Some people take music for granted. Others are constantly amazed at discovering new genres and performers as they grow older. Then there are the people who are fortunate to be “born into the life,” with parents or relatives inside the industry. That happened with Michael Napolitano, frontman for Michael and the Rockness Monsters. His father, a professional drummer, turned their house into a homeschooling program filled with records and live concert experiences. Michael worked for 10 years with the Blue Man Group, then started his “Rockness Music” education program. Ten years later, the curriculum is currently established at more than one dozen metropolitan locations in New York and New Jersey.
The Rockness Monsters themselves are busting out with a new collection of songs that was 100 years in the making. I guess Michael could have waited until January to release Seeing Life in 2020, but here we are and here it is – a concept CD with 11 songs, each representing a decade from 1920 to present day. Chronologically, Michael and guest singer Lucy Kalantari duet on “Side by Side,” re-popularized for kindie audiences in 2002 by Dan Zanes. That’s the same year Elizabeth Mitchell released her version of “You Are My Sunshine,” the selection for the 1930s. Here it’s sung by Michael’s daughters (Sienna and Emilia), but this Carter Family classic is the perfect “you can’t spoil” song.
Novelty songs instead of big band and bland pop singers grab the 1940s and 1950s, with “Mairzy Doats” and “Choo’n Gum.” My family has a personal connection to the Teresa Brewer tune, which was often sung to Ben by his grandfather when he was a toddler. As the country dealt with World War II and the Korean War, such tunes were necessary to distract the public and keep morale upbeat. Continuing that theme are The Beatles’ “All Together Now” and the Pointer Sisters “Yes We Can Can,” which move the groove into the modern era, featuring über producer Dean Jones on trombone.
Keyboards conquer guitars (who could really compare to Eddie Van Halen) on the 1980s hard rocking classic “Jump.” And Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” remains one of the most durable songs from the 1990s. Fun fact: The tune lost the Academy Award for Best Song to Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz’s “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas. Newman got the last laugh – the tune has appeared in four films, as well as cover versions by Michael Bublé, Rex Orange County, and now the Rockness Monsters.
Junior Senior’s dance floor favorite “Move Your Feet” gets us into the 2000s. For what it’s worth, it’s a more mellow version than Junior’s or last year’s cover by Josh and the Jamtones and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. A song from the TV series Nashville, “A Life That’s Good,” also featuring his daughters, sweetly closes the collection. Oh – and the title track leads off, with a “They Didn’t Start the Fire/End of the World As We Know It” list of cultural milestones. It’s hard to cram 100 years of music into a CD with a playing time of less than 30 minutes, but Michael is a monster on a mission. Therefore Seeing Life in 2020 is his (pardon the pun) monster opus.
Here is an animated video of the band performing “Woodpecker”: