Wednesday, December 23, 2015

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM . . .

It seems every musician and their mama has released a Christmas album at some point in their careers. So here is a spotlight on the latest to musically deck them halls and make everything jolly.

KYLIE MINOGUE


For her first Christmas album, appropriately tilted, "Kylie Christmas", Kylie Minogue has put her own special spin to some holiday classics in addition to original material. Minogue has support by an interesting mix of musical talent including duets with Iggy Pop ("Christmas Wrapping"), the new host of "The Late Late Show", James Corden, (a cover of Yaz's "Only You"), her fellow pop-singer sister, Dannii ("100 Degrees" on the Deluxe Edition) and through the magic of technology, Frank Sinatra ("Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"). Here is the music video for a new tune, "Every Day's Like Christmas" which was written by Chris Martin of Coldplay and produced by the hot Norwegian production team, Stargate:




ARIANA GRANDE


One of today's hottest pop artists, Ariana Grande has just dropped a holiday EP, "Christmas & Chill" that features six original songs. Recorded in a week in her home studio, the twenty-two year old vocalist has made an impressive collection of slo-jam Christmas tunes delivered with a modern r&b flavor. These songs are so good you'll want to listen to them anytime of the year. Check out a couple of tracks to help get you in the holiday spirit:

"December" - Ariana Grande (2015) mp3

"Wit It This Christmas" - Ariana Grande (2015) mp3


SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS


Sharon Jones and her Dap-Kings has brought their retro-soul sound to celebrate the holiday season. With "It's a Holiday Soul Party", the band not only gives those familiar Christmas songs their own brand of funky polish but also delivers a grooving tune explaining the eight days of Hanukkah. There is some rocking new material as well including the touching "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects" and "World of Love" which is a moving plea for peace over the holidays. Enjoy this video of Sharon & The Dap-Kings doing an amazing version of "White Christmas" like you've never heard before:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


During this week back in 1975, "That's The Way (I Like It)" by KC & The Sunshine Band topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This was the second of the band's total of five number one singles. Due to the disco craze sweeping the nation, those funky beats of Harry "KC" Casey & his band was exactly what everybody wanted to hear while grooving on the dance floor.

In Hialeah, Florida, a twenty-two year old Casey, who worked part-time in a record store and in the studio for TK Records, started a band, originally called "KC & The Sunshine Junkanoo Band". He met studio engineer, Richard Finch and they began working on songs together. They had a few local successes before writing the 1974 worldwide dance hit, "Rock Your Baby" for George McCrae.

Losing the "junkanoo", KC & the Sunshine Band released their self-titled debut album in 1975 which became an instant smash, eventually selling three million copies. It included their first number one song "Get Down Tonight" and "Boogie Shoes" which was later featured on the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack in 1977.

After disco began to fade by the early '80's, so did the hits for KC & the Sunshine Band. However, when dance music made a return to the pop charts in the 1990's, interest in this classic funk band resurfaced. Casey put together a new Sunshine Band and got to work recording new music and hitting the road.

"That's The Way (I Like It)" - KC & The Sunshine Band (1975) mp3

Thursday, December 10, 2015

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

First, let's begin with some new music I'm really loving right now:

"Boys Like You" - Who Is Fancy featuring Meghan Trainor & Ariana Grande (2015) mp3

"Falling For You" - Teenage Mutant + Laura Welsh (2015) mp3

"Automatic" - ZHU + Alunageorge (2015) mp3



I saw drag performance artist, Joey Arias at the Redcat in downtown L.A. last month. He is well-known for a vocal style and mannerisms that imitates jazz legend Billie Holiday. This year marks the centennial of Holiday's birth and Arias is touring in a show that celebrates the singer.  He does amazing versions of some of her classics like "Lady Sings The Blues", "Summertime"  "God Bless The Child" and "Good Morning Heartache". If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend you check out Joey Arias live in concert. Take a look at this clip of Arias performing one of Holiday's most haunting songs,  "Strange Fruit":



And here is Lady Day performing that same song:



David Bowie is preparing to release his twenty-fifth studio album early next year and the sixty-eight year old rocker is exploring experimental art-jazz. He has dropped a ten-minute music video for the song "Blackstar" and the sounds and images are dream-like and trippy. Words will probably not adequately describe this, so just sit back and watch:



I never, EVER thought I would put music by Justin Bieber here on this blog yet shockingly here it is. The song is "Sorry" and it follows his recent number one single, "What Do You Mean?" (which I also happen to like?!) that continues to give the twenty-one year old Canadian singer some much needed musical respectability. Skrillex (who first helped Bieber on the road to being taken somewhat seriously with the surprise hit, "Where Are Ü Now") and Blood Diamonds produced the track and here is the music video that features the amazing moves of ReQuest and The Royal Family dance crews:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

2015 ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS NOMINATIONS

The Grammy Award nominations were announced and Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar leads with a total of eleven including Album of The Year and Song of The Year.  Country-pop superstar Taylor Swift and alt-r&b artist, The Weeknd followed with seven nominations apiece. While these three acts enjoy major success and are top hit-makers, what is most notable this year is that commercial sales and popularity was not the motivating factor in the selection of many of these nominations. Artistry and innovation is just as important to the Recording Academy and one example of that is Alabama Shakes, a critically acclaimed alt-rock outfit that has a strong cult following but little radio play, received four nominations for their bold second album, "Sound & Color" including Album of The Year. Australian rocker Courtney Barnett may be unfamiliar to many but her debut album, "Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit" caught the attention of the Grammys and earned her a Best New Artist nod.

