Monday, December 26, 2016

GEORGE MICHAEL (1963 - 2016)

The Christmas holiday took a very sad turn when it was announced that we lost another iconic artist. George Michael, the music superstar who first found fame as part of the pop act, Wham! in the '80's before finding even greater success after going solo, passed away suddenly on December 25th. Few details have been given to date but he was found at his home in Goring in Oxfordshire, England and had died of heart failure.

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in East Finchley, London, he dreamed of being a singer since he was a child. While a teen, he worked as a DJ for school parties and clubs before meeting classmate, Andrew Ridgeley and together they were going to conquer the music world.

They put together an act called Wham! and recorded their first single, "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" in 1982. The song introduced a little bit of rap which was still a very American sound and relatively unfamiliar in pop music at the time. It didn't have much impact initially although it would find chart success later after Wham!'s follow-up single, "Young Guns (Go for It)" became a top-five hit on the UK pop chart. With the release of the debut album, "Fantastic" in 1983, the now-named, George Michael and Ridgely became one of the hottest pop acts in Britain. Then with their second album, "Make It Big" and the singles, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Careless Whisper", Wham! would become international superstars.

The duo would ride the massive wave of success with several hit singles, being part of Band-Aid to help with African famine with the charity single, "Do They Know It's Christmas", performing at the concert Live Aid and becoming the first Western pop act to tour China in 1985. Not long after, Michael was ready to leave behind his teen idol image and pursue a more mature musical sound and announced the end of Wham! in 1986.

Michael's first album as a solo artist was "Faith" and released the following year. This became a major hit thanks to the title track, the controversial, "I Want Your Sex", "Father Figure", "Monkey", "Kissing a Fool" and "One More Try" in addition to a single, "I Knew You Were Waiting", a duet with the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. The record would go on to sell twenty-five million copies worldwide and win the Grammy Award for Album of The Year.

But this overwhelming popularity and fame put a lot of pressure on Michael. He tried to regain some control by not doing live performances nor having his image on album covers or music videos for his next album, "Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1" in 1990. While the album sold well, it didn't do nearly as well as "Faith" which created friction between Michael and his label, Sony. Each accused the other with failing to properly promote the record and a lawsuit followed.

After eventually settling the dispute, Michael returned to creating music and released the deeply personal, "Older" in 1994. The first single, "Jesus To a Child" was a loving tribute to Anselmo Feleppa who had recently passed away. That he had been his lover or that Michael was even gay was not publicly known at this time but the singer would come out in a big way a few years later after he was arrested for lewd behavior in a public restroom in Beverly Hills, CA.

Other legal problems would plaque Michael later as he had several issues regarding drugs and alcohol abuse. He also had health issues with him nearly dying in 2011 from a viral infection and suffering from a serious head injury after falling out of a moving car in 2013.

Michael only released five studio solo albums over his career but he went on to sell over one hundred million records. His last album released was "Symphonica" in 2014 which featured live performances from his extensive European tour that featured a full orchestra.

An amazing talent and generous spirit, George Michael will be greatly missed. Here a just a few of my favorite song from this unforgettable artist:

Friday, December 16, 2016


I have occasionally read Marc Myers' articles in the Wall Street Journal regarding the history and background of some of the early pop songs in the rock & roll era. They are fascinatingly detailed and researched with one regular feature, Anatomy of a Song, covering how these songs came together from the composers, producers and recording artists involved. This has lead to a compilation of these articles in a book entitled,"Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B, and Pop". These memorable songs range from 1952 to 1991 and explores the evolution of popular music.

Some of the songs covered range from classic rock ("Light My Fire" by the Doors, "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks), punk rock ("(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes by Elvis Costello, "London Calling" by the Clash), Motown ("Please Mr. Postman" by The Marvelettes, "Reach Out I'll Be There" by the Four Tops), iconic artists ("Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley, "Street Fighting Man" by the Rolling Stones), Soul ("(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, "Shout" by The Isley Brothers), pop ("Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups, "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper) and country ("Fist City" by Loretta Lynn, "Big City" by Merle Haggard). This would make the perfect gift for that music lover in your life. I have included a few of my favorite songs in the book for your listening pleasure:

