Wednesday, November 22, 2017

DAVID CASSIDY (1950 - 2017)


David Cassidy, the popular teen heartthrob who found fame in television and music throughout the 1970's, passed away on November 21st due to complications from dementia. Playing Keith Partridge for four seasons on the musical-comedy series, "The Partridge Family" along with his step-mother at the time, Shirley Jones (who played his mother on the show), Cassidy was able to take the music from this fictional music family and turn it in to real-life pop hits with The Partridge Family's biggest song being "I Think I Love You" which went to number one in the U.S. and sold over five million copies.

Cassidy was born in New York City to actors Jack Cassidy and Evelyn Ward so it's hardly a surprise that David eventually found himself drawn in to the family business. He made his professional acting debut in the failed 1969 Broadway musical, "The Fig Leaves Are Falling" but a casting director, after seeing the show, saw his potential and had him come to Hollywood. Cassidy made guest appearances on several television shows before he was cast on "The Partridge Family" in 1970. After he had some pop music success from the show, Cassidy went to work on a solo album and had his own hit with a cover of The Association's, "Cherish" in 1972. While he wanted to seen as a serious rock musician, the baggage from the show and his teen idol image made it difficult for people to separate fact from fiction.

By the time the show ended it's run in 1974, Cassidy's popularity cooled in America but he remained a major draw internationally. While on tour, a tragic event occurred when a fourteen year old girl was killed during a stampede to the stage at one of his London concerts in 1974. This tragedy along with the intense pressure of fame caused Cassidy to decide to take a hiatus from touring and acting to focus on songwriting and recording. However, by the 1980's, Cassidy found himself broke despite still having a lucrative career throughout much of the world.

He later returned to the stage, appearing in London and Broadway productions of "Little Johnny Jones", "Blood Brothers" (along with his half-brother, Shaun Cassidy) and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat". Cassidy released his last studio album, "A Touch of Blue" in 2003, appeared with half-brother, Patrick on the 2009 family comedy series, "Ruby & The Rockits" and was the first fired on the 2011 season of "Celebrity Apprentice". He admitted his problem with alcohol in 2008 and faced a few arrest charges over the following years but he continued to tour with concert appearances across the USA and the UK until his diagnosis of dementia forced him to retire earlier this year. Let's look back and enjoy a few musical moments from this talented performer:





Thursday, November 16, 2017

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


This Number One Flashback happened the week I had just turned five years old back in November of 1967. "To Sir, With Love" by Scottish singer and actress, Lulu reached the top of the U.S. pop chart and remained there for five weeks. It also became the number one pop single of the year according to Billboard and sold over one million copies.

At the age of fifteen, Lulu (born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie) was the lead singer with the group, the Luvvers and they reached the top-ten of UK pop charts with a cover of the Isley Brothers' hit, "Shout" in 1964. Not long after, she left the group and went solo to become one of the biggest-selling British female singers of the 1960's.

Lulu made her acting debut with the 1967 film, "To Sir, With Love" which starred Sidney Poitier. The actor plays a teacher who arrives at a secondary school in a rough area in the East End of London where the students drove the last teacher out with their disruptive behavior and outrageous pranks. But Mr. Poitier is not having it and tries another effective approach to have these kids come around. Lulu appears as "Babs" and at the end of the film, she performs the moving title song to reflect all of the students' deep appreciation for their teacher.

This is one of my all-time favorite songs so it's probably appropriate to play this classic tune by my fellow Scorpio today on my birthday. Enjoy:

Sunday, November 5, 2017

HALF-LIGHT


When he was a member of the art-rock quartet, Vampire Weekend, Rostam Batmanglij was a major driving force behind the band as he was a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer and producer of much of their material. The group (featuring bass guitarist Chris Baio, drummer Chris Tomson and guitarist, songwriter and lead vocalist Ezra Koenig) were together since their college days at Columbia University and released three critically-acclaimed albums with their third, "Modern Vampires of the City" winning them a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 2014.

During his time with the band, Batmanglij teamed with Wes Miles of the indie rock band, Ra Ra Riot in 2006 for a side project called Discovery that explored electronic and alt-r&b sounds but after Vampire Weekend's last release, he began to further experiment musically. Batmanglij did some work for a film, teaming up with Charli XCX and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran on a song for the soundtrack of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1", writing original music for a play by Kenneth Lonergan called "This Is Our Youth" in 2014, writing and producing tracks for Carly Rae Jepsen's well-received 2015 album, "E•MO•TION", producing the Frank Ocean's track, "Ivy" from his follow-up 2016 album, "Blonde" and worked on songs for recent releases from Haim and Solange.

