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Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Mike Long. Mike is a (very) occasional writer for National Review and was one of the originals back in the early 2000s as NRO was launched. He’s the author of the non-fiction bestseller The Molecule of More and its sequel coming in fall of 2024. Mike’s Music Pick: Joe Jackson After running through Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe/Rockpile, it was only a matter of time before we got to covering Joe Jackson. As an artist, Jackson frequently is grouped into the "angry young man"/Pub Rock category with the aforementioned artists. However, as we discuss on the show, there's an incredible depth to his songwriting and arrangements that quickly busted him out of whatever box critics might put him in. Jackson came out of the gate hot, with two releases in the magical year of 1979, Look Sharp! and I'm the Man. They could be parts one and two of the same album. These are the ones that lump him into the Costello/Parker/Lowe movement but it's a sound he rarely returns to again. Every single song is a winner. From here would come some of his best known songs – “I’m the Man,” “It’s Different For Girls, and “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” By 1981, he took a massive detour from the rock/pop world with Jumpin' Jive, a collection of covers of 1940s swing and big band songs originally performed by Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway. Night and Day was released the same year as Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom and it, too, is a bid to be taken very seriously as a songwriter. Like Elvis's effort, it's a complete success artistically and even moreso commercially. "Steppin' Out" earned Grammy Award nominations and reached number six on the charts. "Breaking Us in Two" reached number 18. It's a cosmopolitan, big-city record. The rest of the 1980s would find Jackson stretching his wings and dabbling in jazz, Latin rhythms, classical – if you name a genre, he probably has a song in it (OK, perhaps not metal). Albums like Body and Soul, Big World, Blaze of Glory, and Laughter and Lust didn’t sell nearly as well as previous efforts but kept fans happy. After 1991, however, he wouldn’trelease another non-classical studio album until 2000's Night and Day II. Why? Take it from the artist himself: "After the Laughter & Lust world tour … I had real bad writer's block. I couldn't even listen to music. I just lost it, totally. It was awful." But it wouldn’t stay that way! Beginning in 2003 with Vol. 4, Jackson would release a string of records that showed he still know how to write a song. By the way, all of us have musical blind spots, and Joe Jackson was one for Jeff. Come along for the ride as he discovers the many layers of this talented performer and writer.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Hannah Rowan. Hannah is the managing editor of Modern Age. You can find her on X at @Hannah_Cristine and read her review of Debbie Harry's memoir here. Hannah’s Music Pick: Blondie Here's another artist we get to cross off the list of long-awaited episodes. Both Jeff and Scot have been hot to do Blondie for years and it has nothing (okay, relatively little) to do with the attractive woman fronting the band. It’s the music that means so much, even after all these years. Blondie, as Jeff argues, is perhaps the quintessential new wave band, but they started by paying tribute to girl-group sounds and garage rock of the '60s on the band’s first record. From there, singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein, the two leaders of the group, led Blondie through a wide variety of styles and genres. The band was as comfortable playing power pop and new wave as they later would be incorporating disco, reggae, and even rap into their sound. Blondie recorded four number one songs -- "Heart of Glass," "Call Me," "The Tide Is High," and "Rapture" -- and you couldn’t quite stick any of them inside the same box. And we can’t escape the visual aspect. It’s impossible to separate what you see from what you hear. Debbie Harry was a striking figure to lead the group. And Blondie was a band that was deliberate in how it presented itself -- from album covers to stage apparel to making videos for every song on a record, which predated the MTV-era by a good half-decade or so. The timeframe for the band's brilliance is relatively short and we spend very little time on the post-reunion work (apologies to fans of Pollinator). But what was created at the end of the 1970s truly stands the test of time. The music, in many ways, pointed forward toward what we would hear throughout the decade of the 1980s.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Eric Kohn. Eric is the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Acton Institute. Check him out on Twitter at @iEricKohn. Eric’s Music Pick: Huey Lewis & the News Do you believe in miracles? Yes! After years of lobbying, Jeff has proven that anyone will fold, given enough time and pressure. Here is the Huey Lewis & the News episode of Political Beats. Those of you with us for a while will know that the band is a favorite of Scot's while Jeff previously has taken any opportunity to vow never to cover Huey and the boys on the show. Well, recently he had a change of heart (Track One, Picture This) and we wasted no time in finding a guest. Did we end up talking for three hours about Huey Lewis & the News? Of course we did. Did we change Jeff's mind? Listen and find out. Scot’s love of the band started at a young age, and much of his knowledge of the early story of the band’s history comes from a mass-market paperback that he still has to this day. Huey Lewis & the News: A Biography is a 142-page chronicle of the rise of the band and its origins on the San Francisco music