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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

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Today’s dance playlist kicks off with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” It was on this day in 1984 that Jackson swept the Grammy Awards, winning Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance for Thriller, Record of the Year and Best Rock Vocal Performance for “Beat It,” Best R&B Song and Best R&B Vocal performance for “Billie Jean” and Best Recording for Children for E.T., the Extraterrestrial. By the time the awards were presented Thriller had already been certified as the largest-selling album of all-time and received a record-setting twelve Grammy nominations. It would also smash the record for most top ten singles generated from one album by producing seven such smashes, three more than the previous record, held by Off the Wall, the previous album by Jackson. Prior to his Grammy victories that night thirty years ago, Jackson had won only one Grammy – Best R&B Performance for Off the Wall’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” With Thriller, Jackson also broke the perceived racial barrier on MTV, whose programming predominately featured white acts until “Billie Jean” proved to be an across-the-board smash.

Do you have a Thriller inside of you? It might be an album or an app or a blog post that brings joy to many. It might be an idea or a message that millions of people could get behind. It might be a business plan that changes the landscape. Carve out some time to work on your Thriller.

In the meantime, dance!

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George, Johnny and Fats

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I screwed up.

I lost track of what day it was and in doing so missed posting about George Harrison’s birthday, which was yesterday.

The Beatles are my favorite recoding act of all-time, and if I had to rank the group’s members in order, George would make the top four (no disrespect to Pete Best).

I’d been thinking about what to post for George’s birthday for a couple of weeks. His recordings are not on Spotify, the program I use to create the playlists in each blog entry. I couldn’t find any worthwhile vintage performance clips of George on YouTube. I could post the music video for “Got My Mind Set on You,” but that track is hardly representative of the man’s genius. I was leaning toward creating a playlist of great covers of George’s songs, but what I came up with before abandoning that idea was an unremarkable collection that would not serve as a fitting tribute.

I love so many of his songs – “My Sweet Lord,” “Handle With Care” (Traveling Wilburys), “The Inner Light” (The Beatles), “What Is Life,” “All Those Years Ago,” “It Don’t Come Easy” (written by George and Ringo Starr, recorded by Ringo), “Something” (The Beatles), “Here Comes the Sun” (The Beatles), “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (The Beatles), “If Not For You,” and “When We Was Fab” at the forefront, though my favorite of George’s solo recordings is “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” In his autobiography George wrote “This song is a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it.” The Lord and I aren’t on speaking terms; however, I love the song’s message. I’m a sucker for songs espousing love for all. “Put a Little Love in Your Heart?” Yes! “Love Train?” Hell, yeah! The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love?” Sure, even though it includes the lyric “to discriminate only generates hate / And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah / Badness is what you demonstrate.” And then you won’t be able to meet a mate named Nate / You won’t even get a date / To gain weight will be your fate / You won’t make it through the gate and then you’ll be late / That isn’t great.” And that’s why I adore George’s “Give Me Love.”

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Today marks the birthday of two other all-time favorites of mine – Johnny Cash and Fats Domino. I’ve created a playlist for each of them.

The Johnny Cash playlist kicks off with his 1963 hit “Ring of Fire.” The writing of the song is credited to June Carter, who married Johnny in 1968, and Merle Kilgore. Though initially recorded by Carter’s sister Anita, Carter said the song was inspired by Cash, who at that time was her friend and singing partner. Though not romantically-involved, she was drawn to him against her better judgment, despite his drug use. Per June, there is “no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns.”

Cash’s wife at that time, Vivian Liberto, claimed that June had nothing to do with writing that song. Per Liberto, Johnny wrote it “while pilled up and drunk” and it’s not about the love June described, but rather it’s “about a certain private female body part,” which provides a much different image to accompany the line “I went down, down, down.” I’m not an expert on this body part to which Liberto refers, but if it burns, burns, burns, you should probably have it checked out by a professional. Anyway, Liberto said Cash gave Carter the writing credit because she needed the money.

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Our Fats Domino playlist kicks off with one of Richie Cunningham’s favorites, “Blueberry Hill.” Though Domino wrote many of his hits, this one was written by Vincent Rose, Larry Stock and Al Lewis (not the Grandpa Munster Al Lewis) in 1940.

Domino recorded this song at a session after he ran out of material. His long-time producer, Dave Bartholomew, was against doing the song, perhaps because all of Fat’s hits up to that point had been original compositions. Domino’s version hit #2 in 1957 and has become one of his most recognizable recordings.

Some other facts about Fats: In the fifties he sold more records than any other rock & roll artist except Elvis Presley; he’s had 35 US top 40 pop hits; his song “The Fat Man,” from 1949, is considered by many to be the first rock and roll record; today he turns 86.

