Tuesday, December 30, 2014

REBEL HEART


The arrival of new music from the true Queen of Pop, Madonna has certainly been a crazy situation. First, someone hacked in to her computer and released virtually all of the songs from her forthcoming thirteenth studio album (completed tracks and demos) for all the world to hear. Madonna was quite upset and rightfully so but misguidedly compared the act to being "raped artistically ".

So she decided to take control of this bad situation by pre-releasing her new album, "Rebel Heart" with six songs available now on Itunes. This went on to cause quite a frenzy for her new work which went on to top the Itunes Album charts in over forty countries. There hasn't been this much excitement for a new Madonna record in quite awhile.

What do I think about "Rebel Heart"? Let me begin with my negative thoughts: I absolutely hate the album cover. It's just so . . . ridiculous. As for the songs themselves? It's a vast improvement over her half-baked last release, "MDNA".  This new material offers more thoughts and ideas of a mature woman instead of trying so hard to cater to the tween crowd. So far, Madonna has collaborated with popular EDM producers, Diplo and Avicii in addition to having Kanye West and Nicki Minaj back on board to help deliver a contemporary sound. What I've heard so far I've really enjoyed. These tunes manage to move the artist forward while offering glimmers of the Madonna of yore.

More songs from "Rebel Heart" are planned to be dropped on February 9th before giving the complete album a proper worldwide release on March 10th. Here are three of the songs that I particularly like including the first official single, "Living For Love":

"Living For Love" - Madonna (2014)

"Ghosttown" - Madonna (2014)

"Illuminati" - Madonna (2014)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS

I wish everyone a very safe and happy holiday. I can't think of a better way to express this than with a song and so, here is my favorite new artist, Sam Smith offering an impressive rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas":

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

JOE COCKER (1944 - 2014)


Best known for his gravely voice and looking like he was having a seizure when he sang, the British rock & soul artist, Joe Cocker passed away yesterday after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.

After getting invited on stage as a teenager to sing with his older brother's band, Cocker was hooked. He first began his music career under the stage name Vance Arnold with his band covering Chuck Berry and Ray Charles songs. Cocker started using his own name when he began recording and joined his friend, Chris Stanton to start a new band, The Grease Band in 1966. He worked with this group for a few years before deciding to go solo. Cocker would make a huge impact with his riveting performance at Woodstock in 1969.

Cocker's first hit was a radical re-working of The Beatles song, "With a Little Help From My Friends". This cover reached the top-ten in Britain in 1968 and featured future Led Zeppelin member, Jimmy Page on guitar. Cocker had other hits with his versions of popular tunes including "Feelin' Alright", "Cry Me a River", "The Letter" and "You Are So Beautiful". In 1982, Joe Cocker teamed-up with Jennifer Warnes to perform "Up Where We Belong",  the love theme for the hit film, "An Officer and A Gentleman". This became the singer's only U.S. number-one hit single and earned him a Grammy Award.

Listen to these classic songs from the great Joe Cocker:

"Feelin' Alright" - Joe Cocker (1968)

"Up Where We Belong" - Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes (1982)

Here is Joe Cocker performing his take of "With A Little Help From My Friends" live at Woodstock:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

NEW SOUNDS

BEYONCE


Beyoncé has just released a Platinum Edition of her recent, best-selling self-titled fifth album. In addition to a reissue of the original CD and DVD of music videos, this now includes another CD featuring two new songs, "7/11" and "Ring Off" and four previously-released remixes plus a DVD of live performances from The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. This is probably more for the hardcore fan of the singer as the two new cuts, while pretty good, is not worth investing in if you already own the previous album.

Listen to "Ring Off" which seems to be about her mother, Tina Knowles. The song focuses on the painful end of her marriage while Beyoncé encourages her beautiful mama to remove that wedding ring and move on with her life.

"Ring Off" - Beyoncé (2014)

This video for the other new track, "7/11" is crazy but I love it:



IGGY AZALEA



This year, Iggy Azalea has become one of the biggest names in hip-hop pop thanks to her worldwide hits, "Fancy" and "Black Widow". A reissue of her debut, "The New Classic" is now out and called "Reclassified". It features six tracks from the first album and five new songs. The Australian rapper has gotten assistance on some of the tunes from Ellie Goulding ("Heavy Crown"), Danish electro-pop artist, MØ (the first single, "Beg For It") and Jennifer Hudson ("Trouble"). While it took me some time to warm up to Azalea and appreciate her music, I still don't see her as a great talent with a long career ahead of her.

