Rock bands and pop covers: man, this is just getting cliche

When Travis covered …Baby One More Time as tender British comfort rock, it was cute.

[audio:070715BabyOneMoreTime.mp3]

When Jonathan Coultan did Baby Got Back as a singer/songwriter folk troubadour, it was funny.When The Gourds played Gin n’ Juice in up-the-mountain bluegrass style, it was just bizarre.

Play:

When Mat Weddle of Obadiah Parker re-invented Hey Ya! as a somber, heartfelt ballad, it was endearing.

Hey Ya Cover

Then there was Alanis, whose performance of My Humps showed sublime brilliance.

Alanis Morissette "My Humps" video

But this, this is just getting out of hand: Jenny Owen Youngs playing Nelly’s Hot in Herre:

I don’t mean to call out Ms. Youngs in particular, but hearing her play Nelly has got me thinking: seriously, what is going on here? What is up with this string of rock-mode artists covering hip hop/pop songs?

And conversely, why don’t we see the same thing in reverse: Contemporary hip hop artists covering rock songs? That might just be cultural differences; rockers cover, rappers sample.

One could argue that a great song is a great song and that successful reinterpretations reflect well on the source material. But I won’t be the one making that argument because, looking over that list of songs, I can’t help but notice that most of those inspiration points are of dubious artistic merit.

While Outkast gets props for artistry, Britney Spears is generally not regarded for the quality of her music. And I like Gin n’ Juice as much as the next guy (5 stars in my iTunes library), but it’s not what I would call “great music.” So, what is it about that song, or …Baby One More Time, or Hot in Herre that makes them attractive targets for rock-based musicians to cover?

Generally, to cover a song is a choice to pay tribute to it or its originator, a way to honor them for their influence and their impact on the development of the person performing the cover. Witness Beatles tribute bands, KISS tribute bands and Elvis impersonators. Shoot, Radiohead has created a cottage industry of cover artists and performers.

But, one does not create a bluegrass version of to pay homage to Snoop Dogg’s profound influence on the evolution of hip hop. It just doesn’t follow. So what’s behind these attempts to radically re-invent songs that are, by and large, not very good to begin with?

One possible explanation is that it’s been nearly a decade since vapid pop and profligate ego-rap began to dominate corporate music culture. Bad music is what the young folks are used to hearing en masse, so it makes some sense that the current generation’s crop of young musicians would play what they are familiar with. I know that when I was younger and in a band, a good part of our repertoire consisted of the contemporary hits of the time.

But we were a rock band playing rock songs. And it was heyday of grunge and its aftermath, where the ethos explicitly called for the rejection of corporate music. The irony of course, is that by the time grunge had become big enough to be called a movement, most of its artists had moved to corporate labels.

Still, those artists didn’t make names for themselves by playing the hits of their predecessors. Nirvana didn’t become famous by playing Rock You Like A Hurricane and Every Rose Has Its Thorn in the clubs of Olympia. Even at the apex of the irony-soaked 90s, one was more likely to see bands covering influential songs from the 60s and 70s rather than perform joking versions of songs by discredited 80s acts. The audience would not have stood for it.

And that’s the other part of this equation: the listeners. Modern audiences seem to LOVE these homages to the silly and ridiculous. Alanis’ My Humps made a huge splash on the net (7.9 million views on YouTube as of this writing). Jonathan Coulton owes a good portion of his stature to his remake of Baby Got Back.

But therein lies a double-edged sword. For established artists, the choice to release an unconventional cover can be a fun diversion for the fan base. But for new and emerging artists, taking a shortcut by means of using someone else’s song to attract attention threatens to forever pigeonhole that artist into the novelty camp.

Mr. Coulton, no matter his other merits, may forever be the folksy-Baby-Got-Back guy. The Gourds, despite their long history, might never outgrow their notoriety as hillbilly gangsters smokin’ indo.

And that’s when it works! There’s always the possibility that the new version might somehow be catastrophically wrong. The above Ms. Youngs cover is my first exposure to her work and from this point forward, she will probably be known to me as the purveyor of a completely unnecessary endeavor.

