Friday, June 25, 2010

WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED TO. . .

             AMY WINEHOUSE?

Last seen:  "Back To Black" (2007)


Messy bee-hive. Heavy black eyeliner. Prison tats. Dirty ballet slippers. Substance abuse issues. Amazing voice.

You put all those things together and you can only come up with one person. So what exactly has happened to the talented Ms Winehouse?

Back in 2007,  I remember hearing some buzz about this British singer who did this retro-soul thing with a modern sensibility whose album was just being released in the U.S. I decided to buy it although I thought it was probably no more than a lot of hot-air hype. I was very surprised by how good it actually was. It was a fresh and confident record and I loved every single song.

I loved "Back To Black" so much that I went out and bought her first CD, "Frank" (2003) which was released here after the success of this album.  Her debut was more of a jazz fueled hip-hop sound which was also very interesting. Although it's not as perfect as her follow-up, it certainly had plenty of highlights and it showed off her potential.

Amy did very well at the Grammys, where "Back To Black" won five of the six awards it was nominated for in 2008 including Record of the Year, "Rehab".

So after all this success, you would have thought things would be going well for her and she would have released a new album by now. Unfortunately, Ms Winehouse has had a well documented history of drug and alcohol abuse, mood swings, and eating disorders and perhaps the stress of her new found fame triggered her relapse. Whatever the case may be, she has become distracted by unhealthy activities that has prevented her from creating any new material. I hope she gets all the help she needs to recover.

There have been recent rumors that she has been recording and that there could possibly be a new album out later this year. Let's hope so. . . she's only twenty-six and could have a long career ahead of her if only she can only pull herself together. I am very curious to see what she will do next.

Here is a selection of some of my favorite songs off of  "Back To Black":

He Can Only Hold Her.mp3

Tears Dry On Their Own.mp3

Love Is a Losing Game.mp3

And this is the music video for the single of title track, "Back To Black":



As a bonus, here is a song off of her debut, "Frank":

Intro/Stronger Than me.mp3

Sunday, June 20, 2010

THE FIRST TIME: PART FOUR

This latest installment is dedicated to the first time we heard these ladies who rock:

THE GO-GO'S - "BEAUTY AND THE BEAT" - (1981)


This all-girl group started as a punk-rock band in 1978 that included Belinda Carlisle on vocals and Jane Wiedlin on guitar and vocals. Later, Charlotte Caffey joined the band on lead guitar and keyboards. Drummer, Gina Schock and bassist, Kathy Valentine soon followed, replacing original band members.

This current line-up moved to a new wave rock sound and signed with I.R.S. Records in 1981 where they released their debut album. "Beauty & The Beat" was a surprise hit and it topped the U.S. charts for six weeks and sold over two million copies. The Go-Go's were nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

The band went on to record two more albums, "Vacation" (1982) and "Talk Show" (1984) before breaking up due to personality conflicts, creative differences and drug addiction.

The Go-Go's reunited in 1990, released one more studio album, "God Bless The Go-Go's" (2001) and has continued to tour together many times over the years.

The Go-Go's are considered to one of the most successful all-female bands of all time.

This was the song that kicked things off:

Our Lips Are Sealed.mp3

THE BANGLES - "DIFFERENT LIGHT" - (1986)

The Bangles were the other successful all-female band in the 1980's. The group formed in 1981 and was called The Bangs with Susanna Hoffs on vocals and guitar, Annette Zilinskas on bass and sisters, Vicki and Debbie Peterson on guitar and drums respectively.

A legal issue forced the band to change their name and they became The Bangles and released an EP in 1982. Shortly after, Ms Zilinskas left to focus on her own project and was replaced by Michael Steele.

In 1984, the band signed with Columbia Records and released, "All Over the Place". It featured the singles, "Hero Takes the Fall" and "Going Down To Liverpool" which got good reviews and created some buzz but not a lot of radio play.

It did catch the attention of another artist, Prince who was inspired to give them a song for their next album, "Different Light". That song took them to number two on the U.S. charts but their next single, "Walk Like An Egyptian" took them to number one around the world.