Anyway, listen to my favorite track from "Reclassified":

"Trouble" - Iggy Azalea featuring Jennifer Hudson (2014)

Gwen Stefani disappointed with the lackluster first new music from her upcoming CD but has turned things around with the follow-up release. "Spark The Fire", co-written and produced by her fellow "Voice" judge, Pharrell Williams, is the type of high-energy track that we expect from the singer although it may be just a bit too similar to "Hollaback Girl" for it's own good. Check out the colorful video for the song that is on emoji overdrive:



I loved the new song "Uptown Funk" from Brit producer Mark Ronson as soon as I first heard it. With sizzling, funky horns, a touch of 1980's era Prince and Bruno Mars serving some James Brown inspired vocals, this jam is a modern classic. Here's the music video for this tune:



Finally, here is the video for the next single from my new fav, Sam Smith. "Like I Can" is a slick, black & white clip of Smith and his buddies roaming New York, looking sharp in tuxedos. Simple but effective:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2014 ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARD NOMINATIONS


December 5th was Grammy Friday as all throughout the day, the nominations for the 57th Grammy Awards were announced. It all culminated with a holiday-themed televised concert, "A Very Grammy Christmas" which presented the Album of The Year nominees. I'm thrilled that the amazing Sam Smith tied with Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams with the most nominations with six. The British singer received a nod in all of the four major categories as well as Best New Artist.

Beyoncé set a Grammy record by becoming the female artist with the most nominations. At fifty-two, she moved past Dolly Parton, who she was tied with at forty-six before the announcement and now is tied with Kanye West as the sixth artist with the most overall nominations.

The awards will be handed out once again at the Staples Center in L.A. on February 8th. Here is a partial list of this year's Grammy nominations. For the complete list in all categories, please click below:

Grammy.com

Album of The Year:

"Morning Phase" - Beck
"Beyoncé" - Beyoncé
"X"- Ed Sheeran
"In The Lonely Hour" - Sam Smith
"Girl" - Pharrell Williams

Record of the Year

"All About That Bass" - Meghan Trainor
"Fancy" - Iggy Azalea Featuring Charli XCX
"Chandelier" - Sia
"Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)" - Sam Smith
"Shake It Off" - Taylor Swift

Song of the Year

"All About That Bass" - Meghan Trainor
"Chandelier" - Sia
"Shake It Off" - Taylor Swift
"Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)" - Sam Smith
"Take Me to Church" - Hozier

Best New Artist

Iggy Azalea
Bastille
Brandy Clarke
Haim
Sam Smith

Best Pop Solo Performance

"All of Me" - John Legend
"Chandelier" - Sia
"Stay With Me" - Sam Smith
"Shake It Off" - Taylor Swift
"Happy" - Pharrell Williams

Best Pop Duo/Performance

"Fancy" - Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX
"A Sky Full of Stars" - Coldplay
"Say Something" - A Great Big World with Christina Aguilera
"Bang Bang" - Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj
"Dark Horse" - Katy Perry featuring Juicy J

Best Pop Vocal Album

"Ghost Stories" - Coldplay
"Bangerz" - Miley Cyrus
"My Everything" - Ariana Grande
'Prism" - Katy Perry
"X" - Ed Sheeran
"In the Lonely Hour" - Sam Smith

Best Urban Contemporary Album

"Sail Out" - Jhene Aiko
"Beyoncé" - Beyoncé
"X" - Chris Brown
"Mali Is ..." - Mali Music
"Girl" - Pharrell Williams

Best Rap Album

"Because the Internet" - Childish Gambino
"The New Classic" - Iggy Azalea
"Nobody's Smiling" - Common
"Marshall Mathers LP 2" - Eminem
"Oxymoron" - ScHoolboy Q
"Blacc Hollywood" - Wiz Khalifa

Best Country Album

"Riser" - Dierks Bentley
"The Outsiders" - Eric Church
"12 Stories" - Brandy Clark
"Platinum" - Miranda Lambert
"The Way I'm Livin'" - Lee Ann Womack

Best Alternative Music Album

"This Is All Yours" - Alt J
"Reflector" - Arcade Fire
"Melophobia" - Cage the Elephant
"St. Vincent" - St. Vincent
"Lazaretto" - Jack White

Best Dance Recording

"Never Say Never" - Basement Jaxx
"Rather Be" - Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne
"F for You" - Disclosure featuring Mary J. Blige
"I Got U" - Duke Dumont featuring Jax Jones
"Faded" - Zhu

Monday, December 1, 2014

TAKE TWO: KIM CARNES



With sunny California girl looks but a singing voice like sandpaper, Kim Carnes didn't come across how you would expect. Her music career didn't travel down an obvious path either. Carnes first became noticed as a songwriter and wrote music in all genres that brought her great acclaim. When she achieved fame as a singer, it was with an unusual, new-wave sounding song about a deceptive woman with eyes like a movie star.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Kim Carnes wrote songs and performed locally as a teen before eventually deciding to get in to music professionally. In the early 1970's, Carnes, along with her musician husband, Dave Ellingson, got her first break with teen heartthrob, David Cassidy, star of the hit television show, "The Partridge Family". In addition to writing songs for his albums, Carnes and Ellingson opened for Cassidy during his world tour. This exposure lead to Carnes getting her own record deal and releasing her debut album, "Rest On Me" in 1972.

