OPERATION BACKLOG SLOG (BLOG): Episode 7

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope 2010 is finding you well so far. Fun fact: Operation Backlog Slog was originally going to be my New Year’s resolution, but I decided that it was too good an idea to sit on for over a month. Today’s update includes three excellent non-fiction books, a delightfully dark parody of a children’s book and five good-to-great albums. Enjoy!

BOOKS

Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Random House) – Have you ever wondered what separates great messages that stick in people’s minds for years (“…and knowing is half the battle!”) from ones that fail to leave a lasting impression? Well, Chip and Dan Heath have the answer, and they relate it to us in acronym form: SUCCESs. A great idea is Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and tells a Story. They stay true to that notion throughout the book, organizing it in such a way that, even if you put the book down after 5 pages, you’ve already learned the most important thing they can teach you. A great alternate title for Made to Stick would’ve been Kidney Heist, as that famous urban legend is one of the brothers Heath’s best examples of a SUCCESs story. There are dozens of case studies, a few useful statistics (but not an overwhelming abundance of them) and tons of excellent examples from throughout the worlds of marketing, journalism, and business-to-business communication. If you’ve ever had to pitch an idea to anyone (who hasn’t?) you’ll find valuable insight in Made to Stick. But if you don’t have the money or time, just remember SUCCESs and what it stands for (though I found it easier to remember once I had examined it in-depth.)

Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers by Seth Godin (Simon & Schuster) – I really wish my marketing professors had required, or indeed even mentioned Seth Godin’s books to me while I was an undergrad. If they had, I might have stuck with marketing instead of facing an ethical crisis and switching to management! Common sense master and marketing guru Seth Godin lays out the future (now the present) of all good marketing tactics in Permission Marketing, essentially forecasting the rise of Google’s adsense business model and the phenomenon of corporate twitter accounts (though not through those specific technological means.) Unfortunately, this book is becoming very dated very quickly, so I’d advise reading the first few chapters and then moving on to one of his more recent books (such as his updated version of Purple Cow, or the next book on this list.)

All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-trust World by Seth Godin (Portfolio) – Talk about getting it on the nose, right?! Now that we’ve got that “truth” out of the way, Seth Godin uses explicit details and examples to develop the proverb some of you might know from V for Vendetta, “Artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover it up.” Godin posits that every message worth telling is a story, and that one of the most important things you can do is be true to your stories and make sure that they get across the idea you’re trying to send. If some of this sounds familiar, think of it as an in-depth look at the last S in SUCCESs from Made to Stick (though I’m sure the authors did not collaborate.) I had borrowed this book from my local library, and I’m now planning to buy it so that I can mark it up and refer to it throughout the rest of my career. It’s THAT important to anyone who needs to get a message across to a client/customer/interviewer/what-have-you. It’s time to use those manipulation powers for good instead of evil, my friends.

The Antarctic Express by Kenneth Hite and Christina Rodriguez (Atlas Games) – Possibly my most fantastically inappropriate Christmas gift this season, The Antarctic Express is a page-for-page parody of famous children’s story The Polar Express with a Lovecraftian twist. Instead of the children traveling to see Santa present the first gift of Christmas, these children are vying for the chance to study the frozen bodies of the Old Ones buried deep underneath the Antarctic. I won’t spoil everything for you, but I will say that a Shoggoth makes an appearance. Considering how incredibly creepy the Polar Express movie is on its own (friends of mine watched it with the sound off recently, providing our own terrifying narration,) The Antarctic Express seems like a perfect delivery of those hidden dark themes. For those who are interested, Atlas Games also publishes a parody of Where the Wild Things Are entitled Where the Old Ones Are. Frighteningly hilarious.

MUSIC

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things by Stephanie White and The Philth Harmonic – Christopher Weingarten and I agree, Twitter (and crowdsourcing) are sacrificing art to the God of Mediocrity (link courtesy of my good friend MediaMaven.) With that in mind, I humbly suggest that you preview some of the tracks from Stephanie White and The Philth Harmonic’s sophomore album, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. If I were to try to describe their style in simple genre terms, I’d be here all day. They’ve got elements of pop, R&B, soul, blues, jazz, funk, rock, jam, and a dozen others. At their live shows, they cover songs from artists like Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, Christina Aguilera, No Doubt, Less Than Jake, and even Edna’s Goldfish. But as that piano-playing fellow from Long Island says, “you can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine,” so swing on over to the band’s Youtube page and check out some of their performances. I will say this about Stephanie’s voice, though: Her talents continue to improve with every recording, and while she can still belt it out like Christina Aguilera, her mid-to-soft range has gotten even more impressive this time around. Production quality has improved as well, and the opening tracks now sound like they could be dropped straight onto the radio and no-one would think them out of place. My only regret is that the album version of “Can’t Get You Outta My Head” isn’t as blow-the-doors-off-their-hinges rockin’ as it is when they play it live, but that’s just one more reason to catch a live performance in addition to picking up the album. My favorite tracks: “Selfish Fool”, “Can’t Get You Outta My Head”, “Cheat on my BFF”, “Prove It” and “Emerald City Blues.”

