Saturday, October 29, 2011

FOCUS ON: STEVIE WONDER


Stevie Wonder is certainly one of the most influential musical artists in history who not only revolutionized the sound of soul but altered people's perception of what could be done to music in general. He is daring, bold and fearless, who is willing to try almost anything and throw in any idea that inspires or moves him which is what makes his music so special and unique.

While preparing to write this, I was listening to his music and I was amazed by the wide range and the beautifully, complex textures to his songs. Stevie Wonder's brilliance as a song writer and musician can be quite shocking considering that he has never been able to actually see the world around him but he has the ability to vividly and accurately capture everything.. He is truly a living legend and an important part of our musical history.

He was born Stevland Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950. He was six weeks premature and because the blood vessels at the back of his eyes had not yet reached the front, his retinas became detached and Stevie was left blind.

When Stevie was four, his parents separated and his mother moved him and his five siblings to Detroit. She went back to her maiden name and changed Stevie's surname to "Morris". Stevie learned to play a variety of instruments including the piano, bass and harmonica.and performed in his church's choir.

He was discovered by Gerald White, the brother of The Miracles singer, Ronnie, who first saw Stevie perform at a friend's house. Gerald later brought Ronnie to see Stevie, then Ronnie brought the eleven year old to Motown to audition for Berry Gordy. He was signed to the Tamla label in 1961 and Clarence Paul, one of Stevie's first producers, is the one who came up with his new stage name, "Wonder" and he became professionally known as "Little Stevie Wonder".

Little Stevie recorded two albums in 1962 with little success but at thirteen, he had his first hit single, "Fingertips (Pt. 2)" which was taken from a live recording. The song went to number one on the pop and r&b charts in 1963 and a new star was born. He later appeared, as himself, in the films, "Muscle Beach Party" and the sequel, "Bikini Beach in 1964.

As he matured, Stevie decided to drop the "Little" from his name and continued to have several hit songs including "Uptight (Every thing's Alright)", "I Was Made To Love Her" and "For Once In My Life". During this time, he developed as a song writer in which he wrote not only for himself but for other Motown artists.

By the time he was twenty-one, Stevie was so frustrated by his lack of artistic control at Motown that he allowed his recording contract to expire in 1971. He recorded two independently produced albums as well as wrote and produced for other artists to use as a bargaining tool during contract negotiations with the label. This ploy worked and Motown gave Wonder full creative control, rights to his songs and a higher royalty rate.

Motown released the first of Stevie's self produced albums, "Music Of My Mind" in 1972. It was different from the typical Motown album as Wonder played all the instruments and it dealt with social and political issues with the songs connected together thematically. Later in the year, "Talking Book" was released which featured the smash hits, "Superstition" and "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" with both songs topping the pop charts. The album won Stevie his first three Grammy Awards for Best Male Pop, Best Male R&B and Best R&B Song.

In 1973, Wonder released "Intervisions" which had two top ten hits, "Higher Ground" and "Living For The City" and the album won him three more Grammys including Album Of The Year.  Later that year, Stevie was in a near fatal car accident that left him in a coma for four days. He recovered and was able to triumphantly return to the stage to perform during a comeback concert at Madison Square Garden in March of 1974.

"Songs In The Key Of Life", released in 1976, was an ambitious and accomplished work that would become Wonder's best-selling and most critically acclaimed album of his career. It was a two-LP collection with a four song bonus EP that features his classic songs, "I Wish", "Sir Duke" and "Isn't She Lovely" which was written about the birth of his daughter, Aisha. The record would go on to sell over ten million copies in the U.S. alone and won four Grammy Awards including his third award for Album Of The Year.

After taking some time off, he returned in 1979 with a mostly instrumental soundtrack album for the film, "The Secret Life Of Plants" and writing and producing a hit song for Jermaine Jackson, "Let's Get Serious" before releasing "Hotter Than July" in 1980. The album, inspired by his love of reggae music and meeting Bob Marley, became a huge hit with the singles, "Master Blaster (Jammin)", "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It", "Lately" and "Happy Birthday" (which was written in honor of Martin Luther King and used to encourage the passage of a national holiday in his honor) helping the album become a million seller.


During this period, Stevie Wonder contributed vocals to two big charity singles, "We Are The World" (1985) and "That's What Friends Are For" (1986), made guest appearances on recordings for a wide variety of different artists such as The Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, The Eurythmics, and Paul McCartney, either singing, playing the harmonica or both and he won an Academy Award for the number one song on the pop and r&b charts, "I Just Called To Say I Love You" from the film, "The Woman In Red" in 1985.