Although Carnes didn't have much initial success as a recording artist, her work as a songwriter continued to open doors for the fledgling musician. Some of her compositions won a few prizes which lead to them being recorded by none other than Barbra Streisand. "Love Comes from Unexpected Places" was on "Streisand Superman" in 1977 and "Stay Away" appeared on "Songbird" the following year. In 1980, country music star, Kenny Rogers had Carnes and Ellingson write a concept record for him. That album, "Gideon" featured "Don't Fall In Love With a Dreamer", a duet with Kim, that reached the top ten on the pop and country charts. Also that year, Carnes released a remake of the Smokey Robinson and The Miracles classic, "More Love" from her album, "Romance Dance". This became her first solo top ten pop hit.

For her next album, "Mistaken Identity", Carnes's first single was a cover of an obscure song co-written by 60's pop singer, Jackie DeShannon ("What The World Needs Now"). "Bette Davis Eyes" became a massive smash, spending nine weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song went on to win two Grammy Awards for Song of The Year and Record of The Year and became the biggest single of 1981.

Kim Carnes never reached these heights again but continued to make music with varied success. She released her last studio album, "Chasin' Wild Trains" in 2004. Carnes is still married to Dave Ellingson and have been together for forty-seven years. They have two sons, Collin and Ry who have followed in the family business as musicians.

These are two of my favorite tunes from Kim Carnes:

"Don't Fall In Love With a Dreamer" Kenny Rogers & Kim Carnes (1980)

"More Love" - Kim Carnes (1980)

As a bonus, here is the very 1980's music video for "Bette Davis Eyes". This eerie clip is notable for being directed by future filmmaker, Russell Mulcahy, best known for "Highlander" and currently directing episodes of the MTV series, "Teen Wolf":

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

IT'S THE GIRLS


Bette Midler is back with new music and for her twenty-fifth studio album, "It's The Girls", she pays tribute to girl groups. After popular albums featuring the music of Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee, Midler has taken on the songs of some of her favorite all-female performers. Some of these range from classic tunes made famous by The Ronettes ("Be My Baby"), The Chiffons ("One Fine Day"), The Supremes ("You Can't Hurry Love"), Martha & The Vandellas ("Come And Get These Memories") and most surprisingly, TLC with her version of their hit, "Waterfalls". While none of these recordings will make you forget the originals, Midler injects each of these songs with her signature style and sass.

Bette Midler plans on touring next year to support the album and I've already got my tickets for her L.A. stop. Here's a clip that previews some of the songs off the album:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

LORDE OVERSEES "HUNGER GAMES"


While the world has to anxiously await the third installment of the "Hunger Games" franchise until tomorrow, you can hear some of the music from the film right now. The eighteen year-old New Zealand artist, Lorde was approached to once again contribute a song but this time she wanted to have a bigger role in creating the soundtrack. She was given the reins to curate the music for "Mockingjay, Part One" and assembled an impressive list of artists to participate.

Lorde brought together veteran cutting-edge musicians (Chemical Brothers, Bat For Lashes, CHVRCHΞS) and offbeat rising stars (Charli XCX, Tinashe, Tove Lo) to create a moody, hard-hitting collection that will enhance and work perfectly with the dark themes of the film. There are also some inventive musical pairings including EDM outfit, Major Lazer with Ariana Grande, Simon LeBon of Duran Duran joins Charli XCX on "Kingdom" and Lorde herself with a crazy team featuring rap artists, Q-Tip and Pusha T and the rock group, Haim on Belgian hip-hop artist, Stromae's song, "Meltdown".

She even got Kanye West involved to remix her track, "Yellow Flicker Beat" and re-titled the tune as "Flicker". My favorite part of this whole enterprise is the inclusion of the legendary Grace Jones with the song, "Original Beast". The idea that Lorde was aware who she is, let alone, wise enough to have this incredible performer a part of this project makes me love her even more.

Listen to a few of the tracks from the soundtrack:



"All My Love" - Major Lazer featuring Ariana Grande (2014)



"The Leap" - Tinashe (2014)



"Flicker (Kanye West Re-work)" - Lorde (2014)



"Meltdown" - Stromae featuring Q-Tip, Pusha T, Haim and Lorde (2014)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

JIMMY RUFFIN (1936 - 2014)


Jimmy Ruffin, the legendary soul vocalist on the Motown label, passed away today at the age of seventy-eight. The older brother of David Ruffin (who died in 1991), the lead singer of The Temptations, is best known for the top-ten hit, "What Becomes of The Brokenhearted" in 1966 but he achieved other hits including "I've Passed This Way Before" and "Gonna Give Her All the Love I've Got".

Born in Collinsville, Mississippi, Jimmy began his musical career as a young child with his brother in the gospel group, The Dixie Nightingales. Ruffin joined Motown as a session singer in 1961 but left after being drafted in the army. He later returned to the label and was offered a position in the Temptations but after hearing his brother, David, Berry Gordy hired him instead. Ruffin stayed with Motown as a solo performer but didn't have much success until "Brokenhearted" charted. His last hit single was the disco tune, "Hold On (To My Love)" (co-written by the late Robin Gibb) in 1980 peaking at number ten on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.

