Friday, April 30, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Don't Stop Me Now

Don't Stop Me Now is Husband's favorite Queen song and since it is his 30th birthday in a few days, I figured I'd do a Queen Song of the Week in his honor.

Don't Stop Me Now, written by Freddie Mercury, was released on the 1978 album Jazz.  It was released as a single and peaked at #9 on the U.K. charts and at #86 on the U.S. charts.

As an aside, seriously U.S.? In 1979, Escape (The Pina Colada Song) was #1 on the U.S. charts for two weeks (and then a third week in 1980) and Queen only makes it to #86? There were many other occasions where a song charted much higher in the U.K. in the U.S. but this particular song is just a glaring disparity (#4 versus #86). I seriously should have been born in England... in 1965. Rant over.

I'm not sure why exactly my Husband likes this song. I made him a mix CD of 18 Queen songs and then asked him every night for two weeks, "Which song is your favorite?" Finally, he said, "I like the song about Mr. Fahrenheit." Then we got SingStar: Queen a few weeks later. I asked if he wanted to sing that song (in front of my entire family, no less) and he agreed so he was clearly not joking about liking the song.

I'll agree - it's a great song. Jazz is Queen's last album from the 1970s. In the 1980s, they moved in a slightly different direction, experimenting with a variety of new styles (including funk) on 1980s The Game and 1982s Hot Space (widely considered by both fans as well as the band itself to be one of their weakest albums). That said, this song is bit of a transition for Queen: not quite the complex hard rock material from the earlier 1970s but not quite the radio-friendly pop they began to record in the 1980s. Sure, it's catchy and the harmonies are fun. The guitar solo isn't too complicated (in relation to the rest of the song, I mean - it's not a terrible divergence from the melody. I have no idea how complicated it is for Dr. May.) Overall, it's a good listen. I like it, but if I had to pick five (or even ten) Queen songs to take with me on a desert island, this probably wouldn't be one of them. Husband, on the other hand, would be perfectly content to listen to this (and Radio Ga Ga) over and over again. So it is clearly a matter of personal taste!

For some reason, this song is also a favorite for people to recreate using video games proving that there are actually people out there with more time on their hands than me! Here's the entire song composed on Mario Paint  and here's song divided into the four main parts (singing, drums, guitar, and bass) on something called Automatic Mario. Absolutely ridiculous!

Happy Listening!
And Happy Birthday Husband!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Man on Fire

I've mentioned this song before (um several times actually), but it still warrants an entire post dedicated to it because it is that awesome!

Man on Fire is on RT's 1984 solo album Strange Frontier. It was released as a single, but as RT was busy touring with Queen, he did little to promote the single so it peaked at #66 in the U.K.

This is a great song with a great drum centered beat. I've heard criticisms that this song has no rhythm guitar, but in my (completely non-musically educated) opinion, I don't think it needs one as the drums serve more as mellody than beat. The cymbal crashes throughout the chorus are great- as soon as I figure out how to stream songs through Rock Band so I can play along, this is the first song I'm going to try because it's just so fun to listen to and play along with on my steering wheel!

Lyrically this is a really strong song for RT because he uses *gasp* a metaphor. Obviously, RT isn't literally "on fire" so right there, he's beyond "the way you boil your eggs" (Okay, I've linked this song before, but I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea about it. The song is Touch the Sky from RT's 1994 album Happiness? and it really is a good song once you get past that one awful lyric and the children's laughter at the beginning and end of the song. Studio effects sparingly, remember RT? Sparingly.) In 1984 Bruce Springsteen was huge and many have suggested that RT was trying to parallel the same "struggles of the working man" theme in his songwriting. This song is definitely an example of that theme (whether RT was influenced by Springsteen, I can't say unless RT wants to contact me directly to discuss the matter!) as RT sings about trying to make ends meet to support his family but sometimes just wanting to run away from it all. I can report that Strange Frontier was released a few weeks prior to Springsteen's iconic Born in the U.S.A. so any direct similarities are pure coincidence.

Though RT didn't do much to promote Man on Fire as a single, one thing that he did do was make a music video the greatest music video of all time. I can describe it but really seeing is believing - all I can say is that you should pay particular attention to RT's attempt at dancing (How can a drummer have so little rhythm?) culminating in what I can only describe as a frog-hopping move during the last part of the bridge ("It's the power of your love that keeps me under their thumb. Cause the beat of your heart is the beat of my drum.") RT wasn't able to restrain himself from a strictly literal interpretation of the song in the music video so at the end he burns down the building. This ending may have even resulted in the video being banned in the U.S.