The 58th Annual Grammy Awards will be held in Los Angeles at the Staples Center on February 15th 2016. Here is a partial list of the 2015 nominations. For the complete list, go to:

Grammy.com

Album Of The Year:

"Sound & Color" — Alabama Shakes
"To Pimp A Butterfly" — Kendrick Lamar
"Traveller" — Chris Stapleton
"1989" — Taylor Swift
"Beauty Behind The Madness" — The Weeknd

Record Of The Year:

"Really Love" — D'Angelo And The Vanguard
"Uptown Funk" — Mark Ronson Featuring Bruno Mars
"Thinking Out Loud" — Ed Sheeran
"Blank Space" — Taylor Swift
"Can't Feel My Face" — The Weeknd

Song Of The Year:

"Alright" — Written by Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears & Pharrell Williams
"Blank Space" — Written by Max Martin, Shellback & Taylor Swift
"Girl Crush" — Written by Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna & Liz Rose
"See You Again" — Written by Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth & Cameron Thomaz
"Thinking Out Loud" — Written by Ed Sheeran & Amy Wadge

Best New Artist:

Courtney Barnett
James Bay
Sam Hunt
Tori Kelly
Meghan Trainor

Best Pop Solo Performance:

"Heartbeat Song" – Kelly Clarkson
"Love Me Like You Do" – Ellie Goulding
"Thinking Out Loud" – Ed Sheeran
"Blank Space" – Taylor Swift
"Can’t Feel My Face" – The Weeknd

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance:

"Ship To Wreck" — Florence + The Machine
"Sugar" — Maroon 5
"Uptown Funk" — Mark Ronson Featuring Bruno Mars
"Bad Blood" — Taylor Swift Featuring Kendrick Lamar
"See You Again" — Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth


Best Pop Vocal Album:

"Piece By Piece" – Kelly Clarkson
"How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful" – Florence + The Machine
"Uptown Special" – Mark Ronson
"1989" – Taylor Swift
"Before This World" – James Taylor

Best Dance Recording
:

"We're All We Need" — Above & Beyond Featuring Zoë Johnston
"Go" — The Chemical Brothers
"Never Catch Me" — Flying Lotus Featuring Kendrick Lamar
"Runaway (U & I)" — Galantis
"Where Are Ü Now" — Skrillex And Diplo With Justin Bieber

Best Rock Performance:

"Don't Wanna Fight" — Alabama Shakes
"What Kind Of Man" — Florence + The Machine
"Something From Nothing" — Foo Fighters
"Ex's & Oh's" — Elle King
"Moaning Lisa Smile" — Wolf Alice

Best Alternative Music Album:

"Sound & Color" — Alabama Shakes
"Vulnicura" — Björk
"The Waterfall" — My Morning Jacket
"Currents" — Tame Impala
"Star Wars" — Wilco

Best R&B Album:

"Coming Home" – Leon Bridges
"Black Messiah" – D’Angelo And The Vanguard
"Cheers To The Fall" – Andra Day
"Reality Show" – Jazmine Sullivan
"Forever Charlie" – Charlie Wilson

Best Urban Contemporary Album:

"Ego Death" — The Internet
"You Should Be Here" — Kehlani
"Blood" — Lianne La Havas
"Wildheart" — Miguel
"Beauty Behind The Madness" — The Weeknd

Best Rap Album:

"2014 Forest Hills Drive" — J. Cole
"Compton" — Dr. Dre
"If You're Reading This Its Too Late" — Drake
"To Pimp A Butterfly" — Kendrick Lamar
"The Pinkprint" — Nicki Minaj

Best Country Album:

"Montevallo" — Sam Hunt
"Pain Killer" — Little Big Town
"The Blade" — Ashley Monroe
"Pageant Material" — Kacey Musgraves
"Traveller" — Chris Stapleton

Thursday, December 3, 2015

BUT YOU CAINT USE MY PHONE


Neo-soul goddess, Erykah Badu has just dropped a new mixtape called "But You Caint Use My Phone" which fans may remember that title as the final line from her hit song, "Tyrone". This project, after a too-long, five-year hiatus by the forty-four year old singer, was inspired by Drake's new single, "Hotline Bling" with Badu recording her own reworked version. That followed with her creating a collection of songs involving communication and technology. With her co-producer, Zac Witness, otherwise known as "White Chocolate", Badu recorded over an eleven-day period out of his bedroom studio in their hometown of Dallas. Each song revolves around usage of the phone, some original and others reimagined covers from various artists like New Edition's "Mr. Telephone Man" and the Isley Brothers' "Hello, It's Me". The self-proclaimed "analog girl in a digital world" merges classic r&b and hip-hop with twisted melodies, chopped-up beats and distorted vocals that has her new music feeling delightfully old-school yet undeniably modern.