Despite all four band members equally contributing songs and singing lead on their albums, it was perceived that Ms Hoffs was the lead singer of the band. This was the direct result of the choice of singles released by the record label and it did cause friction amongst the group. They released one more hit album, "Everything" (1988) before putting an end to the Bangles and going their separate ways.

The Bangles got back to together in 1999 for a song on the soundtrack of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" which was directed by Jay Roach, who was now Ms Hoffs's husband. The band went on tour and later released another album, "Doll Revolution (W/Dvd)" (2003). Ms Steele left the group in 2005 but the Bangles still continue to tour with an unofficial band replacement, Abby Travis.

This was the song that the Purple One gave the group under the pseudonym, "Christopher":

Manic Monday.mp3


BELINDA CARLISLE - "BELINDA" - (1986)


Belinda Carlisle was born in Hollywood, California and raised in Thousand Oaks. She was a cheerleader in high school and at the age of nineteen, she left home determined to become a star.

She started off as drummer in the punk band, The Germs and calling herself, "Dottie Danger" before leaving to form her own band, The Go-Go's.

After leaving The Go-Go's in 1985, Belinda Carlisle decided to embark on a solo career. With the assistance of Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, Andy Taylor of Duran Duran, Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles and former Go-Go's member, Charlotte Caffey, she released her debut album. "Belinda" was successful, selling over a half a million copies in the U.S. and the first single went to number three on the charts.

Ms Carlisle had many more top ten hits and went on to releasing a total of seven albums which includes her last, "Voila (Bonus CD)" (2007). It has the very American artist singing French chansons and pop standards.

She has been married to Morgan Mason, son of the actor, James Mason, since 1986 and they have a son. Ms Carlisle has just written her autobiography," Lips Unsealed: A Memoir"  that came out this June.

This was her first hit song as a solo artist:

Mad About You.mp3

Here is the music video for the song:

Friday, June 11, 2010

HOT & FRESH OUT THE KITCHEN

I had noticed that all of my previous posts have featured music from the not too distant past, but I do listen to the current stuff.

Here is some new music of interest:

CHRISTINA AGUILERA - BIONIC

To be honest, I have not heard the whole record, "BIONIC - DELUXE (Explicit)" yet but what I have heard, I haven't been overly excited about. I think she is moving in a direction she doesn't need to go and others are already doing and are doing much better. She should be doing music that showcases her amazing voice and not buries it under heavy electronic sounds and vocal distortions. Lead the pack, don't follow it. You deserve and can do better, Xtina.

Here is one of the better tracks off the new record that features M.I.A.:

Elastic Love - Christina Aguilera


JAMIE LIDELL - COMPASS

This is the sixth CD from British soul singer, Jamie Lidell who hasn't gotten nearly enough attention on this side of the Atlantic. You can hear all of the different musical influences in his work but he combines classic r&B with throbbing electronic rhythms to create his unique sound.

This is my one of favorite songs off of "Compass": I Wanna be Your Telephone .

LEELA JAMES - MY SOUL

R&B songstress, Leela James has returned with that sultry voice with a new record, "My Soul" and I am glad she's back. I have been a fan since her first CD, "Change Is Gonna Come" (2005) and I hope her latest brings her all the proper accolades she truly deserves.

Check out this track: Tell Me You Love Me

And finally, the new video by Lady Gaga for her latest single, "Alejandro". With it's thinly veiled homage to the video images of Madonna, the video's highlights are Gaga's awkward dancing and the overt sexuality which comes across as derivative and a little desperate.

At over eight minutes, it is bit too lengthy for a music video and the extra time adds nothing and feels self indulgent. Lady Gaga seems like she has gotten to a point where she feels she has to top each new video, making it more grand and outrageous and it's really not always necessary. Maybe her next video should simply be her sitting at a piano, just singing. That would be truly shocking.

Monday, June 7, 2010

FOCUS ON: LINDA RONSTADT

I can't think of many singers who can truly be considered versatile but one I can name most definitely is Linda Ronstadt. She is a dynamic song stylist who has managed to perform many different genres of music and used her magnificent and powerful voice to do them truthfully, passionately, competently and even found great commercial success in the process.