"What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted" - Jimmy Ruffin (1966)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

MY TUNE OF THE DAY


Here's a song that I love that takes me back to my childhood. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" by Paul McCartney and featuring his wife, Linda is a tune that mashes up some wacky sound effects and nonsensical lyrics to create one of the strangest pop songs ever. I didn't have any clue what this song was actually about as a nine year old and now being much older, I still couldn't tell you.

Apparently, McCartney pieced together fragments of several different songs he had been working on to build this one and he did actually have a beloved uncle named Albert. Rumor has it that this song was a veiled attack on his former band mates, particularly John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono but who really knows?

Taken from his second solo release, "Ram","Uncle Albert" was McCartney's first U.S. number one hit since he left The Beatles and before he went on to form his new band, Wings later in 1971.



"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" - Paul & Linda McCartney (1971)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

HOT AND FRESH OUT THE KITCHEN

TAYLOR SWIFT - "1989"


Country superstar, Taylor Swift has made a risky move by making her fifth album, "1989" a pure pop record. This could potentially be career suicide as country music fans are notoriously unforgiving when a beloved artist abandons their loving arms. I don't think Ms Swift has much to fear as the album looks poised to becoming one of the biggest sellers of the year.

For her official foray in to pop music, Swift has wisely decided against relying on current trends and looks back to the sounds of the 1980's for inspiration. The title of this record comes from the year of her birth and with production assistance from pop-hit makers, Max Martin, Ryan Tedder and Shellback as well as Jack Antonoff of the indie band, Fun and alt-rocker, Imogen Heap, she has crafted a collection that evokes a feeling of the past but remains quite modern. And considering she hasn't done much living at only twenty-four, Swift also shows great maturity as a songwriter.

"Blank Space", the latest single from the album looks sure to be another smash:

"Blank Space" - Taylor Swift (2014)

STEVIE NICKS - "24 KARAT GOLD: SONGS FROM THE VAULT"


One of Taylor Swift's idols, Stevie Nicks has also looked to the past for her latest release, "24 Karat Gold: Songs From the Vault". Nicks had a large collection of unrecorded songs she had written that went as far back as when she was dating Lindsey Buckingham before they joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975. They are now seeing the light of day as Nicks went to Nashville with producers, Waddy Wachtel and Dave Stewart (formerly of The Eurythmics) to record these lost treasures. The majority of the songs are by the singer but there are a few covers including "Carousel" by Vanessa Carlton which was one of her mother's favorites.

This is one of the tracks I really like:

"Starshine" - Stevie Nicks (2014)

PRINCE - "ART OFFICIAL AGE"


After being musically silent for far too long, the iconic Prince has returned with not one but two new releases. "Plectrumelectrum" and "Art Official Age" are being released by his former label, Warner Bros Records which he claimed at one time that they treated him like nothing more than a slave but clearly time has healed those old wounds. The former CD is an avant-garde, hard-edged rock album with his all-female backing band, 3rdeyegirl but I'm going to focus on the later which delivers more of the funky sound that I love. Prince seems to be in a more playful, sensual mood these days which is reflected in this new music. Along with the expected idiosyncratic touches scattered throughout, this is one of his most accessible albums in years.

"Clouds" - Prince (2014)

ANNIE LENNOX - "NOSTALGIA"


As is the trend these days for record labels to have veteran artists travel down a musical memory lane, Annie Lennox has just released her version with the appropriately titled, "Nostalgia". Ms Lennox had previously recorded a covers album of pop songs that inspired her back in 1995 with "Medusa" but this time the dynamic vocalist has gone back even further. This collection features songs from the Great American Songbook and some jazz tunes. She has taken on such classics ranging from Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child" and "Strange Fruit", "Summertime" from Gershwin and "Georgia On My Mind" made famous by Ray Charles. Ms Lennox convincingly performs each song with warmth, style and class. "Nostalgia" has even made it to the top of the Billboard jazz chart.

Here is a clip of the singer performing "Summertime":


TINASHE - "AQUARIUS"


One of my favorite songs of the year is "2 On" by the twenty-one year old Tinashe and after releasing several popular mixtapes, her debut, "Aquarius" is now out. Although this singer/actress brings to mind the late Aaliyah, the Zimbabwe born, L.A. raised artist moves further out of the realm of traditional r&b or hip-hop. Tinashe had a hand on the writing of most of the songs along with top producers DJ Mustard, Mike Will Made-It and Stargate to help expand her sound and together they created a work that is sexy, experimental and highly innovative.

Enjoy this sample of the sounds of Tinashe:

"Cold Sweat" - Tinashe (2014)

Dawn Richard, a former member of the female pop singing group formed by Sean "P.Diddy" Combs, Danity Kane, has dropped the music video for her new single, "Blow". Richard is part of the alt-r&b movement and this pulsating clip is equally offbeat:

Saturday, October 25, 2014

MY TUNE OF THE DAY



Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx, Sundray Tucker and Patricia Holt were Philly high-school teens who came together to form the singing group, The Ordettes in 1959. Tucker had to drop out due to failing grades and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. The group was renamed The Blue Belles and became a popular live act but were unable to find the same success as recording artists.