"Caint Use My Phone (Suite)" - Erykah Badu (2015) mp3

"Mr. Telephone Man" - Erykah Badu (2015) mp3

As a bonus, let's go back to 1997 and see Miss Badu performing live her then-new song, "Tyrone":

Thursday, November 19, 2015

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


"I Hear a Symphony" became The Supremes' sixth number one song, hitting that spot this week back in 1965. After their previous single, "Nothing But Heartaches" failed to reach the top-ten on the pop chart (reaching only number eleven), Motown chief, Berry Gordy decreed that one of the company's biggest and most popular acts (featuring Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard) would only release number one hits. That put the pressure on the trio's production team, Holland–Dozier–Holland to come up with the right songs for The Supremes to make that happen. They decided to slightly alter the winning formula that had worked so well for the group, making the musical structure of "I Hear a Symphony" a little more complex. This worked as this song went straight to the top, holding this position for two weeks.

Although the next two singles, "My World Is Empty Without You" and "Love Is Like an Itching In My Heart" failed to reach number one (only making it to number five and number nine respectively), the Supremes' next four singles, "You Can't Hurry Love", "You Keep Me Hangin' On", "Love Is Here and Now You're Gone" and "The Happening" each became chart toppers. The Supremes would go on to have a total of twelve number one hits, making them one of the most successful singing groups in pop history.

"I Hear a Symphony" - The Supremes (1965) mp3

Monday, November 16, 2015

MISSY ELLIOTT - "WTF"


It's been a shocking TEN YEARS since Missy Elliott released her own new music to the world. The hip-hop star had been busy producing and was featured on several recordings for other artists. First, Elliott teased us with an electric appearance with Katy Perry at this year's Super Bowl and most recently on Janet Jackson's new track, "Burn It Up" but she has now finally dropped a new single, "WTF (Where They From"). The track is classic Missy with it's funky beat and offbeat lyrics. Pharrell Williams produced and adds his vocals to this amazing song. The music video (Elliott co-directed with her frequent collaborator, Dave Meyers) perfectly enhances the track with it's quirky imagery, over-the-top costumes and slick choreography. Enjoy this wild, whimsical and wacky clip from the one and only Missy Elliott:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

NEW SOUNDS

GWEN STEFANI


After releasing two poorly received singles earlier this year, Gwen Stefani decided to scrap the music she had been working on for her third solo album and start fresh. That appears to be a very wise move. The singer just dropped a new song, "Used To Love You" and it's a step in the right direction. This touching ballad hits pretty close to home for Stefani is going through a divorce from former Bush front man, Gavin Rossdale after almost thirteen years of marriage. It's been said that great art can come from personal tragedy and this amazing track, co-written with Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter (of Semi Precious Weapons), and producer, J.R. Rotem, is admittedly inspired by this break-up.

"Used To Love You" - Gwen Stefani (2015) mp3

ARIANA GRANDE


In a very short period of time, Ariana Grande has gone from an adorable Nickelodeon TV star to a major player in the pop music scene. The twenty-two year old is prepping her next album (tentatively titled, "Moonlight") and has released the first single, "Focus". With production by Swedish superstar producer, Max Martin, Grande has delivered another slick club banger that is elevated by her soaring vocals. That's also the problem here as the song feels far too similar to her previous work (particularly her hit, "Problem"), lacking unexpected thrills to get thoroughly excited over. Hear the song through the music video (featuring her new platinum locks) and judge for yourself:



MIIKE SNOW




Miike Snow, an electropop collective featuring American musician, Andrew Wyatt and Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg of the Swedish production team, Bloodshy & Avant, first came on the scene with the catchy tune, "Animal" back in 2009. While their third album together isn't due out until sometime next year, the trio has delivered a hot track, "Heart Is Full" that offers a fresh new sound from the band. Using fragmented beats and staccato music samples, the song manages to feels oddly familiar yet highly innovative. It makes me curious to hear else what they have in store for us.

"Heart Is Full" - Miike Snow (2015) mp3

Thursday, October 29, 2015

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


Forty years ago this week, "Island Girl" became Elton John's fifth number one single in America. At this time, the wonderfully colorful Brit, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, was one of the biggest rock stars on the planet. His 1975 album, "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" became the first album ever to debut at number one on the Billboard Album Chart and the follow-up released later that year, "Rock of the Westies" (which "Island Girl" appears on) also debuted at the top of the chart. John also made an appearance as "the Pinball Wizard" in the filmed version of "Tommy", the rock opera by the Who. And the singer was so popular that he became the first solo white artist to perform on "Soul Train".