scene. It’s out of print, obviously, but check your local used bookstore for a copy. Huey Lewis & the News essentially was the merger of two big local Bay area bands -- Clover and Soundhole. Huey and keyboardist Sean Hopper played in the former, while drummer Bill Gibson, saxophonist/guitarist Johnny Colla, and bassist Mario Cipollina in the latter. Clover (sans Huey) were perhaps best known for being Elvis Costello's back-up band on My Aim Is True. The band then picked up a 21-year-old kid in 1979, Chris Hayes, to play lead guitar and were off. The next year, 1980, brought the little-noticed self-titled debut. Here's the thing: It's quite good! This album, and the early sound of the band, is the commercial follow-through on the wonderful music made by the pub rock artists of the U.K. This record is heavier on Mario's bass than later entries, but those trademark backing vocals are there from the start. It didn't sell. At all. The next album would be make or break. Huey's face alone is on the cover. Harmonies are tighter. Little did they know they had an ace in the hole: a song written by Mutt Lange. "Do You Believe in Love" would explode to #7 on the charts. The band had a hit. A follow-up would be tougher. Three other singles from Picture This failed to break #36, though one, “Workin’ for a Livin’,” has endured as a blue-collar anthem. The band went back to work with a taste of success and a thirst for more. The mission for the next album was simple: every song a hit. Easy, right? With Sports, they pretty much pulled it off. You know virtually every song on this album, including “I Want a New Drug,” “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” “If This Is It,” and more. There was no thematic goal other than producing hits. Synths, drum machines, massive hooks -- whatever it took. Outside writers? Sure! A strength of the band was taking other's material and making it sound like their own, as they did on “Heart and Soul” and “Walking On a Thin Line.” Sports was a monster. Massive headlining tours followed. Two major projects before the next album would drop. First, Huey would take a lead vocal spot in "We Are the World,” filling in for Prince. Second, some work on a little film called Back to the Future and the band’s first #1 hit in “The Power of Love.” Huey Lewis & the News is on top of the world. But 1986 is approaching and a new album is due soon. One problem: No one hears a single. One of the engineers calls up Chris Hayes at home and says, "Chris, we need a hit." "Stuck With You" was what he came up with, and it was the lead single for Fore!, which would also hit #1 & sell 3 million+ copies. That said, Fore! is a bit of an odd duck. Fully half the songs were from outside writers, including the album's other #1 single, “Jacob’s Ladder” (written by the Hornsby brothers) Next? Well, whatever the band wanted. And what they wanted was not necessarily commercial in nature. A socially conscious effort full of eclectic musical themes, Small World. As far as I've read, the band loves this album. They got to stretch their legs as musicians. They had earned the right to make a project of their choosing. The record-buying public was not impressed. Small World barely scraped 1 million units in sales. The band did have one last bullet to fire at the charts. “Perfect World,” a song written by Alex Call, a former Clover bandmate of Huey and Sean, hit #3 and clearly sits aside their best. Afterward, the band had some well-earned time off. In the time span, though, the rock world was changing quickly. Huey & company dropped the weirdness of the last album and returned to the blueprint -- rock, R&B, a love song, and a tune by Mutt Lange. All on Hard At Play. There would not be another album of new material for ten years. Four Chords and Several Years Ago, an album of 50s-era covers, came in 1994. Plan B, an album of new material, arrived in 2001, followed by Soulsville, a Stax covers album, and finally 2020’s Weather. The last record was released following Huey’s diagnosis of Ménière's disease, an inner-ear disorder, which means he can no longer hear music frequencies or hold vocal pitches. The result is no touring and no more new music from the band. It's sometimes hard to hear Huey Lewis & the News on the radio. Living on that weird line between rock and pop in the 1980s means there's not a great format for those songs now. It's a catalog well worth further inspection, though. You won't regret spending three hours with us and the band.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Rory Cooper. He’s a partner at Purple Strategies, a corporate reputation and advocacy agency in Alexandria, Va., a former George W. Bush and Eric Cantor aide, and a longtime Republican strategist. He’s on Twitter at @rorycooper. Rory’s Music Pick: Simon & Garfunkel If you enjoyed Political Beats’ episode on the solo career of Paul Simon with Rory Cooper from a year and half ago, then kick right back after the Labor Day weekend and start feelin’ groovy while listening the epic George Lucas/Peter Jackson prequel extravaganza that is our discussion of Simon & Garfunkel! Yes, Rory has returned to discuss a pop duo formerly known as “Tom & Jerry,” whose music dominated both American and U.K. airwaves in the late Sixties. With three #1 hits, nine more top 20 singles, two #1 albums, and their names attached to one of the decade’s most beloved films, we think it likely that you’re already somewhat familiar with Simon & Garfunkel. But this, like our Paul Simon episode, is the rare episode in which neither of your two esteemed hosts were actually deeply familiar with the albums (as opposed to the radio hits). How could this have happened? All is explained while we are rejoined by Rory Cooper, a guy who knows all the stories and loves Paul Simon’s music so much he named his kid after one of these songs. In