The Six Best Circus-Themed Albums

Categories: Pop Life

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Bob n Renee via Flickr
You could definitely say that there are fads in pop music. In fact, following certain trends in sound and fashion can make or break whether someone is even considered a "pop artist." One of our favorites of these particular fads is when artists have one of their albums follow a circus theme. The animals, the feathered hats, the bedazzled straps and costumes, the showmanship aspect of it all -- maybe it's something that just works in music, or maybe these few great pop minds think alike.

Not sure what show the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was doing in 2008, but maybe it's just a coincidence that four out of the six albums on our list were released in the fall of that year. All the same, we know that we love seeing P!nk twirl around in the air on an aerial ring and Britney Spears pull doves out of a top hat. With Ringling Bros. back at NRG Stadium through Sunday, here's our list of the six best circus-themed albums.


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Beyoncé & Jay Z at Minute Maid Park, 7/18/2014

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Photos courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment
Beyonce & Jay-Z
Minute Maid Park
July 18, 2014

When the downtown lots were charging upwards of $80 for parking, could there be any doubt that the biggest tour of the summer had hit Houston with all the force of a summer lightning storm on Friday night? Beyonce, our very own homegrown megastar was in town, and she brought her hit-making hubby along for the ride. By 8 p.m., the air outside the ballpark was absolutely crackling with anticipatory energy as legions of ladies in their club-ready best lined up with and without the men who love them to bear witness to the spectacle cooked up by the closet thing we've got to a modern-day musical monarchy.

It was the biggest assembly that Minute Maid Park has seen in years, and the stadium staff seemed more than a little overwhelmed by it all. Huge crowds clustered at every entrance waiting as patiently as they could to get inside as harried security tried to check everyone as thoroughly as time allowed. With thousands still outside the gates as the show began, staffers finally gave up on the metal detectors and began sending everybody through, narrowly avoiding what felt like a riot in the making.


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Lady Gaga at Toyota Center, 7/16/2014

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Photos by Barry Brecheisen-WireImage/Courtesy of Live Nation
Note: media photography was not approved for Houston. These photos are from Gaga's artRave at Chicago's United Center.
Lady Gaga, Lady Nightshade, Crayon Pop
Toyota Center
July 16, 2014

For a good handful of years there, there was no question who reigned as pop music's auteur supreme. Arriving as if from some stranger, sillier and downright gayer dimension than our own, a chameleonic diva calling herself Lady Gaga took the charts by storm by bidding the planet to "Just Dance," and dance we did.

She hatched from an egg at the Grammys. She wore a dress made of meat. And her music went into heavy rotation at discos and shopping malls the world over. A new pop icon -- the talented, mutant spawn of Michael Jackson and Madonna -- seemed to be emerging, and it was exciting breath of fresh, Rihanna-free air.

That was then. A couple of middling albums and a few world mega-tours later, and Gaga seems to have been bumped down the pop pecking order a notch or three, teetering on the brink of becoming old hat. While no one doubts her talent for singles and spectacle, could yet another big arena tour from Mama Monster really still compete with Miley's bizarre Bangerz staging, or Beyonce's mechanized perfection? Worse yet, might she actually be committing the unforgivable sin of trying too hard? Reviews (and predictions) have been mixed.


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Six Simple Ways to Be Courteous at Shows

Categories: Pop Life

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Do you, as an audience member, have responsibilities to the performing band at a local show?

Yup. The biggest is to keep your trap shut long enough for the music to reach those who came to hear it, and to do that, we must be where the act is performing. But Rocks Off has beaten this particular deceased horse so many times that by now we're on PETA's speed dial. Instead, let's set it aside and explore what else audiences can do to enhance a band's live-show experience.

These recommendations are made mostly on behalf of burgeoning bands who are trying to gain some traction in an industry that's nearly all slippery slope. I haven't asked personally, but it's doubtful Beyoncé or the Black Keys need you to do much, if any, of the following:


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Five Appropriately Profound Weird Al Haikus

Categories: Pop Life

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Photo by ZZ/Courtesy of RCA Records
Weird Al is ready to take on Kim-Jong Un.
Some of us are counting the days until Weird Al Yankovic receives his much-deserved Presidential Medal of Freedom or Kennedy Center award, whichever comes with a gold-plated accordion. Until that happens we'll have to make do with Mandatory Fun, his astounding 13th album that is in stores and online today.