She is one of all-time favorite singers. I have always loved her music and I always looked forward to every new album that would come out. My favorite was "Mad Love" (1980) which she did her version of new wave music that included songs by Elvis Costello (who made unnecessarily nasty comments about her take of his music). It's great from beginning to end and if you can get your hands on it, check it out.

Linda Ronstadt was born in Tucson, Arizona in 1946 and her childhood was filled with a wide range of music. She would listen to jazz, rock & roll, opera, country, r&b, folk, gospel, pop standards and mariachi. She grew up singing this music with her family as well as hearing it on the radio and it would eventually inspire her to go on to make albums using all of these different styles of music in the future.

At fourteen, she formed a folk group with her brother, Peter and her sister, Suzy and they played coffeehouses and other small venues. Later, at eighteen and after completing one semester at the University of Arizona, Linda decided to go to Los Angeles to try and start her music career.

In 1964, she formed a folk-rock band with Bob Kimmel and Kenny Edwards and called themselves the Stone Poneys. They signed with Capitol Records and released three albums in a little over a year. Their biggest hit was "Different Drum" written by future Monkees member, Mike Nesmith. The band broke up before the release of their third album although Mr. Edwards would continue to record and tour with Ms Ronstadt later in her career.

In 1969, she released her first solo album, "Hand Sown...Home Grown" and it has been considered to be the first alt-country album by a female artist. She continued to record and tour but didn't have any huge hits and was still considered a cult favorite.

Things began to change with her fourth album, "Don't Cry Now" (1973) when she first started working with her long time producer, Peter Asher. He was the first producer she had worked with who she felt was on the same page with her musically and he would collaborate with her on her all of future recordings through the late 1980's.

Finally, in 1975 with the release of "Heart Like A Wheel", she had her first number one album as well as her first number one single, "You're No Good". The album would top the country charts as well and go on to sell over two million copies. This album also started her reputation as a brilliant interpreter of other artists songs and making some people consider them sometimes even better than the original version.

She continued making hit albums over the years, releasing a total of thirty to date and scoring many more top ten hits. She landed on the cover of Time magazine in 1977 and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone six times. She has appeared on Broadway and starred in the operetta, "Pirates of Penzance" in which she received a Tony award nomination as well as a Golden Globe nomination for the film version in 1983.

She teamed up with Nelson Riddle and recorded a trio of popular albums of the music of the Great American Songbook, made a successful country album, "Trio"(1987) with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris and released an album of traditional Mexican folk music, "Canciones de mi Padre" (1987) in honor of her father and her Mexican heritage, which sold over two million copies in the U.S.

Linda Ronstadt is truly an unique artist who has sold over 100 million albums worldwide during her illustrious career.

Here are a few of my favorite songs :
Heatwave.mp3
You're No Good.mp3
It's So Easy.mp3
Blue Bayou.mp3
Ooh Baby Baby.mp3
Long Long Time.mp3

Saturday, June 5, 2010

DONE. REDONE.

Songs are open to interpretation and so artists always try and take a beloved song and do their own version of it.

Sometimes, but not too often, a singer can recreate a song and make it even better than the original but usually, we either get a pleasant and harmless take of the song or a really bad and painful rendition.

So, I'm going to present the original version of a few songs and then a remake of the song and say which one I prefer.

Here we go:

Done: "Young Hearts Run Free" - Candi Stanton - (1976)
Young Hearts Run Free.mp3

Redone: "Young Hearts Run Free" - The Swell Season - (2010)
Young Hearts Run Free.mp3

This is really no comparison because nobody could possibly top Ms Stanton's version of this song, which is one of my all-time favorites, but I have got to give props to Glen Hansard. He gives us a passionate, acoustic take of this song and he is secure enough not to feel the need to change any of the pronouns. I think he's a great singer and I really like what he did to the song.
This song was done as part of Levi's Pioneer Sessions and here Mr. Hansard explains why he chose to record this song:



Done: "What a Fool Believes" - The Doobie Brothers - (1978)
What a Fool Believes.mp3

Redone: "What A Fool Believes" - Aretha Franklin - (1980)
What a Fool Believes.mp3

I have always loved how Ms Franklin has taken many songs made popular by other artists and completely re-imagined them and made them her songs. She did it again with the Doobie Brothers' hit song and while she gives it her spin and it is a fun and interesting version, it doesn't really come close to the pure, simple, and soulful quality of the original.