As for this number one song which held on to this spot for three weeks, "Island Girl" is pretty risque, especially for pop radio. It's about a New York city prostitute trying to be lured back home to Jamaica to save her from this life. This dance-flavored number, written by John and Bernie Taupin, was an interesting change of pace from the moving ballads and hard-edged rockers we usually heard from the singer.

"Island Girl" - Elton John (1975) mp3

One more interesting side note: "Island Girl" had knocked "Bad Blood" by Neil Sedaka out of the number one spot and Elton John made an uncredited appearance on that song performing background vocals. Enjoy this bonus of that song:

"Bad Blood" - Neil Sedaka (1975) mp3

Sunday, October 25, 2015

ADELE RETURNS


The wait is finally over!

After months of rumors and speculation, Adele has officially announced the release of her third studio album entitled, "25".  Due out on November 20th, the first taste was released on October 23rd with the moving ballad "Hello".  The track, co-written and produced by Greg Kurstin  (The Bird and The Bee), is classic Adele with a powerful vocal and deeply emotional lyrics.

The music video for the song was released as well and it's directed by one of my favorite film makers, the twenty-six year old, French-Canadian, Xavier Dolan. This is a sweeping cinematic clip that works perfectly with the song and features actor/musician, Tristan Wilds ("The Wire"). You must experience this right now:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

TAKE TWO: REGINA BELLE


Regina Belle is a remarkably flexible vocalist that can easily glide between a smooth jazz ballad, slick pop tune, fiery soul jam or a tear-the-roof-off gospel number with very little effort. While she never became a major player in the business, Belle consistently made wonderful music that delivered inspiration, explored heartbreak, brought you to tears or made you want to fall in love.

Born and raised in Englewood, N.J., Belle found her voice in church as she sang her first solo at the age of eight. She explored all areas of music throughout school and attended the prestigious Manhattan School of Music after graduation.

While trying to make her way with a career in music, Belle met the soul group, The Manhattans, best known for the hits "Kiss and Say Goodbye" and "Shining Star", through a friend. She eventually would open for the band on tour and recorded a duet with them called "Where Did We Go Wrong" in 1986.  This opened doors for Belle as she was signed to their label, Columbia Records and released her debut, "All By Myself" the following year. The album had three top-twenty hits on the r&b chart with the first single "Show Me The Way" peaking at number two.

More hits followed for Belle with her reaching the top of the r&b chart in 1989 with "Make It Like It Was". She was asked to perform a duet with Peabo Bryson for the animated Disney film, "Aladdin". Not only did the film become one of the biggest hits in 1992 but the love theme,  "A Whole New World" became a number-one smash on the U.S. pop chart.

In 2001, Belle signed with Peak-Concord, a jazz label and released two well-received albums, "This Is Regina!" and "Lazy Afternoon" in 2004. Four years later, she recorded her first inspirational album, "Love Forever Shines" which made it to number three on the gospel chart. During this time, it was discovered that Belle had a brain tumor.

After recovering from this serious health issue, she recorded another gospel album, "Higher" in 2012 . Recently, Regina Belle has focused on her family; husband, John Battle, a former NBA player, married since 1991 and together have four children. Listen to two of my favorite songs from this dynamic singer:

"Show Me The Way" - Regina Belle (1987) mp3

"Baby Come To Me" - Regina Belle (1989) mp3

And this is a bonus of the music video for Belle's number one hit with Peabo Bryson:

Saturday, October 3, 2015

LADY GAGA SERVES FASHION WITH TOM FORD



Music and fashion comes together in the most fabulous way with Tom Ford presenting his spring/summer 2016 collection in the form of a music video. The designer enlisted the one and only Lady Gaga (who will be displaying glamour and terror in the new season of "American Horror Story" starting on October 7th) and teamed her with producer Nile Rodgers to do a cover of the disco classic "I Want Your Love", a top-ten hit by his band, Chic back in 1979. Directed by Brit photographer, Nick Knight, the clip was inspired by the line dance on "Soul Train" with Gaga and models strutting on the dance floor while showing off the clothes of Ford's next collection. It's the perfect combination and a wild collaboration. Take a look:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


For this Number One Flashback, we're going back forty years ago to "Fame" by David Bowie. At the time, the singer was more of a rising cult figure with a rabid following than a major rock star, at least here in the states. That would completely change once this track became a big hit in this country, taking the top spot for two weeks.

During the recording sessions of what would become "Young Americans", an album inspired by Philly soul music, he traveled to New York where he met former Beatle, John Lennon. They hit it off and began jamming together. This lead to Bowie covering the classic Beatles track, "Across The Universe" and creating "Fame" together along with guitarist Carlos Alomar for the album. Bowie has said the idea of the song came from a place of frustration and anger as he was having difficulties with his management company at the time. "Fame" became so popular that Bowie even made an appearance on "Soul Train", making him one of the very few Caucasian artists to perform on the program.