this episode, we explore the origins of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel as schooldays choirboy friends in Queens, their brief “teen idol” phase as Tom & Jerry, and their -- rather awkward -- rebirth in the early Sixties as folkies on a Greenwich Village scene that resolutely disdained them for purported inauthenticity. Simon & Garfunkel’s 1964 debut album flopped so badly that Simon went to England and Garfunkel simply went back to school, until a Columbia producer desperate for a hit overdubbed electric backing onto a forgotten song from that debut called “The Sound of Silence.” And the rest is history. Simon & Garfunkel’s career resumed in a haste as “Sound of Silence” hit the top of the charts in January 1966, and what followed was a series of increasingly assured acoustic folk/pop/rock hits that culminated by the late Sixties in immortal and gnomic songs like “Mrs. Robinson,” “America,” and “The Boxer.” From being a pale imitator of Bob Dylan’s “intelligent folk” music, Simon & Garfunkel had evolved into a different, singular sound, anchored around Garfunkel’s peerlessly pitch-perfect high tenor voice and Simon’s insistently rhythmic sense of guitar-work and arrangement. Although the pairing did not -- and could not, for many reasons -- last long, it ended in a supreme achievement: Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970), a record whose commercial dominance and omnipresence in its day has been exceeded only by its subsequent critical reputation. And that was it; Garfunkel left for an acting career, and Simon for a solo one. (A brief reunion in the early Eighties went nowhere.) And that was for the best: They will forever be remembered for going out on the highest possible note. What happened next has already been discussed, but for now, enjoy the groovy Sixties and Paul Simon’s orthogonal, acutely self-conscious place within them as we count the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, all gone to look for America.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Matt Murray. Matt is the recently departed editor of the Wall Street Journal, now on assignment for its parent company, News Corp. Check him out on Twitter at @murraymatt. Matt’s Music Pick: Nick Lowe Okay, it says “Nick Lowe” right there above this line, but we need to be straight with you -- there’s a lot of other stuff happening in this show. Nick Lowe-adjacent acts are featured prominently, too. That means talk about Brinsley Schwarz, Rockpile, Dave Edmunds, and many, many more (even Huey Lewis!). There's a really simple way to summarize this episode: Here's a 3.5-hour love letter to Nick Lowe. That's pretty much the plot, people. Three hosts with a deep, abiding adoration for the music and production contributions of one of the biggest missing names from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Now, I imagine there are some people who are saying, "Nick who?" After all, Lowe's career is the definition of a technical one-hit wonder -- a single top-40 song (“Cruel To Be Kind”) and that's it in terms of true chart success. First of all, everyone is in for a treat, from longtime fans to newbies. Albums such as Jesus of Cool and Labour of Lust are among the very best released in the 1970s. Second, Nick Lowe's musical influence and work as a producer certainly will be familiar to you. The term “Pub Rock” describes an entire wave of U.K. acts, and Nick was at the center of most of them. This means Brinsley Schwarz and Dave Edmunds for sure, but also acts such as Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, and The Damned. This was a back-to-basics movement and a reaction to the bloat of progressive rock and the flash of glam. These artists instead looked to the rock and R&B of the '50s and '60s as guideposts. This is such a fun story to tell because the music is undeniable. The melodies are unimpeachable. And Nick Lowe's "second act" in his career has been so creatively satisfying. Starting with The Impossible Bird, he builds an entirely new sound and feel that is just as rewarding as the early work. He’s Nick Lowe and Political Beats is here to make the case that, although he’s not a household name, he certainly should be.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Dave Weigel. Dave is a founding reporter at Semafor, where he covers the 2024 campaign and writes the Americana newsletter. Check his work out here and find him on Twitter at @daveweigel. Dave’s Music Pick: Pet Shop Boys Opportunities are knocking: I've got the brains, and you've got the looks, so let's make lots of money as we use the post–July 4 week to celebrate the United Kingdom's most famous '80s/'90s synthpop dance-music duo! Of course, Pet Shop Boys -- a two-man collaboration that began in 1981 when rock critic Neil Tennant ran into bedsit-room synths-and-sequencers muso Chris Lowe at a record shop -- are much more than that besides. They managed the trick of being one of the United Kingdom's most commercially dominant chart acts while also being one of its cleverest and most tasteful, the result being that their classic run of albums beginning with Please (1986) have not dated even as they helped create and define the sound of '80s and '90s pop, club, and dance music. Neil Tennant's knack for melody and endlessly clever lyrics relating stories of heartbreak, ennui, and urban adventure from a then still-hidden subculture (gay London of the '80s and '90s) matched perfectly with Lowe's preternatural ability to layer keyboards hooks and sequenced percussion into compulsive radio fodder: The Pet Shop Boys scored 22 top-ten singles in the U.K. and ten over here in the United States, and you'll be surprised how many of them you knew without realizing you did. So press play, get ready to dance, enjoy a real treat. By the end you may be asking yourself: "What have I done to deserve this?"