In the 1990's, Stevie continued to work but at a much slower pace as he released only one studio album, "Conversation Piece" (1995) during the decade but recorded material for the soundtrack of two Spike Lee films, "Jungle Fever" and "Bamboozled" and continued to make occasional guest appearances on the music for other artists. "A Time To Love" was released in 2005 and has been the last studio album for Mr. Wonder to date but he continues to make live performances around the world.

Stevie Wonder has had thirty top-ten U.S. hits with ten reaching number one, twenty number one r&b hit songs, won twenty-two Grammy Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award,  was inducted in to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and has sold over one hundred million records.

Stevie Wonder married fellow Motown artist, Syreeta Wright in 1970. She co-wrote many songs with him on his albums and he worked on her first two solo recordings but the marriage ended in 1972. He has been married to Kai Milla Morris, a designer, since 2001 and they have two sons, Kailand and Mandla. He has a total of seven children from previous relationships.

Here is a sample of some of Mr. Wonder's greatest hits from throughout his career:

"For Once In My Life" - Stevie Wonder (1968)

"My Cherie Amour" - Stevie Wonder (1969)

"Signed, Sealed, Deliered (I'm Yours)" - Stevie Wonder (1970)

"If You Really Love Me" - Stevie Wonder (1971)

"Living For The City" - Stevie Wonder (1973)

"You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" - Stevie Wonder (1973)

"Don't You Worry 'bout A Thing" - Stevie Wonder (1974)

"All I Do" - Stevie Wonder (1980)

This is early footage of Stevie performing "Uptight (Everything's Alright):


This is the music video for "Part-Time Lover" that features Luther Vandross on background:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

DISCO INFERNO



I've been having disco fever ever since I had done a post about Chic, one of the super groups of that time. I was just a mere teenager at the height of the disco era, around 1978 and 1979, so I wasn't able to go out and get my groove on out on the dance floor. I had to sadly settle for just listening to the music at home.

I loved disco and never understood the hostility to the music during the whole "Disco Sucks" phase but the music seemed to disappear from radio overnight. The reality is that disco didn't go anywhere. The sound just evolved and it is now known as "dance" which is even more popular today. The sound incorporates house, electronic and hip-hop.

So here are a few classic disco tunes to enjoy and brighten up your day:

"Super Nature" - Cerrone (1977)

"Shake Your Groove Thing" - Peaches & Herb (1978)

"Dance (Disco Heat)" - Sylvester (1978)

"I Love The Nightlife (Disco 'Round)" - Alicia Bridges (1978)

"Dance With Me" - Peter Brown (1978)

"Get Off" - Foxy (1978)

"Knock On Wood" - Amii Stewart (1979)

"Lost In Music" - Sister Sledge (1979)

"Good Times" - Chic (1979)

Here is a new music video from The Young Professionals (TYP) for their song " D.I.S.C.O." that perfectly captures the crazy fun and carefree spirit of the glory days of disco:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

THE FIRST TIME: PART TWELVE

"RAPTURE" - ANITA BAKER  (1986)


Anita Baker was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1958 and her family later relocated to Detroit, Michigan. As a child, she sang in a gospel choir and as a teenager, Anita performed in several singing groups. Shortly after completing high school, she was asked to join Chapter 8, a popular local r&b group that just signed with Ariola Records. They recorded one self-titled album which was released in 1979 with a couple of singles received some local radio play. Ariola Records later became a part of Arista Records but the executives at the label dropped Chapter 8 because they were not at all impressed with Ms Baker as a vocalist.

Discouraged and humiliated, Anita Baker decided to leave the music business and she got a job as an administrative assistant in a lawyer's office. Otis Smith, a record executive who had worked with Chapter 8, approached Ms Baker about recording a solo album on his new label, Beverly Glen Records in California. Reluctantly, she flew to Los Angeles, made the record and "The Songstress" was released in 1983. The album lacked polish but showed great potential, however, there were two highlights; "No More Tears" and "Angel" (which she co-wrote). Both songs received heavy airplay on Black radio and created some well-deserved buzz for the young singer. Electra Records became very interested in her and signed Ms Baker to the label in 1985.

"Rapture" was released the following year on her new label. She wrote or co-wrote half of the album and teamed-up with former Chapter 8 member, Michael J. Powell to produce the project. The first single, "Watch Your Step" didn't get much play on r&b radio but it was the next single that would completely alter her career.

"Sweet Love" became a huge hit, peaking at number two on the r&b chart and reaching number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Three more singles, "(Caught Up In The) Rapture", "No One in the World"(which filmmaker, Spike Lee directed the music video) and "Same Ole Love " became major hits and "Rapture" would go on to sell over eight million copies worldwide. Anita Baker would win the first two of her eight Grammy Awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female and Best R&B Song for "Sweet Love".