"Fame" - David Bowie (1975) mp3

Monday, September 28, 2015

SAM SMITH + BOND = WRITING'S ON THE WALL


British pop sensation, Sam Smith is the latest singer to perform the theme song for a James Bond film, "Spectre", the upcoming 24th movie in the long-running series. The song is called "Writing's On The Wall" which is co-written by Smith and Jimmy Napes and they produced the track along with Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure.

Smith follows in this tradition of songs created for the 007 films by a varied group of top artists including Shirley Bassey ("Goldfinger", "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Moonraker"), Tom Jones ("Thunderball"), Carly Simon ("Nobody Does It Better" from "The Spy Who Love Me"), Tina Turner ("Goldeneye"), Duran Duran ("A View To a Kill"), Madonna ("Die Another Day"), Sir Paul McCartney ("Live and Let Die") and Adele, who went on to win an Oscar for her contribution to the last Bond film, "Skyfall" in 2012.

And how does Mr. Smith's song rank? Well, the reaction has been decidedly mixed but that may be because the expectation was so high. I think "Writing's On The Wall" is a fine song with dramatic horns and strings at the top and Smith's beautifully, impassioned vocal lifting the track to dreamy heights. But is it one of the more memorable of the 007 theme songs? No, I can't say that it is but there are certainly far worse (Sheryl Crow's "Tomorrow Never Dies" or Lulu's "The Man With The Golden Gun", for example, come to mind). Have a listen and judge for yourself:

"Writing's On The Wall" - Sam Smith (2015) mp3

Here's a bonus of the thrilling trailer for "Spectre". I really can't wait to see this:


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

WELCOME BACK

DARLENE LOVE


The voice of Darlene Love is one of the most recognizable in the rock & roll era. She can be heard on some of most popular songs ever recorded and this was revealed in the Oscar-winning documentary, "20 Feet From Stardom" which put a long overdue spotlight on the singer. Producer Phil Spector (who Love is most closely associated) recognized her amazing gifts and used them frequently on much of his now classic work throughout the 1960's.

Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band also recognized her great talent. He had encouraged Love to try New York when she was attempting a comeback in the early '80's after falling in to obscurity during the late '70's. This move lead to her joining the Broadway jukebox musical, "Leader of The Pack" and revitalizing her career. Now, Van Zandt is back lending a helping hand. He has produced Love's first studio album in thirty years and it's appropriately titled "Introducing Darlene Love". This wonderful collection puts the seventy-four year old singer front and center after spending most of her career performing background vocals for other singers. The songs range from pop, rock, gospel and Phil Spector. Love does a cover of "River Deep, Mountain High", a song she provided back-up on the original Spector production performed by Tina Turner.

Take a look at this cute video for the first single, "Forbidden Nights". It features cameos by some of the rock legends that contributed songs for the new album including Joan Jett, Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen. Be on the lookout for a few other famous faces here:



KEITH RICHARDS


Keith Richards has spent over fifty years as a member of "the greatest rock & roll band on Earth", The Rolling Stones. Although he would perform the occasional lead vocal on tracks throughout the years on Stones albums, the focus for Richards was songwriting and playing guitar while leaving the rock-star stuff to Mick Jagger.

It wasn't until a tense falling out with Jagger in 1986 over putting his solo career ahead of the Stones that he decided to work on his own music. Richards formed a band, the X-Pensive Winos and released his critically acclaimed solo debut, "Talk Is Cheap" in 1988 which he co-wrote and produced with Steve Jordan. These two long-time friends obviously kissed and made up as the Rolling Stones continue to rock this very day. But now, twenty-three years after his second album, "Main Offender", Richards has just released another solo recording, "Crosseyed Heart" before the Stones hit the road next year. The seventy-one year old, back with his band and co-producer Jordan, isn't worried about commercial appeal. He's covering music that he loves like country, reggae and the blues that you won't hear often on your average Rolling Stones record.

Rumor has it that Richards may try to squeeze in a few concert dates this year to promote the album so be on the lookout. In the meantime, listen to one of the highlights from the album. It's a blues ballad that Richards performs as a scorching duet with another singer we haven't heard from in quite a while; Norah Jones:

"Illusion" - Keith Richards & Norah Jones (2015) mp3

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

TAKE TWO: TALKING HEADS


They say that timing is everything and when Talking Heads first came together, the furious beat of punk and new-wave was just beginning to gain some traction in popular music. The band fit perfectly in this movement however, their particular sound didn't easily fall in to either of those categories. They were one of the first bands to merge different genres together to create their own version of world music. Lead by David Byrne's melodic, droning voice and offbeat vision, Talking Heads would forge their own unique path and become one of the most innovative and influential musical groups in pop history.