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Dominic Green. Dom is a historian and columnist, and he used to be a musician. He is a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for the Washington Examiner and Jewish Chronicle. Check him out on Twitter at @DrDominicGreen. Dominic’s Music Pick: The Jam In some ways, this is one of the most necessary episodes of Political Beats ever. In other ways, this is one of the most obscure episodes of Political Beats ever. So come on in, Smithers-Jones, take a seat and a weight off your feet, because I've some news to tell you: The Jam is the most important and consequential British rock group that nobody outside of music nerds and record store clerks in America even knew existed. Paul Weller (guitar, vocals, primary songwriting), Bruce Foxton (bass, vocals, secondary songwriting), and Rick Buckler (drums) formed the late Seventies U.K. punk era's greatest power trio by explicitly patterning themselves off of the "straight lines" musical attack of mid Sixties mod-era Pete Townshend and The Who. They then almost immediately began to develop an approach that, by the time of All Mod Cons (1978), had evolved into a unique musical and lyrical response to the massive societal upheaval and displacement of the early Thatcher era. Even as The Jam sought and achieved universal critical acclaim and commercial success in Great Britain -- Paul Weller would later be dubbed "The Modfather" by '90s U.K. Britpop bands such as Oasis, Blur, and Teenage Fanclub -- their legacy failed to translate nearly anywhere else, and particularly to the United States. It's no mystery as to why: The Jam's lyrics and themes (driven by Weller) were uniquely British in a way few other top-tier rock artists' had been since the heyday of Ray and Dave Davies with the Kinks in the late Sixties. But these themes are nevertheless emotionally universal and humane, and the music? Oh, the music, my friends. If you are a Brit or a Jam fan of long-standing, then prepare for a delightful stroll through one mind-blowing punk, power-pop, or even string-laden art-rock memory after another. If you are new to The Jam -- and we must assume that many of you are -- prepare to be mowed down by a youth explosion as one pop masterpiece after another is brought to your attention for the first time. Some people might get some pleasure out of hate but you? You've enough already on your plate with this episode. Click play, and soon you'll be going underground.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Eric Garcia. Eric is senior Washington writer for the Independent and a columnist at MSNBC. Check him out on Twitter at @EricMGarcia. Eric’s Music Pick: Black Sabbath The storm is upon you; can you hear the peals of thunder in the background, and the bleak clang of the church bell in the sleeping village? Well then break out the most appropriate tritone you can think of as the gang discusses Ozzy, Tony, Geezer, Bill (and yes, Ronnie James as well) and the groundbreaking music of Black Sabbath. Sabbath are famed as the inventors -- with their self-titled 1970 debut album -- of what would come to be known as "heavy metal." As such, they've long been worshipped by surly teenagers and metalheads alike, and derided by parents and critics in equal proportion. What we will take great pleasure in explaining to you during this episode is that the kids and metalheads got this one right. The critics and your parents whiffed. Sabbath was an incredibly intelligent band that may have begun as a demonstratively sludgy blues-rock (hence the birth of "heavy metal") but almost instantly evolved into a progressive group afterwards under guidance of guitarist Tony Iommi's compulsive riff-writing abilities and the secret jazz predilections of bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward. And then there's good ol' Ozzy Osbourne -- the bloke from down at the pub made good, singing his head off as best he can and finding surprising depths in his everyman voice. Sabbath's posthumous reputation is dictated largely by the ubiquitous popularity of their first two albums -- if you have heard them on the radio, it's probably a song like "Iron Man" or "War Pigs" -- but as far as the gang is concerned, that's actually where it gets really interesting for a band whose ability to combine piledriving riffage with shockingly unexpected moments of beauty and soulfulness marked them out during the next seven years as not just the most important heavy-metal bands to exist, but (secretly, don't tell your mom) also one of the finest art-rock groups of its era. Click play and join us this week as we boldly head Into the Void.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Adam Wollner. Adam is a Washington-based journalist who has covered national politics for CNN, McClatchy, and National Journal. Check him out on Twitter at @adamwollner. Adam’s Music Pick: My Morning Jacket A reverb-laden, indie-country band? Roots rock? Electro-funk? Jam band? All that and much more could be said to describe My Morning Jacket at various stages of their career. The constant has been solid-to-great albums and a dynamic live show that harnesses the power of the studio tracks and unleashes it upon the audience. Led by songwriter and lead vocalist Jim James, My Morning Jacket's music is most closely tied to the Americana folk scene, drawing comparisons, especially early on, with The Band and Neil Young. MMJ slowly adopted some of the moods and styles of the late '60s psychedelic/folk movement, as well. What results is a unique amalgam of genres, songs that seem to pick up new tricks and ideas from across a wide musical spectrum. MMJ has been around for 25 years but, if you're not in the right musical circles, you might not have heard of them before now. Which is, of course, a shame. As Scot explains in the episode, this is not music you need to work hard to love or enjoy. MMJ comes to you, arms open, holding a fluffy blanket. There are numerous ways to enter the world of this band. From there, wonder awaits.