discovered that what has changed is… not much. I like Simon Cowell because he is genuinely honest, and while people jump on him for his views, he is the one who comes off as authority, or the one who is essentially saying “I’m the one who could give you a chance to be a huge artist, you want me to put a million dollars and a recording contract in your pocket for that?” All artists who step out of the rehearsal room and onto any stage is automatically up for ridicule, and yes it’s harsh. Negative reviews may feel like it hurts, but what writers want is something better if you can offer better. Paula Abdul… can someone tell me how someone who didn’t have much of a voice, whose best moments on record were actually sung by former Mary Jane Girls vocalist Yvette Marine, gets to be a judge for talent? I’m not taking away her love of dancing, she made it as a Laker girl and as a choreographer, but maybe she represents what she’d like to see from people, “the total package”. Randy Jackson to me has always been the “true” ear of the three, because he’s a musician and singer, so he knows what to spot. The bass player may be neglected by some, but he’s the guy who, along with the drummer, holds it down, so I trust him. But now we have a new judge in the form of songwriter Kara DioGuardi, and I think she’s great, I think she is a welcome addition and if Paula Abdul for whatever reason leaves the show, DioGuardi will hold things down just fine.

Now the show. I only care about the auditions, because not only do I want to see good people win, but in a sadistic way I also love to watch people fail. The audition shows show both, and there were a lot of duds. If there was one singer I was highly impressed with, I would have to say it’s Stevie Wright.
American Idol 8 contestant Stevie Wright

In terms of a voice, I thought she was one of the best. I came across a blog a few seconds ago where someone asked “why all the 16-year olds?” Before I get into why I think they look for 16-year olds, let me talk a bit about Miss Wright. She has a very good voice, and she doesn’t sound “affected”. It seems there are too many singers these days who emulate what they see and hear, but that’s it. There’s no true charisma, it doesn’t sound like it comes from the heart, but what I hear in her is someone who truly loves to sing. I hope that as the show continues, she will be someone who will be able to shape herself into an even better singer, and this is where the 16-year olds come in.

Perhaps what industry insiders like is someone who can be molded, someone who isn’t too affected, someone who can be recreated into what someone else wants to hear. Unless you are someone who is trained and knows about how to bob and weave through different styles of music, you’re going to think any criticism is a personal attack. It’s not. If you are 16 and are striving for success, you will need an outside ear to train you to be your best. When you reach a certain level, then you can take off and bob and weave the way you want, with the confidence that says “fuck off, son”. Out of everyone on the show last night, Wright was the best and I’m curious to see what happens with her, although I’ll find out at the end of the show (more later).

But you know who else I was highly impressed by? Kara DioGuardi. There was a moment when a young lady named Katrina Darrell auditioned with a bikini.
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Cut and petite, not slammin’ by any means but in the audition she made an attempt to sing Mariah Carey‘s “Vision Of Love”. To my ear, it was off at times, in fact she adjusted the key of the song to where it was a hot mess. DioGuardi told her it wasn’t that good, and she proceeded to sing. Darrell then said that DioGuardi was not that good, and c’mon. DioGuardi may not be an artist, but she is a songwriter and proved that she can indeed sing (and to be honest, if she became an artist, I think she’d do very well). Abdul told Darrell that the insult was not nice, and DioGuardi kinda acted as if to say “fuck that, I’ll sing the way the song should be sung.” Catty? Yeah, but as Ethel Merman once said, there’s no business like show business. Surprisingly, Darrell made it through the first stage. Did she have a decent voice? To be honest, in the words of Jackson, it was just a’ight. In truth, I think if she lays off the phony act and puts that enthusiasm into her singing, she could be a true contender.

On the Polynesian side of things, there was a Samoan guy from Utah who auditioned and made it past the audition, so we’ll see how well he does.

This season premiere is a two parter, with a new 2 hour presentation happening on FOX at 8pm Eastern/Pacific (7pm Central, check your local listings blah blah blah). I will watch that too.

Can I make one suggestion for the show, and if any of the show’s producers are reading this, read on. I’d like to see the contestants perform songs that are outside of the popular mainstream. We always have to have Elvis Presley, Bon Jovi, Celine Dion and the same crap that people eat up as if it was a macadamia nut-covered pile of poop (with whipped cream and a cherry on top, don’t forget the cherry) from Farrell’s. I would love to hear someone sing King Crimson‘s “Epitaph”, especially the line “the faith of all mankind, I see, is in the hands of fools”:

Could American Idol handle that kind of intensity? Yeah, they’ll probably do a High School Musical tribute than cover anything off of In The Court Of The Crimson King, or how about Maxwell‘s “Get To Know Ya”?

I know, it will never happen.