Why Is John Oliver So Good?

1. He tells a story.

America is built on narrative. Although BuzzFeed has made inroads, it’s got no soul and no true fans, because the way you make people bond to you is by going deep, by hooking them and drawing them in like an angler lands a fish. You can’t be too aggressive, you can’t be one note, you’ve got to gain people’s confidence and tell them a yarn. Which is why some of our favorite songs are story songs, which is why we hunger to learn about our celebrities. We want to know what makes them tick, we want to hear it from their mouths.

2. He’s not afraid to go long.

If I hear one more pundit say we live in a short attention span economy! The truth is even though we’re beaten over the head with facts and people wanting our attention we truly want to go deep. The same way a one night stand is not as satisfying as a relationship, we want more. When someone tells you to make it shorter think if you can make it better. If you can’t, then length is not an issue.

3. He’s not worried about looks.

Turns out he’s got a huge nose. Not only bad teeth. Our imperfections humanize us and make us lovable. It’s your personality that shines. Yes, we live in a looks-based society, but looks will just get you in the door, they won’t seal the deal. The truth is you’ve got to let your freak flag fly, you’ve got to be yourself, which is hard in a society that is constantly reinforcing you’re inadequate.

4. He has an edge.

As does most of the programming on HBO. Where the public pays the bills, not intermediaries. Turns out people know the score, they’re not so easily offended, it’s the media that trumps up these conflagrations to garner eyeballs. We want people who have opinions. Not everybody is gonna like them but not everybody is gonna like anybody. Your goal is to entice and then bond with those who care. Money has corrupted politics, but so has the likability factor. Everybody’s so busy pussy-footing and apologizing for faux errors that they’re afraid to be real. And what we’re in search of is real.

5. He’s not afraid to be outraged.

That’s a condition in modern society, we all feel it individually yet we often times feel powerless. We’re outraged over incompetence, outraged over stupidity. But whenever we complain we’re labeled just that, complainers. We’re told everybody’s trying their best. Hogwash. When John Oliver gets that zeal in his eye and starts to bitch I start to smile, I say RIGHT ON!

6. He’s paid his dues.

He was nobody before he was somebody. Because young ‘uns are impressionable, because they buy stuff on impulse, advertisers want to reach them so media features them. Turns out you’ve got to live a lot to have something to say, and you’ve got to practice your craft to be any good at it. Sure, you can have Max Martin write your hit, but what is the story then? I’m a two-dimensional good-looking nitwit with a hit on the chart who everybody makes fun of online? Try writing a song. Try singing for a living. Find out if you’re any good, and if you are, know that it’s a long road before you’ll reach mass consciousness.

7. Sacred cows.

No one is left unscathed on Oliver’s program. In politically correct America there are so many you can’t poke fun at, so many who are off limits. When the truth is some of our most famous and powerful people are heinous. Who’s going to stick up for us? Turns out comedians and not many others.

8. Passion.

We’re drawn to it. We know Oliver cares. About both his subject matter and his delivery. We want to watch people go for the brass ring. That’s part of the appeal of professional sports, watching others do better at what we can only play at.

9. Willing to tackle non-sexy subjects.

Does anybody really care about the fate of Afghan translators? Wouldn’t they rather hear about legal dope or how the Senate is up for grabs? But watching Oliver dissect the issue of political asylum in the U.S. for Afghan translators not only is one hooked by the story, one is outraged by our inefficient and duplicitous government. We promise something and then we make it impossible to achieve. Furthermore, the issue of political asylum is bigger than FNU Mohammad, who is featured in this clip. That’s right, the personal is political, what looks small is actually big. That which happens to you happens to us all in some fashion. We are truly in it together and have to help each other out.

 

10. Not afraid to have guests on who aren’t selling something.

We want to hear people who have something to say, not only something to sell. It drives us crazy, the pundits and celebrities always referring to their work or their record as if the only reason they’re appearing is because they’re in launch week. And that’s the only reason they are. Otherwise the programs don’t want them. What about someone who just has something to say? Imagine getting a musician to do an interview off album cycle, wouldn’t that be a laugh.