Done: "Don't Speak" - No Doubt - (1995)
Don't Speak.mp3
Redone: "Don't Speak" - Leela James - (2005)
Don't Speak.mp3

"Don't Speak" is one of my favorite songs from No Doubt and Ms James decided to tackle this rock ballad and gave it nice R&B groove. While both versions are very similar in feel and I really admire what Ms James did to the song, but I have to say that I prefer the original by a slight edge. I guess because I know that Gwen Stefani wrote the song based on her personal experience with her ex-boyfriend, bass player, Tony Kanal that I am connecting more with her version.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

THE FIRST TIME: PART THREE

Here is another installment of the first time we heard the music of some great artists.


EURYTHMICS - "SWEET DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THIS) - 1983
Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart started off together in a British punk-rock band called, The Tourists and they were also a romantic item. Tensions within the band as well as desire to change musical directions caused the two to split from the Tourists. Despite also ending their romance, they decided to start a new band and called themselves, The Eurythmics.

They released their first album, "In The Garden" (1981) but it was not much of a success. This next album, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (Remastered Version)" featured the international smash title track which combined cold synthesisers and Ms Lennox's warm voice. The song was also helped by the innovative music video and launched their career.

They went on to release eight albums, selling over seventy five million copies and had many top ten hits while continuing to change musical directions throughout before taking an unplanned hiatus starting in 1989. Each released solo albums during this time before reuniting and releasing "Peace" in 1999 which has remained their last album to date. Although they have not officially disbanded, there are no current plans for them to record any new music in the foreseeable future.

This is the first hit single:

Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This).mp3

Also, here is the music video for the song:




STING - "DREAM OF THE BLUE TURTLES" - 1985

Gordon Sumner or as he is better known, Sting, a nickname he received after performing on stage wearing a black and yellow stripe sweater, was the lead singer and bass player of the hit British rock band, The Police before he decided to leave the band and start a solo music career.

For his first record, he gathered together a group of jazz musicians that included Branford Marsalis and together they created a jazz-rock fusion album. "Dream of the Blue Turtles" was a huge hit that sold over three million copies in the U.S. and featured two top ten singles. There was even a documentary film made of the recording sessions called, "Bring on the Night [Blu-ray]" (1985) that was directed by Michael Apted.

Sting has gone on to release seven more solo albums, won eleven Grammy Awards and has acted in many films.

This song started his solo career:

If You Love Somebody(Set Them Free).mp3


DONNA SUMMER - "LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY" - 1975
American teenager, LaDonna Gaines was part of the European touring company of the rock musical, "Hair" when she settled in Munich, Germany to marry Helmut Sommer and try a music career.

"Love To Love You Baby" was actually her second album, now called Donna Summer, following, "Lady of the Night" (1974) but that had only been released in Europe and was a minor hit. She was reluctant to record the title song and actually first did it as a demo for another artist. The producers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte loved what she did and talked her into allowing them to release her version. It was first released in Europe and was a modest success.

Casablanca Records president, Neil Bogart heard the song, loved it, had the song reworked and released it in America. It became a smash hit and that success traveled around the world. This album was quickly released, more hit songs followed and she soon became "The Queen of Disco".

At the end of the disco era, Donna Summer managed to continue making hit recordings by moving towards a pop-rock and R&B sound. She has released eighteen albums, won five Grammy Awards and has sold over 130 million albums worldwide.

Here is that song that was actually banned on some radio stations at the time:

Love To Love You Baby.mp3

ICONA POP ARE "GIRLS GIRLS"

Those Swedish musical party-girls, Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, otherwise known as  Icona Pop are back with a new club-banging anthem. ...