Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sing Alongs

After spending some time reflecting on the popularity of a certain song I have decided to rank my top 10 sing alongs.

My criteria: first a song gets major props for being singable without music. This would be the "long bus drive back from a float trip/retreat" scenario. Next is the participation of the guests when a song comes on at a wedding reception. Here is my verdict.

1. Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen: Party on Wayne, Party on Garth. It changes tempo, the lyrics are simple, you can bust your falcetto out and even sing the guitar solo. Winner, hands down.

2. Don't Stop Believin' - Journey: I had to see it to believe it. You just have to mention a small town girl and watch the song burst forth from pretty much everyone in the room. Try it sometime.

3. Undone, the Sweater Song - Weezer: again, simple lyrics and a good melody do the trick. Everyone wants to sing River's descant part, nobody wants to sing melody. Everyone wants Superman Skivies.

4.Piano Man - Billy Joel: This is where the gap begins on my list. This song has a great chorus, but too many words for the average person to know all the verses. You can still pretend and still get half of them, which still counts. It also contains the misheard lyric "Making love to his tiny cat Jim" instead of "Tonic and Gin."

5. Hey Jude - The Beatles: We all know the first verse. After that....I'm pretty sure we only know the "Na-Na" part. Which is ok, because that vamp at the end makes up about 5 minutes of the 8 minute song.

6. Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison: This is a classic wedding song to which every guy has to sing to his girl. (Change the eye color in the song if your girl doesn't have brown eyes, it can score you more points) Again, lyrics like "Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-ti-da" help it be a sing along.

7. Grease Medley - John Travolta, Olivia Newton John: "Hey, lets make a medley of Grease songs that only includes the parts that everyone knows!" Brilliant. "Summer Lovin" and "You're the one that I want" are both guy/girl songs and that always helps.

8. I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor: Girls know every lyric. Guys can fake it. We can all sing the strings part. Beauty. Plus, I am a fan of the Cake version as well.

9. Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond: If this wasn't played at every Red Sox game would it still be as popular? Doesn't matter. The fact that everyone knows the added parts makes this song "So good, so good, so good." (hmmm....that was a little hokie.)

10. Wonderwall - Oasis: This might be more for my generation, but I think it will last. First, the chorus is very meaningful and often very true in a healthy relationship. Add on that it is very singable and you have a solid sing along.

There it is. My apologies to Meatloaf and the Village People. Let me know what I left out!

Monday, November 10, 2008

My Top 10 Old-school Nintendo games

The Virtual Console on the Wii has sparked an interest in all those old-school games of Nintendo systems of the past. And since I have fond memories of all those games I thought I would rank them just to create conversation.

A little background. My family purchased the NES in 1986, when I was six years old. It came with R.O.B and Gyromite, which means we had to buy Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers on our own. My parents were clearly the better players in the beginning, but by the time the NES was getting phased out in 1991 I was beating pretty much every game I owned. (which is no small feat since these games were incredibly tough).

So here are the top ten NES games according to my own nostalgia.

1. The Legend of Zelda: In the days well before online walkthroughs this game captured the imagination of all Nintendo fans. A giant map. 9 Dungeons. Bosses. New weapons and items. And when you finally thwarted Ganon...SECOND QUEST!!! This game caused friends to compare notes, otherwise you would never complete the game. Conversations like: "Did you try burning the third bush over?" "Try using arrows instead of your sword." "Yeah I beat level 7, and I even drew a map!"

My confession is that although I beat the first quest, I got stuck on Death Mountain of the second quest cause I could never find the master key on level 8. Bastards.

2. Super Mario Brothers 3:This game created video game hype. Between getting publicity in movies and retailers charging over $70 for the game everyone wanted this game. It didn't disappoint with 8 levels of creative platforming, flying and even the rare Tanooki Suit. Without a save feature this game posed a great challenge until the world discovered you could warp using the "Zelda Whistle." And yes, I beat this game.

3. Final Fantasy(1): I know, how can it be a Final Fantasy if they made 11 more? (think of it as the Ultimate Fantasy but with alliteration) Although Dragon Warrior was an important RPG series, Final Fantasy defined what RPG's would be in the future. What stands out from this game? IT IS THE FREAKING HARDEST GAME OF MY LIFE!!! Leveling up: tedious and deadly. Dungeons: Grueling and deadly. Bosses: Mean and deadly. Let's put it this way, if you died you couldn't be revived at a save point(if you didn't have a spell). We had to drag your dead, worthless body through battlefields to a freaking TOWN to get you revived. Imagine that your White Mage takes a hard knock deep in a dungeon....if I would have been older I would have cussed this game out. Alot. Still, thoroughly enjoyable and I challenge every RPG fan to give it a go. And Yes, I beat this game. (Chaos had nothing on me!)

4. Mike Tyson's Punch Out:Before Tyson became a punch line, he was the most feared boxer both in real life and in video games. The lead up to Tyson is alot of fun. Each of the colorful characters you face has a tell, once you figure it out you can win the bout. Except with Tyson. His tell was a split second, and if he hit you he knocked you down. Thanks for playing, see you later. It was so stressful playing Tyson I would have to do it alone so I could concentrate.