CONCLUSION

I’ve written about John Oliver before. But every time I watch his program I marvel, I can’t shut it off, when it’s done and I switch to the competition I’m bored and start surfing the web and ultimately turn the set off. What we’re searching for in today’s society is excellence and honesty and John Oliver delivers this. It’s very hard to get someone to pay attention these days, to get someone hooked and coming back. And that’s why the above rules are so important, John Oliver has figured it out, you need to too.

This Week’s SoundScan

1. Florida Georgia Line “Anything Goes” 197,000 copies

They’re a singles act until proven otherwise. As it should be. Where was it written that fans should fall all over you as soon as you debut? In the old days you sold singles until people believed in you, then they partook of the album, the concept of making them buy the whole LP for one good track might have made financial sense but it never resonated with the consumer and once he got a chance he punted, he went to P2P and then iTunes and then YouTube/Spotify.

You’ve got to earn your fans. Florida Georgia Line may be all over the airwaves but they’re still on their way up. That’s the way it used to be, no one was anointed a superstar on their initial work.

2. Jason Alden “Old Boots, New Dirt” 91,000

Pretty good for a second week number.

The first week was 278,000, the third biggest debut of the year, behind Coldplay and Eric Church at 383,000 and 288,000 respectively.

Aldean’s been in the marketplace longer, he’s got more hard core fans, that’s why he sold more the first week than Florida Georgia Line.

3. Bob Seger “Ride Out” 59,000

Has anybody listened to this album, does anybody care?

Where does it live?

Either you’re part of the public consciousness or you’re irrelevant.

In other words, why spam us with your publicity if we don’t care.

We all like Bob, but we’re looking for “Night Moves,” not a bunch of new tracks that play like “Against The Wind” only poorer. Tarnishes the image, don’t you think?

The old classic acts should form their own label and have it run by an arbiter like Scott Borchetta, who’s a metal head, by the way. Someone who can tell them what works and what doesn’t and then promote what does accordingly. Because unless these tracks make a dent in the world at large, they’re destined to sit on the shelves of hard core fans at home, ultimately ignored, and if you think that satisfies the maker, you’re not one.

That’s right, if you’re an alta kacher act you should cut SINGLES!

And please, no more covers and duets albums, you’re just embarrassing yourselves.

4. “You+Me” 50,000

Includes Pink. Who sings folk along with relatively unknown Dallas Green.

Credit Alecia for taking a risk, for expanding her boundaries. It appears that some fans are following her, but it turns out others are waiting for the hit, or are unaware its her.

As for a radio format that would embrace the artistic endeavors of our household names, we’re still waiting for it. For all the pushback by radio, claiming it’s still relevant, it takes almost no risks, it’s part of the problem, not the solution.

5. Barbra Streisand “Partners” 40,000

Wanna sell albums? Exist outside the game, appeal to oldsters.

But still, there’s no tonnage.

6. Sam Smith “In The Lonely Hour” 37,000

Helped this week appearances on “Fallon” and “Today” this is the album of the year. The hype has been heavy, but that can work when an act is brand new and lives up to it.

As for the arena tour victory lap… Adele wouldn’t do that. It’s so twenty first century. Get all your money right away before everybody forgets about you and you fade away. Isn’t it best to underplay until demand is cemented? Are you really making fans when most people are sitting a thousand feet away, in a drive-by position?

7. The Game “Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf” 33,000

People still care about him, but not as much as Kendrick Lamar. Time passes even the rappers by, people don’t care about 50 Cent and they care a bit less about the Game.

A hit single will boost sales of this album, if it happens.

8. Hoodie Allen “People Keep Talking” 30,000

A tireless self-promoter who’s figured out the game. Proving if you’ve got a modicum of talent, you can make it on business sense.

It’s on his own label. Still, 30k in a country of 300 million is a drop in the bucket.

9. U2 “Songs Of Innocence” 28,000

It’s already over. A classic 2014 album. You ramp up the promotion, everybody talks about you for a week, and then your new album is completely forgotten. You subject your fans to one or two new tracks live, but it’s like the record didn’t even come out.

