Columbia House: The CD Distribution Titan

For us 90’s kids, Columbia House (and their rival, BMG) were ubiquitous and important purveyors of CDs. Their infamous “8 CDs for a Penny” promotion was touted everywhere and many (including me) were hooked. It had a very tangible effect on the music business: some estimates say 15% of CDs sold in the 1990s were from mail order companies. How did this business model work? When you signed up, you turned on the firehouse–they would keep sending you full-price items on a monthly basis until you cancelled. This actually worked. The A.V. Club talked about working at Columbia House with four now-famous individuals who worked there as 20-somethings in the 90s, including journalist Sasha Frere-Jones and online content god Piotr Orlov.

Four Columbia House insiders explain the shady math behind “8 CDs for a penny”

AVClub.com, 6.10.15

Radiohead’s Masterpiece: “OK Computer”

There have been a number of pieces recently celebrating the 20th anniversary of OK Computer, the first great post-grunge rock album. Startlingly innovative, the album represented Radiohead’s long-expected ascension to true rock icons. The album, which came at the end of four years of constant touring, is heavily influenced by that reality (or unreality) and the resulting alienation and loss of individual identity. It was recorded in Jane Seymour’s 1,000-year old English manor house, which may be haunted by Henry VIII’s illegitimate daughter (or Jane Seymour’s mother), thus providing its own unique influence on the proceedings. Rolling Stone went all out for the anniversary, including a lengthy oral history with embedded music videos for each of the album’s songs.

Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’: An Oral History

RollingStone.com, 6.16.17

 

Bonnaroo’s Comedy Tent Just Goes With The Flow, Man

Bonnaroo wanted to expand its festival experience so in 2004 it added a comedy tent, a showcase that has gone on to host many of the top names in comedy, including Louis C.K., Steven Wright, Aziz Ansari, and David Cross. The digs are somewhat less than swanky (no running water), but many of the stars treat it like going to camp, or a paid vacation, where they see their comedy brethren and some good music. The A.V. Club gathers a bunch of interesting and funny anecdotes, plus some good video clips, in this oral history.

Deadnecks and sound checks: An oral history of Bonnaroo’s comedy tent

AVClub.com, 6.8.17

 

The Monterey Pop Festival Changes Music Forever

The Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 was the first rock music festival to gain widespread notice, and has since become known as a watershed moment in the 60’s rock history, especially for the California sound personified by the Grateful Dead, The Byrds, and Jefferson Airplane. Bands such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring a 24-year-old Janis Joplin), and The Who quickly became huge in the States due to their performances and the resulting publicity. The bands played for free and profits went to charity, another innovation that would trickle down through the years. On the eve of the 50th anniversary concert Billboard takes a look back at music history.

The Oral History of Monterey Pop, Where Jimi Torched His Ax & Janis Became a Star: Art Garfunkel, Steve Miller, Lou Adler & More

Billboard.com, 5.26.17

 

Detroit’s Ghettotech: Booty Music for the Masses

When your subgenre’s flagship song is “Ass N Titties” it’s tough to get philosophical. It’s time to party. Ghettotech grew out of Detroit’s legendary techno scene as pure party jams. Get the RPMs up, get the booty poppin’. With DJ Assault joined as DJ Godfather as the headlining party people, the subgenre enjoyed a fun decade run starting in the mid-90s. This oral history includes some great images and graphics from the time.

Ghettotech: An Oral History; The definitive story of Detroit’s dirty little genre

RedBullMusicAcademy.com, 5.24.17

Atlanta’s MJQ: Underground Heaven

The MJQ nightclub was founded in 1994 by George Chang, a 6’4″ Swedish-Chinese party monster. He quickly cultivated hip cache with an eclectic mix of music, including lounge music, dub, jungle, acid jazz, retro-soul and trip-hop. Three years later he upgraded to a larger venue and became a cornerstone of Atlanta nightlife that is still going strong today. Creative Loafing provides an expansive two-part oral history of the club, providing fascinating anecdotes how the club actively evolved with the times in order to stay in business.