Due to a pending lawsuit over the name "The Blue Belles", their management decided to have lead singer, Holt change her name to "Patti LaBelle" and the group was now known as Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles. The ladies stood out from the other girl-groups of the era as their sound was grittier and more gospel-based although that still didn't help them sell many records.

After Birdsong left to replace Florence Ballard in The Supremes in 1967, things went downhill for this struggling act. The Blue Belles were dropped from their record label, then from their management and soon had difficulties finding work.

The fortunes of this now-trio was about to change thanks to their new manager, Vicki Wickham. First, she had the ladies spend some time in London to immerse themselves in the rock scene there and encouraged them to incorporated these songs into their performance. Wickham also wanted them to wear flashy, glam-rock inspired stage costumes and change their name to simply "LaBelle". They were reluctant, fearful of alienating their fans but decided to take a chance. LaBelle started to get noticed; they recorded and toured with Laura Nyro and opened for the Rolling Stones during part of their U.S. tour but still could not get a hit record.

"Nightbirds" was their fourth album on their third record label as LaBelle and they were teamed-up with New Orleans musician, Allen Toussaint to produce. This proved to be a magical collaboration as the first single, "Lady Marmalade" was a major global smash. This racy song, about a New Orleans prostitute, topped the U.S. pop chart in 1974 and would later be inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.

My tune is the follow-up single, "What Can I Do For You?". While this wasn't nearly as popular as the lead, I think its an amazing song. This plea for love and tolerance is elevated by the soaring harmonious voices of these exquisite singers.

LaBelle went their separate ways in 1977 and each pursued a solo career with varied success. Then, thirty-one years later, Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx reunited as LaBelle and released an album, "Back To Now" in 2008.

Listen and enjoy my tune of the day:



"What Can I Do For You?" - LaBelle (1974)

As a bonus, here is LaBelle performing "Lady Marmalade" live on Soul Train:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

GWEN STEFANI IS BACK


After laying low for a number of years, Gwen Stefani has finally reemerged. First, she became a judge on the popular music competition show, "The Voice" and now she has dropped some new music.

"Baby Don't Lie" is the first single from her upcoming third solo release and co-written with hot producers, Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder and Noel Zancannella. Despite all this star-power, the song is surprisingly generic and uninspired. It's not necessarily bad but if her name wasn't attached, I doubt any one would pay any attention to this run-of-the -mill track. However, I haven't lost faith in Ms Stefani and I'm sure she will provide far more interesting music down the road. Listen and judge for yourself:



"Baby Don't Lie" - Gwen Stefani (2014)

Friday, October 17, 2014

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

Here are some hot new tracks that I've got on repeat:



"Supernatural" - AlunaGeorge (2014)



"I'm Callin" - Tennis (2014)



"Chasing Time" - Azealia Banks (2014)



"Froot" - Marina & The Diamonds (2014)

Mary J. Blige has embraced EDM in a big way. The soul diva flew out to the U.K. to work with some of the top producers in the field for her next release simply entitled, "The London Sessions". Blige has previously worked with Disclosure and Sam Smith and they are on board this project along with Naughty Boy and Emeli Sandé. It appears she's ready to bring some big emotions to dance music.

See what you think of this highlight track that was put together by Disclosure and new superstar, Sam Smith:



"Right Now" - Mary J. Blige (2014)


It seems I may be the only person on the planet that doesn't care for "All About The Bass", that inescapable hit by Meghan Trainor. I appreciate the message about embracing your curves but the song itself is, to me, like the continuous sound of nails on a chalkboard.

The twenty-year old vocalist has just released her follow-up single, "Lips Are Movin'" and I find it much more appealing. Trainor plays it safe because musically, the tune is nothing more than a slight variation of her first single which should help it climb way up the charts:



"Lips Are Movin'" - Meghan Trainor (2014)

I am not easily shocked nor a prude but when I saw this music video for Jennifer Lopez's new song, "Booty" featuring Iggy Azalea, my jaw just hit the floor. The song is typically nothing special (and has the misfortune of following Nicki Minaj's recent ode to the backside) but this clip, directed by Hype Williams, is really just too much. While these ladies are covered (and just barely), the endless shots of their oil-covered asses grinding and shaking in close-up is gratuitous and completely inappropriate. Sure, I get it. Sex sells but what's wrong with trying to be a little clever with a song about big booties instead of being so literal. Even Minaj's video made some effort. Take a look and judge for yourself:



I was never a fan of The Jonas Brothers and couldn't identify one of their songs if my life depended upon it. Taking a page from Justin Timberlake after he left his boy band, NSYNC, Nick Jonas has repackaged himself by bringing a little funk to his pop sound. I am surprised to admit that I actually like his current single, "Jealous" from the Jonas boy's second self-titled solo album due in November. Here is the video for the song:



Finally, here are a couple of my favorite disco tunes that I remember dancing the night away to:



"Your Love" - Lime (1981)



"Native Love (Step By Step)" - Divine (1982)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

THE 28 BEST MUSIC VIDEOS BY DAVID FINCHER


David Fincher is the man of the moment due to his critically acclaimed, box-office hit, "Gone Girl". What people may not realize (or remember) is that Mr. Fincher began his career directing commericals and most notably, music videos. To date, he's made over fifty clips with his most recent being Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie" which won Fincher a Grammy Award last year for Best Music Video.