Her follow-up album, "Giving You The Best That I Got" was released in 1988 and went straight to number one on the album charts with the title track making it to number three on the pop chart as well as topping the r&b and adult contemporary and would eventually sell over five million copies. With "Compositions" in 1990, Ms Baler became even more involved in the song writing and production while she began to experiment even further with jazz in her music although the album didn't end up being nearly as popular as her previous works.

After releasing the more commercially successful, "Rhythm of Life" in 1994 and touring to support the album, Anita decided to take some time off to raise her two young sons and spend more time with her husband. It was not until 2004, that Anita Baker signed with the Jazz label, Blue Note Records and released her first album in ten years. Fans were very happy for her return as "My Everything" debuted at number four on the album chart and number one on the r&b. It has sold over half a million copies and she released her first holiday album, "Christmas Fantasy" the following year. Rumor has it that Ms Baker is working on a new album that hopefully will be completed very soon.

Anita married Walter Bridgforth Jr. in 1988 and they have two sons, Walter and Edward but the couple separated in 2007

This is the song that began her career:

"Sweet Love" - Anita Baker (1986)


"PARALLEL LINES" - BLONDIE (1978)


In New York City in 1973, Chris Stein joined the punk rock band, The Stilettos as the guitar player. He started dating the group's vocalist, Deborah Harry and in 1974, they left The Stilettos and started their own band with drummer, Billy O'Connor and bassist, Fred Smith. They were first called Angel and the Snakes but by 1975 after a personnel change with a new drummer, Clem Burke, bassist, Gary Valentine and added on keyboards, Jimmy Destri, the band was renamed, Blondie which came from what guys on the street would yell at Ms Harry to try and get her attention.

Blondie performed regularly at the clubs, Max's Kansas City and CBGB before they landed their first recording contract with Private Stock Records in 1976. Blondie released a single, "X-Offender" and their self-titled debut album later that year.Chrysalis Records wanted to sign the band, so they bought out their recording contract and re-released their debut in 1977. The band's first taste of success came when an Australian music television show, "Countdown" played, in error,  the B-side of "X-Offender", "In The Flesh" and the song ended up becoming a top five single there in addition to the album.

Gary Valentine left Blondie before the recording of their follow-up album, so they continued on as a foursome. "Plastic Letters" was released in 1978 with the first single, "Denis", a cover of the 1963 Randy and the Rainbows song, becoming a hit in Britain, reaching number two on the singles chart and the following single, "(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear" also reached the top ten. Blondie enjoyed a successful tour in the U.K. with Frank Infante and Nigel Harrison joining as the new bass guitarists.

"Parallel Lines" was Blondie's third release and three is always a charm. The first couple of singles, "Picture This" and "Hanging On The Telephone" made it to Britain's top ten on the pop chart but it was the third,  "Heart of Glass" that made the band a global sensation. This song's timing as a new wave-disco hybrid couldn't have been better as it reached number one in eight countries including the U.S. Some critics complained that the band had sold-out, abandoning their punk roots for pop success but Blondie never completely left their original sound, they just experimented and pushed it forward.

"Eat To The Beat", Blondie's next album in 1979, combined pop, punk, funk, rock and reggae with it becoming another major seller but it was their next song, which was never actually on a Blondie album, that would become the band's biggest seller. Blondie teamed-up with producer, Giorgio Moroder, best known for his work with the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, to do "Call Me", a song for the film, "American Gigolo". It was another world-wide smash and sold over a million copies.

1980 brought Blondie's fifth album, "Autoamerican" which featured two big number one hits; "The Tide Is High", a remake of a 1965 reggae hit by The Paragons and "Rapture" which is considered to be the first number one song to include the new musical genre, rap. After this album, Blondie decided to take a break and various members released solo projects, including Deborah Harry's solo album, "Koo Koo".

Blondie came back in 1982 with "The Hunter" but the album was a critical and commercial failure. Due to personal issues, financial stress, drug use and Chris Stein being diagnosed with a rare skin disease, pemphigus, Blondie disbanded by the end of that year. Deborah Harry had a moderately successful solo career but she did take several years off to care for Stein. The couple ended their relationship some time after Stein recovered from his illness.