Despite it not enjoying any real success on the charts, Man on Fire is a fan favorite and RT often played it live when performing solo as well as with his side project The Cross.

Should RT ever tour in the U.S. again (or should I convince Husband that we need to schedule a trip to England based on when he's touring there), I'll be in the front row screaming, "Play Man on Fire!"

Happy Listening!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Boston Marathon Champions

Congratulations to the winners of the 114th Boston Marathon. This year was a terribly exciting race!

Women's Champion: Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia (2:26:11) - Erkesso pulled away from the rest of the pack at the 11 mile mark. She lead for most of the race by as much as two full minutes! In the last few miles, she showed signs of fatigue, but was able to hold off second place finisher Tatyana Pushkareva of Russia for the win.

Men's Champion: Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot of Kenya (2:05:52 - new course record!). Cheruiyot broke away from the pack with last year's champion Deriba Merga, but then Cheruiyot pulled away from Merga late in the race. Interestingly, another Robert Cheruiyot (no relation) was the previous course record holder and had to withdraw from this year's marathon due to an injury.

Women's Wheelchair Champion: Wakako Tsuchida of Japan (1:43:32). This is Tsuchida's four consecutive Boston Marathon victory.

Men's Wheelchair Champion: Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa (1:26:53). This is Van Dyk's record ninth Boston Marathon win, including six consecutive victories from 2000-2006.

Congratulations to all the winners and to everyone who participated in (or is still participating in) the 114th Boston Marathon!

I'm off to do a much less impressive 5 mile run of my own - I'll be back later this afternoon with some Anthropologie fitting room reviews!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Running Essentials: Rules of the Road

Every spring as the temperature rises so does the number of runners venturing out of their treadmill-induced winter comas and onto the road. Unfortunately every year, runners are severely injured or killed while running on the road. That said, there's nothing wrong with running on the road: it certainly beats the monotony of a treadmill or a track. However, you have to be smart about it.

Here are a few rules to get you started:

1) Always run against traffic! This means that you should be able to see cars in your lane that are approaching you. I can't tell you how often I see runners running with traffic and it makes me so nervous. Part of running on the road intelligently is being in a position to react quickly to a dangerous situation - if a car is coming up behind you, it's impossible to do that.

2) Listen to music at a low level (or not at all). I admit that I frequently listen to music while I run. Again be smart about it - have the music at a relatively low volume. You should always be able to hear appropaching traffic, bicyclists, other runners, or animals.

3) If you are running at dawn or dusk, invest in some reflective safety gear (see here). I have a reflective vest. It was cheap ($10) and straps on over whatever I'm wearing on my run. Do I look ridiculous? Yes. Do I want to die? No. Always assume that a driver does not see you. Drivers are not thinking about looking out for runners so wear reflective gear to stand out more.

4) Wear light and bright clothing. This ties in with #3 - regardless of what time of the day you run, wear at least one bright article of clothing. You'll stand out more and drivers will be more likely to see you.

5) If you approach a crosswalk or intersection, do not assume that a driver is giving you the right of way. I never cross a road in front of a driver unless the driver has expressly waived me by. Even then, I proceed cautiously and quickly.

Even for those of you that don't run yourselves, I'm sure you've seen runners while you're driving around your towns. Here is some advice for you motorists:

1) If you see a runner approaching and a car is coming in the other lane, slow down. Ideally, slow down enough that the two cars don't pass the runner at the same time. Under no circumstances should you speed up in order to ensure that both cars don't pass the runner at the same time. As a runner there is nothing more terrifying than a car speeding past you at 50 mph!

2) If you see a runner approaching and there is no car coming in the other lane, move over slightly across the median. This is much appreciated by runners, not only because it means I don't have to hop off the road into the brush, but also because it gives me 100% confirmation that the driver has seen me.

3) Be sure to use your turn signals. It's easier for a runner to be safe on the road when you let the runner know your plans. If you want to allow the runner to cross in front of you, expressly use your hand to waive the runner by. A head nod or just waiting for the runner to cross is not enough.

Monday marks the 114th Boston Marathon - I found out on Friday that one of the attorneys that works in my courthouse is running! GO CHRIS! Yay!

In order to run the Boston Marathon, you have to qualify (i.e. run another marathon under a certain time for your age). To qualify for Boston, I'd have to run a marathon in 3 hours and 40 minutes or less. That's roughly a 8:20 mile won't be running in the Boston Marathon anytime soon! When I'm 70, I'll only have to run a 11:30 pace for 26.2 miles so I can spend the next 40 years working on that!