New York Magazine has complied a list ranking the Oscar-nominated director's best work in music videos. Click below to read:

28 David Fincher Music Videos, Ranked

Here are a few of my personal favorites from the director:









Wednesday, October 8, 2014

TAKE TWO: ERASURE


The electronic-dance music craze dominating the scene right now would probably not be happening without Erasure, one of the pioneering bands responsible for successfully merging electronic beats with pop sensibilities, The duo, made of up Vince Clarke and the out-and-fabulous vocalist, Andy Bell, first came together in 1985 and are still making music. Their sixteenth studio album, "The Violet Flame" was released last month and is moving it's way up the charts.

When Erasure first appeared, however, nobody really expected too much from the band. Their debut, "Wonderland" failed to generate much interest initially and Bell was dismissed as simply imitating Clarke's former musical partner, Alison Moyet from Yazoo ("Yaz" in America). Today, this innovative album is considered a classic with the singles "Who Needs Love Like That", "Heavenly Action" and "Oh L'amour" now quite popular.

With the release of their third album, "The Innocents",  the world had taken noticed of Erasure. This record began a long string of hit singles in their native England with twenty-four consecutively reaching the top forty. Erasure also made their first appearance on the U.S. pop chart with "Chains of Love" and "A Little Respect".

Erasure is a major fan of ABBA and paid tribute with an EP entitled, "Abba-esque" in 1992 which covered several of their songs. This collection was a major success, particularly in Europe and is said to have helped spark the renewed interest in this super-pop outfit.

There are so many songs that I love from this band but I've narrowed down my two favorites from Erasure:

"Oh L'amour" - Erasure (1986)

"A Little Respect" - Erasure (1988)

Here are the boys camping it up as the ladies from ABBA in the video for their version of "Take A Chance on Me":

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NEW SOUNDS

LADY GAGA & TONY BENNETT


After Lady Gaga recorded a song with Tony Bennett for the sequel to his popular "Duets" album in 2011, this unlikely duo got along so well that they wanted to do an entire album together. That has finally worked out with "Cheek To Cheek", a collection of jazz standards. Their wish is that this record will get younger listeners interested in these classic songs by such composers as George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington. Recorded the old-fashioned way, live with an orchestra, Gaga and Bennett seem to inspire each other and had a lot of fun together.

Here is their swinging version of the Irving Berlin song, "Let's Face The Music and Dance":

"Let's Face The Music and Dance" -Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett (2014)

Take a look at the music video for "Anything Goes" for an example of how much these two enjoy each other:



BARBRA STREISAND


"Partners", the thirty-fourth studio album from Barbra Streisand is another duets release from the legendary performer but this time, most of the songs are re-recordings of her previous hits. Produced by Walter Afanasieff and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds (who is also one of her duet partners on "Evergreen"), the CD features some of the best vocalists in music history. The line-up includes Lionel Ritchie ("The Way We Were"), Billy Joel ("New York State of Mind"), John Legend ("What Kind of Fool"), Josh Groban ("Somewhere"), Stevie Wonder ("People") and most surprisingly, the late Elvis Presley on his classic, "Love Me Tender".  Some of the match-ups are more effective than others but overall, "Partners" is still worth a listen. It's interesting to note that there were no other female singers used on this project. Perhaps no one was available? Anyway, the album is off to a great start as it has reached the top-ten in several countries and debuted at number one in the U.S.

Here is the virtual musical pairing of Streisand with the "King", who actually came very close to co-starring with her in the 1976 remake of "A Star Is Born":

"Love Me Tender" - Barbra Streisand & Elvis Presley (2014)

SMOKEY ROBINSON


On his first CD in four years and on his new label, Verve, Smokey Robinson has also decided to go the duets route on the appropriately entitled, "Smokey & Friends". Like the Streisand record, Robinson has rounded up some of his musical buddies (such as James Taylor, Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow and John Legend) to rework the songs he wrote and made famous. Sadly, there really isn't much here that's inspired or particularly memorable.

One of the more interesting tracks is with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith who together do an adequate blues-rock version of "You Really Got a Hold On Me". Have a listen:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

EARLY ARETHA - PART FOUR


For this final installment on the early part of the career of Aretha Franklin, today's song is "Cry Like a Baby". This was taken from "Soul Sister", the last official album by Franklin that was released on the Columbia label. The single was the last charting song before she moved over to Atlantic Records. Like most of the previous releases, "Cry Like a Baby" made no impact on the charts although I think it's a really solid track by the future Queen of Soul.