Late-night magic at MJQ: An oral history, Part I

CreativeLoafing.com, 6.16.11

Late-night magic at MJQ: An oral history, Part II

CreativeLoafing.com, 6.23.11

 

 

Freaknik: Black Woodstock

Although Freaknik started as a barbecue amongst Atlanta’s black colleges, by the early 90s it had the rep of the ultimate off-the-hook party. Anything goes. Every year it got bigger, ultimately taking over the city with gridlock and insanity. It was unsustainable and Atlanta’s attempts to rein in the madness failed, ultimately causing the party to end. Complex takes a fond look back.

The Oral History of Freaknik

Complex.com, 4.12.13

L.A.’s Paisley Underground Music Scene

L.A.’s  punk explosion of 1977/78 faded quickly and one of the scenes to take its place was the Paisley Underground, a group of psychedelia-influenced bands in the same social circle. Originally referring to the triumvirate of the Bangles, Dream Syndicate, and Rain Parade, the term grew to encompass a wider range of bands, including ones outside L.A. Characterized by rough, droning guitars with sunshine vocals, the sound found a sizable audience in the early 80s.

The Paisley Underground: Los Angeles’s 1980s psychedelic explosion

TheGuardian.com, 5.16.13

The One and Only James Brown

If there was one thing that people agreed upon regarding James Brown it was that he could bring it. Night after night the “Hardest Working Man In Show Business” would bring the funk and show his audience a good time. Off the stage things get more complicated with contentious professional relationships and a rocky personal life. Unsurprisingly, Creative Loafing‘s oral history has lots of juice.

James Brown: Soul Brother No. 1 (1933-2006)

CreativeLoafing.com, 1.10.07

Soundgarden’s “Superunkown”

Soundgarden formed in 1984 and Superunknown was their fourth studio release. They knew what they were doing and they knew they were ready to go big. Superunkown would deliver with such 90’s rock classics as “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” and “Fell on Black Days.” Spin collects anecdotes about the volatile creation and effect of this grunge masterpiece.

Get Yourself Control: The Oral History of Soundgarden’s ‘Superunknown’

Spin.com, 6.5.14

 

Dubstep’s Uniquely Long Reign

Dubstep arose out of the ashes of garage and jungle in London around the turn of the century. Still going strong in many clubs around the world, it has enjoyed a uniquely long reign in a genre where subgenres come and go in a flash. What is dubstep? Frenetically paced bass-driven dance beats with liberal overdubbing. Vice chronicles the rise of dubstep out of working-class Croydon, a London suburb.

The VICE Oral History of Dubstep

Vice.com, 6.23.15

 

Aaliyah: A Visionary Artist Gone Too Soon

Aaliyah was a wildly talented young lady that already had a varied and successful career at the time of her untimely death in a plane crash at age 22. Primarily known as a progressive R & B singer she had just released her third album, all of which went double platinum. Known for her unique style combining sweet and sexy she was about to start a fashion line. She also starred in the movie Romeo Must Die (2000). The Fader talked to a collection of folks close to her, including producer Missy Elliott, for a touching remembrance of a unique soul and talent.

Aaliyah: Angel So Fly

TheFader.com, 8.25.11

The Birth of Outlaw Country

Up through the 1960s Nashville had a stranglehold on country music and they enforced conformity with a headmaster’s zeal. The musical and cultural revolution finally hit country in the early 70s and it didn’t happen in Nashville, it happened in Austin, Texas. Although this progressive offshoot was eventually subsumed by Nashville labels, the work of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle (among others) never lost its edge or its loving embrace of the outlaw. Texas Monthly provides an in-depth review of the lifecycle of this popular branch of country music.

That 70’s Show

TexasMonthly.com, 1.21.13

The Weeknd Blows Up: “Beauty Behind The Madness”

The Weeknd organically grew his fanbase through mixtapes and YouTube releases, ultimately compiled in the platinum-selling Trilogy (2012). But his major-label debut, Beauty Behind the Madness, turned him into an international superstar with its easy synthesis of soul, rhythm and blues, and rock.  The behind-the-scenes crew included some of Tesfaye’s musical buddies but also experienced L.A. producers Stephen Moccio, Ali Payami, Danny Schofield, and Max Martin. Here is the creation story of the Grammy-nominated album.