David Byrne and Chris Frantz met while attending an art college in Rhode Island. They formed a band together called The Artistics in 1974. Frantz's girlfriend, Tina Weymouth, who also graduated from the school, would help out by driving them around to local gigs. The three decided to move to New York to try their luck. The band needed a bass player, so they encouraged Weymouth to learn how to play. The trio renamed the band, "Talking Heads" and made their first performance in the city opening for The Ramones at CBGB in 1975. Talking Heads developed a cult following and soon record labels came calling. After adding keyboardist, Jerry Harrison to the band in 1977, they signed with Sire Records and released their debut, "Talking Heads: 77". The single, "Psycho Killer" was not a major hit but brought attention to the band.

For their follow-up album, "More Songs About Buildings and Food", Talking Heads teamed up with experimental rock producer, Brian Eno. This was a perfect match of unconventional style and sensibility and the band blended elements of country, reggae and funk in to their sound. Their cover of Al Green's "Take Me To The River" became their first to hit the top-forty on the U.S. pop chart. Eno produced their next two releases, "Fear of Music" (1979) and "Remain in Light" (1980) with Talking Heads exploring further with disco and African rhythms. During this time, they released memorable singles such as "Once In A Lifetime" and "Life During Wartime" which featured the famous lyric "This Ain't No Party, This Ain't No Disco, This Ain't No Foolin' Around"

When the time came to work on their next album, Talking Heads decided to change direction in more ways than one. David Byrne had been the lead vocalist and head writer from the beginning which eventually left the rest of the members feeling frustrated and nothing more than a back-up band. They had begun working on their music as a group and with "Speaking in Tongues", Talking Heads also produced the record together. This became one of their most commercially successful albums with the song, "Burning Down The House" reaching the top-ten on the pop chart. Director Jonathan Demme filmed the band during the L.A. stop of their tour to promote this album which became the popular 1984 concert film, "Stop Making Sense" with a live soundtrack album also released.

Talking Heads would release three more albums but tension between Byrne and the other members continued to escalate. After "Naked" in 1988, the band decided to take a break before officially announcing the end of Talking Heads in 1991. They all would go on to work on solo projects with the most notable being Frantz and Weymouth (who married in 1977 and remain together to this day) who formed Tom Tom Club in 1980 and had a hit with "Genius of Love" which has been heavily sampled over the years. Talking Heads were inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Enjoy two of my favorites songs from Talking Heads:

"Life During Wartime" - Talking Heads (1979) mp3

"Burning Down The House" - Talking Heads (1983) mp3

After seeing the movie trailer for "Stop Making Sense", I need to put it on Netflix queue:


Finally, take a look at the animated music video for the Tom Tom Club's classic "Genius of Love":

Thursday, September 10, 2015

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


Number One Flashback takes a look back on U.S. chart-toppers from the past. Today, we're going back exactly ten years ago this week when "We Belong Together" by Mariah Carey topped the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. This quiet storm ballad, which remained at this position for fourteen non-consecutive weeks, brought the singer back after a series of career setbacks.

After her last few albums on Columbia Records sold poorly, Carey decided to leave the label to join Virgin Records with a contract worth one hundred million dollars in 2001. However, shortly after the announcement, she was hospitalized due to physical and emotional exhaustion. This delayed the release of her film debut, "Glitter" and the soundtrack album which both became critical and commercial flops. This lead to Virgin dropping Carey from the label and buying out her record contract.

Carey rebounded by signing with Island Records but her first release on the label, "Charmbracelet" in 2002 also failed to generate much interest. In 2005, the singer's tenth album, "The Emancipation of Mimi" came out and brought with it a major career resurgence. The album moved her even further in to hip-hop and with slick production from Jermaine Dupri, The Neptunes and Kanye West along with appearances by Nelly and Snoop Dogg, the record became one of Mariah Carey's biggest sellers at twelve million copies sold worldwide with seven hit singles released. This is one of my all-time favorite albums so let's go back and listen to the number-one song that gave shout-outs to Babyface and the late, great Bobby Womack:

"We Belong Together" - Mariah Carey (2005) mp3

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

2015 VMAS


Since when has a MTV Video Music Award been worth fighting over?

First, Nicki Minaj was offended that her video wasn't nominated for Video of The Year (despite earning three other noms) and complained that it was because she wasn't skinny or white enough. Then, Taylor Swift (rightfully assuming Minaj was referring to her) took the bait and publicly defended her honor against the rapper's slam for her receiving a nomination. Recently, this year's host, Miley Cyrus scolded Minaj (through the New York Times, of all places) about her comments while alluding to the performer's well-known unpleasantness.

All this childish drama over nothing has lead to this year's VMAs. It was another spectacle of raunchy irreverence, wacky excess and some old-fashioned weirdness. The one and only Nicki Minaj kicked off the show with a performance of "Trini Dem Girls" and "The Night is Still Young" and guess who made a surprise appearance during the number? The one and only Taylor Swift, proving to the world that they have squashed their fifteen minutes of beef. However, it appears a new one has started after Minaj's win for Best Hip-Hop Video when she calls Cyrus out on stage for her NYT comments. I'm not sure if this bit was staged but if not, I strongly urge Cyrus to watch her flat backside.