I will, however, enjoy watching the Boston Marathon on television ('cause it only takes the elite runners like two hours to run it!) and then I'll do a much shorter run of my own to commemorate the day!

Happy Running!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Let Me Live

Last week, I reviewed a song from Queen's self-titled debut album released in 1973 (see here). So I thought it was fitting to this week review a song from Queen's last album released twenty-two years later in 1995. This week's Queen Song of the Week is Let Me Live from Made in Heaven. This is the last album to feature Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon as Queen. The album is the product of RT, Dr. May, and Deacon (in his last official work with Queen) creating songs using bits of old recordings by Freddie Mercury. Of course, Mercury died in 1991 hence the album's title.

Let Me Live was released as a single in the U.K. in 1996 and peaked at #9 on the charts.

Let Me Live is credited to the entire band reflecting a change that they made in the late 1980s. Mercury's vocals are thought to have been recorded in the early 1980s and may have been the result of a jam session with Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck. Neither Stewart nor Beck are featured on the final version of the song. Unfortunately Mercury only recorded about 90 seconds of vocals and the lyrics of the song had never been completed. To finish the song, RT sang the second verse and the bridge and Dr. May sang the final verse. The band enlisted several gospel vocalists because RT and Dr. May couldn't recreate Queen's signature vocal layering sound without Mercury.

This song is really lovely and David R. Fuller's video is amazing. I really get choked up at the fan-created Queen retrospective music videos (see the song '39 here) and this one in particular is stunning. The visuals span the band's entire career and focus on the member singing lead vocals for each particular verse (with John Deacon sprinkled throughout). It's so obvious watching all this footage that the band really were great friends and makes Mercury's early death even more tragic.

Many might think that the intro and outro choir portions of Let Me Live sound similar to Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart. An earlier version actually sounded even more similiar and Queen changed the song at the last minute (it's unclear if they were told to change it or made the decision themselves). The original version had already been released in the U.S. and is available here.

That the surviving members of the band managed to turn 90 seconds of vocals into this absolutely stunning song is a real testament to what great musicians they all are. This is the only Queen song that Mercury, RT and Dr. May all sang lead on and it works out really well - they all have such great voices and such differing styles, but somehow it all works into the mood of the song.

The gospel choir mades the song reminscent of Somebody to Love and Queen's earlier work which required them to work tirelessly in the studio overdubbing vocals and piecing bits together with scotch tape. However, it shouldn't be lost on the listener than in the 1970s, Queen could do all the vocal overdubs themselves. In 1995, without Mercury, they couldn't.

Currently many Queen fans are itching for a box set of the group, including unreleased tracks and alternate versions of songs. However, many suspect that the best of what's available in the archives was used for Made in Heaven and anything released now would be a disappointment. A Freddie Mercury box set, released in 2000, makes reference to a forthcoming Queen box set so fans continue to hold out hope!

Happy Listening!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review: Dr. Denese Self Tanning Gloves

Every summer I attempt to find a sunless tanner. I'll buy a bottle of something, use it once or twice, Husband will complain about the smell, I'll whine about the streaks and wear pants for a week, and the bottle will sit unused in the bathroom closet until I replace it with my next purchase.

I've been interested in trying tanning towels for a while now. The idea is simple: rather than a spray or foam in a bottle, the tanning formula is on a towel (like a moist towelette). You rub it on yourself and presto - a pretty summer glow.

After researching different brands and reading customer reviews, I ordered Dr. Denese Glow Younger 12-ct Pro-Peptide SelfTanning Gloves (*whew* That's a mouthful!) from QVC (see here). QVC has a nice 30 return policy on anything (cosmetics included) so I figured if I absolutely hated the towels, I could return them and only be out the shipping (which would be the equivalent of the towels I had used). Mathematically it made sense and since the gloves were the Today's Special Value, they were marked down almost $10. Score!

The towels arrived on Wednesday night. My first dilemma: do I use the towels now, during the week or do I wait until the weekend where I can hide out in the house for two days if a self tanning disaster occurred? I figured, "What the heck?" and decided to go for it.

The glove itself is pretty straightforward to use and there are even instructions on how to apply on the package. The recommendation is to start on your legs, when you get to your torso, turn the glove over and do your upper body. Then turn the glove inside out and do your face and neck.

A note regarding smell: there is none...initially. After a few hours that same fake tanning smell set in, but it wasn't overwhelming (i.e. Husband was able to stay in the same room as me. Usually he's very sensitive to cosmetic smells). The next morning after I showered, the smell was gone.