Sure, you could get the album for free with iTunes. But Radiohead sold a ton of “In Rainbows” even though it was at name your own price long before.

But this story is nowhere. Because in an overload economy, we only have time for positive news, no one wants to focus on failure, not unless it’s gargantuan, not unless it’s got train-wreck value, whereas this is just a whimper.

So U2 exposed everybody to their music and found out most people just shrugged. They broke the number one rule of the twenty first century, just give us a hit, we want a single. And for all you people purveying albums out there pay attention, if they don’t care about U2, they certainly don’t care about you.

So Guy Oseary has done worse than Paul McGuinness. Because Oseary thought it was about deals, McGuinness knew it was always about passion.

And Bono proved that he’s lost touch.

And we’ve learned that the album paradigm has expired.

And that once the publicity engine dies down, you’re dead in the water.

CONCLUSIONS

Want to make an impact? Don’t worry about publicity, but a hit single.

Streaming is everything, these sales numbers are anemic.

Despite all the hoopla, Gaga and Bennett is already over.

There’s a disconnect between consumers and the media machine.

We want good new music. We’re not exactly sure where to find it. But when we do, we partake, like with Sam Smith.

But usually partaking consists of a stream.

Don’t blame the audience, don’t blame the game, blame yourself.

The rules have changed. Abide them.

Rhinofy-Amanda Marshall Primer

Speaking of albums…

What bothers me more than the boo-hoo of those mourning the inability of today’s audience to spend time with today’s long players, never mind pay for them, is the complete disappearance from public consciousness of albums that are great from start to finish from the past, like Amanda Marshall’s debut.

Credit for which must be given to writer and producer David Tyson as well as Ms. Marshall, she’s worked with people since, but rarely captured the magic.

Now you might be unaware of Mr. Tyson, but he cowrote and produced Alannah Myles’s “Black Velvet,” one of the signature tracks of the early nineties. One of my great pleasures was getting a phone call from Ahmet Ertegun after writing that the track was dead in the water. Ahmet, in his inimitable voice, told me to pay attention, that they were going to push the button, and they did.

That’s the power of a major label.

And Amanda Marshall’s debut was on Epic. And definitely got traction, but at the tail end of grunge, and so often in the marketplace slick is pooh-poohed, that’s one of the reasons this album has been forgotten, but it’s exceptional and deserving of your attention. Rather than singing the bland hits of the day and jostling for space amongst the competitors on the “Voice,” you’d be better off staying home and streaming this album trying to figure out exactly how they did it.

DARK HORSE

Start here. I was enraptured by “Birmingham” first, but this is the best cut on the album, the one that’ll hook you.

Just like in the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” the groove is akin to the loping gait of a horse. Hell, the keyboard intro alone will enrapture you.

Indian summer, Abilene
You were new in town I was nineteen

You’re immediately centered, taken to the location even faster than you can get there via Google Earth!

They called us crazy behind our back
‘Romantic fools,’ we just let them laugh

Young love, it’s always the same, new to the players, judged by the oldsters.

May be a long shot
It may get lonely down the line
Love knows no reason
And I won’t let ‘em make up my mind

That’s it! You and me against the odds!

Meanwhile, Amanda’s the anti-Mariah, she’s got the pipes, but they’re in service to the song, she doesn’t overwhelm the track, she fits right in it.

Whew!

BIRMINGHAM

Virgil Spencer’s got a 19 inch Hitachi

Really? I had to check the lyrics. Is she really singing about the TV made by the perennially second-rate Japanese electronics concern?

I love that, when you utilize popular culture references, not to get paid, but to localize, to center the song in real life.

Yes, there’s a whole story here, but most exquisite is Amanda Marshall’s voice. She destroys this song without sweating, without trying to demonstrate how great she is to the audience, she’s just doing her thing. It’s more than impressive, it’s endearing.

LAST EXIT TO EDEN

An album track when those used to count, the kind of song you uncovered as the CD was playing that became your favorite.