Shortly after Aretha hit it big on her new label in 1967, Columbia Records attempted to cash in on their time and investment with the artist by re-releasing singles and creating compilation albums from previous recordings. Still, nothing really clicked and the outcome remained the same. What the reocrd label failed to realize is that while the music recorded was actually very good, it just didn't allow the singer to unleash all of her power and passion. They were much too busy trying mold her to sound like other popular vocalists on the radio at the time instead of letting her be . . . Aretha.

Here is another song by Miss Aretha Franklin that displayed her early promise as an artist:



"Cry Like A Baby" - Aretha Franklin (1966)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

EARLY ARETHA - PART THREE


Today's early song from Aretha Franklin is "One Step Ahead". This was released as a single from Columbia Records in 1965 but was not included on any album from the singer. Far from a major hit, the record barely cracked the top-twenty on the soul chart and didn't even make it to the top-one hundred on the pop chart.

However, "One Step Ahead" would go on to be warmly embraced years later by the hip-hop community. The song would be sampled or remixed by several artists including Mos Def, Clutchy Hopkins and Xaphoon Jones.

Sit back and enjoy the smooth sounds of the original version by the one and only Aretha:



"One Step Ahead" - Aretha Franklin (1965) 

As a bonus, here is "One Step Ahead" remixed with a modern beat by Xaphoon Jones:



"One Step Ahead (Empire State Riddim)" - Xaphoon Jones + Aretha Franklin (2011)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

U2 FOR FREE



When Apple announced the arrival of the latest IPhone and the introduction of the Apple watch last week,there was an additional surprise. The latest studio album from U2, "Songs of Innocence" has been given away for free to every person who has an ITunes account, which is roughly about 500 million people . While the news was met with some excitement, there has also been some critical backlash. The already-quite wealthy band has been accused of selling out for the all-mighty buck (U2 reportedly earned about 100 million for this stunt) to people feeling violated for having this album forced in to their ITunes libraries  (Sharon Osbourne and rapper, Tyler the Creator have been particularly vocal) and simply that U2  has further damaged the fragile music industry by giving away music.

I can certainly understand these viewpoints and perhaps some of them may be valid but I also think the record business needs to desperately breakout of the dusty mindset of trying to hang on to doing business as usual. Regardless of what you think of this promotion or their new album, U2 has benefited greatly as their back catalog has seen a surge in sales directly because of this publicity.

As for the record itself, despite the presence of contemporary producers, Ryan Tedder, Paul Epworth and Danger Mouse, "Songs of Innocence" still feels very much like a typical U2 album. This isn't necessarily a good thing as the expectation of the band's first album in five years was particularly high. With that much time spent, this album should be exciting, challenging and modern, There are certainly moments to be found on this nostalgic look back to their early days and musical influences but overall, "Somgs of Innocence" doesn't exactly inspire these feelings. The hit-making producers add their touch to the group's sound but what they contribute make some of the songs feel warmed over instead of fresh. I may come across a bit harsh but I actually liked much of this record. The problem is that it just feels too safe for a band known for their gritty, rebellious rock-n-roll spirit.

Here are two tracks that I particularly like from my free copy of U2's newest work:



"The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" - U2 (2014)



"Raised By Wolves" - U2 (2014)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

EARLY ARETHA - PART TWO




Aretha Franklin would become well-known for taking a popular song from another artist and recording a version that would make you completely forget about the original. The most famous example is her 1967 recording of "Respect".

Otis Redding had a respectable hit with this song he wrote a few years earlier but once Aretha got a hold of it, it became something else entirely. With her providing a woman's point-of-view and adding a bridge with the "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" and "Sock It To Me" lines, Franklin not only created a massive smash about female empowerment but this was also embraced as an anthem during the civil-rights movement. This wasn't the first time these two musical titans would record the same song with very different results.

While at Columbia Records, Franklin recorded a version of "Try A Little Tenderness" in 1962. The song had been around since the early '30's and her take is fairly traditional but with a little bit of soul. Otis Redding took the song and completely reworked it in 1967. Later, Redding's slow burn take would become the definitive version of the song.

Let's listen to Aretha deliver a beautiful rendition of "Try A Little Tenderness":



"Try A Little Tenderness" - Aretha Franklin (1962)

As a bonus, here is Otis Redding's original version of "Respect":



"Respect" - Otis Redding (1965)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

UNHEARD ADELE SONGS


There is some new music leaked from Adele. These songs, "Never Gonna Leave You" and "You'll Never See Me Again" are rumored to have been recorded during the "21" sessions. Another tale from the rumor mill is that they are from her upcoming album which I seriously doubt because they would have been yanked so fast.

I don't really like to get involved with unreleased music but these tracks are just too good not to share. This should whet your appetite and keep your satisfied before Adele's official new music is released.