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Mark Hemingway. Mark is a writer at RealClearInvestigations and RealClearPolitics and an occasional contributor at The Federalist. Check him out on Twitter at @heminator. Mark’s Music Pick: Big Star How do you merit an episode of Political Beats when you've released only a handful of albums in your career? When two happen to be among the best pop/rock records ever recorded and a third is a fascinating “"lost masterpiece” that’s never had a real, official release and is steeped in so much mystery no one is even sure what the correct track order might be. That, and much more, is the story of Big Star. In actuality, there's a rich story behind the music of Big Star, from bad luck to poor distribution to bad timing to, much later, acknowledgement of the stellar work that was done. The songs they recorded form the rock solid foundation of power pop, influencing bands decades into the future. Some of your favorite artists likely learned numerous tricks from Big Star, bands like The Posies, R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, Gin Blossoms, Wilco, Matthew Sweet, The Replacements, and many more. Only a few thousand copies of Big Star’s records sold upon release, both a comment of the prevailing tastes of the early 1970s and an indictment of the distribution strategy (or lack thereof) of the band’s labels. We try to explain the genius of both Alex Chilton and Chris Bell and come to praise the contributions of Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens to the arrangements. If you don’t know Big Star, this is a perfect introduction. As a side note, Mark Hemingway becomes our very first three-time guest on the show, opening the door for others to return again in the future. He’s been anointed “King of the Short Discography” after tackling The Replacements, Nirvana, and now Big Star on the show.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Noam Blum. Noam is Chief Technology Officer at Tablet Magazine and co-host of the Ambitious Crossover Attempt podcast and of All Crossed Out on the Callin app, both of which deal with pop culture, media, and politics. Find him on Twitter at @neontaster. Noam’s Music Pick: Tool Since Political Beats dealt with one of Gen Z's niche musical obsessions last episode in tackling The National, we've decided to double down in the new year and finally go after one of the Millennial generation's more beloved (and also, as we grant on the show, derided for their sincerity) bands with a discussion of Tool. Driven by the lyrical vision of Maynard James Keenan, the guitar geometrics/visualizations of Adam Jones, and the drumwork of Danny Carey, Tool was/is (though "is" is notional proposition, given that they've slowed their work pace to one album a decade) progressive heavy metal in their approach, a genre we haven't covered at all here on the show yet. We have dealt with many of their progenitors, particularly King Crimson (compositionally and musically) and Husker Du (lyrically and spiritually). And one day we'll get to Metallica, we promise. But Tool in many ways represents the final flowering of that line of intellectualized hard rock that began in the '70s, became unfashionable in the '80s, and then reemerged in the '90s. Their heavy sound and emotionally involuted lyrical obsessions would become endlessly imitated by many lesser groups seeking to recreate the intensity of their music, but those would be pale imitations. Here's the genuine article, a tool to use for yourself. Use wisely.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Phil Wegmann. Phil is White House reporter for RealClearNews and RealClearPolitics. Check him out on Twitter at @PhilipWegmann. Phil’s Music Pick: The National Let us tell you, we have had *a bunch* of listeners ask us for an episode on The National, and we are nothing if not responsive to our fans. Neither one of your hosts previously was extremely familiar with the band, which is why we called in our ringer, Phil Wegmann, who earlier helped to lead our path through the Creedence Clearwater Revival show. Looking at Wiki's description of The National -- “The National has been compared to Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, Interpol, Wilco, Depeche Mode and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds” -- you could be forgiven for thinking this already was one of Jeff’s favorite bands. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact there’s a lot of Arcade Fire in this music, as well. Much of your opinion of The National could hinge on how you feel about lead singer/lyricist Matt Berninger and his classic baritone voice. There’s not a ton of vocal modulation on these tracks! That, of course, makes for a distinctive sound and separates the band from many of its peers. The band’s self-titled debut is a bit of an outlier – there are sounds there they never quite would return t0 – but after that, a fantastic string of albums begins with Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, one Scot argues actually is among their best. Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet make the case for The National becoming one of the most consistent acts of the decade while continuing to tweak their songwriting and performance at each stage. 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me ends up as a top choice of all three of your hosts. Maybe you’re new to the band, too! Don’t worry. Jump in and experience The National through the eyes of a superfan and two other hosts who were in the same position you’re in. And if you already love The National, well, there’s a decent chance our takes will somehow manage to irk each and every one of you in some way. We can’t all be “Mr. November,” after all.