This is what today’s Americana music aspires to be, but does not equal. That’s right, second-rate production and a lame voice with heartfelt lyrics is not enough. Advocates of Americana will call “Last Exit To Eden” too slick, I’ll say no, it’s just professionals with talent doing their jobs.

Sure there are strings, but they are not saccharine. And the intro picking sounds straight off an early seventies country rock record, and lest you forget, that sound ruled! Hell, the Eagles are still doing quite well performing it today.

I’ve heard better lyrics, but to denigrate them is to miss the point that “Last Exit To Eden” is a marvel, and if you don’t think so you’re not sitting alone listening to it, you’re too worried about what other people think, and that’s a sad way to live your life.

LET IT RAIN

The album’s opener. Not the best track, but an incredible showcase for Amanda’s pipes.

Let it rain
Let it rain on me

You’ll find yourself nodding your head, singing along. The nature of playing an LP is to start with the initial track, and doing that you will eventually be enraptured by “Let It Rain.” Listen to that guitar!

TRUST ME (THIS IS LOVE)

It just SWINGS!

Now I’m not gonna mention any more cuts from this album. Either the above ones hook you or they don’t. And if they do, you’ll discover what I haven’t mentioned in due time.

Assuming you give this album a chance, which you probably will not.

That’s the problem with music today. No one’s got any time and no one trusts anybody’s recommendations. But “Amanda Marshall” is definitely worth checking out.

In the dark ages of the nineties, when music was scarce, I used to play most of what came to my house, that’s how I discovered this LP.

In Canada, this album made it. And there was some traction in the States too.

And then Amanda twisted and turned in new directions and never quite equaled her debut, except for her “Tin Cup” track “This Could Take All Night.”

So, Amanda Marshall’s been forgotten.

And this is unjust.

But I’m less worried about her than you, that you’re missing out on this album that will enrich your life. Check it out.

Rhinofy-Amanda Marshall Primer

I’m In Love With My Tires

Did you catch the reference? Yup, to one of Queen’s album tracks that we know by heart from their greatest album, “A Night At The Opera.” “I’m In Love With My Car”…my favorite lyric is “string back gloves in my automolove”…how’d Roger Taylor come up with this stuff?

And I can’t get the song out of my head, because I’m truly in love with my tires.

Not my car. I’d love to replace it, but it’s paid for. It only does one thing well, drive. It’s got no tech, it’s noisy, but it’s turbocharged and four wheel drive and except for having to push the clutch in and out in traffic jams it’s heaven in Los Angeles, where the roads are twisty and turny and you’re constantly going up in the mountains and down in the canyons to meet the people in Billy Joel’s song.

But the problem with four wheel drive cars is the tires don’t last. After 20,000 miles you’re taking your life in your hands. And the tires the car came with were an abomination, I will never buy Bridgestones again, they drowned out the radio, never mind lost tread and needed to be replaced at 12,000 miles.

And the Pirellis I shod my machine with after were much better.

But these Michelins are it!

They’re so quiet, and so smooth, and the handling is incredible, and like I said, that’s all my car’s good for.

And getting them was such an ordeal. The discount for the previous set that wore out, the dealer ordering the wrong model, aligning the car and leaving the apparatus attached. But as soon as I got behind the wheel it was heaven, it was nirvana, I know, it sounds stupid, but it’s the little things in life that keep you satisfied.

And I’m cruising along thinking about my father, who switched to the French tires back in the sixties, testifying all the while. He bought the branded model, but most people knew them as the Sears tires that had no problem scaling railroad tracks, an iconic commercial when we all still watched them, before everybody had a clicker, never mind cable or Netflix.

And they’re more expensive.

But they’re worth it.

And there you have the story of life, you get what you pay for. And despite good being good enough, there’s such satisfaction in excellence, like someone cared enough to get it right in a world where so many are cutting corners.

And there’s so little we can control. Obstacles are around every corner. To be able to get just one little thing right makes me smile.

Pilot Sport A/S 3