The Oral History Of The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness

Grammy.com, 2.8.16

 

Jazz June: Underrated Kinetic Emo Jams

The Jazz June formed at Kutztown University in the mid-90s and surfed the undercurrent of the emo boom, never quite breaking big despite a loyal following and kinetic songs with complicated structures. In addition to a solid punk-rock upbringing the band consciously tried to expand their horizons by listening to free-form jazz greats like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck. They tried to bring that structural complexity to a punk-rock/emo aesthetic and the result was songs with alot more going on than their contemporaries. Noisey catches up with the boys for retrospective.

The Possibilities Are Endless: An Oral History of the Jazz June

Noisey.Vice.com, 5.14.14

Deep Ellum: The Heart of the Dallas Music Scene

Deep Ellum has a long but tumultuous history as the heart of the North Texas music scene. The small neighborhood just east of downtown Dallas first made a name musically in the early 20th century as a blues mecca, hosting the likes of Robert Johnson, Lead Belly, and T-Bone Walker. After a long derelict period the scene rebounded in the early 90s with alt-rock bands like the Toadies, Old 97s and Funland leading the way. After a brief downturn at the turn of the century the scene rebounded again with storied clubs like Trees and City Tavern reopening to host a musically diverse group of bands including Polyphonic Spree, Erykah Badu, and Sarah Jaffe.

An Oral History of the Dallas Music Scene

DallasObserver.com, 10.13.11

Kurt Cobain’s Last Days

Nirvana, the band that put the stake through the heart of mindless 80’s rock, had a relatively brief and mercurial career. Much of this was due to the troubled and mercurial Kurt Cobain, a true punk rocker who was not cut out to be a rock star. Esquire got rights to reprint the last chapter of a book-length oral history of Nirvana, and the last chapter covers the band’s last chapter and Cobain’s last days.

Inside the Final Days of Nirvana

Esquire.com, 3.6.15

Toronto’s Caribana: The Largest Carnival Festival in North America

Toronto’s Caribana Festival has had its share of twists and turns since being founded in 1967 in honor of Canada’s centenary. It became a celebrated annual event on Canada’s long Civic Holiday weekend, eventually bringing an estimated $438M into the region each year. Its more recent history is a bit more murky as the route changed from the downtown University Avenue to Lakeshore Boulevard in 1991, the original founders were pushed out in 2006 due to perceived mismanagement, and an admittance fee was introduced for the first time in 2013. Noisey chronicles the storied past of the festival, the uncertain present, and gets ideas on how it could reclaim its former glory.

The Love or the Money: An Oral History of Toronto’s Caribana

Noisey.Vice.com, 5.26.15

The Honk! Street Music Festival Goes Global

Street-music festivals, where fun-loving bands jam amongst the people, have exploded in popularity in recent years, and alot of it has to do with the The Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands in Boston. One part New Orleans second line, one part hippie jam fest, one part street party, the concept looks good on paper! The first festival succeeded spectacularly in 2006 and has since spread like wildfire to Austin, Seattle, Rio, Detroit, NYC, and Australia. WBUR in Boston details the origins.

An Oral History: How The Honk Music Fest Began Here And Spread Around The World

WBUR.org, 10.11.14

The Alabama Shakes Break Out With “Sound & Color”

Electric modern soul masters Alabama Shakes exploded onto the national music scene in 2012 with their debut Boys & Girls, and fearless frontwoman Brittany Howard took the group to the next level with 2015’s Grammy-nominated record Sound & Color. The wonderfully down-to-earth band made themselves at home in the recording studio with southern feasts and de-stressing coloring books. All of it leaves one wondering what the musically adventurous group will do next…

The Oral History Of Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color

Grammy.com, 2.8.16