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“I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.”
– Kurt Cobain

“That kid has heart.”
– Bob Dylan

“He had a touch most guitarists would kill for.”
– Chuck Berry

“His music is powerful, very intense. That sort of power is rare. You hate to lose somebody like that, someone who keeps the music alive and moving ahead. Not many guys like him come along.”
– Bruce Springsteen

“Nobody dies a virgin. Life fucks us all.”
– Kurt Cobain

“I went to see Nirvana at a small club called the Pyramid on Avenue A in New York City. It was hard to hear the guitar, but the guy playing and singing had a vibe; he hopped around like a muppet or an elf or something, hunched over his guitar, hop hop hop, hippety hippety hop. I loved that. When he sang, he put his voice in this really grating place, and it was kind of devilish sounding. At the end of the set he attacked the drum kit and threw the cymbals, other bits and finally himself into the audience. Later I saw the same guy passing the bar. He was little, with stringy blond hair and a Stooges T-shirt. I felt proud.”
– Iggy Pop

“Nirvana was the first band in years that I really loved… They were the band I felt a lot of hope for, for the whole music scene.”
– Patti Smith

“If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of a different color, or women, please do this one favor for us… Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”
– Kurt Cobain

“He really, really inspired me. He was so great. Wonderful. One of the best, but more than that. Kurt was one of the absolute best of all time for me.”
– Neil Young

“Such a beautiful flame never burns very long. The really brilliant flames seem to consume themselves, and then they’re gone. Maybe Kurt was meant to be here long enough to put us on the right path.”
– Tom Petty

“If you’re really a mean person you’re going to come back as a fly and eat poop.”
– Kurt Cobain

“Nirvana made everything else look silly.”
– Bono

“Cobain was very shy, very polite, and obviously enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t awestruck at meeting him. There was something about him, fragile and engagingly lost.”
– William S. Burroughs

“Birds scream at the top of their lungs in horrified hellish rage every morning at daybreak to warn us all of the truth, but sadly we don’t speak bird.”
– Kurt Cobain

“He was an incredible writer and an incredible singer. And when I met him I found him to be a very special person. He was one of those special people. There was a light inside him that you could see. He had a charisma that went beyond his physical presence.”
– PJ Harvey

“I am not gay, though I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes.”
– Kurt Cobain

“The only person I have any respect for as a songwriter over the last 10 years is Kurt Cobain. He was the perfect cross between Lennon and McCartney. He belted it out like Lennon, but his melodies were so Paul McCartney.”
– Noel Gallagher

“Remember Kurt for what he was: caring, generous and sweet.”
– Krist Novoselic

“I still dream about Kurt. Every time I see him in a dream, I’ll be amazed and I get this feeling that everyone else thinks he’s dead. It always feels totally real, probably because I’m a very vivid dreamer. But, in my dreams, Kurt’s usually been hiding – we’ll get together and I’ll end up asking him, “God, where have you been”
– Dave Grohl

“If you die you’re completely happy and your soul somewhere lives on. I’m not afraid of dying. Total peace after death, becoming someone else is the best hope I’ve got.”
– Kurt Cobain

kurtFebruary 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994

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When Smokey Sings Or Writes

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In 2011, I attended the Society of Singers’ tribute to Smokey Robinson. The award was well-deserved, as anyone who has heard him sing knows that Smokey Robinson possesses a sweet, soulful voice, one that he has used to beautiful effect on records going back more than fifty years. The British band ABC paid tribute to him on their top ten single “When Smokey Sings.” In their hit “Genius of Love,” Tom Tom Club sing “No one can sing quite like Smokey, Smokey Robinson.”

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In addition to his singing talent, Smokey is a writer on many classics in the great American songbook. Chances are you know “The Tracks of My Tears,” “My Girl” (click here for more about that song), “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” (originally recorded by Smokey’s group The Miracles as the b-side of a 45), “The Tears of a Clown,” “My Guy,” “Shop Around,” “Ooo Baby Baby,” “I Second That Emotion,” “Cruisin’,” and “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”

doggies + Smokey 006Here’s my cocktail napkin from the Society of Singers event. I need to wash that placemat.

I met Smokey one time in the late 1980s. I was working at CBS Records in midtown Manhattan. Our offices were in the Black Rock building, which was also home to WCBS radio. Smokey had just done an interview at the radio station when I bumped into him in the building’s lobby. I told him I enjoyed the article about him in the new issue of Rolling Stone, which I was holding. He said he hadn’t seen it yet and took my magazine from me to look at it. I wouldn’t let him keep my issue – I was a poor office clerk, after all – but he was gracious enough to sign an autograph for me.

Smokey autograph

Today is Smokey’s 74th birthday. Enjoy this playlist comprised of songs Smokey sings and songs Smokey wrote or co-wrote, songs you know and songs you should know.

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A Story About Billie Joe, Not Bobbie Sue

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Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the 42nd birthday of Billie Joe Armstrong, lead vocalist and guitarist of Foxboro Hot Tubs. The band Green Day made FHT’s track “Mother Mary” available as a free download on their web-site. Many listeners thought Foxboro Hot Tubs sounded similar to Green Day, prompting Armstrong to release the statement “The only similarity is that we are the same band.”