The evening had a few other solid musical moments with my favorites include a video recreation on the streets of downtown L.A. by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis of their new single, "Downtown", The Weeknd worked the crowd with a fiery take of his hit, "Can't Feel My Face" and an amped-up version of "Should've Been Us" by rising talent and vocal powerhouse, Tori Kelly. I have never been a fan of Justin Bieber with a performance of his comeback single, "What Do You Mean" and an overly emotional outburst at the end still left me feeling unimpressed. But I will admit that the boy can dance.

And then there was Kanye. He's the recipient of this year's Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award and guess who presented the volatile artist with this honor? The one and only Taylor Swift who gave a touching tribute, proving to the world that they're on good terms after the rapper drunkenly interrupted her award victory six years ago. West, who virtually issued a public apology to Swift without ever uttering the words, gave a semi-coherent speech that went on about his career and impact as an artist before ending with an announcement of a future run for president. In the age where Donald Trump is considered a serious candidate, why not?

I nearly got whiplash over the rapid speed of how Miley Cyrus went from a sweet, Disney pop princess to a pot smoking, tongue wagging, profanity-laced, sexually outlandish provocateur. I'm not really buying this act. Her wild antics don't feel organic. I seem to recall when Cyrus mentioned Jay Z in her hit, "Party in The U.S.A.", it was revealed that she had never even heard his music. Now, the hardcore stoner is hanging out with Snoop Dogg and other rappers. The whole thing comes across more like another costume, like her previous Hannah Montana one. Perhaps the real Cyrus falls somewhere in the middle or perhaps we will meet another "Miley Cyrus" sometime down the road.

Our host closed out the show with a extravaganza of a performance. It was a new song (part of a free album that Cyrus is giving away to her most fervent fans) that featured a parade of colorful drag queens made famous on RuPaul's talent show. Although the constant sight of Cyrus' tongue got on my nerves, it was fun, bizarre and over-the-top. Just exactly how you expect an evening of the VMAs to be.

Oh, and Taylor Swift took home Video of The Year, proving to the world that she was actually skinny and white enough to win.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

Hailee Steinfeld first came on the radar as an actress with her moving performance in the Coen brothers remake of "True Grit" that earned the then thirteen year old an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 2010. She introduced her singing voice this summer in the hit sequel to "Pitch Perfect" which lead to Steinfeld signing a record deal with Republic Records. Her debut single, "Love Myself" is now out and it's pop perfection.

"Love Myself" - Hailee Steinfeld (2015) mp3









This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of "Jagged Little Pill", Alanis Morissette's emotionally raw, alt-rock album that connected with millions of listeners. She first found fame as a teen dance-pop singer in her native Canada with her self-titled debut album before being dropped by her label after a disastrous second. At a crossroads, Morissette picked up and moved to Toronto to start over. A chance introduction to songwriter/producer, Glen Ballard lead to them working together and shifting her musical direction. Only one label, Madonna's Maverick Records, was interested in releasing the edgy finished product and the rest is history. "Pill" won four Grammy Awards including Album of The Year and has sold thirty-three million copies worldwide to date. These are my favorite tracks off the album:

"You Outta Know" - Alanis Morissette (1995) mp3

"Ironic" - Alanis Morissette (1995) mp3

"Hand In My Pocket" - Alanis Morissette (1995) mp3

After finding great success with their live televised musical productions of "The Sound of Music" and "Peter Pan", NBC is preparing their latest (and one that I'm really looking forward to), "The Wiz". An interesting cast has been assembled with David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion, Ne-Yo as the Tin Man, Elijah Kelley (who was in the musical film version of "Hairspray") is the Scarecrow, Mary J. Blige plays Evillene, the Wicked Witch and Queen Latifah is The Wiz. And as for this show's Dorothy? A nationwide, open casting-call lead Shanice Williams, an eighteen-year old theater performer from New Jersey, to make her television debut. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who produced the previous live telecasts, return to executive produce and it's set to air on December 3rd. In honor of the upcoming show, listen to Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, from the 1978 movie version, performing the classic, "Ease On Down The Road":

"Ease On Down The Road" - Diana Ross & Michael Jackson (1978) mp3

I was hoping Miss Ross might have made an appearance here, maybe as Glinda, the Good Witch?  I am thrilled that Stephanie Mills, who played Dorothy in the original Broadway show back in 1974, will appear as Aunt Em. Enjoy this music video of Mills performing "Home", the moving, closing number from the musical she re-recorded in 1989:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

MY TUNE OF THE DAY


Today's tune is "Girl You Know It's True" by Milli Vanilli. As you may recall, this euro-pop group, made up of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, hit the top of the charts across the globe with this first single back in 1988. Other hit songs followed with Milli Vanilli selling millions of records and would go on to take the Grammy for Best New Artist.