Why would a new musician take the risk for what is surely an unpredictable response? For the joke of it? Irony? Camp value? Plain harmless mirth? Sure, absurd cover versions might be fun for a while, but like candy, too much will make you sick.

I suspect a large part of the explanation for the phenomenon lies with ever-expanding democratization of the means of production. Until fairly recently, the barrier to entry was significantly high for the recording and distribution of music. In addition to musicianship, one needed to own relatively expensive equipment (mics, amps, multi-track recorders, etc.) and have the knowledge to use them, or one needed to have access to expensive professional studio time. Of course, there was the time and patience needed to get it all put together. And that was just to get the recording made. As recently as ten years ago, getting that recording into the ears of others meant a hefty investment in cassettes and authored CDs from a duplication house.

With so much time and energy involved, musicians, particularly low-resource ones, would surely try to avoid being frivolous with their efforts. Care and consideration of the material were required to make maximum use of scarce commodities.

However, with the aid of technology (inexpensive computers, video cameras, audio recorders and programs like Apple’s Garageband, etc), the process of proficiently recording music is much more manageable and far less time consuming. High-speed Internet makes that music instantly available to a billion people. It can easily seem like a lark to throw together any ol’ ditty based on a whim, including songs that have only recently been released.

In fact, I would not be surprised if that were to become a new trend, the near-immediate release of covers of new songs. Indeed, such an occurrence has already happened. Franz Ferdinand’s version LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends was released as an official b-side on the All My Friends single. It’s not so far fetched to imagine that Britney’s next single will get a folk treatment on YouTube within days of its release.

Why anyone would do that is beyond me, but it is a distinct possibility.

OK Computer: 10 Years Young

A number of people pointed out to me recently that Radiohead’s seminal masterpiece, OK Computer, turned ten years old a couple weeks ago. That’s right, it’s been a full decade since the band began to cement its reputation as “world’s greatest rock band.”

Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday, my friend Dan was imploring me to give Radiohead a shot. At this point in the band’s career, I had been less than impressed with their offerings. Don’t worry though, I came around.

Anyway, if I recall my history correctly, the record label received it coolly and feared that its immense sound and intellectual themes would scare away buyers. Fortunately for the band, people are smarter than record labels give them credit for. The rest, they say, “is history.”

To celebrate OK Computer’s decennial, Hypeful has compiled every song on the album, each covered by a different artist, as downloadable mp3s. I’m not sure which is the most intriguing, Shawn Lee’s quasi-soul adult contemporary rendition of No Surprises or the String Quartet version of Electioneering or The Illuminati’s glitched and distorted interpretation of Subterranean Homesick Alien. For my money, I think it’s Silent Gray’s inexplicable rock recording of Fitter Happier.

Of course, none of them improve on the original, but after ten years, the new perspectives are refreshing. But if imitation and inspiration are the sincerest forms of flattery, then the existence of these covers goes to show the extent of OK Computer’s legacy.

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Update July 10: Not to be outdone, stereogum has compiled its own unique list of track-by-track OK Computer covers. This further demonstrated the impact of the record. It’s astonishing that it would be that easy to pull together, from existing sources, TWO complete cover records featuring 24 different artists, with no overlap.

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Radiohead, Paranoid Android live on Later with Jools Holland, May 31, 1997 (two weeks before the record’s release). The band rocks oh so much:

Radiohead – Paranoid Android (on Jools Holland, 1997)

New Radiohead Album Preview

Radiohead will be blessing the world with its creative juices in the very near future. It is a time of much anticipation, with excitement and wariness rolled into a caldron of suspense.

What will the new album sound like?
Can it possibly match the group’s reputation?
What new musical ideas will the world be forced to grasp and understand?

We won’t know the answers to those questions until sometime this autumn, but for now here’s a bit of a preview, courtesy of YouTube:

Update: 9/30. The new album is titled In Rainbows.