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Turn It On, Bright Eyes

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Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the 34th birthday of Conor Oberst, leader of Bright Eyes and a member of Monsters of Folk.

Oberst released his debut album, Water, in 1993, on a record label he started with his brother. He was 13. His new album, Upside Down Mountain, is due out May 20.

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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

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Today is the anniversary of The B-52s’ first live performance. Today is Valentine’s Day. Today is Friday. It’s only appropriate that we kick off today’s playlist with “Love Shack.”

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The Twelfth Best Album Of All-Time, Subject To Change

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I’m creating a list of my top 100 albums of all-time. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years. I need to get it right. I’ve whittled the list down to 112 nominees, which I listen to repeatedly, moving albums around as I assess their impact on my ears and emotions. Presently sitting at #12, between The Beatles’ Rubber Soul and the Phil Spector Christmas album, is Carole King’s Tapestry.

Released in 1971, Tapestry was a huge success, staying at #1 on the album charts for 15 weeks and remaining on Billboard’s album chart for 300 weeks, the longest run of any album by a female solo act. The album won King the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, its track “It’s Too Late” was named Record of the Year, its song “You’ve Got a Friend” won Song of the Year (as well as a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male for James Taylor for his cover version), and its title track won King the Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female award.

The album includes new songs written or co-written by King, including “I Feel the Earth Move” and “So Far Away,” as well as covers of songs she wrote or co-wrote that had already been hits for other acts, such as “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” a smash for Aretha Franklin, and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which The Shirelles took to #1 ten years earlier.

Other King compositions you may know are “Up on the Roof,” a hit for The Drifters, “One Fine Day,” a hit for The Chiffons, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” a hit for The Monkees, “Go Away Little Girl” a hit for Steve Lawrence and later Donny Osmond, “I’m Into Something Good,” a hit for Herman’s Hermits, “It’s Going to Take Some Time,” a hit for The Carpenters, and “The Loco-motion,” a song which holds the distinction of going top ten in three different decades – in the sixties for Little Eva (King’s babysitter), in the seventies for Grand Funk and in the eighties for Kylie Minogue. In the forty years between 1959 and 1999 King made the Billboard Hot 100 118 times as a songwriter.

Tunes du Jour honors the classic work of Carole King, who turns 72 today.

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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

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This week’s dance playlist kicks off with Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” which hit #1 on this date in 1981. The song had prominent television exposure for the couple of weeks prior, as it was played during the 1981 Super Bowl and when the American hostages returned home from Iran on January 26 after 444 days in captivity.

Kool & the Gang were a funk band whose fortunes were on the decline as the seventies progressed. They scored two top ten singles in 1974, “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging,” but no more until they recruited a new lead vocalist, James “JT” Taylor, and were paired with a new producer, Eumir Deodato.

Deodato’s first record with the band was 1979’s Ladies Night, whose title track returned the group to the top ten. This was quickly followed by the top ten hit “Too Hot.”

Deodato’s next record with the band was Celebrate!, from which “Celebration” was taken. To this day the song is played at a myriad of celebratory events, making it a dance classic.

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This Will Be A Natalie Cole Post

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In 1967, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences split the Grammy Awards category for Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance into two – one for men and one for women. The first recipient in the female category was Aretha Franklin, for “Respect.”

The 1968 winner of Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female, was Aretha Franklin, for “Chain of Fools.”

The 1969 winner of Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female, was Aretha Franklin, for “Share Your Love with Me.”

The 1970 winner of Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female, was Aretha Franklin, for “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied).”

The 1971 winner of Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female, was Aretha Franklin, for “Bridge over Troubled Water.”

The 1972 winner of Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female, was Aretha Franklin, for Young, Gifted and Black.

The 1973 winner of Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female, was Aretha Franklin, for “Master of Eyes.”

The 1974 winner of Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female, was Aretha Franklin, for “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”

The 1975 winner of Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female, was Aret…wait! It was NOT Aretha. Who broke Ms. Franklin’s chain chain chain? It was a young singer named Natalie Cole, whose debut single, “This Will Be,” won her that Grammy and also earned her the award for Best New Artist, making Natalie the first African-American to win in that category.

“This Will Be” is one of my favorite records of all-time. The music is festive, as a song celebrating the discovery of an everlasting love should be. Cole’s performance is letter-perfect. The part where she sings “huggin’ and squeezin’ and kissin’ and pleasin’ together forever through rain or whatever” works me into a frenzy still, almost forty years later. In addition, the record is under three minutes, so there is not time to get sick of it. It ends while your heart is racing. If it came out two years later there likely would have been an extended version but it didn’t so there isn’t.

By the way, Aretha Franklin was not nominated for Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female for 1975. After that year off, she returned to that category in 1976 with “Something He Can Feel.” She lost to Natalie Cole, who took home the award for “Sophisticated Lady (She’s a Different Lady).” Both women were again nominated for Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Performance, Female for 1977, but they lost to Thelma Houston. That’s one for another blog post.

Today Tunes du Jour celebrates Natalie Cole’s 64th birthday. Here are three of my favorite Cole performances.