Glee: The Music Vols. 1 & 2 by the cast of Glee (Fox) – For those of you who didn’t watch Glee on Fox this past season, it’s possibly the dorkiest, gayest (not an insult) and most emotionally immersive shows on network television. And it’s a musical! There’s so much music, in fact, that even two soundtrack albums couldn’t cover it all. While the collections are missing some of my favorite moments (The Aca-Fellas singing “This Is How We Do It”, the guidance counselor singing “I Could’ve Danced All Night”) almost all of the best musical moments of the series are there for your enjoyment. No longer will you have to rely on Hulu to get your fix of Mercedes’ rendition of “Bust Your Windows” or Kurt and Rachel’s dueling “Defying Gravity.” Even if you haven’t seen the show, some of these a capella (or nearly so) renditions of hits like Queen’s “Somebody to Love” or Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” are still phenomenal and impressive. I do have one major gripe about the soundtrack, though, and it is that (I’m pretty sure) the producers were a little too quick to rely on auto-tune to perfect the tracks. Some of the kids’ voices sound as digitized as Cher or Kid Rock on a few tracks, and it’s genuinely off-putting. The rest of the music more than makes up for this, though, and if you can’t spot auto-tune then you won’t even notice. If you don’t feel like getting every song and want to cherry-pick your favorites, the songs go up on iTunes the week they air (keep that in mind for season 2!)

Do or Die by The Dropkick Murphys (Hellcat) – The only drawback to getting all of your music from the local library is that it’s not always easy to keep track of a band’s chronology. Had I been more conscientious, I might have started my Dropkick Murphys reviewing with their 1998 full-length debut, Do or Die. I’m glad I didn’t, though, because while Do or Die is their most raw and pure album, the band just isn’t as skilled as they would later become. It’s a bit like starting on Rancid and Common Rider, then listening to Operation Ivy (which I also did, come to think of it.) Don’t get me wrong, though. Do or Die has some fantastic tracks that should not be missed by any punk rock fan or any Bostonian (particularly Skinhead on the MBTA.) The intro is fantastic, and the title track sets up everything the band is known for (essentially being the Boston-Irish Rancid,) but there’s nothing that matches the musical prowess and emotional force of tracks like “Last Letter Home” or “The Auld Triangle” on later albums.

Blackout by The Dropkick Murphys (Hellcat) – 2003’s Blackout, on the other hand, is the Murphys at their best. Not as gimmicky as The Warrior’s Code, and not as raw as Do or Die, DKM show that you can play rock songs with emotion and not be whiny girls about it. Sure, they close the album with a hilarious bar song called “Kiss Me, I’m $#!^faced,” but they do just as great a job on rockers like “Walk Away” (that deals with the trauma of parental abandonment) or “The Dirty Glass” (that deals with alcoholism.) “The Fields of Athenry” touched fans so much that an Iraq War soldier requested it to be played at his funeral. The band obliged, dedicated a song to him on The Warrior’s Code, and released a special memorial single whose profits went to the soldier’s family. Personally, I get that great resonant feeling (the one that makes me really feel the music in addition to hearing it) every time I listen to “As One.” Whether the song is about a parent risking his life for his child, a soldier risking his life for the next generation, or just two best friends learning to overcome their petty squabbles (all are equally valid interpretations,) it’s powerful, and it made the album for me.

Oh, and for all you folk fans, the title track is adapted from a Woody Guthrie song. Fun fact: It was Woody Guthrie’s music that inspired Joe Strummer to become a singer/guitarist and found The Clash. He tried, unsuccessfully, to get his friends to call him “Woody” before adopting the Joe Strummer nickname. This, in turn, inspired The Gaslight Anthem song “I’da Called You Woody, Joe.” I’ll be reviewing The Gaslight Anthem’s albums soon, so consider that a teaser.

See ya next time!

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2 Responses

  1. […] OPERATION BACKLOG SLOG (BLOG): Episode 7 […]

  2. […] Godin (Year read: 2009) – You might remember All Marketers Are Liars from an earlier episode of Operation Backlog Slog – It’s the book that  proved to me it is possible to be a marketer without completely […]

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