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.

ICONA POP ARE "GIRLS GIRLS"

Those Swedish musical party-girls, Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, otherwise known as  Icona Pop are back with a new club-banging anthem. ...