Playgrounds: Fun and interesting applications of Last.fm’s technology

The vast array of listening information available at Last.fm probably had a great deal to do with CBS’s decision to purchase the company. Though I’m wary of the deal, I’ve not lost all hope for the site. The Audioscrobbler technology behind it is some pretty fascinating stuff and the data it collects is open and available be analyzed, interpreted, shared and displayed in a lot of diverse applications.

Hopefully, now that CBS’s hand is in the cookie jar, this aspect of the service won’t change. As long as the data is accessible, here’s a number of cool things that can be harvested from Last.fm.

LastGraph

last.fm waveform 2007

My waveform for 2007, through the beginning of June.

Lee Byron’s work on Last.fm data visualization made a fairly large splash on the net recently. The multi-colored waveforms showed undulating music tastes as artists’ popularity expands and contracts over time. It’s fascinating stuff.

And of course, after a moment of exclaiming "cool!" and "pretty!" the question on everyone’s mind was "How do I get one for myself?" Since Byron’s page was more of a demonstration and proof-of-concept, there was no way for someone to enter their username and get a graph of their own listening habits, leaving many visitors disgruntled.

Enter LastGraph, which does what all those disgruntled users were requesting, for whatever username you want. Results are offered in PDF and SVG formats, which are vector based, so you can zoom very close to see small-scale changes in data. The only thing that’s missing is the ability to track an individual artist within the ebb and flow of your listening. Specifically, I’d like to hover over a line and see that artist’s trends highlighted. That’s not going to happen with a PDF though. Oh well.

The site is running kinda bare-bones right now and there is a queue system in place. You may have to wait several hours before your PDF is ready to download. So be patient. It’s worth it. The site’s performance has much improved since it launched.

Also note: the PDFs produced by the site do not render in Mac OS X’s Preview app, so be sure to view them in Acrobat.

Musicmapper’s Last.fm in Time


This chart shows my listening habits during the past 121 weeks (roughly the beginning of March 2005). Click to see larger.

Musicmapper’s Last.fm in Time generates a single graphic that displays a variety of data. The bar graphs in the background represents the total of each weeks play counts. Your top 50 artists are displayed, in rank order, on the right. The line graphs show how each of the top 50 have grown over time.

This can be useful for determining trends in your tastes and habits. In my case, before the 52 week mark, I see a lot flat-lined activity, especially among my top ten, that suddenly takes off. Also, I notice that Susuma Yakota, who I had never heard of before January this year, is in my top 50 and that he got there rather quickly. There is a very steep curve for him starting 23 weeks ago.

Tuneglue relationship explorer


Click for full size.

Tuneglue creates a web of related bands and artists. Start with one artist or band, expand the results to find similar artists or bands, then do the same to those. With four or five clicks, you’ll have a large interconnected web of new bands to explore based on similarities and relationships to your tastes. It’s a neat visual metaphor of musical interest and a good jumping off point for new music recommendations. The lack of sound samples limits its usefulness as an exploratiom tool, though the map is still fun to play with.

One killer app of the site, however, is missing. I talk of course, about a "six degrees" linker. It would be very cool to input two artists and see how many jumps are necessary to connect to two. For example, it takes four jumps to connect Mogwai to the Strokes (Mogwai » Radiohead » The Beatles » The White Stripes » The Strokes, according to Tuneglue). I figured that out on my own, but it would be nice of the site to do it for me.

Last.fm tools by Anthony Liekens

cloud of recommendations

This site features a number of Last.fm related tools. My favorite is the artist recommendation cloud, which generates a number of suggestions for musical exploration based on your top artists. Higher recommendations appear at a larger type size. Recommendations can be based on stats from your overall list, the past 12, 6 or 3 months or the past week.

Also be sure to check out your eclectic rating. I scored an 80 out of 100.

How compatible are your tastes with a radio station?

sekrit

Last.fm user profile bbc6music is, you guessed it, created by the songs BBC Radio 6 (6music) plays on air. Though not every song that the station broadcast gets uploaded to Last.fm, the user profile still manages to add about 100 play counts per day. As of August 2011, the station has an accumulated track count of nearly 380,000. The most played artist is David Bowie.

