Sunday, February 28, 2010

Music at the University of Iowa: A Photographic History, 1968 - 1971

Over the weekend, I was flipping through some of my mother's old college year books. She attended the University of Iowa in the late '60s and early '70s.

The pages are filled with some great photos of student life - not merely the organizations, Greek life and athletics, but the anti-war protests and vigils, as well. One such image captures a group of students holding a moment of silence for the Kent State massacre. On another page, there's an article about student experimentation with drugs.

And then, of course, there was the music. Perhaps no other era is as famous for shaping modern music as the late '60s.

At the University of Iowa, student organizations such as the Central Party Committee (CPC) were charged with putting on annual campus concerts. Legendary acts like Jefferson Airplane, Sergio Mendez, The 5th Dimension, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Simon & Garfunkel all performed on campus during these years.

Featured below are several of my favorite music photos from these yearbooks, accompanied by some of my favorite captions.

Neil Diamond (1970)
"At one point during his set, Diamond had all the lights in the Fieldhouse turned off. He then commanded the audience to set off the flashbulbs that were attached to their cameras. They obeyed. It was psychedelic."

Grand Funk Railroad (1970)
"Grand Funk gets a lot of insults from rock critics who contend that their music is tuneless and dependent on feedback and volume. Perhaps the criticism is valid. Even so, the near capacity audience which witnessed the concert gave Grand Funk enthusiastic response."

"...played a sellout concert at Madison Square Garden the night before they played in Iowa City, so they were excusably wasted during most of the evening; nevertheless, they eventually got it on, as the saying goes."

Richie Havens (1970)
"He spent nearly as much time talking politics as singing, but the latter was worth waiting for. His best moment came with the singing of "Freedom" and "Motherless Child," songs that he sang in the film, Woodstock."

John Denver (1969)
"The same night (as comedian Mort Sahl performed), folksinger John Denver was performing in the Union Wheel Room. He drew a larger crowd than Sahl."

Led Zeppelin (1968-69)
Although there is no writeup about this show, it is mentioned that nine members of the CPC executive board resigned shortly thereafter to protest what they called, "centralization of activities and budget restrictions."

These images appear without credit in the original yearbooks. Outside of university archives, most of these photographs are likely lost in your parents' attics somewhere. As such, I have taken the liberty of scanning them myself to preserve and share these moments in music history.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Artist Spotlight: The Burning Hotels

The Burning Hotels is an indie rock quartet with a knack for coupling post-punk riffs and melodic choruses.

Hailing out of Fort Worth, the band has been steadily building a name for themselves ever since their first EP in 2007. The Fort Worth Weekly described the group as, "One of the town's coolest bands, period."

The Burning Hotels' debut album, Novels, is set for release on April 27th, 2010.

On Novels, the band embraces an aesthetic for jagged guitar rhythms and heady, driving beats. Tracks like "Boy or a Girl" and lead single, "Austin's Birthday" sound ready for teen rebellions and college parties, while the lush, introspective reverb of "The River" echoes to a coming of age.

Novels shows a band with a lot of promise. Sometimes we're left searching for answers and occasionally we find them. If that sounds a lot like life to you, they might be on to something.

Novels may not be revelatory, but it is certainly a lot of fun to take for a spin.

For more information on The Burning Hotels, visit

MP3 Download: The Burning Hotels - "Austin's Birthday" (via RapidShare)

The Burning Hotels - "The River"

Band information and music samples provided courtesy:
xo publicity

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cassette Kids - 'Lying Around'

Cassette Kids combine the artistic sensibilities of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with the dramatic flair of No Doubt.  As their Myspace page states, the band "make[s] the tamest dance floors gleam with sweat."  True story!

Although the quartet is from Australia, they seem to be picking up steam here in the states.  They are docketed to play SXSW in Austin, Texas this spring.  Undoubtedly, a 2009 plug from the one and only Lily Allen has increased their exposure.  

Check out Cassette Kids' video for 'Lying Around' above.  

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Get your free list here. A New Paradigm in the Digital Music Marketplace (FAM) recently launched its beta music download site to a limited number of invitees.

The site's concept is simple.  Users are given five credits each Tuesday.  To redeem a credit for a free song download, the user must watch a brief advertisement from the site's sponsors.  The user can choose which commercial out of a selection of 15 or so to watch.  After viewing, the download automatically begins.  The mp3s have no DRM restrictions, and they are typically available in 256 kpbs or 320 kpbs quality.

