Monday, July 25, 2011

AMY WINEHOUSE (1983 - 2011)


I had just arrived in Detroit Saturday evening for my yearly visit to see family when I saw on CNN the announcement that British r&b/jazz singer, Amy Winehouse was dead at the age of twenty-seven. Although the news was far from surprising but still shocking and very sad.

With her breakthrough album, "Back To Black", Ms Winehouse showed great promise as an amazing talent but her music career took a backseat to her personal demons. She made repeated efforts to try to take control of her issues but she was never able to truly conquer her addictions and I 'm very sure the pressures of fame and success didn't help her any.

I was a very big fan of Ms Winehouse and I'm disappointed that she is no longer with us to share her talent with the world. I hope she is finally at peace and she will be missed.

This is the video for one of my favorite songs of Ms Winehouse:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

LAND OF THE ONE-HIT WONDERS: 80'S EDITION


I graduated from high school in 1981, so the music of the 1980's (despite how corny it sounds) was truly the soundtrack of my formative years. When I hear these songs, they take me back to a specific moment in my life and although I didn't realize it at the time but it was a simpler time with few cares in the world beyond deciding what I was going to wear when I would go out dancing.

So, once again, here are some my favorite songs from the artists who managed to have only one hit chart on the U.S top-forty charts:

"Cars" - Gary Numan (1980)

"Whip It" - Devo (1980)

"Double Dutch Bus" - Frankie Smith (1981)

"Tainted Love"  - Soft Cell (1982)

"Someday Someway" - Marshall Crenshaw (1982)

"Love Plus One" - Haircut 100 (1982)

"Pass The Dutchie" - Musical Youth (1983)

"Too Shy" - Kajagoogoo (1983)

"In A Big Country" - Big Country (1983)

"They Don't Know" - Tracey Ullman (1984)

"Relax" - Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1985)

"Perfect Way" - Scritti Politti (1985)

"Tarzan Boy" - Baltimora (1986)

"Casanova" - Levert (1987)

"Beds Are Burning" - Midnight Oil (1988)

"What I Am" - Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians (1989)

You've enjoyed the sounds of the '80's, now let have a few visuals:





Saturday, July 9, 2011

MY TUNE OF THE DAY


Bette Midler is best known today as a comedic actress and Vegas entertainer but when she first started her career, she was simply a dynamic singer. She got her start in New York, performing at a gay bathhouse (with a young Barry Manilow accompanying her on the piano), which is where I'm sure she developed her sense of style and humor.

This created interest in this brash performer and she released her debut album, "The Divine Miss M" in 1972 with Mr. Manilow as a co-producer and the musical arranger. The record featured many of the songs that she performed in her act and other classic material. Midler had top forty hits with, "Do You Want To Dance", "Friends" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (LP Version)" which made it to number eight on the charts. The album sold over a million copies and won her the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

One of my favorite songs is her take of "Superstar (LP Version)" (co-written by Leon Russell) with the best known version by The Carpenters in 1971. The song was originally written about a groupie longing for the return of a rock& roll superstar to her bed but it's been watered down since then.

I think Karen Carpenter's version is great but Miss M. made it like a completely different song as she slowed it down, with her vocals full of yearning and pain, making the song understated and brilliant.

Have a listen:

"Superstar" - Bette Midler (1972)

Here she is performing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" live on one of her early televsion specials:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

FOCUS ON: ABBA


Although ABBA was very popular and successful during their brief reign at the top of the pop charts in the mid-1970;s, the group wasn't given much respect and their music was considered fluff. It's funny how time can alter people's perspectives and allow them to reconsider their importance in musical history. ABBA was the perfect pop creation, combining memorable melodies with catchy lyrics and angelic vocal harmonies. Sure, looking back, the group's image was definitely cheesy and over-the-top but the music of ABBA is still being played for one simple reason: It's fun, feel-good music. All four members of ABBA each had various amounts of musical solo success in their native Sweden before coming together as a group.

Benny Andersson, at eighteen, joined the popular Swedish pop-rock group, The Hep Stars in 1963 as a keyboardist and later songwriter. The group started off as a cover band of international hits before doing Andersson's original material and had many top ten hits in Sweden before disbanding in 1969. Bjorn Ulvaeus. also at eighteen, was a singer/guitarist for the folk group, The Hootenanny Singers. He began writing English-language songs as well as had a brief solo career during his stay with this band.

The Hep Stars and The Hootenanny Singers paths crossed while performing across Sweden and Andersson and Ulvaeus became friendly and decided to try and write a song together. That song, "Isn't Easy To Say" was recorded by The Hep Stars in 1966. Stig Anderson, the manager for The Hootenanny Singers, encouraged the two to continue to write more songs together.

During the Swedish Eurovision song contest in 1969, Andersson entered but came in second but he met fellow contestant, Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Anni-Frid or as she is better known, Frida sang since she was thirteen for various dance and jazz-oriented bands. She formed her own band, "The Anni-Frid Four" in 1967 as well as recording several Swedish-language singles and five solo albums. The two began dating and Andersson would produce her debut album, "Frida" in 1971.