All this activity may have led him to decide on leaving Vampire Weekend in January 2016 although his departure was amicable and open to working with them in the future. Now, going professionally by his first name, Rostam, he is ready to use his own voice to express himself and released his first solo album in September, "Half-Light". For his own music, Rostam further pushes conventional pop structures, using complex musical textures to create moody and emotional songs. Here are two tracks that best represents the inventive, dreamlike atmosphere on the album:




Wednesday, October 25, 2017

FATS DOMINO (1928 - 2017)


"Fats" Domino, considered to be one of the early pioneers of rock & roll, has passed away on October 24th at the age of eighty-nine. I remember becoming aware of this singer through the '70's sitcom, "Happy Days" which was set in the 1950's. Whenever the character Richie Cunningham (played by Ron Howard) thought he was going to get lucky, he would begin singing the opening line from Domino's 1956 hit, "Blueberry Hill". This was one of many hits by the singer who would have thirty-five songs reach the U.S Billboard Top Forty and his first five singles would sell over a million copies each.

Born Antoine Domino Jr. in New Orleans to a French-Creole family, he learned to play the piano as a young man by his brother-in-law who was a jazz guitarist. He was a quick study and became so good that he was asked by Billy Diamond, a jazz bandleader, to join his group, the Solid Senders in 1947. Domino would acquire the name "Fats" from Diamond due to his large frame and after renowned jazz pianists "Fats" Waller and "Fats" Pichon but he wasn't interested in being a jazz performer.

He was pursuing a new sound, which would later be called "rock & roll", that merged piano blues, Zydeco and ragtime. He co-wrote a song called "The Fat Man" in 1953 and it went on to sell over a million copies and considered to be one of the first big rock & roll hits. Domino would cross over to the pop charts, reaching the top-ten with his next single, "Ain't It a Shame" but this was a time when radio was racially segregated and black artists didn't get as much airtime, if any at all. White artists would record popular r&b hits and find great success with them which happened with "Ain't It a Shame" with Pat Boone's milder version reaching the top of the pop charts. Domino would continue to have chart success until around the mid-sixties with the arrival of the British invasion.

"Fats" Domino was one of the first inductees in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the following year, was given the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton in 1998 and was inducted in to the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame just last year. Here is a small sample of some of the great songs by this legendary artist:





Wednesday, October 18, 2017

ABSENT FACES IN POP MUSIC

I had read a interesting article recently in the Los Angeles Times about the difficulties of a new generation of Black female singers being able to cross over to the pop charts. It really made me take notice and realize how true this has become. Female soul singers have regularly appeared on pop radio for decades and there was a high point back in the '90's when there were a large number of solo artists (Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige) and vocal groups (TLC, SWV, Destiny's Child) who found major success on both the r&b and pop charts. But by the mid-2000's, a large number of these female performers seemed to fall out of favor as male-dominated hip-hop took over the charts.

What is making it particularly difficult for these new singers to crossover is that while they're using classic soul as their foundation, each one is taking their own individual approach by creating what would be considered alternative soul music, which merges electronic dance, rock and hip-hop, and doesn't easily fit in today's narrow pop music scene. As I love a great female voice, I'm going to do my little part and put a spotlight on a few of these very talented vocalists featured in this article.

If you want to read the story, please click below:

Los Angeles Times: Female R&B Artists Struggle For Attention

JHENE AIKO


Jhené Aiko, the twenty-nine year old, L.A. native, began her music career as a teen by providing backing vocals for the r&b boy-band, B2K in 2002. Due to her association with this act, she was able to get signed to Sony Records and recorded an album but the label would not released it. Following this disappointment, Aiko decided to go back to school to finish her education. When she made her return to music, Aiko did so on her terms by releasing a mixtape, "Sailing Soul(s)" in 2011 which features an impressive roster of musicians lending support including Miguel, Drake and Kanye West. This lead to her opening for Nas, Lauryn Hill and Drake before getting signed to ARTium Records. Aiko released an EP in 2013, "Sail Out" which featured the single, "The Worst" that peaked at number four on the U.S. Adult R&B chart and was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Song. The following year, Aiko finally has her debut album released. "Souled Out" is an alt-r&b concept album about a woman's journey to enlightenment and received plenty of critical praise. Now her follow-up album, "Trip" just came out last month without any advanced notice. Not only will Aiko be on a headlining tour to support the album through the end of the year but in January she will go on the road with Lana Del Rey with her LA To The Moon tour. Take a look at the video for the first single from the new album, "While We're Young":



SZA


Born Solána Rowe, SZA (with her stage name inspired from RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan) started her career in music purely as a lark. After dropping out of college without a future career plan, Rowe was inspired to write a few songs one day. She later recorded them with a friend and eventually decided that this was something that she seriously wanted to pursue. SZA self-released her first EP, "See SZA Run" in 2012 which was met with critical acclaim with music critics describing her sound as a fascinating mix of Beyoncé and Björk. She would release two more well-received mixtapes that led to her writing songs for other artists like Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Rihanna before signing to a major label, RCA Records and releasing her debut studio album, "Ctrl" (pronounced "control") this past June. The first single, "Drew Barrymore" was named after the actress and inspired by her role in one of her early films, "Poison Ivy". You can hear SZA now on pop radio due to her recent collaboration with Maroon 5 on the rising hit, "What Lovers Do" which just reached the top-twenty. She also has just dropped another single from her album, "The Weekend" which is riding high on the r&b and pop charts.