The idea is that sponsors, through their video advertisements, end up subsidizing music purchases for the end user.  So while the song may seem free to the end user, in actuality the sponsor has compensated the artist and label for the end user's download.  In exchange for the user's time watching video advertisements, the user gets a free mp3.  And in exchange for footing the bill for the mp3, the sponsor gets thirty seconds of direct marketing with the user.  

In the three or so weeks I've had beta access to FAM, I've been very pleased.  The song and artist selection is comprehensive.  Top 40 hits from Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas are available, as are more obscure alternative spins from Crash Kings and The Features.  

The site does have some limitations.  You are given only five download credits per week, and the credits do not roll over into subsequent weeks.  In other words, you must "use or lose" your credits within a seven day period.  Additionally, not every music label is on board yet, so there are still a number of artists missing from the database.  Finally, the interface is lacking.  Notwithstanding a "Top 100 Songs of the Week" showcase, songs and artists are not presented to the user in the way that the Amazon or iTunes stores tend to promote up and coming or artistically significant tunes.  Instead, the user must enter a basic search query into FAM's in-house search engine and sift through songs that may or may not be relevant.  

Despite its setbacks, FAM is a huge winner in my book.  The site is still in beta, so it's interface and offerings are bound to improve substantially.  Most importantly, where else can one download twenty free mp3s per month while ensuring artist compensation?  Nowhere, that's where.  Due to this fact alone, FAM is one of my favorite new music sites of 2010.

If you are interested in signing up for a beta membership, head on over to  My invite took about a month to arrive after registration, so be prepared to be patient.  The pay-off is well worth the wait.  

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Artist Spotlight: NNEKA

Nneka is an Afro-German singer/songwriter whose soulful music has found a solid place in my rotation this year.

At 19, Nneka made the dramatic, cross-cultural leap from her native Nigeria to Hamburg, Germany to further her education and eventually pursue her music.

Since that time, Nneka's music has resonated with fans across the globe, including Lauryn Hill and Lenny Kravitz.

Nneka's music finds its roots in Afrobeat - her vocals ranging from freestyle raps to elegant neo-soul. It is music that is socially aware of its past and optimistic about its future. Nneka gives voice to the harsh realities of her African homeland - the poverty and militant government - but also the strength of her people.

She offers personal insight, not answers, and lends a fresh breath of hope to the struggles faced around the world. Nneka sings from her heart about the life that she knows, and you can feel it in her vocals.

Concrete Jungle, Nneka's first American album, was released earlier this month. Visit Nneka's Official Website and learn more about this great artist and her music.

Watch the video to her single, "Heartbeat" below:

You can catch her powerful television debut of the song from last week's Late Show with David Letterman right HERE (via YouTube)

And check out the official video to her also-fantastic song, "The Uncomforable Truth" (via YouTube VEVO)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Behind The Sample: Imogen Heap - "Hide & Seek"

Imogen Heap is a British singer/songwriter whose solo work gained increased mainstream success after her duo, Frou Frou, was included in the breakthrough Garden State soundtrack. The film's soundtrack created a large buzz for the single, "Let Go."

A year later, Heap released her lush 2005 solo album, Speak for Yourself.

Amongst the songs featured on the LP was "Hide and Seek" - an a cappela single that utilized a harmonizer to create a synthetic quality to Heap's vocals. Stream the video below:

"Hide and Seek" was showcased prominently in the tense ending moments of The O.C.'s season 2 finale. Watch the clip
HERE (via YouTube). In the scene, a scuffle leads to a murder when a shot is fired in slow motion and abruptly met with the song's signature refrain, "Mmm, what you saaaay."

Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg then parodied the overly dramatic scene in the 2007 Digital Short, The Shooting, where the song is overused to the point of hilarity. Watch the skit HERE (via

Under the casual title, "Dear Sister", the short quickly became an internet phenomenon, with legions of fans reenacting their own parodies using the song sample.

If you've turned on Top 40 radio anytime in the last 6 months, chances are you've heard Jason DeRulo's megahit R&B single, "Whatcha Say." DeRulo's 2009 sensation heavily samples the now-famous refrain for it's chorus. Stream the video below:

Even more recently, New Orleans hip hop duo,
The Knux released the song, "Watchu Say," which also spins predominantly off of Heap's lyrics. Have a listen to it below:

The Knux - "Watchu Say"

Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" is yet another great example of a song that has continued to grow in popularity over a period of several years due to widespread pop culture and internet references.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

She & Him - 'In the Sun'

She & Him is slated to release Volume Two, their follow up to the aptly named Volume One, later this year.

In the interim, you can stream 'In the Sun,' one of Two's included tracks, below:

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