I took some before and after pictures for comparison. The pictures were taken exactly 24 hours apart in the same lighting and I'm even wearing the same clothes! Look at me with my little controlled environment for my experiment - I should be a scientist!

Here's my leg (before and after, respectively):

Here's my arm (before and after, respectively):

Here's my face (before and after, respectively):

And here's a full body shot (before and after, respectively):

In addition to Dr Denese's tips for applying, I took even more caution. I showered first and exfoliated like a mofo! When I started on my legs, I ran the towel along each of my calves and my thigh once before I started to rub it in. I didn't want too much formula to collect on one particular limb. Then once I had covered my calves and thighs, I went back and did my knees and ankles. I did the same thing with my arms, saving my elbows for last.

It was with tremendous trepidation that I used the tan towel on my face. I can wear pants to cover leg splotches, but it's too warm now for a ski mask and it wouldn't be court appropriate anyway. By the time you get to your face and turn the towel inside out, the towel is just about dry so not too much formula is left. I basically have a nice warm glow - like I used a bronzer.

It's subtle, but it's also natural. My skin tends to get really red (you can tell in the before pictures), but not because I'm sunburned. I just have a rosy undertone to my skin. Several people commented today that I looked like I had been in the sun. I was actually really impressed with the coverage and I ended up with only a few blotches (on my wrist and I knew this was going to happen because it always does. You wash your hands and end up with a line of demarkation! ARG!) I wore some bracelets today to cover up the line and nobody noticed!

The auto-delivery plan at QVC is set for every 60 days. With 12 towels per order, that suggests that I should use one every 5 days. That will take me to Sunday so I'll be interested to see how much of my tan is left by then or will I have to reinvent the wheel every time I use these things.

One negative I will note is that it was difficult to keep the glove on my hand. It kept sliding around as I was running it over my skin. A bit of elastic on the end would have been nice to help keep it in place. I didn't find this to be such an enormous flaw that I wouldn't use these or order these again.

Day 2: While stepping out of the shower this morning, I noticed some "tan" rubbing off on my nice white towels. Whoops! Better dust off the older towels for next time. The tan is holding up nicely. I think my biggest enemy is going to be dry skin so I'm moisturizing like nobody's business. It still looks really natural too. I would say that as the towel dries, it deposits less of the formula on your skin. I did my stomach last and it is significantly lighter than the rest of my body (that may also be because it started out significantly lighter). Just something to consider - when I reapply on Sunday, I'm going to do my stomach first and my arms second when I get to my upper body.

Day 3: The tan is definitely starting to fade, but seems to be doing so naturally. No flaking or peeling leaving me looking like a tiger (i.e. orange streaks). I'm supposed to reapply every 5 days but I'm going to reapply tonight (at the end of 4 days) to see what it looks like to try to "build" a tan.

Overall I'm impressed and I'd recommend these to anyone looking for a natural and safe summer tan!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Keep Yourself Alive

This week's Queen Song of the Week is the very first song Queen ever released as a single: Keep Yourself Alive, written by Dr. May, appeared on the band's self-titled debut album. It was released as a single in 1973 but did not chart in either the U.K. or the U.S. It is the only Queen single that didn't chart in the U.K.
For a band's first single, this is pretty darn good! It's a very good reflection of who Queen was at the time and also who they would become. The song features a guitar solo by Dr. May, a lengthy drum solo by RT, harmonies, and Dr. May singing lead on one line (both he and RT would go on to sing lead vocals on entire Queen songs). For some reason I always think that this song, especially the guitar solo, has a bit of a country/bluegrass feeling to it which is lots of fun.

Despite this song failing to chart, it was a favorite for the band to play live. Often following this song the band would segue into a drum and timpani solo by RT and then a guitar solo by Dr. May. Keep Yourself Alive has also been included on most Queen compilation albums because it was the first single.

Happy Listening!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Neil Diamond News: Red Sox/Yankees Season Opener

If Queen is my favorite band (which they are) then Neil Diamond is my favorite solo artist. I absolutely adore Neil Diamond and have for nearly a decade. I've seen him perform live twice...well actually three times. I saw him in concert at Madison Square Garden in 2001 and then I saw him again in 2008 at Fenway Park in Boston.