If it were suddenly necessary to debrief an unfrozen caveman lawyer or time-traveler from the future, all that would be necessary to catch that person (or alien) up on pop would be to play him or her (or it) the latest Weird Al record. The man is relevant. He's back wading through the soup of selfies, sequined crocs and twerking at the DMV in the brilliantly shameless "Tacky," his send-up of a certain inescapable Pharrell hit.

If the leaders of Iran didn't like the way those six young people danced in that "Happy" video that got them arrested back in May, that they're really going to hate the way Weird Al gets down with friends like Margaret Cho, 30 Rock's Kristen Schaal, Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet and Jack Black in this one.


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The Five Best Songs About Donkey Kong

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On this day in 1981, the video-game juggernaut that was Donkey Kong first saw release. It was a game that broke new ground and keeps finding an audience today. It was the first game to feature Mario (who, by the by, was cast as an abusive pet owner seeking to re-capture his poor gorilla), the first arcade game to use cut scenes to tell a story, and the title that launched Nintendo as the force that would pull the entire video-game industry back from the brink.

As for me...I will always remember being a kid and a Nintendo Power subscriber who was one of the lucky ones to receive a VHS tape full of footage from Donkey Kong Country addressed to me in the mail. That's what we had before YouTube, kids, and I have never felt more like a VIP before or since. It's still one of my Top 10 games of all time.

Donkey Kong has also made an impact on the world of music, and today we salute that impact with five songs.


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The 10 Best Songs About Hair

Categories: Pop Life

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Photo by Groovehouse
Miley Cyrus at Toyota Center, March 2014
Hair -- it's everywhere, literally. The concept of hair is almost vital to the music community nowadays. Whether it's that one Disney heartthrob's primped-to-perfection side-swoop or Steven Tyler's cornucopia of bird feathers, an iconic hairstyle can cement one's place in pop culture. In music especially, wild hairstyles signify the rights of expression that our favorite artists are expected to maintain and are applauded for.

The way an artist cuts his or her hair, like Miley Cyrus circa 2013, or doesn't cut his hair, like the Beatles in the mid-'60s, can shake up pop culture in a way unlike anything else. And it doesn't stop at the artists. Just take a look around Coachella. In fact, it seems like along with a ticket, the flower crown is a prerequisite for girls on the way to their very first music festival in 2014.

We love our musicians and their fascination with hair, and we especially love when these musicians write songs about it -- so below we've compiled a list of our Top 10 songs about hair, with artists ranging from R. Kelly to Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga.

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Tags:

hair, haircuts

The 20 Best Songs We Heard in June

Categories: All In, Pop Life

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Photo by Gregg Roth/davidolney.com
David Olney
"Big Blue Hole," David Olney
"Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all them saints are dead and gone / Amy Winehouse and Curt Cobain, they ain't comin' back here again." David Olney is like the black sheep rounder uncle the family wanted you to stay away from. A former running bud of Townes van Zandt, Olney plays and sings like he'll cut you if you don't get it.

His new album, When the Deal Goes Down, has more edge than a straight razor and cuts just as deep. If you're into music for good news, fairy tales, cotton candy or dance beats, move on. Your life is in danger here. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

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The 20 Best Songs We Heard In April

Categories: All In, Pop Life

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"A House Is a Home," Ben & Ellen Harper
Grammy winner Ben Harper teams up with his mother, Ellen, for Childhood Home, which releases this week. This is the first single from the album. Their tender harmonies and reflections here are like flipping through a family photo album, reminding us of every trial and all the successes our own families experience. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.


"Africana," Los Rakas
One of the hottest Latin acts is this Hip-Hop duo of Panamanian cousins who hail from the Bay Area. With a little bit of reggaeton and a lotta bit of cool, Los Rakas released their first full-length album, El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo, on April 15. This track is my favorite of the bunch, with a mix of sweet melodies and ass-shaking bass. I'm anxiously waiting until they make another stop in H-Town. YO SI SOY! RAKA! MARCO TORRES

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Jay Z & Beyonce Go "On the Run" to Minute Maid Park July 18

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Sounding more like a blockbuster summer film than a concert tour, music's No. 1 power couple announced their first-ever leg of joint headlining dates earlier Monday morning. From June 16 to August 5, Jay Z and Beyonce will bring their "On the Run" tour to16 of the nation's football stadiums and baseball parks, with Houston's Minute Maid Park penciled in for July 18.

Read, and be awed: "300 million records worldwide...36 Grammys...2 philanthropists...1 tour...1 stage...this summer."


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