And yes, I beat Tyson. Twice. Once by decision as an 8-year-old. Once by TKO when I was 18 at the challenge of my buddies. (Robert, Pat and David were my witnesses). In the world of video gaming I still hold beating Tyson and beating Chaos as two of the greatest feats.

5. Super Mario Bros.: The platformer that changed gaming. This game is so good I could pick it up now and still enjoy the challenge of it. Do I wants to use 2 warps and go straight to world 8, or do I want to slow play it and enjoy all the other levels. Yes I beat this game, but the Hammer Bros are still jerks.

6. TMNT II the Arcade Game: This was such a good game, we would actually go to arcades to play it. When it came to the NES.....Oh buddy. Good times. First, this was like the best cartoon series of its day. I mean seriously, who wasn't a Ninja Turtle for Halloween at least once? (I was Leonardo) Besides that, this was an awesome side scrolling fighter, with nice levels and competent bosses. The challenge of the game was just surviving, which I did. (Cause I beat this one too.)

7. Metroid: One part platformer, one part adventure. 35 parts freaky Sci-fi. This game was long and challenging. There is nothing worse than reaching your destination only to realize you need the freeze ray or wave beam or something crazy like that. And the actual Metroids.....totally unnecessary to make that many of them that difficult. I remember getting to Mother Brain, and I don't imagine myself giving up so close to the end, so I imagine I beat this one too (although I have no specific memory of it.....)

8. Mega Man 2: This is the only game on my list I didn't own. But I had friends that did, friends I visited often. Again, with no save feature this game was hard. Getting through 8 bosses just to get to the end levels was quite and accomplishment.....one that I didn't do. But still, stealing bosses weaponry and using them on other bosses? That's like an American dream of sorts.

9. RBI Baseball: I know there were tons of great (and not so great) baseball games on the NES, but this one stands out. This game was easy to pick-up and easy to enjoy with a friend. So what that the infielders couldn't make a throw across the diamond without it bouncing. Who cares? All I know is pick the Cardinals and steal some bases. You can't beat this game, but I was always second best to my base running maniac of a cousin John, who is still a jerk for all those defeats.

10. Gradius: Ok, clearly this and RBI baseball aren't the greatest games of all time. But they were really fun for me. This is a side-scrolling space shooting that included lots of power ups. The levels were very cool, even if the boss at the end was...well the same each time. But it was so addicting my extended family would fight over who got to play next (Until the 8 year-olds became the best, then the adults quit.) I know I beat this one, cause I think we took a picture!

Worst Game I owned: 10 Yard Fight. This game is an abomination to all things considered gaming. I wanted a football game, what I got was what the Japanese thought was football. Here is how the game worked. Snap to the quarterback who has a running back on each side who mimics your every move. You can either a) lateral it to a RB b) run upfield c) or throw it to the one receiver streaking downfield. If you passed and even one defender was in the line of flight, he intercepted it. (ridiculous) If you got a safety, they gave the wrong team the points (ridiculous) If you were kicking a field goal you could run all the way to your own end zone, kick it, and it would fly most slowly through the uprights (flubber?) A mistake of a purchase, I made up for it by buying Zelda next go around. And yes, I beat this game.

I hope this starts some discussion. If not, at least you know that I am awesome at video games.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I can't stop believin'

I can't let go of the phenomenon that is "Don't Stop Believin.'" Growing up this song was a bit of a joke in my mind. This was a pop song written by an 80's hair band that featured the trite saying of "Don't Stop Believing." If he was singing about Civil Rights or Faith in God or something of depth I could have bought in. But all it speaks to is that someday my crappy life will turn around. Seriously? That's why the blues were invented, not 80's hair bands.

Fast forward. On at least three occasions I have witnessed hundreds of teenagers sing-along to this song. They know every word. I have since learned that it is the #1 downloaded song on iTunes. Huh? How did it come to this? How did "Don't stop believin'" become the ultimate sing along? Sure, it has a lethal combination of both catchy verses and chorus, but 25 year-old songs that only reached #9 on the Billboard charts don't get reborn without some help. Here are my theories.

2005 Chicago White Sox: In need of some inspiration during the playoffs catcher A.J. Pierzynski started playing this song in the clubhouse before games. I heard an interview with Pierzyski and Dan Patrick at this time. Pretty much Patrick wanted to know of all the songs in the world to inspire, you pick Journey? See, he thought it was a joke too, but it got some coverage.

The Sopranos Series Finale (2007) When the Sopranos called it quits, they did so controversally by leaving you wondering who was walking through the diner door. The background music was "Don't Stop Believin.'" I was surprised this was the final selection for such a tough guy show. I thought ESPN was joking when they played the final clip on the radio. But again, national exposure.

But nothing I found in my research goes back farther than one instance....

"My Journey" - Scrubs (2003) This is one of my very favorite shows, it is up there with the Simpsons and House. Zach Braff is responsible for the change in alot of people's taste in music over the years, both through his movie soundtracks and from the show. Here is the clip that I can't help but believe started the phenominon.

And, because I like that JD is nerdy like me sometimes: