Monday, June 30, 2014

BOBBY WOMACK (1944 - 2014)


Another sad loss in music as the legendary singer/songwriter, Bobby Womack passed away on June 27th at the age of seventy.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Womack came from parents who were both professional musicians. After his father, Friendly Womack discovered Bobby's skills at the guitar at the age of eight as well of the talents of his other teenage sons, he formed a group, The Womack Brothers. The band toured the gospel circuit for a number of years and Sam Cooke, who was a member of the Soul Stirrers at the time, was highly impressed by the boys. Cooke took them under his wing and promised to use them when he found fame. True to his word, Cooke signed them to his record label after he left gospel music and became a successful r&b singer. Changing the group's name to "The Valentinos", they had a top-ten r&b single, "Looking For A Love" in 1962. This lead to opening for James Brown on tour as well as being the backing band for Cooke during recording and tours.

After Sam Cooke's shocking death in 1964, The Womack brothers were left in disarray and scandal due to Bobby marrying Cooke's widow, Barbara only mere months after his death. Womack decided to leave The Valentinos and wanted to start a solo career but the scandal left no one interested, so he settled as a session player and songwriter. Womack played guitar on a number of recordings and wrote songs for a diverse group of artists including Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett The Box Tops and Sly and The Family Stone.

Womack recorded his first solo album, "Fly Me To The Moon" in 1968 which began his successful run of singles and albums throughout the '70's and '80's. Drug addiction soon derailed the artist but after a stint in rehab, Womack was ready to focus back on music by the early 1990's. He gained attention after he provided vocals to the track, "Stylo" for Gorillaz from their album, "Plastic Beach" in 2010. This lead to Womack releasing "The Bravest Man In The Universe", his twenty-seventh solo album, in 2012. The album was critically acclaimed and brought the singer back in to the spotlight where he belonged.

In tribute to Mr. Womack, here are a few of my favorite songs:

"Across 110th Street" - Bobby Womack (1972)

"If You Think You're Lonely Now" - Bobby Womack (1982)

"Dayglo Reflection" - Bobby Womack featuring Lana Del Rey (2012)

Friday, June 20, 2014

GERRY GOFFIN (1939 - 2014)


The gifted lyricist, Gerry Goffin, who along with his then-wife, Carole King, wrote some of the most memorable and enduring hit songs of the rock-n-roll era, passed away on June 19th.

Although he went to school to pursue a practical occupation as a chemist, Goffin found himself making music as he had been writing lyrics since he was a child. He was working on a musical and needed a partner to write the music. Goffin met Carol Klein (who later changed her professional name to "Carole King") and began a musical partnership which soon became romantic. Goffin and King managed to have more than fifty top-forty pop hits during their time together which began with "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" by The Shirelles in 1961. Other major hits included "Up On The Roof", "One Fine Day", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman","He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)", "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "The Loco-Motion"

After their marriage ended in 1968, Goffin went on to write with other musicians like Barry Mann and Michael Masser and had other hit songs such as "Saving All My Love For You" and "Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)" which earned him and Masser an Oscar nomination.

All of Goffin's songs continue to be recorded by a wide variety of artists and that's because they are well-crafted classics that will truly stand the test of time. Here is a small selection of my favorites co-written by Gerry Goffin:

"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" - The Shirelles (1961)

"The Loco-Motion" - Little Eva (1962)

"Up On The Roof" - The Drifters (1963)

"(You Make me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" - Aretha Franklin (1967)

"Saving All My Love For You" - Whitney Houston (1985)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

THE 150 GREATEST SCHLOCK SONGS EVER


Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" is used as the perfect example of a schlock song. On intial release, this rock tune was popular but critically derided. But now, after some time has past, this song is now universally embraced as a classic. What changed? Good question.

New York Magazine looks to explain when bad taste becomes great art and ranks these songs from throughout pop music history. I personally find some of these selections questionable but as with all art, schlock is in the ear of the beholder.

Click below to read the article and see the entire list of songs:

From Journey to Beyoncé: The 150 Greatest Schlock Songs Ever

I have included a few of my personal favorites from the list and where they ranked:

13. "I Will Always Love You" - Dolly Parton (1974)

29. "If You Leave Me Now' - Chicago (1976)

31. "It's A Man's, Man's Man's World" - James Brown (1966)

49. "Empire State of Mind" - Jay Z featuring Alicia Keys (2009)

71. "More Than Words" - Extreme (1990)

114. "Kiss of Life" - Sade (1992)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

CHRISSIE HYNDE'S FIRST ALBUM


Since Chrissie Hynde was always the voice behind the band, The Pretenders, it's kind of surprising that she has now decided to release her very first solo album. "Stockholm" is the title and features a departure from her usual heavy rock sound. Now, don't get me wrong, Hynde has certainly not gone soft but she's offering some subtle new textures to her music thanks to her collaboration with Björn Yttling of the Swedish act, Peter Björn and John. The sixty-two year old rocker has barely charged since The Pretenders had their first hit, "Brass In Pocket' way back in 1980 and that wicked kitten-purr of a voice is still quite vibrant.