SEVYN STREETER


Amber Streeter knew she wanted to be a professional singer ever since she was a little girl. She sang in church and talent shows (including tying for first place while competing on "Showtime at The Apollo") before becoming part of the teen girl-group, TG4 (which was short for "tom girls four") at the age of fifteen and signing her first recording contract. The group opened for other youth-oriented r&b acts like B2K, Immature and Lil' Bow Wow but their music never made an impact on the charts. Soon TG4 disbanded and Streeter would join another girl-group, RichGirl in 2007. This group managed to open for Beyoncé on tour but their promotional singles failed to take off. By 2011, RichGirl was done and Streeter was on her own again but her career would begin a major shift after meeting r&b bad boy, Chris Brown. She signed to his label, changed her name to "Sevyn"and sang on Brown's 2012 album, "Fortune".  Later that year, Streeter dropped her own singles, "It Won't Stop" and "Next" which brought her plenty of attention as a solo artist with them reaching the top-twenty on the r&b and hip-hop charts. This year, the determined thirty-one year old Streeter released her first album, "Girl Disrupted" with the singles, "My Love For You", "Before I Do" and "Fallen" serving as perfect representations of her brand of passionate and sensual modern soul. Check out the video for the ballad,  "Fallen" that features Ty Dolla $ign and Cam Wallace:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

TOM PETTY (1950 - 2017)


It has been sadly confirmed that Tom Petty, the hard-driving rock performer and songwriter, has actually passed away at the age of sixty-six after suffering from full cardiac arrest early on October 2nd. It had been reported that he had died when he had been initially found at his home in Malibu but that was inaccurate at that time. Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers had just completed a fortieth anniversary tour, which he had stated would be their last major cross-country tour, with the final shows held at the Hollywood Bowl near the end of September.

Petty was born on October 20th in Gainesville, Florida and first became interested in rock-n-roll as a child after meeting Elvis Presley when the singer was in town shooting a movie and later when catching The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Petty decided he was going to be a rock performer. He dropped out of school at seventeen to play bass with the band, Mudcrutch. The group found minor local success but eventually disbanded with Petty deciding to go solo. With former Mudcrutch members, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench by his side, he found additional players to form an early version of The Heartbreakers.

The first self-titled album by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers  in 1976 didn't get much attention in the States but it broke through in Britain with the single, "Breakdown". U.S. audiences soon came around and Petty and the band would have many hits here with  "Refugee", "Don't Do Me Like That", "American Girl" and "The Waiting". Petty would also release three solo albums, was a member of the supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys which included George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan and had a smash hit duet with Stevie Nicks with the single,  "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" in 1982.

Tom Petty was inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, won three Grammy Awards and has sold over eighty million records throughout his impressive career. Petty is survived by wife, Dana York and three children. Let's look back on some musical highlights from this incredibly gifted musician who will truly be missed:









Sunday, October 1, 2017

DOUBLE DUTCHESS


After eleven years, Fergie has finally released the long-awaited follow-up to her mega-successful debut solo album, "The Dutchess". Although an unfinished version of the entire album was leaked in July, the official version of  "Double Dutchess" is now out. Much like her debut, the forty-two year old mother and soon-to-be former wife to actor, Josh Duhamel has created another solid collection that features an eclectic mix of sounds ranging from hip-hop, reggae, soul, dance and modern pop.

Fergie decided to take full control of this project with her co-producing and co-writing nearly all of the tracks. She also decided to leave her record label, Interscope and to launch her own label, Dutchess Music. The album does feature the singles that failed to get much attention including "L.A. Love (La La)" which was dropped back in 2014 and "M.I.L.F.$" and "Life Goes On" from last year. But the new single, "You Already Know", that includes Nicki Minaj providing her trademark sassy rap, seems to be the step in the right direction. As for the hyper-sexual imagery she's projecting all over the promotional album pictures and videos, it does come across a little extreme and desperate. But I guess you do what you gotta do to get noticed in this competitive pop environment.

Taking a page from Beyoncé and her "Lemonade" album, Fergie has made videos for each of the songs on the album and assembled them together as a film called "Double Dutchess: Seeing Double". Take a look at a few of these videos:







DAVID CASSIDY (1950 - 2017)

David Cassidy , the popular teen heartthrob who found fame in television and music throughout the 1970's, passed away on November 21s...