"Oh Happy Day" - Edwin Hawkins Singers (1967) mp3

"Groovin'" - The Young Rascals (1967) mp3

"Magic Carpet Ride" - Steppenwolf (1968) mp3

"Deacon Blues" - Steely Dan (1978) mp3

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


2016 has been very good to the camera-shy Sia with her album, "This Is Acting" and the single, "Cheap Thrills" becoming major hits. But she has also been lending her talents to cinema throughout the year by providing some interesting songs for the soundtracks. She has either sang covers like "Unforgettable", the Nat "King" Cole classic for the animated sequel, "Finding Dory" or performed original material she co-wrote which were heard in films like the dark psychological horror flick, "The Neon Demon" and the documentary, "The Eagle Huntress". In addition to writing songs for film and television that others singers performed (like "Sledgehammer" which Rihanna delivered on for this summer's "Star Trek Beyond" as just one example) and making an appearance on "The Hamilton Mixtape", a pop music reworking of the songs from the smash Broadway musical "Hamilton" (and new number one album in the country), this seems to make Sia the unofficial "Queen of the Soundtracks". Enjoy a small sampling of some of the music this gifted and very busy artist has created:

Thursday, December 8, 2016


The number one song in America during this week in 1976 was "Tonight's The Night (Gonna Be Alright)" by Rod Stewart. This tune from the raspy-voiced, English rocker spent a total of eight weeks at the top of the pop chart and ended up being the year-end number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

A high school drop-out, Stewart had wanted to be a footballer but fell in to music at first as a means to get free drinks and meet girls. He learned to play the harmonica and played with several rock bands touring around Europe. Then he discovered Sam Cooke and soul music and eagerly moved in that direction. He formed an r&b group called the Dimensions in 1963 and performed as a harmonica player and vocalist. He soon left, joining a few other soul bands before venturing out on his own without much success. Then he met Jeff Beck who invited him to join his new band, as a singer and songwriter, after leaving the Yardbirds.

A successful tour in America brought the Jeff Beck Group critical acclaim and attention to Stewart. Stewart was still trying to jump start his solo career but nothing would click. He met guitarist Ronnie Wood and they became fast friends which eventually lead to them forming the blues-rock outfit, Faces. During this time, Stewart's solo career finally took off when he had his first hit single, "Maggie May" in 1971.

Stewart wrote "Tonight" with the song basically about a man deciding it's time for him and his young lover to finally make love for the first time. Swedish actress, Britt Ekland, Stewart's then-girlfriend, provided the French cooing you hear near the end of the track.

Not surprisingly, some radio stations balked due to the suggestive nature of the song and would only play an edited version. That certainly didn't stop it's success with "Tonight's The Night" becoming Stewart's second number one in the U.S. and reaching the top-ten in several countries.

"Tonight's The Night" - Rod Stewart (1976) mp3

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Beyoncé's alt-r&b record, "Lemonade" leads the way with nine nominations at this year's Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. She faces some stiff competition for that prize from pop superstar, Justin Bieber's "Purpose", country singer, Sturgill Simpson and his "A Sailor's Guide to Earth", Canadian hip-hop artist, Drake with one of the most popular albums of the year, "Views" and the now eligible "25", the 2015 pop release from the British singer, Adele. Kanye West, Rihanna and Drake each received eight nominations while Chance the Rapper earned seven for his debut, "Coloring Book" which he only managed to receive due to a Grammy rule change as it was issued only as a music stream rather than on a CD or digital download. David Bowie, who we lost in January, earned four posthumous nominations for his final album, "Blackstar" and recent Nobel prize winner, Bob Dylan earned a nod for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

With a total of twenty previous wins, Beyoncé could possibly make history by surpassing Alison Krauss, who is the female artist with the most Grammy wins at twenty-seven. And with sixty-two career nominations, she now has become the most nominated female artist ever.

It's sad to say goodbye to LL Cool J, who has hosted the show for the last five years, but a new host has been named. James Corden of the "Late Late Show" fame will host this year's ceremony. The 59th Annual Grammy Awards will air Sunday, February 12th on CBS.

