Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LESLEY GORE (1946 - 2015)


One of the most popular teenage pop stars of the rock & roll era, Lesley Gore passed away on February 16th after a battle with lung cancer. Born Lesley Goldstein in Brooklyn, New York, she had explored several creative expressions as a child but it was during a demo recording of her singing that led to an audition and later being signed to Mercury Records.

Her first single, "It's My Party" (produced by Quincy Jones) became a number one smash in 1963 when she was seventeen. Other hits followed including "Judy's Turn To Cry" (a sort of sequel to "Party"), "She's a Fool", "That's The Way Boys Are" and "You Don't Own Me", a song that would later be seen as a feminist anthem. During the height of her fame, Gore appeared on the popular show, "Batman" in 1967 as the Catwoman's cohort, Pussycat and performed a couple of new songs.

Gore earned a "Best SongOscar nomination with her brother, Michael for writing "Out Here On My Own", my favorite song from the film, "Fame" in 1980. She also co-wrote the song, "My Secret Love" for the 1996 film, "Grace of My Heart" which was performed by a closeted 60's pop singer (played by Bridget Fonda) loosely based upon herself. Gore released her last studio album, "Ever Since" in 2005 which had ended an over twenty-year gap since her previous recording.

Lesley Gore came out as a lesbian later in life and is survived by her partner of thirty-three years, Lois Sasson.

"You Don't Own Me" - Lesley Gore (1964)

This clip features Lesley Gore performing her first hit, "It's My Party" live:

Monday, February 16, 2015

BIG, BLUE AND BEAUTIFUL


The ethereal Florence Welch and her band, The Machine have returned after a brief hiatus. Their third album entitled "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful" isn't due out until June but the first single has officially dropped. "What Kind of Man" is a slight depature as it's a more guitar-driven track which nicely compliments the immense and dramatic sound that you expect from this British art-rock band. With production by Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Björk, Mumford & Sons), this is an impressive first taste of what could be one of the most exciting new releases of the year.

"What Kind of Man" - Florence + The Machine (2015)

Here is a music video for the title song and features Florence giving us a little interpretive dancing for this mostly instrumental track:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

THE 57TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS


Sam Smith, the soulful Brit pop vocalist, was the undisputed champ at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards. He took home four of the six trophies he was up for including Record of The Year and Best New Artist. Smith performed his award-winning tune, "Stay With Me" on the telecast Sunday night as a moving duet with Mary J. Blige.

Alt-rocker, Beck was the unexpected victor of the Album of The Year prize for "Morning Phase". No one was more surprised than Kanye West, who got on stage briefly during the presentation of Beck's award, seeming to think it would be funny to protest the win like he did to Taylor Swift at the MTV Music Awards.

For the fourth consecutive year, LL Cool J hosted the show but this time, he kept the talk to a minimum to allow the music to speak for it's self. There were twenty-three numbers over the course of the program and at almost four hours, it might seem like music overload. However, there were really no clunkers (although the ballads performed by Ariana Grande and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 with his former "Voice" judge, Gwen Stefani bordered on snoozy) and the show kicked off with the fiery first appearance on the Grammys by heavy-metal legends, AC/DC. I know they're not every one's taste but I thought they were great as they performed the title track from their latest album, "Rock or Bust" and their classic, "Highway To Hell".

Other highlights included Usher's uncomplicated but moving version of Stevie Wonder's "If It's Magic" (with the artist himself popping up at the end on harmonica), the oddball team of Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney performing their hot single, "FourFiveSeconds", Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett serving up a little jazz from their Grammy-winning record and the thrilling return of Electric Light Orchestra.

My favorite moments on the Grammys have been the pairing of veteran artists with new musicians. While not everyone appreciated their efforts, I enjoyed what Tom Jones and Jessie J. did with "You Lost That Lovin' Feeling" during their tribute to the songwriters, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Irish rocker, Hozier was delivering his Grammy-nominated hit, "Take Me To Church" but it was Annie Lennox who joined him and took it home. The duo continued with a fierce rendition of the "Screaming" Jay Hawkins song, "I Put a Spell On You" from her nominated album, "Nostalgia" with Lennox bringing down the house.


Finally, what would the Grammys be without a little spectacle? First, Madonna showed the world she's still got it with a high-energy performance of her new single, "Living For Love" which featured a herd of male dancers wearing elaborate bull masks and concluded with the pop artist being lifted up in to the air.