"Never Gonna Leave You" - Adele

Sunday, September 7, 2014

EARLY ARETHA

Everyone is familiar with the classic songs from Aretha Franklin such as "Chain of Fools", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", "Think" and "Respect". But before she became the undisputed "Queen of Soul", Franklin was struggling to find her voice as an artist.

An eighteen year old Franklin recorded a demo that was passed around music circles. Many labels were very interested in the young vocalist but with her father/manager, Reverend C.L. Franklin's help, she decided to go with the well-established Columbia Records in 1960. The label knew they had an amazing talent on their hands but unsure exactly how best to utilize her gift. They had her sing everything; jazz, blues, pop standards and gospel. The results were a mixed bag but Aretha gave it her all.

I'm going to explore some of my favorite songs the singer made before she moved over to Atlantic Records and made musical history. The first tune is "Won't Be Long". This was the second single from her debut album, "Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo" and her second top-ten hit on the r&b chart. This blazing track is a perfect showcase of her power and control while clearly indicating what's to come from this rising star.



"Won't Be Long" - Aretha Franklin (1961)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

MY TUNE OF THE DAY



Today's tune is "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off" by Jermaine Stewart. The song, suggesting to simply enjoy a glass of wine and some dancing instead of a casual romp, is a highly unusual request particularly coming from a male. But that's exactly what makes this slick bit of dance-pop so irresistible with Mr. Stewart selling it so convincingly.

To be honest, I don't really recall Stewart when he was dancing on "Soul Train" but I do remember his friends, Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel on the show. They all went to audition for Don Cornelius when he decided to create a singing group. However, only Watley and Daniel were accepted which would later evolved in to the hit r&b trio, Shalamar. Not discouraged, Stewart worked on demos and performed background work for Culture Club. This helped the artist get signed to Arista Records and recording his first album, "The Word Is Out" in 1984. The title track was only a minor success but helped indicate that the singer was one to watch.

The next album, "Frantic Romantic" featured "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off". The song reached the top-five in the U.S. and Britain and became his biggest hit. Stewart went on to release two more albums, "Say It Again" (1987) and "What Becomes a Legend Most" (1989) that were pretty much ignored in America but found greater success in Europe. Sadly, Jermaine Stewart passed away in 1997 due to an AIDS-related illness.

I really loved the music video for this tune because it's fun and  full of energy much like the song. I also appreciated the singer's flamboyant sense of style. Enjoy the sight and sounds from Mr. Jermaine Stewart:


As a bonus, here is the follow-up single from "Frantic Romantic" that was a tribute to his good friend, Jody Watley:

"Jody" - Jermaine Stewart (1986)

Monday, August 25, 2014

2014 MTV MUSIC VIDEO AWARDS


Back in 1984, I saw the very first MTV Music Video Award program. Bette Midler and Dan Aykroyd hosted the show at Radio City Music Hall during the height of popularity for videos. The irreverent show was notable for the first major live appearance of rising star, Madonna who premiered her latest single, "Like A Virgin" in a shocking performance (certainly at that time) that ended with her writhing on stage in a wedding dress. The evening was capped with The Cars taking home the first Video of The Year Award for the innovative clip of "You Might Think".

I've watched all of the following presentations and this marks the thirtieth year. The MTV award show has always been a hit or miss affair with at least some sort of controversial event occurring during the telecast. While music videos are barely even played on MTV now, the awards are still quite popular although it's much harder to cover the show's only purpose which is for performers to showcase their new songs and presenters to plug upcoming projects.

Ariana Grande, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj kicked off the show with each performing a selection from their forthcoming albums before coming together to do "Bang Bang", the uninspired hit they all appear on. With the exception of Sam Smith delivering a moving rendition of "Stay With Me", all of other musicians were lackluster or unmemorable which included Iggy Azalea, Maroon 5, Usher and new pop princess, Taylor Swift.

After being completely dismayed by the generic girl-group, Fifth Harmony beating out the amazing Sam Smith for the Artist To Watch Award and Miley Cyrus sending some apparent former homeless youth up to accept her award for Video of The Year with a speech that seemed to mock the situation, I was ready to turn off this nonsense. However, it was Queen Bee that saved the show from being a complete disaster at the very end. Accepting the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award, Beyoncé put all the other performers to shame as she easily displayed why she deserved this honor. The dazzling vocalist went on to deliver a thrilling set as she performed a medley of all of the songs from her recent million-selling, self-titled album. With their baby, Blue Ivy in his arms, Jay Z presented his overwhelmed wife with the award which also served to show the world that they are a solid and united family. Time will reveal how accurate this may actually be but it was still quite a touching and moving moment. If you missed it, take a look:



Let's flashback to Madonna's virgin appearance on the award show thirty years ago:



Finally, here is the 1984 MTV Video of the Year:

NEW SOUNDS

WHITNEY HOUSTON Words cannot express how much I miss the glorious voice of Whitney Houston . It's been five years since her passing...