I also saw him once on the NYU campus. You see, readers, Neil Diamond, like myself, attended New York University. He left before graduating in order to pursue songwriting (probably a good decision), but maintained a relationship with the school, particularily with its former president L.Jay Oliva, who was a huge fan. In 2001, President Oliva decided to host an on-campus event for students. It was originally dubbed Autum Fest and was supposed to be a day of fall foliage fun, but after September 11, the day took on a more serious turn (see story here at the truly inept Washington Square News. This story obviously was not published on January 1, 1997, but such is the incompetence of my former college's official newspaper). Neil Diamond was in town for two shows at Madison Square Garden and he agreed to perform at the event.

I arrived at Autumn Fest early and shoved past approximately 500 grandmothers to get to the front of the crowd. Once there, I stood maybe 15 feet from Neil Diamond, too terrified to lift my camera and take a picture. He noticed me (how could he not - me being literally the only person on the plaza under the age of 60) and kept looking at me and smiling, inviting me to take photo after glorious photo of him! But my fear prevented me from taking advantage of this amazing opportunity. I did get several good photos of him which I've since lost track of (through no fault of my own. My then-boyfriend posted the pictures on my NYU student website which NYU arbitrarily deleted without warning a few years ago) - one photo from the day remains. It's framed and in my guest bathroom for everyone who enters my home to enjoy. Aren't I a wonderful hostess?

Ah so the news! Anyone who is a Red Sox fan knows that at every home game before the Red Sox come to bat in the 8th inning, they play Sweet Caroline. Everyone sings along (inserting the extra parts of "Ba ba ba" and "So good, so good, so good" throughout the chorus. When I saw Neil Diamond at Fenway in 2008, he played Sweet Caroline three times and was selling a special concert t-shirt specific to Fenway Park (which I, of course, purchased).

Last night at the season opener between the Red Sox and the Yankees, Neil Diamond appeared live to sing Sweet Caroline! You can watch his performance here. Now Neil Diamond is getting up there in years - he's pretty close to 70 right now, but I think he sounds amazing, especially at the chorus when he really gets into his stride. You can tell he's having a good time too!

Neil Diamond is still going strong - writing, recording and touring. If you ever get a chance to see him in concert, even if you aren't a fan, go! Seriously! Husband isn't a Neil Diamond "fan" and even he had to admit that the concert at Fenway was pretty freakin' incredible.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Now I'm Here

And now, as promised, a Queen Song of the Week from Sheer Heart Attack (the album).

As I typed that, I giggled because it reminds me of when Keith Olbermann says, "And now, as promised, a special comment," as if anybody in the audience is going to freak out if the show ends and he hasn't done his special comment. "But, Keith! You promised!" Just like I'm sure anyone actually reading this would send me a nasty email if I had decided to recommend a song off The Game instead of Sheer Heart Attack.

But I digress (shocker).

Now I'm Here is a track off Queen's third studio album Sheer Heart Attack. The song was written by Dr. May and released as a single in 1975. It peaked at #11 on the U.K. charts.

What can I say? This song is freakin' awesome. It was a live favorite and the band played it straight through their final concerts in 1986. In 1999, Dr. May and RT appeared as special guests at a Foo Fighters concert, joining the band on stage to play this song. Sadly, when Queen + Paul Rodgers toured in 2005 and 2008, this was one of the few Queen songs not revived. The speculation is that because the boys are a bit long in the tooth, they might not be able to keep up with the song's quick pace and changes (again, if RT wants to contact me to confirm whether this is the case, please feel free!).

*EDIT* Here's a link to Queen performing the song back in 1981. In the audio commentary, RT and Dr. May explain that they had lost the footage of the opening part of the song (when the video was originally edited as We Will Rock You, they eliminated that part and destroyed all the video they didn't use. What!?!?!) so they had to fill the video with shots of the audience.

This is another song that is a great example of Queen's style, especially in the 1970s. Their songs around this time didn't sound the same, but the elements they contained gave them that distinctive Queen style. Now I'm Here has a great guitar riff and absolutely astonishing drums (Frankily I'm surprised anyone can play that part let alone RT at 60 years old!). One thing I love about the Queen drum sound is that it adds something to the song apart from just the beat or rhythm itself. RT does such a great job of filling in the transitional spaces of the songs that the drums appear to take over the melody at times. Of course, there's also great harmonies and vocal layering throughout the chorus and some portions of the verses.

The lyrics tell the story of Queen touring the previous year with Mott the Hoople (hence the lyric, "down in the city just Hoople and me.") Dr. May actually wrote the song while in the hospital recovering from hepatitis. The rest of the band went into the studio to begin recording the album and when Dr. May was healthy, he joined them and recorded his guitar parts in addition to presenting them with this song. Well done, Dr. May!

Happy Listening!