Mainstream-o-Meter

mainstreamnes

Finally, there’s the Mainstream-o-Meter, which compares your top stats with the overall most played artists site-wide. Each of your most-listened-to artists are given a weighted score which is then used to calculate your overall "mainstreamness."

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Last.fm is certainly a vast treasure trove of information, so hop to it and get exploring.

Tagging Remix and DJ Albums for iTunes and iPod

Remix albums and DJ albums have always proved a challenge to tag in a useful and logical manner because of how they differ from the traditional song-artist-album tagging model. Like compilations, remix albums typically include songs by a variety of artists and musicians. But they are released under the banner of a single artist and it is that artist that I associate that album with. For example, the album Brazilification has tracks by 18 different artists, all remixed by Fila Brazilia. Most, if not all the songs had been published before on each of the remixed artist’s own records or singles, but Brazilification collects them all and releases them under Fila Brazilia.

Oh what to do, what to do? The standard tagging fields don’t offer a clean way to deal with remix albums, so I’ve had to cobble together my own solutions. The methods I use have to be simple and straightforward to use on an iPod, whose navigation options is more limited than iTunes, but it also has to include all the pertinent information, song name including remix title, remixer, original artist and the album (plus genre and year).

Below are the two approaches I’ve developed. Neither one has really worked to my 100% satisfaction, though.

Method One: Remixer as Artist

This scheme is the more predominate one in my library. I’ve been using it for a long time, but have never been that happy with it. In a sense, the remixer is treated as though they have created a cover version of the original.

Artist Tag

Iin my mind, I associate the remixer/dj as the primary artist. It does have their name on the album cover after all. Thus, using the example above, Fila Brazillia is listed in the Artist field.

Album tag

The album tag, of course, is the album name.

Song Title

There’s no easy way to account for, identify and display the originating artist when the remixer is using the Artist field, so they are added to the beginning of the song name using this syntax:

Radiohead: Climbing Up the Walls

This way, I can easily navigate to the album on my iPod, glance at the track listings and see both the original artist and the song title.

Composer Tag

To make locating remixes in general easier, using my Composer tag guidelines, I identify the original artist again in the Composer tag, but surrounded by parentheses to separate them from actual composers.

Problems

This approach doesn’t work semantically. It puts inappropriate data in inappropriate fields in order to make the system function. To continue with the example above, song is technically titled Climbing Up The Walls (Fila Brazillia Mix) and the actual artist is Radiohead. If I had a copy of Radiohead’s Karma Police single, where the remix originally appeared, Radiohead would, quite properly, receive the artist tag.

Also, The scheme doesn’t play nice when my iTunes library interfaces with third-party applications. The song above is submitted to Last.fm as Fila Brazillia – Radiohead: Climbing Up the Wall, which acheives a disservice for both artists. On the site, it pollutes Fila Brazillia’s database of songs and at the same time, doesn’t provide proper credit to Radiohead.

Because the Artist tag has been misappropriated, this contorted design can interfere with statistics. And anyone who’s spent time around here knows that when it comes to my iTunes library I’m a statistics nut.


Brazilification using this first method. click to enlarge.

Additionally, I find it redundant to enter the original artist in two different places. I’ve been relatively unhappy with the scheme, so I recently began to explore other options.

Method Two: Remixer as “Composer”

One idea I’ve been toying with is swapping the Artist and Composer tags in the above scheme. Thus:

Artist Tag

The original artist name. (Ex. Radiohead). Gives appropriate credit source artists and allows them to be included in Smart Playlists that factor artists.

Compilation tag

Under this configuration, there would be multiple artists on the album, so the Compliation check box must be checked.

Album Tag

Takes the form of Remixer/DJ: Album Name (ex: Fila Brazillia: Brazilification). For easy identification when browsing. However, it does present another semantic problem in that it offers more information the album’s actual name. So the remixer could be left out. I’ll have to see how it works in practice.

Song Name

Song name (remix) (ex: Climbing Up the Walls (Fila Brazillia Mix). It’s only appropriate to give each song its appropriate name.

Composer

The remixer, again surrounded by paranthasese to keep it separated and sorted from actual composers.