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Andrew Fink. Andrew is a member of the Michigan House of Representative (District 35 -- Branch & Hillsdale Counties). Prior to that, he was the district director for Senate majority leader Mike Shirkey. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewFinkMI. Andrew’s Music Pick: Otis Redding Ladies and gentlemens, we are so happy to be here with the Love Crowd tonight because we gotta gotta gotta gotta turn it loose about soul giant Otis Redding, a man whose recorded legacy looms large not just in the history of soul and R&B but in modern popular music as a whole. Redding is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest R&B vocalists of all time, and as a "soul giant," but what is far too less appreciated about him is that he was the first truly modern African-American popular musician, a man self-consciously carving out a sound, pushing sonic boundaries and the traditions of his genre, and working self-consciously to craft albums as complete statements at a time when absolutely no other black artist in the country outside of jazz was thinking along those lines. Redding's early singles established him, simply on their own terms, as an early Sixties soul great. ("Pain In My Heart," "Mr. Pitiful," "That's How Strong My Love Is," "I've Been Loving You Long," and "Security" are the sorts of timeless Redding soul belters that went immediately into the working books of countless English R&B bands, notably including The Rolling Stones.) His mid-Sixties albums demonstrated that he, alone among all major soul/R&B artists of his era -- long before Stevie or Marvin moved for their artistic freedom -- had a sound and vision that belonged to something more than a series of singles. And the music he was making before he suddenly died (in a December 1967 plane crash while flying between shows) was mutating both into chart-topping contemplative folk-pop ("(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay," his only #1 single) and forward-looking hard funk ("Hard To Handle"). Four albums of posthumous Redding material were released between 1968 and 1970. Much of it is great work. But one can only imagine where Otis would actually have been by 1970. He was growing so quickly as an artist. Join us this week, as we open with a long discussion of Stax/Volt and the nature of its "sound," and then engage in a celebration of one of the greatest popular musical artists of the Sixties -- and perhaps the most heartbreaking loss of modern musical history, in terms of what we likely missed when that plane went down on a cold winter's day in December 1967. Hail to The King of Soul.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Noah Weinrich. Noah is director of communications for Heritage Action, the grassroots and advocacy arm of The Heritage Foundation. Check him out on Twitter at @weinrich_noah. Noah’s Music Pick: Weezer What kind of a band starts its career with two stone-cold classic albums, takes a nearly five-year hiatus, and then returns to mixed results for a 20+ year tail? We're about to find out. Covering the good (Maladroit! Everything Will Be Alright In the End!), the bad (Make Believe!) and the ugly (Raditude!), we try to lend some perspective on what made the band great, why perceptions have changed over the years, and what keeps them going. Of course, we spend a huge portion of the show discussing Weezer’s twin pillars of excellence: the debut (Blue) and Pinkerton. One beloved from the moment of release and the other taking years for fans and critics to fully appreciate. The response to Pinkerton clearly changed the trajectory of the band and influenced musical decisions for years to come. The second self-titled (Green) album heralded a comeback in 2001, but it was a different kind of band, divorced from much of what made the first two albums so consequential. Regardless, fans, some new and some old, embraced most of these sonic moves. There’s lots to discuss about the last 20 years and how Weezer should be considered so long after the early success. There’s also Rivers Cuomo’s lyrical journey from sharing ultra-personal thoughts and desires to crafting pop songs from spreadsheets and syllable counts. It’s . . . weird. One of the longest-lasting rock bands of the 1990s, but should it be considered one of the best? That question and many more get tackled on this Political Beats.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Jesse Walker. Jesse is books editor at Reason and author of two books, The United States of Paranoia and Rebels On the Air. He can be found on Twitter at @notjessewalker. Jesse’s Music Pick: Willie Nelson In Part Two, we pick up Willie’s story at his commercial breakthrough, Red Headed Stranger (1975). This opens a window in which Willie records frequent number one albums on the country charts and often dents the pop charts with his records, as well. What’s changed? Well, Willie stops writing music for himself for an awfully long stretch. It’s somewhat ironic that his biggest successes in this era will come from other people’s songs after Willie’s writing helped so many artists move product in the years prior. Near the height of “Outlaw Country,” Willie takes a sharp left turn by recording an album’s worth of compositions from the Great American Songbook. Stardust becomes a huge hit and allows Willie to do what he wants. Specifically, that means a series of tribute albums and duet albums in the late '70s. The '80s would bring a string of crossover hits like "On the Road Again," "To All the Girls I Loved Before," "Pancho and Lefty," and "Seven Spanish Angels.” Always on My Mind was a HUGELY popular album at the time but signaled the end of a certain creative era for Willie. He writes again on Tougher Than Leather to mixed returns and the rest of the decade would see occasional hits among a plethora of releases. The 1990s kick off with Willie’s tax trouble and a pretty great release meant to raise money to pay back the government. We dive into Who’ll Buy My Memories and other highlights from an interesting decade of music, with Across the Borderline, Moonlight Becomes You, Spirit, and Teatro (with Daniel Lanois producing) among his best work. Willie has continued his firehose release schedule to this day, with a new album on the shelves just a couple months ago. We skim through the latter portion of his career, stopping to shine a light on a few of the more worthwhile albums. Over two parts and more than six hours, we hope to give both die-hard Willie fans and those new to the artist an overview of what made him so great.