I have always been a big fan of Hynde and I'm loving what I've heard so far. The album is out now, so go and check it out. Listen to a couple of tracks:

"Dark Sunglasses" - Chrissie Hynde (2014)

"You Or No One" - Chrissie Hynde (2014)

Here's the video of the song that kicked off the career of The Pretenders, "Brass In Pocket":

Sunday, June 8, 2014

TAKE TWO: BOBBY BROWN


Bobby Brown has had a bad boy reputation since his teenage years with the bubble-gum soul group, New Edition, through his time as a popular solo act and beyond. Brown grew up on the tough streets of Boston where he was surrounded by gangs and committed petty crimes. He redirected his life when he focused on music. An early version of New Edition was formed when Brown was nine that included friends, Michael Bivens, Ricky Bell and Ralph Tresvant. The group's manager, Brooke Payne later brought in his nephew, Ronnie DeVoe to complete the act and New Edition signed with producer, Maurice Starr in 1982. After their successful first single, "Candy Girl", many other hits followed including "Cool It Now" and "Mr.Telephone Man".

Due to his unhappiness with the financial compensation and jealousy over excessive attention paid to other members of the group, Brown either left on his own or was fired from New Edition (largely depending on who you ask) in 1986. Brown decided to embark on a solo career and released his debut,"King of Stage" later that year. Despite a number one hit, "Girlfriend" on the r&b chart, the album didn't get much traction and was largely ignored. For his follow-up, Brown was paired up with some of the top producers working at MCA Records at the time; Teddy Riley, "L.A." Reid and Babyface. Released in 1988, "Don"t be Cruel" became a massive hit with five singles that not only reached the top ten on the r&b chart but all those songs crossed over to the top ten on the U.S. pop chart. The album went on to sell over seven million copies, won the artist a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and helped usher in the New Jack Swing sound that ruled throughout the nineties. The following year, Brown was asked to contribute songs to the sequel of "Ghostbusters" and the single, "On Our Own" made it up to number two on the pop chart.

After reaching such major commercial success and marrying the "Queen of Pop", Whitney Houston in 1992, you would think Bobby Brown would be enjoying his achievements. However, his demons resurfaced and the rest of Brown's personal and professional life was messy and squandered due to drug abuse, arrests and jail time. Brown has recently clean-up his act (somewhat)and has reunited with New Edition on several occasions with the first time being at the 1990 MTV Music Video Awards. He continues to tour with the group.

Here are two of my favorite songs from Bobby Brown:

"Don't Be Cruel" - Bobby Brown (1988)

"Roni" - Bobby Brown (1988)

As a bonus, here is Brown with New Edition in an early video for their debut song, "Candy Girl"

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

After my recent trip to Berlin and Copenhagen, I'm feeling a little European - musically, at least. First up, there has been plenty of buzz about the recent winner of the Eurovision Song Contest although it's been less about the actual song and more about his appearance. Twenty-five year old Tom Neuwirth from Austria performs under the drag persona, Conchita Wurst and caused quite a sensation as she sang the winning,  "Rise Like A Phoenix" while giving Beyoncé some serious competition in the glamour department. You have to wonder about all of the other songs in the contest if this was considered the best but no matter. Although the stunning Ms Wurst may be too much for America to handle but there's no denying that she knows how to sell a tune. Be prepared to be thoroughly mesmerized in this clip of the winning performance:



British pop singer Sam Smith has been coy about his sexuality since bursting on to the music scene this year. While it's certainly no one's business but his own, the new clip for his latest single, "Leave Your Lover" may have shed a little more light on that subject. He has since officially come out but none of it even matters. What is important is this performer's incredible voice:



"The Vistors" - ABBA (1981)

"Der Kommisar" - Falco (1981)

"99 Luftballons" - Nena (1983)

It's been quite a while since we last heard from La Roux. This British act took the world by storm in 2009 with their smash, "Bulletproof" and are finally back with new music. La Roux was once a duo with Ben Langmaid but now only vocalist, Elly Jackson remains. "Uptight Downtown" is the first release from the forthcoming album, "Trouble In Paradise" which is due in July:

"Uptight Downtown" - La Roux (2014)

All American girl, Ariana Grande is back with a sizzling new song, "Problem". The video has a sixties vibe and features a rap verse from hip-hop's girl of the moment, Iggy Azalea:





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...