Instinctively, I like this design. I’ve not really had a chance to implement it on a large scale, but it holds potential to address the concerns I have with my current scheme.

Yes, it still has some redundancy, with the remixer listed both in the song name, album title and composer tag. However, with direct compilation support on newer model iPods, the use of the remixer in the album or composer tag could be omitted.

Using the Album Artist tag to identify the remixer/dj would actually solve all the problems with this plan. But the iPod’s current lack of support for the field leaves me having to use these workarounds. Let’s hope that Apple adds that increased functionality soon.

In any case, this new tagging format promises to make it rather easy to locate and identify all the songs, artists and remixers in both iTunes and the iPod. It also will work with Last.fm submissions and sorts everything nicely for my all-important statistics.


Brazilification using this second method. click to enlarge

In defense of digital music files

Volkher at livingwithmusic posted the other day a rather thoughtful treatise against digital music files as a medium. He does a good job of bringing up all the relative shortcomings of abandoning physical media, including the effort required to encode/download and properly organize/tag files as well as the burden and cost that goes into storage and preventative backups. And he’s right on the money about picking an audio format that may or may not be around for the long haul.

It’s a valid argument; you should go read it. But as one of those “young folks” who’s been living with mp3s and related files for 10 years now, I’d like to offer a friendly rebuttal, because digital music files do have much to offer, despite the occasional hassle.

Firstly though, I’m going to side-step rights-management and other DRM-related issues. It’s quite possible to build a large collection of digital music and never touch the stuff. Plus, with all the talk lately about eliminating DRM from the marketplace entirely, it may well not be an issue in the near future.

Carrying on then, why embrace digital music? In my case, the number one reason is convenience and flexibility. Using iTunes, it only takes a handful of clicks to set up a playlist that will last all day. That playlist will only include songs that I like, ignoring ones that I might not care for. I can listen to one hundred different artists as easily as I can listen to Radiohead’s complete discography, including live shows and unofficial tracks. No need to organize or hunt for physical CDs, or interrupt the music to change discs or skip ill-favored songs.

With some extra up-front effort and Smart Playlists, I can turn my library into a self-refreshing and randomized jukebox that I can assume control of at any moment. With an iPod, I can take it all with me, wherever I go. It truly is awesome stuff.

Another reason I enjoy digital music is the physical space savings. I still have a large number of CDs, even though the vast majority of my music listening is done via iPod or iTunes. Finding a place to put all of those discs has proved challenging and, after 19 months of living at my current house, most of them are still boxed up and hard to access. That’s fine though; they can stay in the garage/closet/attic because I already have everything I need on my hard drive.

Additionally, expandability is a significant motivation for taking to digital music. As a physical collection grows, the tyranny of the shelf kicks in, which ultimately limits the collection’s size and imposes increased time-overhead on organization and media retrieval. iTunes offers no practical limit to the number of songs it can manage. Hard drive space and memory are the only true limitations (though a computer’s processor speed can become an issue, especially if there are a large number of live-updating Smart Playlists). Currently, I’m storing about 18,000 files (between my library and my wife’s) + a backup drive in the same physical space as about 6 CDs. I could double the amount of songs and hardly use any more desk space.

Of course, this digital utopia is not without its pitfalls, many of which Volkher mentioned. Number one, by far, is data security and integrity. Hard disk drives are notorious for failing, whether though a mechanical fault or corrupted disk header. And they usually fail inexplicably and at exactly the wrong moment.

A hard drive crash can obliterate a library of thousands in an instant, often with no warning whatsoever. I know; it’s happened to me on multiple occasions. By contrast, a scratched CD might lead to the loss of that CD and nothing more.

Thus, a workable, redundant backup system is necessary to protect against irrevocable and irrecoverable catastrophe. The cost and effort of doing that, of course, increases with the amount of data to be backed up. A 10GB library is easier to deal with than a 100GB.