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Jesse Walker. Jesse is books editor at Reason and author of two books, The United States of Paranoia and Rebels On the Air. He can be found on Twitter at @notjessewalker. Jesse’s Music Pick: Willie Nelson Sure, in the past here on Political Beats we have dabbled in country-ish music. We've dipped our toes in the water of alt-country and country rock. But this, friends, is a full-fledged belly flip into the world of COUNTRY. Welcome to Willie Nelson, Part One. The show may never be the same. In Part One, we take Willie from his early songwriting days up through Phases and Stages. That’s right -- it’s 3+ hours and we don’t even get to Red Headed Stranger. That’s how much we have to say about Willie. We discuss much more than the music in this one. For example, we ask why country music's greatest albums are not considered among popular music's greatest as well? Why do we cabin them off to one side? How should we consider the songwriter versus the performer? Why would someone like Willie, early on at least, successful at one but not the other. And the voice. The delivery. What makes Willie truly Willie? From Liberty to RCA to Atlantic, all of Willie’s record labels are represented on the show. It's a straight-up crime that some of these records aren't routinely listed among the greatest American albums of all-time. However, that's the silo country music finds itself in, at times. We try to bust through that silo. It’s an exciting mix of styles and eras with entertainment and information for newbies and hardcore fans. Relax in any way you see fit, grab a bit of yesterday’s wine, and be amazed at how time slips away when you listen to Political Beats. You can even stay in your underwear, if you like.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Steve Miller. Steve is a veteran journalist and a reporter at RealClearInvestigations. He's also the author of Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock 'n' Roll in America's Loudest City. Steve's Music Pick: Mott The Hoople Do you remember the Saturday gigs? We do, we do! Mott The Hoople are known outside of specialist rock audiences these days either as "one of those weird bands from That Weird Era with one of those memorably weird names" or as a putative 'one-hit wonder' performing a song most people associate with David Bowie. So that's where you're wrong, kiddo. Mott The Hoople was a band that managed to set Britain (and particularly London) afire during the early Seventies, even as they consistently eluded chart success. They were brought together by famed rock & roll madman/record-jobber/A&R man/heavy drinker Guy Stevens, who realized his dream of creating a band that sounded like both The Rolling Stones AND Bob Dylan simultaneously by pairing a chubby Dylanesque vocalist/pianist (Ian Hunter, hiding his insecurity behind enormous shades) with a workaday gigging band that hailed from within spitting distance of the Welsh border (the Doc Thomas Group, with Mick Ralphs). From that fusion came Mott The Hoople, and their 1969 self-titled debut album. The pure rock & roll energy -- gruff, with zero pretensions, utterly available to the fans and the audience, yet strangely literate and aspirational as well -- was there from day one. The only question was whether Mott could ever properly harness it in the studio. The gang argues that they actually did quite a good job during their pre-Bowie years (especially on Brain Capers, an album of such loopily memorable hard-rock ferocity that it must be heard to be believed), but the record-buying public certainly didn't agree. Which is where David Bowie stepped in, rushing to save the band after they'd announced their own dissolution in the UK music press. His song "All The Young Dudes" became their most famous number, and yet on this episode everyone is at pains to argue that neither the song nor its namesake album are the real highlight of Mott's career. So let us explain to you how a band you've more or less never heard of recorded one of the greatest albums of the entire decade after their involvement with David Bowie as we sing you the ballad of Mott The Hoople. And if it seems we've lost just a little bit on the journey, then please treat us kindly.