At seventeen, Agnetha Faltskog had a number one record in Sweden in 1968 of a song she wrote herself, "Jag Uar Sa Kar". She would release four solo albums and have many songs hit the Swedish charts. Agnetha met Bjorn in 1969 and they began dating which led to a friendship with Benny and Frida who were also a couple. The two couples first attempted to sing together during a vacation in Cyprus as they harmonized together on the beach. Andersson and Ulvaeus had begun recording their first album together with the ladies adding background vocals on several tracks. The men called their act, "Bjorn and Benny" and they had begun experimenting with new sounds and vocal arrangements. The first single, "Hej, Gamle Man (Hey, Old Man)" went to the top five on the Swedish charts. Agnetha and Bjorn married in 1971 and would later have two children together.

Stig Anderson, now the manager of Bjorn and Benny, was determined to have them conquer the international market with their music. "People Need Love" was released in 1972 and credited as "Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid". The song went to number seventeen in Sweden but it also charted in the U.S., although it only made it as high as number one hundred and fourteen but it was still promising. Their manager felt that the song could have gone higher if they had a major label behind them.

Using all of their names was unwieldy, so they came up with using the acronym, "ABBA" which stood for Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, Anni-Frid but they actually got the original idea for the word from the name of a Swedish canned fish company.

The foursome decided to record an album together and "Ring Ring (Dig)" was released in 1973. The album and the title track did well, hitting the top ten charts in Belgium, Holland, Norway and South Africa but Anderson would only be satisfied with success also in the U.K. and the United States. ABBA released their next single, "Waterloo" which became their first number one song in the major markets such as Germany, UK and Australia and the song got as high as number six in the U.S.

In 1974, ABBA began their first tour of Europe and while it started off disappointing, the band actually had to cancel dates due to poor ticket sales, but by the end, ABBA played to sold-out crowds.

ABBA recorded an English version of the song, "Fernando" in 1976 after the Swedish-language version recorded by Frida for her 1975 solo album went to number one.This version became a smash hit, going to number one in thirteen countries and selling over ten million copies.

ABBA's next album, "Arrival" in 1976 went to number one all over Europe and Australia due to the hit songs, "Knowing Me, Knowing You", "Money, Money, Money" and "Dancing Queen", which managed to hit number one in thirteen countries including their only chart-topper in the United States.

ABBA began a world tour in 1977 and at this point, they were superstars and played to millions of fans across the globe. A feature-length film was made by acclaimed Swedish film maker, Lasse Hallstrom entitled, "ABBA The Movie" that had a loose plot that used footage from their concerts in Australia to tie it together. A studio album called, "The Album"was released to coincide with the film project.

After being together for almost ten years, Benny and Frida finally married in 1978 during the height of ABBA's fame but the marriage was short-lived and the couple divorced in 1981. Around this time, Bjorn and Agnetha separated in 1978 and divorced in 1980.

ABBA released "The Visitors" in 1981 with the recording of the album tense and stressful due to their personal relationships collapsing. While the album managed to top the charts across most of Europe, "The Visitors" was not as big of a commercial success as their previous albums.

The group attempted to record another studio album in 1982 but it was not working so ABBA decided to release a greatest hits compilation, "Abba:the Singles"  that featured the new songs,"Under Attack" and "The Day Before You Came". After an appearance on a Swedish television program on December 11, 1982  to promote the album, this was the last time ABBA performed together and although they never officially announced the break-up, ABBA was over. Andersson and Ulvaeus teamed up with Tim Rice to compose the musical, "Chess" in 1983 while Lyngstad and Faltskog each released English-language solo albums.

By the 1990's, the music of ABBA experienced a resurgence, thanks in part to things like Erasure's tribute album to the band, "Abba-Esque" in 1992 and the use of the group's music in the films, "Muriel's Wedding" and "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" but the ultimate salute to ABBA was the stage musical, "Mamma Mia!" that opened on the West End in London in 1999. It was based on the songs of ABBA which became a smash hit, playing to forty-two million people around the world, grossing over two billion dollars and was made in to a very successful film in 2008. All four members of the group came together for the Swedish premiere of the musical in 2005 as well as the film premiere in 2008.

ABBA has sold over 375 million records worldwide, making them the second best-selling bands and the fourth best-selling music artists in history. The group was inducted in to The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2010.

Here are a few of my favorite ABBA songs:

"Dancing Queen" - ABBA (1976)

"The Name Of The Game" - ABBA (1977)

"Take A Chance On Me" - ABBA (1978)

"Thank You For The Music" - ABBA (1978)

"Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" - ABBA (1979)

"Lay All Your Love On Me" - ABBA (1981)

Here is a vintage music video of the band performing, "Mamma Mia".  ABBA also are one of the first bands to truly use this device (before MTV) as an easy way to promote their music out around the world as there are many videos available of their songs:

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