In his post, Volkher posits a figure of one terabyte of digital music, once all is said and done and a large collection is encoded and/or downloaded. But is that a meaningful gauge? Just how much music will fit in a terabyte?*

  • At 128kbps, the bitrate of standard iTunes-purchased AAC files, one terabyte is 18,641.35 hours / 776.73 days / 2.12 years of non-stop, continuous music listening.
  • At 191kbps, the average bitrate in my library, one terabyte is 12,492.63 hours / 520.53 days / 17.1 months of continuous listening. That number is about 11 times the size of my current library.
  • Suppose you’re a true audiophile and only deal with lossless encoding, such as FLAC or Apple Lossless format. The average bitrate of all the lossless songs in my library is 728kbps, which is still nearly 3,277.6 hours / 136.6 days / 4.48 months worth of continuous audio.

*these numbers do not take into account file overhead, album art, etc. However, it seems pretty clear that one terabyte will hold a lot of music.

You’d have to own a seriously HUGE collection (roughly 4000 full-length CDs, lossless compression; 7500 CDs, extreme quality 320kbps mp3s) before a terabyte is a serious option for the working copy of your library. I know there are people who can claim those numbers, just not the vast, vast majority of music listeners.

Heck, I consider myself a respectable avid collector/listener/explorer of music and it took me a full year to listen to each and every song in my library, a library that is the equivalent of ~1400 full-length records.

Hard disk storage is cheap and getting cheaper. Practically speaking, two 500GB drives would sufficiently provide enough storage for a live copy and backup of all but the most copious of collections. Add a third for redundancy, if you’re paranoid. At $230 a piece as I write this, the cost of the drives compares favorably to all the shelving and organizational furnishings needed to manage a large physical collection, even those from IKEA.

Which brings me back to physical space savings: how does one translate a digital library into a physical space? Let’s use numbers from my library to hazard a guess. A trusty ruler tells me that a standard CD jewel case measures 11mm thick: a “CD unit” for this purpose. FreeDB tells me that the median number of songs per CD is 12 (with an average of 13). Therefore, I can estimate that each song on a CD takes up .917mm of physical space. Applied to iTunes, the 14,554 songs in my library would use up the equivalent of 1443 “CD units” or 15,872mm or 52.1 feet of “shelf space.”

That number is based on the assumption that a digital library consists entirely of full CDs. When considering partial albums and single tracks, the space savings is even greater. The single track of Nate Dogg and Warren G’s Regulate in my library actually saves me the full 11mm of space rather than .917, since I don’t have to own the full album just to have that one song.

Despite my continued devotion to the digital music scheme, I must admit that I do miss some of the concrete and tactile aspects of handling a physical record or compact disc: album art, liner notes the satisfactory “click” of snapping a disc into place and-contrary to what I’ve said above-the awesome feeling of standing back and viewing a neatly organized array of records on shelf after shelf. But at this point, for me, it’s all digital and there’s no going back.

Volkher goes on to discuss the inherent uncertainty of choosing an audio file format that may or may not be in use and supported by audio devices in times past the immediate future. And he’s got a valid point. I know from experience. Long ago, a portion of my digital music collection was in the MP2 format, which was largely made defunct by the growth of MP3 tools and players. The death knell for me was the iPod. I was dismayed when I bought my first one and discovered that it didn’t support MP2, forcing me to convert those portions of my library into something more usable.

So futureproofing is an ever-present concern. But, like the compact disc and vinyl record, there’s no reason to believe that mass-market digital formats won’t be around for a very long time. The use of MP2 was never really widespread. MP3 and AAC however have users in the tens of millions. Many people and many companies have invested a lot of resources into those formats. They’re not going to die any time soon. In fact, the patents on the MP3 format begin to expire in 2011, just 4 years away. I’d wager that individuals, corporations and open source communities will have a field day with it in short order, continuing to breathe life and support into software and hardware for decades.

Look at the passion with which gamers and code archivists continue to resurrect, port and support obsolete games. Just yesterday I ran across a 30+ year old command-line game called Super Star Trek that certainly would not be playable on today’s technology. But thanks to the efforts of a dedicated user, there is now a refreshed version for Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, OS/2 and DOS.