Their success would come to a shocking end after it was revealed that Morvan and Pilatus had not actually sang any of the lead vocals on their debut album. Unimpressed with their singing abilities but admiring their look, producer Frank Farian decided to provide the voice of Milli Vanilli while the two attractive men would simply be the face of the group. The outrage of this deception was fast and furious with their record label dropping them and pulling their music out of circulation, multiple lawsuits and the Grammys revoking the duo's prize.

After their fall from grace, producer Farian released another Milli Vanilli album in 1990 that featured the real singers on the cover and Rob & Fab actually sang on their own self-titled album in 1992 but by this time, the public was no longer interested.

As for the song itself, it still holds up well despite all of the drama behind it. Milli Vanilli may now represent a shameful time in pop music but "Girl You Know It's True" was one of the early songs that helped usher in the new jack city sound of the early '90's.

"Girl You Know It's True" - Milli Vanilli (1988) mp3

Here is Rob and Fab in action from the music video for another hit, "Baby Don't Forget My Number":

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

WHAT HAPPENED MISS SIMONE


This year has put a long overdue spotlight on one of the most distinctive and influential musicians in pop music history. Nina Simone is the subject of a new Netflix documentary, "What Happened, Miss Simone?" which is directed by award-winning film maker, Liz Garbus with the singer's daughter, Lisa Simone serving as an executive producer. The film uses concert footage and interviews, some never seen or heard previously, to explore the passionate, difficult and complicated life of the North Carolina native. Simone was an extraordinary gifted but moody performer who actively defied musical categories. She mesmerized audiences with the sheer force of her talent, using her voice to not only entertain but inspire and stir protest.



In celebration of this film, a new album, "Nina Revisited: A Tribute To Nina Simone" features the songs made famous by Ms Simone recorded by several contemporary artists. Some of the musicians involved include Mary J. Blige, Usher, Common with Lalah Hathaway and Lisa Simone but the highlight is the very welcome return of Ms Lauryn Hill. She is on six of the thirteen tracks with Hill impressively breathing fresh new life in to some of Simone's signature tunes such as "Wild Is The Wind", "Ne Me Quitte Pas" and "Feeling Good". This collection perfectly honors the legacy of this quite special and unique performer.

Listen to rising jazz artist, Gregory Porter (who was heard early this year on a dance track for the upcoming Disclosure album) doing a radical but fascinating re-working of the Nina Simone classic, "Sinnerman":

"Sinnerman" - Gregory Porter (2015) mp3

Enjoy this electric performance of "Feeling Good" by Ms Lauryn Hill:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

WELCOME BACK

LITTLE BOOTS


Victoria Hesketh or as she's better known Little Boots has ruled the dance floors in recent years with her brand of modern disco anthems. She originally began her music career in college planning on becoming a jazz vocalist before moving in a completely different direction by joining an all-female electronic band, Dead Disco. The new record from the English songstress is called, "Working Girl" and she has worked it out with a another round of shimmering dance-pop tunes. By the way, Hesketh shares her nickname with the depraved Roman emperor, Julius Caesar which in Latin is "Caligula". Be prepared to break a sweat with Little Boots' first single, "Better In The Morning":

"Better In The Morning" - Little Boots (2015) mp3

THE BIRD AND THE BEE


With their jazz-influenced, electro-beat sound, I'm surprised that The Bird and The Bee are not more of a major pop act. They been making music together since 2006 and it's been five years since the L.A. based duo released their excellent tribute album to Hall & Oates but they are both quite busy with their own individual music careers. The vocalist, Inara George is not only a member of Merrick and The Living Sisters but the mother of three children while Greg Kurstin is a very in-demand producer who has worked with top pop artists, Sia, Kelly Clarkson, Beck, Pink and Katy Perry, to name just a few.

The wait is over and their fourth studio release, "Recreational Love" is now out. George's soft and dreamy vocals and Kursin's sophisticated production brings us another smooth album of pop songs with funky beats drifting through. Their sound has never been hard-edged or overly slick which has made it challenging for The Bird and The Bee to get much attention in the current state of pop radio. But they continue to offer a pleasing and refreshing break from the routine. Listen to the first single from the new release:

"Will You Dance" - The Bird and The Bee (2015) mp3


JILL SCOTT


Jill Scott has spent the last few years putting most of her energy in to an acting career but this vocal dynamo has thankfully decided to get back to her musical roots. As a part of the neo-soul movement in the 1990's, the Philly-raised singer merged together classic soul with hip-hop and spoken word. Unlike her contemporaries of that era like Maxwell, D'Angelo and Lauryn Hill, Scott is the only one was has consistently maintained a presence in music. With her latest release, "Woman", Scott delivers another collection of fiery love songs and reflective views on relationships. The first single, "Fool's Gold" is a perfect example of what Jill Scott does best:

"Fool's Gold" - Jill Scott (2015) mp3

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...