In 1996, Chris Stein and Deborah Harry worked towards reuniting Blondie. Clem Burke, Jimmy Destri and original bassist, Gary Valentine agreed and did several live performances before recording a new album, "No Exit" which came out in 1999 although Valentine had dropped out of the band again by this point. Former members, Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante did not participate and unsuccessfully tried to sue to stop the band from using the name, "Blondie". The foursome released another album in 2003, "The Curse of Blondie" before Destri left the band to deal with his drug addiction. The other three original members still tour as Blondie and have just released a new album this year, "Panic of Girls"

Blondie has sold over forty million albums and were inducted in to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

This is Blondie's breakthrough song:

"Heart Of Glass" - Blondie (1978)

This is the video for the first single, "Backfired" from Deborah Harry's debut album which happens to be written and produced by Chic's Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers:



And here is the latest music video for the single, "Mother" off the band's latest album:




"CHIC" - CHIC (1977)


Guitarist, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, a bass player first met in 1970 during a recording session in New York City. They decided to form a rock band together, first called, The Boys and later, The Big Apple and the duo played around the city. Tony Thompson was added to the group as a drummer and he recommended Raymond Jones to play on keyboards.  The group wanted to add a female vocalist, so they hired Norma Jean Wright although she insisted that she be allowed to continue to pursue her solo career.

The new group, renamed Chic, worked on some demos and based on those recordings, were signed to Atlantic Records in 1977. The self-titled debut album (with a young Luther Vandross providing background vocals) was released later that year with the first single, "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)" becoming a hit, going to number six on the pop and r&b charts and their first number one on the dance (but then named, disco) chart. The next single, "Everybody Dance" also did well, reaching the top forty.

Luci Martin, a friend of Norma Jean Wright, was added as a vocalist to the group as Edwards and Rodgers felt it was necessary in order to properly recreate their sound while touring. After the success of that first album, Norma Jean released her own self-titled debut solo album in 1978 which was written and produced by the men behind Chic. The record was only a very modest success but it did create a problem because of the terms of her solo recording contract, Ms Wright was forced to end her participation with Chic. Alfa Anderson, who had done background vocals on Chic's first album, replaced Ms Wright.

Chic's next album, "C'est Chic" was released in 1978 during the height of the disco music craze. The first single, "Le Freak", which Edwards and Rodgers came up with after they were refused entry in to the exclusive disco, Studio 54 on New Year's Eve in 1977, became a world-wide, chart-topping smash and one of their most popular songs, selling six million copies alone. "I Want Your Love" would also become a top ten hit and the album became a million seller.

"Risque" was Chic's third album ,which featured another huge number one hit, "Good Times" in 1979. This song has become one of the most sampled in music history with the most notable being "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang which is considered to be the first commercially successful rap songs.

With all of their success, Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers became in-demand producers and would write and produce other disco classics for such artists as Sister Sledge ("We Are Family") and Diana Ross ("Upside Down").

Because of the anti-disco backlash, Chic's music fell out of favor and had difficulty getting radio play. After their 1983 album, "Believer", Chic disbanded but Edwards and Rodgers continued to write and produce for a wide variety of artists, together and individually, such as David Bowie, Madonna, Robert Palmer, Duran Duran and Deborah Harry's first solo album.

In 1989, Edwards and Rodgers decided to reunite Chic, although this version featured mostly new members, and they recorded an album, "Chic-ism" which was released in 1992. While touring with the band in Japan, Bernard Edwards died of pneumonia at the age of forty-three in 1996.

Nile Rodgers was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 but received treatment and has recovered. He still tours with Chic and has just released, this month, his autobiography entitled, "Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny" and currently going around the country to promote it.

Chic has not been properly recognized for it's influential sound and their contribution to music as they have never won a Grammy Award and they have been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame seven times but still has not been inducted.

This is a sample of the great music that Edwards and Rodgers created:

"Dance, Dance, Dance" - Chic (1977)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

MY TUNE OF THE DAY


When I heard that Rihanna was coming out with yet another new album, my first thought was, "She seriously needs to take a vacation." but then I heard the first official single off of that project, "We Found Love".

I have to admit that I really love it. The song is produced by Calvin Harris, the Scottish singer/songwriter and DJ. The song is not very deep lyrically and doesn't demand much vocally from Rihanna but it's still a great dance tune.

This song may or may not indicate what direction the new album might take but it will be entitled, "Talk That Talk" and should be released here in the U.S. on November 21st.

Have a listen:

"We Found Love" - Rihanna (2011)

Here is the music video for "Cheers (Drink To That)", the seventh (!) and final single off her her last album, "Loud" which features the distinctive sound of the pop/punk princess, Avril Lavigne. This clip shows what seems to be the behind-the-scenes of the crazy, hectic but very enjoyable life of Rihanna:

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

Miley Cyrus has certainly caused a little whiplash with her drastic image shifts. She was introduced as the cute "Hannah Montana&quo...