While I thought Sia's latest recreation of the music video for her live performance of "Chandelier" was entertaining (and included teen dancer, Maddie Ziegler and comedian, Kristen Wiig), I, for one, am tired of seeing the Aussie vocalist singing to a wall. Enough with the silly recluse act. Anyway, it was another great celebration of music.

Here is a partial list of the winners from the 2015 Grammys. For the complete list, click below:

Grammy.com

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: "Morning Phase" - Beck
RECORD OF THE YEAR: "Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)" - Sam Smith
SONG OF THE YEAR: "Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)" - James Napier, William Phillips & Sam Smith, songwriters
BEST NEW ARTIST: Sam Smith
BEST POP SOLO PERFORMANCE: "Happy (Live)" - Pharrell Williams
BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE: "Say Something" - A Great Big World With Christina Aguilera
BEST TRADITIONAL POP VOCAL ALBUM: "Cheek To Cheek" - Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM: "In The Lonely Hour" - Sam Smith
BEST DANCE RECORDING: "Rather Be" - Clean Bandit Featuring Jess Glynne
BEST ROCK PERFORMANCE: "Lazaretto" - Jack White
BEST ROCK ALBUM: "Ryan Adams" -Ryan Adams
BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM: "St. Vincent" -St. Vincent
BEST R&B PERFORMANCE: "Drunk In Love" -Beyoncé Featuring Jay Z
BEST R&B ALBUM: "Love, Marriage & Divorce" - Toni Braxton & Babyface
BEST RAP PERFORMANCE: "I" - Kendrick Lamar
BEST RAP ALBUM: "The Marshall Mathers LP2" - Eminem
BEST COUNTRY SOLO PERFORMANCE: "Something In The Water" - Carrie Underwood
BEST COUNTRY ALBUM: "Platinum" - Miranda Lambert
PRODUCER OF THE YEAR (NON-CLASSICAL): Max Martin

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

TAKE TWO: STEELY DAN


Steely Dan made a major impact on the music scene throughout the 1970's with their own unique brand of jazz-rock. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are essentially the band while using a long succession of studio musicians to help fill out their sound.

These two musicians met while attending Bard College in New York and began working together after discovering they had very similar tastes in music, particularly jazz. After finishing school in 1969, Becker and Fagen went to the famous Brill Building in Manhattan to try and sell their songs. Kenny Vance of the pop act, Jay and The Americans took an interest. The duo recorded several demos and went on tour with the band for a short period.

Since their complex tunes didn't easily fit in to the narrow confines of popular music of the time, Becker and Fagen decided they needed to find their own way. Taking their name from a strap-on dildo in the novel, "Naked Lunch", Steely Dan was born and released their debut, "Can't Buy a Thrill" in 1972. The duo wrote the album together with Becker playing bass and Fagen on keyboards and performing most of the lead vocals (with David Palmer providing additional vocals). "Reelin' In The Years" and "Do It Again" became top-twenty pop hits and the album went gold.

Although Steely Dan initially went on tour to support their music,  Becker and Fagen were never really comfortable in the spotlight and stopped performing live in 1974 to focus on just working in the studio. Many other successful albums were made with more hits including "Rikki Don't Lose That Number", "Peg", "FM (No Static At All)", and "Deacon Blues".  After a series of legal and personal difficulties, Steely Dan came to an end in 1981. Walter Becker retreated to Hawaii for a more quite life while Donald Fagen recorded a solo album "The Nightfly" that became a million seller thanks to the hit, "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)".  In 1993, Becker produced Fagen's second album, "Kamakiriad" and actually went on tour together to promote the release.

This helped open the door for a reunion of Steely Dan and after twenty years, they released their eighth studio album, "Two Against Nature" in 2000.  The long-awaited record sold over a million copies and won four Grammy Awards including Album of The Year. Three years later, Steely Dan released "Everything Must Go". Becker and Fagen have discovered the joy of live performing late in life and gone on to tour the world extensively since their last album. Steely Dan has sold over forty million records and were inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Enjoy two of my favorites from Steely Dan:

"Peg" - Steely Dan (1977)

"Hey Nineteen" - Steely Dan (1980)

As a bonus, here are Steely Dan performing their early hit "Reelin' In The Years" on the outstanding live music program of the 1970's, "The Midnight Special":

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