Likewise, I expect that in three decades time, I will fully be able to enjoy my collection, no matter what size it has expanded to. I believe that the flexible nature of software will make it easier to maintain support for these formats as they age, unlike hardware-dependent media (I’m looking at you, reel-to-reel, 8-track and increasingly, cassette tapes).

The fact that I was able to easily convert my MP2 files to MP3 is a strong argument for digital files. Just try converting a reel-to-reel tape without a reel-to-reel player.

I admire Volkher’s decision to keep his music in the real world; I know there’s no better feeling than finding an old, rare, long-sought-after gem. But for me, the future is all digital. It has its trappings, but they are easy to overcome. The rewards outwiegh the risks.

So, now if you’ll excuse me, I have a playlist to build.

mp3 waveform

Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar video: Cleverly Hypnotic

In addition to their world-sized beats, The Chemical Brothers are generally known for their world class videos. I stumbled across this video to Star Guitar from the duo’s 2002 release Come With Us while perusing the ol’ Google Video/YouTube library this afternoon and was quickly fascinated.

It was directed by noted film dude Michel Gondry, who’s done some impressive work, including intriguing videos for Bjork, Beck, Radiohead and many other musicians, as well as numerous innovative television commercials. But he’s also responsible for pioneering “bullet time” cinematography, so negative points there.

Of course, the concept of synchronizing visuals with the rhythm of music isn’t exactly new, but the execution here is clever. Though by the end of minute three, you’ve pretty much gotten the point and are ready to move on.

Star Guitar is an awesome song and the video is pretty cool, so enjoy it:

star guitar at itunes store

come with us at amazon

I wasn’t always a Radiohead fan

Hard to believe, I know, considering that Radiohead recently valted to the top of my last.fm profile and that the band has consistently been in the top 5 in my iTunes library in terms of number of songs, average ratings and total play counts.

But it’s true, I was late to the Radiohead party. For about five years after they band hit with Creep, I was unimpressed. At the time of that song’s release, I didn’t expect to hear much from the band after its popularity died down.

So I was mildly surprised when the group re-emerged with The Bends to favorable buzz. My own opinion hadn’t changed in the intervening years. When Fake Plastic Trees was released as the first single, I renewed my dislike for the band and vowed to continue indignantly ignoring them. I liked that song even less than Creep. That indignation only grew as Radiohead became more popular, as musical popularity tends to be a sign of mediocrity.

You see, I’m pretty open to musical experimentation; I think you’d pretty much have to be to build a library the size of mine. But once I make up my mind, I’m rarely apt to change it. There’s just so much good music, that it’s generally not worth the time to continuously devote the time and effort to re-evaluating things I’ve already passed on. That’s what makes my Radiohead turnaround remarkable; it almost never happens and never to this degree. I’ve been known to soften my criticisms of a band, but I’ve never gone from abject dislike to unchecked adoration like I did with Radiohead.

I credit my transformation with three coinciding factors.

First, it was fall/winter 1997. Radiohead’s popularity had metastasized with the release of OK Computer. The album, of course, had been a runaway success for six months or so, which meant increased exposure to the band’s music. I was intrigued to find that I wasn’t all that offended by Paranoid Android. So my interest was piqued.

At the same time, Dan, a friend and musical compatriot, had been relentlessly imploring me to reconsider my stance.

But what really turned it around for me was the video for Just. I don’t recall exactly where or when I saw it, but that video was so brilliant that it instantly turned me from wary of to excited about Radiohead. It didn’t hurt that the song completely rocks.

I suddenly couldn’t get enough of the band and quickly obtained all their albums plus several singles. I even changed my opinion of Creep (five stars in iTunes), though Fake Plastic Trees still ranks as one of my least favorite songs.

All these years later, I’ve still not seen the band perform live, which I understand is a transcendental experience. To help make up for that though, I’ve collected a fair amount of the band’s music, more than 250 songs and counting in my library, consisting of albums, singles, bootlegs and live recordings. Hopefully one day soon, they’ll swing through my town and I’ll be able to get some tickets…

The video that made me a Radiohead fan:

It’s a continuing mystery what the guys says, but I’m pretty sure it’s "Check it out. Radiohead is playing in that apartment up there."