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Andrew Heaton. Andrew is a comedian and political satirist you might know from Reason TV. He is the host of The Political Orphanage, a funny policy analysis show for people tired of tribalism. You can find him on Twitter at @mightyheaton. Andrew Music Pick: “Weird Al” Yankovic You should know a few things about Al before we start. First, Al is super smart. He was two years younger than all the other kids in grade school and was going to be an architect before music intervened. Second, Al is super nice. There are no bad stories (that we know of!), no scandals. He doesn't even do a parody unless the artist gives the "Okay," even though there's no particular reason for him to do that. Three, Al is a super-good songwriter. You might think of parodies when you think of “Weird Al,” but a goal of this show is to convince you that his originals & pastiches are even better. The short Al story begins with the “Dr. Demento” radio show. Al was a fan. He passed him a cassette tape with some songs when the Dr. visited his high school, one of which then was played on the show. After that, Al continued to contribute and people took some notice. Well before the first album was released, he got national airplay with the singles "My Bologna" and "Another One Rides the Bus" -- the latter was recorded live on Demento's show and not even re-recorded for the debut. That '81 performance also is where Al met his long-time drummer. The rest of the band was put together in '82 and they've been together since. Not bad when it comes to longevity and loyalty. There are essentially four types of "Weird Al" songs: 1. Straight parodies (think "Eat It," “Fat,” “Smells Like Nirvana”) 2. Pastiches (song in the style of REM, Devo, Talking Heads, Cake, Bob Dylan, etc.) 3. Pure originals 4. Polka medleys of current or past hits There are certain recurring themes – food, TV, movies, the sad sack in love, lyrics with escalating comedic situations -- but through Al’s lengthy career, he’s shown the ability to adapt to whatever is in front of him, both musically and culturally. There are ups and downs to be sure, but his last album, Mandatory Fun (2014), was Al’s first number one album, a sign he still commanded a sizable fanbase of nerds and weirdos. Of which all three of us are, of course. Join the crowd, shout it out loud! Dare to be stupid with Political Beats and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Scott Immergut. Scott is the CEO of Ricochet.com and the Ricochet Audio Network. He is the long-time producer of the Ricochet Podcast and the GLoP Culture podcast with Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long, and John Podhoretz. He’s also the Executive Producer of The Hoover Institution’s Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson andGood Fellows, with Niall Ferguson, H. R. McMaster, and John Cochrane. Scott’s Music Pick: Squeeze They might do it down on Camber Sands and at Waikiki, but in the mainland U.S., Squeeze was mostly a rumor for much of the band’s career. Highest charting album? #32. Just two Top 40 singles. Squeeze, unfortunately, was destined to join the long list of very British bands that never quite crossed over to the States. If you know Squeeze at all, it might be because of the placement of “Tempted” on the soundtrack for Reality Bites. Or, perhaps a roommate at college had the Singles 45's and Under collection on CD, as most roommates seemed to in the 1990s. But there’s a heck of a lot more to the story. This is, of course, where Political Beats steps in to solve the problem. Because the truth is you won’t find music any better than what Squeeze produced, particularly at their peak from 1978-1982. The highly literate lyrics of Chris Difford, filled with sharp storytelling and British allusions, paired perfectly with the beautiful, melodic, and sometimes quite complicated music written by Glenn Tilbrook. Tilbrook’s soulful tenor took most of the leads (except, famously, on perhaps the band’s best-known song, “Tempted”) while Difford’s deep croaking voice contributed backing vocals. The duo were called the heirs to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting throne, though the comparison never really fit and actually harmed the band’s output, as we discuss on the show. But they were something special, producing some of the finest pop songs of the era, like “Another Nail In My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels,” “Up the Junction,” and “Is It Love”. The band broke up in 1982, making way for a pretty awful Tilbrook/Difford duo album that was a naked reach for the charts. Squeeze reunited in 1985, fell apart in 1999, got back together in 2007 and remain a recording and touring entity to this day. Pick up almost any album from their collection and you’re going to hear at least a handful of well-crafted, melodic, memorable tunes. If nothing else, you’ll learn about a whole bunch of British slang, like “argybargy,” “up the junction,” “that’s not cricket,” and “slap and tickle.” But we’re pretty sure you’re going to love this music, as well. It’s not just an East Side Story, it’s one everyone can enjoy on Political Beats.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Eli Lake. Eli is a contributing editor at Commentary, and fellow at the Clements Center at UT-Austin. Follow him on Twitter at @EliLake. Eli’s Music Pick: Prince, Pt. 3 (1992-2016) Eli rejoins the gang as they resume their discussion of the career of Prince Rogers Nelson, or as he was known for a significant part of this period covered during this episode, "[unpronounceable symbol]." Yes, this is the era where long-simmering tensions finally boiled over and Prince went to war with his record label Warner Brothers, resulting in his infamous decision to change his name to an unmarketable, unpronounceable "love symbol" ("The Artist Formerly Known As Prince" is the best people could do back then) in order to diminish the commercial impact of his work. What the gang are at great pains to explain here, during this final episode of our Prince spectacular, is that even though Prince was willfully obscurantist or difficult during this period, the music remained every bit as good as it had been during the earlier phases of his career. You never heard most of this music on the radio, and unless you were already a Prince fanatic at the time you likely didn't purchase it either, but up through 1999 or so, at least, there was no perceptible diminution in his talent. Welcome to the part of our Prince journey, where you'll be hearing music you had no idea even existed.