Here is a partial list of the 2016 Grammy nominations:

Album of the Year:

“25” — Adele
“Lemonade” — Beyoncé
“Purpose” — Justin Bieber
“Views” — Drake
“A Sailor's Guide to Earth” — Sturgill Simpson

Record of the Year:

"Hello" — Adele
"Formation" — Beyoncé
"7 Years" — Lukas Graham
"Work" — Rihanna featuring Drake
"Stressed Out" — Twenty One Pilots

Song of the Year:

"Formation" — Written by Khalif Brown, Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles & Michael L. Williams II (Beyoncé)
"Hello" — Written by Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin (Adele)
"I Took a Pill In Ibiza" — Written by Mike Posner (Mike Posner)
"Love Yourself" — Written by Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin & Ed Sheeran (Justin Bieber)
"7 Years" — Written by Lukas Forchhammer, Stefan Forrest, Morten Pilegaard & Morten Ristorp (Lukas Graham)

Best New Artist:

Kelsea Ballerini
The Chainsmokers
Chance the Rapper
Maren Morris
Anderson .Paak

Best Pop Vocal Album:

“25” — Adele
“Purpose” — Justin Bieber
“Dangerous Woman” — Ariana Grande
“Confident” — Demi Lovato
“This Is Acting” — Sia

Best Pop Solo Performance:

"Hello" — Adele
"Hold Up" — Beyoncé
“Love Yourself” — Justin Bieber
“Piece By Piece (Idol Version)” — Kelly Clarkson
“Dangerous Woman” — Ariana Grande

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance:

“Closer” — The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey
“7 Years” — Lukas Graham
“Work” — Rihanna featuring Drake
“Cheap Thrills” — Sia Featuring Sean Paul
“Stressed Out” — Twenty One Pilots
“Culcha Vulcha” — Snarky Puppy

Best Dance/Electronic Album:

“Skin” — Flume
“Electronica 1: The Time Machine” — Jean-Michel Jarre
“Epoch” — Tycho
“Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future” — Underworld
“Louie Vega Starring. . .XXVIII” — Louie Vega

Best Rock Album:

“California” — Blink-182
“Tell Me I'm Pretty” — Cage the Elephant
“Magma" — Gojira
"Death of a Bachelor” — Panic! at the Disco
“Weezer” — Weezer

Best Rock Performance:

“Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)” — Alabama Shakes
“Don't Hurt Yourself” — Beyoncé featuring Jack White
“Blackstar” — David Bowie
“The Sound of Silence (Live On "Conan")” — Disturbed
“Heathens” — Twenty One Pilots

Best Alternative Music Album:

“22, a Million” — Bon Iver
“Blackstar” — David Bowie
“The Hope Six Demolition Project” — PJ Harvey
“Post Pop Depression” — Iggy Pop
“A Moon Shaped Pool” — Radiohead

Best Urban Contemporary Album:

“Lemonade” — Beyoncé
“Ology” — Gallant
“We Are King” — King
“Malibu” — Anderson .Paak
“Anti” — Rihanna

Best R&B Album:

“In My Mind” — BJ the Chicago Kid
“Lalah Hathaway Live” — Lalah Hathaway
“Velvet Portraits” — Terrace Martin
“Healing Season" — Mint Condition
“Smoove Jones” — Mya

Best R&B Performance:

“Turnin' Me Up” — BJ the Chicago Kid
“Permission” — Ro James
“I Do” — Musiq Soulchild
“Needed Me” — Rihanna
“Cranes In the Sky” — Solange

Best Rap Album:

“Coloring Book” — Chance the Rapper
“And the Anonymous Nobody” — De La Soul
“Major Key” — DJ Khaled
“Views” — Drake
“Blank Face LP” — Schoolboy Q
“The Life of Pablo” — Kanye West

Best Rap Performance:

"No Problem" — Chance the Rapper featuring Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz
"Panda" — Desiigner
"Pop Style" — Drake Featuring the Throne
"All the Way Up" — Fat Joe & Remy Ma featuring French Montana & Infared
"That Part" — Schoolboy Q featuring Kanye West

Best Country Album:

“Big Day In a Small Town” — Brandy Clark
“Full Circle” — Loretta Lynn
“Hero” — Maren Morris
“A Sailor's Guide to Earth” — Sturgill Simpson
“Ripcord” — Keith Urban

Best Country Solo Performance:

"Love Can Go to Hell" — Brandy Clark
"Vice" — Miranda Lambert
"My Church" — Maren Morris
"Church Bells" — Carrie Underwood
"Blue Ain't Your Color" — Keith Urban

For the complete list of nominations, click below:

2016 Grammys


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